When the much-anticipated final season of “Game of Thrones” premieres Sunday on HBO, fans around the world will see some resolutions to the themes of war, romance, and family loyalty that have marked the hit show for the past eight years.
The epic battle for Winterfell, a reunion of the surviving Stark children, and the fallout from the union of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen and subsequent discoveries about their lineage will be at the top of the minds of many viewers, including Racha Kirakosian, an associate professor of German and the study of religion.
For Kirakosian, this last season of “Game of Thrones” is an opportunity for both entertainment and scholarship. She has been teaching “The Real ‘Game of Thrones’: Culture, Society, and Religion in the Middle Ages” since 2017, using “Thrones” and other famous works of fantasy to engage students’ love of the genre while dispelling myths about medieval life and its depiction in popular culture.
“‘Game of Thrones’ takes tremendous inspiration from the medieval world,” Kirakosian said, pointing to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” as one of the first books to make medieval Europe the default world of fantasy storytelling. “It’s important to understand how that fantasy creation got so entangled with the history of medieval Europe, and in order to get there we need to know something about medieval Europe.”
In one class, on the theme of “Learning and Philosophy,” students watch a clip from the show illustrating the lack of literacy and access to knowledge in Westeros, especially for women. Using the clip as a guide, Kirakosian explains the realities of literacy and education for medieval men and women and highlights the advent of the university system during the medieval period — a departure from the world of knowledge depicted in “Game of Thrones.”
“Students are able to see something they know from the show and then look at the actual historical sources that we have from medieval Europe,” said Kirakosian. “They can then realize how complex the image actually is and get a sense for historical depth and analysis.”