With Sunday’s debut of the second season of HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, now is the time to review the 1001 characters and plots. But since everyone else is already doing that, I would instead like to pose a question that is nagging me about Sunday night, appointment-television series. Are Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey essentially the same show?
How dare I ask such a question since one show is silly medieval fantasy with dragons, ice zombies, and naked whores while the other is a poignant historical drama with sharp social commentary on class and wealth? Or is that, one is a sappy soap opera with pretty dresses and the other is the sharpest of political dramas on the nature of ambition, honor, and revenge?
Both are sweeping costume sagas with large British casts, and the odd American or Dane. Both concern family, inheritance, and hierarchy during a time of immense societal change. Neither invite casual viewing.
If you side with either opinion, the shows would seem to have little in common. Yet, both are sweeping costume sagas with large British casts, and the odd American or Dane. Both concern family, inheritance, and hierarchy during a time of immense societal change. Neither invite casual viewing, and using the online guides is frequently required. (Is a second footman a kind of old timey podiatrist? Why can’t that Greyjoy guy leave Winterfell and get a job?)
Thematically they seem very similar to me, but let’s take a look at some of their most glaring shared plots and motifs.
Pants are a horrible influence on the youngest of high-born daughters. If a young Lady is headstrong — literary speak for voicing an opinion — at all costs, keep her away from pants. Sure she might claim they’re harmless pantaloons but pantaloons are a gateway clothing to full-on trousers.
Elder daughters seem immune to the allure of pants, but once that younger daughter pulls on a pair, she’s changed. Suddenly archery or advocating women’s suffrage isn’t enough. Soon she’s taking secret sword or water-boiling lessons and before the unsuspecting family knows, she’s taken on a career in nursing and marries the communist chauffeur or disguises herself as boy and kills any fat bullies who get in her way.
Lords, keep your daughters away from the demon pants.
Ser Jorah Mormont may I introduce you to Sir Richard Carlisle?
In Downton Abbey, Sir Richard Carlisle is a knight tainted by a current unsavory career as a tabloid newspaper tycoon. Forming an alliance with the Crawley family will do much to bring him into the highest levels of British society and wash away the stain of all that crass new money. He offers his support, advice and name to the lovely and younger Lady Mary, even knowing about her night with the sexy Turkish diplomat, Kemal Pamuk. Mary has no real romantic feelings for Sir Richard, and it’s up to the viewer’s interpretation what he actually feels for the want-to-be-countess, Lady Mary.
Sir Richard is played by the accomplished British actor Iain Glen.
In Game of Thrones, Ser Jorah Mormont is a knight tainted by an unsavory former career as a slave trader. Forming an alliance with the exiled Targaryen siblings could do much to bring him back to Westeros and wash away the stain of his criminal trade. He offers his support, advice, and seeming loyalty to the beautiful and younger Daenerys Targaryen as she marries the desert warrior, Khal Drogo. Daenerys has no romantic feelings for Ser Jorah but it appears he is falling for the want-to-be-queen, Princess Daenerys.
Ser Jorah is played by the acclaimed British actor Iain Glen.
What to expect when you’re expecting? Witches.
If a princess or countess has lost an inheritance through no fault of her own, she may find bearing a male heir will help her regain that inheritance. At this point, she should look for a lurking older, dark-haired woman offering her aid. This helpful woman seems to be a most loyal servant because the great lady saved her from the raping horde that is her husband’s army/has given her a coveted lady’s maid gig even though she’s surly and spends most of her time on smoking-plotting breaks with her hot, gay boyfriend.
Though their creators might strongly disagree, I think both shows are primarily about human vanity and obliviousness. Most of the characters are so consumed by their own drama, they never see the big picture whether that picture is meteorological or historical.
Be warned, this woman is either literally or figuratively a bad witch, out to make sure that new male heir/inheritance solution is never born. Admittedly Maz Dur’s magical, sacrificial-horse double-cross was far more realistic than the anatomical logistics of O’Brien’s soap + bathtub scheme, but the witch rules apply in either case.
Honor breeds stupidity
Watching both shows can become an exercise in frustration when it comes to their noblest characters like Ned Stark or John Bates. Both use their great sense of honor to guide them in making a series of increasingly stupid decisions. They leave some viewers — well, me — constantly screaming at the screen: You’re going to trust Littlefinger now? You really think Cersei/Vera is just going to slink away quietly after you threaten to expose her adultery?
Finally, when the character bewilderedly faces the executioner’s sword or noose for a crime he didn’t commit, I shrug and hope the show soon brings its focus back to its:
Many shows have a resident badass, a fan favorite who meets the worst situations with style. Neither Thrones nor Downton’s badasses are the brawniest characters. Instead they use wit and intellect to kick butt. Whenever all the other characters are consumed by their own stupidity, it’s time to unleash Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley, or Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister to steal the scene. Both do have their tragic flaws. For Tyrion it’s daddy issues, for Violet flower shows. And both actors earned a 2011 supporting actor Emmy for their portrayal.
There are differences between the shows. None of the Crawley daughters have dire wolves and ice zombies aren’t any more of a threat to favorite characters than the Spanish Flu was. I wouldn’t, however, object to Zombie William rising from the grave to eat Daisy’s whiny brain. Neither on the other hand, would I be adverse to Game of Thrones learning Downton Abbey’s fully clothed way of delivering exposition.
And, somehow, Downton Abbey makes the idea of marrying a cousin so romantic, while the Lannister twins’ psychopathic son, Joffery, is the ultimate argument for vast diversity in gene pools.
Though their creators might strongly disagree, I think both shows are primarily about human vanity and obliviousness. Most of the characters are so consumed by their own drama, they never see the big picture whether that picture is meteorological or historical. Winter is coming and all their honor, ambitions, and revenge plots blind the characters to anything beyond their next move in the throne game. Downton Abbey might continue to stand, but historical forces will soon end the rigid manor house system.
Most of all, these similarities have brought me to one last, vital question. Why is there no buddy movie starring a heavily armed Maggie Smith and Peter Dinklage fighting crime or aliens? I’d break my Sunday appointment with my television to go see that movie.