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Reality Ensues / A Song of Ice and Fire

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A Song Of Ice And Fire could be renamed "Realpolitik Meets Fantasy... and Curbstomps It". This series is such a Deconstructor Fleet and Troperiffic that it needs two separate pages to detail the various ways reality ensues, one for its characters and one for its plot.

  • What happens when a boy king who is steadfast, forthright and honorable in all things makes war against a seasoned commander decades his senior, who has armies that outnumber his own and sees honor as a polite suggestion? He wins battle after battle after battle... and he loses the war. Of course he does. Honor and military skill does not win nearly as many allies as carrot-and-stick realpolitik.
  • Like Father, Like Son. What happens when a man with a reputation for honor and incorruptibility takes a position of leadership in a corrupt royal court? He fails spectacularly. Avoiding the Decadent Court on principle doesn't equip you with the skills necessary to succeed within it, let alone try to lead it. Nor does it help you determine who's really trustworthy and who isn't just looking to sell you out the minute it's convenient for them.
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    • He also assumes that a decree issued by King Robert minutes before his death will grant him temporary power and protect him. Queen Cersei simply tears up the piece of paper and orders Stark seized by troops loyal to her house.
  • Also very Like Father, Like Son; when Jon Snow signs up for the Night's Watch, expecting a jovial brotherhood of honest men ready to defend the realm, he's more than a little disappointed by the dwindling patrol of old men, green boys and apprehended criminals he finds there. The same thing happens when the Night's Watch ride out in force beyond the Wall, most of them getting killed or deserting, and when they elect Jon Snow as Lord Commander, which forces a teenaged boy to make several very tough choices. And when most of the hidebound senior officers decide they don't like those choices (particularly allowing wildlings south of the Wall and taking the side of a claimant to the Iron Throne when the Watch is supposed to be neutral), they lynch him.
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  • In the War of the Five Kings, the Stark/Tully alliance who are easily the most just and honorable houses in the Seven Kingdoms, must command universal respect, right? Wrong. Their levies don't have any stake in their lord's quarrels and like to rape and plunder as much as the next army; the smallfolk hate them just as much as the Lannisters.
  • Oberyn Martell stands as Tyrion's champion at his (second) Trial by Combat and spends the first half of the fight demanding his opponent to admit that he killed (and raped) Oberyn's sister, as well as brutally murdering her infant children. It seems like he's going to succeed, having stabbed Gregor Clegane with his spear, until the much larger and stronger Clegane manages to get hold of him, beats the ever-living crap out of him and kills him as he gloats about his crimes and Oberyn's lover screams on at the sidelines. Reality also ensues for Gregor when it turns out that Oberyn had covered his spearhead in an excruciating poison that takes weeks to kill.
    • Gregor's actions also have bad political consequences. With Gregor having confessed to killing Elia Martell and her baby, as well as killing Oberyn, the Lannisters' relations with the Martells are ruined. In order to get them back on their side, the Lannisters have to send them his skull as compensation. And even then, the Martells are still plotting behind the backs of their Lannister "allies" to put a Targaryen on the throne. Even if someone appears to have forgiven you of a wrongdoing for pragmatic reasons, it doesn't make them forget what you did to wrong them in the first place.
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  • Arianne Martell and a group of confidants attempt to crown Princess Myrcella as Queen of Westeros and run away with her to stage a rebellion, but they are run down and captured. Arianne's lover, Arys Oakheart, is killed and Myrcella is scarred horribly. The group is then broken up and imprisoned.
  • Quentyn Martell devises a daring plan to seize control of Daenerys's two remaining dragons. Fiery dragon breath ensues, and Quentyn dies after days of horrible agony, with fourth degree burns over 100% of his body. Poor brave fool.
  • For that matter, Daenerys herself is hit hard with it, when it turns out that the three dragons she magically hatched will not just as magically grow up tame and obedient - they're fearsome and willful beasts, and the dragon-taming art her slain family once possessed is now over a century gone. No, nor will her being the last Targaryen mean she will somehow automatically repossess it from day one... or, mystically trip over it easily, either. In fact, rather the opposite: her abysmally abusive and often isolated life hasn't exactly geared her towards learning many solid child-rearing techniques, let alone dragon-rearing ones.
  • In Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish's backstory, he challenged Brandon Stark to a duel for the hand of Catelyn Tully. Despite being small and having little training, Baelish thought he was like the plucky little heroes of the stories who triumph over the evil knight and win the maiden fair (paraphrased). Instead, Brandon, a master swordsman and seasoned soldier kicks his ass, nearly killing him and leaving him with a scar from his navel to his collar bone.
  • Dany goes and liberates the slaves in Astapor. A solid move for a compassionate queen, right? Nah it screws the economy of the Free Cities and Slavers' Bay right up, meaning the knock-on effects of the downturn are going to be global in scale. Yunkai immediately mounts an attack on Dany, half the slaves she liberated starve to death living in the economically frozen ghost town, and the combination of the two helps a plague develop and spread. For starters.
    • After Dany takes Meereen and stays there as ruler, she quickly learns that you can't expect a culture that has relied on slavery for thousands of years to change overnight. With the main linchpin of their economy gone, and with few other resources available, many of the city's former slave population falls into poverty or turns to prostitution. Tensions remain between the former slaves and masters, and the resentful former ruling class starts an underground rebel force known as the Sons of the Harpy, who start killing her personal soldiers and the former slaves.
  • Martin also shows things which are not often raised in other medieval fantasy novels, such as disease at siege. Forces attacking Meereen are hit hard by dysentry, or "the pale mare", as they camped downstream.
  • Attacking the provincial capital of the North and capturing it not only reinforces your already dire reputation with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, but also the Northerner's anger. The problem is not entirely due to the capture and sacking of said capital, but because the Ironborn hadn't properly declared war on House Stark and the Northerners, first. Acting like marauding freebooters doesn't gain points in wider state politics.
  • The Brotherhood Without Banners, a troop of would-be Robin Hoods, led by Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, quickly degenerates into several fractured segments, mostly composed of bitter soldiers and cutthroats (or misguided war orphans), as the much-revived Dondarrion (and the decomposed living corpse of Catelyn Tully) lose all semblance of humanity and begin executing people left, right and center, as Thoros of Myr looks on in despair.
  • Going up in the world, making friends in the right places, getting a title, getting lands with a steady rent income? Better hope to hell it's not Harrenhal you've been given, then. Technically, the lands are rich (and extensive), the castle impressive and found in a ostensibly defensible, yet connected, area (translation: "you will be involved in every last battle even tangentially related to the entire region whether you like it or not, so good luck manning your miles of walls"). And, the title is a very good one with a lot of clout and very tempting rights and social perks attached to it. It... kind of has to be this way: It's a bribe and a brush-off. In actuality, you may as well have been handed a wreath and been served official notice of your family's impending demise, thanks to the logistical, political and financial sinkhole you've just been given. Littlefinger is savvy enough not to even try running the place even from a distance... just to accept the title and most of the social opportunities that come with it, but leaving the actual stone pile with the supposed income attached to it in the hands of whichever fool wants to sink themselves — and the list of fools is growing. Too many think that holding the castle is the key to all the goodies, when the goodies are there because of its The Millstone status. Many are broken finding this out the hard way.
  • For their treachery in the Red Wedding, the Boltons and Freys are loathed by everyone in the North and the Riverlands, and despised everywhere in Westeros. People will not bend the knee to them, and everyone loyal to the Starks wants them dead. Which is everyone in the North. Betrayal might get you what you want in the short term, but no one's gonna work with you if you have a reputation for back-stabbing. Also, it is quite obvious the Riverlords and Riverlanders aren't likely to do anything when the latter of the aforementioned houses is facing a vigilante force hanging anybody connected to them. They don't actively go against them, but that's not going to help them. Also during the siege of Riverrun Brynden initially refuses to surrender the castle to Jaime as he believes he can't trust the Lannisters and Freys not to at once kill him and his men anyway.
  • When a siege is successful, attacking grunts will plunder, whether they work for good guys or bad guys (a classification that's more subjective than you'd think). Even a notoriously strict commander like Stannis will allow it. Some grunts of House Stark also do Rape, Pillage, and Burn as much as House Lannister's grunts, according to witnesses.
  • One myth is that all Medieval European people were prudes. In this series men casually go to brothels when they have money and women are just more discreet about their nighttime activities.
  • Many knights do not exemplify the Knight in Shining Armor ideal, as the series makes it clear that nobles keep knights for killing. Most knights are highborn lords with highly variable standards of honor and were only knighted for their martial prowess. And even then, the political status of knighthood means that the wealthy or well connected can just buy their title, regardless of how useful they actually are at combat.
    Sandor Clegane: (to Sansa Stark) What do you think a knight is for, girl? You think it's all taking favors from ladies and looking fine in gold plate? Knights are for killing. I killed my first man at twelve. I've lost count of how many I've killed since then. High lords with old names, fat rich men dressed in velvet, knights puffed up like bladders with their honors, yes, and women and children too—they're all meat, and I'm the butcher.
  • Jon Connington's attempt to defeat Robert and end the rebellion against House Targaryen ran headlong into this trope. Connington was eager for chivalrous glory and to prove himself to his best friend (and possible crush) Rhaegar Targaryen, and knew that killing Robert was key to ending the Rebellion. Connington managed to defeat Robert's army in battle, only for Robert and the survivors to flee to the mid-sized city of Stoney Sept, which was sympathetic to Robert's cause and hid him. Connington didn't wish to wantonly kill the townspeople due to moral qualms and a desire to avoid going down in history as The Butcher, so he ordered his men to search house to house for Robert, even as the townsfolk kept hiding Robert and moving him to evade Connington's search. The townspeople managed to delay Connington just long enough for Ned Stark's army to arrive, save Robert, and defeat Connington. For years afterward Connington insisted that he had done everything possible in his situation and nobody could have done better, until someone pointed out that a more ruthless commander who didn't care what might be written about them in a history book (say, Tywin Lannister) would have simply slaughtered all the people in the town the moment they didn't cooperate with him and killed Robert long before Ned Stark ever arrived. Connington's desire to run a war in such a way that he'd be remembered as a chivalrous hero resulted in him being remembered as a failure instead, because he was prioritizing being seen by others in a good light over actually succeeding.
  • From before the books was Tywin Lannister's father Tytos. Tytos tried to be a generous and kind ruler. He saw good in everyone, gave out huge loans to people and often forgave debts. Instead of being beloved, he was looked upon as a weak fool by his vassals, the Westerlands were left in a chaotic state due to his weak rule, and finally his vassals rebelled. It took Tywin ruthlessly wiping out the Reynes and Tarbecks to restore order.
  • Speaking of Tywin, insulting your son after making his entire life miserable, including putting him through a farce of a trial whilst he is confronting you and has a crossbow in hand when you are alone, unarmed, on the privy, and dismissing the woman that your son loved as a whore results in you getting killed by him. Even the most powerful man in The Seven Kingdoms should know better than to piss off an angry armed man when you are unarmed.
  • The books also tend to spit in the face of the Star-Crossed Lovers trope. Cersei, a widowed queen, and Jaime, the Kingslayer-knight? They're siblings, and can never be together. Jon, a watcher on the Wall, and Ygritte, a fiery wildling who wants to destroy said Wall? Ygritte doesn't take Jon's betrayal well at all, and dies before they properly make amends in a battle between the two sides. Assuming that Lyanna, daughter of House Stark, and Rhaegar, prince of the Seven Kingdoms, actually were in love, their romance was hopeless. Lyanna already being betrothed, and Rhaegar a married father, their possible elopement played a key part in a full-out war that ended up getting Lyanna's fathers and brothers, Rhaegar's wife and children, nearly all the Targaryens, many innocents, and eventually Rhaegar himself killed.
    • In the series' background, there's also the story of Jenny of Oldstones and Duncan Targaryen. While their love affair doesn't end in a way that is as obviously terrible as some of the other Starcrossed Lovers, it does lead to a shortlived rebellion because of his broken engagement and ultimately means that Duncan can't ascend to the Iron Throne because of his romantic involvement with a commoner. This leads to Duncan's brother Jahaerys becoming king, then to the rule of his son, the Mad King Aerys. While it's a case of indirect causation, this kicks off the entire plot of the series. Other characters note that the realm "paid in corpses" so that he could be with his beloved.
  • Rule for all houses in Westeros is that lordship of the house goes from the oldest son and down (with the exception of houses in Dorne, which practice absolute primogeniture). This is the case even if said son (or daughter, in the case of the Dornish) isn't even a teenager yet. In more extreme cases, any living child of the House will suffice—despite being just a baby, Lady Ermesande is the default head of House Hayford due to being the last living member of her family, and even finds herself married to Tyrek Lannister so his family can claim her lands. Following his brother's death, Tommen Baratheon is crowned king, which goes about as well as one would expect. All he can really do is sign papers he doesn't understand, smile, and wave. And being a mere child who was never raised with the possibility of becoming king, Tommen behaves just as any child would with or without a crown. He still whines for things, still gets emotional and shy, and would rather focus on having fun and playing games than boring political work.
  • The books show, especially in chapters with the Brave Companions, that being an average, everyday commoner in Westeros is a dreadful life. Pretty much any small town has a good chance of being pillaged and burned; houses not in towns, like farms, are basically giant targets. Unless you live within the walls of a House's stronghold, like Winterfell or King's Landing, any crime committed against you is going to be ignored. This is especially true for the Iron Islands, where the Ironborn treat innocents like loot: people can be living quietly in their homes one second and be slaves the next, girls are taken for "salt wives" i.e. concubines as a sign of status, etc. Probably most tragic and horrifying is the number of times that rape is ignored or even laughed at—a highborn lady is raped, and blood will be spilled, but a common girl getting kidnapped and defiled by thieves and outriders? Who cares?
  • What happens to the Elves and Giants of your Fantasy Setting after six thousand years or so of human beings being the dominant species on the continent? They get wiped out, of course. A historically-accurate combination of exponential population growth, urbanization and deforestation, conflicts over resources and living space, and good ol' fashioned fear of what's different has resulted in all the mythic races of the Age Of Heroes being either made extinct or pushed far from civilization, barely clinging to existence.
  • Minor compared to everything else on this page, but: the Second Sons, a sellsword company, used to have a tradition where each new member signed their book in his own blood, but as they found out, blood doesn't make very good ink, and tends to fade over time. Nowadays they just use regular old red ink.
  • While being naive and soft hearted is likely to get you killed in the cutthroat world of Westeros, going in the complete opposite direction and being excessively brutal and cruel to the point of Stupid Evil ensures that you probably aren't going to last long either, because there's going to be lots of people who want your head on a pike for pragmatic reasons as much as "It's Personal" ones. Pragmatic Villainy is less messy and much more efficient, as Tywin Lannister knows very well (and squeaky-clean PR with minimal bloodshed when possible, as the Tyrells know, works even better).
    • The vicious and sadistic King Joffrey orders Ned Stark's execution when sending him to the Wall would have sufficed, and provokes a war with the furious North. This forms a rift in the small council, where they essentially exclude Joffrey from their meetings because he has no leadership skills, as demonstrated when he went against all their advice and had Ned killed anyway. He is such a terrible vicious idiot king that he gets himself fatally poisoned by his ally Olenna Tyrell before he can become an abusive husband to her granddaughter. If he'd been kinder or more reasonable, the Tyrells would have been perfectly content to let him and Margaery rule together, but as long as he was alive, he was going to be a liability.
    • The Brave Companions are a sadistic band of mercenaries hired by Tywin Lannister to Rape, Pillage, and Burn their way across the riverlands. Due to a nasty case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, they quickly abandon each other once things start to go south, and end up getting themselves killed by provoking several of the wrong people, including Brienne of Tarth, a ridiculously strong and tall woman knight clad in plate armor and armed with a Valyrian steel sword.
    • Hundreds of years before Joffrey or Aerys II, King Maegor I Targaryen, second son of Aegon the Conqueror, rose to power upon his brother's death. During his short but bloody reign, his long list of atrocities would include: incinerating the Sept of Remembrance with hundreds of worshippers praying inside, having his second wife and her entire family slaughtered when he suspected her of infidelity, killing his brother's eldest son to eliminate any other contenders to the throne, torturing another of his nephews to death in order to lure out his mother, and having all the builders of the Red Keep executed in order to preserve knowledge of its secret passages. His wanton cruelty eventually made him despised by the entirety of Westeros, who chose to stand with his last surviving nephew, Jaehaerys, in open rebellion against the throne.
    • The Freys and Boltons get the drop on the remaining Starks by slaughtering them at the Red Wedding, effectively ending the War of the Five Kings and getting a royal pardon from the Lannisters in the process...but it's a short-term victory, as everyone in the North despises them for their killing of the beloved Stark family and their violation of Sacred Hospitality. The few allies they have are working with them out of pragmatism rather than loyalty, and some are still secretly plotting to restore the Starks to their rightful position as lords of Winterfell. Meanwhile, the Freys are being picked off and hanged like so many plucked chickens by the Brotherhood Without Banners, and nobody's shedding a tear.
      • To cement his hold on Winterfell, Roose Bolton marries his son Ramsay to "Arya Stark" (actually Jeyne Poole, daughter of the Starks' steward). In this situation, the most sensible thing for Ramsay to do would be to treat his new bride gently. But, being Ramsay, he abuses and rapes her so horribly that the Northern soldiers can hear her crying every night, which just makes them hate the Boltons even more. She takes the first chance she gets to escape with Theon and a group of wildling women commandeered by Mance Rayder to get her the hell out of the castle. Time to kiss Winterfell goodbye...and the possibility of any potential "half-Stark" heirs who could have tightened the Boltons' hold on the North. Not to mention that even if she hadn't escaped, the physical and mental trauma from being used as a Sex Slave, as well as her young age, would have made it nearly impossible for her to birth a healthy child.
  • Another minor example, in A Game of Thrones. Arya, a very young girl, starts to practice sword fighting with Syrio Forel. Arya takes it very seriously, does as she's told, and becomes more and more skilled in the "Water Dance" as time goes on. Come the end of the book, wherein the present Starks and their company are being hunted down in King's Landing, Arya is cornered by a stableboy who recognizes her and wants to be rewarded for bringing her in. Arya has her sword and her training, but she's still just a little girl who hadn't expected to be killing people anytime soon. In that moment, all she thinks is "stick 'em with the pointy end", and she clumsily stabs the boy in a panic.
  • During Robert's Rebellion, Davos managed to smuggle in food to the starving people of Storm's End, a crucial step in the survival of the city. In thanks for this, Stannis rewards Davos by making granting him a title, land, and status, but because Davos was also a smuggler, an illegal business activity, Stannis also had the first joints in his left hand cut. Stannis is eternally grateful for Davos' aid but as a man of honor and law, he still has to punish Davos for his crime, since one good deed does not automatically remove ones past crimes.
  • Due to the Medieval Stasis of the world the majority of the Houses in Westeros have ruled over the same plot of land with the same vassals without change for centuries. So we get houses like the Westerlings who have mined the same land for centuries until finally their gold mines dried up because gold is not a renewable resource and yes mines will all fail eventually. They are now impoverished because they never thought to engage or invest in any new businesses since it was "beneath" them and their honor. Meanwhile those lords without such scruples like Littlefinger invest in numerous businesses and become far wealthier and therefor more powerful than older houses that sat on their hands.
  • Ned Stark's honor may have gotten him killed, but his strong sense of justice and general goodness inspired loyalty in his followers and people that drives them to keep fighting even after most of the Starks are dead or in hiding. On the other hand, the Lannister family's ruthlessness and scheming makes them a lot of powerful enemies that are just waiting for a sign of weakness to attack. And with the most competent member of the family, Tywin, dead . . .
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