When we consider the major players in the Game of Thrones, the Iron Bank of Braavos definitely isn’t the first to come to mind! But the biggest bank in the Seven Kingdoms shouldn’t be underestimated. Back in Season Four, Tywin tries to explain the importance of the Iron Bank to Cersei:
“One stone crumbles and another takes its place and the temple holds its form for a thousand years or more. And that’s what the Iron Bank is, a temple. We all live in its shadow and almost none of us know it. You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses. If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.”
Even Tyrion Lannister agrees that the Iron Bank has significant power, “If we fail to repay these loans, the bank will fund our enemies. One way or another, they always get their gold back.” If Tywin and Tyrion agree that the Iron Bank is significant (and they didn’t agree on much) we know they are a force to be reckoned with.
So why does the Iron Bank matter in the war for the Iron Throne?
As with most banks, the Iron Bank makes money from interest on loans. And many of those loans are used to fund wars. So how does the Iron Bank decide who to back in a war?
A few episodes ago, Tycho Nestoris, a representative from the Iron Bank of Braavos, showed up in King’s Landing, asking for the crown’s debt to be paid in full. At the time she was unable to do so, but defeating the Tyrells gave her access to some fast cash and now that Cersei has repaid the debt, the bank has some capital to invest. Cersei Lannister seems confident the Iron Bank will back her, but is the Lannister dynasty really the best choice?
How does the Iron Bank decide who to invest in?
Back in Season 4, Stannis and Ser Davos went to the Iron Bank to request a loan. The bank initially denied the loan because the numbers weren’t in Stannis’s favor. Specifically, they didn’t have a strong case when it came to the number of loyal soldiers, ships or the amount wheat, barley, beef, and pork produced to feed the men. So on paper Stannis was a pretty weak bet, Ser Davos managed to convinced the Iron Bank to invest in him based on grounds that the Lannister dynasty was shaky. As we all know, Stannis saw the fate of many GOT characters and didn’t last long enough to pay back his loan. Shame.
The Iron Bank chooses wisely based on who’s most likely to win and repay their debt. So let’s look at how each side fares when it comes to the measurables.
1. Army Size
Much of the Lannister/Tyrell army was either wiped out or converted to House Targaryen after the epic battle in which Drogon Dracarys-ed the living daylights out of them all. Jamie can’t even count the losses, that’s just how bad it was.
It’s safe to say at this point, Daenerys has the larger army despite being down one dragon and possibly having lost some men in the taking of Casterly Rock.
2. Fleet Size
Cersei technically doesn’t have any ships of her own, as Tycho Nestoris (the guy from the bank) pointed out. She has access to Euron Greyjoy’s armada (the largest in Westeros, Cersei bragged) so long as he is loyal to her. But for how long will that be? Euron initially wanted an alliance with Daenerys, but Yara and Theon beat him to it. If, there’s a future opportunity for an alliance with the Mother of Dragons, would Euron take it? He’s probably not the most loyal of allies.
We saw Euron’s army burning at least some of Daenerys’s ships after the Unsullied took Casterly Rock. Is it possible that the Dragon Queen was presumptuous enough to send her whole fleet? We don’t know how many ships Daenerys has now, but we know for sure it’s less than what she started out with.
3. Food Supplies
Drogon burned the food reserves that were being transported to the Capitol (it probably would have made more sense for Dany to save the food to feed her armies, just saying). We’ve seen Daenerys consider how she’s going to feed her army, but we haven’t seen her come with with an actual plan. We also know that Cersei, for now, has control of all the food in the Seven Kingdoms. The numbers are on Team Lannister’s side when it comes to being able to feed whatever army Cersei’s able to buy or build.
A few great houses - Baratheon, Tyrell, Martell, and possibly Frey - have been wiped out. So who’s left?
Cersei currently has House Greyjoy and House Tully.
For now, Jon Snow (House Stark. For now) is the only Westeros ally who’s committed to either cause, having officially declared for House Targaryen, we’ll assume the rest of the North will follow. Other than that, it’s difficult to predict what will happen with rest of the major houses. The Vale (House Arryn) is committed to the Starks, for now at least, although after the epic fall of Little Finger it seems certain that they will remain loyal. But we all know nothing is ever certain in GOT!
What Else is Working in Cersei’s Favor?
Cersei is clever. Obviously. She outsmarted Tyrion’s plan to take Casterly Rock and lay siege on King’s Landing. Before the battle between Drogon, the Dothraki and the Lannister army, Cersei was winning the war. This week, everyone came to Cersei to ask for a temporary armistice to fight the Night King, which Cersei agrees to at first, only to reveal to Jamie her real plan to betray Dany and Jon.
There are a quite a few things working against Cersei.
She can’t be depended upon to pay her debts on time. Sure, Cersei eventually repaid the Iron Bank, but when they initially asked the crown for a tenth of their outstanding debt, Cersei didn’t pay it. Instead, she sent Mace Tyrell to Braavos to “negotiate better terms” and now has Euron in Essos to get some paid soldiers, hopefully with the help of the Iron Bank. The Iron Bank isn’t likely to have forgotten the slight.
Her claim to the throne isn’t very strong. Had Jaime not killed the Mad King - Aerys Targaryen II, his children and their descendents would have been next in line. Rhaegar first, then Viserys, then Daenerys - or as we know now, Jon before Daenerys.
What’s Working in Daenerys's Favor?
Besides the factors we’ve already been mentioned, one of the best things working in Dany’s favor is that she’s not a Lannister. If the Iron Bank was willing to invest in Stannis, it’s safe to say they see something in the Lannisters that’s not worth a continued investment.
She’s in her prime. When Ser Davos pleas for the Iron Bank to loan money to Stannis, his youthfulness was one of his selling points.
She’s willing to fight her battles. A leader who’s willing to put herself on the frontlines, taking action and bold risks when necessary, might be worth investing in.
What’s working against her?
She doesn’t have a succession plan and refuses to come up with one until she’s sitting on the Iron Throne, although that might be changing with Jon’s (or should we say Aegon’s) recent visit.
She’s a revolutionary who isn’t very interested in following the traditional rules. This makes her a bit of a wildcard. Would she repay a debt she owed to the Iron Bank? Would she get rid of the need for an Iron Bank and create a stable financial system within Westeros? At least Cersei could be counted on to repay the debt when it suited her.
Ok, let’s get to the bottom line.
When we consider military strength, strength of claim to the throne, the support of the common people, and current allies, Daenerys is more likely to win the war. And since the Iron Bank wants to take advantage of endeavors it’s mostly likely to win, their investment is probably safest with Team Targaryen.