Game of Thrones: Economics of Mercy and Other Final Lessons

This image released by HBO shows from left to right Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Sophie Turner in a scene from the final episode of
This image released by HBO shows from left to right Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Sophie Turner in a scene from the final episode of "Game of Thrones," that aired Sunday, May 19, 2019. Photo: HBO via AP

WASHINGTON — So Daenerys broke the wheel, after all. Or at least knocked it out of alignment.

The long-suffering people of Westeros get a chance at a new beginning in the final episode of HBO’s epic series “Game of Thrones.” But Dany won’t lead the resurrection, having been stabbed to death by her lover/nephew/erstwhile partner in wheel-breaking Jon Snow.

Instead, the realm is making a new go of it under the unconventional leadership of the charisma-free but all-knowing Bran the Broken and his adviser, Tyrion Lannister, who has endured a lengthy losing streak when it comes to wise decision-making.

Jon Snow, true heir to the dragon-melted glob that used to be the Iron Throne, has been exiled to the northlands. Samwell Tarly’s suggestion of a turn to democracy was quickly and predictably laughed off by the lords of Westeros.


In the Associated Press’ weekly “Wealth of Westeros ” series, we’ve been following fantasy show’s plot twists and analyzing the economic and business forces driving the story. Here we offer some takeaways from eight seasons of beheadings, betrayals and betrothals and from the series finale in particular.


Let’s face it. Brandon Stark — aka the Three-Eyed Raven, aka Bran the Broken — is missing the personal magnetism we often associate with and expect of leaders. Expressionless and near-catatonic most of the time, he looks like the emo kid in first-period gym class. And, confined to his wheelchair, he’s no warrior in a realm where might has always made right.

But maybe charisma isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Management consultant James Collins studied successful companies and found that the best leaders “were uncharismatic for the most part.” A 2006 study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Yale University found that “perceptions of CEO charisma were not associated with subsequent organizational performance.”

In a 2017 writeup, Clark Waterfall, founder of the executive search firm BSG Team Ventures, argued that magnetic leaders come with drawbacks. The power of their personalities tends “to suppress individual thinking and leadership development in subordinate teams. Leaders with charisma can create a culture of ‘followers,’ rather than young, budding leaders.”

Replacing charismatic CEOs can also lead to succession crises, Waterfall wrote.


Ser Bronn of the Blackwater — an assassin and bodyguard always ready to offer his services to the highest bidder — wouldn’t seem the obvious choice to oversee the realm’s finances. But there he is in the first meeting of the post-Dany Small Council, already taking an outsize interest in financing the reconstruction of the King’s Landing’s brothels, establishments that he once patronized with considerable frequency and enthusiasm.

Then again, there’s precedent for putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously made alleged financial manipulator Joseph Kennedy (JFK’s father) the first chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission to police Wall Street. Future SEC Chair Jerome Frank compared the move to “setting a wolf to herd a flock of sheep.” Confounding the skeptics, Kennedy succeeded in establishing the SEC’s credibility.


Dany’s decision to torch King’s Landing — and her stated intention to spread dragon fire to Dorne, Winterfell, Qarth and points beyond — drove away her closest allies and led a heartbroken Jon Snow to plunge a knife into her chest to save the world from her revolutionary madness.

History suggests that the retribution she planned can backfire, while mercy can have an economic and geopolitical payoff.

After the end of World War I, the victors demanded reparation payments that forced Germany into economic and political chaos, discredited democratic governments and led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II.

No one was more prescient in warning about the need for generous peace than the British economist John Maynard Keynes. He wrote in 1919 in “The Economic Consequence of Peace” that trapping people in poverty would destabilize the politics and progress of Europe:

“If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long that final civil war between the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsions of Revolution, before which the horrors of the late German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is victor, the civilization and the progress of our generation.”

The Allies learned. After World War II, America led the rebuilding of defeated Germany and Japan. Both turned into economic powerhouses and pillars of a post-war democratic order in the industrialized world.


One question that long surrounded “Game of Thrones” was whether war, political instability, and the destruction of numerous aristocratic families would lead to major political change for the long-suffering Westerosi.

With the end of hereditary rule, it did.

No longer will the throne (whatever it is made of) simply pass to the oldest male heir. (After all, newly-crowned Bran can’t have children). Instead, the remaining lords will pick the new monarchs. It’s not exactly democracy. But in the context of the history of Westeros, it’s as momentous a change as the Magna Carta.

The end of inherited power should be good for the Six Kingdoms’ economy. Family-owned businesses, where management and ownership are determined by birth, rather than merit, typically don’t perform as well over time as independently-run companies, economic research has found.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says that less than a third of family businesses survive into the third generation. And most of those that do usually install professional, independent management.


So things may be looking up for Westeros: After centuries of economic stagnation, competent management rather than inherited rule might spark some long-overdue growth.

Story: Paul Wiseman, Christopher Rugaber and Josh Boak, AP Economics Writers

Read the Wealth of Westeros archives.