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House of Cards: Richard III meets Game of Thrones

February 19, 2014


I just finished watching the second season of House of Cards. Holy shit. What a ride. The first season had me hooked for sure, but this time around, they started on a high note and kept going until the final moments.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t talk about any specifics of the season. All I will say is that Francis (Kevin Spacey) is even more underhanded in his schemes this season, and Claire (Robin Wright) remains my favorite character, as I find her to be the most complex and compelling.  New to this season is Molly Parker as the new Majority Whip, Jackie Sharp, a character to be contended with in her own right.

As I watched, over the course of the last few days, I was struck again by the similarities between House of Cards and other works that I’ve enjoyed. In another post, I said that watching House of Cards was like watching Othello, but from Iago’s point of view.  I must amend that. A more accurate comparison is Richard III by William Shakespeare. I watched the Ian McKellen film version shortly after watching the first season of House of Cards, and was immediately struck by the similarities. Man in power gets overlooked for advancement and makes it his mission to rise to the top by any means necessary. He also makes asides to the audience. Sound familiar?  Even more interesting, after doing a little research on Nathan Darrow, who plays Edward Meechum, the main security guy for the Underwoods, I learned that right before beginning filming season one, Spacey played Richard in said play in London.  I can only imagine the impact that had on his approach to the character of Francis Underwood. I will definitely be re-reading Richard III before season three comes around.

In the days leading up to the release of season 2, and the days over which I watched it, I kept having a Freudian slip. I would be talking about House of Cards, but I would say Game of Thrones. The two names are similar, clearly, but that’s not where the similarities end. One could certainly argue that Game of Thrones is a political thriller: “In the game of thrones, Lord Stark, you win or you die.” Sound anything like Washington? People in House of Cards do die. Not in the horrible gruesome way that they do in Game of Thrones (though I wouldn’t be totally upset by a “Red Wedding” at the end of season three of House of Cards), but there are significant deaths in both seasons. Not to mention political deaths. how many people on House of Cards have seen their careers go up in smoke thanks to the machinations of Francis Underwood? 

Not to mention the general themes of both show that mirror each other greatly.  Manipulation. Betrayal. Greed. Lust. Power, or the lack thereof. Blackmail. Murder. If Francis Underwood were in King’s Landing, no doubt he’d be one of the top rivals for the Iron Throne, and would surely be sitting on it at some point. Likewise Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) would not be remotely out of place walking the halls of Congress, whipping votes through manipulation, intimidation or extortion.

Thankfully, Game of Thrones returns in less than six weeks, so I don’t have to wait too long to see these major themes play out on my television again.  And while House of Cards won’t return until next year, I will certainly be biding my time to see what Francis and Claire do next.


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  1. As usual, awesome commentary. Love the literary comparison.

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