At an early age, most are taught that success equals happiness, but in the end, what is success? Money? Adoration? Love?
Aside from the few hopeless romantics, success is power. With power, you get the money, you get the fans, you can even get the girl – but most importantly, power gives you the green-light to do whatever you want, or so it would seem. The struggle for power is a central theme in our world, so it makes sense that it’s also a central theme in Hollywood…and not just behind the scenes. In fact, two of today’s most popular shows, HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s House of Cards, are so strongly grounded in this theme that I would venture to declare that the ultimate geek’s wet dream that is Thrones and the heartless ego-fest that is Cards are essentially the same thrillingly addictive show.
House of Cards is a remake of a U.K. show based on a book of the same name by Michael Dobbs. The hour-long drama follows one man’s rise to power in present day Washington DC. After watching even just one episode, or simply listening to a few minutes of Kevin Spacey’s voice-over, it is entirely clear that the lead character is obsessed with power. The core of the show follows the various tactics that Spacey’s character, Francis Underwood, and those in his inner circle (his wife, his mistress, his former protege, his present protege) use in the pursuit of this insatiable endgame.
Similarly, Game of Thrones is an hour-long drama based on a book of the same name by George R. R. Martin. Set in a mythical ancient world, the show follows the simultaneous stories of various “houses” in their rise to power. From those who feel power is rightfully theirs (due to their royal bloodline) to those who feel their wealth and wits gives them the right to rule, each schemes and manipulates in their crusade for the throne.
Now, some might argue that one basic difference is that Cards follows one lead character in one city, where as Thrones follows the story of multiple characters spread across the globe. However, I would argue that the supposed secondary characters in Cards, all chess pieces in Francis’ game, are crucial to the plot and are therefore equal players.
Furthermore, each of these additional characters enter the story with their own agenda – each uses Francis just as much as he uses them, and all are equally on a similar quest for…you guessed it, POWER (just like Thrones!). With regards to Cards taking place in one city, I would actually argue that although the majority of characters represented reside in a similar area, each come from backgrounds as diverse as the characters in Thrones.
Now on to the most fascinating part of each of these shows: the characters. Some we love, some we love to hate, some we’d love to love. I would say that the U.S. President in Cards is presented as a powerless pawn, identical to Thrones’ King Joffrey. Sure, each might have powerful titles and a large audience at their disposal to pad their egos whenever needed; however, deep down, neither are in control of their own fate.
Then, to the royal beyatches – Thrones’ Queen Cersei Lannister and Cards’ Claire Underwood – both extremely unhappy individuals who use their family’s clout to gain a false sense of power, both insecure underneath their tough exteriors and extremely reliant on the men in their lives.
Next, the tie for this generation’s Samantha Micelli (who didn’t want her in the 80s…am I right?!) – Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen and Cards’ Zoe Barnes. Although neither is viewed with much respect at the start, both exemplify the strong, independent women that Cersei and Claire strive to be. While both require external assistance in their rise (Daenerys is given the gift of dragon’s eggs, while Zoe is given the gift of insider info – and I would argue that insider information is the equivalent to the power of three dragons by your side when it comes to DC politics), both combine this aid with their sexuality, strong guttural instincts and surprising loyalty to become self-made successes. Plus, both have the cojones to stomp on anyone who crosses them.
True, Thrones is gruesome with its castrations and red weddings, but it’s set in a different time where violence is, shall we say, a bit more socially acceptable. In modern day society, its intriguingly considered more socially acceptable to do a smear-campaign and destroy another’s career, family and life, rather than a public beheading, but in many ways, they serve the same purpose. Both shows present backstabbing at its worst: do not forget that Cards’ Francis Underwood also commits murder while climbing his ladder to power… he simply does it in a more cowardly way. So yes, the battles presented in Cards are fought with words instead of swords, but in both, regardless of physical strength, the best chess player wins.
And now to one of the only glaringly apparent differences between these two Emmy-nominated masterpieces – the lack of “good guys” in Cards. The Stark clan is all over Thrones, flaunting their morality at every turn. They seem to be only fighting for power in order to “keep it out of the hands of the bad guys.” However, I would argue that power went to the head of Thrones’ young stud, Robb, and ultimately brought about his end.
More importantly though, Thrones is based on a fictional time of sorcery and dragons where the good guy could truly have a heart of gold. Some may say that is simply not how the “real world” works, but being the ultimate idealist, I remind you that Thrones is entering into its fourth season, whereas Cards is only entering its second; therefore, I believe there’s still hope for a Stark or two, with genuine intentions, to pop up in DC when Cards season 2 premieres this Friday. CHECKMATE.
Kevin Seldon is a writer and producer, born & raised in Los Angeles. He is also a leading cause-marketing consultant and branding strategist through KELDOF Marketing, an LA-based activation agency he founded in 2004. After graduation from Northwestern University, Kevin began his illustrious career in entertainment as a mechanic bull operator at Saddle Ranch Chop House. He loves the color orange and his wife.