In the latest incarnation of our Small Council, we ask the team who their pick for Best Performance As A Warrior in Season 4 is.
Rowan Kaiser: I’m torn here. If I focus on the “Best Performance” part, I’m leaning toward Rory McCann, who was a consistent delight to watch as The Hound. McCann played the gruff rogue, one-liner machine, and dangerous criminal superbly, switching back and forth, or encompassing all of them at once.
But if I look at the “As A Warrior” part of the construction, I feel drawn, somewhat to my surprise, to Kit Harington as Jon Snow. Perhaps it’s an accidental side effect of the category I named, but when I think of it, I think of the entirety of the construction of the warrior: the combat, the episodic structure, the choreography. And the scenes and episodes from Season 4 whose combat and warriors elevated their storylines? They took place in the North, centered on Jon Snow.
The Karl Tanner diversion in the middle of the season? That was possibly the weakest part of Season 4, up until Jon Snow burst into the burning keep and faced off with Tanner in a fight that at least partially justified the “fookin’ legend” speech….
Almost the entirety of “The Watchers On The Wall” was Jon Snow’s episode, and the risky decision place it in that special ninth slot ended up succeeding. And it worked because Harington did such a good job in all aspects of the siege–accepting Ser Alliser’s peace offering, finding himself in a position of leadership, and then throwing himself into the heart of the battle. I ended up loving that episode, and I have to give Harington a huge amount of credit for that.
Cameron White: I think it’s important to remember the “war” part of “warrior.” Warriors are a structural foundation of the very idea of warfare; they are born into it, or born from it. That means there’s all kinds of ways to talk about what it means to be the “best warrior”. From this perspective, for example, I could argue for either of the Stark sisters as warriors, as the two of them emerge from the War of the Five Kings as two entirely different people from when the series began. They become by-products of war, firsthand, and their very different methods of survival still mark them as warriors, just not necessarily in the conventional sense of the term. (Put simply: Arya fights with Needle; Sansa fights with needles.)
But there are the wars with your adversaries and then there are the wars within you, or what George R.R. Martin calls “the heart in conflict with itself.” The Hound is one of the series’ best example of this type of warrior, and as Rowan noted, Rory McCann is completely up to the task of portraying this character. And the thing that makes The Hound great this season is that he gains a small sense of purpose in the wake of the Red Wedding. Sure, there’s an obvious motive for Sandor Clegane to keep pushing Arya along; she’s possibly still worth some coin. But I think there’s no denying that the younger Clegane develops an odd sort of soft spot for the Stark sisters, and helping them along in whatever small ways he can is how The Hound distinguishes himself from the sea of lackeys serving at the pleasure of whoever’s in charge. It’s true that McCann and Maisie Williams had a lion’s share of comedic moments this season, but they also developed a language of the eyes, an indicator of impending violence. Like The Hound and Arya, McCann and Williams fell into an easy rhythm this year, which only enhanced their respective performances. And when his newfound purpose is threatened by Brienne, who encounters them both in the season finale, The Hound, dogged and loyal, fights back.
Sandor was punished by his older brother for a minor transgression by having half his face burnt; carrying that sort of trauma with you makes you cruel, and yet it also gives birth to a small degree (a very small degree, in this instance) of kindness. Think of Ender’s Game: in the moment you understand your opponent and how to defeat them, you also love them. Cruelty and kindness living side-by-side is the inner turmoil that makes The Hound such a fascinating character, and certainly one of the season’s best warriors.
Andrea Towers: For me, the word “warrior” brings to mind one person who embodied this aspect both physically and emotionally: Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne of Tarth. Brienne is someone that not only uses her size and strength to defend herself, but she also subjects herself to situations that threaten her emotional state because she’s so determined to uphold her ideals of honor, rightness, and loyalty.
First of all, let’s get down to the obvious and talk about what we’re all thinking–that fight with The Hound in the season finale. The ear-biting! The sheer “go for the kill” attitude that you could not escape, no matter how much you tried to hope this would go in another direction. This was not a fight from someone who didn’t know what she was doing. Brienne is, first and foremost, a knight that is powerful enough to challenge even the most deadly of Westeros’ fighters. And although this was a major departure from the books, part of the reason that it worked so well was because of the intensity of the scene, and what Gwendoline Christie brought to to the table as an actress.
And Brienne isn’t just a warrior in terms of her size and physical strength. The emotional strength she displays when she returns with Jaime to King’s Landing, and has to deal with being judged by not only half the population, but Cersei as well? Raise your hand if you felt as uncomfortable as she must have felt throughout “Two Swords”, in which Brienne is dealing not only with fitting in somewhere she’s clearly unwelcome, but also with the fact that she’s confused and a little embarrassed about her budding feelings towards Jaime Lannister. (Not to mention that awkward scene at Joffrey’s wedding, where she’s forced to verbally spar with Cersei and her disdain–warrior, indeed!)
We left Brienne bloodied and battered and still on her search for Arya, to fulfill her oath to Catelyn Stark that she’s determined to uphold, even if it kills her. And although we’re not quite sure where we’re going to find her in Season 5, I’m confident that whatever happens, Brienne can handle it. Of course she can.
Because she’s a warrior.
Ani Bundel: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jaime Lannister seems an odd choice for this season, doesn’t he? After all, our fantasy stereotype of the perfect warrior has undergone some changes since we first met him. Ever since losing his sword hand in Season 3, he’s questioned everything he ever believed in, and everything he ever assumed about how his life was going to be.
When something as life-changing as mutilation happens–especially when it’s to a part of you that was central to your very identity–it can be devastating. Let’s not forget Westeros is not a progressive society either, with technology to handle such things. People who lose limbs are often outcasts, considered the weak and the lame. The very opposite of the warrior type that Jaime once embodied.
But did he let that defeat him? No. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does a fantastic job of a man who has suddenly discovered himself past his prime, and with little to show for his time on this earth. He helplessly watches his son who he can’t claim die before his eyes. His life is a shambles. Any man in that position could easily have taken the path his father offered him in defeat: Marry someone he didn’t love, go home to Casterly Rock, get a spawn or two he could claim as his own, and rot away, fat and depressed, never touching a sword again.
No, Jaime did not take that path to defeat. He stood up, and he said “I can do him left handed!” He got a trainer–a real trainer who could teach him to kill, not a high born sword master who could teach him to look pretty on a jousting tourney–and he got to work. He turned down the easy life in favor of one that he wanted to live. He looked in the mirror and said he was going to live life on his terms, and not let this defeat him.
Even the Hound ain’t that tough.
Rebecca Pahle: I know this is a repeat, but there’s no one I can go with in this category but Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne of Tarth. Who else am I going to pick–Karl Tanner? Please.
What my choice of Brienne as best warrior comes down to is something I wrote about in my Dame of Thrones entry on her–that she’s the closest thing to a real knight Westeros has, not because of her fighting capability (because even rapist/child murderer Gregor Clegane can fight), but because she upholds the traditional ideals of what a “true warroor” should be. Loyalty, determination, self-sacrifice. It’s all there. And it’s a brilliant, subversive choice on George R.R. Martin’s part to have that character be a woman, and not just a woman, but an ugly woman, a woman who would have been relegated to the background of your average story about dashing knights and courtly ladies.
Brienne-the-knight really came into her own in Season 4. She got her own squire, armor, and a fancy sword. Jaime, the perfect image of what a knight should be (at least before he got his hand chopped), cemented himself as the president of her fan club (a title he’ll have to fight Margaery Tyrell for). She renewed her search for the Stark girls and went off on an official, crown-sanctioned quest. She went legit. Everything led up to that final fight with the Hound, where she finally had the chance to fulfill her knightly duties and rescue (well, “rescue”) Arya… only she failed, because she was too straightforward to lie about where that flipping sword came from.
Like Ned Stark before her, Brienne was just too honorable for her own good. Being a traditional knight just doesn’t work in the world of Game of Thrones, and Brienne experiencing that—coming so close and then completely failing—was an interesting note on which to end her season arc. Given the major changes made to her Season 4 plotline–she never fought the Hound or came into contact direct with Arya in the books–plus the probable omission of a certain character (*eyedart*) relevant to what happens to her in A Dance with Dragons, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with Brienne in Season 5, but whatever it is, I’m excited to see it.
Haven’t voted yet? Now’s your chance!