Science

Lecture on the politics in Westeros

‘Cersei is like Trump’

This week, the final season of Game of Thrones finally started. On Wednesday, assistant professor international relations and self-described sci-fi nerd Greg Fuller is giving a lecture about politics in the world of Westeros.
By Michelle Gerssen

When Greg Fuller’s wife introduced him to Game of Thrones, he was hooked from the get-go. He started by watching the series, and was soon also reading the books. ‘While I was still watching the series, my wife had already read all the books. She knew everything that was going to happen.’

There are a great many differences between the world of the books and the world of the series. ‘They have different effects on the reader or viewer’, he says. ‘The books describe this giant, amazing,  imaginative world. But the way the series manages to translate the storytelling in the books is beautiful. No one’s ever done anything like it before.’

Fuller says the layers that George R.R. Martin created constitute a richly realised world – a world that seems real because of the attention to detail in the books. ‘Take the economic system, which is ruled by the Iron Banks like kings. That’s impossible in the real world. But as a political economist, I’m intrigued’, he says, laughing.

His favourite character is Tyrion Lannister, the cynical, somewhat perverse, but nevertheless brilliant dwarf and brother of the current queen of Westeros. ‘Although he hasn’t been on his A-game the past few seasons. What Sansa Stark said to Tyrion in the latest episode was spot-on: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive”.’

Prior to his lecture for the SKLO in the Nieuwe Kerk in Groningen on Wednesday, Fuller talks to us about the politics in four Westeros areas.

Click on the map below to navigate.

Hieronder komt de legenda met links naar de locaties

Locations

1. Kings Landing
2. Winterfell
3. The Far North
4. Dragonstone

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1

Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister finally has everything she wants in King’s Landing. After she lost her husband, king Robert Baratheon, because he’d been gored by a wild boar, she suffered the subsequent deaths of all three of her children born of her incestuous relationship with her twin brother Jaime. Now, she has the throne all to herself. Is she doing a good job ruling the kingdom?

‘Cersei is kind of like Trump’, says Fuller. ‘They share a complete lack of ability to critically self-reflect. Neither seems to find themselves at fault when things go wrong. Everyone is wrong but them.’ Just like Trump, she sees everything as a transaction, and she’ll always choose that course of action which is most advantageous to her. She doesn’t have any norms and values.

‘She’s shrewd’, says Fuller. ‘Despite being hated by all, and having very few true allies, she still managed to leverage the institutional power of the Iron Throne to put together an army.’

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Jon Snow

In Winterfell we find noble Jon Snow, the bastard who was sent to the Wall and rose from the dead. He was one of the few who actually understood what ‘Winter is coming’ meant, and was finally named King in the North. He also realised he would never be able to defeat the White Walkers on his own, and so he travelled to meet Daenarys Targaryen, who, on top of a giant army, also has two dragons and might be able to win the war against the White Walkers.

‘Jon is the opposite of Cersei Lannister’, says Fuller. ‘Cersei acts purely out of self-interest. The real question with Cersei is how far naked self-interested will get a person.’

But that still leaves the question of whether Jon’s approach is the right one. ‘Jon might be too optimistic about people’s ability to act in the collective interest’, says Fuller. ‘He wants people to move past their prejudices and inherited ideas, but that doesn’t always work out. In fact, this approach has already gotten Jon killed once.’

One thing is certain: his decision to ‘bend the knee’ to Daenarys and put the interests of Westeros above his own was not appreciated by his northern allies. His sister Sansa wasn’t very happy, either.

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White Walkers

For seven seasons, viewers have known about the terrible danger north of the Wall. But for the rest of Westeros, the horrors of the north are a myth – fairy tales to frighten children with.

But Jon Snow and his Brother of the Night’s Watch have seen and fought the White Walkers. The Wildlings have fought them too. And now that winter is truly coming, the Night King has broken through the Wall with his army of the undead. And they have a terrifying secret weapon: after the Night King killed Daenarys’ dragon Viserion, he brought the animal back to life to ride the undead beast into battle.

In the meantime, all the different factions in Westeros are still fighting each other, blind to the greater danger that threatens them all. And while Jon Snow has slowly got more people on his side, Cersei decides to simply wait for everyone else to fight each other, hoping she’ll be able to come out on top once everyone else is dead.

‘We have really very little idea what’s going on with these guys’, Fuller says. ‘And the show and books seem to be taking different approaches. I guess you could compare the situation with our lack of concern about climate change.’

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Daenerys Targaryen

The beautiful pretender to the Iron Throne, Daenarys Targaryen, is one of the most difficult characters to figure out, says Fuller. She started out so innocently in season one, when her brother Viserys married her off to Khal Drogo, the leader of the nomadic tribe of Dothraki warriors, in an effort to win the Iron Throne with their support.

It quickly turns out that Daenarys is stronger than she looks. After the death of both her brother and her husband, she takes over leadership of the Dothraki, becoming Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains. Her special relationship with her two dragons (there used to be three) means she has a lot of power, but she also managed to earn the loyalty of the slave armies she freed.

‘Daenarys is one of the hardest characters to get a read on’, says Fuller. ‘She does despicable things, but usually from defensible starting points.’

She traded in one of her dragons for an army of eight thousand ‘Unsullied’, an elite warrior slave army from Astapor. But as soon as they are loyal to her, she commands them to kill their former masters.

It doesn’t end there: everyone who refuses to submit to her runs the risk of dying a horrible death. ‘Is she a power-mad lunatic or a wise ruler?’, Fuller asks. ‘The jury is still out.’

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