Westeros is real life
Game of Thrones is a show about power. Behind all of the dragons, zombies, great houses, and gratuitous sex, the story revolves around conflicts between the powerful people of Westeros.
Each great house represents a different type of power. The Starks have power through honor. The Lannisters have great economic power. Daenerys Targaryen has power through inspiration. The Night King has power through irresistible coercion.
And of course the common denominator in each group is violence. One does not rise to power in Westeros without slitting a few throats along the way.
The show examines these different types of power and what happens when they collide with each other. With each great house being driven by one or two figures with immense egos and lots of resources, conflict boils down to personal beef between the powerful people.
Great leaders in Westeros all have powerful armies to fight their battles for them. How they rally those armies and maintain loyalty differs greatly from leader to leader, but whether it’s Daenerys’ Unsullied or Cercei’s bannermen, no one accomplishes their goals without a sizable army.
Over 150,000 people have died in Game of Thrones. Youtuber Leon Andrew Razon made a supercut of every death in the first six seasons.
Most of the people who have died in the show had no stake in or awareness of the major decisions being made in Westeros. The main characters of the show make decisions and compel their followers to lay down their lives.
It’s not always the leaders who make the important decisions, though. Manipulators such as Littlefinger and Lord Varys instigate the most world-changing events simply by saying the right things to the right people.
The powerful need to best each other, though, and in order for one to be victorious, thousands of soldiers and citizens need to die.
This is, in many ways, a mirror of our reality. George R. R. Martin’s saga resonates with people so strongly because he understands power and human motivation better than most of us ever will.
The way events unfold in GoT is the same as how events have unfolded throughout all of human history. A few powerful people make decisions and enter into conflicts with other powerful people. In order for their goals to be accomplished, a lot of us will likely have to die along the way.
Our president declares war, we go fight and die, the president either wins or loses. That’s pretty straightforward. There are more similarities, though.
There are real life Littlefingers too. Henry Kissinger comes to mind as someone who never occupied a direct leadership position but influenced decisions that led to thousands of deaths. These background operators make choices that
We live in a nation where millions feel disenfranchised or unrepresented by our government. Yet we are pulled and pushed by every decision made by the executives. We vote people into office, but at the end of the day decisions are made by individual actors at the highest levels of power.
Many of the most influential people in our lives are jot even in the government. CEOs of powerhouse companies like Facebook and Google wage economic warfare with each other. We follow them for employment and feel the sting of gentrification when their workers price us out of our neighborhoods.
We could despair over the fact that we’re almost mathematically guaranteed to be pawns in someone else’s chess game. We may feel stripped of agency when we think about the puppeteers pulling strings that control our lives.
One lesson I’ve learned from playing chess for years, though, is that a pawn can sometimes be the key piece that gets you to a victory. Everyone has the chance to step up and make a difference.
Theon Greyjoy is a betrayer and a coward. But he still rises to the occasion and leads the Ironborn to go rescue Yara at the end of season seven.
We all have the opportunity to be leaders. Theon could’ve chosen to go into hiding but Jon helped inspire him to be more. Even if we are following a leader we can still be a leader.
Every single guide to leadership will mention at some point that the best leaders know when to step back and follow. Jon Snow is one of the greatest leaders in Westeros, but even he bends the knee to Daenerys eventually because he sees the greatness in her (also because he wanted to get some, but that’s a different matter).
Leaders lead other leaders, who lead other leaders, who lead the followers. No one has to be a follower, though. even if you feel like your life is at the mercy of other people’s decisions, you still have the choice of who to lead or follow.
You could just sit back and let people push and pull you around, or you could take every opportunity to step up and be a leader. Even if you’ve made horrible mistakes in the past like Theon, or you’ve never been a leader before like Sansa, you can be your greatest version in any scenario and step up as a leader.
It’s not only the leaders at the top who make a difference. Leaders of all shapes and sizes make a difference. You might not realize it, but you’ve probably been a leader in many situations. We can all make a difference by inspiring others to greatness no matter who we are.
As always, thanks for reading. If you’re sad about the wait for season 8, there are plenty of articles to keep you occupied until then. If you’ve never seen Game of thrones and still want to be part of the conversation about it, here’s a helpful guide.
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