Tier Updates: Unaltered Rankings
In this post, I’ll go through and adjust the rankings of all of the swordsmen who, though previously assigned to tiers, returned to battle in season six. I’ll start with three characters who won’t be moving up or down, but rather have reaffirmed my initial assessment of them.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Jorah Mormont has solidified his claim to the absolute bottom of the heap. Ever since the season five finale, I had been hoping to see a grayscale-infected Jorah try and kill Daario Naharis out of jealousy. Unfortunately, this never happened, but we still got to see Jorah in action. Not only does Jorah, who is well-known to the Dothraki and perhaps one of the most recognizable men in Essos, think that he can sneak into Vaes Dothrak, but he promptly gives up every advantage he might have had and gets the shit completely kicked out of him. In the preceding scenes, Daario makes cracks at Jorah’s age. Sure, perhaps we shouldn’t expect him to be as spry as some of the younger characters, but Jorah demonstrated in this brief skirmish that he is utterly incapable of holding his own. Let’s break this battle down.
Jorah and Daario are discovered by two patrolling bloodriders. Not only does Jorah fail to recognize Aggo, who was one of the three bloodriders that Danaerys sent to search for resources back in season two, but he also fails to consider that the dothraki might remember who he is. Then, even as it becomes painfully clear that Jorah’s lie about being a wine merchant didn’t work, Jorah stands very still and waits to get punched. And then he gets punched. And kicked. And punched again, and he nearly gets choked out before Daario, having already killed the other bloodrider, returns and rescues him. Throughout this entire brawl, Jorah fails to land a single blow. The closest he comes is when he tries and throw some sand in Aggo’s eyes, a cheap tactic that, even in the fictional world of Game of Thrones, would only work in stage combat. This battle is further proof to my original assertion that Jorah’s entire military career consists of him happening to survive battles that he had actually lost. Tier six remains unchanged.
Also staying put in her original ranking is Brienne. I have to selfishly admit that I felt a certain amount of pride when I saw that Brienne’s rescue of Sansa perfectly matched my analysis of her fighting style in her earlier battles. If you break this battle down into its components, you see that Brienne’s fight fits into the usual format. She rides up, ferocious as ever, and immediately kills a man. But then she charges at a line of Bolton soldiers and promptly gets knocked off her horse and loses her sword.
Just like the rest of her battles, Brienne seems to insist on getting kicked around before pulling herself together and eventually emerging victorious. She gets kicked around for a bit, but finally recovers and quickly takes out three of Ramsay’s remaining hunters, leaving just one for Pod and Reek to handle in a duel that contained nothing but stage swordplay. I point out that the last Bolton soldier was left for Brienne’s squire because Brienne managed to incapacitate herself during the battle. In her typical fashion, Brienne decided that the best way to take out cavalry is to tackle the horse, and she saw fit to do so even though she knew there would still be a soldier remaining afterwards. So Brienne, ever the middle of the pack, continues her hot streak but once more nearly gets herself killed in the process.
I think the most telling sign that Brienne, though undefeated, is not ready to face the swordsmen of the higher tiers comes from Pod’s conversation with Bronn. Pod says that Brienne trains him for two hours every day but refers to Bronn’s tactics as “a different sort of fighting.” This indicates that Brienne is unwilling to embrace the less-honorable or at least more creative tactics that earn the better swordsmen their higher rankings. Essentially, Brienne’s teachings could eventually land Pod, at best, in a similar position to Jon Snow as he was in the earlier stages of development as a fighter.
Just as the bottom and middling characters remain in the same tier, our champion gets to keep his throne. Though we don’t really see him in single combat, there is enough footage of Tormund fighting to discuss here. Most of what we see is the big, powerful parry-riposte actions that are typical of Tormund’s style. Again, these are not ideal but also won’t necessarily get Tormund into trouble given the nature of his brief beatdown at Castle Black and the surrounding chaos at Bastardbowl. Both situations have people frantically charging, not cautiously trying to take advantage of a mistake in tempo control. I already talked about the terrible decision to tackle the Bolton shield wall, but I’m not going to penalize Tormund for following suit because a different wildling had already served as guinea pig. Because that other wildling had survived, Tormund could reasonably assume that it was a viable tactic. Also, this doesn’t really apply to the sort of single combat on which my rankings are based, so it’s hard to say how this sort of situation might improve or lower someone’s standing. I will concede that Tormund got himself stabbed by one of the spearmen, but without the Vale’s intervention that was going to happen anyway.
I’m more concerned with Tormund’s initial failure against Smalljon Umber. I know that this isn’t the same as a typical single combat scenario and that Tormund had already been stabbed prior to this encounter, but the way that Tormund gave away the upper hand was still disappointing. Tormund is strong enough to carry three people while climbing the wall, but he can’t expect that everyone he punches will immediately fall over. Tormund grew up around giants – surely he couldn’t have imagined that he was the bulkiest and strongest man around. Standing there stunned at the fact that Umber withstood a punch was a major flaw on Tormund’s part, and had the Vale’s arrival not distracted Smalljon, he probably would have headbutted Tormund to death.
That being said, I feel better knowing that Tormund made an excellent recovery. Just as Smalljon punished Tormund’s hesitation by stomping the shit out of him, Tormund immediately, even after being beaten nearly to death, punishes Smalljon for looking up when the knights of the Vale sounded their horns. Without wasting time on the same brutally-demoralizing-but-inefficient, headbutt-based tactics of Smalljon Umber, Tormund immediately wrestles out of Umber’s grip, tears out his throat, and repeatedly stabs him in the eye.
Why am I not demoting Tormund for making a mistake similar to those made by the characters in tier five? Mainly because of my original assessment of the top tier. For my purposes of analyzing the best swordsmen and figuring out who would win in specifically-arranged duels, I stand by my verdict that Tormund would likely be able to defeat Bronn one-on-one. A previously-injured Tormund made some mistakes in this battle, but the conditions under which those mistakes occurred would not happen in single combat. Therefore, I don’t think it would be fair, according to my criteria, to demerit Tormund for taking some hits from Umber. My issues with Tormund in this battle do not erase his excellent maneuvers at Castle Black.