The Tower of Joy Fight

May 14, 2016 | Swordplay


So I got talking to one of my swordfighting buddies about two-weapon fighting again, and he mentioned that the latest episode of A Game of Thrones had some pretty silly swinging going on in a fight at some place called the Tower of Joy. Of course, I had to go and look this up for myself, and I believe it’s rather silly in many places, but it has some redeeming qualities. Let’s take a look. As always, I have almost no idea what’s happening in the plot or why. (I have been wondering why such a miserable pile of rock is called the Tower of Joy, but by and large, I don’t care enough to find out.)

Link, because YouTube’s being a butt and embedding is disabled.

The action starts around the two minute mark. One thing that immediately jumps out at me is, once again, it’s a fight with spectators just hanging around and looking concerned or passive while a couple of people with swords go at each other.

Apparently the old guy and the kid are not really there, or something, so maybe we’ll give them a pass on this one.

Thing the first: while it’s nice to see a massed battle, I am quite disappointed in the fact that only two of these men were sensible enough to wear helmets, and no one decided to bring, say, a pike or a spear.

Thing the second: two other men brought shields. This is great! However, they seem to have gotten their ideas about shields from Hollywood, which means they swing the shields back behind themselves when they strike with their swords, as if they need a counterbalance or something. (Hint: they don’t need a counterbalance.) This inevitably results in them getting stabbed because that is not how you do shields, for gods’ sake. Shields go in front of you. This is not rocket science.

Thing the third: Two of these guys got sliced in the neck and killed. Have they never heard of gorgets?! Why does almost no one in this series pay attention to their necks? There’s enough plate armor in A Game of Thrones that someone, someone, must have noticed this. It’s a hideous oversight that’s bugging me more and more.

Thing the fourth: Once again, the armor looks like it’s been rubbed down with excrement and the plate looks rusted. In fact, everyone looks like they rolled in a mudhole before coming on the set. I don’t even know what to say about that any more.

Thing the fifth: I’ve been told that the sword that one of the knights sticks into the ground at the start is supposed to be a greatsword, and I am side-eyeing the hell out of that particular factoid. It looks like a longsword. It’s about the right length, in the blade and hilt, to be a longsword. The knight wields it like a longsword. The only greatswords I know of are two-handed weapons and quite a bit bigger than that, so make of it what you will.

Thing the final: the ‘dual-wielding’. Oh boy. Where to start? The knight whirls the swords around well enough, but the first major no-no happens when he hits with both swords on the same line at the same time. This is stupid because it leaves him defenseless and it’s no better than hitting with one sword.

He stands in the middle of a group of armed men and holds his swords out on either side. As soon as I saw this, I groaned. This is not a thing that any swordfighter would do. Like… you don’t just stand here, and, again, you do not turn your defenseless back to an opponent. Ever! This is the kind of move that you’d do with guns in a Hollywood movie that would also be pretty dumb because you’d get shot almost instantly.

From this point on, the whole fight against multiple opponents is ballet. It’s highly choreographed, choppy, spinning fakery that I basically didn’t watch because it’s boring. It’s unfortunately really obvious to me (now, anyway) when I see a swordfight in TV or film and the fighters are just baseball-batting it and not actually trying to hit each other. Once we get back to Knightman vs. Scraggly Ginger Guy, things get a little more interesting, but I’m still immensely bothered by the fact that both of them are seriously half-assing their defense.

This is a major and ubiquitous problem with swordfights on the screen. Actors know how to act, but they don’t know jack shit about swordplay unless they’ve been well-trained in it. They know there’s no real danger, and every swing has been planned, and it shows so blatantly that I wonder if anyone’s even pointed it out to them. Directors have a similar problem in that almost every fight turns into big flashy, jump-cut nonsense that is difficult to watch at best, and mind-numbing, plot-irrelevant filler at worst.

(Seeing as I don’t actually know the plot here, I’ll be generous and allow that this particular fight at the Tower of Joy is just hard to watch. Presumably it’s relevant to the plot in some way, but it looks like most other fights in A Game of Thrones – lots of stabbing, lots of blood, almost everyone dies, choppy editing to hide the fact that there is waaaay too much baseball-bat-swinging going on, and reaction shots from whoever is the bystander-du-jour.)

Not gonna lie, I look at fights like these and compare them to the duel between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black, and I give a sigh of despair. No, the comparison is not fair, and it never will be. But The Princess Bride is a measure of how good swordplay in film and TV can be, and this fight is nothing more than a measure of how mediocre and forgettable it can be.