Game of Thrones’ hook is its realism. Sure, this is a show about dragons and witches and giants and ice zombies set in a world where the seasons might last for decades. But the story’s verisimilitude is what makes it so addictive.
A prime example from last night’s episode: the importance of advisers. In many fantasy stories, being good at heart is the only criterion a ruler needs to be a bomb-ass king or queen. In Thrones, a leader’s power is only as effective as the quality of their counselors and their willingness to listen. President Obama is a huge fan of the show, and I bet this focus on advisers is a big reason why.
Daenerys’s ability to call on Ser Jorah of the Friendzone, Missandei, Ser Barristan (RIP), and others allowed her to escape the desolate Red Waste, raise an army, and conquer Meereen. With Tyrion Lannister and Varys in the fold, Dany now has an advisory bench capable of holding things together while she’s hanging out in the plains.
Back in Season 2, all that stood between King’s Landing and the sack was Tyrion acting in his capacity as King’s Hand to teen tyrant Joffrey Baratheon. Competency is the one trait that Tyrion inherited from Tywin Lannister, arguably the greatest bureaucrat in Westerosi history. Now, without their patriarch’s guidance, the Lannisters have been locked in an extended dive down the Red Keep’s privy, a direct result of Cersei stocking the small council with sycophants, dimwits, and Mace Tyrell, who magnificently straddles both descriptions.
Everyone else stays losing. Stannis’s fatal mistake was to break the Young Metro rule, which, for our purposes, I will call the “If Ser Davos don’t trust you” rule. Jon got his ass shanked not long after sending Sam on a slow boat to Oldtown. Eddard Stark was always a bit of a lone wolf, and ended up a wall ornament after ignoring trenchant warnings from Renly Baratheon. Robb was a dope field commander whose best counselor was arguably his mother, Catelyn. The best thing you could say about Cat’s advice was that it was uniformly terrible, but less damaging than the time she went behind Robb’s back to release Jaime Lannister.
Remember, kids, listen to your small council.
This piece originally appeared in the April 25, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.