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Game of Thrones and laws of war: Season 8, Episode 2

How do you analyse an episode where no battles took place? Turns out there's still plenty happening in Westeros...

As always, the following contains spoilers. Don't say we didn't warn you!

The second episode of the final season of Game of Thrones presented many challenges: how do you prepare for an impending war against the undead? How do you know who to trust? How do you tell your bae you’re actually her nephew? And the most significant challenge of them all – how do you undertake a ‘laws of war’ analysis of an episode of GoT where there was more drinking and singing than fighting?

Fear not, for our watch has begun and we will not stop our (relentless) commentary of the events of the Seven Kingdoms just because no swords were drawn.

Final Season Hbo GIF by Game of Thrones

Violations

There were a surprising number of violations for an episode without any battles.

We have previously noted that the use of child soldiers is rife in Westeros. It’s a serious violation of the laws of war and a war crime.  Yet, it keeps happening. This week Jon Snow’s (do we keep calling him that?) army included Lady Lyanna Mormont (you know, the child in the suit of armour). She was involved in the Westerosian War Council and was geared up to go meet the Night King in battle.

bokeem woodbine GIF

It doesn’t stop there. Lady Mormont herself admitted to training children to fight for her house in the impending Winter War (child soldiers). Children in Westeros have the right to protection regardless of how nightmarish the prospect of a battle with zombie dragons may be.

We also need to talk about using Bran (aka the Three Eyed Raven) as bait for the Night King. Good plan, right? Hold the door, it seems the army of the living have overlooked a couple of things.

game of thrones jaime GIF by Vulture.com

IHL requires parties to a conflict to protect sites of cultural significance – we think this includes the Weirwood tree in the Winterfell Godswood (although this isn’t just an issue in Westeros). Special care must be taken in conflict to avoid damaging historic monuments or objects of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, this includes a prohibition on using cultural property for military purposes. Luring the Night King to the Godswood puts the Weirwood in danger and potentially makes it a legitimate target. Depending how this develops, it looks like Jon Snow may also be committing the crime of making religious or cultural objects the object of attack.  You know nothing Jon Snow.

Compliance

A lot was made of the Crypts of Winterfell in this episode (we have a bad feeling). Big ticks all round though for using the safest place in the castle to allow the children and other civilians to seek refuge from the impending war. The protection of civilians is one of the main aims of IHL and, it seems, of Jon Snow’s army. Perhaps he knows more than we thought?

Jon Snow Hug GIF by Game of Thrones

Gilly and Ser Davos are an outstanding example of compliance in this episode when they talk a little girl out of fighting the White Walkers. It was refreshing to see someone trying to stop the use of child soldiers in Westeros. Keep it up guys!

Best and Worst on ground

Gilly and Ser Davos (BOG) and Jon Snow (WOG) (oh dear).

Things to watch out for

We don’t make the accusation of genocide lightly. But, if the Night King is planning to impose ‘An Endless Night’ and wants to wipe out the entire living memory of mankind by killing Our Bran, this is definitely something to watch out for. We have a feeling it’s going to get pretty dark in Winterfell.

Pause for thought

Back to Bran. Religious personnel attached to the armed forces of a party to a conflict benefit from special protection under the laws of war. We think the Three Eyed Raven, who is clearly attached to the army of the living, definitely qualifies as religious personnel in Westeros. The Night King already stands accused of the crime of making religious or cultural objects the object of attack (he tried to come after Bran before, remember?). If he does this again it’s a second strike. But hey, he might change his mind at the last minute and target only combatants? Right? Seriously, anything is possible in this show!

white walker prepare for winter GIF by Game of Thrones

But, like the Targaryen lineage, it’s not that simple. By getting involved in the conflict, the Three Eyed Raven is directly participating in hostilities and loses his special protection from attack. See more on how the International Committee of the Red Cross understands Direct Participation in Hostilities.

Check out our analysis of episode 1 here. And if you still want more, the entire analysis of seasons 1 – 7 is here. Have anything else to add? Join our #GoTIHL discussion.

We want to say thank you to our amazing team of volunteers who spend their time (outside of work hours!) putting these recaps together each week.

This week’s analysis is brought to you by Nicole Urban.