The Finale of the Game of Thrones: Cultural Vertigo at the Abyss of The Dionysian

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There has been media comment on the finale ending of series 8 of the Game of Thrones (GoT) with one writer commenting on its leftist-Cultural Marxist- decadence and nihilism. The two Queens, Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, bring about the destruction of Kings Landing, the massacre of its population, and their own deaths. Following the chaos, there is a re-jigging, and a resetting of Westeros’ political wheel, which the wheel of history and not of utopia’s end of history.

The finale can be looked at as the cultural triumph of the Dionysian In GoT we are run past the trespassing of a social taboo, incest, moral relativism (deceit, untrustworthiness, breach of obligations), Machiavellianism, macabre sadism (rape, flaying, genital dismemberment, torture and murder) pitiless corrupting revenge and bloodshed to the near a hopeless confrontation with army of the dead and the White Walkers and the destruction and massacre of King’s landing.

Daenerys and Cersei are representative of the Dionysian as a cultural mode of being. F W Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, The Will to Power, Camille Paglia’s tour de force The Sexual Personae, and to an extent in Jordan Peterson’s psychological take, The Maps of Meaning outline this. Daenerys and Cersei exemplify the Dionysian archetypes that feature in Euripides's plays The Bacchae, Medea (who incidentally escapes by dragons) and Hypolatas. The interplay of the Dionysian and the Apollonian is the Yin and Yang of western civilisation
The attributes of the Dionysian are implacable nature, romanticism’s passion, emotion, visceral instinct, the cyclical; often identified as a feminine trope over the Apollonian. The attributes of the Apollonian are ratiocination, forethought, order, intellectual abstract principles, Lockean tempering, judgment, a linear purvey of time, often its nature identified as a masculine trope. The Dionysian is suggestive of characterising the current cultural temperament with its incipient predilection for nihilism, decadence and relativism of truth/knowledge and morals/ethics and disbelief in values and sustaining cultural myths.

One YouTube cultural commentator, RockingMrE, (Rocking Philosophy, has stated that GoT represents our cultural moment of leftist Cultural Marxism. James Jonescu calls it A moment of “vertigo at the abyss” of nihilism, relativistic morals/ethics and the rupturing social conventions and the devolution of values. Nietzsche said that socialism and its monstrosities of romanticism and radical egalitarianism leads to nihilism, “a will to negate life.” (will to Power).”

The Dionysian also encompasses, in its modern epiphany, 18thC and 19thC Romanticism and the thought of Jean Jacque Rousseau. Marx is indebted to, Rousseauan romanticism which flows on into Cultural Marxism. Rousseau’s doctrines inspired the blood bath of the French Revolution and Louis XVI was not the first to point that out. Rousseau held that society corrupted human nature, that, in his famous simile of chains, we were born free but were not, and that society thus gave rise to social evils. Camille Paglia tells us that the underrated Marquis de Sade trenchantly satirised, having lived through the French Revolution’s terror, the errant misconception and flaw in Rousseau’s state of nature, showing up its instinctual bases and passion’s irrational blinded sidedness (in contrast to Apollonian sight) as a capitulation to unfettered instinct, perversion, cruelty and bloodshed.

Unlike Rousseau’s benign noble savage in the state of nature and the Wordsworthian beautifying picture of a benign elemental nature, nature was chaos, ferocious, grim, unpredictable instinct, threatening and indiscriminately capricious. Rousseau had paradoxically upended Locke’s position. Locke had held that civil society tamed raw human nature, had reason prevail over instinct, socialised men and women and therefore held at bay the Dionysian propensities of human passion (irrationality), raw feelings and visceral instinctual impulses.
In a rough-hewn way, the two Queens separately reflect a microcosm (personal, instinctual and familial) and macrocosm (a political mission) of the Dionysian. By contrast Sansa, the new Queen of the North is Apollonian.

Queen Cersei as a Dionysian microcosm is driven by instinctual drives for her immediate family and above like her Classical progenitor, the Euripidean fury Medea, she is driven by pitiless revenge to attain the subject’s annihilation. Revenge is to the exclusion or distortion of most other things. Her ego is primed and stung but overwhelmed and subsumed to visceral passion with a nearly limitless capacity for spiteful, cruel and sadistic murderous revenge. Sansa attests to this before Jon Snow embarks south.

The murder of Cersei's son, King Joffrey, results, implacably, in the imprisonment and the pre-determined death sentence of her brother Tyrion and Sansa in absentia. When told the truth of who the real murderer was, she emphatically, and with superior knowing derision, dismisses the explanation. She is not amenable to reason because her state of being is her visceral intuition: she is possessed. She cannot bear the slightest cognitive dissonance, and only draughts of passionate revenge and the annihilation of the target will satiate.

Then the High Sparrow’s feat of again trumping and forcing Cersei to submit to a religious court, despite the Walk of Atonement, becomes an obdurate I- will- not- do- ever. It causes an overwhelming escalation and expansion of Cersei’s boundaries as to what revenge encompasses: atrocity of mass death at an extremity of the atrocity paradigm. The endpoint is annihilation – totally regardless of the means or consequences. Torment by the office bully is on the same paradigm as it is regardless of a person’s career. Roy Baumeister in his book Evil (1992) calls this instrumental secular evil. Stalin’s obliteration of the Kulaks is similarly grounded for the purity of the Revolution, regardless of what the means entail. Cersei engineers the nuclear like conflagration by the Wild Fire of the Sept of Baelor causing the mass deaths of the High Sparrow, the Septs, the Faith Militant, Queen Margery (who was in competition for the loyalty of her husband, King Tommen, against his mother, Cersei) and members of her family. The unforeseen embittering pill is King Tommen’s suicide.

Then in revenge for the gratuitous death of her daughter, Princess Myrcella Baratheon by the Dornish usurper Ellaria Sand results in a macabre and pitiless vignette of premeditated sadism. Ellaria, in a cell with her daughter, is told by Cersei that she has to watch her daughter die by the same means as Myrcella (a kiss from poisoned lips which she then effects) and then to live while observing her daughter’s body decay- and the unrelenting fact of nature- before her eyes.

Cersei in effecting her catharsis of revenge as annihilation- loses perspective on what is entailed in being a Monarch when confronted with money issues and war. She despises her subjects who are disposable Deplorables; she has no contingency plans and has a naïve superficial paint by numbers faith in her forces. She exercises no judgment over the strategic odds as the war turns sour. Her emotional intransigence, like her vengeance, the rule of feelings, prevails when a strategic and dispassionate cognitive judgment was needed. Thus she loses King’s Landing once of the macrocosm of vengeance by Queen Daenerys mounted on her dragon brings chaos by breaching the walls and wreaking a firestorm on the city. Her ground forces, the Unsullied and the Dothraki, breach the convention of Jon Snow’s military code and perpetrate war crimes on surrendering combatants and non-combatants alike. In a most apposite visual simile, Cersei finally descends, as the siege is lost, from the tower of The Red keep to the Keep’s subterranean underworld with her brother/lover Jamie where both are buried by masonry and die.

By contrast, Queen Daenerys is elementally Dionysian, she is magically fire, the Mother of Dragons (rather than a prisoner of them); she rules as force, sacred and secular, over the Dothraki. These are wild tribal grassland horseman of nature. The British Museum Blog says the fictional Dothraki have similarities with the historical nomadic Scythians: The Dothraki customs and rules of engagement (partly anarchic) are not those of Westerosians and they present as the unknown other. The other troops, the Unsullied, are all robotic like eunuchs.

Daenerys is driven politically. First, by an ideal of anti-slavery which is at odds with the urban culture of Essos. For her ideal, she has summarily crucified elite men and faces an insurrection, which she puts down with fire. She is uncompromising on the ideal, which is an absolute and is a tyrant. Secondly, that the throne in Westeros, where she culturally out of tune, is hers.

It is the pursuit of her ideal that she too slides well along the atrocity paradigm to do whatever it takes (the means) to get to the objective of abolishing slavery. It all becomes an accelerated and enlarged reprise of the “breaking of a few eggs for the omelette”, which in this case happen to be the people of Kings Landing who she torches in a pogrom out of grief for (presumably) the death of Missandei and for her second to last dragon (a Dionysian entity), who is shot by a ballista arrow, an Apollonian object because Apollo in Homer is the Archer God who ‘shoots from afar.’

Daenerys feelings and instincts on sovereignty and power are partly tempered by the reasoned opinions by the avuncular and mentoring Jorah Mormont. By him, she successfully navigates the byways of real politic. After his departure for a cure for Grey Scale, and his death in the battle, the balance of the Apollonian foresight principle is degraded and ultimately lost. Jorah is replaced as an advisor by lesser or non-men of the present reality. The arch political gamer, a eunuch, Lord Varys and another gamer, but a Daenerys believer, the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister. Daenerys executes Varys and loses trust and confidence in Tyrion when he miscalculates in wishing to avoid the bloodshed of the people of King’s Landing.

Daenerys fuelled by grief, bereft of counsel, impelled by her feelings and for her idealistic objective at all costs (another example of instrumental evil), goes solo with her dragon. She, sans barriers, unleashes her revenge in the form of the Dionysian on the people and devastates the city. The Dragon is a symbol of unknown nature and the Dionysian. In GoT it acts in a reverse way. In the western cannon the knight, St Michael or St George, leave the city, civil society, culture and civilisation, and venture out into unknown nature to quell the dragon's forces usually said to be evil, threatening and anarchic. The unknown operates on bases contrary to civil society mores. In GoT, the Dionysian has already compromised the “city’ and the dragon beaches the walls and trespasses into the city to visit chthonic mayhem to a weakened un protected civilisation.

Daenerys tyrannical nature becomes transparent in her victory speech to the wild grassland people of nature, the Dothraki, who are loyal to her Cthnonic spirit. Its nature is contrary to the city or urban people within the city walls, and the host of Westeros. The speech, with an Orwellian touch, lays out freedom by conquest and then World domination of her ideal, irrespective of the cost to human life. It has a flavour of everlasting revolution and a Stalinist zeal and furor for death to bring about the social millennium.
She becomes the victim of a Tyrannicide at the hand of Jon Snow, who contrary to his personal feelings, acts as a fountainhead of justice to centre things.
Does the destruction of King’s Landing tell us something about our own cultural predicament? the unravelling of our culture and the ahistorial penchant, the disparaging of tradition, abrogating legal rule of law – nomos betrayed by physos to religious-secular beliefs and its higher callings with the displacement of facts for feelings. The cultural war, which is another reprise of Romanticism, Rousseau and the Dionysian, but uplifted by the anti-human and religiously Old Testament like Marx, in Cultural Marxism is presently ascendant and comes with nihilism. Nietzsche warned us and we saw it in the 20thC where it was unleashed in Russia, China, Cuba and Cambodia but apparently, it cannot be learnt

The rebooting of Westeros entails the Tyrannicide of the Dionysian and the exile of the Apollonian. Bran- the- Broken is as emasculated as a paraplegic as was Lord Varys. He, however, has a superadded gift, which appears to tap into deep archaic human psychology and myth. He carries historical, social and cultural memory, which is the product of the iteration human experience, wisdom and nomos. It is a counterpoise to the narcissistic and utopian nihilism of the Dionysian, which Nietzsche foresaw. To illustrate the point, William Blackstone eschewed enlightenment theory as a basis for law preferring that law came from tradition and customary practices iterated over time Bran –the- Broken’s historical and traditional knowledge base is in keeping with what Jean Piaget ideas about games. It resets the wheel of history back into motion, which utopian Daenerys sought to destroy. Civil society exists within history and must adumbrate and adapt to what works.

Graham Hill MA (Hons) Ll.B (Hons)
12 June 2019


Lindsay Perigo's picture


Graham Hill's picture

We also need to look at Rousseau.

Game of Drones

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I haven't watched a single episode of GoT, since I saw it was a hit among moronnials and therefore, obviously, evil, vicious and stupid. The one thing I'd observe from this review: we must bust this Apollo/Dionysus dichotomy once and for all. It is killing humanity. Rand tried, but failed because she didn't acknowledge the metaphysical reality of the Dionysian element. Humans are not, behaviorally, tabula rasa, any more than they are cognitively. The Shakespearian stuff is hard-wired. Just look at the behaviour of Obleftivists! But it can be overcome!

Rational passion and passionate reason!!

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