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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Greatest Warriors of the Westros- #2, Oberyn Martell- The Red Viper of Dorne

Yeah! When you look up bad-ass in the dictionary there is Oberyn Martel, the Red Viper of Dorne starring back at you, and kicking your ass from the page at the same time. Prince Oberyn is just that hardcore. If he met up with Chuck Norris... I'm not so sure Chuck would win.

The mercenary, screw everything that walks, kill it all, balls to the wall Red Viper stands head and shoulders above almost everyone else in the books and rightly takes his place as #2 of the Greatest Warriors of the Westeros.

#2- Oberyn Martel, the Red Viper of Dorne
Right before he dies (in perhaps the ultimate combat of the books) who does the Red Viper slay? None other then the Mountain that Rides, that's who. That's right the largest warrior to walk the Seven Kingdoms falls to the Red Viper's spear.

While a Prince (its assumed that he is a knight) he eschews the traditional weaponry of knights: the sword and prefers to fight with a spear. While his climatic opponent uses massive plate armor, he is armored lighty, dancing around the Mountain taunting him, One get the sense that The Red Viper can kill him at any time, but wants to draw it out after the murder of his sister Elia of Drone after the Sack of King's Landing during the culmination of Robert's Rebellion. The epic duel of Oberyn and Gregor is one of the, if not the best duels in the entire series thus far. I'll get to that epic duel later but first...

Before he fought The Mountain that Rides, he was in a  duel when he was just 16. Apparently he was found bedding the paramour of Lord Yronwood. Due to his age, a duel to first blood was arranged. Well Oberyn won said duel drawing first blood as proscribed by the rules. Problem was that Lord Yronwood's wound festered and he died from but a scratch. It was rumored that Oberyn poisoned his spear and thus the legend of the Red Viper was borne.

Oberyn Martell's actions also are responsible for the enmity between House Martell and House Tyrell. At a joust Willas Tyrell had his leg managed in a freak accident. Oberyn was blamed. Interestingly enough there is no bad blood between Oberyn and Willas over this incident. Oberyn even sent his maester to tend to Willas.

Adding to his fame is the fact that he served as a mercenary leader, studied at the Citadel and even forged six links to his chain before becoming bored as well as serving in the Free Cities. And it was not "just" in the Free Cities, but the Disputed Lands where warfare is a constant serving with the Second Sons. So he scores extra points in this countdown for being leader of men.

For even more badass: the fact that he has 8 bastard daughters known as the Sand Snakes. Lord Walder Frey might be able to fill an army with his fruits of his loins, but I'd take the Red Viper's progeny any day of the week, twice on Sundays.

This bring us to the fight, and I mean the fight. When Joffrey finally bites the dust in A Storm of Swords everyone except Cersei is rejoicing. I mean really, is there anyone who actually liked the annoying, mini-male version of Cersei? However the King being killed is naturally going to cause some accusations to fly and it's Tyrion who gets blamed. When it becomes apparent that he will not get justice he demands trial by combat and to which Cersei gleefully calls for Ser Gregor Clegane to be her champion. Everyone figures that Tyrion is now dead as who is going to fight the Mountain that Rides, let alone for the Imp? Calmly and cooly Oberyn Martell tells the court that he will stand for Tyrion, not for Tyrion's sake mind you, but for his thirst for revenge on Gregor for what he did to his sister Elia of Dorne. Tyrion's defense merely provides the excuse.

It's readily apparent that like Bronn vs. Ser Vardis in the Vale that Oberyn has sized up his opponent quite well. He knows how to kill him. Also on his side is the fact that unlike everyone else he is not frightened by Ser Gregor's size. Elaria Sand his paramour remarks "You're going to fight that?" to which The Red Viper dryly replies "No, I'm going to kill that." How about that for hardcore? Most knights would be turning in their Ser's or pissing in their armor and The Red Viper is ready to kill the most massive warrior in the Seven Kingdoms and is looking forward to it.

Right off the bat it's apparent what the Red Viper's strategy is: wear down the massive Gregor and taunt him. In this Bronn approves as it's the same basic strategy he used in the Vale. Oberyn jabs and thrusts and most importantly stays out of Ser Gregor's massive reach. Simultaneously he taunts the massive Gregor knowing this will add to his frustration and open him up to a well places strike. Ser Gregor who is not the most patient under the best of circumstances falls for this shouting for him to shut up.

The strategy works as Oberyn continues to strike, eventually wounding Ser Gregor. All the while the taunting continues: "You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children!" Over and over The Red Viper speaks this (something akin to Inigo Montoya, but I digress) to wring as much vengeance from the fight as possible. You can feel this scene ooze with tension as well as a deep connection to the back story of the Seven kingdoms.

Finally the Red Viper moves in and after a running vault pins the Mountain to the ground with his poisoned spear rammed through the Mountain's gut. And with that the Mountain is defeated as Oberyn reaches for the Mountain's sword to finish him off he continues to taunt him and drops his guard. In coming too close to the dying giant (something he avoided doing all fight) the Mountain is able to grab ahold of him and thrust his hands into Oberyn's eyes and bash his skull with his massive fists shouting "You mean like this and this?!" in reply to the Red Viper's taunting. At such close range the Prince is slain, but the Mountain is now succumbing to the poisons effect; not even a man as massive as Ser Gregor can shake it off.

So while he is slain because of his own zeal and thirst for revenge, ultimately it's Prince Oberyn that triumphs as the poison used causes the Mountain to die a slow, agonizing death in incredible pain. His sister is avenged and his place in the halls of badassery is assured.

Say what you want, but to me the Red Viper of Dorne is as bad ass as they come and one the best characters in the books hands down. It's unfortunate that he only appears in A Storm of Swords and is gone within a few chapters. But, as far as hardcore, kick-ass, warriors go: there is only one ahead of him in the Song of Ice and Fire. Stay tuned.

Also I'd like to point out the excellent work at The Wiki of Ice and Fire, as well as the Tower of the Hand keep up the great work guys!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Greatest Warriors of the Westros- #3 The Kingslayer

Every good book series needs a villain right? Well, in the first few books it looks as if Ser Jaime Lannister is just that guy, that is until the end of a Storm of Swords and into A Feast for Crows. From there the reader's view of Jamie changes drastically. With that said its the Kingslayer himself, Jaime Lannister that makes my list as the #3 Greatest Warrior of the Westeros.

#3 -Ser Jaime Lannister, The Kingslayer
The Kingslayer is a tricky character. Like every character Martin writes there is more then meets the eye. Certainly at first glance we see a shallow, cruel man (throwing Bran out the window anyone?) But by book #3, A Storm of Swords we see a much more complex character.

Jaime is in every sense the golden boy, just look at him! He has everything and oh yeah he gets the hottest girl in the kingdom, too bad it's his sister Cersei. See that's where he goes really wrong in the character department, the things he does for love, namely pushing Bran out the window in Winterfell.

First off let start with his nickname: The Kingslayer. He earned this moniker when he slew the Mad King Aerys II during the sack of King's Landing when Aerys tried to destroy the city with the help of wildfire. For this act Jaime thought people would love him for saving the city, but they were in fact recoiled by him. He remarked about this fact saying that he wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but became the Smiling Knight, referring to the previous generation's monster, i.e. the predecessor to Ser Gregor Clegane.

Despite this Jaime is brave, so brave that as a squire for Sumner Crakehall he saved his life when he stopped Big Belly ben, another member of the infamous Kingswood Brotherhood along with the Smiling Knight. It was after this that he was knighted by Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning himself.

Further intrigues involving his sister led him to become a member of the Kingsguard as a means to be able to stay close to his sister as well as void marring Lysa Tully. Knighted by the Lord Commander, Gerold Hightower, Jaime took the white, much to the displeasure of his father Lord Tywin. It's also important to note that at 17, he became the youngest member ever to serve in the Kingsguard.

In combat Jaime is a master with the blade; he can make his sword do whatever he wants it to. His sword abilities make him one of the deadliest warriors in the Seven Kingdoms. He is one of the younger characters to make the list and represents the generation of Ser Loras Tyrell, and his brother Garlan. In the lance he is quite skilled as well having won tourneys that he reflects upon when he becomes Lord Commander.

In battle he is fierce as befits the words of House Lannister: "Hear me roar!" He defeats Ser Edmure Tully at the Goodtooth and then leads his host onwards towards the Riverlands. He is only bested by Robb Stark at the Battle of the Camps through superior numbers in which he is captured. In the process of trying to get to the Young Wolf he slays several men including the Karstarks. from there he is taken prisoner and finally only released by Catelyn Stark. So for that he gets bonus points for not only being a  great warrior, but a leader of men as well.

Jaime's only real blindside is his devotion to his sister. Their relationship is so lopsided that he is at a handicap, until their falling out in A Feast for Crows that is. It is also in a Feast for Crows and after his sword hand is cut off that Jaime becomes a different man. Vargo Hoat does this in order to drive a wedge between the Lannisters and Roose Bolton, but this ploy fails. His hand being severed is nothing more then a gambit in the Game of Thrones and achived none of the aims it was intended to convey. Jaime's whole life is wrapped up in how good he is at arms. It's when he can't swing a sword he drops into a depression and only emerges after he saves the life of Brienne of Tarth.

Jaime's reputation is as such that he is able to get Ser Boros Blount (when Jaime can hardly swing a sword on his return to King's Landing) to acquiesce to his commands. Such is his reputation that he is able to humble him with a member of the Kingsguard with words alone, knowing full well that people know of the reputation of the Kingslayer not as he is now.

Still later in a A Feast for Crows, Jaime begins the oft-painful process of sparring with Ilyn Payne in order to learn to swing a sword with his left hand.

Prior to his sword hand being cut off the Kingslayer is one of the deadliest warriors and as such merits his inclusion on this list. It's well earned and only time will tell if Jaime is as good with his left hand as was with his right.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Greatest Warriors of the Westeros- #4 Ser Barristan Selmy

The venerable Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Barristan Selmy makes my list as the #4 Greatest Warrior of the Westeros. Advanced in age for a warrior, but showing no signs of slowing down Ser Barristan certainly lives up to his moniker of "The Bold".

#4-Ser Barristan Selmy
Ser Barristan is revered, nay beloved by the highborn and smallfolk of the Seven kingdoms alike. He is the type of knight that fits the rommance, the ones that Sansa dreams about. At the time of the War of the Five Kings he is the Lord Commander for King Robert Baratheon and had served under the Mad King Aerys, presumably as a knight rather then Lord Commander. I say this because at the time of the Tower of Joy, the Lord Commander was Gerold Hightower. Gerold was actually at the Tower and was slain so it's unclear when Barristan became Lord Commander. He was pardoned by Robert after the Trident, so it's possible that there was a gap between Gerold and Barristan.

After the pardon he serves Robert as Lord Commander until dismissed by Cersei after Robert's death. This has a profound effect of him, denouncing the Baratheon heir (actually Lannister heir when you look at it) and setting out on the road of seeking Daenerys. The best part of his dismissal is his frank appraisal of Joffery and the fact that he takes crap from no one over it. When the pathetic Gold Cloaks of the City Watch of King's Landing (aka "Red Shirts") arrive to arrest him, he dispatches them and disappears until turning up in A Feast for Crows.

Ser Barristan has been a member of the Kingsguard for ages it seems as he joined when he was 23  He earned his nickname by taking part in a joust at the age of 10 when he was still a squire after acruring some armor.

He defeated Prince Rhaegar at the Tourney at Strom's End and even The Hound in another joust so his skill is not to be doubted. And on top of all of this he was knighted at 16. He is most likely a prodigy as a knight by any sense of the definition.

Much like some of the other characters in the book we get a sense of his prowess only through the past. But like other mighty warriors he is seen as outstanding example of knighthood and a great warrior. Slaying Maelys the Monstrous probably doesnt hurt your knight cred either. Barristan is not one of those "deep history" characters but from a generation prior, a generation prior to Robert/Ned's generation. But it's important to note that everyone who talks about his prowess is united in their praise.

The interesting part is that he is not caught in the "crossfire" of having served The Mad King, which was responsible for Robert's Rebellion through his actions. Presumably the Kingsguard do just that: guard the king, not judge him. This is alluded to by Jaime when he talks about slaying Aerys. Perhaps Ser Barristan's fame is beyond reproach.

We do not however get a sense as to what kind of leader of men he is. Being a member of the Kingsguard presumably precludes a lot of this as his primary role is the protection of the king. The fact however that he survived the Trident when many didn't is important to note.

As an aside one gets the sense that Barristan is set in the mold of William Marshal. He is a renowned tourney fighter like Marshal and a warrior par excellence. Given Martin's perchance for "borrowing/being inspired by"  history I think this is quite the case. Ser Barristan is a noted jouster and successful having fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Again echoes to William Marshal: successful in war and tourney. Having fought in the Ninepenny War one wonders how familiar he is with Brynden Tully (at #10 on this countdown).

I feel comfortable with where Ser Barristan is here: beloved by the high and low in the Seven Kingdoms and with the prowess to back it up, even at the age of 57. He is one of the finest blades of the realm and fitting that he appears at #4.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Greatest Warriors of the Westeros- #5 Sandor Clegane

I'm now up to #5 on the list of Greatest Warriors of the Westeros and its getting tougher and tougher to rank them as I go. It's with some trepidation that I place this next warrior at #5. But, when you consider who is on the list at spots from #1-4 you'll see why Sandor Clegane is here.

The Hound, or simply Dog as Joffrey refers to him is Sandor Clegane. Sandor is the younger brother of the Mountain that Rides. Has there ever been a family with such cool nicknames? The problem is that the Cleganes are far from a happy family. Sandor was burned horrifically by his older brother Gregor for playing with a unused toy of Gregor's. The result was that Sandor's face was burned, lost an ear and has no hair on the section of scalp where he was burned. With his innocence shattered Sandor grew to despise knights (which he has previously idolized) and harbor a great rage for his brother.

#5-Sandor Clegane
As warrior the Hound is one of the finest fighters in the Seven Kingdoms. His fearsome size and  abilities make him a intimidating foe. He has no real fear other then fire, which given the circumstances of his childhood are understandable. Despite this he does distinguish himself at the Battle of Blackwater during the War of Five Kings.

Sandor as noted has a contempt for knights and it is rather amusing that he is apponted to the Kingsguard without being one. He simply refuses to become a knight as his goals in life surround one thing: slaying his brother Gregor.

At the Battle of the Blackwater he fights valiantly and cuts through Renly's host. we also have reports of his prowess before and after but would have been a tad bit to young to have fought in Robert's Rebellion.

Other reports of his prowess are that he killed his first man at 12 and was able to slay Beric Dondarrion in single comabt after the assault on King's Landing. In short, crossing swords with Sandor is a risky proposition for an opponent and one that is likely to be fatal.

For all of his gruff exterior and claim of dislike of the hypocrisy of knights (as he sees it) he does have some curious "soft spots". First off as member of the Kingsguard he is often called on to guard Sansa when she is betrothed to Joffrey. While the other members of the Kingsguard obey Joffrey and hit her without question, the Hound doesn't. He deflects and shields her from his wrath. After the Battle of Blackwater he comes to Sansa in her room and could have had his way with her, but he doesn't. For all his mocking attitudes towards her the show of affection is there. Perhaps he sees her as he once was.

Secondly. Sandor saves the life of the Knight of Flowers during the tourney at King's Landing. Now whether he does this because of desire to get to grips with Gregor we might never know, but its clear that he didn't have to act. No one else did.

Another act revolving around Sansa is the riot that happens in A Clash of Kings. When Joffrey incites the mob to the noble party bolts for the Red Keep. Confusion reigns and several members of the party are dragged off to be killed or in the case of Lollys raped. Sansa is missing initially as is the Hound. Keep in mind that its unarmed smallfolk but where Ser Preston Greenfield, Ser Aron Santagar and others are slain, its the Hound comes through saving Sansa's life or at least from being violated.

He is tough as well. After taking some wounds that became infected he was able to cross some distances before his fate became unknown in A Storm of Swords. It's important to note that he was fighting three men at the same time, no small feat for anyone. 

Sandor is implied to lead forces at the Battle of Black Water and he at least survived so that is saying something, but we do not get any other indication of his abilities at leading a force. In this list I'm giving extra points for excellence in leading men in battle so he gets middling marks here. Rather its his downright impressive warrior skills that make up for it.

In closing Sandor is one of the best warriors of his generation and the only thing that is missing is for him to slay Gregor. But given Gregor's demise when he crosses paths with the Red Viper of Dorne... Well "Frankengregor" is always a possibility. He is also despite his claims a warrior with something of a conscience. Make no mistake he has his flaws like everyone else (killing Mycah for instance), but there is more then meets the eye when one considers the Hound.

I feel comfortable placing him here as he is in some mighty company and technically he is probably the greatest warrior in the series who is not a knight.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Greatest Warriors of the Westeros- #6 Syrio Forel

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water... Sorry, but I've been busy resurfacing the floor in my living roof, the roofers have been putting a new roof on and on top of all this I've been sick. To paraphrase Austin Powers "I mean honestly, who gets a cold in June?!?"

Anyways, I'm back and its time for pick #6 of the Greatest Warriors of the Westeros countdown. This time we turn to a rather mysterious figure: "Syrio Forel". I put that in parenthesis because does anyone believe that is his real name? No figure in all of the Song and Ice and Fire thus far has inspired perhaps as much speculation as Syrio Forel. To say that the First Sword of Bravos is a widely loved character would be a gross understatement.

#6-Syrio Forel
Syrio is hired to be a tutor of sorts for Arya. The mysterious swordsman from across the Narrow Sea is an enigma right from the start. In a land full of warriors encased in plate armor and proficient in the lance and sword, Syrio uses a light-fencing blade. It's never really explained in full why she is not lumped with Sansa doing girly things. There is some discussion in A Game of Thrones and it is established that she is the opposite of her older sister, but Ned seems to give her a great deal of latitude once they reach King's Landing. Even with being a Tom Boy it seems unlikely that the 2nd daughter of a important noble would be allowed to be anything other then a future bride to seal an alliance with another noble house in the Seven Kingdoms.

The First Sword of Braavos takes the young Arya under his wing and begins to train her. Train her to be an assassin basically that is. There is commentary of his prowess but at no time does the reader get the sense that he is what he appears to be.

One point to the negative for Syrio is that presumably he is not a leader in battle. However if he is indeed associated with the Faceless Men of Bravos then leading might take on a whole new meaning.

Maybe it’s a Boba Fett thing, but the fans seem to earnest like the character, prompting Martin to reply (paraphrasing here: "Why can't people accept he's dead? He's not invincible". Now that Martin has gone on record with saying this, I’m inclined to believe otherwise. Oftentimes Martin will seemingly change is mind when he gets annoyed with his fans... time will tell. Of course like the a fore mentioned bounty hunter in Star Wars, perhaps it’s the obscure, quasi anti-hero thing rearing its head. Syrio was after all facing down a group of Lannister guard as well as Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard. Seems rather unnecessary to include him to a great degree, to instill initial training in Arya if he was going to be killed so “easily”. Ser Meryn Trant while a member of the Kingsguard is not mentioned as being a warrior par excellence so one wonders if more... 

Even if he was killed in the overthrow of Ned Stark in Kings Landing then that raises the question of just who is Arya's teacher in Braavos? I'm thinking and so are a lot of folks that it's Syrio. We all could be wrong as it would not be unlike Martin to change his mind but at same time he seems to be the most likely candidate, him or Jaqen H'ghar.

So there you go the "Dancing Master" *ahem*, *ahem* (cough*Ninja*cough) makes our list at #6. We really don’t get a sense of his fighting prowess per say but much like someone else who makes the list somewhere between 1-5 it’s the “off screen” implication of being a great fighter that makes all the difference.

(Also I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the awesome character portraits by Amok, this guy rocks and you can find his stuff here: