This post will be talking about Ser Davos Seaworth, the excellent stalwart and stand-up guy from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Look, there are very few people in Game of Thrones that are as decent as this guy and still alive.
I’m glad to write about him. (Or am I? We’ll see.)
Ser Davos the Onion Knight
Davos Seaworth is a noteworthy character in the Game of Thrones universe.
For one, he’s not of noble birth. Almost every character we follow, every character who has some kind of personal narrative arc, was born into some measure of privilege or power in the feudal backdrop of Westeros.
Davos was the illiterate son of a crabber, a smuggler, but he rose up from being a base-born nobody and sailed right through the hierarchy of lords to become the Hand of the King. (Or rather, a Hand of a king.)
He’s also noteworthy to still be alive.
By rights, he should have died during the wildfire explosion on Blackwater Bay or died by drowning or exposure afterwards.
His opposition to Stannis’ influential adviser Melisandre could have easily earned him a warm time strapped to a bonfire pole. In the most recent season, it would not have been surprising for this excellent-sailor-but-mediocre-fighter to have gotten killed in between the Bolton shield-wall and the fierce Umbers.
As I alluded to earlier, he’s noteworthy because he’s decent and moral and weirdly-not-evil the way so many other old gray-haired guys on the show are. (Okay, we know he’s not the only one, but he seems to be the odd man out when you consider Craster, Alliser Thorne, Tywin Lannister, Qyburn, Pycelle, Rickard Karstark, and Walder Frey. Particularly Walder Frey.)
So Davos has earned a blog post about him. And since this is November and we’ve just had a huge election here in the States, it would be topical of me to pull some politically-relevant takeaways from Ser Davos’ storyline.
“What? Have I stumbled onto some boring political opinion piece?” – I hear you cry. No, not really. I mean, sort of.
I promise you this won’t be Everything I Know About Politics I Learned From Watching Game of Thrones or something. This is still mostly going to be about Davos and how I admire him as a character, but I admit that this will also be about how I feel he’s quite a role-model for statesmen. Or anyone who wants to be active politically. Like every good citizen should be.
(I understand if people immediately scroll through to just see if I have any witty captions on the images I include and then eject. Completely fair, as this post is a long one.)
Since so much of Game of Thrones involves loyalty to this king or that king (although now that so many of the kings have been removed, the queens are finally getting a turn) it’s relevant to examine the political inclination of Ser Davos. It’s fair to say that for most of the series, he was solidly Team Baratheon.
Team Stannis Baratheon should anyone have forgotten.
There doesn’t seem to be much complexity in the support Davos showed for Stannis. Stannis was the eldest of Robert Baratheon’s two brothers and since Robert had no legitimate trueborn sons, Stannis was the rightful claimant. (The rightful claimant if we follow the typical laws of succession in most of Westeros, which apparently Davos was comfortable with.)
Davos was serious in his support for Stannis. When arguing with his son Matthos who was trying to proselytize on behalf of R’hllor, Davos had this to say about his king…
Davos: You want me to have a god? Fine. King Stannis is my god. He raised me up and blessed me with his trust. He gave you a future I could never have imagined. You know how to read; you’ll be a knight someday. You think your fire god commanded all that? It was Stannis. Only Stannis.
Matthos: Stannis is my king, but he’s only a man.
Davos: Heh. Don’t tell him that.
Davos had respect for Stannis’ claim to the throne, and he also had respect for Stannis’ character. Davos’ punishment for being a smuggler after saving Stannis and his troops at Storm’s End had made a lasting impression on Davos.
Stannis Baratheon was not a man to ignore a person’s misdeeds, even if it would be convenient for him to do so.
But despite what some might assert, he could also be flexible and compromise. Davos was a known smuggler. Stannis was known for executing smugglers. In deference to Davos’ heroism in slipping past the Redwyne naval blockade (it would have meant his death had he been caught) Stannis ordered Davos maimed in a manner that would be permanent but not debilitating. (Davos has a much easier time cutting his meat than Ser Jaime will ever be able to do, for example.)
Hey, indulge me with a quick aside. Some people seem to think that Stannis ordered Davos to be punished for smuggling food into Storm’s End during the siege. As if this happened:
Stannis: Man, I am starving.
Davos: Dude, I snuck in some onions. Eat up.
Stannis: How unlawful, to smuggle food past King Aerys’ loyal troops to my starving men. I could hang you for this!
Davos: Uh, what?
Davos was in hot water because he was a known smuggler, not because on this one occasion he’d covertly moved a shipment of food to the starving Baratheon troops without paying an excise fee or tariff or whatever to the crown. Please.
But just because Davos was a Stannis loyalist, it didn’t mean he agreed with King Stannis blindly or uncritically. Davos was probably as far from being a Yes-Man as you can get.
Stannis had negatives, big negatives. Mostly involving a certain red-headed woman.
Sorry, Melisandre. I’m not talking about Ygritte.
Melisandre represented the dark side of Team Stannis. She had full commitment to her rather scary religion (any religion that includes human-participation-in-bonfires qualifies) and her unwavering belief that Stannis was the Mannis… provided that he followed her god’s will (a will that was inefficiently revealed to her via error-prone divine hints) made things problematic at best.
Davos was not a fan of Melisandre’s influence on Stannis, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge her counsel. He was diligent in working to limit the damage Melisandre might cause (sometimes through eloquent arguing, sometimes through civil disobedience.)
Some of this worked out: by freeing Robert Baratheon’s bastard son Gendry, Stannis was forced to abandon some easily promised Lord of Light intervention, to seek funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos to pursue his claim. With funds that Davos was instrumental in securing, Stannis relocated North for an unexpected assist to the Night’s Watch, foiling an unchecked invasion of Wildlings.
Davos counseled patience, but Stannis felt the pressure to secure the North as quickly as possible. And then everything went terribly wrong.
The Onion Knight found himself sent away to seek relief for the snowbound army, and Stannis succumbed to Melisandre’s suggestion of not cursing the darkness, but simply lighting a fire.
The change in the weather that was seemingly purchased by Shireen’s death ironically was Stannis’ doom, as it allowed him to force march his exhausted army straight into overwhelming Bolton forces.
The Post-Stannis Political Landscape
After the destruction of Stannis’ army (and Stannis) – Davos was largely left without a cause. And left in hot water (figuratively speaking), since he was currently an outsider caught in the middle of a Night’s Watch mutiny. When barricaded in with Jon Snow loyalists, Ser Davos was given assurances from mutineer-in-charge Alliser Thorne that he would be free to go. Davos recognized this as a ploy, and stuck his ground.
Luckily, Edd brought in the Wildlings with giant support and defused the situation. Davos convinced Melisandre to attempt to resurrect Jon Snow. Which worked! (We assume it was Melisandre’s ministrations that supplied the mojo. I’m stubbornly giving the Old Gods credit instead. For no reason that I can justify.)
The arrival of Sansa Stark to Castle Black added some awkwardness to the Onion Knight’s position, since Davos was willing to work on behalf of Jon Snow and Sansa Stark, but Sansa was being served by Brienne of Tarth, who had killed King Stannis in retaliation for Renly Baratheon’s death. Lets not forget that Renly was basically killed by Stannis, Melisandre, and Davos. (Hear me out: Davos rowed pregnant Melisandre to shore to get her close to Renly’s camp for the shadow assassin to do its job. He might not have been a knowing participant, but he does share some of the blame. Or at least Brienne might believe so if she was told of that situation.)
Davos, by virtue of being a grandfatherly dude who knew how to talk to young ladies with deference and respect, managed to facilitate getting the formidable Lady Lyanna Mormont on Jon and Sansa’s side. He was quick to get hands-on in mediating disputes between northmen and wildlings while Jon bivouacked in Stannis’ old encampment.
The location of the Stark camp delivered to Davos a revelation: he found the wooden stag he’d carved for Princess Shireen in the ashes of a bonfire, providing evidence that Stannis had sacrificed his daughter to Melisandre’s hungry fire god.
Davos put justice-for-Shireen on the back-burner (sorry for that phrasing) to focus on the battle at hand. Since Jon Snow was determined to kill all of the Boltons single-handedly.
Okay, that’s not really how it happened, but thankfully Davos was on hand to commit cavalry to rescuing their commander from being run down, and then to commit the reserve forces who otherwise would have just been standing about, or possibly routing demoralized.
Sadly, Littlefinger saved the day with his Vale cavalry. Yes, I said sadly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the Boltons and their allies were crushed, but I do so hate Littlefinger, and we have to suffer through his insufferable self-congratulatory now-you-owe-me-a-favor self.
With the dust settled and Ramsay’s hounds no longer starving, Davos brought the matter of Shireen’s murder to Jon for justice. Davos demanded Melisandre’s death, but reasonably accepted Jon’s verdict of exile for the red witch.
At the end of the season, Davos observed the nomination and affirmation of Jon Snow as the King in the North, and joined in with the calls of support for the White Wolf. Ser Davos was now in the service of a non-Baratheon king.
Davos has had a lot going on.
Political Takeaways from the Onion Knight
Okay, if you don’t want to read anything political, I understand. But it might be interesting reading, since I’m writing this section during the first week of October, well over a month before the post will see the light of day (I have to schedule these guys way in advance so I don’t fall behind.) At the time of this writing, I have no idea who won the US election, so I’m trying to write this post in a fairly neutral manner.
I have opinions on political participation and they’re fairly (in my biased opinion) unbiased when it comes to political parties per se. So this section might be of interest just in how bizarre you might find me and my delusions of the political process.
And also, this is really still going to be about Davos. Mostly. Sort of. Davos is great!
- Participate. Davos didn’t have to risk his life and smuggle in food to Storm’s End. But he did, therefore preventing a tremendous blow to the Baratheons. One guy made a huge difference. Takeaway: The least you can do is vote.
- Think beyond yourself and at least consider the greater good. Davos took a huge risk with little good necessarily for him personally. In fact, a well-fed Stannis might have hung Davos anyway for the smuggler’s past crimes. But he recognized the greater good of overturning the Targaryen Mad King’s tyranny. Takeaway: It might be tempting to go with the political candidate (or support a policy, or whatever) that personally provides short term benefits or doesn’t accrue short term negatives… but it’s important to think at least somewhat long term and consider what might be the greater good.
- Not every candidate is perfect. Accept that. Stannis had his negatives and Davos did not pretend otherwise. Davos was also not so quick to judge the other usurpers that Stannis was equally wroth about, hoping that some kind of greater alliance could be enacted against the greatest threat: the Lannister regime. Because of his rational assessment of Stannis, Davos was willing to challenge policies and actions that he thought were shady.
That’s a sharp contrast to Melisandre and Queen Selyse who (with varying agendas) were pushing the notion that Stannis was a divine savior. That’s how atrocities happen. Takeaway: Don’t be too quick to believe the best of your candidate, or the worst of your opponent. It’s unlikely that the political platform of your candidate will mesh 100% with your own views, so consider working to influence your policymaker after the election on what you’ll support, and what you won’t. This is true regardless if your candidate won or not. Every elected official owes the same amount of consideration and good governance to their constituents, regardless if a particular voter supported their candidacy or not. Anyone who says otherwise is welcome to debate me on this.
- Careful with that axe, Eugene. And that protest vote. Davos could not stand by and let Melisandre sacrifice Stannis’ bastard nephew Gendry, regardless if it would have provided some kind of miracle. (And if Shireen’s death vaguely conjured up milder weather, what would Gendry’s death have brought? An extra hour of sunlight maybe?)
Davos broke ranks and engaged in some civil disobedience, setting Gendry free so he wouldn’t be around to be sacrificed. We might consider this analogous to a protest vote. That was probably a good move. Davos wasn’t all that keen on Stannis marching south to take on the Boltons, and urged Stannis to return to the Wall for a better opportunity. A protest vote at that time might have been Davos secretly booby-trapping the food caches and siege weapons, in order to force Stannis back. Which would not have worked out, as we’ve seen. And yet that would clearly be treason. And in most circumstances, Stannis would need that food and siege weapons eventually. Look, this is complicated.Takeaway: In general, I’m not in favor of anyone telling anyone else not to vote for third party candidates, although this election seemed close enough with unprecedented high stakes that voting should be done seriously. I’m still not comfortable cautioning people against protest votes, but I do think that elections should have some kind of an optimal outcome, and other avenues of protest can be exercised. Anyway, I think Davos did the best he could.
- Complaining is fine, but offering solutions/acting is better. Following up on the protest vote, Davos was one of my favorite types of people, the ones that don’t uselessly complain. Davos didn’t like Melisandre’s involvement, so he lobbied with solutions or at least reasonable alternatives. Stannis didn’t need to use Melisandre to take King’s Landing because by all known measures, he had it in the bag. (Okay, we know that didn’t work out, but Davos was still reasonable, and really there’s no guarantee that Melisandre would have been able to help.) Davos offered Stannis the alternative course of action when Gendry’s blood was unavailable for sacrifice: to head north with troops after securing a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos, a deal Davos landed. Takeaway: It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. (Provided burning children aren’t part of the equation.) If no one is stopping you from participating in at least local government proceedings, then participate. If someone is stopping you, let someone else in authority or with influence know about that. Because that’s not acceptable.
- Participate, even if it looks like you’ll lose. Jon Snow possibly had a workable plan. His army wasn’t large enough to cause serious concern to the Boltons (in which case Ramsay would just stay in Winterfell and let the beseigers have their protest and freeze and starve) but they were close enough in size that if Jon’s men held position, they could draw the Bolton host in where their larger size wasn’t as much a factor. (Just read up on the endless discussions of the Battle of Cannae that sprung up after the big battle episode.)
Jon got overly excited though, and that plan was out of the window. Things looked dire, but Davos rescued Jon and committed the reserves. Which luckily worked out because the Vale knights were on the way. Had Jon died, or had his army routed, it would not have been good for the Stark cause. Takeaway: Okay, elections aren’t battles per se, and hopefully no one is going to die casting ballots, so forgive my stretching the metaphor. Historically (or maybe anecdotally, don’t trust me but I’m on a roll here), early polling results seem to have an influence on later voter turnout. People don’t like to lose, and if they believe the candidate they want to win is not doing well, some voters either don’t go out to vote because they don’t want to go to the trouble of voting and not winning. Or even worse, they’ll vote for the favored candidate whom they might be against politically, just so they can feel like a winner. Don’t be like that. Vote for the candidate that you want to win, regardless if they are going to. Accept going in that your candidate might lose. Regardless who you vote for, the candidate that wins still owes you good governance, but you should vote to express your will.
- Grudges are not as important as working towards a common purpose. Davos and Melisandre often were at odds when counseling Stannis, but they at least knew to set aside differences when necessary. I’ll even give Melisandre a point in her favor: after Gendry had been helped to escape by Davos, she backed Davos up on the need to assist the Night’s Watch. Davos opened himself up to the possibility that Melisandre might be able to bring Jon Snow back (but I will admit that Davos was quick to defuse her Prince Who Was Promised/Azor Ahai Reborn nonsense after Jon’s resurrection.) Davos pursued no grievance with kingslayer Brienne and seemingly held no grudge against her. Takeaway: Don’t get petty about things. Being an obstructionist, or supporting useless obstructionism is not effective. Good things happen when people set aside their weird biases and extreme ideals and compromise. There are very few examples where extreme viewpoints lead to anything except regret.
- Some stuff can’t be accepted, but be reasonable: Davos wasn’t willing to compromise with anything and everything. Finding the carving that he’d made for Shireen was going to eventually bring him into conflict with Melisandre, but there were more pressing matters to be handled first. Going to Jon before the battle and demanding Melisandre’s death wasn’t going to achieve anything good, and it wouldn’t bring Shireen back. After the battle, Davos did things above board: he’d didn’t ambush Melisandre or murder her.
He brought his case to Jon, and accepted Jon’s verdict. We don’t always get what we want. Takeaway: As I used to tell my daughter, you get what you get and you don’t have a fit. Government is complex and unwieldy, but often there’s a process in place to handle conflicts. Sometimes a matter will be settled well. Sometimes it will also be well settled. Rarely will it be both. Accept that. But keep at it.
I mentioned at the top of this post (it seems so long ago) that I was happy to write about Ser Davos, then followed it up with an Or Am I? statement. Obviously, I must be happy to write about him because this article is pretty massive (by my standards) but if I can be indulged for a few more paragraphs, I’d like to explain why I’m writing about Ser Davos, and how I might not have been required to if things have turned out differently.
See, it’s all Jon Snow’s fault.
Before the season started, I made a friendly bet with one of my Internet buddies, David Hart, of the Pop Culture Case Studies podcast. He’s a Game of Thrones fan (so am I! It’s true) and we’d had a discussion about Jon Snow and his eventual resurrection (look, everyone knew he was coming back, right?) and his eventual conflict resolution with his former steward Olly.
People who have read my blog in the past know that I have sympathetic sentiments towards the little miguided orphaned exploited child-soldier. David Hart, who has no humanity, wanted Olly pitched off of the Wall by Jon. Madness!
Anyway, I made a bet with David, saying that the Jon Snow I knew would find it in his heart to forgive Olly, because there’s a greater threat that vengeance wouldn’t serve. In Winter, we share our strengths and keep each other warm. Because Winter and the Others were coming. David said no way would Jon let Olly live.
We made a bet. If Jon forgave Olly, David would have to do a movie review podcast featuring Ashes of Time, one of my favorite (and very dense) Hong Kong movies. If Jon did not explicitly forgive Olly, I would have to write a blog post of David’s choosing.
In the third episode of the season, Jon Snow hung Olly. Maybe Jon had some regrets, but I couldn’t say that I had won the bet. Here’s what happened next:
Me: Okay, you win.
David: Yes I did.
Me: Let me know the topic, I’ll blog about it.
David: I want you to write something about Ser Davos.
Me: Sure, but what embarrassing, horrible thing are you going to make me write about?
David: I just want you to write something about Ser Davos.
Me: No In Defense of Ramsay Bolton?
Me: No long essay on why Littlefinger was so much better a person than Ned Stark?
David: No! Just write about Davos.
Me: I think I’m getting off pretty easy here.
David showed me much more leniency than my boy Jon Snow showed Olly. Dave’s a stand up guy. So, as far as I’m concerned, Ser Davos Seaworth and David Hart are cut from the exact same cloth.
Go check out his podcast. If only to hear his delightfully spunky wife Britt give him a well-deserved hard time.
Okay, I’ve written a ton about the Onion Knight, and I should probably stop. (Some of you might suggest that I shouldn’t have started.) I think this might be one of my longest posts about Game of Thrones. At least I know that one person (other than me) will read every word.
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.
If you want to talk politics, uh, okay. You should probably first read my post urging stupid people to vote, to get where I’m coming from.
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
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