Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis; Catelyn XI

“Catelyn watched them rise and draw their blades, bending their knees and shouting the old words that had not been heard in the realm for more than three hundred years…

“The King in the North!”
“The King in the North!”

Synopsis: Catelyn Stark is reunited with her father Hoster Tully for the first time in fifteen years. Afterwards, she joins her son Robb for a contentious council of war and peace, before the Greatjon provides a solution.

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:

Oh….how I have been waiting for this chapter, savoring it like a treat you keep for a special occasion and save the leftovers of to enjoy later. It’s one of my absolute favorites in the books, and possibly the political turning point of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s also a tremendously complicated chapter that is frequently misunderstood. So let’s get into it.

(Note: I had planned to discuss Catelyn and guilt, Hoster Tully’s illness, and the way in which family shapes the rise and fall of House Tully, but this essay is already running over-time and I might as well save that discussion for later Catelyn chapters.)

War of Five Kings: Phase Two

If for House Lannister, the end of the first phase of the War of Five Kings saw them surrounded by enemies and with few good options, House Stark is faced with a bewildering array of options of contenders to ally with or locations to attack – but it can only choose once, it has a limited amount of resources to distribute between fronts, and the stakes of all of its choices are incredibly high. And yet, people who argue the Starks were doomed from the start (or that there was a clear, easy option to win the war) are dead wrong, and using the worst kind of presentist, over-determined logic.

One thing that is frequently forgotten, and which I have gone to pains to emphasize, is the delicate balance of feudal politics. As Catelyn observes of the council of war, “each lord had a right to speak, and speak they did…and bargain…and threaten…and walk out.” Robb Stark does not have an absolute claim on the loyalties of his subordinates; even when he becomes King in the North, his subjects’ duty to him is embedded in a reciprocal system of obligations that requires him to look after the interests of his followers, lest they cease to follow him. His victory at the Whispering Woods and the Camps have ironically increased the difficulty of this endeavor by adding the Riverlords into the mix: “Edmure sat in the high seat of the Tullys…word of the victory at Riverrun had spread to the fugitive lords of the Trident, drawing them back…Karl Vance came in, a lord now…Ser Marq Piper was with them, and they brought a Darry…Lord Jonos Bracken arrived from the ruins of Stone Hedge…and took a seat as far away from Tytos Blackwood.” For Robb just to keep his army functioning at around 40,000 men, he must balance their interests with the interests of the “Northern lords [who] sat opposite…the Greatjon sat at Robb’s left hand…Galbart Glover and Lady Mormont were to the right of Catelyn…Lord Rickard Karstark…took his seat hike a man in a nightmare.” And on both political and military tracks, these lords have profoundly different interests at stake and ideas about how accomplish their aims.

War of Five Kings: The Starks’ Political Options

It’s appropriate that the beginning of the political conversation starts with the news that “Renly Baratheon has claimed his brother’s crown,” because of how thoroughly this scrambles the larger question. On the one hand, the Starks cannot bend the knee to Joffrey because of his murder of Eddard, but “that makes him evil…I do not know that makes Renly king. Joffrey is still Robert’s eldest trueborn son, so the throne is rightfully his by all the laws of the realm. Were he to die, and I mean to see that he does, he has a younger brother…but if Joffrey is the lawful king and we fight against him, we will be traitors.” Without the truth Eddard died for, the Starks are rebels without a candidate to place on the Iron Throne, and in order to make a political settlement that allows them to stop being rebels as was the case during Robert’s Rebellion, they have to have one.

The difficulty is that Renly “is crowned…Highgarden and Storm’s End support his claim…if Winterfell and Riverrun add their strength to his, he will have five of the seven great houses behind him.” The short-term political logic (advocated for by Lord Bracken and Ser Marq Piper, take note) points to Renly over Joffrey – but the long-term logic of Renly’s crowning is deeply destabilizing, as Lady Mormont implicitly notes. As Robb notes, “if their one is king, still, how could it be lord Renly? He’s Robert’s younger brother. Bran can’t be Lord of Winterfell before me, and Renly can’t be king before Stannis.” As I have argued in longer form over at Tower of the Hand, Renly’s attack on the principle of primogeniture is deeply destabilizing – he has the most troops now, but there’s no guarantee that his son, or his grandson, or his great-grandson would, turning every single turnover of the crown into a civil war since under Renly armed strength would be the only legitimating force. And as Robb’s example of Winterfell shows (and indeed as we see born out among the Freys later on), the same principle holds true for all lesser lordships – if a younger son can preempt an older son, then every lordship in Westeros is under the same threat.

Moreover, the existence of Stannis again complicates the situation. He’s got “the better claim,” and thus doesn’t threaten to destabilize the entire sociopolitical structure of Westeros, but “the right” has no bannermen to answer its call. At the same time, declaring for Renly makes an enemy of Stannis as well as Joffrey and the size of Stannis’ army could change quickly; declaring for Stannis means making an enemy of Renly – there’s no single candidate for a coalition to form around as there was in Robert’s Rebellion.

Even the seemingly safe path offered by Ser Stevron Frey has its dangers: “wait, let these two kings play their game of thrones. When they are done fighting, we can bend our knees to the victor, or oppose him as we choose.” The downside of this is that not all these options are equal and peace and a political settlement is still not guaranteed: Joffrey has declared all of the people at this table to be traitors and rebels, and if he wins they may not get a chance to bend the knee. Renly might allow for a political settlement after the fact, or he could choose to steamroll over them so that the Tyrells could expand their lands to the North. If Stannis wins, he’s unlikely to let bygones be bygones…and any winner, while certainly weakened by fighting for the Iron Throne, would by virtue of being King have most of the Seven Kingdoms to call on to subdue the rebels while the Starks and Tullys stand isolated.

Above all, the problem is uncertainty – no one knows who’s going to be on top at the end of the war, and picking the winner can be the difference between prosperity and destruction for a noble House.

War of Five Kings: The Starks’ Military Options

The Starks’ military position is equally as complicated as their political situation – as you can see below, the Starks have local superiority of numbers, but just barely and their forces are divided by rivers, and they face enemies to their southwest and southeast (and for the sake of clarity I’m leaving out the Ironborn for the moment). Despite Robb Stark’s manifest successes in his Riverlands campaign, he faces an eerily similar situation to how he started: two Stark/Tully armies facing two Lannister armies in two different places. And now he has the added wrinkle of the  immense defensive multiplier provided by the fortress of Harrenhal.


The  council of war is split between mutually-exclusive courses of action. “Many of the lords bannermen wanted to march on Harrenhal at once, to meet Lord Tywin and end Lannister power for all time. Young, hot-tempered Marq Piper urged a strike west at Casterly Rock. Still others counseled patience. Riverrun sat athwart the Lannister supply lines…let them bide their time, denying Lord Tywin fresh levies and provisions while they strengthened their defenses and rested their weary troops…[or] march to Harrenhal and bring Roose Bolton’s army down as well…[or] move south to join their might to [Renly].” All of these options have their advantages and disadvantages:

  • Harrenhal – the advantage of attacking Harrenhal is that it takes out the largest enemy army facing them, and fully liberates the Riverlands, whereas other strategies will leave the southern Riverlands at the mercy of Lord Tywin (I would guess that the “many of the lords bannermen” in favor, in addition to Tyros Blackwood, are heavily weighted in the southern Riverlands). Moreover, with Tywin taken out, the political unity of House Lannister collapses for generations, and King’s Landing will likely fall without the Starks having to intervene. At the same time, attacking Harrenhal with only a 2-1 advantage is an extremely risky option that’s quite likely to end in failure…and if the initial assault fails, they run the risk of a new Lannister army of 14,000 descending on their undefended rear and catching them against the walls.
  • Casterly Rock – ultimately the choice that Robb Stark goes with, attacking the Westerlands has a number of advantages. It removes the threat of a 14,000-man army appearing on the Stark/Tully western flank at the same time that Tywin menaces their eastern flank, keeping their most dangerous enemy at a 1:2 disadvantage. Moreover, as we’ll see, threatening the West is the only thing other than moving on King’s Landing itself (interestingly an option no one mentions; I could easily imagine Robb swinging down between Tywin and King’s Landing) that would actually lure out Tywin from the defenses of Harrenhal. And with the Casterly Rock army, rather than having King’s Landing at their back, now Tywin is the one surrounded by his enemies.
  • Wait – Jason Mallister, a lord of the northern Riverlands whose lands are protected by all three forks of the Trident, urges waiting and building up their own forces, while (implicitly) holding Harrenhal in a loose siege to prevent it from reinforcing or resupplying itself. This isn’t a bad idea – taking estimates from the Roman legions, an army of 18-20,000 men eat 40 tonnes of food a month, so it’s quite possible to starve out an army of that size over time. Indeed, the difficulty of feeding so many men in one place is one of the reasons why medieval castle garrisons tended to range from 30-40 men to around 200 (which is yet another reason why Harren the Black’s great architectural achievement is a white elephant). On the other hand, this leaves the southern Riverlands exposed to Tywin’s raiders, and runs the risk that a new Lannister army of 14,000 will be raised and trained
  • South – realistically, this is more of a political strategy than a military one. Moving Robb Stark’s army down to Highgarden or Bitterbridge (even leaving Roose Bolton’s 10-12,000 in place to keep watch on the Riverlands), leaves the Riverlands completely open. While a Stark/Tyrell/Baratheon host of 120-130,000 would no doubt crush everything in its wake, the amount of damage Tywin could do in the meantime is terrifying to think of. More on this in the “What If?” section.

The Question of Peace

At this point, Catelyn Stark stands up and makes an eloquent plea for peace:

“Why not a peace?…[Ned] is gone, and Daryn Hornwood, and Lord Karstark’s valiant son, and many other good men besides, and none of them will return to us. Must we have more deaths still?…I understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner…we fought to defend ourselves, and to win my lord’s freedom. Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our reach…I want my daughters back…if I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods.”

For many fans of Catelyn Stark, this is a crucial moment, where a woman takes a clear-sighted stand against war in the face of short-sighted, misogynistic, macho militarism, and also a moment in which George R.R. Martin’s anti-war sentiments are made plain. Unfortunately, it’s also seen as a moment where StupidRobb dooms himself, his family, and the North with his hot-headed pursuit of vengeance – and I think that misses the point.

Instead, I think this is a case in which George R.R Martin has constructed an unavoidable tragedy in which, however good in principle and hindsight peace might be, it was entirely impossible in the moment. And we can see this in some of the shortcomings of Catelyn Stark’s arguments. In her speech, Catelyn Stark defines the terms of war and peace in such personal terms – the liberation of Ned Stark and the return of her daughters – that her appeal doesn’t reach very far outside her family. After all, the Riverlands did not fight to free Ned Stark and don’t care if Catelyn’s daughters are ransomed, and contrary to her argument that “the one is done,” the Riverlands are still being ravaged by Tywin Lannister’s marauders and there are 20,000 Lannistermen entrenched in Harrenhal, the historical seat of power.

If peace is going to come, it’s going to take a far greater settlement than the return of the two Stark daughters and a truce of uncertain duration. As Brynden Tully points out, “peace is sweet…but on what terms? It is no good hammering your sword into a plowshare if you must forge it again on the morrow.” While Catelyn can “go home…and weep for my husband,” while watching “Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat…live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son,” the Riverlands cannot. At the end of the day, they’re still sitting between the Westerlands and the Crownlands and with nothing but Tywin Lannister’s word to protect them should the Starks accept a truce and march home. As Jonos Bracken points out,  “Gregor Clegane laid waste to my fields, slaughtered my smallfolk, and left Stone Hedge a smoking ruin. Am I now to bend the knee to the ones who sent him?”

Moreover, the same political uncertainties that have bedeviled this council of war also hold in peace. As Tytos Blackwood correctly points out, “if we do make peace with King Joffrey, are we not then traitors to King Renly? What if the stag should prevail against the lion, where would that leave us?” While we know from hindsight that Renly is going to be murdered and Stannis defeated, the lords of the North and the Riverlands don’t have that knowledge, and at the time, it was much more likely that either Renly or Stannis would triumph over the Lannisters than the opposite. Even making peace could threaten war, with the Riverlands once again bearing the brunt of the fallout from House Stark’s political choices.

Ultimately, I think there is right on both sides: in the argument that further slaughter when the North’s initial war aims were concluded would be pointless, but also the argument that from this position there really wasn’t a way to go backwards without concluding that the sons of the North and the Riverlands had died for nothing. And if there is one thing that Catelyn Stark’s fellow grieving parents demand, the one war aim that unites Brackens and Karstarks, it’s that the deaths of their sons have some meaning, so that some order is retrieved from chaos. It is absolutely an irrational desire, but also an inescapably human desire.

The Question of Independence

Amid all of this fractious debate, it’s ironically the Greatjon who comes up with a political solution to their common dilemma:

“Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too…why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again?”

However, it should be noted that this is entirely an argument about Northern independence, based on Northern historical, cultural, and religious differences from the South (after all, outside the Blackwoods, “their gods” applies to the Riverlords as much as it does to the Baratheons or the Lannisters). And it’s made possible by Northern geographic distance from the rest of Westeros. And notably, it’s the Northern lords who rise to second Greatjon Umber’s motion and make their pledge of fealty to King Robb, First of His Name. This is a political objective that has deep historical roots that Northern houses can respect, that gives Lord Karstark and all the other grievers out there a larger meaning to their loss.

And once it’s done, the Riverlords have little choice in the matter. Half of the army just declared independence, and unless they swear fealty to Robb Stark and become his vassals with a claim to his protection, then they’re going to be left to fend for themselves, still living next door to the “red castle and [the] iron chair.” Without allies, eventually the Riverlands will fall to either the Lannisters or the Baratheons or the Tyrells or the Greyjoys, as they did before the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror.

Robb cannot refuse this offer. I want to emphasize this, because I feel far too many of his critics fail to recognize this. As the liege lord of the North, he owes protection to his vassals – as they have just made themselves rebels to every claimant in the field, turning them down flat is tantamount to saying that he views them as rebels and won’t protect them from whichever King is king, which would forfeit their military support for him in the field. Likewise, turning down the freely-offered fealty of the Riverlords means turning down the 11-20,000 men they command in the field, which means trying to fight a war for independence against the rest of Westeros with only the North’s manpower.

Moreover, and this is the point that I think gets overlooked far too often: assuming that independence will fail is completely presentist. Save for the last three hundred years out of a history 8,000 years long, the North has been an independent kingdom; even after the arrival of the dragons, Dorne maintained its independence against an otherwise-united Westeros for a hundred and fifty years. Given the political divisions of the War of Five Kings preventing the united power of Westeros being sent against them, the North had a good shot at establishing its independence, and as I’ll explain in my discussion on ACOK and ASOS, it took a very specific set of dominos falling for Robb Stark to be defeated. Even then, the North is rising up against their Lannister-allied overlords and has a good chance of overthrowing the Iron Throne for a second time.

Moreover, it’s also historically common for an independent Westerosi kingdom to hold the Riverlands in addition to its home territory: the Stormlands held the Riverlands for three hundred years before losing them to the Ironborn (which probably in turn helps to explain how the Stormlands avoided being conquered by the Reach), who in turn held them for three generations as part of the Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers. As much as the southern Riverlands (or the Hills as they might also be described) represent a potential quagmire, holding the Trident offers a number of potential advantages: it controls the Kingsroad approach to the North, preventing any approach on Moat Cailin; it’s much more fertile than the North, so there’s a possibility for a productive grain-for-wool trade; the 20,000 men of the Riverlands (and the Riverlands potentially could raise more if it was better governed) would be invaluable in keeping an independent kingdom at fighting weight against the Lannisters; having a base near King’s Landing is strategically important in terms of forestalling any attempt to reunite the Seven Kingdoms.

Historical Analysis:

A good example of the possibilities of an independent Kingdom in the North comes from the history of Scottish independence. While in its orientation to the Wall and the wildlings and House Stark’s similarities to the House of York, the North resembles the North of England, with its great capitol city of York standing in for Winterfell, in its history of self-rule the North bears a strong political resemblance to medieval Scotland, which managed to keep itself independent of a much larger and richer neighbor for several hundreds of years.

To begin with, we have to recognize that the history of Scottish independence is far more nuanced than the stark romantic and nationalist lines that are drawn in the public memory. To begin with, there’s the complicated reality that many medieval Scottish lords held lands in both England and Scotland and married back and forth: Robert the Bruce was the Lord of Annandale and the Earl of Carrick, but his family also had land in both Yorkshire and Normandy and could trace his lineage back to Henry I of England; the Stewarts who would succeed from the Bruces were originally Bretons; and from 1113 on, the Kings of Scotland were also held the English title of Earl of Huntington, and frequently claimed the Earldom of Northumbria (and if they could get their hands on it as was attempted by King David I during “the anarchy”, Westmorland and Cumberland as well). Just as holding the title of Duke of Normandy made the Kings of England both technically vassals and realistically independent monarchs, the Kings of Scotland in the 12th and 13th centuries occupied both positions vis-a-vis their English landholdings.

Moreover, the Wars of Independence that lasted from 1296 to 1357 were a dizzyingly complex affair that could equally be described as a civil war between two rival claimants, the Bruces and the Balliols, both of whom at various times were either allies of or enemies of the English and who both held lands in both England and Scotland. King John Balliol usually gets labelled as a quisling of King Edward I of England (the so-called “Hammer of the Scots”) in large part because he had the bad luck to be in charge when Edward I invaded Scotland (with the Bruces’ support), but he was also the originator of the “Auld Alliance” with France that gave Scotland a continental European ally and became a mainstay of Scottish politics from 1295-1560 (more on this topic later). Likewise, while Robert the Bruce is seen as a nationalist hero striving against lapdogs of the English, he flipped sides repeatedly especially between 1302 and 1306, and many of his enemies were the clans Comyn and MacDougall who fought Robert the Bruce because he’d murdered Jon Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch and Lochabe and a potential rival for the throne, or the Balliols whose throne the Bruce had usurped.

However, the point has to be granted that despite coming up against some of the strongest warrior Kings of England, both Edward I the Hammer of the Scots, and Edward III of  Crécy and Poitiers, Scotland proved itself impossible to govern from England. Despite the failure of the Bruces’ dynasty and ongoing challenges from the Balliols, the Stewart dynasty of Scotland ruled an independent nation from 1371 through to 1603. Even after the “Union of the Crown” with the accession of James of Scotland to the throne of England, Scotland remained an independent and frequently decisive force in British politics throughout the “Wars of the Three Kingdoms” of the 17th century through to the Act of Union in 1707.

At least from the historical evidence, Northern independence over the long term is absolutely possible.

 What If?

This chapter is absolutely chock-full with hypothetical scenarios, so let’s dive straight into them:

  • Robb declares for Stannis? Let’s say Robb declares for Stannis, then gets the letter and Catelyn and he connect the dots about Bran and Eddard and Jon Arryn. Well, this gives the North and the Riverlands (and potentially the Vale) a pretty good cause to fight for – Eddard Stark and Jon Arryn were murdered trying to defend the lawful succession to the Iron Throne. Militarily, Stannis probably sets sail for Saltpans or Lord Harroway’s Town to link up with the Starks and Lannisters. With a combined total of 45,000, they could either take out Harrenhal right there before marching on King’s Landing, or split the army 20,000 to 25,000 to keep Harrenhal under siege while they march on King’s Landing, while Stannis’ navy blockades the Bay. Approaching from the North completely obviates the wildfire strategy, and the city likely falls. And then things get complicated as Renly finally shows up with an army at least twice their size and two of the Seven Kingdoms stares down another two (unless Melisandre has Renly killed anyway).
  • Robb announces for Renly? This is why the “Robb should have declared for Renly” theory has problems. Let’s say Robb announces for Renly: on a political level, Robb gets some political favors but not much – he’s got two Kingdoms behind him, but Renly already has two that brings far more troops to the table. And then Renly dies…so where does Robb go from there? He can’t go back to the Lannisters, which means he probably has to side with a grudge-keeping Stannis, and is now locked into the wrong side of a 60,000 vs. 80,000 match-up. Robb Stark probably could protect Stannis’ flank and rear long enough for King’s Landing to fall, but not without heavy casualties and for an uncertain reward. He might be able to ally with the Tyrells himself if he breaks his word with the Freys, but it’s unlikely as a Lord Paramount can’t offer the same long-term political status that a royal marriage can, and even then (as I’ll discuss more in ACOK), it’s not as much of a slam-dunk as it appears.
  • Robb sues for peace? Here’s where the hidden costs, as it were, of Catelyn’s proposal kick in: let’s say Robb Stark sues for peace to get his sisters back…and then finds out the Lannisters lost Arya. Either peace gets derailed and we’re back to square one, or he makes the trade and his political position among his own men gets badly weakened. Now it’s possible that Robb can return North before the Ironborn invasion starts – I highly doubt he can get back in time to forestall it – but now he’s facing an invasion with a divided base of supporters who’ve lost respect for his leadership. The Hornwood conflict is going to kick off while Robb’s busy fighting Ironborn minus the 11-20,000 Riverlanders, and now Roose Bolton mightvery well repeat his ancestors’ rebellion, with support from the Karstarks taking the place of the Greystarks. And then he’s going to have to deal with the huge disruption of the wildlings and the threat beyond…all the while as Tywin prepares for an eventual invasion (remember, he only makes peace after he’s beaten people to their knees).
  • The bigger problem is the Riverlands, which have now been thoroughly ravaged by the Lannisters and left out to dry by the Starks; while the Starks can at least for the moment forestall a Lannister invasion by fortifying Moat Cailin, the Riverlands have no such protection, the Westerlands to their west and the Crownlands to their east, and only the word of Tywin Lannister that they aren’t going to be ground into the mud. Catelyn’s father, brother, and uncle will pay the price for their loyalty to their kin.
  • Robb waits? On a surface level, Ser Stevron’s recommendation looks like good realpolitik: wait out the fighting, and deal with whoever’s left when they’re tired out from fighting. The problem is that there’s no guarantee that fighting necessarily saps the strength of your enemies: if everything apart from the Riverlands stayed the same as in OTL, then Renly would die and Stannis would be beaten at the Blackwater, and Robb Stark would now face a combined Tyrell/Lannister host of as much as 134,000, on top of a likely Greyjoy Rebellion. Except that in this scenario, Robb, the North, and the Riverlands have no political out – because he’s conceded that he is by rights the vassal of whoever the King on the Iron Throne is.

Book vs. Show:

This is one scene where I feel like the show got the heart right but the head wrong – in the show, this sets up the audience to believe in Robb Stark as the symbol of justice for the Starks which is absolutely necessary for the Red Wedding to have the impact it needs to, it foregrounds Robb and Theon’s relationship in order to set up Theon’s betrayal, and it gives a nice, rousing wrap-up to the Stark storyline for Season 1.

However, I think it makes two major errors of omission. Firstly, it completely leaves out the Riverlords, with the exception of a virtually unrecognizable (and unnamed) Jonos Bracken – which as I’ve pointed out, completely obscures the political context for the rest of the War of Five Kings, in that Robb Stark is now politically committed to the defense of the Riverlands and that half of his army is now made up of Riverlanders. While I understand that Edmure and Brynden Tully hadn’t been cast yet, there’s no reason they couldn’t have used a few of the extras in that scene, mentioned who they were, and stated that in thanks for their liberation, the Riverlands pledge their fealty to Robb Stark. It renders a major part of Robb Stark’s plotline for the next two seasons geographically and politically unintelligible.

The second and equally serious omission, is that they leave out Catelyn Stark’s plea for peace. The first warning sign that the show was starting to mishandle her character, this speech is vital for setting out that Catelyn and Robb have different interests, that Catelyn is more than a side character in her son’s story, setting up her freeing Jaime Lannister at the end of Season 2 and their contentious relationship in Season 3. It’s so unnecessary – the speech would take up less than a minute, it doesn’t distract from building up Robb Stark as he has to be built up, and the audience is absolutely capable of dealing with this level of nuance.

Unfortunately, it’s (mostly, but not all) downhill from here as far as the show goes.


181 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis; Catelyn XI

  1. Sean C. says:

    The show had already had this point had Catelyn say that they would “kill them all”, so the plea for peace was kind of out based on that (because revenge is badass and kewl). I expect that the coming seasons will merge Ellaria with a lot of the functions of the Sand Snakes, resulting in the omission of her plea for peace as well.

    • Roger says:

      I think it’s a pity there isn’t anybody defending peace in AGOT

    • JT says:

      Hopefully Ellaria does her plea for peace (I assume it would be next season), because I think it’s a really good bookend to what people consider Oberyn’s badass-ness (really a combination of recklessness and revenge seeking) that not only gets him killed, but almost plunges Dorne into a war that Dorne has no chance of winning outright as Doran astutely points out.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the show cut the Sand Snakes altogether. I can only speak for myself here, but I would be perfectly fine with that. I find the Sand Snakes to be the most cliched part of the entire series – here’s this badass guy who has all these daughters and each one is badass in a different way. One is strong and armed to the teeth, another one is a seductress, a third is dressed like a man and infiltrating the Citadel, and there’s a forth who’s young but is already called “Lady Lance”. Real Star Wars level writing there if you ask me, especially if you consider their overall nom de guerre ;).

    • flavioxf says:

      I know it’s more than a year later, but how right you were. Incredible

  2. Roger says:

    Well, you made a real good analysis and landed real good points!

    I wonder if at that moment Stannis had already send his crows denouncing Jeoffrey’s bastardy. If a crow had reached Robb before that moment, things could have changed.

    Accepting the crown was perhaps a necessity to keep some Northerners happy (Karstarks and Umbers) but proved a bad decision at long terms. The Lannisters won’t renounce to half Westeros, and Stannis wont ally with an usurper. Even the more reasonable Renly asked for submision.

    Perhaps the peace could have been possible if Jeoffrey had abdicated and some war criminals like Ser Gregor had been hanged.

    It must be noted, from the Lannister’s point-of-view, that Eddard rebeled without any reason and due to pure ambition, so the King acted harshly, but with some motives.

    About the military options, every one has quids and quos, but I think attacking Lannisport wasn’t the best one. First of all, it didn’t helped the lower Riverlands against the Mountain and the Mummers. Second, Robb couldn’t conquest Casterly Rock without a fleet of a siege train. Third, by leaving the Riverlands to open a second front, he couldn’t influence the major theatre of war. I know he was trying to attract Tywin to a trap. But this sounded a little too optimistic to me.

    To some degree, Robb followed Stevron advise, keeping aside of Renly/Stannis fight. Catelyn didn’t have a clear purpose at Bitterbridge, mostly to do some politicale exploring.

    • I’ll discuss this more later, but again, you have to avoid presentism. There’s not a guarantee that any one faction will win a complete victory and unite the South.

      From the Lannister point of view – if you’re referring to Tywin or his bannermen, he knows full well that he broke the King’s peace and attacked the King’s banner, and that if Robert hadn’t died, Tywin Lannister would have been attainted as a traitor. If you’re referring to Cersei or Jaime, you know exactly what happened.

      Regarding the military options:
      1. Neither did trying to recapture the southern Riverlands.
      2. Siege engines can be built.
      3. But he did influence the major theater of war – Tywin marched west.
      4. Catelyn did have a clear purpose at Bitterbridge, but I’ll get into that in ACOK.

      • Roger says:

        sorry, but I don’t understand the presentism reference.

        Remember Catelyn Tully kidnapped Tyrion (without expecting a Royal order or such). That wasn’t broking the king’s peace? And when Tywin reacted (brutaly), Eddard tried to usurpe the crown from Jeoffrey, who was the legitimate heir and had nothing to do with the conflict. That would be the Lannister point-of-view, I think. Tywin is willingly blind about his twin childern’s sin. And I suppose many of his men angrily deny the incest thing as an awful lie.

        1.Clegane and Hoat wanted to cause atrition and atract Trident’s Lord to defend their lands from them. They managed to do both, killing the Darrys in the process.
        2. A fast moving cavalry force is not an adecuate force for complicate sieges. They lack material and skill for building complicate machinery. The Crag and Ashmark were simply affairs. But apparently Casterly Rock was well defended (even Balon Greyjoy thought it was a tough bone).
        3. That’s true, but it was still a risky plan. What if Tywin had defeated him? He would have been deep inside enemy land.
        4. Catelyn had her own ideas, right. These weren’t Robb’s, I think.

        • Catelyn publicly stated she was arresting him to face the King’s Justice – that’s not breaking the King’s peace.

          Attacking the King’s banner, as Tywin did at the Mummer’s Ford, is treason pure and simple.

          1. Precisely. But attacking the West forced Tywin to march his entire army away from the Riverlands. If he’d crossed the Red Fork, there would be no Lannister forces in the Riverlands.
          2. Sieges don’t have to be particularly complicated, and basic siege engines can be kept on hand. You just have to prevent Casterly Rock from being supplied, and then sack Lannisport via a couple of siege towers.
          3. Even if he’d been defeated, he would be close to Riverrun, and King’s Landing still would have fallen.
          4. It’s an idea Robb signed off on, though.

  3. Maddy says:

    I know people criticise book Robb as ‘stupid’ but that’s really not fair – he’s a 14 year old thrust into a major responsibility who has complicated obligations to fulfil, and I don’t think he displays nearly the amount of immaturity and recklessness of showRobb, despite him being older. i definitely agree about the show – they took out so much of the political complexity of the situation so it was just all about Robb avenging Ned’s death. I know they have to make it accessible for new and casual viewers, but like you say, it shouldn’t have been that hard to have at least a reference to the Riverlords here and there.

    You make some good points about Catelyn in this chapter – this was always one of my favourite moments of hers – that she was willing to have peace despite what had just happened to Ned and not just go to war for the sake of vengeance. I think I just got annoyed at all the dudes dismissing her as ‘dumb weak woman who doesn’t understand’ (I’m not sure if that happens in this chapter specifically, but people have that attitude to Catelyn all the time in these books). Aside from that sexist dismissal, there are actually legitimate shortcomings and flaws with her point of view though.

    This was a great analysis – their position is really more complicated at this point than I think I initially appreciated.

    • Agreed. A lot of people – mostly dudes – dislike a lot of the female characters in ASOIAF for really bad reasons, and a lot of people have sprung to their defense, and sometimes nuance gets lost in the cross-fire.

      Glad you liked it.

      • JT says:

        I think a lot of the dislike towards Catelyn comes from the fact that she released Jaime Lannister, a move which is a.) treasonous towards Robb and b.) cripples Robb’s chances of success (although as you point out, there are a lot of moving parts which have to coalesce in a certain way in order for Robb to be doomed).

        • Sean C. says:

          The dislike toward Catelyn had congealed in much of the fandom way before that. I would say for most of them her treatment of Jon made them dislike her, and that simply coloured how they interpreted everything subsequently.

          • I’ll just say that I think that was the inciting incident but not the reason.

          • MightyIsobel says:

            While we’re talking about how Catelyn treated Jon, particularly with the “should have been you” statement, let’s look quickly at the detailed description of Lord Karstark from this chapter:

            “… gaunt and hollow-eyed in his grief… like a man in a nightmare, his long beard uncombed and unwashed. He had left two sons dead in the Whispering Wood…”

            And here’s Catelyn at Bran’s bedside in Jon I:

            “Her long auburn hair was dull and tangled. She looked as though she had aged twenty years.”

            In this chapter, Catelyn overcomes her grievances against the Lannisters and announces that she would prefer peace to further bloodshed. Lord Karstark, on the other hand, blocks every peace proposal in favor of blood vengeance, and nurses his grudge through the next book. Where are the Lord-Karstark-haters condemning him for selfishly driving the Northern army to their doom by refusing to consent to trading Jaime for peace, and by violating Ned Stark’s civilized principle of sparing children from dynastic violence?

          • I’m one of them – Rickard Karstark is a child-murdering asshole. If Robb were more Machiavellian, he should have pulled a Stannis on him.

          • ajay says:

            “Rickard Karstark is a child-murdering asshole. If Robb were more Machiavellian, he should have pulled a Stannis on him.”

            Pulling a Stannis means what? Sorry…

        • Maddy says:

          Catelyn’s unfortunately the kind of character that people are always going to find reasons to hate. Sure she makes mistakes, but they are understandable ones given the amount of information she has and the emotional space she is in, and I don’t agree that they are somehow monumentally worse than other characters. People that decide that everything that happened is her fault are wilfully disregarding the complexity of the story and the myriad actions of flawed human beings who don’t have omniscient knowledge of everything that’s happening.

          And don’t even get me started on the whole ‘Catelyn is a terrible mother’ line of argument, or alternatively ‘Catelyn should have just gone home to Winterfell like a good girl and let her 14 year old son fight a war by himself’. Her attitude to Jon Snow makes sense given the world she lives in and how unusual it is for a Lord to raise his bastard son among his trueborn children. Sure, it’s not fair to Jon, but it’s human and it makes sense. Jon got a pretty privileged upbringing compared to most bastards. Anyway, I could go on defending Catelyn for ever and ever, so I should probably stop. I think all the hate makes me like her more.

          • Winnie says:

            I was never a fan of Cat, to tell the truth, and even I think she gets treated unfairly sometimes by the fan base. Don’t get me started on how much I think Sansa is wronged.

            With Cersei, though, we can all badmouth all through eternity, guilt free.

          • Agreed. Catelyn gets a bad rap. She’s just as flawed a person as anyone else, but her track record isn’t noticeably worse than anyone else’s in a setting in which the default outcome for the plans of mice of men is to aft gang alay.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      I also appreciate a nuanced analysis of Catelyn’s plea for peace, especially the point about the pressure Tywin can expect to put on the Riverlands, even if I don’t agree with it entirely and am going to stick up for Catelyn a bit:

      I read her in this chapter as wrestling with the fallout of the decision she made back in Catelyn VIII: to refrain from packing Robb up and sending him back to Winterfell. In that chapter, she assessed his military acumen, and ceded to him the authority of the Lord of Winterfell. Now she is bound by that decision to follow Robb’s lead, and attempts to turn that constraint into a rhetorical strength.

      I think that her pitch for peace focuses on the interests of her family because she is the only person at that war council who can. She is the speaker with the most personal claim for justice for Ned, and she freely releases that claim in the interest of sending more men home alive. She can advocate for Robb’s sisters without having to account for them being noncombatants.

      She paints a picture of what Robb is risking by remaining in arms. And she’s subtly underlining Robb’s status as Lord Paramount, that even she, Lady Stark, is subject to his will, and that his bannermen too should follow his judgement as she intends to.

  4. JT says:

    Great analysis.

    One area I disagree with you on though is your take on Tywin Lannister: “all the while as Tywin prepares for an eventual invasion (remember, he only makes peace after he’s beaten people to their knees).”

    I think Tywin is much more pragmatic than you give him credit for being here. Look at his conversation with Joffrey in ASOS:

    “Joffrey, when your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you.”

    There’s also the quote about

    Had Robb sued for peace, done the hostage trade, sworn loyalty to Joffrey (unlikely, I know, but still…) and marched back North I think it’s highly unlikely that Tywin would ever invade the North or “ground [the Riverlands] into the mud” barring another rebellion by the Starks and/or Tullys. IMO Tywin would have been happy to accept the peace and end the war with the Starks and Tullys.

    Still, the peace scenario does bring up an interesting second order hypothetical – had Robb sued for peace, would Tywin have required the Joffrey/Sansa wedding to go through in order to further cement Robb’s loyalty to the Iron Throne (and maybe an Edmure/Myrcella wedding as well?).

    • That’s kind of my point though, Tywin doesn’t make peace with someone who’s still on their feet. Look at his long-term plans after the Red Wedding – it’s all about Lannister imperialism into the North.

      Tywin wouldn’t attack the North – yet. He’s got other fish to fry at the moment, and the Riverlands would absolutely go under. Tywin wouldn’t do it out of maliciousness necessarily, but they stand between the Westerlands and the Crownlands so he needs to have them under his thumb.

      If Tywin has the Joffrey/Sansa wedding go through, then the Tyrells don’t back him.

      • Sean C. says:

        Even apart from the Tyrells, I don’t think the Lannisters would be particularly interested in going ahead with that wedding. Sansa’s valuable as a hostage, but she doesn’t need to marry Joffrey to be a hostage, and making her queen entails a bunch of unnecessary security encumbrances around the king, lest she, I don’t know, cut his throat with a piece of broken glass on their wedding night.

      • Winnie says:

        BINGO. The whole Sansa/Tyrion thing convinces me that Tywin wasn’t simply dealing ruthlessly with the Stark problem-he was also getting greedy. Now that the Lions have one of their own on the IT, they figure they might as well work their way into other Lord Paramount Houses as well; hence Sansa/Tyrion,(though, I don’t think that plan would have worked-especially since, there’s a good chance any child fathered by Tyrion would be a dwarf as well and there was no way the North would accept another Lannister “demon monkey” as their ruler) granting Riverrun to his brother in law Emmon Frey, (and his first choice for it was Kevan-but Kevan wisely chose Darry since it was a safer seat,) and his attempt to marry Cersei to the Tyrell’s.

        • Roger says:

          It’s not just greediness. Tywin is perfectly aware he can’t trust Bolton and the Freys. That’s the reason why he gives Riverrun to Genna Lannister.
          I don’t think Tywin as aware of genetical laws regarding dwarves…

        • Agreed, although I don’t think Tywin sees it as greed. To him, the Targaryens screwed up by creating a monarchy that, without the dragons, wasn’t strong enough to keep the Lords Paramount in line. I think Tywin sees it as a necessary centralization measure to make the Seven Kingdoms stronger in the same way that Henry VII and his contemporaries transformed the fractured and fractious medieval state into proto-nation states to prevent the kinds of civil wars that had blighted previous generations. Of course, then Europe started having religious wars…

          • Winnie says:

            Possibly, but unlike Tywin, I don’t think it *is* possible to centralize the Seven Kingdoms to that extent, (and of course the real problem for the Targaryen’s was having crazy rulers running amok.) And he seriously underestimates the potential backlash to his strategy.

            And funny you should mention religious wars considering the Faith-no Tywin could not have foreseen Cersei re-arming them, but issues with fanatics was something percolating even before then-especially with all those followers of the Lord of Light.
            Also, I think Tywin hasn’t fully grasped, (or perhaps been able to admit to himself,) how despised the Lannister name has become thanks to his darling daughter, (whose reputation makes it impossible for him to put her in the sort of dynastic match he wants with Willas, despite being rich, beautiful, and mother to the King,) and his own brutal strategy. Everyone in Westeros fears the Lannisters to be sure, but that doesn’t mean they respect them-or trust them.

          • Roger says:

            Agreed. Tywin wanted a Lannister in every “kingdom”. That’s why he aproved Myrcella being send the Dorne to marry the Martell boy.

  5. JT says:

    Sorry, hit post too early. I was going to finish this sentence:

    – There’s also a quote from Tyrion about the time House Farman of Faircastle challenged Tywin (no word on how/what). Tywin sent a signer to Faircastle to play The Rains of Castemere, which was enough to make Lord Farman reconsider his position. There’s no word on further action being taken by Tywin against Lord Farman, so it seems like the fact that Lord Farman got back in line was enough for Tywin.

  6. I agree there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding or just presentism as you say about Robb and the King in the North thing. People like to say that he’s doomed as soon as that happens, as if he could turn it down which he couldn’t. It seems to me that he pretty much made the right choices, but he is undone by Roose Bolton’s treachery, which we don’t know if he should or could have foreseen. It seems as if he might have won the war or at least managed in maintaining independence successfully if Roose didn’t betray Robb at various points: Ruby Ford, Green Fork, giving the nod for the sack of Winterfell, not returning Jamie Lannister.

    • Yeah, one of the things I’ll get into, especially in ACOK, is carefully delineating the moments at which Robb could still have succeeded or at least done better than OTL.

      • That’ll be interesting to hear, because I think about it and have a hard time coming up with very many. Maybe he could have communicated better with Edmure, that one is hard for me to judge. Maybe he should’ve known not to send Theon, but the offer he made to Balon was a logical one for him to accept, although perhaps he could’ve worded it better, but that just shows his ignorance of Iron Islands culture. And marrying Jeyne was a mistake, but i’m not entirely sure that things would’ve been peachey with the Freys had he not done that.

        When he heard about Duskendale though, it does seem like he should have been a bit more suspicious of Roose though. I think he claims it was Glover’s idea, but Bolton was in command so he should be suspicious of him on that one.

    • Sean C. says:

      As far as Robb goes, the biggest mistake he had that is solely attributable to him is the poor communication of his plans resulting in the Stone Mill fiasco (a plan which, had it worked, would have substantially altered the course of the war and rendered the Lannisters’ situation at least untenable, though that would still leave other enemies to potentially deal with). I’m of the group that’s 100% on Edmure’s side in that matter — there was no reason why a major theater commander should not have an understanding of the combat strategy for a campaign that includes his own theater of operations.

      • I’m not in that group, but I’ll cite my sources come ASOS.

      • David Hunt says:

        It’s been too long since I read this, so I ask: what method did Robb use to convey the orders? If he and Edmure had been in the same room when the plans were drawn up, I can see the case for saying Edmure is being maligned. But it was my impression that Robb was nowhere near Edmure position and the orders were relayed. So..ravens can shot down. Messengers can be captured and their documents confiscated. Information can be tortured out of them.

        Any orders that Robb sends to Edmure have to take into account how likely they are to be intercepted. I can see why Robb would be highly reluctant to place word to the effect of “I’m trying to trap Tywin Lannister west of [whatever river Edmure kept him from crossing].” Even something like “Let Tywin’s army move through unmolested” could be a red warning sign. Edmure was told to hold a fortification (Riverrun?). Those orders don’t betray grand strategy to Robb’s enemies if they’re intercepted.

    • Winnie says:

      Same here. Robb make mistakes-so did Catelyn, but I’ve come to conclude that he probably would have survived all that, and still won the damn war, if not for Roose undermining him. One way or another, I’ve concluded that, Roose was determined to screw Robb over, “his hunting wolves comment,” and would have found a way.

      Of course, by screwing Robb, Roose also massive screwed his own house and virtually guaranteed their extinction. COntrary to what the Boltons may have believed, nobody in the North *wanted* them to rule, (even Tywin understood that-hell he was betting on it,) and there weren’t enough of them of hold the North all by themselves.

      • JT says:

        It’s interesting to try to decipher what Roose Bolton’s overall motivations are. Sure as of the end of ADWD Roose is warden of the North and controls Winterfell through Ramsay, but he has to be aware that the Bolton’s long term future is at best unsteady as a result of their treachery. A huge amount of the Northern houses either outright hate Roose or are stuck in a marriage of convenience with him (and that includes the Freys, who are just as treacherous as the Boltons).

        Ramsay is far too sociopathic (and is disliked by just about every Northern house) to be able to hold the North once Roose is gone – so it seems Roose’s planning has resulted in a house of cards. I believe Roose is clever enough to realize all this (some of Lady Dustin’s comments to Theon make it clear Roose knows who he can and can’t trust), so I wonder what his plans are.

        • Sean C. says:

          Roose’s motivations based on ADWD kind of confuse me, honestly. His attitude toward Ramsay doesn’t make a ton of sense to me — if he’s sufficiently religiously/culturally committed to the prohibition against kinslaying so as not to kill a son who killed his other son, why was he so willing to collaborate in a massive breach of the guest right? (technically it wasn’t him breaching the right, of course, since it wasn’t his house, but if he’s willing to rules-lawyer on that point, why won’t he on kinslaying?)

          And while his concern about potentially entrusting the future of House Bolton to a boy lord makes a certain amount of sense, I don’t see how he could possibly think Ramsay has better odds. Plenty of houses survive boy lords, whereas Lord Ramsay Bolton would probably last about a week before he was killed his own men.

          • Winnie says:

            Seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ramsay’s own dogs hunt him down. Plus, he’s kind of saying he doesn’t expect to live long enough to raise Fat Walda’s kid isn’t he?

            The only thing I can think of is that he’s saying that to Reek, to throw Ramsay off guard, for when he puts the knife in his throat.

          • Sean C. says:

            Roose is presumably in his 40s at least (particularly based on the age of his son Domeric), so it’s believable that he’s not banking on living another 15 years or so, given life expectancies in his era.

          • John says:

            Once you’re in your mid-40s, your life expectancy in the middle ages really wasn’t that bad – I’d think 65 would not be at all unusual.

          • Roose is talking to Reek/Theon at the time he claims he won’t kill Ramsey and won’t care if Ramsey kills his new kids. Roose knows every word will reach Ramsey and I don’t know why you would assume Roose would tell Ramsey the truth. Ramsey will live just long enough to get a kid with “Arya”.

        • Winnie says:

          Well, if *I* were Roose, I’d plan on either killing Ramsay myself, (I don’t think he gives a damn about offending the gods by being a kinslayer,) or let someone else do it for me, and then pin my hopes on a child by Fat Walda. He *has* to know there’s no way, someone of Ramsay’s reputation can ever hold the North-hell the prospect of him as heir is probably at least half of what’s driving the Northern rebellion. (Would *you* want a depraved, psychotic serial killer running things?!? Yeah, me neither.)

          If he doesn’t deal with the Ramsay question, then Roose’s plan seems remarkably short sighted..not only will House Bolton be incapable of holding the North, but Roose himself won’t be able to keep power very long. And I don’t think Roose was counting on Lannister support even before Tywin’s death, (he like Robb and Cat had to have realized what the Sansa/Tyrion marriage meant.) And he certainly can’t trust the Frey’s. Lady Dustin thinks, Bolton wanted to close off the North all to himself, and declare independence from the It…but I just don’t see how that would be possible for him at that point. Roose’s planning and scheming to allow for the RW was well nigh perfect, but you have to wonder if he really thought through the aftermath very clearly. I mean the Frey’s are weasels and idiots who believed in Lannister supremacy, and Tywin was blinded by resentment of Robb for humiliating in the field-and not understanding that things in the North, don’t work the same as they do in the Westerlands, so “Castamere” style tactics were more likely to backfire there. (Not to mention the backlash against breaking guest right.) But Roose is a Northman born and bred, he’s completely cool blooded, and he’s usually so darned clever…how he failed to see he was signing his death warrant with this one is beyond me. Tsk, tsk, I’m dissapointed in you, my usually favorite sociopath of the series!!!

          • Abbey Battle says:

            To be fair to Lord Roose, unless he wanted to cut his losses with Ramsey Snow once and for all he HAD to make the best of a bad hand, with payment of ancestral scores through the apparent destruction of House Stark an additional incentive to blatant treachery (especially after such a lengthy period of quiet treachery-via-careful-risk-management); still it’s hard to avoid the feeling that at this point Lord Roose is obliged to play things by ear and bound to Ramsey Bolton by the fact that if he kills the Bastard he’ll have thrown his entire political future away for NOTHING.

            Basically he’s obliged to play ‘double or quits’ at this point and I doubt Lord Roose is the sort who will survive forced retirement.

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah, but what I don’t get is why *didn’t* he just cut his losses with Ramsay when news got out about Hornwood?!?
            Send word back to the North, “I wash my hands of the villain-hell I suspect him of killing my trueborn son. Do with him what you will” Then concentrate on starting over with new heirs who might be sociopaths but hopefully functional sociopaths.

            Or was the urge to usurp the Starks just too strong to resist? He just had to take that final step…and then find there was nothing there to support him.

          • Wat Barleycorn says:

            I think Roose is playing Ramsay like Tywin played Tyrion. Setting him up to be the monster so he can pin all the necessary transition unpleasantness on him and then dispose of him.

            If Ramsay had listened to him and kept his monstrousness under wraps, maybe he’d have found a way to make Ramsay his heir. But Ramsay is a fool and he doesn’t pay attention and Roose sees no use in him.

            By now he’s gone to a backup plan to make Fat Walda’s kid is his heir, and I think Roose plans to live more than long enough to see him grow to adulthood.

            Of course, Ramsay is unpredictable enough that this may not happen…

          • David Hunt says:

            Winnie, washing his hands of Ramsey’s actions with Lady Hornwood means that the Lord of the Hornwood lands is someone other than his son. Roose’s treachery was almost certainly about increasing his prospects and reducing those of this rivals. Control of the Hornwood lands does both.

          • That part at least I’m absolutely sure Ramsay and Roose were working hand-in-glove on. I don’t think he intended Lady Hornwood to die of starvation though, that seems unnecessarily destabilizing.

          • Agreed. But again, does he care about what happens after he dies? Maybe he just wants to see the world burn.

          • John says:

            Doesn’t Roose basically wash his hands of his son? When he finds out he’s become a captive at Winterfell, he basically just says “Do what you will with him,” doesn’t he?

          • John says:

            I mean, obviously he doesn’t send a message to the Dreadfort saying “my son is dead to me; if you ever see him again, turn him over to the Starks.” But why would he? Last he heard, Ramsay’s either dead or in a Stark cell. Why bother? It’s only after he finds out what happened at Winterfell, and after Stannis is defeated, that the calculus changes, and at that point why would he repudiate him? Plenty of time to deal with him later, after he’s no longer useful.

        • Agreed. It gets very confusing when his statements about when he’s going to die and how Ramsay is going to kill any legitimate son he has. It may be that the statements about Roose playing with people as his version of playing chess is more accurate than we think – that at a base level, there’s something missing in Roose Bolton’s head where caring about what happens after he’s dead should be.

          • SpaceSquid says:

            That was my take on it as well – he doesn’t care about his house’s ascension being incredibly rickety as long as he can keep it together until he pops his clogs. He doesn’t care about his own children, either, and I don’t think he’s keeping Ramsay around for fear of violating the kinslaying laws (though I think the argument that no man could hold the laws against kinslaying sacred whilst gleefully breaking guest-right relies to much on humans being entirely rational and free from hypocrisy) so much as the recognition that Ramsay has his uses right now.

            Really, the only part of Roose’s actions I can’t understand is him complaining about how a boy lord would wreck his house. There’s just no reason to believe Roose cares about that, and plenty of evidence to think the opposite is true. Yes, it provides a justification for keeping Ramsay around, but it’s not clear to me why Roose believes others should be given such a justification, particularly since (IIRC) Roose volunteers the information that Ramsay killed Domeric in the first place.

            (Whilst I’m here; good work on getting to the penultimate chapter of the book. I shall drink some bubbly in your honour when the night is finally filled with the music of dragons.)

          • Thanks! Working on that last one.

      • Yes. Without Roose Bolton, there’s about 10-14,000 Northmen who would be alive at the time of the Red Wedding. That’s a big enough army to change the course of a war.

  7. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, please allow me to congratulate you once again on presenting an analysis that sees through the complexities of Westerosi politics and the novels both,then fits them into piece as neatly as the tesserae of a mosaic!

    One wonders if Ser Stevron’s advice is prompted more by instinctive caution or by the understanding that so long as King Robb remains in the Lands of the Trident, his future In-Laws can preserve their influence over him by keeping a grip on The Neck (at this point that’s not QUITE so crucial as it will become, but it’s still a not-insignificant point of leverage given that a fair portion of The North’s manpower remains in it’s homeland and that it’s regent is a very young boy, with adverse consequences for the stability of that region almost inevitable even absent Ironborn).

    At some point The King will simply HAVE to go North and doubtless The Lord of the Crossing will take yet another toll, albeit not necessarily in blood; assuming The King in the North remains King of the Trident as well, House Frey going to see their strategic importance in the ascendant even if they remain loyal as a good dog (unless The North builds a SERIOUS fleet).

    One final note; The Storm Kings had a major advantage over the King in the North when it came to protecting their vassals along The Trident and keeping them in line – their traditional lands marched with their conquered territories without any major strategic impediment (although I suspect a strong fleet was essential to ensuring that the Blackwater remains a strategic highway rather than a barrier).

    • Thanks!

      I suppose that makes sense; I think it’s probably instinctive caution. Plus, he’s recommending that House Frey be the middlemen, which is a huge opportunity for them to grab power from both sides.

      And yes, the North would have a bit more of a time protecting the Riverlands – although they have a direct land connection with good roads, which helps a bunch. While we’re speaking of the North and ships, I find it very strange that the North didn’t build a major fleet on the west coast to help fight the Ironborn; yes, you had Bran the Burner, but several thousands of years have passed. Why isn’t Torrhen’s Square or Flint’s Finger a major port? Why isn’t there a boom chain over the Saltspear?

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Probably because the Starks have always had more problems from amongst their own vassals and from Beyond the wall than they ever have from the Iron Islands; consider that the empire of House Hoare is principally concentrated in the South, where at least some booty worth the risk of plundering may be found even in Winter.

        More to the point I suspect the difficulties of keeping a saltwater navy in the North are comparable to or even worse than those of Russia prior to it’s acquisition of St Petersburg; it’s hard to keep a fleet at sea when every d— port and river is iced over, more to the point it would be next to impossible for a Feudal lord to soak the cost in a realm without a naval tradition to make it all the easier to find ships.

        • I’m not sure the Starks have always had more problems from their own vassals and Beyond the Wall – Bear Island clearly has seen frequent raids, Dagon Greyjoy raided the North only a hundred years ago, etc.

          And the presence of White Harbor suggests that it’s not impossible to keep a fleet at that latitude.

          • Abbey Battle says:

            While it does show that there’s no problem keeping a PORT at that latitude, I would argue that a fleet is a different beast entirely; for one thing a fleet isn’t going to pay for itself and while at least SOME of the old Kings in the North found the money to build one we don’t know how they did it nor do we know if House Stark in it’s modern form (as Warden of the North, not as Kings) could manage to build their fleet in the same way.

            At a guess they did it the same way Peter the Great built the first Russian Navy (brute force, excruciating taxes and refusing to take ‘No’ for an answer from even the toughest of his vassals) and I doubt even every King of Winter could get away with that (suspicions that he was either Autistic or flat-out mad aside, Peter the Great earned his title the hard way).

            More to the point I suspect that a major reason House Stark has yet to rebuild a naval presence in the Modern Era (aka the last 300 years) is that in theory they don’t have to – The Warden of the West and the Warden of the East are doubtless obliged to protect the appropriate coast so that The Warden of the North can concentrate his forces against the Wild Folk (given that we hear Dagon Greyjoy found his hash settled by Lion and Wolf in the end I’d say that system works … slowly); one suspects that this is the reason the Raid on Lannisport during Greyjoy’s Rebellion was seen to be such a brave stroke for the Ironborn – by bearding the lion in his own den, they effectively gave themselves free reign over the West Coast until the Royal Fleet could come up.

            Getting back to my main point, I suspect that the North has not rebuilt any strength at sea within the last 300 years is due to the fact that if it’s coasts are TOO secure it would be all too easy for them to proclaim independence AND make that stick (I wonder if it was fears that the North had been getting perhaps a bit TOO comfortable in it’s own frontiers while the dragons had been too tied down in the South by the Faith Militant to accustom that portion of the realm to their authority were what prompted The Old King’s visit North?).

            Perhaps the Targaryens were more afraid of self-sufficient sea-wolves than they were of Krakens?

          • 1. Generally ports produce the revenues to support a navy – hence Lannisport’s fleet, White Harbor’s fleet, Gulltown’s fleet.

            2. I agree abut the recent period, I just find it odd that they didn’t do so between the time of Bran the Burner and Aegon’s arrival.

  8. JT says:

    That’s what confuses me too. Roose has shown savvy on enough occasions when it comes to the Northern lords (watching Manderly take a bite of every item of food before he (Roose) does/using a decoy when he goes through the neck/having Theon give away Arya to certify her as legitimate) that he has to understand how precarious his position is and how despised Ramsay is.

    I don’t know if he’s setting Ramsay up as the “the bad cop” so that when a son arrives via Fat Walda, Ramsay can be disposed of somehow and the Northern lords will be so grateful that they’ll accept the baby as their future lord, or if Roose has some sort of Littlefinger-in-the-Vale type plan to neutralize his opponents over the long term.

    • Petyr Patter says:

      On the subject of Roose, I think it is very informative to consider how different his position would be if Stannis had not chosen to go North. Stannis going North was a move NO ONE saw coming. Tywin when he heard that Stannis had left Dragonstone, assumed he’d either try for Storm’s End or Dorne.

      As it is, Stannis initially was met with no real support, meaning Roose’s position in the North was still quite secure. However, with some advice from Jon, and the death of Tywin in the South, Stannis began shifting the strategic position. Yet, even now the upper hand should still belong to Roose. He has the benefit of the Walls of Winterfell and greater food stores.

      No Stannis, means the other noble Houses humbly send hostages to the Dreadfort, see “Arya” and Ramsay wed at Barrowtown, and probably send men to serve Roose and stop a wildling incursion into the North. They might not be happy about it, but without a unifying figure to provide an alternative, they would just fall into line.

      Right now, Stannis is that figure.

      • I disagree. I think if Stannis doesn’t rise, Manderly grabs himself Rickon and there’s an uprising in his name; things happen slower, but there’s still a rebellion.

        • Winnie says:

          Same here. Roose *knew* the Stark boys were alive, which meant they were figures who if found could spark a rebellion, so that was always a danger. (Though, he and Ramsay may have been hoping they could find them first.) Not to mention the possibility after Sansa fled, that she’d re-appear North someday-which frankly I think she will, and quite possibly with a Vale army as well. I wonder if you’re right Steve-that Roose is simply incapable of thinking/caring about the long term future of his House, and just likes to play his games long as he can. Put it that way, his strategy isn’t puzzling at all-but its infinitely more frightening.

          • ajay says:

            “Roose *knew* the Stark boys were alive, which meant they were figures who if found could spark a rebellion, so that was always a danger.”

            Does he, though? Ramsay knows, obviously, but do we know whether he’s told Roose?

          • Yes, he told him.
            “Roose made a face, as if the ale he was sipping had suddenly gone sour. “There are times you make me wonder if you truly are my seed. My fore-bears were many things, but never fools. No, be quiet now, I have heard enough. We appear strong for the moment, yes. We have powerful friends in the Lannisters and Freys, and the grudging support of much of the north … but what do you imagine is going to happen when one of Ned Stark’s sons turns up?”
            Ned Stark’s sons are all dead, Reek thought. Robb was murdered at the Twins, and Bran and Rickon … we dipped the heads in tar … His own head was pounding. He did not want to think about anything that had happened before he knew his name. There were things too hurtful to remember, thoughts almost as painful as Ramsay’s flaying knife …
            “Stark’s little wolflings are dead,” said Ramsay, sloshing some more ale into his cup, “and they’ll stay dead. Let them show their ugly faces, and my girls will rip those wolves of theirs to pieces. The sooner they turn up, the sooner I kill them again.”
            The elder Bolton sighed. “Again? Surely you misspeak. You never slew Lord Eddard’s sons, those two sweet boys we loved so well. That was Theon Turncloak’s work, remember? How many of our grudging friends do you imagine we’d retain if the truth were known?””

          • ajay says:

            butterfly: thanks, I had forgotten that.

        • SpaceSquid says:

          Assuming Manderly can grab Rickon. It must be a difficult/dangerous thing to try (directly and/or in terms of being caught trying it), otherwise I don’t see why Manderly would need to send Davos as oppose to one of his own men.

          Maybe that’s explicitly mentioned in ADWD and I’ve just forgotten, though.

        • Petyr Patter says:


          Manderly has behaved almost exactly like a lord accepting his new Bolton and Lannister overlords would act. He has this nice rousing speech to Davos, but then he turned around and brought men and supplies to support Bolton’s war effort. The only thing he didn’t bring was hostages. He also killed some Freys along the way. This is not a Rebellion, this is passive aggressive sulking with some homicide thrown in. Manderly SAYS he just needs a Stark with proof so he can kick off this Rebellion… right after he gets his son back…

          So, I’m somewhat skeptical of a Northern Rebellion kicked off by Manderly. He makes nice plans and rousing speeches, but ultimately plays it safe. For example, he kept Davos in the dark (figuratively and literally) until he hears Stannis has had some victories and has a sizable force with him.

          As it is, Manderly doesn’t have Rickon, and admits he might not have a man he trusts to retrieve him, hence turning to Davos. Furthermore, Bolton can always play the “he’s a fake card.” In theory, having Shaggydog beats it, but in the interim most of the Northern lords have already answered Roose’s summons and I think given him hostages. Or, there is the fact that the Freys still have multiple hostages. We’ve seen how little the truth has mattered elsewhere.

          I’d argue Bolton could have beaten Manderly at either diplomacy, intrigue, or war. Obviously with all counterfactuals the “butterfly effect” means anything is possible, but I’d still say Bolton was in very good shape until Stannis arrived to contest the North.

          • SpaceSquid says:

            Plus – and this is the point I was trying to get across earlier – the idea that “things happen slower” relies on Manderly succeeding at getting Rickon. Steven has me kind of convinced Manderly would try even without Davos (though as you say, there’s an argument to be made that Manderly would rather sulk and convince himself “at least I tried” rather than actually risk a rebellion), but the idea that things more or less continue as before relies on Manderly succeeding without Davos, which is by no means assured.

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    I honestly believe that at this point Lord Roose is just playing the cards as they fall; at this point I am also inclined to believe that his long-term goals boil down to “Stay Alive” and if he manages that under the circumstances he’s in now then he’ll have proven himself even more clever than we must believe him to be or just blatantly in possession of Mephistopheles’ own luck!

  10. Excellent post as usual. I have no comments, except re “there’s a possibility for a productive grain-for-wool trade” — I’d love to see Settlers of Westeros. 🙂

  11. nzingasson says:

    Okay, let’s talk about Catelyn.

    “Why not a peace?…[Ned] is gone, and Daryn Hornwood, and Lord Karstark’s valiant son, and many other good men besides, and none of them will return to us. Must we have more deaths still?…I understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner…we fought to defend ourselves, and to win my lord’s freedom. Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our reach…I want my daughters back…if I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods.”

    It always amuses me when people talk about Catelyn as if she was competent and that Robb should’ve listened to her more; an interpretation which seems to have been accepted by the show. Catelyn was marginally okay at on the fly political manouevering, but she has consistently been portrayed as being short sighted, lacking a fundamental understanding of political players and having complete tunnel vision where her children are concerned.

    She travels off to Kings Landing completely unnecessarily; her arrest of Tyrion was the height of stupidity; she wrong claimed that Robb shouldn’t have led his own army and then there is this speech.

    There is simply no way that this war can end with a simple trade of hostages. At best, all it will do is delay a conflict until spring (although, given what we’ve seen of Stannis in ADwD a winter invasion can’t be ruled out). If Joffrey retains the throne, when spring comes the North and the Riverlands will have to deal with a united south riding hard to enforce the will of the king upon them. As it stands, they have the momentum, they have the advantage, their best bet for a long term peace is to defeat the Lannisters and seek an arrangement with one of the Baratheon brothers.

    And even if we assume that the peace isn’t a bad idea there’s also the way she frames her argument. She has lived with and dealt with the Northern lords for what, twenty years and had dealings with the Riverlanders before that. She has to know that framing her argument in a: ‘our fight is futile and I want my kids back’ manner will not work. She should try and come up with an argument that they will accept, but she doesn’t even think of this.

    The irony is she is right that the Lannisters should be traded for Sansa and Arya (although, once again, she is wrong that trading all four Lannister hostages for Sansa and Arya would be a good idea. Cersei would gladly hand over Sansa and Arya for Jaime if Cersei had Arya but no-one knows that Arya is missing). The fact is the battle will continue whether or not Jaime is being held hostage, thus Jaime has absolutely no value to them except as one of prestige (and possibly to placate Rickard Karstark but I can’t remember if he’s super-po’d here or not). Meanwhile Sansa, after a suitable cooling off period of say, a year or so, could easily be remarried to House Tyrell or House Arryn in order to widen their alliance.

    • Sean C. says:

      Jaime has value beyond prestige: he’s a formidable soldier, and (seemingly) a very good commander, notwithstanding his impulsiveness.

      I think Sansa’s value to the cause is rather overstated. Sure, you could potentially use her and Arya as marriage bait, but in practice the stars don’t really suggest any possibilities. The Tyrells have sided with Renly by this point (and further events will mean that the Stark-Tullys don’t get a look-in when that falls apart). Lysa isn’t holding out for a better offer, she just doesn’t want to come (even without knowledge of her schemes with Littlefinger). The Dornish aren’t terribly well-placed to be allies, and I don’t think they ever once come up in the Stark-Tully strategy at all anyway.

      • Absolutely agree about Jaime.

        Regarding Sansa, I think the Tyrell marriage makes sense – even if the Tyrells have sided with Renly, they’re also the source of 80% of his army, so they have influence on him. So let’s Sansa was free to marry and in the Stark camp at this point in time, a marriage to Loras could well have created sufficient momentum to make an alliance happen.

        • Winnie says:

          Agreed. I think Robb seriously underestimated Sansa’s value on the marriage market until it was too late in ASOS. That was another danger of leaving Sansa, (and as far as they knew Arya,) in Lannister hands-it gives the Lannister’s the chance to steal the North via forced marriage-which is exactly what they attempted to do. Kind of surprised neither Cat or Robb saw *that* one coming…

    • JT says:

      I agree with this assessment of Catelyn. Taking Tyrion captive was an incredibly stupid move – losing him was even worse (although Lysa is arguably as much to blame here). Freeing Jaime is also disastrous. Ironically, there probably is a scenario where Robb could have withdrawn from the battlefield and negotiated a peace with the Lanninsters if he’d had both Tyrion and Jaime as hostages (also, without Tyrion in Kings Landing, there’s a good chance the entire Lannister war effort is doomed).

      Catelyn’s counsel is on the whole mixed. Advocating for peace isn’t bad, but her sales pitch here is poorly formulated and unlikely to sway anybody beyond Robb (and it doesn’t even do that). I think her going into the Twins to negotiate with Walder Frey is a smart move, although as Stephen pointed out in his analysis of the chapter, Catelyn gave up way too in her negotiations with Walder Frey. Catelyn also okays Robb’s choice to give Roose Bolton command of part of the Northern host (another disastrous choice).

      Catelyn does however have the right measure of Theon and Balon Greyjoy – while there’s no guarantee that Balon wouldn’t invade the North had Robb kept Theon and sent someone else to Pyke, sending Theon back gives Balon the green light. Also, Catelyn’s suggestion to send Jason Mallister to Pyke to negotiate seems like a particularly bad idea, given that Jason Mallister killed Balon’s eldest son during Balon’s revolution and Balon is not one to forget.

      It’s not that any of the items above (except taking Tyrion hostage and releasing Jaime) are Catelyn’s fault, and Robb may well not have listened to Catelyn had she advocated giving, say Glover control of part of the Northern host. Still, I think that there’s a misconception among some fans that Robb is stupid and if only he’d listened to Catelyn, he would have won the war. Based on what we’ve seen from her, that’s not the case.

      I also think Catelyn’s treatment of Jon is shabby, and for as much as Catelyn tries to get her daughters back, she more or less completely ignores Rickon (even Robb points this out to her).

      • The meeting with Walder Frey was not shown fully on the page, we have a cut right in the middle of the conversation, so to say it ended too quickly seems unsubstantiated as we don’t even know how long the negotiating lasted. Blaming Catelyn for not seeing through Roose when nobody else did also seems odd to me. Any other advisor would have?

        As for Catelyn’s sales pitch, face it, there’s nothing she could say to sway these people, because they are not accustomed to having to listen to the likes of her (a woman, a mother) about this sort of thing. She was interfacing with them in the only way that they would accept her — as a grieving widow. It’s probably not purely calculated, but what of it? The Greatjon’s “sales pitch” is hardly any less emotionalistic, it’s just different emotions. Weird that Catelyn would have to be above everyone else’s shortcomings just to get the same respect.

        Maybe fans should just speak for themselves instead of having other fans say what they think (like Catelyn could’ve won the war — I think you guys really overestimate how many people think this).

      • Ian G. says:

        It’s worth noting that Catelyn does more than just acquiesce to Robb’s choice of Bolton. When told that he’s going to pick the Greatjon, she says “for this, you want cold cunning.” She does everything but say that a flayed man as a sigil is necessary for this command.

        • qwerty30 . says:

          What matters is how reasonably one could predict that Roose Bolton would turn traitor. What was known at the time was that he was a man of cold cunning and that his family had a history of enmity with the Starks in the past. Right now the fifth book is still fresh in my mind and there is a character that we spend a lot of time with in that book who I would characterize as cold and cunning and who had something much more immediate than a family history against the Starks, she had a personal grudge. And I can’t at all see that prevailing opinion amongst readers is that she will obviously, definitely turn traitor. I apologize for vagueness but I don’t know what the spoiler policy in the comments section here is. Hopefully it’s clear enough to those who read the books.

          Moreover, Roose Bolton needs a predictable reason for betraying Robb in order to fault Catelyn for not seeing it, and the only thing there is that Robb is unlikely to win. Now, Steven has argued that it is foolish to condemn Robb’s cause at such an early stage, and there are a few here who have agreed with him. So if Robb is not at all doomed at this stage, why should we fault anyone for failing to see that Roose is a traitor? Based on what was known at the time, he certainly is a better choice than the Greatjon for proceeding with caution on the battlefield.

          And if there would’ve been an advisor in Robb’s camp who saw through what Catelyn could not see, then why did they say nothing? Is it intelligent or responsible for someone to seriously suspect Roose but say nothing of it to Robb? And if nobody else saw it, why ought Catelyn to have?

          • I absolutely agree. Roose was very careful to hide any outward signs of his treason until it was really too late.

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah, but I do wonder about the “creepy” factor…I mean the way GRRM describes Roose, he’s addicted to leeches, looks like a vampire, and might as well have “EVIL” tattooed on his forehead. In some ways show Roose is an improvement, because while he convey a sense of malevolence its much more subtle and can slip under the radar.

          • Chris says:

            Don’t forget that Robb rode and spoke with a different Lord every day. He’s spent a lot of time with Roose himself. It’s not as if he knows nothing about this man and is relying entirely on Catelyn’s recommendation.

        • Winnie says:

          True…Cat being a Tully, didn’t understand how dangerous it was to put a Bolton in any position of authority given their history with the Starks..

          • Of course Ned Stark didn’t do a thing about Roose Bolton for fifteen years, and he’s perfectly aware of their history with the Starks. Probably Roose himself simply never did anything worth such suspicion.

          • David Hunt says:

            IIRC, Roose Bolton fought with the rest of the Stark Bannermen in Robert’s Rebellion. He was high enough in the Rebellion to suggest cutting Barristan Selmy’s throat when he’s wounded and captured at the Trident. Robert, impressed by Selmy’s bravery and sterling reputation calls for the maesters, instead. However, Roose was there to make the suggestion directly to Ned and/or Robert. He didn’t betray the Starks then, so I can see why the Starks would consider him trustworthy now.

    • I think this is way too harsh.

      Firstly, there’s no guarantee that Joffrey will retain the throne. With Highgarden behind him, Renly’s the better bet at the moment. No reason why the Starks can’t reach an understanding with him later.

      Secondly, Jaime absolutely has value. To begin with, he’s Tywin’s heir of choice, so there’s a lot they could potentially get from Tywin for him. In addition, he’s a generally successful general and leader of the Lannister cause – keeping him out of the fray means the Lannisters have to turn to non-entities like Ser Stafford.

      • WPA says:

        Right- it’s hard to understate Jamie’s importance to Tywin. Though it does raise the question whether or not the Starks are ruthless enough to take full advantage of having him on hand compared to who they’re dealing with? One can imagine a situation with the Boltons (or another house) having the sole acceptable heir to Tywin on hand while their opponent has several surplus daughters to trade- and simply start sending pieces of Jamie to King’s Landing or Casterly Rock until a truce is brokered or the girls returned.

  12. Petyr Patter says:

    On the subject of peace, I believe Tywin would have accepted any offer that a) gave him free reign to travel South and engage/discourage Renly, and b) returned Jaime to him. And he would have considered himself lucky. Even if he can beat Robb in the field, it would cost him men and time and strengthen Renly’s position. While Jaime would probably be non-negotiable, other hostages of House Lannister could be used to make an even peace.

    And regardless of who prevailed, the North and the Riverlands could have a peace. Tywin would have no further reason to menace the North or the Riverlands. He did so initially in response to Tyrion’s capture, and kept fighting to keep Joffrey on the throne. Renly and Stannis would want fealty.

    Of course, peace would mean Eddard’s death might go unpunished with Joffrey remaining on the throne and Tywin ruling as Hand of the King.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      Which would make it very unlikely that any peace would last long under such circumstances; King Joffrey is not one to forget sleights and has a taste for blood – as for Lord Tywin, consider how long he seems to have nursed a grudge against Castamere and Tarbeck Hall for their defiance of his father; “A Lannister always pays his debts” and the North has written his name into the ledger with blood from The Whispering Woods and Riverrun even BEFORE he sets the Westerland afire from Lannisport to The Crag.

  13. the stone dragon says:

    Or, they could just marry Shireen and Bran.

    You say that there isn’t a coalition figure that an alliance could form around, and I completely agree — which is why they need to create one. Robb has a crippled younger brother that’s currently his heir, and Stannis has a disfigured daughter and a wife he’s loathe to sleep with — meaning he isn’t likely to have any other children. Robb’s men claim that their options for King don’t know the North and aren’t familiar with their ways — so give them one that does. It would give Stannis the temporary victory, since he’d be “King,” but it’d be a larger victory for the North, as they’ll have a true Stark King for the first time in 300+ years (even if that King isn’t the Stark in Winterfell).

    Robb should have proposed an alliance with Stannis and married his daughter Shireen to Bran. The North would still get it’s King, and would be secure in knowing their interests were being looked after by someone who has blood ties to their ancient rulers. Robb doesn’t lose face, since he put a Stark on the throne. The Riverlands would have the security of a Stark n King’s Landing, guaranteeing their safety, but that Stark would also be part Tully, giving them a blood stake in his (and Stannis’)success, too. Lastly, Stannis would get the men he needs to defeat the Lannisters outright in King’s Landing, and he’d have the promises of two great houses that they’ll support his daughter’s claim to the throne — leaving her well positioned should his death lead to a succession crisis. Everyone gets what they want, and the Stannis/Stark/Tully alliance can win King’s Landing and free Sansa.

    Assuming Melisandre still kills Renly, then it’s just a matter of marrying Maergery to Edmure (or Robb, but I prefer Edmure in this situation) and Sansa to Willas, and thus cementing the Stark/Baratheon/Tully/Tyrell alliance. If Bran/Shireen do happen to procreate, the child would be Tully/Stark/Baratheon and would only need to marry a Tyrell to complete the alliance and give every member a stake in the Iron Throne.

    • Interesting ideas, but Bran can’t have children (I do not know offhand what the total coverage and consequence of his paralysis is, but this is mentioned several times), and marrying your only child to someone who can’t give her children is literally fruitless. Note he rejects any thought of Robert Arryn for Shireen, and that boy is only weak and sick. Also, Stannis was still hoping for sons as of his meeting with Renly in ACOK (he offered to make him his heir until he had sons), so the “Stark/Baratheon throne” plot is not necessarily something that would appeal to him.

      • Maddy says:

        Do they know for sure that he can’t have children though? I know Ned thinks about it, but I don’t know how extensive their medical knowledge about this kind of thing is. I guess it’s immaterial really – since even the possibility damages his marriage prospects.

        • David Hunt says:

          I remember Bran thinking about how he’ll never have children at various points, so he’s been told that. It seems pretty clear to me that Bran has no sensation in his baby-making parts.

    • Winnie says:

      Well, Bran might not be able to sire children…but *Rickon* would have been a good choice. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if that still happens.

    • That’s an interesting possibility. Like I said, “should” is problematic given the timing – at this moment, Stannis has 5,000 men in the world. An alliance with him is extremely risky.

  14. priddy says:

    Dear Steven,

    thanks for another great analysis. This chapter of AGOT is (for obivous reasons) one of the most discussed ones in the series, but I feel personally that the pro-peace faction tends to overlook the huge elephant in the room called Joffrey Baratheon. Basically we are having a repeat of the same scenario that started Robert’s Rebellion 16 years ago: The unjust execution of a Lord of Winterfell by a tyrannical and pschotic monarch. Yeah, Robert may have rebelled because of Lyanna Stark, but I believe that Eddard was also interested in ending the tyranny of the Mad King and putting a better regent on the Iron Throne. Tyrion hits the nail on the head, by calling Joffrey Aerys III in ASOS. (I love it, how after Joffrey death everybody minus Cersei agrees that the seven kingdoms are better off without him.) As long as Joffrey ruled as king, there was never a real chance for any lasting peace in Westeros.

    • Winnie says:

      True. As long as you have a sneering, cowardly, psychopathic idiot on the IT, committing atrocities based solely on passing whims, there’s going to be trouble. If not from Lords then from Smallfolk, (Witness the riot in KL.) A great moment in ASOS was Tywin realizing how completely awful Joffrey was-and how impossible it was going to be to build a stable dynasty around him. Tywin, must have been thanking the gods when Joff died, putting the crown on sweet, biddable, little Tommen.

    • Thanks!

      And yes, Joffrey is a major problem. Tywin is a rational actor, for the most part, but Joffrey isn’t and that would be a long-term impediment to peace.

      • JT says:

        I would argue that as a governing force Tywin is not only rational, but predictable. Had he lived past ASOS, it’s likely he could have brought peace to Westeros (before the Others invade that is). It wouldn’t be a kingdom were opposing views were tolerated, and I certainly wouldn’t step out of line, but with Tywin you know for better or worse exactly what you’ll get. Similar to Robert’s rule in that it may not be perfect, but it’s predicable, which enables people to live their lives and plan for the future. Same goes for Mace Tyrell, Stannis, Renly and Balon Greyjoy.

        It’s the Joffreys, the Ramsays and the Aerys’ that are truly an impediment to any sort of peace. They’re just way too cruel, unpredictable and id-driven to ever rule for any long period of time.

        • Winnie says:

          Well put…though, I’m not sure I’d agree with Balon Greyjoy, given his penchant for failed rebellions and the way the whole IB culture has become such a problem for Westeros. And Cersei falls into the Joff/Ramsay category more than her rational pragmatic father.

          Of course, the question of how Tywin WOULD have dealt with a problem like the Others, (or that matter Dany’s dragons,) is just one of those great what ifs?

          • Don’t forget Euron replacing Balon and all of the sudden the Starks’ problem becomes the Crown’s problem.

          • Tywin’s career shaping/influencing 7 kingdoms wide rule:

            1. Takes over as hand of the king with his childhood friend as king during the most stable era of Targ rule since there were dragons. He then proceeds to undermine the king to such an extent that the captain of his guards openly demeans the king. This stokes Aerys paranoia and guarantees what form Aerys madness takes once it sets in, makes the possible marriage of his daughter to the heir impossible, robs him of his heir, and makes remaining the hand untenable.

            2. Gets embarrassed by then rescued from the Greyjoys during their rebellion.

            3. Invades the River Lands which have blood or otherwise recent close ties to the North, the Vale, and the King himself. The most likely result is enough kingdoms untie to crush Tywin. Tyrion thinks that Cersei isn’t smart enough to demand Robert act as Tyrion’s judge but you could easily say the same about Tywin.

            4. Plans to draw Eddard out under the king’s banner so that Eddard could be killed in an ambush while Robert is alive and with no plans to assassinate him. If you could do one thing to unite all the other kingdoms against you under Robert’s wrath this would be it.

            5. Abandons the crossroads and rushes north to face what he thinks is the full power of the North leaving his rear wide open to the armies of the Vale which he must think will be marching against him.

            6. Falls for Robb Stark’s ruse to draw him west and leave King’s Landing unprotected and is only saved by Edmure.

            7. Violates one of the most sacred tenants of conduct and diplomacy undermining his own ability to build a lasting base of power beyond force of arms for his own descendants. He also misreads the North’s loyalty to the Starks and makes Robb a martyr failing to understand how the Starks differ from the Castameres.

            8. Denies the Martels even the appearance of justice guaranteeing they will act against him.

            This doesn’t even include how he raised and treated his children which went a long way towards Tywin’s failures. Tywin was a disaster with an inability to consider the long term who got by on gold and luck for a long time.

          • Basically Tywin couldn’t unite penut butter and jelly over the long term.

        • I doubt Tywin would succeed. Things were starting to fall apart already.

          • Winnie says:

            Succeed at what?!? Brokering peace or dealing with dragons and the Others?!?

            And good point about the Greyjoys-one way or another an Iron Born/Iron Throne confrontation was inevitable.

            I suspect you’ll be able to elaborate more on that in your next Hand of the King essay…

          • Succeed at uniting the Seven Kingdoms.

            I don’t have a next Hand of the King essay – that series is complete.

  15. Abbey Battle says:

    I must agree to the above and right heartily! (honestly I suspect that Mad King Aerys and King Joff the Bastard must be sharing the same circle of Hell; hopefully they are doing a good job of making the afterlife miserable for one another).

  16. JT says:

    It seems really odd that Edmure Tully is unmarried. The other part of this chapter deals with Catelyn and Hoster Tully. In it, Hoster repeatedly talks about how he wanted Brynden Tully to marry “a Redwyne girl”, but Brynden refused and left. We know Hoster Tully’s MO to is to use marriages to cement relationships with other strategic partners around Westeros.

    To wit: Catelyn was married first to Brandon Stark and then Ned (heirs to Winterfell/the North). Lysa Arryn was going to be married to Jaime Lanninster (heir to Casterly Rock/the West) before Jaime joined the Kingsguard, and was subsequently married to Jon Arryn (LP of the Vale) to bind the Tullys and Arryns in the rebellion.

    Yet Edmure, who is heir to Riverrun and by all accounts is in his mid 20s (a reasonably late age for a first marriage) is single. It seems odd that Hoster Tully never tried to marry Edmure to Margaery Tyrell, Arianne Martell, or even Asha Greyjoy, all of whom are daughters of Lords Paramount, single, and around the same age as Edmure. Even in the Riverlands, the Freys and Darrys are confirmed as having daughters who are in the right age cohort to have been married to Edmure, and I’m sure there are other Riverlords with daughters that aren’t mentioned.

    This may be due to plotting – for the Red Wedding to happen, Robb has to back out of his commitment with the Freys, and Edmure has to be available to take Robb’s place, since Edmure is the only other person of of enough value to “placate” Walder Frey. But if we’re looking at it from a logical point of view (i.e without knowing what the plot of the books requires), it does seem surprising.

    • Winnie says:

      Well I get the notion that Edmure, (being a bit of a lover boy) wasn’t perhaps eager to settle down and marry…but still it seems strange that Hoster didn’t *insist* given that Edmure is the heir to Riverrun, and the one to pass on the Tully name. Awful lot of highborn girls from the Riverlands, Reach, the Vale, or even the Crownlands or Westernlands who would have been suitable.

    • SpaceSquid says:

      I think one obvious possibility is that he did offer Edmure to the Tyrells, Martells or (less plausibly) Greyjoys, and got back a “maybe”. The Tyrells seem like the most likely match, but I wonder if Hoster had been rebuffed and tried for the Martells. Refusing to give a final answer on whether Edmure could wed Arianne seems entirely in keeping with Prince Doran’s approach to politics – he’d want to see whether a Tully alliance would be better for him come the Targaryen resurgence than any of the other options.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        Sorry, to be more clear, I don’t think Hoster would court the Dornish until after getting a “no” from Highgarden, but I can easily see a) Hoster asking them on the downlow, and b) the Tyrells refusing, especially if Mace is already looking towards King’s Landing as the place her daughter will find a husband.

      • That would make sense. Mace might have dithered, given Renly’s option of getting her in Robert’s bed, and Doran was clearly stalling for time.

    • Yeah. It might be from Brynden-fatigue, the same way that younger kids usually have it easier than older kids because the older kids tire the parents out.

    • Sean C. says:

      It would have made a lot more sense to me if Edmure had been married but his first wife died and they had no children.

    • From Arianne’s POV, AFFC: “Later, when Hoster Tully asked her to come to Riverrun and meet his heir, she lit candles to the Maid in thanks, but Prince Doran had declined the invitation.”

      So Hoster was putting Edmure out, apparently, but nobody picked up the bait.

      • Chris says:

        I was about to point that out, but you beat me to it!

        But yeah, since we have confirmation that Hoster Tully was actively seeking matches, it’s safe to assume that he courted at least the other LP daughters. And really, since both of his daughters were married to LPs, he probably feels that Edmure deserves the same.

      • Winnie says:

        Kinda surprising. I mean we know why Doran refused, (though, given what Viserys was and the likely fate of Aegon, he might have been better taking the offer,) but you’d think the Tully heir would have tempted SOMEBODY, (besides Walder Frey.)

        • Chris says:

          Well, there were no Arryn or Baratheon women of Edmure’s age. Cercei was already promised to Robert. That leaves Dorne and the Reach (I don’t think a Tully would ever consider a marriage with a Greyjoy), and I can’t remember how old Margaery is. If she only just came of age recently before marrying Renly, it could be that the Tyrells were willing to stall for the best offer.

          • 15 when she married Renly. Note a year earlier Renly and Loras had been hoping to bring her to court to dangle her in front of Robert. The Tyrells were *definitely* looking higher than Lords Paramount.

    • Roger says:

      You’re right, it’s an interesting point. Arianne Martell saw him as a possible option, but her father had other ideas.
      It must be noted that Lord Paramounts not only marry between themselves. Lord Steffon Baratheon married one his vassal’s daughter, and so did Jon Arryn. So there are lots of other options for Edmure (Jonos Bracken had many girls, for example, there is a Redwyne girl free, etc).
      Perhaps after his success marrying Cat and Lysa to Paramount Lords, Hoster can only accept a similar high-rank bride for his heir. That reduces the list heavily. Balon Greyjoy is a former enemy, Shireen Baratheon is too young (and perhaps unable to conceive), and Arianna Martell and Margaery Tyrell are reserved to other plans.

      • Winnie says:

        Strikes me as being a little overly picky on Hoster’s part though, not out of character. But really with Edmure it seems like it would been more cautious to get him married to a girl of a decent bloodline sooner rather than later, and get started on some grandkids.

        And you’re probably right about the Tyrell’s always aiming higher than House Tully…but i think they’re aiming so high is gonna come back to haunt them.

        • JT says:

          I’m pretty sure Oleanna Tyrell agrees with you. She mentions in ASOS that she didn’t want Mace to get involved in the war, but Mace decided that his daughter had to be Queen and that was that.

  17. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Ah, the crowning of the King in the North. For all of Catelyn’s pronouncements that: “For better or worse, her son had rolled the dice,” the Greatjon here takes them and rolls them so hard that leaves a dent in the table.

    I’m actually super-stoked to hear you talk about the Tullys, the familial relationship, and how it impacts the rise and fall of the house. I spoke a bit in my piece on Hoster Tully, but I’m sure you’ll probably make me look like the hack I am.

    I agree that presentism is a big problem when looking into Robb’s campaign, and given his tactical prowess and ability to seize objectives, Robb’s campaign is anything but doomed here.

    Good work in highlighting the clear parallel and key differences between this generation and Robert’s Rebellion in the lack of galvanizing figure. Bobby B had a lot of personal charisma, and Jon Arryn’s interconnectedness with two Lords Paramount made it easy to make the alliance three, then four Lords Paramount very easily. Combine that with Aerys being, more than completely nuts, an unabashed tyrant who ordered high-ranking Lords to death on pure whim and a talent for alienating every Lord Paramount he could (that’s probably where Rhaegar got it!)

    I’ve always argued that Robett Glover might have piece together enough of Roose’s incompetence (treachery is not even remotely apparent at this point, but you made very good points that I agree with that Roose threw the battle) enough to call for Robett to be instated as commander, but maybe that is presentism, or maybe I’m misinterpreting Robett Glover. He seemed cunning enough to arrange the trick of Harrenhal, but perhaps that was all Roose, and Robett just went along with it, or possibly Amory Lorch was just that thick that he made Robett look better by comparison. The only reason I think this is that Robett, along with the Rooseman, was looking for a command of his own, and perhaps he’d use that to argue for himself to be appointed in favor of Roose. I suppose the big problem is that we don’t know how much Robb knew about the Battle of the Green Fork, and whether Robett had the opportunity to send a message. Is it just that Robb was in the west and couldn’t manage his army to such a level of detail from the Westerlands, and no one else had the authority to make such an appointment?

    One of the things I’ve always mentioned when people say Robb was wrong to take up the kingship was that two generations of Winterfell’s Lords have been murdered at the hands of the Iron Throne. Rickard, Brandon, Eddard all met their ends at the hands of sociopathic tyrants, and Lyanna died after being abducted by Rhaegar Targaryen (the truth of the matter is unknown, but popular conception counts for a heck of a lot). Really, at that point, it’s a habitual pattern that Lords of Winterfell are murdered by kings, so there’s no reason to continue to swear fealty to a king that butchers them on trumped-up pretenses.

    Unfortunately, Robb’s left with no perfect move here, at this critical juncture. Each action has a high risk of failure and the consequences are severe no matter which way you slice it. This is a favored literary technique, I feel, of Martin’s, as it allows him to take the consequences of an action and use them to guide his story in the direction he wishes it to go, and allows him to set the pacing and movement of a story so events fall as he ordains.

    Love this chapter, and you’re one away from wrapping up the book. I think this is the best chapter in terms of politics and military, and this entry one of your top ones. Cheers!

    • Winnie says:

      Very, VERY good point, about two generations of Stark lords being murdered by the IT, and how that has to be playing a role in their thinking. At that point, its really not surprising the Northmen would decide to hell with the Red Keep and all that when they’ve had to deal with Aerys, and now a new Lannister regime that’s shaping up to be pretty awful too.

    • I’m sure Robett Glover might have – that’s why Roose sent him to Duskendale so he wouldn’t be anywhere near the Red Wedding.


      • somethinglikealawyer says:

        Good point, I was thinking about Robett immediately, but maybe he was just too busy after the Green Fork with the Harrenhal Caper to start piecing it together until Duskendale. That sort of stuff takes time.

        • I think it’s also a preponderance of evidence thing – one partial failure isn’t much evidence of anything, and the Harrenhal caper was a coup for the Starks. I’m sure the moment the Tyrells showed up at Duskendale that he knew exactly what had happened, but at that point he was a prisoner.

          • somethinglikealawyer says:

            You’ve tickled my inner lawyer with ‘preponderance of evidence.’ You’re right, the Battle of the Green Fork was rather chaotic enough that Robett would have needed time to piece it together, especially since other educated men (the advantages of being highborn) who could have helped him piece it together were either dead or captured. Evidence fits. Good thoughts, start to finish.

          • SpaceSquid says:

            I wonder if this sets off another consideration, though, which is why none of the Lords who’d clamoured for more responsibility earlier tried to use Bolton’s poor showing at the Green Fork as a reason to take control of the foot. I wonder if Bolton span the results rather more rosily than was accurate, and/or the other lords wanted to remain close to Robb for reaving opportunities, but it does make me wonder.

          • 1. I think it was hard for the lords in Roose Bolton’s entourage to do so, since it would be seen as a form of mutiny, and because it would be difficult for them to communicate with Robb without going through Roose.

            2. As for the lords around Robb, I think you’re right that they wanted to be near the king for political reasons, but also that they would be the least informed about Roose’s actions.

    • Roger says:

      Very interesting points! You hold Robett Glover in high regard! But I’m not sure the Harrenhal’s caper was his idea, Roose’s or even Aenys Frey’s.

      The “Baratheons” are not risponsable of what happened to BRandon and Rickard (that was Aerys’s fool work). And RObert avenged his deaths. But I get the point. I found surprising nobody in the North or the Trident showed some loyalty to Robert’s heir. but the situation was pretty confusing.

      Re-reading the chapter, is also somewhat unusual that the Trident’s Lord doesn’t ask Edmure’s opinion before kneeling before Robb. After all, he is their liege lord, and they can’t swear loyalty to a new king without his leave. I suppose Edmure is too new, Robb is too charismatic (the Young Wolf). But in the next novels Robb would commit THE error: treating Edmure like another Trident lord and only a minor parent, while he is Lord of the Riverlands and (theoricaly) his most important bannerman.

      But perhaps I’m falling into presentism again.

  18. JT says:

    Something that surprised me is that Tywin never tried to hire a sellsword company from Essos other than the Bloody Mummers (which seems like a small company mostly designed to terrorize his opponents’ lands v. fight battles).

    When Robert dies, Tywin is in the best position of all the claimants/commanders: he has the largest army in the field, a reputation as a strong commander and a man not to be trifled with, and he’s the richest man in Westeros. His side follows that up by smashing Edmure’s host, taking Edmure hostage and compounding the numerical advantage even further.

    Now, after a string of defeats, Tywin has the third largest army of the four kings. His heir is captive, his reputation as unbeatable is gone, and his army is holed up in a castle in foreign terrain, boxed up on both sides by armies and cut off from their supply lines. Really the only real advantage Tywin still has over the other sides is his gold. You would think he would have put out feelers to the Golden Company or any of the other companies in Essos to try and get more troops in the field.

    • There were also the freeriders with Jaime’s army who switched sides after the Camps.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Which volte face arguably explains Lord Tywin’s reluctance to employ more soldiers whose allegiance is to his purse and not to his person.

        In all honesty I would also suggest that given the destruction of the Lannister fleet during Greyjoy’s Rebellion, the politically-useful but unpaid debts dating from the reign of King Robert and the expense involved in assembling and equipping several armies Lord Tywin’s credit is likely to be stretched to the limit – especially after his reputation for invincibility has been struck such a telling blow by an untested youth.

        I would also like to note we DO hear that Ser Stafford Lannister at least was hiring, in the course of gathering his own force (which makes sense, given that he was a good deal closer to the Lannister vaults and to a friendly port).

        As a note, while Lord Tywin might be able to contact Free Companies from Harrenhal, any reinforcements from across the Narrow Sea would have to either land on the other side of the Continent or allow themselves to be penned up in King’s Landing facing the prospect of a siege, starvation and utterly overwhelming odds (we don’t know if the Lannisters control any ports in the east coast, beyond the Capital) and would in any case be obliged to fight their way through unfriendly territory in order to get to Lord Tywin (probably risking Lord Stannis’ ships or Lord Robb’s wolves or Lord Renly’s Power).

        Quite frankly the risk may very well not be worth the return.

        • Hedrigal says:

          Its been almost three years, but there’s also the possibility that any sellsword companies hired in that time might well use their position in kings landing to just seize the city and give it to stannis if he lets them keep the loot.

    • Roger says:

      I think the better companies were already taken. Or perhaps Hoat was the only able to travel from Essos in such a short term.
      Perhaps the Tyroshi outraide who defected during the battle of the campments was a Bloody Mummer, and left with the best men?

  19. Winnie says:

    Ok, somehow I’d gotten the idea that the next e-book was going to be another Hand of the King entry which it isn’t…so what is the main theme of your next Tower of the Hand e-book?

    I know you said it would include your thoughts on the aftermath of the RW, but is there more than that or what?!?


    Oh, btw Steve, thanks so much for this series….soon we will be on to ACOK!

    • Thanks!

      I think you’re confusing a couple things – first, I have two essays in the next Tower of the Hand ebook one of which has been promo’d; second, I have an ebook project that I’ll be announcing soon that’s not TotH-related. Third, I have the last essay in the Hollow Crowns series, but it’s not about the RW.

  20. Djinn says:

    Has the North ever withstood the combine power of the South? Has any of the previous holders of the Riverlands ever resisted to attack from multiple Realms? How strong is North military after a Winter(with dead horses and all)? Scottland had continental allies plus benefited from the political context in England. Could the North do the same in a Renly victory?

    • 1. Yes, when the Andals invaded.

      2. The Stormlands held the Riverlands for three hundred years despite pretty constant war with the Reach, Dorne, and the Iron Islands.

      3. Not sure.

      4. Robb would also be benefiting from political division in the south and would have the Riverlands (and intended to have the Vale and the Iron Islands) as an ally.

      • Djinn says:

        -Are you sure? I don’t recall any mention of a Andal alliance attacking the North, only that Andals did so, and with the Durrendon, Gardeners and Lannisters still ruling their Kingdoms, who exactly are these Andal allies that ruled the South?
        -But the the Storm Kings beat them all at once?
        -I would think that after a multi-year winter, the North would be in a very weakened state.
        -But eventually this divison would be over and taking a irreversible political step without any assurances of these alliances is odly similar to the ”the people will rise for Viserys” stance, no?

        • 1. The Lannisters are an Andal House, and every indication is that the Durrendons and Gardeners are as well, as none are described as blood of the First Men. However, the process of creating kingdoms came after the united invasion.

          2. It’s not at all clear that Robb would face them all at once, but yes, it’s described as a state of constant war.

          3. On the other hand, they’re also the best prepared at surviving winters.

          4. It’s not at all guaranteed that eventually the division would end. The Seven Kingdoms spent 8,000 years in a state of disunity.

          • Djinn says:

            -Lann, Durren and Garth were First Men. notice that only the Northmen describe others as blood of the First Men or not, nobody else does. Also there no unified invasion. The Andal invasions are described as waves of migration from a people, not unlike the First Men.
            -Constant war does not imply alliance. Facing and defeating one foe at a time is diferent from facing a alliance.
            -Because they suffer the harshest winters of all. One year after winter the North wouldn’t have enough horses to field cavalary, but the South could.
            -But state of things before is not the same as it is now. Before there was no precedent of a unified Realm. Now, all other claimmants goal is that(Joffrey,Stannis, Renly).

          • David Hunt says:


            Although Garth & Lann were said to be First Men, their Houses were thoroughly Andal after the invasions finished. I don’t know who Durren is, but I presume he was the legendary founder of the Storm Kings. Anyway, these Houses were thoroughly Andal long before the books start. It could be they intermarried with the Andals do to diplomacy or conquest, or it might be that the tales of the founders are just tales that arose because you had to have some near mythical ancestor from the time of the First Men to be a truly great House, so those ancestors were conjured up.

            Regardless, decent from mostly First Men Stock is really rare outside of the North at the time of the books. Even the Stark children are half Andal through Cat, except for Jon (we presume his other half is a mixture of Andal and Valerian).

          • Precisely. The only southern Houses that are strongly blood of the First Men we know of are the Blackwoods and the Brackens, the Daynes, Redforts, Royces, and Westerlings.

        • ajay says:

          I would think that after a multi-year winter, the North would be in a very weakened state.

          That all depends on how soon after. Everyone else will have suffered from a long winter as well.
          And don’t forget that the seasons are not normally as long as they have been when the books start. A decade-long summer is very unusual. Normally the seasons last 2 years each, according to the wiki. A two-year winter is a very different matter from a ten-year one.

          • Djinn says:

            Sure but if winter is hard enough to force older people into leaving their homes for the cold to preserve the food for the young, then horses have already bitten the dust by then. What do you feed your livestock during this two year winter? Remember, it snows in the summer in the North. Also, it’s likely that winter would end a few months before in the South, and with the greater resources they can begin rebuilding their strenght earlier.

          • Wat Barleycorn says:

            The North can’t be easily defeated even by the unified forces of the South because of the bottleneck at Moat Cailin. You can only put small numbers of men on the field at Moat Cailin, and you can’t go around it. And even if the North has an atrocious winter and lose many horses, so what? You don’t need horses to hold the Neck.

            And keep in mind, starvation isn’t like a plague which strikes down indiscriminately. The populations suffering the greatest losses in winter are precisely the sort of people Edmure was cautioned to kick out of Riverrun during the seige–the old, the young, the poor. Men of fighting age who have their own arms will be the last to die. And so when battle comes the North may have fewer resources, but they will also have fewer non-fighting people drawing on those resources. Not to mention that winter’s privations also make it impossible for an invading force to live off the land as they gain territory, and any weather surprises will help the Northerners and hurt the Southerners.

            Invasion by sea should be an option, but it’s your Moat Cailin problem again–it’s hard to get all your forces on boats. And you’d have to work out some deal with the Ironborn for at least neutrality. Also, the North is BIG and Winterfell is in the middle. Even if you capture a castle, you’ve got a vast distance to go to the next one, with no supplies on the way. And nothing for your horses or men to eat while you lay siege, which is especially a problem against Winterfell as its inhabitants are warm and actually growing fresh food from the glass gardens. You’re in trouble even if nobody is harrying your supply lines, which I assume somebody is, since you can’t attack everything simultaneously, given the North’s massive size.

            Sure, the North can be taken. We’ve seen the North “taken” with dragons–a largely paper victory, leaving all the ruling houses untouched and their power almost exactly as it was before the dragons came. We’ve seen the North taken when the Iron Throne was able to lure the head of House Stark to play Southron games (which probably only happens if dragons mean you’re dealing with a Lord Protector in the North rather than a King).

            And at the end of the day, the North could also probably also be taken with the kind of standard war we see all over Westeros–put enough guys on ships for long enough, maybe take Moat Cailin from the North…odds are the South would eventually win. But there’s a reason it’s never happened. And that reason is it’s pointless and it’s hard. To keep the fight going, you’d have to have a nation of Randyll Tarlys whose machismo overrides anything approaching sensible judgment. And the reality is Westeros isn’t all Randyll Tarlys and eventually a whole bunch of Southern lords would be like “this is STUPID,” and they’d bail and go take the valuable southern territories of the Randyll Tarlys whose men were busy starving outside Torrhen’s Keep.

            If you want to conquer the North, you’d best have dragons.

  21. JT says:

    Steven, knowing what we know now, do you think that bringing the entire Northern/Riverlands army (including Roose Bolton’s host) and besieging Harrenhall would have worked?

    Getting caught between two Lannister armies at the walls of Harrenhall seems fairly low risk in retrospect. Tywin has a huge army (~20k in total give or take) to feed with no supply chain, and Stafford Lannister still has to raise an army in Lannisport, train said army, and then march across the Westerlands, through the Riverlands and to Harrenhall to relieve Tywin. This might take around a month to happen, by which time Tywin’s army in Harrenhall will be in no shape to fight (not to mention that Stafford’s army is comprised as someone put it “of street sweepings” and shouldn’t be that threatening to the Northern/Riverlands host. And that’s if Robb can’t finish Tywin off in Harrenhall by then.

  22. Abbey Battle says:

    The problem is that ‘street sweepings’ or not Lord Stafford’s host can still ravage the River-lands, doubtless causing a good deal of division in Lord Robb’s army, either because the newly-hailed King in the North is seen to be failing to protect his own or due to his being obliged to send some portion of his forces to face Lord Stafford (making it that much more likely that the Siege will either be broken by a push from inside Harrenhal, odds now being much closer to even, or that Lord Robb will simply be unable to sustain the siege owing to a lack of manpower).

    I would also remind the reader of Storm’s End during the War of the Usurper; given a sufficiently secure stronghold the besieged can endure for a lot longer than you would like them to (and I doubt Lord Tywin is any less stubborn than Lord Stannis in such a pinch).

    More to the point if Lord Robb sieges Harrenhal TOO closely then he is effectively sacrificing his strategic mobility for the duration of the siege – arguably costing him his greatest strength and running the risk of camp fever decimating his host into the bargain.

  23. qwerty30 . says:

    A few comments: I think the idea with bending the knee is that once the Starks do it, Tywin stops ravaging the Riverlands and removes himself from Harrenhal. The Lannisters would be getting the sweeter deal so they would have no real reason to refuse. The only kicker would be if they think the offer is too good to be true, but since part of the deal includes the return of Jaime, whom all the noblemen regard as more valuable than Sansa and Arya Stark combined, it’s likely that they’d have to chance it. I don’t believe that all the Lannisters want annihilation of the Starks, from at least Cersei’s perspective this is all a consequence of her desire to defend Joffrey’s birthright (which is not really his birthright, but she doesn’t care of course), and she wanted Joffrey to let Ned Stark take the black. At this point nobody wants to give up, but they also fear the consequences of escalation.

    I don’t think Catelyn prepared this proposal in advance, it just occurred to her in that moment. If it had been met with a more open-minded reception perhaps more details could be worked out, but there were so many people with so many agendas with strong emotions underneath them. I’d also mention that politicians often use personal anecdotes to argue in favor of proposals, letting one story stand as a representational case study for all. I think Catelyn’s emotions were sincere, but they could still be effective. I don’t think the bannermen’s problem was that her argument wasn’t rational enough, it was that she was feeling what they considered to be the wrong emotions. They were angry and she wasn’t, not angry enough anyway.

    I don’t know if you recall but it was me that you once had a discussion with on Tumblr about whether or not Robb could refuse his bannermen (well I don’t know if you had several conversations like that, but I don’t recall ever seeing another one on your Tumblr). I don’t believe that conversation went very clearly so let me just say that I certainly agree that Robb is facing immense pressure from his bannermen and it would be incredibly difficult to refuse them. Nevertheless, I remember the first time I read this chapter I had a very bad feeling about the whole endeavor, and I think once the story arc is all concluded it serves as an effective indictment against the way that shows of strength make up so much of how stability is negotiated in Westeros. Robb has to show strength in front of his bannermen, who want the north to show strength to the iron throne. The eventual cost is the lives not of just the sons of these noblemen but countless civilian men, women and children who just wanted to go about their lives, to whom Ned Stark was pretty much a stranger. For all that Catelyn is not accounting for the bannermen’s desire to make their sons’ deaths count, the bannermen are not considering all the civilian parents who will lose their children in a fight that really has nothing at all to do with them. Telling one of those mothers that her children died because a noble house had to preserve its dynasty is probably not going to be much consolation to her (although she might be able to understand another parent wanting to save his or her children). Since to the reader, the bannermen are just a perspectiveless mass, we don’t really always remember that they are human beings with individual free will and we don’t question their choices, but they all have it and are capable of asking themselves if what they propose is really for the greater good. Considering that this is the ultimate cost, ideally they ought to be extremely rigorous in deciding if the benefit is great enough to outweigh it.

  24. […] Catelyn XI of AGOT, I pointed out the historical fact that Scotland managed to maintain its independence […]

  25. Scott Trotter says:

    I think that if I were Robb I would: (a) order Bolton’s host down to Harrenhal and throw up a block-the-gates-and-let-them-starve type of siege; (b) send out a series of mounted patrols across the Riverlands to hunt down and destroy the pillaging parties of Clegane, Lorch and Hoat, and to otherwise set the country to rights; (c) send the rest of my force, mainly Riverlanders, into the Westlands to loot, pillage and plunder, er, that is, to collect restitution for an unjust breaking of the King’s Peace; (d) send ravens to Stannis and Renly inviting them to make me an offer; (e) remain at Riverrun myself (as Robb) where I can maintain command and control of my forces.

    • A is dangerous. Tywin outnumbers Bolton ~ 2:1. If he sallies forth, he could do some serious damage to the Northern forces.
      B would be wise.
      C is what he does.
      D he kind of does in reverse.

      • Scott Trotter says:

        “A is dangerous” Yes, which why I recommended blocking the gate and starving them out. As I recall, Harrenhal only has the one main gate. Would it be feasible for a smaller force to block the gate and keep them contained as Stannis was contained in Storm’s End?

        • Harrenhal has many gates, and no it wouldn’t be feasible. Stannis was contained by a much larger force, not a smaller force.

          If it’s a smaller force, you make a sortie and wipe them out.

  26. […] and should have been listened to all along aren’t quite right. As Brynden Tully reminded us back in AGOT, you need the other side to want peace too. And here the Lannisters have no interest in making […]

  27. […] for peace was justified. I can see where this idea has some grounding in the text, but it can be taken too far. But while Catelyn couldn’t have known Tyrion’s plans from last chapter, she absolutely […]

  28. […] a slightly odd argument – Catelyn has always defined the purpose of the war in terms of her family’s interests as opposed to some larger conception of the common good, and she will continue to do so […]

  29. […] to hire mercenaries. Third, it’s a political sop for his Riverlords – given that their fealty is implicitly tied to Robb’s ability to protect them, showing that he can punish the hated […]

  30. […] And the desperation makes this a profoundly personal decision, rather than as a deliberate anti-war action as in her speech at the end of AGOT or a deliberately feminist statement akin to her argument to […]

  31. […] Westerosi taboos. And since we’ve been seeing much of the Stark side through the eyes of Catelyn Stark, they’ve appeared to be the “good guys,” fighting to defend the Riverlands from […]

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