If you watched last Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones you know that the realm lost a good one in Barristan the Bold. For such a knight of accomplishment to die outside of Westeros may not seem right, but one would think he did so at the service of a ruler he respected, and that’s all he ever wanted.
I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the life of a character that for TV watchers was a few years old, but for book readers we’ve been reading Selmy for almost TWENTY years. If you want, you can go check out my review of The Sons of the Harpy where Barristan, along with Greyworm, kicked a lot of ass. I think what tv watchers of Game of Thrones should know is that this hasn’t happened in the books, so this was not only an end to a major character, it was a shocking one to book readers.
I think what first should be said plainly is that Selmy is one of if not THE most famous knights of his generation and was with little doubt the most famous living knight of Westeros before his last stand. I think we all view Tywin Lannister as a pragmatic man, not one too be guided by overly romantic or chivalrous delusions, and he said of Barristan when he was removed from the Kingsguard:
“And dismissing Selmy, where was the sense in that? Yes, the man was old, but the name of Barristan the Bold still has meaning in the realm. He lent honor to any man he served.”
Selmy was dubbed the “The Bold” when he joined a tourney at Blackhaven as a mystery Knight and eventually tilted with and lost to Prince Duncan Targaryen. Duncan’s choice would stick. For reference, a current era Lord of Blackhaven was Beric Dondarrion. Just six years later at King’s Landing he would unhorse Prince Duncan and Ser Duncan The Tall, at the time The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and earn his knighthood.
Barristan wasn’t just good at play fighting though, this dude was a warrior. As I mentioned in my Ten Things about House Targaryen he slew Maelys the Monstrous during The War of the Nine Penny Kings, single-handedly ending the male Blackfyre line. Before he did that he ran through a mob of the Gold Company to do it.
At the age of twenty three he would be initiated as a member of the Kingsguard, swearing his vows to Gerold Hightower, the then Lord Commander. With tradition, he gave up claims to his seat and his prospective wife. He would not become lax with his new post. In 270 AC, King Aerys found himself a hostage in Duskendale. Then Hand of the King Tywin Lannister gave Barristan a day to pull of his request of a rescue mission, and he BY HIMSELF infiltrated a castle, rescued Aerys, killed everyone in his path, took an arrow in his chest on the way out, and trotted out with Aerys. This moment would make Barristan the Bold a near legend, the subject of son in Westeros.
The smallfolk talk of him the same way they talk of Serwyn of the Mirror shield and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight.
Think he’s done? Nope.The Kingsguard were tasked to eliminate the Kingswood Brotherhood led by Simon Toyne and included the infamous and deadly Smiling Knight. Barristan dusted Toyne, and Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, killed the latter, but not before a young squire named Jaime Lannister crossed swords with him (The Smiling Knight) — earning himself a knighthood.
Tired of killing famous knights for a minute, Barristan took part in the Tourney at Storm’s End, where he defeated nearly every important dude of the era — Lord Robert Baratheon, Prince Oberyn Martell, Lord Leyton Hightower, Lord Jon Connington, Lord Jason, and finally Prince Rhaegar Targaryen — to win the whole thing. Later, at the Tourney of Harrenhal he would be defeated by Rhaegar in what would become one of the most historically significant moments in history — when all smiles died — when Rhaegar crowned Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty, passing on his wife.
Barristan has a personal reason though, and had another woman on his mind though, another attendee of the tourney, Ashara Dayne. I will probably write more about this at another time.
Rhaegar had chosen Lyanna Stark of Winterfell. Barristan Selmy would have made a different choice. Not the queen, who was not present. Nor Elia of Dorne, though she was good and gentle; had she been chosen, much war and woe might have been avoided. His choice would have been a young maiden not long at court, one of Elia’s companions … though compared to Ashara Dayne, the Dornish princess was a kitchen drab.
Even after all these years, Ser Barristan could still recall Ashara’s smile, the sound of her laughter. He had only to close his eyes to see her, with her long dark hair tumbling about her shoulders and those haunting purple eyes. Daenerys has the same eyes. Sometimes when the queen looked at him, he felt as if he were looking at Ashara’s daughter …
But Ashara’s daughter had been stillborn, and his fair lady had thrown herself from a tower soon after, mad with grief for the child she had lost, and perhaps for the man who had dishonored her at Harrenhal as well. She died never knowing that Ser Barristan had loved her. How could she? He was a knight of the Kingsguard, sworn to celibacy. No good could have come from telling her his feelings. No good came from silence either. If I had unhorsed Rhaegar and crowned Ashara queen of love and beauty, might she have looked to me instead of Stark?
He would never know. But of all his failures, none haunted Barristan Selmy so much as that.
Selmy was at the Trident when Robert Baratheon won the throne. According to Ned Stark he killed a dozen of his and Robert’s friends, meaning he was probably fighting men who had some form of training AND doesn’t necessarily count those that weren’t their friends.
He was such a badass Robert not only pardoned him but elevated him to Lord Commander of his Kingsguard.
There would be another battle, when the Iron Islands rose in rebellion to Robert, and Barristan led the attack on Old WYk, a holy island to the Iron Born, kicked their shed in, and likely put his feet on their couch.
At the age of 57, in 294 AC, he won another tourney at King’s Landing. In our own time, he recently unhorsed Sandor Clegane in a tourney during Joffrey’s name day. During the Tourney of the Hand (Ned) Barristan was defeated by Jaime Lannister after three tilts.
Joffrey would dismiss Barristan from the Kingsguard, and dude was so hard before he left King’s Land he took the time to update the White Book with his own dismissal entry and then killed the Gold Cloaks that were sent for him, and he killed them even though he was unarmed.
Have no fear, sers, your king is safe… no thanks to you. Even now, I could cut through the five of you as easy as a dagger cuts cheese. If you would serve under the Kingslayer, not a one of you is fit to wear the white. Here, boy. Melt it down and add it to the others, if you like. It will do you more good than the swords in the hands of these five. Perhaps Lord Stannis will chance to sit on it when he takes your throne.
When Renly formed his Rainbow Guard he hoped that Barristan was coming to him, and he saved a cloak for him.
In the books, this where we split from the show, he later becomes Lord Commander of Daenerys Targaryen’s Queensguard. You saw what happened in the television show. On one hand he went out fighting against incredible odds but on the other had he died in a dusty room in a piece of shit city full of ingrates, killed by a bunch of losers a long way from home. Dany should have culled all of the masters whens she got there.
Admittedly Barristan probably was a voice for less extreme measures in the council meetings, as he was when we saw him with Ned disagreeing with sending killers after Dany.
Barristan life was not all glory though. He certainly had his share of regrets during his service to Aerys, Robert, and Joffrey. If he didn’t accomplish an almost superhuman feat of rescuing Aerys from Duskendale, then Rhaegar would rule, and minus a couple of people’s opinions, that sounds like it would have not have been a bad thing. He’s certainly not perfect, but he’s not called that, he’s The Bold
Here is Barristan’s entry in the White Book:
Ser Barristan of House Selmy. Firstborn son of Ser Lyonel Selmy of Harvest Hall. Served as squire to Ser Manfred Swann. Named “the Bold” in his 10th year, when he donned borrowed armor to appear as a mystery knight in the tourney at Blackhaven, where he was defeated and unmasked by Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies. Knighted in his 16th year by King Aegon V Targaryen, after performing great feats of prowess as a mystery knight in the winter tourney at King’s Landing, defeating Prince Duncan the Small and Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Slew Maelys the Monstrous, last of the Blackfyre Pretenders, in single combat during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Defeated Lormelle Long Lance and Cedrik Storm, the Bastard of Bronzegate. Named to the Kingsguard in his 23rd year, by Lord Commander Ser Gerold Hightower. Defended the passage against all challengers in the tourney of the Silver Bridge. Victor in the mêlée at Maidenpool. Brought King Aerys II to safety during the Defiance of Duskendale, despite an arrow wound in the chest. Avenged the murder of his Sworn Brother, Ser Gwayne Gaunt. Rescued Lady Jeyne Swann and her septa from the Kingswood Brotherhood, defeating Simon Toyne and the Smiling Knight, and slaying the former. In the Oldtown tourney, defeated and unmasked the mystery knight Blackshield, revealing him as the Bastard of Uplands. Sole champion of Lord Steffon’s tourney at Storm’s End, whereat he unhorsed Lord Robert Baratheon, Prince Oberyn Martell, Lord Leyton Hightower, Lord Jon Connington, Lord Jason Mallister, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Wounded by arrow, spear, and sword at the Battle of the Trident whilst fighting beside his Sworn Brothers and Rhaegar Prince of Dragonstone. Pardoned, and named Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, by King Robert I Baratheon. Served in the honor guard that brought Lady Cersei of House Lannister to King’s Landing to wed King Robert. Led the attack on Old Wyk during Balon Greyjoy’s Rebellion. Champion of the tourney at King’s Landing, in his 57th year. Dismissed from service by King Joffrey I Baratheon in his 61st year, for reasons of advanced age.
Well shit, I should have just copy/pasted that in the first place. The only remaining member of the Aerys 7 is Jaime Lannister.
Before his end I like that we got to see a moment with him and Daenerys. He got to share a story about Rhaegar, and there’s something to being able to hear him share a happy memory.
In his own words it wasn’t about killing, the Crown Prince never liked to kill, and I’m not sure we’ve seen this veteran, an active participant of a history full of wars and tourneys, so happy and content, finally serving a ruler he not only respects but cares for. He got what he wanted. Dany told him to go sing her a song. Unfortunately for him it was his swan song.