Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn VI

“…the Eyrie is impregnable. You saw for yourself. No enemy could ever reach us up here….”

“No castle is impregnable.”

Synopsis: Catelyn Stark makes her way from the Bloody Gate up to the Eyrie, where she meets a very different Lysa from the girl she remembers, and Jon Arryn’s heir, god help them all.

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:

Catelyn VI is a nice little chapter that shows how a lot of political nuance can still be found in a segment that concerns itself mostly with someone climbing a mountain.

First, I mentioned back in Tyrion IV, one of the side-effects of Lysa’s paranoid call for all of the knights of the Vale to “kept close at home, to defend the Vale…against what, no one is certain,” has been to destabilize the military-political status quo in the Vale, freeing up the clansmen from the threat of reprisal, hence attacking a band of armed men repeatedly. Given Ser Donnel’s comment that he could take “a hundred men into the mountains, root them out of their fastnesses, and teach them some sharp lessons.” the disruption to the Vale seems truly needless* and a sign, like ghosts walking on the battlements of Dulsinore or the eternal wound on the thigh of the Fisher King, that there is something rotten in the House of Arryn.

* Incidentally, one potential explanation might be that Littlefinger wants the Vale mobilized for an invasion of the North down the road, but that’s a bit tinfoil-hatted for me.

Second, we get a good picture of the military defenses of the Vale and why it’s considered so difficult to attack: the Arryns clearly believe in the virtues of defense in depth. To conquer the Eyrie, an invader would have to beat their way through no less than six castles, each of which is well-constructed and its own way using the native terrain of the Vale to its best advantage:

  1. The Bloody Gate – defended by the Knight of the Gate, the Bloody Gate is a massive wall “built into the very stone of the mountains..where the pass shrank to a narrow defile scare wide enough for four men,” with “twin watchtowers…joined by a covered bridge of weathered grey stone.” It’s a defensive dream and an attacker’s nightmare – the defile itself prevents armies from using their size to overpower the defenders; the high slopes on either side make knocking out either tower incredibly difficult (since the covered bridge allows mutual support and reinforcement); and attacking head on means that you’re taking fire from the front (the battlements), both flanks (the towers), and directly above (the bridge overhead). No wonder it has been the death of so many armies.
  2. The Gates of the Moon – if an army could get through the Bloody Gate, it then stands at the mouth of the Vale and all its agricultural wealth, except that you’re standing at the point where “the Vale was narrow here, no more than a half day’s ride across,” with the Giant’s Lance right in front of you. Militarily speaking, if you try to bypass the Giant’s Lance, you’re going to be cut off from the rear and get attacked from the front and rear simultaneously, and bottling up the defenders and starving them out would require an enormous amount of manpower to encircle the entire mountain (because the natives don’t have to get off the mountain via just the Gates) and interdict resupply while giving the Vale time to mobilize and crush you against the mountain. So you have to confront the threat right on, which means you have to get through the Gates of the Moon. The Gates of the Moon are formidable: a “stout castle” with a moat, drawbridge, portcullis and defensive towers, can hold several thousand defenders – and it can be reinforced from Stone, Snow, Sky, and the Eyrie above.
  3. Stone – after having to assault two major defensive fortifications in a row, you now have to climb up the mountain and get past the first of three way-castles  After several hours of climbing, you get to a keep with “a massive ironbound gate” with “iron spikes set along the tops of formidable stone walls and two fat round towers.” The narrow path means once again you can’t bring numbers to bear, or siege engines, and once again, the defenders can be reinforced and resupplied from above.
  4. Snow – the ascent gets even steeper and more narrow at this point. Snow may be “smaller than Stone, a single fortified tower and a timber keep…hidden behind a low wall of unmortared rock,” but it can’t be bypassed, and the engineers who built it used the landscape to give Snow the ability to fire on any army getting past Stone for the entire distance, and Snow can still be reinforced and resupplied from above.
  5. Sky – at this point, the path is less than three feet wide, which means that even though “the waycastle called Sky was no more than a high, crescent-shaped wall of unmortared stone raised against the side of a mountain,” you can’t avoid anything being thrown your way, and if anything connects and you fall, you’re dead. Even if you get past the wall, the defenders can retreat to a cave inside the mountains and force yet another head-on assault, and once again, your opponent can be reinforced and resupplied from above.
  6. The Eyrie – if Sky is breached, the basket can be reeled up, meaning that you have to climb “more like a stone ladder than proper steps” for six hundred feet straight up. The Eyrie itself might be small, but seven towers means you’re absorbing a lot of punishment from five-hundred well-supplied men with their backs to the proverbial wall, who can furthermore use the winch in the cellars to cut you off from behind by recapturing Sky, or to slip out the back way and imprison you in the empty keep.

However, what this list doesn’t really explain is the iterative nature of all of this – at each step, if an invader was able to overwhelm each line of defenses, they would take huge casualties while the defenders can easily retreat to a new set of defenses and augment the garrison there, so that the attacker is continually decreasing in numbers while the defender keeps losing manpower; the castles further down the line can send forward supplies and reinforcements easily, while the attacker has to haul everything up three vertical miles under conditions of punishing exposure; several of the castles offer vantage points where they can provide supporting fire from above. Between the casualties, the repetition of perilous frontal assaults, and extreme conditions, any army short of the Unsullied would likely break under the strain. In essence, the whole of the Giant’s Lance is one big castle.

Hat tip to Ted Nasmith

As long as Gulltown can protect the Vale from the sea, the only major threat facing the Val is internal – and the Arryns seem to have dealt with this problem in classic feudal fashion, by creating a series of positions of honor that it can dole out to buy the support of powerful houses of the Vale. The positions of Knight of the Gate, Keeper of the Gates of the Moon, High Steward of the Vale, and the likely but unconfirmed positions of Knight of the Stone, Knight of the Snow, and Knight of the Sky are influential and prestigious positions, not exactly rich in lands but they offer proximity to the Lord Paramount of the Vale, and in politics, the closer to power you can get, the more of it you have.

Third, we get to meet Ser Brynden Tully, fan-favorite, guerilla warrior, and all-around badass. What we see in this chapter, however, is that Brynden is also a perceptive political observer where his brother is not concerned.* Being a good listener is key to picking up political information, and his strategic mind is clearly seen from the fact that he immediately tells Catelyn to tell her father about what she’s done, since “if the Lannisters should march, Winterfell is remote and the Vale walled up behind its mountains, but Riverrun lies right in their path.”  More than most of the other men of the Vale Catelyn encounters, Brynden can sense the political tensions building in the Vale – pointing to the unspoken belief that Jon Arryn was murdered, the resentment towards the Lannisters, and the reality that the last remaining Arryn is “six years old, sickly, and prone to weep if you take his dolls away…too weak to sit his father’s seat.” 

* incidentally, I do like how Brynden’s backstory points out how dynastic arranged marriages can constrain both men and women’s lives (patriarchy damages everyone, just not in the same way or degree). I don’t know if the Blackfish is gay; I kind of want them to portray that in the show a bit, because they missed the chance with Loras and Renly to subvert traditional depictions of gay characters.

Likewise, it’s telling that Brynden can parse that while “a woman can rule as wisely as a man,” it takes the right woman…[and] Lysa is not you.” (Catelyn-haters should note that the Blackfish thinks of Catelyn as a woman who can rule) Whether it’s because of his sexuality or totally unrelated, Brynden can see past his culture’s ideology of gender and see how Lysa has been fundamentally damaged by Westerosi gender roles: a “marriage…made from politics, not passion…two babes stillborn, twice as many miscarriages,” and (although he doesn’t know this) a forced abortion on top of it. For all that Lysa is a truly despicable character (murdered her husband, sent her sister and her brother-in-law into harm’s way, attempts to execute an innocent man without trial, attempts to murder her niece), I think there’s an argument to be made that she, more than any other woman in the series including Cersei, has been a victim of the patriarchy.

Indeed, her obvious mental trauma causes her to almost give away the plot (the Littlefinger Conspiracy, that is)  by acting in a way that belies her initial story – referring to “your quarrels with the Lannisters,” and later changing her story about who assassinated Jon Arryn. Indeed, given how she snaps later on when Sansa arrives, either Littlefinger can’t or didn’t prep Lysa to keep her story straight, which is a major weakness in his conspiracy (his equivalent of Pycelle?).

Fourth, Catelyn makes two consequential decisions: she chooses to ignore her doubts about Tyrion’s guilt (in part motivated by her guilt over the deaths of the men who rose to her call at the Inn), and she decides to send letters to Riverrun and the North to pass on critical information about preparations for war…which she never does.

Historical Analysis:

One potential historical counterpart to the Vale in our history is Wales during the process of English conquest; then as in the Vale, the population was divided between its “original” inhabitants (considered semi-barbarous by the new overlords) who used guerrilla warfare to stage hit-and-run attacks from mountain strongholds and more recent migrants, who used a network of castles garrisoned by mounted knights to dominate the region. These castles, constructed during the reign of Edward I, acted as military protection for new colonies of English settlers and proved to be the rocks against which the rebellions of Madog ap Llywelyn, Llywelyn Bren, and Owain Glyndŵr would ultimately break.

English Castle in Wales (note how it dominates the countryside around it)

The Eyrie is something of an exaggerated fantasy castle, but the question remains: could the Eyrie be taken by storm? History offers some examples of mountain-top castles that were taken by storm: during the Great Jewish Revolt in the 1st century AD, the Romans took a number of mountain-top fortresses, most notably at Masada, where they built a 375-foot earth and stone ramp up the side of the mountain to allow them to assault the walls. This tactic would be incredibly difficult with the Eyrie, given it’s 3.5 mile height and the narrow width of the mountain path. 

Another siege during Alexander’s conquest of Bactria (modern Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan), the capture of the Sogdian rock, offers a better model. The Rock of Sogdia was the last fortress of the King of Bactria, a mountain stronghold “sheer on every side against attack,” and well provisioned and garrisoned. When Alexander sent an envoy to demand surrender, the defenders refused flatly, taunting the Macedonian king that he would need “men with wings” to defeat them.

Alexander offered gold to any volunteer willing to brave the heights and got 300 men experienced in climbing sheer fortress walls in previous sieges. While it’s not known exactly how high the Rock of Sogdia was since the precise location was lost to history, a very similar Sogdian fortress on Mount Mugh stands some 1500 meters (or .93 miles) above sea level). These 300 men made a night climb up  an almost completely vertical slope, picking out a route with iron tent-pegs, woven flax ropes, and linen route markers, losing 30 men on the way. When the defenders saw that Alexander had found “men with wings,” they surrendered on the spot. 

 In the TV show, Bronn was probably exaggerating that a dozen men with climbing spikes could take the Eyrie – but enough determined and skilled men, willing to absorb casualties, could do it.

What If?

There’s not much in the way of hypotheticals in this chapter, but I’ll mention a couple for completeness’ sake:

  • Catelyn falls – I don’t really give this one credence, because one of the major reasons GRRM has sent Catelyn on this wild-goose chase is to have her meet her transformed sister. However, if it happened at this point, some interesting things happen: Catelyn wouldn’t make the pact with the Freys, so Robb would have had to bargain a pact himself, or to attack Tywin Lannister directly; if Jaime Lannister is captured, he’s not released and possibly is used by Robb to bargain a truce once the war starts to go sour in ASOS. And a lot of Freys live.
  • Bronn and/or Morrillon don’t come up the mountain –  in the chapter, Catelyn immediately regrets allowing the minstrel Morrillon to come with her to the Eyrie, which means she has to extend an invitation to Bronn as well. Had she chosen not to bring them with her, some interesting things happen: without an introduction to Lysa, Morrillon isn’t on hand to sexually harass Sansa or to take the fall for Littlefinger when Lysa goes completely mad and tries to kill Sansa in ASOS. While Littlefinger could probably have finessed the immediate crisis by claiming she had lost her mind and thrown herself from the Moon Door over her son’s declining health, certainly his prospects for dealing with the Lords Declarant really begin to narrow.
  • Catelyn sends either or both of her letters – this is the one that really kills me, as I’ve expressed before. Catelyn is reminded that she needs to pass urgent messages to mobilize for war to her father and brother in Riverrun and to the lords of the North (and really should be passing on what she learned from Tyrion to Ned) and then promptly forgets. According to the Global Timeline, she had seven days between her arrival at the Eyrie and Ned’s resignation to get her messages out – personally I think the alternation of chapters suggests more of a simultaneous or near-simultaneous timing. So it’s possible Ned is forewarned about Littlefinger’s treachery before he’s led to the brothel where he will be injured, but regardless knowledge that Littlefinger is actively lying to him might have changed Ned’s critical decision to leave the Goldcloaks to the Master of Coin. Regardless, the impact on the War of Five Kings is immense: the GT suggests that it takes eight days of news of Catelyn’s capture of Tyrion to reach Robb who in turns sends out riders for a mustering; eight more days could have meant thousands more soldiers mobilized to march south or to defend the North from the Ironborn. Given that  two weeks lapse between her arrival to the Eyrie and Gregor’s predations in the Riverlands, prompt warning could have meant the Riverlands were better mobilized to meet the first Lannister attack, possibly preventing the complete collapse of their defenses.

 Book vs. Show:

There’s a couple major changes between the book and the show in this chapter. First, we don’t get multiple mountain men attacks (which would have been repetitious and expensive), or have it explained to us that Lysa is deliberately damaging peace and order in the Vale. Second, we don’t get the Blackfish – which they did to save on actor budgets, by shunting the entire Tully family into Season 3, and also to avoid having to explain the dynastic links of Westeros (a common strategy used by the showrunners – hence Cleos Frey becoming Alton Lannister, which I see the merits of). At the time I disliked this change, but if it means we didn’t get an extra and instead get Clive Russell, I’m o.k with it.

Third, we get a very different image of the Eyrie, and this I found to be an unnecessary mistake (since it doesn’t cost more money to do a different matte painting instead of the one they went with). The show version is a rather unbelievable hollow mountain that the castle sits on top of, with a long bridge you ride right up; this lacks something of the size and scope of the sky-scraping Rock of Gibraltar-essence of the book’s castle, and you don’t get the sense of these iterative defenses that are so amazing on the page. I will say that a Moon Door in the floor is actually a substantial improvement, and I can’t wait for it to be used again in Season 4. 

Fourth, we get a quite different Lysa Arryn, where they went gaunt instead of corpulent. I like this change, which emphasizes more Lysa’s madness than the fact that she’s let herself go. I quite like Kate Dickie’s performance of a woman who’s clearly living on her very last nerve and I’m glad to see she’s returning in Season 3, although I don’t think the scenes of Littlefinger wooing her are going to be easy on the stomach.



77 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn VI

  1. Brett says:

    With natural defenses like that, it makes you wonder how the First Men lost the Vale to the Andals in the first place – fortifications aside, they still rival the Neck in terms of chokepoint quality. It could be that they were too divisive to present a unified force to keep them off, or the Andals (sailing west from Essos) landed where Gulltown is now and went up river.

    If you have the army capable of getting past everything to the point of besieging the Eyrie, you might have the capabilities to carve your own way up through the side of the mountain as an alternative path. More likely is that you just try and siege the whole thing until a Winter comes around, and force the Eyrie defenders to either surrender, flee out the back, or freeze to death.

    I sincerely hope it’s more like a stairway than a ladder. A six hundred foot ladder stretches belief – how would anyone make it up that except young, very fit people? You’d need a lot of resting places along the way.

    Whether it’s because of his sexuality or totally unrelated, Brynden can see past his culture’s ideology of gender and see how Lysa has been fundamentally damaged by Westerosi gender roles: a “marriage…made from politics, not passion…two babes stillborn, twice as many miscarriages,” and (although he doesn’t know this) a forced abortion on top of it.

    It could be that he sees a kindred spirit. They were both going to be forced into marriages, but Brynden was and is a famous knight who could tell Hoster Tully to sod off while he ran around and eventually ended up in the Vale (he’s famous enough that a lot of Houses Major and Minor would gladly let him hang around for a while). Lysa was going to be turned out if she didn’t marry Jon Arryn, but she didn’t have those options – or she wasn’t courageous enough to push her luck.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Re: the Eyrie – well, the Andals landed on the vulnerable east coast, so the Gryphon King and his men couldn’t chokepoint them. And they didn’t have the defenses that the Andals have now. And apparently Ser Artys Arryn could fly magically.

      As for the 600 foot ladder, that’s why they have the winch, so that they can draw it up so that attackers have to make that last impossible climb.

      As for a siege, the problem is that:
      1. It’s incredibly difficult to cut off supplies, because you have to cover the circumference of the entire mountain, and they have huge storehouses.
      2. If you keep your army at the foot of the mountain, then the Vale is free to mobilize against you and attack you from behind while the garrison attacks you from in front/above.
      3. If you split your forces so you can pacify the Vale, you can’t maintain a barricade around the mountain, and the garrison climbs down and attacks you on both flanks, the rear, and the front at once.

      Agreed on the kindred spirits.

      • And note whether the Gryphon King’s flying ability was true or a legend, it is a fact that in Aegon’s war, Visenya Targaryen flew right into the Eyrie’s courtyard on her dragon. Airpower changes everything.

        • stevenattewell says:

          True. Very smart of Visenya. Really used the third face of power there.

          And I’ve been repeatedly corrected on the nomenclature: Artys Arryn was the first King of Mountain and Vale (probably also known as the Falcon King, given his Falcon Crown).

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I’m not really convinced that the Gates of the Moon would be so difficult to besiege as so say. There’s no reason that you would have to encircle the entire mountain to cut off the Gates; they are at the base of the mountain, so they could be encircled directly. And while the Vale would be free to attack you as you besieged the Gates of the Moon, this is no different from the problem faced by a force besieging any castle in the Seven Kingdoms. If Casterly Rock or Winterfell or Highgarden are besieged, the besieging force will be vulnerable to the attack of the ruling house’s vassals.

        I am also not convinced that one would have to encircle the entire Giant’s Lance to cut off the Eyrie from supply. First of all, the Lords Declarant do it in A Feast for Crows with 4000 men. Second, given how treacherous the climb described by Catelyn is, and given that there is only one route guarded by waycastles, it seems unlikely that you would have to blockade very many routes at all to successfully starve out the entire chain of defenses.

        All this said, the Eyrie, its waycastles, the Gates of the Moon, and the Bloody Gate all nonetheless form what I would say is a practically impenetrable westward barrier for the Vale. Even if you were to besiege the castles on the Giant’s Lance, it would take you a very long time in the Summer to starve out the garrisons, and such a period of time would give the Vale more than enough time to mobilize against you. So while it is possible to take the Eyrie by siege, the fact that siege is practically the only strategy to use against it makes it potentially more valuable in its role as a castle than many: there is no way to deal with it quickly.

        Excellent point about the offices that the layers of defense affords the Arryns, and what a useful political tool that is. I feel like awardable offices are a tool that both the Starks and the Baratheons lack in their home provinces. The Starks seem to have entirely given over the control of appointments in White Harbor to the Manderlys. I suppose that Moat Cailin could be used, but it is so decrepit, and so far removed from Winterfell that I don’t think anyone would strive for it. Fortunately, the Starks have very expansive lands, so I think it is easier for them than some to dole out the occasional parcel of land as a reward for leal service. The Baratheons, on the other hand, don’t seem to have much at all to give their lords to reinforce their loyalty.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Coffeehound 14:
        1. The Gates of the Moon have their back to the mountain, as it were, which means a natural weak point in any encirclement which can be exploited by Stone, Snow, Sky, and the Eyrie.
        2. The Lords Declarant do it, because they are the troops normally defending it. Much harder when it actually has a garrison defending it. There’s one way up that they show people, but are you seriously telling me Mya Stone doesn’t know a back way around? They’ve been building these things for 4-6,000 years – that’s a lot of time to scope out climbing routes.
        3. It’s true, you could potentially starve them out, but unless you have a huge numerical advantage that you’ve managed to preserve past the Bloody Gate, it’s really hard to stop them climbing down around you and attacking you from all sides.

        The Starks dole out land, historically, and there’s a lot for them to dole out. They also make use of cadet branches of the family to keep strength in the family – Karstarks, Greystarks, etc.

        I don’t know what you mean about the Stormlords not having much – any evidence for this?

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I don’t have any evidence for my thoughts on the Stormlords. I was purely basing my conclusion off their fairly constrained geography, and lack of sizable towns or cities. I guess they might grant an office to some guardian of the Boneway… There is also the ford or bridge on the Wendwater which might provide an office for someone as a toll collector, and/or for a knight as a guardian. I suppose a Lord of Baratheon could also grant appointments to some to act as sherriffs, or forestry administrators. I dunno…

        I don’t really see an attack by the garrisons of the Eyrie and its waycastles posing a huge threat to any significant force besieging the Gates of the Moon. The Eyrie can garrison about 3500 (500 in each of its towers). I will be generous and attribute 1500 more troops to the waycastles. 5000 men isn’t anything to shake a stick at, but given their extremely limited options for their approach, it should be pretty easy to deflect an attack from that quarter given sufficient preparation (also worth noting is the probable fact that any force attacking from the Giant’s Lance will be almost entirely unmounted).

        And the forces of the Lords Declarant would not normally be defending the Giant’s Lance; they are levies from Waynwood, Royce, Corbray, Belmore, Hunter, and Templeton. There is no evidence that the base garrison of the Eyrie defected, and Littlefinger had by this point bought the loyalty of the commander of the Gates of the Moon.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think you’re being insufficiently generous. Stone and Snow are both keeps, which could be multi-story structures and had towers beside. Then even Sky had that cave, and who knows how far deep into the mountain they’ve built it?

          I think the whole system, from GoM to the Eyrie, can hold easily 15-20,000 men,

          As for who normally garrisons, we know the Royces hold the Gates of the Moon, but we don’t know about the Knights of Stone, Snow, and Sky. However, when Lysa called her banners, we see the Corbrays, Hunters, Waynwoods, and Royces up at the Eyrie, which suggests they’re the nearest forces.

  2. Andrew says:

    In terms of parenting, I don’t know who is a worse mother, Lysa or Cersei. Cersei at least knows that her children need to be strong while Lysa spoils and coddles Robert, resulting him in being intellectually stunted, not a thought about how this will affect him in the long-term when he comes of age to be Lord Protector of the Vale.

    But then again, Robert isn’t a psychopath like Joffrey, if you exempt his desire to make people fly.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yeah…the thing with Lysa is she can’t help herself with Robert. After having her first child forcibly aborted, then two stillbirths, then four miscarriages, he’s the only good thing to come out of all of that pain, that heartbreak, so in a way he’s the talisman of seven babies she never got to hold so she tries to keep him a baby. A bit like Michael Jackson, the way he wanted his kid to stay a baby forever.

  3. ahorwitt says:

    Thinking about “What if Bronn didn’t come to the Vale?” — he would not have been able to represent Tyrion in the trial by combat. What happens in this counterfactual? Probably Tyrion would never have demanded the trial in the first place, which means he remains a prisoner of Lysa, making it fairly easy for the Vale to give him back and reconcile with the Iron Throne after the war. Of course then we have to ask whether the Lannisters would still have won the Battle of the Blackwater without Tyrion as Hand, my instinct is “probably” but I haven’t really gamed it out.

    In the unlikely scenario that Tyrion were foolish enough to still make the demand for trial by combat in open court, and if Lysa was foolish enough to insist on following through with it after she denied him her champion, then Tyrion would surely die and this would put all of Littlefinger’s plans awry in a “Joff executing Ned” sorta way, creating blood between Lysa and the Lannisters so LF can’t reconcile them later on with a marriage to Lysa).

    • Sean C. says:

      If Tyrion were executed, it would probably have been a good thing for the overall Stark cause, as Lysa would have basically committed herself against the Lannisters, even if she didn’t realize it at first. Really, the only viable course of action after that is to make sure the Lannisters are defeated, which means putting the Vale’s 30,000 men into the field to join the North and the Riverlands.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well…if Tyrion doesn’t get his trial by combat, there’s a good chance he dies, either by being starved by Mord, falling off the sky cell, or being thrown through the Moon Door when no one agrees to stand for him. Which means King’s Landing falls or worse, because:
      1. Stannis isn’t delayed by mountain men in the Kingswood.
      2. Wildfire isn’t stuffed into the hulks, but instead is being flung via catapults, so that they’re taking incoming fire instead of having their navy destroyed, which means Stannis’ army crosses the river so that they can’t be attacked from the south bank by Tywin.
      3. There’s no boom chain, so even if Stannis can’t get through the walls, he can get his whole army out instead of only getting a few thousand out.
      4. No one leads the sortie that prevents the Mud Gate from falling, and Stannis has his entire army to push through instead of just the few thousand men who made it across the burning bridge.

      On the other hand, the city’s probably partially on fire at this point.

      • ahorwitt says:

        I don’t think we can say quite that much. It probably would’ve been Kevan running things in KL in that scenario (since Tywin knew Cersei had to be reined in at the end of AGOT). So we don’t know what Kevan would’ve done to prepare for the attack. He doesn’t have Tyrion’s genius, so likely no chain or wildfire plot, but he’s competent enough to make his own preparations. Whether they would’ve been enough is impossible to say.

      • stevenattewell says:

        It’s possible Kevan would be sent, although this leaves a big hole in the Lannister chain of command, but the only thing this changes is the sortie. City still falls, imo.

    • CoffeeHound14 says:

      Well, Tyrion still would have demanded trial by combat. When he initially demands trial by combat, he does so to request that Jaime be called to represent him. It is only when that request is rebuked that he calls for volunteers.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Right, but the question is what happens when no one says yes. It’s possible they force him to fight on his own or as would have happened with Dunk, say he’s automatically guilty.

      • ahorwitt says:

        I don’t think Tyrion would’ve demanded trial by combat if Bronn wasn’t there. The chapter hints quite strongly that Tyrion only demanded trial by combat because he had already befriended Bronn and hoped Bronn would stand for him.

        “In the rear of the hall, Bronn lounged beneath a pillar. The freerider’s black eyes were fixed on Tyrion, and his hand lay lightly on the pommel of his sword. Tyrion gave him a long look, wondering…

        “…Lady Lysa paid her no mind. “Say what you will,” she commanded Tyrion. And now to roll the dice, he thought with another quick glance back at Bronn….

        ‘… “Name your champion, Imp . . . if you think you can find a man to die for you.”
        “If it is all the same to you, I’d sooner find one to kill for me.” Tyrion looked over the long hall. No one moved. For a long moment he wondered if it had all been a colossal blunder. Then there was a stirring in the rear of the chamber. “I’ll stand for the dwarf,” Bronn called out.’

      • stevenattewell says:

        ahorwitt – he’d already demanded it before Bronn stepped forward, because he wanted Jaime.

      • ahorwitt says:

        Steven– You’ll see when you get to the chapter. But the first two excerpts I posted show Tyrion eying Bronn, “wondering” and thinking about “rolling the dice” — before he asks for Jaime. His gambit was aimed at Bronn all along.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Damnation. Sorry about that.

          In any case, it doesn’t really matter: if he doesn’t go for trial by combat, Robert Arryn has the right to try him.

          Bad man flies.

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, if I might be so bold as to add as to suggest one last weapon that could crack The Eyrie with less risk to the attacker and slightly less effort on their part than any other; Treachery and the encouragement of same in the fortresses garrison.

    An impregnable series of fortresses (and for all Bronn’s bravado in the TV series I doubt even he would try impregnating the sorority of heart-breakers described by GRR Martin and yourself for less than a giant’s weight in gold, possibly coupled with half the bawds on the Summer Islands) is much less so if it’s garrison decide that they can’t stand their boss.

    Admittedly the process of fomenting mutiny is a lot harder than paying some schmuck to open a postern gate, but it’s heck of a lot easier than fighting your way up a mountain with steel rather than gold.

    On an only tangenitally-related note note, I must admit that the Vale of Arryn is one of my favourite parts of the Seven Kingdoms to imagine in my minds eye; I suspect that there must be some truly stunning landscapes in the land of Mountain and Vale (along with The Reach and The Stormlands, for whatever reason!).

    • stevenattewell says:

      Treachery or starvation is the usual way sieges end, but that’s why the Arryns are so careful to parcel out these castles as feudal rewards so that the commanders of each garrison have a strong motive to keep them.

  5. John W says:

    I hope when The World of Ice and Fire is released that there are drawings of all the main castles especially the Eyrie.

  6. Abbey Battle says:

    I concur whole-heartedly; quite frankly I just want to learn more about the background of Westeros than whatever knowledge I’ve already been able to acquire by dint of studying the Concordance over at the Westeros-on-the-Web, as well as reading the books themselves.

  7. Hertolo says:

    The Eyrie and its castles as described in the books are ridiculous. It’s a clear sign of “Hey, it’s Fantasy! Everything is overdrawn” like the height of the Wall, the number of Ironborn ships or the size of the Empire itself. So I can’t see the Eyrie fall ever, but why would they want to? The castles can’t hold a big army and you are better at conquering the Vale itself than trying to pinch out that castle. For real-world comparisons, look at where the castles lie in the Alps. (I’m only “cursory” familiar with the Swiss Alps, so forgive me for concentrating here). They don’t lie on top of a mountain because what is it worth if you can watch the enemies pass by, but not stop them? It’s only with modern means that these battlements retreated further into (!) the mountains with artillery stuffed into them – I’m talking WW2 here. Before, you have the big (true medieval) castles in the cities in the valley itself (i.e. the cities of Sion, Chur or Lucerne), at the entry to the valley (i.e. the lake castle of Chillon, the three castles of Bellinzona and the various very small castles of Uri guarding the Gotthard pass traderoute, Sargans, and many more). I’m just trying to point out that the Eyrie is totally anachronistic and I can’t think of real world examples. All other mountaintop castles are a lot smaller and not the center of power, but a refuge from power, if you think of the last stand of the Cathars or the (in)famous castle of the Assassin Order for example. Or they serve other purposes like the Greek mountaintop monastery of Athos.

    But let’s roll with what GRRM gives us, after all things like the Eyrie did exist, just hundred times smaller and with a different role… But why does he feel the need to describe the whole way up in such detail? If it’s literary, I feel like we will see someone take the Eyrie, either by Air or Trickery before the end. But then why do we have the desertion of the Eyrie due to Winter in ADWD? (This fact btw. is another point in the direction that the Eyrie is more of a power symbol/political tool to bind followers as you suggest),

    Lastly, I never understood the conviction of certain parts of the fanbase that the Blackfish was gay. The allusions in the books were far less than with other characters (like Loras, Renly, Connington, that one Umber (Whoresbane?), bisexual Oberyn or the pedophile Corbray, not throwing him in the same category, mind you). As a gay man myself, I would prefer it if the Blackfish just isn’t interested in marriage or sex. Not everybody single guy who doesn’t have affairs left and right has to be gay after all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind if he turns out to be gay (or rather, I don’t really care, it’s fiction and such a irrelevant detail after all), I just don’t see much to be gained in-story wise from it. Some things are best left open, don’t you think?

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. It’s true that it’s completely over-the-top. But the castles TOGETHER could hold a major army, and that’s the key.
      2. Whoresbane Umber strangled a male whore in an argument over payment, I think.
      3. I’d like to know what his motives were, certainly.

    • phatwalda says:

      Delurking here. I’ve always been skeptical of “doesn’t want to get married = gay” in Brynden Tully’s case. Highborn marriages in the series are first and foremost political alliances. Sexual attraction has nothing to do with it; if you’re not attracted to your politically advantageous wife you get your sexual fulfillment from other people (hence the ubiquity of bastards, as well as occasional arrangements like married Renly’s with Loras). Gay or straight, it seems Brynden must have some additional motivation for not wanting to get married.

      • stevenattewell says:

        True, but we never find out what those were – did he have someone he was so in love with that he couldn’t bear the thought of being unfaithful to them? Is he an asexual?

      • Celestial says:

        Heard speculation that he had been in love with Hoster’s wife, Minisa.

  8. Hertolo says:

    Agree, I expect there to be some heterosexual lovestory myself, Asexuality is not that widespread (though it can happen of course…). Maybe we will found out in the remaining books or we don’t, but the argument isn’t clear at all, that was my point.

    On the castle thing (I try to be short this time, I hate long posts, even if I do them myself from time to time….), I tried to say the following: The castles together can hold back lots of men, but they can’t garrison a big army themselves. So what if the Lords of the Vale sit atop the mountain, if you can conquer the fertile valley ground? Yes, you need an army to stay there, but I’m not sure how long the Vale rests loyal to a Lord that can’t protect them? As long as you don’t put an artillery cannon or a sniper in the Eyrie, you’re pretty safe from them in the valley. (It results in Guerilla warfare by the Vale, if your army is larger. If theirs is larger, they don’t hole up at the Eyrie). I don’t see the need to conquer much but the Bloody Gate, and as you point out, this would probably be best taken from the other side “by the sea”. This pushes the Eyrie for me into the Fantasy and Political Symbol corner, I’d wager that the Bloody Gate was the primary castle of the Arryns (even if they forgot that).

    One last question, why are you sure that Catelyn doesn’t send her letters? (Or that the blackfish doesn’t from the Bloody Gate?) Is it just the timeline? It does seem kind of stupid not to do? Does a Maester maybe intercept it? Or does Lysa forbid it at the Eyrie (and she has not time at the Bloody Gate to do it?).

    • stevenattewell says:

      If the army stays there, you can’t conquer the Valley. If you try to conquer the Valley, the garrison swings down to hit you in the back.

      Catelyn is never shown sending the letters, no one is ever shown getting them, and then we find out that Lysa is blocking incoming messages.

      • Hertolo says:

        How many men can you garrison in the castles “to hit you in the back”. Can’t be too many. And given the description, they’d need to come down the mountain in small groups. You can always wait down there. And I doubt there are more ways down the mountain large enough for a armed group. You essentially restrain yourself to Guerilla Warfare. So what do you use the castle for then?

        Again, if you could keep large enough an army* up “there”, why wouldn’t you meet the enemy on the ground? The Eyrie is more of a refuge than it has usefulnes as a Castle. It’s essentially the Gates of the Moon you have to worry about as an attacker. (Unless you are trying to get something or someone special hiding up there of course, hence refuge).

        *You claim that the Gates of the Moon could hold “several thousand defenders”. That seems WAY over the toop. For comparison, Krak de Chevalier held about 2000, on a crucial trading lane up the mountain, but not totally isolated like the placement here sounds. I didn’t find many other numbers and again “it’s Fantasy”, but still, you don’t have me convinced that the best tactic isn’t to just ignore those castles up the mountain (so excluding the fortress at the base).

        So, how likely is it that Lysa (or the Maester) was blocking those letters from being sent? We don’t have many (insightful) PoV chapters from Catelyn at all in the Eyrie, it’s mostly Tyrion, no? So there is a gap of our knowledge right here anyways.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I think at least 10-15,000. Remember, you’ve got 2 keeps and a castle as well as the Sky mountain caves to keep men in.

        You don’t meet the army on the ground, because the castle gives you a defensive advantage. One man on the walls being worth 100 on the ground and all that.

        Regarding Lysa – she withholds Edmure’s letter to Catelyn for a while, which suggests she is restricting communications.

  9. axrendale says:

    An excellent write-up as always Steven.

    I particularly like your suggestion of the castles built by Edward I in Wales as an historical counter-part for the Vale, because they actually serve to underline some of the problems with the Eyrie that have been pointed out by readers, albeit on a less fantastical scale. The castles that Edward built with the help of James of Saint George were masterpieces of medieval military architecture, and as you note they played their part in firmly grounding English rule against local uprisings by the native Welsh. Moreover, they were as impressive in their impact as political statements as in their defensive capabilities – even today capable of inspiring awe in viewers. I imagine that similar considerations must have been held in mind by the kings of the Vale who built the Eyrie – that they were able to carry out such a wondrous feat of construction would have been the ultimate demonstration of their power in the region (just as the building of Harrenhal was supposed to be a symbol of Black Harren’s dominance of the Riverlands). However, despite these virtues, the scale and location of Edward’s castles meant that they proved difficult and costly for the crown to garrison and maintain over time – which basically sums up the Eyrie in a nutshell. I imagine that the main reason that the Arryns have kept it as their primary seat for all this time has as much to do with its strategic positioning as anything else.

    • stevenattewell says:

      True. Costly and expensive, I have no doubt.

      And after 4-6,000 years, the Eyrie has become a symbol of itself – you keep it because holding the Eyrie commands respect from the people of the Vale.

  10. Abbey Battle says:

    It strikes me that The Eyrie might very well be a showpiece fortress in the main, but one might also suggest that it’s an eminently practical stronghold if one regards it’s primary purpose not as the preservation of House Arryns rule in their Vale, but as the preservation of House Arryn itself.

    Consider:- The Eyrie makes a lot more sense as an unconquerable-by-feudal-means bunker, where the Arryns could hole up and defy even an enemy conqueror with such ease that the only good option left to that conqueror would be to negotiate a settlement that permits House Arryn to remain in existence, even if it’s no longer as powerful as once it was.

    House Arryn is mentioned as one of the oldest of the Andal Houses and it’s quite possible that this is due to their ability to avoid being wiped out at a single military stroke thanks to their age-old stronghold.

    It’s also eminently practical as a stronghold against the wildmen of the Vale – none of whom seem to be up to formal sieges in any case, but who likely cannot even dream of climbing the Giant’s Lance in the way Wildlings seem to almost casually clamber over The Wall.

  11. Andrew says:

    I was also disappointed with Eyrie’s portrayal in the TV series. The castle shown didn’t look very formidable to me. The fall from the Moon Door is less frightening with a short fall to the rocks beneath it of the hollow mountain. I call it lazy.

    • Andrew says:

      Or rather as formidable, with a shorter distance on the narrow path to the castle. The besiegers could always surround the small mountain base, and move up from there.

      • stevenattewell says:

        To me, it looked a lot like Middenheim in Warhammer Fantasy – I think that elevated causeway can be cut.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I agree, it looks less formidable – except with the Sky Cells, those are great.

      Moon Door actually breaks verisimilitude, because the view from it is a straight plunge into emptiness, not onto the mountain top.

  12. Abbey Battle says:

    Like most of the modifications made for the TV show (which I must confess a fondness for), the changes made to the Eyrie seem to be a mixed bag – some work as well as what we see in the books, some don’t work as well and some work even better (The Moon Door for instance).

    On another note, it would be wonderful to see scale models of the various strongholds from A Song of ice and Fire built to match GRR Martin’s conception of them. I’d be surprised if no-one else has had the idea, so it may be only a matter of time before I stumble upon some gifted soul’s best efforts online!

    • stevenattewell says:

      I’m hoping for the World of Ice and Fire to give good maps of the castles, but the artist who did the Eyrie that I linked has a series of paintings of the castles of Westeros that I really like. Each has a very different feel to them.

  13. Abbey Battle says:

    Ted Nasmith does indeed do a magnificent job of depicting each of the strongholds he illustrated (I’m particularly fond of his depiction of Oldtown’s Hightower); I also remain as fond of the legendary Other-in-Law’s drawings of various castles from across Westeros as I am of his magnificent Mappa Mundi-style depicitions of the Seven Kingdoms.

    I wish I knew where he went and why he took his drawings with him; quite bluntly any artist illustrating cartography for The World of Ice and Fire will have a hard act to follow. In all honesty one of my fondest hopes is that Other-in-Law was snapped up for the project as soon as someone got a good look at his work – I fear, however, that fate need not be so kind as we would wish it to be in this respect.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Have you seen any of the sample pages from the upcoming book? It’s quite beautiful.

    • Why should it matter to you where I went and why? Internet residue is nearly impossible to erase entirely, so my past works remain available to the prurient public eye despite my wishes. It is all done and over with; move along folks, nothing to see here,

  14. John says:

    What makes you say Catelyn never sent her messages from the Eyrie? It seems fairly clear that she does, in fact, send messages.

    At the beginning of Catelyn VII, her next chapter, she receives a letter from Edmure, talking about his preparations for war. The implication is that this letter is in response to one that Catelyn sent to him – at least, I don’t see how else he would know to write to her at the Eyrie.

    At the time of Bran’s first chapter after Catelyn’s arrival in the Eyrie, a message from her does not seem to have arrived, at Winterfell yet, but that’s no reason to think it didn’t arrive at some later point. Most of the actionable information therein would more or less have already reached Robb through Alyn in King’s Landing.

    • stevenattewell says:

      There’s no mentioning of Edmure receiving any letter from him, nor is there any implication of same.

      No letter to Winterfell or any of the other northern lords she’s supposed to contact is ever mentioned.

      • John says:

        Why is Edmure sending a letter to Catelyn at the Eyrie, then?

      • John says:

        And, how, indeed, do Robb and the Northern Lords know that Catelyn took Tyrion to the Eyrie, as they seem to already know when she finally meets them at Moat Cailin?

      • John says:

        Also, even if Catelyn doesn’t send a letter, both Edmure and the Northern Lords seem to basically know everything that went down anyway, so it’s hard to see what difference it makes.

      • stevenattewell says:

        1. Because that point riders hadn’t found her between the Inn at the Crossroads and Moat Cailin, and Lysa is his sister, making the Eyrie the logical plan B.
        2. Because word got out.
        3. Yes, but the time delay is critically important. It means that the Riverlands and the North are only partially mobilized by the time that Tywin and Jaime attack. With a week or more’s advanced warning (if Catelyn had, for example, sent two of the men from the Inn with word to Riverrun and Moat Cailin), they’d have been much better prepared when the War of Five Kings started.

      • John says:

        Your reading is possible, I guess, but seems to be extrapolating just as much as mine. Catelyn says she is going to send a message to her brother, and then in her next chapter we see her reading a message from her brother, who knows she is at the Eyrie. I suppose it’s possible that he sent riders to Moat Cailin who didn’t find her, but that’s not in the text at all.

        Occam’s Razor rather strongly suggests that Edmure is writing to her at the Eyrie because he received a letter from her at the Eyrie. Certainly there’s nothing to exclude the possibility.

        It’s a bit tougher for Winterfell; we know Robb has receive a message from Alyn in King’s Landing before the Wildling attack in the forest, and that he has not yet at that point received a letter from Catelyn. But the next Bran chapter is way down the road, at which point a letter from Catelyn might have been superfluous, and so not mentioned.

        And Jaime’s attack on Ned would almost certainly have occurred before Catelyn’s arrival at the Eyrie, so Alyn’s letter would naturally have arrived first.

        At any rate, I don’t see any reason to assume that Catelyn didn’t send the letters she says she was going to send. Certainly it’s never explicitly stated that she didn’t send them. When she reads the message from Edmure she doesn’t think about how she had forgotten to send him the message she had intended to send him, for example.

      • Riusma says:

        “Then a message had arrived from the Eyrie, from Mother, but that had not been good news either. She did not say when she meant to return, only she had taken the Imp as prisoner. […] Robb spet most of that day locked behind closed doors with Maester Luwin, Theon Greyjoy, and Hallis Mollen. Afterward, riders were sent out on fast horses, carrying Robb’s commands throughout the north. Bran heard talk of Moat Cailin […]” (AGOT, Bran V)

  15. […] did not say when she meant to return, only that she had taken the Imp as prisoner.” I had previously argued that Catelyn didn’t send word of her actions and had thereby damaged the war effort, and […]

  16. eight more days could have meant thousands more soldiers mobilized to march south or to defend the North from the Ironborn.

    I’m a bit fuzzy on the timing of this; but aren’t we well into the war before the Ironborn begin to attack the North? I don’t see how they would fit into this at all, or how Catelyn would have any inkling of an Ironborn attack on the North.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s more that they would have been mobilized when the Ironborn attack happened, as opposed to scattered across the North.

  17. […] Catelyn VI (the Vale as defense in depth, the Blackfish as a political observer, Lysa as the ultimate victim of patriarchy, historical parallels of the Eyrie) […]

  18. If Tyrion ever rides a dragon, I think the Eyrie has a date with destiny.

  19. Andrew says:

    I don’t think the Blackfish is gay, but that he wanted to be the Whitefish. He was a war hero who won renown for his exploits in the War of the Ninepenny Kings and refused his marriage offer like another man we know: Barristan Selmy. I think Brynden refused the marriages originally, because he wanted to join the KG. But he got passed over in favor of Barristan and later Jaime. By the time of Robert’s Rebellion, well, they tend to look for young men to join the KG, and I think the Blackfish had given up by then and just took up the position of the Knight of the Gate.

  20. Scott Trotter says:

    If Catelyn had send a message to Eddard, there’s no guarantee that it would have contained any information that might dissuade him from trusting Littlefinger. After all, Catelyn was predisposed to trust her old friend Petyr and distrust Tyrion. What if she had written something along the lines of “The Imp claims the knife isn’t his but he is obviously lying,” which is exactly what Littlefinger predicted Tyrion would say.

  21. Scott Trotter says:

    The placement of Gulltown on the map of Westeros has always felt wrong to me. It’s shown to be on the southern side of a good-sized peninsula, separated from any part of The Vale itself by a more than a hundred miles of land and a large mountain range. The more logical place for Gulltown would be on the coast at the foot of The Vale itself, in between the two arms of the main peninsula. From there it could act at the major trading port that it is described to be, controlling the flow of goods into and out of The Vale.

  22. BowlesOnParade says:

    I’m pretty sure Catelyn does send commands to the North. In Brans next chapter we get these lines: “Then a message had arrived from the Eyrie, from Mother…she had taken the Imp prisoner…Robb spent most of that day locked behind closed doors with Maester Luwin, Theon Greyjoy, and Hallis Mollen. Afterward, riders were sent out on fast horses, carrying Robb’s commands throughout the north. Bran heard talk of Moat Cailin, the ancient stronghold the First Men had built at the top of the Neck. No one ever told him what was happening, yet he knew it was not good.”

    I just read this chapter in my current reread and had completely missed this passage before. It seems to me that based on Robb’s actions and the mention of Moat Cailin, he is issuing the commands that Ned told Cat. This doesn’t account for whether or not Cat sent word to Riverrun (I would think that he Blackfish would have if Cat didn’t) or why Cat doesn’t think about it later. Although the mess that was Lysa and the trial could have driven it out of mind or the trial was the issue at the moment and the result was of more concern at that moment.

  23. […] I, Alexander the Great (who found a goat path that helped his 300 “men with wings” ascend the Sogdian Rock), and Manius Acilius Glabrio and Cato the Elder at Thermopylae. Which ought to be a hint to people […]

  24. […] agonizing detail for someone like me who hates heights and didn’t like them any better back when Catelyn was the one on the mountain (an odd pairing there). However, the climb accomplishes its literary task – with each step […]

  25. […] brings us to Lysa, a woman who I’ve described in the past as the foremost victim of the patriarchy in Westeros. And in this chapter, we see the extent of […]

  26. […] dismissive towards Edmure. Instead, he’s characterized by his fierce love for his kin; hence his desire to rush to Riverrun’s defense back in AGOT, hence his instant forgiveness of Catelyn in this chapter. This would suggest that Brynden’s […]

  27. John says:

    Great analysis as usual. Just one tiny little mistake (unrelated to GRRM). You refer to Hamlet’s castle as ‘Dulinsinore’. You mean ‘Elisinore’. Your usually impressive memory has garbled Hamlet’s Elsinore with Macbeth’s Dunsinane (the castle marched on by Birnam Wood)

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