Tywin Lannister: War Criminal

Good old Tywin Lannister. The man who ruled Westeros with an Iron Fist for the Iron Throne…. right?


Art by SerClegane via Deviant Art

Well, sorry Lannister lovers. I detest the man, which I kind of hope was the point of this vicious and manipulative character on GRRM’s part.

There are four major crimes which stand out for me as evidence that Tywin Lannister was a grade A arsehole toerag and, for three of these incidents under international law about the conduct of armed conflict which I’m going to apply to Westeros despite the lack of a Geneva Convention in ASOIAF, make the head of House Lannister a war criminal.

  1. His mass murder of Houses Reyne and Tarbeck in the massacre known as the “Rains of Castamere” – now technically this doesn’t make Tywin a war criminal, because there was no armed conflict at the time. It just makes him a mass murderer!
  2. The unnecessary and visceral murders of Elia Martell and her two children, Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen, during the Sack of King’s Landing, carried out on Tywin’s orders by Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch.
  3. The ravaging of the Riverlands which preceded and crossed into the civil war dubbed The War of the Five Kings, also by Gregor Clegane, Amory Lorch and their band of Bloody Mummers, again on Tywin’s direct orders.
  4. Finally, the big one: the Red Wedding.

Now, as wonderful as Charles Dance’s performance of Tywin was on Game of Thrones, let’s just take a quick moment to savour Tywin as he is described in the books, mutton chops and all… (I couldn’t get this wonderful image to load, but take the time to go and check out the link. THAT is the image I had in my head reading, before it was displaced by Charles Dance!)

This blog is going to look at the first two. A further blog will dissect the Riverlands rampage and the Red Wedding (because it’s late, and I want to sleep…)

The Rains of Castamere

Tywin believed that the only way to rule was through fear and ruthlessness, a direct reaction to his father’s incredibly mellow (and admittedly disastrous) way of running the Westerlands. Lord Tytos Lannister wanted to be everyone’s buddy, giving out loans, running the gold mines of Casterly Rock dry in his attempts to be popular and fun with the locals, and ultimately being taken gross advantage of by renegade bannermen like the Reynes and Tarbecks.

Now, time to put on my lawyer hat, dust off my notes from my LLM unit on the law of war (shout out to Tim McCormack and Dan Mori, who taught me at undergrad and postgrad level respectively,) and do this properly:

The first question that must be asked when working out if the law of armed conflict (LOAC) applies to any situation is whether or not there is an armed conflict. Put simply, the law of war only applies when there is a war. Otherwise, these appalling events are just ordinary criminal offences, conducted in an extraordinary way.

So, was there an “armed conflict” at the time that Tywin Lannister eliminated Houses Reyne and Tarbeck?

Maybe? As documented in TWOIAF, one of the notable features of Lord Tytos’ reign as Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, apart from his fondness for a good party, was that he regularly lost control of his region, and royal forces under the command of King Aegon the Unlikely and then King Jaehaerys had to be sent in to restore order in the region. Looting, pillaging, raping, plunder – the crooks of the Westerlands had a field day under Lord Tytos Lannister. It sounds like Richmond and Footscray before the hipsters moved in and gentrified these areas which had previously been known for high crime rates fuelled by heroin addiction.

But is a breakdown of social order enough to satisfy the customary international law requirements of “armed conflict”? I don’t think so. So the law of armed conflict does not apply to Tywin’s conduct against the Reynes and Tarbecks, even though what he does would meet the definition of a crime against humanity. The language used in the Geneva Conventions and other texts relied upon to form the law of armed conflict is that a crime against humanity, as distinct from a war crime, is some conduct that “shocks the conscious of humanity” with its awfulness. A war crime is merely a breach of the laws of armed conflict – things like discipline, failing to wear identifiable uniforms when engaging in combat, targeting and so on. It sounds like a lot of legal wank, but it is an important distinction between the “sexy” international law that most politics and law students think the law of war is about, and the rather more mundane reality of court martialable offences that the law of war is actually about to soldiers and commanding officers.

For those who haven’t yet read The World of Ice and Fire, this is a short summary of what Tywin Lannister did to the Reynes and Tarbecks. This incident is the “inspiration” for the ASOIAF in-universe song The Rains of Castamere, which has a prominent and chilling role in the Red Wedding. (Also: go and get TWOIAF. Even if you find the history boring, which I doubt because it’s fascinating depth to ASOIAF, the art work is incredible.)

Tywin had taken control of Casterly Rock’s forces after returning from the War of the Ninepenny Kings to find the Houses of Reyne and Tarbeck in outright rebellion to their Lord Paramount, Tytos Lannister. They refused to repay the debts they owed Casterly Rock, and rejected Tywin’s demands to come to the Rock and answer for their breaches of bannermen loyalty. So he went to them…

First, House Tarbeck’s lands were attacked by the Lannister forces. Any Tarbeck hostages held by the Lannisters were executed, as were all Tarbeck soldiers and men. The Lannisters used siege weapons to destroy Tarbeck Hall, trapping many people within. Tywin Lannister then ordered that the hall and all Tarbeck lands be burned and salted – he wasn’t content to destroy the buildings and kill the people. He wanted to (and succeeded in doing) utterly wiping out House Tarbeck.

Then he went to House Reyne of Castamere, which was an odd castle. Built into the mountain where the Castamere river flowed, most of the castle was underground with the mines which gave House Reyne its wealth.

Tywin ordered Lannister forces to seal up every single crack into or out of the castle, and diverted the waters of the Castamere to flood the castle. The people of House Reyne died slowly over the coming days as the mines and then the castle flooded, slowly but surely. Again, the lands were burned and salted, so no one could re-establish House Reyne in any capacity.

Dunno about you, but that sure as shit shocks my conscience. If we consider the Tarbeck-Reyne Rebellion to be “armed conflict”, then Tywin has most certainly committed a crime against humanity. But if not, then he just casually committed mass murder, ordering his men to carry out gross acts of violence with an inhumane lack of mercy, over debts and insults.

The Sack of King’s Landing

Tywin Lannister hedged his bets during Robert’s Rebellion, avoiding getting involved on either side for as long as possible, until it became clear that the young Baratheon’s forces would win. Partly this was because his beloved golden son who he still considered his heir (despite the laws around kingsguard vows), Jaime, was held hostage by the Mad King as Aerys’ “personal kingsguard” in King’s Landing.

But once Robert smashed Rhaegar’s forces at the Trident and won the Battle of Stoney Sept, it was clear the Rebellion would succeed. Suddenly Tywin springs into action: he summoned 12,000 men (not that many, considering how many knights, horse and fighting men available in the Westerland) and rode hard for King’s Landing, determined to be the force that sacked the capital and brought down the Mad King.

Official Westerosi history says that brave Grand Maester Pycelle opened the gates to Lord Tywin’s forces, and the Lannister men were joined by Ned Stark’s Northern armies to quickly and peacefully ensure that King’s Landing was handed over to Robert Baratheon.

What actually happened was that Tywin beat Ned to King’s Landing, his arsekissing buddy Pycelle opened the gates in defiance of Aerys’ orders to keep them closed, Aerys’ was slain by Jaime Lannister (in one of Jaime’s rare fits of honour, even though he refused to tell anyone but Brienne the truth of why he killed the Mad King), and Tywin’s forces rampaged through the city, sacking and looting. The most violent of Tywin’s men, Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch, climbed the walls of the Red Keep, stormed the rooms of Crown Princess Elia Martell, and then raped her before murdering her, killing her children in front of her in a vicious and visceral violent manner.

Why? Because as Tywin reveals in Chapter 53 of ASOS to Tyrion, he knew that House Lannister had to do something big to convince the rebels that their late enthusiasm for their cause was genuine. And Tywin had the daring to do the one thing that he considered necessary for Robert Baratheon’s reign to be secure: eliminate Rhaegar’s heir, the toddler Aegon.

We had come late to Robert’s cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert’s relief was palpable. As stupid as he was, even he knew that Rhaegar’s children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children

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My reaction to Tywin’s logic

So using the law of armed conflict…

  1. Is there an armed conflict?
    Yep. Definitely.
  2. Did Tywin order Clegane and Lorch to carry out these murders?
    Yes. He explicitly admits this to Tyrion. He ordered his most viscious and violent dogs of war to kill the children by any means necessary. He maintains that he didn’t order the death of the Crown Princess, but he didn’t tell them to keep her alive either.

    “I grant you, it was done too brutally. Elia need not have been harmed at all, that was sheer folly. By herself she was nothing.”

  3. Were Elia and her children legitimate targets of opposing soldiers?
    No. The principle of distinction is the first and most important rule of the LOAC. Only enemy combatants, enemy military targets are legitimate targets. Civilians are not legitimate targets.

There is no doubt about this one: Tywin Lannister ordered the cold blooded murder of non-military targets during an undisciplined sack of King’s Landing. The murders were carried out with a notable and disturbing level of violence, such that the body of toddler Aegon was left unrecognisable (convenient for Varys… I will do a blog summarising my views on the fake Aegon theory later!)

Part 2 coming soon: the Bloody Mummers in the Riverlands, and the Red Wedding.



15 thoughts on “Tywin Lannister: War Criminal

  1. Eddy says:

    I disagree with your statement that Tywin’s actions during the Reyne-Tarbeck rebellion were war crimes or crimes against humanity. The World of Ice and Fire explicitly states Roger Reyne and Tywin met in battle (dismissing the possibility of crimes against humanity) and “Lord Reyne had no choice but to wheel and flee.” It was a retreat, the Reyne’s never surrendered, not once. Therefore there were armed men fighting on both sides, plus no surrender. This means there was a war, and it had not ended. Later at Castamere when Reynard sealed the tunnel, he “offered terms”. We don’t know what these terms are, we don’t know if he ever officially surrendered, even if Reynard did surrender, Tywin has the right to refuse. Therefore the war was still taking place and Tywin had every right to whatever he wanted to do to the underground of Castamere. In war terminology it would be named a siege, and flooding it a means to end it.


    1. LadyKnitsALot says:

      Thanks Eddy.

      The difficulty I had in working out whether the Tarbek-Reyne Rebellion was an “armed conflict” for the purposes of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) is that it’s definitely a disturbance… but is it a civil war?

      Under LOAC, an armed conflict can be an international armed conflict (involving two or more states) or a non-international armed conflict (involving two or more internal disputing parties – i.e. a civil war.) Thanks to the brain-bending and crazy workarounds the US government has used to show that the LOAC did NOT apply to the wars in which they captured “enemy combatants” and took them to Guantanamo Bay, where they definitely were not prisoners of war as far as Dubya and his war council were concerned (because then they’d have to apply the 3rd Geneva Convention, and not torture them for information!) the world saw how malleable the definition of “armed conflict” is in the LOAC.

      Perhaps I should have gone into it in more detail in my analysis, and maybe I’ll amend the blog to go into more depth, but I’m not necessarily convinced that the Tarbeck-Reyne issue goes above civil unrest to civil war. It’s definitely a grey area though. There’s evidence it was an armed conflict, because both sides used soldiers in battle.

      My view is that the Tarbeck-Reyne uprising was not at the level of a non-international armed conflict, because it basically amounted to chest-puffed out shouty bad tactical diplomacy with their liege lord’s son. It’s similar to the recent Oregon terrorist takeover of a national park: it didn’t amount to a civil war, but it was definitely civil unrest. The Oregon Free Men of the Law RWNJs were acting in an aggressive, militaristic fashion but the dispute was not a non-international armed conflict. There’s still a functioning law and order system around to adequately deal with bringing them to heel, and that’s how I see the Tarbeck-Reyne rebellion. They were, basically, refusing to pay taxes/repay debts, and kind of doing a similar kind of chest-thumping “we’re so tough and independent” routine as the Oregon idiots. Tywin and Kevan’s armies riding out to deal with them is the medieval/Westerosi equivalent of a dozen SWAT teams going in to arrest them, y’know? That isn’t a non-international armed conflict: that’s policing in an unusual situation. The problem for our analysis of the situation is that Westeros doesn’t have a police force – it relies upon the armies of the Lords Paramount to police the King’s peace. So just because an army is riding in, doesn’t make it an armed conflict. That’s my view. We need to look at the use of armed soldiers in a context of policing the King’s peace, rather than engaging with an enemy militia. It’s an almost arbitrary line of distinction that I’ve drawn, and I admit that.

      But does that more detailed analysis help explain why I don’t think the Rains of Castamere occurs within the context of an armed conflict?


    2. LadyKnitsALot says:

      as for your point about the flooding of the Reyne’s mines/castle being a valid siege tactic…. no.

      Even in medieval times, there were laws about proportionality and distinction. The “big four” precepts of the LOAC are: attacks are to only be for military necessity, military endeavours must avoid unnecessary suffering to enemy combatants and civilians, there must be a distinction made between civilians and combatants at all times, and collateral damage to civilians is only permissible when it is proportional to the military advantage
      gained in the attack.

      In short form, these principles are
      1. Necessity
      2. Unnecessary suffering = bad
      3. Principle of Distinction
      4. Principle of Proportionality

      the flooding of mines and castle, and the consequent premeditated murder of all those inside violates these principles. Is it militarily necessary to destroy the mines by flooding? No. Tywin’s forces used standard siege weapons to bash down the walls of Tarbeck Hall. They had the capacity to use the same weapons here, to attack until Reyne surrendered. Slowly drowning everyone inside, letting them run away from water filled rooms until they run out of room and air – that seriously breaches “unnecessary suffering”. It took days for them to die, and they died in terror. Tywin’s approach in sealing up the mines/castle also lacks distinction – he isn’t targeting military personnel, he’s indiscriminately killing EVERYONE associated with House Reyne. And finally: proportionality. The collateral damage of the loss of the local mines, the loss of the castle infrastructure, and salting/burning the fields so that no one could plant crops there again is way, way over the level of collateral damage that is acceptable in war.

      These principles are now articulated in the Geneva Conventions and specific treaties, but they are drawn from ancient customary law and the military rules of many, many armies throughout history. I strongly recommend reading through the International Committee of the Red Cross’ website on Customary Humanitarian Law (CHL), which gives great analysis of not just the current laws, but also where the modern LOAC came from. You can chart the use of the LOAC throughout history, and by doing so, we can see that these kinds of modern interpretations of these fundamental principles still apply to conflict in a medieval setting.

      And even if they don’t, you know what? It’s FICTION. Damn it, I want to apply the modern LOAC to a pop culture phenomenon because I’m bored and want to exercise the legal parts of my brain 🙂


      1. That’s a good point about the fact that when he let loose the Castamere unto the mines he sealed the only entrances. Therefore he is NOT giving them any way out or a chance to surrender once he begins to flood the mines. However, I definitely think that it is definitely a civil war, as multiple armed thousands on each side meet in battle, and the houses Reyne and Tarbeck specifically refuse to not only pay off their own debt, but discredit their Lord Paramount as their Lord Paramount.


  2. LadyKnitsALot says:

    It’s definitely a YMMV grey area. As I said, I don’t think it reaches the level of “armed conflict” as defined in the LOAC but others may well find it does. That’s cool.


  3. […] Aegon’s main problem with dissent and strife came in the Westerlands, where the cheerful and feckless Lord Tytos Lannister repeatedly failed to maintain the king’s peace (which is more or less the only real expectation of a Lord Paramount in a feudal state!) More discussion about this, and Tywin Lannister’s ruthless “solution” to his father’s inability to control the Westerland rioters, here. […]


    1. LadyKnitsALot says:

      My point is that even within a historical context, what Tywin does is a crime against humanity. If you look at the origins of our modern law of armed conflict and international criminal law, the roots of these fundamental principles are actually ancient, and rooted in the codes of chivalry of knights and whatnot. If you think about the vows that knights make in Westeros (best demonstrated when the pleasant Apple Fossoway is made a knight in The Hedge Knight) they call upon various ideas which are core to the law of armed conflict: war is bloody and horrible, but unnecessary suffering is to be avoided and only military targets are allowed. Women, children and non-combatants are protected and not to be targeted. Holy places (real world churches, temples, mosques etc, Westerosi Septs or Godswoods) are sanctuaries that must not, under any circumstances, be attacked by the military. And so on. The core 4 limbs of the law of armed conflict come from the same kind of “conduct yourself in a knightly fashion, even when you’re bludgeoning someone to death on the battlefield” thinking that we see in Westeros.


      1. I don’t disagree with you that even within the historical context what Tywin Lannister does is beyond the pale of the Westeosi. I have come from the blog of The Race For The Iron Throne and he tends to share your opinion on Tywin. He just does a better job of illustrating it by pointing out that histotian’s DO have to be wary of presentism and so he only uses contemporary examples for the most part, and not stuff like the modern dat Geneva Convention which through me off.
        For example the problem with the Sack Of King’s Landing from
        the point of view of a Westerosi, wasn’t that the sack was brutal. Sacks of castles were often brutal as commanders of that time, unlike now, had no way to hold back their troops after a long seige because of the frustration involved. Fuedal armies are different from modern day standing armies. The problem was that the whole point of opening the gates is to avoid a sack in the first place as that was why castles and cities surrendered in the first place. To AVOID what happens IF the city gets taken by seige. So to typical Westerosi it’s not so much that there was A sack, but a sack when a city had surrendered from the beginning. However from our modern perspectives with stuff like standing armies and the Geneva conventions, ANY kind of sack would be unacceptable which is how I read the way you put it. If I misunderstood you I apologize.


      2. LadyKnitsALot says:

        I think there are certainly parts of the Sack of KL that, while extremely distasteful, are ‘legal’ish enough within the medieval concept of the law of armed conflict that we can’t criticise the Lannister armies. BUT the rape and murder of Elia and her children is definitely not in the category. Sadly, much of medieval law of armed conflict is very gendered and classist – but as a Crown Princess, Elia Martell was absolutely a protected non-combatant, and she should have been safely detained and guarded, not raped and murdered. Dorne is right to hold a grudge for that. It’s completely fucked up. And yes, “completely fucked up” is my considered legal opinion 😉


      3. That happened at king’s landing? I thought it happened elsewhere? I agree it’s fucked up. But speaking of Dorne they are holding a grudge long after everyone involved in their families murder is dead. Talk about Revenge Before Reason. In any case have you read the Race For The Iron Throne? While I disagree on a few details here and there, it’s overall quite thought provoking.


      4. LadyKnitsALot says:

        Elia and her children were kept in King’s Landing by the Mad King (to ensure Dorne fought for him in the rebellion) and Tywin sent the Mountain and Lorch to go and “take care” of the princess and the kids. Dorne deserve that grudge. It’s not just that the Martell brothers’ sister was killed. It’s that the Dornish princess who was a protected non-combatant was killed in a war crime.

        Love Steven’s blog RFTIT.


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