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Born to Rule

As season 6 of Game of Thrones nears its halfway point, the distinction between those destined to lead and those qualified to lead is becoming the central theme. “Book of the Dead” contains numerous examples of this contrast, but none is clearer than the Danaerys/Tyrion dichotomy. Danaerys is capable of seizing power over large groups of people in a short period of time by virtue of her birthright and its accompanying magic powers: she commands flying super weapons and is able to walk unscathed through fire. Tyrion, on the other hand, can maintain power through the use of his intellect and knowledge, both of which he cultivated at some effort. Sure, he was born to the richest family in Westeros, but his physical deformity made it so that he has to work five times as hard as any other Lannister to make that advantage count for something.

An unfortunate side effect of the Vaes Detour is that, despite regaining agency over her own story, Danaerys learns nothing. Just as when she seized the Unsullied from their masters by vicious murder, so too does she gain the loyalty of all Dothraki by killing powerful men. She slaughters her way to power more than any other single character, all the while gaining the title “Liberator” because she does so in the name of freedom. This part of her storyline functions as a commentary on how revolutions are actually carried out, showing that the reality of overthrowing regimes is bloody no matter how oppressive those rulers might be. But it always works out for Dany in the end, who is able to turn any temporary setback situation to her advantage within an episode or two with the help of her wise, and increasing, cadre of advisors.

Importantly, the hard work of actually governing takes place outside her line-of-sight in Meereen, with Tyrion cutting an all-too-fair deal with the masters of Slaver’s Bay that will likely be broken by Dany when she arrives with her newfound army. Missandei and Grey Worm are Dany’s surrogates in Meereen, simultaneously standing by Tyrion in public while challenging him behind closed doors, because they, like Dany, cannot see the wisdom in the dwarf’s maneuvers. To them, just like to Dany, something that feels right is right, while something that feels wrong is wrong. The hope is that Dany will come to trust Tyrion and that they will be able to rule together, with her as Queen and him as the Hand, or rather, she as the Heart and he as the Brain, and the dragons, whose absence is as conspicuous as ever, as the all-too-capable swords of the realm.

As a rule, the qualities that allow one to seize power seems to negate the ability to wield it in Martinverse (remember King Robert’s conundrum?). Take another pair from this episode, Littlefinger and Robin Arryn. Robin was born to rule and attains ultimate power over the Lords of the Vale simply by his mother’s death, while Littlefinger has struggled all his life to achieve any position of influence at all. Their pairing, as shown in “Book of the Dead,” is the Platonic ideal of the ruler/advisor relationship: the ruler enjoys the fruits of power while the advisor makes all the decisions, and both benefit in their own way. In Robin, Littlefinger has found the perfect vessel for his machinations, a child with ultimate power who is as easily manipulated as he is distracted by shiny objects. Unlike the Meereenese arrangement, where Dany conquers and Tyrion consolidates in her wake, Robin’s wishes are barely taken into account, which is fine with Littlefinger.

Things are more complicated in King’s Landing. The power of the Iron Throne is sought by multiple factions both within and without The Red Keep, and King Tommen is actually closer than any other ruler to containing both the power and strength of character to rule alone. He is somewhat vulnerable to manipulation by advisors and his mother but has a moral streak that keeps them all partially in check, to the point that Cersei is forced to go behind his back to achieve her ends. The most interesting aspect of this storyline to me is that Cersei was ultimately able to win Kevan Lannister and The Queen of Thorns over to her side by leveraging their children, which has ever been Cersei’s own (and only) weakness. Though this alliance is likely a temporary one, the fact that all of the parents will come together for the sakes of their children is a fascinating twist on the usual series of power plays made by the pseudo-queens of King's Landing.

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By far the most dramatic character arc in the show thus far has been that of Sansa Stark. From eager Princess-to-be to Benedict Arnold (she was directly responsible for her father’s death, after all) to prisoner and multiple rape victim, Sansa has undergone a series of traumas and made a number of mistakes that ultimately resulted in her being one of the strongest characters in the show, both narratively and personality-wise. Her taking the letter from Jon and reading Ramsay's vilest threats out loud was a true moment of triumph. At this point she is the only Stark who is interested in being a Stark and carrying on that legacy, but she does so with her eyes open to the realities of the situation in a way that even her father did not. Her bravery is kindled by her reunion with Jon: seeing him alive and well (and, not coincidentally, with 2,000 men ready to pledge their swords to her cause) was the final step in her journey towards reclaiming not only Winterfell but her identity. She has blossomed into a conquerer, and now that she has some modicum of power, she has entered the game of thrones.

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