Game of Thrones: Making People Bend The Knee Isn’t A Big Deal

and I’d totally bend.
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Jon, you can go home now. K, thanks!
Jon, you can go home now. K, thanks! HBO

While the Internet has been ridiculing Dany for demanding her opponents bend the knee, I don’t really understand what the big deal is. While many see the action as tyrannical, it is important to understand the history and norms of Westerosi culture. Just because us viewers have been getting amped up about a ‘King in the North’ since Season 2, it doesn’t mean that it is normal in the context of the Seven Kingdoms. In the trailer for tonight's episode, we again see Dany force the issue: “bend the knee and join me, of refuse and die.” This time it is to the defeated soldiers from the ‘Loot Train Battle’ in The Spoils of War.

I really don’t know what all the hubbub is about. Tor the last 300 years, there has been one ruler in Westeros. Okay, okay, about 100 years if you include Dorne, but don’t get me off track. Anyways, the era of Seven Kings was ended when they were given the choice to bend the knee to Aegon or fight him. If you bend the knee, you are welcomed into the Kingdom and keep your land and vassals, and if you fight, then you get extra toasted. Some wise rulers, like the last King of the North Torrhen Stark, saw the overwhelming power of Aegon’s three dragons and knelt. That is why there is still a house Stark. Others fought, and ended up like the once great house of Gardener, oh you haven’t heard of them? I wonder why. House Tyrell were actually the Stewards to House Gardener, they bent the knee and we’re given Highgarden and the Reach for their support.

Thus when the Targaryens came to power, they both sought and welcomed continuity with the old regimes, but if you stood against them you were met with fire and blood. Newsflash, it worked. Aegon founded a dynasty that lasted for 280 years and seems likely to rise again. Neither technology nor culture has advanced much in 300 years since Aegon’s invasion, with Westeros seemingly frozen in a perpetual high middle ages. It only makes sense that Dany, Aegon’s descendant, seeking to conquer Westeros from the same stronghold, with the same number of Dragons, would seek a comparable path. Continuity with the old powers also helps prevent an underground organized insurrection, something she has experienced the impossibility of dealing with before.

It is also worth mentioning that the throne must be an all or nothing game for Dany. Her house was nearly extinguished and expelled from the Seven Kingdoms. She will either be proclaimed Queen, or she will be driven from Westeros. House Targaryen was never just a normal house – they always ruled. For her, the options at the end of this are rule or lose everything. Given that it is an absolute necessity that every single house in Westeros eventually bend the knee to her, thus acknowledging her as Queen, she literally has no choice in the matter.

What seems to be missed on the audience is that, in this world, letting your enemies bend the knee and be welcomed with no further punishment is not tyranny, but the height of mercy. When Robert I was victorious in his rebellion, he instantly forgave any house that fought against him as long as the bent the knee to the new King. For this, he was celebrated as the losers in a war can typically expect to lose all their holdings and sometimes their heads. All in all, the choice makes for both sound strategy and pretty good deal for the benders. So what’s with all the hate?

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