Just because Game of Thrones, the HBO miniseries based on the books of George R. R. Martin, is a fantasy that doesn't mean it doesn't have important lessons that apply to your real life. Watching the season finale, I was struck by the similarities between life in the Seven Kingdoms and my former life working for a certain three-letter government agency. Here are three pieces of wisdom exacted from the Game of Thrones season finale that apply to any workplace:
1. Save ruthless and cowardly leaders at your risk. My heart went out to Tyrion when he woke up after being nearly killed in battle to find out that his accomplishments have been usurped. He'd risen to the occasion, rallying and leading the troops into a battle that meant his sure death, for the sake of his family's honor (boy brat King Joffrey having fled the scene). He survives only to find he's been stripped of his privileges and kicked down the stairs of the people in charge, without so much as a word of thanks for his efforts on their behalf. What's more, he was nearly killed in battle by an assassin sent by his own sister, the scheming queen and mother of said cowardly king.
Tyrion's experience should be a warning to anyone who works in a large corporation or -- cough, cough -- government agency. If you work for ruthless, cowardly people and wrest victory from the jaws of defeat on their behalf do not expect loyalty or rewards from them. Expect to be thrown under the bus the moment they don't need you anymore, because they sure as hell don't want your noble presence around to remind everyone else that not only are you more capable than they are but that you have a sense of honor they don't possess. That doesn't make you a valuable asset: that makes you a threat. The really nasty ones may even send someone with a dagger to plant between your shoulder blades when they think no one is looking, like Queen Sersei.
This advice applies beyond the workplace, by the way. Cowardly, ruthless and ambitious is just as bad a combination in a "friend" as it is in a boss. Unless you plan to sink to their level, in which case you may want to adopt Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, as your new role model. Just know, too, that you can expect the people around you to give you a nickname that's just as flattering.
2. If you're offered good advice by someone smarter than you, you should at least consider it, especially if it's something you don't want to hear. Granted, we've seen in Thrones that every old man with a heavy chain around his neck isn't exactly a genius, but when Maester Luwin advises Theon Greyjoy to sneak out of Winterfell and join the Night's Watch, he paid Theon the compliment of taking him seriously. In life, really smart people have learned that advice is generally squandered by stupid people and so they don't hand it out like candy at Halloween. When a smart person gives you advice, especially if it's something you don't want to hear or would never have thought of on your own, you don't have to take it but you should at least consider it. This practice will improve your own problem-solving abilities (hopefully).
And if you can't tell yet who is smarter than you -- or, more likely, won't admit it -- then you have more serious problems than can be solved by Game of Thrones.
3. Don't be afraid to jump ship, because the worst people never die. OK, so technically Sansa uttered these words on the second to the last episode of the season and not in the finale. But in "Valar Morghulis," she momentarily laughs in relief and joy when she's released from her betrothal to Joffrey -- only to be crushed when she's told that it doesn't mean she's actually free of him. Sansa's lesson is a lesson for us all: never underestimate the ability of horrible people to resurface and make your life miserable again, even when -- especially when -- they have no particularly reason to do so. Transferring out of your office to get away from your sadistic boss or evil co-worker will only be a temporary respite. You can expect them to make trouble for you down the road, when you are least prepared to deal with it. If you work for a company as despotic and messed up as the Lannisters, you shouldn't shy away from considering more drastic measures. Sansa should have taken the Hound's (Sandor Clegane) offer of safe passage out of King's Landing, even though she is afraid of him -- in some ways, re represents her worst fears -- because facing your fears is often a healthier choice than pretending they don't exist.