The final season of “Game Of Thrones,” is almost here. The record-shattering literary and television phenomenon is rich with complex characters and plots that impart wisdom and hard truths, leaving the audience not only entertained but with a better, deeper understanding of life. There are many lessons, some significant, some small, that can be taken away from the books and the series. But there are a few that are learned and relearned by several characters, reiterating their importance. Here are five imperative life lessons from “Game Of Thrones”:
It’s Important To Understand What People Want
Many consider the Red Wedding to have been a particularly underhanded and despicable tactic by the Lannisters to end a war that they could have won honorably. But the situation could have been avoided if Rob Stark had kept his word to Walter Frey and married one of his daughters. Frey’s great wish was to be respected by the other great lords of Westeros, and for the Frey house to be recognized alongside them. When Rob Stark disrespected Frey by breaking his promise and marrying another woman, Tywin Lannister knew Frey would be hurt, and he exploited the grievance by offering him a chance for revenge. The Starks paid a high price for not keeping their word. Tywin Lannister won the war by understanding Walter Frey, and knowing he could leverage the resentment. If Rob Stark had understood the consequences of not keeping his word (something his father would have never done), he might be alive. When you are making personal and professional decisions, it is imperative to understand what people want most so you understand their decisions, and how to keep them on your side.
Leadership Is More Complicated Than Being A Hero
One of the great contrasts of the show are the Starks and the Lannisters, who lead and interact with their families so differently. We learned in the finale of season one with the death of Ned Stark that you can not survive on heroism and honor alone. We witness with Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsey Bolton (and perhaps Cersei) that leading with cruelty and fear is also not the route to a lasting reign. It leads us to the conclusion and to the uncomfortable truth that leading well is much more complicated than having honor and a good heart, and a good leader is not simply someone who isn’t willing to be cruel. “Game Of Thrones” illustrates that wise and lasting leadership requires rulers in specific and difficult situations to compromise their principles and morals for the greater good of the people, the family, the realm, etc. Great leadership lies in that gray area, where people determine when to assert their authority or exercise reason and restraint.
Surround Yourself With Smart Advisers And Listen To Them
George R.R. Martin writes in “A Feast For Crows,” that “a man like Tywin Lannister comes but only once in a thousand years.” In season four episode three of the show, the Lannister family stands over Joffrey Baratheon’s body in the Great Sept of Baelor, after he was poisoned at his own wedding. “Your brother is dead. Do you know what that means?” Tywin Lannister asks his grandson Tommen Baratheon. Tommen responds that he it means he will be king. “What kind of king do you think you’ll be?” Tywin asks. “A good king,” replies Tommen. Tywin responds that he agrees, and asks, “But what makes a good king? Hmm?” They are still standing over Joffrey, who embodied the opposite. “What is a good king’s single most important quality?” Tommen lists a few qualities: holiness, justice and strength. Tywin dismisses each of them with an example of a bad king who embodied that quality. “What did they all lack?” Tywin asks. Tommen says wisdom. “Yes! But what is wisdom?” Tywin animatedly replies. “A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t. You’re young. A wise young king listens to his counselors and heeds their advice until he comes of age. And the wisest kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.”
In the season seven finale, Tyrion negotiates with Cersei and persuades her to fight for the living. She asks him why he serves Daenerys instead of her, he says be believes Daenerys will make the world a better place. When Cersei points out he said he persuaded Daenerys not to burn down King’s Landing, he responds, “She chose an advisor that would check her worst impulses. That’s the difference between you.”
Prejudice Is More Than A Character Flaw—It Is An Achilles Heel
Though there is magic, dragons, witches and white walkers in Westeros, the seven kingdoms in many ways are just like the real world: privilege is for the rich and high born, there is discrimination against the poor, the disabled and bastards. Perhaps the most patronized character on the show is Tyrion Lannister, who is treated with contempt because he is a little person. His father, Tywin Lannister, is regarded as one of the shrewdest men in the seven kingdoms, and Tyrion, more than his sister or brother, inherited Tywin’s intellect and instincts. Tywin Lannister preaches loyalty to family throughout the show, and that the family name and family legacy are the only things that live on, but he treats Tyrion with such contempt, only protects him on principle and is so blind to Tyrion’s intellectual gifts and how they can be an asset to the family that not only does Tywin’s treatment of Tyrion completely contradict his family philosophy, but he hurts his family by wasting Tyrion’s talent. If Tywin had protected Tyrion and nurtured his talents, and demand that Cersei and other members of the small council and great families treat him well too, he would not have made an unnecessary enemy of his own son, and he would have cultivated an invaluable asset to preserving the Lannister’s power and legacy. But Tywin can not reconcile his son’s dwarfism with all of Tyrion’s substantive gifts, like his mind, his heart and his character. We don’t know what the future holds for the Lannisters in this season, but it’s entirely possible the Lannister line dies out in part because though Tywin excelled as a lord, as a hand of the king and as a soldier, he utterly failed as a father to see and truly appreciate his son’s obvious and substantial virtues.
Know When To Ignore Advice
The world is full of good advice, and excellent advisors. But even outstanding advisors have flaws, and at times can be are wrong. Part of being a great leader is to know when to break with your advisors and follow your instincts. In season seven episode two, Lady Olenna Tyrell travels to Dragonstone to meet Danerys Targereyn. After conferring with the allies together, Daenerys asks to speak to Olenna alone, and she promises Cersei will “pay for what she’s done,” and peace will be restored to Westeros. Lady Olenna Tyrell asks if Daenerys really believes that there was peace in Westeros under her father, grandfather or great grandfather. “Peace never lasts my dear. Will you take a bit of advice from an old woman? He’s a clever man your hand. I’ve known a great many clever men, I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”