What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Decision Making

by | Communication | 1 comment

In my annual Game of Thrones weekend binge watch analysis, I discovered a few key communication insights the complex characters teach us about decision making.

Season seven primarily focused on the convergence of the show’s main plotlines and ignited the intensity of influential communication between the characters. Intrigued by the characters’ motivations I couldn’t help speculating their decision-making drivers.

If we use the Decision Driver™ communication technique and filter a few scenes of true character emotionally charged communication, we can clearly detect the driving force for the character’s true motivations. A person’s Decision Driver originates from his life experience and personal motivations. There are only four Decision Drivers we use to motivate us to act and react the way we do – “Safety”, “Achievement”, “Value” and “Experience”.

Let’s look at a few script segments and flag indicators of Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryn, Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy’s Decision Drivers™….

Jon Snow is Motivated by his Emotional Need for Safety

Let me set the scene for you…

Jon Snow, Game of Thrones

Jon Snow stands at the high table in the Main Hall at Winterfell. Sansa and Davos sit at his sides. Brienne, Podric, Tormund, Petyr Baelish, Yohn Royce, Lyanna Mormont, Robett Glover, and the lords of the northern houses are in attendance. Moreover, at Winterfell, despite Sansa’s disapproval, Jon secures the loyalties of Houses Umber and Karstark, who fought alongside Ramsey in the Battle of the Bastards.

Script Segment:

JON: The Umbers and the Karstarks have fought beside the Starks for centuries. They’ve kept faith for generation after generation.

JON: I’m not going to strip these families of their ancestral homes because of the crimes of a few reckless sons.

JON: The punishment for treason is death. Smalljon Umber died on the field of battle. Harald Karstark died on the field of battle.

JON: When I was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch I executed men who betrayed me. I executed men who refused to follow orders. My father always said, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” and I have tried to live by those words. But I will not punish a son for his father’s sins, and I will not take a family home away from a family it has belonged to for centuries. That is my decision, and my decision is final.

It may surprise you, but I believe Jon Snow’s Decision Driver™ is “Safety”. In his communication in the sample scene, he is driven by his fierce loyalty for his family and allies and values the generational history of partnership and support from the Umbers and Karstarks, despite Sansa’s insistence to strip them of their castles. With Safety as his Decision Driver, he is very protective of those he respects and is keenly sensible in his judgments of others. He desires security for himself and others and wants to keep what’s his forever. His life experience as the “bastard” son formed his emotional desire to make secure decisions, be independent of his father’s actions, live longer and have greater enjoyments in his life, all attributes of the “Safety” Decision Driver.

Queen Cersei is Motivated by her Emotional Need for Value

Let’s look at another scene to determine the remarkable Queen Cersei’s Decision Driver…..

Queen Cersei, Game of ThronesCersei Lannister is in the Red Keep Council Room pouring two glasses of wine. She carries them over and offers one to Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank who has come to collect repayment of the Lannisters’ loans. Cersei denigrates Daenerys as a possible investment and secures a fortnight to pay the debt.

Script Segment:

CERSEI: And we both know gold wins wars. Your vaults are empty. Your late husband’s profligacy saw to that.

CERSEI: That’s a fancy way of saying bet. The war has already begun. I’ve drawn first blood. I decapitated the Dornish snake. My armada owns the Narrow Sea.

CERSEI: Her dragons might not be as invulnerable as some think. Now, let’s talk about the Targaryen girl. You want to invest in her? I’m guessing the Iron Bank invested considerable gold in the slave trade. How are your profits now that Daenerys has freed all the slaves?

CERSEI: From what I gather she considers herself more of a revolutionary than a monarch. In your experience how do bankers usually fare with revolutionaries?

CERSEI: The Lannisters owe the Iron Bank quite a lot of money but Lannisters always pay their debts. Do former slaves or Dothraki or dragons?

Cersei’s Decision Driver is “Value”. Her motivations to rule the Seven Seas are fueled by her need to create a dynasty for herself and Jaime. Many may speculate she is motivated by “Achievement”, but they would be mistaken. She does not need others to acknowledge her – and most certainly not after suffering the horrible punishing hike to the Red Keep! Cersei will do what is necessary for her to own the throne including the horrific destruction of the Sept of Baelor. The Queen is financially motivated and strategic. She is bold in identifying the reckless extravagance or wastefulness in the use of resources by Tycho’s deceased husband, something she would never approve under her leadership. Looking at the script segments above, her questions are financially pointed and very influential in biding more time for her to repay her debt. The popular Lannister mantra “Lannisters always pay their debts” is evident in the modeling and origin of Cersei’s “Value” Decision Driver.

Deanerys is Motivated by her Emotional Need for Freedom and Recognition

And now, let’s look at our other favorite queen, the Queen of Dragons, Daenerys….

Deanerys, Queen of Dragons Jon arrives at Dragonstone and approaches the throne room in Dragonstone. Dothraki guards open the doors and allow him in. He is walking with Tyrion, Missandei, Davos and other Dothraki guards. Daenerys is sitting on the throne and demands his fealty. He refuses and instead attempts to recruit her help in fighting the Army of the Dead.

Script Segment:

DAENERYS: My father was an evil man. On behalf of House Targaryen I ask your forgiveness for the crimes he committed against your family. And I ask you not to judge a daughter by the sins of her father. Our two houses were allies for centuries. Those were the best centuries the kingdom’s ever known. Centuries of peace and prosperity with the Targaryens sitting on the Iron Throne and a Stark serving as Warden of the North. I am the last Targaryen, Jon Snow. Honor the pledge your ancestor made to mine. Bend the knee and I will name you Warden of the North. Together we will save this country from those who would destroy it.

DAENERYS: We fled before Robert’s assassins could find us. Robert was your father’s best friend, no? I wonder if your father knew his best friend sent assassins to murder a baby girl in her crib. Not that it matters now of course. I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me. I don’t remember all of their names. I’ve been sold like a brood mare. I have been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled. Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods. Not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen. The world hadn’t seen a dragon in centuries until my children were born. The Dothraki hadn’t crossed the sea. Any sea.

DAENERYS: They did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms. And I will.

Daenerys’s has two Decision Drivers™ – Safety and Achievement. She is motivated by self-preservation and profound passion and loyalty to her kingdom, rights, heritage and her need for recognition. Her devastating and defiling experiences fueled her desire to eliminate her fear of imprisonment and strive to reign the Seven Kingdoms. She is dedicated to ending slavery and securing allies to create a kingdom of peace and prosperity (security) and desires to be THE Queen. Her need for acknowledgment is also evident in her lengthy title, “Queen Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Lady of Dragonstone, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.”

I’m very curious how this will play out with both her and Jon having the same Safety Decision Driver™ in the new season. Do we see a wedding here people? Seldom do two people in a relationship have the same Decision Driver, so I suspect some fine drama dialogue between these two in season eight.

Euron Greyjoy is Motivated by his Desire for New Experiences

Euron is a unique character that piqued my curiosity….

Euron Greyjoy, Game of ThronesCersei sits on the Iron Throne, at King’s Landing in the Great Hall, flanked by Jaime and Gregor. Euron Greyjoy stands at the foot of the throne. Guards line the hall. Euron proposes marriage to Cersei in exchange for his Iron Fleet and a chance to kill Theon and Yara. As a result, Cersei declines, citing trust as a concern, so Euron promises to return with a “gift” to prove his loyalty.

Script Segment:

EURON: I remember very well. I saw you. I heard so much talk. The best in the world. No one can stop him. I didn’t believe it, to be honest. But I must say, when you rushed through the breach and started cutting people down…it was glorious. Like a dance.

EURON: The place was getting crowded. I enjoyed watching it. I truly did.

EURON: A good thing for me. If you hadn’t crushed us, I wouldn’t have gone into exile. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be the greatest captain on the 14 seas.

EURON: The Iron Fleet, on the other hand, that’s something else entirely. It’s the greatest armada Westeros has ever seen. With the Iron Fleet, you own the seas. You can defeat the invaders of the east and the pretenders of the north and south.

EURON: Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to grow up and marry the most beautiful woman in the world. So here I am, with a thousand ships and two good hands.

EURON: You should try it. Feels wonderful.

EURON: I don’t expect you to trust me outright. You need proof of my honest intentions. In my experience, the surest way to a woman’s heart is with a gift. A priceless gift. I won’t return to King’s Landing until I have that for you.

Experience is Euron’s Decision Driver™, which motivates him to action.

Euron is a very unpredictable man, known for his enjoyment in playing vicious mind games and waging psychological warfare on anyone around him. He is hated by his brothers, a skilled warrior, and manipulator. He is maniacally motivated by future pillaging experiences and potential traveling promise. In the proposal scene segments above, he communicates his desire and twisted pleasure watching men die in battle, even his own kin!

He values his past adventures, defeats, and experiences and directly attributes his captain success from his mandatory exile. For example, his proposal attempt to secure an alliance with the queen of a great nation (“The most beautiful woman in the world”) is simplified by stating a future experience he longed for since he was a child. To prove his loyalty to his new potential bride, he embarks on an experience to capture the queen’s daughter’s murderer, Yara and bring her to justice. I’m wondering what will unfold in season eight with this new tryst between Cersei and Euron. Euron provided “Value” with his gift for his future bride and Cersei enjoyed his gift’s “experience”. Might make for a good match in the castle? Be careful Cersei, Euron has proved that he is more than willing to kill to get his own way.

I’ll be keeping an eye on these characters as they act and influence others with their words in season eight. I’m eager to see if their life experiences shift their Decision Drivers and their motivations change. One thing is for certain, with “experience” as my default Decision Driver, I’m holding fast for a future binge-watching session of season 8.

If you want to identify your Decision Driver, what motivates you to act and react, take the free quick online quiz and a report of your Decision Driver findings will be emailed directly to you. Enjoy!

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I'm Sandy Gerber

Communications strategist, Chief Marketing Officer, Entrepreneur, Author, TEDx and Keynote Speaker. Sandy Gerber is the creator of the Emotional Magnetism™ Communication Technique.