When Max Brooks watches Game of Thrones, he pays attention to the ever-suffering peasants rather than the treacherous nobles who drive the HBO series adapted from George R.R. Martin’s novels. “A lot of innocent people die,” says Brooks, an author and screenwriter who coedited Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict (Univ. of Nebraska/Potomac, Sept.). Brooks recalls one moment in the epic fantasy series when an explosion sends a gigantic temple bell careening down the street to crush a bystander. “This is what happens in war, from Dresden to Hiroshima,” says Brooks. “The consequences keep rolling. When you unsheathe your sword, you are going to set waves in motion that are going to last decades.”
Brooks has worked with martial strategists ever since his first novel, World War Z (2006), got added to a reading list at the Naval War College. Now, he’s a fellow at the Modern War Institute and the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project. He also coedited Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict (2018).
Brooks thinks Game of Thrones reminds us of mistaken military assumptions after the Cold War ended. “We really thought that the new golden age of humanity was upon us,” says Brooks. “Now we realize that simply is not true. There are threats coming from every angle and democracies being rolled back all over the world.” Many leaders in the Game of Thrones series made similar assumptions about the security of their kingdoms, ignoring the return of an ancient enemy, the consequences of climate change, and a brewing refugee crisis.
Winning Westeros measures the performance of fan-favorite characters against many real-life leaders. Imagining how the hit HBO series might conclude, Brooks parallels Game of Thrones’ honorable leader, Jon Snow, with America’s first president.
“Snow’s greatest challenge will be how he handles victory,” says Brooks. “George Washington’s greatest triumph was not on the battlefield. It wasn’t even in the presidency. It was in stepping down from the presidency.” Legendary military leaders like Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe won major victories, but never relinquished control of their countries. “It’s almost superhuman,” says Brooks, “to have the power of a god in your hand and to give it up because you know that it is the right thing to do, so that the system will live on.”
Today, 2–2:30 p.m. Max Brooks will speak on the panel “Winning Westeros,” at the Indie Publisher Stage.