“A Lannister always paid his debts. Kurleket would learn that someday, as would his friends Lharys and Mohor, and the good Ser Willis, and the sellswords Bronn and Chiggen. He planned an especially sharp lesson for Marillon…”
Synopsis : after being arrested/abducted at the Inn at the Crossroads, Tyrion Lannister learns that he is being taken to the Eyrie rather than to Winterfell. He’s not particularly thrilled about being outsmarted by Catelyn Stark, or about being accused of attempting to assassinate Bran. After the revelation of Littlefinger’s lies and Tyrion saving Catelyn’s life during an attack by the men of the Mountains of the Moon, Tyrion and Catelyn end up on an ambivalent note.
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.
Tyrion IV is a relatively short and straightforward chapter: Tyrion and Catelyn talk on the road to the Eyrie, they are attacked by mountain men, in that fight Tyrion saves Catelyn’s life for reasons unknown to even himself, and they finish their conversation about Tyrion’s putative responsibility for the (second) attempt on Bran’s life. However, a few political events of note do take place in this chapter.
The first event is the formation of a vendetta between Houses Stark and Lannister. From the first sentence, Tyrion “chalk[s] up one more debt owed to the Starks,” and we know how Lannisters feel about paying their debts (indeed, even as he’s put under arrest, Tyrion is marking people out for “rewards” and meting out his own brand of repayment to the singer who he partly blames for his arrest). Throughout the chapter, Tyrion is filled with “a bitter rage” that spirals beyond his immediate antagonist, damning “her and all the Starks.” The vendetta is both familial and personal; while Tyrion knows that his father will avenge the insult to the family name, what truly inspires such intensity of emotion is the damage done to his self image: “all his life Tyrion had prided himself on his cunning, the only gift the gods had seen fit to give him, and yet this seven-times-damned she-wolf Catelyn Stark had outwitted him at every turn.”
For her part, Catelyn Stark sneers at the very thought of “Lannister honor,” despite the very real price that Tywin and in his own way Tyrion place on the honor of their House, and draws a bright line between the honor of the Starks, who don’t murder people by the side of the road, and the Lannisters, who dispatch men with knives to slit the throats of children. Tyrion IV is right at the tipping point where this vendetta could be undone – in crisis, Catelyn is willing to accept the word of an honorable Lannister and arm her captive against the mountain men, and Tyrion is willing to save the life of his erstwhile kidnapper – but after this, there is no going back.
For those who scorn Catelyn Stark as a political actor, and they are many, this chapter should stand as counter-evidence and rebuke. Tyrion, himself one of the nimblest politicians in A Song of Ice and Fire, admits that Catelyn Stark completely bests him without lifting a finger, and repeatedly. I’ve already discussed how presentism is largely responsible for the fandom’s selection of Catelyn arresting Tyrion as the one event that kicked off the War of Five Kings, but it’s also important for us to consider what Catelyn gains from Tyrion’s arrest: first, she has a potentially quite valuable hostage to use against the Lannisters.
Secondly (and this is the second political event in the chapter), she advances her investigation enormously. In one stroke, she learns that it was not Tyrion’s dagger, that “there is a serious flaw in Littlefinger’s fable…I never bet against my family,” and that Littlefinger has been lying in the royal court about taking her virginity. Tyrion ironically benefits from the kidnapping by learning that Littlefinger set him up, and is working to poison the Starks against the Lannisters. (One of the most frustrating elements about A Clash of Kings for me is how little George R.R Martin does with Tyrion’s interactions with Littlefinger in that book, and in future books)
While I think Catelyn doesn’t get sufficient credit for her savvy, I don’t think Catelyn is perfect either, although she is being criticized for the wrong things. Kidnapping Tyrion and taking him to the Eyrie wasn’t where Catelyn screwed up; rather, it’s her actions after this point that are worthy of criticism. Potentially, Catelyn has everything she needs to unravel the entire Littlefinger Conspiracy: she knows that Littlefinger is clearly obsessed about her, to the point of spreading gossip about her virtue (which if Eddard ever heard about it would have absolutely provoked a duel to the death), which gives her motive; she knows that Littlefinger has lied to her about the Lannisters acting against her family, which is strongly suggestive of the fact that the Lannister Conspiracy against the Starks (as opposed to against the Baratheons) is being made up; and she knows that Littlefinger cannot be trusted. She doesn’t put the pieces together, in part because of her past history with the man (and an underlying feeling of guilt about his near-death, probably), but what I find worthy of reproach is that she doesn’t inform Eddard about any of this the moment she gets to the Eyrie. Or her father or Edmure, for that matter.
The third event of political significance is the attack by the mountain men, and what it tells us about the military situation in the Vale. Quite different from most of Westeros, where the major threat to law and order comes either from inter-noble warfare or from outside (Wildling raiders, invasion from Essos, Ironborn pirates), the Vale’s enemies are internal – the mountain clans who “bowed to no law but the sword.” From the description in Catelyn IV, where she describes them “descending from the heights to rob and kill and melting away like snow whenever the knights rode out from the Vale in search of them,” the Mountains of the Moon seem locked in a permanent cycle of guerilla warfare, where at their best the Lords of Arryn can keep things sufficiently under control that well-armed bands can travel the High Road in safety. What we don’t know yet is that Lysa’s madness has begun to destabilize the Vale, since by pulling her military forces back to the Eyrie, she’s essentially encouraged the mountain clans to increase their raids on travelers – hence three assaults on a party of some fifteen armed men.
Even before they arrive at the Eyrie, it’s clear that something is rotten in the state of the Vale.
The Italian word “vendetta” takes its origins from the Latin word “vindicta,” and that’s not an accident. The essence of a vendetta is a blood feud between two families, where a crime (often, but not necessarily a murder; the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud began often the theft of livestock) against an individual must be avenged by their blood relatives, and there’s nothing more vindictive than when murder and family are combined. It’s especially vindictive because vendettas have no terminus: the avenging of a crime against one family becomes a crime that needs to be avenged by the other, and so on for all time.
An inability to find resolution, save in the total destruction of one side or the other, is only one of the problems with vendetta. As the historian Marc Bloch once wrote:
The Middle Ages, from beginning to end, and particularly the feudal era, lived under the sign of private vengeance. The onus, of course, lay above all on the wronged individual; vengeance was imposed on him as the most sacred of duties …The solitary individual, however, could do but little. Moreover, it was most commonly a death that had to be avenged…No moral obligation seemed more sacred than this … The whole kindred, therefore, placed as a rule under the command of a chieftain, took up arms to punish the murder of one of its members or merely a wrong that he had suffered.
Not only does vendetta privilege the strong over the weak, and essentially turn justice into the prerogative of those with sufficient military force, but it also results in not merely a continuation of violence, but an expansion of violence. A crime of one individual against another turn into a conflict between anyone in two extended clans, and their friends and relatives, which means associated families get dragged in. It’s not surprising, therefore, that one of the chief duties of kingship classically was to act as a judge who could forestall vendettas, both by accumulating enough military force to cow both parties, but also by serving as an impartial mediator that both parties agreed would have the final say. Thus was begun the long transformation of crimes from offenses between private individuals that could only be settled through private means, than an act forbidden by the sovereign, who would then bear the responsibility for acting against those who challenged the king’s law.
Whether the king could make it stick with the barons or the barons with their knights was always a crucial indicator of the health of the state, and by this metric the Westerosi state seems relatively weak at all levels. In virtually every corner of the Seven Kingdoms, we can find evidence of ancient blood feuds that feudal overlords and kings are more often than not incapable of stopping: the Brackens and Blackwoods have been feuding for eight thousand years and it took a monarch of the caliber of Jaeherys the Wise to stop them for even a period of time, let alone the Tullys or most Targaryens or the Baratheons; in the North, the Boltons warred against the Starks for seven thousand years, and killed quite a few of their putative kings before bending the knee to the Winter Kings; the Westerlands is only recently free of feuding due to Tywin Lannister’s total war against the Reynes and Tarbecks; in the Reach, we have a number of Houses with the Florents in the lead who challenge the right to rule of the Tyrells and the Red vs. Green Fossaways; and in Dorne, Oberyn Martell seems to have started feuds as a form of entertainment.
As in any chapter where violence suddenly breaks out, the potential for sudden changes in history abound:
- Tyrion doesn’t save Catelyn? In Tyrion IV, our eponymous protagonist makes a surprising decision to save the life of the woman who kidnapped him and accused him of attempted murder. To some extent, Tyrion doesn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter – if Catelyn dies, her fighting men have absolutely nothing stopping from them from leaving him behind as they hightail it out of the Mountains of the Moon. However, if she dies, a lot changes: the Starks’ deal with the Freys might be very different or not happen at all (which would possibly force Robb into a head-on fight with Tywin’s army) – and if Robb’s hand doesn’t end up pledged to a Frey, it’s possible the Red Wedding is butterflied away entirely; if the Starks get across the Trident, Jaime is not released from imprisonment, which gives the Starks something to negotiate with when things start to go bad for them and they need to pull back to the North; and a whole bunch of Freys live longer lives.
- Tyrion dies? It’s quite possible that Tyrion, for all his unexpected battle-rage, could have died in the fight with the Mountain Men, and then a lot changes. Firstly, the Lannisters will now fight to the death against the Starks with no peace possible. Secondly, Tyrion never becomes Hand of the King, which means that Stannis’ ships will sail into a hail of wildfire but without the destructive impact of the fire-ships in the river and the boom chain across the Blackwater Rush. This means that Stannis’ army will make it across the Blackwater largely unharmed, and the walls of the city are breached. What happens next is tricky – Tywin will still probably make his bargain with the Tyrells and move against Stannis, but will probably arrive too late, allowing Stannis to lock the doors against him. Tywin and the Tyrells greatly outnumber Stannis, but now have to face an assault on the walls against an enemy ten times the size of Tyrion’s forces. Moreover, if Stannis can breach the Red Keep, the political situation changes dramatically: the Lannister-Tyrell alliance requires a royal marriage, and either Stannis holds the putative king and the Queen Mother hostage or he’s executed them both and now the Lannisters and Tyrells don’t have the basis for an alliance and are technically rebels against a sitting King, with Robb Stark still in the field with no love for either of them.
- Catelyn does something with Tyrion’s information? Timing is now starting to get very tricky – it’s possible that Catelyn could get the news that Littlefinger lied about the second attempt on Bran’s life before Eddard resigns the Handship and then gets disabled in the street fight with Jaime Lannister, but it’s not likely. On the other hand, even if Catelyn is too late, giving Eddard forewarning that Littlefinger is acting against him could still be crucial in the final hours. Cutting Littlefinger out of the loop, and especially making sure that it’s Stark coins that buy the loyalty of the Gold Cloaks could have made the difference between overthrow and execution, and a successful dethroning of the false king and queen and mother and Hail King Stannis!
Book vs. Show:
One thing that the HBO show does differently from the books is to modulate Tyrion’s “battle-fury;” still having him be active in combat (he saves Catelyn’s life and kills a man), but pulling back slightly from the unstoppable killing machine that he becomes at the Battle of the Green Fork and the siege of King’s Landing. I think it’s a good change, for the same reason that eliminating Tyrion’s inconsistent tumbling skills was a good change, in that it accommodates to the greater realism that comes from the transition from a written medium to a visual medium.