Monday, March 30, 2015

The Rhetoric of Game of Thrones

            In HBO’s hit television series Game of Thrones, which is based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” rhetoric plays a key, if hidden, role in the story. Some characters, like Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, are characterized by a lack of rhetoric. Lord Stark, a man who values honor, would doubtlessly agree with Plato’s view of rhetoric as dishonest. Others, like King Robert Baratheon, just have little patience for the persuasive power of rhetoric and prefer coercive power. Indeed many of the characters are men and women of action not word.
But for other characters, like the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, rhetoric is everything. Naturally, the dwarf cannot rely on his actions but he makes up for his small size with his words. Tyrion, most of all, understands Kairos, or “the supreme moment,” as evidenced by his perfectly timed witticisms. At one point, a captive Tyrion urges his captors to let him confess his crimes, they allow him the perfect opportunity to talk his way to freedom. Soon afterward, Tyrion is again in a precarious situation, confronted with a dangerous tribe he convinces them to save his life and even to fight for him in an upcoming battle.  Meanwhile Lord Varys, Master of Whisperers, also exemplifies the role of rhetoric in the fictional lands of Westeros and Essos. What Lord Varys knows best is how to play to his audience. In a conversation with Lord Stark he even says, “Oh, I feed [Lord Baelish] choice whispers, sufficient so that he thinks I am his … just as I allow Cersei to believe I am hers.” To which Lord Stark replies, “And just as you that you were mine.”

            Recently a Sci Pop Talk at UNL titled “A Song of Ice and Fire and Chemistry” was given by Dr. Raychelle Burks. She explained that we can use our understanding of the real world science to figure out the fictional world of Westeros.  Perhaps, we may also use our understanding of real world rhetoric to understand this fictional world. Then we may just learn something about ourselves and the real world we all live in.

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