I watch the Game of Thrones for the politics, and there is a lot of political insight to admire. In anticipation of the next season that begins this Sunday, I thought I would comment on some of it.
An overarching theme is the nature of power—what is it and where does it lie. The two Kings on the Iron Throne portrayed so far—Robert Baratheon and his successor Joffrey– are not the real powers within their own kingdom. They are either insufficiently vigilant or insufficiently self-possessed to enjoy enduring authority. Even kings must exercise power through agents. Game of Thrones in large part reflects this principal-agent game and these two principals lack the self-agency to control their external agents. As Machiavelli recognized, only people of a certain character can wield power over the long term.
Mancur Olson (and Thomas Hobbes before him) understood that a stable monarchy was a great advance for liberty over warring barons, because the king has incentives to invest in the prosperity of his people so as to gain more taxes and more power rather than simply to seize the assets of his subjects. Game of Thrones vividly illustrates this truth. Once there is no agreement among the leading houses on the successor to Robert Baratheon , death and destruction reign instead. And Robert’s own displacement of his lawful predecessor, Aerys II of the House of Targaryen, weakened the royal legitimacy that his death then undoes.
The most powerful noble House in the series—the Lannisters— boasts the motto: “We always pay our debts.”