A few days ago, I did an online chat via the awesome question-and-answer site Quora.
I got lots of good questions - whom will Donald Trump pick as his vice-presidential running mate (don't know!), what does Bernie Sanders really want (to win!), which election cycle has been the most interesting to cover (this one!) - but one stuck with me: "What character would represent Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Game of Thrones?"
I answered it. But it got me thinking about the broader candidate field in both parties - and which character on Thrones is the best fit for each. Below is my attempt to understand the many personalities of the 2016 race through the lens of the many personalities of the Seven Kingdoms.
Before I start, three caveats: (1) These comparisons are not an exact science. So, no, not all of the murders and other abhorrent acts committed by these characters are meant to be some sort of mirror to hold up to the candidates. It's fiction! (2) I am not using Ramsay Bolton or Joffrey Baratheon in any of these comparisons. That takes things to too dark a place. (3) I didn't include every person who ran for president, mostly because I didn't want to have to figure out who Lincoln Chafee would be in the Game of Thrones universe.
Donald Trump: Robert Baratheon
There was a succession plan in place for how you picked kings. Then, Robert decided to ignore all of those rules and take the kingdom by force. Sort of like Trump just did with the Republican Party. Also, they are two men who have big appetites for everything in life - and don't feel the need to apologise for it.
Hillary Clinton: Cersei Lannister
Strong. Tough. Loyal to those she loves. Unforgiving to those she doesn't. Unquestionably competent but with major weaknesses that she is aware of but can't totally get beyond. The hub of the wheel, the pivot on which the whole race (or show) rotates.
Bernie Sanders: Ellaria Sand
She's down there in Dorne. People - including Oberyn's brother, Doran (RIP) - don't take her seriously. But she is a true believer and has more of a following than anyone initially thought. And you sort of suspect that she's going to have a biggish role to play in the main plot by the end - but you can't figure out how yet.
Ted Cruz: Tyrion Lannister
Neither one comes out of central casting. Perennially underrated. But without question, the guy who honestly diagnoses his own strengths and weaknesses best, and who not only sees the whole playing field better than anyone else but also puts in place a plan that is three steps ahead. Also: Someone most people don't like in his world - and who doesn't care.
Jeb Bush: Stannis Baratheon
The man who, by rights, should be in line for the crown. But whose commitment to a certain kind of leadership makes him someone who is hard to get behind or root for. The guy you keep waiting for to make his move and who can just never really get started despite looking like the most obvious pick to be the king.
Marco Rubio: Renly Baratheon
Neither are big believers in waiting for their turn to seek power. And they don't mind having to go through people to whom they were once close to do it. Also, good-looking, charismatic and, among those who support their cause, beloved. The problem in both cases: Not enough people backed their claim.
John Kasich: Rickon Stark
They have been a part of the story since (almost) the beginning, but you almost certainly forgot about them. Then, suddenly, they reappeared and seemed to be on the cusp of relevance again. But you're still not totally sure who they are.
Martin O'Malley: Ned Stark
On paper, he seemed as if he was going to be a major player when the race started. Impressive résumé. Could swing the sword. Warned that a reckoning was coming but was largely ignored by everyone. Undone by a lack of understanding of the forces aligned against him.
Carly Fiorina: Margaery Tyrell
Came out of nowhere to become a major player in the world. Demonstrated an ability to think on her feet and talk her way out of tough spots. Then eventually showed that her ambition to be near power meant that she would make any sort of match that would get her closer to that goal, regardless of whether it made sense. Now relegated to an off-screen role, in large part because of her willingness to push too far, too fast.
Ben Carson: Gregor Clegane
Doesn't say much. But keeps turning up in important places and now finds himself at the right hand of the person on whom much rests.
Mike Huckabee: The High Sparrow
The leader of a closely knit religious group that no one really wants to be on the wrong side of. Deeply charismatic and persuasive even to those who seem predisposed not to like him. Someone who rose extremely quickly on the ladder of power but who seems destined for a similarly rapid fall.
Chris Christie: Jorah Mormont
Both have thrown their lot in with someone who doesn't seem to care as much about them as each does about that person. But that person prizes your loyalty. They were once considered rising stars in the realm, but many of their former admirers now view them as traitors to the cause. And now they live in real or symbolic exile.
Rand Paul: Khal Drogo
In a place where most people didn't even know existed, they built a committed following. And in the early days of the story, there looked to be a path for them right to the centre of the action. But then they tried to link up with a more mainstream audience and wound up losing their following before things ever really got started. Also, they both have interesting hair.
Rick Perry: Robb Stark
Looked every inch the part of next leader of the world. Tall, dark and handsome. Possessing a moral compass. But damagingly naive and never quite seemed to get the timing of the whole thing right.
Lindsey Graham: Davos Seaworth
Destined to always play second fiddle - and okay with that. Sneaky funny, smart as hell and probably very good company over a meal.
Scott Walker: Jon Arryn
He hasn't been part of the picture in so long that you definitely forgot about him. But in the early going, he was a key driver of the plot and someone you expected a little bit more out of than you ever got.