Wagner And “Game of Thrones”: Where they Intersect?

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 12 May 2019 | 12:48:00 pm

Alex Ross is always worth reading, especially about Wagner.

By Alex Ross. 

When Arthur Schopenhauer read the libretto of “Die Walküre,” the second instalment of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, he found himself discomfited by the goings on in Act I, in which the twin siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde, separated children of the god Wotan, fall madly in love. “You are bride and sister to your brother,” Siegmund exclaims. The music that churns ecstatically in the closing bars indicates that consummation is imminent, with the hero Siegfried as the destined result. Next to the stage direction at the end—“The curtain falls quickly”—Schopenhauer sardonically wrote, “Denn es ist hohe Zeit”—“Because it’s high time.”

Mythic and fantasy narratives gravitate strikingly often toward incestuous themes. “Game of Thrones,” the HBO series that a portion of the planet has been watching, is a case in point. It features not only a sibling affair, between Cersei Lannister and her twin brother Jaime but also a liaison between the dragon-mother Daenerys and the outcast hero Jon Snow, who, unbeknownst to each other, are aunt and nephew. The latter relationship matches the other great eyebrow-raising romance in the “Ring”—the love of Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Siegfried is Wotan’s grandson; Brünnhilde is his Valkyrie daughter. It’s not clear whether George R. R. Martin, the creator of “Game of Thrones,” has Wagnerian leanings, but the proliferation of “Ring”-like elements in his saga—dragons, dwarves, ravens, magic swords, shape-shifting devices—suggests that, like J. R. R. Tolkien before him, he may owe a few debts to the wizard of Bayreuth.