Cinema and Media Studies Game of Thrones
Jeffrey Chown, Kate Mead
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0277


Hit television shows over the last twenty years have inspired impressive amounts of academic inquiry, particularly The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost, Mad Men, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Game of Thrones is something of an anomaly in that it has generated a wide range of critique before the source novel is complete or the television narrative’s resolution is in sight. The groupings of academic writing are as follows: Adaptation studies tend to originate from literary scholars concerned with the translation of George R.R. Martin’s source novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series into HBO’s wildly popular dramatic series. Given the financial success of the series, a group of scholars has analyzed the formulas for the show’s Business and Production. Philosophers have trained their sights on the series’ abstract issues appropriate for humanities general education; these have been grouped into two subsets, Classical Philosophy and Contemporary Philosophy. Martin’s fictional universe has proved fertile for discussions of Disability, particularly focusing on the representation of Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister. The challenges to Gender and Sexuality norms have provided abundant discussion in the Gender and Sexuality category. More specific focus on the series’ structural characteristics are examined in the Genre and Character Analysis subset. Martin has used extensive readings in medieval history, Norse legends, and Arabic culture for inspiration for his fictional world, which is the concern of the History section. Viewing the series in relation to classic literary fiction is the concern of Language and Literature. Political Theory and Ethics draws comparisons of the series to contemporary and historical political events. Religious investigations of the show’s perspective on spirituality are grouped under The Sacred and the Supernatural. The related categories of Transmedia and Viewership frame the phenomenological impact of the respective series for millions of viewers and fans.


This section considers issues of adaptation, as the A Song of Ice and Fire novels were adapted for various media forms. Most of the articles in this section focus on adaptation from book to television. Fidelity criticism is used in Gallagher 2015 to analyze how HBO’s television series is affected when it exceeds its literary source material. Jones 2012 analyzes the differences in portrayals of womanhood through literary archetypes such as queen, hero, mother, child, maiden, and warrior, while Eidsvåg 2016 focuses mainly on the portrayals of biological motherhood presented in both the novel and television narratives. Sexuality and its translation from text to screen are addressed in Gjelsvik 2016, which discusses how adaptive changes from book to screen alter perceptions of power and gender through the portrayals of sexual terror. Varying depictions of wedding night sexuality are analyzed in Larsson 2016. Phillips 2016 discusses male and female gaze as well as depictions of rape in an analysis of sexuality as narrative device as used in Starz!’s Outlander and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Wells-Lassagne 2013 questions why such sexually explicit material is so prevalent in what is considered “quality television.” Finally, the book-to-video game adaptation is discussed in two articles: Schröter 2016 discusses the ways in which video game depictions of female Game of Thrones characters do not live up to the complexities present in their literary counterparts, and Krishnamurthy 2013 employs techniques of conceptual blending to analyze common Game of Thrones metaphors in the literary text as well as video game spinoffs.

  • Eidsvåg, Marta. “‘Maiden, Mother, and Crone’: Motherhood in the World of Ice and Fire.” In Women of Ice and Fire: Gender, Game of Thrones, and Multiple Media Engagements. Edited by Anne Gjelsvik and Rikke Schubart, 151–170. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

    Comparing the A Song of Ice and Fire novels to the HBO Game of Thrones television series, Eidsvåg analyzes the representations of biological motherhood through the characters of Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark. Eidsvåg concludes that the television series provides a less defined depiction of motherhood. This results in mother figures that often have less agency in the television narrative than they have in the novels.

  • Gallagher, Mark. “Game of Thrones: Adaptation and Fidelity in an Age of Convergence.” Antenna, April 9, 2015.

    Working from the theory of fidelity criticism, Gallagher discusses how the analysis of Game of Thrones as literary adaptation is altered by the television series exceeding its source material. He questions the degree to which faithfulness remains important as well as how fans will experience the final novel if they have seen the television series first. Also considered is the degree to which ideas of “original” and “copy” are tested by the series concluding before the books are released.

  • Gjelsvik, Anne. “Unspeakable Acts of (Sexual) Terror As/In Quality Television.” In Women of Ice and Fire: Gender, Game of Thrones, and Multiple Media Engagements. Edited by Anne Gjelsvik and Rikke Schubart, 57–78. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

    Gjelsvik discusses how certain adaptive changes which take the narrative from book to screen alter perspectives on power and gender. Specifically the author addresses the use of sexual terror in the weakening of strong female characters (such as Meera Reed and Cersei Lannister) and the use of sexual torture (against Theon Greyjoy) as an additional commentary on gender representation.

  • Jones, Rebecca. “A Game of Genders: Comparing Depictions of Empowered Women between A Game of Thrones Novel and Television Series.” Journal of Student Research 1.3 (2012): 14–21.

    Jones compares and contrasts the portrayals of female characters as described in the novels versus how they are seen in the show; specifically, Cersei Lannister, Catelyn Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen. Each character is assessed using the literary archetypes of queen, hero, mother, child, maiden, and warrior. Jones discusses how the show depicts the gender expectations of these characters in a way that is more aligned with contemporary standards for women and children.

  • Krishnamurthy, Sarala. “A Feast for the Imagination: An Exploration of Narrative Elements of the Text and Hypertext of Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.” NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication 7.1 (2013): 86–97.

    Krishnamurthy’s article discusses how the narrative of Martin’s original literary tale is taken and reinterpreted in various media. A primary theme of the article is the comparison of the ice and fire metaphors and how they are employed in Martin’s first book of the series versus the subsequent online games and the HBO television series.

  • Larsson, Mariah. “Adapting Sex: Cultural Conceptions of Sexuality in Words and Images.” In Women of Ice and Fire: Gender, Game of Thrones, and Multiple Media Engagements. Edited by Anne Gjelsvik and Rikke Schubart, 17–38. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

    Larsson is interested in discrepancies between the depictions of sexuality in Martin’s novel versus HBO’s television series. She does close readings of the wedding nights of Daenerys/Kahl Drogo, Robb/Talisa-Jeyne Poole, and Tyrion/Sansa. She concludes that differences in depictions tell us more about our own sexual ethics as compared to our imagination of sexuality in past cultures than they tell us about adaptations between the novels and television.

  • Phillips, Jennifer. “Confrontational Content, Gendered Gazes, and the Ethics of Adaptation in Outlander and Game of Thrones.” In Adoring Outlander: Essays on Fandom, Genre, and the Female Audience. Edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel, 162–181. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016.

    A comparison of the depictions of rape present in Outlander (Starz!) and Game of Thrones (HBO). Includes sections on how the male and female gaze and rape as a narrative device have been presented in classical film theory.

  • Schröter, Felix. “Sworn Swords and Noble Ladies: Female Characters in Game of Thrones Video Games.” In Women of Ice and Fire: Gender, Game of Thrones, and Multiple Media Engagements. Edited by Anne Gjelsvik and Rikke Schubart, 79–103. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

    A commentary on the representation of female characters in Game of Thrones video games. The author concludes that, due largely to the restrictive nature and expectations of the video game genre, the roles of women characters within the video games do not live up to the complexities of their television show counterparts.

  • Wells-Lassagne, Shannon. “Prurient Pleasures: Adapting Fantasy to HBO.” Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance 6.3 (2013): 415–426.

    DOI: 10.1386/jafp.6.3.415_1

    Article focuses on HBO in an analysis of its use of sexually explicit material in “quality television” series such as Game of Thrones and True Blood. Theories are proposed as to the reason for this proclivity for “prurient pleasures” by analyzing the source texts, the medium, and the HBO production requirements. Available online by subscription.

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