“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.
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 sisters – because 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.
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.
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.