Being good does not get you to the top. But neither does pure evil. What does it take to run the Seven Kingdoms?
Read Part I here .
Indeed, the baddies of “Game of Thrones” have something to teach the “heroes”. Sansa Stark, once the show’s naïf, has become the show’s aspiring Machiavelli, a transformation borne from her suffering at the hands of people like Cersei, from whom she learned much. To her frustration, Jon is still making what he thinks are the “right” decisions with insufficient regard for how much they may alienate his own people, appearing not to have learned much from his first death. Jon is unlikely to die again, but will his courage to make unpopular choices be his glory, or his undoing ? Conversely, Littlefinger’s incessant plotting, deal-making and deal-breaking, while fiendishly clever, seems likely to alienate him in the end from everybody, leaving him with no friends. What lessons for Sansa in this? Her hard-earned strategic wisdom is admirable, but will she team up with the sinister Littlefinger against her own half-brother (well, cousin, but she does not yet know that)? Or will she manage to play Littlefinger at his own game and double-cross him at the perfect moment? If she does, will that mean she is playing the game of thrones the right way? Or will it mean that she has become another Cersei? If so, has she won, or lost?
It is clear that just as “Game of Thrones” does not reward good for good’s sake, it also does not reward evil for evil’s sake. King Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton and Walder Frey have all met grisly demises. Cersei seems certain to die soon as well, whether at her brother’s (remaining) hand or at Arya’s. Cersei famously told Ned Stark in the show’s first season, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” She echoed that sentiment in the premiere episode of this seventh season. But that does not mean that the evil path to victory is the right one, or that a pure path is either.
The lesson of “Game of Thrones” is that although it can be stupid to be good, like Ned Stark, that doesn’t have to be the case. After all, good rulers may make fewer enemies, and forge stronger alliances. But as Sansa warns Jon in this season’s premiere, one must go about things intelligently. That means being ruthless and unsentimental when necessary, not standing rigidly on principle or tradition. “Game of Thrones” definitely has a moral compass: it demands flexibility, not stubbornness, cunning rather than guilelessness. Divining the show’s true magnetic north will be one of the greatest rewards of watching it.