Note: This article contains spoilers to the series Game of Thrones.
It appears that the most popular television series of the last decade has been Game of Thrones. We had not only grown up with the characters, but picked up bits of their dialogue in everyday usage in the kind of influence Shakespeare had on the modern English language. Pithy epithets such as, “Winter is coming” and obtuse words such “Dracarys” have entered our vocabulary in sectors as various and widespread as venture capital, finance, technology and the arts.
The 1960s generation had Star Trek; the 70s-80s had Star Wars and in the 2000s, the Game of Thrones challenged what television production could be by integrating a colourful cast of unknown actors, innovative story lines embedded in beautiful cinematography and musical compositions with scintillating multi-perspectives that dealt with themes in philosophy, sociology, physics, history, economics, ethics and politics. And it is here, in the last theme, in which the Game of Thrones teaches us about contemporary politics.
Although from a cursory look, GoT could be interpreted as having been closely modelled after the historical events in Great Britain’s history, in particular with its tumultuous relationship with Scotland, and also of Scotland’s early history with Norwegian invaders, the series makes us also look at the lens of contemporary politics through the perspective of colourful, iconic characters.
At a cursory glance, Westeros has much in common with the United Kingdom, with the North representing Scotland.
In the early 1200s, Norway attempted to invade Scotland unsuccessfully in the Battle of the Largs. The great rivalry between the Targaryens and the Houses of the North could be representative of Norwegians vs. Scottish royal families in early 13th century.
One of the most intriguing aspects of GoT is that characters are neither good nor bad but have multiple dimensions to their personality in which they often cannot be characterised as either entirely good nor entirely evil. Cersei Lannister is one of those characters in which we have come to like as much as we dislike due to her shrewd, unrelenting defensive military strategy, in addition to the vulnerability she displays in her quest to protect her family and her children. When she sought vengeance against Ellaria Martell for the murder of her daughter, Myrcella in the same way Myrcella had been killed, we weren’t sure if we felt relieved or disturbed. Likewise, when Cersei seeks vengeance against the cruel nun who tortured her whilst she was captive under a religious sect, there was a similar kind of moral ambiguity that left us feeling both vindicated whilst shocked at the events.
Cersei Lannister could be a fictionalised character based on Queen Elizabeth I of England.
These moral ambiguities, present throughout the series, question the metaethics of our generation by presenting situations in which passion often clashes with logic and reason. One of the most gruesome and memorable scenes in the series was depicted in the Red Wedding, when under the guise of peace, a massacre occurred instead, wiping out nearly all the members of the Stark family. Historically, this scene could be comparable to the murder of the Romanovs in early 20th century, when Bolsheviks would change Russia's course from an imperialist nation towards the communist USSR.
If we were to examine the lessons we had derived from the Bolshevik Revolution, in which its leaders theoretically wanted equality for all its citizens, and for people to be judged by their achievements and not through their birthright, its political goals were never in fact, achieved. After the violent dethroning of the Romanovs, Joseph Stalin would eventually come into power, and Russia would become a nation in which its citizens were forced into labour camps, called gulags, in which it was estimated that an upwards of 20 million people had been cruelly tortured and murdered over a period of decades. Far from achieving equality, Stalin would continue to terrorise the nation and eventually the USSR would finally fall in 1991 under Gorbachev, nearly 80 years after the violent assassination of the Romanovs.
One of the repeating themes in history is that power inevitably corrupts, and unchecked power leads to violent regimes without any form of justice nor equality, despite whatever ideology their politics may be initially based on. Here are some more points to consider as we examine our current politics through the lens and characters of GoT.
Danerys Targaryen - The United States of America
One of the most fascinating character studies in GoT, Danerys Targaryen is very much akin to a young United States. She represents the charismatic idealism and the global policing power that the US exerts onto much of the world with its objective to liberate people from tyrants at any cost. However, Danerys' downfall comes when she loses two of her closest advisers, Sir Jorah Mormont and Missandrei. We must remember that often, leaders are only as good as their advisers, and Sir Jorah Mormont had guided the young leader and had been Danerys' moral compass, who asked her to consider fair trials for anyone and to instill a methodology of justice and not act in blind rage.
When President Trump came into power, he utilised his platform to advocate to modernise the infrastructure of the United States and to move away from the war profiteering model. History has taught us that leaders are not infallible and that ideology could become corrupted if power is unchecked.
If we examine the US' current position in which much of its resources is pooled into multiple foreign conflicts over natural resources at the expense of its own population, it is time for the US to change its path towards building bridges and trading pathways and not involving itself in more foreign conflicts. Hence, President Trump could instead lead the US towards more peaceful resolutions with its current tensions over Iran, as he has been doing with North Korea. President Trump should be careful not to be solely influenced by Israel's offensive military strategy and listen to more advisers, to be fair and just, to move away from the war profiteering business model that has dominated the US since the post-Kennedy era and to find more economically prosperous methods in order achieve peace, and to become a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
After WWII, the Marshall Plan lead to the United States increasing its influence in all of Europe due to investment that the US made in rebuilding much of war-torn Europe. This simultaneously increased the US' political, economic and its soft power. In a similar way, President Trump could move towards an initiative to compete with China's One Belt, One Road with a plan of its own to span its influence and to diversify its energy supply, so that the majority of the nation's resources do not go into foreign conflicts in order to control the oil supply. A new Silk Technology Road that unites all the continents together under US influence will inevitably lead to its longevity, but a return towards the war profiteering model might end US influence as its economy becomes continually drained.
Jon Snow - China
One of the most likeable but enigmatic characters in GoT, Jon Snow's goal had been to unite many different populations that had traditionally been his enemies in order to pool their resources together. In a similar methodology, Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to build a single trading path to unite the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa together under his One Belt, One Road Plan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said recently at a conference in Beijing last month that, "I wish to emphasize that our cooperation is not some sort of a 'Game of Thrones,' but true cooperation for our mutual development and interests."
President Xi Jinping must remember that a nation's influence tends to grow when a strong sense of justice and trust in the legal process is inherent within the population. What China suffers along with India, might be their lack of regard for human rights, and their reputation that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it matters, especially in the realm of justice for its own citizens, freedom of journalism, fair working conditions and the education of their children. Although, China might be moving away from its factory labour model of business and more towards a service-lead industry, China must also be careful not be aggressive towards its own neighbours, especially in regards to multiple territorial disputes with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and other nations. This global perspective may make China seem unreliable and quick to grab land and power, without any regard for its neighbouring nations, hence the hesitation in response of many nations that do not embrace China's One Belt, One Road plan and see it as a Trojan horse in disguise.
If President Xi Jinping wants the Western world to embrace the One Belt, One Road plan, he must first "give a little in order to receive a lot". By changing the perception of China's politics that disregards human rights issues and moves quickly to seize all nearby land and to control all the rebuilding of its trading routes around the world, in order to internationalise its currency and spread its technology, China must make symbiotic concessions that indeed does benefit both parties, and not simply its own.
Hence China, as ally of the United States must keep its promises and not attempt to dominate all matters of business through hardball negotiation skills, but to be reliably seen as fair and just. One of Jon Snow's character flaws in GoT is that he is seemingly someone who ultimately can't be trusted, as he has a habit of changing his mind under different influences. It is the same sort of inconsistency and stubbornness in his behaviour that leads to a coup against him (from which he will eventually rise again), to the betrayal he inflicts onto his lovers, first to the Wilding, Ygritte, whom he watches her death in previous seasons, and to Daenerys, whom he assassinates after he swears his allegiance to her and announces that she will always be his Queen. These actions show Jon Snow's word cannot be trusted. He inevitably loses his position as heir to the Iron Throne due to his own undoing as logic entails that he would've ruled the Seven Kingdoms together with Danerys had he not killed her.
Likewise, the United States and China have long been involved in an economic romance, with both nations completely invested in the other in many sectors of business, technology, venture capital and entertainment. China making symbiotic concessions on matters of trade and territorial disputes would advance its position in the world, and alter its reputation positively with renewed interest and acceptance by other nations of its One Belt, One Road plan as opposed to attempting to get the lion shares on everything, which inevitably leads to the perception of China seeming untrustworthy and suspicious to many surrounding Asian and European nations.
Arya Stark - Israel
Arya Stark is one of the most intriguing, powerful and feminist characters in GoT, and historically has much in common with Joan of Arc, but has the fierceness of personality, and reputation of a charming saboteur as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It might not also be widely known that Mr. Netanyahu is an animal rights activist and a vegetarian, as is his wife Sara. A man with a strange sense of humour, he had served a dessert made into a shape of a shoe, seemingly just to annoy the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a state dinner. (ie, It is frowned upon in Japanese culture to ever put shoes or feet upon a dining table and considered an insult to do so). It was the first time a Japanese Prime Minister visited Israel since WWII, and Mr. Netanyahu's seemingly "insult/joke" probably did not sit well with Mr. Abe, in which politically, Japan still does not side with the nation in recognition of Israel's annexation of Golan Heights.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had served the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a dessert made into a shape of a shoe at a state dinner last May in 2018. Shoes on the dining table or in the kitchen are looked down upon with displeasure in Japanese culture and considered an insult. One could clearly see Mr.Shinzo Abe looking uncomfortable (left) and attempting to smile as Mr. Netanyahu looks rather pleased with his ironic "joke". It was the first time a Japanese leader has visited Israel after WWII.
Arya Stark has a flair for drama, and likes to outwit her enemies at their own game, however, her actions may lead her to alienation and her obsession with revenge may compromise her own goals in the process. In the penultimate and final episodes of GoT, Arya, at the urging of Sandor Cleagane, finally abandons her goal of vengeance, and instead decides to travel the world west of Westeros to begin a new era of exploration.
The 1960s-1980s was filled with many violent events from the terrorist group associated with Palestinians, in which, in one of their hostage situations, the terrorist group Black September had kidnapped and assassinated 11 Olympic Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics of 1972.
Likewise, Mr. Netanyahu also has a flair for drama, however, his single mindedness in seeking vengeance against all the nations who have done Israel wrong might also become his own undoing. As a youth, Mr. Netanyahu grew up during a time dominated by the terrorist groups PLO and Black September, when Palestinian terrorists had made many violent and aggressive moves against Israel which also resulted in Mr. Netanyahu's older brother being killed in a counterattack hostage crisis with Palestinian terrorists in 1976. It is no wonder that Mr. Netanyahu has adopted an offensive, aggressive military position against all the perceived enemies of Israel: including Iran, Syria, Palestine and previously, Iraq and Egypt.
However, contrary to the politics of Mr. Netanyahu, it was reported that the majority of the population of young Israelis would prefer peaceful relations with their surrounding Arab neighbours and put an end to violent conflict. Standing Together activists in Israel have demonstrated against govt lead attacks on the Gaza strip and advocated for peaceful relations between Israelis and Arab nations.
Standing Together activists in Israel support peaceful, nonviolent resolutions with their Arab neighbours.
As we enter the Fifth Industrial Revolution, Mr. Netanyahu might consider expanding Israeli influence, through its technology, its innovation in infrastructure, AI, its innovative vegan cuisine, its art and music and move away from the offensive, military strategy model of: "Israel has a right to defend itself." Indeed, all the violent aggressions against Israel over the 20th century have lead to a strong military alliance between Israel and the United States as allies with an intended mutual goal. However, as times are rapidly changing, a partnership between Israel and the United States to rebuild the war torn nations of Palestine, Iraq and Libya and modernise infrastructure in nations such as India could catapult Israel into a global superpower.
The last episode of Game of Thrones: Season 8, episode 6: The Iron Throne. Arya abandons her goal of vengeance, and sails toward unknown lands in exploration and to set a new future for herself.
At the end of the series, Arya wants to go "west of Westeros" where no one has been before. It is time Israel also moves to span its influence into other geographies, one not fueled by revenge and imprisoned by past wrongs, but one of a new era of exploration. Israel could build its mag lev trains all over the world, and after rebuilding war torn nations, and modernising the infrastructure of nations in South America and India, Israeli people could settle into lands as far as Colombia to Iraq and not be limited to defending its territory in the middle east.
Tywin and Tyrion Lannister - United Kingdom
Advisers have an enviable position in which they do not actively have set targets on their backs, but they are able to influence important decisions in global affairs. Throughout GoT, it was shown time and time again, that Tywin had the most power, in which, as the "hand" to both Kings, Aerys Targaryen and Joffrey Baratheon, he was able to make important economic and political decisions, as the hand that moves the Throne, which was more significant than attaining the Iron Throne for himself.
Tywin did not particularly like his grandson Joffrey Baratheon, one of the most hated characters in GoT, but after Joffrey's death, had been his gearing young grandson, Tommen Baratheon to take the throne. However, Tywin had underestimated his own youngest son, Tyrion and it was the latter who ended up murdering him, in the infamous scene when he was sitting on the toilet, leading to a near end of the Lannister influence of global power.
Tywin Lannister attempts to teach his youngest grandson Tommen about becoming a good king. Tywin explains that being wise is the most important characteristic of a good king, and that a good king recognises what he knows just as much as what he doesn't know and must listen to his advisers and not make irrational decisions.
One of the United Kingdom's great strengths is in its educational system. In an era when most other nations are attempting to dominate the technology sector with a technical, engineering driven education, the UK has a solid foundation of education in history, literature, economics, philosophy and politics as well as in the arts and design thinking.
It has been hypothesised that in the Fifth Industrial Revolution, most technical jobs will be replaced by AI, but the ones who lead the development into other sectors will be based on a philosophical education as part of the changing of the guard from specialisation towards the big picture thinker. Just as factory workers were replaced by robots in the 1980s, many of the jobs we have today that require specialisation will go through the same process of becoming obsolete, from the legal sector, to the medical sector to the engineering sectors.
Tyrion Lannister faces the leaders of the Seven Houses in the final episode of Game of Thrones. He tells them that the preservation of history, and of being a "storyteller"; of having an understanding of the past and its ramifications on the present and in the future, is one of the most important aspects of choosing a leader, advocating a liberal arts based education that has been at the forefront of a UK-based education.
Education in the UK is a vastly different kind of education from anywhere else in the entire world. Whereas US education may often lead to conformity of thought, as many prominent US entrepreneurs have denounced US education altogether; and whereas, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean education may result in the best test scores, these nations do not produce forward thinking global leaders, and in fact, may stifle innovation and creativity altogether and induce suicide amongst its youngest populations.
As we move forward into the Fifth Industrial Revolution, and as we adopt a new global model away from the war profiteering business model that has dominated in the last half century, it is clear that the UK will have a position as the most important, influential nation that will advise other superpower nations, as the "hand" that rules the "Iron Throne". Therefore, it is imperative that the UK not cut funding to education nor continue the era of austerity under its previous predecessors, but must create an island of influencers who will shape global policy.
In addition, the UK must embrace both China and the United States and unite both superpowers and not pit one against the other in the new world order.
At the end of the Game of Thrones, Bran Stark is chosen King. There would no longer be an inherited, blood lineage but a chosen one by ruling houses. A betting agency in the UK first predicted Bran would win the Iron Throne based on the number of British users who predicted his ascent and later the US followed its prediction before the series end. It was inevitable that Bran would eventually become King due to his role as the three-eyed-raven and seer into the past, the present and the future, and in his method of uniting people, but at the same time, also having compassion and forgiving all his enemies to turn them onto his side.
As the ideal Platonic model of the wise Philosopher King, Bran Stark represents justice, stability, compassion and forgiveness. These are the qualities that make a nation great. These are the qualities that inspire people around the world. In the series, Danerys and Jon failed to capture the Iron Throne, due to their misguided passions and blind rage, but this doesn't mean that the United States and China can't still work together to reach a compromise.