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“It takes no time to bend the knee.”
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) brings up a great point. The physical act of bowing before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) would require very little time at all. If that was the only consideration, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would look like a very stubborn Northern fool indeed. But it’s not the only consideration.
It’s appropriate that the historic first meeting between Jon and Daenerys contains so much talk about history. Despite her lack of a formal education, the Mother of Dragons evokes the story of the last man who held the title of King in the North — the last man until the late Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and the temporarily late Jon Snow, that is. His name was Torrhen Stark, and as Dany rightly points out, he set aside his crown and forged an alliance with the first Targaryen king, ending the North’s reign as its own completely sovereign nation. But to say it took no time at all for Torrhen Stark to bend the knee to Aegon the Conqueror would be far from accurate.
The World of Ice and Fire, the veritable encyclopedia on all things Westeros and beyond written by George R.R. Martin with Westeros.org’s Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson, chronicles the events of Aegon Targaryen’s conquest in great detail, including Torrhen Stark’s decision to relinquish the title of King in the North. It comes only after Aegon has already bent many of the other lands in what would become known as the Seven Kingdoms to his will, most impressively during the Field of Fire, a battle that earned its name due to the devastation caused by the Targaryen’s dragons.
At the time of Aegon’s invasion, King Torrhen assembled his army of Northerners to march south upon the Dragon King. When he and his allies arrived at the Trident, Torrhen learned about what happened during the Field of Fire (which, by the way, Aegon won with very few casualties, despite the fact that the forces in the Reach outnumbered the Targaryen’s army by tens of thousands of men; dragons are pretty handy, in case you didn’t know), and swiftly realized that the war was lost. Days of negotiations took place in back channels, before Torrhen himself crossed the Trident to meet Aegon.
“There upon the south bank of the Trident, he knelt, laid the ancient crown of the Kings of Winter at Aegon’s feet, and swore to be his man,” writes Archmaester Gyldayn, the presumed author of the Ice and Fire, in the account of Aegon’s conquest. “He rose as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, a king no more. From that day to this day, Torrhen Stark is remembered as the King Who Knelt … but no Northman left his burned bones beside the Trident, and the swords Aegon collected from Lord Stark and his vassals were not twisted or melted or bent [in tribute to the Iron Throne].”
All’s well that ends well, right? Except Torrhen’s decision to kneel wasn’t without some fallout. It’s reported that his own sons were furious with their father’s choice to bend the knee and end thousands of years of Northern independence. What’s more, several Northerners refused to bend the knee and instead opted for a lifetime of exile across the Narrow Sea, forming the Company of the Rose, an organization of sellswords. Of course, for his own part, Torrhen became known as the King Who Knelt in the pages of history in perpetuity, which means forever. Not the most flattering branding for his legacy, even if his actions saved the lives of countless Northerners, making it possible for future generations to exist.
Yes, Torrhen bent the knee and surrendered the crown, but only after exploring other efforts, and not without consequence. For Jon to make the trip down to Dragonstone and bend the knee to Daenerys after nothing more than one tense conversation, he would almost certainly return to a North even angrier in than the days of Torrhen. If you thought the King Who Knelt was bad branding, try on the Bastard King Who Knelt for size. Jon Snow isn’t much for names, titles and legacies, but he’s all in on defeating the White Walkers and protecting his people — an effort he can’t accomplish if his people aren’t on his side.
Oh, by the way, one more consequence of Torrhen Stark bending the knee: It resulted in the construction of a tavern on the spot where Torrhen bowed before Aegon the Conqueror, known as the Inn of the Kneeling Man — the very same establishment that employs the best baker in Westeros.
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