Caution: Spoilers are coming if you haven't seen the latest episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones."
"Battle of the Bastards," Sunday's epic "Game of Thrones" slugfest, was loaded with muddy battles, clanging swordplay and tender embraces between man and dog. But a few of us here couldn't help but ignore all the fighting to focus on one particularly fascinating negotiation playing out in Meereen between two up-and-coming national leaders, dragon mom Daenerys Stormborn and pirate queen Yara Greyjoy.
Their short chat illuminated a few of our present-day debates, as we discussed in the brief chat below. What does the political strife on Westeros' steely Iron Islands have to do with America's 2016 presidential race? What are the dangers of a potential "Westerexit"? And can a community rooted in stealing and chanteys learn to appreciate a service economy?
Drew Harwell: So here’s one of the more understated economic pickles of “Game of Thrones.” Euron “Crow’s Eye” Greyjoy has risen to power by promising to Make Pyke Great Again, by going out and doing all the things the Iron Islanders have loved, like raiding undefended waterfront towns. Now Yara and Theon have gone to Meereen to ask for Dany’s help. And in exchange, they’ve offered to stop doing all that raping and reaving.
It’s a nice offer, but Pyke’s entire economy depends on that sort of plunder. They live on boats in a rocky coast. They have no farmland. They don’t support or incentivize trade; indeed, paying anything but the “iron price” – killing for it – is seen as wussy stuff. Has Yara hurt her case with the Iron Islanders by pledging to undermine their entire economy?
Jim Tankersley: Great question. Amazing question. Drew Harwell asks the best questions. But I think it's the wrong question. Yara has already lost with the Iron Islanders -- they voted Euron at the King's Moot. What she's attempting in Meereen is nothing short of a military coup. The thing about a military coup is that you don't need to win hearts and minds to pull one off. You need to win them later, after you've taken power, and you're desperately trying to convince the populace that your regime is legitimate.
Her best case for that is: I won us sovereignty. (The price is raping and reaving.) So I would say the right question is, which do the Iron Islanders value more: Their independence or their economy? Oh my God we're talking about Brexit, aren't we?
Harwell: We are talking about a Westerexit, and the nice thing about the Ironborn is we can probably better predict how they'd vote. They're single-mindedly fierce and, as a culture, pretty shortsighted. (They also value toughness over pretty much everything else; hence, why baptismal drownings are fun community events.) So independence probably means way more to them, and their pride, than thoughts about economic viability five years out.
But after the coup, if Yara/Theon pull it off, they might end up all happy and independent – but with no plunder to stay alive, and no ideas on where to get it. No amount of dragonfire will save Yara then, right? It’s a similar debate as what Tyrion dealt with, in his negotiating with the Great Masters, who argued that slaving was their way of life – and Dany’s elite wouldn’t want to take that away, would they? There’s an anger there when the culture is so irrevocably changed – especially by a foreign sovereign like Dany.
Tankersley: I think that's right, and also, what's to stop the Ironborn from believing they can have independence and their traditional economy? Someone is going to make that appeal to the masses there. If Euron is still around at that point -- and it's hard to believe he would be, given that he would have been displaced in a military coup -- he'd do it. Otherwise, someone else. Which is where economic and security interests collide, obviously. The price for a return to reaving would be dragon fire. And possible loss of sovereignty again.
These issues of identity and economics are hard to untangle, but I think it's clear that this is why Euron won the election. He wasn't promising one or the other. He was promising both. But let's say Yara wins and they really do give up reaving. Do the Ironborn starve?
Harwell: You're right on about Euron's campaign. Yara, who would be Pyke’s first woman ruler, is appealing dryly to reason. Euron is appealing to passion – a return to the sweet days of history, when the Ironborn were fearsome and strong and politically incorrect. (I see no parallels to any current election.) Euron made this point about his brother Balon (shortly after he won their playful shoving match on an OSHA-noncompliant bridge): He kneeled to Robert after the rebellion, and so who was he to tell us how to live?
Tankersley: If Yara gets her way the Ironborn won't be kneeling. They'll be fishing. It's the only real marketable skill they have left, right?
Harwell: It’s possible the Ironborn could build a peaceful economy based on fishing, casino cruises and shell necklaces. But it’d be totally opposite from how they’ve lived their lives up to this point: Reaving, raiding, reaping and ‘rithmetic. They show some signs of community organization – the kingsmoot is more democratic than practically anything else we see in Westeros – but they reject pretty much all the other touches of a developed society. There is no Iron Islands Federal Reserve.
Which underlines, again, the dangerous gambit Yara/Theon is pursuing. It may be the right thing to do, but she’ll have to convince her soggy brothers and sisters back home that it was the best long-term move. All things considered, if you live on a wooden boat, you’re probably less likely to argue with the queen of three flying flamethrowers.
Tankersley: This is where the Brexit comparison breaks down I suppose. There are lots of studies being produced by the "remain" camp warning Brits that their economy will suffer if they leave the EU. But no one is arguing they have to give up high finance or any of their other top industries if they leave. And unlike the Ironborn, at least the Brits get to vote!