Game of Thrones features multiple characters who facilitate analysis when comparing them to someone else. Arya and Sansa, for example, are two sides of the same coin with complementary abilities and survival mechanisms. Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy are another pair whose shared history and contrasting decision-making generates deep discussions.
I consider Podrick Payne and Ser Bronn of the Blackwater a similarly aspected dualistic couple. They have a shared history but are on opposite ends of fealty and other spectrums, but sometimes those antipodal positions might shift.
Once upon a time, Tyrion Lannister was poring over the crown’s finances, worried about the amount of debt that Master of Coin Petyr Baelish had amassed to finance various royal initiatives for the Baratheon administration. Tyrion’s bodyguard and go-to skulldugger Bronn was not fully appreciating Tyrion’s assessment of the dire financial situation.
Tyrion: For a man of the world, you’re strangely naive.
Bronn: I’ve never borrowed money before. I’m not clear on the rules.
Tyrion: Well, the basic principle is: I lend you money, and after an agreed-upon period of time, you return it. With interest.
Bronn: And what if I don’t?
Tyrion: Well … you have to.
Bronn: But what if I don’t?
Tyrion: This is why I don’t lend you money.
Bronn isn’t a moneylender, he’s a sellsword. If there’s a flow of money, it’s typically from other people to him (okay, he then spends the money in various ways, but you get what I’m saying. When he gives people money, he’s getting goods and services immediately and so a balance is maintained).
Bronn is one of the rare individuals in Westeros who isn’t bound to this lord or that lord through feudal service. He expects to be compensated for his deadly skills, and he’s been reasonably successful. Early on in the series, Bronn entered into a lucrative arrangement with Tyrion by standing for the Lannister as champion when Tyrion was facing defenestration at Robin Arryn’s elevated court.
This was more or less a constant in their relationship: Tyrion securing personal security by paying Bronn handsomely. Bronn even got a salary promotion after being knighted for his service at the Battle of the Blackwater.
Bronn: If you want me to carry on protecting you, you’ll have to pay more.
Tyrion: I thought we were friends.
Bronn: We are. But I’m a sellsword. I sell my sword. I don’t loan it out to my friends as a favor.
Tyrion: How much?
Bronn: I’m a knight now. Knights are worth double.
Ser Bronn’s service to Tyrion abruptly ended following Joffrey’s death and Tyrion’s subsequent arrest and demand for trial by combat. Unfortunately for Tyrion, his one-time champion had been bought off by Queen Cersei, to not represent her brother against the crown’s mountainous champion.
Cersei had arranged a marriage match between Ser Bronn and the lady Lollys Stokeworth, the second daughter to a minor lord. (To further his position, Bronn immediately began to consider how best to facilitate Lollys becoming the heir to the Stokeworth lands.) But for old time’s sake, he did open the possibility for Tyrion to out bid the queen.
Bronn: You once said, if anyone ever asked me to sell you out, you’d double their price.
Tyrion: Is it two wives you want? Or two castles?
Bronn: One of each should do. But if you want me to kill the Mountain for you, it’d better be a damn big castle.
Tyrion: I’m a bit short on castles at the moment – but I can offer you gold and gratitude.
Bronn: I have gold. And what can I buy with gratitude?
With his partnership with Tyrion ended, Bronn eased into the role as Lollys Stokeworth’s betrothed, spending time with his lady while scoping out the Castle Stokeworth grounds, working on the calculus of Lollys older sister meeting up with some tragic accident.
His plans were short circuited when Jaime Lannister brought news that Cersei had arranged a new betrothal for Lollys, cutting Bronn out from obtaining either Stokeworth wife or castle. Jaime, in need of a good swordsman and always one to press an advantage, offered Bronn the chance to earn a much better girl and a much better castle.
This promise has more or less been carried along unfilled through several seasons, with Bronn occasionally reminding Ser Jaime of the debt.
Bronn: You promised me a lordship, and a castle, and a highborn beauty for a wife.
Jaime: And you’ll get all three. A Lannister always pays –
Bronn: Don’t say it. *muttering* Don’t you f***ing say it.
Bronn: There still is the question of my prize.
Jaime: That’s a lot of money I just gave you.
Bronn: It’s not a castle. How about that one? It’s available.
Jaime: You don’t want Highgarden.
Bronn: I beg to differ.
Ironically, the otherwise practical Bronn, in entering into an agreement with Tyrion’s siblings for promises instead of hard cash, has found himself on the other end of the lending situation he and Tyrion had once discussed.
Essentially, something like this:
Bronn: I’ve lent you the services of my sword, and I believe it’s time you repaid me with a castle.
Jaime: And what if I don’t?
Bronn: Well … you have to.
Jaime: But what if I don’t?
While Tyrion would pay Bronn to keep him safe and secure, Jaime essentially gets that service for free. If Jaime dies, Bronn would have no one to make good on these promises. Queen Cersei certainly has no motivation to reward Tyrion’s former sellsword. And so Bronn has more or less backed himself into the role of loyal bannerman to Ser Jaime. To the point where he’ll ride sideways into dragonfire to protect his potential future.
It’s funny to think of the circumstances that Bronn is now in, where of all things his self-interest provides an approximation for the selfless defining attribute of one of the most loyal characters on the show, Podrick Payne.
Podrick: Thanks! But I might not be so quick to ride into dragonfire…
Tyrion: Nonsense, Pod. No dragon would dare harm you. You’re too adorable.
Bronn: I protest! I’m just as adorable.
Tyrion: You’re not.
Bronn: Aye. I’m not.
Like Bronn, Podrick Payne came into the story early in service to Tyrion Lannister. The show revealed him to the audience in the second season, but in the books Podrick is Tyrion’s squire for Tyrion at the Battle of the Green Fork. (The one where Tyrion arrives at Tywin’s camp with all those hairy mountain people.)
Podrick nearly did not have a chance to serve Tyrion: he’d been squire to a hedge knight in Lord Tywin’s army, a knight who is discovered stealing from the Lannister army’s baggage train. The larcenous hedge knight was hung, but Kevan Lannister spared Podrick since House Payne were bannermen to the Lannisters and assigned him to Tyrion.
In serving Lord Tyrion, Podrick got little in the way of instruction in knightly skills. Pod mostly poured his master wine and ran errands, but the squire did save Tyrion’s life at the Battle of the Blackwater when kingsguard Ser Mandon Moore tried to assassinate Tyrion in the melee.
Bronn: Don’t forget, I was going to fight two kingsguard after the battle to get to Tyrion. Meryn Trant and some Ser Arseface.
Podrick: But you didn’t kill them, though. So I’m one up on you, in regards to dead kingsguard.
Arya: Me too! I’m the one who killed Trant.
Bronn: You two are both more adorable when your traps are shut.
As a reward, Tyrion financed an afternoon of entertainment for Podrick at Petyr Baelish’s brothel. Two extraordinary things happened:
- the prostitutes charitably refused to accept Podrick’s payment, giving him their services for free
- Podrick gave the money back to Tyrion
Bronn: You knucklehead. You didn’t have to give that money back. He wouldn’t have known.
Podrick: But … I had to.
Bronn: But what if you didn’t, eh?
Podrick’s service to Tyrion ended roughly the same time as Bronn’s, with Tyrion framed for Joffrey’s murder, but the circumstances of their parting were different.
Tyrion wanted Bronn to risk his life, but Bronn instead had accepted a bribe, choosing a reward (and security) over loyalty and friendship. Podrick had also been approached with a bribe.
Tyrion’s squire had been offered a knighthood, if he’d be willing to provide false testimony against Tyrion. Unlike Bronn, Podrick had turned down the offer, which terrified Tyrion in regards to Podrick’s safety. Rather than have Pod risk his life should the anti-Imp conspirators switch from bribes to coercion, Tyrion insisted that Podrick flee the capital.
Tyrion: Pod – there has never lived a more loyal squire.
Thanks to a recommendation by Jaime Lannister, Podrick’s unemployment was brief as he transitioned from being Tyrion’s wine-pourer to being the squire to the chivalrous paragon Brienne of Tarth. This was particularly appropriate since Brienne’s quest was to find and provide security for Sansa Stark. As the lady wife to Podrick’s master Tyrion, Sansa was also owed fealty and service. Despite being sent away by Tyrion, Podrick could continue to serve Tyrion’s household.
Podrick perhaps had less control in his circumstances than Bronn has throughout the series: Pod had been shuffled from one master to the next, but his decision to remain loyal to his master during Tyrion’s imprisonment will probably pay off handsomely by the end of the story. Assuming Podrick lives, and/or the army of the dead doesn’t take over.
Podrick is squired to Brienne of Tarth, who has provided excellent service to the Lady of Winterfell. It’s likely that the Starks will richly reward Brienne when all is said and done, and that can’t help but flow to Podrick.
As well, Tyrion is likely to want to reward Podrick for his years of loyal service, and Tyrion is the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen, who is likely to be well positioned by story’s end.
Podrick has steadfastly held onto his identity as a man from the Westerlands. Even as far north as Winterfell, where Lannisters and men of the Kingdom of the West are not all that welcome, Pod continues to wear the burnt umber color of Lannister troops. Podrick is likely, when things settle down and a new regime in place, be granted lands in the West. He might possibly be granted control of the Payne estates, as the most well-connected Payne to the mighty and powerful of Westeros deserves.
And that might be the most significant difference between Podrick Payne and Bronn. Prodrick is a Payne. Bronn is a nobody.
Tywin: And who are these companions of yours?
Tyrion: This is Shagga, son of Dolf. Chieftain of the Stone Crows. Timett, son of Timett – ruler of the Burned Men. This fair maid is Chella, daughter of Cheyk. The leader of the Black Ears. And here we have Bronn, son of …
Bronn: You wouldn’t know him.
We know very little about Bronn. He’s been many places, to Dorne (his trip with Jaime was not his first time) and north of the Wall “for work.” But we don’t know where he called home before he answered the call of bloody-handed adventure. There’s probably no home to go back to.
Bronn is clearly the superior fighting man in regards to Podrick (Pod might one day get better, since he’s being trained daily by Brienne and has learned some dirty tricks from Bronn) but Bronn knows that his fighting prowess, his means of earning a living, can’t last forever. Being granted the title of Ser is certainly better than not being a knight, but hedge knights in Westeros have little status. This is why Bronn was so eager to obtain a castle and marry into the aristocracy. It would provide respectability, security and an income. This must seem particularly attractive to a man who is nameless, friendless, and landless.
He just needs Jaime Lannister to honor the agreement and provide him with a castle.
Jaime: I will! In time.
Bronn: But what if you don’t?
Jaime: I can’t hear you! I’m too far north right now…
Bronn: WHAT? Bloody hells!
Game of Thrones is so rich and fully developed, that even the supporting characters who attend to the primary ones are on their own narrative arc. Bronn and Podrick could have just been two barely-fleshed out servants to the complex and brilliant Tyrion Lannister, but each of these men-at-arms, the cynical and selfish sellsword and the steadfastly loyal squire, have their own arcs, ones that kind of shadow one another.
Bronn operates on selfish self-interest, but is now trapped almost against his will in service to Jaime, in the hopes of becoming a noble. His story will no doubt culminate in him either obtaining a fookin‘ castle, or dramatically fail to do so.
Podrick is already part of the minor nobility, with almost guaranteed elevation by the end of the story. Will that be the sum of his story arc? Possibly. Possibly not.
Just like Bronn is working on becoming a noble, Podrick is working on improving his fighting prowess, but that doesn’t necessarily seem like a complicated narrative arc.
If I can indulge in speculation, Podrick’s future storyline might bring his signature attribute, loyalty, into play.
Game of Thrones is complicated, and even though Team Stark (which includes Brienne of Tarth, Podrick’s lady) and Team Targaryen (which includes Tyrion Lannister, Podrick’s former lord) are allies, that’s a situation that might change. Particularly if there is any dynastic inheritance-based friction between Daenerys Targaryen and Jon “Aegon Targaryen” Snow. If that friction should happen, Podrick might have to re-evaluate who he should be serving.
Tyrion freed Podrick from his service at King’s Landing, but did he truly? Or did he just send Podrick away, and Podrick’s time with Brienne is more like the squire being loaned out.
Tyrion: I’ve loaned you the loyalty of this excellent squire, but I think it’s high time you give him back to me. We’ll consider his improved martial arts prowess the interest.
Brienne: And what if I don’t?
Tyrion: Well … you have to.
Brienne: But what if I don’t?
Jaime: Just keep me out of this, you two.
Podrick’s choice of fashion is a symbol of him maintaining his allegiance to the kingdom of the West, whom Tyrion represents far more strongly than Stormlander Brienne could, and his service with Brienne was also maintaining continuity of service to Tyrion’s household in regards to Sansa Stark. A case can be made that Podrick’s loyalty remains with the Lannister, and the case that Podrick should stay loyal to Brienne is based more from Podrick’s self-interest, since she’s providing him the fighting skills he wants to obtain.
Bronn: Wait. Let me get this straight. If he sticks with the blonde, Pod’s a selfish bastard like me. And if he dumps her for Tyrion, then from her perspective he’s a faithless bastard. Like me.
Me: More or less.
Bronn: This. Is. The. Best. Podrick “the bastard” Payne.
Alright, realistically the show probably can’t indulge in a crisis of conscience for Podrick. We have roughly nine hours to wrap things up in Season Eight and I assume the show runners aren’t all that interested in exploring this angle of Podrick. Bronn’s more likely to get a castle.
But like I said, we have probably over a year until the next season to start up, so plenty of time to consider what possible narrative arcs and motivational conflicts are in store for our characters. And not just the lords and ladies.
For the sellswords and squires as well.