Author: Atarah al'Norahn
The great captains are those living captains who are generally considered to be superior tacticians and commanders. They are the type of captain who is able to win a battle even after their plans start to unravel (WH, Ch. 29), working out what they need to change in order to win (CoT, Ch. 23). Although sometimes capitalized within the books, “Great Captain” does not appear to be an official title, but rather a moniker of respect for those who are able to view battle on a level that most commanders can’t. Indeed, other soldiers and commanders often expect great captains to “see the battle differently than ordinary men do” (AMoL, Ch. 18).
Other good captains and commanders are often described in the books in relation to the great captains. Of Baldhere, for instance, it is mentioned that although he “was not one of the great captains, he was a fine commander, and had served in Kandor well since his king’s death” (AMoL, Ch. 18). Of Tihera, it is said that he is “not a great captain, but he was very clever” (AMoL, Ch. 33).
The following are those captains generally acknowledged by other characters in the series to be among the great captains:
- Gareth Bryne: A minor nobleman from Andor. He is the former Captain-General of the Andoran Queen’s Guard and First Prince of the Sword to Morgase, and later becomes the General of the rebel Aes Sedai army.
Advice from the Great Captains
- According to Bryne, “Most of soldiering is waiting, when it isn’t marching” (ACoS, Ch. 11).
- According to Ituralde, the most important rule is to trust your instincts (ToM, Ch. 28).
- According to Bryne, “Winning wars is about information” (AMoL, Ch. 11).
The Last Battle
All four of the living great captains are in attendance at Rand’s meeting at the Field of Merrilor. Because there will initially be four battlefronts at the Last Battle—at Tarwin's Gap, Kandor, Caemlyn, and Shayol Ghul—it is decided that each of the great captains will be in charge of one of the fronts. Bashere thinks that it is no coincidence that the numbers work out so perfectly. It is decided that Bryne will accompany the Aes Sedai to Kandor, that Agelmar will join Lan at Tarwin’s Gap since most of the Borderlander armies are already there, that Bashere will guide the battle at Caemlyn, and that Ituralde will accompany Rand to Shayol Ghul. Elayne, meanwhile, is to oversee the battle as a whole (AMoL, Ch. 7). Rand feels that Elayne’s oversight is necessary because each captain will be wrapped up in his own battle and will need coordination. Elayne also notes that the captains often disagree, requiring her to decide which to side with (AMoL, Ch. 9).
In order to influence the Last Battle in the Shadow’s favour, Graendal uses compulsion and manipulates the great captains’ dreams, causing them to make costly mistakes. In retrospect, it is acknowledged that the forces of the Light should have done more to protect the great captains from such an attack (AMoL, Ch. 31). The mistakes are subtle, and each move taken on its own often makes perfect sense, but in combination they are disastrous (AMoL, Ch. 29; AMoL, Ch. 31). According to Bryne, it is as if all of his instincts are off; it is only after a situation has passed that he realizes a mistake has been made, and it always feels like the type of mistake that is possible to recover from. This just draws him deeper into a losing battle as he continually tries to fix things only to keep making mistake after mistake (AMoL, Ch. 31). When Agelmar realizes what is happening and tries to give orders that will correct his mistakes, he finds himself unable to think right (AMoL, Ch. 29).
Some of the mistakes made by the great captains at the Last Battle include:
- Agelmar loses two of Kayen Yokata’s squadrons of cavalry in a failed pincer movement that makes Baldhere suspicious (AMoL, Ch. 18).
- Agelmar sends a group of Shienarans and a group of Arafellins to fill the same gap in their lines, causing confusion (AMoL, Ch. 25).
- Bashere leads Elayne’s army into a trap; he hasn’t had any scouts watching their rear, so they are caught between two Trolloc armies. They can’t escape from using gateways, because he’s exhausted all of their channelers (AMoL, Ch. 26).
- Agelmar pulls back both a group of Saldaean calvary and a group of Kandori archers from the eastern flank; both think the other is still there to hold the lines (AMoL, Ch. 28).
- Agelmar sends Tenobia and her soldiers into battle but doesn’t send the backup they expect, causing their deaths (AMoL, Ch. 29).
- Bryne sends Uno and his soldiers to aid the Aes Sedai but doesn’t send the backup he promises Uno. He claims he needed to get the Aes Sedai out, but Saerin insists that they could have waited. In addition, Bryne leaves Tylee Khirgan’s force of Seanchan sitting across the ford waiting for orders that never arrive (AMoL, Ch. 31).
When Perrin catches Graendal spying on the dreams of the great captains, and then catches her exiting Tel’aran’rhiod into Ituralde’s tent, he sends Elyas to the waking world with a warning about what is happening (AMoL, Ch. 30). The warning is just in time, and Elyas is able to kidnap Ituralde in order to get him away from the battle at Shayol Ghul and keep him from unknowingly making things worse (AMoL, Ch. 31; AMoL, Ch. 33).
Others in the waking world are able to independently come to the same conclusion as Perrin, though some initially think that the great captains are Darkfriends. Mat thinks that Bryne is a Darkfriend because it becomes obvious that Bryne is trying to lose the battle (AMoL, Ch. 29). Egwene is at first incredulous. However, after the disaster with Uno and the Seanchan, she quickly decides that Mat is onto something and realizes that Bryne has been compulsed (AMoL, Ch. 31). Tam realizes that something is going on with Bashere, and when he confronts Bashere and lays out all the evidence, Elayne comes to the conclusion that Bashere is a Darkfriend (AMoL, Ch. 26). They pass this information onto Egwene’s camp, but Egwene has just learned about Bryne being com pulsed. Egwene thus deduces that all of the great captains are under attack (AMoL, Ch. 31). Baldhere suspects that something is wrong with Agelmar early on because Agelmar is making mistakes he shouldn’t be making. Lan at first thinks that Agelmar is only human (AMoL, Ch. 18). However, he later decides that someone is influencing Agelmar’s mind (AMoL, Ch. 29).
All of the great captains are relieved of their duties (AMoL, Ch. 26; AMoL, Ch. 29; AMoL, Ch. 31; AMoL, Ch. 33, though Bryne and Bashere still fight or perform tasks for the forces of the Light during the Last Battle (AMoL, Ch. 37. It is decided that because Mat is the only person not susceptible to compulsion, due to his foxhead medallion, he must be given control of all the forces of the Light ((AMoL, Ch. 31; AMoL, Ch. 32).
- The fact that Gareth Bryne is considered a great captain affects how people view the rebel Aes Sedai. Tylin, for instance, appears concerned about the fact (LoC, Ch. 48). Even Alviarin points out the seriousness of the situation to Elaida (ACoS, Prologue).
- Roedran appears to think that reading Madoc Comadrin’s book Fog and Steel, which Mat often quotes, will make him a great captain (KoD, Ch. 26).
- When Tuon is kidnapped, Karede thinks that Thom is responsible, and considers that Thom might actually be Agelmar Jagad or Gareth Bryne in disguise (KoD, Ch. 34).
- According to Rand, the Seanchan all think in the same way as the great captains, which concerns him (CoT, Ch. 23).
“Great captains earned their reputation not just for laying brilliant plans, but for still being able to find victory after those plans began to fall apart. So when first light illumined the windows, he was still lying there, rolling the medallion across the back of his fingers and trying to think of what was going to go wrong.” (Mat; WH, Ch. 29)
“There was only so much you could do with three hundred men, however. Particularly when you faced one of the five Great Captains.” (Gawyn; TGS, Ch. 4)
“You won’t go soft just because you got married, Mat. Why, some of the Great Captains themselves are married, I believe. Davram Bashere is for certain, and Rodel Ituralde. No, you won’t go soft because you’re married” (Talmanes to Mat; TGS, Ch. 20).
“‘Please,’ Yoeli pled. ‘Are you not one of those they name Great Captain? Show me what that title means, Lord Rodel Ituralde.’” (Yoeli to Ituralde; ToM, Ch. 28)