“Tyrion, have you forgotten your courtesies? Kindly acquaint us with our…honored guests.”
Synopsis: Tyrion arrives at his father’s camp with Shagga son of Dolf, Timett son of Timett, and Chella daughter of Cheyk, and the rest of the mountain men. After getting an update from his father about the course of the war, Tyrion watches his father reach an agreement for the mountain men’s military service, and embark on a risky course of action.
SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.
In Tyrion VII, we are finally introduced to the biggest off-screen political actor in Westeros to date (at least until Doran Martell becomes more prominent), the one and only Tywin Lannister. In addition to seeing the ice-cold relationship he has with his younger son in person for the first time, we also get a small sample of his political sensibilities, especially when he handles the unexpected arrival of the mountain men with sprezzatura.
Before the mountain men arrive, we learn two things about the Lord of Casterly Rock: first, that “Lord Tywin did not believe in half-measures,” which applies to everything. Even with no one around, he sets up formidable defenses; rather than simple tents, he builds elaborate pavilions; rather than simply punishing the Tullys, Tywin sacks the Inn at the Crossroads, a historic site that has lasted since the reign of Jaehaerys I, as if to erase any trace that a Lannister was once humiliated there. The style is deliberately over-the-top, calculated ostentation to lend Tywin the image of a larger-than-life figure whose wealth and wrath is beyond counting. Second, that above all else “no man sheds Lannister blood with impunity.” As further elaborated in the show, Tywin holds to an almost Confucian conception of family as the ultimate source of all value, such that he’s casually, almost gleefully willing to abrogate every value of his society (loyalty to his king, the protection of innocent, helpless life, the laws of guest right, the social contract in a broader sense) in order to advance his family.
At the same time, though, I think the HBO show slightly misreads Tywin’s philosophy somewhat – this is someone who cares deeply what other people think about him and always has. Hence the shaving of the head the moment he goes bald, hence putting people who make jokes about him in an oubliette, hence the war. This is a man whose entire life has been driven by the desire to silence the laughter aimed at his father; glory counts for everything.
And then we get to Tywin handling the mountain men. It’s an impressive display, especially because someone who in all other respects is the most snobbish man in Westeros (who even looks down on other Great Houses) doesn’t so much as bat an eyelash when he’s unexpectedly thrust into a dangerous negotiation with a bunch of volatile barbarians. It’s a sign that as much as Tywin believes in status and hierarchy, he values his personal dignity and self-image more than the social niceties. In part, I think it explains how Tywin is able to deal with people like Gregor Clegane.
What’s more interesting is how little Tywin’s method of operation follows the stereotype of Lannisters buying their way through life – the clansmen are both incredibly paranoid about being bamboozled in any deal-making (“lowlands lords have lied to the clans before,” they remind Tyrion even before this meeting begins), and very insistent that Tyrion’s “promise of silk and steel” is the price for him not dying, and that they’re not willing to throw in “fighting for the Lannisters” as a freebie. Instead, Tywin uses a combination of insincere flattery (“even in the west, we know the prowess of the warrior clans of the Mountains of the Moon.”) and reverse psychology to appeal to the warrior pride of these men and women. They won’t march for steel or gold, but mention that “the men of the winterlands are made of iron and ice, and even my boldest knights fear to face them,” and the mountain clans trip over themselves to sign up.
This ability to read other people in political situations is all the more surprising, given how little Tywin displays this empathetic understanding in war, as we’ll see later.
Tyrion’s Reflection on the Mountain Men
While only a minor detail in the chapter, I did find it interesting that the democratic spirit of the mountain men who believe that “we are free men, and free men by rights sit on all war councils” is seen by Tyrion as a sign of their backwardness and lack of civilization. It’s a moment where the true “otherness” of historical perspective really hits you in the face; we’re used to the 21st century assumption that democratic government and freedom of speech are universal human rights, but the historical reality is that well into the 19th century, “conventional wisdom” viewed democracy as a dangerous and unstable system of government, at best suitable only for small, homogeneous city-states, and at worst doomed to slide into anarchy as Aristotle and Thucydides argued, as the kyklos of political transformation (from monarchy to tyranny to aristocracy to oligarchy to democracy to anarchy, although the precise sequence differs based on which Greek political theoretician one’s talking about) requires.
The idea that the franchise ought to include the entirety of the male population only really took hold in Europe after WWI, where mass mobilization for total war required the participation of the the whole of the population; women’s suffrage followed on the heels of a war ostensibly fought to “make the world safe for democracy” in the U.S, U.K, and Germany but France and Italy didn’t adopt truly universal suffrage until 1944 and 1946 respectively.
At the same time, the readers of A Game of Thrones have been generally used to seeing Tyrion as a sympathetic point of view, in no small part because his views are closer to our modern sensibilities in other regards – his embrace of literacy and intellectualism, his sympathy for social outcasts, his struggles against ableism, and his cynical attitude to feudal mores. It’s therefore that much more shocking that *this* character feels that “this was the trouble with the clans; they had an absurd notion that every man’s voice should be heard in council, so they argued about everything, endlessly. Even their women were allowed to speak. Small wonder it had been hundreds of years since they last threatened the Vale.” At the end of the day, Tyrion is still a feudal aristocrat living in a medieval era, with all of the prejudices of his class and time. In Tyrion’s view, endless talking sessions are inefficient compared to the unquestioned command of a single leader who can provide unity of purpose and make quick decisions (which is ironic, given how much he chafes under his father’s command).
Indeed, his comment that “Tyrion meant to change that,” may suggest that, rather than simply intending to arm the mountain men, Tyrion may have planned to set up one of the Mountain Men (most like Shagga son of Dolf or Timmett son of Timmett) as a client king of the Lannisters and then use the king to enforce lowlander military discipline and training. After all, while steel weapons and armor would allow the mountain men to face the knights of the Vale on equal terms man-to-man, they’re still going to be outfought when guerrilla attacks give away to set-piece battles, and they’re going to have to learn siege warfare if they’re going to take the Vale. So rather than an altruistic proposal to allow the original inhabitants of the Vale to reclaim their lands from their oppressors, Tyrion’s objective here is to raise the classic colonial army of native subalterns armed and trained in European styles to wreak his personal vengeance on Lysa Arryn.
This isn’t to suggest that Tyrion’s necessarily a bad person by the standards of his society, but it does suggest that he’s more like his father than either of them would like to admit.
War of Five Kings – the Lannister Campaign:
In Tyrion VII, we also get an update on the progress of the War of the Five Kings, our first from a Lannister perspective. At the moment, it’s mostly good news from their perspective. Jaime has routed Edmure’s army at Riverrun, taken the heir of House Tully captive (although one wonders what would have happened had Jaime taken the precaution of sending his prisoner off to the Golden Tooth or Casterly Rock rather than keeping him at his camp…more on which later), and is putting the capitol of the Riverlands under siege. With the exception of House Mallister of Seagard and House Frey of the Twins, both of which have the Trident between them and the Lannisters, the Riverlands are no longer a military threat to the Lannisters.
However, as I’ve argued before, the Lannisters’ success is largely due to Edmure’s lack of military sense. Throughout this campaign, Edmure made the classic mistake of trying to maintain a perimeter defense instead of conducting a defense in depth, thus allowing Lannister spearheads to break through his overly-extended lines and rampage deep into the heart of the Riverlands (which is rather reminiscent of France’s initial error in its 1940 campaign). Given his need to gather his forces and drill his levies (to say nothing of giving the Starks time to come to his aid), Edmure would have been much better off if he had accepted that Tully lands between the Golden Tooth and the Red Fork would be lost and fallen back instead on the Riverland’s natural defenses. Given how the Mallisters and the Freys are able to hold out in the face of the Lannister onslaught, I am even more convinced that a successful use of the rivers both as barriers to movement, defensive force multipliers, and interior lines (much in the same way that Frederick the Great used interior lines to defeat the numerically superior French/Austrian/Russian alliance in the Seven Years War) are the key to a defense of the Riverlands.
At the same time, as we learn in this chapter, the flip-side of the Lannisters’ rapid advance is that they’ve massively extended their supply lines (by five hundred miles or more), which leaves their rear vulnerable. Hence “Marq Piper and Karyl Vance…loose in our rear, raiding our lands across the Red Fork,” and “Beric Dondarrion [and] that fate jape of a priest…making a nuisance of themselves by harassing my foraging parties.” For the moment, this isn’t a problem for Tywin because he can
live off the land get first ravage on the Riverlands and he’s numerically superior to the guerrilla forces raiding his supply lines and rearguard. However, as we’ll see later, it’ll become much more problematic if an army of equal size can get between him and his base of supply and reinforcements in the Riverlands. In this fashion, the rapid advance resembles trying to ride a runaway bolder; you’ve got to keep the momentum up or you’ll dash to pieces.
If we’re in the business of assessing Tywin Lannister as a military commander, what can we say that this point? In his favor, we can say that Tywin is an excellent coordinator of logistics (in that he’s able to put an army of 35,000 into the field much faster than his opponents), he’s a competent tactician (wins the Mummer’s Ford with some style, pulls off an excellent flanking/encircling maneuver through the Gold Road, executes a flawless chevauchée through the southern Riverlands, etc.) although it should be noted that this is exclusively against numerically inferior troops and inferior opposing generals, and he’s at least a decent strategist (in that every move he’s made so far is directed at the overall goal of knocking out his nearest enemy and get his army in a position to defend King’s Landing). However, as Brynden BFish points out, he makes a critical error of generalship in underestimating Robb Stark: “The Stark boy is a child. No doubt he likes the sound of warhorns well enough…but in the end it comes down to butcher’s work. I doubt he has the stomach for it.” As far as ability to read your opponent goes, a critical higher-order skill for military commanders, Tywin shows little ability.
Likewise, even if he held Robb Stark in “slight esteem” and believed he could easily defeat him in the field, it’s a major mistake for Tywin Lannister to march from his position here at the Inn at the Crossroads, which is not only well-fortified and would allow him to easily crush an overly-hasty assault from the Starks, but is also positioned at a strategically vital crossroads that allows him to easily move west along the Riverroad to reinforce Jaime, east on the Highroad to block the Arryns should they sally forth from the Bloody Gate, or south to protect King’s Landing. His decision to march north makes it impossible for him to come to Jaime’s defense unless he either marches back to the Ruby Ford with a hostile army at his back or forces a crossing over the heavily-fortified Twins, and puts him in real danger of being trapped between the Green Fork, the Trident, and the mountains.
The only logic that explains his actions is that “the boy may hang back or lose his courage when he sees our numbers…the sooner the Starks are broken, the sooner I shall be free to deal with Stannis Baratheon.” Given how often this sentiment is expressed in the next couple of chapters, I’m really curious as to why Stannis didn’t attack more quickly, before Cersei was able to expand the City Guard and fortify the city or Tyrion was able to arrive; most likely, he was worried about his ability to hold the city against siege with less than 5,000 men, but I can’t help but think that his letters demanding allegiance would have gotten a better reception had he been sitting the Iron Throne at the time.
The Mystery of Bolton’s March
Which brings me to the question: why did Tywin Lannister not fall into that trap? Because Roose Bolton forced the Battle of the Green Fork at a time and place that does not make military sense. Considering that Robb’s orders are simply to “continue the march south, to confront the huge Lannister army,” Roose’s decision to force a night-march down the Kingsroad to fight a battle near the Ruby Ford still doesn’t make sense:
- Given that Robb’s strategic plan (which Roose is clearly aware of) is to attack Jaime’s army at Riverrun, the farther Roose allows Tywin to march up the Kingsroad puts Tywin that further away from the Ruby Ford and any ability to reinforce his son. So why prevent Tywin from marching north and increase the risk that he might work out Robb’s plan and shift his army over the Green Fork?
- Given that if Robb wins at Riverrun and relieves the forces inside, he creates the strategic possibility to swing east via the Red Fork and the River Road to get behind Tywin and between him and the crossing over the Trident, trapping him between two armies that now both roughly equal Tywin’s in size, potentially ending the war in a single stroke. However, that possibility only exists if Tywin has advanced far enough up the Kingsroad that he can’t scramble back to the southern bank of the Trident – so why prevent him from marching?
- in a related note, Roose’s casualties plus his retreat practically back to Moat Cailin means that when Tywin realizes he’s been strategically outmaneuvered and has to retreat, Roose isn’t in position to harry him from behind and on the flanks as he marches, the moment of maximum vulnerability for Tywin’s army.
- Given that he’s outnumbered by Tywin’s men 20,000 to 16,000 and has few cavalry, an attack is supremely risky. Military doctrine normally suggests that a 3:1 advantage is required to make an attack likely to succeed; that ratio makes it more favorable for Roose to “confront Lord Tywin” on the defensive, where he can make the most of his smaller numbers and weaken Tywin’s advantage. Likewise, the imbalance in cavalry means that Roose Bolton is vulnerable to being flanked and then overrun; a defensive posture would reduce those risks, and would moreover allow Roose to more easily choose a battlefield where he could protect his flanks or find broken/high ground that would allow an infantry army to triumph over a cavalry-heavy force (as was the situation at Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt).
In fact, the explanation that seems most likely to me is that Roose, knowing that his battle was merely a delaying action, decided to use the opportunity to begin putting his plan to weaken his Northern rivals into action. One of the easiest ways to do that without making it obvious what he was doing is to put his army through an unnecessary night march and then attack a larger opponent, making sure to put his own house’s forces in a position of safety while placing his rivals in the position of maximum danger. Night marches are exhausting affairs at the best of time, especially a night march that must have stretched close to 500 miles (from the Twins to the Ruby Ford). Roose’s army would have arrived exhausted and hungry, compared to the well-rested and fed Lannisters. Especially in pre-modern war, one can never underestimate the effect that sleep and food can have on an army. Hand to hand combat in armor is very tiring (hence why the Roman legions learned to rotate their lines rapidly, to give their men time to catch their breath, grab a drink or some food, and keep up their stamina); walking into a battle without a good night’s rest and a good meal has historically been the cause of many a defeat. Indeed, it might well explain why the North’s right flank unexpectedly crumples.
It’s not that Roose wouldn’t have taken a victory if he could have gotten one, but given his failure to adequately screen his advance (compared to the consistent success of Northern scouts throughout the War of Five Kings), it does suggest that victory wasn’t his chief objective at the Green Fork. A successful night march could have allowed the North to defeat an unprepared Lannister force, but the way in which Roose’s decision seems to go against every other military consideration is suggestive that Roose’s self-serving objectives were already in play in this opening battle.
On to historical parallels. In previous segments, I’ve realized that I have neglected to fill in my picks for the Lannisters, so I might as well quickly sketch them out here before filling them in with more detail in later chapters. As you can pick up from my historical discussions in the various Eddard chapters, I see a strong similarity between Cersei Lannister and Margaret D’Anjou, the leader of the Lancastrian cause and Richard, Duke of York’s nemesis. Unfortunately, while that works quite well in describing her relationship vis-a-vis Ned and Joffrey, it doesn’t hold as well for the rest of her family, as Margaret was conspicuously without male family at her side during the Wars of the Roses. What works a bit better is a parallel to Lucrezia Borgia, both as a woman rumored to have an incestuous affair with her brother and a woman who ruled in place of her father. Likewise, Jaime Lannister works rather well as Cesare Borgia, a skilled soldier with no scruples whatsoever and hostile intentions to his brothers-in-law.
For Tywin himself, he does resemble Rodrigo Borgia to an extent, as a political heavyweight who used his immense wealth to its utmost, who sought to build a political dynasty that would live forever (which came crashing down immediately after his death), and who was intimately well-versed in treachery and under-handed dealing. On the other hand, Tywin has zero interest in religion and most of his power has come through war – which suggests a different Renaissance figure, one Cosimo de Medici. The founder of the Medici dynasty, Cosimo used his vast wealth to control Florentine politics without holding public office, and spent much of his career fighting in the Lombardy wars between Milan, Venice, and Florence for dominance over Northern Italy. Not a bad parallel for the Lord of Lannister.
At the same time, I also want to talk a bit about the democratic philosophy of the mountain men and why it is that George R.R Martin puts his most democratic principles in the mouths of barbarians (the mountain men, the wildlings, etc.). I have a sneaking suspicion that GRRM is a fan of the great French historian Fernand Braudel, who in his masterwork The Mediterranean in the Age of Phillip the II argued that:
“if social archaism (the vendetta among others) persisted, it was above all for the simple reason that mountains are mountains: that is, primarily an obstacle, and therefore a refuge, a land of the free. For there men can live out of reach of the pressures and tyrannies of civilization…here there was no landed nobility with strong and powerful routes…here there was no rich, well-fed clergy to be envied and mocked…there was no tight urban network so no administration, no towns in the proper sense of the word….the hills were the refuge of liberty, democracy, and peasant ‘republics.’”
To Braudel, the pioneer of the longue durée (the idea that the true drivers of history are long-term forces, rather than short-term crises or episodic events, especially changes in the environment over geological time), the idea that the “steepest places have been at all times the asylum of liberty” was a geological truth, cutting across centuries and cultures, that explained the relationship between all central authorities and outlying regions, be they the Kurds and Druses or the Balkans, Greeks, and Albanians resisting the Ottoman imperial state, or the Abruzzi of the Appenine mountains resisting the power of Rome from the Empire through to the Papacy.
At the same time, Braudel was very clear that this liberty meant something more than un-reflective slogans about “live free or die” – the liberty of the mountains isn’t simply freedom from taxes and central authority, it means severing oneself from civilization, society, and time itself. There is a cost as well as a value to it; the freedom of the mountains brings with it the freedom to enjoy poverty and the grinding struggle for existence in the rocky soil of the high places, the freedom to engage in never-ending vendetta in a world in which there is no law that the weak can apply to against the strong, the freedom to engage in banditry, stealing the property of others and suffering the penalties thereof.
All of this applies to both the mountain men and the wildlings – their freedom does not mean what we think it means.
Tyrion VII only offers a few opportunities for hypotheticals, so let’s dive in:
- Tywin doesn’t march? Here, we can see how Tywin might have screwed himself, because had he remained at the Crossroads, he might have gotten warning of the Battle of the Whispering Woods in enough time to move at least part of his army back to Riverrun in time to attack Robb’s army when it attacked Jaime’s main force, potentially ending this theater of the war in one fell swoop, and saving half the Lannister forces for the fight against the Baratheons and Tyrells. Likewise, he might have been able to inflict much heavier casualties from his prepared defensive position than he did in the OTL Battle of the Green Fork. Certainly, he would have been much safer in the event that the two battles go the same way they did in OTL in terms of being able to make it to Harrenhal.
- Tyrion gets his dad to sign off on his plan for the Vale? Granted, Tywin’s immediate concern is the Starks and then the Baratheons, not the Arryns, but the Vale is still a major player that (unless Littlefinger is being very forthcoming) Tywin has no reason to believe won’t be hostile to his family. Distracting them with a guerrilla insurgency would likely take the Arryns out of the War for some time, and in the worst case scenario, he succeeds in having his son killed as per spec. The interesting thing from Tyrion’s side is that it means he’s not around for the Battle of the Green Fork, where he easily could have died, and not around to become acting Hand of the King (which probably means that King’s Landing falls and/or is burned to the ground), but gets to wreak utter havok in the Vale, possibly taking out the Eyrie itself. Although he doesn’t yet know it, this would massively screw with Littlefinger’s plans, which would suit Tyrion just fine.
- Tyrion gets sent to fight the Brotherhood Without Banners? This is mostly the same as the one above, with the added wrinkle that perhaps Tyrion gets captured by the BWB and comes face to face with the metaphysical plot of ASOIAF, which he has resolutely avoided to date.
Book vs. Show:
This scene is played pretty straight in the show; not much to report here.