The Middle East and ‘Game of Thrones’

**Spoilers for both the books and the TV Series ahead (but, who are we kidding? You’ve already binge-watched the five HBO seasons several times, haven’t you?)**
 
George R.R. Martin’s world appeals to all, especially those interested in the intricacies of power and politics. Discussions on who should rule (the wealthy, the many or the righteous?) and power permeate Martin’s writings in A Song of Ice and Fire and in the HBO show Game of Thrones. For International Relations nerds like myself the political intrigue, the backstabbing, the senseless violence, and the wars seem oddly familiar. The brutal, multi-polar world of Westeros is very similar to today’s Middle East.
 
The beginning of season six of Game of Thrones is still more than half a year away, and God only knows when The Winds of Winter will come out. So for now, I’ve compiled a comparison of the major players in Westeros and the Middle East.
 
Remember, dear reader, in Game of Thrones you either win or you die.

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House Lannister – Iran
Led from the background by the all powerful, cunning Tywin Lannister (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), the Lannisters have shaped Westerosi politics for better and for worse. With some idiotic leaders fond of grand, over-the top speeches in their ranks like Cersei Lannister (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), and other more capable ones like Kevan Lannister  (Hassan Rouhani) or Tyrion the imp (Mohammad Javad Zarif), the Lannisters will always play a pivotal role in the Westerosi balance of power.
 
Favorite quote: “A Lannister always pays his debts.”
Bonus: Ser Gregor Clegane (The Mountain, Tywin Lannister’s Mad Dog) – Hezbollah.
 
House Tyrell – Turkey
House Tyrell of Highgarden is one of the most powerful (if not the most powerful) of the great houses in Westeros. Recently named lord paramount of the Reach, House Tyrell are viewed as up-jumped by other powerful houses. Turkish Prime Minister and his AKP party face similar dilemmas as the Tyrells, often having to take measures within Turkey to secure their grip on power. The Tyrells, much like the AKP party, have faced challenges inside their lands from more established political forces like House Tarly and the People’s Democratic Party of Turkey, respectively. Nevertheless, a series of changing alliances during the conflict has guaranteed Turkey’s interest in the region. Much like the Tyrells, Turkey understands the power of conflicting alliances, even with unpleasant actors, to secure their primary interests.
 
House Targaryen – Russia
Much like Daenerys (Dany) Targaryen, Vladimir Putin has restored the prestige and power of an ancient empire (the USSR) after its fall from grace. Beloved by their people, with a powerful army at their command and with the aid of three dragons (the Westerosi equivalent to nukes), Dany and Putin have largely remained on the sidelines of the conflict, focusing on side ventures in Mereen and Ukraine. However, their main aim remains the Iron Throne.
 
Favourite quote: “I am not going to stop the wheel, I am going to break the wheel” – Dany Targaryen.
 
House Dorne – Israel
Despite their paramount role in Westeros, House Dorne has managed to largely stay out of the conflict. Much like Israel, the key to understanding Dornish foreign policy, at least in the Game of Thrones TV series, is analysing the internal struggles between doves (like prince Doran Martel) and hawks (Ellara Sand and the Sand Snakes). At the end of season 5, it is implied that Dorne will be dragged in to the conflict. Will Israel hold out, or will their hand be forced to intervene as well?
 
Bonus: Oberyn Martell as Mista’arvim units.
 
House Bolton – Saudi Arabia
Notorious for their brutal tactics like flailing their prisoners alive and displaying them, which their allies don’t seem to mind, the Boltons are masterful at playing both sides of the conflict in order to further their ends. Similarly, the Saudi’s are ambivalent on ISIS, sometimes accused of sponsoring radical Islamism, whilst remaining the US’s key ally in the region.
 
House Baratheon of Dragon Stone – The US
Through lying, deceit and some blood magic, an uncharismatic man like Stannis Baratheon took one of the largest forces in Westeros to war. Twice. Now, I am not accusing George W. Bush of using shadow assassins or torturing his enemies as an offering to the lord of light. However, the similarities between Stannis and Bush are many. Reluctant leaders, both were forced by outside events to take their vast armies to war. Finally, both met defeat at the hands of their enemies. The future role of house Baratheon in Westeros was left unclear in the HBO show and so is that of the US in the Middle East today.
 
Favourite quote: “We march to victory or we march to defeat. But we go forward” – Stannis Baratheon.
Bonus: Lady Melisandre, the red priestess from Asshai – Dick Cheney
 
House Baratheon of King’s Landing – The Syrian Regime
Heir to his father’s throne, Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule has greatly damaged the country. Like Jeoffrey Baratheon, Assad has brought terror to the region, committing countless heinous crimes against civilians. Their brutal and near-sighted actions have destroyed many lives and will take years to recover from.
 
House Frey – Egypt
Unreliable allies, the Freys have built up their wealth thanks to controlling the strategic Twins crossing. In the book series, Frey men are facing relentless attacks by the Brotherhood without Banners under the command of Lady Stoneheart. Lady Stoneheart was, if you will, a direct consequence of Walden Frey’s actions at the Red Wedding against the Tullys and the Starks. Egypt faces a similar backlash in the Sinnai after the military government’s harsh stand.
 
Favourite quote: “It’s, kof, the pie, noth- kof, pie. I, kof, I can’t, kof kof kof kof…” – Jeoffrey chocking during the purple wedding (Not a real quote, but wasn’t that moment ever so satisfying?)
 
House Stark – The Kurds
The most capable, underestimated fighting force in the Middle East carries the sense of romantic nationalism and fierce independence of House Stark of Winterfell during the War of Five Kings (The King in the North!). Unfortunately, the Kurds have met the same end as the young wolf did. Betrayed by their American and the Turkish allies, the Kurds have faced mounting pressure in the battlefield from all sides. However, don’t count the Kurds, or the Starks for that matter, out of the picture yet.
 
Favourite quote: “The North remembers.”
 
House Greyjoy – ISIS
ISIS’ radical approach to war and obsession with establishing an independent caliphate should resonate in the Iron Islands. Raid, pillage, slaughter and rape are the war strategies of the Iron Born and ISIS. Extremely hardened and experienced fighters, the Greyjoys currently control vast swaps of land in the North and in the Reach, where they enforce their radical worldview and traditions, to the horror of the common folk.
 
Favorite quote: “What is dead may never die, but rises again stronger.”
 
House Tully – Iraq
Like the Iraq regime after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, invaders and outlaws overrun House Tully’s lands. Most of the Tully forces are howled up in Riverrun, their main keep, unable and incapable of putting up a strong challenge.
 
Favourite quote: Edmure Tully’s horrible aim, similar to that of the Iraqi armed forces fighting ISIS.
 
The Night’s Watch – The UN
High-minded oaths, pledges about honour and chivalrous rhetoric might sound nice and valiant, but they don’t seem to have a place in the region. Despite their efforts, Jon Snow and the UN have not done much to prevent war from ravaging whole regions. Also, both have a serious sexual assault problem in their ranks.
 
Favourite quote: “You know nothing Jon Snow.”
Bonus: Iron Bank of Bravos – China.

 

 
 
Christian Medina Ramirez is a Master of Arts candidate at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Ottawa. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and did his undergraduate degree in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Waterloo, Canada.
 
Featured Photo from Flickr.
 

 

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