As a TV show binge-watcher and a professional writer, I am always looking for social themes I can take from popular shows and inject into my writing. While some shows are easier to use than others, Game of Thrones continually provides ideas that are applicable to the ongoing battle of the individual versus the state.
Fear of the unknown is one of the greatest motivators of mankind.
The most recent episode was, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest of the entire series. Not only were important storylines moved forward in ways that were aligned with my own hopes and expectations, but once again there was a lesson to be learned from the wise words of the characters, even if they themselves are far from being pure of heart.
“Chaos is a ladder,” the young man formerly known as Bran Stark and now known as “the three-eyed raven,” told the always ominous looking “Littlefinger.” Fans of the show will remember that this was not the first time we had heard this expression. Several years earlier, in the third season of the series, Littlefinger himself uses the phrase in conversation:
“Chaos isn’t a pit, chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."
The Climb Is All There Is
While one could easily spend an entire essay diving into this quote and how it relates solely to Littlefinger and his personal ambitions, the use of catastrophe to reach one's own goals is common to just about every character on the show.
The real quest is to see who can most effectively use “crises” to their advantage.
Each time one suspects that their power is slipping, “chaos” is instigated or at the very least manipulated and the kingdoms are destabilized, making the people rely more on their government for protection.
Cersei, for example, blew up the Great Sept on the day of her own trial, killing many innocent bystanders, including her own people, in the process. Why? Well, aside from the fact that Cersei is pure evil, she knew that through chaos, her power could be maintained and leveraged over the people. Conflict always has been and always will be used to force compliance from the masses because fear of the unknown is one of the greatest motivators of mankind.
Whether the people fear the kingdom’s enemy or fear the relentlessness of Cersei herself, they are willing to put their doubts aside and comply so long as they believe this will bring about the most safety for all involved.
Likewise, Daenerys, whose intentions are at least slightly more noble than Cersei’s has also fallen victim to the same line of thinking. There is no conflict quite as appalling as slavery and Dany has wasted no time using this to her own benefit.
Walking into powerful cities with fearless leaders, Dany creates chaos by instigating slave uprisings. The slaves themselves are more than happy to be liberated, but these feelings of freedom are short-lived. As soon as the battle is over and her enemies are defeated, Dany reminds the “freed” slaves that they are now forever indebted to her and must follow her own bidding.
By making the enslaved population aware of their situation and then encouraging an armed rebellion, Dany need only sit back and wait for the chaos to unfold before asserting her power over the people. And whether she knows it or not, this is not all that different from Cersei’s willingness to exploit her own people to make a political statement.
And while the rest of the kingdom’s main players continue their full-fledged war amongst each other, Littlefinger has brilliantly used the conflict to his own ends, waiting in the wings to assume power when the moment is right, and the chaos has left all his competitors dead in their tracks. In fact, at this point in the series, the real quest is to see who can most effectively use “crises” to their advantage.
But whereas Cersei, Dany, and the others are all keen on using chaos as a means to achieve an end, Littlefinger seems to actually enjoy the chaos and be conscious of his exploitation of it. Lacking the power and prestige of the others, Littlefinger is more calculated about his ascent to power. He has no armies to control or people to command, so he serves as a “right-hand man” to whichever house fits his needs at a given time, which, due to his creepy obsession with Sansa, just happens to be the House of Stark.
All these factors considered, it makes sense why Littlefinger was once called, “the most dangerous man in Westeros.” After all, there is nothing more terrifying than an individual obsessed with gaining power. Once control has become the ultimate motivator, there is little a person won’t do to obtain it.
Individuals are not responsible for starting wars or creating chaos with other nations.
Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste
Stepping away from Westeros and into the real world, it becomes apparent that governments of all shapes and sizes have utilized crises to stay in control. While our real life politicians may not go as far as bombing courthouses on the day of their trials, they too are guilty of this same phenomenon.
In 2008, when Rahm Emanuel uttered the immortal words, “You never want a serious crisis go to waste,” on live TV, the American public was flabbergasted. This shock wasn’t because the people were unaware that politicians often manipulate situations to their own benefit, it was because most politicians usually weren’t arrogant enough to boast about it on live television.
He continued, “It’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” This interview was not conducted in a fictional kingdom or scripted by professional writers to help viewers understand the evils of governments. No, this was an actual member of a presidential administration stating that yes, governments do exploit instances of conflict in order to further their own agendas. It wasn’t even worth hiding anymore.
Whether by war or some other catastrophic or potentially catastrophic incident, masses of people somehow always seem to fall victim to this belief that without governments, crises and chaos would rule our life, rather than realizing that the opposite is true.
Individuals are not responsible for starting wars or creating chaos with other nations. In fact, by the dictates of our own US Constitution, they are forbidden from doing so. Yet, as soon as political motives are imagined, individuals, unrelated to the conflict, are viewed as pawns whose sole value rests on the fact that the “kingdom” or “administration” sees them as dispensable.
Whether in Westeros or the US, so long as there are governments there will be those willing to create or exploit chaos to either gain power or maintain it.