“It may come down to practicalities…which lord he most needs to court. The riverlands are part of his realm, he may wish to cement the alliance by wedding Lady Hornwood to one of the lords of the Trident.”
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.
Remember how much difficulty I had with Bran chapters in A Game of Thrones, how many chapters had no material for a blog that primarily focuses on history and politics? Well here’s the payoff for that long stretch of fallow ground – a chapter where the political fortunes of the North revolve around a complicated conflict over competing claims to the inheritance of the Hornwood estates. And while all of this seems quite mundane and uninteresting at first glance, I will advance the thesis (to be developed over a number of chapters), that the Hornwood conflict is ultimately responsible for the loss of the North to the Ironborn.
The Harvest Feast and Preparedness
The framing device for this chapter is the harvest feast at Winterfell, where the lords of the North gather to assess the harvest and prepare for the winter. As Bran discovers, “when the morrow came, most of the morning was given over to talk of grains and greens and salting meat. Once the maesters in their Citadel had proclaimed the first of autumn, wise men put a way a portion of each harvest…though how large a portion was a matter that seemed to require much talk.” Throughout the chapter, Bran or his representatives are constantly trying to increase the amount set aside, whether they were dealing with Lady Hornwood, or the Glover’s maester. Given the departure of 18,000 Northmen for the war down south, it’s unlikely that local consumer demand has increased; rather, I would guess that the lords of the North want to sell the excess for hard cash.
However, the theme of preparedness runs in many different directions. As Ser Rodrik states, “the feast makes a pleasant pretext…but a man does not cross a hundred leagues for a sliver of duck and a sip of wine. Only those who have matters of import to set before us are like to make the journey.”
In addition to the question of survival, there is the question of military preparedness – as we can see, the North is hardly empty. Lord Manderly brings “a long tail of retainers; knights, squires, lesser lords and ladies” each of them who have “their knights and men at arms…[and] their squires.” (Incidentally, for those interested in the Northern knighthood question, note that the practice seems common not just in Manderly’s own demesne but also those of his vassals) More ominously, “Bolton’s bastard is massing men at the Dreadfort.” The Umbers claim poverty, that “half our harvest is gone to seed for want of arms to swing the scythes,” showing the inherent tension between warfare and survival, but we have to keep in mind that they’re making this comment in the process of a bargain where they’re trying to chivvy military support from Winterfell, so take it with a grain of salt. Likewise, “the Glover men arrived from Deepwood Motte, and a large party of Tallharts from Torrhen’s Square,” attesting to Northern forces remaining in the West (and note that the Flints, Dustins, Stouts, and Ryswells of the southwest are not accounted for here).
More on this in a bit.
As we’ll see later in the chapter, there is also the question of political preparedness, which is not separate from the military question. While Ser Rodrik and Maester Luwin are trying to hold down the fort in Winterfell, it’s clear that the lords are getting restless: “Benfred [Tallhart] has raised his own company of lances. Boys, none older than nineteen years…now they call themselves the Wild Hares and gallop about the country with rabbitskins tied to the ends of their lances…Ser Rodrik was clearly displeased by what he heard. “If the king were in need of more men, he would send for them…instruct your nephew that he is to remain at Torrhen’s Square, as his lord father commanded.” This is way too hands-off a management style when the King in the North is busy fighting a war in the south, and it points to some serious limitations in the Winterfell leadership. Far better to have that company (historically, at least twenty but perhaps as high as eighty men) of cavalry brought under Winterfell’s service directly, where they could be trained and led by more experienced officers when the war comes to the North.
His Pieness, Lord Wyman Manderly
Central to this question of prepardness is the presence of Wyman Manderly, who looms large throughout this chapter. I’ve always wondered why more people didn’t make note of the parallels between Bran and Wyman – given how the chapter links them together. No sooner does Bran complain that “Why must he waste his days listening to old men speak of things he only half understood? Because you’re broken, a voice inside reminded him…a lord on his cushioned chair might be crippled-the Walders said their grandfather was so feeble that he had to be carried everywhere in a litter,” than “Lord Wyman Manderly had arrived from White Harbor two days past, traveling by barge and litter, as he was too fat to ride a horse.” Yet for all his infirmities, Wyman’s mind and political skills are just as sharp as ever – a potential model for Bran to look up to. Indeed, Bran and Wyman seem very much on the same wavelength, as Wyman is one of the few lords who don’t treat Bran with barely disguised pity, and Bran is keen on Wyman’s plans.
For more than any other lord in the North, Wyman Manderly understands the implications of Northern independence and what it means on the home front – namely, the necessity to create an entire system of royal infrastructure to support the war effort:
“…he began by asking Winterfell to confirm the new customs officers he had appointed for White Harbor. The old ones had been holding back silver for King’s Landing rather than paying it over to the new King in the North. “King Robb needs his own coinage a well,” he declared, “and White Harbor is the very place to mint it.” He offered to take charge of the matter, as it please the king, and went from there to speak of how he had strengthened the port’s defenses, detailing the cost of every improvement.”
“In addition to a mint, Lord Manderly also proposed to build Robb a warfleet. “We have had no strength at sea for hundreds of years, since Brandon the Burner put the torch to his father’s ships. Grant me the gold and within the year I will float you sufficient galleys to take Dragonstone and King’s Landing both.”
A system of taxation and coinage are absolutely necessary for an independent nation to finance a war of liberation; a warfleet likewise could have given Robb strategic flexibility and naval defenses he badly lacked. Arguably, had Wyman Manderly’s strategy been followed, the North’s independence could have been made a practical reality long before the situation was decided militarily. And yet again, we see that limitation at Winterfell at work, as “Ser Rodrik promised only to send the proposal on to Robb for his consideration, while Maester Luwin scratched at the parchment.”
Naturally, Lord Wyman is not acting out of disinterested patriotism. He fully expects that he’ll be the one appointing customs officers and officials of the royal mint, both of which would make White Harbor a much richer port city. Likewise, the warfleet would be berthed at, and crewed by officers of, White Harbor and under Lord Wyman’s control, albeit at the command of his king. (Indeed, as we’ll see, Lord Wyman goes ahead anyway with the fleet on the grounds that you never know when you might need a huge warfleet) This is part and parcel of medieval politics, where bureaucratic commands are unknown and the trading of royal favor for leal service turns everything into a transaction.
At the same time, however, Lord Wyman is a patriot, although a practical one. As he notes, he is refusing to pay the ransom for his son Ser Wylis if that means abandoning his king, but he still notes that although “King Robb has no more loyal servant than Wyman Manderly…I would be loath to see my son languish at Harrenhal any longer than he must, however.” Loyalty is a thing meant to be rewarded; and lo, Ser Wylis will be freed, although not without a second terrible stint in Harrenhal.
It might be argued that Lord Wyman Manderly is an outlier, that most Northerners are really the bluff, hearty, honest types that we think they are, just like good old Greatjon Umber. Well, here we meet “the Greatjon’s uncles, blustery men in the winter of their days with beards as white as the bearskin cloaks they wore. A crow had once taken Mors for dead and pecked out his eye…he’d grabbed the crow in his fist and bitten its head off, so they named him Crowfood. She would never tell Bran why his gaunt brother Hother was called Whoresbane.” And are these honorable men standing foresquare behind the Starks as they’re bound to?
Hell, no. Just like the southron lords who view their relationship with their lords as a transactional bargain of power for power, the Umbers want something in return for their service:
“Hothor wanted ships. “There’s wildlings stealing down from the north, more than I’ve ever seen before. They cross the Bay of Seals in little boats and wash up on our shores. The crows in Eastwatch are too few to stop them, and they go to ground quick as weasels. It’s longships we need, aye, and strong men to sail them. The Greatjon took too many. Half our harvest is gone to seed for want of arms to swing the scythes.”
“You have forests of tall pine and old oak. Lord Manderly has shipwrights and sailors in plenty. Together you ought to be able to float enough longships to guard both your coasts.”
“Manderly?” Mors Umber snorted. “That great waddling sack of suet? His own people mock him as Lord Lamprey.”
“He is fat…but he is not stupid. You will work with him, or the king will know the reason why.” And to Bran’s astonishment, the truculent Umbers agreed to do as he commanded.”
As we can see from this quote, the picture is a complicated one. The Umbers sent their men off to fight for Robb when he called the banners, but they also want ships and sailors to deal with wildling raiders, and they want to complain about how inconvenient to their material interests the war was. They have political interests and rivalries of their own – they don’t get along with the Manderlys in part because “Lord Lamprey” is himself an ambitious and powerful neighbor – and they have to be managed into cooperating even in a matter of their own interests.
The Hornwood Question
The best example of feudal politics, however, is the question of the Hornwood Lands. If there is any doubt that the North is not the place of ironclad honor that fans of Ned Stark sometimes think, look to this incident. Houses Manderly, Bolton, Tallhart, Glover, and Umber know how to play the game of thrones as well as any southron lord, and are just as willing to use means both fair and foul to win the game. And as I’ll argue, this game of thrones is just as distracting to the “pressing crisis” as the one down in the south is vis-a-vis the situation north of the Wall.
As I’ve discussed a bit before, the Hornwood lands become the object of a Northern game of thrones as an unintended consequence of Robb’s strategy in the opening Northern action in the War of Five Kings. While Robb was stunningly successful in completely reversing the strategic and tactical picture in the Riverlands, but not without cost: “Lady Donella Hornwood brought no tail of knights and retainers; only herself, and six tired men-at-arms with a moosehead badge on their dusty orange livery. “We are very sorry for all you have suffered, my lady,” Bran said when she came before him to speak her words of greetings. Lord Hornwood had been killed in the battle on the Green Fork, their only son cut down in the Whispering Wood. “Winterfell will remember.” In two battles, the male line of the Hornwoods is rendered extinct, which now puts the lands of House Hornwood up for grabs for all of its neighbors.
Among the “matters of import” brought up by the visitors to Winterfell, the question of the Hornwood lands is first and foremost. Along with his interests in customs officers, mints, and warfleets, “Lord Wyman made polite inquiry after Lady Hornwood, who was a cousin of his. “She was born a Manderly, you know. Perhaps, when her grief has run its course, she would like to be a Manderly again…as it happens, I am a widower these past eight years. Past time I took another wife…or if the lady fancies a younger lad, well, my son Wendel is unwed as well…a valiant boy, and jolly, just the man to teach her to laugh again.” While all of this cousin marriage looks a bit strange to our eyes, this is Feudal Dynastic Politics 101 – many European noble families, especially the Hapsburgs, became quite wealthy and powerful by making sure that heiresses and their inheritances remained in the family.
The Umbers come to Winterfell asking for ships and sailors to stop wildling raiders, but they quickly move on to more important matters: “No sooner had they been seated than Mors asked for leave to wed Lady Hornwood. “The Greathon’s the Young Wolf’s strong right hand, all know that to be true. Who better to protect the widow’s lands than an Umber, and what Umber better than me?” These houses are Hornwood’s northern and southern neighbors, and understand the stakes involved – for House Manderly, adding the Hornwood lands to their dominion over the Lockes, Woolfields, and Flints would make them the undisputable masters of the east, bigger and richer and more populous than the Boltons, Umbers, and Karstarks put together. For Mors Umber, the Hornwood lands would elevate him out of his brother’s household to a full lordship, and surround the Boltons from north and south at once.
In addition to these two suitors, the Boltons (not present, but very much a presence in the chapter) are making moves to assert their own claims to the Hornwood lands, well aware of the threat of encirclement and the opportunity of doubling the size of their lands. “Bolton’s bastard is massing men at the Dreadfort,” Lady Donella mentions as Ramsay makes his first appearance in ASOIAF. “I hope he means to take the south to join his father at the Twins, but when I sent to ask his intent, he told me that no Bolton would be questioned by a woman. As if he were trueborn and had a right to that name…the boy is a sly creature by all accounts, and he has a servant who is almost as cruel as he is. Reek, they call the man…they hunt together, the Bastard and this Reek, and not for deer…and now that my lord husband and my sweet son have gone to the gods, the Bastard looks at my lands hungrily.” As we’ll see in future chapters, the Boltons will act as the disruptive influence that prevents the resolution of these problems through the normal political channels, and ultimately brings down Stark rule in the North.
Interest in the Hornwood lands goes beyond their immediate neighbors, however. The lords of the western North have their own dynastic ties to House Hornwood, and their own ambitions of expanding their influence across the North. The Glovers of Deepwood Motte might be a mere masterly house (although a masterly House with four lesser Houses sworn to them is something other than a landed knight as some have suggested), but because they have fostered “Lord Hornwood’s bastard, the boy Larence Snow,” they can now hold the whole of the Hornwood lands until Larence comes into his majority (and given that he’s 12, that’ll be a fair few years). Moreover, Robett Glover has a daughter who could be easily engaged to Larence Hornwood. Leobald Tallhart is equally keen to make use of the fact that his wife is a Hornwood and that he has a surplus son:“I had a thought to send my younger son to Lady Donella to foster as her own. Beren is near ten, a likely lad, and her own nephew. He would cheer her, I am certain, and perhaps he would even take the name Hornwood…” if he’s made the heir.
And what of poor Lady Donella Hornwood née Manderly? Among the large list of women brutalized by the patriarchal culture of Westeros, we should definitely add Lady Hornwood, and note that even a widow with an entire House behind her still is not in control of her destiny. For her own part, Lady Hornwood “shall wed again if His Grace commands it…but Mors Crowfood is a drunken brute, and older than my father. As for my noble cousin of Manderly, my lord’s bed is not large enough to hold one of his majesty, and I am surely too small and frail to lie beneath him.” On a personal level, she seems to prefer Ser Rodrik. However, Lady Donella’s hand and her lands are not her own, to dispose of where she would; rather, King Robb Stark is supposed to have the ultimate say in who she will or will not marry, as the opening quote suggests.
All of this presents Ser Rodrik Cassel and Maester Luwin with no easy solution – any decision they make will please some and alienate others, because the central truth of feudal politics is that everything belongs to someone, making win-win arrangements an impossibility (more on this in the history section). As Ser Rodrik notes, the very existence of the widow Hornwood makes her “a danger to the peace of your brother’s realm nonetheless…with no direct heir, there are sure to be many claimants contending for the Hornwood lands. The Tallharts, Flints, and Karstarks all have ties to House Hornwood through the female line, and the Glovers are fostering Lord Harys’s bastard at Deepwood Motte. The Dreadfort has no claim that I know, but the lands adjoin, and Roose Bolton is not one to overlook such a chance.“
Each options has a downside. If Ser Rodrik marries her, he would firmly establish the Stark’s protection over the Hornwood lands, but at the cost of displeasing all suitors; as he says, “I might hold her lands for a few years, but as soon as I died Lady Hornwood would find herself back in the same mire.” If they pick Larence Snow, thus preserving the direct male line, “that would please the Glovers, and perhaps Lord Hornwood’s shade as well, but I do not think Lady Hornwood would love us. The boy is not of her blood.” This would also alienate the Tallharts, Umbers, and Manderlys, while leaving the defense of those lands in the hands of a 12 year old. Maester Luwin thinks that “Beren Tallhart may well be our best answer…by blood he is half Hornwood,” but that lands you back in the same situation that “he will still be a boy…and hard-pressed to hold his lands against the likes of Mors Umber or this bastard of Roose Bolton’s.”
So why care about any of this? Well, look at the Houses involved. House Manderly may have sent 1,500 south with Robb, but they have around 3,500 men remaining in White Harbor. Roose took the bulk of House Bolton’s troops with him, but Ramsay has 600 men. The Tallharts have 1,100 men that they will later send to retake Winterfell along with Ser Rodrik’s forces. Even after the fall of Deepwood Motte and the Sack of Deepwood Motte, the Glovers and Hornwoods will have at least 500 men – which suggests they each had around 1,000 to begin with. The Karstarks have 400 men remaining in the North that they will eventually falsely pledge to Stannis’ service; the Umbers have at least 400 men remaining that they will also take to battle. This adds up to 8,000 men, which plus the 3,000 Northern hill clans, the Mormonts, and the Ryswells and Dustins and Flints of the southwest, gives us the 17,000 fighting men left in the North.
But come the invasion of the Ironborn, the vast bulk of these forces will be disunited and unable to bring to bear in resisting the invasion. The Manderlys, the Boltons, the Umbers, and the Karstarks, to say nothing of Ser Rodrik’s own 900 men, constitute a mobile reserve of around 6,000 men which will be directly engaged by the Hornwood dispute when the Ironborn arrive. A force of that size, when added to the Tallharts and Glovers, the hill clans and the houses of the southwest, could easily have pushed back, if not outright reversed, the Ironborn invasion, especially at points like Moat Cailin which are vulnerable from the north.
Before I get into the historical parallels, I wanted to take note of two things that come up in this chapter:
- The Sociopathy of the Freys – once again, the Big and Little Walders enter into the story as bullying little sociopaths who like nothing more to torment the mentally ill and physically infirm. And now they’re armed, armored, and learning to kill people professionally. And with this is coming increasing signs of resisting all restraint from their elders:
“Is this how you behave at the Twins, Walder Frey?”
“If I want to.” Atop his courses, Little Walder gave Luwin a sullen glare, as if to say, You are only a maester, who are you to reproach a Frey of the Crossing?”
- And for those of you who hold with the theory that the Walders are a preview of the Red Wedding and/or the fate of the Frey family (following the “threefold revelation” model of GRRM’s writing), it’s worth noting that we’re already getting Cassandrian warnings from Osha that Maester Luwin “had better watch his back around that Walder. Him and you both. The big one they call little, it comes to me he’s well named. Big outside, little inside, and mean down to the bones.” It’s quite possible that Little Walder was the one who stabbed Maester Luwin during the Sack of Winterfell amid the confusion, and lest we forget, he’s the least dangerous of the two cousins, if you believe that Big Walder was his assassin.
- An Oddly-Timed Realization – another odd moment in this chapter comes with the news of Stannis’ public letter hitting the North. The response is refracted through a new nationalist lens – the emphasis is not on Stannis’ claim to the Throne, but more the disparagement of their pre-existing enemy. However, the real importance comes from Bran Stark’s panic attack/recovery of his repressed memory of the incident:
“For a moment Bran felt as though he could not breathe. A giant hand was crushing his chest. He felt as though he was falling, and clutched desperately at Dancer’s reins…the crow had no pity. It put out his left eye and then his right, and when he was blind in the dark it pecked at his brow…but when the crow wrenched out his beak…Bran could see again. What he saw made him gasp in fear. He was clinging to a tower miles high, and his fingers were slipping…a golden man appeared in the sky above him and pulled him up. “The things I do for love.”
- I’ve always found this bit really frustrating, in that this particular plot line never really goes anywhere. Bran doesn’t tell anyone about his memory, which means that no one else finds out when it might be relevant (say, Catelyn Stark getting a raven before the two brothers meet at Storm’s End), and by the time of ADWD he’s not really in the political realm any more and there’s almost no one left who would care that Cersei and Jaime were lovers. If there’s any explanation for why GRRM bothered with this dangling plot thread, it’s that he wanted to keep the idea of trauma leading to shamanic power going, and given that Bran is about to meet Jojen and Meera and take his next steps on the paths of being a warg and a greenseer, so he needed a pretext for Bran’s third eye opening.
As I’ve alluded to in the past, feudal politics were a nasty and chaotic business, largely because of the weakness of monarchs vis-a-vis their noble vassals. During the Carolingian Empire, a certain amount of stability was created by the practice of fiefdoms as a gift of the Emperor to be held for life, and thus surrendered at death. As the advance of time continued, the Emperor would have a steady stream of lands available to redistribute, keeping the military class of Europe keen to earn his favor, and keeping his vassals mindful of the need to stay on his good side, lest their sons be disinherited upon there death. But as the strength of the Empire declined and the medieval era began in full, more and more vassals demanded and won the right of inheritance to their fiefs, freezing in place the distribution of land and leaving their kings no currency with which to trade favors.
One of the most famous examples of how this process could lead to complete destabilization is the case of Raoul of Cambrai. Cambrai is a county in the northeast of France in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, near the Belgian border. The events that follow took place in the 10th century as recorded by singers and poets of the 12th:
“Listen to a song of joy and merriment. Some of you, no, most of you have heard new tales sung by other minstrels, but they have neglected the flower of them all, one about a a baronial family of great valor. That is the song of Raoul, lord of Cambrai; Taillefer he was called on account of his pride. He had one son who became a good warrior: he too was called Raoul, a man of much strength…
You shall now hear of the sorrow and conflict and of the great endless war. The King of France had a noble youth in his service whom the French called Gibouin of Le Mans. He served the king with his good sword, and made many an orphan in the course of his wars. He served our noble king so well and in such knightly fashion that he was entitled to a full reward. Those from beyond the Rhine counselled that he should be given the fief of Cambrai which was held by Alice, conqueror of men’s hearts, of the family of Geoffroy of Lavardin. Now, if God who turned the water into wine does not prevent it, a fief will be given and a promise made which will be the cause of many a knight lying sprawled on the ground dead.
Our emperor listened to the barons talking and advising him to give the fair Alice to the baron of Le Mans who had served him so well. He took their counsel, for which he is to be blamed; he gave the glove to Gibouin, who thanked him for it and stooped and kissed his shoe. Then said the King of France: Gibouin, my brother, I deserve your thanks, for it is a great gift that I give you here. But on one condition I grant it: I wish not to disinherit the boy Raoul. He is yet young, now protect him well until such time that he can carry arms. He shall hold Cambrai; no one can refuse it to him and I shall give you some other land.” Gibouin said, “I shall not refuse, but arrange for me to marry the lady.” But he acted like a fool in daring to expect this, for it afterwards caused the overthrow of many noble men. The gentle lady fair of countenance would not accept him even if they hacked off her limbs for it.
The situation is actually quite comparable to the Hornwood question – a lord dies leaving behind his widow (although in this case, she has a child), a king desires the opportunity to redistribute his lands (in part to reward the Baron of LeMans who has served him well, in part pour encouragez les autres). The widow is courted, but refuses all offers.
Raoul Jr. grows up, and upon majority is granted only the title of the lord of Vermandois, rather than his full inheritance. When the king reneges on his promise to give Raoul the lands of Count Hebert on his death, Raoul rides out to seize them by force, despite Count Herbert leaving behind four sons. Full of rage, Raoul ignores the advice of his mother not to repeat the same injury done to him to the sons of Hebert, and together with his uncle, “cross the boundary of Vermandois; they seize the herds and take the herdsmen prisoners; they burn the crops and set fire to the farms.” At the church in Origny, so uncontrollable is Raoul’s anger that he orders “spread my tent in the middle of the church; let my pack horses be tethered in the porches; prepare my food beneath the vaults, fasten my falcons to the golden crosses and make ready a rich bed before the altar where I may lie. I will lean against the crucifix and deliver the nuns up to my squires. I mean to destroy the place and ruin it utterly because the sons of Herbert hold it so dear.” The result: the nunnery is burned to the ground, with the nuns inside.
The resulting conflict ends with the death of nearly every participant – but what’s noticeable is that the writer lodges the blame, not in the god-cursed Raoul for starting the war, but on the king for daring to interfere with the property of his subjects, and thus creating a war he had no power to stop. This is the fatal weakness of feudalism – that the king rules by giving away power, and thus loses the ability to mediate conflicts between his vassals.
So while a 21st century reader wouldn’t necessarily see the dispute over the Hornwood Lands as the precursor to nation-wide violence, a 12th century Frenchman wouldn’t have been surprised.
The various permutations of the Hornwood Question provide a rich source of material for hypothetical scenarios:
- Lady Hornwood marries Wyman Manderly? In addition to making House Manderly more powerful, marriage into the Hornwood line might have some interesting ramifications, especially if Ramsay attacks anyway. While House Manderly would remain distracted during the Ironborn rebellion, they would have presented a viable safe haven for Rickon at the very least after the fall of Winterfell. With the added manpower and land and the added incentives to resist, it’s possible that Wyman might openly defy the Boltons the moment his son is freed. Stannis might march on Winterfell to find Winterfell already under siege by the Manderlys.
- Lady Hornwood marries Mors Umber? Given House Umber’s low manpower in the North, Ramsay would probably attack the Hornwood lands anyway, but I think the Umber brothers are good enough soldiers that between the added Hornwood soldiers and their flanking position, they’d be able to hold him off without question. The main difference I see is that, without the need to directly intervene in their own backyard, the Manderlys might be able to reinforce the West, allowing a pushback against the Ironborn, possibly recapturing Moat Cailin from the North. In turn, this might butterfly away Robb’s march North in ASOS and possibly, therefore, the Red Wedding. Regardless, this probably means that there are no Umbers on the inside of Winterfell when the Battle of Ice comes.
- Larence Snow becomes Larence Hornwood? On the one hand, this means that the Glovers are probably distracted by the conflict in the east, thus leading to Deepwood Motte falling more easily if they shift forces over there to keep the Boltons in check. In the wake of Deepwood Motte falling, Ramsay would probably attack, but it’s likely that the Glovers would try to bolster their position by engaging Larence to one of Manderly’s daughters to give themselves more support in the east. On the other hand, the same lack of pressure on the Manderlys as in the Umber scenario might keep the Ironborn at bay, with the same consequences doiwn the line.
- Beren Tallhart becomes Beren Hornwood? This hypothetical is quite like the case of Larence Snow, in that the Hornwood lands are taken over by a young man, that the house in question would likely be distracted from the Ironborn invasion, and that there’s a good chance of a Manderly engagement to keep the biggest power in the east in the fold. The difference here is Torrhen’s Square – if the forces at Torrhen’s Square are weakened and Theon’s feinted attack becomes real, the course of events might change dramatically. With Torrhen’s Square fallen, Ser Rodrik would likely have concentrated on the defense of Winterfell itself, rather than been drawn out – with Theon’s gambit failed and Winterfell intact, the North has something to rally around in defense of the Ironborn, and Robb never becomes the King who lost the North. Again, the need to turn North is avoided, but the big question is whether Roose Bolton’s calculations come out differently…
- Ser Rodrik marries Lady Hornwood? As Ser Rodrik notes, this isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s not like there aren’t ways to fix that. Beren or Larence could be easily adopted by Ser Rodrik, providing both a future heir and an experienced man to run things in the short-term. The bigger question is – how does this reshape Ramsay’s actions? In most of these scenarios, Ramsay is likely to attack as he seems to have been given a free hand to aggrandize House Bolton at the expense of their regional rivals; but we’re left unclear what Roose’s orders were at this stage in regards to an open challenge to Winterfell itself. If, and it’s a big if, Ramsay holds off completely, it’s possible that the chaos that erupts in the North is completely avoided – that the North eventually pushes back the Ironborn, Bran and Rickon stay “alive” in the eyes of Westeros (which raises interesting questions regarding what happens to Sansa and her claim), and possibly the Red Wedding never happens.
Book vs. Show:
Given the degree of complexity involved, the fact that 99% of it involves secondary and tertiary characters, and that a lot of it doesn’t pay off until later, I kind of understand why the showrunners of HBO’s Game of Thrones chose to excise the Hornwood plot, as well as the Walder twins, as well as the Reek plot, from Bran’s Season 2 storyline.
That being said, as a political nerd, I really lament the missed opportunity to demonstrate the political complexity of the North, and I think there were costs to the choice. Rather than having an ominous buildup and then a sudden reveal as per the book, Ramsay came out of nowhere in Season 3, which somewhat contributed to the slow (and somewhat circular) Theon plot that season. Wyman Manderly, if and, I hope to the Old Gods and the New, when he appears on the show will likewise not have that personal connection to the Starks and opposition to the Boltons as he does in the books.
I’d also say that what got put in its place was a rather boring bit of television. The scene in Season 2, Episode 1 where Bran hears the complaints of his subjects is not particularly exciting, leads rather hamfistedly to the whole miller’s kids fakeout which was not handled well, and Rickon’s feral nut obsession wasn’t particularly enlightening either. While the whole of the Hornwood plot was obviously not in the cards, I think Benioff and Weiss could have at least alluded to the political complexities of the North, and thus given a Season 1 Stannis-type of preview of who Wyman Manderly is, who Ramsay Snow is, etc.