Of Fire and Blood…and Soil
Returning to Andrews included a number of losses for me: the loss of my summer freedoms, the loss of the summer warmth, and *spoiler alert* the loss of a dragon to a javelin-throwing ice king. I know. Things went crazy. I’m still not over it. But for the crowd who does not watch Game of Thrones (GOT), I believe there are still lessons to be gathered from the series’ storytelling, especially when engaging with issues of identity politics.
Now I may only be a casual GOT fan, but I’ve always been intrigued as to why the show has gained such a massive following. Aside from the alluring fantasy elements, the complex storylines, and its visual appeal, GOT taps into the many vexing aspects of human nature and that’s why people become so hooked. For one, many viewers and readers find themselves aligning with specific family houses and what those houses represent as depicted by the flags the characters fly, the colors they wear, and the actions they take. The viewers begin to see bits and pieces of themselves in the show.
Certain families, like House Bolton, fly the imagery of a flayed man on an X-shaped cross on their sigils and unsurprisingly the members, like their crest, are inherently violent. Moreover, their banners depict their humans victims rather than the representative animal of most other major houses. To their enemies, House Bolton’s flags incite fear due to their reputation as a group that has no real regard for other human bodies. In fact, even after its downfall, the psychological torture enacted by the men of the House on their victims continues to be felt and seen in their victims. However, despite being arguably one of the most despised houses in the show, House Bolton’s tenacious desire and quest for power, molestation of the physical body and mental psyche, and ignoble morality became for me a disconcerting point of combined fascination and reprehension. But why? Maybe, just maybe, House Bolton with its sigil of a flayed-man flown high, showcases a darker side of humanity. Maybe the real monsters are what we hide beneath our skin, not the dragons and White Walkers feared in the show.
Of course, Game of Thrones isn’t reality. There are no dragons in the sky, there is no Iron Throne, no humans being skinned and no one declaring to reclaim what is theirs “with fire and blood.” But current events place America in a time where its own brand of White Walkers have resurfaced—a group of people trying to reclaim their land under the motto of “blood and soil.” This phrase, coined by German nationalists in the 19th century and popularized by Nazi Germany promoted the idea that ethnic identity is based on only blood descent and the territory in which an individual lives and is from. “Blood and soil,” adopted by American white supremacists, became a central ideology of the Charlottesville protests.
Under banners of flames and Confederate flags, men and women chanted these words, uniting the Right as an outcry against the disenfranchisement of their people. Counter-protests emerged. Violence ensued. Blood was spilled. Lives were lost.
The tragedy of this event is not something I can forget. It terrifies me. Charlottesville showed men and women uniting under a flag of hate and under a history of exploitation and violence. Charlottesville revealed men and women unafraid to hide under hoods of white—people unafraid to hide the monsters within.
This is the real world, but unlike Game of Thrones, this moment in history isn’t an opportunity to discuss who is in the right and in the wrong, because there is no gray area in this case. When you take on a banner, you take on its past. When you proudly fly the colors of a flag, you align yourself with an ideology and a community. The Charlottesville protesters left no doubts regarding their true loyalties.
So where do your loyalties lie?
For GOT, most fans find themselves aligning with the underdogs, the dynamic feminists, the sly planners, and the tempting opportunists. Yet no one can wholeheartedly say they root for the real evils in the show: representations of death, mutilation, rape and slavery. It’s easy for us to judge morality in the shows we watch, but we find it difficult to apply those same moral lenses in real life. When things are simplified on-screen, we can dictate and project which parts of our morality and convictions we wish to champion on the characters we watch. Real life, however, while much more complex, still challenges us to meet our own moral standards.
“Choose you this day whom you will serve” is an often-quoted text from the book of Joshua and for good reason. It is a call to action, not to silence. It is a call to be decisive, not hesitant. It is a call to be someone who takes a stand. It is a call to be someone who chooses.
As this school year continues to develop, we are given the incredible opportunity to be a part of a diverse community—a space where differences (should) reside harmoniously. The different backgrounds, cultural, ethnic or geographic abundant in Andrews ultimately give us a chance to be part of our own Houses or communities of similar interests, traditions, values and goals. But we must keep in mind the other communities we inadvertently leave out when we align ourselves with certain ideologies and values.
In both GOT and Charlottesville, the ensuing violence hinged on how the past informed the current state of affairs. People grew to believe the mythos surrounding their identity, and sought to claim what they believed was rightfully theirs. Imagined histories of ownership and superiority birthed the notions of an entitled future, leading to the wars in the show and the destructiveness of Charlottesville.
At Andrews University, however, an enormous potential exists for the community to engage with the darker parts of our history. Constant exposure to worlds and experiences outside of our own perspective uniquely positions us as catalysts for change and improvement. In a place like Andrews, where opportunities for growth are encouraged and nurtured, we are given an incredible responsibility not only to broaden our minds but also to face harsh truths and do something about them.
This year, remember that your choices define who you are. As you develop new friendships, face new challenges and blaze your own trail, the things you do matter. They symbolize your core. The commitments you make and the things you say or don’t say reveal your allegiances, distinguish your values and show your true colors.
To clarify, at this age or any age for that matter, you don’t have to have it all together. Make mistakes, find your own way, keep an open mind, accept criticism but don’t be afraid to adjust your worldview.
And even if you find yourself in the wrong “house” this year, your past needn’t dictate your path. A Lannister by blood and Targaryen by allegiance, Tyrion Lannister was born on the wrong side of the war, but he was given the opportunity to choose a new family, a new community and a new house—a chance to redeem his mistakes and work towards a hopeful future. Like Tyrion, your blood and soil do not have to dictate who you will be. It is our actions that unmask our true loyalties and therefore our actions that can also redeem us.
We shouldn’t need another Charlottesville to teach us that.