“Tyrion…hurled his empty cup to the floor where it shattered into a thousand pieces. “There’s your peace, Ser Harys…you’ll have an easier time drinking wine from that cup than you will convincing Robb Stark to make peace now.”
Synopsis: Tywin’s army reaches the Inn at the Crossroads after a long forced-march, only to find that Robb Stark has smashed Jaime‘s army and relieved the siege of Riverrun. After a dispirited war council, Tywin decides to march for Harrenhal and burn the southern Riverlands. For his display of political and military sense during the council, Tyrion is made acting Hand of the King and sent to secure the Lannister position at King’s Landing.
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 IX is a somewhat understated chapter, especially in comparison to the political drama of Catelyn XI or the metaphysical drama of Daenerys X. However, it’s actually packed with a lot of information about the military and political side of Five Kings. So strap in, this is going to be a long one.
War of Five Kings – Aftermath of the Battle of the Green Fork
The chapter opens in media res, but does quite a bit of back-tracking (both in terms of Tyrion’s memory, other people describing past events, etc.) The Lannisters have succeeded in force-marching down the Kingsroad and reaching their old position at the crossroads, without being harried by Roose Bolton, “the remnants of his host” being “north of us” in the area of the “Twins and Moat Cailin,” one more consequence of his decision to throw the battle of the Green Fork.
At the same time, even not being harassed by Northmen, the Lannisters took losses: “his father had set a grueling pace, and it had taken its toll. Men wounded in the battle kept up as best they could or were abandoned to fend for themselves. Every morning they left a few more by the roadside, men who went to sleep never to wake. Every afternoon a few more collapsed along the way. And every evening a few more deserted.” However, these casualties don’t seem to show up later in the narrative where Tywin’s army comes up – although I’ll keep an eye out for this in ACOK and ASOS to see if my memory has diverged from the text.
And yet, these casualties are unlikely to be minor; Tywin’s army force-marched over three hundred miles immediately after a battle, and historically force-marches can be killer. For example, during the Mexican-American War, Santa Anna engaged in two epic 240-mile force-marches (the first to attack General Taylor’s force at Buena Vista, and the second retreating from said battle) and lost 25% of his force each time. Given Santa Anna’s poor logistics and the added physical difficulty of marching through the desert, that’s probably a high proportion (Tywin wasn’t dealing with extreme hot or cold, had adequate supplies, etc.), but it’s not unlikely that 1-2,000 men (or 5-10%) were either left behind, went AWOL, or died of their wounds from the battle while on the march (at a rate of about 50-100 a day). Add onto that the fact that, even with Roose Bolton’s best efforts to throw the Battle of the Green Fork, the Lannisters took 500 casualties in the vanguard alone, it seems unlikely that Tywin Lannister’s army remained at 20,000 men. In fact, I think it’s more likely to say that Tywin’s down to about 17,000 men when he holes up in Harrenhal.
The reason for this counting exercise is that I think this might explain why Tyrion wasn’t able to call on the military forces of the Crownlands and had to rely on the Goldcloaks instead. After all, the Crownlands are a relatively small Kingdom that fields around 10,000 men, and the island Houses were backing Stannis – so perhaps 5,000 men were available period, and then you have to account for the fact that the Crownlands Houses fought for the Targaryens in Robert’s Rebellion. If I had to explain both their non-appearance and the fact that Tywin’s army bounced back from these losses, I’d say that what probably happened is that Tywin grabbed about 3,000 men to recoup his losses at the cost of King’s Landing’s defenses.
Interestingly, this cost was paid in order to reach Riverrun itself and the Lannister army there (“it had all been for nothing. The rush south, the endless forced marches, the bodies left beside the road…Robb Stark had reached Riverrun.”) – rather than either to rescue Jaime himself or to get to safety – which makes a kind of cold-blooded sense, given that Tywin’s army isn’t immediately being threatened, and that linking up with the 12,000 Lannistermen at Riverrun could potentially have allowed Tywin to overwhelm Robb Stark’s smaller force and regain the upper hand in the War of Five Kings.
The War of Five Kings – the Battle of the Camps
What made this sacrifice pointless is Robb Stark using his superior mobility to cover the 300 miles between the Twins and Riverrun far faster than Tywin could cover roughly the same distance from the battlefield of the Green Fork to the crossroads (let alone the 250 miles from the crossroads to Riverrun). Clearly, Tywin must have been hoping that Jaime’s army could hold out just long enough for him to arrive and catch Robb between the two forces, as he did more successfully with the Battle of the Blackwater. In any case, he had an overriding need to get to the crossroads quickly, lest Robb Stark steal a march on him and take the southern side of the crossing, trapping Tywin’s army between him and Roose Bolton.
Superior mobility and the use of surprise is clearly a key element of Robb Stark’s style as a commander – but the Battle of the Camps involved more than just that.
A large part of the strategy revolved around the unique geography of Riverrun: “the castle is situated at the end of the point of land where the Tumblestone flows into the Red Fork of the Trident. The rivers form two sides of the triangle, and when danger threatens, the Tullys open their sluice gates upstream to create a wide moat on the third side…to cut off all the approaches, a besieger must needs place one camp north of the Tumblestone, one south of the Red Fork, and a third between the rivers, west of the moat.” As I’ve discussed earlier, this feature of the Tully defenses allowed Robb Stark to achieve local superiority of numbers and more cohesive command-and-control against a larger force; each camp is only 4,000 men and can’t easily reinforce the others or coordinate between them. Given his upbringing in Riverrun, the Blackfish was likely the originator of this part of the strategy (in addition to his “vanishing” of the Lannister outriders), as his successful screening operation at the Whispering Woods had impressed Robb to the point of giving him an independent command (a promotion from commanding outriders).
Other elements of the battle, however, resemble Robb’s strategy from the Whispering Woods: for example, Robb could have kept his entire 11,000-strong force together and attacked each camp separately, using his numbers to overrun each unit in detail. However, as with his overall Riverlands campaign and in the Whispering Woods, Robb Stark has a preference for dividing his army to achieve a strategic effect – in this case, preventing the camps from reinforcing one another and maximizing casualties by ensuring that 2/3 of the Lannister army can’t retreat in good order. In this case, Robb likely split his army into one chunk of 5,000 and another chunk of 6,000, still maintaining numerical superiority on both sides. The result is that the Lannisters suffer 8,000 casualties – for 11,000 between his two battles.
In addition, Robb Stark seems to have a preference for staggered attacks – both here and at the Whispering Woods, Robb Stark frequently has one division of his army attack before the other, in order to direct his enemy’s attention and fix their formations in place, so that his second division can land with greater effect. In a sense, we can think of this as Robb Stark generalizing the “refuse” – a cavalry tactic in which a squadron separates into two lines, the first of which collides with the enemy line and disrupts their formation so that the second line can scatter them definitively – from the squadron level to the battlefield level, a sign of his training as a heavy cavalryman.
This is a riskier strategy – as we see on the western camp, Robb’s larger force of Stark, Mallister, and Umber men didn’t quite have the ability to overwhelm the western camp once it had gotten a shield wall together, which was an easier task for the Lannisters there because unlike on the north bank, they could anchor their flanks against both the Tumblestones and the Red Fork. But, as we’ve seen before and since, part of Robb Stark’s style as a commander is to put himself in the thick of the action and thus build a legend for himself among his men and his enemies. And while BryndenBFish correctly notes the advantage of a battlefield commander staying back to retain command-and-control, what I think he fails to mention is that it is also a truism of medieval warfare that personal charisma matters – just as only Edward IV in person could have guaranteed the critical seizure of a crossing of the River Aire or kept the center of his army solid under pressure on Towton field, Robb Stark’s presence inspires his men to improbable feats and demoralizes his enemies in a unique way, creating victories which otherwise wouldn’t exist. After all, how many other generals have a direwolf at their side?
Taken together with the Whispering Woods and the Green Fork, I have argued that Robb Stark’s actions as a whole represent a nearly flawless strategic campaign: in three battles, Robb Stark has moved from a strategic position of being isolated from his main ally to being united with his ally; from facing two armies, one of which can move against him while the other is free to act, to now having two armies operating against Tywin’s one; from being isolated at the Neck to placing himself in the heart of the Riverlands; and in reducing the Lannisters’ forces from 35,000 under arms to around 18,000 in the field (a 31.4% reduction in effective fighting strength), and 4,000 bottled up in the Golden Tooth, with 10,000 raw recruits in the Westerlands who can be called up in time. The Starks and Tullys together now outnumber Tywin Lannister by about 2:1.
Robb Stark now has Jaime Lannister, a numerical and positional advantage over Tywin Lannister, the forces of the Riverlands by his side – and victory under his original war aims under his grasp. Unfortunately thanks to Joffrey Lannister and some other unforeseeable forces, things won’t work out that easily – but for his debut campaign, I think Robb Stark deserves more credit than he gets.
The War of Five Kings: the Lannisters’ Strategic Situation
To understand Tywin Lannister’s thinking in this moment, I cannot recommend BryndenBFish’s analysis highly enough. Here, I intend merely to add on to his work. As the Lannister council of war gathers at the Inn at the Crossroads, the situation cannot be bleaker. As Ser Kevan helpfully sums up for us:
“Jaime has left us in a bad way. Roose Bolton…[is] north of us. Our enemies hold the Twins and Moat Cailin. Robb Stark sits to the west, so we cannot retreat to Lannisport and the Rock unless we choose to give battle. Jaime is taken, and his army for all purposes has ceased to exist. Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion continue to plague our foraging parties. To our east we have the Arryns, Stannis Baratheons sits on Dragonstone, and in the south Highgarden and Storm’s End are calling their banners…Robb Stark will have Edmure Tully and the lords of the Trident with him now. Their combined power may exceed our own. And with Roose Bolton behind us….Tywin, if we remain here, I fear we might be caught between three armies.”
This situation presents Tywin with a number of problems. Geographically, Tywin is surrounded from north, east, west, and potentially to the south and is in genuine danger of being encircled – even if he breaks out of his current location, he’s still in danger of losing the west, facing a battle while outnumbered, or losing King’s Landing. Moreover, the shock of sudden and overwhelming defeat (on top of a grueling series of maneuvers) after an unbroken series of victories has divided his bannermen between those like Ser Harys Swyft, who argues that “we must sue for peace,” and Ser Addam Marbrand, who recommends “we should march on them at once.”
Neither man is offering good advice, but both men have a kernel of a point. Swyft points to the genuine long-term problems facing the Lannisters in their present position: “the Starks and the Tully sit squarely across our line of supply. We are cut off from the west! They can march on Casterly Rock if they so choose, and what’s to stop them?” Previously, commenters have pointed out that medieval and early modern armies lacked the logistical capacity to maintain supply lines for any great distance, let alone the 890 miles between Lannisport and the Inn at the Crossroads. Supply lines require quite a bit of organization – on the dispatch side, you need someone to requisition, warehouse, and send out the right amount and composition of supplies, you need to organize convoys with military escorts, food for the teamsters, guards, and animals, spare draft animals and axles and wheels, you need someone really good at organization on the receiving end to make sure goods are properly stored and distributed and that good records are kept so that you know what you need and where and when you need it. Now, part of this is GRRM’s numbers problem kicking in again – Westeros is just too big for a medieval setting.
However, at a certain point you have to let this kind of caviling aside and accept that, in this world that George R.R Martin has created, supply lines as a major concern for the Lannister army. After all, given that they’ve been burning a large swathe of it and intend to accelerate that program, there’s a limit to how long 18,000 men can feed themselves off the southern half of the Riverlands, and there’s not much help they can get from the Crownlands which have to help feed a capitol city of 500,000 people. If the War of Five Kings had more resembled the siege-intensive warfare of the early Middle Ages rather than the battle-intensive late Middle Ages Wars of the Roses, it’s quite possible that Tywin Lannister could have been penned in to Harrenhal until he starved to death.
However, the flip side of this is political (and here I think I have something to add) – Tywin’s army at the Crossroads is not a modern professional military, they are a feudal army that serves a liege lord for a certain space of time, and does so through a bilateral system of exchange of political influence ultimately depending on the ability of the lord to protect his vassals. As Robb Stark will learn to his sorrow in ASOS, “how can I call myself ‘King’ if I can’t hold my own castle?” As I’ve argued elsewhere, the same applies to Tywin. If their holdfasts are threatened and Tywin can’t protect them, then the lesser Houses of the Westerlands have no reason to stick around; if Tywin can’t protect himself, then the political regime he built on the fear generated by the “Rains of Castamere” will collapse, and his army will dissolve.
On the other hand, Addam Marbrand has a point – two battles aren’t a war and the Lannisters have strategic resources they can count on – even if his initial advice to rush headlong at Robb Stark’s larger army with Roose Bolton in a position to cut off the Lannisters from behind is deeply stupid. As even Ser Swyft notes, the Lannisters have reserves: “Surely our friends at court could be prevailed upon to join us with fresh troops…and someone might return to Casterly Rock to raise a new host.” While it’s a bit odd that Ser Forley Prester marched west to the Golden Tooth (which must have involved crossing the Red Fork) as opposed to east to Harrenhal (which wouldn’t), the reality is that the Lannisters can usually hold the mountain passes and can raise another 10,000 men, which balances the numerical odds and puts the Starks in a nasty position with Lannister armies to both their west and eastern flanks.
War of Five Kings – the Political Situation
The political situation isn’t much better than the military one – at a fundamental level, the Lannisters in the field and the Lannisters in King’s Landing are not working as a cohesive unit. Joffrey “broke [peace] when he decided to ornament the Red Keep with Lord Eddard’s head,” which means they can’t “forge a peace with Winterfell and Riverrun, a peace that would have given us the time we need to deal with Robert’s brothers.” (It’s interesting to note that Tywin was willing to deal on the terms that Robb Stark hoped to achieve by capturing Jaime, which was far more than even Cersei was contemplating) At the same time, the Lannisters face an existential threat from the south: “Renly Baratheon wed Margaery Tyrell at Highgarden…and now he has claimed the crown.” What’s interesting is that while Tywin clearly sees this as dangerous, he doesn’t react to it as such – he doesn’t march for King’s Landing, and insists that “we must finish our business with young Lord Stark before Renly Baratheon can march from Highgarden,” suggesting that Tywin isn’t shifting his thinking as much as he ought to.
Interestingly, Stannis plays an ambivalent role in Tywin’s political calculations. On the one hand, Tywin states that “I have felt from the beginning that Stannis was a greater danger than all the others combined.” On the other, he notes that “yet he does nothing. Oh, Varys hears his whispers…what does it mean, is any of it true?” In the end, Stannis is essentially shrugged off. In hindsight, this suggests that Stannis might have missed his window of opportunity – had he declared himself as King two weeks before now and sailed immediately, he’d have had a 2.5 to 1 advantage, hit King’s Landing before siege preparations were completed, and undercut his brother politically. Then again, Tywin’s dismissal turns out to be incorrect later when Stannis picks up 20,000 men at Storm’s End.
Meanwhile, neither Cersei nor Joffrey are thinking straight down in King’s Landing, and threaten to collapse their northern front in order to shore up their southern. Tywin’s political diagnosis is scathing: “I blame those jackanapes on the small council – our friend Petyr, the venerable Grand Maester, and that cockless wonder Lord Varys. What sort of counsel are they giving Joffrey…whose notion was it to make this Janos Slynt a lord?…dismissing Selmy, where was the sense in that?”
So overall, it’s a mixed picture – Tywin accurately pinpoints their political problems in King’s Landing, but seems to have fallen into a bit of a sunk cost fallacy when it comes to his Stark-first strategy.
War of Five Kings – Tywin’s New Plan
Tywin reacts to his setback in a decisive fashion – “I have no intention of remaining here…on the morrow we make for Harrenhal…I want Ser Addam’s outriders to screen our movements…unleash Ser Gregor and send him before us with his reavers….each is to have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the Riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.” It’s a defensive move, but it’s quite clever – Tywin can hold Harrenhal until the Westerlands raise a fresh army, and as BryndenBFish notes, chevauchées in the Riverlands and separate Lannister armies worked quite well for him in the past, and make sense now. Burning the southern Riverlands unleashes the same political threat against Robb Stark that a march on the West poses to himself – Houses Darry, Blackwood, Bracken, Smallwood, Lychester, and the other lords of the hills cannot afford to let their holdfasts burn. 10,000 men in the Westerlands can link up with 4,000 men at the Golden Tooth and House Lannister is back to fighting weight.
It doesn’t quite work out, but it’s a decent plan. However, and I want to point this out to some people who’ve fallen for Tywin’s self-serving justifications for the Red Wedding, it’s also a military strategy predicated on premeditated war crimes. Tywin sits in council listening to Ser Gregor Clegane’s talk about motivating outriders by cutting out people’s eyes in an escalating cumulative fashion (someone went to the Duke of Cornwall school of human resources management), and decides he’s going to give this psychopath 300 men and a mandate to murder civilians and destroy everything in his path – and just to add put a fine point on it, he throws in the maimer on Hoat and professional baby-stabber Ser Amory Lorch and give them 300 men each.
And then he gives Tyrion a mandate to rule in King’s Landing – more on that in A Clash of Kings!
As we’ve seen before, one of the reasons why the Wars of the Roses lasted for more than thirty years is that very rarely did anyone ever get completely defeated. More likely, the nobles would scatter, flee the country, regroup with a new army, and try again – which is probably why people shifted from taking prisoners and asking for ransoms to killing nobles on sight, because allowing that chivalrous tradition to continue meant war without end.
After Edward IV’s crushing victory at Towton, Margaret D’Anjou didn’t give in for a minute. Rather, she packed herself and the royal family and 6,000 Lancastrian soldiers up to Scotland, which meant that Edward IV had to contend with a crowned King in exile complete with a male heir to the throne, and a queen who had built an alliance with James the III, King of Scotland – even if that meant ceding English territory in the North and Prince Edward’s hand in marriage to James’ sister Mary Stewart. In June 1461, the same month that Edward IV’s formal coronation in London, Margaret invaded England and laid siege to Carlisle, but was driven back by the Yorkist lord Montague (Warwick’s brother); having failed there, she pressed on south for Durham, where Warwick, now the Warden of the East and West Marches, stopped them from crossing the River Tyne and held the North for York. In 1464, the North rose again for Lancaster under the Duke of Somerset, who was then defeated by Montague at Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. A year later, Henry VI was recaptured by Warwick and Edward IV reached a treaty with James of Scotland that forced Margaret to flee for France.
However, by 1468, when the last Lancastrian holdout in Wales had finally been defeated, Warwick had broken with Edward IV and the whole damn thing would start over again.
There really isn’t a hypothetical I can see here – there’s no way Tywin’s army marches faster than Robb can ride, and I really can’t see Tywin blundering west or south.
Check back next chapter!
Book vs. Show:
The show did this scene rather well, although my same complaints about the collapse of any kind of geographic sense in Season 2 holds for the Lannisters as much as it does for the Starks. While Season 1 leaves us with a clear scenario – Tywin’s marching to Harrenhal, the Mountain is burning stuff, there’s no explanation of the army gathering in the Westerlands that would give Robb’s victory in Season 2, Episode 4 some geographic and strategic meaning.
Another big change from the book to the show is how Tyrion reacts when Tywin makes him acting Hand of the King and tells him he was chosen because “you are my son.” In the show, this is a moment of profound importance for Tyrion, where he’s finally been given some respect by his father and he’s notably moved by it. In the book, Tyrion is instantly outraged, believing that Tywin has given up on Jaime and turned to Tyrion only when he had no options left.
I think both versions work.