Fencing, like real swordplay, is all about finding the simplest solution to a complex problem. No wasted tempo, no showing off. Just get in there, get it over with, and get out. Tier Five is filled with very talented, experienced, and intelligent fighters, all of whom found the simple solutions to their complex problems.
Karl Tanner – a dangerous assassin from Flea Bottom who knows that fights are won by those who will do anything to come out on top. Oberyn Martell – an agile fighter who, while he put on a fantastic show, knows how to stay out of harm’s way with well-calculated strikes. And finally, an unnamed water dancer. Nearly the champion of the Great Games, this man showed his prowess at manipulating the distance and tempo of his enemy and his proficiency at crippling his opponent rather than endangering himself by going for an early kill.
When faced with the complex problem of being hunted down by a strong and knowledgeable but inexperienced fighter, Karl Tanner found the simple solution of getting up close and personal so that he could use his superior agility and fight dirty. Jon Snow was classically trained thus was wholly unprepared to fight someone who would kick him in the shins and spit in his eye. When faced with the complex problem of needing to kill a hulking behemoth of a man, Oberyn Martell found the simple solution of exploiting his opponent’s limited mobility and staying out of reach, baiting out attacks and attacking into small windows of opportunity. Gregor Clegane had no chance of catching Oberyn, so Oberyn knew that he could afford to wait and choose the most opportune times, when Clegane was off balance or otherwise unable to respond, to strike. When faced with the complex problem of being stuck in a fight to the death with an experienced fighter who intends very much to win, the water dancer finds the simple solution of getting inside the slow and unchanging tempo of his opponent and slicing him again and again, knowing that each wound will facilitate the kill. Jorah Mormont was making large and evenly-timed attacks, so all the water dancer had to do was avoid Mormont’s sword and move in to harm him little by little while Jorah was recovering from having missed.
One may note that I have a lot of very good things to say about these three. Karl, Oberyn, and the water dancer are all very impressive fighters from a practical and technical point of view. All three of them demonstrated mastery over their chosen combat style by making quick, well-timed attacks that rarely left them off-balance or otherwise vulnerable. Sure, Oberyn put on a bit of a show for the people of King’s Landing, but he did so while readily avoiding The Mountain’s sword.
No harm done there. So why are these three all the way down at the bottom of the list? All three of them are dead for the exact same, unforgiveable reason.
As far as I’m concerned, Karl Tanner is a more dangerous fighter than Jon Snow. Oberyn vastly outranks The Mountain, and the water dancer is far superior to Jorah Mormont. But let’s review how the fighters of Tier Five perished, shall we? Karl Tanner stands over a defeated Jon Snow. He gets stabbed in the back and stands there, threatening a frightened woman, before Jon Snow stabs him in the back of the neck. Oberyn Martell stands over a defeated Gregor Clegane, deliberately trying to keep him alive, before getting punched in the back of the leg and having his skull crushed. The water dancer stands over a defeated Jorah Mormont and suddenly takes a spear to the back. Oops, oops, and oops.
All three of them had victory right in front of them but failed to claim it. Karl ignored the very real threat of a still-living Jon Snow right behind him. Oberyn stood over an injured Clegane while trying to get a confession. The water dancer seemed to completely forget that there were other contestants in the Great Games. It pained me to put such talented fighters in such a low tier, but none of them managed to actually win a battle.
So who would win in a Tier Five deathmatch? Since all three seem to be unable to kill anyone, we may very well have a stalemate on our hands. However, I suspect that Oberyn Martell would come out on top, even without his use of poison. First off, Karl demonstrated that he becomes emotionally compromised and makes careless errors when injured. This is a weakness that both the water dancer and Oberyn could easily exploit. Both Karl and the water dancer rely on getting up close and personal with their opponents. While they were able to get inside the tempo of slower fighters like Jon Snow and Jorah Mormont, they would have more difficulty doing so against Oberyn. Oberyn has excellent footwork and timing; he’s always perfectly balanced when he’s on the ground and he still seems to be in complete control of his body when he’s jumping around. Also, his failure to kill The Mountain seems to have been a one-time occurrence based on their history rather than an indication of Oberyn’s abilities. Therefore, I think that the advantage provided by the extra range of Oberyn’s spear would be adequate to hold off the water dancer even in spite of his notable agility.
Now that we’ve eliminated all of the characters with blatant, fatal flaws, it’s time to move on. Next post, I’ll talk about the characters who made tier four, a category of well-trained-but-inexperienced fighters.