If you want to survive, you better have a plan. If you want to keep your subjugated crowds subjugated, you better have a plan. If you want to destroy your enemies, you better have a plan. If you want to be king, you better have a plan. Unfortunately, for many of the characters in Game of Thrones, their plans and strategies often crash when they meet the plans and strategies of others around them. Meanwhile others gamble that their plans will reach their conclusion before their enemies can see through them.
The titular walk of punishment is a long march along the streets of Astapor, where the Slave Masters crucify their slaves for any sort of transgression. This is the kind of long-term strategy that societies such as the Spartans or the Assyrians would have approved. You can only stay on top of a multitude of slaves if you teach them constant pain and terror. But that kind of strategy can fool you into thinking that no one around you can be as smart as you. Danaerys Targaryen may be counting on that fact with her own plan in motion.
Danaerys Targaryen wants to buy the army of Unsullied that the Slave Masters have ready. But what she stole from the house of Xaro Xhoan Daxos isn’t enough to buy the 8,000 warriors plus the half-trained boys that are the next generation. 8,000 Unsullied may be worth a fortune. But more will be made. She has three dragons and they’re worth more than an army because they’re the only three dragons in existence. Giving one of them for the Unsullied may seem an odd trade for the Mother of Dragons to make given all the trouble she has gone for them. So she must have a plan, right? If so, neither Barristan Selmy nor Jorah Mormont can see through it, nor can the Slave Masters.
A strategy of pain and terror is how Tywin Lannister rules his family and anyone who comes into contact with him. His daughter is Queen Regent. His grandson is the King. But the men in charge of running the Kingdoms act in reverence to the Hand of the King. So he can calmly move Peter Baelish out of the position of Master of Coin and place Tyrion, his son, into that role. What Tywin doesn’t seem to realize is that Littlefinger’s own strategies are helping him rise higher and higher. The title of “Lord of Harrenhal” makes his wedding with Lysa Arryn a reality. From minor lord and whoremonger to Lord of Harrenhal and Protector of the Eyrie, Littlefinger is playing his opponents too easily.
That leaves Tyrion with the unenviable task of unwinding all of Littlefinger’s financial schemes and plots. What he finds is rather simple: Baelish has been borrowing the millions that the Iron Throne has needed. Every lavish tournament Robert desired. Every delicacy Cersei has demanded for the wedding. Every sword and spear used in the war. It’s all paid on money, they don’t have. Like a deadbeat, Littlefinger is skipping town before the bill comes due. Tyrion knows his father will never forgive the debts Baelish has raked up in the Throne’s name. Nor will the Iron Bank of Braavos – who will fund the Lannisters’ enemies if they decided to not pay. A failure that would be laid at the feet of the Master of Coin, Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is the man now stuck with the check. He better plan a way out.
Just like Littlefinger, the plans and strategies of others are now in motion. Mance Rayder has dispatched twenty men under the command of Tormund Giantsbane to climb The Wall and attack Castle Black from its rear. Jon Snow is being sent along to provide information and to prove his loyalty once and for all. Far away, Theon Greyjoy is finally able to escape, thanks to the plan of Yara’s sent envoy. He’s nearly caught, but is saved by this most helpful of ironborn, who arrives at the right moment to save Theon from Bolton’s men. In Dragonstone, Stannis finds himself desperate to hang onto Melisandre in order to plot his vengeance against Robb and Joffrey. Meanwhile, in the South, Arya Stark is riding with the Brotherhood Without Banners while her friend, Hot Pie, opts to stay behind at the inn where Mycah was butchered by The Hound. How different their relationship since they first met, when he threatened her and she put her sword to his throat.
But it’s her brother, the King in the North, who is facing the biggest challenges to his strategies. And, sadly, it’s not his enemies who are getting in his way. It’s his own bannermen; his own people. Robb is forced to dress down his uncle Edmure, the newly-minted Lord of Riverrun, for failing to hold his line and keep Gregor Clegane where he was. Meanwhile, his own men spread the false tales of shape-shifting powers. Robb’s own plans cannot seem to survive the desperation, anger and disappointment of his own men and their plans.
One of these is the failed plan of Catelyn Stark to release Jaime Lannister. Captured by men loyal to House Bolton, the Kingslayer and Brienne of Tarth are certain to be victims at their hands. Jaime tries to convince Brienne to let her upcoming rape happen, but she cannot. So he gambles on the men’s ignorance as to the qualities of Tarth to save Brienne’s honor. But his own plot to escape backfires when he tries to play Locke – the lead Bolton officer – for a fool twice. Instead, he has his right hand – his sword hand – chopped off for his trouble. For a man whose entire identity revolves around his skill as a swordsman, this will have grave repercussions for Jaime Lannister.
Which brings us back full circle to the starting point: if you want to survive, you better have a plan. The problem is that the vast majority of these characters really don’t have a plan. They’re living moment to moment, hoping to outsmart or out-scheme their enemies before they do the same. In this environment, it’s the cunning players like Littlefinger and Varys who not only survive, but thrive. It’s the dangerous, ruthless and villainous whose plans and strategies come to fruition – often over the corpses of the just, the righteous and the heroic.