The continent of Westeros, where the largest parts of the books take place, has a culture and level of technology that is based on Northwestern Europe in the Middle Ages. The dozens of tournaments that are described or mentioned in the series are important social events, and form the background of many of the major plot developments. For the knights, the tourney outcomes are an important part of their personal history.
Martin's descriptions of these tournament vary wildly. Some, like the Hand's tourney in A Game of Thrones or the Ashford tourney in The Hedge Knight are part of the basic plot, and narrated first hand. Martin describes their spectacular pageantry in vivid detail that is characteristic of his style in A Song of Ice and Fire, often mentioning of the heraldry and the armour of individual entrants, and the results of every tilt. Other tourneys of pivotal significance, like the Harrenhal Tourney, are described piecemeal in flashbacks by various characters, and the reader must assemble the information from numerous small fragments.
Formats and rules
The central event of most Westerosi tournaments is jousting, where two armored knights aim to knock each other off their mounts with a jousting lance, continuing on foot with a variety of blunted weapons. However, many forms of tournaments are known, including mock battles between teams of knights, archery competitions or mêlées, where many warriors fight individually in one large battle. Many tournaments are large events that take several days and may include several different competitions.
Many tournaments pit pairs of warriors in rounds, where the loser is eliminated and the winner proceeds to the next round. The winner of the last round is declared champion. This is similar to how many tournaments in real life were performed, with exception of the best-of-three rule; see jousting. Another popular format was used at Ashford. This type of tournament starts with five champions who defend the honor of a woman, often a daughter of the Lord who arranges the tournament. Other participants can challenge one of the champions to a joust, and if successful take his place. At the end of the tournament, the five remaining champions either confirm the original Queen of Love and Beauty, or chose a new.
In many tournaments, the loser of a joust forfeits his horse and armour to the winner, thus jeopardizing a considerable part of his possessions.
Some Westerosi tournaments are open only to anointed knights, whose privileges are jealously guarded; this forms an important plot element in The Hedge Knight. Indeed, tournament culture is closely connected to chivalric tradition and its spiritual basis, the Andal Faith in the Seven Gods. These traditions dominate southern and central Westeros, and are uncommon in the North, where many follow the old gods. However, the rules for entering tournaments vary with time and place, and there have been many events where freeriders, squires, or followers of the old gods have entered the lists.
History of Tourneys in Westeros, for listing of all known Tourneys in Westeros.
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