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Five professors at West Virginia University’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences are using HBO’s award-winning series “Game of Thrones” to illustrate how the program, which will end this weekend, intersects their fields of study. The experts in women’s studies, international relations, religious studies, linguistics, social work and communication studies say with tens of millions of viewers each week, the show’s characters and themes have become cultural touchstones.
Quotes and Comments
“‘Game of Thrones’ allows us to explore the implications of different religious, cultural and moral systems, and how those systems are actually practiced within the ‘world’ of the show. Two people can say they believe in the same religious system, yet we see quite different outcomes in terms of how those people practice their beliefs and how they act on a daily basis. We don’t have to match up the show’s religions with religions that are practiced around our world today. Instead, we can look more broadly at how religion impacts people’s ethical ideas, and how the show’s different religious and ethical systems—the Faith of the Seven, the Old Gods, the Drowned God, the Lord of Light—interact with each other.” - Alyssa Beall
“Social media often gets a bad rap around the time of series finales because people are afraid of spoilers. But for what it’s worth, research suggests that spoilers probably won’t diminish your enjoyment of the show, so fans shouldn’t stress out too much if they accidentally see a post about some of their favorite characters biting the bullet (as if that would surprise anybody about ‘Game of Thrones’!). Still, I think that pressure to watch the show live in order to avoid spoilers has kind of an indirect benefit for us because the viewing becomes more of a shared event. Because we do live in a time now when people watch so many things on their own, there’s something very special when millions of people break viewing records to watch something at the same time. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl, but for fantasy fans. Many people will likely use social media during the airing just to be able to share the event with others, perhaps participating in conversations about the show using hashtags, or texting friends. A few years ago, I conducted a study that suggests that these types of online co-viewing activities can enhance people’s sense of community and belonging. For many, television is best shared with others, whether it’s in person or online.” - Elizabeth Cohen
“Daenerys Targaryen has become a feminist icon, and her storyline is very similar to a central question in international relations: do women rule differently than men and, more specifically, are they more peaceful? Many viewers were disappointed to see her vengeful rage after her best friend and closest advisor was executed. However, women leaders have been known to adopt male characteristics once they gain power, and research has shown us that they are just as likely as men to engage in military actions. At the same time, women leaders are more open to criticism because of their likeability when compared to men. Daenerys has not become a disappointment or an anti-feminist by using all means to reach the Iron Throne. Instead, she is much like any leader who will strategize in order to ensure success, even if it means destroying a city and murdering thousands of innocents, if they could be construed to be supporters of her enemies.” - Christina Fattore
“‘Game of Thrones’ has been rich with ethical and moral dilemmas that really challenged the primary characters. As a social worker, I certainly found myself at times thinking about the characters as real people grappling with their identities and the decisions that were in front of them. When a sibling rejects you, do you betray them or remain loyal? Do you escape to an unknown reality, or suffer at the hands of a known tormenter? Do you punish those that have hurt you, or show mercy? The final season in particular has demonstrated that trials, trauma and crisis can be essential in developing strength, resilience and perseverance. I hope that among the millions of viewers, there were many people needing support that found inspiration in the characters’ abilities to keep going when times were at their toughest.” - Jenifer Gamble
“The Dothraki language in ‘Game of Thrones’ is a conlang, or constructed language. To create an interesting fictional animal, you'd ideally want to know something about biology. And to create an interesting fictional language, it's good to know something about linguistics. Which sounds are possible, which are impossible, and how can sounds be combined into meaningful elements like words? These aspects of sound structure are phonetics and phonology, which are my specialties in linguistics. Dothraki involves a bunch of sounds that are unusual or impossible in English, such as denti-alveolar consonants, made with the tongue tip flat against the upper teeth and alveolar ridge, as well as a velar fricative, a uvular stop, and an apical trill like Spanish ‘rr.’ All of these sounds are present in Modern Standard Arabic. Coupled with the foreign, primitive and nomadic nature of the Dothraki people, this might bring particular associations to English speakers. Of course, Arabic speakers think this is ridiculous. This is an area of the show that's come in for heavy criticism: the story seems to use a kind of linguistic Orientalism that conjures associations between the brutal, primitive Dothraki and Westerners' very real cultural preconceptions of non-Western people.” - Jonah Katz
Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics
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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences