Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Eddard I

“Fifteen years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy…In those days, the smell of leather and blood had clung to him like perfume. Now it was perfume that clung to him like perfume, and he had a girth to match his height…A beard as coarse and black as iron wire covered his jaw to hide his double chin and the sag of the royal jowls, but nothing could hide his stomach or the dark circles under his eyes.”

“I swear to you, sitting a throne is a thousand times harder than winning one. Laws are a tedious business and counting coppers is worse…the lies they tell…and my lords and ladies are no better. I am surrounded by flatterers and fools…There are nights I wish we had lost at the Trident…Lord Eddard Stark, I would name you the Hand of the King.”

Summary: King Robert Baratheon arrives at Winterfell, and Eddard Stark takes him down into the crypts at Winterfell to see the tomb of Lyanna Stark. The two discuss the death of Jon Arryn, the disposal of the Wardenship of the East, and other political matters. The King offers Eddard the Handship and marriage between their two houses. And winter is coming.

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:

This chapter introduces us personally to King Robert Baratheon, whose name has run through the proceeding chapters, and it’s here that we get our first sense of his character and our most intimate glimpse into the relationship he has with Eddard Stark, and the origins of the rebellion that placed him on the Iron Throne. I’m going to address three key themes: Robert Baratheon as Henry VIII and the nature of royal decadence, the nature of the Hand and other royal appointments in the geopolitics of the Seven Kingdoms, and the subtle yet vital importance of the mystery of Robert/Robin Arryn’s fosterage.

Separated at birth?

When Robert Baratheon hoves into our view like an aging battleship, the comparisons to Henry VIII are really quite stunning (especially when we find out later that Renly and Loras are scheming to put Margaery into Robert’s bed and supplant the queen). Like Robert, Henry was a jock in his youth, “the most handsomest potentate I have ever set eyes on” according to one ambassador, who went to seed when inactivity stopped him from burning off his excess consumption of food and alcohol – a keen tennis player, hunter, and jouster. In history, Henry suffered the fate that Robert avoided in the melee, having his horse fall on his leg, which left him permanently injured and unable to exercise as he had been accustomed to. Here, the Elvis-like change is unexplained. Despite the opinions of many fans who see only the drunken, absentee king, Robert is seen as having been active and dynamic until recently – when Eddard saw him “nine years before during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, when the stag and direwolf had joined to end the pretensions of the self-proclaimed King of the Iron Islands,” Robert was still fit and engaged in his reign (although how much of that has to do with a rebellion being more in his wheelhouse than peacetime government is hard to say). At the very least, we know Robert had good years before his decline – but we never quite find out what caused this change, why he stopped participating in his jousts and other exercises (although he’s clearly hale enough to hunt boar when sober), why all of the sudden his “pleasures were taking a toll on the King.”

One thing is very clear, Robert isn’t a micro-managing king. “Laws are a tedious business and counting coppers is worse,” he declares, and we learn that he basically devolves his government to his councilors – much as Henry VIII did with Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell – when it comes to “coins, crops, and justice” which are the chief peacetime functions of the government (although it’s clear that Robert is very much in charge when it comes to military and national security more generally). This isn’t necessarily a bad way to govern a kingdom when you have a monarch without a talent for monetary, agricultural, and judicial policy, as long as you have good advisors. And there’s the problem for Robert;  he’s at the mercy of his talent pool. Part of this problem is an inherited one: as part of the post-rebellion reconciliation urged by Jon Arryn, his Hand, Robert kept on Grand Maester Pycelle (a Lannister spy who betrayed the last king), and Varys (whose competence and devotion to the Realm is genuine, although his loyalty is less so) who he can’t trust. He did, however, bring in his brothers who he could count on being loyal to the family and Stannis was a good Master of Ships, and Renly is at least a good courtier, although we don’t get the sense that he’s paying much attention to his job as Master of Laws. As we discussed previously, Jon Arryn seems to have been a fairly competent Hand, and while Littlefinger is a devious and untrustworthy man, no one’s ever said that he was bad at his job as Master of Coins.

Overall, what personnel mistakes there seem to have been look more like Jon Arryn’s doing than Robert’s, and Robert recognizes that “I am surrounded by flatterers and fools…half of them don’t dare tell me the truth and the other half can’t find it.” If nothing else, he’s not a deluded king. His major failures seem two-fold: finances and his over-reliance on the Lannisters. The first is indisputable, plunging a kingdom with ample reserves into six million dragons in debt is a massive failing, one that Robert shares with his historical counterpart. Although I imagine that paying for two major rebellions had something to do with it, his penchant for tourneys is a good sign of the costs Robert was incurring – 90,000 dragons for the Hand’s Tourney represents the yearly income of almost fifty nobles, going by Game of Thrones’ pen-and-paper RPG. It’s a situation that Baelish seems to have dealt with largely through borrowing, simony (selling of offices), bribery, and kickbacks, which probably meant that the kingdom’s economy did rather well through the stimulus of royal spending (historically, Henry balanced the books with high taxes and the confiscation of the monestaries). Keynesianism in action aside, the more dangerous mistake was to plant so many Lannisters around him – Lancel and Willem are harmless as squires, but keeping Jaime Lannister in the Kingsguard was a huge mistake (indeed, sending him home to Tywin would probably have won him support from the Lord of Casterly Rock), and so was allowing the Lannisters to keep 500 men in King’s Landing.

This brings us to the second theme – the role of the Hand of the King and the other royal appointments, specifically the royal Wardens Cardinal as I call them. Eddard describes the Hand as “the second-most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms. He spoke with the King’s voice, commanded the King’s armies, drafted the king’s laws. At times he even sat upon the Iron Throne to dispense justice.” This makes the Hand far more powerful than the historical Lord Chancellor, Lord President of the Council, Marshall, or Lord High Constable – essentially a deputy King, capable of doing a lot more than “building” or “wiping.” As I will argue later on, I think Eddard’s major failing as Hand later on isn’t as much his honor as his lack of understanding about how his office could be used – for example, Eddard Stark did not compel Hugh of the Vale or the other members of Jon Arryn’s household to give testimony, which he could have done under royal warrant; neither did he raise any royal troops to supplement the Goldcloaks or counterbalance the Lannister forces, which was likewise in his power to do.

The situation of the Wardens shows something of the costs of Robert’s dependency on the Lannisters. While it’s true that Tywin is a capable military man and organizer, putting Jaime in as Warden of the East (since he stands to inherit the Wardenship of the West) threatens to destabilize the balance of power between the Great Houses as well as alienating the lords of the Vale. As we’ve discussed before, the Wardenships are incredibly powerful positions, essentially mini-Hands with large military forces in each of the Cardinal Directions – the Warden of the North guards against wildlings, the Warden of the East is responsible for pacifying the hill tribes, maintaining the Vale as the ultimate stronghold, and dealing with pirates and potential invasions from across the Narrow Sea, the Warden of the West deals with the Ironmen, and the Warden of the South holds the Dornish Marches against rebellion or invasion from over the mountains. A man with the West and East essentially has the combined powers of the Westerlands and the Vale at his disposal, a true Kingmaker (as no doubt was Cersei’s plan). To his credit, Ned Stark realizes this instantly and tries to persuade Robert to at least name Stannis or Renly, which suggests that he actually does have some political savvy.

EDIT: one additional fact about the Wardens that didn’t make the shift from outline to post is that the Wardens have a seat on the Small Council, which gives an additional importance to Robert’s move, as it gives the Lannisters two seats on a Small Council of only eleven members even if they didn’t have any other posts. It also suggests something more of Eddard Stark’s distaste for politics, since he doesn’t seem to have ever used that right.

Historical Analysis:

In comparison to Henry VIII, who created enormous political time bombs in the form of his multiple marriages and his climactic break with the Catholic Church, Robert Baratheon actually seems to have ruled fairly well for fifteen years, all things considered. In general, he seems to have avoided many of Henry VIII’s major flaws – he didn’t engage in a series of wasteful and pointless foreign wars, he didn’t create massive religious conflict for selfish reasons, and he didn’t use his royal favorites (who both Henry and Robert clearly accumulate) as scapegoats when things went wrong (after all, he keeps Lord Arryn and Lord Stark on for a long time despite heated disagreements with both)- although Robert’s mention of heads on spikes when Eddard crosses him on the matter of Daenerys’ assassination suggests that he certainly has the tendency.

Historically, to be a royal favorite was very much a double-edged sword; it was a way to rise very quickly (as we can see with how Cersei maneuvers Lannister men into key positions at court), but it also made you a target for other nobles and popular dissent. In a monarchy where the King is seen as being anointed by God, you can’t call for the King to be replaced or overthrown directly, so you direct your anger and frustration against the “evil ministers” who are deceiving the King, even when everyone knows that it’s the King who’s really behind whatever unpopular policy is being pursued. Clever Kings used this tradition as a safety valve, using their ministers and favorites as buffers between themselves and public opinion, throwing them to the wolves when necessary to rebuild public support. The Peasants Revolt of 1381, the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, the political crisis that lead to the English Civil War in the 1630s and 1640s, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the American Revolution all started as rebellions against “evil ministers” and “cabals.”

In this chapter, we get the first real descriptions of the Battle of the Trident, where Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and an army of Dornishmen, Crownlanders, and Targaryen loyalists from the Stormlands and the Vale attempted to block the crossing of Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, Jon Arryn, Hoster Tully, and the rebel forces of the Stormlands, the North, the Vale, and the Riverlands into the Crownlands. We also learn more about the rebellion that brought it about – not only had the Mad King called for the heads of the heirs of the North and the Stormlands, but he had murdered Brandon and Rickard Stark (we also learn that Jon Arryn’s heir was also murdered) and Rhaegar had seemingly abducted Lyanna Stark. In the midst of this closely-fought battle between one larger army and one more seasoned army, Robert and Rhaegar came to a climactic duel in the middle of the ford, a dramatic throw of the dice that decided the fate of the Rebellion.

Robert won the duel, although was injured so badly that it was Eddard Stark who carried the victorious army into King’s Landing.

The Battle of the Trident very much resembles some of the great battles of the War of the Roses from which GRRM drew much of his inspiration for the novels, especially the Battles of Towton and Tewksbury. The Battle of Towton, the “largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil,” featured scarcely 10,000 men less than its fictional counterpart. Here, the young rebel prince Edward of York, son of a murdered father, marched on his enemies after winning a number of victories, and led his men straight into a numerically superior force. Despite having the better position and a favoring wind that allowed their archers to outshoot the enemy, the Yorkists were pushed back under weight of numbers and might have broken had not Edward personally seized command of the left wing and held it in pitched combat until the Duke of Norfolk’s men crested the ridge overlooking the Lancastrian left flank and attacked – routing the exhausted enemy. As the Lancastrians fled, the Rivers Cock Beck and Wharfe turned into deadly obstacles – with thousands drowning in the water, Yorkist archers firing into the swimmers, and bridges collapsing under the weight of the enemy. After Towton, the Lancastrians fled into exile and Edward was crowned King of England.

By contrast, the Battle of Tewksbury was a much smaller affair, with only 10,000 men in attendance, but equally dramatic. Outnumbered two to one, the once-and-future Edward IV routed the Lancastrian army – with the Lancastrian Prince Edward and his father, King Henry VI executed that day. To create the Battle of the Trident then, GRRM placed Towton’s rivers right in the middle of the event rather than at the end, and gave the battle Tewksbury’s end.

What If?

This chapter gives us a whole bunch of juicy counterfactuals to play with:

  • The Trident – as the turning point of the entire Rebellion, the duel between Robert and Rhaegar is incredibly consequential. Had Rhaegar won the duel, it’s unclear as to whether he would have won the battle; his right flank, the Dornishmen, had been broken by the forces of the Vale, and the rebels had motives beyond Robert’s kidnapped bride. Had it led to Targaryen victory, Rhaegar still would have had to deal with four rebellious Kingdoms. We know from Jaime that Rhaegar might have called a Great Council to try to settle the rebellion – which would have necessitated overthrowing his mad father. After the murder of Rickard Stark, Brandon Stark, and Elbert Arryn, it’s unlikely that even the reveal of his marriage to Lyanna Stark would have been enough to bring peace, even had he brought the Lannisters on-side. Certainly, a second Great Council might have had tremendous political implications, leading to greater constitutionalism in the Westerosi monarchy. Had Rhaegar won the duel and lost the battle, or had both combatants died, we might have had a situation in which Eddard Stark rides into King’s Landing, rousts Jaime Lannister from the Iron Throne, and sits down himself as the only other logical rebel leader. With the power of the North, the Riverlands, the Vale, and the Stormlands behind him, a King Eddard might have been Westeros’ own Cromwell.
  • Lyanna’s kidnapping/the murder of the Starks – for a supposedly intelligent man, Rhaegar Targaryen’s actions in “abducting” Lyanna Stark are remarkably short-sighted. Regardless of how Lyanna herself might have felt, the act was an open insult, making Robert Baratheon out to be a cuckold, and showing Rickard Stark to be so weak that he can neither uphold his marriage promises nor protect his own family from outsiders; had the Targaryens gone no further, it’s still likely that the event would have led to a civil war, and one in which Rickard and Brandon call the Stark banners rather than go to their deaths in King’s Landing. We really have to ask why Rhaegar Targaryen didn’t make an offer of marriage to Rickard Stark, perhaps offering Rhaenys or Daenerys to compensate Robert Baratheon – or leave any instruction for anyone in King’s Landing about what to do if the Starks showed up angry. At the very least, it would have staunched the spread of the Rebellion, kept the North loyal, and perhaps isolated the Baratheons, and at least given the Targaryens a better public rationale for the civil war. Even more so, the “execution” of Rickard and Brandon Stark was an act of such folly that you really have to wonder why no one in the capitol could at least delay matters so that Rhaegar could do something about this. Because what I don’t think many fans of the series quite get is how threatening to the entire political order Aerys II’s actions were – to begin with, to arrest the heir to a Great House immediately raises the possibility that the crown might arrest the heirs of the other Great Houses while maintaining the troubling position that the Crown can kidnap the children of the Great Houses with impunity. But to then summon Rickard Stark and murder him rather than grant him a fair trial not only discredits royal justice but brings into question the physical safety of the Lords Paramount of the Seven Kingdoms – if one law-abiding Lord Paramount can be executed on a whim, any of them can. In retrospect, it’s rather amazing that any House took the Targaryen’s side in the Rebellion.
  • The Importance of Robert Arryn’s Fosterage: Robert Arryn has to be one of the least visible pawns in the great chess game between the conspiracies in Game of Thrones. As we learn much later, Jon Arryn had learned the secret of Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s incestuous treason – although we never quite find out how Cersei planned to deal with this – and his attempt to foster his son at Dragonstone with Stannis Baratheon, safe from the hands of the Lannisters, shows that he was preparing to fight it out with them when he was blindsided by Petyr Baelish’s treachery. It’s equally clear that Cersei’s attempt to have him foster with Tywin was a move to keep the truth of her children’s parentage from being leaked (although how Cersei planned to sell this to her father is less than clear). Had Jon Arryn moved just a bit faster (or if he had made common cause with Renly and the Tyrells), Cersei might have been exposed and the Lannisters forced into a sudden reprise of the Greyjoy Rebellion against the Baratheons, Starks, and Arryns. Interestingly, had Cersei succeeded, it’s possible that Baelish’s plot (more on this later) to have Lysa Arryn stoke the flames of a Stark/Lannister feud might have been forestalled completely (no way Lysa sends that letter with her son in danger) – in which case, Ned Stark might have served out his time as Hand, the Starks and the Lannister/Baratheons might have merged houses, and a very strange power bloc might have formed. Finally, Eddard Stark offers somewhat belatedly to foster the boy at Winterfell – which might have prompted the very paranoid Cersei to some action even rasher than her urging an attempt on the life of Bran Stark. (Incidentally, Cersei and Jaime were incredibly idiotic to fornicate in Winterfell, so soon after dodging the Jon Arryn bullet)
  • What If the Marriage Pact had been Robb and Myrcella: the fanfictionados are somewhat fond of this pairing, I think because Myrcella seems both non-sadistic and reasonably intelligent for a Lannister incest-baby. I must say that I find it unlikely – unlike the Sansa/Joffrey match, it doesn’t put Stark blood in the royal succession – although it’s possible that it could have been combined with that wedding. In the larger scheme of things, Robb Stark’s military gifts probably wouldn’t have changed events much in King’s Landing had the couple accompanied them south – although had Myrcella stayed in the North, it’s less likely that Cersei allows Eddard Stark’s death given the risk to her child; instead, we might have seen a very complicated Stark/Lannister conflict, with both sides trying to capture enough hostages to make the exchange favorable – or perhaps in that situation, Tywin forces a peace and deals with the Baratheons first.


There’s a few interesting changes between the show and the book. A minor alteration is to have Robert call Ned fat rather than say he hasn’t changed, which I rather like as a comedic beat in what can be a very bleak series. The exchange between Robert and Ned is pretty much straight from the books (omitting the Warden of the East plot as unnecessary), although I liked the addition of Robert saying “it’s not [Jon Arryn’s] fault I never listened” when he was being fostered, which nicely mirrors their relationship as Hand and King. The major change is more of a character moment – instead of Ned saying in the show, “this is where she belongs,” in the book Ned says “I was with her when she died…She wanted to come home.” Not only does this give Lyanna more of an active presence, but it also brings up that Ned was present when Lyanna died.

As it is, I have no idea how the showrunners plan to bring this thread back into the plot. Although a flashback sequence to bring back Sean Bean would be nice…


66 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Eddard I

  1. Brett says:

    1. I think Robert’s indulgences grew worse over time, and that he was never quite as active as Henry VIII. That might have been related to his inability to get over losing Lyanna Stark and general bad relations with Cersei.

    2. It’s hard to say with Rhaegar and Lyanna. It was probably related to prophecy in some way, since we know that Elia couldn’t have another child and “the dragon must have three heads”. Maybe there was some time constraint there. It’s kind of hard to believe that he would impulsively run off with Lyanna even if he was passionately in love with her, since everything else we’ve heard about him described him as thoughtful and decisive. Maybe she talked him into it, since she seems to be the earlier incarnation of Arya.

    3. I actually don’t think the Myrcella-Robb pact is unlikely. If the Tyrells had pushed for a Joffrey-Margaery marriage pact earlier, that might have been the only way for Robert to get the tighter relations with House Stark that he wanted.

    The effects of that would have been interesting, since Myrcella likely would have been left at Winterfell when the court moved south again. With her precious daughter in the Stark’s custody, I doubt Cersei would risk starting a war (meaning that Ned would never face a public trial and confession).

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. I disagree. Robert’s shown as an extremely active young man, as we can see from his description at the Tourney at Harrenhal, where he won the melee. You don’t get to be “muscled like a maiden’s dream” by sitting on your throne all day. And we know from the description of Robert that he was looking like this recently, when he put down the Greyjoy Rebellion, at which point he’d already had nine years of marriage to Cersei. Now it may be that the marriage took a further turn to the disastrous after the thrill of having kids faded away, but that doesn’t explain why he suddenly went to seed.
      2. True, but it’s really dumb of him to not think through the consequences. Unless he was a really cold bastard, and had seen them already in his dreams and went ahead and did it anyway.
      3. It’s not unlikely if the Tyrell pact goes through, but it’s less of a connection as you point out, and at the time Renly and Loras were trying to push Margaery into Robert’s bed and circumvent Joffrey altogether. I do think you’re right that it would have made a war difficult – although no public trial/confession does rather bind Cersei’s hands. She might have been able to threaten his daughters and get him to take the black, but that’s really not going to stop the war from happening; really she has to find some way to avoid arresting Ned as a traitor. And another interesting thought…what would Ned/Robb do when they found out the Starks were wed to the products of incest? Is divorce legal in Westeros?

      • Brett says:

        And we know from the description of Robert that he was looking like this recently, when he put down the Greyjoy Rebellion, at which point he’d already had nine years of marriage to Cersei.

        You’re right. It’s probably not a genetic disorder, either, since Stannis is only a few years younger and hasn’t gone to seed.

        2. True, but it’s really dumb of him to not think through the consequences. Unless he was a really cold bastard, and had seen them already in his dreams and went ahead and did it anyway.

        That’s where it comes down to the “lack of information” problem. We need to know more about what went down at the Harrenhal tourney.

        Although . . . that might actually fit with the character. Imagine if he saw or got the idea that it had to be Lyanna in a prophetic dream, something like “the third child must be born of the blood of the wolf” or something like that. I could imagine Rhaegar doing the abduction then, especially if he and Lyanna were already fond of each other (and Lyanna herself sounds like Arya, who I could completely see doing something impulsive like that).

        And another interesting thought…what would Ned/Robb do when they found out the Starks were wed to the products of incest? Is divorce legal in Westeros?

        They can put aside marriages, as long as they haven’t been consummated. That would be straightforward in a Myrcella-Robb match, since she’s not quite eight years old at the beginning of the series.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I’ve always seen Roberts as similar to a linebacker who blows out a knee and stops playing, but doesn’t change his diet, but we just don’t see the knee blowing out.

          I guess we’re just going to have to wait for more info on Harrenhal.

        • beto2702 says:

          I know came way too late to this post, but was just thinking about Robb-Myrcella the other day. Here are some of my thoughts:

          1. I don’t think this stops Cat from taking Tyrion. Everything goes the same until Cat meets Robb at Moat Cailin. Does she asks Myrcella to be brought with them from Winterfell, knowing that an exchange of prisoners is on the way? Does this delay them?

          2. Robb does not marry a Frey. I mean at this point Robb does not know that Myrcella is product of incest, and I don’t think he would blame her for her mother’s actions. There is no way he would agree of passing over his word and his father’s word to wed Myrcella to make a pact with the Freys… so:
          a. Either Cat offer Edmure and Arya, or…
          b. Frey does not take the agreement. Robb goes south to face Tywin sans Frey forces. He has Myrcella, but not Jaime. Don’t think that would stop Tywin, even with Cersei going nuts. I guess it would all end in a mess; the North losing, Ned taking the Black, the Lannisters pushing Bran to hand over Myrcella in exchange for leaving him as Warden of the North, and a lot of voices in the North asking Bran for the head of the girl. Throw the Baratheons and the Greyjoys in and don’t know what happens.

          3. Lets suppose Robb passes the twins..Then it all turns around Ned:

          a. If Ned remains captured, probably things go the way it was said by Steve above. Exchange of prisoners and war continuing.
          b. If Cersei pushes for a confession (which really doesn’t give her much after arresting him as a traitor, but well, its Cersei). She could insist to everyone how Myrcella’s life is at stakes, but we know Joffrey won’t give a d@#$.

          In case b is where the interesting things come out. Maybe killing Myrcella would mean Sansa’s life, maybe not (Cersei would go crazy, but Robb still has Jaime). Either way Robb is never going to consider killing her, so there is no point in that.

          4. Everything is way too complicated to predict by this point but, with Ned dead, there is more tension and mistrust than ever. Northmen might see Robb as weak, they could understand the advantages of Jaime as a prisoner but not of Myrcella, specially after it is revealed that she is the product of incest. Internal conflicts in the North army?

          Also, since Edmure was offered to the Freys instead of Robb, probably no Red Wedding, for now. Robb could pretty much be alive by the time Sansa is taken out of KL, which would leave Robb in a weird “What do I do with Myrcella?” situation.

          Would she put her aside to make a more convenient marriage, probably. But then, what to do with the girl? She can’t offer her to one of his lords sons, it would look like an insult.

          Other important and far-fetched situation. If Catelyn gets Myrcella to follow them in their campaign, is it possible that we could get a Jeyne-like situation with her down the route? I mean, 3 or 4 years into the war, could Robb ever make the mistake of needing to honor his marriage pact with her? Because that would be nuts.

          I would end things here, too many scenarios.

      • Quixim says:

        I always assumed that Robert was battling with either depression, or Borderline Personality Disorder, and had started to lose the battle, whether from his poor marriage, his friction with his brothers, or maybe just that he was getting old enough that he started to get lazy.

        With regards to the second point, there’s a fan theory that Bloodraven, with his prophetic powers and ability to control ravens, was able to read a letter that Rhaegar or Lyanna had sent explaining the situation, and then drove the bird into the ground or something in order to foul it, which got Brandon killed, allowing Bran to be born, as his successor.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Those are possible diagnoses, or he could have a mild case of ADHD.

          I don’t think a letter would have mattered, really.

  2. CJ says:

    Rhaegar couldn’t have asked Rickard Stark for Lyanna’s hand in marriage because he was already married to Elia Martell.

  3. Caesar says:

    “Cersei to some action even rasher than her attempt on the life of Bran Stark.”


    IIRC it was Joffrey that made an atttempt on Bran, Cersei had nothing to do with that fiasco.

  4. John W says:

    So what is the consensus on who was behind Bran’s assassination attempt? Was it Cersei? Littlefinger? Or Joffrey? Because that is one thing that has been bugging me.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, Cersei prompted Jaime to throw him off, but it was Joffrey who sent the knife.

      • Brett says:

        No, that was Jaime’s impulsive action. Cersei said that they could have “intimidated him into silence”, since he was just a kid (Bran himself didn’t really know what was going on, since he was eight).

      • stevenattewell says:

        Eh. I’ve never bought that explanation, always thought it was Cersei retroactively covering her ass and throwing the blame on Jaime.

  5. litg says:

    What goes unmentioned here was Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia. That seems to be the single biggest hurdle to his love for Lyanna.

  6. kim says:

    Rhaegar might not have expected the whole “stealing Lyanna away” to have blown up so … badly. He seems to be an artsy type (the singer/skald). He probably figured he could talk his way out of it… (presumably after showing back up with Lyanna and child).

    If his Dad hadn’t done the Idiotic Thing, and killed the Starks, well, he might have delayed them — or sent men out to find Rhaegar, or otherwise forestalled open warfare until Rhaegar Came Home.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Being a singer makes it worse – his folk lore was likely full of stories about abductions causing blood feuds, it’s a standard trope in that period and we can see that Westerosi attitudes aren’t much different when we look at “The Dornishman’s Wife” or the story of Bael the Bard.

      Talking his way out of it would have been difficult, given how unlikely it is that anyone would have believed his world-saving prophecy. But it would be much easier had he approached Lord Rickard Stark directly.

      • TAE1225 says:

        true, but there is such a lack of info. It’s possible a crow was sent to Rickard Stark, or that someone saw to it that the message wasn’t recieved.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Lack of info is an issue, but it’s quite remarkable that so few people know that the popular perception was it was an abduction.

      • kim says:

        Throw enough gold at Rickard, and have Lyanna make her own plea.
        I’ll grant that Robert calls it an abduction — but does anyone who knows Lyanna well???
        It’s polite to tell the king he’s right, after all…

        And the Starks would call it an abduction, until Rhaegar shows up to give compensation. That’s just what you did, back then. It’s part of turning the screws to get Rhaegar to not disown Lyanna.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Possibly. It’s still a big deal – Rhaegar has essentially dishonored Rickard Stark’s word and shown him to be weak, after all.

          Given Brandon and Rickard’s reactions in the original storyline, I doubt cash would have been the best way to go.

  7. dasylirion says:

    I have a hard time believing Rhaegar was unaware of the consequences when he made off with Lyanna. I mean, practically every time a non-Robert character mentions Rhaegar we hear about how awesome and talented and wise and statesmanlike he was. And, tellingly, Rhaegar allegedly had some exposure to prophecy. In fact, Barristan reports Rhaegar began his training in arms because “it seems I must be a warrior.”

    So I suspect Rhaegar knew he was provoking Robert’s Rebellion, and indeed intended to provoke it. The life lost during the fighting and political upheaval to follow were not pleasant by any stretch, but Rhaegar was playing a longer game for bigger stakes. Off the top of my head, here are a few things that only happened because of Rhaegar’s actions and the rebellion that followed:

    Jon is conceived, born, and ends up on the Wall (relevant if we buy R+L=J and the fairly related thought that Jon has some part to play in saving the realm from the Others)

    Dany flees to Essos where *ahem* she ends up with dragon eggs that later hatch

    The Iron Throne is occupied by illegitimate Lannister children and Westeros itself is generally weakened (inviting to potential conquering heroes)

    Stannis captures Dragonstone, thinks himself the rightful king after Robert dies and takes a course of action that leads him and his Red Priestess to the Wall (along with a certain Onion Lord who made his name running a blockade for Stannis during the rebellion)

    The murder of Elia enrages Dorne, and Oberyn Martell in particular, who eventually poisons Gregor Clegane for vengeance and dies himself, thus enraging Dorne even more

    We don’t know whether any of these events will matter in the big scheme of things. If they do end up being pivotal, though, mayhaps we should give Rhaegar credit for seeing further than most and – just possibly – saving Westeros as we know it.

  8. Carol says:

    A couple of editing notes:

    In the section discussing the Battle of the Trident, there appears to be some text missing: “not only had the Mad King called for the heads of the heirs of the North and the Stormlands, but he had murdered Brandon and Rickard Stark (we also learn that Jon Arryn’s , and Rhaegar had seemingly abducted Lyanna Stark.”

    In the “What If?” section discussing Lyanna’s abduction, King’s Landing is mistakenly called King’s Land.

    As a medievalist, I’m really pleased to see someone providing an analysis of real-world parallels. I hope you can keep up with it!

  9. […] Eddard should stay in Winterfell or accept Robert’s offer to become the Hand of the King. As I’ve suggested before, I think there’s a choice that Ned doesn’t take, the choice to not merely be the Hand, […]

  10. wordlyChimp says:

    Reblogged this on Oh no, Aquaman is drowning! and commented:
    “Race for the Iron Throne” is a great blog for those who enjoy GRRM’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, especially since it examines the politics of Westeros as well as explaining its historical relevance to our world.

    Since the blog started recently, only the chapters in the first novel are being analyzed. Enjoy!

  11. Haven says:

    “Laws are a tedious business and counting coppers is worse,” he declares, and we learn that he basically devolves his government to his councilors – much as Henry VIII did with Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell – when it comes to “coins, crops, and justice” which are the chief peacetime functions of the government”

    This is great! And the comparisons, with the battles of the War of the Roses, is wonderful.

    You should put up a PayPal link, just to make sure these posts and the exchanges keep coming.

  12. Abbey Battle says:

    Just popping in for another fantastically-belated comment regarding a fantastic article; The Battle of the Trident does of course borrow from The Wars of the Roses, but it also reminds me of The Battle of the Granicus to a degree (a battle fought over a river, featuring a significant flanking action and a duel between the leaders of the army, surrounded by their battle-companions).

  13. Abbey Battle says:

    Even I can make one from time to time!

    You know cracking self-depractating jokes online isn’t nearly as much fun when the website you’re on lacks Smilies!

  14. […] people – Ned Stark and Howland Reed are obviously two of the participants, but way back in Eddard I, he refers to “they had found him still holding her body, shaking with grief.” So […]

  15. rw970 says:

    I was curious about Jaime being in line to inherit the Lannister titles. If he’s on the Kingsguard, how can he inherit anything? In this chapter, both Ned and Robert take it for granted that Jaime is still Tywin’s heir, but Kingsguard officers serve until death.

    • stevenattewell says:

      That is a good point. I suppose everyone assumes that one day Tywin’s going to get a royal proclamation giving a dispensation to Jaime.

      • Possible.

        Or it was taken for granted that while Jaime won’t be heir to Casterly Rock, and that’s CR would be Tyrion’s one day (not a possiblity noble would like to think those times), then WoW position is too military important to give it to book-worm dwarf.

        And while Warden title while practically going with certain Lord Paramounts titles was in theory King’s nomination.

        And while Jaime were KG in King’s Landing he could easily serve as WoE against possible threats from beyond Narrow Sea. Well, Stannis could too.

    • On second thought, I think the distinction between titles as land and royal titles may be the thing here – a Lord Commander can be Hand of the King, but he can’t own land, so he probably can be a Warden.

  16. […] legitimacy and likely costing him the military support of the Crownlands. As I’ve said from the beginning, when Eddard Stark uses the powers of his office, he wins; he ultimately loses because he fails to […]

  17. […] Game of Thrones – Eddard I (Eddard and Robert down in the crypts, Robert as Henry VIII, and the Wardens Cardinal) […]

  18. […] through the rainy night, Ned saw Jon Snow’s face in front of him;” as far back as Eddard I, we learn that “he could hear [Lyanna] still at times,” and we see him hearing […]

  19. Steven says:

    One of the things that interests me is the issue of Robert’s character and kingship. Warrior kings, as was mentioned in the article, often get bogged down in useless foreign campaigns. It is curious, given Robert’s background and temperament, that his reign is so peaceful. The closest we get to the ideas of foreign adventures is his aborted scheme to add the Summer Isles to Westeros.

    Still, it strikes me as more than passing odd that Westeros never got involved, or never tried to conquer any of the Free Cities. I have a hard time believing that Westeros would not find some value in their conquest, even if ultimately foolish. I wonder if this speaks to Robert’s Councillors’ abilities to control his impulses.

    The other issue is the naming of Jamie Lannister as Warden of the East. It’s a shocking misstep by Robert. You’d think the obvious preferred choice (if not a Valeman) would be Stannis, who at least holds lands (Dragonstone) in the East and is largely responsible for its defence anyway as Master of Ships. Interesting “What if” there, if Stannis is named Warden of the East does it affect the outcome at all? Is he able to pull in men from the Vale to his cause?

  20. Sebastian says:

    Question, I just noticed you wrote that the Wardens have seats on the Small Council. What’s your source for that? I checked the Wiki of Ice and Fire and there’s nothing there, and I don’t remember reading that in the books.

  21. I don’t think the details of what the mad king did to Rickard and Brandon Stark were widely known, which would explain why the action didn’t stop other great houses from supporting the royals. Even Ned’s wife didn’t know the details.

    • Well, Ned’s wife wasn’t particularly aware, but there were hundreds of people in the throne room when it happened – it wasn’t a secret.

      But the details are less important than the bare fact: the King executed a Lord Paramount without due process.

      • That is true. Perhaps Aerys made some speech beforehand falsely justifying his actions. Jaime recalls that he said House Targ’s champion is fire, so that might have been enough “due process” for the other lords. And since only one Lord Paramount eventually joined the royals, and he’s not exactly known for his intelligence, I think it did have an effect on the people who knew the details.

  22. I love your analysis, especially the historical comparisons! It’s teaching me a lot, and helps enrich the story. Two issues though:

    1. You misspelled Baelish twice; hard to believe no one else caught that in 2 years.
    2. I’m forced to read on a tablet at present, and the map prevents me from enlarging the text enough to read easily. Any way it can be removed or made collapsible for mobile devices?

  23. OsRavan says:

    I actually always thought the obvious parallel for robert was Edward IV not Henry (and ned/cersie a version of richard vs woodvilles but thats another story).

    I mean, you have the young lord who is forced to take up the rebellion unexpectedly. He is unstoppable on the field of battle, sweeping all of his foes before him. Then later on in life… roughly the same number of years later as for robert even… he lets himself go, gets stout and out of shape etc. Also, unlike henry, he had little interest in ruling the realm. All about conquering it not governing it.

    • Yeah, I considered that, but…

      1. the Woodville marriage is way too close to the Westerlings; by contrast, the Lannisters much more resemble what the French marriage could have bee.

      2. No dead dad.

      3. Edward IV was extremely interested in ruling the realm.

    • Lougarry says:

      I agree, and there are also some parallels between Renly/Clarence and Stannis/Richard. Like Robert, Edward’s physical deterioration seems not to have been triggered by a single event, as Henry’s was, but the cumulative effect of over-indulgence in food, booze and women and too little physical exertion. And I also agree that Cersei’s patronage of Lannisters is very similar to Elizabeth Woodville’s patronage of her own family.

      However, it’s kind of futile to look for one-to-one correspondence. In terms of plot, Rickard Stark seems to parallel Richard Duke of York and Brandon Edmund; Ned’s conflict with Cersei and Jaime, as you say, reflects Richard’s conflict with Elizabeth Woodville’s and Anthony Rivers; and Robb is like the young Edward IV in his military acumen and unwise marriage when already betrothed to a more suitable woman.

  24. twibble67 says:

    If I’m not mistaken, in the books didn’t Robert rule for 14-15 years rather than the 18 you mention in this analysis? I thought Robert’s Rebellion coincided with Robb and Jon’s births, and in the books Robb and Jon are only 14 at the beginning of the story.

  25. […] in contracts, credibility at the top is absolutely vital.  As Steven Attewell points out in his column: “if one law-abiding Lord Paramount can be executed on a whim, any of them can.” However, it […]

  26. […] in contracts, credibility at the top is absolutely vital.  As Steven Attewellpoints out in his column: “if one law-abiding Lord Paramount can be executed on a whim, any of them can.” However, it […]

  27. I think the only reason there were any Targ loyalists were because of Rhaegar. Though Aerys’s actions were deplorable, I believe those that rallied to the Crown Prince’s side knew he’d make steps to rectify and attempt to foster peace, but I do agree with you about his abduction of Lyanna. Was what he learned/read such desperate news that he was willing to cast aside reason and protocol in order to achieve this end? It could’ve been a situation where a “No” from Lord Rickard on a proposal could not be borne due to the dire consequences of not making the supposed Promised Prince.

  28. […] the mystery of Rhaegar Targaryen, who we have only glimpsed in fractured and incompatible glances: abductor and possible rapist, sober-minded political reformer, doomed romantic hero, or prophecy-obsessed fanatic? After all […]

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