Like most people who enjoy TV, I’m following Game of Thrones.
Also like most people, I have my favourite Game of Thrones characters, many of whom have died horrible deaths.
Thankfully, I still have a couple of favourites left, one of whom is Tyrion Lannister’s sellsword bodyguard-turned-knight, the aptly-named Bronn.
Bronn is a secondary character in the series, yet one I’m always excited to watch. This despite the fact that the roguish soldier of fortune – a hard-drinking, womanizing, wry, cunning, yet still reasonably amiable mercenary – is a common high fantasy trope.
A morally suspect opportunist, Bronn nonetheless possesses a rough sense of honour and loyalty to Tyrion, if for no other reason than Tyrion continues to pay him (now double since Bronn’s knighting for his role in the Battle of the Blackwater).
Even though one can tell he’s a highly dangerous fighter who wouldn’t hesitate to cheat, steal, maim, or murder to get his way, Bronn generally comes across as likeable.
All the people he’s been shown to kill have either been jerks who kind of had it coming or else he’s done so in defence of Tyrion, an ostensible hero of the story with whom he has such wonderfully sarcastic banter whenever the two are onscreen together.
For Bronn, pragmatism is the best tool for solving a problem, such as how, during his stint as commander of the City Watch of King’s Landing, he achieves a significant reduction in crime by killing all the city’s known thieves.
Unlike all the other knights of King’s Landing – even after he becomes one – Bronn wears only light leather armour. He relies on speed with his sword and knives and on dodging attacks rather than blocking them with heavy armour and shields, resulting in a fighting style that’s as practical and adaptable as he is.
One character, two studies
Even though the roguish mercenary is common in high fantasy, it’s a trope I’ve always enjoyed in books and movies, especially when, like Bronn, said characters basically remain decent people just trying to get by in an unjust world using one of the few skills they have, and whom you can believe, deep down, aren’t truly all about the money.
I’ve even enjoyed – and still do – female roguish mercenaries; this despite my disdain for the over-abundance of kickass female characters in speculative fiction.
Notable female favourites include Kerowyn from Mercedes Lackey’s book By the Sword, Ash from Mary Gentle’s Ash: A Secret History, and the most awesome warrior woman of all, Xena of Amphipolis, aka the Warrior Princess.
I loved these characters because, as females, I could see more of myself in them, and what the roguish soldier of fortune trope means to me in real life. For understanding my fondness for it is as much a study of my own character as that I’m conducting into of the character of Bronn.
High fantasy mercenaries are hearty and jocular, easily able to win friends in spite of their dubious profession – a profession that allows them to never fear for their safety or have to put up with being disrespected, to choose whom to fight for and the terms under which they do so, to live by their own code and make their own way irrespective of established social hierarchies, and to travel far and wide in the course of their work.
To me, this represents a sense of freedom, simplicity, and adventure that I’ve always idealized and desired for myself, even in realizing I don’t fully possess the necessary personality type for such an varied and unstable lifestyle.
In my own fantasies of the world and my place in it, much like in high fantasy, one knows exactly who the enemy is, and I myself am not complicit in iniquitous deeds just in the act of trying to meet my basic needs.
As well, the environment is spared the onslaught of corporate greed and industrial externalities; I rub shoulders with greatness, offering advice and assistance, without needing to be all that great myself; and a person can become a hero by doing the right thing with resourcefulness, common sense, an intolerance for BS, and without the bother of having to swear allegiance to a ruler who’s probably more corrupt and corrupted than I am.
But the real world is infinitely more complicated, and probably always has been, even during the time period high fantasy loves to romanticize.
Certainly real medieval mercenaries weren’t such delightful rascals, nor so fortunate a group of soldiers at all, but rather those ill-fated second and subsequent sons who received neither land nor inheritance under a system of primogeniture, and were thus forced to sell their fighting skills abroad to survive.
That is to say, being a mercenary wasn’t a lifestyle choice at all but rather a lack of choice that made men so violent, vile, and depraved, the Third Lateran Council of 1179 banned their use by Christian rulers under threat of Excommunication (not that this stopped some rulers).
Faced with this reality of history and the world, the true value to me of a character like Bronn – aside from the amusement he provides – is not to mourn a way of life that likely never existed.
Rather, he reminds me to remain adaptable, easy-going, and open to change, not hiding behind an unwieldy shield, but eagerly pressing forward toward whatever opportunities may arise.
What Game of Thrones characters do you like? Which character trope do you most enjoy? Why? Let me know in the comments.