There are occasional endeavors that immediately elicit a reaction of, “Wow, you have way too much time on your hands.”
Such a sentiment could be issued for a team of lawyers volunteering with the Australian Red Cross, who spent six weeks breaking down every single one of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” episodes to analyze which war crimes — by real world standards — had been committed and which characters were the worst offenders.
But as nerds emotionally invested in the exploits of Jon Snow, the Lannisters, white walkers and a swarm of other swashbucklers from the seven kingdoms, we’d venture to claim that it was time well spent.
The in-depth study’s findings, gathered by determining each crime according to violations of international law of armed conflicts, were released last week.
Categories found to be breached included use of chemical weapons, slavery, child soldiers, sexual violence, torture, mutilation and a delectable medley of other heinous Westerosi traditions.
In the end, the team from the Australian Red Cross counted 103 violations of international law in times of war.
As to who was the worst offender, if you’ve spent any amount of time immersed in the factory of insanity known as Westeros, the character with the least regard for humanitarian law may not come as a surprise.
Then again, some of the show’s fan-favorites have also crossed the line of humane treatment more than their fair share.
Here’s how they ranked. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)
RAMSAY BOLTON – 17 VIOLATIONS
It would be extraordinarily difficult to find a character in the history of television or cinema easier to hate than Ramsay Bolton.
So, it’s no surprise the deceptive, smug, sinister illegitimate son of Roose led all other characters in number of crimes committed.
“Ramsay committed awful violations of the laws of war, particularly indiscriminate killing and torture,” Red Cross International Humanitarian Law national manager Yvette Zegenhagen told ABC Australia.
“He really was a monster.”
And though the joy that spread throughout the cosmos when Ramsay’s hounds had his face for dinner was infinite, the young Bolton also became a victim of war crimes at that precise moment.
"He wasn't afforded the protections he was due as a prisoner of war,” Zegenhagen said. “He should have been provided adequate protection and care.
“The laws of war really aren’t about how you treat your friends, but how you treat your enemies — including those who have done really terrible things.”
Maybe so, but still… Good riddance.
DAENERYS TARGARYEN (AND DRAGONS) – 15 VIOLATIONS
The mother of dragons, breaker of chains, and owner of what feels like 49 hours-worth of meaningless title announcement footage actually came in as the second worst offender of international humanitarian laws — with 15 violations — which perhaps isn’t too surprising given who her pyromaniac father was.
Dany’s violations included using “methods of warfare that inflict superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering,” meaning dragon fire, and six examples of passing an execution sentence “without previous judgement,” the report said.
The dragons, however, presented some challenges for the Red Cross team to place in realistic context.
“It’s actually kind of complicated,” Zegenhagen said. “Sometimes the dragons can target military targets specifically, and it’s the most effective weapon in Daenerys’ arsenal. So that might be OK.”
But dragon fire, much like a 500-pound bomb, can occasionally cause some collateral damage.
“They’re attacking not just soldiers but innocent civilians,” she said. “And that’s where it starts to become a bit more fraught.”
The report also noted that Dany complied many times with international humanitarian law while protecting civilians or limiting her kill lists to militarized targets.
Way to go, haver of a million titles.
THE NIGHT KING – 6 VIOLATIONS
He was just a regular guy until some mutant, woodland fairy things stabbed him in the chest with dragon glass and turned him into an ice-loving demon – poor guy.
But here we are, with the Night King and his army of white walkers – and newly acquired ice dragon – threatening to eradicate the world of anything living.
Somewhat surprisingly, he was found to have committed just six war crimes, tying him with fan-favorite Jon Snow.
One such violation – slavery – was tricky to define, according to Zegenhagen.
The team decided that when white walkers go on their civilian killing sprees, as they are prone to do, that counts as one war crime.
But bringing civilians back to life to serve in the army of dead constitutes a life (or death?) of servitude against their will, a second war crime.
At least he’s not converting babies anymore.
JON SNOW – 6 VIOLATIONS
Everyone’s favorite bastard was discovered last season to be part Targaryen, part Stark.
Then there was some incest with Dany – and things got weird.
In any event, the new King of the North was found to have violated international humanitarian law six times, because as it turns out, Jon is a fan of employing child soldiers, doing so on four occasions.
One of these kid militiamen – poor, innocent Olly – would eventually participate in Jon’s murder, a crime for which Olly was hanged by the neck until dead.
Fortunately, for hardcore fans, the night is still, after eight years, dark and full of terrors, and some fire magic resurrected Snow.
Jon remains, of course, a redeemable guy, and was determined to have complied a number of times to the laws of international conflict while protecting civilians and providing care to prisoners of war.
Discrimination among the living doesn’t work, anyways, when preparing to face a zombie army.
“The White Walkers don’t care if a man’s free folk or crow. We’re all the same to them, meat for their army.”
MORE WAR CRIMES
Surprisingly, Joffrey Baratheon committed just three violations.
However, it’s easy to assume he would have been well on his way to Ramsay Bolton status if he didn’t need to wash down the pie with wine.
Pour one out for Olenna. “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”
For more on all your favorite characters — er, criminals — check out the Australian Red Cross’ full report.
The final season of “Game of Thrones” begins April 14.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.