Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Bran II

“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.”

Synopsis: Bran Stark meets with Lord Wyman Manderly, Mors and Hother Umber, Lady Sybelle Glover‘s maester, and Leobald Tallhart about what to do about the widowed Lady Hornwood and her lands.

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:

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.

by cabepfir

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,” thanLord 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.

The Umbers

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.

File:Donella Hornwood.jpg

Lady Hornwood by Ser Heartsalot

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.

Two Sidenotes:

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.

Historical Analysis:

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.

What If?

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.

218 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Bran II

  1. zonaria says:

    Excellent, love this.

  2. Sean C. says:

    “leads rather hamfistedly to the whole miller’s kids fakeout which was not handled well”

    In the show’s defence, I don’t think it could have been. That sort of fakeout works okay in the novels, but it would never work on television, because TV just doesn’t kill main characters like that. It’s not part of cinematic grammar.

    Regarding the Hornwood succession crisis, I have to say, it really doesn’t make a ton of sense to me based on how we’ve been told Westerosi succession law works. Now, GRRM has used the “ruled by men, not laws” rationale a lot, and that’s certainly true in practice, but that’s typically a case where de facto triumphs over de jure — that is, the way things are actually done doesn’t necessarily correspond to how they’re supposed to be done. And the North has a de jure succession standard, from what we’ve been told (male-preference primogeniture). By that standard, the proper heir of Lord Halys is his sister Berena, and thence her son, Beren. But not even the Tallharts, who should be making this argument, present it this way. They skip Berena entirely and argue that perhaps Lady Donella should adopt their son as her heir, and that succession to Hornwood is derived from her, which seems premised on the idea that House Hornwood being extinct in the male line puts it that way (much like with House Dustin). But that’s not how it works everywhere else we’ve seen. Even if, in practice, other people were suggesting that Hornwood should be assigned to someone else, the Tallharts have what is clearly the strongest legal case, and yet they’re seriously soft-pedaling it, and neither Luwin nor Rodrik think of it that way.

    Compare this to the Karstark situation in ADWD, where absolutely everyone accepts that Alys is Lord Harrion’s heir, to the point where Arnolf and co. go to extreme lengths to force her to marry Cregan (or, for that matter, the subsequent issue of Sansa’s claim).

    • I think the fakeout still could have been done better.

      I’m not sure that is the case, necessarily – we know in the north that a daughter inherits before an uncle, but not necessarily that an aunt inherits before a legitimated bastard.

      • Sean C. says:

        But Larence wasn’t legitimated at Halys’ death. There’s really no reason to legitimize Larence when there already is a legal heir quite proximate to him.

        • That’s not necessary – Larence is acknowledged, the King legitimates.

          • Sean C. says:

            I don’t follow the distinction being made here. Larence is acknowledged, but that doesn’t bestow inheritance rights. With Berena alive, there’s no need to go to extraordinary measures to find an heir for Hornwood, there already is one.

          • A legitimated bastard has inheritance rights.

            And the idea would be that as Harys Hornwood’s son, Larence would represent an unambiguous continuation of the direct male line.

          • Sean C. says:

            Yes, a legitimated bastard has inheritance rights, but Larence wasn’t legitimated on his father’s death, at which point Berena was heir. Berena has kids, too, including a healthy son, so there’s no reason to be worried about the future of the house.

          • I don’t see why “upon death” matters in this case. Death matters for acknowledgement, not legitimization.

          • Amestria says:

            Your thinking of how it is in our world, where father’s legitimize. In Westeros only a King can legitimize a bastard. It’s not Roose who legitimizes Ramsay, it’s Tommen. Later, Rob and King Stannis both plan to legitimize Jon. So the father’s death is irrelevant.

          • Sean C. says:

            No, I get that the king legitimizes him whenever he likes, but at Halys’ death, he had a proximate heir, Berena. There’s no reason for the king to consider something like legitimizing a bastard, which is typically done only in cases where there are no immediate heirs at all.

          • But legitimization gives you a direct heir without the need for a proximate heir.

      • Carolyn says:

        An aunt certainly does not inherit ahead of a legitimized bastard, since according to GRRM it isn’t even clear, whether a trueborn younger son inherits before his older legitimized bastard brother.

        Honestly, I am not historian, but from what I read about the War of the Roses, the succession laws in that time were really murky, since you could “combine” lesser claims to a bigger one, so that if your father had a minor claim and your mother another minor claim your chances of inheriting were not bad if you had a good army.

        • Really, where did he state that? I know a legitimated bastard son inherits before a daughter, but hadn’t heard before any trueborn heir.

          • Carolyn says:

            The way he stated the SSM about the Hornwood case for me heavily implies, that it is not clear, whether an older legitimized bastard or a younger trueborn son inherits.
            You can read it here:

            The passage I meant was the following two paragraphs:

            “What if there are no childen, only grandchildren and great grandchildren. Is precedence or proximity the more important principle? Do bastards have any rights? WHAT ABOUT BASTARDS WHO HAVE BEEN LEGITIMIZED; DO THEY GO IN AT THE END AFTER THE TRUEBORN KIDS, OR ACCORDING TO BIRTH ORDER? What about widows? And what about the will of the deceased? Can a lord disinherit one son, and name a younger son as heir? Or even a bastard?

            THERE ARE NO CLEAR CUT ANSWERS; EITHER IN WESTEROS OR IN REAL MEDIEVAL HISTORY. Things were often decided on a case by case basis. A case might set a precedent for later cases… but as often as not, the precedents conflicted as much as the claims.”

            So GRRM states, that it is not clear, whether a legitimized bastard enters the succession after his trueborn siblings or whether it goes according to age, which would mean, that a legitimized older bastard inherits before a younger trueborn son.

            On another note, it might be interesting, what is considered the AGE of a legitimized bastard. Does a legitimized bastard legally get born, when he enters the world or when he is legitimized, since at that time he becomes a member of his house and thereby a new Stark, Bolton, Hornwood etc enters the family tree?
            IMO, you could make convincing arguments for both cases, which further complicates the issue.
            This would even be relevant in ASOIAF, since (excluding Jon Snow’s NW vows and R+L=J being known) this would play a big part in whether Jon Snow is the current Lord of Winterfell or Brandon Stark.

          • Good catch. I don’t think age is based on legitimization; that’s too picayune for a society like Westeros. Age is age.

    • Winnie says:

      I agree with Sean…that kind of fake out just wouldn’t on screen no matter what.

      Also I loved the line “listening to people you’d rather not listen to is part of your duties as Lord Of Winterfell” to me that encapsulates how the Stark family trained their children for their responsibilities so much better than the Lions did. And it was sad how a good sound decision made by Bran for the best of reasons ‘re orphan boys to help out the farmer could turn out so tragically. It really fits the shows ongoing theme of unintended consequences.

      • Sean C. says:

        Not that I don’t love the Stark family, but their “training their children for their responsibilities” record is spotty at best. Granted, that may be good enough to be better than the Lannisters, still.

        • Carolyn says:

          I think the problem the Stark kids run into rather result from being thrust into situations, they usually would not have had to deal with for years.
          Ned certainly did not expect, that his son would have to lead the North and fight a war at age 14, that his oldest daughter would be a hostage in King’s Landing at age 11, that his younger daughter would be an unprotected child in a country ravaged by Civil War at 9 and so on.
          All the Stark kids seem to have implemented the family values, so there is a good basis to build upon, but they all lack the training they would have received, if the War of the Five Kings had happened later.

          • Sean C. says:

            While Robb was young to be in the situation he was, I think he’s the biggest success story in terms of preparation in the Stark family (even if things don’t work out for him). Sure, he’s not a Machiavel by any means, but nobody in the family is, and he’s got a decent understanding of politics, and a willingness to listen to advisers; and he’s a genuinely brilliant field commander, which is achievement enough for somebody as young as he is.

            Sansa is kind of a split-decision, as she’s A+ within the parameters of what she was trained for, which was basically to be an ornament — but it’s quite clear that Ned and Cat never envisioned her as a political actor in any sense of the term, and so she never got any sort of education in that, or any related responsibilities regarding ruling, etc., even after Bran had started to have to attend executions and the like at a younger age. Even in a more normal scenario where things don’t go to crap, she would have been hopelessly out of her depth at court.

            Arya’s a total failure as far as preparing someone for a role is. She’s totally unsuited to be a lady, which is what Ned still expects her to become at the start of the story (he was clearly thrown by her stating that wasn’t what she wanted, even though that should have been bloody obvious from Ned’s own experience with Lyanna). If Ned wanted that, he needed to actually enforce his own rules regarding her behavior, etc. which he allows her to flout with virtual impunity. The “water-dancing” her arranges doesn’t help with this either, and, indeed, is really only useful in a scenario where everything went completely to shit.

        • jpmarchives says:

          I think that might be a narrative trick by GRRM. Whilst the Stark children haven’t been educated perfectly in the medieval style, they are a loving family unit (Jon/Catelyn Arya/Sansa aside) which is exactly what the modern perception of a family is, making them more accessible and likable to the reader right off the bat.

          I’m just not sure we’d feel the same way about the Starks if they had been raised in the same environment that a real historical family in their position would have been; less a family and more of a dynastic feudal attack force.

          Which, thinking about it, would make a great band name.

          • Winnie says:

            Yes it would.

            You could also argue that was exactly how the Tyrell children were raised. By way of contrast the Lannister’s aren’t merely dysfunctional as a family-they’re completely divided as a dynasty as well.

          • Sean C. says:

            I’d say there’s definitely truth to that. Consider Ned’s talk to Arya in AGOT about “the pack” and how Arya and Sansa need each other, which sounds heartwarming, but really doesn’t make much sense within the parameters of the world as Ned knows it. In a non-catastrophic scenario, Sansa and Arya are not going to be part of “the pack” — they’ll be joining somebody else’s, and Ned clearly doesn’t view his daughters as Stark political agents being assigned to distant outposts; his expectations of Queen Sansa seem to be that she would raise Joffrey’s kids, smile at parties, etc. Sansa and Arya needing each other makes even less sense, since they’re very likely to end up living hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart (whether Arya marries somebody else or just stays single and dwells at Winterfell), with better then decent odds that they never see each other again as adults.

        • rw970 says:

          Eh, given the contrived nature of plot and circumstance, it’s hard to evaluate how good a job the Stark parents did. Consider that all of the Stark kids (except Robb) are still alive at the end of Book 5, which given the circumstances they’re put in is really quite remarkable.

          Robb, the lone casualty, was arguably the one most prepared and had the most institutional support (he ran a whole kingdom and was the only Stark to have had a parent hanging around with him giving him advice). He also had the most “success” – he outsmarted Tywin Lannister (!) on numerous (!) occasions, was the first Stark king in 300 years, and will surely be remembered in song and history as the Young Wolf. Robb was doomed by I’d say one really bad mistake (Jeyne Westerling) and GRRM wanting him to be screwed by others (Catelyn, Karstark, Roose, Theon, Edmure, Walder, Ramsay). He was, what, 16 when he died? Pretty good effort.

          Jon is the survivor of two suicide ranger-missions (the lone survivor of one of them), manages to embed himself within the hierarchy of the wildlings, climbs the Fucking Wall, escapes the raiders, defends the Wall from behind and in front, gets himself elected to be the youngest Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in reliable memory, decisively ends the Wildling conflict forever maybe, is the architect of Stannis’ victory at Deepwood and his Northern Alliance, and settles the Karstark succession. He also makes a colossal blunder, but he is also 16 when he “dies.” I think he’s a success.

          Sansa is the oldest 100% alive Stark (huge props). She’s not given much of actual consequences to actually do, but she has finely tuned internal political skills in the sense of what’s expected of a highborn lady and is in the process of developing others. She has claims to Winterfell, Casterly Rock, Riverrun, and the Eyrie. It’s not for nothing that she’s assumed by fans to be involved in the end game.

          Arya escapes from the Red Keep during the massacre, survives at large in King’s Landing, by herself, for a couple of weeks while the whole city is on lockdown and is looking for her, manages to survive a second massacre at the hands of Amory Lorch, survives on the road for several days with just Gendry and Hot Pie, survives being captured by the Mountain, helps overthrow Lorch at Harrenhal, correctly decides not to trust Bolton, escapes from Harrenhal, and manages to get herself to Braavos where she takes up with a league of legendary assassins. She’s 10?

          Bran does a decent job filling in for Robb as a disabled 8 year old, escapes Theon and Ramsay, survives on the road all the way to the middle of nowhere beyond the Wall with the help of his friends. Doing alright.

          Rickon: I have no clue, but he’s still ticking.

          Tywin Lannister was murdered by his son while sitting on the toilet.

          He was killed by the son who was framed for the murder of his grandson.

          His grandson was the product of an incestuous relationship between his other son and daughter.

          Now, being a better parent than Tywin Lannister does not make you father of the year, but it’s hard to judge Ned and Cat too harshly given the fact that GRRM is plotting this to get the results he wants.

          Plot, man. It’s a bitch.

    • The rules of succession in Westeros are pretty confusing. What I don’t understand here is, does the spouse really have inheritance rights if there are living blood relatives? Based on the Hornwood situation, it seems like the spouse does have inheritance rights. But how far do they extend? Can a husband of a widow of the previous lord really inherit something, even if there are living relatives through the female line? Ramsay certainly thought so, and the other suitors also seem to have thought something along those lines, but that’s certainly not how it works in Vale, for instance, or else Littlefinger would not need to concern himself with Harold Hardying, and the latter would not be Sweetrobin’s heir.

      • You’re right that it’s confusing. If I had to guess, I’d say there’s something about a widow in a case without a direct heir having some sort of use-right during her lifetime.

        • Crystal says:

          I think that is probably the case. The widow is not the heir to the lands, but she has a right to live in the castle and be supported by the incomes unless she remarries or goes back to her birthplace.

          What Ramsay seems to have done was take advantage of the fact that the Hornwood lands are 1) right next to the Bolton lands, 2) remote and 3) poorly defended. I’ve pointed this out elsewhere, but I think that the North’s remoteness and relatively small population – the various castles/family seats are very far apart from one another – enabled Ramsay, and others, to get away with things he could not have in, for instance, the Vale, where there were other lords within “shouting distance” or at least just a day or two ride away. I was reading an article about Alaska’s rape and domestic violence rate being unusually high, and one reason (among several others) given was the remoteness of most of the villages and towns. The police can’t get out to a village very easily, and the bad weather adds another layer of difficulty. That seems to have been the case in the north of Westeros, too. Without a strong lord in place at Winterfell, it quickly devolved into chaos.

          • If I recall correctly, Donella Hornwood is kidnapped riding back from this very feast, at a time when she only had about eight or so men with her. The Hornwoods themselves have substantially more men – I would estimate at least 500-1000 men left in the North, given that the Hornwood men see action at Ser Rodrik’s siege of Winterfell, and then survive to join up with Stannis.

          • ajay says:

            I was reading an article about Alaska’s rape and domestic violence rate being unusually high, and one reason (among several others) given was the remoteness of most of the villages and towns. The police can’t get out to a village very easily, and the bad weather adds another layer of difficulty.

            Sherlock Holmes would not have been surprised. Here he is in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”:

            It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.… The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.

  3. David Hunt says:

    Quite a read. Hadn’t thought of Lady Hornwood as the pebble that starts the avalanche of chaos in the North. That’s a new way to look at that for me.

    You also reminded me of how little agency most women have in Westeros. Lady Hornwood has just been made a widow and lost her only son, and she has to immediately start shopping for a husband. No, actually it’s worse than that. She has to immediately submit herself to whoever Robb (or his agents) tell her to marry. “Sorry your husband’s dead, but since you’re both here, you’re marrying [insert unsavory choice] in three days. In deference to your grief, he won’t expect you to start putting out until the wedding night. Get your grieving done with fast, woman.” It’s simultaneously depressing and heartening to watch her efforts to maintain some agency in the matter. She acknowledges that Robb’s got authority to order her to marry whoever he wants, but inserts the request of “Please not those two,” who happen to be the only suitors who are actually in Winterfell.

    Your idea of her marrying Rodrik and adopting one of the boys is,I think, a better solution than anything that actual characters. Is Ser Rodrik’s status high enough that this could work? Would the inheritance going to one the boys instead of his line would take the sting out of that?

    • Sean C. says:

      Beren (I tend to think it would be Beren, in this scenario; I rather doubt Lady Donella’s keen on adopting her husband’s bastard son) could even marry Beth, to cover all the bases.

      Poor Beth. I don’t know whether to hope for her being dead or not, since if she’s alive she’s presumably at the Dreadfort.

      • David Hunt says:

        I agree that it would more likely be Beren, but didn’t want to page up as I was writing to check which was which.

        Yeah, any of the women who went to the Dreadfort have a good chance of getting dealt the proverbial Fate Worse Than Death. I avoid thinking of what horrible thing happened to Old Nan by telling my self that she’s unlikely to have survived the journey there.

      • Either Beth or Wylla would be the options.

    • Yeah, it’s depressing as hell, especially since what happens to her is even worse than those options.

      Ser Rodrik is not that different in status from Lady Hornwood. They’re both of lesser nobility. And yes, confirming either Larence or Beren would have helped cement legitimacy.

  4. Jeff says:

    My compromise idea was always that they should give Hornwood to Larence Snow, send him to the Umbers for the rest of his fostering and wed him to Wylla Manderly when they come of age. But you are right, it takes a man to rule, a GROWN man rather. Cassell and adoption would be the best for Hornwood.

  5. Jeff says:

    It is harder to come up with a solution to this than it looks.

  6. MightyIsobel says:

    I didn’t expect to discover a new favorite chapter here. But with a complex property dispute, the detailed look at how the Northern war-chiefs respond to the needs of a grieving widow, and salient observations from a naïve POV struggling with disability, for me this chapter is a fine example of some of the most interesting topics in ASoIaF.

    Thank you for your careful analysis of the politics of the Hornwood succession, and your excellent points about just how high the stakes are.

  7. illrede says:

    I love these chapters (early aCoK Bran), they’re easily some of the most important scenes in the series, beautiful set-pieces, and just not good fantasy chic. Only path to avoid disaster in retrospect: to have robbed the nice widow of her status and agency post haste and with no ambiguity in the balance of forces. Consequence because that was not done: horror and ruin all around.

    • It looks to me that the best solution would have been for Ser Rodrik to marry Lady Hornwood – if he was for it, of course, which is not entirely clear, but it seemed like he would like her fine, and just felt it wasn’t his place to do so. It may have not solved her status permanently, but it would have stopped Ramsay from marrying, raping and starving her to death, because he would have to battle with Rodrik’s forces and kill him first to make her a widow. That way the nice widow is not robbed of her agency, gets married to a nice not-greedy widower, the question of inheritance gets solved independently of the marriage (probably by adopting/proclaiming Beren as an heir) and Lady Hornwood doesn’t suffer a terrible fate.

      • Marrying Rodrik would be stopgap so that the matter can be truly addressed when Robb’s back in the North. You can be sure the Bolton’s, and possibly others, would want to make sure the matter had to be addressed before the KIng returns to the North.

    • It’s good, subtle stuff. I’m not so much a fan of Bran I with all the wolf howling nonsense. But next Bran chapter is the introduction of the Reeds, after that you get all the greenseer stuff, and then Theon arrives.

  8. Winnie says:

    Great breakdown as always Steve. Depressing to see how much the Red Wedding was a Goldberg device.. if *anything* had gone differently it could have been avoided.

    And as you say it was clear early on that the Frey’s sucked and would always have turned on Robb the minute his fortunes turned-the canceled engagement was just a convenient excuse.

    And don’t we all LOVE Manderly?!?

  9. Winnie says:

    Also like to add that the problems for poor Lady Hornwood foreshadow Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion and poor poor Jeyne’s nightmare as well.

    • Wat Barleycorn says:

      Am more and more convinced that if I were born a woman in Westeros north of the Boneway, I’d flee to Bear Island at the earliest opportunity. Lynesse Hightower had no idea how lucky she was!

      Okay, I’d stay if Olenna Tyrell were my grandmother. But seriously, that’s it.

      • Winnie says:

        Seriously. No question, to my mind the Mormont women found the best solution, (and something Asha or Sansa might care to replicate.) Let’s not forget Alys Karstark’s plight either…though, I found grim humor in how Cregan objected that Alys was being ‘degraded’ by marrying a ‘savage’ voluntarily rather than say being forced to wed him.

        One thing for this series, if you’re a woman, it makes you think your lucky stars you’re not living in a medieval/feudal society.

        • Even then, the Mormont women’s solution isn’t one chosen from an ideal or ideological position; they were forced to it from necessity because the alternative was rape, enslavement, and/or death.

          • Sean C. says:

            I think she’s referring to having illegitimate children and pretending they’re trueborn.

          • And learning to fight too.

          • Winnie says:

            That was what I was referring too SeanC. I think the presence of the “Blue Bard” legend in Northern culture of course played a HUGE role in presenting that option to the Mormont women-which not only saved them but also maintained stability and equilibrium on Bear Island who desperately needed better management after Jorah.

            I really do think that might be the solution for Asha if she survives.

        • They’re not exactly pretending they’re trueborn, are they? I don’t see how “eh, they were fathered by bears” translates to “they’re trueborn”.

          • Sean C. says:

            They have the Mormont surname.

          • That’s not pretending that they are trueborn (that would require passing them as children of some official husband), that’s ignoring the rules of Westeros/making their own rules.

          • Crystal says:

            I think it really helps the Mormonts that their land is not really desirable as a claim. After all, we don’t hear of fortune hunters lining up to woo (or worse!) Dacey Mormont for her claim to Bear Island (unlike poor Donella and Sansa). So people were willing to wink at “my children were fathered by bears” and leave the Mormonts alone.

            I would add the Crannogmen to the list of “more egalitarian subcultures within Westeros” if Meera Reed is typical. She arrives at Winterfell sans adult male chaperone, and clearly in charge of Jojen. Plus she seems very matter-of-fact about hunting and living off the land. My surmise is that Meera benefits from the Neck not being a desirable place for land-hungry men to stake a claim, and the Crannogmen being looked down upon by the rest of Westeros (so nobody else wants to marry them).

            Meera and the Bear Island women have the advantage of being shielded by their noble birth, yet living in lands too poor and remote to bother with as far as land-hungry men are concerned. So they can be warriors, hunters, and in general independent women, and nobody really cares. Donella Hornwood, and Sansa Stark later, have claims to rich land that does appeal to fortune hunters, so that makes them vulnerable.

          • Winnie says:

            Great observations, Crystal!

          • Sean C. says:

            I don’t think that the proximity of the land-hungry is that big a factor. Land is land, and an adventurer of that sort will go where they will; the Mormonts aren’t the Hightowers (as Lynesse found out), but they’re still part of Westeros’ 1%. I’d say the remoteness of Bear Island would be the more obvious factor; it’s the farthest edge of the known world, in a certain direction, and the Mormonts largely operate on their own law (Winterfell could presumably raise the issue if they wanted, but is it worth it?).

      • Lann says:

        If I were forced to choose any city which we have seen in ASOIAF the only half-decent choice is Braavos.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      I was thinking about how Catelyn dies believing she has lost her husband and her children. In an AU where she alone escapes the Red Wedding, would the remaining Northern lords protect her any better than they did Lady Hornwood, for all that she used to be Lady Stark?

      • Probably not. Keep in mind Catelyn very much thought she might get forcibly married if she became a hostage.

        • Yes, but would that be because she was Lady Stark, or because she was Catelyn Tully? I am not convinced that Catelyn, by herself, had any kind of inheritance regarding Winterfell and the North. But she was next in line after Edmure for Riverrun, which would have put her in the position that Sansa was after Bran and Rickon were believed dead.

          • MightyIsobel says:

            I agree that Catelyn has no rights in the succession of Winterfell. I think it says something about how Westerosi feudalism works that if Catelyn is the sole Stark survivor, then the best place for her to look for political support is probably to her father’s bannermen rather than to her husband’s.

    • Yep. Class is a shield, but a very porous one for women.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        It’s a mighty fragile shield for ANYONE who has nothing else to fall back upon and no-one else willing to fight alongside them; so for that matter is a citizenship if nobody cares about or particularly cares for the citizen in questions.

  10. Phil says:

    As always, I enjoy your commentary. But I don’t think that Bran’s memory of being thrown from the tower by Jaime is meant to have a plot payoff in the way that you expect. Perhaps I’m reading with hindsight, but after Stannis’s letter, I think we’re already well past the point where Bran’s testimony of what he witnessed could have a significant impact. If any of the political players wanted to press the point of Joffrey’s lineage, they have the ammunition to do so; if not, the voice of a child from Winterfell will make no difference. I think Martin’s point is exactly what you perceive, the pointlessness of Bran’s memory. He was crippled because of dysfunctional relationships and dynastic power struggles in a dying realm; he needs to acquire shamanic power by ignoring that crap and focusing on what really matters. Remembering what happened is important to his recovery, but he needs to remember so that he can put it behind him.

    • Yeah, I don’t buy that. If that’s the case, I think it’s bad writing.

      • Winnie says:

        Sad to say, I think it was just bad writing…Bran’s story line is one that Martin, (and by extension the show,) have clearly been struggling with a bit for obvious reasons and I think the show will (rightly) be going off script a bit next season.

        Personally, I think the show was right to forego that whole bit, and just have everyone put the pieces together after Stannis’s letter came out-aka that scene with Jaime/Robb/Grey Wind. Don’t like most of Robb’s Season 2 stuff but I did like that.

        • jpmarchives says:

          Simply put, Bran is the magical heart of the original story Martin intended to tell. The problem was that the political narrative has become so all consuming (for the readers and the narrative itself) Bran’s arc was inevitably going to seem secondary to all the wars and intrigues further south. His early chapters in ACOK are a fascinating insight into Northern politics, as Steve argues so well, but otherwise its just a long journey northward to gain magic powers. In another series he’d be a true hero. In ASOIAF, I just want him to get on with it.

          I also have grave issues with the role of Bran as “Cassandra”, mainly because it’s such a frustrating conceit. I realise having foreknowledge and being unable to share it is a long held literary tradition in mythic lore, but I’ve always found it irritating because I know full well that the prophesy or prediction will either be told and not believed, or be acted upon and backfire horribly. I’ve often struggled to understand why, if the point is ruination no matter the outcome, it needed to be included at all.

          • JT says:

            You’re right about the political narrative being all consuming. I always what viewers will think come season 7 when the tone of the show shifts (I’m assuming) from the political intrigue everyone knows and loves to something between The Walking Dead and Lord of the Rings (zombie story meets good v. evil). Chekov’s gun pretty much makes it mandatory that at some point the literal game of thrones will become secondary to the battle for humanity’s survival.

            Will people still like the show as much when it’s not Cersei and Littlefinger and Margaery and Varys (etc) plotting against each other?

          • Winnie says:

            Maybe. I know people went wild for the reveal of the White Walker and the baby and I found Watchers on the Wall to be one of my favorite episodes. Besides you never know if the show won’t find ways to keep a political angle going even while they fight the White Walkers. Like having certain allies be in conflict or at least have tensions because of their competing claims to the throne and how to resolve the marriage betwren Sansa and Tyrion. Frankly I’m more more worried about the books. I think one reason Martin’s having so much trouble finishing is because the politics overwhelmed the series so much.

  11. Amestria says:

    The best ones are always the ones you most enjoyed writing ^_^

    “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.”

    Thinking about Lady Hornwood situation always makes me think about Lady Barbrey Dustin, the widow of Barrowton. She has no husband, no children, its not clear who her heir will be, and yet she is firmly in control of her late husband’s seat and, it appears, even the defacto leader of her father’s House (coordinating the Ryswell alliance with Roose Bolton). Of course Barbrey has a powerful father and three warlike brothers backing her, but the fact she has utterly flaunted remarriage, despite all the dangers her unmarried status brings, indicates a pretty formidable will. We should keep this in mind when she makes her appearance. She has remained a widow since Robert’s Rebellion, for 17 years she has worn mourning black. There’s power there, personal, family, military.

    • Winnie says:

      That’s a good catch. It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that Cersei-despite being Queen Regent and already producing heirs ultimately can’t, (or doesn’t think she can win) against Tywin on the subject of re-marriage.

      • I think it’s more of a psychological block – she has been used to being dominated by her father all her life. If Cersei had simply said no, what would have Tywin done? Disinherit her? Throw her into a dungeon? Chase her into the street? Make the Kingsguard drag her to the sept? Yeah, not really.

        • Winnie says:

          Actually I wouldn’t put it past Tywin to actually have Cersei dragged to the Sept or to the Rock though he’d prefer to avoid such an embarrassing scene. He has no problem with sending Joffrey off to bed without his supper and fact is between Cersei and Tywin who do you think any of the soldiers be they Lannister men, gold cloaks, or Kings Guard would obey?!? When daddy’s in town daddy’s in charge and Cersei’s attempts to order Tywin to bring his army to the Red Keep
          were laughable-an early indication that even after killing to become Queen Regent Cersei still can’t assert power over her own family.

          • Crystal says:

            I think that Cersei is 1) so used to being under Tywin’s thumb that she can’t conceive of breaking free and 2) yes, Tywin would pack her off to the Rock or something if she tried to challenge him. Even if Cersei is independent in theory, in fact, I think Tywin would rapidly quash any rebellion by her.

          • Avoiding such an embarrassing scene is exactly why it’s unlikely he’d even try. The only reason Joffrey went to bed without his supper was that Tywin is able to easily intimidate him. If Joffrey had said no… well, what then? Were any of the Kingsguard going to grab their king and drag him to bed at the order of his Hand?

            The reason why Tywin can easily order Cersei and Joffrey around is because “power resides where men think it resides”, and Tywin left a really big shadow on the wall. We did see what he did when one of his children – Jaime – refused to do as told: other than telling him “You are not my son!”, nothing.

          • Amestria says:

            Tywin is quite willing to banish Cersei to Castlery Rock despite this being a rather embarrassing admission that she’s a bad influence on things.

          • Winnie says:

            He’d prefer to avoid such a scene but I think he’d do it if pressed, just as if Sansa hadn’t “willingly” gone through with the marriage to Tywin, they’d have just carried her kicking and screaming to the Sept. I do think it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Cersei OR Joffrey tried to directly challenge Tywin’s authority…in a showdown, I really do believe that the guys with swords would pick Tywin.

        • Wat Barleycorn says:

          Cersei’s crazy, but this isn’t in her head. Her father isn’t just some guy, he’s Tywin freaking Lannister.

          When people ask, “c’mon, if I say no, what can he do about it?” Tywin almost always answers that question in a very, very, very ugly and extremely persuasive way.

          • Crystal says:

            Genna Lannister noted that Tywin “was big even when he was little.” He was only a boy when he spoke up against Genna’s poor marriage. And he seems to have had a *tremendous* psychological hold not only over his children, but his siblings as well. Kevan became Tywin’s right-hand man, and Genna was the only girl, so they emerged relatively unscathed; but both Tygett and Gerion seemed to have been scarred by Tywin’s dominance.

            And it seems that Tywin was only 16 or 18 when he did the Rains of Castamere. So I can understand that all his children were thoroughly cowed by him, and Stockholm Syndromed into accepting his authority even when they were grown. Jaime was able to weather it the best, because he had the Kingsguard option, and later, with time and distance and Brienne’s influence, really began to question his values. But Cersei could never escape, even as the Queen Regent, and we all know how Tyrion was finally able to break free of his father – by taking the Oedipus option.

            If Cersei had said something to the effect of “I’m the Queen Regent and you are not the boss of me,” you can bet that Tywin would have retaliated. So, even if she was able to break free of Tywin’s psychological dominance, I don’t think she could have defied him without extreme retaliation.

          • JT says:

            But Cersei wasn’t Queen Regent when that conversation happened – just Queen. Tywin is Regent, so technically he is the most powerful person in the room both when he sends Joffrey to bed and when he tells Cersei she’s getting remarried.

            Although you’re right – even if Cersei were the regent and Tywin ordered her to do something, you can bet that the end game has Tywin getting his way.

            The show has a nice moment where Tyrion tells Tywin that Tywin just sent the most powerful man in the kingdom (Joffrey) to bed without supper and Tywin just smirks and says that Joffrey isn’t the most powerful man in Westeros.

          • Sean C. says:

            Tywin was never the regent. He was the Hand. Cersei was Joffrey’s only regent, and the first regent for Tommen.

    • Amestria says:

      ” but the fact she has utterly flaunted remarriage, ”

      Ugh, ‘but the fact she has utterly flaunted her refusal to remarry.’

    • Barbrey is a fascinating case. Can’t wait to write about her.

      • Amestria says:

        Can’t wait to read it 🙂

      • Amestria says:

        btw, one thing about Barbrey is that she somewhat provides through her conversations with Theon the ideology of the Bolton regime, to the extent that it has one.

        • And the extent to which she’s actually loyal to the Boltons.

          • Wat Barleycorn says:

            I’ve got a total crazy speculation that she’s the Olenna Tyrell of the North. A serious player on her own, valued by a powerful (though not Tyrell powerful) and ambitious family.

            When her husband died, there was clearly a lack of consequential heirs on his side. Rather than the Ryswells and Boltons going to Winterfell to let those Stark assholes decide who gets her lands and her bed, she (backed by her family) cut a deal directly with the Boltons to let her rule the Dustin lands. As a crucial part of that deal, she’d help raise her nephew Domeric Ryswell/Bolton (keep in mind she couldn’t have a child of her own if she wanted to rule).

            Then, when she passed on decades later, the Starks would be faced with the awkward situation of either granting the lands to Dom Bolton as she’d have asked with her dying wish and which the Boltons, Ryswells, and 90% of the people of Dustin lands preferred, or installing some Dustin second cousin nobody knew and quite possibly inciting a war. (And I’m sure part of this deal was some pre-agreed lands would go to whichever Ryswell brothers had been de facto ruling them for the last 30 or 40 years.)

            Not quite sure where Dom’s time in the Vale fits in. A challenge to the Starks? We have southron allies, too?

            Of course, the fly in the ointment is Ramsay. He kills Dom Bolton. And now he’s looking like Roose’s heir. This is not an acceptable turn of events. And Lady Barbrey is not Lady Hornwood. She has the temperament and resources to refuse to accept unacceptable turns of events.

          • Amestria says:

            She seems quite loyal to Roose and Roose seems to reciprocate by giving her quite a bit of responsibility at Winterfell. Also, he keeps the Ryswells close and sends out Ramsay, the Freys, and the White Harbor men to fight King Stannis. Since Roose’s modus operendi is to use battles to get rid of or weaken whichever liabilities and would-be rivals are momentarily attached to his side, this speaks to a high level of confidence in the Ryswells. Granted Lady Dustin’s loyalty isn’t based on personal affection but rather quid pro quo and hatred of the Starks and all they represent (Southron wars). One question I’ve been wondering is whether Roose Bolton has social goals or is just out for personal power pure and simple. Lady Dustin hates the Stark’s Southron ambitions. Might Roose as well, for his own reasons? In which case Roose and Barbery represent a kind of inward looking Northern identity, one that opposes involvement in politics below the Neck.

          • That’s one possibility, but a lot of Lady Dustin’s comments to Reek (a Bolton servant) could be read two ways.

          • Crystal says:

            Wat: I actually think that Domeric’s being fostered in the Vale was Ned’s idea. After all, Ned himself was fostered there, and must have known the lords there quite well. And what better place to foster a Bolton heir to turn him into the rare decent Bolton than the strictly honorable Vale? Ned probably sent word to Horton Redfort that he had a nice boy, the son of one of his vassals, who needed a foster family, and since Horton has sons Domeric’s age, would he agree to foster young Dom? The boy needs a good, honorable Vale family to teach him what’s what.

            It seems that Horton was *very* impressed with young Dom, thinking he had the makings of a tourney knight, and Dom made friends with the Redfort boys – probably just as Ned intended. Unfortunately, when Dom came back to the Dreadfort, he was left with a Ned-like sense of honor and trust, and decided to make friends with Ramsay, and we all know how THAT ended…

            With the effects of the Vale on Ned and Domeric, it will be interesting to see how they become inverted in Sansa. She is in the Vale, learning politics – just like Daddy. Except her mentor is not Lord High As Honor, but the sleaziest politician in the Seven Kingdoms himself, Littlefinger. Whether or not Sansa becomes a queen, I’m sure she is destined for some sort of political role; it will be interesting to see whether she can succeed where Ned failed.

            It would have been an interesting OTL if Domeric had lived. Perhaps Robb (or Catelyn suggesting it to him) might have neutralized the Boltons by marrying Domeric to Sansa. That could well have worked to neutralize Roose, who did seem to love his trueborn son (as far as he was able). Certainly he would have done nothing to harm his heir. But Ramsay would have gone NUTS.

          • Amestria says:

            “That’s one possibility, but a lot of Lady Dustin’s comments to Reek (a Bolton servant) could be read two ways.”

            *curious* How so?

          • I don’t remember this very well, but I remember that either/both the Huis Clos theory and the GNC theory mentioned that some of Lady Dustin’s comments (I recall one conversation about “Arya” for example) suggest she’s not a big fan of the Boltons and just waiting for the right moment.

          • Sean C. says:

            I don’t think there’s any reason to think Ned had something to do with Domeric being sent south. That presupposes he had suspicions about Roose, and there’s no indication that was the case. Roose served loyally in two wars, and the last known problems the Boltons caused were centuries earlier. Robb and Catelyn both consider him completely trustworthy, which I doubt would be the case if Ned had mistrusted him as a matter of policy and made moves regarding Domeric.

            It seems like the Vale is the kingdom that the North has the strongest ties to — they fought various wars in the past, if you look at the TWOIAF family tree you’ll see Corbray and Royce brides for Stark lords, the various fostering arrangements by the Starks and the Boltons, etc. Which is interesting, since the North is thought of as the purest First Men kingdom, and the Vale is the most Andal-y location on the continent.

            Even if Robb had had reason to distrust Bolton, I doubt marrying Sansa to Domeric would have done anything (unless Dom himself didn’t go along with Roose’s plans) — indeed, that just gives the Boltons what they subsequently fake with Jeyne Poole, a female line claim on Winterfell.

        • Ian G. says:

          I have wondered if the Redforts and the Boltons are distantly related; I admit that the assonance of “Redfort” and “Dreadfort” might easily be a coincidence, but I sort of enjoy the idea of a Bolton cadet branch in the Vale, gradually shedding the grimmer trappings of the Flayed Men, until all that remains is the name of the House echoing their ancestral home. It would do a lot to explain why the hell Roose Bolton, Northern weirdo, was able to have his son fostered by a noble house of the Vale, at any rate.

          • Crystal says:

            That’s an interesting thought! And it could well have happened – I hadn’t thought of the parallels between “Redfort” and “Dreadfort” before. And pink is a lighter shade of red, after all…

            There seem to be numerous ties between the North and the Vale. The Stark family tree shows a lot of intermarriage between Starks and Royces/Corbrays. And one of the Royces went to the Night’s Watch in GoT. Eddison Tollett is from the Vale. That would make the Vale and the North two of the regions that have men *voluntarily* joining the Watch (instead of taking the black as an alternative to execution).

            I still surmise that Ned had the idea to send Domeric to the Vale for fostering, or at least was the one to facilitate it, as he has more obvious connections to the Vale than Roose does. Regardless, it seems that Domeric did very well at the Redfort and was well-liked by his foster family. Unfortunately, his honorable Vale upbringing made him a sitting duck for Ramsay – though in all fairness, I don’t think that Domeric (or even Roose, at first) thought that Ramsay would be a kinslayer, as that is SUCH a taboo in Westeros. (I mean, who really thinks that their newly discovered brother is going to kill them?)

          • Sean C. says:

            Roose would presumably have met Lord Horton during Robert’s Rebellion (and/or possibly the Greyjoy rebellion, though I don’t think we’ve ever heard of any Valemen having participated in that). Military campaigns seem to be a fertile ground for drawing up such arrangements (it seems like a lot of fostering arrangements, like Littlefinger’s, came out of the War of the Ninepenny Kings).

    • Crystal says:

      It’s true that Barbrey Dustin nee Ryswell has the backing of her father and brothers (and seems to be the dominant party in those relationships, unlike Cersei with Tywin). Lady Barbrey also has the *tremendous* luck of being on the other side of the North from Ramsay Bolton, and, not having sent many men with Robb, she still has a sizable contingent of vassals and men-at-arms – unlike Lady Hornwood who has only the few “tired” men-at-arms accompanying her. Finally, Barbrey’s lands have a town, Barrowton – and the Hornwood lands don’t have a major town that we know of. So if someone tried to pull a fast one with Barbrey, there would be more people to notice and take action.

      The fact that the North is so vast and thinly populated seems, to me, a crucial factor in why Ramsay was able to get away with what he did for so long. There were just too few people to help poor Donella or even notice what happened to her until too late. This was exhacerbated by the fact that almost all the Hornwood men had gone to fight in the war. In a more thickly populated region (like the Vale or Riverlands or indeed almost anywhere else in Westeros), there would have been more watchful eyes and ready swords.

      • I don’t think Barbrey sent ANY men of her own men south – either Dustin or Ryswell. There’s a scattered mention of spearmen from the Rills, but no specific mention of them being Ryswell men; likewise, there’s some Stout men who survive the Ruby Ford, but that’s a subsidiary House.

        • Austin says:

          I think Lady Dustin says to Theon in ADWD she sent ‘as few men as she could’ south with Robb, or something along those lines. Implies she sent some.

        • WPA says:

          Doesn’t she state that she sent the bare minimum to avoid provoking the “wroth of Winterfell”? So I presume that means a couple hundred men and the excuse that, “You don’t want them fully mobilized, you want them Tuesday.”

          But yeah, between plot-luck and local superiority of forces- that’s what allows Ramsay to get away with what he does in the local power vacuum. Though it seems like a power vacuum provokes banner-men to see what they can get away with- ie the mess that was the Westerlands under Tywin’s father.

  12. illrede says:

    I think a “punt” by marrying Ser Rodrik to Lady Hornwood brings in a complication. It is something that Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik would come up with simply to keep the situation in place so that Robb has a static situation to respond to instead of something that has started to metastasize, so on that basis it is a decent course of action that addresses the importance of the issue, the level of authority required to address it, and the sheer remove of distance that authority is from the situation at the time (also, that Robb wouldn’t exactly complain if he kept the eventual allocation of the Hornwood lands as an asset regarding his vassals). However, every faction can plausibly interpret that as Robb putting his own marker on the Hornwood lands with a man that is unquestionably his with no direct heir at best, or Cassel going stereotypical “new man” against a bunch of mighty lords all at once at worse.

    So the reasonable solution could be the worst one; makes an enemy of everyone involved. Except for Lady Donella. Which sadly doesn’t signify.

    • It’s possible, but as I said, having either Larence or Beren named as the heir under Rodrik’s protection, married into the Manderlys, nicely resolves that.

    • WPA says:

      Though isn’t that exactly what the Starks did with giving the Wolf’s Den to the Manderlys, outsiders worshipping strange gods, presumably to establish a very loyal ally in a strategically important area?

      • Yes, although in that case there wasn’t a claimant. The Greystarks had been destroyed for rebellion and treason, and the Flints, Lockes, Slates, Longs, Holts and Ashwoods couldn’t hold it against the reavers and Arryns. So no one was left to dispute the Starks’ choice, especially since the Starks themselves had basically had to reconquer it.

  13. Chris says:

    “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.” I’m surprised you didn’t address this in the “What If” section.

    • Winnie says:

      Good point. I think Tytos Blackwood for instance was a widower, (him or Bracken,) and there were other choices as well. But that could have alienated ALL the Northern Lords.

      • A Blackwood might be the one exception with their adherence to the Old Gods. But there would still need to to be some mix’n’match of betrothals & fostering to help get at least one of the other neighboring houses to have a stake in a Blackwood-Hornwood merger.

        What’s interesting is that in a reverse scenario (Robb sending a Northerner south to marry/take command of a Riverland house) the Riverlanders wouldn’t like it but would likely have to accept it as the price of Northern protection. I would love to see a long term What If on the cultural merger of the North and the Riverlands. How many generations till the Houses (great and small) are as intertwined between regions are they are within current kingdoms? How do Riverland septons & septas reconcile being tied to monarchy that follows a different religion (granted, the two religions haven’t out right battled for several hundred years), while the High Septon is so clearly tied to the Kings Landing regime?

        Westeros is unique to any real world comparison I can think of, in that the continent had several pancontinental institutions for hundreds of years. The Faith, The Maesters, The Nights Watch. Each having policies to help maintain a flexible neutrality. The Watch aims to protect the entire realm. Septon and Septas are to serve their local community. Maesters are to serve the interests of their castle and whomever is the lord/lady in command.

        Yet now that secession and large scale civil war have erupted, we’ve largely just seen the most geographically remote of these institutions grappling with conflicting loyalties. I’d love see more of how, for example, the maesters had to dust off old policies on how to keep the Citadel from appearing to be a pawn of Highgarden. Hopefully Sam’s chapters in the TWOW will give some sense of this.

    • It’s a good point. I guess I didn’t mention it because no one really popped into my head as a match Robb would need to make. Maybe a Frey, after the Crag?

      Overall, I think the problem is that an absentee husband would get us pretty close to OTL, with Ramsay just jumping into the vacuum, Manderly responding, etc.

  14. Amestria says:

    “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.”

    I’m so far persuaded by your thesis but quibble with the last point. The North never loses to the Ironborn. Outside Theon’s little adventure, they seize some very poor places in the East and are unable to conquer much else. Like, between the First Battle of Winterfell and Balon’s death their only significant conquest was Torrhen’s Square and if Asha’s to be believed this has stretched their manpower and supply lines to the limit. All the other House Seats are far to the East and quite strong.

    • Winnie says:

      Well they did take Deepwood Motte and Asha made the Glover family her prisoners but yeah, the whole Northern invasion while disastrous for Robb, was really just a big debacle for the Ironborn too-it cost them a lot of men, and all they got for it were pinecones and seashells.

    • You’re leaving out Moat Cailin, which is a hugely significant loss for the North.

      If I said “loss to the Starks of the North”, would that be more accurate?

      • Crystal says:

        I think so. What the Ironborn invasion *did* accomplish was the fall of Winterfell and Robb becoming “The King Who Lost the North.” And that was a stroke of luck for the Ironborn – Theon only pulled it off because he was raised at Winterfell and thus knew how to breach its defenses. And, of course, we all know how it ended for Theon (very, very badly)! The Greyjoy male line gets snuffed out, and the Ironborn really have very little to show for the invasion in the end – not even an alliance with anywhere else in Westeros, because Tywin basically laughs at Balon’s offer of an alliance later.

        And even with Moat Cailin, the Ironborn were already getting picked off and starved out by Crannogmen, before Roose and Ramsay finish them off. You can capture Moat Cailin, but if the Crannogmen don’t want you there, good luck in holding it for the long term.

        • Sean C. says:

          I would say the biggest threat to the Ironborn holding Moat Cailin long term isn’t the Crannogmen, it’s winter itself. The Moat doesn’t appear to be near any major agricultural land or storage, so they’d seem to be dependent on supplies being shipped in from elsewhere. Left to their own devices one would think that Victarion and co. would have been freezing their asses off and resorting to cannibalism before too long.

          • The Moat’s right next to the sea, so for Ironborn that means they’re close to their own supply lines.

            Supplies shipped in from elsewhere is the norm for them.

          • Sean C. says:

            The Fevre seems to reach about 25-50 miles from the Moat at its nearest, and that’s assuming it doesn’t freeze in winter, which you would think it would. It doesn’t look like optimal resupply conditions, to me.

          • Close enough for Victarion to raise an army. And freezing allows for sledges.

          • JT says:

            Does the Moat freeze during the winter? We know the cranogmen eat frogs, move their castle, and there are lion-lizards (I’m assuming crocodilians of some sort) in the Neck.

            None of those (reptile/amphibian life, moving a floating island) seem possible in a scenario where the Neck freezes over.

          • Sean C. says:

            We know winter descends well south of the Neck, so one imagines it should.

            Really, don’t think too much about plant and animal life in Westeros’ weather cycle.

          • JT says:

            Sean, that’s a good point. It’s hard to imagine there would be much animal (or plant) life capable of surviving winters that last 3-10 years.

        • The Greyjoy male line is not snuffed out – Euron and Victarion are both in the male line.

          But Moat Cailin is pretty huge in terms of keeping Robb out of the North. And yes, they were getting picked off, but keep in mind when we see that happening, we’re talking about a remnant force left behind after Victarione et al. left for the Kingsmoot and then the Reach.

          • JT says:

            Yeah, I always assumed that the Ironborn who are getting picked off in the Moat are distinctly the “B” and “C” squads.

            Victarion and his men leave the Moat, and Theon notices that the Codd’s (a family hated by most of the Ironborn) are in charge. Even so, the sick, largely leaderless Ironborn (and there’s less than 100 of them) are able to throw back the Northern army trying to retake the Moat from the North several times.

          • Amestria says:

            btw, rather coldblooded of the other Codds to just abandon their family members for the Southern war. Downright Frey like actually…

      • Amestria says:

        I think “fall of the Starks” would work best. After all, you’re arguing that what really destroys the Stark’s hold on the North isn’t the Ironborn but the Boltons. The Hornwood dispute shifts attention and resources East, allowing the Ironborn to make inroads in the West and Theon to seize Winterfell, and then the Boltons take advantage of the opening this creates to undermine the Starks and then revolt and massacre the Stark loyalists, which then *commits* Roose Bolton to destroying Rob from the inside.

        btw, Moat Cailin is only useful as a strategic asset. It’s utterly worthless swamp otherwise that wastes away the armies trying to hold it and its only truly valuable if the Ironborn can use their hold on it effectively – extort, raid, or conquer the rest of the North while Rob’s host is in the South. Since they’re trying to conquer the North, but can’t actually conquer the North, I don’t think they’re using it all that effectively…

        • Right, but as a strategic asset it’s really important. It means Robb can’t march his armies to retake the North, and it also means the North can’t march to reinforce Robb, making his defeat more likely.

          • Amestria says:

            Yeah, it really screws up Rob’s war effort, big time. But it’s a bigger liability for the North then it is an asset for the Ironborn, because while holding it is necessary to conquer the North…they can’t actually conquer the North. All it allows them to do is achieve a stalemate. Now, stalemates can be very useful if the other side is willing to negotiate a favorable peace just to be done with it. But the Ironborn, save Asha and her supporters, aren’t interested in negotiating. They’re either set on taking the whole thing (Balon/Victarion) or completely uninterested in the North (Euron).

            What I’m saying is that MC is only a truly positive asset if the Ironborn make lots of conquests, which they do not, or bargain, which they refuse to do (and after Winterfell would probably be unable to do anyway). The Ironmen take two Northern strongholds and a large stretch of sparsely populated coast…and that’s about it and probably as much as they can take. And this is with the situation in the North as favorable as it would ever get, the ruler far away, the Northerners killing each other and failing to coordinate, the capital burned…

          • That is a fair point. Interesting question for me has always been: why not Barrowton? It’s right on a river, allows for domination of the Rills and Barrowlands by the shore. Seems a lot more viable a place to conquer than Deepwood Motte.

          • Winnie says:

            Exactly Amestria. There’s no doubt the Iron Born invasion screwed over Robb…but it wasn’t really any sort of *victory* for the Iron Born either, but rather a quagmire and just about the most ill conceived plan that Balon could have come up with.

          • JT says:

            I always wondered why the Ironborn didn’t take Bear Island. It’s an island on the “wrong side” of the North and would be nearly impossible to reconquer. Even if Manderly builds a fleet, it’s still on the wrong side of the continent and likely to take losses just getting to it’s destination.

            Bear Island seems much more defenseable than Sea Dragon point, Torren’s Square, Deepwood Motte etc.

          • Impossible – I doubt that. After all, Rodrik Stark did it.

          • David Hunt says:

            JT. That’s a good question. I’d guess that it’s because Balon didn’t care about Bear Island. It’s isolation means that it’s not an important piece of territory to take while he’s carving up as much of the North as possible. If he was successful Bear Island wouldn’t be able to move men to the North, proper, to support the Starks as he’d have control of the sea in that area, and he could crush them at his leisure when he had the time.

            Thinking about Balon’s plans, I suspect that he never expected to conquer the North. I don’t think even he was that stupid about the possibilities of the War. I think that he meant to indispensable in putting down the Stark rebellion and be granted the lands that he’d grabbed and his independence for a reward. Even if being a separate kingdom wasn’t in the cards, he might have been able to allow himself to be talked down to coming back under the Iron Throne with conquered territories as his vassals. I’m not sure about that last part though. Balon seemed to think that he had a divine destiny to make the Iron Islands into a separate Kingdom under his rule.

          • JT says:

            Well Rodrik Stark apparently won Bear Island back from the Ironborn in a wrestling match – that’s not exactly the same thing as defeating the Ironborn in a naval battle :). Also, that probably happened at a time when the North had a fleet on the Western coast of Westeros, something they don’t have now.

            At any rate, Bear Island seems to be a better choice than Sea Dragon point – it plays up the Ironborn strengths and Northern weaknesses.

            Although David, you may be right – Balon just wanted to grab whatever castles he could. It seems to be more a point of pride with him that any sort of long term planning.

          • I don’t think the “wrestling match” was an actual wrestling match; more a metaphor for a protracted struggle.

            And given that Brandon the Burner killed the fleet and he was a very early Stark, I think this was afterward.

          • Amestria says:

            Why Deepwood Motte rather then Barrowton? Well, there might have been a political calculation. When Rob marched off to war Balon could easily have figured that the Glovers, bound to Winterfell, would send more of their men then the more independent Ryswells.

            ‘Theon had to bite his tongue. Deepwood Motte was the stronghold of the Glovers. With both Robett and Galbart warring in the south, it would be lightly held, and once the castle fell the ironmen would have a secure base in the heart of the north.’

            It might also have been a lot harder to surprise Borrowton, the Borrowlands are quite open whereas the wolfwoods are impenetrable, and surprise is essential for a swift victory.

            And Balon does plan on conquering the North, he’s wishfully overestimated the military force Rob has taken into the Riverlands and thinks what remains of the North will fold like cardboard:

            Theon could keep silent no longer. “A bold plan, Father, but the lords in their castles-”

            Lord Balon rode over him. “The lords are gone south with the pup. Those who remained behind are the cravens, old men, and green boys. They will yield or fall, one by one. Winterfell may defy us for a year, but what of it? The rest shall be ours, forest and field and hall, and we shall make the folk our thralls and salt wives.”

            This estimation couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the things the harvest festival and Hornwood conflict demonstrates is that powerful figures still remain in the North and are capable of mobilizing powerful armies. Balon’s plan is founded on wishful thinking. I note he’s also overestimated the campaigning season – just try attacking the Dreadfort or White Harbor from the West during Winter! King Stannis can *barely* march his army from Deepwood to Winterfell!

          • Deepwood Motte is easier to take, but it’s really remote.

            And I highly doubt Balon’s knowledge of Northern politics is good enough to know that.

          • JT says:

            When he was riding to the Red Wedding, Robb told Catelyn he had a plan to get through the Neck – Howland Reed knew of ways through the Neck that bypass the Moat Cailin.

            So unbeknownst to Balon, Robb can get his back North – he’s just murdered before he has a chance to do so.

          • That’s true – but Balon doesn’t know that, the North doesn’t know that, the South doesn’t know that, and Robb still can’t get reinforcements.

          • Amestria says:

            “Deepwood Motte is easier to take, but it’s really remote.

            And I highly doubt Balon’s knowledge of Northern politics is good enough to know that.”

            Yeah, given his willful ignorance of Northern realities, his knowledge of the North probably doesn’t extend much beyond the rudimentary. Perhaps Balon wanted the campaign against the North to begin with what seems like a decisive conquest for political reasons? Euron’s regime profits immensely from taking the Shield Islands. Perhaps Deepwood is meant to wet the appetite and mobilize more warriors and lords behind the war? Then there’s the fact Deepwood is set up to be Asha’s victory…

    • Amestria says:

      Ugh, “poor places in the WEST” – what is wrong with me.

  15. Brian says:

    Here’s a what if for you: what if Lady Hornwood had brought more men than the “six tired men-at-arms”? What if the Hornwood delegation is around the same size as the others vassels? The ramifications for this are actually quite large. (Bear with me here.)

    If Lady Hornwood even brings 50 to 100 men with her, Ramsay may think twice about attacking her band and kidnapping and forcing her into marriage. If he does attack, it may not be successful or Lady Hornwood could make it back to the safety of her castle and call in reinforements. Without the capture (or attempted capture), Lady Hornwood does not die and Ser Rodrik may not have to ride against Ramsay. Ramsay then won’t make the Reek switch and doesn’t go back to Winterfell as a prisoner. If Ramsay/Reek isn’t held prisoner and freed by Theon after the capture of Winterfell, then Theon doesn’t take Reek’s suggestion for the Bran/Rickon/miller’s sons switch and the North is on the lookout for the missing Starks (though the are still in Winterfell). Theon then won’t be hated (as much) by the other northmen and the siege of Witerfell would have gone differently. Ramsay isn’t around to be freed to rally the Dreadfort men and then show up right when Theon is seriously contemplating Luwin’s suggestion to take the Black. Theon could peacefully end the siege by agreeing to join the Night’s Watch (though whether the northmen would accept this is debatable) and then Bran and Rickon could be found alive by the northerners. The Stark heirs are alive, Winterfell isn’t sacked, and the Kingdom of the North remains in a much better position and could conceivably throw out the rest of the Ironborn.

    The tiny Hornwood delegation is such a small and overlooked part of the story, but the consequences were quite large.

    • That’s a good hypothetical.

    • WPA says:

      For want of a nail… and all that.

    • David Hunt says:

      Ser Rodrick would very likely have allowed Theon to take the Black in that scenario. Luwin thought he’d let him do it when “Bran and Rickon” had been horribly murdered. If the boys were known to have escaped and be hiding in wilderness (and there’s no way that Theon was going to keep a lid on that info), Rodrik has strong incentives to end the siege quickly on those terms so he can send as many men as he can afford out to find them. Ser Rodrik’s daughter surviving when Theon surrenders might have played a part in the decision. Shortly after Theon opens the gate and the Ironborn are taken prisoner, Meera or Osha will eventually make a foraging raid out of the tunnels and discover the situation, then they walk up to someone and say, “You can stop turning the countryside upside down looking for the boys. They’re in the crypts.”

      Theon likely eventually ends up serving at Eastwatch under Cotter Pyke, although he might not get all the way through orientation and the Oath before Mance attacks and serve in the defense of Castle Black. It would be very interesting to see what use Lord Commander Snow would make of Theon Turncloak.

      • JT says:

        In a scenario where Theon hasn’t “killed” Bran and Rickon and Robb is still alive? I’m sure Jon would make some use of Theon that doesn’t involve an ice block. Pre-mutilation, Theon would actually be fairly useful – he’s an excellent archer and a competent swordsman. He’s just not a leader of men.

        • And he’s a valuable hostage.

        • David Hunt says:

          Oh, yeah. Jon would make some sort of legitimate use of Theon. He’s too desperate for men not too. I’m just not sure he could bring himself to trust Thieon as far as he could throw him. Theon killed several men taking Winterfell and they would all be men that Jon knew personally. Mickon the smith is only one that comes to mind at the moment, but as I said, Jon would have known them all. It’s one of the reasons that I figured Jon would send him to Eastwatch where Cotter Pyke could keep the uppity lordling under his thumb as opposed making him an officer commanding one of the fortifications that Jon was re-opening. Theon was a good fighter, better archer and had definitely been given a proper education toward his expected role as a war leader. Ned Stark and his underlings probably couldn’t have given a proper training as a fleet commander, but as an infantry and cavalry officer, I’m sure his education was top-knotch The only reasons not to put him there are Jon not trusting him and his lack of seniority in the Watch. And looking at how quick Waymar Royce was placed in a command position, I’m not sure that his lack of time at the Wall is much of an impediment. It’s entirely a matter of how much Jon would think he could be trusted.

  16. Andrew says:

    1. As to Donella’s comments about Crowfood Umber, I don’t think she should judge him too harshly, given he was in almost the same position longer than her. Like her he lost his sons in battle, and he lost his spouse. However, he also lost his daughter who was kidnapped on his family’s own lands and never saw her again, feeling powerless to protect her from the fate that awaited her.

    2. As to the Jaime dream, I think Bran will see Jaime again via weirwood or possibly communicate via raven (Jaime wouldn’t know someone is warging the bird).

    Another good post

    • 1. I think she just doesn’t find him attractive at all.

      2. Or in dreams, yeah.

      • Winnie says:

        Oh yeah I think Jaime/Bran communication (most likely via tree) is going to be part of Jamie’s redemption arc. He will have to make amends to the boy he crippled either by helping Sansa and/or Jon. Just as Bran will see to it Theon’s death is both less painful to him AND serves the purposes of the Old Gods-most likely by resurrecting Jon.

  17. JT says:

    I always wondered – if King Robb legitimizes the Hornwood bastard then dies in the RW and the North rejoins the realm, is the legitimization still legitimate? Or would the Boltons just ignore the legitimization and find a way to claim the Hornwood lands?

    Same with Stannis offering to legitimize Jon Snow. Sure, Stannis *could* do it. The question is since Stannis is king of Westeros in name only, would the Northern lords listen? Or would that just worsen the Northern civil war?

    Does a legitimization need to be done by the King sitting the Iron Throne? Or is this just a variation of Varys’ riddle to Tyrion about power residing where men believe it resides?

    • I think generally:
      1. It depends more on the locality. Up north, who cares what the IT thinks? It’s who’s on the ground that counts.
      2. There’s a tendency to stare decisis, otherwise things get very uncertain very quickly.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, plus in Jon’s case, there’s a letter somewhere that says that Robb is legitimating Jon. I always wondered if that thing would turn up again. I’m guessing it will after Jon somehow survives his “et tu Bowen” moment in a way that leaves him out of the Watch. At that point, he’s free to pursue his own agenda, and Robb and Stannis both saying he’s Jon Stark…not a good day to be a Bolton, North dwelling Frey, Dustin, etc, Plus, I expect that Tywin Lannister would be spinning in his grave what with all his work to end the Stark line blown to bits.

      • MightyIsobel says:

        Professor Attewell, you’re full of surprises:
        Instead of “precedent,” you said, “stare decisis;”
        Though, from Latin, something’s lost in translation;
        “A decided thing,” then, is an approximation.
        And stable succession is nobility’s cause —
        Too bad Robert made Renly his Master of Laws!

  18. A Song Of Ice And Fire Fan says:

    Your analysis of the chapters of ASOIAF is always a good read.

    Regarding “little” and “big” Walder Frey, you called them brothers. That is incorrect. Little Walder is the son of Merret Frey, who is a son of Walder Frey by Amerei Crakehall and Big Walder is the son of Jammos Frey, who is a son of Walder Frey by Alyssa Blackwood. The Walders fathers are halfbrothers, so they are cousins. A few fun facts: One of Little Walder sisters is “Fat” Walda who is of course married to Roose Bolton. One of his other sisters is Amerei “Gatehouse Ami” Frey.

    See here: and here:

  19. Abbey Battle says:

    Please accept my compliments upon another excellent article Maester Steven!

  20. Karl says:

    Anyone else hoping Ian McNiece plays Manderly?

  21. David Hunt says:

    Steven, I was looking at a few of the comments and realized that I don’t think that I’ve ever mentioned how much I appreciate and enjoy these entries. They almost always give me a new perspective for what’s happening in the books. It was especially eye-opening when I decided to re-read the books earlier this year. Having this blog to read along with the chapters is really something. Thanks for doing this. I’ve greatly enjoyed the site in general and this entry in particular.

  22. JT says:

    Quick question – the books do a great job of showing the politics of the highborn, but they don’t often show the lives of the smallfolk. I’ve always wondered – where did the non-lords (or non-important workers) live in a castle? Or do they live in the village nearby?

    If you’re a kitchen girl or a stable boy, do you sleep and eat in the castle? Do you get your own chambers? Since there was no real birth control, I’m assuming there was a fair amount of pregnancy. Where did babies and toddlers live? Did married couples sleep together?

  23. Edmund West says:

    Awesome blog, keep up the awesome labour of love

  24. Roger says:

    If Bran had talked to Robb about what he saw before his fall, perhaps Robb would have also denounced Jeoffrey’s bastardy, adding more weight to Stannis’s letter.

    I don’t know if Kings of the North had Hands, but Manderly looked like an ideal Hand of the King for Robb.

    I wonder if the Hornwood problem couldn’t have been solved marrying Lady Donella to some Trident nobleman (the Blackfish being the best option). And make him adopt Laren or Beren. Perhaps a Southerner wouldn’t alter the balance of power.

    • David Hunt says:

      The Blackfish was not going to marry anyone. Ever. My impression of him is that he’s not even going to tolerate a sham marriage for appearances sake. He didn’t put up with his brother arranging a marriage for him, even though Hoster was also his liege lord. He wasn’t going to put up with it from his nephew either. I think that the cause of Blackfish’s break with his brother was well known and that Robb would not have been foolish enough to even ask that of him…especially given how much he needed the Blackfish. His awesomeness in the field more than makes up for what people might think of the his sexuality. Robb’d at least have the presence of mind to discuss the matter with his mother and I’m sure that Cat would inform him that there’s no way that match is happening and it’s very bad policy to give a highly valued subordinate an order that you know they’ll refuse.

      • David Hunt says:

        BTW. A sidenote about the awesomeness of the Blackfish. When I re-read AGOT, the thing that struck me when we see him briefing Robb of the disposition of the Lannister forces that his scouts have determined, he use the phrase “I’d stake my life on it” at least twice. The context of those conversations makes it obvious that this is not mere turn of phrase for him. He means that he is actually willing to bet his life IIRC that his men did, in fact, get all the Lannister scouts. And in fact, that is what he is about to do. It was at that moment that I realized why Brynden Tully was such a legendary figure in his day.

      • rw970 says:

        I’m not sure that Brynden would refuse, especially considering that he pressures Edmure to marry Random Frey for the good of the kingdom. I don’t profess to know what exactly Brynden’s aversion to marriage is about, though.

        That being said, I don’t think Brynden marrying Lady Hornwood really solves anything. Brynden is basically just the Riverlands’ Ser Rodrik. He’s not producing heirs, and he’d only be taking on Hornwood in a caretaker capacity.

        • He refused his brother for decades, so yeah, he might.

          • Roger says:

            His brother never had a kingdom on the stake.

          • I don’t see why that would change his calculations. Or that actually being the case.

          • David Hunt says:

            Roger,I doubt anyone would consider the Kingdom to be at stake based on who married Lady Hornwood, even if it in fact was. Plus Edmure agreed to marry whichever Frey Waldar threw at him as opposed to holding out for getting his pick to make up for his massive foul-up in keeping Tywin too close to Kings Landing. Ser Brynden had made no such mistakes…rather the opposite. If the fate of the Kingdom had obviously been at stake, I suspect Brynden would be willing to confine himself to a loveless sham of a marriage, but that’s what it would take.

            However, along those lines it could more easily be argued that fate of the Kingdom would rely on him refusing such a marriage. Brynden marring Lady Hornwood would require that he go up North to defend his holdings or there’s not much point in him doing it at all. And I’d say it’s arguable that that there is no single man, short of Robb himself, whose loss would be a greater blow to the war effort. Robb eventually makes Ser Brynden Warden of the Southern Marches because he was indispensable in fighting the war in the South. He and Robb worked together really well. Brynden gave good advice, great intelligence, and carried out Robb’s plans with elan. If Robb had ever adopted the tradition of Hand of the King, Bryndyn Tully would definitely be on the Short List…probably the top of it.

      • Andrew says:

        He is one of the most capable soldiers in the realm, that much we can all agree. His skill with a bow and arrow says something, given it is a weapon used looked upon with some disdain by the nobility. His skill with bow and arrow has been on display throughout the series (taking down the ravens at the Twins, lighting Hoster’s funeral boat and putting an arrow in the rump of Ryman’s horse), and I think it will play an important role later on in the series.

        Although, when figuring out his motivations for why he refused to marry, I can think of one possibility. There was another knight who won fame for his exploits on the Stepstones in the War of the Ninepenny Kings and refused a marriage: Ser Barristan Selmy. I think the Blackfish originally wanted to be the Whitefish; to join the Kingsguard. Marriage would have made him ineligible for that.

        • I think the simpler answer is that the Blackfish is gay.

          • David Hunt says:

            Agreed. If he had been holding out for a place in the Kingsguard, I think the his brother wouldn’t have been so offended. Having your brother in a white cloak would be a political windfall that would overshadow just about any marriage alliance that Hoster could have arranged.

            Plus it’s my impression that the Kingsguard tends to recruit knights when they’re still relatively young men. He’s long past the point that he’d have been able to expect to get in, even if it had been entirely based on merit in Robert’s reign…which it wasn’t. If the Blackfish had been making sure that he was available for a white cloak, I think he could have reached an understanding with his brother. Something like, “I’ll marry at 35 if I don’t get in by then.” I think Hoster would have thought that was a good bet to make.

            The reason the Blackfish isn’t married is that there’s no one that he wants that he can marry, Given what a famous knight he was and the distinguished family he’s a member of, I think if more likely that there’s no woman that he wants.

          • And Hoster makes it really clear that Brynden had lots of options – Brynden may be the second son, but he’s the second son of a Great House, and a storied soldier. Plenty of Houses would have loved to get him as an in-law.

          • rw970 says:

            The problem with the Blackfish being gay theory is that it doesn’t really explain anything. Lots of people are gay in Westeros. They still get married. Just like the straight people. It’s not as if the straight people in Westeros get to marry their one true loves either. It’s understood, at least among the nobility, that you marry for dynastic and strategic purposes. If you end up marrying someone you enjoy being with, that’s super, but it’s not like a deal breaker or anything. Nor is there any expectation that you have to stay monogamous or even have sex with your spouse more than like once a year.

            So then “Gay Brynden” refusing to get married is just (about) as strange as “Straight Brynden” refusing to get married.

          • I don’t think it doesn’t explain anything. Yes, there are some gay men who marry beards (Renly) but then there are other gay men who won’t go that road (Loras).

            I think the Blackfish is the latter – it’s not a plot element, it’s a character note. Brynden Tully is absolutely stubborn and determined to get his way – whether it’s his marriage or holding Riverrun.

          • rw970 says:

            Loras was a third son who got a gig with the Kingsguard. His parents already had an heir (Willas); a spare (Garlan); and Garlan was already producing kids. I imagine there was far less pressure for him to get married. But if it served his family’s interests at all, I assume he would have.

            I’m not going to belabor the point – whether Brynden is gay or not makes no difference – but I just don’t see why Brynden being gay explains his persistent bachelorhood more than his being straight.

          • I see a quite similar situation – Hoster had a son and two daughters, the line was just fine.

          • Andrew says:

            David Hunt, the BF was young at the time of the War of the Ninepenny Kings. He may have given up by the time of Robert’s Rebellion. The Blackfish could have possibly never told Hoster his real reasons.

    • I think the possibility here is that, if Robb and Catelyn have confirmation from Bran, then it’s quite possible that the Starks do side with Stannis.

      I don’t see how that actually solves the problem – Northern lords aren’t going to be less resentful of a foreigner.

      • Roger says:

        Robb needs Stannis fleet. So his Lord will shout their mouths and follow him. Like they followed Ned and Robert in invading the Iron Islands, despite the Greyjoys hadn’t attacked the North.

        • Roger says:

          Brynden could marry Donella by delegation of will. Next, after the war, he would travel to Hornwood and consumate it, with a following of Trident knights, to keep her neighbours at bay. That could be a way to have some Freys as hostages.

  25. Sean C. says:

    Next chapter: Tyrion fools multiple experienced players with the oldest trick in the book (and incidentally, one of the better page-to-screen translations of the second season)!

  26. “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 Glovers, Umbers, and Manderlys, while leaving the defense of those lands in the hands of a 12 year old.

    Do you mean it would alienate the *Boltons*, Umbers and Manderlys?

    Also you mentioned either Hornwood’s bastard or the Tallheart boy marrying a Manderly daughter . . . but given the ages of Manderly’s children, it’d have to be a granddaughter instead, don’t you think?

    Finally I was hoping you could clarify this: “As Ser Rodrik notes, this isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s not like there aren’t fixed.” Fixed what?

    Sorry to be such a nitpicker!

  27. Roger says:

    an interesting What If is “What if the Wild Hares were in Winterfell when the Ironmen attacked?”. With 20/80 more men, they could have resisted.

  28. Chris says:

    Great post Steven!

    On another matter, I’m not sure if you’ve mentioned this before, but what are the historical parallels with maesters in westeros society? Are they just a combination of other types of advisers that served the court/monarch in our time?

    • jpmarchives says:

      As far as I can tell, they’re a slightly unusual combination of Doctor, Priest and Steward. We seem them take up lots of different roles in the series and Maester Luwin tries his hand at just about everything except battle. I include the Priest role partly because they appear to advise their masters on spiritual matters, but mostly because the Septons of Westeros don’t have an analogous “court chaplain” relationship which was common in Medieval Europe.

  29. […] and that there are thousands of Northern soldiers in the central interior who can be mobilized even if they weren’t distracted by the Hornwood affair, and thousands more in the eastern half of the North which Balon has no way of actually […]

  30. […] fore just as the political side of things is starting to go to hell, just off screen. As I’ve mentioned before, the Hornwood crisis ensures that the North is fully distracted by events to the east, just […]

  31. […] which will shortly capture Winterfell, in no small part because Ser Rodrik never provided Benfred with any training, or oversight from a more experienced commander. And yet, it’s completely ignored. Which is […]

  32. […] the actual battle is used to undercut “la gloire” of Theon’s little war when Benfred Tallhart and his Wild Hares arrive on the […]

  33. […] step in Bran’s Hero’s Journey. He’s already had his Call to Adventure, his refusal of same, his Supernatural Aid, and now we get the Crossing of the First Threshold. Winterfell is gone and […]

  34. […] desire to go back to the days in which he was the Prince of Winterfell and Wyman Manderly was proposing to build him a navy. Far more explicitly than before, this backwards-looking attitude is linked to a desire to reunite […]

  35. […] our discussion of the difficulties of governance, in this episode we examine the Starks’ efforts to mobilize the Northern home front: how Winterfell works as a planning agency for surviving the long winters, the difficulties that […]

  36. […] If Westerosi feudal politics is anything like the feudal politics of medieval Europe, Ser Esutace’s story is probably typical of a lot of lesser Houses and landed knights. The essential problem is that weak feudal monarchies only work if the king keeps giving out fiefdoms in return for political support, but since nulle terre sans siegneur, this means taking away fiefdoms from their current owners. The resulting tensions between the old and new landlords could and did easily give rise to private feuds, local wars, and outright rebellions, as we see in the case of Raoul of Cambrai. […]

  37. […] right that more kings than just Aegon IV have used their powers of legitimation to turn a bastard into a viable heir. Catelyn’s response is particularly important to parse. From a Doylist perspective, the […]

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