Broken men

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Broken men, as defined by Septon Meribald, are wartime outlaws who began as smallfolk conscripts, but fled service for a life of brigandry.[1]

When banners are called for war, friends follow friends, brothers follow brothers, and sons follow fathers. Armed with only the most rudimentary equipment (from a stolen kitchen knife to a sharpened hoe to a stick with a rock tied to the end), they fight a thankless battle against disease and armored knights until one day they break. Sometimes they break in their first battle, sometimes in their hundredth. Watching their friends die, or perhaps entering the service of an unfamiliar lord when their original liege dies, the broken man runs away in the heat of battle or sneaks off in the dead of night. Having become accustomed to living off the land of the smallfolk where the war is being fought, it is a small adjustment for the broken man to begin stealing their daughters, or killing for what he likes. Often, without really knowing where he is or how to get back to his village, the broken man forgets all thought of home and simply becomes a bandit. Although bands of broken men are liable to form in any extended campaign, they tend not to survive the peace, as local lords ride home to bring peace to their lands.[1]

Recent events

A Storm of Swords

The innkeep at the inn of the Kneeling Man warns Jaime Lannister, Brienne Tarth and Cleos Frey to stay clear of the kingsroad because of the wolves, lions and broken men preying upon travelers.[2]

Sandor Clegane dismisses the brotherhood without banners as a sorry lot of outlaws and broken men.[3]

A Feast for Crows

Ser Harwyn Plumm clears Darry from the broken men that had taken residence in the castle.[4]

In the aftermath of the Red Wedding and the raid on Saltpans, some broken men who stay at the inn at the Crossroads are hanged with salt in their mouths by the brotherhood without banners, despite believing they had been under the protection of guest right.[5][6]