House of the Dragon: What is a Small Council?
On both Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, the king's Small Council keeps the realm in line. Get to know some of its major players!
This article contains House of the Dragon spoilers through episode 3.
Nobody is saying that absolute monarchy is perfect. Gods know that Westeros could benefit from some elections here and there. But for thousands of years in the continuity of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, the Seven Kingdoms has got along just fine with its succession of kings and noble figures.
Sure you get a Mad King Aerys or a Maegor the Cruel here or there, but for the most part the Targaryen dynasty (and the smaller petty kings across the seven kingdoms that predated Aegon’s Conquest) have kept things in line. That’s because like any good king, most Targaryens know they can’t do it alone. Every Targaryen monarch since Aegon I himself have instituted a Small Council to help them with the day-to-day responsibilities of governing a whole continent.
From the Hand of the King to the Master of Laws to the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, the king’s Small Council operates sort of like a presidential cabinet, helping the Lord-Ruler of the Realm make decisions for the benefit of Andals, First Men, Rhoynar, and Valyrians across Westeros. In keeping with Andal tradition, which worships the Faith of the Seven, there are usually seven positions in the Small Council. And through eight seasons of Game of Thrones and a handful of episodes of House of the Dragon, we’ve seen quite a few members of the hallowed group of advisors.
With that in mind, let’s examine the seats on the king’s Small Council, remind you of some familiar faces from both Thrones and Dragon that make it up, and delve into the deeper history of the whole thing.
Hand of the King
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Hand of the King: Ser Otto Hightower
King Robert I Baratheon’s Hand of the King: Lord Jon Arryn, Lord Eddard Stark
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Hand of the King: Lord Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister
King Brandon I Stark’s Hand of the King: Lord Tyrion Lannister
The best way to understand the Hand of the King’s role is to revisit an old Westerosi adage: “The king eats and the hand takes the shit.” The Hand of the King is perhaps the most important political role in the Seven Kingdoms aside from the king himself. More than an advisor, more than a confidante, more than even someone like say a vice president – the Hand of the King takes an incredibly active role in governing the realm.
Some Hands are particularly…um, hands on…while others are a little more aloof, but all of them bear an enormous amount of responsibility. It’s the death of one Hand that jumpstarts the events of Game of Thrones. When his old mentor-turned-Hand Jon Arryn dies, King Robert Baratheon turns to the only other man he can trust to fill the important role: Ned Stark. In House of the Dragon, King Viserys has opted to keep his predecessor’s Hand of the King, Ser Otto Hightower, on in the same office.
Otto was only the last Hand of the King to King Jaehaerys I before he died. Prior to Otto, Jaehaerys ran through Lord Rogar Baratheon, Lord Daemon Velaryon, Lord Myles Smallwood, Septon Barth, Ser Ryam Redwyne, and Prince Baelon Targaryen. As all those “Lord” and “Ser” titles suggest, the Hand of the King is almost always a fellow nobleman, though noble blood is not a prerequisite of the job. In fact, the lowly-born Septon Barth is considered one of the finest Hand of the King’s ever and can be partially credited with the era of peace and prosperity that King Viserys has inherited.
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Grand Maester: Grand Maester Mellos
King Robert I Baratheon’s Grand Maester: Grand Maester Pycelle
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Grand Maester: Grand Maester Pycelle
King Brandon I Stark’s Grand Maester: Samwell Tarly
Though magic is very real (albeit in diminishing quantities) in the Game of Thrones universe, the governance of the Seven Kingdoms does incorporate some science…or at least as much science as the primitive society can muster. That’s where the Grand Maester comes in. The Maesters are a guild of deep-thinkers, experimenters, and scholars who reside in the Citadel in Oldtown (home of House Hightower).
Every great house of Westeros can petition the Citadel to send them a live-in Maester to assist their homestead with tasks like medicine and raven-based communication. It’s only natural then that the Iron Throne itself have a Maester and a very important one at that. Grand Maesters have served the crown as part of the Small Council since five years after Aegon’s Conquest when the Conqueror himself requested a maester to assist in governance of the Seven Kingdoms.
Some Grand Maesters are more adept than others and a particularly terrible Grand Maester is Pycelle, the cowardly scheming man who served under six kings (Aegon V, Jaehaerys II, Aerys II, Robert I, Joffrey I, and Tommen I) but really only served himself.
Master of Coin
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Master of Coin: Prince Daemon Targaryen, Lord Lyman Beesbury
King Robert I Baratheon’s Master of Coin: Lord Petyr Baelish, Tyrion Lannister
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Master of Coin: Lord Petyr Baelish
King Brandon I Stark’s Master of Coin: Lord Bronn (lol)
Running the Seven Kingdoms is an expensive enterprise and that’s where the Master of Coin comes in. Operating as a sort of Treasury Secretary for the Iron Throne, the Master of Coin is supposed to monitor and maintain the Seven Kingdoms’ wealth. In reality, however, the Master of Coin more often than not just borrows money from other lords and the Iron Bank of Braavos as needed to indulge the king’s need for fancy feasts and tourneys.
Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish was an irresponsible Master of Coin in Game of Thrones though one would have to imagine that King Bran Stark’s appointment of Lord Bronn will end up even worse.
Master of Laws
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Master of Laws: Prince Daemon Targaryen, Lord Lyonel Strong
King Robert I Baratheon’s Master of Laws: Lord Renly Baratheon
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Master of Laws: Ser Kevan Lannister
King Brandon I Stark’s Master of Laws: Unknown
There isn’t necessarily a singular “law book” in Westeros. The legal code of the Seven Kingdoms is a thorny mess of Great Council precedents, royal decrees, and bad memories. Tasked with making sense of the whole thing is the king’s Master of Laws.
On House of the Dragon, Prince Daemon Targaryen filled the role of Master of Laws for his brother only after growing bored of being Master of Coin. When Daemon failed out of that job too, Viserys put him in charge of the City Watch as their commander. That didn’t go so well either.
Master of Ships
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Master of Ships: Lord Corlys Velaryon, Ser Tyland Lannister
King Robert I Baratheon’s Master of Ships: Lord Stannis Baratheon
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Master of Ships: Lord Mace Tyrell
King Brandon I Stark’s Master of Ships: Lord Davos Seaworth
While many houses in Westeros build and maintain their own fleet, the Iron Throne itself must also maintain a collection of ships to both keep those houses in check and defend the realm from foreign invaders. The man in charge of shepherding and commanding that royal fleet is the Master of Ships.
Master of Ships is the rare Small Council role in Game of Thrones and House of the Dragons that is actually filled by competent individuals for the most part. Save for the purely political appointment of Lord Mace Tyrell under King Joffrey, the other Master of Ships are all great choices. Lord Corlys Velaryon of Driftmark maintains the largest fleet of ships on the continent, King’s Landing included. Though Ser Tyland Lannister takes over for him while he’s off in the Stepstones fighting Daemon’s war. Meanwhile Stannis Baratheon was a jerk but a brilliant commander all the same.
Master of Whisperers
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Master of Whisperers: Lord Larys Strong
King Robert I Baratheon’s Master of Whisperers: Lord Varys
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Master of Whisperers: Lord Varys
King Brandon I Stark’s Master of Whisperers: Unknown
Ladies and gentlemen: meet your CIA/SIS all rolled into one. The Master of Whisperers is charged with maintaining a worldwide network of spies and saboteurs. If a would-be assassin picks up a dagger in a Lyseni pleasure house, the Master of Whisperers should know as fast as a raven can fly.
In Game of Thrones, Lord Varys was the consummate dealer in secrets. The man known as “The Spider” served as Master of Whisperers under King Aerys II, King Robert I, King Joffrey I, King Tommen I, and Queen Daenerys Targaryen. Everyone knew they shouldn’t trust Varys (and indeed they shouldn’t have because he was loyal to House Targaryen throughout it all) but they couldn’t help but keep him in the role anyway. He was just too damn good at his job.
House of the Dragon hasn’t introduced King Viserys’s Master of Whisperers yet but it’s likely to follow Fire & Blood‘s precedent with Lord Larys Strong. Known as “The Clubfoot” (Westerosi are so cruel sometimes), Larys just popped up in House of the Dragon episode 3. Also: when the Dance of Dragons civil war really gets rolling, keep an eye on Lady Mysaria’s espionage abilities.
Lord Commander of the Kingsguard
King Viserys I Targaryen’s Lord Commander of the Kingsguard: Ser Harrold Westerling
King Robert I Baratheon’s Lord Commander of the Kingsguard: Ser Barristan Selmy
King Joffrey I Baratheon’s Lord Commander of the Kingsguard: Ser Jaime Lannister
King Brandon I Stark’s Lord Commander of the Kingsguard: Ser Brienne of Tarth
Lord Commander is the title held by the most senior member of the Kingsguard, the brotherhood of seven knights sworn to protect the king. It only makes sense then that the individual responsible for the king’s safety be given a seat on the Small Council as well.
Though the Lord Commander’s input is appreciated on governing matters, their duty to the king supersedes all else. The Lord Commander shouldn’t get involved in any petty political squabbles. Surely, that precedent will hold up in House of the Dragon!
New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max in the U.S. and Sky Atlantic in the U.K.