If every American politician was transported to Westeros and challenged to take the Iron Throne, Hillary Clinton would be the odds-on favorite. In a world where wealthy families determine the fate of the realm through backroom deals, she’d fit right in. Unfortunately, there are several characters on Game of Thrones who haven’t learned what Hillary has: Savvy political maneuvering is the greatest weapon at any ruler’s disposal.
Last night’s episode, “Book of the Stranger,” perhaps proved this more than any in the show’s past. The people who are finding success in Westeros (and Essos) this season on Game of Thrones are not the sword-wielding warriors, but rather the shrewd politicians who make sure all the chess pieces are in place before making their move.
Before the end of this season, we will see “The Battle of the Bastards” between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton. This whole war was completely manipulated into existence by Petyr Baelish a.k.a. Littlefinger, who gave Sansa Stark to Ramsay as a bride while knowing that he is the biggest piece of shit in a land where flaying humans is only slightly frowned upon.
After finding out that Sansa escaped, Littlefinger convinced Robin Arryn, the Lord of the Vale and the son of Littlefinger’s deceased wife, to send his army to protect her against Ramsay. I’m guessing that Littlefinger’s hoping that, with his help, the Starks will defeat the Boltons and then look to take revenge on the other family that’s responsible for destroying them: the Lannisters. (Or he’s going to betray the Starks after they take Winterfell. He’s such a devious bastard, I can never tell what his true intentions are.)
Littlefinger is less like Hillary in reality than Hillary in Republican nightmares. Like Hillary, he is an adept politician, perhaps the best in Westeros. He rose from relatively modest beginnings to eventually running the treasury of the realm. He knows how to push forward his agenda within the complex web of Westerosi politics, much like Hillary.
However, despite what Benghazi truthers will tell you, Hillary isn’t nearly as manipulative and devious as Littlefinger. He’s able to operate in the shadows, crafting his clever plots from the backroom of his brothel. Hillary’s in the public eye 24/7 and her every action is scrutinized by millions of people. In fact, Littlefinger’s probably going to learn very soon that while poisoning kings and arranging marriages can avoid detection, he’s probably going to undergo some much greater scrutiny when he attempts to make a move on the Iron Throne. Soon he’ll have the Faith Militant combing through his raven messages like House Republicans through Clinton emails.
Hillary’s come under fire for being too pragmatic, but that quality is actually a strength in Westeros as Tyrion Lannister demonstrated last night. Last week, Tyrion and Varys learned that the slave masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis were supporting the Sons of Harpy uprising in Meereen that Daenerys Targaryen has failed to stop. Missandei and Grey Worm insist that taking a hardline against the slavers is the only way to deal with them, but that’s been pretty unsuccessful thus far. Tyrion brings the leaders from each city to Meereen and offers to reinstitute slavery for seven years and gradually eliminate it over time if they stop supporting the Sons of Harpy.
This could damage Daenerys’ reputation since one of her nicknames is “the breaker of chains,” but her idealism is what led to Sons of Harpy becoming a problem. Tyrion’s strategy is less likely to piss off the slave masters and, at the very least, could stop the Sons of Harpy long enough for Daenerys to assemble her army and leave for Westeros.
In contrast to the political manipulators, the show offers other characters trying to enact their will through sheer force. (I would compare these people to Donald Trump, but because they actually seem to have plans guided somewhat by logic, the comparison would not be accurate.)
First, we have Ramsay Bolton. He needs Sansa to help him unite all the families in the North, and with Rickon Stark as his prisoner, he has a major bargaining chip to bring her back to Winterfell. But instead of entering into negotiations, he sends Jon Snow a letter threatening to murder all the Wildlings and Night’s Watch. (Maybe the Trump comparison would be accurate…)
Unlike his father who used his position as a Stark confidant to betray them and become Warden of the North, Ramsay only knows violence and destruction. While he’s been successful so far, he clearly doesn’t consider the political penalties of his actions and this will most likely lead to his undoing.
Then we have the Lannisters and their plan to deal with the High Sparrow. Cersei and Jaime decide the Tyrells will march their army into King’s Landing to free Margaery before her Walk of Shame. And that’s really it. It’s a horrible plan. The Faith Militant are not going to say, “Oh, look at all these soldiers! Let’s back down and abandon our beliefs.” No, they’re going to fight and there will be tons of bloodshed, which will almost certainly end in Margaery’s death.
Unlike their father, Tywin, Jaime and Cersei have not been very good political actors in Westeros. Cersei manipulated her son to execute Ned Stark, which created a giant clusterfuck of a civil war that probably would’ve ruined them if Tywin hadn’t cleaned up her mess with the Red Wedding. And the major reason why the Faith Militant became so powerful is because SHE HELPED THEM. She allowed the High Sparrow to become the High Septon, thus reinstating the Faith Militant, all so she could reduce Margaery’s influence on her son. Cersei (and Jaime to a lesser extent) are so blinded by personal ambition and vendettas that their political maneuvering doesn’t usually work out in the long-term. So it’s pretty obvious their plan to have the Tyrell army free Margaery will end in disaster.
The Clintons and Lannisters actually have quite a lot in common. They’re both powerful families who have held power for longer than many people would like. They’re constantly coming under fire from their political enemies. And they’re also the subject to wild speculation and gossip amongst the people (although the Lannisters are more deserving of that gossip). The difference is Jaime and Cersei have always been powerful and never worked to get into their positions of power. Bill and Hillary scrapped their way from political activists to the White House. There was no Tywin Lannister coming to help them during their most trying times. They learned the skills needed to be great leaders through their struggles and successes. Jaime and Cersei are only encountering their first real conflicts now, and they’re not handling them very well.
To be fair, there was someone who succeeded on last night’s episode using sheer force. And by “sheer force,” I mean “burning a bunch of dudes alive.”
In the past, Daenerys has tried to be a just leader who helps all those she can. Unfortunately, all her successes are due mostly to her immense military strength and dragons rather than her diplomatic ability. So it was somewhat surprising that instead of trying to convince the Dothraki leaders not to execute her or make her part of their widows’ cult, she burnt them all alive. That’s pretty much the complete opposite of diplomatic.
The question is whether Daenerys will use this new “Take No Prisoners” attitude when she resumes governing Meereen. As much as Hillary might want to burn her political enemies alive, we’re guessing even she wouldn’t go that far. She’d probably opt into Tyrion’s compromise strategy because it’s the most pragmatic thing to do. Then again, she also doesn’t have three dragons at her disposal.
There’s always the possibility that the Hillary Clintons of Westeros will fail. Littlefinger’s plan hinges on the Starks not being too pissed at him about Sansa’s abuse. And Tyrion is hoping the slave masters are as pragmatic as he is. Both of these are gambles, but they seem to be better than any alternatives available. Lucky for them, they don’t have to convince the citizens of Westeros that their plan is what’s best for the nation and earn their votes. With all the political manipulation going on this season of Game of Thrones, I’m guessing Hillary’s watching every episode and saying, “If only it were that easy…”
Joseph Misulonas is an assistant editor for Playboy.com. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.