Daenerys Targaryen’s best shot at taking The Iron Throne? Dragon insurance.

JUNE 27, 2016

Author’s Note:

I wrote this article in 2016 for the risk management and insurance recruiting initiative MyPath. Our client represented insurance firms who were struggling to attract millennial talent, because most young people either knew nothing about careers in this field, or presumed they were boring. I crafted a content marketing strategy to show how this field was actually fascinating by relating it to topics we already knew young people were interested in.

Through a fully integrated campaign, which included search engine optimization, digital advertising, targeted paid promotion through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and influencer outreach, articles like these reached millions of young people and blew away engagement benchmarks, dramatically improving upon similar initiatives that had been launched in the past.

Image of Daenerys Targaryen from HBO's Game of Thrones

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. Photo credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Season 6 of “Game of Thrones”]

Of all the ruthlessmagical and bone-chilling characters in “Game of Thrones,” you can argue that none is more powerful than Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons.

Sure, she’s got a brand new armada and a massive army of skilled mercenaries, wild horseback raiders, Spartan-like soldiers and now the support of two other powerful houses. Still, there’s no doubt that her control over the world’s three remaining dragons is an absolute game-changer.

If you’re rooting for the Queen of Meereen, or are at least just rooting against zombies, then you probably want to see Dany’s fire-breathing babies protected. Her destiny, quite literally, is riding on those dragons. If she were to lose them, she might lose her shot at taking the Iron Throne.

That’s why the only other element necessary for her impending war effort isn’t another army, more ships or greater political clout. It’s dragon insurance.

We already know insurance exists in the “Game of Thrones” universe. The “Hardhome” episode briefly alluded to it when Arya was tasked with assassinating a man who seems to be selling life insurance for sailors. Also, it’s not difficult to apply a real-world risk management approach to George R. R. Martin’s fantasy world.

“It may seem outrageous, but asking these types of questions is not all that uncommon,” said Rick Gorvett, staff actuary at the Casualty Actuarial Society, a MyPath partner organization. “It’s often easier to understand concepts and make sense of the insurance world when you can relate them to current events or pop culture.”

In this case, Gorvett explained that it’s initially a question of why someone would want to insure the dragons in the first place. All insurance is supposed to provide financial compensation in the case of a loss, particularly a catastrophic one that you otherwise couldn’t pay for.

For instance, car insurance pays for repairs to or replacement of your car if it’s damaged or destroyed. Life insurance, meanwhile, helps to replace the income of someone who has died and pays for expenditures related to his or her death (such as funeral costs) so that survivors aren’t burdened with those expenses.

In Ms. Stormborn’s case, the big question is whether there’s any way to replace the loss of a dragon, either financially or with something equivalent, such as an army. Answering that question requires a bit of a deep dive into the background of dragons in the “Thrones” universe.

In the books, we learn that Dany’s great ancestor Aegon The Conqueror used an army of about 11,000 men and three dragons to conquer a well-trained, well-equipped and well-financed Lannister-led army of more than 55,000. Calculating the difference in ground troops, you could estimate that each dragon is equivalent to at least 15,000 men — and probably a lot more. We saw one ill-fated businessman try to offer Dany only 8,000 soldiers for one of her dragons, but let’s just say she rejected that offer. Meanwhile, some people have argued that there’s no human army equivalent — at least using the medieval artillery we’ve seen so far.

In the real world, practically any animal can be insured. Mitchel Kalmanson, president of Lester Kalmanson Agency, Inc., has about 30 years of experience insuring what he calls “weird, wild and wacky” animals, whether for pet owners, zoos or circuses. While he hasn’t insured real dragons, he has insured the next best thing: komodo dragons, the largest living lizards on earth, which can grow up to 10 feet and weigh as much as 150 pounds. They don’t breathe fire, but their saliva can be dangerous to humans.

Kalmanson creates what are called manuscript policies — which are essentially insurance forms that are more customized than standard ones — that are applied to unique animal situations. If he were to create one for Daenerys, he said he’d start by asking many of the same questions he does for a rare animal: Was it born in captivity or in the wild? What’s its estimated life span? Is it rare or endangered? Can it breed? Is it revenue-generating?

“For example, if your animal wins the Belmont Stakes, now you’ve got a horse that’s worth $5 or $8 million. Or, if you’ve got a one-of-a-kind animal, like a unicorn, or even just an albino animal, the uniqueness is a variable,” said Kalmanson, who added that he’s created his own proprietary algorithm to assess all of these factors.

Concerning the “Game of Thrones” dragons, we know that they were born in the wild, they can live for centuries (if not forever), and they’re ostensibly the only three left in existence. It’s not clear yet whether they can breed, and in terms of generating revenue, well, they just saved the city of Meereen and essentially secured for Dany the ships she needs to sail to Westeros, so you could definitely say that they earn their keep.

Unfortunately, not too much more is known about the dragons. Because most people think they’re extinct, it’s hard to distinguish between truth and legend — both in the books and the TV show. Not having a solid history to consider would pose a problem for insurers who typically want to dig into the background and characteristics of an animal, down to the particular traits of its breed, to get a better understanding of its future health and behavior. “It’s going to be awfully tough to analyze a cohort of such creatures from the past,” Gorvett said.

Although he’s never seen the TV show, Kalmanson estimated that the life insurance policy for each dragon would be worth somewhere in the $5 million range, based on the dragons’ uniqueness. (He has some experience estimating insurance for dinosaurs.)

If you think of Dany’s growing empire as a business, there’s also a case to be made for the possibility of a business interruption loss — in other words, the economic loss resulting from being unable to operate her organization at full force. Kalmanson estimated this loss would be in the $5 million range as well.

The largest policy, however, would potentially be for third-party liability, which is insurance that covers harm to others. In the case of Dany’s dragons, harm to others is a problem she’s already experienced and is what led her to put two of her dragons in chains under Meereen for a while because they were out of control. Whether that concern is a permanent or a temporary one would have to be assessed. In a related note, Gorvett mentioned that there’s a phenomenon in male elephants called “musth” that causes them to be hyperaggressive for a period of time and that has caused normally friendly domesticated elephants to kill zookeepers.

Either way, as an empathetic and politically savvy leader, Khaleesi will want to compensate angry villagers whose goats became flash-fried dragon snacks, should such incidents happen in the future. Kalmanson said the dragons’ liability policy would likely need to be in the $20 million to $50 million range, given the dragons’ wild nature and that they are strictly carnivorous.

There are dozens of additional considerations for the risks posed by dragons, which Gorvett explained would be part of a thorough underwriting assessment. For instance, would you want additional insurance on any property potentially exposed to dragon flames, such as wooden housing, or is it a moot point since dragonflame can melt almost any substance? If Daenerys is going to ride the dragons, is she going to use a saddle of some kind, or just hold on to the dragons’ spikes as she has multiple times on the show? Although the dragons are potentially immortal, do they require any sort of ongoing medical or hygienic care, and would anyone in the world even know how provide that care?

Ultimately, insurance is just one part of the equation. Insurance professionals would prefer to take a comprehensive risk management approach to the situation, which would also involve minimizing the risk to the dragons. Insurance is really a last resort; preventing injury to the dragons or their death would be the first priority of a sound risk management approach.

To that point, we may see Tyrion take on a risk management role, talking Dany down from some of her more aggressive (maybe bordering on tyrannical?) ambitions.

Or, maybe she’s been expertly calculating all these risks the whole time, and we’ll see in Season 7 how she’ll finally unleash her dragons on Westeros. “Daenerys Targaryen, Manager of Risks” — sure has a nice ring to it.