WARNING: Spoilers up to the latest episode. So read and view the pictures at your own risk if you haven’t watched up to the June 1, 2015 episode!
When you bring zombies to my TV, you’d better come hard. I don’t want to see some lumbering, predictable, moaning sasquatch grasping aimlessly for brains. I want Z Nation / Zombieland / 28 Days Later freaks that sprint at you like demons, show some sense of strategy, and using their lack of pain as an advantage. That is why I’ve chosen to break my silence about Game of Thrones. Episode 8 of Season 4 contained the first majorly reproduced zombie fight scene for this top HBO series – and they BROUGHT IT.
Exhibit A: Oh this? Just a 20 foot giant, fighting zombies hand to hand in his gianty-way.
Exhibit B: These Zombies Call You Out For Being A Pussy
But before any of you fanboys skip ahead to leave a nasty comment, please give pause to read a couple of these disclaimers.
This post contains very minor SPOILERS. I will quote a bit from book one, and discuss a scene from the fourth season, but I’ll try to keep plot points need-to-know.
“Zombie” may not be the best way to describe what A Game of Thrones calls “wights”. There is debate on this point. But here is a more description of wight characteristics – you decide for yourself.
- They are (mostly) people – once dead, now animated.
- They seem unable to feel pain.
- They attack the living – not one another.
- They are as fast and strong as the living.
- They gain reinforcements through fatalities only, not infection.
- They follow the will of another. (“The Others” aka “White Walkers” are powerful and mysterious overlords to the horde ala The Strain.)
- They can only be killed with fire.
- They bring bad weather with them.
- Hunger and cannibalism is not a factor. *Ok, maybe cannibalism.
A Game of Thrones may not be best categorized as Post-Apocalyptic. Now once you finish rolling your eyes at that epic understatement, please give me a chance to explain:
Like it or hate it, most people would agee that Planet of the Apes is a Post-Apocalyptic classic. PotA Spoiler: Its earth. In the future. Once society has rebuilt. Now, it has recently occured to me that if Planet of the Apes is PA, then GoT must be categorized in the same way. Let me get specific. (And I can because I’ve read all published books from A Song of Ice and Fire – the book series that begins with “A Game of Thrones” and upon which the Game of Thrones HBO series is based. Of course, I’ve also seen every episode at least once.)
Like Middle Earth, a Game of Thrones occurs in a non-earth fantasy world with a medieval level of technology. It is squarely a fantasy-genre story, and I do not dispute that one bit. But it is also appropriate to call it post apocalyptic. Way post apocalypse. Like 8,000 years post.
The Game of Thrones Apocalypse in brief:
8,000 years before the events in A Game of Thrones, a winter struck which threatened global extinction for men. During that time, the world was covered in darkness for an entire generation. Like nuclear winter, this darkness also had the effect of immense global cooling. But this nuclear winter was accompanied by a horde of intelligent zombies controlled by mysterious and powerful humanoids hell-bent on global domination. Against all odds, the zombies were defeated – though not entirely.
The Wall, a central point for this story, is not only the oldest known structure in the world, but also the largest. It was built by the survivors – led by Bran the Builder – to protect the world of men should the zombie horde ever return. It has been manned, virtually without interruption or attack, for 8,000 years.
Most of what we know about them comes from a very old woman’s ‘wive’s tale’:
A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, Bran IV.
“ Oh my sweet summer child … What do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north, when the sun hides it face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.
The Others … Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard and endless beyond all memory of man. There came a night that lasted a generation, and kings shivered and died in their castles even as the swineherds in their hovels. Women smothered their children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks.
In that darkness, the Others came for the first time … They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding pale dead horses, and leading hosts of the slain. All the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes, found no pity in them. They hunted the maids through the frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.
Now these were the days before the Andals came, and long before the women fled across the narrow sea from the cities of the Rhoyne, and the hundred kingdoms of those times were the kingdoms of the First Men, who had taken those lands from the children of the forest. Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods, the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog and a dozen companions. For years he searched until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds –”
So, there you have it. There was an apocalypse before the events of A Game of Thrones – one in which humanity barely survived. This satisfies the technical requirements of the Post Apocalyptic genre. Like Planet of the Apes, the apocalypse took place far before the events of the story – but still have a significant influence on the setting. Sure, there are key differences. But I think the analogy is strong. The bottom line, Game of Thrones is a great medieval fantasy story, but it is also a great post-apocalyptic zombie story.
Ok, I’m done. Fire away. I want to see some real ego busters in the comments section, people. No holding back. The comments section below this article is an open forum for you to practice the ancient art of psychological manipulation. Go ahead and channel your inner Ramsay Bolton. Wait. No. Please don’t do that. Oh god…what have I done?
Already into Game of Thrones?
Good. Then read the books. You’ve done that too?! Well then, you sound pretty cool. You’re gonna LOVE this. – Super SPOILERS for A Song of Ice and Fire / A Game of Thrones: The test results are back, Jon Snow. And your REAL PARENTS are…
Well, it appears irrefutable. GAME OF THRONES is post-apocalyptic. No getting around it. Now consider GAME OF THRONES world-defining nuclear winter as the same one in Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. Indeed, THE ROAD would have been much improved by White Walkers stalking among the charred spires of the burned forests.
That would be AMAZING. White Walkers on the road…
Okay, first off I think there’s a time limit on a world being Post Apocalyptic – the name itself specifies a period of time after a world ending event, but it’s a period that does not go beyond a point in time when the world suitably recovers.
While I’ve got no doubt that there was an apocalyptic event in the world of GoT, it was, like you said, 8000 years before the current story unfolds. The world has had time to heal and fully rebuild since then and take itself out of the post-apocalyptic period. If Westeros were still to be considered Post Apocalyptic, then all of Europe would have to be considered Post Apocalyptic as well – in relation to the Black Death which wiped out millions… 600 odd years ago. The thing is though, we’ve rebuilt since then, we’ve recovered, which has taken us out of that Post Apocalyptic period.
Second, Planet of the Apes was totally Post Apocalyptic – for humans. For the Apes, however, it was just the start of their world – sort of how like the K–T Extinction was Apocalyptic for Dinosaurs but not for Mammals, or how British Colonialism was Apocalyptic for Natives across the globe, but not the Brits. You could say “but the ruined and half sunk Statue of Liberty is still there, so the world is still Post-Apocalyptic” to which the reply would be “the ruins of the Colosseum and the Pantheon are still here, but we don’t consider Italy to be Post Apocalyptic, all that stuff is just Roman history.”
So while technically you’re correct – Westeros is Post Apocalyptic, just like technically Europe and the Americas and Italy (and all of Earth) are, it’s at such a distant time in history that it’s watered down to the point of it being meaningless.
Finally, due to the political and warlike nature of the people of Westeros, and the constant utterance of the line “Winter is Coming” – I’d say that Game of Thrones is more Pre-Apocalyptic, with everyone worrying about the current world ending, one way or another. Whether it’s from some invading army, White-Walkers or another full on generation-long freezing darkness…. it seems like Westeros is going to face another Apocalyptic event, after which it will be Post Apocalyptic for a while, just like it was the last time Winter came.
Anyway, while I can’t agree with your stance of GoT currently being PA, you did point out that at one stage it totally was (and might be again) – and that I can totally agree with.
And hey, you did get a blog article out of it – so grats for that 🙂
Good post. I mostly agree with your sentiment. There seems to be a trouble with defining “Post” because every species could be said to have neared extinction at some point in its past. When is a time period “Post-Apocalyptic”? 8000 years seems like it should disqualify Game of Thrones.
Two thoughts. First, the obligatory cop-out that the GoT timeline is seriously questionable. As in, GRRM may be playing with the fact that re-writing history is easier in a world without the printing press or the internet.
My second thought is that we might be focusing on the wrong element. The Hunger Games, if memory serves, never dated itself in relation to our calendar. That means it could be hundreds of years in the future. Human technology is, in a way, at an all-time high. Yet it very clearly is post-apocalyptic.
Perhaps the focus should be on whether society has outpaced the pre-event society? Or perhaps it is a question of whether the pre-event society can be envied by the post-event society.
i agree on this:)