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Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and the 1960s

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the Red Wedding episode of Games of Thrones (season 3, episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere”), don’t read this. There is also a very broad thematic spoiler “spoiler” about Mad Men.]

Yeah, quite an episode.

Matthew Weiner has said that this season of Mad Men reflects just how awful the end of the 1960s were. It’s set in the year that he considers to be one of the very worst in American history: riots, assassinations, a pointless, grinding war, even some worrisome parallels with the Sharon Tate murder by the Charles Manson Family. It’s not the usual Summer of Love picture of the 1960s, but I was there and I can tell you that it was a bimodally euphoric and terrifying time.

George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, is two years older than I am, and thus was 15 when JFK was killed, and was 20 when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot. He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War (as was I, by the way) and has linked his novels to that war’s brutality.

There was a lesson that it was hard not to draw from the relentlessness of the draft and from the political assassinations that punctuated our equilibrium: There is no certainty that stories will be completed the way we imagined they would be, and the way our moral sense told us they must be. Eighteen year olds will go away and will not come back. Hope will be silenced in mid-sentence. This lesson has been the bedrock fact for most of the world throughout most of history, but it came home to American middle class boys and girls with a shock during that decade.

So, when George Martin rubs our noses in the fact that his stories are realistic, I think, yup, 1960s.

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