This post concerns Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s excellent (and nigh-unfinishable) fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
If you are not caught up with the storyline as revealed on the show, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by reading this blog post. (A similar claim might be made for reading any of my blogs posts, even if you’re up-to-speed on things…)
Anyway, don’t spoil yourself. But come back some time! Arthur Dayne will still be here waiting for you.
The Dreamy Ser Arthur Dayne
Game of Thrones often brings surprises, especially to those who haven’t read the books, but its sixth season had a delightful surprise in store for book readers by managing to give a glimpse into the past at the tail end of Robert’s rebellion, when young Ned Stark and a handful of men fought against the last of King Aerys Targaryen’s elite Kingsguard.
In the first book, when Ned had been injured by his encounter with Jaime Lannister and had been drugged up, he dreamed of an old skirmish with three members of the Kingsguard. Of his six companions and the three warriors with white cloaks, only he and the little crannogman Howland Reed survived.
(The show opted to reduce the numbers on both sides, so instead of seven versus three, it was six against two.)
The battle is not explicitly described in the book, it is a dream after all, and the poetic nature of how Ned interacts with the three gives it a surreal sensibility, as if it’s more allegorical than literal.
(If anyone wants to get a taste of the chapter, the artist Uros Obradovic made an amazing visual adaptation of it. Check it out in full over at WinterIsComing.net – I’ll have just some snippets here.)
In charge at the tower was the lord commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Gerold “the White Bull” Hightower, accompanied by the bat-helmed Ser Oswell Whent (the bat is the sigil of House Whent, so as far as I’m concerned, the Whents are AWESOME), and Ser Arthur Dayne aka the Sword of the Morning.
In the dream, LC Hightower does most of the talking, while the show focused on Ser Arthur Dayne. And rightfully so.
Dayne is one of those characters from the books who is mythic. Even if our only direct experience with Ser Arthur is in Ned’s rather brief dream.
Wielding the sword Dawn (the ancestral blade of the Daynes and held by the Dayne with the Sword of the Morning title) Ser Arthur Dayne does not survive the battle, and is buried by Ned and the only other survivor, Reed.
So, why so mythic?
Although he enters and exits the story as a fever-dream of Ned’s, that’s not Arthur Dayne’s only presence in the books. He looms large in people’s minds. Jaime quietly idolized him and was keenly aware of how little like Dayne he truly was. Ned also idolized Dayne, and would speak highly of the famous knight.
“The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star. They called him the Sword of the Morning, and he would have killed me but for Howland Reed.” Father had gotten sad then, and he would say no more. Bran wished he had asked him what he meant.
There are stories told and mentions made. His section in the Kingsguard Book of Brothers is full of tales of his great deeds and heroism.
Catelyn once suspected that Ser Arthur’s beautiful sister Ashara might be Jon’s mother, since the young Ned had been rumored to have been in love with her.
Arya met a nephew of Arthur Dayne’s who was a squire to Beric Dondarrion and probably the youngest member of the Brotherhood without Banners.
The much more interesting book-plot in Dorne featured a Dayne with an unsavory aspect.
The Daynes just seem to be a big deal.
So once the show decided to use Bran Stark’s warging abilities to witness the battle of the Tower of Joy, they had their work cut out for them. There was no way that a non-book-reader would attach an overly great deal of significance to one of the Kingsguard who would be alive roughly five minutes and then be dead on the ground. But the show watchers at least needed to notice him. To remember him.
Book readers would have to approve of how the show presented Dayne. Or there would be issues.
In general, I think most show-watchers were thrilled by the fight. The last small-scale fight that took place on Game Of Thrones was also in Dorne, Team Jaime vs Team Ellaria. That wasn’t a well choreographed fight. But this battle between Team Ned and Team Dayne was excellent. Particularly how it ended so unexpectedly and dramatically.
Even so, there were complaints about the sequence. Well, the biggest complaint was that we didn’t get to see what was in the tower until weeks and weeks later. Everyone complained about that.
But book readers have certain ideas and expectations, and I find the times that the show doesn’t conform to what book readers might expect to be interesting discussion points. So let’s discuss…
- Isn’t that armor a bit too much … Targaryen?
When the season’s trailers first appeared, they showed a man with a Kingsguard-style helmet and plain breastplate with the Targaryen sigil at work killing men in northern attire. Since House Targaryen isn’t really around, book readers correctly surmised that this was one of the previous dynasty’s Kingsguard preventing Ned access to the Tower of Joy. But not everyone was all that happy about the Targaryen sigil on the armor.
I assume they were expecting a breastplate to look more like the current armor in use on the show.
You know, one with a crown. For KINGsguard.
I never really understood why this was a problem. I had a gentle disagreement with one of my knowledgable friends, who provided me with this reference the Wiki of Ice and Fire:
That’s a decent and authoritative reference, although I don’t know if it’s a slam dunk. The sigil-prohibition probably refers more to the individual kingsguard’s own house sigil, which should be given up along with all claims to the family land to serve the king. Even so, Ser Oswell Whent is described with his House’s bat-sigil, so that must be in line with the occasional exception.
(I’m totally in support of Bat-Sigil armor. Arguments to the contrary are invalid.)
But, even though Robert Baratheon’s elite bodyguards didn’t wear breastplates with large crowned stags on the chest, let’s take a closer look at their armor.
This seems to be an order of magnitude more ornamental and fancy than what Dayne and his colleague were wearing on the show. And the curving, sharp lines kind of give an antler-y aspect, something that both Robert and Renly used as artistic statements in their crowns.
Before Robert took the throne, the only kings were Targaryens. (Okay, there were other kings in the Seven Kingdoms, but they yielded to Aegon the Conqueror, who had the first Kingsguard.) The Targaryen sigil might as well have been the same as a crown image. In my opinion, having the Baratheon Kingsguard members have a crown (possibly made of antlers) is kind of a cool touch for old Bobby Baratheon. I’m into it.
Also, the show has its own visual language that it plays with. It’s probably a bigger deal that Dayne and his comrade-in-arms weren’t wearing white cloaks, which is more the signature accessory of the Kingsguard. But having the previous-dynasty Kingsguard armor show the Targaryen sigil properly highlights a power-shifting event near the end of the sixth season, when King Tommen’s bodyguards have new breastplates.
The symbol of power the new armor bore was revealed to be the seven-pointed star of the Faith of the Seven, as Tommen dissolved the barriers between church and state, the crown and the faith.
So that touch on Dayne’s armor totally works for me.
- Dawn, aren’t you a bit short for a greatsword?
Dayne’s sword Dawn in the books is described as a greatsword, aka a two-handed sword.
And these were no shadows; their faces burned clear, even now. Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, had a sad smile on his lips. The hilt of the greatsword Dawn poked up over his right shoulder.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands.
On the show, Dawn is somewhat smaller than expected. Dayne would have had a hard time wielding Dawn two-handed with a second sword in his left hand. (Fighting with two weapons is called dual wielding. I heard people try to call this two-handed fighting, which doesn’t quite work as an unambiguous description since one weapon might require two hands.)
Some people complained that Dayne didn’t have Dawn at all, refusing to recognize that the sword Dayne used in his right hand, the one with the symbol of the Sun on the horizon (you know, like what happens at dawn) must have been the legendary blade.
The hilt of Dawn did seem to be long enough for two-handed use, kind of like Jon Snow’s bastard sword Longclaw. So why would the show shy away from this important book detail and have Dawn used one-handed?
Well, first off, I don’t think it’s all that important a detail. Secondly, the show runners probably were more interested in producing a really great fight, a tremendous fight, and having Dayne fight with two swords gives them the opportunity for one man to appear to be the match of several.
In this case, I think practicality works out over authenticity.
That’s not to say that I don’t have any problems with the Tower of Joy conflict as presented between Ned and his northern companions versus the Kingsguard. But it has nothing to do with Ser Arthur Dayne and everything to do with this guy:
Here’s a kingsguard where they got everything wrong, weirdly, and absolutely did not have to.
But explaining the logic behind my complaint is going to be long and ridiculous sounding, so I’ll relegate my objections to my secret backup blog that no one reads (for good reason) where I put all of my Too Long; Didn’t Read materials.
Just trust me that Arthur Dayne’s buddy was so wrong. Wrong.
Mourning the Sword of the Morning
Okay, the title of this article is Mourning Ser Arthur Dayne, and sure, it’s a lazy pun on him being the Sword of the Morning. But I might be able to spin the title into something relevant.
I implied that Arthur Dayne is a bigger deal in the books, but it’s mostly his reputation since he’d been dead for years and years before the story started. The same can be said for Rhaegar Targaryen, who is also a legendary figure of importance and everyone in the books seems to have an opinion or reminiscence about him.
It’s easy to take these threads of narrative thoughts in the books and weave a larger-than-life tapestry about a character. So easy in fact, that there are all kinds of crazy theories about Arthur Dayne surviving the battle at the Tower of Joy to go off and assume another identity. (I’m not up on all these theories, because I think they’re dumb, but I seem to recall a popular one had suggested that Qhorin Halfhand was actually Dayne. I don’t think so.)
This year, at the fiftieth Balticon (a science fiction convention in Baltimore, Maryland) during a question and answer section with George RR Martin, someone asked “Can you confirm that Ser Arthur Dayne is dead?” I was delighted with GRRM’s answer:
I confirm nothing! Let a thousand goofy theories fly free!
(It was something like that.)
Book readers can certainly be passionate about their in-depth theories and attachments to minor characters in the books. Which I guess is what I’m really mourning with this article, that this particular larger-than-life view of Dayne won’t be shared by show watchers.
The show did a great job in giving us Ser Arthur Dayne on screen, and even for a character with minimal screen time, he at least made a solid impression. It’s just unfortunate that the show doesn’t have the ability to instill in us the legendary nature of Arthur Dayne.
So read the books, you clowns. And pay attention to mentions of the Daynes, the greatsword Dawn, Starfall (where he’s from.) It might all end up not being that important, but it definitely gives a sense of mythos and gravitas and other fancy words. (Me without my thesaurus!)
But maybe I’m wrong. I could be blinded by my preconceived notions and I’m giving the show too much credit. Hey, people who are only watching the show, what’s your opinion on Ser Arthur Dayne?
Thanks for reading my rambly thoughts about the Sword of the Morning, as well as my thoughts on sword length expectations and continuing observations on armor fashion. We have a long time until the next season of Game of Thrones airs, and I have more random topics to hit.
But maybe this post will get a nice payoff in the next season. Since Bran has been checking out the past, and we’ve seen a lot more of Lyanna Stark than we ever thought we could have, it might be reasonable to think that next season we get to see visions of Rhaegar Targaryen in the past.
And if Rhaegar’s on screen, it’s likely we’ll see some more Arthur Dayne.
Although with only thirteen more episodes (or so) that all seems unlikely.
Hey, let me have this. A man can dream.
(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.) The non-HBO artwork is from Uros Obradovic. He’s given the Tower of Joy battle and the battle between the Viper and the Mountain a beautiful graphic novel interpretation. Seriously, go check out WinterIsComing.Net for a feature on the artist and his love for A Song of Ice and Fire.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
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 2016 Some Rights Reserved