A year ago this week, Tyrion Lannister gave his now-famous speech, Bran became Bran the Broken and the king of Westeros, Jon Snow ventured north, and Game of Thrones came to an end. In honor of the conclusion of the last piece of monoculture, The Ringer will spend all week looking back on Thrones—focusing not just on its final season, but celebrating its entire eight-season run, reminiscing about its host of memorable characters, and pondering where some of them may be one year later.
By the end of Game of Thrones, Westeros is ravaged by war with white walkers and war with itself. The North has seceded from the Seven Kingdoms. King’s Landing is a smoldering ruin, and the dragon that did it is still at large. Multiple monarchs have perished in the upheaval, and a new method of electing leaders has anointed a nearly unknown king who has zero charisma and spent much of the war wandering in the wilderness or hiding in a cave and talking to a tree-man. The realm is desperate for stability and prosperity. More than anything, it needs funding to rebuild damage, institute reforms, and smooth over simmering resentments, which makes the Master of Coin perhaps the most important position on the small council.
And to that all-important position, Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister appoints … Bronn, a man whose grasp of economic policy is best summed up by the time he told Tyrion, “I’ve never borrowed money before. I’m not clear on the rules.”
The Master of Coin should lend more than he borrows, but Bronn isn’t cut out for that either. Four out of five members of the new small council—Tyrion, Brienne, Davos, and Sam—have a history of putting their own interests aside to act for the good of the people. Bronn, by contrast, always acts in his own interest; his motto might as well be “I just like myself more.” The other small council members are also experienced experts in their field. Tyrion is a two-time Hand of the King (or Queen) before he fills that role for Bran. Davos, the master of ships, is a lifelong sailor, the head of House Seaworth, right-hand man to Stannis and Jon Snow, and a former fleet commander. (Granted, Bronn one-shot-killed his whole armada.) Brienne, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, is a valiant, lethal knight who’s already done a bang-up job keeping one Stark safe. Sam, the Grand Maester, may have jumped the line a little, but he loves learning, was mentored by Maester Aemon, trained at the Citadel, and proved himself smarter than most of the Archmaesters there.
Bronn, meanwhile, is an “upjumped cutthroat” and (according to Tyrion) “an evil bastard with no conscience and no heart,” a man who admits that he’d murder a baby in front of its mother for the right price. He’s a skilled sellsword, but he’s less qualified for his new position than a second-string Trump cabinet member. Fortunately for him, he’s also Tyrion’s former personal bodyguard and enforcer. Like Mace Tyrell’s appointment as Master of Coin under Queen Cersei, this is a clear case of cronyism that bodes ill for Bran’s reign.
The most persuasive argument in favor of Bronn being the best person to increase the kingdoms’ wealth is that he’s done an exemplary job of increasing his own. No one in the War of the Five Kings enjoyed a more meteoric ascendance than Bronn’s bloody, rags-to-riches rise from common mercenary to Lannister lackey, commander of the King’s Landing City Watch, knight, and, finally, Lord of Highgarden and Lord Paramount of the Reach. Bronn is great at getting his.
The problem—well, one of the problems—is that he’s so great at getting his that it’s hard to imagine him not using his position primarily to augment his own wealth at the expense of everyone else’s. It’s also unclear whether Bronn will be as valuable in peacetime as he was in war. Bronn is an opportunist and a profiteer, a person whose particular set of skills was well suited to a time of violence and chaos. He’s nothing if not adaptable, but it’s probably not a coincidence that he didn’t start making his way in the world until the world went to shit.
When Oberyn asked Bronn how he became a knight, Bronn answered, “Killed the right people, I suppose.” Killing people probably isn’t going to refill the kingdoms’ coffers, which are dangerously depleted by years of conflict. As Lord Tywin once said, “Wars swallow gold like a pit in the earth.”
There’s also the not-so-small matter of the massive loan that Cersei took out from the Iron Bank of Braavos to buy an immediately massacred army, which compounded the debts that the Baratheon brothers and Lord Tywin had already incurred (a “tremendous amount,” in Tywin’s words). Tyrion will try to talk his way out of picking up that tab, but the Braavosi aren’t easily dissuaded. “You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses,” Tywin said. You can’t kill them, either.
Bronn’s nouveau nobility is not, in itself, an obstacle to success: As Bronn reminds Jaime, every Great House was founded by “a hard bastard who was good at killing people.” Nor do Tyrion’s predecessor and successor as Master of Coin, Lords Baelish and Tyrell, do honor to the office just because they were born into titles. But nobility from birth does bring educational advantages that Bronn lacks. According to Tyrion in A Clash of Kings, Bronn is illiterate. As Bronn himself says to Pod in A Storm of Swords, “Books will ruin your sword eye, boy.” On a couple of occasions, the show hints inconclusively that Bronn can read, but even if he can, would he want to? Will he have the patience and attention to detail to build a budget and fine-tune a tax code? Will he prioritize the right projects?
The first meeting of Bran’s small council tells us all we need to know about Bronn’s performance as Master of Coin.
The meeting has hardly begun before Bronn is at odds with the rest of the council. He dismisses a public health initiative based on the principle that “the strong live and the weak don’t.” Between Sam’s ingenuity and a more favorable climate, conditions are ripe for an industrial revolution, but Bronn isn’t looking ahead; he’s looking for head. His top priority is rebuilding the best brothels, presumably for personal use.
A year into his tenure, Bronn would be known as the Master of Loins, yes, but also as the Master of Purloining. One might think that the presence of a psychic king would cut down on corruption, but Bran’s mind is thousands of miles and/or years away from day-to-day business; among his first acts as king were deciding to focus on divining for Drogon and instructing his council to “carry on with the rest.” True, Tyrion has done Bronn’s job and could tell if he were cooking the books—he was the one who discovered that Littlefinger was funding the realm by borrowing from Braavos—but Tyrion will have his hands full keeping the kingdoms from breaking apart.
Odds are, then, that Bronn will have plenty of chances to siphon funds, solicit bribes, and approve projects that appeal to him personally. The worst case for the kingdoms is that he’s clever enough to hide his misdeeds and go on skimming. He might even fall back on old habits and use threats and violence to collect the last coppers of an already impoverished populace, undermining support for a regime whose approval rating is probably low at the outset.
The best case is that he’s caught with his hand in the till and gets jettisoned faster than Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. But even if Tyrion discovered wrongdoing by Bronn, he’d have incentive to hide it, given that he was the one who picked a killer with no scruples, surname, or bureaucratic background to run the treasury. (Giving Bronn a cushy council seat was one way to ensure that the no-longer-wealthy Lannisters wouldn’t have to pay their debts to their crown.) Westeros doesn’t have a free press—or any press, for that matter—but Tyrion’s reputation is intertwined with Bronn’s, and the smallfolk of King’s Landing have a history of chanting “Shame” at Lannisters. If BronnGate took down Tyrion, the kingdom could be plunged back into anarchy.
Here’s how I think this experiment ends: Bronn gets bored and quits before he’s fired. For a while, he might work well with the bankers, who’d respect his scheming and swordplay; like the Iron Bank, Bronn bets on winners, and based on recent history, Bronn may be better at it than they are. Perhaps, as The Ringer’s resident maester suggested, Bronn could parlay lucrative prophecies from Bran into debt forgiveness. Eventually, though, he’s going to get tired of projecting revenues and expenditures, fielding requests for funding, and listening to Tyrion drone on about business. He didn’t fight dragons, Dothraki, and Sand Snakes so he could sit in small council meetings. Bronn is a pragmatist who acts solely in search of profit and pleasure, and while serving as Master of Coin may help with the former, it’s going to get in the way of the latter.
Basically, Bronn doesn’t need this job, and he doesn’t do favors. He has the Reach, the breadbasket of Westeros, and with winter over—maybe for good—he can grow crops and jack up prices to feed a starving realm. (As Bronn said himself, “Food’s worth more than gold.”) He also has Highgarden, where he can live like the lord he is and take his pick of highborn beauties. It’s not the lifestyle he’s used to, but it is the one he wants; as he tells Tyrion, “You’ve given me a taste for the finer things.” A year after Bran takes the throne, then, Bronn will be doing what he’s always done best: looking out for himself and reaping the rewards. And if he ever doubts his decision for a single second, he can take the advice he once dispensed to Tyrion: “Go drink until you feel like you did the right thing.”