President Trump, as his Twitter feed amply demonstrates, is more of a Fox News guy than an HBO guy. It’s too bad. Mornings might be less stressful if the president spent them opining on “My Brilliant Friend” rather than on “Fox & Friends.”
But he has lately developed an affinity for one of HBO’s shows. Or at least its advertising.
In November, announcing sanctions on Iran, the president tweeted out a picture of himself on a mock “Game of Thrones” promo, with the caption “Sanctions Are Coming,” a variation on the show’s tagline “Winter Is Coming.” He apparently liked the image so much that he bought the poster. A copy lay in front of him at his Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Thursday, on his Instagram account, he rolled out the sequel: “The Wall Is Coming,” with the president giving an Ice King stare over a rendering of a spiky barrier.
On Trump’s Instagram pic.twitter.com/PQaWp86ZPQ
It was, superficially, an apt use of imagery. HBO’s epic does feature a massive border wall, stretching across the border wastes of the fantasy realm of Westeros. The slight problem — spoiler alert for anyone who isn’t caught up, including, apparently, the entire White House staff — is that at the end of the most recent season that wall spectacularly collapsed, done in by the (blue) fire and fury of a zombie dragon.
But there’s a bigger dissonance than that. Mr. Trump is a fan of tough-guy imagery, and he, or whoever makes his memes, probably just liked the idea of depicting himself as the patriarch of House Trump — First of His Name, Protector of the Realm — going medieval on national security.
However, he might not like what “Game of Thrones” actually has to say about leadership in general, and walls in particular.
Certainly Mr. Trump could find role models on the show. It involves the rise to dominance of a cunning, wealthy family that doles out power positions to relatives and has a penchant for gold. (Although there is some question as to whether Mr. Trump, like the Lannisters, pays his debts.)
And yes, looming over the whole thing, there is — or was — a great, big, beautiful wall. But it was never intended to keep out people.
In the story, based on a book series by George R.R. Martin, the ice wall was built thousands of years ago, with magical assistance, to keep out the White Walkers (the “Others” in the novels), a race of frigid beings dedicated to snuffing out all life. (I’ll let you Google the details.)
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But as the Walkers lay dormant for centuries, people in Westeros started to forget. This nightmare enemy of all mankind, they decided, was a fairy tale. Instead, they came to believe, the wall was there to protect the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from the “wildlings” — their term for the poor suckers who happened to live on the desolate northern side of the wall when it went up.
Over generations, the Night’s Watch — the force created to patrol the Wall — changed its self-image too, thinking of itself as a kind of border patrol, an icebound I.C.E., there to defend Westeros from what it saw as savages who wanted to pour over the border and steal the riches of honest, hardworking Westerosi.
If you’ve watched “Game of Thrones,” you know where it goes from there. The Walkers rise again, and the Night’s Watch leader Jon Snow (Kit Harington) wants to make common cause with the wildlings. “They were born on the wrong side of the wall,” he says. “That doesn’t make them monsters.”
His comrades, declaring this fake news, stab him to death. (Only temporarily!) But by the most recent season, with the zombie army encroaching, a resurrected Jon has convinced the squabbling armies of Westeros to pause their war for the Iron Throne — sort of — to fight the undead.
In “Game of Thrones,” in other words, nationalism and tribalism are not essential forces for preserving society but an existential threat to survival. The Wall is a mighty symbol of protection but ultimately an ineffective one; the only salvation, if there is one, is people deciding they have more to gain by working together. And the worst leaders (if sometimes the most successful) are those like Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who see disaster as an opportunity to decimate and divide rivals.
The president is a creation of TV and a voracious consumer of it, but his tastes are limited and specific. He likes cable news in general, and news about himself best of all. He became a star in reality TV, which relies on condensing human experience into catchphrases and simple, broad symbols, and he applied its lessons on the campaign trail by rendering the idea of security as a great big wall.
He has never, however, seemed to be much of a follower of scripted TV dramas, which at their best draw out life’s complexities.
So to him — or the social-media staff in charge of realizing his worldview — “Winter Is Coming,” the motto of House Stark, is a macho threat. (Better look out, sucker! I’m bringing some winter down on you!)
As any fan of the series knows, it’s not; it’s a warning, a caution, a reminder that if we fall into pettiness and division, the storm will come for us all, all the same.
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