“Game of Thrones” And ISIS: What They Have in Common

Written by David Michaelis

Producers of shows like “Game of Thrones” and terror groups like ISIS rely on the same techniques. They’ll both manipulate us if we don’t pay close attention. Analysis by David Michaelis.

aNewDomain — It turns out ISIS and “Game of Thrones” have a lot in common.

beheading midevilBoth use medieval imagery and acts to create a jarring, shock-and-awe effect for the world to watch. Both have a cult following in die-hard “fans.” Both have a swarming community of online and social media users.

The producers of the HBO series and ISIS both take actions to normalize human burning, rape and torture as a daily part of fiction and non-fiction.

They even use the same multi-camera shooting technique, as employed by ISIS in the burning of the Jordanian pilot and multiple scenes in “Game of Thrones.”

Emotional Triggering

Both “Game of Thrones” and ISIS create professional productions that are designed to play to fundamental emotional triggers. As The New York Times wrote, “‘Game of Thrones’ has trained fans to expect the unexpectedly terrible.” ISIS has trained world news watchers similarly.

For a chronological sequence of disturbing events from “Game of Thrones,” see the video below. Viewer discretion advised.

Video: The 10 most shocking moments in Game of Thrones till now 

ISIS shocks and surprises watchers and pundits alike, with women that alternately serve as madonnas, whores, slaves and police. It keeps everyone on their guard. But its themes have stayed steady:

  1. No one is safe
  2. Not even children
  3. Beheading is okay
  4. Rape is routine

The HBO show uses “medieval” fantasy to point out modern-day reality. ISIS uses medieval Muslim scripts to justify and, at the same time, distance society from modern-day cruelty. History Today comments:

Despite the reality of medieval torture, comparisons with ISIS are not intended to be meaningfully equivalent. Instead, they are conjuring up the one-dimensional myth of medievalism: of berserkers, barbarians and blood-eagling, a myth which leaves us, civilized and modern, wholly absolved of any connection with those actions.”

You have to wonder how connected we are to the barbaric acts happening in the Middle East and the ones we watch on our screens. If indeed they do appeal to a darker side of our psychological makeup, how does that allow shock-and-awe methods to manipulate us? The answers matter.


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Images in order: Game of Thrones Screenshot courtesy of HBO; Detail of a miniature of Virginius beheading his daughter Virginia, Harley MS 4425, f. 54v; ISIS in Syria via syrianperspective.com