Show of Hands; Hands Up, Hands Down

Posted: April 7, 2015 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , , ,

This post will be dealing with plot points in Game of Thrones, you know, that awesome TV show on HBO. (Which is starting up again this weekend. FINALLY!)

Anyway, if you’re not caught up with the show, then

  • You smell.
  • This is your only spoiler warning.


Four years ago (in “our” time, not TV time), Lord Eddard “while Cat’s away, Ned will play” Stark got some bad news. Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, had died.

It wasn’t revealed at the time, but the Hand of the King had been killed by a family member, who then quickly fled the capital.


Tyrion Lannister: Former Hand of the King, Master of Coin, and Plumber.

Coincidentally, at the end of Season Four, the very same thing happened. (Well, more or less. If we were playing the Westeros Clue boardgame, it would have been “Tyrion with the Crossbow in the Privy” instead of “Lysa with the Poison in the Whatever Place She Poisoned Him.”)

If history is repeating itself, the next Hand had better be careful.

Actually, the Hand had better be careful in general. The previous four Hands ended up poisoned, beheaded, sentenced to death for regicide, and crossbow-bolted in the toilet, respectively.

Being Hand on Game of Thrones is more dangerous than being king, arguably. (Let’s see, gored by a boar, assassinated by shadow-baby, bolted and stabbed at a wedding reception, and poisoned at a wedding reception. Yeah, being king might still be more dangerous. Specifically at weddings.)

Anyway, with Season Five about to start up, most likely with a new Hand of the King serving young King Tommen Lannister Baratheon, it seems like a reasonable time to talk about previous Hands, and how well they played the game of thrones.

The Rules

Look, when I compare things in Game of Thrones, like pranksters or war criminals (or prankster war criminals) I like things to be as scientific as possible. And by that I mean by making up a lot of subjective measures and ignoring real science. So pseudo-science. (Like the anti-vaxxers and client-change deniers do. BOOM.)

We have four Hands to consider from the show: Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, Tyrion Lannister, and Tywin Lannister. Yes, Jon Arryn was dead when the show began, but he’s talked about so much, I think I can rate him with some confidence.

The only other Hand mentioned was the pyromancer that Ser Jaime slew before killing the Mad King, but let’s assume that guy was The Worst and not worry about him.

I’ll be rating these guys from 1 (the best) to 4 (just slightly less worse that the Pyromancer) in various categories.

“Various Categories” sounds a bit too vague, so let us start out with:

  • Longevity (how long were they were in office?)
  • Public Service (was their tenure of being Hand marked by wise policies benefiting the realm, or were they corrupt?)
  • Adversity (It’s easy to be Hand in good times, therefore there’s a certain inverse proportionality at work in measuring a Hand’s worth.)
  • Enemies (a great man is measured by their enemies.)
  • Historical Success (This is kind of a fuzzy measure, based on how they were regarded during their service and in the time following their exit from office. It might intersect with Public Service, but maybe not. SCIENCE!)

Let’s begin.

Hand of the King: Jon Arryn


Jon didn’t realize that he could have requested baby-blue eyes for his wake.

Jon Arryn, the lord of the Vale and foster-father to Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, started his tenure as Hand of the King once the Mad King’s demise and the death or exile of Aerys’ heirs turned Robert’s rebellion into legitimate change of management.

Jon saw the kingdom through winter, the Greyjoy rebellion, and some crazy times dealing with King Robert’s excessive excesses. How’d he do?

  • Longevity: Jon was the Hand for eighteen years, from Robert’s coronation until Jon’s death by poison.
  • Public Service: Honestly, the realm seemed to be doing okay (although the crown was racking up some serious debts, but some of that debt can be laid on Littlefinger.)
  • Adversity: Once the Mad King was eliminated, other than the Greyjoy rebellion, there really weren’t any major and imminent threats to the realm. Probably the biggest issue was that Robert’s family was a crazy mess.
  • Enemies: Jon Arryn’s enemies included Lady Lysa Arryn, the small council’s Master of Coin Lord Baelish, and once Jon went on a bastard hunting expedition, Queen Cersei.
  • Historical Success: Jon appears to be well regarded by all (at least publicly.) He seems to have no end of sterling testimonials.

Final Rating: Not so fast, you clowns. We’ll do the ratings after I talk about all the Hands. (Feel free to skip my poetic ramblings If You Must.)

Hand of the King: Eddard Stark


That’s the only piece of jewelry Ned ever wore

I do love me that Ned Stark, even if he was as much of a One-Percenter as Tywin Lannister, relatively speaking. Ned became Hand on the request of King Robert. Ned really didn’t cotton to the idea of leaving Winterfell and being Hand, but one doesn’t refuse a king. At least not more than once, yo. He tried to be a decent Hand, and in the end he was betrayed by various individuals with short-term interests. (I’m looking at you, Littlefinger. And you, Renly.)

  • Longevity: Even if I add in the month that the king’s party stayed in Winterfell, partying and hunting and pushing kids out of towers, and the month-plus of travel from the North to the Capital, Ned didn’t have that long a run as Hand. (And he was even fired from the job for a day or so!) Long enough for the Hand’s King’s tourney to be arranged and played out. Long enough for Yoren to travel the 1000 leagues from the Wall to King’s Landing. How long was all that? Months and months at least.
  • Public Service: Ned really didn’t initiate any sweeping reforms during his tenure as Hand. He mostly tried to minimize the damage that the Hand’s King’s tourney was going to cause. In particular, he deployed much of his personal fighting men under control of Janos Slynt to help keep the peace during the tournament, and after that he provided Stark fighting-men to support Beric Dondarrion’s expeditionary force into the Riverlands to curtail the chevauchee campaign by Ser Gregor Clegane. Ned displayed a certain amount of anti-corruption by supporting the legitimate claim of the unpopular Stannis. Would it have been better for the realm had he chosen otherwise? I have thoughts on that.
  • Adversity: Ned was Hand during a relatively peaceful time, although there was an undercurrent of looming threats, from exiles in the East, Wildlings and Others in the far North, and the loosely restrained Greyjoy’s, longing to secede. But the biggest threats to Ned were plots being played out by Cersei, who had decided that a hunting accident for Robert might be a reasonable conduit for power to flow to her, and Littlefinger who had been soaking the realm in Wildfire and was just waiting for the spark (after cornering the market on fire-extinguishers.)
  • Enemies: The Queen. I’d like to include Jaime Lannister as an enemy, but really, although he carried some animosity towards Ned, I don’t Jaime was all that interested in plotting Ned’s downfall. Not like Littlefinger, who held a grudge against Ned’s brother, for whom Ned was the closest stand-in.
  • Historical Success: this is difficult to judge, since the books (both the books of the series and the histories of this dynastic conflict) are still being written. In general, Ned still has people in Westeros who consider him a good and honorable man. But he confessed to being a traitor. Stannis grudgingly gives Ned his due for supporting his claim over Joffrey’s, and Dany knows of Ned as The Usurper’s Wolf (although Selmy might convince her otherwise.) The official opinion of Ned could swing wildly depending on who gets to sit the Iron Throne.

Final Rating: Not yet, yo. I’m still analyzing.

Hand of the King: Tyrion Lannister



You know, Tyrion was acting on behalf of his father Tywin, so I’m not sure he belongs in this article. At best, Tyrion was a kind of half-Hand.


Oi! If He’s Got All His Fingers, You Can’t Call Him Halfhand! Seven Hells!

Relax, I’m not leaving him off the list. Tyrion is the man!

Tyrion was a surprise holder of the title of Hand, authorized with full powers by Tywin following Robert’s death and Joffrey’s ascension. His job was to keep Joffrey and Cersei under control and to shield Joffrey from a coup d’état. He secured power in the city, arranged some political deals and cleaned up some situations, and rallied the city against Stannis. His Wildfire defense of Blackwater bay was an essential moment in securing victory (had Stannis’s full force reached the city, Tywin and Loras’ reinforcement army would most likely have not been able to break the siege.)

  • Longevity: Assuming Tyrion could be considered Hand the moment Tywin announced his intentions, he was Hand during his trip from the Green Fork in the Riverlands to the capital, and during his stay in King’s Landing, preparing for Stannis, until his injury during the battle when the triumphant Tywin took back the authority as Hand. So how long was that? Time on the show is hard to gauge. As long as Arya was traveling, captured, and trapped at Harrenhal. As long as it took Robb Stark to move his army throughout the Riverlands, cleaning house and with a campaign in the Lannister controlled West. Jaime complains of being chained up and sitting in his own filth for nearly a year, so that’s really the best estimate we have.
  • Public Service: Tyrion’s focus was to keep King’s Landing safe from the various kings in the War of the Five Kings (although really this set of kings focused on the Baratheon brothers.) One might argue that any effort keeping Joffrey in power wasn’t really in the best interests of the realm. Hmmm. I’d like to give points to Tyrion for his excellent defense of the city…
  • Adversity: Tyrion inherited a kingdom at war, with a variety of enemies with far superior forces wanting to sack his city and kill him. And was shackled by a mad-king-in-training. That’s a fair amount of adversity.
  • Enemies: King Joffrey. Queen Regent Cersei. King Stannis. King Renly (why not?) If Queen Margaery had been his enemy, that’d be a hard hand to beat in Poker.
  • Historical Success: Unfortunately, although Tyrion saved the city, all accolades went to his father, Tywin. And the people blamed Tyrion during the lead up to the siege, labeling him the Demon Monkey. Adding in his dramatic trial and his sentencing to death for regicide… his reputation is not that great.

Final Rating: We’re almost there! Patience, grasshopper, patience.

Hand of the King: Tywin Lannister


Tywin’s not opposed to spending money on behalf of the realm. He’d just prefer it not be his money.

Technically, Tywin was named Hand upon Joffrey’s coronation, but other than designating Tyrion as acting Hand nearly immediately, Tywin exercised no powers until he broke the siege of King’s Landing. But then he was practically ruling as king. Tywin was an aggressively hands-on Hand.

This is a somewhat more difficult candidate to judge, since this wasn’t Tywin’s first tour of duty. Back when Mad King Aerys was known as Eccentric King Aerys, Tywin Lannister served as his Hand. Apparently he was excellent at the job (more on that later) before there was a falling out between Tywin and Aerys over a rejected marriage proposition. (Scandal!)

  • Longevity: not counting the time he was an absentee Hand, with Tyrion acting in his stead, Tywin was in charge immediately after the lifting of the siege of King’s Landing. During his term of service, a Wildling population travelled from the Skirling Pass in the far north to the Wall, to be routed by Stannis. Daenerys sailed from Qarth, to Slaver’s Bay, to begin her habit of overthrowing cities, from Astapor, through Yunkai, and up to Meereen. That’s a lot of traveling by foot. So, months and months. And, we don’t know how long Tywin was during his previous term, but it was probably years. Maybe not 18 years, though.
  • Public Service: Tywin gets major points for assigning Tyrion, possibly the best man for the job, to rein in Joffrey and Cersei. Additionally, Tywin was instrumental in shipping food for King’s Landing, apparently without plans to profit from it (despite the crown’s need for gold.) Littlefinger might have handled things differently. The Riverlands might have some complaints about his peacekeeping occupation after the Red Wedding, though. During his previous position as Hand, young Stannis Baratheon had visited King’s Landing and saw Tywin holding court (Aerys was not in the mood to act as king that day.) Tywin made a big impression on Stannis, showing him how a king should behave.
  • Adversity: Taking the position of Hand back from Tyrion, Tywin had several challenges. Dorne was only grudgingly part of the Seven Kingdoms, the Vale wasn’t returning his calls, the Iron Islands were in secession, as well as the North and the Riverlands. The Stormlands were more or less siding with Stannis Baratheon, although with almost all of the Stormlander fighting men dead at Blackwater, that wasn’t too much of a threat. The Seven Kingdoms was broken up, and Tywin had to get it put back together as fast as possible. (And there were a ton of social engagements to plan. Where did he find all the time?)
  • Enemies: At least two kings, Stannis and Robb Stark (Robb was planning on attacking Casterly Rock, Tywin’s home), and Catelyn Stark. Another heavy hitter would be Prince Oberyn Martell, who *hated* the Lannisters, specifically Tywin, because of their coverup in regards to the death of Oberyn’s sister, Elia. Oberyn was not only dangerous, but as a prince of Dorne, could not be easily minimized or disregarded. Arya Stark was possibly Tywin’s most potentially dangerous enemy, since she had a personal murder-genie at her disposal and barely missed her chance in sentencing Tywin to death. In the end, though, his own son became his killer, an enemy he had been forging since birth.
  • Historical Success: It’s hard to argue against results. If diplomacy is warfare through other means*, Tywin used other means to secure the destruction of Robb Stark and his army with minimal effort. Over the course of a wedding reception, two rebellious kingdoms were effectively quelled. The Vale was brought more or less back into the fold with a marriage arranged with the Lord of Harrenhal (that snake Littlefinger) and the mother of the Lord of the Vale (crazy Lysa.) Tywin seemed to be making progress with Dorne, giving the Martells more representation on the small council. Then Oberyn volunteered to be a champion in a trial by combat, and messed up that deal. At least Tywin could claim the successes that were actually due to his son, Tyrion.

Final Rating: There are no more Hands to consider, so I can rate them all relative to one another. Each Hand will be ranked from 1 to 4 in each category. The Hand with the lowest (best) score overall will be the winner.

Here’s my adjudications…

  • Longevity: Jon Arryn (1), Tywin Lannister (2), Tyrion Lannister (3), Ned Stark (4) – Jon clearly was in the office the longest. It was hard to choose between Ned and Tyrion on who was in longest, any difference would have been a very short period of time. But I chose Tyrion, mostly because it seemed like Jaime’s captivity was longer than Ned’s term as Hand.
  • Public Service: Tywin Lannister (1), Ned Stark (2), Jon Arryn (3), Tyrion Lannister (4) – This was a somewhat hard category to judge. Tyrion fell to the bottom, since his scope was mostly limited to the crownlands, and his political deals were mostly done to gain an advantage over Cersei. Tywin rose to the top, not because I think he’s a sterling dude, but I think he was somewhat realm-minded and he operated on a large scope. Ned edged out Jon because of his personal sacrifices and honor. I’m not saying Jon wasn’t honorable, but he takes a hit for letting Robert beggar the realm and for Littlefinger to profit from it.
  • Adversity:  Tywin Lannister (1), Tyrion Lannister (2), Ned Stark (3), Jon Arryn (4) – It was hard to choose between Tywin and Tyrion on who had the biggest situation to deal with. In the end, the arrival of Prince Oberyn in King’s Landing (for me) magnified the situation as more dangerous for the Hand than even Stannis and his army.
  • Enemies: Tywin Lannister (1), Ned Stark (2), Tyrion Lannister (3), Jon Arryn (4) – Oberyn was again the key factor in pushing Tywin up to the top. I wouldn’t want to insult the Red Viper by implying that anyone was more dangerous. Ned gets the Queen + Baelish combo, slightly edging him up from Tyrion. (Doesn’t Jon Arryn get the Littlefinger bump too? Yeah, it’s hard to say. I had a hard time with this category.)
  • Historical Success: Jon Arryn (1), Tywin Lannister (2), Ned Stark (3), Tyrion Lannister (4) – Tywin gets the advantage of stealing Tyrion’s thunder, who ends up below Ned because Tywin left Tyrion nothing. Jon Arryn rises to the top, just because the realm was so stable (if moving towards bankruptcy, quietly) for so long.

Final Rating:

  1. Tywin Lannister (7)
  2. Jon Arryn (13)
  3. Ned Stark (14)
  4. Tyrion Lannister (16)

(I recommend someone check my math…)

Obviously, the subjective statistics might not match how we viewers “feel” about who was the best Hand. So don’t let my analysis tell you how to feel. You tell me who the best Hand was!

Don’t agree with my numbers? Feel free to tell me in the comments. Game of Thrones Season Five is about to start up, we can see how the newest Hand rates using my criteria. (Or not. I’m just glad the season’s about to resume! Seven Hells Yes!)

(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.)

* Loosely paraphrasing Carl von Clausewitz, there.

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

  1. I’m shamefully in favor of Tyrion as my favorite character, but if Tyrion hadn’t saved the city from Stannis, Tywin couldn’t have been Hand. Jon Arryn definitely had the longevity, but he presided over a realm during peace. I love Ned, but that self-defeating honor and inability to budge from that until it was too late really lowers his marks. He definitely had good intentions and was thrown into a perilous situation, but good intentions won’t keep your head off a spike.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. kriess911 says:

    I’d like to think it was Tywin, simple and done; but the obvious fact is that without Tyrion, there would be no Lannisters for Tywin to save at the 11th hour in the Battle of Blackwater. Of course, he was given that chance due to his father’s delegation as Hand, so…who knows. JonCon?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, I totally agree that had Tywin not managed to take ownership of Tyrion’s hard work, Tyrion would be #1. (I should really look at the math on that.)

      I think it’s pretty clear that if Tyrion was given a free hand in managing the realm, there’s be a lot less shenanigans. Especially from Littlefinger.

      Hey Hey! I can’t rate JonCon here, since the show-watchers will give me the evil eye. Maybe I’ll return to that at some point.

      Thanks for the feedback, solid as always.


      • kriess911 says:

        You left out the most important Hand of the King of all.

        Davos “The Onion Knight” Seaworth. Without his direct input, the wildlings win the Battle of Castle Black, and every crow from Eastwatch to Shadow Tower is dead. Especially Jon Snow.

        Liked by 1 person

        • GAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! [EXPLETIVE!!!!!!] How could I have forgotten him?

          I’m a HUGE Ser Davos fan. I’m known as the Radish Knight, in his honor (and because I love radishes…)

          Okay, I’ll, uh, say I was only rating Hands of the King who’ve actually sat on the Iron Throne. Yeah, that’s it.

          But I do need to evaluate my man Davos in regards to the other 4. I’ll give that some thought…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. gameofthroatsblog says:

    Great article! I loved the ranking system and you really did your research. This was ery entertaining & fun to read! Great job. Personally I feel Tywin was the best hand, though. After all, it’s TyWIN, not TyLOSE…

    ^I’m really sorry for that lame joke, I’ll see myself out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂

      That’s great! No need to apologize, you.

      Thanks for the feedback, and as always, I’m looking forward to reading more articles from Game of Throats.

      (This will be my last planned one for awhile, I’ll start up again after the season, but I reserve the right for some special Game of Thrones posts during the season, it’ll be as the mood strikes me.)

      Thanks again!


  4. I’m not sure which one is the best, but I’m sure Ned made the worst Hand Of The King. He was a statesman and he lived (and died) by a code of honor. Hand Of The King got to be a politician, and a statesman who lived by a code of honor would never be a good politician.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ll have to agree to disagree. Ned’s honor was less a problem than his compassion for giving Cersei a chance to escape Robert’s wrath.

      I don’t disagree with you that Ned was an unsuccessful Hand, probably the least successful of the bunch (Tyrion was a better Hand than Ned, he just ended up lower on my analysis because of the lack of recognition/attribution from his peers.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I voted for Tywin in part because I do agree with his diplomacy rather than brute force technique. That’s why I rather favour Philip of Macedon over his more famous son, Alexander the Great. Sure, Alexander the Great won an empire larger than any the world had seen before, but Philip was the one who instituted the military reforms that Alexander benefited from heavily and he used diplomacy rather than war to win control over all of Greece! He was an amazing king and he’s really forgotten because Alexander was, well…Alexander the Great.

    Tywin managed to avert a major battle or battles by having a few people slaughtered at a dinner table. It’s not honourable or glorious but it probably saved thousands of lives, both Lannister and STark. And the thing is, I love the Starks but my military mind really does have to admire Tywin as hand.

    And let’s face it: he didn’t survive Aerys Targaryen by being a total idiot. He has serious diplomatic skills and even better PR: “And now the rains weep o’er their halls with not a soul to hear.” Would you challenge a dude who constantly reminds people he wiped out an entire House without a second thought? I sure wouldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As you know, I love your historical comparisons, Carrie, and they are always spot-on.

      Even Tyrion acknowledged that Tywin’s strategem got the results he wanted, and with the Freys ending up with the dishonor associated with the action.

      Great hearing from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dennis says:

    Going by the choices listed I have to say Tyrion. Tyrion could (and quite frankly should) have very easily said “Totally not my problem” while Stannis and the boys were invading King’s Landing but he didn’t. He led the troops from the frontlines while King Joffrey ran off to hide under his mom’s skirt. Had Tyrion decided to get his drink on or whore it up during the battle Tywin would have arrived just in time to surrender to Stannis. Another thing is Tyrion wasn’t afraid to give Joffrey a good slap upside the head every now and then. He put the hand in Hand of The King.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Denise says:

    Good debate here! Tywin I think is the strongest, and most pragmatic Hand, with a good intelligent head on him and a lot of self-discipline, and that’s the combination which I think you need for the job.


  8. […] Show of Hands; Hands Up, Hands Down. […]


  9. kaburke9 says:

    I often think to myself, if Ned had just stayed in Winterfell, none of this would ever have happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm. I might have to save that as a topic for after Season 5 (since I’m about to go into Game of Thrones blogging hiatus for the Season.) What If Ned Stayed in Winterfell?… Jon Arryn was dead, but in the books Stannis was suspicious of all the blonds… I’ll give this some thought (and give you credit if I write it…)


      • kaburke9 says:

        The other tipping point was Jon’s murder. Stannis knew he couldn’t convince Robert of the children’s bastardy (?), so Jon Arryn would have done it. I think Robert still would have called on Ned to come to King’s Landing to wage war on the Lannisters.


    • Dennis says:

      I often catch myself thinking stuff like that while watching the show. The problem is then I run into thinking “Well in order for X not to happen V would have had to not happen first. As well U, T, S, R, and so on before” Or I think “Well maybe X happening prevented something far worse from happening instead.” It’s a good way to drive yourself crazy. Ahhh screw it, let’s just blame Littlefinger and call it a day. I’m sure somehow someway he is at fault for every bad thing that happens, will happen, or has happened in the Seven Kingdoms.

      Liked by 1 person

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