Game of Thrones and laws of war: Season 8, Episode 3

As always, when you play the Game of Thrones recap, you live or you die with spoilers. There is no middle ground. In case the previous warning wasn't enough: here there be spoilers.

Holy Mother of Dragons that was terrifying! And exhausting. I think my hair has gone grey. We have some serious questions about Westerosian battle techniques, like why don’t more of the good guys wear helmets? Why didn’t Melisandre light everyone’s swords on fire? AND WHY DOES EVERYONE WALK BACKWARDS INTO SCARY SITUATIONS?!

But, we’ll leave those questions to the military strategists, and instead focus our watch on the laws of war. For an episode that was essentially 90 minutes of relentless gore, there were actually surprisingly few new examples of violations of IHL (maybe that’s because we couldn’t see anything! Hello The Long (dark) Night indeed).


Sansa and Jon organising civilians to be protected in the crypt is a solid example of compliance. As it turned out, only a good idea in theory. (Perhaps before going into battle against an army of the undead it’s worth considering that A CRYPT IS FULL OF CORPSES). Sansa should have definitely had Mum and Dad cremated. 

Dany and Jon’s use of dragons in this episode is also, by our reckoning, done in full compliance with the laws of war (more on that below).


In terms of sheer magnitude, there was the Night King’s use of slavery (again) on an industrial scale (again). His involuntary army of the dead is immense and then he goes and makes his rap sheet even worse by reanimating the dead Winterfell army to fight for his cause. 

Use of child soldiers is once again a problem (sigh). There should be no recruitment of Lady Mormont into an armed force in the first place and no reanimating her into a zombie soldier either (here’s looking at you Night King). Though as fans of the show we give her full points for bravery for taking out that zombie giant. She may be a kid, but I would not want to cross her, dead or alive.

Deliberate attacks on civilians is another terrible violation that popped up again, and once again, was orchestrated by resident psycho Monsieur Night King. The poor people in the crypt thought they were safe, until their long dead relos suddenly starting crawling out of their graves and killing them without so much as a “hello, so good to see you again.” Talk about an awkward family reunion. 

Finally – there may be different views on this – but my take is that Bran is a civilian who is not taking part in the fight and should be protected. That means not using him as bait as a military tactic by Jon and Dany; and the Night King not targeting him. 

Bran’s knowledge in and of itself isn’t of military significance or utility to make him a legitimate target. The Night King’s interest in targeting him is to wipe out the human race – which as we said last week – sounds pretty genocidal to us.

Best and Worst on ground

Jon (BOG) as he not only demonstrated responsible use of his dragon (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write when I was at law school) but also helped organise the civilians into the crypt.

Night King (WOG) (obvs) for being a genocidal maniac.

Things to watch out for

Dany and Jon’s use of dragons this week was (in our view) in full compliance with the laws of war (even if, like me, you were shouting at them to do more than frolic around together above the clouds ).

There are only three ways to kill Wights and fire is one of them, which made the dragons the most effective weapon in their arsenal. The military advantage of deploying them was proportionate to the incidental damage they caused and they were used in a way that only targeted enemy fighters.

Yvette, Mother of Great Danes, with Duke (almost the size of a dragon)

Perhaps Dany and her dragons took our advice and really did read up on the Geneva Conventions before going into battle?

That said, not every use of dragons is automatically legal. It will be interesting to see whether or not the dragons might be used against mere mortals in King’s Landing, and if so, whether the same arguments can be used to justify their use under IHL. My bet is on a few dragon-related war crimes ahead (again, not a sentence I thought I’d ever write…).

Pause for thought

OK, we know this is telly and the good guys always win. But last night’s episode nonetheless demonstrated that you don’t need to throw the laws out the window in order to be victorious, whichs is something that the Red Cross reminds parties to conflicts the world over in their role promoting the laws of war globally.

It’s both professionally and personally satisfying to see that the Night King’s complete disregard for the laws in the pursuit of victory resulted only in him shattering into tiny shards of ice under Arya’s gloriously lethal feet (WHICH WAS THE BEST PART OF THE EPISODE AND WE ALL NEED TO TAKE ANOTHER MOMENT TO ENJOY IT). 

Can't get enough? Check out our analysis of episode 1 and episode 2 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.

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