The Most Powerful Game of Thrones Character? Bad Luck

Twists of fate drive the intertwining narratives at play in Westeros.


“I can't make promises for the wind, Your Grace.”

–Ser Davos Seaworth

There's an old joke about how the best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. If last night's Game of Thrones, "The Prince of Winterfell," is any indication, the same joke applies to the seven gods of Westeros—a particularly appropriate number, considering the real force that dictates the lives of most of Game of Thrones' central characters: luck. No matter how well-designed the competition, or skillful the player, every game depends on luck—and when the stakes are this high, the slightest twist of fate means the difference between life and death.

Game of Thrones' second season is based on a book called A Clash of Kings, and I've spent much of this season writing about kings clashing. But "The Prince of Winterfell" devotes ample time to the unlucky commoners of Westeros, including Ros, the redheaded prostitute who remains the series' most prominent lowborn character (and the only major character who doesn't appear in George R.R. Martin's books). Luck has been particularly unkind to Ros, who left Winterfell last season to make her fortune in King's Landing, the Westeros equivalent of "the big city." Since entering the city, Ros has been threatened by her employer, Littlefinger; forced to abuse a fellow prostitute by King Joffrey; and finally, in "The Prince of Winterfell," captured and beaten by Cersei's guards because she happens to be wearing a necklace Tyrion gave her after a tryst at the start of season one.

Ros's latest unlucky break came from Game of Thrones' other major prostitute character, Shae, whose relationship with Tyrion hits a new level of emotional intimacy in "The Prince of Winterfell." (Physical intimacy was never much of a problem.) Ros's misfortune shows Tyrion just how precarious a position he and Shae are in. He tells Shae he'll kill for her if necessary, and it's clear that he means it. But their relationship—which has implications that could change the fates of every citizen in King's Landing—was also the result of pure serendipity. Tyrion first met Shae on the battlefield, after he sent Bronn to find him the most attractive prostitute in the area. Tyrion's "little worm," as Cersei so delicately put it, is the one crack in his otherwise-unscuffed honor. Shae has given his life new meaning, but she could end up costing Tyrion his life as well.

But that's not anything new for Tyrion, who understands better than most characters how arbitrary luck can be. After all, his entire life has been dictated by the fateful circumstances of his birth. As he explained to Jon Snow—another character whose life's path was determined by circumstances entirely outside his control—in season one's "The Kingsroad":

"If I had been born a peasant, they might have left me out in the woods to die. Alas, I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock [...] Life is full of these little ironies."

Though Tyrion's stature denied him the full support of his family, it earned him his life—and for no other reason than the strength of his family name. "The Prince of Winterfell" gives us a commoner who wasn't as lucky: the northern farmer whose children Theon had killed and burned in order to fake the deaths of Bran and Rickon Stark. The farmer was unfortunate enough to have children that were roughly Bran and Rickon's size, and to encounter Theon when he was desperate enough to have those children killed.

It's the latest in a long line of hard realities for Bran, who ends the episode reflecting on the children who were murdered in their stead. Like any great story, you can trace back the twists of fate in Game of Thrones and imagine how things could have played out differently: if King Robert hadn't died from his hunting wounds, if Khal Drogo's wound hadn't been infected, if someone had stopped Ned's execution in time. But in the end, it's Bran's bad luck that set the events of Game of Thrones in motion. If he hadn't climbed the tower and witnessed Jaime and Cersei's affair, Catelyn wouldn't have captured Tyrion, which would have saved Ned from Jaime's wrath in King's Landing—and kept the Lannisters from discovering his investigation into Jon Arryn's death. It's a stark reminder of how cruel chance can be. If a five-tiered civil war can spawn from the innocent actions of a child, there's no telling which way the winds will blow next.

Note: For the sake of viewers who are experiencing the Game of Thrones story for the first time, we request that those who have read the Song of Ice and Fire series avoid revealing spoilers for upcoming episodes in the comments section below.