Yi Li is a London student studying public policy. She previously wrote on teenagers in Game of Thrones, and is a member of our Small Council.
Game of Thrones is so rife with ethical dilemmas and dueling political philosophies that it’s awfully tempting to see its characters as stand-ins for a particular point of view. Being someone who’s studied a good deal of political and ethical philosophy, I’ve often tried, as Jake Emen did in his piece earlier this month, to find in the musings, decisions, and declarations of Ned and Dany and Jon and all the rest, a consistent worldview that I could find mirrored in philosophical texts.
But here’s the trouble: Well-drawn characters, like most real people, are not armchair philosophers. They’ve not developed their own systems of ideas about the nature of the good and right. They don’t devote time thinking about the underlying principle that underlies their beliefs. When presented with a moral decision, they just do what seems right to them in that particular situation— even if sometimes, they don’t exactly know why it seems right.
In fact, there’s really only one well-developed moral theory in Westeros’ cultural milieu: The idea that what’s right is what’s honorable….