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Leadership styles may predict who will win the Game of Thrones

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Uncategorised/Work Psychology by

Game-of-ThronesLast year I blogged about the different leadership styles portrayed on Game of Thrones. Here’s an update for Season 6 now several leaders have been eliminated. Warning, spoilers ahead.

Who’s ultimately going to win the Game of Thrones? Using Goleman and colleagues’ leadership styles, this infographic displays the leadership characteristics of the Game of Thrones characters. It also shows their liklihood of winning the iron throne.

These leadership styles are adopted by most of us from time to time. We can also use more than one style depending on the circumstances. Here’s a summary of the different styles:

The Coach

Coaches build teams and make use of their strengths. They work on developing others, such as when Ned Stark arranges for his daughter, Arya Stark, to have swordplay lessons. Adopters of the coaching style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow


Democratic leaders seek and represent the views and opinions of others. For example, Jon Snow demonstrates this style when he protects the views of a perceived enemy–the Wildlings. Adopters of the demographic style: Jon Snow, Doran Martell, Lord Varys (possible misdirection).

The Pace-setter

The pace-setter takes the bull by the horns and leads the way. They show his or her followers how to achieve their goals. The pace-setter is represents a hands style of leadership. For example, when Ned Stark insists on personally delivering executions with his trusty sword. Adopters of the pace-setter style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow, Robert Baratheon (in his prime), Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark


Affiliative leaders influence by building relationships. They are motivated to unite people to achieve their goals, such as when Robert Baratheon reunites with Ned Stark to merge their families. Adopters of the affiliative style are: Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenarys Targaryen, Tommen Baratheon


In Westeros, all leaders need to adopt some level of command to control the chaos. Commanding leaders set directives and demand compliance. When it’s not present, such as with Tommen Baratheon, other characters manipulate and take advantage. When it’s too excessive, such as with Joffrey Baratheon, other characters plot their downfall. Adopters of the commanding style are: Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister (as Hand of the King), Cercei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys Targaryen, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy


Visionary leaders align people by setting an inspiring goal for the future. Daenerys Targaryen aligns the people with the prospect of freedom from slavery. Brandon Stark drives support with his prophetic visions of the ‘black crow’.Top adopters of the commanding style:

Daenarys Targaryen, Brandon Stark, Lord Varys (has a vision but is unclear), Littlefinger (perhaps), Tywin Lannister (the Lannister legacy drives him)

Failed leadership styles

Failed leaders largely adopted more commanding styles of leadership. Many of them, such as Ned and Rob Stark not only commanded but led from the front as coaches. Nevertheless, these styles appear to have short lived success in the world of Westeros where the politics demand a focus on relationships.

It is likely that top adopters of the commanding style, such as Cercei Lannister, and Ramsay Bolton will not persevere based on the trajectory of their characters on the show. Their one dimensional approach makes them powerful but unpopular.

Successful leaders in Game of Thrones

Top contenders of the iron throne are affiliative and visionary. For example,Tyrion Lannister tempers a commanding and forthright style with a warm and kind heart. Daenerys drives leadership through vision, compassion and a firm hand. Jon Snow balances his command with his relationships and willingness to get involved, like his brother and father.

Outside Chances

However, Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, likes to surprise us. Some outside chances for success come in the form of true visionaries like Varys, Littlefinger and Brandon Stark. These characters are not traditional leaders. They work in the shadows and behind the scenes. But they operate as meta-players, seeing the game for what it is and adopting a longer term strategy.

Brandon is now viewing Westeros through the eyes of the trees. Littlefinger is manipulating entire families to feud so that he can use the chaos to his advantage. Varys appears to be preparing Westeros for a new leader from abroad.

‘Winner’ of the Iron Throne?

Jon Snow is the most rounded of the characters. He is democratic, affiliative, commanding, pace-setting, and coaching. My prediction is that now he is reborn, he will become more of a visionary, and lead the charge forward to secure the iron throne or remove it entirely.

Game of Thrones TV Show Vs. Books

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

There is an endless struggle and debate that rages about what’s better: the book or the movie. Readers claim films and TV shows are never as good as the source material. They are also angered when a TV show or film detours too much from this material.

The creators of these shows and films have a delicate balancing act. They need to somehow capture what made the book so interesting and engaging in the first place but are also hampered by time constraints, and budget.

Why do TV and film have to deviate from books?

Creators are also influenced by what they perceive to be different consumer needs. Research suggests that the medium we choose (i.e. film, TV, book) may be influenced by these needs.For example, research suggests that fantasy stories meet our desire for thrills. Fantasy portrayed on TV and books appear to meet this need. However, literature generally meets another need as well, called ‘aesthetics’, which is an interest in complexity and nuances.Perhaps this may explain why book readers can be so easily frustrated when the complexity and nuances from the books is watered down for TV and film.

Game of Thrones balancing act


Take the popular series Game of Thrones. The series on which it is based ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ has sold a reported 24 million copies worldwide. That’s 24 million people who are primed to watch the show.The audience for the show is even larger. For just season 4 of Game of Thrones, there were over 18 million viewers, which doesn’t factor in the millions who illegally download individual shows or those who purchase the DVD.It’s safe to assume that many of these millions of viewers are a mix of book readers as well as those who would never take on the epic read.

At some point, there’ll be a crossover of needs.

Book lovers will be aghast at their beloved story being chopped or streamlined. Television lovers may get frustrated by the drawn out plots that are better suited to novels.

I remember reading articles that predicted doom for the series after staying true to the books and  killing off the main character, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), in season 1. They claimed that the removal of such a high profile actor would not resonate with fans of the TV show, suggesting that television requires a different mentality to the books.

They should somehow find a spot for Eddard. An idea that’s absurd in hindsight.

As both show and book fans know, this death is a catalyst for many of the most exciting plots. The show quickly differentiated itself from other television shows by having a reputation of killing off popular and—seemingly—untouchable characters to shock viewers and send the plot down interesting and unpredictable paths.

More recently, the writers have deviated from the books significantly. The last two books were renowned for being slower in pace, and for introducing a number of new characters and sub-plots. The writers addressed these concerns by streamlining the stories and cutting many of the new characters. Has deviating from the books paid off? Let’s look at some of the most significant changes from the show.

Change #1. Jamie and Tyrion Depart on Good/Bad terms


When dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, is sentenced to death in Season 4 of Game of Thrones, his brother, Jamie, comes to the rescues. They embrace and part ways. In the novel, things don’t end well.In a backstory revealed in the earlier novels and first season of the show, Tyrion talks about a woman he loved who turned out to be a prostitute paid by Jamie to show his brother a good time. The woman was then raped by a gang of Tywin Lannister’s—Tyrion’s father—army and sent on her way. Jamie reveals she was never a prostitute. Their love was real.In anger, Tyrion dishonestly claims to have killed Tyrion’s son, Joffrey, and informs Jamie that Cercei—Jamie’s lover and sister—has been sleeping with a gamut of other men.

Why the series is better: The writers planned for Jamie to go on a quest to help Cercei, in Season 5 which would have been hard if he resented her. Even though Tyrion’s backstory was revealed in Season 1, many of the viewers would have forgotten and found it hard to reconnect with this particular story.

Why the book is better: This scene sets up Tyrion’s quest to find his one true love. The books imply he will find her, perhaps promising a happy ending for Tyrion. Meanwhile, Jamie is disgruntled and abandons Cercei, leaving her to self-destruct with no hope Jamie will return to save her.

Which is better: The book


Change #2  Jamie visits Dorne


In the show, Jamie travels with fan favourite, Bronn, to Dorne to rescue his daughter, Marcella. He fights, gets captured and finally makes peace with the Prince of Dorne.In the book, Jamie is nowhere near Dorne. He takes off to the Riverlands to negotiate peace terms after the war. Meanwhile, in Dorne we are introduced to several new characters and a slow, emerging plot that reveals the Doran has sent his son to Mereen to marry the dragon queen, Daenarys Targarayen. Why the show is better: The show gives us some adventures with Jamie and Bronn and keeps the plot lean. The various sub-plots and characters from the books may have been confusing and are edited to present a simpler, cleaner story.

Why the book is better: The book introduces us to a completely new culture through the eyes of new characters. It takes time to get to point, but presents Doran as a patient player and wild card in the Game of Thrones.

Which is better: The book.


Change #3. Tyrion meets Daenerys


In the latter books, Tyrion spends much of his time travelling, meeting a variety of new characters. When he finally makes it to Mereen, we can only hope that he’ll meet Daenerys and we’ll finally see these two important characters align. However, they never meet.In the show, Tyrion’s travels are condensed and cut right back. He even meets Daenerys and commences advising her in some of the better scenes of Season 5. Why the book is better: George RR Martin knows we want Tyrion to make his way to Meeren, befriend Danerys and return to the seven kingdoms to help right all the wrongs. The fact that Martin didn’t give the readers what they want will just keep us more interested for the next chapters.

Why the show is better: The Tyrion chapters in A Dance with Dragons were notoriously disliked by a vocal fanbase because they dragged on so long and started to make Tyrion unlikeable. The show has short circuited this and has managed to keep most of the highlights from the book.

Which is better: The show


Change #4 Sansa meets Ramsay Bolton


In the books, we don’t know what happens to Sansa yet but the show has pushed forward with re-engineering the Theon Greyjoy storyline. The book has cruel Ramsay Bolton rape and torture another character, Jeyne Poole, who is posing as Arya Stark (it’s a long story). In the show, Sansa replaces Jeyne much to the horror of book readers.Why the books are better: It’s hard to know what will happen to Sansa but being raped and tortured by the Boltons seems a bit much after she’s endured so much already.Why the show is better: The Jeyne Poole chapters were more about Theon Greyjoy overcoming his post-traumatic stress to redeem himself. The show provides an opportunity for this redemption to come in the form of saving Sansa, which may be more powerful to the audience.

Which is better: Unknown until we see the new Sansa chapters.


Change #5 Stannis burns Shireen


Stannis Baratheon has a bit of a cult following. In the books, he’s one of those underdogs whose motivations are grey. He does horrible things, like burning people, but also remains fiercely committed to his own code of honour.In the latter books, George RR Martin lets us warm to the character by uniting him with hero, Jon Snow, rescuing the Night’s Watch and then taking off to take down the evil Boltons, the primary antagonists.Stannis even appears to be shifting away from all the burnings and returning to his roots when he leaves Melisandre—the red witch—back at the Wall with Jon Snow.

In the show, Melisandre accompanies Stannis with his daughter and wife. Stannis is still committed to his religion and sacrifices Shireen to the fire prior to his battle with the Boltons.

This deviation from the books removes the grey from Stannis’ character and makes his actions irrefutably evil.

Why the books are better: We are slowly warming to Stannis when it is revealed that he has been defeated in battle. It’s not known whether this is a deception, but it creates a drama that may now be missing from the show.

Why the show is better: The show gives us the inevitable pay-off of Stannis sacrificing his soul for his ego. He will win at any cost and the burning of Shireen is one of the more shocking moments.

Which is better: The books.


Change #6 Mance Rayder is executed


In the books, the wildling king beyond the wall is sentenced to burn by Stannis Baratheon. However, the red witch— Melisandre —uses her magic to change Mance’s appearance with another character, Rattleshirt, who burns in his place.Mance ultimately leads a rescue mission to save a woman Jon believes to be his sister, Sansa. Mance is then presumably captured by the Boltons, energising the wildlings to assist Jon to rescue their leader.In the show, Mance burns and his story ends.

Why the books are better: Mance has a better rapport with Jon in the books and becomes a sort of mentor/ally. The sub-plot throws yet another motivation for Jon to abandon his vows to save his friend.

Why the show is better. The books are a bit convoluted here. Melisandre sudden ability to change people’s appearances seems a bit convenient and ultimately pointless, and the Stannis plot may not really go anywhere other than finding him captured and finally killed.

Which is better: A draw.

Overall Winner: The Books


What’s going to happen to our Game of Thrones characters?

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

The Game of Thrones characters have been through many ups and downs (mostly downs). Many of these stories fit a particular narrative identity.Narrative identities involve stories that we tell ourselves that explain our life stories. In particular, we often tell ourselves stories that explain how we overcome adversity.

Redemption Stories

Narrative identities around redemption involve stories where people overcome obstacles to help them reassess their life. Characters like Daenerys Targaryen experience hardships, such as her life being sold into slavery, and learn to appreciate freedom.

Contamination Stories

Contamination stories involve a person experiencing an endless spiraling down. So many characters fit this story but it’s the Starks who are endlessly discovering misfortune and corruption.

Connection Stories

Where characters form bonds after some trauma, they are participating in a ‘connection’ narrative. Arya, for example, forms a connection with the Hound after her frequent series of misfortunes.

Fighter Story

Many of the characters in Game of Thrones push through obstacles and difficulties with blunt force or their wits, taking control of their destiny. Tyrion spends much of the first two seasons fighting through his obstacles, which is perhaps why he’s so popular.

Where to next?

Perhaps narrative stories can tell us where our characters will end up, at least in the short term.Daenerys continues to be manipulated and is starting to demonstrate the mad rage of her father. Jon Snow has prioritised the needs of the realm over the needs of his comrades at the wall.  These characters are likely on a downward ‘contamination spiral’.Meanwhile, Sansa is showing signs of fighting back with the help of Theon, who is crying out for someone to reconnect with his humanity (a connection arc).

These narrative stories and predictions are presented in the graphic above.

Why Game of Thrones surprises us – Part 2

in Film & TV Psychology by


Previously on Game of Thrones…
I discussed the common archetype of the hero and how George RR Martin uses our familiarity with this archetype as a form of misdirection.

Part 2 looks at the archetype of the ‘Lover’ and the ‘Innocent’ and how Martin dangles hope for one character to tease the audience.

The Lover is motivated by finding true love (see pretty much every Disney princess). They are also easily influenced by the approvals of others and fear being abandoned or alone.

The Innocent is ignorant of the evil in the world. They always want to do the right thing and fear being punished for misdeeds (see a summary here but beware the fine line between psychology and the mystical).

Anyway, which character fits the archetype of the Lover and Innocent best? Is it Sir Gregor Glegane or Tywin Lannister? Spoilers ahead.

The Lover/Innocent – Sansa Stark

At the start of the series, Sansa is innocent. She’s easily shocked by the true horrors of Westeros and is fixated with marrying Prince Joffrey. She’s both the Innocent and the Lover.

How does Martin manipulate these archetypes? Time and time again, he dangles true love in front of Sansa and yanks it away to shock us.

Twist #1. Sansa’s sweet prince is a psychopath

The story is in place for the Lover. She’s met her sweet prince, Joffrey. He will one day be king and admires Sansa from afar. Everything is set for Sansa to fall in love and be his queen.

But then, Martin reveals Joffrey to be the psychopath he really is. He removes poor Ned’s head and then Martin consistently places Sansa into awkward encounters. You know, being humiliated and tortured in front of crowds. That sort of thing.

Twist #2. Sansa’s handsome rescuer is a drunk, scarred dwarf

But maybe it’ll all work out? After all, perhaps the Lover/Innocent overcomes her obstacles to find her one true prince charming? That’s the angle Martin is going for in this new twist (note. slightly different in the book).

Sansa will be wed to the knight she fell in love with, Loras Tyrell, and live far away from Joffrey. It’s all a happy ending, right?

Unfortunately for Sansa, the Lannisters interfere again and she ends up marrying Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf known as the Imp. Martin doesn’t allow the Lover to marry the man of her dreams at all. He dangles hope and then pulls it away.

Twist #3. Sansa is finally rescued by a real knight

But maybe it’ll all work out for her…again? A knight she once saved from execution has returned to save her but once again, her saviour is not the man of her dreams. Continuing with the ironic twists of past, Martin has Sansa rescued by a drunk fool. But, hey, at least he’s sincere and turns out to be a real hero…sort of.

Twist #4. Sansa is finally rescued by the most evil man in Westeros

And it even turns out this fool isn’t really all that heroic. He’s working for the most evil dude in Westeros, Littlefinger. After the murder of Joffrey, Martin has Sansa rescued from the (Lannister) lion den and straight into Littlefinger’s fingers..

Twist #5. Sansa finally plays the Game of Thrones

After her crazy aunt tries to kill her, Sansa covers for Littlefinger, demonstrating that she is now a player. After endlessly being abused and used as a pawn, the real twist is that Sansa is no longer the Innocent or the Lover. 

Why Game of Thrones surprises us – Part 1

in Film & TV Psychology by


What’s in a plot twist? Part of it’s surprise. In the case of Game of Thrones, it’s usually in the form of a sudden and brutal shock. Just when you thought you knew what was going to happen, writer George RR Martin throws a curve ball.

To surprise a modern, savvy audience, you essentially need to be a master at misdirection. That is, get them to anticipate the direction of a story, set up all the pieces and clues, and then catapult the plot into a completely different direction.

One way to play with an audience is to present them with familiar story archetypes.

Game of Thrones and Story Archetypes


The Lover



The Caregiver



The Everyman



The Explorer



The Father The Hero



The Ruler


According to Carl Yung, archetypes are universal ‘thought-forms’ that are innate to all people. Put simply, there are familiar characters and stories throughout history and across cultures that continually re-emerge in the form of archetypes.

The ‘hero’ archetype is depicted in countless popular films. This archetype involves the hero going on a journey where they fall, confront their inner demons, and then rise again to fight another day. These themes underpin films like Star Wars, Rocky, and pretty much every superhero movie.

Martin uses these common archetypes to prime the audience and then often does the complete opposite. That is, the hero may fall but then doesn’t rise again. Or maybe he becomes the villain?

What are some examples? Spoilers ahead!

The Hero


Ned Stark


Robb Stark


The Red Viper

Hero Twist #1. Ned is beaten and cornered but there’s an escape plan

Ned Stark is the main protagonist in the first series and played by A-List actor, Sean Bean. He’s honourable, loyal, and strong. And, like all heroes, he takes on the primary villains: The Lannisters.

Ned ends up beaten and delirious in a black cell. This isn’t an odd situation for a hero. Surely he will escape? We are given plenty of evidence to support the notion that Ned is simply on a hero’s journey and will eventually rise again.

First, he’s played by Sean Bean, the main star and protagonist of the series! Second, he’s given a terrible choice: die or beg for mercy. Mercy will lead him to his son, Jon Snow, at a cold and merciless purgatory with the ‘Night’s Watch’.

It just so happens the Night’s Watch look like they are about to face a larger, supernatural evil too. So, we are led to think Ned will escape death and make his way to his son to help him fight this evil. All he has to do is sacrifice his honour.

Which he does.

Hero Twist #2. The son avenges the father

Now we want revenge! Robb, Ned’s son, is mounting an attack. He’s unstoppable. He has his father’s characteristics of loyalty and bravery. But even though the ‘young wolf’ never lost a battle, he’s losing the war.

Again, we are led to believe Robb is beaten but not defeated. His hero’s journey is to rise up and win the war and avenge his father.

He’s even got a back-up plan. An ally in the war is ready to lend his support. Robb’s just got one obstacle in his way. Robb promised to marry the daughter of this ally, Walder Frey, but instead chooses to marry another. He ultimately needs to rely on Walder who arranges another wedding…


Hero Twist #3. Red Viper to the rescue

The Red Viper (Oberyn Martell) is introduced well into the series with his own hero arc. We learn that one of the chief villains of the series, Gregor Clegane (aka the Mountain), murdered the Red Viper’s sister and her children.

Glegane is begging for a comeuppance. He tortures, rapes and murders with fury. He’s also partial to animal cruelty.

When the Red Viper agrees to fight Glegane to the death to save Tyrion Lannister’s life, George RR Martin has us in his crosshairs again. Everything makes sense. Oberyn will rescue Tyrion, who will otherwise face the executioner. The Red Viper gets his revenge and the Mountain is toppled by the much smaller Viper in a classic David and Goliath battle.

Of course, this happens…(check out the reactions from the audience)

In part 2, I’ll look at how Martin uses the Lover archetype as misdirection.

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