This post (like so many on my blog) will be discussing elements of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Let’s just assume this will be spoilery if you haven’t watched Season Four of Game of Thrones, or read A Storm of Swords. Imagine the Titan of Braavos captioned below is guarding you from seeing any spoilers, provided you don’t read further.
In Defense of Braavos? What’s the meaning behind this post? Am I going to bore people with the tactical strategems (do those words even go together?) of defending a Venice-like city?
Probably not. I mean, I might bore you, but my focus won’t be on the military defense of Braavos, although I might touch on that in a very shallow manner.
I have a buddy, Bob, who watches Game of Thrones and has never read the books. That’s cool with me. He’s a great guy and is famous (in my circle of friends) for coming up with The Iron Book of Predictions where he boldly predicts what will happen in an upcoming season. His predictions are great. They aren’t accurate, but great nonetheless. (It’s tremendous fun grading them after the season is done.)
Bob is full of questions. He doesn’t want to be spoiled so he’s not asking about future plots. He just wants to know why things are as they are in Westeros.
Why doesn’t the Night’s Watch wipe out Craster and free his wives?
Is there a reason why some other riverlord hasn’t wiped out the odious Freys before now, and taken over that valuable river crossing?
Why haven’t the Lannisters raided the Iron Bank of Braavos and taken all their gold?
Bob might seem to be pretty bloodthirsty, but at his core he’s a lover, not a fighter. He’s convinced that the Night’s Watch actually have no restrictions against making whoopie. But that’s a different post.
I’ve previously talked about Craster and his usefulness to the Night’s Watch, and I don’t think anyone is all that interested in me lecturing on the military difficulties of someone besieging the Twins , but since Arya was last seen obtaining passage on a Braavosi ship, I’m happy to talk about the Iron Bank.
How come the Lannisters haven’t wiped out the Iron Bank of Braavos and taken all their gold?
Where did this question come from? (I mean, other than from Bob.)
The Iron Bank is mentioned occasionally in Season Three (since the crown is in some debt to IBoB) but Season Four is where the Bank becomes its own player in the game by financing Stannis Baratheon with funds to employ ships and men.
It didn’t seem like Stannis was going to secure the loan. Bank Manager Tycho Nestoris (played by Mark Gatiss, which means something to you Sherlock fans out there) forced Stannis to answer some basic credit questions, and then was prepared to give them a “good day to you” brush off.
Stannis’ straighforward claim of “look, I should be king, okay?” didn’t seem to pull much weight on the money-scales.
But then stalwart Ser Davos made an impassioned speech on Stannis’ behalf, dramatically displaying his shortened hand that he’d received as punishment from Stannis for being a notorious smuggler.
The Baratheon forces were supplemented with Iron Bank gold to purchase materiel and manpower, which came in handy in allowing Stannis to arrive in the nick of time at the Wall, to secure the northernmost border of the Seven Kingdoms, an area King’s Landing wasn’t paying any attention to.
The loan to Stannis seems to be where Bob’s questions are coming from. His position is more or less this:
- The Lannisters owe the Iron Bank cash, and even though Lannisters always pay their debts, why would they pay up if the Bank is financing Stannis? The Bank is throwing that away!
- If the Lannisters need gold, why not invade Braavos and just take gold from the Bank, wiping out the people who the Lannisters owe money to and get loot? Seems like a win-win!
Oh, I’ll be happy to talk about that.
Ironclad Logic of the Iron Bank
So, why fund Stannis? Here’s why. It doesn’t matter if Stannis wins or loses, the Bank still expects to get paid what the Crown owes them.
Robert Baratheon’s reign was very expensive, because that guy could party. Being married to Cersei allowed to him get some cash from Father-in-Law Tywin with a few “Hey dude, I’ll pay you back. You know where I live” promises. And Master-of-Coin Littlefinger seemed to know how to make money appear.
He certainly did. He’d borrow it from Braavos.
Borrow with a few “Hey dudes, King Robert’ll pay you back. You know where he lives” promises.
So the Crown, not necessarily the Lannisters, owe the Iron Bank.
But at the time Stannis was looking to get his loan, the Crown wasn’t moving on sending money to Braavos to square accounts. Tywin was stalling for time, intent on getting Margaery Tyrell into the fold and once she was part of the royal family, Highgarden would get to inherit some of the debt management.
Let’s examine some issues that the Bank might consider.
- Assuming Stannis manages to capture the Iron Throne, then the Iron Bank would be owed what they’ve loaned Stannis and the debt already owed by the previous administration. Ser Davos impressed upon the bank managers that Stannis was the kind of guy who lived up to his obligations. Stannis would gnash his teeth and grumble, but he’d work on balancing the books.
- Let’s assume that the bank had opted not to fund Stannis. There’s no percentage in not turning up the heat on the current Tommen-led administration. Unrest could be fomented. Mercenaries could be employed to make things difficult. Pirates could be granted letters of marque to harass Westerosi shipping. The downside would be that these are expenses written off in the pursuit of recovering the Crown’s debt. Instead of throwing that money away, using it as a loan to Stannis accompishes the same goal, to turn the heat up on King’s Landing, but has the advantage that Stannis is obligated to pay it back. Win or lose, Stannis is on the hook to pay it back. If he can’t, well, it’s no different than not backing him and hiring mercenaries. Stannis very well might have had to put Dragonstone up as collateral…
Now, I might not have convinced anyone that the Bank’s move to fund Stannis was a rational one. (It was, but I’ll let it slide if anyone disagrees.) Let’s just pretend that it was a good move.
Doesn’t the Lannister retribution scenario come into play now?
Sure. But there’s an issue. The Crown might have fallen into debt because of Robert’s expenses, but there’s now other expenses. Despite Joffrey declaring that the war was over, the Iron Islands have still seceded, the Ironborn is holding the North hostage, the Riverlands could possibly rebel again since Brynden “Blackfish” Tully is free and on the loose, it’s unclear how the Vale is leaning politically, and Dorne is, well, Dorne. The Seven Kingdoms isn’t quite united, it’s almost just the Reach, the West, and the Crownlands. (And only two of those are kingdoms.)
To get their house in order, cash might be needed, either to finance a war effort, or to help finance reconstruction. If the Crown decided to default on their loan to Braavos, it would negatively impact things going forward in the future when they’d need cash.
And in response to a default, the Bank would be turning up the heat, making it unlikely for the Lannister-controlled Crown to get back on its feet.
Which would make the Tyrell-side of the Crown much more powerful and needed. The Lannisters don’t want that.
But wait! My friend Bob might interject thusly. Invade Braavos and wipe out the Bank! That eliminates the debt and delivers cash for the royal coffers.
Really? The Lannisters should resort to bank-robbery to support themselves? Okay, lets consider that.
Tywin isn’t a stranger to wiping out a group that’s irked him. Songs are written about it. (And almost exclusively played on the show.) But taking on Braavos has many challenges.
Tywin can’t march armies to Braavos, it’s across the sea. But that can’t be that much of a problem, right? I mean all you need is a bunch of ships.
Stannis Baratheon had a reasonably sized fleet for troop movements, once he assassinated Renly and consolidated armies. (The Baratheons had the boats because Stannis was Master of Ships during the Robert administration.)
So many ships.
The ability to move troops to Braavos might be limited, if most of the ships available for troop transport are cluttering up the bottom of Blackwater Bay.
Assuming Tywin could get troops to Braavos (and let’s face it, Lannister troops are currently trying to keep the peace in the Riverlands. Just what army does Tywin have to ship off to fight a foreign war?) the next challenge is hitting the Bank.
Braavos (from the aerial shots we’ve seen on the show) is a Venice-like city, built on a cluster of bridge-connected islands, surrounded by a barrier ring of islands. This makes for an excellent harbor should the seas be stormy. The Lannister fleet would need to get inside the barrier ring.
Braavos is a mercantile city which already would require a navy or merchant marine force. Syrio Forel, the fencing master who instructed Arya claimed to be the first sword of the Sealord of Braavos. Sealord. I think the Braavosi know their way around the water.
(For all we know, there’s not a lot of gold physically stored at the Bank. Bank’s work by lending it out too.)
So, for the Lannisters to attack the Iron Bank of Braavos, they’d need to scrounge up troops that are currently in use (and are needed in Westeros in case the bellicose Ironborn sense weakness), figure some way to transport them to Braavos, and fight an enemy comfortable on the seas and where they have the advantage.
That seems riskier than the risk the Bank is taking in loaning Stannis cash.
Hey, no one is interested in economics, and I’m certainly not the guy to make it seem exciting, so if no one is reading this, I understand. But, if you are still with me, here’s a poll! Polls are always fun!
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved