Image: The Wall, as pictured in the television series Game of Thrones.
In the notoriously well-known television series Game of Thrones, the Wall is a fearsome 700-foot-high barrier fashioned from ice and magic. It serves to divide the realms of men – that is, the mighty Seven Kingdoms ruled by the Iron Throne – from that which lies beyond. In fact, it is common knowledge amongst these very men that the Wall exists to distinguish them from the unwelcome savages residing beyond the vast domain it protects. For instance, the Night’s Watch, an ancient brotherhood that mans the Wall, pledges its life to guard the Seven Kingdoms from such unholy beings. In other words, the Wall is seen to demarcate the limits of the known world – as famously characterized in a remark by a pivotal character, Tyrion Lannister, who visited the Wall to “piss off the edge of the world.”1
It is in the nature of any wall to divide tangible space. However, in doing so, an intangible divide is established between those who lie inside and outside the tangible space that is demarcated by the said wall. Subsequently, those residing on the more abundant side of the said wall begin to regard themselves as the in-group that must hold power over the more passive out-group situated on the other side. This unfortunate dichotomy is ever-present in the Game of Thrones – the wall in question is called The Wall, the sole barrier against uncivilized and dangerous outsiders, unsurprisingly termed Wildlings. The sense of power that comes with residing within the confines of the right side of the Wall is further highlighted by the notion that the precious resources of the Seven Kingdoms must be protected at any and all cost by the Night’s Watch.
The disparity in the power that inheres in the men of the Seven Kingdoms and the Wildlings percolates the perception that the former have of the latter. For instance, it is only with the coerced assimilation of Wildlings into the culture of the Seven Kingdoms that they are no longer considered savages. A parallel can be drawn between the above-mentioned example and the colonial enterprise that branded natives as uncivilized for not meeting western standards of civilisation. Winston Churchill is known to have declared, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” In the Game of Thrones, the term savages is employed to categorize those beings who are animal-like and do not deserve the protection of the Seven Kingdom. It is with such a perception in mind that the Wildlings are treated, particularly by the Night’s Watch.
The very knowledge that the members of the Night’s Watch possess about the Wildlings is tainted by their prejudiced understanding of any being that resides on the other side. In other words, their understanding is indicative of the influence of power upon structures of knowledge. It is thus that the Wall is viewed as the edge of the world; beyond it, nothing worth knowing exists. As a consequence, all traces of those who live beyond the Wall – including the singularity of their way of life – is obscured. This enforced invisibility is fundamental to the propagation of colonial regimes as well, regimes in which natives are perceived in terms of their productive value and thereby dehumanized.
It is interesting to note that the members of the Night’s Watch – who must pledge their lives to protect the Seven Kingdoms from that which lies beyond – are themselves regarded as outsiders within these kingdoms. They are referred to as the scum of the Seven Kingdoms for the entirety of the series, which manifests in their relegation to the outermost boundary of the known world. However, membership in the Night’s Watch comes to act as a unique conduit for the formation of the identity of its varied members. For instance, it allows Pyp, a common man, an equitable chance at glory as Jon Snow, who possesses royal lineage.
In conclusion, the notions of exclusion that stem from the imbalances of power legitimated by the existence of the Wall dominate the interactions between the Wildings, the Night’s Watch and the realms of men. These notions, in turn, are indicative of and permeated by their underlying political connotations – the language that is utilized to express them can be traced back to the project of colonization, and are thus imbued in the process of the historical development of the world as we know it today.
Rohan Chopra is a 1st year prospective Political Science major and International Relations minor student at Ashoka University. He is interested in diverse academic domains including sociology, history and philosophy.
- “Piss off the Edge of the World.,” Scattered Quotes, June 17, 2017, https://scatteredquotes.com/piss-off-edge-world/.
- Alexey Popov, Lee Parker, and Darren Seath, Psychology Course Companion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
- Tom Heyden, “The 10 Greatest Controversies of Winston Churchill’s Career,” BBC News (BBC, January 26, 2015), https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29701767.
“Piss off the Edge of the World.” Scattered Quotes, June 17, 2017. https://scatteredquotes.com/piss-off-edge-world/.
Elnahla, Nada. “The Other Beyond the Wall: A Postcolonial Reading of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones”. Journal of American Academic Research (JAAR), Volume 4, Issue 12. Accessed 14 October 2020.
Kuletz, Valerie. “Invisible Spaces, Violent Places: Cold War Nuclear and Militarized Landscapes.” Violent Environments, 2001, pp. 237-260.
Körtvélyesi, Zsolt. “Game of Norms: Law, Interpretation, and the Realms in Game of Thrones.” Hungarian Academy of Sciences Budapest, MTA Law Working Paper No. 2019/3, March 2019, http://jog.tk.mta.hu/mtalwp. Accessed 22 October 2020.
Heyden, Tom. “The 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’s career”. BBC, 26 Jan. 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29701767. Accessed on 6 Dec. 2020.
Popov, Alexey, Lee Parker, and Darren Seath. Psychology Course Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.