Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard XI

“It is all the king’s justice…north, south, east, or west, all we do is in Robert’s name.”

Synopsis: Eddard Stark sits in judgement on the Iron Throne in Robert’s absence and learns of Ser Gregor Clegane’s attack on three villages in the Riverlands. Unable to ride out himself, Eddard decrees a sentence of attainder and death on Clegane, and tasks Lord Beric Dondarrion to carry out the royal decree, rather than Ser Loras Tyrell. 

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:

Ah, Eddard XI. For someone studying the internal politics and history of Westeros, this chapter is hands-down one of my absolute favorite in the book, because it’s a rare glimpse into the Hand of the King acting as the hand of the King, sitting in judgement on the Iron Throne and speaking with his liege’s voice. And while I think I’ll get some pushback on this this, this chapter is “Exhibit A” for my case as to why Eddard Stark should not be dismissed as a mere fool who was destined to lose the “game of thrones,” because his decision in this chapter to declare Gregor Clegane an outlaw is actually a clever political move, and it’s not an accident that it’s one of the very few times where he actually uses the powers of his office.

Gregor as Tywin’s Pawn, The Three Knights as Hoster’s Pawns

The chapter opens in media res as Eddard finishes hearing testimony from the survivors of Gregor Clegane’s attack on the towns of Sherrer, Wendish Town, and the Mummer’s Ford, villages that likely belong to House Piper given their proximity to Pinkmaiden. This point is important because the legal action here is being brought by Ser Raymun Darry, Ser Karl Vance, and Ser Marq Piper on the orders of Hoster Tully – the peasants here are witnesses and exhibits of a wrong done by one lord to another. As GRRM writes, “the villagers…had thought they were being dragged here to name Lord Tywin a red-handed butcher before a king who was his son by marriage. He wondered if the knights had given them a choice.” If the game of thrones can be likened to chess, these three villages aren’t even pawns but mere squares on the board, denied agency even by those who are sworn to defend them and who claim to speak from them.

Breugel the Elder’s Massacre of the Innocents (1565-7)

Political imperatives impinge on the law almost immediately as Pycelle springs to Tywin’s defense, arguing lamely that “you cannot know that this outlaw was Ser Gregor” because “there are many large men,” even though Ser Gregor is nearly eight-foot fall and almost impossible to mistake, then arguing that Ser Gregor has no need to raid villages because “he holds a stout keep and lands of his own,” retreating to the fact that “Lord Tywin Lannister is the father of our own gracious queen,” then trying to get the case moved to Lord Tywin’s court or to delay judgement until Robert arrives. The naked partisanship coming from a man sworn to be completely neutral in political conflicts is so blatant that Eddard is even moved to crack jokes about it. For all that Eddard has been labelled the worst politician in Westeros, given that even as inexperienced a schemer as Eddard Stark can see right through Pycelle, I really think Pycelle deserves the title.

Indeed, Eddard is quite canny about the political and military strategy behind Ser Gregor’s seemingly senseless violence. At first glance, he realizes that Tywin’s random attacks were intended to “bleed off strength from Riverrun, goad [Edmure] into scattering his swords,” and accurately gauges both Edmure’s gallant idiocy and Tywin’s pragmatic cunning. On a strategic level, Tywin’s feint has drawn Edmure’s counter-attack out of line, leaving him vulnerable to the true attack. However, Eddard can also see Hoster Tully’s political thinking at work: since Tywin has attacked “in the guise of a common brigand,” an aggressive response would allow Tywin political cover with King Robert (although given that we know Tywin also intends to draw out Eddard Stark and capture him, it’s not clear how hard Tywin’s trying to hide his hand here). Receiving a royal judgement that places Tywin in the wrong reverses the political situation, placing the Tullys as the loyal king’s men and Tywin as the violator of the king’s peace.

Eddard’s Political/Military Strategy

Which is just what Eddard does. Brushing aside Pycelle’s appeal to the decentralized nature of Westerosi justice, he asserts a claim to universal monarchical authority to dispense “the king’s justice” to anyone who breaks “the king’s peace,” even if that means breaking the protocols of sub-infeudation. Acting as Hand of the King, Eddard tasks 120 men to:

“ride to the riverlands in all haste, to cross the Red Fork under the king’s flag, and there bring the king’s justice to the false knight Gregor Clegane, and all who shared in his crimes. I denounce him, and attaint him, and strip him off all rank and titles, of all lands and incomes and holdings, and do sentence him to death.”

The details of Eddard’s orders are important: even though 120 men are not enough to deal with Tywin’s army, the important thing here is that they are riding under the king’s flag and in the king’s name, and empowered to deal not just with “Gregor Clegane,” but also “all who shared in his crimes.” In other words, Lord Beric Dondarrion and his men have the authority to not merely execute Gregor Clegane but also legal authority to deal with anyone who protects him – and anyone who interferes with them is committing treason against the king. And as we’ll see in the next Eddard chapter, he sets this up very deliberately. Just as Tywin Lannister is trying to lure out Eddard Stark, Eddard Stark is trying to lure out Tywin Lannister to where he can have the Lord of Casterly Rock attainted and can therefore attack him with the Seven Kingdoms (or at least the North, the Riverlands, and the Stormlands) behind him.

And it works. For all that we think of Eddard as a political naif and Tywin as a Machiavellian genius, the outcome is that Eddard Stark isn’t captured by Tywin, but rather Tywin attacks men under the King’s banner and lets them get away. Eddard bests him almost completely. If Robert had not died precisely when he did (which points to how important GRRM’s timing is to the construction of his story), Tywin Lannister would have been declared a rebel, traitor, and outlaw – deeply damaging his political legitimacy and likely costing him the military support of the Crownlands. As I’ve said from the beginning, when Eddard Stark uses the powers of his office, he wins; he ultimately loses because he fails to make full use of his authority. 

 The Loras Conundrum

 After Eddard’s decree, Lord Varys  comments that he should have allowed Ser Loras to join the expedition, since “a man who has the Lannisters for his enemies would do well to make the Tyrells his friends.” This is a sound bit of advice…in a world in which Robert Baratheon lives. After all, Ser Loras has nothing more than a personal grudge against a Lannister bannerman, and while the Tyrells are tight with Renly Baratheon, they’re unlikely to pony up substantial numbers of troops against Tywin Lannister without a stronger motive. Mace Tyrell likes sitting on the sidelines of a fight; that’s how he’s survived and prospered for some time, he’s not going to stop now…unless his son was attacked by Tywin Lannister.

On the other hand, as much as I hate to disagree with the Master of Whisperers, I’m not sure Eddard made a huge mistake here. Loras doesn’t have enough swords at King’s Landing to win the future Battle of the Mummer’s Ford, and Robert is going to die. Once Robert dies, a civil war is going to happen, and the Tyrells enter the war against the Lannisters anyway. So what would have changed? Well, just wait for the What If section…

Historical Analysis:

Despite Pycelle’s undoubtedly unbiased belief in decentralized judicial authority, the historical reality is that it was very important for kings to kings to interfere in violent clashes between their vassals, lest the feuding between noble houses escalate into a wider conflict.

One of the best examples of this process was the famous or infamous feud between the Percys of Northumberland (an incredibly powerful noble house of whom it was said that “Northumberland knew no prince but a Percy”) and the Nevilles of Westmorland (the dynasty that would give rise to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and “Kingmaker” of the Wars of the Roses) who were the Wardens of the Western and Eastern Marches respectively. By the 15th century, the two greatest noble houses of the North of England had been rivals for over a hundred years and had begun to take opposite sides in national politics as a matter of course: the Percys under Henry “Hotspur” Percy had rebelled against King Henry IV in 1403, whereas Ralph Neville had married Henry IV’s half-sister and held the North for the King during the rebellion.

Tension rose in 1452-3 when the Bishopric of Carslile, which controlled some 1,400 miles of territory right on the borders of Westmoreland and Northumberland, was given to a Percy despite having traditionally been occupied by younger sons of the Nevilles, and when the ancient manor house of Wressle (one of the original holdings of the Percy family before their ill-fated rebellion) passed to Sir Thomas Neville as part of a marriage settlement. The Percys under Lord Egremont (the younger son of the Earl of Northumberland) began raising troops and ignored royal commands (which happened to be carried out by Nevilles) to disband their forces; Sir John Neville (the younger son of Richard Neville, the Earl of Salisbury, who was the younger brother of Ralph Neville the Earl of Westmorland…and you thought Westerosi noble households got complicated) raised up men to personally arrest Lord Egremont, and the two fought a series of pitched skirmishes across Northern England, raiding and destroying estates.

Violence against property spread to violence against persons: when the Percy manor of Topcliffe refused to give up the location of Lord Egremont, Sir John Neville threatened to hang the entire household; Egremont retaliated by ambushing a Neville wedding procession. The two houses began mustering armies in the tens of thousands, and at Stamfort Bridge in 1454, the two houses met in open warfare with hundreds dead and Egremont captured by Sir John. Rather than ending the conflict, this prompted both sides to look for allies – the Nevilles allied with the House of York, and the Percys with the House of Lancaster and became the chief lieutenants on both sides. At the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455, Richard Duke of York and Richard Neville defeated the Lancastrian army, but the death of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland turned the Percy-Neville feud into a blood vendetta. After the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, Richard Duke of York, Richard Neville Earl of Salisbury, and Sir Thomas Neville (who had unluckily inherited the house of Wressle) died at the hands of a Lancastrian army made up largely of Percys.

And on and on it went. The lesson here: early intervention is always better than trying to fight fires in full blaze.

What If?

I generally see four major hypotheticals here; there’s no way that if Eddard is sitting on the Iron Throne he’s going to let Tywin get away with ordering hundreds of civilians murdered, so I discount “Eddard does nothing” out of hand. They are:

  • Eddard goes personally (assuming a lesser injury)? We know that Tywin wanted to capture Eddard, hence trying to draw him out of King’s Landing, and trade him for Tyrion, thus saving face for the Lannisters while humiliating the Starks. That’s one possibility of the ambush at the Mummer’s Ford. On the other hand, Tywin didn’t have everything his own way at that battle: Beric manages to make a fighting retreat before Gregor’s contingent hits his army in the rear, and the core of Beric’s companions survive and make their escape. Which brings up the possibility that it might be Eddard Stark rather than Beric Dondarrion who is granted the Rh’llorite last rights and comes back from the dead, or that he simply survives the battle. This changes things dramatically – for one thing, Stark strategy changes dramatically if they hear that Eddard Stark is alive and in the field in the Riverlands, since there’s more of a possibility of at least a truce between the two houses; if Eddard Stark can make it back to his son’s armies, Eddard would assume command as Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King. In turn, this means that the Starks ally with Stannis Baratheon from the very beginning of the war, which in turn might mean a Stark drive for King’s Landing following hard on the heels of Robb’s victory at Riverrun, which would probably take the capitol long before Renly could get there. Indeed, the political positions of the two Baratheon brothers would be greatly changed: with Eddard Stark corroborating Stannis’ letter and proclaiming him King, Stannis seems like a much more viable candidate from the beginning, and Renly’s political support is greatly undercut.
  • Loras had gone? As I said, given that the Tyrells enter the war against the Lannisters anyway, it’s tricky to figure out how much actually changes. One thing that does come to mind is that the Tyrells might be more inclined to view the Starks as allies, which might mean that Renly signs an alliance with Robb Stark on the spot when Catelyn meets him, and/or that the Tyrells reach out to Robb Stark rather than Tywin Lannister following Renly’s death. After all, the Starks are a powerful House in control of two of the seven kingdoms, and Mace has sons and daughters and nieces and nephews who could marry into the Starks, so it’s not a bad idea from Mace’s perspective. It would immediately change the war: even if his western offensive had been cut short as in OTL, Robb would have enough men to assault King’s Landing and wipe out the Lannisters, regardless of whether Tywin minus the Tyrells was enough to save the capitol from Stannis. On the other hand, if Loras got captured at the Mummer’s Ford, the Tyrells might seek a Lannister alliance even more readily than in OTL. On a hypothetical third hand, if he dies at the Mummer’s Ford, there’s no deal to be made at Tumbler’s Wells, and Tywin would have to save the capitol on his own, and even if he had succeeded would have had to face the Starks and the Tyrells together or separately, a much more difficult task.  However, in that scenario, there’d be a decent chance that Mace Tyrell would blame Lord Stark for getting his son killed, scotching any hope at an alliance.
  •  Eddard had time to react to the Battle of Mummer’s Ford? By the time that word arrives of Tywin Lannister’s ambush at the Mummer’s Ford, Eddard was four days in the dungeons and Robert was dead. But had Robert managed to delay his appointment with destiny a few days, things change dramatically. Firstly, as I’ve already suggested, Eddard would probably take the opportunity to declare Tywin a rebel and traitor, and use his authority as Hand to call the banners of the Vale, the Stormlands, Dorne, the Reach, etc. to suppress the fighting. Secondly, he’d probably start raising forces in the capitol (probably by turning to Renly and his allies but not yet with Renly’s coup proposal souring the deal) – and may have simply taken over the Gold Cloaks outright as a military matter. This would have put Eddard at a much better position when Robert died.
  • Robert had been sitting in judgement? Here’s one where I’m really unsure about. While it’s definitely true that Robert has little patience for judicial matters, generally wants to avoid confrontations in favor of saying “you deal with this” (as in the case with his trial over the direwolves), and wants this Stark-Lannister conflict ended, as Eddard Stark will say later, he feels very differently about lords who break his peace. A brawl in the streets could be hushed up with a command to return Tyrion, but the burning of villages and outright warfare between Houses Lannister and Tully goes further than that. I think there’s a decent chance that Robert would ride out himself or have accepted Eddard’s plan to have Gregor Clegane punished (since he knows that Gregor’s a violent maniac). This changes a lot: Tywin can’t confront the King openly, and may have to back down once Eddard is forced to return his son; if Cersei accelerates her assassination campaign such that Robert dies while out in the field, there may not be even the small army in King’s Landing that was the case in OTL. Again, the damage to Lannister legitimacy might have been huge.

Book vs. Show

In the show, Eddard is even more politically astute. In addition to his original command, he has Tywin Lannister summoned to court “to answer for the crimes of his bannermen,” and requires him to arrive within the fortnight or “be branded an enemy of the crown and a traitor to the realm.” With this action, Eddard places the Handship and thus the Crown firmly on the side of the Starks and the Tullys – if Tywin does not submit to royal justice, then he’ll be publicly condemned as a rebel; if Tywin does submit, he’ll have to leave his army behind lest he appear to be making war on the King and in any case couldn’t possibly lead an ambush on Beric Dondarrion at the Mummer’s Ford. More importantly, it commits Robert to this course personally, preventing him from trying to stay out of the conflict since the crown has now been directly invoked.

Again, if Robert had lived even a few days longer than in OTL, this masterstroke would have changed the opening of the War of Five Kings dramatically. If Tywin had refused to come, then it’s quite likely that the military forces of the Crownlands and the capitol would have been mobilized against him and out in the field when Robert dies, such that Cersei has no military forces to launch a coup or to prevent Stannis from taking King’s Landing. If he had come, then it’s highly unlikely that the cautious Kevan Lannister would have assaulted Beric Dondarrion’s forces at the Mummer’s Ford, at the least delaying the sweep through the southern Riverlands and the fall of Harrenhal.

57 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard XI

  1. Sean C. says:

    I think Mace would be more likely to fixate on the people who actually killed his son, rather than the guy who sent his son on a mission he wanted to go on.

    Had Robert been there, I think he would definitely have gone himself. He would have relished the chance for some action, the one thing he’s really good at (not any more, mind you, but still).

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think he’s more likely to, but it’s not out of the range of possibility.

      Well, I think Robert is still a good general even if he’s not in shape as a fighter. Likewise, being on campaign with regular exercise and less feasting, and without being bored to the point of drinking himself to unconsciousness most days, he could improve his physical condition. After all, a lot of your heavier bodybuilders/weight-lifters/athletes have a tendency to really go to fat when the constant exertion they’re used to stops.

  2. Leee says:

    OK, I’ve been waiting for another Eddard chapter and apologies for this question which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this post (which I’ll have to read later): you’ve been recuperating Ned’s political savoir faire, pointing at his ability at handling nasty actors like the Boltons or hilarious madmen like the Umbers in keeping the North a relatively stable place, and using the the post-Starks Norhtron chaos as an example of his indispensability. However, aside from the fallout from the deposing of the Starks, little of this is actually shown in the books, and perhaps Ned’s record as Warden of the North is some kind of narrative oversight on GRRM’s part in light of his tenure as Hand. Namely, why could someone who is able to keep the Boltons, Umbers, Karstarks, et al in check unable to navigate King’s Landing? Are the systems and interfaces that radically different that skills don’t translate between the two milieus? (Note, this is a dramaturgical/literary criticism, principally, and boils down to the show-don’t-tell ethos, and GRRM doesn’t exactly show Ned’s North-ruling in action.)

    All that said, I’m otherwise a Ned stan (a Cat stan too), so when you go all Captain Save a Stark, I’m generally happy.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Thanks.

      My thesis is that it has to do with Eddard’s understanding of his self, his position in the world, and the nature of the Handship. If you read through the Eddard chapters and the first Catelyn chapter and the “Two Honest Men” essay on the Hands of the King, you can see the long version of this, but the short version goes like this:

      – Eddard believes in power in personal terms: he’s the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, which means to him that his word is law in the North and he imposes it personally (hence the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword). Thus, he doesn’t really make the mental transition to Hand of the King and doesn’t seem to understand that there is power in his office apart from his own person, that he can delegate his power to others, etc.

      My favorite example of this is Jory and Ser Hugh. Eddard could have handed Jory a royal warrant signed by the Hand and commanded Ser Hugh to attend on the Hand, but he doesn’t think like that. He certainly thinks he could command Ser Hugh if he was there, but he doesn’t understand that he can give some of his authority

      – Second, as part of that, he sees his role as Hand to be Robert’s adviser, as opposed to being in charge of an institution of power in its self. So he doesn’t seem to realize that he could say, simply recruit as many soldiers as he wants if he’s outnumbered by the Lannisters, or that he could make Jory Cassel the Lord Commander of the Gold Cloaks, etc. He doesn’t get that he could order an increase of taxes or a decrease of spending in the King’s name. He doesn’t get that he has the power to summon a Ser Hugh or even a Stannis to meet with him, and back that up with the force of law.

      Because he’s grown up as Lord of the North, he understands that role more because it’s a part of his self-identity. He realizes in ways that he doesn’t down South that he can tell the Northern lords what to do, and he knows how to impose his will if they don’t (by killing them), and he’s good at moving quickly to do so. Also, he understands the environment better – he knows that the Boltons can’t be trusted, and that the Umbers only understand a show of strength and don’t get along with the Glovers, or that he can lean on House Manderly for naval affairs, and how to get the mountain clans to call the banners.

      But he doesn’t know the terrain down south, and he thinks that things work differently down south; that he has to persuade Robert what to do rather than being able to tell people what to do, etc. If Eddard had acted more like the Lord of the North while in King’s Landing, he would done much better.

  3. rw970 says:

    I’m somewhat skeptical as to how down Robert would be with an anti-Lannister campaign. While he no doubt resents the Lannisters, he’s also long ago made the bargain that the Realm needs an alliance with the Lannisters to work, and that his marriage is but one component of that alliance. His government borrows heavily from them, has already given them cushy jobs, and he’s physically surrounded by them at all points of the day and night. He’s shown no inclination to move in the direction of open conflict yet.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think we overstate how crucial the Lannisters are. It was important initially to get them on board with the regime, but he has options – and he kind of realizes that when he starts talking about how beautiful Margaery is supposed to be and how rich her father was.

      Regardless, one of the few things Robert takes very seriously is a breach of the king’s peace, which he views as a personal challenge. Giving the Lannisters cushy jobs is fine because he considers that “counting coppers” – but Tywin Lannister making war on one of Robert’s bannermen? That’s a no-no. Attacking a party of soldiers under HIS banner? That’s treason, and Balon Greyjoy knows how Robert deals with treason.

      That’s why Eddard goes ahead and does this, rather than advises Robert do to this: he knows that once he commits Robert by sending out the royal banner, Robert can’t back down on this without losing face and will see any action by Tywin not as part of Ned’s bloody mess but Tywin getting in Robert’s face.

  4. rw970 says:

    Re that last post of mine – I’ve always found the Lannister progression from Johnny-come-latelies to controlling the government kind of weird, especially because they’re so transparent about it, to the point that everyone assumes that Joffrey and the other Baratheons of Kings Landing are merely Lannister proxies.

    One of the enduring problems with the Targaryen exit from Westeros is that the Targaryens were a neutral family that in theory didn’t favor any of the other Seven Kingdoms. You’d think that with a scion of the Baratheons would upset that carefully controlled neutrality by favoring the Baratheons, but instead, he upsets it by favoring the Lannisters.

    Being that other families resent the Lannister-favoritism, and that Joffrey is the product of Lannister incest, you would think the Lannister brain trust would try to tone down some of the Lannister stuff, and not have Joffrey’s personal arms be a Baratheon stag AND a Lannister lion. And why is he always wearing Lannister crimson? It just makes it easier for everyone to believe that Joffrey is not a true Baratheon.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Controlling the government is a bit much. They are certainly greedy for honors, but prior to AGOT, Jon Arryn is Hand, and both Stannis and Renly have seats on the Small Council. The only real Lannister in the Small Council is Pycelle. The Lannister appointees are Robert’s squires, Ser Jaime, Boros Blount, and Meryn Trant.

      The favoritism begins to get genuinely dangerous when Jaime Lannister is granted the Wardenship of the East – because that’s real power.

      As for the Lannister brains trust, keep in mind that the Lannisters don’t coordinate well. Tywin would be smart enough NOT to mix the arms and make sure Joffrey wears Baratheon colors, but he’s at Casterly Rock, and it’s Cersei in charge of Joffrey.

      • Twohundertseventy says:

        You also can’t forget that the Lannisters need to ensure that Joffrey himself identifies as a Lannister. He isn’t aware that he’s the son of Jaime and Cersei after all– if you raise him as a Baratheon, he might just end up looking towards his father more than his mother.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Do they? Joffrey already is suspiciously un-Baratheon like. Why draw attention to the fact by having him wear his mother’s colors, name everything around him lion variations, etc?

  5. axrendale says:

    Sorry Steven, but I have to disagree – and strongly – with your assertion that Ned didn’t make a huge mistake when he failed to agree to Loras’s request to lead (or at least join) the expedition. There’s a reason that this decision gets criticized by both Varys and Littlefinger, the two resident political geniuses of King’s Landing, within the space of three pages – it’s a major missed opportunity that reflects poorly on Ned’s ability to percieve the political dynamics going on around him, even if he otherwise shows considerable strategic sagacity in this chapter. Whether the reader chooses to attribute this lack of perceptiveness to Ned simply being a poor politician (as most readers do), or to the dissonance of having to work in an unfamiliar political environment (as you do in your thoroughly commendable analysis) is certainly not an irrelevant question – since I think that GRRM is trying to make a point in this series about the strengths and shortcomings of different styles of political leadership – but it doesn’t have much bearing on what the results are of Ned’s shortcomings as Hand.

    Ser Loras is not just another member of House Tyrell, he is Mace Tyrell’s favourite child and the one who is most able to influence his father’s decision-making (it is later explicitly pointed out that whenever Olenna, Margaery, or one of the other Tyrells wants to get Mace to do something, their prefferred method is always to persuade Loras first, and get him to bring Mace around). He is undoubtedly the keystone of the alliance between Renly and the Tyrells, and if he had somehow been removed from the picture (for instance, by riding off into the Riverlands in pursuit of Gregor Clegane), there is a high possibility that the Tyrells might never have decided to throw their lot in with Renly in the first place after Robert’s death, especially since we know that the Queen of Thorns argued against supporting Renly’s bid for the throne.

    If Ned had appointed Loras as the leader of the expedition, it would have accomplished several things:

    1) It would have been an important step towards cultivating Loras, and by extension Renly, as an ally. Renly and Loras were clearly open to the idea of working with the Starks – they make several overtures to Ned over the course of this book, and the fact that he consistently either failed to recognize them as such or rejected them out of hand (most egregiously when Renly advised him to take Cersei and her children into preemptive custody) constitutes in my opinion one of the biggest failings of his tenure as Hand – and one that I have never read a convincing defense of. Showing favor to Loras would have been an excellent way for Ned to make up for his previous rebuff to Renly, and as long as the Knight of Flowers retains his ability to influence both his family and his lover, enlisting his services on behalf of the Crown is smart politics.

    2) It would have made Renly less of a wild card. If Loras was physically removed from King’s Landing by virtue of being in the expedition, then Renly has just lost his line to the Tyrell family, and cannot be confident that if he goes to Highgarden he will recieve their automatic support without Mace’s favourite son present to back him up. This is especially the case if you subscribe to the interpretation (as seen in the show) that Loras was the one responsible for driving Renly’s ambition to become King in the first place.

    3) It potentially drives a huge wedge between the Tyrells and the Lannisters. Although the two wealthiest and most powerful families in Westeros were technically “at war” with each other for a time in the OTL, they never came to blows in any ways, and after Renly died there were no obstacles in the way of Tyrion’s gambit to secure their alliance. If Loras had been sent on the expedition, he could easily have become invested in the fight against the Lannisters, and has the ability to bring his family on board with him. Even if he dies, then it throws a spanner into the works of any future attempts by the Lannisters to mend fences with the Tyrells – Mace is not going to forgive easily the death of his favourite.

    4) It might even have increased the expedition’s chances of success. Tywin Lannister has no problem with ordering his men to wipe out a force that contains only some guardsmen, a couple of knights, and a priest, led by a minor lord from the Stormlands. If the force is being led by a scion of the Tyrell family, then he almost certainly would have been far more cautious about attacking it (at least before the outbreak of the war).

    Your argument that Varys’ (and later Littlefinger’s) comments along these lines are sound advice only in “a world in which Robert Baratheon lives” doesn’t really hold up, because that world in which Robert lives is also the only world in which Ned’s decision to send out an expedition under the King’s banner is a clever gambit demonstrating sagacity on his part, as you argue in this piece. In the OTL, Ned’s decision was effectively rendered meaningless by Joffrey’s ascension to the throne, which left Tywin free to slaughter the expedition without any fear of the consequences. The only reason that anybody even remembers the Battle of Mummer’s Ford is because it resulted in Beric Dondarrion’s first resurrection, and the consequent formation of the Brotherhood Without Banners (which means that in hindsight, arguably Ned’s most important decision in this chapter was sending Thoros of Myr along with the expedition).

    We never really get to see much of the response on the Lannister side to these developments (apart from the news, passed on by Pycelle in the next Eddard chapter, that Lord Tywin was “greatly wroth” to hear about Beric’s expedition being sent to execute one of his bannermen), but I think the scene invented for the show where Tywin sends Jaime to attack Riverrun (one of my favourite additions in the adaptation) probably captures the spirit of it very well:

    If Ned had led the expedition himself, and thereby made himself vulnerable to capture as a hostage (I assume that Tywin would have taken more care ambushing a force with Ned in it than a force with just Beric and co.), then I think that would probably have been the last point at which Tywin would have been willing to stop short of all-out war. Once that option has been taken away, then Tywin is essentially committed to launching his invasion of the Riverlands, and the Lannister position has basically become “Thousand Year Dynasty or Bust!”

    ***

    On a side-note, while re-reading these chapters, I was struck again by the degree to which many of the characters, even outside of the main families in the story, have been “aged up” for the purposes of the show adaptation. I had forgotten that Beric Dondarrison was only 22 in AGOT, and that Loras Tyrell is only 16 at this point.

    • Neil says:

      It’s worth keeping in mind that Dondarrion isn’t some minor lord, he’s one of 3 Marcher Lords that basically control Southern Westeros near the Dornish border, with powers similar to a Warden in terms of raising local armies in the area. Loras Tyrell is worth a lot as the favorite son of Mace Tyrell, but Beric Dondarrion is nothing to scoff at.

    • stevenattewell says:

      First of all, we have to be careful when talking about Varys and Littlefinger’s advice to Eddard – yes, they’re the smartest politicians in King’s Landing, but they’re also not giving this advice out of the goodness of their hearts, so we have to consider whether they’re intentionally giving bad advice or giving good advice after the fact and withholding it when it could make a difference.

      Second, we have to avoid assuming the omniscience of hindsight. Eddard doesn’t know the internal dynamics of the Tyrell family, nor does he know precisely what Renly and Loras are up together, and we shouldn’t judge his actions as if he did.

      As for the specific effects:

      1. It only cultivates Loras and Renly if Loras doesn’t get killed or captured, which makes it quite risky as a strategy.
      2. It’s not going to make Renly more likely to back Eddard if the majority of his military support in the capitol leaves – it’s going to increase his readiness to bolt if he feels he’s in danger. Also, I really don’t think we can judge bookRenly by showRenly, they’re extremely different people.
      3. Potentially is the key word there. The Tyrells start off the war anyway, and the only thing that would change is their willingness ot ally with Tywin, but…that assumes that Loras is killed as opposed to captured or simply getting away, and that Mace doesn’t blame the Starks for getting his son killed.
      4. I disagree as to what success entails. Numbers aren’t the issue, since 200 men are still going to lose to 20,000 men. And given that Tywin’s willing to attack a party of men riding under royal banners – an act of high treason – fear of offending the Tyrells isn’t going to hold him back. If anything, he’d simply tell his men to capture rather than kill Loras.

      However, I think if we’re going to judge Eddard’s actions by their results in OTL and if Robert hadn’t died, we have to judge LF and Varys’ advice by the same metric. I’m not saying it’s bad advice per se, just that it’s not rock-solid.

      • axrendale says:

        Regarding the opinions of Varys and Littlefinger on this question – Littlefinger’s comments on this aren’t delivered to Ned, they’re delivered to Sansa after he overhears her telling her Septa that she thinks her father should have sent Loras instead of Beric. He tells her that he agrees with her, although for very different reasons. And given that he never really had a chance to give Ned any advice on the matter until it was already done, I think that Varys’ expressed opinion can also be taken at face value here.

        Whenever characters throughout this series express an opinion on anything, it can always be taken with a grain of salt. However, when two characters, who can be expected to know what they’re talking about, say the same thing in two seperate scenes, I usually take that as an indication that the reader should pay attention to that opinion. We get another example later in the book, when Robb Stark and Tyrion Lannister both express the opinion that trying to catch Tywin in a surprise-attack is probably a losing strategy. When Roose Bolton does it anyway (in the Battle of the Green Fork), I think this is probably the most important in-text clue alerting the readers to what we might later call the Bolton Conspiracy.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Fair enough, I think I was over-reacting because of the whole “why didn’t Ned listen to LF or Renly” thing (because those two aren’t exactly unbiased in their interpretation of the situation) and likewise the “why didn’t Ned realize that Stannis would be an awful king” thing (when most people who say that in the books are Stannis’ enemies and therefore have a very vested interest in making sure he doesn’t become king).

  6. Neil says:

    I have 2 thoughts mostly on this scene: First, while respecting your authority argument, 120 men is vastly insufficient for the task at hand. If the Mountain (and Tywin) respected the King’s authority, they wouldn’t be in this pickle. Realistically, I’m assuming the plan was to hopefully gather some volunteers as you go, but still: 120 is too few, and it’s a poor idea to augment that force with some of your own without sending some of the numerous Lannister henchmen along too. I mean, yeah, authority is good, but steel (and lots of it) is better.

    Second, I’m guessing the reason for Dondarrion over Tyrell is that Lord Dondarrion presumably is one of the infamous Marcher Lords on the border with Dorne, and probably has real combat/command experience (even if only 22). Whereas Ser Loras is the son of the second richest lord in the kingdoms who presumably doesn’t have much experience (if any) in real combat. The presence of Thoros of Myr (who notably was the first one through the breach on Pyke, which means you are a cold-blooded killer and nothing less) indicates this isn’t a good opportunity for a field trip for 16 year old and “unblooded” Loras Tyrell, and that it is nothing short of a kill squad. Denying Loras the opportunity to lead that is a smart move. Denying his presence (which would have included some other knights and what have ye, since now we’re gathering a posse with some real brand recognition) seems less smart. It means passing on the opportunity to have a Stormlander (and Marcher Lord) lead some Crownlanders, Northmen, Reachmen, and possibly even some Westermen to bring in an outlaw. Coalition of the willing, anyone?

    Otherwise, love your depiction of Eddard as a political actor here. With the information available, this is a good read and ensuing play call on his part. Keep giving us these essays, they’re great!

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. 120 men is enough to capture Gregor himself. But the main intention is to force Tywin to either allow Gregor’s execution or to rebel against the crown, and it’s enough for that.

      2. Agreed. I think Eddard went with military experience over putting a 16 year old in charge.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      If I might interject here, I’d life to offer my theory that Lord Beric’s company was riding to join Lords Piper and Vance under the Golden Tooth; this explains why he marched with relatively few troopers AND why Ser Edmure was willing to leave between a fifth and a quarter of his strength at the very lip of the Lion’s Mouth (or why he felt obliged to leave them there).

  7. David Hunt says:

    One thing that I don’t get is why you say that Eddard alive and in the field when Robert dies means that the Starks would be supporting Stannis, esspecialy in short order. Ned’s support of Stannis seems to be based on his lawful claim to the throne due to the illegitimacy of all of Cerce’s children. It’s been over a year since I read the book, but I’m certain that Ned doesn’t know about Joffrey’s parentage yet. Joffrey would clearly be a terrible king and has shown Ned that he’s a budding monster, but is that enough for Ned to take part in another rebellion against the King? I see two ways that this might happen, but I’m curious if this is how you came to that conclusion.

    I haven’t read anything but the first book, so I could be suffering from Book vs. Show issues here. I remember that Stannis was Jon Arryn’s partner in his investigation and had information that at least cast suspicion on Cersei and her children, but I don’t know how much proof he really had. Is your contention that he had enough to convince Ned?

    The other way I can see Ned supporting Stannis is if my personal contender for Worst Politician in Westeros, Cersei, puts him in the position of not having any choice but rebelling. With Robert dead, Joffrey on the throne, and Cersei as Queen Regent pulling all the strings in the very beginning, I can see her making some stupid proclamation that forces Ned into rebellion instead of bending the knee. I don’t think that even Cersei would preemptively declare Ned an outlaw because he’s in the field against Lannister men, but she could easily make some order that resigned Ned to the conclusion that he’s fated to be putting down bad kings for the rest of his life. I think the most likely thing to bring this about is an order in the name of the King to come to King’s Landing and appear before the King to answer for some action or other. Cersei would get bonus points of stupid for somehow managing to work the word “fire” into that order.

    Your thoughts?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Eddard has all the evidence he acquires by this point – and he’ll realize the truth literally in the next chapter which takes place immediately after his judgement is given.

      It’s not so much that Stannis would have had enough evidence to convince Eddard full stop, but that unlike Ned (who is spending a lot of time trying to piece together what Jon Arryn was up to), he knows the overview of Arryn’s investigation and its purpose. Talking with Stannis would have changed everything, because Eddard would know what he’s looking for (and would have made the book and Arryn’s last words and the bastards make sense MUCH earlier).

      So Eddard would be alive and in the field and knowing that Stannis is the lawful heir – Eddard is going to declare for him (as he does in OTL), but he wouldn’t be in a position to be held captive – and this changes a lot about Stark military and political strategy.

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    Not one, but TWO articles by Maester Steven to devour? Today is a fine day indeed!

    On the subject of Loras, I would like to point out that Loras is important as more than just Tyrell and the apple of Lord Mace’s eye; we all know that he’s Renly’s best-beloved and it is interesting to speculate on whether or not sending Ser Loras off to war would have won or lost The Hand of the King Lord Renly’s support (also on whether or not Lord Eddard was aware of the peculiar intimacy between these particular scions of the Houses Baratheon and Tyrell, apparently eager to pull the rest of their families into bed with them – metaphorically speaking).

    As far as declining to send Ser Loras into the field, I can think up one major and at least one minor reason Lord Eddard would decline to do so:-

    (A) Ser Loras, close to hand, makes a WONDERFUL hostage; considering Lord Mace’s habit of fence-sitting it makes to sense to maintain one’s grip on such a useful point of leverage or at least keep it within arm’s length (a strategy which Lord Eddard has employed before, in the person of Theon Greyjoy).

    (B) The wild-card nature of risking Ser Loras’ life; if he suffers harm or capture, it’s equally possible that Lord Mace will hold The Hand (rather than Lord Tywin) accountable for it – if Lord Varys has sung a certain song to Lord Eddard, he may well be aware that in risking the Knight of the Flowers he also sets the friendship of Lord Renly in the hazard.

    My instinct tells me that by keeping the Knight of Flowers close, Lord Eddard is simply keeping his options open and seeking to avoid adding another young hothead to the ranks of Lord Beric’s command (On top of Vance, Piper and Darry).

    • stevenattewell says:

      Again, Eddard doesn’t know Loras and Renly are boning.

      But as you say, sending him is very risky.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Indeed I would argue that it’s a strong indication of Lord Eddard’s competence as a political player that he’s confident enough to avoid adding a potential wildcard to the already strong hand he’d put together in the Throne Room of the Red Keep.

        Pun welcome, but not actually intended.

        On another note, it’s still interesting to speculate on how Lord Renly might have reacted to seeing Ser Loras ride off to war; would he himself have sought to be appointed leader of the campaign or would he have sought to keep Tyrell away from the leading edge of impending civil war and how might Loras’ death or captivity at the hands of the Lannisters have affected his later decision-making?

        Hopefully food for thought which doesn’t make you wince at the sight of it!

      • stevenattewell says:

        Good point; not sure.

  9. Sean C. says:

    Just to look ahead for a moment, but next chapter contains one of the “what if?”s that is simultaneously very minor in terms of the change of action but potentially very huge in implications: what if Sansa had used slightly different phrasing when talking about Joffrey?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Eh…yeah, I see it, but I also think it’s one of GRRM’s clunkier bits of narrative contrivance, mostly so that he can get the “out of the mouths of babes” thing in.

  10. lann says:

    I tend to agree with the argument that Stark could have used his power better to put himself in a better position earlier. He was also unlucky that Robert died when he did. (Yes there was intent by Cersei in planting the wine but it wasn’t exactly a perfect plan, many things could’ve gone wrong). However I think that his problem with southron politics stemms from the fact that, as he says, his brother Brandon was trained to be a leader while Ned groomed to be a soldier i.e. to follow. This was enough to rule the hard people of the North but Southern politics had other requirements.

    P.S. Steven, since you said you were partisan to peasant uprisings you might find this interesting: http://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/feudal-lords-of-malta/

    • stevenattewell says:

      That’s a good point – although I think that part of Ned’s problems is that he’s not playing to his strengths, but instead tries to do things the way the Southerners do.

  11. Abbey Battle says:

    To be honest I would suggest that if nothing else the machinations of House Bolton and House Manderly would tend to demolish the idea that Northern politics and Northern politicians are any less devious than their Southern counterparts; I will continue to agree with Maester Steven’s suggestion that it was Lord Eddard’s unfamiliarity with the Political Actors in the South, rather than lack of familiarity with politics in general that handicapped his efforts as Hand of the King.

    For one thing dealing with the officers of any Northern Host means dealing with the Lords of the North, because the two groups are more or less exactly the same people (albeit not necessarily in exactly the same positions), thanks to the peculiarities of Feudal Warfare.

    • Sean C. says:

      That’s one of the details from the first book that has never entirely made sense to me. Partly, I guess, this reflects the older idea that Westeros was supposed to be the size of South America, but the idea that Eddard and his family don’t seem to know much of anything about the political situation south of the Neck really doesn’t make sense. Ned’s one of the Great Lords of the realm; you’d imagine he would need to keep up with what’s going on everywhere else. Heck, you’d expect that the wardens, in particular, would have some kind of of liason in King’s Landing to keep them apprised of goings-on.

      You would think basic curiosity would enter into it with the kids, too. I mean, you can’t tell me that Sansa wasn’t making lists of her top 20 Southern houses to marry into based on their heraldry and the location of their castle.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Ned’s a Lord Paramount and a Warden, but…

        – He’s also spent most of the last 15 years avoiding getting involved in Southern politics in order to keep Jon’s secret under wraps.

        – as LP and Warden, he’s basically autonomous in the North, and the Westerosi monarchy is unusually federal in nature. He wouldn’t have much contact with the central government.

        – he was aware of the Lannisters’ creeping ambitions, so there’s that.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Agreed.

  12. Jgilmore says:

    Very dumb question… what does OTL mean? Google is telling me either “out to lunch” or “outside the lines”.

  13. Roger_Raven says:

    While Beric Dondarrion showed he is made of heroes’s stuff, I think he wasn’t a good choice. He was almost as young as Loras and equaly unexperienced in war affairs. Just a tourney knight.

    • Neil says:

      Not sure I agree with you there. We think 22 is pretty young, but for a Medieval setting a 22 year old Lord of a border-area would have a few years of combat experience under his belt. Heck, consider a modern military. A 22 year old could have ~4 years of combat experience starting at 18. It wouldn’t be too far out of line to assume that, like Loras, Beric assumed some of the duties of his position at 16, which would mean he has 6 years of experience commanding men in an area of Westeros that’s continually rife with tension (The Dornish Marches). He may not be the most experienced option available, but I’d say he easily has more experience than Loras Tyrell in more practical things than knocking men off horses with a stick.

      • Sean C. says:

        Would he really have much combat experience? Historically, sure, the Dornish Marches were full of that, but Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms 150 years ago, and Prince Doran’s been keeping things determinedly quiet during Beric’s tenure.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Well, which war is the question – he’s slightly too young for the Greyjoy Rebellion that Thoros of Myr fought in (Beric was 11 at the time), but he certainly could have fought in Essos or in localized conflicts.

        The main point is that he’s had definitely more experience commanding men than Loras has – Loras is the youngest son of Mace Tyrell and a tourney knight, Beric is a Marcher Lord.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Beric Dondarrion was 22 to Loras’ 16, and pulled off an extensive guerrilla campaign far longer and against worse odds than the Kingswood Brotherhood or the Duskendale Defiance.

  14. David Hunt says:

    Sean, there’s nothing I know of that explicitly says Beric had real military command experience before mission to capture Clegane, but he managed to keep the Brotherhood going afterwards. I don’t think he learned all the stuff he would have needed to keep them going only after Gregor killed him. I’d say that there’s good circumstantial evidence that he’s had some sort of experience.

    Given that, Loras could have been a horrible choice to send along. Although Beric would have been formally in charge, Loras is the favorite son of the Warden of the South who also happens to have military authority over Beric should he choose to exercise it. I don’t think I’d have thanked Stark for putting him in my party if I was Beric.

    Plus, I expect that Ned wanted Gregor executed, not killed in the field. Loras is 16 and had just beaten Gregor at the tourney. I can see Ned worrying that Loras would be cocky and belligerent. Gregor is well known for his temper. It would take someone who wasn’t a young hothead to bring him in.

    I’m only guessing that Ned wants Gregor brought back alive to King’s Landing for execution, but there’s good reasons to think so. First, he gets to have Beric and his men publicly display him and show that he was the rogue that they caught pillaging the Riverlands. Also, Ned might get to re-demonstrate the first bit of ruling advice that he gave Bran: the man who hands down the sentence should wield the blade. I am certain that Ned would take no small amount of satisfaction in personally executing one of the men who murdered Raegar’s wife and infant children.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Loras wouldn’t have had military authority over Beric.

      I think what Ned wanted was to make an example of Gregor and force Tywin’s hand to either openly defy the crown or back down.

      • David Hunt says:

        I phrased that poorly. I was saying that I figured that Loras’ father, Mace, had authority over Beric as Warden of the South. I was alluding to the problems (with Mace) that Loras could have made for Beric if he didn’t want to respect Beric’s authority.

        • stevenattewell says:

          It’s ambiguous; Beric has a royal commission and is fighting in the Riverlands, not in the Reach or the Dornish Marches.

  15. Evan says:

    I quite enjoyed this chapter, it’s an excellent look at how Ned acted as Hand. One issue I think that might have stopped Ned from exercising some of his power (Removing Slynt as Commander of the City Watch-Where’s Sam Vimes when you need him?-and sending out royal warrants) is the possibility/fear that Robert might not back him. As King, Robert has already made it clear that he sticks his head into the sand for things he doesn’t want to see, and he does have the power to overrule Ned. If the Lannisters or Baelish or whoever made enough fuss, Robert might order Ned to drop his inquiry, which Ned would probably do, but it would create a division between the two, and news would inevitably leak out and lend an air of dissension and chaos to the situation.

    I saw that the Kingsguard got mentioned in one of the comments, about Lannister appointees, and Preston Greenfield was forgotten-He came from the Westerlands, and was likely named with Cersei’s influence.

    Which actually serves as a good lead-in. After you’ve finished with the Hollow Crowns and Deadly Thrones series, have you given thought to what your next project might be? If you’re examining institutions, the Kingsguard would be an interesting one. Historically, from the beginning (what little we know) to Criston Cole, then to Dunk’s age, Aerys’ Kingsguard pre-Rebellion, and then onto the current decline of the White Cloaks.

    Also, given that A World of Ice and Fire is to be released early next year (Though originally it was supposed to be the fall of this year, but if it takes a little longer for it to be good, I’m willing to wait), will you be revising or changing any of your articles or analyses based on information contained in that?

    • stevenattewell says:

      A Sam Vimes certainly would help.

      I think his lack of faith was a big part of it, but again that gets back to his belief that him being Hand means he’s Robert’s adviser, whereas he does have the authority to act while Robert’s sticking his head in the sand. And yes, there’s a possibility that Robert wouldn’t back him, but Robert can’t afford to retract royal edicts once given – that makes him weak.

      As for Ser Preston, the info about his place of birth wasn’t in the WOIAF, and I didn’t have time to track him down.

      My next project after HC, DT is going to be a study of the different polities of Essos, which is a topic I have more to say about than the Kingsguard.

      I probably won’t go back over old stuff right away (that would be really time-consuming, and get me really behind schedule), but I may do an overarching review article comparing and contrasting – and I’ll certainly use the book as a source when revising my essays for publication.

  16. […] beginning of the chapter belies Eddard’s reputation as a political naïf. As we discussed last time, his gambit of sending out Beric Dondarrion as a royal representative is basically working: […]

  17. mask says:

    One thing I think you’re forgetting from your Loris scenario is that if he dies you have Dorne and Highgarden with a very personal reason for wanting the Mountain’s head. If so perhaps Ob. leaves Dorne earlier ensuring the death of the Mountain (he is not worth the opposition of 2 kingdoms) and thus he is not around for Qyburn. If the Mountain is not condemned Highgarden goes either for Stannis after Renly’s death or tries to sit it out. (also having Loris may make mummers ford less likely to happen due to political considerations).
    At most it seems to me a capture of the 2nd or 3rd son of highgarden might allow Tywin to have them remain neutral, which is good for him, bad for Renley (who in this case does not rebel/supports Stannis) and ends in Lannister defeat

    Though as you suggest the the Starks are probably screwed as rebels (while they have not fought against Stannis, no post-Renly acceptance reduces the chance he looks favorably on the north).

    I would love to see Dorne’s action in this endgame.

  18. […] Eddard XI (Eddard’s political strategy in going after Gregor, the history of the Percy/Nevillle blood feud, and more) […]

  19. […] has the victims testify as to what happened to them (think about the peasants testifying about Ser Gregor’s attack on the Mummer’s Ford). Here, he offers the perspective of the perpetrator, by way of evidence for the prosecution. Ser […]

  20. […] claims between the House of York and the House of Lancaster and in local feuds between the House of Neville and the House of Percy, the Wars of the Roses led to unusual degrees of redistribution of land, as whenever Yorkists were […]

  21. […] we’ve largely seen the Lannisters as the “bad guys” in the war: after all, they started the war, they have pursued a deliberate strategy of attacking civilian populations, and they have engaged […]

  22. […] it may well be that Tywin’s raids in the Riverlands, his and Jaime’s march eastward, the scorched-earth guerilla warfare of the Riverlords, or […]

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