Game of Thrones : A Political Science Approach to Westeros

Fair warning, spoilers ahead.

We political scientists are called upon to anticipate the internal and external political developments of our world, focusing on the state and various political factors, in order to better our community. In this article I will, however, attempt to do so for the Game of Thrones world. To begin our examination, it is necessary to recall where we left off each major character in the past season, with a focus on regions and political organizations. In our analysis we shall employ comparisons with real life situations from medieval history in order to issue predictions. To do so we must turn to the sociologist extraordinaire Max Weber and the historian and economist that was Karl Marx.
For the uninitiated, here’s a list of characters, be they major or minor, arranged by regions, followed by one of houses, the most feudal element of the Game of Thrones world and finally a list of organizations.


King’s Landing – the Center

After being desolated by the War of the Five Kings, Westeros can hardly be described as a functioning kingdom. The death of Tywin Lannister, the main political strategist behind the military and economic powerhouse that is/was the ruling family of Lannisport left a power vacuum in the upper echelons of the central leadership. His death unbalanced the political atmosphere of the capital and the succession of Cersei, an impulse-driven political actor, did not help mend the situation. Crippled by debt to the Iron Bank, which turned to financing the failed campaign of Stannis, the Throne had to turn to the rich House Tyrell, unofficially headed by the politically able Lady Olenna, for financial backing. The most important house of the Reach gradually voiced its demands for more power in the capital as the influence of the Lannisters waned, half their armies having been slaughtered by the Young Wolf and their most capable leader killed. With the Tyrells holding the only region untouched by war, their food supplies will launch them into a stronger position as hunger runs rampant throughout the land.


With this background in mind, it is easy to understand the rise of religious fanaticism, most evident in the capital, where the word of the High Sparrow is law, enforced through the Militant Faith. Faced with the armed monks, the Throne is rendered helpless. Queen Margaery and Cersei are both imprisoned for their (true) misdeeds and only liberated after being thoroughly humiliated. In conclusion, King’s Landing will be the site of desperate power struggles between the decaying and humiliated Lannisters and their remaining retainers (let us not forget the zombified Mountain) and the emerging Tyrells. However, that would mean ignoring the strongest player in the capital, the Militant Faith, which holds sway over the poor and hungry masses. Thus, the center is isolated from the other kingdoms, contact remaining possible insofar as each region’s nobles can harness influence with the Throne. No question of representation, even in its early formed such as that described by Hannah Pitkin, can be found.


The Riverlands and the North – Ruins and Battlefields

In the Riverlands, the much-hated House Frey rules after having vanquished House Tully, the ally of the Starks. However, the marshes and deep forests of the Riverlands are largely outside the control of any single camp. The Brotherhood, originally a mission sanctioned by Ned Stark acting as Hand to punish the crimes of the Mountain, represents the only rational actor in the Riverlands, despite its occult affinity for the Lord of Light. Thus, before the arrival of what was announced to be one as the harshest winters ever, the “breadbasket” of the Seven Kingdoms lies in ruins, its people turned to refugees or corpses.

At the Wall, we were last shown the gut-wrenching death of popular favorite Jon Snow at the hands of his own men. The men of the Night’s Watch thus gave in to their conservative leaders and betrayed their young Lord Commander due to his pro-Wildling stance. However, the miracle-performing lady Melisandre is also present at the Wall and this might lead to unexpected, Walking Dead-type prospects.


South of the Wall, the Boltons have assumed the position of Wardens of the North, but are no longer backed by the weakened Lannisters. Facing a hostile but feeble North, the Boltons have nevertheless asserted their military prowess against Stannis, having only to deal with the Ironborn occupiers and minor families such as the Karstarks.
Having saved Sansa from her husband, the bastard Ramsay Bolton, Reek will no doubt try to reach the areas occupied by the islanders and overcome his animal-like state. As for Arya, her occult ways will probably lead her to gaining more power as she internalizes the ways of the Faceless Men, a cult of assassins who worship Death. Her brother Bran is taking a magical path of his own, enhancing his abilities along with the Children of the Forest, which would also explain his complete absence from season 5. They will both be the wildcards of season 6, one fighting against the White Walkers and the other planning her revenge. As for their mother Catelyn, who died along with the Young Wolf at the Red Wedding, she will no doubt return, as she did in the book, as the harrowing specter of revenge leading the Brotherhood against the enemies of House Stark.

Season 5 was also the season in which we found out, through Lysa Arryn, that the war was the product of one man’s schemes – Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. Probably the most skilled politician of Westeros, comparable only to the well-intended Master of Spiders, Littlefinger poisoned the former Hand, caused the downfall of Ned, assisted Olenna Tyrell in assassinating King Joffrey and has become Protector of the Vale after murdering Lysa after their wedding. He has also become the protector of Sansa Stark, easing her into an extremely uneasy alliance with the cruel Boltons, new wards of the North


Dorne – Rocks and Revenge

Besides the Reach, only the regions which have remained neutral so far still have all of their armies and resources intact: the Vale, ruled by House Arryn, and Dorne, ruled by House Martell. With nearly all the other Great Houses defeated or half-exhausted, the fresh armies of the Vale and Dorne can drastically alter the political playing field, depending on which side they choose to join. Dorne, like the Vale, is also coming onto the forefront of Westerosi politics after the death of Prince Oberyn and that of Myrcella (only on the show). Led by the retrained and tactical Doran Martell, Dorne will perhaps find an ally whose return from exile will serve as an excuse for all out war with the Lannisters and Tyrells.

This ally might come in the figure of the long presumed dead son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Princess Elia Martell, Aegon Targaryen, who discreetly gathered the support of the largest mercenary army – the Golden Company. Going under the name of “Griff”, he was first encountered by Tyrion during his voyage on the Shy Maid, a part completely left out in the show (for that matter, in the books, Tyrion never meets Daenerys).


Across the Narrow Sea – Class warfare and foreign rulers

In Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys Targaryen’s position as a reformist brought about multiple rebellions. Her grip on Meereen and Yunkai has become precarious as sectarian violence rages on between the two former classes: slaves and masters. Her dragons, the main source of her legitimacy and part of her military power, grew too large and have become uncontrollable. We’ve left her surrounded by a large khalasar.

For Dany, previsions are endless. If she somehow manages to survive the encounter with the khalasar, she could return with them and reconquer Meereen, but that would mean an over-commitment to a foreign city which has proven extremely hostile. Instead, she could abandon Slaver’s Bay altogether and march down to meet the only other surviving Targaryen and his army, considering that by tradition the Targaryens practiced incest in order to keep their line pure.

However, numerous differences between the books and the show change the course of events, not to imply a lower quality of either of them. The battle between Stannis and the Boltons did not take place in the books. Moreover, Myrcella is still alive, Aegon is presented, the “Onion Knight” is completely somewhere else (we learn who Jon’s mother is through him) and Tyrion is a slave.



The Classical Age of Westeros

So where is the political science in all this? As any king, Tommen occupies the Iron Throne following the Weberian traditional type of authority, that of the “eternal yesterday”. According to the theory, his rule is based on personal loyalty. The person exercising authority is not a “superior” but a personal master who has personal retainers, not an administrative staff. The ruled are not “members” of an association but his “subjects”. Under such a system, the household officials are favorites recruited in a purely patrimonial fashion (slaves or dependants) of the master. Promotion is completely up to the master and rational technical training as a qualification for officials is not to be found among household officials. (A fundamental change in administration occurs whenever there is even a beginning of technical training).

However, the master, in absence of patrimonial staff (or state apparatus), is dependent upon the willingness of members to comply with his orders since he has no machinery to enforce them. The members are therefore not real subjects. Obedience is owed to the master by virtue of his traditional status, bounding him by tradition. When we turn to the economically-minded Karl Marx, the form of ownership existent in Westeros, as in the Middle Ages, is the feudal or estate property. In reality, Middle Ages started from the country under the influence of the semi-tribal Germanic military constitution. This system was based on community, but replacing the slaves with enserfed small peasantry as the direct producing class. The chief form of property during the feudal epoch is both the landed property worked by serfs and the small capital of individual journeymen, the first embodied by nobles and the second by merchants, a dwindling class in Westeros but a bourgeoning one in the Free Cities.

If we are to expand the field of religion, the present situation in the capital, King’s Landing, is governed by the principles of Saint Augustine (364-414), a bishop who lived in North Africa. If Christianity originally promoted stoicism, abstaining from participating in political affairs, he went back to the old Aristotelian view, emphasizing that a good imperial government and political consciousness should be Christian virtues. He also set forth the complimentary domains of the church and state by starting that the church was endowed with authorities. The state, on the other hand, was endowed with the executive power to be applied to people and things.

The Church interpreted the Augustinian teachings as implementing the responsibilities of the Church onto the sphere of a secular government. The centuries of the early Middle Ages brought about the practice of having kings endowed with sacred, religious symbols—the most important example being the practice of officially appointing the king with holy oil from the hands of the local bishop, a practice that emerged in the late 5th century in Visigothic Hispania and which we clearly observe with every coronation of a new Westerosi king, anointed by the High Septon.

Westeros is a pre-Classical Middle Ages kingdom. Urban life is underdeveloped, limited to fortresses surrounded by peasant huts, there are no expansionist tendencies (unless the Militant Faith will establish a strong base and venture south), there is no recentralization of the monarchic states and no juridical conception of public and private domains. However, a laic culture of chivalry is present, although decaying under the pressure of a prolonged war.

In real life, the Classical Middle Ages (11th to 13th century) represented the golden age of conflict between Papacy (High Septon) and the Empire (Iron Throne). Through it, kings gained power and centralized their state, in effect modernizing them. Feudal fragmentation disappeared and the great incongruence between production and population was later solved by the dreaded Malthusian adjustment. A cultural diarchy took share, opposing ascetism to the warrior culture. Season 6 remains to be uncovered.





Hanna Fenichel Pitkin – Representation in Political Innovation and Conceptual Change, ed. Terence Ball, James Farr and Russell L. Hanson, Cambridge University Press, pp. 133-150

Max Weber – Economy and Society: An outline of interpretative sociology, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles-London.

Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels – The German Ideology, Prometheus Books, 1998 edition, Amherst, New York


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