Many types of weapons, armor, and other instruments of war can be found across the Known World. Ranging from handheld weapons to modes of transport, the designs of these instruments are typically influenced both by the cultures that created them and their intended use on the battlefield.
In Westeros, the use of weapons dates back to the Dawn Age. The Children of the Forest utilized dragonglass - a black volcanic rock also known as "obsidian". Although too brittle to fashion into swords, dragonglass is extremely sharp and could be made into highly effective daggers and arrowheads. The Children also fashioned grass, vines, and other natural elements into various traps and snares, and all of these instruments were originally used for hunting. When the First Men migrated to Westeros twelve thousand years ago, they introduced weapons and armor made of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) to the continent. Bronze was also utilized by the ancient Ghiscari Empire, based in the regions of Ghiscar and Slaver's Bay in Essos: The copper mines in the area were used to produce bronze armament for the Empire’s highly disciplined legions of foot soldiers.
Iron and steel armaments came into wide use at a later date: in Essos, iron forging was first developed by the Rhoynar, a people who lived along the Rhoyne River in the western part of the continent. The Rhoynar eventually passed this technology onto the Andals and the Valyrians, both of whom would use it to reshape the geo-political landscape: Iron armaments were a decisive factor in the Andal invasion of Westeros six thousand years ago, sweeping aside the First Men who were equipped with weapons and armor made of weaker bronze. In the North, the First Men managed to keep the Andals from establishing a significant foothold in their lands, but eventually adopted many of their customs, including their language, writing system, and knowledge of iron forging. In present-day Westeros, bronze weapons and armor are considered relics, and not typically seen on the battlefield. However, some of the more sophisticated wildlings living beyond the Wall – such as the Thenn – still forge their own bronze weapons, much as their First Men ancestors did. While the wildlings lack the ability to forge iron weapons on their own, they frequently trade with smugglers at the coast, exchanging valuable animal furs for iron weapons. Therefore, it is not unheard of for iron weapons to be encountered in the possession of the Free Folk.
The Valyrian Freehold used iron weapons during its conquest of the Ghiscari Empire five thousand years ago, and eventually developed the technology to a point that allowed them to defeat the Rhoynar as well. The Freehold also brought metal forging technology to its pinnacle with the creation of Valyrian steel, an extremely high-quality steel that was rumored to be forged with the aid of magic spells and dragonfire. The weight of Valyrian steel was much lighter than ordinary steel, and when fashioned into weapons, it remained eternally sharp. Following the Doom of Valyria, the knowledge of how to forge new Valyrian steel was lost. Current Valyrian steel weapons are priceless, and new ones can only be made by melting down existing ones. Even the knowledge of how to reforge existing Valyrian steel is extremely limited: the famously skilled blacksmiths of Qohor are among the only ones capable of the feat, and even then with difficulty.
Both dragonglass and later Valyrian steel were recently shown to be capable of killing White Walkers, and are the only known substances able to do so.
Swords can be categorized into three basic types, depending on their size and the way they are used in battle. The most common type of sword is the longsword, which is typically wielded with one hand while the other hand holds a shield (or, more rarely, another weapon). Longswords are often what is meant when referring simply to "swords". Greatswords (also known as broadswords) are much larger than longswords, and can only be wielded using both hands, preventing the use of a shield. Bastard swords (also known as a "Hand-and-a-half swords") are of an intermediate size, larger than longswords but short enough that they can still be wielded with one hand if necessary, though it is preferable to use two hands (they are called “bastard” swords because they don’t quite fit into either of the other categories).
- (Note: swords in real-life Medieval Europe had more complex naming schemes for different categories or used different names - the basic categorization of Greatsword/Bastard sword/Longsword is what is used in-universe in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and which has been used in dialogue for the TV series continuity as well).
The classification scheme listed above predominantly applies the swords used by Westerosi knights, as well as other warriors in the Seven Kingdoms. Across the Known World, there are many other kinds of swords which do not fit easily (if at all) into any of the aforementioned categories:
- Braavosi rapier - Arya Stark's custom-forged sword Needle was made in the style of a Braavosi rapier. Braavosi swordsmen are famous for their “Water Dance” style of fighting, which relies heavily on speed and finesse. Thus the blade is thin and light, meant for quick thrusting attacks.
- Dornish scimitar- Soldiers and guards in Dorne carry curved swords called scimitars. While roughly the same size as a traditional longsword, its curved blade is wielded in a slashing and cutting style, as opposed to the hacking and thrusting typical of a longsword.
- Dothraki Arakh - this curved blade is the signature weapon of the Dothraki horselords. Wielded both on foot and from horseback, the weapon’s design is half sword and half scythe, ideal for wide, slashing movements. The Tyroshi sellsword Daario Naharis also uses an arakh as his primary weapon.
Small bladed weapons
There are also various types of bladed weapons which are smaller than a longsword, such as shortswords and daggers. There is no specific definition for when a large dagger becomes a small sword, and vice-versa; in general, a dagger is considered a sidearm and not intended as a primary weapon.
- Assassin’s dagger - this weapon – with a Valyrian steel blade and dragonbone handle - was used by an unnamed assassin in an attempt on Brandon Stark’s life, an attempt foiled by Bran’s direwolf Summer. The ownership of the dagger and who ordered the assassination was a major factor in starting the War of the Five Kings. It is currently in the possession of Arya Stark.
- Myrish stiletto - stilettos are daggers with long, thin blades (similar in shape to a rapier but much smaller in size). Manufactured in the Free City of Myr, Daario Naharis uses as stiletto as his secondary weapon.
- Flaying knife – House Bolton never possessed an ancestral sword (Valyrian steel or otherwise) to pass down through the generations, but instead handed down a thin, sharp knife used to flay the skin from living prisoners. This infamous practice was reflected in the Bolton’s sigil of a flayed man.
- Double daggers – Tyene Sand, the third daughter of Oberyn Martell, used identical daggers as her primary weapons, simultaneously wielding one in each hand. She was known to coat the blades of these daggers in a poison called “The Long Farewell”, which brought slow death to its victims with a single drop.
The term “pole weapon” broadly refers to any kind of weapon mounted on a shaft. Spears, axes, and warhammers are all members of this group.
- Lances are spears traditionally employed by cavalry forces, such as mounted knights, and blunted or wooden lances are used in jousting tournaments.
- During the Battle of the Blackwater, Podrick Payne killed Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard - who was threatening to kill Tyrion Lannister - by thrusting a spear through the back of Moore's head.
- Training for the legions of the ancient Ghiscari Empire, as well as the present-day Unsullied, included mastering three different types of spears. In the field, Unsullied fight as a unit in disciplined phalanx formations. Their spearwalls can even stop Dothraki cavalry charges, as they famously proved at the Battle of Qohor.
- Pikes are traditionally longer than normal spears, but perform in much the same way. The heads of executed criminals/traitors are often mounted on pikes (or other sharp things) as a warning against future subterfuge. Pikes are seen being used by forces of House Bolton during the Battle of the Bastards, when they deployed a phalanx formation.
- Oberyn Martell and his eldest daughter, Obara Sand, were famously skilled with spears, and the former was known for coating his blades in deadly poisons, earning him the nickname, the “Red Viper”.
- A glaive is a type of spear with a curved, single-edged blade, and is used in a slashing style as opposed to the more conventional thrusting of a straight, double-edged spear.
- The Cranogmen of the Neck get most of their food by fishing and hunting in the surrounding swamps, and one of their signature weapons is the “frog spear”, a three-pronged implement similar to a trident.
- The warrior women of Hyrkoon are trained in arms from childhood, including the use of spears.
- In preparation for the coming war against the army of the dead, Jon Snow declared that every Northerner between the ages of ten and sixty would train daily with spears and pikes, as well as practice archery.
- Axes are a favored weapon of the Ironborn - they allow a lot of power to be focused in close-quarters fighting on ships, where longswords might be impractical.
- Tyrion Lannister wielded an axe during the Battle of the Blackwater.
- Some members of the Free Folk, as well as the Hill Tribes of the Vale, have been seen using axes.
- The Bearded Priests of Norvos are famed for their combat skills, and their signature weapons are long-handled, double-bladed axes.
- A warhammer was Robert Baratheon’s preferred weapon: During the Battle of the Trident, he killed Prince Rhaegar Targaryen with a mighty swing from his hammer, caving in Rhaegar's breastplate and crushing his chest. Robert continued wielding a warhammer even as king, most notably at the Siege of Pyke.
- After learning of his father’s identity, Robert’s bastard son Gendry seems to be taking some pride in his lineage. In a clear – if perhaps unknowing – imitation of his father, Gendry fashioned a warhammer for himself and carved the head of a stag (the Baratheon sigil) into the weapon. Due to his many years as a blacksmith, Gendry is highly skilled with the warhammer.
- A warhammer was used while mounted on a horse briefly by House Whitehill man-at-arms Harys during the Battle of Ironrath.
Ranged weapons: bows and crossbows
Ranged weaponry plays a significant role in most battles, and many armies incorporate bows and crossbows into their arsenals. In large scale conflicts, such as the Battle of the Blackwater, the Battle of the Bastards, and the Battle of the Goldroad, archery was employed en masse, with hundreds of archers firing in unison to maximize the impact of their missiles. Crossbows are also used, but they are more expensive to produce and thus somewhat less common than traditional bows.
In addition to battle, bows are also used for hunting, and archery competitions are sometimes featured events in tourneys. The sigil of House Tarly depicts a striding huntsman armed with a bow and arrow, indicating the house’s martial bent and passion for hunting.
- Brandon Stark is seen practicing archery in Winterfell, and according to his father Eddard’s quip, both Robb Stark and Jon Snow were similarly inept at the skill when they were Bran’s age.
- In some of his Greensight dreams, Bran continues to practice with the bow.
- Arya Stark is shown to have some skill with a bow (she used to practice when the range was empty of onlookers, since it would normally be considered improper for a lady to train at arms), but it has never been her primary weapon.
- Theon Greyjoy is also a skilled archer, hitting many bullseye's during practice and taking down a Wildling that was threatening Bran.
- The Dothraki are famous for using archery directly from horseback, a skill they begin learning at the age of four.
- During the Battle of the Blackwater, Bronn fired the flaming arrow that ignited Tyrion’s wildfire, burning a large portion of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet.
- Joffrey Baratheon, despite having no significant martial ability, appeared to have some skill with a crossbow, as he demonstrated to Margaery Tyrell.
- Ygritte of the Free Folk was an exceptionally accomplished archer; according to Tormund Giantsbane, she could shoot a rabbit through the eye from 200 yards away.
- During the Battle of Castle Black, the Free Folk had giants fighting on their side, one of which wielded an enormous bow that could fire arrows from ground level to the top of the Wall.
- When Mance Rayder is sentenced to be burned alive, Jon shot an arrow into his chest, sparing him the worst of the pain.
- The Free City of Myr incorporates crossbow men into their military forces.
- Bows are the signature weapons of the Summer Islanders, who use wood from goldenheart trees to make some of the best bows in the world, capable of piercing steel plate armor even at long distances.
- The warrior women of Hyrkoon are trained in arms from childhood, including the use of bows.
The absolute best bows in the world are made out of dragon-bone, which is both strong and flexible, but these are exceedingly rare, and never deployed in large groups. Dragon-bone isn't exactly a renewable resource, and is most often mined from millennia-old dragon skeletons found in the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai (among other places). Summer Islander goldenheart bows are the next best thing, and unlike dragon-bone can be produced in large numbers. However, the Summer Islanders have banned the export of goldenheart wood, so only their own people can use such bows.
Due to the overall higher level of technical skill found in the Free Cities, compared to primarily agrarian Westeros, crossbows are somewhat more common there, and the finest crossbows encountered in Westeros are often imported from the Free Cities, such as Myr or Tyrosh.
A handful of cultures and individuals throughout the Known World make use of unusual weapons not commonly found elsewhere. This could be for any number of reasons, from personal preferences to a unique fighting style.
- The Faceless Man known as "Jaqen H'ghar" used a poison dart fired from a blowgun to kill Amory Lorch at Harrenhal (on the request of Arya Stark).
- The Cranogmen use small darts fired from hollow tubes or reeds as part of their guerilla tactics in the swamps of the Neck.
- The Children of the Forest were seen fending off Wights using fireballs thrown from their hands. Although presumably connected to magic, it is unknown how such weapons are created.
- During her training with the Faceless Men, Arya practiced sparring with the Waif, both combatants using quarterstaffs atop a raised platform. Though not normally lethal, these wooden shafts can cause severe injury, as well as brusing and bleeding.
- The warrior women of Hyrkoon are trained in a variety of weapons from childhood, including the use of slings.
- The Dothraki have been seen using whips as non-lethal weapons, either to control their horses or restrain captives.
- Nymeria Sand, the second daughter of Oberyn Martell, used a bullwhip as her primary weapon.
- The ancient Valyrians used whips, along with horns and magic spells, to exercise control over their dragons.
White Walker ice blades
The White Walkers appear to wield a variety of weapons with blades made of ice. These blades have been shown to shatter ordinary weapons upon contact, but Jon Snow has used his Valyrian steel sword Longclaw to effectively parry ice blades, and to kill the walkers who wielded them.
- Most of these weapons crudely resemble swords, spears, and axes, and have been used in much the same fashion as melee weapons.
- The only example of a distance weapon seen so far is the long, slender throwing spear used by the Night King to take down the dragon Viserion.
Catapults are commonly used by many armies in Westeros. Wildfire and other combustible materials such as pitch are sometimes loaded up as catapult shot. Wildfire itself is an allegedly magical substance comparable to real-life Greek Fire used by the Byzantine Empire for many centuries. While it never entirely disappeared, it has fallen out of favor in recent generations due to a variety of factors: it is so combustible that it is very dangerous to use or even store, the Alchemists' Guild that produces it fell out of political favor, etc. While some combustible or incendiary materials are used in catapults, no society in the known world uses gunpowder and cannons, leaving them at a medieval technology level.
The ironborn and the Dothraki are not very skilled at siege warfare. The ironborn often cannot fit siege weapons onto their ships (all but the largest), nor do they have the manpower for a prolonged siege by starvation, so they usually make lightning raids from the sea that bypass major castles. The Dothraki use siege weapons even less or not at all, due to their lack of technical expertise, but unlike the ironborn they do have considerable manpower, so they usually surround and bypass major cities or fortifications, harassing the countryside until they starve the defenders out.
Ballista weapons are also used across the world, as are scorpions, both of which are much larger versions of crossbows. The difference between them is that a ballista is too large to be moved without being reassembled, often having to be custom-built where they stand, while a scorpion is somewhat smaller and thus can be carried and deployed by a horse-drawn wagon. Ballista are seen as fixed defensive structures used by the Night Watch atop the Wall, and can also be built onto ships for more mobility. Stannis's fleet at the Battle of the Blackwater were visibly equipped with ballistas, but were destroyed by wildfire before they could loose a shot.
Ballistas and scorpions have rarely had some success against dragons: given that their scales are harder than iron and impenetrable, the only real way to kill an adult dragon with conventional weapons (and not another dragon) is to shoot it through the eye and pierce its brain. The problem is that a dragon is a flying, fast-moving target, making this exceedingly difficult. In the years after the Targaryen Conquest, the dragon Meraxes was hit by a very lucky scorpion-bolt shot that managed to pierce it through the eye and brain like this, killing it instantly in mid-air. Subsequent attempts to match this achievement failed, as dragon-riders simply grew more wary of scorpion-fire. Qyburn tried to defend against Daenerys Targaryen's dragons in similar fashion by devising a new custom scorpion: Bronn used it against Drogon at the Battle of the Goldroad, but missed the dragon's eyes and only succeeded in giving him a flesh wound in the shoulder, before the enraged dragon destroyed the scorpion.
The use of armor varies quite widely among different cultures, and sometimes even within cultures. The design of any type of armor is influenced by many factors, such available resources and materials, established traditions, the desired level of protection, and the fighting styles of the soldiers wearing it.
- The North: Since the North is not particularly wealthy, steel plate armor is much rarer than in southern Westeros. With the exception of helmets and the occasional piece of steel or ironwork, Northern soldiers typically wear chain mail and armor made of boiled leather.
- The Westerlands: As the richest of the Seven Kingdoms, the Westerlands can afford to outfit its troops in full suits of plate armor, often decorated in rich colors of scarlet, gold, and black. Armor worn by high-ranking officers, such as Jaime Lannister, is often decorated with elaborate gold work and engraving.
- The Reach: Second only to the Westerlands in wealth, soldiers in the Reach are also outfitted in full suits of plate armor. The ornamentation on Reach-style armor varies from house to house; high-ranking Tyrell soldiers, such as Mace Tyrell and his son Loras, decorated their armor with elaborate gold tracery and engraving. Armor of more overtly martial House Tarly (namely Randyll Tarly and his son Dickon) carried very little decoration at all.
- The Riverlands: The armor worn by House Tully of Riverrun included a combination of chain mail shirts and breastplates. The breastplates were either made of, or covered in, hundreds of small leather pieces fashioned to look like fish scales, calling to mind the trout that serves as House Tully’s sigil.
- The Stormlands: Richer than the North but lacking the material resources of the Westerlands or the Reach, armor from the Stormlands is fairly utilitarian, without much ornamentation. Stormlanders are known for being hardy warriors – as exemplified by the Baratheons – so their practical armor reflects that mentality.
- The Vale: The knights of the Vale are wealthy enough to afford plate armor, but often not complete suits; most wear steel breastplates accompanied by arm and/or leg protection, along with flowing cloaks in honor of the falcon sigil of House Arryn. Vale armor also lacks the elaborate ornamentation typical of the Westerlands or the Reach.
- The Iron Islands: The culturally distinct ironborn, unafraid of drowning at sea, tend to wear heavier armor than sailors from the mainland. Warriors of House Greyjoy wear breastplates covered in leather, incised with the design of a kraken (the house sigil).
- Dorne: The hot climate of Dorne rules out the use of heavy armor, and the famous horses of the Dornishmen (“sand steeds”) are smaller and lighter-footed than horses elsewhere in Westeros, and cannot carry as heavy loads as their northern cousins. As such, Dornish armor is typically made of a combination of leather and lightweight metal, which also suits their preferred tactics of guerilla warfare.
- The Free Folk: Due to a lack of sophisticated metal-forging technology, most of the Free Folk cannot produce armor. As with metal weaponry, the major exception is the Thenn, some of whom are seen wearing shirts of bronze scales.
In contrast to most regionally conscripted soldiers, the Kingsguard and the City Watch (Goldcloaks) are centered in the capital of King's Landing and rarely travel far beyond its walls (though they are not technically a "standing" military force either). As such, both groups tend to wear more-or-less standardized suits of armor, though the design of these suits has changed subtly over time.
- The Dothraki: Since they do most of their fighting from horseback, relying to a great extent on speed and mobility, the Dothraki traditionally wear very minimal armor, if any armor at all. Anything heavy would weigh down their horses unnecessarily.
- The Unsullied: These elite heavy infantry troops are outfitted in identical suites of armor composed of both leather and metal. The armor is dark colored contains and very little embellishment (perhaps due to the Unsullied’s origins as slave soldiers), but can be adapted for different climates; while in Essos, the Unsullied wear no arm protection due to the mild climate. When they arrive in Westeros, arm coverings are included.
Many types of poisons are found throughout the Known World, but they are not often seen on the battlefield: In contrast to bladed implements and siege machinery, poison is much more of stealth weapon, used to covertly kill a target with minimal chance of discovery. Poison is often scorned as "a woman's weapon" due to the belief that a man should have the courage to attack his enemies directly, but this feeling is by no means universal.
- Basilisk blood
- Essence of Nightshade
- The Long Farewell
- Manticore venom
- The Strangler
- Tears of Lys
- Widow’s Blood
Known instances of poisoning
- Lysa Arryn poisoned her husband Jon using the Tears of Lys, an instruction from Petyr Baelish that eventually led to the War of the Five Kings.
- Cersei Lannister poisoned the wine that her husband Robert Baratheon brought on a hunt, physically weakening him and making him unable to fight off a wild boar, which led to his death.
- On Dragonstone, Maester Cressen attempted to poison Melisandre and even drank some himself to deflect suspicion. Due to her magic, Melisandre was able to easily survive the poisoning, while Cressen was not.
- The Cranogmen of the Neck are known to use poisons concocted from local elements on their arrows and blow darts.
- At the Purple Wedding, Olenna Tyrell poisoned Joffrey’s wine with the Strangler as part of a plan with Petyr Baelish to weaken the Lannister hold on the Iron Throne, as well as to spare Olenna’s granddaughter Margery from being married to someone as unstable as Joffrey.
- During Tyrion Lannister’s trial by combat, Oberyn Martell (Tyrion’s champion) coated his spear with Manticore Venom. This caused lingering damage to Ser Gregor Clegane (his opponent) after the duel and forced Qyburn to use experimental surgery to save Clegane’s life.
- Tyene Sand coated her daggers with The Long Farewell, a slow-acting but extremely deadly poison that nearly took Bronn’s life after the two engaged in combat. She later provided him with an antidote, but only when he had reached the cusp of death and after he complimented her beauty.
- Ellaria Sand later used The Long Farwell on Myrcella Baratheon as vengeance for the Lannisters (Myrcella’s materal family) killing her lover, Oberyn Martell.
- When Tyene and Ellaria were captured by Euron Greyjoy – working on behalf of Cersei Lannister – Cersei used the same poison on Tyene and forced Ellaria to watch her die.
- After executing Walder Frey and donning his face, Arya Stark summoned Walder’s many relations to a feast and killed them all with poisoned wine, an act of vengeance for the way the Freys slaughtered her family and the Stark army.
- After defeating the forces of House Tyrell and capturing Highgarden, Jaime Lannister offered poison to Olenna Tyrell, rather than having her suffer a painful and prolonged execution. Olenna consumes the poison willingly, and afterwards tells to Jaime that she was the one who killed Joffrey.
- A wine seller in Vaes Dothrak attempted to poison Daenerys Targaryen, but did not succeed due to Jorah Mormont’s suspicion. The seller ran for his life but was easily captured.
- During the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei had Essence of Nightshade on hand to give her son Tommen a painless death, should the Red Keep be breached by Stannis Baratheon’s army. In the end, she did not have to use it, as the Lannister-Tyrell army defeated Stannis’ forces.
- As her first assignment for the Faceless Men, Arya is instructed to poison an insurance broker known as the “thin man”. She is distracted from this task by the arrival of Ser Meryn Trant (one of the names on Arya’s death list) in Braavos and ultimately does not carry out the task.
- Later, Arya is asked to poison the actress Lady Crane, but once again reneges on her duty- she admires the woman and learns that the one who ordered the poisoning was simply a rival actress who was jealous of Crane’s talent.
Armies in the Seven Kingdoms
The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros do not possess a large standing military force, as do some of the Free Cities. Instead, each lord permanently maintains only a relatively small retinue of well-trained and well-equipped personal knights and warriors. In wartime they function on the principle of feudal levies, with each lord raising his own armies from the commoners who live on his lands. Soldiers muster with the weapons and armor they possess according to their wealth and their Lords can usually provide these levies with reasonably standardized and good quality armor and weapons - though sometimes, they are little more than peasants wielding sharpened farming tools, clubs and staves, or a board with a nail in it. These are usually supported by archers, or even crossbowmen.
In wartime, mounted knights form the backbone of major armies in most of Westeros. A single knight is an elite professional soldier, with extensive combat training, and equipped with the finest weapons and heavy armor. A single knight, even dismounted, is worth a dozen poorly armed and untrained common footsoldiers conscripted as feudal levies. Knights are very useful for carving through and running down enemy infantry, though they are also the best weapon against the enemy's own mounted knights.
Each lord raises a military force from his vassals on behalf of his or her own superior lord. These "bannermen" march under the war banners of their overlord, combining their strength with his own. For example, House Stark draws soldiers from the lands immediately around Winterfell and all other lands and holdfasts they directly control, but then adds to these knights and footsoldiers from the lands of House Umber, who in turn have their own minor bannermen. This hierarchy extends up to the king on the Iron Throne. The regions of Westeros vary considerably in population and wealth, dramatically affecting the number and quality of the soldiers that can be raised.
The king on the Iron Throne does appoint four "Wardens" who are meant to command and coordinate regional armies when in times of crisis, when bannermen and levies are called up. The regional lords in that quarter of the realm are expected to put their armies at the overall command of the Warden in their quarter of the realm. The Warden of the North guards against wildling attacks from beyond the Wall, the Warden of the East guards against attack from across the Narrow Sea, and so on.
Some regions, most notably the Iron Islands and Dorne, also specialize in different forms of fighting and combat than the norm, which stems from the Andals' chivalric and knightly tradition. The North basically fights using the same style and tactics as southern Westeros, but because the Faith of the Seven is little practiced there they do not have knights. They do have Northern heavy cavalry, who function just as knights do on the battlefield, and they are considered knights in all but name.
The Iron Islands, being an archipelago, heavily base their military on naval forces, making no significant use of cavalry in combat. Their fighting style is based on raiding and ambush, performing lightning raids and retreating back to the sea before larger forces can show up. The ironborn usually prefer to hit coastal targets or those on navigable rivers. Away from the water they are not particularly mobile without cavalry, and do not usually bring heavy siege equipment with them. This generally makes them unable to take heavily defended targets (Balon Greyjoy dismissed out of hand the possibility of actually assaulting Winterfell, even though Theon later took it by surprise with two dozen men using climbing gear because he knew the layout of the castle).
Dorne is too hot to sustain large armies of men in heavy plate armor. Instead the Dornishmen favor smaller groups of lightly armored fighters who are correspondingly faster and more agile. They rely on hit and run attacks and harassing invaders, using mounted archers supported by spearmen on foot. Still, they have been known to march in major wars and conventional battles, such as the large contingent of Dornishmen at the Battle of the Trident.
The City Watch of King's Landing, known as the "Gold Cloaks", could be said to be a "standing army" of a sort - but they are meant to be a police force, not soldiers. They are not trained for combat and would not normally experience it. This was seen during the Battle of the Blackwater, when Stannis Baratheon's forces were attacking the city: as the tide of battle began to turn against them and Joffrey made a cowardly retreat, many of the Gold Cloaks also panicked and fled the walls.
The general number of men that can be fielded by each of the Seven Kingdoms is unclear, but several points of information provide a general sense of how large their armies are:
- Each of the southern Andal kingdoms can, generally, field an army of about 40,000 men (varying between 40,000 to 50,000 depending on current conditions).
- The Reach is the most populous of the Seven Kingdoms, and can field almost twice as many armies as any other kingdom, between 80,000 and 100,000 (though this balances out, because the Reach also has twice as many hostile neighbors as any other kingdom).
- Renly Baratheon says (in "What is Dead May Never Die") that "I have a hundred thousand men at my command, all the might of the Stormlands and the Reach." Given that the Reach has twice as many soldiers as the rough average for any other southern kingdom, such as the Stormlands, that means that dividing 100,000 by three yields the roughly average size for a southern kingdom (such as the Stormlands or the Vale): a little over 30,000.
- The specific size of the armies a kingdom is able to raise will of course vary considerably based on current factors: a kingdom that was on the losing side of a war some years ago cannot quickly replace so many lost soldiers, and the overall population is lower after a long winter. Thus the general figure "40,000" is the rough average for a southern kingdom, specifically after a long and peaceful summer lasting ten years.
- The North has slightly less than the "average" size for the south, though not by much. The North has a very low population density, but not an overall low population - it might be sparsely populated, but its total land area is nearly the size of the rest of the Seven Kingdoms put together.
- When Robb Stark called his bannermen he was quickly able to raise about 20,000 men to march south - and it is implied that more could have come if he had been able to wait longer. Armies raised in the North typically have ~40-45,000 men - as many as the Vale, the Riverlands and Dorne.
- The Iron Islands have very little land area and a very low population (only Dorne has a smaller overall population). They have no cavalry and do not make extensive use of siege engines, which cannot be carried by ship. Conversely, the ironborn have a disproportionately strong navy, which often dominates the western coasts of Westeros in the Sunset Sea. Their entire military strategy is dependent on rapid movement by sea, before the enemy can react.
Taking these figures together, it can be reasonably estimated that at the start of the War of the Five Kings, the total number of soldiers that could be raised into armies (including both mounted knights and feudal levies armed with cobbled weaponry) may have been roughly around 350,000 to 400,000. There are nine regions in the Seven Kingdoms (seven plus the Riverlands and the Crownlands): excluding the Iron Islands, counting the Reach twice, and presuming the North's total strength to be near-average, yields 9 x 40,000 = 360,000. The Iron Islands have less than the average: if they did have average-sized armies that would be 360,000 + 40,000 = 400,000, but they have much less than that.
These figures can only be rough estimates. The overall point is that in the Seven Kingdoms, "armies" usually number in the low thousands, with "large armies" numbering in the low tens of thousands. Robb Stark did not command an army of only a few hundred men, nor could Tywin Lannister easily muster from the Westerlands alone an army numbering over half a million. A Great House that rules an entire kingdom can raise an army in the low tens of thousands (approximately 40,000-50,000) which is formed from the combined strength of the major noble Houses who serve as their bannermen, plus the forces of their home castle's lands. Each of the Seven Kingdoms has about a dozen or so major Noble houses serving under the region's ruling Great House. In turn, each of these major noble Houses can raise an army from their own lands numbering in the low thousands, which are similarly a combination of the forces of all of the minor Houses that serve them as bannermen, plus their own local castle's forces. One of these minor noble Houses - such as House Forrester, vassals of the Glovers, who themselves are vassals of the Starks - can therefore generally raise from their own lands an army of several hundred soldiers. Again, these are only broad generalizations and they vary considerably depending on the population and wealth of a given area.
Armies beyond the Wall
The Night's Watch that guards the Wall at the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms is a standing military order, who have taken vows to hold no lands or titles, father no children, and defend the Wall from whatever threats lay beyond. They are sworn to strict political neutrality, however, and take no part in the frequent wars of the Seven Kingdoms. What few forces the Watch sends out beyond the Wall are small scouting parties, not armies on the march. With their numbers dwindling over the centuries, the Watch has been left to focus on defending the Wall itself. The Wall is the greatest defensive structure ever built, so even the few hundred men the Night's Watch still has left can use it to hold off thousands of attackers. The Night's Watch has some horses for patrols but no real cavalry of their own.
- In the novels, the Night's Watch has been in a slow decline since the Long Night 8,000 years ago, but they entered into a particularly sharp decline after the Targaryen Conquest unified the Seven Kingdoms 300 years ago. The Night's Watch used to get a steady trickle of recruits from the losing sides in the constant petty wars between each of the Seven Kingdoms. When the Targaryens unified the Seven Kingdoms, they put an end to these constant border wars - but ironically, this new level of relative peace meant that the number of new recruits for the Watch dried up. Their numbers severely dwindled, and the only recruits they could usually find were condemned prisoners, only occasionally getting a boost in numbers from the losing sides in rebellions, which were now much rarer (i.e. Targaryen loyalists from Robert's Rebellion, such as Alliser Thorne), and only very rarely getting volunteers from noble Houses, usually younger sons or bastards with no prospects for inheritance (such as Jon Snow or Waymar Royce). At the beginning of the novels, the Night's Watch only has one thousand men left (and after the losses they take during the narrative, they have closer to 600 after the Battle of Castle Black). At the time of the Targaryen Conquest, before their truly drastic decline began, the Night's Watch had about 10,000 members.
Large armies are rarely encountered among the wildlings living Beyond the Wall, only localized tribes. They lack the ability to forge their own metal weapons, so besides what iron weapons they can scavenge or buy from smugglers, they mostly rely on weapons made of wood, stone, and bone. Occasionally, however, the wildling clans are all united by an over-chief known as the King-Beyond-the-Wall, such as Mance Rayder. A King-Beyond-the-Wall can convince the wildlings to march together in something which actually resembles an army, but they use no complex formations and are more of an undisciplined horde.
- The TV series gives the size of Mance Rayder's host attacking Castle Black as around 100,000. In the novels, the estimate given is around 30,000. The TV version may have been going by counting the entire wildling horde, including women and children. Even in the TV version, Jon Snow saw in the main wildling camp in the Season 3 premiere that it isn't just an army camp, but entire family groups and village populations. The entire surviving wildling population is trying to migrate south of the Wall, so the large number 100,000 could be reached if one were to count young boys just big enough to hold a spear. Matching this theory is that later in Season 6, Tormund explained that while 5,000 wildlings had agreed to come south of the Wall with Jon Snow, only about 2,000 of these were warriors - the rest were children, mothers, old people, etc. - if the ratio was the same, that would put the number of "warriors" in Mance's group of 100,000 back down to the 30-40,000 range. Either way, the small remaining garrison at Castle Black was drastically outnumbered.
Armies in Essos
The cities of Slaver's Bay function similarly, though they also train large numbers of slave-soldiers, particularly the famous Unsullied warrior-eunuchs, who are trained to rigidly obey all orders without question.
The Dothraki mounted nomads rely on rapid attacks by unarmored light cavalry, eschewing armor to rely on speed and maneuverability. Their riders also double as mounted archers. A large Dothraki tribe is known as a khalasar, each of which is ruled by a Khal. Khalasars are subdivided into khas, each of which is commanded by a captain known as a ko (plural, kos). The Dothraki have historically shown great tactical skill in dividing up their kos and directing them to make feints and attack enemy forces in pincer movements.
- See main article "Ships"
The Seven Kingdoms also employ a large number of naval forces. The three main fleets are:
- The Royal Fleet - stationed in the east at King's Landing and Dragonstone) island)
- The Redwyne Fleet - stationed at the Arbor in the southwest
- The Iron Fleet - located in the Iron Islands to the west
Most lords on the coasts keep a major galleon or three to ward off pirates and smugglers, along with several smaller coastal boats. Some of the more powerful Noble houses do maintain their own small fleets. The Hightowers and Tyrells are careful to keep their own defensive fleets to ward against the threat of the nearby ironborn - the Shield Islands at the mouth of the Mander River are garrisoned by the Tyrells to defend against the ironborn sailing up it to attack Highgarden. Similarly, the Lannisters maintain a large defensive fleet in the Westerlands - but they rarely move it away from Lannisport, because they are located closest to the Iron Islands and are wary of a quick attack.
The North and Dorne have hardly any strength at sea. Dorne has a very rugged coast with few natural harbors, and there is not enough wood in that desert region to construct a fleet with. In contrast, the North has massive coastlines on both the eastern and western sides of the continent. These coasts are far too vast for any fleet to effectively patrol, and the North as a whole is not wealthy enough to afford one, so its lords usually have to react to invaders from the ocean by repulsing them on land. The North is, however, home to the small port city White Harbor, ruled by House Manderly, and what strength the North has at sea can be found there.
The Free Cities located on the coasts all maintain very large fleets, both warships and their merchant marines. Norvos and Qohor are located inland so they do not have ocean-going vessels, though they do have military strength on the network of the Rhoyne River. Slaver's Bay and Qarth similarly maintain large numbers of ships for both trade and warfare.
The Dothraki possess no strength at sea at all - even though the northern side of the Dothraki Sea has a very long coastline, their powerbase has always been on the large flat plains of the interior. The Dothraki infamously fear any water that a horse will not drink (saltwater), and are extremely reluctant to even travel in boats. The Dothraki use ships so rarely that their language doesn't even have a true word for "boat": the term they use when they rarely do need to describe them is literally "wooden horses", as like a horse they are a means of transport.
The Ibbenese have a very large presence at sea - albeit most of it is in non-military whaling ships, these vessels are built so strong that they can withstand attacks from massive sea creatures, making them difficult to ram or attack. While the Ibbenese frequently war against the Dothraki to their south, the Dothraki have no ships at all, and with few other nearby enemies, Ibbenese ships don't need to be offensively strong - just sturdy and mobile.
The Summer Islands, located directly south from the Narrow Sea between Westeros and Essos, also have a very large trading fleet, whose vessels are more than capable of defending themselves against pirates. Each ship is defended by a company of archers, wielding powerful goldenheart bows. Summer Islander swan ships are not true warships but intended for trade and exploration, but are so well crafted that they are easily faster and stronger than any other ships in their size class. Thus it would be unfair to say that swan ships aren't as strong as full war galleys used in Westeros or the Free Cities: they are light caravels of such high quality that they can "play up" against ships of larger size classes if the winds are strong, allowing them to outmaneuver opponents.
- ↑ "The Free Folk (Histories & Lore)"
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"
- ↑ "The Red Woman"
- ↑ "House Bolton (Histories & Lore)"
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 "The Gift"
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Blackwater"
- ↑ "Fire and Blood"
- ↑ "Battle of the Bastards"
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 "Dragonstone"
- ↑ "Eastwatch"
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Winter is Coming"
- ↑ "The Wolf and the Lion"
- ↑ "Two Swords"
- ↑ "The Watchers on the Wall"
- ↑ "The Wars To Come"
- ↑ "The Summer Sea"
- ↑ "The Old Gods and the New"
- ↑ "House Reed (Histories & Lore)"
- ↑ "Beyond the Wall"
- ↑ "The Dragon and the Wolf"
- ↑ "The Lion and the Rose"
- ↑ "Oathkeeper"
- ↑ "Mother's Mercy"