Barristan Selmy is known for his character and honor in Game of Thrones. He was a member of the Kingsguard for the Mad King Aerys II and sworn to protect him and his family. He also seemed to be very fond of prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Then Robert kills the prince and Jaime Lannister (another Kingsguard) kills King Aerys.

As aftermath of Robert's Rebellion, Robert usurps the Iron Throne. And he pardons many lords and counsil members like Varys, Pycelle and Barristan Selemy. Varys and Pycelle are men of opportunity, however Barriston is a different case. Why didn't he try to avenge the King or take the black instead of serving the usurper who killed his king along with the Kingslayer again as sworn brother?

What is the motivation of Selmy for doing so?

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    Without doing the necessary research to post an actual answer, I'm pretty sure the Kingsguard are sworn to protect the King - whoever that may be at the time - not a specific King. If the previous King dies, and a new King takes their place, the Kingsguard are sworn to protect the new one. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Robert taking the throne, by all the laws of Westeros he was now the King, so Barristan would be sworn to protect him. Sep 8, 2015 at 10:26
  • Altough it is not covered in tv series, Arthur Dayne who was lord commander of Kingsguard at that time , didn't surrender when Eddard asked him, instead fought till his last breath.This is a reason why I thought that ideally Barristan should have done same. However if you provide citation and research, I will consider your answer.
    – Panther
    Sep 8, 2015 at 10:39
  • @AnthonyGrist By the laws of Westeros, Viserys Targaryen should have become king upon the death of Aerys, not Robert Baratheon.
    – Mike Scott
    Sep 8, 2015 at 15:32
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    @AnthonyGrist No one at the start of the series thinks Viserys is dead. He's known to be in exile in Essos, and Robert is concerned about it. They don't think he's dead until after he's actually dead, at which point Daenerys is legally the queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
    – Mike Scott
    Sep 8, 2015 at 18:36
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    @MikeScott Hm, I thought that at the start of the series they'd just discovered that Viserys and Daenerys were alive/in exile, which is why Robert was so unhappy about it. Possibly I'm merging characters/plotlines together, it's been a while since I read the books. We'll just have to agree to disagree on what Robert's rebellion means legally, though, since I'm still not convinced that either Targaryen would have a valid claim until they took the throne back by force. Sep 8, 2015 at 19:20

2 Answers 2


IvanaMNE's answer from the books reminded me that there was a similar scene in the TV show. Some quick searches in transcripts turns it up in season 3, episode 5, shortly after Jorah and Barristan met, after they were reminising about past battles, while they are trying to work out if they can trust each other:

BARRISTAN: I burned away my years fighting for terrible kings.

JORAH: You swore an oath.

BARRISTAN: Yes. And a man of honor keeps his vows, even if he's serving a drunk or a lunatic. Just once in my life before it's over, I want to know what it's like to serve with pride, to fight for someone I believe in.

So this shows that Selmy's Kingsguard vow is to whoever the king happens to be, not to a specific king, and it continued to apply even when his old king was usurped.

So, quick run through of events:

  • Selmy fights with Rhaegar on the trident
  • He can't stop Rhaegar being killed, and can't stop the rest of the army surrendering
  • He becomes a prisoner
  • Robert becomes the new king. Selmy's vow now transfers to Robert
  • Robert rejects Roose Bolton's advice to execute him, and accepts him in his new king's guard
  • Selmy doesn't like Robert, but he didn't like Aerys either. He "keeps his vows", even if it means serving "terrible kings"

Ser Barristan Selmy is one of the most skilled and respected knights in the Seven Kingdoms. He served honorably and fought bravely for the Targaryens, although he was aware of faults of The Mad King. During Robert's Rebellion, Selmy was severely wounded at the Battle of the Trident, and Robert Baratheon instead to kill him, called for maesters to attend him. Barristan later took the new king's pardon and became the Lord Commander of Robert's Kingsguard.

Barristan had moral reservations about serving the new king, Robert I Baratheon, but served loyally nonetheless. Barristan recalled, however, that if he had seen Robert smile when Tywin Lannister presented him with the bloody bodies of Rhaegar's children, he would never have served Robert and nothing on earth would have stopped Selmy from killing him.

I took Robert's pardon, aye. I served him in Kingsguard and council. Served with the Kingslayer and others near as bad, who soiled the white cloak I wore. Nothing will excuse that. I might be serving in King's Landing still if the vile boy upon the Iron Throne had not cast me aside, it shames me to admit. But when he took the cloak the White Bull had draped about my shoulders, and sent men to kill me that selfsame day, it was as though he'd ripped a caul off my eyes. That was when I knew I must find my true king, and die in his service...

I think this statement (from the book "A Storm Of Swords",Chapter 57) says enough about his character.


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