Top Political & Foreign Policy Lessons from Game of Thrones

Top ten political and foreign policy lessons from Game of Thrones, or, how Game of Thrones can rescue us from our childish delusions

 Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse June 16, 2015 

By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebookTwitter @bfry1981) June 16th, 2015

Republished by Movie Pilot

SPOILERS for the first five seasons, including the season 5 finale, but NOT for season 6

Varys: You have many admirable qualities- self-pity is not one of them. Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power, but earning it for yourself? That takes work.

Tyrion Lannister: I’m not well-suited for work 

Varys: I think you are. You have your father’s instincts for politics- and you have compassion.

Tyrion Lannister: Compassion? Yes. I killed my lover with my bare hands, I shot my own father with a crossbow!

Varys: I never said you were perfect.

AMMAN — Game of Thrones, the award-winning hit HBO series that keeps setting new internet piracy records, is an incredibly unique show for many reasons. And though it has dragons and magic and frozen zombies, one of the reasons it is so unique is that it dares to tell us harsh, uncomfortable lessons about the very real world in which we live. Below, ten of the most important and salient will be discussed.

1.) A revolution, a campaign, and winning a war are all far easier than actually governing

“King Robert was strong; he won the rebellion and crushed the Targaryen dynasty. And he attended three Small Council meetings in seventeen years of ruling, and he spent his time whoring, hunting and drinking until the last two killed him. So, we have…a man who thinks winning and ruling are the same thing.” —Tywin Lannister


“Killing and politics aren’t always the same thing! When I served as Hand of the King, I did quite well with the latter, considering the King in question preferred torturing animals to leading his people. I could do an even better job… advising a ruler worth the name, if that is indeed what you are.” —Tyrion Lannister to Daenerys Targaryen


Hizdahr zo Loraq: Politics is the art of compromise, Your Grace.

Daenerys Targaryen: I’m not a politician. I’m a queen.

Hizdahr zo Loraq : Forgive me. You’re right, of course. Still, it’s easier to rule happy subjects than angry ones.

Those who are good at climbing the path (or ladder, if you will) to power often find that exercising power or holding onto their new seat of power is far more challenging than the climbing process that got them there in the first place. In the same vein, often the skillset that allows one to ascend to power is not the same skillset that allows one to hold onto power and/or effectively govern. From Robert Baratheon to Daenerys Targaryen, we’ve see powerful characters stumble and struggle to maintain control and to rule the lands they have conquered (and for Jon snow, how many days did he last as the Lord Commander?). An army and dragons can’t govern. Robert’s hold on the Seven Kingdoms was short-lived, and Daenerys’ ability to govern her eastern cities seems precarious at best.  Let’s replace dragons with fighter jets and we can see the same basic experience for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan recently. We can also see echoes of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt and both Barack Obama (he is better at campaigning than governing) and Nelson Mandela (legendary as a non-violent civil rights leader and revolutionary, not-so-great as South Africa’s President once in power). Americans were fortunate that their revolutionary generation of Founding Fathers could both lead a revolution and lead a government exceptionally well. France’s Revolutionary leaders during the French Revolution fell far short of the American mark when it came to governing. This show reminds us starkly the difference between getting power and using it well.

2.) Bad and good can and do coexist, even within the same person, policy, or country

Tyrion Lannister: So here we sit, two terrible children of two terrible fathers.

Daenerys Targaryen: I’m terrible?

Tyrion Lannister: I’ve heard stories.

Daenerys Targaryen: Why did you travel to the other side of the world to meet someone terrible?

Tyrion Lannister: To see if you were the right kind of terrible.

Daenerys Targaryen: Which kind is that?

Tyrion Lannister: The kind that prevents your people from being even more so.


“You were a hero, and a smuggler. A good act does not wash out the bad. Nor a bad the good.”  Stannis Baratheon to Ser Davos Seaworth


Melisandre: Are you a good man, Ser Davos Seaworth?

Ser Davos Seaworth: I’d say my parts are mixed, my lady, good and bad.

Melisandre: If half an onion is black with rot, it’s a rotten onion. A man is good or he is evil.

When it comes to Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark, two of the show’s most beloved characters, most people are ready to sing their praises. And yet, when Tyrion had a chance to escape he murdered both his former lover and his father without needing to do so to escape. Arya herself seems driven by revenge and little else, and was content to let The Hound—the closest thing she’s had to a friend for a long while—die a slow and painful death. At the same time, we have Jamie Lannister—poster child for incest and attempted child murder (remember Bran?)—making us swoon by helping Brienne of Tarth, sticking up for his incest-love-child Myrcella, and standing up to both his father and Cersei on behalf of Tyrion. Sandor Clegane has many awful deeds on his resume, including murdering the butcher’s boy who was friends with Arya—yet he also saved Loras Tyrell from his own brother, Gregor Clegane, when Gregor (The Mountain) was being a sore loser in a jousting tournament, and Sandor also showed more kindness to both Arya and Sansa than arguable anyone else in recent memory except for maybefaceless-man Jaqen. Who here didn’t feel sympathy for The Hound when Arya just left him to suffer? Who didn’t come away from that scene feeling at least a little different about Arya? Then we have Stannis, touchingly showing Jon Snow respect and giving him a lot of leeway even as he sacrificed his own daughter to fire and a stake and murdered his own brother. Even Catelyn Stark killed an innocent girl who was Walder Frey’s ill-treated wife as her last act just before she herself was killed. Perhaps the most conflicted character still alive is Theon Greyjoy, now the shadow of a human being known as Reek. Even one of the Sand girls, who had poisoned Bronn and who was ready to murder a young Myrcella just because she was a Lannister, was willing to save Bronn with an antidote to that poison and didn’t mind showing a man who was down and in jail her lovely breasts as a pick me up.

One of the things that makes Game of Thrones so unique is its complex portrayal of characters as something more than simply “bad” or “good,” to which so many other shows and movies tend to reduce things. Human beings seem to always have had a tendency to lionize or demonize their heroes and villains in an oversimplified way that bears little resemblance to reality. Robert E. Lee is revered by most white American Southerners as some sort of saint, even as he fought to destroy much of what was the United States and the Constitution in favor of preserving aa society based on race-based chattel slavery. Russians today seem to revere Putin. Ronald Reagan is practically deified as a saint even though his record as president is highly questionable and often shameful. Richard Nixon is demonized even as he made peace with China, created the E.P.A., and ended the Vietnam War (though clearly not in the best way possible), hardly an all-bad legacy and full of significant, commendable achievements. George W. Bush may have objectively had one of the worst presidencies in American history, but he did more than any other president (including Obama) to combat AIDS, spending billions of dollars and saving millions of lives. Billions worship Jesus of Nazareth without really factually knowing much of anything about him, and billions others revere the Prophet Mohammad even though they factually know very little about him. The United States often tries to do good, but does more bad in the process. The NSA spying program helps to keep Americans safe but also violates their privacy. Even Pope John Paull II—literally a saint—had a pretty bad record on the child sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is in our DNA, but it makes us poor judges of character more often than not and blinds us to the very real truth when we try to make so many public figures into either heroes or villains. We can love or revile characters for certain reasons, and then feel the opposite about the same characters for other reasons. And that’s ok. It’s better than reducing people to simply “good” or “bad.”

In particular for policymakers, this can help people in power to realize that making deals with people who can actually make a positive difference should not be based simply on whether or not they are thought of as “good” or “bad.”

3.) Sexual violence against women is pervasive and often there is no justice for either the victims or the perpetrators

“And to my son, the stallion who will mount the world, I will also pledge a gift. I will give him the iron chair that his mother’s father sat upon. I will give him Seven Kingdoms. I, Drogo, will do this. I will take my Khalasar west to where the world ends and ride wooden horses across the black salt water as no Khal has done before! I will kill the men in iron suits and tear down their stone houses! I will rape their women, take their children as slaves and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak! This, I vow, I, Drogo, son of Bharbo. I swear before the Mother of Mountains as the stars look down in witness! As the stars look down in witness!”­ —Khal Drogo, translated from Dothraki


“Have you ever seen a war in which innocents didn’t die by the thousands? I was in King’s Landing after the sack, Khaleesi. You know what I saw? Butchery. Babies, children, old men, more women raped than you can count. There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.” —Ser Jorah Mormont


“Elia Martell. I killed her children, then I raped her…then I smashed her head in, like this!  —Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane

I will simply link to feminist writer Amanda Marcotte’s brilliant and very true MUST READ article shooting down all of the specious arguments about why Sansa’s rape scene and others in Game of Thrones are somehow “wrong,” should be done “differently,” or are “sexist” and “misogynistic.” Does anyone think that Steven Spielberg is an anti-Semite because he showed Jews being killed in the Holocaust in Schindler’s List? Today, even in 2015, sexual violence is pervasive all over the world, and even often in the most progressive and modern societies, from the U.S. to Sweden (Stieg Larsson, anyone?) Only about 5% of cases are even ever reported to authorities, which means that for 95% of women even in the modern world, justice for the raped and the rapists almost never happens. Yet people get furious with Game of Thrones because it displays a medieval world (where rape was pretty much institutionalized and far more widespread than it is today) that shows us just that. Whether with Sansa or Wildling women, the show should make us damn uncomfortable with rape, and it does.

If you want a rape story with a happy ending, watch an network TV movie-of-the-week or Lifetime. If you want to be taught an adult lesson about the real state and results of sexual violence in the real world, and walk away with the obvious truth that rape is a mostly unpunished crime suffered by unknown and silent victims, internalize that, be far more outraged about rape that you would with a misleading happy ending complete with justice and healing, and use that outrage to both care and do even more about rape in society, then watch the show. If you want to childishly be coddled and made to “feel good” that rape, actually, isn’t a silent, hidden, mass horror, don’t watch the show. But don’t pathetically try to claim the showrunners or George R. R. Martin are misogynistic, patriarchal, bad people who are encouraging rape simply by portraying it realistically and who have failed in their “duty” to give us stories that reinforce and reward our smug, modern sense of self-righteousness that cries “BAD” whenever things turn out in a way we don’t like. I’m all about women’s empowerment, but the ever-present public talk of women’s empowerment has led too many to believe that this empowerment is a common reality in many places and instances where it is not. A huge portion of the women on earth—perhaps a majority—are not “empowered” and are at risk of abuse committed with impunity, including rape; that’s the unfortunate reality. All (the mostly unknown and unheard) victims of rape are lucky that a show is as brave and bold as this one to make people realize just how terrible and pervasive rape, with its near total lack of justice for its victims, truly is.

4.) The noble path does not necessarily lead to success and the good guys often don’t win

“Poor Ned Stark- brave man, terrible judgement.” —Jamie Lannister


I’m not Ned Stark, I understand the way this game is played.” —Tyrion Lannister


If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” —Ramsay Snow

There is perhaps no other show on television that reminds us as starkly that the good guys don’t always win and following moral and ethical principles does not guarantee success; heck, in real life it often maybe even usually does not. It began with Ned Stark losing his head. And it has hardly ended there, as any fan of the show or books can tell you. Among the ranks of the powerful, there are more Joffreys than Neds. George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns used some pretty dirty and shameful tricks to falsely smear two decorated war veterans—John McCain and John Kerry—and we all remember who won those contests. It is easy to lose track of how many crimes Silvio Berlusconi, longtime Prime Minister of Italy, has been accused of over the years. We have many states ruled by murderous dictators, from Bashar al-Assad in Syria to Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Putin and the Koch Brothers have immense wealth and power, and can hardly be considered nice guys. Many of the brave people who stand up to these people and challenge them simply lose. Other times, they don’t simply lose, they lose their lives as well (see, quite recently, Boris Nemtsov). Or see Benjamin Netanyahu winning re-election in Israel through race-baiting. Or Hamas winning an election, period. It is useful to remember that, more often than not, this is the way the world works. Ned and Robb Stark, after all, were naïve to proceed as they did and it cost them their lives.

5.) The most horrible acts are often done for the most predictable reasons

“Just how safe do you think Myrcella is if the city falls? Do you want to see her raped and butchered like the Targaryen children?! Make no mistake, they will mount her pretty little head on a spike right beside yours.” —Tyrion Lannister to his sister Cersei, mother or Myrcella


Petyr Baelish: Tell me, Ser Loras., what do you desire, most in this world?

Loras Tyrell: Revenge.

Petyr Baelish: I have always found that to be the purest of motivations.

We often hear the term “senseless horror.” But, quite disturbingly, horror often has a purpose behind it that is fairly banal and predictable, even as it is still often inexcusable. Stannis sacrificed his own daughter to be burned to death, but it was almost boringly easy to explain why: he wants to be king, the one thing which defines him more than other aspect of his character. Joffrey has a bunch of babies killed, simply and predictably because he doesn’t want any competition. Jamie Lannister almost murders little Bran Stark, simply because he doesn’t want his incestuous secret to get out and also to protect his love: his sister. Daenerys reopens the fighting pits to keep the peace and lets her dragons burn a man alive to make an example. Lord Bolton wipes out most of the Starks and their supporters at Robb Stark’s wedding because he wants to be warden of the North. And Theon betrays the Starks to win the affection and respect of his father (which he didn’t).

Likewise, the U.S. firebombed Tokyo and nuclear-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in large part because it hoped these acts would end WWII faster and to intimidate a muscular Soviet Union. The U.S. much more recently invaded Iraq because it hoped it could bring democratic reform to the Middle East through invasion and occupation in order to reduce the root causes of terrorism and help stabilize a region ripe with fossil fuels. Israel invades and occupies the Palestinians for close to fifty years now mainly because it is afraid for its own survival. Terrorists often use terror because they are weak, oppressed, and have no hope of fighting a conventional military force. ISIS kills dissenters so it can maintain its grip on power more easily. Even the Rwandan Genocide was carried out mainly by one group (Hutu) against another (Tutsi) that was oppressing it, and then a reverse countergenocide was launched in revenge. One can hope that because of the sheer predictability of these crimes, they might at some point become easier to anticipate and prevent, especially for policymakers.

6.) Even in a brutal world, random acts of kindness are powerful

“I’ll stand for the dwarf.” —Bronn, volunteering to fight for Tyrion as his champion


“Leave him be!” —Sandor “The Hound” Clegane as he rushes to defend Loras Tyrell against his brother, The Mountain


“I will be your champion.  —Oberyn Martell to Tyrion Lannister

Even in as brutal and cruel a world as that of Game of Thrones, there are still random acts of kindness that can surprise even the most cynical. Perhaps the biggest was when Bronn offered to fight for Tyrion at the Eyrie in front of crazy Lysa. Just a few episodes ago, a big hulking beast a fighter, who had no relationship with Tyrion, cut Tyrion free from his shackles so he could join Jorah in the arena and make his case to Daenerys. I already mentioned Bronn’s new love interest saving him from poison, and then there’s Jamie risking his neck to help out Brienne. The Hound saves Sansa and Loras as I’ve also discussed. Ser Davos sticks up for Robert Baratheon’s bastard after Melisandre sets her sights on him, and Sam goes way out of his way to help the wilding girl Gilly and her baby. Robb stark shows mercy to Osha the wildling who almost captured Bran, then she ends up helping to save Bran and Rickon Stark and is still looking after Rickon. And Tyrion goes out of his way to treat Sansa with kindness, passing on sex with her even though, within Westeros, he was well within his rights to insist, as we can tell from the distasteful bedding ceremony. All of these acts of kindness either do or presumably have big consequences for the show, too, and the characters receiving them (many of whom would have died without the help). The big exception, of course, is Oberyn Martell fighting for Tyrion as his Champion in Tyrion’s (second) trial by combat, since Oberyn loses, dies, and then Tyrion is found guilty.

The real world is also full of random kindness, of the type that’s sometimes just enough to not lose hope. As Gandalf says in The Hobbit, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.”

Then again, sometimes good deeds don’t go unpunished. Ned Stark thought he would give Cersei the courtesy of a heads-up that he had figured out Joffrey was an incest-bastard borne of her and Jamie. Lot of good that did him… Similarly, the U.S. had little to gain in Somalia helping hundreds of thousands fend off starvation and ended up with the Black Hawk Down episode, dead Americans, and an Osama bin Laden emboldened by the American withdrawal

7.) Religion is dangerous

“Trial by combat: deciding a man’s guilt or innocence in the eyes of the Gods, by having two other men hack each other to pieces. Tells you something about the Gods.” —Tyrion Lannister


“We all must choose, man or woman, young or old, lord or peasant, our choices are the same. We choose light or we choose darkness. We choose good or we choose evil. We choose the true god or the false.” —Melisandre


“Death by fire is the purest death.” —Melisandre


“Belief is so often the death of reason.  —Qyburn

The world of Game of Thrones may be fictional, but it is deadly accurate at showing how dangerous and even deadly religion can be. The Lord of Light priests/priestesses, especially the vampy Melisandre, are clearly fanatics willing to do anything to further their agenda. Getting a major character like Stannis to sacrifice his own daughter by burning her alive was just the latest of her outrages and atrocities. Stannis quite literally played with religious fire, and now he and his wife and daughter are dead. With Melisandre, we see when a cause and religion are united, there are no more rules of decency for the fundamentalists and fanatics. And face-changing Jaqen and whatever sort of Many-Faced-God temple-cult he has brought Arya into seem to employ magic and death and assassination in equal measure. Not to be outdone cult-wise, Jonathan Pryce’s Sparrows—more or less the Taliban of Westeros—are about to turn King’s Landing into the 1990s Kabul of the Seven Kingdoms. They already seem all too happy to murder people who are gay (good luck Loras!), among other fanaticisms. Religious-backed or religion-associated violence are omnipresent not just throughout human history, but in the present day as well, and studies show that religion tends to amplify cruelty and violence in conflict, rather than the reverse, a point I have made before. Groups like ISISal-Qaedaal-ShabaabBoko Haram, the (Christian) Lord’s Resistance ArmySrebrenica, both Buddhists and Hindus killing Muslims in South(east) Asia, and, not too long ago, the (Christian) Ku Klux Klan, the IRA/UDF and Catholics and Protestants killing each other in Ireland, and Europe’s pogroms against Jews (just to name a few examples!) are all indicative of this trend. 

Politicians too often simply focus on religion’s positives and blame its negatives on outside forces, but this is specious reasoning at best. The better leaders will be able to recognize the perils and pitfalls of religion and the faithful and be able to guard against them. Cersei Lannister unleashed a demon with her supporting Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow, not wholly unlike the U.S. when it supported mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Fiction that inspires fanatics can be dangerous in both the fictitious and real worlds, it would seem, and the more rational would do best to try to wield and engage such forces cautiously, if at all. Better to avoid playing with fire. The U.S. did not, and 9/11 was one of the long-term results, while Cersei suffered her own personal 9/11 as a result of her poor decisions with that naked walk of shame she had to endure. Thus, the problems with religion in Game of Thrones mirror the problems with religion in our own world.

8.) Trust, loyalty, and friendship are possibly the most prized commodities and they are also among the rarest, while backstabbing and secret agreements are much more common

“Backstabbing doesn’t prepare you for a fight and that’s all the realm is now: backstabbing and scheming and arse-licking and money-grubbing. Sometimes I don’t know what holds it together.”  King Robert Baratheon


“People work together, when it suits ’em. They’re loyal when it suits ’em. They love each other when it suits ’em- and they kill each other, when it suits ’em.” —Orell (the Wildling)


“Yes, Ned Stark had many admirers- and how many of them stepped forward when the executioner came for his head?”  Olenna Tyrell

It’s rare, but friendship still shines in Game of Thrones. Tyrion and Varys, unlikely duo that they are, seem to have really bonded on that ship even more than before. Sam and Jon of the Night’s Watch are also quite the bromance, and even Sam and Maester Aemon Targaryen were getting quite close before Aemon died with same at his side. Podrick is touchingly loyal to both Tyrion and Brienne. King Robert and Ned Stark had a touching friendship, too, so much so that Ned Stark was almost the only person Robert Baratheon thought he could trust towards the end. Hodor’s undying loyalty to the stark children is also touching (kind of like a mentally challenged Samwise Gamgee à la Frodo in The Lord of the Rings). Ser Davos gets an honorable mention for his deep loyalty to Stannis, though the loyalty is not returned and Stannis seems to be pretty unworthy of Davos’ fidelity, who even lost his son at Blackwater Bay fighting for Stannis. Perhaps more interesting is the bond he developed with Stannis’s daughter, Shireen.

Note how short the above the list is… There are far more betrayals in the show and if I listed them here I’d be giving a summary of the whole series. I think anyone reading this already realizes the value of friends and allies in the real world because how many of us really have many especially close friends, but Game of Thrones can be a good reminder. In international relations and politics, true friends and allies are also incredibly rare. The “special relationship” between the U.S. and UK is a very rare example of steadfast allies staying together over time, for example. Japan and the U.S.are another good example. Most alliances, however, are borne out of convenience and last only briefly (think USSR and Nazi Germany, then USSR and the Allies in the same war!). This is true in politics too, as we can see politically how many Democrats were afraid to even be associated with Obama in the midterm elections of 2014 (to their detriment), even though Obama was a big part of the reason why many of them previously won in tight races. There is often a negative price to pay for staying loyal. It is hard to tell which city has more backstabbing: King’s Landing or Washington, DC. For non U.S.-readers, I am sure you can pick up your local paper and read similar stories of backstabbing about your own country’s politics. Political and geopolitical winds can shift faster than the power rankings for the houses of Westeros. In the real world, “Red Wedding” Bolton-Lannister style backstabbings are more common than true friendship, sadly. Now, with the Season 5 finale, we can also add Jon Snow’s backstabbing (to his face) at the hands of his own brothers of the Night’s Watch. The policymaker who is on his guard but also values true friends and alliances will be the one to listen to, then, in the end.

9.) The rich and powerful generally do not care about the masses and treat them as their playthings

Tyrion Lannister: Listen to me, Queen Regent, you’re losing the people. Do you hear me?!

Cersei Lannister: The people? You think I care?!


Olenna Tyrell: If it’s equality you want, so be it. When House Tyrell stops sending our crops to the capital, everyone here will starve. And I’ll make sure the hungry know who’s to blame.

High Sparrow: Have you ever sowed the field, Lady Olenna? Have you ever reaped the grain? Has anyone in House Tyrell? A lifetime of wealth and power has left you blind in one eye. You are the few, we are the many. (Walks away slowly and then turns back) And when the many stop fearing the few… (Exits)


“The powerful have always preyed on the powerless- that’s how they became powerful in the first place.  —Tyrion Lannister


“The lion does not concern himself with the opinions of the sheep.” —Tywin Lannister

You don’t need to read Marx or agree with communism to know that the rich and powerful ruling classes care for little more than themselves (and if you don’t agree with this statement, there is a really good chance that you are rich or powerful and in the ruling class). This goes for most of human history and continues quite powerfully today. And there are even academic studies that prove those on top are more selfish and have less empathy in their bones. There are so many examples of this in Game of Thrones, the way each House and wannabe ruler is so willing to spend human lives to get what they want. Even Daenerys, who exhibits some concern for her new subjects, also expects them to serve her and die for her claim to a distant throne in a land almost none of them have ever seen. Mance Rayder cared for his people. And Mance Rayder is dead. Tyrion and Jon Snow (and the many departed Starks) seem be the only characters in positions of power who routinely try to look out for those less powerful than them. A lot of good it did Jon Snow, as this very compassion is what incited a rebellion of his own Night’s Watch brothers when they killed him at the end of season 5. But almost all the powerful leaders in Westeros seem to only think of their people as objects, breaking Kant’s rule to always treat people as ends themselves, not means to an end. That is still sadly how the world works most of the time, even today. Syria (and now Yemen) and its people have become one giant chessboard, it people all pawns in a deadly game of international rivalries. CEOs make billions and treat their many workers as poorly as they can get away with. The list goes on and on, but the point is, there are very few powerful people who really fight for the masses, and Game of Thrones does a great job reminding us of this.

10.) Preparation and organization are key

“Winter is coming.” —House Words of House Stark

Last, but not least, the show emphasizes that preparation is key. Daenerys has been prepping for her invasion of Westeros for five seasons now (but did not plan her occupations of Mereen and Yunkai well, and thus had revolts in both). Both Tyrion’s preparation for the Battle of the Blackwater and Jon Snow’s preparation for the Wildling assault on The Wall allowed each to save the day. Robb Stark was great at winning battles but Tywin outmatched him by planning for a long game and even turned the Starks’ bannermen Boltons over to his side, defeating his enemy with secret diplomacy. We see preparation paying large dividends. Likewise, in the real world, this also is very true. Barack Obama won reelection in 2012 with a meticulously planned political campaign. But the same man just recently failed to plan for, anticipate, or engage opposition enough for his Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and the deal was voted down by the House as a result. The American occupation of Japan after WWII was planned well and far in advance, while the more recent occupation of Iraq was clearly not; the many and telling differences in results are clear. And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israelis are famously well-prepared and organized, and have been for the entire conflict, compared to their famously disorganized Palestinian and Arab rivals. That is a big part of the reason why today there is a full and functional Israeli state, while the same can hardly be said of a Palestinian state, sadly. Game of Thrones mirrors our real world well in showing how serious preparation can really pay off, a lesson policymakers should never forget.


In conclusion, we can see that the world of Game of Thrones is very harsh and brutal indeed. It is perhaps the most important thing about this work of fiction that is able to so powerfully remind us of how brutal and harsh our own world still is, and to stimulate discussion about these truths and how to address them, both in popular fictional culture and in terms of what we do in the real world.

See related article: Game of Thrones and the Gift of Empathy

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