When Game of Thrones first aired on HBO in April 2011, the narrative centred around the Stark family, particularly the father, Ned; Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. Initially portrayed as the primary protagonist around whom the series was centred, Ned Stark found himself headless after seven episodes, dying with one fell swoop of his own sword.
This the 2018 World Cup.
Just as George R. R. Martin deceived his audience into developing an emotional attachment to Ned’s character, so did Joachim Low in terms of Germany’s participation in the World Cup. If there was a nation worthy of the comparison, it’s the Germans.
Perceived by many as the pre-tournament favourites – perhaps the first nation to defend the World Cup since Brazil in 1962 – the German narrative was one of expectation. Of significant promise. Of glory.
Germany, however, comparable to Ned’s failure to appear beyond the first season, were knocked out at the group stage, similarly falling by their own sword. A blade of stale tactics, poor team selection and consequent defensive vulnerability.
A death that shocked television, the same can be said for Germany’s untimely elimination, one now the subject of consistent discussion until the chance of rectification arises in 2022.
Before we, as viewers, even had a chance to mourn Ned’s death and reflect on what it meant for the Game of Thrones narrative, George R. R. Martin created another.
It was new; it took our minds away from Ned and it was designed to fill the void. Robb Stark emerged as his father’s successor – the King in the North – just as Spain were there to pick up the baton Germany so carelessly relinquished.
Emerging first out of the chaotic conclusion to Group B, La Roja progressed into the ‘easier’ half of the World Cup draw and thus garnered expectation. And so the narrative adapts; the vindication of Julen Lopetegui’s dismissal. Will Spain reclaim what they failed to defend four years ago? Is this the new dawn of possession football?
And so we arrive at the Red Wedding.
A massacre, orchestrated by Walder Frey under the pretence of revenge for a broken marriage pact, left House Stark obliterated. So, too, did Lopetegui’s abrupt expulsion, days before Spain’s World Cup campaign began.
Every massacre has an ulteriorly motivated mastermind, though, and just as House Lannister were the evil innovators behind the Red Wedding, Real Madrid sabotaged the Spanish World Cup campaign.
No matter your perspective, Spain were stabbed through the heart, the fate to befall Robb Stark at the hands of Roose Bolton, a Lannister puppet and former Stark ally. If Roose is Lopetegui, betraying Spain and remorselessly watching their subsequent death, Florentino Perez is Tywin Lannister, devilishly laughing as he, yet again, achieves exactly what he wants – through an external medium – without dirtying his hands.
One of the most unexpectedly shocking pieces of television, it left viewers reeling, squabbling amongst themselves over where Game of Thrones was heading next. The narrative was in pieces. There was no obvious hero to illuminate the Westerosi gloom.
From the ashes of disaster, however, grow the roses of success.
Jon Snow, now wholly intertwined into the composition of the Westerosi universe, materialised out of the shadows to champion hope. To continue the narrative. It was far from expected and impossible to predict.
It’s the story of the underdog.
Where is the World Cup’s Jon Snow? This is what the narrative searches for. A central tenant to glorify and extol such virtues that pre-tournament favourites failed to epitomise.
Was it to be Argentina? A once great nation on the brink of elimination, save only for what can be described as Lionel Messi’s divine intervention, just as Jon Snow was brought back from the dead. It was not to be, however, as a defining display from France’s Kylian Mbappe condemned them to a fate commensurate with their performances.
Maybe Croatia, perennially on the periphery of the international stage, can capture their first World Cup with their best generation of the last two decades.
Perhaps Brazil – by no means an underdog – will rescue the storyline. A nation somewhat comparable to Daenerys Targaryen, keen to reconquer what was once their’s following years of international exile, deriving from a desperate 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany on home turf four years ago.
Even England are considered in the discussion. Eternally hurting since their only World Cup victory in 1966, football coming home is not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Arguably they are football’s Jon Snow; a nation brought back from the dead under Gareth Southgate’s new, intelligent regime. One able to unify conflicting personalities, just as Snow reconciled the Northern Houses.
The Russian World Cup has had the same viewing affect as watching your favourite character die in the first series of the programme. As if Jon Snow actually perished at the Wall. As if Walter White was arrested in his underwear in the first episode of Breaking Bad, the plausibility of such an event entertained in the show’s opening scene.
Shock. Drama. Suspense.
It’s extraordinarily thrilling at the time but where does this leave the wider narrative?
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