8

In “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Game of Thrones, S07E07), a character’s oath to Daenerys becomes decidedly inconvenient for her:

Jon Snow cannot swear to stay out of the war between Cersei and Daenerys because he is already sworn to Daenerys, thus preventing the truce that Daenerys (and he) wants.

But couldn’t she simply free him from that oath?

Recognize the North as an independent kingdom and Jon as its king?

10

Yes, royalty can release people from their oaths

As we learn in "Book of the Stranger" (Game of Thrones, S06E04), people can be released from their vows or have their oaths relinquished – Jaime strikes a deal with his father, Tywin, hand of the king and practically in charge of the crown as he manipulates Tommen and rules through him, that he will leave the order of the Kingsguard, a membership that requires an oath, in exchange for mercy for Tyrion on Tywin's part.

Tywin, being hand of the king and vicariously ruling the Seven Kingdoms via his grandson, Tommen, is able to arrange whatever royal warrant is necessary to dismiss Jaime from the Kingsguard, just as Joffrey dismissed Barristan Selmy in "The Pointy End" (Game of Thrones. S01E08).

And in the books:

“Jon is a brother of the Night’s Watch, sworn to take no wife and hold no lands. Those who take the black serve for life.”

“So do the knights of the Kingsguard. That did not stop the Lannisters from stripping the white cloaks from Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Boros Blount when they had no more use for them. If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon’s place, I’ll wager they find some way to release him from his vows.”
A Storm of Swords

and

“I can,” he interrupted. “And I will. There’s precedent. I’ll look in the White Book and find it, if you like. Crippled or whole, a knight of the Kingsguard serves for life.”

“Cersei ended that when she replaced Ser Barristan on grounds of age. A suitable gift to the Faith will persuade the High Septon to release you from your vows. Your sister was foolish to dismiss Selmy, admittedly, but now that she has opened the gates—"
A Storm of Swords

Therefore, there is a precedent for royalty to release people from their oaths, especially if your rule is unorthodox, which both the faux-Baratheon (Lannister) and Targaryen royalty are.


Why doesn't Daenerys release Jon from his oath?

Daenerys could have released Jon from this oath on the spot, but that would be problematic:

  • She has spent every episode since the two have met trying to get him to "bend the knee" and swear fealty, and every time she was met with stubbornness and a word about honour surrounding being the King in the North - for her to give up that earned trust and sworn vow, shortly after the effort it took to establish a good relationship and a trust to pry through Jon's stubbornness is probably not worth it, in her eyes.
  • That meeting between the two major parties is all about displaying power and strong resolve, and is highly cerebral. For Daenerys to surprise Jon by relinquishing his oath and dishonouring him would cause a confusion within their party that would display a weakness that Cersei can detect and think about exploiting, and it would prove to all the witnesses that this is a weak union keeping that dynasty together, if it can fall into confusion on a whim. In this game of mental chess that is this meeting, it would represent a disadvantage.
  • Daenerys would lose the respect of her supporters. When Joffrey had Ser Barristan Selmy "dismissed", it was a very controversial move that many considered a reflection of these awful rulers, but they couldn't do anything because they feared them, and that was a relatively small dismissal (Kingsguard oath vs a kingdom's fealty to the crown). Most of Daenerys' followers choose to fight for her because they believe in her, they have a lot of faith in her resolve and invest a lot of respect and love into her words and actions because she is true to her word and her resolve is strong. To suddenly force Jon to go back on his word this way would risk her losing the respect of her followers, which could, in turn, damage her relations with the people that would fight for her.
  • She is in love with Jon Snow. Not only does she experience flattery, honour and appreciation when the man she loves stands his ground expressing his loyalty to her, but she also knows that insulting Jon by forcing him, through royal power, to go back on his word and break his oath, especially after Jon says the following:

    JON: When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything
    —"The Dragon and the Wolf" (Game of Thrones, S07E07)

    Would be pretty close to breaking Jon's heart. At the very least, it would damage their relationship, which her heart obviously doesn't want to happen, given her affection for him.

  • There's also the argument that it wouldn't really help the negotiation with Cersei. Jon has already indicated to choose Danaerys over Cersei. Even if his commitment to Danaerys is null and void, that does not mean that Jon isn't likely to recommit to Danaerys when all is said and done, and Cersei is well aware of that. The only reason for Danaerys to release Jon from his pledge is to make Cersei feel comfortable with the deal, and that has irreparably been broken by Jon stating having sworn himself to Danaerys. – Flater Sep 4 '17 at 9:38
4

Based on the existing answers, and some further thought I’ve given things, this is the answer I’m currently favoring. Most of the examples I use are in spoilers, since they are just examples and the rest of the answer should be readable even if you haven’t gotten that far so long as you trust me about the examples, but a major point in “The Pointy End” (S01E08) is too large to spoiler.

Traditionally, kings could not release people from oaths.

The actual wording of the oath is very personal. It’s about what you will do, regardless of what the other does; in fact they’re often sworn to the gods rather than to any person—oaths are not contracts.

Moreover, we have examples of honorable characters ignoring attempts to be released from vows. Brienne of Tarth, for example, flat-out ignores attempts to release her from her vow

even though both Arya and Sansa each independently told her she was free to consider her vow fulfilled and to go away.

(“The Children” S04E10, “High Sparrow” S05E03)

And for that matter, Podrick Payne also remains quite stubbornly insistent to do his job even when unwanted,

Brienne just can’t get rid of him no matter how hard she tries,

(recurring point, first in “Oathkeeper” S04E04, until “High Sparrow” S05E03)

and that wasn’t even something he swore to do. And neither side of that debate feels that the subject of the duty is allowed to free Pod from it if he feels it remains his duty. Instead she repeatedly tries to convince him that any responsibility he had toward her was long since fulfilled.

Oaths are seen as sacred to both old gods and the new, and spiritual men throughout Westeros comment on that. The High Sparrow takes it to ridiculous extremes with his “star chamber,” but his entire position is based on tradition and faith, and no one even once questions his claims as to what tradition and faith had to say on the matter.

At least in the books, only the High Septon could release vows before the gods.

(Those vows sworn to the old gods, presumably, either could not be released at all, or required someone else of analogous authority.)

When Tywin Lannister suggests that Jaime step down from the Kingsguard,

since he lost his hand fleeing the Riverlands and King Joffrey Baratheon had just been murdered,

(Storm of Swords)

Jaime points out that Kingsguard vow to serve for life, and Tywin responds that “A suitable gift to the Faith will persuade the High Septon to release you from your vows.”

The only precedents available were recent, and viewed poorly.

The example of monarchs releasing characters from oaths all start with Ser Barristan Selmy: King Joffrey Baratheon released him from the Kingsguard, despite Barristan’s oath to serve for life. Barristan the Bold was the first to be “honorably discharged” from the Kingsguard in all history; all prior examples of someone being removed from the Kingsguard were cases of Kingsguard who broke their oaths and either deserted and fled, or were sent to the Wall. Removing Selmy was widely viewed as dishonorable, of questionable legitimacy, and as defiance of tradition. It did not sit comfortably for any of the honorable folks of Westeros.

The Baratheon and Lannister monarchies were then replete with oaths absolved by royal decree, e.g.:

Tywin Lannister offering to remove Jaime Lannister from the Kingsguard in King Tommen Baratheon’s name as part of a deal to spare Tyrion, King Stannis Baratheon offering to remove Jon Snow from the Night’s Watch so he could take Winterfell and become Warden of the North.

(“The Laws of Gods and Men” S04E06, “The House of Black and White” S05E02)

But both House Targaryen and House Stark were in a state of declared war against the remnants of that monarchy, and dishonorable behavior on the part of the Lannisters (including, but by no means limited to, playing fast and loose with oaths) was one of the primary causes of much of the conflict on Westeros for several years prior to “The Dragon and the Wolf” (S07E07).

And, even assuming the line from Storm of Swords that didn’t make it into the show nonetheless remained true, the High Septon was out since

there was no High Septon after Cersei had the Great Sept of Baelor blown up along with the High Septon and anyone who might have succeeded him; several characters comment on the lack of any High Septon.

(“The Winds of Winter” S06E10)

So for Daenerys Targaryen to release anyone sworn to her, even for their mutual political benefit, would not have been valid traditionally. The only precedent they would have had for such a move would be the Baratheon–Lannister monarchy they were opposed to, both in a literal, military sense and perhaps more importantly, in a moral sense. It would have been very much counter to Daenerys’s stated goal of “breaking the wheel.”

2

It would seem that a monarch can release a subject who has sworn to them from their service. For example, when Joffrey succeeded Robert Baratheon as King of the Seven Kingdoms, he, under the guidance of Cersei, released then commander of the kingsguard Sir Barristan Selmy from his service. This was especially significant because normally a member of the kingsguard is only released from their oath by their own death or that of their monarch.

However, it seems evident that Daenerys is unwavering in her claim to the throne of all seven kingdoms; to release Jon Snow from his oath or give equal recognition to a king in the North would put her claim in question as well as her conviction in securing all seven realms. But perhaps we shouldn't judge her too harshly as the same stance towards kings of the North has been taken by the almost everyone who declared their claim of the Iron Throne since the series began.

  • Ok, Ghoti's answer is much more enriched. – faintsignal Sep 2 '17 at 11:06
  • It is, but I actually like your second paragraph better than any one of their points. Several of those I don’t find entirely convincing. – KRyan Sep 2 '17 at 13:43

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