For a moment he was afraid the older man would go for his sword. It was a short, ugly thing, its grip discolored by sweat, its edge nicked from hard use, but Will would not have given an iron bob for the lordling's life if Gared pulled it from its scabbard. (1 Prologue.65)
A lot of power in <em>A Game of Thrones </em>goes to the nobles, like Ser Waymar Royce, without any particular consideration of skill or strength. We know that Gared, on the other hand, is good with a sword because his sword is well-used. Similarly, when Bronn fights for Tyrion's life, we know that he's a good fighter because his sword isn't very pretty (41 Catelyn 7.30).
"My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind... and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." (14 Tyrion 2.35)
Intelligence is certainly a skill, and Tyrion thinks of his mind as something to be trained by books. In fact, training will be one of the important recurring sub-themes to skill and strength.
The world was full of cravens who pretended to be heroes; it took a queer sort of courage to admit to cowardice as Samwell Tarly had. (27 Jon 4.52)
In a book filled with brute strength, it's easy to overlook another kind of strength: strength of character.
"Listen to me," Jon said into the quiet, and he told them how it was going to be. Pyp backed him, as he'd known he would, but when Halder spoke up, it was a pleasant surprise. Grenn was anxious at the first, but Jon knew the words to move him. One by one the rest fell in line. Jon persuaded some, cajoled some, shamed the others, made threats where threats were required. At the end they had all agreed... all but Rast. (27 Jon 4.101)
Jon is able to convince most of the other recruits not to hurt Samwell Tarly. (And he'll eventually convince Rast, too, by scaring him badly. Oh, where can we get an albino direwolf? So useful for these negotiations.) Most of our understanding of Jon's time in the Night's Watch has been about how he's more skilled with a weapon than the other recruits. This may be the first time that we really see him applying his other skills.
Ser Loras was the youngest son of Mace Tyrell, the Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the south. At sixteen, he was the youngest rider on the field, yet he had unhorsed three knights of the Kingsguard that morning in his first three jousts. Sansa had never seen anyone so beautiful. (30 Sansa 2.15)
Of course, Sansa equates skill with beauty, which is a very romantic idea. (And one that we see isn't so true; for instance, um, everything Sandor does.) While we often associate skill with experience and age, it's interesting to note that Loras (and later Robb) turn out to be as skillful as their older opponents.
It was queer how sometimes a child's innocent eyes can see things that grown men are blind to. (46 Eddard 12.13)
Experience can actually get in the way sometimes. In this case, Eddard has made a very adult assumption (that is, that Cersei and Robert have kids together). Only a chance remark by Sansa is able to get him to realize the truth.
"You wear your honor like a suit of armor, Stark. You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move. Look at you now. You know why you summoned me here. You know what you want to ask me to do. You know it has to be done... but it's not honorable, so the words stick in your throat." (48 Eddard 13.129)
Littlefinger's great skills are probably cheating and lying. And actually, these are pretty useful skills to have in this world.
"Just so. Opening your eyes is all that is needing. The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth." (51 Arya 4.23)
There you have it: Syrio Forel's recipe for getting through deceit and betrayal. By teaching Arya (both swordfighting and the ways of the world), Syrio is ensuring that the skills and strength of his generation are not lost over time.
A green boy, Tyrion remembered, more like to be brave than wise. He would have laughed, if he hadn't hurt so much. (63 Tyrion 8.141)
Tywin Lannister planned to crush Robb Stark's army because he thought a young kid would be easy to out-think and out-fight. Oops. Once again we see that strength and skill aren't directly related to age and experience. (But let's also keep in mind that part of Robb's skill is in knowing what older advisers to listen to, as when he follows Catelyn's advice and appoints Roose Bolton to head this attack.)
Ser Jorah frowned. "Princess, hear me. The Dothraki will not follow a suckling babe. Drogo's strength was what they bowed to, and only that." (65 Daenerys 8.49)
We get a few different political systems in <em>A Game of Thrones</em>, from the feudal monarchy of the Seven Kingdoms to the democratic discussion of the Mountain Clans. Here we get a very simple-seeming system: the Dothraki follow whoever is strongest. On one hand, this might seem silly; but on the other, is it any sillier than the system in the Prologue, where the strongest and most experienced person followed the youngest and, well, dumbest?