Applying the “Four Tendencies” Framework to Game of Thrones

closeup photo of brown map game of thrones

Like many people, I’m a huge raving fan of Game of Thrones. I’ve twice read the books by George R.R Martin, and I’ve twice watched the HBO TV series. I love it!

And I can’t wait for the final season of television to begin on April 14. (And I can’t wait for George R.R. Martin to publish another book, but that may be a long wait.)

I also love the podcast Binge Mode, where co-hosts Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion do deep dives into the entire canon of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series. In a recent episode, they sorted the main characters from Game of Thrones into the Houses of Hogwarts—yielding a surprising number of Slytherins, by the way.

So, inspired by that effort, I decided to apply my Four Tendencies framework to the main characters of Game of Thrones. Who’s an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?

If you want to know your own Tendency, you can take the quick, free quiz here. (More than two million people have taken the quiz.) Or read the book The Four Tendencies.

For this exercise, I’m referring to the TV show, because I’ve seen the show more recently than I’ve read the books.

For some characters, the Tendency is fairly easy to decide. For instance…

Stannis Baratheon is an Upholder. Consider: When Stannis and his men were besieged during war, they were saved when smuggler Davos Seaworth brought supplies through the blockade. After the war, Stannis knighted Davos for his act—but he didn’t forgive Davos’s earlier crimes; he enforced the law by chopping off the tips of the fingers on the outlaw’s left hand.

Later, when his older brother King Robert Baratheon dies, Stannis believes the crown should pass to him, as the next-oldest male in line. So he fights to assume his rightful place, and sacrifices everything he values along the way—even though he doesn’t even seem to want to be king.

What are his last words to his fellow Upholder, Brienne of Tarth? “Go on, do your duty.”

Tyrion Lannister is a Questioner. Of everyone in the show, he’s the person who asks questions like, “Why are things the way they are? How could they be done better? How could we make change to make society run more effectively?” He’s seen doing research, investigating the world, finding out how different cultures do things differently.

Jaime Lannister is an Obliger.

Cersei Lannister is a Rebel. Note that this pair exhibits the pattern that’s so often seen: when one member of a pair is a Rebel, almost always the other member is an Obliger.

Daenerys Targaryen is an Obliger.

Jon Stark is an Obliger.

Brienne of Tarth is an Upholder.

Tywin Lannister: It’s not possible to say for sure, but I feel 90% confident that he’s Upholder–probably because he so often expresses the thought, “Why can’t people around here just get things done?” which is a very typical sentiment for an Upholder.

To determine people’s Tendencies, it’s not enough to see what they do; we have to understand how they think. For instance, the fact that a person is leading a “rebellion” doesn’t necessarily indicate Rebel. That person might lead a rebellion against the current ruler because he or she wants to hold fast to a higher law; or because a system is arbitrary, corrupt, or inefficient; or to save the people; or because that person wants to run things in his or her own way.

So for some characters, I can’t pinpoint the Tendency. For instance…

Arya Stark: is she a REBEL/Questioner or a QUESTIONER/Rebel? It’s often very hard to decide where someone falls in this combination. For instance, it took me a long time to decide which description fit Steve Jobs (QUESTIONER/Rebel), but now it’s clear to me that Arya a REBEL/Questioner.

I’ve thought a lot about some of my favorite characters, but we just don’t know enough about the thoughts of Sansa Stark, or Varys, or Petyr Baelish, or Margaery Tyrell.

Agree, disagree?

Speaking of Game of Thrones, I got a big kick out of this scene between Jaime and Cersei—it reminded me of my own “The days are long but the year are short.

If you want to read more examples of the Four Tendencies from books and movies, here’s a list.



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