Game of Theory


Maddy Kameny | Staff Illustrator

By Matt Maielli / Staff Writer

Dragons can teach us a lot about politics, according to political science professor Andrew Lotz.

Lotz will moderate a student-led discussion Thursday, Oct. 22, enticingly titled “Game of Thrones and Political Theory.” The program is part of the department of political science’s Current Issues in Politics discussion series, a monthlong inaugural event. Lotz currently teaches a class of the same name, based around the acclaimed HBO series “Game of Thrones” and George R. R. Martin’s book series “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

The discussion will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. in 4500 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, with light refreshments.

Lotz curated the class after an inspiring conversation he had with students in another one of his courses.

“I was teaching my Intro to Political Theory, and one day I noted that we had used three ‘Game of Thrones’ examples to talk about concepts from the class,” he said. “I said it out loud with kind of a, ‘Huh, I should teach a class on “Game of Thrones.”’ And there was an overwhelming reaction from the students all saying, ‘Yes, you should.’”

The discussion, like the class, will delve into Martin’s reliance on history to shape plotlines and characters. He said the series is largely based off the English War of the Roses. The Starks and the Lannisters of “Game of Thrones”mirror the Yorks and the Lancasters, respectively — illustrated by the story’s plot points of betrayal and historical detail.

Lotz will also encourage students to explore some of the more abstract concepts of the series. He said “Game of Thrones” indirectly references political philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Machiavelli, adding depth to the story. Hobbes and Locke explored theories in self-preservation while Machiavelli is known as the author of “The Prince,” which deals with unscrupulous politics. The discussion will also examine how the complex themes of “Game of Thrones” affect and captivate its audience, making them more aware of political theories in an entertaining way.

“This class asks the students to consider, is there going to be a ‘Game of Thrones’ effect, and what ideas and attitudes about justice, fairness, honesty, betrayal and authority are being conveyed to audiences?” Lotz said.

The Current Issues in Politics discussion series will feature other lectures on the Greek bailout and how to address ISIS.

Katherine Francis, the series director and American politics professor, hopes to add discussions covering topics like the 2016 presidential primary elections, United States-Cuba relations and current events in the Middle East to the series during the spring semester.

“Besides being informative, we hope that the discussions are engaging and interesting, and help students make connections between course materials and the real world,” Francis said. “We picked the ‘Game of Thrones’ topic because we wanted to find a current issue that connected with the major areas of study in the political science department — American politics, comparative politics, world politics and political theory.”

The discussion is meant to make the literary theories more accessible to everyone interested in the subject and the show, Francis said.

“Since the class is full and not everyone could get in it, we thought that a discussion on this topic would be a nice opportunity for more students to engage with these issues,” she said.

Rachel Skillman and Tamara Cherwin, two of Lotz’s former political theory students, helped him brainstorm the topics about the references to the War of the Roses and to political philosophers for the “Game of Thrones” class, which he’ll draw upon during the discussion.

“We read several political theory books in addition to the first ‘Game of Thrones’ novel, like Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ and Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince,’” said Skillman, a senior studying mathematics, economics and political theory. “It’s a wonderful class, and I am so pleased with how Dr. Lotz is conducting it.”

Cherwin, a senior bioinformatics major, agreed.

“Every class involved tons of debate and discussion, and Dr. Lotz would pepper his discussions of difficult concepts with topical, but completely geeky, asides that revealed his interest in popular culture,” she said. “The fictional — and unfinished — status of the series also allows us to speculate on events in a way that reviewing history never could.”