Rags to Riches; How to Make it Big In Westeros

Introduction

N93EaCJImage taken from Game of Thrones

Greetings readers, I know that it has been a while since I’ve published on the blog but hopefully this essay, and the ones to follow, are the end of my writer’s block. This essay is the first in a brand new series that I’ve been working on for a little while and is something that I’m very excited to share with you all. It’s not as dense, extensive, or as layered as our Three Heads of the Dragon series but I hope it will be a fun read regardless.

The series, titled “Rags to Riches; How to Make it Big In Westeros”, will examine characters who have proven to be especially socially mobile in the rather rigid feudal system of Westeros. The series will explore the dynamics of social mobility within Westeros, the themes of Lord Varys’ famous riddle, and how the traditional power structures of Westeros are being unravelled in the face of rising socioeconomic changes.

My first entry in this series will cover fan favourite, Bronn.

Origins

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

Before jumping into Bronn’s escapades within the Westerosi political system we must first ask ourselves, who is Bronn and where did he come from?

Now, in this series where almost every character has at least one or two theorised secret identities or origins, we must naturally assume the same for Bronn. We know little of Bronn, and this leaves a lot more room for theorising about his potential origins. However, due to the lack of stated information about Bronn, we must glean information from his overall character.

Besides having a dark sense of humor and a brutally pragmatic approach to life, Bronn is a skilled warrior as displayed by his killings of Ser Vardis Egan, Ser Balman Byrch, and several sellswords he was auditioning for Tyrion’s uses during A Clash of Kings.

There are thousands of skilled warriors in Westeros so Bronn isn’t unique in that regard. Many have posited that Bronn could be a former wildling that ascended the Wall and decided to settle in Westeros as a sellsword. This is not an unrealistic scenario but there are certain holes in it. For instance, there’s  no recorded instances when a wildling raider has settled in Westeros after climbing the Wall, at least up until A Dance With Dragons and in the case of Gilly and her child. Raiders are far more likely to climb the Wall, steal women, arms, and valuables, and then retreat back across the Wall. Additionally, while the North is certainly a lot more “wild” in comparison to the other Seven Kingdoms, I don’t think that they are so wild that a wildling raider would be able to blend into Northern society seamlessly without issue. You may point out that the North also has the Mountain Clans and that they are also a lot more wild than the usual northern population. While this is true, the Northern Mountain Clans are also a lot more of a tight knit community who could instantly recognise an outsider like Bronn if he stepped into their midst. Ultimately, the idea of Bronn being a former wildling is a bit improbable.

Others have posited that Bronn could be a deserter from the Night’s Watch. Again, this is not an unrealistic scenario but there are also a few holes in this theory too. First of all, deserters from the Night’s Watch are unlikely to ever make it out of the North with their heads. The Starks, and presumably other Northern houses, run a tight ship and are ruthless in their execution of deserters. Plus, if Bronn is a deserter, chances are that the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch would send ravens to the northern houses about a deserter, something that would vastly diminish any chances of escaping the North alive. Although, Bronn could have faked his death on a mission beyond the Wall and deserted from there thus negating any kill order on him. However, the training received at Castle Black might explain Bronn’s martial skill but given who the masters-of-arms are in the Night’s Watch, it’s unlikely that they trained Bronn to fight the way that he does currently. Master-of-Arms’ tend to be knights and aren’t trained to fight the way that Bronn does so that puts another issue in the theory. The idea of Bronn being a Night’s Watch deserter is also improbable but not as improbable as him being a former wildling.

There remains another possibility too. Bronn is exactly who he says he was, a skilled if amoral sellsword. This would explain his nature: sellswords aren’t exactly renowned for their chivalry and honour, as well as his fighting style. Sellswords are not an uncommon thing in Westeros either, although, unlike their Essosi counterparts, they don’t tend to make large groupings. This makes sense given that Essos is almost constantly at war in one way or another and Westeros is a lot more stable so having large groups of sellswords running around Westeros wouldn’t make a whole lot of fiscal sense. Given Bronn’s reputation and skill I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if he is a veteran of the Greyjoy Rebellion.

Bronn’s Love Language – Acts of Service

When we first meet Bronn he is staying at The Inn At The Crossroads with his colleague Chiggen when Catelyn Tully arrests Tyrion Lannister for his alleged part in the crippling of her son, Brandon Stark.

Despite her being backed up by men of houses sworn to House Tully, both Bronn and Chiggen join Catelyn on her trip to the Vale, clearly eager for the patronage of a woman connected to not one but three major houses in Westeros. Despite the risk and well known infamy of Tyrion’s father, Tywin, both Bronn and Chiggen are undeterred in aiding the woman who had just taken his youngest son prisoner, showing that they are either quite desperate for the work or just don’t care about any threat posed by Tywin Lannister. I’d imagine it was a measure of both given that sellswords weren’t really in high demand at this time and Bronn has routinely displayed a lack of disregard for his own safety when there is a profit to be made.

Bronn and Chiggen follow Catelyn and even engage in a brief skirmish with the Mountain Clans of the Vale, a battle in which Chiggen is wounded and later euthanised by Bronn. Given Bronn’s personality, I imagine there were a few reasons as to why he killed Chiggen; a wounded man is a useless man. More importantly to Bronn, there was more profit for Bronn if his partner was dead, or he always planned to kill Chiggen at one point in order to achieve the greatest profit from Catelyn or even Lysa. Again, I imagine it was a mix of all three.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

“She had seen Bronn fight on the high road; it was no accident that he had survived the journey while other men had died. He moved like a panther, and that ugly sword of his seemed a part of his arm.”

When Catelyn’s party reached the Eyrie, Bronn once more displays his talent for sniffing out potential profit when he stands for Tyrion at his trial by combat. His contract with Catelyn ended so it makes sense that he would support the son of famed gold shitter, Tywin Lannister, despite being partially responsible for Tyrion’s capture in the first place. Plus, it’s also clever in a different way too. Chances are Bronn was aware of exactly who Tywin Lannister is and later sought to aid his son in order to ensure his own survival. Besides, if Bronn dies then Tywin can’t get him anyway; if Bronn wins then he’s served House Lannister, guaranteed his own protection from reprisal, and found a rich, new employer.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

Despite being a hardened and opportunistic killer, Bronn is quite savvy at reading potential business situations. Although, it does demonstrate that Bronn’s entire business mind is based upon taking advantage of desperate rich people. Catelyn needed soldiers to get her safely to the Eyrie and Tyrion needed a champion for his trial by combat. I do wonder how Bronn survived, both literally and financially, before the series began given that there aren’t exactly an abundance desperate rich people running around Westeros prior to A Game of Thrones. Regardless, Bronn got incredibly lucky with his choice of patrons when he did.   

Back the Eyrie, Bronn was proving that he had an eye for prospective and rewarding employment. Bronn quickly found himself in the service of Tyrion Lannister just mere days after his contract with Catelyn ended. Bronn once again puts himself in harm’s way for the sweet taste of silver, or in this case, legendary Lannister gold. The two even manage to survive what was effectively a death sentence when they are told to leave the Vale via the dangerous high road. He also further displays his talent for survival during their journey to the Riverlands when he tells Tyrion that they should travel at night, avoid the road, and make no noise or fires.

After a minor and almost deadly encounter with the Vale clansmen, the two, along with many new “friends” from the clansmen, eventually make it to the Riverlands and Tywin Lannister’s army.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

The two ultimately survive the Battle of the Green Fork despite fighting in the vanguard, the most dangerous position in an army formation. Bronn even makes mention of staying behind the tall man, Gregor Clegane, so that he can draw the archer fire away from the other troops.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

When Tyrion is named Hand of the King, Bronn also accompanies the dwarf to King’s Landing and serves as, well essentially Tyrion’s top henchman, bodyguard, and the captain of Tyrion’s guards.

He displays his survival and fighting skills as he survives the riots in the city, holding deadly auditions for sellswords to come into Tyrion’s service, and later in the Battle of the Blackwater, when he is given the command of Tyrion’s chain, a battle fortification used to trap Stannis Baratheon’s ships in order to destroy them using wildfire. For his efforts during the battle, Bronn is knighted and becomes Ser Bronn of the Blackwater.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

As part of his service to a blackmailed Tyrion, Bronn murders the singer Symon Silver Tongue and has his body disposed of by feeding his remains to the poor people of Flea Bottom, showing that Bronn’s morality is largely dictated by how much money he can gain from a situation.

However, after his patron is arrested and tried for the murder of Joffrey Baratheon, Bronn leaves Tyrion’s service when he refuses to stand as the dwarf’s champion against Ser Gregor Clegane. Bronn was entirely aware of how a smaller man such as himself would fare against a monstrous giant like Gregor. He’s a pragmatic risk taker but he won’t take on suicidal challenges against more deadly opponents when there are better offers on the table. Instead, Bronn opts to throw his lot in with Cersei, taking an offer to wed into House Stokeworth. Despite how much he may have come to like and enjoy Tyrion’s company, Bronn was not so loyal as to put himself against a virtual death sentence for Tyrion.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

Although, to be fair to Bronn, he did tell this to Tyrion.

“I sell my sword, I don’t give it away.”

From then on, Bronn becomes self-employed after taking Cersei’s offer. However, despite retiring from the employment of being a sellsword and bodyguard, Bronn still indulges in violent and thrill seeking behaviour as he risks naming his new “son” with Lollys Stokeworth, Tyrion, recruits several knights, and eventually kills Ser Balman Byrch in single combat.

It does seem that Bronn does have an affinity for danger and violence, which is no surprise considering his profession and lifestyle. He seems to like danger and risk to the extent that he might be killed but won’t go so far as to act stupidly suicidal.

“Bronn was no knight, that was true. Bronn was a battle-hardened killer.”

In A Mirror, Darkly

While he have briefly touched on it during the discussion of his history, we haven’t really gone in depth on how Bronn’s morality and character play into the themes and motifs of the series as a whole. Much like Ser Gerold Dayne, or Darkstar, is an inverse of Ser Arthur Dayne, Bronn is also an inverse of many characters and their respective positions within the series. Bronn is the morally dubious and roguish counterpart of the sworn sword.

Similarly to the likes of Areo Hotah and Brienne of Tarth, Bronn acts as the personal enforcer, bodyguard, and henchman of his employers. However, unlike with them, obedience and honour do not play into it. Instead, only payment does.

“And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table. And I pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonor, by the Old Gods and the new.”

“Serve, Obey, Protect.”

“It is for my prince to command, for Hotah to obey.

“Tell me, Bronn. If I told you to kill a babe . . . an infant girl, say, still at her mother’s breast . . . would you do it? Without question?”

“Without question? No.” The sellsword rubbed thumb and forefinger together. “I’d ask how much.”

Unlike with Jaime in A Feast For Crows, I don’t doubt Bronn would kill Edmure and Roslin’s child for the right price.

While traditional sworn swords are drawn to the position for the glory, title, position, and honour, as well as the payment, the same does not hold true for Bronn. The associations with being a sworn sword are just a happy byproduct for Bronn as his true loves are riches, danger, power, and violence. The sworn sword position provides all of these and more, especially in times of conflict.

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”

Despite never being present to hear Varys’ riddle, it seems as though Bronn has still discovered his true power, power over life and death. The sellsword, in this case, Bronn, will always follow the gold or personal enrichment no matter what actions are required to do so.

Bronn will kill, threaten, kidnap, betray, murder, and incite cannibalism to acquire his desired reward, and then, when his patron is no longer in a position to reward him, he will move on to his next patron and the cycle will continue on and on until he dies.

Bronn has, either knowingly or unknowingly, discovered a profound truth about upward social mobility for the majority of commoners in Westeros – success requires you to make a killing, and to be good at doing it, a lot.

“Is it your fault that Bronn’s an insolent black-hearted rogue? He’s always been an insolent black-hearted rogue. That’s what I liked about him.”

Future Perfect

As of his last mentioning in the series, Bronn now serves as the Lord Protector of Stokeworth for his lady wife Lollys Stokeworth.

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

In the context of the War of the Five Kings, Stokeworth are incredibly important to the stability of King’s Landing. These lands actually supplied King’s Landing with half of its food supplies during A Clash of Kings. Naturally, after the Tyrells and Lannister allied, the supplies provided from Stokeworth naturally tapered off.

However, right now, Tyrell lands are being ravaged by the forces of Euron Greyoy so the supply lines to King’s Landing are under threat. These supplies are further threatened by the current battles poised to take place across much of the south. As of The Winds of Winter, a Tyrell army is bearing down on Storm’s End, another is moving into the Reach against the Greyjoys, and Loras Tyrell has moved on Dragonstone, and if there is one thing that an army swallows more than gold, it’s food supplies. Food supplies intended for King’s Landing are naturally going to be diverted to support the Tyrell war machine which leaves King’s Landing once again dependent on the food supplies from Stokeworth, of which Bronn is now in charge of. Bronn now has the ability to hold King’s Landing to ransom.   

There are now several paths open to Ser Bronn of the Blackwater that brings us back to Lord Varys’ riddle.

Will Bronn follow the gold and support the Lannisters/Tyrells, will he support the Faith Militant, or will he support a silver haired boy who proclaims himself as the lawful ruler of Westeros as the Lannister/Tyrell star falls? Or will Bronn completely disregard the riddle in its entirety and will an old friendship with small man cast a great shadow on his future?

Conclusion

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Image taken from Game of Thrones

Bronn’s story and character serve as a microcosm of the series, its history, and its future. Some will kill their way to the top and amass such power until your primary weapon becomes politics and others will always follow the gold until they control the source of it.

In a way, Bronn represents the truth that is really at the heart of feudalism after you peel back all of the layers about blood right, succession, and being divinely ordained. Ultimately, the social and political structure of Westeros is the way it is because the lucky people killed the unlucky people and, in the ensuing vacuum, claimed that this killing gave them specific rights to lands and marriages as well as the right to taxation, homage, fealty, loyalty, and obedience from their subjects. Bronn is what feudalism really is, killers killing their way to the top.

Finally, Bronn represents different methods available to the lower classes to achieve upward social mobility. Petyr Baelish chose fraud, manipulation, and deceit, Davos Seaworth chose honesty, loyalty, and service, and Bronn has chosen violence, amorality, and ruthlessness. All three represent the pathways to riches, position, and power for the lower classes, each with their own risks and rewards.

To paraphrase /u/Mutant_Dragon:

“Lord Varys once asked Tyrion Lannister if a king, priest, or a rich man should win, and only now do I know the answer. Bronn wins.”

8 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Meta, ASOIAF Political Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation

8 responses to “Rags to Riches; How to Make it Big In Westeros

  1. MCH

    Excellent essay on Bronn who initially seems a lovable rogue, but that partly Jerome Flynn, I’ve seem him before and he was good then. But in G of T he defiently is not, he smart and works out what is best for him, he is is ruthless killer, he is well aware that in Westrose it’s kill or be killed.
    Most of the noble house of Westrose where started by men like Bronn. Would he work for Tyrion again certainly, if the price was right he would.

  2. Grant

    Setting aside some scenes from the show (good though they are), Bronn definitely has experience in different conflicts. His conversations with Tyrion and activities for him show that he has a good understanding of sellsword mentality and in working to buy people over from the other side, something you probably wouldn’t learn above the Wall or in the Night’s Watch.

    Maybe he formerly served as a guard for some lord after a war in Essos. Or maybe he had to get away from the cities pretty fast for some reason and headed over to Westeros. Personally I prefer it that we don’t learn the whole truth about him, it’s more interesting to see the outline than the entire picture.

  3. AL

    I’ve always liked the interpretation that Bronn is exactly as he says he is. He is a character that does not in any way benefit from some secret past or heritage. The most interesting analysis of Bronn is what you’ve said, that he’s an opportunistic sell sword who played his cards well enough to now be able to treat with the most powerful people in Westeros.

  4. Mike Target

    Given that Martin admitted to not giving much thought to the character at all (he was basically Random Mercenary #342 randomly selected to do the duel at the Vale, he doesn’t have a well thought out background), it’s reasonable to assume that Bronn is exactly what he says he is.

  5. What about Bronn being Varys’ man? Especially Shae is very suspicious, and he introduced her to Tyrion. With both of them Varys had spied on Tyrion’s work and private life. Shae finally is the reason why Tyrion kills Tywin, wich creates the chaos Varys needs for Aegon’s conquest. Since Bronn is in charge of King’s Landing’s food supply, he could let them run out of food before Aegon starts his siege.

    • Grant

      I don’t remember anything suggesting Shae was an agent of Varys. It’s been suggested that Cersei’s BFF/bisexual experiment partner Taena is one, but I’ve never heard Shae before. Unfortunately it’s got some problems that would make it pretty improbable.

      For Bronn, there are three problems.

      Varys couldn’t have predicted that Tyrion would arrive at that inn at that time, or meet Catelyn, and without that, Bronn would be suspiciously skulking around an inn for who knows how long, not doing any of the things sell swords should do and getting noticed.
      The second problem is that Varys couldn’t have guessed that Tyrion would ever take Bronn into his employment since he wouldn’t have needed the man. Much like their meeting, their work relationship could only happen because of Catelyn’s presence and choices.
      The third is that Varys couldn’t have known that Bronn would be able to marry Lollys because it was her rape during the riot and following mental troubles that made that marriage possible (in a horribly cruel sense, her marriage value was “lowered”). Varys knew the riot would happen, but it would be impossible to know who would be hurt by it. Even if Bronn had been made a knight, he’d still be a pretty low class knight that normally couldn’t hope to reach that high.

      For Shae, there’s just one problem but it is pretty big.

      Varys definitely couldn’t have predicted that Shae and Tyrion would ever meet. With Bronn, at least he was at a good inn on the main road to King’s Landing. Maybe he’d run into Tyrion. With Shae, she was with Tywin’s army while it was on campaign. Varys couldn’t have known where Tyrion and Bronn were at that time, where Tywin would move his soldiers in response to what or if Tyrion would ever even make contact with Tywin.

      Plus if Shae were an agent of Varys and he really wanted her attached to Tyrion, it’d make more sense for him to put her in King’s Landing. If Tyrion was alive, sooner or later he’d show up there and she could seduce him.

  6. Ray

    Where has the Ravenry gone? I love your other work but the reading the Ravenry gets me through my work week!

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