Winter is Coming to Westeros but Disappearing on Earth

There is squabbling between the kingdoms in the fantasy world of  the HBO TV series “Game of Thrones”, and a great enemy to all is near. But what could this famous fictional world tell us about the real world we are living in? Is there a threat so great that we all should put away our differences to battle it: in the shape of climate change?

As the title proclaims, for those who do not follow the series, there is an ongoing struggle and power-play about who will rule the kingdoms of Westeros. Despite fighting one another for the cause there is one threat that could eventually throw shade on those smaller wars, and cast an eye on a bigger picture. The common enemy of everyone living is approaching in the shape of The White Walkers. These undead, evil and zombie-like creatures are what everyone in the series should focus on facing, instead of each other, or else they will all meet the same fate.

Yet instead of uniting to combat the common enemy to human existence, the characters focus on their own disagreements and struggle for power. White Walkers are generally ignored; some come to deny their existence outright. Substitute climate change for White Walkers and “countries” for important characters, and it could possibly work as a metaphor for climate change and politics. This possibility that the series is a response to climate change has been acknowledged online by various articles shedding light on the topic. Saying “It has been claimed that the plot of Game of Thrones – with the underlying theme that ‘winter is coming’, bringing horrors with it – is actually an analogy for climate change”. Even scientists have made a connection while reading the books that gave birth to the TV series, saying how familiar it is to the real world when the big threat is disregarded by important characters.

Many commentators have suggested that the TV series “Game of Thrones” could be a metaphor for climate change.

In one block, we find the main characters in the series who have realised where the real trouble is. For example key character Jon Snow, who is an equivalent to our world’s environmentalists, advocates desperately for working together as the key to success. He could be compared to Al Gore, telling inconvenient truths about the state of the world’s climate. Or furthermore with activist Michael Mann or Leonardo DiCaprio, where the latter has been involved in climate issues by producing a documentary which presents how climate change is affecting different parts of the world. The former, just like his fictional character Jon Snow,  has the same approach to his work saying  “I didn’t come to politics, politics came to me. Back in the late 1990s, when I suddenly found myself under assault by climate-change deniers looking to discredit it, and to discredit me, I found myself in a battle I never signed up for.”

In the opposing block, neglecting the changes of climate change is Cersei Lannister, the one presently sitting on the throne, and her supporters. A metaphor for this could for example be President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the Paris climate agreement earlier this year, will only make an agreement if the United States can identify terms that are more favourable for them, which includes its business, workers and taxpayers. This amplifies the argument that the pursuit of power is seemingly more important than the bigger, looming threat. Nonetheless, countries have been working together and signed to the agreement. Mayors from cities like New York, Lima, Seoul, Amman, and Cape Town have reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Paris Agreement.

In addition to the two blocks, according to one article, it is suggested that  that the Night’s Watch (a military order dedicated to  protect an enormous ice “wall” to block northern invaders and basically on the frontline in facing with the White Walkers) represents scientists warning about approaching problems.

Even people starring in the TV series have raised their voices. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jamie Lannister alongside Queen Cersei, has addressed the topic. He claims to have seen firsthand the “devastating effects of rising temperatures” on the delicate ecosystem in Greenland. He says that what happens in Greenland should be a primary interest due to its melting ice sheet and its effects on the entire planet.

The actor is bringing attention to this urgent matter as a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP),  in which he is working to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For example, reducing greenhouse gas and carbon footprints but also advocating disaster resilience (minimizing the risk of disasters and helping design effective disaster-recovery plans). Coster-Waldau also stresses that these goals are intertwined and failing one could have negative consequences on achieving the others.

The “Game of Thrones” actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has made his voice heard on this issue.

It is not all bad news for those concerned. China and India have become the two most attractive countries for renewable energy investment passing the U.S. Also off-grid renewables now benefits 11% of the total population in Bangladesh. In Africa, more than 375,000 homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are connected to solar power with 550 more added daily.

Thus, positive progress in this: actors, scientists and politicians alike are trying to spread awareness and more action on this matter and wanting to achieve the goals, set by international organisations such as the UN. As this indeed could be a very overwhelming topic, it could help that a fictional TV show with a clear analogy about a serious matter triggers a debate which could feel more understandable in the comfort of our own household and less avoidable. And maybe with the last season coming up, make this relevant and turn a serious matter from fiction to fact.

Emma Rohman

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