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Assuming the accused does not fight himself, but appoints a champion, what happens if both combatants die?

  • Would that make the accused not guilty?
  • Would there be another trial?
  • Does only the first one to die count?

For example, in S4E8 of Game of Thrones,

Prince Oberyn dies in the fight against the Mountain, which makes Tyrion guilty. Suppose the Mountain dies from a wound he received in combat with Oberyn, does that impact the official outcome of the trial?

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Warning spoilers ahead for non-book readers. Episode has only aired in the US for about 4 days. –  Jared Jun 5 at 3:05
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Logically there is no "tie" in trial by combat. The champion is fighting in place of the accused. Therefore if the champion died it stands to reason that the accused would have died in place if he fought for himself. –  slebetman Jun 5 at 4:48
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(Semi-)regular visitors should really be utilising the ignored tags feature anyway. I was a couple of weeks behind on the latest season of Supernatural due to being on vacation when the final episodes aired, so I added supernatural to my ignored tags list so I couldn't possibly see spoilers if questions were asked. –  Anthony Grist Jun 5 at 13:08
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I have suggested an edit to make the title generic, to save the viewers that don't click on it from all spoilers. –  MrLemon Jun 5 at 15:06
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4 Answers 4

In a Trial by Combat, the Judges are the Gods. This means whoever loses (dies or yields) is found guilty. This goes as well if someone has a champion.

So (spoilers for S4E8 of Game of Thrones below.)

Oberyn, who was Tyrion's champion, lost; that means that the Gods have found Tyrion guilty.

Τhe loser is whoever dies/yields first. If a combatant was to die later from the wounds he received, that would have nothing to do with the outcome of the fight. I find it quite impossible for both of the contestants to die at the exact same time.

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I think this is the most important - that the loser is the one who dies (or yields) first. –  EagleV_Attnam Jun 5 at 7:07
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Imagine if a champion weren't used, and the accused himself fought. If they die...they die...If they kill their opponent, they're declared innocent, even if they die two days later from wounds... –  Doc Jun 5 at 14:21
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Conceivably it could be unclear who died first. Even if it were semantically possible to define time-of-death to the split second, it might not be physically possible to determine it. So presumably any real system of trial by combat does have (or eventually finds itself in need of) some kind of tie-breaker. I'd further venture that it's most likely to be needed in a situation where two armor-plated behemoths knock each other unconscious in a clash of heads, so neither is able to continue. I guess you could leave them lying in the ring until one wakes up or stops breathing. –  Steve Jessop Jun 5 at 16:59
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@SteveJessop if both fighters die simultaneously, the gods obviously don't favor the accused (else they would have saved him/his champion). One could argue the gods don't favor the accuser either, but trial by combat implies that you are confident the gods will prove you right. As the defendant, you call for the trial, so you are basically "guilty till proven innocent" at that point, where the proof is survival/winning. –  Doc Jun 5 at 18:49
    
@Doc: that's a bold statement to make about the rules of judicial combat, without citation ;-) It would certainly serve as a tie-breaking rule but I don't think it's the only feasible rule. It does make me wonder, what if it's not simultaneous but the accused's champion dies 5 seconds after the end of the fight, then do the gods obviously favour the accused? By the rules you've won but by the thinking behind that tie-breaking rule maybe the gods are a bit indecisive on the subject. I don't think Martin troubles to give rules for edge cases that haven't arisen. Nor should he have to ofc. –  Steve Jessop Jun 5 at 19:15
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As far as I know, the rules for Trial by Combat in the Game of Thrones universe are never clearly explained. Historically, there have been many different forms of trial by combat, with various rules governing their use and outcome.

Most likely, Martin is basing his combat trials on what the Norman's called "wager of battle", which was common in England in the Middle Ages. This type of combat was used in both criminal cases (like Tyrions) as well as in civil cases, such as land disputes. In the criminal case, the battle was not a contest to determine which side was right; rather, it was a contest to determine if the defendant was guilty. The crown's champion could not "lose" a trial by combat in the normal sense, he could only "fail to win".

According to the rules in place for most of the Middle Ages, a defendant won a trial by combat by surviving the duration of the combat, which would usually last until one combatant could no longer continue, or one combatant yielded, or from dawn to dusk. If the defendant was still alive and able to fight at the end of the combat, they were judged innocent. If they were defeated, killed, or yielded, they were judged guilty.

Of particular note is the fact that the condition of the crown's champion does not actually factor in to the final outcome, it only factors into the decision to end the trial prematurely. As long as the crown's champion can continue to fight, the trial continues, and the defendant can lose.

In Tyrion's case:

The Mountain was clearly not incapacitated by Oberyn, and did not yield. The fact that he dies anyway is irrelevant.

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FYI according to wiki trial by combat only happened when there was little or no evidence, and rarely ended in death, so in ASOIAF the nature of the three trials so far are more of a construction of Martin's and writers he has noted as influences, like Walter Scott and 'Ivanhoe'. –  Kaiser Jun 5 at 15:02
    
defendants had the right to call for trial by combat whenever they wanted; in certain cases the state may refuse, including if they were caught in the act or if there was unquestionable evidence of guilt. As far as how often they resulted in death, given that "being alive at the end" was one of the criteria for being declare innocent, I assume they ended in death on at least some occasions. –  Michael Edenfield Jun 5 at 18:06
    
BTW: I assume by "wiki" you mean Wikipedia, which (at least 30 seconds ago when I checked) doesn't say either of the things you claim it does. What it does say includes " If the defendant were taken in the mainour (that is, in the act of committing his crime), if he attempted to escape from prison, or if there was such strong evidence of guilt that there could be no effective denial, the defendant could not challenge." and "Fighting continued until one party was dead or disabled". –  Michael Edenfield Jun 5 at 18:08
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I also studied medieval history and we had a class on interpreting the Middle Ages through fantasy. One of the things we studied was how certain elements of the period that we find particularly exciting are often exaggerated for dramatic effect (e.g. trial by combat), and less dramatic elements (disease, famine) are often downplayed. I should not have just thrown 'wiki' in there. –  Kaiser Jun 5 at 21:07
    
I would like to clarify further: Peter Leeson, economics professor at George Mason University, wrote an extensive article about medieval trial by combat. It rarely resulted in combat, since the contestants generally settled. Actual combat was regulated in terms of weapons and armor so that it was unlikely to cause serious injury. In addition, if one opponent was faring badly they very often submitted. So actual death was rare. For instance, in a study of Norman trials by combat over land ownership during a period of more than a century, only one fatality was recorded. –  Kaiser Jul 4 at 9:07
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No. The result of the trial by combat is clear. Spoilers for S4E8 of Game of Thrones below.

Oberyn died so Tyrion is guilty. If the Mountain does die afterwards it wouldn't be as part of the trial (though it was caused by it).

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Whatever fate befalls the champion for the accused determines the guilt of the party in question. The fate of the challenger has no bearing.

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