Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn II, ACOK

“He swept a hand across the campfires that burned from horizon to horizon. “Well, there is my claim, as good as Robert’s ever was.”

Synopsis: Catelyn Stark arrives in Bitterbridge to find Renly, his bride, a tourney, and its winner. A proposal is made, but interrupted.

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:

Every now and again, I’ve come across people who say they hate reading Catelyn chapters, but it’s chapters like this that make me unable to see how or why anyone could come to that conclusion. Because Catelyn II is an amazing chapter, full of political and military significe, some key thematic arguments, and it sets up one of the major turning points in the entire series. A word of warning before I begin: a lot of what I think about Renly Baratheon has already been done in Hollow Crowns Part IV, and rather than repeat what I have to say here, you might want to read that essay before you read this.

War of Five Kings – Stark Strategy

One of the things that I noticed in this chapter that I hadn’t really noticed before is that we get a key – if fleeting- glimpse into Robb Stark’s military strategy. As we’ve discussed in Catelyn I, the Starks are in a difficult situation, with Tywin to their east and Ser Stafford to their west and a desperate need to regain the momentum in the Riverlands. In this chapter, we learn that Robb is sending Catelyn to Renly Baratheon because:

“There is no one else. I cannot go myself. Your father’s too ill. The Blackfish is my eyes and ears, I dare not lose him. Your brother I need to hold Riverrun when we march-“

“March?” No one had said a word to her of marching.

“I cannot sit at Riverrun waiting for peace. it makes me look as if I were afraid to take the field again. When there are no battles to fight, men start to think of hearth and harvest, Father told me that. Even my northmen grow restless.”

My northmen, she thought. He is even beginning to talk like a king. “No one has ever died of restlessness, but rashness is another matter. We’ve planted seeds, let them grow.” 

Robb shook his head stubbornly. “We’ve tossed some seeds in the wind, that’s all. If your sister Lysa was coming to aid us, we would have heard by now. How many birds have we sent to the Eyrie, four? I want peace too, but why should the Lannisters give me anything if all I do is sit here while my army melts away around me swift as summer snow?”

“So rather than look craven, you will dance to Lord Tywin’s pipes?” she threw back. “He wants you to march on Harrenhal, ask your uncle Brynden if-“

“I said nothing of Harrenhal,” Robb said. “Now, will you go to Renly for me, or must I send the Greatjon?”

There’s a lot we can learn from this brief exchange. First, we can see that, contrary to a lot of conventional fan wisdom, the Starks are actively engaged in diplomacy to achieve their political ends – Robb’s already sent to the Greyjoys, here we learn that he’s also sent to the Vale, and intends to treat with Renly. In other words, Robb is unlucky, not incompetent – it’s impossible to predict that Balon Greyjoy would write off his only son (link), and that his aunt is so enraptured by Littlefinger that he can’t expect the normal support he would otherwise get from the Vale, or that Renly Barathon would suddenly die.

Second, we see that Robb intends for the “seeds” of the peace offer to mature, but is intending to use his army to act as a stick to make the carrot more palatable. This is a not inaccurate view 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 with him, he’ll need to give them a more compelling reason than Jaime and Willem Lannister – and as we’ll see, an invasion of the west definitely has the power to move Tywin Lannister.

Third, this lends evidence to my argument here that Robb’s plan was very much to lure Tywin out west, prevent him from reinforcing King’s Landing, and defeat his army in detail. In so far as much as the argument that Robb’s plan never existed and was made up post-hoc goes, I think this quote is fairly conclusive: it was absolutely the case that Edmure holding Riverrun was linked to Robb marching into the west at this point in time. And while this isn’t quite the time for an exhaustive discussion of the Western campaign (time for that later, and if you want to know what I think you can read the hyperlink above), I will say that Robb’s plan is actually quite well-geared toward solving his current problems: it gives him a military mission to keep his forces together so that his army doesn’t bleed away into nothingness, it gives him a way to hammer the Lannisters without having to attack Harrenhal, and it forces Tywin to abandon his position in the Riverlands and his proximity to King’s Landing. In one move, Robb reshapes two theaters of war.

The Tourney and the Southron Alliance

However, the major political event of this chapter is that Catelyn arrives at Bitterbridge and encounters King Renly finishing up his tourney:

A field had been cleared off, fences and galleries and tilting barriers thrown up. Hundreds had gathered to watch, perhaps thousands. From the looks of the grounds, torn and muddy and littered with bits of dinted armor and broken lances, they had been at it a day or more, but now the end was near….”a tourney,” Hall Mollen declared.

“Oh, splendid,” Ser Wendel Manderly said…

This is madness, Catelyn thought. Real enemies on every side and half the realm in flames, and Renly sits here playing at war like a boy with his first wooden sword.

This divergent reaction – Catelyn’s incredulity and Ser Wendel’s delight – speaks to the double-edged nature of Renly’s political tactic. As Catelyn notes, this is a real distraction that slows Renly down by several days in a war that has already seen multiple reversals of fortune in short order. Speed is a real advantage that Renly is throwing away; indeed, if Renly kept going at his current pace of around eight miles a day, it would take him over two months to get from Bitterbridge to King’s Landing, easily enough time for the course of the war to radically reshape itself. And if Renly had settled down for a lengthy siege as his siege engines suggest, it might well have been the case that the Ironborn attack on the Reach would have fractured his host long before his war was won.

On the other hand, the tourney is a necessary part of Renly’s strategy of using public relations and the symbolism of chivalry to gain political support:

Small wonder the lords gather around him with such fervor, she thought, he is Robert come again. Renly was handsome as Robert had been handsome; long of limb and broad of shoulder, with the same coal-black hair, fine and straight, the same deep blue eyes, the same easy smile. The slender circlet around his brows seemed to suit him well. It was soft gold, a ring of roses exquisitely wrought; at the front lifted a stag’s head of dark green jade, adorned with golden eyes and golden antlers.

As we have seen before, the person of the king is no small part of his political influence – “Daeron was spindly and round of shoulder, with a little belly that wobbled when he walked. Daemon stood straight and broad, and his stomach was flat and hard as an oaken shield And he could fight…with the sword he was the Warrior himself…all the great knights of the realm gathered to him…because Daemon was the better man.” (Sworn Sword) A king who wishes to remain popular with the nobility must combine the warrior archetype with magnificence, which symbolizes his wealth and openhandedness (critical qualities in a feudal monarch), and grace. And Renly has all these qualities.

Especially in a civil war where legitimacy is very much up in the air, the fact that Renly looks like a young Robert (whose personal charisma and magnetism played a large part in bringing the Rebellion together, especially in the Stormlands, and in winning over ex-Targaryens after the war), is one of his strongest cards to play. And it works – especially with the “chivalry of the south” who he has no direct claim over, these men many of whose grandfathers supported the black dragon over the red entirely because of their romantic ideals. The Tourney at Bitterbridge and the Rainbow Guard are both parts of a campaign to distract the “knights of summer” from the political dangers of supporting a rebel claimant in a civil war, the legal impossibilities of his claim to power, and the long-term implications of his vision of monarchy (see Hollow Crowns, Part IV). La gloire must be everything, obscure anything else.

However, Renly also has a political logic on his side that doesn’t rest on his own attractiveness, but rather on the realities of Southern power:

The crowned stag decorated the king’s green velvet tunic as well, worked in gold thread upon his chest; the Baratheon sigil in the colors of Highgarden. The girl who shared the high seat with him was also of Highgarden: his young queen, Margaery, daughter to Lord Mace Tyrell. Their marriage was the mortar that held the great southron alliance together…

The Tyrells have never before been particularly active in a civil war – the canny stewards of Highgarden sat out the Dance of the Dragons, and allowed their “overmighty” bannermen the Hightowers batter themselves into exhaustion; Leo Longthorn conveniently was late to the Battle of Redgrass Field (but just in time to attack his own bannermen as they fled back into the Reach); and Mace spent Robert’s Rebellion protecting his own lands or camped out safely outside Storm’s End. This time, the writing is on the clothing – Highgarden is emphatically behind Renly, will benefit if Renly wins, and that which is good for Highgarden is good for the Reach (or else). Thus, the rest of the Reach has to choose between defying their liege lord or defying their king, and most decided that it’s easier to defy a besieged boy king who’s a long way off than fight the Tyrells.

On the other hand, I think this raises the question of whether Renly offered the realm much more than a swap of the Lannisters for the Tyrells. Yes, Renly was much more intelligent and politically savvy than Robert, and more engaged in the business of governing. However, had he won, he would have been even more dependent on his wife’s family than Robert. After all, his older brother’s monarchy rested on a broad foundation of Houses Stark, Arryn, and Tully – the Lannisters’ gold was useful, but not necessary for him to remain in power. Renly at this moment in time has no support outside of his own territory and the Reach – hence why he’s willing to meet with the Starks.

The Audience and the Offer

Now that the stage has been set, Catelyn finally gets to meet with the King in Highdarden, one of the few moments in the series in which we get direct diplomacy in the entire series. Diplomacy is not exactly an easy business, however. As we see, the interactions between the two camps are fraught with a tension over status and position:

“I have the honor to bring to you the Lady Catelyn Stark, sent as envoy by her son Robb, Lord of Winterfell.”

“Lord of Winterfell and King in the North, ser,” Catelyn corrected him. She dismounted and moved to Ser Colen’s side.

King Renly looked surprised. ‘Lady Catelyn? We are most pleased.” He turned to his young queen. “Margaery my sweet, this is the Lady Catelyn Stark of Winterfell.”

…”Your Grace,” Brienne the Blue correctly sharply. “And you should kneel when you approach the king.”

“The distance between a lord and a grace is a small one, my lady,” Catelyn said. “Lord Renly wears a crown, as does my son. If you wish, we may stand here in the mud and debate what honors and titles are rightly due to each, but it strikes me that we have more pressing matters to consider.”

…”I call it weak.” Lord Randyll Tarly had a short, bristly grey beard and a reputation for blunt speech. “No disrespect to you, Lady Stark, but it would have been more seemly had Lord Robb come to pay homage to the king himself, rather than hiding behind his mother’s skirts.”

“King Robb is warring, my lord,” Catelyn replied with icy courtesy, “not playing at tourney.”

Renly grinned. “Go softly, Lord Randyll, I fear you’re overmatched.”

It’s always fun to come across new things on a re-read, and in this case I noticed for the first time that Renly was genuinely surprised to encounter Catelyn Stark, and in general doesn’t seem to have had a plan for how to deal with the Starks (which honestly fits in well with later statements, more of which in a bit). This lack of preparation enhances the difficulty of mutual recognition – on the one hand, Renly’s primary objective here is to get the Starks to declare for him and recognize his status as king; on the other hand, repeatedly insulting the King in the North would only alienate two of the Seven Kingdoms. Hence why Renly himself stays back from the dispute, so that he can test how committed the Starks are to independence without committing himself personally.

However, given the fact that the Starks are the principal victim of Renly’s enemy, there is a need to appear sympathetic to the Starks. Likewise, the same rules of chivalry that won him the support of the southrons means that he can’t publicly scorn a highborn lady, especially a recent widow. Contra to Lord Randyll Tarly’s peevish complaints, there’s an advantage to Catelyn serving as Robb’s ambassadors:

“You are most welcome here, Lady Stark,” the girl said, all soft courtesy. “I am sorry for your loss.”

“You are kind, said Catelyn.

“My lady, I swear to you, I will see that the Lannisters answer for your husband’s murder,” the king declared. “When I take King’s Landing, I’ll send you Cersei’s head.”

And will that bring my Ned back to me? she thought. “It will be enough to know that justice has been done, my lord.”

As we saw with Ser Duncan the Tall in Hedge Knight, justice has an important symbolic role in chivalry. As Kings Maegor, Aegon IV, and Aerys II found out to their loss, having a reputation as an unjust king increases resistance from the nobility who fear royal injustice being used against them – although as Aegon V found out, what the nobility consider to be justice and the smallfolk consider to be justice are not the same thing. However, punishing the murder of a great lord on behalf of a grieving widow doesn’t challenge the position of the nobility in the same way that Aegon V’s reforms do, so Renly can afford to promise to do something that he was going to do anyway.

In addition to these factors, Renly needs the Starks on-side militarily:“Well said, my lady..tell me, when does your son mean to march against Harrenhal?” Until she knew whether this king was friend or foe, Catelyn was not about to reveal the least part of Robb’s dispositions. “I do not sit on my son’s war councils, my lord.” While I still believe that Renly’s go-slow strategy was incredibly risky, it was done in an unreflexive or unthinking fashion. Clearly, part of Renly’s strategy was for Robb Stark to act as his offensive lineman, preventing Tywin from coming to the defense of King’s Landing so that Renly can take the Iron Throne with a minimum of effort. It’s a rather optimistic strategy that assumes that everyone else will do exactly what’s in Renly’s interest, as seems to be rather typical for Renly. But it at least shows that he’s thinking about the world around him.

As a result of all of these factors, Renly makes an offer to Robb:

 “If your son supports me as his father supported Robert, he’ll not find me ungenerous. I will gladly confirm him in all his lands, titles, and honors. He can rule in Winterfell as he pleases. He can even go on calling himself King in the North if he likes, so long as he bends the knee and does me homage as his overlord. King is only a word, but fealty, loyalty, service…those I must have.”

“And if he will not give them to you, my lord?”

“I mean to be king, my lady, and not of a broken kingdom. I cannot say it plainer than that. Three hundred years ago, a Stark king knelt to Aegon the Dragon, when he saw he could not hope to prevail. That was wisdom. Your son must be wise as well. Once he joins me, this war is good as done.”

This offer is extremely tricky because of its judicious phrasing. What does it mean that Robb will be confirmed “in all his lands, titles, and honors“? Does this include the titles and lands associated with “King of the Trident” or “Warden of the Southern Marches” – either of which Robb could claim by right of conquest and right of acclamation? If it does, then Renly is offering Robb a genuinely valuable opportunity to cash out his winnings while he’s ahead, preserving the gains of his Riverlands campaigns, while also getting a permanent solution to the problem of how to deal with the Iron Throne. If it doesn’t, then Renly is essentially requiring Robb’s submission not only for nothing, but at a significant cost with little value in return.

This is made more confusing by the fact that Renly clearly wants Robb’s military aid. Renly emphasizes “fealty” and “service” – two terms which in a feudal society mean providing your own and your bannermen’s soldiers to your liege lord’s army – and states that “once he joins me, this war is as good as done.” After all, Robb has approximately 40,000 seasoned soldiers, whereas Renly’s army is green, and Robb also has proven generals, whereas Renly only has Randyll Tarly and a lot of highborn amateurs.

Further complicating this question is what Renly means when he says that “He can even go on calling himself King in the North” and “can rule in Winterfell as he pleases.” Is this a mere formality, a matter of empty titles, or is Renly offering what I call “The Dornish Option“? After all, there is precedent that states that titles above that of Lord Paramount bring with them substantial rights and powers: “the autonomy to maintain their own laws, the right to assess and gather the taxes due to the Iron Thron with only irregular oversight from the the Red Keep, and other such matters.” Given the already fairly de-centralized nature of the Westerosi monarchy, this would essentially mean Robb would be King in the North in fact as well as in name. Renly asks for fealty and service, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as the current relationship between a Lord Paramount and the King on the Iron Throne. The Kings of England were for much of the Middle Ages technically vassals of the Kings of France due to their landholdings in Normandy et al., but were still considered sovereign in their own right as long as they were in their English territories. And as French Kings for the better part of four hundred years found out, getting them to act like vassals even when they were in France was a heavy lift.

The question here is whether Renly’s offer is a sufficient change from the status quo ante bellum that Robb can sell a settlement to his men as a satisfying win condition. Revenge on the Lannisters, plus overlordship of the Riverlands, plus greater autonomy might well be enough to satisfy the political community of the North, minus irreconcilables like the Karstarks. Anything short of that might not be sufficient.

A final note: one of the interesting things I noted for the first time in this chapter is that Catelyn catches up with Renly on his last night in Bitterbridge: “…I would be honored if you would share our meat and mead at the feast Lord Caswell is giving us tonight. A farewell feast. I fear his lordship is eager to see the heels of my hungry horde.” Keep an eye on that for the What If? section.

credit to quickreaver

Brienne the Beauty

Before I move on to an extended riff on ASOIAF military numbers, I want to take a quick break to talk about the introduction of Brienne of Tarth and the thematic role she plays here. Overall, Brienne’s presence in this chapter is a commentary on chivalry as it’s understood in the south. And as we’ll find out in AFFC, despite Brienne being a lady, the knights of Renly’s army have acted entirely without the honor and gallantry that Renly showed toward her. Moreover, just as is the case with Ser Duncan the Tall, it is the outsider, the outcast, the non-knight who actually exemplifies the ideal of true knighthood. Brienne is not a knight, cannot be a knight, and yet she’s the only one on the tourney field or in Renly’s whole army of shallow, inconsistent and eager to turncloak, gloryhounds who follows Renly out of pure selfless devotion, who takes up arms in defense of women and children, and who goes toe-to-toe with the all-too-human monsters plaguing the smallfolk while the rest of the realm continues to focus on the game of thrones:

A few voices hailed him with cries of “Tarth!” and, oddly, “A Beauty! A Beauty!” but most were silent…

“…who is this man, and why do they mislike him so?”

Ser Colen frowned. “Because he is no man, my lady. That’s Brienne of Tarth, daughter to Lord Selwyn the Evenstar.”

“Daughter?” Catelyn was horrified. 

“Brienne the Beauty, they name her…though not to her face, lest they be called upon to defend those words with their bodies…”

Beauty, they called her…mocking. The hair beneath the visor was a squirrel’s nest of dirty straw, and her face…Brienne’s eyes were large and very blue, a young girl’s eyes, trusting and guileless, but the rest…her features were broad and coarse, her teeth prominent and crooked, her mouth too wide, her lips so plump they seemed swollen. A thousand freckles speckled her cheeks and grow, and her nose had been broken more than once. Pity filled Catelyn’s heart. Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?

“Wars will make them old,” Cat said, “as it did us…I pity them.”

“Why?” Lord Rowan asked her. “Look at them. They’re young and strong, full of life and laughter. And lust, aye, more lust than they know what to do with. There will be many a bastard bred this night, I promise you. Why pity?”

“Because it will not last,” Catelyn answered, sadly. “Because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.”

“Lady Catelyn, you are wrong.” Brienne regarded her with eyes as blue as her armor. “Winter will never come for the likes of us. Should we die in battle, they will surely sing of us, and it’s always summer in the songs. In the songs all knights are gallant, are maids are beautiful, and the sun is always shining.”

Two things to note here: first, it’s vitally important to her role in the story that Brienne be a romantic, a true believer in the illusion that Renly is selling to the realm, because without that romanticism her suffering would be mere brutality for brutality’s sake. As I’ve argued, GRRM remains at core something of a romantic, but a romantic in an existentialist vein, someone who is willing to see the gaps between the ideal and the reality clearly but who holds to the importance of the ideal regardless. The point of Brienne’s suffering, therefore, is not to argue that there is nothing but suffering (black and grey morality), but rather to intensify the lowest of the lows to justify and earn the highest of the highs. Fair warning: before we get into the Brienne storyline, I highly recommend reading Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, because I’m going to be coming back to it a lot.

Second, I find it fascinating that, given her central importance to Brienne’s storyline, how off-putting Catelyn’s initial reaction to Brienne is. Rather than reacting as a modern 21st century woman might with some sentiment of sisterhood and solidarity, Catelyn is horrified and then pities Brienne. I bring this up not to condemn Catelyn Stark as some kind of monster – honestly, the number of threads I’ve seen recently accusing her of being an emotional abuser is astonishing – but to say that she’s a woman of her age and her culture. Apart from Sansa, and that’s not an accident, Catelyn is one of the most comfortable in the role that her gender and her class has placed her in of any of the main characters (leaving aside the Tyrell ladies). Not that she never has moments where she bristles at a sexist comment by one of Robb’s bannermen or hates being sidelined in moments of crisis, but she can perform femininity (whereas Brienne and early period Arya can’t, and Asha just chooses not to) without going crazy (like Cersei or Lysa). At the same time, there’s also an interesting thematic conflict, as Catelyn takes up the role of the cynic who challenges Brienne’s idealism, which foreshadows the more…strenuous way that Catelyn will challenge Brienne’s commitment to her beliefs. It’s not an accident that GRRM throws in the line “the face of a drowned woman…can you drown in grief?” into this chapter, a full book before the Scarlet Rehearsal Dinner – there is a resonance at work.



The War of Five Kings: The Numbers Game

While the key event of Catelyn II is the meeting between Catelyn and Renly, I would argue that the main character of this chapter is actually the army of the Southron Alliance:

Thousands of cookfires filled the air with a pale smoky haze. The horse lines stretched out over leagues. A forest had surely been felled to make the tall staffs that held the banners. Great siege engines lined the grassy verge of the roseroad, mangonels and trebuchets and rolling rams mounted on wheels taller than a man on horseback. The steel points of pikes flamed red with sunlight, as if already blooded, while the pavilions of the knights and high lords sprouted from the grass like silken mushrooms. She saw men with spears and men with swords, men in steel caps and mail shirts, camp followers strutting their charms, archers fletching arrows, teamsters driving wagons, swineherds driving pigs, pages running messages, squires honing swords, knights riding palfreys, grooms leading ill-tempered destriers….near all the chivalry of the south had come to Renly’s call, it seemed. The golden rose of Highgarden was seen everywhere: sewn on the right breast of armsmen and servants, flapping and fluttering from the green silk banners that adorned lance and and pike, painted upon the shields hung outside the pavilions of the sons and brothers and cousins and uncles of House Tyrell. As well Catelyn spied the fox-and-flowers of House Florent, Fossoway apples red and green, Lord Tarly’s striding hunstman, oak leaves for Oakheart, cranes for Crane, a cloud of black-and-orange butterflies for the Mullendores.

Across the Mander, the storm lords had raised their standards – Renly’s own bannermen, sworn to House Baratheon and Storm’s End. Catelyn recognized Bryce Caron’s nightingales, the Penrose quills, and Lord Estermont’s sea turtle.

Credit where credit’s due, GRRM can write armies better than almost anyone out there, the way in which they form a microcosm of the larger society but at the same time begin to act as a colonial (in the biological, rather than political sense) organism. And this is especially the case because Renly’s army represents the South in all its glory and its folly. To count Renly’s political supporters, you need only look to the banners – from the Reach, House Tyrell is here in force, with “sons and brothers and cousins and uncles,” (possibly not a wise move if a Field of Fire should come again), as are the principal houses Florent, Fossoway (both branches), Oakheart, Crane, Tarly, Rowan, and Mullendore (although House Mullendore is also a vassal to the Hightowers, more of which in a second). And while Catelyn’s knowledge of heraldry doesn’t extend down to the minor Houses, later in the chapter we get mentions of Houses Willum and Varner. From the Stormlands, we have the Carons, the Penroses, and the Estermonts, and the Tarths and Morrigans also get a mention.

However, a keen-eyed observer must look past the surface, especially since Renly is skilled at creating illusions to cover reality and a habit of letting his optimism sway his better judgement. While the political heart of the Reach is undeniably present at Bitterbridge, there are some interesting omissions: while Renly will claim the support of the Hightowers, only the Cuys, Beesburys, and Mullendores actually have empirical verification – the Bulwers and Costaynes don’t show up. More importantly, none of Lord Leyton Hightower’s sons or soldiers carry the banner of the tower argent to Bitterbridge, Storm’s End, or Blackwater Bay, and Oldtown manages to hold off the Ironborn by itself – which to me suggests that the Hightowers offered merely token support, and sent only a token force from a few of their bannermen and none of their own forces. Equally importantly, the Redwynes definitively have not joined Renly, due to Ser Horas and Ser Hobber being taken hostage in King’s Landing.

So the two most important lesser Houses of the Reach are not present in Renly’s army. Of the other significant lesser houses (and I’m only going to count houses with named holdfasts), there’s some substantial omissions as well: the Vrywels (principal house) of Darkdell, the Appletons of Appleton, Ashfords of Ashford, the Chesters, Serrys, Grimms, and Hewetts of the Shield Islands, the Cordwayners of Hammerhal, the Gracefords of Holyhall, Merryweathers of Longtable, and the Peakes of Starpike. Likewise, Renly will claim the support of the Caswells, Shermers, Dunns, Footlys, and Blackbars, but none of them appear in Renly’s army.

The Stormlands are also an interesting case, and perhaps a sign that Renly doesn’t have as much support in his own province as he would like people to think he does (and a sign of the ongoing caution we saw in the Prologue/Davos I). While Renly has the support of the Carons, Penroses, Estermonts, Tarths, Morrigans, and Errols, and claims the support of the Selmys later on, the Trants (principle house) of Gallowsgrey back Joffrey, the Dondarrions (principle house) back the Brotherhood Without Banners, and the Bucklers of Bronzegate, Cafferens of Fawton, Fells of Fellwood, Grandisons of Grandview, Mertyns of Mistwood, Peasburys of Puddingfield, Rogers of Amberly, Staedmons of Broad Arch, and the Wyldes of Rain House are no-shows, and the Swanns of Stonehelm split.

I calculate that Renly has the support of 12-17 (depending on whether you count the 5 houses other than the Hightowers who Renly claims but don’t show up) out of 28 significant Houses of the Reach, or roughly 43-61%. Now, he’s certainly helped by the fact that the houses are not equal in size and he definitely has the support of most of the big ones, but it’s significant. Even more significant is the fact that Renly only seems to have the support of 7 out of 19 (or 37%) of his own bannermen, although he also has his own House behind him. This matters for several reasons: firstly, as I’ll discuss in a moment, it complicates the question of what the military strengths of the Reach and Stormlands are, especially in the wake of the War of Five Kings; secondly, it illustrates how successfully Renly and Mace have mobilized their respective vassals; and thirdly, I think it shows an underlying shakiness to Renly’s bid for power that helps to explain why his coalition falls apart so easily in the aftermath of Catelyn IV.

Regardless, what is certain is that Renly definitely outnumbers both Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister by at least 2:1. I say at least because the numbers get really complicated in Catelyn II:

“Count them if you like, my lady…you will still be counting when dawn breaks in the east. How many fires burn around Riverrun tonight, I wonder?…I’m told your son crossed the Neck with twenty thousand swords…now that the lords of the Trident are with him, perhaps he commands forty thousand.”

No, she thought, not near so many, we have lost men in battle, and others to the harvest. 

“I have twice that number here,” Renly said, “and this is only part of my strength. Mace Tyrell remains at Highgarden with another ten thousand, I have a strong garrison holding Storm’s End…”

Let’s begin with the Riverlands, which have always been a tricky area, given that their armies are around half the size they should be, and even if you think that’s a function of poor political mobilization, shouldn’t those men have been showing up in defense of their own homes during Tywin’s marches or fighting off the reavers? Regardless, something strange happens here – by Catelyn’s own admission, the Riverlords at present would add up to around 20,000 men (in addition to the roughly 3-4,000 men who were lost at the Golden Tooth and First Riverrun) when Edmure lets them go, but when Edmure calls for all hands on deck at the Battle of the Fords, only 11,000 show up and never show up later. I highly doubt that the roughly 9,000 men who go missing were killed off by 900 reavers, but it’s possible that GRRM is leaving space for a loyalist rising of the Riverlands in the wake of the Second Red Wedding that seems to be brewing at the end of AFFC/ADWD.

But there’s also some issues with Renly’s own forces. Renly cites that he has 80,000 men here and another 10,000 at Highgarden. However, of the 20,000 cavalry that Renly takes to Storm’s End, the 16,000 or so who switch to Stannis after Renly’s death are mostly Stormlords (with the exception of the Florents and Fossoways). But there’s no way that the Reach, the heart of chivalry, only fields 4,000 knights, so where are the missing cavalry? Well one possibility is that they make up the 10,000 men at Highgarden, although it’s a bit odd that you would keep so much of your heavy cavalry out of the fight. Another possibility is that a large chunk of the Reach’s cavalry is with the 39-57% of the Reach Houses who aren’t in Renly’s army. On the other hand, this raises the question – where are the Stormlands foot? Did Renly’s followers send no infantry with him?

I don’t necessarily have answers to these questions, although with the folks working on the Westeros Military Numbers Project, I hope to get some of them soon. What I can say is that this suggests that there are at least 10,000 and more like 30,000 Reachermen who have managed to stay out of the war (minus losses in the Shield Isles), and that the Stormlands has around 24,000 men who’ve not yet had to fight along with the ~16,000 of Stannis’ army who either turned cloak or bent the knee at Blackwater Bay. This could be very significant for the future when it comes to the Ironborn’s attack on the Reach or “Aegon’s” ability to recruit men in the Stormlands on his way to King’s Landing and his destiny.

Historical Analysis:

This recap is running long and I have a few more chapters to flesh this out, but I thought this might be a good time to introduce Renly Baratheon’s historical counterpart, one George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, third son of Richard, Duke of York. George was handsome, rich, often charming, and had splendid style – and that’s about all the positive things you could say about a man who developed an entirely deserved reputation in his lifetime as treacherous, vaccilating, cruel, greedy, unscrupulous, and weak.

Despite the fact that his brother, King Edward IV, had lavished him with honors – Duke of Clarence and Knight of the Garter and the Bath when he was only twelve, and the position of Lord Lieutenant in Ireland – George never knew how to be content. Against his brother’s wishes, George married Isabelle Neville, the daughter of the Kingmaker, and thus fell into the orbit of the Earl of Warwick. George eagerly joined in Warwick’s plan to oust Edward IV through a series of false-flag rebellions, and fought against his brother at the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469. Now that Edward was their prisoner, Warwick and George planned to have Edward removed as king by Parliament, by claiming that Edward and George’s mother had cuckolded their father, making George the oldest rightful heir to the throne. How exactly they planned to persuade Parliament that George’s mother was unfaithful only once is not clear.

Needless to say, Parliament didn’t bite and the two conspirators were eventually forced into letting Edward go, at which point they promptly had to flee the country and escape to France, where Warwick inked an alliance with Margaret d’Anjou the leader of the Lancastrians. While the deal still made George next in line to be king after Prince Edward of Lancaster, George was not happy that his father-in-law was no longer pushing for him to be king, and had married Anne Neville to Prince Edward. So he betrayed him too, and ran back to Edward, who forgave him somehow.

In return for all but literally stabbing his father-in-law in the back, George was rewarded with the title of Earl of Warwick after the Kingmaker died at the Battle of Barnet. George made sure to get back in his brother’s good graces by making sure that his brother-in-law Prince Edward of Lancaster was executed on the spot at the Battle of Tewksbury, but before long he was quarreling with his brother Richard of Gloucester (who having married Anne Neville now claimed half the lands of the Earl of Warwick).

More fun next Catelyn chapter!

What If?

To me, there are a few hypotheticals that have merit in this chapter:

  • Brienne doesn’t win the Tourney? I want to get this one out of the way quickly, because Brienne’s entire storyline doesn’t work if she doesn’t win the tourney and becomes Renly’s Blue Rainbow Guard (btw, while I know from a Watsonian standpoint that the Rainbow Guard is meant as a sop to the Faith, I’ve always wondered why no one’s ever done a Sentai version of the Rainbow Guard). But it’s interesting to see how much changes – if Brienne doesn’t win, she doesn’t become Renly’s bodyguard and thus escapes blame from Renly’s murder. This leaves her in a difficult position, as a Stormlander who ought to bend the knee to Stannis as the unquestioned head of House Baratheon but who probably would still blame Stannis for Renly’s death – chances are, she leaves with Loras and fights at Blackwater in the Tyrell army. At the same time, this likely butterflies away Jaime Lannister’s “escape” and everything that comes with it, from Jaime’s maiming to their relationship to the ramifications down the road with her quest and Lady Stoneheart’s revenge. Whether that also butterflies away the Red Wedding, I’m not sure.
  • Renly and Catelyn sign a deal at Bitterbridge? This is a fascinating little hypothetical, and one of the many different scenarios that potentially could change everything for the Stark cause. If the Tyrells are already committed to a Stark alliance when Renly dies, it’s possible they might turn to the King in the North, hoping to get Margaery wed to Robb (if Robb was ruthless enough to be more efficient in his oathbreaking link) or perhaps to Edmure Tully. In this scenario, it’s hard to imagine Tywin not being utterly crushed by an army that dwarfs his own, and King’s Landing falling to Stannis, wiping out the Lannister cause. At that point, what happens is unclear: would Robb be forced by geopolitics to seize the Iron Throne as a way to unite his now-disjointed coalition? Or would Robb raise up Mace as King of the Reach, forever fracturing the Seven Kingdoms? One thing’s for certain, with the Redwyne fleet on his side, the Ironborn are about to be crushed as never before.
  • On the other hand, all of that is a bit optimistic. Mace is a man who never misses the chance to take the easy way out, so it’s quite possible that he’d simply forget his previous commitment in favor of marrying Margaery to Joffrey on the grounds that a king in the hand is worth two in the North. However, it’s quite possible that in that scenario, a marriage alliance between Sansa and Willas or the like might give the Tyrells enough of an interest in the Starks staying around that the Tyrells might force some kind of a truce after the Blackwater, acting as the “swing vote” in the Game of Thrones. What that would look like, I don’t know.
  • Renly left Bitterbridge early or the messenger gets there late? This one gets really complex. One of the things I noticed from this re-read is that Renly almost leaves Bitterbridge before the messenger announcing Stannis’ siege of Storm’s End arrives. Potentially, Renly might pick up some speed and outrun this messenger all the way to King’s Landing. Then things get really interesting: could Renly afford to abandon a siege of the capitol once established – he might think that claiming the Iron Throne is worth the risk and that Storm’s End won’t fall in time. In that case, you might get a weird scenario where both Storm’s End and King’s Landing falls, with Renly as King in King’s Landing, Stannis as King in Storm’s End hoovering up the other half of the Stormlords, and Robb and Tywin standing awkwardly on the sidelines figuring out what to do.

Book vs. Show:

Not all changes from the book to HBO’s Game of Thrones involve cutting material or diverging from the plot of the books – and the case of Renly, Loras, and Margaery’s plot is a good example of this. As I’ve said earlier, while I like Gethin Anthony’s work, I feel that something was lost by the decision not to cast someone who had the build of a young Robert. On the other hand, something rather incredible is gained when we get to go inside Renly’s tent and see the complicated emotional and sexual dynamics of his relationship with Loras and Margaery, and how Renly struggles with the expectations that his own image-making has imposed upon him, something that Gethin Anthony does brilliantly.

While Finn Jones was badly served by Seasons 3 and 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, he’s given a lot more to do in this season – we see both a loving relationship between him and Renly and a relationship that’s under strain by the reality is now married to his sister, we see him grieve for his lover and his king (more on that in future recaps), and we see him put on Renly’s armor and save the day. It’s disappointing then, that for the last two years, he’s been largely relegated to an extended gay joke. My hope is that, now that Cersei has risen to power with the deaht of Tywin, in Season 5 we will see Finn Jones join the Kingsguard, attempt to protect his sister and mentor his new king, and try to save his homeland by taking on a dangerous assault on Dragonstone, a much meatier role. My fear is that Loras is going to be thrust into a George Boleyn role and nothing else, which would be a waste.

But the real revelation here was Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell. I have to stop myself from gushing at great length here, but it’s undeniable that Dormer is a revelation as Margaery, bringing a depth and complexity and interiority above all to a character that in the books is a virtual cipher all the way up to the very end of A Feast For Crows. Dormer’s Margaery is a complex woman who combines political calculation with a genuine (although cautious) desire to do good, who transcends the usual “femme fatale” cliches with an insightful and often compassionate understanding of human sexuality and psychology. And I honestly don’t think any other actress could have pulled it off.

Ok, stopping myself there.

169 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn II, ACOK

  1. S. Duff says:

    Great analysis! I have to agree with you on the actors for Renly, Margaery, and Loras, I hope Finn Jones gets a meatier role in the future, and Natalie Dormer is absolutely amazing, she helped catapult Margaery into my Top 10 characters.

    Part of me wants to say that Renly should have committed earlier, but all things considered him dying by shadow baby was due to happen eventually. At best he takes King’s Landing, only to die, at which point someone loyal to Stannis opens the gates.

    As to the confusion over numbers, it’s later mentioned that after Renly’s cavalry goes over to Stannis, Randyll Tarly slaughters the Florent’s infantry, among others. So that probably explains where most of the Stormlord’s infantry went.

    Also, other Reachlords go over to Stannis, including houses Mullendore, Staedmon, Willum, Crane, and Varner. Really it’s only the Tarlys, Rowans, and Oakhearts that stay with Mace Tyrell.

    So I’d imagine that those three houses, plus the Tyrells, are enough to add up to 4,000 men, if the Tyrells keep most of their cavalry at Highgarden.

  2. Stephen Mace says:

    Great analysis as usual. I do want hip in and say that there is a Sentai version of the Rainbow Guard, its called WONDERFUL 101!!!!

  3. Grant says:

    If there is a Riverlands uprising, it’ll be interesting to see if it’s done in Robb’s name. Despite the fact that he wasn’t southern, he really seems to have won the hearts or respect of nearly everyone in the warzones, maybe because of his appealing story as a tragic hero.

    And sadly we have relatively little of Renly acting to see how much of what he said to Catelyn he meant. It’s entirely possible that he was hoping that the Starks would be weakened enough from the war that while he’d have to deal with them, he could do so from a position where they’d be forced to back down from their claims. Or maybe he was so desperate for extra support that he was willing to risk northern autonomy.

    • I don’t know if it’ll be done in Robb’s name. Whether it’ll be done in Edmure’s name is unsure – depends on what happens to Edmure in the TWOW Prologue.

      • WPA says:

        Or if Brynden is involved, in the name of Tully’s in general.

      • Winnief says:

        If not Edmure then it’s entirely possible for Blackfish to rally in the name of Edmure’s child by Roslin especially if it’s a son.

        But I suspect *Sansa* might be the most likely candidate of all.

        • I’d go with Edmure, I think the Prologue is the BWB ambushing the convoy to Casterly Rock that has Edmure and Jeyne Westerling in it. Edmure’s getting freed, but I think Jeyne’s dead.

          • Andrew says:

            1) Why do you think she’s dead? Maybe she could be another Lady Stoneheart in the making.

            2) I think the ambush might be led by the Blackfish given the BWB would have tried to find when they heard he left Riverrun. It comes to mind of Jaime thinking of the Blackfish never coming back to Riverrun “Unless sit is at the head of a band of outlaws.”

            3. When the Blackfish picked the country clean to prepare for the siege did he leave the smallfolk of RIverrun any food with which to feed themselves?

          • 1. I think LSH kills her, blaming her for Robb’s death.

            2. Possibly.

            3. I don’t think so.

          • Andrew says:

            3) So were the smallfolk of Riverrun likely pissed at him for that?

            Although, I think it would make some sense as Daven would have foraged it from them anyway, and the Blackfish simultaneously ensured enough food to last a long siege while depriving the besiegers of food and fodder, so they would starve long before he does. Daven mentions to Jaime that food supply is problem for the Lannister contingent of the siege, so it seemed to have worked.

          • I dunno. More than they would be pissed off about one of the worst murders in Westerosi history? Hard to say.

          • Do you think the BWB has enough people to ambush a group of that size? Blackfish could rally enough leavings but I doubt any of the lords would be quite that willing to take the risk. The other option is finally get another shot of Nymeria in the prologue.

          • I have a good enough feeling about it that I’d be willing to wager twenty bucks on it, let’s just say that.

          • Andrew says:

            The Blackfish is an experienced soldier, and has attacked armed camps before of larger size at the Battle of Riverrun. He managed to take out the sentries and free the highborn prisoners which included Edmure.

            Surprise can make up for numbers.

          • That’s what I’ve been thinking.

          • Crystal says:

            Something that may hint at Jeyne Westerling dying is that a ship captured by Victarion Greyjoy in ADWD is called “Headless Jeyne.” (I hope it doesn’t refer to poor Jeyne Poole, who has suffered more than enough.)

        • Crystal says:

          I agree wrt Sansa – who is now the “daughter” of the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, remember. If she winds up at Harrenhal, then someone – Tytos Blackwood, or Lord Vance, or another riverlord, *who knew Catelyn* – is going to wonder about this “Alayne” with Tully blue eyes and a strong facial resemblance to Catelyn Stark. Hair dye can only go so far to change one’s appearance.

          However she is discovered or reveals herself, Sansa is a potential heiress to the Riverlands if Edmure’s child does not live, or Edmure dies before having more children, or his child dies, or basically any other scenario than Edmure and his child both surviving. We know Rickon is alive, but the Riverlords don’t. Sansa is the eldest surviving child of Edmure’s older sister.

          Inheritance aside, Sansa is quite close by as of AFFC (just over the border in the Vale) and Petyr IS now the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, much to Emmon Frey’s dismay. I see the chances of Sansa visiting the Riverlands as pretty high, and the chances of someone suspecting that something is up with “Alayne” also pretty high. And UnCat does have that crown of Robb’s with her…

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah, plus I have my suspicions that neither poor Edmure or his child will survive…too many parties gunning for them, including Littlefinger who would want them gone precisely because that leaves Sansa as the next Tully heir and thus makes her the key to yet ANOTHER kingdom. (There is no way Emmon Frey is going to keep it. None.) And Riverrun in particular is precious to him.

      • Grant says:

        I didn’t mean politically to empower Robb or anything, as that obviously would be impossible with him coming down with a case of murdered, but rather that his name would be something of a rallying cry among lords like Edmure and anyone else from the region with a grievance against the current leadership. Robb did manage to gain enough loyalty that even after his death Brynden was holding out in Riverrun to protect her (though admittedly that might also be due to him not being willing to trust a Frey).

        • Crystal says:

          At this point, dislike of the Freys is so strong that the Rivermen would probably rally around a ham sandwich if it meant they could get revenge on Lannisters and Freys. So a rebellion in the name of Robb, Edmure, Sansa, or all three is quite likely.

          • Allenips says:

            Yeah, that all basically depends on the ability of the Iron Throne to muster forces to keep the Riverlords in line, which given the Reach soldiers preoccupation with the Ironborn, the potential houses in the Reach that will rebel and take up Aegon’s cause, the exhaustion of the Lannister’s military and political forces, and now the infighting between house Tyrell and Lannister, I don’t believe there is going to be anyone to keep the Riverlands in line besides the Faith, but they have their own game to play in the capital.

    • B says:

      perhaps with the knowledge that Winter is Coming, Renly doesn’t really care about controlling the North. Let those crazy Northerners have their independent winter hellscape, Renly just wants to control the land that fits his colorful personality.

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, I fear that the hobgoblins of the internet have eaten the preceding chapter of your analysis – oddly enough I was able to access it through my Mobile Phone but not the laptop upon which I type out this notice.

    I apologise for troubling you with these malfunctions and shall compliment your article once I have read it at my leisure!

  5. WPA says:

    Book Renly basically strikes me as a medieval-fantasy George McClellan. Excellent at the appearance of martial poise and working the PR and intrigue aspect of his position, but when it comes to the actual campaign, he’s utterly reluctant to use his army. All this despite absurdly favorable circumstances that require taking the initiative. The whole thing reminds me of the Peninsular Campaign- the grand pronouncements and the snail’s pace march.

    • I could see that comparison, definitely.

    • Winnief says:

      Ooooh…I think I like the McClellan comparison even better than the Duke of Clarence one!

      Sorry Steve..

    • Grant says:

      McClellan repeatedly lost battle after battle (often because he kept assuming the enemy had tens of thousands more than they actually did), left his army sometimes just standing around for months past reasonable excuses, suggested the need for a military dictator and ran against Lincoln for the presidency on the platform of the war being a total failure and that they should negotiate even with all the gains the Union had made by that point.
      The worst we can say of Renly is that he wanted to become king even if that overturned primogeniture (which has serious problems but he might have seen it as necessary) and that he mistook early momentum for continued momentum. There may have been other real flaws in him, but that’s all that we can definitely say about him. Seems unfair to compare him to a man like McClellan.

  6. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, please allow me to compliment you upon producing another excellent article of analysis!

    I admire your eye for detail in particular, although I wonder if you may perhaps be reading more into the lack of mention of certain Houses in the context of the Great Summer Host than might have been intended – on the whole I prefer the Watsonian argument you present, but for the sake of a Doylist Response one might argue that the reason they go unmentioned or undepicted in the text is simply due to the fact that Mr Martin did not care to mention their presence, rather than because he wanted to make explicit their absence.

    On another note, I suspect that the Shield Islanders are absent from the Great Southern Host for the same reason House Mallister was keen to quit the Northern Host (which I suspect is also the reason House Farman is not mentioned as part of any Western Host) – if any Houses are more likely than these to have kept a weather eye on the Ironborn and to take appropriate steps in the face of that fleet assembling at Pyke then I cannot think of any.

    Quite frankly with Lord Balon picking out the driftwood for his next Crown, I would be worrying more about him than any other Lord or King did I hold fiefs on the Western Coastlands of Westeros.

    • It’s possible, but there’s got to be some kind of explanation for why the Reach has 100,000 soldiers and only 60,000 show up here.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        I would guess that those 40 000 absentees are keeping an eye on the Dornish Marches and the Westerland, both of which border The Reach; it is not impossible that the Stormland absentees are also keeping a weather eye on the Dornish too.

        Given the fact that My Lord Paramount is effectively marching to the other side of the continent from his heartland for a war of uncertain duration (while Storms End is much closer to Kings Landing) it makes sense that he would want to leave a strong force to secure it against any opportunist – exactly as that long-ago Green King left behind the Little Lion of House Osgrey to prevent King Lancel from stabbing him in the back.

        Given also the sheer SIZE of the Reach it also makes sense that this strategic reserve (of admittedly-luxurious proportions) would be mounted, the better to respond at great speed to any incursion … not to mention keep House Tyrell a viable concern even if the event of catastrophe (which implies that they drew the proper lessons from the fiery demise of House Gardener).

        We do not hear of young Wyllas Tyrell attending the Summer King, after all.

  7. Winnief says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. I especially love your point about Mace always taking the easy way out. I think there was a bit of that in Renly too-I’m not saying you’re not right about his strategy, but at least subconsciously I feel like he was eager to avoid the hard stuff and that’s why he was going so slowly to KL and the inevitable battle.

    And say what you will about Stannis-whatever else his faults that is a man who’s NEVER afraid to do what needs to be done no matter how tough it is.

    I agree that Finn and Natalie have been absolute treasures though Finn’s been underused the past couple seasons. However, in recent interviews he’s mentioned being very excited and surprised about his role for next season so fingers crossed.

    My personal theory is that with Mace being sent to the Iron Bank of Braavos, next season Loras will be the acting head of the Tyrell family when Margaery is charged. Hell if anything happens to Mace in Braavos, (quite possible) then Loras becomes the actual Head of the Family.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, that change…makes sense more than anything else. So Loras becomes Mace, I guess?

      • Winnie says:

        Or perhaps ends up filling the role Martin ultimately planned for his older brothers in the books.

        Remember Martin said he was surprised the show cut them because they were going to be critical later…maybe the show just decided to have Loras take their place. Condense characters and so forth.

    • Grant says:

      I’ve heard (though unable to confirm) that there’s a scene of Loras being attacked in season 5. It’s possible that the writers decided to shift from Margaery’s infidelity trial to Cersei using Loras’ homosexuality to make him a target for the High Septon, which would also be easier to use since many of the male characters that are used for Margaery’s accusations aren’t around in the show. Of course this doesn’t have remotely the same use to Cersei as removing Margaery as a rival, but she’s smug and vengeful enough that she’d do it anyway.

      • Winnie says:

        That’s certainly possible Grant. I also think that Cersei may scheme to put Loras in harms way or have him attacked by her goons disguised as common outlaws or something out of spite as well.

        Or to avoid the marriage. But she wouldnt need Loras dead to get out of that anymore now that Train’s gone and she’s regent. ESPECIALLY since house Tyrell was never keen on the match anyway and Loras will be relieved as her to call off the engagement.

        Again stupid and short sighted on her part but certainly in character.

  8. David Hunt says:

    Wow. I’ve got to go out 5 minutes ago, so I’ve got no comments about this except….well, “wow.”

      • Edward says:

        I too enjoy you’re analysis, but why do you think the Vale should support King Robb? They have nothing do with his kingship and they gain little to nothing from entering the war.

        • 1. Ties of blood. Bran’s Lysa’s nephew, and he’s kin to the Royces as well.

          2. Same enemies. Lysa has stated publicly that the Lannisters killed Jon Arryn, and the Lannisters took the Wardenship from the Arryns.

          3. Proximity. The North and the Vale are very close, a lot closer than the Vale and Casterly Rock, and closer than the Vale and King’s Landing. And if the Riverlands goes with Robb, that means their western and southern borders are also with Robb’s kingdom.

          • Edwin says:

            I see. But really, shouldn’t Robb offer something? Currently they’re the second strongest Kingdom on the continent because they stayed neutral.

            She said that, but we know she wasn’t telling the truth. Besides, the Lannisters are Stannis and Renlys enemies too. Shouldn’t they be equally valid options? Jon Arryn worked closely with Stannis for well over a decade and named his first and only son after Robert.

            I might not understand, but are you saying they should join Robbs Kingdom because they’re right next to it? The Vale is wealthier and closer to the Riverlands. That means they’d likely be contributing the most, despite having the least to gain. If anything, wouldn’t they expect the North and Riverlands to swear fealty?

            The chapter’s comments section was closed so I’ll ask here. You said that politically, Robb wasn’t wrong for breaking his alliance to the Freys, and that he should have tried to get a better match, but there were no options. Balon hates the Starks with a passion. The reason he rejects Theon is that he came back wolfish. There’s no chance he’d marry off his favorie child to a Stark. Arianne’s off the table becauase they’re Targ loyalists abd to far away to be pf immediate help. The Tyrells wouldn’t agree to it because Robb has no claim to the rest of Westeros. So they need a Baratheon. Aside from that there are a handful of Houses that are significantly stronger than the Frey’s. The Manderlys are already loyal. The Royces might be interested, but Lysa would never allow it. The Graftons are out and the Hightowers and Redwynes are bound by blood to the Tyrells.

            Again. I love your blog. Its nice to see someone defending the Starks competence.:)

          • 1. Of course he should. And probably did.

            2. Stannis and Renly would also be viable claimants. But they’re also not kin.

            3. I’m saying that in the event Robb succeeds, he’ll basically surround the Vale on three sides. Is it better to be his foreign enemy or an ally?

            4. Regarding the other offers. Firstly, Balon’s not going to live forever. He might not agree, but King Theon or Queen Asha might. The Tyrells might well agree, especially if the offer is for the King in the North to marry the daughter of the King in Highgarden. The realm’s only been unified for 300 years, why shouldn’t the Reach rule itself? If the Lannisters fall, who exactly is left to oppose the Tyrells in assuming hegemony in the South?

          • Edwin says:

            1) I don’t think he did. There wasn’t a lot he could offer them, and it’s never mentioned.

            2) They aren’t related, but Stannis is their rightful King and Robert was probably the closest thing Jon had to a son… not counting his own son.

            3) The North can’t get past the Bloody Gate though.

            4) Balon’s probably 50 something by this point. Old, but he probably had a good ten to twenty years left. And Balons not the only anti-Stark on the island. When Theon asserts that he’s Balon’s heir, Aeron tells him flat out that a Stark can’t sit on the Seastone Chair.

            5) Because the Tyrells were stewards. The Lannisters, Arryns, Starks, Martells and Baratheons through the female line were Kings for thousands of years. Isn’t it more likely that they’d choose a Baratheon and make a bid for the entire continent?

            6) If the Lannisters fall, who would accept them. They aren’t on good terms with the Martells. Stannis won’t give up. The Vale is unlikely to accept them as Kings. The same thing for the Iron Born.

  9. Jeff says:

    One thing that really stuck out to me in this chapter versus the Davos II I think is that at the heart of it the Baratheon brothers are a pretty straightforward style over substance comparison. He has all these furnishings that he will never use, these suits of armor and clothes he will never wear, these weapons he doesn’t wield in a pavillion he never sleeps in.
    However in Davos II we see that Stannis’ tent is just big and kind of yellow and he uses everything in there whenever he might need it.

  10. rmcd13 says:

    I must be daft because I never got a hint of Loras and Renly being lovers while reading the books for the first time. I sure was surprised when I watched the show! Now, that I’m rereading the books, I’m picking up on some of the more subtle clues I missed the first time.

    • Grant says:

      This is really a series that has a reread bonus, where reading it again lets you suddenly see a scene in a completely different light. It’s hardly a requisite of writing, but I’ve noticed that several authors I like have it (for example read Zelazny’s Amber books and check to see how many things change once you read them again).

    • Oh yeah, the hints are really in there.

    • Don’t feel too bad. It wasn’t until some exchange between Loras and another character (Jamie?) during AFFC (first time through the series) that I had one of those moments of slowly dropping the book to my lap, turning to stare into the middle distance, and thinking “No shit, they were lovers the whole time…”

      I then went back to reading and knew I’d have to read them all again to see what else I had missed.

  11. Andrew says:

    1) I personally loved seeing Tarly getting owned by Catelyn.

    2) Lord Caswell is no doubt the same guy Duck beat up with a hammer.

    3) The crown does emphasize Renly’s reliance on the Tyrells. It is adorned with golden roses with even the sigil of his house on the crown being done in the colors of House Tyrell.

    4) Brienne is definitely Dunk’s descendant. When faced with an opponent more skilled at arms, she resorts to pulling him off his horse just as Dunk did at least twice. This brings to mind Lucas Longinch armed with a longaxe whom Dunk dragons off his horse and uses his dirk just as Brinne does with Loras.

  12. BarbreysDustyDesire says:

    Very much enjoyed your analysis Steven. Lots to ponder. I found the introduction of Briennes character particularly interesting and I have to say that I find her to be more of an idealist rather than a romantic, although she certainly is a romantic when it comes to Renly. A minor quibble I know. She adheres to very high standards and is initially quite rigid in trying to maintain those standards, as in her initial comments to Catelyn. I also couldn’t help both laughing and groaning at Catelyns comment about there being nothing so unfortunate as an ugly woman. An observation not only true to Westerosi society but quite universal. The description of Brienne also made me notice how relative notions of female beauty are. Going by the description I’d say that in todays society Brienne would most likely considered quite attractive, apart from the crooked teeth. However I do like the notion that regardless how attractive Brienne is, she is one of the characters that’s fits the ideal of what a true knight should be; noble, ethical, courageous and true. I also love the way the relationship between Brienne and Catelyn develops although I wonder if Cats initial reaction of abhorrence towards her doesent reflect some hidden anxiety about Aryas possible future path.

    • I don’t think that Brienne would be considered attractive today. “Features broad and coarse”, broken nose – doesn’t sound like what is usually considered attractive in a woman. Plus she’s supposed to have a rather masculine body build. I don’t think Brienne is supposed to be “attractive, just not by their standards” – I think she really is supposed to be physically ugly, which is really refreshing in fiction, where supposedly ugly/plain women always must turn out to be Ugly Ducklings who either grow up into, or turn into beautiful swans as soon as wear a dress, take off their glasses or comb their hair (there’s that trope in ASOAIF as well, with Arya). As if it’s inconceivable for a heroine to be anything but beautiful. (There’s also a tendency to try to beautify male characters as well – that’s behind the phenomenon of “Adaptional Attractiveness” and “Hollywood Homely”; it’s one thing to read a book with an ugly protagonist and pat yourself in the back for not being shallow while condemning the characters for the thought-crime of finding such a character ugly/not being attracted to them, and something completely different to actually see the character as ugly and realize you would feel just the same as those characters whose “shallowness” you despised. See also: much of the fanart of canonically ugly characters that makes them look much more physically attractive than they’re supposed to be.) How many genuinely physically unattractive Hollywood actresses can you think of? With actors, there are some, but not many, with actresses, even fewer.

      Regarding Catelyn’s thoughts, people are far too harsh on her when they criticize he for it. I never got the impression that Catelyn was feeling any hate or contempt or condemnation; it’s not like she thinks Brienne must be a bad person because she’s ugly. She’s likewise not horrified that Brienne is breaking society’s gender rules because she finds it morally wrong. In both cases, she feels sorry for Brienne because she knows the reality of how society works and how difficult Brienne’s life must be, and is going to be, both for being an ugly woman in a society that primarily values women for their looks, and for challenging the rules of society in a way that is likely to bring even more hatred and prejudice against her. (It’s for the same reason that Ned thinks with sorrow about Bran’s future as a cripple, even while he’s trying to focus on the positives while talking to Arya, and why, even though he gives Arya an opportunity to learn fighting with a sword, he expects it to be just a childish hobby that Arya will eventually give up and marry some lord.) Catelyn has always been more of a realist and pragmatic than an idealist or a rebel. She didn’t decide for herself that women must be beautiful and feminine – she thinks that it’s best for them to be beautiful and feminine because it’s the way to live in the society with some degree of success. And ironically, Catelyn is one of the characters, female or male, that spends the least amount of time thinking about her own looks or her clothing. I’m sure she dresses well and takes care of her looks, because it’s a part of performing her social role, but she doesn’t really dwell on it.

      And yes, I do think Catelyn was thinking about Arya and how hard the future could be for her if she doesn’t learn to perform femininity. I don’t agree with people who think that Sansa was Cat’s preferred daughter, there’s absolutely nothing in Cat’s POVs to support that idea. Sansa was just the one Catelyn didn’t think she needed to worry about (which, come to think of it, shows the limits of Cat’s understanding of the society she lives in) – Sansa was always doing everything a lady is supposed to do, observed the rules, had the beauty and charm a lady is supposed to have. Arya was the daughter Cat was worried about and thought she had to make change for her own good.

      Regading Catelyn’s

      • BarbreysDustyDesire says:

        I was simply trying to raise the point that ugliness, especially in women is seen in most societies as a defect, something to be pitied and scorned. Im fully aware of the old cliche of ugliness= bad and beauty=good and that GRRM addresses that in his fiction. Also that notions of beauty change throughout history, what was considered beautiful during the times of Rubens or the Renaissance may not be so now. Briennes large eyes and swollen lips are considered desirable today. Brienne may be unnattractive but shes not hideous, shes butch. I think there in fact are very few truly ugly people in the world. There is beauty in imperfection and there’s actually a French word for a mixture of ugly/beautiful, cant remember it now but I get the point that Brienne is a figure of scorn and derision for not conforming to societies very strict rules regarding female behaviour and appearance. As readers though we do visualise characters from the descriptions authors write so its not surprising that we may picture characters we like as more attractive in our minds, hence the more positive depictions in fan art.

        • Well, people in ASOAIF world certainly tend to exaggerate – instead of just being considered unattractive, someone will be derided as hideous, if they are attracting attention in some other way; there are probably lots of unattractive women out there, but few are so big and muscular as Brienne, and even fewer wear men’s clothes and fight as knights do; being a dwarf, ugly and simultaneously the son of one of the Lord Paramounts will bring you a lot more notoriety than just being some peasant dwarf who may or may not be equally ugly. It’s the flip side of Dany or Cersei being considered “most beautiful women in the world/Westeros” or Jaime or Loras being known for their male beauty; they may be common women and men who are no less good-looking (though they certainly wouldn’t dress so well), but they’re not queens or famous knights. It’s just like today, with all the “Most beautiful people in the world” list that only include celebrities, despite the fact that nobody has actually seen all 6 billion of people in the world and can’t tell if there’s a whole bunch of “anonymous” people who they would consider just as or even more beautiful.

          As for facial features, while some may be considered more appealing than others, there’s no rule that a certain collection of features will result in an attractive face, or vice versa. Certain features may look great on someone, but awful on someone else; for instance, a small, snub nose will suit someone’s face perfectly, while someone else would look ridiculous with it, since a hooked nose is what suits their face. (I knew a woman once who was Arab, I believe Syrian, on her father’s side, and who was very attractive and had a slightly hooked nose; but, unfortunately, she had cosmetic surgery to get herself a more stereotypically “European” straight nose, and she looked much blander after that. Though in her case, her mother’s hatred of her ex-husband and possible wish to disown that part of her heritage may have been responsible as much than a stereotypical idea of what is supposed to be pretty.) Some of Brienne’s individual features may be more attractive than the sum of the parts – wide, full lips is a feature I’ve seen both on very attractive and very unattractive features. And I don’t think Brienne’s big eyes are supposed to be an unattractive trait – it’s her own feature that Jaime notes as beautiful.

        • Mitch says:

          The French word you were referring to is “jolie laide,” literally meaning “beautifully ugly” in English.

  13. OTL says:

    So does this mean that Stannis’ army at the battle of Blackwater was nearly all heavy cavalry?

    Renly might be willing to allow the North to become independent but not the Riverlands. That would make the Vale an exclave which could cause problems later. Maybe the Riverlands could be partitioned with the northern half joining the Kingdom of the North.

    Renly’s dubious claim might create the causes for long term instability in the future, like you mentioned in the Roman Empire. But the principle of monarchy itself leads to just as much instability. Even if the line of succession is completely adhered to. The monarch could be very well end up mad, bad or dangerous (Joffrey, Aerys) or just lazy and incompetent (like Robert). Point is without any kind of selection criteria or checks on power there is a recipe for instability.

    Do you think that Martin’s comparison between with Renly and Stannis, with Renly appearing better but Stannis eventually being shown to be a better King, go completely over D&D’s heads? They seem to see Renly as the ideal King (“What’s best for the people we rule?”). While they describe Stannis as “being obsessed with bloodlines” or something, in the last making off video, (which is quite funny when you consider who his chief advisors are).

    • Winnie says:

      I think D&D knew Renly was more style than substance as well. They include Cat’s comments about him playing at war and the knights of summer and have Jaime declare Renly wasnt fit to rule over anything other a great meal as well as Olenna’s unfavorable verdict of Renly as well.

      I do think they are sometimes unfair to Stannis though that seems to be improving since the meeting with the Iron Bank and having him looking so….kingly in the finale.

      • OTL says:

        Yeah, maybe.

        Cat’s comments seemed a bit unfair to me. What does she expect an army of bored knights/soldiers to do while they kill time? Meditate? Knights from the Vale were even going to join Renly ‘cos of all the good times to be had. Could Robb and Stannis claim the same?

        Renly was in a win-win situation. If the Lannisters win he doesn’t have to deal with the problem of an independent North and an experienced well-led army. If the Starks win his most dangerous opponent has been eliminated. If I was in his position I would have done the same. Renly was thinking about the long game. Just like Stannis didn’t make a bee-line for KL. Renly was thinking about what comes after the War.

        The problem with Jamie/Olenna’s comments is that they are not backed up with evidence. Jamie didn’t provide any evidence that Renly was incompetent (just that he was gay) and Olenna said that Robert had two sons. So I think we should discount their views.

        In the show, Renly was shown to base his claim on not only that he would be the best guy for the job but that he would be the best choice for the people of Westeros. This would include a commitment to the welfare of the common people.

        But we know that in the long run Stannis has been shown to have a greater commitment to the welfare of the people. He applies justice to all and defends the realm from the Wildlings/Iron born. Also he doesn’t (more or less) do things that would gain him more power but go against his code.

        I agree with your point about Stannis’ improving portrayal in the show but it’s always hard to know whether this is down to the actual material they have to work with or them achieving greater understanding of the character.

        • Grant says:

          The problem with Renly, and really most of the noble figures, is that while it’s demonstrated that most of them get that they need to do things like establish order and protect their people from attacks, how many of them really see a need to act for the interests of the commoners? A lot of their popularity or unpopularity is seen just through the nobles, who are a distinct class with interests to be sure, but they don’t represent the people as a whole.

          I’ve defended Renly before, but really on the grounds that he didn’t show himself to be an outright bad ruler and that we didn’t see enough of him to see where he would go. We shouldn’t view Renly as the guy who would have been the perfect king and friend of Robb, we shouldn’t view him as a horrible disaster who just caused trouble for Stannis (the two main views I’ve seen of him). He might have been either, or he might have been something completely different.

          • Mitch says:

            I agree that people are too quick to judge Renly one way or the other.

            His leisurely pace on the mark from the Reach definitely has it’s faults, but so do all the other major character’s plans; Tywin is in a bad spot after the battle of the Whispering Woods decimated his second army and captured his heir, while Rob’s pre-Red Wedding war campaign relies on a series of calculated gambles (mostly smart ones, but not guaranteed either). We never got to see how it would’ve worked out, since he was assassinated by black magic early on.

            What we do know about Renly is he was excellent at diplomacy (winning the Tyrell’s and the majority of the Reach to his side despite not having a legitimate claim to the throne while Stannis is alive). I mean, if Stannis didn’t have supernatural powers working for him, his army would’ve been crushed in a straight up battle with Renly’s army.

            I think Renly was well positioned to win the War of the Five Kings, and short of supernatural intervention in the form of a shadowbaby, probably would’ve been the favorite to win the Iron Throne as of Bitterbridge.

            The biggest fault with his course of action that I can find is that disrupting his birth order would massively destabilize any succession plans because of the precedence he would’ve set.

      • David Hunt says:

        Well, at this point Stannis would make a terrible king. Going by my memory, I’d say that it isn’t until around the point Davos makes him understand his responsibilities and he sail north the Wall that Stannis would be a good prospect for the Iron Throne. I’ll be interested to see what they do with him in the upcoming season.

        • Mitch says:

          Yes, absolutely. We see Stannis grow into a worthy king, something Renly is never given time to do.

          People judge Renly harshly because his plans were cut short, but the truth is as of ACOK both brothers were flawed rulers in their own ways.

          • David Hunt says:

            Given what I saw of Renly’s handling of his position of Master of Laws in AGOT, I got the impression that he was very hands off and let his underlings run their own areas. This gave us Janos Slynt as head of the Gold Cloaks (who I think all will acknowledge was well known to be corrupt) and Ilyn Payne as the King’s Justice. While Ser Ilyn was well suited to be the royal headsman, he was hopeless as the guy in charge of the dungeons. He couldn’t speak and was illiterate so he was totally unable to actually perform his main duty (in terms of the amount of time you’d expect it to take). He also spent 15 years in that job without bothering to find a way to do it satisfactorily.

            All of that is a bit of what I consider to be supporting evidence that Renly would be is one who spends most of his time as king gladhanding various important nobles while he lets his Hand take care of the actual nuts and bolts work of ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Thus, whoever Renly would have named as Hand is an extremely important piece of information if you’re trying to evaluate how good of a king he would have been. Although I’m virtually certain that it was never explicitly stated, I’d give ten to one odds that it would have been Mace Tyrell. Given that his support is vital to Renly’s kingship, I don’t see how Renly could refuse him and Mace was making obvious hints about the handship to Cercei at Tywin’s funeral(!). If he wanted it at that point, he definitely expected it as his due from Renly. And Mace Tyrell does not impress me someone I’d trust to run the Seven Kingdoms. I may have misjudged him, but he simply fails to make any impression on me except as a guy who wants to achieve glory through the accomplishments of children.

          • Winnie says:

            Good points all.

            I just had a thought that Mace Tyrell is a lot like Thomas Boelyn-a man whose sole strategy to get ahead was by auctioning off his kids to the highest bidder.

          • A bit more settled and powerful than ol’ Thomas Boleyn, but the same basic attitude.

          • Crystal says:

            Winnie – that’s a really good comparison of Mace Tyrell to Thomas Boleyn. I hadn’t thought of it, but it fits.

            David: I agree with you that if Renly became King, his Hand would no doubt be Mace Tyrell. He is so beholden to the Tyrells that I don’t think he’d have a choice. Mace is a mediocre man who, as was pointed out, isn’t a man of action any more than Renly is. He’d be a better Hand than that clown Cersei appointed in AFFC (Harys Swyft, IIRC) but that’s setting the bar quite low.

            Renly has no Davos-type figure – someone of basic intelligence and decency, who will be utterly loyal and yet can be trusted to tell the truth instead of kissing butt and BS’ing. The closest he gets to this is Brienne, who is loyal, intelligent, and a truly good person, but, being a woman, is not going to be on Renly’s council. And her real strength is fighting, not advising. (Come to think of it, Brienne and Davos do have a parallel in that they each have a huge drawback by the standards of their society: Brienne is a woman who can’t fit into her society’s role, and Davos was born a commoner. For these reasons, they both lack credibility in the eyes of the nobles surrounding Renly and Stannis.)

          • Winnie says:

            Going on my Mace Tyrell/Thomas Boleyn comparison, (though obviously the former wields far FAR greater power than the latter,) they were both from families under the taint of being “new blood” and poor Margaery’s upcoming trial clearly mimics the unhappy fate of Anne Boleyn.

            Which leads me to another possible comparison in the future-Thomas’s schemes weren’t just incompatible with his children’s happiness but ultimately helped bring about their deaths and the ruin of the entire family. He was driven from court in disgrace and his bloodline was extinguished on the male side completely.

            The sole survivor after all of the three Boleyn children was Mary and the only reason for that was that she had been cast off by Henry and her family alike and was living so quietly in the country that no one thought about her. Interestingly, her children at least did quite well under the reign of their cousin (and possibly half sister) Elizabeth…but I digress.

          • Grant says:

            On Brienne and Renly, setting aside her gender she still wouldn’t be a good Hand simply because she’s even more focused on honor and vows than the exaggerated version of Ned Stark that most think of would be. The best Hands have always been competent, realistic figures with political intelligence (an area where Davos too might have trouble).

            As for Renly, we didn’t get a good look at his inner circle, but Mace Tyrell as Hand might very well have been his choice. It is possible though that Renly would have realized Mace’s lack of competence and tried to placate him with more honors and gamble that Mace would be so tied to the throne through Margaery that Renly could appoint someone else as Hand.

          • John says:

            Wouldn’t “more settled in power Thomas Boleyn” make Mace kind of an amalgam of Thomas Boleyn and his brother-in-law the Duke of Norfolk?

          • Yes, I like that.

    • WPA says:

      No. In this case a monarchy, warts and all provides greater stability compared to a civil war breaking out EVERY time a king dies.

      • OTL says:

        But if Aerys hadn’t been mad there would be no Robert’s rebellion. And if Robert hadn’t been so evil and Joffrey hadn’t been so evil there would be no War of the 5 Kings… Not that much between the two systems in my opinion.

        • OTL says:

          Robert been lazy, I mean.

        • WPA says:

          Actually Robert was pretty competent at holding the realm together. Had his children not been incest born abominations, there’d have been no civil war.

          Understand, without an organized manner of succession, instead of a dispute every century or so, you have one every generation as any claim depends entirely on mustering forces without the benefit of law or oath.

          • OTL says:

            But there is a massive amount of space between 1. The best possible person for the job and, on the other hand, 2. So incompetent that your own nobility rebel against you.

            Even the best monarchy cannot correct for the completely random distribution of talent and skill that the monarch will have.

            Someone who becomes king by conquest will at least have a bit of get up and go about them. For example your William the Conquerer, Cromwell or Napoleon.

            Any state with a monarchy will inevitably end up badly managed.

          • WPA says:

            But of those mentioned, only William’s line endured because he had at least a marginally defensible claim to the throne prior to his Conquest. Napoleon ended up stuck on an island and Cromwell’s CORPSE was dug up and posthumously executed upon the Restoration because their “claims” to power fell apart the moment the force to sustain them fell away or they lacked a successor.

          • WPA says:

            The benefit in this feudal system of a monarchy is the stability in a transition of power that it gives if things work properly compared to the alternative. Robb ascends to the title Lord of Winterfell the moment The Ned lost his head, why? Because he’s the eldest son of the Lord of Winterfell, there’s no dispute there. If a king dies suddenly, “who’s in charge?” is answered by “this guy in charge!” at once. Flawed of course, but better than the alternative of feudal anarchy.

            Some might argue that in modern democracies, the skill set to be elected and the skill set to actually govern are increasingly mutually exclusive, but that’s preferable to the alternative of unaccountable authoritarianism or anarchy.

    • The thing about Renly that was removed from the TV show is that his reaction to Catelyn’s suggestion to hold a council of Westerosi nobles and elect the king from the existing candidates, shows him to be quite a hypocrite.

      He claims that inheritance rules are basically rubbish and irrelevant. Yet one of the main reasons why he’s supported by the Tyrells and so many other nobles is that he has a claim to the Throne through inheritance rights – even if it is weaker than Stannis’ or – as far as Renly is aware when he declares himself King – Joffrey and Tommen.

      He claims that Robert got his kingdom through conquest, as did Aegon, and that this is what really matters. Yet, he hasn’t conquered anything yet. He has a very large army, but he hasn’t even been to battle. A large army doesn’t necessarily mean a victory. But Renly has never been to war and has no clue about winning battles.

      He claims that the most suitable man should be King. But when has he proven himself to be suitable ruler? He hasn’t even been governing Storm’s End, he’s been living in King’s Landing and was at the Small Council as the Master of Laws. What exactly has he done in that position? It seems like nothing but a ceremonial position for Robert’s little brother.

      The one thing Renly really is talented and capable of – and that would be a desirable trait of a king – is people skills, being popular and winning the support of the Westerosi nobles. But if he is basing his belief he’s the right man for the job on his popularity with the nobles, why not accept Catelyn’s suggestion? Wouldn’t that be perfect for the guy who prides himself on the number of his highborn supporters? And that’s what I see as hypocritical, and arrogant.

      The thing that he really relies on as his trump card that makes

    • John says:

      I don’t think this is Martin’s comparison between Renly and Stannis at all. My interpretation has always been that Martin thinks *both* of them would be rotten kings. We should note the symmetry that both of them having a sympathetic POV character who idolizes them, while also seeing them from the perspective of others who are less enamored.

  14. Abbey Battle says:

    I just wanted to take the opportunity to join in the chorus praising Ms. Dormer, but at this point it probably seems somewhat superfluous! (On a more serious note she is talented and very compelling, but while she DOES seem to have more of a Targaryen than a Tyrell look I can see why they would prefer Ms. Clarke to Ms. Dormer in the role of Princess Daenerys – the latter is just too darned POLISHED to be an entirely-convincing ingenue, it would be like casting a younger Dame Vanessa Redgrave as Sansa Stark!).

  15. OTL says:

    You might know who is in charge but that doesn’t mean that the new person will be any good.

    A bad king/lord will not handle problems effectively thus creating problems further down the line.

    This is why all monarchies are inherently unstable. Moreover they are not going to be any better managed than simply giving it to whoever can stake their claim. They are both unstable systems.

    • Winnie says:

      Leading back to that old saying…”Democracy is the worst form of government…except for all the others.”

      I mean as bad as politics in the US is right now, compared to say the War of the Roses or sub-Saharan African we’re living the dream!

      • Jim B says:

        Yeah, among the fantasy tropes GRRM is skewering is the romantic view of monarchies. Usually, monarchy is shown as being pretty functional or at least well-suited to the historical era, unless the realm is suffering under a designated Bad King. In which case, it usually turns out that the Bad King is also illegitimate in some way and the solution is for the heroes to help the Rightful Heir (re)take the throne.

        Here, we quickly learn that Good King Robert is, well, more like Mediocre King Robert, and only holds the throne because he took it from a really shitty king. And his successor is another shitty king, but don’t worry, because it turns out he’s not legitimate — but that’s just the beginning of the problems GRRM poses to the reader.

        Is the legitimate successor Stannis, or Dany? And if you think Dany has the better claim, did you feel the same way about Viserys’s claim when he was alive? Or do you factor in suitability to rule, in which case doesn’t Renly have a point? And just when Dany fans think they’ve got their argument sorted out, along comes Aegon….

        And it’s not like the Targaryens were doing fine before Aerys. In a couple of centuries of rule, they had, what, five major “constitutional crises,” even if you count the Blackfyre Rebellions as just one? Two resolved peacefully through Great Councils, and three via war (Dance of the Dragons, Blackfyre Rebellions, Robert’s Rebellion) — and that’s not counting the possible murders and other schemes.

        • Winnie says:

          Not to mention the matter of the REAL lost Prince with the best claim of all Jon.

          But yeah, the amount of bloodshed and horror competing factions of Targaryens brought to the Seven Kingdoms for *centuries* makes me pretty damn skeptical of their ‘divine rights’ to the throne. But doing away with Targaryen’s doesn’t make things any better as we’ve seen either. Really readers are left increasingly considering the idea that monarchy in Westeros if not scrapped altogether needs to be seriously redefined because this shit ain’t working.

          • Jim B says:

            “Not to mention the matter of the REAL lost Prince with the best claim of all Jon.”

            Which is exactly why I don’t think GRRM will put Jon on the Iron Throne. It’s way too fairlytaleish, and ignores all of the realpolitik that GRRM has been showing us is so important even in a medieval context.

            You (and here I mean “a hypothetical pro-Jon faction,” not you personally) really have to elevate legal form over substance to the maximum possible degree to justify a King Jon. It really comes down to, “well, he’s got the right father, and (assuming) there was a second marriage performed so that he’s not technically a bastard, by the laws of inheritance he’s the guy.” Plus you have to argue that House Targaryen has a right to rule by virtue of conquest, but House Baratheon doesn’t, and/or that the Targaryens didn’t forfeit their right to rule. Then, at the same time that you’re clinging to the technical rules of legal inheritance, you have to ignore the technicality of Jon’s oath to the Night’s Watch (or else work around it via the various forms of special pleading I’ve seen offered, e.g. “well, he’s reborn now, so his oath has expired”)

            And that’s basically ALL that Jon has going for him. He’s essentially unknown to the nobility of the Seven Kingdoms who are supposed to accept his right to rule, with the exception of Stannis’s supporters, who aren’t terribly fond of him right now. He’s got no power base whatsoever — as of the end of ADwD, even his own men have fragged him. (Which doesn’t say much for his leadership abilities, though obviously one can have a lengthy debate about the wisdom of Jon’s decisions.)

          • Grant says:

            There are still two books to be written, and it’s entirely possible that Jon may get a dragon, distinguish himself in the war and be in a position where he could give some symbolic legitimacy to a legitimacy-bankrupt throne. Now, Jon from the end of A Dance With Dragons (assuming he’s alive)? No. He couldn’t manage it. Jon two books from there? Well, very few at A Game of Thrones would have thought that by the end of A Storm of Swords the only survivor of the original belligerents would be Stannis. So nothing’s guaranteed, but quite a bit is possible.

            Truly, only Martin knows.

        • Sean C. says:

          Five major constitutional crises in three centuries, two of them resolved peaceably, would actually be considered quite an excellent track record for most medieval states, let alone a state as big as Westeros.

          • Winnie says:

            And isn’t that sad?!?

            Though, that sort of reasoning MIGHT explain why Varys seems so intent on restoring the Targaryen dynasty through someone who doesn’t have the disadvantage of the usual Targaryen inherited madness. (Little knowing how things like dragons, White Walkers, and a little secret in the Stark crypts are going to render all his careful plans moot.) Yet another disadvantage to inherited nobility-too much inbreeding can be very VERY dangerous as was the case with the Ptolemy dynasty. 300 years of having a good half of the rulers being absolute nutjobs who keep murdering each other ain’t good.

          • Jim B says:

            Quite true. But still contrary to the idealized picture of monarchy in most fantasy literature.

            And it does compare rather unfavorably to the records of the pre-Targaryen kingdoms. Even allowing for some of the intermarrying and co-opting by the Andals and various internal struggles, it’s still pretty astonishing that the Starks have ruled the North for millennia, ditto the Lannisters in the West, etc.

            Of course, those kingdoms were of much smaller scale. Though the Targaryens’ problems seem to be more internal rather than directly related to the difficulties of managing such a large empire.

          • Sean C. says:

            I don’t think you can fairly compare the internal politics of the Seven Kingdoms solely to the internal politics of the individual states, seeing as the wars between the various kingdoms were also plentiful..

          • Jim B says:

            “I don’t think you can fairly compare the internal politics of the Seven Kingdoms solely to the internal politics of the individual states, seeing as the wars between the various kingdoms were also plentiful.”

            Well, you can in terms of judging “ability to have orderly successions and transfers of power.” It may be that pre-Conquest Westeros was every bit as bloody and unstable in an overall sense, but my point is that the Starks and the Arryns and others seem to have a better track record of not going to war with their own family members, and of not pissing off their own bannermen enough to cause their demise.

            Though it may be that those external wars helped with internal stability: wars help prune the family tree of excess sons, either by killing them off or giving them conquered territories to run. But that just begs the question of why the Targs never showed much external ambitions: why did it take a “Rogue Prince” to go clean out the Stepstones?

          • @JimB: The Starks and Arryns, perhaps. But when it comes to the Riverlands, Stormlands and Iron Islands, things seemed to be much worse and bloodier before the Targaryens – and TWOAIF certainly shows exactly why it makes sense historically that there were so many Targaryen loyalists in the Riverlands even after their Lord Paramount Hoster Tully declared for Robert.

  16. Erin says:

    1a. The only negative I can see about Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Margaery is that it means we don’t get to see Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Cersei. I can’t be the only one who thinks that that would have been amazing too.

    1b. I do have my reservations about some of the writing for Margaery, though – aside from one charity scene in season two, it seems like the writers think that a young woman’s greatest political skill is her cleavage. The fact that Sansa gets a new low-cut dress at the end of season four to match what seems to be an increase in political competence doesn’t reassure me on this front. That said, I think this problem (with Margaery at least) stems in part from the changes to Cersei’s characterisation. Where book!Cersei is very sexual and has a reputation for her affairs, allowing book!Margaery to create a contrasting image of beauty and goodness that relies on sexuality properly channeled through marriage, show!Cersei’s considerably more chaste, negating the contrast right off the bat. And of course the change means that the showrunners can show more boobs more often.

    2. I’ll bite. I think Catelyn was emotionally abusive to Jon (never calling him by name, for instance) in a way that made life at Winterfell harder for her own children as well. But I also think that this abuse was substantially a product of patriarchy and class, and not solely because Catelyn’s a horrible human being. She could have done better, yeah, but in this series, who couldn’t?

    Great article as always. Love reading these!

    • Captain Splendid says:

      Have to disagree with show!Cersei appearing chaste, as they made a point of showing her enjoying Lancel’s company while Jaime was captured.

    • I agree that Natalie Dormer would be much more suited to Cersei than Margaery – if the show was made a few years later, or if the characters had not been aged up/everyone had been cast age-appropriate.

      Lena Headey could have been a pretty good age-appropriate Catelyn.

    • 1a. That would be.

      1b. That’s a little reductive. Also, I don’t think it’s true that Cersei has a reputation for affairs.

      2. I think she was absent, not abusive.

  17. Lann says:

    Question: do you think Varys & Littlefinger would have kept their roles with Renly as King?

    • David Hunt says:

      Now there’s an interesting question. It would clearly be in Renly’s best interest to give the both the axe…figuratively and literally. We know this both from the view of our superior information as readers and from the rather standard argument that they were on Joffrey’s Council. My own personal view is that neither of these guys’ talent for making themselves indispensable would save them should Renly gain the throne. There’s too many reasons to kill them. The fact that they were serving Joffrey as his prime advisors would be more than enough in my opinion, but there’s more. First, I’ve always suspected that Renly knew more about the conspiracies that thrived in the Capitol than he let on, so he’d have a good idea just how treacherous they were. Also, he’s got a whole boatload of powerful lords who he needs to reward and more that he’s going to have to bribe to come over after he’s on the throne. He can snatch some lands from Joffrey’s loyalists, but his biggest supporters are going to expect high positions at court. Those Council seats are valuable plums that he needs to give out. Finally, I don’t think that Renly liked either Varys or Petyr even a little bit so he’s got no personal reason to save them either.

      tl;dr version: They were chief advisors for Joffrey and there’s no reason compelling enough to overcome that. Both of them know it too, so they’d have worked to keep Renly off the throne as if their lived depended on it…because it did.

      • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

        Didn’t Stannis say somewhere that all Renly did in KL was sitting on the Small Council and japing with Littlefinger? So those two did seem to come along… Of course, there’s still Good old Garth the Gross and his aspirations at Master of Coins to consider. But even so, I wouldn’t be too sure. Renly’s kingship would need loads of money, and Petyr has the best reputation in that respect. (Varys, on the other hand, is probably toast.)

        • David Hunt says:

          I’ll admit that Varys has a better chance of surviving than LF, but I’m not sure it’s a much better chance. Renly might enjoy LF’s company, but his ass is sitting in a very desirable chair and Renly would have to spread some political wealth around to pay off his backers.

          Varys’ spot is less desirable as Spymaster is not a prestigious position. However, I don’t think Renly liked Varys and if he believes the incest story, he has to figure that Varys knew about it for years and didn’t tell Robert. This line of thought is bad for Varys in two big ways. First, he would have been aware of high treason going on in the Red Keep itself without informing the King. Second, (and less important) if Varys had done something about Cercei’s & Jaime’s treason, Renly would have had a much easier time getting Margaery married to Robert. Even, if Renly’s better off as king and married to her himself, that might annoy him.

      • Lann says:

        But the same argument could have been made of Robert yet he pardoned and kept Varys. Renly, who is using has brother’s conquest as a tool for legitimacy might be tempted to do the same.

    • Sean C. says:

      Even if he had no other reasons to distrust them (and he does), Renly would have his own supporters to reward, and neither of those guys have any meaningful constituency.

      • Sean C. says:

        As far as the show goes in that regard, one of their add-ons that I thought made reasonable sense was the implication that Littlefinger was in the process of switching sides when Renly was murdered.

        • Winnie says:

          Yeah, I liked that bit too. Baelish *knew* it would be impossible to ever make a deal with Stannis…but while Renly didn’t like him either, there was room to strike a bargain there and since Renly has a huge army…well Littlefinger always covers his bases.

          • Crystal says:

            Yes – Renly could be reasoned with, but Littlefinger knew that there was exactly 0 chance of him keeping his head if Stannis became king. (In fact, this goes for Varys, Tyrion, Cersei and the kids…the prospect of King Stannis probably chilled the blood of many in KL.)

    • Grant says:

      I would say probably Varys and possibly Littlefinger. Varys at least can argue that he had nothing to do with Cersei’s palace coup, provided years of good intelligence to Robert and has always served every man to sit on the Iron Throne without prejudice of any kind*.

      Littlefinger is harder to say for sure. He isn’t a high ranking lord himself, the Master of Coin is an easier position to give away and he’s had more intimate involvement with the Lannisters. On the other hand, he is noted for being very good at convincing people that he’s a great friend and he has that undeserved reputation for making money.

      *Of course that’s a complete and total lie, but so far as Renly knows it’s the truth.

    • I don’t think Renly liked LF, although this may be the show talking. Varys, maybe. Depends if Renly had a better candidate.

  18. Meereenese Liberation Front says:

    Really interesting question about the Reach’s cavalry. I didn’t catch that at all, but then I had enough trouble keeping track of all the houses, never mind which belongs where. – Why would any of them (even if it’s just the Fossoways and some minor houses) run along with the Stormlanders and go over to Stannis? Was Loras that scary when the red mist descended?

    For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in the camp of those who believe Renly would have made a terrible king (not least, Steven, thanks to your great Crowns & Thrones essay). Letting Robb fight his war might have been a deliberate strategy – but it fits perfectly with Renly’s belief that everything will just automatically fall in place for him. One thing that hasn’t come up yet is his remark to Catelyn that the Dornish would join him soon enough “with all their power” (of which he is so sure he never bothered to actually send out envoys or anything) – and, even more ludicrous, that she “should never forget Stannis” (of whom *everybody* except for Renly knew that he would *never* bend his knee to his little brother). Same with his ‘offer’ to Robb: What the title ‘king’ would imply (other than sounding good), probably not even Renly knew – he just didn’t think he had to give thought to that. Catelyn, at least, never took his words as a starting point for negotiations but rather understood them as a warning, very much in keeping with Renly’s behavior in the next chapter (other than in the TV series, where Renly is truly willing to accept Northern independence in exchange for an alliance).

    In short: Renly, other than Stannis (or Robb or Mance or Daenerys), doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea for what he’s fighting – apart from the right to wear a crown. Quite possible he would – setting the precedent himself – have united all other Great Houses in an anti-Southron alliance in no time.

    • Winnie says:

      DItto to Renly not understanding what it meant to be a King and I would add we should not forget the Giant Purple Elephant in the room-what the hell would Renly *do* about the threat beyond the Wall?!?

      I just don’t see him even acknowledging the issue until it was at his front door much less riding off to meet it head on like Stannis did. I suspect Renly just wouldn’t…couldn’t believe it was real.

      • Grant says:

        Stannis went north to fight an invasion of Wildlings and because it was politically useful to him. There’s first the argument that he’s saving the realm and second the chance to rally northerners still opposed to the Lannisters. There isn’t much reason to think that Renly, as king, wouldn’t send soldiers if necessary and we don’t know how Renly would have treated reports of the Others.

    • Crystal says:

      And something else that is a drawback for Renly – who does he have as advisers? Robb has the Blackfish, as well as his mother and a group of Riverlords and Northerners who seem pretty capable – Jason Mallister, the Greatjon, etc.

      Stannis has Davos, and also Melisandre – say what you will about Mel, she doesn’t lack for resolve or loyalty (or shadow babies!), and anyone who managed to go from slave to high-ranking priestess has to be pretty smart.

      Meanwhile, who does Renly have? Mace Tyrell and Randyll Tarly – a mediocrity and an asshole who threatened his own son with death (poor Sam; I cannot forgive Randyll for this). Book!Margaery is still only about 15 or so. Willas and Olenna Tyrell seem to have stayed in Highgarden.

      So if we have a man who has no real clue as to what he will do with the crown once he gets it (like the old joke of a dog chasing a car) whose potential Hand is a smug and pompous man of little real capabilities – it doesn’t seem like things would turn out well for Westeros. Unless Renly somehow manages to 1) find his feet as king pretty quickly and 2) assemble a good Council.

      • David Hunt says:

        Randyll Tarly is an asshole, but he’s a very capable general. Mace entirely owes his reputation as a capable war leader in Robert’s Rebellion to one battle Tarly kicked Robert’s ass and drove him off before Mace even arrived. He aggressive and capable. There’s a good reason that Kevin Lannister put him on his (very) Short List to Cercie of men to replace Tywin as Hand

        As you said, he’s an asshole. He’s also a snob and traditionalist (and a misogynist). The only problem with getting him on board to dealing with the zombie apocalypse would be convincing him that it was happening at all. Granted, the convincing would be a very heavy lift, but if he was convinced, he’d pushing for decisive action. Given his prominent position in Renly’s Council at Bitterbridge, I think it likely he’d be on the Small Council. Perhaps a Master of Laws, or maybe they’d give him some sort of commanding general title like Master of Armies to match the Master of Ships.

        On a side note, I’d be interested in seeing him meeting Sam now that he’s in South. I’d like to see the conversation where Sam tries to convince him of the looming disaster up North. Sadly, I’m not sure that Randyll could bring himself to take Sam seriously as he’s been dismissing him since for years, but I live in hope that Sam will be able to convince his father that he’s got worth.

        • Winnie says:

          Sadly, knowing Martin I suspect that either Sam or Randyll will die long before that day could ever come.

          I’m also increasingly bitter about what it’s going to take to get the Southern lords to *listen* to what the Night’s Watch are saying in their ravens. I’m thinking the only way they’ll believe will be when the White Walkers are scratching at their front doors but by then it will be much too late.

      • John says:

        Mathis Rowan and Garlan Tyrell both seem like the same sort of “lords who seem pretty capable” as Robb’s various advisers. Olenna would certainly have come to King’s Landing after the war was over, and she’s damned sharp. We still don’t have much sense of Lord Redwyne, who might also become involved.

    • Well, the Florents went over because Stannis’ wife is a Florent so if he’s going to win the Florents have a chance to gain power. The Fossoways went over probably for a mix of reasons – getting behind the winning team, Stannis being the undisputed Baratheon candidate, a closer proximity to the Stormlands than other Reach houses, etc.

      I did notice the Stannis comment.

  19. djinn says:

    Excellent analysis. I always enjoy Catelyn chapters for the political characterizations of the setting and the emotional journey of the character. We are of the same opinion that Renly is a great showman but the details are a lot more complicated: none of Hightower’s four sons is present, Lomas & Andrew Estermont are with Stannis, Tarth, Penrose and Swann received Davos in secret, no Dornish. All this clearly implies that there’s more Barbrey Dustin behavior going around in the South.
    In many ways, this early on, Renly and Stannis are complementary to each other: one does, the other looks, hard and soft, strength and diplomacy. I confess that the position of Renly fans is hard for me to understand: why is it replacing the Lannisters for Tyrells at court so much better? Isn’t the predominance of any one family dangerous? Mace was ready to grant the North to the Ironborn. And Robb as a vassal King would’ve have special rights(like the Prince of Dorne) that the other Lords would resent and plot against, so by increasing the imbalances, so does increase the social tensions. And besides, what examples of successful leadership or command can we give Renly that could indicate any talent as King? I the end, Renly looked good on a horse, but is that enough?
    I think it’s understandable that Renly, who always had a easy time getting what he wanted(lordship, office, courtiers, admirers) would think that the throne would be just another easy thing to get, undervaluing the difficulties.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it.

      My only guess is that Renly thought he could outplay Mace Tyrell, which he probably could have. Whether he could have outplayed Olenna Tyrell, I very much doubt.

  20. John says:

    In terms of historical parallels for Robb’s status under Renly, I think you miss the obvious historical parallel, which is England and Scotland. For much of the Middle Ages, the King of Scots formally acknowledged the overlordship of the King of England, while remaining also a properly recognized King. This seems like more or less the arrangement that Renly is offering Robb. (In *addition* to this, the kings of Scotland were *also* feudal vassals of the Kings of England for various land holdings in England – the earldom of Huntingdon, notably – but that’s a different thing).

  21. Jaime'slefthand says:

    What if Loras takes a blow on the head in the tourney a la Baelor Breakspear and consequently dies? Or Brienne for that matter.

    • Well, if Loras dies – Emmon Cuy and Robar Royce live, the Margaery deal might get complicated as there’s no brother free to protect her, Dragonstone doesn’t fall.

      If Brienne dies, that’s pretty close to what happens if she doesn’t win.

  22. Roger says:

    About the hypothetic Tyrell/Stark alliance, I think that’s what Catelyn should had done. But she is more interested in setting peace than in winning the war. She is simply desperate to save her daughters.

    Sending Catelyn was one of Robb’s error, in my opinion. She is the only “radical dove” of his side. She could have been captured by a Lannister patrol. Or simply Renly could have kept her as hostage. That’s the reason Tyrion didn’t have any problem sending Littlefinger as embassor, he is not of high blood.

    I wonder how Dorne would react to a Stark/Tyrell alliance. Doran Martell kept a strict neutrality at this moment, despite rumours about him joining Renly. I don’t know if he considered the Starks and the Baratheons guilty of the fall of House Targaryen and (indirectly) of Elia’s death, but thats perhaps the reason he didn’t join Renly to smash the Lannisters.

    • I don’t think it’s particularly an error, Catelyn doesn’t make any real mistakes here unless you count being in the wrong place and time when Renly dies. But Lannister patrols were out – Robb sent too many soldiers with her for that to happen.

      Doran would be kind of boxed in, without a side he could support. So he’d probably stay out of it as per OTL.

  23. Roger says:

    Renly army has the same experience that the Northmen and the Rivermen had when they went South six months ago. Probably most of these knights fought at Balon’s Rebellion and Robert’s Rebelion, and the Marcher Lords are used to fight frontier skirmish with the Dornishmen. We mustn’t confound young knights with their soldiers. Reachmen didn’t ashame themselves at Blackwater, at Duskendale or at Dragonstone. Despite what some people say, a Northerner is not worthy ten Southerners.

    About Mace Tyrell as general, he is clearly no genius. But the Reachmen could have ended the war if they had pressed on after Ashmark, capturing or killing Robert and joining Rhaegar next to fight the Northern alliance. But they left Robert flee and then centered on capturing Storm’s End. That was a blunder, but it was probably Jon Connington’s order. Connington was eager to face RObert himself. Or perhaps Aerys wanted to take revenge on Robert seizing his castle.

    • Balon’s Rebellion was nine years ago, and other than the Redwyne Fleet, there’s no Reach involvement. The soldiers seem to have been largely Stormlanders, Northmen, and Crownlanders. Robert’s Rebellion was fifteen years ago and the Reach barely fought in it. Any soldier who’s younger than mid-thirties is likely green. And while the Reachmen do eventually get blooded (in two surprise attacks, which is kind of an easy schedule), at this point they’re not blooded yet.

      It definitely wasn’t Connington’s orders – Mace stayed at Storm’s End even after Connington was out and the capitol itself was threatened. Mace was playing it safe, technically fighting on the crown’s side without risking any serious losses.

      • WPA says:

        Even then, it seems that Randyll Tarly and his forces handle the majority of the fighting when the Reach is involved. During peacetime I suspect they’re unusually well trained compared to the others- kind of like a Spetznaz force. But it seems like that’s a major weakness when (if you assume the Hightowers have their own agenda) the main share of experienced forces is one bannerman’s specialized portfolio. Surprised that Tarly wouldn’t find some way to get in on Balon’s rebellion, but I guess you’re right.

        On Tarly, he’s a raging bastard but he’s definitely a wartime consigliere.

  24. Riza says:

    Great chapter essay Steve. Good to see another side of the War of Five Kings (even if it is brief).

    I’m curious. Is there historical examples of lords or kings hosting tourneys or other such events during wartime?

  25. Archer says:

    “shouldn’t those men have been showing up in defense of their own homes during Tywin’s marches or fighting off the reavers?” <– What you have to remember is that most of the men recruited for battle are conscripted – that is, they are /not/ battle trained, and have to be drilled and trained (refer to Edmure and Stafford having to train their armies before setting them to the field). As such, at this point the remaining Rivermen, (who are smallfolk) are just citizens without adequate training, and unlikely to hold their own come battle. Over and above this, with the brutality of Tywin's ravagers, the Riverlord's scorched earth tactics, and what Bolton will do when he comes south, most of them are more like to back the BWB than Riverrun.

  26. […] named Blaybourne (seriously, what is up with these sexy archers?) – this was the basis for George of Clarence’s attempted usurpation of his brother’s throne (although how George thought people would believe that Cecily Neville was only ever unfaithful once […]

  27. […] “I give you my word, you shall have justice for his murder,” privately as opposed to Renly’s public offer, and moreover is the only one who agrees that “if your children are found when I take the […]

  28. […] of a tourney to set up a “Brotherhood of Winged Knights,” paralleling Renly’s Rainbow Guard. The use of the symbolism of chivalry for political purpose – in this case, providing a […]

  29. […] Sandor and Dontos, are not knights, as Sansa notices. As with Ser Duncan the Tall, as with Brienne of Tarth, it is the outsiders who aspire to the ideal without experiencing the social privilege that comes […]

  30. […] Theon feels undercut and deflated, because this wasn’t a heroic battle that could be described in poetic terms, like the Battle of the Whispering Woods. There’s not a lot of poetry in hiding in a bush, shooting a group of teenagers less than half your numbers, and then finishing them off when they’re down. Arguably, this is just as much a straight-up massacre as the attack on the fishing village, and once again Theon is directly responsible for the deaths, not of hardened warriors but a bunch of idealistic teenagers, the Northern equivalent of the “knights of summer.” […]

  31. […] Swann’s absence from the battlefield is a partial solution to the question of what was going on with the Stormlands’ military numbers. In retrospect, House Swann’s absence from the battlefield to date and their status as […]

  32. […] romance. And this gives a slightly different perspective to the Tyrells from what we saw in Catelyn II; rather than just being the knights of summer, there is an intelligence within House Tyrell that […]

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

  34. […] House does. But as we can see from this passage, their technique goes further than manipulating chivalric romance to making use of more base material desires for food, wine, and sex. And the two sides go together […]

  35. […] which is a far more fertile topic for discussion because of the way that it links Brienne’s desire to be a knight and her adherence to the ideals of knighthood to Jaime’s ruined idealism and his past and […]

  36. […] was certainly opposed to the Vietnam War, in his discussion of the Battle of Redgrass Field or the Tourney at Bitterbridge, his clear-eyed understanding of the darker sides of chivalric romance doesn’t make him any […]

  37. […] to his life and his family, is the following passage, which I would argue ranks up there with the “knights of summer” and Septon Meribald’s soliloquy on the War of Ninepenny Kings as one of GRRM’s most lyrical […]

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