Character Showdown: Game of Thrones vs. Shakespeare

shakespearethronesGame of Thrones fantastic fifth season ends this Sunday, meaning we’ll have to bid adieu for another year to all the wonderful things it brings to our lives: scheming queens and awesome queens, plots within plots, HBO-rated sex of all sorts, and of course, everyone’s favorite cynical dwarf. Not to mention the element that truly  keeps the series loged in our brains, both onscreen and on the page: the huge body count, which grows with every episode or book. No one is safe, and the scale of the destruction and intrigue is nothing less than Shakespearean.

Which got us thinking: what if the Game of Thrones crowd really did meet up with their counterparts from the Bard’s tales? If they faced off in their elements, whether in court, on the dueling field, in back alleys, or in the bedroom, who would win? Here’s how we think the title bouts would shake out.

Hamlet vs. Oberyn Martell
Both princes with no real power in their own lands. Both men with complicated family situations, and with hella large grudges they’ve held for a looooooong time. Both of them, ultimately, finally decide to get out their swords and get busy with the vengeance, and both of them fall in a flood of tears from the audience. Both of them are beautiful in one way, tragic in another, and absolutely idiotic in yet another. But here’s the key difference that decides this conflict: Hamlet, very sympathetically, struggles with the morality of revenge, delivering some of the most challenging thoughts on existential doubt and the true purpose of life before he gets anything done. Oberyn does not have time for that. He has absolutely no doubt revenge is his right—he knows who is responsible, he knows how they should pay, and he only wants an admission of guilt before he enacts his bloody retribution. Which is why, if these two were ever in a faceoff, Oberyn would have Hamlet’s head off before he got two lines into his first soliloquy.

Should Win: Hamlet

Will Win: Oberyn

Cersei vs. Lady Macbeth
I don’t want to be within a thousand dragon-lengths of whatever alternate universe in which these two ladies would face off. These power-craving, strong-minded, scheming women both want to make it to the top and stay there. Why? Because they freaking deserve it, by their own effort of will and whatever religious excuse they’ve got going. My first instinct is to say that Lady Macbeth’s scheming and success is in a league that Cersei could never even dream of, and that she would gain power and keep Cersei alive somewhere just to watch her squirm… But the thing is, Lady McB ultimately has a conscience. Unlike most denizens of Westeros, she might actually, (gasp!) feel bad about something she’s done, and get distracted for long enough for Cersei to kill her off with a few drops of poison in her wine. As awesome as Lady Macbeth is, Cersei’s got serious staying power. She might be hurting, and the apparent repository for all the wine in Westeros, but we have yet to see the force that can take her down. And of course, that pesky conscience won’t be an issue with her.

Should Win: Lady Macbeth

Will Win: Cersei

Henry V vs. Stannis Baratheon
The “honorable” kings. Two men who claim to lead with inspiring lights of truth, and by rights. Both of them are generals who have faced great odds and won decisive battles. But you know what? Stannis, whose whole deal is being the most honorable, shows just how uninspiring that word can be when it is turned into cold “duty.” He’s that horrible schoolmarm-ish voice in your head telling you what you should do over and over again until you eat your peas out of annoyance—no wonder Renly claimed the throne just for the hell of it! Henry V is an example of what that word really means. We see him trying to earn the true support of his men, going into the camps to try to understand connect with them on the eve of battle, offering equality and brotherhood to his soldiers, the sort of unwashed masses the lofty Stannis wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot-pole. We’re guessing that if these guys ever met, they’d face each other on the battlefield with huge armies at their backs. We’re guessing that most of Stannis’ men would desert before the fighting even started, especially given the fact that Stannis’ honor has ultimately proved hollow against his desire to win, even at the horrifying cost of his own kin, which I still feel too scarred to think about.

Should Win: Henry

Will Win: Henry

Henry V vs. Robb Stark
Those of you who thought that that last match up was a little bit rigged, let’s try this one: Henry vs. Robb Stark. Robb’s no Stannis, right? His version of honor is a bit more reasonable, based on tradition and family ties and the raw nerve of a North-South identity difference that, like Scotland’s, has endured for hundreds of years despite subservience to a southern throne. More than that, he’s avenging his father, the symbol of all that is good and right (and very, very dead) in Westeros. He was also turning into a pretty good leader who tried to be fair to everyone and who had the rare ability to admit mistakes. And you know what? None of that matters, because Robb is still in training. Henry V went through all that stuff two whole plays ago. He’s already fully formed. His romances are all in line with the interests of his country, and Robb Stark doesn’t have a St. Crispin’s Day speech in him. Henry still takes this, hands down!

Should Win: Henry

Will Win: Henry

Varys vs. Richard III
Ah, and now we get to my favorite players: the schemers. Varys, like Richard, has a penchant for playing for power behind the scenes. He’s the sort of person who is content to watch his enemies go down one by one, seemingly without his playing a part. Both of them seek to know and exploit people’s deepest desires. But here’s the thing: Richard wants all that power for himself—Varys doesn’t. Varys knows if he did grab for it, he could never keep it. Sure, he wants to pull the strings more directly, but there are still going to be strings—that gives you perspective! More than that, Varys has repeatedly stated that what he does is for the good of his country. He has no reason to feel paranoid about his actions—he’s got a good niche of power, and protects it well. He’s a man with a plan. Richard’s paranoia and lack of a plan for what he’ss actually do with his power means Varys both should win this, and absolutely will. Richard’s one misstep away from Varys’ whisperers taking him down at every turn.

Should Win: Varys

Will Win: Varys

Iago vs. Littlefinger
This is the toughest one to call. Both these guys are power-gamers. Both of them pull the strings of the truly powerful, maneuvering to better their own positions. Both of them have chips on their shoulders the size of one of the Khaleesi’s dragons, believing the world should pay for every slight against them. They are also both clever enough to make it happen, while taking more pleasure in it than they probably should. Weirdly, my sympathies are with Littlefinger. At least we know he started out as a guy who meant well, who loved deeply and long, who was deeply hurt by those around him. Othello‘s Iago just didn’t get a gold star and a pat on the head from daddy. But Littlefinger has vulnerabilities. His fixiation on Sansa and her mother is going to be his downfall, one way or the other. Iago will be playing with (and torturing) him long past the point that even Petyr “I did warn you not to trust me” Baelish is capable of taking it.

Should Win: Littlefinger

Will Win: Iago

Portia vs. Margaery Tyrell
I’ve always been surprised at how much I like Margaery, both in the books and on the show. She could have been such an awful human being, a mini-Cersei, and GRRM never made her that way. She was born into power, she wants to keep power, and she is willing to do some morally ambiguous things to get it—but she’ll try to be as nice and gracious about it as possible. Portia, of Merchant of Venice, is also a woman used to power, used to being courted and being a prize for men. Much like Margaery, she also has a brain and tends to use it. I think these ladies would face off in society, maneuvering to claim the best husbands their positions can afford them. In the end, I feel like both of these ladies are wise enough to know when to leave well enough alone. They are too level headed, and appreciate life far too much, to let things come to a death match. They would both do brilliantly well for themselves, becoming in the universe’s permanent war on idiots.

Should Win: Everybody

Will Win: Everybody! Peace in Our Time

King Lear vs. King Robert Baratheon
Last but not least, let’s talk about these two kings. Both have similar flaws: they enjoy self-indulgence to the extreme, they are very susceptible to flattery, and they love a good party (particularly if it is about them). They both obviously were pretty horrible at child-rearing (though Lear did a worse job more times than Robert). Both of them don’t care for the rigors of ruling, which they would rather offload to others, but they love the trappings of power. Both of them deal with their problems in destructive ways—Robert by drinking himself to death, and Lear by going absolutely stark raving insane to try to make sense of everything he’s realized he got wrong. I don’t even know what title these two would face off to claim (Worst King Ever?), but I’m pretty sure that the guy who should win a chance at redemption, the one who figures out that he’s awful and then actually does something about it, is going to get randomly beheaded by the Mountain, because that’s how life goes in any land with GRRM at the helm.

Should Win: Lear

Will Win: Robert

Team Verdict
In the end, GRRM’s creations may have topped Shakespeare’s for ruthlessness and utter lack of conscience, but they can never top how beautifully the Bard expressed everything that happened to them, tragic, comic, or otherwise. That’s why we’re always and forever Team Shakespeare, whether or not his brood is going down to Team Westeros. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, we shall never desert you!

What other Shakespeare characters should go up against their Westerosi counterparts?

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