Winning Battles and Losing Wars? – In Defense of Robb Stark

Introduction:

Spencer Ackerman, the well-known national security blogger, recently posted an article criticizing Robb Stark’s military strategy in the War of Five Kings. In the piece, Ackerman argues that:

But the Young Wolf is a case study in the difference between winning battles and winning wars. Robb is an excellent company commander, leading from the front and inspiring his men with both his bravery and his battle prowess. He’s also a terrible general…

 Robb’s vainglorious uncle clearly messed up by disobeying orders to hold Riverrun, preferring instead to stop Clegane’s army at Stone Mill from crossing the rivers of the Trident and heading west. Robb rolls his eyes: he wanted Clegane to come west, so the Mountain, who “doesn’t have a strategic thought in his head,” would have been lured unsuspecting toward the eastward-marching Stark forces and killed. “Instead,” the King in the North laments, “I have a mill.”

News flash, Your Grace: Clegane is not worth much more than that mill.

While I think his article does have some important points, I feel that the piece fails to grasp the larger strategic and political environment informing Robb Stark’s military decisions and as such comes to an overly negative conclusion.

A Point of Agreement:

Let me start by saying that I agree entirely with Spencer’s criticism that the show’s handling of Robb Stark’s story line (while perhaps necessary from a budgeting standpoint) “doesn’t make it easy…the gorgeously rendered map displayed during the opening credits never shows you the Westerlands, an omission with inadvertent implications…Without a sense of the terrain, you can’t really understand Robb’s war.”

The War of Five Kings is an incredibly complex war, as each of the different camps’ military strategies constantly forces the others to readjust their own in response to unforeseen events, and it’s especially difficult to understand what’s going on when the show elides events due to the narrative economy imposed by budget restraints. Case in point: between the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2, Robb makes a trip to Riverrun that wasn’t shown in the show (in order to obviate the need for new locations and casting actors who wouldn’t be prominent until season 3) that dramatically changes the political and military imperatives for the Northern war effort.

Which brings us to where I think Ackerman’s missing the bigger picture.

Where Did Robb Stark Stand at the End of Season 1?

In the books and in Season 1, the War of Five Kings begins with the Lannisters in a commanding advantage. Following the capture of Tyrion Lannister, Tywin Lannister begins raising troops at Casterly Rock and sends out Gregor Clegane to raid across the Riverlands, initially hoping to draw out Ned Stark and capture him so as to revenge himself for the insult to the Lannister name and gain a captive for an exchange, and to distract his enemies while he raises a force of some 35-40,000 men at Casterly Rock. However, Jaime’s wounding of Ned Stark forces the Hand to send out Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and 120-odd men after Gregor Clegane, preventing that plan from coming to fruition.

The War of Kings Part 1: The Lannister Advance (hat tip to the Wiki of Ice and Fire)

Tywin adapts to this change in plans in two ways: first, together with his lieutenant Gregor Clegane, he ambushes Dondarrion’s Men at the Mummer’s Ford near Pinkmaiden (2 on the map), decimating this force and forcing them to turn guerrilla fighters and become the Brotherhood Without Banners; second, he splits his forces in two and puts Jaime in command of half of his men as the Lannisters invade the Riverlands in force. Tywin sweeps through the southern Riverlands (2-4 on the map), taking the critical castle of Harrenhal which commands most of the southern Riverlands and the key north-south route to King’s Landing; Jaime overruns an outnumbered Riverlands force at the Golden Tooth (1 on the map, a castle that commands the pass that marks the border between the Westerlands and the Riverlands) and then succeeds in a surprise attack that smashes Edmure Tully’s forces mustering at Riverrun (3 on the map), although enough men manage to make it inside the castle to hold the castle, which Jaime places under siege.

This is the strategic situation facing Robb in Episode 8 of Season 1: his enemies have split their forces, such that Robb’s 18,000 men (plus the 4,000 Freys he will soon acquire) more or less equal either army, but if they combine, they outnumber him 2:1. If he attacks Tywin’s force, Riverrun might fall, ending all hope of assistance from the Riverlanders; if he attacks Jaime’s force, Tywin can march up the Kingsroad and cut Robb off from the North, while fresh reinforcements from the Westerlands threaten him from the other side. Robb’s decision is both characteristically bold and strategically brilliant: he divides his own army and attacks both forces, march-blocking Tywin’s army at the Battle of the Green Fork of the Trident (3 on the map below) so that it can’t help Jaime while capturing Jaime at the Battle of the Whispering Wood (4) and destroying his army at the Battle of the Camps (5). (Notably the show departs from the books by changing the nature of the Battle of the Green Fork from one in which Robb gambled his 16,000 foot against Tywin’s 20,000 to a sacrifice play where Robb sends 2,000 men)

War of the Five Kings Act II: Robb Counter-Attacks (hat tip to Wiki of Ice and Fire)

As a result of these battles, Robb’s army combined with the resurgent Riverlanders now outnumbers Tywin 2:1. Tywin being no fool retreats to Harrenhal, where the strong defenses of the castle neutralize Robb’s numerical advantage, sends Gregor Clegane  with 500 men to burn the Riverlands, and calls for fresh troops to be raised in the Westerlands so that he can regain the numerical upper hand. So far, Ackerman and I are in agreement.

Here’s what happens next that Ackerman doesn’t include in his analysis: in relieving the siege at Riverrun (and freeing his uncle Edmure from temporary captivity), Robb Stark is hailed as King of the North…and the Riverlands. This changes the political and strategic imperatives of the new Stark-Tully alliance completely: not only does Robb have to “attack the Lannisters’ home turf until they sue for peace — and acknowledge northern independence,” he also has to protect the Riverlands because the lords of the Riverlands now make up half of his armed forces.  Robb doesn’t really have the option of retreating to the North – he’s leading a coalition army that’s half Riverlanders who will not follow a king who abandons them to the enemy (which would have an impact far worse than breaking his promise to the Freys).

The second thing that happens is that Edmure makes his next blunder of the War after the disasters at the Golden Tooth and Riverrun: he lets most of the Riverlands Lords go free to retake their lands from Gregor Clegane, which scatters much of the 20,000 Riverlands forces as they take and retake Raventree, Stone Hedge, and Darry in inconclusive hit-and-run warfare.

That’s the true strategic situation Robb was dealing with at the end of Season 1: he slightly outnumbers Tywin, but can’t hit him at Harrenhal (Ackerman doesn’t really take into account the importance of castles as defensive force multipliers), he’s slowly retaking the Riverlands but at the cost of dispersing half his forces, and there are new armies being raised in the west. Thus, when he invades the Westerlands in Season 2 (or A Clash of Kings), he’s not just trying to “attack the Lannisters’ home turf until they sue for peace;” he also is trying to prevent himself from being flanked and outnumbered, take the fighting out of the ravaged Riverlands, and capture supplies to feed his armies (since most of the war has been fought on the Riverlands, it’s been stripped clean), and looking for a broader strategic victory.

Analyzing Robb’s Western Offensive:

In addition to a more complex strategic situation, I think Robb’s offensive has more strategic merit than it’s been given credit for. Ackerman argues that “even in A Storm of Swords, Robb is hitching his hope for the war on a masterstroke, which is terrible wartime leadership. He’ll win — if Tywin pursues him west; if the ensuing battle breaks his way; if Stannis wins at the Blackwater,” and that “lay[ing] siege to Casterly Rock and Lannisport with the additional strength of Riverrun, bleed[ing] the west… [is] a last-gasp plan — the North and the Riverlands may not have the manpower; and if Robb loses, he dies — but it has the benefit of taking the west away from Tywin, Joffrey and Cersei. The smarter plan is to retreat to the North.”

This doesn’t really get at what Robb was doing, and fails to recognize the nature of feudal politics.

In attacking the West in Season 2, Robb sought to further his own strategic objectives (preventing himself from being flanked, resupplying his forces,  taking the fight out of his own territory) while forcing a political and military Hob’s choice on Tywin Lannister: either Tywin comes West and risks the loss of King’s Landing, or he rescues King’s Landing and risks the loss of the Westerlands and Casterly Rock itself.

War of Five Kings Act III: Robb's Western Offensive

War of Five Kings Act III: Robb’s Western Offensive

As we have seen in Seasons 2 and 3, the loss of one’s capitol city is politically devastating, especially in a feudal context. The armies of House Stark and Lannister are not standing professional armies; they are made up of bannermen who serve their overlords because the overlords offer them protection from outside invasion and can threaten them with retaliation if they betray them. When Robb Stark lost Winterfell, it showed that he couldn’t protect his own home or the homes of his bannermen and undermined his position with his vassals, above and beyond the issue of the loss of resources and reinforcements. Losing Casterly Rock would have done the same thing to Tywin Lannister; the mastermind of the “Rains of Castamere” inspires fear and respect from his bannermen, but none of the love that still inspires Robb’s men to fight for the memory of Ned Stark. Without his aura of invincibility, without the ability to call up fresh troops, without the gold in Casterly Rock to pay for the war effort, Tywin’s army would have melted away like snow.

The same holds true for King’s Landing: if King’s Landing falls to Renly or Stannis (and Renly and Stannis have to make for King’s Landing, since it’s the center of all political power) while Tywin is away, he loses his daughter, Tyrion (again), and the grandsons and granddaughters who represent his House’s claim to the Iron Throne. He also loses half of his territory and instead of holding the entire middle of Westeros and keeping his enemies from combining against him, now faces being backed into the Westerlands and destroyed. Politically, he ceases to be the Hand of the King, putting down rebels and traitors to King Joffrey, and now becomes a rebel and a traitor to the rightful Baratheon King.

Far from blindly gambling, Robb has weighed the odds with a keen eye to the realities of Westerosi politics, and as a result is proved right: Tywin does take the bait and come west, and had not Edmure blocked his march, King’s Landing would have fallen. Moreover, Tywin placed himself in real danger by marching west and trying to cross the Red Fork with 20,000 men – had he succeeded in crossing, he would have been outnumbered and surrounded, with Robb Stark’s 6,000 men  in front of him, Edmure Tully’s 11,000 men to his right flank, and 10-12,000 Northmen under Roose Bolton’s command behind him.

Even with Edmure’s screwup, Robb Stark’s offensive showed substantial results: at Oxcross (shown in Episode 4 of Season 2), Robb Stark wipes out an army of 10,000 men who were mustering on his western flank; this victory is followed up by battles at Ashemark and the Crag which protect Robb’s rear and right flank while ending Lannister resistance in the northern half of the Westerlands (which in turn means that there isn’t really a force in the west that could threaten his army at the moment, contrary to what Ackerman says). In quick succession, Robb’s bannermen seize the gold mines of Castamere, Nunn’s Deep, and the Pendric Hills (simultaneously improving their finances and cutting Tywin off from his source of funds), raid up and down the northern coast, and bring back thousands of head of cattle to feed a hungry Riverlands. In strategic terms, Robb’s “scouring” of the Westerlands eliminates Lannister numerical superiority (which in turn forces Tywin’s hand), conquers half of the Westerlands, and puts him within a week or two of Lannisport and Casterly Rock.

Analyzing the TV Version:

I agree that great violence is done to this strategic vision by having Robb be at the recapture of Harrenhal (in the books, Roose Bolton is simply ordered to retake the castle once Tywin marches west, to cut him off from behind), and by changing the strategic significance of the Battle of the Red Fork to a fight between Edmure and the Mountain – although I think the bigger mistake was not doing any foreshadowing of the Battle of the Red Fork last season, which makes it seem like it came out of the blue and was unimportant. (It could have been very easily done as a fakeout in Episode 8 when Tywin marches out of Harrenhal with a quick scene where a message shows up at Robb’s camp in the West with news of a battle at Riverrun, filling Robb with false hopes that his stratagem is succeeding).

However, I think Ackerman is wrong when he says Robb taking Harrenhal is “inexplicable” and that “Clegane is not worth much more than that mill”:

  1. Taking Harrenhal isn’t stupid. In itself, Harrenhal controls the southern Riverlands and any approach from King’s Landing to either the North or the Riverlands, and is a huge defensive force multiplier. By taking the castle, Robb has a much better chance of preserving his territorial gains against a numerically superior opponent. We often forget, given its dilapidated appearance, that Harrenhal is a valuable military asset in its own right, but we shouldn’t.
  2. Eliminating the Mountain isn’t stupid. Gregor Clegane isn’t just “one admittedly mountainous henchman;” with Jaime gone and Kevan Lannister in King’s Landing (although we haven’t seen him this season thanks to narrative economy), Gregor is Tywin’s chief general in the Riverlands. We’ve already seen how Tywin relied on Gregor in the opening act of the War of the Five Kings; Gregor was Tywin’s hit man when it came to wiping out the royal family during the siege of King’s Landing; and Tywin will go to great lengths to keep the Mountain as a military asset even when there are compelling political reasons to give him up.
  3. It wasn’t just about Clegane. Leaving aside his person, I think the showrunners made a crucial mistake when they left Clegane with just a garrison command of Harrenhal with no more explanation – if that was truly the case, there’s no way in hell he would be marching 300 miles to Riverrun with Robb’s army in the neighborhood, or could have lost multiples of the 208 men that Edmure lost in the TV version of the Battle of the Red Fork. I think a scene was missed somewhere where the Mountain was put in charge of a larger force, which must have been at least a few thousand men (given that Edmure’s defense suggested at least a 2:1 casualty rate, which means the Mountain lost at least 400 men, and unless we’re assuming a more profound defeat than the scene suggests, he had to have 4-5 times that many men under his command). Given that Robb’s strategy at the mountain requires him to “take the fight to the enemy” and inflict the kind of lopsided battlefield losses that could even the odds against the combined Lannister/Tyrell forces, the chance to bring down their numbers by around 2,000 men isn’t a bad idea.

Conclusion:

If Ackerman wants to criticize Robb Stark’s skills as a commander-in-chief, I think there are ample grounds for doing so. Edmure acted contrary to his orders, but that could have been avoided had Robb explained his battle plans to all of his subordinates. Had Robb Stark not married Talisa Maegyr, he’d have 4,000 more Frey soldiers at a time when he needs every man. Had Robb not let Edmure discharge the Riverlords after the Battle of the Camps, he’d have had an army of 40,000 men concentrated and capable of taking Casterly Rock in one go. And for the sake of the old gods and the new, you don’t ever, ever trust a Bolton.

But Robb’s attempt to lure the Lannisters into the west where he could defeat them on the field isn’t one of them.

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135 thoughts on “Winning Battles and Losing Wars? – In Defense of Robb Stark

  1. SpaceSquid says:

    The show’s butchering of Robb’s war and surrounding issues is one of the most frustrating aspects of the adaptation. Unless I’ve missed something, we’ve not even been told anything about the effect of Robb’s marriage upon the Freys, which made Karstark’s grumbling about how Robb’s lost the war already seem petulant rather than worryingly plausible.

    • stevenattewell says:

      We’ve been told in general terms back in season 2, but we haven’t seen the Freys leaving his army.

      Ironically, it’s not the acting or even the writing that I find fault with – I thought this week’s scenes at Riverrun were excellent. It’s the lack of attention to foreshadowing and setup, which made me angry about the Podrick scene.

      We needed that time for other storylines.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        If I remember rightly, we were told in general terms by Catelyn, but the show’s done so much damage to her political nous that I’m not sure non book-readers necessarily took her portents of doom particularly seriously, though of course I could be entirely wrong on that.

        I agree heartily about the Podrick scene, though my anger about it had less to do with the time it ate up (though that did bother me) and more the gender politics angle. It’s one thing to not shy away from depicting the ways women were treated hundreds of years before, it’s quite another to suggest they might totally be into it if the guy taking advantage is sufficiently hunky.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Also, Robb mentions what he got from the Freys in talking with Talisa.

        And yes, the gender politics of that scene were messed up.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        Oh, yes, I remember now. He mentions the bridge, but does he say anything else? I think part of the problem here is that it’s been almost two years in real time since the show mentioned how many troops Frey gave Robb, and a year later all we were hearing about was that Frey’s a dick and Robb’s got a bridge. And sure, we can extrapolate that the Twins would be useful if Robb’s forces need to run away in a hurry, but still doesn’t strike me as the existential threat Karstark is suggesting.

        Really, though, I think that the show has turned too quickly from “Robb is winning always and is awesome” to “everything is going badly and it’s sad all day”. I can rationalise why the tone has shifted – the Lannisters cosying up with the Tyrells is obviously bad news, not that anyone in Robb’s camp has mentioned it to my recollection – but the show doesn’t seem to be earning the dark clouds that seem to be following Robb about. Particularly as the scenes in King’s Landing don’t seem to be focussing on any major hurry on Tywin’s part to get back into the field and crush the last serious threat to Joffrey’s authority.

    • blake says:

      I just think that they haven’t brought it up much yet. They have hinted and mentioned a few things but aren’t making a big deal out of it yet. Which I think might have a good effect by making it even harder to see coming for non readers..

  2. Nice that someone takes on my point about Robb’s part in Edmure’s fuck-up.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Heh.

    • darrylzero says:

      I’ve read plenty of arguments about whether Edmure stopping Tywin from heading west is Edmure’s fault or Robb’s, and I’m sympathetic to Edmure’s position. I’m curious, though, if we have any hints about what Martin himself thinks on the matter.

      I know gauging authorial intent is tricky, to say the least, but watching it all play out on the show, it felt to me as if the showrunners at least really were putting it all at Edmure’s feet. Do you think that’s Martin’s position as well? Or do you think failing to communicate better with Edmure is intended to be a real failing?

      What I find hard to evaluate is whether Edmure knew enough, really, that he should have known not to question or think creatively about his orders. I’m also curious about the role of communication technology and espionage in limiting how much Robb was willing to say, and what that might tell us about how Edmure should have been thinking about his orders.

      Finally, how much of this is Robb’s strategy, really? In the books, it’s mostly the Blackfish, right? And on the show, I assume Roose sort of took on that role. It’s hard to say much about the show, but in the books it seems to me that the relationship between Edmure, Brynden, and Cat could be driving an awful lot of miscommunication, but I don’t really recall what hints of that there might be.

      It would pretty well exonerate Robb, from the particular offense of failing to communicate with Edmure, anyway. There are multiple people who knew Edmure better who seem like they either misread his tendencies, because of past history, or should have known he would require more detailed instructions.

      • stevenattewell says:

        In terms of it being Edmure’s mistake, everyone there in the books (the very experienced Blackfish, Robb, Catelyn, Robb’s bannermen) blames Edmure, and Edmure accepts the blame when he realizes what was going on.

        As far as I can tell, the limited instructions (hold Rivverun full stop) were based on the fact that Edmure had failed spectacularly at the Golden Tooth and at Riverrun, so give him a simple assignment he won’t screw up.

        It’s Robb’s plan, although Blackfish assisted. Robb’s a very good strategist, as we can see from his opening campaign.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I think that it is important to look at Edmure’s decision in isolation, without consideration of Robb’s plans. If we do so, the strategic merits of Edmure’s actions seem equally lacking. If Edmure had won outright at Stone Mill (i.e. Tywin hadn’t been called away mid battle to defend King’s Landing), what would he have gained? Tywin would have likely lost a substantial number of troops, but I imagine his army would remain large, and fully functional. Tywin would have also suffered a defeat, which would continue to sap the moral of his army. And that’s about it. Otherwise, all we can say is that Tywin continues to be trapped in the Riverlands, which means that the Riverlands continue to suffer, and that he remains in a position to reinforce King’s Landing, should it be threatened. The Battle of Stone Mill really doesn’t accomplish anything for the Stark cause, and what’s more, it risked Edmure’s standing forces against Tywin’s superior army. Edmure did have a superior defensive position, but I don’t think he would have succeeded in holding Tywin on one side of the river indefinitely had Tywin not been called away. In light of these facts, it becomes apparent that even without having been told of Robb’s plans, a more prudent choice would have been to allow Tywin to pass by, to send word to Robb and Roose Bolton of Tywin’s movements, and to send outriders to continue tracking Tywin’s army.

      • werthead says:

        “If Edmure had won outright at Stone Mill (i.e. Tywin hadn’t been called away mid battle to defend King’s Landing), what would he have gained?”

        My take was that Edmure thought he was protecting Robb’s gains in the Westerlands and potentially preventing Tywin from falling on Robb’s rear, although, thanks to Westeros’s raven-mail, he would have kept Robb fully informed about what was going on. It did not occur to Edmure that Robb would set a trap for Tywin, especially using an inferior-sized force.

        I do generally agree with the opinion that Robb should have told Edmure what was going on. Edmure’s not the sharpest tool in the box, sure, but he’s also the second-most-senior lord in Robb’s entire faction, the effective political and military commander of the Riverlands even before Hoster’s death. Letting Edmure know what was going on and perhaps keeping an advisor with superior strategic nous close to him (Jason Mallister, perhaps, who has some military kudos from defeating an ironborn raid on his castle during the Greyjoy Rebellion and killing one of Theon’s brothers) might have been a better idea than just keeping him in the dark and hoping for the best.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I don’t think Edmure was thinking that clearly; from his dialogue in the books, he’s making a more emotional argument that he won’t let Lannisters set foot on Tully soil. It’s also about his bruised ego; Riverrun is where Edmure was humiliated and captured, so he wants to redeem himself there. He might also be afraid of another siege of his castle.

      • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

        The thing I always found odd was that Edmure was in a position to “order” Roose Bolton to take Harrenhal (even if it was the one part of his plan that made strategical sense). Or had he somehow got hold of Robb’s sigil?

        • stevenattewell says:

          I didn’t think Edmure did order Roose to take Harrenhal. I think that was a standing order from Robb to take it the moment Tywin left, to close off his escape route.

      • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

        In the book, Edmure explicitly tells Catelyn that “I have commanded him [Bolton] to retake Harrenhal”. Maybe he just likes the ring of it, and it was really Robb’s order all along; but “retake” at least only makes sense from the perspective of a Lord of Riverrun (whose bannermen the Lannisters had driven out), not from the King of the North.

  3. OmerosPeanut says:

    I’m surprised you left off Robb tasking Theon with bringing the Greyjoys into the war from his list of mistakes.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yes, that was major, but I wasn’t constructing a comprehensive list, as the piece was already running long as it was.

  4. Roger_Raven says:

    I think you forget that, acording to the series, Gregor isn’t in the Trident. He is at Casterly Rock (Edmure said he sent him back to the Rock, no back to Harrenhal). So he marching to the Crag to fight means that he left Tywin alone and free to save King’s Landing. So in the series the guilt is exclusively Robb’s thing. No matter how long he screams to Edmure.

    In the books, Edmure decision to defend Riverrun was logical. He needed to protect his castle. AFAHK, Tywin could have tried to besiege Riverrun to attract back Robb. he needed to save his smallfolk and his reputation.

    Personaly I think Robb’s worst error was sending Catelyn to Bitterbridge. Instead of chosing one Baratheon and strongly bet for him, he tried to reconciliate them.

    • stevenattewell says:

      That doesn’t make any sense though, geographically you cannot get from Harrenhal to Casterly Rock if your path across the Red Fork was blocked. Gregor must have been starting out from Harrenhal, since he had command of it at the end of Season 2.

      But yes, in the show, Robb’s presence at the capture of Harrenhal doesn’t make sense and didn’t happen in the books.

      In the book, Edmure’s mistake wasn’t to protect Eiverrun, as he was ordered to do. It was that he sought to protect all of the Red Fork, promising to ensure that Tysin would not set foot on Tully land, and denying Tywin a crossing anywhere along the Red Fork. Tywin besieging Riverrun would have been great for them – Edmure had more than enough men to hold Tywin there while Robb cut off Tywin from behind and Roose Bolton’s forces marched west to give the Starks a numerical advantage of 13,000 more men than Tywin.

      And Robb sent Cat to Bitterbridge because that’s where Renly’s army was – he wanted an alliance with Renly, not with the totally outnumbered Stannis.

      • nickikt says:

        Nice point about Riverrun. Tywin attacking Riverrun would have been fantastic for Robb. Riverrun would not fall for a long time. Robb could either keep messing with the west or break the sige.

        Breaking the sige would be simple, as shown in book 1. Tywin would have to split his army in three parts, Robb the would be caught between Riverrun and Robb, or between Riverrun and Bolten. Assuming he marches on Riverrun.

        Also Edmure has enougth men inside the casle to support whoever breaks the sige.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Yeah. Edmure had 11,000 men at the time, and given that he was able to prevent Tywin from crossing 200+ miles of riverbank, he certainly would have been able to defend Riverrun, given that fighting over a smaller space prevents Tywin from bringing all of his numbers to bear.

  5. Brett says:

    What I liked about Robb’s screw-up in the books is that it was definitely Robb’s failure to explain his strategy to his generals (including Edmure). Everyone else praises Edmure for pulling off such an excellent repulsion of Tywin’s forces at the river beforehand, especially considering his incompetence in earlier battles.

    Aside from that, it just kills me how many possible hypotheticals there are, even aside from the ones like “What if Robb doesn’t marry Jeyne/Talisa?” or “What if Robb actually tells Edmure his plans?” What if Robb had avoided the injury that required him to rest, whereupon he found out the news about Bran and Rickon? The betrayal wouldn’t have happened because he would have been in the field, not in a position where he could hook up with Jeyne and break his marriage pact. What if Edmure had conducted himself less gracefully and failed to repel Tywin’s forces, drawing them deeper into the Riverlands right around the time when they’re needed at King’s Landing?

    It’s interesting that Robb actually does end up abandoning the River Lords to their fate in A Storm of Swords, after the host under Glover gets crushed in the east. His plan was to sneak around Moat Cailin in order to take it, then reclaim the North and use Winter as his shield. I’m guessing he just had no choice at that point – he couldn’t just stay at Riverrun forever.

    • Sean C. says:

      Though they were running low on options at that point, it seems like winter should have shut down the campaign in the Riverlands too, for the most part.

      • stevenattewell says:

        It would have done so eventually, but not for a while.

      • Brett says:

        Re-reading some of those chapters is pretty depressing fare. Robb’s campaign is falling apart, and he leaves Riverrun with only a few thousand men – a fraction of his overall force (although the Boltons still have their host of several thousand men). Karstark’s host is scattered all over the Riverlands, Glover’s is broken up and scattered, and so forth.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Brett – totally. I’ve read ASOS five times, and I still find it really hard going. It’s like watching a proper tragedy. You know what’s about to happen, but every time you hope it won’t.

    • stevenattewell says:

      True, but medieval warfare emphasized obeying orders to the letter vs. initiative on the part of commanders. Edmure had his orders and didn’t follow them.

      And yes, Robb had to abandon the Riverlands, but to be fair, he’d lost so many men to the desertion of the Freys and Karstarks and Roose’s deliberate losses at Duskendale and the Ruby Ford, he couldn’t hold it any more.

      • Brett says:

        In the show he had his order, but in the book he didn’t get explicit orders from Robb to stay put – as you said yourself. That was just a failure on Robb’s part.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Yes and no, Brett. Edmure’s orders were “to hold Riverrun,” that is, the castle, which is surrounded by water on all three sides when you include the Red Fork, the Tumblestones, and the moat.

        Edmure instead organizes a defense of the whole of the west bank of the Red Fork, north and south of the castle, over a front of anywhere from 50-100 miles.

        That’s wildly exceeding his orders, organizing a major set-piece battle instead of a limited defense. I agree that Robb should have communicated better, but Edmure was pretty clearly going rogue here.

      • darrylzero says:

        I’m glad you mentioned the medieval expectation of following commands to the letter. That’s part of what I intended to ask above but didn’t quite manage to. It makes me more inclined to believe that Martin sees this as entirely Edmure’s fault, rather than some of the responsibility being Robb’s.

        Your comment here also makes me wonder how you think Robb should have handled Roose. Not in a 20/20 hindsight way, but in a “if Robb were as aware of just how untrustworthy Roose is as Ned probably would have been” sort of way. Because there’s a real bind there, right? He has to respect the Boltons’ status, and he needed Roose’s cunning and ruthlessness. So was there a good way to put some kind of a check on him, to keep him from things like the intentional losses of rivals’ men? Is the treatment of Roose part of what Robb did wrong, or was that kind of thing just the nature of the beast under feudalism?

        Relatedly — but kind of off topic — are you surprised the Starks never extinguished the Bolton line?

      • stevenattewell says:

        I think Martin would call that one 75-25 Edmure to Robb.

        Regarding Roose, I would have replaced Roose Bolton as commander of the foot after the Green Fork, given that he lost and suffered significant casualties when he shouldn’t have. Sub in the Greatjon or Blackfish in command of those 16,000 men, most of whom weren’t Bolton men, or detach the Bolton forces and send them off on their own missions, instead of putting them in charge of their rival houses who they try to weaken by putting them in harm’s way..

        In part, it’s nature of the beast, but it’s also true that Robb could probably have hung onto the Bolton and Karstark forces had he held their lords captive instead of executing the latter.

        As to why the Starks never extinguished the Boltons? I think it was a cost-benefit thing. The Dreadfort is a really tough nut to crack, and if you put someone’s back up against the wall with a “no surrender” policy, you’re going to take huge casualties in the process. Moreover, it’s the kind of action that makes the rest of your bannermen fear and hate you, because it goes beyond the normal rules of war. Tywin broke the mold with the Reynes and Tarbecks, but it got him a reputation equal parts good and bad. And notably, no one in the West is going to go to war in his memory.

      • darrylzero says:

        Thanks, all good stuff.

        I guess my somewhat cavalier attitude toward extinguishing the Boltons has a lot to do with how shockingly terrible they prove in the present and some pretty insane stories from the far past. But the former hasn’t happened at the relevant points and the reasons for avoiding the latter are obviously contingent on so many unknown factors we can’t possibly know anything about that it’s silly to speculate about. Still, some of those ancient stories… I think I’m still a little surprised, despite all you rightfully say about Tywin’s legacy in the West. It just seems like they’ve been a *constant* thorne in the Starks’ side — over millenia! I feel like someone who have taken the possibly ill-advised course of getting rid of them once and for all.

        Regarding how to handle Bolton once you’re in Robb’s situation, do you see any drawbacks to confronting Bolton? I think it would make me pretty nervous, if I were Robb (though I’d obviously be a godawful king/general/what-have-you). So, I like the idea of sending Bolton on some “special missions” to keep him from others’ troops. My question is:

        “Whose fault is it that Robb didn’t do this (or something like it)?”

        Obviously, the ultimate fault lies with Robb, but the kid is like 15, so I have trouble blaming him for anything (unlike show-Robb, who has the misfortune of looking 26 while making a 15 year old’s decisions… oh well, I always knew the show was going to ruin the one thing about him I found interesting). Cat is the one who knows Roose best, but it’s probably a little much to ask her to see what happened clearly. I’m not trying to be sexist — I’m one of Cat’s biggest defenders, and I think she’s got a pretty impressive strategic mind — but she isn’t trained in this stuff.

        Does the Greatjon or anyone complain about what happened? I can’t remember what kinds of conversations go down. I feel like someone should have been in Robb’s ear pretty hard after that telling him to watch the fuck out, probably the Blackfish.

      • Sean C. says:

        Is there a basis for concluding Bolton “shouldn’t have” lost at Green Fork? He was outnumbered, and did basically what Robb ordered him to do. And he executed a successful withdrawal while keeping the army mostly in tact. It’s not a stunning victory, but I wouldn’t say that’s grounds for replacing him in and of itself.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I’m not saying he shouldn’t have lost, I’m saying his casualties are suspiciously high (almost 1/3 of his army) and come out of the ranks of his rivals in the North’s eastern territories.

          In the books, Roose had 16,000 against 20,000, which is relatively even.

      • stevenattewell says:

        1. The Boltons have been historically quite strong. They were independent for 7,000 years and some of that time have been stronger than the Starks. There are Stark skins hanging in the Dreadfort.

        2. Drawbacks: Roose tries to kill you and/or send his son to attack Winterfell from day 1, or he withdraws his 4,000 men from the war effort.

        3. It’s hard to say. Bolton did a very good job of seeming loyal – he loses at the Green Fork, but he withdraws in good order and ekes out a strategic victory since Tywin can’t make it to Riverrun; he follows that up by taking Harrenhal.

        The major issue is that he’s all the way out on the eastern front while Robb, his lords, and Catelyn are over on the west for the most part – so no one’s really checking up on him. By the time that Bolton’s turned against him (letting Jaime go, Duskendale, the Ruby Ford), Robb’s distracted by the Freys and the Karstarks and the sack of Winterfell, so he doesn’t have time to piece together what Bolton’s doing.

      • darrylzero says:

        This last point about Roose being all alone, unwatched and unchecked at Harrenhall, is what I was mainly asking about when I asked if there’s a good way for Robb to manage that (short of knocking Bolton down a peg or providing alternate assignments). It seems like anyone he sent to watch Bolton for him would stand a pretty good chance of just getting killed. So, were Bolton’s actions at Harrenhall just completely beyond his control, apart from not sending him there in the first place?

        • stevenattewell says:

          Not beyond his control – he could have replaced Bolton, he could have split Bolton’s forces off from the rest of the troops, etc.

    • John Galvano says:

      A few other good what ifs:
      What if Renly defeats Stannis and takes KL?
      What if Stannis wins Blackwater in time?
      What if Edmure lets Tywin cross?
      What if Robb quickly withdraws to the North?

      • stevenattewell says:

        I’ll get to those when I do ACOK, but the short versions:

        1. If Renly takes KL, Tywin’s screwed. He’s a traitor to the new King, and Robb Stark has allied himself with Renly. That’s pretty much game over.
        2. If Stannis takes KL and the Tywin/Tyrell alliance happened, he’s now under siege and outnumbered 4 to 1. However, since Joffrey’s dead and Tommen’s MIA, there’s no one for the Tyrells to marry who has a claim to the Iron Throne. Moreover, Robb Stark has ~40,000 men overall and is coming for Tywin. The Tyrells would be really tempted to cut some kind of deal here, probably offering to marry Margaery to Edmure.
        3. If Edmure lets Tywin cross, KL falls to Stannis,which wipes out Tywin’s political legitimacy and half his territory. Tywin meanwhile is surrounded by three Stark/Tully armies (Robb, Edmure, and Bolton) and is in all likelihood defeated.
        4. If Robb withdraws to the North now, he turfs out the Ironborn with the help of Howland Reed and barricades the North against a Lannister invasion. The Riverlands are screwed, completely. However, things get really weird: the Tyrell/Lannister forces now have to subdue three kingdoms which isn’t easy even if you have 80,000 men. And the alliance isn’t going to last very long, and will have to contend with the Golden Company first. Robb might have a chance to re-retake the Riverlands, but will probably decide against it.

      • John Galvano says:

        Two more I just thought of:
        What if Robb still keeps Jaime even as his situation is deteriorating (I guess assume no Red Wedding)?
        What if Joffrey doesn’t execute Ned? (But I guess you will get to that pretty soon)

        • stevenattewell says:

          If Jaime is kept, then the Karstarks don’t bolt. Also, the RW might be jossed. It’s possible the Northern war effort stays on track, or that a peace is worked out after the Lannister/Tyrell alliance is made.

          If Joffrey doesn’t execute Ned….stay tuned.

      • Telenil says:

        About 3. : Tywin’s forces played a major role in the battle, but so did the Tyrell, who had more soldiers than Robb and Edmure combined. Loras’ idea of using Renly armor is said to have brought a number of Stannis’ men back to their cause.
        While Tywin’s capture would have been a severe blow to the Lannister and make the battle more uncertain, I’m not sure that his defeat would have necessarily doomed King’s Landing.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Without Tywin’s army at Bitterbridge, no deal is struck between the Tyrells and the Lannisters that makes the Tyrells have any reason to attack Kings Landing, and the habitually slow Mace Tyrell isn’t about to rush into anything without covering himself politically (see his deliberately drawn-out siege of Storms End in the rebellion).

      • Telenil says:

        I couldn’t swear it, but I think it was Littlefingers who did the parley with the Tyrell, and Tywin joined them after that. Or do I misremember something?

        • stevenattewell says:

          Littlefinger broached the pact, but Tywin had to be on hand to seal the deal. Bottom line, the Tyrells weren’t going to do anything unless Tywin showed up, put his imprimatur on the bargain, and held up his end of the deal by furnishing Lannister troops for the assault on Kings Landing. Mace Tyrell would not have attacked Kings Landing on his own.

  6. John W says:

    Unfortunately the show is basically a powerpoint presentation of the novels, albeit a good one, with a lot of specific details left. Who would have thought that 10 hours would not be enough to cover everything from a single novel.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, yes, of course. My point is that some judicious editing and a few scenes with messengers could have made things much clearer.

      • I feel like the show is way more interested in characters than in politics and mythology You know, unless someone is personally backstabbing someone politically like the stuff that happens between Tyrion and Cersei, or Tyrion and Twyin the show almost always gets it wrong. If said politics involve non main characters (like the Freys) it’s even worse. I understand it, to a point. Medieval warfare is not as interesting as interpersonal drama to the majority of people, but I think they forget how much of the “Boring” stuff actually ends up mattering later in the interpersonal stuff. This aspect of the show frustrates me, a lot!

      • stevenattewell says:

        I’d agree that it focuses heavily on the characters and political intrigue between them.

        The warfare…well, Blackwater was a huge hit. If HBO had the budget to do the war 100%, I think there’s an audience for it.

    • JK says:

      Firstly, 10 hour miniseries usually prove to be fairly exhaustive adaptations of novels. Andrew Davies’s Bleak House adaptation, for instance (starring our friend Charles Dance), did not suffer in adapting a novel about as long as one of Martin’s in 8 hours. 10 hours for an adaptation of a 700 page novel isn’t at all unreasonable.

      I also don’t think the show is a “powerpoint presentation of the novels,” at least not all the time. That’s what it is at its worst, and I think it suffers particularly in the Robb sections from this problem. But I think Tyrion’s and Arya’s stories have been told pretty fully, for instance. So was Ned’s story in Season 1. The problem with Dany’s story last season was largely that it was drawn out, not that it was abridged. Theon’s story was well-told. Certainly some stories get short shrift – a lot of Bran’s development from book 2 looks like it’s going to come in this season; Jon Snow’s story was problematic, and the previous Riverlands plot excision is creating problems now. But I don’t think it’s really right to dismiss the whole show that way.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Yah, I like the show a lot, and it’s not a powerpoint presentation. The problems with the Robb/Cat plotline, and the Jon and Dany plotlines from Season 2, are more questions of writing and editing than time. And you make a very good point about Dany’s story being a fault of stretch-out.

  7. werthead says:

    Regarding Harrenhal: in the books the castle is not really a ruin, as such. The five towers are partially melted but the castle walls remain intact and it is actually a fully operational fortress. It’s still extremely formidable.

    In the TV series, it clearly isn’t. The whole thing is melted down along all of the walls and internal spaces as well as the main towers. It’s also no longer hard along the river shore, for reasons best-left to the TV writers to explain. In S3 Ep 1, Robb says explicitly that Gregor “Cannot defend a ruin.” To me, that heavily indicates that the TV writers have changed Harrenhal from a near-impregnable super-fortress to essentially an indefensible ruin: better than an open field to base your large army (like Tywin’s in Season 2) but by itself not as significant a force-multiplier as in the novels.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s valuable enough for Tywin to camp there for a season, so it’s not that indefensible.

      And it’s pretty ruinous in the books – not so much that there aren’t strong walls and lots of rooms that are still usable, but that it’s so big that you need a huge army to defend all of it or besiege it. With smaller armies, it gets taken and retaken a lot, because there’s always a section of walls that aren’t being guarded.

  8. Andrew says:

    Genna Frey formerly Lannister did point out that Edmure is soft of head and soft of heart. Edmure is okay in the tactical arena, but fails at strategy.

    I agree that spreading the forces to retake their keeps was a bad idea. It would have been better if two or three groups were made of the total riverlands forces, and they leapfroged from castles retaking them one by one until they reached a natural boundary from where they would repel any intrusion past.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I agree. I wouldn’t even say two or three groups – one big group could have acted like a broom sweeping Gregor’s men in front of them with no way to escape until he was pushed back into Harrenhal. 20,000 men plus the 16,000 men under Roose Bolton could have kept Tywin under siege at Harrenhal while Robb took Casterly Rock and Stannis took King’s Landing.

  9. John Galvano says:

    Edmure’s misunderstanding at the Battle of the Crossng reminds me of Grouchy’s misunderstanding at Waterloo.

  10. RyanS says:

    I think you are too dismissive of the hypothetical plan of retreating behind Moat Cailin after capturing Jaime. Robb never should have accepted Kingship over the Riverlands to begin with. Yes, I realize it was a charged scene and everyone got caught up in the heat of the moment – that’s the problem. The next morning, Robb should have sat with his mother, Uncle, and Great-Uncle and devised a way to announce that he would be King in the North and ONLY the North. Just say Winterfell has never ruled the Trident and now is not the time to start.

    Then, he can march back North as an independent King, and with valuable hostages. Let the Baratheons and Lannisters bleed each other while he fortifies White Harbor and Moat Cailin and learns to rule. Edmure can declare for Renly (that would have made the most sense pre-shadow baby, and many Riverlords wanted to anyway if I recall). Robb can even leave Jaime at Riverrun if he wants to provide his uncles with extra leverage. But his primary duty is to the NORTH – if he wants to be an independent King, staying in the South isn’t the way to go about it.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Refusing the Riverlands means that Robb will be fighting Seven Kingdoms with one kingdom, because Tywin will be able to bring three kingdoms to bear against the Starks who will be completely without allies.

      It means the war will be fought on Northern soil, with Robb completely unable to harm his enemy by taking his lands and his resources, and that Robb will be continually on the defense and ceding strategic initiative to the enemy.

      It means trying to defend not just the Neck but both coasts from invasion, and Robb has no navy at all on his western coast.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        Would “fought on Northern soil” and “continually on the defense” really be that bad with Moat Cailin so impregnable? It wouldn’t be at all hard to lock down even three armies over land, or at least that’s the impression the books gave me.

        It’s the naval point that strikes me as most persuasive, but how much does the situation change with the addition of the Riverlands? My memories are hazy, but I assume Seagard has a navy, but where else would ships come from? I’d assumed this was one of the reasons Robb so hoped he could get the Iron Islands on side, because his choice was defend the western North with no ships, or defend the western North and Riverlands with few ships.

        Or am I remembering the Tully’s as a far weaker naval power than they are/were?

      • stevenattewell says:

        Moat Cailin is incredibly strong, but it can be taken, either by force or bypassing it navally.

        The Riverlands would have a small navy at Seagard but the real danger is the Lannister, Royal, Gulltown, and Redwyne fleets delivering every soldier Tywin can muster as he no longer has to tie down troops in the Riverlands and can now call up Riverlands troops to fight for him.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        What I’m driving at is that given the amount of Northern troops needed to secure the Riverlands after the first few battles of the war, I don’t see how defending the west coast of the North would be made harder by redeploying those troops along that coast, even if under this hypothetical it would increase the number of troops available to Tywin. Given Tywin’s significant advantage in troop size post Blackwater (which I’m assuming would have gone the same way without the Riverlands declaring for Robb, though there’s reason to question that), and his utter naval superiority, it seems to me that he could launch a major attack on Robb’s western bannermen even before the Riverlands are pacified, relying on Robb’s commitment to them to keep his forces overly stretched whilst the Stony Shore etc. take a hammering.

        Indeed, the Bolton treachery aside, the most obvious reason Tywin didn’t do that is because of the uncertain plans of the Ironmen, not because the Riverlands were the more pressing threat. That’s why I say that Robb’s in deep trouble after the Iron Islanders refuse to help. He can’t hold his western lands with or without the Riverlands, and the ease with which the Iron Islanders steal two castles from the remaining Northmen would seem to underline the point.

        • stevenattewell says:

          The Riverlands comes with troops – roughly 20,000 of them. Without those 20,000 men, Robb’s disadvantage in troop size would have become even worse. Moreover, while Robb is in the south, Tywin can’t launch a major offensive against the North without leaving both Casterly Rock and King’s Landing vulnerable – especially since his naval forces are overstretched, given that they need to deal with Stannis’ significant fleet at Dragonstone, the Iron Fleet, etc.

          As I’ve said in other comments, the Riverlands allow Robb to fight outside of the North, threaten Lannister territory, and double his manpower. They’re worth holding.

    • RyanS says:

      The North is defensible, the Riverlands aren’t. Robb HAD to win battle after battle if he wanted to secure the Riverlands, and even that didn’t work.

      Do you really envision the Iron Throne under Joffrey or Tommen being able to muster a coalition capable of invading and holding the North? It would be enormously expensive, especially since the invasion would have to be naval as you pointed out. Even Mace Tyrell says in ASOS that he doesn’t care about the North. Dorne would never help such an invasion, and neither would the Riverlands or the Vale. That leaves the West, Reach, Crownlands, and the battered Stormlands who MIGHT be willing to do it. But how could they when they still have so many threats in the South?

      I also think any Southern invasion of the North would be doomed to fail, even if they bypassed the Moat. The North is huge, harsh, and unruly. Logistics would be a nightmare for the invaders, and Robb could use the mobile hit-and-run tactics he excels at to make their stay in the North a nightmare

      • stevenattewell says:

        The northern Riverlands described by the Trident are defensible.

        Joffrey or Tommen couldn’t, but Tywin definitely could. We’re talking 80,000 men against 17,000, and it would be a war on the North’s territory. There’s a limit to what Robb could achieve, especially once the Boltons and the houses who sympathize with them (the Dustins and Ryswells) flip sides – at most, he defends the North. But he can’t get his sisters back, any independence he preserves is of a broken land, and the Lannisters have no incentive to make peace at all.

      • RyanS says:

        Tywin may have the clout to muster an 80,000 man army, but how is he going to transport, pay for, and feed such an enormous force? Likely not all at once, which means the troops will arriving in separate landings – Robb and the Northmen could attack them one by one. Also, 17000 seems quite low for the Northern host. Especially on their home turf, where they don’t have to travel far, the Starks could likely raise 30,000 men.

        And there would be too many problems in the South for a LONG time after AGOT (which is when I’m saying Robb should have returned North). Stannis on Dragonstone, the Ironmen (who would likely attack somewhere else if the Robb was in the North), Dorne, the Vale, etc. Not to mention Aegon and the Golden Company. Robb could get Sansa back easily if he traded Jaime, though I think this would be unwise until the long term.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Pay for – Casterly Rock plus Highgarden can pay.
          Transport – the Royal fleet plus the Lannister fleet plus the Redwyne fleet plus the Gulltown fleet.
          Feed – supply ships plus a Sherman-style feeding off the land.

          The Starks could probably raise 30,000 men, but they’d be fighting probably two 40,000-men armies, one that could easily land at Torrhen’s Square and the other at White Harbor and marching on Winterfell.

          And as we’ve seen, if Winterfell falls, he’s screwed.

          Stannis on Dragonstone has 1,500 men. He can’t really do much damage. The Ironborn are divided and distracted by the Kingsmoot. The Dornish are still waiting, and the Vale is on Tywin’s side.

      • RyanS says:

        The Vale won’t invade the North on behalf of the Lannisters, even if Lysa is dead and Petyr “in charge.” They wanted to help the Young Wolf. So the Gulltown fleet and Vale troops are out.

        I still think you are underestimating how hard an invasion of the North would be, but I appreciate your responses

      • stevenattewell says:

        Ryan – the Vale wanted revenge for Jon Arryn, but they’re about to invade the North anyway.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        “the Vale wanted revenge for Jon Arryn, but they’re about to invade the North anyway.”

        Though this is a Vale which no longer has the paranoid Lysa Arryn insisting the Eyrie is defended by all available swords, and a North that’s now lost something like 30% of its troops and is in the grip of civil war. Had Robb moved North at the end of GoT, some or all of this would no longer be the case.

        To return to the fleet issue, I’m not following how your comments on Tywin’s “overstretched fleet” work in combination with your opinion that Tywin could launch a crushing invasion of the North if Robb had abandoned the Riverlands. You mention the 20 000 extra troops, but it seems to me the difficulty Tywin faces under the “Robb immediately retreats” hypothetical isn’t number of men, it’s the speed in which he can get them to the North. I suppose maybe Stannis would be less of a threat had the Lannisters been free to move East earlier in ACOK, but the Iron Islanders wouldn’t be any less bellicose (indeed, had Robb decided to not ally with the Riverlands, he might have made the same choice with the Iron Islands, which means Balon could well have decided to make another try for Lannisport). Tywin would still have enormous trouble getting his fleet to deploy his Northern invasion force, and he’d be attacking a coast that now had double the manpower to defend it.

        I take the points about how Robb’s control of the Riverlands let him harry Tywin’s lands and worry the seven hells out of the guy, and that even if he had returned to the North he’d have trouble with recalcitrant/treacherous bannermen (though it’s a strange defence of Robb’s Riverlands strategy that warns of how much trouble the Boltons could have done if he’d done things differently). Retreating the North is committing the region to an extended defensive war, with no chance of the possible knock-out blow capturing Casterly Rock would offer. It also seems to me to remove the possibility of sudden catastrophic failure as well, however. It also has the not-inconsiderable benefit to my mind at least of not obliterating entire chunks of the Riverlands on the bet that entire chunks of the Westerlands might get obliterated along the way. Mind you, I’m fully aware that’s not liable to be a major concern for many of the people running the war.

      • stevenattewell says:

        SpaceSquid – in this scenario, if Robb is in the south, Tywin has to split his forces to fight him, which prevents concentrating against Renly and Stannis, which in turn means he can’t take their fleets and use them against the North. If Robb is in the north, Tywin can quickly deal with Stannis and use the combined fleets against Robb.

  11. Telenil says:

    I respectfully disagree with the part “Taking Harrenhal isn’t stupid.” It’s a powerful fortress all right, but I don’t think that was Ackerman’s point.
    Attacking the Westerlands was taking the fight to the Lannister’s stronghold, they had to come or see their lands and the seat of their power destroyed. It was something Tywin couldn’t let happen, not any more than Robb could leave Winterfell in Iron Born hands.
    On the other hand, Harrenhal is just a stronghold. A large one, perhaps, but it has little significance in the great scheme of things. Stark holding Harrenhal won’t prevent Jeoffrey from ruling or force Tywin to change his plans. Since Robb is not going to march on King’s Landing, it’s simply one more castle standing between the Lannister and him.

    Robb’s forces cannot resist the combined might of the Tyrell and the Lannister when they eventually move north, so Robb has to either strike now (in the Westerlands, since King’s Landing is impregnable) or retreat to the North where he stands a better chance. This, I believe, was what Ackerman meant. Robb holds Harrenhal, but from a strategic perspective, it is of little use to him.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. I agree that forcing the Lannisters to come to him in the west is strategically superior to chasing them; that was what Robb was doing last season, after all. At the same time, in the books, Robb is capable of walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time – he’s in the west when Roose Bolton took Harrenhal. The show makes a hash of this.

      2. Harrenhal has more significance than just a stronghold – it dominates the southern Riverlands and the Kingsroad. By seizing it, Robb hugely improves his defensive stance, on the one hand preventing Tywin from coming up the Kingsroad to menace the northern Riverlands (AND THE NORTH), and on the other, creating a strong right flank position for the southern Riverlands which have just been retaken at high cost.

      3. Robb stands a much better chance of resisting the combined strength of the Tyrells and Lannisters if he can cut off parts of their strength and defeat them in detail, which in the show is what he was intending to do when Edmure screwed up. Retreating to the North doesn’t improve his chances, because what he gains in better ground (which is debatable, the Trident is eminently defensible) he loses in manpower.

  12. Evgeni says:

    Hello, I’ve been following your site for a while now, and really enjoy your works – they are making the wait for the Sixth installment a little lighter!
    I agree with most of your reasoning, but came to think about another detail about Harrenhall which I didn’t see mentioned here – supplies. For all its defensive bonuses, an army closed in Harrenhall is very hard to supply. Tiwin stripped the surrounding lands clean while camping there, and towards the end of book three the smaller force lead by Roose Bolton (I believe they numbered about 10 000 or even less at the time), had no means to outlast a siege. Thus, the fortifications of Harrenhall can easily become a tomb for an army.
    This makes me wonder how well supllied Tiwin’s horde really was – probably better than the northmen, but could they deal with a siege? And furthermore, could the entire army fir into a single castle, no matter how huge? My impression is that castles in Westeros are not well suited to house large armies.
    This leads me to Rob’s reasoning when dealing with Tiwin – for all his youth and bravado, Rob is extremely cautious with Tiwin, and with good measure. In one of your earlier works you argued that Tiwin might not be that good a commander, and this may well be so, but he commands tremendous respect from both his troops and allies. Rob is cautious to a fault when dealing with him, and would only fight Tiwin IF the conditions of the battle are premediated by Rob himself – and after the Whispering Wood, Tiwin treats Rob in much the same way.
    However, I wonder if instead of looting the Westernlands (which is still a masterstroke), Rob couldn’t have turned his attention to starving out Tiwin in Harrenhall. I do believe that Rob was not at all certain that he could battle Tiwin;s large and professional army in open combat, especially if it is fortified around Harrenhall (the book leads me to believe that Tiwin is an expert in organizing war-camps, and in military terms a well-fortified camp can be no less important than a castle;). But with most of Rob’s army on foot, and the Riverlords on his side, he could have made an attempt to cut off all of Tiwin’s supply lines – sort of an indirect siege, with the more mobile forces led by Stark and Blackfish constnatly changing positions around Harrenhall. A risky manouver, but if Tiwin’s intelligence is cut, and he is unable to pick the scattered Stark companies one by one, he would sooner or later be forced either to scatter his own forces in an attempt to break the siege – or to move the entire army out, which would ultimately put him on the road, and give Rob the option to choose the battlefield.

    Sorry for the rant, but I am a huge fan of the strategic insight which Martin puts into his books, and the show barely brushes on the surface. Just two days ago the last episode got me thinking how different the background between cutting Jaime’s hand is in the show and the book.
    Keep up the good work!

    • stevenattewell says:

      As they say, a bad general thinks in tactics, a good general thinks in strategy, and a great general thinks in logistics.

      Tywin had stripped the southern Riverlands bare, but much of the northern Riverlands wasn’t damaged during the fighting. Robb could easily have resupplied Harrenhal from the northern Riverlands over the bridge at Lord Harroways Town, or from White Harbor via the Bay of Craps.

      Yes, Robb is extremely cautious with Tywin – and with Jaime too. He’s got good strategic sense and always wants to fight at a time and place of his choosing, that’s what a good general should do.

      Besieging Harrenhal is tricky. The problem is that Edmure released the Riverlords and Robb let him – this dropped his effective fighting force from roughly 40,000 after the Battle of the Camps down to 20,000. That’s roughly equivalent to Tywin’s army inside, but the castle offers defensive force multipliers, and there’s the problem that it’s so big that if you try to surround it, you split your forces and render yourself vulnerable to being attacked and defeated in detail in much the same way that Robb defeated Jaime’s army at the Battle of the Camps. If Robb had kept all his troops together, he could have pulled it off, although there’s still the difficulty that Gregor Clegane would be operating freely in his rear/right flank, and Robb’s army would be close to Lannister reinforcements from the Crownlands. Not to say it’s not doable, but you’d need to be very clever.

      • Evgeni says:

        Yeah, what I imagine was not a direct siege, as this would again leave Rob on ground not of his choosing – rather I was thinking of a series of attacks on Tiwin’s supply squadrons, and gradually drawing him out of Harrenhall – he would either need to send out larger regiments, which could be ambushed by Starks, or reconsider his position.

        • stevenattewell says:

          That would have been preferable. Difficult, but preferable.

          However, I think Robb’s strategic thinking at the time was predicated on the consideration that such a strategy would have the bulk of the fighting and eating take place on the Riverlands, whereas an assault on the West allows him to dine on Tywin’s food.

          Moreover, we have to keep in mind the strategic problem of his western flank – the Lannisters can call up fresh armies from the Westerlands as long as they’re not disturbed there. Attacking the Westerlands had the strategic value of eliminating that threat.

  13. Abbey Battle says:

    Just popping in with an observation and one question; I would like to observe that while the strategic fallout from The Battle of the Red Fork was far from universally positive (although I suspect that any success from Robb’s plan would have been phyrric – given the loss of Winterfell and the casualties likely to have been inflicted by Lord Tywin’s host in the course of a battle the outcome of which can hardly be guaranteed to fall out in King Robb’s favour especially given the desertion of House Frey and the complications presented via Bolton and Karstark), in my heart I find it difficult to criticise Ser Edmure’s decision to cede not an inch of ground to the Westermen.

    The Red Fork might not have been the victory the Young Wolf needed, but it’s not difficult to describe it as the Victory the River-men needed very, very badly if their morale were to be kept from sinking like a stone (the electrifying effects of this victory on the common folk and River-lords is visible in the chapter through which we see the outline of the battle); I’d also like to note that from a political perspective this is a victory Ser Edmure Tully needed very, very, very badly – had he given ground in the face of Lord Tywin he might very well have forfeited all respect amongst his vassals (having proven his inability to protect his own, which added to past defeats might have left him in a very nasty position).

    As for the question I wanted to ask; Maester Steven, may I please ask where the most appropriate thread to post speculation concerning the battles mentioned but not described in the course of The War of the Five Kings would be? (or perhaps will be, if one does not exist); I’ve been working on some theories regarding the likes of Golden Tooth and Riverrun for some while and would be interested in hearing the thoughts of other posters on the matter.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think morale and standing would have been better improved by defeating Tywin’s army and capturing or killing the man himself.

      You can post said theories here.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Well the River-Lords DID defeat Tywin’s army; they blocked or broke every attempt made by the Lion Lord and his senior commanders to cross The Trident AND Ser Edmure Tully (of all the unlikely parties!) managed to throw back Ser Gregor Cleagane himself inflicting one of the only defeats we know to have been suffered by The Mountain prior to his fatal encounter with the Red Viper (admittedly with a good deal of help from his troops and hand-picked knights).

        While I do agree that the King in the North would have stood a good chance of DESTROYING the Host of the West (possibly killing or capturing the Lion Lord himself in the process, albeit running a roughly equal chance of defeat in the field), it’s unfair to insinuate that the Battle of the Red Fork was anything BUT a defeat for Lord Tywin – unfortunately he then proceeded to prove himself a truly dangerous commander by surviving this defeat forces intact and proceeding to produce a full-blown TRIUMPH in the aftermath.

        So I must agree that while The North and the River-Lords could have inflicted a BIGGER defeat on the Lannister cause, it seems a little strange to (accidentally) insinuate that the Army of the Trident failed to achieve a victory (admittedly a flawed one) in the first place.

        As a final note, considering that probably no more than a few months prior to these actions the River-Men had seen their Lord Paramount-in-waiting humbled at the very seat of his power and been broken in that battle themselves, seen their strongholds conquered and their lands ravaged to the point where it took the intervention of an outside power to save them, I find it hard not to consider their successful stand on the Red Fork somewhat remarkable.

        Admittedly I have a good deal of sympathy for Ser Edmure, who seems to me a good man with the makings of a decent lord cursed with mere adequacy and being obliged to pit that bare competence against genuinely remarkable individuals.

        p.s: Thank you for granting me permission to post some theories (possibly crackpot theories, although I hope they’re more lucid than that!).

      • RyanS says:

        Abbey, I also sympathize a great deal with Edmure. Poor guy tries to do the right thing, and can never catch a break

      • stevenattewell says:

        Edmure achieved a tactical victory and a strategic defeat, and had he allowed Tywin to pass, the Northern Alliance could have achieved a total victory destroying Tywin’s army and possibly killing or capturing Tywin as you say.

        The morale boost for that would have been much higher, and likewise the effect on Edmure’s reputation.

  14. Abbey Battle says:

    The only breaks Ser Edmure has gotten in the series to date may be seen in his heart., although to be fair he’s still alive and has some prospect of continuing to remain so, which is not to be sneered at.

    • stevenattewell says:

      He’s alive, and has the possibility of escape and revenge, especially if my crackpot theory about what’s about to happen in Riverrun is right.

      • Evgeni says:

        What would your crackpot theory about Riverrun be?

        • stevenattewell says:

          That the Brotherhood Without Banners are going to crash the Frey/Lannister wedding at Riverrun, massacre everyone, and the castle will fall, sparking the Riverlords to rebel against the divided and leaderless Frey/Lannisters.

  15. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, I’m not debating the idea that The Northern Alliance would have stood a much better chance of a major tactical and still greater strategic triumph if they’d let Lord Tywin past the Red Fork – as per King Robb’s apparently poorly-communicated plan – merely seeking to point out that while Victory for King Robb was possible, it was far from CERTAIN. Given that this is Westeros a qualified or downright phyrric victory would have been just as (if not more) likely than a complete triumph.

    I’m not saying I think Ser Edmure made the best possible choice, just that he made a very understandable one for laudable reasons and that the repercussions from that choice were not entirely negative (far, far worse came from King Robb’s own political and strategic blunders for example): as you have pointed out they were not entirely positive either and the negative outweighed the positive.

    Just another fine piece of evidence to add to the plentiful indicators that Ser Edmure Tully is possessed of Luck that has been turning every silk purse into a sow’s ear with effortless ease since the poor fellow had the good luck to be born the heir of a Lord Paramount.

    I’ll do my best to leave this line of thought here – although I suspect my fondness for Ser Edmure and quixotic desire to prove he’s not ENTIRELY hapless may manifest itself in future – and proceed to lay out some of my theories on some of the barely-described battles fought during The War of the Five Kings.

    Which means I really ought to get back to refreshing my memory by looking up the known facts on the appropriate Wikipedia and Maester Stefan’s articles on the War of the Five Kings over at Tower of the Hand to work out how best to polish my own opinions!

    Until I post again, stay well Maester Steven.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I wouldn’t call it certain, but I d call it very likely. Losing Kings Landing would have crippled Tywin.

      And I understand where Edmure was coming from, but I think he reacted emotionally as opposed to strategically.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        True – his misfortunes aren’t entirely due to bad luck.

        Still, I love the mental image of Ser Gregor nursing his wounds from the Stone Mill with the knowledge that he got beaten by SER EDMURE TULLY (and his picked knights) to make his recovery still more miserable.

        I wonder how it felt for him to know that he’d pretty much been whipped by a lordling who’d previously been official whipping boy for the Westermen?

      • stevenattewell says:

        Yah, he probably killed quite a few horses out of pique.

  16. Firstly, in regard to comments made above, Roose Bolton losing a third in the Battle of the Green Fork is an amazing accomplishment on his part. He’s outnumbered by 4,000 men (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but is Tywin’s valuable reserve – as Tywin’s original plan went, if a flank broke and Bolton’s men rushed in, he could try to flank them). He’s just had an all night march to gain the element of surprise – and doesn’t have it. And he’s attacking across a ford, which means he needs to win a ford and cross the river – with less men than the defending force. Plus, he has no Cavalry, so he can’t charge quickly and try to hold the ford long enough for the foot to cross. Roose had every disadvantage here, and losing only some 5,000 men in battle and while retreating (which is the most dangerous time) is nothing short than amazing. If there’s anything to be suspicious of here, it’s the fact that while two-thirds of the force got away, many nobles were captured or killed – which suggests to me that Roose let them be in the van at the attack and the rear at the retreat, in order to improve his standing among the nobles.

    More to the point, I agree generally with what you write, but I think while Robb may be a brilliant battle strategist, he is not very good at strategy in the larger sense, of a plan of action intended to accomplish a goal. Because as you note (and as he himself admits in one of his better moments) he utterly botched up the war, by paying too much attention to the military happenings and too little to the political. Admittedly a lot of the problems were not his fault, nor could he control them (Renly being murdered, Catelyn fleeing instead of staying to pick up the pieces and ally with either Stannis or the Tyrells [not her fault either - she was in some danger], Catelyn freeing Jaime, and so forth) bu the fact that he cannot at all control his various commanders and supporters (Roose, Edmure, Catelyn, anybody who listened to anything they did) suggests that while naturally gifted in war, he was not at all an adept politician or even very much aware of how important it was. While not usually compared, I’m reminded of Daeron the Young Dragon, who also won every battle, but lost because he made no attempt to resolve it in any way other than conquest. One wonders how the war would have gone had Robb been killed at any stage (he came perilously close to it in the Whispering Wood). Even before the Ironborn took the North, I think the Riverlands would have collapsed, with the Northmen returning home.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. Losing a third of your men is not an amazing accomplishment.
      2. Roose didn’t need to cross, merely to prevent Tywin from crossing.
      3. Roose put nobles in the front rank so they’d get killed or captured, because he was systematically weeding out his rivals in the North.

      You’re using strategy in too loose a sense – Robb had a plan to win the war. As I say, his mistakes were political not military, which is the dispute I have with Ackerman.

      Unruly subordinates are a necessary evil of medieval warfare – Tywin couldn’t prevent Jaime from attacking Ned, and utterly failed to coordinate his officers in the west.

      The Riverlands are far more resilient than you give them credit for, given that they’re still resisting in A Feast For Crows, long after the Red Wedding.

      • 1. Obviously not. Considering that he lost, and his chances of winning were slim to nonexistent? It’s amazing to lose so few comparatively rather than the entire army breaking, rendering Robb’s plan worthless.
        2. Tywin’s plan was for Roose to attack once his left broke and retreated. That Gregor succeeded in breaking Roose’s defense and Roose being too cautious to be drawn into the trap makes it that much more impressive – despite failing in defense, he was wise enough not to take the feigned advantage, and knew to retreat. As a holding maneuver, I really don’t think he could have done anything better.

        I prefaced my words by saying I considered strategy in the larger sense. Robb may have had a plan to win the war, but he was rather hapless in executing the non-military aspects of it, which is what we’re both saying – he completely failed on the political side.

        Yes, Tywin failed to coordinate, but he would have if he could. It was simply that he was not getting information in time to organize something. Robb could have at least tried, rather than relying on reports from his subordinates. The fact is, Tywin knew his officers, whom to trust and whom not to. Robb did not; logically, he should have permitted them less leeway, especially after successive defeats and failures in his absence. I think it was exactly his lack of experience that was the problem here.

        The Riverlands may have resisted, but with what? By AFFC, Riverrun seemed to be the only organized resistance, relying on its strong defensive position. I suppose it’s a moot point, in any case.

        • stevenattewell says:

          1. His chances were pretty good. 16,000 to 20,000 is not slim to non-existent odds, and the entire army breaking is highly unlikely.
          2. He could have simply held the western bank and not attacked the eastern bank, preserving his manpower.
          3. Hapless goes too far – Robb’s strategy of allying with Renly was well-executed and without Melisandre would have succeeded. His strategy of allying with the Greyjoys was a failure, true. But 50/50 is different from hapless.
          4. The Riverlands had 11,000 men and could use the defenses of the Trident.

          • 1. Considering the disadvantages of his men being exhausted and no cavalry, as well as not choosing the ground – the only thing he could have done is choose whether to attack or defend. He chose to defend, and made the right choice by not attacking when the left broke, thus not falling into Tywin’s trap and preserving the majority of his force. The best he could accomplish was probably a stalemate, which he rather did, having fallen back on Harrenhall.
            2. I may be misremembering (in which case, this conversation is moot and embarrassing) but Roose did hold the Western bank. Gregor broke through when his horse smashed through the lines. And Roose didn’t attack when the left attacking him broke.
            3. Robb didn’t ally with Renly, though. Catelyn had reached no acknowledged agreement with him before he was murdered, nor did it seem likely to happen soon. Had Catelyn stayed (been able to stay) and made a deal with the Tyrells, that would have been success. Seeing as she did not (and Robb/Catelyn made no attempt to coordinate with Stannis), I think it was rather a failure, and partly their fault.
            4. They had a chance, I suppose, but I don’t think it was much better than what they had by AFFC.

          • stevenattewell says:

            I’ll re-read the battle chapter because my memory isn’t syncing up with yours.

            However, Catelyn had a deal on the table that Renly had offered: all Robb had to do was swear personal fealty to Renly. Then Renly dies in circumstances that forces Catelyn to flee.

            Stannis rejects all talk of alliance, and there isn’t time to make any offers before he’s at Kings’ Landing and is then defeated.

            It’s not their fault at all that they didn’t foresee shadowbaby assassins.

  17. Abbey Battle says:

    As this is my first post in a series of speculations concerning those battles mentioned, but developed no further by Master GRR Martin (which therefore caught my over-active imagination precisely because we can more freely speculate on the course of events surrounding them), I therefore think it sensible to state that what follows are theories rather than a statement of fact and more to the point my own theories (albeit based in some respects on the ideas advanced by Maester Stefan in his articles concerning the War of the Five Kings over at Tower of the Hand).

    Please don’t feel that I expect everyone to share my opinions, much less agree with them; this is purely food for thought and I will be pleased to read any counter-arguments or personal theories advanced (part of the reason I love Maester Steven’s blog is that he’s kind enough to let us advance them, within the bounds of propriety and reason).

    With that in mind I would like to begin what may become a miniseries of speculations with my take on the Battle of the Golden Tooth, the first field battle of the War, but not it’s first conflict:-

    WHAT WE KNOW

    Mentioned briefly in two chapters of ‘A Game of Thrones’ this battle is the first known clash between armies formed for battle, fought beneath the Golden Tooth (an outcrop of rock under which are found some of the richest mines in the Westerland and upon which is found one of the West’s major border fortresses, guarding a pass that effectively serves as the gateway between East and West, therefore the most important single route) and to be precise “Fought in the hills beneath the Golden Tooth”.

    The battle occurs between a defending force of River-landers under the Lords Vance and Piper (thought to number approximately 4000 men) and a much larger force commanded by that notorious knight Ser Jaime Lannister (thought to number about 15000 men).

    The battle is a defeat for the outnumbered River-men, Lord Vance is killed in action and Lord Piper obliged to retreat. Ser Jaime would proceed from this success to another, defeating the main host of the Riverlands under the walls of their paramount stronghold Riverrun, capturing their acting overlord and laying siege to the castle.

    Ser Jaime is described as having “Covered himself in glory” as a result of these battles.

    WHAT WE MAY DEDUCE

    Well for a start the fact that Ser Edmure Tully – for all his virtues as an apparently benevolent young lordling – have never heard the maxim that “He who protects everything defends nothing successfully”.

    Never-the-less while Ser Edmure made his first strategic mis-step by allowing his father’s vassals to individually defend their own lands rather than muster outside Riverrun with their peers assembled outside Riverrun (a logical place to raise his standard, but a less than ideal area in which to assemble an army as my next post will suggest), his decision to station a force under Lords Piper and Vance under the Golden Tooth is not his second mistake.

    Why not? You may ask – well because SOMEONE has to (a) keep an eye on the major invasion route leading from the West into the lands watered by The Trident, if only so that they can warn the main Host when The Lannisters begin to cross and give them an idea of the numbers involved (b) try to slow down the enemy’s advance, thereby bleeding them of manpower and hopefully buying more time for Ser Edmure to assemble the largest force he can (possibly even allow him to move his force out from their assembly point to a battleground of their own choosing), as well as (c) prevent Lord Tywin from sending out MORE marauders, as well as prevent those raiding parties from rejoining the main body of the Western host .

    In this case it makes sense to dispatch a token force to watch the pass under the Golden Tooth, especially given that the area is described as hilly, with the implication that there is a strategic choke point – a position strong enough to allow a smaller force to seriously inconvenience a larger one (under which circumstances odds of about 3-1 against are not impossible to survive, no matter how difficult to stop).

    With this in mind we may reasonably deduce that Lord Vane (of Wayfarer’s Rest) and Lord Piper – presumably the Lords of lands on the River Road closest to the West – have been ordered to assemble their vassals and plug the gap for as long as possible, probably with the hope that they’ll be able to hold long enough for Ser Edmure to bring up the rest of his force and make advancing costly and very difficult for The Lannisters (or at least buy time for him to fully assemble the Eastern river-lords).

    Ser Jaime’s objective is likely simpler:- break into the River-lands by any and all means.

    My guess is that Lords Piper and Vance would have looked for a strong position not too far from the Golden Tooth, probably not too far from the River Road and almost certainly somewhere they felt a small force could not only hold off a stronger force for time, but make a hasty withdrawal in the face of superior numbers finally winning out over the course of a numbers game; it seems unlikely that they would send out raiding parties to harass the Lannister force assembling under the Golden Tooth (when your objective is to buy time, it makes small sense to start the lion into action with fleabites).

    Given that Ser Jaime is recorded as having shattered the Host of Lords Piper and Vance, it seems highly unlikely that he gave them time to find one; my guess is that the minute Ser Jaime arrived at the Golden Tooth he led out his men at high speed and in superior numbers against the enemies of his House, eager to catch the River-lords on the back foot and possibly even willing to engage them with something closer to parity of numbers to ensure this.

    While hardly lightning warfare (horses aren’t tanks, no matter how well-armoured) and unlikely to catch the River-lords entirely napping, it’s probable that the precipitate advance made likely by his temperament and his advantage of manpower proved decisive on this occasion (as it did on at least one other, later occasion).

    Given that battles of attrition hardly cover their winner in glory, it seems unlikely that the River-Lords had achieved their position of greatest advantage (they may even have been caught out of position as they sought to withdraw in the face of superior numbers) and that the Battle of the Golden Tooth was sharp, short and swiftly finished (possibly followed by a bloody pursuit, although I suspect that Ser Jaime would have been smart enough to press on to River-run forces intact rather than fritter them away on a chase).

    An alternative scenario would involve an attack on the eastern host as they occupied a defended position, but given that Ser Jaime seems to have reached Riverrun with commendable dispatch, one might reasonably conclude that some X-factor prevented Lords Piper and Vance from making the most of their defensive position:- it’s possible that one or more of the marauding troops sent out by Lord Tywin launched an attack on the River-men rear or (and I would think this more likely) the morale of the eastern host (composed of levies, not trained professionals) was not up to the task of standing off an attack from a host three times larger, spearheaded by one of the most notorious knights in the Seven Kingdoms (presumably surrounded by a significant portion of the chivalry of the Westerland) resulting in a panicked flight.

    A finally possibility is that one or more of the River-lords experienced a rush of bloodlust to the head after beating an attack from the Westermen, charging after them, then suffering the consequences, thereby helping to ensure that the rest of their army suffered too – unwittingly following the unfortunate example of the English at Hastings, who helped turn the prospect of victory into the certainty of defeat by charging after a retreating force that revealed themselves to be faking as they turned on their pursuers (if I remember correctly, a similar incident helped turn the tide at the Battle of Montiel during the Hundred Years War).

    While unlikely, this might explain why one lord fled and one lord did not live to flee.

    Whatever the case, it’s not hard to imagine that this Victory fired Ser Jaime’s force to pour their heartiest efforts into making the best speed possible in the course of their advance to Riverrun and giving them confidence as an army which Tully troops seem to have been swiftly robbed of in the course of the battle fought there.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      One final note:- it seems highly likely that had Lords Piper and Vance been able to withdraw in good order from the Golden Tooth, The Massacre at Mummer’s Ford might have been averted (since the sons of Lords Vance and Piper would not have felt obliged to hare off into action against Ser Jaime Lannister’s force, doubling or even trebling the royal men-at-arms to the point where Lannister raiders would have found it unwise launch an ambush and certainly difficult to launch a successful ambush).

      One might even imagine Lord Dondarrion joining up with Lords Vance and Piper, resulting in Lannister forces being obliged to openly attack men under the Kings Banner absent even the most threadbare veil of plausible deniability, placing Lord Tywin in a thorny legal and political situation (since this would make him a rebel against the crown, although how much that would matter depends rather on whether Robert was or was not dead when the news arrived – were he amongst the living, it’s probable he’d raise the realm against Lord Tywin with predictable results).

    • stevenattewell says:

      “Well for a start the fact that Ser Edmure Tully – for all his virtues as an apparently benevolent young lordling – have never heard the maxim that “He who protects everything defends nothing successfully”.” Quite right.

      The mistake at the Golden Tooth was that Edmure threw in too many troops to be a delaying screen and too few to actually stop Jaime’s army (I think Jaime just overran the smaller force). Had he sent 400 men instead of 4,000, he would have had 24,000 to Jaime’s 15,000 and been in much better shape.

      As for Riverrun, from the description that I remember, it wasn’t so much a setpiece battle and more of a parallel to Oxcross, where a blooded force ambushes a force literally in the middle of training and just overruns the entire army.

      • axrendale says:

        Regarding the (first) Battle of Riverrun – according to one of Catelyn’s chapters in ASOS, Edmure “offered battle” to the Kingslayer – implying that he did bring his host together to try and fight a setpiece engagement, and got his force “cut to bloody pieces” as a result.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Hmmm. I have the strongest memory that he was ambushed while drilling. Time to head back into the books.

  18. RyanS says:

    Also, why does almost everyone assume Robb would have beaten the numerically superior Tywin on his home turf?

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. Robb has won against numerically superior forces every time he’s tried.
      2. Robb wins a strategic victory just by running away from Tywin’s army long enough for King’s Landing to fall.
      3. Robb has 11,000 men at Riverrun and 16,000 in the vicinity of Harrenhal who can turn the numerical tide from Tywin’s rear.

  19. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, as far as I can tell the precise timing of the Murder at Mummer’s Ford (for battle it was none, to quote the chronicler of another war) vis-a-vis the Battle of the Golden Tooth is somewhat ambiguous as the text does not seem to make explicit just WHEN they took place relative to one another.

    I suspect that they happened more or less concurrently (explaining why Lord Beric continued to advance headlong into a war-storm with a thimbleful of men – he may have been unaware that battle had already been joined, rendering his mission rather untenable); however you ARE correct in maintaining that there WAS a massacre at Mummer’s Ford prior to the Battle at the Golden Tooth (and for that matter the Battle of Mummer’s Ford) but that isn’t the action I am referring to.

    Honestly, part of the fun of discussing A Song of Ice and Fire is that references can be almost as ambiguous and obscure as those found in the actual Chronicles (and other sources of Humankind’s History).

    I’ll answer your other comment later – although I’ll note here and now that I do agree that Lords Piper and Vance WERE overrun under the Golden Tooth, I’m merely moved to ponder just how this occurred (were they out-marched? were they caught out of position? did the morale of their men falter and the battle-line fail with it? did the death of Lord Vance of Wayfarer’s Rest occur during a rout or did the rout follow his death?).

    So please don’t think I disagree with your conclusions in general, I’m merely pondering the precise details, as well as trying to work out how I would depict the whole business in my own (strictly hypothetical) graphic novel adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire.

  20. Wolves of Winter says:

    Having just read the “Catelyn” chapter in ACOK where she and Brienne receive reports from the battle of Red Fork, of Twyin’s feints and probes to gain a river crossing, I’d say disbelief should be suspended on the matter of Edmure’s orders. How can he not be aware that the plan is to draw Tywin’s army out and into west? While it is true that there is great advantage to smashing the new Lannister army to avoid being trapped between the Lannister forces, how can Edmure not see the additional benefit of having Tywin move out of the Harrenhal and the Riverlands? What possible benefit is there in keeping the army south? There is none. And how is it that ONLY Catelyn feels uneasy about the plan to stop Tywin’s crossing, and that Edmure is so clueless and vainglorious that he doesn’t “get” the larger plan, and his captains, et al, agree with him? Suspending disbelief on the Edmure matter and on Rob’s seeming inability to communicate.

    I wonder if Martin could not have written a better scheme, such as maybe the river’s just too high for any crossing of the Red Fork at all, in which case Tywin would be forced to go around — well south of Riverrun — leaving him with the Hob’s choice of going after Rob or racing to King’s Landing. Or why not just lay seige to Riverrun with his main force and be delayed there just long enough to be in position to save King’s Landing. Or — even better — once Rob veers north for the Crag instead of Lannisport/Casterly Rock, Tywin realizes Rob’s ruse and decides to hold back patiently — long enough to get wind of Stannis’ fleet sailing to King’s Landing. One could argue (and I do) that Rob blew his own plan up by going the wrong way once Tywin’s army was on the move and pushing west. Rob might have veered down and back to face Tywin, knowing that the Baratheon’s would attack King’s Landing at some point.

    Any of these scenarios makes more natural sense to me than to lay the blame, or the majority of the blame, on Edmure for not letting Tywin cross. He does have to put up some resistance, anyway, otherwise Tywin realizes it’s a trap. So he puts up too much resistance, Rob blames him, forgetting or not realizing that the real problems are that Stannis manages to free himself up from Storm’s End too quickly, and that Highgarden and its 50,000 men are the factor that might have kept King’s Landing from falling anyway, whether or not Tywin is stuck in the west or not.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Suspending disbelief is tricky in this case – Edmure will say explicitly he didn’t know that’s what the plan was. Simply put, he’s not a very good military thinker – he can organize a decent defense when he’s got time to organize his men, but he lacks the strategic eye for the big picture.

      As for Robb going to the northern Westerlands – partially, he needs to guard his right flank and rear from any attack. Also a lot of the resources he’s trying to take are in those rich northern fiefdoms. Keep in mind, his intent was to raid up and down the length of the Westerlands as Tywin chased him, so he was probably saving Lannisport for when Tywin came nearer.

      As for Highgarden, without Tywin on hand, they have too little incentive to protect King’s Landing from Stannis.

      • Wolves of Winter says:

        “Edmure will say explicitly he didn’t know that’s what the plan was” — I suspend some disbelief on that. We don’t really know enough about him to say that, even. Also, we have no POV on Rob so we don’t really know why he went north instead of south, other than it works out better for old George, who might’ve thought this out a little better …

        • stevenattewell says:

          This is from Catelyn II in ASOS:

          The Blackfish said, “You were commanded to hold Riverrun, Edmure, no more.”

          “I held Riverrun, and I bloodied Lord Tywin’s nose-”

          “So you did,” said Robb. “But a bloody nose won’t win the war, will it? Did you ever think to ask why we remained in the west so long after Oxcross…Uncle, I wanted Lord Trywin to come West”…

          Edmure looked from uncle to nephew. “You never told me.”

          “I told you to hold Riverrun,” said Robb. “What part of that command did you fail to comprehend?”…

          “Edmure looked ill. “I never meant…never. Robb, you must let me make amends.”

      • Wolves of Winter says:

        Right, I know it’s in the book and that it’s Martin’s explanation as to why Tywin was able to make it to King’s Landing in time to save the day – I believe and know it’s in there. What I’m suspending is acceptance of this plot twist as believable fiction, if that makes better sense. I know, I know, there are dragons and GRRM writes fantasy, so belief is suspended from the get-go, but a reader still looks for believable character motivations and interactions.

        I can’t really believe the commander of an army would run off to the west in hopes of pulling his enemy with him and not tell the captain left guarding the river to let the main army of the enemy cross. Nor do I believe that the only person left behind who seems to get the gist of the plan is the commander’s mother, who wasn’t on the scene when said commander went west. We don’t have POV from Robb to go on, have only limited character development for Edmure, so not much to go on to justify Robb’s lack of communication or Edmure’s blunder. GRRM resolves this with the passage you quoted … but it still doesn’t make much sense. Robb had been a great battle commander up to that point, etc. etc.

        I wonder if the unbelievable botch-up that GRRM presents us with is one of the reasons the writers of the TV series just skip Tywin’s main army moving to Red Fork and treat the situation as a “get the Mountain” plan. Not how I would have done it, but it’s less curious nonsense than the original, in my opinion. I wasn’t too clear in writing the previous comment, sorry about that.

    • shaunpeacock says:

      Bear in mind, Book!Robb is somewhere between 14 and 16 years old. He made a rookie mistake, he assumed that Edmure knew what Robb meant, while there were other reasons for Edmure to do what he did – he needs to look good to his bannermen and he no doubt had some wounded pride from getting his ass handed to him and then a boy half his age being the one to ride to his rescue – the main problem is that Robb’s plan failed due to his failure to give proper orders because, for all Robb’s skill as a tactician and strategist, he’s a rookie.

      • stevenattewell says:

        See, I’m hesitant to go along with that because the Blackfish, who’s an extremely experienced and universally well-regarded soldier, feels pretty much the same way that Robb does. Which suggests that Robb’s orders were not unusually vague and Edmure’s actions considered beyond the norm. And unlike in the show, in the books Brynden likes his nephew and generally makes excuses for his shortcomings – but not in this case.

      • shaunpeacock says:

        Maybe the Blackfish, like everyone else, doesn’t want to believe that Robb could screw up, not only because they’re in awe of him, but also because they’ve taken a massive gamble on this teenager, if he’s capable of being wrong then they’re all completely screwed, and they don’t want to believe that, so the only person left to blame is Edmure, even though all he did was follow an interpretation of Robb’s orders which were reasonable and suited Edmure’s own purposes.

  21. Wolves of Winter says:

    And I do agree completely that the TV show blunders in Season 2 by not showing us any of the Red Fork battle, or that Tywin even went west from Harrenhal. A single scene with Tywin having trouble at the river, then changing his course would have sufficed.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Or just a scene where a messenger comes in to Robb’s tent and says “Tywin’s marching west, towards Riverrun!” Robb’s bannermen look nervous but Robb smiles and says something like. “Just what I’ve been waiting for him to do. Tell my uncle Edmure to defend the castle and let Tywin come to him.”

      • Wolves of Winter says:

        Something, anything. Not “OMG — we could have beheaded the Mountain that Rides but you blew it, uncle” — ehh? Anyone who read the books is thinking, “wtf?”. And if you didn’t read the books, the reaction isn’t too different.

  22. axrendale says:

    To add a belated contribution to the “Robb’s Strategy” discussion, it is my belief based on the readings that Robb and the Blackfish did not fully develop their “lure Tywin back into his own lands and keep him busy there until King’s Landing has fallen” strategy until after they were already in the Westerlands. When Robb’s army first set out west from Riverrun (leaving Edmure behind with strict orders to hold the castle in their absence), most of their plans were probably focussed on finding a way to get into the Lannisters’ territory (at this point their plan, as relayed by Theon to his father, consisted of laying siege to the Golden Tooth rather than bypassing it) and confronting the new Lannister army being raised by Stafford and Daven.

    After the chance discovery of a goat track (thanks Grey Wind!) enables them to get around the Tooth and catch the Lannisters by surprise at Oxcross, they see the tremendous opportunity that they have created for themselves, and come up with the plan to raid and pillage the surrounding area to bring Tywin running back from the Riverlands, so that they can force him to chase them around until one of the Baratheon brothers has succeeded in taking the capital, effectively ending the war. They assume that Edmure will abide by his standing orders not to leave Riverrun. The plan falls down in the end due to three factors:

    1) Edmure tries to use his initiative, to unfortunate effect.

    2) Robb’s gambit in sending Theon to the Iron Islands backfires badly, resulting in the invasion of the North and the fall of Winterfell.

    3) No matter how much damage Robb and co. might do to the Westerlands countryside, they don’t have enough men to risk assaulting Lannisport, and even if they did have a bigger army, Casterly Rock itself is virtually impregnable.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Agreed for the most part:

      1. Robb and the Blackfish’s initial strategic goal is to eliminate the Lannister armies forming in the west that could put the Riverlands into a position where they’re flanked by Lannisters to east and west, caught in between, and crushed.
      2. Oxcross basically accomplishes this. Lannister forces in the West are crushed, and Daven Lannister falls back on Lannisport, not Casterly Rock. This suggests that Casterly Rock was already garrisoned and that more men would have put a drain on supplies. However, the combined garrisons couldn’t have been bigger than Robb’s army, otherwise you would have expected a sally.
      3. I think Lannisport could have been taken at significant cost, but Robb wanted to use the Ironborn fleet to take it from the sea and minimize his casualties. Casterly Rock could have held out certainly, but the political fact of Robb Stark threatening Casterly Rock was ultimately enough to pull Tywin west.

  23. Abbey Battle says:

    I must say that this theory does seem the most plausible in light of what we see occurring in the books – it also makes Ser Edmure look a good bit less stupid (it’s hard to castigate him for spoiling a plan that changed significantly from it’s original conception).

    Maester Steven, out of courtesy to yourself I am currently attempting to familiarise myself with the timeline you posted; future entries on the undeveloped battles of the War of the Five Kings will take it into account, in deference to your preference.

    One question; do you imagine that it’s likely the Battle of the Golden Tooth would have been fought largely on foot, to one degree or another? I certainly find it hard to imagine that the River-men would have been STUPID enough to try withstanding a larger Western host with any kind of cavalry action (although doubtless the Nobility kept their horses close by for a quick escape – rather sensibly as it would turn out).

    • Wolves of Winter says:

      I like Axrendale’s theory, too. I still don’t like this idea that Lordy Tarly has the sense to send a rider from Bitterbridge to fetch Tywin from the Red Fork in the nick of time to join the Tyrells and save King’s Landing while the very experienced Blackfish and Robb are seemingly unable to the same for Edmure once they had decided on their plan. But it does create more grist for the overall theme that Tywin runs a tighter ship than Robb. He doesn’t have a gaggle of Riverlords to keep together, doesn’t have a devious Bolton, etc. Instead, he has Tarly, and we’ve read a few times in the books about how great Tarly is in the battlefield – definitely a lord you want on your side.
      We also have to take into account the Riverlods’ lust for revenge. The Riverlands have been ravaged, they’ve got a lot of incentive to “bloody Tywin’s nose,” though Stone Mill still seems like a reach for Edmure. Bolton takes advantage of this later on supporting the retaking of Duskendale, further splintering Robb’s forces. We have all this, and it is a lot for Robb to keep together.
      But still, once Robb/Blackfish settled on their plan to lure Tywin on “a merry chase” to that defensible place at the Gold Road where the Riverland forces could attack his flank … Edmure’s response to the Blackfish should have been – “why didn’t you send a rider?” – I’m assuming message by raven might be too risky – Not “‘I’m sorry – if I had only known …”

      • stevenattewell says:

        It’s not that Tarly had a genius idea all by himself; Tyrion and Littlefinger had reached out to make the offer, and sent riders north to tell Tywin about the deal. Tywin, in retreat from the Red Fork, is contacted by the riders or riders sent by the people the riders contacted, and force-marches in a seasonable distance. The difference of even a few hours could have really screwed things up, possibly meaning that Tywin and the Tyrells show up just in time to see Stannis army shutting the gates of King’s Landing on them.

        Partly it’s a timing thing re: Robb and Edmure. It’s about 590 miles from Lannisport to Riverrun – that’s at least six days by riders, and they couldn’t trust it to ravens given that they were operating in enemy territory. By the time that they would have known Tywin had taken the bait, the battle would have already been fought.

  24. [...] This is a guest post by Steven Attewell, my co-host-who-does-most-of-the-heavy-lifting on our Game of Thrones podcasts, in which he discusses military strategy in a way that Rob’s more fit to comment on than I. It was discussed in both this and last week’s podcasts, so it only makes sense for it to appear here. The original post and its many comments can be found here. [...]

  25. [...] you want a clearer understanding of the Stark strategy, I recommend this post. Next time, I’ll look more in depth at the stories of Bran, Arya and [...]

  26. […] perspective. It would immediately change the war: even if his western offensive had been cut short as in OTL, Robb would have enough men to assault King’s Landing and wipe out the Lannisters, regardless […]

  27. […] check out Spencer Ackerman’s article and Steven Atwell’s Race for the Iron Throne article[5] as they were terrific references for this […]

  28. […] Riverrun and failing to explain the political ramifications of the battle, as I’ve hinted at earlier. It would have been incredibly easy for the showrunners to tease Edmure and Brynden Tully without […]

  29. […] together with the Whispering Woods and the Green Fork, I have argued that Robb Stark’s actions as a whole represent a nearly flawless strategic campaign: in three […]

  30. […] Rock – ultimately the choice that Robb Stark goes with, attacking the Westerlands has a number of advantages. It removes the threat of a 14,000-man army appearing on the Stark/Tully western flank at the same […]

  31. […] burning, and pillage” from the Riverlands (major war aim for the Riverlords who, let me remind you, make up half of King Robb’s army), but the second is the release of vassal lords from […]

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