‘Game of Thrones’ And The Press

World's worst publisher.

In the wake of the announcement that Jill Abramson will become the first woman to hold the top editing slot at the New York Times, that paper’s crack culture critic Dave Itzkoff joked on Twitter: “Crazy #GameofThrones scene in NYT newsroom. The City Watch swept in and now Prince Joffrey is our new executive editor.” Aside from how bad the tar used to preserve severed heads would look dripped all over the nice facade of the New York Times’ building, it’s actually a really instructive point that the “Game of Thrones” universe appears not just to not have any public media, as Nick Sementelli mentioned to me, but not to have the printing press or a larger literate class. Spoilers to follow if you’ve only watched the episodes that have aired on HBO.

There’s quite a bit made of the fact that the common people don’t really care who’s king. Obviously, when things deteriorate to the point where folks can’t safely get a harvest or a fishing haul in, you end up with appeals to the sovereign—and even then it’s clear, as when the villagers mistake Ned for Robert—or local vigilante groups like the Brotherhood Without Banners. But it’s not particularly clear what information most people in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea have about what policy or management decisions contribute to the conditions that they live under. Certainly, the fact that there’s not more than one copy of the genealogy that leads Ned to figure out who the real father of Cersei’s children is helps her keep that secret for much longer. Similarly, the fact that there’s no way to authoritatively verify that dragons live again and to disseminate the news to a mass audience is a huge strategic advantage to Dany: she gets to become a legend without having people really mobilize en masse to take her down.

Obviously a Westeros that had reasonably widespread literacy and an established middle class in both the cities and the country wouldn’t be Westeros as we know it at all. But in a world where information asymmetry is a major theme, it’s interesting that the press doesn’t even factor into the story.