Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya III

“Delay you say. Make haste, I reply. Even the finest juggler cannot keep a hundred balls int he air forever.”

“You are more than a juggler, old friend. You are a true sorcerer. All I ask is that you work your magic awhile longer.”

Synopsis: chasing cats through the palace, Arya literally runs into Tommen, and in escaping from his guards, finds herself in the cellars of the Red Keep where the dragon-skulls of House Targaryen are stored. Hidden inside one of the skulls, she overhears Varys and Illyrio conferring about the status of their conspiracy. She manages to escape undetected and report back to her father, but her warning is garbled and Eddard dismisses it as the rehearsing of mummers (ironically, not that far off from the truth. Yoren arrives with bad news.

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:

Arya II is one of my favorite chapters in A Game of Thrones because, along with Bran II, it’s one of the rare times when we see the major political actors of Westeros speaking completely freely about their intentions, interests, and plans. Illyrio Mopatis and Lord Varys the Master of Whisperers are some of the most secretive individuals in a series with more than its fair share of shadowy conspirators, to the extent that their true objective has remained an almost-total mystery up until early drafts of A Dance With Dragons (and even then we can’t be totally sure). Feeling securely guarded by Varys nigh-exclusive knowledge of the secret tunnels of the Red Keep, they meet and speak frankly about their conspiracy. Indeed, the fact that Illyrio meets with his old friend (and possible lover) the one and only time in five books in this scene suggests something of how confident they feel.

And yet they are overheard.  (Incidentally, there’s some fascinating stuff in this chapter about how Arya’s gender presentation interacts with people’s knowledge of her – she’s able to “disappear” in the Red Keep, to step out of the role of the Hand’s daughter, long before she becomes Arry – that I probably won’t have space to get into in this recap, but I did want to highlight it.)

So what do we learn about the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy in this chapter?

The “younger” dynamic duo.

Eddard is a few weeks away at most from finding out the truth that Jon Arryn had uncovered.

This points to the critical importance of timing in A Game of Thrones: first of all, we can see how the short schedule influences the various conspiracies – Varys and Illyrio are wrong-footed, because they need more time to unite the Dothraki horde with the Golden Company; Renly and the Tyrells have a sudden opportunity to bring forward their plan, but they have to adapt quickly when Robert suddenly dies; Cersei has to accelerate her plan to assassinate Robert; and Littlefinger has to make some quick calculations about who to back and who to betray. Secondly, we can see how intricate GRRM’s plotting is – the news of Daenerys’ pregnancy arrives just in time to prompt Eddard to resign (since he likely would not have done so knowing the truth), and Eddard’s injury has to happen in order to throw off Eddard’s schedule long enough for Robert to die before Eddard can prevent Joffrey’s coronation.

Varys and Illyrio (correctly) think a civil war is about to break out, and feel differently about it.

Varys knows before everyone else aout Tyrion’s abduction and instantly understands the consequences thereof: “Tywin will take that for an outrage…If the Lannisters move north, that will bring the Tullys in as well,” and once that happens a vendetta between two families begins to spiral out of control as their relatives and vassals are called in to aid them. However, there’s an interesting element of disunity in their reaction to this news: Illyrio wants to delay the civil war by killing Eddard Stark, saying “If one Hand can die, why not a second…You have danced the dance before.” Our evidence for Lysa and Littlefinger’s direct responsibility for Arryn’s murder is too strong, but given Varys’ knowledge about the tears of Lys (quite possibly, Varys has spies watching the city’s poisonmakers for this very purpose) it’s quite possible that he stood back and allowed Arryn to die. Alternatively, Illyrio may be referring to Varys’ previous influence over Aerys II and suggesting that it was Varys who suggested the appointment of the ineffectual Owen Merryweather and the sacking of Jon Connington as part of his larger scheme to destabilize the Targaryen dynasty.

Varys, by contrast wants to accelerate the plan and thinks assassinating Eddard won’t work (I’m not sure why he thinks  that). Correctly, he understands that the Stark/Lannister feud is accelerating too quickly and that even if Eddard dies (especially if he dies, as we’ll see) it’s not going to stop. Now, the more interesting question is why Varys thinks Drogo might be too late if he waits for his son to be born. Part of the reason has to do with the overall strategic picture, as discussed below, but I think part of it has to do with the fact that Varys doesn’t want the civil war to be over before they can get there and if Eddard discovers the truth (and Varys has no way of knowing that he’s about to get sidelined by his injury), it’s possible that he could gather enough allies to make the Lannister coup impossible. This certainly fits his actions in ACOK in aiding Tyrion (he doesn’t want Stannis to take the city and knock the Lannisters out of the war), or in ASOS of engineering Tywin’s assassination and in ADWD of assassinating Kevan and Pycelle to prevent the Lannisters from consolidating power; he’s keeping the civil war going so that Aegon/Daenerys can arrive as a savior/compromise monarchy. However, it’s equally dangerous to get there too early, since it raises the possibility that the Seven Kingdoms unite against the foreign army…unless Varys was planning to use the army as a giant bluff/bargaining chip to force the succession by making an alliance that’s impossible to stand against, or throwing the whole thing to a Great Council he could manipulate.

Interesting hypothesis: if Varys knows about R+L=J, it’s possible that he’s thinking that the Starks might accept a Targaryen monarch because of Jon Snow’s heritage, because at the outset of the War of the Five Kings most observers would guess that the Stark/Tullys would resist a Targaryen because of the Mad King, the Lannisters out of fear of retaliation for the sack of King’s Landing, the Baratheons because of Robert, and the Tyrells because they’re committed to Renly, which isn’t a good strategic picture.

Varys and Illyrio know that the game has spread beyond a “game for two players.”

Who the other player was that Varys/Illyrio thought they were playing against is hard to say – certainly Littlefinger makes the most logical sense, but Varys’ statement that “the gods only know what game Littlefinger is playing” suggests otherwise. What’s interesting is that their perspective on the overall strategic situation is an odd mixture of perspicacious and obscured: they know that Stannis and Lysa are gathering soldiers (but they don’t seem to realize that Lysa is Littlefinger’s puppet); they know all about the Renly/Tyrell plot, but they don’t seem to know what Littlefinger is up to precisely (although Varys knows he’s manipulating the situation to bring the Starks and Lannisters into conflict).

Typically for the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy, they don’t directly intervene against Renly/Tyrell, Stannis and Lysa, and the rest, preferring to sit back and watch the situation unfold. Part of this has to do with their larger strategic interest; the more sides in the civil war, the less chance there is of a conclusion, and the more the various parties will be worn down when the experienced yet fresh forces of Khal Drogo and the Golden Company arrive. But another part of it has to do with Varys’ signature strategic caution – he hangs back to see what Eddard is about, and then interjects with his assistance when it suits Varys, but no so much that Varys falls when the Hand does; he’ll do the same thing when Tyrion arrives to become the new Hand of the King; he completely disappears for the whole of AFFC, using his knowledge of the secret tunnels and his disguises, only to reappear with devastating effect in ADWD.

As a method goes, it has to be admired. While Littlefinger’s manipulations in ACOK and ASOS  in forging a Lannister/Tyrell alliance, abducting Sansa and eliminating Lysa are quite impressive, leaving him in control of Harrenhal and the Vale (and potentially the North as well) , it’s also the case that his assassination of Joffrey, (meant mostly as a smokescreen but also to put Tyrion back in the dock) doesn’t accomplish that much strategically – Tywin is the real power behind the Lannisters and arguably Joffrey’s death improved matters by replacing a potential Aerys with a pliable and good natured child. Through his assassination of Tywin and then Kevan and Pycelle, Varys neatly undoes the Lannister/Tyrell power bloc even as he puts the Golden Company and Dorne into play. So far, I think the score between the eunuch and the whoremonger stands at a draw.

Varys and Illyrio consider the Stark vs. Lannister fight an even match. 

I bring this up largely because the fandom I think tends to lapse into presentism when considering Robb’s rebellion and assumes that the North can’t possibly have ever succeeded and that the King in the North was doomed from the start (you also find this in Catelyn apologias that seek to shift blame to Robb rather than to reject it altogether). However, two of the smartest political analysts on two continents think that the Starks have a good chance against the Lannisters.

The Song of Ice and Fire RPG (endorsed by GRRM) is one of the few estimates that’s ever been done of the total military capacity of Westeros, and it puts the total strength of House Lannister at 50,000 men (which fits, given that the War of Five Kings starts with Tywin in the field with 20,000 men and Jaime with 15,000, and the Lannisters are able to hastily raise another 10,000 at Oxcross while keeping 5,000 at the Golden Tooth). The total strength of the Starks is…45,000, with the Riverlands able to mount another 40,000 (this latter estimate makes sense, given that the incompletely mustered Tullys had 4,000 men at the Golden Tooth and 16,000 at the Battle of Riverrun, and then have 20,000 men under arms immediately after the Battle of the Camps).

What people forget is that when Robb marched with 18,000 men to rescue his father, he did so at short notice in a desperate attempt to rescue his father. Because Catelyn Stark was sidetracked before Eddard’s instructions to mobilize the North were delivered to Houses Tallheart, Glover, and Manderly, the North doesn’t fully mobilize when it goes to war. My guess is that as many as 27,000 men were left behind or simply not mobilized – when you consider that the Boltons, Manderlys, and Tallhearts are have significant forces left in the North in ACOK (and the first two never fight the Ironborn), that the 3,000 men of the mountain clans were never mobilized, that the Karstarks and Umbers still have men to aid Stannis with in ADWD.

Again, note the intricacies of the plotting here: Catelyn Stark has to kidnap Tyrion, because otherwise Robb Stark doesn’t march south with not enough men to be the exciting underdog that inspires so much affection from the fandom (especially post-ASOS), so that Robb has to settle for capturing Jaime rather than going for the Lord of Casterly Rock, so that Tywin’s 20,000 men remain in the field to relieve the siege of King’s Landing, so that the defection of the Freys and the Karstarks are such a crippling blow to his hopes, so that Balon and Theon and Asha don’t run headlong into 27,000 mobilized Stark soldiers (which in turn means that Winterfall can fall and Theon be captured). To quote Detective Freamon, “all the pieces matter.”

 Historical Analysis:

I’ve already mentioned my pick for Varys’ historical counterpart(s), so in this section, I’d like to talk about the nature of espionage in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. Spying is one of the world’s oldest professions, dating back to the 13th century B.C, where we have evidence of spies being used in the wars between the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt and the Hittite kings to undertake missions of misinformation about the locations of armies. The Arthashastra, 4th century India’s manual on government compiled for Chandragupta Maurya, advises the use of spies to gather information on the loyalty of one’s people, guard the king from assassination, and carry out assassinations of high-ranking officials who might threaten the king. 

Indeed, the main difference between historical spy networks and our modern intelligence services is the lack of formalized institutions. Spies tended to be recruited on an ad-hoc basis, often for particular military campaigns or to deal with particular political rivals: spies were used frequently in the Hundred Years War for example to provide intelligence on which towns held valuable supplies for English armies to sack, or to provide notice when the English navy left port to give the French armies time to mobilize. As the Middle Ages passed on to the Early Modern periods, we can see a slow movement to a more organized practice; the close link between spy networks and official embassies began to be forged as ambassadors were used as the “man on the spot” to acquire information, recruit agents, and carry out subversive missions, usually by the paying out of secret bribes. Francis Walsingham’s was one of the most sophisticated of Renaissance spy networks, employing moles and double-agents through bribery, blackmail, and threats, intercepting communications without detection by developing new techniques for breaking and repairing wax seals, and employing dedicated cryptographers to break codes used by foreign monarchs. The results were quite impressive: the Throckmorton Plot was broken up, the Babington Plot was infiltrated and turned into the legal pretext for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and plans for the Spanish Armada were uncovered long before the ships left Cadiz, giving England time to prepare for invasion.

By contrast, the state of espionage is rather underdeveloped in Westeros – other than Catelyn and Lysa, few of the great lords seem to encode their communications (which lends credence to the Maester Conspiracy theory), double-agents and moles are  incompletely used (Littlefinger, Varys, and to a lesser extent Tyrion uses them, but none of the other Lannisters, the Starks, Baratheons, Greyjoys, Martells, Tyrells, etc. seem to), and Varys seems to have the only bi-continental spy network in existence. 

One of the odd little details we learn in Arya III is that Varys’ particular spy network is comprised of what must be hundreds of children (since he places an order with his friend Illyrio the occasional slaver for fifty new “little birds”), who must be young and literate (highly unusual for this time and place) and then have their tongues removed – presumably because they’re less likely to accidentally spill some of Varys’ secrets. Partly, his decision to use children makes sense – one of his chief methods of gathering intelligence is by using the secret tunnels that honeycomb the Red Keep to spy on people, and children would have an easier time making their way through narrow, cramped passages to overhear conversations. On the other hand, there’s something deeply creepy about the way Varys is essentially recapitulating his own mutilation every time he has an intelligent, literate child maimed, suggesting an unending cycle of abuse and exploitation in the pursuit of secrets (GRRM is fond of recreating their own trauma: witness Cersei basically recreating her marriage to Robert but turned up to 11 with Joffrey and Sansa).

What If?

To me, there are three big hypotheticals in this chapter:

  • Arya is discovered – well, this is something of a quandary. Murdering the youngest daughter of the Hand of the King is an incredibly risky step, but Varys and Illyrio can’t afford to let the Hand know about their plot to bring the Targaryens back to Westeros. So it’s possible that Arya might have died down in the darkness of some “accident.” Alternatively, Varys is good enough at spinning that he might have been able to recover the situation short of murder by convincing Arya that he’s working to save her father.
  • Arya gives a more coherent warning – to me, this is the most interesting possibility. If Arya doesn’t get her message jumbled, it’s possible Eddard Stark would have believed his daughter that she overheard two conspirators in the cellars of the Keep. What precisely he would have learned is unclear – Arya naturally focused on the threat to her father’s life, and if Eddard took that threat more seriously he might have brought more guardsman with him to the brothel, and thus prevented his injury. He could have learned about Stannis and Lysa gathering troops (but that doesn’t particularly help), and he could have learned about the Renly/Tyrell plot (but he basically knows about it anyway). Most critically, he would know that Tyrion Lannister has been abducted because of Littlefinger, and at least been able to see the blowback coming instead of being suddenly confronted with it (which in turn might have influenced his decision to resign the Handship).
  • Arya sends her letter to Jon Snow and it gets to the Wall – this one is a bit tricky, since it assumes that Yoren isn’t intercepted and the information gets there before Jon Snow goes off ranging with Jeor Mormont, at which point the information will not be of any use. How Jon Snow would react to this information is unclear – it might give him more impetus to leave the Wall earlier, which in turn could well mean he doesn’t go on the journey North, which in turn might mean Castle Black falls to the Thenns, and the Wildlings pour into a North torn by war, with no one left behind them to guard the Wall. Alternatively, he might pass on the warning to Winterfell – which means that Robb and the rest of the Starks will possibly mobilize earlier than they do in OTL, potentially changing the course of the War of Five Kings.

Book vs. Show:

The only major change from the books is that they leave out Arya bumping into Tommen as the reason she runs down to the depths of the Red Keep where the dragon skulls are kept, which is relatively minor and probably done to save a bit of money and the fact that Tommen is pretty much a glorified extra at this point (and will probably be recast for Season 4, unless I miss my guess).


79 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya III

  1. Josh says:

    Love your work Steven! I am addicted to your analyses and appreciate what you’ve added to the story while we wait for “Winds of Winter.”

  2. Brett says:

    Good stuff.

    I’m not surprised that Varys is having trouble piecing together Littlefinger’s motives. Littlefinger seems to be more aware than most about the fact that Varys has people listening in the walls, since he has Sansa meet with Ser Dontos out in the Godswood, and holds his secret meetings out of the castle on his ground.

    I bring this up largely because the fandom I think tends to lapse into presentism when considering Robb’s rebellion and assumes that the North can’t possibly have ever succeeded and that the King in the North was doomed from the start

    I think it’s pretty crazy, too. If Robb was slightly smarter and told Edmure of what he was hoping to do (possibly by raven back to Riverrun), then Tywin’s army gets smashed between Edmure’s and Robb’s, and the Lannister faction is basically broken. If Robb doesn’t get injured, he never breaks the marriage pact with the Freys, takes Moat Cailin from the pathetic garrison still guarding it, and then hides up in the North while Winter makes it almost impossible for the Lannister-Tyrell alliance to retake it for several years (and I imagine Stannis never goes to the Wall in this scenario).

    There’s tons of scenarios where the North wins, or at least pulls off some kind of Lannister-smashing victory that gets them revenge for Ned.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Littlefinger’s awareness of Varys is equally patchy though, thus his ridiculous statement to Catelyn that he has Varys’ balls in the palm of his hand. Ultimately, I think the reason why LF puts down Varys so much (something I’m glad they play up in the show) is that Varys scares him because the eunuch has no obvious levers to work.

      Regarding the North – yes. While GRRM borrows a lot from history, he also borrows liberally from the classics of tragedy. It’s not stupidity that dooms Robb, but rather a set of intricately arranged dominos that will fall in precisely the right way.

      • Brett says:

        It might be a failure of imagination on Littlefinger’s part. If you were in his shoes, would you suspect that the Master of Whispers was secretly trying to place a possibly fraudulent secret Prince Aegon on the throne as part of a massive con in collaboration with his old buddy back in Pentos? He might suspect that Varys is a Targaryen sympathizer, but that . . . .

        Ultimately, I think the reason why LF puts down Varys so much (something I’m glad they play up in the show) is that Varys scares him because the eunuch has no obvious levers to work.

        Yep. That’s a bit odd when you consider how similar the foundation for their power bases is – both are built upon access to money and information carefully placed, but with no real “base” of bannermen or land to support them. You’d think Littlefinger would recognize potential weaknesses in such a similar foe, but then Littlefinger doesn’t seem particularly self-aware.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Well, failure of imagination is one thing. But thinking you control Varys? That’s another.

        • Joseph says:

          I liked the scene in the show where Varys and Littlefinger have their smirk-off/threat contest. If that’s what GRRM was going for, Littlefinger isn’t saying that he controls Varys, only that he has enough leverage to prevent Varys from moving directly against him.

      • Andrew says:

        LF did tell Sansa that there was no shame in being afraid, only in showing fear. So that could be the case for LF’s behavior towards Varys.

        As for the little birds, Varys must need so many since with all the passages and crevices, some children will occasionally get stuck, and with their tongues cut out they can’t call for help. They can be trapped for days.

  3. axrendale says:

    Another excellent post Steven – this is definitely one of the best chapters in the first book, and you fully do justice to the intricacy of its contents.

    I would quibble with you however, with regard to your assertion about how undeveloped the state of espionage in Westeros is. Although the practices of spycraft are certainly not very sophisticated (at least outside of a select few), I think that they may be somewhat more widespread than you describe them as in this post. The prime example (outside of Varys and Littlefinger) that comes to mind is the conspiracy of the Red Wedding: we know from ASOS that Tywin was using coded letters to effect his correspondence with Roose Bolton, the Freys, and Sybell Spicer (regarding the latter, the Westerlings stand out as a particularly deadly variety of double-agents). To cite examples from later in the series, Euron Greyjoy employs both spies and assassins to advance his sinister machinations, and it seems likely that Doran Martell is running some sort of intelligence network out of Dorne – this being the best explanation for how an invalid could remain so plugged-in to events throughout the realm, and able to effortlessly uncover and foil plots like Arianne’s. On the other end of the continent, Mance Rayder clearly has the makings of an expert intelligence operative, capable of infiltrating both the King’s retinue and the court of the Boltons, plotting black-ops against the Night’s Watch (pardon the pun), and being a possible suspect in the writing of the “Pink Letter” that Jon recieves at the end of ADWD.

    I also think that it would interesting to know what kind of espionage capabilities previous holders of the position of Master of Whisperers were able to deploy on behalf of the Iron Throne. Although it is almost certain that none of them have ever developed an operation with the same scale and efficiency as Varys (with the obvious exception of Bryden Bloodraven), I suspect that the history of this office would contain a number of the same points that you touched on in your Historical Analysis.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I had forgotten the coded letters – good point.

      In regards to the Master of Whisperers, we don’t know of any other than Bloodraven (who was actually/also Hand) and Qyburn. It’s possible that Master of Whisperers didn’t exist as an office of the Small Council prior to Varys.

  4. Anthony says:

    how long does it take you to write up a chapter analysis? There seems to be a lot of input in them.

  5. Greg says:

    One difference between book and show that you didn’t mention. It’s easy to forget, but in the book, we are following the conversation from Arya’s POV. She doesn’t know who the conspirators are, and therefore we as readers (though we can make a very educated guess) don’t either. Though the answer is pretty obvious, especially in hindsight, I still think it’s a nuance worth noting.

    It’s one important difference between the written word and filmed fiction. It’s much harder to disguise people the viewer can actually see with their own eyes. In this case, the showrunners made the (wise) decision to not attempt to disguise who it was who was conspiring in the dungeons. With season 3 about to start, I’m curious if they will attempt to disguise Arstan Whitebeard or just be up-front with his identity.

    • stevenattewell says:

      True. I left that out – although I’d say that making it more obvious is better for a visual medium like TV (where you don’t have the luxury of leafing backwards and forwards to remind yourself about Varys’ disguises).

      Regarding Astan/Barristan, I know he’s intro’d not in his Kingsguard armor and wearing a beard, so there’s a bit of a visual difference. I think the reveal is too important, given how it’s linked to Jorah’s story, but I’m not sure when they’re going to end Dany’s story, whether it’ll stop at Astapor or Yunkai.

      • litg says:

        Agreed. Most often attempting to disguise someone in a visual medium comes off as silly (though I have seen it done successfully once or twice). You have to find your tension in other ways, like mining the dramatic irony of having the audience know something the characters do not. Hell, that’s been half of Arya’s storyline thus far.

    • John says:

      Any kind of halfway careful reading makes it pretty clear that Illyrio is one of the men Arya overhears – he is described exactly the same way as in Daenerys I.

  6. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, might I ask if you believe that one of the players to whom Lord Varys and Master Illyrio, that brainstorming brace of schemers, refer to in their little tete-a-tete might be Melisandre of Asshai?

    Given that they have sources in Westeros and Essos, it seems hard to believe that they would not be at least peripherally aware of what the Red Witch is capable of and of the fact that the followers of the ‘Red God’ have their reasons to take a particular interest in Westeros. If Varys account of his castration is to be believed, he has better reason than most to keep abreast of the occult-obsessed and in any case it’s an unwise schemer who pays no attention to what seems to be a faith climbing the stairway to power with unusual rapidity.

    My only real doubts derive from the vexing question of whether The Red Woman has actually arrived at Dragonstone at this point in time (as well as the question of whether the two plotters would actually consider her a threat).

    • stevenattewell says:

      I highly doubt it. While Melisandre is on Dragonstone at this point, she hasn’t actually done anything of significance yet, and the other player would be someone that the two of them are actively “playing” with.

      My guess is that they simply don’t know who the other actor is precisely, but it’s actually Littlefinger.

      • Odon says:

        Well I assume the other players simply referred to all the others playing the Game of Thrones, all of whom get mentioned: the Lannisters seeking to kill the King, Renly and the Tyrells seeking to replace the Queen, Littlefinger with his own mysterious agenda, Stannis and Lyssa gathering their forces. Varys is pointing out that with all these other people advancing their own agendas, he’s no longer able to control events because one of them could make an unpredictable move (as Cat does) and start the war too early.

      • stevenattewell says:

        The Lannisters, Renly and the Tyrells, Littlefinger, Stannis, and Lysa is right.

  7. Sean C. says:

    Also regarding the size of armies, the TV (which isn’t canon, per se, obviously) claims that the Tyrells are the third-largest force in Westeros, after the Lannisters and the Starks. That’s not exactly right with the books, but I think the general idea that we’re supposed to find the Houses on a competitive footing is accurate.

    Another recurring theme in the arguments that the Stark/Tully kingdo, was doomed to fail from the start is the idea that the Riverlands are somehow inherently indefensible. Now, they certainly are harder to defend since they don’t have one of those bottlenecks that an improbable number of the Seven Kingdoms seem to have (Moat Cailin, the Bloody Gate, the two passes through the Red Mountains, the Golden Tooth), but if it was impossible to defend the Riverlands against House Lannister (aided by Crownlands troops) with the combined might of the Riverlands and the North combined, then the Riverlands would never have survived for thousands of years as an independent kingdom with a distinct identity. It’d have long since been carved up between the other kingdoms, like Russian, Prussia, and Austria did to Poland.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Regarding the Tyrells, the RPG estimates they have the largest army in Westeros, at 100,000. I think that’s wrong. Renly has 80,000 at Bitterbridge and mentions 10,000 at Highgarden and the garrison at Storm’s End – so a total strength of ~100,000 makes sense. But that includes both the Stormlands and the Reach, and the Stormlands have ~30 men.

      I think a better estimate is that the Tyrells have the largest army at 60,000, which is 10,000 more than the Lannisters, and are relatively evenly matched with the Tyrells having more knights and the Lannisters superior infantry.

      About the Riverlands, I think people over-extend the problems facing a defense of the Riverlands. A big part of the problem is that the Riverlands had a lot of outlying territory and castles outside its natural barriers (Pinkmaiden, High Heart, Acorn Hall, Stony Sept), and that Robb and Edmure made a strategic mistake allowing the Riverlands lords to disperse and try to defend all of it. But the core of the Riverlands form a triangle defended by rivers on two sides and a mountain range at the back between Riverrun, Castle Darry (which incidentally, it makes zero sense for Harrenhal to be on the Godseye and not commanding the fork of the Trident), and the Twins. That could be defended.

      I think the historical trick to explain the Riverlands’ survival is a Fabian strategy, similar to that employed by the Russians historically, where they allow the enemy to advance as they concentrate in the triangle, and then hit them a horrendous blow when they try to cross. At the same time, you’d think the outlying Houses of the southern Riverlands would be better served acting as a guerilla force like the BWB, and force invaders to play whackamole or leave a potent threat behind them when they try to force the Trident.

      • axrendale says:

        Sorry Steven, but I have to disagree with your geostrategic analysis of the Riverlands. Based on what we have seen of the region in the books, and from the maps (, although the geographic core of the Riverlands may be located within the Riverrun-Twins-Darry triangle that you outline above, the heartland of the region (that is to say, the area containing the greatest concentration of population, resources, and castles) is contained in the lands between the God’s Eye and the Red Fork, comprising roughly the southern third of the Riverlands. This is the area that has been home to the greatest number of noble Houses – including the Pipers, Brackens, Blackwoods, Darrys, Mootons, Whents, and the various occupants of Harrenhal over the years, and thus is also the natural political centre of the Riverlands. The lands that lie along the extremities of the Trident – Riverrun, Seaguard, and the Twins – stand more as bastions against potential invasion (from the west, sea, or north), and the fact that one of these bastions – Riverrun – happens to be the seat of the ruling House in the region is an accident of political history, deriving from the favor that Aegon Targaryen showed to the Tullys after they swore loyalty to him during the Conquest.

        If we view the Red Fork/God’s Eye area to be the heart of the Riverlands, then what we know of the geopolitical development of the region makes more sense: in particular, the logic behind the location of Harrenhal becomes much more apparent. Deliberately built with the purpose of functioning as the ruling seat of the area, Harrenhal is not only centrally located (thereby facilitating its power over the noble houses in the area) in the rich and populous south, and in possession of some of the area’s most fertile lands – it is also ideally positioned from a military perspective. In addition to being close enough to the Ruby Ford to exert a tight control over that strategically vital crossing, the nature of the major avenues of travel (which later became the Kingsroad) ensure that any invasion from the south is inevitably going to come into the proximity of the God’s Eye, leaving Harrenhal perfectly placed to fend them off. The latter point makes even more sense if you consider that Black Harren (who built the castle) would have viewed the greatest potential danger to his rule as coming from the Storm King.

        This understanding of the geopolitical layout of the Riverlands is, I believe, crucial to understanding the military developments that played out in the region during the War of the Five Kings. When Tywin Lannister launched his invasion after Tyrion’s kidnapping and Robert’s death, his plan was, I believe, predicated upon the understanding that the area around Harrenhal constitutes the strategic key to the region. All of his initial moves – sending Gregor Clegane to sack Mummer’s Ford and carry out devastating raids in the surrounding area; having Jaime smash through the forces guarding the pass at the Golden Tooth and marching up the Roseroad to attack Riverrun – served as a distraction from the main thrust of the Lannister attack, as Tywin brought the main Lannister host around from the south to cross the Red Fork and march on Harrenhal (AGOT, Catelyn VIII, Tyrion VII). All of the Tully bannermen had either gone to Riverrun to defend against Jaime’s attack, or were out in the fields fruitlessly trying to chase down Gregor’s raiders, and so Tywin was easily able to capture Harrenhal itself, as well as Raventree Hall and Darry, while sacking Stone Hedge and Pinkmaiden Castle for good measure, and was able to assume control of the Kingsroad, thereby cutting off the only route by which armies from the North could move to King’s Landing to rescue Lord Eddard and disrupt Joffrey’s ascension to the throne. The plan was undone however, after Catelyn Stark’s negotiating won the allegiance of the Freys for the Starks, thus opening the way for Robb to ride south and rout Jaime and relieve Riverrun, while Tywin was busy fighting Roose Bolton’s army on the Green Fork.

        Thereafter, the war in the Riverlands shifted to a new phase, as Tywin moved his army back into Harrenhal, and sent out his “dogs of war” to ravage the heart of the region – “I want the Riverlands afire from the God’s Eye to the Red Fork”. Harrenhal was an inspired choice to occupy, not just because of the enormity of its defences, but also because of the factors outlined above: it was close enough to the Ruby Ford to block Roose Bolton from bringing the Northern foot across; nearby to the Kingsroad, so that Tywin could return to King’s Landing at short notice if the capital city came under attack; and located in proximity to the richest and most populous part of the Riverlands, so that Tywin could feed his army and draw most of the strength of the Tullys away from Robb’s army. This state of affairs continued until Robb launched his invasion of the Westerlands, after which Tywin initially marched against the Red Fork, but then turned away to join with the Freys and save King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon. The heart of the Riverlands was then granted a brief respite, that was broken when Gregor Clegane returned with an army to retake Harrenhal for the Lannisters. After the Red Wedding effectively ended the war against the Starks and Tullys, Tywin’s moves to secure the long-term control of the Riverlands revolved around six particular castles: Riverrun and Darry would be ruled directly by Lannisters (Genna and Lancel, respectively), Harrenhal itself would be occupied by a Lannister garrison (though nominally awarded to Littlefinger), most of the lands held by Raventree Hall were to be given to Stone Hedge (thereby making an ally of the Brackens while limiting the power of the Blackwoods), and the alliance with the Freys would ensure that the Twins could be counted on as well. These plans were brought to varying stages of fruition as of the end of ADWD, but are almost certain to be undone in future books thanks to the deaths of Tywin and Kevan, and the consequent unravelling of Lannister power.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Axrendale – in a context in which the Riverlands are being invaded by a numerically superior foe (due to the fact that the Riverlands hadn’t fully mobilized) and the heartland is exposed, you have to retreat to what you can defend.

        Regarding Harrenhal, it’s 100 miles from the Crossroads or the Red Fork – which is at best, two full days away if you ride at top speed all the way; foot would take at least four or five days to make the same trap. It’s too far away to dominate that strategic intersection. The logical place for Harrenhal is right at the joining of the Trident, where it could put rivers on three sides, dig a moat connecting the Red Fork to the Blue and Green, making it virtually impossible to besiege and allowing it to control river travel and the Crossroads.

        Likewise if Harrenhal was meant to dominate the southern Riverlands, it’s in a very strange place to do so. It’s tucked to the northeast corner of that area, 200 miles away from the Brackens and Blackwoods, 400 miles from Stony Sept, 500 miles from the Mummer’s Ford. All the Storm King had to do was to swing west along the Gold Road, and then he’s right in the underbelly of Harren’s kingdom before he gets anywhere near to Harrenhal. If the castle had been placed further south, where it could put itself between the Storm King and the Riverlands and get to the Blackwater Rush faster to use as a lane of counter-marching, that might make more sense.

      • axrendale says:

        Steven – Regarding the strategic positioning of Harrenhal, here is a relevant conversation between Tyrion and Cersei in ACOK, discussing their father’s strategy:

        “If it was Father who’d been taken captive, Jaime would not be sitting by idly, I promise you.”
        Jaime would be battering his host to bloody bits against the walls of Riverrun, and the Others take their chances. He never did have any patience, no more than you, sweet sister. “Not all of us can be as bold as Jaime, but there are other ways to win wars. Harrenhal is strong and well situated.”
        “And King’s Landing is not, as we both know perfectly well. While Father plays lion and fawn with the Stark boy, Renly marches up the roseroad. He could be at our gates any day now!”
        “The city will not fall in a day. From Harrenhal it is a straight, swift march down the kingsroad. Renly will scarce have unlimbered his siege engines before Father takes him in the rear. His host will be the hammer, the city walls the anvil. it makes a lovely picture.”
        Cersei’s green eyes bored into him, wary, yet hungry for the reassurance he was feeding her. “And if Robb Stark marches?”
        “Harrenhal is close enough to the fords of the Trident so that Roose Bolton cannot bring the northern foot across to join with the Young Wolf’s horse. Stark cannot march on King’s Landing without taking Harrenhal first, and even with Bolton he is not strong enough to do that.” Tyrion tried his most winning smile. “Meanwhile Father lives off the fat of the riverlands, while our uncle Stafford gathers fresh levies at the Rock.”
        Cersei regarded him suspiciously. “How could you know all this? Did Father tell you his intentions when he sent you here?”
        “No. I glanced at a map.”

        Harrenhal is not close enough to the Crossroads so as to directly control them (that is the function of Darry), but it is close enough to act as a base from which to project force against any attempts to cross the ford with a sizble force from the north. The proof is in the pudding on this one: in ACOK, Roose Boolton advanced with the northern foot up to the Crossroads, but was unable or unwilling to ford them and move against Harrenhal until after Tywin had vacated the castle to march against the Red Fork.

        Concerning its positioning, Harrenhal doesn’t need to rely on rivers and moats for protection against attack, because its walls are so strong and massive that as long as it is properly garrisoned (not an easy thing to do, admittedly) there isn’t an army in all of Westeros that is capable of assaulting it without the aid of dragons. The immediate value that it derives from being located where it is (as opposed to the joining of the Trident) is control of the God’s Eye itself, which has rich and fertile farmlands around its shores (the remnants of which Arya witnesses in ACOK). More to the point, it is the central geographic feature of the southern Riverlands, which extend not only to Harrenhal’s west, to the Red Fork, but also to the east, to the Bay of Crabs. An army that is gathered at Harrenhal could march to Maidenpool or Stoney Sept, north to the Ruby Ford or south to the Blackwater Rush, with equal ease.

        Regarding the problem of the defense of the Riverlands against an invasion of the kind that it faced in AGOT, I don’t think that incomplete mobilization was the problem so much as the military bungling of Edmure. The Tullys called their banners not too long after the Lannisters did (in fact, they did so in response to the forces being gathered at Casterly Rock), and by the time that Tywin and Jaime launched their attacks, the riverlords had gathered enough troops to be fairly close to numerical parity with the Lannisters: in addition to the hosts gathered at the Golden Tooth and Riverrun (4,000 and 16,000 men respectively), the Tullys also had several large contingents of soldiers (which could have accounted for another 5,000 sworn swords) available in the southern Riverlands (in Tyrion VII, Kevan Lannister says that he and Tywin have just finished destroying these contingents one by one). So if we give the Tullys 25,000 men to the Lannisters 35,000, then it looks like the Riverlands did a pretty good job at mobilization, especially when we consider that this number did not include the strength of the Freys (who account for 4,000 swords) or the Mallisters (who joined Robb after he crossed the Twins).

        What went wrong was the awfully wrong-headed strategy of Edmure Tully. He sends an advance force of 4,000 men to guard the pass at the Golden Tooth, where they get crushed byJaime’s numerically superior host. Afterwards, when Jaime marches up the Roseroad, instead of keeping his host of 16,000 men safe behind the walls of Riverrun or on the other side of the river, Edmure advances out and offers a pitched battle to Jaime, who cuts the Tully army to bloody pieces and takes Edmure himself as a captive. Meanwhile, in an attempt to protect his lands against Gregor Clegane’s raiders, Edmure had ordered that a large number of soldiers from the southern Riverlands be sent out into the fields to protect the smallfolk from Lannister reaving, with the result that they were helpless to prevent Lord Tywin from capturing their castles, and he was able to destroy them piecemeal.

        Instead of losing thousands of men in needless battles and fruitless attempts to stop raiding, a much better strategy would have been for the forces of the Riverlands to be placed along the Red Fork and the Tumblestone, guarding all of the fords against Lannister incursions – basically the strategy employed in the Battle of Fords, but in reverse. A similar defense mounted along the Blackwater Rush could be used to fend off a hypothetical invasion from the south.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I think that the placement of Harrenhal makes sense. Harren’s power was founded on longships and their ability to traverse the rivers of the region faster than armies on land could hope to move. The placement of Harrenhal has the benefit for Harren of giving him an extremely strong power base from which to extend his reach down the Blackwater, and potentially into the Narrow Sea. The placement of Fort William-Henry in colonial North America offers a historic parallel. As for why it is on the north side of the God’s Eye, I think that there are a couple of factors to consider: the north side allows the castle to control the corridor between the two rivers, but perhaps more importantly it puts it close enough to Harren’s power base for it to be protected during its long construction.

        It is also important for Harrenhal to be on the God’s Eye for symbolic purposes. It suits a tyrant’s vanity to build the biggest fort ever next to a lake associated by name and size with the gods.

        But yeah; I think the primary reason for the castle’s placement was to provide a springboard for further expansion, rather than as a protective measure

        • stevenattewell says:

          If his power is founded on the longships, why not put the castle on the nexus of the Trident, where he could use his ships to guard against any threat from north, west, east, or south?

      • axrendale says:

        CoffeeHound14 makes a very good point I think – the fact that the God’s Eye offers access to the Blackwater could very well be a reason why Harren chose to build his castle there. Having made that decision, building on the north shore places it as close as possible to the Crossroads, the Kingsroad (or whatever road existed at the time), and still fairly close to the lands of the Blackwoods and Brackens.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        The Blackwater was strategically important in Harren’s day insofar as it allowed him a speedy route by which to move south, or for his enemies to move north. I would say that this characteristic is doubly important if prior to the Targaryen unification of Westeros, its road network is even MORE spotty (which would be saying something). He would, presumably, have already had ships on the Trident, seeing as how he was somehow retaining control of the area until Aegon killed him. Placing his new fortress with access to the Blackwater gives him new offensive possibilities, and that is the crux of my argument: that Harrenhal was placed as a base for future expansion, not as a primarily defensive linchpin.

        And while it is not very close to the Trident, Harrenhal can more or less control the lands between the God’s Eye and the Trident. If it were placed on the other side of the Eye, it would be approximately 400 miles from the Trident; a rather isolated stronghold in that case.

        Yeah, I find it strange that you would say the Blackwater is strategically insignificant at that stage. Why? Because King’s Landing hadn’t been founded? So far as I can tell, in the premodern world, especially in areas without paved roads (parts of the Roman empire, or former Roman empire), every river is important as an avenue for trade and military incursion/excursion.

        • stevenattewell says:

          My point is that the Blackwater isn’t a route to the Storm King, which means it wasn’t strategically significant at the time. The thing is, the Trident already gives you a route to the Inner Sea if that’s the goal.

          But to get to the Storm King? You have to go through Shipbreaker Bay even if you control the Blackwater Rush. And Shipbreaker Bay is the reason Harren couldn’t use his ships to go for Argilac, and why there was strategic stasis between them.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I get your point, and I agree that controlling the Blackwater doesn’t allow Harren to attack the heart of Argilac’s kingdom. I maintain, nonetheless, that controlling the Blackwater is strategically useful for controlling the Blackwater watershed (or the Crownlands of the Targaryen era). And that extension of his realm is strategic purpose enough. Furthermore, controlling the Blackwater does more for Harren defensively than any one castle since it prospectively allows him to deny Argilac or Mern a crossing.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        Fair enough. When we are each king of our own realm in central Westeros, we’ll see which local proves more valuable.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        Is that a thing? I love the Fantasy Flight Games board game, but I hadn’t heard of an Axis and Allies port…

      • axrendale says:

        For all the fantastically detailed (and ironically off-topic) discussion that has been spawned from Steven’s incidental comment about the misplacement of Harrenhal, concerning the geopolitics of the Riverlands and Axis and Allies (!), having just done a quick re-read of some of Arya’s chapters in ACOK, I think that the answer to the mystery of Harrenhal’s location is actually far simpler than these comments have suggested: it was simply the most convenient spot available to build a huge-ass castle.

        Harren the Black didn’t really give a hoot about building a strategically-located fortress that would facilitate his dominance over the region. He wanted to build a super-castle that would be worthy of his megalomaniacal self-image, regardless of whether the end result would be practical in any way (a man who creates the architectual embodiment of the idiom “white elephant”, and who mixes human blood into the mortar to construct it, is probably not exactly doing this for rational purposes). The God’s Eye was surrounded by rich and fertile lands that were ripe to be brutally plundered to fuel the construction process, and that was probably all that Harren needed to know.

        • stevenattewell says:

          True. I’m just surprised no one else built a castle at the fork of the Trident, given the natural geographic advantages of that location.

    • corejay says:

      But the Riverlands never were an independent kingdom, even less so for thousands of years. They were the stage for most of the wars between the original Seven Kingdoms instead, constantly changing hands. They were first a number of warring petty kingdoms, then part of the Vale, the Storm Lands, and ultimately the Iron Islands directly before Aegon’s Landing. They never had their independence, and became a province of their own mainly because Aegon wanted to split up the Ironborn realm and reward the TUllys, who had been amongst his first Westerosi supporters.

      • axrendale says:

        The centrality of the Riverlands has the potential to be a strategic asset, as well as a vulnerability. This can be seen clearly in the events of Robert’s Rebellion – the fact that the Riverlands could be used as a common staging area for the rebel armies from the North, Vale, and Stormlands, made Hoster Tully an invaluable ally to the rebels, and played a large part, I would assume, in his ability to command two marriages to high lords for his daughters as the price of his entry into the war against the Targaryens.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Not never. There were the Mudd Kings before the Andals, then the Teagues, Fishers, and Justmen.

      • corejay says:

        They weren’t independent as “The Riverlands”, as opposed to the existing kingdoms of The North, The Vale, The Rock, The Reach or The Stormlands, though. The Mudds, Teagues, Brackens or Blackwoods never managed to carve out a lasting hegemonic position for themselves. That was basically my point – that the idea of a uniform and united Kingdom of the Riverlands has never been around, in stark (pun intended) contrast to the North. The internal conflicts of the region (think Blackwood-Bracken feud) and the strategic position that leaves them with no natural defense against stronger opponents surrounding them ultimately mean that it’s much harder to establish such unification there. It’s simply too unstable.

        • stevenattewell says:

          What? They were an independent kingdom, full stop. That the kingdom didn’t last or didn’t have defensible borders doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning – the Poles were still Polish even after Poland was divided in three, after all.

  8. Yannai says:

    Another minor difference between book and show is that in the show, Eddard listens closely to Arya instead of dismissing it out of hand, only to be sidetracked immediately by Yoren before he can investigate further. Again, this is one of the (very) few differences to the written material that I approve of, since the parent who disregards his child’s warning simply because he\she is a child is by now an unforgivable cliche, and would have inspired contempt towards Eddard’s character (particularly since he should know better than to disregard threats to his own life in such a dangerous environment as the court of the Red Keep). In the book there is time to go into details about Arya’s mental state (confused and exhausted) and just how jumbled she gets everything, but a fifty-something-minute presentation simply lacks the time to explain these conditions properly (which is also the reason I believe the encounter with Tommen and Myrcella was left out).
    However, what I can’t understand is the very point of keeping the scene in the first place. Again and again, the show misses chances to establish and build upon the mysteries and intricacies of the books’ plot (the Tower of Joy, the visions and prophecies of the House of the Undying, just to name a few) one of its chief drawing points (and the reason this site even exists), to the point where a very good claim could be made that a deliberate decision was made to excise them completely. But if so, why keep this one of all the others? It made absolutely no sense to new viewers and will be completely forgotten by the time its payoff could possibly come about.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, this part of the story is crucial:
      1. You need to set up what Varys and Illyrio are up to so that viewers don’t get completely blindsided down the road.
      2. It’s important for Arya’s development, setting up her complete loss of faith in adults that explains a lot of her choices later.
      3. It’s how Yoren recognizes Arya to save her at the Sept of Baelor.

      The Tower of Joy – I think is one of those things that work better on the page than on tv, or as a DVD extra for the fans kind of thing. Most people aren’t going to get it or remember it down the road.

      The House of the Undying – again, without the ability to refer back, remembering all of these prophecies is tough (although they could still have Quaithe show up and give the important ones to her), and some of the visual ones are way too spoilery.

  9. Davis says:

    …and then have their tongues removed.

    Holy crap, somehow that element didn’t register with me at all. Do you have a rough idea where this is mentioned?

  10. […] informed the King about Dany’s pregnancy). My working hypothesis is that, subsequent to his discussion with Illyrio , Varys is using this assassination attempt he can control to accelerate the Varys/Illyrio […]

  11. […] Arya III (going through the looking glass on the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy, history of medieval espionage) […]

  12. […] hand, and that the only difference that the attempts on Bran’s life made were to accelerate the timeline somewhat. It would very much fit Varys’ style as a conspirator – hands-off to an extreme, using […]

  13. […] we haven’t seen him actively preventing them – except for the fact that, as we saw in Arya III, Varys really did view Robert’s death and the conflict between the Starks and Lannisters as […]

  14. […] the case that Varys doesn’t want a civil war or wants it to happen later – go back to Arya III and you’ll see he’s clearly the one acting to *accelerate* the Targaryen invasion […]

  15. Andrew says:

    Another thing is an interesting line by Illyrio.

    “What good is war now? We are not ready. Delay.”

    “As well bid me stop time. Do you take me for a wizard?”

    The other [Illyrio] chuckled. “No less.”

    In one of Dany’s chapters:

    Illyrio whispered to them. “Those three are Drogo’s bloodriders, there,” he said. “By the pillar is Khal Moro, with his son Rhogoro. The man with the green beard is brother to the Archon of Tyrosh, and the man behind him is Ser Jorah Mormont.”

    The last name caught Daenerys. “A knight?”

    “No less.” Illyrio smiled through his beard. “Anointed with the seven oils by the High Septon himself.”

    I think this points Varys actually being a wizard.

    The sorcerer who castrated him may have been his mentor, and Varys’s manhood was the price to pay to learn sorcery. Magical power comes with sacrifice, greenseers have to spend their whole lives in weirwood thrones, and FM offer all of themselves up to the Many-Faced God. I think it is possible that all wizards were eunuchs to learn their sorcery, and their order survived solely through apprenticeships as losing their ability to reproduce would have made that necessary.

  16. Steven says:

    I just re-read this chapter tonight and one part has made me curious. When Illyrio suggests that Varys kill the Hand he states, “If one Hand can die, why not a second? … You have danced that dance before, my friend.” To which Varys replies, “Before is not now, and this Hand is not the other.”

    I presume Martin is merely throwing a red herring to lead the reader to conclude that Varys was involved in the death of Jon Arryn. I had another thought. Is it possible that Varys had something to do with another Hand’s death? I thought he only served under Tywin, the two final Hands of Aerys, Jon Arryn and Ned Stark. I suppose Illyrio could be making a joke about “killing off” Jon Connington. Do you have any further thoughts on this?

    • Don’t forget Connington, Rossart, and the dude who got burned to death.

      Varys let Arryn die, as he almost certainly could have warned him about the poison and chosen not too.

  17. Scott Trotter says:

    I’m surprised that there’s been no mention here of the fact that, even though it happens “off-page,” Yoren informs Eddard of what transpired at the Crossroads Inn in the previous chapter, that Catelyn has taken Tyrion prisoner and is headed back towards Winterfell. Eddard likely knows several days before Tywin Lannister due to the shorter distance of Kings Landing to the crossroads. This should have been a major Red Alert for the Starks, and yet Eddard does nothing except get pissed off at Robert (in the next chapter), and resign the second most powerful office in the kingdom!

  18. Scott Trotter says:

    I believe that there is an error in the synopsis: Arya wasn’t hiding inside one of the dragon skulls. She had left the room containing the dragons, had entered a long hallway and proceeded down it for some distance before she encountered the deep well in the floor, up through which Varys and Illyrio appeared.

  19. […] into his fold. If we think of the political meta-plot of ASOIAF as consisting in a contest between two master conspiracies, as people often do, this is part of the reason why I think giving the victory to Littlefinger over […]

  20. […] these in order, Arya’s arrival at Harrenhal means that, for the first time since Arya III of AGOT, Arya learns where the rest of her family is, and encounters other […]

  21. […] Now that we’ve discussed everything else, let’s talk about Varys and Tyrek. It is noticeable that Varys is nowhere to be seen when the riot kicks off – as we’ve seen with the Purple Wedding, we have to be very careful when a major conspirator is suddenly absent at the same time that someone else disappears. Moreover, Varys’ comment that he was “about the king’s business, my sweet lord,” is incredibly suspicious when we consider his true loyalties. […]

  22. […] political section of this chapter, where we get to see what Illyrio’s been up to since he met with Varys in the crypts under the Red Keep back in AGOT. Now, as we know from ASOS, Ser Jorah’s been […]

  23. John says:

    One detail you do not mention in your excellent analysis. Varys is disguised. (The book here differs from HBO, where we see Varys and Illyrio in their familiar guise). Varys looks vaguely familiar to Arya, but she does not recognize him. If she had done, Ned might have taken her warning more seriously. His identity is a puzzle for the reader too, since we have not seen him in this outfit before (pot helmet, black beard) and will not do so again until he comes to see Ned in prison in ‘Eddard 15’. It is only then that the alert reader will recognize the figure from ‘Arya 3’ and know for sure who it was. It demands attention from the reader even to remember the description of Illyrio (overweight, graceful, yellow beard) as given in ‘Daenarys 1’. Varys dons the same outfit when he meets Tyrion at the brothel in ACOK. A question to ponder: is it really a disguise (false beard) or is this the real Varys (and the giggling eunuch the disguise)? Or are both disguises?

  24. […] from home. That being true, it’s not surprising that Arya should see Harwin as something of a stand-in for Ned Stark, since she hasn’t had a specifically Northern mentor in a long […]

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