A look at Game of Thrones armour

This post will look at armour in Game of Thrones TV series.

House Stark

Stark armour is very good. It consists of a mail shirt (hauberk), gambeson or arming doublet, and leather armor tunic which looks like it is capable of receiving metal inserts – in essence, a brigandine armor. This armor is appropriate for a not-so-rich house: mail armour is easy to make, and leather tunic with metal inserts provides protection that is almost as good as lamellar armour but is much simpler to make. Leather, if well-made and treated, may also protect the metal inserts from corrosion, which may be an issue in cold and damp North. Combination of gambeson and leather tunic also means that armor is warm, which makes it good for use in the cold North – although in battle, armour may become too warm.

There are no obvious weak points in the armour, and it also offers protection for upper legs. The helmet, being of bascinet type, has absolutely no face protection. While this makes it easy for soldier to see what is going on (albeit not necessarily hear, as helmet has no hearing holes), it also leaves him vulnerable to arrow fire. For this reason, a good idea would be adding a visor to the helmet. The original bascinet type helmet, which is used here and indeed had no face protection, could only get away with such setup because it had been worn under extremely protective – if also extremely heavy – greathelm. But once greathelms started to disappear, bascinets started gaining visors.

Fact that main armor consists of a series of small plates connected by flexible material helps agility. It also means that armour provides extremely limited protection against arrows as well as blunt attacks (morningstars, warhammers, etc.). However, as already mentioned, combination of mail shirt, padded gambenson and brigandine means that armor is relatively low-maintenance while still providing significant protection.

House Lannister

Lannister armour screams rich, rich, rich. Both red and gold are colours of luxury, since raw materials for these colours were so damn hard to get. Painting the armour also provides some level of anti-corrosion protection, which is an important consideration for plate armour. Armour itself has two main variants. First, the one I will dub “heavy” armour.

This armour is metal plate armour. Metal plates protect the upper torso, shoulders, and upper legs. Unlike often-repeated misconception, breastplate does not extend all the way  to bottom of the abdomen, which seems like it may be portrayed accurately here. However, gap between shoulder plates and breastplate is way too large for armour without maille. Plate structure of this armour is reminiscent of 14th century armour. In such armour, protection for gaps between plates would be provided by mail (maille, chainmail) additions, which were not necessarily used by Maximilian armour. It would also use armoured gauntlets, which are nowhere in evidence in the above armour. Leg protection may or may not be used.

While areas not covered by plates are covered by leather, it is quite clear that leather used is soft clothing leather, by no means adequate to defend against any weapons more solid than thrown excretment. In fact, historical boiled leather armor was often reminiscent of, if not identical in shape to, the metal plate armour of the period – while weaker, and only really good against bladed weapons, boiled leather has much of the same properties of the metal plate (it is large, inflexible piece of material), and was therefore utilized in very similar manner. In fact, linen would be much better material than soft leather to make armour out of.

Shield is relatively small, but appears to be strapped to the forearm, thus allowing it rigidity – unlike centrally-held shields, there is little chance of the enemy simply pushing it aside. However, large kite shields are also used, offering improved protection against archers as well as the ability to form a shield wall.

The “light” variant of armour is (supposed to be) leather armour.

Issues noted above apply to this armour to even greater extent. This armour is significantly inferior to both “heavy” Lannister armour and to Stark armour. It consists of, essentially, a helmet and a leather cuirass. Said cuirass, being made of soft leather, is useless as armour against anything more dangerous than thrown excretment. Rest of the uniform consists of cloth, which is likely either cotton or linen. While both materials could be made to make quite good armour, in this case this is merely clothing, and apparently not very thick clothing either. Overall, with the exception of helmet and (small) shield, soldiers are essentially unprotected.

Third variant is used by archers.

This is essentially the same as the “light” armour variant, with all its flaws. Another issue is the helmet – it offers even less protection than Stark bascinet helmet – none against blunt weapons, thanks to the fact that it is sitting right on the skull, and extremely limited against cutting weapons as any cut is likely to hit the face or take off the ear. Protection against arrows is likewise also limited, though still better than none.

House Baratheon of Dragonstone

This is my favourite armour in the series. It is not the best in terms of protection, but still better than some. It consists of mail armour reinforced with metal plate inserts. Metal plates seem to be added on top of the chain armour, and then connected with chain links to it. Plates do not cover the entirety of armour, but rather the most vital and/or exposed areas: namely, chest, abdomen, shoulders and forearms. Thus it offers good protection in melee as well as protection against arrows. Leg protection seems to be provided in form of hanging maille “skirt” extension to chain shirt. Many soldiers however seem to do with just helmet and chest plates, with little if any additional protection.

Helmet is open-faced, but has cheek guards as well as cap-like visor. As a result, it offers very good protection against swords and other cutting weapons, and limited protection against arrows, while allowing for good range of vision.

Third variant of armour is used by archers.

It appears to have a simple cap helmet, gambenson and chain shirt. Other than that details are hard to make out. This protection is good against cutting weapons, but less so against arrows, and useless against blunt weapons.

House Baratheon of Storm’s End

Now for usurpers.

Armour is full plate. Armour plate protects head, torso, shoulders, arms (upper, elbows, lower, fists) as well as lower leg and foot. Only knees and upper legs are not covered by full plate armour, but upper leg is covered by gambeson, leaving knees as the sole exposed part of body. While armour does have significant gaps at joints (underarm, elbow), these are covered by mail armour, and plate armour itself is no less extensive than 15th century plate armour in those places – as noted before, only leg protection is comparatively lacking. This however is much less of an issue, since 15th century men-at-arms often did away with leg protection, as can be seen from these images. Overall, this appears to be the most extensive armour so far.

House Arryn of Vale

This armour has heavy metal plate protecting head and torso, with what seems to be mail coif providing additional protection for the neck area. Shoulder, arm and leg protection however appears to be heavy linen cloth. This armour should provide excellent protection against cutting attacks. Extensive usage of linen may cause issues against blunt and stabbing weapons as well as arrows – linen armour provided no protection against arrows, though it could make arrow extraction easier (provided the person survived). However, plate armour protection for head and torso should ensure that any such hits are against largely non-vital areas, though a hit in the wrong place could still cause the person to bleed out.

Large round shield is an interesting choice for people wearing such armour – though it is still much smaller than Greek hoplon, it should still be around the size of Macedonian phalangite shield.

House Greyjoy of Iron Islands

Greyjoy armour is a partial plate armour, failry similar to house Lannister. It appears to consist of plate cuirass and pauldrons, with no mail in evidence. It is unclear whether cloth portion is a form of gambeson or not; if it is, armour would indeed provide adequate, though not top-level, protection. In that case, protection may even be considered superior to top-level Lannister armour. If it is not, then Greyjoy armour is just below Lannister heavy armour in terms of protection (or would be, if they bothered wearing helmets).

House Frey

This armour uses simple bowl helmet combined with gambeson or arming doublet with some sort of leather armour on top. Since leather is soft, it would actually be useless as armour, leaving them with effectively just gambeson. Such a setup would not be unknown for medieval soldiers, but apparent lack of shields – neither my memory nor Google could provide a single scene with Frey soldiers carrying shields – would leave them woefully vulnerable to archers.

House Bolton

This “armour” is essentially as good as it can be, albeit only in one direction. Moving onto actual armour…

Bolton armour appears to consist of steel helmet and gambeson. Soft leather tunic/whatever would provide no protection whatsoever. Gambeson is shorter than some previous examples, ending slightly above the knee for soldier in background, though there might be some variation. Overall, armour would provide good protection against cutting attacks as well as good mobility, but latter would be compromised by the need to rely on large square shield (pavis) for protection against archers – the only part of armour which does protect against arrows is steel helmet, and that does not protect face, even if it does do better job than some other examples.

House Tyrell

Tyrell armor is a partial plate armour. Plate armour protects head, torso and forearm, with additional protection being provided by mail. Maille covers torso, upper legs and arms. There is also plate armour knee protection, but other than that lower leg appears to be completely unprotected. Seeing how shield is comparatively small, the only explanation for the lack of leg protection would be to improve mobility, or possibly reduce costs. Much like all other armour so far, this could leave them vulnerable to crippling – though likely not (immediately) lethal – injuries from arrows.

House Martell

House Martell soldiers appear to wear no armour, and are thus irrelevant.

House Tully

House Tully appears to use a combination of scale armour and maille. Mail armour consists of a coif and hauberk. Fishscale armour on top consists of two parts, a hauberk and shoulder protection. Underneat mail is some sort of gambeson. Armour has no leg protection, and its ability to defeat arrows would be somewhat limited thanks to small(ish) scales on armour. Scales themselves seem to be sewn only to cloth, not to each other, thus reducing stiffness of armour and its ability to defeat blunt impacts and arrows alike. This setup would however increase agility. Lack of helmet is worrying.

Kingsguard of King’s Landing

Armour offers very good protection to torso, though pauldrons are somewhat small(ish). Plate armour is also used for forearm protection, but upper arms and upper legs are protected by scale armour.  This makes Kingsguard armour similar but superior to Tyrell armour in terms of protection. As in most other plate armours discussed, lack of underarm/armpit protection is conscipious, as is general lack of mail armour to protect areas which are not covered by plate or scale armour.

The Unsullied

The most feared tactically incompetent army in the show. The Unsullied are supposed to fight in a manner similar to Greek hoplites, but their formations are too lose for that, much more akin to those of ancient Roman legion – and that is when they do not break formation alltogether. Further, centrally-gripped shield provides limited stability in exchange for increased freedom of movement. While this would make sense for fighters fighting in an individualistic manner, it makes little sense for phalanx formation. Instead, Unsullied should be using either a similarly-sized shield strapped to forearm – thus allowing them to use two-handed pike – or else a much larger, hoplon-style shield.

Helmet offers very good face protection, and while it does restrict speech and hearing, these may not be crucial for an army supposed to fight in a relatively immobile phalanx formation. However, armour itself is made from soft leather, making it useless as a form of protection.

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