“Lord Cerwyn, Ser Wylis Manderly, Harrion Karstark, four Freys. lord Hornwood is dead and I fear Roose Bolton escaped us. The Stark boy was not with them, my lord. They say he crossed at the Twins with the great part of his horse, riding hard for Riverrun.”
Synopsis: Tyrion arrives at the Lannister campsite to find out he’s been assigned to the vanguard come the battle. After spending a night with Shae, he is rudely awakened to find that the Stark host is marching on them. The Battle of the Green Fork is fought, with the Starks being driven off with substantial casualties. However, Robb Stark isn’t there…
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.
Tyrion VIII contains two events of note: the Battle of the Green Fork and Tyrion meeting Shae. I’ll discuss the two in reverse order, since I have a lot more to say about the Greek Fork and don’t want to jump back and forth.
Needless to say, the difference between BookShae and ShowShae is staggering. The book version is introduced in a way that is meant to remind the reader and reflect on Tyrion’s relationship with Tysha (and women in general). She’s described as “slim, dark-haired, no more than eighteen by the look of her,” whereas Tysha is described as “dark-haired, slender, with a face that would break your heart…lowborn, half-starved, unwashed…yet lovely,” and was around 14 years old when Tyrion met her. After they first have sex, “a song filled his head…a song I learned as a boy,” the song he associates with Tysha. And with hindsight from how their relationship will end, you can see how important this connection to Tysha is to get Tyrion to the place where, driven by trauma and rage, he murders her and his father.
Likewise, the relationship that Tyrion wants isn’t just the “girlfriend experience” he asks for in the show.- It’s explicitly described that Tyrion’s relationship with Shae is based on his disability: “Be certain that you tell her who I am, and warn her of what I am…there was a look the girls got in their eyes sometimes when they first beheld the lordling they’d been hired to pleasure…a look that Tyrion Lannister did not ever care to see again.” Indeed, Tyrion tests this with his wordplay about her former paramour and reacts to her nickname of “my giant of Lannister” with pleasure, remarking that “for a time, she almost made him believe it.” This is why Shae’s perjured testimony about Tyrion’s treason hurts far less than the revelations about his sexual practices and especially that nick-name.
The War of Five Kings – The Battle of the Green Fork
On to the battle – and what a battle this is. Re-reading this chapter has been a fascinating experience, because this battle made absolutely no sense to me the first time I read it. Indeed, for the longest time, I was under the misunderstanding that this battle was a contested east-west crossing of the Green Fork even though the battle takes place on a north-south orientation, such was my confusion. Now that I have re-read the chapter, I understand it much more clearly and I think the confusion is intentional for several reasons. I have to thank Brynden BFish for his excellent work on the battle itself and the question of Roose’s treason, which helped to crystallize some of my inchoate thoughts. I hope my analysis adds to his work, as for once I don’t have a contrary opinion.
To begin with, I am only further convinced of my theory that Roose Bolton deliberately botched this battle. Re-reading the chapter’s description of the pre-battle operations, we learn two things: first, Brynden Tully’s mission to ensure that “Addam Marbrand…will not know when we split” was absolutely successful, as the Lannisters learn from “Ser Addam’s outriders [that] the Stark host has moved south from the Twins…Lord Frey’s levies have joined them. They are likely no more than a day’s march north of us.” In other words, Stark scouting operations on the right bank of the Green Flank don’t seem to have failed. This is confirmed by the second fact, which is that it’s not the case that Marbrand detected Roose on his night march. Rather, when “the horns called through the night, wild and urgent, a cry that said hurry, hurry, hurry,” the Lannister host was *surprised* by the movement and only discovered Bolton’s forces when they saw “his host…less than a mile north of here, forming up in battle array.” This last point is crucial.
The entire point of a night march is to move at full speed to get into contact with an unexpected enemy as quickly as possible. You don’t stop a mile away to draw up in formation and offer a set-piece battle and give your larger opponent a chance to mobilize; you slam into your enemy as quickly as you can, using the disorganization and shock of the attack to carry the day. This is born out in a number of historical examples:
- The Battle of Lincoln in 1141 A.D (one of the major turning points in “the Anarchy”) – Earl Robert of Gloucester “cunningly concealed his purpose all the way from Gloucester to Lincoln, keeping the whole army in uncertainty, except for a very few, by taking an indirect route… he resolved to risk a battle at once, and swam across the racing current of the river mentioned above with all his men.” No pause to form up into battle array; Gloucester piled straight into battle straight across a contested river crossing and crushed King Stephen’s army between his army and the garrison of Lincoln castle.
- The Battle of Falkirk in 1298 C.E – in which Edward I triumphed over William Wallace, began with a night march in which the left battalion of the English forces slammed straight into the enemy’s knights and archers, requiring King Edward’s personal intervention to reorder his disorganized cavalry which had broken their peers but failed to break the Scottish infantry’s schiltron formation; that task would devolve to the English archers who massacred the tightly-packed Scottish pikemen.
- The Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 C.E – began with a night march of Tokugawa’s Eastern Army literally stumbling into Ishida Mitsunari’s army due to a dense fog that had masked the positions of the two armies.
- The Battle of Culloden in 1746 C.E – started with a night march in which two-thirds of the Jacobite army mounted a night attack despite orders to the contrary because the messenger carrying those orders missed them in the dark.
Bolton’s actions here have no explanation, given his experience as a commander and competence later displayed when fighting for his own House. His pause almost a mile away to form up into battle gave the Lannisters crucial time to mobilize their forces; had he simply kept marching, the Starks would have fallen on a sleeping army with no opportunity to get themselves into line and under chain of command, and thus unable to carry out their plan. However, this is only Exhibit A in my case against Roose Bolton.
Tywin’s Bloodless (and Bloody) Plan
It’s interesting that Tyrion somewhat misunderstands Tywin’s plan in this chapter (a sign of his inexperience, given how quickly Tyrion will learn). While Tyrion assumes that the decision to place his mountain men in the vanguard is intended to “rid himself of his embarrassing get for good,” Tywin’s actual objective here is to leverage the “lack [of] discipline” of Tyrion’s men, with Tyrion’s possible death a mere bonus: “I put the least disciplined men on the left, yes. I anticipated that they would break. Robb Stark is a green boy, more like to be brave than wise. I’d hoped that if he saw our left collapse, he might plunge into the gap, eager for a rout. Once he was fully committed, Ser Kevan’s pikes would wheel and take him in the flank, driving him into the river while I brought up the reserve.” Now, I don’t think that Tywin ranks among the great generals of Westeros – most of his early victories seem to have taken place against enemies he vastly outnumbered, and he’s beaten by Edmure Tully despite Edmure’s general lack of skill – but this chapter shows that he’s a skilled commander, who understands how to make use of his particular forces
George R.R Martin’s intricate detailing of the Lannister line of battle (that Brynden BFish does a great job on) is not matched with any level of detail on the Northern troops – a sign that Martin is up to something. We learn that Tyrion’s “uncle would lead the center…the foot archers arrayed themselves into three long lines, to east and west of the road, and stood calmly stringing their bows. Between them, pikemen formed squares; behind were rank on rank of men-at-arms with spear and sword and axe. Three hundred heavy horse surrounded Ser Kevan and the lords bannermen Lefford, Lydden, and Serrett with all their sworn retainers.” The right flank, “was all cavalry, some four thousand men, heavy with the weight of their armor. More than three quarters of the knights were there, massed together like a great steel fist.” The reserve is unusually large, “a huge force, half mounted and half foot, five thousand strong,” meaning that the 16,000 Northmen are going to slam into a front line of 15,000 before Tywin plunges that reserve in like a dagger.
The left flank is put up against the riverbank, “the left of the left. To turn their flank, the Starks would need horses that could run on water…this wing too was all cavalry, but where the right was a mailed fist of knights and heavy lancers, the vanguard was made up of the sweepings of the west,” lighter cavalry and a deliberate easy target. Indeed, I would argue it’s something of an obvious trap – the vanguard of a medieval army is the leading force and tasked with the toughest fighting, and in an army the size of Tywin’s, one would expect it to be much larger than a mere 5% of the total army.
The plan is quite simple: the right holds against the Stark left, the center gets ready to contain the Stark breakthrough, the reserve is placed to drive Stark’s army against the river. A pity it doesn’t actually happen that way.
The Battle and Bolton’s (Lack of a) Strategy
Part of the reason that it doesn’t happen that way is that Roose’s actions on the battlefield makes little military sense. To begin with, we have Exhibit B in my case: the question of why in hell Roose is attacking a force that contains at least 7,500 heavy cavalry (Marbrand’s 4,000 are three-quarters of the total knights, plus the 300 around Kevan, plus the 2,500 in the reserve) and 1,000 light cavalry on the left flank when he has around 600 cavalry – and why he’s attacking at all. The Northern attack on the Lannister left flank is described as “boiling over the tops of the hills, ” and Kevan’s assault is described as having “pushed the northerners against the hills.” Given the enormous defensive advantage given to disciplined infantry fighting from the high ground, especially when fighting heavy cavalry, Bolton had the perfect opportunity to eke out an unlikely victory by retaining the high ground and forcing the Lannisters to attack, an opportunity he squanders without cause or benefit. Moreover, Roose’s main action – the attack on the Lannister left – involves only infantry, “advancing with measured tread behind a wall of shields and pikes,” rather than sending in his limited cavalry to open up a gap that his infantry could exploit against the Lannister center.
We can see the inappropriateness of this tactic almost immediately: the Stark attack never lands, because the Lannister left is fast enough to counter-charge first, forcing the Karstark infantry into a slapdash schiltron. This shield wall is easily broken by the Mountain and the mountain men (great band name, by the way), and then the Stark right is forced into a chaotic retreat made all the worse once the Lannister center and reserve is brought in to finish the job.
In other words, Roose Bolton is doing the exact opposite of what the Saxon army of Harold Godwinson did to try to win the battle of Hastings – take the high ground, which can be easily held by a disciplined shield wall of infantry against heavy cavalry trying to charge up-hill and avoid charging into feigned retreats, where the superior mobility of cavalry can be used against slower infantry. No experienced infantry commander would make this mistake, especially once he laid eyes on his enemy’s dispositions.
Exhibit C is the mysterious absence of much of the Northern army. As Brynden BFish has noted, the Flayed Man of House Bolton isn’t seen on the field, despite the fact that it makes up a full quarter of their numbers. I would point to additional absences that make little sense: the first is the absence of the Northern cavalry in the fight, given how crucial they would have been to making the attack on the left actually succeed. The second is the absence of the Northern archers; the Northern infantry is described without exception as being composed of spearmen operating in shield walls when it should have quite a few archers given that it’s the whole of the Stark foot. The third is the total absence of any description of the North’s left flank engaging in the battle at all (and the relative absence of the North’s center, which we only hear about later in the battle when Kevan pushes forward), which you would think would have come more into play when the Lannisters commit their entire reserves to their left (which would be on the Stark’s right). This last part is quite mysterious: given the geography of the battlefield, the Starks should be trying to get around the Lannister’s *right* not the left, so that it can roll up the flank in the direction of the river, trying to push their enemies downhill, instead of trying to fight up the gradient the entire way. And yet we never see or hear of any action other than the Stark right on the Lannister right.
Given that the Northern host is only 16,000 strong, the absence of the Boltons (4,000 men) and the Northern cavalry (600) and the Northern left (approximately 5,300 men) suggests that perhaps only 6,100 of the Northern host – the unlucky Northern right – were fully engaged in the battle. This failure to commit the bulk of the Northern forces to the fight suggests that, just as is later the case at Duskendale and the Ruby Ford, Bolton is deliberately throwing a third of his army into the meat grinder.
Exhibit D comes with the mysterious beginning of the battle, which opens with the *Lannister* archers firing first: “a vast flight of infantry arched up from his right [i.e, from the center where Kevan commands]…the northerners broke into a run, shouting as they came, but the Lannister arrows fell on them like hail.” This also fails a very basic test of military skill: in medieval warfare, you send out your archers first, to clear away the enemy’s archers, so that your infantry is no longer threatened and your archers can safely concentrate on disrupting your enemy’s infantry formation. Given how ineffective Norman archers were at penetrating an in-place shield wall on the high ground at Hastings, the Lannisters’ initial volleys should have been an ineffective tactic and yet it’s successful in disrupting spearmen trying to charge on foot, and it’s not answered. Only later do we see massed missile fire that could conceivably be from the Starks, and then it’s directed at the one place on the battlefield where the Stark infantry could be hit by friendly fire (as Brynden BFish points out).
Again, this makes no sense: given the impossible task of attacking a largely cavalry force, the Northern commander should have used his archers from the outset to engage the Lannister archers from the high ground, while the Lannisters ineffectually fire up-hill. This factor is normally dominant: at the Battle of Towton, for example, a strong opposing wind was enough to make the Lancastrian archers fire short, allowing the Yorkist archers to advance without being threatened, pluck up the Lancastrian arrows feathering the ground, and use them to decimate their opposing numbers with the wind adding to their range. Likewise, at Hastings, firing up-hill was enough to render the Norman archers completely useless. He should then have had the archers screening his infantry advance to allow them to keep their shield walls intact and to disrupt the enemy’s formation.
One of these errors on their own would suggest incompetence most uncharacteristic to the carefully-planned victor of Harrenhal and Moat Cailin. All four together point to malice. This is compounded by the politics of the situation.
The Politics of the War of Five Kings
As Brynden has noted, Roose Bolton makes very sure that all casualties come out of other Houses, chiefly Karstarks, Hornwoods, Cerwyns, Glovers, Manderlys, and Freys. We can see this especially from the list of important bannermen killed or captured in the battle: Lord Halys Hornwood, Lord Medger Cerwyn, Harrion Karstark, and Ser Wylis Manderly. The first thing that’s obvious is that Roose Bolton is eliminating his regional rivals – House Hornwood is immediately to his south, House Cerwyn is to his southwest, House Karstark is to his north, and House Manderly is the other major power of the North’s eastern coast (House Glover represents more of a personal rival, in that Robett Glover vied with Roose for a command). By putting their forces in the front lines, Roose Bolton ensures that their Houses are weakened while the 4,000 men of House Bolton remain intact, a strategy he will return to at Duskendale and the Ruby Ford.
However, there is also a political edge to his actions that goes beyond basic 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, and regain a certain holdfast taken from his grandfather; while the White Knife primarily affects House Manderly, geography suggests that the latter two items are Bolton lands. Eliminating Lord Hornwood nips that threat in the bud. On the positive side, killing the Lord of Hornwood, thanks to his son’s simultaneous death at the Whispering Woods, opens up the whole of the Hornwood lands to Bolton expansion – a topic I’ll get into in greater detail in A Clash of Kings. The Manderlys are a major power player in Northern politics, as White Harbor dominates Northern trade and the White Knife gives the Manderlys a swift route to the interior. As we’ll see in ACOK, the death of the Hornwoods immediately places the Manderlys and Boltons in conflict, one that carries through to ADWD. The Karstarks are a more long-term threat – if House Bolton is attempting to expand south, House Karstark sits at his rear with close to his number of soldiers. Moreover, in a political sense, the Karstark’s blood ties to House Stark would always give them an edge over the little-liked Boltons in vying for the support of the other lesser Houses in picking a new Great House for the North.
I concur with Brynden that it’s not possible to tell in AGOT what Bolton’s plans were at this moment, whether he was planning from the outset to betray Robb Stark. However, what we can say is that Bolton not only botched the battle, but did so in such a way as to weaken his nearest rivals, and put himself closest to the North should Robb Stark fall in battle. Most definitely something to keep an eye on in the future.
The Green Fork is a bit of a mishmash in terms of historical parallels. As I’ve already suggested, the geography of the battle resembles nothing so much as a bizarro Battle of Hastings where the Saxons don’t even bother to hold the high ground and just charge straight down into the Normans to be hacked into pieces. In the historical Battle of Hastings (1066 C.E, as you probably already know if you come from the U.K), the forces of King Harold Godwinson executed a grueling 200 mile march from Stamford Bridge, where he had trounced the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, down to Hastings on the southern coast. Unlike Bolton, Harold’s intent wasn’t to surprise the Normans as much as it was to stop them marching from the coast towards London, but the result was the same: an exhausted army of Saxons going up against well-rested Normans.
However, unlike Bolton, Harold Godwinson wasn’t acting the fool. He put his men on top of a tall ridge with swampy ground below it, and rivers anchoring his flanks – the perfect location for infantry to fight cavalry. I’ve stood on that ridge at Battle Abbey and it’s a steep slope that I would hate to have to run up knowing there was a Saxon longaxe coming for my face.
Harold got his men into a strong shield wall and kept them there as long as he could (probably as long as he was alive, but accounts differ about how and when Harold died); this shield wall completely defeated the Norman archers who fired up the hill, and easily stood off repeated up-hill assaults by Norman infantry and then knights from about 9 in the morning until the mid-afternoon. At some point, possibly when Harold died to a freak arrow shot, the Saxon’s discipline began to falter when the Normans engaged in a series of feigned retreats and the Saxons broke the shield wall to pursue them, only to be cut down when the Norman cavalry wheeled around and charged them on level ground. When the rumor circulated that Duke William of Normandy was dead, the Saxons charged down the hill en masse, where they got caught between the Normans at the bottom of the hill and a cavalry contingent that had circled around behind them. At this point, the Norman archers could now fire with full effect – and at this point, Harold seems to have died, either from an arrow to the eye or a sword to the head, and the Saxons broke and were ridden down.
Politically, however, the Battle of the Green Fork resembles nothing so much as the 2nd Battle of St. Albans. If you will recall from last time, at the Battle of St. Mortimer’s Cross, Edward of York had made his triumphant entry into the Wars of the Roses by destroying a Welsh army led by Jasper Tudor that was marching to link up with Margaret D’Anjou’s main Lancastrian force that was marching from Wakefield to London. It was Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker, who attempted to bar her passage even as Edward marched east.
Warwick tried a hell of a lot harder than Bolton to win his battle. Known for his immense wealth, Warwick had splashed out for Burgundian mercenaries armed with flaming arrows and crude handguns, crossbowmen with pavise shields, and a fearsome array of cannons to try to make up for the fact that he was outnumbered 10,000 to 15,000. His archers, placed in high windows in the city itself, held back the Lancastrians for several hours, long enough to enable Warwick to establish a new defensive line, complete with artillery, caltraps, and his Burgundian mercenaries. Unfortunately for Warwick, 2nd St. Albans was fought in the driving snow, which dampened his gunpowder, rendering his artillery ineffective. Just when it looked like his defensive line might hold, Warwick’s close lieutenant Sir Harry Lovelace, who had taken a £4,000 bribe to switch sides, deserted in the middle of the battle, opening a gap in the Yorkist line that Lancastrian mounted knights poured through.
With his army broken or defecting, Warwick pulled his 4,000 remaining men away from the battle, leaving 2-4,000 men dead on the field, and crucially leaving the captured King Henry VI on the field to be recaptured by the Lancastrians. Only the onset of night allowed him to avoid total defeat. Warwick would go on to link up with Edward of York, get their combined army safely to London, and have the Duke of York crowned Edward IV, King of England.
Like the Battle of the Green Fork, 2nd St. Albans was a tactical success in the east immediately overshadowed by Edward IV’s military prodigy in the west.
As usual, a battle offers some interest scope for hypothetical scenarios. Two major scenarios suggest themselves:
- Tyrion is captured or killed? During the battle, Tyrion is getting beaten around by a Northern horseman who knows who he is and is trying to capture him. Almost by accident, Tyrion manages to gore his horse with a foot-long spike on his helmet (which is ridiculous), but doesn’t get killed when the horse falls on top of him. Granted, if Tyrion had been captured, it’s mostly likely he would have been recaptured during the Lannister advance, but if he hadn’t…well, with an extra Lannister, Robb might well have been willing to trade Tyrion for Sansa given that he’d still have Jaime in reserve. This gives Tyrion some very valuable time to compare notes with Jaime about what the business is with the dagger and Bran, and possibly springs Sansa from King’s Landing. If that doesn’t happen, or if Tyrion dies, then he’s not around to be acting Hand. Which means the duty falls to Kevan, who’s not going to be nearly inspired enough to counter Cersei or construct the boom chain. In all likelihood, King’s Landing falls, giving Robb the perfect opportunity to crush Tywin Lannister once and for all.
- Tywin’s plan succeeds? Other than just raising the body count on both sides, the only way this might change the larger macro plot is if somehow Roose Bolton is removed from command, either by Robb Stark (more on why this doesn’t happen in OTL later) or by being captured or killed on the field. While unlikely, this potentially could help the Northern war effort by preventing the disasters of Duskendale and Ruby Ford, and potentially the Red Wedding as well if cautious Lord Frey isn’t willing to take on the whole of the North by himself.
Book vs. Show:
The show massively diverges from the book at this point, eschewing the battle in favor of having Tyrion be knocked out by one of his own men and waking up after the battle. While on one level, I understand that budgetary pressures make battles very difficult and this isn’t the most important of the battles, since it’s been downgraded to a mere 2,000 men diversion against the Lannisters. However, it verges on demeaning to have Tyrion’s first moment where he realizes that he actually shares some of Jaime’s skill and love of battle be reduced to a punchline. Moreover, we lose the entirety of this political intrigue.