Machiavelli’s Game of Thrones

As studying Machiavelli’s The Prince my mind was constantly swerving to the TV show Game of Thrones. In my defense, I finished watching the season 4 finale just prior to beginning my night’s reading. I digress, Machiavelli’s discourse spent on lady fortune, among other correlations, was what most solidified the connection between the two phenomena in my mind. As I read, each fictional character flickered through my mind like a slide show; all of their lives playing out just as Machiavelli would have predicted.

Tyrion Lannister on Trial for the Murder of King Joffrey

I initially equated fortune to be similar to a ‘trial by combat’. In Game of Thrones when you are convicted of a crime you can leave your fate in the hands of the gods. Each side does this: plaintiff and defendant, choosing a champion to represent them in a dual. The winner of the dual is said to be right in the dispute. Tyrion, for example, elected for this on the murder trial of the former King Joffrey. He did this because the trial was obviously and horribly biased against him and in a common court he would have lost. He put his fate in Oberyn’s fighting abilities and Lady Fortune turned against him when Oberyn died despite having won the initial fight. Based on Machiavelli’s description, it makes sense that fortune would turn against Tyrion. This is because, “[Fortune] is… always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity to command her.” Tyrion as a character, is cautious and calculating and not as young as most of his adversaries. Fortune should be shifting away from him.

Oberyn and The Mountain’s Trial by Combat

Furthermore, Machiavelli spells out why the former King Joffrey was doomed to fail as a leader. Joffrey didn’t know how to ask for counsel and work out the wise ideas from the ill and then transform them into any feasible plan. He, contrary to Tyrion, was too young; he succeeded in, “always [taking] counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish.” His downfall was his complete inability to sort out the various counsels surrounding him (Tywin, Cersei, Tyrion, etc.) so instead he allotted to ignore them all for the majority of his rule.

Tommen (Joffrey’s younger brother) seems doomed to fail as future king as well if Machiavelli’s teachings are to be believed. Tommen was previously the figurehead king to Tywin, prior to the latter’s murder. It is in Tommen’s best interest that Tywin was murdered because Machiavelli asserts that a single counselor with so much pull over a ruler will eventually take over for the prince. This power being previously exercised by Tywin is evident by Tommen advocating counsel over the murder trial for Joffrey (that Tyrion was a part of) to his grandfather, Tywin.

Joffrey with Tywin and Cersei

Delving earlier into Machiavelli’s The Prince, a central dilemma for the many contenders for the iron throne is constant. Many of the competitors, including Joffrey, Tywin, Daenerys, etc. are hated, truly hated, by factions of the populace. Machiavelli asserts that a good prince should, “endeavor only to avoid hatred…” This central principle is constantly tried in the show. The individual character’s notions of humanity are toyed with on a weekly basis and villains/heroes overlap in the most distressing of ways. I am of the sound opinion that Machiavelli, like so many of us, would watch the battle for the Iron Throne on a weekly basis in hour-long increments. Perhaps he, however, would provide more sound and politically intriguing interpretations of the plot.