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The Ethics of…Game of Thrones! May 29, 2012

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Ethics, Film, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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Time for some early summer fun; lucky those (like me), for whom fun and work often end up merging, such as in narrative ethics. And I’ve found the HBO series Game of Thrones to be seriously fun, once you get into the fictional, pseudo-historical universe. (Haven’t read any of the books yet—I understand the TV series is deviating from the original in increasingly dramatic ways.) If anybody wants to catch up on the series before the season finale on Sunday, HBO is running the entire season this week. You can have an early-summer GoT marathon—and afterwards you can acquire a copy of Game of Thrones and Philosophy from Blackwell, which I have just ordered as a light summer read! If you are not worried about reading a spoiler article, take a look at Time’s review of episode 9, “Game of Thrones Watch: Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky” (those of you over 50 can start humming now…). It contains good character analyses, and a particularly insightful view of the character who emerges as the real focal point of the story, Tyrion Lannister:

I was on the verge of calling Tyrion’s behavior “heroic,” but that’s not really the term. Notably, we see that this is not Tyrion rising to his true calling or discovering that it is a far, far greater thing her does, &c., &c. It’s a practical decision, in that if the defenders of the city are not inspired, he will die. He plays the part (and Peter Dinklage does) masterfully, but he rouses his men with a purely practical argument too: “Don’t fight for your king, and don’t fight for his kingdoms. Don’t fight for honor, don’t fight for for glory. Don’t fight for riches, because you won’t get any.”

And the reviewer could/should have added what comes next—what Tyrion tells his army: “Fight for your homes.” Because Tyrion may be pragmatic, but he is not altogether a cynic.

All in all, it is a story about moral decisions, big and small—split-second decisions that come from the heart, or weighed by a calculating mind, and which all have consequences. Some decisions are made from a utilitarian, some from a deontological stance. Lots of ethical egoism in there, too, and just knee-jerk egoism. And some characters are pure at heart, and we see their ethic of care, their virtue ethics unfold, such as Sansa who from being a victim all of a sudden finds strength in helping others.

And so forth! If you’re looking for a joyride this week, leading up to the season finale on Sunday (and have cable), watch the 9 shows on HBO and look for all the moral, immoral and amoral viewpoints swirling around. A well-told tale, well acted, just right for some summer speculations about fictional problems of fictional characters.

Enjoy your summer!

 

 

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Comments»

1. Paul J Moloney - June 4, 2012

It’s amazing how it takes a TV show to unite character with ethical theory. A person’s character seems to have nothing to do with most of the reading on ethics that I have been doing, Aristotle being a definite exception. Apparently, a person could make a good utilitarian decision while still having a bad character.

2. Jessica - July 30, 2012

I have been trying to get you to read this series for a couple of years, When the last book came out I took 2 days off of work so that I could read uninterrupted and without distraction. Make sure that you read through book three before watching season three, there is a scene that everyone should experience in it’s perfectly written for first. I am so glad that you have stumbled on this series I can’t wait to hear what you think of it! *Happy dance*

3. Nina Rosenstand - August 24, 2012

Hi Jessica, Yes, it took me a while to acknowledge your wisdom in your assessment of GoT! I will see if I can squeeze Book 3 in before the new GoT season starts…

Jessica - August 29, 2012

I am so thrilled that you have discovered this series, I can’t wait for you to finish it so that I can run my theroies about what the future holds for Westros with you. 🙂


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