Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard VI

eddard and gendry

“What had Jon Arryn wanted with a king’s bastard, and why was it worth his life?”

Synopsis: in a Small Council meeting, Eddard Stark deals with increasing disorder in King’s Landing due to the Hand’s Tourney by ordering the hiring of fifty new Gold Cloaks rather than firing Janos Slynt. When the meeting is over, Eddard goes back to his investigations; the book yields little answers, receives a dispiriting update from Jory Cassel, but has better luck when he travels to the Street of Steel and discovers Gendry Waters, a royal bastard (although actually a nice guy).

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:

Eddard VI is yet another juicy chapter, full of politics and intrigue. The roller-coaster is heading downhill and beginning to pick up some real speed, which means we need to talk about such varied topics as public order, the economy of King’s Landing, Eddard’s investigations, Renly’s conspiracy, and the mystery that is Gendry Waters.

We begin, unusually, in a meeting of the Small Council, discussing an issue of public policy. The city’s population has swollen with the arrival of knights, freeriders, craftsmen, men-at-arms, merchants, whores, and thieves getting ready to fight, steal, and profit from the Hand’s Tourney. The result is a a decline in law and order: “last night we had a drowning, a tavern riot, three knife fights, a rape, two fires, robberies beyond count…a drunken horse race…the night before a woman’s head was found in the Great Sept.” The categories of crime described here – violence, disorder, drunkenness, robbery, disrespect to religion, and fire – sum up very much the medieval fear of disorder and riot. Violence is dangerous because it means that people’s persons aren’t safe, but also because violence gives rise to vendettas and, depending on how highborn the murderers and murdered are, local wars. Disorder is dangerous, not just because it results in damage to taverns, but also because it suggests that the King can’t maintain his own peace, and part of the King’s oath to his people (his constitutional quid-pro-quo for sovereignty is that he’s powerful enough to prevent disorder. Drunkenness is bad not so much in itself (confined to its proper place within taverns), but because people’s excessive desires are causing disorder to spill over into the religious districts, culminating in the specter of death contaminating the holiest of holies. And standing as sign and signifier of all of these – the existential threat of fire in a city of wooden buildings, thatched roofs, no public water system, and no fire company.

The thin yellow line.

All of this points to the very timely question posed by Renly Baratheon, who’s supposedly the Master of Laws (but who shows little evidence of actually doing his job outside of court politics): why not replace Janos Slynt? As I have suggested before, Eddard has it within his power to replace Janos Slynt with Jory Cassel or any other loyal man, putting the Gold Cloaks under Stark control. Now, to be fair, he doesn’t know that Slynt is a corrupt murder and Littlefinger’s henchman from early in Robert’s reign, but the fact that Eddard doesn’t reach out to Renly to find out more is a bad sign. And here’s where Eddard makes a major political mistake: he disempowers himself by taking 20 men out of his own guard (incidentally, I don’t think we ever find out what happened to these men when Eddard is deposed, but they’re probably dead). His sense of duty leads him to take the right actions for the realm – his addition of 70 men to the City Guard increases their ranks by 3.5% which is a good idea when you need more crowd control – but in ways that dis-empowers himself.

Now on to the tourney and the economy of King’s Landing. The easy political joke – ha ha, Eddard Stark is a conservative who’s not down with Keynesian stimulus – I think misses what’s going on here. Robert Baratheon isn’t spending 90,000 gold dragons on public works, or relief for the poor, or anything that would benefit the smallfolk of Westeros; rather, the money’s going to less than ten noblemen who’ll fight and win in the tourney. In other words, Eddard Stark is opposed to trickle-down economics. Pycelle outright admits that the tourney is mere “bread and circuses:” “they bring the great the chance of glory, and the respite from their woes.” To the extent that non-nobility in the city benefit, it’s largely the hospitality, brewing, and prostitution industries, which means to people like Littlefinger himself (notably, these are industries that are capital, rather than labor intensive, and in the case of prostitution, use essentially unfree labor). Notably, far less in the way of benefits goes to the residents of Fishmonger’s and Cobbler’s Squares, or the Street of Looms or Copper-smiths, or the Streets of Steel or Flour, let alone the destitute of Flea Bottom.

Which points to a split in the city’s economy between those industries that cater to the appetites of the wealthy, those industries that produce goods, and a vast underclass. In an excellent essay on the economics of Westeros, Ken Mondschein reminds us that Dunk remarks in the reign of Dareon II that a man can live well on three dragons a year (or one stag and 43 copper a day) – adjusting for inflation, we’re talking about 5 dragons a year (or a shade under 3 stags a day) by 298 AL. In other words, Robert Baratheon is giving away the equivalent of a comfortable yearly income for 18,000 people (or 4.5% of the population of King’s Landing). Team Smallfolk is living in the land of the 1%. 

But enough of the suffering masses, let’s get back to the real story: Eddard Stark’s investigations. The first thing that’s worthy of note is how quickly Eddard hits on Stannis as a critical angle of investigation: even during the Small Council meeting, Ned “wonder[s] when he intends to end his visit to Dragonstone and resume his seat on this council,” immediately realizes that Stannis and Jon Arryn going to a brothel is a sign of something else going, and questions the meaning of Stannis’ departure:

“Why did Stannis leave? Had he played some part in Jon Arryn’s murder? Or was he afraid? Ned found it hard to imagine what could fighten Stannis Baratheon, who had once held Storm’s End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather…”

On the one hand, GRRM is clearly foreshadowing Stannis’ future importance and character by having Eddard focus on the topic for most of the chapter, but it’s also interesting to see Eddard’s admiration of Stannis’ stoicism. This is especially so in comparison to Renly, who “Ned was not sure what to make of…with all his friendly ways and his easy smiles.” There is a great irony, that of the two Baratheon brothers, it is the least likely conspirator and the closest to Eddard’s own personality who hits at the heart of the conspiracy and then flees the capitol, whereas the brother who stays who could perhaps have lent much needed skills and knowledge to Eddard’s cause fails to do so because of Eddard’s distrust.

The second thing that pops up in Eddard’s investigation is the ambiguity of the available evidence. Lord Stark now has a copy of Malleon’s Lineages and Histories, but it’s not clear how one is to interpret the “lists of weddings, births, and deaths” inside. Eddard not unreasonably decides to research House Lannister (given that he thinks they’re the arch-conspirators at the heart of everything) instead of House Baratheon; Martin throws in a telling factoid that Lann the Clever “stole gold from the sun to brighten his curly hair,” but it would be implausible in the extreme for Eddard to recognize the significance of blond Lannisters. (Indeed, if blond hair genes operate in Westeros anything like they do in our world, Eddard would have read a list of Lannisters that includes quite a few non-blond Lannisters, since quite a few Lannisters didn’t follow Tywin’s practice of cousin marriage)

 Likewise, the testimony Eddard gets is vague and rather unhelpful, because it’s mostly coming from low-level Arryn householders: the stableboy only knows that the Hand preferred to give apples to his horse, the serving girl knows only that Jon was unhappy, and the potboy knows mostly kitchen gossip. It’s my belief that this is a deliberate part of Petyr Baelish’s strategy as the mastermind of the Littlefinger Conspiracy: Ned notes that “Lady Lysa, Maester Colemon,” and most of the household were “carried off to the Vale,” on Lysa’s instructions, and we know that Lysa is taking orders from Littlefinger. In this fashion, Littlefinger is able to steer Eddard’s investigation and modulate the speed at which the Hand acquires significant information – Colemon could confirm poisoning and was probably consulted by Lord Arryn on questions of the inheritance of physical traits; the household guards could have led Eddard to the brothel where Robert’s bastard is living (giving him another data point); and Lysa potentially could have cracked under interrogation, spilling the truth of Littlefinger’s murderous plot. Finally, by advising Eddard to send Jory rather than summon Ser Hugh directly, he ensures that that testimony is delayed just long enough for another part of his plan that I’ll discuss in a future post to come into fruition.

A 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 Littlefinger’s conspiracy to destroy their House, let’s pause for a second to note the immorality of Petyr Baelish. Here is a man who murdered the man who was responsible for raising him up from nothing, who stole and then murdered his wife (and who may have cuckolded him as well, it’s not particularly clear), who is en route to murdering his son, and for whom gross fraud and embezzlement, the sale of offices in exchange for kickbacks, and the assassination of anyone who complained is probably the least of his sins. All of this done for the pettiest of motives: he wanted to marry Catelyn Tully and challenged the wrong man to a fight. While he may lack Joffrey’s sadism or lack of impulse control, Littlefinger certainly displays the “Machiavellian egocentricity,” “Coldheartedness,” and  “blame externalization” of the classic psychopath.

Despite Littlefinger’s hindrance, Eddard does pick up a good amount of information: he learns about both the brothel and the armorer’s shop, both vital clues, and that Arryn and Stannis were clearly cooperating in some investigation. While he doesn’t realize the import of two minor details of gossip – that Jon was sending his son to be fostered on Dragonstone (because he was planning to move against Cersei), and that he was studying the breeding of hunting hounds (a sign of some pre-Mendelian genetic studies) – he actually does a fairly good job of detective work in this chapter.

A third theme that’s developed in this chapter is the Renly/Tyrell Conspiracy. I’ve talked about this briefly in the past, to note that Cersei and Jaime are aware of this conspiracy (although they seem to have taken no action against it), but it’s interesting to note that Renly subtly is reaching out to Eddard to enlist him in the effort to replace Cersei with Margaery (whether that signifies that Renly knows or suspects Cersei’s infidelity is something I’ve never been able to make my mind up on). In a moment of humor in hindsight, Ned completely misunderstands Renly’s overture, doesn’t understand why Renly’s disappointed (although Robert probably would have been more than happy to bed Margaery regardless), and thinks that Renly’s in love with the girl (despite being a “passing queer“). But again, it’s a sign that Renly, for all his political gifts, doesn’t really know how to reach out to Eddard in a way the man is likely to respond to – and while we’re used to condemning Eddard for his failure to agree to Renly’s coup proposal, it’s also true that Renly contributed to his own death by making a distasteful (to Ned) approach without considering the personality of his potential ally.

Finally, we get the discovery of Gendry, a young man who looks the spitting image of Robert Baratheon, and who has inherited no small amount of Baratheon stubbornness, despite having a mother with “yellow hair.” Eddard sees his parentage immediately, and realizes that the reason Jon Arryn was murdered was that he was looking into royal bastards – not half bad for an amateur detective (and for those of you keeping track, this is three correct conclusions to two political mistakes).

The question I have is what exactly Varys was doing in regards to Gendry: now, it’s certainly to Varys’ interests to have potential proof of Joffrey’s illegitimacy on hand, and it’s quite possible that Robert had asked Varys to discretely see to his bastard children, but Varys takes a lot of effort here. Indeed, his acting to smuggle Gendry out of the capitol is one of the best pieces of evidence we have that argues that Aegon VI really is a Targaryen. However, if Varys is scheming to restore a “Targaryen” to the Iron Throne, why go to the effort of saving his life? Potentially, this speaks to Varys’ relatively humanistic nature; if he can afford to (Ned, Gendry, Tyrion, etc.) he’ll save someone’s life even if there’s no immediate political gain to himself. On the other hand, it may be that Gendry is a Plan C: if the Targaryen invasion falls through, Varys could potentially have Robert’s oldest natural son under his thumb; even if it doesn’t, if Varys had planned for Khal Drogo to die, marrying Daenerys to the last remaining Baratheon is a good way of reconciling the former rebels to the Targaryen restoration (hey, it worked for Henry VII). 

Historical Analysis:

I’ll try to keep this section short, because that was a lot of political analysis, but I’d like to highlight three themes: the medieval urban economy, pre-modern law and order, and royal bastards. On the first topic, it’s curious to me that GRRM doesn’t really feature the guilds as political actors in their own right, especially when there becomes a tug of war between Tyrion and Cersei over the Guild of Alchemists and the Guild of Smiths during Clash of Kings. Instead, the rebels against authority in King’s Landing tend to be either the underclass (as in the case of the riots) or the merchant class (in the case of the potentially invented Antler Men). This doesn’t track well with history: the guilds of medieval Europe were quite powerful, often becoming the organs of city government (as in the case with the City of London).

By the 14th century, the guilds controlled access to skilled trades, prices and wages, maintained early welfare funds, and determined market shares. Trade guilds were heavily involved in the popular uprisings of the middle ages: the guilds of London were some of the fiercest partisans of Simon de Montfort in his attempt to establish Parliamentary government in the 13th century (de Monfort’s Parliament was the first time that commoners were admitted to Parliament, or that any member of Parliament had been elected); the Great Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 in England reached its peak of influence thanks in no small part to the artisans of London who opened the gates to Wat Tyler and John Ball. The Franco-Flemish War, which was very much a revolt of commoners against French noble rule, saw one of the rare victories of commonfolk over knights at the Battle of Golden Spurs in 1302, where well-armed town militias organized by the guilds of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres smashed the French cavalry with well-disciplined infantry wielding the fearsome goedendag.

Regarding pre-modern law and order, it should be noted that the Gold Cloaks would be highly anachronistic if they were to have appeared in England during the Wars of the Roses. After the fall of the Roman Empire, formal police forces didn’t really exist in most of Europe (Spain being an odd exception), even in the more urbanized areas, throughout the medieval period. It wasn’t until 1667, when Louis XIV established a police force to keep the unruly mob of Paris in heck, that we get the first semblance of a modern police force, and for a long while thereafter, they were rather rare.

Indeed, England was a notorious laggard on this front, relying on a local force of constables appointed by local lords and justices to act on behalf of the sheriffs, and more often then not defaulting to the services of private thief-takers. It wasn’t until the Bow Street Runners of 1749 and then the Metropolitan Police of 1829 that a true professional, public, police force was established in Britain. As a result, cities could be incredibly dangerous places to live in the medieval, renaissance, and early modern periods – hence the genuine concern if a force of 2,000 armed men can’t keep order in King’s Landing.

Finally, the topic of royal bastards. I’ve discussed this before a bit, but it is highly unusual for a royal bastard to be raised as a mere artisan, even for a king with a legitimate heir. Much more commonly, kings gave out rich lands and titles to their bastard children in order to keep power and wealth within the family (and to keep them on hand as potential “backup heirs” should the trueborn heir die). For example, when Henry VIII, Robert Baratheon’s spiritual and corporeal counterpart in our world, had the good fortune to get Lady Elizabeth Blount (his wife Catherine’s Maid of Honour) pregnant, he made Cardinal Wolsey the boy’s godfather, exhibited his son to the court with celebratory banquets, had him made the Duke of Richmond and Somerset (and one of the wealthiest young men in England), and married him to the daughter of Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk.

What If?

There are three interesting and plot-critical hypothetical situations that emerge out of Eddard VI:

  • Eddard had used his office? As I have suggested before, had Lord Stark used his authority as Hand of the King to summon witnesses to him rather than acting through Jory Cassel, he certainly could have gotten most of Jon Arryn’s retinue to testify as to what they knew, greatly speeding up his investigation. He would have known far earlier that Jon Arryn was definitely poisoned, that he was looking at all of Robert’s bastards, that he was investigating questions of heredity, and so on and so forth. The interesting question is what he would have learned from Ser Hugh – my suspicion, which I’ll expand on later, is that Ser Hugh at the very least knew the whole of Lord Arryn’s investigation (since as his squire he would have accompanied him to most places), and may even have been privy to Lysa and Littlefinger’s assassination. The larger point is that a faster investigation is absolutely critical for the plot: if Eddard finds out the truth before he is wounded and before Catelyn’s abduction of Tyrion happens, then he’s in a position to act before the Lannisters have mobilized for war, and doesn’t get delayed by his injury (which would also mean that Arya and Sansa don’t become hostages); quite possibly, this means that he finds out before Robert’s death and averts Robert’s assisted hunting accident. Robert not dying means that the Renly/Tyrell Conspiracy probably happens, and now we’re talking about a united Stark-Tully-Baratheon-Tyrell-(maybe)Arryn force against just Casterly Rock. Long live King Robert, and congratulations on his new bride.
  • Eddard had summoned Stannis to King’s Landing? Now, it’s possible that a pragmatist like Stannis would have kept his head down rather than to risk assassination, but given Stannis’ dedication to the law, I doubt he would have ignored a summons from the Hand of the King. This would have meant that Eddard would have known that Stannis and Arryn were investigating the possibility that Robert’s children with Cersei were not legitimate far ahead of when he found out in OTL, giving him the chance to act against Cersei well before Robert’s death. Indeed, even if Robert had died anyway, Stannis’ swords could have made the difference in Eddard’s potential coup, bringing down Cersei and Joffrey. In that scenario, Renly would likely have married Margaery and become Prince of Dragonstone, and the Lannisters would have had to face a united Stark-Tully-Baratheon-Tyrell-(maybe)Arryn force against just the forces of Casterly Rock – and long live King Stannis.
  • What if Eddard had taken Gendry with him? In OTL, Eddard extends an offer of service to Gendry, but he could have easily just ordered his master to render over the young man. This could have some potentially interesting consequences: firstly, Gendry might have learned of his parentage (which he still hasn’t, despite the news about Joffrey’s bastardy); secondly, Gendry could have been legitimized as a potential heir should Stannis and Renly fall; thirdly, Gendry could have met Arya Stark earlier, which would have been interesting to see.

Book vs. Show

Nothing significant to report. Check back next time.



52 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard VI

  1. Brett says:

    Finally, the topic of royal bastards. I’ve discussed this before a bit, but it is highly unusual for a royal bastard to be raised as a mere artisan, even for a king with a legitimate heir.

    This is Cersei’s influence. One of her POV chapters mentioned that Robert once brought up bringing Mya Stone to court, but Cersei all but said that she would have her killed if that happened (just like how she moved quickly to murder all of Robert’s bastards in reach if possible, and had a pair of twins Robert fathered at Lannisport killed). Gendry may have survived before Robert’s death simply because Lord Arryn found him first, and Edric Storm because he was the product of Robert and a noble lady being raised at Storm’s End.

    Otherwise, he probably would have done stuff for them. He was having Edric Storm raised at Storm’s End, and we see other noble bastards being elevated.

    On the post-

    Great point about the guilds. I didn’t even notice that they were absent, but it is striking. There’s a “master-apprentice” system (such as with Gendry), but apparently no guilds. Could it be due to King’s Landing being pretty young as far as cities go? Or maybe the Targaryens being unusually repressive towards anything that might compromise their power in the Kinglands?

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. You’re probably right. Gendry wasn’t the only one being taken care of in secret; there’s also the girl child who gets murdered by Slynt. More on those murders later, since they’re something that doesn’t get brought up much with regards to Cersei. I don’t disagree she had ample cause to hate Robert, but she straight-up murders innocent women and children out of spite.

      2. No, there are guilds. The Alchemists, etc. I think it has more to do with GRRM not thinking about it/it not being important in the larger plot.

      • scarlett45 says:

        Regarding Royal bastards, it has been my understanding that the social status of the mother often affected a bastard’s position (especially for a man like Robert who had so many), i.e. in the case of Edric Storm, his mother was an unwed virgin noble woman, as such he was recognized and fostered at Dragonstone; a reflection of his birth. Gendry’s mother worked in an inn(?) and may or may not have been married to another man at some point, thus upon her death apprenticeship as an armorer was an advantageous position for him. I am not sure what to make of Mya Stone. Ned proclaimed that long after Robert lost interest in the mother, he would come play with her. I understand not bringing her to court for her own safety, but since Arryn was the Lord of the Vale, he couldnt have her educated to make a decent match, or serve as a Lady’s Maid rather than be the “Mountain of the Moon Guide”. Not that Mya isnt good at it mind you, but it seems rather rough life for a young lady who’s father is a king.

        As far as Cersei, I find it HILARIOUS that she willingly murders Robert’s bastards and thinks nothing of it, but is appalled that he would think to murder her for infidelity or banish her children (illegitimate products of incest). As Tyrion says, had Cersei had one child by Robert, to throw off suspicion, the investigation would’ve been largely avoided and she still couldv’e placed Joffrey (her child by Jaime) on the throne. (More on that later….)

        Thank you for writing, I enjoy all your posts.

        • stevenattewell says:

          It’s true that the sons of high-class mothers would do better, but there’s a huge gap between Edric Storm, fostered at Storm’s End, and a blacksmith’s shop.

  2. axrendale says:

    I’ll start off by saying that I love your forays into the economic and sociological aspects of Martin’s world-building. Although most of the series’ historical influences derive from the Middle Ages, the city of King’s Landing seems to be an exception to this rule. With its high population (over half a million), lack of formally organized/influential guilds, highly politicized standing military force (apparently the only concession to institutionalized public services on the part of the government), status as an imperial capital (with its economy dependent on trade/tribute from said empire) and religious center, and with local politics largely revolving around the challenges of providing food and entertainment for the large urban proletariat, King’s Landing bears a far greater resemblance to Ancient Rome of the Late Republican/Early Imperial era (or perhaps Constantinople) than to medieval London or Paris. Even the climate seems to support this – in the show (and in the books?) the city is portrayed as having a very mediterranean feel, as opposed to the more temperate conditions that prevail in other parts of Westeros.

    Back onto the plot and political intruigue. Something that became apparent to me while re-reading AGOT (it is only really appreciable in hindsight) is the degree to which Ned seems to have developed and is working with a theory of Monolithic Lannisterism (pardon the pun/inappropriate comparison) in which all actions by members of House Lannister are part of a single, coordinated conspiracy that is centrally directed from Casterly Rock. It is easy to see how he comes to believe this (in fact, much of the first book deliberately fosters this impression in the reader’s mind), but the following books reveal just how mistaken he is on this point. There are in fact two more or less distinct Lannister conspiracies that by turn overlap with and contradict each other: the conspiracy of Lord Tywin, which largely consists of efforts to safeguard the inheritance of his grandchildren (who he believes to be legitimate), with the hope of creating a lasting dynasty; and the conspiracy of Cersei, aimed at covering up the true paternity of her children, through whom she hopes to one day exercise her personal rule. One aspect of the first book that I am unable to make my mind up on is how much Lord Tywin knew or suspected about the events in King’s Landing, particularly the murder of Robert, and the degree to which he was involved in events prior to the kidnapping of Tyrion.

    With regard to Renly and the Tyrells – this is in my view probably the second most commonly cited point by those who argue that Ned is an incompetent politician (after his revelation to Cersei that he has learned her secret). On the whole, I think that you have hit the nail on the head in your essays pointing out that Ned’s primary failing is less a lack of sagacity than it is a misunderstanding of the nature of royal power. However, one area where I think that he displayed genuinely poor judgement during his handship was his failure to establish political alliances with anyone other than Littlefinger. His mentor Jon Arryn (the architect of the coalition that won the War of the Usurper and the ally of Stannis Baratheon during the years of Robert’s rule) could have told him how important reliable allies are in any struggle, but Ned completely fell down in this area. It is possible to excuse him for failing to pick up on Renly’s highly oblique approach in this chapter, but what Renly was up to is later explicitly spelt out by Robert during the Tourney of the Hand, so Ned really has no excuse for failing to realise the potential significance of the Tyrells (aided by Renly) attempting to supplant the position of the Lannisters as dominant royal in-laws. Even if Ned is unwilling to trust the Tyrells (who admittedly could have turned out to be only a lesser evil compared to the Lannisters) this could have been a golden opportunity to play the two most powerful and dangerous factions in Westeros off against each other, in the process preventing either from making effective bids for power. Later, Ned misses another huge opportunity when he prevents Loras Tyrell from joining the party sent to apprehend Gregor Clegane, and still another when he disregards Renly’s advice to seize control of Cersei’s children while he has the chance.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Wow. Another amazing comment.

      My one caveat is that we must be careful to remember that the image of the Middle Ages as a “Dark Age” is very much a construction by Renaissance scholars engaging in a bit of historical one-upmanship. Medieval cities weren’t very big by later standards, but they were quite flourishing economically and culturally.

      With regard to the Lannisters – you’re absolutely right. As of Eddard VI, he’s imagining a Lannister conspiracy that for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist; it’s actually the Littlefinger Conspiracy running a false-flag operation. There is a Lannister Conspiracy going on, but he hasn’t uncovered it yet. I would slightly adjust your description of the two conspiracies: one is a straight-forward conspiracy to enhance Lannister influence, with Cersei working with Tywin to ensure that Lannisters are made Wardens of the East, Lannister allies are appointed to the Kingsguard and are made the king’s squires, etc. But Tywin is unaware of Cersei’s attempt to replace the Baratheon with a full-blooded Lannister dynasty; I don’t know if he suspected that Robert was murdered (given how surprised he is at Joffrey’s character, I don’t think he was getting particularly good intel about what’s going on in King’s Landing), but he certainly wasn’t in the loop. Cersei’s actions in King’s Landing are really slapdash, and show none of Tywin’s careful use of deniable catspaws a la the Red Wedding.

      With regard to Renly and the Tyrells – yes, Ned fails on this score, in part because he doesn’t think he needs allies other than Robert, although arguably he does get intel from Varys and Littlefinger. In part, GRRM is stacking the deck against him by keeping Stannis in Dragonstone, but Eddard certainly could have made an alliance with Ser Barristan Selmy, who shares much of Eddard’s thinking (especially when it comes to Dany’s assasination). I think he does make a mistake with Renly, but it’s also the case that Renly made a mistake by not tailoring his pitch to the man he was dealing with. Had Renly come forward and said: I think the Lannisters have too much power, let’s make an alliance with the Tyrells, I think Eddard might have agreed. And yes, the Loras/Gregor thing is a huge missed opportunity.

      • Cannoli says:

        Uh, you guys DO realize that part of Renly’s offer of support for Ned included the sizable retinue & impressive combat skills of Loras, right? If he went after Gregor, how would he have been around for coup? And sending Loras obviates the whole point of sending a party, rather than leaving it to Marq Piper and the other hotheads, who are after vengeance. Loras is the same as they. And how do we know Renly would have been able to offer support? It’s equally possible he’d have gone with Loras or sent help or something. Loras has absolutely no track record of command success, and when he is later given a command, goes off half-cocked and increases casualties by an order of magnitude. It’s a mark of Renly’s shortcomings that he lets Loras command his vanguard. He’s a hotheaded boy, who was absolutely not raised to command, and probably discouraged from getting any such ideas. He is the ideal third son – valiant and skilled at arms, a credit to his House, and totally willing to charge blindly at any foe they point him towards, not a schemer or thinker who’s going to be plotting a coup against his older brothers with any skill or success. The suggestion that Ned should have indulged him came from a guy who is trying to stir shit up and set the powers of the realm against each other. A Lannister-Tyrell alliance is the last thing Varys wants, and spends a great deal of effort destabilizing it once its other enemies are gone. Send Loras against the Lannisters gets him killed and Mace blaming them (and maybe Ned and the whole Robert regime), or he kills Gregor, causes lots of bloodshed doing so, and makes a big public deal of his heroic efforts to defeat the evil villain, ’cause maintaining that image is the Tyrells’ favorite play, which is a public embarrassment to Tywin, painting him as the sponsor of a villain or the incompetent lord who let his mad dog run amok. Either way, people who show Tywin up like that tend to be targeted for brutal and over the top retaliation, which furthers Varys’ cause of strife between the great powers of the realm and leaves them weakened for the inevitable Aegon restoration.

  3. Darnok says:

    One point where I do not agree is your criticism of eddard giving 20 of his men to serve with the Gold Cloaks. Those men would have been still Stark men and he could expect to get his own ears and eyes in the Gold Cloaks and become more independent from the view of Janos Slynt. And the additional benefit is that the city has to pay their salary and provide their equipment. That it did not help him in the end is another story.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Except that they’re 20 men amid 2,000, and they don’t know what they’re looking for. Eddard also gives them no instructions to spy for him – he just tells them to keep the peace.

      And while spies in the gold cloaks might be a good idea, he’s only got 100 men. He can’t afford to lose 20.

    • Cannoli says:

      He didn’t lose them. They were loaned for the duration of the tourney, “until the crowds depart.” He ordered Jory to put Alyn in charge of the group he sent, and we know Alyn was back under Ned later on, since he led the contingent of Ned’s men who joined the Gregor mission.

      And if Jon Arryn couldn’t fire Janos Slynt, what makes you think Ned can?

  4. axrendale says:

    On another note, your timely reminder of the basic despicability of Littlefinger puts me in mind of a choice quote from Machiavelli, who wrote of Agathocles of Syracuse: [i]”Yet it cannot be called prowess to kill fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious. These ways can win a prince power but not glory.”[/i] ([i]The Prince[/i] chapter VIII – “Those who come to power by crime”)

    • stevenattewell says:

      Pretty much. I think the problem Littlefinger has in the long-term is that he’s going to find it very hard to do anything constructive with the power he’s accumulated.

  5. scarlett45 says:

    Also, thank you for the essay on Westerosi economics- it is riveting.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I liked it as well; and will probably be going back to that author for more, especially in dealing with Littlefinger’s economic dealings.

  6. Sean C. says:

    One thing that gets brought up in your “what if?”s is the idea of it being the various great lords against the Lannisters. I wonder, though, what Lord Tywin would have been likely to do if Cersei and Jaime were exposed. As you say, the military odds would be hopeless, and if the case were made out, I could just as easily see him cut his losses and accede to condemnation of his children. After all, he’s not actually involved in their crimes, and the Crown is still massive in debt to him. It would be a huge, huge blow to Tywin’s hopes for the future, no doubt (though a boon to Ser Kevan’s branch of the family, since Tywin for whatever reason never bothered to father additional heirs despite every incentive to do so), and he’d probably live out his days in bitterness, but he’s a practical man for the most part. Leading his House into certain destruction and disrepute seems an atypical course of action for him.

    • scarlett45 says:

      I agree. IF it was proven without a shadow of a doubt that Cersei and Jamie were committing incest (i.e numerous witnesses catching them mid-coitus), I think Tywin may have shipped them off to the Free Cities (along with the children) and fake their deaths to cut his loses. I dont think he would actually kill them, but he would resign himself to Kevan’s offspring carrying on the Lannister name.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s possible he would have no choice but to lie down in the face of overwhelming odds, but it’s a bit of a Hobson’s choice: either way, he loses an enormous amount of prestige and power, almost to an existential level. And in OTL, he did go to war against Dragonstone, the Reach, the Stormlands, the North, and the Riverlands, with the West and the Crownlands on his side, which is hardly good odds.

    • axrendale says:

      I disagree on this point. Tywin does a very good job of cultivating his image as a hard-nosed, hard-eyed pragmatist – “There is no blood in Tywin Lannister” observes his son – but the ironic thing is that it’s actually just as much of a facade as the devil-may-care attitude that Tyrion displays to the world. Underneath both disguises lurk deeply insecure, deeply damaged men who are capable of responding in very irrational ways when the wrong buttons are pressed on them – in this as in so much else, their characters are twisted mirror images. No matter how iron-clad the case was, Tywin would probably have refused to believe it – would have been incapable of believing it – because if it turned out to be true, that would make him the biggest joke in the Seven Kingdoms: the man who tried to found a dynasty by marrying his daughter to the king, only to have her produce three “abominations born of incest”. He might very well have done something absolutely crazy in an attempt to stop people from lauging over that one.

      • witlesschum says:

        Well, Tywin’s practicality wins out when it comes to Tyrion.

        When he needs an acting Hand, he goes with Tyrion even though he must hate the idea given how much he hates Tyrion. He says he has to send Tyrion because he’s his son (and, unsaid, Jaime is unavailable), but I think he recognizes Tyrion’s displayed talent in escaping from the Vale with his life and in making it through the Battle of the Green Fork. So, he uses him at least for as long as he has to. Tywin’s willing to keep using Tyrion, too, in Storm of Swords, but he’s also willing to believe whatever bad is said about him. Though, Tyrion doesn’t help himself in dealing with his father, really.

        • stevenattewell says:

          True, but I think there are limits to how far Tywin’s willing to go: he’ll make use of Tyrion when he needs him, but once he doesn’t need him, he finds him a useful but inglorious job as opposed to a major reward.

  7. Andrew says:

    I guess Catelyn was to Littelfinger as Daisy was to Gatsby. You can see in ASoS that LIttlefinger’s loathes his origins. Littlefinger was the lowest of the low among lords, and he had been given a great opportunity when he was fostered at Riverrun compared to the home he called the Drearfort. Catelyn was his “golden girl”, the hope of rising high above his humble origins and being accepted by the high nobility.

    He tells Sansa “Life is not a song sweetling someday you’ll learn that to your sorrow.” He was speaking from experience when he challenged Brandon to a duel for Cat’s hand. He think it would be like in the stories with him being the underdog. He loses, and he is sent back to his home with his dream shattered.

    • stevenattewell says:

      True. Still makes him a psychotic bastard, given what he did afterwards.

      • Andrew says:

        I wasn’t excusing his behavior. I agree that he shows plenty of the signs of a psychopath before I even read the post. I do think he makes a modification to his plans when he sees Sansa. Illyrio said that Viserys lusted for Dany, and tried to rape her the night before her wedding had it not been for the guards Illyrio placed at her door.

        Sansa is at the Eyrie, and Littlefinger commands the guards. He may make a similar attempt.

      • John says:

        Sansa is at the Gates of the Moon, and Nestor Royce commands at least some of the guards, actually.

      • Littlefinger’s lifelong infatuation with Catelyn, even after her death, is one thing that IIRC distinguishes him from a typical psycopath – that type isn’t deeply attached to anyone. Littlefinger could be on the psychopathic spectrum though.

        And I think GRRM prefers his characters to have more depth to them than just being an archetypal psychopath, anyway.

  8. hefaestos says:

    “Indeed, his acting to smuggle Gendry out of the capitol is one of the best pieces of evidence we have that argues that Aegon VI really is a Targaryen.”

    I don’t follow the thinking on this… Could someone briefly expound, or link to what I’m guessing is a discussion elsewhere that reached this conclusion?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Ok, so there’s a good deal of debate about whether Aegon VI is actually a Targaryen that Varys swapped out for a different baby when King’s Landing fell to Tywin Lannister’s forces during Robert’s Rebellion, or whether he’s actually a Blackfyre on his mother’s side, and actually Illyrio’s son.

      My belief is that the simplest explanation is that Varys did actually rescue Aegon VI, and I think the fact that Varys acted to save Gendry in similar circumstances is good evidence for that.

      • hertolo says:

        It would be the Miller’s Kids and Theon all over again, because the big question in that case for me remains whether the life of these kids were worth less than those of some high lordlings?

        But my question would be another one: Why rescue Aegon, but leave Rhaenys (and Elia) at the Red Keep?

        I do feel that Aegon could be the real one, or not. I’m rather indifferent to the topic though, since it doesn’t really matter, especially not compared to the amount of threads and opinions dedicated to the topic. In the end, there’s no DNA testing in Westeros and what’s important is what the people believe.

        Again, nice post!

      • essostravel says:

        Also, the royal family were being kept at the Red Keep at Aerys’ insistence, so Varys would have had to make a substitutions rather than just, you know, get them the hell out of there. Being a baby, and therefore not that recognisable, it would have been possible to do this with Aegon, it wouldn’t have been possible with Elia or Rhaenys.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Right, although timing is an issue. Aerys died right before Elia and Rhaenys, so Varys could have swapped them out. However, while a baby’s not going to have anything to say about what’s going on, how many adult women would willingly stand in for a Queen as Gregor Clegane comes for them without spilling the beans?

  9. AzureOwl says:

    I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I think GRRM has given us a piece of backstory that might explain the absence of the guilds as a political force… the Defiance of Duskendale.

    Once one reads what GRRM said about the causes of the Defiance ( ) the story that the maester told Brienne becomes very fishy. He tried to pin all the blame on Lord Darklyn’s Myrish wife for filling her husband’s ears with poison, but GRRM said that the Duskendale rebellion happened because the Lord of Duskendale demanded certain rights for his citizens and a Duskendale town charter from Aerys so he stopped paying taxes to demonstrate his anger.

    A lord rebelling against his king because he won’t grant rights to the lord’s subjects that will probably come at the expense of Lord Darklyn’s own power? Because his foreign wife told convinced him to? Sounds like bullshit to me.

    Once one knows what the original demands were, it becomes far more likely that the guilds and merchants of Duskendale were behind the petition. They were the only ones that stood to gain from them. Neither Denys Darklyn nor his wife had any reason to want to cede power to the townspeople out of the goodness of their hearts. Far more likely that the prominent guildsmen and merchants of the town lobbied the lord to take their side. And after Aerys was freed and the hammer came down hard on Duskendale, Lady Serala was probably the scapegoat. And the citizens of Duskendale are still trying to pin all the blame on her even decades afterwards.

    If the burgesses of Duskendale were behind the Defiance, someone like Tywin Lannister would’ve known about it and taken appropriate action to make sure none of the guildsmen and merchants of the other cities of Westeros (especially King’s Landing) ever thought about challenging the established power structure. If he didn’t purge the King’s Landing guilds of politically minded folks after the Defiance of Duskendale, he would’ve certainly done it during the Sack of King’s Landing.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Not necessarily bullshit. Simon de Montfort was a belted Earl and married to the King’s sister, and he fought for the poor against the King.

      It could well be the case, but we don’t have any textual evidence to support that theory, and we get a pretty complete description of the aftermath.

  10. Solace says:

    Another excellent piece, keep up the good work. One thing I’m wondering about, however, and forgive me if you’ve answered this elsewhere, is why Stannis flees to Dragonstone in the first place. Is it because he’s afraid of being assassinated – as he can only assume must have happened to Jon Arryn? It doesn’t seem in keeping with his character to run from a threat, as even Ned remarks upon. Why didn’t he simply confide what he knows in Robert and attempt to catch the culprits? It’s probable that Stannis’ low opinion of his relationship with Robert leads him to think that he is unlikely to succeed in convincing him of the truth, but even still, everything we learn about him later on makes it seem like he would have made the attempt regardless of the odds.
    And even if we accept that Stannis was indeed keeping his head down in Dragonstone, what exactly was he expecting to happen? With Jon Arryn dead he might have thought that there was no immediate threat to Robert, so long as he remained ignorant of the truth, but the conspirators would still have had free rein to do as they pleased. Meanwhile Stannis is stuck on Dragonstone – seemingly without options.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. He’s under threat, so he’s retreating to a place of safety. Stannis isn’t stupid.
      2. Dragonstone is the only place he can raise an army. Stannis believes in being prepared.
      3. Stannis was waiting for either Robert or Cersei to die.

  11. […] As I’ve said before, I’m a huge partisan of peasant rebellions against the medieval nobility, in no small part because one of my ancestors, one Adam Attewell a butcher of London, was a member of John Ball’s “Great Society” and took to the high roads of Essex when the Great Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 began, calling on the peasants to rise up against their masters because London was with them. However, the sad truth of history is that most peasant rebellions ended in defeat – and for the sake of the mountian clans dreaming of retaking their lands from the knights of the Vale, we should ask why this was the case. […]

  12. […] I’ve discussed before that Ned Stark has every authority to simply replace Janos Slynt and his leading officers and take command of the Goldcloaks, but even if we accept for the sake of argument that he’s left it too late to do that, Ned could simply seize the royal treasury and buy their support himself. His twenty-seven men isn’t enough to take on Cersei, but it’s more soldiers than Littlefinger has, so he could simply open up the vaults and use the gold to buy Slynt and every mercenary in the city. Indeed, as Hand of the King and Lord Protector, this wouldn’t even be illegal; he’s got full authority to make use of royal funds as he sees fit and he’s ultimately responsible for making sure the guard get paid. […]

  13. […] Eddard VI (institutional power and the Goldcloaks, tourneys as trickle-down economics vs. the 99 percent, noir detective Eddie Stark’s investigation catches a break, checking in with the Littlefinger and Renly/Tyrell Conspiracies, history of trade guilds, police forces, and royal bastards) […]

  14. […] willing to buy a slightly-used kingdom. So even though I’m quite convinced he’s a sociopath, he’s at least intelligent enough to recognize that there are limits to his power at this […]

  15. […] were firing at practice butts to the call of “notch, draw loose…” As we learned in AGOT, Stannis has castled, locking down the island: “the anchorage was crowded with ships. No […]

  16. […] I’ve discussed before, the kind of large police force we see in King’s Landing was not found in medieval England […]

  17. […] Step 2 for that), but what we learn about the mastermind of the Littlefinger Conspiracy. I’ve written before that I consider Petyr Baelish to be a psychopath, and this chapter provides ample evidence of […]

  18. Scott Trotter says:

    A couple of minor notes:

    1. Regarding Janos Slynt and his difficulty maintaining order in the city: There was another major tournament held in Kings Landing just 6-9 months prior to The Hand’s Tournament, the one that was held for Joffrey’s name day at which Littlefinger gambled away his dagger. You’d think that Slynt and the Gold Cloaks would be well versed in handling the crowds surrounding such an event. Was the situation leading up to The Hand’s Tournament significantly worse than they were for Joffrey’s Name Day Tournament? If so, why? Maybe someone was stirring up trouble to put pressure on the new Hand?

    2. I don’t think that Maester Coleman would have confirmed that Jon Arryn had been poisoned. The Tears of Lys are described as “clear, sweet as water, and leaves no trace.” Unless Coleman had inside knowledge of the plot, it would have looked to him like a severe stomach ache. The effects of the poison are described as “a sickness in the bowels and belly, eating away at them.” This sounds exactly like a perforated ulcer, which is almost always fatal without immediate surgery. (Quotes from Wiki of Ice and Fire entry.)

    3. You didn’t say exactly why you though Renly showed Ned the picture of Margaery, other than he was trying to subtly reach out to him. I think Renly was hoping Ned would confirm that Margaery really did resemble Lyanna, making her potentially more attractive to Robert, and hence his disappointment when Ned said that she didn’t.

    4. A tournament should have been good business for the Street of Steel, with participants seeking to repair or update their armor such as Dunk did at Ashford. Ned was described as shouldering his way inside of Tohbo Mott’s establishment.

    • 1. No, I think Slynt’s just bad at his job/doesn’t really care.
      2. I think he would have. People with perforated ulcers don’t see their conditions improve when they are purged – purging is a treatment for poisoning, to flush the agent out of the system – and then suddenly decline when the purging stops.
      3. Well that’s part of it but as we’ll see Robert doesn’t care particularly much.
      4.That is true.

      • Scott Trotter says:

        2. I guess what I’m really wondering is why would Colemon even suspect poisoning when none of the usual symptoms were present. He may have been purging Arryn simply because it was a stomach complaint, or because he had nothing better to try.

        • 1. Jon Arryn might have feared assassination and mentioned it.

          2. The oddness of a sudden fever that only strikes one member of a household.

          3. As a maester trained in medicine, he’d be familiar with the strangler.

  19. Tijgy says:

    I actually do not agree about your remark that Ned should haves used his powers to summon people so they can interrogated, … Ned was investigating Jon Arryn’s murder in secret. It is a big difference to let Jory ask some questions and summon people to him so he could question him.

    And I actually want to address a big difference between the show and the books. In the show Ned doesn’t care about being watched. In the books he actually led his people watch to see if he is being shadowed and who they are.

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