Lessons in Pragmatism from Game of Thrones

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WARNING: There are some spoilers ahead. You might want to watch all episodes before reading this. Both, because you won’t hate me, and because Season 4 was simply spectacular.

There’s a masochistic nature to watching Game of Thrones. A part of us now is afraid of being too invested in a character for fear of that person dying anytime soon. The constant killing of once-believed main, good, unmurderable characters has left some of us afraid of committing to new ones.

The story of Tyrion obsessively trying to comprehend his beetle-killing cousin on ‘The Mountain and the Viper’ was one of the most compelling dialogue pieces Game of Thrones has seen. That scene and the following exemplified fight between Oberyn and Ser Gregor also re-taught the lesson we’ve learned too many times during the four seasons of this show: You need to be pragmatic; if you try to be the only honorable one, you’re going to die very soon.

Lessons in Pragmatism from Game of Thrones

Take Oberyn’s approach as an example. Here’s this new awesome character; a fun-loving, pansexual prince who came to battle as our – and especially Tyrion’s – savior. He brought with him all his longing for justice, confidence, style, flair, and above all, his best Inigo Montoya impersonation. But, as has been proven by any terrible movie villain in history, you need to quit stalling and finish the job, dude! If you have a shot at killing the enemy that would otherwise surely pop your brain out like a zit, for heaven’s sake, take it!


This is also the reason I’ve never liked the Starks all that much. While Ned was this amazing “fair” warrior, he was also simply not equipped to handle power and its dangerous intricacies and, worst of all, raised his kids under this unreal idealistic stance that has been getting them killed and/or scarred for life.

Take the Lannisters, on the other hand. While their motives and actions are often highly questionable, there’s a humanity that most of us can truly empathize with. The GoT world is a pretty damn scary one, and only people with that survival instinct can make it through it. I’m not saying Tywin did a good parenting job – he’s been a truly horrible dad; but I am saying that at least he raised no fools, and all of them have (barely, but still) managed to sail the dangerous waters of power that came with their family name.

Lessons in Pragmatism from Game of Thrones

The best example of these tough lessons is with the surviving Stark girls. Arya was raised under the “honorable” ideals of her father, only to see the cold, hard truth showing her ugly head after countless blows. Her time with The Hound was brief, but full of life lessons. A traditional Stark approach will get you beheaded for doing the right thing, or stabbed to death on your wedding day. If you show any side of honorable vulnerability in Westeros, you simply won’t make it through another season. But as Sansa has finally learned after a few rough years in King’s Landing, a more savvy approach and associating with known evils instead of the unknown pastures you can’t control, will get you a lot farther than what the expected “right thing to do” might.

I’ve loved debating with my friends over who deserves what, rooting for Daenerys’ and Arya’s dreams of revenge and getting weirded out about my own thirst for blood, or sometimes simply saying out loud stuff like, “You know, I think having a beer with Tyrion and Bronn would be pretty fun. I honestly think they’d like me.”

Lessons in Pragmatism from Game of Thrones

But even when rooting for someone, I feel like I need to be careful. I try not to get attached now, because the possibility of losing them is imminent. I find that I choose them a bit more wisely now. You have to know the characters and their nature really well.

Want an example? Tyrion just picked up that crossbow in the finale, and while Tywin disowned him after the first arrow, he didn’t even flinch while staring patricide right in the eyes and said, “I am still your son”, before putting another arrow through his old man’s cold heart.

See? A Lannister always pays his debts.

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