It appears that the most popular television series of the last decade has been Game of Thrones. We had not only grown up with the characters, but picked up bits of their dialogue in everyday usage in the kind of influence Shakespeare had on the modern English language. Pithy epithets such as, “Winter is coming” and obtuse words such “Dracarys” have entered our vocabulary in sectors as various and widespread as venture capital, finance, technology and the arts.
The 1960s generation had Star Trek; the 70s-80s had Star Wars and in the 2000s, the Game of Thrones challenged what television production could be by integrating a colourful cast of unknown actors, innovative story lines embedded in beautiful cinematography and musical compositions with scintillating multi-perspectives that dealt with themes in philosophy, sociology, physics, history, economics, ethics and politics. And it is here, in the last theme, in which the Game of Thrones teaches us about contemporary politics.
Although from a cursory look, GoT could be interpreted as having been closely modelled after the historical events in Great Britain’s history, in particular with its tumultuous relationship with Scotland, and also of Scotland’s early history with Norwegian invaders, the series makes us also look at the lens of contemporary politics through the perspective of colourful, iconic characters.
These moral ambiguities, present throughout the series, question the metaethics of our generation by presenting situations in which passion often clashes with logic and reason. One of the most gruesome and memorable scenes in the series was depicted in the Red Wedding, when under the guise of peace, a massacre occurred instead, wiping out nearly all the members of the Stark family. Historically, this scene could be comparable to the murder of the Romanovs in early 20th century, when Bolsheviks would change Russia's course from an imperialist nation towards the communist USSR.
One of the repeating themes in history is that power inevitably corrupts, and unchecked power leads to violent regimes without any form of justice nor equality, despite whatever ideology their politics may be initially based on. Here are some more points to consider as we examine our current politics through the lens and characters of GoT.
Danerys Targaryen - The United States of America
If we examine the US' current position in which much of its resources is pooled into multiple foreign conflicts over natural resources at the expense of its own population, it is time for the US to change its path towards building bridges and trading pathways and not involving itself in more foreign conflicts. Hence, President Trump could instead lead the US towards more peaceful resolutions with its current tensions over Iran, as he has been doing with North Korea. President Trump should be careful not to be solely influenced by Israel's offensive military strategy and listen to more advisers, to be fair and just, to move away from the war profiteering business model that has dominated the US since the post-Kennedy era and to find more economically prosperous methods in order achieve peace, and to become a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
After WWII, the Marshall Plan lead to the United States increasing its influence in all of Europe due to investment that the US made in rebuilding much of war-torn Europe. This simultaneously increased the US' political, economic and its soft power. In a similar way, President Trump could move towards an initiative to compete with China's One Belt, One Road with a plan of its own to span its influence and to diversify its energy supply, so that the majority of the nation's resources do not go into foreign conflicts in order to control the oil supply. A new Silk Technology Road that unites all the continents together under US influence will inevitably lead to its longevity, but a return towards the war profiteering model might end US influence as its economy becomes continually drained.
Jon Snow - China
Chinese President Xi Jinping said recently at a conference in Beijing last month that, "I wish to emphasize that our cooperation is not some sort of a 'Game of Thrones,' but true cooperation for our mutual development and interests."
President Xi Jinping must remember that a nation's influence tends to grow when a strong sense of justice and trust in the legal process is inherent within the population. What China suffers along with India, might be their lack of regard for human rights, and their reputation that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it matters, especially in the realm of justice for its own citizens, freedom of journalism, fair working conditions and the education of their children. Although, China might be moving away from its factory labour model of business and more towards a service-lead industry, China must also be careful not be aggressive towards its own neighbours, especially in regards to multiple territorial disputes with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and other nations. This global perspective may make China seem unreliable and quick to grab land and power, without any regard for its neighbouring nations, hence the hesitation in response of many nations that do not embrace China's One Belt, One Road plan and see it as a Trojan horse in disguise.
If President Xi Jinping wants the Western world to embrace the One Belt, One Road plan, he must first "give a little in order to receive a lot". By changing the perception of China's politics that disregards human rights issues and moves quickly to seize all nearby land and to control all the rebuilding of its trading routes around the world, in order to internationalise its currency and spread its technology, China must make symbiotic concessions that indeed does benefit both parties, and not simply its own.
Hence China, as ally of the United States must keep its promises and not attempt to dominate all matters of business through hardball negotiation skills, but to be reliably seen as fair and just. One of Jon Snow's character flaws in GoT is that he is seemingly someone who ultimately can't be trusted, as he has a habit of changing his mind under different influences. It is the same sort of inconsistency and stubbornness in his behaviour that leads to a coup against him (from which he will eventually rise again), to the betrayal he inflicts onto his lovers, first to the Wilding, Ygritte, whom he watches her death in previous seasons, and to Daenerys, whom he assassinates after he swears his allegiance to her and announces that she will always be his Queen. These actions show Jon Snow's word cannot be trusted. He inevitably loses his position as heir to the Iron Throne due to his own undoing as logic entails that he would've ruled the Seven Kingdoms together with Danerys had he not killed her.
Likewise, the United States and China have long been involved in an economic romance, with both nations completely invested in the other in many sectors of business, technology, venture capital and entertainment. China making symbiotic concessions on matters of trade and territorial disputes would advance its position in the world, and alter its reputation positively with renewed interest and acceptance by other nations of its One Belt, One Road plan as opposed to attempting to get the lion shares on everything, which inevitably leads to the perception of China seeming untrustworthy and suspicious to many surrounding Asian and European nations.
Arya Stark - Israel
It might not also be widely known that Mr. Netanyahu is an animal rights activist and a vegetarian, as is his wife Sara. A man with a strange sense of humour, he had served a dessert made into a shape of a shoe, seemingly just to annoy the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a state dinner. (ie, It is frowned upon in Japanese culture to ever put shoes or feet upon a dining table and considered an insult to do so). It was the first time a Japanese Prime Minister visited Israel since WWII, and Mr. Netanyahu's seemingly "insult/joke" probably did not sit well with Mr. Abe, in which politically, Japan still does not side with the nation in recognition of Israel's annexation of Golan Heights.
Arya Stark has a flair for drama, and likes to outwit her enemies at their own game, however, her actions may lead her to alienation and her obsession with revenge may compromise her own goals in the process. In the penultimate and final episodes of GoT, Arya, at the urging of Sandor Cleagane, finally abandons her goal of vengeance, and instead decides to travel the world west of Westeros to begin a new era of exploration.
Likewise, Mr. Netanyahu also has a flair for drama, however, his single mindedness in seeking vengeance against all the nations who have done Israel wrong might also become his own undoing. As a youth, Mr. Netanyahu grew up during a time dominated by the terrorist groups PLO and Black September, when Palestinian terrorists had made many violent and aggressive moves against Israel which also resulted in Mr. Netanyahu's older brother being killed in a counterattack hostage crisis with Palestinian terrorists in 1976. It is no wonder that Mr. Netanyahu has adopted an offensive, aggressive military position against all the perceived enemies of Israel: including Iran, Syria, Palestine and previously, Iraq and Egypt.
However, contrary to the politics of Mr. Netanyahu, it was reported that the majority of the population of young Israelis would prefer peaceful relations with their surrounding Arab neighbours and put an end to violent conflict. Standing Together activists in Israel have demonstrated against govt lead attacks on the Gaza strip and advocated for peaceful relations between Israelis and Arab nations.
As we enter the Fifth Industrial Revolution, Mr. Netanyahu might consider expanding Israeli influence, through its technology, its innovation in infrastructure, AI, its innovative vegan cuisine, its art and music and move away from the offensive, military strategy model of: "Israel has a right to defend itself." Indeed, all the violent aggressions against Israel over the 20th century have lead to a strong military alliance between Israel and the United States as allies with an intended mutual goal. However, as times are rapidly changing, a partnership between Israel and the United States to rebuild the war torn nations of Palestine, Iraq and Libya and modernise infrastructure in nations such as India could catapult Israel into a global superpower.
At the end of the series, Arya wants to go "west of Westeros" where no one has been before. It is time Israel also moves to span its influence into other geographies, one not fueled by revenge and imprisoned by past wrongs, but one of a new era of exploration. Israel could build its mag lev trains all over the world, and after rebuilding war torn nations, and modernising the infrastructure of nations in South America and India, Israeli people could settle into lands as far as Colombia to Iraq and not be limited to defending its territory in the middle east.
Tywin and Tyrion Lannister - United Kingdom
Tywin did not particularly like his grandson Joffrey Baratheon, one of the most hated characters in GoT, but after Joffrey's death, had been his gearing young grandson, Tommen Baratheon to take the throne. However, Tywin had underestimated his own youngest son, Tyrion and it was the latter who ended up murdering him, in the infamous scene when he was sitting on the toilet, leading to a near end of the Lannister influence of global power.
Tywin Lannister attempts to teach his youngest grandson Tommen about becoming a good king. Tywin explains that being wise is the most important characteristic of a good king, and that a good king recognises what he knows just as much as what he doesn't know and must listen to his advisers and not make irrational decisions.
One of the United Kingdom's great strengths is in its educational system. In an era when most other nations are attempting to dominate the technology sector with a technical, engineering driven education, the UK has a solid foundation of education in history, literature, economics, philosophy and politics as well as in the arts and design thinking.
It has been hypothesised that in the Fifth Industrial Revolution, most technical jobs will be replaced by AI, but the ones who lead the development into other sectors will be based on a philosophical education as part of the changing of the guard from specialisation towards the big picture thinker. Just as factory workers were replaced by robots in the 1980s, many of the jobs we have today that require specialisation will go through the same process of becoming obsolete, from the legal sector, to the medical sector to the engineering sectors.
Education in the UK is a vastly different kind of education from anywhere else in the entire world. Whereas US education may often lead to conformity of thought, as many prominent US entrepreneurs have denounced US education altogether; and whereas, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean education may result in the best test scores, these nations do not produce forward thinking global leaders, and in fact, may stifle innovation and creativity altogether and induce suicide amongst its youngest populations.
As we move forward into the Fifth Industrial Revolution, and as we adopt a new global model away from the war profiteering business model that has dominated in the last half century, it is clear that the UK will have a position as the most important, influential nation that will advise other superpower nations, as the "hand" that rules the "Iron Throne". Therefore, it is imperative that the UK not cut funding to education nor continue the era of austerity under its previous predecessors, but must create an island of influencers who will shape global policy.
In addition, the UK must embrace both China and the United States and unite both superpowers and not pit one against the other in the new world order.
As the ideal Platonic model of the wise Philosopher King, Bran Stark represents justice, stability, compassion and forgiveness. These are the qualities that make a nation great. These are the qualities that inspire people around the world. In the series, Danerys and Jon failed to capture the Iron Throne, due to their misguided passions and blind rage, but this doesn't mean that the United States and China can't still work together to reach a compromise.
By Sierra Choi