The Politics of Game of Thrones, Or How Westeros Learned to Stop Preparing for Winter and Kill Decent, Honest Politicians and So Can You

21 Apr

Brace yourself... A treatise on GoT, Poli Sci, and Boobies is coming

So your poli-sci professor is dropping Game of Thrones[1] references in class and you have no idea what they mean or how they relate and — what’s that? You don’t go to lecture? So you truly ARE a poli-sci student, then. Well played. BUT if you HAD gone to lecture, you might have wondered how Game of Thrones, a book[2] about dragons and child-rape and hippies,[3] could be turned into a TV show about brothels and betrayal and still have any relevance to your major.

It’s quite simple really: Game of Thrones is the political thriller of the decade. Yes, it’s about sex and violence and incest and decapitation and rape and revenge and boobies, but at its core GoT is all about the political maneuvers of exorbitantly rich people. So it’s an allegory for American politics, and that is RELEVANT. The following is a breakdown of just a few of the political theories and concepts that one can derive from the GoT universe. Mind you, this article delves into some of the issues well beyond the current scope of the TV series, but I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

Put another way,
FIRST SEASON SPOILER ALERT THROUGHOUT.

“Knowledge is Power” versus “Power is Power”
Poli-Sci Concept at Play: IR Theories of Liberalism and Realism.

One of the more powerful moments of the HBO rendition of GoT thus far was a particular scene involving Petyr Baelish (aka Littlefinger) and Cersei Lannister. Cersei goads Littlefinger about his lack of nobility, and Littlefinger volleys back with a reference to the fact that Cersei regularly fucks her twin brother Jaime. At this point, Baelish states that “knowledge is power,” launching into a School House Rock sing-and-dance number. Cersei cuts him off in the middle of his tap-dancing solo, replying with “Power is Power” sans accompaniment for dramatic effect.

What should be clear at this point is that Cersei is possibly the worst politician ever. Baelish, on the other hand, is a skilled player of the game of thrones (DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE). Their two statements illustrate their personal realities. Baelish believes in a calculated, informed approach to politics, operating within an ordered (albeit ass-backwards) system that, while not regulated by a higher authority, has a logic and security to it. Cersei, on the other hand, believes that “EVERYONE IS OUT TO KILL MY CHILDREN AND I WILL FUCK THEM ALL WHICHEVER WAY I NEED TO IN ORDER TO MAKE SURE MY BITCHTASTIC CHILDREN RUIN THE KINGDOM.” (Except Myrcella and Tommen, cuz they’re actually not so bitchtastic.) Really though, Cersei believes the world is chaos and the only security lies in loyalty to family. Taken to a macro-political level, Baelish represents the liberal IR approach (minus the supranational authority, mind you) while Cersei reflects the defensive, self-interested, lone-wolf lioness realist perspective.

What's the correct Poli Sci term for 'boning around?'

How NOT to Fight an Insurgency, Cersei Style
            Poli-Sci Concept at Play: “Winning Hearts and Minds,” “Stateness,” and COIN[4] Theory

From the moment Cersei Lannister is made Grand Inquisitor Queen Regent, you know that the Iron Throne Administration is about to suffer a cuntastrophe of heinous proportions. Cersei has one redeeming quality: she loves her children so much that she would bone or kill anybody just to protect her precious incest love-children. While her heart is in the right place, Cersei goes about administering to her son’s kingdom such that EVERYBODY wants to fuck her, and not in the good way. Actually, everyone wants to fuck her the good way too, but in an “I can’t believe you smanged your brother AND cousin and let your son boss you around and made Westeros ripe for invasion by zombie polar bears” angry breakup-sex kind of way. Honestly, the only person in Westeros who didn’t want to bang Cersei is her late husband, Robert Baratheon, and that’s because he was too busy making his own bastard children.[5]

If Cersei ran for an election, her list of policy choices might go something like this: “Kick out all the poor people, appoint all the assholes, murder all the children, throw emotional fits whenever presented with unpleasant realities about politics, and look really feggin’ hawt while doing it.” Unfortunately, these policies are the EXACT formula General David Petraeus derived in figuring out how NOT to fight the Taliban.[6] Truly, Cersei is more alienating than Franz Kafka International Airport. “But it’s for the children,” she says. Except the dead ones, right Cersei? (I must confess I’m way more upset that she killed Sansa’ direwolf, Lady.)

It might not have mattered whether Cersei bothered to court public opinion if Joffrey hadn’t gone and been such a queefsampler. With one swing of a sword, the entire realm starts playing Risk. Or Stratego. Or Monopoly.[7] I was kind of strategy-deprived as a child. Anywho, House Lannister ends up with a pretty broken kingdom to manage. You’ve got flamboyant king-aspirants, grumpy king-aspirants, werewolf king-aspirants, crazy fireproof dragon-lady queen-aspirants, and creepy British people (Greyjoys), all refusing to form alliances, all vying for the Iron Throne. And they all have armies fighting each other and challenging the Red Keep’s authority. Basically, practically nobody wants to be part of the current regime as it exists, and many of them want to redraw the map of Westeros, a set of conditions which qualify as “stateness” according to Linz & Stepan, Poli Sci’s mildly less pretentious answer to Simon & Garfunkel.

Why Tyrion Can Get Away With a Murder He Didn’t Commit by Hiring a Big Dude to Kill Another Big Dude
Poli-Sci Concept at Play: Due Process and the Rule of Law, Patronage Politics

Tyrion Lannister is an incredibly successful dwarf/midget/little person: he’s pissed over the edge of the Wall, slept in a sky cell, fucked bitches, got money, slapped Joffrey repeatedly, been made the Hand of the King, and managed to avoid being tossed like a ragdoll (this is easily his greatest achievement, since normal people apparently can’t help tossing dwarfs). There’s plenty more to come for Tyrion Lannister, too (including tossing, perhaps), but one of the harsh truths of Tyrion’s life is that he still relies on big people to fight his physical battles for him. Tyrion has an astounding intellect, one of those where every split-second quip he makes sounds as if it’s more carefully and meticulously planned than Daenerys’ strategy to retake Westeros (1. Get dragons 2. cross sea 3. ????? 4. PROFIT). Tyrion still can’t escape the violent tendencies of his fellow Westerosi, however, and when those occasions arrive (which they do, often), Tyrion is forced to outsource his own personal security.

But it’s one thing to hire bodyguards, and quite another to convince a man that he should fight to the death to prove your innocence before gods and men. Yes, you heard correctly, the laws of Westeros allow a man accused of a crime to choose trial by combat rather than panel of judges (Germany would never give anything better than a 9.5, anyway). Not only can the biggest bully on the playground defend himself from any crime by taking on single challengers, he can also outsource this service if he’s feeling particularly lazy. GOD DUE PROCESS IS DEAD. Or  I suppose it never existed for Westeros. One can’t help but think this set of circumstances is exceptionally fortuitous for Tyrion, a dwarf with no combat skill in a realm of knights and total tryhards. Well, only so because Tyrion happens to be the son of the richest and most powerful man in Westeros, Tywin Lannister.

So, in other words, if you have enough money and influence, you can get out of practically any kind of legal affair. What does this sound like? No, not life in a third world country, but close. It’s CHICAGO POLITICS!!!@$#!#!@)(@.[8]  Buying off people is only part of the political game in sweet home Chicago, though; you also have to appoint people to political offices based on ANYTHING but merit. Tyrion manages this in spades, although the people he removes (Cersei’s people, no less) in the process are even less qualified than the new administration. Of course, there’s the longstanding problem of needing to continuously appease those from whom you buy your base of support, but Tyrion and co. are YOLO’ing so hard that it’s going to take something special from Cersei to end their p-trip.

Ned Stark was an Honest Politician, Which Was His Worst Decision Ever
            Poli-Sci Concept at Play: The Reality of the Political Arena

If you don’t know by now that Ned Stark is dead and you’re still reading and you’re upset that I’ve ruined ERRTHANG then you’ve already gone too far and might as well keep reading.

Yes, Ned is dead, baby. It sucked. It still sucks. Unlike most people, I had no idea our precious Eddard was going to lose his head Queen of Hearts style (though the parallels with Cersei are striking enough) because I managed to dodge all of the spoilers. Sorry about that. Ned was the last great hope for peace in Westeros, mostly because everyone respected him even if they hated him.

Ned’s death honestly shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who has studied how weakly-supported honor systems function in feudal societies run by incestuous blonde rich people, which is totally what politics is, has been, and shall remain forevermore. Ned made a number of grave mistakes in his political dealings, including: trusting people, not having his own massive private army, not courting special interests, relying on the rule of law, depending on mortals, depending on gods, and not taking hostages. In other words, Ned had faith in mankind, and it was a really bad idea. Littlefinger even told him so. And Tyrion, who succeeds Ned as Hand of the King, shows Nearly Definitely Headless Ned what politics are all about: specifically, putting your own cronies in place and making every enemy think twice about their own people.

Ned’s worst mistake EVAR, though, was in not letting sleeping dogs lions lie, especially since one was that total bitch Cersei and another was her mad dog-of-a-son Joffrey, not to be confused with the rabid dog Gregor Clegane, the servant dog Sandor Clegane, or the blue dog from Go Dog Go. It’s generally a good idea for insecure newbie politicians to not start shit their first year in office. But Ned is a man of honor, a man who values principles and the rule of law. Ned just HAD to play “Who’s the Daddy” Maury Povich style, except he forgot to bring the requisite huge tatted-up bouncers. It’s a damn shame, because we all know Ned Stark was basically the only guy south of the Wall who gave a shit about what’s going on north of the Wall. Really, all he ever says is “Winter’s Coming.” That’s like if Joe Biden went around saying “Shit’s gonna go down with China/Pakistan/Iran sometime soon.” In appreciating the exterior threat while political rivals are squabbling for titles, Ned mirrors the professional approach of Vladimir Putin the goddamn Batman. But Game of Thrones would be very boring if Ned had stayed alive and fixed everything, just like our country would have its shit WAY too together if politicians operated efficiently and professionally. Therefore, Ned had to die for Westeros to learn how to function, which it won’t in time for winter, but Ned can’t think THAT far ahead, now can he?[9]

END SPOILER ALERT. Ned Stark dies. The end.


[1] If I know Northwestern students, which I don’t because I have no friends except my mom and Jebus, I’m betting you people are gonna get all upset about how it’s actually A Song of Ice and Fire and how people are ruining your precious book series, this writer included. Face the facts: Game of Thrones is the de facto title now. It’s a way better title, too. Now go back to your disturbingly hypersexualized My Little Pony memes.

[2] I have consulted with George R.R. Martin and he has deemed this summation apt. And yes, I have read the books.

[3] Read as: children of the forest.

[4] COunter-INsurgency theory, not COitus INterruptus theory, although sometimes you think the latter might have helped make the former unncessary. 50% of the time, it works everytime.

[5] The real theme of GoT, more than anything, is that people are sexually irresponsible. Even the ones you think couldn’t possibly be. Looking at you, Varys the eunuch.

[6] Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine also mentioned something about “it puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again,” but I figure they don’t have hand lotion or hoses in Westeros so it doesn’t apply.

[7] There’s a GoT board game, by the way. It’s cooler than Settlers of Catan, because it makes you hate your friends. So it’s just like Monopoly.

[8] These are boobies.

[9] The answer is no.

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