The Battle of Winterfell: A study in optimization (spoilers)

May 3, 2019

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Let’s talk Game of Thrones, Battle of Winterfell. A note: This blog is super spoiler ridden, so if you’re avoiding that sort of thing stop now. That said, it also contains surprising but poignant insights into the world of web optimization and personalization.

Arya kills the Night King. As the fiercest, most agile, smartest, and most creative fighter on the show by far, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’m here to show you that in this plot twist, once again, Game of Thrones makes a very strong case for optimization and personalization. Arya’s the best at it, and that’s why she beat the Night King and fell the Army of the Dead.

A/B Testing and Optimization

From Season 1, Arya has been learning and implementing new techniques and approaches for fighting. She studies Braavosi Water Dancing with Syrio Forel in King’s Landing; she goes with the Night’s Watch and is captured and taken to Harrenhal where she observes Tywin Lannister; She goes on that crazy journey with the Hound where she learns his fighting style; She goes to Braavos, studies at the House of Black and White, and even goes blind for a while; She leaves Braavos, now with the creepy ability to wear other faces; And then, she returns to Winterfell having learned how to fight a thousand ways.

While other characters on the show certainly fight a lot (ie Jon, Bronn, Jaime, Brienne), Arya has tried more techniques than any of them. She has A/B tested each skill, figured out which ones work, and then honed them sharper than any sword. Essentially, she’s tried out different variations in different situations on different audiences, and figured out what works.

At the Battle of Winterfell she’s the only one with a strategy optimized enough to defeat the Night King. Her victory there was not a wild card, it came from seven seasons of diligent optimization.

Personalization

A huge part of optimization is personalization. What works on Petyr Baelish isn’t going to work on Walder Frey, and definitely not on the Night King. Arya has got personalization down. First of all, she can wear other peoples’ faces! In digital optimization, brands are moving towards one-to-one personalization, serving each user an experience based on individual criteria. It’s sort of like allowing your website to wear many faces. Even better, Arya is able to wear many faces without giving up her own identity — she delivers a consistent “brand” experience while personalizing for each person she encounters.

In conclusion, the lesson we should take from this Game of Thrones is this: Optimization and Personalization are the keys to defeating the Night… I mean, keys to delivering the best possible customer experience.

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