Some surprisingly good lessons from Game of Thrones
For eight years, people raved about Game of Thrones. I didn’t watch one of the 73 episodes that ran from 2011 to 2019.
Swashbuckling knights, fire-breathing dragons, magical powers, witches, white walkers, and giants. Seriously?
Just before Christmas 2020, a friend insisted I watch a handful of episodes, on the promise that I’d be hooked. As we were still in the grips of the UK’s pandemic lockdown, I had little else to do over Christmas, so in I dived.
Game of Thrones was nothing like I had imagined. I binge-watched the entire series and could easily watch it all again.
Underneath the drama and special effects, it’s about surviving through the toughest of life’s struggles; learning who you are and what you’re capable of; understanding the value of loyalty; honouring your promises, and accepting that nothing is ever quite as it seems.
It’s also wildly entertaining, butt-clenchingly shocking, and makes for compelling viewing.
Game of Thrones is a feast for the mind as much as the eyes, where barely an episode goes by without imparting hard truths and wisdom about life, love, people, and survival. Not surprisingly, there’s plenty we can learn from the wisdom that courses through each series, much of which resonates with our lives and businesses in the 21st century.
I wanted to share some of this wisdom with you.
A dragon cannot be killed with fire
Imagine fire is the struggles we face in life, and the dragon is you.
Daenerys Targaryen, The Mother of Dragons, always finds a way to come out on top of even the most difficult situations. She has a unique way of surviving that mostly revolves around her unwaveringly positive mindset — she goes into every situation believing the outcome will be in her favour.
We are all strong, capable individuals in our own right. The global pandemic has proved this many times over, with millions of people finding a way to fight for survival, literally and metaphorically.
We don’t have to be beaten by the struggles we face; it is within our gift to start with a positive mindset and choose not to be defeated.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow”
We live in a world of opportunity where so much is there for us to understand and so much for us to learn about people, places, history, culture, and beliefs. Yet some people believe they already know everything they need to know.
The line, said by Ygritte: “You know nothing, Jon Snow”, was a powerful reminder that, despite his wisdom, how far he’d come in life, and everything he’d overcome and learned along the way, he knew very little about his current situation or what was to come.
It’s why the quote became one of the internet’s most popular memes; because it’s so poignant.
Don’t remain closed to learning at every opportunity, and from anyone prepared to help you.
There is no honour in tricks
Deceit and trickery are high on the agenda throughout Game of Thrones, but karma is a wonderful thing too. If it teaches us anything, it’s that wilfully deceiving others results in only short-term gains, and the constant need to look over your shoulder.
Game-players, scammers and tricksters are a drain on our energy and always out for themselves. Stay away from them.
A Lannister always pays his debts
The people to whom the Lannisters owed a debt, whether it be gold, loyalty, duty, or honour, always knew the debt would be repaid. But they were never sure if it would come with strings attached.
The Lannister’s method of doing the right thing is similar to stealing someone’s car, then making them pay for your time so you’ll return the car to them, and then expecting them to be grateful.
If you promise to repay any type of debt, just pay up and be done.
Don’t make a promise and break it. Don’t say you’ll do something for someone and let them down. Don’t make a commitment and renege on the deal. Do what you know you need to do.
Embrace your imperfections
Tyrion is a dwarf. He’s constantly referred to as ‘the imp’ or ‘the half man’, which do nothing for his self-esteem. It’s tough when you’re 1.3m tall (4’ 4” in old money) because you can’t hide your so-called imperfection.
Your only option is to embrace it.
As Tyrion explained so eloquently, “Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” Once he realised this about himself, he stopped being a self-pitying drunk and became a force to be reckoned with.
Be proud of who you are and allow no one to make you feel anything less.
Keep the best people close to you
No great leader in history has ever achieved anything by themselves.
Counsellors, advisors, cabinets, boards — whatever form they take, they are the leader’s best people because they each provide the benefit of their individual knowledge and experience.
They say that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
Surround yourself with people who are good for you. People who are smart, helpful and wise. Ditch the ones who bring you down.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger
At least according to Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher.
Arya Stark’s interpretation was: “A bruise is a lesson, and each lesson makes us stronger”, and she certainly suffered some bruises before finally becoming who she really was.
Whilst not everyone agrees with this philosophy, there’s no doubt that we all learn from what happens to us, and it’s generally the bad or tough things that change our perspective the most.
Some people still actively seek out tough life challenges, like joining the armed forces, or becoming a medical professional, or even trekking to the north pole. They believe the challenges will help them grow stronger, and that hard times act as their fuel to do or be better in the future.
Face your challenges head-on. Learn from them, and be better because of them, not despite them.
You never know what’s around the corner
If the unexpected twists and turns in Game of Thrones teach us anything, it’s that every moment of your life really does count. It’s a cliché, but it’s not.
There were so many significant characters who we all believed would go on to greater things, yet their lives were unexpectedly cut short.
Writing this now, in February 2021, it seems more poignant than ever, given how COVID-19 has ravaged our planet and torn so many lives apart.
None of us has any idea what’s around the corner, and nothing you can do will change that. Your status, position, or wealth mean nothing. Your last day on earth could be any day. Whether it’s an illness, an out-of-control bus, or just plain and simple old age that gets you in the end, nobody is immune to what might happen.
I do not mean this to be dark and foreboding. It’s a wake-up call to live your life to its fullest, whatever your circumstances, whatever your situation.
Lord Petyr Baelish was a sly, scheming, multi-faced character, and he met his maker right at the point he believed he was set for life. However, his wisdom was not lost on us when he said, “Make the most of every opportunity. The world belongs to those who dare to dream.”
To help Arya Stark face her fear of being killed, Syrio Forel, her sword fighting/dancing instructor, asked her, “What do we say to the God of death?” “Not today”. It’s trite, but it’s about your mindset, not reality.
Go places you’ve never been. Try things you’ve never tried. Meet people you don’t yet know. Love like you’ve never loved and stop worrying about anything over which you have no control.
What people think about you doesn’t matter
Tywin Lannister was famous for his hard-line, dictatorial, so-called wisdom, most of which simply justified how he always got what he wanted.
However, when he said to his son, Jaime: “A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep”, it became a phrase that many people took to heart because it was as relatable in the context of going into battle, as it is to everyday life here and now.
Many characters (not the actors) were given nicknames that described more what they were, rather than who they were, typically emphasising a perceived weakness. Yet these were all strong-minded individuals. Tyrion the dwarf, Jon the bastard, Bran the Broken, Davos the Onion Knight — all wore their supposed weakness with pride, like a badge. Fortunately, it’s a naming tradition we have long lost to the annals of history.
Stop worrying about what people think of you, just be who you are, be true to yourself and say what you mean.
What you see depends on your perspective
The multiple stories that run continually through Game of Thrones are skilfully depicted from the perspective of many characters, often at the same time.
Daenerys Targaryen knew Jaime Lannister only as the cowardly traitor who ruthlessly killed her father, the Mad King, by stabbing him in the back. Yet Cersei knew Jaime as her lover and devoted father who would do anything to protect her and their three children.
Same person. Both were true. It’s all about perspective.
Everyone has their own perspective on a situation, and they’re all equally valid. Learn to consider everyone’s perspective as it will help you better understand them by becoming more objective.
Are you brave enough to watch it?
If you can stomach watching the gritty reality of life, death, relationships, nudity, betrayal, subterfuge, and more, laid out before you in a style that leaves nothing to the imagination, then I strongly urge you to watch Game of Thrones from start to finish.
Like me, you may not be a fan of the fantasy genre, but Game of Thrones delivers these brilliant stories, gripping plots, and epic scenes in such a way that you will quickly become entwined in the people and intricate complexities of life and relationships that are as relevant today as they will ever be.