Lord Vance II

King's Landing: Why does it suck so much?

60 posts in this topic

Every time we see King's Landing outside the Red Keep, it mainly sucks. There are of course the great monuments on the hills, the wealthy merchants of the Street of Steel, guildhalls and manses, but GRRM drives home that King's Landing is dirty, poor and inferior to pretty much every other city in the world, in nearly all ways. Why does it suck so much? Shouldn't it be better? Nicer? Richer?

You can smell the stench from miles away. Public sanitation seems to be almost non-existent. Jaeherys is said to have commissioned sewers, wells and other public sanitation, but it doesn't seem to work. Many characters talk about how all ports cities have unique smells. King's Landing is the worst. 

Was it just mis-managed? It's by far the youngest of the cities we see, but I don't think that's an excuse. Especially when you had the opportunity to plan the whole thing out, with the most modern technology, plenty of money and plenty of examples across the Narrow sea, and you come up with this place. When you go in through the only gate from the only port and you come out to a stinking fish market lined in filthy hovels. As far as we know, that's the only easy way into the city from the Harbor, for commoner and foreign dignitaries. Who would design something like that? Having to bring royalty through the starving masses is what got a handful of people killed after Myrcella was sent to Dorne. Compare that set up to White Harbor, a much smaller, poorer city - but it has double ports and the main harbor gate opens to a nice cobbled square with lord fishfoot. Makes way more sense. 

I don't think it makes sense that it apparently has the poorest (free) citizenry of any city too. I suppose so much of the population of the free cities being slaves skews the comparison, but it doesn't seem like any of the other ports in Westeros or even Braavos has the poverty that King's Landing has. Sure by the time we get there Robert has put the kingdom deep in the hole, but we have no reason to think the people of King's Landing were recently taxed into the ground or anything like that, and trade seems to be bustling. 

The World book says people were surprised Aegon chose to build at King's Landing, but says very little about who designed it, besides saying that a HotK named Osmund Strong oversaw the construction of the walls (and only the walls). Aegon supposedly built around the town that had sprung up around the Aegonfort, but that has to have been tiny area-wise compared to King's Landing now, did he leave it mainly up to whoever was building inside the walls? Doesn't seem like him, but the place just seems thrown together. 

I guess the core question is if there is a real reason(s) for why King's Landing sucks so much, or does it suck because GRRM wanted it to suck to serve at metaphor for what went on in the city, and thus it does? 

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If Tyrion were in charge of King's Landing's effluent processes, he would've used the stench to smash Stannis' army before he even left Dragonstone.

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It sucks because it didn't have central planning and raised itself up very quickly. It sucks really bad because GRRM wanted it to suck. Why I cannot be sure.

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Posted (edited)

I don't know how I didn't think of it before, but King's Landing is actually very analogous to Washington D.C. 

  • The decision not to use a existing castle/city like Oldtown or Dragonstone (like how the US didn't use an existing city like New York or Philadelphia)
  • The decision to build a brand-new city which is relatively young compared to most others.
  • The decision to put it in a more central location (Washington was put in the relative middle of the 13 colonies and specifically not in an existing state.)
  • Both planned (to some degree) and square
  • Both dominated by massive, towering monuments and buildings - but have a kinda crummy city in the rest (D.C. isn't KL bad, but its not the greatest city in the US. Plus it's an awful spot to build a city - swampy and hardly any bedrock).
  • Named for the founder of the nation
  • Located on a deep bay (Blackwater and Chesapeake)
  • White House and Red Keep.
  • A lot of shady shit going down.

Maybe our American author used some more local history for inspiration in this? Doesn't really answer my previous questions, D.C. isn't that bad. 

Edited by Lord Vance II

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Big cities in a medieval world are usually dirty, and King's Landing is the biggest city of Westeros.

There were probably a lot of migration into the city since it was built, which could have led to sanitation problems. 

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18 minutes ago, The Hoare said:

There were probably a lot of migration into the city since it was built, which could have led to sanitation problems. 

That would hold up if it was a spontaneous city, but Aegon chose it to become the capitol of the largest empire since the Doom. An influx was counted on. 

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2 hours ago, Lord Vance II said:

Having to bring royalty through the starving masses is what got a handful of people killed after Myrcella was sent to Dorne.

Sure by the time we get there Robert has put the kingdom deep in the hole, but we have no reason to think the people of King's Landing were recently taxed into the ground or anything like that, and trade seems to be bustling. 

Well their is good reason to believe that the riot in King's Landing when they send Myrcella to Dorne is arranged by someone. Likely Littlefinger. Also their is no way that Robert is responsible for the debt. Look at Littlefinger and you shall find the source. He money launders via hiring people that don't exist, overpaying them so that they give him some of the money, and hiring way too many of them. He also is likely making sure the interest rates on the loans he gets are really, really high. I can imagine some of the debt comes from the Greyjoy Rebellion. After all war does cost money. This is also evidenced by when Ned is at his first small council meeting everyone blames the debt on Robert and his tourneys, eating, drinking and whoring. When the money the crown makes via taxes should cover that. Their should only be like 3 or 4 tourneys a year and some may not even be held by the crown. If it costs 100,000 Gold Dragons each we get know where near 6 million.

As to why the city sucks, I don't know. I suppose it is meant to parallel medieval London where the city sucked to. In ally ways their would be piles of shit, rats where everywhere, disease spread really quickly and the city was a big mess.

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Posted (edited)

A  "capitOl" is  building

A "capitAl" is a city

Why do so many US based posters and fanfic writers have problems with telling one from the other?

KL sucks because GRRM wished it so - there is no other reason.

Edited by TMIFairy

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Posted (edited)

I think the point that GRRM drives home is that all cities are dirty and poor. 

Edited by John Doe

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4 hours ago, Agent 326 said:

Well their is good reason to believe that the riot in King's Landing when they send Myrcella to Dorne is arranged by someone. Likely Littlefinger. Also their is no way that Robert is responsible for the debt. Look at Littlefinger and you shall find the source. He money launders via hiring people that don't exist, overpaying them so that they give him some of the money, and hiring way too many of them. He also is likely making sure the interest rates on the loans he gets are really, really high. I can imagine some of the debt comes from the Greyjoy Rebellion. After all war does cost money. This is also evidenced by when Ned is at his first small council meeting everyone blames the debt on Robert and his tourneys, eating, drinking and whoring. When the money the crown makes via taxes should cover that. Their should only be like 3 or 4 tourneys a year and some may not even be held by the crown. If it costs 100,000 Gold Dragons each we get know where near 6 million.

As to why the city sucks, I don't know. I suppose it is meant to parallel medieval London where the city sucked to. In ally ways their would be piles of shit, rats where everywhere, disease spread really quickly and the city was a big mess.

According to TWOIAF, the Crown debts were piling up since long before Robert took the IT.

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1 hour ago, John Doe said:

I think the point that GRRM drives home is that all cities are dirty and poor. 

That pretty much ignores the canon description of White Harbor and Oldtown. KL is obviously a trash heap. I don't believe we know about Gulltown or Lannisport, though I'd imagine Lannisport is similar to Oldtown.

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KL is similar to London in the Middle Ages as the Agent says. Think about people done out of their lands or occupations by sheep husbandry, or reinventing themselves from poverty, or people down on their luck, low life's, and a large population without birth control, except illness. Imagine a large city without toilets, functioning hospitals or a sewage system. Not as much was known about hygiene and medicine then. I'm. For fun, read Dickens, London by Edward Rutherford, or watch Oliver Twist.

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I've always wondered why King's Landing has so many people living in it in the first place? Its not like the city has a huge manufacturing sector that requires a large workforce. Instead most of the city's residents are homeless and penniless and don't have much prospects living inside the city. There's really no reason for them to be there and they are but a drain on resources. I do wonder why the Crown never pursues a policy of gentrification where they evict the poorest folks from the city and just redevelop neighborhoods like Flea Bottom and Pisswater to be more suitable areas to live in.

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4 hours ago, Prof. Cecily said:

According to TWOIAF, the Crown debts were piling up since long before Robert took the IT.

When ned gets to the small council and hears about the debt though He says "aery's left us with a full treasury" or something of that nature. I don't think it was all because robert held a ton of tourneys and such but he didn't pay attention to what was going on and what happened was massive corruption which mixed with robert's tourneys and such caused the massive debt

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Midieval cities were just Fucking gross. Cities are just unable to sustain themselves, are flooded with people down on their luck. It was not uncommon to just throw your shit out into the street. Even the rich were often disgusting, pissing on the street or during diner. 

 

Also the fact that KL is a relatively new city probably doesn't help. It never reached a natural stasis and lacks a functioning foundation. It never stopt growing. So it seems pretty realistic to me that it is that shitty due to it being a lot bigger than Midieval cities like London and Paris were. 

 

Btw there should already have been a city at KL long before Aegons Conquest. It's the most realistic port city due to it's safe and defensable position on the Blackwater, it's proximity to the Free Cities and Essos and the fact it's on the mouth of a river. Oldtown and Lannisport make little sense to me. 

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11 hours ago, Lord Vance II said:

I guess the core question is if there is a real reason(s) for why King's Landing sucks so much, or does it suck because GRRM wanted it to suck to serve at metaphor for what went on in the city, and thus it does? 

I think you answered your own question here.  I do believe part of GRRM's motivation for KL sucking so much is to really highlight how little regard for the common folk that those who play the game of thrones have, and how easy it is for them to ignore the common folk or even feel burdened by their presence.  I think the contrasts between Cersei and Dany's treatment (and to a lesser extent Margaery's) of the common folk are going to be important.

13 minutes ago, Ethelarion said:

Btw there should already have been a city at KL long before Aegons Conquest. It's the most realistic port city due to it's safe and defensable position on the Blackwater, it's proximity to the Free Cities and Essos and the fact it's on the mouth of a river. Oldtown and Lannisport make little sense to me. 

Agreed.

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Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, Universal Sword Donor said:

That pretty much ignores the canon description of White Harbor and Oldtown. KL is obviously a trash heap. I don't believe we know about Gulltown or Lannisport, though I'd imagine Lannisport is similar to Oldtown.

There is this quote from Davos:

"Davos had always been fond of this city, since first he'd come here as a cabin boy on Cobblecat. Though small compared to Oldtown and King's Landing, it was clean and well-ordered, with wide straight cobbled streets that made it easy for a man to find his way. The houses were built of whitewashed stone, with steeply pitched roofs of dark grey slate. Roro Uhoris, the Cobblecat's cranky old master, used to claim that he could tell one port from another just by the way they smelled. Cities were like women, he insisted; each one had its own unique scent. Oldtown was as flowery as a perfumed dowager. Lannisport was a milkmaid, fresh and earthy, with woodsmoke in her hair. King's Landing reeked like some unwashed whore. But White Harbor's scent was sharp and salty, and a little fishy too. "She smells the way a mermaid ought to smell," Roro said. "She smells of the sea.""

I guess the point is that indeed all Westerosi cities are nice, except for King's Landing. Why, it is actually a very interesting question.

Edited by Dofs

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Pre Conquest the main port and city of the area had been Duskendale, I believe.

As to why there had been no major port smack on the outlet of Blackwater Rush into the sea - this is fantasy geography. And a major river does not necessarily spawn a very big city ...

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Short answer: it's a city.

Long answer: it's a medieval city.

Increasing population without increasing size due to being massively walled, means more people squeezed into ever-tighter spaces, no building codes, little knowledge about proper sanitation...I could go on, but I think most of it has been covered already. 

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8 hours ago, Kaibaman said:

Its not like the city has a huge manufacturing sector that requires a large workforce. Instead most of the city's residents are homeless and penniless and don't have much prospects living inside the city. There's really no reason for them to be there and they are but a drain on resources.

I've always thought the whole situation screamed for the Targs to make a mayor or governor type role to whip the city into shape. Someone in charge of establishing building codes and zoning and stuff. If Dany wins and hasn't burned the whole sum'bitch down, I'd love to Tyrion to get a post like that.  And I've never understood why the Dragonpit was never torn down for that matter, that's prime real estate to be occupied by a ruin for over a century. 

5 hours ago, TMIFairy said:

Pre Conquest the main port and city of the area had been Duskendale, I believe.

Yes, and Maidenpool. And I know, I know about the Cap business, I live in one. But if I'm not in work mode you're lucky to get apostrophes. I have commas for days though. 

7 hours ago, Lucius Lovejoy said:

I think the contrasts between Cersei and Dany's treatment (and to a lesser extent Margaery's) of the common folk are going to be important.

In KL, Dany will probably be an easy sell. But I firmly believe she will not receive the welcome she believes she will by the common folk. They have no chains for her to break. She just brings fire and blood. 

I'm kind of surprised the KL-DC parallels got crickets. Tough crowd. 

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