Spoilers ahead for last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.
Pour a cask of Dornish red out for Ser Barristan Selmy, who, in a deviation from the book, was killed by the Sons of the Harpy in a Meereenese alleyway as he came to the rescue of his old pal Grey Worm. Game of Thrones spent four seasons offhandedly referencing Ser Barristan’s combat prowess, and last night’s stand was fitting proof of his skills — by our count, he single-handedly took out at least ten harpies before being cut down himself (watch him in action here). But before his moment of glory, Ser Barristan’s long history of badassery never got the depiction it deserved on GOT; at times, it seemed like his greatest talent was being a one-man encyclopedia of House Targaryen trivia. To honor our fallen hero’s memory, here’s a rundown of the accomplishments that made Ser Barristan the most feared fighter in Westeros.
As the eldest son of Lord Lyonel Selmy, Barristan was trained in arms from a young age, and he entered his first joust at 10 — in disguise. (The stunt earned him the nickname “Barristan the Bold,” from a Targaryen prince who admired his chutzpah.) From there, Barristan became the Mozart of hitting things with a sword. He was knighted at 16 for his tournament prowess, and soon after, he saw his first battlefield action in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, in which a cabal of warlords from Essos attempted to claim the Iron Throne for two-headed pretender Maelys the Monstrous. It was here that Ser Barristan killed a man for the first time; as he recalled to King Robert back in season one, he drove a lance through the heart of a Tyroshi sellsword. Then he slew Maelys in single combat, putting an end to the war and becoming the most famous non-Targaryen in all of Westeros. You know how in Game of Thrones, everyone shuts down notions of romantic glory by saying “they don’t sing songs about” something or another? From that moment on, Ser Barristan was the kind of guy they do sing songs about.
Selmy’s heroics earned him a spot on the Kingsguard, the most prestigious honor in Westeros for any knight who doesn’t mind being a virgin for the rest of his life. (Admittedly, some Kingsguard are looser on this rule than others. Jaime Lannister, for example, employed the revolutionary, “It doesn’t count if it’s with your twin sister” loophole.) But knights who swear an oath of celibacy have crushes like anyone else, and for a time, Selmy’s heart lingered on a highborn lady named Ashara Dayne, a beautiful Dornishwoman who’s also a dark-horse candidate for Jon Snow’s mother. (Ned Stark was among one of her many admirers.)
Coincidentally, Ashara’s brother was Ser Arthur Dayne, the other legendary Kingsguard of the era, and one of the best fighters in Westerosi history. Though the two men got along cordially by all accounts, that hasn’t stopped fans from constantly debating which one of them would win in a fight. (George R.R. Martin has said that Dayne would win if he got to use his famous sword made from a meteor, but that if they two were using the same weapons, it would be evenly matched.) The two men teamed up to take down the Kingswood Brotherhood (think Robin Hood, but menacing) — Selmy killed the Brotherhood’s leader, Simon Toyne, with a counter-riposte, and Dayne dueled their scariest member, the Smiling Knight, to the death. Squiring on this mission was a young Jaime Lannister, who remained in awe of Selmy the rest of his life. As he recalled in season two, Ser Barristan was “a painter who only used red.”
Selmy’s finest act as a Kingsguard came a few years earlier, during an incident known as the Defiance of Duskendale. After the lord of Duskendale refused to pay his taxes, Mad King Aerys II (who at the time was still just the Slightly Eccentric King) ventured to the town with a small force of soldiers, and was promptly captured upon arrival. Against the advice of Tywin Lannister, who wanted to get his “Rains of Castamere” on, Ser Barristan sneaked into the castle under cover of darkness, killed all the guards, and rescued Aerys from the dungeon. In retaliation, Aerys had every member of the houses involved in the Defiance executed — except for Dontos Hollard, only a child at the time, whose life was spared by Barristan’s personal request. Ser Dontos didn’t go on to do a whole lot with his new lease on life, but it’s the thought that counts.
The Defiance of Duskendale tipped Aerys fully over into insanity and paranoia, but like his sworn brothers, Selmy served steadfast at the side of his horrible king. He remained loyal to the Targaryens during Robert’s Rebellion, and he was severely wounded fighting alongside Rhaegar Targaryen at the Battle of the Trident. Roose Bolton, always a charmer, suggested killing Ser Barristan then and there, but Robert Baratheon admired the older man’s legend, and not only spared his life but appointed him Lord Commander of his new Kingsguard. Except for Jaime Lannister, every other member of the group had been killed in the war, and with five vacancies to fill (and many of the best knights in the realm recently dead) Ser Barristan found himself at the head of a diminished Kingsguard. Still, Selmy served honorably and professionally for 17 more years. He was winning tourneys against the best knights in the realm well into his middle age, and cut down more than his fair share of Ironborn during the Greyjoy rebellion.
Having defended the royal family from bandits, invaders, and rebel lords, Ser Barristan was nevertheless unable to prevent King Robert from being killed by a boar, and he held himself accountable for the king’s death for the rest of his tenure in the Kingsguard — which, it turns out, would only be a few more days. After decades of service, he was dismissed from his post in a Lannister coup, providing the best “I quit” speech since Half Baked. In his last act of heroism in Westeros, Ser Barristan swiftly dispatched the Lannister assassins sent after him, and made his way over to Essos to serve the last Targaryen. “I’ve burned away my years fighting for terrible kings,” he told Jorah Mormont in season three. “Just once in my life, before it’s over, I want to know what it’s like to serve with pride, to fight for someone I believe in.” In serving Daenerys, Ser Barristan finally got the ending he wished for in season one: He lived a knight, and he died a knight.