- "The common people pray for rain, health, and a summer that never ends. They don't care what games the high lords play."
- ―Ser Jorah Mormont
The term smallfolk refers to the peasantry and commoners of Westeros, effectively anyone who is not part of a noble house - though smallfolk make up much of a noble household - or a knight. In spite of this distinction, hedge knights are generally considered to be only one tiny step above smallfolk. Members of the Night's Watch, the Order of Maesters, or the clergy of the Faith of the Seven are not usually considered smallfolk, although some members of those orders may have originated from the ranks of the common people.
Most of the common population of the Seven Kingdoms are peasants who lead an agrarian lifestyle, although some live in larger settlements and in Westeros's few true cities. Most, though by no means all, are uneducated and illiterate. Unlike members of noble Houses, the smallfolk do not typically use surnames.
Although there are no exact numbers for the total the population of Westeros, let alone parts of the population, the smallfolk are usually estimated to number in the millions.
Attitudes towards the smallfolk
The nobility and ruling class of Westeros display various attitudes towards the smallfolk. These range from outright dismissal and contempt to understanding the inherent importance of these people as human beings. The attitudes of individual nobles have also been known to change over time. In general, however, even those nobles on the more charitable end of the spectrum do not make serious attempts to alter the existing hierarchy, or heavily incorporate the smallfolk into the business of governing. Although rare, those among the nobility who have spent time among the smallfolk and/or do not aspire to hold political power themselves, such as Arya Stark, tend to be the most open when it comes to dealing with the commoners.
The exiled Viserys Targaryen was convinced that the smallfolk of Westeros were chafing under the usurper Robert Baratheon's rule, and secretly hoping for the return of their true king Viserys. Ser Jorah Mormont explains to Daenerys Targaryen that this is mere fantasy - particularly given that Robert's rule has been reasonably stable for the past seventeen years. Ultimately, Jorah says, the smallfolk care nothing about the political games being played by the high lords, so long as they don't directly affect them.
When Cersei Lannister asks Robert why he is so worried about the prospect of a Targaryen-aligned Dothraki army, he explains that should the Dothraki cross the Narrow Sea, the nobles can retreat to their castles, but then a great many of the smallfolk would be slaughtered and those that are left will turn on their absentee king and possibly decide to join Viserys.
When Tyrion Lannister arrives in King's Landing as acting Hand of the King, he warns Cersei that the city is overburdened with refugees, and due to the war, half of the city will be starving when winter comes. In this volatile environment, Tyrion criticizes the purge of King Robert's bastard children, saying it has made Cersei appear brutal and it has given the commoners a rallying cry against her. Cersei bluntly states that she does not care what "the people" think. Janos Slynt also tried to warn Cersei about the influx of starving refugees and strain on the city's resources, but she brushed off his concerns by telling him to simply bar the city's gates against the masses of refugees trying to seek shelter inside.
When King's Landing is later under siege by Stannis Baratheon, a drunk Cersei explains to Sansa Stark that her conception of ruling is that "the only way to keep the smallfolk loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy".
Even though it was Cersei who named the High Sparrow as the new High Septon and informed against the Tyrell siblings to him in the first place, he later has her arrested as well on charges of fornication, treason, incest, and regicide. When Qyburn urges Cersei to confess so that she can be reunited with her son King Tommen, she initially refuses, displaying the same level of contempt that she has always had toward the smallfolk.
Eventually, however, Cersei winds up facing the wrath of the smallfolk when she is forced to perform a walk of atonement. As the once prideful Queen Mother walks completely naked from the Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep, the smallfolk proceed to hurl filth and vicious insults at her, which eventually reduces her to tears – although, in the long run, the experience does not humble her.
As conditions in the capital worsen following the outbreak the War of the Five Kings, the smallfolk become increasingly hostile. When the royal party moves through the city after sending Princess Myrcella off to Dorne, a starving mob pelts King Joffrey Baratheon with insults and demands for bread, and ultimately, they pelt him with cow dung. An enraged Joffrey orders his guards to kill them all, sparking the major food riots in which the royal party narrowly avoids being lynched by the mob. The fat and corrupt High Septon is torn limb from limb by the mob.
Margaery & Olenna Tyrell
When members of House Tyrell arrive in King's Landing after they enter into an alliance with the Lannisters, they show notably more concern about helping the starving poor of the capital city. Margaery Tyrell and her attendants give out bread and toys to an orphanage, to Joffrey's confusion, and Margaery later chides Cersei that the poor are no different from the highborn if given a chance. Cersei later attempts to warn Joffrey about the Tyrells, accurately surmising that Margaery is making a great show of charity to the city's poor in order to build up support for herself, taking it away from the Lannisters in the process.
Tyrion later speaks with Margaery's grandmother Olenna Tyrell to discuss the great expense involved in celebrating Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. In the course of the conversation, Olenna tacitly acknowledges to Tyrion that the Tyrells have a more pragmatic concern behind their charitable actions towards the smallfolk: unlike Cersei, Olenna and the Tyrells are aware of the difficulties of ruling a population of angry and starving citizens, and she insists that an expensive royal wedding will be a good distraction for the common people. While this may appear self-serving of the Tyrells, it could also be said to be basic good governance (i.e. happy people are less likely to rebel), and the smallfolk are getting real benefits from it. While Cersei and Joffrey earned the scorn of the smallfolk for mistreating them, Margaery Tyrell quickly became beloved by the smallfolk for easing their suffering. At Joffrey and Margaery's wedding feast, Margaery announces that all the leftover food will be donated to the poor; Cersei secretly countermands the decision.
However, when Margaery is later arrested by the Faith Militant for perjury on her brother Loras's behalf, Olenna visits the High Sparrow and threatens to renege on Tyrell support to the capital in order to secure her grandchildren's release. Yet the High Sparrow remains steadfast in his position, remarking that the nobility of Westeros have forgotten they are outnumbered by the smallfolk and tells Olenna to ponder what happens when the many stop fearing the few.
Brotherhood Without Banners
In the Riverlands, Lord Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and other survivors from the Battle at the Mummer's Ford form the Brotherhood Without Banners with the purpose of protecting the common people from the warring lords. Years later, the Brotherhood fights in the Great War against the White Walkers and the army of the dead, the ultimate threat to all of the living, including the smallfolk.
As a leader, Daenerys Targaryen arguably displayed true sympathy towards those of lesser status, and that sympathy was generally reciprocated. However, most of her interaction with commoners was in a removed, abstract manner, or in situations where her authority was not in question, and this created a misleading picture in Daenerys's mind. When Tyrion meets her in Meereen, he asks who she thinks will support her claim to the Iron Throne in the event that she returns to Westeros. When Daenerys idealistically declares the smallfolk, Tyrion reminds her that she relied solely on the common people for support in Meereen, and that the city has since fallen into chaos.
After the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, Cersei was finally able to cement her power as ruler, but as Tyrion explained to Daenerys, this made the common people despise her even more than they already did.
During her war for Westeros, Daenerys agrees with Tyrion's plans to avoid a direct attack on King's Landing when she is reminded of the civilians who live in the city. She hopes a siege will induce the smallfolk into turning against Cersei. Eventually, however, she becomes unstable after losing her loved ones and becomes convinced that the smallfolk do not love her, but only fear her.
While considering a direct attack on the Red Keep and waging war in the city, despite civilian casualties, Daenerys expresses unhappiness the people have not risen up against Cersei and says she will reserve mercy for future generations. During the Battle of King's Landing, the city surrenders to Daenerys, but she decides to burn the populace, including the smallfolk. She later declares she "liberated" these people from Cersei and she will "liberate" the world. Jon is taken aback by Daenerys's actions in King's Landing and tries to dissuade her from further carnage, pleading with her to be merciful to the people, but she believes her actions are necessary to build a good world, and intends to be the only one who decides what will be good for the people. Upon seeing that Daenerys is resolved, Jon reluctantly assassinates her to put an end to her destruction.
At the subsequent Great Council of 305 AC, Samwell Tarly suggests letting the smallfolk choose their next ruler but is laughed at by the lords and ladies present there; nonetheless, the gathered nobles agree on an elective monarchy chosen by Great Councils rather than inheritance moving forward.
- Varys: "The peasants say a long summer means an even longer winter."
- Grand Maester Pycelle: "A common superstition."
- Petyr Baelish: "We have enough wheat for a five-year winter. If it lasts any longer...we'll have fewer peasants."
- — Littlefinger flippantly explains the Lannisters' strategy for dealing with a protracted winter.[src]
- Tyrion Lannister: "Listen to me Queen Regent, you're losing the people. Do you hear me?"
- Cersei Lannister: "[laughs] The people? You think I care?"
- Tyrion Lannister: "You might find it difficult to rule millions who want you dead. Half the city will starve when winter comes, the other half will plot to overthrow you."
- — Tyrion admonishes Cersei for her lack of concern about the smallfolk.[src]
- Talisa Maegyr: "Do you think he's friends with King Joffrey? He's a fisherman's son that grew up near Lannisport. He probably never held a spear before they shoved one in his hand's a few months ago."
- Robb Stark: "I have no hatred for the lad."
- Talisa Maegyr: "That should help his foot grow back."
- — Talisa Maegyr to Robb Stark, regarding a wounded common soldier[src]
- Davos Seaworth: "I understand why the older families look down at me."
- Stannis Baratheon: "Do you? Why?"
- Davos Seaworth: "My father was a crabber. Sons of lords don't like to break bread with sons of crabbers. Our hands stink."
- — Davos on the relationship between between high-born lords and low-born smallfolk.[src]
- "The people are hungry for more than just food. They crave distractions, and if we don't provide them, they'll create their own. And their distractions are likely to end with us being torn to pieces."
- ―Olenna Tyrell to Tyrion on the importance of an extravagant royal wedding.
- "We're not really people to you, are we? Just a million different ways to get what you want."
- ―Gendry to Davos
- Olenna Tyrell: "If it's equality you want, so be it. When House Tyrell stops sending our crops to the capital, everyone here will starve. And I'll make sure the hungry know who's to blame."
- High Sparrow: "Have you ever sowed the field, Lady Olenna? Have you ever reaped the grain? Has anyone in House Tyrell? A lifetime of wealth and power has left you blind in one eye. You are the few, we are the many. And when the many stop fearing the few..."
- — The High Sparrow reminds Lady Olenna that the smallfolk outnumber the nobility.[src]
- "Confess to the High Sparrow? I won't. I made him. I rose him up from nothing. I will not kneel before some bare-footed commoner and beg his forgiveness!"
- ―Cersei flippantly refuses to confess to the High Sparrow.
- "But who are we, hm? We have no names, no family. Every one of us is poor and powerless, and yet together... we can overthrow an empire."
- ―The High Sparrow threatens Jaime Lannister
- "I wasn't born into a Great House. I came from nothing. I was sold as a slave and carved up as an offering. When I was a child, I lived in alleys, gutters, abandoned houses. You wish to know where my true loyalties lie? Not with any king or queen, but with the people. The people who suffer under despots and prosper under just rule, the people whose hearts you aim to win!"
- ―Varys to Daenerys Targaryen
- "Men decide where power resides whether or not they know it."
- ―Varys to Jon Snow
- Samwell Tarly: "Why just us? We represent all the Great Houses, but, whoever we choose, they won't just rule over lords and ladies. Maybe the decision about what's best for everyone should be left to... well, everyone."
- Edmure Tully: "[laughing] Maybe we should give the dogs a vote as well."
- Yohn Royce: "[laughing] I'll ask my horse!"
- — Samwell's idea is laughed at and shot down by the great lords at the Great Council of 305 AC[src]
In the books
Smallfolk make up the common working and middle classes of Westeros, serving as farmers, laborers, builders, shopkeepers, servants, and soldiers. They are ruled over by their lords, but are not slaves, slavery being abolished in Westeros thousands of years ago at the command of the Faith of the Seven.
Because of their lack of authority and power, smallfolk tend to be neglected by their lords, seen only as a suppliers of food or soldiers. Smallfolk tend to look up to knights and religious folk who stand up for their interests.
A major theme emphasized in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels is that it doesn't really matter to the smallfolk who wins the "game of thrones", the political machinations in Westeros, because either way the outbreak of war is making them suffer. Particularly as seen in "Fire and Blood", once Joffrey comes to power he shows absolutely no concern for his subjects, frequently having smallfolk killed for slight or imagined insults, if not simply killing them on a whim. The Riot of King's Landing in Season 2 was considerably more macabre in the books: as the crowds shouted for bread, a woman stepped into the middle of the road to block the path of the royal party, holding her own dead baby - which had died of malnutrition due to the war that Cersei and Joffrey started. She then drops it at her feet to point at Cersei, blaming her for instigating the war.
Even the death of Robb Stark and the end of the Northern rebellion after the Red Wedding is a hollow achievement for the thousands of displaced refugees in the Riverlands, where most of the war played out. While major battles like Whispering Wood or Oxcross are memorable, much of medieval warfare typically involved striking where the enemy was weakest. Thus the day-to-day fighting of the War of the Five Kings usually consisted of Lannister raiding parties riding ahead to burn out Riverlands farms and villages that the Starks controlled, then fleeing before the Starks could respond in force. The Starks and Tullys then made retaliatory raids on farms and villages in territory the Lannisters controlled. As a result, by the time Robb Stark dies, most of the Riverlands are completely burned out - destroying one of the main breadbasket regions of the Seven Kingdoms, even as winter fast approaches. After the Red Wedding, Tyrion scoffs that the Riverlands are "a devastation" in the aftermath of the war, with starvation in the thousands.
- ↑ "The Night Lands"
- ↑ "Winter Is Coming"
- ↑ "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things"
- ↑ "The Wolf and the Lion"
- ↑ "The Night Lands"
- ↑ "The North Remembers"
- ↑ "Blackwater"
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 "Hardhome"
- ↑ "Mother's Mercy"
- ↑ "The Old Gods and the New
- ↑ "Valar Dohaeris"
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 "Dark Wings, Dark Words"
- ↑ "Kissed by Fire"
- ↑ "And Now His Watch Is Ended
- ↑ "The Lion and the Rose"
- ↑ "The Gift"
- ↑ "And Now His Watch Is Ended"
- ↑ "No One"
- ↑ "The Winds of Winter"
- ↑ "Stormborn"
- ↑ "The Spoils of War"
- ↑ "The Last of the Starks"
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 "The Bells"
- ↑ 24.0 24.1 "The Iron Throne"