The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Fire and Ice: Winter will soon be upon us

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : Oct. 31, 2017 - 17:41

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In the popular American TV series, “Game of Thrones” noble families, divided by north and south, and also by east and west, fight to control the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, an army of the zombie-like white walkers is coming from far north to annihilate the entire realm. To make matters worse, the impending severely-cold winter threatens the realm. Indeed, throughout the entire episodes, there is a constant warning: “winter is coming!”

The mesmerizing drama was inspired by George R.R. Martin’s novel, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Daenerys Targarien in the south is the Mother of Dragons, a symbol of fire, and John Snow, a bastard of the Starks in the north is a Night’s Watchman at the Northern Wall, a symbol of ice. Fire and ice are mutually exclusive elements, destroying each other. Yet the title of the original work seems to imply peaceful co-existence of fire and ice ultimately, especially when the harsh winter approaches and the army of the dead threatens their territories.

It is precisely these familiar settings of the drama that appeal to the Korean viewers because they mirror our situation quite well. For example, the North and the South are in sharp conflict on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea threatens the South with its nuclear weapons that could be symbolized by fiery dragons. Beyond the Northern wall, there is the army of a “forgotten race that returns after being dormant for thousands of years.”

Yet, in the South we are still divided by ideologically different factions, just like the Lannisters in Westeros and the Targarians in Essos. Notwithstanding the imminent crisis, we are busy with factional skirmishes, and hopelessly cling to the past, while we do not even know what is coming and how to deal with the precarious situation we now face.

At Castle Black in the Northern Wall, stubborn old people ignore John Snow’s warning that the white walkers are coming. They dismiss Snow’s admonition, arguing that the existence of the white walkers is only a rumor and a legend and is unlikely. The result of turning a deaf ear to Snow’s warning is disastrous. Unprepared, many Night’s Watchmen are killed by the dreadful white walkers.

Like the white walkers in “Game of Thrones,” we, too, have hostile aggressors in the north. Soulless and not open to negotiation, they will take everything away from us mercilessly when and if they come down to our realm. The white walkers cannot be destroyed unless burned to ashes. Likewise, ideologically brainwashed people will never perish and will rise again and again until they annihilate us.

In order to defend our nation from the invasion of the white walkers, we need to stop factional brawls and trust each other. While calling on the two archenemies, the wildlings and the Night’s Watch, to form an alliance to stop the surging army of the white walkers, John Snow, commander of the Night’s Watch, says, “I’ve seen the army of the dead. I’ve seen the white walkers and they are coming for us, for all the living. And when it’s time, we’ll need every last man we can find.”

However, the hostile, stubborn wildlings still refuse to unite, claiming that their families were slaughtered by the Night’s Watch. John Snow implores them to think about their children. He says, “I’m not asking you to forget your dead. I’ll never forget mine. But I am asking you to think about your children now. They would not have their own children if we do not bond together. The long night is coming and the dead come with it.” Indeed, we Koreans, too, should bury the hatchet and think about the future of our children, for severe winter storm is coming to us as well.

Watching “Game of Thrones,” it occurs to us that international politics resembles a game of thrones. Indeed, all the verbal threats and military actions, plus talks and negotiations are like a chess game or even a computer game to gain control over the thrones of the six countries in our case.

Nothing has been decided yet. That means, we still have a chance to overcome the crisis and prosper only if we are prepared and do not make fatal mistakes. We should be prepared for a severely cold winter that will freeze everything. We should also be prepared for the possible coming of the white walkers who want to take over our beloved nation. We should stop antagonizing each other and unite to defend ourselves from the impending catastrophe that may annihilate our country. We have come a long way to create the miracle on the Han River. We cannot afford to lose all those precious things we have built since the Korea War. In order to win the game and prevail, we should be prepared. The winter will be upon us soon.

By Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. He can be reached at -- Ed.