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Ask the Maester: Sex Pirates, Trial by Combat, and Easily Discouraged Sisters

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Charlie asks, “I am pumped for this trial by combat twist and all the associated possibilities. One question: wouldn’t every Westeros trial eventually devolve into trial by combat — the courtroom equivalent of a 60-yard Hail Mary — once you knew you were screwed? Why wouldn’t everyone play that card?”

The answer is, they all do I want to see them play the seven on seven card:

Well, every trial we’ve seen has come down to combat, so it seems as if everyone does play it. Narratively speaking, I guess it’s like Chekhov’s sword; if you introduce the concept of trial by combat, then, if there’s going to be a trial, we better see dudes fighting with swords by the third act. That said, the Westerosi justice system isn’t all-inclusive or even remotely consistent. Highborns can demand a trial from those of a similar social station, for instance, and once granted, they can then demand a trial by combat. It’s unclear if knights can demand a trial, but once put on trial, they, too, can demand trial by combat. Now, if the defendant is, say, Mycah the butcher’s boy, well, feel free to have the Hound ride him down and then let’s all have dinner.

In the books, when Tyrion demands a trial from batty Lysa Arryn, he does so after calculating that being Tywin’s son and the queen’s brother means that Lady Lysa can’t just chuck him through the Moon Door without due process. That gamble paid off, but it’s by no means a sure thing in every situation, as the defendant, from noble house or not, is still at the mercy of the whims of whichever lord or lady is holding them, and, like, that person could be crazy. Ned’s father, Rickard Stark, demanded trial by combat from the Mad King, who responded by having Lord Rickard roasted alive in his own armor over a pit of wildfire™, Iron Chef–style, in front of his son, Ned’s brother, Brandon. So, win some, lose some. I imagine that if Theon of House Greyjoy demanded a trial from Roose Bolton the response would be something like “Hahaha,” and then they’d cut off one of his ass cheeks. Beric Dondarrion (a knight and a lord) and the Brotherhood Without Banners put Sandor Clegane (not a knight, but from a family of knights) on trial, but Beric & Bros. are also a weird religious cult with an infinite lives cheat code that’s not at all representative of normal Westerosi jurisprudence. Pretty easy to pass a sentence of trial by combat for a guy who views death as a voluntary state of not being alive for 30 seconds. Which is all a long-winded way of saying, pretty much every trial does devolve into a trial by combat, but trials themselves are pretty rare.*

(*Speaking of rare, the prequel books also describe a variation of trial by combat called a “trial of seven,” which is basically a seven-on-seven battle royale. This form of ancient and super-seldom-invoked trial by combat was brought over by the Andals and is related to another Andal invention, the Faith of the Seven, which is now the mainstream religion of Westeros. One catch: The accused must have six friends willing to get maimed.)

Daniel asks, “Who can call on champions? Can everyone? Or is it only women, children, and the physically impaired?”

Anyone who can call for a trial by combat can, in theory, call for a champion to fight for them. Thing is, calling on a champion requires that another person actually agree to fight for the defendant and be able to do so immediately. When Tyrion was on trial at the Vale, he called for his brother Jaime to stand as his champion. A smart choice, and a two-handed Jaime surely would’ve been down for whatever, problem being he was nowhere close to the Vale, and Lysa Arryn wasn’t about to wait for him to get there. If Bronn hadn’t spoken up at the last minute, Tyrion would now be a greasy stain on the mountainside. In Tyrion’s case, there’s also the question of the skewed power dynamic between the accuser, basically the Kingdom of Westeros, and the accused. Any number of champions might be willing to take a chance at impressing King Tommen or Tywin or Cersei; from stable boys and squires to knights and lords. Besides Jaime, who would you expect to stand for the hated Imp, whom the gods obviously saw fit to curse by his very birth, and who probably killed the King? Say Tyrion’s champion wins. Yay. Tywin is still Hand, Cersei is still Queen Regent, and they can make life very hard for whomever they wish. Stand as champion for the Kingdom and you might get a castle out of it. Stand as Tyrion’s champion and, best case, you’re probably going to have to flee to Essos.

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