As someone who is at least a casual fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones  and the sprawling series of novels that inspired it, I also occasionally from time to time enjoy seeing spoilers, and so I was pleased to see that filming crews had been seen for the next season showing two unknown relatives treating with each other, Jon Snow, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lynna Stark, and his aunt Daenerys. Jon Snow has been proclaimed King of the North by acclamation, and Daenerys has undertaken a massive invasion of Westeros to reclaim her kingdom. Given the family’s penchant for marrying relatives, this seems like an obvious if somewhat incestuous union. Given that this is a somewhat dangerous and disreputable fictional family, is there anything that can be learned from this family for those of us who are not inclined to copy their behavior? As is often the case, there is.
Among the most obvious lessons to be learned is that authority is complicated. Those who desire to rule over massive expanses of even fictional territory have to learn how to deal with a great deal of tensions and complications. If one wants powerful supporters, then are those supporters powerful enough to harbor their own ambitions and plans that might be at odds with what one wants as an authority? But if one does not want supporters who are powerful enough to be rivals or threats, will those supporters be powerful enough for support against one’s enemies? This sort of tradeoff is an exceedingly common one to face. We want to be supported by powerful people, but we feel threatened when people are too independent to be the sort of docile subordinates that we might wish, and yet we need the skills that come when people are independent and have focused a great deal of attention on personal development. This is the sort of tradeoff that we face in many areas of life, from church politics to staffing and employment issues in businesses to choosing a mate and raising up children. Do we want talented people who are potential threats or do we prefer docile but ultimately unprofitable people around us?
Another lesson, perhaps even a darker one if we look at it symbolically, is the insight that if one wants to rule over others powerfully, one needs the help of dragons. I am not sure the extent to which George R.R. Martin is motivated by Christan symbolism, but the history of the House Targaryen would seem to indicate that there are some powerful parallels to be made when it comes to their dependence for holding on to power on their dragons. The family took over Westeros thanks to its dragons, and once their dragons faded away, they sought to preserve their power through other means, but ultimately without the dragons they were just another family seeking power and dominance that had made too many enemies. In fictional worlds as well as the real one, if you want the sort of power that includes world domination and you are not committed to being godly, you are going to need dragons on your side. It may not be pretty, and you may leave a trail of destruction before your inevitable demise, but without dragons the task is more or less hopeless given the number of people that are fighting for the same positions and power.
There is at least one other powerful lesson that can be learned by the desire of the Targaryen family to regain the power that they lost. Power is intoxicating, and people who have power are unwilling to lose it or give it up easily. This is true regardless of what kind of power is being held or in what kind of institution or anything else of that nature. Let us consider what Daenerys is willing to do to regain the power that her family lost: marrying a barbarian prince, spending years as the “beggar princess” enduring taunting and teasing and ridicule, learning how to rule cities, considering the possibility of more wedding alliances, giving birth to and raising dragons, and so on. Most people would not spend that sort of time doing anything unless there was a lot of value, but the iron throne is certainly something that many people are quite willing to fight for and die for and kill others for, and even in fiction we see that there are lessons for our own world, where people are no less ruthless.
 See, for example: