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The Lannister Family Crossbow

The great houses in Westeros make a big deal about their weapons, from the Targaryen dragons to the various Valyrian steel swords scattered across the realm. But the family from Casterly Rock may be most obsessed with—and most suited to—theirs.

HBO/Ringer illustration

Game of Thrones is not a subtle show, which is why it’s not shocking that it has taken Chekhov’s famous storytelling dictum—a gun on page one of a story must go off by its end—and made it more extreme for its final season. Every weapon introduced on this show ends up going off repeatedly and spectacularly, from the wildfire hidden beneath King’s Landing to Littlefinger’s dagger to, unfortunately for viewers, the dreaded Bolton flaying station. This is also the case with the Lannister crossbows, with one in particular returning from earlier seasons to threaten two main characters in the final stretch. In the premiere episode of the final season, Game of Thrones resurfaces a long-lost crossbow when Bronn is asked, on Cersei’s behalf, to kill Tyrion and Jaime with the same weapon Tyrion used to murder their father. She must’ve slipped into a Westeros Creative Writing 101 class in between realm-seizing seminars.

In the third season, Joffrey acquires an ornate engraved crossbow and uses it to flirt with Margaery Tyrell. “Do you like it?” he asks. “I just had it made. Probably one of the finest weapons in the Seven Kingdoms.” A few episodes later, he threatens Sansa with his toy. By the end of the season, we finally see the crossbow in use, during one of the most disturbing scenes in a show full of disturbing scenes: As Littlefinger tells Varys that “chaos is a ladder,” the show cuts to Joffrey sitting with the crossbow and Ros, the clever prostitute turned spy, strung up dead on his bed with arrows through her body. Littlefinger reveals that he gifted his former employee to Joffrey as punishment for betraying him.

That’s not the end for the horrible device. At the end of the fourth season, Tyrion finds the crossbow in his father’s chambers, where Tywin likely stashed it for safekeeping after Joffrey’s death. Tyrion then uses it to shoot Tywin before escaping to Essos. Crucially, though, he drops the weapon after firing the fatal arrows, setting up its return in the Season 8 premiere.

The Lannister crossbow thing goes beyond the one specific weapon. It appears to be a favored device for Lannister troops as well. During the Red Wedding, which was planned by Tywin, many Stark men are killed by musicians shooting crossbows. And during the seventh season, Qyburn builds a gigantic crossbow for Cersei with the goal of using it to slay dragons. The ballista injures Drogon during the Loot Train attack, and Bronn kills a Dothraki fighter with it—a detail which now may function as foreshadowing, as Bronn is now armed with the original crossbow as well.

Weapons are rarely just weapons on Game of Thrones. A dragonglass spear can vanquish a monster—or turn a man into one, as the Children of the Forest did when they created the White Walkers by shoving dragonglass into the heart of a human so many years ago. Nobody knows why or how Valyrian steel is magic, but it can also kill a Walker, and the legend of Azor Ahai is closely tied to the mysterious figure’s burning sword, Lightbringer. So why is the Lannisters’ predilection for crossbows important?

The crossbow is especially notable for what it is not; unlike the other great families of Westeros, House Lannister has no real Valyrian steel of its own. The Lannisters originally owned an ancestral Valyrian steel sword called “Brightroar” but it was lost long ago, when King Tommen II disappeared with it during a quest to Valyria. In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion recalls that Tywin sent his brother to Valyria to look for it—and his brother also never came back! He also remembers how House Lannister had tried to buy Valyrian steel swords off poorer families in the past, but never successfully. In that book, Tywin has a Valyrian steel sword commissioned for Joffrey, and in the show he does as well, reforging Ned Stark’s greatsword, Ice, into Joffrey’s Widow’s Wail, as well as a large sword for Jaime. Jaime, however, gives the sword to Brienne of Tarth. “You’ll use it to defend Ned Stark’s daughters,” he tells her. During Season 7, Jaime starts using Widow’s Wail, and it is at his side as he is seen riding north for Winterfell. Considering Jaime’s change of heart, it’s no longer really a Lannister weapon so much as a weapon pledged to the Stark cause.

Cersei is now the head of House Lannister, and Tyrion and Jaime have both essentially renounced their ties to the family of their birth. (Jaime officially, when he became part of the Kingsguard, and Tyrion unofficially when he, ya know, killed his father and pledged himself to Daenerys.) Her fixation on crossbows fits well with the family’s overall approach to violence and power—it automates the process of killing by reducing the action to a single push of a button and allowing the killer to remain at a distance from their target. This corresponds with the Lannister preference for achieving the most power behind the scenes and at a remove. It is not a house known for getting blood on its hands.

When he’s initially presenting the crossbow to Margaery, Joffrey notes that it is a “new design” that is easier to load than a normal crossbow, with a lever instead of a crank. It has been automated to make killing simpler for the king. Joffrey thinks this is terrific, but it also reveals his cowardice; he can kill only from a safe distance. In the books, both Jaime and the Hound diss crossbows as a “craven’s weapon.” While Tyrion uses it to kill his father, it is clearly more of a tool of experience than something he has a special fondness for wielding. As Cersei has grown into her role as the true ruling Lannister, her deliberate embrace of the crossbow is—as she knows!—an apt one. “She has a keen sense of poetic justice,” Qyburn tells Bronn.

“That fucking family,” Bronn says.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.