Using Game of Thrones to Understand Mindstate Marketing, Part III: Daenerys Targaryen

At long last, the show that’s been eight years in the making reached its conclusion this past Sunday with a surprising and somewhat controversial series finale. Regardless of how you felt about the way Game of Thrones ended, we now know who will rule over the seven—excuse me, six—kingdoms and what characters made it out alive.

A few weeks ago, if I was a betting man, I would’ve placed a large (losing) bet on Cersei Lannister being the one to sit on the Iron Throne. Crushed by a cave-in, are you kidding me? Who could’ve even seen that coming? Furthermore, who could’ve anticipated the Mother of Dragons turning heel and killing thousands to finally reach the throne?

Well, if you had looked at Daenerys Taragaryen’s mindstate, it could’ve been you.

In the final installment of the three-part series where we’ve used Game of Thrones to understand mindstate marketing, we’re going to focus on the breaker of chains herself, Daenerys Taragaryen, and how she was psychologically driven throughout the series by another of our more prevalent mindstates: the optimistic achievement mindstate.

If you missed our articles on Jon Snow and Cersei Lannister, or just need a refresher on what a mindstate is, let’s start there before diving into Daenerys’ mindstate.

The Definition of a Mindstate

Contrary to what you might believe, we are not logical, rational decision-makers. In fact, we make emotional decisions and then justify those decisions with logic afterwards.

In those moments where you’ve made emotional decisions, it’s likely you were under the influence of a mindstate. This temporary state of mind finds us under high emotional arousal, relying more on nonconscious factors, and more susceptible to influence.

A mindstate has four components: your goals (both functional and higher-order), a core motivation, a regulatory approach, and cognitive heuristics. The two big pieces, which are motivation and regulatory approach, combine to produce eighteen mindstates.

There are nine core motivations (achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance, or security) and two regulatory approaches: promotion (striving for success) and prevention (trying to avoid failure).

If you want to better understand someone’s decisions, start with their mindstate. Let’s dive into Daenerys’ optimistic achievement mindstate, starting with her motivation.

Daenerys’ Upbringing Shaped Her Motivation

Before we get going, a warning: there are spoilers ahead!

When she’s first introduced, Daenerys is timid, fearful, and subservient to her older (but weaker) brother, Viserys. Given how docile Daenerys is early on, you could argue she’s operating with a cautious security mindstate. However, as we move through the series, Daenerys’ circumstances and key life events reveal who she really is at her core.

Since she was a child, Daenerys has been on the run because her and Viserys are the only two known Targaryens left in the world. As we hear constantly from Viserys, everyone wants them dead because they are the rightful heirs to the Iron Throne after Jaime Lannister murdered their father, Aerys II Targaryen (a.k.a. “The Mad King”), during a civil war with Robert Baratheon, who assumed the throne after the Mad King died.

Viserys is obsessed with assuming his rightful place as the ruler of the seven kingdoms, and during the early episodes, we see him doing anything to build an army.  To this end, he sells his own sister Daenerys to Khal Drogo, the Dothraki leader, to be his queen in exchange for his army that is fully capable of capturing Westeros and the throne.

Through the encouragement of Jorah Mormont and her husband Drogo, Daenerys drops the timidity and becomes a more aggressive, confident leader. This is made obvious when she watches Drogo kill her brutal brother after threatening her unborn child.

At this moment, you see the first of this unstoppable determination that is the driving force behind many of Daenerys’ decisions moving forward. Previously submissive to those around her, Daenerys becomes smarter and stronger as the seasons progress. Through all the obstacles and setbacks, she stays focused on achieving her key goal of ruling the world. By the last season, her character arc is complete: Daenerys is worthy to sit on the Iron Throne.

Well, at least until she goes crazy and murders thousands. We’ll get to that.

Daenerys is Aggressive and Takes Risks

Much like Cersei, Daenerys favors a promotion focus, meaning she naturally seeks strategies that help her maximize the chances of successfully reaching her goals. Throughout the series, Daenerys looks to win at all costs. She always approaches big decisions in such a way that she can maximize impact. She’s not worried about minimizing losses.

For example, look at her two sieges of Meereen. In the first, she catapults broken slave chains into the city. It’s her way of saying, “I’ve liberated other cities and these broken chains are the proof.” There’s nothing subtle about this aggressive move, and it works: she has operatives kill the slaves’ captors for her, then the slaves start a revolt.

Then, during the second siege of Meereen, Daenerys orders her dragons to burn the slave ships, the slave masters, and their armies. It’s a classic promotion focused strategy.

Speaking of dragons, think about her approach to fighting the White Walkers. She rides her favorite dragon Drogon into battle at great risk to her and her child (remember, she views the dragons as her children). But she does it because she knows Drogon will give her the best chance to kill the White Walkers, so it’s a big swing she’s willing to take.

How Daenerys’ Mindstate Impacts Her

When you combine her desire to win at all costs with the way she maximizes her chances for success, it’s clear Daenerys is most often under the influence of the optimistic achievement mindstate. Here’s how I describe that mindstate:

Being successful in our life’s activities is the goal of the optimistic achiever. Whether it’s losing that last stubborn ten pounds by eating healthy or working hard to rule the seven kingdoms, this mindstate is all about savoring the sweet taste of achievement.

When you’re in the optimistic achievement mindstate, you are very self-focused and don’t think about consequences as much. You want to dominate whatever person or situation is standing between you and what you want. An achiever doesn’t believe other people really help them. Daenerys doesn’t truly believe she NEEDS anyone else to take Westeros.  Her alliances increase her odds of success, but not necessary in her mind.

The downside of this mindstate is obvious: sometimes people go too far and forget about others. For example, when Daenerys frees the slaves at Meereen, it causes an unforeseen civil war. Slaves and slave masters—many of whom have become like a family—begin fighting and the result is hundreds of murders, which is not ideal.

Viserion, another of Daenerys’ dragons, also pays the price for her mindstate when he is killed by the Night King while rescuing Jon Snow from the White Walkers.

Then, of course, you have her actions in the penultimate episode this season, where she burned thousands of innocent people and broke from her calling of freeing enslaved people. In her quest to sit on the Iron Throne, she burns Westeros to the ground.

Now, at least, you understand a little better why Daenerys did something so terrible.

Let’s Bring This Back to Your Marketing

As Daenerys demonstrates, rational thinking gets thrown out when mindstates come into play. You’re not barbequing an entire city if you’re thinking rationally. That was clearly emotion-based decision making when she was staring at The Red Keep and said the worst Valyrian word possible...Dracarys, and it all resulted from her mindstate in that moment.

If your job is to influence people’s behaviors through marketing, you can’t succeed unless you first understand their mindstate. Emotional thinking drives too much of our actions and our behaviors to rely simply on appealing to ration and logic.

More importantly, understanding mindstates allows you to engage in Behavioral Design, which includes certain tactics and strategies for influencing people’s depending on their mindstate. Behavioral Design is the secret to today’s most effective marketing.

By understanding mindstates, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what drives people at a subconscious, emotional level. It can help you understand the seemingly irrational behaviors of your customers, as well as the actions of the Mother of Dragons.