- "Joffrey, Renly, Robb Stark: they're all thieves. They'll bend the knee or I'll destroy them."
- ―Stannis Baratheon
"Bending the knee" is a formal act of submission to a king, queen or lord, a recognition of authority and a demonstration of fealty. It is common for surrendering parties to bend the knee after being defeated in a war or rebellion; in return, the ruling king or lord will usually treat those that bend the knee with leniency - e.g. Torrhen Stark, the King in the North, bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror to spare the lives of the people of the North, and was named Lord Paramount of the North by Aegon in return.
Known acts of "bending the knee"
- Many years before the landing of the Andals on Westeros, the Reach was conquered for House Gardener, whose rival House Hightower renounced his sovereign status when Lymond Hightower married with a Gardener princess.
- During the Andal Invasions, the Andals led by Artys Arryn defeated Robar Royce, High King of the First Men, after which his house and the other houses of the First Men bent their knees to the Arryns as Kings of the Mountain and the Vale.
- After the Ghiscari Wars, the victorious Valyrian Dragonlords entered in the remaining cities of the fallen Ghiscari Empire in the Slaver's Bay where the masters received them with great regales to show them the wealth from their slave industry, so from that moment Meereen, Yunkai and Astapor became vassal states of the Valyrian Freehold until the Doom, dedicated to providing slaves to their colonies.
- For centuries, House Bolton resisted the rule of House Stark as Kings of Winter. They were eventually defeated and bent the knee, giving up their barbaric practice of flaying as a sign of their submission. Other houses that previously bent the knee for the Starks were the Umbers and the Glovers.
- After the Unication of Dorne, Princess Nymeria sent the formers kings of Dorne who opposed to her to the Wall in chains of gold and the successors of their houses became her vassals, among them Davos Dayne, whose father Vorian fell before Nymeria, and who then married her.
- Several kings and lords bent the knee to Aegon I Targaryen and his sisters during the War of Conquest, giving up their crowns and becoming vassals of Aegon the Conqueror.
- Edmyn Tully surrendered upon the arrival of House Targaryen. After the Burning of Harrenhal and the death of King Harren Hoare and his entire family, Aegon named Edmyn Lord Paramount of the Riverlands.
- After the Field of Fire and the death of King Mern Gardener and his entire family, Harlen Tyrell surrendered the Reach and was named Lord Paramount of the Reach and Warden of the South.
- After the Field of Fire, King Loren Lannister surrendered and was named Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and Warden of the West.
- After the Field of Fire, King Torrhen Stark surrendered and was named Lord Paramount of the North and Warden of the North. He was foreverafter known as "the King Who Knelt".
- During the Conquest, Visenya Targaryen rode Vhagar over the Bloody Gate and up to the Eyrie, where the child King Ronnel Arryn surrendered The Vale of Arryn in return for a ride on the dragon's back.
- Before the Field of Fire, the High Septon of Oldtown affirmed that after seven days of praying The Crone had shown him that opposing the Targaryens would mean the destruction of Oldtown, so Manfred Hightower did not add his forces against Aegon, and when the Conqueror headed to the City lord Hightower freely opened his gates submitting to Aegon's authority.
- After Robert's Rebellion and the fall of the Targaryen dynasty, Lord Mace Tyrell bent the knee to Robert Baratheon, and in return was treated leniently, pardoned, and allowed to continue ruling the Reach as his family had before the war.
- After the failure of the Greyjoy Rebellion, King Balon Greyjoy bent the knee to Robert. As a reward for his surrender he was allowed to keep his titles of Lord of the Iron Islands, King of Salt and Rock, Son of the Sea Wind and Lord Reaper of Pyke. However, his only surviving son Theon was taken as a hostage by Eddard Stark to ensure that Balon did not rebel against the Iron Throne again.
- Following the Battle of the Whispering Wood and the Battle of the Camps, Northern and Riverlands lords bend the knee to Robb Stark, proclaiming him King in the North in defiance of the authority of the Iron Throne.
- After the assassination of Renly Baratheon, the Stormlords and some lords of the Reach who had declared for him bent the knee to Stannis in support of his claim to the Iron Throne.
- Following the Battle of the Blackwater, many surviving Stormlords and Reach lords bent the knee to King Joffrey Baratheon.
- In the Telltale game series, Ramsay Snow demands that Ethan Forrester bends the knee to him as a show of loyalty to his father Roose Bolton, the new Lord Paramount of the North, whether or not Ethan actually does so is determined by the player.
- After being carried against her will to Vaes Dothrak by Khal Moro, Daenerys Targaryen was judged by the khalar vezhven to decide whether to accept her as part of the dosh khaleen in their temple. Confabulated with her servers, Daenerys burned down the temple and burned the khals alive, leaving unharmed from the flames before the astonished look of the whole city, which immediately bent their knees before the Unburnt seeing her as a goddess.
- At the end of the Second Siege of Meereen, the servers of the Queen Daenerys informed the representatives of the Slaver Alliance that one of them should die in retaliation for the aggression. Belicho Paenymion and Razdal mo Eraz gave to Yezzan zo Qaggaz as sacrifice, who knelt to plead for mercy. So Belicho and Razdal were executed and he was charged with spreading the story of how they were defeated by the Mother of Dragons.
- After the Battle of the Goldroad, Daenerys demanded the surviving Lannister-Tarly soldiers that bending their knees and recognize her as sovereign. When Randyll and Dickon Tarly refused, they were executed by Drogon's fire, which urged the rest of the survivors to submit to the Dragon Queen.
- After Wight Hunt, when King Jon Snow witnesses what kind of selfless and good natured character Daenerys possesses, by saving his surviving comrades from certain death, he decides to bend the knee and call her 'my Queen'. With this act he renounced his title King in the North and became its Warden, thus cementing an alliance between Jon and Daenerys. At the Parley in King's Landing Jon makes this decision official before everyone gathered there. After 23 years since Robert's Rebellion, House Stark once again became vassals of House Targaryen for the second time in history. Unbeknownst to them both, however, Jon is actually the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark , which actually puts him ahead of Daenerys in the line of succession to the Iron Throne.
- "After Aegon and his dragons destroyed the combined armies of the Reach and the Rock at the Field of Fire, King Torrhen Stark bent the knee and swore fealty to the Targaryen Dynasty in order to spare the destruction of Winterfell and its people. He was foreverafter known as the King Who Knelt. As a reward for his submission, Aegon named Torrhen Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North."
- ―Robb Stark
- "Seeing both the threat and opportunity the Targaryens represented, Loren wisely surrendered and aided Aegon in his further conquest of Westeros. The Lannisters were thus appointed Lords Paramount of the Westerlands and Wardens of the West, titles we hold to this day."
- ―Tywin Lannister
- "When the lion finally showed his colors and purged King's Landing, we knew our cause was lost. My father chose the peaceful route and bent the knee to Robert, who heartily pardoned us."
- ―Margaery Tyrell
- "The last Gardener king lost his face along with his body, and his steward Harlen Tyrell promptly yielded Highgarden to Aegon. My grandmother swears that Harlen was like most of our men and grew up banging steel together too loudly for thought to penetrate, but luckily his wife had better sense. Whatever the case, in return for Harlan's show of sense Aegon proclaimed House Tyrell the Lords of the Reach and Wardens of the South, passing over all the other houses with better claims."
- ―Margaery Tyrell
- "The people of the Vale say that Ser Artys Arryn, the Andal general, flew on the back of a giant falcon and slew the Griffin King on top of the tallest mountain. During Aegon's conquest, one of his sisters did the same, flying her dragon over the Bloody Gate and up to the Eyrie, the Arryn stronghold, and the Arryn boy king yielded the Vale in return for a ride on the beast."
- ―Petyr Baelish
- "Aegon Targaryen landed to our south and, as had many before him liked the look of the Riverlands. My ancestor Edmyn Tully led the desertion of riverlords to his cause and was rewarded by getting to watch King Harren burn in his own tower. Unfortunately, that's not all Edmyn got. House Tully was named the Lords Paramount of the Trident, which means we had to keep in line all of those lords who hadn't governed themselves for thousands of years."
- ―Brynden Tully
- "After years of war, my ancestors gave up their barbaric practices and bent the knee to their new kings. Thus House Bolton became what we are today: loyal bannermen and staunch allies to the Starks... and the second greatest house in the North."
- ―Roose Bolton
- Stannis: "It is customary to kneel when surrendering to a king."
- Mance: "We do not kneel."
- Stannis: "I'll have thousands of your men in chains by nightfall. I have nowhere to put them, I have nothing to feed them. I'm not here to slaughter beat dogs. Their fate depends on their king."
- Mance: "All the same, we do not kneel."
- — Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder[src]
- Ramsay Bolton: "Why would I trust a man who won't honor tradition?"
- Smalljon Umber: "Your father honored tradition, knelt for Robb Stark, called him King of the North. Was Robb Stark right to trust your father?"
- Ramsay Bolton: "Then it appears we're at a bit of an impasse."
- Smalljon Umber: "Fuck kneeling and fuck oaths. I've got a gift for you."
- — Smalljon Umber refuses to bend the knee but still forges an alliance with Ramsay Bolton.[src]
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, bending the knee is mostly considered shameful and disgraceful, but there are exceptions: for instance, Balon Greyjoy believes there is no shame in yielding. He taught his daughter "No man has ever died from bending his knee. He who kneels may rise again, blade in hand. He who will not kneel stays dead, stiff legs and all". Balon has proved the truth of his own words when his first rebellion failed; he bent the knee to the Baratheons and Starks, only to rise again when Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark were dead.
Asha follows her father's advice after she is defeated and captured by Stannis. She tells him "I yield, Your Grace. Do as you wish with me. I ask only that you spare my men". Stannis agrees to spare her and the very few survivors of her troops.