Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion V, ACOK


The substance flows through my veins, and lives in the heart of every pyromancer. We respect its power….any little mistake can bring catastrophe. That cannot be said too often.”

“Sweet, sweet sister…I promise you, that was the last time you will ever strike me.”

Synopsis: the Hand of the King is having a busy day. Tyrion meets with deranged pyromaniacs, takes in the populist sentiments of local religious leaders, meets with envoys from Riverrun, and then has a friendly meeting with his sister the Queen Regent.

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:

Tyrion V is a wonderful cornucopia, which helps to explain why it’s so highly ranked on Tower of the Hand. It’s got everything – crazy magic, religious-inspired class conflict, military planning, and internal political scheming! So let’s get into it.

The Alchemists’ Guild

The first theme in this chapter is the Guild of Alchemists as a political institution. As we learn from Wisdom Haldayne, “My father often told King Aerys as much, as his father told old King Jaehaerys.” And as Tyrion recalls, “once theirs had been a powerful guild, but in recent centuries the maesters of the Citadel had supplanted the alchemists almost everywhere. Now only a few of the older order remained, and they no longer even pretended to transmute metals.” Now, I believe that this quote has been somewhat exaggerated. The Citadel clearly predates the Guild of Alchemists – it’s a pre-Andal institution, with continent-wide influence for a long, long time (the worldbook mentions maesters in the service of White Harbor more than five hundred years ago, multiple generations of maesters at the Nightfort during its period of operation, and Maester Wyllis ventured to Hardhome some six hundred years ago). And when you come right down to it, the maesters just offer services (long-distance communication, education, medicine, weather forecasting, accounting and land management, and the liberal arts) more useful to a medieval society that builds largely in wood than volatile pyrotechnics.

By contrast, the Alchemists are never mentioned in Westeros outside of King’s Landing and never outside of the context of the Targaryen monarchs; in fact, given that the term alchemist never comes up elsewhere other than Lys, chances are that the Guild migrated to Westeros from there, and is using the older lineage of the parent organization to claim greater seniority than it really has. The History and Lore video on the Alchemists sheds more light on this subject:

So here we have the Alchemists first entering royal service in the reign of King Maegor (never a man to break character), and shifting decisively away from attempting to transmute base metals into gold (a practice that would have won them few friends at Casterly Rock), in favor of producing wildfire for Maegor to use in sieges and presumably to torture people to death. The guild seems to undergo a series of ups and downs of royal favor following a series of mishaps: after Maegor, the next usage we hear of is Aegon IV, where several hundred men and a quarter of the Kingswood burnt thanks to the guild’s wooden dragons. Aerion Brightflame uses wildfire in a failed attempt to transmute into a dragon – after which apparently the guild fell into a long decline. Aegon V used wildfire used in a failed attempt to hatch dragon eggs, leading to the tragedy at Summerhall, which probably firmly cemented the guild’s legacy as the cause of catastrophe. Not until Aerys II arrived on the scene with a burning desire to immolate the entire Darklyn family, the Lord Paramount of the North, and eventually all of King’s Landing did the Guild reach its former level of influence.

However, to give them credit, the Alchemists are clearly in possession of quite a bit of real magic. Tyrion might find “their custom of hinting at the vast secret stores of knowledge that they wanted him to think they possessed…annoying,” but it’s pretty clear that the “wisdoms” actually have some knowledge squirreled away down there in the dark. As we’ll see soon, the “process” by which “the substance” is created is itself a spell, and subject to the same influence of the dragons that other schools of magic are (incidentally, this might explain why wildfire became so unreliable post-Dance). However, we also learn that:

“The substance is prepared by trained acolytes in a series of bare stone cells, and each jar is removed by an apprentice and carried down her the instant it is ready. Above each work cell is a room filled entirely by sand. A protective spell has been laid on the floors, hmmm, most powerful. Any fire in the cell below causes the floors to fall away, and sand smothers the blaze at once.”

Assuming for the moment that the “protective spell” isn’t just an obscuring label thrown over collapsible floor/roof supports connected to a fire detector, that’s actually pretty impressive. Very few places in the world have the kind of protective spells laid into the structure of their buildings – the Wall, Storm’s End, perhaps a few other places like the Five Forts or Asshai. At the same time, it is interesting that the Alchemists show some understanding of lab safety, at least when it comes to their own Guildhall, that they show in no other activity.

It is abundantly clear from Tyrion V that the Guild is willing to do anything to get back to where it once was under Wisdom Rossart and “Aerys the Wise:”

 “It has been too long since the King’s Hand graced us with his presence. Not since Lord Rossart, and he was of our order. That was back in King Aerys’s day. King Aerys took a great interest in our work…it is our great hope to have the king visit our Guildhall in his own royal person. I have spoken of it to your royal sister…perhaps instead some few of us might call upon the king at the Red Keep. A small demonstration of our powers, as it were, to distract His Grace from his many cares for an evening. Wildfire is but one of the dread secrets of our ancient order. Many and wondrous are the things we might show you.”

The sense of grasping, obsequious desperation is almost palpable – they’ll take any foot in the door, no matter how demeaning, in order to get back into royal favor. Giving a murderous boy-king like Joffrey access to weapons of mass destruction would give most normal men pause, but clearly the Alchemists have no such scruples. And indeed, one of the things that’s abundantly clear is that the Alchemists are, as an institution, completely amoral. We might perhaps chalk up Maegor’s requests to the necessities of war, and Aegon IV’s mishaps due to a king’s lack of care for proper safety procedures, but Aerys II directly asked for wildfire to burn innocent men, women, and children in an act of familicide, and the Guild showed no qualms about it.

Aerys II asked the Guild to perpetuate judicial murder and the undermining of the most ancient right of Westerosi society, and Rossart lit the flames under Lord Stark himself. Aerys II called for thousands of pots of wildfire to be secreted underneath a largely wooden city, and despite everything they know about what “the substance” would do to a city of 500,000 people, Lord Rossart was personally carrying out the order to light them up when Ser Jaime Lannister cut him down.  No wonder then that the guild suffered such a loss when the Targaryens fell, with “so many of our masters were murdered were murdered during the Sack of King’s Landing, the few acolytes who remained were unequal to the task.” I’m surprised any of them were left alive.

You know, it’s funny: for all that the maesters are supposedly an untrustworthy organization, engaged in shadowy conspiracies and trying to suppress the truth of the world, in both instances where they’ve clearly acted against another group, I find myself siding with them. Post-Dance of the Dragons, it’s pretty clear that dragons are not safe for humans and other living things. And wildfire is way too dangerous to be left in the hands of these giggling pyromaniacs.

The Substance:

Speaking of dangerously unstable…let’s talk about wildfire. The Guild of Alchemists may be a gang of amoral madmen with delusions of grandeur, but they produce a hell of a product:

“The wildfire oozed slowly toward the lip of the jar when Tyrion tilted it to peer inside. The color would be a murky green, he knew, but the poor light made it impossible to confirm. “Thick,” he observed.”

“That is from the cold, my lord…as it warms, the substance will flow more easily, like lamp oil.” The substance was the pyromancers’ own term for wildfire…

“Water will not quench it, I am told.”

“That is so. Once it takes fire, the substance will burn fiercely until it is no more. More, it will seep into cloth, wood, leather, even steel, so they take fire as well…there is a vault below this one where we store the older pots. Those from King Aerys’s day. It was his fancy to have the jars made in the shapes of fruits…riper now than ever, if you take my meaning. We have sealed them with wax and pumped the lower vault full of water, but even so…much of the stock we made for Aerys was lost. Only last year, two hundred jars were discovered in a storeroom beneath the Great Sept of Baelor.”

“These, ah, fruits of the late king Aerys, can they still be used?”

“Oh, yes…but carefully, my lord, ever so carefully. As it ages, the substance grows ever more, hmmmm, fickle, let us say. Any flame will set it afire. Any spark. Too much heat and jars will blaze up of their own accord. It is not wise to let them sit in sunlight, even for a short time. Once the fire begins within, the heat causes the substance to expand violently, and the jars shortly fly to pieces. If other jars should happen to be stored in the same vicinity, those go up as well.”

As I’ve said in the past, GRRM likes to remix history, so his “substance” isn’t exactly equivalent to the ancient greek fire – more of which in the historical section. Certainly, the two are alike in that greek fire could not be put out with fire, and indeed water was said to make the fire stronger – however, greek fire could be put out with strong vinegar or old urine, and guarded against by felt or animal hides soaked in the same, which is quite unlike wildfire. The way in which wildfire gets more potent and unstable with age actually resembles dynamite, which “weeps” or “sweats” nitroglycerin if stored for long periods of time, making it quite unstable. My paternal grandfather, who was a Royal Engineer in WWII and spent much of the war alternatively building and blowing up railroad bridges in India, told stories about transporting “weepy” dynamite in the back of an Army jeep across dirt roads in an Indian summer and one case in which a charge meant to level a hill instead blew an enormous crater in the earth due to the unpredictably powerful nature of “weepy” dynamite.

That being said, one of the things I find strange about wildfire is that, given that it melts stone, that we haven’t seen it have a more drastic impact on Westerosi siegecraft. For all that “pyromancer’s piss” is highly dangerous, the potential for simply melting breaches into enemy walls is too great that you wouldn’t see it used quite often, with attendant changes to the structure of Westerosi castles. The only explanation I can think of is that wildfire is simply too damn dangerous to be transported long distances, and/or that “the pyromancers kept their recipe for wildfire a closely guarded secret, but Tyrion knew that it was a lengthy, dangerous and time-consuming process. He had assumed the promise of ten thousand jars was a wild boast.” For around 150 years between the death of the dragons and the rebirth of the dragons, it’s quite possible that wildfire couldn’t be easily mass-produced on the scale needed for sieges – the 4,000 pots from King Aerys’ day seem like a lot, but across 21 years of his reign, that’s a rate of only 190 a year (compare that to 3,840 produced just in the current year for Queen Cersei).

Tyrion’s approach to the use of wildfire is a surprisingly modern one, with attention paid to safe practice and efficiency:

 “It’s empty pots I’m asking for, understand. Have them sent round to the captains on each of the city gates…the alchemists will be sending a large supply of clay pots to each of the city gates. You’re hto use them to train the  men who will work your spitfires. Fill the pots with green paint and have them drill at loading and firing. Any man who splatters should be replaced. When they have mastered the paint pots, substitute lamp oil and have them work at lighting the jars and firing them while aflame. Once they learn to do that without burning themselves, they may be ready for wildfire.”

It’s almost a Taylorite time-and-motion method of warfare, and one wonders what Tyrion might have been able to accomplish had he had more time to turn an army of “men willing to join the City Watch for a full belly and a bed of straw…ragged defenders,” into a more disciplined fighting force. And I think the contrast between this and normal practice helps to explain why wildfire is such a seldom-seen thing on the battlefield.

At the same time, it has to be said that wildfire is a kind of Russian doll of Chekov’s guns (apologies for the mixed metaphor), with new elements of future mayhem popping up all over the place. First, we have the catapult to fireship head-fake in this book. Second, we have the lost wildfire cache hidden under the city, getting ever more explosive by the day. Third and finally, we have the ongoing mystery of the tragedy at Summerhall, and whatever role wildfire played there.

The Politics of Hunger:

A second major theme of the chapter is the growing power of the politics of hunger, which is slowly but surely rousing the smallfolk from political slumber. Pity the poor Hand of the King who has to keep the smallfolk of King’s Landing loyal to a king like Joffrey I. Normally, a symbolic gesture like “His Grace has prohibited all feasting until such time as the war is won.” At my insistence. “The King does not think it fitting to banquet on choice food while his people go without bread,” would be just the kind of thing to satisfy the moral economy of the masses. Unfortunately, Tyrion’s statement rings falsely when compared to political statements like this:

“Only three nights past, another mob had gathered at the gates of the Red Keep, chanting for food. Joff had unleashed a storm of arrows against them, slaying four, and then shouted down that they had his leave to eat their dead.”

Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake,” nor did she actually buy du Barry’s damn necklace, but in 1789, it was enough that this woman lived so richly, and gambled so highly, while her people starved. Set that against a king who murders his own people and recommends cannibalism as a cure for starvation. Compared to this, Joffrey’s petulant sadism before the riot seems almost minor. As I’ve said elsewhere, there are limits to the obedience owed to a sovereign under a monarchy, and Joffrey’s just crossed them.

Thus, it’s no accident that this violation coincides with a revival of millennial, populist, and anti-monarchical religious sentiment:

“Behold the Father’s scourge!…We have become swollen, bloated, foul. Brother couples with sister in the bed of kings, and the fruit of their incest capers in his palace to the piping of a twisted little monkey demon. Highborn ladies fornicate with fools and give birth to monsters! Even the High Septon has forgotten the gods! He bathes in scented waters and grows fat on lark and lamprey while his people starve! Pride comes before prayer, maggots rule our castles, and gold is all, but no more!”

Before the publication of the World of Ice and Fire book, the riot in A Clash of Kings appeared to some as a sui generis event, a kind of random backlash inspired more by hunger than any kind of ideology. However, the new information we have suggests rather than the smallfolk of King’s Landing are tapping into a rich tradition of religiously-inflected radicalism. In this instance, we have a commoner calling outright for the overthrow of the monarchy, using religious ideology in opposition to the hegemonic power of feudalism. Moreover, this is a commoner who’s politically literate – he’s aware of both Stannis’ public letter and the Lannisters’ rebuttal and is using them for his own ends.

More importantly, this commoner is preaching a class conscious ideology. The highborn are “maggots,” the King is an abomination and the one before him a “Whoremonger,” and the zenith of the collapse of virtue is that “gold is all” rather than piety. This logic is powerful enough to even criticize the Faith’s equivalent of the Pope, a man the devout believe is literally the avatar of the gods; his gluttony in a time of famine spiritually dethrones him, to the point where the smallfolk of King’s Landing will tear him limb from limb for his impious behavior.

Finally, I would argue the riots also look quite different in the wake of A Feast For Crows and the rise to power of the Sparrow movement. Rather than a sui generis event, they instead resemble the forerunner of a powerful sea change in popular opinion that will soon reshape the political system – a classic case of the power of historical forces and social movements vs. the agency of the great and the powerful.

Update on the War of the Five Kings:

In addition to weighty political themes, Tyrion V also gives a good dose of military strategy, where we get a rather good picture of how the Lannisters see the war. This begins with Ser Cleos Frey’s report about the conditions at the front:

“It is bad in the Riverlands, Tyrion. Around the Godseye and along the kingsroad especially. The riverlords are burning their own crops to try and starve us, and your father’s foragers are torching every village they take and putting the smallfolk to the sword…even with a peace banner, we were attacked twice. Wolves in mail, hungry to savage anyone weaker than themselves. The gods alone know what side they started on, but they’re on their own side now.

“The boy sits idle at Riverrun…I think he fears to face your father in the field. His strength grows less each day. The river lords have departed, each to defend his own lands.”

This passage brings up a number of interesting issues. To begin with, we see the violence that started so casually in Tyrion’s storyline that has so profoundly affected Arya’s storyline beginning to interfere with the plans of the nobility – first it’s peace envoys, next it’s Brienne and Jaime, then it’s Saltpans and the political ramifications of that, a cascade of unintended consequences. Next,  I had simply forgotten that the Riverlords had resorted to scorched-earth tactics – if nothing else, this helps to explain the formation of the Brotherhood Without Banners. If their own lords are the ones burning the crops they need to survive, no wonder the smallfolk are taking such a “plague on both your houses” attitude. It’s quite reminiscent of the so-called “Clubmen” of the English Civil War, who fought both Royalists and Parliamentarians who attempted to conscript their relatives, requisition their crops, or commit less official crimes.

However, this passage also brings up a curious question – how exactly is Tywin feeding an army of around 20,000 men? Living off the land is all very well and good, but from the very basic calculations I’ve done from studies of medieval logistics, Tywin’s army would need around 500 tons of grain a week (let alone any meat or vegetables). It’s not really practical for 900 reavers to collect and transport that much grain – a thousand pounds of grain per man! – on a weekly basis. To me, the only explanation here is that Tywin is taking food from further afield from the southern Riverlands, especially if the fields are being torched to deny forage. It’s always seemed strange to me that the only sources of food into King’s Landing that we read of in Tyrion’s chapters are Rosby and Stokeworth – nothing about Duskendale, or Antlers, or Rook’s Rest, or Crackclaw Point (i.e, the northern part of the Crownlands). Given that we learn later that Tywin’s foragers were active in the region of Sow’s Horn, I think the logical conclusion is that Tywin is requisitioning this region for his own supply, thus denying it to the capitol – thus indirectly causing the riot that nearly extinguishes his monarch.

At the same time, I think we also begin to see the flip-side of the Stark’s strategic situation from Catelyn I. If in that chapter the Starks were fretting about losing the Riverlords, dividing over the question of Harrenhal, and worrying about the new threat of Stafford’s western host, here we can see the Lannisters trying to make the best of their new Fabian strategy:

 “It seemed to him that Robb Stark had given them a golden chance…All the while, their cousin Ser Stafford would be training and arming the new host he’d raised at Casterly Rock. Once he was ready, he and Lord Tywin could smash the Tullys and the Starks between them.”

“Father sits in one castle, and Robb Stark sits in another, and no one does anything.”

“Not all of us can be as bold as Jaime, but there are other ways to win wars. Harrenhal is strong and well situated…the city will not fight in a day. From Harrenhal it is a straight, swift march down the kingsroad. Renly will scarce have unlimbered his siege engines before Father takes him in the rear. His host will be the hammer, the city walls the anvil…Harrenhal is close enough to the fords of the Trident so that Roose Bolton cannot bring the northern foot across to join with the Young Wolf’s horse. Stark cannot march on King’s Landing without taking Harrenhal first, and even with Bolton he is not strong enough to do that…meanwhile Father lives off the fat of the riverlands, while our uncle Stafford gathers fresh levies at the Rock.”

Right now, the Lannisters are in a tricky defensive position – with Tywin hunkering down in Harrenhal, “still, poised, his tail twitching,” as their only army in the field – and Tywin has the unenviable responsibility of trying to cover two separate fronts with just the one army. This last responsibility is no joke – while Tywin is only around three weeks away from King’s Landing, he has to worry about both Renly’s slow-moving giant army and Stannis’ much more mobile smaller force at the same time. Likewise, although Tywin is fairly safe at Harrenhal, it’s also the case that there are dangers if Tywin marches out of Harrenhal (a downside Tyrion fails to mention). If Tywin moves west, then Roose Bolton can cross the Trident behind him, potentially placing Tywin between two Stark armies, and he leaves King’s Landing unguarded. On the other hand, if he moves south, then he allows Roose Bolton to cross the trident, link up with Robb, and hit Tywin’s army with their combined strength out in the open. Tyrion’s strategic advice also misses two weaknesses in Tywin’s position – one, Roose can link up with Robb by heading west over the Forks rather than south over the Trident, and two, Tywin’s army can’t be in two places at once.

On the positive side, Tywin can’t be immediately attacked, would trounce Robb if he was attacked, and the longer Tywin wait, the weaker Robb Stark gets and the stronger he becomes. If Stafford Lannister can get his army up and running, then Tywin will once again have numerical superiority against the entire Stark/Tully alliance, and equally importantly he’ll once again have two armies to move against two armies, which is hugely important for strategic flexibility, and which Robb Stark has enjoyed ever since the Battle of the Camps approximately three months ago. With this, Tywin can potentially rout the Stark/Tully alliance and consolidate control over the Riverlands, and then turn on the besieger of King’s Landing (as long as the city hasn’t fallen yet).

And as we’ll see, Robb Stark will thoroughly wreck Tywin’s plan on both a strategic and tactical level, by refusing to do what the Lannisters want him to do: hold still.

The final topic in our update on the War of Five Kings: peace. While most people are familiar with the maxim that war is a continuation of politics by other means, the reverse can be true – in this case, we see how peace talks can be made to serve war aims. As hard as Catelyn Stark tried to get Robb Stark to agree to send an offer of peace, it’s clear from this chapter that the Lannisters have absolutely no intent of accepting it:

The boy does not want too much. Only half the realm, the release of our captives, hostages, his father’s sword…oh, yes, and his sisters.

“These terms will never do.”

“Will you at least consent to trade the Stark girls for Tion and Willem?”

“No…but we’ll propose our own exchange of captives. Let me consult with Cersei and the council. We shall send you back to Riverrun with our terms.”

If this was it, one could at least say that peace negotiations are a delicate process, requiring a good deal of back-and-forth as each side tries to figure out what the other side’s must-haves and red lines are. Unfortunately, although Catelyn doesn’t know it yet, she has a bigger problem. Namely, that the Lannisters have no intention of negotiating in good faith. Following hard on the heels of Tyrion’s discussion of the Lannister’s wait-and-see strategy, he thinks: “Let the boy wait at Riverrun dreaming of an easy peace. Tyrion would respond with terms of his own, giving the King in the North just enough of what he wanted to keep him  hopeful. Let Ser Cleos wear out his boney Frey rump riding to and fro with offers and counters.”

And this is why, ultimately, I think that ASOIAF fans who argue that Catelyn was right about the war and should have been listened to all along aren’t quite right. As Brynden Tully reminded us back in AGOT, you need the other side to want peace too. And here the Lannisters have no interest in making peace – they’ll use peace talks to try to achieve immediate military aims, and as we’ll see in the next Tyrion chapter, they will not hesitate to subvert the peace process with covert violence.

Cersei, the Enemy Within:

And finally, Tyrion has to contend with his sister, who in this chapter shows herself to be a very real enemy to Tyrion himself, a danger to the Lannister cause, and a generally poor politician (although, for once, a decent mother). No wonder Tyrion prefers “angry and stupid to composed and cunning.”

To begin with, Cersei strenuously resists the idea that Myrcella should be married off, for any reason:

“Myrcella is my only daughter. Did you truly imagine I would allow you to sell her like a bag of oats?”

Myrcelle, he thought. Well that egg has hatched. Let’s see what color the chick is. “Hardly a bag of oats. Myrcella is a princess. Some would say that is what she was born for. Or did you plan to marry her to Tommen?”

…”I am Joffrey’s regent, not you, and I say that Myrcella will not be shipped off to this Dornishman the way I was shipped to Robert Baratheon.”

On a personal level, Cersei’s complaint is completely understandable; her own political marriage was a catastrophe and she doesn’t want that same fate for her daughter. But on a political level, Cersei shows little understanding of the importance of dynastic alliances – as Tyrion notes, at some point the Lannisters must have some allies otherwise they will be crushed trying to fight the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, and alliances are made through marriages. Nor does Cersei present much of an alternative suggestion. Indeed, Cersei is consistently opposed to all the marriage offers for her children – she was clearly terrified that Sansa might be the young queen of prophecy, and she hated the idea of both Joffrey and Tommen’s weddings to Margaery for the same reason. And yet, she also knows rationally that her children must marry and can’t marry each other Targaryen-style. And so she remains, caught on the horns of a dilemma.

However, Cersei’s combination of prophecy-based fear and bizarrely incompetent greed for power makes her a genuine enemy to anyone trying to practice good government in King’s Landing, whether they be Eddard Stark or Tyrion Lannister:

“You’ve offered too much, and without my authority or consent…don’t threaten me, little man. Do you think Father’s letter keeps you safe? A piece of paper. Eddard Stark had a piece of paper too, for all the good it did him.”

Eddard Stark did not have the City Watch…nor my clansmen, nor the sellswords that Bron has hired.

When trying to evaluate how good a job Tyrion’s doing as Hand, I think we have to acknowledge that (unlike his father) he has to deal with a Queen Cersei who threatens his life, attempts to abduct and torture his lover, and may very well have ordered his assassination at the Battle of the Blackwater (more on this later). And to give Tyrion credit, he rolls with this threat with impressive aplomb thanks to his twin focus on information control – which in this chapter gives him the identity of Cersei’s informant on the Small Council – and military hegemony, which he has carefully constructed over the last four chapters.

And those two factors will be central to Tyrion’s rise and fall as Hand of the King – as we will see in later chapters.

Historical Analysis:

Tyrion V gives us some great material for historical parallels, so let’s get into some of the weirder aspects of medieval Europe.

First, the historical parallel for wildfire, as will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with European history, is Greek Fire. Greek Fire, or pyr thalássion, is one of the great mysteries of medieval history. A form of incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire against its enemies from the 7th century through the 12 century, Greek Fire was such a state secret that no written recipe for the material survived to the present day; at the time, it was considered so important to Byzantium that legends developed that it was literally given by God to the Emperor Constantine to defend Christianity from its enemies, and that anyone who tried to reveal the secrets of the stuff would be smote by God himself. For hundreds of years, historians have puzzled over what the hell it really was, have conducted impressively fiery experiments, and controversies reign over rival theories.

Most likely, Greek Fire was made of some combination of crude petroleum, which the Greeks called naptha, which would explain how it was able to burn on water, and some form of natural resin (probably pine resin) to thicken it up, and make the flames more intensely hot and long-lasting. This combination has been tested by historians using a reconstruction of the siphon device placed on Byzantine ships to shoot Greek fire at enemy vessels, and produced a fire that burned at over 1000 degrees celsius (which is easily hot enough to make steel melt). At the same time, however, Greek Fire was not a “superweapon” that made the Byzantines all-powerful. It was largely limited to naval combat, range was always a problem, using it in a city threatened unstoppable fires, and counter-measures were quickly created. As I mentioned above, old urine or vinegar could put out Greek Fire, so the Turkish navy responded by draping furs soaked in either substance as crude, in both senses of the term, fire shields.

And now we get to alchemy, the weirdest of the weird when it comes to medieval history. On the one hand, alchemy was a kind of premodern science aimed at some truly science-fictional goals: the transmutation of base metals into gold, the elixir of eternal youth and the panacea to all diseases, the universal solvent, and the philosopher’s stone which could be any or all of these, depending on the source. On the other hand, and perhaps because the actual track record of creating any of these things was around zero, alchemy was also a deeply mystical tradition, in which all of those goals were actual metaphors and analogies for human perfection and regeneration, the movement from ignorance to enlightenment through the discovery of spiritual truth, and that somehow alchemy could produce “living” or spiritual silver and gold as opposed to “vulgar” physical precious metals.

And that dualism kind of sums up a lot about alchemy. It was at one and the same time a seriously wacky cult that invented reams and reams of hermetic mythology, mystical re-interpretations of Aristotelian philosophy, and at the same time the origin of modern chemistry and scientific practice. Jabir ibn Hayyan, the great Arabian alchemist of the 8th century, basically invented the idea that practical experimentation is the source of truth, and created a lot of the basic laboratory equipment used by chemists today as well as a lot of fundamental processes like crystallization and distillation, when he wasn’t trying to find the philosopher’s stone.  Paracelsus, the 16th century Swiss alchemist invented toxicology, named zinc, and is often credited with the invention of laudanum and early antisepsis – although he also believed that all human diseases could be cured through taking infusions of gold, silver, tin, copper, lead, iron, and quicksilver, because those corresponded to the seven planets, and everything in the macrocosm corresponds to the microcosm within us all..and now I’ve gone cross-eyed.

In some ways, alchemy is everything to all people – a huckstering cargo cult that often financed itself through the production of counterfeit gold, an attempt to understand the natural world through observation and experimentation that counter-productively wrapped everything up in esoterica, coded language, and cyphers, the source of much of Isaac Newton’s inspiration and the source of the idea that you could grow homunculi with jars of stored semen and that basilisk blood could turn copper into gold.

What If?

There’s actually quite a bit of room for hypothetical scenarios in Tyrion V, but this essay is getting pretty long so I’ll just mention a few and we can discuss others in the comment thread:

  • Cersei doesn’t consent? One of the genuine moments of choice here is that Cersei doesn’t have to give in to Tyrion’s plan to send off Myrcella – as the Regent, she has the power to nullify Tyrion’s diplomatic suggestions. What happens next is quite interesting – immediately, Myrcella doesn’t go to Dorne, which possibly butterflies away the riot, or at least the riot happening in the immediate presence of the royal family, although given Joffrey’s behavior it’s just a matter of time, really. On the one hand, this means that Myrcella doesn’t get injured in Dorne, Ser Arys Oakheart doesn’t die, and possibly that there’s no opening for Ser Robert Strong (especially if the riot’s butterflying saves Ser Preston Greenfield’s life). On the other hand, this also means that Oberyn Martell doesn’t die and possibly is the one sent to Dany instead of Quentyn, Arianne’s plot has no locus, and Doran never formally agrees to ally with  the Lannisters, leaving him a dangerous free agent in the game of thrones.
  • Robb Stark finds out about conditions in King’s Landing? This is one I hadn’t considered. Now, there probably isn’t time for this to work as Robb has already begun to march west, but it’s possible that if word had reached him immediately after Oxcross that King’s Landing was starving and its defenders were green and would likely break, that Robb might have tried to solve his strategic dilemma by taking his roughly 17,000 and swinging them in between Tywin and King’s Landing, in the hopes that threatening the capitol might draw Tywin out from Harrenhal. If that happened, and if Roose Bolton had crossed the Trident behind Tywin in a timely fashion allowing Robb to trap Tywin between the two armies, it’s possible that Robb wins the War of Five Kings in a way he never imagined, taking the Iron Throne itself. What the hell he does with it, I have no idea.
  • Robb’s terms never make it to King’s Landing? Now this is an interesting one – if Cleos Frey gets whacked by “wolves in iron” on the way to King’s Landing, and Tyrion never receives the terms, there’s no opportunity to send an embassy back, and certainly not before Catelyn gets back to Riverrun. If Catelyn was in Riverrun when Jaime attempted to escape and experienced those events herself, she’d probably be less inclined to trust Tyrion’s offer to trade Jaime for her daughters, and it’s possible she doesn’t release Jaime, or at least in the way she does in OTL. In that case, it’s possible that even post-Blackwater, House Stark is able to salvage its position short of near-total destruction.
  • Tyrion doesn’t visit the Alchemists? This one I find fascinating. If Tyrion is simply distracted enough not to re-shape the wildfire plan, some really interesting things happen. To begin with, Stannis’ fleet survives – which means a lot more men land on the north bank of the Blackwater, and a lot of men can be ferried over from the south bank. So it’s quite possible Stannis gets across the river in time to seize the city before Tywin’s army can land in his flank and rear – although that might mean he gets captured because he’s not in place to get rescued by Salladhor Saan’s fleet. On the other hand, without the rigorous preparation Tyrion put it place, it’s also possible that Stannis seizes a city that’s about to burn to the ground/explode, or that Tywin wins his greatest victory only to see King’s Landing and his hopes of a dynasty literally go up in smoke.

Book vs. Show:

The show played this one pretty straight – the major divergence with the wildfire plan doesn’t come until the actual battle itself – so check back next time!

222 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion V, ACOK

  1. Happy Thanksgiving! Something to read while digesting…

  2. S. Duff says:

    I love that you’ve started referencing World of Ice and Fire! It’s good to know there’s so much useful information hidden in there.

  3. Jaime'slefthand says:

    I suppose a slightly different ‘what if?’ could be what if a massive fire in KL started right at the beginning of the Battle of the Blackwater? What would Stannis do if KL burnt to the ground before he had even crossed?

    • Probably wait for the fires to burn out. The bigger question is – what do Tywin and Mace do with no basis for an alliance, as far as they knew?

      • Jaime'slefthand says:

        Mmm, I suppose it would emerge pretty quickly that Tommen was still alive, as the people who hold him are nearby. With all that wildfire being able to melt stone, would there even be gutted remnants of the city, or just a pile of molten slag dribbling down Aegon’s High Hill?

      • Jaime'slefthand says:

        Ah, do you mean what do they immediately do if Stannis is standing there with a large intact army, a hefty navy, and a molten city leaving no apparent Lannister heir? That is interesting. I have literally no idea.

        • That’s exactly what I mean. It’s a real dilemma for the Tyrells.

          • Jamie'slefthand says:

            How feasible would it be for them to try to slink away to Highgarden and try to be Kingmakers? They are on the south bank, with Stannis’s navy blocking any attempt to link with Tywin. And if this happened, would the loss of the Tyrells on the back of the defeat at the Fords shatter Tywin’s army? He would be left facing odds of nearly 3-1, with nothing stopping Robb from continuing to pillage the Westerlands. The Tyrells’ disengagement would surely strengthen their own position as they could renegotiate with all parties, and I doubt Stannis would be upset about not having to fight 50,000 men.

          • Theoretically, the Tyrells have the strongest hand – they’ve got the biggest army on the scene. However, what they want most is legitimacy, someone with Tyrell blood on the Iron Throne. And if they think that’s not viable, they might pull back, they might bend the knee to Stannis, they might turn to Robb, they might fake a pregnancy with Margaery, they might do anything.

            And Tywin would be totally screwed. In that scenario, he’s facing Stannis with a larger army, and even if he wins he has to fight Robb Stark, and he doesn’t have a king to legitimize his actions, so technically he’s a rebel and outlaw.

          • John says:

            But the Lannisters aren’t totally screwed, because Tommen’s still alive, right?

          • If they know, and if they figure it out before Stannis does.

          • Jaime'slefthand says:

            Is Stannis enough of a pragmatist to set aside Selyse Florent and marry Margaery, this one done “in the light of the Lord”? It’s not like he has much love for his wife.

          • …maybe. That’s tricky. I could see Melisandre even convincing Selyse to become a nun or something.

            On the other hand, Stannis would probably have a problem marrying Renly’s bride.

        • Amestria says:

          What would be the religious implications of Kings Landing burning to a crisp before King Stannis’s army and its flaming heart standard?

  4. jpmarchives says:

    Great as always Steven. On the subject of Tywin and Robb, I’ve often wondered why a potential siege of Harrenhal was never on the cards. We know that a full frontal assault would be absolute suicide but that’s just about the only scenario where the biggest castle in Westeros would be useful. I was imagining Robb conducting a looser siege wherein Tywin’s forage parties never come back – a more organized BWB with more manpower if you will. If Robb was able to hinder Tywins Reaver’s, even to a minor degree, conditions in Tywin”s army would become untenable in mere days and force the issue of a confrontation out in the open. It’s risky, but Robb does have the more maneuverable army, with Roose on hand to double his numbers where necessary.

    I bring it up because 500 tons of grain a week is a colossal order to fill, without much margin for error. Stafford may be gathering an army in the west, but he isn’t the real danger – we don’t know how long before he would have marched if left to his own devices. If Robb could have cut the crownlands off from Tywin”s forces, could he have beaten the Lannisters by letting them wither on the vine?

    • Mr Fixit says:

      A good point, one I also considered. It’s often said that Robb couldn’t beat Tywin with the defensive multiplier that is Harrenhal, but that isn’t true at all. Robb should never try to storm the castle; it would be suicidal, obviously. But bring your entire might (over 30,000 with Tullys and Roose) and besiege the castle and Tywin’s huge army will start dying of hunger almost immediately. Tywin’s only option is to give battle in when he’s outnumbered by over 3:2, maybe even close to 2:1. Why Robb never considered this is an interesting question.

      • It’s possible, but extremely difficult. For one – Robb’s further away from Harrenhal than Roose is, so if Robb moves first, Tywin will see him coming, and can move to attack him first before Roose can finish crossing to support him. If Roose move first, Tywin can attack him before Robb can arrive. You’d have to move Roose’s army all the way from the Kingroad across the Green and Blue Forks and then down to Riverrun, then move the combined army to Harrenhal. And then the problem is – what if this gives Stafford time to get his army up and running – and you’ve just left Riverrun undefended in your rear and now Tywin has roughly your numbers.

        • Mr Fixit says:

          Sure, it’ not without risk, but I feel it’s an interesting scenario. As for Stafford, he’ll present no danger for quite some time. Remember, his army is mainly composed of “sweepings of Lannisport”; they are practically peasants with pitchforks right now. Stafford will have to spend months and months training them in order to have something that resembles a decent fighting force. A couple thousand men left in the rearguard at the fords should be more than enough to repel Stafford if he foolishly chooses to move.

          As for Robb, there is another possible ace up his sleeve. If Tywin refuses to engage, Robb can keep marching right past him and on to King’s Landing. What then?

          • I’m not sure. It’s sweepings of Lannisport plus four thousand experienced soldiers.

            Leaving behind a few thousand men means the odds get narrower.

            And yes, threatening King’s Landing is a potential ace in the hole. However, it also means that you potentially get trapped up against the walls of KL, and that brings you closer to 6,000 soldiers on your other side. I’m not saying it’s hopeless, I’m just saying it has downsides.

          • Mr Fixit says:

            It’s not foolproof, that’s for sure. Still, the same (even more so, in fact) could be said of Robb’s chosen plan: he needs to magically find a trail around the Golden Tooth, surprise Stafford’s 10,000 with his 6,000 without suffering significant losses, lure Tywin to the West and defeat him on his own turf, etc, etc… A lot of things can go wrong; it’s a very risky plan which ultimately fails. Sure, we can debate Edmure’s role (that will be a treat!), but the plan still fails to accomplish Robb’s main goals and what’s more, hands initiative over to Tywin as he’s the one that gets to choose whether to engage or not. Robb’s march to Harrenhal and/or King’s Landing, for better or worse, will force the confrontation right then and there before anyone else (Renly, Stannis, Greyjoys as we’ll see) gets to react. With the benefit of hindsight, it may have been the better choice.

          • I disagree with the last part – the plan succeeds insofar as it rids Robb of a threat to his flank/rear and forces Tywin to march out of Harrenhal and away from King’s Landing.

            But the same argument about initiative applies to the other case – it’s Tywin’s choice to engage or not.

    • juan manuel says:

      Well, he who defends everything defends nothing. Say Robb puts a loose siege. So, near Gate X, there are some 1,000 soldiers. Tywin sorties through that gate with 10,000 men, crushes those 1,000 and pulls back inside before reinforcements from elsewhere can arrive. And since Harrenhall is really big, the besieging army will be so scattered it would take a lot of time to assemble a force strong enough to fight Tywin’s 10K.

      • Mr Fixit says:

        No one is suggesting a classic tight siege with troops in sight of the walls. The idea is to park your army fairly close to the castle and then do your best to hunt down the foraging parties. Feeding 20,000 men under these conditions would be next to impossible. Tywin’s army would either starve pretty soon or he’ll be forced to ride out and meet Robb in open battle where the Northmen and their Riverlands allies would have 3:2 or even 2:1 numerical advantage.

        The fact that Robb never considers this and leaves Tywin completely unchallenged for over half a year is rather strange in my opinion.

        Then again, I always maintained that Robb’s war strategy is not nearly as good as generally thought in the fandom. I contend that everything after Whispering Woods and Camps amounted to some pretty uninspired decision-making

        • The problem is that parking close still runs the risk of getting attacked, as does splitting your army up to hunt foraging parties.

          And Robb only has a numerical advantage if Roose can cross and if Stafford doesn’t show up.

          Robb does indeed consider it, it’s the main topic of debate in Catelyn I.

      • You’ve put your finger on the problem – coordination is really difficult around the circumference of Harrenhal, and Tywin now has the advantage of interior lines.

        It’s not impossible, but it’s really difficult.

    • A looser siege is possible, but it’s tricky. You risk Tywin sallying forth to attack your smaller force, especially if you’re dividing up your army to cover the cachement areas of the various reavers/supply convoys.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Regarding Tyrion’s and Cersei’s feud: I still find it astounding, how many neutral and even pro-Lannister people are destroyed in this cold war between two people, who should have been allies. Between the Stokeworths, nameless dwarfs and people like Alalaya, the Lannister guardsmen are another victim of this feud.

    A thing, that I only noticed on a reread is that Tyrion’s scheme to mix some cutthroats with the Lannister soldiers had some nice bonus for himself, since it MADE SURE; that the Lannister guardsmen, who were probably more loyal to Cersei than to Tyrion (since they had guarded Cersei for years) DID NOT COME BACK.

    When Lyn Corbray drew a sword during the parley between Littlefinger and the Lords Declarant, he gave Littlefinger the right to imprison all of them. So one of the cuttroats harming Tully soldiers would have absolved Edmure of all constraints of peace-talks regarding the treatment of the whole group (since these men are mere guardsmen and not nobles, he probably would have been well within his right to even send them to the NW or kill the whole group.

    Regarding Cersei’s part in the attempted killing of Tyrion by Ser Mandon Moore: I do not think, she had a part in it: In AFFC Cersei never thinks about it, which does not make sense, since regretting the failure of a previous assassination-attempt should have appeared somewhere in her many chapters, if she had been the culprit.
    On a lot of posters think, that Mandon Moore was told to kill Tyrion by LITTLEFINGER.

    • Matthew says:

      I’ve always assumed the same since it is within Littlefingers modus operandi to do so. In the event that Tyrion lives he becomes a major liability and the knife issue was still hanging in the air…which is IMO why he probably worked so hard to stoke the flames of mistrust between Cersei and Littlefinger, and certainly did more than a little to discredit Tyrion post-Blackwater.

      • Peter says:

        The fact that he’s from the Vale has always made me think he was Littlefinger’s man

        • Carolyn says:

          Me too, especially since Jon Arryn brought him to KL and made him a member of the KG, even though he apparently did not come from an important house and was liked by neither Jon Arryn nor Robert Baratheon.
          Mandon Moore must have had the patronage of SOMEONE and since we do not hear anything about Lysa liking him, he should have gotten his white cloak from LF.

    • Yep. I’ll discuss this a bunch more in the next Tyrion chapter.

      Mandon Moore is a tricky case which I will discuss in the chapter when it happens. LF is a possibility, the problem is that LF is out of town, so arranging it is more difficult. Cersei’s on the ground, has direct authority over the KG, and is the most recent threat/motive. Joffrey is also a possibility.

      • Carolyn says:

        Well Littlefinger being out of town (or at least not being in the city) did not stop him from playing a crucial part in Joffrey’s assassination. Littlefinger still has some accomplices in KL (the Kettleblacks, Ser Dontos, the various persons he got job) that he could use to deliver the message to Mandon Moore.

        I think that LF has some very big reasons to kill Tyrion, since

        -Tyrion told him he knew who had killed Jon Arryn
        -Tyrion was looking at the books LF had probably cooked and had the wits to see that they were cooked (after the assassination attempt Tyrion does not go back to looking over the accounts so even the failed attempt helped Littlefinger)
        -Tyrion undermined his influence by sending Janos Slynt to the Wall
        -Tyrion knew, that LF had lied to Catelyn Stark about the origin of the dagger which nearly got him killed and therefore had a strong motive for revenge as well as the power to have LF executed
        -Tyrion was the only Lannister in KL at that time, who was as intelligent as LF
        -Tyrion was a lot more trusting to Varys, LFs archnemesis

        A good explanation why LF probably was behind the attempt can be found here:

        • I think the difference is that LF knew Joffrey was going to get married, but he wouldn’t know that Tyrion would lead a sortie.

          • Carolyn says:

            But Mandon Moore did not necessarily have to kill Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater. Littlefinger could have told Mandon Moore to kill Tyrion, if he had a good opportunity to do it and also get away with it.

            Another possibilty, that I also find quite likely, is that Littlefinger persuaded Joffrey to give Mandon Moore the order to kill Tyrion like he persuaded him to invite the jousting dwarves to his wedding and like he probably persuaded him to execute Ned Stark.
            During Tyrion’s trial the Kettleblack on the kingsguard says that Joffrey told him to guard him well, since his uncle did not like him and wanted to be king instead of him.
            This statement from Osmund? Kettleblack could have two meanings:

            -Osmund did not want to lie, but was told by Cersei to come forward with incriminating evidence, so he repeated a statement that Joffrey had made in regards to STANNIS out of context although IMO this is not better than lying.

            -Osmund did not repeat that statement out of context and Joffrey was really convinced, that Tyrion wanted to kill him. If this case is true, then it would be interesting whether Joffrey came to this conclusion on his own or whether someone else gave him the idea.
            If the idea did not come from himself, then LF for me is a prime suspect.

          • “Littlefinger persuaded Joffrey to give Mandon Moore the order to kill Tyrion”. That’s possible. On the other hand, both Joffrey and Cersei have reasons to want Tyrion dead without LF.

          • Carolyn says:

            I am pretty convinced, that the order did not come from Cersei for a number of reasons, which are described in the text I mentioned:

            -Cersei never thinks about it in AFFC, even though it would make sense for her to do so if she had given the order
            -Tyrion repeatedly thinks, that the order must have come from Cersei, which for me is a red herring just as GRRM likes it (like the Lannisters killing Jon Arryn)
            -Mandon Moore is not one of Cersei’s thugs. If she had really wanted to have Tyrion killed she would have given the order to Kettleblack, Blount or Trant

            Additionally, there is the Vale-connection of Mandon Moore. The things Varys says about Mandon Moore (coming from the Vale, being taken to KL by Jon Arryn, even though he never like Moore, getting a white cloak even though neither Jon Arryn nor Robert liked him, having no friends) to me point to him having a powerful ally close to Jon Arryn, but an ally who nevertheless never openly acknowledges this connection, which is typical for LF.

          • 1. Evidence of absence is not absence of evidence. “Never thinking” is a really slippery slope.

            2. On the other hand, Tyrion thinks Joffrey tried to kill Bran, and that’s as good evidence as we get.

            3. He’s a Kingsguard and she’s the Queen Regent. She’s got all the authority she needs.

          • David Hunt says:

            I’ll suggest what I think is a good reason why we never read Cercei thinking about Moore’s failed attempt murder Tyrion. I don’t think anyone but Tryion and Pod now he made the attempt. I think, to the knowledge of everyone in King’s Landing, Moore died fighting at the Blackwater, but how is something of a mystery.

          • That’s a good point.

          • JT says:

            Really there a ton of possibilities. Mandon Moore was around the King and Queen Regent. He knew they both disliked Tyrion. Maybe he was freelancing and figured he’d get a reward from them when the job was done. Or maybe somebody else put Mandon Moore up to it. Tyrion had a fair amount of enemies (Pycelle etc).

          • – or the man who has no life but duty thought Tyrion was a danger to the king.

            – or he just didn’t like Tyrion. Tried to bar Tyrion from entering the Small Council chambers.

        • jpmarchives says:

          It’s a tricky question. Whilst Cersei has the most cause and Joffrey has the temperament and opportunity, neither really fit the bill. The total absence of the line “If only Mandon Moore had finished the job” in any of Cersei’s AFFC chapters strikes me as extremely suspicious. Maybe George felt that was too obvious and preferred the “lost in the annals of history” tactic in the same way as the assassination attempt on Bran, but I think LF’s involvement is more likely.

          Unfortunately, a detailed conspiracy is practically impossible. Moore, as LF’s catspaw, might have been told to kill Tyrion only if he had the opportunity, and since Tyrion spent most of the siege behind friendly lines, leaving only at the point of crisis, this opportunity was very unlikely. It happened purely by chance, and might well have been Moore simply trying to please his benefactor (Be that Cersei, LF, Joffrey, or someone else entirely.)

          It’s a mystery, but ultimately not the most interesting in the series.

          • Carolyn says:

            Me too. I mean, Cersei’s attempts to kill Tyrion, her fear of Tyrion killing her (valonquar), her ire at people bringing her the wrong heads and her fear of Tyrion working together with Varys, the Tyrells, Bronn etc. are the main content of her chapters in AFFC. During the more than a dozen chapters Cersei has in AFFC and ADWD combined, it looks extremely odd to me, that Cersei never thinks, “If only Mandon Moore had been successful, I could live in peace now”, when most of her thoughts are concerned with Tyrion’s escape.

  6. juan manuel says:

    Regarding food for the armies, I wonder how much food is stored in the castle granaries (or if GRRM thought as much). Winter is upon the land, so it should be safe to assume the Lords have been preparing and saving food during summer. So Tywin might have captured a lot of food for his army in Harrenhall’s likely oversized granaries.

    But a lot of this depends on how exactly (and realistically) GRRM plans to make the seasons and agriculture behave. We know from the world book that 5 years long winters are uncommon, but not unheard of, and if agriculture becomes impossible during them, either they can save a lot of food during summer, or the North would have turned into an uninhabited wasteland – and there is also the problem of wildlife, which doesn’t have granaries to store food.

    I think we just won’t know until TWOW is released and we have more details on how the Westerosi survive years long winters.

    • Carolyn says:

      I do not think, that the granaries are that full on the outset of the Wotfk. The Northerners only seem to start storing grain after the harvest feast in ACOK, and since the weather is a lot milder in the Riverlands, I do not see, how the Riverlanders should begin earlier.
      Since even grain spoils after a few years, it really only makes sense to start storing it, when you know, that there will be few harvests left, which is in late-summer or even fall.

      • DownInDemerara says:

        Grain spoils after a few years, yes. So what you do is this: in year 1, you store 20% of your harvest. In year 2, you store 40% of that year’s harvest and eat what you’d stored in year 1. In year 3, you store 60% of that year’s harvest, and eat what you’d stored in year 2, and so on. After five years, you’d have one entire harvest in reserve, and each year you’d only be giving up the equivalent of 20% of your harvest.

        • Grain spoilage is a big problem. Bigger problem: how do you keep the animals alive for multiple years? How are there any pigs, sheep, cattle, chickens, etc. alive?

          • WPA says:

            Though isn’t it possible that thousands of years of required grain hording for winter and presumably planting for those type of characteristics has resulted in the development of longer lasting or more durable grain?

          • Agreed. You kind of have to assume adaptation both artificial and natural, but I was more thinking wild flora and fauna – without extremely high levels of adaptation, you’d get a total die-off, and that has huge implications for pollination for your crops, biodiversity, forage for your livestock, etc.

      • juan manuel says:

        I was thinking the same, but how are they supposed to eat through a, say, four year winter with only the food stored from 1/4 or 1/3 of a single year’s harvests?

        And Jaime does think the Riverlands won’t be able to pull a proper harvest in winter.

        • Yeah, that’s a problem with the worldbuilding.

          • Sean C. says:

            Honestly, the irregular seasons are one of those world details that sticks out to me as really unnecessary. It creates all kinds of structural problems, and see as the coming winter that everybody is worried about is the supernatural Second Long Night winter, the specter of a years-long apocalyptic winter could easily have been incorporated into the narrative without it being a regular reoccurence. If Westeros’ seasons were regular, what in the story woud meaningfully change?

          • Jim B says:

            I agree with Sean C. I’m only about 2/3 of the way through the Worldbook, but with the exception of the occasional reference to the Year of the False Spring or other climate-related events, it seems that the odd seasons haven’t really shaped Westerosi history much.

            It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was a brainchild of GRRM’s that seemed like a cool hook when he launched the series but has been more or less abandoned (except in the sense of the Long Night/Return of the Dragons stuff, which as was pointed out doesn’t really require the variable seasons).

          • Amestria says:

            Maybe the idea “Winter” brings to mind the wrong notions and its more like entering and leaving a little ice age every half decade? Like, in the space of one year long Autumn we see the Riverlands have three destroyed harvests and try for a fourth. That’s a lot of food! What if instead of three big harvests a year they suddenly have to one moderate one?

          • That’s kind of my thinking, because the evidence seems to suggest you still get significant variations in temperature within a given season – summer snows and spirit winters.

            So it could well be that the winter brings with it only small or irregular harvest-times, so that you need a surplus to fill the difference.

          • Amestria says:

            And there would only be a modest reduction, as opposed to a total crash, for the rest of the biosphere.

            As opposed to the Long Night, which was undoubtedly a biosphere leveling event. Seeing as the White Walkers are on the move again we’re not going to see a normal winter but an apocalyptic or near apocalyptic one. We should probably keep that in mind when drawing conclusions about it and the larger world…

          • That would be more logical.

    • It’s possible that Harrenhal was well-supplied when it was seized – but I don’t know whether it was supplied to supply an army of that size.

  7. Abbey Battle says:

    Another excellent analysis Maester Steven!

  8. Amestria says:

    About the mystical spirit of Alchemy, have you read John Crowley’s ‘AEgypt’ series?

    • No, I haven’t. I did like the Age of Unreason series, tho.

      • Amestria says:

        What’s that about?

        • Age of Unreason is an Alternate History series in which Newton discovers the basic laws of alchemy rather than physics. It’s pretty crazy.

          • Amestria says:

            AEgypt is a sort of thought experiment where every age has its own sort of animating principles, past, and future. So, the reason you have alchemy taken so seriously in certain historical records is because at one point it actually worked. However when one age becomes another the rules not only cease working but could *never* have worked, so suddenly all the alchemy of the past becomes nonsense in its own time as well as ours. Human actions align with fundamental changes in the cosmos and even help bring them about through nudges and decisions. Another example, perhaps the sun really did go around the Earth before Copernicus and his discovery coincided or fated the rearranging of the entire cosmos by angels (there are lots of angels and they’re very busy and not very nice). Now, each age will leave certain fragments of what it really was for succeeding ages, junk that no longer works and gems that just might..things like the philosophers stone. And when one age transitions to another there is a sort of indeterminate period where the rules and governing powers of past and possible future ages all can manifest as a collective decision is made where things will go. So suddenly you’ll have people capable of sorcery, demons that can be summoned, ghosts, witches and werewolves, heavenly powers coming down to Earth, strange artifacts popping up, and an almost crazy open mindedness among even sane people. Then a new age happens and all that stuff could never have happened and did not happen, it was just lunacy, though it too leave some traces here and there and with some people.

          • That’s trippy. Reminds me a lot of Mage: the Awakening.

          • Amestria says:

            It’s sort of going with how every period has its own view of the past and the universe – the Renaissance notion of this magical hermetic Egypt is one of the main subjects of the story and the inspiration for the title – and creating a story where those transitory beliefs were not just the product of myth and poorly dated historical documents but were actually real…at the time, and then stopped being real.

          • Amestria says:

            “That’s trippy.”

            Yeah, and I’m leaving a lot out.

            “Reminds me a lot of Mage: the Awakening.”

            What’s that?

          • Sorry, I meant the original Mage: the Ascension. It was a pen and paper RPG from the 90s. Basic idea: the laws of physics are brought into being by the Consensus of sentient beings, but Awakened mages can temporarily impose their will on reality and create magic, based on their understanding of what the secret laws of the world actually are. Mages are divided between the Traditions, who believe that magic is the birthright of humanity, and the Technocracy, who believe that science will liberate humanity from a dangerous world of magical things that want to kill them.

          • Mr Fixit says:

            Ooo, that sounds kinda cool. Still playing RPGs by any chance?

          • I had a regular AD&D 1e game before I moved. Occasionally Skype back in.

            Hard to find the time these days.

  9. axrendale says:

    There’s an interesting what-if in this string of Tyrion chapters, that I don’t think has been really addressed: What if he had used Myrcella to make a *different* alliance instead of the Dornish connection?

    Generally speaking, it’s hard to fault Tyrion’s logic when he explains to his sister the imperative for House Lannister to find some political allies, but at the same time, it has to be admitted that Cersei has a good point when she complains that he gave away too much for too little. Because no Dornish soldiers are ever going to actually fight for the Lannisters, all that Tyrion has really bought with this deal is a guarentee that they won’t fight for anyone else either, and in the meantime the Martells have gained a valuable hostage (as Tywin will observe when he chews his son out at the start of ASOS).

    Tyrion’s implict argument in response to this would be that the Lannisters don’t have much of a choice about getting into bed with the Martells, since there aren’t many other options (that will only change once Renly dies, after which a greater range of strategic combinations start opening up). Except that there *is* one other option at this point that is interesting to consider: the Arryns.

    Specifically, what if the false offer that Tyrion used to trick Littlefinger in an earlier chapter was the real offer? Send Myrcella to wed little Robert Arryn, strike up an alliance with the Vale, and profit immensely from it. It’s true that the Vale lords will never agree to fight the Starks-Tullys under Robb, but they don’t have to – a large army sent to help fight against the Baratheon brothers would be just as valuable. And food ships start sailing from Gulltown to King’s Landing.

    So given that Tyrion described a scenario just like this in his earlier talks with Littlefinger, why doesn’t he choose this route? I think the answer is telling: because it would interfere with his ultimate plans for revenge.

    On the long list of reasons why Tryrion – regardless of his biological paternity – is Tywin Lannister’s true son, one of the most striking is their particular brand of vengefulness. In AGOT, Tyrion made a chilling promise that he would transform the Vale of Arryn into a ruined wasteland. Events since then have forced him to defer those plans, but they clearly aren’t forgotten – and one day, he’s going to try to make good on them.

    There has been a lot of speculation about the circumstances under which, post-ADWD, Tyrion and Sansa are going to meet again. Personally I suspect that one of Sansa’s main roles in the coming books, aside from being involved in toppling Littlefinger, might very well be to help save the Vale from destruction at the hands of her long-lost husband.

    • scurley2014 says:

      I think people make too much of the Tyrion/Vale thing. Tyrion’s main beef was Lysa, who is now dead. And Tyrion, whenever he gets back, will have much bigger problems then that.

      I don’t think not trying to ally with the Vale says much more than that Tyrion has good reason to believe it would never work, given Lysa’s very recent attitude toward them.

    • Carolyn says:

      I see the chance of TYRION getting the Vale as allies to be very slim for a number of reasons:

      -IIRC Lysa publically accused the Lannisters of murdering her husband, when Tyrion was in the Eyrie. When she now fights on the side of the Lannisters, it will look bad for her especially since she is not the ruler of the Vale in her own right, but the regent for her son, whose father the Lannisters supposedly married.

      -Tyrion publically humiliated Lysa, when Bronn killed Ser Varis Edgen.

      -Tyrion armed the mountain clansmen, who use their weapons to make life hard for the smallfolk and the nobles of the Vale. IIRC, it is common knowledge, that he did so, so this is another reason, that he won’t be welcomed there.

      -I do not know, what the nobles of the Vale think about the twincest-rumors, but if a majority of them thinks they are true, then Lysa would be fighting against the true heir of the Seven Kingdoms (Stannis) whose brother was a ward and close confidante of her husband.

      -Even if Lysa only fought Renly and Stannis, then this would free up troops to fight her sister, her nephew and her brother. If one of them is killed in battle, this might even get her a kinslayer-reputation.

      • axrendale says:

        All of those are problems, but they can be worked around.

        – To take care of Lysa, all that’s needed is to buy off Littlefinger so that he will act as the envoy. That was the entire point of Tyrion’s fake offer to make him Lord of Harrenhal, remember. If Littlefinger is the one who asks Lysa to ally with the Lannisters, then she’ll do it, no question.

        – Breaking ties with the mountain clansmen could be one of the conditions of the hypothetical alliance.

        – If Myrcella was betrothed to Robert Arryen, then the nobles of the Vale probably would be willing to fight for the family of their beloved liege lord’s future bride.

        – I don’t think that Lysa really cares if her family live or die, so the last one probably wouldn’t bother her.

        • Carolyn says:

          -Tyrion cannot trust Littlefinger, since Littlefinger tried to kill him by telling Catelyn that the dagger was his. Littlefinger’s loyalty also cannot be bought, as was shown in ASOS, when he was part in the plot to murder Joffrey after he had gotten Harrenhall from the Lannisters and was even made LP of the Riverlands at that time.

          -Even if Tyrion broke ties with the Mountain Clansmen, the damage would be hard to undo, since he already gave weapons to them in AGOT. I do not see the Vale-lords forgiving Tyrion for arming the mountain clansmen as long as they still have these weapons and use them to terrorize the smallfolks and the nobles of the Vale.The only way Tyrion could remedy that was to somehow get the clansmen to surrender their weapons to him and frankly, I do not see that happening.

          -Myrcella’s value as a bride depends on her being a trueborn daughter of Robert Baratheon and not a bastard sired by the kingslayer on his sister in an act of high treason. Ned Stark even thinks, that if the truth were known then the children would be in danger of being killed as abominations to both old and new gods. An interesting question in this is whether the majority of the Vale lords believes these rumors are true. Having known Robert as a ward to Jon Arryn and seeing Mya Stone every time they go the Eyrie, I see it quite likely that they believe these rumors after seeing blonde and green-eyed Myrcella.

          -Lysa may not care for her family’s life, but she might care for her public image. Supporting the people who are raiding her father’s lands and who have executed her good-brother is a PR-desaster which might even lead to people likening her to a kinslayer. The most influential house after hers (House Royce) are big Stark-supporters and Ned was well-liked during the time he spent in the Vale. We hear in AFFC that Yohn Royce BEGGED Lysa to make the Vale the war on the side of the North/Riverlands. If Lysa really wanted to support the Lannister, a lot of houses would probably just stay at home.

        • Sean C. says:

          Tyrion has no idea that Littlefinger has as much influence with Lysa as he actually does.

        • Except that LF barely had legitimacy to begin with, and he wasn’t asking the Valesmen to fight for the Lannisters.

          If the object is to get the Vale onto the field, that’s a problem.

          • WPA says:

            Considering the degree to which the Vale Lords are discontented over neutrality, actually entering as a belligerent AGAINST their clearly favored side might be enough to cause them to actually declare Lysa incompetent, seize her son as an heir to be raised by Regents, and entering on the other side.

          • Winnief says:

            Yeah. Remember the Vale lords always saw Lysa as being something of an outsider to begin with and her troubled mental status was common knowledge. Without support from the Vale’s lords, the small folk, and no Arryn blood of her own, I just don’t see Lysa being able to carry off a pro-Lannister campaign without facing outright mutiny.

            ESPECIALLY given that the rumor’s about the Twincest are already circulating throughout the Vale.

    • I discussed the alternatives in the previous Tyrion chapter.

    • Amestria says:

      While I continue to assert that the Dornish alliance is the biggest political mirage of the story, a Vale alliance is a close second.

      You know, with all Tyrion’s gone through I think the Vale and Littlefinger have fallen rather dramatically on his revenge list and its his sweet sister who has the top spot all to herself.

  10. axrendale says:

    Other points to make:

    1) Really great post for this chapter, Steven.

    2) The moment when Cersei starts crying is one of the very few moments from the books that I have a distinct recollection of feeling sympathetic towards her. Didn’t last long, but worth noting.

    3) Not that we didn’t know this already, but Tyrion is a really slick operator. Do you notice how every time that he’s clashed with Cersei up to this point in the book, he’s managed to bend her to his will without breaking into outright conflict with her? First she didn’t want to let him be Hand, but he dangled to prospect of rescuing Jaime in front of her, and she let him take the office. Then she wanted to supress Stannis’s letter, but he managed to talk her out of it. Then she criticized most of his policies, but he showed off a superior grasp of the strategic situation, until she went off in a huff rather than keep arguing with him. Now she doesn’t want to let him send her daughter away to be married, but he handles her perfectly: first he lets her vent, then he paints a rosy picture for her, and then he springs the news that the Starks have sent peace terms, so that by the end of the conversation she’s practically acceded to him on the Myrcella issue. Very nicely done.

    4) “The [people] who have changed the world never succeeded by winning over the powerful, but always by stirring the masses. The first method is a resort to intrigue, and only brings limited results. The latter… changes the face of the world.” Might be a suitable epigraph for the series in the end.

  11. Grant says:

    For the maesters it’s really hard to say on the dragons at least because we don’t really know what impact their deaths had. It certainly seems to be implied that at least some forms of magic were weakened when they died, though clearly not all. Also the fire and magical strength of the dragons might mean that without them the maesters were unknowingly risking the destruction of all life*.

    And there’s another possible major shift if Myrcella doesn’t go to Dorne and the riot isn’t sparked by the royal presence in the city. Tyrek Lannister doesn’t go missing. We still really have no idea whether he was killed by rioting commoners or if he was abducted by Varys as Jaime suspects, but if his disappearance really was a trick by Varys to get his hands on one of the last Lannister heirs and one of the squires to King Robert, then without this opportunity it could be very hard for Varys to find another opportunity that won’t raise too many questions and start a very dangerous investigation.

    *That always brings me to one of my questions about Maester Luwin. He’s always quick to discourage Bran from thinking about wargs and green dreams, but is it out of fear for what might happen or just the rationalism encouraged by the maesters? He is in the north where many seem to hold to the old traditions, but we never seem to get any hints that his dismissal of magic is anything other than a man who’s certain that he’s right and doesn’t have evidence to the contrary.

    • Carolyn says:

      After reading the World of Ice and Fire, I am not really sure, that ALL dragons (even in Westeros) were dead at the beginning of the first book.
      The reasons for this theory are that

      -the Targaryens lost control of some of their dragons during the Dance of Dragons (Cannibal, Sheepstealer) who flew away never to be seen again.

      -Skaagos actually has the same origin as Dragonstone, they are both volcanic islands, so a dragons could live and probably breed there and at the same time, it probably is remote enough, that the existence of a dragon does not have to be common knowledge for mainland-Westerosi (the unicorn Shaggydog eats during the time he is connected with Ghost (or Nymeria?) is seen as the stuff of legends to mainland-Westerosi, so there
      are legendary animals on Skaagos the mainlanders know nothing about)

      -GRRM is pretty evasive when asked about whether Dany’s dragons are the only ones. When asked at a convention he said that there are no more dragons KNOWN TO EXIST which for me leaves the possibility of some dragon living in a remote region (like Skaagos)

      -in the World Book, there are some rumors mentioned regarding a dragons hibernating somewhere in the crypts:
      -the king’s fool Mushroom said that Vermax laid a clutch of eggs in the crypts (near the hot pools) when his master visited Cregan to talk about a Targaryen-Stark marriage (this was called THE PACT OF ICE AND FIRE which for me is another hint that Jon is a Targaryen)
      -the smallfolk around Winterfell say, that there is a dragon sleeping in the crypts, whose breath heats the water pumped through the castle
      -the Starks are said to only have employed warm water to heat the castle for a few centuries, which would coincide with Cregan Stark and Vermax’s supposed eggs

      -Summer sees a big winged snake, that spits fire, ascending into the sky, when he is outside Winterfell after the Bolton attack

    • That’s true, but from their perspective it’s a Robert Frost thing. Luwin is a confirmed rationalist who tried and failed to make magic work.

      Tyrek might not – there’s going to be a riot, and if Varys is helping to organize it, he’ll find another opportunity when the royal family is out in public.

      • Grant says:

        There’s the wrinkle of Maester Marwyn. He’s very clear to Sam that if he warned the other maesters about anything magical they’d have Sam killed. Luwin doesn’t seem any less aware of the world than Marwyn does, so is he worried about the implications of magic or is he just certain it’s all gone?

        As for Tyrek, if Varys was after him then he’d certainly keep trying but one twist can change the entire outcome. On the next opportunity Tyrek might be out sick and stuck at the castle or the riot might happen before a formal royal departure happens which would mean that no Lannister would leave without heavy guard.

  12. Jim B says:

    As to what Robb would do with the Iron Throne, isn’t it pretty clear that, as long as it’s a viable option, he would present the throne to Stannis on the condition that he be recognized as King in the North?

    Obviously there’s some devils to be worked out in the details there, but we know from the Davos chapters that Stannis expresses a willingness to let Robb keep the title of King (just as the Martells have remained Princes). It’s not really clear what the North’s “independence” means beyond that (and their other war aims of avenging Ned): the North didn’t go to war over issues of taxation or federalism or other specific policies beyond “hey, it would be nice if your kings would stop executing Starks,” and that could be accomplished simply by the Starks staying in Winterfell in the first place.

    I doubt the North truly wants to be 100% independent. As a resource-based economy that bears the brunt of the long winters, they probably want to trade freely with the rest of Westeros. They would like the South to continue to contribute men and resources to the Wall, and to be willing/obligated to assist in any wildling invasion or ironborn attack on the North.

    And for all the talk of his stubborness, Stannis has shown some willingness to negotiate.

    So it seems pretty clear to me that some kind of deal would get worked out: Robb knees to Stannis and recognizes him as overking, gets to retain the title of King in the North, gets his father’s name cleared and his sword and remains back, possible some other independence-light political terms that Stannis can live with, and maybe an exchange of hostages and/or marriage bargains to seal it.

    The real wrinkle, of course, is what happens if Robb Stark is occupying King’s Landing with Renly’s massive army bearing down on him and Stannis still lingering on Dragonstone. Does he defend the city in order to preserve it for the rightful king, strike a deal with Renly to give him the Iron Throne (unlikely), or simply declare his war aims accomplished, declare KL an open city and withdraw to the North (possibly under a limited deal with Renly for safe passage home)?

    • Jaime'slefthand says:

      On that last point, I reckon it largely depends on if Renly’s assassination still happens. If it takes a month for Cleos Frey to travel back, then the news would reach Robb about 2 weeks before Renly dies. There’s no way the city falls before then, leaving Robb and Stannis as the sole surviving participants. Where the Tyrells fall in this situation is also huge. Robb could break his betrothal and marry Margaery, I suppose.

      • Winnief says:

        That actually would have been a very, VERY good match for Robb AND Margery.

        But yeah, I agree that if Robb took KL he’d *eventually* end up making peace with Stannis or Renly. It’s a great what it.

        Oh if only, Robb had *known* how things were going in KL.

        • Jaime'slefthand says:

          Maybe this is me kind of wanting everyone to live in a land full of rainbows and sunshine, but I suppose Robb could marry Margaery, with Stannis being king but betrothing Shireen to Rickon.

          This means Stannis’ navy can ship Robb back up north with some extra troops to help boot out the Ironborn, Moat Cailin is opened up with massive losses to Victarion’s men and ships, the Redwyne fleet can hurry around Dorne and invade the Iron Islands while they are trying to invade the north. The North decides to be smart and build a port on that lake near Torrhen’s Square, the new close ties with the Reach means food is brought into the North more easily in the horrific winter to come. Stannis aids the NW, Jon and Robb get to see each other again, Ramsay is made to answer for his crimes and so is Theon, while Tywin is exiled/executed and House Lannister is disinherited. The debts owed to them are written off, Stannis pays back the Iron Bank using the wealth of the Westerlands and gives Casterly Rock to Garlan Tyrell or something. Robb & Stannis use the peace time to build bridges across the Blue Fork either side of The Twins. The Freys become much less influential, but are still given Edmure because Robb did break his betrothal. The new bridges are given to loyal northmen. The Golden Tooth is given to the Riverlands.


          • Grant says:

            We should remember that this is just the open forces at work in Westeros. Considering that it was Robb who was really what was holding the North/Riverland forces together*, it’s possible that Varys or even Baelish could find a way to strike at Robb in Kingslanding before anything could be done.

            So Robb might still fall even if he has Kingslanding and the fan-preferred Robb/Margaery pairing.

            *Yes they have Bran or Rickon for the inheritance to the resurrected northern throne, but at this time they need a strong, mature leader to keep the factions from splintering the movement and ultimately dooming any hopes of northern autonomy.

          • Yeah, that would be nice.

        • WPA says:

          The problem with that what-if, is that even if Robb and Roose and for God’s sake Edmure coordinate to destroy Tywin, steal a march on the Brothers Baratheon, and take the capital- you’d have a completely upended political situation.

          1. First order of business- say Robb does what he says and avenges himself on Joeffery personally? What of the rest of the royal family? Also, did Sansa survive the fall of the city? You’d have the unpleasant surprise of finding Arya missing- they’ll believe she’s dead. He’ll also have a large contingent of vassals- including undoubtedly Roose Bolton- who will have played an instrumental part in their victory- advocating to simply wax them all. Roose will be supported in this by numerous Northmen like Karstark and many Riverlords. Does Robb do this? What is to be done with Jamie?

          2. All of this takes place around the time Stannis has eliminated Renly (or the Brothers, both with a better claim than Robb engage in uneasy maneuvering). Both have a better claim to the throne than Robb. Just so- does Robb simply declare the North independent using the leverage of the enormous bargaining chip of the Iron Throne? Or will he have key supporters (Roose? Edmure? Varys?) pushing him to take the throne himself, arguing that it was a mistake by his father to not seize it? Many of them would stand to gain in lands and titles- House Manderly anyone? particularly if a marriage pact can be made with the Tyrells or other houses? Many would argue none of them would be safe if either Renly with his army or Stannis with his unrelenting sense of justice (who would probably not suffer the North/Riverlords to go independent under any circumstance) took the throne. There may even be the possibility of a Bolton-Frey-Other Parties plot against Robb in King’s Landing, particularly if Robb didn’t eliminate the Lannister line and can’t decide on this.

          3. If he refuses the throne, what peace can produce an acceptable end to Stannis if he maintains Renly’s Army, or any of the other kingdom-wide institutions. After all, unlike Robert- Robb has no claim. Alternatively, what does the Faith say when their choice is between a bunch of Old Gods worshippers (other than the non-Blackwood Riverlords) or a claim by a Red-God worshipper? Who do they back? After a year or two of turmoil, would a Martell-backed Targaryen Restoration look like an attractive option?

          4. Or say, to add another layer- what happens if during the couple weeks this victory takes place, a Raven arrives with word that the Ironborn (having not yet heard of Tywin’s defeat) have launched an invasion of the North, and Theon has taken Winterfell? Does Robb cut bait and march North? Leaving utter chaos in his wake?

          • WPA says:

            And let’s be honest, with the Ironborn’s impeccable sense of timing- of COURSE they’d invade the party that just decisively won the emerging civil war. Hell, Balon would probably still think it would be a good idea even if he DID know Robb had already won.

          • Jim B says:

            1. Re Lannister prisoners: Robb executes Joffrey personally. Tommen and Myrcella (if she hasn’t gone to Dorne yet) are Stannis’s problem: he’s made the allegation, let him try them. Ditto for Cersei, and probably any other prominent Lannisters in KL. Jaime is a little trickier. Stannis might WANT Robb to hang on to him, to prevent him from being Cersei’s champion in a trial by combat.

            And presumably Robb will want to be able to conduct some prisoner exchanges with the Lannisters, so Jaime remains an important hostage even if the Lannisters don’t have Sansa or Anya.

            I think you’re wrong about Roose Bolton being a “kill ’em all” advocate. Roose is a cold-blooded schemer, not a hothead like Karstark. Roose needs a king to legitimize Ramsay, and can be bought off with that and possibly some other goodies (a marriage for Ramsay, the Hornwood lands….)

            2. Well, the only way I can see Robb having the strength to keep the Iron Throne is through the oft-discussion marriage with Margaery. And even then it’s doubtful; they’d have enemies on practically every side, and no real claim to legitimacy other than raw right of conquest. Certainly a King Robb is in big trouble when one or two Targaryen claimants show up — if he even lasts that long. But mostly, I just can’t see Robb attempting this. It’s too big a bite to chew, and he doesn’t have that kind of overweening ambition.

            3. I’m confused — did you mean to say if he (Robb) KEEPS the throne? Because if so, then I agree with the rest of it.

            4. I think once Joffrey is dead and Ned’s remains and sword are collected, and it’s established that Sansa is safe and Arya is long missing, Robb does exactly as you suggest and leaves the South to its own devices. I think Robb has only slightly more interest in playing kingmaker than he does in being king (of the 7K, that is) himself. If he has to choose between recapturing Winterfell or hanging out in KL playing the “game of thrones,” I think he’s long gone. Unless it’s numerically possible for him to take enough forces North with him and still leave a credible occupying force in KL — which I doubt, especially since the Riverlanders will be anxious to get home and defend their lands against possible Lannister retaliation.

            Though that last scenario could lead to some fun: Robb heads north, leaving an occupying force in KL under the military command of his trusted bannerman Roose Bolton, with Catelyn in charge of diplomatic negotiations. Varys, of course, offers his services to the new regime, while Littlefinger tries to manipulate events from afar.

          • WPA says:

            Jim- Sorry, type-o- on three if “he doesn’t refuse”. Overall, he’d basically be the dog that caught the car he was chasing. On Bolton, I mean he’d quite calmly suggest that the entire royal family be eliminated to remove the threat. If Robb refuses or balks, that’s going to cause a lot of dissention within his ranks/bannermen. Robb would have supporters suggesting he take the throne himself to dispense patronage, as the chance of that level of power is going to make people take dumb risks. Also, the likely argument that should Stannis take the throne, he would not look kindly on the secession of the North/Riverlands. Would Renly (if he is not dead by that point) go back on his word and try at least retake the Riverlands? The Tyrells certainly wouldn’t have a moral qualm. They could even argue to Robb, that as the Targs usurped the crown of the Starks that they’d held for thousands of years with no claim, that he’d be within his rights as a conqueror to take the IT.

            Arguably, Robb’s best bet, in my mind, would be to simply declare the Iron Throne to be finished. Have the damn thing thrown in the sea- and declare the reversion of all realms to their pre-conquest state except for his unified Kingdom of the Riverlands and the North. And hand King’s Landing over to the Faith as a sort of Papal-State-like entity.

          • It’ll create some dissent, but if he’s just taken King’s Landing and the Lannisters are wiped out, Robb’s covered himself in enough glory that most won’t balk. And as people have pointed out, once word reaches of the IB attack, there’s going to be a strong desire to get home asap.

            Throwing it in the sea would be a pretty crazy outcome.

          • 1. Certainly Joffrey dies – a life for a life. Tommen and Myrcella probably kept as prisoners.

            2. Definitely there’s going to be a lot of calls from his bannermen to claim the Iron Throne by right of conquest. On the other hand, given how much leverage he has, he might well be able to do a deal, with Independence quite likely and Dornish status at the minimum. A Frey plot is unlikely – Walder doesn’t leave a winning team.

            3. Stannis would demand a bended knee at the very least, I’m not sure he’d be willing to offer a Dornish solution. The Faith – I think they might pick the Old Gods first. After all, there’s been some level of religious toleration for a couple thousand years, and Robb’s not going to burn any statues of the gods.

            4. I think Robb declares victory and goes home, leaving utter chaos in his wake.

          • Jamie'slefthand says:

            With the Lannisters defeated does Karstark get to off Jaime?

  13. Winnief says:

    BTW, great chapter summary as always Steve, and I especially like your observations on the growing unrest among the small folk.

    As you note while Varys may have helped push things along for the riot to happen when it was especially advantageous to him SOME sort of incident of this nature was pretty much inevitable and the rumbles from the streets really do foreshadow what happens in AFFC. Good luck getting Cersei or Joffrey to realize the fire they were playing with there-and I’m betting it might not be over.

    If/when Ser Robert Strong is unmasked and word gets out to the small folk about it…well what happens next could make the riot where Tyrek disappears and the Walk of Shame look like freaking public picnics by comparison.

    Also like your points about while Cersei’s reluctance to send Myrcella away is understandable it’s yet another indication of her complete misunderstanding of politics. Her children are (In name at least,) a King, a prince, and a princess. They are going to have to make *some* kind of dynastic match as a matter of course. It would be one thing if she had other possibilities in mind but she doesn’t seem to want her kids to ever marry *anybody*. Cersei wants the trappings of royal power but she never gets that there are duties attached to it either.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it.

      Yeah, Robert Strong seems like bad news all over.

      I’ve often wondered whether Tywin’s marriage to Joanna gave Cersei the wrong idea. Maybe her idea was that, now that they’re on the top, they should only marry controllable Lannister bannermen?

      • Jim B. says:

        I doubt if Cersei has thought things through that clearly. Maybe she has romantic notions of Myrcella getting to marry someone she actually likes (though obviously nobility — I don’t imagine Cersei would condone her running off with, say, Hot Pie).*

        I suspect that nobody would ever be good enough to marry any of her children, and that at least as to Myrcella, Cersei has just been putting off the day she’d have to deal with the issue.

        *If there’s Myrcella/Hot Pie fan fiction out there, I don’t want to know about it.

  14. Roger says:

    Good analysis.
    Trying to pass through Tywin’s lines and race for Kings’Landing is pretty suicide, I think. Not only for the Lannisters but for lack of supply lines, strong defenses in the capital, lack of a fleet. And Renly is near with a way bigger army. Only joining forces with Stannis could it work.

    I’m surprised Tyrion doesn’t think about the danger of giving Myrcella to the Martells. Especialy with the Dornish customs of heritage.

    About the hunger problem, it could have been solved if Tyrion had done something about Dragonstone bloking the bay. Perhaps convincing Braavos about Stannis strangling commerce. In the Dance of Dragons the Free Cities sent a War Fleet to help. Buying grain in Essos would had made a lot to Joffrey’s popularity.

    People who says Tyrion is so nice should remember he burned his own fleet in Blackwater. Of course it was a smart tactic, but he killed men fighting to defend him. And he doesn’t regret it.
    The reason wildfire isn’t used it’s simple: it’s too dangerous. The Targaryens already have dragons, most of the time, so they didn’t need wildfire. And after the last dragons, King’s Landing wasn’t in danger for many years.
    Despite Robert personal flaws, I think he was popular among the smallfolk. War hero, lavished them with tourneys and feasts, shared their vices. Not so popular among the clergy.

    • Thanks!

      Supply lines are a solvable problem – for one thing, you can sack Duskendale, Rosby, and Stokeworth on the way, and they’ve clearly got lots of food.

      Fleet – not an issue if you’re attacking the city from the north as opposed to the south.

      Renly’s army can also potentially be joined with.

      The Free Cities sent a warfleet because Daemon Targaryen had waged war against them first. That’s not going to happen this time.

      • Roger says:

        That’s supposing these cities would fall in short time.

        I think a land-only attack has fewer posibilities. Also lacking a fleet means a long siege will not starve the city.

        The Free Cities can be convinced. Perhaps Tyrion could remember that the debt would only be payed if Joffrey remains in the Iron Throne.

        • Jaime'slefthand says:

          Surely a land-based assault would be easier than an amphibious one? The troops would be able to array themselves much more easily to launch sustained attacks on multiple gates. Furthermore, the only food coming into KL was from the north. Renly is dead at this point and the Tyrells shut the Rose Road in any case. KL would begin to starve as soon as Robb moved past those places.

          On top of this, if Tywin had come forward to attack Robb and been trapped between the two armies, I imagine those cities might just open their gates to him. Heck, they might just do it anyway if a dirty great army of wild northmen showed up on their doorsteps.

          • Roger says:

            If Robb loses time besieging Rosby or Darkendale, he risks being trapped between Tywin and the sea. Also he wouldn’t have enough supply to lay siege. Stannis had time to build racks and rams, but Robb, coming after a forced march, wouldn’t have that chance. Also in case of defeat, Stannis could relly in the fleet to retreat. Robb wouldn’t have that way.
            Renly is coming, yeah. But is coming real slow. Deliberately slow. Perhaps he prefear to see lyons and direwolfs mutually destroy. Then pick the rests.
            If a dirty great army of wild northmen come to rape your city, burn your house and destroy your gods, you don’t open the doors. You prepear to fight to death.
            Winning King’s Landing doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t retain it. Even if Robb could take it, he won’t be able to feed its 500.000 mouths, only to be besieged there (by Renly or Tywin). Roose Bolton won’t be anxious to help him.

          • Rosby and Duskendale aren’t going to require time to be besieged, you just go in there and wreck the place. They don’t have any army of size. And thus you acquire supply.

            Robb would absolutely have a chance to build rams, siege towers, etc. There’s plenty of wood in the area around King’s Landing, and until Tywin marches, Robb has nothing better to do.

            Renly’s coming slowly, but it’s shown that he will move fast in response to threats. If Robb’s marching on KL, he’ll have to respond in the same way he did when Stannis moved against Storm’s End.

            And since when do the Northmen destroy septs?

          • Jaime'slefthand says:

            Roger – my point was rather that they might just think that as a town that resists gets no mercy, they might supply Robb’s army with food so long as they would trot by without devastating everything. Due to timelines and how long it takes news to travel, in this alternate situation Renly would be dead before he could do anything, so it would be Stannis coming up the Kingsroad with the Tyrells now being a complete wildcard.

        • They’re not cities, they’re holdfasts, and you don’t need to take them to supply yourself, you just need to raid their fields and herds.

          That’s if your intent is to starve the city. If instead you go for the walls, you’ve got a better shot.

          You can maybe buy sell-sails, but you’re extremely unlikely to get a naval intervention, especially against a navy the size of Stannis’. It’s not their fight. The Iron Bank doesn’t care if Joffrey or Stannis pays them back as long as they get paid.

          • Roger says:

            At least once in the Riverlands the Northmen destroyed a sept.
            There is no proof that Darkendale or Rosby would fall in a day. Also if the citadels resists, they can hold the supplies inside. Or burn them.
            Storming the walls was a nearly suicide thing in middle ages. Not so in Westeros. But only if you have an overwhelming force (never Robb’s case). Or a fleet to keep half the artillery and the wildfire occupied.
            The Iron Bank would care if they think the money is going to stop coming. That’s Littlefinger task, to convince moneylenders.
            Renly would move fast, yeah. But to destroy Robb, not to help him. Robb won’t renounce to his independence, and Renly won’t renounce to the North.,

          • There’s a difference between that and Stannis’ campaign of burning godswoods and septs.

            This is Rosby and Duskendale we’re talking about; they’re not huge imposing castles, Duskendale is a town and Rosby is a tiny castle with few defenders. Robb has overwhelming force against them. Hell 3,000 of Robb’s men were enough to sack Duskendale, let alone 17,000-27,000 of them.

            The Iron Bank has no reason to believe the money’s going to stop coming – and LF’s going to find it difficult to convince them with Stannis’ fleet bottling up the bay.

            Why would Renly move to destroy Robb if Robb indicates willingness to bargain with the Iron Throne?

          • Amestria says:

            Stannis hardly seems to have a “campaign” – the Septs and godswoods he destroys are on his land, he doesn’t order his bannermen to destroy theirs or other peoples.

          • He burns the one in Storm’s End, and wants to burn the one at Winterfell.

          • Amestria says:

            Storm End is Stannis’ personal domain, like Dragonstone; he can do what he wants with his trees. And Stannis doesn’t order Jon Snow to destroy the Winterfell Godswood. Stannis offers Jon legitimization and freedom from the Watch in exchange for conversion (which invalidates the Watch Oath by asserting that the gods before which Jon made the oath are false). A follower of the Lord of Light must reject all false gods, so if Jon’s conversion is sincere then he has to burn the Godswood (and Stannis has some understandable trust issues when it comes to bastards and Starks at the moment…). It’s hardly a campaign. Stannis doesn’t burn the crofters village Godswood and is presently considering whether to execute Theon in it. Of course half his army are followers of the old gods so burning it would be a very stupid thing to do, but this just gets into how Stannis is not waging a religious war.

          • I think it is a bit more of one – at Dragonstone, Storm’s End, with the Wildlings, and with Winterfell. It’s not a full-on one, but it’s there.

  15. Interesting analysis. Tyrion really did a great job with the wildfire, I remembered thinking that it seemed like a recipe for disaster, no matter the preparations, but it worked. And it’s also a little surprising to me that Davos would know about wildfire enough to recognize it.

    No question or issue really, but as an aside i’m 250 pages into The World of Ice and Fire, and all the info in there is making me want to try another re-read of the series, because it could really give a whole new meaning or understanding to me of so many different events.

  16. I’ve never noticed before that the chapters at Tower of the Hand have ratings. How does one vote? I assume I’d have to register, but I don’t see that option anywhere on the website?

    • I’m not sure how it works. It’s interesting data, tho.

      • It’s interesting, but I’m not sure it always reflects the quality of the chapter as much as other factors. For the first two books, the ratings pretty much seem like the majority of voters went: “I’m giving low scores to all POV chapters of characters I don’t care about”. It gets better with the next three books, but I’m scratching my head over the fact that ADWD epilogue with Varys’ Bond villain speech is the second or third best rated chapter in all published books.

        • I love that epilogue, tho.

        • Grant says:

          Well I will warn about spoilers but it seems to me that if you go to the comments on this site you have to be prepared for spoilers for every book, including chapters for the forthcoming book.

          It might be due to it giving so much information without us having to consider any unreliability beyond Varys’ ego and the question of how much he thinks is true. No insinuations, no odd moments that you have to go through three books and twenty different chapters of eight different characters just to get at, we get told that Varys is murdering Kevan and Pycelle specifically to remove the two best figures in the regime and ruin the Lannister-Tyrell alliance and that he is doing this because he wants to have another Aegon V by having Aegon VI raised the same way.

          Speaking of Aegon VI, I found Tyrion’s reaction to his gambit to be a bit strange. Tyrion suggested it, and the alternative plan isn’t very good. Why would Tyrion call it ‘bait’?

  17. Winnief says:

    One other thing, I forgot to mention before-your comments that the Lannister’s *cannot* be negotiated with. They don’t want peace, they’re not trust worthy, and too many of the clan are also unstable as well. I mean for Seven’s sakes is there ever ANY hope of negotiating with the likes of Joffrey or Cersei?!? (Pity House Tyrell for not knowing those two better before they made their alliance-already they have reason for regret and will soon I’m betting have even MORE reason to rue the day they got into bed with the lions.)

    Cat’s failure to understand just how unreliable the Lannister’s are of course leads to disastrous decision to release Jaime. One thing that always bothered me was even after learning that the Lannister’s made Sansa marry Tyrion and her anger and despair, she never has a mea culpa moment where she realizes that she really did screw things up as badly as Robb and his advisers said by letting Jaime go just on Tyrion’s word with no way to enforce that decision. The saddest thing is that it was completely predictable; given Tywin’s track record there was no way he was letting the key to the North go, and even if Tyrion had been 100% sincere when he gave his word, (which ahem…he wasn’t) Tywin is the one in charge.

    Of course, all this back history does make the Blackfish’s refusal to surrender to Frey’s OR Lannister’s look less like stubborn pride and more like good sense don’t it?!? My opinion of him is going up…

    • Tywin was not in charge when Catelyn released Jaime. He was thousands of miles away fighting the war in Riverlands.

      The main reason why Catelyn does not have a “mea culpa” moment in that chapter is probably because she already had a huge “mea culpa” moment during the previous chapter when Karstark killed the two boys and Robb executed him, when Karstark was blaming her and she felt she had caused all of it. Having Cat beat herself about releasing Jaime in every single chapter could’ve been too much. Instead, she has a moment of shock and anger at the Lannisters and specifically Tyrion (probably overestimating the level of influence he has at that time, but no outsider would be quite aware of what Tywin-Tyrion relations are really like).

    • Jim B says:

      If the Tyrells didn’t know what they were getting into up front — and let’s remember that everyone in the realm knows that Tywin and Jaime betrayed Aerys — I think they figured it out right away. I’m sure they learned quickly how Ned Stark was supposed to take the black but Joffrey screwed it up, and of course the Red Wedding showed the depths of Lannister treachery.

      I think that’s why the Martells showed no compunction about taking out Joffrey. They know full well that they’re in an all-out Cold War with House Lannister. Certainly they’re ready for everything Cersei throws at them. There is, perhaps, a bit of detente during Kevan’s handship, because Kevan’s a guy you can do business with.

      • Grant says:

        Baelish may have had a good deal to do with that simply by having his men around to gossip with the Tyrell’s men, depending on how much of his boasting could be believed. He certainly says he did his best to have Loras put on the Kingsguard just so Olenna would have no choice but to arrange Joffrey’s assassination.

      • Winnie says:

        I think you mean the Tyrell’s in the second paragraph instead of the Martell’s.

        Personally I think it was a matter of Loras (still grieving Renly) and Mace’s greed that dragged the rest of the family into the whole thing. Ol enna was clearly dubious from the start but probably couldn’t talk her son out of it and they’ve been playing damage control since.

        Remember Martin says that the two elder sons are important and I’m betting its because Mace isn’t long for this world and in the aftermath of his death they turn on the Lions altogether.

        • Jim B says:

          Yes, I mean Tyrells. Sorry.

          You say Olenna was dubious “from the start” — do you mean, from the moment Mace decided to back Renly?

          Interesting that Martin says the other sons are important, because he presumably didn’t tell the GoT producers that!

          • Winnie says:

            I think they plan on having Loras fill whatever role his brothers would in the books…assuming the books are ever finished.

            And yeah grandma didn’t want any part of the War of Five Kings and she was especially sceptical about trying to ride a lion. I think Mace was too hyped to have a grandchild on the Iron Throne and too convinced that his army gave him the upper hand to listen to prudence.

            Fact is Renly was no warrior and while one might think simple self interest would make the Lions play nice with their Rose allies you simply can’t count of Joffrey or Cersei to be rational.

          • Sean C. says:

            Regarding Olenna not wanting any part, that’s only if you believe she’s telling the truth to Sansa. Considering the other stuff she’s lying to Sansa about, one can’t assume that. Everything Olenna does in that meeting is geared toward getting specific results from the person she’s talking to.

          • Winnie says:

            True but remember this is the same woman inher youth who turned down a Dragon ffor Highgarden because of her fears of mental illness in their bloodline. So clearly the Iron Throne has never been her chief obsession.

            Plus she did help kill Joffrey.

            Also noteworthy that she herself was the one to mention that other Reach families had Gardener blood too and that the Tyrell’s don’t even have the most claim to Highgarden. Like lately she’s been worried about them keeping what they already have more than gleefully counting the days until they have a heir to the Throne.

            Of course even if I’m wrong and that wasnt the case initially it probably is for Ol enna and her grandsons now what with poor Margarry’s trial and the crisis of the Iron born invasion.

          • That’s if we assume that Olenna was telling the truth about that. And in any case, going by TWOAIF, where we learn who the Targaryen Olenna was supposed to marry was, there was a very big and obvious reason why neither Olenna nor the Targaryen in question would want that marriage to happen, and it’s not about the possible madness genes.

          • Sean C. says:

            That’s assuming, again, that you believe she was the one who ended things with Daeron, which is dubious. It’s not like Olenna was eager to marry for love, given that she ended up with Luthor, who she doesn’t ever have any kind things to say; it’s more probable that Daeron dumped her and she is bitter about it and trying to save face, given that she could otherwise have been a member of the royal family and in position to have her children marry into the royal line, quite possibly.

          • I don’t think it was so much for love as for a more direct control. Daeron wasn’t heir, Luthor was, and she could control Luthor quite easily.

            Also, Olenna seems genuinely skeptical about the royal marriage thing in general – that’s Mace’s obsession, not hers. She wants real power, not the trappings of it.

          • Besides, she would be less likely to have control over a gay husband who has a lover/partner, and she can’t actually compete and try to make him more into her, when he’s not inclined that way.

          • Sean C. says:

            There’s no indication she had anything to do with marrying Luthor, though. She would have been in her early teens. One shouldn’t assume that she was always the political strategist/manipulator she is now.

            Where have we seen her be genuinely skeptical of royal marriages? We only see Olenna when she’s working on Sansa. And a royal marriage is a route to real power; she could have married her children to Jaehaerys’ children, heck, if things that really gone her way Daeron might have been king himself, for all she knew.

          • Winnie says:

            I agree with Steve that Olenna definitely prefers real power to the royal marriage bit-Arianne could stand to learn from her before she ruins herself on fAegon. She is after all already heir to Dorne-why jeopardize that to be Queen Consort?!?

            Having a gay husband could work both ways-on one hand you can’t make him fall in love with you on the other hand a wife willing to look the other way and be the beard might be allowed quite a bit of freedom of her own…I do think though, that Olenna just considered a sure claim to Highgarden a better bet than trying possible routes and schemes in the Red Keep to the Iron Throne and that remains her attitude now.

          • Well, it depends on what the wife wants. If she wants to have a lover of her own, then maybe a gay husband would be more likely to allow that (though that’s not guaranteed). But if her primary goal is power and she wants to influence her husband more, then it’s less likely if he’s not interested in her. After all, it’s not like her looking the other way is something she can use as a bargaining chip. It’s not like she has the power to stop her husband from having lovers, male or female; especially if her husband is a Targaryen prince, which was considerably above the Redwynes in status and power.

          • Andrew says:

            I think now we know where Olenna got her “Queen of Thorns” title. It was a mocking name for her broken betrothal to Prince Daeron, and becoming Lady of Highgarden (the Tyrell sigil has thorns).

    • Carolyn says:

      What surprises me about Catelyn’s decision to exchange Jaime for Sansa and Arya is that she should have suspected that Tyrion was dealing in bad faith, since he promised her both Sansa and also ARYA, whom he did not have.

      The fact, that Arya escaped the Lannisters was well known to Catelyn, since Cersei in one of her incountable blunders ordered ARYA to court in the same letter where she ordered Robb and Catelyn to court. Their knowledge of Arya’s escape is further proven when Catelyn promises Arya to one of the Freys, IF SHE IS FOUND.

      When Tyrion promised Catelyn to return both her daughters, Catelyn should have at least asked Tyrion, where he found Arya.

      • Sean C. says:

        Catelyn doesn’t actually know that Arya escaped. She spends all of ACOK worrying about news of Arya at court and coming to believe that the lack of the same means she’s likely dead.

        Why the in-court proclamation never got around is never really explained.

        • Carolyn says:

          She might not know, what happened to Arya exactly, but she surely knows, that while the Lannisters have a firm grasp on Sansa, Arya has not been heard of since her husband was incarcerated.
          Since she never heard of Arya before Tyrion’s offer (like I said, she was promised to the Freys on the condition that SHE IS FOUND, and like you write yourself she even thinks that Arya is DEAD) Tyrion’s offer should have raised some huge red flags.
          She should have at least asked Tyrion, why she never heard from her younger daughter before.

  18. johnny says:

    When Tyrion is playing Varys/Littlefinger/Pycelle with his 3 different offers and eventually finds out Pycelle is spying for Cersei…and then sends Myrcella off to Dorne. My question is, was the plan always to send Myrcella to Dorne or was he going to make an effort on whichever one of the 3 ratted him out to Cersei? Was this made clear or have I missed something?

    Would have been interesting if there was more than one feeding Cersei info, the jig would have been up then!

    Thanks for the great analysis of course also.

    • He sent the letters to Dorne, didn’t to the other places.

      And you’re welcome!

      • So that means he planned on the alliance with Dorne, and the others were just a ruse? Or did he suspect Pycelle was Cersei’s mole already? Or both?

        • Probably just the first.

        • Grant says:

          He was presumably planning the alliance with Dorne since he actually took steps to have it established and it was more realistic than the alternatives of the Greyjoys or Lysa. As for Pycelle, during the chapter in A Clash of Kings where Tyrion interrogates him he muses that he’d hoped he could trust Pycelle.

          So Pycelle he suspected at least as much as Varys and Baelish, but he did give Pycelle a real message and he was hoping that the man would prove to just be loyal to the Lannisters or the throne, not to Cersei.

          • WPA says:

            Or even, if his overarching loyalty is to Tywin uber alles- then that he’d honor that with the son that Tywin appointed as acting Hand in his stead rather than acting as an agent of the daughter that Tywin liked more (despised less?) on a personal level.

  19. Amestria says:

    You know, there’s a “What If?” you never considered – what if that slimy alchemist actually managed to bring wildfire to Joff’s attention? 😛

  20. Amestria says:

    Do you think the KL Alchemists have a spiritual side at all or are they just in it for the power and money?

    • Power and money. They don’t seem to have any of that “it’s all a metaphor for self-actualization!” thing. They’ve got napalm and they like it.

      • Grant says:

        They do have some kind of magical power, but we’ve only seen a material side so far. For an organization that has such an impact on events, they’ve only appeared a couple of times.

  21. Amestria says:

    “The sense of grasping, obsequious desperation is almost palpable – they’ll take any foot in the door, no matter how demeaning, in order to get back into royal favor. Giving a murderous boy-king like Joffrey access to weapons of mass destruction would give most normal men pause, but clearly the Alchemists have no such scruples. And indeed, one of the things that’s abundantly clear is that the Alchemists are, as an institution, completely amoral.”

    If I were Cersei this would sound like a great recommendation for appointing Lord Hallyne the Pyromancer as Hand of the King. She’s already considered him once, while also considering Lord Merryweather. Jaime advised against them both but Cersei eventually appointed Merryweather so even if she ultimately didn’t appoint him it wasn’t because what Jaime said. And Hallyne really fits the profile of a Cersei appointment, grasping, desperate, dependent, marginal, totally amoral, and there aren’t that many people left that fit that profile. Lord Hallyne and Lord Qyburn could have a little competition over whose psycho magic is better.

    • Winnie says:

      You are seriously starting to scare me there!

      But it does sound plausible-and it might well be how the Red Keep ends up burned to an ashy ruin…

      • Winnie says:

        Especially given that the increasingly crazy Cersei may soon just as Aerys II did have reason to want to destroy all of King’s Landing-either because it falls in battle or because of her ongoing conflict with the Faith/small folk.

        She too might decide it’s best to just ‘burn them all.’

        • Well, she already had the Tower of the Hand burnt to the ground, because who needs government offices.

          • Winnie says:

            LOL! Seriously, though, I wonder if that wasn’t foreshadowing on Martin’s part-setting it up for how Cersei is Aerys II all over again and will in fact actually finish what he started.

          • There’s some very smart people on tumblr who think exactly that.

          • Carolyn says:

            @Steven Attewell

            I distantly remember reading an account of the wildfire found in the city before the Battle of the Blackwater in one of the Tyrion-chapters, but I did not find it again.
            IIRC, then there are marked differences between the places Jaime remembers Aerys ordering the hiding of wildfire and the places, where Tyrion and co found wildfire before the battle, meaning that there are LOTS of caches of wildfire still in the city, that have not been found and could play a role in the future of KL.

          • Andrew says:


            I see that as well. I think the other locations of the caches of (unstable) wildfire will be revealed, especially if the reason for Jaime’s kingslaying is revealed. There would be an irony to it given Jaime killed Aerys to stop that form happening only to end up delaying it for some years, and cause the events leading up to it (the incest, Bran’s fall leading to the Wo5K).

            Cersei would pull that provided a few criteria:
            1)All her children are dead
            2) With the death of her last child goes her last bit of sanity
            3)The enemy is at the gates, and she knows the war is completely lost for her side with no hope of victory for hers.

            Even Steven said she has a kind of scorched earth policy when he first talked about her. She would want to hollow out the victory for the enemy leaving a burned capital and the royal castle destroyed along with likely the Iron Throne (the new throne afterwards would likely symbolize a new era).

        • Carolyn says:

          Cersei already showed some portion of that mindset during the Battle of the Blackwater, when she told Ilyn Payne to execute all the members of the throne-room should Stannis win the battle.

      • Amestria says:

        You misspelled terrific 😛

    • Winnie says:

      Another frightening thought-what if Euron Greyjoy ever got ahold of wildfire?!?

  22. Amestria says:

    Hey, given that Hallyne proposes to Cersei that they use wildfire to try and awaken the rumored dragonstone dragon eggs, it seems very likely that Aegon V’s idea to use wildfire to hatch the dragoneggs wasn’t actually his idea, but the proposal of some ambitious alchemist…

  23. MightyIsobel says:

    Another fine essay. I like your take on medieval alchemist practice vs. the amorality of the pyromaniacs’ Guild, and your rundown of how Cersei’s erratic ruling style poses serious challenges to Tyrion’s agenda.

    On the nature of Westerosi feudalism, I continue to struggle with how I agree with the details of your argument (yes, AFFC provides helpful context to the demagogue’s harangue), but not with your conclusions about what they all should mean.

    Your inferring a “rich tradition of religiously-inflected radicalism” strikes me as a basically sound Watsonist reading of Team Smallfolk’s political outlook, far and away the best of several possible headcanons suggested by the text.

    But some readers don’t find the hints of that “rich tradition” dispositive, when, in the chapter list, we find no POVs from within institutions controlled by the smallfolk, and when GRRM is sharing authorship credit with creators who are making some very problematic decisions about how to present his world (Are you expecting the rich tradition of Sparrow radicalism to be presented sympathetically in Season 5?). Fortunately, for a strictly in-universe reading, these issues can be brushed aside as not part of the text anyway. They arise from the application of a different set of analytical tools.

    As I have said elsewhere, I think our debate about smallfolk political agency is as thorny as any other Watsonist vs. Doylist back-and-forth in fandoms. It gets to questions of why we read fiction, and why we read this fiction, and I’ll confess that arguing at that level with a great deal of nuance isn’t really in my bailiwick.

    • I’m not sure why a POV is dispositive. The movement is there, the history is there.

      And yeah, I’m sure it’ll be portrayed as having a negative side. Religious radicalism among the lower orders leads just as easily to pogroms as it does to rebellions.

      • MightyIsobel says:

        Er, religious radicalism full stop leads just as easily to pogroms as it does to rebellions, but the basic point about zealotry is fair.

  24. colin c says:

    Here’s a what-if.

    What if Tyrion returns Ice to Robb as a show of good faith about the peace talks?

    Probably doesn’t change much for Robb but them Ice ends up in Bolton/Frey hands after RW or at the best in the Neck with Robb’s will.

    But this would mean no Widow’s Wail, so Tyrion’s book may not get chopped but probably because Joffrey’s a psycho. And no Oathkeeper, which may mean Brienne dies up on Crackclaw point, and some unknown ripples happen due to that…

  25. […] of the situation: as we know, the Lannisters have no intention of engaging in good faith with the peace process, but are stalling for time to regain the military initiative. If Robb wants to make them engage […]

  26. […] a second level, we get a second glimpse of the development of religious radicalism among the smallfolk. In this case, we learn […]

  27. Archer says:

    “Tyrion’s strategic advice also misses two weaknesses in Tywin’s position – one, Roose can link up with Robb by heading west over the Forks rather than south over the Trident, and two, Tywin’s army” ….. what? what;s the seoncd point?

  28. […] especially ironic that Cersei of all people does this, given her previous statements about paper shields. As the comment about Ser Jacelyn Bywater points out, it’s real politik rather than rules […]

  29. […] pawns than players and whose dreams of glory only end in the death of thousands, the peasants are harnessing religious millenialism to inspire revolution, the only people who uphold the values of knighthood are the ones who refuse […]

  30. […] I’ve always thought it interesting that we learn about Robb’s victory at Oxcross from the Lannisters trying to defend King’s Landing, as Catelyn is too far away from Riverrun to hear the new from a Stark/Tully perspective. Part of that has to do with GRRM’s choice to have Catelyn on the scene in Storm’s End. But I think part of the reason is to show how thoroughly Robb Stark has wrecked Tywin Lannister’s plans. […]

  31. […] strategy completely. Tywin had hoped to use his raids and occupation to force Robb to attack Tywin’s army at Harrenhal, where Tywin would have a defensive advantage and the possibility of defeating the various pieces […]

  32. […] execution of Eddard Stark plunged the kingdom into war, even after Joffrey’s wanton murder of their neighbors, there remain some people in the crowd who still maintain their loyalty to the anointed, crowned, […]

  33. […] perception element that political actors must practice, much the way Tyrion Lannister does during his tenure as Hand of the King throughout A Clash of Kings. If Tyrion was monstrous, and only capable […]

  34. […] And this willingness to act like the “evil monkey demon” who fights for the city that hates and fears him, without thinking about whether he could be seen any other way, badly handicaps his political […]

  35. […] After the violence of the King’s Landing riot, I am amazed that she can’t see how Joffrey’s actions have been perceived by the common people. The lack of awareness extends to House Lannister’s […]

  36. […] army was exhausted and demoralized, Constantine IV put his money into the Byzantine navy and the newfangled weapon of Greek Fire. Four years of grinding siege warfare and naval combat ended one night in early 678, when […]

  37. […] because he fakes both Ser Imry and the reader into thinking that Tyrion et al. are going to use “the substance” in a conventional fashion. Even at a conventional level, wildfire is appropriately terrifying, as […]

  38. […] This is the identity that Tyrion has been longing for from the beginning and which he has been denied repeatedly, and it’s given to him like a conqueror’s laurels. It’s a crucial […]

  39. […] the strategic logic here – after all, it’s not that long since Tywin Lannister was somehow able to feed twice as many men through foraging and he didn’t have the resources of the part of the Riverlands protected […]

  40. […] However, while the inner core of the Sparrows seem primarily motivated by the horror of the Saltpans and their demand for the monarchy or the Faith to enforce the social contract and provide law and order is not on its face revolutionary, it seems clear that this demand succeeded because it was transmitted to an audience already radicalized by a religiously-inflected, class-conscious critique of the monarchy: […]

  41. […] and one of her strongest assets and Tyrion’s physical disability is used to exclude and dehumanize him, and the fact that Tyrion often tries to over-act his gender to compensate for his disability […]

  42. […] image. So all of this display is a cover-up for the disappearance of Ice (which, incidentally, is a sign that Tywin knows peace with House Stark will not be necessary). Unfortunately for him, Valyrian steel is magical and magic isn’t […]

  43. […] responsible for keeping in power a king who Sandor knew was not only personally monstrous but wantonly murdering his own subjects, a king who ordered him to “cut through” the smallfolk of the city, the same king who […]

  44. […] Rebellion, he has no difficulty remembering Dake “as fine a forager as I never knew.” As foraging is essentially a military euphemism for armed robbery, the correct name might raise the dangerous possibility that the condemned man might have been […]

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