Warning: this article contains spoilers for all previous seasons of Game of Thrones. If you’re not caught up, you best get caught up soon, because the new season premieres this Sunday.
In the finale of the fifth season of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow descends the stairs of Castle Black to meet the Night’s Watch. He sees a post with the word TRAITOR written across it and in that moment, both Jon and the audience realize he is in trouble. A beat later, Alliser Thorne moves forward and swiftly stabs Jon in the stomach. “For the Watch,” he says, withdrawing his knife and stepping back.
One by one, Jon’s brothers of the Night’s Watch step forward and drives their knives into Jon’s stomach, each whispering, “For the Watch.” Jon falls to his knees.
The last to approach him is Olly, Jon’s own steward. He drives his knife into Jon’s stomach, uttering a quiet, determined, “For the Watch.” The man and the boy share one long, final look. Jon collapses and Olly retreats with the rest of the Watch, his face frozen in an expression of pain.
Jon is left dying on the ground, his blood pouring from his wound and staining the white snow.
Goodnight, sweet prince.
Jon Snow’s death was, in many ways, a long time coming. After all, he had been dancing in between allegiances with the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings for a long time. But we weren’t exactly sure when it would happen–and if you aren’t a book reader, you might have thought that maybe, just maybe, he would make it out alright.
Game of Thrones has a reputation for killing off its audience’s favorite characters. It’s become a running joke and a warning that fans give to new viewers: don’t get too attached to any character, because they’ll probably get axed. Or poisoned. Or stabbed. Or pushed into an abyss. You get the idea. Seasons will typically wrap up with at least one major death (or massacre) in either the finale or one of the later episodes–y’know, just to leave viewers feeling good.
The point is, there is a lot of murdering and double-crossing in Game of Thrones, and it’s generally in a character’s grab for power. Betrayals between allies are a regular day occurrence in Westeros.
We decided to take a closer look at these acts of betrayal. We wanted to see: who double-crosses who? Which characters gain the most from their acts of treachery? Who rises in power and who falls? What were the relationships between the betrayers and the betrayed? What were their motives? Was it for power, love, revenge, money?
To do this, we combed through the last five seasons of the show to chart the acts of betrayal and the resulting shifts in power for each character involved. We recorded 65 different acts of betrayal–every betrayal in the show, to our knowledge. We define betrayal as an act of going against one’s word, or an act of breaking the trust of a family member or ally. We then recorded the acts and categorized them by perpetrator (the one who committed the act of betrayal) and victim (the one who was betrayed), the relationship between both characters, and the motive behind the betrayal.
You can view the full spreadsheet of our findings here.
I want to make it clear that we are looking strictly at the TV show. Any differences between the books and the show are not accounted for–we’re just looking at the events as they have unfolded in the show.
The web of betrayals in Game of Thrones
I’m going to put forward a notion: power favors the treacherous.
At least, that’s what Game of Thrones seems to suggest. The characters in Game of Thrones who have emerged by the most powerful by the end of the fifth season are, by and large, the most treacherous.
A cursory glance at the numbers shows that the first season had the highest number of betrayals between characters. Characters were busy in season one. They got the ball rolling for the fallout that would unravel in the next four seasons.
You’ll remember, for example, the betrayal that started it all: Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish agrees to be Ned Stark’s ally and help him reveal the Lannister’s attempted murder of Bran Stark. But he quickly turns and betrays Ned, aiding the City Watch in taking down Ned’s men. Things really went well for Ned after that.
We examined every act of betrayal in the last five seasons (again, to our knowledge) to see who betrayed who and what the outcomes of their betrayals were. What we found was that in the Game of Thrones, to deceive is , usually, to come out on top. The characters who by the end of the fifth season have the most power have also committed the most acts of betrayal. Most of their victims are dead and their houses decimated.
The infographic below shows the web of betrayals between characters in Game of Thrones.
Even though a significant number of characters have committed acts of betrayal, the majority of characters are still more likely to be betrayed. The only exception is Petyr Baelish, who from the beginning has only been betrayed once, by Ros, who revealed his secrets to Varys.*
Who did they betray and why?
With friends like these, who needs enemies?
This seems to be the case in Game of Thrones, where the majority of betrayers were allies (47%) and family members (33%) of the betrayed.
But why? What motives drives them to turn on their own people? The majority of characters who betray their allies do it to gain power, followed by revenge. Of the characters who betray their own family members, their primary motives are equally out of love for another character and out of a desire for power.
If you want a prime example, just look at the mess that is the Lannister family. They deserve their own reality TV show. Cersei Lannister cheats on her husband with her own brother, Jaime Lannister. Cersei asks Jaime to kill their other brother, Tyrion Lannister. Jaime goes against Cersei’s wishes and frees Tyrion when he’s imprisoned. Tyrion murders his father, Tywin Lannister, on the freaking toilet (truly, a game of thrones). Needless to say, dinner scenes with the Lannisters are tense.
The infographic below shows the relationship between the betrayer and the betrayed, and their reason for treachery.
How did those acts of betrayal cause powers to shift?
So who is a viable contender for the Iron Throne? We looked at the eleven most viable players in Game of Thronesand ranked their power at the beginning of the series on a scale of 1-10. We then looked at their associated betrayals throughout each season and the corresponding shift in their power. Characters who are deceased were given a -1 at the point of their death in the series.
One caveat: this process was fairly subjective. We consulted several self-proclaimed Game of Thrones super fans and got their input on the rankings, but there is certainly room for interpretation.
When you think of major power shifts that have taken place in the series, there are a couple of characters who probably come to mind immediately. Daenerys Targaryen is one obvious example: she starts out as the orphaned daughter of a king who was ousted from the throne by Robert Baratheon. Sold to Khal Drogo by her brother in exchange for an army, she is left to fend for herself in a culture she doesn’t understand. By the end of the fifth season, however, she has become a queen, amassed an army, and claimed the city of Qarth.
Of course, at the very end of the season, citizens of Qarth stage a coup against her and last we see her, she’s deposited by her dragon in the middle of an open field, surrounded by an unknown khalasar–but even so. Her power jumps from a meagre 1 in the first episode of the first season, to an 8 in the fourth season, and then down to a 6 in the fifth season.
Other characters whose powers have shifted dramatically include Tywin Lannister, Petyr Baelish, Stannis Baratheon, and Varys. See the power shifts for each character in the infographic below.
Originally posted 2016-04-23 11:06:00.