In the third episode of Game of Thrones season 6, Oathbreaker, only four people are executed by the Lord Commander. Further, they were executed by hanging, unlike, for example, Lord Slynt.

Why only these four, and why hanging? Surely the Lord Commander has enough stamina to swing a sword four times! And surely, the youngest of those is no more culpable than the others involved in assassinating Jon Snow.

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    Good question, he makes a huge point about doing it "his father's way" which would have been to behead rather than hang. However, that could easily be a misinterpretation of the text, which only says: "The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.". Jon Snow did all of that (except literally swing the sword).
    – Möoz
    May 11, 2016 at 2:40
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    Above quote is from A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One - A Game of Thrones, Chapter One (Bran I).
    – Möoz
    May 11, 2016 at 2:41
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    @Mooz well, he swung the sword, just at something less blood filled then a neck. Still killed them via the neck, with the transitive property.
    – cde
    May 11, 2016 at 7:46
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    @cde Ned beheaded that deserter from the Night's Watch. Ilyn Payne beheaded Ned. By the transitive property, the deserter was beheaded by the royal executioner. :D
    – muru
    May 11, 2016 at 7:49
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    Regarding allegedly abandoning 'the father's way': IMO what is the most important in 'The Old Way' is to have the courage to perform the execution personally. If you have the guts to look into the convict's eyes, hear what they have to say and then execute the person then you are worth of your position. Jon did all that. Putting emphasis on the method seems to be an overinterpretation. Other possibility is that he in fact doesn't care about laws anymore, simply because his death has changed him a lot. This seems to match his treatment of the Oath and how he passed his position to Edd. May 11, 2016 at 8:11

3 Answers 3


Can't say why only those four. Two possible reasons is that:

  1. They died when the Free Folk attacked Castle Black at the end of s06e02 "Home".

  2. No one could identify who they were.

Obviously, if they were around to be found, they would be hanging as well.

As for the hanging vs beheading, hanging is the de facto method of execution for traitors, which those four were. They broke their oath (Hence the title "Oathbreaker"). Ser Alliser himself explains in an interview:

Vulture.com: And a brutal one. You might have expected Jon Snow to behead them, as he did Janos Slynt, but to hang them? Compare that to Ned Stark's execution — that quick, clean death now seems to be the mercy Joffrey said it was.

Owen Teale, Ser Alliser's Actor: I asked them, "Why isn't there a bigger drop, when you hang them?" And they said, "Because if it's a bigger drop, you would die instantly. The whip action would snap your neck, and that's it. You would lose consciousness immediately." But this was actually more cruel, more of a punishment, because your feet almost touch the ground, you haven't fallen that far, so there's still some life in you and your body can't help but fight. I said, "That's really gruesome."
As I remember, the speech that I give to Jon Snow, explaining the way I've lived my life — "I fought, I lost, and now I will rest" — he seems at peace about that. But when the moment comes, and you're dangling, you can't help but fight to live. It's important to see them suffer before they actually die, because as Jon Snow sees it it's insurrection. It's treason, what they've committed. It's important to see them suffer, as a message to anybody else who might be thinking of doing the same.

So basically, beheading is the "nice" execution method in Game of Thrones, while hanging is the "not so nice" method. And Traitors/Treason get the "not so nice" method. While you can argue that beheading is enough to make people think twice, something as cruel as a slow painful death of asphyxiation via hanging (instead of neck snapping) may be a better deterrent.

Examples of beheading being Ned Stark. In both manners. Ned is not the type of man that will needlessly make a man suffer. He uses a quick beheading because he has to do it, but he doesn't need to be malicious. And Ned's own death, via beheading, was a "gift" of "mercy" by king bastard Joffery to his intended, Sansa. A quick painless death.

  • 3
    Given that Jon Snow was returned to life, he "lost something" as Berric Dondarrion said in season 3. Maybe that "something" starts being shown by this "not so nice" execution method rather than the "nice" one. May 11, 2016 at 9:25
  • +1 Nice find on the Owen Teale quote. I wondered about the drop myself, didn't know if it was supposed to be an intentional thing or not.
    – kuhl
    May 11, 2016 at 11:05
  • Hm, I interpreted the title Oathbreaker to be referring to the character who spoke the last line of the episode.
    – TylerH
    May 11, 2016 at 17:25
  • @tylerh it's up to interpretation. There were multiple oaths broken in the episode. Right before Jon, there was the scene with douchebag Bolton where they talked about broken oaths in killing rob Stark, in killing rose bolton, in pledging allegiance etc etc. Also when talking about the master who creates the undead Mountain. I personally believe Jon ' s oath to the Night's Watch ends upon death, pee the oaths wording. See the loophole question.
    – cde
    May 11, 2016 at 17:31
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    @cde How can you call Ramsay a douchebag, when he's clearly Azor Ahai, The Prince That Was Promised. May 13, 2016 at 8:51

Certainly this is speculation as the Books haven't gotten this far. I suspect they were hanged because there were many, and much easier to hang them all at once than try to behead them all. In addition, when Lord Rickard Karstark killed the Lannister prisoners, he was beheaded, but those that assisted him were hanged...perhaps beheading is saved for Lords (As you referred, Slynt was a lord). Ser Allister was just a Knight, though you could probably make the argument he should have been beheaded.

6 people stabbed Jon Snow, 4 were hanged. It is unclear, but 2 people were killed when the Wildlings came into Castle Black to keep Ser Allister from Killing Ser Davos and burning Jon's body. Perhaps those were the other 2.

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    We first see Lord Eddard Stark at the beheading of a deserter from the Night's Watch, IIRC. And Ned did say: The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. At least, that's why I think Jon beheaded Slynt in the first place. What struck me was Jon abandoning this teaching from his (assumed) father.
    – muru
    May 10, 2016 at 23:56
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    Jon probably didn't have the strength to swing the sword for 4 separate people. You could tell he was still in pain when embracing his friends May 11, 2016 at 0:05
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    @muru , he did not abandon those teachings. He still swung the sword, just at a rope in stead of the neck of a person.
    – Madgarr
    May 11, 2016 at 6:49
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    The first episode deserter from the Night's Watch was a no-body, not a lord. He was still beheaded.
    – cde
    May 11, 2016 at 7:48
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    @muru to further expand madgarr's answer, Ned also said to Jon that the sentencer should stare the accused in the face and hear their last words, as Jon did.
    – SGR
    May 11, 2016 at 10:13

Ned's/Jon's words concerning execution were:

"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."

He used a sword swing to sever the rope that triggered the execution of the four guys, so I'd say he technically stuck to his words, barely.

Also, Jon is clearly distressed during this episode, as someone who had just been stabbed six times and reincarnated. You can clearly see this from his actions, and the fact he abandons the watch at the end of the episode. Therefore perhaps he has undergone some drastic change in values, so sticking to his original values of beheading execution was probably not at the top of his to do list. The fact he leaves immediately after the execution supports this.

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    it's worth noting though that he hasn't broken his oath - the Night's Watch make an oath that binds them until their death: "Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death". He died, his obligation to the Watch has been fulfilled and I don't think it would take a drastic change in character to make you feel like there wasn't much left to give there. May 11, 2016 at 13:39
  • Good point. Well who really knows how someone would feel after they've reincarnated? I suppose he was a bit shocked at the betrayal, and probably just mainly confused I'd say.
    – dahui
    May 11, 2016 at 16:13

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