Like most everyone else – that is, except probably for the actual actors and staff of Game of Thrones (hereafter GOT) – I have only watched the penultimate episode “The Bells”. So I know no more about how the series ends than anyone else. Least of all do I know who ends up sitting on the Iron Throne. That question presumably is answered in the final-season episode next week, as this is written (14 May). But if the Westerosi elite were to ask my counsel about who is best suited and equipped to sit on the Throne, I could recur to some ancient Greek texts, specifically Plato’s Republic, for some very wise advice.
But first a solemn warning: If you have not seen this next-to-last episode of GOT, then read no farther, because reading past this paragraph will almost certainly be a catastrophic spoiler, not because I identify the new King of the Seven Kingdoms, of which I am as ignorant as anyone at this point, but because I expose other issues almost equally critical. So you cannot say you were not warned.
First, consider Plato’s Republic. The Republic is a vast and ramified discussion among Socrates, Plato’s viewpoint character, and his friends – though mostly Socrates as the dialogue progresses – about the nature of Justice. To attack the question “What is Justice”, Socrates begins to dialogically, in conversations with his friends via the “Socratic method,” ask detailed questions to outline the essential issues to be clarified. The actual Republic is the length of a moderate book, so there is not enough space to even superficially synopsize Socrates’ (i.e., Plato’s) conclusions about the nature and definition of Justice. Suffice to say that, in a Platonic Republic, there are three classes of citizens: (1) the artisans, i.e. people who actually make things (farmers, cabinet makers, ironmongers, etc.); (2) auxiliaries, i.e., soldiers who defend the republic against external enemies and presumably also against internal sedition; and (3) guardians, i.e., the actual political class of the republic, people who are in most intimate contact with the Platonic ideal of the Form of the State. The guardians – the name is somewhat misleading in English translation, because it suggests military prowess – are often referred to by commentators on the Republic as “philosopher kings”. That is a fair description, because the primary purpose of the guardians is to keep the state immovably centered on the Ideal of the Form of the State, a task only philosophers are competent to undertake.
("So what is Justice?" you ask. Long story short, Plato / Socrates defines Justice as everyone in society doing what they are best suited to do: guardians being guardians; auxiliaries, auxiliaries; artisans, artisans. Chaos arises, the Republic argues, any time people in one category attempt to usurp the function and purpose of those of another category. Justice is basically minding your own business and no one else's.)
But because the guardians, as philosopher-kings, are also kings, they also have responsibility for the more mundane tasks of political administration, adjudicating disputes among the republic’s citizens, setting policy, etc., etc., etc. – all of which would be considered onerous to people who by temperament and training much prefer a life of philosophic contemplation of the Platonic Ideal. Consequently, argues Socrates in the Republic, the republic must only ever be ruled politically precisely by people who do not want the damn job because they would much, much rather be doing something else, i.e., contemplating the Platonic Ideals. By temperament and training, philosopher-kings much prefer being philosophers to being kings. A guardian who actually wants the job of king prima facie proves by that preference that he is unfit and incompetent to rule. The mere desire for power decisively proves that you must not have it.
Now, from ancient Greece back to Westeros and King’s Landing. There are two and only two – as far as we know at this point – realistically envisionable candidates for King of the Seven Kingdoms. One, of course, is Danaerys Targaryean, Storm-Born, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons. Up until this point Danaerys has seemed uncomplicatedly benevolent, concerned to break the monopoly of the tyrants that have held power in Westeros, with only brief interruptions, e.g., Baelor Targaryean the Blessed, who died by starving to death because of excessive religious fasting, and Robert Baratheon’s short-lived dynasty from Robert, who died from being gored by a wild boar, to Joffrey to Tommen. All of these were spectacularly ill-suited to sit the Iron Throne by the power-aversion criterion of Plato’s Republic. But for a long while, Danaerys – hereafter “Dany” – seemed to be different. She broke the slave power of the Free Cities, took the Unsullied under her wing, raised the humble ex-slave Missandei to her right hand, etc. She seemed benevolent.
We learned differently in the next-to-last episode of GOT: as it turns out, Dany is a Targaryean born and bred, not essentially different from Aerys II, the Mad King of Westeros, whom Jaimie Lannister assassinated – just a better actor. In fact, and as it turned out, Dany could have given Tywin Lannister a run for his money as a Machiavellian born out of due season and in an alternate Universe. But as it actually turned out, set her on a fire-breathing dragon – the dragon Drogon– point her toward King’s Landing and her enemies, and Dany is transmogrified into a genocidal maniac right out of any terrestrial absolutist empire. I was dumbfounded when I saw this. When she pointed Drogon toward the Palace, I was sure she was going after Cersei Lannister, and only Cersei. So when she began to command her dragon to burn people in the streets indiscriminately, I gaped so widely that my damn dentures almost fell out of my mouth. Cersei I could understand. But the innocent shopkeepers, artisans, whores, mothers, fathers, and children thronging the streets of King’s Landing seeking safety? No. This, as it turns out was the real Danaerys Targaryean: basically Aerys II with a different set of gonads. The problem? Dany wanted power. She lusted after it. And may the Seven help anyone who stood between Dany and its attainment.
On the other hand, there is Jon Snow, for long known – and by most people still known – as Ned Stark’s bastard son. But – something known to only a few even at this point – Jon Snow is in actuality the quite legitimate son of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, and King Rhaegar Targaryean, and therefore the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Lyanna gave the infant Jon into Ned’s care and swore Ned to strict secrecy, lest Robert Baratheon see in Jon, quite justifiably, a legitimate claimant of the Throne and have Jon assassinated. This Ned did, at considerable cost to himself, by concocting the story about a dalliance while absent from Winterfell that resulted in a bastard son.
However, it is evident from the outset that Jon Snow – whose royal name is Aegon Targaryean – does not desire power. He accepted the rule of the Night’s Watch only with great reluctance. Ditto his title as “King in the North”. Jon / Aegon does not want to be King, in the North, the South, or anywhere else. He has seen, e.g., in Joffrey’s brutal assassination of his putative father Ned Stark, how power can warp people. He is in the process of seeing it in Dany. (Actually, we all got a foretaste of Dany’s lust for power when she ordered the dragon Drogon to incinerate Samwell Tarly’s father, Lord Randyll, and Sam’s older brother, and when she did the same with the eunuch Varys. Now we know explicitly: Dany’s dominant personality trait is sheer ruthlessness.) Time and again over the last several episodes of GOT, Jon / Aegon has disavowed to Dany any desire for power whatsoever, reaffirming that she is to him “my Queen”.
The bottom line: from a Platonic / Socratic standpoint, who should sit the Iron Throne – not who will sit it, mind you, but who should – is a no-brainer: Jon Snow, now ruling as King Aegon Targaryean, the seventh of his name.
This solves the problem of who should accede to the Iron Throne, post-Cersei. But what of the future? Is there any way, in the future to assess the fitness, in Platonic / Socratic terms, of who is fit to rule the Seven Kingdoms? In a certain sense, this is an irrelevant question: succession, at least, if the Westerosi system works as advertised, is strictly by birth. (Of course, this is a principle that, over the entire sweep of Westerosi history, at least since the defeat of the Andals and the coming of the First Men, seems to have been more honored in the breach than in the observance. But never mind that now … let’s play games, let’s have some fun.) Now, if we were to play a “what-if” game and look at alternatives, I think that applying 21st-century genetic technology to the problem could give us a potentially much better solution.
Though it is far from certain, even in the advanced state of genetic technology today, let alone in medieval-like Westeros, it may very well be that there are certain genetic markers to look for, on the level of the DNA, of people who will most likely grow to adulthood excessively enamored of power. What are these markers? I have no idea. But I believe they could be found. (After all, there are genetic markers that indicate a predisposition to, e.g., autism.) Furthermore, when the technology has advanced far enough, it may well turn out that these genetic markers can be detected by something as simple as a urine test sample.
Take Euron Greyjoy, Theon’s elder brother and erstwhile captain of the Iron Islands’ Iron Fleet before Drogon the dragon obligingly reduced the Iron Fleet to slag. If the markers for power lust were present in anyone, they could certainly be detected in Euron Greyjoy, who lusted for power at least as much as he lusted for Cersei Lannister. In fact, as a proof-of-concept project, one can envision – never mind how this would be accomplished … as I said, we are just having “funsies” now – one can imagine asking … no … demanding on pain of anaesthetic-free castration … Euron to pee in a bottle and sending the bottle away for a genetic assay of Euron’s power-lust markers. Given how pronounced Euron’s power-lust is, in fact, we could consider the level of power-lust markers in Euron’s sample as the “gold standard” to assess other candidates for the Iron Throne. What sublime poetic justice! Euron's "golden shower" would give us the "gold standard"!
So I would suggest obtaining a sample of Euron’s urine, marking / labeling it “Euron’s urine,” and placing it in an impregnable – so to speak – vault, rather like the old meter-long gold bar at the Bureau of Standards. No doubt being forced at sword-point by some bloodshot-eyed Dothraki warrior to pee into a test tube would really get Euron pissed about his urine. But perhaps he could be compensated by being offered in exchange free food and drink at all the taverns in the Seven Kingdoms and free access to all the bawdy houses associated therewith and connected thereto. In perpetuity. In other words, if Euron agreed to piss for us, we would allow him to get pissed, as pissed as he pleased. Per omnia saecula saeculorom. En aionos ton aionon. Or whatever the equivalent expression is in the Faith of the Seven. Or, for that matter, in the Old Religion of the Children of the Forest.
Now, having said that and suggested the above, I will conclude, because I have no desire whatsoever to get my Faithful Readers pissed at me. So I will stop draggin’ this out any longer!
James R. Cowles
PS -- By the Seven Hells! I was as surprised as everyone else! I did not see this coming. You might say the council invented the first-ever breakfast cereal in Westeros ... by ... "raisin' Bran" ... OK ... y'all put down the damn swords and call off the Dothraki ... it's over awready!
Euron Greyjoy … Lauren Sarner / HBO … www.inverse.com
Dany … HBO … www.telegraph.co.uk
Jon Snow / Aegon Targaryean … HBO … hdqwalls.com/jon-snow-4k-wallpaper
Aegon I Targaryean … HBO … awoiaf.westeros.org
Cersei … HBO … metro.co.uk
"The School of Athens" (detail) … Raphael Sanzio of Urbino … Public domain