As the title suggests, this post will be covering Game of Thrones, specifically the quality of the armed (in some cases, hired) help. If you’re not caught up with the sixth season, then be warned that I will be talking spoilery plot points that had sweeping political ramifications.
Usually, I’d say that the only problem with having guards on Game of Thrones is not having enought of them…
Baelish: Hey, come to my brothel, I have this thing to show you. And I’m not dealing you a double-entendre.
Ned: I don’t know what that is in any event, but I’ll come along. With three guys.
Jaime: I brought three guys too. Plus ten!
Baelish: Hey, the king wants to have a word with us.
Ned: Ugh, fine. I’d better bring all my men with me, just in case.
Guard: That’ll be me and Fred, m’lord.
But if Season Six taught us anything about Game of Thrones and guards, sometimes it’s not how many you have but how invested they are in your authority. The latest season had some pretty harsh moments for various nobility.
Dorne. Always Something Wrong Happening in Dorne
We can debate if there was more going on behind the scenes in Dorne in the fifth season, but it seemed clear that Prince Doran was well-served at that time by his fighting men. His guard captain Areo Hotah foiled two simultaneous attempts to abduct Princess Myrcella and snagged Ellaria Sand, the ring leader of the Dornish faction promoting war between the Martells and the Lannisters.
That was a completely different situation than in the opening episode of the sixth season, when Tyene Sand one-shotted Captain Hotah and Ellaria assassinated the prince in full view of his guards. The guards on hand weren’t incompetent, they clearly were expecting something like this and atypically were fine with their ruler and employer being murdered.
I’m not saying that this is a totally unbelievable situation. But it’s just so incredibly unlikely that it might as well be unbelievable.
Tyene and Ellaria struck when Doran received the message from Jaime that Myrcella was dead and the Lannister suspected treachery from Ellaria. No one knew that was coming, but Ellaria and Tyene had clearly planned for that situation. And had briefed the guards not to interfere.
That seems like a lot of secrecy. And these were men presumably carefully chosen by Captain Hotah to be the personal guards for the prince. You’d think that one of them would be loyal to their service.
“How could he know?” she asked the captain. “I was so careful. How could he know?”
“Someone told.” Hotah shrugged. “Someone always tells.”
– Arianne chapter, A Feast for Crows
Alternatively, if they weren’t all motivated by selfless service, you’d think that at least one would recognize the giant reward that they would receive for bringing the details of the plot to Hotah.
I’ll accept that the events on the show happened, sure.
But it makes Areo Hotah look incompetent in his role as guard captain (as well as ineffective in combat by being dropped so easily by Tyene. Adding insult to injury, stuff like that.)
Look, it’s Dorne. We’re used to oddball behavior from the Dornish. They’re all crazy. We wouldn’t see unreasonable behavior happening from, oh, guys in the Vale, for example.
Or would we?
A Poor Choice in Guards, Royce.
Season Six of Game of Thrones returned to the Vale of Arryn, to show the feeble progress that Bronze Yohn Royce, one of the mighty lords of the Vale, had made with training Lord Robin Arryn in the martial arts.
Petyr Baelish also returned to the Vale, fresh after marrying Sansa off to Ramsay Bolton, and surveying and responding to the damage being caused by the Faith Militant in King’s Landing. He was quick to present his son-in-law, Robin with a gift. Lord Royce was not as happy to see the return of Littlefinger.
Royce: What’s all this then? The last time I saw you, you were bound for the Fingers with Lady Sansa. Suddenly we hear that she’s married to the Boltons? A tad irregular.
Baelish: Methinks thou doth protest too much, Yohnson. Robin my handsome lad, I think Lord Royce is a creep! What do you say?
Robin: Let’s throw him out the Moon Door!
Baelish’s retinue put their hands on their swords, ready to enforce Lord Arryn’s sage proclamation. As well, Lord Royce’s men readied their weapons, but apparently in support of Baelish and not for the defense of their lord. Lord Royce, cowed, backed off. He agreed to do whatever Littlefinger wanted, because Littlefinger is clearly a sorcerer or something. Since that’s the only way that the scene makes sense.
I understand the loyalty of Baelish’s men. They’re paid well. But they’re on Royce land. Presumably, the men Royce had attending him were not some random guys that Baelish had left behind. Royce would have had his own men on hand.
And the Royce soldiers would well know about Robin and his tendencies.
Serving Girl: Here is your soup, m’lord.
Robin Arryn: This gazpacho is cold! Throw her out the Moon Door!
Lord Royce: No, we’re not doing that.
Nearby Guard Who is Serving Girl’s Brother: Whew! Thank goodness for Lord Royce!
Guard: *standing around*
Robin Arryn: That guard is ugly! I want to make him fly out of the Moon Door!
Lord Royce: No, we’re not doing that.
Old Woman: M’lord, it is time for bed. You’ll be wanting your rest for thumb-wrestling tomorrow.
Robin Arryn: A witch! THROW HER OUT THE MOON DOOR!
Lord Royce: No, we’re not doing that.
Nearby Guard Who is Old Woman’s Son: Whew!
So, a more reasonable playing out of the scene would have been this…
Robin Arryn: Let’s throw Lord Royce out of the Moon Door.
Baelish’s Men-at-Arms: *ready swords*
All the Other Guards: No, we’re not doing that.
Lord Royce: Squire, blow that handy horn you have and summon the garrison. Lord Robin is tired, and will need to be escorted to his room.
Robin Arryn: Again? This happens every day!
Squire: *blows horn, summoning an overwhelming number of Royce retainers*
It’s quite possible that someone might end up being tossed out of the Moon Door, though.
Okay, I’ll accept that this entire scene was played for expediency. Baelish needed to get the Knights of the Vale out of the Vale and up into the North, so the show needed to cut some corners and hand waved away Littlefinger’s shenanigans. It just bummed me out, since it made Lord Royce either incompetent in the quality of men he was choosing to attend him, or so politically weak that he could be bullied by the ridiculous Robin Arryn, who was otherwise under his direct control.
Yes, yes, I know Baelish was Lord Protector of the Vale, but even he would tell you that it was the money he paid his men that mattered. They weren’t serving him because of his title, so we can’t use that as an excuse to justify Royce’s men falling in line. Baelish just wouldn’t have the kind of clout to back up the advantage that’s shown.
So were there more instances from the sixth season where guards behaved in a less-than-respectful manner? Let’s take a look at some insubordinate men-at-arms in the next region over: the Riverlands.
The Fall of Riverrun
Just as the show briefly returned to Lord Royce’s ancestral home in Season Six, the narrative brought Jaime Lannister and an army to the ravaged Riverlands to assist the Freys in their siege on the Tully stronghold of Riverrun.
Catelyn Stark’s uncle, Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully had refused to yield up the castle to the Freys, who had been granted its stewardship with the collapse of the combined North/Riverland forces at the infamous Red Wedding.
The Freys had tried to extort the Blackfish into surrendering by threatening to hang Edmure Tully, his nephew and the rightful lord of Riverrun. The Blackfish was not moved.
Jaime Lannister tried to reason with the stubborn Tully, and Brienne of Tarth tried to convince him to yield Riverrun and head to the the North to assist Sansa Stark. But the Blackfish was only interested in forcing an assault on Riverrun.
Then Jaime did something unexpected: he freed Edmure Tully. Ed stumbled up to Riverrun and demanded entry.
His uncle, Brynden the Blackfish, did not want Edmure to enter the castle, tried to order his retainers not to let him in. He correctly assessed that Edmure was playing by Jaime Lannister’s playbook in regards to Riverrun.
The guards defied the Blackfish’s orders and let Edmure into Riverrun. As Blackfish feared, Edmure yielded the fortress to the Lannisters. Those crazy guards! What the hell!
Actually, that’s totally legit. Those guys were solidly in the right.
Their job, as loyal Tully fighting men, was to serve the Lord of Riverrun. They were following the Blackfish’s orders, certainly, because Lord Edmure was not on the scene giving them any other directives. Defending Riverrun from Freys and Lannisters is a worthwhile deal. That all makes sense.
But it was still Edmure’s property to defend or yield, ultimately.
If the Tully men in Riverrun had backed the Blackfish’s order and refused their lord, no longer held by the Lannisters, right outside demanding entry, then they would have been behaving as badly as Prince Doran’s men opting to side with Ellaria or Lord Royce’s men siding with Lord Baelish.
The scene had a certain medieval authenticity that is lacking in the Dornish example and in the Vale. And in some ways, it puts a positive spin on Lord Edmure, a character who is mostly not well regarded on the show. Edmure made a deal with Jaime Lannister. Once in Riverrun, he could have broken his word. But he didn’t.
The Tully words are “Family, Duty, Honor.” Jaime Lannister capitalized on that when he freed Edmure in the same manner that Catelyn freed Jaime, charging him on his honor to do something that was not necessarily in the Lannister interest. The Freys had control of Edmure’s son by Roslin Frey. Even though Edmure had never met the child, the boy was his son and heir. Jaime’s threat to trebuchet the child over the walls was a serious one. We all know Jaime isn’t above the occasional murder of children. (Or at least attempted murder.)
It was a tough thing for Edmure to agree to yield Riverrun to the Lannisters, but it was the honorable move. Especially after deriding Jaime for his oathbreaking.
It was probably a difficult thing for the Tully men to agree to yield the castle, but it was honorable of them to do so. It might not have been what the Blackfish wanted, it might not have been what the audience wanted (since sieges are deadly dull but the actual assaults can be pretty exciting) but it was the correct resolution for the situation.
(And it mirrored how things when down in the books, unlike the invented scenes in Dorne and the Vale. Boom. Arguments to the contrary are invalid.)
So, should you happen to find yourself in a position of power in Westeros… be careful of the men guarding your back. Your back is something you definitely don’t want them stabbing.
(Or your stomach. That’s pretty bad too. It’s too bad you have to arm those guys at all.)
(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.)
I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there.
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