Chapter-By-Chapter Analysis – Catelyn II

“He will not understand that. He is a king now, and kings are not like other men. If you refuse to serve him, he will wonder why, and sooner or later he will begin to suspect that you oppose him. Can’t you see the danger the danger that would put us in?”

“You must be Robert’s Hand. You must go south with him and learn the truth…the Hand of the King has power, my lord. Power to find the truth of Lord Arryn’s death, to bring his killers to the king’s justice.”

Synopsis: Eddard and Catelyn Stark enjoy the afterglow, and discuss Robert‘s political and marital offers. Maester Luwin arrives with a message from Lysa Arryn informing them that Jon Arryn was murdered by Cersei Lannister. All three discuss whether Ned should now take up the Handship – and decide that he will go south, as well as which children will go with him. Jon Snow‘s offer to take the black is discussed and agreed to.

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:

One of my favorite things about this chapter is that we get to see Catelyn Stark as a political analyst. For all that she seems to have a vocal hatedom, she’s actually quite astute in this scene. In warning Ned that refusing an offer of friendship and patronage from the King, he risks alienating King Robert (which is historically accurate), Catelyn anticipates Robert Baratheon’s later reaction when Eddard Stark refuses to go along with the assassination of Daenerys and shows a keen judge of character when it comes to seeing that the King is motivated by his ego. She shows a good understanding of dynastic politics, as we’d expect a highborn lady to do – making a marriage alliance with the royal household, such that the next heir to the throne might be half a Stark, makes sense if you want to strengthen the Stark family’s political position. It’s something of a pity that so many fans overlook her acumen here.

The major political question in this chapter is whether 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, but use the powers of the Hand to accomplish his goals – namely, to uncover the truth of Jon Arryn’s death and shore up Robert’s government. The Hand has a broad portfolio of powers that we don’t really see Eddard Stark using that much:

  • Lawmaking – if Eddard Stark is unhappy that the Capitol is so mired in corruption, he has the power to introduce reforms through royal decrees in the King’s name. For example, given his frustration with the King’s finances, he certainly could have introduced new taxes to balance the budget, he could have established a Westerosi reserve bank to provide the King with an alternative to borrowing from the Lannisters, or he could have cut Robert’s spending in areas where the King wasn’t looking. For all that Robert dislikes “counting coppers” and likes throwing tourneys, one does get the sense that Eddard could have pushed the King to clean up his act (I get the sense that Robert would do better with a minder telling him what he can’t do than someone trying to offer him good advice) – after all, he succeeds in getting Robert to forgo the melee even when the King wanted to fight. He could have pursued legal reforms to bolster the Crown’s ability to see justice done (which would have helped him with his investigations), given that Westeros seems to lack the royal courts that were so crucial to the success of the Plantagenet dynasty.
  • Appointments – I think this may be Eddard’s first and most consequential mistakes. As essentially a new Prime Minister, he makes the decision to retain the cabinet of the previous incumbent (always a mistake), even though there’s no one on the Small Council that is loyal to Eddard Stark. Replacing some combination of Littlefinger, Pycelle, and Varys with Stark loyalists would have greatly strengthened his hand – Wyman Manderly, for example has some financial savvy that could substitute for Littlefinger’s dubious loyalty, and Pycelle could have been quietly retired. Bringing the Tyrells onto the Council as Wardens of the South would have at least created a more even balance of power. Given Eddard Stark’s pre-existing dislike of Lannister appointees surrounding the King, there’s no reason why Eddard couldn’t have given him some Northern squires. He certainly could have appointed someone better than Janos Slynt to be the Commander of the City Guard. A relatively small number of appointees could have greatly improved Eddard Stark’s position – instead, he tends to disperse his loyalists to the City Guard or to hunt for Gregor Clegane, which further weakens him.
  • Judicial Powers – This is one of the few areas that Ned actually does make use of his power, by attainting Gregor Clegane (and in the show, by summoning Tywin Lannister to court – more of which later). I’ll discuss the wisdom of his actions later, but it’s frustrating how Eddard Stark makes no use of his powers when he’s investigating Jon Arryn’s murder. He had the power to summon Hugh of the Vale to his presence (indeed, Littlefinger’s suggestion to not do so may have been in order to delay his giving testimony – more on which later), to arrest him if necessary. Similarly, he could have issued a public arrest warrant for Tyrion Lannister – which would have made the actions of Jaime and Tyrion Lannister open treason.
  • Military Powers – Finally, there was nothing stopping the Hand from recruiting more troops than the 50 he brought to King’s Landing so that he wasn’t outnumbered ten-to-one by the Lannisters, so that he didn’t have to rely on the Goldcloaks for his final move. Given the disorders in the Riverlands and the threat of a Dothraki invasion, he had every pretext for doing so.

The strange thing about Stark’s choices is how vulnerable the various conspiracies were to an active Hand – for whatever reason, Ser Hugh of the Vale had been left in place in King’s Landing. It’s possible that he knew nothing of Jon Arryn’s investigations or had no part in his murder, but it’s extremely unlikely; he was Hugh’s squire and would have been in constant contact with him during his time as Hand. While Pycelle’s suspicions aren’t really worth much, given his…lack of skill at intrigue, Varys’ suspicions are more credible – and he didn’t have a motive to lie about that particular conspiracy. Similarly, Petyr’s lie that he had lost the knife to Tyrion Lannister was easily verifiable – more on why he did so later on. Finally, most of Arryn’s loose ends were still floating around – the book was easily available, so are all the royal bastards he visited.

Indeed, as I’ll discuss when I get to Clash of Kings, Tyrion’s reign as Hand shows how effective a Hand can be in uncovering conspiracies and in dealing with conspirators, and it’s highly significant how his choices differ from those of his predecessor.

Lysa’s message that Queen Cersei murdered Jon Arryn is one of the first truly significant political events in Game of Thrones, the first move in Littlefinger’s conspiracy to turn the Starks against the Lannisters. It shows Baelish’s characteristic style, always working at a step or two removed, through easily deniable and disposable cats-paws, and making use of personal feelings and attachments. Think about how this phase of his plan works and how long it must have been in the planning – he had been cultivating Jon Arryn’s trust for years, ever since he became Controller of Customs at Gulltown and began to move up the ranks under his patronage. That trust in turn was built on his skillful manipulation of Lysa Tully’s obsessive love, ever since he deflowered her and impregnated her – the event that likely caused her emotional and mental breakdown.

It’s quite astonishing the degree of control he has over Lysa – think about what she’s doing in this letter. She’s intentionally putting her sister and her entire family in mortal danger, driven by her own displaced guilt over the murder of her husband, which in turn was prompted by her built-up hatred and resentment over the abortion she was forced to have to marry an old man who gave her repeated miscarriages and one sickly child.

Two small points:

  • Using Bran as a bridge between Robb and Joffrey was doomed from the start, given Joffrey’s sociopathic tendencies.
  • Ned’s use of the phrase “he is of my blood” is one of the stronger pieces of evidence of the R+L = J theory, given that he doesn’t ever call Jon his son. At the same time, it does make you wonder why Ned Stark doesn’t encourage the Ashara Dayne story. Emotional trauma might explain it, but at the same time, it would give a credible explanation for Jon Snow’s birth, obscuring the truth under a widely believed and believable story. Unless there’s something about the Tower of Joy he wanted to obscure.

Historical Analysis:

Ned Stark had good reasons to fear royal favor. Jon Arryn had been murdered, the four Hands before him ended badly, and even Tywin Lannister saw his son and heir stolen from him. Historically, royal favors could very much be a double-edged sword. Henry VIII made Thomas Wolsey the King’s almoner, Archbishop of York, and Lord Chancellor – as well as one of the richest men in England, but just as quickly, he stripped him of his offices and properties and had him accused of treason; Thomas Cromwell started as a commoner, became Chancellor of the Exchequer and the king’s principle secretary, and rose as high as to become Earl of Essex, but was attainted by the House of Lords for treason, heresy, corruption, and other sins, and lost his head.

Equally, conspiracy was very much a part of court life in the Middle Ages and beyond. In just the Tudor dynasty, we can find the supposed treason of Anne Boleyn, who was accused of adultery and incest with five men including her brother (which Cersei’s accusations towards Margaery Tyrell are based on), prompted by Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer’s successful plot to bring down Catherine Howard, the Regent Edward Seymour (Duke of Somerset)’s successful domination of Edward VI’s Council, and his brother’s plot to secretly marry the future Elizabeth I, Wyatt’s rebellion against Mary I, the possible murder of Robert Dudley’s wife by Dudley to free himself up for the queen, multiple assassination attempts, the Ridolfi and Babington plots to depose Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as other assorted conspiracies that brought down Raleigh, the Duke of Essex, and so many other court favorites.

In my eyes, this puts Eddard Stark in better context. In the end, he lost the game of thrones and ended up with his head on a spike. But he’s hardly the only one, and many great lords who were far better politicians and courtiers than he was ended up dead. Which I think is something that people fail to comprehend about George R.R Martin’s work – he’s not an advocate of Machiavellian statecraft. Ned Stark does the honorable thing and loses, but master schemers like Tywin or Tyrion wind up betrayed and either murdered or attempted murdered and exiled, Cersei’s more second-string efforts result in the realm being misgoverned by loyal incompetents and herself arrested for adultery, treason, and conspiracy.

If anything, what George R.R Martin is saying is that there are no winners in the Game of Thrones. The good die unluckily, the bad die deservedly, and honest efforts and clever schemes all end in disarray.

What If?

I see two interesting hypothetical possibilities in this chapter:

  • What if Ned had refused the King? As discussed before, a lot of the plot hinges on Ned’s decision to go south with the King. However, it’s quite interesting to ask what might happen if he had said no – because Robert Baratheon is going to die, Stannis Baratheon already knows about Joffrey’s bastardy, and Renly is going to make a move on the throne no matter what happens. In that situation, it’s all but certain that Ned Stark would be one of the few men honorable enough to respond to Stannis Baratheon’s letter and declare for the least popular candidate, which means that Stannis starts with an entirely different strategic picture. Instead of having only 5,000 men and a fleet, Stannis would have the North marching on King’s Landing and potentially the Riverlands (this time not having been burnt and invaded by the Lannisters prior to the war) as well. It’s still a tricky situation; Stannis’ two armies are separated by the Lannisters, after all. However, he now has the option to race Renly directly to King’s Landing – perhaps arriving before Tyrion can get the boom chain and wildfire completed. On a side note, when Eddard Stark gets Jeor Mormont’s letter that the White Walkers are coming, the Night’s Watch is getting substantial reinforcements from the North.
  • What if Jon stayed in the North? I find it strange that Ned can think of so few options for Jon Snow; you certainly don’t get the feeling that any of the other Northern houses would really care about his bastard status. Why not send Snow to foster with the Umbers, or the Karstarks, or the Manderlys? I think Jon would really have shined in a context in which he was outside of Catelyn Stark’s eyes, and once the war started, he certainly would have been an excellent bannerman for Robb. On the other hand, this does likely mean that Jeor Mormont gets murdered by a wight, which leaves the Night’s Watch in a difficult situation (although they do avoid losing a third of their manpower in the Great Ranging) in terms of leadership.

Book vs. TV:

The major difference between the book and the tv show is that Catelyn’s position is completely reversed, with her arguing for Ned to stay in the North and refuse the King. While I understand the dramatic choice, in that it emphasizes her identity as a mother (which is something that book readers tend to be harshly critical of), I think in the end it serves to diminish her character because we lose an opportunity to see right at the beginning that Catelyn Stark understands the game of thrones better than her husband.

 

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42 thoughts on “Chapter-By-Chapter Analysis – Catelyn II

  1. Natalie says:

    I was a show watcher before a book reader and I too thought the change in Catelyn was interesting. For the record I do like Catelyn, but I think her treatment of Jon shows she can be very petty, “he is your son, not mine, I will not keep him”- its not like Winterfell isn’t huge, it’s not as if she talks to him any how, never mind how much Robb would miss him with all his siblings going south. That scene shows Catelyn asserting her dominance in a gender appropriate manner which in many ways is more difficult than for a character like Arya who eskews her role as a proper highborn lady in their entirety. Catelyn is a wife, and a mother, and a woman in a patriarchal society. She seeks to be an asset to her husband and further her family, but when presented with power she hasn’t had (control of Winterfell) she does what SHE wants- gets rid of Jon. The funny thing is, she knows she’s being unfair.

    Lysa is….. Not to lessen the pain of her forced abortion/marriage, but to act on the orders of Littlefinger, murder a husband that was always kind to you, involve your sister’s family then hightail it to the Vale and STAY OUT OF IT……. How’d she and Catelyn come from the same family?

    Speaking of which I was SHOCKED when I learned Lysa murdered Jon Arryn. I had suspected Littlefinger but Lysa was a shock.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I’ll discuss that moment when I get to that chapter, but I’ll give you a little preview – Catelyn’s pettiness is entirely human, and I think most readers are projecting their own guilt into anger towards her because deep down, they know they’d be thinking the exact same thing.

      Lysa is very much a mirror image to Catelyn; both of them were denied the marriage they wanted and had to make do with a political marriage, but Catelyn thrived under the pressure and built a real family, whereas Lysa broke under the strain. Ultimately, I think Lysa is profoundly marked by trauma – she gave her virginity to a man who called out her sister’s name in the sack, her father then sent away the man she loved and forced her to have an abortion, she was then forced to marry an old man who was kind but emotionally distant, had a number of failed pregnancies, and Baelish is whispering in her ears all the way. It’s a toxic mix of obsessive love, resentment towards her father and her husband/father figure, and fear of death in childbirth and grief for her lost children. Keep in mind, she only goes along with it when Jon is going to send away her only son.

      • Natalie says:

        Ah yes!!! I had forgotten that Jon was going to send Robin away to be fostered. Thanks for reminding me.

        Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get ahead of you in your analysis, I thought that discussion was in this chapter( I should have my nook with me before I start posting!!!!)

        In my haste I forgot to discuss why Ned fails as hand. IMO Ned isn’t stupid, but he’s a creature of habit. Despite his time as foster son of Jon Arryn, he is very much a northerner. In the North Starks are in charge, Starks are honorable, thus there is no need to “think” regarding how to get his objectives accomplished, he just pulls rank. Not that I think Ned doesn’t work at being Lord of Winterfell (I believe he does), but being Hand of the King is an entirely different type of job. Managing a large estate vs running a city corporation.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think being a creature of habit is right. It’s also the case that I think he doesn’t incorporate what the Hand is to what he thinks of himself – as Warden of the North, he basically has all the powers of the Hand in that province, but he’s used to thinking of himself as the Warden of the North and he has hundreds and thousands of years of precedent informing his actions. I think he sees himself in King’s Landing as Robert’s advisor, but not as the Hand in his own right.

  2. Brett says:

    1. I think Catelyn tends to get a lot of undeserved hate for seizing Tyrion when she did. It was definitely a spur-of-the-moment decision that snowballed into disaster, but I think it makes more sense when you figure that she thought Tyrion was the one who ordered the failed assassination of Bran, and what she thought might happen if Tyrion made it to King’s Landing and told Cersei that he saw Catelyn Stark in secret on the King’s Road. There was also no way for her to know that Lysa had gone insane.

    2. I wonder if many of the powers you talked about simply never occurred to Ned. Things are different in the North – it has very few towns and basically no cities (White Harbor is more like a large port town), and just generally seems to be more poor, rural, and scattered. Ned’s seat of power doesn’t even become a proper town except in the Winter.

    It also might be a result of failed political education for Ned.* He was originally the second son, presumably the one who would “maintain holdfasts and lead hosts” in his brother Brandon’s name. We see that with Ned – he’s implied to be a great military commander and good with his northern lords, but with limited knowledge and conception of how Southron politics work besides the very basics.

    * I think Cersei has a similar problem.

    3. Good writing about Jon and Ned. I chalk it up to Ned really trying to avoid lying, particularly since he seems to feel really guilty and burden about a lie he’s been living for 14 years in AGoT (I really noticed that on re-read). As you said, not confirming the Ashara story also means that there’s less chance that somebody down there will find out that the story doesn’t hold water, and then really start looking into what Jon’s parentage is about.

    I loved that they kept the “you are my blood” vagueness in the TV series as well. I thought that was a huge hint that R + L = J is correct, since the two showrunners supposedly know who Jon’s mother actually was (I think they mentioned in an interview that Martin asked them, and after hearing their guess confirmed it).

    4. I don’t think any of the other northern Houses Minor would care about Jon’s bastardy, either. The Glovers didn’t care about Lord Hornwood’s bastard’s . . . bastardy. Jon would likely have been much happier as well, although he might not know as much about command without being brought up in Ned’s court.

    Which I think is something that people fail to comprehend about George R.R Martin’s work – he’s not an advocate of Machiavellian statecraft. Ned Stark does the honorable thing and loses, but master schemers like Tywin or Tyrion wind up betrayed and either murdered or attempted murdered and exiled, Cersei’s more second-string efforts result in the realm being misgoverned by loyal incompetents and herself arrested for adultery, treason, and conspiracy.

    Look at Ned’s legacy as well. He left behind two sons who were skilled military commanders, albeit poor politicians. He also left behind a North that was fanatically loyal to him, to the point where the Lords with Stannis were willing to march through a blizzard to rescue “Ned’s little girl”, and Lord Manderly was willing to put his life and status on the line in order to restore Ned’s only known living child – Rickon – to the seat of power in Winterfell.

    Tywin, by contrast, left behind three disastrous children and a House with a legacy for ruthlessness in pursuit of power. His careful arrangements of power fell apart not long after his death, in part because he never really trusted his children with power, and he scorned the only one of them that was competent (Tyrion).

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. I’ll discuss this decision later, but I generally agree with you. People hate on Catelyn with full knowledge of everything that comes after, something we historians call “presentism,” which is a big no-no in my profession.
      2. Yes, but I think it’s more a situation that he understands his powers in the North; not everything is hunky-dory up there, you have to contend with the Boltons, the Umbers and the Glovers don’t get along, the Karstarks can be difficult, Wyman Manderly is loyal but self-serving. But these are things he’s used to – he’s not used to the South, and as I said, I think he sees himself as Robert’s advisor rather than as someone with powers of his own as the Hand.
      3. I thought that was a very necessary scene, since we don’t get any of Ned’s flashbacks which really fill out that line, you need something to keep people thinking about Jon Snow’s parentage.
      4. I especially agree with this point; in the short term, Tywin can grab enormous amounts of power, but there’s no loyalty to hold it together. As you point out, the Starks engender so much loyalty that people talk about “the Ned” as if he’s still alive, and even precious girls like Wylla Manderly and Lyanna Mormont (who I would love to see have some scenes together), which helps to explain why the Starks have been able to hold the North for eight thousand years.

      • Leee says:

        Steven, per your second point, I’ve been wondering why Ned was such an effective Warden of the North and yet such a terrible Hand, particularly since I assume (and believe you’ve asserted) that the Warden of the North is effectively a regional sovereign. As such, why is he so incapable (or, as you suggest, so unwilling) to exercise the powers that he had while at Winterfell? Or are the two roles institutionally distinct enough that Ned’s skills in the North have little use in the South? Another way of putting my question is if it’s possible to be a good Lord of a Great House and not a good Hand, or is this an oversight on GRRM’s part?

        • stevenattewell says:

          I’m not entirely sure; I have several theories. Part of it I think has to do with familiarity – the Starks have been Wardens of the North for centuries, Ned was raised in a household where he would have known how a Warden of the North acts, what situations he has to deal with and what powers he has to deal with them, and a lot of precedent on how to deal with wildling invasions or a conflict between two vassal houses, or treachery from House Bolton. He was totally unfamiliar with King’s Landing politics.

          I think it also matters that the Wardenship is a military office – I think Ned Stark understand military politics, I think he’d be an amazing wartime consilgiere/Hand and would have known how to deal with scheming Lannisters or Tyrells or Martells, etc. if the Dothraki had come over. And for whatever reason, he couldn’t make an analogy between military politics and peacetime politics.

          And part of it has to do with his friendship with Robert, that he thought his power lay in that relationship, rather than the powers of the Handship. It’s not that Ned didn’t have a plan (and I’ll get to his plan later on), or that he was an idiot – rather, he put all of his eggs into his belief that if he got the goods and brought them to Robert, that Robert would do the right thing.

  3. litg says:

    I think an important distinction to draw between Ned’s and Tyrion’s respective performances as Hand is that Tyrion is a Lannister, and thus mostly immune to reprisal from the all the entrenched Lannister power. Ned is in no way immune beyond his status, which, as we see, only protects him so far. Plus, he has two daughters he brought with him before realizing things were as mired in corruption as they were. Do you really think Cersei, and therefore Jaime and the rest of the King’s Landing Lannister clan would sit idly by as Ned began removing all of their carefully placed weapons at court? Whether or not those people are truly Lannister loyalists is immaterial so long as Cersei believes she has them all in her pocket.

    The Lannisters had the better part of two decades to surround the King with people they believed loyal to themselves. I think to do what you are suggesting and just supplant all those people en masse, Ned probably would have needed to bring significant military power with him to enforce his authority. You saw how Robert responded when confronted with the accusation that Tyrion tried to have Bran assassinated, and he was the least liked of the Lannisters. Ultimately, Ned believed that the Lannisters had the previous Hand murdered. If they did so once, they would surely be capable of doing so again. That belief would fuel a very real worry that if he overstepped his bounds on conjecture, he (or worse, his children) would face reprisal.

    It all sort of plays into the CoK argument on the nature of power. Ned would have broad authority on paper, but a great deal of that authority crumbles if the King negates his orders based on the Queen getting angry, or if he fears that certain orders will get his daughters hurt or killed.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I take your point, but Ned had the ability to make himself immune from reprisal. He had the power to outnumber them, to put in his own loyalists, to make alliances with Tyrell or Martell, and he didn’t do it. And while he didn’t bring military power with him, he had the authority to create that military power through recruitment.

      I’ll talk more about Tyrion’s tenure as Hand as a mirror image of Ned’s tenure when I get to Clash of Kings.

  4. corejay says:

    I think you’re misunderstanding Varys the same way Ned misunderstands him on Ser Hugh. Varys says [paraphrased, don’t have AGoT with me]:

    “There was a boy. All he was, he owed to Jon Arryn. But when the Hand died and his wife went to the Vale, he stayed in King’s Landing. I’m always delighted to see the young prosper.”

    Only then goes Varys on to talk about Ser Hugh, and while the description fits the squire, it also fits Lord Baelish, who owed his career to Jon Arryn appointing him to various offices, including Master of Coin.

    Ultimately, I think Varys wanted to test Ned’s political prowess. Would the Hand listen to what Varys had to say, or just jump to his own conclusions? Ned jumps, and Varys ditches him. Compare and contrast that to Tyrion, who understands Varys much better, and who is ultimately rescued by Varys. So I actually believe Ser Hugh to be a massive red herring – and a very convenient one, being dead and all.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It does fit both, only Littlefinger was in his 30s when he came to KL. As Varys goes on to say “a pity he died so untimely,” I think you’re reading too much into this.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Specifically, he says: “There was one boy. All he was, he owed Jon Arryn….He must have cut a gallant figure in the tourney, him in his bright new armor, with those crescent moons on his cloak. A pity he died so untimely, before you could talk to him.” To me, that says that Varys thinks that Hugh knew something – as his squire, he would have known about Jon Arryn’s investigations; given how close he was to the man, he may have been the intermediary between Lysa and Jon Arryn to deliver the poison, or simply been a witness and been bribed to look the other way.

        I’ll talk about my working theory about Hugh’s death later, but I think that it’s one or the other. Either Hugh knew about the investigations in full, which would have made him a threat to Cersei but not to Littlefinger (hence Littlefinger pushing Eddard toward him), or he knew about Arryn’s death, in which case Littlefinger was gambling that he could remove him before he could spill the beans, in such a way as to further implicate the Lannisters.

  5. Chad says:

    The hypothetical choice that came to mind was that Eddard could have also tried find a middle ground between being the Hand or staying in the north by going south as an adviser to Robert while sitting on the small council as the Warden of the North and investigating the murder of John Arryn but asking him to name some else the Hand because of inexperience or what ever convincing excuse he could come up with. Eddard could have asked King Bob to name Stannis Baratheon as the Hand and tried to patch up the Baratheon brother situation and because Eddard had served with Stannis in the Greyjoy rebellion and would know his competence. Stannis would have had a better understanding political situation in Kings Landing and King Bob would still have his friend Eddard at court.

    The question is would the Lannisters move successfully sooner against Robert or would Stannis inform Robert about the twincest first. Likely would be an everyone vs the Lannisters if Robert ever found out with Margaery Tyrell being put into his bed. However there could have had a Sandor Clegane vs Barristan Selmy fight or a Barristan Selmy vs Jaime Lannister fight when this info became public.

    • stevenattewell says:

      That’s another possibility. I don’t know if Stannis would be willing to come back to King’s Landing, given the way he got out when Jon Arryn died.

      Stannis would have accused the Queen right up front – but keep in mind, Sandor Clegane isn’t on the Kingsguard. It would have to be Jaime vs. Barristan. But that presumes that Robert follows the rules, rather than killing her with his bare hands.

  6. Sean C. says:

    Regarding appointments, the critical thing Ned should have done, both in retrospect and in any sensible game plan to right things in the capital, was to guarantee the City Watch. They’re the only substantial armed presence in KL – whoever controls them controls the government (much like the Streltsy/Guards in the time imperial succession in Moscow). Janos Slynt should have been replaced immediately on arrival with a loyal man (Ned’s uncle-in-law, the legendary knight and Jon Arryn loyalist, would have been an obvious choice), and perhaps the Watch itself stiffened by bringing in some hundreds of loyal Stark/Tully men. Then the whole “to bribe or not to bribe?” conundrum wouldn’t have come up.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yes, the City Watch was key. Brynden the Blackfish might not have felt himself free to leave – he was Knight of the Gate, and he only relinquished that position when Lysa Arryn refused to march in defense of House Tully. However, any Northerner would have been a good pick – one of the Cassels, or maybe an Umber.

      • Sean C. says:

        Speculation that the death of Jon Arryn was caused by the Lannisters was apparently pretty rife in the Vale, to the point that the lesser lords were seriously angered by Lysa’s refusal to enter the war on the Stark/Tully side. I imagine Bryden would have signed on to investigate the death of his old boss, if nothing else.

        • stevenattewell says:

          It’s a possibility. Just not sure that Lysa would have given him leave to go and it took a lot for him to break with her.

  7. tequila says:

    I think a key thing here is that the powers of the Hand aren’t really institutionalized, or at least Martin never really spells them out. The Hand appears to have enormous latent power, but there really isn’t a set bureaucracy for the Hand to step into. There is no staff beyond the Hand’s household, nor any kind of Hand’s guard or enforcement arm. It’s all on the Hand’s personality and relationship with the King. Ned comes south with the understanding that Robert rules, and spends half his time realizing that Robert is an absentee. He is then forced to improvise, but I think his underlying loyalty to Robert as a friend keeps him from centralizing power in his hands (i.e. putting a Northerner in charge of the Watch or booting Littlefinger).

    In the end, events simply move too fast for him. When he does move, it’s with instruments that he can’t depend on, and thus he falls.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Actually, there is:
      – the Hand is in charge of the Small Council, so technically he has an intelligence service, a treasury, a judicial system, the Goldcloaks, a navy, etc. and he has command over the Wardens. I think it’s more about the loyalty issue.

      • John says:

        Just wondering – what’s the basis for your argument that the Wardens have ex officio seats on the Small Council? I don’t recall this ever being mentioned in the books?

        • stevenattewell says:

          Honestly, I came across it on iceandfirewiki. I’m not sure as to the textual source, but it makes sense. Wardens are incredibly powerful royal officials, having them on the council gives a direct link from King’s Landing to the provinces.

  8. John says:

    A couple of thoughts.

    In terms of Hands, one thing that I think is interesting is that, effectively, we’ve seen a different Hand in each book, and all of them have ultimately failed. We have Ned in Book I, who ends up executed as a traitor; Tyrion in Book II, who is unappreciated and superseded with no opposition; Tywin in Book III, who is almost surely the most competent ruler we see in the books, but who ends up murdered by his own son; Cersei (not technically hand, but effectively so, given the non-entities she puts into the position) in Book IV, who ends up arrested for adultery and treason; and, briefly, Kevan (again, technically regent rather than Hand, but effectively running things) in Book V, who also finds himself murdered. You can certainly criticize Ned, but it’s not like anyone else has done much more with the position.

    That brings up the question, BTW, of who will be running things in King’s Landing in Book V. Most people seem to be assuming that Cersei will take over again, and maybe she will, but the situation seems to foretell that Mace Tyrell will get his chance to run things. Who has power in King’s Landing at the end of ADWD? It’s certainly not the Lannisters, whose main army is off in the Riverlands. Even if the corpse of Gregor Clegane wins Cersei’s trial for her, it’s uncertain how she will be able to move from that situation to running the kingdom again, given that the military power backing Tommen is almost entirely being provided from the Reach. That said, I assume Mace will fail as much as everyone else has. Other than Cersei, he seems by far the least talented person to take charge of things so far, although I suppose he has the advantage over Cersei that he’s willing to hand over real power to talented allies like his mother, his children, and Randyll Tarly, whereas Cersei wants to exercise all power herself.

    In terms of Ned’s leadership as Hand, I agree that his unwillingness to use the appointments power is problematic, although I think his choices are more constrained than you’re willing to admit. To look at the Small Council, obviously Ned doesn’t have the authority to replace Renly or Stannis, even if he wanted to. Replacing Pycelle also seems to be something Ned doesn’t necessarily have authority over: the Grand Maester seems to be chosen at the Citadel, not at King’s Landing. Tyrion is able to temporarily remove Pycelle, but he can’t force Frenken onto the Small Council, and Pycelle basically gets to return unscathed. So that leaves Ned with the opportunity to replace Littlefinger and Varys. These possibilities are real, but maybe not that plausible. Varys has basically created the idea of himself that he is indispensable, and it may be true. Certainly no obvious alternatives present themselves. And Ned basically thinks he can mostly trust Littlefinger because of his promise to Catleyn. This is a mistake, but the logic behind it isn’t crazy.

    That leaves us with a couple of major mistakes, I think. Not replacing Janos Slynt is a big one, but understandable, given how new Ned is to the game. As you say, he doesn’t really recognize the idea that he should be building his own power base, and, at any rate, he has no real reason to distrust Slynt. As far as appointing an outsider to command the Guard, I’m not sure how workable that is. Even Tyrion puts in a longstanding guard veteran in Jacelyn Bywater, rather than installing someone who is actually his own man. After that, a Kettleblack is installed, but that’s in a situation where many of the main Guard officers must have been killed on the Blackwater. That’s not to say this wasn’t a major mistake, but I’m not sure the answer is quite as obvious as you suggest.

    That leaves me with what I think is Ned’s actual biggest mistake, which is that he makes no real effort to build any real alliances in King’s Landing, even with other people who hate the Lannisters. Renly and the Tyrells are obvious potential allies, and Ned even recognizes this. But he’s unwilling to work with them so long as he suspects that they have ulterior motives. This is kind of crazy. Of course they have ulterior motives, but Ned can worry about that later. The problem, I think, is that Ned is trying to see things from Robert’s point of view, rather than from his own. Does Renly have Robert’s best interests at heart? Probably not. But he is nonetheless a natural ally for Ned, simply due to the fact that, like Ned, he is an inevitable enemy of the Lannisters. But the enemy-of-my-enemy logic seems to be deeply uncomfortable to Ned, and he rejects it, to his own misfortune.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Wow. A lot of points:

      1. The common fate of pretty much all the political actors is ultimate failure, so you have to judge from relative success.
      2. I think Cersei’s going to try to take out the Tyrells, and given that she has an unkillable eight foot tall murder machine, she’s got a decent shot. My guess is that this will fulfill her prophecy and clear the decks for Daenerys to arrive in KL.
      3. Replacing Renly and Stannis is unnecessary, since they are at a base level Baratheon loyalists despite having their own agendas – the best bet is to ally with them. Pycelle he couldn’t have known about – but the Grand Maester doesn’t have to sit on the Council, he can just leave him off. Varys isn’t necessarily irreplacable – Doran Martell would have been a decent choice as an anti-Lannister mastermind – but was actually a decent choice of allies. Littlefinger was a mistake, an honorable mistake, but a bad mistake – Wyman Manderly would have been a good replacement for Ned.
      4. Having an outsider come in isn’t unworkable as long as the outsider has loyal subordinates to help him carry out his work – if Jory Cassel had been sent along with the twenty men, and had the chance to do some clearing out, maybe bring up Bywater, the Gold Cloaks are good to go.
      5. Agreed. A Renly/Tyrell alliance would have made sense – keep in mind, he only refused at the end, when Renly made a play for the throne against Stannis. Had Renly approached him earlier and talked about an anti-Lannister alliance, I think Ned would have gone with it since he liked Renly.

      • John says:

        1. Is that true? I mean, everyone dies eventually, and few accomplish everything they set out to, but I wouldn’t say most people have the kind of dramatic falls from grace that every person who’s tried to run the kingdom from King’s Landing has had in the series. My main point, though, was the structural one – each book has shown us a different person trying to run King’s Landing, and their ultimate failure. If the pattern holds, we’ll see Mace or the High Septon next, I guess, but the pattern may not hold.

        2. In terms of the structure of the narrative, it seems kind of inevitable that Cersei is going to take over again. But in terms of what we know about the balance of forces in King’s Landing, I have a hard time seeing how that works. Sure, Cersei has an eight foot tall headless corpse that will fight for her. But that’s basically all she has. Her only friend in a position of power is Qyburn. Her other creatures – the Kettleblacks, Aurane Waters, the Merryweathers – have vanished, and the Lannister family’s assets in King’s Landing are virtually non-existent. The main Lannister army is off in the far corners of the Riverlands, is commanded by people (Daven and maybe Jaime) whose loyalty to Cersei is suspect. On the other side, Mace controls the Council, the Gold Cloaks, and an enormous army that, unlike the Lannister one, has not been weakened by constant fighting. The only power that can possibly compete with the Tyrells in King’s Landing is that of the High Septon, who we know does not think highly of Cersei. I think Cersei will likely win her challenge, but that, on its own, doesn’t put her back in power. Even if she can covertly have Tyrell murdered, that just gives her Randyll Tarly to deal with. I know that Cersei is a major character, and Tyrell is not, which militates towards Cersei winning, but he seems to have all the cards. What’s one headless giant against an entire army?

        3. Doran Martell is an anti-Baratheon mastermind as much as an anti-Lannister one. I don’t see any chance of Robert accepting him or his brother on the Council. the Tyrells don’t seem to stand a much better chance. Wyman Manderly taking over as Master of Coin is certainly a good idea that Ned should have had, and relying on Littlefinger was obviously a disastrous mistake. It’s also one that virtually everyone else has made – Jon Arryn and Tywin didn’t do any better. I guess I feel like the situation with the Small Council is that in the abstract it’s easy to say Ned should have made other choices, but in practice, other options start to look less plausible than they do in theory.

        4. Maybe. We don’t really have a good sense of this one way or the other. Tyrion is able to get rid of Slynt, but, unlike in the TV series, he can’t replace him with his own man – he is forced to rely on Varys for that. The only person who actually succeeds in putting someone definitely reliable in charge of the goldcloaks is Tywin, with Addam Marbrand. And he’s able to do that only after the Goldcloaks have suffered grave losses on the Blackwater. (Bywater may have actually been a good choice, but I’d be inclined to be wary of anyone handpicked by Varys)

        5. My take on Ned’s attitude towards Renly is one of being charmed by him on the surface, but also deeply suspicious that he has his own agenda. And Ned doesn’t reject an usurpation of the throne by Renly – I think that’s what Renly suggests in the TV show, but not in the novel. What Renly suggests, that Ned rejects, is that they seize Cersei and her children so that Ned can be assured of the regency. Here’s what Renly actually proposes:

        “Strike! Now, while the castle sleeps…We must get Joffrey away from his mother and take him in hand. Protector or no, the man who holds the king holds the kingdom. We should seize Myrcella and Tommen as well. Once we have her children, Cersei will not dare oppose us. The council will confirm you as Lord Protector and make Joffrey your ward.”

        Renly doesn’t know that Joffrey, et al, are bastards, so Stannis doesn’t come into it for him. What he is proposing is that they take control of the royal children so as to secure the government – in Joffrey’s name. Ned rejects the plan because he doesn’t want to roust frightened children from their beds. I think this is, without any doubt, the worst mistake Ned makes in King’s Landing. Renly is absolutely right, and Ned’s scruples are absolutely ridiculous – he’s essentially planning to do the same thing a few hours later, and with less reliable forces. Whatever else you may say, Renly definitively hates the Lannisters, while Ned has no real trust in Littlefinger’s loyalty and knows Slynt is corrupt.

        Earlier, Ned makes almost no effort to win Renly as an ally, and purposefully offends Loras Tyrell for no good reason. Ned hates intrigue, and really only wants to work with people he can trust. But there’s nobody he really trusts in King’s Landing, and the only person to whom he’s willing to give a simulacrum of trust is Littlefinger, who is obviously the worst person to trust of all.

      • stevenattewell says:

        1. Let me put it this way – name a Hand who was universally successful and died at a ripe old age of natural causes whose work was not undone after his death. Outside of maybe Septon Barth, I can’t think of any. I agree with the structural point, although I don’t think Mace is long for this world.
        2. It’s true that she only has the eight foot tall immortal murder machine, but I think it’s going to be about power to a point. Mace is going to have his hands full containing the crisis caused by the murder of the Hand, and then Gregor bursts into the Small Council chambers and it’s blood all over the walls. My guess is that Daenerys arrives in King’s Landing to find the city in open bloodshed, with a three-way fight between the Lannisters, the Tyrells, and the Faith.
        3. I don’t think Robert had so much of a beef with the Martells, and Doran’s a cautious long-term player who has every reason to support whoever’s against the Lannisters.
        4+5. Fair enough; I’m having a hard time keeping the tv show from affecting my memory of the books.

  9. John says:

    In the long run, everybody’s dead. All the hands we see actually in action in ASOIAF tend to fail in the very short run.

    With respect to what will happen in King’s Landing next, I think Cersei will make a move, and there will certainly be fighting between the Tyrells and Cersei and the Faith. I’m just not sure Cersei’s in any position to win that fight. Maybe she can kill Mace, as you suggest. But Mace is the weakest point of the Tyrells. And although, structurally, I think Cersei will end up briefly on top again, it’s hard for me to see how that plausibly happens. One eight foot tall reanimated corpse doesn’t seem to be a match for an army. I do wonder what happens with the regency at this point. Kevan was regent, not hand, and typically, the regent would be a relation of the king, which Mace is not, exactly (especially with Margaery’s fate still up in the air). Mace certainly isn’t going to offer the regency to Cersei, but might Jaime be a possible regent?

    With respect to the Martells, my sense was always that Robert had significant beefs against everyone who sided with the Targaryens during the war. And that the Martells would be of particular concern because of their known beef over Elia’s death, which Robert has done nothing to investigate or punish. Giving them a wide berth doesn’t seem unwise. Among the things we know for certain are that Doran is in no condition to come to King’s Landing, anyway, and that Oberyn, whom he’d likely send as an alternate, is completely committed to punishing those who murdered his sister, nephew, and niece. As actually happened when Tyrion and Tywin brought in the Martells, they would certainly demand justice for Elia. Would Ned be in a position to give it to them? Tywin can at least credibly offer them Amory Lorch and Gregor Clegane (although the former is conveniently dead, and he seriously drags his feet about doing anything on the latter front). Ned really can’t. Nor can he offer them Tywin Lannister, whom he’s in no position to directly confront upon his initial arrival in King’s Landing. And it’s fairly clear from the books that Doran’s long-term game does not necessarily involve making short term alliances with whoever’s against the Lannisters. During the War of the Five Kings, after all, he makes an alliance with…the Lannisters, and he makes no effort to reach agreements with any of the other kings at any point. And certainly Doran, a Targaryen loyalist, is no more trustworthy than Varys, likewise a Targaryen loyalist of some sort.

    So what should Ned have done? He should have not trusted Littlefinger (and replaced him with his own man, if possible); he should have tried to forge a closer alliance with Renly; he certainly should have put his own man over the Goldcloaks. He should’ve sent Loras out against Gregor and kept his own men in King’s Landing. He should have secured the ouster of the private Lannister forces after Jaime’s attack on him. He should have tried to make contact with Stannis much sooner. He doesn’t take any of these steps for a variety of reasons – natural aversion to “intrigue” high on the list – but mostly, I think, because he’s absorbed in other things: the day to day business of governing the realm; his investigation into Jon Arryn’s death; his argument with Robert about Dany; being in a coma for a week. Once he realizes the truth about Cersei’s children, and knows he’ll have to act, he’s more decisive. He continues to make a lot of mistakes, but even so, his plans could have worked out, perhaps as simply as by arranging to bribe Slynt himself, rather than handing the task over to Littlefinger.

  10. […] written a bit earlier about what Littlefinger is up to, but it’s a good idea to go over the basics: Littlefinger, […]

  11. […] and Renly he could at least muster three out of six votes) and still hasn’t realized that the Hand has power outside of the Small […]

  12. […] quick sidenote: while I’ve talked in the past about how evil Lysa is being when she sends her letter to Catelyn, roping the Starks into […]

  13. […] that Lysa is absolutely crucial to the success of the Littlefinger Conspiracy – above and beyond murdering Jon Arryn and luring Eddard Stark to King’s Landing. In part by withholding information from Catelyn and more critically by preventing Blackfish from […]

  14. […] Game of Thrones – Catelyn II (Catelyn gets a letter from her sister, Catelyn’s political skills, the nature of the Hand) […]

  15. Steven says:

    I really enjoy the analysis of Ned as Hand. Ned really does fail to plan for politics. He is reactive, he arrives to the Small Council and deals with it as it is, rather than implementing changes. I wonder if part of this is related to his effort to learn the game of thrones with the existing players. In essence, Ned doesn’t understand his power as an active force.

    Appointments are the strongest point here, in my opinion. It is fun to think what he could have done with even the small change of bringing in Manderly as Master of Coin. He may have begun to unravel Littlefinger’s embezzlement and provided a second set of investigations.

    This chapter has also revealed how little Eddard (and perhaps Catelyn, but I doubt it) have considered who their children will marry. Robb, Jon, and Sansa are all well within the ages for betrothal. One would suspect they should have a shortlist of candidates they would be interested in pursuing. A popular idea has been to marry Robb to Margaery Tyrell. If they were betrothed before Ned went south it provides all sorts on interesting possibilities and strengthen both the Stark and Tyrell position. However, it might not be possible given the Tyrells’ schemes with Renly.

    For Jon I think a good match would have been to foster him with the Karstarks and perhaps marry him to Alys Karstark. From ADWD it is clear they have some mutual attraction. She is well down the line of succession and the Karstark probably wouldn’t mind being wed into their Lord’s house, especially since Ned has such a positive relationship with Jon and acknowledges him.

    Sansa marrying Joffrey makes a lot of political sense, but there are numerous Great and Minor Houses she could have been matched to. Ironically, Harrold Hardyng might be the best choice in the long term. Willas Tyrell, Andar Royce, Albar Royce, Morton Waynwood, a Hightower, or a Redwyne could have been considered suitable matches, I suppose.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Interesting stuff.

      The betrothal question is a vexing one, but I wonder if Eddard was reacting to how his father’s scheming went awry by not having his children be engaged at an early age to Great Houses. Keep in mind that, according to “The Princess and the Queen,” 16 is the normal age of majority in Westeros.

  16. OsRavan says:

    I think one crucial difference between ned and tyrion as hands you don’t mention though, is their respective kings. It seems to me that hands have a lot of POTENTIAL power, but only so long as they are furthering the goals of the king. If they cross what the king would want in their exercise of power, they won’t stay hands (and maybe won’t stay alive.)

    In Tyrion’s case, despite joff being a sociopath who hates him, he actually has a wider freedom of action due to Joff being a minor. ITs why more than once Tyrion thinks how he wants to get far away from kings landing before Joff comes of age and rules in his own right. Because Joff isn’t of age, actual power is up for grabs between the queen regent and the hand. Who is REALLY in charge in a situation like that? It probably depends on your interpretation. But Tyrions situation is that he has no one REALLY more powerful than him (at least in KL.. tywin does have that army!) He has rivals (cersie) and plotters (LF/Varys) but no one who can remove him from the handship or flat out forbid a course of action.

    In Ned’s case…. he is imo much more boxed in. If he starts trying to do massive overhauls such as new taxes or ordering the arrest of tyrion.. etc etc… then his enemies will appeal to Robert. And it becomes a case of who robert will listen to at a given point. We saw how well that worked out for Ned with Lady for example. If roberts lords or wife start giving him a headache about Ned’s actions, he can tell ned to knock it off. I view a lot of Ned’s secrecy as he didn’t want to act until he felt he had a case that would be so clear cut that robert would be enraged/ignore his other advisers. Like you said in this post and some earlier ones, being the kings favorite is a delicate game and I think Ned knows it well.

    I imagine also that while the hand might have INFLUENCE in naming the council or the commander of the city watch… that in reality he can’t make actual changes without the kings approval. It would be a pretty insane (or weak) king who let his hand (often a noble lord) just randomly fill every position of authority including in the military with his own people.

    Again, I think we maybe get the wrong idea of the freedom/power of a hand due to joffrey being underage and…well.. insane. Tyrion and then Tywin have a much freer hand. Other than exceptional weak kings I imagine most hands need to be very careful to not act too independently. Both to avoid pissing their king off and to avoid the ‘blame the minister’ scenario you described. Indeed, I bet its only a few weak kings whose hands have had free reign. And while incompetent, robert isnt weak I would argue.

    Hell. Look at Stannis and Davos as another example (he is the only other king in this war that seems to appoint a hand now that I think of it). I imagine that the Davos/Ned type of handship is actually far more the norm than the hands under joffrey. Again, probably only really weak kings have hands acting independently.

  17. […] darted across the undefended drawbridge.” Indeed, her one mistake, and it’s the same mistake her father made, is that she assumes that the only enemy she’s dealing with is the […]

  18. […] Catelyn’s presence is absolutely key to this debate, because she provides a link back to Lysa’s letter, the attack on Bran (although she won’t put two-and-two together until next Catelyn chapter), […]

  19. […] could keep so many people safe from the elements is exposed to the open sky, and worst of all, the stone walls through which the hot springs were so carefully channeled through are cracked and the life-giving water is spilling out like blood. If Roose Bolton was here, he […]

  20. […] and begins relentlessly poking at it. And while Brienne is remarkably good at putting up with him, readers of ACOK only have an inkling of why his insults strike home, compared to the understanding we gained after […]

  21. Acheron says:

    Hey, I’ve heard good things so I’m doing a reread now and loving these chapter analyses. I’ve always had a really hard time believing that the Starks were in any danger from refusing Robert’s offer. I think Ned was correct about what Robert would do: shout and threaten and ultimately leave Ned alone. Even if the North seceded, it would be very difficult to take and hold it. The neck would essentially be impassible for an army. The only way to attack would be with ships and landings, which creates insane problems for a medieval army that needs to keep up its supply lines. And then you have the same problem European leaders had in invading Russia. The North is so huge that its population can bounce around. And then winter comes. I get that Ned goes south for lots of reasons, but being threatened by the power of the south seems like a problem of the past. Dragons are what unified Westeros, despite the “impregnable” regions like the North and the Vale. Without dragons, the continent was just waiting for a reason to split apart.

  22. […] also responsible for a good bit of the fan backlash in another way, that people often take a rather presentist attitude that Sansa should have seen the dress for what it was, and that the fact that she […]

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