Five chapters used the phrase “game of thrones.” These fell into a few different categories:
- Populist usages, declaring the power struggles of the one percent a “game” in the sense of being ultimately meaningless and cruelly indifferent to the good of the ninety-nine percent. Jorah and Varys use the phrase this way.
- Admiring usages by Cersei, who sees the “game” as the ultimate expression of self-actualization for the sort of superior person she imagines herself to be.
- Bewildered usages by Ned: though the phrase occurs in his consciousness (repeatedly) as a memory of Cersei’s words, he’s closer to Jorah and Varys’ position, seeing the game as pointless and harmful. He’s not as self- and socially aware as the latter characters, though.
- Stevron Frey’s realpolitik usage: he sees the “game” happening, and sees in it an opportunity to benefit by kowtowing to the winners. Socially aware, but indifferent to the plight of the commoners.
The overriding theme here: the succession struggle is indeed, in the grand scheme of things, just a game, but most of the characters don’t see it yet (and those who do, Jorah and Varys and Stevron, are not exactly taking productive actions as a result).