Debating How to Govern in Season 2 of ‘Game of Thrones’

Well, the newest trailer for the second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which premieres on April 1, looks dandy, doesn’t it?

The nerd in me is rather pleased to see that the characters’ debates about who is best suited to rule Westeros and how that rule should be accomplished are intact, and are something the show is embracing, rather than running away from. But the trailer did remind me of something I find interesting. Given the extent to which A Song of Ice and Fire is based on the War of the Roses, I’m surprised that most people don’t point out the central difference between that conflict and the War of the Five Kings very often. In Martin’s universe, there’s no Parliament, nor any representative assembly, that the contestants for the Iron Throne can appeal to for recognition of their claim.

Sometimes, that makes the process more democratic: Stannis Baratheon, the late King Robert’s brother, can pull a Richard III and tell the world, instead of Parliament, that Cersei’s children are the product of incest rather than legitimate heirs to the throne, and then proceed to demonstrate that he’s best-prepared to lead Westeros by heading up the defense of the Wall when it comes under assault. And sometimes, it’s less direct: Stannis and his brother Renly, who wants to jump over him in the line of succession, argue about what the citizens of Westeros want in a neutral meeting that doesn’t actually involve consulting any of those citizens on what would be best for the country. Cersei Lannister, ruling as queen regent even as rumors about her children’s parentage fly, views her subject with utter contempt. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen finds that presenting yourself as the mother of your people isn’t an automatic solution to their needs.

But having all of these debates about governance without the presence of a parliament obscures the extent to which they’re an anachronism. In the real world, Parliament may have been manipulatable during the War of the Roses, but its power and discretion grew as that of England’s kings waned. Part of the triumph of history is that we evolved forms of government that would prevent these bloody and unproductive dynastic struggle. I’m not sure what it means that we don’t see this germ of the future in A Song of Ice and Fire, but it is striking.