Thursday, June 23, 2011

Game of Thrones and IR Theory

Charli Carpenter has thrown down the gauntlet.  She has pondered whether/why IR folks have not been blogging about Game of Thrones.  Why?  Because we are tired.  Every episode is such great TV that we are left in awe.  Our brains are so focused on getting the names straight, understanding the dynamics within each family and between them, that we no brainpower left to use.

Spoilers lurk below:

Ok, that was an excuse.  The real reason is that I have not read the books yet, so my spelling of all of the names would suck.  But, let me use some simple IR theory to predict the next season's key patterns (note that I am completely ignorant of what will happen since, again, I have not read the books).

First, we ought to see some balance of power dynamics with the various contenders shifting alliances.  Thus far, we have seen more alliances formed via oaths--that Robb, now King of the North, got the various Lords to support him due to promises made to his father.  But we now have multiple contenders: the Winterfell folks led by Robb, whatever forces Dany can bring together with her cute dragons, the two different brothers of the dead king, the Lannisters (easy to spot with their blond hair--and Charli is, suspiciously blond), and who else?  So, we might see King Robb ultimately bargain with Dany to join forces against the Lannisters, with Robb seeking a promise of allowing the north to secede.  If Dany is a rational actor, seeking to maximize her chances of successfully taking the throne, then she might go for this.  Of course, each side will face the problem of credible commitment as alliance partners often betray each other.  Once Dany wins (if she does), she could easily renege and refuse to recognize Winterfell's independence.  It would not be the first time that a secessionist movement is betrayed.  (More on the IR of ethnic conflict applied down the road).

Second, there are other actors out there that might become greater threats.  Dany soon, yes, but then the walkers.  The Wall and the Rangers may not be enough to contain them.  Could perhaps an alliance be formed among the various forces when the Zombie threat becomes too great?  Drezner raises this possibility but presents too many theories for us to be certain.

Third, does democratic peace apply at all?  None of the actors has anything close to democracy (unless the Walkers have a representative political system, which I doubt).  But clearly Robb's forces have willingly given consent to his leadership.  He originally compelled them via obligation, but now they have chosen (too much mead?) to give support to his secessionist effort.  So, if we focus on normative democratic peace arguments (as opposed to those focusing on structures or transparency), we might see what?  Well, given the absence of pseudo-democratic partners, um, never mind?

Fourth, first level analyses that focus on cognition and decision-making may be most appropriate because we have several actors that seem to be relatively unconstrained by institutions and norms.  Dany has only her dragons and a small coterie of ex-slaves and fallen horse folks, and she is in an alien world.  She does not know enough about the dragon past to have any clear set of normative restrictions and the identity is still pretty weak, so it is likely that her emotions (revenge for the assassination attempt) will drive her on.  Ned, late Ned, was imprisoned by his worldview.  The boy king is too young and too spoiled to buy into what is appropriate (no intersubjective identities and norms constraining him), demonstrated by rubbing his future consort's face in the death of her father.  I am not sure that the Hand (Tyrian) will be able to restrain him, but, then again, the boy can be easily manipulated, right?

I will, for the moment, not apply constructivism since my previous musings at the Duck have proven that I am lousy constructivist.  I will say that identities matter. much in all of this  "A Lannister pays his debts."  That the ties of kinship bind the alliances thus far.  As I would expect.  But identities can be complex, containing multiple threads.  Will conflicting imperatives arise from a complex set of identities? Thus far, the only characters I can think of who fit this are Jon Snow (a semi-Stark and a Ranger) and Sansa (a Stark and soon to be married into the Lannisters).  Who else?

As I am fried from yesterday's trip to and from Ottawa and I have to catch upon on Obama's Decision (almost as significant as Lebron's), that is all for now, but please suggest to me alternative ways to apply IR theory.


Mrs. Spew said...

You're forgetting that there are seven kingdoms that bowed the knee to the dragon lords -- the North (Starks,) the Vale (Cat's sister who is currently insisting on being neutral,) the Stormlands (Storm's End -- King Robert's lands -- Lord Stannis, the rightful heir, has Dragonstone, his seat, there and has famial ties to the Tyrells, but the Stormlords there can also go for Renly, his brother,) the Reach, which are the Tyrells which are currently allied with Lord Renly cause Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers, is his good buddy, the Westerlands (Casterly Rock -- the Lannisters,) the Greyjoys' Iron Islands (which have rebelled at various times and currently Theon Greyjoy, the heir hostage long time to the Starks, has pledged to Robb,) and Dorne, the very powerful kingdom in the south that came to the empire much later. There is also the Riverlands, not a kingdom, which were ruled by the Iron Islands until going with the dragon lords, but is currently siding with Robb through Cat's marriage, and the Crownlands where Kings Landing was set up, so in the Lannisters' hands. And there is the King Beyond the Wall -- when a leader arises of the people and wildings who live in the far north who may be trying to come south, cause there are White Walkers making zombies up there. So the war is going to be a lot more complicated.

In the other eastern continent, where Danys is with her baby dragons and small patched tribe, there are also numerous lands -- Braavos where Syrio the dancing master came from, the Free Cities, and the Qohoriks. Basically, George is just getting started. :)

Steve Saideman said...

Ah, so we have a much more multipolar game than I understand. The TV series never really was clear about what = 7 kingdoms. Anyhow, the question of the day is whether we will see alliance making/breaking? And will it be driven by relative power and threats? Or by emotion? Or by identification?

Brandon Valeriano said...

You are such a realist with your balance of power dynamics :) I'm in the middle of the 1st book and agree its premature to really think about the IR Theory implications of GoT until you have read the books. I had the urge to right about Lost and human nature till they killed that idea with the horrible season 7. Problem is that if you catch up and blog, you will be spoiling it for those who have not caught up since HBO will take 6 years to cover the books.

I think we may see collective security against two aggressors, the White Walkers and Dragons (probably at different times unless they ally against the 7 Kingdoms). And is the Black Knights of the Wall a multinational institution? Much more liberalism here than realism. If Robb was a good offensive realist he would go forward against the Lanister, but I assume he will not.

Anonymous said...

First, a brief correction. The Riverlands are as much of a kingdom as any other, as they have a major house (House Tully, the house of Lady Stark) and their seat at Riverrun, the place Jamie Lannister was attacking when Robb went master strategy on him.

The other consideration we have to make is the relative power of these "bannermen," the houses that swore to the great houses (like House Umber, the House of Greatjon, the guy who had his fingers chewed off and was the first to declare a King in the North). Do these houses have aspirations to greatness of their own. And can they break their vows to their houses just as Robb, and the two Baratheons, essentially did to the king? Those to me are key issues as well.

Mrs. Spew said...

The Riverlands are very important, but because they were owned by the Iron Islands when the dragon lords invaded the Westeros continent, they were never technically a kingdom united under one king, but instead were a territory/fiefdom of the Iron Islands kingdom before rebelling and swearing to the dragon lords. So the "Seven Kingdoms" consists of seven official kingdoms: the North, the Vale, the Stormlands, the Iron Islands, the Reach, the Westerlands, and Dorne, and two territories -- the Riverlands and the Crownlands.

The Night's Watch is indeed multi-national. They are essentially like the Knights Templars. They are independent of lords' control and are supported by a set of lands called the Gift. All the kingdoms were supposed to send men to the Wall, both criminals and volunteers. The men give up all allegiances and serve only the Watch, with their sacred duty to protect the land from any threat that comes from North of the Wall, in particular, the possible return after thousands of years of the White Walkers. While the Northern lords still consider it something of an honor to send second, third sons to the Wall (hence, BenJen Stark,) the numbers of the Watch have fallen into the lowest ever and only three of the Wall's 19 fortresses are currently manned. Wildings from beyond the Wall can sneak into the south by scaling the Wall, getting through a gate in the unmanned fortresses or by sea along the coast. The Watch sends parties of Rangers out north to see what the wildings and such are up to.

Brandon Valeriano said...

Did the Riverlands ever make it into the intro of the HBO series? I am having a hard time visualizing the various states. I assume this can be easily fixed by googling but spoilers lurk.

Can Mrs. Spew tell us more about the Free Cities without spoiling things. Does that mean that they are unaligned with the 7 Kingdoms or are they democracies? Was the sea such a barrier that the people on the other side avoided the Targareon era?

Mrs. Spew said...

Yes, the Riverlands were in the HBO series, though most of the Tully relative characters (Cat's family) were not yet, due to budget restraints. Jaime's part of the Lannister army were besieging Riverrun, the Tully river fortress. Robb sends a small feint force toward Tywin Lannister's big army and takes his main forces and calvary to trap Jaime and break the siege of Riverrun. To do that, he has to cross the Fork held by the Freys, and Walder Frey bargained a betrothal with Cat for his kids with both Arya and Robb in return for the crossing and alliance. We didn't get to see any of the battle to free Riverrun, just were informed that Robb had won the battle and shown that he had captured Jaime. But the Riverlands will also be playing a role in Season 2. If you want to checkout the layout, look for a map of Westeros, North and South, without the spoilers attached.

The Free Cities are in the Eastern continent, not Westeros, and are not connected to the Seven Kingdoms. They are independent of one another. Danys was in one of the Free Cities when she and her brother stayed at the house of Ilyrio, the rich merchant who brokered Danys' marriage to Drogo. The Free Cities do a lot of slave trading. That's why Ilyrio hooked up the disgraced knight Ser Jorah with Viserys (both Ilyrio and Jorah were spying for Verys and King Robert, though Jorah has pretty much now allied himself with Danys, as shown in the show.) The Free Cities will play a role in subsequent seasons. The Targaryen dragon lords invaded Westeros from the eastern continent and were content to rule the Seven Kingdoms there.

If you want to get the long backstory, here's a really excellent summary: Only read Part 1 and Part 2, the history parts, though, if you want to avoid any spoilers. This history isn't all from the books, but from ancillary things Martin has done and notes, etc.