Syrio Forel vs. The Lannister Guards

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.

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4 comments on “Syrio Forel vs. The Lannister GuardsAdd yours →

  1. A much better scene featuring how armor can be used against the one wearing it took place in The Eyre after Catelyn grabbed Tyrion. Rather than engage his armored opponent head on, an unarmored Bronn was elusive, making his opponent chase him around the eyedoor. His opponent chased and hacked, chased and hacked, until the exertion combined with the weight of the armor had him exhausted and unable to defend himself with any skill, and Bronn dispatched him with ease. I thought it was a great example of the cleverness of a gifted sellsword and the limitations of armor in one-on-one swordplay. Errol Flynn didn’t need armor.

  2. Hi,

    first, i like this particular scene too, it’s pretty tense (even if the outcome is clear from the beginning, even if you didn’t read the books ^^)

    Can’t really support that this one is realistic though.
    I think that guy is a bit too clumsy in his armor to be honest.
    The point of armor in the end is to get an advantage, not the contrary.

    Bronn is in light armor, yes. But Plate armor, as far as i know, is a very costly
    thing and always “tailored” for the person who wears it. It would be a burden if
    you wouldn’t be able to defend even against someone light armored.

    Im a big GoT fan, yes…i read the books first, didn’t pay attention to the series
    at first as i normally don’t watch tv, but as i read some reviews/posts etc. about
    it, i tried it out and got hooked. The fights are interesting, tense and pretty brutal

    Anyway, i saw a some sparring videos and from that i think swordfighting to be, much faster, more straight (hard to explain but i mean it’s kill or be killed, would you play around?), less blows total and way more gruesome.

    Those fights i saw were all over in max 3 Blows, one would always, by the time, had the
    sword at a point to kill the opponent. (Sorry don’t know anything about Martial Arts, may sound awkward, i’m german too ;))

    Long fighting tires you pretty quick, people who do martial arts always say that. Even
    without an Armor, you can’t go 100% for very long. End it Quick is your best chance.

    To sum it all up:
    I think the time till the first blow is dealt, may take pretty long. Checking one another out,
    trying to get in a favourable position, maybe even unnerving the opponent. (It´s no game after all, there are no “dirty” tricks if you fight for your life. You win you live. Yes that supports the specific scene 😉 )

    But after the first blow, it would be very boring if you consider Hollywood style. Maybe it would be over by now. First blow miss/blocked, counter, dead.

    Not that interesting for a Movie.

    Also the wounds, even if presented pretty horrible on GoT or similar installments,
    would be way more crippling.

    Please correct me, i have read some posts and watched some videos on the
    subject, in now way an expert, just expressing my opinion.

    1. Check out my bio, man. I’m a longsword fighter. I’ve sparred in armour a few times.

      It really depends on the fighters, to be honest. A fight doesn’t have to be quick. You might get the impression that a single blow will end a fight pretty fast, but in reality, that’s a Hollywood thing. They wore armour because it could stand up to longsword blows, and getting a hit was no guarantee of even slowing their opponent down, never mind killing them. I’ve seen fights between modern longsword fencers that were blisteringly fast and lasted much longer than the average Hollywood fight.

      About the armour as well – modern soldiers go into combat with, what, 30lbs of gear? Plate armour – real plate, not the stuff on GoT, which frankly looks like Hollywood armour made by people who got their ideas about armour from concept artists with overactive imaginations – weighs about the same, and would be worn by men who had trained in it for years, with the weight distributed across their body. (I’ve personally worn a chain hauberk weighing about 10lbs, and honestly, it felt like I wasn’t wearing it at all once I had it on.)

      But thanks for the comment! You should totally check out some more longsword sparring on Youtube, maybe see if there’s a HEMA club near you. The German school of longsword fighting is very popular.

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