Who will win the game of thrones? Right now, the money is on Daenerys.
Winter is here – and Westeros is spent.
When HBO’s “Game of Thrones” returns for season seven on Sunday, the threat of a zombie army and fire-breathing dragons pales compared to the economic crisis that the last six seasons of warfare have created across the Seven Kingdoms.
“A lot of the major characters are on the brink of financial disaster,” Matt McCaffrey, economic expert and assistant professor at the University of Manchester, told Moneyish. As the vast cast of nobles have battled and backstabbed each other to sit on the Iron Throne, the rest of the realm has suffered as the war effort took countless lives and resources. And now a years-long winter has begun, making food even more scarce.
“Nobody is really profiting off of the war at this point. The entire world is a gigantic mess,” said McCaffrey. “And this season we’re going to see it all come together – not just the characters and their plot lines, but their financial problems, as well.”
The fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books is really a game of coins, and McCaffrey has analyzed the political and economic engines driving the saga. Here, he breaks down which which families are still on somewhat secure financial footing – and which characters are about to go bust.
The Lannisters and King’s Landing: The Lannisters started the series as the most rich and powerful family, thanks to their gold mines and Cersei marrying the king of the realm. But the king’s reckless spending, and the war for the throne after his death, has left the Lannisters and the crown almost bankrupt and owing millions to the Iron Bank of Braavos. Plus, rumor has it that their gold mines have run dry.
“As a House, and now as rulers of Westeros, the Lannisters were just too attracted to debt,” said McCaffrey. They’ve destroyed their credit history with the Bank of Braavos, and worse, Cersei literally burned a bridge with her rich Highgarden allies by obliterating its heirs Margaery and Loras Tyrell in last season’s finale. Cersei also soured relations with the country of Dorne, and now the Tyrells and Dorne are backing Daenerys Targaryen’s army against the Lannisters.
“It’s unlikely the Lannisters as a family are going to survive this, because Cersei has alienated everyone around her. And you can win or lose a war depending on your financial connections,” said McCaffrey. “As for King’s Landing, the only hope at this point is to find a new leader to end this war and push for some stability in the land. Wartime prosperity is a fake boom; you have to shift your economy from building and creating consumer goods that people actually use to make life a little better, to producing tools of war, which don’t benefit people. Go back to a system of relatively low taxes, relatively low borrowing, and let the people earn a living once more.”
The North: The northern families, led by the Starks, have been hit hard by war from the Lannisters and their allies, the Boltons, as well as from the reaving Iron Islanders. The good news is, Jon Snow has been named King of the North and united the houses. And the northerners were already bracing for the long winter ahead.
“They knew winter was coming, so they are the best prepared of all the Seven Kingdoms to stick out a long, really bad winter,” said McCaffrey. “Unfortunately, their infighting has probably taken a pretty big toll on their resources.”
And now they’ve got a refugee crisis ever since Jon brought the Wildlings over the Wall – not to mention the Night’s Watch, which has been marginalized by the other kingdoms. “Jon has a whole new population to support,” said McCaffrey. “That’s a lot of mouths to feed, with not a lot of resources to go around.”
But if the Northerners, the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings can work together, they may be able to dig themselves out. “If they can set aside their differences, they can jumpstart the Northern economy a little more quickly and get back on track to survive the winter,” said McCaffrey. “And the Night’s Watch should consider incorporating Wildlings into its ranks, because 90% of its troops and supplies have been decimated by all of these battles and sieges.”
Daenerys Targaryen: The end of last season saw the exiled daughter of the deposed “Mad King” sailing to conquer Westeros and reclaim the throne from the Lannisters. Not only does she appear to have the financial and military support of the wealthy kingdoms of Dorne and Highgarden, as well as merchants in the eastern continent of Essos – she also has three dragons, which are weapons of mass destruction in this world where the monsters were recently considered extinct.
“She is doing pretty well because she has spent so much time (six seasons!) building an army and gathering potential allies who are well-off,” McCaffrey said. “The Dornish are still doing well because they’ve stayed out of the wars so far. They’ve also been biding their time and waiting for their moment to strike. I don’t think there are a lot of threats that Daenerys needs to worry about in Westeros, simply because everyone else is in such bad financial straits.”
Well, there’s the White Walkers and their undead army. But we’ll see how that plays out.
The Iron Bank of Braavos: The bank is the most powerful financial institution in this world, serving both continents. It has made some bad investments – like lending money to the Lannisters and King’s Landing, which Cersei refuses to repay. But the Iron Bank will always “have its due” in the end, either through violent threats or financially backing one’s adversary. It funded Stannis Baratheon in his war against the Lannisters, for example, although Stannis died.
Still, the Iron Bank is too big to fail – as long as it stops offering subprime loans. “As long as it doesn’t back another loser in the fight for the throne – it will be fine,” said McCaffrey. So the bank should be wary of investing in Dany until her victory is sure.
The Iron Islanders: These seafaring pirates famously “do not sow,” and subsist by conquering people and taking everything they have, rather than creating their own goods or buying merchandise. In that sense, they’re very similar to the nomadic Dothraki warriors. War suits the Iron Islanders temporarily; they took advantage of the Seven Kingdoms’ squabbling to conquer parts of the North, including Winterfell. But they’ve already lost everything they won. And even though some Ironborn, including Yara and Theon Greyjoy, have joined Dany’s ranks, it’s unclear what their future will be after the great war to come. “There are only so many people to exploit, so you’re always going to be on the move to find new people. It’s not a very good long-term strategy.”
Littlefinger: The former treasurer of the kingdom is responsible for the regicide in season one that brought the chaotic events of “Game of Thrones” into motion. He skillfully plays every side – pledging his loyalty to Cersei in King’s Landing, while also trying to manipulate Sansa Stark to run the North, and controlling the Knights of the Vale. “He is poised to profit from all of this, but I’m not sure he is actually going to succeed,” said McCaffrey. “At this point, all of the events of the story to acquire the Iron Throne have been so destructive that it’s become a question of who gets to be king over the ashes.”
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