Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard VII

eddard varys

“You are the King’s Hand, and the King is a fool…your friend, I know, but a fool nonetheless…and doomed, unless you save him.”

Synopsis: Eddard views the body of Ser Hugh of the Vale, along with Ser Barristan Selmy succeeds in preventing the assassination of King Robert completely by accident, watches the Knight of Flowers defeat the Mountain and get saved by the Hound, and goes through the looking glass with Varys.

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 VII is almost over-flowing with political content as Eddard deals with the fallout from the assassination of Ser Hugh of the Vale, inadvertently thwarts an assassination attempt against the King, considers the evidence he’s gathered and begins to formulate a plan of action, and makes his first big breakthrough in his investigations when Varys decides to illuminate him.

Brace yourself folks, this one’s a doozy!

The Assassination of Ser Hugh

First of all, the fallout from the assassination of Ser Hugh of the Vale. Regardless of whether Ser Gregor killed Ser Hugh on his own behalf or on orders from some third party, Eddard Stark’s first reaction is to wonder “if it had been for his sake that they boy had died. Slain by a Lannister bannerman before Ned could speak to him.”  This belated paranoia has some interesting consequences: Eddard starts to really see the scope of “the Lannister appetite for officers and honors,” noticing that “Robert [is] surrounded by the queen’s kin, waking and sleeping.” I would argue that it’s hardly a coincidence that Eddard foils Cersei’s attempt to kill Robert Baratheon by forbidding “him to fight, in front of his brother, his knights, and half his court,” right after he begins seeing Lannisters around every corner; as he gains information, Eddard becomes more of a threat.

Varys arrives and provides further information about Ser Hugh in ways that are more revealing than at first glance. On the surface, Varys confirms that Arryn was poisoned by the tears of Lys, a “rare and expensive poison,” and speculates that Ser Hugh of the Vale, (“one boy…all he was, he owed Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her household, he stayed in King’s Landing and prospered,”) was responsible. However, we also learn something else that’s not clear at first read: Varys is capable of making mistakes. As we will learn later, it was Lysa and Littlefinger who killed Jon Arryn (although it’s still possible that Ser Hugh was a conspirator or a witness to that murder), but Varys doesn’t know that in no small part because Littlefinger has been very good at keeping the information to a few parties and then getting those parties far away from Varys’ spies.

hat-tip to Saejima

However, we also get further suggestion that Ser Hugh’s murder was carried out to prevent him from talking to Lord Stark, and that the reason he died “so untimely” was that he had been bribed with enough money to purchase the “bright new armor” that was going to jump-start the jousting career of an other-wise penniless knight. To me, this suggests that my theory about Littlefinger having arranged his death to clean up any loose ends in regards to Jon Arryn’s investigations is on the right track. Moreover, the talk of expensive armor throws Varys’ comment about the tears of Lys being expensive is I think a quiet hint (similar to Pycelle’s mention of Lysa’s mental state) that it would have taken someone with Petyr Baelish’ wealth to acquire the tears of Lys.

The interesting question, is how much Varys really knew about Jon Arryn and Ser Hugh. Varys definitely knew the secret that Jon Arryn was looking for, and also knew much if not all of what Jon Arryn had uncovered (given how he kept tabs on Gendry), but it’s not clear whether Varys knew who had killed Jon Arryn (since Varys definitely benefits from the Starks blaming the murder on the Lannisters, provided he can time their conflict correctly) and is simply lying through misdirection, or whether Varys really did think Ser Hugh was responsible. In a sense, Littlefinger’s assassination, meant to convince Eddard of the reality of the Lannister threat and that his investigation is on the right track, might also have been intended to act as a distraction.

Creating Ser Hugh as the very image of a patsy (a nobody hedge knight who was close to Lord Arryn, who then suddenly comes into a lot of money and a knighthood the moment Arryn dies, who then dies in a suspicious manner at the exact right time) is just the kind of twice-removed intrigue that is the signature of the Littlefinger Conspiracy. And insofar as we can tell, it seems to work, convincing Varys that he’s found the hand who wielded the tears of Lys, leading him away from further investigation. After all, it’s absolutely to Varys’ interests to, if he knew that Littlefinger was responsible, to uncover his rival and take him out of the game of thrones, and yet he misses a perfect opportunity. On the other hand, it’s equally in Varys’ interests to keep Stark focused on the Lannisters, hanging back to see what happens with Arryn’s murder, and biding his time in dealing with Littlefinger (given his need to keep Littlefinger’s eyes focused on Westeros, not Essos).

Ned and Rob and Why We Should Care About the Bros

And to understand why Eddard Stark is genuinely a threat to Cersei and the other conspirators, why we shouldn’t dismiss him as doomed by his honor, I think we have to understand the bond between Eddard and Robert in all its complexity. It’s not as simple as Robert being willing to listen to Ned – as we have seen and will see, Robert is perfectly willing to overrule his Hand when he doesn’t care about the issue at hand (the killing of the direwolf) or when Eddard is urging against a course of action Robert views as necessary to the security of the state (the killing of Danaerys). Rather, Eddard knows Robert, not perfectly (he doesn’t yet know about the marital abuse, although he does know about the adulterous tendencies), but he knows his virtues and his vices. He knows that Robert is contrary when publicly told not to do something, he knows for all his drunkenness, Robert retains his memory (something that Eddard and Cersei share), but he also knows that Robert still has the qualities of the military leader that he displays later when Ser Gregor goes on a would-be psychotic killing spree in the tourney.

Secondly, he’s willing and able to tell his friend the king some hard truths and get the king to accept them – while telling Robert he’s grown too fat for his armor is a rather comic moment, telling a lifelong warrior that he can’t participate in a melee because everyone will let him win, and telling Robert that he didn’t know Lyanna as well as he thought is far more serious. And Robert does in fact listen to Eddard at this point, and in so doing, Eddard foils an assassination attempt without knowing. Certainly, Varus considers Eddard’s closeness to the King to be a major asset, arguing that “you, Lord Stark, I think…no, I know, he would not kill you even for his queen, and there may lay our salvation.”  

It’s Varys’ opinion that made me re-think Eddard’s plan to lay everything in front of the king, “prove that the Lannisters were behind the attack on Bran, prove that they had murdered Jon Arryn,” gambling that Robert would act and “Cersei would fall,” isn’t such a bad plan after all. Now, we know in retrospect that Joffrey is the likeliest candidate for the attack on Bran (although as is often the case in Martin’s work, we don’t get any conclusive proof) and that Lysa Arryn and Littlefinger murdered Jon Arryn, but Eddard does ultimately succeed in gathering evidence of treason sufficient to bring down Cersei, and probably would have succeeded in getting Robert to move had he not been delayed just long enough by his injuries. After all, for Robert, Ned is the man in his life who is “always right,” and even in the moment that most people hold up as evidence that Ned can’t count on Robert (the decision to assassinate Danaerys), we should remember that Robert does ultimately accept the truth that Eddard was trying to tell him.

Granted, I still think Eddard makes a mistake in relying solely on Robert’s good character, as opposed to uniting the powers of his office with the favor of his king, but I think much of the fandom also judges his proposal with the hindsight knowledge that Robert is going to die before Eddard can let him know. When a plan requires that kind of deus ex machina to be derailed, I think reassessment is due.

Eddard’s Investigation Makes a Breakthrough

By Eddard VII, the lord of Winterfell has now proceeded far enough into his investigation that major players like Varys are beginning to come to him with significant pieces of information, and that he’s getting close to putting those pieces together into an overall picture of a conspiracy:

Littlefinger’s dagger, won by Tyrion Lannister in a tourney wager, sent to slay Bran is his sleep. Why? Why would the dward want Bran dead? Why would anyone want Bran dead?

The dagger, Bran’s fall, all of it was linked somehow to the murder of Jon Arryn, he could feel it in his gut, but the truth of Jon’s death remained as clouded to him as when he had started. Lord Stannis had not returned to King’s Landing for the tourney. Lysa Arryn held her silence behind the high walls of the Eyrie. The squire was dead, and Jory was still searching the whorehouses. What did he have but Robert’s Bastard?

That the armorer’s sullen apprentice was the king’s son, Ned had no doubt, the Baratheon look was stamped on his face, in his jaw, his eyes, that black hair…yet knowing all that, what had he learned? The king had other baseborn children scattered throughout the Seven Kingdoms…yet in the end it mattered little whether the king had one bastard or a hundred…none of them could threaten Robert’s trueborn children. 

This summation is a pretty good barometer of the progress of Eddard’s investigation: he’s been misinformed about the dagger,  but he is correct that Bran’s fall was linked to Jon Arryn’s murder, although the connection was somewhat tenuous; Littlefinger had been spying on Jon Arryn (who discovered after months of searching what Bran learned in an instant) and knew that if he had the Hand murdered, then it would be easy to direct suspicion towards the Lannisters who would have had the strongest motive, and while the selection of the dagger was a complete accident, Littlefinger’s decision to lie points the finger to him as someone who’s trying to turn the Starks and Lannisters against each other. Likewise, although he doesn’t realize, the fact that he has proof in the form of Gendry and the other bastards that all of Robert’s bastards bear the “Baratheon look” and that Cersei’s children don’t is threatening to the”trueborn” children and their mother. So there we have it, a man on the verge of breakthrough who doesn’t realize what he has.

Ironically, Eddard comes incredibly close in this chapter to nearly busting open the Littlefinger Conspiracy, and finding out who was responsible for the attack on Bran.  had he inquired as to how Robert “know[s] him [Joffrey] as I do,” or had he inquired either with Robert about who won the dagger that was wagered when “the King of Flowers…dumped the Kingslayer on his golden rump,” or had he thought to ask Renly the moment that Renly says “A pity the Imp is not here with us…I should have won twice as much,” who had won Littlefinger’s dagger the last time Littlefinger had bet on the Kingslayer, he would have known that Joffrey is a psychopath, that only someone with access to the King would have had access to the would-be murder weapon, and that Littlefinger had lied to him. Unfortunately, Eddard is distracted by his thoughts on the Lannister Conspiracy and then by Ser Gregor’s attack on Loras Tyrell, and the moment is lost.

Varys choosing this moment to come forward represents both a potential opportunity and a potential danger to Stark’s investigation. On the one hand, he learns several important things from Varys – that Cersei attempted to kill her husband in the melee (more on that in a bit), that Robert is surrounded by Lannister loyalists who include two of the Kingsguard other than Jaime, that Jon Arryn had been murdered by the tears of Lys because he was asking questions, and that Ser Hugh was possibly involved. Outside of perhaps Stannis and the actual guilty parties, Varys is perhaps the most valuable source of information in Westeros. On the other hand, Varys is clearly not telling Eddard everything he knows (he clearly knows that Cersei’s children are not by Robert and that Littlefinger is deceiving Eddard about the dagger, for one), and is probably getting involved for the same reason that Littlefinger did, to guide Eddard’s investigation and modulate its tempo (although Varys probably also got involved to prevent Littlefinger from having a free hand with the King.

However, Varys’ motives for guiding the investigation are different from Littlefinger’s; he has no interest in getting Eddard to trust him, because he has no intent to betray him. Instead, I think we have to look ahead to Arya II, where he urges Illyrio to ready an invasion before the civil war is won; in order for the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy to succeed, they can’t have any side in the civil war succeed and consolidate power before a Targaryen army lands in Westeros. At this moment in time, Varys wants to help Eddard protect King Robert’s life (note that he doesn’t offer to help with the investigation) because he doesn’t want the king to die and Joffrey to accede to the Iron Throne before Eddard can gather the necessary proof needed to discredit Joffrey and prevent a consolidation of the realm under the Lannisters.

Return to the Lannister Conspiracy

Next, we need to discuss the Lannister Conspiracy.  I put off discussing this in Sansa II so that I could put it all in the same post, because it’s a critically important topic. In Sansa II, we see the queen set up her husband for an assassination attempt in the melee, and here we get confirmation from Varys that her reverse-psychology was a deliberate attempt to maneuver him into a place where a “tragic accident could take place.” This is very useful information, because it adds to our understanding of how the Lannister Conspiracy operates, and what its signature is – namely, the use of arranged “accidents” as a cover for murder, a tendency to passivity, and an overall sloppiness (Cersei couldn’t really count on her assassination actually killing Robert, given his skill in battle and the general chaos of the melee, and we see this again with Cersei arranging for Lancel to slip Robert fortified wine on his boar hunt, which doesn’t actually guarantee a kill).

This signature is important, because it allows us to rule out the Lannister Conspiracy for the attack on Bran (which had it succeeded would have been an obvious assassination) and the murder of Jon Arryn (which used poison), which bear no elements of this signature. The murder of Ser Hugh is an ambiguous case, since it relies on an accident (Ser Hugh’s gorget being loose), but it also involves the blatant use of a Lannister bannerman (which isn’t a part of the signature at all) – hence my conclusion that Littlefinger is to blame.

However, the incident itself raises other questions: what prompted this particular attack at this particular time? Given that this is only one of two times when the Lannister Conspiracy has actually acted, and that they didn’t act against Jon Arryn when he posed an existential threat to the Lannister Cause, it must have been something significant. My guess is that, following Varys’ comment that “the queen is watching you closely,” Cersei is worried that Eddard is coming too close to the truth and wants to kill Robert and have Joffrey crowned, with Eddard swearing an oath of fealty to the new king, in order to foreclose the possibility that Robert could be informed of the truth or that Eddard Stark might declare for Stannis.

The interesting question is why (as far as we know) Cersei hasn’t tried to assassinate her husband before, especially given her thinking in A Feast For Crows about her desire to make Tommen’s minority last as long as possible. My guess is that the problem was timing: if Joffrey was too young at Robert’s death, her plan to install him on the Iron Throne immediately (which was a vital element of her coup d’etat) wouldn’t be credible, and there would have to be a genuine Regent the realm would accept, either Jon Arryn or Eddard Stark. As is, her presence as Queen Regent was politically dicey enough to bolster Renly and Stannis’ support and even to create opposition within her own House.

Robert’s Political Awareness and Renly’s Plan

Another interesting moment in Eddard VII is that we finally get a sense of what Robert Baratheon thinks about the politics of the kingdom he supposedly is the monarch of. The first thing we learn is that Robert understands exactly how bad he is as king – “I was never so alive as when I was winning this throne, or so dead as now that I’ve won it,” – and the only reason he stays on the Iron Throne is that he realizes that Joffrey on the Throne and Cersei standing beside it would be so much worse than his benign neglect, given that his son is a sadistic maniac who shows many of the classic symptoms of psychopathy.

And Robert is also interested in doing something about it, when he has a Hand he can trust. “We’ll make this a reign to sign of and damn the Lannisters to seven hells,” he declaims and then in the same speech brings up Renly’s offer of Margaery Tyrell, which  creates the potential for genuine change. If Robert is genuinely open to the Renly/Tyrell Conspiracy, this suggests an openness to dissolving his marriage to Cersei and disinheriting his children, bringing in the Tyrells to deal with the crown’s finances, and diplomatically isolating the Lannisters with a Stark/Tully/Baratheon/Tyrell bloc far too powerful to successfully rebel against even with the Arryns MIA.

The Love of the Crowd

Finally, one thing I wanted to bring up that was important in Sansa II but which I didn’t have time to get to – the importance of tourneys as a place for the manipulation of public opinion. We see in that chapter how Renly has used his showings in tourneys to garner public support among the commons to become “a great favorite,” which he definitely will trade on in his eventual bid for the throne. Loras Tyrell is also a skillful player in this particular political game, using his beauty, his wealth, and the tropes of romantic fiction to garner public support.

Jaime Lannister, no political aficionado, tries to win the public’s support, and certainly is attractive to the female half, but finds that it’s just as easy to become a figure of public mockery. Loras’ display of wealth is far more effective, as the commons go mad for the display of sapphires and roses, but in a chapter filled with upsets it’s ironic that it’s the Hound who wins “for perhaps the first time in his life, the love of the commons.”

Historical Analysis: 

the henrys

Left – the young Henry VIII, Right – Henry II of France

So, last time I talked about the Victorian reinvention of jousting, but why did jousting get abandoned in the first place? A big part of it was that the introduction of the more powerful musket that replaced the arquebus in the 1690s made knightly charges non-viable, but another part of it was that jousting was insanely dangerous and fell out of fashion as a result.

Henry VIII has passed into legend either for his divorce and remarriage to Anne Boleyn or as an obese wife-murderer, but the young Henry Tudor was considered a handsome, if somewhat bull-like, athletic young man and a keen enthusiast of jousting. However, in 1536, Henry VIII was badly wounded in a joust at Greenwich Palace when he was struck in the leg with his opponent’s lance in such a way that his horse then fell on top of him. The injury to his leg, which never completely healed, made maintaining mobility much more difficult, and so the formerly svelte monarch went from 180-200 pounds (on a 6’1″ frame) to 392 pounds at his death. Even more significant may have been the undiagnosed brain injury associated with the fall, which caused the young King to fall unconscious for two hours, after which the king’s personality began to shift to the paranoid, vindictive man of legend.

Even worse is the case of Henry II of France, Henry VIII’s contemporary, and sometimes friend and rival. In 1559, at a tourney to celebrate a peace treaty with Austria and the marriage of his daughter to the King of Spain, Henry II jousted against Gabriel Montgomery, the captain of his Scottish Guard, and received a blow to the head when Montgomery’s lance splintered. The resulting wound turned septic and led quickly to his death at the age of 40. After his death, his decidedly unhealthy son, Francis II, ruled only for eighteen months before dying of a disease of the ear, and in turn was replaced by the infant Charles IX. The result was four years of regency under Catherine de Medici, who oversaw the loss of virtually all of France’s territories in Italy, the collapse of the “Auld Alliance” with Scotland, and the beginning of the French Wars of Religion, which would paralyze the country for thirty years.

It’s not surprising, then, that the monarchs of Europe gave up a sport that could potentially wreck entire dynasties if the wrong monarch took a lance to the face. The interesting thing is that the same didn’t happen in Westeros, despite the death of Baelor Breakspear in a “Trial of Seven” in AL 209, and that for some reason Robert Baratheon managed to gain Henry VIII’s weight without suffering Henry’s debilitating injury.

What If?

Eddard VII gives us a wide variety of hypotheticals to consider, from both past and present:

  • Ned became King? Let’s say the rebel alliance had decided not to link back to the past, either because Robert Baratheon thought twice about becoming king, or had died of his wounds after the Battle of the Trident; it’s not unreasonable that Eddard Stark would have become King. The story of the Mad King’s vendetta against the innocent Starks would certainly work as dynastic propaganda, and the Stark/Tully/Arryn political bloc united by marriage along with the support of House Baratheon. Interesting things follow: Eddard Stark probably would have had great difficulty in the beginning, given the remoteness of his northern base, so probably would have relied heavily on the Tullys to project his power in middle Westeros, but with three trueborn sons, his dynasty would have been well-founded. Policies would have been somewhat different – the crown would probably not have gone into debt, the Greyjoy Rebellion would have been handled swiftly, and I can’t see corrupt members of the royal bureaucracy lasting long, but Eddard would have had to deal with discontent from the Lannisters, Tyrells, and possibly also the Martells (although depending on how he handled Tywin’s sack of King’s Landing, that could have fallen out very differently), but he would have had Jon Arryn’s support as Hand to help him. Jon Snow’s presence would have proven exceedingly difficult, given his potential parentage, possibly leading to a Daemon Blackfyre situation, especially if Varys ever found out about his parentage.
  • Jon Arryn became King? Jon Arryn had political weight and the respect of most of the Great Houses, and would have also had the Stark/Tully/Arryn power bloc and the support of House Baratheon. He probably would have had an earlier time than Eddard, given his political experience and the closer proximity of the Vale to the Crownlands, but he would also have had a different set of problems as King, namely a wife of questionable fertility and mental capacity, and a sickly solitary heir. I could easily imagine King Jon’s court becoming a den of intrigue, as the eligible daughters of the Great Houses are put forward to replace the barren Queen, and the constant fear that if the “mature” King and his sickly son both die, the realm is potentially without a rightful heir to the throne. Littlefinger’s rise to power would be all the more precipitous, given the allure of the Handship and the potential to become Regent to the young King Robert Arryn. On the other hand, the crown would not be heavily indebted, and openly corrupt men like Janos Slynt would have been purged from government.
  • No Lannister marriage? Given that Robert had no great interest in marrying Cersei Lannister, it’s possible that a different dynastic match could have been made. Who precisely that would have been is trickier: Margaery was born the year of the rebellion, so House Tyrell, the logical alternative to House Lannister as a rich and powerful House that needs to be brought into the fold, would probably have had to offer either Janna or Minna Tyrell (Lord Mace’s sisters). House Martell was out of the question, both because of the murder of Elia and Arianne being six; House Tully’s women were already married; House Greyjoy had no women of marriageable age; and House Stark’s only daughter was dead. A Tyrell match would have probably resulted in the same scramble for royal appointments and favors, but the marriage would probably have been much more peaceful and Robert would have had trueborn children. Hence, no need for Jon Arryn’s investigation, assassination, and Eddard Stark would never have gone South.
  • Renly’s plan worked? Margaery becoming the new queen is something I’ve brought up before, but it happening at this time would have been quite interesting. Certainly, I think a Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn-style match would probably have gone off like gang-busters, and Renly and the Tyrells would have certainly helped Eddard to root out the Lannister Conspiracy and install a new regime in King’s Landing. What happens next is harder to say. Potentially, a civil war in the vein of the Blackfyre Rebellion could have broken out between those who favor the Lannister claimants and those who favor the Tyrells – Tywin would have a much harder time of it, but I could see him buying off Balon and using the Martell’s historic hatred and fear of the Tyrells to counter-balance their hatred for his own person (although he’d probably have to trade them Gregor and Amory Lorch). That plus a hefty investment in mercenaries might have worked, but it would be a really heavy lift. Certainly, I think we would have seen an interesting situation emerge where once Margaery gives birth to an heir, “Uncle Renly” begins working to isolate Eddard and get himself named as Regent when his brother dies.
  • Cersei’s plan had succeeded? If Robert Baratheon dies at this point, things become very interesting indeed. Without firm proof of Joffrey’s genetic bastardy, Eddard probably would have sworn an oath of fealty to the new King – but unless Robert dies instantly, Eddard’s the new Regent. With no cause to remove him, Cersei now has to work to unseat an Eddard Stark who now has the powers of the King of Westeros, and who will be quickly lobbied by Stannis and Renly (if not also by Littlefinger and Varys) with proofs that Joffrey is king. This could potentially kick off a Dance of the Dragons-style coup d’etat, with Eddard standing in for Ser Criston the Kingmaker. Alternatively, had Eddard ceased his investigations and truly believed Joffrey was the rightful King, I could see him unhappily leading the royal armies against Stannis and Renly before being dismissed from service or resigning when Joffrey’s madness becomes evident.
  • The jousts go differently? If Jaime beats the Hound, then it’s possible the Hound is injured or not on hand when his brother goes berserk, which might lead to a dead Ser Loras and the Tyrells and Renly joining Eddard in an anti-Lannister coalition. Moreover, without the tourney winnings, the Hound has no reason to return to the Brotherhood Without Banners following his trial, which might have significant consequences for Arya. Alternatively, it could mean that Jaime and Loras have a re-match following Loras’ defeat of the Mountain, and nothing more comes of it. And if the Mountain beats the Knight of Flowers without trying to murder him, maybe it’s a total non-event.

Book vs. Show:

This is one area where I feel the show diverges from the book in ways that diminish the narrative. Not showing the Hound vs. Jaime I can understand, since it’s not critical to the plot at all (although the idea of Jaime stumbling around unable to see is a funny sight), but what really gets me is the deletion of Cersei’s assassination plot against Robert. This could easily have been added to the scene between Eddard and Varys without any increase in budget, and it would have accomplished several things: firstly, it would have meant that Eddard actually accomplishes something significant in the first half of the series; secondly, it would have ratcheted up the tension, as now the watchers realize that the King could get whacked at any moment (it also makes Varys’ reaching out to Eddard more significant); thirdly, it would have made Cersei more of a villain and an active presence in the plot, whereas she kind of disappears from the narrative between the death of Lady and Eddard’s injury. 

The only explanation I can think of is that the showrunners wanted to stick to the Jon Arryn assassination through-line to avoid confusion, which isn’t a very satisfying answer.


75 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard VII

  1. Don’t neglect Gatehouse Amy as a potential wife for Robert. 😛

    • stevenattewell says:

      I don’t doubt he’s hit that, but he wouldn’t be stupid enough to marry her. Robert knows how to hit it and quit it.

  2. corejay says:

    Steven, I think you’re missing something here. Varys tells Ned that there was “one boy…all he was, he owed Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her household, he stayed in King’s Landing and prospered.”

    Ned takes this to mean Ser Hugh, but there is another man from the Vale in KL who owed his entire carreer to Jon Arryn, and who also stayed when Lysa went to the Eyrie: Littlefinger. This is Varys’ main MO: telling parts of the truth, but leading people on so they come to their own wrong conslusions. There will be many more chapters where he pulls that stunt.

    • scarlett45 says:

      Yup. I remembered this line when the plot came out in ASOS.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I see the parallels, but Littlefinger isn’t a boy, as Varys describes. Also, Varys says, “he must have cut a gallant figure in the tourney” in his new armor, blah blah.

      So my guess is that the parallel is GRRM subtly hinting, rather than Varys.

      • Tante Droll says:

        Another subtle difference between the book and the show: in the show, this “gallant tourney figure” line is omitted, and true, Littlefinger is not a boy, but he was a boy (as much as Ser Hugh) when Jon Arryn became his patron. So, the viewer’s conclusion might be different than the reader’s.

  3. John W says:

    Awesome analysis as usual.

  4. shaunpeacock says:

    Do you think that Robert was depressed, changes in appetite (not necessarily less) and activity (necessary for him to get fat) are both symptoms of depression. It would also fit with Robert as Henry VI, a man whose weaknesses allowed the power of his magnates to grow to the point where civil war was inevitable, as opposed to Henry VIII, a man who got fat but managed to become an absolute monarch while doing so.

    Also why do you think Robert is Henry VIII, sure they both got fat in later life but were there any other similarities?

    • stevenattewell says:

      That’s a possibility. However, I don’t see the young King Robert allowing anyone to stop him from mixing it up on the tourney field; and certainly Robert was battlefield-ready the last time Eddard saw him in the Greyjoy Rebellion, six years into his reign. So it gets even more complicated, given that we’re compressing what took Henry VIII thirty years to accomplish into just 10.

      The reason I use Henry VIII is the former-jock-gone-to-seed thing, plus the highly Anne Boleyn-ish plot by Renly and Loras to replace Cersei with a newer model, plus the extreme high living that has put the crown deeply in debt. It’s not purely Henry VIII; Robert also has some elements of Edward IV (if Edward hadn’t married Elizabeth Woodville), and you could find other monarchs there if you went looking.

      But Henry VI doesn’t work – Henry was mentally unstable, totally unwarlike, and couldn’t handle internal or external conflicts. Robert was a bad king, but not when it came to smacking down rebellions. If I had to pick a Henry VI, I’d go with Aerys I.

  5. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, I have enjoyed reading this entry very much (along with every other one in the series so far and your articles for Tower of the Hand to boot!), but with that said I would also like to take this opportunity to weigh in with my personal opinion on a relatively minor issue mentioned in the course of the said article – to whit King Robert’s ‘Henrican’ weight gain (which I would argue is, like much of Robert’s character more reminiscent of Henry VIIIs grandfather, Edward IV), something that I have read many commentators describe as inexplicable but which seems relatively easy to explain.

    Admittedly Grand Maester Martin never explicitly mentions any single incident in Robert’s career comparable to that terrible Tudor tournament tumble, but it is my opinion that Robert’s entire career of reckless battle, tourney melees and general pell-mel attitude to the prospect of physical injury implicitly suggest that even if there was no single, major injury to define when Robert started losing the battle against his own lifestyle there would doubtless be a veritable medical-encyclopaedia of war wounds, individually minor injuries and sufficient cumulative trauma from hearty, perilous exertions under hair-raising circumstances to exact a heavy toll.

    To put it bluntly, it seems likely that a series of individually minor injuries finally ganged up on King Robert and began to put intolerable strain on – amongst other things – his waistline.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yeah, in the absence of evidence, I really don’t see that happening, especially since Robert never shows any indication that he’s aware that he’s injured and can’t participate in the fighting. Certainly, given his penchant for riding and hunting, he’s leading a fairly active lifestyle.

      The other thing that is confusing is the condensed time-frame. In ten years, Robert’s gained eight stone (112 lbs), compared to Henry VIII’s 12 stone (~200 lbs) over thirty years, and Robert’s not impaired from taking exercise.

  6. Abbey Battle says:

    Post-Script: I have only just noticed your post r.e. Aerys I = Henry VI and can agree that there is some degree of similarity, but in all honesty I’ve always suspected that Henry VI made a better point of comparison for Baelor the Blessed (if only because he’s a gentle king pious to the point of extreme chastity who followed a youthful warlord).

    Which amused me somewhat when I was obliged to take both a step back and a step forward on the Regnal chronology of Old England to describe his successor – Aegon the Unworthy reminding me of nothing less than a cocktail of the minor vices of King John AND King Henry VIII, with a bit of the latter’s peculiar charm.

    To round off this somewhat garbled sequence of comparisons, after reading the biography of Henry IV written by Ian Mortimer I’ve also come to see points of comparison between Richard IIs relations with that Henry of Lancaster called Bolingbroke by Shakespeare and Daeron the Good’s relations with Daemon Blackfyre (although Daeron was, like Henry III, whom he also resembles lucky enough to be blessed with a son full able to save his father’s throne and that portion of the royal anatomy most frequently brought into contact with it).

    • stevenattewell says:

      I hadn’t thought of Baelor. – again, a good partial comparison.

      I like the Henry IV comparison.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Thank you very much; honestly I probably spend just a little too much time thinking about the Blackfyre Rebellion and it’s major players because it was part of my introduction to Westeros; I started with The Hedge Knight and wandered into the larger saga, rather than vice versa.

        If you’re unlucky enough to set up more opportunities, I shall almost certainly share some of my pet theories relating to the period – such as my growing suspicion that the rivalry between those two evil geniuses Bloodraven and Bittersteel might well have been just as (and possibly even more) integral to that breakout of hostilities than King Daeron and Daemon who would be King.

        But I digress – at some length usually – so please forgive me and I shall give this line of thought a rest.

        • stevenattewell says:

          It quite probably was, and there’s also the issue of Daemon being in love with Princess Daenerys and her getting married off to the Dornish.

  7. Abbey Battle says:

    Given the colourful chapter from his personal history when he reportedly fornicated energetically after receiving an injury serious enough to require that he go to ground in Stoney Sept for treatment, rather than withdrawn in the face of an enemy in hot pursuit and that this very chapter boasts a scene where he just plain refuses to admit that he cannot fit into his own armour until Lord Eddard obliges him to recognise that plain fact, it might not seem unrealistic to suggest that he would remain wilfully oblivious to (and indeed act blatantly in defiance of) any physical infirmity on his part.

    One last remark – might I suggest that Robert Baratheon is the sort of man who wouldn’t admit his own inability to do battle, much less ride and hunt, if he were left bereft of all four limbs?

    • stevenattewell says:

      True, but if he was in denial, that would suggest a constant rate of exertion, and injury rather than weight gain.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        That seems reasonably plausible and at this point I shall agree to differ because my theory is honestly unproven and unprovable (part of the fun of reading A Song of Ice and Fire is that it’s more like reading the history of a fantastic setting than a novel – that’s also one of the reasons it’s also something of a pain to be a fan, as GRR Martin can’t seem to help telling ALL of the stories which takes a hellishly long time).

        I’m never-the-less still rather attached to my pet theory because I cannot work out any other that explains King Robert’s weight gain (apparently abrupt, yet I cannot help but wonder if it’s not part of an ongoing process over a longer term that Lord Eddard simply was not around to notice).

      • LadyKnitsALot says:

        I tend to go with a simpler answer: gluttony. Robert is more of a George IV, the Prince Regent. He had access to the richest food and was allowed to feast and drink and fuck all day. Dude got fat, regardless of how much he hunted etc.

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    By the way, I would like to note that none of the above is intended to be argumentative, merely reasoned debate – as a keen student of history (amongst other things, like Science Fiction and Fantasy), I enjoy debate as much as anyone who knows just enough about a subject to defend one’s opinions concerning it!

    Thank you for your patience.

  9. c3j1v62 says:

    Great stuff as always Steven. My question:

    In the ‘Robert dies before the end of the rebellion’ scenario, what if they crown Stannis as king? Since the Bartheon’s had the best claim through blood out of the rebels, it does make sense that he could’ve been proclaimed king with Jon arynn as a Hand.

    How do you think this would’ve work? Do you think that this would’ve been a consideration?

    • stevenattewell says:

      That’s a possibility. Stannis was 18 years old, had successfully held Storm’s End in siege, had the same blood claim.

      I do think there would be issues with Stannis’ desire to purge the court, but on the other hand, no Pycelle (no Lannister spy), no Varys (no Targaryen agent), and no Littlefinger (embezzling agent of chaos).

  10. Excellent analysis. One tiny thing I noticed: you mention Catherine de Medici, and looking over her history, the parallels between her and Cersei just *snap*. Regent to one son who dies, and then another; the giving over of power to a religion; and then there’s the whole Medici/Lannister thing…

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yes. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before. Especially the paranoia and infighting, the tendency to create conflict rather than build alliances….I will use this when we get to her as Regent, methinks.

  11. Brett says:

    Loras, amusingly enough, dodges potential death twice in this book because of others.

    I suspect King Ned would have to send Jon back to the North, most likely to be fostered by Benjen in Winterfell (since Benjen occupied the castle while Ned was with Robert in the War). Robb would be engaged to Margaery. No idea what happens to Cersei in this scenario – who else is there? Willas Tyrell?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yes on the fostering, and the Tyrell match.

      Cersei – Oberyn would have worked, save for Elia. Willas probably would work, although details are sketchy on his age. Edmure Tully is also close in age and station. Balon Greyjoy’s eldest, maybe, if the Greyjoy Rebellion gets butterflied.

      • Brett says:

        Willas is probably in his mid-to-late twenties, at least, while Cersei in her thirties. It could work, although Cersei would be single well into her twenties before the match was consummated. Edmure’s in a similar boat. I can’t imagine Oberyn Martell marrying Cersei, or anyone – he had no compunctions in the past against running away to Essos for years at a time.

        Any other matches get real butterfly-y at that point. Benjen himself might get married, since he’s technically the Lord of Winterfell in this scenario. Jaime’s obviously not going to be a Kingsguard member, and probably gets sent to the Wall (or exiled back to the Rock, if that’s a bridge too far for Tywin).

        Here’s an odd idea – what would happen to the Targaryen children in exile? I’m assuming that the Lannisters still get to King’s Landing and kill off Elia Martell and her children first. King Ned’s not going to have them killed, but would he grant them any sort of amnesty? That might be a bridge too far.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Well, Willas is older than Garlan, who’s 11 years younger than Cersei, and Garlan is 5 years older than Loras, so Willas could be easily be within 6 years of Cersei.

          Edmure’s only 7 years younger than Cersei.

          As for Oberyn, there was the mothers’ pact.

  12. You constantly refer to ‘the Lannister Conspiracy’, and since you went into detail about it here, I wanted to make a point about i: there is no real ‘Lannister Conspiracy’. It’s a misnomer. The Lannisters have no real reason for conspiracy (Cersei’s son is heir), nor any real conspirators – the only schemer and mover there is Cersei, and she has weak reeds such as Boros Blount and Pycelle. Their gains are made by the actions of the other conspirators (Littlefinger killing Jon and allying them with the Tyrells, Varys delaying Eddard for a time), and non-actions of their opponents (Eddard and Renly not working together properly, and Eddard not using his powers as Hand, for example).
    What we have with the Lannisters is a cover-up. It’s the only real thing going on there. The Lannisters already have the power – they’re not really making any tries to gain more, if we discount Cersei’s ridiculous attempts to have Jaime be Hand in the beginning. Cersei, her supporters (tools) and Jaime (to a small extent) are merely trying to ensure nobody discovers their secret. It’s why they’re so apathetic – they try to prevent others, rather than seizing the initiative. The only time we this ‘conspiracy’ take action is when it is finally threatened in a way where it must act to avoid the secret being discovered. It’s why their modus operandi is so simple as well – they don’t need have elaborate schemes, all they need is to make sure nobody knows the real truth. Even if those murders attributed to the Lannisters were truly done by them (and it was discovered), the truth about Joffrey’s parentage doesn’t come out, because the people who know the truth are dead, so Joffrey will still be king.

    As for Popularity in Tourneys, I think we’re somewhat ignoring the fact that it was dependent on popularity before. No matter how dashing you are, if you’re already hated, winning tourneys won’t win you love. Jaime’s admiration from the female crowd probably comes from sex appeal plus the appeal of the ‘bad boy’; everybody wants to sleep with him, but they’d marry Loras.

    So wait, Willas is the nice version of Henry VIII? That’s an amusing image. There were other serious deaths in tourneys, for example Geoffrey Count of Brittany, Henry Fitz Empress’ third son, which probably prevented a conspiracy between him and Philip II August against Henry. Quite a few popes also made proclamations against the sport.

    I don’t think Cersei as Catherine de Medici is a perfect comparison (Catherine was a lot more competent than people give her credit for, and the state of her kingdom was far shakier than Cersei’s), but there are some similarities, such as the ruthlessness and a certain lack of understanding in a few matters (religion is an excellent example).

    Lastly, I think all the What Ifs questioning history miss a point. The Baratheons, Starks, Tyrells, Tullys, Arryns and Martells all had sent armies into the field by then, and had certainly suffered heavy losses. For that matter, the lands of the Baratheons, Tyrells and Tullys were ravaged by the war (we’re not told of this, but it can’t have been much better than the situation with the War of Five Kings, given it was also a civil war). The Lannisters were actually in the best position – a proven leader with an heir who could take command if Tywin died, rich, unravaged lands, fully intact army, and the ability to declare for any side they wanted to (they could even declare for Viserys if they wanted to!), thus gaining whatever allies they wanted, with much to offer in terms of gold, alliances and manpower. There was no easy way to oust them from the government and alliance at the time, not without risking another civil war.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      I would like to point out that a cover-up IS a conspiracy (just look into theories about Roswell and that Grassy Knoll, although not too long as the ‘logic’ involved tends to bring on headaches); I would also argue that a good deal of the point Maester Steven seems to be making about the Lannister Conspiracy is that it is indeed disorganised to the point of being ramshackle, as well as the puppet and beneficiary of the real power-players in the field of skulduggery.

      Scheming for her own advantage and survival is what Cersei DOES, after all, to the point where the idea of a conspiracy centred around her (Jaime being disinterested) seems at the very least plausible and in all honesty something of a racing certainty given that the situation in which we first see her demands that she take steps to ensure that her golden head is not parted from that brother-loving body of hers and so that her secrets may be kept a little longer.

      Hence the Cersei Lannister conspiracy – which has more to do with ensuring that she’s still in a position to ascend to a position of SOME influence (with the possibility of at least a little modest power-brokering) as Queen Mother to an underage monarch when King Robert enjoys his last hammering.

      That she fouls up the business in the back-handed style, producing the bottom-feeder joke of all the other conspiracies is no more than we might expect from her, given her observed skills and aptitudes as a leader (or lack of same) in later novels.

      • You make cogent points; but I feel including the Lannister conspiracy among those other conspiracies does them both a disservice. While the other conspiracies are aimed at gaining far more power than they currently have, and possibly even a throne, Cersei’s ‘conspiracy’ is mainly aimed at preserving her power and position; she does not actively try to kill Robert until Eddard shows up as a threat to her position she cannot easily arrange an accident for. It’s not only a defensive ‘conspiracy’ (that is, aimed at preserving what they have rather than gaining more), it’s hard to term it a conspiracy with Cersei being the only real conspirator.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. It’s absolutely a conspiracy in two parts. The open conspiracy is to control the crown through the gathering of influence and appointments: the crown now owes the Lannisters five million gold, Jaime Lannister is the Warden of the East, there’s two Lannister loyalists plus the Kingslayer on the Kingsguard, and there’s two Lannisters as the King’s squires acting as spies. The secret part is Cersei’s plan to put a full-blooded Lannister on the Iron Throne: in service to this plan, they have aborted the rightful heir to the Throne (which would be an act of treason at that time), participated in the murder of Jon Arryn through neglect, almost successfully kidnapped the Lord Paramount of the Vale, and now attempted to assassinate the King. What more do you need?
      2. I don’t get your argument here about popularity and tourneys: just because Jaime screwed up his image management doesn’t mean it’s any less useful a political tool for Renly and Loras, or Rhaegar, or Daemon II Blackfyre, etc. etc.
      3. Nah, he’s just a guy with a jousting injury – the injuries don’t match, and Willas isn’t huge into eating. Maybe if you combined him and his father, you’d get something similar.
      4. Regarding the what ifs – ravaging depends on the kind of warfare going on. During Robert’s Rebellion, I think you had less ravaging because the Tyrells and Jon Connington were trying to decapitate the leadership of the rebellion and there were loyalist lords in the Stormlands, and because the Rebellion controlled much more territory. There wasn’t much damage to the Riverlands (because the Lannisters never attacked from the West nor the Arryns from the East, and the Targaryens were focused on the Stormlands), the North wasn’t attacked, nor was most of the Reach, and there was relatively little fighting in the Vale.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        You both actually raise an interesting question – just how typical to Westerosi warfare is the level of devastation wrought in the course of the War of the Five Kings? With the logical follow-up question of just how the damage done by Robert’s Rebellion compares to that caused by it’s eventual follow-up.

        I would agree that The Stormlands suffered the greatest degree of damage (being fought over first by the various factions of the Stormlords, then trampled by the Tyrell host and possibly picked over to feed the Martell host that marched for the Trident cannot have helped), but I would suggest that the Riverlands may have been more badly worked over than you suggest Maester Stevan.

        Given that (if my memory serves) the space of about a year separates The Battle of the Bells and the Battle of the Trident, one would expect that at the very least foraging parties from Robert’s Rebels and Rhaegar’s Loyalists would have resulted in SOME food shortages, with the fighting additionally likely to knock blocks out of those strongholds securing the defensive line of the Trident.

        – As a final note, I’ve come to suspect that the decisive Battle of the Trident occurred when Rhaegar was finally able to steal a march on the Rebels, turning their flank and obliging them to attack him or see the Kingsroad denied to them (reinforcements and supplies included).

      • stevenattewell says:

        1. There’s no evidence of damage to the Riverlands.
        2. The Riverlands didn’t suffer two catastrophic defeats before they could fully mobilize; and therefore had 40,000 men ready to repel raiding.
        3. The Battle of the Trident had nothing to do with Rhaegar stealing a march; the issue was that the Starks, Tullys, and Arryns had united with Robert’s army and Rhaegar needed to stop them crossing the Trident, from where they could menace King’s Landing directly. The Northern contingent were already on the Kingsroad, it was the crossing they needed.

      • 1. The crown owing the Lannisters gold is not exactly something you can blame solely on Cersei. It’s due to Robert’s profligate spending, Littlefinger choosing to go to the Lannisters for it, and Tywin’s choice. Cersei can’t make anyone spend money or force them to borrow it from her family, she has no authorities we see as queen – this is merely the natural consequence of the Lannister alliance at the end of Robert’s Rebellion.
        Jaime being Warden of the East might have been a compelling point if GRRM had ever done something with that, but it appears nobody is even aware the position exists.
        The secret part is that Cersei’s children are Jaime’s. But they’re not trying to put a new candidate on the throne, thus causing civil war and instability – they’re only trying to ensure the situation remains the same, by having nobody discover the secret. And as you yourself noted, this assassination attempt (and the later one with the boar) only happened because Eddard is digging and can influence Robert – which again proves this is a passive/defensive ‘conspiracy’ not an active one.

        2. It’s not an argument, exactly, just a note – Tourneys don’t necessarily indicate popularity or lack of it, nor is it very lasting. William Marshal suffered through the same episode as Jaime once, and didn’t lose from his popularity, and there were some jousters who were constantly winning yet unpopular. Jaime didn’t screw up in image management in tourneys, he screwed up by becoming the Kingslayer.

        3. It was meant as a joke, but there’s an idea – Willas and Garth the Gross.

        4. Possibly, but the fact is, the Lannisters could have easily chosen to ravage the Riverlands and Stormlands (since they were stripped of their armies), if they decided to attack. The fact is, those What-ifs are dangerous because there is a host of other factors at play, most notably the Lannisters being an unknown quantity and quality. Jon Arryn probably hit the best solution there was at the time; he couldn’t have known Cersei was in love with Jaime, or that his own management wouldn’t be able to negate Robert’s utter neglect. I think it’s just too much of an open question that we can doubt Jon being right (which is very convenient of course, since GRRM wants it to seem plausible, and him not providing that information makes it so).

        • stevenattewell says:

          1. It’s not about blame or forcing. Cersei likely encouraged Robert to borrow from her father, so as to increase the Lannisters’ influence over the monarchy. It’s not an accident that Lannisters are getting royal appointments; it’s a cheap way of paying them back.
          2. Warden of the East is an important position that GRRM did do something with; it’s a big reason why a lot of the lords of the Vale were interested in getting into the war against the Lannisters, and it’s why Tyrion and Tywin needed to bribe the Vale into loyalty with that very post. It’s also going to be crucial to Littlefinger’s plans re: conquering the North.
          3. They’re trying to put a claimant on the throne who has no right to be on the throne. This is high treason.
          4. A passive conspiracy is still a conspiracy.
          5. Tourneys are shown to increase popularity and to decrease it – see Renly, Loras, Rhaegar, Daemon II, etc.
          6. But they didn’t. Jon Arryn’s plan wasn’t a bad one, I’m suggesting there were alternatives.

          • LadyKnitsALot says:

            Tywin plays into Cersei’s scheming because he wants her to achieve Lannister power in the capital through royal appointments and the crown being in debt to him.

            He chooses to ignore that she’s having an affair with Jaime and plans to put an incestuous bastard on the throne. Tywin *should* have had all the information he needed to put all that together, but he just ignores it for the twin’s whole lives.

  13. axrendale says:

    As others have said – an exceptionally fine post Steven. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to comment on it sooner.

    What you write about the importance of the relationship between Robert and Ned puts me in mind of something that I have been thinking about in this series, with regard to its significance in the history of the office of Hand of the King (a subject that you have covered extensively in you essays at TotH). As you have noted previously, the sources in the tex about previous Hands indicate that there have usually been three basic pools from which the kings of the Iron Throne have selected the men to act as their deputies, each coming with their own ration. Hands have alternatively been: a) close relatives of the monarch (such as Maegor the Cruel, Viserys II, or Baelor Breakspear, with Tyrion Lannister’s brief tenure counting as a more contemporary example of this tradition); b) powerful lords of the realm whose appointment is usually made to conciliate them, or in hope that they will use their influence on behalf of the crown (Jon Arryn and Mace Tyrell both come to mind as recent examples); and (most rarely), c) men who lack qualification by birth, but who are considered to be exceptionally talented or have personal qualities desirable to the king (the most prominent example of this tradition is Septon Barth, who was the son of a blacksmith and who was found in the royal library by Jaehaerys the Conciliator, but one can alternatively note the appointment by Aerys the Mad of his chief pyromancer to the Handship). Not mentioned is a fourth possibility: that the king might appoint a Hand who ostensibly belong to one of these three categories, but whose true qualification for the office is that he is considered by the monarch to be a friend.

    Historically, there have been a number of notable examples of monarchs who have raised men up to positions of great prominence of power at least in part on the basis of friendship and personal trust – many of them coming with mixed results. The advantages of an authentic friendship existing between monarch and minister are obvious, but can tend to obscure some of the serious potential drawbacks: friendship can be the cause of disagreements in policy being overlooked until it is too late, or can lead to unsuitability for office being unnoticed for too long. The malign influence that power can have on personality and relationships is also a potential peril. These can be seen in some the historical examples:

    After the death of Cardinal Wolsey (whose position was in some ways equivalent to the fictional office of Hand), Henry VIII replaced him as minister with his friend and intellectual companion Thomas More, overlooking that despite his personal affinity with the new chancellor, they violently disagreed on critical areas of policy – the catholic More was strictly opposed to the king’s Great Matter, and his humanism made a poor match for Henry’s natural belligerence – and their relationship ended with More’s resignation, arrest, and execution. Earlier in English history, Henry II enjoyed during the earlier part of his reign a great personal friendship and productive political partnership with his chancellor Thomas Becket, which contributed to his decision to appoint Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury. The bitterness of their subsequent break into opposition was horribly exacerbated by their private relationship, with the result that what might have been simply a political dispute became one of the most infamous blood feuds in medieval history, ending in the controversy of Beckett’s murder. Turning to non-medieval examples, the famous Russian tsar Peter the Great valued the friendship of his companion Prince Menshikov so much that he granted him sufficient offices to become by far the most powerful official in the Russian Empire – all the while overlooking Menshikov’s spectacular corruption, and awful abuses of power. Their relationship survived until Peter’s death, and Menshikov later became (briefly) the de facto ruler of Russia, but is now usually considered to have been a malign figure. Moving further back in history, a more positive and successful example is the Roman emperor Augustus, who created an inner circle of government made up of close personal friends that he had known since his youth (most prominent among them Marcus Agrippa and Gaius Maecenas). By doing so he was able to avoid the political isolation that his famous grand-uncle Julius Caesar had fallen victim to at the end of his life, and thus avoided Caesar’s tragic fate.

    In ASOIAF, there are two recent examples of kings who appointed men that they knew and trusted as friends of their childhood as Hand – Aerys II Targaryen (aka Aerys the Mad) and Robert I Baratheon (aka Robert the Fat) and their Hands Tywin Lannister and Eddard Stark – which produced very different but equally tragic outcomes. Aerys’ childhood acquaintence with Tywin led to his appointment as Hand despite being only 20 years old and not even a lord yet (Lord Tytos did not die until some years into his son’s Handship) – and it is likely that he was also impressed with the way that Tywin handled the Reyne-Tarbeck rebellion. Aerys and Tywin apparently worked together in complete harmony on matters of policy: the former’s charming and out-going nature was complemented by the latter’s cunning and ruthlessness, and together they were able to form a highly effective royal government. However, their private relationship, which might have been expected to be a boon, instead turned out to be a curse. Aerys grew increasingly jealous of the acclaim that his friend was getting for his accomplishments (his feelings possibly inflamed by his lust for Tywin’s wife), and his insecurity manifested itself in countless slights and insults that infuriated Tywin, who always hated being laughed at (and everyone always laughs at the king’s jokes). Eventually, their antagonisms led to their relationship deteriorating to the point of breakdown, with Aerys rejecting Tywin’s offer of a martial alliance in a highly insulting manner, followed soon after by the Defiance of Duskendale, after which they increasingly went their seperate ways, with Aerys descending into paranoia and madness, and Tywin eventually making the fateful decison to forsake House Targaryen forever.

    If the relationship of Tywin and Aerys is an example of a King/Hand partnership that was concordant on matters of policy but grew bitterly acrimonious over private concerns, the relationship between Ned and Robert is the complete opposite: a king and a Hand who were opposed to each other in every area of royal policy (there is not a single decision that Robert makes as king in the entire book that Ned agrees with) but whose relationship was held together by their private understanding. Robert chose Ned as his Hand for the single and simple reason that he felt he was surrounded by intruigue and his court swamped with “flatterers and fools” – amdist all of this, he wanted to have a man whom he could trust implicitly and without fear, and for this reason turned to his old friend and comrade-in-arms (as opposed to a more logical choice for the job, like one of his brothers). Robert’s choice is vindicated insofar as he is able to enjoy the benefits of a Hand who is absolutely loyal to him, and feels compelled to speak to him about matters that nobody else in court would ever have raised (whether because of blindness or prudence). However, it is these very qualities of loyalty and honor that compel Ned to make no moves to utilize the powers of his office to try and mitigate the follies of the king – if he cannot talk his friend out of it in private, he will ultimately concede the issue. And the strength of the personal bond between the two is a two-edged sword – just as Ned can use it to sway Robert, his faith in the possibilities inherent in his friendship with the king is what makes him complacent about the need to secure reliable political allies (even if he hadn’t already been disdainful of such alliances as unwholesome southron intrigue). His efforts to safeguard the king are thus left floundering, as his attempts to conduct an investigation into the death of Jon Arryn is inevitably left dependent on the aid of unscrupulous men like Varys and Littlefinger.

    The fact that both of these examples ended in tragedy is not necessarily an indictment of the idea of a ruler relying on a personal friend to occupy a powerful official position. The series later depicts such a partnership resulting in greatly positive outcomes through the relationship of Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth. However, it does suggest that friendship alone is inadequate as a qualification, or has the potential to do more harm than good.

    • stevenattewell says:

      A very interesting comment. However, as far as I know Aerys didn’t know Tywin from childhood – Aerys began to associate with Tywin following Tywin’s destruction of the Reynes and Tarbecks.

      • axrendale says:

        The fact that Aerys and Tywin were childhood friends is something that we learn from Tyrion’s second POV in ADWD, when Ilyrio tells him about how Varys came Westeros. He describes Tywin as being “a friend of [Aerys’] youth”. Given that we are never actually told why Aerys appointed Tywin as his hand (that he approved of Tywin’s handling of the rebellion is suspected, but never confirmed), the “childhood friendship” explanation is the one that makes the most sense to me. We know very little about the early years of either man – it is very possible that Tywin may have spent some time at the royal court as a boy, or that Aerys may have visited Casterly Rock at some point.

      • axrendale says:

        Not necessarily, but I like the parallel that it would create. Comparisons and contrasts between the Starks and Lannisters – the two “main” families of the series – are always fascinating, and Eddard and Tywin occupy a similar position in each as the dominant Father figure influencing the characters of their children. In some ways, I think of Tywin’s character as being the Anti-Ned.

  14. axrendale says:

    BTW, have you read the article Stefan has put up at Tower of the Hand about Littlefinger’s machinations as Master of Coin?

    If so, what were your thoughts?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Stefan and I agree on this topic. See my recap of Eddard IV for my best understanding of Littlefinger’s machinations.

  15. Yannai says:

    I never really got the whole comparison between Henry VIII and Robert. You are certainly not the first to make it, but other that the fact that both started out handsome and ended up fat I never saw any similarities. Henry never took his throne by force – he was the product of an already-established dynasty. Robert never took any drastic measures against the Faith or showed any interest in upsetting the established hierarchical order by multiple marriages and divorces (despite the fact that his married life was making him miserable) – if anything his problem was that he was extremely passive once he achieved power and was content to whore and drink his life away, preferring to allow others to rule in his stead. He also had no problems with producing a male heir (to his knowledge, anyway). A better comparison would be between Robert and Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII Tudor. Like Robert he overthrew a long-running dynasty (it should be remembered that both the Yorks and the Lancasters were actually branches of the the same royal family), installed himself in their place and ended a war. Like Robert, Henry VII’s predecessor, Richard III, is remembered as a monstrously bad monarch who abused his power (whether that’s actually true or Tudor propaganda, of course, is another matter entirely).

    And to the obligatory gripe about the show: D&D are extremely reluctant to portray Cersei in a bad light. The show emphasized Robert’s mistreatment of her while portraying her as soft-spoken and reasonable, completely unlike the books, where she was dangerously unstable even before AFFC. The killing of Lady is the only outright “villainous” act remaining from the books – the hits on Robert’s bastards was turned over to Joffrey, most of the intrigue is all but gone, the assassination of Robert and the incest remains – but both are portrayed as vengeance against Robert, the former is never explicitly stated to be her doing (that I recall at least) and the latter is set in a society where the royal family has been practicing incest for centuries, so it’s less offensive than it would appear at first glance. To top it off, Show Cersei expresses remorse for her misdeeds and is given a child she’s lost to make her more sympathetic. Given all that, it’s hardly surprising her earlier attempt on Robert’s life is washed away, as it would conflict with the kinder, lovable Cersei the show tries to sell us.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Here’s my reasons for comparing Robert to Henry VIII:
      1. Both are superior athletes who let themselves go to seed.
      2. Both were really high spenders who ended up heavily in debt.
      3. Margaery is clearly an Anne Boleyn stand-in.

      Essentially, Robert is Henry VIII if Henry had died right before he started his “Great Matter.” And who knows what would have happened if Robert had been denied a divorce by the High Septon, and Thoros of Myr had offered to conduct a divorce in the name of R’hllor.

      Henry VII doesn’t really work on the level of personality. Henry VII was a skinflint miser, who left the royal treasury groaning with cash that Henry VIII spent freely, a workaholic administrator who micromanaged to the last detail, was devoted to his wife and children, and was personally rather reserved.

  16. Evan says:

    This is fascinating, and an excellent job on the political analysis.

    Perhaps one of the most interesting and enormous AU’s is mentioned here: What if Robert had died at the Trident, and someone else had become King? Say that Rhaegar manages to cut open Robert’s throat as he’s getting his chest smashed in (Or he cuts open a wound that festers and turns to rot). The rebels immediately face a problem: Who will take the throne?
    Three choices emerge: Ned, Jon, and Stannis. Stannis is currently trapped in Storm’s End, meaning that Ned and Jon will have to go past King’s Landing anyways to free him from the siege, and they need a king now. That leaves the two of them, and Ned is the more logical: A younger man, with a wife and heir-in-waiting, and a reason to claim the throne in Lyanna’s abduction and Brandon and Rickard’s deaths (Although for some reason people tend to forget that Jon’s nephew and chosen heir Elbert also died at Aerys II’s hands, and that must have contributed to his decision to go to war). Jon is older, and while he has a wife, he does not yet have an heir of his body, and Denys Arryn is dead by this point. So Ned is chosen to take the throne. Immediately, he faces an ethical issue: Barristan Selmy. Robert sent his maester to heal Selmy, does Ned do the same? Or does he listen to Roose Bolton and let Selmy die? If Selmy dies, that’s a big change for the Kingsguard and the series at large. I think that Ned honors Selmy enough that if Selmy swore loyalty to him as King, Ned would let him live.

    So, Ned is the King presumptive, and we go to King’s Landing, where the Lannisters have massacred the royals. Ned is pissed about this in canon, and seeks to punish the Lannisters (I’ll come back to that in a moment). He probably won’t throw Jaime into the dungeons, even though he wants to, because Tywin is sitting outside the gate with 12,000 troops, but he establishes himself as King by taking the Iron Throne. All hail King Eddard the First!

    Now, this is where it gets tricky. We know that Eddard leaves King’s Landing after fighting with Robert about the death of Elia, to finish out the southern wars and find Lyanna. But he did so as just Lord Eddard, not Eddard the King. Presumably after Ned leaves, Jon Arryn is left in charge, but it opens up an interesting question of uncertainty principle of control of the Kingdoms. For now, we’ll take it as canon that Ned goes off to finish the war himself (Catelyn and Robb are probably summoned to King’s Landing at this point to ensure some form of continuity of government, with plans for Jon Arryn to take over as Regent if Ned does die).

    Anyways, Ned comes down on Storm’s End, and lifts the Tyrell siege, where he is immediately faced with a problem: Stannis. Stannis is now the unquestioned Lord of Storm’s End, and probably knew of the plan to enthrone Robert as King. Does he rebel against Ned, for his rights? Or does he go along with Ned’s assumption of the throne?
    If Stannis rebels, Ned either kills him or sends him to the Wall, either way he’s now got a young Renly as the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, and a number of issues. The Stormlands will not be happy about it, which could lead to a loss of support for Ned, and support of either a new monarch, such as Viserys Targaryen in exile (or whoever else is strong enough to claim the throne). For this, assume that Stannis grudgingly supports Ned as King (Though most everything Stannis does is grudging).

    Now, we come to the Tower of Joy. The Kingsguard are guarding Lyanna and the next Targaryen heir presumptive (I’m taking L+R=J for this), when in comes Ned the Usurper. Perhaps as King, Ned is able to persuade Hightower, Whent and Dayne to join his Kingsguard, but it seems quite unlikely. What does seem likely is that the Kingsguard, when confronted with the Usurper, might fight harder and even succeed in killing Ned, which again, sets off all kinds of issues. But let’s say that it happens as it happens, Ned and Howland Reed are the only two survivors.

    Now, we come to Ned actually as King. He’s got a shaky realm to piece together, and a court to completely change out. Let’s start with the Kingsguard.
    Ned’s first decision is what to do with Jaime Lannister. Ned can’t kill him, because Tywin will rebel immediately, and Ned needs all the support he can get, but it’s clear that King Ned will not have the Kingslayer on the Kingsguard. So there are two choices-either send Jaime to the Wall, or return him to Casterly Rock. Jon Arryn was the one to counsel that Jaime be kept on the Kingsguard in Robert’s reign, so he would advise that Jaime be sent home, while Ned would probably want to send him to the Wall. I think that Jaime would be sent home, for reasons I’ll expand on in a bit.
    Now, Ned has to fill 6 spots on the Kingsguard. I can guarantee that one of them will be Brynden Tully as a sign of favor to his new wife’s family. But that still leaves 5 spots open, and there aren’t a whole lot of Northern knights. Dorne is out for a number of reasons, and Ned is probably wary of appointing anyone from the Crownlands, Westerlands or Reach. So those 5 knights probably come from the Vale, Riverlands and Stormlands. Mandon Moore will likely be appointed regardless (In canon, he came with Jon Arryn from the Vale), but it’s likely that the rest will be knights of skill and repute, not the sadistic and incompetent cronies we see in canon.

    Now, the small council. Jon Arryn is a natural choice for Hand of the King. To curry favor with Stannis and ensure his support, Ned will name him as Master of Laws, thus tying the Stormlands closer to the Iron Throne. However, we come to the roach in the pudding: Pycelle and Varys. Ned’s not likely to kill Pycelle, but he will likely find out about Pycelle telling Aerys to open the gates for Tywin. I would guess that he’s going to be dismissed from his position as Grand Maester, and Ned will ask the Citadel for a new one. Perhaps a Northern Grand Maester is chosen, as an attempt to influence Ned? Or the Tyrell one mentioned ASOS?

    Varys is a trickier case. He seems to have made himself indispensable to Robert Baratheon and the Lannisters after them, but Ned has never exactly trusted Varys. If he is dismissed, a big crimp is placed in his ability to manipulate events at court and across Westeros. If he stays, Ned has different vulnerabilities than Robert, and may not prove so easy to flatter or cajole, and again, events might turn out differently.

    The rest of the small council has to be filled, and Ned has allies to reward. If Hoster Tully doesn’t take a position on the small council (Which would ironically place Ned into the same situation that Robert is in, of having too much of his wife’s family in his government), then a strong bannerman-Like Jason Mallister or Tytos Blackwood-would likely be given a spot. The North would have to be represented, and Wyman Manderly would be perfect as either Master of Ships or Coin. Throw in someone from the Vale-Yohn Royce or Horton Redfort-and Ned’s got himself a small council.

    Now, securing his realm will not be easy. The Lannisters first. Ned doesn’t trust Tywin, at all. This leads to Ned, likely with Jon Arryn’s influence, asking for hostages-or “wards” if you want to be polite. Tyrion, who is only about 8-10 at this point, likely along with Lancel and Tyrek, giving him influence over Tywin’s immediate family. If Jaime was returned to Tywin, it’s likely that this doesn’t mean a lot, as Tywin has his whole heir and cares only about the deformed spare as much as it relates to familial loyalty, but it’s still a lever over the Lannister family (And it changes Tyrion’s character and experiences to a large amount). If Jaime was sent to the Wall, however…..Tyrion’s now the heir to Casterly Rock, and it’s a completely different story (On a related note, how much do you think Tywin would pay to Ned for Jaime to be released from his vows? 6 million dragons perhaps, or only half that?).

    Now, the Martells. They’re going to be pissed at Tywin, but likely at Ned as well. However, here’s where it all differs: Ned is also pissed by the massacre of Elia and the kids, and will want justice. So when Jon Arryn goes to return the bodies of Elia, Lewyn and the kids, he’ll be dragging Amory Lorch and Gregor Clegane with them, possibly as a condition of releasing Jaime from the Kingsguard. A goodly amount of change occurs then and there: Dorne executes Lorch and Clegane, satiating their desire for vengeance a great deal, and Ned probably offers them a number of concessions for taxes and the like as consolation. Oberyn certainly won’t die in a duel, and Doran might not be so eager to make common cause with the Targaryens.

    The Tyrells are, in a way, easiest to deal with. Stannis will bitch about treachery and the like, but with things so unsettled at the moment, Ned cannot afford to annoy the largest army in the realm, and the Tyrells are almost pathologically eager to embrace whoever is in charge. More to the point, Mace and Olenna would be tripping over themselves to offer the newborn Margaery as a future bride for Prince Robb, and thus assure themselves of a chance at kingship. Ned might take a few Reachers as wards-Willas now, perhaps, with the likes of the Redwyne twins, Loras and Margaery, and maybe even Sam Tarly down the line?-to ensure Reach loyalty, with a possible at-large council seat to keep an eye on them/as a reward.

    With Ned as King under this scenario, he’s unlikely to drive the realm so deeply into debt, and so Littlefinger is either never brought to court, unrailing his entire plan before it starts or is significantly less influential. The Greyjoys might rebel, but would be dealt with in the same way as in canon, so not much changes there.

    The only question left is the Targaryens, including Jon.
    Viserys and Dany would probably have an easier life with Ned on the Throne-He’s less paranoid about dragonspawn than Robert, and might even offer them a return to Westeros if they would agree to swear fealty to Ned and not seek the Throne. If Dany does end up still marrying Drogo, there aren’t any assassins chasing her, and therefore it is unlikely that she finds reason to cross the Narrow Sea (Though Illyrio and Varys still have their particular plot going on).
    Jon…Is in someways the easiest to deal with. With Ned as King, Benjen takes over as the Stark in Winterfell. Ned simply ships his nephew/”bastard son” to Winterfell, and asks Benjen to watch out for him. If Benjen chooses not to marry, or decides after a few years that he still wants to join the Night’s Watch, Ned simply legitimizes Jon as a Stark, and Jon Stark becomes Lord of Winterfell, effectively hiding him away from any prying eyes.

    Sorry for the length of this, but it’s one of the more interesting AU’s out there.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Impressive comment. I think Stannis is the more likely candidate – they’d just picked Robert and Stannis was Robert’s heir and has the blood link to the Targs.

      • Evan says:

        Thanks! I like AU’s, especially ones dealing with political consequences, and this one was obviously a doozy.

        Stannis is the obvious choice, and I could probably write a whole different AU of his reign-He’d still probably have to marry Cersei, Cersei would cheat even more, and Stannis has proven he is not as blind as Robert, so we’d probably still get a war-but Ned seemed more interesting.

        • Bwbah says:

          Assuming Jon Arryn and Eddard can stop Stannis from punishing Jaime for earning the ‘Kingslayer’ achievement as a sworn brother of the Kingsguard (no small feat since he doesn’t know either man at this point, and this is right about the same time OTL that he’s hacking up Davos’s hand…) I can see Cersei actually respecting Stannis.

          After all, Cersei’s biggest problem with Robert actually wasn’t that he failed to be Jaime; it’s his infidelity. Even when he shared her bed, he was unfaithful.

          This seems an unlikely problem for Stannis, though to be fair he’s likely to disillusion her in other ways.

          She’s not even likely to have a problem with his harsh justice, though she might think him a bit of a soft touch. Then again, daddy’s little girl would be comparing him to Tywin ‘Master of Disproportionate Retribution’ Lannister.

  17. merl says:

    How does everyone know that Joffrey tried to murder Bran?

    • stevenattewell says:

      We don’t have a confession or anything, but Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion have been excluded as suspects, and LF wasn’t aware of the assassination attempt against Bran until Catelyn arrived in KL.

      However, we do know that Joffrey reacted very strangely to Tyrion’s description of the Valyrian dagger when he got his Valyrian steel sword, we know he overheard his father saying that Bran should be put out of his misery, we know that he resented having to give his condolences to the Starks after being humiliated by Tyrion, we know that he’s a sadist and a coward who likes to outsource his violence.

  18. merl says:

    i think it’s time for a third read.

  19. […] Eddard VII (Part II of the Ser Hugh Assassination Theory, caring about the bros, Eddard nearly breaks the investigation wide open, return to the Lannister Conspiracy, and much more) […]

  20. […] is his wont, Varys holds back for the most part – he’s the first one to declare Ned Stark a traitor, a […]

  21. Wi says:

    I don’t know if anyone else mentioned it, but the example of Baelor Breakspear dying isn’t a good argument for Westeros wanting to abandon tourneys. The Trial of Seven is a legal proceeding, not an entertainment. In fact, the royalty present at the Tourney of Ashford make a point of actively staying out of the jousting, with only youths way down the line of succession participating, and no one facing Valarr, the only one in a direct line for the kingship, fights in earnest.

    • It’s still a major risk and that’s just one incident in which the heir dies completely unnecessarily.

      Rhaegar rode in a lot of jousts – any chance accidents could easily have killed him, for example.

  22. Why do you keep calling what happened to Sir Hugh an assassination? He wasn’tva public figure or leader. It was simple murder, either by someone’s orders or due to Clegane’s sadism. You make an excellent case for it being part of the Littlefinger plot, but that doesn’t make it an assassination.

  23. thatrabidpotato says:

    Potential What If:
    What if Arya takes Ned up on having Ser Barristan as a teacher instead of Syrio/what if Ned had simply gone to Barristan in the first place?
    How does Barristan react at the end of the book when Meryn Trant comes, and what does he teach Arya?

  24. […] enough and tough enough that he can stand up against his big brother, which makes his actions in Eddard VII a rather significant test for the younger Clegane. We can see that in Sandor’s outlandishly […]

  25. […] to Cersei’s modus operandi: like both of her attempts on Robert Baratheon’s life at the tourney and in the Kingswood, the assassination is meant to appear like an accident, with Tyrion […]

  26. […] above, it’s a sloppy attempt, which fits Cersei’s style (the attempted assassination during the melee). It doesn’t fit Joffrey quite as well – while his daggerman was inexperienced and […]

  27. […] Lancel Lannister. Here is a child-man who’s spent his entire life taking orders, whether as a Lannister stooge at court, Cersei’s choice for kingslayer, Cersei’s substitute lover, or Tyrion’s double […]

  28. […] lacks entirely any of the burning human desires that mark all of Littlefinger’s catspaws from Ser Hugh to Ser Dontos to the Kettleblacks. An arch-tempter like Littlefinger would struggle mightly to […]

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