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Game of Thrones Course Comes to UCI

By Summer Wong

Photo by Jenae Medina/ CC BY

When one thinks of anthropology, an image of Indiana Jones raiding tombs and pillaging lost treasures often comes to mind. However, anthropology expands beyond the field of archaeology to encompass the full breadth of the sociocultural study and politics of human civilization — something more along the lines of HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones.

 This summer, a new course has opened up in UCI’s department of Anthropology — a rare opportunity to dip one’s toes into an excitingly unique side of the field. Lucy Carrillo, a Ph. D. student at UCI, and her co-lecturer K. Murphy will teach Anthro 139B during summer session II — a course which offers an in-depth perspective on social issues by integrating relevant topics such as power, kinship, magic, religion, race, and gender into a challenging curriculum perfect for avid fans of Game of Thrones.

 “In this class students will draw parallels between Game of Thrones and everyday life, as any good science fiction book will have us do,” said Carrillo.

Game of Thrones, a popular medieval fantasy television show, is an adaptation of George R.R Martin’s book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The series illustrates several  powerful families fighting for control of the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Main characters include: Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister, Shae, Sandore Clegane, and Margaery Tyrell, members of various families who are embroiled in violent battles for ultimate power.

 By encouraging Carrillo’s students to read and discuss the novels, TV clips, as well as anthropological and social texts, she intends to get students to “think critically” and “analyze concerns of our time.” Through aspects of this fantasy world, students will examine issues about gender, race, and religion “as it pertains to social injustices.” She wants students to ask themselves, “What is politics?”

  The inspiration behind the class came about one evening when Carrillo and her boyfriend were out enjoying dinner discussing the interesting female roles portrayed on the show. In particular, their conversation steered toward the unique developments of Arya Stark’s character through the recent series.

 Carrillo and her boyfriend came to the conclusion that Game of Thrones was one of the few shows that portrays strong, independent, and intelligent women in medieval times. In essence, the different social and cultural expectations of each woman’s  respective kingdom gave rise to different forms of femininity and masculinity. It was this subject that ignited a drive in Carrillo to dive deeper into these issues.

 “We are seeing this more in the recent seasons with the character Theon Greyjoy and his family. For instance, [the] kinds of ‘leaders’ men and women are expected to be,” said Carrillo.

 Without giving too many spoilers, Carrillo hinted that Greyjoy’s character development plays on leadership expectations and gender-specific assumptions.

 This fan talk opened the discussion for the various other ways in which anthropology could be used to think about religion’s role in establishing order, and how we might think about race through Daenery’s attempt to free slaves.

 “Of course, at the center of it all is kinship, a cornerstone of anthropology,” says Carrillo.

 During this five week, four unit course, students will also be encouraged to understand the central themes of Game of Thrones as they pertain to social organization. The political and enduring power of kinship, which is a dominant theme in Martin’s series, has been a topic of debate for anthropologists since the twentieth century.

 “An anthropological perspective gives us the opportunity to study the Kingdom of Westeros as a society that in many ways could parallel Western societies, such as the United States,” says Carrillo.

Anthro 139B will be taught Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11-12:50 p.m. in the Engineering Hall Room 110. As of now, this class is only offered during summer session, and there is no guarantee for an opening of this class during the school year.