There’s a new Playbook in town. POLITICO’s Westeros Playbook, authored by Cristiano Lima and Zack Stanton, is the must-read guide to what’s happening in the final season of Game of Thrones. Each week, they break down what happens through the POLITICO lens while adding a unique touch.
We sat down with Zack and Cristiano for a quick Q&A on their latest gig.
What was the inspiration for Westeros Playbook?
Cristiano: The project is the brainchild of our POLITICO Europe colleagues. They sent a raven all to the great lords and ladies of this newsroom across our many kingdoms seeking reinforcements for a Game of Thrones-themed project, which turned out to be the Westeros Playbook. Zack & I quickly expressed interest. Needless to say, and so our watch began.
What is your process for writing each week?
Cristiano: Furiously taking notes during the episode, sipping on a glass of wine to channel my inner Cersei, decompressing for a few minutes after the chaos of the latest show, and then immediately turning to what political puns I can think up.
Zack: After a new episode ends on Sunday nights, sometime between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., Cristiano and I start to nail down what we see as the main storylines, with an eye for Playbook-style political maneuvering. Generally, between the two of us, we’ll have it in decent shape by 1 a.m.
Cristiano: Because that's what normal people do on Sunday nights, right?
Zack: Come morning, I’ll get into work, put in my earplugs, and build out a few things I hadn’t thought of the night before, finalize the headline and section heads, and edit the article, passing it back to Cristiano around 10:30 a.m.
Cristiano: Then, final tweaks and edits in the morning and we're off!
When did you start watching?
Zack: I’ve been watching “Game of Thrones” since shortly after it started airing, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Cristiano: I started watching the show pretty much immediately after it came out and became instantly obsessed. I've always been a huge fan of fantasy. The mix of world building and brutal realism with a dose of dragons just right away got me hooked. Oh, and the sword fighting is pretty cool too. Easily one of my favorite all-time shows.
Who is your favorite character and why?
Zack: It’s almost impossible to choose, but I’m pretty loyal to House Stark, so either Arya or Sansa. Though the Hound is pretty great, too. Or Tyrion. Or Jaime. Or Margaery Tyrell, in the scenes where she’s undercutting Cersei. Or anyone of a dozen or so other characters.
Cristiano: Oberyn Martell, easily. He was by far the coolest character introduced in the series, and his story arc was, although short, just perfect. I will never get over his death scene ("Say her name! Elia Martell!"). It was both incredibly tragic and totally in character, which I think shows what the series does best -- giving characters what's coming to them, no matter how painful. Next favorites are Tyrion and the Queen of Thorns, because I love a good clap back.
Who do you think will end up on the iron throne?
Zack: Who will end up on the throne: I think the throne is going to be destroyed, and that we’ll have some mind-blowing ending with nobody ruling Westeros. Who should end up on the throne: Without a doubt, Sansa Stark is the most competent governor and savviest strategist on the scene.
Cristiano: Beats me. My best guess is just Dany, though I think it will come at a great cost to her, maybe with the loss of Jon or her children (dragons or an unexpected pregnancy)? But I think part of the point is that it doesn't really matter in the end. The high lords will play their little games while the commoners will continue to suffer.
What are the similarities and differences between DC and Westeros?
Cristiano: People in D.C. act like every winter is The Long Night. I'd guess the Starks wouldn't be so thrown off by a few inches of snow on the roads every once in a while. But I digress. Westeros seems like far too monolithic a place. I love DC for how multicultural and international a city it is. Also, we have a place that makes sushi in burrito form, so that's pretty different.
Zack: In terms of similarities, I think everyday people are often disconnected from the game of thrones — that is, the squabbling for more power. And there’s a whole lot of honorable, important work being done by people whose names we don’t know. As for differences, D.C. has less magic, fewer dragons and direwolves, lower stakes, a higher cost of living and — thankfully — more racial diversity and less sexism. (Though now that I say that, I’m remembering that Westeros is, for the moment at least, actually ruled by a woman, with another woman as her top competitor for the throne.)
What are the similarities and differences between politics in Westeros and politics in DC?
Cristiano: In Washington there's fewer beheadings. Maybe that's it for differences? In all seriousness though, if you have a hard time keeping track of all the characters vying for power on Game of Thrones, try spending a day on Capitol Hill. Or on K Street. The plots may not be as sexy as military rebellions or secret royal weddings, but they are far more layered and complex.
Zack: Westeros politics and DC politics are similar in that some people treat chaos as a ladder, to use Littlefinger’s phrase. The most honorable people aren’t always the ones who thrive politically. Power is frequently dynastic and often correlates to those with the most wealth. And big, existential threats to life are ignored until they’re on the doorstep. In terms of differences, the real world has regular elections, some semblance of accountability and terms of office. The rule of law is a big difference. Mass media changes things. Also, the world of major political players is so much smaller in Westeros, even if it can be hard to keep track of everyone.
What do you think Westeros politicians could learn from DC politicians?
Cristiano: How to balance the budget. Just kidding. Obviously imparting the whole democracy thing on them would be good. But I also think not enough characters on the show understand the power of public support, even in a feudal society. The few characters who have struck a populist note in the series -- Margaery Tyrell, the High Sparrow, in another time Prince Rhaegar Targaryen -- fared rather well for themselves. Well, before all being brutally murdered anyway.
Zack: As Cristiano noted, the value of a constitutional democracy with checks and balances, terms of office and coequal branches of government, rather than rule by fiat from a monarch with a big army.
What are the similarities and differences between covering DC politics and Game of Thrones?
Cristiano: Well, we don't need to worry about Dany abruptly firing her top advisers on Twitter, so that's comforting from a coverage perspective. I do think for both it's important to keep an eye on the big picture, and not get sidetracked by minor, less impactful plots. And there are many in both. But the big challenge in covering DC politics and policy is how to make the stories that matter appealing to readers. With Game of Thrones, a lot of it writes itself.
Zack: In both DC politics and Game of Thrones, the big story often requires you to step back and add context. People are complex, and generally aren’t purely good or purely bad. Everything has a backstory and events are frequently interwoven — often in ways you don’t realize until after the fact.
Describe Westeros Playbook in 3 Words.
Zack: Fun, Nerdy, Smart.
Cristiano: Unscripted. Unsourced. Unstoppable.
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