There’s this show on HBO called Game of Thrones. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s great (as is the book series it’s based on, A Song of Ice and Fire.) This post will be talking plot points from the show (but no spoilers from book materials that the show hasn’t covered yet.) If you’re not up on the show, it’s up to you if you want to read the following article. Consider this your warning.
In Season One of Game of Thrones, Lord Eddard Stark brings to the court the recently deceased King Robert Baratheon’s last written directive granting Ned the regency until Robert’s heir comes of age. This document is presented to Queen Cersei.
Cersei: Is this meant to be your shield, Lord Stark? *rips paper*
Ned: Hmmm, maybe I should have played rock instead…
Anyone not familiar with the rules of Rochambeau? (Sometimes spelled Ro-sham-bo.) Rock-Paper-Scissors?
You can find full details here, but Rock-Paper-Scissors basically defines a circular set of states that trump one of the others, and is vulnerable to the third.
Rock defeats Scissors (by smashing it apart.)
Scissors defeats Paper (by cutting it.)
Paper defeats Rock (by… uh, by… “covering” it? Look, I’ve never been a fan of that explanation. But it doesn’t have to make sense to be understood. Let’s just say the paper is immune to the rock or whatever. After all, Cersei refers to Ned’s paper as a shield.)
And this relates to Game of Thrones how???
Okay, okay. In my opinion, there’s a Rock Paper Scissors situation going on in Westeros. I’ll get to that in a moment.
When two people are playing Rochambeau, there are only two outcomes: someone wins, or there’s a tie because both players did the same move: two papers, or two rocks. Etc.
When more than two people are playing, it’s unlikely that there will be a tie where all players make the same move, but it’s likely that there will be a different type of tie where all three elements are in play, providing no clear winner.
But what if for some reason, some of the players could delay their move? Particularly if they were limited in what they could play.
Player One: Rock.
Player Two: Paper.
Player One: Grrr. Okay, we’ll go again. Rock.
Player Two: Paper. Look, I know all you have is Rock, so I’m keeping Paper up. It’s like a big paper wall, 700 feet high, stretching all the way across the continent. So there’s no need for you to even play. I win.
Player Three: Can I play? Scissors!
Player Two: Crap. I’m dead.
Player One: So you’re out?
Player Two: Yup.
Player One: ROCK! Rock smashes Scissors! I win!
Player Three: What?
Player Two: You dumbass.
In my opinion, this describes the long standing conflict between the Others in the Far North, the northmen who protect the realm, and the South. The nice, warm, cozy summery south.
Time For a Long Setup, and Weak Analogies
Beyond the Wall in Westeros lies the uncivilized domain of the Wildlings, but also the lands of the chilly inhuman Others, usually referred to on the show as the White Walkers. We don’t know much about them, but they appear to be hostile and are becoming more active.
According to adorable historian Old Nan, the Others have attacked Westeros during particularly bad winters in ages past. (When Old Nan was known as Young Hottie Nan.)
Thousands of years ago, there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles same as the shepherds in their huts. And women smothered their babies rather than see them starve. And wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks.
In that darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders as big as hounds!
Heroes banded together and defeated the Others, sending them back to the North. And as a protective measure, the Wall was constructed to prevent incursions of the supernatural boreal menace. The Night’s Watch, a monastic order of warriors, was formed to man the Wall and prepare to defend the realm.
The Night’s Watch is in many ways dependent on the South, for supplies and manpower. The Night’s Watch swore to have no invested interest in the political affairs of the realm, and in some ways was vulnerable to the realm. The fortresses that dotted the length of the Wall were not fortified, save for the giant Wall of ice on their northern exposure. Should armies from the south decide to take these castles for some reason, there would be little possible resistance.
Over the years, the perceived threat from the uttermost north has dwindled. People no longer believe the old stories, and the Wall is not manned by brave volunteers in a war between humanity and inhumans, but is used as a prison, keeping out ragged bands of raiders.
The south has effectively “cut off” real support to the Night’s Watch. Okay, I’m stretching the actual scissors analogy a bit there, but I just wanted to set up the players.
Let’s Get More Personal
It’s always better to put some faces on these abstract situations.
We’ve already labeled the Others as the Rock that’s threatening Westeros. It’s a long, patient threat that can afford to wait. Wait as long as necessary.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to cast Ned Stark in the role as Paper, the Shield that intercepts the Rock. He’s a supporter of the Night’s Watch (his brother is the lead ranger and Ned encourages Jon Snow to join the Crows.) Whether Ned believes that the Others are real or not is not extremely important. He’s a believer in the traditions that exist to defend against the Others, to prepare for and survive the Winter.
Winter is Coming
When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths.
Ned is a big picture guy, and is given to strategic thinking against the long-term threat. He puts his faith in doing what’s right, and hopes that others do the same, regardless if he expects them to.
Unfortunately, when ordered to come south by the King to serve as Robert’s Hand, he was forced into a more tactical arena, under the influence of this guy.
Littlefinger is the Scissors. Or the knife in the back. The knife that cuts the straps of the Shield.
Littlefinger is given proper respects for his cunning and strategic manipulation. But it’s a short-term strategy, if we measure against the time-scale of the Others.
Based on his conversations with Varys and Sansa, Baelish is all about shaking things up while being in a position to take advantage. This might benefit Littlefinger in the immediate, but can’t be good for anyone in the long run.
If Scissors never notices the threat of the Rock, it might seem like a good move to take out Paper. Until the Rock comes.
One Rock Beats Two Scissors
It’s an even more dire situation in the North, after the betrayal of Robb Stark at the Twins.
With Roose Bolton now the Warden of the North, with Winterfell under the Flayed Man’s banner, it seems apt to say the Scissors is now in control south of the Wall, making things even easier for Rock when it opts to play.
Not Just the Game of Thrones
Cersei is known for describing the politics of ruling as a rather bleak situation, something like the ultimate Zero-Sum Game. But the game of who is ruling from King’s Landing is not as important as the bigger game between the far north, the north, and the south.
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.
The key is not to play. And to prepare for Winter. Keep Paper up. Don’t play the Scissors. (I’m looking at you, Littlefinger.)
Shouldn’t Dragons be in this Mix?
Well, yes. Typically Rochambeau is a three element game, with each element trumping one and being trumped by the other. In recent memory (and popularized on the CBS show The Big Bang Theory) there’s a variant of the game where there are five elements: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. I can’t remember the details, but each element trumps two other elements, and is trumped by two. This variation does provide an interesting level of complexity and unpredictability in game-play.
Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons are certainly an element to be dealt with, since should she decide to invade Westeros, it’ll be a dramatic change in the political status quo.
Will the invasion weaken the realm and play unknowningly into the hands of the Others? Or will dragons be effective in combating the icy supernatural threat? Or will the dragons be an even worse threat to the realm?
The Others: Dragons? Lets wait five more winters. We’ve got time. Our undead legions aren’t getting any deader.
Will Dany be betrayed in a threacherous Scissors-inspired move? Who will she be more mad at? Starks or Lannisters? (The House of the Usurper’s Wolf or the House of the Kingslayer?)
Luckily, we’re almost to Season 5, and the games will begin again. Hopefully Littlefinger won’t screw everything up. As one of my gaming buddies would often say…
If you can’t win, don’t lose.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there. (Well, only to the stuff that I wrote. Not to any of the quotes, obviously.)
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved