Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sword bashing, again

I really like Game of Thrones. Even though i criticized the designs in the show, I think it's a success and I'm enjoying it greatly.

It was suggested to me that I should write another GoT post, this time about swords and swordfighting, since we've seen a few fights already.

Before I start, here's a tiny bit of quick art I did today for The Last Days' mod screen.


Swords are an extremely interesting subject, one that I'm never bored with. If I get to talk about swords, it's difficult to stop me. But I'm just a reasonably self-educated layman. (By this I'd like to apologize to any true experts who might stumble upon this and be horrified or angered. Sorry!)

What do I think about the swords on this show? In short - I like them.

It's not Lord of the Rings I must admit, the sword design is much less original, but perhaps that fits better into Westeros.

I recommend watching this short artisan video interview with the show's swordmaker:

You can see quite a few of the swords in there. 

The Swords
The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
- the arakhs of the Dothraki look interesting. Very cool sickle blades, even if much heavier than I imagined them while reading the book. 
- most of the swords you see on minor characters (Theon, Robb, various soldiers of the great houses, Jorah Mormont, the longsword Ned wears that's not Ice etc.) are very nice. Very historical looking, nothing odd about them, looking "right". A good mix of arming swords and longswords.
- Joffrey's sword isn't on screen much, but it's a good looking prince-sword. Very ornate. It may be Joff's size, but it seems it may be a bit big for him, the pommel is quite large.
- Jaime's sword is quite similar to Joff's. Fits well with the character, the blade has a nice shape, but something about the button-like ends of the guard I find unpleasant.
- The Ice is interesting. I couldn't quite imagine the blade being as wide as Martin describes it in the book - wide as man's palm. But it works, it looks like a sword. The Ice and sword of Gregor Clegane share one detail I find a bit puzzling - the place where the guard meets the handle. I don't think this is a real historical detail, this prolonged tube coming out of the crosspiece. It's not wrong, I can imagine a sword being assembled like this, it's just unusual.
- Sword of The Mountain is a bloody beast. It's definitely much closer to real great swords than to a longsword.
- The Needle is pretty. Quite similar to how I imagined it. Although in context with the other sword styles it's a bit questionable. But hey, it's fantasy.

The effect of swords
All men are made of water. Do you know this? If you pierce them, the water leaks out. And they die.

I like that they use sharp swords in detail shots (when Joff cuts Mycah) - so many films only use "battle ready" swords with edges like ice skates. 
I really liked the little talk between Jorah Mormont and the Dothraki companion cavalryman about different uses of the sword and advantages of armour. What I didn't like though was Jorah's remark that broadswords are better against armour, because they allow you to pierce plate. This is simply not true. If he said "pierce armour", I'd nod, because you can pierce mail. This was a minor detail that only the geeks will catch I guess.

The show sadly didn't avoid this issue in other instances as well - Ned's guardsmen are killed by thrown spears that apparently pierce their mail shirts, padded armour underneath and a leather coat of plates over the mail. Wow, Lannister guards must be strong as bulls.
During the hillmen ambush the old master of arms from Winterfell gets slashed (or sliced rather) across the back, and it somehow hurts him. Do Stark armours have only leather vests with mail sleeves? If yes, that's dumb. If there's mail underneath, that attack would've mildly irritated him at most.

In another case, they managed to handle this well though. (which is puzzling) In the fight with the Lannister guards, ser Jory and Ned Stark both aim at unprotected necks (TOLD YOU, LANNISTERS!  Totally called it in the last blog posts! HA!) and between the breastplates and the plates skirts, which I found very nice.

The use of Swords
That is a grip. You are not holding a battleaxe!

I've read quite harsh criticism of swordfighting in the show, by both casual watchers and fencers.
And while I find it mostly unfair, there are certain points where I agree with the critics.

Firstly, I'll post videos I find relevant:

- interview with Buster Reeves - the fight choreographer:

Essentially he's right. It's difficult to do an original fight, people recognize moves they've seen before even if they're not fighters themselves. Still, I think more realistic fights would look original, because most of what we've been seeing in movies is crap.
He did manage to put a lot of character into each person's fighting style, something film people often talk about, but rarely actually do.

Now for the fights:

Jon "trains" - while not realistic swordfighting, it's effective for the scene. There's too much unnecessary sword clashing and smacking, but we do get the idea Jon is showing off, teaching these peasants a lesson. Showing them how bad and inappropriate their reflexes are, that they cannot counterattack, or do anything past the first strike.

Hill clansmen ambush - a good show of movie fighting. I LOVE that the hillmen use slingers! I'm also going to like Bronn. He's no fancy swordmaster, his fighting skill is obviously gained from battles, streetfights and skirmishes. Anything goes, but he's cocky enough to do that rather unusual artery slice on the first guy. The old master of arms is slightly disappointing, but the editing grants him more mobility and speed than he actually has.

Arya trains with Syrio - I love this scene. I must warn you, what they do can hardly be called swordfighting. Too much swirling and turning and unnecessary movement. But Syrio is showing off and Arya is an untrained kid, so they can be excused. The actor playing Syrio has apparently been training with William Hobbs, a choreographer responsible for the fights in Rob Roy and The Duellists. Sadly, it's not showing yet. I have hopes though.
Still, despite my nitpicks, the scene works almost miraculously well. I like the actors, the music, the pacing, the's great.

The Cleganes fight it out - probably my least favourite fight of the show so far. I understand what they wanted to do here, it's obvious Sandor isn't really attacking, he's pushing his sword onto Gregor's close to Gregor's body, thus trying to prevent him swinging it. But Mountain's sword is too heavy, or the armour restrained their movement too much. It's slow, the shots are awkwardly cut together and it doesn't look very good. I like the ending with the kneeling, that's neat.

Starks vs. Lannisters - a great fight in my opinion. I mentioned it before, Jory and Ned slaying those guards are perfect. Jory is confident and capable, it's a great shame he had to go like this. I would've edited the eye stabbing a bit quicker, he seems too helpless.

The duel between Ned and Jaime is also very good. I've read people talk about spinning and pushing, disliking it. I think it's maybe the most realistic fight in the show. 
I like that they don't use rigid edge blocks, most attacks seem to be caught on the flat, deflected, or pushed aside by cutting into the flat. There's a lot of character from both fighters - Jaime is flamboyant and cocky, playing with Ned most of the time. Ned is hunched, almost like a brawler, very intensive.
Yes, the distance is a bit iffy at times, to allow for a lot of movement around each other that looks good on camera. But they thrust, they cut in nice controlled arches - in the end I only wished they started to wrestle, or halfsword instead of separating again.

I'm not sure how much more fighting we're going to get, but I'm not disappointed, not entirely. So far.

Next time, I think I could post a few links for people who'd like to know how swords were really made and used. 
(and leave the explaining to people more fit for the task than I am.)


  1. Don't know enough about swordfighting to discuss the other points, but:

    "Ned's guardsmen are killed by thrown spears that apparently pierce their mail shirts, padded armour underneath and a leather coat of plates over the mail. Wow, Lannister guards must be strong as bulls."
    I was re-reading AGoT recently, and there's this bit in the book where a gold cloak kills Tommard (or another one of Ned's men) by thrusting a spear through him, and Martin explicitly mentions that it went through mail and leather... I'd imagine that a thrown spear would have at least at much force behind it as a normal thrust?

  2. Here I'm speaking purely for myself, it's an opinion based on tests on mail and leather I've seen with swords. Sadly, I haven't seen any tests with a spear.

    Something tells me a thrown spear would have less power than a thrusted one.

    With a thrust you deliver a continuous stream of force, even if there's resistance, you can follow through. With a throw, you have a set amount of energy and if the armour absorbs or deflects that, it won't hurt much.

    I didn't remember the part from the book, thanks for that!

    I pointed it out, mainly because of the layering of three types of armour here - padded, mail and coat of plates. It just seemed a bit too far fetched.