One of the main traits that makes A Song of Ice and Fire such a compelling series is how it overturns and re-examines the familiar fantasy tropes that have endured for so many years. However, despite the various knightly characters who are unworthy of knightly honors, Barristan Selmy is an example of those tropes brought to life.
However, Selmy is hardly cliché or one-note. He is an honorable character who undergoes an incredible reflection as he tracks down Daenerys Targaryen to fight for her and restore House Targaryen. So, what do you really know about Selmy? Keep reading to find out!
1. As Played by
Most people will know Selmy through the performance on Game of Thrones by Ian McElhinney. He acted in the first five seasons of the series until he was killed off. This is despite the fact that Selmy is still alive in the books as of May 2019.
2. What’s in a Nickname?
During the books and the TV series, Selmy is known by two different monikers, one flattering and one demeaning. The first moniker was “Barristan the Bold,” while the more recent nickname is a mockery of the former: “Barristan the Old.” We can assume nobody calls Selmy by the latter nickname to his face.
3. How Does That Silver Spoon Taste?
Selmy was born in the Stormlands. It’s unknown how old he is, but his birth year was either 236 or 237 AC. He was the firstborn son of Ser Lyonel Selmy, but he would give up all rights to lands or titles when he became a member of the Kingsguard.
4. I Know the Look of Him
Based on his description in the books, Selmy is an old man with white hair that used to be blond. He is taller than Ser Jorah Mormont, but isn’t as bulky or muscular. Even for his age, he is considered to be strong, agile, and skilled at arms.
5. Barristan the Monster-Killer
Selmy played a crucial role in the War of the Ninepenny Kings when he was the one to kill Maelys Blackfyre, better known as Maelys the Monstrous. Maelys also happens to be the last male to bear the name Blackfyre, which was a cadet branch of House Targaryen that spent generations trying to conquer the Iron Throne for themselves.
With the death of Maelys at the hands of Selmy, the Blackfyre wars came to an official close.
6. Welcome to the Club!
Selmy joined the Kingsguard when he was 23 years old. He was sworn in by the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard at the time, Ser Gerold Hightower.
7. From Third to First
Fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books will know that Selmy is not only an important supporting character, but his point of view narrates several chapters in the fifth book A Dance with Dragons. George R.R. Martin has also released a chapter from his upcoming The Winds of Winter in which Selmy is a POV character again.
8. Which Is It?
As far as the books are concerned, there is some confusion about whether Selmy’s house is a knightly or noble house. Initially, it was implied that House Selmy is only a knightly house (meaning that the head of the house is only called “Ser” rather than “Lord”). However, in the fifth book A Dance with Dragons, House Selmy is described as a noble house.
So, either they got a promotion during the series, or this is an inconsistency!
9. Born Warriors
Assuming that Selmy’s house is a noble house, this would make House Selmy one of the marcher lords. These are a group of houses that reside in the Dornish Marches, the region near Dorne, which has been a battlefield and raiding ground for untold centuries. The marcher lords are a group of highly military-focused houses from the Stormlands and the Reach, which produce some of the best warriors in Westeros.
In case you’re curious, these marcher lords are House Selmy, House Caron, House Peake, House Tarly, House Swann, and House Dondarrion.
10. Call Me Ishmael- Er, I Mean Arstan
In the TV show, Selmy immediately reveals his identity to Daenerys Targaryen. However, in the books, he assumes a false identity as an elderly squire to the sellsword known as Strong Belwas (a character omitted from the show). In case you’re curious, Selmy assumes the name “Arstan Whitebeard.”
11. Where in the World Is Barristan Selmy?
After he is dismissed from the Kingsguard, Selmy’s actions are unknown for quite some time in the books and show. It isn’t mentioned in Game of Thrones, but Renly Baratheon was hoping that he could welcome Selmy into his own Kingsguard. Later, he suspects that Selmy is with his elder brother, Stannis, and gives orders that Selmy is to be spared if and when the brothers battle each other.
This battle never happens, however, and Renly dies never knowing where Selmy truly was.
12. The Master to the Apprentice
During his childhood, Selmy was a squire for Ser Manfred Swann, a knight from another marcher house. We don’t know much about Ser Manfred at all, but if this was the guy who helped train Selmy, then he must have been a legendary knight in his own right.
13. The Way I Saw It
Aside from his appearance in Game of Thrones, Ian McElhinney has portrayed Selmy in a special series of videos crafted for the Blu-ray release of the fifth season. These videos detail the history and lore of the series, as told by various characters in the show. As Selmy, McElhinney narrates Selmy’s point of view on Robert’s Rebellion.
14. Successful Senior Citizen
Despite his advanced age, Selmy continues to be proficient in arms and jousting. In 297 AC, the 57-year-old Selmy unhorsed Sandor Clegane in the final tilts of a tourney in King’s Landing to become the overall champion.
15. Wait, What?!
When the fifth season was being prepared, and filming dates were sent to the actors, Ian McElhinney was surprised to note that his filming dates accounted for just half a season’s worth of scenes. It wasn’t until he followed up with the showrunners that he found out that Selmy would be killed off that season.
16. Feeling Shortchanged
Given that McElhinney had read the books religiously, he was fully aware of the expanded role that Selmy has in the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. As a result, he has openly expressed his disappointment over the fact that these storylines were mostly abandoned in the TV show. To be fair, any actor would honestly be a bit let down by the absence of screen time.
17. Get Him out of Here
While Selmy seems to have a respectful and courteous relationship with Jaime Lannister in the first season of Game of Thrones, the exact opposite situation occurs in the books. Prior to Robert’s Rebellion, Selmy disapproves of Jaime being initiated into the Kingsguard at such a young age. But it only gets worse from then on.
After Jaime kills the Mad King, Selmy is convinced that the Lannister heir should have been sent to the Wall for his ghastly crime.
18. I Was There
Selmy was present for one of Jaime Lannister’s first experiences in combat. When Jaime was just 16, he served as a squire for Selmy.
19. The Odds Aren’t Great
Apart from Jaime Lannister, Selmy is the only survivor of King Aerys II Targaryen’s Kingsguard following Robert’s Rebellion. With the death of Gerold Hightower, Selmy is promoted to Lord Commander of the Kingsguard under King Robert Baratheon.
The last we’ve seen of Selmy in the books, he is leading the forces of Meereen who are loyal to Daenerys Targaryen against the forces besieging the city. These enemies include the Sons of the Harpy, as well as the armies of New Ghis, Yunkai, Qarth, and several mercenary companies. It remains to be seen who wins that battle.
21. My Forbidden Love
One of Selmy’s biggest secrets is the passion he felt for Ashara Dayne. Ashara was the sister of Arthur Dayne, a fellow member of the Kingsguard. Selmy couldn’t do anything about it, as he was forbidden to take a wife or have intimate relations as a member of the Kingsguard, but he nevertheless interacted with the noblewoman at public events.
22. Never Meet Your Heroes
Before his fall from the tower, Bran Stark was meant to join his father and sisters in King’s Landing. According to Bran’s inner monologue, what excites him the most about going south to the capital is that he’ll get to meet Selmy, whom he considers to be the greatest knight alive. As you can imagine, he never does end up meeting his idol in the series, at least thus far.
23. Duty Over Marriage
Before Selmy joined the Kingsguard, he had been engaged to marry someone as the heir to House Selmy. When he abandoned his claim to the house by joining the Kingsguard, his fiancée was instead married to Selmy’s cousin.
24. Joining the Fray
Unlike several of his fellow Kingsguard, Selmy took part in the Battle of the Trident alongside Rhaegar Targaryen. Despite being wounded by all manner of weapons, Selmy killed many of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark’s allies.
25. Don’t Do It
In Game of Thrones, Selmy admits that he never sat on the Small Council of King Robert Baratheon, even though the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard normally does so. In the books, however, Selmy actively participates in the Small Councils, taking Ned Stark’s side when he protests the assassination attempt on Daenerys Targaryen’s life.
26. Aw, Good for You
Selmy’s career as a fighter began when he was just 10 years old. At a tourney held in Blackhaven, the boy Selmy put on a suit of armor and rode the lists as a mystery knight. While most of the attendants laughed at the pint-sized knight, Prince Duncan Targaryen was impressed by the boy’s courage and jousted him to be a good sport.
Duncan also gave Selmy the moniker “Barristan the Bold.”
27. In the Name of the Warrior
Six years after he’d gotten his chance to try out jousting thanks to the benevolent Prince Duncan Targaryen, Selmy would cross lances with the prince in a tourney held at King’s Landing. This time, the teenaged Selmy was more successful. He didn’t just unhorse Prince Duncan, but also the legendary leader of the Kingsguard, Ser Duncan the Tall.
Unsurprisingly, Selmy was knighted for his accomplishments that day.
One of Selmy’s finest hours came during the Defiance of Duskendale. The lord of Duskendale at the time was Lord Denys Darklyn, and he had a dispute with the Iron Throne over taxes. When Lord Denys invited King Aerys II to visit Duskendale to discuss the matter face-to-face, Lord Tywin Lannister strongly advised against Aerys going.
Already sick of his Hand, Aerys did the opposite and went to Duskendale. In a sudden twist that no one saw coming, the king was taken hostage by Lord Denys.
29. Mission Impossible: Duskendale
For six months, King Aerys II Targaryen was held captive in the fort at Duskendale while Tywin’s forces surrounded the castle, probably muttering “I told you so” under their breaths. But Tywin couldn’t attack; the king’s life was under threat. The standoff was only resolved when Selmy mounted a daring one-man mission to infiltrate the castle of Duskendale, free the king, and smuggle him outside.
Incredibly, Selmy was successful, getting Aerys II to safety against all the odds.
30. Far-Reaching Consequences
Freed from his imprisonment thanks to Selmy’s efforts, the Mad King Aerys was utterly without mercy toward the people of Duskendale, specifically the members of House Darklyn and House Hollard. Both these families were completely exterminated, except for a young boy named Dontos Hollard. Selmy, using the boon granted to him by the King for his heroism, begged the Mad King to spare the young Hollard.
You might remember Hollard as the drunkard who helps smuggle Sansa out of King’s Landing after Joffrey’s death.
31. Do Your Research
While some actors involved in Game of Thrones made it a point not to read the books and confuse themselves over what was canon in the TV show, Ian McElhinney dived into the series in preparation for his character. McElhinney felt it was more enriching to know his character as best he could to properly portray Selmy onscreen.
32. It was You?
It isn’t as clearly stated in the TV series, but the decision to dismiss Selmy from the Kingsguard was a scheme not only to allow for Jaime Lannister to become the new Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, but also to initiate Sandor Clegane into the guard (despite his not being a knight). Selmy is disgusted by all of this, leading him to storm off.
Interestingly, the original plan to have him dismissed came from none other than Varys, the Master of Whisperers.
33. A Good Reason
You might be wondering why Varys arranged for Selmy to be dismissed from the small council. It’s revealed in the books that Varys actually intended for Selmy to seek out Daenerys Targaryen as a ruler to put his faith in. This is why Varys’s close friend, Illyrio Mopatis, sends Selmy to Daenerys in the company of Strong Belwas.
34. To the Stage
In 2016, Ian McElhinney was part of a revival of the classic play Gaslight, which ran in North America. Starring alongside McElhinney in this drama was actor Owen Teale, who played Ser Alliser Thorne in Game of Thrones. Though neither of these characters ever cross paths in the books or TV series, both men were knights who fought for House Targaryen during Robert’s Rebellion.
It’s a small, small Westeros.
35. It’s Not Personal
Despite Selmy’s personal valor, the royal army lost the Battle of the Trident when Robert Baratheon killed Prince Rhaegar Targaryen in single combat. Selmy himself was so grievously wounded that he could not retreat from the field. Roose Bolton, who fought in the battle for Eddard Stark, suggested that Selmy be killed due to his danger as an opponent.
Robert, however, had so much respect for the old knight that he had his own maester tend to Selmy’s wounds. Keep in mind that Robert was badly wounded himself, so it was a pretty generous gesture to a guy who’d killed several of his friends.
36. Strong Feelings
Despite Robert Baratheon’s generous treatment of Selmy after the Battle of the Trident, Selmy was fully prepared to kill the man later in the aftermath of Robert’s Rebellion. Selmy was so badly wounded that he wasn’t even able to attend the moment when Robert sat victoriously upon the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. This meant he wasn’t there for the darkest moment of the Rebellion.
Selmy wasn’t there, that is, when Tywin Lannister infamously presented the bodies of Prince Rhaegar’s murdered children, Rhaenys and Aegon, to the new king as proof of the security of his crown. In his own reflections, Selmy thinks that if he’d been present and watched as Robert smiled to see the needlessly dead children, no force on earth would have stopped him from killing the Baratheon monarch.
Could you blame him?
37. Paths Untaken
Throughout the novels, Selmy has moments of reflection on his failures in life, and how actions he took had consequences far beyond his wildest dreams. One of the most prominent of these examples was his heroic rescue of King Aerys II from Duskendale. While he is in Meereen, Selmy wonders how much ill might have been avoided if he’d never rescued the Mad King from captivity.
This would have allowed the sane Prince Rhaegar Targaryen to become king when his father died, perhaps saving thousands of lives.
38. What Might Have Been
At the infamous tourney of Harrenhal, where the victorious Prince Rhaegar Targaryen bypassed his own wife to crown Lyanna Stark the queen of love and beauty, Selmy had actually been hoping to crown Ashara Dayne with this honor if he’d won the tourney. But Selmy’s loss in the tourney had enormous consequence beyond this.
One of Selmy’s biggest regrets in life is being defeated by Rhaegar in the tourney, not just because he lost out on showing his love for Ashara, but also because if he’d prevented Rhaegar from crowning Lyanna, he might have prevented Robert’s Rebellion from happening.
39. How Does the Tinfoil Hat Feel on Your Head?
Recently, Ian McElhinney made a rather incredible claim about the state of George R.R. Martin’s final two books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. According to the actor, Martin has actually finished both The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, but agreed to withhold them until the final season of Game of Thrones was completed.
This theory, though highly implausible, took the Internet by storm—until Martin himself denied the rumors. Of course, that doesn’t prove anything, so we’ll see what happens in the coming months…
40. Double Agent
Fans of Game of Thrones will remember how dramatic it was when Daenerys learned about Ser Jorah Mormont’s betrayal of her in the early seasons. However, it wasn’t done quite the same way in the books. Selmy, AKA Arstan Whitebeard, is outed by Ser Jorah, whereupon he immediately takes revenge by snitching on Ser Jorah in return.
This is done during the siege of Yunkai, so an enraged Daenerys decides to send them both into the fortress through the plumbing, hoping they will both die in the sewers.
41. Kneel Before Your Queen
Upon the completion of the siege of Yunkai, Daenerys receives the victorious Selmy and Ser Jorah, and offers them forgiveness if they apologize hard enough. While Selmy is quick to comply, Ser Jorah refuses to apologize for his past actions, as he’s convinced that all he’d done since then more than balanced the scales.
This leads to Daenerys banishing Ser Jorah.
42. Just a Test
You might be wondering why Selmy hid his identity from Daenerys in the first place. It’s revealed by Selmy himself that he is fully aware of the potential madness that Targaryens can suffer from, and he wanted to make sure that Daenerys wasn’t mad like her father had been. But he may have had even further reasons to hide his true identity.
According to Selmy, he also didn’t want the Lannisters to discover he was helping Daenerys.