As a wise woman once said: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." What holds true in HBO's hit fantasy series also resonates in Washington D.C. politics, of course, where the field of contenders has narrowed from a ridiculous many to a powerful few. And like the drama's many battles for the Iron Throne, election year campaigning can be a real bastard. The possibility of contested tickets mean the Democratic and Republican conventions run the risk of getting nasty, with party loyalties immolating like dragonfire setting ablaze the Dothraki Sea.
As we once again look to Westeros to help us make sense of it all, consider the many resemblances between the main players squaring off on our nation's political stage, and the strategists scheming to gain power in Game of Thrones. Like the race for President, the show has its partisan power-player endgame in sight — and both of these notions of finality fill us with an unshakeable sense of dread for vastly different reasons. Winter/November is coming. Brace yourself.
Daenerys Targaryen/Hillary Clinton
This comparison is a no-brainer: Clinton announced her candidacy on April 12, 2015 – the same day Game of Thrones' fifth season premiered — and Larry Wilmore dubbed her the 'Mother of Dragons' soon after, pointing out that Dany and the former first lady's political ascents were quite similar. What's more, Khaleesi and Clinton lead analogous political lives even now: Each is beloved by her most loyal supporters, while their political rivals desire nothing less than their utter destruction. Where Dany has her dragons, Clinton's ultimate trump card is political experience. (It's no "dracarys," but it's more than the other guy can claim.) And they do love their armies and ships!
Both similarly suffer in the likability department, however. Hillary is still haunted by Benghazi, and a federal investigation of her usage of personal email account is ongoing. And Dany's dragons may not inspire much awe among those who remember her dear old dad's predilection for roasting people alive. Some will simply refuse to be led by another Targaryen, or another Clinton.
Yet both ladies also have the numbers on their side, if Nate Silver's latest stats are to be believed. There's a lot of water to cross between now and November, but like Ms. First of Her Name, Clinton appears to be sailing with fair wind and following seas.
The Night King/Donald Trump
Ronald Reagan's famous 1984 political slogan "It's morning in America" sounds more than a bit like the Trump campaign's battle cry, "Make America Great Again." (Which was itself borrowed from the Gipper.) But the expected result of a Trump win would be closer to frigid night — possibly the longest and darkest ever. In the same way that the Night's Watch received a preview of the horror threatening Westeros when they ventured North of the Wall, many are closely observing the events surrounding Britain's recent vote to leave the European Union as an example of what could be in store for the United States. Experts predict a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the economy and international relations. If Brexit is the real world's stand-in for Hardhome, Trump is our Night King.
Their respective supporters also have interesting similarities, in that they can't be negotiated with and have no problem fighting dirty. "The truth is, Trump's voters are reliable. They are old, angry white dudes," former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala told NBC News. "…Our voters are much harder to find, then register, then motivate, then deliver to the polling place."
Then again, unlike Trump, the Night King is no talk, all action, and is virtually invulnerable. That means Trump's Westerosi spiritual twin could also be … Cersei Lannister. Both desire to crush their enemies completely, are obsessed with gold and, if you believe The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, find their family members disturbingly attractive. Shivers.
Jon Snow/President Obama
Bitter opponents meet the Commander-in-Chief at every turn, insisting that he knows nothing about the needs of his people and how to lead the nation's military, like Jon Snow. Many still question his parentage, like Jon Snow. Yet unlike the previous presidential incumbent, Obama's party isn't distancing itself from its leader, and Clinton is counting on his presence on the campaign trail to unite any squabbling factions within the Democratic voting base. They're hoping voters have a memory as long as the North in Westeros and, like the great Houses of that land, will hold faith in its leadership. Otherwise … well, see Donald Trump's entry.
Tyrion Lannister/Bill Clinton
First Gentleman? First Husband? People are wondering what to call former President Clinton if Hillary sweeps her way to victory in November. What about Hand of the Queen? In Westeros, the Hand is the most powerful appointed position in the Seven Kingdoms and the ruler's closest advisor; Tyrion officially clinched the title in the Season Six finale. In our world, Bill Clinton had eight years of experience in the job; you'd better believe he'll be parked very near to the Oval Office's leather chair, if not perched on one of its arms.
Yet his return to the White House could be as politically precarious to Hillary's campaign as Tyrion's reputation is to Daenerys. Granted, kingslaying is much harder crime to overcome than adultery, and Bill's recent run-in with U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch on an Arizona airport tarmac didn't help matters. Fortunately, like the Imp, Bill possesses the ability to his way out of just about anything, a necessary quality in an effective Hand.
How painful it must be to sit within sneezing distance of the throne but not be able to claim it as yours! Ted Cruz and Petyr Baelish have that in common, although the Westerosi politician is far more skillful at ascending the rungs of power than the Senator from the Great State of Texas. For that matter, although Littlefinger hasn't given many people a good reason to trust him, he's not frequently associated with the words "hated," "disgusting" and "a nightmare of a human being."
But each has a talent for political gamesmanship, although they've both made significant blunders as they've moved pieces across the board. Cruz, however, could learn a thing or two from Littlefinger when it comes to dealing with women, specifically this: When it comes to unzipping one's pants, do so strategically. Otherwise a man might as well toss all his hopes and schemes out the Moon Door and watch them fly, fly away.
Tommen Baratheon/Paul Ryan
Poor Tommen. All he wanted to do was play with his kitten Ser Pounce. Then older brother Joffrey up and died, leaving him no choice but to be the King. With the land tearing itself apart, the young regent allowed his mother to bring a hardline religious zealot to power. When the High Sparrow imprisoned Mother and his lady love, he was powerless to free them, so he caved to the old man's will, leading to disaster.
Mark well this woeful tale when looking at the Speaker of the House, whose primary strategy has been to bend to whichever way the political winds blow, leaving him exposed in this election season. That tactic has worked well for Ryan in the past, as he showed by heartily refuting rumors that he was considered for the Speaker of the House position before (reluctantly, of course) accepting it. By endorsing Trump after vehemently refusing to do so on numerous occasions, he's signed on to a campaign besieged with legal drama, diplomatic ignorance and bigotry, in the hopes that should the GOP's nominee win, he'll support Ryan's House agenda.
In Thrones' fourth season, Tywin Lannister asked Tommen to tell him which quality is best in a good king. The correct answer was wisdom: "A wise king knows what he knows, and what he doesn't … a wise, young king listens to his counselors and heeds their advice until he comes of age." It turns out that wasn't great advice either, leaving a person to wonder if, in the end, Ryan's political career, like Tommen's short rulership, will be defenestrated.
Stannis Baratheon/Bernie Sanders
To his devoted supports Bernie is the Prince Who Was Promised, the man who would take on the machine in Washington, wrest power away from the usurpers and return government to the will of the people. Alas, though Sanders didn't suffer defeat on the level of Stannis at Blackwater — or, later, outside Winterfell — he's similarly stubborn in his refusal to officially endorse Clinton. What we're still unsure about is whether the Senator's fans are willing to throw their might behind the Democrat frontrunner to stave off Trump, or if they'll sacrifice their votes on a pyre to prove that the night is dark, and full of terrors — but they still think anything is better than casting a ballot for the Mother of Dragons.
Lady Lyanna Mormont/Elizabeth Warren
In a time when both Presidential front runners must carefully weigh every public statement (an idea only one of them is taking seriously), an ally of Elizabeth Warren's caliber is worth her weight in Valyrian steel. As a weapon, she's twice as sharp; the Massachusetts Senator has taken on Trump's campaign with the same level fiery pique that she's previously directed toward corporate greed. She's the Clinton campaign's version of Lyanna Mormont, the Lady of Bear Island, a young woman who had no problem putting testosterone-fueled men of the North in their place. And when the odds against victory are overwhelming, both women can be counted on to answer the call. We'd have no problem holding faith with either of their Houses.
The High Sparrow/Wayne LaPierre
Wildfire doesn't kill people. People kill people … by leaving floating, lighted candles at the center of wildfire puddles. The head of the National Rifle Association clings to the ludicrous philosophy that the firearm proliferation is the best way to keep Americans safe, even after 49 innocent people were gunned down in Orlando by American wielding a legally purchased semi-automatic assault rifle. Never mind that, including this tragedy, 330 people were killed or injured in mass shooting during the month of June alone. LaPierre and the NRA's Faith Militant refuse to let go of their belief that the Second Amendment is as sacred as the Seven, and similarly beyond the purview of man's law. Just as frustratingly, a majority of Congressional lawmakers bow to LaPierre's will and deep financial backing. He is their High Sparrow.
Remind us, how successfully did such blind, obstinate faith protect the High Sparrow and the people gathered in the Great Sept of Baelor on the first day of the Festival of the Mother? Riiight.
Samwell Tarly/Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden is one of Washington D.C.'s most prominent sufferers of foot-in-mouth disease, often veering off script and spilling the beans on prominent policy issues or, say, all-but-done endorsements before they become official. Another way of putting it, as Sam's girlfriend Gilly said of her love, is that he's a nervous talker. But like Sam, Biden's also a terrific, loyal campaign ally, whose strengths offset the weakness of his party's, particularly in areas such as foreign policy, and his working class roots keep him connected to the needs of the people. And like Biden, Sam has weathered more than his share of ridicule but refuses to cave in to bullies. Neither is likely to win the title of Commander, but in the great battles to come, their counsel is worth listening to.
Two men, rising the top of the political peak by unconventional means. Cotton became famous for e-mailing a letter to the New York Times, demanding that the reporters responsible for an article on a Bush administration program secretly monitoring terrorists' finances be tried for espionage. Qyburn, on the other hand, was stripped of his Maester's chain for vivisecting people to find out more about human anatomy. Cotton left the Army honorably and was elected to political office; Qyburn's knowledge enabled him to save Jaime Lannister's injured arm, thereby earning him a place in Cersei's good graces. Their emphasis on securing power through might has made each man among the most powerful players in their respective kingdoms; Qyburn has been named Queen Cersei's Hand, and Cotton is on the short list of Trump's possible partners on the GOP ticket. (Whether Cotton has a talent for reviving loyal strongmen and making them into unstoppable Secret Service agents, we cannot say.)
Behind every Queen is her translator, who ensures her message is heard by the people. This is what Huma Abedin is to Hillary Clinton, to the former's credit (and possible detriment). The Vice-Chair of Clinton's presidential campaign has been called the candidate's "shadow," and Clinton is as loyal to her as Dany is to Missandei. But the former slave from Astapor doesn't have to fend off smear campaigns from the Queen of Dragons' opponents, or be deposed about her personal communications methods. On the other hand, her love interest is less problematic than Abedin's, politically speaking; there's absolutely no chance of Grey Worm accidentally sending a picture of his non-existent phallus to an audience of 45,000. (That's a lot of ravens.)
Ramsay Bolton/Fox News
Baseless accusations and inflammatory rhetoric during a presidential campaign are to Fox News what frightened human flesh was to Ramsay Bolton — tasty morsels to be relentlessly run down by the hounds, torn apart and chewed upon until there's nothing left. It's a strategy that continues to be effective for the network, which is enjoying its most successful year, ratings-wise, since its 1996 launch. For that, they can thank Donald Trump, whose campaign continues to serve up delicious grist for the network's popular hosts, Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.
When Sansa Stark warned Jon Snow that her estranged husband excels at playing with people — "He's far better at it than you. He's been doing it all his life" — she might as well have been talking to CNN and MSNBC executives about their main competition. But Fox may want to be careful in their reporting if the political tides are, indeed, turning against the GOP's front man. As Ramsay's father Roose once warned his bastard son, if one acquires a reputation as a mad dog, one will be treated as a mad dog. Whatever: Ramsay slaughtered that old fool, so who cares what he thought, anyway?