Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn IX

“The Freys have held the crossing for six hundred years, and for six hundred years they have never failed to exact their toll.” 

Synopsis: Robb Stark‘s host arrives at the Twins to find that  Walder Frey has holed up in his castle with 4,000 men rather than marching south to fight with Edmure Tully, who they discover has been roundly thrashed at Riverrun. Given the urgency of the situation, Catelyn Stark is sent to negotiate with the Lord of the Crossing. Robb agrees to pay his price in order to put his larger stratagem in motion.

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.

Political Analysis:

Catelyn IX is a very rich source of material for this section, in that the events of the chapter revolve around a political negotiation between Catelyn Stark and Walder Frey and the theme of the chapter revolves around the question of what kind of political learning Robb Stark has acquired and what use he’ll make of it. It’s also a chapter that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, because this bargain is a subject that I think much of the fandom is simply wrong about…more on this a bit later.

Robb’s Political Learning

One of the few maxims of presidential politics that I’ve found to be generally accurate is that one of the best qualities a leader can have is the capacity for growth. It’s a good sign, therefore, that when Catelyn check in on Robb’s development as a leader in this chapter he shows a capacity for political learning. First, we learn that Robb “would ask one of his lords to join him…each day…so that they might confer as they marched; he honored every man in turn, showing no favorites, listening as his lord father had listened, weighing the words of one against the other. He has learned so much from Ned, she thought…but has he learned enough?” We’ve seen Ned doing this from Arya’s perspective, and it’s nice to be reminded that in his own sphere, Ned engaged in good political practice and that Robb has learned this from him. As Richard Neudstadt wrote in Presidential Power:

“A President['s] first essential need is information…to help himself he must reach out as widely as he can for every scrap of fact, opinion, gossip, bearing on his interests and relationships as President. He must become his own director of his own central intelligence. For that directorship two rules of conduct can be drawn from the case studies in this book. On the one hand, he can never assume that anyone or any system will supply the bits and pieces he needs most; on the other, he must assume that much of what he needs will not be volunteered by his official advisers.”

By listening widely to his bannermen and comparing their advice and information, Robb is giving himself both the widest possible lens of information but also gaining a perspective from which he can judge his advisers. It’s a good start.

More importantly for the question of political learning, when it comes time for Robb to choose between his personal happiness and the war effort, he shows his willingness to sacrifice the former for the latter, consenting to the betrothal in order to cross the river. Unlike Renly or Stannis who get frequently distracted from the task at hand when an issue of their reputation is raised, Robb prioritizes victory over the Lannisters and his father’s rescue over everything else. Another good sign.

Let’s Make a Deal (with Walder Frey)

As I mentioned above, the major political event of the chapter is that Catelyn trades Robb’s (and Arya’s) hand in marriage for the support of House Frey.* This betrothal, and Robb breaking it, is seen by many of the fans as *the* cause of Robb’s downfall, which in turn places the blame for House Stark’s defeat in the War of Five Kings squarely on Robb’s shoulders. However, as I will demonstrate in succeeding chapters from here to the Red Wedding, it is not the case that Robb breaking his marriage pact was the cause of his defeat.

* Sidenote:

While Catelyn does accomplish her immediate objective of getting the bridge crossing and the 4,000 men of House Frey, the fact that she has to give up both Robb and Catelyn to the Freys suggests that she might not have worked out the best deal possible. One sign that there might have been a better deal on the table comes from Walder himself when he says “your family has always pissed on me, don’t deny it…years ago, I went to your father and suggested a match between his son and my daughter…Lord Hoster would not hear of it. Sweet words he gave me, excuses, but what I wanted was to get rid of a daughter.”

Between this and Walder’s offer of a Red Wedding, I think getting Edmure married into the Freys was something that Walder wanted very dearly and might have considered a fair bargain for his support. Selling Edmure’s hand in marriage would have, in turn, kept Robb’s hand in marriage open for a dynastic alliance that would have been absolutely necessary in winning the War of Five Kings and maintaining an independent North afterwards.

Indeed, there is a basic philosophical inconsistency between the widely held position that Eddard’s defeat was the result of his being too honorable and the position that Robb’s defeat was caused when he lost his honor. One cannot take at face value that “in the game of thrones, you win or you die” and turn around and argue that one should never break one’s vows; either Robb should have been willing to break any vow, any law, any custom of Westeros in order to win (as Tywin does), or the callous calculus that Cersei follows is completely wrong.

walder

credit to argentvm

More importantly, the question of whether Robb should have kept his word to Walder seems to rest on the mistaken assumption that Walder Frey was primarily reacting to the insult. Throughout Catelyn IX, it is repeatedly remarked on that Walder Frey is a disloyal man who will not uphold his vows and who cannot be trusted in the slightest. As Catelyn points out the moment she sees his host drawn up at the Twins, “It was the Trident all over, damn the man. Her brother Edmure had called the banners; by rights, Lord Frey should have gone to join the Tully host at Riverrun, yet here he sat.” Walder Frey’s protestations that he meant to send his swords are patently false, given that every other Riverlands House made it to Riverrun to fight in the battle. The fact that Ser Jared Frey the liar swears “on his honor” that Walder’s intent was good only confirms this. Likewise, his protestation that “I swore oaths to the crown too” are ultimately hollow (and ultimately more directed as setting up a bidding war for his loyalty) – Edmure’s call to fight went out almost a month before King Robert died, and the declaration that the Tullys and their bannermen would have to come to King’s Landing or be attainted couldn’t have reached him until after the battles of Golden Tooth and Riverrun, which ought to have made him a traitor by association. In other words, Walder Frey is blackmailing the Starks over something he is, by rights, obligated to do anyway.

At the same time, Catelyn has a pretty good read on Walder Frey’s character: “some men take their oaths more seriously than others…he has an old man’s caution and a young man’s ambition, and has never lacked for cunning….this bore Walder Frey’s seal beyond a doubt…hold back, wait, and take no risk unless forced to it.” This kind of a man doesn’t act solely out of a grudge; while clearly Walder Frey is a bitter man who treasures his grievances, he didn’t get to where he is today by letting his grievances overpower his sense of self-preservation. In that light, Robb marrying Jeyne Westerling is less the cause of Walder Frey’s betrayal than the excuse.

 So…given that he’s dealing with a patently bad actor, who is blackmailing them over something he’s obliged to do anyway, and who won’t hesitate to betray them, it makes no sense to hold that Robb should have kept his word to Walder Frey at all costs. As Machiavelli says in his chapter on “How Princes Ought to Keep Faith” (one of his most controversial chapters in The Prince and what might have gotten his book banned by the Church): 

Every one understands how praiseworthy it is in a Prince to keep faith, and to live uprightly and not craftily. Nevertheless, we see from what has taken place in our own days that Princes who have set little store by their word, but have known how to overreach men by their cunning, have accomplished great things, and in the end got the better of those who trusted to honest dealing. Be it known, then, that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second. A Prince should, therefore, understand how to use well both the man and the beast….but since a Prince should know how to use the beast’s nature wisely, he ought of beasts to choose both the lion and the fox; for the lion cannot guard himself from the toils, nor the fox from wolves. He must therefore be a fox to discern toils, and a lion to drive off wolves.

To rely wholly on the lion is unwise; and for this reason a prudent Prince neither can nor ought to keep his word when to keep it is hurtful to him and the causes which led him to pledge it are removed. If all men were good, this would not be good advice, but since they are dishonest and do not keep faith with you, you in return, need not keep faith with them; and no prince was ever at a loss for plausible reasons to cloak a breach of faith. Of this numberless recent instances could be given, and it might be shown how many solemn treaties and engagements have been rendered inoperative and idle through want of faith in Princes, and that he who was best known to play the fox has had the best success.

I would argue that Robb’s major mistake was that he didn’t break his vow in a more calculated manner. As Catelyn points out, “boys might play with swords, but it took a lord to make a marriage pact, knowing what it meant.” Robb Stark is the heir to Winterfell, and will shortly be the Lord of Winterfell and then King in the North; in the middle of a civil war, he needs to be marrying much higher than the Freys and their 4,000 men. Asha Greyjoy could bring several hundred ships and 10,000 men; Arianne Martell could bring 25,000 spears and has a burning hatred of the Lannisters; the Tyrells have the largest army in Westeros, are already inclined to oppose the Lannisters, and have more than four unmarried female relations. Catelyn essentially admits as much, when she thinks “if you had to fall into a woman’s arms, my son, why couldn’t they have been Margaery Tyrell’s? The wealth and power of Highgarden could have made all the difference in the fighting to come.”

Indeed, Robb should have been willing to break his oath to the Freys the moment it would have advanced the interests of his house, and used hostages and his 400 men at the Twins to force House Frey to remain in the field in defense of their liege lord.

Update on the War of Five Kings:

Also in this chapter, we get a major update on the War of Five Kings. Now, we’ve already seen from the Lannister perspective what the First Battle of Riverrun did for them, in that it basically eliminated the Riverlands as a military threat to the Lannisters. At the same time, it massively screws the Starks by taking out 20,000 allies that they badly needed in order to bring themselves up to the Lannisters’ level (once again, George R.R. Martin raising the stakes on our protagonists). The description of the battle given in this chapter raises new questions: namely, how exactly did it take place such that “the Kingslayer has destroyed Edmure’s host and sent the Lords of the Trident reeling in flight” to such an extent that “the Kingslayer went through him like an axe through ripe cheese?” What is the total military strength of the Riverlands?

It’s historically unlikely for an army to be so utterly destroyed in the field, especially since Jaime had 15,000 men and Edmure probably had somewhere between 16-20,000 men (his army is described as the “massed power” of the Tullys, Edmure raises 11,000 men at the Battle of the Fords after the losses of the first Battle of Riverrun, and Vance and Piper’s 4,000 were not present), putting them fairly even in numbers. If I had to guess, I would say that surprise is responsible, given the shock and the lopsided result; Edmure had sent Vance and Piper to block the River Road pass and most likely didn’t have scouts or pickets out to warn him of the sudden result. Especially given the fact that the Riverlords mobilized for war after the Lannisters, I think Edmure was drilling his new recruits and organizing his forces as the different lords came in when he was attacked – and as history has shown, green troops do not respond well to surprise attacks.

credit to Ted Nasmith

However, this also raises the question of what the massed forces of the Riverlands are. Elio estimates that the Riverlands have anywhere between 20,000 and 45,000 men, which is a very wide range that he admits is based on the disjuncture between what one would assume the Riverlands could support, given its size, the fertility of the region, the importance of rivers for trade and logistics, etc. and what GRRM has written about their forces. Now given that they lost somewhere in the region of 3,500 men at the Golden Tooth, that the Freys withheld their 4,000 men, and that the Riverlords got back up to a force of almost 20,000 right after the Battle of the Camps and then again 11,000 (minus the Freys) at the Battle of the Fords (which suggests that most of the army broke and ran rather than was cut down), I think the Riverlands must support at least 30-35,000 soldiers normally. Add 4,000 men of Vance and Piper plus 4,000 Freys plus around 20,000 at Riverrun gives you 28,000 men. This probably doesn’t include much of the southern Riverlands (or the “lower Trident”), which took significant casualties from Tywin’s march to Harrenhal and Gregor’s chevauchée after the Green Fork, who probably make up between 7-10,000 men.  

All of this has huge military implications for Robb’s campaign. As we will see later, the military strength of the various contenders in the War of Five Kings is constantly fluctuating and can do so very quickly – so that a good commander has to be a good politician, always monitoring the health of his coalition and looking to expand it so that his effective fighting force keeps growing rather than shrinking. With one deal with the Freys, Robb goes from being outnumbered compared to Tywin by 2,000 men to outnumbering his opponent by the same margin. Likewise, given the size and importance of House Mallister of Seagard (and that the Mallisters are one of the few forces to retreat in good order from Riverrun), I think Robb arrived at the Whispering Woods with at least 2,000 men more than he departed the Twins with, contrary to AWOIAF’s estimates.

At the same time, however, Robb was heavily relying on both surprise to maximize his offensive multiplier and the geography of Riverrun to divide his enemy into sections that he could outnumber locally and thus defeat in detail, thus allowing him to split his army 16,000 foot to 6,000 horse and taking the smaller force into battle. Here I agree with BryndenBfish, who concludes that Robb took a good calculated risk in this part of the campaign, although I would stress more the extent to which Robb’s decision to make this gamble was informed by his and his uncle’s understanding of the geography of Riverrun. If Jaime had been able to have all 15,000 men united as one force, I think Robb’s actions would have more resembled his actions in the show…more on that later.

Historical Analysis:

So while we’re talking about Walder Frey, I might as well take this opportunity to discuss the topic of treachery in the Wars of the Roses. While the Wars of the Roses has often been seen as a bitter, entrenched struggle between families bent on victory and revenge, which it was, it was also a conflict in which individual lords and entire families betrayed their liege lords repeatedly, switching sides over and order again – one major reason why all of the kings who succeeded Henry VI all focused on reducing and then eliminating the “affinities” (paid soldiers wearing the livery of a nobleman) of the noble families of England.

Some of the more impressive scoundrels of the Wars of the Roses include:

  • “perfidious” Lord Stanley, the Earl of Derby (a good pick for historical parallels to Walder Frey), who came from a staunch Lancastrian House, but was married into the Yorkists through the Earl of Warwick. At the Battle of Blore Heath, one of the opening battles of the war, Stanley raised 2,000 men at his King’s command but then withheld them just a few miles away as a Lancastrian army was defeated by a smaller Yorkist force. When Edward IV took up the Yorkist cause,  Stanley defected and fought alongside the new King; when Warwick defected from Edward IV, Stanley fought to restore Henry VI for the last time. Remarkably, he managed to get appointed to Edward IV’s royal council even after his betrayal. He then married Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, while helping Richard III fight the Scots. Famously, Stanley held back his forces at Bosworth Field despite Richard III holding his son hostage, and then charged Richard’s rear once the King was fully committed, personally crowning Henry VII to make sure he ended up on the right side.
  • Andrew Trollope, a career soldier, was one of Warwick’s closest lieutenants from his service at Warwick’s side in Calais. After sailing to England with Warwick’s fleet, Trollope defected to the Lancastrians with his entire force at Ludlow. His tactical genius proved invaluable to Margaret D’Anjou, as he devised the stratagems of sending false reinforcements to York wearing looted surcoats to lure him out of Sandal Castle, and in hiding the two wings of the Lancastrian forces in the woods to destroy the Yorkist army at Wakefield, and was knighted at the Lancastrian triumph of the Second Battle of St. Albans. Less skilled at “re-ratting” than Lord Stanley, Andrew Trollope died on the field at Towton.
  • Lord Grey, a veteran of the wars in Acquitaine, served the Lancastrian cause consistently…right up until the Battle of Northhampton, when he ordered his men to lay down their arms as Warwick’s forces neared the fortifications of the Lancasttrian left flank, after which Warwick rolled up the line, sent the Lancastrian army into a panicked rout, and captured King Henry VI. For his pains, Lord Grey was awarded a disputed manor, the position of Lord Treasurer, and with the hand of Joan Woodville, the title of Earl of Kent. Apparently the wages of treason are real estate.
  • William Neville, the uncle of the Kingmaker and Baron of Fauconberg, fought by Richard Duke of York’s side in France for seventeen years. After being ransomed by the King and then paid a thousand pounds in restitution, Neville fought for the Lancastrians at the First Battle of St. Albans, but then managed to get appointed to the Royal Council during Richard’s reign as Lord Protector; when the wars started up again, Neville defected to the Lancastians again with perfect timing, right before the disastrous Battle of Wakefield. When Edward IV came along, Neville fought for the new King, and got made Lieutenant of the North, Lord Admiral, and the Earl of Kent (Lord Grey would take the title after his death in 1463).

And that’s just the early Wars of the Roses; I haven’t even gotten into the Edwardian or Ricardian phases yet. So if you think that George R.R Martin lays it on thick with the Florents and the Tyrells, the Brackens and the Blackwoods, the Boltons and Freys, etc. if anything he’s slightly understating how thoroughly “each for his own” became the way to survive in our own timeline.

What If?

Given the momentous decisions involved in Catelyn IX, this chapter gives rise to a number of hypothetical scenarios:

  • Robb had brought some wood? One of the hypothetical scenarios I’ve always wondered about is what would have happened if Robb (or Brynden the Blackfish) had brought a load of lumber to the Twins, for example from White Harbor, to use in rafting or pontooning across the Green Fork. George R.R Martin somewhat exaggerates the time it takes to cross a river in order to force Robb into making this particular choice, but historically, the Earl of Warwick was able to rebuild the bridge at Ferrybridge the day before Towton in far less than a day (given that he had to slowly force a crossing under fire, and then had time at the end of the day to set up camp as well as to repair the bridge), and Edward IV then had to repeat the feat the next day when a surprise Lancastrian attack forced a retreat and a torching of the repaired bridge, and then went on to fight the Battle of Towton. If Robb had had the opportunity to build a pontoon bridge or raft across the Green Fork, Catelyn would have been able to negotiate a much better deal with the Freys, given that the Freys’ most potent bargaining chip would have been neutralized, and in the case of a pontoon bridge, gives the Starks a bargaining chip to throw to the Freys.
  • Catelyn had negotiated a different deal? So let’s say either that Catelyn had that to work with or that Walder would have been interested enough in the possibility of getting Edmure’s hand in marriage. If Robb can get across the Twins without offering his hand in marriage, then the politics of the later War of the Five Kings change dramatically. For example, let’s say Robb’s offer to the Greyjoys had more meat on the bone than the offer to make Balon King of the Iron Islands, if instead he had offered a marriage alliance between their two Houses? While Balon would likely have reacted with hostility, Asha Greyjoy, with her mind on pinecones and seashells, might have reacted differently. A Stark-Greyjoy alliance garners Robb 10,000 Ironborn and their fleet, frees up 17,000 Northmen to come down south and reinforce him, and potentially allows Robb to take Lannisport from the sea and enough troops to keep Casterly Rock under siege, while putting his total forces in the Riverlands up to  55,000, which would be enough to take on a Lannister-Tyrell alliance and get to equal footing or better with one or two victories in the field. Likewise, if Catelyn Stark had had the presence of mind at Bitterbridge, she might have been able to nip in before Littlefinger and create a Stark-Tyrell alliance strong enough to win the War of Five Kings for the Starks outright, even with the temporary loss of the North (and hey, both groups hate the Lannisters and the Greyjoys!).
  • There was no deal? Let’s say Walder is just too cautious on a given day to cross Lord Tywin, and no deal is reached. So Plan A is off the table, and Robb has to go with Plan B – go straight at Tywin and gamble on a sudden victory. With Brynden Tully in charge of his scouts, there’s no way the night march is detected. If 18,000 Northmen hit Tywin’s army completely unexpectedly, it’s quite possible that the War of Five Kings goes mirror-image, with Tywin (and maybe Tyrion) in Jaime’s place and Jaime now seeing the Starks between him and King’s Landing. This would be very interesting indeed, especially with a Jaime who’s still in his over-confident and reckless phase, but especially in political terms – Tywin hasn’t heard word one about the Stark perspective on the war, and he and Tyrion might be smart enough to put two-and-two together about who’s really responsible for the war. At the same time, it’s really unclear what happens politically once Tywin’s a prisoner – Jaime is aggressive and reckless, but would he risk his father’s life? Would Cersei? Granted, it would probably be too late to save Ned’s life, but with Tywin in chains, Cersei might actually have to give in to Robb Stark’s demands.

Book vs. Show:

One of the plotlines that has been the most changed from transition from book to show is the War of the Five Kings, and as I’ll point out going forward, this has often been for the worse. However, one change that I found intriguing is Robb sending only 2,000 men vs. 16,000 down to confront Tywin while he crosses the Twins. Despite the callousness of sending 2,000 men to their deaths, this probably would save many lives overall, given 2,000 casualties vs. the 4,000 to 6,000 that BookRoose seems to have suffered at the Green Fork (more on this in the next Tyrion chapter). It also gives Robb Stark many more men on the west side of the Green Fork to use for his invasion of the Westerlands, which if Benioff and Weiss had thought carefully about this part of the plot, definitely makes the “take Casterly Rock” plan more sensible (and one wonders why it didn’t happen earlier, between Seasons 2 and 3).

Historically speaking, it’s perfectly possible for a force of 2,000 men to masquerade as a larger force – it happened repeatedly during the American Civil War, for example. So the change isn’t necessarily a bad one from a historical or military perspective.

It’s what comes after where things get screwed up.

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195 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn IX

  1. Sean C. says:

    Additional What If?: What if Lord Frey had insisted on the marriage being performed immediately? There’s time, certainly, while they’re moving a huge army across his bridge.

    It arguably would have been more beneficial to the Stark-Tully cause in the long-term if Robb had gone after Tywin. He’s the force of personality behind the Lannister cause, “rock” in Casterly Rock, and defeating his army and capturing him in the field would have sent shockwaves through the Westerlands and the rest of the kingdoms.

    • Well, my thinking is essentially that if the marriage had happened, he would have used Robb sleeping with another woman or something else as the excuse to betray him.

      Agreed, but it’s a big if.

      • Winnie says:

        Yeah, that’s what I think too. It always drives me nuts when people say Robb’s marriage was what got him killed and destroyed the North because to me it seems patently obvious that Walder would have betrayed him anyway. I mean he’s holding Edmure prisoner and plotting his murder, and Edmure kept his promise and married Roslin. As you say, Walder was obligated to let them across the bridge anyway-the whole deal was a shakedown. The Frey’s have no honor. Trusting them at all was Robb’s real mistake.

      • Jim B says:

        I agree with you and Winnie. The bottom line is thatTywin Lannister could always offer House Frey a better deal than the Starks could, because Tywin can offer Riverrun. Even without the title of Lord Paramount of the Riverlands that was given to Littlefinger (and Tywin probably could have thrown that in if needed anyway, and found some other honor to assist LF in his “wooing” of Lysa), that’s a sweeter plum than anything the Starks have to offer.

        Provided the Lannisters can win the war, that is. Which is why Walder is happy to delay the wedding while he sees which way the tide is turning. By the time of the Red Wedding, Renly is dead, Stannis has lost the Battle of the Blackwater, the Tyrells are allied with the Lannisters, and Winterfell has fallen

      • Well, I’d just add one thing, Jim B: House Frey only becomes vital for the Starks to get back after Duskendale, the Ruby Ford, and the execution of Rickard Karstark, and the timely washing out of a few bridges.

        On their own, the 4,000 men of House Frey just aren’t important enough to destroy an entire cause.

      • Jim B says:

        “House Frey only becomes vital for the Starks to get back after Duskendale, the Ruby Ford, and the execution of Rickard Karstark, and the timely washing out of a few bridges. ”

        Well, but when you control one of the choke points between North and South, one way or the other the Starks will need you eventually, whether it’s to retreat back North, or to get reinforcements. Even a successful Stark campaign is surely going to need new levies from time to time, right? And if the Starks are so successful that they don’t need reinforcements at all, well, then you just don’t betray them after all.

    • Winnie says:

      And yeah, it would have hurt the Lannisters far FAR more if Robb had Tywin. Tywin after all made, the RW deal with the Frey’s. With him gone, there’s no one to mastermind the Tyrrell alliance, and so forth. Also, I have to say, a Twyin/Robb in face meeting would have been fascinating.

      • Sean C. says:

        Not just Tywin, but also Kevan and Tyrion would be likely captured or killed in that scenario (along with other bannermen), meaning the leadership of the Lannisters would devolve almost entirely on Cersei and Jaime.

      • Well…depends if Tyrion gets away. In OTL, the Tyrell alliance is instigated by Tyrion; Tywin’s just the man on the outset who almost flubs the deal by going for the Westerlands.

      • lann says:

        Its a big assumption to say they would capture Tywin. Jaime was captured because he went chasing raiding parties with few men. Tywin leads from the back and would probably have been able to retreat if things go badly.

  2. Jim B says:

    But at this point, did Catelyn have any authority to promise Edmure’s hand in marriage? Robb hasn’t yet been proclaimed King in the North, and House Tully is just an ally of House Stark, not a vassal. Catelyn is neither the actual nor acting head of House Tully, nor has Edmure authorized her to act as an envoy.

    I doubt that Lord Frey would content himself with Catelyn’s promise to try to talk Edmure into it, and he’d probably be suspicious of any attempt by Catelyn to lie and pretend she does have authority to promise Edmure’s hand.

    • I think Edmure would be willing to agree to a lot of things if he got rescued.

      • Jim B says:

        Sure, but Walder needs a binding agreement before he lets the northern forces pass and loses most of his leverage.

        I suppose there’s always the possibility of negotiating with Edmure via raven from the Twins. The raven network seems to work exactly as quickly and effectively, or as slowly and ineffectively, as Martin needs it to.

      • Winnie says:

        True. I don’t know about a Greyjoy/Stark marital alliance, (I mean Sansa was also on the table for that, and it was Theon’s childhood dream as well,-I think Balon was too crazy to see reason at all on that one, and would prefer his children die rather than marry wolves,) but a marriage contract with Arianne Martell or Margery would have worked very well.

      • David Selig says:

        But Walder would have to be a total fool to agree to such a deal. Neither Robb nor Cat had any authority over Edmure at this point so whatever they promised here wouldn’t be binding for him in the least. Once the Stark’s army passes the bridge, Walder loses most of his leverage and Edmure could easily refuse, he wouldn’t even lose honor or reputation since he hasn’t promised anything. His distaste for the Freys was no secret and would only be increased by now, this applies even more for his father who was still the lord at this point and neither Walder or Cat knew the full extend of his illness.

        Besides, Edmure was a prisoner at this point and for all Walder or Cat knew, might’be already well on his way towards the the dungeons of Casterly Rock and out of their reach for a long time.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        But that isn’t an assumption that Walder Frey can safely make. Hell, it’s not even certain at that point that Edmure will be successfully rescued, much less that he will assent to marrying a Frey out of gratitude. I don’t think Edmure’s hand is a bargaining chip that we can grant the Starks at this point.

        Something that occurred to me that is more related to the last Catelyn chapter: it is surprising to me that given Lysa’s staunch refusal to enter the war, Robb did not try to establish relations with her individual bannermen. I suppose that doing so would chafe at his and Catelyn’s sense of familial fidelity, and in hindsight we can say he probably would have achieved little thanks to Littlefinger’s meddling. Still, given Lysa’s obvious weakness, it is odd that no one made serious attempts to win any of her bannermen from under her; not even Tywin.

      • Sean C. says:

        On the Lannister side, I suspect Tywin calculated that messing around in the Vale’s internal politics had few upsides. The bulk of the lords are pro-Stark or at least anti-Lannister, and trying to poach Lysa’s few buyable bannermen out from under her would be a provocation she (or the Royces) might not be able to put up with, thus tipping them into the war.

        On the Stark side, quite apart from Robb’s own scruples on the point, I suspect it would have been difficult to induce House Royce and its associates to so openly break with House Arryn. I guess Sansa later describes Bronze Yohn as “on the verge of open revolt” when she comes to the Vale, so maybe Robb could have fanned the flames there, but hard to say.

      • Walder *wants* a binding agreement. Whether he *needs* Robb’s hand as opposed to Arya plus maybe Edmure is another matter. We know and he makes clear, he really really wants Riverrun.

        CoffeeHound14 – that would have been a wise move, except for the fact that Lysa has called all her banners to the Eyrie and is refusing to let them leave. Had things gone differently (for example, had Eddard written a will passing on the title of Hand of the King to Robb, so that the bannermen had an excuse for defying their liege lord, or if Robb had simply outlived Lysa and then approached the Royces in the absence of a legitimate Regent), maybe it might have been possible down the road.

      • John says:

        In terms of the Vale Lords, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. We know that Royce and his allies are willing to come dangerously close to open war against Littlefinger later on, in a situation where support for the powers that be in King’s Landing looks a lot more attractive than it does at a time when more than half the country is at war with the Iron Throne.

        Robb’s attention to the Vale is just incredibly weak. He sends Theon to the Iron Islands, and Catelyn to Bitterbridge, but IIRC all he sends to the Vale are ravens. It seems like he really ought to send Cat back to the Vale. She could have the double mission of trying to persuade Lysa to intervene while also courting the friendly Vale nobles who are inclined to her side. Lysa’s position is not particularly secure, and Catelyn’s presence would help create a much more organized “Country Party” against Lysa’s tenuous court, and might galvanize the Vale Lords to take action. At worst, she might be able to get some Royce and Waynwood “auxiliaries” who could sail to White Harbor and then march down to join Robb’s forces (assuming Lysa still controls the Gates of the Moon. If Robb considers it of such great importance that Catelyn go to Bitterbridge, then he should send the Blackfish to the Vale – he’s been dealing with these people for 20 years.

        Instead, all Robb does is send ravens that receive no reply.

        • Well, Catelyn is otherwise occupied, and the Blackfish is needed in the field.

          But yes, Robb could have done more. However, he’s dealing with a totally unexpected situation in which his kinswoman is refusing to help out her brother and her sister.

      • John says:

        And Robb’s response is to send more letters. As far as we know, he never sent an envoy of any kind to the Vale.

        I suppose the Blackfish’s military skill is more useful than his diplomatic value, although the latter is pretty considerable too. But it still seems like the Vale is the obviously most useful place to send Catelyn, if not for George R.R. Martin’s problem that he needs a POV character in Renly’s camp.

        How important is it that she be the one to go to Bitterbridge? Obviously she’s the best envoy he has, but wouldn’t any envoy do? The deal with Renly is relatively easy. Send a savvy River Lord like Jason Mallister and he’ll do just about as well. Renly wants to make a deal with Robb, and it looks like one is pretty much in the offing when he gets murdered. Mallister, or someone like him, is just as capable as Catelyn of concluding a deal that both sides want to make.

        On the other hand, if we take the Blackfish off the table, then Catelyn is *the* obvious candidate to go to the Vale to work on Lysa – she is Lysa’s nearest relative and she was just there to get the lay of the land. She also already knows the next most important person in the Vale, Yohn Royce, from his visit to Winterfell a year or two previous. Lysa can ignore letters easily enough. Can she ignore her own sister as representative of her own victorious nephew, in an alliance of some kind with her most powerful Bannerman? We’ll never know, of course, but it certainly seems like Robb should have been trying to do something to work in this direction. Or, at least, you know, sent *some* envoy at least.

        • Between Renly (100,000) and Lysa (35,000), the former is the more important target. Keep in mind, Robb doesn’t know Renly wants to make a deal.

          And in Lysa’s case, Catelyn has copious intelligence telling Robb off the bat that Lysa will not come down from the mountain.

      • John says:

        Renly has a very large army that he is already preparing to use against the Lannisters. Even if they don’t come to a direct agreement immediately, they have no reason to fight each other, and Renly is apparently going to be fighting Robb’s enemies anyway (at some point in the near future). Making a deal with Renly only becomes crucial after the Lannisters are defeated.

        And, again, I’m not saying that Robb shouldn’t pursue a deal with Renly. I’m saying there’s no particular reason why Catelyn is a good candidate to be the envoy to Renly. Someone like Jason Mallister, who would have met Renly very recently at the Tourney of the Hand, seems like a better choice than Catelyn, who hasn’t met him since he was a child.

        On the other side, again, Lysa doesn’t want to come down, but she has a lot of Bannermen who do, and Catelyn is (other than the Blackfish) obviously the ideal person to send, in a way she really isn’t for the Bitterbridge mission.

        And obviously Robb hasn’t given up all hope, since he keeps sending ravens. But obviously that’s not going to do it. Why not make an actual effort? Convincing Lysa to intervene certainly seems more promising than winning over the Greyjoys.

      • John says:

        Personal diplomacy is obviously ideal, and you can certainly find historical examples of relatives negotiating on behalf of the principals – most famously the “Ladies’ Peace” at Cambrai in 1529, in which Charles V was represented by his aunt and Francis I by his mother. All else being equal, Catelyn is the best candidate for *any* diplomatic mission, followed by Edmure and the Blackfish (neither of whom are really available for that purpose). If your only important diplomatic mission is to Bitterbridge, sure, send Catelyn. But a mission to the Vale would be important, and Catelyn is obviously the best person to send to it. Her VORE (Value Over Replacement Envoy) in the Vale is obviously well higher than her VORE at Bitterbridge.

        • Hah! Westerosi sabermetrics, I love it.

          Yeah, the issue is that you couldn’t just send Cat. You’d need to send several hundred men as military escorts just to get her through the mountain clans, and you’re asking lords to commit treason without cover. So I think it’s a high risk-to-reward scenario.

      • John says:

        A few hundred men sounds excessive. She should be fine with three or four dozen or so, which does not seem particularly larger than her escort to Bitterbridge. But if that’s a problem, you can send her up to White Harbor and have her sail to Gulltown instead. And she’s not necessarily asking for treason, initially. At first, she’s asking Royce and Waynwood and the rest for support in persuading Lysa to intervene. It’s a delicate mission, obviously, but also one worth trying.

        It certainly seems more promising than the Greyjoy mission, at any rate.

        • Remember what happened to Catelyn’s party the first time she went to the Vale? That was an armed party of ten+ men. Now the mountain clans are even worse.

          Also, you’re going to need Stark “advisers” to convince the Vale lords that the North is seriously committing to this.

          And while it might not start as treason, given that her last mission ended with her sister threatening to have her thrown out the Moon Door, it will probably end that way.

      • Celestial says:

        Steve, I think you are exaggerating the danger of a mission to the Vale.

        1. Two hundred men should be more than enough and having in mind that Robb has under his command more than 30,000 troops, I’d say he could spare such an escort.

        2. “Treason” it a very flexible notion since the victors decide what is treason and what is not. There have been plenty of cases when the bannermen acted against their lords even in far more unfavorable circumstances. The concept of “treason” matters only if there is someone who could mete out punishment against the rebel lords – and, in the Vale, there isn’t. Lysa is holding out of inertia, through the respect which the name Arryn inspires, but that could change if her own relatives act against her. On her own, Lysa is a big zero. The Iron Throne might retaliate on her own behalf, but the whole point of a rebellion against Lysa is to fight against the IT, thus the threat of the central authority is moot.

        As for Lysa’s previous threats, they are laughable to the point of the stupidity. If Lysa had made even the slightest attempt against her sister’s life, it is far more likely the affair would have ended with Lysa herself taken into custody, because any normal bannerman would view someone trying to kill his relative over a minor spat as clinically insane (which was probably the truth).

        In the end, Lysa is a foreigner in the Vale. And it’s not even about Robb’s rebellion. Cat could rightly ask the Vale lords what will become of Robert Arryn if Lysa is allowed to have her way and if they relish the idea of being ruled by a lord raised according to Lysa’s “methodology”.

      • Celestial:

        1. 200 men might be enough, true.

        2. I really disagree about the diagnosis of Lysa’s situation. She’s got all of her bannermen assembled at the Eyrie – which means she’s got all her loyalists around her, hostages if anyone tries to go against her, and a preponderance of forces. She’s absolutely set on not fighting – look at her refusal to send even a small force in support of her immediate blood relatives – and the lords of the Vale who buy into the feudal order more than anyone (as High as Honor) have obeyed. Also, why would you think that anyone would stop her killing Catelyn? Given what we’ve seen of Lysa running the Eyrie, no one’s stopping her when the topic is killing Tywin’s son, so it’s pretty clear she’s running the show.

        Really, the only scenario in which the Vale sides with Robb with Lysa in charge is if Catelyn and the Royces unseat her as Regent on grounds of mental unfitness, but that would be hugely risky because Lysa would view that as treason and many of the Lords of the Vale would side with her.

      • Celestial says:

        Steve,

        1. Where did you get the idea that Lysa got all her bannermen at the Eyrie? They gathered there for Tyrion’s trial because it was a huge event, but they could not remain there because they had to rule their lands and the Eyrie is a small castle, it could not host so many people (the lords + their retinues) for longer periods.

        2. Yes, Lysa is set on not fighting, but the lords of the Vale have obeyed only because they were not presented with a viable alternative. You yourself have argued in the past, in your What Ifs, that a royal command could have provided the necessary cover for the Vale lords to defy Lysa’s orders. The Royces are described in AFFC as “nearly in open revolt” and without any nudge from Cat or Blackfish. During Robert’s Rebellion, no one less than Jon Arryn himself had to defeat serious opposition in his own homeland from Targaryen loyalists.

        3. Your example with Tyrion does no favors to your argument because Lysa was NOT actually able to kill Tyrion, despite that she clearly wanted to. Even comparing Tyrion’s case with Cat is ludicrous. First and foremost, killing Cat would be kinslaying, which is a taboo comparable to breaking guest right. Second, Tyrion was actually officially charged with murder and put on trial. Cat (I’m talking about Lysa’s threat in AGOT) could not be charged with anything.
        You are also giving way too much weight to those chapters in AGOT. We see there the attitudes of Lysa’s bannermen only in an “official” context, with many of them trying to gain her favor for a marriage. Yet, in AFFC, a minor Vale bannerman, Lord Hunter, commented that “She was never truly of the Vale, nor had she any right to dispose of us”, which would indicate that Lysa’s didn’t really command much respect from her bannermen. Her bannermen obeyed only because there was no one else.

        4. Lysa viewing her removal as treason only matters if she manages to supress the rebellion. Sure, it involves a risk, but then Robb decided to lead a rebellion against the Iron Throne, assuming risks became par for the course. It makes no sense to take on the central authority, but shy away from attempting to bring a region like the Vale on your side because “it’s risky”.
        Also, the risk is not that great as you imply. The Lords Declarants from AFFC are also likely to side with Cat and the Royces. And it really does not matter how many Vale lords side with Lysa if the regime they are supposed to back up is incompetent. Consider the facts:
        - Lysa is a foreigner in the Vale and not of Arryn blood;
        - Lysa is also a woman in a patriarchal society;
        - Lysa is a moron and a coward.
        The chances of her actually defeating a rebellion look very slim to me. And it’s not as if Cat/Royces must do something completely unheard of; there are like a gazillion historical precedents of bannermen acting against their liege lords during the previous conflicts, in RR, Blackfyre Rebellions or the Dance of Dragons.
        I fail to see why you consider Lysa’s removal as such a difficult task. With one small push, Lysa falls. I would say that it’s more Robb and Cat’s scruples which got in the way, but if Cat went to the Vale decided to remove Lysa at all costs, it’s doable.

        • 1. It is said explicitly throughout AGOT that she’s called her banners to the Eyrie and won’t let them go patrol, and that’s why the mountain men raids have gotten worse.

          2. They need a legitimate excuse, though. Stannis sends letters, but that’s not good enough even though he’s arguably the legitimate King. The Lords Declarant tied themselves in knots over the whole thing even though they could easily have gotten rid of Littlefinger, because they take the honor thing seriously. It’s where Ned got it.

          3. Lysa *botched* Tyrion’s killing because she’s mentally ill/not that bright to begin with, and she thought she could get a public confession and execution. But all she had to do was hold him in the cells a bit longer and he could have died “of natural causes.” Kinslaying only counts when you do it yourself – having someone executed for treason doesn’t count. And your quote proves my point…there isn’t anyone else. Catelyn doesn’t have any authority in the Vale to draw on.

          4. The whole issue is whether the Houses of the Vale would back Catelyn. But they don’t have any reason to: Catelyn’s a foreigner, she’s got no direct connection to the House of Arryn, whereas Lysa is the Lord’s mother and lawful regent.

      • John says:

        Catelyn’s was a party of 12, including one woman, one minstrel, and three unarmed prisoners, one of them a dwarf. So only 7 armed men to begin with. And 6 of them survived the journey in spite of that small size.

        It seems unlikely to me that the Hill tribes would attack a party of 40 or 50. Donnel Waynwood’s sortie, which seems sufficiently large to ward off any attempts, can hardly be larger than that.

        I also agree that Lysa’s position is not all that secure. Such a mission might not work, but it seems more workable than the actual OTL Theon expedition to Pyke.

        Speaking of which, how disastrously conceived was that? How on earth does Robb send Theon *alone* to do that mission? Martin’s finger very much on the scale for that one.

        • “A good dozen swords had responded to the Stark woman’s plea for help.” Add on Jyck and Rodrick Cassel and you’ve got 14 fighting men. Of that, about half died. And that’s before the clans get activated by Tyrion or armed with steel. But notice that Donnel Waynwood rides with 40 men and prefers 100 men.

          Yes, it was disastrous overall, but that’s mostly Theon going alone. Having other people there as well just means more prisoners. But yeah, that’s a case of GRRM tossing Robb the Idiot Ball.

      • Celestial says:

        1. The “Lysa called her banners to the Eyrie” from AGOT has to be a figure of speech of some sorts, because it’s literally impossible for Lysa to have called 30,000 troops at the Eyrie, for a myriad of reasons. Nor could they have sat “at the Eyrie” on their asses for more than a year, without doing anything and without any prospect of taking part in a military campaign. In Middle Ages, feudal military service was limited to a number of days – one reason why most monarch would shift to paid soldiers.

        2. They HAVE a legitimate excuse. Lysa has formally charged Tyrion with murdering Jon Arryn. The Lords Declarants can claim they must avenge their liege lord and that Lysa was mad from grief.

        3, 4. I don’t understand why you are so obsessed with Lysa’s official position. Lysa is not a living god. Her authority as the regent in the Vale is relevant only if she is able to enforce it. The way she botched Tyrion’s trial does not speak in her favor. Tyrion came there as a prisoner, with no friends in the Vale and zero room for maneuver. He left the Vale as a free man and with a strong escort.
        Cat would come with an escort, has friends in the Vale and can freely negotiate and test the ground before attempting anything. Lysa might find out what was up only when Cat and Bronze Yohn will show up with an escort to take her into custody and then they will announce that Lysa is to unwell to bear the burden of governing the Vale anymore.
        It’s pointless to say “all she had to do was…”, because Lysa’s ineptitude is the major factor in her potential removal – it provides the motivation and facilitates the coup.
        The Lord Declarants backing away was not just about honor, but also about the fact that LF created a situation where he could have had them arrested. On the other hand, how hard can it be to outwit Lysa?
        You talk as if Lysa was some kind of Catherine of Medicis – she was not.
        And, yes, Cat has no official authority in the vale, but the argument is moot, because that’s the whole point of a putsch. I repeat, I don’t say it’s totally risk free, but if Robb/Cat want to rebel against the Iron Throne when they are incapable of organizing a coup against the likes of Lysa, maybe they should reconsider this whole “rebellion” business.

        • 1. It is quite possible when you consider the Eyrie as the totality of the fortresses on the mountain. You’ve got the Gates of the Moon, which is significantly larger than the Eyrie itself (which itself can hold 3,500 men), then you have Stone, Snow, and the cavern in Sky…and who knows how far into the mountain these castles have been dug?

          2. Except that Tyrion’s been declared innocent in the eyes of the Gods.

          3. Her authority is *accepted* however. When she calls the banners, they come. When people want to go out and patrol against the mountain men and she says no, they obey. When people want to go and fight the Lannisters and she says no, they obey.

          The problem is Cat has nothing to negotiate with.

      • Celestial says:

        “Her authority is *accepted* however. When she calls the banners, they come. When people want to go out and patrol against the mountain men and she says no, they obey. When people want to go and fight the Lannisters and she says no, they obey. The problem is Cat has nothing to negotiate with.”

        Dear Mr. Atewell, do you understand what a coup is?

        • Condescension is uncalled for. My point is that a coup is highly unlikely to succeed – Lysa is considered widely legitimate, the Lords of the Vale take their honor very seriously, Cat would be outnumbered militarily, and has less to offer politically to recruit people to her side.

  3. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, your summation of the Battle at Riverrun is excellent, but one thought I’d like to put forward is the idea that (owing to the peculiarities of Feudal Warfare) when one reads that Ser Edmure Tully lead ‘Green Troops’ into battle, one should understand that while the lords and their individual retinues (especially amongst the older lords) have a deal of practical experience with war and training for war (The War of the Usurper and The Greyjoy Rebellion are not too far in the past and Medieval Knights live a life of preparation for battle), that training does not involve manoeuvres intended to train an army to march and order themselves for battle as one body.

    In short this means that the whole army adds up to less than the sum of it’s parts in battle or on campaign, especially when led by an inexperienced commander like Ser Edmure Tully (especially given that Feudal Warfare is as noted above effectively COALITION warfare, adding an entirely political dimension of nightmares to boot), especially as the numbers of troops deployed climb upwards.

    Hence the Host of the River-Lords breaking under attack from the Lion of Lannister, which seems peculiar in light of their later displays of competence and courage under the command of the exact same officer (Ser Edmure) in the face of inarguably more formidable commander (Lord Tywin); although I would suggest that the nightmarish geography in the immediate vicinity of Riverrun played it’s part in the fragmentation of the defending host (although it might well also have played a part in allowing a majority of the River-Men to make an escape).

    Which arguably puts the decision of young Robb Stark to lead his cavalry south in an interesting light; these would almost be definition be the most ‘professional’ troops at his disposal AND the smaller scale of the force under his command would reduce the scale of the difficulties he faces as part of the learning curve faced by every novice commander to boot.

    Although he would have been more fortunate had he chosen a less … self-serving veteran to command the Main Body of his troops.

    • “training does not involve manoeuvres intended to train an army to march and order themselves for battle as one body.” Well, not in the sense of one body as in a modern army, since you still have lords and their men, but medieval armies did practice strategy and worked in larger groups (van, center, right, etc.) and it would have been part of their education.

      I don’t think geography’s the issue – if anything, geography should have helped them if they’d used it in the ways that Riverlanders used geography in the Dance of the Dragons.

      I think it’s surprise – Jaime hit their army without warning and the army scattered as opposed to withdrawing in good order to a highly defensible castle and river barriers.

    • Roger says:

      I got the impression Jaime was an impressive cavalry commander. Moved like lightning and stroke fast. They Riverlands lords were a mixed lot (the Blackwood against the Brackens, etc), and probably were still assembling when the lyons fell over them.
      It was a partial defeat, probably. Except for Edmure’s capture, many of the forces retired to Riverrun’s fortress. And they could still fight an important part of the Battle of the Camps.
      In Stone Mill, Edmure fought well and hard. But he had a good position, covering any flanking possibility.

      • That’s not the way the battle is described – Jaime is described as having shattered the full force of the Riverlords with only a few getting back to Riverlands and the rest scattering in panic.

        Edmure learned some good lessons which he put into good use at the Battle of the Fords, BUT he had the same good position at Riverrun which he completely botched.

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    The problem is that I’m not sure Lord Doran would have settled for a Direwolf while he had some hope of a Dragon; it all depends on when news of Viserys’ demise reached the Seven Kingdoms and how willing Sunspear would have been to make a pact with Winterfell as an alternative.

    A marriage with Margery WOULD have been the jackpot, perhaps even a younger kinswoman of Highgarden would have been something of a bonanza – I do suspect that a Greyjoy marriage would bear scant fruits for Winterfell (even if I suspect that Asha Greyoy would have proven a willing and potentially-intriguing match for The Young Wolf, I’m not her support amongst the Ironborn would have rallied to the match and Lord Balon is CERTAINLY Cofederate-Diehard bitter enough to spit in the eye of anyone who offered a wolf-paw in marriage).

    • Matthew says:

      You’ve nailed the problem of a Stark/Greyjoy alliance I think. While Asha might have been willing to marry someone like Robb Stark, her lack of total support among the Ironborn and Balon’s irrational hatred of all things Northern would have torpedoed any chance of a formal alliance.

      The most you could probably get from the Ironborn is a sullen neutrality and raiding off the coast of the Westlands for gold and plunder since the Ironborn never lack that incentive, and maybe a few mercenaries to compliment the Northern armies.

      Otherwise the issue is just a non-starter I’d say.

      • John says:

        Sullen neutrality seems like a much, much better option for Robb than “seizing Deepwood Motte and Torrhen’s Square, taking control of the chokepoint between the North and the Riverlands, burning down Winterfell, apparently murdering the King’s heirs presumptive, and leaving what’s left of the North largely in the hands of a traitorous psychopath.”

    • Winnie says:

      Yeah, I think Asha herself would have been happy to do the marriage, but I’m afraid Asha couldn’t rally the IB to transfer allegiance from her father to herself judging from how things went at the Kingsmoot. Now Arianne also would have considered Robb a suitable match, and Doran MIGHT have been willing to make a deal. Certainly not in the timeline of the first book, but later on when Viserys’s death had reached him…

      Margery/Robb would really have been perfect. It would have been an unstoppable political/military alliance, and I suspect they would have been a happy couple as well.

    • It also depends how Sunspear is prioritizing Targaryen ascendancy vis-a-vis revenge against the Lannisters.

      Any connection with Highgarden would have been ideal; Margaery would be better for long-term politics, but the marriage is just a way to cement a political alliance.

      • zonaria says:

        Doran Martell’s endgame is a Targaryen on the throne, married to a Martell; he has been steadfast in pursuit of this goal for a long time (like his daughter, he only ever appears to move the dragon, but in his case, only once a decade). It’s striking that the Martells never seem to have tried to organise or even participate in an anti-Lannister alliance among the other key Houses, which is what one would expect of them if they prioritised revenge on the Lannisters.

        Loved the short bio of Lord Stanley by the way – I knew of his, er, exploits at Bosworth but was not aware that he had form for treating mediaeval battle as a spectator sport.

    • Sean C. says:

      Allying with Dorne at the outset would have geographic problems — they aren’t positioned to fight the Lannisters, and would have to march through the Stormlands or the Reach to link up with Robb.

      It’s possible that allying with then could have been used as leverage in negotiations with Renly, I guess.

      • Winnie says:

        Well you could have the Dornes sail around the South coast up past the Arbor to the Westernlands/Riverlands. But yeah Highgarden still would have been a better match. And with the benefit of hindsight, the Tyrell’s would have found the Starks to be better allies than the Lannister’s…at least the Lannister’s under Cersei.

      • That’s true but in a post Lannister-Tyrell alliance world, a Martell attack on the reach would strip troops away from the Riverlands.

  5. Andrew says:

    Walder Frey is loyal to no one but himself, that much is clear. Of course, after Aegon’s invasion and successes against the Lannisters, and later Dany’s, he will find that he pretty much screwed himself with the RW. The RW combined with arriving to aid Robert after the Battle of Trident has more than proven them to be untrustworthy and unreliable as allies. For any potential claimant to the IT they’ve become political poison, to ally with them would alienate lords in the North and riverlands. One would win more support by promising justice for the RW than allying with the Freys.

    Also, the house’s greatest strength, numbers, is also it’s greatest weakness. Even Daeron II knew that “too many dragons was just as dangerous as too few.” The house isn’t truly united with Black Walder and Edwyn’s rivalry, and Lame Lothar working behind the scenes with each Frey concerned with his own survival with the worry of the next Lord Frey kicking them out, and finding themselves without a roof or work. The chances are when Lord Walder dies, there will be civil war in the Twins, likely between Black Walder and Edwyn, with one faction occupying a castle on one side of the Green Fork, and the other faction occupying the castle on the other side.

    • Winnie says:

      Precisely. I mean Frey’s are being picked off by the Brotherhood practically right in the Twins backyard, in the North they are serving Frey pies, and it’s only going to get worse for them in the future since whatever promises of “protection” Tywin made Walder, Cersei and Jaime don’t seem inclined to honor them.

    • There’s pretty much a civil war going on already; Black Walder killed Ser Stevron, Big Walder killed Little Walder, etc.

      • celestial1960 says:

        How do you know Black Walder killed Stevron?

        • Ser Stevron was recovering from his wounds, and then suddenly takes a turn for the worse that puts Black Walder ahead of him.

          His kinsmen suspect him of that and several other murders.

      • Andrew says:

        I think Black Walder will kill Edwyn since he is the only remaining obstacle to Twins. I know Big Walder killed Little Walder, although I don’t know whether it was to put himself ahead in the line of succession or because he was growing disturbed with him adopting Ramsay’s habits.

    • John says:

      I think the Freys are going to be mostly done for well before Dany arrives in Westeros (should she ever arrive).

  6. Baelish the Bard says:

    Do you have a citation for that 20,000 number at the battle of the fords? I always thought that number was 12,000.

    • I had transposed two numbers – 20,000 is how many had assembled before Edmure let them loose, they’re at 11,000 at the Fords, although it’s not clear whether that’s all his forces or just the ones at Riverrun since he’s spread himself out to defend the Fords. However, I think this is a case of GRRM’s problems with numbers kicking in: simply put, the 100 men each under Gregor, Lorch, and Hoat are unlikely to have caused 9,000 casualties. Some casualties, certainly, given the fighting at Stone Hedge and Darry, but not on that scale.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        I don’t think there really is a numbers problem. I think GRRM was intentionally vague but the numbers he does give logically follow from one another.

        My recollection is we do not ever get a total number for the riverland’s forces. Originally Edmure masses 12,000 men before the Goldentooth and another group of unknown size at Riverrun. Both these groups are shattered by Jamie Lannister.

        Addittionally, Tywin Lannister had been sacking the castles of the Riverlords one by one and capturing/killing the men Edmure dispersed after Gregor Clegane’s initial raid.

        All of that is before the Whispering Wood.

        After the Whispering Wood/Battle of the Camps. Tywin releases Hoat, Lorch and Clegane with 300 men each. In response to this Edmure AGAIN (for the second time) scatters his banner men, releasing each to defend his own keep. This is when “little lord Darry” is killed and Stone Hedge (the seat of house Bracken, is sacked).

        Then Robb goes West taking some riverlords/troops with him (some of the freys for certain)

        Then Edmure recalls his banners, “ordes” Roose Bolton to take Harrenhall, with some Riverlords (again Freys are with Roose too), and “orders” the Tallharts down from the twins.

        In all three forces, Bolton’s, Edmure’s and Robb’s, it seems that there are Northmen and Riverlords intermixed. So its not clear what the total available strength of the Riverlands alone is, ever.

        • He only has 4,000 men before the Golden Tooth.

          What’s confusing is that after the Golden Tooth and 1st Riverrun but before he scatters them, he’s got ~20,000. And then at the Fords, he’s got 11-12,000.

          It isn’t credible that 300 men each, not 100 men each (my mistake) could cause 9,000 casualties, even if those 9,000 are split up they outnumber their opponent 10 to 1.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Right but there’s that intermediate period where Tywin’s whole army is rampaging through the Riverlands. After the Battle of the Gooldentooth and before Robb rides south.


        “Your brother has been covering himself with glory,” his father said. “He smashed the Lords Vance and Piper at the Golden Tooth, and met the massed power of the Tullys under the walls of Riverrun. The lords of the Trident have been put to rout. Ser Edmure Tully was taken captive, with many of his knights and bannermen. Lord Blackwood led a few survivors back to Riverrun, where Jaime has them under siege. The rest fled to their own strongholds.”
        “Your father and I have been marching on each in turn,” Ser Kevan said. “With Lord Blackwood gone, Raventree fell at once, and Lady Whent yielded Harrenhal for want of men to defend it. Ser Gregor burnt out the Pipers and the Brackens…”
        “Leaving you unopposed?” Tyrion said.
        “Not wholly,” Ser Kevan said. “The Mallisters still hold Seagard and Walder Frey is marshaling his levies at the Twins.”

        Also, I don’t think there’s ever a point Edmure has 20,000 men in one place at one time. Unless its from So Spoke Martin and not the books themselves.

        • It’s from ACOK. After Tywin’s rampaging, before the Riverlords are released, Catelyn describes the Stark/Tully forces at around 40,000. Given that Robb had 18,000, the Tullys must have had around 20,000.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Ohhhh. Its Renly who says that, he has no way of knowing and Catelyn says he’s wrong.

        “I’m told your son crossed the Neck with twenty thousand swords at his back,” Renly went on. “Now that the lords of the Trident are with him, perhaps he commands forty thousand.”
        No, she thought, not near so many, we have lost men in battle, and others to the harvest.
        “I have twice that number here,” Renly said,

        Renly is clearly just guessing here, Catelyn says he’s wrong, and he seems to have simply doubled Robb’s host to reach his estimate. And of course Renly has also rounded up by 2,000 men.

        • Close enough for horseshoes and handgrenades.

          But it’s actually useful for our purposes – Renly would be familiar with the normal strength of the Riverlands.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Except that’s the part that doesn’t make sense. The riverlands are supposed to be the second most populous area after the Reach. So how can it be that they can only raise as many men as the North, closer to their own lines of supply, ect. It really seems like Renly just pulled that number out of his ass, by doubling Robb’s strength. Its not a bad estimate for Renly’s purposes. But I don’t think it tells either 1) how many men Edmure actually has in one place or 2) the maximum capacity of the riverlands.

        My guess would be 20,000 is how many men Edmure had if you added up all his penny packets from before the Lannisters invaded. But all those men were never in one place at one time.

        I think its a reasonable thing to try to figure out because I’ve always wondered whether the Blackfish had any prayer of holding out once Robb went north. Based on Robb’s plan he seems to think the Blackfish at least has some chance. Basically, there should be more men hiding somewhere, but it doesn’t appear those men were ever levied.

  7. Evan says:

    An interesting article, Steven, especially from a political perspective.

    A Tyrell-Stark alliance could have been near unbeatable, especially if Sansa and Willas were wed as well as Robb/Margaery (though that might have been a few years down the line), to provide a secondary link. Also, Robb and Margaery certainly would have tried to have kids, meaning that if the Starks lost Margaery couldn’t be presented to any other houses as a virgin, and that it’s possible that they could have had at least one kid, meaning that the line of succession for Winterfell would be different as well.

    Robb/Asha couldn’t have worked. Also, since you were talking about Robb’s mistakes, sending Theon back to the Iron Islands was a big one politically (This is probably more relevant to Theon’s chapters, but there’s a good chance I won’t remember then). Theon’s return means that Balon is free to act with impunity toward the North or wherever (though the gathering of the longships when Theon arrives back is probably indicative of the fact that Balon was going to act regardless), and with Ned Stark dead, there’s no one willing to execute Theon as punishment to his father. Catelyn (who you’ve often mentioned as a political actor, and this is another example of that) even tells Robb not to send Theon back home, sending someone else instead. This would have been a good example of that-King Robb could have sent a pair of Northern lords (like Jon Umber and Robett Glover) and a pair of Riverlords (like Tytos Blackwood and Ser Stevron Frey, or Jason Mallister-though he might be a bit too politically toxic to go to Pyke), along with his uncle Brynden as a delegation to create/force an alliance with the Iron Islands. That way Theon remains a hostage, and Robb doesn’t help create his own demise.

    A Robb/Arianne marriage might have been interesting, though politically it is questionable. Remember-Ned Stark helped put Robert Baratheon on the Throne, toppling the Targaryens and killing Elia Martell, in Doran’s mind, Ned might be brushed with the same paint as Robert/Tywin (though I’m guessing that Ned’s denunciation of Tywin’s “butchery” of the royal children would have reached the Dornish court, and that might change the perspective again).

    Finally, this is also a good place for a question-Why wasn’t Robb married or engaged already? It seems to be fairly commonplace in Westeros for marriage prospects to at least be considered, if not consumated, by fourteen, so why hasn’t Ned and Cat been looking (aside from narrative convenience)? Even if they think that because Ned is a younger lord Robb will have plenty of time, they should still be considering prospects. To name names, just in the North: Alys Karstark, Wynafryd and Wylla Manderly, Meera Reed and probably at least one of the Mormont girls is around Robb’s age, and any of them would have been good choices for brides.

    • zonaria says:

      Diplomatic negotiations between Greatjon Umber and Balon Greyjoy would have been very enjoyable!

    • Winnie says:

      I always wondered about that myself. I can see the Starks holding off on the wedding until Robb was a bit older, but it really makes no sense there was no betrothal, or even negotiations in place. Plenty of fine Northern girls out there for Robb.

    • Agreed about a Stark/Tyrell alliance. I don’t see why Robb/Asha couldn’t have worked, as long as Theon had been held back as one of the prizes that Balon would get at the end not the beginning.

      Ned Stark did put Robert on the Throne, but he famously quarreled with Robert over the murders, and more importantly the Starks are going to war against the people who ordered the murders. Also, it’s quite likely that House Dayne would argue for them.

      Married would be a bit unusual – Robb is below majority at age 14 (the normal age seeming to be around 16). Certainly, there are a number of Northern Houses who seem quite interested in such a match, including the Mormonts. If I had to guess, this is more Ned reacting to what happened in his own youth, when Rickard’s overly ambitious dynastic plans led to the suffering of his children.

      • Jim B says:

        I think Robb/Asha doesn’t work because while it makes logical sense from the mainland Westerosi point of view, it doesn’t mesh with the culture of the Iron Islands.

        The one thing that Balon, Euron, Victarion, and Damphair can all agree on is that the old ways are good, and the ironborn should earn their wealth by paying the iron price, not by selling off a daughter. Even Asha, who’s less traditional and more open to settling conquered lands as opposed to just continual reaving, is not likely to be keen on the idea of winning victories in the bedchamber instead of the battlefield.

        Sure, Asha marrying Robb gives the ironborn a solid ally with whom to coordinate attacks on Lannister lands — but Robb offered them that anyway, and Balon rejected it because he’d rather be free to pick the ripest target.

      • Brian M. says:

        There’s also the fact that, as you mentioned in an earlier post (Bran VI I think), that the heir to a Paramount’s house would have married the daughter of one of their major bannermen (in this case I’d bet either Alys Karstark, Dacey Mormont, or Wynafryd Manderly). We know war is going to break out, but the Starks don’t -hence, there’s no urgency to marry Robb to solidify any alliances beforehand. The betrothal between Joffrey and Sansa was something Ned didn’t expect, but you can’t very well turn down your best friend when he offers the chance for you to see your grandson on the Iron Throne.

        I am surprised Catelyn didn’t stick around at Bitterbridge -she could have testified as to Brienne’s innocence *and* possibly worked out the marriage alliance between Robb & Margaery. If that had happened, it instantly puts the Lannisters in an impossible position. But, of course, George can’t let that happen…

      • celestial1960 says:

        Cat had good reason to panic. Honestly, no one would believe Cat was innocent. She and Brienne were found near Renly’s corpse and there was no one else around. Every reasonable person would assume that Cat bribed Brienne to kill Renly because the latter offered her poor terms. Everyone from Renly’s court had the chance to see that Cat was not that enthusiastic about the deal Renly proposed – when Renly was killed, she becomes the prime suspect by default – regardless whether she runs or not.

        • Again, a fled assassin is equally believable and Brienne was infamously devoted to Renly.

          Moreover, once she can get past the initial moment, I think Catelyn could have used the armor to back up her story with the higher-ups. How the hell does anyone stab Renly through a gorget?

  8. This was really interesting. There’s a bit of a ‘blame the victim’ tendency with the RW to blame Robb and Catelyn for it when, as you rightly pointed out, Robb’s ‘betrayal’ was more of an excuse than the actual reason for Walder and Tywin to act like dicks (to put it mildly). Walder Frey was clearly always an opportunistic asshole. I never thought about it in terms of his real mistake being who he broke his vow for (a girl from a politically weak house) than actually breaking the vow in the first place.

    In terms of the What ifs? though, I don’t understand how Catelyn has the opportunity to negotiate a Margaery-Robb alliance. After Renly’s shadow baby death she is the main suspect and has to run. I guess instead of saving Brienne she could have accused her of murdering Renly instead of saving her and escaping, but I feel like this is one of those things where it happened that way because Martin needed it to for the narrative to work in the future, and you can’t really blame Catelyn for it. Her response under pressure here is one of my favourite Catelyn moments. And then we wouldn’t have gotten the Catelyn-Brienne relationship which is one of the most interesting female relationships in the whole books in how it subverts traditional male roles of lord and loyal knight.

    • Winnie says:

      Exactly Madeline. I’ve come to believe that the reason people accuse Robb of ‘ruining’ his cause with the RW, while at the same time saying Ned got killed because ‘he was stupid,’ is nothing other than pure victim blaming, and the need to convince themselves these horrible deaths, weren’t in fact mostly a matter of bad luck. We don’t like to admit that sometimes bad guys win, and we certainly don’t wan’t to think we ourselves could be victims like that, so we tell stories of how the victims brought in on themselves, as a way to convince ourselves that we wouldn’t have had a similar fate because we would have made better decisions.

      Kinda how so much Sansa hatred, is rooted in the fear, that in her circumstances we would be equally victimized and helpless.

      • Very perceptive. Especially the bad luck part – people being undone/killed because of bad luck or forces outside their control raises the fear that we live in a chaotic, unpredictable universe. If you can instead construct a situation in which someone was undone by their own actions, you make the world seem more rational in cause and effect.

      • Jim B says:

        Yeah, I think a lot of fans have adopted the philosophy of Dark Helmet from Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”: “Evil will always triumph over good, because good is dumb!” And so they adore schemers like Littlefinger, Varys, and Tywin, and deride Ned and Robb and other “good guys” as having brought about their own doom through stupidity, foolish clinging to honor, etc.

        And there’s a certain amount of truth to that — as Steven’s analyses show, Ned and Robb have made errors — but so too have the “brilliant schemers.” Well, maybe not Varys yet, but he’s playing a very long game. But Littlefinger has made wild gambles, and now seems to be confiding way too much trust in someone (Sansa) who he just seems to assume will be loyal to him. And Tywin, for all his careful management of rival houses, is such an incompetent father that he’s allowed Cersei and Jaime to create this mess and alienated the one child who could have helped him most.

        And again, as Steven has pointed out time and time again, Martin has to rig the deck a fair bit to make things turn out as badly as they do for the Starks.

        And we’re already seeing the long-term effects of ruthless backstabbing vs. honorable behavior: House Stark still has a chance of returning to glory because it still inspires loyalty in the North, whereas House Frey is going to have a hard time finding allies other than those of temporary convenience.

      • David Hunt says:

        Jim B,

        Although I think that you’re correct that LF seems too secure in Sansa’s loyalty to him, I can understand why he does it. He sees Sansa as being in the position of having nowhere else to go but with him. To her knowledge her closest relatives alive and free are the Blackfish (currently a ghost presumably organizing a guerilla rebellion) and Jon Snow who is a new brother of the Night’s Watch and she wouldn’t expect him to be in a position to help her. I’m not sure how close Jon ever was to Sansa, anyway. She’s her mother’s child in so many ways and Cat always hated Jon. If she’s ever found anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms, she can be expected to be sold to Cercei for a reward, then tortured to death by Qyburn trying to get Tyrion’s whereabouts out her. A particularly unpleasant prospect because she can’t cough up information that she doesn’t have to stop the torture.

        Anyway, Sansa’s apparent total dependence on him lets LF rationalize taking her into his confidence. I’m sure his fixation on Cat is driving him to take her into his confidence, groom her as his partner/wife where she’ll be everything to him that he fantasized that Cat would be while he was working his way up the political ladder.

        Woe be to him if Sansa ever gets a good option out of the role that he’s placed her in. She’s become a bit of a canny operator under his tutelage, but my impression from her chapters is that the reason she works so industriously towards his ends is that she understands how screwed she’d be without his protection. It’s pretty much entirely a case of enlightened self-interest. If she found a way to get away from LF into a better situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if she jumped at it. The only thing that I can see deterring that is Robert Arryn. He’s her cousin and that could be important to her. OTOH, Martin has gone out of his way to show just how unlovable the little brat is, so I’m not sure that she’d stay even for him.

      • Sean C. says:

        David Hunt,

        Even with Sansa’s objectively quite limited options, Baelish got extremely lucky that she didn’t opt to spill everything to Royce when the Lords Declarant visited the Eyrie. She contemplated it, but talked herself out of it (for fairly sensible reasons, given the circumstances) — if she was even slightly more impulsive or hopeful at that point, it might have gone the other way.

    • She’s not *the* main suspect, she’s one of them because she runs. But a cooler head could have easily saved the situation – she could have blamed Brienne, she could have said “an assassin slew him – he went that way!” etc. etc. The larger point is that Littlefinger showed up as a representative of the Tyrell’s recent enemy (who had declared them all traitors to boot) and still got a deal; Catelyn is a neutral.

      But such is not the will of GRRM.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        That’s not objective. The only real social contract in Westeros is: get away with whatever you can. The Lords go around murdering and raping and doing whatever they want, whenever they can get away with it, as long as its not at dinner. As Tywin points out, this is ridiculous, better 12 men at dinner than 12,000 on a battlefield.

        It is kind of sort of their fault as well, they’re contributing factors. But they’re not responsible for Robb’s life, Robb is responsible for Robb’s life. Robb is a fully fledge citizen of Westeros, a lord, a king, he’s responsible for making sure his allies don’t murder him.

        • That’s really not the case – as is born out by the universal reaction to the Red Wedding.

          And Tywin doesn’t kill 12 men at dinner. In addition to the dozen or so guests who are murdered, 3,500 men die outside the Red Wedding.

          Robb’s bannermen are in fact responsible for Robb’s life. That’s what it means to be a bannerman.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        No you’re misunderstanding me. I’m saying many normative social standards are arbitrary. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I’m saying they are not objectively different, it doesn’t matter if someone ate food before you kill them or if you do while they’re at a feast as opposed at an encampment. They’re just as dead either way, one is not noble and the other evil. Robb isn’t any more a victim at the Red Wedding than he would have been if he died the Whispering Wood. Assination is a hazard of the game of thrones, just like death in battle. Robb knowing chose to play the game just like he knowingly rides into battle. There’s is absolutely no distinction from an objective perspective.

        Not the point. Its still less bloody to take his enemy through treachery that through warfare, it is in no way “better” for those men to have died by the Tyrell and Lannister marching in an army of 60,000.

        Part of being a lord in Westeros, is being aware that your Banner men can and will break their vows and betray you in various ways. Your job is to prevent them from doing that it. If you don’t that’s your fault.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        You wear your honor like a suit of armor, Stark. You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move. Look at you now. You know why you summoned me here. You know what you want to ask me to do. You know it has to be done… but it’s not honorable, so the words stick in your throat.”

    • Baelish the Bard says:

      The thing is Robb isn’t a victim. He’s a lord/king rebeling/waring/killing and playing the game of thrones. There’s nothing objectively worse about the Red Wedding than the Battle of OxCross. Robb was repeatedly warned that the Frey’s were not trust worthy. Granted its more the Iron Born’s invasion than Jeyne Westerling that precipitate the Red Wedding but its still Robb’s fault.

      Robb sent Theon, Robb prepared an inadequate defense of the North in his absence, Robb refused to the bend the knee after the Blackwater, Robb decided to accept the crown, Robb broke his vow (for insufficient gain).

      • The Battle of Oxcross doesn’t massively violate the social contract of Westeros in ways that have long term implications for any kind of social organization?

        And I could equally add that it’s Theon’s fault for betraying Robb and not sending warning, Catelyn’s fault for completely botching Jaime’s release, Edmure’s fault for exceeding his orders, and the Freys and Bolton’s fault for betraying their liege lord and murdering tens of thousands of loyal soldiers.

      • celestial1960 says:

        Baelish, the main problem with the RW is that it was totally unnecessary.
        For instance, how hard it would have been to drug Robb’s wine/food at the feast with some dreamwine and the next time he would have waken up, it would have been in a cell?

        With more careful planning, Walder and Roose could have easily captured the entire Northern leadership without any blood spilled and, with the leaders in their hands, they could have taken control of their army, thus avoiding the massacre altogether.

        With Robb and his companions prisoners, but alive, Roose could have even portrayed himself as a Northern patriot who had to make a hard choice in order to save the North from the folly of a young king bent on revenge against overwhelming odds.

        In such a case, the stigma created by the Red Wedding to foster deep hatred between Lannister/Frey/Bolton camp and the North/Riverlands would not have existed and there would have been a real chance at pacification and reconciliation.

        Even if Robb had to die, he could have been seized in his chamber, just like Edmure, when he was away from his guards – and his companions could have been arrested without even knowing that Rob was offed.

        The Red Wedding occurred because Walder and Tywin both wanted revenge for their injured pride – Walder for the spurned marriage, Tywin for the humiliations he suffered in the field. This is so typical a reaction from Tywin, to retaliate with extreme cruelty and violence when he thinks someone slighted him.

        The argument that “There’s nothing objectively worse about the Red Wedding than the Battle of OxCross” is ludicrous. Based on this reasoning, one could say that “here’s nothing objectively worse about the nazies murdering 3 million soviet POW in concentration camps than the Red Army killing 3 million german soldiers on the battlefield” – which is utterly callous and stupid.
        Second, there is a level of sadism which decent human beings should not stoop to, regardless of all the mental gymnastic – “kill 10 men at a table rather than 10,000 on a battlefield” – done to justify it. Particularly when more decent options are available.
        The Red Wedding was one such action.

        • I would add something else here: the Red Wedding makes any kind of political agreement more difficult to achieve, be it marriage alliances or peace treaties. How does anyone trust that Tywin, Bolton, or Frey will keep their word on ANYTHING if they’re willing to violate the oldest and most sacred customs of Westeros, one of the few taboos that protect people in a dangerous world? In our history, we put this custom as the responsibility of not just the gods but the King of the Gods (Zeus Xenios, Odin the one-eyed wanderer who shows up unknown at the door, etc.) in order to make sure it wasn’t violated, because once you’ve violated it you’re back to war of all-against-all.

          And (as I’ll discuss in my upcoming essay in the next Tower of the Hand e-book) look at the results: Tywin’s legacy crumbled with his death and no one trusts or esteems the Lannisters at all; Bolton faces a rebellion inside of a few months of achieving his goal; Walder’s family is cursed by the gods, murdered at will, and universally hated even in King’s Landing. It’s the ultimate short-term gain for long-term loss.

      • David Hunt says:

        Celestial,

        I think that the Red Wedding happened because Robb did indeed have to die because taking him and all of his bannermen alive wouldn’t have fit the story that it was Robb and his men who broke the Guest Right. Nitpick: I don’t think that they could have drugged the wine to knock everyone out without killing several of them via overdose but they could have simply made it abundantly clear to Robb and his men at the feast that their situation was hopeless and they were better off being taken alive. However, then it’s clear that the Freys broke what is perhaps the most sacred custom in Westeros. And that custom keeps people alive in the thousands or even the millions. It doesn’t do this directly, but knowing that no one would dare molest you while you’re their guest is what lets lords who are bitter rivals or outright enemies meet and negotiate. Guest Right helps stop wars.

        Walder Frey and Tywin Lannister may not have killed that tool of diplomacy, but they’ve certainly grievously wounded it. No one’s sure if they can count on that protection anymore. No one with any political awareness really believes the Freys’ outlandish stories (Robb and his men turned into wolfmen and attacked the guests!) so they see a lord who blatantly broke Guest Right and GOT AWAY WITH IT. He was actually rewarded.

        Walder Frey and his heirs, especially, have thrown away a great deal for the immediate gains they received. I’m reminded of the movie Excalibur where Merlin explains to Uther the extent of his problems and their causes in seventeen brief words: “You betrayed the Duke. You stole his wife. You took his caste. Now no one trusts you.”

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        celestial:

        I never said Tywin was a decent human being.

        Nor did Tywin eliminate his ability to make agreements. The Riverlords negotiate with him after the wedding. Remember Tywin has plausible deniability. He wasn’t there. Walder Frey and Roose Bolton hatched this “foul scheme”.

        Also I don’t think the Red Wedding has anything to do with Tywin’s pride. Tywin is a ruthless fuck. He believes in winning at any cost well before he takes personal insult and Lannister pride into account. Tywin was just trying to win at that point.

        There isn’t anything objectively worse about killing three million people in concentration camps than in battle. That is an arbitrary distinction. Three million people are still dead, that is the only objective fact.

      • Celestial says:

        Baelish the Bard: Tywin might be able to negotiate agreements NOW, while he (apparently) holds the upperhand, but that might not last forever.
        For all the pro-Tywin propaganda in the books, which portray him like a combination of Julius Caesar and Genghis-Khan, Tywin makes a ton of political mistakes which would suggest he is a rather mediocre politician, contrary to what other characters in the book might have us believe.

        A fundamental weakness of Tywin’s political modus operandi, even before his idiotical treatment of his progeny, is the fact that he completely failed to understand the most important principle of governing Westeros: that rulership over the Seven Kingdoms has to be based on consensus. The reason behind this is that the central government of Westeros is quite weak, due to the size of the kingdom and historical circumstances. It’s impossible for a single region to dominate the entire kingdom by force.
        Yet Tywin, who built his reputation by terrorizing those weaker than him (it is noteworthy that the Rains of Castamere and the Sack of KL are the events brought up the most frequently when Tywin is mentioned, not his alleged “brilliant” administration during Aerys reign), tries to do the same at the level of the entire Westeros – which is bound to fail.
        As you called it, Tywin built himself the reputation of a “ruthless fuck” – and while this worked in Westerlands, it can’t work in Westeros because Tywin is not strong enough to enforce it. Nobody likes to have a ruthless tyrant as overlord and the tyrant will be accepted only as long as he can terrorize his subjects or bribe them generously. When he can no longer do that, everyone will forget that they even met him.

        Tywin boasted that the “Lannister alliances in the South are as solid as Casterly Rock”, yet both were the work of Tyrion – and, thanks to Tywin’s poisonous behaviour, both alliances were built on sand. Even when Tywin had the possibility to reward them lavishly, the Tyrells and Martells had no restraints in plotting against him – and Tywin’s “rock-solid” alliances would have crumbled like paper at the first reverse.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Celestial:

        Why did the Lannisters win the war, for the first phase of the war? They should have lost. Jamie was beaten, Tywin had retreated to Harrenhal. Robb sent Theon to Pyke, and all Balon had to do was follow the plan and the Lannisters were DONE.

        But Balon was afraid of Tywin. Balon was afraid of the very ruthlessness, you claim isn’t useful.


        Lord Balon laughed. “Well, at the least you are no craven. No more than I’m a fool. Do you think I gather my ships to watch them rock at anchor? I mean to carve out a kingdom with fire and sword… but not from the west, and not at the bidding of King Robb the Boy. Casterly Rock is too strong, and Lord Tywin too cunning by half. Aye, we might take Lannisport, but we should never keep it. No. I hunger for a different plum… not so juicy sweet, to be sure, yet it hangs there ripe and undefended.”

        So Tywin is ruthless, but he isn’t unreasonable. Granted Tywin is a terrible father, but he is the one restraining Joffrey, restraining Aerys, restraining Cersei. Tywin gives Joffrey a mice speech about how when your enemy stands against you must be ruthless but when your enemy is on his knees you must help him back to his feet or no one will ever bend the knee to you. Tywin would have accept the surrender fo the Riverlords and then murdered them. He could have refused their surrender all together.

        As for Tywin’s vassals only being loyal as long as he is strong, or can bribe them? That precisely what Tywin expects, because that’s how he would behave. That’s how many other lords would behave, like Roose or Walder Frey or Lady Dustin or the Florents or Balon, the list goes on. Tywin just assumes everyone is capable of treachery because its impossible to distinguish the truly loyal from the good actors.

        Sure Tywin’s strategy won’t work forever, nothing works forever, Tywin is dead now, it worked for as long as was necessary. It’s Tywin’s poor parenting not his political judgement that will doom the Lannisters and doomed Tywin.

      • Celestial says:

        Baelish:

        First, Balon already burnt Tywin’s fleet 10 years before, when the latter had the full backing of the Iron Throne, and the Earth had not swallowed Balon. Thus your argument that Balon was afraid of Tywin is very questionable. It is far more likely than Balon was motivated by his irrational hatred for Eddard Stark (seen in all his statements) and by the fact that he saw the North as an easier target, with their army down in the South and Robb being (in Balon’s opinion) just a “green boy”.

        Second, the Lannisters did NOT won the war in the first phase of the war. When the war started, Tywin was thouroughly isolated thanks to his political “acumen” and, in the actual fighting, he got trounced by Robb Stark. The actual results of Tywin’s own leadership are no less than catastrophical. It was the Tyrell army which won the war for them in the field (brought in the Lannister camp by Tyrion and LF) and LF/Varys who won the day in the political arena – and none of these actors, Tyrells, LF and Varys, are “the Lannisters”. They are not even Lannister allies – they just pretend to be and Tywin is stupid enough to believe it.

        As to what doomed Tywin, it simply happened that his poor parenting skills doomed him FASTER. And not just his parenting skills, btw, because Tyrion needed Varys’ cooperation to succeed in his assassination. And your statement that Tywin’s tactics worked “as long as it was necessary” is bizarre. Tywin’s triumph started to unravel the days after Blackwater, with Tyrell’s plots against him, Joffrey’s assassination and Tyrion’s farce of a trial. What does that mean “as long as it was necessary”? 48 hours?

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        by the fact that he saw the North as an easier target, with their army down in the South and Robb being (in Balon’s opinion) just a “green boy”.

        That’s precisely what I mean by Balon being afraid of Tywin. As for Balon’s rebellion, King Bob held Tywin’s leash back then. Now Tywin has free reign.

        Varys and Littlefinger chose the Lannisters because they’re morally flexible as compared to Stannis. Granted they’re also plotting and scheming on their own, but that’s given for any lord, from Tywin’s (or my) perspective.

        Well Tywin doesn’t like Tyrion, I would say Tywin is the main reason Tyrion has a farce of a trial, Tywin. As for the assassination of Joffrey, it doesn’t actually remove the Lannisters from power, it actually strengthens the Tyrell alliance. And this has nothing to do with Tywin, Joffrey is crazy that’s why he’s assassinated, its not some plan to smite House Lannister, its self defense.

      • axrendale says:

        re: Celestial –

        ‘Defending’ Tywin Lannister is always a fairly awkward thing, but the bastard deserves more credit for his political cunning than you’re giving him. To address the main points:

        1) The Red Wedding and plausible deniability:

        I think that there’s a tendancy amongst some readers, with our access to the various POVs, to forget that to the great majority in Westeros the Lannister hand in the Red Wedding was fairly well hidden. As far as most people are aware, the Freys murdered Robb in retaliation for his slight against them, and to worm their way back into the favor of the Iron Throne, and the Lannisters rewarded them after the fact. There’s a few people who might connect the dots in the way Tyrion did and figure out that the Freys wouldn’t have dared to act without a prior guarentee of protection, but on the whole it’s not analogous to the murder of Rhaegar’s family, where nobody on the outside looking in could fail to pinpoint responsibility. If it weren’t for the unexpected resurrection of Catelyn Stark, then the Lannisters might well have escaped serious direct consequences for their part in the RW (as it is, in one of GRRM’s brilliant little ironies, Jaime’s little ‘regards’ via Roose Bolton are going to have fearsome consequences).

        2) The Tyrells:

        The Tyrells are not “pretending” to be the allies of the Lannisters, they are the allies of the Lannisters, and the fact that they conspired to kill Joffrey does not change that. The Tyrells can no more afford to ditch the Lannisters than the Lannisters can afford to lose the Tyrells – they both need each other too much. That was rather the point that Littlefinger was making to Sansa when he suggested that Olenna poisoned Joffrey in part out of fear that he would jeopardize relations between the two families (by mistreating Margaery, which would cause Loras to fly off the handle). Tywin and Kevan both understood this, and it was the basis of a large part of what they did in ASOS and ADWD respectively. Cersei didn’t, hence what happens in AFFC.

        3) Tywin’s efforts to rule the Seven Kingdoms:

        As long as the Lannisters and Tyrells remained united militarily (regardless of whatever tensions might have been going on behind the scenes), Tywin would have been correct in his calculation that together they could use machtpolitik to keep all of the Southron kingdoms in line (that was precisely why Varys murdered Kevan). As for taking care of the North – that was the entire point of the alliance that he made with Roose Bolton.

      • Celestial says:

        Dear Mr. Axrendale,

        1. The whole “plausible deniability” is questionable. Brynden Blackfish, for instance, figured out that it was Tywin’s doing and he had both the means and the interest to spread the news.

        2. Whatever merits the Tyrell alliance you might claim to have, it was not Tywin’s doing, but Tyrion’s.
        Second, the claim that “The Tyrells can no more afford to ditch the Lannisters than the Lannisters can afford to lose the Tyrells” is patently false. They allied first with Renly, they turned to the Lannisters only to counter Stannis and Tyrion points out in ASOS that they could easily change sides once again to Robb Stark if Cersei were to offend them.
        The Tyrells do not need the Lannisters. They need a (Baratheon) king which could be married to Margery. Outside of this, they can forge alliances with the North, Riverlands, Vale or the Stormlands as they see fit. The Lannisters do not have this luxury.
        The Tyrells have greater military power and more political options – ergo, all the possibility to turn the Lannisters into the junior partners in that alliance or ditch them completely if they become a liability.
        Third, whether Joffrey’s death was a boon for the Lannisters is not the point. The point is that it was done against Tywin’s wishes, under his very nose, by his so-called allies. Unless you are implying Tywin was part of it, your argument is moot.
        Fourth, Tyrells’ actions are more than simply removing a liability like Joffrey. They also act to ally themselves with North by trying to marry Willas and Sansa and put one of their men as Grand Maester – and in AFFC Margery is trying to influence Tommen against his mother. Basically, what we saw was a calculated effort from the Tyrells to become the dominant force in the alliance and make the Lannisters secondary. If you consider that a genuine alliance, be my guest.
        Kevan realized at the end what was happening and started to consider how to bring Tyrell bannermen such as Tarly on his side, as you might recall.

        3. Except for the not-so-insignificant detail of who gets to call the shots in that partnership. A position which both sides (Lannisters and Tyrells) coveted.
        Look at how Robert Baratheon became king. There was genuine trust between Eddard Stark, Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon and Hoster Tully, slowly built over the years. As such, they were able to easily reach an agreement easily over who will be king – Robert Baratheon was chosen despite the fact that, at the time of the Trident, he was militarily the weakest actor in the rebellion.
        There is no such trust in the current Lannister-Tyrell regime. They had been fighting over positions and influence like “two bitches over a bone”.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Celestial:

        Of course Tyrells plot and scheme. That’s precisely what Tywin expects them to do. He expects his allies to try to supplant him. The US was allied with the USSR its allied with Isreal, they both spied on the US and plotted. Parties are always going to act in their own interest. I don’t understand what any of that has to do with Tywin. Lord plots before Tywin and they continue to plot after him.

        The best argument against Tywin is that he allows Littlefinger to amass a large amount of power without checking him as he does with the Tyrells. You could make the same argument for Varys, though his plans are farther removed and I think Tywin is less to blame for not uncovering that.

      • Celestial says:

        Baelish,

        The claim that “Lord plots before Tywin and they continue to plot after him” is not true. Jon Arryn did not plot against Robert Baratheon. Corlys Velaryon did not plot against Rhaenyra Targaryen (to give just 2 examples of high lords in very important positions who genuinely supported their monarchs).

        The argument that “That’s precisely what Tywin expects them to do. He expects his allies to try to supplant him.” is exactly the point. Because Tywin himself is a dishonorable scumbag, his erstwhile allies had no restraints in treating him the same.

        Sure, there are always the unsavory characters like Roose Bolton or Walder Frey who would never be loyal no matter what, but there are also many like the Royces, Umbers, Blackwoods, Mallisters, Manderly who can be genuinely loyal to a decent overlord.

        Letting LF uncheck is hardly the only mistake Tywin made. Axrendale is boasting intensively about the Tyrell alliance as if it was some “proof” of Tywin’s genius, completely ignoring that the respective alliance was hastily patched up by Tyrion and it became possible only when Stannis cleared the way by killing Renly – something which Tywin could not have foreseen, nor did he have any control over.

        If Tywin had taken care to cultivate better relationships with the other houses, the Lannisters would not have been in such a precarious position to begin with.

        As an example, look for instance how Doran reacted to mollify the Yronwoods when Oberyn killed lord Yronwood in a duel. He sent his brother into exile and gave Yronwood his own son as ward. Do you imagine Tywin displaying the same consideration for his own bannermen, and sending Kevan into exile, while offering Jaime as a ward to mend the relationship?

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Celestial:

        Why would Jon Arryn plot against Robert? Jon Arryn put Robert on the throne, Robert is his adopted son. It’s like saying Catelyn didn’t plot against Robb. The point isn’t that everyone plots, its that someone will always plot. You would always have been able to find someone plotting against Tywin. Because there’s always someone plotting in every region, Arrianne in Dorne, Littlefinger in the Vale, Bolton is the North, the Freys in the Riverlands, Euron in the Iron Islands, the Florents in the Reach, maybe maybe Renly didn’t have any disloyal vassals, but he was a disloyal vassal himself.

      • Celestial says:

        Baelish,

        No offence, but your fanboysm for Tywin Lannister is becoming tiresome, as it makes you chase your own tail.
        First of all, Jon Arryn was not a blood relationship of Robert Baratheon, so if the latter was able to cultivate a good relationship with him, credit goes to Robert. For all the criticism he was subjected to, Robert at least had associates he could rely on, like Jon Arryn or Eddard Stark.
        Tywin does not have any like this. Tywin’s allies during his short tenure as Hand consisted of a House which hated his guts (the Martells) and another (the Tyrells) who could not give a rat’s ass about him and his progeny.
        Having to constantly watch over your shoulder because every ally could and would stab you in the back given the opportunity is not exactly the pinnacle of diplomatic achievement.

        Is that clear or all you’re interested in is beating your chest about how great Tywin Lannister is?

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Celestial:

        You’re missing my point. Its not that I think Tywin is so great. I think Littlefinger is great, Tywin was born heir to Casterly Rock. Tywin should have lost based on all likelihood. Robert is better at forming alliances than Tywin. So was Jon Arryn.

        That is not my point. My point is not that Tywin is great. My point is that ruthlessly eliminating your enemies is the best policy in Westeros. Tywin is not the best at this, Littlefinger is better. Euron is probably better. Some people are too ruthless, Ramsay and Roose come to mind or Aerys. Some people are not ruthless enough, Ned Stark, Edmure, ect. This is not about Tywin, its about tactics.

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    Ms. Dell, I do agree that Lady Catelyn had no good opportunity to negotiate for the hand of Lady Margaery, but while in the camp of The King at Highgarden she DID have a fair amount of access to the master of House Tyrell and MIGHT have been able to negotiate for the hand of some other fair maid of House Tyrell (were she bold enough to break faith with Lord Frey and confident enough of being able to bring Lord Frey to heel afterwards); this sort of marriage alliance might well have strengthened her hand when dealing with King Renly (if only as an implicit pledge of neutrality in the course of any struggle between the Baratheon brothers).

    The problem is that a Tyrell marriage alliance contracted at this time would cost House Stark a certain amount of face with the River-Lords (even if the Late Lord Frey is a grubby extortionist, the pact was made with him fair and square), but not necessarily to any fatal degree: marriage alliances were contracted according to the demands of `realpolitik’ in the Medieval World and not infrequently dissolved when necessity required (with consequences in every degree between ‘none’ and ‘severe’).

    It should be noted that had the Ironborn not assaulted The North (and more to the point had Theon Greyjoy not slipped into Winterfell) the pride and pique of Lord Frey would have mattered very little to House Stark (given that Lord Robb would have had little need of The Twins nor would he have gone anywhere near the place), despite the best efforts of House Bolton to ensure that every sword was precious (and the best efforts of Lord Frey, as well as his legions of Leman to produce as many hands capable of wielding a weapon as maternally possible).

    • I don’t think the Riverlords would have cared outside of the Freys as long as it meant victory.

      Agreed about the Greyjoy thing. If Robb could have brought down the 17,000 who were never raised, or even a significant portion of them, he could have built up an army that could have taken on the Lannister-Tyrell alliance in parts and still had a decent chance.

      • Winnie says:

        Yeah, fact is the Frey’s were clearly not a particularly popular clan to begin with, and I think the RIverlords would have been, “Just be happy we’re not punishing you for not bringing your men when Hoster ordered you to in the first place.” And it’s clear that different decisions on the part of Balon, or even Theon, would have ensured the RW never happened.

      • The Red Wedding, like all Greek tragedies, is a Rube Goldberg machine of destruction – every step has to go right.

  10. axrendale says:

    Great article Steven.

    One point of contention, concerning the Battle of Riverrun, wherein Jaime defeated Edmure. I see the logic behind your suggestion that the outcome resulted from a surprise attack, but we do in fact have a bit more information on the battle. One of the Catelyn chapters in ACOK contains a reference to the battle, which states that Edmure “offered battle” to Jaime, and got his host “cut to bloody pieces” as a result.

    Given that statement, I think that the most likely scenario plays out something like this: after Jaime defeats the Vance/Piper force at the Golden Tooth, he and his host march up the road in the direction of Riverrun, making no attempt to conceal their advance. Edmure, whose pride cannot countenance the idea of letting Lannisters cross Tully lands without a challenge, blunders by leading his own host across the river to offer battle to the Lannisters on open ground, presumably relying on his superior numbers to give him the advantage. The decisive victory that Jaime wins in the ensuing pitched battle can be chalked up to the superior quality of the Lannister troops, and to the fact that, whatever his temperamental defects as a general, all evidence we have suggests that he is a superb combat commander. To extrapolate the scenario a little further, we might imagine that Edmure being taken prisoner during the fighting may have been what precipitated a rout in the Tully forces, many of whom may have been cut down by the pursuing Lannisters. We know that Tytos Blackwood leads many of the survivors back into Riverrun to hold the castle, and the rest may have scattered into the woods. Jaime then initiates his siege of the castle, and the stage is set for what happens next.

    Since you talk in the article about the importance of capacity for growth as a trait in a political leader, we might note how this applies to Edmure, as well as Robb. Edmure does obviously learn from this experience: the next time that his honor compels him to offer battle to a Lannister host intruding on his lands, he does it in a much more sensible way, by using the Red Fork as a force multiplier, and wins a victory over Tywin as a result. Unfortunately, we then go on to see that Edmure’s growth has come in the wrong place: he has matured from a blundering neophyte into a highly competent battle tactician, but still doesn’t *get it* about letting his pride make his decisions for him.

    (Amidst all this, we might note the pointed irony that the character and fledgling leader who is going to end up growing more than Robb and Edmure put together is Jaime, the man that they’re fighting against).

    Some further notes on your what-ifs:

    In an alternate scenario where Walder Frey refuses to give his aid to the Starks, and Robb is left with no choice but to confront Tywin on the Green Fork, I don’t think that a successful undetected night march can be regarded as anything like a done deal. Even with the Blackfish commanding the scouts, there is a very big difference between concealing the presence of a host from an enemy that isn’t even aware that it’s in the area (as was the case with all Robb’s victories at the Whispering Wood, Camps, and Oxcross), and pulling off the same trick against a much more cunning and cautious opponent who’s not just aware of the Stark host, but expecting it. Tywin may not be a military genius, and he’s overconfident at this point, but he’s repeatedly characterized as being too old a hand to be easily taken by surprise. In that case, you’re basically down to a replay of the OTL, but with Robb in place of Roose, and with the Stark horse present at the battle. Doubtless Robb would have put in a much better showing than Roose did, but all the same, in an open battle against an opponent with better-rested troops and almost twice the cavalry, the odds aren’t in his favor.

    This directly ties in to the point of Catelyn’s negotiation with Walder Frey, and whether she managed to get the best deal that she could have. It’s important that GRRM sets up the scenario where Robb goes to directly confront Tywin as being the last resort that the Starks don’t want to take, because this means that Frey has them over a barrel, and is thus in a position to demand that they sell the farm in order to secure his support, without their being in much of a space to do something about it.

    • How we do know he had twice the cavalry?

      I mean, that scenario is possible, but the kind of lopsided outcome of the battle is only one we’ve seen with surprise attacks – Whispering Woods, the Camps, Oxcross, etc.

      • axrendale says:

        1) By adding up the numbers. In the next Tyrion chapter, he makes very detailed observations about his father’s army. He observes that there are:

        - 4,000 heavy horse on the Right
        - 2,500 in the reserve (many of them knights)
        - 300 in the center (bodyguards of Kevan and his sub-commanders)
        - An unspecified number in the vanguard (which is entirely cavalry, though few of them are knights)

        Given those numbers, a rough estimate would place Tywin’s army as containing at least 7,000 cavalry – possibly as many as 8,000 – on top of about 13,000 infantry. Against that, without the Freys Robb is leading a host of 4,000 horse and 14,000 foot. Factor in a failed night march, and the odds would not be good for the Starks in that scenario.

        2) There are actually very few traditional set-piece battles in ASOIAF. All of Robb’s victories were ambuscades, as were the Lannister-Tyrell victory at the Blackwater, and Stannis’s victory at the Wall. The only really notable example (that we see or hear of in detail) of a classic ‘pitched’ battle from the WotFK is Tywin vs Roose at the Green Fork – so there’s not really much data to work with on what’s probable within the ‘verse.

        If Edmure drew up his host to the west of Riverrun to offer battle to Jaime, and the latter succeeded in routing the enemy, it’s actually quite understandable why the result would have been lopsided – the survivors who didn’t manage to retreat back into the castle with Tytos Blackwood would have been caught between the pursuing Lannisters and the river.

        • 1. Ah, I see what you mean by cavalry. Again, I think you’re wrong about the failed night march and I’ll show more why in the next Tyrion chapter.

          2. I think Blackwater also counts as a pitched battle, and again, a significant part of the army manages to withdraw in good order in that case. And to me that still leaves open the question of why a rout in what would in that scenario be a front-to-front engagement with equal numbers.

          Surprise still gives the simpler explanation.

  11. As pointed out (and we talked about on a recent podcast reread of A Clash of Kings), Catelyn was really unlucky at Renly’s camp. If she hadn’t been in the tent, she may well have been able to negotiate something (If Robb is not available, Edmure in for Robb perhaps) or any other deal. It was just bad luck that she as in the tent. Also, if she had been a bit more patient (bad luck, not her fault) and waited literally 60 seconds or so, both Randyll Tarly and another Tyrell lord (Rowan I think) were in the tent as well and would have seen the shadow and that Catelyn and Brienne had nothing to do with it..

  12. RyanS says:

    Good stuff. I had forgotten the part about Robb conversing with a new lord every day of the march – shows both a level of maturity and humility that speak well for a 16-year-old leading an army. I would like to have read some of those conversations as well

    But I disagree with you on several points about Walder Frey. First, that breaking off the betrothal would have been a good idea if Robb had “married up” instead of down. This would still be a pretty big scandal, considering that the Freys had honored their side of the bargain after it was struck. Stevron, the heir to the Twins, had died in Robb’s service. Spitting on House Frey after that would make Robb look very bad, and any of the short-term advantages it might have brought with a marriage to a Tyrell or Greyjoy (which I don’t think was ever in the cards anyway) would have been offset by the long-term loss of trust it would engender among not only the Freys but anyone Robb might have to deal with.

    Second, the idea that vengeance wasn’t Walder’s primary motive in the Red Wedding. I often see this come up with some diehard Stark fans, saying that it would have happened anyway even if Robb had kept his word. Which is ridiculous (fortunately you don’t seem to go that far). Walder is a treacherous man but also a PROUD and PETTY one. He believed that the Red Wedding would wash out the “stain” Robb had inflicted on his honor. That’s why he relished it so much – he felt fully vindicated and justified in his retaliation.

    Now, Walder might have tried to arrange some side deals or delay Roslin’s marriage to Robb had Robb not married Jeyne. The Starks were clearly losing and Walder doesn’t like to go down with any ships. But GRRM has confirmed in a SSM that any betrayal in that case would have been much less savage and severe.

    The Red Wedding for the Freys was deeply personal. For the Boltons and Lannisters, it was just business.

    • Winnie says:

      If Walder actually believed the RW would ‘wash out a stain on his honor’, then he’s the stupidest man alive. The RW has made the Frey’s name cursed throughout Westeros as any fool could know it would. If you want to save Frey family honor, accept Robb’s apology, (while making him grovel a bit,) and accept the Tully marriage which was a damn good peace offering. Also, why the hell take Edmure prisoner, since Edmure has after all kept *his* word and bestowed great honor on the Frey’s by marrying Roslin?!? Really, the whole way the Frey’s go on and on about how the RW was to about honor and pride strikes me as being the classic example of self-rationalization.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        In answer to Winnie, House Frey takes Lord Edmure hostage so that they can (A) prevent him from taking revenge for his murdered sister and nephew
        (B) keep the remaining river-lords from ganging up on them
        © gift him and with him the ruling house of the Trident to the Lannisters as a way of trading up from ‘pawn’ to a more valuable sort of asset in their estimation.

        I would also like to agree that YES, there is some serious self-rationalisation on the part of House Frey, probably because for once in his life Lord Walder can simultaneously satisfy his pride, his spite AND his mercenary instinct, but seems to have became so over-excited by this rare prospect that he has committed not merely a coup, but a full-blown atrocity.

        Quite possibly because his boys were trying too hard to please Papa AND make a reputation for themselves to boot (on the understanding that they won’t be able to live off their father’s forever since they fully intend to outlive the old lecher).

        Maester Steven, I have to agree with you concerning your take on the difference between The Battle of Oxcross and the Red Wedding; the difference between them is like the difference between one man killing a wild man-eating lion while it sleeps and a gang of men killing a guard dog which they have spent a night making friends with.

        It’s the difference between a soldier and a serial killer.

      • Taking Edmure prisoner is I think the evidence of cold-blooded calculation; you don’t plan to murder the bride-groom once his son is born if your motivation was revenge against his sister’s son.

    • As I’ve suggested, I don’t think it would be a pretty big scandal – we’re talking about a house with already a bad reputation who tried to blackmail the Starks over something they were supposed to do in the first place. Who’s going to take their side? The Riverlands Houses who look down upon them, and who moreover served like honest bannermen ought to at the Trident and at Riverrun while House Frey remained behind at the Twins? The Northerners, who aren’t hugely fond of sneaky Southerners to begin with? Robb’s bannermen wouldn’t have cared, *if* Robb would have brought victory with his actions.

      Second, look at the text – Walder is referred to over and over again as a supremely cautious and cunning and disloyal man. That man isn’t a man who’s going to let himself get caught on the wrong side of a civil war. He needed a way to get back in with the Lannisters, and rather than acting quickly in the heat of passion, chose a path that required enormous amounts of pre-meditation. I don’t think you can take his claims at face value; in saying he wanted to go and fight for Edmure despite the timeline not working and Ser Jared the liar backing him up, in making his cover story not that he was justified in taking revenge but that Robb turned into a warg and started attack him, again with Ser Jared the liar backing him up, he’s patently spinning.

      • RyanS says:

        Walder is also referred to over and over again as resenting the High Lords who “spit on him” and don’t give him the type of day. Overtly breaking your word to him WOULD be seen by a man like that as a grave dishonor/insult. I think you underestimate Walder’s pettiness – he isn’t nearly as cold/pragmatic as Roose Bolton

      • RyanS says:

        I was more addressing the point of Walder Frey’s motives for the RW. To me it seems that saying he would have done it no matter what just because the Starks were losing is an attempt to absolve Robb of any responsibility for his own demise, or the Northern defeat.

      • RyanS says:

        Fair enough, I can agree with that

  13. Abbey Battle says:

    I suspect that in this case the business of House Bolton was also a pleasure for it’s Lord, otherwise I agree with much of what you say (although I suspect that MARRYING UP would have not have been a scandal to anyone but House Frey – realpolitik remains respectable in most cultures – but MARRYING DOWN certainly was a scandal, if only because it casts the common sense of the groom into question at a time when the fate of a Kingdom depends in part on his reputation for being a genuine paragon, rather than a mere youth with prodigious gifts).

    • Winnie says:

      I suspect it was a pleasure for Roose Bolton too. He is one sick puppy. Where do you think Ramsay gets it from?

    • This gets closest to the issue: Robb marrying a Great House to get tens of thousands of swords for the war is something everyone would have understood. He still might have gotten a reputation as someone who will break his word for political advantage, but it would have been a minor issue because no one likes the Freys anyway. Certainly nothing compared to the reputation Tywin got after the Sack of King’s Landing.

      But again, all of this depends on everything else happening the right way: if Edmure hadn’t exceeded his orders, and Tywin falls into Robb’s trap, then the Lannisters fall, Robb cuts a deal with Stannis, retakes the North and probably ends up with a solid but not unblemished reputation. If Catelyn hadn’t let Jaime free, then Robb cuts a deal of peace for Jaime and goes back to lick his wounds in the North. Reputation damaged, but probably more people would remember the victories than the defeats. It’s the combination of everything that makes it all go wrong.

  14. lann says:

    Apart from Robb there may also have been the possibility of offering Arya’s hand. Would that have made Lysa budge? Probably not.

  15. ajay says:

    What If? Robb had brought some wood?

    This was my first thought at the time – but bridging the river could have been a long process. Note that the example you give is of someone _rebuilding_ a bridge by replacing the roadway with planks – fairly easy. The supporting piers were still in place. Building a new bridge would take a lot longer, and while I can’t remember if we’re told exactly how wide the Green Fork is at the Twin’s it’s described as “deep and swift”. Tricky. A pontoon bridge would have been a better option, but that would have taken some time to build. And Robb’s in quite a hurry – he might not want to sit around for two weeks making lots of small identical boats, while an aggrieved Walder Frey sends messages informing the King that Stark’s coming south with 20,000 men.

    What if: Robb had subsequently attainted Walder Frey, for refusing to allow unconditional passage of the armies of his overlord – and his King? Clearly he can’t be expected to marry into the family of a declared traitor.

    • Rebuilding a bridge, and then rafting (which Robb mentions as a possibility) and then rebuilding a torched bridge.

      It doesn’t take two weeks to cross a river this size. More like a day.

      • ajay says:

        It doesn’t take a day to build a bridge from scratch out of wood, pontoon bridge or otherwise – and rafting 20,000 men and horses across a large river takes a lot of rafts (and cables) if you’re going to do it in a day.

        • Yeah…I think looked at apart from GRRM’s plotting putting a thumb on the scale, the issue is more about supplies than time.

          Hence my thought about “if Robb brought wood”

  16. David Hunt says:

    When would he have done that? Up until the news of the wedding reaches the Freys, it’s my understanding that their forces were a good and useful piece of Robb’s army. Wasn’t one of Walder’s sons fighting side by side with Robb? After the news of Robb’s marriage reaches the Twins, Walder calls them all back. Steven makes a good argument that this is really an excuse to start severing ties to King Robb as a first step to getting back in the good graces of the Iron Throne. However, it IS an excuse. Robb broke the marriage pact. Robb would look really bad for attainting Walder Frey for that and they both know it. Plus he’s been king for, what, a year? That wouldn’t send a good message to his bannermen and might get them thinking of getting in the good graces of King’s Landing.

    Also, I fail to see what attainting Walder Frey would gain Robb except a powerful enemy. IIRC, the Freys have more forces than any other minor lord in the Riverlands. They’ve got a really strong double stronghold on a strategic crossing. They can sally forth to cause trouble, disrupt crossing attempts in their area, or dig in like ticks. From Robb’s POV, all attainting Walder Frey does is turn an unreliable lord into an explicit enemy who’s in a position to hurt cause lots of trouble to him and who would take a LOT of men to dig out of his hole. Men that Robb can’t spare.

    • Sean C. says:

      I suppose a more Machiavellian king might have enlisted one of Frey’s more ambitious sons to topple the old man and release him from his marital obligations in exchange for recognition of his claim and security against rivals within the house.

      • Precisely. Which would be my plan.

      • RyanS says:

        All this would do is cause a civil war within House Frey. Which might prevent them from aligning with the Lannisters, but it wouldn’t make them into useful allies.

        Really, it’s much simpler just to keep your damn word.

        • Except that if you have more men than the Freys and legal authority over them, you can end the civil war.

          And given that they’re habitually disloyal and untrustworthy, I think it’s a good long-term move.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        Great plan Sean, I nominate Black Walder!

      • RyanS says:

        Wait, you shouldn’t marry them because they’re disloyal, but you expect them to bow to whomever you choose as heir to the Twins simply because you’re the King? Kinda reaching.

      • RyanS says:

        And I disagree that it’s ever a good long-term move to publicly break a solemn oath and alienate an important ally. Fact is, the Freys had served Robb well after the agreement was struck. Then he pissed on them. That doesn’t justify the Red Wedding, but it doesn’t speak well to Robb’s judgement either

        • Well, you’ll have to read my essay on “Machiavellianism for a Purpose” in the upcoming e-book to get the full version of my argument, but historically speaking, categorically refusing to break solemn oaths is a good way to get yourself stabbed in the back, especially when the person you’ve sworn the oath to is a bad actor.

    • 1. Walder was only free to recall his troops when Edmure pulls out the Winterfell troops from the Twins.

      2. Attainting him and then replacing him with another Frey disrupts the Freys’ internal unity.

      3. It is not clear at all that the Freys are the largest of the lesser Houses of the Reach .

      • Winnie says:

        Agreed. That was another disastrous move on Edmure’s part -one which might well be the death of him. And as for the largest of the lesser Houses, I’d go with a clan like the Hightowers or the Redwynes who both seem a lot more influential than the Frey’s. Or even the Blackwoods and Brackens.

        • Well, if it’s the Riverlands…I would say that House Mallister is probably bigger than the Freys, given that they have a port and primary responsibility for acting as the first line of defense against the Ironborn. I think both House Bracken and Blackwood are pretty damn big, considering the amount of territory they dispute from AFFC.

          I mean, the Vances and the Pipers, which aren’t huge houses, have ~2,000 each, so it’s not like the Freys are that big by comparison.

      • David Hunt says:

        3. I think you meant the Riverlands instead of the Reach. I’ll take your word for their size. My murky memory was sure that they were really big and a large part of Robb’s army. I was sure that I’d read somewhere that the Freys had the largest force of the lesser Riverland lords. I’d say it’s time to go through the books again, but I’m a tax accountant and now is not the time for me to be starting a reading project that large…not until after April at the earliest. So I’ll continue to make the occasional ignorant comment based on misremembered stuff…but I’ll do less of that as I won’t have time to comment on blogs near as much either.

      • Sean C. says:

        The Blackwoods and the Mootons would be the Riverland houses most likely to be larger than the Freys, but I think the Freys are indeed supposed to be the #2 house in the region. They just don’t have the prestige of the Blackwoods because they’re comparative upstarts and act like weasels.

      • RyanS says:

        I agree it isn’t definitive at this point, but there is evidence that they are at least the richest Riverlands House. Wouldn’t be surprised if they could mobilize the most troops as well

        • I doubt they’re the richest. Yes, they control the east-west crossing at that point on the Green Fork but it’s not the only crossing; they don’t have a sea port like the Mallisters, they don’t sit on the Gold Road or the River Road/the Red Fork (a natural conduit for trade between King’s Landing and Lannisport), they’re not on the crossroads between the North/Vale/Riverlands/Crownlands, etc.

      • Sean C. says:

        I think the Freys are clearly the wealthiest Riverlands house. You can see that from the size of the family Walder is able to support — perhaps not in the same style as noble houses with smaller families (hence, all the competition within the house), but he’s got nearly thirty legitimate children and scores and scores of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., almost all of whom seem to still live with him. Heck, the Twins must be huge even to have space for them.

        • That’s NOT a sign of their wealth; that’s a major problem for the Freys. They have to get these kids married off, which usually involves dowries and bride prices and the like, etc. Remember, third sons are problematic in terms of getting them married off and he’s got dozens of them.

          Generally, you want enough sons so that the succession is secured, but as few as possible to accomplish that objective.

      • Sean C. says:

        I don’t see how what you say contradicts what I said. Yes, a family that size is a huge financial drain. But clearly he has the money to drain.

        • Does he, though? He’s got the money to feed them, but the fact that they’re all living in the Twins suggests he doesn’t have the resources to set them up with holdfasts, easily get them married off, etc.

      • Sean C. says:

        The size of the castle alone is a display of wealth. And his male descendants are pretty much all knights, which (as Lord Borrell notes) costs a lot of money. As for marrying them off, absent a really top-tier marriage (as with Emmon), male children live at home, not with their wives’ families anyway, and he has mostly sons.

        • Knighthoods don’t cost money…you can literally get any hedge knight to make one of them a knight, and then he can knight the rest.

          That doesn’t seem the case outside the Freys.

      • Sean C. says:

        And sure, they largely don’t appear to have holdfasts, etc., but no less than Mace Tyrell supposedly would be stretched to find a decent setup for a third son, and nobody suggests that he’s poor. So that’s hardly a strike against Frey’s wealth that he doesn’t set up all his sons independently.

        • It’s not so much he’d be stretched, it’s that:
          1. Not good to split the family lands.
          2. Loras is not an ideal husband for personal reasons.
          3. There’s a mismatch between what would be offered and what Mace would be willing to take, similar to Tywin’s situation.
          4. It’s much cheaper to feed and keep Loras than 30+ kids.

      • Baelish the Bard says:

        I seriously doubt the Freys are richer than the Mootons or whoever control Stony Sept. Most north to south trade seems to go through White Harbor. What is supposed to be the source of Frey wealth?

        • Frey wealth comes from bridge tolls.

          While Maidenpool is clearly wealthy, unclear how rich the Mootons are at the current time, since they probably lost quite a bit of land for siding with the Targs in Robert’s Rebellion; who they lost it to is unclear.

          Stony Sept doesn’t seem that rich, given that it’s owned by a landed knight with no house name given. Maybe the Faith of the Seven own most of the property rights.

          The other major sources of wealth seem to be: Riverrun, given its position on the rivers and roads, Fairmarket is the internal east-west transit point in the Trident; Seagard is a port; Lord Harroway’s Town has or had the crossroads and the Kingsroad; Saltpans is modestly prosperous.

  17. Roger says:

    I think you are too tough with the Freys. Remember the only Riverlord far norther than the Freys, the Mallisters, didn’t join Edmure. They joined Robb Stark, and only after he passed Moat Cailin. Of course the Twins is nearer Riverrun, but probably their forces weren’t concentrated. Nobody in the Trident was expecting a war.

    I don’t mean Lord Walder is loyal. He is a weasel, after all. And very cautious. And the worst vassal a lord could had. But not a confirmed traitor, not that moment.

    You should remember also that Walder’s Frey, Steffon is a far better man. More loyal than his father, and more sympathetic to Stark’s cause. The breaking point wasn’t only Robb’s wedding, but Steffon’s death at the battle of Oxcross.

    The Freys have been despised by their neighbours for many years. They consider a mere river wardens and tax colecters. No surprise they aren’t very loyal.They are an “upstart” family. But the problems aren’t the Freys per se… lord Walder Frey is the problem. I think Robb could have liked some Twins girl. Roslyn, for example, is a good girl. Taking his grandfather out of the picture is the right movement. And dividing the family. Send some brothers to White Port, others to Riverrun, and others to the Wall (like Ryman and Edwin). Divide and conquer.

    Edmure didn’t have 20.000 men at Stone Mill. He had 8.000 at best. Many of his men were with Robb and many others had gone to defend their own castles.

    • No, the Mallisters fought at the first Battle of Riverrun and were one of the few forces to get away in good order.

      Edmure has 8,000 foot and 3,000 foot at the Battle of the Fords, I was wrong about that. However, after the Camps and before he scatters them to retake their home castles, he has around 20,000.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I can’t find any evidence that the Mallisters made it to Riverrun in time for the battle. All I can find is Kevan Lannister saying they still hold Seagard, and Catelyn noting that “Lord Jason Mallister had brought his power out from Seagard to join them as they swept around the headwaters of the Blue Fork…”

        • Kevan says it *right* after saying “the rest fled to their own strongholds.”

          Again, go back to the timing; Edmure calls the banners roughly six weeks before the 1st Battle of Riverrun; House Mallister AND the Freys made the Seagard to Riverrun trip in a week for the Whispering Woods. They definitely had time to muster and get to Riverrun.

      • John says:

        I think you’re making awfully certain statements for something that is rather ambiguous in the books.

      • I’m not saying that there isn’t room for debate, but that’s my judgement based on the evidence we have. The Mallisters had means, motive, and opportunity, as it were.

  18. Abbey Battle says:

    I think that from the evidence available we can safely say that the House Frey is as morally diverse as any other; this means that there ARE relatively good Frey men and women, but I suspect that Lame Lothar and Black Walder are convincing evidence that Lord Walder is far from the only rotten weasel in the boogle (believe it or not that actually IS a valid name for a group of weasels according to Wikipedia – although ‘gang’ might be more accurate and equally appropriate).

    I do agree that Ser Steffon’s death at Oxcross would be an additional stressor (at least for Lord Walder) but given the reaction of the Freys at Winterfell I doubt it was greeted with widespread lamentation.

    • Roger says:

      Completly agree with you in the first point.
      I mostly agree with the second point, but consider Lord Walder pride and joy are his progenie. Mostly due to its sheer number. But Steffon was the first of the flock, and he took good care in training him. So his was a sensitive lost to Walder, who still hasn’t a clear heir.

      I don’t think the Walders Boys are a good reference about human feelings.
      Merrett said he lamented Steffon death (mostly due to egoistic reasons), and said he would had take of every Frey. So perhaps the decent ones, like Roselyn’s brothers, had more reasons to miss him.

    • Matthew says:

      Well Steffon Frey was seen as one of the more reasonable Freys and was a good ally of Robb Stark, Robb even says that if he were alive he probably could have smoothed things over with the Frey family. However, his murder by one of his relatives prevents that.

  19. Roger says:

    About the lumber bridge:

    You seem to forget that the Freys probably have river galleys and other ships. So they can spy and watch the Starks from a distance. And they can fortify the other side of the river.

    Bringing lumber from the North through Moat Cailin seems painffuly slow. Tywin would be eating trouts at Riverrun before you nailed the first wood.

  20. Abbey Battle says:

    I would argue that caution would not keep him from taking Steps in the face of such a superior force, only that he would take particular care to ensure that word of such Steps did not reach the Northern camp – a situation comparable to the planning of the Red Wedding itself, which can only be described as one of the boldest coups seen in the War of the Five Kings not least due to the atrocious level of carnage inflicted on the assembled Northern Power at limited cost to the ambush party.

    Considering the wariness of the Stark party and just how low Lord Walder had to stoop in order to bring the plan to fruition, I would argue that House Frey’s audacity can match and overcome their caution (provided that there is some promise of profit and that the price is right).

    • How would he do that? We’re talking building a bridge over a river that’s not that wide – you can easily see the left bank from the right bank.

      And again, what exactly would be the benefit for him at this point? Tywin Lannister is barreling up the causeway and has been absolutely wrecking every Riverlords House on his march, and at the moment, Walder is attainted like every other Riverlord. If he contests the crossing, then Robb is going to fight back and there really isn’t time to reach a bargain and he’s stuck in the same trap that Balon was in, in that he doesn’t have enough time to make the offer to Tywin before actually doing the thing he would be bargaining over in the first place, so why would Tywin agree?

      If he’s playing it safe, letting Robb cross via pontoons would be ideal – plausible deniability and he doesn’t have to fight him.

  21. Chris says:

    I think you give Catelyn a little less credit than she deserves. She really wasn’t in that strong of a position to start with — Walder points out that her father is dying, and her brother is a captive (not to mention her husband and daughters). Since Walder Frey is sworn to House Tully, and no Tully is in command at the moment, the only oath he can be held to is the one he made to the Iron Throne. In other words, he’s not obligated to do anything for the Starks other than to oppose them.

    While you might be right that she could have found something else to throw into the deal other than Robb’s marriage, she still got more than just a crossing and 4,000 men. Little Walder and Big Walder serve as hostages. A third Frey (can’t remember his name at the moment) serving as Robb’s squire means that Walder can no longer just play it safe enough so that Catelyn’s wards aren’t harmed, but must be actively invested in Robb’s victory, lest his kin die on the front lines.

    Every single point of their agreement, including the marriages, served to ensure Walder Frey’s long-term loyalty to House Stark. Robb’s engagement is a huge concession, but it’s still only one of two that she made. Meanwhile, Walder gave up much more than he gained, particularly since if Theon hadn’t taken Winterfell, he wouldn’t have had any options open to him other than continuing to fight Robb’s war.

    • True. Hence why I say that she *might* have negotiated a bad deal.

      And if Winterfell hadn’t fallen, Robb doesn’t break his vow, Moat Cailin is eventually retaken from the North, and then Robb’s entire strategic picture looks much better.

  22. Ok, things are getting a bit heated and a bit repetitive. I think everyone’s made their point and their position quite clear.

    I’m closing comments on this thread. Jon VIII should be open soon.

  23. […] started, as I’ve discussed earlier, with Edward IV and Warwick forcing a crossing over the River Aire in the face of stubborn […]

  24. […] matters – just as only Edward IV in person could have guaranteed the critical seizure of a crossing of the River Aire or kept the center of his army solid under pressure on Towton field, Robb Stark’s presence […]

  25. […] for the Siege of Castle Black by further stacking the odds against the good guys similarly to what he did with Robb in advance of the Whispering […]

  26. […] Moreover, as we see when Stannis and Davos interact at the end of the chapter, it’s a loyalty based on mutual respect - “the Others take my lords,” Stannis says, speaking of the sicophantic lord Celtigar and the stating-the-obvious lord Velayron, “I’ll hear your words.” This trust in Davos’ opinion comes from that meeting of the minds discussed earlier; Stannis clearly admires that Davos shares his fondness for harsh truths, noting that “I did not make you a knight so you could learn to mouth empty courtesies. I have my lords for that. Say what you would say.” And as ACOK is in the business of evaluating monarchs, it could be argued that Stannis performs the best of any monarch when it comes to listening to his advisors even when they disagree with him, and taking in information from multiple sources, a key virtue of rulers. […]

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