If you want to be popular with your teenage children, you should start watching Game of Thrones, because they all watch it and have read the massive books on which the TV series is based. Basically, it is the mythological story of seven kingdoms that coexist in a tense standoff because the rival kings cannot agree on a super king to govern them all. It is hard to tell the era in which this tale is set. Clues are scattered here and there, but just when you think it is somewhere between the Ice Age and the Middle Ages, one of the characters says, ‘My forefathers have been guarding this wall for thousands of years,’ so you never really know.
As the story starts, King Robert dies, so the contest to succeed him begins and the rival families, not having a Kevin Rudd summit or a Julia Gillard committee of experts to solve the problem, resort to war. Well, you have never seen such a hotch-potch of tyrants, misfits, psychopaths, egomaniacs and weirdos competing for the top job; they make the Greens look like University Challenge. First there is the Lannister family, the star turn of which is a brother and sister duo who are so keen to produce a king that they have an incestuous relationship. Then there is Stannis, who spends the series being shaved by his boyfriend and hence is a bit distracted from the main game, murdering his rivals. Hot on his heels are the Starks who are mainly goodies, as their dad has just been executed. Their family bliss is compromised by an adopted son appropriately named Greyjoy who likes burning children at the stake, but, in fairness to him, only if they are his relatives with claims to the throne. Two of them are an albino brother and sister act who breed dragons and employ a mercenary army of muscular horse-worshippers, while yet another rival is literally off the planet with his worship of a lithesome sex goddess. There is also a shifty Wayne Swan character called the Master of Coin, who runs a chain of brothels on the side as a booking agent for the Craig Thomsons of the court without credit cards.
Among this eclectic mixture of regicides, there is also, fortunately, a royal personage of much finer character. Due to too much inbreeding, the Lannisters have produced a son who is a dwarf. This is Prince Tyrion, played by Peter Dinklage, who is also a dwarf and who has already won an Emmy for his work in Game of Thrones. Not only is he the best actor with the best lines, but the fact that he is a dwarf sends some powerful messages of relevance to our own era of entitlements and government largesse for everyone with a problem. His success shows how a handicapped actor playing a handicapped character can triumph over adversity and, by strength of personality and skill, get to the top and succeed on his merits.
Poor Tyrion. The family makes fun of him, his enemies call him ‘the imp’ and everyone reminds him what a pathetic contrast he is with the rest of the dazzling team of warrior knights, dragons, gym bunnies, horse whisperers, giants and wizards. Tyrion’s response to this abuse and ignominy is instructive. Does he rush off to the nearest dwarf refuge? Does he sign up to an anti-bullying workshop in Geneva? Does he become a member of the Achondroplasia Stakeholders’ Liaison Working Party? Does he join the campaign to set up a National Disability Insurance Scheme? Does he call Jeff Kennett on the depression helpline? Surely, at least he asks for a government handout. No, not young Tyrion, who is no advocate of the culture of entitlement. He will respond in his own way and on his own terms.
First, he sets the denigration to one side; Tyrion is an individual and will fight his own battles with his own skills. Then he has a little suit of armour made with a shield and sword he can wave around. He may not be the most ferocious warrior in the Seven Kingdoms, but at least he can say he has been on the field and not flinched in the heat of battle. But he knows that his scope as a soldier is limited and turns his mind to more cerebral pursuits. He decides he will be the brains of the family, a plotter and schemer who will use those skills to help the Lannisters stay ahead of the game, a skill he hones to perfection. Next, he proves himself in whoring around and develops a reputation as a great Lothario, until every girl in the Seven Kingdoms has had a session with him and not just out of curiosity, as they all come back for more. He solves his own problems while he manoeuvres others out of the game in the best Machiavellian tradition. He goes on the offensive, fights, uses his wits and wins. His masterstroke is to devise an excruciating decimation of the rival armies, too hideous to describe in a family magazine like our own. By the end of the second series he has saved the family’s honour and kingdom and won for the top Lannister the coveted crown of the Seven Kingdoms. And all of this from a dwarf?
Inevitably we reflect on the barriers that Dinklage the actor has overcome to be the dominant player in such a competent and competitive cast and create a character who dominates all others. By strength of character Tyrion controls the whole epic story. And solely because his success has depended on self-reliance, playing the same game of kings as others, on equal terms, despite his affliction and without the props and supports that modern times throw up to discourage people from relying on themselves. We could learn from this. If you can make it in the Ice Age, you can make it anywhere.