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A Game of Democracy

No spoilers before the cut.

I've called the Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire series a long advertisement for democracy. I've since wondered if there's any hope of such reform within the world. I don't know where Martin's going, but if one wanted to write fanfic with a happy democratic ending, is there any potential for doing so without doing horrible injustice to the canon and making stuff up?

Short answer: yes! There's actually more potential than there's been written for, say, Barrayar.

Spoilers for I don't know, so best to assume everything through A Dance of Dragons. If you care, stay out. S, that means you!


Ned Stark: no. Mister Decoy Protagonist is as good a lord as you could hope for, but he's very much a lord, full of dumb oaths and hereditary inheritance and such. Good for enlightened despotism, but not Enlightenment. Skip.
Robb: Young Ned. No.
Sansa: haha no. Well, maybe later, I dunno.
Bran: no idea.
Arya: aha! She has no regard for rank, playing with the butcher's boy and insulting princes, and she's also proto-feminist. All of which is natural if not obligatory for a 9 year old tomboy character, and realistically she might lose it with age. But one could see her turning into an egalitarian feminist Leveller too... especially given that her family is dead or scattered and her ancestral keep burned. She has the self-confidence of an aristocrat without the safe social trap of her position; that spells future revolutionary.

Of course, she's also a kid busy running away, and even on the wrong continent. But for a writer she's a ready tool, a big timeskip later.

Jon Snow: not sure. He's got Ned's honor stick too, I think. But he's also close to Arya in thought, and gives her a sword, and he's in the Night Watch... which elects its Lord Commanders. For life, but still, election. And he in fact has been elected Commander!

The Watch is marginal now, but as the Starks say, Winter Is Coming. With Others. Assuming Westeros survives at all, I could see the Watch ending up with power and influence among the survivors.

Also among those survivors: the wildlings, or as they call themselves, the Free Folk: free of kings, lords, settled property rights, laws or leaders that they don't choose. They sound more anarchic than democratic, honestly, but it's still something to leaven and resist the hierarchy culture of the Seven Kingdoms, if they get south.

Already in the south: an honest to god direct democracy. This is one thing I've read directly, not gotten from the Wiki: Tyrion complains of his hill tribes that they talk about everything, and let every man -- and woman -- speak in council. The specific decision procedure is not described; I'd assume some sort of consensus, including bullying people who obstruct consensus too much. The tribes have like negative quantities of cultural influence elsewhere, but they're there.

The Iron Island kings have an ancient vaguely electoral history, but I don't know how far. Petty kings elected the High King, but I don't know how the petty kings were selected. And that was long ago.

The last bit in Westeros is egalitarian, not democratic: Dorne, the southern kingdom, has equal inheritance by sex, including passing lordship to the eldest child, and various women warriors that Arya's a fan of.

Passing overseas, there's Braavos. The Sealords aren't hereditary, though it's not clear how they are chosen.

More usefully, Volantis. Freeborn landowners -- including women if of sufficiently good birth -- elect three Triachs, with elections held every year. It's pointed out that they never have child Triarchs, and a mad Triarch can be neutralized by the other two for the rest of the year. Only Valyrian nobility can be elected, and it's not universal suffrage, and there's lots of slaves, but it's still a working democratic model.

And it's probably a holdover: the not-Roman Empire was actually a not-Roman Republic, the Valyrian Freehold, where every freeborn landowner had some (unspecified) say in government. Rich Dragonlord families dominated, but still, some say. The Targaryans were autocratic conquerors, but their source society was republican conquerors.

Why would this matter? Because, finally, there's

Daenerys Targaryen, White Civilizer of Exotic Brown Peoples. Who has forbidden her armies from raping, and abolished slavery where she can. She's also big on being the Last Dragon and Heir to the Iron Throne and Mother of Dragons, which isn't democratic at all. But she's also a fast learner, including morally. A writer could easily have someone remind her that she thinks she's barren, leaving a succession problem. And if she wasn't, well, her children are as likely to be like Viserys as like her. That should give one pause. And she seems out to cover all of Essos by foot, so she could stumble on Volantis or old Valyrian history.

Leading to a fairly plausible outcome of her trying to impose reformed Valyrian democracy on Westeros by dragonfire, whether clashing or cooperating with reformers like Jon or Arya. Whether it'd work, well. Daenerys reminds me of a Solar Exalted PC, someone with high compassion and vast unearned magical power, seeking to reform the world by force, with attendant backlash as the world fails to be simple.

For that matter, if she shows up at the right time she might be the Savior rather than the Conqueror. Fire-vulnerable zombies and obsidian-vulnerable zombie-raisers vs. flying dragons that breathe fire and might have dragonglass-like properties themselves. She's a plausible dragon ex machina for the Zombie Apocalypse, not to mention whatever's up with the comet and the Return of Magic.

Additional note: I know of no existing models for elected legislatures, unless one counts the Triarchy as the world's tiniest parliament, or for constitutional monarchy. Elected leadership or direct democracy.

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Damien Sullivan

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