Is Game of Thrones really about Climate Change?

Game of Thrones: Night King

As Extinction Rebellion Climate Change protests take place across London, a popular Game of Thrones reddit fan theory is circulating again.

First posted to YouTube by Vox in 2015, a theory – since picked up by fans and reposted to reddit by several users – suggesting "Game of Thrones" should be read as an allegory for Climate Change has once again been circulating across social media news feeds.

It's a timely resurfacing – with Extinction Rebellion anti-Climate Change protests taking place today, April 15, across London – and one which has at least some weight to it. But does it actually hold up, or is this yet another hole-ridden theory that doesn't quite hold water? And, perhaps more importantly, does it actually matter whether the theory is "right" or not? 

While the original Vox video is half a decade old at this point, the launch of "Game of Thrones" Season 8 on April 14, a new article published on The Conversation once again linking the fantasy epic with "the horror of fossil fuels," and the large-scale Extinction Rebellion protests currently drawing thousands across London to protest against Climate Change, have once again brought the idea to the forefront of our collective cultural conscious.  

Considering GoT's continued popularity, Alf Hornborg, Professor of Human Ecology at Lund University, suggests "perhaps we can explain its enormous success by considering how, at a subconscious, dreamlike level, it deals with humanity’s most profound problem." 

While Hornborg makes some spurious connections between the roles of nature and technology in James Cameron's 1986 Sigourney Weaver-starring sequel Aliens and 2009 visual effects spectacular Avatar (the latter of which may possibly still retain the award for clunkiest ecological message committed to film), he does make some astute points about how those themes manifest in "Game of Thrones" beyond the show's obvious/ominous 'Winter Is Coming' mantra.  

Referring to the process by which fossil fuels are made, Hornborg writes that "the energy that propels our technological civilisation derives from countless billions of dead organisms whose extinguished sparks have been buried in the Earth’s crust," comparing this to the ever-encroaching march of the White Walkers' army of the dead – a force that brings not only doom and destruction, but tangible meteorological change. "The metaphor," Hornborg suggests, "is not at all far-fetched: in both cases, fossil energy is at war with life itself."

There are other elements, too, that lend credence to Hornborg's theory: Cersei's refusal to kowtow to forging allegiances even in the face of impending destruction is not so far from the behaviour of certain real-life world leaders who eschew Climate Change treaties in vain pursuit of nationalist prosperity and egotism. 

Of course, as with all fiction, with neither Song of Fire and Ice novelist George R.R. Martin nor the HBO show runners corroborating the theory, it remains just that: an attempt to map one set of ideas onto another. During a 2013 tour of Australia, asked about whether his books were ecological allegory, Martin confirmed that – while he "do[es] not write allegory," he is nonetheless at the mercy of the greatest destructive spectre of our age, noting, "Obviously you live in the world and you’re affected by the world around you, so some things sink in on some level."

And, with very real Climate Change protests taking place today and that spectre looming larger than ever, the question of whether or not the theory is "right" or not – as Martin knew six years ago – is much less important than the conversation itself. Regardless of intention, as Hornborg puts it, "Dreams and fantasies prompt us to reflect on matters that we suppress. In that sense, "Game of Thrones" is a tale for our times." 

With the first episode having aired April 14, here's how to watch "Game of Thrones" Season 8 on TV or streaming services in the UK

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