The Lannisters always pay their debts — and that’s paying off royally.
Of all the nobles competing for power and survival on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Queen Cersei Lannister is sitting most comfortably on the Iron Throne (for now) that is the seat of power for the Seven Kingdoms dreamed up by author George R.R. Martin. And that’s a coup considering she and her twin brother/lover Jaime entered last season as the weakest family.
“Cersei has surprisingly come from behind and solidified her position, which just a season or two ago was looking really, really terrible,” Matt McCaffrey, economic expert and assistant professor at the University of Manchester, told MarketWatch.
After all, the Crown owed millions to the Iron Bank; the Lannister family gold mines that supplied their wealth were dried up; and Cersei had alienated herself from the most powerful families on the continent of Westeros by blowing up the Sept of Baelor and killing thousands of potential investors. Meanwhile, exiled dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen had returned to Westeros to claim the crown from Cersei — and she had alliances with most of the Southern families, a powerful army of Dothraki horse riders and Unsullied soldiers, plus three fire-breathing dragons (which are weapons of mass destruction in this Medieval world.)
Yet the Lannisters rallied by allying themselves with the seafaring Euron Greyjoy, giving them the most powerful fleet in the world. They then destroyed two of Daenerys’ allies, while Dany lost one of her dragons in a battle with the White Walkers, which led to a significant reversal of fortune.
But civil war has wreaked havoc on every family in the realm since the show first premiered in 2011. And now that winter has come to this world where each season can last for a decade or more, every territory is stuck subsisting on whatever food they have until spring, which is years away.
“Daenerys’ army has two main disadvantages. First, many of them, including the Starks, are based in the North where winter is arriving sooner and resources will be scarcer. Second, they are heading to battle the White Walkers, which best case scenario results in a huge loss of men and maybe a dragon or two,” Adam Ozimek, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, told MarketWatch. “Cersei in contrast controls the more Southern parts of Westeros where Winter is arriving last. She also has all the Tyrell wealth, the Iron Bank backing her to rent the Golden Company (mercenary army), and Euron’s fleet. And most important, she will not be facing the White Walkers.”
McCaffrey agreed that, “Her major strength at the moment is that she’s geographically so far away from where a lot of the action is happening. But when Cersei gets comfortable, she tends to grow a little bit arrogant and think she can take on anyone in the Seven Kingdoms, even when she can’t, so she has to watch out for overextending herself and being too ambitious.”
Cersei’s sideline approach could also backfire if Daenerys and Jon Snow, the King of the North, destroy the White Walkers and rescue the realm. “If the Lords of Westeros see Danaerys save the kingdom from the army of White Walkers while Cersei sits back and does nothing, you have to wonder whether they will change their mind about who is the untrustworthy queen worth backing,” said Ozimek. “So I think if Danaerys is successful in defeating the White Walker army, she will see a lot of houses of Westeros leaving Cersei to back her, even if Cersei has the resource advantage.”
The Northerners are in a tight spot for now, however. Thousands of the North’s strongest men were killed in the civil wars. Winter will hit them the hardest, and the White Walkers will hit them first. Plus, the White Walkers also killed one of Daenerys’ dragons and zombified it for themselves, leveling the playing field. “They may have to abandon the North,” said McCaffrey. “I don’t really see how they would manage to maintain their position, at least not without some really significant help.”
The experts agree that it would be in everyone’s economic interest to merge to fight the White Walkers, and to share their resources to feed the realm. But this is “Game of Thrones.” You win or you die — you don’t tie.
“Even if they do make a truce, as soon as the threat of the White Walkers goes away, everybody is going to be racing to turn around and stab each other in the back all over again,” said McCaffrey. “But it’s too late now anyway. There is no time to substantially change anyone’s economic position. Everyone is so much worse off than they would have been if they had been sensible right from the very beginning, and worked together.”
But that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun to watch.