Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran VI


“My lord father taught me that it was death to bare steel against your liege lord…but doubtless you only meant to cut my meat.”

Synopsis: The Karstarks arrive at Winterfell, joining the Boltons, Cerwyns, Hornwoods, Mormonts, Glovers, Tallharts, and Umbers as the forces of the North prepare for war. Bran and Rickon aren’t dealing well with the situation, with Bran uncomfortable with the attention paid to his disability and Rickon falling further into feral child syndrome with a healthy helping of abandonment issues. Osha gives Bran a warning that Robb’s army is marching the wrong way, but it’s too late. The Young Wolf is entering the War of Five Kings

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:

Bran VI is a rare interesting Bran chapter (to me at least), in no small part because it focuses not on mythic hero’s journeys, dream sequences, or folk tales as per usual, but really gets into the meat of Westerosi politics – and what’s especially rare, the politics of the North. Because if it’s one thing I want to demonstrate in this chapter analysis, it’s that the North has its own game of thrones, equally complex as that in the South.

Robb Stark’s Crash Course in Feudal Politics:

After Robb Stark calls the banners, he rapidly has to deal with the consequences of doing so,  consequences that should rapidly disabuse anyone’s notion of the North as a land of tough, honorable people who don’t hold with sneaky Southern ways.

Because the Lords of the North haven’t just come because of their deep sense of honor – they’ve come because they want stuff:

“Roose Bolton and Robett Glover both demanded the honor of battle command…Maege Mormont told Robb…she had a granddaughter she would be willing to have him marry. Soft-spoken Lord Cerwyn had actually brought his daughter with him…Jovial Lord Hornwood…asked [for] a certain holdfast taken from his grandfather, and hunting rights north of a certain ridge, and leave to dam the White Knife.”

As I’ll discuss in the Historical Analysis section, this is pretty typical of feudal politics, and the waters here are deeper than they first appear. To begin with, you’ll notice how often the subject of Robb’s hand in marriage comes up; in a kingdom where power is divided between one Great House and many Lesser Houses and in which political relationships are inherently mixed with personal relationships, the standard pre-Southron Ambitions Conspiracy practice of Lords of Winterfell marrying their vassals is a key part of how power is modulated. For the Great House, a family member eligible for marriage (especially an heir of the House) allows the Lord to make his vassals compete for his favor, keeping them loyal. For the Lesser Houses, getting one of their own married into the Great House means a leg up in internal disputes that the Lord Paramount arbitrates in – and a whole bunch of Houses think they can get their hooks into Robb.

Hat-tip to J.E. Fullerton

We see quite a few examples of what kinds of disputes I’m talking about right there – the holdfast Lord Hornwood wants belongs to someone else, as do the hunting rights. Damming the White Knife would majorly weaken House Manderly, which relies on that river to dominate Northern commerce. In a feudal society where power comes from the exchange of land for military service, everything belongs to someone, so the distribution of lands and resource rights is the very coinage of influence, but paradoxically also the source of conflict (as we’ll see when Lord Hornwood dies, leaving his lands up for grabs).

At the same time, Bran VI also shows us that the same feuds and divisions we see in the Southern kingdoms (the Brackens vs. the Blackwoods, the Florents vs. the Tyrells, the Yronwoods vs. the Martells) also exist in the North in an equally dangerous format. Even before the war begins, “one of Lord Bolton’s men knifed one of Lord Cerwyn’s,” setting up a conflict that will carry forward into the conflict over the Hornwood lands, the Battles of the Green Fork, the Sack of Winterfell, the Ruby Ford, and the coming Battle of Ice. Likewise, “Roose Bolton and Robett Glover both demanded the honor of battle command,” and we’ll see down that Robb’s choice between the two men have long-running consequences: Glover supports the eventually successful strategy of relieving Riverrun and takes Harrenhal by subterfuge, Bolton orders him to his intended death at Duskendale, and Glover will return the favor by allying House Glover with Stannis against the Boltons.

You really have to admire GRRM’s intricate plotting; minor details that seem like mere window dressing in Book 1 set up major, world-altering political events in Book 3 and are still shaping events in Book 5.

Finally, we can also see that the North has a unique version of the Game of Thrones, one which none of the major schemers are prepared for. Unlike in the South or even in the Vale, the lords of the North don’t respect bloodlines above all else, they require personal authority to back it up. Hence the Greatjon Umber testing Robb’s strength by “threatening to take his forces home if he was placed behind the Hornwoods or the Cerwyns in the order of march,” not because the Umbers have a feud against the Hornwoods or Cerwyns (as we’ll see later in ADWD, the Umbers are happy to work with them), but to see if Robb Stark is really “so green he must piss grass.” This is the Reynes and the Tarbecks in microcosm: the authority of the lord has been challenged from below, and all of his vassals are looking to see whether Robb can save face.

One of the reasons why Bran VI interests me is that we get a rare glimpse of SmartRobb (as opposed to his evil twin StupidRobb) in how the acting Lord of Winterfell deals with all of these pushy lords. To begin with, in the face of all of these demands and requests, Robb “answered each of them with cool courtesy, much as Father would have done, and somehow he bent them to his will,” without giving them what they want. Robb doesn’t choose a battle commander, or marry, or give lands away, which is an impressive political feat for a neophyte. Likewise, when Greatjon Umber openly challenges him, rather than getting angry or drawing his sword, Robb calmly lays out the consequences for the Greatjon’s actions in a way that re-emphasizes the lord-vassal relationship, and then unleashes Grey Wind against him – the symbol of House Stark itself, and a potent indicator that House Stark has been chosen by the Old Gods themselves to be the unquestioned leaders of the North.  The result is that Robb instantly quashes Umber’s insubordination in front of all his lords.

It’s an impressive performance, even compared to the mighty Tywin at the same age; Tywin destroyed two houses and turned their castles into ruins, strengthening himself but weakening the Westerlands. Robb converted his upstart vassal into his strongest supporter.

 The War of Five Kings, Early Stages: 

 We get a little bit of detail about how the War of Five Kings begins in the North – in almost total ignorance. “Lord Eddard was a thousand leagues away, a captive in some dungeon, a hunted fugitive running for his life, or even dead. No one seemed to know for certain; every traveler told a different tale.” And yet there are some kernels of truth in these stories: King Robert is dead, Eddard’s guardsmen were slain, the Baratheons are planning to besiege King’s Landing, and Renly did flee south. 

When Sansa’s letter arrives, the Starks get a little bit more information – that Robert is dead, Joffrey is on the Iron Throne, and that his father and Sansa are prisoners. And yet, if Cersei thought this would cow the Starks, it has the opposite effect. The Starks remember that “Lady…had gone South, and only her bones had returned. Their grandfather, old Lord Rickard, had gone as well, with his son Brandon who was Father’s brother, and two hundred of his best men. None had ever returned.” There is no trust between Winterfell and the South, and so Robb “meant to go. Not to King’s Landing and not to swear fealty, but to Riverrun, with a sword in his hand.”


Note – Numbers indicate estimates
of forces raised at the time of Bran VI

That last part is critical – Robb is already beginning to form his strategy in the War of Five Kings. At the moment, the Lannisters are beginning to push into the Riverlands, although the Battle of the Golden Tooth and the first Battle of Riverrun hasn’t happened yet. If Robb Stark wants to rescue Lord Eddard and the two Stark girls, his best bet is to merge his forces with those of House Tully. I estimate that the Tully have somewhere around 10-16,000 men currently under arms (given what Edmure is able to pull together for the Battle of the Fords later, minus the Freys), although most of them are still in the process of mustering and mobilization. If Robb can muster the 18,000 men he can mobilize in time and join them to the Tullys before the Lannisters can eliminate them as a military threat, then their combined forces would just about equal the 35,000 men Tywin has mustered. From a position of equality, and with the Lannisters needing to deal with larger threats to the south, Robb might be able to force a handover of his family members.

And if it hadn’t been for factors completely out of his control, Robb might have succeeded in his limited war aims.

Bran the Cassandra:

The other major theme of this chapter is the idea of a failed intersection between the world of the political and the world of the metaphysical. Early in the chapter, Bran notes that he “had always liked the godwood, even before, but of late, he found drawn to it even more. Even the heart tree no longer scared him the way it used to. The deep red eyes carved into the pale trunk still watched him, yet somehow he took comfort from that now. The gods were looking over him.” One might consider this nothing more than Bran becoming more religious after a major crisis, if it wasn’t for the fact that in the same paragraph Bran thinks he’s been “dreaming, and talking with the gods,” and once he’s done remembering the events of the past day, Osha shows up and explains to him that the Old Gods are actually speaking to him, that “your lord brother will get no help from them, not where he’s going. The old gods have no powers in the south…how can they watch your brother when they have no eyes?” 

On one level, this is an alternative Mentor, teaching Bran the secret knowledge that the skeptical, empirical Lewin has denied. However, Osha goes on to emphasize that this information has a purpose – “the cold winds are rising..wights, with blue hands and cold black hands…[Robb]’s bound on marching the wrong way. It’s north he should be taking his swords. North, not south.” Unfortunately for Bran, he never gets a chance to warn Robb, because in tragedies the prophets are always ignored.

Even if he’d gotten a chance, it’s quite probable that no one would have listened, as Bran VI shows us the first time that ableism really kicks in for the otherwise privileged Stark. Repeatedly throughout the chapter, Bran’s disability is the source of frustration (when he can’t climb and run where he wants to), shame (when he’s seen being carried in Hodor’s arms), difficulty (getting knocked in the head when Hodor runs through doors), and mockery. Despite Bran’s brave attempts to ignore their mockery in a Tyrion-like way, Bran is laughed at by Karstark lancers, the “lords bannermen gave him queer hard stares…as if they wondered by what right a green boy should be placed above them, and him a cripple too,” and the two Karstark sons openly (if quietly) talk about how it’s better to be dead than crippled and that Bran is likely broken in mind as well as body.

Historical Analysis:

George R.R Martin’s passion for medieval history really stands out in this chapter, as the depiction of the assembling of a feudal army departs significantly from the de-politicized portrait in most works of fantasy, where honor and duty are unchallenged and traditional obligations between kings and their subjects are seen as sacrosanct – complete with the requisite notions of True Kings, Noble Knights, and other lies that Sansa believed.

Historically, vassals tended to be just as likely to view their liege lord’s call to arms in much the same way as rich people today view an ominous letter from the IRS as they would to see it as an honor, unless there was a good chance at plunder. After all, fighting was expensive – the whole point of a feudal contract exchanging land for military service was that the vassal didn’t need to be paid or supplied while out on campaign because the land would give them the resources to do that themselves – and it took up valuable time that a knight could be using to kill and rob people on their own time when they could retain 100% of the loot. Thus, feudal contracts were written in such a way that spelled out exactly how many days service the vassal owed.

For example, in the last writ of summons to a feudal levy in England in 1385, King Richard II summoned 13,734 men to go fight the Scots. These men, consisting of 1/3 men-at-arms (i.e, knights) to 2/3 archers, signed on for a term of between 20-40 days. And by this point in English history, the traditional methods of feudal obligation had already begin to break down – England had abandoned an exclusive reliance on the general feudal levy in 1327 and monarchs increasingly resorted to charging their vassals a scutage tax in lieu of service and hiring professional soldiers. These last levies required payment to induce them to fight, and the 40 days of campaign scheduled cost the modern equivalent of £10.5 million.

If they didn’t get paid, or if their time ran out, soldiers would (and did quite frequently) turn around and go back home. All of which means that, in addition to being slow to muster, feudal armies had to be monitored and held together continuously or they could easily disintegrate. This meant that the feudal army was a political entity, because the commanders of the largest units were the biggest lords with the most land, and once one got to a certain level of land and military power, lords began to treat the king less as an overlord and more as a primus inter pares. If they didn’t get treated with the necessary respect, or if the king turned them down once too often when they asked for some nice bit of conquered land or some looted treasure, they’d not just desert but might rebel against their lord.

All this is to say, when we talk about the War of the Five Kings, we have to be very, very careful about applying modern military thinking to how we analyze events. As Catelyn Stark reflects later: “this host her son had assembled was not a standing army such as the Free Cities were accustomed to maintain, nor a force of guardsmen paid in coin. Most of them were smallfolk…when their lords called, they came…but not forever.” Greatjon Umber’s threat here was quite significant – if he goes home, anywhere between 2-3,000 men go home with him.  It may well be the case that refusing Roose Bolton a command means that his 4,000 men stay home, or that the Hornwoods will leave after doing the bare minimum if they don’t get their holdfast and their hunting rights; at the same time, Robb has to exercise his authority at some point, lest by giving way every time he abandons all control over his subordinates. Robb has to develop a fine-tuned sense of which demands are drop-dead red lines and which are not, which requires a fine-tuned understanding of the personality, character, and interests of each lord.

Thus, none of the leaders in the war, be it Robb Stark or Renly or Stannis or, yes, even Tywin, can treat their sub-commanders and their soldiers as professional soldiers who follow orders or get thrown out of the army and who earn their paycheck year-in, year-out. This is really significant when we think about the degree of command and control any of these leaders have over their armies during the War of Five Kings.

Keep this thought fixed firmly in the front of your mind; we’ll be coming back to it again and again.

 What If?

Speaking of which, many of the hypotheticals in this chapter revolve around some of these difficult feudal negotiations:

  • What if Robb chose Robett Glover over Roose Bolton? While I’ve often seen people pose the hypothetical of Roose vs. the Greatjon, I find this comparison to be far more interesting. In the OTL, Robbett Glover is a not particularly prominent minor character who nonetheless is one of the more competent of Robb’s generals – he made the right call when it came to relieving Riverrun vs. taking Tywin head-on; as best as we can tell he did well at the Battle of the Green Fork, commanding the center and keeping his forces together during the retreat (avoiding capture unlike so many Northern lords); he successfully captures Harrenhal, one of the greatest fortresses in Westeros; and while he was defeated at Duskendale, there’s a limit to what you can do outnumbered and set up for death by your commanding officer. By contrast, Roose Bolton is an outright traitor (although we’ll talk later about why and when he changes side) who even before murdering his king seems to have tried to kill as many of the other Northerners as he could.
  • If Robett becomes commander of the Northern foot, a huge cascade of changes occurs. The Battle of the Green Fork could change completely, given that the strategic mission was to delay the Lannisters; it’s quite possible that rather than march all the way down to the Ruby Ford (which is near the crossroads) as in OTL, Robett chooses instead to wait for Tywin up the river (and fight a defensive battle, which is a better move when leading an all-foot army against an army with substantial cavalry), meaning that Tywin is further away from the crossroads and potentially can’t make it across back to Harrenhal. Barring that, one thing that’s definitely butterflied is the pointless loss of 3,000 men at Duskendale and 2,000 men at the Ruby Ford. With 5,000 more men under his command, Robb Stark would have been in a much better position to keep on fighting or to retake the North after the Freys defect. Most importantly, the Red Wedding might be butterflied away altogether; to begin with, Robett might not have heeded Edmure’s command to withdraw the 400 Stark men from the Twins, but it might also be the case that neither Lord Walder or Lord Roose decide to pull the trigger when they’d still be outnumbered 8,000 to 14,000.
  • Robb got married at Winterfell? This one’s a bit out there, but if Robb had somehow done poorly in his negotiations with the Northern lords (or just decided to for teenager/not-wanting-to-die-before- reasons), he might have gotten married to Jonella Cerwyn or Dacey, Alysane, Lyra, or Jorelle Mormont. While this wouldn’t have been politically useful, it certainly would have been less damaging than the Westerling marriage – and would have completely butterflied it away, and with it, possibly the Red Wedding. Worst case scenario at the Crag, Robb has the expected wartime affair and feels like a heel about it and maybe damages his marriage. The more interesting consequence is what happens at the Twins. In negotiations, it’s sometimes quite useful to have an external limit placed on you so that you can point to it and say “sorry, I can’t agree to that;” Catelyn couldn’t have agreed to give away Robb’s hand in marriage and Walder probably would have had to ask for something else (probably Edmure) in exchange for his support. However, I would caution people not to assume that Walder put the Red Wedding into action out of spite alone; Lord Frey is a cautious cat, and after the Lannister/Tyrell merger he was probably looking desperately for any rationale to pull out of the Stark/Tully alliance. However, it does mean that Robb’s army doesn’t diminish after the Crag: instead of being whittled down by 4,000 men, Robb potentially can bring together an army of 38,000 men when he gets back to Riverrun. While being outnumbered 2 to 1 by the Lannister/Tyrell alliance isn’t ideal, it certainly is enough men that a few victories against parts of their forces could bring the two forces down to a rough equality of forces, and enough men to mount a successful defense, especially if he can use the Trident and fortifications like Harrenhal to reduce the enemy’s relative strength further below the recommended 3:1 ratio for attackers.
  • Robb marches North? See previous Jon chapter; only way this could happen is zombie outbreak at the Wall. Totally butterflies away the North’s involvement in the War of Five Kings.

Book vs. Show:

This scene is foreshortened considerably in the show, which is probably a positive when it comes to the difference between interesting reading and good TV, but it does mean that you don’t get the same sense of these feudal relationships being worked out and it seems more a personal thing between the grizzled veteran and the youngster. (Also, as far as I’m aware, the Umbers don’t have a rivalry with the Glovers in the books; rather, the Greatjon’s beef is with being placed behind the Hornwoods and Cerwyns, who seem like lesser Houses than the Umbers).

However, it’s an excellently-done scene. Richard Madden is an older, more confident Robb Stark and comfortable with pushing back at a vassal who’s questioning him; the wolf-work here is really good (although I’d have preferred having the sword come out of the sheath more; it’s less clear that the Greatjon actually pulls steel here). Most of all, Clive Mantle is excellent as Greatjon Umber, managing to project seven feet tall in personality despite being not quite as tall in real life (although 6’6″ is pretty good in acting circles). His presence was much missed in Seasons 2 and 3 of the show, and I really hope the showrunners bring him back for Stannis’ storyline in the North in the future.

56 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran VI

  1. Brett says:

    Robb marches North? See previous Jon chapter; only way this could happen is zombie outbreak at the Wall. Totally butterflies away the North’s involvement in the War of Five Kings.

    What would they do at that point, after presumably putting down the Wight Outbreak? I suppose they could man the Wall more thoroughly, but they can’t keep too many people in the field for too long, for reasons you described. They also don’t really know anything about their enemy aside from the reanimated corpses, which makes marching north of the Wall . . . unwise.

  2. I haven’t even read this, but I just wanted to say two things.

    1. I check this site every day (because I’ve been too lazy to get a new RSS feed since Google Reader died) hoping a new post is up.
    2. I’m going to start asking questions from here on out. This is my favorite ASOIAF blog out there…I love me some Boiled Leather, but here I’m guaranteed I will just be getting great textual analysis without the occasional multi-page comics about Justin Bieber’s butt.

  3. Is it worth asking the question “What if Robb doesn’t command the loyalty of his bannermen so effectively as in OTL?” Let’s say the Umbers go home, maybe the Hornwoods do too, and everybody just in general is less certain about following Robbbbbbbbbbbbbb into battle. Does he still go south? Does he listen to Bran? Does Bolton defect sooner?

    • David Hunt says:

      Robb is marching south. I don’t think anything short of conclusive proof of a full scale zombie invasion delivered by someone he trusts implicitly is going stop that. It’s the only way he has any chance of getting back his father and sisters. I believe that even at this point Catelyn and Robb note that Sansa’s letter makes no mention of Arya which gives the chilling hint that she was killed in the fighting (it’s highly plausible given her personality that she would do something that somehow got her killed during the coup), but it also confirms that they’ve got Sansa and Eddard. If he just stays up North and holds there he knows what happens: They kill Sansa in some slow, horrific fashion to show what they’re capable of. There’s might be a horrific and public rape that happens before that, just to drive in the point that Robb can’t protect his people. And they’ve STILL got Ned so their threats still have teeth after they’ve used up Sansa to drive home the point that she’s just the opening act. Even if Robb were personally capable of letting his family suffer through those things to hold the North, it wouldn’t even work. His vassal lords would know that he couldn’t protect them from the Southerners, since he couldn’t even protect his own family, including their liege lord. They’d turn on him and he’d be toast before you could say “Our Blade Are Sharp”

      There’s also no possibility that Robb’s going to just go South and deliver himself to King Joffrey as ordered. He knows exactly what happened to his grandfather and uncle when they did that. Robb’s only strategy that has a real chance is to march south with as much force as he can muster as fast as possible and seize something valuable enough to trade for his family. Jamie Lannister would have been perfect if his father had still been alive. It probably would have worked if Joffrey hadn’t taken it into his head and/or been egged on by Littlefinger to destroy his greatest piece of leverage (Ned) for dealing with the Northern rebellion

      • Kanye Westeros says:

        Right. My question was more “what happens differently (if anything) if Robb’s force is smaller and weaker right from the start?”

      • stevenattewell says:

        “They kill Sansa in some slow, horrific fashion to show what they’re capable of.” No, I’m sorry, but that’s not happening.

        Even if the Starks stay North, the Lannisters need to keep Sansa alive and in their custody to keep things that way.

      • David Hunt says:

        “Even if the Starks stay North, the Lannisters need to keep Sansa alive and in their custody to keep things that way.”

        I agree that the Lannisters need Sansa alive after Ned’s dead, but I was trying to look at how Robb would predict their actions. From Robb’s POV they can hurt/kill Sansa to make a point nd they’ve still got Ned. No one knows that Joff is going to kill Ned on a whim and leave them with just Sansa at this point.

        Or are you saying that they wouldn’t do anything to Sansa to make a point even if they had Ned? I don’t know how hostage-taking worked in Middle-Ages warfare,

        • stevenattewell says:

          It was extremely, extremely rare for hostages to be harmed. For one thing, as with modern codes of prisoner of war conduct, harming hostages is dangerous because it means the enemy will retaliate against your own men. For another, harming a hostage means you lose that leverage over your enemy – if Sansa’s killed, that guarantees war. Finally, when it comes to highborn hostages, they’re extremely valuable in their own right – you can charge for their upkeep, and you can get a good ransom to give them back. In Sansa’s case, she’s potentially an heiress, which allows you to establish a claim, however tenuous, to her family’s lands.

      • MightyIsobel says:

        Regarding treatment of hostages: I think that Vargo Hoat’s mistreatment of Jaime and Brienne skews our perception of the dangers of being a noble hostage in Westeros.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Precisely. Like the historical Wars of the Roses, the War of Five Kings erodes normal standards of military conduct rather drastically.

          I’ll get into this in more detail when we get closer to the fighting.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It depends. Robb won’t march south without a credible army, and he’s just at the margin of credibility at the moment. However, I think that not doing as well as OTL doesn’t mean people go home now, but more likely they’ll go home as early as possible – possibly when the Riverlords leave, or when Jaime is freed, or when the news of his marriage gets out.

      • darrylzero says:

        A little late to this party, but if Robb emerges from this chapter somewhat less credible, I might argue that would decrease his chance of being named King in the North by his men. I imagine you’ll address the fallout of that little change, independent of why it could come to pass, around Cat’s last chapter though.

  4. Sean C. says:

    The discussion of Robb’s potential marriages also raises the question of why there’s apparently been no discussion on that subject before now, given that he’s old enough. It’s a little odd that he doesn’t have any kind of betrothal arrangements even being considered.

    I’m not really clear on what distinction is being made about the North’s “unique” version of the game of thrones versus other parts of Westeros. Challenges to personal authority are hardly foreign to the south, as with, for instance, Tytos Lannister, whose blood was as old as they come, but who brought his house to the brink of ruin* by being a weak hand on the tiller. Conversely, the Northerners talk about the Stark bloodline in quasi-mystical terms in the later books, so blood certainly matters quite a bit there.

    *I’ve never been clear on whether the weakening of the Lannisters under Tytos was meant to be substantive or just reputational — notwithstanding how important reputation is, Tywin was able to crush the Reyne/Tarbeck alliance seemingly quite easily once there was a lord who actually wanted to, so it seems like Tytos’ problem was not drawing his sword, rather than letting it rust in the scabbard, so to speak.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Right, but Tytos is something of an outlier – the Lords Declarant ultimately don’t have the will to attack the Arryn directly, and that’s the lever Baelish uses to keep them off his back. Likewise, the Florents stay loyal to the Tyrells until Renly’s dead, despite having strong motives to go against them. The Freys capture Edmure but don’t kill him.

      Contrast that to the Boltons, who’ve skinned Starks alive.

      This is still the beginnings of a theory, but look to the next Dunk and Egg story for more evidence either way.

      • Sean C. says:

        I don’t think any of those situations really support that comparison. The Lords Declarant don’t want to attack because they don’t have an issue with the Arryns; they want to help the Arryn, by getting him away from an evil counselor (for once, that’s not just a fig leaf). The Florents stay loyal to House Tyrell because they want to be on the winning team, and it would be foolish to side against Renly under those circumstances. The Freys didn’t kill Edmure because they wanted a valuable hostage for the near-term.

      • John says:

        I’d say there’s a number of problems for the Lords Declarant. Among them that they can’t assault the Eyrie – they have to besiege it, and that requires patience that they probably don’t have the money for.

        • stevenattewell says:

          It’s not money that’s the issue. The Lords Declarant have land, which means food, men, supplies, etc.

          But at the end of the day, there’s a limit to what they’re willing to do against an Arryn.

  5. Andrew says:

    Robb’s dealing with the Greatjon was very well-played. He made sure to keep his face a mask, and he managed to subdue the Greatjon without so much as getting up from his seat, giving the impression that he was in complete control of the situation. After Grey Wind attacked, Robb pointed out to the Greatjon that he now had the right and justification to have the Greatjon executed for bearing steel against his liege lord, and then Robb subtly offers him mercy in giving him a way out saying “doubtless you only meant to cut my meat.”

  6. Matthew says:

    I think the show has been missing Clive Mantle ever since the incident where his ear was bitten off while he was off set at one point. I think it posed a minor set back for him through the legal work he had to do and other side projects in theater seem to have distracted him which is probably what kept him from appearing in most subsequent seasons.

    • Sean C. says:

      That incident came after his inability to appear in season 2, which was because of scheduling. And after missing that season, I guess they figured there wasn’t much point to bringing him back later. One of the most ridiculous flaws in the show is how underdeveloped Robb’s host is, which is particularly weird considering how much the producers always talked about looking forward to the Red Wedding.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Most ridiculous, I don’t know. It’s already the largest cast in HBO history, and HBO is known for its large casts in TV.

        I think the step they missed is not tossing in verbal descriptions of unseen actors, so we get more of a sense of a larger world than the people we can see.

      • Yes that was a big mistake in the show. Too much focus on Robb and what’s her name.

  7. Chad says:

    When looking at the number of men raised does Winterfell or the Starks have any men of their own? Or is Robb simply oversees a host of other lords men?

    You would think that the Starks would make up a disproportionate portion of the army as Eddard their direct lord and the army is gathering from all directions at Winterfell so they would hear about the news and go to Winterfell.

    But from the 12000 gathered 3500 are Bolton, 2300 are from the Karstarks and then around 2000 are Umber but leaving around 4200 men divided among six house (Cerwyns, Hornwoods, Mormonts, Glovers, Tallharts,and Stark) for an average of 700 each.

    So is Rob leaving the Winterfell men back? Is there no Winterfell host? Are they unable to effectively gather their host because Eddard and a large portion of the household guard is gone? Or is it just an oversight from GRRM?

    • Sean C. says:

      We know there’s a significant number of men left with Rodrik, but I agree that the seeming absence of direct Winterfell troops is hard to explain. The Eyrie, as well, doesn’t really seem to have levies of its own in the later Lords Declarant conflict.

    • stevenattewell says:

      You raise a good point, one that I’ll elaborate in the future when I go into depth about how many men were left in the North and what this means about the future of the Stark war effort.

      First things first, you wouldn’t expect Stark men to be disproportionate – the whole point of feudal contracts is that you give away land to get soldiers you don’t have to pay for, so most of the army would be made out of the bannermen. It’s only later in medieval history, when vassals shift to paying scutage so that the king can raise a bunch of cash to pay for professional soldiers, that the king’s own men becomes a larger and larger part of their own army.

      Second, the count of 12,000 seems to be the total number of bannermen, not counting Stark men; in part because, since the Stark men are closest they can be summoned last to avoid straining supplies more than necessary. To begin with, given the fact that House Cerwyn, Hornwood, Mormont, Glover, and Tallhart raise additional forces in the North later in the series, I think they sent relatively smaller forces, perhaps 1,000 each for Mormont and Glover (to put them up at the level of independent command) and 500-600 each for the rest.

      Third, Robb Stark leaves the North with 18,000 men; Manderly sends only 1,500 men and is keeping the bulk of his forces close to home, which leaves 4,500 men and only House Flint to account for. I think at least 4,000 Stark men marched south with Robb, which explains why there were only 600 left for Rodrick Cassel.

      My guess is that House Stark has 5,000 soldiers from its own land, more than any other House, but still reliant on its vassals for large-scale wars.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I’ve been thinking about the hierarchy of the northern houses since reading your analysis of this chapter, and I am leaning toward the conclusion that houses like the Glovers, the Tallharts, and the Cerwyns form the main body of “Stark” men. My reasoning is that these houses are close in physical proximity to Winterfell, and are ordered to mobilize troops before the banners have been called (Ned has Tallhart and Glover assemble bowmen to defend Moat Cailin before the outbreak of hostilities). It seems to me that these houses are more minor when compared with the Umbers, Karstarks, Boltons, Manderlys, and Hornwoods. These major houses must have bannermen of their own, which makes them allies that must be courted and maintained.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Well, we do know that House Tallhart is “of masterly rank rather than lordly,” since the leader of the House is a Ser rather than a Lord and is Master rather than Lord of Torrhen’s Square, as is House Glover. However, House Cerwyn is Lordly.

      • Chad says:

        Maybe disproportionate was the wrong word. I would expect the Starks to both be able to active all of their men and then those men would be motivated to go. Where as some of the the more militant far northern lords such as Umber and Karstark would have been unable to active all of their men due to remoteness and the need to get moving quickly to Winterfell to go to war. Where as the southern houses in the north were not as motivated to send men despite the additional time to activate their men. They were looking at sending as few as they were obligated or dared to send due to the harvest/economic reasons or bitterness in the case of the Ryswells and Dustins. As a result of the need to move quickly and the harvest I would expect that the Starks men would be over represented in the army and I am not sure that the numbers back that up.

        There are more house in the south that have to join up with army. Ryswells and Dustins send the minimum but seem to control a large chunk of land from the White Knife west. There are two house of Flints. And don’t forget about the Lockes as they are the ones the Roose leaves on the wrong side of the Ruby Ford for the Mountain to slaughter right before the red wedding.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think the regional split isn’t accurate.

          House Umber and Karstark both keep a number of men back, as both are active in the current campaign in ADWD (although clearly Umber less so than Karstark).

          Likewise, the Boltons sent most of their men, despite being southerly.

  8. MightyIsobel says:

    I enjoyed how you highlighted the various petty agendas of the Stark bannermen, and how those characters who seem minor now have significant stories ahead of them. It reminds me of the passage in Catelyn V when she thinks through which of the Riverlands lords are likely to respond to a call to arms from her father. It’s one of the first mentions of the Late Lord Frey, for example.

  9. drevney says:

    You wrote: “It was extremely, extremely rare for hostages to be harmed”

    I wonder what is the benefit for the stark to keep Theon for so long. Did they get paid for it? would Eddard kill him if his father revolt when he was a live? What would Robb do when he found about the iron island revolt would Theon still be by his side?
    If the answer is nothing then why keep him?

    • stevenattewell says:

      The benefit was that Theon was used as a threat against a rebellion. Hence the mistake of letting him go.

    • Roger_Raven says:

      Then perhaps ypu can use an angry Theon against his family. Perhaps you can make him the true Lord of Pyke, being his father a traitor. PErhaps then people like Baelor Blacktyde would change sides.

  10. Roger_Raven says:

    Robb acted well, but again the traditional Stark’s isolation works against him. First of all, he should have sent letters to the other high lords (Tully, Tyrell, Baratheons) to know what would they do. Perhaps if he promised marrying Arianne Martell, Doran Martell would have joined the Wolf and the Trout. With the lances at his back, Mace Tyrell and Renly Baratheon would have been more cautious. Of coure Martell had his own plans.
    Or promising Edmure to Shireen.
    Personaly I hate Great Jon Umber. A bufoon and a bully. A man who acts without thinking, at least. His stupid Northener nationalist did his part in sunking House Stark.

    • 1. He already knows what the Tullys are doing; they’re engaged in the field. His mother is with the Arryns, so he’s already got an envoy there. So it’s not like he’s not doing any of that.

      2. I will discuss marriage alliances in more detail when we get to the Twins.

      3. I disagree. Greatjon is a genuinely loyal bannerman who served Robb Stark very well. As I argue in my longer piece about Robb Stark’s military strategy, the King in the North wasn’t a bad move to make.

  11. Roger_Raven says:

    About the number of Stark forces: Robb hadn’t time to summon all his vassals; so the clans (the Wulls, the Norreys, etc) remained at home. As Chad said, some lords (Lady Dustin, Lord Bolton) only sent a part of their real forces. Rickard Karstark, au contraire, came with all the man he could summon, to the point there weren’t enough men in Karhold to attend the crops. Lord Manderly also kept many heavy cavalry.

    I wonder how Eddard Stark managed the Freys back in the Usurper’s War. Probably he took the larger way and avoided the Twins. That’s why RObert had to fight two and a half battles before meeting him.

    • The clans stayed home and not all the forces of the main houses were sent. Karstark didn’t come with all the Karstark forces – as we can see in ADWD, there’s enough of them left to be a significant fighting force.

      He may have taken the longer route; it’s also possible that a younger Hoster Tully, having just crushed his rebellious bannermen, would have less trouble with Walder on passage over the bridge.

      Robert’s battles were fought because he had to A. unite the Stormlands, and then B. decided to try to knock out the Reach pre-emptively, and then C. had to get away from an advancing royalist army.

      • Roger_Raven says:

        Rickard daughter said her father took too many men (in her opinion).

        What I mean is that probably Eddard needed more time to travel south than Robb.

    • Bwbah says:

      Well, we know Lord Frey pretty much sat out Robert’s Rebellion; Catelyn mentions that his forces showed up for the Battle of the Trident shortly after Rhaegar’s death. Early enough to throw in on the winning side, but after the battle had already been decided.

      Lord Walder was keeping his options open, which implies he hadn’t done anything that looked like choosing sides… like allowing the rebels to cross at the Twins.

  12. […] had chosen Greatjon Umber or Robbett Glover instead of Roose? As I suggested back in Bran VI, Robett Glover is an interesting potential candidate for command who seems to have fallen under the […]

  13. […] had chosen Greatjon Umber or Robbett Glover instead of Roose? As I suggested back in Bran VI, Robett Glover is an interesting potential candidate for command who seems to have fallen under the […]

  14. […] geopolitics. Each of these Houses has a significance to Roose Bolton: Halys Hornwood (as we saw earlier) is an expansionist lord, vying to dam the White Knife, gain hunting privileges north of a ridge, […]

  15. […] to achieve their aims they need their vassals to come along for the ride. Once again, we have to keep feudal politics in mind (link) when assessing the accomplishments of any of the clashing kings of this […]

  16. […] all of the Ironborn’s cultural differences, we can’t forget that the same rules of feudal politics apply – banners have to be called, lords have to be placated and alliances made, except now […]

  17. […] incident. Houses Manderly, Bolton, Tallhart, Glover, and Umber know how to play the game of thrones as well as any southron lord, and are just as willing to use means both fair and foul to win the game. And as I’ll argue, […]

  18. Scott Trotter says:

    The bit about “Lord Eddard was a thousand leagues away, a captive in some dungeon, a hunted fugitive running for his life, or even dead. No one seemed to know for certain; every traveler told a different tale.” doesn’t ring true to me. Sansa’s letter, presumably sent by Pycelle via raven, would have arrived long before any traveler-borne rumors.

  19. […] central difficulty of feudal politics – whether we’re talking about Europe after the partition of the Carolingian Empire in the […]

  20. […] anyone looks good when compared to the Lannisters on that score). Second, the Tyrells understand feudal politics at a bone-deep level, getting their people on the Small Council, the Kingsguard, and in the royal […]

  21. artistborn says:

    I think the reason this chapter is the rare interesting Bran chapter is exactly the politics, but also because it’s so much Robb’s chapter, where he starts to really come into his own.

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