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“Game of Thrones: Views from the Humanities”: Interview with the organizing committee

In the middle of the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” and just before the beginning of the congress, we discuss this world-wide cultural phenomenon as fans and as professionals.
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The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” is one of the greatest popular events of the year. As we are approaching its definite end, classicists are going to gather in Seville from Wednesday 15th May to Saturday 18th May for the congress “Game of Thrones: Views from the Humanities”. The congress is co-organized from the Pablo de Olavide University and the University of Seville.

In the call of papers, the organizers listed several question that may be addressed:
What does a linguist have to say about the Dothraki language? A specialist of Communication studies about the phenomenon of fans? A political scientist about the machinations in King's Landing? A historian of the Roman world about the circle formation of the "Battle of the Bastards"? A jurist about the possibilities of bastard children to inherit? An economic historian about the Iron Bank? A classicist about the motives of Roman literature in the world of Game of Thrones? A geographer on the topography of the Seven Kingdoms?

Just before the beginning of the congress, we had the opportunity to interview its organizers and discuss the phenomenon of “Game of Thrones” but as fans and as professionals. Let's get into it!

- The members of the organizing committee come from departments of ancient history, and your research fields don’t extend further than the Hellenistic and the Roman periods. What is your connection to the mainly medieval–inspired “Game of Thrones”?

We are five members in the organizing committee and, as you said, we come all from departments of Classics. Our main research interests range from ancient piracy, pre-industrial economy, ancient politics and religion and Latin literature. However, we have also paid attention to reception studies and historiography. Some of us have work in early modern (Elena Muñiz from Pablo de Olavide University) and XIX c. historiography (Fernando Lozano from University of Seville). And we have organized several conferences on classical reception –the last one, “The Present of Antiquity. Reception, Recovery, Reinvention of the Ancient World in Current Popular Culture”, is going to be published very soon–. This interest in reception studies is the base of our academic connection to “Game of Thrones”. In 2017, Cristina Rosillo and Rosario Moreno from Pablo de Olavide University held a very successful conference about Game of Thrones (“Seminario Permanente de Intercambio de ideas: Juego de Tronos”. It can be watched here.). This seminar is the starting point of our forthcoming conference. All that said, besides the academic perspective, we are also fans of the “Game of Thrones” saga.

Also, let me say from the very beginning that for us “Game of Thrones” has a myriad of inspirations. It is a very rich and eclectic work. The connection with the Medieval period is clear, but also Early Modern and Classical inspiration are fundamental. Our purpose is to explore them all, trying to convey as complex a picture as possible.

- There are articles in popular media trying to discover real historical personalities or instances in the series. To what degree can inspiration identify with historical facts, and how can we approach the series in that way when the primary historical sources themselves are mainly subjective?

As we said before, there are a myriad of resonances and inspirations in “Game of Thrones”. From an intellectual point of view, it is interesting to identify them, to decipher part of the mystery, one can say. However, this endeavor should not be taken in order to criticize the book or TV series, but, in our opinion, to understand the work better and to improve our knowledge of the creation process of the author. Let us give a couple of examples. The Wall is clearly inspired, as George R. R. Martin himself explained, in Hadrian’s Wall in England. However, the Wall is not just Hadrian Wall. It takes the historical monument and turns it into something completely unique –bigger, colder and guarding men against the dead–. The same goes, for instance, for the Dothraki who have been described as renderings –sometimes, poor ones– of different plain cultures. However, this reconstruction is partial, because, as George R. R. Martin said, this people combine a “number of steppe and plains cultures, including Mongols and Huns, certainly, but also Alans, Sioux, Cheyenne, and various other Amerindian tribes… seasoned with a dash of pure fantasy”. 

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- In the era of "everything now" how is the ecosystem/e–society around the TV series approached? There are fora with meticulous analysis, spoiler–protection and information organisation, all happening in real–time with the show.

It is an interesting phenomenon that must be approached from a sociological perspective. We will discuss this in one of the round tables during the Conference. 

- Does a screenwriter have to be a historian, a linguist, a political analyst, and to have studied economics in order to achieve the success of “Game of Thrones”? Isn't inspiration or a good story enough? 

A good education and knowledge of the areas you mentioned might be helpful. However, a good story and the mastering of the art of storytelling way are key for writing a fascinating book. As George R. R. Martin himself said “ideas are cheap […] it's the execution that is all-important”. Screenwriters are humanists in a sense.

- We have seen TV shows (e.g. Mythbusters) challenging films and TV series from a physics or engineering perspective. Is one of your goals to challenge the series (TV or books) in terms of cultural and historical inaccuracies or contradictions, given that it is a work of fiction?

Our goal is not to challenge “Game of Thrones” searching to find cultural and historical inaccuracies or contradictions. “Game of Thrones” is a work of fiction. In our opinion, such approach misses the point. On the contrary, our aim is to examine the saga as an extraordinarily rich and multifaceted work. And we want to do so from the perspective of the Humanities. The programme covers a wide range of approaches, from Historical Studies to literary research, but also the possibilities of the books as an educational tool. 

- As fans of the books and the TV series, what are your expectations for the last season? Who do you want to see seated on the Iron Throne?

We have really great expectations for a grand finale. (Hopefully Seville and Italica will be the set.) We are writing this answer before watching a single episode of Season 8, so no spoilers are possible. Who will seat on the Iron Throne? Who do we want to see seated on such a troubled place? The house is divided. Maybe, only maybe, nobody will seat. Men will cease to exist. Or, who knows, maybe the dragons will melt it down so that a new society can rise from the ashes of the old. Only George R. R. Martin and a handful of privileged people know.

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- Let’s return to the congress. What are your expectations there? Are you satisfied with the abstracts received and the registration so far? Can we get a glimpse into the congress (e.g., number of presentations, countries of origin, keynote lectures, sessions)?

We are really excited about the conference. The idea was very welcome in the academic community. We received almost a hundred proposals and more than forty were accepted. We were even forced to include an extra day in order to be able to accept more papers. You can have access to the full programme in the official web page.

- Were there any approaches you did not expect until receiving a certain abstract?

Since we had a previous experience with the 2017 seminar, we were quite open to receiving different, stimulating approaches. 

- The International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds in Great Britain hosted a fan–made replica of the Iron Throne in 2017, and welcomed the attendees with flying dragons in 2018. Do you plan any special or public events during the congress? I guess that Gaztelugatxe (the Dragonstone of the TV series) is quite far in the north of Spain, but I would take a tour in the Alcázar of Seville (the Dorne of the TV series) for granted.

Yes, we are organizing three visits. The first one is indeed to the Alcázar of Seville on Wednesday 15th May for the speakers. Then, Saturday and Sunday all speakers and attendees will go to the Roman city of Italica (the Dragon Pit of the TV series) and the town of Osuna (the fighting pit of Meereen of the TV series).

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- Several universities, especially in the USA, offered classes linking the show to medieval studies and the humanities. e.g., the Harvard class “The Real Game of Thrones: Culture, Society, and Religion in the Middle Ages” (in Fall 2017 and 2018) and the UC Berkeley summer course “The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention” (in 2017). These courses have been characterized, both positively and negatively, as “recruitment tools” for students. Do you share this view? Have you offered or are you planning to offer similar classes in your department?

“Game of Thrones” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” are cultural products that lend themselves to academic analysis. 

- “Game of Thrones” is more than story–telling. Its success relies on the actors, the visual effects, cinematography, montage, costumes, etc. Does everyone have to be a bit of a humanist, as well?

Of course they are!

Thank you very much for your time. We wish you a lot of constructive discussions and fun during the congress.

Find more information about the congress “Game of Thrones: Views from the Humanities” in the official web page.

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