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In A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, when Tyrion Lannister visits Winterfell on the way back from the Wall:

“Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay,” Robb was saying with the voice of Robb the Lord. His sword was across his knees, the steel bare for all the world to see. Even Bran knew what it meant to greet a guest with an unsheathed sword.

What did it mean to do so? Is this a point of medieval Western tradition of hospitality that's being referenced here, or something internal to the Seven Kingdoms that's as yet unexplained?

  • Might the symbolism tag be better than character-motivation here? – Rand al'Thor Jan 21 '17 at 14:25
  • @Randal'Thor probably... I couldn't figure out what to tag this as – muru Jan 21 '17 at 14:26
  • I've replaced symbolism by meaning, since I think the symbolism tag should be for asking about the out-of-universe (literary) symbolism of things in a story, rather than the in-universe significance of a symbolic act. I'm not sure about this though, so feel free to rollback and/or take it to meta. – Rand al'Thor Jun 30 '17 at 13:20
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This is a sign of hostility. Times are hard between the Starks and Tyrion at this time, since Tyrion is suspected for trying to murder Bran earlier in the book.

The scene that follows between Rob and Tyrion is filled with hostile comments, glares, and movements. This is hinted at in the unsheathed sword quote; the hospitality laws are very important in Westeros, and so greeting with an unsheathed sword is like saying "I want to kill you, but unfortunately it's illegal." Here's a quote from later in the chapter, after Tyrion gives Bran a pretty awesome gift:

“Is this some trap, Lannister? What’s Bran to you? Why should you want to help him?”

In addition, the very quote in your answer hints at this. Saying that any man of the Watch is welcome is all but slamming the door in Tyrion's face, since Tyrion is not of the Watch.


Edit: Thanks to this answer on Scifi.SE for this material!

A lord with a bared sword across his knees is making a traditional sign that he is denying guest right

from here. The guest right is sacred in Westeros, and Robb later sheathes his sword, inviting Tyrion in.

Robb Stark finally sheathed his sword. “I . . . I may have been hasty with you,” he said. “You’ve done Bran a kindness, and, well . . .” Robb composed himself with an effort. “The hospitality of Winterfell is yours if you wish it, Lannister.”

  • The hostility is pretty obvious - what I'm interested is if it has a specific meaning - like the "I want to kill you..." one you claim. So I'd like sources, please. – muru Jan 20 '17 at 20:01
  • @muru What kind of sources would you like other than the book? Messages like this are rarely specific phrases, more like a general feeling of hostility. – CHEESE Jan 20 '17 at 20:02
  • for example, any actual historic instance of such an action, so interpreted in some published work. Even another instance in the book itself which has more explanation would be fine (but, iirc, there's nothing of the sort in any of the ASOIAF books) – muru Jan 20 '17 at 20:05
  • @muru That better? – CHEESE Jan 20 '17 at 20:15
  • 1
    yes, that's much better - it's a Word of God answer now, since that link cites westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/1272 – muru Jan 20 '17 at 20:23
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Tyrion tells us in his own response to Robb...

It means he is not welcome and as a sign disrespect.

"Any man of the Night's Watch," the dwarf repeated, "but not me, do I take your meaning, boy?"

Robb even goes as far as to point the sword directly at Tyrion making the threat perfectly clear.

Robb stood and pointed at the little man with his sword. "I am the lord here while my mother and father are away, Lannister. I am not your boy."

"If you are a lord, you might learn a lord's courtesy," the little man replied, ignoring the sword point in his face. "Your bastard brother has all your father's graces, it would seem."

Tyrion in well aware of what is going on even takes a small verbal jab at Robb to which Robb jabs right back.

"Jon," Bran gasped out from Hodor's arms.

The dwarf turned to look at him. "So it is true, the boy lives. I could scarce believe it. You Starks are hard to kill."

"You Lannisters had best remember that," Robb said, lowering his sword. "Hodor, bring my brother here."

It is not until after Tyrion presents Bran with the special saddle does Robb soften.

Robb Stark finally sheathed his sword. "I … I may have been hasty with you," he said. "You've done Bran a kindness, and, well …" Robb composed himself with an effort. "The hospitality of Winterfell is yours if you wish it, Lannister."

But Tyrion has already had enough of Robb and leaves anyway.

"Spare me your false courtesies, boy. You do not love me and you do not want me here. I saw an inn outside your walls, in the winter town. I'll find a bed there, and both of us will sleep easier.


This is all confirmed directly by George R. R. Martin at an event with fans.

Another subject was guest rights. He mentioned the time the Tyrion came to Winterfell and Robb met him with bare steel across his lap. That meant that there was no guest rights for Tyrion.

So Spake Martin, ARCHON MEETING, October 5, 2001

  • It's arguably more than just disrespect. In that scene where Greatjon Umber unsheaths his sword (and gets attacked by Robb's direwolf), IIRC Robb does say something specifically about the sword to the effect that Greatjon took out his sword to cut meat for his lord. Not sure if that was in the books, though. Nice answer! – muru Feb 17 '18 at 0:25

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