Game of Nodes: A Social Network Analysis of Game of Thrones


In all artistic endeavors, there is an interplay between word and object, sign and meaning, form and function. A poet chooses his meter to simultaneously constrain and liberate. A painter chooses his canvas and technique to make exterior his reality. A sculptor chooses his clay to make immutable that which lies ephemeral. In each of these instances, form gives rise to meaning–or rather, meaning lives through the constraints of its form.

But how does meaning live in the myriad scenes comprising visual media? Does there exist an underlying structure in television and movies that governs the meaning contained within? How do consumers come to “learn” or understand a fictional universe? And is it possible to explore this semiosis (the act of conveying meaning) by examining the form of the media itself?

This project attempts to answer these questions by performing a social network analysis on the enormously popular Game of Thrones HBO TV show. By building a social network based upon the co-appearance of characters (whether or not two characters exist in the same scene), I seek to translate the structure underlying the TV show into a visually static form. In so doing, I open the semiosis and meaning of the show to question and present a new framework for visualization and analysis.


There has been work dealing with the attributes of books and films (e.g. who wrote them? what year? producer/actors? influenced by prior works?), and there has been some work on textual analysis in the form of word clouds or bag-of-words analyses. [1] But there has not been, as far as I can find, a “textual” analysis of a film or visual media using digital humanities. In this blog post, I will use social network theory to perform a critical analysis of the HBO TV show, Game of Thrones.

There are many toolkits one might employ in analyzing a text critically ranging from close reading to distant. Some people apply frameworks of gender and queer studies. Others prefer post-modernist paradigms of discourse and positionalism. Favorites of mine include nonhumanism and postcolonialism. The list goes on. These tools change the definition of knowledge, of how we know what we know, by offering new interpretations of material through new perspectives of analysis. How we view the world is fundamentally changed by the tools we use to view it. In essence, the framework we use to analyze something dictates both the question we ask and the questions that are ask-able. Using a digital humanities approach, I apply social network theory to the Game of Thrones series to pose questions and uncover insights that may otherwise be left hidden.

For example: What does it mean to have power? Do small players have power in their ability to leverage the bigger players? Do big players have power in their ability to compete for or monopolize the iron throne? Does the locus of power shift over time? Do interactions within clusters cause influence to deteriorate? Or do adversarial relationships between clusters signal imminent downfall? Is there value in being a “broker” between factions? Are there network characteristics that correlate with death? Are clusters resilient over time even in the face of death?

These questions, all characteristic of social network analysis, inherently lead to differing conclusions about the work. What happens to a person when he must choose between two factions? How closely is one’s identity tied to one’s faction? To one’s friends? To one’s family? What does it mean to be an individual when one’s identity is a function of one’s community? What do you do when who you know might lead to your death?

At its core, the Game of Thrones universe is one of difficult choices, unintended consequences, bittersweet victories, and crushing defeats. As Cersei Lannister, one of the main characters, puts it: “In the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” (Episode 7, 9:25)

Because the universe is rich in characters and size, because the plot is driven by politics and people, and because there exist structures within the universe like factions and houses, the Game of Thrones universe is fertile ground for social network analysis. Due to methodological (and time) constraints, this post will concern itself only with the first season of Game of Thrones.

With these ambitions in tow, I will first provide a quick orientation to the Game of Thrones universe for those unfamiliar with the show. Then, I will provide a quick overview of how to read a social network graph for those unfamiliar with social network analysis. I will proceed to analyze the plot as it unfolds episode by episode. And finally, I will conclude by analyzing graphs created by data from the entirety of season one.


Spoiler Alert: Because this analysis will limit itself to the first season, all elements of season one will likely be spoiled.

The HBO TV show, Game of Thrones, is currently one of the most popular series in production today. The TV series is based on the novel series entitled A Song of Fire and Ice, written by George R. R. Martin. There exists some minor incongruities between the TV show and the novels, but, for the most part, it can be said that the TV show follows the books quite closely.

The TV show’s first season, which corresponds almost perfectly with the first novel A Game of Thrones, was released to much acclaim in the spring of 2011. As of now (with the show currently in its fifth season), HBO claims that over 18.6 million viewers have tuned in. [2] World leaders, including President Obama, are notable fans. [3]

Its influence has permeated beyond politics and into common parlance. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans once even attempted to explain European geopolitics by using Game of Thrones. [4] And it will be many a Fall until the phrase “Winter is Coming” falls out of fashion.

In addition to all these markers of success and influence, Game of Thrones has one of the most active fan bases in the world. Entertainment magazine Vulture ranked the show’s followers as first in devotion, citing fans’ patience and diversity as drivers of popularity. [5] This devotion has manifested itself in the magnitude and depth of Game of Thrones’ wiki, which hosts over 2,779 articles (based on the time of writing). Indeed, one might even argue that this project itself is a testament to Game of Thrones’ cultural significance.

In this post I will delineate the plot development of the first season of Game of Thrones by following the four most important characters of the first season: Lord Eddard Stark, Lord Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, and Jon Snow. It is helpful to imagine Game of Thrones as inhabiting a universe similar to War of the Roses England. Readers with viewing experience doubtlessly will be better equipped to understand the following analysis, but I will attempt to provide as much background as necessary as concisely as possible for those who readers have none.

Lord Eddard Stark

Eddard “Ned” Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, is widely considered to be the protagonist of the first season. In total, we spend more time viewing his interactions with others than any other character.


Ned Stark is married to Lady Catelyn Stark of House Tully, and they have five children together: Robb, Sansa, Arya, Brandon “Bran”, and Rickon. Before any of these five were born, it is said that Ned fathered an illegitimate bastard named Jon Snow.

Winterfell is located in Westeros, one of the two main continents that comprises the Game of Thrones universe. The other continent, Essos, lies to the East and is separated from Westeros by a body of water called The Narrow Sea.

Westeros (left) and Essoes (right)

The North and its attendant lands comprise one of The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. These kingdoms were united centuries before Ned’s birth by the conquerors of House Targaryen. House Targaryen ruled The Seven Kingdoms atop the Iron Throne, a throne assembled from the melted swords of the Targaryen’s enemies.

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The Iron Throne

He who controls the Iron Throne controls The Seven Kingdoms. Or so they say. The Iron Throne is located in King’s Landing, the capital and center of power.

Ned is widely considered to be one of the most honorable men in Westeros, and he is a good father and a loyal lord.

Jon Snow

Jon Snow is Ned’s bastard son. He is older than Ned’s other children, and does not enjoy the same privileges due to his bastard status. Ned’s wife Catelyn detests Jon Snow, and she makes no effort to welcome him into the family. Jon feels like an outcast in his own home with his own family, and so he decides early on to leave Winterfell and join the Night’s Watch at The Wall.

The Wall

The Night’s Watch is an ancient order of sworn brothers who are tasked with protecting The Seven Kingdoms from that which lies north of The Wall. Wildlings, “White Walkers”, dire wolves, and giants are said to inhabit the lands of the far north, and The Wall is all that separates them from the rest of Westeros.

Jon seeks to join the Night’s Watch because it is a society that lies outside the norm. All who enter the Night’s Watch must forswear their birthrights, titles, and ancestry and take a vow of celibacy, loyalty, and devotion.

Tyrion Lannister (left) and his older sister, Cersei Baratheon (right)

Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion Lannister, pictured above with his older sister Cersei, is son of Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock and Warden of the West. Tyrion, commonly referred to as “The Imp” due to his dwarfism, is not accepted by his father or society and frequently relies on his intelligence to get by. His older siblings, Cersei and Jaime, are fraternal twins. Cersei is the queen, married to King Robert Baratheon, and has three children named Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. Jaime is head of the Kingsguard and is widely considered one of the best fighters around. He also carries the title “Kingslayer” for having killed the king before Robert, King Aerys Targaryen II. All Lannisters have golden hair.

Tyrion has a penchant for books, travel, and whores. When Jon Snow questions why Tyrion reads so much, he replies, “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” (Episode 2, 27:30)

Tyrion faces constant questioning of his motives, but as a Lannister he is free to enjoy a lifestyle few others can. There is a saying throughout Westeros: “A Lannister always pays his debts.” In all of The Seven Kingdoms, there is no house richer than House Lannister. And no house more powerful.

Daenerys Targaryen

The Targaryens were once conquerors and rulers of Westeros. Three hundred years prior, the Targaryen family came from Essos on the backs of dragons and proceeded to unite The Seven Kingdoms under their one rule. But by the time of King Aerys II’s reign, all the dragons had died and the power of Targaryen blood had seemed to wane. For hundreds of years the Targaryens wed brother and sister to keep bloodlines pure, but the magic that once inhabited their veins dried up long ago.

Approximately seventeen years before the events of Game of Thrones, King Aerys Targaryen II ruled in King’s Landing on the Iron Throne. Afflicted with “madness” and obsessed with fire, King Aerys II began to burn his enemies (and sometimes friends) alive for his own enjoyment. Rage boiled over and Robert Baratheon waged war to overthrow Targaryen rule. As Robert’s army encircled King’s Landing, Jaime Lannister, then a sworn member of the Kingsguard, slayed King Aerys II on the orders of his father. And Tywin Lannister, who was then Hand of the King, betrayed the Targaryens in exchange for Robert’s marriage to his daughter Cersei. In characteristically brutal fashion, Tywin ordered that all members of the Targaryen household be exterminated.

Only Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen survived the onslaught by fleeing to the Free Cities of Essos. While Viserys was a child at the time of Robert’s Rebellion, Daenerys was only a baby and has no memory of Westeros.

Viserys, technically the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, desperately wants to return from exile and claim his kingship in King’s Landing. However, the only thing Viserys owns is his name as House Targaryen has no money or possessions remaining. Viserys marries his sister, Daenerys, to a Dothraki horselord named Khal Drogo in exchange for Khal Drogo’s Khalasar (similar to the Mongol horde). But, just as one would expect of the Mongol horde, Khal Drogo does not follow the Westerosi customs, and Viserys is left wanting.

At the beginning of Game of Thrones, Daenerys is weak and timid. She is frightened easily and follows the wishes of her brother. However, after marrying Khal Drogo, Daenerys begins to find a more confident and independent self. Daenerys develops over the course of the first season from a whelp into a dragon.

While Ned Stark, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister all cross paths with each other and with various interlocutors in Westeros, Daenerys and company remain isolated from Westeros except for two small links. Daenerys’ story takes place in the same universe as the others but still remains apart from them in almost total isolation.


I will now give a quick guide to Social Network Analysis for those with no background.

There are two major components to a Social Network Graphs: nodes and edges. Nodes represent entities, and edges represent connections between entities.


Daenerys Targaryen’s interactions throughout Season 1

In the graph above the nodes are represented by circles, and the edges are connective lines. A line between two nodes signals a connection. In this analysis, an edge signals that two characters appeared in a scene together.

For example, in the graph above we see that Jorah Mormont (Daenerys’ Westerosi advisor and admirer) and Viserys Targaryen (her brother) appeared in a scene together.

The structure of this network graph is determined by an algorithm which places more well-connected nodes in central positions and less well-connected nodes around the periphery. Other algorithms exist for specific visualizations.

We can add more information to this node-edge binary. Nodes can vary in size, shape, color, and edges can vary in color and size. Moreover, node labels can indicate attributes as well.

For example, the nodes above are colored by “faction.” I have partitioned Daenerys’ network into three parts:

  1. Loyal to Daenerys: Daenerys Targaryen, Jorah Mormont, Doreah, Jhiqui, and Irri.
  2. Loyal to the Khalasar: Drogo, Rakharo, Mago, and Qotho.
  3. Loyal to House Targaryen: Viserys and Ilyrio Mopatis.

The size and color of each edge in this graph is determined by its “weight.” Edge weight refers to the strength of the connection between two nodes. In this case, a very dark and thick line conects Jorah Mormont and Daenerys, signaling that the two share many scenes together. Because Jorah is Daenerys’ sole source of information regarding Westeros and because Jorah secretly admires Daenerys, it is not surprising that the two share an exceptionally strong connection.

Here is a graph of those loyal to House Stark and those loyal to the Night’s Watch:

House Stark (Orange) and The Night's Watch (Blue), Season 1

House Stark (Orange) and The Night’s Watch (Blue), Season 1

Both the node size and label size in this graph are determined by something unique to social network analysis. In this graph, the more edges a node has, the bigger the circle and larger the label. This is one so-called “centrality measure” called “degree centrality.” Centrality measures are node characteristics. In total, I will use three centrality measures in this post:

  1. Degree Centrality: The sum total of edges for a node. Ned Stark has the highest degree centrality in the graph above because he is connected to the highest number of people.
  2. Betweenness Centrality: The number of times a node is passed through when taking the shortest path between any two nodes. Nodes with high betweenness centralities are usually those who act as “brokers” between two disparate networks. For example, Jon Snow, as a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch and the bastard of Ned Stark, has a high betweenness centrality because he connects the Starks and the Night’s Watch.
  3. Closeness Centrality: The inverse of the number of nodes one would have to travel through to reach all other nodes. A node with a high centrality measure is one that is intuitively in the “middle” of things; one that is not on the periphery. In this graph, Catelyn or Robb Stark appear to have high centralities precisely because they can reach everyone with the shortest distance traveled.

These tools are all that is necessary to begin our analysis.


The social networks built in this post are called “co-appearance” networks. If two characters share a scene, they are recorded as sharing a connection. In this analysis, I adhered almost strictly to this type of network. I made a few additions for people who are integral to the scene’s purpose or structure but may otherwise be unpictured. And I made a few subtractions to keep background extras from clogging an already saturated network. While this method opens up the analysis to some criticism, I believe the increased clarity outweighs the additional bias. And because this project is about how structures in the text “teach” the audience about a universe, my addition of explicitly talked about (yet unpictured) people and my subtraction of insignificant background extras detracts little from this goal.

To compile my datasets, I recorded carefully the actors in each scene episode by episode. I used some programming to manipulate the data into workable form.



I used a programming software called Gephi to visualize all of these networks. Unless otherwise specified, each of these graphs follow the Force Atlas layout.

EPISODE 1 – “Winter is Coming”

Episode 1: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 1: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

The first episode starts with death. North of the wall, strange and nefarious things are beginning to occur, and three rangers come under attack by unseen and unknown forces. One of these rangers survives, only to break his solemn oath and desert his post out of fear of the forces beyond the wall. Charged with ensuring the security of the north, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell sentences the deserter to death. After carrying out the sentence, a deceased dire wolf (the sigil of House Stark) from north of the wall is discovered in the forests around Winterfell. Six dire wolf pups survive, and one is given to each Stark child.

In King’s Landing, Lord Jon Arryn, Hand of the King, has died, and King Robert Baratheon has decided to replace him with Lord Eddard Stark. In order to ask Ned to take the position of Hand of the King in person, Robert travels with his retinue from King’s Landing to Winterfell. Among those venturing north with Robert are Jaime Lannister of the Kingsguard, Queen Cersei Baratheon (originally a Lannister), and Tyrion Lannister, who also wishes to travel to The Wall and visit the Night’s Watch.

Ned is happy to see his old friend, Robert, and a feast is had to celebrate the occasion of Robert’s visit. Robert, forever in love with Ned’s deceased sister Lyanna Stark, decrees that House Baratheon and House Stark will join, and it is decided that Sansa Stark, the oldest Stark daughter, will marry Prince Joffrey Baratheon, presumably Cersei and Robert’s son. In addition to this marriage, Ned will become Hand of the King.

Despite his curiosity in learning the details of Jon Arryn’s death, Ned is hesitant to leave Winterfell for King’s Landing. Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn, widow of the late Jon Arryn, sends a raven to Winterfell warning the Starks that the Lannisters poisoned her husband and are not to be trusted.

Across The Narrow Sea, Viserys, Daenerys’ brother, uses Magister Ilyrio Mopatis’ connections with the Dothraki to set up a marriage between Daenerys and Khal Drogo. In exchange for this marriage, Viserys will ostensibly gain control of tens of thousands of Dothraki warriors to win back The Seven Kingdoms from Robert “the Usurper.” Daenerys does not go willingly, but she is too timid to fight back. Daenerys and Khal Drogo marry in a lavish yet violent wedding.

Jorah Mormont, an exiled Westerosi knight of high birth, attends and gifts her books on Westerosi history and lore. This begins his relationship to her as her Westerosi and Dothraki advisor and also marks the beginning of Jorah’s role as spy for powerful men back in Westeros. Ilyrio Mopatis grants Daenerys three priceless dragon’s eggs that are thought to be calcified.

To end, we return back to Winterfell. Although Jaime and Cersei are twin brother and sister, they secretly pursue an incestuous relationship. Bran Stark, the second youngest Stark boy, accidentally witnesses this incest in a nearby tower, and Jaime Lannister pushes Bran out the window in an effort to kill him. The episode ends as Bran hits the ground, his fate unknown. The divisions between House Stark and House Lannister have just begun.

The Network:

The social network graph reflects the events of the episode quite closely. Immediately we see two well-connected networks: one reflecting the events in Winterfell, and the other the events in Essos across The Narrow Sea.

We can interpret the Winterfell network in a number of interesting ways:

  1. Size: The size of this cluster accurately reflects the fact that three of the four major characters (Tyrion, Ned, and Jon) inhabit the same location.
  2. Degree: Although there is some variance in degree distribution around the edges, the elements of the Winterfell cluster are surprisingly well-connected with one another. Much of this is due to the fact that the feast scene includes almost every major character. However, even without this scene, we would still have a saturated web of interconnectedness.
  3. Closeness: The closeness of the Winterfell cluster follows from the fact that this is the first episode. Characters are introduced to the audience in groups or clusters.
  4. Clusters: On the one hand we have the Starks, and on the other we have the King and the Lannisters. As the two groups meet, we learn who each character is by virtue of which group they belong to. In the graph, one can literally see this face-off between these two groups. The Starks inhabit the lower portion of cluster, while the Lannisters and the King inhabit the upper portion. Overall the connections within each group are stronger than those between groups.
  5. Edges: There are several interesting elements we can see in the edges of this graph.
    1. First, the connections between Starks occur far more often than any other cluster. One possible explanation for this fact may be the significance House Stark plays as an anchor for the audience to understand the Game of Thrones universe in this first episode. The events take place at Winterfell, the Stark’s home; Ned Stark, as Warden of the North, has connections to the Night’s Watch; and Ned has an existing relationship with the current King, Robert Baratheon. The fact that the Starks have the most weighted edges may be a reflection of how we, as viewers, are introduced to the locations, factions, and history of The Seven Kingdoms.
    2. Second, Cersei’s connection to Jaime is stronger than her connection to Robert. Although she is the queen, the absence of a strong relationship between the two reflects the fact that Cersei and Robert’s relationship is cold and distant. Cersei’s true love is Jaime.
    3. Thirdly, Sansa’s connections with the Lannisters outweighs her connections with the Starks. We are made aware that Sansa and Joffrey will wed in this episode, but it is not apparent that Sansa is closer to the Lannisters than the Starks. In the following episodes, this does come to pass, as Sansa moves away from her northern roots and adopts more southern styles. However, it is interesting to note that the network foreshadows this movement prior to its actual occurrence.

In Essos:

  1. Size: There are just five characters worth recording in Daenerys’ universe. This may reflect the fact that understanding Daenerys’ story requires an understanding of Westeros and its history. To place Daenerys’ exile and Viserys’ anger in perspective, we as an audience have to know why they were exiled and why they are angry.
  2. Degree: Just as in the Winterfell network, the roughly equal degree measures represent our introduction to these characters. One insight we might gain from both the Winterfell and Essos clusters is that characters (at least in Game of Thrones) are introduced in groups rather than alone. We learn who a character is by comparing them, both similarly and differently, against who they are with.

EPISODE 2 – “The Kingsroad”

Episode 2: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 2: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

In Essos: 

Daenerys is not having a good time adjusting to her new role as Khal Drogo’s wife. Jorah Mormont’s offers her little help, only saying that it will become easier in time. She asks her handmaidens, former pleasure-girls in the free cities, for advice in how she might please Khal Drogo. By learning the Dothraki tongue, and by learning how to please Khal Drogo, Daenerys begins to assert her independence and come into her own.

In Westeros: 

Sadness grips Winterfell. The Starks and their guests (minus Jaime and Cersei) pray for a comatose Bran to make a quick recovery. As the days go by, there is no change in Bran’s condition, and the various groups at Winterfell part ways. Cersei, Robert, Ned, Sansa, Arya, and Joffrey (among others) make their way south. Jon and Tyrion head north to the Wall. And Catelyn, Robb and Theon stay with Bran in Winterfell. Later, Catelyn will leave Winterfell with Rodrik Cassel, a knight of Winterfell, to speak with Ned about her belief that the Lannisters were involved in Bran’s fall.

On the road north, Tyrion and Jon exchange words, and Jon learns that his idea of the Night’s Watch as a noble brotherhood of men may not entirely be true. In fact, because one’s crimes are forgiven at The Wall, most of the Night’s Watch brothers are former criminals.

On the road south, Ned and Robert share stories of their war-hero days during Robert’s Rebellion. Robert brings up disturbing news to Ned: Daenerys Targaryen has married a Dothraki Khal, and her brother seeks the Iron Throne. Ned dismisses Robert’s worry as groundless, for the Dothraki have no ships and fear the ocean. Robert, always searching for an enemy, does not take this rebuff kindly.

Another incident occurs on the trip south between the Starks and the Lannisters. Sansa and Joffrey, slated to be married when Sansa comes of age, share time together. One afternoon they come across Arya practice fighting with a local boy named Mycah. Joffrey takes out his real sword and sadistically taunts the local boy. Arya’s dire wolf attacks Joffrey in response, and Arya throws Joffrey’s sword into the river.

In front of the King, Joffrey swears one story and Arya another. Cersei brings Sansa forward to testify the truth, and because she is betrothed to Joffrey, Sansa supports Joffrey’s false story. The Queen demands the King punish Arya, but Ned will not allow it. The growing animosity between Cersei and Ned begins to annoy Robert, who loudly proclaims that children fight and that each family will discipline their own child. Cersei demands that the dire wolf who attacked Joffrey be put down, and Robert orders Ned to do so. However, Arya’s dire wolf has run away, so Sansa’s dire wolf is put down instead. The episode ends with Ned unhappily slitting Sansa’s dire wolf’s throat, upon which Bran wakes up back in Winterfell.

The Network:

In this episode’s social network graph we see many of the same structures from before. There are two major networks: one in Westeros, and the other in Essos. However, because our characters are mobile and known to the audience, the interconnectedness we saw before has lessened considerably.

There are three major elements of this graph that I believe are worth highlighting:

In comparison to the Winterfell network we observed in the previous episode, episode 2’s Westeros network is far more spread out. This gives more credence to the claim that characters are introduced to audiences in groups initially. Now that we know the characters with some familiarity, the intense grouping we saw earlier is lost. Furthermore, despite all three Westeros groups beginning the episode in Winterfell, the dearth of interconnectedness between nodes suggests that characters/ movement geographically corresponds closely with a decrease in connectivity. In fact, all three groups (Winterfell, Jon & Tyrion, and others) are identifiable as clusters within the Westeros network.

One important insight that would otherwise go unnoticed is the heavily weighted connection between Sansa Stark and Joffrey Baratheon. It is the most important relationship of the episode both in Westeros and Essos. One explanation for this relationship is simple love. Sansa likes Joffrey and vice versa, and the two are set to be married. So it only makes sense for the two to spend much time together. However, the strength of their connection may instead represent a microcosm of the Stark-Lannister rivalry to come. Sansa and Joffrey’s relationship is the fulcrum upon which the the Stark-Lannister rivalry balances. Let’s use the incident with Arya and Joffrey as an example. When Joffrey swears a lie while Arya swears the truth, Sansa is brought forward by the Queen. Sansa is presented with a choice: either support Joffrey as is her duty as future queen and betray her family, or support her family and betray Joffrey, her betrothed. Poor Sansa becomes a conduit for the queen to exert power over the Stark family.

This structural analysis is supported by a symbolic reading of the Queen’s insistence that Ned kill Sansa’s dire wolf. Because the dire wolf is the sigil of House Stark, the act of killing Sansa’s dire wolf symbolizes both the Queen’s direct power over the Starks and the detachment of Sansa from the Stark family. If Sansa is to marry Prince Joffrey, she must be declawed. By tearing Sansa from the Starks, Cersei ensures her family’s dominance. Thus Joffrey and Sansa’s relationship in episode 2 comes to teach the audience the nature of politics in Game of Thrones. The houses are constantly in a state of battle, and the Starks and Lannisters are no exceptions.

The third important insight to be gleaned from this episode’s network graph lies not in what can be seen, but rather in what lies unseen. The link between Daenerys and Viserys disappears in this episode. Viserys essentially traded Daenerys for Khal Drogo’s Armies, but the only person Viserys speaks to this episode is Jorah Mormont. This structural absence reflects not only Daenerys’ growing independence, but also Jorah’s increasing position as bridge between Essos and Westeros. It is made clear in this episode, as opposed to episode 1, that Viserys is to play a secondary role in Daenerys’ storyline.

By only showing Viserys associating with Jorah Mormont (in comparison to Daenerys’ rapidly growing Dothraki network), we turn our thoughts away from Westeros (and Viserys’ dreams of retaking the Iron Throne) and instead focus on Essos, Daenerys, the Dothraki, and the foreign. The overall effect this has is hard to measure. Guiding the audience’s imagination beyond the bounds of Westeros broadens the perceived magnitude of the Game of Thrones Universe by re-centering Daenerys’ story on herself and where she is rather than on those behind in Westeros where she is not.

EPISODE 3 – “Lord Snow”

Episode 3: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 3: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

In Westeros: 

Bran awakes from his coma paralyzed and retains no memory of how he came to fall. Robb begins to take over much of the responsibility involved in running Winterfell.

Ned reaches King’s Landing with daughters in tow, and he is summoned immediately for a meeting of the small council. The small council advises the king and runs the kingdom. Members include: Lord Petyr Baelish (Master of Coin), Renly Baratheon (Master of Laws and brother of the king), Grand Maester Pycelle (advisor to the king), Lord Varys (Master of Whispers), and Ned Stark himself as Hand of the King. Ned does not fit in well with these other members precisely because Ned is an outsider. He has no influence in the capital and refuses to play the political game.

Catelyn and Rodrik arrive in King’s Landing, and, despite taking precaution, are spotted immediately by Lord Petyr Baelish’s men. Petyr and Varys listen to Catelyn’s theory of Lannister involvement in Bran’s fall. Later, Petyr brings Ned to meet secretly with Catelyn. The three agree to ally together.

At the Wall:

Tyrion and Jon arrive at Castle Black, the main base for the Night’s Watch. There, Jon puts his castle-trained fighting skills to use and proceeds to best all others. Thinking he is better than everyone else, Jon becomes disillusioned by those on the wall. Tyrion helps Jon see that the others at The Wall, despite being poor fighters or criminals, are people who deserve some chance to prove themselves.

Tyrion meets with Maester Aemon and the Lord-Commander of the Night’s Watch, Joer Mormont (father of Jorah Mormont), who plead that Tyrion ask the king for more money and supplies to man The Wall.

In Essos: 

Daenerys begins to assert herself as a Khaleesi, a Dothraki queen. This angers Viserys, who construes her newfound independence as a challenge to his authority. In a fit of rage, Viserys attacks Daenerys, but a Dothraki warrior named Rakharo strangles Viserys with his whip for daring to attack the Khaleesi. Daenerys pleads for Viserys’ life, establishing her ascendant power over him.

Later, Daenerys discovers that she is pregnant with the Khal’s child. Laying with Khal Drogo, she tells him that it will be a boy.

The Network:

There are three important elements of this episode’s network:

First, we see again the effects outlined in the first episode. As Ned and company enter King’s Landing, we are exposed to a plethora of new and important characters.  We see connected to Ned Stark a perfectly circumscribed star-shape linking the members of the small council. In fact, the first time we meet the small council, we meet every character all at once. In the network, there are three eminently identifiable clusters. The small council, along with Catelyn Stark, comprise one of the three.

Likewise, as Tyrion and Jon arrive at Castle Black, a brand new cohort affiliated with the Night’s Watch pop onto our radar. This cluster is self-contained, and Tyrion enjoys the highest degree centrality, to be discussed further later. The degree size in the Night’s Watch cluster is relatively uniform, hearkening back to our previous analysis of introducing characters to an audience in episode 1.

The second important structural phenomenon in the graph is the intense, triangular linkage between Ned, Petyr, and Catelyn. All three meet in secret and agree to ally together. The heaviness of the edge weight between these three and the geographic closeness on the graph itself represents trust itself.

Tyrion Lannister’s position in the Night’s Watch cluster provides us a unique insight into Tyrion as a character. An outcast from traditional society, Tyrion is free to use his wits and money to explore the world as he wishes. His journey to The Wall, his penchant for books, and his love of whores are all endemic to this peripheral existence. It is no wonder then that Tyrion has such a high degree centrality. In short, Tyrion as a character, by virtue of his outcast distinction, provides a persistent mechanism through which to introduce new characters. In so doing, Tyrion rises to a position of prominence both within the Game of Thrones universe and the audience’s imagination. His meeting with Maester Aemon and Lord-Commander Mormont reflects this usage of Tyrion as a character for introducing other characters.

EPISODE 4 – “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”

Episode 4: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 4: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

In Essos: 

The Khalasar arrives at Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki capital city (similar to Qara Qorum). Viserys complains to Jorah that his army is moving the wrong direction. Later, Daenerys invites Viserys to dinner. Viserys interprets this as Daenerys giving him orders, and he loses his temper. This time, Daenerys fights back herself and declares that the next time Viserys raises his hand to her will be the last time he has hands. Afterwards, Daenerys tells Jorah that she believes Viserys to be too weak to become king of Westeros.

In Winterfell:

Bran awakens after dreaming of a three-eyed raven. Theon, Hodor (a simple stable boy), Bran, and Robb assemble to meet Tyrion Lannister and Yoren (a Night’s Watch recruiter on his way to King’s Landing). Tyrion is met with hostility. However, despite this frosty reception, Tyrion takes sympathy on Bran and leaves plans for a custom saddle that Bran might use. In the face of hostility, Tyrion leaves Winterfell and makes his way south.

At Castle Black: 

A new recruit named Samwell Tarly joins the Night’s Watch. He is fat, weak, and cowardly. Jon, remembering Tyrion’s words, defends and befriends Sam. It is later revealed that Sam was sent to the Night’s Watch by his Lord father. Sam’s father declared Sam unfit to inherit the Tarly household, and gave Sam a choice: join the Night’s Watch or die.

In King’s Landing: 

After a small council meeting, Ned meets with Grand Maester Pycelle regarding Jon Arryn’s activities prior to death. Pycelle gives Ned a “ponderous tome of no real interest” that Arryn had borrowed concerning the lineages of the noble houses of The Seven Kingdoms.

Petyr meets with Ned and advises him to keep his quest more secretive. He also informs Ned that Jon Arryn’s former squire has been knighted and has a new suit of armor, implying that the squire was given a knighthood in exchange for killing Jon Arryn. Ned’s investigation of Arryn’s last actions takes him to a blacksmith in the city, where he meets Gendry. Ned realizes from his appearance that Gendry is Robert’s bastard son and wonders why Jon Arryn had been interested in this information.

Jon Arryn’s former squire participates as a new knight in a tournament where he is killed by Gregor Clegane, a bannerman to House Lannister.

On the Road to Winterfell: 

Catelyn and Rodrik coincidentally run into Tyrion in a tavern on his way back from The Wall. With a sudden forcefulness, Catelyn accuses Tyrion of participating in Bran’s attempted murder and rallies her father’s (Lord Hoster Tully’s) bannermen to take Tyrion into custody. The episode ends with Tyrion surrounded by swords.

The Network:

There are three important elements visualized in this network graph.

First, we see that the graphs seem to be growing less and less dense over time. Compared to the graph we saw in episode 1, this episode’s graph is disjointed, with several clusters.

Tyrion’s position in this network is especially noteworthy. As he travels from The Wall south, he meets both the Winterfell cluster and the cluster centering around Catelyn Stark. This geographic movement is reflected by Tyrion’s large degree centrality. But how many people Tyrion meets is not as important as which people he meets. Notice that the two clusters linked by Tyrion are both Stark-allied. Becuase we only see Tyrion with Stark people this episode, we are reminded of the tensions between the Starks and Lannisters whenever we see Tyrion (despite whether or not Tyrion was actually involved in the plot to kill Bran).

In fact, Tyrion’s purpose as a character this episode is less to provide character development (as it was in previous episodes), than it is to provide a continuity of story across geographical boundaries–in this case Winterfell and King’s Landing.  Acting as a “broker” between two clusters, Tyrion essentially links together the information acquired in Winterfell this episode and the information acquired in King’s Landing the previous episode. In other words, Tyrion’s movement in this episode provides the audience a sense of information flow throughout The Seven Kingdoms that is not made explicit in the text or show.

The second element that jumps out in this network is the weight of Jon Snow’s edges. Because the same characters appear together in scenes so often, these strong edges undoubtedly reflect the budding friendship between Pyp, Jon, Sam, and Grenn.

But the link between Sam and Jon appears to be much thicker than any other this episode. One explanation for this outlier lies in the nature of Sam’s relations. House Tarly is one of the minor noble houses of Westeros, and therefore Sam sticks out from all the other recruits except for Jon. Because both grew up in castles, surrounded by nobility, Jon and Sam share more in common than any other person in the Night’s Watch.

As a functional element, Sam’s character provides us with more than just character development for Jon Snow. The edge weight between Sam and Jon is so strong because Sam provides the audience a portal through which to learn more about the Game of Thrones universe. Just as Jon Snow’s position as a bastard and Tyrion Lannister’s position as a dwarf gave the audience an outsider perspective through which to understand the customs and culture of The Seven Kingdoms, Sam’s position as someone from pampered nobility offers us an outsider’s perspective of the Night’s Watch, its history, and its purpose. Moreover, his position as a “normal” person by Westerosi standards provides a sharp contrast to the “abnormal” nature of The Wall and the north. The secular Sam increases the sense of fantasy and mystery underlying The Night’s Watch and The Wall.

Lastly, I want to draw attention to Petyr Baelish in the King’s Landing cluster in the bottom-left of the network. He and Eddard Stark share the same degree centrality, but Petyr’s edges appear to be thicker. In the previous episode we saw a strong triangle form between Petyr, Ned, and Catelyn as an alliance was struck. It appears that Petyr’s high degree centrality and slight high edge weight reflect the continuation of this alliance. I bring attention to this for future analysis.

EPISODE 5 – “The Wolf and the Lion”

Episode 5: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 5: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

On the Road to the Eyrie: 

Catelyn and Tyrion make their way to the Eyrie, House Arryn’s impregnable fortress located in a heavily defensible area called The Vale. The violent and unruly hill tribes attack, and Tyrion saves Catelyn’s life. Catelyn begins to doubt whether Tyrion is really responsible for her son’s fall.

Later, Tyrion and Catelyn arrive at the Eyrie and meet Lysa Arryn, Catelyn’s sister, and Robin Arryn, her son. We see Lysa Arryn holding court while breastfeeding Robin, who looks to be about 8 years old. Lysa’s mental health is called into question, and Catelyn begins to doubt the truthfulness of Lysa’s earlier letter (in episode 1) regarding the Lannister’s role in her husband’s death. Lysa’s paranoia and hatred of the Lannisters (while in reality well-placed) disquiets Catelyn.

In King’s Landing: 

At a jousting tournament, Loras Tyrell of the powerful and rich House Tyrell gives a flower to Sansa. Sansa is charmed, but Petyr makes known Renly and Loras’ secret relationship.

In the Red Keep (the throne room), Varys talks with Ned about Jon Arryn. Varys implies that Jon Arryn died because he started asking questions that had dangerous answers. Ned learns from Varys that Jon Arryn’s final words were, “The seed is strong.”

Beneath the Red Keep in the dungeons, Arya overhears Varys and Ilyrio Mopatis (from episode 1) speaking in riddles about an imminent conflict between the wolf (the Starks) and the lion (the Lannisters). Ilyrio suggests doing away with Ned Stark, but Varys says that it is too late. Arya runs back to warn her father.

Meanwhile, Yoren of the Night’s Watch tells Ned of Catelyn’s recent imprisonment of Tyrion Lannister on the road north. Ned smartly senses the danger to come and orders everyone to prepare to leave King’s Landing.

But before they can leave, a sudden meeting of the small council is called. Robert has heard that Daenerys is with child (from Jorah Mormont via Varys) and wants Daenerys killed. Ned disagrees and argues that killing Daenerys is dishonorable and cowardly. Robert becomes wrathful, and Ned quits as Hand of the King in protest.

Before Ned can leave the capital, Petyr takes Ned to the last place Jon Arryn visited before his death. It happens to be a brothel that Petyr owns, and Ned meets another of Robert’s bastards. He leaves the brothel wondering why Jon Arryn tracked down all of Robert’s bastards.

Renly (Baratheon) and Loras (Tyrell) meet. Loras convinces Renly to make a play for the throne despite being fourth in line. Renly believes himself to have the necessary qualifications, and a tentative pact between Renly and House Tyrell is agreed upon.

Cersei and Robert share a rare heart-to-heart regarding Lyanna Stark and their firstborn son. Robert tells Cersei that there was no chance for love in their marriage.

Ned, upon leaving Petyr’s brothel, is suddenly surrounded by Lannister men. Jaime Lannister proceeds to attack Ned over Tyrion’s imprisonment. The two clash swords, equally matched. But as the fight continues a Lannister soldier interrupts the dance and pikes Ned through the thigh.

The Network:

This network, more than any other yet analyzed, is highly reflective of the plot of the episode. The strong ties between Tyrion and Catelyn, for example, reflect their time together on the road to The Vale as well as their time together before Lysa Arryn at the Eyrie. And because this episode primarily focused on Ned’s activities, the King’s Landing cluster contains Ned at the center with the expected high degree measure.

The amount of plot covered in this episode exceeds that of previous episodes, in the sense that fewer characters committed more actions. Daenerys, for example, does not make an appearance in this episode because the plot development in King’s Landing and The Vale was given such prominence.

There are some strengths and weaknesses to using network visualization to represent this episode in view of this excessive plot-tiness. For example, the visualization makes clear Ned’s status of protagonist for the episode. The plot in King’s Landing moves forward with Ned. His actions carry meaning behind them.

However, because this episode focused on such a narrow group of characters, there is some nuance lost akin to that experienced in episode 1 when all the characters were being introduced. We see the usual clusters of characters (for example, the small council) within the larger network, but because these characters appear together often, it is hard to tease out individual nuances between two characters like those in previous episodes.

Because there is such similarity between episode 1 and this episode in terms of graph density, I believe that the interconnectedness of a network may act as a measure of plot development. In “plot-heavy” episodes, we should expect there to be far more connections between characters.

There are two more things of note regarding my own methodology related to this graph. I have included a connection between Robert, Cersei, and Lyanna (who is dead) because the purpose for the scene was expressly to flesh out Lyanna’s place in the Game of Thrones lore. We learn about Robert and Cersei’s history as well through Lyanna’s role in both their lives.

Additionally I have taken the slightest of liberties in including a connection between Jorah and Varys. We know that Jorah is working for Varys as a spy, but the two never appear in a scene together. This knowledge is conveyed explicitly to the audience and is of vital importance for understanding the full Game of Thrones network.

EPISODE 6 – “A Golden Crown”

Episode 6: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 6: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

In Winterfell:

Bran dreams of the three-eyed Raven one more. After awakening, Bran excitedly tries his new saddle from Tyrion that will allow him to ride a horse despite his disability. While riding around, a few wildlings from north of The Wall attack Bran. Theon and Robb save Bran and kill all the wildlings but one. This wildling, named Osha, becomes a prisoner of Winterfell.

In King’s Landing:

Ned awakens to find Cersei and Robert standing at the foot of his bed. Robert orders Ned to release Tyrion and make peace with the Lannisters. He wants to avoid war.

Robert, Barristan Selmy (Lord-Commander of the Kingsguard), Renly, and Robert’s squire Lancel Lannister go hunting in the Kingswood outside of King’s Landing. There Robert drunkenly reminisces about his war-glory days. This angers Renly, who storms away after saying that violence is a scourge on the world. Lancel Lannister makes sure to keep Robert well-drunk.

Meanwhile, Joffrey comes to apologize to Sansa about the happenings on the Kingsroad (in episode 2). She believes that this is a reconciliation.

Right afterwards, Ned decides to send his daughters back to Winterfell due to the danger of the capital. Sansa is understandably upset, yelling at her father that she and Joffrey were destined to be married and have many golden-haired children (the Lannisters all have golden hair). Ned suddenly realizes the truth Jon Arryn uncovered. All Baratheon children were of black hair, including Robert’s bastards, but Joffrey and Cersei’s other children have golden hair. Joffrey is no Baratheon. He is the son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister.

In the Eyrie:

Tyrion is thrown into a “sky cell,” an open-faced cell with slanted floors carved into the side of a cliff. He often tries to contact Mord, the jailor, to attempt an escape, but Mord is too dumb to understand. After many repeated attempts at explaining Lannister power and wealth, Mord finally agrees to deliver a message to Lysa. Saying that he wishes to confess his crime, Tyrion is brought before the court once more. Tyrion does not confess and instead asks for a trial by combat. Ser Vardis Egan of the Vale fights for Robin Arryn, and a sellsword named Bronn fights for Tyrion. Bronn wins, and Tyrion is allowed to leave a free man.

In Vaes Dothrak: 

Daenerys studies her calcified dragon eggs alone in her room. She wonders if they truly are calcified and places an egg in a brazier to see if heat has effect on the egg. Her handmaiden sees Daenerys lifting the scalding egg from the fire and burns her own hands grabbing it from Daenerys, but despite the scalding heat Daenerys is unburned.

Later, Daenerys is brought before the crones of Vaes Dothrak to eat a horse heart (to give her son strength). Viserys is disgusted by the whole situation–he still has not adjusted to the Dothraki customs. Jorah explains the ritual to Viserys and translates the Dothraki crones’ words. These crones declare that Drogo and Daenerys’ son will be “The Stallion that Mounts the World.” The crowd cheers for Daenerys, and Viserys realizes that he will never be king.

Viserys is discovered in Daenerys’ tent attempting to pilfer her dragon eggs, but Jorah confronts and stops Viserys. Viserys explains that by selling the three priceless eggs, he could buy and army and invade Westeros. Jorah counters that those eggs are not his to sell, as they were gifts to Daenerys. Viserys, fed up with Jorah, asks “does loyalty mean nothing to you?” To which Jorah replies, “it means everything to me.” Jorah’s allegiance has shifted from House Targaryen to Daenerys herself. His role as a spy for Varys is left in doubt.

That evening, Viserys drunkenly interrupts a celebratory feast for Daenerys and Drogo. He accuses Drogo of failing to uphold his end of the bargain: Daenerys for a crown. Drogo responds that he will give Viserys a crown “that men will tremble to behold.” Drogo takes off his golden accessories and Viserys is restrained as the gold begins to melt. Jorah tells Daenerys to look away, but she refuses and watches as Drogo pours molten gold over Viserys’ head. After Viserys’ ceases writhing in pain, Daenerys remarks that Viserys was no true dragon. Dragons cannot be killed by fire.

The Network:

The pattern of analysis spelled out in the previous episodes holds true for the following. Major plot points are easily-viewable and I will continue to point them out, but the nature of my analysis will orient slightly more towards less plot-related elements. Nevertheless, there are a few elements of interest in this graph:

For example, the edge connecting Tyrion and Mord is one of the thickest of the episode. However, Mord is a very minor character of little importance. Initially I believed this to be an outlier or an irregularity in the graph born from a very specific, unique circumstance (in this case, Mord is Tyrion’s jailor).

Upon closer inspection of the source, however, it seems that the information presented to the audience via this Tyrion-Mord relationship justifies the thick edge weight. Earlier we saw how Tyrion acted as a “universe-building” character, in that he acted as a mechanism for introducing new characters to the audience. A similar phenomenon is happening here with Mord. In attempting to bribe the simple Mord to carry a message to Lysa Arryn, Tyrion has to make known in easily-understood terms the nature of his family’s wealth. After hearing the phrase “rich as a Lannister,” Mord finally agrees to convey Tyrion’s message to Lysa. Even the simplest and most minor of characters know of the Lannister name and reputation–information transmitted via the Tyrion-Mord connection. While much of the Game of Thrones universe is learned via implication and inference, the Tyrion-Mord connection represents one of the few times Game of Thrones lore is conveyed explicitly to the audience.

There is one other connection of interest in this episode that I would like to draw attention to. The King’s Landing sub-network is sparsely-connected in this episode because there is much discord between the various factions within. Ned’s relationship with Robert is the only edge of abnormal thickness. Rather than signalling Ned and Robert’s friendship for one another, we should interpret this connection as a reflection of Robert’s role as king. He is a broker between House Lannister and House Stark, and his job as king requires him to maintain peace between unfriendly forces. His location in this graph represents this objective.

EPISODE 7 – “You Win or You Die”

Episode 7: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 7: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

In the Riverlands:

The episode opens at the Lannister war camp in the Riverlands. Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West, and head of House Lannister, chastises his son for failing to kill Ned Stark. Even though he looks down upon Tyrion, calling him the “lowest,” Tywin explains that any affront to the Lannister family cannot be tolerated.

At The Wall:

Jon and the other recruits are promoted to full brothers. Although Jon is well-trained in combat, he is placed with the stewards rather than the rangers. He finds that he will be Lord-Commander Mormont’s personal squire. Initially this angers Jon, but Sam tells him that he is being groomed for command. “You’ll know everything,” Sam explains, “you’ll be a part of everything” and will therefore have power.

At Vaes Dothrak: 

Jorah and Daenerys visit a market in the city. There Jorah receives a letter from “the spider” (a code name for Varys) containing a royal pardon for Jorah’s crimes. He deduces that the pardon means Daenerys’ death. Nobody needs a spy for the dead. Jorah is faced with a decision: let Daenerys meet her death and return to his home in The Seven Kingdoms, or remain loyal to Daenerys and protect her from harm. Because he has grown to love Daenerys, he chooses to stop the assassination.

In King’s Landing: 

Ned meets with Cersei and discloses that he knows of her incest with Jaime. Cersei does not deny it, claiming that she and Jaime were no different than the Targaryens who wed brother and sister for centuries to keep bloodlines pure. Ned tells Cersei to leave King’s Landing to take her children to safety, but Cersei explains to Ned that there is no such thing: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

Robert has been gored by a boar on his hunt and is dying in bed. After ordering everyone else out of the room, Robert speaks with Ned one-on-one. He concedes that Ned was right about the dishonor in assassinating Daenerys, and goes on to name Ned Lord Protector of the Realm to rule in Joffrey’s stead until Joffrey comes of age. When writing Robert’s words, Ned changes “Joffrey” to “rightful heir,” and then has Robert sign.

Renly confronts Ned, explaining that Robert will die and that Renly should be the king. Ned knows Joffrey is not the rightful heir, but Renly’s older brother Stannis Baratheon is next in line by law. Ned is bound by his honor and duty, and he sends a courier to Stannis to explain his findings of Cersei and Jaime’s incest. Renly flees the city.

Ned realizes that he has too little power in King’s Landing and turns to Petyr for help. Petyr promises to bribe the city guard for Ned, relishing in Ned’s perceived discomfort in having to do something dishonorable.

Later, Ned is summoned by “King Joffrey” to court. Robert has died and Joffrey demands oaths of fealty. Ned, as honorable as ever, knows that he cannot swear fealty to a false king. He orders the city guard to take Cersei and Joffrey prisoner. In response, Joffrey orders the death of Ned and all those loyal to him. Petyr betrays Ned, and the city guard that Ned had counted on proceeds to murder his entire house. Ned is taken prisoner, Arya escapes, and Sansa is trapped in the keep by Lannister forces.

The Network:

As in episode 5, we see a very dense and interconnected King’s Landing cluster, and like episode 5, this is a very “plot-heavy” episode. Schemes are planned and executed, confrontations and betrayal abound, and a cliffhanger leaves the audience on the edge of their collective seat. This provides more evidence for the assertion that plots move quicker when network gets more dense. Or rather, a denser network signals more plot development.

There are several corollaries that follow from this conclusion. For example, we know that information moves more efficiently within well-connected networks. Does this same principle apply to literary analysis? Can we say that a denser network “enables” a greater transmittal of information to the audience? Do audiences learn faster or learn more when multiple characters of significance contribute to a single scene? Qualitatively we can say that there are scenes that advance the story more than others, just based upon our viewer intuition. Do denser networks raise the ceiling, so to speak, on how far a plot can advance? And is the density or interconnectedness of a network a proper measurement for this sentiment.

Beyond these questions and the easily-identifiable plot-related edges, there is one interesting relationship I would like to highlight in this network graph.

The King’s Landing cluster is quite dense itself, but there exists a more specific cluster comprising the small council. If we look at Ned’s connections in this episode, there is a neat cluster consisting of Pycelle, Barristan Selmy, Varys, and Petyr. All of these characters have close connections to the dying king, and all have power and presence at the court. Yet there is one character typically associated with this group that is absent: Renly Baratheon. Renly remains connected to Ned Stark, but he is nowhere near as connected as the other small council members.

How does Renly’s absence from or weakness in the network reflect his role in the plot of the episode? We know that Renly flees the city after he fails to ascertain Ned’s support for his claim to the throne. This much is explicitly stated by the characters themselves before Ned’s confrontation. Why Renly makes this decision and what happens after this decision are left to the viewers to deduce. Renly probably left because he failed to ascertain enough support to challenge Joffrey. He also probably fled because he believed his own life to be in danger. It is likely that he went with the Tyrells since he has a relationship with Loras. And his leaving implies that the Lannisters have full control of the court. This implies that Renly knew something Ned Stark did not. Either Renly expected bloodshed or betrayal. Both of these outcomes heighten audience anxiety and anticipation. Renly’s absence, then, does not provide much in the way of plot (which we would not expect of such a small node), but it still affects the tone of the episode. This phenomenon can be seen in the graph by Renly’s distance from his standard cluster.

There is one extra edge that I have included in this graph. Stannis Baratheon does not appear at all in Season 1, but because there is a scene where Ned specifically send Stannis a letter, I felt it necessary to include him.

EPISODE 8 – “The Pointy End”

Episode 8: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 8: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

At The Wall:

Jon Snow saves the Lord-Commander from a wight (a reanimated corpse).

In Essos: 

The Khalasar leaves Vaes Dothrak and attacks a village of the peaceful Lhazareen for plunder to finance the invasion of Westeros. Daenerys has no stomach for war and is reviled by the raping and killing which follows. Jorah explains that this is the Dothraki way, but Daenerys orders the Dothraki warriors to stop. She intends to claim all remaining Lhazareen as her personal slaves, a Dothraki warrior’s right.

A rider named Mago complains to Drogo, but Drogo supports Daenerys’ claim, saying that her fierceness comes from his son inside her. Mago fights Drogo and dies spectacularly. Drogo is slightly wounded, and Daenerys forces Drogo to have a Lhazareen healer named Mirri Maz Duur treat his wound.

In King’s Landing: 

Varys visits Ned in the dungeons and relays the news that Catelyn no longer holds Tyrion prisoner.

Cersei has Sansa write a letter to Winterfell explaining Ned’s crimes. Cersei manipulates Sansa into believing that her father is a traitor and that her true position is with Joffrey. Slowly the queen is dislocating Sansa from her northern roots.

Later, in court, Sansa makes an impassioned plea to King Joffrey on behalf of her father, and Joffrey agrees to be lenient on Ned if he bends the knee.

In Winterfell:

Robb and Maester Luwin successfully identify the queen’s words written by Sansa’s hand. Robb refuses to bend the knee to Joffrey and calls the Stark bannermen to action. He intends to wage war and begins marching south. At the Twins, the castle/bridge hybrid of House Frey, Robb meets up with his mother Catelyn and finds himself blocked. To cross the River Trident, Robb has to make a deal with House Frey.

In The Vale: 

Tyrion and Bronn make their way through the thickly wooded Vale. While sleeping one night, the hill tribes surround their camp. Tyrion uses his wits to survive and promises the hill tribes The Vale if they deliver Tyrion to his father Tywin in The Riverlands. They successfully make it to the Lannister camp, just in time to prepare for battle with Stark forces.

The Network: 

In comparison to the preceding episode, this episode’s network appears much more sparse. We saw this contrast before with episodes 5 and 6, too.

There are seven elements of this graph that are noteworthy. I will move cluster by cluster:

First, Sam’s prediction that Jon would become more influential by serving as the Lord-Commander’s steward is given substance in this episode. Within his cluster, Jon holds the highest degree centrality as well as the highest betweenness and closeness. If we look closer at his edge weights, we see that Jon predictably appears often with Joer Mormont, an objective source of power. Although very little happens in terms of plot in this episode at The Wall, the scenes presented convey information regarding Jon’s new position as central actor in the workings of the Night’s Watch as an organization and institution.

Next we turn to the Lannister Camp cluster. At first glance this cluster appears to be extremely well-connected. Each node within shares a connection to the other, and there are multiple edges with heavy weights. However, I believe this to be a rare instance where the network betrays the truth of the characters’ relationships.

Shagga, Timett, and Chella are all minor characters of no real importance, but the graph makes them out to be central players of power in the Lannister Camp. In fact, the opposite is true. As viewers, we are not supposed to remember Chella, Shagga, and Timett individually. We are simply supposed to see them as symbolically representing the hill tribes. Tyrion gains some power through his relations with the hill tribes, and the hill tribes gain some power through their connection to the Lannisters, but the graph overstates the significance of these connections as well as the characters themselves. This aberration disappears in the full network graph of the entire season, to be discussed later.

There are four interesting elements to the King’s Landing cluster.

In the preceding seven episodes, Ned Stark has had a very high degree centrality. His single connection in this graph offers an interesting contrast. While it makes sense that characters would shun Ned following his arrest and imprisonment for treason, it is still surprising that such a main character sees so little screen time.

On the other hand, we see a massive increase in degree for Sansa Stark. In fact, she is the most popular person in the episode, or at least the person with the highest degree centrality. With Arya and the rest of House Stark dead or missing, Sansa becomes her father’s only advocate and representative at court.

Much of the plot turns around her interactions with the court, a phenomenon reflected in the high density and degree of those connected to her as well as in Sansa’s high closeness measure. Ned’s absence and Sansa’s conflicting loyalties to her family and to Joffrey inflate her importance, as she becomes the key to peace and the north.

And lastly, Cersei’s centrality within the King’s Landing cluster marks an important shift in power. As Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon disappear from the network, Cersei wins full control of the court. This fact is never explicitly stated, but Cersei’s centrality in scenes taking place in King’s Landing conveys this fact structurally to the audience.

Overall this network is quite fragmented, especially when compared to the previous network. Over time, it appears as though the networks have become more and more spread out. One possible reason for this jump in sparseness might be the ever-growing body count. For example, at the end of the previous episode, all members of the Stark household (minus Ned, Sansa, and Arya) were murdered. This chaos would translate into disruption in the graph as nodes and edges disappear.

EPISODE 9 – “Baelor”

Episode 9: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 9: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

At Camp Stark:

Catelyn negotiates on behalf of Robb with Lord Walder Frey, a bannerman of her father Hoster Tully. Catelyn argues that Walder Frey swore an oath to support his liege-lord and therefore was duty-bound to let Robb through. “Oh yes, I said some words,” replies Lord Frey, “and I swore oaths to the crown too if I remember right.” In the end, Catelyn promises to join House Stark with House Frey through two marriages in exchange for crossing.

At Camp Lannister:

Tywin has ordered Tyrion to accompany his tribesmen in the vanguard against Robb’s army. To celebrate what he believes to be his last night alive, Tyrion bonds with his sellsword Bronn and a mysterious woman named Shae.

The next morning, Tyrion is awoken suddenly to learn that the Starks have stolen a night’s march on the Lannisters. He gives a rousing speech to his hill tribesmen and proceeds to be knocked unconscious before the fight begins.

Back at Camp Stark:

We learn that the Starks have won their first battle and have taken Jaime Lannister captive. While a decoy army sacrificed themselves fighting the main Lannister camp (with Tywin and Tyrion), the real Stark army attacked Jaime Lannister contingent nearby.

At Castle Black:

As reward for saving his life from the wights, Lord-Commander Mormont bestows upon Jon his family’s Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw. Later, Jon learns that Robb is marching south to free Ned from the dungeons of King’s Landing, and Jon is torn between his oath to the Night’s Watch and his bonds to his family. Maester Aemon tells Jon that every man’s oaths are tested at some point in life, but Jon’s duty to the Night’s Watch outranks all else. Maester Aemon reveals that his full name is Aemon Targaryen, and that his oaths were tested last during Robert’s Rebellion, when his entire family was put to the sword.

Even still, Jon rides out in the night. Jon’s friends Sam, Pyp, and Grenn follow and make Jon return after they remind him of their fellowship.

Across The Narrow Sea:

Khal Drogo’s injury has become infected, and Drogo falls from his horse. “A Khal who cannot ride is no Khal,” warns Jorah, who suggests to Daenerys that they flee before the Khalasar splits into warring factions. Daenerys refuses and orders the “healer” Mirri Maz Duur to save Drogo’s life at all costs. Mirri Maz Duur replies that she knows a way to save Drogo’s life through blood magic, but warns that “only death pays for life.” A desperate Daenerys permits her to proceed. Mirri Maz Duur asks for Drogo’s horse and warns that none may enter the tent while she performs her magic, but Daenerys breaks this rule and enters the tent after suddenly going into labor.

In King’s Landing:

Varys meets with Ned again in the dungeons and updates him on Sansa’s plea at court and Robb’s march southward. Varys suggests that Ned should bend the knee, confess his crimes, and live out his days in the Night’s Watch on The Wall so that his family may live in peace. Ned is repulsed by the idea of trading his honor for his life, but the suggestion remains in the air.

Ned comes to agree with Varys and commits to confessing his crimes. He is paraded through the streets of King’s Landing to the Great Sept of Baelor, the main point of worship in the city, where he kneels before Joffrey and his retinue. He sees Sansa by the queen and Arya with Yoren (of the Night’s Watch) in the crowd and begins to confess his treason and swear fealty to Joffrey to save their lives. Joffrey is pleased. Grand Maester Pycelle explains that many kings, including the Great King Baelor, have exercised mercy in the past and suggests that Joffrey follow his mother’s advice and send Ned north to The Wall. Joffrey disregards Sansa and Cersei’s call for mercy, and orders that Ned be executed by decapitation. The episode ends as the executioner’s sword falls.

The Network:

There are three elements of this episode’s graph worth highlighting:

The most visible element is the collection of heavy edge weights between actors in the Stark Camp. Catelyn, Robb, Rodrik, Greatjon Umber, and Theon all appear together in multiple scenes, continuing a pattern of teamwork visible in the past few graphs. This stands in direct contrast to Team Lannister. Robb differs from Tywin in several ways, but this network highlights their biggest difference: Robb has a clear objective and strong support. This point will be taken up in more detail with the full network later.

As discussed in the previous episode’s analysis, Sansa’s centrality in the King’s Landing cluster is testament to her growing value as a controllable object. Remember that Cersei’s centrality in the previous episode reflected her growth in power and influence. But in this episode, Sansa’s centrality represents power of a different sort. Sansa has power in her connections only. It is a sort of “potential” power in that Sansa has value when used by other people, but inherently has little power to weird herself. In a network sense, Sansa has a lot of power, but when interpreted beyond the graph, this power becomes more and more nuanced in definition.

I would finally like to draw attention to the graph characteristics surrounding Ned’s death. For example, Ned had a very high degree measure in the first seven episodes but a very small one in the previous. Does his shrinking degree represent a decline in influence? Does it portend death? How does his death disrupt the network? I will address these questions following the final episode.

EPISODE 10 – “Fire and Blood”

Episode 10: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Episode 10: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

In King’s Landing:

Ned Stark’s head flies. Yoren, of the Night’s Watch, prevents Arya from seeing her father’s death, and Sansa faints. To protect Arya from the queen, Yoren cuts Arya’s hair and fashions her like a boy so that he can smuggle her out of the city with the rest of his new Night’s Watch recruits.

Later Joffrey forces Sansa to view the piked head of her father. What may have been love once is now completely gone. In a silent rage Sansa nearly pushes Joffrey to his death but is stopped surprisingly by Sandor Clegane.

In Winterfell:

Bran dreams of the three-eyed raven once more and sees his father in the crypts of Winterfell. He makes Osha take him down to the crypts, and finds that Rickon had the same dream. When they emerge topside, Maester Luwin is seen reading a letter conveying the news of Ned’s death.

At Camp Stark: 

Catelyn joins Robb in grief. Together they vow to save Arya and Sansa and kill everyone else.

Later, the northern bannermen hear word that Renly Baratheon has declared himself king and marches on King’s Landing. They also hear that Stannis Baratheon has declared himself the rightful king. After debating which king to support, the northern bannermen decide that Robb should resume the title of King of the North, and leave the other six kingdoms to fight amongst themselves.

Catelyn visits Jaime in prison. Jaime confesses to pushing Bran out of the tower (in episode 1), but does not confess why.

At Camp Lannister:

Tywin is enraged to learn of Jaime’s capture. He excoriates his subordinates for falling for Robb Stark’s ploy and orders everyone to leave, except Tyrion. Obliquely praising Tyrion’s ability to read Robb Stark, Tywin decides to send Tyrion to King’s Landing to serve in his stead as Hand of the King. He orders Tyrion to control Cersei and Joffrey, and adds that Tyrion cannot take Shae.

At Castle Black:

Lord-Commander Mormont sympathizes with Jon and lets him off the hook for his nighttime desertion. He explains that the wars brewing in the south means nothing compared to the war coming in the north. It is decided that the Night’s Watch will go far north beyond The Wall to discover exactly what is going on.

Across The Narrow Sea: 

Daenerys awakens suddenly to learn from Jorah that her son has died. Or rather, he never lived. He was born covered in scales, with worms for innards, and wings on his back. Mirri Maz Duur explains that he was born a monster because his death paid for Khal Drogo’s life. Daenerys demands to see Drogo immediately.

She finds Drogo in a catatonic state. Mirri Maz Duur explains that this is life when all else is gone. When asked when Drogo will return to his previous state, Mirri Maz Duur replies: “When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves.”

A funeral pyre is assembled to allow Khal Drogo to pass on. She orders Rakharo, Drogo’s brother, to place her dragon eggs with Drogo in the pyre. As the flames grow to consume Drogo and a tied up Mirri Maz Duur, Daenerys walks calmly to join them. The next morning, once the embers have died down, Daenerys emerges unburnt with three dragon whelps hatched by her side. 

The Network:

Ned’s death had a direct impact on the cohesiveness of the network. Our relatively sparse network has splintered into many different clusters, and while the overall structure of the network reflects the chaos following Ned’s execution, its constituent clusters are so small that it is hard to read and interpret the graph for any meaning.

Nevertheless, there is one triangular connection worth exploring. The only significantly weighted edges in the graph are between Daenerys and Mirri Maz Duur and Daenerys and Jorah. However, despite two strong edges to the triangle, the connection between Jorah and Mirri Maz Duur is very weak. One possible interpretation of this edge is that Jorah disapproves of Daenerys’ association with Mirri Maz Duur but allows Daenerys to proceed anyway.

One more area of interest regarding this graph is its position as final episode of the season. How does this splintered graph close out the previous nine episode? Does it make more sense to see this disjointed graph as a setup for the following season?

In fact, I argue that this graph both closes the first season and sets up the second all at once. If we assume that this episode acts as a conclusion, then the disjointedness naturally signals a denouement in the first season’s plot. Recall our previous analysis that linked interconnectedness and density with plot development. The graph for this episode is extremely disjointed, and the fractures in the network display few intense connections. I believe that the diversity of scenes with few characters allows time for Ned’s death to ripple through the Game of Thrones universe. In this episode we see people learning and adjusting. We do not see them taking action.

Likewise, the lack of action and the breakup of previous clusters lead us into the next season. How will Sansa deal with Joffrey? How will Arya get along with Yoren, Hot Pie, and Gendry? Will the Starks ever be reunited? The structure underlying these questions can be seen in this episode’s network graph.

The Full Network:


Full Network: Node (Degree), Edge (Weight)

Above is the full network for the entire first season. There are three major continuities and differences that I will address in this section. First, I will speak about the gradual changes in the overall shape of the network graphs from episode 1 to episode 10 and how that change is reflected in the full network graph. Then I will focus on the “Robb Stark” cluster and discuss reasons as to why it is unique and why there is no Lannister equivalent. And finally I will attempt to use the full network to address the shock of Ned Stark’s death by exploring structurally why audiences love the Starks and hate the Lannisters.

A World Slips into Chaos:

In the analysis of the first episode’s network graph, I hypothesized that the high interconnectedness and the roughly equal degree centrality among nodes gave structural representation to the idea of character introduction. The sparseness of episode 2 in comparison to episode 1 and the futher sparseness of episode 3 in comparison to episode 2 gave credence to this claim. Because the major characters were already introduced, the heavy clustering we saw in episode 1 naturally faded away.

However, by the middle of the season, this idea of clustering for character introduction had to be slightly modified. We started to see large clusters of already-introduced people in specific populations. But we only saw these types of well-connected clusters during episodes of heavy plot development. Because character introduction has a strong plot development aspect to it, I amended my theory. It appeared as though there was a direct correlation between overall degree and connectedness and plot development.

As we came to our analysis of episode 10, by far the most sparse and disjointed of the networks, it seemed that our theory was correct. As the show ended its first season, the plot reached its denouement and set up the characters (and viewers) for further action in the second season.

We can extrapolate this theory of plot development to our full network. If a dense network in an episode signals heavy plot development, then a character’s degree centrality and aggregate edge weights should signal centrality to plot. From the graph above, we see two prominent names with high degrees: Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister.

Eddard Stark’s high degree centrality is unsurprising. Several episodes seemed dedicated to following him through the streets of King’s Landing as he investigated Jon Arryn’s death. This investigation, in addition to Ned’s position as an outsider in King’s Landing, resulted in Ned’s high degree score. From the audience perspective, this conclusion makes sense. Because Ned was the protagonist of several episodes and because he was an outsider, viewers were able to learn the inner workings of King’s landing simultaneous with Ned himself. In essence, Ned having the highest degree score does not only reflect Ned’s importance to the plot of the show but also his importance in conveying information to the viewers.

In addition to a high degree centrality, Ned’s aggregate edge weight (the number of appearances with a character) is higher than any other character’s.


Aggregate number of character interactions

By our theory, then, we can conclude that Ned was the character most instrumental to plot development in the first season. This may explain why Ned’s death in episode 9 was so shocking. Nobody expected the main character to have his head chopped off.

Does this theory hold true for Tyrion as well? In the analysis of episode 3, I typified Tyrion as a “universe-building” character. Because Tyrion is so mobile geographically and because he is both insider and outsider at the same time, Tyrion is often used to introduce new characters and lore to the viewer. Tyrion’s overall degree centrality reflects this unique position in the Game of Thrones universe. If we take Ned to be the character most closely associated with the plot, then we can consider Tyrion the character most instrumental in providing background and lore development.

Tyrion actually has one more edge than Ned Stark, making him the most well-linked character in the first season, but his total number of interactions is almost half of Ned Stark’s. I believe this to provide evidence for our assumption of Tyrion’s utility as a “universe-building” character. Because Tyrion does not appear in as many of the dense “plot clusters” as Ned Stark, his total interactions are lower. But because he meets so many people, Tyrion still has immense value as a conduit to learning of the Game of Thrones universe.

One measure of this value is a character’s betweenness score. A node’s betweenness score is determined by how many times the node must be passed through when traveling from one node to another. A node “in between” the most nodes, or one that acts as a connector between two sets of nodes, will have have a high betweenness score.

Full Network: Node (betweenness), Edge (weight)

Full Network: Node (betweenness), Edge (weight)

Unsurprisingly, Tyrion and Ned have the two highest betweenness scores. Varys and Jorah also have high scores as their relationship links Essos and Westeros. This relationship will be explored later.

The above graph gives weight to the conclusion reached above: Tyrion links together many groups of distant and unrelated node clusters (as seen in the periphery), and Ned links together the majority of the show’s major characters. Tyrion’s betweenness represents his universality, and Ned’s represents his importance to the plot.

I introduce this theory and conclusion to explain why the networks seem to grow more disjointed over time. The final three episodes, for example, exhibit strong disjuncture, culminating with episode 10 as the most sparse. One potential reason for this disjuncture is the decreasing role Ned Stark plays in the final episodes of the season. After his imprisonment at the end of episode 7, Ned’s position as most-connected and most-between node is lost. And Ned’s death severs many connections between major characters and disrupts existing hubs and clusters.

We saw this with Robert Baratheon too. Because Robert was the arbiter between the Starks and the Lannisters, his death severed connections between certain clusters and made impossible rapprochement and peace. Because Robert was a less-central character than Ned, his death was not as disruptive.

Overall, then, we can postulate tentatively (until an analysis of season 2) that the deaths of characters with high betweenness factors splinter existing networks into temporary disjuncture. We can also postulate that characters most linked to the plot, like Ned Stark, cause network fracture. And finally, degree measure should also be considered as a possible multiplier on this phenomenon.

Those We Love, Those We Hate:

In episode 5, Robert and Cersei discuss the threat Viserys Targaryen and his 100,000 Dothraki warriors pose to the peace and security of The Seven Kingdoms. Cersei argues that it does not matter how many Dothraki follow Viserys, as the Dothraki cannot cross the narrow sea. And even if they did manage to find transport, she argues, the armies of Westeros would still outnumber them.

“One army, a real army, united behind one leader, with one purpose,” Robert replies, is stronger than five armies split in disunity.

The unity Robert speaks of is eminently visible in the cluster centering on Robb Stark.


Camp Stark

After his father’s imprisonment at the end of episode 7, Robb calls the northern bannermen to arms and begins his march southward. His camp moves united with one leader and one purpose. Although the Stark’s combined forces number less than the Lannisters, it would appear Robert is right about the power of unity in war.

Structurally it is unsurprising that unity manifests itself in the forms pictured above. What is surprising is the lack of unity to be found in the Lannister camp.


Full Network filtered to show only Starks (blue) and Lannisters (red): Node (degree), Edge (weight)

With little exception, there is a deep divide in the Lannister family between those in King’s Landing and those outside. This division is not so apparent in the Stark family.

So why do we, as an audience, love the Starks and hate the Lannisters? I believe the answer lies in the unity of the Stark Camp and the disunity of the Lannister faction. As we discussed earlier, the high interconnectedness of the Stark camp may signal a locus of plot development. The plot moves forward more with Robb than it does with Tywin.

This conclusion is unsurprising. As Ned becomes imprisoned, his story–or the consequences that follow–diffuses outward. Where previously the actions of the Stark faction were determined largely by Ned and Catelyn, Ned’s imprisonment shifts much of this plot burden onto Robb. Hence we see an increase in interconnectedness, edge weight, and degree among the Camp Stark cluster. As Robb comes into his role as leader of the Starks and the north, we as viewers receive a structural foreshadowing hinting at Ned Stark’s imminent doom.

We can extend our earlier conclusion a bit further. In additon to Ned, who we casted as the most main character, the rest of the Stark family appears to drive the plot of the first season. The Starks are the heroes, exhibiting positive characteristics such as familiar love and personal honor. The Lannisters on the other hand embody many negative characteristics, like pride, connivance, and incest.

These positive and negative attributes are reflected in the structure of the Stark and Lannister graphs. The unity of the Starks reflects the importance placed upon Stark family cohesiveness, honor, and loyalty. The disunity of the Lannisters reflects their tendency to place self before others and to view everyone as an enemy. We can see these two traits most clearly with the following “Friendship Networks.”

In addition to recording the co-appearance of characters in each scene, I coded each interaction as either friendly (=1), unfriendly (=-1), or neutral (=0). For any two characters, I can then calculate whether the total sum of interactions was friendly, unfriendly, or neutral by adding these numbers together. If the number fell below zero, I translated it to mean the two shared an unfriendly connection. And vice versa.

Full Network filtered by Starks (purple), Lannisters (red), the Night's Watch (blue), and the Essos cluster (green/tan): Node (degree), Edge (level of friendship)

Full Network filtered by Starks (purple), Lannisters (red), the Night’s Watch (blue), and the Essos cluster (green/tan): Node (degree), Edge (level of friendship)

Full Network filtered by Starks (purple), Lannisters (red), The Night's Watch (blue), and the Essos cluster (green/tan): Node (degree), Edge (level of animosity)

Full Network filtered by Starks (purple), Lannisters (red), the Night’s Watch (blue), and the Essos cluster (green/tan): Node (degree), Edge (level of animosity)

In the above graphs, the difference in interpersonal connections between Starks and Lannisters is clear. The majority of the Starks’ interactions are friendly, but the majority of the Lannisters’ interactions are adversarial. Ostensibly positive interactions within a node group lead to densely knit clusters, and negative interactions lead to fractured clusters.

We can combine this interpretation of the network with our earlier theory of plot centrality. The closer nodes are connected within a specific affiliation, the more the affiliation drives the plot and the more prominent this affiliation becomes to the audience. The Starks drive the plot of the first season as the noble heroes, and the Lannisters play the role of antagonist by obstructing relationships within the Stark cluster. Ned Stark’s death is so shocking because it destroys the standard hero-antihero narrative structure. With his death the hero cluster is left fractured, leaving the audience unsettled and grasping for anchorage.

It is possible to test this theory in future seasons. In season 2, hero clusters (or protagonist clusters) form to fill the void left by Ned’s death. And sure enough there are many more deaths that disrupt these clusters. Further analysis is needed for comparative purposes.


There are many insights gained by critically engaging Game of Thrones through a social network analysis.

First we found in the first episode that characters are introduced in groups. I theorized that we, as audience members, learn who an individual character is through their connections. By showing a character’s in-group in comparison with their out-group, we are provided with handholds for learning a character’s origin and motivation. This explanation seemed to hold true as already-introduced characters slowly fractured into smaller and smaller groups.

Next we learned how heavy edge weights can easily represent a temporal and symbolic relationship. Sansa and Joffrey’s frequent on-screen appearances in the second episode introduces to the audience a concrete relationship between the Starks and Lannisters and foreshadow the tension to come.

We also learned that the absence of edges from well-defined clusters signal structural shifts in how viewers recognize characters’ importance. The lack of a connection between Daenerys and Viserys in episode 2, and the growth of Daenerys’ connections to entities not related to Viserys prepare the audience for Daenerys’ growth as a main character throughout the season. Likewise, Daenerys’ growing connections reorient the viewers from a singular Westeros-centric view of the Game of Thrones universe.

In episode 3, we encountered further evidence for our initial theory that characters are often introduced in large groups. We also saw how a character with a high betweenness, in this case Tyrion, is used to introduce new characters to the audience. I describe Tyrion as a “universe-building” character.

Characters that do not fit neatly within clusters, like Sam Tarly and Jon Snow, provide the audience with more information than do characters who only exist within large clusters. If we imagine a cluster to contain a certain domain of information, those who exist outside a cluster (or those who connect two clusters together) convey new information to the audience by virtue of being outside.

In the middle of the season, we saw a fluctuation in graph density. Episodes that were heavy in plot development appeared dense than those where the plots moved more slowly. Some of the graphs, like those in episodes 5 and 7, resembled the density seen in episode 1 and 3 when characters were being introduced. I modified my initial theory to reflect this similarity: Dense networks signal plot development. Plots move when many characters inhabit a single scene. A denser network allows for a more efficient transfer of information from screen to audience.

We also encountered some “false positives” in our analysis of episode 8. Despite the high degree and density of the hill tribesmen in the Lannister Camp cluster, these three leaders have no real importance as individual characters in the story. However, we cannot say that these hill tribesmen serve no purpose. They move the plot and connect Tyrion with the rest of the Lannisters. We should be careful in our interpretation of these graphs.

One careful insight uncovered in analyzing the graphs of episodes 8 and 9 regards the nature and nuance of “power” in a network. In episode 8, Cersei’s centrality and closeness closely reflects her ascendance to unchallenged authority in King’s Landing. However, this type of power differs significantly from that of Sansa’s in episode 9. Sansa’s centrality and closeness does not reflect any growth in authority. Instead it represents her growing value as a target upon which to exercise authority. As a link to the north and the Starks, Sansa becomes a conduit to achieving a dominance similar to Cersei’s in episode 8. This “potential power,” as I call it, cannot be translated into authority by Sansa herself. But it does give Sansa “network power” in the sense that her structural position can be used by others for their own utility. Sansa’s connections grant her importance, but not authority.

Finally we ended our episodic analysis by analyzing how the season’s denouement and conclusion were reflected in the graph. The sparseness of the graph may represent more than just Ned Stark’s death. Instead, I argue in line with my theory above that the dearth of dense clusters signals lack of plot development. As the season comes to a close, the characters adjust to their circumstances, and there is little plot development.

We proceeded to refine our theory above by analyzing Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister’s degree and betweenness centrality measures in the full season 1 network graph. We determined that Ned’s network characteristics of high degree and high overall edge weight reflected his position as protagonist of the season. Similarly we found that Tyrion’s high degree but lower overall edge weight reflected his position as a “universe-building” character.

Next we showed why audiences love the Starks and hate the Lannisters by analyzing their respective network characteristics in full graph. In so doing, we found that the Starks were primary drivers of plot development by virtue of their cluster’s density and types of relationships. We used this idea to explain why Ned Stark’s death in episode 9 was so shocking to the audience. Killing off the protagonist (and hero) splintered the network structure and left audiences searching for a new narrative paradigm to order the resulting chaos.

Concluding thoughts:

Little precedent exists for this type of analysis because it is new and untested. There are legitimate concerns regarding applicability and appropriateness, and because this is a new cast on an old form, measures of success and failure have yet to be determined. I understand concerns in the field regarding the aptness of a digital humanities approach to a traditionally analogue field. But this possibility of failure is precisely the point of performing this analysis, for failure in the quest for new forms of knowledge is, by definition, the nature of scientific inquiry.

This preliminary project was no failure. Not only do I believe the final contents to be a legitimate critical analysis, but also the act of recording the data, assembling the visualization, and writing the analysis will be eminently useful in the future. The way I recorded the data seems almost lazy in its ease and simpleness. I had to find a way to record quickly and efficiently to maintain speed with the show. This will come in handy in the archives and in future research where speed and time are useful commodities. And the programs I have written to disentangle the data are generalizable to any future research. Finally, while the insights gained in this project may not be immediately applicable to non-literary analysis, critically analyzing a source with a social network mindset has made clear to me the importance of framework and structure in constructing arguments and conveying meaning.


All videos and images link back to their original source unless listed below.

[1] Accessed May 6, 2015.

Accessed May 6, 2015.

See pamphlets 2, 3, 6, and 7. Franco Moretti et al., Accessed May 6, 2015.

David K. Elson, Nicholas Dames, and Kathleen R. McKeown, “Extracting Social Networks from Literary Fiction,”, accessed May 6, 2015,

Erickson, Bethany; Knapp, David; and Rozema, Robert (2007) “My Literary Space: Using Social Networking to Teach Character Analysis,” Language Arts Journal of Michigan: Vol. 23: Iss. 1, Article 6.

Joel N. Shurkin, “Using Social Networks to Analyze the Classics,” Inside Science, Jul 24, 2012, 1, accessed May 6, 2015,

[2] Piya Sinha-Roy, “’Game of Thrones’ draws 7.1 million viewers for blood-filled finale,”Reuters, June 16, 2014, accessed May 6, 2015,

[3] Tanya Ghahremani, “President Obama Really Likes ‘Game of Thrones,’ In Case You Were Wondering,” Complex, December 30, 2013, accessed May 6, 2015,

[4] James Kirkup, “Winter Is Coming: Politics and Game of Thrones,” Telegraph, May 30, 2013, accessed May 6, 2015,

[5] Josef Adalian et al., “The 25 Most Devoted Fan Bases,”, October 15, 2012, accessed May 6, 2015,