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Hand of the King

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Hand of the King

The Hand of the King's brooch.

"What's the line? 'The King shits, and the Hand wipes.'"
―Ser Jaime Lannister[src]

The Hand of the King (or King's Hand) is the most powerful appointed position in the Seven Kingdoms, second only to the King in authority and responsibility. The Hand is the King's closest advisor, appointed and authorized to make decisions in the King's name. The Hand of the King is the highest-ranking member of the Small Council, and leads meetings of the council as proxy for the king when the monarch is absent.

During the reign of strong and able kings, the Hand is the chief agent for coordinating and carrying out the king's plans. During the reign of weak or ineffectual kings, the Hand is often the real power behind the throne, and the man chiefly responsible for holding the realm together. Such was the case when Lord Tywin Lannister ably served as Hand of the King for twenty years while King Aerys II Targaryen spiraled into insanity, or when Lord Jon Arryn served as Hand of the King for seventeen years under King Robert Baratheon, who while an able soldier was not an able politician or statesman. The Hand is supposed to fulfill plans made by the king, but during the reign of weak kings when the Hand is left to clean up the political mess caused by inept rulers, a common saying is that "The King shits, and the Hand wipes".[1]

The Hand of the King is formally addressed as Lord Hand and resides in the Tower of the Hand at the Red Keep along with his family and household.


Under Aerys II

Under Robert I

King Robert Baratheon Hand Jon Arryn

Jon Arryn, Hand of King Robert Baratheon

  • Lord {Jon Arryn}, served as Hand for most of the seventeen years of Robert's reign. Lord Arryn was said to be essentially the one man really holding the realm together while Robert drank, ate, and whored. Died from poisoning by an unidentified party.
  • Lord {Eddard Stark}, served briefly during the final months of Robert's reign. Executed under false charges of treason.

Under Joffrey I

Hands of Claimants to the Iron Throne

Under Stannis I

  • Lord Davos Seaworthappointed to the position during the Battle of Blackwater. Relieved of the charge when he was convicted of treason for trying to kill Lady Melisandre. Reinstated to the Handship after his release.


Season 1

Following Robert's Rebellion, King Robert Baratheon appointed Lord Jon Arryn as Hand of the King. Seventeen years later, the elderly Lord Jon dies in King's Landing. King Robert travels north to Winterfell to ask Lord Eddard Stark to replace him. Eddard is reluctant until he receives intelligence from Jon's wife (and his own sister-in-law), Lysa Arryn, that the Lannister family murdered Jon as part of a wider conspiracy. Eddard then accepts Robert's proposal, hoping to learn the truth about Jon's death.[3]

On the Kingsroad, Eddard is told that Daenerys Targaryen has married a Dothraki warlord, whose army may pose a potential threat to the realm. King Robert suggests assassinating her, but Eddard dissuades him by noting the moral implications and pointing out that the Dothraki do not have any ships.[4]

Small Council

Lord Eddard chairs the small council meeting with Robert Baratheon's crested chair empty.

Upon arriving in King's Landing, Eddard takes up his role as King's Hand by chairing meetings of the small council. He learns that, despite Jon Arryn's prudence, Robert has put the realm more than six million gold crowns in debt.[5] Eddard also hears reports that the City Watch is struggling to control the influx of visitors to witness the king's tournament in honor of Eddard's appointment.[6] When King Robert announces that Daenerys is pregnant and must now die, Eddard argues against the decision. When Robert orders it done anyway, Eddard resigns the Handship.[7]

After being injured in an altercation with Ser Jaime Lannister, Eddard is reinstated by Robert on the condition he makes peace with the Lannisters. He agrees, but then learns that the Lannister bannerman Gregor Clegane has been burning farms in the Riverlands. He sends Ser Beric Dondarrion and a hundred men to arrest Ser Gregor and orders that Lord Tywin Lannister present himself in King's Landing to answer for the actions of his bannerman. The other members of the small council consider this act rash.[8] As well as Hand of the King, Lord Eddard is appointed Regent and Protector of the Realm by the dying King Robert after the latter's wounding by a boar. However, Eddard is stripped of this position by order of Queen Cersei Lannister and the newly-raised King Joffrey Baratheon when he tries to expose the truth of Joffrey's birth.[9]

King Joffrey then names Lord Tywin Lannister, his grandfather and former Hand of the King to the Mad King twenty years earlier, as his new Hand.[10] However, Tywin is too busy fighting the Stark army under Robb Stark in the Riverlands, so sends his son Tyrion to act in his stead. Furious at Cersei' incompetence in allowing Joffrey to execute Eddard Stark, Tywin orders Tyrion to take the situation in the capital in hand and if necessary to mount heads on spikes.[11]

Season 2

Upon Tyrion's arrival at King's Landing, his sister disputes his appointement as Acting Hand, but is forced to accept it.[12] Tyrion sets about putting affairs in order. He strips Lord Janos Slynt of his lands and titles and exiles him to the Wall, replacing him as Commander of the City Watch with Bronn.[13] Tyrion then exposes Grand Maester Pycelle as being in Cersei's pocket and strips him of his position on the small council. He also forges an alliance with House Martell of Dorne by pledging Princess Myrcella Baratheon to their youngest son in marriage, to Cersei's fury. Tyrion also sends Lord Petyr Baelish to the Stormlands to treat with Renly Baratheon and make a secret offer to Catelyn Stark, that Tyrion will release Sansa and Arya (whom he does not hold) to her in return for Jaime Lannister's release.[14]

Tyrion also attempts to restrain Joffrey's cruelty by being kind to Sansa and attempting to distract Joffrey with two prostitutes. The plan backfires when Joffrey abuses the girls to send a message to Tyrion. However, Tyrion succeeds in blackmailing his cousin Lancel into betraying Cersei and feeding him intelligence about her actions.[15]

Tyrion attempts to mend fences with Cersei and work with her in preparing the city for Stannis Baratheon's attack. However, Cersei refuses to talk to Tyrion, even for the city's defense, insisting that Joffrey will handle it personally. Tyrion learns from Lancel that Joffrey's plan is to use wildfire to defend the city. Tyrion heads off the plan - which could burn down the city by accident - by recruiting Wisdom Hallyne of the Alchemists' Guild to his cause. Tyrion believes that he is doing a good job as Hand, but is shocked when he sees a street protest where he is named a 'demon monkey' and blamed for Joffrey's excesses.[16]

House Martell accept Tyrion's offer of an alliance and Myrcella leaves the city for Dorne. However, after waving her off the royal party is attacked on the streets of King's Landing by the smallfolk of the city, who are starting to starve as food supplies to the city are interrupted by the war. Joffrey fans the flames of the riot by ordering his soldiers to kill the rioters. Tyrion, furious, slaps Joffrey and attempts to restore order.[17]

While sailing to attack Kings Landing in the Battle of the Blackwater, Stannis Baratheon tells Ser Davos Seaworth that should they succeed in taking the city and overthrowing Joffrey, he intends to name Davos as his Hand of the King.[18]

Tyrion oversees the defense of King's Landing during the Battle of the Blackwater, using a wildfire trap to destroy a significant portion of the enemy's forces. After the tide of battle turns in favor of Stannis Baratheon and morale runs low, Tyrion personally leads the city defenders into battle.[19]

Tyrion is stripped of his power after Tywin Lannister arrives at King's Landing, relieving Tyrion from his position as acting Hand. In a ceremony in which King Joffrey declares him Savior of the City, Lord Tywin is also proclaimed as Hand of the King. Varys notes to Tyrion that he will not be credited for his actions as Hand, but notes that those who are aware of his role are grateful for it.[20]

Season 3

Tywin Lannister, having resumed his position as Hand of the King, holds a new Small Council meeting. To emphasize his dominance, Tywin has the location of the meeting moved to a new chamber, located just outside of his own.[21]

After his release from prison, Davos Seaworth was named Hand of the King for King Stannis Baratheon.

In the books

Chair of the Hand

The seat of the King's Hand in the small council audience chamber

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the position of "Hand of the King" is loosely comparable to the role of a prime minister in an absolute monarchy, or the Lord Chancellor of a medieval monarchy. While in the series the Hand of the King wears a brooch as a symbol of his office, in the books he (as in the case of Tyrion Lannister) wears a chain of gold hand-shaped links. His badge of office always includes a hand, though each Hand can design his own. A necklace of hands linked into a chain is one possible badge.

A popular saying is, "What the King dreams, the Hand builds," but among the smallfolk and particularly during the reign of inept and weak kings, a less polite saying is, "The King eats, and the Hand takes the shit." The Hand of the King is often the one who has to clean up after the mess caused by inept kings. The TV series slightly changed this, to "The King shits, and the Hand wipes."

The events of the story are set in motion by the death of the Hand of the King, Lord Jon Arryn, apparently from natural causes. King Robert Baratheon travels to Winterfell and asks Lord Eddard Stark to replace Jon. Eddard is doubtful, not wishing to travel far from his homeland and his family, but eventually agrees when an anonymous message claims that Jon Arryn was murdered. Eddard decides to agree to the King's offer so he can investigate and determine the truth of what has happened and if it poses a danger to Robert or the realm.

Hands, past and present

Under Aegon I Targaryen, the Conquerer:

Under Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King:

  • Lord Tywin Lannister, the King's Hand for twenty years, resigned after King Aerys snubbed the idea of a marriage between his son Rhaegar and Tywin's daughter Cersei. Tywin's resignation caused Aerys to spiral even further into the heights of paranoia and insanity. Following Tywin's resignation, Aerys appointed four new Hands in rapid succession, the last three within the space of a year during Robert's Rebellion.
  • Lord Owen Merryweather, served as Hand for the brief few years between Tywin's resignation and the beginning of Robert's Rebellion. An amiable sycophant, he failed to take any action during the early days of the rebellion, which allowed Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon to successfully flee to their holdings and raise their armies in open warfare. For this blunder, Aerys had him exiled and his lands seized.
  • Lord Jon Connington, for King Aerys II, exiled after being defeated at the Battle of the Bells during Robert's Rebellion.
  • Lord Qarlton Chelsted, executed for treason. Chelsted only briefly served as Hand between the Battle of the Bells and two weeks before the Sack of King's Landing. People who weren't in the capital at the time often forget that Chelsted and his successor Rossart were ever Hands.
  • Lord Rossart, a Wisdom of the Alchemists' Guild. He was Hand for less than a fortnight, before he was killed during the Sack of King's Landing.

Under Robert Baratheon, the Usurper:

  • Lord Jon Arryn, for King Robert. Served as Hand for most of the seventeen years of Robert's reign. Lord Arryn was said to be essentially the one man really holding the realm together while Robert drank, ate, and whored.
  • Lord Eddard Stark, for King Robert Baratheon. Served briefly during the final months of Robert's reign.

Under Joffrey Baratheon

During the brief period in which Renly Baratheon rebelled and laid claimed to the Iron Throne he named Lord Mace Tyrell - father of his new wife Margaery and his lover Ser Loras - as his Hand of the King. The series does not confirm that Lord Mace was appointed to the position.

In the books, Stannis Baratheon names Davos Seaworth his new Hand of the King after his release from the dungeons of Dragonstone, after it is discovered that his current Hand, Alester Florent (uncle of his own wife Selyse Florent) was trying to negotiate a surrender to the Lannisters after the defeat of Stannis' army at the Battle of the Blackwater. Realizing that Alester feigned absolute loyalty while secretly betraying him, while Davos out of earnest loyalty told him hard truths he needed to hear, Stannis exchanges their places by throwing Alester in the dungeon, while freeing Davos and making him his new Hand. In the TV series, during the episode "Blackwater" Stannis says he intends to name Davos as his Hand after they win the battle, but they lose the battle, Davos is lost at sea, and when he returns he quarrels with Melisandre and is thrown in the dungeon. Thus there was never a point when he could have actively assumed the office. However, in the Season 3 finale "Mhysa", after Davos is released from the dungeon he starts reading through letters the castle has received (despite his difficulty from only recently learning how to read), and tells Shireen that he has to do this drudgery now that he is her father's Hand "again" - which doesn't match the previous order of events in the TV series, in which Stannis intended to name Davos his Hand but never had the chance before. It's possible Davos was just speaking loosely about Stannis' earlier intent to promote him, generally referring to being back in her father's service now that he's out of the dungeon. Either way, Davos is Stannis' Hand after he is released from Dragonstone's dungeons.

See also


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