Game of Thrones and laws of war: Season 8, Episode 4

Just as one battle ends, another begins. As always, enemies of the spoiler beware. If you don’t want to know how the Last War arrived at the shores of King’s Landing, avert your eyes now.
Thankfully, the Last War kicked off with more lighting (and more take-away coffee cups…ahem) and less mass-scale carnage than the Battle of Winterfell. Last episodes battle sent a slew of characters to their deaths! Sir Jorah and Theon are gone, and while I’m personally devastated at the loss of them, I’m duty bound to point out that both of those killings were lawful under the laws of war.

But, enough about last episode, we’re here to talk S8 Ep4, so let’s get into it.

I’m not going to lie, I WAS NOT OKAY with seeing Dany’s second dragon die (RIP Rhaegal). Everyone’s fave, Arya Stark – the hero of Winterfell – continued to kick some serious butt! And forget ScoMo and Shorten, the ultimate political battle looks to be brewing between Jon Snow (or should I say, Aegon Targaryen) and Aunty Dany.


Shout out to Lord Varys and Tyrion Lannister who put forward a compelling case for the protection of King’s Landing from Dany’s fire-breathing babies. Nobody (least of all the International Criminal Court) likes an indiscriminate and disproportionate attack on civilians (hello, citizens of King’s Landing) or civilian objects.

And, while we’re not a fan of Euron Greyjoy, we feel we must acknowledge his lawful attack on Dany’s fleet and her dragons (I KNOW, I KNOW THIS IS HARD FOR US TOO!). Of course in the real world, Red Cross would never play favourites, but how can we not have a bit of partisan fun when we’re talking about GoT?! While we all love the dragons, they’re also weapons and thus military objectives so Euron shooting down Rhaegal with that massive spear is actually a clear example of attacking only military objectives. Kudos Euron (ugh, did I really just say that??), DISCLAIMER: I don’t hold out much hope for his continued lawful behaviour in upcoming episodes.


Jon Snow (sorry Aegon, you’ll always be Jon Snow to me) is at it again. He isn’t using child soldiers this time, but he has moved on to the equally unsavoury violation of starvation of civilians by declaring that their army will surround King’s Landing, adding “If the Iron Fleet tries to bring in more food, the dragons will destroy them.” Not cool, Jon. Don’t you know that there are civilians in there and that starving them is a war crime? Well ya do now, okay?!

Cersei Lannister has upped her war crimes count from three to six in one foul swoop (literally). She casually brought the people of King’s Landing within the walls of the Red Keep. They unwittingly thought that it was for their protection, but she has a sinister (and unlawful) purpose – she’s looking for human shields, which is most certainly a violation of IHL. Not only that, but she captured Missandei! And killed her! My heart broke for Grey Worm. So, where do the laws of war stand on the capture and killing of Missandei? Originally a slave and interpreter, she has not only become Dany’s handmaiden and best friend, but also one of her closest strategic advisers. Because of this, some might argue she’s a military adviser, others might argue she’s a civilian. If she’s a military adviser, her capture and detention by Cersei is lawful. But either way, killing her is definitely a war crime – either she’s a detainee (and you can’t summarily execute your detainees) OR she’s a civilian (in which case, she is protected from attack). Also, taking hostages is unlawful. Shame, Cersei, shame.  

If Jamie and Tyrion Lannister follow through on their commitment to hand over Highgarden (the private property of House Tyrell) to Sir Bronn they will have committed pillage by taking private property and passing it to Ser Bronn for his personal use. Poor form, fellows.

Best and Worst on Ground

Lord Varys is BOG this week for imploring the Mother of Dragons to hold fire on King’s Landing. (Side note: less impressive was his statement about wrangling Jon into the Iron Throne. “He’s a man, which makes him more appealing to the Lords of Westeros whose support we are going to need.” Though I did love Tyrion’s response!)

Cersei “wins” WOG. I thought it was only the Night King who could up the war crime count so quickly!

Things to watch: Well if Missandei shouting “Dracarys” right before she dies isn’t a call to Dany to burn down King’s Landing then I don’t know what is! And, Dany doesn’t seem to be shying away from that option, but she has the chance to redeem herself from her earlier threats of indiscriminate attacks so let’s hope her sage advisors remind her of her obligations under the Geneva Conventions!

Pause for thought: Why is it that Cersei’s war crime count was so low before this episode? Isn’t she a murderous fiend? Well, yes. But, much of her bad behaviour fell outside the scope of armed conflict and the laws of war only apply to armed conflict. Blowing up the Great Sept of Baelor with all those civilians inside was definitely not cool, but as it occurred outside the scope of armed conflict, we would call this an act of terrorism, rather than destruction of cultural property or deliberate targeting of civilians. She is now well and truly operating within the scope of armed conflict and I wouldn’t be surprised if she continues to up her number of war crimes in the coming episodes.

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 provided by Hollie Johnston.

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