Leadership

In the 'Game of Thrones' finale, having purpose is power

Helen Sloan | HBO

The most successful people find meaning in what they do. That meaning propels them forward and helps them thrive. As Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak put it, "Having a purpose, motivation — motivation is worth more than knowledge."

That's evident throughout Sunday's season finale of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled, "The Wolf and the Dragon." The question of motivation is raised right away in the episode from atop the wall in King's Landing between the sell-sword Bronn, who is driven by self-interest, and Jamie Lannister, who is driven by honor, love and the desire to protect his family. They look over Daenerys' armies of Unsullied and Dothraki poised to attack the capital and ask each other what is really worth fighting for.

Jamie wrestles with the question until the end of the episode when, to the satisfaction of viewers, he parts ways with his sister/lover, Cersei and puts honor over family. The queen had promised to send troops north to help her enemies, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, defeat the army of the dead, and it infuriates Jamie to discover that Cersei had so readily done exactly what Jon could not, even under duress: lie.

She had seemed convinced by Daenerys' team compelling 3D presentation intended to win her support. They heeded Professor Albert Mehrabian's advice to include a visual aid and, to great effect, used the captured wight. They applied Steve Jobs' recommendation to connect with the audience emotionally. By the sound of Jon's voice, it seems clear they even rehearsed.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister, both among the highest paid "Game of Thrones" actors
Macall B. Polay | HBO
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister, both among the highest paid "Game of Thrones" actors

Once released, the zombie ran right at Cersei, as though sensing she had the most power. Even her guards, Jamie and the Mountain, were too startled to intervene. Her only salvation was the Hound, who yanked the monster back by the chain and cut it in half.

But the successful shock tactics were still not enough, and nor was Tyrion's appeal to the queen to save what she seemed most motivated to protect: her unborn child. Cersei, it turns out, had her own ideas about how to keep her kid safe.

The queen conceded what viewers have long known, that she is not interested in making the world a better place. She cares about the concrete and immediate, not the abstract and possible: She wants to take back her kingdom.

But the issue is even more pressing than even our heroes realize. The Night King's undead dragon burns a hole through the Wall that had protected Westeros for thousands of years, allowing hordes of soldier to march through. Winter is finally here.

"The monsters are real: the White Walkers, the dragons, the Dothraki screamers," Cersei tells Jamie. "Let the monsters kill each other."

Her brother can't agree to that. "I made a promise," Jamie tells her, and he walks away, knowing that for his disloyalty he may die.

Jamie sounds like Jon, whose purpose is also honor, and who could not bring himself to lie to Cersei about remaining neutral. While Cersei lies for the wrong reason, Jon can't, even for the right ones.

Jon is criticized for his inability to deceive, but it is evident that his actions, and his purpose, inspire the others. Daenerys, for one, is attracted to it. After his speech, the two finally get together, which must have been a relief for Jon. He was probably getting hot in all those layers.

The articulation of his values also energizes Theon Greyjoy. "I always wanted to do the right thing," he tells Jon, "be the right kind of person. I never knew what that meant. It always seemed like there was an impossible choice I had to make."

He sets out to save his sister Yara from their Uncle Euron. Guided by his purpose, he wins the support of his fellow Ironborn with a heroic, "Cool Hand Luke"-inspired fight. He's done staying down. This is his chance at redemption.

Macall B. Polay | HBO

Meanwhile, in Winterfell, things fall into place for the Stark sisters, who are united in purpose at last. Arya and Sansa turn on the scheming adviser Littlefinger. Arya accepts Sansa as the Lady of the North. Sansa accepts Arya as an executioner.

And Arya cuts Littlefinger's throat with the same dagger he gave her.

Littlefinger does not lack drive, but his purpose is unfocused and unclear. His quest for power is motivated by an obsession with a dead woman, Catelyn Stark, who never requited his affections, and then by a fixation on her daughter Sansa, who shows no signs of warming to him romantically either.

For someone so calculated, he is also surprisingly shortsighted not to consider Bran, aka, the Three-Eyed-Raven, who has expansive, though not, it appears, unlimited, knowledge of the past, present and future.

Bran reveals Littlefinger's conniving nature to his sisters, just as he, at last, confirms a crucial genealogical detail to Samwell Tarly and viewers: Jon Snow is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and Daenerys is Jon's aunt. That knowledge will most definitely complicate their new relationship, and the mistake of sleeping with the dragon queen will probably make Jon even more guilt-ridden and morose.

He'll have to shake off the angst of having committed accidental incest, though, since Winterfell will need to be as strong as ever with Cersei continuing to scheme in the capital, soon with reinforcements, and the army of the dead, including an undead dragon and several giants, marching south of the Wall. If the events of this episode are any indication, though, viewers can expect that those fighting with purpose and meaning will win — and live.

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