Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Catelyn I


“Her son’s crown was fresh from the forge, and it seemed to Catelyn Stark that the weight of it pressed heavy on Robb’s head…it is no easy thing to wear a crown…especially for a boy of fifteen years.”

Synopsis: King Robb Stark presents his peace terms to the envoy Ser Cleos Frey and then he and Catelyn argue over Jaime Lannister on the one hand, and Theon Greyjoy on the other. After that meeting, Catelyn encounters her uncle Brynden who bears grave news – and the two plan an alliance with Renly Baratheon.

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:

After all the oblique dramatic setup in previous chapters, Catelyn I plunges headlong into some meaty political dilemmas – all of which boil down to the question of what does it mean to be a good king as Robb Stark wrestles with the question of governance amidst war. Does a good king attempt to achieve the expressed desires of his people in a kind of indirect representative system, or follow his best judgement? How does a king balance his own personal and familial interests with the interests of his vassals? How does he treat with his enemies, or potential allies?

In the process of trying to answer these questions, some hugely important decisions get made in this chapter. However, as I’ll argue, the context, stakess, and outcomes of these decisions have often been over-simplified by readers to throw blame for the eventual downfall of House Stark onto the shoulders of either Robb or Catelyn – the truth is far more complicated.

The Question of Peace

The major political development of the chapter are the terms of peace that King Robb announces in open court that are to be carried to King’s Landing. As a public political document, we have to consider both the rhetoric of the document as well as the calculations of interest behind it as well as the different audiences the document is aimed at. It’s not an accident that the young king is doing this in open court in front of his lords bannermen – he’s looking to build consensus and buy-in from his vassals for a set of demands that notably lack a lot of the conventional sweeteners (land, titles, precious metals, marriage alliances) of medieval treatymaking, but also defining his war aims to the general public (or at least the more elite public who follow political news) because word is going to spread and he wants to define himself as something other than a self-interested pretender.

Let’s parse out the terms:

“What is this message?”

“An offer of peace…tell the Queen Regent that if she meets my terms, I will sheath this sword, and make an end to the war between us…

First, the queen must release my sisters and provide them with transport by sea from King’s Landing to White Harbor. It is to be understood that Sansa’s betrothal is at an end…I will release the queen’s cousins, the squire Willem Lannister and your brother Tion Frey…

Secondly, my lord father’s bones will be returned to us, so that he may rest beside his brother and sister in the crypts beneath Winterfell…

Third, my father’s greatsword Ice will be delivered to my hand…

Fourth, the queen will command her father Lord Tywin to release those knights and lords bannermen of mine that he took captive on the Green Fork of the Trident. Once he does so, I shall release my own captives…save Jaime Lannister alone, who will remain my hostage for his father’s good behavior.

Lastly, King Joffrey and the Queen regent must renounce all claims to dominion over the north. Henceforth we are no part of their realm, but a free and independent kingdom, as of old. Our domain shall include all the Stark lands north of the Neck, and in addition the lands watered by the River Trident and its vassal streams, bounded by the Golden Tooth to the west and the mountains of the Moons…Lord Tywin must withdraw beyond these boards and cease his raiding, burning, and pillage. The Queen Regent and her son shall make no claims to taxes, incomes, nor service from my people, and shall free my lords and knights from all oaths of fealty, vows, pledges, debts, and obligations owned to the Iron Throne and the Houses Baratheon and Lannister…the Lannisters shall deliver ten highborn hostages, to be mutually agreed upon, as a pledge of peace…I shall release two hostages every year.” 

To begin with, the treaty involves both personal and political features – it includes the return of the two Stark sisters, Ned’s body, the ancestral greatsword, but also the release of hostages and the redrawing of political boundaries. This last part is important, because as I’ll go into later, there are now more political players and political interests involved than just the Stark family and if the Starks are to achieve their aims they need their vassals to come along for the ride. Once again, we have to keep feudal politics in mind when assessing the accomplishments of any of the clashing kings of this book.

Notably, this chapter points out that not everyone’s interests are being served here. Catelyn is being very careful to observe what the reaction is to the proposal to gauge who’s on board and who isn’t, looking at “each furrowed brow and pair of tightened lips.” Most notable is “the tall, gaunt figure of Lord Rickard Karstark” who clearly rejects the terms and indeed any peace, and note this is well before Jaime Lannister’s freedom comes into question.  There’s a very real danger that “there were others who felt the same as Lord Karstark,” for whom the losses of war have gone so far that they have nothing to gain from peace. It’s all well and good for Catelyn to talk of the never-ending cycle of violence when she has something to gain from its end; but how do you get someone like Lord Blackwood to want peace when he doesn’t have any personal stake in Arya or Sansa being freed?

Second and because of this, this treaty is both a nationalist document, proclaiming claims based both on historical grounds (“a free and independent kingdom, as of old”) and geographic terms (the use of the term “vassal streams” is not accidental, an attempt to naturalize certain political relationships), and a feudal document. Independence is here defined in two broad categories: the first is the withdrawal of “raiding, burning, and pillage” from the Riverlands (major war aim for the Riverlords who, let me remind you, make up half of King Robb’s army), but the second is the release of vassal lords from “taxes, incomes, nor service…oaths of fealty, vows, pledges, debts, and obligations” (which appeals more to the Northmen who aren’t currently being invaded). However, we’re not talking about free elections and recognition from the U.N here; this is a pre-nation state kind of nationalism, focusing very specifically on the relationship between the person of the king and the person of his lords, based not on constitutional powers but rather bilateral agreements as the sign and signifier of dominion or independence.

At the same time, though, we can’t discount the ideological response that this is intended to evoke – the King in the North is, after all, trying to get his Northern lords to carry on a war on the verge of winter, after his initial war aims were sidelined by Joffrey’s madness, and trying to get the Riverlords to back him against the crown. In order to do this, he has to offer a symbolic structure – in this case, the image of an alternative nation to belong to – that can answer both the practical question of how post-war relations are going to be arranged and the emotional need to give the sacrifices of war some meaning.

Third, and I feel this part is often overlooked, we have to remember that this is an opening bid, made at Catelyn Stark’s urging. These aren’t final drop-dead terms, although King Robb certainly intends to use military force to induce compliance and raise the costs of holding out, but rather a maximal demand. As Catelyn says, “An offer had to be made, though a wiser man might have offered sweeter terms…it had been no easy thing to convince him to make even this offer, poor as it was.” Indeed, Tyrion will offer the Lannisters’ own starting point, with at least the public pretense that the two are going to move towards some settlement in the middle. However, it also needs to be pointed out that, contrary to some arguments that Catelyn Stark’s thematic arc is an uncomplicated anti-war message, that Catelyn Stark’s proposal is very much one predicated on Northern victory. I would argue rather  (and I’ll say a bit more about this that there is a tension in Catelyn’s motives in this chapter between the desire to have Arya and Sansa safe full-stop and the desire to defeat Tywin Lannister.


The Problem of Jaime and the Sisters

One of the most vexing issues in the Northern peace offer, and one that’s important enough to be talked about on its own merits, is the debate over what to do with Jaime Lannister, and whether he could or should be exchanged for Sansa and Arya – and whether King Robb’s refusal to countenance such an exchange points to his weakness as king, his lack of love for his sisters, and the way that the patriarchal society of Westeros devalues women, even otherwise privileged noblewomen, even among supposedly “good” men (I think the last is definitely true).

To begin with, it should be noted that King Robb’s major public mention of Jaime is to exclude him from the exchange of prisoners taken on the battlefield: he offers to release his prisoners taken at the Whispering Woods and the Camps in exchange for those Stark men taken at the Green Fork, “save Jaime Lannister alone, who will remain my hostage for his father’s good behavior.” However, this isn’t in itself a statement that Jaime will never be traded, but rather than in the intermediary stage of peacemaking, while Tywin’s armies remain in the Riverlands, that Jaime is going to be kept close to hand. “Good behavior” itself suggests some sort of interstitial phase in which Tywin’s willingness to keep to the terms of the agreement is being monitored. I would argue that it’s left ambiguous as to whether Jaime would be exchanged later during the five-year cooling-off period that the King in the North describes at the end of his proposed treaty.

However, to be fair, Robb’s later private statement to his mother does point to an unwillingness to exchange Sansa and Arya for Jaime overall:

“Cersei Lannister will never consent to trade your sisters for a pair of cousins. It’s her brother she’ll want, as you know full well.” She had told him as much before…

“I can’t release the Kingslayer, not even if I wanted to. My lords would never abide it.”

“Your lords made you their king.”

“And can unmake me just as easy.”

“If your crown is the price we must pay to have Arya and Sansa, we should pay it willingly. Half your lords would like to murder Lannister in his cell-“

“But I won’t free him, not even for Arya and Sansa…I might have been able to trade the Kingslayer for Father, but…”

“But not for the girls?…girls are not important enough, are they?”…that was unworthy of me…

“I’ll do all I can for my sisters.”

I would still argue that his comments here are still in reference to the interstitial exchange of prisoners as envisioned by points one and four of his proposed treaty, not a blanket statement that he’s unwilling to trade Jaime at any time for any price. One criticism that has been made of King Robb’s leadership is that a hostage that can’t be traded isn’t actually useful, and that Robb’s refusal to exchange Jaime is a sign of his shortcomings as a leader, but I think the mention of his willingness to trade Jaime for Ned Stark points to a different stance. Rather, I think Robb is saying that he’s willing to trade Jaime as part of a final peace deal in which his war aims are met – initially, his war aim was to rescue his father and restore status quo ante bellum, a goal that he had buy-in from his nobles. In order to get the same buy-in a second time, Robb needs a new final settlement (it’s also generally a good idea not to start a negotiation with your best possible offer, lest you get bargained down from that).

Moreover, I think this statement has to be looked at in the same context of feudal politics – at the end of the day, Robb rules by consent of his lords, and can’t ignore their interests if he wants to succeed at any political mission (which Catelyn acknowledges when she points to the danger of keeping Jaime). So far in the war, Ser Jaime is King Robb’s only major prize in the war so far (at least as far as the Northmen are concerned), and for him to give the prisoner away for his own personal reward risks the same backlash that Agammemnon faced from Achilles when he got too greedy over Trojan spoils. Thus the importance of independence as a concrete win he can hand to his bannermen and create a context in which the handover of Jaime would be acceptable.

However, I think the point about gender sticks and points to the way that structures of oppression and control function to force compliance even from those with privilege who might want to dissent from the system – even if King Robb viewed his sisters as equals to any man, his bannermen don’t and would punish his transgressing that principle. At the same time, I do think there is a problem with uncritically accepting the argument that “If your crown is the price we must pay to have Arya and Sansa, we should pay it willingly.” King Robb’s crown is at one and the same time both an obstacle and the vehicle for any return of the two Stark sistersbecause without his bannermen and their armies, he has no means to compel the Lannisters to hand over his sisters, to end the war, or to keep his family safe.

Robb’s Major Mistake: Sending Theon

And now we come to an unambiguous error – King Robb sending Theon Greyjoy to Pyke to negotiate with Balon Greyjoy for his support in the War of Five Kings – and what rightfully should be Exhibit A in the case against King Robb.

“Go with Theon. He leaves on the morrow.”

“I would sooner you sent someone else to Pyke, and kept Theon close to you.”

“Who better to treat with Balon Greyjoy than his own son?”

…”Anyone…but not Theon. You’ll have [longships] sooner if you keep his son as hostage.”

It’s an error of judgement of several levels – to begin with, both he (and Theon) fail to anticipate Balon Greyjoy’s reaction to being “given” a crown (although it’s likely Balon would have also rejected an offer made to the King of the Iron Islands). Next, Robb fails to recognize that Theon doesn’t have the power to grant what Robb wants and can’t make promises on Balon Greyjoy’s behalf (although as I’ll point out later, Catelyn makes the same error in regards to Jaime). Third, he makes the procedural error of conceding to Balon Greyjoy Robb’s best offer before the negotiations have begun – if a deal was possible, then sending Theon home would have been the last step, not the first. Fourth, as so many people do in this series, Robb assumes that things will go the way he wants them to go and fails to plan for an alternative outcome.

And yet, it’s not clear how consequential King Robb’s error was. After all, Balon Greyjoy had clearly been planning to attack before Theon was sent – we can see that from the ships at harbor in Lordsport which I’ll discuss more in Theon I. Likewise, it’s obvious from Damphair’s dialogue in that same chapter that Balon intended to make Asha his heir – which renders Theon’s value as a hostage nil, at least in terms of forestalling an attack on the North.

I’ll get into this more when we get to the What If? section, but it may well be that Robb’s mistake only changed the severity of the attack on the North. At the same time, however, we do learn that there’s a significant difference between being a good king and a good friend.


The War of Five Kings: the Military Situation

Let us turn now from peace to war. Roughly two months has passed from Robb’s crowning in the Riverlands, and the Stark/Tully position has gotten markedly worse – not so much because of any major action on the field, but because “at Edmure’s insistence… Robb had given the river lords leave to depart after his crowning, each to defend his own lands.” As a result, rather than having roughly 40,000 men in two concentrated armies, Robb’s position has been weakened by the dispersal of the Tully bannermen to hold the outer edges of the Riverlands, and is now severely limited in his strategic options.

As I’ve argued, I believe the blame for this lies at Edmure’s feet – he’s the one who’s insisting and it’s fully in line with his actions in the early stages of the War of Five Kings when he tried to conduct a perimeter defense against Tywin and Jaime Lannister. To be fair, though, Robb does still bear responsibility for the final decision (adjusting for the practical limits of feudal politics; even the best of kings suffered desertion after the normal feudal terms of service were up) and it’s a sign of a still-maturing style of kingship.

With permission to leave, the Riverlords depart: “Ser Marq Piper and lord Karyl Vance had been the first to go. Lord Jonos Bracken had followed, vowing to reclaim the burnt shell of his castle and bury his dead, and now Lord Jason Mallister had announced his intent to return to his seat at Seagard.” It’s a bit difficult to nail down at the level of the individual House how many men we’re dealing with, but I’ve made a rough estimate based on the fact that the combined forces were around 40,000, my estimate of Robb having 10-11,000 at the Whispering Woods and only having 6,000 at Oxcross once the Mallisters depart, and Roose Bolton having between 10-12,000 men, and that Edmure is able to pull 11,000 together to fight Tywin at the Fords (and which Houses are mentioned as having fought at the Fords):

  • House Mallister = ~4,000 men. As I’ve pointed out, the Mallisters must be around the size of the Freys as a regional power especially a more militarized one.
  • Houses Brackens and Blackwoods = ~4,000 each. Given the importance of both Houses in the southern Riverlands, and the fact that the Tullys have had great difficulty bringing them to heel, these two houses have to be roughly as big as the Freys and Mallisters. It also explains why, unlike the forces of House Darry, these Houses are able to push the Lannisters off their lands and not be re-taken by the Lannister reavers.
  • House Darry = less than 300 men. Given the ease with which the Mountain re-takes Castle Darry from its returning men, and the fact that Ser Raymun Darry’s forces had taken losses both at the first siege of Riverrun and the Mummer’s Ford, I think this house has taken significant casualties.
  • Houses Piper and Vance = ~1,000 each, given that the two Houses had 2,000 each at the Battle of the Golden Tooth and then got walloped at that battle.
  • This would leave the Tullys with around 4,000 men of their own, which makes sense given the prominence of Riverrun, and that they are still able to command nominal control from the Houses of the Riverlands.

Of these roughly 22,000 men, only 11,000 re-appear when Edmure calls the banners for the Battle of the Fords.

Part of that may be due to the fact that the Brackens and Blackwoods don’t seem to fight at the Fords (whereas the Vances and Mallisters do) although they still must have taken losses retaking their lands, but that still leaves at least 3,000 men (and possibly as high as 11,000) who die in the scattered guerilla warfare over the eight months of fighting between now and the Battle of the Fords. However, and this is an important point – there’s some losses on the other side as well. Bracken and Blackwood were fighting someone, and Piper and Vance must have one against someone, and Ser Burton Crakehall wasn’t among the original three “dogs” loosed on the Riverlands at the end of the last book. I’ll try to keep an eye on this later.

This fits in quite well with Ser Brynden Tully’s report that:

“The riverlands are awash in blood and flame all around the Gods Eye. The fighting has spread to the Blackwater and north across the Trident almost to the Twins. Marq Piper and Karyl Vance have won some small victories, and this southron lordling Beric Dondarrion has been raiding the raiders…your father’s bannermen make a sadder tale. Robb should never have let them go. They’ve scattered like quail, each man trying to protect his own, and it’s folly…Jonos Bracken was wounded in the fighting…and his nephew Hendry slain. Tytos Blackwood’s swept the Lannisters off his lands, but they…left him with nothing to defend but Raventree Hall and a scorched desert. Darry men recaptured their lord’s keep but held it less than a fortnight.”

A few things can be noted from this cavalcade of miseries. First, we note that Roose Bolton still has not secured the crossing over the Trident in two months, a lapse that allows the Lannisters to raid “across the Trident,” when we’ll see he’s perfectly capable of doing so later on. Second, contrary to his reputation of being a perpetual loser, Lord Beric Dondarrion is actually quite successful if somewhat reckless – he clearly uses himself as bait to lure out Ser Burton Crakehall (who kills him, Beric’s second death) before wiping out Ser Burton’s entire force and returning the favor.

Third, as we can see, Tywin Lannister’s strategy of “sit[ting] safe behind the walls of Harrenhal, feeding his host on our harvest and burning what he does not take. Gregor is not the only dog he’s loosed. Ser Amory Lorch is in the field as well, and some sellsword out of Qohor who’d sooner maim a man than kill him…” meant to scatter the Riverlords has now worked for the second time, although he’s yet to accomplish his main goal of “provok[ing] us to battle…on a field of his own choosing. He wants us to march on Harrenhal.” Meanwhile over in the Westerlands, “a new host is gathering at Casterly Rock…this lot will be sellswords, freeriders, and green boys from the stews of Lannisport. Ser Stafford must see that they are armed and drilled before he dare risk battle…and make no mistake, Lord Tywin is not the Kingslayer. He will not rush in heedless. He will wait patiently for Ser Stafford to march before he stirs from behind the walls of Harrenhal.”

Thus, Tywin is setting up another win-win scenario: if Robb takes the bait, he risks dashing his force against the walls of Harrenhal; if Robb doesn’t, then he risks getting caught between two armies. Both Brynden and his niece Catelyn Tully understand the “first rule of war – never give the enemy his wish,” and concoct a scheme to use Renly to draw out Tywin Lannister from Harrenhal, where he can be beaten. It’s a prime example of Catelyn Stark’s political intellect, which goes missing for the whole of Season 2.

However, and I think this is a point that’s overlooked – out of sight of the camera of his mother’s eye, Robb Stark hatches an equally intelligent plan of his own design. Knowing that Ser Stafford has to train his levies and that Tywin won’t march without Ser Stafford, Robb plans to move west to destroy the threat to his flank and sack the Westerlands, menacing Casterly Rock and Lannisport, which will make Tywin come chase him, allowing Robb’s disparate forces to surround and destroy his army. Both plans work well independently – if Robb is successful and Tywin marches west, then Catelyn chivvying Renly along only means that King’s Landing is all the more likely to fall;  if Catelyn is successful and Tywin marches out to fight Renly, then Robb’s assault on the Westerlands finishes off the Lannister threat and allows him to reward his bannermen (and keep his army together) off of Lannister resources, and gives the Lannisters further motivation to seek peace.

In other words, both SmartCatelyn and SmartRobb co-exist in this chapter.

Historical Analysis:

There’s something that gets left out of post-mortem analyses of the actions of both Robb and Catelyn Stark that I feel has some bearing on the discussion of war vs. peace. It’s often argued that the Starks should have sued for peace at the end of AGOT, on the humanitarian basis that war is a tragic and needless loss of life and the somewhat presentist basis that seeking revenge only leads to a cycle of violence that will leave the North devastated. However, I don’t think that this is always an answer – for example, see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ rejoinder to the argument that the Civil War was a “needless war” that slavery had been a kind of slow-moving invisible war that could only be ended by violence.

It’s easy to compare war vs. peace, but a lot harder to compare peace vs. freedom, especially when the lack of freedom becomes a kind of slow-motion war. And thus, we get to how one weighs the question of nationalism – what value does independence have? How many lives is it worth? How many lives are lost when it is lost?

In Catelyn XI of AGOT, I pointed out the historical fact that Scotland managed to maintain its independence against England for hundred and hundreds of years, as a way to get us to rethink the probabilities of an independent North. However, I think it’s important for us to understand the emotional weight and value that nationalism held in this period.

Consider for example, the Declaration of Arbroath, written in 1320 at the height of the First Scottish War for Independence, and signed by eight earls and thirty-one barons of Scotland (just as with Robb’s peace terms, we’re dealing with a feudal conception of the nation here):

“our nation of Scots…could be conquered by no one anywhere, no matter how barbarous the tribes…its home in the west, which it now holds, having first thrown out the Britons and completely destroyed the Picts, and even though it was often attacked by the Norse, the Danes and the English, it fought back with many victories and countless labours and it has held itself ever since, free from all slavery, as the historians of old testify…

From these countless evils, with His help who afterwards soothes and heals wounds, we are freed by our tireless leader, king, and master, Lord Robert, who like another Maccabaeus or Joshua, underwent toil and tiredness, hunger and danger with a light spirit in order to free the people and his inheritance from the hands of his enemies. And now, the divine Will, our just laws and customs, which we will defend to the death, the right of succession and the due consent and assent of all of us have made him our leader and our king. To this man, inasmuch as he saved our people, and for upholding our freedom, we are bound by right as much as by his merits, and choose to follow him in all that he does.

But if he should cease from these beginnings, wishing to give us or our kingdom to the English or the king of the English, we would immediately take steps to drive him out as the enemy and the subverter of his own rights and ours, and install another King who would make good our defence. Because, while a hundred of us remain alive, we will not submit in the slightest measure, to the domination of the English. We do not fight for honour, riches, or glory, but solely for freedom which no true man gives up but with his life.”

This document, written at a time when King Edward I (the so-called “Hammer of the Scots”) had brought 100,000 men to bear against 20,000 Scottish soldiers, cannot be justified or denied by an accounting of bodies. Rather, they are positing the value of identity and history, their right to be Scottish – so much so that they threaten to overthrow Robert the Bruce himself if he turns sides and joins the English (as I’ve pointed out, this was hardly a hypothetical possibility), and are willing to risk annihilation to win what in the 21st century would be considered their human rights.

And while one can argue that the romantic appeal of nationalism can still mask some fundamentally evil actions and that those who call for heroic sacrifice are often not the civilians, especially women and children, who often bear the brunt of any war, even for nationalist revolution, it’s also true that this structure of belief clearly had enough buy-in from the Scottish people at large that it was still inspiring statements like this 400 years later.

What If?

This chapter is absolutely chock-full of hypothetical possibilities – I’ve laid out some major ones here but I’m sure the commenters will throw in some more:

  • Robb says no to Edmure? Without the loss of the roughly 18,000 Riverlords, Robb Stark would have had a very different strategic position than he does in this chapter and many different possibilities open up. To begin with, rather than a scattered and botched reclamation of the southern Riverlands, a coordinated push could have been made from Riverrun to the Gods Eye, placing a force some 20,000 strong on Tywin’s doorstep (while still leaving a force strong enough to hold the western fords against Stafford Lannister) while potentially allowing Roose to come down and take the Ruby Fork as he will do later, pinning Tywin between the two armies. This in turn would have prevented his march to King’s Landing, all but ensuring that King’s Landing falls. Alternatively, Robb could have brought a much larger force into the Westerlands capable of putting Casterly Rock under siege and assaulting Lannisport, which would have done enormous damage to the Lannister cause, while still leaving a significant force to hold Riverrun and Roose’s force to cut off Tywin from the rear.
  • Robb had marched for Harrenhal? Let’s say that the dispersal had happened, and Robb had been provoked into marching on Harrenhal, with the attendant losses to the Riverlords as in OTL. Even if he’d picked up the Brackens and Blackwoods along the way, Robb’s army would still only be at 17,000 maximum (and even that would leave Riverrun dangerously exposed to Ser Stafford’s army). It’s quite possible that Robb would get beaten and badly by Tywin, especially if Roose Bolton withholds his 10-12,000 men in support. At the same time, it’s quite possible that Robb could get beaten on the field and still win the war if the fighting around the Gods Eye had likewise prevented Tywin from marching to King’s Landing.
  • Theon hadn’t been sent? At this point, I’m pretty convinced that Balon was going to attack the North no matter what. However, if Theon doesn’t go, then his fluke victory at Winterfell gets butterflied away, and the North will eventually rally around Winterfell. In that case, with the North threatened but Winterfell holding out, it’s quite possible that Robb doesn’t march North after his return to Riverrun, since eventually the North’s manpower advantage will win out over the Ironborn and Balon’s due to die anyway. More importantly, with Bran and Rickon alive, Catelyn has no motive to let Jaime free (and now that I think about it, this lowers the likelihood that Tywin decides to marry Sansa to Tyrion). What happens then is unclear – the North still has a significant army in the field and the Trident and Jaime (although more than a little motive to return North to chuck out the Ironborn) but the Lannisters have a big army. It’s quite possible the Stark-Lannister war ends in a Tyrell-engineered truce at this point, or a series of brutal fights along the Trident that get interrupted when Euron’s fleet hits the Reach and Aegon lands in the east. One thing is clear, though, if Balon attacks – Robb’s going to have to cut off Theon’s head.
  • Catelyn had left for the Twins or Winterfell? In the former case, it’s quite possible either that Catelyn Stark becomes Lord Walder’s prisoner, or that the Red Wedding is butterflied away if Lord Walder is too cautious to try to organize it under Catelyn Stark’s nose with 400 Stark men at her command. In the latter case, Catelyn’s presence in Winterfell means that Theon’s gambit fails – Winterfell remains the rallying point of the North, Theon is likely killed, and eventually the North is retaken. Jaime is definitely not going to be freed in this situation.

Book vs. Show:

As I’ve said, I think the Robb and Catelyn relationship in Season 1 worked rather well all things told, adjusting to the different ages and the need for Robb Stark to be his own presence on the show given the impossibility of the POV structure. And Robb Stark was going to have to be a more conventional protagonist figure in Season 2, given the impossibility of shoving him off-screen for a whole season, and the need to build him up for the Red Wedding to have its impact.

At the same time, I do think the complaints about the handling of Catelyn’s character have merit. As we can see in Episode 1, Catelyn Stark’s character is mangled. She’s not present in the scene where Robb Stark presents his terms to Ser Alton Lannister, even though she could well have been without disturbing the mise-en-scène. Her scene with Robb later is much worse, though. While Catelyn is shown not trusting Balon Greyjoy and being pissed off at Robb not being willing to trade for Arya and Sansa – all of which tracks her character in the books – it’s inexcusable that Catelyn’s first instinct is to immediately want to go home and that Robb is given the idea to go to Renly.

Most of all, I think it’s unnecessary. It wouldn’t be hard to have both characters as equals, for Catelyn to be the one who brings up the mission to Renly but for Robb to show that he’s not StupidRobb by showing his understanding of Renly’s strategic importance right off the bat and by suggesting that while she’s going east to get Renly on their side, he’s going to move the fighting west, on to Tywin’s turf, to force him out of Harrenhal.

Which brings up something I’ll discuss later – the lack of attention paid to making Robb’s campaign in Season 2 make sense. There’s almost no indication that the battle of Oxcross or the taking of the Crag are taking place in the Westerlands, or that Robb is attacking the Lannisters’ home territory for a purpose. I really think more could have been done to make this plot make sense – but more on that later.


235 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Catelyn I

  1. S. Duff says:

    I’ve seen all sorts of speculation on what Balon’s plan was. Personally, I think he wouldn’t have risked Theon’s life, which makes me wonder what would happen were this the case and Robb kept hold of Theon.

    I guess he could try attacking the Lannisters in an attempt to get Theon back, or he could go for the Reach. The former would lead to more of Tywin’s strength being bled off, perhaps he marches straight home to deal with the Ironborn threat.

    The latter possibly has Renly splitting his forces or abandoning the march to Storm’s End, either of which has interesting effects on Stannis’ campaign.

    • Sean C. says:

      Based on Balon’s attitude I don’t think he cared at all if Theon died. He’d pretty much written him off already, and was planning on Asha inheriting. He’s not a sentimental fellow at all.

      • Crystal says:

        It makes me wonder. At this point, Balon had to know that none of his brothers were going to have children, and Asha wasn’t going to get married and have kids any time soon. By writing off Theon, Balon was saying “I don’t care if my family dies out and/or there’s a succession crisis after I’m gone.” Which seems an odd attitude to take in the Westerosi world where family and lineage mean so much.

        But Balon was never the sharpest tool in the shed, and I also think there was considerable denial involved.

        • I think Asha would have gotten married if there was a crown in it and she could ensure that her husband wasn’t powerful enough to take the throne from her.

          • Crystal says:

            Tristifer Botley would be a good candidate then. He always wanted to marry her. And he was a second son so he’d be on the lookout for an opportunity of his own.

        • Amestria says:

          To be fair, Balon wasn’t the only person who wrote off Theon as damaged goods.

      • Yeah, I’ll get into this more in Theon I, but it’s clear Balon had decided on Asha as his heir and had written Theon off as a Stark.

    • I entirely disagree – I’ll get into this in Theon I, but it’s overwhelmingly clear he didn’t give a damn whether Theon lived or died.

  2. JT says:

    Really good analysis here.

    1.) I agree that Balon was likely to invade the North anyway – it fits both with his MO (and he holds huge grudge against the Starks). By the time Theon makes it to Pyke, all of the lords of the Iron Islands are there with their fleets. So it’s possible that Balon called his banners before he knew Theon was coming back home. Also FWIW, when Theon is trying to hold Winterfell against Rodrick Cassel, Theon strings Rodrick’s daughter Beth up on the ramparts of Winterfell and threatens to hang her if Rodrick attacks. While he’s doing this Theon thinks to himself that if it were him strung up and Balon outside the walls, Balon wouldn’t think twice about attacking, no matter what the consequences to Theon would be.

    2.) Even if Theon stays (and the Starks never lose Jaime or Winterfell), I’m not sure that Robb wouldn’t have died in a similar way – betrayed by his bannerman. It might not have been the Red Wedding, but Walder Frey would have looked for a way to get back in the good graces of the Lannisters once they align with the Tyrells, and Roose Bolton is always opportunistic.

    3.) On a human level, Jaime for the Stark girls may be a fair trade (both Tywin and Catelyn get their kids back), but in a time of war, it’s very one sided against the Starks. Everyone in the realm with the exception of Jaime himself (and perhaps his siblings) views Jaime as the heir to Casterly Rock and the West. Also, he’s the best swordsman in realm and a well respected general. Meanwhile, Sansa is at best fourth in the line of succession for the North – after Robb’s heirs with his Frey wife, Bran, and Rickon, and she has no value on the battlefield.

    4.) Out of curiosity, had Robb declared the North to be independent back in AGOT and stayed North of the Neck (i.e. just declared himself king, but stayed home), how long would that independence have lasted (assuming he had the support of his bannerman)? It seems like the North is large enough that it would be hard to conquer, and that it would stay independent for a while until a marriage alliance brought them back in the fold ala Dorne.

    • 1. Not just possible, but given the logistics involved in calling the banners, he definitely did it before he knew anything about Theon.

      2. Yes and no – the issue is that it takes the loss of Winterfell to get Robb to come North to where Walder and Roose can threaten him.

      3. Agreed – and I think that’s why Martin set it up like that. The human heart at war with itself and all that.

      4. It could have lasted a long time possibly, but it’s not a sure thing – the South could do a lot of damage by landing on the west and east coasts, and he’d have to deal with the threat from the North anyway. But if Robb got lucky, a long time. Of course, even in this scenario, the Riverlands get massively fucked over once again without having done anything to deserve it.

      • WPA says:

        Truly curious on one thing here- how many men do you estimate the Ironborn can actually muster? I’d presume their losses during the fairly recent rebellion must have been enormous. Does the Thrall system they rely on simply allow them to rally the bulk of their adult male population at a higher level than other ‘kingdoms’?

        • I think 10,000. Elio says maybe 15,000 and that’s punching above their population weight.

          • JT says:

            15,000 might not be impossible – the Ironborn are alone in Westeros in having thralls (aka slaves) who run their mines and plow their fields. I would imagine this frees the Ironborn up to send a higher percentage of their men into battle than any of the other kingdoms.

          • It’s mostly a size issue.

            I estimate that the Iron Islands have maybe 6,000 square miles of land, or 3.8 million acres. By previous figures, that can support around 12,000 fighting men in terms of feeding, arming, armoring them.

            But the Iron Islands are some of the least fertile land in Westeros. Hence my estimate of 10,000.

          • JT says:

            Sure, but it seems like the Ironborn get a lot of their food from the sea, which might let the Iron Islands support a higher population density than other realms.

            The Iron fleet has 100 ships, and then all of the lords of the Iron Islands have fleets as well. If you figure each ship in the Iron fleet holds 50 men, then maybe 10,000 is accurate. If each ship in the Iron fleet holds 80-100 men, then it has to be more like 15,000.

          • Fishing doesn’t historically boost population density.

            And be careful, to the Ironborn, ships can mean both large ships and longships, and longships might be 10-20 men.

        • Hedrigal says:

          It might mean they can keep a larger percentage of their population fighting and living off the labor of the Thralls, but a large portion of that needs to stay home and make sure the Thralls don’t rebel and make the Ironborn have to reconquer their kingdom whenever they come back from campaigns.

  3. I’ve always thought the Theon thing was a bit overblown; it’s obviously greatly important what he does in taking Winterfell, but as with most of the other ‘mistakes’ the Starks made in the war, without the Bolton betrayal everything is alright, for the most part. I mean if the Boltons hadn’t betrayed Ser Rodrik’s force, then they recapture Winterfell and find Rikkon and Bran alive, making Robb’s return North unnecessary. Likewise with almost any other mistake that Robb made in the war, if you take away the Bolton betrayal then all of his other mistakes are bearable and don’t sink their cause. In my opinion at least.

    On the other hand the Bolton betrayal was probably inevitable, so arguing this might be moot.

    • Yeah – the Bolton betrayal is something I’m very keen to work out, because the timing is of paramount importance. Was Roose reacting to the taking of Winterfell or was it always in the works? Was Ramsay acting outside of orders to grab power for the Boltons, or did he have Roose’s blessings to attack Ser Rodrik?

      • Crystal says:

        That is a tough one to work out and I look forward to what you think as far as the timing. My personal opinion is that Roose was always hedging his bets, BUT the full-on betrayal started after Winterfell was taken. Before then, Roose wouldn’t be sure if he could pull off a coup. After Winterfell was taken, “the Starks were done and doomed” as he tells Reek in ADWD.

      • WPA says:

        I wonder if Roose simply left Ramsay with the understated (and plausibly deniable) instructions to, “seek advantage for House Bolton where possible.” and Ramsay simply ran with it- and then some. So if he succeeds, great- if he fails or is too messy- blame it on the blood and get rid of him. Only after a certain point did Roose get more heavily involved in guiding the issue.

        • Yeah, that seems like Roose’s move – although the key question is the burning of Winterfell, because that’s a huge step.

          • WPA says:

            That seems too counterproductively destructive for Roose’s style- what with the greenhouses, hot springs, and all. Considering his efforts to place himself in it as a sign of legitimacy- one would figure an intact Winterfell is an easier sell to the Bannermen than a destroyed one even without the obviously unexpected arrival of a wild card antagonist in Stannis that has to now be militarily defended against. That level of destruction just reeks of Ramsay’s flair for overly risky and self-harming wanton cruelty. Take Winterfell, sure. Kill or eliminate inconvenient witnesses and blame the Ironborn– sure. But torch the place?

          • JT says:

            Agreed. Taking the Freys was almost certainly at Roose’s behest. Burning Winterfell just seems like such a short sighted, in the moment decision that it has Ramsay’s fingerprints all over it.

          • That’s a good point, need to keep that in mind about the Freys.

          • John says:

            When would Roose have had a chance to talk with Ramsay about the Winterfell situation? Ramsay was a prisoner in Winterfell (thought to be dead, in fact), when Theon took Winterfell. I suppose he returns briefly to the Dreadfort to pick up the forces to go to Winterfell, but surely that wouldn’t have been enough time to be in contact with his father.

        • Winnie says:

          Well, WF can still be rebuilt and the process has begun-but Ramsay torching the place was certainly a bother for Roose to get construction going again during winter, so I suspect that at least wasn’t part of the plan.

          And yeah, Roose had to have been the one to tell Ramsay to take the Frey’s alive. He was securing his Alliance of Treachery at that point-again more credence to the theory that Robb’s marrying Jeyne was more the excuse for Walder’s actions than the real cause. When he found about the Tyrell/Lannister alliance he just panicked.

          What I still don’t quite get though, was why the Frey’s willingly surrendered HALF their military forces to go up North, throwing all that strength away, since none of those boys are coming back. Walder’s usually such a cautious bird-I can’t see why he didn’t glean to the fact that up North the Twin’s insignia was just a big old bullseye-they were already being put to the sword in droves in Walder’s own backyard for Seven’s sakes.

          • John says:

            A ton of territory up for grabs – the Hornwoods are extinct; the Cerwyns and Tallharts have female heirs; who knows who the heir to Barrowton is; They got greedy.

          • S. Duff says:

            Getting rid of useless mouths.

    • S. Duff says:

      Kind of the same way Ned Stark would have overthrown Cersei despite his failures…until Littlefinger turned his cloak.

  4. Sean C. says:

    Regarding the Jaime vs. Sansa/Arya debate, even setting aside gender issues, Sansa and Arya are simply nowhere near as valuable as Jaime. Jaime is a superb soldier and a reasonably skilled military commander; if sent back, he’ll be put in charge of one of Lord Tywin’s armies. Sansa and Arya are, well, little girls. They have some value as political alliance tools (though Arya is a card that has already been played at this point, so her return has no additional value), but there’s never a point in Robb’s campaign where having Sansa would have been especially useful. Lysa Arryn isn’t holding out for a better offer from Robb, she’s not negotiating at all; the Martells aren’t interested in taking part in hostilities, and are too far away to be of much immediate use; House Tyrell is committed to Renly, and due to circumstances there was never a window where they might have been persuaded otherwise (and, in any event, the Tyrells would more likely have demanded that Robb marry Margaery anyway). Catelyn’s demand to have her daughters back is never framed in anything but personal terms, whereas Jaime is a strategic asset on a different level from them. It’s possible to imagine scenarios where the cost/benefit analysis is more even (like if Lysa was secretly willing to join the war in exchange for Sansa), but that’s not the actual reality in the story.

    Regarding the dispersal of the Riverlords, I would say it’s not Edmure’s fault. Robb’s mistake was in not employing his army in some new campaign sooner, if he wanted to make use of them. Asking the Riverlords to fiddle at Riverrun indefinitely while their lands burn would not have been an especially viable option (note that they come back once Edmure actually has something for them to do). Robb could easily have insisted on a more coordinated campaign to retake the various castles and remove raiders (including bringing Bolton down to close off the fords).

    • Ok – given that he insisted, why isn’t it his fault?

      However, I do agree that a coordinated campaign would have been better – although the issue is that brings your army out into the open and vulnerable to attack from Tywin.

      • Sean C. says:

        Because it’s an entirely reasonable position for him to take. If Robb wanted to keep the army around, he needed to give them something to do. All of the other times in the series where armies are in the field whilst their homes are under attack, there tend to be obstacles to their return, but the Riverlords actually are in their homeland, within easy reach of the threat.

        Even Tywin’s abortive march home later in this book was, I suspect, at least partially prompted by a sense that his vassals were unhappy with the Starks ravaging their lands whilst they camped out at Harrenhal. A feudal lord who doesn’t allow his subjects to protect their lands isn’t doing his job very well.

        • But it’s also clearly a disasterous use of those forces – it failed last time, Brynden sees it for a folly, etc.

          Agreed that Robb should have given them something to do, but it does take some time to plan, and from the chapter it seems like Edmure insisted pretty soon after Robb was crowned.

          • JT says:

            I always thought Robb’s mistake was not besieging Tywin at Harrenhall like one of the Riverlords suggested at the end of AGOT. With ~20k men at Harrenhall, Tywin would run out of supplies incredibly fast. Plus Robb has enough men (with Roose and the Riverlords) to besiege Harrenhall and menace either KL or the West.

          • Andrew says:

            Edmure may be a decent tactician as shown in the Battle of the Fords, but a terrible strategist.

          • Doug says:

            I think that some effort to organize harassment of the Lannister foraging and raiding parties would have allowed something like this to become constructive. Running straight at Harrenhal would have been a bad option, even sitting down to starve Tywin out would stretch Robb’s forces too thin and make them vulnerable to surprise attack. But allowing the Lannister’s to pillage his subjects means that his lords felt they had to leave to defend their own holdings.

            You have pointed out the supremacy in outriders and scouting that the Northern/Riverlands forces enjoy in the engagements in the first book. In ACOK the Lannister foraging parties are able to act with far too much impunity; and it’s difficult to understand how they were able to achieve what they did against local forces that know the local terrain, and northerners who had previously shown superiority in this type of warfare the local terrain. Killing Gregor Clegane, Amory Lorch, or Adam Marbrand would have improved Robb’s situation and likely had Riverlands forces staying with the main force in better order instead of breaking off to defend their homes. In addition, if Tywin’s foragers are being harassed or wiped out his food situation inside Harrenhal become more dire. He not only has 35,000 men but also the smallfolk craftsmen and servants his men have abducted to feed. If he had to leave Harrenhal because of his food situation he becomes vulnerable again.

      • shaunpeacock says:

        Edmure faces exactly the same pressures that Robb does, the need to balance his own/his family’s needs – i.e., remain in charge of the Riverlands by defeating Tywin Lannister – with those of his bannermen – i.e., preventing their stuff from being stolen and/or set on fire and their people from being raped and killed.

        It’s important that his bannemen appear to subjectively believe they should go and root out the Lannisters. And I think it is those subjective beliefs that matter more politically than the objective reality that they could achieve more by working together.

        And Edmure had just suffered a massive defeat and had required a bunch of “foreigners” to come rescue him, so he has basically zero political capital and the Riverlords probably don’t see him as capable of protecting them – e.g., Lord Mallister returning to his own lands when they are well removed from the fighting.

        If he’d ignored his bannermen’s needs, the River lords would probably have gone anyway and then House Tully would have been ended as a political force for at least the next two decades while Edmure’s son (if any) grew into a man and proved himself.

        Yeah it failed horribly as a military strategy but Edmure had very little choice politically but to insist that his bannermen be allowed to go back to their own lands. This doesn’t absolve him of blame but it does make his choice understandable.

        • Hedrigal says:

          Whatever the riverlords felt, that strategy was madness, and would end in disaster. Failing to convince them otherwise is a failure of leadership, no matter how difficult it may be.

  5. Crystal says:

    I think that the sending of Theon was one of Robb’s most disastrous moves, if not THE most disastrous. Roose says to “Reek” later on, “The Starks were done and doomed when you took Winterfell.” If Robb had kept Theon close, that would have butterflied away a whole hell of a lot.

    Another thing that Robb regrets later on is not getting Sansa back and using her to bind the Tyrells in marriage (though why give her to Loras and not Willas, the heir?). Even if we allow that Sansa and Arya are little girls and not in the line of succession just yet, if Robb had exchanged Jaime for Sansa, and married her to Willas Tyrell, that would have got the Tyrells on the side of the Starks; especially if it was hard to find a wife for Willas due to his disability. Sansa is the daughter of what is probably the oldest ruling house in Westeros – older than the Tyrells, to be sure. Tyrell heirs with First Men blood might go a long way toward silencing the whispers of “upjumped stewards” that the Tyrells had to deal with.

    I wonder what would have happened if Robb got Sansa back and married her to Theon in exchange for Iron Islands loyalty? Would Balon have taken the bait? My only problem with the idea that Balon had already given up on Theon is that by doing this he condemns the Greyjoy line to extinction – assuming Asha never marries or has kids. But it’s possible, and then Sansa and Theon would be living the life of James II and Mary of Modena at the French court, so to speak, which would suck for Sansa (but not as bad as being married to a Lannister).

    I surmise, though, that Balon really didn’t call his banners until he knew Theon was coming back. Theon was kicking his heels at Seagard waiting for a ship to come get him – in his first chapter he mentions sending ravens to Pyke telling Balon that he was coming home. Finally he realizes that Daddy is not sending a ship for him, so he has to take the Myraham into Lordsport. So I see it as Balon calling his banners after Theon sends word that he is on his way, but leaving him to find his way home himself – hedging his bets. It could be that if Theon came back to Pyke with Sansa as his wife, Balon *might* – I say *might* – think of the family line. Or, he might just send Theon and wife packing. Or, worst case, he’d kill Theon and keep Sansa as hostage, and poor Sansa would be in the same pickle as before.

    Sending away Theon was a “thumb on the scale” for GRRM I think.

    • I think he was thinking Loras because with Robb alive Sansa wouldn’t be an heiress. Willas for Sansa makes sense if you want the next lord of Highgarden to also be the Lord of Winterfell through his wife.

      And I think you’re wrong about timing – Balon had already been planning this for a long time; I’d say around 10 years.

    • Sean C. says:

      Robb’s comment about using Sansa as a marriage alliance tool in ASOS has always seemed a “grass is always greener” situation to me, at a point where they’ve already lost Jaime and the Tyrells have joined the Lannisters.

      Looking at the actual events, there was never a point in the story where Robb could have made that offer and had any chance of success. The Tyrells joined Renly before Robb was even crowned, and as long as he was alive and married to Margaery they were never going to switch sides just to get Willas a wife. Due to the circumstances of Renly’s death, Catelyn lost whatever window might otherwise have existed to make an alternative proposal — but even if she hadn’t, the Tyrells’ #1 negotiating point would have been a Robb/Margaery marriage. Sansa and Willas/Loras would have been a bonus, at most (and could easily have been promised anyway, seeing as the Tyrells accepted basically the same deal with marrying Margaery and Joffrey, who could easily have been killed before the Tyrells got there to save his bacon).

      Balon is utterly contemptuous of “greenlanders”, and considers Theon a Stark sellout. Actually marrying him to a Stark would only have exacerbated that.

      • Immediately after Renlys’ death would have been a possibility – and yes, Robb/Margaery makes more sense.

        • Sean C. says:

          That was the window, but Catelyn’s being present for Renly’s death and fleeing with Brienne scotched that.

          Ironically, things might have worked out much better for the Starks if Catelyn had been absent and poor Brienne was hacked to pieces.

          • Or if Catelyn had stayed and just blamed Brienne…

          • Sean C. says:

            Suspicion would probably still have fallen on her in that instance (though she might well just have been slain by Loras Tyrell along with the other guards who were present).

        • Winnie says:

          Robb/Margery not only would have saved the Starks but it now looks like the Tyrell would have been better served not aligning with the Lions either.

          I must say all this speculation always gets me very VERY depressed and I have to keep reminding myself that the Wolves will come back.

    • Winnie says:

      Yeah, that was definitely a “thumb on the scale” moment-so for that matter was Theon’s taking Winterfell. The infuriating thing about Martin isn’t that he lets bad things happen to good people-it’s that he often goes out of his way to make sure things happen in the worse possible way even when it frankly involves some implausibilities on his part. After a while it feels less like realism or even fatalism and is just pure sadism.

      • It’s not realism at all – it’s romanticism. He makes the lows lower to get the highs higher. You don’t get “Edd, fetch me a block” without Ned’s execution; you don’t get “Ser Jared, I name you liar” without the Red Wedding.

        • Winnie says:

          Yeah but those particular highs still aren’t high enough for all the past lows. I’m hoping this means we are due for Starks kicking asss in Twow.

          • Crystal says:

            I agree with you. The lows are WAY too low. It does seem like sadism or grimdarkness for sadism’s sake. I’m hoping the Starks come roaring back in TWOW (and if Sansa’s storyline in the show is any indication, they will).

            So much of Robb’s and Edmure’s decision making was a series of thumbs on the scale. 😦

          • I disagree – you want to see sadism for sadism’s sake? Check out some Joe Abercrombie.

            But I do think Martin has an upward trajectory in mind.

          • Winnie says:

            He *better.* After twenty years of heartache I think we’re due.

  6. ajay says:

    This document, written at a time when King Edward I (the so-called “Hammer of the Scots”) had brought 100,000 men to bear against 20,000 Scottish soldiers, cannot be justified or denied by an accounting of bodies

    Very minor nitpick, but by the time the Declaration was written, Edward I had been dead for 13 years; his son Edward II, defeated six years previously by Bruce at Bannockburn, was on the throne. And, as you say, there’s a bit more to it than just “a feudal conception of the nation” – see Barrow’s very good “Robert the Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland” which argues that there was a surprisingly modern sense of nationhood in Scotland in 1320, not just a conception of feudal loyalties to an overlord.

  7. Jack says:

    This scene in the show really suffered from the lack of Greatjon Umber. A shame that the actor was no longer available after season 1 because he fit the role perfectly. Based on them leaving out Robb’s demand for Ice, I wasn’t even sure if we’d get Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail because the show hadn’t really made as big of a deal of valyrian steel. I’ve seen some non book readers who didn’t even realize that was Ned’s sword that Tywin was melting in the season premiere and thought it belonged to Robb or something.

    Also while I’m sure you’ll get into Robb and Jeyne much later, I think its very telling that this is the change from book to show that GRRM has actively distanced himself from the most, right down to telling them to change the name.

  8. Meereenese Liberation Front says:

    A great piece once again! I absolutely agree that GRRM doesn’t send out a bona-fide-pacifist message – even if you hate war, there can still be things worth fighting for. That’s my main problem with the Meereenese-Blot-Blog, which, when discussing Dany’s politics in Meereen, takes the Green Grace’s lyrical waxing over peace as “the pearl beyond price” at face-value – and not as the call for collaboration with the slavers that it is. (That said, national identity wouldn’t be very high on my list of things to wage war for, the oppressed has no homeland and all that.)

    Speaking of nationalism, one of the most striking differences between the Scottish and the Starkish declaration seems to me the theological language in which the former fraims its demands, whereas any appeal to the Gods (Old or New) is completely missing from the latter. Given the importance of religion to the medieval mindframe (especially for the types of proto-nationalism you refer to), I sometimes find it difficult to imagine the kind of secular feudalism GRRM seems to depict. Without God as the common denominator, what exactly keeps society together – or, more correctly, how is sovereignity legitimated? (But maybe that’s exactly the reason for all the crises, from Robert’s Rebellion to the War of Five Kings, and it’s not really the War of The Roses which Westeros reproduces, but something more akin to the 30-Years-War, the bloody byproduct of early modernity. That would be quite interesting.)

    On a wholly different note: Do you think Robb should have known beforehand that treating with Balon is a waste of time? If not, who would you have sent as an ambassador to Pyke? (Roose, of course, would have been fun, but then he wasn’t really available.)

    • Sean C. says:

      Religion is certainly downplayed in the series (the first three books, especially). Granted, the Old Gods are incredibly flimsy as a religion (no priesthood or formal organization, little to nothing in the way of rites or teachings), while the Faith at its highest levels is basically an arm of the government these days (akin to the Russian Orthodox Church after Peter the Great). But there is a surprising lack of stress on it, to the point where swearing “by the Old Gods and the New” is an expression. Nobody in the lower six kingdoms ever raised any religious objection to Sansa becoming queen, for instance, which would be unfathomable if, say, Richard the Lionheart returned from the Crusades with an Arab wife who claimed to be both a Christian and a practicing Muslim.

      • David Hunt says:

        It could be the nobles in KL just figured that Sansa would take after her mother in terms of Religion. She worshiped in a Sept, she had a Septa as her main tutor, and she looked like her mother who never had any truck with those Northern gods. Surely her similarity to her mother in superficial appearance meant that she was like her in temperament. Or maybe it was just assumed that she wouldn’t continue her worship of the Old Gods or (more likely) that her children would be raised as good little Sevenites so her weird practices didn’t matter.

        It could have been that the nobles of KL were cynical enough to view religion as a tool to keep the masses docile in there duties to pray, pay and obey. Projection might have led them to expect Sansa to go through the necessary pious motions to keep the Church happy, which is all that they need.

        Or it may have been that Starks were sufficiently politically desirable to keep as stalwart supporters of the current administration that any troubles that Sansa caused by having some residual Old God sympathies was considered worth it. In general, the farther south you go the less influence the Old Gods have and the less threatened the nobles would be by such a queen sitting beside the king. And Sansa has strong family ties in the Riverlands and the Vale so they can be expected to support her despite any religious conflicts.

        I’m sure that some of that is terribly wrong. I tend to go with the cynical noble view of religion explanation to explain why any connection of Sansa to the Old Gods wasn’t seen as a problem.

        • Crystal says:

          I agree with you. I think a combination of Sansa being a highly desirable match and from the oldest of the Great Houses, plus the idea that as long as she put in the motions of proper southern belief it wouldn’t matter, plus the fact that the kids would all worship the Seven, all factors into it.

          And there is the fact that Sansa would come off as docile and conforming; whatever visits to the Godswood she would make after dark, her public face would be properly Seven-worshipping, and public face was what mattered. And – “what is beautiful is good” – Sansa is a beautiful young woman with traditionally “feminine” interests and presentation; under normal circumstances (no war, no incest, a sane King!) people would think the best of her in a way they might not if someone more like Arya, who doesn’t conform to Westerosi female ideals, was the future Queen.

        • That’s a good point, Sansa was sufficiently acculturated that it wouldn’t cause a scene.

          Also, it probably helps that there isn’t really a rival institution in the case of the Old Gods.

      • I think part of the reason religion isn’t as much of an issue is that, up until AFFC, religious zealotry has been frowned on – the monarchy rules over the First Men and the Andals, so it’s best not to antagonist either side, plus the crown doesn’t want the church armed.

        Also, polytheism tends to lead to more tolerance of other religions, on average.

        • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

          Polytheism might on the whole be more tolerant (at least if the foreign God is willing to play along with the local ones – if not, Jupiter & co. can get quite mightily pissed of, as the Romans demonstrated more than once re: Judaism). But, more importantly, polytheism allows the rulers to either claim descent from one of the Godly bunch (like pre-1945 Tenno) or to elevate himself to God-status (as several Roman emperors liked to do). The Targaryens seemed, at least informally, to have worked that way, and maybe that’s the reason why their rule lasted quite a bit after the demise of the dragons. But neither Starks nor Lannisters have the Gods covering their backs, and that could account in part for the instability of their rule. Contrary to Mao, power can’t solely grow out of the barrels of guns (or, in our case, sharp steel), but also depends on hegemony; most of the time, the king isn’t at hand to chop off your head if you don’t obey. But if you have neither the Grace of God nor the Sovereign Will of the People going for you, what do you have?

      • Amestria says:

        “Granted, the Old Gods are incredibly flimsy as a religion (no priesthood or formal organization, little to nothing in the way of rites or teachings),”

        There are teachings – the importance of guest right is one.

        Perhaps the North is like a lot of pagan societies where the liege is also the priest?

        • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

          No signs for that. First-Men-Religion seems to be all about a quite, solitary one-on-one with the Old Gods. In a weird way, it feels like pagan Lutheranism.

          • Xirnium says:

            Well, I think there is something to Amestria’s point. It is the lords of the North who maintain a godswood in every castle, and a heart tree in every godswood. But we may be able to see more evidence for a priestly role for the lords if we look back some twelve thousand years ago to the end of the Dawn Age. There, we are told by Maester Luwin, the chiefs and heroes of the First Men (that is, the lords of the North) met with the greenseers and wood dancers of the Children (the leaders of their priestly and warrior classes, respectively), and negotiated the Pact. From that Pact we have two important religious outcomes which endure to today: (1) the establishment of the druidic Green Men order, and (2) the sacred injunction against putting weirwoods to the axe. In upholding the latter religious institution, the lords of the North hark right back to the signing of the Pact.

    • Crystal says:

      Catelyn suggested Stevron Frey, Jason Mallister or Tytos Blackwood as ambassador. I think Mallister would have been a disaster, as he killed Balon’s son Rodrik at Seagard. Tytos Blackwood would be my favorite, because he seems to have some flair. Stevron Frey could have worked; God knows he was used to dealing with difficult personalities!

      Either Roose Bolton or the Greatjon would have been great fun to see at the court of Pyke; if for no other reason than Roose could have trolled the hell out of Balon (who is dumb besides being crazy) and the Greatjon bellowing “KING IN THE NORTH!” at Balon would have been funny.

      • Sean C. says:

        I wouldn’t send anybody that I really needed to come back, just based on Balon’s mood.

        • Crystal says:

          The meanie in me is thinking “Well, then, send Edmure!”

          • Hedrigal says:

            In spite of Edmures not being a particularly useful vassal, Cat becoming heir of Riverrun would create a dynastic mess, and likely help to alienate the riverlords. Less because she’d not be accepted, on her own a lady Caetlyn Tully would probably be fine. But a lady Caetlyn Tully leaving Riverrun and the title of lord paramount of the trident to a Stark ruling in Winterfell will feel a lot like a foreign conquest to the Riverlords.

      • Winnie says:

        Well not sending anyone you needed coming back is just another argument for sending Lord Bolton. God what a jerk. And yeah Robb and Cat both made the mistake of trying to negotiate with the wrong person. What always bugged me about Cat though, is that I can’t recall her ever admitting releasing Jaimewas a bad move even after Tywin made Sansa marry the Imp. She didn’t even admit it to herself. Funny how she never realized there was no reason for the Lions to keep their word once they had Jaime back.

        • Petyr Patter says:

          I think the issue was Edmure suppressed any information that Jaime was released as a hostage exchange. Instead, he publicly circulated that Jaime had escaped. Now, if Jaime escapes on his own skill and volition, that means there is nothing to exchange. Jaime himself knew better, but there is no evidence that Tyrion or Tywin would have known better. Jaime might have insisted the girls be returned, but they were both gone by the time he got to King’s Landing.

          Otherwise, Tyrion definitely would have send Sansa home after getting his brother back. Tywin, not so much, but mostly because he already had made plans to kill Robb.

          • But at the same time – Catelyn sends him back absent any signed agreement, Tyrion might have sent Sansa home, but he might not have. Tywin certainly wouldn’t. Nor would Cersei or Joffrey.

          • Winnie says:

            I agree with Steven. And thing is Cat should have understood that ultimately the choice to send Sansa home or not, really wasn’t going to be *Tyrion’s* call anyway but Tywin’s-and Tywin would never in a million years give up the Heiress to the North. I’m no Cat-hater and I respect many of her decisions but she really REALLY wasn’t thinking clearly on that one. Again why she was so shocked and surprised that the Lannister’s might try a forced marriage on poor Sansa, when in fact that was something you could have seen coming a mile away? Ok maybe not marrying her to Tyrion specifically, but they have Tyrek marry Lady Ermsande before the babe can walk to get her lands-considering what Sansa’s potential claim was after Bran and Rickon’s “deaths” it didn’t take a psychic to realize that the Lannister’s might just get greedy.

          • Doug says:

            Tyrion was offering to send both Sansa and Arya back; one of whom he did not have. Tyrion was lying to set up the conditions for the trade and would have no reason to follow part or all of his word once he had Jaime back. Consider, if they had actually set up a trade under truce Tyrion would have had to break the truce in order to get Jaime back, since the Starks would see that the Lannisters didn’t have Arya. Tyrion was using the offer of an exchange as a mask for treachery, as with his rescue attempt.

        • Maddy says:

          Really? I think she knew that what she did was wrong in terms of upsetting Robb and his bannerman. She was pretty gracious in accepting her punishment as far as I remember. And how does her releasing Jaime have any relation to the Sansa/ Tyrion marriage? That seems completely unrelated but maybe I’m missing something. I need to reread I get a bit foggy on the sequence of events.

          It was definitely a strategic mistake (although I get it – I can’t imagine being in Catelyn’s position – she was clearly deeply depressed and desperate) but I think people overblow the consequences AKA Catelyn releasing Jaime caused the Red Wedding to happen. I don’t understand this. The Red Wedding was going to happen regardless of Jaime being released or not.

          • It didn’t exactly cause it – but had she not done so, it’s doubtful Tywin would have pulled the trigger if he knew that Jaime could be killed as a consequence.

      • Stevron Frey would have been no loss, certainly.

        • Roger says:

          I wonder what would have done Walder Frey if Balon had his heir prisioner. Probably nothing.
          Robb often lamented Stevron’s death after Oxcross. He was a reasonable man, and he considered with him alive things with House Frey would have stayed better.

    • Well, to be fair, the Scottish declaration is an address to the Pope whereas Robb’s writing to a secular leader.

      And yeah, I disagree pretty much entirely with the Meereneese Blot. If my next Esquire piece ever comes out, I’ll cross-post here to start the conversation on that.

      I don’t think he should have, necessarily. In any case, it was worth a try.

      • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

        “If my next Esquire piece ever comes out” – why so pessimistic? I, for one, whould be really looking forward to that. Hope that motivates (either you or the editor, whoever’s responsible for the “if”).

      • Andrew says:

        Not to mention that the words of “Peace is the pearl beyond price” is uttered by the Green Grace who publicly called for peace with Dany in Meereen with regards to the Meereenese slavers, when it was actually a cover for waging a shadow war against Dany and the freedmen as the Harpy.

  9. Petyr Patter says:

    Though I suspect you are saving your analysis of Balon’s strategy for a Theon chapter, can you give a quick opinion now? I am think the combination of declaring independence, attacking his only willing ally, and failing to secure any sort of agreement with Tywin or Iron Throne beforehand is the single most boneheaded military decision in the entirety of the series.

    • Crystal says:

      That’s a good way of putting it. I think Balon, in his way, is just as stupid as Victarion (and so is Aeron). Asha got her brains from the Harlaw side of the family.

      • Winnie says:

        Agreed that all Asha’s acumen was clearly from her mothers gene pool and about how incredibly dumb her fathers strategy was. There was no way the Iron Born could hold the North and there was no loot there to be had anyway. The notion that the Lions would even let them stay in the North was preposterous…if the Iron Born pursued the Old Way then a showdown with the iron throne was inevitable…even the on saw that. Their only chance was an alliance with the North and of course they threw it away. Unbelievable.

      • JT says:

        I’m not sure that’s entirely true re. Asha – Euron seems very intelligent – he’s the one who came up with the strategy that led to the burning of the Lannister fleet and he also came up with the strategy that lead to the subjugation of the shield islands (the strategy he uses is actually really good) which opens the Reach up for raiding.

        He also “wins” the Kingsmoot, and then gives the champions of his rivals lordship in the Reach to win them to his side.

        Asha seems pragmatic – she’s willing to surrender to save her life, she treats her captives well, and she knows enough to stay by the sea – more than she seems brilliant.

        • Crystal says:

          Euron got ALL the brains in that generation of the Greyjoy family. Balon, Aeron and Victarion are all dumber than a sack of wet hair.

          • Amestria says:

            Asha’s plan at the Kingsmoot was also just as impractical as Victarions. Despite what her captives were saying the North was not going to give the Ironborn a base along their western coast. When the Northern lords refused to cooperate she’d have no choice but to continue her father’s war, a war she recognizes to be utterly hopeless, or pull out and admit total defeat.

          • As a long-term plan, it wouldn’t have been terrible – if the Ironborn hadn’t totally alienated everyone in the North. Plenty of invading peoples eventually assimilate, but in the aftermath of Winterfell, I think not.

          • Winnie says:

            Agreed. Of course, though Euron is clearly canny he’s also clearly a complete nutjob-so the fact that the IB actually chose him willingly at the Kingsmoot, says a LOT about them and none of it’s good.

          • Amestria says:

            I think a lot of Euron’s insanity is actually obfuscating.

          • AJD says:

            Aeron… a sack of wet hair

            Ohhhh, I see what you did there

          • Petyr Patter says:

            I think Asha’s plan had a lot to recommend it and could have worked. The North and the Iron Islands had become natural allies. Both are blood of the First Men. The Iron Born need land, the North has massive tracks of underutilized land. Both want independence from the Iron Throne. The North has no seapower in the west, while the Iron Island have no sea power in the east.

            Asha was also smart in choosing which tracks of land she wanted, the heavily forested one with evidence of once supporting a larger population. Under her leadership, they could have become industrious hold fasts of ship building and fishing.

            Yeah, there is a lot of feeling at the start, but with Balon dead and Theon presumed dead, the attack is perhaps already repaid. Plus, Asha was offering a return of multiple forts and hostages.

            I think the real flaw was a lack of an independent Northern faction to deal with at that point. The North is divided between Roose and Stannis, and neither will allow for an independent North nor Iron Islands. Still, if Asha is willing to merely be a Lady Paramount, she could make a peace deal with Stannis. Roose… I have a hard time seeing him making any deal that he wouldn’t betray later.

          • “Natural allies”? Maybe if the Ironborn hadn’t just invaded the North, sacked Winterfell and killed two Stark children.

            Asha’s offer makes sense in the context of negotiations over an alliance between Robb Stark and the Ironborn; less so after.

        • Winnie says:

          To be fair to Asha, Amestria, I think she was dangling the promise of a Northern settlement because she *knew* the other Iron Born weren’t ready to abandon the Old Way altogether for the Reader’s plans-but deep down, I think Asha knew he was talking sense. She’s just not quite ready to admit it yet.

          But yeah, the IB couldn’t have held any territory in the North in great part because they don’t know how to rule-they know conquest and pillaging but the fact that they never bothered to learn productive practices on their own territory leaves them ill equipped to many any strides elsewhere. It’s the textbook definition of a parasitic culture.

          • Amestria says:

            She wasn’t “dangling” the promise of a Northern settlement, she was outright promising that if she were elected her plans would bring “peace, land, and victory.” It’s a canny political platform, but its not a feasible plan.

            I think the Iron Isles are about as productive as the Ironborn could make them.

          • On the other hand, the Danelaw lasted for 200+ years.

          • JT says:

            I don’t know Asha’s plan is that great. Her offer to the Ironborn is for Sea Dragon point ( – an almost completely unpopulated peninsula that’s roughly as far from the Iron Islands as Dorne is. Asha tells the Ironborn that Lady Sybelle Glover will back their claim – but I’m not sure it’s Sybelle can actually give it away (her husband and The Boltons, as wardens of the north may not allow it).

            I also think Asha misreads the Ironborn at the Kingsmoot. Offering Sea Dragon point is more of a face saving gesture by Asha than a practical one – “look I’m getting you something.” A thinly populated area with no real resources and no thralls to do labor isn’t that valuable to a sea faring culture that only venerates raiding (it’s like when Ser Bonnifer Hasty offers Gregor Clegane’s men land – and they tell him they wanted gold, not to work as farmers). Plus there are no settlements there, it’s very far north, and winter is right around the corner.

            Euron outmaneuvers Asha twice – once at Kingsmoot, and then once after when he marries her (and uses a seal as her stand in) to Erik Ironmaker. Now Asha can’t go home unless she wants to play wife, and she can’t even marry herself to an Ironborn lord in exchange for his support.

          • Amestria says:

            I don’t think Sea Dragon’s Point is all that bad of an acquisition. According to Asha it has “a hundred hidden coves, otters in the lakes, salmon in the rivers, clams along the shore, colonies of seals offshore, tall pines for building ships.” Those are real resources that the Iron Islanders could use, especially the fur and timber. Settling there would probably be a step up for quite a few Iron Islanders (like the ones living on rocks big enough only for a single family). The fact its very marginal land “no mines, no gold, no silver, not even tin or iron…too wet for wheat or corn” is actually a point in its favor as it wouldn’t be all that great a loss to the North. The problem is that the war can’t be won and the plan hinges on the Northerners being willing to agree to a peace which includes Ironborn settling along their western coasts. But the Northerners hate the Ironborn and fighting/expelling/killing them is actually a means of gaining respect and power. Then there’s the fact that Asha is hoping her peace settlement will make the Northerners allies against the Iron Throne…which is not remotely realistic.

            The best plan was probably Theon’s: join up with Rob to conquer the Westerlands and get something out of the victory. But after the failure of the Balon-Victarion-Aeron plan there was simply no going back. Sacrificing their independence and siding with either King Stannis or the Lannisters in exchange for land had too little support to even be voiced at the Kingsmoot (and might not have doable in any case, what with Stannis set on winning the North and Queen Cersei ruling in Kings Landing). So the available alternatives were all for maintaining independence: stay the course on the slow motion shipwreck that was the Balon-Victarion-Aeron plan (and lose), try Asha’s plan (and lose), or try Euron’s plan…

            I think Euron’s plan was actually the best choice offered, his reading of the situation the correct one.

    • Oh, he’s batshit. Asha admits as much. Hell, the whole “Old Ways” is stupid – deliberately avoiding actual productive labor isn’t a means to strength.

      And yes, Balon also fucked by not soliciting offers from the Lannisters. Ahead of time, Tywin probably would have given a lot to get him to attack the Starks.

      • Winnie says:

        Or, Tywin would have at least *promised* a helluva lot-even House Frey had the sense to get a good price from Tywin for the RW, (though they were fools to think that even Tywin could protect them from the aftermath of that assuming he even wanted to,) but Balon actually thought he could get Tywin to pay him for what he was already doing?!?

        Also, I agree that if Bran and Rickon are alive, then Sansa probably doesn’t have to marry Tyrion since Tywin never *thinks* he can use a Lannister/Stark child to rule the North. (Tywin was completely wrong about that of course-the North would never have accepted Tyrion and probably would have shipped him back to KL in pieces-the Old Gods alone only know what they would have done to the child.) So it was an unworkable plot to begin with.

      • Amestria says:

        “Oh, he’s batshit. Asha admits as much. Hell, the whole “Old Ways” is stupid – deliberately avoiding actual productive labor isn’t a means to strength.”

        When I was reading ‘Feast for Crows’ the impression I got was that the Iron Islands are not only poor but becoming dangerously overpopulated. Rodrick the Reader says they need land. Balon, Theon, Asha, Victarion, and Euron all put forth plans that involve taking land. Aeron announces the invasion of the North to be a holy war of conquest: “The waters of wrath shall rise high, and the Drowned God will spread his dominion across the green lands!” The crazy man at the Kingsmoot says he knows the way to a magic land across the sea. There seem to be an awful lot of trouble making Drowned Men.

        Then the Iron Islanders themselves are divided between those who adhere to a softer faith, those who desire a purified and fundamentalist one, and those who have become acculturated to the green lands and joined the Faith of the Seven. Balon, Victarion, and Aeron Damphair are of course the leaders of the fundamentalist faction.

        In ‘The Autumn of the Middle Ages’ Johan Huizinga claims that the reason the the Western interventions against the Ottoman Turks were such failures (ranging from the stillborn to the unsuccessful to the disastrous) was because West European rulers and commanders could not disengage themselves from the ideals of the Crusades. Crusading, being a sacred and heroic effort aimed at the freeing of Holy Land, was inseparable from chivalry, and this meant that the Christian war effort always took a back seat to romanticism.

        I think something similar happened on the Iron Islands while Balon was Lord and King. There were pressing problems which increased the numbers and authority of the fundamentalists, which insured that too many people were incapable of approaching said problems outside the romantic ideals of reeving.

        • Winnie says:

          Good point about the overpopulation problem-of course the best solution for that is just to start controlling population growth with Moon Tea, encouraging emigration, and of course trying to find more sustainable practices for the Islands.

          But yeah, they really do seem wedded to this culture of reaving which is pretty hard to sympathize with-especially since the IB always get so damned offended when their would be victims fight back.

          Wah! Wah! The Crannog devils are killing us with poisoned arrows! Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, didn’t want us invading the Coasts those bastards and they had the nerve to defeat us in battle! Don’t they understand if they don’t let us raid and reave we’ll actually have to *work* for a living?!?

          Of course Balon’s strategy wasn’t only disastrous for House Greyjoy and any sailors/soldiers sent out to be among the casualties but for the longtime survival of the IB themselves-because after his first rebellion under Robert, there were strong cries throughout Westeros to annihilate the IB or at least subjugate them fiercely, but Robert let them off rather easily. This time around it’s a helluva less likely that they’ll get much in the way of mercy from the Mainland.

      • Andrew says:

        It seems Balon and the Ironmen are not so different from the Ghiscari in that they are a people living in the past, trying to regain their former “glory.”

        Balon and most of the Ironborn also failed to realize that no one on the mainland wants an independent Iron Isles, because they know rightly that the Ironmen will revert back to the Old Way. Calling themselves Ironborn, a superior breed to other men, was/is a justification for the Old Way being used against other people. The Old Way itself is unsustainable; I think in a way to the Steel Angels of GRRM’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill Man.” Beating your plowshares into swords is a sure way to starve, and enjoy a life of poverty.

        They glorify Balon when his rebellion ended in disaster with the strength of the Iron Isles weakened: having lost much of the Ironborn fleet, plenty of castles and villages destroyed, and in a way they got the Old Way applied to them this time instead of them applying it to other people when Robert came. Balon lost two of his eldest sons, and the Reader lost both his sons and was left with two mad sisters, including Balon’s wife.

        • Yeah that’s about right.

        • Winnie says:

          Great point that it was the Iron Born getting the Old Way meted out on them that they’re al so bitter about. They can dish it out but they can’t take it which is why they’re so awful to the point that a lot of readers just want the islands to sink into the sea. Now I don’t endorse that view but I must say if the IB keepup their current path the rest of Westeros will have no choice but to grind them down and salt the fields.

  10. Carolyn says:

    Hi, I just wanted to ask, whether you will adress the false-envoy-scheme of Tyrion in his next chapter, since people have different opinions about it and I would like to know, how you think about it in relation to Westerosi standards of warfare, possible later consequences, loss of reputation etc.

  11. Amestria says:

    Robb can only make a liege and blood claim in the North. Robb and his descendants were not elected King by a formal assembly of the Northern and River lords conducted according to ancient customs, where the perspective Kings lay out their character and programs for judgement and all participants are bound to the final decision. Rather King Robb was raised up as the victorious commander of a conquering army. In this he has a fair amount in common with King Robert, King Renly and Mance Rayder. These aren’t elections hollowed by laws, traditions, and formal institutions, they’re all rather ad-hoc vehicles by which difficult problems are overcome by the military elevation of a successful war chief. So Robb needs to keep his divided army happy and he constantly needs to demonstrate that he can bring them a satisfactory victory. His is not the most stable of Kingdoms.

    • Eh, these processes don’t have to be too formal – outside of the HRE, voting practices were rather informal. The important thing is that the lords of the North and the Riverlands swore their allegiance to him.

      But yes, he’s got a tricky situation. So do all the Kings – Joffrey went through longstanding customs and most of the realm revolted against him.

      • Xirnium says:

        Although formalisms do not make or break legitimacy, I do think Amestria has a point. There is a difference between having the lords of the North and the river lords resolve to appoint a king, ‘hin Council Hassembled’, as Avram Davidson would say, and being acclaimed a king by ones lieutenants while on campaign. The latter group cannot be said to be representative – it lacks the presence of those lords away at the Green Fork (who included, from memory, the Boltons, Manderlys, Cerwyns and Hornwoods, for a start), and probably some fugitive lords of the Trident (who, because of military contingency, might not have been able to return to Riverrun), and the Freys (unless you can count Ser Stevron). That they later bent the knee is a bit dubious – at that point, King Robb’s accession had already been a fait accompli.

        • Amestria says:

          There’s also the Lady Dustin, still in Barrowton, very much opposed to what is going on.

        • Amestria says:

          Xirnium’s right. You can see the difference between an actual election and military acclamation quite clearly when Catelyn proposes to Renly a Great Council of “the assembled lords of the Seven Kingdoms” to choose the next King. Renly, whose claim rests on his army of Southern chivalry, replies “Tell me, my lady, do direwolves vote on who should lead the pack? The time for talk is done. Now we see who is stronger.” It’s fair to say that Renly does not view his own elevation as a real election but as an expression of strength. I don’t think its fair to view Rob’s elevation as being any different from Renlys.

          And then there’s the Kingsmoot the Ironborn hold after Balon’s death to avoid civil war. The Kingsmoot is scheduled so that everyone who can travel to it has time to do so. Every participant has the right to put forth a claim. Members of the audience are allowed to challenge the claims or suitability of each contender (Asha does this twice). There is a clear, if messy process for reaching a decision (whoever the assembly acclaims). And once a decision is reached all are bound by it.

  12. Brian says:

    I’m trying to understand why the Mallisters wanted to return to Seagard. As far as I can tell, they were one of the few Riverland houses that had been unmolested by the Lannisters. They didn’t have a castle to reclaim or smallfolk to protect like the Brackens, Blackwoods, Vances, Darrys, etc. and Seagard is north of Riverrun across the river and wouldn’t be in danger of being attacked by Tywin or his dogs. The only thing I can think of is to protect the coast from Ironmen, but at that point nobody knew that Balon was marshaling his longships so there wouldn’t really be a threat.

    • Part of it seems to be escorting Theon to his mission.

    • Sean C. says:

      Harvesting, maybe. Letting his men do some work on their lands is a good idea if they aren’t needed for anything else.

      • S. Duff says:

        Yeah, it seems like the biggest drain on manpower in the War of the Five Kings would be the need to get in the last harvests. The Reach can spare men, but the Westerlands not so much, the North has problems later in the war, and the Riverlands desperately need to bring in all the crops that weren’t burned…and the Mallisters may own the biggest swathe of untouched farmland in the Riverlands.

  13. Maddy says:

    Catelyn’s quote about the girls “not being important enough” is one of my favourite of hers (although I don’t entirely blame Robb – he’s in difficult position). Thanks for pointing out the complexity of this situation though (and how Catelyn herself is more complicated than an anti-war trope).

    I never considered that Balon was already going to attack the North and blamed this totally on Robb, which was unfair of me in retrospect. It was still obviously a mistake.

    You are so absolutely spot on about Catelyn in the show. Michelle Fairley deserved better. I don’t think it was necessary to sideline Catelyn in order to give Robb more of a presence. While Catelyn’s motherhood is obviously important, it doesn’t define her whole character and it’s so disappointing that they took away so much of her political astuteness and agency. I get that Robb is older so possibly doesn’t need to rely on his mother as much but there’s still no excuse. And the annoying part is that I think they thought they were writing a better, more sympathetic character but really they just flattened her to the grieving mother in the corner and pandered to the Catelyn haters. They’re doing a similar thing to Cersei but at least there’s hope for more book Cersei in the future possibly.

    Although as annoyed as I was with what they did to her in season 2, nothing compares to season 3. THE APOCALYPSE WOULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED IF ONLY CATELYN LOVED A MOTHERLESS CHILD. Still not over it.

    • That last bit is spot-on though – Catelyn constantly blames herself for everything. In this chapter, she blames herself for Ned’s death. Etc.

      • Maddy says:

        It’s true that she blames herself for lots of things. She never blamed herself for how she treated Jon though (and she has no reason to really). It just felt like making the Catelyn/ Jon Snow thing a bigger deal than it actually was. And NO WAY would Catelyn ever consider legitimising Jon Snow. The blaming herself thing is in character – it’s the Jon Snow thing that isn’t. And in the context of not actually letting Catelyn have the political agency she should have had, it just reads like blaming Catelyn for being a bad mother. That said, I did really love her scene with the Blackfish at Riverrun in the next episode (I think).

  14. Abbey Battle says:

    Keep up the good work Maester Steven!

  15. David Hunt says:

    Steve, you’ve mentioned several times that Balon was planning to attack well before Theon is sent to Pike, but do you have anything concrete as to when that decision was made…aside from one millisecond subsequent to Robert’s fleet sailing away after kicking his ass in the Greyjoy Rebellion. More precisely, when was the order given to start massing his strength for the attack. I’ve got no idea how the logistics work out for that sort of thing, but it occurs to me that the he started sending out the orders about two minutes after he was convinced the news of Robert’s death was legit.

    • I’ll discuss this in Theon I.

      • JT says:

        I’m looking forward to that analysis – Theon’s first two chapters in ACOK are some of my favorites.

        I always believed that Theon was screwed no matter what.
        – If Robb sends someone to Pyke to treat with Balon, the Ironborn likely invade the North anyway and Robb cuts off Theon’s head.
        – If Theon goes to Pyke but doesn’t take Winterfell and end up with Ramsay, he’s still screwed. We know Euron is going to come back and have Balon killed, so it’s almost certain that he’d kill/have Theon killed as well if needed.
        – Or if there’s still the Kingsmoot, Theon almost certainly loses the Kingsmoot on his own and is self-exiled ala Asha. I can’t even see Theon and Asha combined doing any better than Asha did by herself, since Theon has no power base (or respect in the Islands). Likely he flees with Asha to Deepwood Motte, gets captured by Stannis and ends up in the same situation he’s in at the end of ADWD (except with a few more body parts).

        The best case scenario for Theon is to still take Winterfell, but not release Ramsay, and then to follow Maester Luwin’s advice and take the black before Rodrick Cassel storms Winterfell. But when your *best case* scenario is to end up in the Night’s Watch, that’s not good.

        • Yeah, Theon was screwed. Not that he didn’t make things much, much worse for himself, but he was never going to do well.

          • Edwin says:

            Actually, Theon had a lot of support in the Iron Islands. In the books that id. The maesters for starters. Then there was Lord Botley, who died proclaiming him King. Dagmer would certainly be behind him and Victarion said he’d have supported any of Balons sons. And if it was to keep Euron off the throne, Asha and Aeron would have supported him too. Theons problem is that he didn’t wait.

            Theon cpuld have ended up much better off if he had sacked Winterfell. Burned it to the ground, taken thralls, salt wives and his Frey, Reed and Stark hostages and bolted back to the Iron Islands. Withh 8 ships and 100 men a ship he probably had the numbers to make it work.

          • Two lords isn’t enough. Theon was too far gone from the Iron Islands for too long.

          • Drowssap 1 says:

            Two lords? He had the entire Greyjoy family. The only reason the Kingsmoot happened was because he wasn’t there. It’s also worth noting that Euron only moved once Theon was dead.

            In the show, it’s clear that Asha was going to inherit. Thon had no chance. In the books, it’s clear that Theon would have inherited. And Asha stood no chance. Not because the IB felt she was incompetent, but because she’s female.

          • I don’t think he did have the Greyjoy family.

          • Edwin says:

            Why? Victarion says he would’ve supported Balon’s sons. And Asha and Aeron would prefer Theon on the Seastone Chair over Euron, who’s hated by everyone in the family.

          • I don’t think Asha would have given way to Theon. And I don’t think Aeron would either.

          • Edwin says:

            Why? Asha was willing to have Victarion as Lord of the Iron Islands if it would keep Euron off the Throne. And the Kingsmoot wouldn’t have even happened if a male heir was around. It would either be Theon or Euron, and while Theon’s not popular, he’s not despised by the rest of the family, ike Euron is.

          • Euron’s going to arrive and seat himself on the Iron Throne regardless, which means there’s going to be a Kingsmoot regardless.

            And Asha was willing to have Victarion, but only if that meant she’d be Hand and Victarion would end the war. But they don’t agree about this and she ends up making her own claim.

          • Edwin says:

            That’s not what it meams. Theon was the rightful Lord. It would be like Euron showing up when Balon was King and forcing a Kingsmoot. It wouldn’t happen. There’s a reason Euron only came back after Theon and Balon were dead. The Kingsmoot wouldn’t have even happened if he was there. It should also be noted that Asha’s main power base were the Harlaws, and it’s questionable if Rodrik would be willing to overthrow his nephew for his neice.

          • I disagree; Theon I sets out really clearly that Theon is “rightful” only in the greenlands.

          • Edwin says:

            You keep saying that, but the evidence doesn’t support it. Theon is inutially treated coldly by the Iron Islanders. Dagmer tells Theon to wait. That his time would come, and in AFFC we find out that Theon did have support on the Islands.

          • We’re just going to have to agree to disagree, but I think the writing is on the wall in Theon I and II of ACOK.

          • Edwin says:

            Alright. I’ll just say one more thing and leave it alone. I think the shows confused things. In the books, most of Theons men stay to fight and die with him. In the show, he gives an epic speech only to be knocked out and handed over to the enemy. In the books Theon’s good looking and successful with women. In the show the only people he can sleep with are people he pays. In the books, Theon was hand picked by Brynden for the outriders and is one of the first people to charge in the vanguard. In the show all of his military acomplishments are downplayed or ignored. The book Theon is quite a bit different from his show counterpart, so it’s not surprising that he has supporters at home.

        • Winnie says:

          Agree that The on was stuck with only bad options-yet still he managed to forge a whole new path that made things a thousand times worse for him. Being taken prisoner with Asha’s he might have survived as not after all being thought guilty of the murder of the Stark boys-and he certainly could have spared himself unimaginable levels of horror. Now the best he can hope for is a quick death.

        • Crystal says:

          IIRC, a couple of the Ironborn lords do state that Theon is the rightful heir (it was Lord Botley and Lord Blacktyde, again IIRC) and Euron had them executed for their pains.

          My recollection of the Kingsmoot was that Aeron did NOT want Euron on the throne more than anything. He didn’t want a woman (Asha) but he REALLY did not want Euron because he hated Euron. So I think it took Euron’s presence to force the Kingsmoot.

          But Euron probably would have reared his head even if Theon was there, and killed Theon. He has ambitions and, unlike even Roose Bolton (!), does not balk at kinslaying.

          I agree that Theon really was in a bad spot no matter what happened. His best course would have been to “take a third option” and hie himself to Essos as a mercenary like Jorah Mormont.

          • JT says:

            Yeah, but fleeing to Essos seems really unlike Theon (although spending some time reaving did work for Euron), since with the possible exception of Cersei, Theon overtly values his last name and the status it affords him more than any POV character in the series. Which is exactly why Ramsay turning him into Reek is so devastating.

            Ending up at the wall or as a prisoner in the care of Stannis (without a detour spent with the Boltons) are probably the best two realistic scenarios for Theon. A quick death from Robb (or in battle) is probably the third best. Ending up with Ramsay was clearly the worst of a bunch of bad possible outcomes.

            I’m really excited to see Steven’s hypotheticals when it comes to Theon – maybe there was a way out, but GRRM seemed to “have his thumb on the scale” when it comes to Theon more than any other character in the books.

          • I think Aeron wanted Victarion as a useful stooge.

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          Theon is stuck between his oath to Rob and his duty to Balon. If you can see the future, he’s screwed no matter what, even by GRRM standards.

          1 – If he somehow deserts Balon for Robb, he dies at the Red Wedding. (To be fair, this is what he wishes had happened.)

          2 – If he does the smart thing after taking Winterfell and plundered the castle, kills the wolves, and takes Bran and Rickon back to Pike, he’s a hero and probably gets killed by Euron. All of the anti-Euron forces would back him against the Crows Eye, except maybe Asha, so Euron would pretty much have to kill him, and Theon would be too cocky to stop it.

          3 – In hindsight, the safest play might be too desert to Winterfell and become a hero of the North, fighting against his kin, but that’s pretty hard to imagine.

  16. rw970 says:

    In the event that Robb doesn’t send Theon and Balon still invades, I wonder if Robb would actually kill Theon. Aside from sentimentality, there’s a good chance that Robb wins the war and defeats the Iron Islands, and kills Balon. Who’s put in charge of the Iron Islands then? Theon, a close friend of the Starks and the kind-of recognized heir to Balon seems a pretty good choice, and much better (from a Stark perspective) than any of Balon’s brothers. Theon would also be pretty pissed at Balon and Asha for pretty much sentencing him to death and would go along with it too.

    • David Hunt says:

      Theon couldn’t get one shipload of bottom of the barrel Ironborn to respect him. There’s no way he could have held onto the lordship of the Iron Islands.

      • Winnie says:

        Agreed. His only realistic chances would have been lending support to Asha’s campaign or even better taking the Black. (Even he recogniZed the nights watch offered good game, chances to show off his archery and access to brothels. ) except taking either path in a timely fashion would have required that he show a lot more sense than he ever did.

        Also l noticed someone earlier said the Crows Eyes plan for the Iron Born was the best one. I respectfully disagree. Trying to take on all Seven Kingdoms starting with the Reach is madness as Asha’s pointed out. They ain’t getting no dragons-if E ever thought the horn scheme could work he would never have trusted it to Vic. Even with black magic and chaos all over the Realm the Iron Born will never be able to hold or rule the Seven Kingdoms especially with D any on the way. The fact that the IB chose to follow the idea shows just how delusional (and greedy) they really are.

        • JT says:

          Theon + Asha likely wouldn’t have been able to win the Kingsmoot, since Theon doesn’t have much (any?) respect, or a powerbase in the Islands, or any treasure to offer the Ironborn. Remember, during the Kingsmoot, the candidate stands up accompanied by their champions and presents their treasure. My suspicion is that Theon would have added zero value to Asha’s chances once the Kingsmoot is called (and I’m not sure Asha could have done enough to help Theon win).

          Maybe Theon’s presence could have circumvented the Kingsmoot taking place (i.e. with a non-castrated male heir of Balon’s present, it’s possible that succession happens “normally” and Theon is crowned), but I doubt Euron would allow that – he probably just would have Theon killed as well. Also, Aeron was the one who called for the Kingsmoot, and he didn’t seem

          Asha and Victarion may have been able to win – but Euron’s plan is the best (not the best as in the best chance of coming true, but the best as in the most likely to catapult it’s owner to victory at the Kingsmoot). It definitely appeals to the Ironborn mentality (take what we want, unlimited potential, no compromises), and that makes it especially good for a mob scenario like the Kingsmoot.

          • Crystal says:

            As I recall, Euron’s presence was what made Aeron finally declare a Kingsmoot. The sequence was: Balon dies –> Euron declares himself King –> Aeron calls a Kingsmoot to try to boot Aeron off the Seastone Chair and install Victarion. Aeron hates Euron more than anything. The way I see it, if Theon showed up with all bits intact, Euron would have killed him right away, before any Kingsmoot could take place.

            Now if Theon appeared with all bits intact and Euron *did not* show up, he *may* have been accepted as heir by at least some of the Ironborn (the Harlaws, Baelor Blacktyde, some of the Botleys who didn’t side with Asha). Or, perhaps, the Harlaws and Lord Blacktyde would have said, “You’re a swell guy, Theon, but we’d rather have your sister” and thrown their weight behind Asha, sending Theon packing. Without Euron, the succession crisis would probably have been Asha vs. Theon. I don’t know whether Aeron would have bothered with a Kingsmoot, which seems to have been rare enough to have shocked Asha. Rodrik the Reader noted all the Kingsmoots which turned into all-out battles, and predicts a bloodbath no matter what. And he was right.

        • Crystal says:

          I think the Ironborn (except the Reader) were dead-set on maintaining a way of life that had no good outcome for them in the long run. Rodrik Harlaw is the only one who notes that “The Old Way died with Black Harren and his sons.” Likewise, Rodrik told Victarion, after the conquest of the Shield Islands, that the Ironborn have made a powerful enemy in House Tyrell. (And he didn’t add that there are a HELL of a lot more Reachmen than Ironmen, and that Paxter Redwyne has a navy, and with that navy after them the Ironborn can’t just retreat to the islands and be safe there; but he probably was thinking it!)

          Euron’s plan being possibly better than any alternative just goes to show how bad most of the alternatives for the Ironborn are. The Greyjoys are one of the Great Houses whose line will end by the time the series is done, I predict. Asha might live, but the rest will be tree sacrifices or dragon chow.

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah, the thing that amazes me about the Iron Born going back to the Old Way is how they consistently fail to take into account that there will be inevitable consequences for it-they’re consistently surprised (and indignant!) when their would be victims fight back. Hence Balon’s completely illogical hatred of the Starks as somehow having “wronged” the Greyjoy’s when of course Balon started the whole damn fight. Their level of entitlement is just staggering.

            Question is what happens if/when Euron and the latest IB invasion is inevitably defeated?!? Apparently, the Islands got hammered badly under Robert and I’m betting that will be NOTHING compared to what’s in store for them this time around-after two failed Rebellions in one decade, (and especially given the sheer scale and nastiness of Euron’s campaign,) no one in the Seven Kingdoms is gonna be feeling too merciful this time around. Not only is House Greyjoy going down, I’m betting a whole lot of other noble houses from the Islands as well-and there might not be too much of the Islands either by the time this is all done. They’ve totally screwed themselves.

          • David Hunt says:

            Yeah. Assuming that there’s still one king ruling over all of Westeros, the Iron Islands could very well end up losing there status as an independent realm and instead become the vassal state of some other Lord Paramount. There’d be a major portion of irony if they ended up under the rulership of the Riverlands.

        • Euron’s is the worst plan of them all – the IB might be able to invade and occupy large chunks of the North for an extended period of time. They certainly did so with the Rvierlands. But the whole realm is an impossibility.

          • David Hunt says:

            It seems like Euron’s thinking is that Aegon I managed to conquer most of Westeros with a smaller army than the Iron Islands have and three dragons. So he figures if Victarion can bring him back Dany’s dragons under the control of this magic horn, he can recreate the Conquest. How he thinks that he’ll be able to deal with Victarion usurping control of dragons once he’s got them, and Victarion WILL turn on Euron the moment he thinks he’s got control of the dragons…well, I’m assuming that there’s a massive number of things Euron didn’t tell him about that horn.

          • Sure. But it’s such a gamble – if he doesn’t get the dragons, the plan fails. If they don’t figure out how to make more dragons, they’re going to be overthrown once the dragons die.

          • Winnie says:

            Personally, I don’t know how much longer the IB could have held on to territory in the North-Asha admitted the war was a losing proposition and if they’d tried to take the Riverlands again, the IT would inevitably become involved.

            Thing is David, I believe that if Euron thought the dragon horn could actually work, he never would have trusted it to a buffoon like Victarion-not even if he the hornblower died using it if Euron thought the horn really had power over freaking DRAGONS it would just be too important for him to risk letting it fall into the hands of someone who’s his rival AND an idiot. Really though, there’s no way in Seven Hell’s that Vic or Euron are getting the dragons, (and Euron’s followers were crazy/dumb to ever think otherwise) so I imagine Euron might be counting on certain other possibilities vis a vis black magic to aid his Conquest, (but kept the focus on the dragons to avoid scaring away IB terrified of Dark Magic, AND so he’d have a way to get rid of Vic.) Of course, it’s still a crazy plan, (Euron is crazy,) and there are other folks in Westeros these days who know something about magic. Plus Dany IS coming and she WILL be bringing the Dragons.

          • JT says:

            There’s no way the Ironborn have the capability to do anything but menace the costal areas of Westeros. Of course, by the time Euron shows up, it is as good of a time as any for them for them to try and grab what they can – the North, Riverlands and West have lost a ton of fighting men and are in various stages of disarray, the Reach’s forces are scattered through Westeros, and one of the three navies in Westeros (the royal fleet) has been destroyed. If the Ironborn can beat the Redwyne fleet, they’d have sea superiority in Westeros.

            At this point, I’m really curious to see what happens with the dragon horn. Given both of their track records (not to mention our glimpse into Victarion’s mental capabilities and Euron’s lack of compassion for his family), my guess is that Euron is several steps ahead of Victarion with the horn, and that whatever the outcome is, it’s bad for Victarion.

          • I think your figures are a bit off here.

            1. The Lannisport navy is fully intact.
            2. The Redwyne navy is fully intact.
            3. The royal navy has gone pirate, but it’s still out there and purchasable.
            4. The Reach’s forces aren’t particularly scattered. They have a few men carrying on the siege of Storm’s End, but the bulk of them are at King’s Landing or Highgarden.

          • Crystal says:

            Agreed. “Punching above their weight” doesn’t even begin to cover it. There aren’t enough Ironborn, and besides, everybody else hates them.

            I surmise that Euron thinks he’s another version of Aegon the Conqueror. I don’t think it’s going to end well for either him or Vic, though. Remember what happened to the last doofus who thought he could tame one of Dany’s dragons?

            I agree that the Iron Islands probably won’t exist as a separate domain by the end of the series. They’ll be subjugated to the Riverlands or Westerlands, or even the Reach (as payback for the Shield Islands).

          • Or the Iron Islands might not exist anymore.

          • Andrew says:

            In the riverlands, the IB were able to conquer it, because as the region’s name suggests, there is a large density of rivers. IB longships can navigate shallow waterways as well as the sea. They could have just carried their longships over land to the rivers like Vikings in the real world did, and performed lightning raids along the rivers and a few roving bands by land in a form of asymmetric warfare. It would have been hard for the Storm King to lead a united front when the Ironmen were everywhere.

          • Amestria says:

            I’m the one who said Euron’s plan was the best available choice. That’s my take and I’m sticking to it, here’s why. Getting out of the War of Five Kings altogether would have been for the best – the only parts of Westeros that are doing well are Dorne and the Vale, which have mostly remained out of it. But the Ironborn did not want to do that! The vast majority of the Captains and the Kings favored continuing their independence, which means they are at war with every lordship that remains loyal to the Iron Throne.

            Victarion’s plan was to continue the war in the North, which would have bogged down the Ironborn armies in a winter war occupying lands that could not feed them, facing an enemy that superior capabilities and numbers. Asha’s plan was to trade gains that could not be held for some marginal lands and an alliance against the Iron Throne to maintain their independence, a plan that was simply unfeasible in the wake of Winterfell and the Red Wedding, The Boltons and their allies are with the Lannisters and get badly needed legitimacy from fighting the Ironborn and Ramsay has a thing for humiliating and flaying them. The Stark loyalists *hate* the Ironborn and Stannis views them as rebels and marauders. In the short term getting that plan to work would mean continuing the losing war until the other side decides to minimize its losses by coming to the table. In the meantime the Ironborn are bogged down in the midst of winter holding hostile lands with little food.

            So if the Ironborn had gone with Victarion or Asha they would have wasted themselves on a useless war in the North while continuing their rebellion against the still very dangerous Iron Throne and while doing nothing actively to resist it. And the Iron Throne will eventually come for them once its taken Stannis’s last holdings in the East and freed up the Arbor’s navy. Euron’s plan simultaneously cut the Ironborn free of their increasingly useless Northern occupation and hit the real enemy while they were unprepared. The war also moved the Ironborn forces from a inhospitably cold environment with few good targets to a much warmer one with many rich targets. Given that the Ironborn wanted to maintain independence (and all that entailed) first and foremost this was the right response in the short term.

            Euron’s plan also has pretty good prospects for the long term as well. Everyone here seems to take it for granted that eventually Westeros will be be reunified and the Iron Throne will come and crush them. But Westeros is not in the process of reunifying. By the end of the fifth book Westeros is in the process of disintegrating! The North is locked in a state of civil war and have a number of vendettas against Southern families. The Riverlands is wasted battlefield, infested with insurgents, outlaws, and man eating wolves, the only thing preserving order being the rapidly diminishing Lannister army. The Lannisters are almost a spent force. The Tyrell armies are scattered around the East and/or massed around Kings Landing. Aegon and the Golden Company have started a new war in the Stormlands (the consensus seems to be that the Mummer’s Dragon will initially be successful, one should consider the larger implications of that – at the very least the collapse of Tyrell power). The Dornish armies are massed along the borders of the Reach and will in all likelihood soon attack, bringing with them more vendettas. Both these will cause the Lannisters to pull their troops out of the Riverlands, causing anarchy. Littlefinger is about to use the Vale’s army for some nefarious purpose. The central government’s authority has almost collapsed completely, a new Kings Landing power struggle is about to begin, there’s a paralyzing financial crisis, and much of the country is desperately short of food. AND WINTER IS HERE. What Westeros is in for is a lot more blood, famine, and chaos. The country might collapse entirely with no power capable of picking up the pieces. This would take things back to before the Targaryens, when the Ironborn were a great power.

            Everyone here also seems to think that Euron is nuts just because he seems to do crazy and insane things. Admittedly its difficult to get Euron because he’s a consummate liar who regularly mixes fact and fiction. But when you consider his perfectly arrayed pirate ship, his successful coup, his Kingsmoot victory, and his attack on the Shield Islands (which involved letting the ravens fly with their warnings),you realize that we’re dealing with a very careful planner. So lets look at what he does in light of the larger situation in Westeros. His first proposal might have just been for show, a way of manipulating Victarion – as why let those ravens get away to get the Arbor fleet sent West if he’s not going to be there to meet them? Now, Euron’s raids are not just wanton pillaging. All those burned villages Sam and Gilly pass on the Cinnamon Wind are fishing villages! They’re burning fields and sinking fishing and merchant ships. They clearly tried to destroy one of Westeros’s biggest ports. The Islands they seized are also fishing centers.

            With the war having laid waste to so many crops and winter stores, fish and trade will become necessary if the coming famine is to be kept at an absolute minimum. And Euron is capturing the fishing grounds for the Ironborn and destroying trade. They are appropriating the Reach’s fisheries and resources (including captives who can be sold as slaves) for themselves while making the situation in Westeros much, much worse. In a world with no Other invasion they’d get through the winter all right, preying where they would, while the rest of Westeros bled and starved. Then come spring they’d hit the survivors with dragons. Euron does not want to rule Westeros as we think of it, remember how he opens his speech? He seemed to know that things would get much, much worse from where they stood at the beginning of the fourth book – maybe he got lucky, maybe he has really good intuition, or maybe he has some foreknowledge (he has strange dreams and Qartheen warlocks in his employ and spent time in the East). He is not talking about straightforward conquest, with dragons or without them:

            “Crow’s Eye, you call me. Well, who has a keener eye than the crow? After every battle the crows come in their hundreds and their thousands to feast upon the fallen. A crow can espy death from afar. And I say that all of Westeros is dying. Those who follow me will feast till the end of their days.”

            This part of the conversation Euron has with Victarion also has the ring of truth:

            Euron: “I had forgotten what a small and noisy folk they are, my ironborn. I would bring them dragons, and they shout out for grapes.”

            Victarion: “Grapes are real. A man can gorge himself on grapes. Their juice is sweet, and they make wine. What do dragons make?”

            Euron: “Woe.”

            He doesn’t want to conquer and rule Westeros as everyone else would understand it, his talk of sitting on the Iron Throne aside (that’s part of an obvious manipulation of Victarion). He wants to finish Westeros off and feast upon its corpse. With everything falling apart this seems very doable to me and if they fall short of taking Westeros then it might be so divided and broken as to be unable to threaten their independence and everything that goes with it.

            Lastly, Euron was the least traditional of the contenders. There needs to be some appreciation of that fact. With his storm magic, knowledge of the political situation on two continents, and involvement in the the worldwide slave trade, he’d be the most likely King to think outside the box should something unexpected happen that requires an adjustment to the plan.

            Of course the gigantic Black Swan that is the Others will derail the above, but that’s true of every single plan out there.

            So that’s why I think he was the best choice at the Kingsmoot given that the Ironborn wished to continue their war for independence.

          • Unification or no unification – there is no way for the Ironborn to hold the Reach. They’re just too badly outnumbered.

          • Amestria says:

            Also, one more thing. The Arbor fleet has to go around the Southern coast of Dorne in winter weather. Even if Euron doesn’t have the ability to conjure storms its a dangerous passage and the royal fleet might not make it in decent shape.

            The Reader: “The Dornish coast is dry and bleak, four hundred leagues of whirlpools, cliffs, and hidden shoals with hardly a safe landing anywhere. Beyond wait the Stepstones, with their storms and their nests of Lysene and Myrish pirates. If a thousand ships set sail, three hundred may reach the far side of the narrow sea…”

            Also, I just thought of one way letting the Shield Isles ravens go while planning to take a large fleet East makes sense. Euron could have been planning to meet the Arbor fleet at the Stepstones and destroy it on his way to Meereen. If this is the case then the Reader convinced him that was too great a risk or that he didn’t have the political capital and he turned to/improvised a plan B.

          • Amestria says:

            “I think your figures are a bit off here.

            1. The Lannisport navy is fully intact.”

            Is there a serious Lannisport fleet though? I don’t think there is. No one makes any mention of it as far as I can tell. Tywin never makes a reference to it and has a healthy respect for the Ironborn fleet ‘s ability to threaten the coasts and the Mander, including Lannisport.

            Tywin: “King Balon’s longships command the sunset sea, and are well placed to menace Lannisport, Fair Isle, and even Highgarden, should we provoke him.”

            Cersei never thinks about a Lannisport fleet even though she wants to regain power at sea to counter the Tyrells. Margaery and Loras never refer to it when pleading for ships even though such a fleet would be closer – they want the Redwyne navy immediately released from Dragonstone and Storms End.

            Then we have this remark by the Grand Admiral: “Half as many ships would still be five hundred, my lord. Only the Arbor has enough strength at sea to oppose a fleet that size.”

            The evidence seems to be that Lannisport has little strength at sea (which isn’t to say it doesn’t have *any* ships, Oldtown has enough warships to defend itself). Perhaps the Lannisters never rebuilt the fleet Euron and Victarion burned, with the gold that would have gone into that project instead going into King Robert’s expense accounts and tournaments.

            “2. The Redwyne navy is fully intact.”

            True, but it has to go down the Narrow Sea, through the Stepstones, and around Dorne with lots of winter storms happening. North and South the seas seem treacherous. The Iron Bank of Braavos sends their envoy to East Watch with THREE ships, just in case. The ships of Cotter Pyke’s fleet is sunk and stranded by storms. The ships bringing the Golden Company to the Storm Lands is scattered in the Stepstones by storms and some ships may have been lost.

            So it might arrive battered or not at all. And once it’s taken out the Seven KIngdoms is going to have to recruit foreigners and pirates.

            “3. The royal navy has gone pirate, but it’s still out there and purchasable.”

            To be fair neither of us know what Waters has planned. In any case, the royal government has lost control of its fleet and might not be getting it back.

            There’s also the Lysene fleet which Oldtown is trying to get.

            “4. The Reach’s forces aren’t particularly scattered. They have a few men carrying on the siege of Storm’s End, but the bulk of them are at King’s Landing or Highgarden.”

            You’re right, scattered is the wrong way to describe them. Far away is better.

            Their Lord and his main military commander are in the Crownlands and there’s a power struggle underway. The Tyrells have some people in the Storm Lands and there’s a new war there that would have to be dealt with first before they got back to the Reach. Most of the surviving knights and soldiers of House Florant are with Stannis in the North. Some of the men Tarly sent after the outlaws might not have gotten orders to move to Kings Landing. The Abor fleet is in the Narrow Sea. We don’t really know the size of the force at High Garden or what local forces remain. Sam guessimates that the Tarly estate would be almost completely undefended and hesitates to send Gilly there lest she end up in a Winterfell situation.

            “Sure. But it’s such a gamble – if he doesn’t get the dragons, the plan fails. If they don’t figure out how to make more dragons, they’re going to be overthrown once the dragons die.”

            It’s probably a far greater risk to make plans that don’t include dragons at this point, because if or when the dragons show up every plan that doesn’t include them (or include them *correctly*) will have to adjust or completely fail. Euron’s actually somewhat ahead of the curve as he’s using magic to take them rather then trying to court/manipulate/lure Dany.

            “Unification or no unification – there is no way for the Ironborn to hold the Reach. They’re just too badly outnumbered.”

            Well, at present they’re not holding or conquering the Reach, they’re savaging it. And, hypothetically, they might be able to rule Westeros with dragons if you define rule as extracting tribute from terrified autonomous lords instead of ruling places directly.

            Tywin: “Balon Greyjoy thinks in terms of plunder, not rule.”

            I doubt Euron’s thinking is any different from Balon’s in this regard. He is after all one of the world’s most notorious pirates.

          • 1. The SSM answered this question.

            2. That’s true, but it’s also true that the best part of the IB navy is no longer in the Reach either.

            4. Again, the IB don’t know any of the political news from KL. But we have seen the Reach forces move quite quickly by making use of interior waterways. For example, the headwaters of the Mander are only 50 miles from King’s Landing – one boat trip down the Mander, and the host of the Reach is back.

            And Euron is absolutely trying to conquer the Reach – along with all of Westeros. Hence creating new lords on the Shield Islands.

          • Amestria says:

            Also, if the the Iron Islands had dragons there would probably be a lot of people willing to join the Ironborn, either as opportunistic collaborators or as religious converts, so they might not be quite as outnumbered with dragons as they presently are without them.

          • Xirnium says:

            The state of the Lannisport navy is an unanswered question, but I doubt it’s significant or we probably would have heard of it protecting King’s Landing before the Battle of the Blackwater. Tyrion and Cersei were desperate for ships to bolster their inadequate fleet which had been depleted by the loss the ships that had sailed with Stannis to Dragonstone. Tyrion even tried to strip the convoy that took Myrcella to Dorne of its escort because the situation on the Blackwater Rush had become so acutely dangerous (even though the Dornish alliance hinged upon her reaching the Sunspear), but Cersei wouldn’t hear of it. Cersei kept sending letters every other day to Tywin demanding he bring his army to King’s Landing, so I doubt she would have neglected the naval situation. And of course, Tyrion used Stannis’s trick of seizing trading galleys to make them over for battle. I just doubt they would have left a powerful fleet at home at Lannisport without a mention in these circumstances.

          • At the time, the Tyrells were still enemies – the Lannisport navy couldn’t have gotten past the Redwyne navy.

            But I’m absolutely certain that Tywin doesn’t let nine years go by without rebuilding the navy whose destruction was one of his greatest humiliations.

          • David Hunt says:


            Yeah, I didn’t say I thought it would work. Just that I thought that was his plan. As to making more dragons, I can see a couple of options that Euron might be turning over.

            First, Dany figured out how to hatch the dragons she’s got. He might figure that he can manage to get the secret out of her, so he’ll be able to perpetuate the species.

            Second, it’s my understanding that dragons live longer than people. Euron may be thinking that by the time the dragons die, he’ll be dead already, so who cares what happens after that.

          • Or he’s a failed mystic on a steady diet of hallucinogens .

          • JT says:

            1.) FWIW here is what GRRM said about the Lannister fleet: Short version: fleet has almost certainly been rebuilt, but even so it’s not really capable of challenging the Greyjoys (it seems like the main purpose of the Lannisport fleet is to protect against Ironborn raids). Basically there are two real navies left: the Ironborn and the Redwynes.

            2.) I think Victarion’s plan is actually the worst of the three Greyjoy plans presented. Euron at least has the horn which may get him the dragons – we don’t know how it will work out.

            By the end of the Kingsmoot, the Boltons have retaken Moat Cailin and brought their army back north. The Ironborn are being pushed out of their Northern castles and no longer have the advantage of surprise. I don’t see how the Ironborn could reconquer the North – it’s too large, the lords are ready for Ironborn attacks, and winter is coming. Hating the Ironborn is probably the only issue that unifies the North. As if that’s not bad enough, on an acre by acre basis, the North is a pretty poor kingdom, so the upside seems limited.

            At least in the Reach you have the element of surprise, and it’s a rich, temperate region. So there’s some upside there…

          • 1. Sure – but it’s an extant navy, and its extantness may be one reason why Balon decided not to do what the Red Kraken did during the Dance.

            2. The North has 18,000 men left; the Reach has the better part of 100,000. The North has no naval power on the west coast, the Reach has a big fleet. It’s a lot easier for the IB to hold parts of the North by using their naval power to maintain local supremacy against a northern force that’s trying to retake territory along a 700+ mile long front.

            It’s not particularly likely they’ll hold the North (note: they’re losing castles because the IB pulled out of the North when Balon died to have the Kingsmoot, and then sent the vast bulk of their forces south or east). But it’s more likely than holding the Reach.

          • Amestria says:

            “1. The SSM answered this question.”

            Oh. I haven’t read many posts on that… Okay, that clears things up 🙂

            “The lords whose lands abut the coast of the Sunset Sea all keep a war galley or three about for coastal defense, and of course those shores are home to scads of fishing boats as well. The Lannisters have a larger and much grander fleet, but we’re still only talking about twenty to thirty ships, perhaps. To fight a major battle, they would call the ships of their various bannermen, just as Stannis summoned the lords of the narrow sea for the battle on the Blackwater.

            For what it’s worth, however, their ships would be larger and more formidable than the longships of the ironmen — cogs, carracks, and war galleys of various sizes, up to the great dromonds with scorpions and catapults on deck.”

            Okay, so the Lannisters have a fleet of about 30 ships, maybe around 50 if their bannermen join their coastal defenses to the Lannisport fleet. That makes burning the Lannister fleet sound much less impressive as a military accomplishment…

            I guess loaning money to Robert is the reason Tywin didn’t expand his rebuilt fleet after the Greyjoy Rebellion (which sounds like something he’d have done otherwise – he likes dealing with failures and humiliations with dramatic gestures – three million dragons could have built and crewed a lot of ships).

            “”2. That’s true, but it’s also true that the best part of the IB navy is no longer in the Reach either.”

            My point is that the naval challenge is not overwhelming and Euron could conceivably win. If the Redwyne fleet is destroyed the Ironborn’s naval opposition is seriously reduced. In the West there’s only the small Lannisport fleet and various coast guards. To the East are small coast guards and two *potential* threats, Lysene sellsails and the Lord of Waters (who is probably not going to fight for the government he just ditched, but you never know). If he loses of course the Ironborn will find themselves in the same position they found themselves after Stannis destroyed their fleet, though its doubtful anyone will have the spare troops available to invade them. And then its possible a clear cut victory will elude either side, with both fleets reduced, so, say, the Ironborn are forced to retreat from Oldtown but the Reach can’t reclaim the Shield Islands.

            Often wars have the potential to be decided for one side by a single battle, that’s not unusual, and it doesn’t make a war plan that depends on such a battle crazy.

            “4. Again, the IB don’t know any of the political news from KL.”

            In a story with plenty of foreknowledge and prophecy this assumption seems a little questionable. At the very least, Euron has three warlocks in his service, from the former House of the Undying, which was chalk full of visions. Other characters have received visions in their dreams, from flames (R’hllor’s fires and glass candles), and from oracles.

            So its plausible Euron might have a good idea of just what is happening in Kings Landing and what is going to happen next.

            “But we have seen the Reach forces move quite quickly by making use of interior waterways. For example, the headwaters of the Mander are only 50 miles from King’s Landing – one boat trip down the Mander, and the host of the Reach is back.”

            Okay, so they aren’t so far away geographically. But politically this army has to stay at the capital and the next enemy they’re committed to fighting is the Golden Company, not the Ironborn. Then if the Dornish attack… I doubt the Reach’s KL army will ever make that trip to fight the Ironborn. They might, but I don’t think they will.

            If the Ironborn were taking on the Reach and Iron Throne alone they’d be in serious trouble and Euron’s plan *would* be impossible. They’re not the only ones up in arms though. A vision by Moqorro is rather suggestive:

            “Have you seen these others in your fires?” Tyrion asked, warily.

            “Only their shadows,” Moqorro said. “One most of all. A tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood.”

            Sailing on a sea of blood…that’s exactly what he’d be doing.

            “And Euron is absolutely trying to conquer the Reach – along with all of Westeros. Hence creating new lords on the Shield Islands.”

            I didn’t say he wasn’t, just that his version of conquest is probably a bit different from Aegon the Conqueror.

            The Shield Islands are islands and if the Ironborn can hold anything its them. And appointing lords was a decision seemingly driven by the military need to maintain permanent forward bases as well as by domestic politics, namely turning potential enemies into allies. Presumably he’s appointed lords for the five other islands he’s conquered (Stonecrab Cay, Isle of Pigs, Mermaid’s Palace, Horseshoe Rock, and Bastard’s Cradle).

            “Or he’s a failed mystic on a steady diet of hallucinogens.”

            Why a failed mystic? 😛

            You really don’t seem to think much of King Euron 🙂

          • 1. Burning an entire fleet is still a major accomplishment – normal naval engagements rarely end with the total destruction of the opponent to no losses to oneself. But I think Tywin did repair it if not expand it, and that probably played a role in Balon’s calculations: attacking the North means losing zero ships, attacking the Westerlands means losing some ships.

            2. The Redwyne Fleet is 200 major warships. The Iron Fleet, the core of the Ironborn naval power, is 100 warships. Euron just sent them away. A naval fight between his remaining longship-heavy fleet could potentially end very badly. Marshalling the Iron Fleet close to the Reach, using them as an unexpected hammer blow against the Redwynes (Fair Isle in reverse) would be a good plan. But that’s not what he’s doing.

            4. No, I have little respect for Anime Villain Euron. Re: failed mystic: I’ve always interpreted “When I was a boy, I dreamt that I could fly…When I woke I couldn’t…or so the maester said but what if he lied? Perhaps we can fly. All of us. How will we ever know unless we leap from some tall tower?” as a reference to Euron being one of Bloodraven’s failed attempts to recruit “dreamers” from Bran III of AGOT.

          • Amestria says:

            “2. The North has 18,000 men left; the Reach has the better part of 100,000. The North has no naval power on the west coast, the Reach has a big fleet. It’s a lot easier for the IB to hold parts of the North by using their naval power to maintain local supremacy against a northern force that’s trying to retake territory along a 700+ mile long front.

            It’s not particularly likely they’ll hold the North (note: they’re losing castles because the IB pulled out of the North when Balon died to have the Kingsmoot, and then sent the vast bulk of their forces south or east). But it’s more likely than holding the Reach.”

            There wasn’t enough food in the places the Ironborn had conquered to sustain a war because the harvests were compromised by the invasion as well as by Robb’s war:

            “To the east and west [of Deepwood Motte] were empty fields. Oats and barley had been growing there when Asha took the castle, only to be crushed underfoot during her attack. A series of hard frosts had killed the crops they’d planted afterward, leaving only mud and ash and wilted, rotting stalks.” (Asha I, Dance).

            That might be one reason Asha is convinced that the war is a failure.

          • Which is a good reason to start raiding grain ships, not trying to conquer the Reach.

          • Amestria says:

            Wouldn’t raiding grain ships while trying to conquer the North require raiding the Westerland and Reach trade routes, annoying lots of people for little gain while the bulk of their forces are committed to losing the North in winter?

          • Firstly, I think they’d have a better chance of holding the North than of holding the Reach, as I’ve said.

            Secondly, it would annoy them less than outright invading the Reach.

          • Amestria says:

            1. I mean I just imagined the original Lannister fleet being much bigger.

            2. Have any ideas as to what he’s planning to do? I think it involves the same wind magic (assuming it was wind magic) he used while attacking the Shield Islands.

            4. “Anime Villain Euron”? That’s a thing?

            I think its a mistake to write him off as just a failed mystic. He’s been rather effective politically at neutralizing opposition and gaining allies. And a lot of his over the top behaviors and stories seem designed to make people think he’s crazier then he is so they put down to impulse what are really premeditated actions.

            Like, his story about the dragon egg. Throwing a dragon egg into the ocean in a black mood would be totally in character for Euron! The guys nuts! Of course he threw away a priceless artifact instead of, say, using it as a convenient medium of exchange in hiring a Faceless Man to kill his brother.

            But he acts over the top in his behavior and boasts! Well, during the Kingsmoot he makes sure to spread all the tales of his Eastern adventures throughout the assembly:

            Asha: ‘Walk amongst the cookfires if you dare, and listen. They are not telling tales of your strength, nor of my famous beauty. They talk only of the Crow’s Eye; the far places he has seen, the women he has raped and the men he’s killed, the cities he has sacked, the way he burnt Lord Tywin’s fleet at Lannisport…” (Victarion I, Feast).

            He’s clearly putting forth a certain image for popular consumption, preparing the ground for his presentation of the dragon horn and his war against the Reach. The whole mysterious, magical pirate lord thing he’s clearly going for serves him in that it makes his claims about the horn and dragons appear credible.

            But he’s impulsively dangerous! Well, this reputation allows him to dominate conversations and encounters, even in the tent of his brother. Asha, crazy Aeron, and the Reader are the only people we encounter who is not absolutely terrified of getting on his bad side. Victarion steers clear of upsetting him.

            “The sharpness of Asha’s voice made Victarion frown. It was dangerous to speak so to the Crow’s Eye, even when his smiling eye was shining with amusement.” (Victarion I, Feast).

          • Amestria says:

            “Firstly, I think they’d have a better chance of holding the North than of holding the Reach, as I’ve said.”

            I disagree, but you already know why. I’ll just add that there’s no hint of Euron planning a Balon or Theon style invasion, he’s sticking to the coasts.

            “Secondly, it would annoy them less than outright invading the Reach.”

            Still, the Reach has a big fleet of 200 ships and the Lannisters have 30 some in Lannisport. You don’t think they’d eventually respond to these provocations? That seems to be recipe for getting into a war with the Reach on the Reach’s terms with most of the Iron Born’s forces committed elsewhere…exactly where the Reach is right now, actually. The Iron Born would be completely dependent on other enemies keeping the Reach preoccupied, rather then taking the initiative and helping bring it down. Among the benefits of the Ironborn occupation of the Shield Islands is that it demonstrates/creates weakness and invites the Dornish to attack:

            Obara: “War will come, whether we wish it or not. A boy king sits the Iron Throne. Lord Stannis holds the Wall and is gathering northmen to his cause. The two queens are squabbling over Tommen like bitches with a juicy bone. The ironmen have taken the Shields and are raiding up the Mander, deep into the heart of the Reach, which means Highgarden will be preoccupied as well. Our enemies are in disarray. The time is ripe.”

            So if they didn’t attack the Shields the Reach would be stronger, the Dornish would have one less incentive to attack them, the Dornish would presumably have much less of an opening to do real damage if they did attack, and the Iron Born will have annoyed the Reach with raids designed to supply the failing Northern occupation.

            That seems to have a lot of the risk and none of the reward of what Euron has done.

          • I think the continual pressure on Oldtown and his grand vision of conquering the whole of Westeros suggests he definitely plans to stay.

            And yes, I think some grain raids would provoke far less attention from the Reach than what he’s done. Grain raids can be ignored, an attack on the Shield Islands, the Arbor, and Oltdown can’t.

          • Amestria says:

            Not that the IB are aware of these dynamics absent Euron having visions to work with (and he just might). But given war and power struggles continue in Westeros as a general principle weakening the Tyrell’s provides opportunities for other enemies to move in. Cersei for example takes advantage of the Shield Island situation to try and knock off Ser Loras and with him out of the way she can move on her larger plan of destroying Margaery.

            So the Ironborn attack plays a crucial role in the unraveling of the royal government.

            And sitting in the North bleeding and freezing is just what the Lannisters and Tyrells want, as made clear in various council meetings.

          • Xirnium says:

            Isn’t raiding Southron grain ships in order to fund a losing war in the North kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul, if Paul was a campaign to conquer a vast, though relatively poor, harsh land towards which winter was coming, barely even capable of feeding itself much less an occupying army, and Peter was a collection of rich, militarily powerful enemies who sooner or later will be coming to your doorstep to end your rebellion against the Iron Throne?

            Whether or not the ironmen antagonise the Reach or the Lannisters (and raiding grain during times of food scarcity seems like something which would be antagonistic) the Iron Islands remain rebels against the Iron Throne, and sooner or later the latter will come into conflict with the Seastone Chair. If Tyrion was far from certain he wanted to give away half the realm to Balon when his longships would have been a great help against the fleet sailing up from Storm’s End, I doubt the Iron Throne will be kinder to the Iron Islands after the immediate danger has passed. Never mind the ironmen’s reaving culture, which is a threat to the Westerlands and the Reach whether the borders are every fixed between their realms or no.

            I’ve noticed you seem to be a fan of Machiavelli, so I refer you to two wise pieces of advice:

            ‘Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.’

            … the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only put off to the advantage of others; moreover they wished to fight with Philip and Antiochus in Greece so as not to have to do it in Italy … nor did that ever please them which is for ever in the mouths of the wise ones of our time:— Let us enjoy the benefits of the time — but rather the benefits of their own valour and prudence, for time drives everything before it, and is able to bring with it good as well as evil, and evil as well as good.’

            – The Prince, ch III, ‘Concerning Mixed Principalities’

            Raiding grain to support the campaign in the North would be the very definition of a lighter injury, of which Highgarden and the Lannisters are well capable of avenging themselves. Avoiding a war with the South means that the war is only put off to the advantage of the Iron Throne.

            Amestria has done a good job of describing how Euron’s war is timed to dramatically destabilise the position of House Tyrell and doing them a serious injury. An objective of his appears to be the elimination of the Redwyne fleet. If successful, then the ironmen need not stand in fear of revenge.

            Even if no fruit comes of the dragon project, this alone would dramatically improve the long-term viability of an independent Iron Islands.

            Think you’re probably onto something about Euron’s anime credentials… I would not be surprised if that’s the source of much of his fandom.

          • I wouldn’t call Euron’s campaign following Machiavellian principles – selling Reachmen and -women into slavery is precisely the kind of behavior Machiavelli warns against as provoking hatred over fear; taking the Arbor and the Shield Isles does not incapacitate the Tyrells; he engages in cruelty wantonly rather than judiciously; he ignores Machiavelli’s advice in terms of governing the Arbor and Shield Isles; etc.

            And the Euron Greyjoy anime villain is something I picked up from nobodysuspectsthebutterfly.

          • Amestria says:

            “Think you’re probably onto something about Euron’s anime credentials… I would not be surprised if that’s the source of much of his fandom.”

            *grumbles* What’s wrong with finding a character interesting because they have style and mystique? 😛

            Like, he’s a horrible person but the Ironborn did not have that great a selection when it came to potential leaders.

          • Xirnium says:

            Thanks for your comments, Steven. I would suggest that the elimination of the Redwyne fleet would incapacitate House Tyrell’s ability to retaliate in the short term, and an aggregate of the strategic problems the invasion has caused and the devastation of the War of Five Kings, its aftermath and winter might incapacitate the South in the long term.

            I agree with you that selling prisoners into slavery will provoke hatred rather than fear; but, on the one hand ‘for a new Prince, of all others, it is impossible to escape a name for cruelty’, and on the other participation in the slave trade might be balanced out by the resources the trade brings (the price of slaves is on the rise throughout the East). I imagine it would only marginally improve the image of the Ironmen if they merely invaded, reaved and made thralls and salt wives of their captives.

            I willingly concede that, in Euron’s private dealings, his predatory (and usually pointless) cruelty towards his family and those he has defeated very clearly violates what Machiavelli recommends (‘[a]s regards his own subjects, when affairs are quiet abroad, he has to fear they may engage in secret plots; against which a Prince best secures himself when he escapes being hated or despised’). This will probably end up being his downfall as a ruler, one way or another, since Euron seems to rely a great deal on people he’s abused, eg Victarion (clearly the type of man Machiavelli had in mind when he said ‘so long as neither their property [nor women] nor their honour is touched, the mass of mankind live contentedly’), the tongueless crew of the Silence, maybe the Dusky Woman, and the Qartheen warlocks.

          • 1. Sure, but if that was his objective, sending the Iron Fleet away is not a good way to start.

            2. Sure, but cruelty is meant to be decisive and at the beginning of one’s reign. Whereas taking people as property provokes rebellions.

          • Xirnium says:

            I’d say there’s little doubt that provoking the Redwyn fleet to sortie, bringing it to action and wiping it out is one of Euron’s main objectives. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have commanded his men to let the ravens get away when they took the Shield Islands.

            “Have no fear, Lord Captain,” said the Reader. “They will come. His Grace desires it. Why else would he have commanded us to let Hewett’s ravens fly?”

            Next we see Margaery and Loras, fully informed about the threat Euron poses, demanding and then pleading for the immediate release of the Redwyne fleet to repulse the invasion.

            Euron obviously intends to execute a secret plan that will take out of the Redwyne fleet in its entirety. Whether it’s a good plan or a lunatic plan only time will tell, though Euron seems pretty competent where naval warfare is concerned. If he knocks out the Redwyne fleet, the Reach will no longer be able to challenge the Iron Islanders at sea unless they get sellsails from Lys or make some sort of deal with the Lord of Waters, both dicey prospects.

          • Ok…but again, if he was going to maximize his chances of pulling that off, sending the Iron Fleet away is a terrible idea.

          • Xirnium says:

            Agreed. If Euron is going to fail, we’ll be able to trace back the why to his decision to deploy the Iron Fleet to Slaver’s Bay.

            Maybe Euron will be able to accomplish what the Kaiserliche Marine failed to do at Jutland, ensnaring some part of the Lord Paxter’s squadron by stratagem and destroying it before reinforcements from the main part of the Redwyne fleet can reach it.

            Or maybe Euron has some other reason for feeling confident. King Stannis laid siege to Storm’s End with only 5,000 soldiers, mainly foot, which provoked Renly into marching towards him with 20,000 horse. Few staff colleges would have concluded Stannis had much hope.

          • Or he’s constantly hallucinating and is a crazy person.

      • rw970 says:

        Well, this would be Theon supported by a conquering Northern army who was a veteran of a whole bunch of battles and hopefully not so big a prat. From the kingsmoot, we can see that there are lords who consider him Balon’s legitimate heir.

        • S. Duff says:

          If Theon were to make a bid for the Kingsmoot, he would probably only succeed with Asha as his brain trust.

    • JT says:

      I’m not so sure about this. For Robb, winning the war means that the North and Riverlands are an independent kingdom, not being king of Westeros. Even if Robb “wins”, it’s unlikely he’d be able to kill Balon (Balon doesn’t go into battle himself, he’s safe in Pyke) – and the North/Riverlands don’t have the ability to defeat the Ironborn at sea and conquer the Iron Islands (it was the combined Royal fleet and Redwyne fleet that beat back Balon’s last invasion and presumably ferried Ned/Robert etc. to Pyke).

      At best, Robb throws the Ironborn out of the North/Riverlands, but Balon remains king of the Islands. And in this scenario, there’s *no* way Theon becomes king of the Islands when Balon eventually dies, especially since he would be fighting with Robb against the Ironborn.

    • I think he’d face strong pressure to, given how long it would take the North to invade the Iron Islands.

  17. shaunpeacock says:

    In regard to your what if: Robb refuses Edmure’s request.

    I think its optimistic to say that the Riverlord’s wouldn’t have gone back to their land’s anyway – after all their stuff is on fire and when your stuff is on fire, you try to put out said fire no matter what the barely pubescent kid tells you. Further it would have destroyed Edmure’s reputation – he’s now the laptrout of a man who is perfectly happy to screw the Riverlands in order to get what he wants.

    Though this may have worked out rather well for the Starks, without the Riverlords, Edmure wouldn’t have been able to fight at the Fords and so Tywin would have travelled happily into the West, far away from King’s Landing and into Robb’s trap – if it existed and if Robb could actually have defeated an army that outnumbered him 3 to 1 (and he might have, given the element of surprise, and the right terrain), then one dead/captured Tywin.

    Even if Robb is defeated, Tywin in the west means dead Joffrey which makes Tywin a rebel against Stannis and with Sansa or Arya (in the event that Cersei’s decapitation plan succeeds) as Robb’s “heir”, Catelyn as the senior Stark political figure (assuming she doesn’t cut Jaime loose, as this takes place after the Battle of the Blackwater) the North probably makes it’s peace with Stannis.

    At which point, Varys applies crossbow and MurderChildren(TM) until chaos ensues.

  18. David Hunt says:

    I’ve just reached this chapter of the books in my re-read. I’ve often alternated chapters with your analyses as I’ve gone through. It’ll be interesting as to how going on without this site to compare to will be different. I had a thought about Jon’s ancestry that came up in my AGOT read. After he kills the wight, Jon has nightmares about re-fighting the wight but this time, it’s got Ned Stark’s face. You can say that this is just his subconscious mashing two of Jon’s anxieties together into one nightmare (fear of the wight and worrying about his father), but Ned does die shortly thereafter…

    I should have thought of this as a manifestation of the same greenseer prophetic dreams that Bran has, but I was thinking about the Targaryan gift of prophetic dreams that occasionally shows up in their bloodline. Does anyone remember if Jon has other instances on dreams that seem to come true? I recall that later on, Bran appears to him in a dream and opens Jon’s “third eye.” This is what makes me go to this dream coming from the Targ prophetic gift instead, as whatever abilities he might have to see the future as Bran/Jojen do should be much less before that. I’d appreciate anyone’s thoughts.

    I’ll try to remember to re-post this in the comments to the next Jon chapter.

  19. Roger says:

    Personaly, I didn’t get the impression Robb wanted to negotiate. His offer is too harsh. There is no way Cersei or Tywin are going to give half the realm (more than a half, including the Trident).

    Edmure had no option. He depends of his vassal’s suport as much as Robb depends of his. And no noble is going to stay at Riverrun while Gregor or Hoat burn his lands. I suppose a coordinated campaign (as someone has suggested) would have been the better option. Perhaps even allying with Beric Dondarrion.

    Robb was curioulsy unaware of his Trident’s smallfolk suffering. At least he never made a mention of it.

    Having exchanged Jaime for Sansa would have had the chance to marry her to Wyllas Tyrell, Robert Arryn or a Martell.

    • I disagree about Robb’s offer – you don’t start negotiations asking for 100% of what you want, and you damn well don’t start with asking for 50% and hoping that this makes you look moderate and reasonable. You start at 200% so when you end up in the middle you’re closer to 100%.

      • Roger says:

        I now, but asking for total independence, not freeing Jaime (or any other prisioner) and geting Stark sisters is 400%, in my opinion. And he not even offered a truce.

      • Xirnium says:

        Is it the right tactic to ask for twice the concessions that you want?

        Maybe, if you look at things in terms of traditional, adversarial negotiation. It depends on your objective.

        If it’s maximum gain which is your objective, then you’ll go for the adversarial approach, where each negotiator battles for the largest slice of the pie. The problem is that this approach encourages parties to step away from the negotiating table if they believe they can achieve a better outcome through a military option than through a settlement. This approach can create perverse situations – eg a party which has suffered significant setbacks in the field may have less incentive to come to the negotiating table than one which has achieved success, so long as the former still has a reasonable possibility it may reverse its military fortunes, which would strengthen its negotiating position and enable it to reach a much better settlement.

        If it’s optimum gain which is your objective (ie hammering out an arrangement on the cessation of hostilities that is in the best interest of both parties), then you may be willing to consider a more cooperative attitude. Suddenly both parties have a stake in the same outcome, rather than competing outcomes. The potential for this approach to solve problems which it would be impossible to solve without the other party’s cooperation (ie the return of Arya and Sansa to the Starks, Jamie to the Lannisters, the repatriation of war prisoners generally, the end to fighting in the Riverlands, without which no peace of any kind is even possible) encourages parties to remain at the negotiating table.

        Put another way, Robb’s offer and Tyrion’s counter-offer sucked. Their negotiating tactics are time consuming, costly (in blood spilled and treasure lost while the fighting rages), leads to bad feelings on all sides which only make final agreement less likely over time, not more, and mean that even if they can eventually reach a settlement, neither side will be satisfied (see, eg, the disgust with which Rickard Karstark greets Robb’s offer).

        It also doesn’t help that neither Robb or Tyrion are honest with each other. Tyrion actually has only one Stark, and Robb already knows his bannermen won’t allow the release of Jaime for his sisters, yet omits his mention at any time during his initial communication.

        That said, the Lannisters must be criticised for all but scuttling any possibility of a negotiated settlement from the very beginning of the war, with the execution of Ned Stark and the terror warfare in the Riverlands.

        • Amestria says:

          Um, I’m really sure what you’re arguing… What are you arguing? The two sides should have focused on areas of mutual interest but this was impossible because of what the Lannisters had already done?

          btw, Karstark wanted vengeance for his dead sons and was going to be unhappy with any peace deal that didn’t include more dead Lannisters. If he was hostile to “maximum gain negotiations” then he probably would not have been happy with “optimum gain.”

  20. […] over from the larger strategic decisions made by Tywin that Brynden Tully pointed to in the last Catelyn chapter, the war has already begun to enter into that undifferentiated stage of bushwack-and retaliation […]

  21. Xirnium says:

    Even when you put it like that, the exercise hardly sounds more futile than negotiating on the basis of mutually unacceptable demands.

    Karstark definitely would have been unhappy with an optimum gain from a negotiated settlement. But the benefit of principle-based negotiation is recognising objectives other than maximising your own gains at the expense of your adversaries (which, as I say, Karstark would have found inadequate anyway). So, while your lords are scandalised and unhappy, at least peasants aren’t being strung up from trees any more.

    • Amestria says:

      Uh-huh. And what were some of these mutually beneficial objectives that both sides could have agreed to?

  22. Xirnium says:

    As I kind of hinted earlier, return of family members Arya, Jamie and Sansa, repatriation of prisoners of war, cessation of hostilities, friendly relations. Maybe the Iron Throne could have allowed Robb to go on calling himself King in the North in exchange for homage, like Renly offered Catelyn.

    • Amestria says:

      And a pony. You forgot they each want a pony.

      But haven’t you already said these were all but impossible to achieve because the Lannisters poisoned the well?

  23. […] The question is what happens next: certainly Tywin could march from Harrenhal (which would please Catelyn although not without risk of being attacked en route by Robb Stark, although there’s the […]

  24. […] I think this is also proof of my earlier argument that Robb letting Theon go was not that consequential. As I alluded to at the time, it would take a […]

  25. […] the same time, I think we also begin to see the flip-side of the Stark’s strategic situation from Catelyn I. If in that chapter the Starks were fretting about losing the Riverlords, dividing over the […]

  26. […] – if fleeting- glimpse into Robb Stark’s military strategy. As we’ve discussed in Catelyn I, the Starks are in a difficult situation, with Tywin to their east and Ser Stafford to their west […]

  27. […] combatant in the War of Five Kings who is also fighting for independence from the Iron Throne and who wants to ally with him. Even if you take the point of view of an Ironborn who wants to conquer the North, this is a […]

  28. […] VI is the peace offer the Hand of the King makes, the counterpart to Robb Stark’s offer from Catelyn I. And like that offer, this is a decidedly lopsided proposal, a maximalist bargaining position that […]

  29. […] previous peace offers, here the actual terms aren’t that far apart. Arguably, what we’re seeing here […]

  30. […] Harrenhal to Casterly Rock. For months, Tywin Lannister has tried to stay in position at Harrenhal, threatening the Riverlands and hopefully enticing the Starks into a deadly and futile assault while remaining in position to relieve King’s Landing. And […]

  31. […] contrary to how she’s often viewed in the fandom, and in contrast to her comments to Robb back in Catelyn I, here she seems genuinely torn between the two perspectives. Once again, we see the ideology of the […]

  32. […] way that this tragedy hits home for Catelyn – yes, it’s a case where Catelyn’s ignored advice turns out to have been right, but it’s also a case in which she feels like the rules of the […]

  33. […] this is somewhat odd from a military situation. We’ve been told that Robb’s 40,000 men wasn’t enough to put Harrenhal under siege, so if “Highgarden has joined itself to Joffrey’s […]

  34. […] to make Robb look better. And no small part of that is because their relationship in the books (when it’s done well) is a complicated thing between two intelligent people who don’t need to be made less to make the […]

  35. […] that Karstark’s argument is pure bullshit. To begin with, Lord Karstark has clearly been on a suicidal spiral ever since his sons died and would have attempted something like this even if Jaime had never been […]

  36. […] “kings were supposed to put the realm before their sisters” is a nice counter to the argument that Robb was slighting his sisters in his negotiations with the […]

  37. Hergim says:

    “This document, written at a time when King Edward I (the so-called “Hammer of the Scots”) had brought 100,000 men to bear against 20,000 Scottish soldiers, cannot be justified or denied by an accounting of bodies.”

    Just a quick point: the largest army Edward I ever mustered for a Scottish campaign was just a hair over 30 000 men – and 7000 of these were sent back home as soon as they arrived. 18 000 were present for a month, and 10 000 for six weeks. Edward subsequently dismissed the remainder(down to 5000) and only raised 12 500 foot for his campaign in the summer. He never again called out so many men and stayed at under 13 000 foot.

    Also, he had been dead for over a decade by the time the document was written and the Scots were currently beating the English soundly.

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