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Game of Thrones first aired in 2011, and although I did not start watching it until late 2015, it has still had a profound effect on my life, which I did not realise until I started thinking about this article. Although it is more in the background of my life, making small ripples rather than big waves in terms of impact, reflecting on the role of Game of Thrones in my life has really shown me that, in a way, it is more than a television show. It is a community, a conversation starter, a way to connect, and it is a valuable asset to take people away from everyday life and transport them to a magical world with fantastic characters. In this article, I will expand on four of the reasons I think GoT has impacted my life.
First of all, I started watching Game of Thrones shortly after starting my A levels (my final exams before university), one of which was history. History has always been one of my greatest interests, and part of our course was on the "Wars of the Roses." Many fans of GoT know the links between the story of Game of Thrones and that of the wars between the Houses Plantagenet, Lancaster, York, and Tudor between the years 1450 and 1500. I found A levels very difficult, and even with my love for history, it was very difficult to remember all of the names and sequences of events. For example, when a Duke or Earl dies, his son takes up his title; there ends up being multiple people with the same name which is mind-boggling.
That is until I realised the connection to Game of Thrones. The connection is most prominent in the early seasons—particularly season one—but even as the story and the history become more disconnected, there are certain events that happen which have historical links. Examples of characters who have been influenced by the real people in the Wars of the Roses include Cersei Lannister, inspired by Margaret of Anjou, and Ned Stark, inspired by Richard of York. It turned out my teacher was also a Thrones fan and asked me to write him a short piece on how the characters and events linked. This really helped me to understand the history so much better. It gave a face to the names in some cases, and it made me strive to learn as much as I could from my classes so I could compare it to everything I was watching. In some ways, Game of Thrones got me the grades I needed to get into university to study history.
Both the Game of Thrones show and books have really inspired me as a fantasy writer. I always felt like there was something missing with my characters and plot, and it's not until I have seen recent interviews with George R.R. Martin that I have really realised that I wasn’t making realistic characters, with real motives and backgrounds. Martin often mentions the morality of his characters, and how not all characters are either good or bad. So many of his characters are examples of this, and viewers can plainly see that they do not have a fixed set moral compass. For example, Jaime, Cersei, Theon, and Daenerys. Even characters who are morally evil are that way because of a reason, they are not just bad because they want to be or as a plot device. For example, Ramsey Bolton may seem like he was bad purely because he wanted to be. But when we look into the depths of his character, he was a part of one of the most violent houses (with their sigil being that of a flayed man), he was born as a product of rape (and murder), his father allows him free reign of his lands to do as he pleases, and what pleases him is to commit evil crimes to appease his father. Martin puts a level of detail into his characters, where everything connects to the lore he created, and where they would not act in any way that was not explainable. This is realised by the showrunners—albeit not to the same depth, but it still is an inspiration to people to help flesh out characters and stories. Moreover, as previously mentioned, Martin took some inspiration from history and he has also spoken about his other inspirations such as The Lord of The Rings, classic sci-fi/fantasy, and different world religions and culture. This has encouraged me to find inspiration in anything and everything I do, see, and read, thus completely changing the way I view the world and what I write. It has been life-changing, as it has been better than any lesson I could have learned in a classroom, and I feel like my writing is improving as a product of this.
Another way Game of Thrones has changed my life is how it gave me a focus when I was not well and how it has connected me to other fans. As previously mentioned, I started watching Game of Thrones when I started school doing my final exams. But I was also in the hospital for the whole summer prior to it starting back and I had major surgery three weeks before I went back to school.
It is needless to say, I suffered from anxiety and some PTSD from the unexpected turn my summer had taken. I struggled with school and I struggled to relate to anything, or anyone. A lot of my friends didn’t understand the struggle I had gone through, and how it continued due to my medication making me feel awful.
While I was recovering, Game of Thrones was a godsend. My medication, which made me tired, also made it easier to stay in, so watching Game of Thrones got me out of my own headspace. It also helped in that it opened up something new for me to talk about with my friends, so even if we were apart, I still had long conversations with my friends, plowing through theories and discussing the series.
To this day, when meeting new people it always seems to be something that comes up in conversation, especially if you run into other fans; it is an example of a television show which everyone and anyone can watch and have an interest in. Even friends I never expected to be interested in a medieval fantasy drama have spoken at great lengths to me about their theories. In the UK, where I live, The Independent reported that a record 3.39 million people tuned in to the season eight premier. The next day at work, I spoke passingly to customers about the episode if it was mentioned and I had deeper conversations with my coworkers about their thoughts and theories. These kinds of connections show the powerful and unfathomable effect of Game of Thrones.
I have never been the kind of person to seek out role models from Hollywood. But in a way, Game of Thrones has changed that. And it hasn’t been life-changing, but I do feel as though I have a lot of respect for all the actors on Game of Thrones, specifically Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, and Sophie Turner.
Emilia Clarke recently opened up about her fight for her life as she suffered from two brain aneurysms after filming season one of Game of Thrones. In her original article for The New Yorker, she discusses how she struggled to feel normal again with the constant paranoia of having her condition come back again. I read this article, I cried for her, and I cried because every single thing she said resonated with my experience of being in the hospital and having an illness. Unlike our much beloved Khaleesi, though, I did not have a stroke. Instead, I had a blood clot in my left subclavian vein at the age of 16—something people don’t often suffer with until they are elderly. I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Paget-Schroetter syndrome, which is anatomical and if intense upper body exercise is done by a person with this, they develop a blood clot. I had procedures which put me at a high risk of having a stroke, I was on blood thinners for almost one year, and I had to have thoracic decompression surgery. I am still at risk of developing a blood clot if I push myself too far, because even though I had the surgery on one side of my chest, the other side could still be affected or the surgery could turn out to have not been enough to stop me from developing another clot. Something that really hit me about Emilia’s story is that she discussed how one day she had a headache and in her mind she convinced herself it was starting all over again. The same happened to me. One night I got worked up in my own thoughts and convinced myself something was wrong, and I ended up in A&E only to be told I was fine, physically, but mentally I needed help.
Emilia’s charity, SameYou, is so important. I can’t even begin to put into words how moved I was when I read about this. Too often when we see someone who has had a serious medical issue, our thoughts are about their physical wellbeing, and doctors are often the same. But the mental impact on patients is huge and forgotten. Although people know about my surgery and condition, I struggle to talk about it seriously, preferring to tell silly anecdotes about my experiences on morphine in the hospital or the funny doctors I met. But Emilia has really made me feel comfortable with the way I felt after surgery, and still occasionally do to this day. Emilia’s charity cannot help me, but I hope it really changes the lives of people who have suffered trauma in the same way as myself, Emilia, and many other people out there. And I owe a debt of gratitude to Game of Thrones for bringing Emilia into the limelight so that she could raise awareness for people who do not have that platform.
Maisie Williams has also done amazing things recently, as she set up her app, Daisie. The app is amazing. I have so many friends on it who are enjoying this new outreach for people in creative industries. As a painter and writer myself, I believe it is important to be able to support other people going through an industry which is very competitive and is hard to navigate. Maisie did a TedTalk on this in my home city of Manchester, and she was incredibly inspirational and intelligent. It inspires me to see someone my age take on a role as a leader like she has, and in a way, we have Game of Thrones to thank for this because Maisie herself admits it was her casting in GoT which got her to where she is now. Maisie’s character Arya is definitely one of my favourites. I remember watching season one so soon after being in the hospital that I decided to identify with Arya and Syrio’s response to death: “Not today.” Any time I would feel down, like I wanted to just give up, like I couldn’t continue school, I would tell myself I couldn’t let my medication and illness get the better of me, “Not today.” And that kept me going for a long time.
Sophie Turner is also an amazing role model. She recently spoke about her struggles with her mental health and having healthy relationships with yourself and your partner. Like Maisie, she is so close to my age, and the way she discussed these things really opened my heart to her. Both Maisie and Sophie are so funny and down to Earth, and their friendship that grew through their casting in Game of Thrones is incredible. Their friendship is a reminder that it is important to support your friends and be a genuine person.
So, in conclusion, these are my four reasons why I think Game of Thrones has changed my life. As previously mentioned, I never realised that it had changed my life, but upon reflection, I can see that for me it has been an encouragement in my studies, an inspiration in my writing, an aid for my recovery, a source of conversation, and a machine that has spurred out amazing role models.
With the series finale looming upon us (as I write this), I just want to thank all of the actors for their portrayal of the characters, and every single person who has worked to make Game of Thrones a masterpiece. I also want to thank Vocal because this writing challenge has made me love the series more.