The Mockingbird

In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that a successful leader must be a fox and a lion—capable of defeating the external thPetyr Baelishreats and recognizing internal hazards. Petyr Baelish chooses the Mockingbird.
Warning: A Song of Ice and Fire (and Game of Thrones) spoilers ahead.
The game rapidly gaining the most popularity today seems to be not a sport, board game, or video game, but a TV show: Game of Thrones. Beginning eighteen years as a book series, Game of Thrones has now become a widely discussed and beloved fantasy masterpiece, mostly thanks to its unique setting, unpredictable story twists, and a wide arrange pure evil, good-hearted, or morally ambiguous characters. And in my opinion, no character is more interesting, more volatile, and more Machiavellian than Petyr Baelish.
While most toddlers are read stories like “Red Riding Hood” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” it certainly seems that Petyr Baelish was read Machiavelli’s The Prince. Petyr was born into House Baelish, a small house of minor nobility, with nobody expecting much of him, but he has slowly used cunning, deceit, cruelty, and appearances in order to climb the political ladder. From being the Master of Coin to obtaining Harrenhal to being declared Lord of the Vale, and now preparing to take over King’s Landing, Petyr Baelish has arguably become the most dangerous (and seemingly unstoppable) political player in Westeros. Although he chooses to wear the Mockingbird upon his breast, Machiavelli’s lion and fox have certainly influenced the politician he has become.
From the golden lion of House Lannister, Petyr learned the necessity of cruelty and ruthlessness and the dangers of emotional interference. Lord Tywin is the epitome selfishness. Morals do not exist for him. All that matters is the survival and continual growth of House Lannister. When House Reyne defied the Lannisters, Tywin simply obliterated them into extinction; to show loyalty he calmly ordered the death of two enemy babies (smashed to death against a wall). Petyr, having grown up watching Tywin (arguably another great Machiavellian politician) and learned his mannerisms, has adopted the stern faced cruelty required of any great politician.
Petyr’s lion is best displayed by his planned assassination of John Arryn. John Arryn’s death essentially sparked the entire series (so in a way every fan of the books and/or show should be thanking Petyr). John Arryn was planning to reveal that Joffrey is an illegitimate child of Cersei and Jaime Lannister and therefore not the true heir to the throne, so Petyr, having recognized the chaos that would ensue, rather than talk to John about keeping the secret (taking a large risk), played it safe and had John poisoned and pinned it on the Lannisters (without their knowing). By doing this he is not only rooting opposition, but at the same time IS the opposition to a not expecting enemy.
But at the same time, Petyr is a Machiavelli fox that must outsmart the larger wolves (or in this case: dire wolves). Ned Stark, leader of House Stark (sigil is a dire wolf), is the one of the most “unmachiavelli” characters in the series. Rather than believing in the need to be feared, strict with compassion and generosity, or avoiding all “good” characteristics, Ned believes that being honorable is the best way to lead. While Machiavelli agrees with this theoretically, realistically this cannot really exist due to the selfish nature of man, so while Ned is trying to be mr. goody two shoes, Petyr uses his fox cunning to quickly take advantage of Ned’s naivety, and by the end of the book Ned’s head is comfortably sitting on the end of a spike.
With Petyr acting so much like a fox and a lion, it seems odd that he chose the Mockingbird as his personal sigil. Maybe Petyr wants to represent his humble origin. Maybe Petyr is an ornithologist on his spare time and mockingbirds are his favorite bird. Maybe Petyr is pointing out that mockingbirds receive little attention, like him, and (in a funny play on words) once his cunning and deceit have taken him to the top and his enemies have all been slain, he will be the one mocking them. For: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” (Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones)

3 thoughts on “The Mockingbird

  1. While I agree that Petyr is definitely a strong leader and does have many of Machiavelli traits, I think that Lord Tyrion is more of a Machiavellian prince. Tyrion is smarter and more cunning than any other character on Game of Thrones. Although he has a disability and his family hates him, Tyrion takes matters into his own hand and acts with the perfect amount of both honor and force. Machiavelli believes that it is better to be feared than loved, however, Tyrion should be the most feared character in Game of Thrones and I believe next season will show his alter-ego.

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  2. So I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but this brief summary of it kind of makes me want to start! It seems that Baelish, and the tv series as a whole, was really influenced heavily by ideals that Machiavelli upheld.

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  3. I’ve loved watching GoT thus far though because I haven’t read the books I’m definitely missing out on a lot. The connection you made concerning Petyr essentially starting the entire story was completely new to me but it all of a sudden makes so much sense and really does make him one of the most dangerous characters alive at the moment.

    His choice of the mockingbird sigil seems interesting to me after having read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee where “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” because of their innocence. Maybe George R. R. Martin read the book as well and wanted to add a little bit of irony to the character of Lord Baelish?

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