A friend sent me this clip from A Game of Thrones, and asked for my opinion on the swordfighting. Full disclosure: I don’t watch the series, I’ve never read the books, and my knowledge of the whole thing is virtually nil. That being said – let’s take a look.
So the first thing I notice about this is that there isn’t a whole lot of swordfighting going on. This is actually a good thing! What we see feels a lot like the usual baseball-bat-flailing ballet-dancing kind, and the less of that in the scene, the better.
Honestly – the real meat of this clip is in Syrio speaking to his student. “What do we say to the god of death? Not today.” The action is typical modern Hollywood; difficult to see, using camera tricks to make it appear faster than it really is, and mostly about hitting the opponent’s sword instead of their body. But at least they’re mixing it up a little here – the stances that Syrio takes at the beginning of each fight sequence are vaguely similar to the rapier guards that I’m familiar with, and the use of wrestling techniques is interesting.
The problem is that it’s just not enough. This is supposed to be a master swordsman, if my quick read of the wiki is correct, who specializes in a style of combat that emphasizes a light sword and expert balance – very much a duelist, which makes sense. But he doesn’t fight like one! It’s more of the same – big, swinging, inefficient, baseball-bat arcs. And it’s actually slow, if you ignore the jump-cuts and other camera movements; really slow and ponderous. Rapiers – if we’re assuming that he’s patterned after a rapier duelist – are blisteringly fast and very precise. A good fencer could stab two guards through the body part of their choice in the time it takes Syrio to swing and hit once.
So bottom line here, this is action for action’s sake; apart from the fact that Syrio defeats the guards, it doesn’t add any strength to the story-telling.
Now, this is also pushing the limits of what I’d consider to be believable. Normally I wouldn’t bother pointing this out, but good grief, this is close to ludicrous. Syrio is one unarmored man with a wooden sword, against four men in steel plate with steel swords. Never mind the fact that his training sword would break from a single solid parry – there is no possible way that a wooden sword is going to do any significant damage to an opponent in steel armor. Absolutely none! It’s a wooden stick, for gods’ sake – plate armor was made to withstand multiple blows from steel longswords! People didn’t wear it because it was fashionable, they wore it because it worked. A single strike to a steel helmet using a bloody wooden stick, no matter how skilled the wielder, is going to knock the victim off balance for maybe a few seconds at most, provided the helmet wasn’t made by an idiot who’s only had helmets described to them by other idiots.
It didn’t have to be like this. Consider, for a second, the brief scene where Syrio ducks and one of the guards bashes the other across the face by accident. That feels like more of what a duelist would do, against a couple of armored men: use the advantage of speed and agility to dodge like he’s got built-in bullet-time, get them to hit each other, then use the moment to lever them to the ground and do horrible things to them (like what was done with actual half-sword techniques, imagine that!). Better yet – use the moment to disarm one of them, get a proper steel sword, and use it like a rapier to find the gaps in their armor and skewer them. That, I believe, would be a far better representation of the so-called ‘water dancing’ style, as described in the wiki.
I know A Game of Thrones is hugely popular, even though it’s not my particular cup of tea. But really? For a series this expensive, they could do so much better.