My co-blogger John McGinnis has a great post up on the politics of Game of Thrones. (I cannot resist mentioning that I initially recommended that John watch the show but he resisted; obviously, he has come around.) Unlike John, I watch Game of Thrones for all of it – for the politics, for the great characters, for the surprises, for the sex, for the violence, for the humor as well as for the politics. I thought I would add a couple of reactions to the show and John’s post. (Some spoilers below.)
John notes how the show vividly illustrates that “a stable monarchy was a great advance for liberty over warring barons.” True enough, but the show also makes clear that the danger that the hereditary monarch can impose when he turns out to have the wrong traits for ruling, as the mad king, Aerys II of the House of Targaryen, displayed. By the same token, such a mad king might have good or bad heirs – Aerys’s son Prince Rhaegar may turn out to be have been a good man (or at least not a bad one), and while Aerys’s younger son, Viserys, would certainly have been a disaster, his daughter Daenerys, shows signs of greatness.
John also notes that some men just do not have the capability for exercising power, such as Robert Baratheon and his successor Joffrey. This is certainly right, but author George Martin also recognizes that some men cannot exercise power well, because they lack a Machiavellian insight into the nature of the political world. Ned Stark was disastrous because he sought to impose his ideals of how the world should be rather than recognizing and responding to how it actually is. As Daenerys shows, one need not be a bad person or ruler in order to rule effectively. One just has to understand how the world works.
In my view, the most distinctive characteristic of Game of Thrones (apart from George Martin’s willingness to kill off important characters) is his mixed view of the world, with few characters being entirely good and even fewer being entirely bad.