It seems to me that archery is very underestimated in Westeros and Essos in the tactics/strategy point of view.

Below are ALL the references I remember of the mentions of marksmanship:

  • Bran and Arya training archery in Game of Thrones
  • Theon says (to Bran I think) the ironmen are skilled archers (and lovers)
  • Some countrymen and rebels seems to use bow and arrow, or sometimes crossbow (in the travels of Arya and Jaime)
  • I think I read somewhere the Kingswood Brotherhood user bows, here rebels again
  • The summer islanders are mentioned to have pretty good longbows for distance
  • Jon and the black brothers at the wall use some archers on the to defend against the wildlings

I thinks among the five books that's all I can remember, still it is very little use in war and tactics, the guards who escort the highborn characters never use bows, the kingsguard has no archers, archers are not mentioned in Blackwater battle, or among the mercenary companies, nor even on the raids by Victarion/Ironmen, whose kin are supposed good at archery...

Am I missing or overseeing it? Is it a fact archery are little used in Westeros and Essos?

  • 9
    I don't have the books with me at the moment, but off the top of my head you're missing quite a few references. There's an archery component in the Hand's Tourney. In the Battle of the Blackwater, we explicietly see archers in both the attacking ships and the walls of King's Landing. Ned also comments that the Neck can be held by only a few archers.... etc. Mar 4, 2013 at 20:30
  • 2
    Theon also saves Bran by killing the wildling that was holding him with an arrow. And bows and crossbows were very important during the defense of the wall against the wildlings. Note that in both cases archery was used against poorly armed people. As Beofett pointed out, arrows would be less effective against armored knights.
    – Dima
    Mar 4, 2013 at 21:34
  • As I recall, doesn't Maester Luwin mention to Bran at one point that Dothraki boys are taught archery on horseback from a young age?
    – Meg Coates
    Mar 4, 2013 at 21:52
  • I would just like to add that the Dornish are known to be experts at archery from horseback, using double-curved bows, though we have yet to see them fight.
    – user22895
    Feb 16, 2014 at 4:04
  • @MegCoates Several mentions were made concerning Dothraki archers. They were very clearly meant to be reminiscent of the Mongol hordes: skilled horsemen with superior bows (much longer range) and the skill to fire them mid-stride (when the horse's feet are all off the ground there's no sudden bumping to change the shot's trajectory), allowing them to decimate supposedly superior military forces (for the Mongols, the Romans and everyone inbetween). Sadly, in the show at least we never see them used this way; they're always using those curved blades, instead. May 21, 2019 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Archery was actually rather undervalued in our real history, particularly in medieval Europe, so it isn't terribly surprising for it to be undervalued in the relatively close parallels of Westeros, which was deliberately based in many ways on medieval Europe.

In the feudal systems of Europe, knights, the backbone of medieval armies, were the elite nobility who could afford heavy armor and good steel weapons.

Archery was relegated to low paid professional soldiers or peasant conscripts for centuries. Many knights disdained archery as "beneath their station" or "unchivalric".

It wasn't until relatively late in the history of feudal Europe that longbows became recognized as an important strategic asset in warfare.

One of the most famous early battles where longbows featured heavily was the Battle of Agincourt. During the battle, the English forces were outnumbered somewhere between 4-3 and 6-1. However, the vast majority of the English forces (5/6th of the total troops) were archer units.

This was seen by many as a crippling shortcoming at the time, as evaluations of comparative strength were frequently based on the number of armed knights on either side.

In fact, one account overestimated the already severe imbalance of troop ratios up to "ten French nobles against one English", dismissing the archers altogether.

Yet the archers were incredibly decisive during that battle, resulting in thousands of deaths and prisoners on the French side, and scant hundreds of English casualties (possibly as few as 113).

One of the problems with archery in feudal society was that the relatively heavy armor used by the knighted nobility required use of heavy longbows in order for archery to be effective in piercing the targets.

Archers required extensive training in order for these heavy war longbows to become effective in warfare scenarios.

Given this, it makes sense that most of the use of bows you list involve targets who are primarily unarmored (wildlings, victims of the Ironborn raids), or are used by those who may not be able to afford steel (countrymen and rebels) or who employ hit-and-run tactics (rebels).

Bran and Arya, and other members of the high nobility, likely trained primarily for hunting and for tournaments (although knowing Ned Stark, it is entirely possible he wanted them proficient for more practical reasons).

  • 6
    +1 go history! Crossbows were invented to pierce the heavy armor that Knights and their retenues wore, as ballista was made to pierce built-up temporary fortifications from arrows. I think Martin made them arrogant, like Jaime Lannister, seeing it as a cowards' weapon as many are lead to believe that a blade is a man's weapon. Look at the references of daggers and poison being a woman's way to kill someone. Arrogant and chauvenistic. We still think of poison as a 'weaklings' way to kill someone. Don't believe me? Look it up in the news when someone is killed with arsenic.
    – Jersey
    Jun 20, 2013 at 21:53
  • 8
    The one thing you are missing is the brutality of archers. Let me clarify: Knights were great for swords and bashing each other then surrendering. Archers would push you over with a pole axe or similar, then lift your visor and stab you in the eyes. The knights thought this majorly unchivilous(sp) and as such hated archers more. Plus a sword can hit you in the breast plate, knock you over and you could surrender unharmed. An arrow will penetrate and just take you out.
    – Marriott81
    Mar 26, 2014 at 10:20
  • 1
    @Marriott81 That is fricken metal.
    – Mkalafut
    Apr 8, 2014 at 20:40
  • 1
    A corps of skilled archers can decimate an opposing army. Knights no matter mounded or on foot are easy pickings for that ranged weapon in skilled hands. Archers also carried short stabbing weapons to dispatch grounded or wounded knights. Knights did not like archers because archers did not fight in such a way as to give the knight the advantage. Once the technology advanced sufficiently for heavier draw weight bows the archers decided the battle, not the knights. This is another reason the knights despised them and truth be told, feared them.
    – Morgan
    May 2, 2014 at 1:19
  • 3
    Do not forget that the Battle of Agincourt was basically a mud wrestling contest, with the heavy rain making the already freshly ploughed terrain into a muddy hell, which of course was a horrible disadvantage for heavily armored knights and horses. If your enemy cannot come to you quickly, of course arrows will give you a great advantage. Sep 19, 2017 at 9:51

There are many notable examples of the use of archery in ASOIAF, besides those already mentioned in the comments:

A Game of Thrones

  • Ned Stark tries to hire the archer Anguy for the Hand's guard. The same Anguy who later makes an impression on Arya when they run into each other in the Riverlands.

A Clash Of Kings

  • When Jon and Qhorin Halfhand are fleeing from Rattleshirt and his wildlings, Squire Dalbridge tries to hold the wildlings off with his bow.

A Storm of Swords

  • Archers with fire arrows were deployed against the wights at the Fist of the First men.
  • During the Red Wedding crossbowmen are used to ambush the guests and also to kill their wolf.
  • When Castle Black is attacked by wildlings, archery is the very thing that saves the Night's Watch.

A Feast For Crows

  • When Ser Arys Oakheart is killed, the group lead by Areo Hotah has a group of crossbowmen to support them.
  • During the siege on Riverrun, Jaime is warned not to go close to the walls because of the archers. I do believe archers are used in most every other siege depicted in the series.

A Dance With Dragons

  • We hear that Jon Connington values archers so highly that when bringing the Golden Company to Westeros, he distributes them evenly across the ships so as to ensure that some of them make it.
  • These archers, lead by Black Balaq are then instrumental in taking back Connington's castle Griffin's Roost.

The Mystery Knight

  • We hear the story of how Bloodraven (also a very accomplished archer) and his archer squad the Raven's Teeth killed Daemon Blackfyre and his sons, effectively ending the Blackfyre rebellion.

All in all, I would say that George R R Martin demonstrates the usefulness of bows. I would not say that they are underestimated at all, though it is clear that being a knight (using sword and lance from horse back) is the high status designation in an army. As always with GRRM, he allows his characters to be either ignorant or insightful about such things. We as readers can see the results of their decisions, though, and make up our own mind.

  • You need more spoiler tags for sure....
    – Mkalafut
    Apr 8, 2014 at 20:42
  • 3
    @Mkalafut This is way too many spoiler tags. It is not a spoiler to say that Bloodraven kills Daemon Blackfyre, for example. There is no "story" to read about the Blackfyre rebellion that can be spoiled. It is not a spoiler to say that Ned wanted to hire Anguy, or that he met Arya in the Riverlands. Also, there is no point in using spoiler tags unless you describe the spoiler level, or people won't be able to read them if they are afraid of being spoiled.
    – TLP
    Apr 8, 2014 at 21:47
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    Why does everyone forget about Ygritte? You know nothing, TLP :P
    – Andres F.
    Apr 9, 2014 at 13:00
  • @AndresF. Ygritte is only an expert archer in the TV-series, as I recall.
    – TLP
    Apr 9, 2014 at 21:22
  • I've tried to fix the spoiler-ama by putting each point after the name of the book it's from... hopefully they're all correct! No need for spoiler blocks if it's easy to stop reading before reaching a book you've not read Mar 23, 2017 at 17:49

I think instead that you have underestimated the number of times marksmanship is mentioned.

A few more examples off the top of my head, in no particular order:

  • After defending the Castle Black with archers, a concerted effort is made to ensure all brothers are trained and skilled in archery precisely because of the advantage they'd provide.

  • Joffrey's crossbow, and his attempts to shoot a rabbit.

  • Sandor Clegane's vocal contempt for ranged weapons as being cowardly.

  • House Tully's tradition for setting the funeral barge aflame. (Although no mention of tactics/strategy, clearly House Tully values the skill.)

  • A few mentions of shooting down ravens to intercept messages.

  • Summer Islanders display skill as archers and are generally able to ward off pirates from a distance.

  • The Crannogmen's primary defensive weapon seems to be poisoned arrows.

  • Alleras the Sphinx showed great skill shooting apples in Oldtown.

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