Podcast Takes on ‘Game of Thrones’

Virginia Solicitor General, Professors Discuss Law and Ethics of Iron Throne and Beyond
Mila Vertseeg, Toby Heytens and Game of Thrones scene

Just in time for the final season: Professors Mila Versteeg and Toby Heytens ’00 discuss the law and ethics of “Game of Thrones” on Episode 4 of “Common Law.” Photos by Mary Wood/HBO

April 9, 2019

Winter is coming. But it already blew through a special “Game of Thrones” episode of “Common Law,” a podcast sponsored by the University of Virginia School of Law.

Episode 4 features Virginia Solicitor General and Professor Toby Heytens ’00 and Professor Mila Versteeg, who have co-taught a Seminar in Ethical Values course on the book series and HBO show together in the past.

The professors said the show has a lot to say about justice.

“There is no law in this lawless world, but then if you look closer, there [are] many places where we do see these seemingly all-powerful figures be constrained by certain norms, or other people’s reputations — certain rules that are not written, but they’re there,” Versteeg says.

Retribution, and how to administer it, confronts many of the characters.

“The show is also obsessed with the past, and things that happened in the past, injustices that happened in the past, and how, if at all, different groups are supposed to deal with them,” Heytens adds.

The HBO series’ final season premieres April 14, with fans eager to see who, if anyone, will claim the Iron Throne and rule Westeros, a fantasy realm modeled partly on medieval England. Society there is governed by various noble families, known as houses, which are scheming to maintain or gain power. A main character on the show, Daenerys Targaryen, has also thrown Westeros into chaos by raising dragons, potentially upsetting the balance of power and adding new meaning to “torching your enemies.”

Versteeg and Heytens also discuss how the nobility, organized into houses, handle succession; how the White Walkers, an army of the undead that threatens Westeros to the north, are a metaphor for climate change; the parallels in the storyline to issues of transitional justice and international law; and what the series gets most wrong.

Take heed: Spoilers abound.

Versteeg and Heytens dubbed their course “A Seminar of Ice and Fire,” a play on George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series name, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” (Heytens is on leave from the faculty for his government role while Versteeg continues to teach the course.) The Law School’s Seminars in Ethical Values are one-credit courses that typically take the form of a book or movie club. Students meet in professors’ homes in informal settings to discuss lawyers’ ethical and moral responsibilities as citizens and leaders, usually through examples in popular culture.

Hosted by Dean Risa Goluboff and Leslie Kendrick ’06, “Common Law” is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Spotify and other popular places you can listen to podcasts, including Amazon Alexa devices.

You can follow the show on the website commonlawpodcast.com or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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