Before we get to the finalists, I want to take some time to explain why three of the best swordsmen in the entire show didn’t make the tier list. Daario Naharis is perhaps the most dangerous man in Essos. Unfortunately, we only ever see him cut down some extras. He is never showcased in a real battle like those who were assigned to a tier. The same is true for Stannis Baratheon, who only briefly fights during his siege of King’s Landing and again after being injured outside Winterfell. Syrio Forel clearly knows a great deal about swordplay, but aside from his lessons we only see him apply his skills against Meryn Trant’s soldiers while armed with a wooden sword. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that all three of these characters would have earned very high rankings if given the chance. But because we never see them fight against notable opponents, I cannot justify their inclusion in the list. However, all three of them are so impressive that they warrant mentioning.
Syrio Forel. I can’t claim to be a fencer unless I mention him. Fencers love Forel, mainly because the maneuverability of water dancing tends to lend itself both to Olympic fencing as well as realistic swordplay. Forel demonstrates his expertise by giving good, valid advice during his lessons, though some theatrics are mixed in as well. For example, Arya’s first lesson repeats Jon’s advice to “stick them with the pointy end.” This is the single best tip you can give a student – even if they’re not advanced enough to know a lot of proper techniques, they understand to be direct and to go hit the enemy instead of wasting time. Also, Forel’s emphasis on truly seeing the opponent and their intent is a very important yet subtle aspect of any martial art or combat sport. Aside from that, Syrio’s suggestion to make Arya’s target smaller by having her stand sideways would do nothing but throw her off balance, and his own fighting stance, while fancy looking, is horribly unbalanced as well. Regardless, Syrio Forel is the closest we get to a direct and knowledgeable master of combat. His one fight, albeit weighted against him, still demonstrated a great knowledge and understanding of the mechanics of combat. Yes, Forel is either dead or long-since-abandoned in a dungeon, but he managed to incapacitate several men with nothing but a wooden practice sword before breaking his own guiding principle and sacrificing himself to the god of death.
Daario Naharis deserves to be at the top of the tier list, or so I assume. He has never had to fight anyone other than nameless city guards or The Sons of the Harpy, so for all we know he might trip and fall on his dagger when he inevitably has to face a greyscale-infected Jorah. That being said, there’s plenty of reason to assume that Daario is one of the best swordsmen in the show and will probably place towards the top of the list after season six. At Yunkai, we see three fighters showing off their various styles against the nameless city guards. Among them, Daario was not only the most effective when it came to rapidly killing off multiple assailants, but he was the most comfortable and collected while doing so.
This trend continues against the Sons of the Harpy at the Great Games as well as the champion soldier at the gates of Meereen. Daario demonstrates that he is experienced and knowledgeable of many styles and approaches to combat. This allows him to get an accurate read on all of the people he fights and immediately adjust. Daario’s ability to stay calm and intuitive in combat makes him a dangerous force to be reckoned with. Yes, all of the men he kills on screen are inconsequential, so we know that he’s never really in danger. However, Daario kills his opponents by outmaneuvering them rather than simply hacking them down. He exploits the weakness of his enemies and uses it against them. Are you riding on horseback and moving too quickly to change direction? Daario is going to intercept you with his dagger. Are you trying to run him through with a spear? Daario’s going to approach and get up close to you where you can’t hit him. Daario’s main strength comes from his versatility and his ability to adapt on the fly. His weakness? Well, we haven’t seen any yet. Maybe his willingness to abandon his current cause for a beautiful woman, but that doesn’t say anything about his swordsmanship.
There’s not much to say about Stannis Baratheon. For all that’s said about him being a legendary commander, he led his men into two separate and distinct massacres. We don’t see him actually fight much, but when we do, it’s beautiful. The battle of Blackwater isn’t very telling. He angrily cuts down a lot of extras with big, dramatic attacks – perhaps this was merely meant to reinforce his description as an excellent soldier. I’m much more interested in his quick fight after his troops are defeated at Winterfell. Stannis is injured and exhausted when two Bolton footsoldiers find him. Stannis knows that he can’t win any more conventional fights – he can’t even walk without using his sword for support. The choices that Stannis makes in this quick encounter reveal a lot about him as a swordsman. First off, Stannis is immediately able to size up his two opponents. Though he initially tried to hold them off with his sword and admittedly did a decent job in spite of being mortally wounded, Stannis realized that this was not going to work. Rather, using the knowledge that he had already gathered from his brief encounter with the two men, Stannis was able to adapt, get inside their distance where it was safe, and quickly dispatch them with his dagger.
This is similar to Jaime Lannister’s victory over Jory. His ability to think on his feet while analyzing and adapting to his opponents and surroundings is what earns Stannis his honorable mention. If he wasn’t injured and tired, I have no doubt that Stannis would be able to use his skills to take out some of the better fighters on the tier list.
When it comes to naming a victor among the honorable mentions, I’m genuinely stumped. All three fighters are so driven, experienced, knowledgeable, and versatile that picking a winner is nearly impossible, especially given that none of them actually fight or encounter each other. Choosing one person would be little more than guesswork and extrapolation on my part. And to be honest, I prefer the idea of championing the three of them individually rather than pitting them against each other. They’ve all certainly earned it.
At last, we can get to my favorites.