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The Riddle of the Sellsword

George RR Martin’s work, A Song of Ice and Fire became famous for its political machinations and stunning action scenes. Less spoken about are some of the highly quotable lines, quotes, and sayings that make you stop and think of their meaning and how we look at things. but to understand how the Game of Thrones works, you need to understand what they are saying. By learning that, can understand who truly has the power and how they use it.

A Riddle for the Hand

When Tyrion Lannister arrives in the city of King’s Landing to advise his nephew, the vicious and impulsive King Joffrey, he is greeted by a city in uproar. He finds schemers and spies everywhere he looks, only made by the ongoing war and its economic consequences.

One of the people he has to deal with is the spymaster Varys who Tyrion can never tell if he’s a friend or foe. The one thing he can’t deny though is that Varys is cunning and incredibly knowledgeable. On more than one occasion, he gives the clever dwarf something to think about.

The most famous of their conversations is a riddle that Varys leaves Tyrion. In this question, a soldier stands before three powerful men, a king, priest, and merchant. Each man asks the soldier to kill the other two in exchange for a reward.

Tyrion suggests the answer depends on the type of soldier, but Varys has a different idea. He says that though all three men believe themselves powerful, they still depend on people they deem lesser.

According to Varys, power is an illusion and only accepts if people choose to accept it. A king won’t have authority, no matter his bloodline if his subjects won’t support him. A priest’s divine authority is meaningless if there are no worshippers. And a merchant will not have wealth if no one buys his goods.

“May I leave you with a bit of a riddle, Lord Tyrion? In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”

– George RR Martin, Author.

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