Winter is Coming - On Spirits and Populists
(excerpts from the performance text)


In season 2, episode 1 of the HBO-series Game of Thrones, the character Petyr Baelish challenges his adversary Cersei Lannister by hinting, in no uncertain terms, that he is aware of her incestuous relationship with her brother Jamie.
He ends his speech, intended to blackmail her, with the words “What privileged people seem to forget is that knowledge is power”.

Cersei then commands her guards to seize and kill Baelish, whereafter she laughs and tells them she has changed her mind.
She instructs them to release him again and then to turn around. Then to take three steps forward. Then to close their eyes.
Her orders are all immediately obeyed by her servants and she turns to Baelish and tells him “Power, is power!” 

The main issue of this long-running TV-show, set in a quasi-medeveal world by the name of Westeros, is the question of which power is stronger.

Between the different Kingdoms, and the people populating them
Between the different gods and spiritual authorities that occur throughout the series
Between the forces of sexuality on one hand and the virtue of moral on the other
Between friendship and betrayal to gain dominance
And, ultimately, between human beings and zombies; essentially between life and death

Game of Thrones is also a tale of the relationship between the occult and the political. Magic, sorcery, reincarnation, extra sensory perception, telepathy, mysticism and various kinds of religion are tools to execute –and justify– political actions.

In their efforts to gain power over the Seven Kingdoms and the Iron Throne, the protagonists frequently call upon supernatural forces to guide them in their fight for control and survival.

And the people of Westeros do live in troubling times indeed. The continent is facing a refugee crisis in the north; dividing the population. Political leaders, consumed by their own power-games, are ignoring a growing climate-threat that may kill everyone. And there is an escalating regional conflict that may induce the use of weapons of mass destruction if not handled very carefully.

The White Walkers, that initially reside behind the great wall in the north, constitute the optimal threat; an ancient race of humanoid, super powered ice creatures, destroying anyone who comes in their way.

Their most horrifying attribute is their ability to turn their dead victims into their own breed, thus gradually recruiting more soldiers into their army as they slowly but surely proceed across the snowy landscape and towards the populated areas of the continent.

Meanwhile, in Westeros, the characters have little hope of a happy ending and are, with few exceptions, sacrificing decency and humanity as too costly commodities to maintain. The need for something to believe in, in this time of darkness, violence and despair is desperate. Winter is coming. And as of season 7, the issue of wether or not the world will go to hell is still an unresolved one.

The night is dark and full of terrors.


In the final scenes of the –so far– final season of Game of Thrones, the White Walkers have drawn very close. So close, in fact, that action can no longer be avoided - running away is too late and it seems the only options remaining is fight.

We know that White Walkers can be defeated by valerian steel or dragonglass, but those materials that are exceptionally hard to get by. There is also an idea that a prophesied hero will step forwards to save the day, but this remains a very big if, and a dangerous thing to bet your money on under current circumstances.

All in all, the odds of winning this war look slim indeed. What to do?

The question takes on existential proportions in this the pivotal moment of the drama, but looking back at the countless scenes featuring men in leggings exchanging philosophical comments that the series has offered since it premiered in 2011 may provide a useful perspective.

I give you a fragment from season two, episode three: a legendary conversation between the brave Lord Tyrion; member of House Lannister, one of the most powerful families in the fictional kingdom of Westeros and the clever Lord Varys; eunuch and courtier who serves as spymaster for the king at the royal court in King's Landing.

– Power is a curious thing, my lord. Are you fond of riddles?

– Why? Am I about to hear one?

– Three great men sit in a room, a king, a priest and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies?

– Depends on the sellsword.

– Does it? He has neither crown, nor gold, nor favor with the gods.

– He’s got the sword, the power of life and death!

– But if it’s swordsmen who rule, why do we pretend kings hold all the power? (When Ned Stark lost his head, who was truly responsible- Joffrey, the executioner, or something else?)

– I have decided I don't like riddles.

– Power resides where people believe it resides. It ́s a trick... a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow

Lord Varys has a point suggesting, as he does, that power is handed to the powerful by the people. As an uncomfortable consequence, the responsibility for our current problems –as well as their solution– falls not only on the abusers of power, but also on those abused. And a hopeless outlook is no bloody excuse. 

Besides, what we face today is nothing new. As the journalist Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out in an article in the Washington Post the past fall, referring to the most famous aphorism of Game of Thrones:

"It’s not so much that winter is coming this time, but that history tells us, if only we’d remember to read it, that winter comes again and again. And ultimately, so does spring."