Now that we are six episodes deep into Season 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, let’s think about laws in Westeros…
…about how laws, both those passed by men and those (presumably) inherited from the gods or from descendants, seemingly form the structure of this medieval society. People, particularly common people, believe in these laws and their belief allows this society, and the people at the top of it, to continue to function. And yet, look how malleable and mutable these laws are when faced with raw power, greed, and the simple desire for survival.
Ancient laws of hospitality were no shield for Robb Stark in the face the Bolton’s desire for power and the Frey’s desire for revenge.
Stannis may have the law of succession on his side in his quest for the crown, but for the Iron Bank, numbers in a ledger are more concrete than laws, and Stannis’s numbers don’t add up. It’s only after Ser Davos offers a practical, hard-nosed argument as to why Stannis has a better chance of outlasting Twyin and the Lannisters that the Bank opens up its coffers to “loan” some gold.
In Tyrion’s trial, the laws of the kingdom may not completely be ignored, but they’re certainly bent and perverted to work against him. All the witnesses arranged against him repeat the many threats he’s issued throughout the series, threats that may have seemed like bluster at the time, but threats that stacked up together in the wake of a dead king make an innocent man seem awfully guilty. Cersei’s spent much of her time charming the judges into condemning her hated brother to death; Tywin, ever cannier, uses the mountain of evidence, plus Jaime’s sympathies for his brother, to arrange for Jaime to leave the kingsguard and marry a woman to produce Lannister heirs, in exchange for allowing Tyrion to “take the black”.
We shouldn’t be surprised by these continued examples of laws that are trampled or twisted by powerful people. It’s been happening since season one of Game of Thrones… in practically every episode.
It’s been happening since before the series started; what was Robert’s Rebellion but a powerful man, with a weak claim to the throne, wrestling the crown away from the legitimate ruler (no matter how crazy he may have been). But I think there’s another side to this coin. If you push people too far, violate the laws of tradition and custom too flagrantly, they’ll snap. After all, it was years of crazed, lawless behavior from King Aerys that pushed enough support away from the Targaryan dynasty to allow Robert’s Rebellion to succeed.
Shae’s testimony against Tyrion, rather than being a final parting insult before he left for the Wall, enraged him so deeply that he requested a trial by combat and blew apart his father’s carefully laid plans to secure the future of the Lannister dynasty.
I think Dany was wise enough to realize that rejecting the burial request for the crucified Meerenese nobles, and therefore flouting their most closely held customs, might have been too much for the people to swallow.
The Bolton’s and the Frey’s may be on the ascendancy, but as King Aerys learned, people have long memories.
So, maybe upon reflection, customs and laws in Game of Thrones’ Westeros DO have some meaning, and if you violate them too often and too frequently, you’ll face a violent reaction, even if it takes years to catch up to you.