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Engagement in the Era of Dragons


*Warning* Only read this article if you are up to speed with Game of Thrones! *This article contains Game of Thrones Seasons 1-7 spoilers!

Navigating every day relationships can prove challenging, even for the most conscientious and high-energy among us.

Are you smothering a friend by inundating them with phone calls? Is your aloofness off-putting to coworkers? Is your Uber driver silent because they don’t feel like chatting, or are they waiting for you to engage them in conversation?

But contemporary—and, um, real—relationships are a breeze compared to those juggled in Westeros. Good luck maintaining your social graces when the crown is at stake, dragons are freezing left and right, you’re evading a hoard of White Walkers, and winter is coming (or might already be here).

Fortunately for us modern humans, we have tools like The Seventh Level Engagement Framework to better understand existing relationships and improve them by fostering more meaningful connections. Unfortunately for those inhabiting the Game of Thrones universe, the Seventh Level won’t be developed for almost 2,000 years, in an entirely different, non-fictional reality.

But that’s not going to stop us from retroactively applying it to the gradual development of the wildly meandering Jon Snow-Daenerys Targaryen relationship!


Starting at Seven

Before we start, let’s quickly recap what we mean when we talk about the Seventh Level.

It’s an engagement framework that encourages users to think intentionally about what they stand for, how to communicate it clearly, and unlock meaningful engagement in the process. It also provides a methodology for evaluating the quality of engagement, from total disinterest all the way to evangelism.

Per the Framework, when it comes to connecting with others, it’s important to first understand your personal values and beliefs. So let’s break it down and start at seven, as it pertains to Snow and Daenerys Targaryen:

  • Jon Snow: cares deeply about his family, doing the right thing, and well, saving the world.

  • Daenerys Targaryen: cares deeply about her family (yes, her family just happens to be comprised of dragons), doing the right thing, and dismantling institutions standing in the way of claiming what’s rightfully hers: the crown.

Once you’ve identified your own values and beliefs, then you can purposefully connect with others, but sometimes it still takes time to achieve the desired results… which is the case with Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, henceforth abbreviated to DT and JS, respectively.


Level 1: Disengagement

When you’re avoiding or idle from a task at hand, you’re disengaged.

JS wants to save the world from White Walkers but initially, DT thinks he is full of crap, refusing to call him King of the North. When he first goes to her, she is disengaged. She avoids truly connecting with him and is disinterested in hearing what he has to say—especially when he first arrives at Dragonstone and she is sitting on the throne asking him to bend the knee. JS also is disengaged, refusing to bend the knee.

DT has enough on her plate already. She doesn’t have time to deal with this traitor who she believes is breaking the faith with House Targaryen. It’s crucial at this level to recognize who you are trying to talk to and how you are earning their trust, which JS slowly starts to understand.


Level 2: Unsystematic Engagement

Unsystematic engagement is marked by confusion over messaging.

When she eventually does reluctantly hear him out, DT simply does not get JS. Why won’t he just bow down? Why is he being so annoying and stubborn? Does the army of the dead comprised of those White Walkers even exist? Is that Night King he’s droning on about even real?

It’s crucial at this level to start to speak the same language. And Tyrion Lannister is the master at getting past the unsystematic engagement level of engagement. He is the translator between many key leaders, particularly JS and DT, who both trust him.

Tyrion tells JS, “you both protect people from monsters.” JS starts to see that DT isn’t bad, she just doesn’t believe him, so it’s on him to show her that what he is saying is real.

(Speaking of unsystematic engagement and confusing you by the messaging*, we opted to consistently call her Daenerys Targaryen, as opposed to Khaleesi, breaker of chains, mother of dragons, etc.)


Level 3: Frustrated Engagement

You want to connect but you’re distracted and can’t.

JS doesn’t hate the idea of Daenerys Targaryen getting the crown, he is just a tad preoccupied with thousands of White Walkers coming to kill everyone he loves.

He tries to be respectful of her ambition, but if you think it’s difficult to maintain a relationship these days with distractions like Tinder, Raya, and Instagram at your fingertips, imagine having to reckon with the impending demise of humanity?


Level 4: Structure-Dependent Engagement

Structure-dependent engagement is engagement that relies on clear instruction.

JS needs the Dragonglass located on DT’s rightful land, Dragonstone, and DT needs the North on her side. After DT and JS find out what’s at stake for each of them, they strike a deal.

DT lets JS mine the Dragonglass to make weapons to kill the White Walkers. Tyrion helps this relationship move forward as he encourages JS to ask for something reasonable to which DT complies. Her stance toward JS is softening, but only because he’s prompting her to.


Level 5: Self-Regulated Interest

People at this level are genuinely excited about something, but primarily out of self-interest.

DT gave JS permission to mine the DragonGlass because it required next to nothing on her end. But with it came the tacit understanding that JS was to become an ally and finally bend that pesky knee. It wouldn’t hurt if he could help her defeat Cersai while he’s at it.

At this level, trust has been demonstrated by DT, so now it’s JS’s turn to make a sacrifice. So he goes North of the Wall to capture a White Walker as proof of their existence. All with the intention to unite the Seven Kingdoms and gets Cersai off of DT’s back, to boot.

He makes a sacrifice to prove to DT that he is willing to meet her needs. They’re becoming closer with every minute, and they are interested in the other person, but at the end of the day, it’s still a matter of “what can you do for me?”


Level 6: Critical Engagement

The sixth level is marked by the audience becoming inspired to set goals to transform their lives.

DT starts to believe in JS and assumes the risk of saving him and the others from the White Walkers. She tells Tyrion—who begs her not to—that she did nothing once and she “can’t do nothing again.”

She has changed because JS has convinced her that the White Walkers are real, and that sacrificing everything for all people is more important than even the crown. And that’s why DT and her dragons show up to rescue Snow & Co. from certain death at the hands of the White Walkers. Nothing matters except killing these monsters.

The very act of saving JS only inspired DT further. Meanwhile, JS, shirtless and knife-wounded, is inspired through her heroics, and tells DT that she is “[his] queen,” and eventually even refuses to bend the knee for Cersai.


Level 7: Literate Thinking

The final level, (the Holy Grail of engagement) refers to what we call “literate thinking.”

It’s where the guiding principles of two parties overlap so perfectly it’s like North Stars colliding. Both DT and JS are stubborn and go the extra mile to do what they think is right. But now they are now inspired to move forward in lockstep with their shared seventh level—saving the world—as their guiding force.

DT tells her team they are not heading North to conquer it, but to save it, and that she and JS will be doing so together. After several episodes worth of “will they/won’t they,” DT and JS have finally hit their stride.

They are fully on the same page about the issues of the crown and White Walkers, and begin to consummate their relationship—no longer is it a matter of quid pro quo. They are in it for each other, have fallen totally in love, and even introduce each other to their families.

JS meets DT’s dragons. JS brings DT home to meet his human family in the North, and well… they will likely soon find out via JS’s brother that JS might actually be heir to the Iron Throne Aegon Targaryen, making DT his aunt…

Whatever happens, we’re pretty sure we’ll find new ways to apply this framework again in the final season, in just 7 days (April 14th)!

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