As many of my readers may already know, I took a course last year in which we watched and wrote about Game of Thrones. On my House Lorch blog, I wrote through the complete sixth season and feel like I should dust off my keyboard and continue on now that season 7 has officially premiered. Feel free to catch up on all of my thoughts about previous seasons at my House Lorch site or even my classmates at the Scholars of the Throne website. All future Game of Thrones blogs will live right here on TheSmallScreenScholar.com.
Before reading on, be sure to have seen the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, as spoilers may await you in the coming lines.
As one would expect with Game of Thrones, there was a lot to be excited about within the Season 7 premiere. Arya is continuing her mission of revenge with one of the bloodiest season openers of the show while Dany and Cersei are drawing up their strategy maps (quite literally in Cersei’s case), Jon attempts to take the reigns in the North, and Samwell is almost literally knee deep in shit. We even had a cameo appearance from Ed Sheeran who, along with his merry band of soldiers, seemed much too kind to be rocking Lannister colors. Without doubt, this premiere is setting us up for what is sure to be an epic season.
However, for all that could be talked about, in relation to this premiere, the story-line that I can’t seem to stop thinking about is Sam’s. As an academic, there was something very relatable and depressing about the constructed monotony and frustration that Sam is experiencing in the citadel. Although Game of Thrones is a pop culture phenomenon that takes place in a fantastic world, the writers have not ever been shy about shining light upon real world problems with which the audience might be able to relate. During Sam’s initial sequence in the season 7 premiere, the repetition in the editing and the sound of Sam heaving as a result of the tasks he is performing can easily be understood as a telling indictment on the attainability of an education (or more generally access to knowledge), not only in the Seven Kingdoms, but also in the real world.
Although Sam is objectively among the richest sources of knowledge in the seven kingdoms, he has been reduced to literal shit work in an attempt to, seemingly fruitlessly, earn his way into the section of the citadel that might hold the very information that he needs to assist Jon Snow in his inevitable fight with the Night’s King (and his army of White Walkers and Wights). The books that Sam seeks are literally locked behind a gate to which Sam does not have access. Even the books to which Sam does have access are covered in heavy chains and locked to shelves. Although these chains arguably served the purpose of ensuring these tomes would not leave the safety of the citadel, the symbolic imagery of heavily guarded books alongside the filming and editing choices seems to be much more suggestive.
Certainly this whole scene with Sam touches upon a timeless debate regarding accessibility to knowledge. Should all knowledge be free and available to everyone at all times? If not, what are the limitations? If knowledge must be earned, for example, what is an appropriate price? It is a debate that we are having today in the real world in the form of conversations around college accessibility, affordability, and student loan debt. Topics to which I am sure many of my readers are unfortunately well acquainted.
As with many in the real world who have been disillusioned by the red tape and cost that can impede one’s pursuit of a higher education, Sam begins to understand the relative futility of the situation in which he finds himself. Eventually he decides to takes matters into his own hands, probably performing an action that would be considered criminal in both our world and his, by stealing keys to the restricted section and helping himself, in the dead of night, to the books he so desperately needs to help his friend (Jon Snow) and probably the rest of humanity.
It is made clear through Sam’s conversation with Archmaester Ebrose (played by amazing Jim Broadment) that many within the Citadel regard Sam’s concerns of White Walkers and other Northerly spooks to be without merit, which, although I do not wish to dwell on it too heavily, points a finger at another concern related to academia: unless an idea becomes fashionable or well regarded, it is considered of little merit. This is not to say that these academic traditions regarding vetting of ideas are not important (concurrence among academics can certainly be a good and powerful thing in knowledge consistency and assuring relevancy) but academic circles have not always gotten things right and over time have been known to occlude the ideas and experiences of many. This is why we see such a surge these days regarding inclusion in places like the humanities (and other fields) where the gatekeepers have been traditionally white and male, for example. Sam is, of course, both white and male, but the point is that his ideas do not jive well with the other more experienced maesters and it is clear that he is being left to suffer the plight of grunt work as some sort of punishment for his unpopular ideas. Sam, in their eyes, has not earned their respect for his ideas yet and it will be difficult for him to do as such when he is espousing theories that, to them in the comfort of the citadel, do not run parallel their worldview.
Unfortunately, it is a reality that some ideas just do not take off as quickly and forcefully as they should and that the inner workings of academia can, at times, be seen as the source of such idea suppression. However, possibly even more depressing, is thinking of how many are denied access to education and are never able to realize their true cerebral potential. Personally, I would want the Samwells of the world to have broad access to information in the hopes that they can use all of the things they learn to make the world better, to allow them to take ideas that might seem foreign or strange and give them the chance to explore them further, for, much like in Sam’s case, you never know when one seemingly wacky idea or story might actually save the human race. Thankfully Sam took matters into his own hands, but as this episode seems to beg the question: Should anyone have to work so hard just for access to books?