Tier Updates: Demotions and Promotions
Now we can move on to the characters who were demoted. Interestingly enough, no one is being demoted due to worsened skill. There was not, as far as I’m concerned, a single moment where a character made a mistake in a battle that would cause them to move down in the rankings. Nevertheless, two swordsmen are ending up in a lower tier than where they began.
First off is Ser Alliser Thorne. I acknowledge that I gave Thorne a lot of credit for his fight with Tormund, and I stand by his high ranking based on the first five seasons. However, the second tier is about to become very crowded, and I feel that it is both necessary and justifiable to demote Alliser to tier three. I will explain the promotions and additions to tier two later, but I feel that Alliser would be the worst among those who end up there, thus he is the one who gets bumped down. If I were to let the top tiers get too crowded, then they would become inherently meaningless. However, I am still very impressed by his fight against Tormund at Castle Black.
The second demotion breaks my heart: Syrio Forel is being removed from the honorable mentions and being dropped all the way down to tier five. I didn’t think of this when I was doing my initial research, but a thought occurred to me when I started to go back and rewatch Game of Thrones from the beginning. I was initially very complimentary of Syrio’s knowledge and, for the most part, his form while training and defending Arya, but then I noticed a critical and easily-avoided mistake on his part. Each time Syrio incapacitated a Lannister soldier, a new sword became available to him. Yet he chose to leave the real, honest-to-god steel swords on the ground and continue beating his opponents senseless with a piece of wood. Fine, the First Sword of Braavos does not run, but does that mean he should sacrifice himself to prove a point? Forel had an opportunity to walk out of that room victorious or at the very least to even the odds. But he actively chose to not use the tools at his disposal. Unfortunately, this is the sort of self-defeating and absentminded decision characteristic of tier five. Therefore, Syrio joins the ranks of Oberyn, Karl, and all the others who had every opportunity to survive but chose not to.
The Ned Stark who we see fighting at the Tower of Joy is so different from his older self that it’s difficult to analyze Ned as one unified character. However, just as I simultaneously assessed Jaime when he was a righty and when he was a lefty, I don’t mind consolidating Ned as he was during Robert’s Rebellion with who he was as Hand of the King. My main complaint with Ned during season one was his willful decision to limit his own maneuverability in combat. I pointed out that he was far stronger than Jaime and, had he thrown less of his weight into his attacks, could have overpowered him. Young Ned embraces his agility, making up for this flaw and then some. I was particularly impressed with Young Ned’s mobility and distance control against Sers Dayne and Whent. I already mentioned Ned’s excellent use of tempo manipulation when killing Whent. This parry-riposte and redirection of a skilled opponent’s momentum is very similar to Jaime’s dispatch of Jory, though it wasn’t as clean or sudden. Just like Jaime, Ned stayed balanced and poised, allowing him to easily bring the point of his sword straight towards its target with no interference. Ned chose a point in four-dimensional place to place his weapon and did so without excessive flourish. I feel that this display of control over an opponent is enough to justify promoting Ned Stark to tier two.
At last, we get to Jon Snow. I was very impressed by the signs of Jon Snow’s development at Bastardbowl. In his earliest battles, Jon fought like a lesser version of Brienne or Sandor Clegane – he stood in front of his opponents and swung his sword around until someone was dead. Now he fights like a lesser Bronn – I was pleased to see Jon throw punches and to see him dodge and weave through the battle. I take these changes as signs of Jon’s continued growth and as proof that he has continued to learn from his past mistakes.
As I mentioned, Jon still makes some errors that reveal damning remnants of his highly-classical training, but overall he has improved quite a bit. The final culmination of Jon’s growth as an improvisational fighter comes during his showdown with Ramsay. When Ramsay drew his bow, the old Jon would have charged forward with Longclaw and tried to stab Ramsay before he could release the bowstring. If he fell short, he would have tried and failed to block the arrow. Either that or he would have tried to continue charging with the arrow in him, which would have been so badass that it would have only worked if attempted by Tormund, Wun Wun, or Ned in his past life as Boromir. But no, Jon learned to analyze and use his surroundings. So instead of charging, he dived for a shield and essentially rendered Ramsay helpless. Jon even knew to drop his shield in between volleys so that Ramsay couldn’t aim around it – because Jon was raising and lowering his shield as he advanced, Ramsay was unable to try for the shield arm or any other inherent opening as he could have if the shield didn’t move.
Jon Snow has grown to be a formidable swordsman. I maintain that he doesn’t quite live up to his growing reputation as a legend, but he’s very good all the same. I wanted to bring Snow up to tier two, but I’m conservatively bringing him to a comfortable standing within tier three. For all the great moments of the Battle of the Bastards, we don’t see Jon duel a single important or even a named character. Had Ramsay accepted Jon’s initial request for single combat then maybe he could have jumped up two tiers at once. But because he only fought nameless Bolton extras, Jon only gets to move up one tier. Just as before, I hope to see Jon continue to learn, improvise, and grow as a fighter in the upcoming battles. I feel that Jon is an anomaly in tier three – the other swordsmen at this level are characterized by using their strength over their agility, but until we see him in an important instance of single combat I cannot promote him to a higher position.
Now that we have rearranged all of the previously-ranked characters, we can review our full tier list before adding in some new faces.