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How Game of Thrones is like Star Wars

The Sparrows seem less like an actual religious movement and more like a force of nature.
The Sparrows seem less like an actual religious movement and more like a force of nature.
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Zack Beauchamp: Andrew, I feel like the spate of religious fundamentalism in the past few weeks isn't really supposed to tell us a whole lot about where these movements come from and what drives them. The Sparrows seem more like a force of nature than an actual movement; the rise of Red God in Essos actually seems like a fairly reasonable reaction to the fact that there are freakin' dragons flying around again.

I think these religious movements are, more than anything else, a vehicle to talk about change: what happens when the old generation dies and new movements with new ideas come to the fore. The issue isn't where the Sparrows came from. It's whether Cersei or Margaery, who both operate under the old aristocratic political rules, really understand what they believe or how to control them.

When the High Sparrow says, "We're all equal in the eyes of the Seven," he means it — as do his troops, who essentially committed treason by standing up to the Kingsguard and getting away with it. It's hard for someone like Cersei to grasp this kind of genuine belief, and my guess is she'll end up burned as a result.

In fact, a lot of this episode obsesses over political and generational change. Sansa is trying to develop a new kind of Stark politics in a radically different North. Jon struggles over which traditional Night's Watch oaths to keep and which ones to give up in an increasingly murky world. Ser Barristan — poor, sad, dead Barristan — reminisces about the good old Targaryen days just before his fight with a very new kind of insurgent threat.

This focus on change reminded me, of all things, of Star Wars.

It's a little weird to compare the two, given Game of Thrones' famously complex moral universe and Star Wars' division of the world into a literal Light Side and Dark Side. But Barristan's death, in particular, set up a clear connection. Barristan is an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure: the avatar of a seemingly lost moral code who guides the young, inexperienced Chosen One on the right path. Like Luke, Daenerys now needs to figure out her own path — and make the same kind of youthful mistakes on the way.

Game of Thrones and Star Wars also share an obsession with parentage and destiny. Barristan's monologue about Rhaegar Targaryen pretty heavily foregrounded the point: his reason for supporting Daenerys is, and always has been, that he sees her as heir to the rightful Targaryen tradition. But Daenerys is also the Mad King's daughter, as we see from her habitual quickness to anger and inability to right the course.

This episode also raised, yet again, the question of Jon's parentage. As a certain popular fan theory would have it, Jon is heir to the same Targaryen tradition as Daenerys (secret fathers raising a somewhat different Star Wars parallel). That may or may not be true, but it's fairly obvious that the nature of Jon's real family matters a great deal.

This isn't just true in a political sense — that is, whether Jon has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne. It matters for how we understand Jon's character. Characters on Game of Thrones are defined, in large part, by how they relate to their family's traditions and heritage. Tyrion may have quit the Lannister clan, but he's had a tough time giving up on the family's cunning and customs (remember that crack about "always paying my debts" in the Volantene whorehouse?) Arya is trying to be a Faceless Man but so far can't really give up on her connection to the Starks.

Again, this is pretty Star Wars-y. By Return of the Jedi, Luke's character is defined by his link to Vader: to what extent, and in what ways, is he Anakin's son? Now that Jon is in a position of power, he seems to have a similar issue with Ned — but if he's actually someone else's son, the whole problem might get turned on its head.

What do you think, Todd? Is this Star Wars connection a stretch, or do they really have some views of family in common?

Read the recap. Come back for thoughts from Todd tomorrow.

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Next: Todd on the show's influx of orphans