I've just come across yet another article arguing that "Games of Thrones" isn't really medieval here (I've also posted it on Facebook). This one argues that its world has more in common with the early modern period, but also, quite rightly points out that its not even consistent about that. It's pretty clear to anyone who's worked on the Middle Ages that neither the books nor the TV show are accurately medieval in all kinds of ways, that's really a moot point. And for all that George Martin makes plenty of claims about Westeros being properly medieval and not some Disney or Tolkien-imitation, he also says that the story, not history, comes first. What really interests me is why people seem to care so much.
It's probably not surprising that there's a ready supply of academics
not just willing but eager to write about this. 'Which inaccuracy or
anachronism irritates you most in "Game of Thrones?' is a pretty good
conversation starter at any Medieval Studies conference, and even those
who get past the irritation enough to enjoy the show still notice the
details. I'm not suggesting for a minute that we should stop writing
these pieces (not that I have but I would if I had the chance); I think
it's actually very important that we (the royal/academic we) do try to
engage in these kinds of discussions. Not just because it means our
students might not have quite so many false assumptions when they get
into the classroom, but because, as the article I linked to says, "Game
of Thrones" is much more about the present day than it is about the
past; if we don't point this out, all the violence, racism, sexism etc
can be just dismissed as 'authentic' and a chance to reflect on what our
society is like gets lost.
Why there are editors willing to publish these stories in the mainstream media is relatively easy: the show is incredibly popular, so the pieces will be read. But is it just that so many people watch the show, and that they're all so keen on it that they'll read anything with "Game of Thrones" in the title? I don't think it is. One one level, the historical (in)accuracy of the show gives people an excuse to enjoy it by making it seem more serious and adult than fantasy is usually given credit for. Fantasy is still often looked down as being juvenile, if not outright childish, so putting in some history gives the show, and its audience, credibility and a kind of cultural capital. Articles that argue "Game of Thrones" isn't as medieval as it might appear speak to some of that. And if, like the one I've linked to here, they suggest that there's a lot of early modern history in there as well, that is still history.