Game of Thrones and laws of war: Season 8, Episode 6

The battle for the Iron Throne is over. Now our watch(ing) has ended.

After 8 seasons, 73 episodes, 137 violations of IHL, 42 acts of compliance and 2 anachronistic beverage receptacles the conflict in Westeros has concluded and one obvious question rises from the ashes – what will we do with our Monday evenings?

This (movie-length) post is nerdy and full of spoilers so turn away now if you don’t want to know how it all ends…


Once again, Jon Snow and Ser Davos tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Grey Worm from executing Lannister prisoners in the streets. If Dany and Grey Worm had read our blog they would know that captured or surrendered soldiers are entitled to protection and cannot be executed. The killing of injured or captured soldiers, is the second most prolific war crime in Westeros (17 instances), after torture (21 instances). This seems less like breaking the wheel and more like continuing to steer it on its well-worn path.


Swords (and dragons) are down, the Iron Throne is a melted heap on the floor and a new King is on a new throne (well done for calling it Twitter-verse). With the conflict over, there can’t really be anything left to say on a laws of war blog, can there?

Of course there is! Although most of the laws of war apply to situations of conflict, some of the laws of war continue after the fighting has ended. And wherever there is a law of war, there is a Queen of Ashes to violate it.

First up, it is a serious violation of the laws of war to give orders that there can be no survivors. By declaring ‘no quarter’ and executing all enemy soldiers in her custody, Dany is in breach of her legal obligations. Grey Worm too, in following her orders is guilty of the same offence. Following orders is not a defence when, like here, the orders are manifestly illegal. After a conflict prisoners of war and civilian detainees must be released without delay – not executed for their participation in hostilities. You can read about some real world examples of this here.

Parties to a conflict also have obligations to take all possible measures to search for and treat the wounded, sick and shipwrecked after a battle, including civilians and enemy soldiers. Additionally (unless they are walking with blue eyes), the (actual) dead of both sides must be searched for, collected and evacuated after a conflict. These are important humanitarian actions that help start the process of moving from war to peace. It is a shame that Dany and her soldiers were too busy contemplating their next conquest to turn their minds to this.

And what about Jon Snow? Dany may have committed war crimes and was contemplating world “liberation” but this doesn’t give Jon the right to put a knife though her and her plans. Nevertheless, the laws of war don’t address what one side of a conflict can do with its own forces, so his killing of Dany is not a violation of IHL. It is, however, straight up murder and treason.

Best on Ground?

Ser Davos wins this episode’s BOG for his attempt to stop the killing of Dany’s prisoners. Although the murder of Dany was technically not a violation of the laws of war it does disqualify Jon Snow from being in the running for BOG.

With 8 acts of compliance over the whole series Jon is, however, appointed our BOG of the whole show! His cousin/brother?? Rob Stark comes in second with 7 acts of compliance.

Tyrion may have been left out of the Maester Ebrose’s Song of Fire and Ice but we haven’t forgotten his compliance (4 instances in total). He gets a special mention in our history books (niche laws of war/GoT blog) for all his (regretfully futile) attempts to stop the destruction of King’s Landing. Tyrion shares third place for compliance with the Queen of Ashes so there is some room for improvement.

Worst on Ground?

Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryan, The Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons and our Worst on Ground. First of her name. Catchy.

Unlike most of the internet, our loyal readers saw this coming with the clarity of a three-eyed raven. At the end of Season 7, with 15 violations of the laws of war, our analysis put Dany as the second worst violator of these laws, after Ramsay Bolton (17 violations). After season 8 she managed to rack up an astonishing 27 violations (12 in season 8 alone), making her the episode’s, and show’s, Worst on Ground by more than a dragon length.  Ramsay Bolton is still second, followed by the Night King with 15 violations.

Pause for Thought

We all know that Dany was personally responsible for massive violations of IHL in her destruction of King’s Landing. But is she also responsible for those of her troops on the ground? Last week we noted that they followed her lead. We tuned in this week in the hope Dany might take action against Grey Worm and her troops for the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects in the battle of King’s Landing.

Unfortunately, our hopes were as unlikely as the establishment of a representative democracy in Westeros (thanks for trying, Sam).  Under the laws of war, a commander is responsible for the unlawful actions of their subordinates where they have failed to prevent or punish such violations. Not only did Dany not punish her troops for their illegal actions, she promoted Grey Worm to Master of War, proving, in case there was any doubt, she has truly earned her position as the Worst on Ground.

Things to Watch

Hopefully there will be a “Wild West of Westeros” Arya spin off but until that happy day, let’s look at what comes after the ash has settled.

As Westeros transitions from war to peace the Small Council has important work to do. What could be more important than ships and finding rogue dragons? The appointment of lawyers of course!

The Council has already started the process of appointing a Master of Laws, which is exciting news for lawyers everywhere and an excellent start as IHL requires the armed forces have legal advisers available to advise military commanders on IHL. 

The Council should also consider whether Westeros has any state responsibility for violations of the laws of war and if reparations ought to be made. The Geneva Conventions also require States to respect and ensure respect of IHL, and bring those responsible for grave breaches of the conventions to justice. Bran, and Sansa as the new Queen in the North, have obligations to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by their citizens or on their territory, and bring them to justice. If they need help identifying who those people are, we have quite a comprehensive record, although I’m not sure our spreadsheet can be sent by raven.

And finally, it wouldn’t really be a (blog) finale if we didn’t get self-referential. One of the most important things Bran and Sansa can do with the new peace in Westeros is to educate their armed forces and citizens about the laws of war. We suggest starting a scrappy little blog documenting all the compliance and violations of IHL in Songs of Ice and Fire. Another suggestion would be to create a voluntary relief society set up in times of peace to provide humanitarian relief in times of conflict, and give it a mandate to disseminate the laws of war across the Six Kingdoms and in the North.

Raising awareness of the rules of the laws of war during peace helps with compliance during war. Think of all the lives that would have been saved and the suffering that would have been prevented if IHL had been followed in the Wars of Westeros. Dany might still be alive and sitting on an intact Iron Throne, John wouldn’t be passed back to the Night’s Watch, and Missandei and Grey Worm might be living happily ever after on a beach in Naath. Arya would probably still be heading off the map with Needle, which is good for our spin off hopes.

Since the chance of a Season 8 remake is remote, this brings our GoT blog to an end. It wouldn’t be fitting to end things without, once again, thanking our awesome team of volunteers who have supported this project! From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for the contribution that you have made to IHL dissemination through this exercise, and wish you a Happy National Volunteer Week!

When you play the Game of Thrones you win or you die or you blog. Thanks for reading everyone!

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This week’s blog post is brought to you by Nicole Urban, Volunteer and Chair of the NSW IHL Advisory Committee at Australian Red Cross.

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