Lions are tough. Resilient, hardcore, strong.
This is in no way anthropomorphizing. Those are not exclusively human traits. Those are facts. Lions are as tough as nails, simply because they have to be. To survive in the hostile environment that they do, and grow up to be the apex predator, there isn’t room for the weak. And it strikes me that there are parallels to be drawn between a pride of lions and the award-winning HBO series Game of Thrones.
I was quite late to join the Game of Thrones craze. The series had been out for a good few years before I watched my first one, which I eventually did simply because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. And now I’m just another one of the millions that are eagerly awaiting the release of Season 8 (which will sadly be the last) in 2019.
A rangers’ discussion a few months ago around the campfire drifted into the drama of GOT, and comparisons were made between lions and the cast. It wasn’t so much a personification of individual lions, but more a metaphorical look at the similarities between the day-to-day struggles of the main characters and those in the lion world.
There is a hilarious Beginner’s Guide to GOT on YouTube narrated by Samuel L. Jackson in which he uses a classic line to refer to the Starks: “Nice family, right? Don’t get attached!”.
This sums it up pretty well when referring to lions as well, whether we’re talking about the Tsalala pride, Mapogos, the Tsaro pride of Duba Plains, or any one of a hundred other groups of lions made famous by documentaries or social media. You’ll invariably get one or two individuals who make it through to enjoy a certain amount of longevity (Read: Jon Snow or Brandon and Arya Stark or the Tailless lioness), while everyone else falls by the wayside (everyone else in the Stark family, and most lion cubs).
Much like in the character-driven series, we are able to identify with our favourite individuals. If not identify, then at least to pick a favourite, but just like with the Starks, we can never be sure when disaster is going to overtake our favourite character and essentially remove them from any future episodes.
Some lions become so well known that they almost take on personas of their own, and the level of attachment from people the world over can be quite remarkable. The struggles that lions endure can have people gripped, and checking in to a blog or Instagram page to see what the latest update is is like tuning in for another episode of Game of Thrones; what have the Mhangeni pride been up to? Will the Tsalala lioness be able to have cubs? Do the Birmingham males know they fathered the Mhangeni youngsters? You don’t want to have to wait another week to find out the next update.
The plot lines in the lion world (although simplified compared to television, without dragons or exiled queens or white walkers) run along remarkably similar directions to those in GOT. The main difference of course, is that nothing here is scripted. It all plays out in the grand arena of the African bush, and the characters don’t even know they’re being watched. They are running purely on instinct, adapting to circumstance as best they can, with no rehearsals, run-throughs, cuts or re-edits.
Arya Stark left for many months to learn special skills, which enabled her to be that much more formidable when she returned. Young male lions go through exactly this when they leave their natal prides; a couple of years in the wilderness in which they grow bigger and stronger, eventually to take over territory of their own. Catlyn Stark did whatever it took to protect her children. We’ve seen this time and time again with adult lionesses when their cubs are threatened.
Neither Rickon nor Rob Stark survived in the end, which is true for most young lions.
Notable Author Cristopher Booker believed that there are only 7 basic plot structures in all story-telling, with the characters and settings changing but the essential outlines remaining the same. If that is so, then in telling the story of the Tsalala Pride, or the Sparta Pride, or whichever group of lions we are dealing with, I suppose it’s inevitable that we will be able to draw comparisons between the twists in the tales of these big cats and their GOT counterparts.
Now if only the Dark Maned Majingilane rose from the dead, just like Jon Snow did, then we’d really have a story on our hands!