Guest Post at Tower of the Hand: The Blacks and Red Part IV, The Golden Company, Then and Now

And…we’re done! The last part in the Blacks and Reds series, focusing on the Golden Company itself, its origin and purpose, its military structure, its role in the politics of Essos, the War of Ninepenny Kings, and its role in the story of A Song of Ice and Fire, is now up at Tower of the Hand!


So go check it out!



94 thoughts on “Guest Post at Tower of the Hand: The Blacks and Red Part IV, The Golden Company, Then and Now

  1. Brian says:

    Very impressive work, as always, Steven!

    I was intrigued by this in particular -at ~10,000 men, the Golden Company is essentially the Planetosi equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams -especially given how well they use combined arms. I’m kind of surprised nobody else has copied their approach. Maybe when the dust settles, Westeros will finally get around to putting together a professional army based on the GC’s structure?

    I’d almost expect Bittersteel to be a Carlisle Barracks alum, given how well he put this together.

  2. KrimzonStriker says:

    I have to say that I’m probably in a fundamental disagreement on the conclusion you drew about the Golden Company and their Blackfyre loyalty. Yes Bittersteel created a culture that is long enduring and dictates much of the exiles way of life, but cultures inevitably shift, change, and evolve to better adapt to their circumstances as Bittersteel himself did by forming the Golden Company in the first place. After the civil war the ‘Solid South’ was thoroughly entrenched as a hub of Democratic Party support, until New Deal liberalism following the Great Depression turned all those pre-conceived notions on its head. And while it’s all good to emphasize the Golden Company’s loyalty to the Blackfyre line there’s also clear points of self-interested pragmatism that you aren’t taking into account here. But first let’s deal with culture.

    Consider democratic process that was introduced. Until we hear of Toynes the leadership of the Golden Company is exclusively tied within House Blackfyre, from Bittersteel to Maleys. The one instance where we have a dispute between candidates was a) between members of House Blackfyre and b) settled in a blood duel to the death. This suggest to me that the democratic process wasn’t introduced until after House Blackfyre had passed, which in turn suggests a hereditary system that mirrors the monarchy of Westeros, which relies much more on both tighter control and the force of personality of the person in command, as you yourself have pointed out. Once Maleys and the main Blackfyre line dies that control, and loyalty, begins to die out without a recognizable heir, as you yourself have often critique monarchaic systems. And whatever we might speculate regarding the female line, the fact that Daemon and Maleys were willing to kill one another them suggests to me internal division/infighting after Bittersteel was gone amongst the male Blackfyre claimants, which is not all that surprising given the earlier examples of Daemon II and Aenys even while Bittersteel was still alive. These examples of internal division undercuts the picture of unwavering loyalty amongst the exiles in my view.

    Thus with no dynastic line to follow, the introduction of a democratic process ( likely influenced by the rampant republicanism of Essos) makes the most sense in terms of a compromise amongst the company leaders and represents a clear evolution on the part of the Company on its own. Next is the need for replacements after all these years of fighting. While descendants of the previous Blackfyre loyalist would still make up the overrall bulk of the company not enough credit is being given to the infusion a new breed of exiles joining them over the years, especially after Maleys is gone, that would not share in any way the Company’s previous political affiliations. And the organization which you credit as being so flexible were willing to allow and even ELECT these new comers into high positions of command, from Toynes whose lines stems from grievances to the Blackfyre’s real sire in Aegon IV, to Targaryean loyalist Connigton being his right-hand and likely successor and now seems like the defacto head of the company where the all company captains are deferring to him over Strickland. And even Strickland speaks of a break within tradition and where the companies forefathers worshiped martial prowess that Daemon I embodied. I could go on, Franklyn Flowers stems from a RECENT bastard line that has a clear PERSONAL grievance against the Fossoways of Cider Hall, likely many of the bastard commanders within the company share similar stories as well unlike most of their named noble counter-parts, a portion of the company isn’t even from Westeros but Essos! So which of these contrasting picture of the Golden Company do we hold up? A fanatical political party or a pragmatic mercenary company with their own personal self-interest, united by their shared exile regardless of political affiliation?

    I agree the company is a political entity in its own right, but I also believe that your attempts to tie them to a romantic undying loyalty simplifies the company and its ability to grow and evolve beyond how it was envisioned. There’s a clear reason why the Company’s been scarcely approached by Westeros after Maleys. Connigton spells that out plainly to the Half-master. Their exile creates a counter-constituency which Westeros has to deal with/take into account, namely those lords and lines who hold the company captains ancestral lands. Notice how NONE of the other claimants in the War of the Five kings ever offers the company anything but gold in the case of Stannis and Tommen? Or that so much of Robert’s success during his Rebellion was due as much as his ability to win over his enemies and future vassals? What would it tell anyone if he tried to replace the existing lords ALONG with the monarchy in order to placate the Company commanders? Thus it behooves the Company to champion a monarch who has much more incentive and is much more reliant on them to return what they believe is rightfully theirs.

    On a more practical note, I highly doubt Strickland or the Company leaders would know Aegon was a Blackfyre even if it were true. One of the biggest things hammered into us about a conspiracy is to limit the amount of people who know it. Trying to pull the wool over Connigton when he was previously that highly placed within their ranks on top of his good friend and their company captain in Miles Toynes, and don’t get me started on how they bypass VARYS in your scenario. The other point goes back to how some of the companies leaders could reliably hold on to that secret given my afformentioned lack of political affliation with the Blackfyes to being with. As for Peakes comment, while many of his families friends indeed joined the Blackfyres, many of them would have also joined BECAUSE of the Peakes themselves given how big of a driving force Gormon proved to be during the Second Rebellion, I don’t see why one has to necessarily include the other if the Peakes are willing to join a Targaryean now.

    • Khal Drogo says:

      Very well said. I’m convinced by the Blackfyre theory but I’m sure that only Myles Toyne was knowing the truth. Varys and Illyrio know how to keep a secret. For the Golden Company, Aegon is the son of Rhaegar and at this point, black or red, a dragon is a dragon.

      Anyway, this series is amazing and was a pleasure to read.

      • Grant says:

        In any discussion of what the captains do or don’t know or think they know, we should remember one thing. We’ve only just met them. In fact they’re secondary characters in the few chapters that a non-main character receives, and he’s shown that while he’s grown more cautious and experienced since Robert’s Rebellion, he’s also not infallible in his vision.

        • Khal Drogo says:

          Varys insisted to lie about the fate of Jon Connington because he know it’s impossible to keep a secret among too many people. The same logic apply to Aegon’s indentity. It’s simply impossible to keep this secret if many, or even a few captains know it.

          In my opinion, the Golden Company still fight for a Blackfyre… but without knowing it, thanks to Varys, Illyrio and Toyne.

    • I think there are plenty of historical examples that support my point – the Jacobite cause, as discussed in last episode, lasted for 58 years without a central organization to give it form and structure. Organized anti-Jacobitism is still a major part of Northern Irish politics today.

      As for the Golden Company, I don’t think you can assume a shift from hierarchical to democratic norms – given the models he was working from, it’s more likely that he adopted it from the start.

      And you haven’t addressed the Company’s “friends” in Westeros.

      But what the hell, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. $20 says the GC are still loyal to the Blackfyres.

      • derzquist says:

        “And you haven’t addressed the Company’s “friends” in Westeros.”

        And that’s the part that I forgot about and am really glad you highlighted in this essay Steven, because I think it helps to demonstrate the layering that GRRM uses in his plots.

        I think that for many fans, the wild internal conflicts of Westeros’ past (Blackfyres, Dance of Dragons) are greatly overshadowed by the more recent and relatively successful Robert’s Rebellion. Thus, very subtle hints about century old dissatisfaction with the Targaryans can be overlooked.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        But the Jacobite cause is an engine for a much wider/greater conflict of ideas, not solely based around loyalty to a now defunct dynastic line, whose mandate and basis for power play a significant role in the present political divide in Northern Ireland, which is rooted in religious differences between Catholics and Protestants, the national identity between Irish and British, and the question of the political power divide based on those lines. The past and the more prominent individuals associated with it can be great engines to further the overall agenda, people that can be held up to embody that agenda as martyrs, but that agenda cannot be based solely around those individuals either, otherwise you go from an enduring institution which people can rally around and uphold when those people are gone to simply a cult that will fade after their passing. Mao is idolized everyday in China, but how relevant is he and what he stood for in today’s modern China and Communist Party who still have to deal with and adapt to their agenda fit the overall mandate of ruling China in the now, especially after the setbacks of his cultural revolutions. In Westeros the Iron Throne has now become an institution greater that has remained even without House Targaryean. Bittersteel and the Blackfyres had a greater mandate that the installation of House Blackfyre was supposed to fulfill, and that is to take the exiles home. Since they failed to fulfill that mandate how relevant can they afford to remain for the Golden Company and their agenda?

        Even if I were to concede that, which I’m not since it’s clearly stated the members of House Blackfyre carried on the captaincy after Bittersteel (who as we’ve been told embodied iron discipline and control himself) Maley’ s and Daemons dispute, which also runs alongside a dispute of the succession between them mind you, ran completely counter to what a democratic process should have done in alleviating them risk of nternal political conflict. You can’t tell me that doesn’t set some nasty precedents, especially in a group that whatever their democratic practices now still follow a feudal hereditary mindset, from the installation of a monarch to claims over their ancestral holdings. Now Maley’ s mandate to the captaincy and Westeros isn’t reliant based simply on political consensus or hereditary bloodline but on his ability to tear a person’s head off.

        I thought I did in my last line. You yourself have noted the overall importance of the personal and familial relationships of feudal politics. And that doesn’t end just with the monarchy. The Peakes are amongst the oldest and previously most powerful families in the Reach, long before anyone even heard of the Valyrians much less the Targaryeans and Blackfyres, I’m not surprised at all to hear they still have pull and that pull amongst their families friends can work for any direction or dragon if they ask, since any success for the Peakes can tie into the success of their allies as well.

        I’ll add the caveat that I’m trying to state that the Golden Company is loyal to an overall agenda and those who can potentially fulfill that agenda commands that loyalty. So if Aegon turns out to be a Blackfyre and the Company doesn’t care and chooses to stay loyal to him then that shouldn’t count against me. But in terms of being in die-hard loyalist/fanatics actually in on this apparent part of the conspiracy the whole time then yeah, I’ll take you up on that.

        • “The Peakes are amongst the oldest and previously most powerful families in the Reach, long before anyone even heard of the Valyrians much less the Targaryeans and Blackfyres, I’m not surprised at all to hear they still have pull and that pull amongst their families friends can work for any direction or dragon if they ask, since any success for the Peakes can tie into the success of their allies as well.”

          The Peakes were powerful – but them having friends in the Reach and the Stormlands pretty much points to Blackfyre loyalism. I don’t think the “pull” of a rebel branch of a lesser House is going to get someone to rebel against their liege lord.

          The point about the Jacobite thing is that ideology often grows around blood ties. The sons of the men who died during the Dornish war rising for Daemon sire the sons who will avenge the holy martyrs of Redgrass Field, who’ll sire the sons who will be embittered by the murders of Haegon and Aenys, and their sons will remember the fathers who died on the Stepstones. It starts out as a question of dynastic loyalties and becomes about avenging the dead.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            I would agree that previous loyalty is something those friends shared with the Peakes, but that wouldn’t have been all that tied them together, many houses alliance with the Peakes would have gone longer then just the Blackfyre Rebellions, look at them dividing half the Reach between them and the Manderly’ s at one point, those same allies would have also been the likely recipients of marriage ties to solidify those relationships. And Connigton was the one pushing his influence in the Storm lands as I recall, the Targaryean loyalist ones, more then a few of the other exiles have ties to both regions themselves, so added together WITH the Peakes and you have enough personal pull to affect any side they throw their weight behind still.

            But that ideology takes a shape that grows beyond that of individual persons. Those persons may be idolized and said to embody those ideals but they aren’t bigger then them or is the battle between the Catholics and Protestants that divided all of Europe and not simply Britain not a conflict that both far outstripped and at the same time incorporated the Jacobite Rebellions? Avenging the dead also has to make sense and sometimes has to give way to the present as well. For all the history of blood between the Brakens and the Blackwoods they were and are as much a rivalry over territory, resources, and influence suiting he present as it was about avenging the dead from the past. For all the enimity between the Manderly’ s and Peakes in the past you never see them in conflict after the Manderly’ s were removed from the Reaches political sphere now, because that rivalry is no longer relevant to the Manderly’ s present situation in the North. Or how every person who bent the knee to another would never stop rising in revolt if that wasn’t the case. There has to be a corresponding relevance between loyalty COMBINED with an overall beneficial agenda for anyone to keep dedicating themselves to a cause, and the one agenda that is constantly hammered in about the Golden Company is that all of them, regardless of previous political affiliations want to go HOME. If Bittersteel and the Blackfyres couldn’t deliver on that mandate then why should the company be any different in seeing the failure of the rebellions like the rebel lords who had stayed in Westeros and ceased their support of the Black Dragon despite all the dead they had spent and lost as well? The only real difference between the present lords whose ancestors stayed to their counterpart descendants of those who fled in exile in the end is that previously the Company leaders had fewer options/choices to rectify the matter given the little incentive the previous monarchs of Westeros had to alleviate their exile after all this time.

  3. Brett says:

    Is Barristan Selmy amazing or what? That’s two game-changing feats of courage and skill that he pulled off – killing Maelys and also saving Aerys from Duskendale. No wonder he’s practically legendary.

  4. Son of fire says:

    Excellent read!! Bravo

    Hate to be a party pooper but i spotted 2 typo’s
    These were the heirs of Bittersteel, and discipline was mother’s milk to them.
    ADWD 62: The Dragon Reborn….should be griffin reborn.

    Beneath the picture of the close up of the phalax.
    The cavalry are there to guard the flanks and exploit weaknesses in the enemy’s formation, but unlike the Westerosi chivalry…..should be cavalry at the end methinks.

  5. tooo65 says:

    Great work!
    I didn’t believe the “Aegon is a blackfyre” theory, but you convinced me. But it does raise the question of why would jon conington, a former hand of a Targaryean king, would serve in the golden compeny, and why does he believe that thay would follow a Targaryean.

    • derzquist says:

      Because red or black, a dragon is a dragon, right? 😉

      But in all seriousness, as much as Connington might begin with a dim view of the GC, they are ultimately Westerosi. In exile, familiar names and accents can count for a lot.

    • I think JC served because he’d do anything to put Rhaegar’s son on the IT, and he lets that delude him a bit.

  6. Iñigo says:

    I liked the way you connected the existence of the Golden company with the situation of the disputed lands.

    The fact that all the companies the slavers could hire are in Slavers bay right now and that the GC has left means that the disputed lands are left with companies that would not go to Yunkai, as good as the pay was. Probably meaning that they have agreements with Braavos.

    If there is a slave revolt in Lys, Myr, Tyrosh or Volantis at this point, Braavos could have the chance to propagate it and make it stick, taking control of Essos.

  7. Wonderful article. The Golden Company seems to be based on The White Company of Sir
    John Hawkwood fame, also a combined arms company that was known for being a cut more loyal than your average condottiero and I remember George RR Martin citing Arthur Conan Doyle’s book of the same name. Of course its The White Company crossed with the Jacobites.

    One thing that puzzles me is where does Braavos fit in with the Disputed Lands and the GC? I remember Jorah Mormont mentioning he fought against Braavos in the Disputed Lands as a sellsword.

    • Amestria says:

      It was on the Rhoyne that he fought them, not the disputed lands. He was fighting for the Volantenes and its not clear if he was fighting the Braavosi military or Braavosi sellswords working for Qohor or Norvos or a private Braavosi mercenary group being funded by Braavosi capitalists.

    • Braavos seems not to have much of a direct hand in the Disputed Lands as long as the balance of power is maintained. It doesn’t like the DL being united – hence its actions against the Kingdom of the Three Daughters.

  8. Amestria says:

    This was posted too late in the last thread so I might as well repost it here.


    “So which was it: that the plan was crazy, that Bittersteel distrusted Daemon’s dreams, or homophobia? Personally, I lean toward a combination of the first two, because they were inextricably linked and equally crazy.”

    It might not have been homophobia so much as rivalry and different visions of where to take the rebellion. The thing about male lovers is that they can take take the leadership roles and offices normally assigned to men. Daemon II seems to have wanted to run with the romantic spirit of the Black’s first rebellion. The Brown Dragon was all about winning the war by making it a good story: songs, warrior kings, tournaments, prophetic dreams, dragons eggs, a spontaneous uprising against the tyrant, and so on. Lord Cockshaw probably felt the same way, seeing as how close he and Daemon II were.

    Bittersteel however wanted to take the Blacks in a much less romantic and much more ruthless direction – a professional army, a quick invasion, and the (probable) use of assassins. On the Redgrass field he’d learned that life was not a song when Daemon I’s chivalry led him to be cut down by Bloodraven’s magic arrows. Daemon II’s dreams had no place in the hardheaded and practical rebellion Bittersteel wanted to continue and Bittersteel’s ruthlessness had no place in Daemon II’s fantasies. Had Daemon II triumphed Bittersteel would have been replaced.

  9. Amestria says:

    “However, such large, tightly-packed formations can’t really turn or reverse very easily – and they present excellent targets for dragonfire”

    So the disciplined, mostly infantry, combined arms Golden Company should be extremely vulnerable to the destruction and disruption of Dragons fire?

    So the moment a hostile dragon rider arrives in Westeros, they’re obsolete again and very likely dead, while the Dornish would be the best equipped and trained to handle the new situation.

    • Winnie says:

      Good point. Amnestria. VERY good point…if we ever get the next books in the series, that does seem a likely result.

      Great job as always Steve. I like the “Babies were switched twice,” theory but I think it seems hopelessly convoluted and frankly I’m glad fAegon isn’t making it to the show, because I felt like he stole Dany, (and Jon’s!) thunder.

      • Andrew says:

        I agree the “babies switched twice” does seem convoluted to me. It also means that Varys didn’t know Illyrio might pull something like that, his partner he had known for years. It also doesn’t take into account that Elia wouldn’t be with a stranger’s child during the sack but protecting her daughter, Rhaenys.

        It is more likely that Varys knows Aegon is a fake, and has been working this whole time to bring down House Targaryen and install a Blackfyre. As for Varys’s motives, that is where I call BS. The only time we actually see someone reveal their grand plan such fashion in fiction is the villains.

        • Winnie says:

          I agree having Varys be working with the Blackfyre’s all along, would explain a lot of things, though as Steve (correctly) notes there was no reason to continue the charade with Kevan. Frankly, I think Martin just let that storyline get out of control and painted himself in a corner with an overly complicated subplot that was a distraction from the main event-and once more I am very, VERY relieved they are NOT bothering with it for the show.

          • Andrew says:

            I think Varys had a reason to not reveal everything that can be summed by something LF said:

            “Even when we are alone?”
            “Especially when we are alone. Elsewise a day will come when a servant walks into a room unannounced, or a guardsman at the door chances to hear something he should not.

            Varys has been in the game longer than LF, and likely would follow the same line of thinking.

          • David Hunt says:

            Andrew, if a servant walked in on them with Varys standing over a dying Kevan, Varys would have to kill him/her. He couldn’t chance that Kevan might be saved by a skilled maester having a good day. Varys also knows where all the hidden listening points are because he uses them. If Aegon’s a Blackfyre, then Varys’ plan to place a well-trained Aegon on the throne has been betrayed by his old friend. Varys was just trying to be kind to a man who he respected as competently working for the good of the realm as he saw it as Varys believes himself to be. He was keeping him company while he died. He might have thought that Kevan knowing a good ruler was coming would be a comfort.

            And Elia would be with Aegon because she didn’t know about the switch. If Varys pulled it off close enough to Gregor breaking in, she might not have held the kid before he died.

          • John says:

            They’re not even alone! Varys and Kevan very explicitly aren’t the only people in the room.

          • Varys is not in danger of being disturbed. Remember, the servant who leads Kevan there and who guards the door is one of Varys’ little birds.

          • Andrew says:

            It still helps to be extra cautious. Besides, Varys was telling the truth just not all of it. He had no reason to tell Kevan everything.

            @David Hunt
            Not recognize the switch? You think a mother wouldn’t be able to recognize her own child? How many babies in KL have full Valyrian features? Elia would have recognized immediately that the child wasn’t hers.

          • David Hunt says:

            Andrew. I admit that the “not recognize” is a bit of a stretch…but only because I think I recall reading the Elia was highly unusual in performing a lot of Aegon’s day-to-day care herself. To fool her, Varys would have had to use his system of secret passages to pull the switch very shortly before Gregor broke in. At least one of Aegon’s nurses would likely have had to be in on it too. That nurse would ideally be eliminated as soon after as could be managed.

            Or maybe Elia was privy to the ruse. Varys would have told her he could save the kid, but she’d have to go along with the ruse to sell it to whoever killed the baby. “No, I can’t save Raenys, she mature enough that too many people know what she looks like and would spot the switch while Aegon still looks like *Westeros equivalent of Winston Churchill*. Sorry. I can save one of your children or none. Choose.”

          • Amestria says:

            John and Andrew are right. Varys little birds are present and although they’re missing their tongues they are literate. Calling Aegon a Blackfyre in their presence would be an unnecessary risk, however small, assuming Varys knows.

            Though one wonders how long that secret will remain a secret when the GC starts reaching out to their former allies in the Reach.

          • Andrew says:

            Where is it stated ELia did alot of Aegon’s day-to-day care herself? Elia was with Aegon at the time of the sack. Varys would have had little time. Also why didn’t Varys try to save Elia as well? If Larys could smuggle out a wounded Aegon II, then Varys could do it with Elia.

            You really think a mother would sacrifice her child? They would have thought the baby in Aegon’s crib was Aegon anyway, so it was completely necessary for her to hold him. Elia would likely have demanded Varys to save Rhaenys as well, especially given her Dornish attitudes towards genders. It wasn’t beyond Varys’s capacity.

          • David Hunt says:

            Andrew, I was simplifying my argument because I have a tendency to ramble that I have to fight. As to who Varys could get out, I refer you to his reluctance to rescue Eddard and Tyrion. When Tyrion escaped, everyone immediately knew it was Varys that got him out. This is the type of thing that ends his ability to influence policy in King’s Landing. He can’t properly prepare the way for his perfect prince (yay for alliteration) if he’s stuck in Pentos reduced to running his old scam with Illyrio.

            Also, it’s not enough to get the kid out. He/she has to stay alive long enough grow up and retake the throne. If he’s alive and loose, then he’s still going to be hunted. This is why Stanis was sent to take Dragonstone. Aerys’ children were as much the military objective as the castle itself if not more. The only reason Willam Darry escaped with Visaerys and Dany was that Stannis’ fleet got a major pounding in the storm that heralded Dany’s birth.

            Getting Raenys out probably isn’t on the table as she’s old enough to not look like a zillion other babies. People know her and a switch would be found out. As to why Elia would go along with it, she’s not choosing which child to sacrifice she’s choosing whether her son will live or die. Presented that way, I can see Elia going along with it, because ruthless politics demand that the rebel have to kill Aegon. Plus argument could have been made to Elia that Raenys had a much better chance of being spared. She’s a girl and Robert probably has a better claim to the throne than her by Targaryan inheritance law. Plus they can keep her as a bargaining chip to marry her off to Renly or some other important lord. I can see Elia buying that, at least long enough to let her make the devil’s bargain that will keep her son alive. Plus, it might have been true if Tywin hadn’t felt the need to make a dramatic statement of his loyalty to the new regime.

          • Andrew says:

            She is choosing to sacrifice a child as she would be consciously choosing to abandon her daughter. Besides, they would have thought they would have killed Aegon, and there is absolutely no logical correlation between Rhaenys dead = Aegon is dead. Killing the decoy would have convinced them Aegon is dead, and Rhaenys could have been raised away from Aegon. There is nothing that supports the idea that Rhaenys needed to die in order for Aegon to be believed dead. The same can be said for Elia.

          • David Hunt says:

            I didn’t say that Elia and Raenys needed to die. I said that the method that Varys says he used to save Aegon wouldn’t work for them and that he wasn’t going to risk his position to save them. And yes, I agree that neither of them needed to die. Both of them alive would have yielded various opportunities for the new dynasty. I mentioned all of that when I talked about arguments that could have been put to Elia to surrender Aegon to Varys.

            Also, I don’t see how Elia choosing to go along with switching out Aegon for another kid is sacrificing or abandoning Raenys in any fashion at all. She wouldn’t be figuratively abandoning her if the only choices she’s presented with are “I can save Aegon or I can save no one.” Not choosing to take that option is pretty much condemning Aegon to death and taking it leaves Raenys no worse off. She wouldn’t be literally abandoning her either, as she stayed at the Red Keep and was there for Gregor Clegane to brutalize and murder. At that point, her best options are to stick it out and count on Robert realizing their worth as hostages/marriage prospects. I think there would have been a really good chance of that if Tywin hadn’t been the one to take the city. Going along with the switch wouldn’t be sacrificing Raenys, but refusing to sacrifice Aegon.

            It’s not even as horrific a situation as Sophie’s Choice where Sophie is put in the impossible situation of choosing which of her children will live or they will both be killed. This is simply, “I can remove that child from danger, but I can’t help the other one.” Heart-wrenching, but the moral choice is clear.

          • Crystal says:

            I agree that the book storyline got out of control there. I think the show is wise to pare down a lot of the kudzu that started to clog AFFC/ADWD.

            Re finding a fake Rhaenys (fRhaenys): She was said to look like the Martell side of the family, so finding a dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned girl of about three would probably have been fairly easily done, especially if Varys had access to enough people of salty Dornish descent. It’s harder to fake a toddler than a baby, I think it could be done more easily than an older child or adult. It depends on how well Tywin and Robert knew what Rhaenys really looked like. Perhaps not well, considering that Robert probably is not interested in other people’s children and Tywin is Tywin and anyone not a Lannister is a lesser being. A fRhaenys could probably have been arranged even if the real Rhaenys wouldn’t have been groomed as heir – she could as well been adopted by a Braavosi family and assimilated (but at least alive).

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Going to have to agree with David here Andrew. Over the long term Varys would have been hard pressed to keep Robert off his back if the direct heirs to the throne got away, he would have been a fugitive as well because no one else would logically be able to get anyone out of the Redkeep while both Elia and Raneys are under guard. Dorne would have also been under threat as they would have been the logical place for Elia to run with the kids. This primarily works because Aegon is believed dead. Raneys can’t be faked at her age. Thus Varys is also in a position to not only protect Aegon over the short term but also the long term as Robert’s spymaster. I mean, you don’t think Viserys and Dany lasted as long as they did without a little bit of help do you?

          • Andrew says:

            I never said switching Aegon would be sacrificing Rhaenys, but choosing to not be with Rhaenys during the sack to be with some stranger’s child is sacrificing her. Rhaenys was too far away for her Elia to protect her when they found her. It wasn’t without Varys ability to save Rhaenys, he plainly could have done it. Besides, I doubt Varys would make that kind of offer of saving Aegon or no one.

            Bottom line: If the baby with Elia wasn’t Aegon, then she would have been with Rhaenys during the sack.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            You do realize that Elia’s under guard by Aerys right? If they’re kept in different rooms then it’s not feasible for Elia to simply move around between her room and Raney’s, even with Varys use of tunnels, because of the suspicion it would bring. And a fake baby Aegon would normally still be nursing at this time, likely Elia tends to that herself whenever she can as most mothers do, so being by a fake baby Aegon’s side would make more sense for her if she’s trying to avoid arousing suspicion.

          • Andrew says:

            It was during the sack, by that logic there was no way for Jaime to approach and kill Aerys. The men in the RK were busy fighting Tywin’s men by the time Gregor reached Elia’s room the men in the RK either surrendered or were killed.

            Suspicion? Gregor isn’t exactly Einstein. He would have just assumed the baby in the cradle was Aegon as he was the only known baby in the RK. There is nothing that would stopped Elia from trying to aid her daughter.

        • To me, the Illyrio angle is what makes it seem more likely. In his whole life, Varys has trusted only one person, and that’s the person who’s betrayed him.

          • Andrew says:

            The problem with that is Varys worked with Illyrio for decades, and would likely know what kind of man he is. I think Varys’s testament to a enlightened government are complete BS.

          • Or you could make it simpler and say everything he’s done is to put the son of the one person he loves on the throne and make him a good king.

            He doesn’t have to lie to Kevan but he doesn’t have any reason to tell him the truth either. It’s not just the risk of being overheard or a little bird betraying him it’s that the best way to lie convincingly is to make part of yourself believe the lie. I’m sure Varys is well practiced in living lies to better sell them.

          • Regardless fantastic work as usual.

      • Thanks!

        While it is convoluted, I think it does reconcile contradictory evidence, and fits well within the “human heart at war with itself” theme.

    • djinn says:

      Of course, Black Balaq & co. with a goldenheart/yew longbows would have a better then average chance of killing Dragons that just about anyone else(Dornish included).

    • Well, the Golden Company seems a bit more flexible than the Unsullied. The Unsullied can’t/won’t move out of the way of dragonfire – the GC would.

  10. jpmarchives says:

    The Blackfyre story really is Bittersteel and Bloodraven’s story; typical of GRRM to make a civil war about two bastard brothers who hate each other rather than the royals themselves. After such a long time, I kind of want to see the Golden Company triumph, if only so that they can plant Bittersteel’s skull in the red keep. Come on George; let him keep his promise!

    • Winnie says:

      He’ll probably let them do just that-right before the Red Keep and all of KL burns down in classic Martin fashion.

      • That’s kind of my thinking. The GC’s story arc needs them to succeed before being utterly destroyed.

        • Andrew says:

          I see more of an Army of the Dead parallel for them from LoTR. Connington will see Aegon die, and later it is confirmed that Aegon was a fake. Connington would feel worse off than before for having failed House Targaryen not once but twice. He wouldn’t go back to Dany, or even look her in the eye. I think he would just give up hope, and go to the Red Mountains to die.

          Of course, then R+L=J is revealed. Connington will see it as being given another chance at redemption, and he will likely think Rhaegar named his son for him.

          • Winnie says:

            Seven Hells! I never even realized before that Jon Snow may have been named for Rhaegar’s BFF….but it makes perfect sense. It always was a bit odd to me, he had such a ‘common’ name but I figured Ned was trying to avoid drawing any particular attention to the boy.

            Sadly, though, I think JonCon will be dead long before he ever gets to meet the “real” lost son of Rhaegar. I mean Martin was mean enough to let Maester Aemon die without ever knowing the truth much less Cat and Robb, and he deprived us of the pleasure of *Tywin’s* reaction as well.

          • David Hunt says:

            It’s possible that Jon was named after Jon Connington, but I don’t think it’s likely. Rhaegar wasn’t present at Jon’s birth as he was stone cold dead. If he had planned to name him after a friend instead of a previous Targaryan and had discussed that with Lyanna, I think Arthur Dayne , described as Rhaegar’s closest friend, is a more likely candidate. Connington would be fooling himself if he thought Jon was named after him. I think he exaggerates how close he was to Rhaegar to himself because of his unrequited love for him.

            I think naming Jon fell to Ned after Lyanna died very shortly after giving birth to him. He named him after Jon Arryn, the man Ned was fostered to and raised him like his own son. The symmetry seems appropriate to me.

            Besides, it’s my guess that if Rhaegar had any name picked out in his head or otherwise for Jon, it was “Visenya.” He named his first two children after Aegon I and one of his sisters. I think Rhaegar was expecting that particular combination to be repeated and that Lyanna would give birth to a girl. Aegon VI would then marry both of his sisters like the Conqueror of old.

          • Andrew says:

            GRRM said Ned named Jon for Jon Arryn, but Connington would be inclined to think Rhaegar had Jon named for him.

          • Crystal says:

            I think Ned named Jon, and Jon Arryn was the honoree. And besides, Jon was a Stark family name anyway – this was part of Ned keeping his promise to Lyanna to ensure Jon’s safety. This way, Jon would blend in as Ned’s ostensible bastard.

            I agree that Rhaegar probably was expecting a girl (the third head of the dragon) to be named Visenya. I have no idea what he would have had as a backup name for a boy – given his interpretation of the prophecy, I bet Rhaegar was utterly certain that the baby would be a girl.

        • Amestria says:

          It’s going to be interesting to see how Bloodraven reacts to their return. That might be the tell as to whether he’s really become enlightened with age and reflection or is still the same cutthroat “all that matters is winning” bastard he was when he was exiled. Age can lead to growth, but it can also harden people into immobility.

        • derzquist says:

          I really hope the GC isn’t completely destoryed. What I love about the GC is that upon finally landing in Westeros, they will [now] represent a huge thorn in the side of all of the aristocratic establishment. Every one of them with Westerosi blood/name represents some alternate claiment, solid or weak, to a current position, great or small. Combine that with the very modern military organization that Steven outlined, plus the utterly bizzare policy of [certain] people feeling entitled to some say in who is their boss…

          I like the idea that even when the series closes, that the simple presence of of remnents of the GC will cause headaches and changes to the status quo for generations.

  11. Space Oddity says:

    One thing I do want to point out–some sellsword companies do appear to be largely infantry–the Company of the Cat for example.

    Which does make you wonder what they’re selling…

    • The Company is fairly unusual, and even then, they are infantry-only rather than mixed.

      • Amestria says:

        Given how they’re chomping at the bit to take Meereen, they might specialize in city taking and city sacking.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        Speaking of mercenary infantry Steven, I’d like to add a note regarding the company spearmen. As shown in their assault on Griffins Roost and the sacking of Qohor and Tyrosh I would characterize their infantry more suited/along the lines of a multi-purpose infantry model, like a Roman Legion/Greek hoplite, that’s quite experienced with close-quarters and urban combat at sword point when it comes down to it, based on the look of the length of their spears versus say a Macedonian/Greek phalanx model like in your picture, thus making them more capable of responding to a flanking attempt by other infantry.

        • I would agree. I think the Golden Company has more of the Roman legion’s flexibility – and shares the emphasis on skilled/experienced non-coms given initiative in the field.

  12. djinn says:

    Interesting analysis. I think, pound for pound, the Golden Company is the most competent military force seem so far, but magic and attrition could always change situations beyond their control.

  13. derzquist says:

    Steven, obviously you’re inclined to focus the ‘historical’ trends involving the Blackfyres and the GC. But from experiance I know that you’re the first to admit that all theories and speculation must first bow to the themes of the story GRRM is telling.

    So, in your humble opinion, what is the story arc of the Blackfyres and the GC? Is it just GRRM offering some window dressing? Is it George giving a hat tip to the Faulkner quote about the past? Is there some other twist beyod the “fAegon” speculation that awaits us readers?

    The Baron’s War and the Jacobites are certainly interesting parts of history, but why spend a solid amount of ADWD + two of the D&E stories + a few dozen references throughout the rest of the story, just to create a very broadly based literary parallel?

    • I think the story arc is for the GC to put Aegon on the Throne, and then to have Aegon die at Dany’s hands – momentary triumph before eventual defeat.

      What happens to them after, I don’t know.

  14. Jake Drake says:

    Maleys is interesting, in how we assume that he’s just a brute due to the twin on his neck, and how he came to lead the GC, but there is a sharp side to him that prevented some kind of mutiny after the brutal way he took power. I don’t think he could have taken Westeros, I feel as if his brutal methods, and even his looks, would scream Maegor to too many. Not to mention that he’d need to land somewhere and I don’t see Braavos accepting the Disputed Lands region abandoning their conflict. Not that it would be impossible, taking a few hostages of the LP may help, but securing defence and launching an offence are two different things.

    Great series of articles, however, and I cn see why the Blackfyres would keep trying, and why they didn’t just collapse into nothingness. Daemon wasn’t just Renly with Arthur Dayne’s ability, but with actual talent, and I almost feel as if Westeros might have seen more stability had the Redgrass Fields ended with a Blackfyre victory…until the Others/WW start moving in, of course.

    • derzquist says:

      Ehhh… I doubt that a Blackfyre victory, even during the 1st Rebellion, would have led to any more stability than the original timeline. The only difference would be the names and standards of the exiles in Essos, constantly trying to go home and reclaim what they’ve lost.

    • Grant says:

      Really it’s impossible to say. It depends so much on Blackfyre policies, whether heirs live or die, how well the fears of the great houses concerning the actions of their ambitious servants were allayed and a host of other issues that we cannot predict anything.

  15. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, just popping in to compliment your most excellent work in this article and in the course of the series which it concludes; I’ve been very glad to read your thoughts on the Red Dragon Vs The Black and will be interested in seeing how many of your conclusions future developments in A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE confirms, as well as how many it invalidates.

    One point I wanted to address was your questioning of the idea that the Band of Nine splintered after the death of Maelys the Monstrous, given that it still took six months to finish the War thereafter – it seems not unlikely that there’s an element of truth to both views, given that The Ninepenny Kings were MERCENARIES at heart (and that most of them had ambitions not focussed on The Seven Kingdoms).

    Given this fact it seems not unreasonable that those of the Band of Nine who were able and willing to bug out after the death of Maelys (I’d guess the likes of The Last Valyrian and the other pirates voted with their fleet at the very least), while those willing to fight on did so, especially if the departure of their fleet left them high and dry.

    I’d also like to suggest that the disproportionate casualty rate at the Battle of Wendwater Bridge might have been due to The Golden Company having become scattered by some of the violent weather conditions which give the Stormlands their name – if this IS the case then the Blackfyre Pretender’s decision to risk it all in single combat makes more sense, as a stalling measure or just as a desperate stab (no pun intended) at making an end worthy of Remembrance.

    • Thanks!

      That’s a good point about the being left high and dry thing.

      • Space Oddity says:

        You know, I’d like to toss out a theory on what the Last Valyrian was actually aiming at–I’d argue with a nickname like that, you’re underselling Saan if you think he was going to be happy with Lys.

        I think he was aiming for Volantis, myself. With perhaps Lys a part of his prospective “empire”. (Of course, you do have to wonder why the Lyseni keep the Saans around if they keep backstabbing the city this way…)

        • Abbey Battle says:

          Probably for the same reason the likes of Algiers and Tunis gave the Barbary Corsairs house-room; which is to say because the family Saan, those arch Hire-sails and Sea-Rovers, have as long a record of services rendered to Lys as they do of serving no one save themselves.

          Consider also the likes of Sir Francis Drake or old Henry Morgan; pirates both and self-serving to boot, but both these resourceful sea-dogs and plunderers made themselves of sufficient use to their sovereigns that they went in no great danger of prosecution unless they were unwary enough to let themselves be taken alive by the Spaniards whom they had so thoroughly vexed.

          On another level, It is equally possible that the Last Valyrian was not a true representative of the ambitions of his House, but was instead a Black Sheep of that lineage and his actions therefore disavowed after he made some effort to seize Lys for his own.

  16. Roger says:

    Bittersteel showed his military mastery in his retreats. Despite his defeats, he managed to save the bigger part of his army and kept it alive as a force and political party too.

    We have no idea about the tactics of the Golden Company. We don’t even know if the origin of the soldiers (just about the officers). Perhaps not all of its 10.000 members are soldiers. We also don’t know about the tactics current at the Free Cities. The Windblown seem to fight like light-medium cavalry, trusting in their speed and movility more than in weight and armor.
    European medieval knight have an undeserved bad reputation as charge-loving aficionados. Mostly becouse they failed at Crecy and Agincourt. The days they triumphed due to well-syncronized charges (Navas de Tolosa, Tagliacozzo) are mostly forget.
    Westeros cavalry has no examples of mad charges, AFAIK.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      One thing that always amuses me when people extol the military skills of The Black Prince or Henry the Fifth and the supremacy of the English Longbow over the Chivalry of France is that the French WON the Hundred Years War.

      Not just because they managed to get a hold of guns either.

      • Brian says:

        Well, Maester Attewell can correct me if I’m wrong but England’s greatest disadvantages were having a population of 4 million compared to 17 million for France, constant infighting between Cersei and Ned -sorry, Margaret of Anjou and Richard of York, with Henry VI ‘ madness, losing Burgundy after the Treaty of Arras…it was kind of inevitable that France won after Henry V bought the farm.

        • That, plus France adapting to English warfare.

        • Roger says:

          Medieval France wasn’t a modern state. So it couldn’t order a national levy and overwhelm the Englishmen in the late war, when Burgundy was mostly not-beligerant, and the southern lords were more interested in other affairs. Castillon and Formigny were battles without numerical advantage.

      • Right, but the French didn’t win because of their cavalry – they won because they adapted to the English technique and neutralized the longbow advantage.

        • Roger says:

          The battle of Patay, the decisive battle of 1429 campaign (and of the late part of the war, in my opinion), was won by a fierce surprise charge.

    • Examples of Westerosi mad charges:

      – Field of Fire
      – The Last Storm
      – Roddy the Ruin
      – etc.

      • Roger says:

        We have no proof Field of Fire was a mad charge.
        The Last Storm was more a mad charge, but was a dismounted cavalry affair.
        Also both attacks broke the enemy lines. It was dragons what turned the scales. I’ve always thought Argilac suposed heavy rains would stop dragonfire.
        Roddy the Ruin managed to kill the enemy commander. But… guess what? Dragons again.
        My point is there is not any Agincourt in Westeros (well, only the battle of Qohor). And knightly cavalry can be really efective.

      • Jaime'slefthand says:

        In fairness, Roddy the Ruin’s final charge would have actually worked in terms of winning the battle had it not been for the two betrayers burning the town to the ground, but perhaps that’s beside the point.

      • Roger says:

        The best example of mad charge could be the Muddy Mess (Battle of the Kingsroad in the Dance of Dragons) where Storm knights charged into a mudd pit. Like in the historical battle of Halmyros

  17. Archer says:

    The biggest thing I have an issue with in these articles – and kudos to you that it’s a relatively minor thing, its a testament that this is well researched – is your assertion that the non-cavalry-non-archer-non-war-elephants are automatically heavy phalanx/legion-type infantry. I don’t think that this is supported in the text.

    I’d say – and this is purely conjecture – that a number of these remaining men might be in support (weaponsmiths, on-field medical experts maybe), possible some light cavalry, and any infantry that they DO have would be more along the lines of heavy infantry similar to unmounted knights (something along the lines of how Victareon Greyjoy) that do not present a united front, but fight individually in battle; and light infantry, possibly spearmen.

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