“I’m sure cutting off heads is very satisfying, but it’s not the way you get people to work together.”
– Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones
Season 7, Episode 5, “Blood of the Dragon”
The meaning of the quote is fairly obvious: however empowering it might feel, in the moment, to simply destroy everything and everyone inconvenient to your aims, it doesn’t get the job done.
Even more obviously: you can’t just beat people into doing what you want.
When Sansa says this, she is talking to her sister, Arya, who has, over the years they’ve been apart, become very skilled at killing people. It’s how she’s survived, and how she’s forged her way forward in life. Sansa, by contrast, has learned about life, both its cruelties and its subtleties. She’s learned about people, and how you need people around you to survive, as a wolf needs a pack. Arya’s been a lone wolf for far too long, and she’s been unable to find or make a pack of her own, and so the nuances of leadership have somewhat escaped her. It’s an adjustment, reuniting with her family, but she is fiercely protective of them, perhaps a little too much so, when coupled with her willingness to kill. She sees dissenters as troublesome, and troubles as threatening, and threats as things to be removed.
Sansa’s ordeals have made her a little more balanced in her approach. She sees the problem not as one of threats, but of unity.
Several different groups of people, not normally known for getting along, came together around her quite recently, and they defeated a terrible enemy together. Now they have something far worse coming for all of them, and if they don’t keep working together, they will surely lose and die. They need every man they can get, and they need to work together, in unity. That is not accomplished by the act of going around and killing dissenters willy-nilly. Indeed, just the opposite, the very act of harming someone just for being troublesome does nothing but alienate everyone else, so while you may have an army at your back, you are still very much alone.
Fear may force people into obedience, but not into loyalty, and certainly not into unity.
Yet, it is human nature, we want, on some level, to force things. We want to stand above, to prove by our status as the victor that we are right. We want to remove things, and people, which stand in our way.
That way lies destruction, not least of which is our own.
Coercion is the first method we fall back on, and it is the least effective.
So, when I look around today, and I see groups of people attacking each other, I can’t help but fear that they are missing something important. They’re trying to force people to their way of thinking, and physically annihilate dissension. They’ve forgotten, they need these people they’re attacking. They need these people to work with them. They need these people to unite with them, and that is not going to happen so long as they trying to beat them into it. All they’re doing with their violence is widening the divide, making their enemies more numerous and more entrenched in their position, and turning more of the public against themselves.
“Cutting off heads,” or some violent equivalent, may momentarily make you feel strong, but it’s ultimately self-destructive.