On the surface, it may seem that Jon Snow and Grey Worm don’t have much in common. However, both of them are natural leaders who faithfully believe in their cause above all else and are capable of delivering both compassion and justice. Both of them have trained their whole lives and unfortunately both of them are horribly inexperienced in actual combat.
There’s not much to say about Grey Worm because we never see him fight anyone more important than an extra. We see a demonstration of his style at Yunkai, and we learn that his choice to use a spear is effective at keeping multiple soldiers at bay.
When ambushed by the Sons of the Harpy, we see that Grey Worm has the amazing ability to keep killing people even after taking a dagger to the lung. Grey Worm triumphs over hordes of easy-to-kill extras, but he sustains serious injury. He is resilient, unyielding, and versatile, and he can take lots of abuse without being emotionally compromised. However, it is clear that Grey Worm was trained to be part of a battalion of Unsullied, not a lone champion. His movements tend to be mechanical and abrupt.
On one hand, this results in very little wasted motion – there are lots of simple solutions to be found in a well-practiced thrust of a spear. But it’s clear that Grey Worm has not yet learned the subtleties of taking down a well-trained opponent who might see the pattern in his automatic, rehearsed attacks and exploit it. Even if you practice thrusting a spear a million times, the game is completely different once the target can learn and fight back. It turns out that the advice given to Daenerys upon purchasing her army, “bloody them early,” was the best recommendation possible. So the final verdict for Grey Worm? He is very skilled and is clearly an impressive soldier, but his battle against the Sons of the Harpy shows that he lacks experience when it comes to real combat.
We see Jon Snow fight more than any other character. Over the course of five seasons, we see him grow from a well-trained but inexperienced swordsman who knows a lot about sparring into a well-trained swordsman who’s gotten his ass kicked a couple of times. Like Grey Worm, Jon Snow’s greatest asset is his vast knowledge of combat, as exemplified in his ability to simultaneously out-spar and teach his fellow brothers. Also like Grey Worm, Snow’s greatest liability is the fact that he hasn’t had enough real-world experience to hone his skills and adapt to an opponent who means to kill rather than train him. We see that Jon is capable of learning over the course of the show, but he’s not quite there yet. If Jon Snow were a student of mine or any real fighter instead of a scripted character, I would expect he would continue to grow into a great fighter. Alas, that’s pure speculation.
Here’s what I mean: Jon Snow shows off his excellent training, distance control, and timing while sparring at Castle Black. But in his first real fight, he ends up in a chokehold twice. To be fair, he’s fighting a wight instead of another person, but the fact remains that he was unprepared for an actual battle. The same thing happened against Ygritte and Tormund’s band of wildlings. Jon initially fights well, but only survives with the help of a wolf, and even then is overtaken by a goddamn bird.
We tend to see Jon employ a well-thought out and intelligent plan at the start of each battle, but then we see that plan fall apart as he squares off against more experienced foes. In his fight against Karl Tanner, Jon initially employs the correct strategy – attack from far away to exploit the difference between his and Tanner’s effective distances. This works for a while, but Tanner’s superior agility allows him to close in and cause some serious hurt. In this fight, Jon’s training betrays him because his sparring partners never spit in his eye or kick his shins. Had he fought more before this moment, he may have expected those dirty tactics.
Then comes the siege of Castle Black. Jon dramatically kills lots of extras with needlessly large attacks. His distance was adequately open such that he wasn’t making the worst choices, but it shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Then he encounters Magnar Styr, against whom Snow once more demonstrates his comprehensive-but-unproven training. Jon Snow once again starts with decent distance against the superior range of Styr’s axe, but he makes the wrong choice to try and enter a contest of strength rather than continuing to evade. Throughout the fight, Snow shows that his distance, tempo, and evasion has improved, especially after losing Longclaw. However, Snow renders himself vulnerable and pays for it after disarming Styr in an admittedly clever manner. Once again, Jon Snow takes a great deal of punishment, but we see something important at the end of this fight – learning has occurred since he dueled Tanner. Jon Snow eventually triumphs by abandoning his training for one of Tanner’s techniques: he spits blood into Magnar Styr’s face and takes advantage of the created tempo to bludgeon Styr to death.
So while Snow is learning to supplement his training with the ability to improvise and fight a little dirty, the amount of blows he took in each encounter shows that he’s still not on par with the better fighters. Yes, his storyline culminates with the defeat of a white walker commander. Yes, Snow moved well and had good ideas throughout that fight and won with a very clean parry-riposte. But he only got into the position to do so because neither he nor the white walker knew that Valyrian steel was durable enough to kill a walker. It’s the same sort of situation as Jaime accidentally catching a sword with his golden hand.
It’s hard to say who would win in a battle between Jon Snow and Grey Worm, since we’ve yet to see Grey Worm square off one-on-one against another character. Assuming that Grey Worm has his spear, since that seems to be his preference, it could really go either way. Jon Snow begins his fights well, but it’s unclear whether he would be able to get close enough to attack Grey Worm, who has demonstrated his ability to fend off multiple swordsmen from afar. However, Grey Worm was overwhelmed and severely injured by people with short-range weapons, so it’s certainly possible that Jon Snow would find a vulnerability and take the victory. I think that if Jon really waited it out, he would find a way to exploit Grey Worm’s mechanical movements. But that would take some time, which Grey Worm probably wouldn’t allow. If Grey Worm applied pressure and really attacked hard from the beginning of the fight, I believe he would easily overcome Jon Snow’s swordplay.
It’s important to point out that because Snow and Grey Worm’s main flaw is inexperience, then it’s possible that they may reach a higher tier in season six. That, of course, is assuming that these fan favorites return to combat after their respective stabbings.
My next post will include the second and third tiers, which are filled with very capable fighters. This is where we get into the more skilled swordsmen who have fewer faults from which to establish a ranking. Rather than simply identifying major flaws, I can pick apart characters’ successful strategies.