Game of Thrones and laws of war: Season 8, Episode 1

Who committed war crimes in the first episode? We continue our niche (and, let’s face it, kind of bizarre) analysis.

We had an amazing response to our Game of Thrones and International Humanitarian Law analysis last week. It’s been shared all across the world by GoT fans including military lawyers, humanitarian aid workers, students, journalists, academics and more – from the Central African Republic to Mexico, Belgium to the Philippines, Australia, China and the UK.

Who knew such a huge collection of people were passionate about both the Iron Throne and the laws of war?

With the eighth and final season upon us, we are committed to continuing to provide the world with our (incredibly niche and, let’s face it, kind of bizarre) analysis.

Armed with popcorn, a copy of the Geneva Conventions and their spreadsheets, our IHL nerds sat down after hours (yes, it’s after hours on a voluntary basis; no, if you donate to Red Cross your money does not go towards this – obviously) to analyse the first episode.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it!


The Night King killed Lord Umber, and while the killing itself is probably lawful (even though Lord Umber is a child, he is also Commander of the army of his House and therefore likely a combatant), turning him into a wight (slavery), and pinning him to a wall (torture, cruel or inhuman treatment) are definitely not lawful acts.

The seriously gross artwork of human limbs on the wall around Lord Umber also constitutes the war crime of pillage (yes, the mutilation of dead bodies constitutes pillage). This zombie arts-and-crafts display also constitutes the war crime of ‘committing outrages upon personal dignity’ that also applies to the deceased. Full points for TV gore and creativity (and jump-scare: did anyone else scream when that kid opened his eyes and started wielding his knife, or was that just us?), bottom of the class for respecting the laws of war.


This episode’s stand-out (read: only) example of compliance with the laws of war is Theon Greyjoy. While rescuing his sister Yara he only targeted people directly participating in the conflict and undertook the rescue in a way that complied with the laws of war. His actions were not disproportionate and the weapons he selected were used in a targeted and precise way that did not cause unnecessary suffering. Yara giving him an impressive king-hit isn’t laws of war related but rates a mention because, frankly, he totally deserved to get his butt (or in this case, head) kicked in by his sister for deserting her at the end of last season.

Best & Worst on ground:

Theon Greyjoy (BOG) and Night King (WOG).

Things to watch out for

Even though they may look and act like the armed forces of House Lannister, the Golden Company are ‘sell swords’ and in it for the gold (the Lannisters always pay their debts after all). As mercenaries, the Golden Company are not lawful participants in combat and can be tried under domestic law for their involvement in the conflict. They can be targeted by the Army of the North (or even the Night King) while they are participating in conflict, but they are still entitled to protection by IHL, including from torture and inhumane treatment (ie. we don’t want to see them turned into decorative wall-murals aka Lord Umber) you feel us?

Pause for thought

There are many reasons why armed forces should comply with the laws of war –preserving some basic common humanity being chief amongst them. But, there are also practical advantages to upholding these laws. For example, demonstrating respect for IHL may make it easier for a party to a conflict to gain acceptance from the civilian population and for a society to create lasting peace once the war is over.

One need only remember the heart-breaking response from fan-favourite Samwell Tarley when he was told by Daenerys that she intentionally dragon-torched his father and brother when they refused to ‘bend the knee’ (totally illegal and one of her 15 documented war crimes). It will be interesting to see this play out during the rest of the season. Learn more about how detainees and Prisoners of War should and are treated in current conflicts all around the world.

So, do you agree with our analysis? Disagree? Don’t care because you’re too focused on poor old Jon Snow realising he’s gone and fallen in love with his Auntie? Get involved in the #GoTIHL discussion with us!

Once again, thank you to the awesome team of volunteers who have supported this project – you will be finding out more about each of them in the coming weeks!

Want to check back on our original stats? View our Season 1–7 analysis on the worst war criminals in Westeros here.

This week’s analysis brought to you by Hollie Johnston.

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