In Defense of the Unsullied

Posted: July 21, 2015 in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , ,

This post will be discussing plot elements of HBO’s Game of Thrones. If you’re not caught up, then this post will be fraught with peril. Dark and full of terrors, or at least spoilers. If you wish to remain unsullied (whether or not you happen to be Unsullied) then stop reading, and start watching the show.

Go on, get out of here!

game-of-thrones-season-5-episode-4-unsullied-patrol-scene

We’re going! We’re going!

Fine, let’s start.

This post will be talking about the Unsullied’s fighting reputation and how Season Five didn’t do much to support their vaunted rep. Or did it?

That Unsullied Reputation

The eunuch warriors of Daenerys Targaryen have been with her for nearly three seasons, when she made a sweet bargain to exchange one dragon for thousands of highly trained and disciplined soldiers. And an even sweeter bargain in the end, since she got Drogon back. Dany, you scamp.

game-of-thrones-season-3-daenerys-unsullied

Super Shopper Achievement Unlocked!

Under her orders, they rampaged (with appropriate restraint) in Astapor, besieged and captured Yunkai, and restored order in Meereen, her current location for mail. (Technically, she’s off with Drogon in the Dothraki sea right now, but her P.O. box is still in Meereen.)

We assume that the Unsullied were responsible for restoring order. They certainly had things under control when Meereenese masters were rounded up in droves to line the highway mile markers back to Yunkai.

Daenerys_has_163_Great_Masters_crucified

The next rest stop is 5 miles down the road, on the left. You can’t miss it. Oh, and please kill me.

But season 5 showcased some tactical engagements involving the Unsullied that put their fighting skills into question. Since I have nothing better to do while waiting for season 6 to kick in, I thought I’d share my opinion.

I think the Unsullied are getting a bad rap.

Alley Ambuscades

Early in the season, it was established that the Sons of the Harpy, an insurgent group that is undermining Daenerys’ rule, were targeting Unsullied for assassinations. We don’t know much about the Harpies (I’ll just call them that instead of constantly typing out Sons of the Harpy, because I’m super-lazy) – it’s alleged that they’re controlled by Meereenese former slave-masters. That’s not a bad assumption.

Hizzie

WHAT? That’s unpossible!!!

Whether the former slave masters are behind the Harpies or not, Dany prudently ordered the Unsullied not to wander around solo and no more looking to get a little quality cuddling time on their own. That’s a reasonable decision.

The Harpies then upped their game.

What followed were a series of ambushes, where small patrols of Unsullied were attacked at 4:1 odds, and a larger patrol of seven (including Grey Worm) were lured into an alleyway ambush, against 3:1 odds.

Despite the arrival of heroic Ser Barristan, all of the Unsullied, except for the gravely wounded Grey Worm, were slain. (Not all of the 8000 Unsullied, just the 10 whom we see being ambushed.)

The Arena

In the hopes of being accepted by the rebellious parts of the city, Dany opted to re-open the fighting pits. Because, you know… bread… circuses…

The Sons of the Harpy attacked, and vastly outnumbered Dany’s Unsullied bodyguard forces.

Dany and gang surrounded

Daario regrets giving 7980 Unsullied the day off.

The Khaleesi and retinue ended up trapped in the center of the fighting pit, and had it not been for the timely arrival of Drogon, the Targaryen line would have ended.

Again, not perceived as the Unsullied’s finest hour.


The Unsullied Defense

I think it’s not quite fair to knock the Unsullied’s performance when they were being swarmed by multiple opponents who had chosen the battleground and were attacking with the advantage of surprise or tactical positioning.

I have more to say specifically about the Melee in the Meereen Mews and the Unscheduled Rumble on Opening Day, feel free to read my After Action Reports and argue with me about the Unsullied’s display of combat effectiveness. That’s not what I’m getting at here.

The Unsullied were not just the targets of assassination in Meereen, they were also targeted for character assassination on the Internet. (A much less forgiving place.)

Soon after the season ended, I started seeing articles busting on the Unsullied, such as An Open Letter to the Unsullied (which I admit is an entertaining read) but mostly I saw the criticism in the form of memes questioning the Unsullied’s reputed prowess.

wtf-hbo-unsullied-are-supposed-to-be-best-you-fucked-it-up_o_5204477

Bad grammar aside, it’s not all that an unfair statement.

Not unfair by virtue that it more or less accurately describes two facts:

  • The Unsullied were well trained
  • The Sons of the Harpy were unarmored and wielding knives.

“Thug” is a somewhat subjective term with an ambiguous meaning in this context, since thug is a shorthand for “thuggee”, reputedly a member of the notorious and legendary group of assassins. (And sadly, featured in the second worst Indiana Jones movie.) I’m pretty sure that’s not the meaning being implied in this context.

I think the sentiment of the meme is stating that the Unsullied were killed by riff-raff, which implies that the Unsullied aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Maybe the Harpies were rebellious rabble. We just don’t know all that much about the Sons of the Harpy.

Not all variations on the theme were as factual or charitable.

UnsulliedMeme

Wow, that’s a very specific statement about the Sons of the Harpy. Clearly, the meme creator had bought in on the idea that the Harpies were literally the slave masters. And not just any slave masters, but ones that had had no combat training whatsoever.

Jo zo Bloraq: Welcome Yo zo Mommaq, to the Sons of the Harpy.
Yo zo Mommaq: This is going to be great!
Jo: Take your official mask and dagger. Today you’ll stain it with an Unsullied’s blood.
Yo: The mask, or the dagger?
Jo: I think, uh, the dagger? Right? We’re stabbing these guys? Not head butting them with the masks?
Sno zo Jobaq: Whoa! Now I want to try head-butting!

Sons-of-the-Harpy1

I’m sure this is a typical sight at Fortune 500 meetings.

Yo: This sounds rather dangerous. And exhausting. Couldn’t I just order some of my bodyguards, or the former fighting slaves who depend on me, or my combat trainers, or those sell-swords I have on retainer, or the various criminal elements in my cousin’s employ, to wear masks and stab Unsullied for me?
Jo: No! You can’t, and for no reason that I can think of!
Yo: Fine. It’s just a suggestion.

I don’t think it’s a bold assumption to say that the masters of Meereen had slaves to do all the menial work for them, and that they were usually above engaging in physical altercations or had ever put themselves at risk. But it is a very bold assumption to say that these indolent overseers would join the ranks of a terrorist group comprised entirely of their peers, and quite forthrightly put themselves at risk in engaging with the Unsullied.

Daario Naharis certainly suggested that the former masters were behind the Harpies, but he never stated any belief that they were actually the ones on the ground, wielding the knives. I think he’d agree that if the masters were involved, they would be working through proxies.

So why was the Internet insinuating that the Unsullied were being massacred by high society weaklings? I don’t know. It’s the Internet?

I suppose if someone wanted to drag the Unsullied’s good name through the mud (if the goal is to maybe complain on how HBO was adapting them, there’s a lot of mileage in complaining) then it might be useful to defame their opponents as well. Being defeated by worthy opponents isn’t shameful, so no consideration was given that the Harpies might be legitimately dangerous.

I can play that game. I know how to get to memegenerator.net.


Since we know next to nothing about the Sons of the Harpies, we can make all kinds of wild-ass assumptions…

KryptonianVampires Cylons

Commandoes

Imagine how badass the Unsullied truly were, if the Sons of the Harpy were actually supernatural beings, androids, or magic-helmet-wearing super-warriors. Which is not that more ridiculous than believing that the Harpies were untrained fops who somehow luck their way through combats against soldiers that even the Dothraki respect.

But, how could so many of the Unsullied get killed? They’re legendary warriors! They should just do better than they did, right?

I guess? I mean, were they doing badly?

We actually only see a small number of Unsullied being killed by the actions of insurgents, and to quote Arya Stark, “Anyone can be killed.”

TrantKillah

The element of surprise shouldn’t be discounted. For example, Meryn Trant was a kingsguard and despite the Hound’s disdain for him (was there anyone the Hound thought highly of?) in a straight up Arya vs. Trant bout, my money would go on Ser Meryn. But Arya came prepared, made a plan, and struck first.

Sometimes the best fighters get killed by lesser opponents.

SyrioMeme

Syrio was not an average fighter, he’d earned a privileged place as an armsman for the Sealord of Braavos. In a straight up fight between Syrio and Trant, I’d put my money on the Braavosi. But on that particular day, Trant had the armor, and Syrio had the wooden sword.

Sure, we don’t know the particulars of the battle, per se. Arya believed Syrio was dead and we had no evidence to the contrary. What we did have was Ser Meryn walking around Braavos. Or at least we did until Arya shivved him.

I’m not sure why Syrio’s fighting prowess was not questioned the way the Unsullied’s reputation was, or why the Sons of the Harpy fighters were denied the credit that was given unquestioningly to Arya.

Really, this is all we can say about Harpies vs. Unsullied.

  • In sufficient numbers, they can kill very small numbers of Unsullied safely.
  • With larger numbers of Harpies, they can kill small numbers of Unsullied. Not safely.
  • Were the Harpies skilled in combat? It’s hard to say, but with all things being equal, I’d put my money on the Unsullied every time.

Am I the only one who feels this way? I’m not saying that the use of Unsullieds as an urban police force or as security at sporting events isn’t above criticism, but I think those eunuchs can fight.

UnsulliedStormtroopers

Full stop.

Comparing the Unsullied to Imperial Stormtroopers? That will not stand.

If the Empire had deployed Unsullied on Endor instead of Stormtroopers, there’d be a lot of dead Ewoks.

If the Ewoks had somehow prevailed by swarming the Unsullied with ridiculous numbers, I’m convinced that the Unsullied would have gone down fighting, instead of surrendering to clownish carnivorous teddy bears. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Irri

It is known. Indeed.


(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.)

Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) Except for the image of the Imperial Stormtroopers, which is from one of the two Star Wars movies. Or maybe from the additional four non-Star Wars movies. (Now is not the time for me to complain about the post Empire movies…)

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. Just not to the text in the memes I didn’t create. 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

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Comments
  1. jennnanigans says:

    I’m with you – the Unsullied were being unjustly roasted.
    That said, I don’t think the show took the time to establish the threat that the Harpies posed, either. I don’t think they had time, with all the other storylines going on.

    It put me in mind of what happens when you have a well-trained, paid force invading a country (*coughs*WESTERN EUROPEAN HISTORY*coughs*) where people are desperately trying to defend their homes. For the invaders, it’s a paycheck and they could go home (in theory). For the locals, it’s an entirely different matter – if they don’t prevail, they won’t have homes to go to.

    Great write-up as always! *pours one out for Barristan, who was THE BEST*

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jenn!

      I appreciate your comment about the Harpies and the show not able to establish the danger. I think I’ll write some more stuff about them, all speculative stuff, in a couple months (I have a long list of topics to attend to.)

      As always, it’s great to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jennnanigans says:

        Aw, thanks! I love your write-ups, they’re so in-depth and thoughtful!
        Do you think you might revisit any of your previous ones as stuff unfolds?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sort of, since I started doing this after season 3, some topics are due for a follow on article. I have updates planned for the Stark girls and a second look at Stannis at the very least.

          Oh, Stannis.

          But I need to keep my topics a secret for now!

          Thank you for your interest, you!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Saurab says:

    The amount of research you do! 😮

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sb2711 says:

    Your memes rule 😀 Please create more of them in every post. Pretty please 😀 I liked the analysis as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Unsullied were meant to fight in tight formation on a field of battle. As a counter-insurgency force they’re kind of out of their element. Without the formation their gear leaves them vulnerable to attack. Daenerys is just employing them incorrectly. They’re for beating armies, not Harpy ninjas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s tempting to try to use the Unsullied for all purposes: war, peacekeeping, patrols, guard duty, law enforcement, counter-insurgency, because their discipline is an asset regardless and they’re willing to do what they’re ordered to do.

      But as you correctly point out, they’re not suited to do everything. Dany needs to work on non Unsullied solutions to unrest in Meereen, if she wants to have any result other than having the Unsullied mass up and spear a bunch of people.

      Like

  5. Missa says:

    Thank you for the detailed analysis. The Internet is a most unforgiving place. Of course an hour-long show with 10 eps a season cannot possibly go into detail about why small groups of Unsullied get killed by larger groups of masked murderers, but so many people have the assumption that the Unsullied are somehow supposed to be beyond human. If GoT has taught us anything, it’s that anyone can (and probably will) die. No one is exempt.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Frederick says:

    Love the tone of this article. Hilarious and full of critical insight. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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