If ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters Were U.S. Military Members

April 13, 2019Kevin Knodell
Coffee or Die Photo

Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers.

The final season of “Game of Thrones” is upon us. The fantasy epic has become an international phenomenon that some have praised for its complex characters as well as its surprisingly nuanced look at military and diplomatic strategy. Characters you love can die unexpectedly and without warning; betrayal is swift and often merciless.

But have you noticed that the show’s characters often resemble archetypes you may have encountered in the U.S. military? We did. The list is far from comprehensive — there are far too many characters in both the show and the military for that — but it’s all in good fun.

Ned Stark — Good At War, Bad At Politics

He’s brave. He’s competent. He’s honorable. He’s an excellent boss and beloved by his troops. Effective on the battlefield, laidback in garrison, and always looking out for junior soldiers. But he’s bad at politics, and his integrity frequently gets him in trouble. He’s unwilling to lie or cheat to advance his career — especially not at the expense of people who trust him. He struggles when he has to work with peers and superiors who don’t share his scruples. It’s ultimately his undoing. He wants to make a career of the military, but his aspirations have an obvious ceiling. Leadership will either push him into retirement or find a way to punish him for doing the right thing. Remind you of anyone else in the recent past? 

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Cersei Lannister — The CO’s Spouse

She was never supposed to be part of your chain of command, yet she somehow continues to have an impact on service members’ lives. She comes from a well-off family and identified an officer with a promising career to marry — and she locked that down fast. It’s allowed her to live a life of relative comfort and power, and she’ll ruthlessly work to ensure both are maintained. When she drives onto base, she demands a salute in recognition of her husband’s rank. If the spouse of another service member of lower rank than her husband speaks out of turn, she won’t stand for it. She runs life on base, controls the FRG, and has everyone important on speed dial. If you’ve made her unhappy, she’ll call anyone she needs to make you pay, regardless of who you are.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Grey Worm — The Super Soldier Who Seriously Needs to Chill

Grey Worm was raised in slavery and trained from an early age to be a warrior in the elite Unsullied. He’s an effective soldier and highly disciplined, but he often struggles with things like interpersonal relationships, humor, and … pretty much anything that isn’t war. He’s reminiscent of that guy you knew who spent all of his downtime either cleaning his weapon blindfolded or reading military history books. He doesn’t seem to have any hobbies unrelated to the military. He’s nice enough, but you really wish he’d relax a bit. You try bringing him out and introducing him to civilian friends, but all he can talk about is the ideal positioning for ambushing and how to maximize lethality — until you get him drunk. Then you can actually get him to unwind — but only slightly.

Joffrey Baratheon — Legacy Academy Graduate

Geoffrey was a bad king during his short reign and a great case study in why you shouldn’t get a job based on who your parents are. He was a spoiled, selfish, and cruel bully with little self-awareness. But he was mostly whiny and incompetent, constantly leaving messes for others to clean up. He’s a bit like an academy grad who has a genuinely impressive parent but doesn’t measure up. Nevertheless, his upward career trajectory is pretty much a given. Everyone treats him with kid gloves because his dad’s important and no one wants to get an angry phone call. He’s abusive to subordinates, ignores good advice from peers, and is generally awful to be around — but he’ll rise to colonel (at least) anyway. However, terrible leaders have a way of laying the groundwork for their own demise, and it’s oh-so satisfying when it finally happens.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Thoros of Myr – The Drunk Medic

The Red Priest Thoros knows how to live a healthy and pious life, he just doesn’t. He’s a reckless drunk living a lifestyle that seems completely at odds with everything he was trained for. He has a reputation for bravery but mostly attributes his wild battlefield feats to his lack of regard for his own life. Despite his self-deprecation and occasional flashes of nihilism, he has a deep sense of honor and is actually much braver than he gives himself credit for. He’ll risk everything and go to great lengths to save the lives of others.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Davos Seaworth — Warrant Officer

He’s not really a fighter nor necessarily a leader. In fact, it’s generally unclear what he does. But he’s even-keeled, pretty good at figuring out problems, and mostly well-liked by both leaders and common troops. He’s good at lightening the mood and has a sense of humor about situations. He’s also adept at pointing out when something is a bad idea and should be avoided — though leadership often ignores him and follows the bad plan anyway. He specializes in … things. And you’re damn glad to have him around!

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Arya Stark — The Scary Chick

You probably met her at basic. She’s kind of sweet at first. She’s small, a tomboy, and seems relatively harmless. But she’s tougher than she looks — meaner, too. In the days before women could join the infantry, she’d have become an MP because it meant she might still get to shoot people and use handcuffs. The more you get to know her, the scarier you realize she is if you cross her — so you resolve never to do that. You start thinking she’s the most likely member of your comrades to end up with their mugshot in the news someday. The good news is that when she’s on your side, she’s loyal, pretty fun at parties, and will ruthlessly deal with anyone who wrongs her friends.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Sandor Clegane aka “The Hound” — The Saltiest NCO

He’s been in the military for years and can’t wait to leave. He’s grown to hate his job, and he most definitely hates you. Unfortunately for him — and you — he’s good at his job and doesn’t know what he’d do outside of the military, so he’ll stay in longer than he should. His years of service have made him a master of insults and have removed anything that resembles a filter when he talks. He’s vulgar, he’s mean, and he’s saltier than the Red Sea. It’s actually really funny when he’s hurling abuse at other people. However, underneath all that rage, he’s the kind of guy who will go to bat for someone he respects. He only yells and calls you a pussy because he loves you.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Tyrion Lannister — The Cleaner

When egos lead to bad decisions, he’s the one that has to deal with the consequences. He also tries to stop stupidity before it happens. When a superior decides everyone has to stay late as punishment for a slight (and unintentional) slip up by one soldier, he’s the one who quietly pushes the leadership to ask if it’s absolutely necessary — and if both morale and effectiveness might ultimately improve if everyone got to go home and get some rest. Still, he recognizes when a decision is unpopular but necessary. He’s a pragmatist who values results, which can make him a bit of a bastard, but he’s guided by a moral code as well. Most people who serve under him like him, but he constantly angers his superiors — usually because he’s right … and drunk.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Tormund Giantsbane — “If You Ain’t Infantry, You Ain’t Shit”

He brags about his exploits both in the battlefield and in the club. He’s a warrior, and he wants everyone to know it, goddamn it. He boasts of killing dozens of men and bedding hundreds of women — and even a bear. Sometimes you think these stories are embellished, but you’ve seen him in action, so you know that the stories are truer than not. He lives by the motto “work hard, party hard,” and while he can be a little much sometimes, you like having him around. He’s definitely going to start a T-shirt company when he leaves the military.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Beric Dondarrion — Somehow Not Dead

A wily practitioner of unconventional war, he’s an operator that comes off as dangerous and a bit crazy. He’s older than he looks because the years have been intense. You heard he’d died only to run into him years later. Throughout his career, he has been wounded countless times and cheated death even more. His knees are shot, his back crackles like Rice Krispies — he legitimately should be dead. But he’s not. His body is apparently held together by supernatural forces. Oh, he’ll die on the battlefield someday, no one doubts that. But he’s determined to push himself and his body to every limit that it has first.

Podrick Payne (left), squire to Brienne of Tarth. Photo courtesy of HBO.

Podrick Payne – The Eager New Recruit

No one ever told Podrick Payne the old military adage “volunteer for nothing.” Podrick the squire is highly motivated, there’s no denying that. It’s not immediately clear that he’s cut out for soldiering in the long-term, but damn does the kid have heart. He’s always volunteering for work and has an unyieldingly positive attitude — even if he’s a bit high-strung and seems nervous much of the time. He’s eager to please and is constantly afraid of disappointing his comrades.

Kevin Knodell
Kevin Knodell

Kevin Knodell is a freelance journalist and author. His work has appeared at Foreign Policy, Playboy, Soldier of Fortune, and others. He’s the associate producer of the War College Podcast and a former contributing editor at Warisboring. He’s the co-author of the graphic novels The ‘Stan and Machete Squad, and he currently writes the Acts of Valor comic series for Naval History magazine.

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