If I had to challenge myself and try to sum up the complex world represented by Game of Thrones (GoT): People driven by their deepest desires take actions, which lead to their ultimate glory or ruin. In his own words, author George R.R Martin (GRRM) the mantra that drives his writings is the “STRUGGLE of the HUMAN HEART in CONFLICT WITH ITSELF”. What people do or fail to do to win this struggle, leads to a complex interconnected web of events often having far reaching consequences far beyond their imagination. It is also a tale of how politics works and how people are consumed by the very power they seek so fanatically. Power corrupts but absolute power truly corrupts. Everything else in the tale, the dragons, the White Walkers, the magic and the wildfires are mere props in the tale to describe the human drama in the setting of a medieval soap opera.
The realism of the world GRRM has created and its parallelisms to our present day world is staggering. People are rarely painted as completely good or evil; rather almost everybody exhibits shades of both. For example, a man pushes a child from a tower to protect his family. Yet the same man, Jamie Lannister, kills the king he swore to protect to save the lives of millions, dishonoring himself for the rest of his life. The characters that GRRM has introduced are so vivid and so realistic. People hate to love a Cersei or Ramsay and girls world over fall head over heels for Prince Oberyn or Khal Drogo. Who doesn’t love an Arya or a Tyrion? Break all conventions and Be yourself, that’s Arya for you. That is the secret yearning of all. Freedom is the soul’s sacred thirst for normalcy. Tyrion is a tortured soul, twisted and wicked and maybe that’s why he has compassion to outcasts and the disadvantaged for he understands their suffering firsthand. Tyrion tells Jon Snow: “Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” He is the only one to be a true friend to Jon and tells him the truth about the hard life of the Night’s Watch. He is humorously witty, openly offensive and has the street smarts to evade tricky and dangerous situations. He is also intriguingly modern in his worldviews. For example he is one of the few characters to treat women not as better or special but as an equal to man.
Buddha taught us not to be unattached to anything. Yet nothing could prepare us for the world famous bloodlust of GRRM. Just when you fall in love with a character and are routing for him or her, they are doomed. GRRM is a wrathful god, who kills his creations indiscriminately. You also wonder how such a sweet guy, could write scenes depicting such grotesque and violent deaths or scenes of appalling sexual violence. When I see him in the interviews, he looks to me like he could be Santa Claus or Gandalf. Exactly the kind of guy you want in your corner when you are in a really dark place like when you pissed of your girlfriend and could really use some magic to save your ass. But GRRM does do literary magic, he first shows the foibles of human nature and the inequalities that arise there of, like few other authors can manage. On the other hand, his work is also a hidden commentary of how a more equal, just and humane world would look like. We are in general violent creatures not all of us, not all the time but we are. We are cruel to each other and to ourselves, as history would attest. As for the sexual violence towards women depicted in GoT, women have been treated as second-class citizens in most of our history, even more so in medieval times. GRRM’s portrayal of the medieval times is more realistic than fantasy. On the other hand some of the strongest protagonists of the story are women (Cersei, Catelyn, Danaeyrs). He goes further to give so much power and influence to the disadvantaged such as crippled (Bran) and the socially rejected (Tyrion, Jon). GRRM is a peace lover (he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war). I suspect the end game of GoT, will be about how peaceful dialogue and non-violence are superior to war to restore balance and peace in the world.
How does one play the GoT? Only GRRM knows. But I am going to brave here and try to surmise how one can play anyway. One has to be strong, flexible to handle chaos and willing to learn on the go and evolve continually. One must be willing to take counsel when one is lacking knowledge in an area like Dany does. One must not be afraid to get one’s hands dirty sometimes. Angela Merkel may not like Tayyip Erdogan’s domestic policies but she needs to compromise and look in the other direction to keep the refugee deal with Turkey in place. Above all one must be able to trust one’s inner voice or intuition to make choices, which nobody else is willing to make. Sometimes you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. As President Obama once mentioned in an interview, oftentimes if an issue comes to his desk, it is something no body wants to handle. He has to make these decisions, which could affect millions with only incomplete information to guide him. It is not an easy job to fill the shoes of a Putin or a Theresa May.
The key to succeeding in GoT lies in understanding the differences in the leadership qualities of the Starks vs the Lannisters. Yes, the Lannisters are wicked but they are also smart, devious and calculating. The Starks are noble and they lead by example and are exemplary military strategists but they overtly cling to their honor. A motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough people get what they want.“ The Lannisters turn this principle around by figuring out what is your weakness, and how they can buy your loyalty for their ulterior motives. One famous example: Red Wedding, Walter Frey, and Tywin Lannister. Of course, it helps that the Lannisters have spies, which keeps them ahead of everybody, as they know the moves of their opponents in advance. In politics, one must be willing to play chess with people and figure how you can get what you want while helping them get what they want.
Consider for a moment, Jon Snow’s inability to convince the Night’s Watch to accept the wildlings to live on their side of the wall. In the eyes of the Night’s Watch, the wildlings were terrorists that they had sworn to kill and protect the people of Westeros for millennia. People don’t often care what about the right thing or the ultimate good, especially when they are in large crowds. They rather want to know what is in it for them and your job is to direct their attention towards that. Otherwise a Brexit or a Trump presidency could ensue. As a leader you have to from time to time get down from your high horse and speak in the language of the people. How would a Tyrion have handled such a situation? First, he would have made a snide comment about how he wants to kill every wildling just like the majority of the brothers of the Night’s Watch. Then he would have described a vivid picture about the events of Hardhome, about how powerful the White Walkers are and how they could reanimate dead people and add them to their ever-growing army. Tyrion would have further made every member of the Night’s Watch who witnessed the events of Hardhome firsthand to describe their version of events to further drive home the imminent danger for Westeros. This would have convinced the Night’s Watch that they need all the help they can get, even from the wildings to have a fighting chance to defeat the army of the Dead.
The downfall of the Starks lay in their clinging to their honor and not being flexible to adapt to the difficult situations they find themselves in GoT. There is nothing honorable to die in the hands of the wicked Cersei (Eddard Stark) or at the hands of rash and unwise brothers of the Night’s Watch (Jon Snow). At least the latter had the excuse of being young and inexperienced. The former is a fool to threaten the most powerful women in Westeros (Cersei) and her children. He is in an environment surrounded by the spies and loyalists of the Lannisters and has no plans on how to execute the threat or how to save his family. Excessive clinging to anything leads to one’s ruin. In this regard, the Starks lust to cling to honor at any cost is not very different from lust for sex (Jamie) or for power (Cersei). Furthermore, when vipers and chameleons surround a person, one must be willing to adapt and camouflage oneself to survive. In this game you win or die and when you die your sons and wife can be killed and your daughters raped. A duty of a ruler is to protect the weak and the vulnerable from the wicked and one must be willing to do whatever is needed to get the job done. ALL is FAIR to WIN this GAME.