- "The man is a gambler."
- ―Jaqen H'ghar to Arya about the thin man
The thin man operates at Ragman Harbor in Braavos. He sells insurance on merchant ships, thus agreeing to pay ship captains and owners should they lose their vessels on the seas. However, he's also a scammer: though he's supposed to pay the families of insured sailors lost at sea, sometimes he takes the money for himself if the families of the deceased have no means of forcing the man to pay.
One of the thin man's swindled clients goes to the Faceless Men for revenge. Jaqen H'ghar tasks Arya with studying the thin man and offering him oysters to get close enough. Once she returns to the House of Black and White, Jaqen presents her with a bottle of poison, clearly to be used to assassinate the thin man. The next day, however, as Arya prepares to go through with it, she spots Meryn Trant in the distance and follows him instead of poisoning the thin man, even though he was asking for oysters. She tells Jaqen that the thin man wasn't hungry, but Jaqen appears not to believe her, and realizes she lied when he discovers she murdered Trant without their consent.
|Game of Thrones Season 5 appearances|
|The Wars to Come||The House of Black and White||High Sparrow||Sons of the Harpy||Kill the Boy|
|Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken||The Gift||Hardhome||The Dance of Dragons||Mother's Mercy|
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, he is described as an old man, well past fifty. His nose is pinched and sharp, his lips thin, his eyes small and close-set. His hair had gone to grey, but the little pointed beard at the end of his chin is still black (perhaps dyed). One of his shoulders is higher than the other, giving him a crooked cast. His hands look like two white spiders, the fingers are long and bony, always moving, scratching at his beard, tugging at an ear, drumming on a table, twitching. He has two guards, a tall thin man and a short thick man, who escort him everywhere. The short guard tastes his food.
Arya concludes that he is a merchant whose trade has to do with the sea, though she never sees him set foot upon a ship. He spends his days sitting in a soup shop near the Purple Harbor, a cup of onion broth cooling at his elbow as he shuffled papers and sealing wax and speaks in sharp tones to a parade of captains, shipowners, and other merchants, none of whom seems to like him very much. He counts out carefully the money they bring him, sorting the coins and stacking them up neatly. He never looks at the coins, but instead he bites them, always on the left side of his mouth, where he still has all his teeth. From time to time he’d spin one on the table and listen to the sound it made when it came clattering to a stop. After counting and tasting the coins, the old man scrawls upon a parchment, stamp it with his seal, and give it to the captain. Otherwise he’d shake his head and shove the coins back across the table. Whenever he does that, the other man would get red-faced and angry, or pale and scared-looking.
The Kindly Man explains Arya that the old man sells insurance, and comments "It is one thing to write such a binder, though, and another to make good on it" - implying that the old man cheats his clients. Arya guesses that one of his clients must hate him and hired the guild to kill him.
Arya feels uncomfortable about her mission, since the old man never did any ill to her or her family, and she has no idea if he ever committed any deed that he deserves death for. In attempt to ease her conscience, she comes up with very lame excuses to justify what she is going to do:
- He outlived her father.
- He is impolite. Arya smiled at him, but he did not smile back. He scowled at her and went on past, sloshing through a puddle. The splash wet her feet.
- His face is hard and mean, hence he is evil.
- He moves his hands too much, he must be full of fear. The gift will bring him peace. He will probably look in Arya's eyes and thank her.
The Kindly Man dismisses all those foolish excuses, telling Arya that the old man is a man like any other, with light in him and darkness, and it is not for her to judge him. If he thanks Arya for killing him - it means she failed, for it will be best if he takes no note of her at all.
Arya watches the old man for three days before making her move: she sees a one-legged shipowner, who has done business three times before with the old man, approach him. Arya cuts his purse open and grabs a handful of coins, trips him over and runs away. She deliberately drops the coins while running. The shipowner gathers the coins, unaware that one of them has been switched, then returns to the old man and pays him.
Arya returns to the Kindly Man and shows him the coin she took. He frowns, because the Faceless Men are not thieves, but Arya explains "It wasn’t stealing. I took one of his, but I left him one of ours". The Kindly Man understands what Arya did: knowing that the old man bites the coins he is given to test if they are real, she slipped a poisoned coin among the coins she stole and dropped. The shipowner picked them up and used them to pay the old man, and soon afterwards - his heart gave out. The Kindly Man drops the coin into the pool and compliments Arya.
The next day, the Kindly Man orders her to go to Izembaro to begin her first apprenticeship, and she does. It is unknown yet what her next assignment is, and why she needs to join Izembaro's group of mummers. While she is there she notices Rafford and kills him, without being ordered to.
Of all the people whom Arya killed, the old man is the second (following Dareon) who has never done any ill to her, her family or her friends, and has not threatened or provoked her in any way.
Unlike in the show, there is no arrival that distracts Arya from her mission. The arrival of a person on Arya's hit list happens much later in the books.
It is not anachronistic to the time periods that Game of Thrones is based on for the thin man to sell insurance policies: there is evidence that the concept of insurance has been known and practiced by Chinese and Babylonian traders during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, respectively. It's even more appropriate for Braavos, an economic powerhouse akin to the Dutch Republic, Genoa, or Venice, all states where uninsured ships had little chance of successful ventures, and insurance policies first arose from Genoa in Europe. The novels actually do mention merchants in the Free Cities buying and selling insurance: apart from the thin man himself, the Triarch of Volantis named Vogarro was specifically said to sell insurance to shipowners against the hazards of the sea.