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What ‘Game of Thrones’ Can Teach You About Sports Betting

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

April 24th, 2019

If you’re a fan of HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones,” you know anything can happen...

...especially when you least expect it. Since its premiere in 2011, George R.R. Martin’s fantasy drama has left audiences in shock and awe, sparking feverish debate—and even online wagering—on how the eighth and final season will end.

Sometimes the outcome is a little too predictable (like in the seventh season), and sometimes it leaves you high and dry. It’s its own form of March Madness, the Masters or whatever sporting event you choose to follow. You can make your best guess as to what will occur, but surprises are most definitely in store. With the last GOT season in full swing, let’s take a look at the series as a whole and what it can teach us about the realm of sports betting.


Ned Stark

In the first season GOT introduced the Stark family and its head of household, Ned. As the show progressed, it seemed apparent the honorable hand to King Robert Baratheon would become the focal point of the series and endearing hero of the story. Then, in the second-to-last episode, Eddard Stark found himself on the chopping block, beheaded by Ilyn Payne in front of Ned’s own children. Nobody saw it coming, and it left many furious.

Just like Ned the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed the team to follow all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019. The Lightning opened as 2-1 favorites to take Lord Stanley’s Cup following a 62-win season, tied for the most regular-season victories in NHL history. But just as the postseason began, it all came crashing down for the Lightning, as they suffered a four-game sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the lowest-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. No second season for Ned Stark, no second round for Tampa Bay. In Game of Thrones and gambling, there is no such thing as a sure bet.

"There is no such thing as a sure bet."

Jon Snow

The Lord Commander of the Night's Watch spent the majority of the series believing he was the bastard of Ned Stark. In reality Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark gave birth to Jon after she wed Rhaegar Targaryen in a secret ceremony, making Jon (aka Aegon Targaryen) the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. In the first episode of the final season, Jon found out the long-hidden truth but appeared reluctant to accept reality. He’s never liked the idea of being king despite being a natural-born leader, and it would come as no surprise to see him hand off his seat at the Iron Throne to somebody he believes more deserving.

Remind you of someone unsure of the spotlight? The Virginia Cavaliers fumbled time and again in the NCAA tournament, going so far as to be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16. In five tries from 2014-2018—as a No. 1 seed three times—the Cavaliers made it no farther than the Elite Eight. They looked anxious in the Big Dance and left the betting public uncertain of their destiny. Finally, in 2019, the top-seeded Cavaliers carried enough confidence and a chip on their shoulder to win the NCAA title (though, with close finishes against every opponent it faced from the Sweet 16 on). Virginia took its place at the table, but it likely won’t stay long. I could stick my foot in my mouth here, as Virginia could end up winning a championship next year and Jon Snow could retain his title as king, but I'm confident neither of those outcomes will happen. Virginia is one perennial top dog that doesn’t typically deal well with pressure. Even if the Cavaliers put up another 30-win season, you’re better off betting on someone else in the 2020 tournament. Look at history and team character when considering where to place your money in the long run.

The Night King

The mysterious undead entity heading a mass of White Walkers may be misunderstood—or just plain evil. For most of the series, no one has been sure what he’s after, but stand in his way, and you have a deathly price to pay. The Night King doesn’t smile. He just stares menacingly, with a look of hunger and vengeance on his face, as he guides his cold-blooded force into battle against humankind. You want to see him fall, but it’s almost certain he’ll be one of the few standing at the end of the fight.

Have you heard a similar legend of Sir Thomas Edward Brady? Many people love to hate him and hope to see him lose (unless you’re a fan, like me). But year after year, even as he continues to age, Tom Brady and New England find a way to win. In 2019 the Pats dislodged AFC favorite Kansas City, then squashed the explosive offense of the Los Angeles Rams in a low-scoring, at times mundane Super Bowl LIII. Brady slipped on his sixth ring, and he’s far from finished in his quest. The Pats are the early +700 co-favorites to win the Super Bowl again in 2020. When it comes to Tom and the Patriots, you can never, ever count them out.

Theon Greyjoy

The Prince of the Iron Islands had all he could ask for at the beginning of the first season. Then Theon got greedy, made some bad choices, fell captive to Ramsay Bolton and got beaten bloody into nothingness. The ironborn’s fate seemed doomed throughout much of the fifth season, as Ramsay tortured and mangled the former friend of Robb Stark. Yet, in the final episodes of the season, he snapped back into form and escaped Ramsay’s grasp. Now he’s fighting the good fight and back on the Stark family’s side, as they prepare for the Great War in Westeros.

From 1997 to 2008, one man also reigned supreme with 14 major golf championships, until his kingdom came crumbling down with a highly publicized scandal. In 2009, at the height of his career, Tiger Woods lost almost everything, including his marriage and major sponsorships. He returned to golf in 2010 but appeared weathered and worn, with injuries plaguing him as he progressed in age. It began to look like we’d never see the Tiger we once knew. Then, at the 2019 Masters, he transformed back into his championship-caliber self. At age 43 he earned his fifth green jacket and 15th major win, accomplishing a resurgence almost a decade in the making. What is dead may never die. Bank on the comeback.

The Viper

Oberyn Martell showed up in King’s Landing at the best time—and the worst. With Tyrion Lannister accused of poisoning Joffrey Baratheon, the cunning "Imp" insisted upon a trial by combat. Martell volunteered to fight in Tyrion’s honor and face the behemoth of a man, Ser Gregor Clegane, the clear-cut favorite to win in a bout with pretty much anyone. Audiences adored “The Viper” and begged for a surprising defeat. In an edge-of-your-seat brawl in the fourth season, he looked like he actually pulled off the upset. But just as we were about to celebrate an Oberyn victory, The Mountain pulled him down to the ground and pulverized the prince in horrifying fashion.

"Make sure you see the forest for the trees."

To make a boxing analogy, let’s travel back to 2015, when Floyd Mayweather took on Manny Pacquiao. In one corner, you had “Money” Mayweather, an undefeated five-division world champion. In the other, you had “Pac-Man,” an eight-division world titleholder with just five losses to his name. Logic said the 47-0 Mayweather would win, but many hoped Manny would upend the overzealous boxer. As the fight drew near, opinion grew more divided on the match and money flooded into Vegas backing both sides. The fight went all 12 rounds, but in the end, “Money” won by unanimous decision, even though Pacquiao thought he deserved the victory. And herein lies one important lesson on betting. Sometimes Goliath is too much of an undertaking. It’s fun to see the underdog slay the giant, but don’t get so caught up in emotion you fail to recognize the opponent for who they are. Make sure you see the forest for the trees.