Beto O’Rourke — he’s handsome, charming, and totally underqualified to be president beyond a vague entitlement. That makes him Renly Baratheon, who was handsome, charming, and totally underqualified to be King of the Realm beyond a vague entitlement. And the rigorously principled Bernie Sanders? Sometimes grumpy, though you think his heart is in the right place? Maybe that makes him like Stannis Baratheon, or more like Ned Stark, since Stannis ended up going full fanatic and burning his daughter alive; it’s hard to say. But we can all agree Donald Trump is like Joffrey Baratheon (cruel, bad hair, into weird sex stuff), and that Elizabeth Warren is like Catelyn Stark (noble, tough-as-nails, probably doomed to fail because men don’t take her seriously), can’t we?
Game of Thrones returns on Sunday for its eighth and final season, and there’s a lot I’m going to miss about it. I’m going to miss how the creators translated high fantasy better than any other television show in history and how, as a book reader, I’d happily anticipate the moment when some particularly gnarly event (like the Red Wedding or the death of Oberyn Martell) was about to happen, sending the internet into spasms. I’ll miss the brand new feeling of being actually surprised, when the show moved beyond the books, and gave us instantly iconic scenes like Hodor sacrificing himself for his friends or Daenerys fucking everyone up with a dragon. I’ll miss Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Varys, even Cersei — all the wheelers and dealers of Westeros, trying to eke out some advantage in a direwolf-eat-direwolf world.
On top of that, I will also miss articles comparing things to Game of Thrones characters. Let me explain: Following the show’s launch in 2011, publications began coming up with articles in which a clever writer lengthily and accurately compared the varied characters on Game of Thrones to Harry Potter characters, or football players, or whatever. Here’s one blurb I wrote for The Classical, in an article comparing them to NBA players:
Jon Snow = James Harden
Didn’t see a future in Winterfell/Oklahoma City, so he headed for distant lands to distinguish himself. May end up being more important than anyone ever realized. Handsome beard.
Assuming you can make sense of that: Pretty good, right? Another time, I was “on assignment” to write something called “Rap Game of Thrones,” but after coming up with several puns (Walder Flocka Frey, DJ Khaled Drogo, Tyrell, the Creator) the whole thing seemed sort of thin — imagine that — and I called it off. There was no point to it, really, aside from winking and declaring, “This thing is like that thing.” Nor was Game of Thrones the first show to get this treatment. But immediately, everyone started doing this, with every possible type of comparison.
A non-comprehensive list of things that have been compared to Game of Thrones characters:
The United States of America, Drag Race stars, MLB teams, American politicians, English politicians, royal family members, 2012 presidential candidates, 2016 Republican presidential candidates, Westworld characters, Sopranos characters, WWE wrestlers, Harry Potter characters, Disney characters, Pokemon, Pokemon trainers, DJs, golfers, Premier League stars, baseball players, more NBA players, NFL players, NFL logos, pop stars, rappers, more rappers, seriously a lot of rappers, and more.
Why did this happen? First and foremost is the extensive Game of Thrones content economy, which dictates that if there is a type of Game of Thrones article to be written, it will be. It’s also fun enough, too, to draw connections between things we like and... other things. Go ahead and think: Which of your friends is most like poor, sad-sack Jorah Mormont? You know who.
More than that, it’s a testament to the show’s versatility. Game of Thrones is an ensemble show on a scale we’ve never seen before. There have been dozens of well-sketched, monumental characters across eight seasons, all of them embodying some different point of view, role, and background, and put into direct conflict with each other. The show offers something for every personality type — there’s the characters you’re meant to root for, and the ones you grow a particular fondness for because of the way they may correspond to your own personality and values. If you’re a sardonic black sheep with a penchant for drinking and whoring, you could be a fan of Tyrion. If you’re a noble, handsome idiot, you could stan for Jon. If you all got into astrology in the last few years, you could be a Melisandre partisan, and so on. Part of the show’s genius is how there are few pure villains, characters with no motivation beyond “being a dick.” (If you like Ramsay Snow, you’re a sociopath, sorry.)
Everyone is simply advocating for what they believe in, whether it’s self-governance or the right to bone your brother. And because the fantasy setting of Game of Thrones removes the social barriers present in most fiction — namely, the characters all have freedom to kill whoever’s in their way (and are even encouraged to do so!) — all of these characters can explore their values to the maximum. The only notable comparisons that come to mind are Mad Men, a show in which nobody was ever fighting (besides the occasional poor fool trying to disrupt Don Draper’s hegemony on the Sterling Cooper office) and The Wire (in which there were really just two sides, cops vs. robbers, and endless variants on those two archetypes).
You could argue that Game of Thrones has more — emphasis on the more — great characters than any show in history, all of them deftly stitched into the same narrative tapestry. That’s the most amazing thing: The world of Westeros makes sense, even there is so much going on. And again, it’s fun to try to impose a similar sense of order onto these unrelated concepts. What if the NBA wasn’t just a collection of arbitrarily-run teams and players, but a breathing, interrelated ecosystem? In all walks of life, people love to project a narrative that isn’t necessarily there. Transposing Game of Thrones onto it is an even easier way to make it legible.
On the other hand: How unoriginal, right? Just like the internet to take something amusing, and run it right into the ground. But that’s what much of pop culture boils down to — people trying to make sense of themselves, and the world, via the things they love. For eight years, we did it through Game of Thrones. For eight years, it made enough sense to enough people when you said, He’s a total Bran, and so we heard it again and again on the internet.