Thursday, February 1, 2018

Media Post: Game of Thrones and succession

This is Joseph


As some readers may know, the TV show game of thrones has bypassed the book series a song of ice and fire by George RR Martin.  In the process, they have also appeared to merge a number of characters together, to reduce complexity.  In the process, however, they have undermined a key piece of the entire story.

The plot that starts the whole series off is the discovery that the children of Cersei Lannister are not the real children of the king, Robert Baratheon.  As a result, they lack a blood claim to the iron throne.  In parallel, we have the story of Daenerys Targaryen who is seeking to reclaim the iron throne because she is a relative of the deposed king.  We also have a history of a rebellion where the king was overthrown and replaced by a relative (said Robert) who had a close blood claim on the throne.  Finally. there is a hidden twist where the bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon Snow, is actually the legitimate son of the Targaryen prince and has a stronger claim to the throne than Daenerys. 

So the whole plot is driven by blood claims and how they influence character's succession rights.  It is also a medieval world and not a modern one -- the king needs the support of the nobles in order to raises armies and funds.  These nobles, themselves, depend on succession for legitimacy. 

In the last season there were some questionable succession moves.  But for some of them I can justify how the claim comes into being.  Cersei Lannister is a close relative (mother) of the last king and happens to be in charge of the regency at the time.  It's not typical, but it happened with Catherine the Great (for example) where a marriage/parentage claim allowed an unexpected monarch.  Same with the Queen of Thorns -- she is at least a close relative of the last head of house Tyrell.  An odd succession choice but you can see how she could have been a compromise candidate. 

But what is going on with Ellaria Sand?  She leads a coup to kill the members of the ruling family of Dorne.  She is the illegitimate girlfriend of the brother of the previous ruler.  How does she end up in charge?  Now I could imagine a sand snake in charge -- they are also illegitimate but are at least the daughters of Oberyn Martell.  But Ellaria?

Ellaria then joins forces with Daenerys, whose only legitimate claim on the iron throne rests on blood succession.  If you take that away then you have a foreign invader pursuing a grudge against the family of people who wronged her (it is obvious that Cersei, herself, had nothing to do with Robert's Rebellion and the major rebels are all dead). 

Why would Daenerys undermine the major point in her favor (succession law) by allying with somebody who has no succession rights to her current position (inside her kingdom) and, at the very least, was suspiciously involved with the violent death of the previous ruler and heir.  I mean both were cut down along with their bodyguard -- nobody is dumb enough to think that this is an accident. 

What I think happened was that they merged Arianne Martel with Ellaria.  If Arianne did this plot then that would be different.  Without clear evidence that she was the murderer then she has the best claim to the throne (being the current heir).  Ambiguity might preserve her position (think of Edward II and Edward III) and objectors would have to act fast to gather evidence.  Nobles wouldn't see their succession rights being tainted. 

But this adaption definitely requires some more thought and should have been staged better.  Why not put Obara Sand in charge, as the closet blood relative to the now extinct house of Martell?  It might not be extinct in the books, but at least in the show that would be an easy claim to make as they killed every Martell we met.   As it is, without additional information, the succession of Ellaria Sand to the leadership of Dorne undermines the main force driving the political plot and reduces the coherence of the story.

This was not one of the changes that improved the show.   


  1. Basically every question about the show can be answered with "David and Dan are hacks."

    Why does Ramsay kill his own father in front of witnesses from House Karstark, who dgaf about patricide, and neither does House Umber? Because D&D are hacks.

    Why is Loras Tyrell reduced from a young knight who feels like he has to prove something to "the gay one"? Because D&D are hacks.

    Why does Jaime go to Dorne, but then goes to the Riverlands as in the books? Because D&D are hacks.

    Why do the Iron Islanders hold a Kingsmoot in the presence of Balon's son, who was explicitly called the heir in season 2? Because D&D are hacks.

    There is to a good approximation one change that improved the show, across the six seasons I watched: Theon's writing a letter warning Robb of the Iron Islander invasion but then burning it and deciding to go with his family's plans. Writing out Quentyn is also justifiable, but the entire Dorne plot became such a shitshow (they wrote out Arianne!) that overall it's not an improvement.

  2. Agreed, with all of the above. The Ramsey one is also a good parallel to my Dorne objection. It is true that this kind of assassination worked in Islamic and Byzantine cultures, but they were entirely predicated on having the other senior people backing you. But if you have this kind of government then the whole point of the plot is undermined.

    Same with breaking the wheel -- how is Daenerys any different in terms of pushing her claim on an unwilling populace?