• The Nonsensical Game of Thrones


    Spoiler alert: This post might spoil your ability to enjoy lazy, shallow teleplay writing. Oh, and plot points too, I guess.

    Game of Thrones is one of the best dramas on television, which is a bit like being the very best of all prizes found at the bottom of a cereal box. While it can be pandering, I like the grit. The viewer is unshielded from more-authentic human language, violence, and bodies. This isn’t much, really, but it’s a far sight better than faux-reality shows that are more manicured than a miniature golf green or the raucous babble of a sitcom laugh track frenzied for no discernible reason. Still, taken on its own, it is pop fare produced for an assumed 8th grade-grade audience without burden of understanding of psychology, anthropology, history, combat, or war. Internal coherence is also not much of an apparent concern.

    Caveats: This is by no means exhaustive, just a few of the more obnoxious bits. Also this is about the television series, not the books. Those are different products, similar but different universes. Please do not try to correct me using anything from the books, this is not about them.

    Almost every single character is too dumb to live

    And indeed, they usually walk right into their misery or doom. It’s hard to feel bad for these characters.

    Ned Stark knew the Lannisters for decades without ever hearing the slightest whisper of the depth of their treachery. He acts as if he just met them all yesterday. As he is set up for his fall almost everyone around him (e.g. Littlefinger, Cersei) lies to him and plays him for a fool, even Joffrey at the very end. He believes it every time, or at least fails to sensibly respond.

    Sansa Stark watches young Joffrey sadistically assault a defenseless boy (ultimately leading to his death) and try to kill her sister —for no reason. She not only refuses to speak this truth later, she defends Joffrey, never considering that his demonic attention might turn toward her.

    Cersei & Jamie Lannister, having just enacted a plot to kill The Hand (edit: or at least aware it exists and benefits them, see comments) to eventually get at the King, decide that a road trip far away from their home turf is a good time for a roll in the hay. The discovery of their affair would ruin their lives entirely: it could establish Joffrey is probably not heir to the throne, it would be powerful evidence of the conspiracy against the king, it would get Jamie and/or Cersei executed.
    Like Sansa, the otherwise crafty Cersei never considers maybe Joffrey’s kinghood is a ticket to total perdition, until he’s already king.

    Joffrey is sadistic, sure, but rather than confining his evil to private acts, he indulges himself by insulting everyone and obnoxiously lording his power and greatness over his own subjects. It never occurs to him that fomenting enemies among virtually every group and in every direction might be a bad idea. True, he is king, but so was the Mad King right before his own family off’d him, as Joffrey knows well.

    Jon Snow really does know nothing. He trusts red and the sworn-enemy wildlings when he has no reason to; they do they same. I am not sure which are dumber or more out-of-character in a bleak, brutal world where trust is rare and hard-won.

    Daenerys, mother of idiocy. Most of her choices are articulated as an 8-year-old might. She almost immediately throws her weight around as queen, even without Khal to legitimate her position. These are people who kill each other for any reason or no reason, and she’s a Janey-come-lately whose claim to rule is a brief marriage with the dead King. Her dragons are stolen and her life imperiled (they don’t kill her… why?) when she later walks in to the most obvious of traps.

    Exceptions (so far): Arya, Tyrion.

    The Night’s Watch

    The Watch is painted as some sort of noble cause complete with oath and flags, and yet is primarily stocked with bastards, criminals, and slaves forced to serve under penalty of death.

    1. It makes no sense to force somebody to take an oath. The whole point of an oath is that someone voluntarily promises to do something, and that their word means something.

    2. There’s no honor or status serving in a force of murderers, thieves, rapists, et c. It doesn’t matter if it used to be different.

    3. This would be the worst army ever, as its members would kill and steal from each other before probably just leaving anyway because being a fugitive sounds better than a life of celibate servitude with violent criminals. Also, since the Wall is highly isolated, there’s no chance word of your fugitive status would get to the deeper south any time soon, or even that the lords or would-be kings of those regions even care about the business of the Night’s Watch to begin with.

    4. Why doesn’t the Iron Throne see to the manning of the Wall, if it’s important? The King is the “Protector of the Realm” but is unconcerned. If there’s no threat, then why not just moth-ball the fortress and invest in the professional army instead?

    5. Why do they have to be celibate? Seems like a big problem at the Night’s Watch is dwindling numbers. Not being celibate is a great way to get higher numbers in a few years.

    The Horse Lords

    Arguably the most racist and ignorant part of Game of Thrones. The horse lord people are a modern warming over of “violent savage” tropes mixed with bits from Attila the Hun and the like. The problem is that empire-building Huns aren’t much like indigenous tribal peoples and GoT mixes and matches bits of each playing anthropological Mr. Potato Head.

    1. If weddings average at least two deaths (“less than 3 deaths at a Dothraki wedding is considered a dull affair”), this would mean each generation would annihilate itself and the society would implode. Even if the average is much less than two, remember there are premature deaths for many other reasons than weddings. This makes no sense at all.

    2. Those common party-related deaths would incense family members into blood feuds which would cost many more lives and cause much chaos. State-like laws and limits on the use of violence prevent this in more orderly societies, but there are no such laws among the Dothraki, the murders receive only shrugged shoulders or applause.

    3. The Dothraki are raiders who leave behind a sick or wounded leader who can’t ride a horse. Why would this be true? Are there no carts? If a thousand of Drogo’s riders went to do some raiding, they would ride out on horseback with weapons and water. Then they’d score whatever loot they were after and put it… where? The carts they don’t have? If they do have carts, then a leader could ride in it instead. This would also make a lot more sense because riding a horse is exhausting, and raiding would work much better if the raiders weren’t all exhausted. Moreover, in a battle of 1,000+ men the leader’s value is not swinging a sword, it’s in his tactical command skill and experience. The ancient, real, horse lords knew this. Cross-reference under “too dumb to live”.

    The Iron Bank

    1. How can a sophisticated financial institution exist in a world without any unified laws or protections?

    2. Why doesn’t anyone, including the Iron Throne who is indebted to it, not simply take control of it? If it is so fabulously wealthy, it would be a magnet for any despot with an army.

    3. Such a large institution needs highly trained, educated accountants, analysts and so on. Where are these people coming from? The college that doesn’t exist? Has the Iron Campus not been introduced yet? I can’t wait to see the Iron Beer Pong Tournaments.

    4. Everyone seems to respect its might, but why? Nothing has been said of it having an army, just a city guard. What will they do if the Iron Throne refuses to pay its debts? Invade Westeros? Wouldn’t that cost more money than they are due? Maybe they would sever relations with the throne, but wouldn’t that make their credit worthless and maybe provoke expensive, destructive war?


    The Iron Throne learns the dragons are back and commanded by an enemy who aims to conquer them. At the time they learn this, Dany is relatively vulnerable and so are the baby Dragons (at least, as vulnerable as Dragons can be). Since three full size dragons sound like an impossible fight in a few years, why not send some assassins to kill one or both of them? She’s none too bright, already repeatedly taken in by strangers and allies who trick, deceive, and manipulate her. It wouldn’t be hard. Instead, the Lannister/Baratheon’s decide the smart thing to do is nothing, allowing Dany and her monsters much-needed time to grow powerful. Again, almost every single person is too dumb to live.


    There’s a pattern to most of these. It’s writing based on a superficial mish-mash of tastier bits of history, psychology, and anthropology. Most viewers will not much notice because we get drawn in by the characters and we watch to see what happens to ones we like and hate. Unlike most fantasy, Game of Thrones is not about the characters as people, but the roles that they play. That is why they come and go, live and die so easily, they don’t really matter. None of them matter. Their role in driving the narrative does. This is why the opening video is so genius. It features no people, just a gameboard and shifting patterns of flags and strengths. The people really are just game pieces that the Gods of the GoT world care nothing for.
    Maybe that’s also why the teleplay is badly flawed. Television producers wish to luxuriate over characters, even at the expense of creating a coherent world to put them in, and the source material makes it worse because the characters weren’t intrinsically important to begin with.


    Category: Critical ThinkingfeaturedFeatured InchumorNonsensicality Series

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.