“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.
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.
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…
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.
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.