Blood of the Conqueror, Bonus Essay: The Turncloak

Editor’s Note: This was originally going to be one of the featured essays from the series, but I ended up scrapping the idea as the series grew from a 5-part series to a 12-part series. However, after finishing a first draft of my own manuscript for my own book, I thought I might now publish this essay as a bonus to the main series. I hope you enjoy! 

Introduction

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Artwork by Romik Safarian

“So I am a coin in the hands of some god, is that what you are saying, ser?”

“No,” Ser Barristan replied. “You are the trueborn heir of Westeros. To the end of my days I shall remain your faithful knight, should you find me worthy to bear a sword again. If not, I am content to serve Strong Belwas as his squire.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Of all the knights of Westeros, none seem quite so true as Barristan the Bold. From figures as far apart as Stannis and Renly Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Ned Stark, Daenerys Targaryen,  Tyrion Lannister and even Varys the Spider, Selmy’s reputation as a true knight shines bright. More than that, Barristan’s renown and honor lends significant political advantage to whatever king he serves.

However, does Barristan’s reputation gel with the reality? More importantly, does Barristan’s past actions provide a pathway for how his story will play out in The Winds of Winter and beyond? In this essay, I’d like to tackle these issues in the context of what I see as Barristan’s coming Winds of Winter arc.

Though many fans believe that Barristan will die during the Battle of Fire, I think that GRRM has something much more narratively fulfilling in mind for Barristan than a death on Meereenese battlefield: namely, a massive conflict over his loyalties spurred forward by his guilt over his service to a bad king, his nostalgia for a “good” Targaryen prince and the changing character dynamics of the queen he serves and a boy binding up the wounds of bleeding Westeros.

The Legend of Barristan Selmy

Art by Jose Daniel Cabrera Pena

Ser Barristan of House Selmy. Firstborn son of Ser Lyonel Selmy of Harvest Hall. Served as squire to Ser Manfred Swann. Named “the Bold” in his 10th year, when he donned borrowed armor to appear as a mystery knight in the tourney of Blackhaven, where he was defeated and unmasked by Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies. Knighted in his 16th year by King Aegon V Targaryen, after performing great feats of prowess as a mystery knight in the winter tourney at King’s Landing, defeating Prince Duncan the small and Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Slew Maelys the Monstrous, last of the Blackfyre Pretenders, in single combat during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Defeated Lormelle Long Lance and Cedrik Storm, the Bastard of Bronzegate. Named to the Kingsguard in his 23rd year, by Lord Commander Ser Gerold Hightower. Defended the passage against all challengers in the tourney of the Silver Bridge. Victor in the mêlée at Maidenpool. Brought King Aerys II to safety during the Defiance of Duskendale despite an arrow wound in the chest. Avenged the murder of his Sworn Brother, Ser Gwayne Gaunt. Rescued Lady Jeyne Swann and her septa from the Kingswood Brotherhood, defeating Simon Toyne and the Smiling Knight, slaying the former. In the Oldtown tourney, defeated and unmasked the mystery knight, Blackshield revealing him to be the Bastard of Uplands. Sole champion of Lord Steffon’s tourney at Storm’s End, whereat he unhorsed Lord Robert Baratheon, Prince Oberyn Martell, Lord Leyton Hightower, Lord Jon Connington, Lord Jason Mallister, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Wounded by arrow, spear, and sword at the Battle of the Trident whilst fighting beside his Sworn Brothers and Rhaegar Prince of Dragonstone. Pardoned, and named Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, by King Robert I Baratheon. Served in the honor guard that brought Lady Cersei of House Lannister to King’s Landing to wed King Robert. Led the attack on Old Wyk during Balon Greyjoy’s Rebellion. Champion of the tourney at King’s Landing, in his 57th year. Dismissed by King Joffrey I Baratheon in his 61st year, for reasons of advanced age. (ASOS, Jaime VIII)

Ser Barristan Selmy has a long and storied history as a squire, knight and kingsguard. Born in 236/237 to a noble Stormlands house along the Dornish Marches, Barristan was likely inculcated into a martial culture that valued service and obedience to authority from a young age. Barristan became a squire at an early age and entered the history books when he entered a tourney at Blackhaven as a mystery knight at the tender age of ten. Unhorsed by Prince Duncan Targaryen during the tilt, the Targaryen Prince gave Barristan the enduring sobriquet of “the bold” for his bravery on the tourney field.

Six years later, Barristan Selmy earned his knighthood when he unhorsed Prince Duncan Targaryen as well as Lord Commander Duncan the Tall at the winter tourney at King’s Landing. Knighted by King Aegon V Targaryen himself, Barristan further distinguished himself a few years later when Maelys Blackfyre, the Golden Company and a band of merchants, pirates and sellswords known as the Band of Nine landed in the Stepstones and threatened Westeros with invasion. In the ensuing War of the Ninepenny Kings, Barristan Selmy distinguished himself by ending the rebellion when he cut through dozens of men and then killed Maelys Blackfyre in single combat.

Thereafter, Barristan the Bold was presented with a white cloak when a vacancy opened in the kingsguard. His tenure as a kingsguard knight looked to be a promising one. However, events would unfold in a way that saw Barristan face escalating conflict and ambiguity over his vows and loyalties.

In Service to a Bad King: Barristan’s Guilt Over Aerys

duskendale

Artwork by Michael Komarck

Barristan Selmy had known many kings. He had been born during the troubled reign of Aegon the Unlikely, beloved by the common folk, had received his knighthood at his hands. Aegon’s son Jaehaerys had bestowed the white cloak on him when he was three-and-twenty, after he slew Maelys the Monstrous during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. In that same cloak he had stood beside the Iron Throne as madness consumed Jaehaerys’s son Aerys. Stood, and saw, and heard, and yet did nothing. (ADWD, The Queensguard)

Barristan’s service in the kingsguard began under the reign of the capable yet sickly Jaehaerys II Targaryen. When Jaehaerys died of sickness shortly after naming Barristan to the white cloak, his son, Aerys II Targaryen, ascended to the Iron Throne. Aerys was a much different ruler than Jaehaerys. Though Aerys’ reign began with some promise, the king proved much less grounded of a leader than his father. More worrisome, Aerys mental health was an issue even from a young age. As time progressed, Aerys’ grasp on his sanity weakened.

As a kingsguard knight, Barristan was witness to the entirety of Aerys II Targaryen’s rule. He was also an eyewitness to the decline of Aerys’ sanity over the years and the impacts this had on both state policy and the personal lives of the royal family. Years later, Barristan guiltily reminisced over what he had seen in Aerys’ court:

Ser Barristan wondered if he had not done that duty too well. He had sworn his vows before the eyes of gods and men, he could not in honor go against them … but the keeping of those vows had grown hard in the last years of King Aerys’s reign. He had seen things that it pained him to recall, and more than once he wondered how much of the blood was on his own hands. (ADWD, The Queensguard)

The blood that Barristan feels might be on his hands might best be seen in the Defiance of Duskendale. Aerys II Targaryen had been taken prisoner by Lord Denys Darklyn and was being held as a prisoner inside the Dun Fort at Duskendale. Lord Tywin Lannister laid siege to the city and demanded that Lord Darklyn release Aerys from his captivity. When denied that, Tywin prepared to storm the city and castle inside the city. Here, Barristan Selmy distinguished himself once more by embarking on a daring rescue of his king:

The songs of Ser Barristan’s daring rescue of the king are many, and, for a rarity, the singers hardly had to embroider it. Ser Barristan did indeed scale the walls unseen in the dark of the night, using nothing but his bare hands, and he did disguise himself as a hooded beggar as he made his way to the Dun Fort. It is true, as well, that he managed to scale the walls of the Dun Fort in turn, killing a guard on the wallwalk before he could raise the alarm. Then, by stealth and courage, he found his way to the dungeon where the king was being kept. By the time he had Aerys Targaryen out of the dungeon, however, the king’s absence had been noted, and the hue and cry went up. And then the true breadth of Ser Barristan’s heroism was revealed, for he stood and fought rather than surrender himself or his king.

Worse, the consequences of Duskendale did not end with the Darklyns and Hollards. Aerys’ imprisonment at Duskendale exacerbated his paranoia and madness. As a result of his growing madness, Aerys’ reign turned towards further misrule politically, but it also had personal consequences for the king and his family.

Aerys’ rape of Rhaella rightfully horrified Jaime. For his part, Barristan Selmy never exactly went into detail of Aerys’ misdeeds — opting instead to couch Aerys’ crimes as vaguely as possible in his mind. However, that’s not to say that Barristan was never in Jaime’s position, standing guard outside of Rhaella’s door while Aerys was within. Or on the outside chance that Barristan never stood outside of Rhaella’s door while the king brutalized her, that he was unaware of the king’s conduct with his wife either. As GRRM once had it:

Is Barristan, for his personality and for being a member of the Kingsguard and keeping the king’s secrets, a good witness about Varys influence over Aerys?

GRRM: A witness, certainly. A good witness? Well, there were things he was not privy to, and of course he saw events from his own standpoint. – So Spake Martin, 6/12/2001

Moreover, Barristan was almost certainly present in the throne room when Aerys burned Lord Rickard Stark. Barristan was not among Rhaegar’s  companions when they “abducted” Lyanna Stark and took her to the Tower of Joy. Rhaella, Aerys and Viserys were all in King’s Landing at the time, and the kingsguard’s sworn mission was to guard the king and his family. So, it stands to reason that Barristan stood in the throne room mute as Aerys burned an innocent man and his son alive.

All of these events underscore a defining theme in Barristan’s characterization: his guilt. He feels guilt for his heroic actions at Duskendale, and yet he also feels guilt over standing mute to Aerys’ misconduct. In a way, Barristan’s guilt is the guilt of a follower. Though he personally never (as far as we know) lifted a torch to one of Aerys’ victims, participated in a sexual assault or murdered an innocent, consciously and subconsciously, he feels that he enabled Aerys and his minions to do those things:

In that same cloak he had stood beside the Iron Throne as madness consumed Jaehaerys’s son Aerys. Stood, and saw, and heard, and yet did nothing. (ADWD, The Queensguard)

Meanwhile, Barristan’s guilt extended towards one he believed that he failed most of all.

Barristan’s Fondness For Rhaegar Targaryen

https://i0.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/d/db/Selmy_as_Arstan_Whitebeard.jpg

Artwork by Amok

“One day. One day you must tell me all. The good and the bad. There is some good to be said of my father, surely?”

“There is, Your Grace. Of him, and those who came before him. Your grandfather Jaehaerys and his brother, their father Aegon, your mother… and Rhaegar. Him most of all.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Barristan’s consternation over his service to Aerys II Targaryen was mitigated in part by the king’s son and heir to the throne. Rhaegar Targaryen was the eldest of Aerys’ children to survive, and in marked contrast to his father, seemed a good and able man.

To Barristan, Rhaegar was everything that a king should be. Years after his death, Daenerys asked a Barristan in the guise of Arstan Whitebeard about her brother:

Dany turned back to the squire. “I know little of Rhaegar. Only the tales Viserys told, and he was a little boy when our brother died. What was he truly like?”

The old man considered a moment. “Able. That above all. Determined, deliberate, dutiful, single-minded.” (ASOS, Daenerys I)

Barristan’s regard for Rhaegar, then, was one of admiration. He considered Rhaegar to be the epitome of a good prince. As he recounted to Daenerys later on, Rhaegar’s abilities were seen early in his life — in both his fondness for books as well as his later desire to become a warrior:

“As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, ‘I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.'” (ASOS, Daenerys I)

Rhaegar’s martial aspect in particular impressed Ser Barristan. Selmy bore witness to many of Rhaegar’s martial feats. In 276 CE, a tourney was held at Lannisport to celebrate the birth of Viserys Targaryen. One of the contenders in the joust was none other than Rhaegar himself, and the seventeen-year old Rhaegar proved himself an excellent tourney knight:

There, seated on his throne amongst hundreds of notables in the shadow of Casterly Rock, the king cheered lustily as his son Prince Rhaegar, newly knighted, unhorsed both Tygett and Gerion Lannister, and even overcame the gallant Ser Barristan Selmy, before falling in the champion’s tilt to the renowned Kingsguard knight Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. (TWOIAF, The Targaryen Kings: Aerys II)

Rhaegar’s defeats of Tygett and Gerion Lannister coupled with the prince unhorsing Selmy himself proved Rhaegar’s initial worth to Barristan. But that wasn’t the last of Rhaegar’s tourney feats. Years later, Rhaegar participated in the great Tourney of Harrenhal, and there unhorsed all four kingsguard knights (to include Barristan) in the final tourney joust.

On the field of battle itself, Rhaegar had only one battle to his name — the Trident. There, Rhaegar and Barristan marched side by side against Robert and his rebels. Rhaegar fought Robert in single-combat, wounded the would-be king but ultimately died at the business end of Robert’s war-hammer.

To Barristan, a man who had staked his reputation on both his tourney and martial prowess, Rhaegar’s actions in tournaments and against Robert on the Trident demonstrated the prince’s quality. In a way, Rhaegar’s successes in this martial arena overshadowed some of Rhaegar’s personal failings. Though Rhaegar was a near-peerless warrior, his ability to affect policy in Westeros was not evident — mostly due to Tywin Lannister’s steady political hand.

That’s not to say that Barristan was blind to any of Rhaegar’s potential faults. Though Barristan had a high regard to Rhaegar, he recalled that Rhaegar was not a particularly happy man:

Barristan also seemed to disapprove of Rhaegar’s relationship with his wife Elia as well as the prince’s “love” for Lyanna Stark casting it in the light of its consequences on Westeros:

“You saw my brother Rhaegar wed. Tell me, did he wed for love or duty?”

The old knight hesitated. “Princess Elia was a good woman, Your Grace. She was kind and clever, with a gentle heart and a sweet wit. I know the prince was very fond of her.”

Fond, thought Dany. The word spoke volumes. (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna, and thousands died for it. (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)

That said, Barristan’s criticisms of Rhaegar were light compared to all the positive ways Selmy regarded his silver prince. In a way, one wonders whether Barristan’s fondness for Rhaegar was as a contrasting reaction against Aerys. Rhaegar was a noted tourney knight while Aerys was never recorded to have taken part in any tourney. More importantly, Rhaegar never exhibited the clear signs of madness his father had, ordered the deaths of innocents or burned people alive.

This contrast played a significant part in Barristan’s guilt. He believed Rhaegar to be a better man than Aerys, and yet when Barristan had the opportunity at Duskendale to ensure Rhaegar’s ascension to the Iron Throne, he opted towards his duty to Aerys. Though Barristan’s guilt over Duskendale stemmed in part from the slaughter that occurred after, an almost greater part of his guilt came over Rhaegar:

It’s in the context of Barristan’s favorable opinion of Rhaegar and his guilt over Aerys that we turn next to Barristan and Daenerys.

In Search of the True King

Artwork by Marc Simonetti

“I was gathering my things when it came to me that I had brought this on myself by taking Robert’s pardon. He was a good knight but a bad king, for he had no right to the throne he sat. That was when I knew that to redeem myself I must find the true king, and serve him loyally with all the strength that still remained me.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

Barristan took Robert Baratheon’s pardon after the Battle of the Trident and after his wounds healed, he resumed his duty as a kingsguard knight. Service under the man who killed Rhaegar Targaryen was not easy for the white knight, but as Barristan himself stated later on, Robert was a good knight, though a bad king:

“Some truths are hard to hear. Robert was a . . . a good knight . . . chivalrous, brave . . . he spared my life, and the lives of many others . . . (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

“[Robert] was a good knight but a bad king, for he had no right to the throne he sat.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

Still, Barristan’s service under Robert proved more difficult as time progressed. Robert Baratheon committed numerous infidelities against his wife Cersei and much as Aerys had before him, raped his wife:

For Robert, those nights never happened. Come morning he remembered nothing, or so he would have had her believe. Once, during the first year of their marriage, Cersei had voiced her displeasure the next day. “You hurt me,” she complained. He had the grace to look ashamed. “It was not me, my lady,” he said in a sulky sullen tone, like a child caught stealing apple cakes from the kitchen. “It was the wine. I drink too much wine.” (AFFC, Cersei VII)

Similar to his thoughts on Aerys, Barristan never gave conscious thought to Robert’s brutalities against Cersei, but again, it’s probable that he stood watch outside of the door when the acts occurred or at the very least, was aware of Robert’s conduct towards his wife.

Those shades of Aerys that Barristan must have seen in Robert manifested themselves most fully when Robert Baratheon ordered the murders of Aerys’ two remaining children. Lord Eddard Stark stood against Robert’s action, and Barristan joined with the Lord of Winterfell in counseling the king against the murders:

Ser Barristan Selmy raised his pale blue eyes from the table and said, “Your Grace, there is honor in facing an enemy on the battlefield, but none in killing him in his mother’s womb. Forgive me, but I must stand with Lord Eddard.” (AGOT, Eddard VIII)

Robert decided to send assassins after the Targaryens anyways, and Barristan? Barristan remained at the side of yet another king who ordered murder. In fact, only when Joffrey Baratheon dismissed Barristan from his service did Barristan finally leave the side of the king.

Following his dismissal from the kingsguard, Barristan disappeared from the narrative until near the end of A Clash of Kings. While some of the contenders in the War of the Five Kings wondered whether Barristan was serving Stannis or Renly or Robb, the truth was that Barristan had taken ship across the Narrow Sea in search of the true king: Viserys:

“My brother Viserys.”
In addition to telling stories to Daenerys, Barristan assumed a guardian and advisory role with Dany. Standing by her side when she parlayed with the Good Masters of Astapor, in Dany’s war-councils/negotiation sessions and trailing her when she visited with with her “children”, Barristan got to know Daenerys in ways that few others in her inner circle did
It’s in this context that Barristan rescued Daenerys yet again when a sellsword named Mero of Braavos attempted to murder Daenerys as she visited with her children outside of Meereen. It’s also in this context that Arstan revealed himself as Barristan when he refused to be knighted by Daenerys Targaryen:

“What truths have you withheld?” Dany did not like this. “You will tell me. Now.”

He bowed his head. “At Qarth, when you asked my name, I said I was called Arstan. That much was true. Many men had called me by that name while Belwas and I were making our way east to find you. But it is not my true name.”

She was more confused than angry. He has played me false, just as Jorah warned me, yet he saved my life just now.

Ser Jorah flushed red. “Mero shaved his beard, but you grew one, didn’t you? No wonder you looked so bloody familiar . . . ”

“You know him?” Dany asked the exile knight, lost.

“I saw him perhaps a dozen times . . . from afar most often, standing with his brothers or riding in some tourney. But every man in the Seven Kingdoms knew Barristan the Bold.” (ASOS, Daenerys V)

Angry, Dany later ordered Barristan to embark on (another) suicide mission to infiltrate Meereen and open the gates for her army. When Barristan returned unscathed, Barristan revealed the truth about why he deceived Daenerys about his true identity:

“I told you before that I used a false name so the Lannisters would not know that Id joined you. That was less than half of it, Your Grace. The truth is, I wanted to watch you for a time before pledging you my sword. To make certain that you were not…”

“… my father’s daughter?” If she was not her father’s daughter, who was she? “… mad,” he finished. “But I see no taint in you.”

“Taint?” Dany bristled.

“I am no maester to quote history at you, Your Grace. Swords have been my life, not books. But every child knows that the Targaryens have always danced too close to madness. (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

This was the rub for Barristan. Though Barristan had legitimate reasons to want to serve a king or queen who could bring down those who wronged him, he did not want to serve another Aerys. In fact, Barristan was originally skeptical of Dany’s brother, Viserys, given his interactions with Viserys when he was a child:

“Prince Viserys was only a boy, it would have been years before he was fit to rule, and . . . forgive me, my queen, but you asked for truth . . . even as a child, your brother Viserys oft seemed to be his father’s son, in ways that Rhaegar never did.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

So, did Barristan believe Daenerys to be mad like Aerys and Viserys? This is where Barristan’s careful observations of Daenerys came into play. In all his observations of Daenerys, he did not see the same taint of madness that he witnessed in Aerys and Viserys. Instead, he saw the trueborn heir of Westeros, and he wanted to serve her as queensguard:

“So I am a coin in the hands of some god, is that what you are saying, ser?”

“No,” Ser Barristan replied. “You are the trueborn heir of Westeros. To the end of my days I shall remain your faithful knight, should you find me worthy to bear a sword again. If not, I am content to serve Strong Belwas as his squire.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Daenerys agreed and presented Barristan a sword from her own hand. Before A Storm of Swords closed, Barristan approached Daenerys one final time with an offer:

“Forgive me, Your Grace. It was only… now that you know who I am…” The old man hesitated. “A knight of the Kingsguard is in the king’s presence day and night. For that reason, our vows require us to protect his secrets as we would his life. But your father’s secrets by rights belong to you now, along with his throne, and… I thought perhaps you might have questions for me.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Barristan offered Daenerys the opportunity to ask questions about her father and brother, and the first and only question Dany asked at that time was whether her father was mad:

Questions? She had a hundred questions, a thousand, ten thousand. Why couldn’t she think of one? “Was my father truly mad?” she blurted out. Why do I ask that? “Viserys said this talk of madness was a ploy of the Usurper’s…”

“Viserys was a child, and the queen sheltered him as much as she could. Your father always had a little madness in him, I now believe. Yet he was charming and generous as well, so his lapses were forgiven. His reign began with such promise… but as the years passed, the lapses grew more frequent, until. ..” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Here, Barristan was willing to be transparent with Daenerys. However, before Barristan could plunge forward, Daenerys stopped him from fully revealing Aerys’ madness to her. In fact, this would be a recurring theme of Barristan and Dany’s interactions. Whenever he was about to tell Dany something specific regarding Aerys, she would redirect the conversation away from confrontations with uncomfortable truths.

Still, Barristan had a home in Dany’s court in Meereen, and from that point forward, Barristan never left Dany’s side until she left his.

The Queen’s Man

Artwork by Mike Capprotti
Barristan’s careful observations of Daenerys Targaryen in A Storm of Swords led him to revealing himself and into her service. Seeing Daenerys as Rhaegar’s as opposed to Aerys’ successor, Barristan found service to a good leader fulfilling. That’s not to say that Barristan didn’t chafe at points while serving Daenerys in Meereen. The white knight had his disagreements with the dragon queen, and these disagreements would grow as A Dance with Dragons progressed and perhaps underpin events to come in The Winds of Winter.

For the most part, Barristan’s role as bodyguard and counselor to Daenerys was a fulfilling one. Throughout Dance, Barristan praised Daenerys for making wise choices, occasionally framing his praise of Daenerys as “acting like Rhaegar”:

Afterward, Ser Barristan told her that her brother Rhaegar would have been proud of her. (ADWD, Daenerys V)

However, there was an understated conflict between Barristan and Daenerys. Daenerys’ decision to stay in Meereen rather than marching towards Westeros grated against Barristan who believed that Westeros needed her:

Ser Barristan went to one knee before her. “My queen, your realm has need of you. You are not wanted here, but in Westeros men will flock to your banners by the thousands, great lords and noble knights. ‘She is come,’ they will shout to one another, in glad voices. ‘Prince Rhaegar’s sister has come home at last.’ ” (ADWD, Daenerys III)

Dany’s intent was based in part on her desire to learn how to rule peacefully before sailing for Westeros. The application of Dany’s decision, though, was that she became more and more entangled in Meereenese politics. One of the ways this manifested itself was in Daenerys’ betrothal and eventual marriage to Hizdahr zo Loraq. Where Dany saw the match as a means to bring peace to Meereen, Barristan saw it differently:

“Hizdahr is not the husband you would have chosen for me.”

“It is not my place to choose your husband.”

“It is not,” she agreed, “but it is important to me that you should understand. `

“Your Grace, may I speak frankly?”

“Always.”

“There is a third choice.”

“Westeros?”

He nodded. “I am sworn to serve Your Grace, and to keep you safe from harm wherever you may go. My place is by your side, whether here or in King’s Landing … but your place is back in Westeros, upon the Iron Throne that was your father’s. The Seven Kingdoms will never accept Hizdahr zo Loraq as king.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

Dany’s desire for peace was both understandable and good, but Barristan also had a point. Dany’s stated goal was to return to Westeros and unseat the usurpers who sat on her father’s throne. The more Daenerys attempted to try to peacefully rule Meereen, the more the goal of Westeros appeared farther and farther in the future. Moreover, if Daenerys showed up in Westeros with a Ghiscari king, an army of sellswords and Unsullied and dragons, Westeros wouldn’t welcome her.
Still, Barristan’s disagreements with Daenerys were not fundamentally moral disagreements. Service to Daenerys did not pose the same ethical challenges to Barristan that service to Aerys and Robert did. So, the white knight was content to serve Daenerys, continuing to believe her to be Rhaegar’s true heir.
Barristan bore witness to Daenerys’ remarkable attempts to rule peacefully in Meereen. He watched as Daenerys chained two of her dragons to prevent the loss of more innocent life, and he watched as Daenerys attempted to make peace within the city of Meereen and with the Wise Masters of Yunkai. Though Barristan disapproved of Dany’s betrothal to Hizdahr, his disapproval was intertwined with his belief that Dany belong in Westeros — not that Dany was wrong in seeking peace in Meereen.
Dany’s flight away from Meereen atop Drogon changed the dynamic. Apart from Daenerys, Barristan would have to think critically on his own, and Daenerys Targaryen would undergo a journey of self-discovery on the Dothraki Sea where she would rediscover her true purpose.


Barristan and the Mother of Dragons

https://i2.wp.com/img04.deviantart.net/7471/i/2013/151/6/8/a_dance_with_dragons_by_yamao-d6770w0.jpg

Artwork by YamaOcre

“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
Barristan’s service to Daenerys Targaryen was rooted in his belief that Dany did not have the taint of madness that Aerys did and made decisions that resembled Rhaegar. However, events starting at the end of A Dance with Dragons and likely progressing into The Winds of Winter might shake the foundation of Barristan’s service to Daenerys. In lieu of breaking down Barristan’s coup and role as commander of Meereenese forces in the Battle of Fire, here we’ll turn to look more closely at Daenerys Targaryen’s evolving characterization and how Barristan might view his queen in The Winds of Winter. Though Barristan would fight duels and lead armies in his queen’s name, the Dany who returns from the Dothraki Sea will be a woman whose outlook will be different from the one who left atop Drogon.
George RR Martin has shaped Daenerys Targaryen’s characterization as one of conflicting identities and impulses. On one hand, Dany is the breaker of chains, the mhysa. In this capacity, Dany is merciful and compassionate to individuals while governing in a moderate, peaceful manner.
On the other hand, Dany is the mother of dragons. As seen in her crucifixtion of 163 Meereenese Great Masters in A Storm of Swords and her authorization of torture on the wineseller’s daughters in A Dance with Dragons, Dany is willing to visit violence on groups and individuals.

In both these instances,Dany’s turn towards the mother of dragons is couched in emotions injustice she feels:

“One hundred and sixty-three,” she answered.

Mercy, thought Dany. They will have the dragon’s mercy. “Skahaz, I have changed my mind. Question the man sharply.”

“I could. Or I could question the daughters sharply whilst the father looks on. That will wring some names from him.”

“Do as you think best, but bring me names.” Her fury was a fire in her belly. (ADWD, Daenerys II)

Barristan Selmy was a witness to both of these events, but unfortunately for our purposes, we don’t get his perspective on them at the time or in later reflections when he became a POV character. Most likely, Barristan considered Dany’s actions to be in keeping with justice, but we simply don’t know enough to be sure.

However, Barristan was also witness to Dany’s evolving characterization even before Dany departed Meereen. After peace with Yunkai was signed, Daenerys encountered Brown Ben Plumm, a sellsword captain who had turned cloak on Daenerys a few months before. After not-so-subtly threatening Brown Ben, Dany turned to her white knight:

“Ser Barristan?” she said softly.

The white knight appeared at once. “Your Grace.”

“How much did you hear?”

“Enough. He was not wrong. Never trust a sellsword.”

Or a queen, thought Dany. “Is there some man in the Second Sons who might be persuaded to … remove … Brown Ben?”

“As Daario Naharis once removed the other captains of the Stormcrows?” The old knight looked uncomfortable. “Perhaps. I would not know, Your Grace.”

No, she thought, you are too honest and too honorable. (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)

The discomfort Barristan felt was in part tied to his honor, but perhaps here, his discomfort was also tied into the very idea of Dany ordering the assassination of Brown Ben Plumm.

Though Barristan disapproved of Dany’s proposed assassination of Brown Ben Plumm, he held true to his queen. Even after she departed Meereen, he never wavered in his support for her or believed her dead:

I am the queen’s man still. Today, tomorrow, always, until my last breath, or hers. Barristan Selmy refused to believe that Daenerys Targaryen was dead. (ADWD, The Queensguard)
Again (and I know I am repeating this point, but it’s important!), the reason for Barristan’s unwavering support was because he saw Rheagar in Daenerys. He saw Dany as a good, sane queen. However, far away from Meereen, Dany’s mind was moving in a different direction.
Daenerys Targaryen’s vision quest on the Dothraki Sea has been covered by far better writers than me (For instance “Dragons Plant No Trees” from reddit or “A Darker Daenerys” from the Meereenese Blot), but I want to highlight a few aspects of Dany’s vision quest which might be troubling for a character like Barristan.

1. A ghostly Jorah Mormont tells Daenerys that it was a mistake for her to chain her dragons:

“I am the blood of the dragon,” she told the grass, aloud.

Once, the grass whispered back, until you chained your dragons in the dark.

“Drogon killed a little girl. Her name was … her name …” Dany could not recall the child’s name. That made her so sad that she would have cried if all her tears had not been burned away. “I will never have a little girl. I was the Mother of Dragons.”

Aye, the grass said, but you turned against your children. (ADWD, Daenerys X)

Ser Barristan had witnessed Dany’s chaining of her dragons at the start of A Dance with Dragons, and seemed to approve of the measure. However, shortly after she chained her dragons and thought of the guilt associated with Drogon’s killing of an innocent girl, she wanted Barristan to take her down into the dragon pit:

“I have to see the pit,” in a voice as small as a child’s whisper. “Take me down, ser, if you would.”

A flicker of disapproval crossed [Barristan’s] face, but it was not his way to question his queen. “As you command.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

Barristan’s disapproval of Dany’s request was rooted in him wanting to protect his queen from danger. However, I can’t help but wonder if Barristan might have disapproved because of the violent nature of the dragons and how they magnified Dany’s own desire for violence.

2. Dragons plant no trees:

“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
This was the heart of Dany’s vision quest. She was weary or war, and her extended stay in Meereen was intended to be a rest from that war. Ghost-Jorah was sharply calling her away from the peace she achieved in Meereen and towards draconic violence.

Still, Barristan might be pleased that Daenerys’ vision quest led her to reject Meereen in favor of war in Westeros:

Meereen was not her home, and never would be. It was a city of strange men with strange gods and stranger hair, of slavers wrapped in fringed tokars, where grace was earned through whoring, butchery was art, and dog was a delicacy. Meereen would always be the Harpy’s city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy.

Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you. (ADWD, Daenerys X)

The question, though, will be what this war will look like and how will Daenerys conduct herself in it? And even before she arrives in Westeros, what will she do along the way?
 

Barristan Selmy was no pacifist and would welcome Dany’s war for Westeros. However, the method that Daenerys would go about assuming the Iron Throne would be crucial to Barristan. Would she wage violence indiscriminately? Would she focus on her true objectives in Westeros? Or would she get bogged down in another long war of liberation across Essos?

Barristan and the Dragon’s Mercy

 

https://i0.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/7/72/T_Jedruszek_BattleofAstapor-ancient.jpg

Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek

The greater question than all for Barristan was who Dany would return to Meereen as. Barristan believed her to be a leader in the mold of Rhaegar, but after her vision quest and likely violent encounter with the Dothraki, will she seem like Rhaegar? Or … will she seem like Aerys?

Back in ASOS, Barristan concluded that Daenerys did not have the taint of the madness. When she returns from Vaes Dothrak in TWOW, will Barristan still view her as not having the taint? The question here is not whether Daenerys will be objectively mad or not. The question, instead, is whether she’ll be perceived as mad by those around her.

Barristan Selmy would be in a prime position to evaluate Dany’s sanity. He had stood guard of Aerys and watched the Mad King’s reign dissolve into madness. Barristan’s evaluations of Aerys were based on his observations of Aerys’ violent actions and commands, and this will play a massive role with Barristan’s upcoming conflict over his service to Daenerys.

As some of you might recall, I think that Daenerys will begin a new set of violent wars across Essos as she progresses back towards Westeros in The Winds of Winter. In many ways, this will likely appear to have the hallmarks of a new war of liberation. However, this will be a different type of war. Where Daenerys had “marched to the sea” intending to end the slave trade in A Storm of Swords, her new war in The Winds of Winter will be infused by both ambition, a prophetic and possibly R’hlloric vision of destiny and fully-grown weapons of mass destruction.

Without Winds in hand, it’s impossible to know for a certainty that Barristan will be horrified by this turn, but given his experiences protecting an Aerys, Barristan might feel his familiar guilt return as he serves Daenerys. Moreover, if Dany uses her dragons as tools of war (as I think she will), Barristan will likely see shades of Aerys. Regardless of how justified or unjustified Dany’s use of her dragons will be in The Winds of Winter, Barristan will be hard-pressed not to be reminded of Aerys’ conduct as king:

The Mad King could be savagely cruel, as seen most plainly when he burned those he perceived to be his enemies. (TWOIAF, The Targaryen Kings: Aerys II)

And if Daenerys at any point in the Winds narrative speaks of fire as the champion of House Targaryen, Barristan might see Aerys’ mad cruelty toward Lord Rickard Stark:

“The king told him that fire was the champion of House Targaryen. So all Lord Rickard needed to do to prove himself innocent of treason was . . . well, not burn” (ACOK, Catelyn VII)

But would Daenerys turning into Aerys (according to his POV) give Barristan a reason to jump ship? I don’t think so. Barristan was a man bound by his vows and service to those who he swore to. He stood mute to the evils of Aerys’ and Robert’s regimes, and though he felt intense guilt for his “doing nothing”, his sword was still sworn to Daenerys, and as he had sworn to be hers until the end of his days or hers

Barristan would need something more than dragon-soaked violence to turn from Daenerys. He had his vows to consider. If only there were another Targaryen out there with a better claim, who enshrined himself in glorious optics and was fighting those who had misruled Westeros …

Rhaegar’s Son or Aerys’ Daughter?

 

https://i2.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/3/3c/Aegon_Targaryen_Diego_Gisbert_LlorensIIII.png

“So I am a coin in the hands of some god, is that what you are saying, ser?”

“No,” Ser Barristan replied. “You are the trueborn heir of Westeros. To the end of my days I shall remain your faithful knight, should you find me worthy to bear a sword again. If not, I am content to serve Strong Belwas as his squire.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Welp. As it turns out, such a person exists in A Song of Ice and Fire. A boy claiming to be the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell appeared in the narrative of A Dance with Dragons supported by Varys, Illyrio, Jon Connington and the Golden Company. Barristan, despite becoming acquainted with Illyrio in Pentos, was never exposed to Prince Aegon, and so far as we know has no idea that Aegon “survived.”

“Prince Rhaegar had two children,” Ser Barristan told him. “Rhaenys was a little girl, Aegon a babe in arms. When Tywin Lannister took King’s Landing, his men killed both of them. He served the bloody bodies up in crimson cloaks, a gift for the new king.” And what did Robert say when he saw them? Did he smile? Barristan Selmy had been badly wounded on the Trident, so he had been spared the sight of Lord Tywin’s gift, but oft he wondered. If I had seen him smile over the red ruins of Rhaegar’s children, no army on this earth could have stopped me from killing him. (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)

However, in The Winds of Winter, Barristan will find out about Aegon. If I had to wager a guess, I believe that Tyrion will be the one who will reveal the information about Aegon. Tyrion is the only individual in Slaver’s Bay who knows about Aegon’s “survival” and the only one in Dany’s future entourage (besides maybe Moqorro) who knows where Aegon is going and what he’s doing.

It’s my belief that Tyrion will frame Aegon’s “survival” to Daenerys in the harshest terms — perhaps telling Daenerys of his suspicions of Aegon’s true identity and how the boy has gone ahead to Westeros without Daenerys to steal the Iron Throne from her. Tyrion’s revelation to Daenerys would likely enrage Daenerys, but how will Barristan react?

Given that Barristan already disdains the Lannisters and will likely greet Tyrion with suspicion and hostility when he reveals himself, I wonder if Barristan might reject Tyrion’s assertions of Aegon as a false dragon due Tyrion’s reputation as a lecher and a drunk, but more importantly because of his status as a Lannister — the very people whose work had led to the alleged deaths of Aegon and Rhaenys:

“Have you forgotten Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon?”

“Never. That was Lannister work, Your Grace.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

In fact, Barristan might see the implication behind Aegon’s invasion of Westeros the same way that Tyrion stated them to Aegon in A Dance with Dragons:

Now, how do you suppose this queen will react when you turn up with your begging bowl in hand and say, ‘Good morrow to you, Auntie. I am your nephew, Aegon, returned from the dead. I’ve been hiding on a poleboat all my life, but now I’ve washed the blue dye from my hair and I’d like a dragon, please … and oh, did I mention, my claim to the Iron Throne is stronger than your own?‘ “(ADWD, Tyrion VI)

Moreover, Barristan’s growing guilt over his continued service to “Aerys Reborn” would be a contributing motivation for Barristan to consider Aegon over Daenerys.

There will be compliations though. Barristan Selmy had once stood opposite the Golden Company at the Stepstones and knew them to be supporters of past Blackfyre contenders for the throne. Could the Golden Company support Rhaegar’s son? Was it truly Rhaegar’s son that they were backing? These questions will likely interplay in Barristan’s mind against his service to a “mad” queen and whether her claim was better than Aegon’s.

So, again, Barristan will experience a massive conflict over in The Winds of Winter. Will he choose Rhaegar’s son or Aerys’ daughter?

Conclusion: So Many Vows

 

“So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.” (ACOK, Catelyn VII)

In the end, I believe that Barristan Selmy will abandon his vows to Daenerys Targaryen in favor of Aegon. Unlike many of those who turncloak for Aegon in Westeros, Barristan’s turn will be principled — albeit in the framework of Barristan’s unique principles. Barristan would never abandon his king or queen for their wrongdoing, but abandon them for the “true king”? Certainly.

Daenerys Targaryen’s reaction to Barristan’s defection to Aegon will almost certainly be volatile. Almost-certainly, Dany will think of Barristan in the context of the House of the Undying:

Three treasons will you know . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love . . . (ACOK, Daenerys IV)

Somewhat speculative, but I wonder whether Daenerys will consider Barristan a betrayal for love, whereas Barristan might better be seen as a betrayal for blood (if we’re going by Barristan following the correct bloodline for the throne).

Barristan’s betrayal will be almost-certainly be guilt-provoking for the white knight, but perhaps it will alleviated when Aegon welcomes Barristan into his service with fanfare. The problem, though, is that Daenerys is still coming to Westeros.

And Barristan the Bold, the white knight, the soiled knight, the turncloak will likely have to face the queen he once served, but this time, it will not be from a position of supplication or service. Instead, in A Dream of Spring, I believe that Barristan will have to face Daenerys Targaryen in battle.

Thanks for reading! I invite you to follow me on twitter at @BryndenBFish. Additionally, I invite you to follow the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire twitter, facebook and tumblr to stay abreast of all that we’re doing!

20 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Political Analysis

20 responses to “Blood of the Conqueror, Bonus Essay: The Turncloak

  1. Tyland

    U said love twice in the 3rd to last paragraph.

    What’s your book about ? I realize it’s unfinished– but like high fantasy or more of a military strategy typa thing ? Is it a fictional world ?

    • Many thanks. I have fixed the error!

      My book isn’t high fantasy or military strategy. It’s a story of a young man who returns home to Baltimore after a few years away hoping to find meaning and happiness after a difficult time away. However, he ends up finding loneliness, frustration and bitterness as he attempts to navigate young adulthood.

      I don’t imagine it will have much appeal to those who’ve enjoyed ASOIAF, but it’s been my pet project now for 8 years. Perhaps someday I’ll publish it.

  2. A thoughtful analysis of Barristan the Bold. Despite his honor he nevertheless comes off as a hypocritical man who has betrayed his vows on mulitple occasions but is overwhelmed with guilt. To assuage that guilt Barristan hopes to find a ruler that will assuage his fears and guilt and be sure that he will serve a king that is just and will never have to doubt his decisions. A man who has readily switched kings in search of the perfect ruler to serve. Its seems that Barristan holds Rhaegar to be the epitome of what might have been a good ruler. Thus he is on a never ending quest to serve a king who might resemble Rhaegar. Though the thought of Barristan turning his cloak in favor of Aegon seems a tad too much. Martin already has lots of plots and characters to juggle so it wouldn’t surprise me if he had Barristan killed to make room for other characters.

    • Rzecci

      I also agree that Barristan will not leave Daenerys for Aegon. That is of course barring Dany turning into the next Aerys or something of the sort. Dany is undisputedly a true Targaryen, while Aegon is questionable right now. If Aegon proves without a doubt to be authentic, they most likely would join forces (being family and all).

      Disagree on Barristan being a hypocrite, although I can understand why he may appear like one. The rules and vows Barristan follow conflict often, which lead to broken vows and oaths–exactly like Jaime says. Barristan has never actually abandoned any king or queen. Aerys / Rhaegar were dead and Joffrey booted him.

      • Rzecci

        edit: I believe Barristan would either say with Dany in event of conflict with fAegon–believing that it is a Targ family matter for them to work out. Unless Dany goes full retard of course.

      • Barristan knew Aerys’s actions were illegal and horrible, he ordered the burning of several lords and their sons who were rightfully concerned about the abduction of a Lord Paramount’s daughter. Instead of trying to hear their concerns, Aerys has them all murdered without the right to trial, raping Rhaella frequently, demanding Jon Arryn turn in Robert and Ned despite being completely innocent. Barristan had to know all of this was wrong either he is an idiot or a coward.

        Not to mention He vowed to protect Aerys and his family yet he willingly served Robert instead of either dying trying to avenge Aerys or protect the surviving Targaryens. He was willing to disregard Robert’s will and serve Joffrey only deciding to seek out Daenerys after he was humiliatingly dismissed. He served as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard for fifteen years, but it fell apart under his watch.

        Jaime for all his faults and terrible decisions did something right by killing Aerys. Because if Barristan had been the last kingsguard protecting Aerys, he would have likely done nothing to prevent Wildfire plot from occuring and King’s Landing would have burnt to the ground. Even if you still believe that Barristan is not a hypocrite, he is still a moral coward who hid behind his oaths when things went to hell.

  3. Josh Snowgaryen

    Very happy you have forsaken your vows not to put out another essay until TWOW. Keep up the good work. Thanks for the reddit links as well. Really enjoy all the work put into writing theses articles

  4. Shannon

    You are brilliant bryndenbfish! Even if you turn out to be wrong! Yours have been such a pleasure to read, thank you very much!

  5. Ioseff

    I always believed this… but then, @poorquentyn seems to be insistent that he will die like Victarion. I don’t think it is necessarily so, already one dying in Slaver’s Bay and the other fleeing might do enough, while three pov’s will be still on King’s Landing after the Second Sack, it may well be that Connington will suffer the Ned’s fate and Barristan the Jaime’s, going away in some campaign to prepare against Daenerys. Anyway, if Connington realizes the falsehood he so much wanted to believe in, might Ser Barristan also come to believe in it and regret it even more? GRRM after all makes a great fuss of characters who realize their wrong but continue and continue until they die. Jaime and Cersei are perfect examples of it.

  6. I enjoyed this bonus essay. I agree that Barristan dying in the battle at Meereen doesn’t make sense. He has to return to the city and learn that the Shavepate has taken vengeance on his enemies. This will add heavily to Barristan’s guilt as he has struggled against becoming the next Criston Cole. I do find your assertion that he will find his loyalty tested by Dany’s actions and Aegon’s appearance in Westeros very credible. I find him an interesting contrast to Jamie Lannister. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

  7. If this plays out, I could Ser Barristan being burned in his armor (much like the Starks) by Mad Queen Daenerys.

  8. Divided Heart

    I have this wacky theory that we can predict plot points in ASOIAF based on what would cause maximum internal conflict for POV characters.

    So I came to similar conclusions about Barristan. I’m glad someone else sees it! Though I hadn’t noticed as much of the Rhaegar parallels as you have. Bravo!

    But might I suggest an addition? If Septa Lemore is Ashara Dayne, then this gives yet another reason for Barristan to abandon Daenerys, a romantic reason. This makes sense of why Barristan was thinking about her in his POV chapters in ADWD, because GRRM is setting up all the pieces to maximize Barristan’s internal conflict.

    So Barristan could be the betrayal for love.

    In fact, here’s some tinfoil speculation: what if Barristan is all three betrayals wrapped up in one? The betrayal for blood, by picking Rhaegar’s son, the betrayal for love by picking Ashara Dayne, and the betrayal for gold, by picking the Golden Company?

    • Oberyn of the Headache

      It’s a great theory but, if prophecy is to be believed, the three treasons seem to be three separate events, rather than one combined one.

      Also, I find it hard to believe that Barry is going to fake Aegon. He believes that he is dead. If anyone is going to question the validity of Aegon’s survival, it would be Barry. He knows that Varys played into the steep declime of Aerys’s mental health and I have a hard time believing that he would buy the atory that the spider spins, especially considering that many people in the free cities have Valyrian features. And he would also question why the golden company would prop up a red dragon over a black one. In fact, I find it more believable that Dany would want to go to Young Griff and Barry telling her his doubts about the situation.

      As for Ashara, I am in the camp that she is dead and Septa Lemore is actually Tyene Sand’s mother as the ages fit better and her stretch marks fit too.

      But who knows. I could be wrong.

  9. Pingback: Ser Barristan Selmy, ¿un posible futuro traidor? (t) | Un blog a cinco alturas

  10. Pete of the hills

    I wonder whether Bazzer will end up in a similar situation to Jaime when he killed Aerys. Save lots of lives or hold tight to that precious honour… would make a nice bit of knightly heart in conflict with itself.

  11. jd1234

    But if Aegon and Daenerys fight is her primary arc in DoS, when will there be time enough for her to face The Others? Do you think that Jon will defeat The Others by himself (waking a stone dragon) and then face Dany for the throne?

    • jd1234

      Also, how would Euron and Victarion fit in all this? Especially Euron?

      • jd1234

        Lastly, I think it would be more logical if Dany never finished her fight with Aegon because she is drawn in the fight North and she finally reconciles the two sides of herself: “The Mother” and “Blood of the Dragon”, but maybe that is my wishful thinking. She is my favorite character and I envision a more heroic fate for her.

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