Game of Taxes
Ernie Neve, CPA
April 10, 2019
On April 14, millions of fans will gather around the biggest screen they can find for the start of one final season in Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin's epic Game of Thrones. The show, which producers pitched as "The Sopranos in Middle Earth," has leaped from television into the broader culture. In 2013, 241 babies were named "Khaleesi" after the title Danaerys Targaryen takes by marrying the Khal Drogo. UC Berkeley offers a class in "invented languages" featuring Dothraki, which sounds like what you'd get if you mixed Spanish and Arabic and ran it through a wood chipper.
Martin doesn't tell us much about how taxes work in Westeros. And HBO certainly isn't interested in exploring those details — how would they find time between introducing 257 major characters in Season One and killing most of them off in increasingly cringeworthy fashion through the next six seasons? But fortunately for us, the series leaves occasional bread crumbs to help us understand whether the show's tax collectors worship the lord of light or the lord of darkness.
The Iron Throne's principal tax man is Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, the King's urbanely oily Master of Coin. (Picture Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but with chainmail and some super-sketchy side gigs.) Apparently, collecting taxes is just another entrepreneurial opportunity for Littlefinger. In Clash of Kings, Martin writes, "Ten years ago, Jon Arryn had given him a minor sinecure in customs, where Lord Petyr had soon distinguished himself by bringing in three times as much as any of the king's other collectors."
Sadly, Littlefinger's greediest efforts aren't enough to satisfy King Robert Baratheon's lust for wine and tournaments. Baratheon spends down the surplus left by the Targaryens, then borrows millions of golden dragons from the House of Lannister and the Iron Bank of Braavos, Westeros's version of the International Monetary Fund. We don't know how much interest Braavos charges — but if you default, they don't just send swordsell goons to break your legs. They finance a rival power, then collect when the rival overthrows you!
As for those scheming Lannisters, we know "a Lannister always pays his debts." But do Lannisters always pay their taxes? Or do they cleverly avoid them? In Season Three, Lord Tywin Lannister imposes a penny tax on brothels, called "the dwarf's penny," to boost public morals and pay for Joffrey's upcoming wedding. Now, come on . . . is there any idiot in any village in Westeros who doesn't see through that blatant attempt to shift the burden from the 1% to the commoners? Discuss.
In the end, the show's biggest winners may be the real tax collectors across the world. Series creator George R.R. Martin earns a reported $25 million per year from HBO and book royalties.Thrones tourists have pumped millions more into the show's real-life filming locations, including Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik — a Croatian city most fans had never heard of before they saw it standing in for King's Landing. We can assume that all of their governments are happy to collect their share of all those Thrones dollars raining down like flaming arrows.
If you're like most "Thronies," you'd love a dragon of your own to ease your path to the top. (Or do you worry the King would find a way to tax them, too?) Fortunately, you don't need a fire-breathing reptile to keep more of your golden dragons. You just need a plan. So call us when you're ready to escape the King's yoke, and see how glorious a castle you can build with the savings!