Braving the crowd at Best Buy on Thursday evening, I was able to take advantage of the super sales and purchase a behemoth TV. While I was at it, I also was able to score a Game of Thrones box-set. Clearly, the only logical thing to do upon my return was marathon the series on my crisp, clear, 50-incher. As I was tied into the gripping series, I began to realize something that may be pure coincidence, or perhaps truly correlated. My realization was that our professor, Mika LaVaque-Manty, may enjoy Game of Thrones so much since it is chocked full of tidbits of political science, from Machiavellianism to the beliefs of Hobbes.
Whether George R.R. Martin is familiar with Machiavelli or not, I do not know. Aspects of Game of Thrones would suggest that he knew it inside and out. An influential piece of Machiavellianism in the show is that which concerns staying a prince. In Chapter XVII of “The Prince” by Machiavelli, he describes whether it is better to be feared or loved as a ruler. He argues that it is good to be feared, but never beneficial to be hated. Clearly, Prince Joffrey did not read any Machiavelli as a boy. He becomes a ruler hated by many, which is the first violation of what Machiavelli says a prince should do.He blatantly ignores all recommendations from those smarter than him, and makes rash decisions based on anger. Machiavelli would probably cringe when watching the young brat rule, since he has no clue on what one should do.
Despite Prince Joffrey being a poor ruler, the Lannisters as a whole comply to Machiavellianism more proficiently than Joffrey does. One thing Machiavelli says leaders need to be is a mix of a fox and a lion. The fox aspect is necessary to outwit those against them; the lion is to overpower opposition. It is clear in the Lannister family that the brother-sister/lover pair, Cersei and Jamie, contains a blend of fox and lion. Clearly, she is a fox since she is so sneaky. She is constantly scheming, whether it was involving the death of Jon Arryn or otherwise. Jaime is the lion since he is such a ruthless man, which can be seen when he throws Bran out the window, or through his many violent killings throughout the series. Although these characters are disliked by many, they contain a few examples of what Machiavelli would consider to be the proper traits of rulers: Feared by many, not necessarily hated by all, clever, formidable, and others. However, this is not quite all of them.
This may be based on personal bias due to my intense love of the Starks, but it seems as though the ruler who is truly a Machiavellian example is Robb Stark. IN Chapter XVIII, Machiavelli states that the full quality set a truly good ruler should have is “to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite”. Robb Stark definitely fits these characteristics, which explains why he is such a beloved character in the series.
Another time in which parallels between political theory and Game of Thrones is when the work of Hobbes appears. In Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, he states that if one man is better than another, the lesser of the two will always find a method in which he can overcome the superior. Due to this, all men are equal from an overall perspective, despite some having advantages in certain areas. A point in the show in which this shows up is when Stannis is able to kill Renly. In combat, Renly would probably be considered superior. However, Stannis is capable of using trickery to overcome Renly and kill him. This also ties into Machiavelli’s theory about what makes a good leader, showing that Renly fell because while he was a lion, he was not a fox. This is why he could not withstand the test of time.
Another prominent character in the series that is able to overcome a disadvantage and defeat those who, on paper, would be better than him is Tyrion. Despite being a dwarf, he is able to play an essential role in the series by outwitting characters that are stronger in battle than he is. On the flipside of that token is a character that has no wit, but does have physical brawn. This character is Hodor. He is quite possibly the dumbest character in the show, but has a physical gift. Clearly, these people also demonstrate characteristics both Hobbes and Machiavelli speak of.
A final theorist who shows up in Game of Thrones is Max Weber. In his work, “Politics as a Vocation“, he discusses power, which is an essential aspect of the series. He defines power as being the ability to make someone do that which they do not want to do. This shows up with a number of powerful characters. They are able to make the “pawns” in the show (soldiers, spies, assassins, etc.) do what they want them to, even if the person carrying out the action does not necessarily want to do it. An explicit example is when Robert Baratheon uses his power to force the attempted murder of Daenarys Targaryen, a young woman who is pregnant. This is something most people would have objected against if it were not for Robert’s power, but since he is so powerful, they did not so much as question the decision…vocally at least. The only one who did was Ned Stark, a person who also held a great deal of power. This shows that those with power are able to convince others to do what they wish, and those without power do not have this ability.
Whether Mika likes Game of Thrones simply due to coincidence and outstanding “assets”, or because it is a vulgar embodiment of political science is not fully defined, but regardless, it is impossible to ignore the parallelisms that exist. From The Starks to the Lannisters, all are playing political games.