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dump diving hipster

history geek. simpsons expert. chat-show host. nerd. i cry about a lot of things. come 'ere for : asoiaf/got, battlestar galactica, sailor fuckin' moon, indian cinema (mainly bollywood) and dumb text posts.

Jan 1 '13

"Without his labour, who would the Warrior defend?":social advancement and religion in ASOIAF through a comparison of Davos Seaworth and Gendry (with some BwB too)

ASOIAF meta. May be a tad biased in favour of Gendry, because he is my fave. Also discussion of religion, social banditry (though this will be addressed more comprehensively in another essay), class (Marxist to a fault most likely, sorry) and knighthood.

Also sorry for any grammatical or spelling mistakes.

Gendry and Davos Seaworth are ASOIAF’s most prominent examples of social advancement, class alienation and how the context of war, servitude, and the master/servant relationship impacts upon and functions in Westerosi society.

There are immediate parallels between Davos and Gendry, but important differences as well. Both raised up from Flea Bottom, they end up (ultimately) in the service of the King; Davos more directly, and Gendry under the mandate of the Brotherhood Without Banners, serving a dead King Robert (and, ultimately therefore, his Father, but the significance of that is another essay entirely; I will discuss the context of Gendry and Lady Stoneheart later on). In doing so, both in a sense ‘lose’ their original identities in the process; Davos as smuggler, Gendry as blacksmith; though both utilise their skills in the aid of their new objectives, and fail to completely escape their ‘past’ identities. Both are, whether knowingly or not, intimately linked in with the fate of the Baratheon family. Both become knights, but how they respond to the idea of knighthood is in many ways are completely divergent from one another. Both are in contact with a red priest/priestess.

Significant differences remain, though. Gendry once occupied a ‘respectable’ lower class status in the form of apprentice blacksmith; Davos as smuggler, an occupation of the ‘underworld’. Gendry’s apprenticeship would have eventually offered him a degree of status and security. Davos’ original identity, on the other hand, offered the inverse. With Davos’ narrative of social advancement, it is in some senses a meteoric, linear rise; Gendry’s narrative is more complicated in regards to status. Both in their servitude their moral compasses (which with both are incredibly strong) are compromised.

Davos’ help at Storm End is evidence of the ways in which tropes of Westerosi society concerning figures of the ‘underworld’ are ultimately too simplistic, and in tandem with this we get the parallel theme of de-constructing knighthood and chivalry as well. It is a way to try and; it may seem contradictory, in the context of a fantasy novel; to historicise medieval literature and character types, to complicate our understanding of these familiar stories. And much of this, I argue, involves class and the theme of social advancement. The theme of the ‘smallfolk’ being forcibly or voluntarily integrated into the ‘Game of Thrones’ is something that is common throughout all the books. In another essay I’ll be discussing the role of ‘social banditry’ in the BwB, but other examples are readily available- for example, the phenomenon of ‘war rape’ in the novels, which disproportionately impacts upon lower-ranking women.

Davos’ narrative, I would argue, is one of a servant who finds himself in a series of moral dilemmas but who ultimately remains faithful to key concepts (Stannis, the Seven, etc). Gendry’s, on the other hand, is much more pessimistic. He in a sense is forced to abandon his identity, his future security, but accepts it, even continues to utilise his skill-set in new contexts. Throughout AGOT, ACOK and ASOS we see multiple examples of Gendry’s inherent kindness and strict moral code. His world is ordered, which is not surprising when we consider how his role as apprentice blacksmith saw him in direct contact with a strictly feudalistic society (I also think it indicates that Gendry is perhaps a lot like Stannis, but again that’s another essay). By the time of Brienne’s later POV in AFFC we see how these ideas have been corrupted in a kind of horrible pastiche and radicalisation of the original mandate and functions of the BwB. Before, the BwB functioned according to Hobsbawm’s original (though not uncriticised) thesis of ‘social banditry’ (again, I’m going to write about this in another essay, but here’s an illustrative part of the book from Wikipedia:

The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported.

The BwB under Lady Stoneheart is a story of corruption, of an abandonment (or subversion) of fundamental ideas of the rule of law and justice-by-trial as a result of both her leadership and the context of an increasingly intensifying, demoralising war and upcoming Winter. This is reflected with Gendry.

I think what is so significant but rarely commented upon is the interaction between Septon Meribald and Gendry. Septon Meribald makes a point of telling Brienne, Podrick and Ser Hyle how he has a preference towards the Smith.

Meribald turned back to Podrick. “I have never known a boy who did not love the Warrior. I am old, though, and being old, I love the Smith. Without his labor, what would the Warrior defend? Every town has a smith, and every castle. They make the plows we need to plant our crops, the nails we use to build our ships, iron shoes to save the hooves of our faithful horses, the bright swords of our lords. No one could doubt the value of a smith, and so we name one of the Seven in his honor, but we might as easily have called him the Farmer or the Fisherman, the Carpenter or the Cobbler. What he works at makes no matter. What matters is, he works. The Father rules, the Warrior fights, the Smith labors, and together they perform all that is rightful for a man. Just as the Smith is one aspect of the godhead, the Cobbler is one aspect of the Smith. It was he who heard my prayer and healed my feet.” [AFFC p294, Brienne]

Later on, during his first conversation with Brienne, we get a sense of the confusion and change that has taken place inside of Gendry:

Lord?” The boy pushed back a lock of black hair that had fallen across his eyes. “I’m just a smith.” […] And though his eyes had been that same deep blue, Lord Renly’s eyes had always been warm and welcoming, full of laughter, whereas this boy’s eyes brimmed with anger and suspicion. [AFFC, p435, Brienne]

Also, on the same page, Gendry refuses them shelter (Brienne calls him “the boy smith” [ibid]). Contrasting this with earlier Gendry in the books; the one who was somewhat naïve and trusting; this is quite telling of not only the changes within him, but in the BwB as well.

Even then, however, the whole chapter alludes to Gendry’s (convoluted and indirect) ‘kingly’ status:

Gendry was the closest thing to a man grown, but it was Willow shouting all the orders, as if she were a queen in her castle and the other children were no more than servants [AFFC, p436]

Again, if we take this theme further, Gendry is performing one of the fundamental roles of kingship: protection of his subjects in a domain where he and Jeyne are in charge. The irony is that, despite his continuous efforts to be knightly (the helm, joining the BwB, the forging of the sword— in fact what we may call only symbolic, surface gestures towards knighthood; but things that Gendry obviously considers very imprortant), Gendry from the first novel has performed knightly duties— chiefly that of protecting and aiding women (i.e. Arya), and in this case, children as well.

Then we get Meribald’s conversation with Gendry in which he directly questions the boy’s faith, which has (presumably) changed (I’m guessing he did worship the Seven in King’s Landing?).

So they bowed their heads together and thanked the Father and the Mother for their bounty… all but the black-haired boy from the forge, who crossed his arms against his chest and sat glowering as the others prayed. Brienne was not the only one to notice. When the prayer was done Septon Meribald looked across the table, and said, “Do you have no love for the gods, son?”

Not for your gods.” Gendry stood abruptly. “I have work to do.” He stalked out without a bite of food.

Is there some other god he loves?” asked Hyle Hunt.

The Lord of Light,” piped one scrawny boy, nigh to six. [AFFC, p438]

The symbolism here is significant. Here is an attempt, a symbol of Gendry’s old life, of a codified morality and hierarchy and most importantly smithing, which he rejects (though he does go back to the forge, though the forge here is a kind of ambiguous symbol, because the forge represents both fire and smithing, so is representative of the two religions?) . Though later on we do see him smithing, this is only to make his own sword which represents both a) his attempt to consolidate his knightly status and b) to complete what he originally set out to do at Tobho Mott’s, that is to make his own sword, before he is sent off to the Wall. And, again, with the strange place the forge occupies in the middle of both religions (the significance of Lightbringer, for example), this scene offers a lot of complex characterisation for Gendry. To add to the complex religious symbolism attached to Gendry, we have in the BwB another kind of synthesis between the Seven/ the religion of R’hllor. On the one hand there is the regenerative power of R’Hllor and Thoros which ensured both Beric’s and Lady Stoneheart’s leadership/ the conversion of many of its members to R’Hllor, on the other hand the language surrounding Stoneheart makes direct allusions to the Seven (“The Silent Sister. Mother Merciless”, AFFC p499). The reasons for this are obvious: the Silent Sisters prepare people for death in the Seven, and ‘Mother Merciless’ is an inversion of the Mother-as-mercy, as well as referencing Catelyn’s place as a mother seeking vengeance. But it is through R’Hllor that this is achieved.

Throughout the novels we see Gendry’s complicated and sometimes contradictory attitude towards knighthood. He openly chastises and disrespects the King and Thoros. Yet at the same time, there are strong hints of Gendry romanticising chivalry and knighthood, which have been discussed—

  1. The Bull’s Head Helm

  2. His knighting

  3. The forging of a sword

In the same chapter in AFFC, Brienne suspects Gendry’s parentage, which serves to remind us of Gendry’s fusion of Warrior/Smith:

You were born in King’s Landing.” The way he spoke made her certain of it.

Me and many more.” He plunged the sword into a tub of rainwater to quench it. The hot steel hissed angrily.

How old are you?” Brienne asked. “Is your mother still alive? And your father, who was he?”

You ask too many questions.” He set down the sword. “My mother’s dead and I never knew my father.”

You’re a bastard.”

He took it for an insult. “I’m a knight. That sword will be mine own, once it’s done.” [AFFC, p439]

Gendry in AFFC is therefore is occupying a smith/knight status, the Warrior/Smith duality that Podrick, Brienne and Meribald were discussing earlier, performing a vital function that often goes unmentioned in Westerosi society, an attempt by GRRM to in a sense offer a materialist perspective of romanticised notions of medieval/fantasy warfare (“Without his labor, what would the Warrior defend?”). This is where he links back to Davos— where would Stannis be without the onions? Davos never lives down this association, and in some cases seems to revel in it, to revel in his strangeness— for example, by choosing the onion as his sigil. Davos is cynical, and on the surface Gendry is too- but this is only a mask for his idealism. I’m now going to turn my attention to comparing the two scenes that tie Gendry and Davos together; Gendry’s knighting, and Stannis’ naming of Davos as Hand.

You would do better serving Lord Tully at Riverrun,” said Lord Beric. “I cannot pay for your work.”

No one ever did. I want a forge, and food to eat, some place I can sleep. That’s enough, m’lord.”

A smith can find a welcome most anywhere. A skilled armorer even more so. Why would you choose to stay with us?”

Arya watched Gendry screw up his stupid face, thinking.

At the hollow hill, what you said about being King Robert’s men, and brothers, Iiked that. I liked that you gave the Hound a trial. Lord Bolton just hanged folk or took off their heads, and Lord Tywin and Ser Amory were the same. I’d sooner smith for you.” [ASOS, p1044]

This scene is illustrative of a number of things. What is immediately apparent is a new autonomy that Gendry has outside of his apprenticeship. In this scene, Gendry is the typical Smith Meribald later goes on to describe, but one who has elements of the Warrior (with his knighting) and the Father (his sense of justice). The BwB represent for him a purer mandate for knightly behaviour than he has witnessed with Bolton, his clients at King’s Landing etc – a “golden age” myth. Lem goes on to try and warn him to abandon any romanticised notions about knighthood and brigandage as well:

You must be a lackwit, boy,” said Lem. “We’re outlaws. Lowborn scum, most of us, excepting his lordship. Don’t think it’ll be like Tom’s fool songs neither. You won’t be stealing no kisses from a princess, nor riding in no tourneys in stolen armor. You join us, you’ll end with your neck in a noose, or your head mounted up above some castle gate.”

It’s no more than they’d do for you,” said Gendry. [ASOS, p1045]

And again, the association of Gendry with fire is made explicit, and therefore the association with both R’Hllor and the Smith:

And quick,” suggested Harwin, chuckling, “before the fever passes and he comes back to his senses.” [ASOS, p1045]

Gendry is part of a number of characters in ASOIAF who represent complicated attitudes towards knighthood (see Jaime, Sandor).

Both Gendry and Davos are knighted not for their birthright, but due to Meribald’s definition of “Smith”-ly qualities (Gendry provides service as the Smith; Davos as the aspect of the ‘fisherman’ of the Smith [see Meribald’s quote earlier]). Davos’ scene of being named Hand has both its differences and similarities with Gendry’s scene in the Hollow Hill.

King Stannis turned from the table. “On your knees, Onion Knight.”

Your Grace?”

For your onions and fish, I made you a knight once. For this, I am of a mind to raise you to lord.”

This? Davos was lost. “I am content to be your knight, Your Grace. I would not know how to begin being lordly.”

Good. To be lordly is to be false. I have learned that lesson hard. Now, kneel. Your king commands.”

Davos knelt, and Stannis drew his longsword. Lightbringer, Melisandre had named it; the red sword of heroes, drawn from the fires where the seven gods were consumed. The room seemed to grow brighter as the blade slid from its scabbard. The steel had a glow to it; now orange, now yellow, now red. The air shimmered around it, and no jewel had ever sparkled so brilliantly. But when Stannis touched it to Davos’s shoulder, it felt no different than any other longsword. “Ser Davos of House Seaworth,” the king said, “are you my true and honest liege man, now and forever?”

I am, Your Grace.”

And do you swear to serve me loyally all your days, to give me honest counsel and swift obedience, to defend my rights and my realm against all foes in battles great and small, to protect my people and punish my enemies?”

I do, Your Grace.”

Then rise again, Davos Seaworth, and rise as Lord of the Rainwood, Admiral of the Narrow Sea, and Hand of the King.”

For a moment Davos was too stunned to move. I woke this morning in his dungeon.

Your Grace, you cannot… I am no fit man to be a King’s Hand.”

There is no man fitter.” Stannis sheathed Lightbringer, gave Davos his hand, and pulled

him to his feet.

I am lowborn,” Davos reminded him. “An upjumped smuggler. Your lords will never obey me.”

Then we will make new lords.”

But… I cannot read… nor write…”

Maester Pylos can read for you. As to writing, my last Hand wrote the head off his shoulders. All I ask of you are the things you’ve always given me. Honesty. Loyalty. Service.”

Surely there is someone better… some great lord…” [ASOS, p966-968]

There are key differences in the two scenes. Firstly, Gendry seeks knighthood; Davos grimly accepts his rise to Hand and Lord. The context here is different, however, as regards to class. The BwB self-identify as “lowborn scum”, whereas in this context Davos identifies as an “upjumped smuggler”. Gendry’s skillset in BwB is sorely needed, and it is in the context of being a smith that he feels comfortable and is needed (this ties in with the BwB’s role as social bandits, tied to and acutely aware of and trying to rectify the material devastation caused by war in a Robin Hood trope). Davos, however, is much like Gendry, and sees himself in the role of the Smith/fisherman rather than embodying the characteristics associated with the knight/the Warrior (again, much like Gendry, Davos actually embodies much more inherently natural knightly qualities than many of his high-born contemporaries- but he does not realise this, unlike Stannis).

There are similarities, however, tying their two narratives together- service to a Baratheon, the rise from Flea Bottom, both-as-Smith, and the symbolism of fire/smithing. In the process of writing this essay I have begun to realise how religion is significant to both their development and character types, and how we can associate the low-born workers of Westerosi society as “The Smith”, but how aspects of “The Warrior” come into play with these two as well as the context of war forces them past their once predetermined roles (smith, smuggler etc.). Gendry’s conversion is indicative of an alienation from his former life, as well as the moral code that once structured his world and ideals (though this hasn’t left him entirely). I think there needs to be more attention paid to what these two characters represent in the narrative, and the themes that tie them together, as well as an understanding of the voices of the “smallfolk” that populate the narrative as well.

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  9. dk65 reblogged this from sallyjessyrofl and added:
    A fascinating essay on the role of the “smallfolk” in Westeros, with a special reference to Davos and Gendry. It’s a...
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  13. lookedlikeagoodidea reblogged this from sallyjessyrofl and added:
    ASOIAF meta. May be a tad biased in favour of Gendry, because he is my fave. Also discussion of religion, social...