Both in print and on screen George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series is a highly wrought creation. Ancestral history, alliances between the houses, and the back stories of each of the central characters are worked out to a minute degree of detail (If you don’t believe me, have a look at the official GoT wikipedia and the depths to which die-hard fans will go to).
Politics is absolutely central to Game of Thrones with familial alliances being forged and broken as the power players see fit. The title itself refers to the constant wheeling of the political game behind the control of the kingdom. The element which goes hand in hand with this aspect of the show is that of economics, and both the books and their adaptation pay close attention to this subject.
Despite the fantasy setting, the show’s politics and the economics make use of of universal elements that are recognisable today: Tywin Lannister’s bankrolling of the kingdom, Littlefinger’s shady establishments catering to the court’s needs, and the various trading cities ravaged by Daenerys all add to to a coherent economic system.The characters with the most power in Westeros are those with the strongest finances. The reason the Lannisters remained in power (at least for the moment, in the screen adaptation) is their enormous supply of cash which they use to control King’s Landing. George R. R. Martin demonstrates a good knowledge of history in his depiction of the fictional world’s power structures and the economics that back them.
There are lots of examples of different economic strategies: In the books Littlefinger’s greatest economic coup is his tax on the refugees fleeing the war. As the narrative progresses the Lannisters begin to find it increasingly difficult to ‘always pay their debts’, as the monarchy is forced to borrow increasingly from foreign banks (such as the Iron Bank of Braavos) and also to engage in a form of inflation called ‘coin clipping’ which involves diluting the gold used in the creation of the physical coins. As several economically minded fans have pointed out, there are a number of similarities between the fictional and real worlds. Heavy taxation, public debt, and governmental inflation in order to bankroll the war effort sound extremely familiar.
Below, we’ve gathered the five most important economic players in Game of Thrones. The first family has only recently been fully introduced onto our screens, but each of the others have been involved from the start, pulling the strings, making deals, and turning on each other to maintain their slippery hold on power.
5. House Martell: $58 million
The House Martell rules over Dorne, one of the nine regions of the Seven Kingdoms. The recently introduced Oberyn (pictured above) has arrived at King’s Landing and has already begun to cause a splash with his short temper and exotic taste in women. The fans who’ve read the books (the people who see themselves as somewhat superior to the TV viewers) will know about the upcoming political complexities which will see House Martell getting more involved in the plot.
4. Petyr Baelish: $93.6 million
Lord Petyr Baelish (AKA Littlefinger) lives up to his position as ‘Master of Coin’ with his accrued wealth of over $50m. He hails from humble beginnings, but has worked his way up to become one of the central power players in Westeros. Amusingly, alongside his responsibility for the economic goings on in the kingdom Littlefinger also owns a series of brothels which have played host to a number of the important events over the past three seasons and no doubt proved lucrative.
The man’s economic skills, and the respect they garner him, were demonstrated when Tyrion Lannister arrived in King’s Landing, and had Baelish investigated. The findings concluded that ‘A man like Petyr Baelish who had a gift for rubbing two golden dragons together and breeding a third, was invaluable to his Hand. Littlefingers rise had been arrow swift. Within three years of coming to court he had been made master of coin and a member of the small council, and today the crown’s revenues were ten times what they had under his predecessor…’
3. House Targaryen: $380 million
Unlike Baelish, the Tyrells, and the Lannisters, Daenerys Targaryen doesn’t have a kingdom, castle, or string of gentlemen’s clubs. Despite her family’s powerful past, all she has known is the life of an exile. In the last few seasons, following her marriage to a nomadic warlord, things have turned around somewhat for the mother of dragons (though not for her brother).
Daenerys’ two assets (8,600 Unsullied Soldiers and three dragons) can be accurately priced with some simple maths and a few facts from the novels. In A Song of Fire and Ice it is stated that three ships full of costly goods are enough to buy a thousand of Unsullied, and as a Baltic Trader ship sells for $368,412, her army can be priced at $95,050,000. Given that Daenerys traded a single dragon for her army unsullied, it stands to reason that each dragon is worth over $95m, meaning that her net worth is an estimated $380m.
However, given the cost of war (for some of the enormous amounts of money that change hands in modern times have a look at this article on war profiteers), and the fact that Daenerys plans to return to retake the Iron Throne, the real question to ask is: Will $380m worth of dragons and soldiers be enough?
2. House Tyrell: $4.8 billion
House Tyrell is second only to House Lannister in terms of wealth. They’re one of the great houses of the Seven Kingdoms, and although technically less powerful and rich than the Lannisters, they can potentially summon a larger army and navy than the King.
The main players from the House of Tyrell are Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers, his sister Margaery Tyrell, and the current Lord Mace.The family resides in Highgarden, the regional capital of the Reach and the heart of chivalry in the Seven Kingdoms. The Reach is the most fertile area in Westeros, and as a result House Tyrell controls the majority of the crop production which allows them to virtually hold King’s Landing hostage. Because of the land’s fertility it is also one of the most populous meaning that their potential army is the largest.
1. House Lannister: $10 billion
House Lannister, the family that famously always pays its debts, is the richest and most powerful in Westeros. Headed up by the patriarch Tywin, the current Hand of the King, the Lannisters currently control the thrown via Joffrey Baratheon, the son of the dead King and his wife Queen Cersei Lannister. Other important Lannisters include Jaime and Tyrion.
The family’s wealth is deeply rooted in the current leadership of Westeros, with Tywin bankrolling the failed Baratheon monarchy by 3 million dragons (a dragon, the most common form of currency in Game of Thrones is worth around 1 cow or $830). In addition to this investment the family has a further million dragons in other investments across the land, and 5 million dragons-worth of mines, harbours, and properties.
The family’s lands are in the far west of the continent, and surround their seat of Casterly Rock, which sits on a rocky promontory overlooking the Sunset Sea. One of the keys to their wealth is the thriving city of Lannisport which sits atop the most productive gold mine in the Westerlands.