The Valyrian Steel Problem: An Allegory For Our Times

By Matthew McMullan
Jun 03 2016 |

What can a subplot on Game of Thrones teach us about the importance of a strong manufacturing base?

I think we can all agree that Game Of Thrones is great. It might be a little too explicit for some, but this HBO television show – inspired by a series of sprawling books – is a genuine cultural phenomenon.

Lots of twists, turns, double-crosses, triple-crosses, cliffhangers, dastardly villians and soaring heroes. It’s no Xena: Warrior Princess, but what is? This Game Of Thrones is still a fantasy series at its finest!

And what’s more, it includes an inadvertent allegory concerning the state of industrial America.


Yes, that’s right. An allegory. Here’s something to chew on as you gear up for this Sunday evening’s episode:

You can’t defend the realm without industrial know-how.

Spoilers ahead!!!

While the lords of Westeros try to retain power over the Iron Throne in King’s Landing …


And the knights of the Vale prepare to enter the fray against the vicious Boltons who hold sway over the North …


And the Ironmen prepare to sail for Essos to capture Daenerys the Dragon Queen …


And the Khaleesi prepares to return to her city to take on the slavers gathering at her gates …

The threat to everyone continues to gather strength beyond the Wall.


But here’s the problem: Not a whole lot kills these undead dudes. Dragonglass does the trick, but that’s in short supply. You know what else gets the job done?

VALRYIAN STEEL! Check out Jon Snow doin' some work with his Valyrian steel blade:


Valyrian steel originated in (duh) old Valyria, an ancient kingdom that was once home to the House Targaryen before it was destroyed by a cataclysm. It was known to be incredibly light and incredibly strong – and other than Dragonglass, it’s the only thing that can kill a White Walker. And there’s a whole lot of White Walkers coming down south to Westeros where they intend to bust some heads.

That’s a big problem. Only a few Valyrian steel blades are known to exist in Westeros, and they’re held by a handful of noble houses. Ya boy Ned Stark had one, which was ultimately used by his rivals to execute him. Jon Snow has got one, which was given to him by the previous commander of the Night’s Watch. And Samwell Tarly stole one from his mean dad (Sam knows its worth in fighting White Walkers).

But really, there are only a few dozen of these things floating around the whole continent. And the White Walker army is coming. Winter is Coming!

What happens when you lose the ability to manufacture the thing that keeps us safe? You’re left defenseless. No one in Westeros knows how to make Valyrian steel any longer – now a vital resource for defending the realm. All that knowledge was lost in the Doom of Valyria.

And right now, in the real world? More and more of America’s steelmaking capacity is going over to China – which is gobbling up steel market share and owns the more than half of the world’s steelmaking capacity.

U.S. Steel, one of the cornerstones of the American steel industry, has even accused state-backed steel firms from China of stealing trade secrets on how to make new, lightweight steel – which has given those Chinese firms a leg up and seriously harmed the Pittsburgh-based company.

Moral of the story? We’ve got to fight back against the steady loss of America’s steelmaking (and manufacturing) capacity, before we’re left reliant on others to defend ourselves – and that defense is in short supply.

It’s not a perfect allegory, but it’s close enough for the Game of Thrones fans in our office!