And she’s ten.
I’ve made it a hobby to analyze the leadership qualities of characters in various television shows and movies. I know, it’s a bit strange, but I just do it without thinking. Game of Thrones is a fascinating show to follow, full of complex characters and numerous factions with different cultures, leaders, and leadership styles. Over the past six seasons we have seen plenty of leaders rise and fall and make a LOT of mistakes across the lands of Westeros and Essos. It’s an intriguing study – even if it is a fictional universe – for people interested in leadership, and George R. R. Martin and the show’s writers paint fascinating portraits of people vying for the Iron Throne.
Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK.
Game of Thrones is full of examples of terrible leadership, so I was gripped by season six’s episode, “The Broken Man,” which introduced the greatest leader on the show so far, Lady Lyanna Mormont. A ten-year-old. Lady Mormont was first introduced in the fifth season, where we only knew her by her bold response to Stannis Baratheon’s request for support in his campaign for the throne, “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK.” Now that we have finally met this plucky young woman, she has proven herself so far to be the greatest leader alive in Westeros. Let’s examine her leadership qualities.
Unlike nearly any other character, Lyanna Mormont bothers to consult with her advisors. Several times in her brief, scene-stealing appearance, Mormont turns to others for advice or information. In another final moment, one advisor leans over to consult, but Lyanna raises her hand to cut him off. She clearly knows what she does and doesn’t know and is not afraid to ask for the information she needs in order to have the complete picture. A strong leader knows when to consult trusted advisors (and is not afraid to do so) and when to make decisions without them.
Little Lady Mormont is also clearly well informed and knowledgeable. Without turning to her advisors, she puts Sansa Stark in her place by questioning her current surname. Is it Stark? Lannister? Bolton? In this moment she makes it clear she has been following events in Westeros and understands the political landscape. Good leaders stay informed not only about things happening in their own house but also external events. In a few words Lyanna Mormont demonstrated her great knowledge and political savvy.
In Lyanna Mormont we are also given a rare demonstration of great character and adherence to values balanced by pragmatism. She displays confidence – and not just for a ten-year-old, but for any age – even if she perhaps doesn’t necessarily feel confident. She asks the right questions, demanding to know from Jon Snow and Sansa Stark why she should pledge her loyalty to a decimated house that has already failed to live up to their great expectations and promises. However, she ultimately stands by her family’s promise to support the Starks, even though the “King in the North” is long dead (spoiler alert?).
Our last glimpse of Lyanna Mormont in this episode is of her presiding over her army at Jon Snow’s encampment, preparing to take back Winterfell. She is there, on the ground, with her army. Leaders often fail to “make the rounds” in their organizations to both get a glimpse of its mechanisms and people and make an appearance in front of the troops. Too many leaders, both in Game of Thrones and the real world, hide away and lead from their desk. Sometimes a leader has to rule from the throne, but a good leader knows when to tour the castle grounds and village and fight alongside her troops.
Lyanna Mormont is the rare Game of Thrones character that is principled, poised, pragmatic, and wise. So many others have failed in one way or another to display the necessary leadership qualities to rule or even survive. We may have all liked Ned Stark, but he let his own values and beliefs get in the way of what needed to be done, resulting in him literally losing his head (sorry, spoiler alert again!). Doing what you believe is right can get in the way of doing what needs to be done. Then there’s Joffrey. Let’s face it, we all cheered when he got what was coming to him. No reason to go into detail here. Dany is an interesting leader to watch. Eventually she will likely grow into greatness, but so far her platform for leadership consists of prophecy, heritage, and three dragons. However, she is learning from her mistakes and failures, and both her followers and those of us watching her on the screen just love her. Dany deserves some points for that.
Unfortunately, the Internet (wait, I think it’s officially “internet” now) exploding in positive sentiment over Lyanna Mormont probably means she isn’t long for this fictional world. However, until that day comes, Game of Thrones has found its greatest leader in a ten-year-old girl who has no designs on sitting on the Iron Throne. Maybe that alone is a trait that makes her a great leader. She doesn’t want power. She doesn’t want to lead. She just does.
Kudos to young Bella Ramsey for her incredible portrayal of Lyanna Mormont. She stole the show.