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How 'Game of Thrones' ends according to diplomacy, warfare and economics experts

Fellow watchers on the Wall, Season 7 is upon us. 

Last year’s finale put all the major chess pieces on the board. Now, for the first time ever, we all enter the next chapter blind as a three-eyed raven — a truly blank slate to start off Season 7, whether you've read the books or not.

But Game of Thrones is complex beyond our emotionally driven fan theories, and while its roots are in human pursuits as old as time, its themes are more relevant than ever. Blame its creator for that.

"George R.R. Martin has thought so deeply about the forces that influence human behavior," said Stephen Dyson, professor of foreign policy and international relations at UConn, "that he has as much to say about real world politics as many of my academic colleagues."

What does an academic perspective tell us about how this all works out? Mashable asked real-world Maesters in diplomacy, international relations, medieval war history and economics to put their PhDs to use. 

And how do they see the major players faring?

Not just a fan favorite — the odds-on favorite. The platinum-haired conqueror captured the imagination of our experts, sailing off to Westeros with substantial Greyjoy ships, Dothraki fighting hordes, Unsullied, and three dragons.

The diplomat: Dany goes into Season 7 "injecting modern values into a medieval set of values," Dyson says, encapsulating contemporary thoughts on politics and terrorism: "Should you ... run a foreign policy where you go around freeing people who are not your people, in service of this idea of universal human right?" As a representative of progressivism, thematic odds appear stacked in her favor. She also has what are essentially the only weapons of mass destruction, so she might not even need to act diplomatically at all.

The Medieval war historian: She's Joan of Arc. The parallels write themselves between these two who use otherworldly connections to inspire loyalty. Aside from being the most impassioned fleet — an  important quality for pre-modern militaries — Dany’s proven herself a conqueror with the most diverse army; the Dothraki’s equivalent to huns or mongols, and her Unsullied equivalent the elite Persian Immortals. And, after all, if Martin is truly recreating the War of the Roses, then a "Tudor" must rise out of the battle — between the Starks and Lannisters.

The international politics expert: Politically, Daenerys not only formed the strongest tactical alliances, but is also one of the only major players with the sense to heed good counsel. "If Season 7 presents any political question it’s: do quality advisers matter?" Drezner asked. Dani must also have her Achilles heel — or this wouldn’t be Game of Thrones. The problem with feral weapons of mass destruction is that they can turn on you, or be killed — no more claims to a higher mystical command. 

The economists: She’s also made mistakes in governance similar to those of Cersei and other elites. As her attempts to free Slaver’s Bay by ruling through the same old monarchical system failed, they advise she abandon the "wheel" of Houses altogether, and instead capitalize on a common theme rising throughout the saga: the smallfolk’s disenchantment with the ruling class.

Having taken the Iron Throne by force, our experts all give Cersei the least chances of keeping it. Whatever talent she might’ve initially shown as a political mind withered under Westeros’ patriarchal society, according to Dyson and Devries.

The diplomat: While cautious to make the comparison, Dyson brings to mind the worn-out criticisms of Hillary Clinton: Power hungry, untrustworthy, poor candidate ... sound familiar?

The Medieval war historian: Devries believes the two women will face off in the Westerosi realm, paralleling last season’s Battle of the Bastards. Cersei’s isolated behind her walls without any significant alliances on the outside; her best strategy is to win loyalty back from within (a tough task now). But as she herself has pointed out, the map’s most powerful city also has its tactical disadvantages, with vulnerabilities in the harbor and a weakness to wildfire.

The international politics expert: Drezner categorizes Cersei as "the neo-conservative of the bunch." With recent politics on his mind or, "if you want to get truly Trumpian," he supposed that her only strategic chance would be a diversionary war. So, if she admits to the existence of an existential threat like the White Walkers, that might win her some time. For now.

The economists: The first couple seasons demonstrated that the city can be starved out quickly. Financially, the rich and powerful house of Lannister now has several debts to pay in the upcoming season. Their short game of acquiring more power at every opportunity has not only left them in bad straits with the Iron Bank — but also with the smallfolk of King’s Landing.

Having survived death once already, Jon Snow’s importance to the meta battle for Westeros as the presumed "Chosen One" indicate good chances of him sticking around.

The diplomat: While Jon Snow’s true heritage leaves him with the most legitimate claim, unwillingness to rule in small-game politics remains resolute, as the army of the dead keeps knocking. Despite his less than spectacular military prowess, Jon Snow is in a strong position to form important alliances between both Sansa and Dany. And there it is: the joining of universal human rights with Jon’s libertarian influences from his alliance with the Wildlings. 

The Medieval war historian: Devries, while dubious about Jon’s strategic blunders, agreed that he fits the bill for the most important military quality of great medieval leadership: charisma and loyalty.

The international politics expert: While the Starks appeared defeated after the Red Wedding, disparate kin have fared far better than their nemeses: Arya’s off being an international assassin, while Sansa is learning the political ropes. Drezner equated Jon Snow to Obama for both praise and critique: because a clear, vivid vision of the long game does not negate the need to deal with short-term squabbling. He’s also currently in the weakest location of the three main players. A certain fiery queen joining his icy throne would sort that out quickly.

The economists: While dangerous in the short term, this long-game shake up of the land-owning Westerosi caste system through an infusion of egalitarian ideals could prove vital to Jon Snow's survival. 

Arguably the character that grew the most this past season, Sansa’s political mindedness and importance should not go understated.

The diplomat: Dyson saw her as the solution to the traditional Stark problem of focusing too heavily on the long game with no oversight on the political short game. She transformed a childish fascination with traditional Westerosi monarchical society — as well as the immense trauma it inflicted upon her —into political leadership that may, however, call her moral standing into question. The question of why she did not tell Jon about the coming reinforcements during the Battle of the Bastards lingers, and one can only hope she’s learned to stay out of Littlefinger’s plays to divide the power of House Stark.

The Medieval war historian: Jon’s survival is predicated on his willingness to listen to Sansa’s counsel — and Sansa must stick close to Jon if she wants to remain on the right ideological side of the Westerosi battle. 

By the looks of the finale, Tyrion bet on right horse by jumping ship on the Lannisters and joining Daenerys.

The diplomat: He’s protected by several forces, Dyson says. Viewing him as an approximation to the great Italian theorist of Niccolò Machiavelli, his theories on governance will prove essential to a successful Targaryen rule, using pragmatic systems to bring order to disorder. 

The Medieval war historian: He's the essential strategic counsellor to the pre-modern military commander. DeVries views him as equivalent to a "king-maker" figure, AKA the Earl of Warwick Richard Neville. It also doesn’t hurt that Tyrion, regardless of his division from the Lannisters, has the armor of nobility to protect him during a time when killing off nobility not directly in the line for power is difficult. 

Always in the background, characters like Littlefinger and Varys fashion themselves as puppet masters, yet remain on uncertain speculative grounds.

The diplomat: History and politics can be split on the survival rate of schemers. Dyson, seeing Varys as a J. Edgar Hoover figure, gave him a high likelihood of survival since, like the infamous FBI chief, he’s got his own vision of patriotism and he’s not afraid to manipulate the most powerful people in the world to achieve it.

The Medieval war historian: Devries wavers, knowing that when it comes to the top counsellors of pre-modern rulers, the first to get blamed for any misstep is the counsellor. 

Episode 8 of the last season proved a couple of things: 1) The biggest player on the Westerosi chess board will only gain power with more in-fighting between Houses, and 2) only one player (Jon) fully sees this threat.

The diplomat: Domestic fights tend to lose their power the minute an external existential threat makes itself apparent. Dyson theorizes that the saga is actually narrating the rise of the modern democratic nation-state; if that proves true, every remaining House of Westeros will need to wise up to the notion of what diplomats call a "positive sum" game. 

The Medieval war historian: The monarchical system of Westeros has already been in a steep decline for the past 50 years, ever since the usurping of Targaryen rule left a string of incompetent and illegitimate rulers, and a vacuum of power swirling over Westeros.  ... The upcoming seasons will be ruled by the question of, "If no one sits on the throne — if the throne is melted down, the word is left kingless — and the rationale for fighting is gone, will there truly be peace?"

The international politics expert: The lesson learned from the last season and the upcoming one is that cheap populism moves just don’t work, Drezner says: the brute force used by the Boltons to maintain control of the North is weakened, The Faith Militant’s vie for power ended disastrously, and Cersei’s chances aren’t looking too hot.

The economists: On the whole, monarchy has proven economically dire for the Seven Kingdoms, reducing most cities to poverty through constant wars.

All of our experts: How does no one win the game of thrones? Easy: The board has been set up for one major shift in the rules: the complete collapse of kingdoms and rulers, leaving room for a fresh start outside the predatory, zero-sum game.

In the game of thrones, as in life, you win or you die.

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