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.
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.
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!)
Hand of the King: Jon Arryn
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
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’sKing’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’sKing’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.
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
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.
- Tywin Lannister (7)
- Jon Arryn (13)
- Ned Stark (14)
- 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.
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