Warning: This article contains spoilers from Game of Thrones season 7.
Tycho Nestoris, a representative of the Iron Bank of Braavos who’s showed up sporadically since season 4, offered his congratulations and condolences to Cersei. But he had another purpose for visiting the new queen: He was there to collect the debt that the crown owes the Iron Bank. And the crown owes the Iron Bank a lot of money.
Wars are expensive, the wealthy Tyrells turned on her, and Daenerys Targaryen has three fully grown dragons, Tycho told Cersei. The Iron Bank doesn’t bet, it just “invest[s] in endeavors we deem likely to be successful,” and right now Cersei doesn’t look like she’ll be successful.
“The Lannisters owe the Iron Bank quite a lot of money, but Lannisters always pay their debts,” Cersei tells him. “Do former slaves, or Dothraki, or dragons?”
Though not always mentioned by name, Tycho’s employer—the Iron Bank of Braavos—has been a recurring and lingering thread in Game of Thrones since the very first season. Westeros has been in massive debt for the entire length of the show, and it’s only grown worse with new tourneys, the War of the Five Kings, two royal weddings, three major funerals, and one exploding Sept of Baelor. Even without a war against Daenerys, the crown would have to spend a lot of money just to prepare King’s Landing for the upcoming winter.
Tycho Nestoris—played by Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss—has been our connection to the Iron Bank since season 4, and although Tycho may be just one man, his institution is among one of the most powerful in the world—one that could help take down a monarch, if it’s not paid back in due time.
“The Iron Bank will have its due”
Out of the Nine Free Cities of Essos, Braavos is the youngest of the lot—but it’s also the richest and arguably the most powerful. Part of that is due to the Iron Bank, which dates all the way back around the founding of Braavos by slaves and fugitives who rebelled against their Valyrian masters.
Some of them hid what treasures they brought with them in an iron mine to prevent thieves from stealing them, and as more people came to Braavos the mine became filled with more valuable items. Eventually the founders started the bank to keep track of the wealth and lend it out to other Braavosi. Soon, people from all over the world—”Kings, princes, archons, triarchs, and merchants beyond count,” according to The World of Ice and Fire—traveled to Braavos to seek out a loan from the Iron Bank.
That includes the people of Westeros. As Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in A Dance With Dragons, Jon Snow negotiated with Tycho so the Night’s Watch could purchase food and supplies to last them through winter. And for most of Game of Thrones, gold has been vital to maintaining the Iron Throne. “Just ask House Lannister of Westeros,” Gatiss noted in a bemused tone in a season 4 supplemental segment on the Iron Bank.
The Iron Bank of Braavos is the most powerful bank in the known world, a reputation that comes not only from its immense wealth but how the Iron Bank ruthlessly deals with those who don’t pay back their debts. However, the Iron Bank will use other means to get its money back. Although it’s never been confirmed or proven, some fans have long suspected a link between the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men—including one theory that’s been floating around suggesting the Iron Bank has hired Faceless Men to do its bidding.
The Iron Bank will have its due, it is said. Those who borrow from the Braavosi and fail to repay their debts oft have cause to rue such folly, for the Bank has been known to topple lords and princes and has also been rumored to send assassins against those it cannot remove (though this has never been conclusively proved).
Davos Seaworth is a hell of a negotiator
It’s one thing to convince the Iron Bank to lend you money instead of your enemies. It’s another to persuade the Iron Bank to lend you money at the brink of defeat—and Ser Davos Seaworth did just that when he served Stannis Baratheon as Hand of the King.
One way that the Iron Bank has retaliated against its lenders is by funding the enemy, and that was the goal of Stannis and Davos when they traveled to Braavos in season 4’s episode “The Laws of Gods and Men.” Tycho and two other representatives met with Stannis and Davos, but it was more of a courtesy than anything. After his defeat at Blackwater, Stannis did not look like a winning king for the Iron Bank to invest in.
The Iron Bank is full of pragmatists. So Davos, ever the pragmatist himself (both for Stannis and later as an advisor to Jon), offers a different look at the situation. But Davos also has proof that Stannis Baratheon is a man of his word because of how he paid Davos back.
During Robert’s Rebellion, Davos—who had already gained a reputation for his smuggling—helped smuggle onions and salt fish from King’s Landing to Storm’s End, where Stannis and his men held the Baratheon stronghold against the Tyrell army for months. Davos’ food saved Stannis and his men from starving, which kept them alive long enough for Ned Stark to arrive and break up the siege. As a reward, Stannis knighted him and gave him land and a war galley to command. But as punishment for smuggling, Stannis removed the first joint of the fingers located on Davos’ right hand. (In the books, it’s the left hand.)
“There’s only one reliable leader left in Westeros,” Davos explained. “Stannis. He’s got the birthright. He’s in his prime. He’s a tried and tested battle commander, and he doesn’t just talk about paying people back, he does it.”
Although the loan from the Iron Bank to Stannis doesn’t work out after Stannis’ defeat and death at Winterfell, the money he received was instrumental. It allowed Stannis and Davos to hire sellswords and sail to the Wall, defeating the wildlings after the Battle of Castle Black, and putting Davos on a path that will eventually lead him to convince Melisandre to resurrect Jon, who he now serves. You could argue that, because of the major course of events that followed this fateful meeting, the Iron Bank is indirectly responsible for Jon Snow’s resurrection.
How bad is Westeros’ debt problem?
George R.R. Martin was fascinated with exploring how ruling isn’t as simple as fantasy books like Lord of the Rings can make it seem. Amid the battles, dragons, White Walkers, and games of wit in Game of Thrones, leadership struggles—and financial questions—are given considerable time largely through the lens of the Iron Bank.
The Iron Bank has been a thread on the show, albeit an inferred one, as early as season 1’s episode “Lord Snow.” Having just arrived in King’s Landing a short time before, Ned Stark is shocked to discover that the crown is 6 million Gold Dragons in debt. Half of that is owed to the Lannisters, according to then royal Master of Coin Petyr Baelish, who doesn’t say who is owed the other 3 million.
By the time Tyrion Lannister gets Baelish’s job, the crown is in even worse shape. All of it adds up, and although the crown still owes the Lannisters millions, it owes the Iron Bank even more.
“It’s not my father I’m worried about. It’s the Iron Bank of Braavos,” Tyrion explained to Bronn. “We owe them tens of millions. If we fail to repay these loans, the Bank will fund our enemies. One way or another, they always get their gold.”
By season 4, the Iron Bank problem has gotten worse. Weddings are an extravagant affair, but the royal wedding of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell had to be as lavish as expected, Olenna Tyrell argued to Tywin. Besides, he’d need the Tyrells again for their gold for the next war and “the Iron Bank will have its due.” Though Tywin tried to look like he wasn’t worried, he definitely was.
“Our last working mine ran dry three years ago. The crown owes the Iron Bank of Braavos a tremendous amount of money,” he told Cersei. When asked how much he meant, Tywin only repeated, “A tremendous amount.”
And in season 5, the Iron Bank saw firsthand what would happen to the crown after Tywin’s death. Mace Tyrell, having been made Master of Coin, informed the Small Council that the Iron Bank had called for one-tenth of the crown’s debts in the episode “Sons of the Harpy.” Mace offered to pay it now so the crown can pay the Tyrells later, but Cersei, who doesn’t want the Tyrells to have any more influence on the crown, refuses the money. She sends Mace to Braavos to negotiate a better deal.
When Mace does arrive in the episode “The Dance of Dragons,” he immediately tries to bribe Tycho with “a cask of the Arbor’s finest,” which fails in part because Tycho doesn’t drink. But as a representative of the Iron Bank, he wouldn’t crumble that easily, either. Their negotiations take place off-screen.
Could Cersei face a more deadly opponent than the Iron Bank?
Over the course of seven seasons, Westeros’ Iron Bank problem has grown significantly worse. It’s so bad that even Tywin, who was meticulous about money, wouldn’t say how much is owed. Tens of millions, easily, but it could have reached the realm of nine figures by the time Cersei took the Iron Throne.
Cersei asks for a fortnight to get the money, and it’s possible that we’ve already seen part of her plan go into action. While Jaime Lannister let Daenerys’ Unsullied soldiers take Casterly Rock, he stormed Highgarden, home of the Tyrells—and their significant wealth. With Olenna’s death officially marking the end of the Tyrell reign, Jaime can swoop in and take it. We already know based on Sunday’s preview that Jaime discovers gold as Tycho proclaims that “you can count on the Iron Bank as soon as the gold arrives.” Things are looking up for Cersei, but on Game of Thrones good fortune rarely lasts long.
Will this Lannister finally pay her debt? Or, after the years of it piling up, could that potential payment finally be too little too late for the Iron Bank? There’s no guarantee who will end up on the Iron Throne, but amid the endless wars, there’s one likely guarantee: the Iron Bank will get its gold.