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Assimilation in Westeros and Essos


"Game of Thrones" politics: The perils of cultural assimilation during war

It’s Monday, so I have another essay up at Salon.com – this time about the theme of assimilation in Westeros, and the dangers, difficulties, and necessities therein.

Also, the delay on the podcast will be less than previously expected, so you’ll be able to hear all about SEK’s crazy theories sooner! Yay?


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  • SEK

    IN MY DEFENSE: I floated Steven that theory last night, and I’m still thinking it’s valid, but maybe not as confident as I was when I was in the thrall of first-thinking. It’ll all become clear and/or murky soon.

  • Brett

    That was a terrible idea on the part of Daenerys, even more so than marrying Hizdahr was in the books. From his perspective, she callously killed his father and undermined the social system that made him powerful – why would he ever really want to side with her? I’m guessing this is all an expedited version of her departure from Mereen.

    It’s been painful to watch Daenerys misgovern this season. I’ll be glad when she’s finally out of Mereen.

    • I enjoyed the misgovernment, because it further adds to my Meereen = Reconstruction thesis.

      • Murc

        … eh?

        The Reconstruction was not typically characterized by misgovernance. In fact there was quite a lot of good governance taking place during it.

        Then the non-southern white folks decided “nope, doing our job properly is too hard, we’ll let the southerners run their part of the country as a terror state for a century instead.”

        Which I suppose can be construed in and of itself as bad governance, but I sort of view it as a separate thing.

        • Clarkent

          Steven’s written at length about the comparison between Daenerys’s situation in Mereen and Reconstruction.

          • Murc


            I try and keep up on what Steven has written but I have not in fact read everything he’s ever put out.

            • Clarkent

              Here’s a longish piece – skip to the Meereen section for the comparison.

        • Brett

          It’s in the essay that Clarkent linked to, but the short version is that Daenerys made the same mistake the post-Civil War US government did with the South – she didn’t decisively break the power base of the old Mereenese elites, allowing them to regroup and undermine her regime as part of a “redeemer”-esque movement (the Sons of the Harpy). It’s like how the US didn’t break up the plantations and hang the fire-eaters.

          Contrast that with Astapor in the books, where she annihilated the Masters. The city later fell back into tyranny after she left it with no troops – but it was a tyranny from new sources, not a restoration of the former regime.

          • This. What I mean by misgovernment is the way the U.S government tacked back and forth between different options and didn’t really commit to a serious demolition-and-rebuilding of the social and economic order. Likewise, Dany is vacillating between reconciliation and revolution.

    • rhino

      She’s just painfully stupid ALL THE TIME. She never seems to learn, and I find it incomprehensible that her followers are still loyal.

  • Murc

    I’m not real sure the Pact of Ice and Fire is really where you want to go when you’re talking about assimilation and peaceful co-existence, Steven.

    The Pact was essentially a surrender document the Children of the Forest signed after they came out on the losing end of very successful genocidal campaign on the part of the First Men and had been rendered near-completely helpless. The proper parallel isn’t the immigrant experience, but the experience of aboriginal peoples. The First Men murdered and murdered the Children until they were no longer a real threat, then graciously allowed them to retain lands the First Men weren’t particularly interested in anyway while taking the vast bulk of Westeros for themselves.

    • witlesschum

      Because I’m me:
      The Pact is what you’re talking about. The Pact of Ice and Fire is a never-consummated agreement between the Starks and Targaryens for a princess to marry the lord of Winterfell that comes up in the World of Ice and Fire, only.

      • Sorry, meant the Pact of the Isle of Faces. Let me fix that.

    • Don’t agree. The Children were around and quite active after the Pact – hence the Green Men on the Isle of Faces, the Durrendon alliance, the alliance with the Warg King, intermarriage with the crannongmen – it was the arrival of the Andals that completely wiped them out south of the Wall.

      • Murc

        The Children were around and quite active after the Pact

        And Native Americans are around and quite active today. That doesn’t mean that their relationship with their colonizers wasn’t immensely lopsided in favor of said colonizers.

        It may have taken the arrival of the Andals to finally wipe them out south of the wall (although there were clearly other factors at work because the Andals barely scratched the North and there don’t seem to be Children in the wolfswood, the largest stretch of untouched forest in the Seven Kingdoms) but the First Men made a very good start, and I don’t think the Pact can in any way be understood to have been an agreement between equals; it was the victorious First Men, having taken basically everything they wanted, either deciding that further gains were cost-prohibitive or deigning to show mercy once they’d won.

        That’s colonizer behavior, pure and simple. The fact that sometimes colonizers allow their colonized populations to hang around after brutally ensuring both demographic supremacy and access to the lions share of vital resources doesn’t change that.

        • witlesschum

          I hadn’t read the Pact as being meant to be quite as unequal as you did. I thought it was more like, the Children were losing, but they could have fought on and caused a lot more damage to the First Men, so it was beneficial to both sides to stop fighting and divide Westeros between them. I don’t think the Children are intended to have been really competing for the same resources, as they didn’t farm, mine, etc.

          • For one thing, the fact that the First Men completely assimilated into the Children’s religion suggests something other than total defeat.

            • Murc

              That’s a strong point, Steven, but I think we need to re-calibrate the way we look at organized religion in the context of a world where some religions can bring forth verifiable and repeatable miracles and others either don’t anymore or never could.

              It is entirely possible that the First Men did it Stannis style, where they reasoned their existing pantheon wasn’t paying the bills but the Children apparently had some real mojo on tap, let’s get us summa dat.

              • It’s a bit odd for them to have done so after they’ve won – usually it’s the other way around; the victor’s gods are clearly stronger.

                • Brett

                  Smashing the Arm of Dorne and nearly separating the North and South would definitely serve as a means of terror, although I wonder if the Long Night served as another reason to make that alliance concrete.

          • Murc

            I don’t think the Children are intended to have been really competing for the same resources, as they didn’t farm, mine, etc.

            Land is a resource, and the First Men did a lot of clear-cutting. The Kingswood and the Rainwood are, if I recall right, a tiny remnant of the vast stands of trees that existed in Westeros before the coming of men.

            The Pact left the remaining deep forests to the Children. Said nothing about the land the First Men had already converted into non-forest.

        • My point is that there’s a strong contrast between the presence of the Children post-Pact, pre-Long Night, and the presence of the Children post-Andal invasion.

          • witlesschum

            This timeline reminds me, I tend to theorize there’s some kind of mystical connection between the Others and the Children. Maybe the Others were brought forth by the huge, titanic magic the Children used to break the arm of Dorne and the Neck?

            • I think the Others have always been around.

            • Brett

              I tend to think the Others are linked to the Mysterious Ancient Civilization that Septon Barth wrote about, the one that seems to have left fire-magic structures all around the world and built a colossal, ancient, mostly abandoned city in Asshai. Given the “cold preserves” theme, maybe some experiment in immortality gone horribly wrong. Or they were always there, and the fucking up of the seasons allowed their power to wax far beyond what they usually could do in the regular seasons.

              Certainly, some type of planetary-scale magic is possible, given that the Last Hero and Night’s Watch did something to decisively beat the Others and drive them back into the far North.

  • Domino

    Don’t have the time ATM to read your article (who knew people want to hang out with you on your birthday?) but the issue of assimilation is one of the more intriguing ideas – if only because it’s a topic that generally isn’t discussed a whole bunch.

    During the Algerian war for independence, Camus tried to put forth the idea of assimilation not meaning you sacrifice your old identity and absorb a new one, but that assimilation meant respect for everyone. I’m being too simplistic here and in a rush, but I always think it’s an idea worth striving for, even though it’s difficult to achieve.

    • Craigo

      The Canadian “cultural mosaic” theory of assimilation, versus the American melting point principle, may be worth looking into. It seems similar, and analogous to Braavosi culture in particular.

    • To me, as an Americanist, the key text here is Randolph Bourne’s Trans-National America.

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