Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon II, ACOK

Balon_Theon_y_Asha_HBO

I have no place here, he thought, and Asha is the reason, may the Others take her!”

Synopsis: Theon meets-cute with Esgred and gets a date to the feast, where he is in no way publicly humiliated. And then Balon reveals his cunning plan.

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:

In Theon I, I argued that “Balon Greyjoy went into his invasion with the assumption that Theon Greyjoy was going to die, and writing him off as a lost cause,” and had no intention of letting Theon inherit. This becomes abundantly clear in Theon II, a chapter-length humiliation conga. The entire first half of the chapter is a gradual escalation, in which Theon puffs himself up again and again, bragging about his own importance and turning to sexual harassment to fuel his ego:

“Yes, she’s a sweet sight,” he told her, “though not half as sweet as you.”

“Oho,” she grinned. “I’d best be careful. This lordling has a honeyed tongue.”

“Taste it and see.”…

“My cock’s gone hard as a mast for you.”

The woman stepped close and pressed a hand to the front of his breeches…

“Have you ever had a prince?” He asked her. “…you can tell your children’s children that once you loved a king…”

“You’re wasted on Sigrin.”

“Oho. Sigrin told me this sweet ship is wasted on you.”

Theon bristled. “Do you know who I am?”

“Prince Theon of House Greyjoy. Who else?”

“…Lord Balon is but the father of a great man.”

“A humble lordling.”

“Only a fool humbles himself when the world is so full of men eager to do that job for him.” He kissed her lightly on the nape of her neck.

It goes on and on like this, with Theon trying to rebuild his ego by proclaiming his own importance and trying to assert his masculinity over a woman who clearly could not give a shit, and not seeing any of the warning signs. “When Wex saw Esgred, his eyes went round,” but all Theon thinks is that “you’d think he’d never seen a woman before.” When Theon walks through town and “oarsmen and townfolk alike grew quiet as they passed, and acknowledged him with respectful bows of the head,” all he can think is that “they have finally learned who I am, he thought. And past time too.” What Asha and the townsfolk and we, the readers, know that Theon doesn’t is that all of this is setup for a cruel bit of slapstick, where the supposedly confident ladies’ man is revealed to have been groping his sister, and that his sister is more of a man than he is, at least as far as the Ironborn think. But in this moment, Theon is drifting in a fog of self-delusion, still thinking that he can gather “men who would be loyal to him, not to his lord father or his uncles” to possibly overthrow his father and become the man he should be.

I say should be, not is, because running underneath Theon’s egotism in counterpoint is the manifest reality that Theon is completely unfit to lead the Ironborn:

“It has been a few years since I sailed a ship.” And I’ve never captained one if truth be told….

“Bugger the Drowned God. If he troubles us, I’ll drown him again…”

“I have been too long away to know one man from another,” Theon admitted. He’d looked for a few of the friends he’d played with as a boy, but they were gone, dead, or grown into strangers…

“He lives only for his god-“

“His god? Not yours?”

“Mine as well…if I make pious noises as required…”

“The Ironborn would never seat a stranger in the Seastone Chair.”

“I suppose not,” Theon replied, before it occurred to him that some would call him a stranger as well. The thought made him frown. Ten years is a long while, but I am back now, and my father is far from dead. I have time to prove myself.

Seafaring, religion, leading men – all of the things the Ironborn prize in a king, Theon is ignorant of. Nor does he have the self-confidence to parlay the things he does know – the ways of mainland warfare, geographic knowledge of the North, political understanding of the Seven Kingdoms – into respect. But for all that this incessant self-doubt lingers in the back of his mind, Theon can’t bring himself to look his shortcomings in the face, and sets himself up for a fall.

And right at his side is Asha Greyjoy, who uses her secret identity to crack Theon open like a soft-shelled crab. In addition to sexually humiliating him – note the way in which Asha seeks at every turn to be the sexual aggressor and Theon’s complete inability to deal with a woman not his servant – Asha carefully mines Theon for every last nugget of valuable information:

“Will you tell me more of your war, Theon of House Greyjoy? There are miles and mountains still ahead of us, and I would hear of this wolf king you served, and the golden lions he fights.”

Ever anxious to please her, Theon obliged. The rest of the long ride passed swiftly as he filled her pretty head with tales of Winterfell and War. Some of the things he said astonished him.

Thus, the one thing that Theon has that she doesn’t is easily stolen from him. So uncautious is Theon that Asha is able to get him to open up about his thoughts about his own family, thoughts that any half-way decent politician would keep to themselves:

“Tell me of your father. Will he welcome me kindle to his castle?”

“Why should he? He scarcely welcomed me, his own blood, the heir to Pyke and the Iron Islands.”

“Are you?…it’s said you have uncles, brothers, a sister.”

“My brothers are long dead, and my sister…well they say Asha’s favorite gown is a chainmail hauberk…men’s garb won’t make her a man though. I’ll make a good marriage alliance with her once we’ve won the war, if I can find a man to take her.”

“You can marry off your sister…but not your uncles.”

…in the islands it was scarce unheard of for a strong, ambitious uncle to dispossess a weak nephew of his rights, and usually murder him in the bargain. But I am not weak, Theon told himself, and I mean to be stronger yet by the time my father dies. “My uncles pose no threat to me…Aeron is drunk on seawater and sanctity…Victarion is like some great grey bullock, strong and tireless and dutiful, but not like to win any races…he has neither the wits nor the ambition to plot betrayal.”

With that knowledge under her belt, Asha not only is forewarned against any plan of Theon’s, but has valuable information that she can use to undermine any support he might be able to get from his uncles when it comes to the sucession. So confident is Asha in her victory that she even offers Theon advice: “strength is not enough…choose men who have rowed together before, if you’re wise.” She has room to be merciful, because she’s about to drop her trump card.

Asha

Asha by magajaga

The Reveal

Thus, by the time that the two arrive in the castle, Asha has set Theon up perfectly for a conclusive, irretrievable humiliation:

“Lady Asha. You’re back.”

“Last night,” she said. “I sailed from Great Wyk with Lord Goodbrother, and spent the night at the inn. My little brother was kind enough to let me ride with him from Lordsport.”

All he could do was stand and gape at her. Asha. No. She cannot be Asha. He realized suddenly that there were two Ashas in his head. One was the little girl he had known. The other, more vaguely imagined, looked something like her mother.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted to see who you were first. And I did.”

She unlaced my breeches, he thought, outraged, and she said…oh, gods, and I said…He groaned. He could not possibly have made a more appalling fool of himself…

To the left of the high seat were Theon’s uncles. Asha was ensconced at his right hand, in the place of honor. “You come late, Theon,” Lord Balon observed.

“I ask your pardon.” Theon took the empty seat beside Asha. Leaning close, he hissed in her ear, “You’re in my place.”

“She turned to him with innocent eyes. “Brother, surely you are mistaken. Your place is at Winterfell…and where are all your pretty clothes? I heard you fancied silk and velvet against your skin.”

…Theon had time for a choked gasp before Asha snatched the axe from the air and slammed it down into the table, splitting his trencher in two and splattering his mantle with drippings. “There’s my lord husband…and here’s my sweet suckling babe.”

He could not imagine how he looked at that moment, but suddenly Theon Greyjoy realized that the Great Hall was ringing with laughter, all of it at him. Even his father was smiling, gods be damned…

It’s a potent mix: the internal guilt over quasi-incest, the very visible symbolism of Asha sitting in his place at her father’s right hand, the effortless display of Ironborn skill and bonhomie, and the casual mention that Theon’s reputation is of a womanish greenlander who pays the gold price. What Ironborn worth their salt is going to choose Theon now? As Asha herself points out:

“Ten years a wolf, and you land here and think to prince about the islands, but you know nothing and no one. Why should men fight and die for you?”

“I am their lawful prince,” Theon said stiffly.

“By the laws of the green lands, you might be. But we make our own laws here, or have you forgotten.”

It’s like I said in Theon I: he was doomed from the start. There is nothing Theon could ever have done in his nine years with the Starks – maybe spending some time with the Manderlys crewing a ship so that he could at least stand tall as a ship’s captain, but I doubt that would have been enough – that he could have done to become a Prince of Pyke in truth as well as in name.

The War of Five Kings: Balon Greyjoy’s Grand Strategy

The main political news we get in Theon II is the unveiling of King Balon’s grand strategy for conquering the North and winning independence for the Iron Islands:

“When I require your counsel I shall ask for it,” his father said. “We have had a bird from Old Wyk. Dagmer is bringing the Drumms and Stonehouses. If the god grants us good winds, we will sail when they arrive…or you will. I mean for you to strike the first blow, Theon. You shall take eight longships north-“

“Eight?…what can I hope to accomplish with only eight longships?”

“You are to harry the Stony Shore, raiding the fishing villages and sinking any ships you chance to meet. It may be that you will draw some of the northern lords out from behind their stone walls. Aeron will accompany you, and Dagmer Cleftjaw.”…He was being sent to do reaver’s work, burning fishermen out of their hovels and raping their ugly daughters, and yet it seemed Lord Balon did not trust him sufficiently to do even that much.

“Asha my daughter…you shall take thirty longships of picked men round Sea Dragon Point. Land upon the tidal flats north of Deepwood Motte. March quickly, and the castle may fall before they even know you are upon them.”

“Victarion…the main thrust shall fall to you. When my sons have struck their blows, Winterfell must respond. You should meet small opposition…the Neck is the key to the kingdom. Already we command the western seas. Once we hold Moat Cailin, the pup will not be able to win back to the north…and if he is fool enough to try, his enemies will seal the south end of the causeway behind him, and Robb the boy will find himself caught like a rat in a bottle.”

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

This plan is absolutely, 100%, batshit insane, and there is a reason why the fandom largely considers Balon Greyjoy to be the single worst strategist in all of Westeros. Let’s set to one side that Balon, whose main political objective is the independence of the Iron Islands from the Iron Throne, decides to attack the one combatant in the War of Five Kings who is also fighting for independence from the Iron Throne and who wants to ally with him. Even if you take the point of view of an Ironborn who wants to conquer the North, this is a shoddily-designed plan. Note that Balon’s plan envisions a distracting attack at the Stony Shore, a small assault aimed at Deepwood Motte, and a main attack at Moat Cailin – and that’s it, no attack on Torrhen’s Square, no attack on Winterfell itself. The entirety of the interior is left untouched.

Balon

Balon assumes that Winterfell will fall, but his plan gives him no way to actually project force the 590 miles from Moat Cailin to Winterfell, or the 300 miles from Deepwood Motte to Winterfell, let alone the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles he’d need to actually make the interior “ours, forest and field and hall,” as he intends. Not only is this poor logistic planning, but the assumption falls down on the first hurdle. We know from ADWD that Deepwood Motte is right next to three thousand hill clansmen who hate the Ironborn, and that there are thousands of Northern soldiers in the central interior who can be mobilized even if they weren’t distracted by the Hornwood affair, and thousands more in the eastern half of the North which Balon has no way of actually attacking.

But even if none of that were true, it’s still poorly designed from an amphibious invasion perspective. In the northern sector, Bear Island is the superior landing zone. To begin with, it’s an island that’s separated from the mainland (an island that the Ironborn were historically able to actually control for extended periods of time), which would allow the Ironborn to attack an isolated House Mormont, and then establish a forward base that can’t be attacked by the landbound Northmen, giving Asha a naval base from which she can dominate the whole of the Northwest, while still maintaining the operational flexibility to reinforce other areas as needed. In the south, while taking Moat Cailin is critical for ensuring that Robb Stark can’t easily fight his way back North, Balon neglects the opportunity to use the riverrine approaches that would lead the Ironborn straight to Barrowton or Torrhen’s Square, which would offer him a forward base in the interior, a short march away from Winterfell with clear lines of supply and reinforcement. Likewise, Balon makes no provision for transshipping the Iron Fleet from Moat Cailin to the Bite, which would allow Victarion to attack White Harbor, Ramsgate, the Dreadfort, Last Hearth, and Karhold, again using riverrine approaches to preserve the Ironborn’s lone strategic advantage.

Instead, Balon pushes the “hard heart of the Greyjoy strength” to Moat Cailin and leaves them there, hoping that the Lannisters will do his fighting for him. But he doesn’t do anything with this strength – in the seven months between the initial attack and Balon’s death, the Iron Fleet doesn’t move from Moat Cailin. Given that the Moat can easily be held against an army from the south by a few hundred men, this is an insane waste of time and manpower that could have been put to better use actually conquering the North instead of grabbing two castles and thinking that means the war is won. Consider what would have happened if the North had put Moat Cailin under siege from the North, especially if they’d been able to cut Victarion off from his boats? Balon’s main strength would have been cut off, starving, diseased, and poisoned, withering on the vine.

As this suggests, Balon’s plan is almost deliberately ignorant of the realities of Ironborn manpower. When Theon arrived at Pyke, he found “fifty or sixty longships,” and Dagmer sent to “roust the Stonehouses and the Drumms,” and in this chapter, “Lord Goodbrother of Great Wyk had come in the night before with his main strength, near forty longships.” 90-100 longships, carrying 30 men each, works out to 2,700 to 3,000 men. Add on to this the 100 larger ships of the Iron Fleet, which can hold 100 each, adding up to the “hard heart” of 10,000 men. That’s it; 13,000 men to defeat and hold the whole of the North. And as I said, Theon is sent with eight ships (approximately 240 men) and Asha with thirty ships (900 men), and everything else, around 12,000 men, is completely wasted at Moat Cailin.

The Ironborn simply do not have the numbers to take the whole of the North. The North is between 900,000 and 1.5 million square miles, so that the Ironborn would have one soldier per 69-115 square miles to try to occupy the whole of the country. Moreover, to really hold the country, the Ironborn would have to batter their way into at least 12 castles (that we know of) and all the defensive multipliers they offer, and then garrison them. All of this on lines of supply and communication stretching 2,000 miles. And winter is coming.

The only thing that can explain this complete irrationality is, once again, the inherent racism built into the Iron Island’s warrior culture. To Balon, the North is full of “cravens, old men, and green boys,” fit only for being “thralls and salt wives,” its lands existing only as a lebensraum to be conquered rather than to be comprehended as the strategic and logistical challenge they are. To know better is to remember the shameful defeats of Ironborn history – Theon the Hungry Wolf, King Rodrik; Rodwell, Beron, and all the other Starks who refused to give in to Dagon Greyjoy; and Eddard Stark, who brought the fury of the North down on Pyke. And Balon refuses to remember anything but the victories of the past.

The bottom line is this: Balon’s plan never should have worked. That it did tells you how firmly GRRM’s thumb is starting to press on the scales in order to set up the fall of House Stark, and as we’ll see in the succeeding chapters, a lot has to go wrong for this to happen.

Historical Analysis:

This historical section is going to be a bit short, but I wanted to place Asha Greyjoy in the historical context of Viking women. The Scandinavians of the Viking Age were a warlike society, but not one that held the views of their European peers on women in warfare – shieldmaidens fought as part of the elite Varangian Guard for the Byzantine Empire in their wars with the Kevan Rus, joined Leif Ericson’s voyage to Vinland, and fought in internal wars between Swedes and Danes. Shieldmaidens were a frequent trope in Norse sagas and the legends that were later woven into the Ring Cycle.

Now, many of you are familiar with the story that went viral a few months ago that said that half the Viking warriors were women. That turned out to be something of an exaggeration of Shane McCloud’s research, which simply showed that half of Viking settlers were female in one particular gravesite, and which critiqued the practice of assuming gender from whether bodies were buried with weapons, rather than verifying from bone structure and DNA testing.

Nevertheless, McCloud’s work still points to the fact that Viking women were on the very front lines of Scandinavian expansionism, and certainly not hesitant to pick up a sword to defend their new conquests.

What If?

I already went into what would have happened if Theon had decided to warn Robb in the last Theon chapter; here, I want to focus on a few other hypothetical scenarios:

  • Theon had recognized Asha? Now this one is a little bit subtler and more about character than plot, but I’ve always wondered how much of Theon’s drive to take Winterfell and his refusal to leave it even when it became clear that saying was suicidal was driven by his humiliation at the hands of his sister and his refusal to give up the one victory that he’d been able to salvage. If Theon was on more of an even keel, Theon might have been able to emerge from the war with an impressively-enhanced reputation: he took and sacked Winterfell with 30 men. With that under his belt, rather than a reputation as a gold-pricing greenlander, Theon would have fared much better on the Iron Islands – assuming he survives Euron’s reappearance.
  • Balon’s plan had been followed to the letter? Here, I’m treading on my own toes a little bit, as this turning point comes up more in Theon III. However, there’s plenty of stuff to talk about in that chapter, and I wanted to emphasize a bit more how terrible Balon’s plan is. With only Deepwood Motte and Moat Cailin taken, Winterfell remains as the natural rallying point of the North. However poor a strategist he may have been, Ser Rodrik would now have had the time to pull together the 2,000 men he put together at the Battle at Winterfell, the 3,000 hill clansmen, the 400 Umbers and 400 Karstarks, the 3,500 or so Manderly men that Wyman held back, plus the Mormonts,  and the Ryswells and Dustins and Flints of the southwest, until he had all 17,000 men left in the North under his command. Robb Stark doesn’t have to cross the Green Fork – which means the pretext for the Red Wedding disappears. Balon dies, Victarion pulls out, and the Ironborn’s vaunted conquest of the North ends with a whimper.

Book vs. Show:

As I said last time, the Theon storyline in Season 2 is one of the real gems, distracting from the mess that is Jon and Dany’s storyline, and the waste that is Bran’s storyline. Benioff and Weiss approach this scene from a somewhat different angle – the emphasis is much more on the interpersonal relationships between Theon, Asha, and Balon, and especially Theon’s sense of abandonment.

Now, some fans have really bagged on Gemma Whelan’s performance as Asha – I regard the various comments about her being not pretty enough for the role as so pettishly sexist (few people would argue that Alfie Allen’s emotional performance is lessened by the fact that he doesn’t exactly resemble the darkly handsome Theon described in the books or by commissioned artists) as to be self-refuting. I will say that the show went in a somewhat understated direction with Asha/Yara, giving her more of a laid-back, sardonic vibe and making the reveal more private and less built up. And I really wish they’d given her the chance to sink her teeth into Asha’s axe-throwing speech or her kingsmoot speech.

But I can’t complain. It’s too damn good.

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216 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon II, ACOK

  1. Will Rogers says:

    I retrospect, Asha may very well have been trying to warn Theon about what the situation on Pyke is actually like and how little he’s wanted there.

    • Sure, I think she was subtly trying to do that with her advice, but I think she was also hanging back to see if he’d take the advice, and was perfectly happy to let him hang himself.

      • Wat Barleycorn says:

        Yep–would he be a rival, and if so, how formidable? If not a rival, should she look to turn him into an ally? An asset? Could she run this guy?

        She was gathering info and keeping her options open. And clearly, she saw he was just a nuisance. So she squished him like a bug to keep him from bothering her.

        It’s interesting that Asha is the canniest of all Ironborn political operators (except, arguably, Euron), but we never really get her take on Balon’s obviously batshit crazy plan. Was she just too ignorant of mainland Westeros to know what they were up against, and therefore she missed how nuts this was?

      • Crystal says:

        I agree with this – I think Asha was subtly trying to warn Theon, and at the same time, was giving him enough rope to hang himself, which he did. What a doofus.

  2. St3 says:

    I always thought Balon assumed Robb would immediately return north so Balon could trap him at Moat Cailin.

    This doesn’t excuse Balons poor targeting for independence, but the manpower might make a bit more sense if he’s wanting to crush the Starks. It also makes sense then if Theon strikes the first blow, as he’s know in the North and most likely to provoke a response.

    • No, he thought Robb might try, but he didn’t think Robb could succeed. Even still, the whole point of a castle is defensive force multiplier. Leave 200-500 men there, and Moat Cailin will not fall, then take the rest and actually conquer part of the North.

      • Winnief says:

        And it’s worth noting that the Iron Born who did take Moat Cailin found it to be more of a death trap than anything else thanks to the “Crannog Devils.”

        Turns out the Greenlanders aren’t as ‘weak’ as Balon thought. They’re NEVER that weak at all and the IB keep making the same mistake. What’s it going to take to make these people LEARN?!? Probably, dragons, *again*.

        And yeah numbers wise, it’s completely impossible for the IB to subdue a territory the size of the North under the best of circumstances much less with winter coming.

        • Andrew says:

          Victarion thinks of the “bog devils” as “degraded creatures.” Funny that comes from a guy whose glorifies attacking villages full of civilians who aren’t equipped to fight back. At least the crannogmen seem to only fight armed men.

          As far as greenlanders being weak goes, could Balon try saying that with a straight face to his son Rodrik who was killed by a greenlander, Lord Jason Mallister, and threw his forces back into the sea?

          • Or after the greenlanders smashed his Iron Fleet, invaded the Iron Islands, and sacked Pyke? He’s in complete denial.

          • Winnief says:

            It is notable that the Iron Born despite all their bravado about how badass they are, always seem so affronted when anyone fights back.

            I mean at least the Dothraki take it with dignity when its their turn to get their asses kicked instead of whining about it.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Continuing on the whole ‘the Ironborn whining about getting beaten’ discussion–I’d say that one of Victarion’s most likable traits is his willingness to acknowledge that yes, there are brave men among the greenlanders. Which, like everything else about the man, he has carefully placed several ideological walls around so that he doesn’t have to consider the ramifications of that thought.

        • Excellent point about the Moat Cailin thing. Although I’m a little unsure about when the sniping started…possibly after the sack of Winterfell by Ramsay.

        • Crystal says:

          The IB seem to be “all hat and no cattle” for the most part. Especially Balon. Gods be good, but that man is DUMB. (I will say that I LOL’d at the thought of Cersei being married off to him. That would have been a true match of Small Name, Big Ego.)

          Let’s see: Balon’s rebellion soundly put down by the “greenlanders,” two of Balon’s three sons killed in battle, the IB troops left at Moat Cailin being picked off by Crannogmen – it seems as if Greenlanders pwn Ironborn more than vice versa. Rodrik Harlaw (one of the more sensible, smarter Ironborn lords) notes that the Old Way died with Black Harren and that it doesn’t stand much of a chance against a united mainland Westeros.

          Someone over on westeros.org IIRC, noted that Balon didn’t do much or any of the actual fighting during his first rebellion. He sat behind his walls, and his brothers, sons, and his bannermen and sons were the ones who put themselves on the line for HIS rebellion. It seems like he’s doing the same thing here – directing others to do all his dirty work. Say what you will about King Bob, but at least he was on the front lines fighting in the rebellion that he started.

          • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

            I love the bit where Aeron is reminiscing about what Balon was like in his prime. He’s basically really well optimized to captain a raiding ship, but terrible as a strategist.

  3. They will Bend the knee says:

    Small typo :
    “The North is between 900,000 and 1.5 million square meters”
    I’m assuming you meant square kilometers (which would make the North The size of a Latin American state like Bolivia or Colombia)
    1.5 millions square meters is 1.5 square kilometers, or the size of Monaco.

  4. Captain Splendid says:

    Sweet, something to look forward to when I get back from work! Thanks once again for these analyses!

  5. OTL says:

    Isn’t the plan to damage the Starks’ position in the war and then be rewarded by the victorious Lannisters afterwards? Like Bolton and the Freys. Isn’t that why Balon sends that letter to Tywin?

    It’s still a stupid plan. It also presumes that Joffrey will win (which turns out to be correct) and that Tywin will be so politically stupid to make Balon (of all people) the new Warden of the North (about as incorrect as you can be).

    Of course the plan is motivated by a desire for revenge against the North (putting aside the plot arguments that make the downfall of the Starks necessary). Likewise Theon himself is a visable symbol of the true power of the Iron Born. That their glory days are over and that they are incapable of a) being independent or b) military defeating their enemies. Theon must be ignored as he represents this. Btw, as usual Stannis, the one who did the most to defeat the Greyjoy rebellion, isn’t considered to be the cause.

    Maybe one day they’ll finally build a canal through the Neck. That would have given this plan a bit more smarts.

    • Winnie says:

      Agreed. Balon’s thinking he can make a deal with Tywin once he “conquers” the North which is absolutely ludicrous and as Steve points the only way ANY of this worked was because Martin was determined to screw the Starks.

      Even then it only worked in the very short term. By Balon’s death the invasion was a complete quagmire for the Iron Born who had NOTHING to show for it but a rising number of losses.

      • Yeah…btw, if anyone has a good cite on the scale of those losses, I could really use it.

      • zonaria says:

        Tywin actually bites, sort of – he is considering the idea of marrying Cersei off to Balon.

        • Crystal says:

          I would have loved to see that happen! (So would Tyrion, it seems.) It would be a true meeting of the enormous egos that outstrip actual capacity.

          Given that Tywin also considered marrying Cersei off to Willas Tyrell (and Olenna’s response of “haha no way” was hilarious) I wonder if he didn’t want to reward Balon so much as get Cersei out of the way. Tywin basically did say “why reward Balon for what he is already doing for free.” The most reward Balon could hope to get was having Tywin’s daughter with the soiled reputation palmed off onto him.

          • I got the impression that Tywin didn’t seriously intend it and was just scaring Cersei with the possibility of being shipped off to Pyke, to make her accept the Willas match more easily – just like he was scaring Tyrion with Lollys.

    • Sean C. says:

      If that was his plan, it hinges on Tywin giving Balon a freebee in the form of independence for services he performed on his own initiative. It is, in other words, a ridiculous idea.

      • Winnief says:

        Which begs the question of why *Asha* never pointed out that Daddy’s plan was a wee bit silly. Vic’s too dumb to know better and nobody’s listening to Theon but why Asha didn’t try to convince Balon to (if not abandon the idea of the Northern invasion) then at least try a *workable* strategy.

        And the fact that Balon’s anger was focused *entirely* on the Starks rather than the Baratheons always seemed odd to me too. Yes, the Baratheon lands are on the other side of the continent but it’s still no stupider than invading the North since the Stormlands are smaller, more coastal sea territory, and if not as rich as the Westernlands, still have more actual booty to loot than the North. Or for that matter one of Balon’s sons died at Seagard so why not the Riverlands which the IB actually successfully conquered before?!? It really does feel like Martin tipping the scales there.

        • Sean C. says:

          Well, maybe she did, and he didn’t listen.

        • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

          Yes, there seems to be a distinctive difference between the Asha of ACOK and the Asha of AFFC/ADWD. Here she comes across as the ultimate model child, condescending Theon (not that he didn’t earn it) and wholeheartedly supporting her father’s crazy-ass-plan. Of course we don’t get to see her POV, but still, it’s a quite a big leap from this chapter to her later peace plan. Could it all be caused by the experience of actually invading the North?
          OTOH, when she later chides Theon for his attempt to hold Winterfell, her main reason is that Winterfell is ‘too far from the sea’ – which is absolutely correct, but nothing of the sort comes up here. Makes you wonder even more what next steps Balon had in mind. Was he really counting on one crushing victory at Moat Cailin?
          And, one last thing: Amongst all the power struggle between ‘Esgred’ and Theon, there is one really heartfelt moment when Asha tries to persuade her brother to visit their ill mother at Harlaw. I always liked that, as it a) made Theon’s humiliation feel so much more deserved and b) helped to set up the more ‘sympathetic’ Asha of the later books.

          • Winnie says:

            Its like deep down she always knew daddy’s plan was nuts but she couldn’t bring herself to admit it aloud-partly because it would have meant losing his favor but also because it would have required *her* to face some hard truths about the Old Way and how it just wasnt sustainable (as well being deeply immoral) The cultural blinders run very VERY deep on Pike.

          • Yep. And let’s not forget, her “peace plan” is “if I hold enough women and children hostage, I can get the North to agree to colonial occupation.”

          • Winnief says:

            Good point Steve-just because Asha’s plan wasn’t as bad as either of her uncle’s it certainly wasn’t good. The problem is ANY plan that supposed the Iron Born could keep anything of the Old Way or their ‘conquests’ was doomed to fail no matter the details. The only workable option would be along the lines of what the Reader suggested-and no one at that Kingsmoot would have supported him.

          • Crystal says:

            Poor Alannys. Theon seems to give exactly zero fucks about his poor mother, who went insane partly due to missing him. I think that maybe this is the reason why Rodrik Harlaw never tries to speak up for Theon. There is no reason why Theon wouldn’t have got to know his mother’s brother quite well before he was taken away to Winterfell, especially given that Rodrik and Alannys appear to have been very close and Rodrik was one of Balon’s more powerful bannermen. We don’t see it in the text, but I can just imagine Rodrik thinking “he comes swanning back to Pyke like he owns the place, but can’t be bothered to stop by and see his own mother, who missed him so much? Screw him!”

            There is no indication that Alannys was abusive (unlike Balon) but Theon really does treat her shabbily.

          • I believe Asha mentions something about visiting his mother too. It’s possible Theon just doesn’t remember her.

        • The Asha thing is a huge open question to me. But that’s something to get into in Theon V.

        • CoffeeHound14 says:

          Well, Asha’s position as a leader amongst the Ironborn, while strengthened by her efficacy as a commander and a warrior, is really dependent on her father’s support. This is born out by how shaky her powerbase becomes after Balon’s death. So it really does not behoove Asha to openly contradict her proud, prickly father given her political ambitions. And although Balon’s plan is terrible for the Ironborn as a whole, it has benefits for Asha insofar as it still allows her to win an easy military victory to further garnish her reputation. It won’t turn out to be enough once Balon is gone, but I think her actions are reasonable given her ambitions and her circumstances.

          As for why Balon’s revanchism is directed solely against the Starks, I think the reason is twofold: the Starks are the target of opportunity, and it was the Starks who ended up in possession of the symbol of his last defeat.

          • Brett says:

            I can’t see her openly contradicting Balon, either, especially since he’s taken the unusual step of pushing for her to become his heir.

            In fact, Balon’s plan sounds almost like an insane over-extension of Asha’s idea at the Kingsmoot of taking coastal lands in the North for settlement and rule. “Good idea, daughter! But rather than only taking some of the North’s land, let’s take all of it!”

        • Bail o' Lies says:

          I think the hatred of the Starks comes from the fact that Theon was a ward of the Starks.He may not love Theon but the fact that his only living son was being turned into a greenlander by the Starks was probably a great insult to him. Also Robb saying he would “give” Balon a crown didn’t help.

          As for why Balon decided to attack the North of all place well. In his first rebellion he did the smart thing and knocked out the Lannister fleet. Which gave him control of the Western side of the continent until Stannis brought the royal fleet around, and crushed the Iron fleet. After the defeat of the first rebellion he probably thought over what he did wrong and tried to learn from his mistakes. So he thought this time to attack the North hoping that it would be easier pickings.

          • Jaime'slefthand says:

            Actually, that’s an interesting point, after the Iron Fleet was smashed off Fair Isle, how come the Greyjoys were allowed to rebuild it? Surely it makes sense to deny them a navy, especially as there is no actual external threat to the western coast of Westeros.

          • It’s an issue of enforcement capability – unless you’re going to leave the Royal Fleet on the other side of the continent, the Ironborn can re-arm in secret fairly easily by berthing the Iron Fleet in the islands around the Lonely Light.

          • Jaime'slefthand says:

            But couldn’t Robert Baratheon just tell Tywin to keep an eye on it? The Lannisters are meant to have a pretty decent navy.

          • Winnie says:

            Or ask someone from the Reach.

        • Crystal says:

          I think it was, as you said, Martin’s thumb on the scales. When broken down rationally, the invasion of the North was a terrible idea doomed to fail, and if Asha was as sensible as she seems later in AFFC, why didn’t she say something to Balon?

          Balon invaded the North because the plot demanded it.

          • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

            I can see her staying quiet. She knows Balon won’t listen, but this way, she can get a win or two under her belt and maybe get some influence on future negotiations.

            A good What If would be what if Theon had impressed her more on that first ride? Based on her offer to Victaereon, Asha might be willing to be the power behind a more rational Throne if that was the best she could get.

    • It’s even crazier than that – he thinks he can get Tywin to recognize him as King of the Iron Islands and the North. Which as Tywin points out, given that he attacked first and then asked, the Lannisters have zero reason to give them.

      And yes, a canal across the Neck would be wise (although if I was the Starks I’d build a canal linking the White Knife and Torrhen’s Square, which would make it much easier to tax the trade). So would a proper road from White Harbor to Moat Cailin giving the North’s major city a direct link to the Kingsroad, as opposed to sailing all the way up to Winterfell to get on the ‘road.

      • Carolyn says:

        IMO, Balon Greyjoy had two viable options at that time:

        -he could make a deal with Robb Stark (or not make a deal, it does not matter that much), sack the nearly defenseless and very rich Westerlands (at least Lannisport, the coast and the islands like Fair Isle), carry his plunder back to the Iron Islands and then declare himself king.
        In this case he would not be at war with Robb Stark and his associated bannermen from the North and Riverlands. His enemies would be chiefly the Lannisters and whoever wants the IT as well (Stannis, Renly+Tyrells) since he would take another part out of the 7k, but he could reasonably think, that these factions were too busy warring over who occupies the Iron Chair to care about the Iron Islands seceding (at least for some years).

        -his other option is to make a pact with the Lannisters or one of the Baratheon brothers (essentially, whoever sits on the Iron Chair), which would enable him to plunder the coastal regions of the North and Riverlands without fear of retribution from the Iron Throne. If he is a good negotiator, he could even manage to get a awarded a part of the Riverlands and/or North for his effort to keep the 7k intact.
        If he took that route, then Robb and his allies would be his enemies, but he would be safe from retribution from the rest of the warring factions (Lannisters, Stannis, Renly).
        This approach however necessitates Balon accepting the authority of the Iron Throne over the Iron Islands, so he CANNOT SECEDE.

        What Balon essentially did, was making an enemy out of every warring faction, by attacking the only ruler willing to accept Balon’s secessionist movement (Robb), but at the same time making an enemy out of every faction fighting over the IT, since his secession would take land away from every prospective ruler of the IT.

        • Sean C. says:

          I think Tywin was probably his only realistic negotiating partner other than Robb. I’m dubious Stannis would give him the time of day (and in any event, as the victor at Fair Isle he should be #1 on their most hated list), and Renly frankly doesn’t need them (as the People’s King, he stands to lose more by associating himself with a group that everybody on the mainland hates).

          • Winnief says:

            Agreed. No way in Seven Hells is Stannis going to negotiate with a Reaver. Tywin might have been willing to promise a lot though before the invasion-whether Tywin would have honored that promise being an entirely different question.

            Of course, not trying to make a deal with Tywin beforehand was beyond idiotic.

          • Agreed. Stannis is a no-go. He’s not going to accept any division of the realm, and especially not with the rebels who he smashed last time round.

          • WPA says:

            Also, with Renly so dependent on The Reach for his claim, there’s no way his Reachmen ( who after all, have an area called the Shield Isles )backers are going to allow for the secession of the Iron Islands to take up their Reave and Rule ways again.

        • “-he could make a deal with Robb Stark (or not make a deal, it does not matter that much), sack the nearly defenseless and very rich Westerlands (at least Lannisport, the coast and the islands like Fair Isle), carry his plunder back to the Iron Islands and then declare himself king.”

          And let’s not forget that this is a slight variation of what Theon was aiming for in his previous chapter. And it’s also not too far from what Euron eventually aims for with his conquest of the Shield Islands and raiding into the Reach.

          So it’s clear that there are Ironborn who understand what it would take to turn themselves back into a military power, but for some reason Balon can’t figure it out and no one will call him out on his stupidity.

          • Winnief says:

            That is the puzzling part-not that Balon is being so irrational but that the only person who pointed it out was Theon of all people.

            Even granting Asha’s need to stay in Daddy’s good graces why wasn’t anyone else complaining about going to war for seashells and pinecones?

          • @Winnief To be fair, we don’t get the kind of naked political conversation here that we will see during the Kingsmoot another two books in the future. If the presented scenes are of a fair sample then Theon’s conversations on the Iron Isles were limited to his immediate family, a couple other familiar faces, and beyond that it was people who viewed him as being more than a bit wolfish and thus of suspect loyalty. So perhaps Reader Harlaw is grumbling to his maester at the same moment Theon is making us wince, but it won’t be public questioning until the tide of popular opinion seems more receptive.

            But the topic we’re discussing, plus some of Maester Steven’s comments above, show that Theon actually has a solid sense of how warfare and power work on the mainland. In some crazy alterverse where Balon comes around to Theon’s views, openly allies with Robb, directs the Ironborn to the Westlands and the Reach…suddenly we have the North-Riverlands kingdom looking very secure (plus this completely butterflies the Red Wedding since Robb has no need to take a stab towards the West and never meets Jeyne), the Ironborn might not be able to make solid inroads beyond the coasts but they could certainly establish themselves as the unchallenged naval power in the Sunset Sea, probably most of the way around the southern Dornish coast. And whatever remains of the Lannister-Stannis-Renly factions duking it out for control of what remains. Hell, if GRRM had maneuvered Dany & Aegon to get back to Westeros earlier, that’d be a hella wild story!

      • Abbey Battle says:

        If I might put in my tuppence Maester Steven, from a strategic point of view building a road between White Harbour and The Neck might make it too easy for any opponent able to make a naval landing in the East to force-march their way into the rear of the North’s most indispensable fortress.

        Admittedly the engineering works you mention make sense from an economic point of view, but I would like to point out that economic advantages can sometimes lead to strategic weakness (or at least strategic concentrations that may prove inconvenient to strategic flexibility).

        • Yeah, good point. The Torrhen Square to White Knife canal still makes sense both economically and militarily.

          • Abbey Battle says:

            I would never disagree with such common sense myself, I merely thought to suggest why even the self-evident might not be done – although I suspect that the resources necessary to rebuild The North after the ravages of every winter might play some part in keeping things rather rough-and-ready there to boot.

            It cannot be cheap to ensure that the necessaries for Survival can be gathered and stored either, which might also help explain why The South is slightly more sophisticated than the North – I suspect that the labours of those building the Kingsroad through the Neck all the way from The Blackwater to the Wall must have been comparable to those endured during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad at the very least!

          • Yeah, it would be quite costly.

            Also, it’s not clear that the Westerosi know how to build canals.

          • Allenips says:

            Aery’s did suggest building a canal through Dorne, so there is some precedent set for the idea of canals, although the scale is one thing, and the insanity of the person suggesting it is another.

        • DLG says:

          Even from an economic perspective building a road link from White Harbor to the Neck would have little value. Anyone at White Harbor wanting to travel or ship goods south would sail down the coast, even if there were a good road direct to the Neck. At Westerosi levels of technology, sailing is just so much more effective than even the best of land transportation.

    • Derek says:

      A canal through the neck? I have actually loved the idea of this for a long time. However, if the North really built a canal across the Neck I think that would be the final nail in the coffin for the Old Way. The Ironborn ships are designed for raiding and lightning strikes. They destroy their enemies ships and harbors before they can put up a fight, but if the North had a canal like this they could bring warships from the other coast, and so this strategy would be effectively nullified. However, do you think they could successfully manage to build something like this?

  6. Asha’s speech about her axe being her lord husband and her dirk/dagger being her suckling babe has to be one of my favorite in the series so far. Or phrase or whatever it is. Makes me laugh every time.

    • illrede says:

      Well, she gives it often enough. Means that it’s part of her political toolkit. Which is a fascinating thought, really. She’s not waiting around for events to confirm her, being what she wants to be in Ironborn society is a planned, honed, constant effort.

      Conversely, that right there is Theon’s Day One at it.

      • Yeah, it seems like a stump speech that people are familiar with. I’m guessing she came up with it when Botley et al. started asking for her hand in marriage.

        • Winnief says:

          I myself always got the impression that it was one of Asha’s favorite routines and part of a whole carefully cultivated ‘image’ of hers she wanted to project.

          Of course, what neither Asha nor Balon seemed to consider was the issue that if Asha was to be Balon’s heir then who would be Asha’s?!? That issue is one reason her meeting with Alysanne Mormont was so critical; because the Mormont women are all women of power and independence who may have rejected husbands but certainly not children-and Alysanne’s pointed comments about what Bear Island thinks of Reavers were right on. Being “strong” isn’t the same thing as ‘stealing other people’s stuff.’ It’s not the same at ALL.

          • Yeah. I dunno what Asha was thinking about that; it’s possible she’d just have a kid with a “salt husband.” Or simply adopt an heir, Elizabeth-style.

          • Crystal says:

            I have wondered the same thing. If Balon wanted Asha as his heir, it’s strange that neither of them gave much thought to who would be HER heir. Realistically, he’d probably ask her to marry Tristifer Botley and she would accept him as a suitable consort, even if she didn’t love him. It would put a powerful family as her allies, and the Botleys would have the “what to do with a younger son” issue solved.

            Or, she could have children by Qarl the Maid and say “They were fathered by a kraken” in the way Mormont children are fathered by bears. (Off topic, I wonder if Tormund Giantsbane “Husband to Bears” is the father of any of Maege’s daughters?)

  7. Sean C. says:

    On the subject of Asha, it occurred to me recently that she’s actually kind of a weird character, in that she’s one of the most confident and secure female characters in the whole series, despite the fact that she was raised in the most misogynist part of Westeros by Balon Greyjoy and a coterie of extended family who are either stupid or insane (or both), apart from her uncle Lord Rodrik Harlaw.

    • Winnief says:

      True all the rest of the family are misogynists but Balon clearly decided Asha was going to be his ‘son’ when Theon was taken hostage and he thus gave her a very, VERY unconventional upbringing-and as you say Uncle Rodrik probably helped too.

      The problem for Asha was that when push came to shove, neither her proven record, the devotion of any of her crew, or for that matter Balon’s own personal express wishes mattered a damn when Balon died and Euron showed up on the scene-he was considered the heir apparent before Damphair called for the Kingsmoot and we all know what happened there. Its a classic illustration of how even trying to make yourself the “Exceptional Female” in a misogynist culture isn’t always a winning strategy.

      • illrede says:

        I’d say that it matter quite a bit of damn, in that it blunted Victarion’s conventional play well enough to open the field for Euron. Split tickets, natch.

      • Hardtack says:

        I think a big killer for Asha as the Kingsmoot, above and beyond her sex, is that the Ironborn lords didn’t like what she was saying. The bulk of these lords already backed Balon’s shitty plan. So when it comes down to Euron promising the moon versus a women offering a cold serving of reality, they all hopped aboard the crazy train.

        The Ironborn really are properly insane.

        • Partly true, but she does have a lot of support before the horn blows.

        • “So when it comes down to Euron promising the moon versus a women offering a cold serving of reality, they all hopped aboard the crazy train.

          The Ironborn really are properly insane.”

          *cough* Iraq War *cough-cough*

          • Winnief says:

            “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go Tehran.”

            “Everyone wants to go to the Shield Islands. Real men want to go to Oldtown.”

          • @Winnief I wish WordPress had an upvote function.

            Credit where credit is due, the Ironborn are always upfront about their plans and ultimate intents. They never plan on being greeted as liberators.

            Say what you will about the tenets of Drowned Godism, at least its an ethos!

        • Mitch says:

          Ha! I love your phrasing of it as a choice between “Euron promising the moon versus a woman offering a cold serving of reality.”

          The Ironborn are a crazy people, but in this regard they are not so different from the modern world, where all the time democratic voters choose the harebrained and ultimately self destructive option because they can’t stomach a harsher truth.

          My favorite story of the self destructive Ironborn outlook is how the Red Kraken is revered among the Iron Islands for temporarily re-establishing their former dominance during the Dance of the Dragons. Basically, he took advantage of the warring factions’ distraction and reaved to his heart’s content. After order was restored, the mainlanders turned their attention back to the Iron Islands, who suffered mightily. But where most other kingdoms would rue the destruction and oppression the Red Kraken’s decisions brought on, in the Iron Islands he is hailed as a hero by most.

      • I’ll get into that with the Kingsmoot chapter. I think she comes pretty damn close to winning – had Euron not shown up, she might have carried it.

        • David Hunt says:

          If I recall correctly, after she makes her pitch, she’s got more men cheering her than anyone prior to her, including Victarion. However, the men that Euron already has in his pocket were pretty sure to have been silent up to that point. If Euron hadn’t come back, who would they have supported? I don’t know. Oh the one hand, Balon’s other brother is right there so they might have back him. On the other hand, they supported Euron, so they’re clearly willing to support insanity. They might have been willing to break with tradition and support a woman.

          On the gripping hand, Euron was there…

          • It’s a bit confusing how it works – do you go to consensus? Absolute majority? FPTP?

          • Chris says:

            Would Aeron have allowed Asha to become queen? I think he was too terrified of Euron to openly oppose him during the Kingsmoot, but would he have felt more comfortable bringing religious/cultural arguments against Asha? He was able to call the Kingsmoot in the first place, despite factions already rallying for civil war, so I feel like he’d have some sway.

      • Crystal says:

        She also had her mother Alannys, who “raised her to be fierce” before she became so ill. Alannys and Rodrik Harlaw were very close – Alannys named her oldest son after him – so I think that the Harlaw branch of the family had a lot to do with Asha’s upbringing. Asha notes in AFFC that Ten Towers was more like home to her than Pyke in many ways. It makes me surmise that Balon became close to Asha only after her older brothers died and Theon went to Winterfell. Before that, I think maybe Asha, and Alannys, spent a good deal of time on Harlaw with Uncle Rod and she was not as much in Balon’s orbit.

        Asha did have supporters at the Kingsmoot – Tristifer Botley, Qarl the Maid, the Harlaws, Baelor Blacktyde, and Manfred Merlyn (the fat, velvet-clad lord of Pebbleton). I am not sure if the other Botleys backed her or not, but if she had sucked it up and offered to make Tristifer her King Consort, I bet you they would have. Being in-laws to a Queen is a powerful position. Asha seems to have been backed by the “progressive” lords of the Isles – Blacktyde spent his formative years in the Reach, Merlyn seemed to want trade for his town, the Botleys were based in Lordsport, and we all know that Uncle Rodrik was sick of the Old Way. Asha erred in not trying to firm up a coalition ahead of time, and maybe present her ideas in a way that might get people with one foot in the Old way and one in the New/trade way (like Goodbrother and Drumm) to see her position.

        But then Euron came in swaggering and boasting and handing out piles of money and all was lost. Gylbert Farwynd had guts, though, to stake his own claim.

    • I wouldn’t necessarily call it the most misogynist. Rather, their misogyny is complicated by their racism. An Ironborn woman is superior to all greenlanders, so therefore has more latitude.

      Kind of like the Spartans.

      • Sean C. says:

        I would. They’re the only part of Westeros with a formalized system of sex slavery (even though they don’t call it that), and Asha is the only woman we see in anything remotely resembling a postion of authority. There are no ruling ladies amongst the Ironborn, that we can see, and Asha’s whole claim to succeed her father runs into enormous obstacles because the idea of a woman in the Seastone Chair is so risible (it’s not easy for a woman to rule anywhere, of course).

        • But that sex slavery is confined to non-Ironborn. Whereas in this chapter we learn that “there were women on the Iron Islands – not many, but a few – who crewed the longships along with their men, and it was said that salt and sea changed them, gave them a man’s appetites.”

          Compare that to the reaction of the South to Brienne.

          • Sean C. says:

            We see far more women in positions of power on the mainland than amongst the Ironborn, and I don’t know that merely crewing a ship is akin to Brienne trying to be a knight, seeing as I don’t believe we ever see any female warriors other than Asha (there’s also, of course, that Asha is attractive, whilst Brienne is ugly).

          • Comparing the Ironborn to the mainlanders (specifically the Andali south), you’ve got two societies with differing views on how anyone (man or woman) gains status, power and renown.

            In the South the top of the heap is basically being a Lord/Lady. It’s acceptable to see a strong willed Lady in power as long as she rose by the proper means (bloodline + marriage) and uses her power to reinforce the status quo. With maybe smoothing out a few rough edges of the baseline misogyny. Brienne is looked at as a freak because, while knighthood is a path to status and power, it is the man’s path. Note how often Brienne is told to go home, get hitched, and have kids. It’s not just blind misogynist characters, it’s also sympathetic characters who know that her pseudo-knighthood is a social dead end.

            In the Iron Islands, the path to power, status and renown is through captaining a ship, killing a bunch of folk and stealing their shit. Sadly it’s more egalitarian. And even though we see that marriage alliances are still important in the Iron Islands, since any common born man can rise to a relatively higher level of power through reaving, the strength of marriage alliances (which in a twisted way is a source of female power) is severely diluted. Thus without a social outlet for female advancement, it becomes *occasionally* acceptable for a woman to adapt a man’s role and become a captain/reaver.

            So if anyone on the mainland is Asha’s mirror, it wouldn’t be Brienne, it’s probably Margaery.

  8. illrede says:

    The other thing the Ironborn did to themselves was make it so that there was no politically or culturally legitimate way to even critique Balon’s plan, assuming a proponent of sufficient standing managed to even assess it properly (which later events indicate Asha did).

    That downhill slide Balon made out of his inheritance functions admirably, in a sense.

    • Winnief says:

      Good point. Any half-way *rational* society would in the wake of Balon’s invasion (either of his invasions really,) have decided to cut their losses and look into something other than the Old Way but the Iron Born doubled down or more rather tripled down by following Euron’s obviously lunatic scheme to try to take the Seven Kingdoms via dragons from across the world who will naturally be enslaved by the magic horn he’s entrusting to Victarion the ox. In the wake of that, you find yourself wishing the whole fleet burns for their sheer stupidity to say nothing of what they inflict on the Shield Islands.

      • Andrew says:

        Euron said he would take Westeros with dragons which he didn’t have. I think that was the first time they ever heard of Dany’s dragons up to that point given I doubt the Ironborn heard about Dany’s dragons before as any sane captain would be sure to steer his ship away from the Iron Isles when they were rising up and reviving the Old Way, likely depriving them of any news from the East.

        Taking that into account, you have a guy claiming he can take Westeros with dragons that he supposedly knows where to find. Were it not that I know of Dany’s story, that claim coming from Euron would have sounded ludicrous to me.

        The fact that the story and promising them all of Westeros won him the crown says something about the Ironborn. Well, to be fair, Euron also gave the most loot and was the most charismatic.

        • Winnie says:

          Not to mention Euron’s claim he’s been to Valyria was clearly bogus but not one but the Reader called him on it.

          • Andrew says:

            One of the Reader’s badass moments; proving to be Euron’s main political opponent.

            As for sheer stupidity among the Ironborn, well they regard reading as perverse and unmanly, so given the anti-intellectualism, it shouldn’t surprise if they seem like a nation of morons.

          • Winnief says:

            It really does show how toxic such a hyper masculine, battle hungry, no sissy book learning or diplomacy such culture really is.

          • Hedrigal says:

            HAH! Its fun going through old archives from before the Forsaken chapter when we all thought that Euron was full of shit.

        • Mitch says:

          Their obsession with the Old Way truly is a source of great pain and misery for their people. It’s funny who they hold up as their greatest heroes—The Red Kraken revered for temporarily restoring their dominance during the Dance of the Dragons, for instance, when their kingdom is far worse off in the aftermath of his actions.

      • Crystal says:

        Does Euron (or Victarion) even know what to do with dragons once they get them? Just tootle the horn, and the dragon will let you ride him? I think Vic, at least, is going to find out firsthand just how much Drogon loves broiled squid.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Rodrik the Reader has some books on dragon lore in his library – for all we know, he might have a copy of Barth’s lost book, given that he might be paying the iron price for those books, which could come from anywhere, and the Citadel probably thinks the Isles aren’t worth bothering with – but of course Euron and Vic are too manly, and in Vic’s case too dumb, to actually do the research.

  9. Winnief says:

    As usual Steve, I love your analysis. I’d only like to add that while the show sometimes does give short shrift to all the historical analysis, and battle context we get in the books, one area they are consistently good at and even frequently outstrip the books in is *family* dynamics.

    Now the Lannister’s are the prime example of that, (seriously anything with Cersei, Tywin, Tyrion, has been pure gold,) but it also comes up with the Tyrell’s (Margaery/Olenna or Margaery/Loras) and the Greyjoys. Alfie’s whole “You Gave Me Away” speech simply killed as did Patrick Malahide’s reaction shot. And unlike Gemma or Alfie who while I’m more than satisfied with their performances, (hell Alfie’s been goddamn revelatory) don’t physically resemble Asha or Theon from the books, Malahide looked *exactly* the way I pictured Balon. It was downright eerie.

    • Malahide has been brilliant, but really underused. Agree about the family dynamics thing – especially with the change to have more POV characters interacting face-to-face.

    • Crystal says:

      Agreed wrt the actors. Both Gemma and Alfie are superb, even though they don’t physically resemble their book characters. Alfie especially has done an amazing job. Patrick Malahide did a great job as Balon, and this actor does resemble his book character.

  10. JT says:

    Kurt Vonnegut talked about “story shapes” – Theon’s arc is “from bad to worse” (i.e. a line that more or less points straight down) – his POV picks up with him in a no win situation (getting caught between Robb and Balon), and pretty much every subsequent decision he makes or that affects him until the the very end of ADWD just buries him deeper in his hole.

    The “triumphs” Theon is so happy to be experiencing – heroic return to Pyke, his seduction of Esgred, the conquest of Winterfall – are that much more painful on reread, since they all make his situation that much worse down the road.

    It makes me wonder if Theon’s “redemption” at the end of ADWD turns out to be nothing more than a quick dead cat bounce that leads to decapitation at the hands of Stannis (better than being Reek again, but hardly a “great” ending) or something even worse…

    • Winnie says:

      I think The on being executed will be his redemption as it will serve as a blood sacrifice-possibly even the means by which Jon is revived.

      • Andrew says:

        I don’t think he’ll be executed. He thinks death won’t be so bad, Stannis announced he is going to be killed, and everyone in the camp wants him dead. So going by that I think he is going to live given GRRM builds expectations just to toy with them.

        Theon could remember Luwin’s advice, and request to take the black. Everyone knows Jon is the LC, and they probably think Jon would make Theon’s life a living hell at the Wall or send him on a suicide mission. Besides, GRRM says he has a special preference for cripples, bastards and broken things.

        I think Asha is the more likely sacrifice, especially given her last POV was title “The Sacrifice” even though she wasn’t being sacrificed.

        • jaime'slefthand says:

          “I think Asha is the more likely sacrifice, especially given her last POV was title “The Sacrifice” even though she wasn’t being sacrificed.”

          OOOOOOO good call.

    • Whatever happens to Theon in TWOW, I would argue his arc already was resolved in a triumph through the very fact that he was able to finally conquer his fear and Ramsay’s brainwashing, find his own identity (for the first time ever, in a way), and rescue Jeyne and himself from Ramsay (which, in a roundabout way, can be seen as ‘redemption’ for the worst crime he ever committed, since Jeyne was ‘expendable’ and ‘insignificant’ except as a stand-in for someone who was more ‘important’ due to family name, much like the miller’s boys).

    • No, I think Theon hit bottom as Reek, and had his turning point on the walls of Winterfell.

      Not sure what happens next; I’m guessing the whole latecomer/kingsmoot thing.

  11. Grant says:

    Martin might have wanted to set things up to be harder for the Starks, but it’s not as though revanchist leaders haven’t led their nations into self-destructive moves in the real world. People might find comparisons to the Nazis tiresome, but when you think about it 1930s Germany could have ended in a much better position if they’d just been happy with the modest land they managed to take and left the rest alone. However the German government of the time chose to keep extending itself and so caused a war that effectively destroyed everything they had gained in the first place.

    And that’s just the most famous example. History’s filled with others of nations and leaders who fought stupid wars over land they realistically couldn’t hold and didn’t gain much from.

    • Winnie says:

      Like the trying to invade Russia during the winter phenomenon….which is actually an almost direct comparison to invading the North right before winter.

      • illrede says:

        That would be more like invading the North referencing a successful campaign by the Red Kraken to do the same, gauging Northern Bannermen strength and loyalty dynamics as constant with a critically optimistic offset applied to bring the relevant data up to current.

        • illrede says:

          Hmm… Maybe he WAS referencing their takeover of the Riverlands.

          That would be wildly optimistic, though. That was great luck and constant opponent mistakes, and even then they gained no benefit from success right up until the point it all failed; three generations of stripping the islands trying to hold on to it after a series of unlikely successes, and then they couldn’t hold on to it.

    • Stupid is certainly sometimes historically accurate.

  12. Jaime'slefthand says:

    Perhaps this is a daft ‘what if’, but what if Asha misjudges catching the axe and loses some fingers? What if the wound gets infected and she then dies?

  13. Winnie says:

    One what if I been wondering about even if its early in the series to wonder is what would have happened if the Crows Eye never made it back to kill his elder brother so Balon’s alive but his latest great scheme is still clearly falling apart.

    What happens then?

    • Carolyn says:

      I do not see Balon as a person willing to admit mistakes (or even learning from them) so he would probably have told the Ironborn to stay in the North, where they would have been defeated by Stannis, Boltons, etc..

      • Winnie says:

        That seems likely for Balon the question is what the rest of the Iron Born do once it becomes clear there’s nothing for them in the North except frostbite and poison arrows. Vic is too dumb to ask questions but the kraken’s daughter and others might have felt differently especially with no booty coming in and no support from Tywin.

    • That’s an excellent question.

      I’m not sure. Clearly, he was looking to the Lannisters for recognition that wasn’t going to come. What happens when the Boltons and Freys show up with Lannister backing I don’t know; probably denial and falling back to trying to hold the seas.

      • Winnief says:

        Sounds likely. One thing Balon is probably incapable of would be admitting (even to himself) that he made a mistake, but my thought is that the rest of the Iron Born certainly might start thinking along those lines…and what does that do to Balon’s power base? Especially when Stannis takes the North?!?

        Not to mention the question of what happens when the game plays out, and the ultimate ruler of the IT is crowned.

        • Good question. Balon seems to have been extremely secure in his position despite his track record as a total loser.

          • WPA says:

            That also struck me as odd, considering the disastrous end of the last rebellion. Reader Harlaw was willing to call out Euron, a nightmarish psycho-pirate, on his crap. However he/others apparently don’t make a press against Balon on the obvious flaws of his plan.

          • Winnief says:

            Which again seems…odd. It’s not like the IB are always giving automatic deference or loyalty based on a man’s blood, as Theon so painfully learned, and unlike Euron he didn’t even manage to bring in any short term rewards, (i.e. treasures from Asshai and the sweet taste of victory at the Shield Islands.) to help strengthen his position. (As Asha noted there was nothing at Deepwood Motte and the Stony Shore but pebbles and seashells.) And frankly unlike such figures as Ned, Robb,Jon Arryn, and even Stannis (in his own weird hard way,) there doesn’t seem to be anything about Balon that would particularly endear him to others or even earn their respect.

          • Sean C. says:

            Aeron recalls that he was much more impressive when he was younger, I believe.

          • Edwin says:

            Have you read the world of Ice and Fire?

        • Crystal says:

          No, Balon doesn’t seem to have anything going for him or any way to inspire loyalty – there’s a lot of telling and very little showing in that regard. I think of him as a plot device (to help doom the Starks) more than anything else.

          As far as the Reader not defying Balon is concerned – plot device, yes, but perhaps Rodrik was afraid that if he spoke up against Balon it would be the worse for Alannys. It’s true that Alannys was separated from Balon and living at Harlaw by then, but perhaps Rodrik was afraid that Balon would order her to come back and abuse her when he did.

  14. Hardtack says:

    The Ironborn were always a little bothersome for me because they really strike me as the cartoon version of Vikings (a bit like the Dothraki are cartoon Mongols). The only conclusion I can come to is that Old Ways crowd is full of shit, and the Iron Islanders have always been just as much traders as pirates.

    • I’ve discussed this a bunch on Tumblr. Basically, the Ironborn have spent centuries at a time as traders who engage in piracy away from home, and that’s really the only viable model. They had a brief experiment as land-based conquerors in the Riverlands, but were having trouble hanging on to that – hence Harren’s white elephant.

    • Grant says:

      The attention given to them was mostly on the here and now in the show, but the books do imply as you read through the Ironborn chapters that there’s a lot more to them than that. It’s just that they’ve got a leader who kept going on and on about the old glories and how the old Ironborn did things without any effort made to study why they had success in some times and failures in another, or even how much the system had changed*. So the Ironborn were basically led right off a cliff by a man babbling about old glories.

      *Hardly a coincidence that their biggest successes came at a time when there were multiple kingdoms too busy fighting each other to consider the Ironborn and the lands they took had feuding lords. Not only in the books would the Northerners all agree that the Ironborn have to go, but under the Iron Throne system there will sooner or later be a monarch not only capable of fighting but expected to for the good of the Seven Kingdoms.

      • Mitch says:

        Truth.

        The Ironborn’s best times came when the realm was fractured (either pre-conquest when there were so many rivals fighting in every kingdom) or during the few civil wars after Aegon.

        But when the realm is unified, the Ironborn don’t stand a chance. Not only can Balon not understand this, but there’s a large pack of supporters that feel this way too. I mean, who’s the bigger fool: the foolish leader or the ones who follow him?

  15. jpmarchives says:

    Excellent work as usual Stephen. Now seems like the best time to discuss the insanity of Balon Greyjoy from both political and strategic standpoints. As you pointed out, Robb Stark is currently the only faction working to upset the status quo, a goal which has been the Ironborn dream for three solid centuries. To attack the only other political party with it’s objectives in line with yours is not just strategically unsound; it’s plainly stupid.

    Not only are Balon’s motives for attacking the North dubious (ie: it wasn’t the Starks who killed his sons and they formed only a small part of a large coalition) but his objections to attacking the westerlands; “Casterly Rock is too strong”are no more or less viable than the issues you mentioned regarding successfully taking the North, namely manpower and distance.

    Things get really odd when Balon starts trying to predict how certain people will react to his actions. Balon is completely dismissive of “King Robb the boy” and complimentary of Tywin for being “too cunning by half” expecting that Tywin will kill Robb for him. But at this stage in the war the Stark’s are about to reach their zenith, the point at which Robb’s defeat seems most unlikely. Let’s make this clear; Balon’s plan requires every Northman south of the wall to die in battle, and whilst a great many do in the end, massacres like the RW are not historically common. Even if Balon absolutely believed that Robb could never beat Tywin, he never considers the possibility that Robb would be defeated and bend the knee… which could well be a consequence of losing the land Balon plans to steal from him. In victory or defeat, the Northmen are coming back (as the Boltons did in OTL), making a pitched battle for Moat Cailin inevitable, and all the while Balon lacks a plan to subdue the interior. And the so called cunning of Tywin which Balon complimented is also ignored when it applies to his own plan, since declaring independence and seizing de jure land of the crown is no way to endear himself to the foremost peer of Westeros with a clear mandate to punish rebelling Kingdoms.

    Balon’s plan to seize the North is an interesting parallel to Theon’s plan for an alliance between Stark and Greyjoy. Both convince themselves it will work in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary, both utterly ignore the motivations of other political actors at play and both are, in the end, doomed. The only thing that can be said in favour of Theon’s plan is that the short term rewards would be great (sacking one of the richest cities in Westeros would make every reaver in the iron islands a wealthy man) but the potential fallout from a Lannister victory would be grave. Balon’s plan has no upside; the North has very little to loot in the short term, and whether Stark of Lannister emerge victorious, any outcome in the war leaves the Ironnborn the unenviable task of holding tens of thousands of miles of barren land against a populace which outnumbers and reviles them.

    In short; total insanity.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        I think that the great weakness in Balon Twice-Crowned is that he served his military apprenticeship as a Reaver not as a Knight, still less as a General; It is therefore unsurprising that his powers of Leadership are potent*, but that he has all the strategic nous of an Amish Summer Islander.

        It didn’t help his military education that he grew up the son of a Peace-minded Lord and during a time of relative Peace across the Seven Kingdoms; my guess is that by the time he got his hands on the reigns of command he was almost hopelessly ignorant of war-making (at least one a level beyond “take ship, find target, inflict horrible violence on target, retreat, then repeat”) and worse still was quite possibly utterly oblivious to the level of his ignorance … worst of all he was already far too set in his ways to change when King Robert showed him the error of his ways in CRUSHING detail.

        It seems extremely likely that Captain Asha would have been equally-oblivious to the finer Arts of War before her campaign in the North but fortunately for her she was still young and mentally-flexible enough to draw lessons from her experiences rather than wilfully ignore them.

        As for the rest of the Iron born, if any one of them has experience of War (as opposed to raiding or Piracy or getting their tentacle chopped up into fish food during Greyjoys Rebellion) then they were clearly smart enough to get the heck out of Pyke when they got wind that Old Man Balon was STUPID enough to take the Second King of the Islands and the Trident as his life model …

        *Let us be honest Lord Balon has undoubtedly learned to become a Leader of Men for blinkered, bigoted and quite-possibly mad The Lord Reaper may be, but it takes a man of unusual charisma and presence to persuade his people to fight the Seven Kingdoms single-handed, fail utterly and then win back their loyalty to the point they were willing to try AGAIN.

        • Winnief says:

          Yeah, the Iron Born don’t have real experience at soldiering in general, (piracy is an entirely different thing,) so that perhaps colors their perceptions of the matter.

          It is both sad and infuriating that Balon learned NOTHING from his father’s example.

          • Abbey Battle says:

            To be fair he seems to have drawn the most obvious lesson from his Father’s end – “Doing favours for Greenland Kings does no favours for the Iron Islands” – but unfortunately in combination with an infatuation where the Old Way is concerned this seems to have catalysed his lust for a Crown of his own.

            It doesn’t help that he seems to have seen the late King Robert’s success in the War of the Usurper as a sign of fundamental weakness in the Seven Kingdoms rather than the personal weaknesses of the unlamented King Aerys II and the power of the Baratheon Coalition – if nothing else he seems to believe that anything Robert Baratheon could do, he can do.

            However Lord Balon does seem to have made the cardinal mistake of confusing his father’s last campaign with the policy of moderation he pursued all his living days (possibly believing that both folly and constraint stemmed from the same basic idea of subordination to Mainland Kings).

            I must admit that I remain interested in learning just who it was who taught Balon Greyjoy the Old Way, for it seems to me that by doing so he made ‘Reaver King’ the only alternative in the Lord Reapers mind to ‘Vassal’ and thereby condemned the Iron Islands to subjugation twice over.

            I’d put my money on Dagmer Cleftjaw being the little pin that shook this particular horse-shoe loose to general ruin, but I remain not-quite-certain on this score.

        • jpmarchives says:

          If there was ever a place in Westeros that needs genuine, long term reform, it’s the Iron islands. They rebel against Robert and get crushed, rebel against Joffrey and their war fizzles out, and now they’re following the pipe dreams of a madman into another war, this time bent of subjugating the ENTIRE continent. They really are suckers for punishment.

    • Grant says:

      Theon’s plan had at least some chance for success if Robb won. True that’s gambling on one side being victorious, but Balon’s plan didn’t have even that. Despite what he might have thought, with his plan he would lose no matter which side won. So Theon was dreaming, but at least with a possible win condition.

    • Andrew says:

      Good point about Balon dismissing Robb as “a boy” despite outfoxing Tywin on the battlefield in strategy. Robb also took only half the strength of the North, with Manderly still having a large number of forces at White Harbor.

      Balon probably thought himself Harwyn Hardhand come again, but Harwyn at least had experience fighting on land in the Disputed Lands and a plan for fighting in the interior of the riverlands while Balon has no such experience, and no plan for fighting on land in the interior. In short, Harwyn had one of the few things Balon lacked: brains.

      • Winnie says:

        Well as Steve notes Balon was such a bigot and a fool he would dismiss the men at White Harbor just like the bog devils and mountain clans.

        And to be fair a LOT of people at first assumed the green boy Robb would eventually be crushed by the great Tywin Lannister. As it turned out Tywin wasnt a real battlefield commander and tactical genius like Robb (or for that matter King Robert or even Stannis) were. His reputation owed more to him being *meaner* than anyone else.

        • Allenips says:

          @Winnie. You do raise a good point, and it makes me wonder what exactly Tywin’s credentials were. He fought in the Stepstones with Aerys and Steffon Baratheon, and that was where we was knighted by Aerys, but no mention of a brilliant military stroke. Then theres him arranging the murder of two of his banner men’s houses on the fly, in which it didn’t really seem strategic victory but Blitzkrieg in which he ran each down before the other could react. And lastly his dashing victory in Robert’s Rebellion where he was able to successfully vanquish the citizens of Kings Landing in the streets after being let in the front door.

          His lack of strategic, tactic epicness is disappointing in this light. His only military miracle is the logistics of his two massive armies.

          • Winnie says:

            His “qualifications’ were that he was great at making back alley deals and also willing to go to a level of brutality and deception that was simply outside the social mores of Westeros. (As Amanda Marcotte brilliantly put it Tywin was a cheater and a free loader who relied on other people’s honor for protection while clearly disposing of it whenever it was convenient to him. It only works if he does it but no one else because a whole society of people acting like Tywin quickly goes straight into the crapper and indeed that is exactly what’s happening in Westeros right now.)

            One reason in fact the Sack and the murder of Elia and her children was so bad for his rep in the long run, (despite his claims it was ‘neccessary’) is because it clearly wasn’t actual soldiering. The other members of Robert’s Rebellion did the *real* fighting and took *real* risks but Tywin just swoops in at the end of the day, to join the winning side with an act of mass butchery. Frankly, it’s not the sort of thing that earns people’s respect, (though it does trigger the gag reflex,) and I think it may have hurt him more than it helped because Robert was so disgusted by it all that he never wanted Tywin at court after marrying Cersei and his name was mud in KL after that too. Though hey Tywin, did get back at Elia for her ‘vile crime’ of being the one chosen to wed Rhaegar over Cersei so that was something!

            The Red Wedding was the same way- was brought on by the fact in part that Tywin (for all his claims about ending the war when he razed the Riverlands because of Tyrion’s arrest,) was feeling the strain of having had his ass kicked by a teenager and he wanted to put to rest any doubts that might have raised in people’s minds about how mighty the Golden Lion *really* was. But again, for all the short term benefits it delivered in the long term, by grievously wounding Guest Right, Tywin seriously destabilized all Seven Kingdoms, (and I doubt he would have been philosophical if anyone ignored Guest Right for Lannister forces or their allies,) The North Remembers and one way or another he was going to face open rebellion there even had he lived, and fact is in the wake of the RW, as Jaime noted the Lannister’s were not only unloved, (which Tywin wouldn’t mind as long as they were feared,) but also openly despised. (Which Tywin would have had a problem with.) No one trusted them or had an ounce of respect for them.

            Of course the really bitterest part of all is that immediately in the wake of the RW with all his biggest enemies either dead or vanquished Tywin, is at the Small Council meeting immediately confronted with the realization that his ultimate end goal for which he’s killed tens of thousands; a daughter who was Queen Regent, a grandson whose King of the Seven Kingdoms were both completely unfit for their respective jobs and could never hold them on their own once he’s gone.

            Ok, man that all went WAY OT in the rant. Forgive me.

  16. Abbey Battle says:

    Splendid Work as ever Maester Steven; I have to say that while some readers find a sort of ‘Gangster Glamour’ in the Iron Isles one can say with complete certainty that I do not – so far as I am concerned the best place for a Pirate is on the rope’s end or in Irons.

    I’m not sure you’ve noticed, but my sympathies tend to be rather with the Law than with the Law-Breakers … within sensible limits; I’d rather avoid bloodshed in the streets and the sort of Revolution that ends up devouring its own children, but give me Liberty by Law over Tyranny any day!

  17. Here’s a What If?

    Crows Eye decides to return home much earlier. This also presumes that Euron’s return and Balon’s death weren’t coincidental. Does he still prevail over Vic and Asha and now Theon in a Kingsmoot? And if so, does he aim for the Reach like in AFFC?

    • Grant says:

      Well the offer of dragons is pretty hard to turn down, and I can’t imagine Theon managing to do anything that Asha and Victarion didn’t. The only major thing I can see from it is that sense Theon was there to make his own effort, there’s no way Asha can claim that it wasn’t a legitimate Kingsmoot (as was her plan).

      • Winnie says:

        And that may well be his future role but I feel like death is more likely.

        And actually I think dragons that even if they do exist are halfway around the world and you have no guarantee you can even reach much less control shouldn’t be that hard to pass on.

        • Grant says:

          Euron and the horn were more than enough in the books, don’t see much reason why they shouldn’t be enough if Balon dies early. Sure in the books they might have felt that they needed the dragons to wash (or burn) away the embarrassment of the failing war, but in general those dragons are just really tempting.

          • Winnie says:

            Tempting yes but what in the name of the Drowned God made them think they could ever *get* the dragons?!? They’re notoriously hard to control even if you have V alyrian blood as a certain young prince learned and Euron’s gets them to bet everything on some big-assuming horn?!?

    • jpmarchives says:

      I find it unlikely that Theon could have triumphed against him, but the timing of Euron’s return could have been potentially saved the Stark cause. Balon dying off page just as soon as he’s screwed over the Starks is one of the more transparent plot points GRRM has written.

      If Euron returned (and killed Balon) during or even before the invasion of the North, the effect on the Stark cause is massive. Without losing Winterfell, Jaime is never released, the Frey’s never leave, Karstark keeps his head and the Red Wedding is almost certainly avoided. The battle of the blackwater still happens and the great Western alliance comes together, but it would be immediately put under strain by Ironborn attacks in the reach, and even with Bolton’s support Tywin can’t backstab Robb with Jaime still in custody.

      I have no idea what would happen in the long run, but Balon dead earlier would save the Stark cause from the destruction seen in OTL.

      • Winnief says:

        All true-and another crucial detail is that if news of the IB invasion of the Shield islands occurs when *Tywin’s* still alive, my guess is that Paxter Redwyne’s ships and soldiers would have been sent to defend the Reach IMMEDIATELY.

        Whatever, else Tywin’s faults there’s no way he would have risked letting Oldtown much less the rest of the Reach (aka KL’s food source) fall under his watch which means Redwyne in all likelihood crushes Euron and the IB pretty early on. In a sense having Euron’s campaign take place when *Cersei’s* running things is another example of Martin putting the thumb on the scale to ensure the worst possible timing for everyone. And of course Cersei’s stunt with framing Margaery gets Mace to march his army back to KL when they’re needed elsewhere-again something that never EVER would have been allowed to happen if Daddy had been around.

        Now, while the IB under Euron are ultimately doomed, (and I mean DOOMED-) there may now be a chance that Oldtown (home to the Starry Sept and Citadel-center of culture and the Faith in Westeros) is about to get sacked because Paxter wasn’t let off the leash soon enough-and worst yet Euron might be after some kind of magical elements in Oldtown to help his cause as well. Which is why Balon’s death not happening a little bit sooner may ultimately prove just as disastrous for House Tyrell as it was for House Stark. Possibly even more.

        • jpmarchives says:

          Tricky. On the one hand, Tywin understands the necessity of allowing his rivals to protect themselves lest he damage the coalition. On the other, with the North un-taken there’s nothing to stop Robb from marching West again (with clearer instructions for Edmure) and pulling the same trick twice. Common sense dictates that Tywin would have to split his forces, but Robb would jump at any chance to battle Tywin in the field. An earlier Ironborn invasion of the reach would throw almost everything from OTL out the window, with the possibly exception of Joffrey’s (and potentially Tywin’s) death. If that happens Robb survives for sure. He’s left weighing his options as Cersei destroys the Tyrell alliance and Aegon makes his play.

          What Sansa’s fate would be I have no idea.

        • Sean C. says:

          It seems unlikely that Euron would have attacked the Reach with Lord Paxter still stationed at home, which he was until after ACOK.

      • Yeah, it’s an interesting case. I think you’re about right.

        • Allenips says:

          So basically, the possibility of Euron coming home sooner hinges on when exactly the Warlocks leave Quarth with the Dragon Horn and are taken by Euron and tell him about Dany. Does anyone have a timeline for this to see if there’s more wiggle room?

  18. Andrew says:

    Baelor Blacktyde wasn’t off the mark when he said “Balon is mad.”

    Balon’s states “When I require your counsel I shall ask for it.” He makes plans to attack the North yet doesn’t even ask the counsel of Theon, who actually lived there. And when Theon tries to tell him where his plan and assessment falls short, Balon cuts him off. Sure why would anyone ask the counsel of the one who lived in the area that they plan to invade for a decade? Balon not taking the honest counsel of someone qualified to speak on such matters says something about him. His plans aren’t based on reality, but on prejudice and wishful thinking, which explains a large part of why they don’t work.

    • While Theon’s own confidence issues cause him to be a loud mouth in numerous conversations, it does not mean that he is uninformed or unintelligent on a number of topics. The Ironborn could’ve reasserted themselves during the initial chaos of the War of Five Kings, but choosing the North as a target only meant that neither the Iron Islands nor the North got what they wanted.

      • Winnie says:

        Yeah as noted earlier The on did have a good basic grasp on the situation in the mainland even if he was a stranger to the islands. They chided him for wanting the rule the Iron Born when he didn’t understand but they honestly believed they could take over the North and even the rest of Westeros without knowing a thing about the Green landers (elsewise they wouldnt have been so surprised by the bog mens guerilla style tactics.)

        The stupid….it burns.

        • Andrew says:

          Thankfully there are a few smart Ironborn. The Reader at number one, and even Drumm and Goodbrother agree with him that attacking the Reach was a bad idea. Unfortunately, they make up a minority. Here’s to hoping in the fallout when House Greyjoy goes extinct, and there is a political vacuum on the Iron Isles, the Reader sits back and lets Darwinism take its toll when all the other idiots fight each other.

          • Winnief says:

            In that case if my suspicions about the ultimate fate of Euron’s fleet, (dragon food) are right, then he will in a sense have done the Islands a Big Favor by getting rid of their dumbest and most blood thirsty inhabitants for them leaving behind the fishermen, shepherds, and other actual *working* people the Reavers despise.

          • Andrew says:

            It does bring to mind Robert Sapolsky’s observations of a troop of baboons in the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya in 1983-1993. He found an outbreak of tuberculosis killed half the males in the troop. The source was a contaminated garbage dump, and the most aggressive and dominant males were the ones who died off given they were the ones able to successfully compete for food.

            Ten years later, when he came to re-observe the troop, he found all the original males of the troop were gone.With the males gone the females were the senior members of the troop. These females acculturated the younger males, selecting the ones that exhibited less aggression and lower stress behaviors. The result was a society radically different from the one he originally observed. Bigger baboons no longer bullied smaller ones in contests of supremacy but only on others of the same size, and males were less likely to attack females.

            We can hope we might see a similar case of change with much of the Ironborn warriors being killed off, possibly to the point it might take a generation to regain their former strength. The ones left being the intellectuals like the Reader, the smallfolk, thralls and of course, the women who would be looking after the household with their husbands gone and looking after their kids, the next generation of Ironborn.

          • Winnie says:

            I LOVE that analogy Andrew!

            Thing is, I think given the iron deposits, fishing, the ponies on Harlaw, and of course the possibilities of marketing yourselves as the greatest seamen around, the Islands (with proper population control-thank you moon tea,) could actually have a decent, sustainable, maybe even *prosperous* economy…but it would require an entirely different direction than any they’ve done so far.

          • Andrew says:

            Not an an entirely different direction, it has been done before. King Qhorwyn Hoare’s reign was marked by peace and accumulating wealth through trade, as he said “War is bad for trade.”

            They need some good direction under someone like the Reader. Also, the IT is likely going to have dragons again; the Ironborn never tried to gain independence or revive the Old Way between Aegon’s Conquest and the Dance of Dragons, because since Harren’s end, dragons proved to be a good deterrence against such dreams. I doubt any of the Ironborn would want to risk bringing dragons upon themselves. Take those two combined with devastation of their latest attempt to revive the Old Way and gain independence, and there is hope for a New Way.

          • Crystal says:

            Great points, Andrew and Winnie. I would add that if Gylbert Farwynd actually decides to sail the Sunset Sea and he does find that land he was talking about, and can open up westward trade with Yi Ti and Asshai, the Ironborn would be poised to control trade in that direction.

      • Andrew says:

        Now that I think on it, the idea of Cersei as a match for Balon doesn’t seem so far-fetched. They have some things in common: no concern for the smallfolk, they delude themselves into thinking they’re great leaders when they bring only death and misery to their people, they come up with (dumb) grand plans that end in disaster, treat their youngest sons like crap, and have no concept of the term “alliance.”

        • Winnief says:

          Its actually a good comparison-though I think Tywin’s ‘suggestion’ was Cersei marry Theon-(the only person whose POV chapters-from ACOK at least rivaled hers in pitiful self delusion,) and sometimes I think Cersei/Euron might just happen in a last ditch effort on her part to stay in power, and as terrifying an idea as it is, it would also be hard to find two people more deserving of each other.

          • Tywin actually mentions both Balon (if his wife dies) and Theon, as well as Oberyn, Quentyn Martell and the Redwyne twins, as candidates he’s considered but that he ruled out for various reasons, like not offending the Tyrells or not considering the alliance with the Greyjoys to be a good course of action. (Theon was a particularly unrealistic choice at that point, since he was Ramsay’s prisoner.) But it seemed to be just stage-setting for Tywin’s actual plan which he then announced to her, which was to marry her to Willas Tyrell.

          • Crystal says:

            Tywin mentioned that Alannys was ill and if she died, Cersei could marry Balon. Ironically, Alannys outlived him. My guess is that either Willas Tyrell was the preferred match all along, and/or Tywin really wanted to get rid of Cersei, and if he couldn’t offload her on Willas, he would send her to Pyke. (In any event, the Tyrells did not want Willas to marry Cersei and said as much. Ha.)

  19. Jaime'slefthand says:

    On a side note, I love how this chapter’s comments section has basically been carte blanche for everyone to just rip into the Greyjoys. Long may it continue!

    Great analysis, too, Steven.

  20. Amestria says:

    Now I’m sort of wondering if Balon’s really bad plan has anything comparable to it in the Middle Ages?

    • There’s plenty of disastrous invasions in Medieval history. England’s attempts to hold onto France, Scotland’s bizarre attempt to conquer Ireland, the monumental waste of most of France’s campaigns in Italy, etc.

      • Amestria says:

        I mean, one that was very clearly doomed to complete failure from the start.

        • Nothing that springs to mind for the moment.

        • jpmarchives says:

          The shambolic fourth Crusade springs to mind. A campaign which sought to strengthen Christianity in Greece and Turkey ultimately lead to the sacking of the most sophisticated city on earth (Constantinople) and marked the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire.

          Doomed from the start, the western powers were far too fractious and busy warring with one another to challenge the united Seljuk Muslims. The Venetians just used it as an opportunity to get back at the Byzantine economic rivals and for a brief time the entire army was excommunicated. Hopeless.

          • Amestria says:

            That worked out very well for the Venetians though. It’s only really comparable to Balon’s campaign if Balon has a large banking concern backing him that wants him to screw up so they can cash in on northern real estate.

          • Winnie says:

            Like the Iron Bank?!? 🙂

            Nah, like they’d ever back such an obvious bunch of losers…

        • zonaria says:

          Rather disturbingly, all the examples that have come to mind are post-1800.

  21. David Hunt says:

    First, I’d like to say to Steven that it’s another great post. Onward…

    Everyone is trying to figure out how Balon could have possibly thought that he’d come out on top after he got so thoroughly trounced the last time. How could even his racism against the Greenlanders have possibly let him think he’d come out on top. Even the former Confederacy didn’t try open secession a second time. Even given that, why in Seven Hells did he attack the North? I have some thoughts on this

    I’m guessing there were three big reason that Balon thought his second rebellion could succeed. First, and most reasonable, there’s a major civil war going on. The first time he tried to break away, the Kingdome was united under Robert and even if one Iron Born is worth five Greenlanders, it still wasn’t enough.

    Second, and most dominant in my view, was Balon’s racist belief that the non Iron Born were weak almost to a man. Like the poor schmucks that he attacked as a reaver, he figured they’d fold if they were dealt one hard sudden blow that they didn’t see coming.

    Third, I’m guessing that Balon explained his loss to himself by forcing himself to admit that there are a few Greenlanders that are worthy opponents. This would be a very short list, but it would include Robert, maybe Eddard, and most of all Stannis who is the guy that actually defeated the Iron Fleet at sea. But when he’s making his move, Robert and Ned are dead and Stannis is all the way one Dragonstone with a paltry 5000 men and two major rivals that both want him dead to secure the legitimacy of their own claims. Tywin or Renly will crush Stannis with numbers and the rest of the Greenlanders will be weak and fold. Yes, I realize that Tywin is not on my list of worthy opponents, but Balon wrecked his fleet in the first rebellion, so I’d say he figured he could handle him by holding Moat Cailin. The Iron Fleet would keep Tywin from moving against him by sea and MC would keep any Southern force from moving into the North via the Neck. I also realize that these reason are still insane/stupid, but this is how I see Balon rationalizing his prior loss and thinking that he can make it work this time.

    Now as to why attack the North, I see two reasons. First, once you decide that everyone on the mainland is weak and cowardly like the poor guys that happen to be your easy targets when you go reaving, the North looks good because it can be isolated as I described above. Yes, the eastern coast is not protected by the Iron Fleet. I’m writing that off to just more willful blindness.

    The second reason is all about Asha. Steven has previously argued that Balon has clearly written Theon off as a lost cause. He’s clearly been grooming Asha as his heir and even refers to her as one of his sons. In order to clear the way for her Theon really has to go. When Theon was still with the Starks, attacking the North would have been practically daring the Starks to killing. This gets Theon out of the way giving Balon a rallying cry rather than having to explain the blood on his hands. Once Theon was gone, Victarion was the only over obvious choice to follow Balon. Euron was banished and would be executed if returned. Aeron was a priest and couldn’t be king. Plus, both Victarion and Aeron were Balon’s men. They’d follow him in anything, as evidenced by their supporting his invasion plan in the first place. When Theon shows up, he gives Asha an opportunity to when glory and sends Theon off to kill fishermen where he has only downside. If he does oaky, they were only fishermen. If not, he can show how weak living on land has made Theon.

    I’m going to stop now as I know that I’m starting to ramble.

    • Winnie says:

      Good possible angle that Balon may have been betting on the Starks killing The on. Still isn’t enough to get past going for the part of Westeros that is the hardest to conquer in terms of terrain and has the least wealth to take home.

      Also oddly enough Balon makes a point of saying he isn’t willing to attack the Westernlands because he doesn’t want to go against Tywin-and he’s still betting on Tywin to finish off Robb for him.

      But I think the rest of your analysis is correct and the Readers daughter was definitely planning to distinguish herself in the North but like all her family’s plans that didn’t work out quite the way she thought it would.

  22. Karl says:

    I’m really enjoying your Theon analyses. Dumb What IF question- probably best to address later in the book, though.

    What if Theon had done exactly as Asha said at Winterfell, took the castle, sacked it, and brought Bran and Rickon back to Pyke as hostages. Honestly, when seeing the show for the first time (hadn’t read the book yet), I thought that was what he was up to.

    Is this a viable What If, or is Theon too in love with Winterfell for that to happen?

  23. Sokket says:

    I’ve always wondered how much of Balon’s plan stems from a desire to humiliate the Starks in the same way that he was humiliated on Pyke. There is a definite part of Balon’s personality that stems from the fact that all of his son’s were lost to him when his rebellion fails, and I feel that it may be coloring his decisions.

    There’s also significant evidence to show that Balon has never been a good strategist. The only real major victory of Balon’s Rebellion was orchestrated by Euron and Victarion. An interesting hypothetical may be to explore what may have happened had either of them ascended the Seastone Chair instead of Balon.

    It does seem that Asha has a plan separate from Balon’s. After taking Deepwood Motte, she tries to bring Theon and his men north to Deepwood Motte. I believe that she does intend to use Deepwood Motte as a forward base to carve a section of the North for the Ironborn, giving her a significant advantage at her Queensmoot down the line (or allowing her to reforge Theon into a proper Ironborn who would listen to her counsel while still being able to step up as Balon’s heir). Theon V goes a long way to show that Asha is much more capable a strategist than either her father or brother.

    Unfortunately, Theon is stubborn and stays in Winterfell, and she’s forced to abandon Deepwood Motte when Balon dies prematurely and she has to return to Pyke for her Queensmoot. I wonder how much Asha regretted what she did to Theon in this chapter when her sisterly affection for him comes out in Theon V and she attempts to save his life. (The scene between Gemma and Alfie at Winterfell is my second favorite season 2 scene, after the scene between Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage after Myrcella is sent to Dorne)

    Another awesome hypothetical to consider for Theon V: What if Theon had acquiesces to Maester Luwin’s request to bury “Bran” and “Rickon” in the crypts, Theon discovers Bran and Rickon hiding there, and Asha’s strategy lesson about burning Winterfell and returning with the Stark boys to Pyke (or Deepwood Motte) is no longer a stern rebuke but now sage advice?

    I myself don’t understand all of the Greyjoy hate. Balon and Theon may not be the most astute practitioners of political or military strategy, but Asha, Euron, Victarion, and the Damphir are all awesome warriors in my book. I’m completely impressed with the way that Euron is pulling off the attack on the Reach, and am excited to see how it affects Jon Connington’s rebellion (counter-rebellion?) as both begin to affect King’s Landing and the players there.

    • jpmarchives says:

      I think Balon’s plan is a little hard to swallow not because he follows his own crazy logic but because the whole of the Iron Islands do. It’s strains credulity somewhat that a proven loser still commands the respect of his men to such an extent that he can bring them along on an invasion which is unsound from both strategic and logistical view points. In comparison Robb Stark makes only a handful of poor decisions and his own vassals tear him down, even after being unbeaten in the field and waging an otherwise successful war in the worst circumstances.

      Drawing from history, Napoleon could march his “Grand Armee” into Russia in winter because he had a near spotless reputation for military excellence which put to rest any fears his men might have had. Balon undertakes a similarly doomed invasion and no one bats an eyelid, despite him having lost the only war he’s ever fought.

      Additionally, Balon’s invasion seems to run counter to his own ideology; the appeal of the Old Way is that the Ironborn could return to a time when they could raid the coastlines of Westeros to their hearts content, without fear of reprisals from the fractious Kingdoms of the mainland. When the Seven Kingdoms split in the wake of Robert’s death, Balon has the golden opportunity to do just that, yet instead embarks on a tinfoil hat invasion of the entire North. He can’t even use Harren the black as a role model. Ignoring how the last Hoare died, the Ironborn could use the rivers of the riverlands to attack the interior and hold the populace in check, which Balon can’t do in the North, even if he had the men (which he doesn’t).

      Asha’s plan makes more sense than Balon’s, but is still dependent upon the proud Northman who’s motto is “the north remembers” to conveniently forget that she has seized their lands, raped their women and carved out her own Kingdom where she doesn’t belong. It’s a less ambitious plan than Balon’s and tries to factor in some political realities, but ultimately suffers from the same problems.

      As for why the Ironborn aren’t particularly popular, I think it basically comes down to them being vikings transplanted into a fictional setting, and the fact that they are over represented in POV chapters. They are joint second in most POV’s with the Lannisters, yet seem to have far less meaningful impact on the plot. If there was ever a character who could have been edited out of AFFC, it was Damphair. But to each his own.

  24. Meereenese Liberation Front says:

    You say it “strains credulity somewhat that a proven loser still commands the respect of his men” – but doesn’t that happen all the time? If ‘having a viable plan for the future’ were the prerequisite for political success, most of world history couldn’t have happened. (Just look at the world of today’s top managers. Or German history pre-1945.)
    Balon’s plan isn’t attractive because the Ironborn envision themselves as genuine empire-builders; it’s because the Ironborn love losers. Balon, just like Dagon and Dalton and all the other unsuccessful Old-Way-Greyjoys, give their subjects a ‘lost cause’ to mourn, a tale to tell themselves: But for the evil, scheming ways of the Greenlanders, we could have proved ourselves as mighty conquerors. (In a lot of ways, Balon and his ilk remind me of Arafat: Both never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and both are hailed as a hero not despite their failed gambles, but because of them. Being a martyr can be so much more appealling than being a statesman.)

    • jpmarchives says:

      That’s an interesting point. It’s almost as if the Ironborn consider themselves the plucky underdogs in spite of the fact that they are cruel, enslaving, rapist reavers.

      But there is still a big difference between the concept of raiding and invasion. Dagon Greyjoy did as I suggested; took advantage of political difficulties on the mainland to raid the coasts of Westeros in a brief restoration of the old way. Balon’s plan is not comparable to this, because it has very little to do with the Ironborn culture at all and it’s success is predicated on a Kingdom admitting defeat as soon as it loses control of a coastline.

      • Winnie says:

        The Iron Born *definitely* consider themselves the plucky underdogs. Note the way the Greyjoy’s keep talking about how they were fighting for their ‘freedom’ which in their case meant the ‘freedom to terrorize, enslave, rape, murder, and steal from everybody else.’

        As Steve pointed out in Theon I, it really is analogous to Southern mourning for the Lost Cause in the War of Northern Aggression. But of course the South didn’t do an armed rebellion *twice*. That’s the part that’s so hard to fathom-that they’d try a losing idea again just ten years later, only this time in a territory that thanks to its size, wildness, and the upcoming winter will be much harder to conquer AND doesn’t even have any riches to carry off. Even if they didn’t think too much about the former, the latter *should* have given all the captains and reavers cause to hesitate and ask if it was going to be worth the trouble.

        • WPA says:

          In the winter of ’89
          We were hungry, just barely alive
          By May the 10th, Great Wyk had fell
          It’s a time I remember, oh so well

          The night they drove old Greyjoy down
          And the bells were ringing
          The night they drove old Greyjoy down
          And the people were singing
          They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, la”

          Back with my Rock-wife and Aeron
          When one day she called to me
          “Cleftjaw quick, come see,
          There goes Stannis Baratheon “

  25. Edwin says:

    What Iron Born worth their salt is going to choose Theon now?

    Dagmer Cleftjaw for starters.

  26. po8crg says:

    The Iron Islands’ strategic situation reminds me a lot of Britain (or England, depending on which side of 1603 you’re on) and its relationship to Europe. Strategically, the principal objective of British foreign policy for centuries was to keep Europe divided.

    A unified continent could easily raise a fleet vastly superior to the Royal Navy. But as long as they stayed divided, they would be forced to concentrate on armies rather than fleets, and Britain would be protected. They don’t see the Iron Fleet as the wooden walls of their nation the way the British see the Royal Navy, though.

    Any British politician from at least 1688, and probably earlier, would jump at the alliance with Robb Stark. Reading it the first time that was my assumption of what Balon would do, simply because I was raised on British history and keeping the continent divided was my instinctive place to go.

  27. Roger says:

    It’s interesting to compare Balon Greyjoy with his ancestor Lord Dalton Greyjoy (the Red Kraken). Dalton used the Dance of Dragons as an oportunity to get virtual independence and plunder the Sunset Sea. But he only managed to bit much more than he could chew. After he was killed by one of his salt wifes, the Reach and the Westerlands joined forces and devastated the Iron islands. Dalton was considered a fool by everybody (for bringing such destruction), unless for his people.
    So the ironborn consider military disaster is a low prize for previous glory.

    • Dalton, Dagon, Balon – all of them bring nothing but ruin to their people, but no one on the Islands remembers it like that.

      Quellon and the Hoare kings bring prosperity and peace, and they get resented.

  28. […] It’s somewhat fitting that Bran’s mystical plot comes to the fore just as the political side of things is starting to go to hell, just off screen. As I’ve mentioned before, the Hornwood crisis ensures that the North is fully distracted by events to the east, just as the real threat emerges in the west: […]

  29. Sourdeen says:

    I wonder, would it have been prudent for Balon to feign alliance with the Young Wolf? Send his ships and men to the Westerlands to aid in the sacking of Lannisport/Casterly Rock, but then betting on Robb putting too much trust in him, have his troops disembark and smash Robb’s army from behind after they’ve pinned themselves in between the Lannister garrisons and the Iron Born? Balon would have been able to hand Robb a painful defeat far from home, hinder the Iron Throne’s ability to retaliate by again destroying the Lannisport ships, effectively eliminating both his rivals? He could then launch a more sensible campaign to lock-up the North or at least parts of it.

  30. […] eponymous point-of-view character and the fortunes of House Stark, as Theon’s departure from Balon’s battleplan leads to the fall of Winterfell and his own […]

  31. […] this series) than any other part of the Seven Kingdoms other than the Westerlands – see here, here, here, here, and here. And one of the things I’ve learned is that the Iron Islands is a region […]

  32. […] Theon now. We’re both princes, Bran.” speaks both to Theon’s desperate need for status and recognition, but also to his odd desire to have things both ways, as both a conquering Greyjoy and a friend to […]

  33. […] has been outwitted by children, he’ll lose any scrap of fame that they might have gained by exceeding his orders, and arguably be even less respected than he was back on […]

  34. […] the same time, one can see yet another parallel for the futility of the whole Ironborn invasion here. Even at its most leaderless and most divided, the North is not like the Riverlands during the […]

  35. […] read my Theon chapters, I don’t really think much of Balon Greyjoy as a political or military leader and this move is no exception. On an ideological level, I find hilarious that the same man who […]

  36. […] has triumphed over his Stark upbringing, and B. that he should be Balon’s favorite child and not Asha. Abandoning Winterfell would mean acknowledging that Balon was right and he really is a failure, […]

  37. beto2702 says:

    Maybe this could be seen as the same “Theon not humilliated” hypothesis but… what if Theon speaks up. If Theon is not humiliated maybe he could have focused enough to say “Err… Dad… this is not going to work” in a some what convincing manner.

    I mean Theon knows the north and the northmen! Even if he couldn’t pull out a master strategy to take the North firmly, he could surely have come with a good suggestion or too. Maybe he’s not that bright to come out with a plan against Dreadfort or White Harbor, but he coudl certainly think of Bear Island and Thorren’s Square as good targets.

    If he is not humilliated, maybe he is not in such a big need of self-recognition and is ok with someone else taking those places at his suggestion in the war meeting. Maybe Balon can be convinced of a thing or two there.

  38. […] hundred longships, which is repeatedly and consistently attested to in the WOIAF, means that Harwyn could only have landed with 3,000 men, against which the Riverlands had at least 20,000 men, and the Stormlords at least another 40,000. […]

  39. […] who can wield superior numbers with efficiency. But even sweeping all of this aside, Balon’s strategic insanity can further be seen in the fact that the first thing he did after burning the Lannisport fleet was […]

  40. […] For those who argue that Robb was responsible for losing the war or was bad at being king (or that he should have listened to his mother), this quote about his decision to send Theon to Pyke is Exhibit A. What often gets omitted from the record, however, is the fact that Catelyn, who has every reason in this moment to be critical of her son, rejects this analysis: “Perhaps. Or not. Lord Balon might still have chanced war. The last time he reached for a crown, it cost him two sons. He might have thought it a bargain to lose only one this time.” And while Catelyn doesn’t have the first-hand account that we the readers do, she’s absolutely right: Balon had been preparing to go to war long before Theon was sent to Pyke, and he had no commitment to Theon either as kin or as an heir. […]

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