Game of Thrones Philosophy Breakdown: S7E1 “Dragonstone” – Revenge, Justice, God(s), and History

*SPOILER ALERT FOR GAME OF THRONES, OBVIOUSLY. Don’t listen to this if you haven’t watched the show!*

Is it ever OK to slaughter your family’s enemies in pursuit of revenge? Should you kick your enemies’ children out of their ancestral homes?

Is it better to be feared or loved? Should you follow a religion known for its penchant for human burnt sacrifices, even if it seems to be the “right” one?

Hopefully these aren’t questions you’re pondering. But if you’re a character in the HBO show Game of Thrones, these philosophical dilemmas are an unavoidable part of life.

As you can imagine, life sucks in the fictional land of Westeros. But that’s all the more reason why the characters need philosophy. And since our own world sucks only slightly less, it’s just as much a reason for the rest of us to examine the philosophical questions of Game of Thrones as well. As far out from our daily experience as these questions appear on the surface, they aren’t too different from the main problems of human existence.

In the first installment of my recent podcast project Game of Thrones Philosophy Breakdown, show creator + world wander + best male Canadian friend Ryan Ferguson and I talk about some of the many philosophical themes in episode 1 of season 7 of the show, which aired in July of this year.

  • Is it cool to kill off people in revenge? When, if ever, is revenge appropriate? What is the relationship between revenge and justice? – Arya and the Freys 
  • Should you judge people as individuals or members of collectives? Should you show mercy to your enemies? – Sansa + Jon with the Umbers and Karstarks 
  • Is Machiavelli’s philosophy of power right? Is it better to be feared than loved? Is goodness naive? – Cersei and Jamie’s conversation 
  • How can a god be good + all-knowing + all-powerful in a world of suffering? What can we say about the gods of Westeros compared to “real-world” religions? – Sandor Clegane and the Brotherhood Without Banners 
  • Can supernatural events happen? How would we know? What would they mean? – Sandor Clegane’s fire visions 
  • Should a homeland or birthplace you’ve never seen have moral and psychological significance? – Daenarys and Dragonstone 
  • What is the right way to think about the nature of time, legend, and history? Does history repeat itself? Are we at the end of history? When does the past fail to predict the future? – Samwell and the Archmaester 

Ready to dig in? Download episode one from iTunes or your favorite podcast app. 

You can also listen to this episode (and others!) in the in-browser player below. Want to chime in with your thoughts? Comment on this blog! I’m sure we haven’t said anything controversial AT ALL.

NSFW WARNING: These episodes contain language and themes not appropriate for children and probably not safe for work or your grandmother. In no circumstance should these be heard by the delicate ears of Prince Tommen.

DISCLAIMERS: Despite all evidence to the contrary in this show, I am not a professional philosopher, doctor, climatologist, maester, brother of the Night’s Watch, or financial advisor.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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