"I feel like a show with motherfucking dragons shouldn't have a scene involving a loan application review."
-someone on the internet
This was a comment I saw posted regarding the latest episode.
The comment was in regards to Stannis trying to get the backing of the Iron Bank of Bravos. Half of the episode also consisted of Tyrion's trial, basically turning into a courtroom drama, at least for one episode. (Tryion has been tried before, but it quickly turned into a medieval "Trial By Combat", which is what this next episode looks to do. In short, a show with magic and monsters is showing how characters have to deal with the annoying bureaucracy that works behind the grander moments. What separates "Game of Thrones" from a lot of epic fantasy, or epic storytelling in general, is the minutiae. It even separates it from most non-mystical works, like Braveheart or 300, which take the visceral, aesthetic pleasures that sword-fights and armor provide, but instilling it with a very modern application, for instance, the virtues of freedom. If there is anything that Western society holds dear as a secular first commandment, it's freedom and equality, even though we disagree on what "freedom" actually means.
Every now and then, a film targeted towards children, like The Muppets or The Lego Movie will attract less-than-flattering attention than Fox News anchors for featuring businessmen as their antagonists, with claims they're trying to indoctrinate children to an anti-capitalist point of view. The political proclivities of the writers notwithstanding, this probably has less to do with their political leanings than the fact that we live in a mercantile society, thus, the majority of conflicts to be had revolve around industry and commerce. And, as the story is only going to be as exciting as the antagonist is potent, the villain is going to be good at running business, though the storyteller will usually indicate this less due to ingenuity, than the exploitation of its true geniuses. In short, suits make for common adversaries because they are credible adversaries.
George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire is arguably the most high profile work, besides The Wizard of Oz, to be written by an American. Because we are an Anglo-phonic society, we sometimes have certain nostalgia for the fairy tales and legends of our mother continent. But we also carry our own values system. While the United States was built as a Republic, we've grown so old and so powerful (and some say, so arrogant), we've come to love symbols and mythologies, and there's a sense that right is something innate. We have a love-hate relationship with the concept of monarchy, and the system that entails. As such, we take fantasy stories and our attraction to the pomp and might of royalty, and filter it through something meritocratic.
Ridley Scott, who's sometimes the go-to-guy for siege warfare type epics, imbues his heroes with a middle class secular humanism, no matter how anachronistic or historically unfaithful that may be. Thus, Maximus from Gladiator restores Rome to a republic (no such thing happened), Balian from Kingdom of Heaven is a recently-legitimized bastard who had been working as a blacksmith (In real life, he was a noble, through and through). Even his take on Robin Hood, perhaps the medieval folklore most attuned to American (And Tea Party American at that!) sensibilities, was more anti-Monarchist than usual. (One of the few works not to depict Richard the Lionheart as a savior) Lord of the Rings, the basis for any modern heroic fantasy, has the long-lost king Aragorn as having lived in the wild as a Ranger. Even the most traditionalist and pro-monarchy stories in genre still seems to indicate life at court can be corrupting.
As result of this, when we depict the usual sword and sorcery yarn, in an attempt not to trouble ourselves with the actual implications of how a non-democracy actually works, we gloss over the schematics. Monarchs are portrayed inherently good or inherently evil. Rival nations are either great big Orc hordes, or the machinations of some evil chancellor or who had the gall aspire towards social mobility. Very few works depict political troubles as the result of complicated family ties, financial limitations, or the backlash against social reformers that we often root for. As a matter of fact, most of these stories seem to ignore the different levels of social strata. We see a monarch, his or her army, and the rest of the subjects. I remember as a youth being surprised that there was an entire noble class a ruler is beholden to, even if he can do what he likes to the peasants. It's very jarring to learn that Richard III or Prince John are only vilified because they made enemies out of other privileged overlords. (Not that they measure up to our modern standards of morality or egalitarianism, but very few people of their respective eras do) To wit, the phrase "Cinderella story" is extremely popular (It's possibly the most popular of Grimm's Fairy Tales to Americans). Sure, ascending to be queen isn't bad, as long as anyone can do it. Of course, this often ignores that a commoner marrying royalty is going to alienate as many people as it wins over. The War of the Roses, which has inspired the books, and thus the show, more or less ended when Edward marrying a commoner threw things into such array that the centuries-long Plantagenet dynasty was effectively ended.
What Martin does is depict a world where platitudes have to hit he brick wall of reality. Wealth is the result of natural resources. The Reach has a lot, the Westerlands are running out, and Dragonstone never had much to begin with. It establishes all the problems of Monarchy, (that is, people subject to the whims of the Mad King, of Joffery, and even Robert in his own way) but it also points out that just because you fight for freedom does not mean you know how to effectively govern. (As Daenarys is finding) Even Twyin is presented as a deconstruction as the villainous uncle adviser. He's certainly all of those things, but he's not a mustache twisting Disney villain, but if he could get over the Tyrion thing, he'd probably be guaranteeing a prosperous kingdom.
And then there's Stannis, who is probably worthy of his own article on mix between modern and antique values, as well as pragmatism versus. A little differently from the books, the show asks us to root for his brother Renly's claim over his. Renly is asked why he shouldn't be King, if he's so loved and gentle and good. It asks that the laws of primogeniture be ignored for merit, but then it raises the question of "Why does it have to be a Baratheon at all, let alone the nicest one?" Renly is a front for the Tyrells who, while not malevolent, have shown a tendency to eschew scruples. Stannis shows devotion to a foreign god, who has populist appeal (If the Brotherhood Without Banners is anything to go by), compared to the hoity-toity (And somewhat corrupt) Faith of Seven, which can equally mirror the Protestant Reformation of Europeor the Evaneglical movement in America. Stannis's odd contradictions between being a traditionalist and meritocrat is also compelling if one is fascinated by the nature of your given Rockefeller Republican.
What makes Game of Thrones so much an interesting watch, isn't just the zombies or the dragons. (Which are incredibly riveting, make no mistake. But a lot of dragon and zombie fiction has also floundered.) It's that it shows how an exotic system of government and life relates to our own, both how it can seem so alien, and how it's not so different at all.