Warning: Spoilers are coming.
Did you know that Pete Buttigieg loves Game of Thrones?
The gay presidential candidate, in a recent interview with The Advocate's LGBTQ&A podcast, revealed that the recently concluded HBO series was one of the common interests that first drew him to his now-husband, Chasten, when the pair met via the dating app Hinge several years ago.
Buttigieg expounded on why he found the series appealing in a February tweet, when he was asked by a follower if he was “excited” for the show’s return. “Of course! It's the best TV show about politics since The Wire,” responded Buttigieg. He confirmed his ongoing fandom at the Sunday Fox News town hall, when he jokingly worried the event would not wrap in time for the finale.
For those who have somehow evaded the cultural phenomenon throughout its 10-year run, Game of Thrones centered on various leaders vying for the “Iron Throne,” which is the seat of power in Westeros, a fantasy version of medieval Europe.
While the show is certainly political, the means of ascension in Game of Thrones are about as antidemocratic as one can get. Much like in feudalism, class is set at birth and power is transferred through marriage and offspring — usually to a son, unless there are no (legitimate) male heirs.
Power can also be taken through war, violence, or various forms of court intrigue. The idea that the common people should choose their own leader is so absurd in this universe that the suggestion of it in the finale is met with laughter from an assemblage of nobles.
Of course, Buttigieg’s love of Game of Thrones doesn’t mean he favors a monarchy — absolute, constitutional, or otherwise. But it is interesting that the mayor of South Bend, Ind. — the first gay presidential candidate from the Democratic Party — should see parallels in this cutthroat world to American politics. (His affection for the series calls to mind Barack Obama’s reported love of Election, the Alexander Payne film starring Reese Witherspoon as a power-hungry candidate for high school president.)
While I can only conjecture Buttigieg’s reasons for his fandom, I know that I myself, as a longtime gay viewer, have found appeal in its representation. American presidents, other than Barack Obama, have all been straight (and a few closeted) white men. Game of Thrones, which draws some inspiration the 15th-century Wars of the Roses, may be barbaric in many ways, but it shows a surprising diversity of leaders that, until very recently, have been absent from the seats of power in U.S. history.
In Game of Thrones, women are brutally repressed. But many, including Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Arya Stark, Yara Greyjoy, Sansa Stark, and Brienne of Tarth, all shattered the glass ceiling in some respects to achieve power and become serious contenders for the Iron Throne. Some even attained it. There were even openly LGBTQ characters, which Buttigieg, 37, would not have seen in the American political landscape when he himself was closeted.
While the character of Renly Baratheon remained closeted about his gay identity to further his bid for power, others like Yara and Oberyn Martell made no secret of their attraction to those of the same gender. Even one of the strongest candidates to rule Westeros, Daenerys, was queer — she shared a memorable kiss with Yara in a past season.
There is also the diva factor. For a decade, Daenerys — and her rise from an exile to a queen —was an inspiration to female viewers and also queer people to defy the expectations and limitations set forth by society. Daenerys, the “breaker of chains,” pitched herself as a savior to all those who had been oppressed, and her character even inspired Beyoncé to compliment the actress who portrayed her, Emilia Clarke.
A slight spoiler: Twitter — and many historically marginalized voices therein — was not pleased with the ending of Game of Thrones, and there were criticisms aplenty of how the writers handled the storylines of the show’s women and people of color. The parallels to modern politics — and the messaging of who should hold power and what they should look like — were also hard to ignore in an era when the first female presidential candidate so recently lost an election to an avatar of toxic masculinity.
Yet, ultimately, I believe Buttigieg — or for that matter, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren — would also be encouraged by the message of the show throughout its run. If a woman, or a bastard, or a dwarf could have a chance at the highest seat of power in the land, why not a gay boy from Indiana? If he wins, it will be in no small part due to the show's most valuable lesson: It is better to rule with love than fear.
Daniel Reynolds is an editor of The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.