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I just watched Game of Thrones HBO Season 4, and after the trial by combat (where one duelist wears a helmet, and the outcome might've been different if they both had), I noticed that later combats too had several people in armor but no helmets which had a lot of head injury (hammer through skull, head vs. anvil, people in full armor but no helmets punching each other in the face). All of these situations would have been affected by wearing helmets.

I'm wondering if this is just a video thing (creators assume audience wants to see faces), or if in the books, too, these people and others are often wearing full armor but no helmets and suffering for it.

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    I am well far from my books right now, but I am pretty sure in the books helmets were always there. Sandor Clegane had a hound helmet for example, Rhagaer Targaryen had a dragon shaped helmet if memory serves me right. So I think this was theatrical to keep the focus on the faces of actors during duels nothing more nothing less,it'd be stupid otherwise. I'll try to gather evidences and answer this question asap. – yondaime008 Aug 9 '15 at 22:14
  • Generally Steel costs money, and is mostly a Westerosi Knight's traditional armour. It is not necessarily useful in every scenario either. – Möoz Aug 18 '15 at 5:48
  • @Mooz Clearly. For example, I appreciate that it may (maybe) even have been wise for the prince to minimize the chances that his giant opponent would hit him at all, anywhere. However, overall I'd say the TV portrayal is really unbalanced in favor of showing faces. – Dronz Aug 24 '15 at 18:48
  • @Raidri Yes, I knew about the oft-used trope, but it seems to me that unlike GoT, often that trope comes with heroes also not tending to get defeated because they were foolishly not wearing a helmet. – Dronz Nov 13 '17 at 18:48
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Sometimes there are advantages of being lightly armored. When Bronn fought Ser Vardis Egen as Tyrion Lannister's champion at Eyrie, Bronn was lightly armored and he was able to tire Ser Vardis Egen out. Ser Vardis Egen was dressed in steel from head to heel and found it hard to move.

Ser Vardis Egen was steel from head to heel, encased in heavy plate armor over mail and padded surcoat. Large circular rondels, enameled cream-and-blue in the moon-and-falcon sigil of House Arryn, protected the vulnerable juncture of arm and breast. A skirt of lobstered metal covered him from waist to midthigh, while a solid gorget encircled his throat. Falcon’s wings sprouted from the temples of his helm, and his visor was a pointed metal beak with a narrow slit for vision.

Bronn was so lightly armored he looked almost naked beside the knight. He wore only a shirt of black oiled ringmail over boiled leather, a round steel halfhelm with a noseguard, and a mail coif. High leather boots with steel shinguards gave some protection to his legs, and discs of black iron were sewn into the fingers of his gloves. Yet Catelyn noted that the sellsword stood half a hand taller than his foe, with a longer reach ... and Bronn was fifteen years younger, if she was any judge.

A Game Of Thrones

Fighting with helmet can restrict the vision range for a fighter and there can be other issues as mentioned below.

The slot in his helm limited Tyrion’s vision to what was before him, but when he turned his head he saw three galleys beached on the tourney grounds, and a fourth, larger than the others, standing well out into the river, firing barrels of burning pitch from a catapult.

A naked man fell from the sky and landed on the deck, body bursting like a melon dropped from a tower. His blood spattered through the slit of Tyrion’s helm. Stones began to plummet down, crashing through the decks and turning men to pulp, until the whole bridge gave a shudder and twisted violently underfoot, knocking him sideways.

Suddenly the river was pouring into his helm. He ripped it off and crawled along the listing deck until the water was only neck deep.

A Clash of Kings

Generally in Westeros it is considered to be stupid to fight without a helm (helmet)

“Don’t be impertinent. Cersei has a royal wedding to plan, I am waging a war, and you have been out of danger for at least a fortnight.” Lord Tywin studied his son’s disfigured face, his pale green eyes unflinching. “Though the wound is ghastly enough, I’ll grant you. What madness possessed you?”

“The foe was at the gates with a battering ram. If Jaime had led the sortie, you’d call it valor.”

“Jaime would never be so foolish as to remove his helm in battle. I trust you killed the man who cut you?”

A Storm of Swords

Updating the answer to include Tyrion's trial by battle.

Tyrion had his own doubts, now that they stood on the brink. When he looked at Prince Oberyn, he found himself wishing he had Bronn defending him . . . or even better, Jaime. The Red Viper was lightly armored; greaves, vambraces, gorget, spaulder, steel codpiece. Elsewise Oberyn was clad in supple leather and flowing silks. Over his byrnie he wore his scales of gleaming copper, but mail and scale together would not give him a quarter the protection of Gregor’s heavy plate. With its visor removed, the prince’s helm was effectively no better than a half- helm, lacking even a nasal. His round steel shield was brightly polished, and showed the sun-and-spear in red gold, yellow gold, white gold, and copper.

Dance around him until he’s so tired he can hardly lift his arm, then put him on his back. The Red Viper seemed to have the same notion as Bronn. But the sellsword had been blunt about the risks of such tactics. I hope to seven hells that you know what you are doing, snake.

Like a serpent’s tongue it flickered in and out, feinting low and landing high, jabbing at groin, shield, eyes. The Mountain makes for a big target, at the least, Tyrion thought. Prince Oberyn could scarcely miss, though none of his blows was penetrating Ser Gregor’s heavy plate. The Dornishman kept circling, jabbing, then darting back again, forcing the bigger man to turn and turn again. Clegane is losing sight of him. The Mountain’s helm had a narrow eyeslit, severely limiting his vision. Oberyn was making good use of that, and the length of his spear, and his quickness.

A Storm of Swords

Outside of westeros there are fighting styles which places higher emphasis on speed over safely, these styles of fighting require less armor. In general, fighters go lightly armored when they are looking for speed.

  • Great answer. It may be worth noting that, in the trial by combat which Dronz mentions, Prince Oberyn intentionally wears very light armor so he can move with speed and agility. I believe characters express shock at his lack of armor, though he demonstrates the advantage he gains from it. – recognizer Aug 10 '15 at 17:48
  • Yes, great answer. It's interesting that the answer seems to be "yes it's just so we can see their faces", and yet the combat very often then involves heads getting brutalized as a main element of its fights! I'm waiting to accept to see if yondaime008 comes up with an answer. @recognizer, yes they do comment on his light armor, and he gives quite a display, but still might've really liked to have had a helmet on in the end... so sad! Apparently from this answer, the Prince isn't even the champion in the book version, and that champion does wear good head protection. – Dronz Aug 10 '15 at 22:56
  • Tyrion had two champions Bronn (when Tyrion was blamed for attempted murder of Bran Stark) in Eyrie after Catelyn Stark has Tyrion kidnapped. Prince Oberyn became Tyrion's champion over accusation of Joffrey's murder. – Vishvesh Aug 10 '15 at 23:45
  • @Dronz I have lighted the line, "The Dornishman kept circling, jabbing, then darting back again, forcing the bigger man to turn and turn again. Clegane is losing sight of him.". This is the reason Prince Oberyn did not wear a helm, he was moving fast around Clegane and wearing a helmet would blocked his vision too. – Vishvesh Aug 11 '15 at 0:04
  • @Vishvesh Oh I see - I thought before you added that, that Bronn was his champion twice. Interesting - thank you! So he did wear at least a half-helm, and had a shield and a little more armor than in the film. – Dronz Aug 11 '15 at 0:23
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Your question is based on a false premise that fighters don't wear helmets in the show. To prove the point let's have a look at a few examples.

Wearing Helmets

  • Stone Crows/Shagga Son of Dolf: Most appear to wear helmets, though what they have is generally what they've stolen so some don't.

  • Bolton forces

  • Northern forces

  • Lannister forces

  • Stannis Baratheon's forces

  • Robert Baratheon forces

  • Arryn forces

  • Kingsguard: Throughout all their various uniforms they always wear helms apart from Jaime Lannister.

  • The Mountain: Sometimes wears a helmet, sometimes doesn't, I guess it depends on his mood.

The Mountain jousting

  • The Hound

The Hound

  • Unsullied

  • Loras Tyrell: Wears a helmet when fighting Brienne and during the Tourney of the Hand.

Loras Tyrell jousting

  • Ser Arthur Dayne: Wears a helm during the battle at the Tower of Joy.

Ser Arthur Dayne

  • Brienne: Wears a helm in her duel with Loras, also when she is Renly's Kingsguard then promptly forgets all about it.

Brienne after her duel with Loras

  • Ser Vardis Egen: Wears a helm, not that it helped him much.

Ser Vardis

Not Wearing Helmets

  • Ned Stark: Doesn't appear to wear one even in Bran's vision at the Tower of Joy. Appears to be a stylistic choice so we can recognise young Ned though I can't remember old Ned even being near a helm either, not that he needed too though.

  • Jon Snow: Never wears one, seems likely to be a style choice by the designers so we can recognise Jon in all scenes. However, it could be that like Ramsay he was planning to be a leader and watch the battle so he could plan effectively, just he was an idiot and rushed in to try and save Rickon.

  • Oberyn Martell: His fighting style clearly relies on moving quickly and so being able to see all around him and not be hindered by a helmet.

  • Syrio Forel: We only see him teaching Arya so when his final fight comes he doesn't have a helmet nearby.

  • Wildlings: It seems quite cold up north beyond the Wall so metal on your head would probably not be a good thing. Also they already lack lots of metal so most of it goes to weapons not armour. When they do have head wear it seems to be for stylistic choice and warmth.

Rattleshirt

  • Ramsay Bolton: He never expected to actually be in a fight and as a commander it's better to not be wearing one so you can survey the battle better so your orders and plans are more effective.

  • Jaime Lannister: Although I can't remember him ever wearing one when in battle apparently he does have one.

Jaime with helm

  • Tyrion Lannister: It appears as though again he was trying to be a leader and plan the battle from the battlements and that he led the charge as a last minute thing. As such he didn't bring a helm with him.

Note that in the list of "Not Wearing Helmets" although most can be explained away with in universe reasoning they seem to be mostly main characters. As such it seems to be a style choice by the designers so the characters are recognisable especially when in the big battle scenes.

The change to main characters not wearing helmets is something GRRM himself doesn't agree with. I can't seem to find his quote right now but I do have this quote from Elio talking about it.

I had to smile in particular at his grousing about all the main cast failing to don their helmets...

In conclusion you can see that the majority of people do wear helms up until the point they become a main character and then they promptly forget all about them.

  • Jaime wears helmets in the books at least. His helm was caved in by Loras Tyrell, Robert pissed himself laughing. The lion of Lannister had to be taken to the Armorer to get his head free of the destroyed helm. Ramsay too wears a helmet, he was wearing one when he took Winterfell. Jon wears helms too in training and in field – Aegon Nov 13 '17 at 12:23
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    I think it's more to do with the fact that TV show wants people to see the faces of actors while the books don't have to bother with that, just say that X was wearing a helm and you are golden – Aegon Nov 13 '17 at 12:24
  • @Aegon I agree that's essentially what my conclusion is about. I just wanted to answer from the show's perspective to prove that most fighters in fact do wear helmets. – TheLethalCarrot Nov 13 '17 at 12:37
  • I didn't mean to suggest that I thought no one ever wore helmets in the show. Rather that the named characters frequently did not for no good reason yet they were suffering because of it, so it led me to wonder about the situation in the books. Having since read the books and watched the shows, it seems clear that the books include the idea that not wearing a helmet can be a huge problem, but mostly characters do wear some sort of helmet when armored, which is often different from the show (where named characters often don't where helmets when they did in the books). – Dronz Nov 13 '17 at 18:37
  • @Dronz I know what your point was based off of, I just wanted to provide more evidence to the fact that the show essentially does it so you can see their faces. – TheLethalCarrot Nov 14 '17 at 9:04

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