Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya VI, ACOK


“The Lannisters had taken everything: father, friends, home, hope, courage…”

Synopsis: Arya and co. meet Ser Gregor, the Tickler, Raff the Sweetling, Chyswick, Weese, and the rest of the gang on the road to the Happiest Place in Westeros.

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:

If we got glimpses of the impact of the War of Five Kings on the smallfolk of Westeros in Arya’s travelogue with the Night’s Watch, here the audience’s view is directed (almost compelled, a la Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico Technique) to stare at the thing itself, with Harrenhal standing in as the world’s most hideous stage for Gregor Clegane’s avant-garde theater. The horrors of war are here brought into lurid, baroque detail in a way that genuinely sticks with the reader long afterward, even in a series not exactly sparing in gore and human misery.

Needless to say, this recap (and indeed, many of the succeeding Arya recaps in ACOK) will deal frankly with some deeply distressing topics – torture, slavery, rape as a weapon of war, other forms of war crimes, concentration camps – so consider yourself thoroughly warned.

The Meaning of Torture

So far in ASOIAF, we’ve seen some nasty murders and mutilations, but it’s not until this chapter that we really engage with the topic of torture – and of course, what makes this all so shocking is that George R.R Martin has chosen to address this topic through the POV of a young child. To give GRRM credit however, he doesn’t do it in a pornographic or exploitative way (a la the Saw or Hostel films), but rather to make some serious points about the nature of torture and its impact on the human psyche:

The Mountain would come into the storehouse after he had broken his fast and pick one of the prisoners for questioning. The village folk would never look at him. Maybe they thought that if they did not notice him, he would not notice them…but he saw them anyway and picked whom he liked. There was no place hide, no tricks to play, no way to be safe.

One girl shared a soldier’s bed three nights running; the Mountain picked her on the fourth day…a smiley old man mended their clothing…the other captives began to call him All-for-Joffrey…All-for-Joffrey was picked on the fifth day. A young mother with a pox-scarred faced offered to freely tell them all she knew if they’d promise not to hurt her daughter. The Mountain heard her out; the next morning he picked her daughter…

Note that the actual depiction of torture is completely avoided – in part, this is an artistic technique, because nothing is as terrifying as the human imagination allowed to run riot in contemplation of the unknown, but it’s also meant to draw our attention not to what’s being done to the human body, but the impact of torture on human behavior. Here we see humans trying to create some kind of meaning of their experience as a route to survival – can deference and avoidance shield you, can political loyalty shield you, can offering your body shield you, can informing on others shield you? My mind here goes straight to stories of the Holocaust, and the way in which people went to extraordinary lengths to survive, but also create some form of cause-and-effect that they could understand, and the way all of those understandings shatter against the wall of a totalizing system. And we see this here redone in miniature – the Mountain is (perhaps deliberately?) eliminating every theory of meaning, every strategy for survival, and thus induces a profound state of learned helplessness. If death and pain follow no logical path, if defiance and submission produce the same result, then human endeavor becomes meaningless.

The second theme that torture brings up is a strong emphasis on the banality of evil. Consider the Tickler:

A man the others called the Tickler asked the questions. His face was so ordinary and his garb so plain that Arya might have thought him one of the villagers before she had seen him at his work…At times she could almost forget he was still with them; when he was not asking questions, he was just another soldier, quieter than most, with a face like a thousand other men.

Ser Gregor himself would stand motionless, watching and listening, until the victim died…

The contrast between the Tickler and his master is a sharp one – Ser Gregor is by design larger than life, but the real architect of pain is his total opposite, a complete non-entity. And that’s why he’s important. The Tickler is not an orc. He’s not even a Ramsay Snow or a Joffrey. The capacity to commit the acts that he commits, and just as importantly the capacity to turn off one’s conscience and turn evil into a mechanism, dwells within the human heart. And in order to make this point stick, GRRM had him stand back from the scene, oddly passive and remote. This is a man we associate with terrible, but also deeply physical and active, deeds – the mutilation of his brother, the murder of his family and his wives, the personally-conducted destruction of Elia and Aegon, the use of his bare hands with Oberyn Martell. And yet here, he just chooses and watches, seeming to take no pleasure or have little motivation for his actions.

There’s a similar disconnect, a pointless and uselessness reminiscent of Orwell or Kafka, to the questions being asked:

The questions were always the same. Was there gold hidden in the village? Silver, gems? Was there more food? Where was Lord Beric Dondarrion? Which of the village folk had aided him…where did he go? How many men were with them?…by the third day, Arya could have asked the questions herself.

They found a little gold, a little silver, a great sack of copper pennies, and a dented goblet set with garnets…they learned that Lord Beric had ten starvelings with him, or else a hundred mounted knights; that he had ridden west, or north, or south; that he crossed the lake in a boat; that he was strong as an aurochs or weak from the bloody flux. No one ever survived the Tickler’s questioning; no man, no woman, no child. 

On the surface, there seems to be a parallel here between the agenda of the Tickler and Ser Gregor and the practices of the Nazis in trying to repress the various resistance movements in Occupied Europe. However, underneath that, neither man seems that interested in actually producing results. Interrogating civilians about the inner workings of a guerrilla movement; interrogating starving refugees about hidden wealth, repeated again and again; this comes close to the apocryphal definition of insanity  attributed to Albert Einstein. And I think this points to both the moral evil and the pointlessness of Tywin’s strategy in sending them in the first place – they’re not actually eliminating resistance in the Riverlands, they’re helping to bring into existence.

Hence the reason why Ser Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr re-enter the story here without being present, in the same way that Stannis Baratheon is a presence throughout A Game of Thrones long before he appears on the page. These two men, rightfully considered heroes of the smallfolk, are introduced through the actions of their enemies, to explain why people would follow them, believe in them. As one peasant says, the difference between Ser Beric and his nemesis Ser Gregor is stark: “Lord Beric did us no hurt, though…and that red priest with him, he paid for all they took.” Obviously, GRRM will complicate this Robin Hood vs. the Sheriff of Nottingham story – no resistance movement is morally spotless – but our sympathies are clearly meant to be on one side and not the other.

Arya’s Prayer and The Revolt Against Learned Helplessness

All of these events have a profound impact on Arya Stark’s psychological development. And this is one of the reasons why I take exception to statements that “Arya is a sociopath.” According to the DSM,

“A mental disorder is not merely an expectable or culturally sanctioned response to a specific event such as the death of a loved one. Neither culturally deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor a conflict that is primarily between the individual and society is a mental disorder unless the deviance or conflict results from a dysfunction in the individual, as described above.”

In other words, deep feelings of sorrow shortly after the loss of a loved one, or intense feelings of worthlessness after a major life setback aren’t normally signs of a mental disorder; feeling deep sorrow unconnected to any change in one’s life, or intense worthlessness when one is experiencing professional and personal success might be. From the end of AGOT through ASOS, Arya Stark undergoes a constant series of shocks with almost no letup – the murder of her father, a violent fight for her life in the holdfast by the Gods’ Eye, the death or abandonment of all adult figures of her life, and now persistent scenes of torture and death.

Thus, I would argue that Arya Stark’s desire to kill is not a reflection of underlying sociopathy is much more a response to a specific traumatic event (or series of events), an attempt to re-assert control over her surroundings and her self. (Also, sociopathy is normally a persistent condition that emerges early in childhood development, rather than being associated with a sudden break or traumatic event) Consider her initial state of mind in this chapter (including the quote from the beginning of the analysis):

One had taken Needle, while another had broken her wooden stick over his knee. They had even taken her stupid secret…

What good did it do you to be brave? One of the women picked for questioning had tried to be brave, but she had died screaming like all the rest. There were no brave people on that march, only scared and hungry ones. 

Here, we see intense feelings of helplessness tied to a loss of any form of protection and privacy. Now compare that to her first prayer:

She hated Polliver for Needle, and she hated old Chiswyck who thought he was funny. And Raff the Sweetling, who’d driven his spear through Lommy’s throat…she hated Ser Amory Lorch for Yoren, and she hated Ser Meryn Trant for Syrio, the Hound for killing the butcher’s boy Mycah, and Ser Ilyn and Prince Joffrey for the sake of her father and Fat Tom and Desmond and the rest, and even for Lady, Sansa’s wolf. The Tickler was almost too scary to hate.

…Every night Arya would say their names. “Ser Gregor,” she’d whisper to her stone pillow. “Dunsen, Polliver, Chiswyck, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei…there were no gods on the road to Harrenhal, and her names were the only prayer she cared to remember.”

Here, there’s a sense of order and ritual in the repetition. Each name corresponds with a grievance, each effect with a cause – and it clearly gives Arya the peace of mind needed to cope, to survive, to keep going. But there’s more to this than a mere survival strategy. Well before the truth of Jaqen H’ghar is known, well before Arya learns the origin story of the Faceless Men at the House of Black and White, here we have a prayer by a slave, a single voice in the dark of the night demanding some kind of justice. And Him of Many Faces is always listening…

Harrenhal and the Thin Places

And finally, after what is quite literally a torturous interval, Arya finally arrives at her destination, the great fortress-monument that is Harrenhal:

Harrenhal was deceptive from afar, because it was so huge. Its colossal curtain walls rose beside the lake, sheer and sudden as mountain cliffs, while atop their battlements the rows of wood-and-iron scorpions looked as small as the bugs for which they were named.

The stink of the Lannister host reached Arya well before she could make out the devices on the banners that sprouted along the lakeshore, atop the pavilions of the westermen. From the smell, Arya could tell that Lord Tywin had been here some time…Harrenhal’s gatehouse, itself as large as Winterfell’s Great Keep, was as scarred as it was massive, its stones fissured and discolored. From outside, only the tops of five immense towers could be seen beyond the walls. The shortest of them was half again as tall as the highest tower in Winterfell, but they did not soar the way a proper tower did. Arya thought they looked like some old man’s gnarled, knuckly fingers groping after a passing cloud. She remembered Nan telling her how the stone had melted…

“I don’t want to go there,” Hot Pie squeaked as Harrenhal opened its gates to them. “There’s ghosts in there.”

And what fine ghosts they are. I really begin to suspect that George R.R Martin invented Harrenhal for the sole purpose of having a place to let him tell ghost stories (same thing with the Nightfort), and he really has made use of it. The death of Harren the Black and all his heirs in the Kingspyre, House Qoherys’ end with the murder-by-castration of the loathsome Gargon “the Guest” at the hands of Harren the Red; the rise and fall of House Harroway all bound up in the marriage and pregnancy of poor Alys Harroway; the murderous bloodshed (again at the behest of Maegor the Cruel) that gave rise to House Towers; the doomed Atreus-like House Strong and their end by fire and execution; House Lothston’s evil reputation, between Lucas “the Pander” (who pimped out his wife and daughter both for a castle and the Handship), Manfryd “o’ the Black Hood” (I’m picturing a rather Gregor-like gruesome knight errant), the doubly-treasonous Manfred, the sorceress Mad Danelle, seems well earned; the Whents who both served and overthrew the Lothstons …and all this before the narrative of ASOIAF begins.

In the fantasy and horror genres, there is this idea that there are some places where the weight of human suffering compounded over time weakens the boundaries between this world and the next. Whether you call it “soft places,” or “the deadlands,” the battlefield of Mengedda in R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing, the Blight of Dragon Age, etc. clearly Harrenhal is one of those places. And it has a kind of narrative gravity to it that characters must struggle to escape, lest they be trapped in Harrenhal forever. As we will see.


“Treason” and “Obedience”

Finally, once they arrive in Harrenhal, the captives learn about why they’ve been brought here:

They were being taken to serve Lord Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal, the Mountain told them. “You’re traitors and rebels, so thank your gods that Lord Tywin’s giving you this chance. It’s more than you’d get from the outlaws. Obey, serve, and live.”

“It’s not just, it’s not…we never did no treason.”

Now there’s been a lot of talk about whether Tywin Lannister’s actions in the Riverlands go beyond the norms of Westerosi warfare, and in this case it’s bound up by the tricky question of the nature of Westerosi feudalism: if the smallfolk of Westeros are chattel, as Viserys claims they are, then Tywin’s actions are perfectly legal. As the Hand of the King who has declared the Whents traitors and rebels and seized Harrenhal, he has the right to control where his property live and work. However, as I think I’ve demonstrated in the essay linked above, this is not the case. The smallfolk of Westeros are not thralls, they are free people with legal rights – as the refugees themselves prove through their objection to the treatment.

By enslaving them to work on the rehabilitation of Harrenhal, Tywin has violated one of the oldest customs of Westeros – again, in order to achieve an immediate aim (and because he doesn’t see smallfolk as people). And the logic by which he justifies his actions is reminiscent of many different counter-insurgencies, where mere location on the battlefield marks one as an enemy combatant – despite the fact that it is Tywin who brought the battlefield to them. No wonder that the smallfolk stubbornly support the Brotherhood Without Banners, no wonder that the Sparrows movement absolutely hate the Lannisters.

And what makes it worse is the way in which Weese makes their enslavement seem like a privilege:

“The Lannisters are generous to those as serve them well, an honor none of your sort deserve, but in a war a man makes do with what’s to hand. Work hard and mind your place and might be one day you’ll rise as high as me…I can smell defiance, I can smell pride, I can smell disobedience.”

Interestingly, it’s here that we begin to see Arya and Sansa inhabiting quite similar worlds. Since Arya IX, the two of them have been mirrors: Arya looks away, Sansa watches; Arya is exposed to the war but protected by friends, Sansa is sheltered from the war’s privations, but exposed to the private brutalities of Joffrey. But here, the two are absolutely one – both of them prisoners of the Lannisters, having to hide their true selves in a show of submission. But, as I’ll explain in the next Arya and Sansa chapters, the divergence to come is that Arya and Sansa will be faced with an offer from truly different unlikely champions. Sansa gets a pair of alcoholic non-knights who, ultimately, can’t really do much for her. Arya gets a murder genie.

Historical Analysis:

As I’ve stated before, there’s something kind off about Tywin’s behavior here. Medieval European warfare didn’t usually involve the mass enslavement of peasants. Peasants were generally tied to the land, and you fought over who controlled the land – even in the case of chevauchées, the point was to rob and murder, not enslave, if only because a medieval army would generally have problems feeding, housing, and generally corralling them. (Which raises the question…given that Tywin is trying to feed an army of 15-20,000 men through foraging…why would he make his supply situation worse by kidnapping large numbers of peasants?)

If there is a historical parallel here, it might be in the “refeudalization” of Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries. As with much of Western Europe, serfdom had been on the decline in Poland since the Black Death of the 14th century, which greatly disrupted the system of unfree landholding and noble dominion. However, unlike in much of Western Europe, where the Early Modern period saw the continued challenge of the commons to elite domination – the German Peasants’ War of of 1524-5; the English Civil War, the English Republic and the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 leading to a decidedly parliamentary monarchy; the Dutch Revolt and the establishment of the Dutch Republic – in the 16th and 17th centuries, the nobility of Poland re-asserted comprehensive controls over the peasantry. Forced labor on the lord’s land, formerly converted to cash rents and other payments, was now demanded as an active corvée; peasants were denied freedom of movement and forced to ask their master’s permission to travel off their land; in some cases, peasants were literally bought and sold.

Accompanying the refeudalization of Poland was a drive to export wheat to Western Europe in massive quantities, often by simply reducing the living standards of the Polish peasantry. Some scholars have argued, in fact, that much of the explosive economic development of Western Europe in this period, the rise of the great commercial powers of Britain and Holland, the emergence of the European bourgeoisie and their ideas of an Enlightenment, could not have happened had the Polish aristocrats not beggared their own people to afford a series of losing wars with the Russians, Swedes, Ottomans, Cossacks, and so on and so on.

The point being, Tywin’s in really bad company here.

What If?

There’s not really much scope for hypotheticals in this chapter, but man I cannot wait for Arya VII’s What If? section.

Book vs. Show:

First, let me get my one complaint out of the way: Ian Whyte is a fine actor who’s done some amazing physical work on Game of Thrones (he was the White Walker in the pilot episode, and played one of the giants in Season 4, Episode 9), but he simply did not work as Gregor Clegane. Part of this has to do with his physique – Ian Whyte is tremendously tall (7’1”), but he has the build of a basketball player (in fact, he played basketball in college and professionally in Europe) and not a linebacker. Part of this has to do with costuming – the strange decision to get rid of the blunt, crude smokestack helmet and huge, Warhammeresque pauldrons that gave Conan Stevens such bulk in favor of a stripped down look that emphasized his lanky frame, and a bog-standard Lannister helm.

However, part of it also has to do with a choice in direction, where the actor and director David Nutter decided to play him as emotionless as possible. While this is an understandable choice, and arguably fits much of the material, it’s not a very cinematic choice and it meant that Gregor Clegane never had the visceral presence in Season 2 that he had in Seasons 1 and 4. Indeed, I think it accentuated the shock from the recasting – had Conan Stevens, who the audience had seen execute a horse the previous season, done the same thing, I think it might have worked better.

On the other hand, this is my only complaint. The translation of the misery of Harrenhal worked absolutely perfectly, and Maisie Williams really began to lay in the foundations of a deeply traumatized character that by the end of Season 4 was completely chilling. The use of the rat bucket to visualize the Tickler’s torture – and the narrow rescue of Gendry – was a nice Orwellian touch.

And the show’s choice of direction once Arya gets to Harrenhal – oh, I can’t wait to discuss that next time.


149 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya VI, ACOK

  1. Meereenese Liberation Front says:

    Usually, I’m pretty skeptical about the usefulness of Nazi analogies – especially in the context of ASOIAF, as the ideology or ‘weltanschauung’ that fuelled WW II was very much a product of modernity, utterly alien to the Westerosi (or, indeed, medieval) mindframe. But in the particular context of the question you raise, it could actually be helpful.
    In Occupied Europe, especially Eastern Europe, torture and murder weren’t just used to repress the various resistance movements; in the Nazi war of extermination (against ‘bolshevism’ and ‘plutocracy’, against Slavic and other ‘inferior races’, and, above all, against the ‘Jewish world conspiracy’), violence and terror was as much a means as an end in itself.
    Moreover, as Leo Löwenthal wrote in his remarkable essay “Terror’s Atomization of Man” (, there is a twisted rationality even to the total irrational employment of violence – i.e. one not directed at gaining information, wealth and obedience. When there is no way to accurately predict the behavior of the oppressor (and, thus, no viable strategy of survival), the total destruction of cause and consequence reduces the oppressed to a total, insignificant object, unable to uphold his individuality – and forced to accept his oppressor as a more or less god-like creature. Something of the sort happens to Arya when she actually believes Weese is capable of reading (‘sniffing out’) defiance – and it takes some Sartrean-like counterviolence to restore parts of her mental self-image.

    • I struggled with this alot, just because it’s such a difficult subject that has to be handled with respect.

      However, it was genuinely hard to write about what Arya experiences and what Harrenhal represents without talking about it. Especially given that these were the associations I was constantly making, it felt like lying if I tried to hide that this wasn’t what GRRM’s writing was evoking in me.

      • Andrew says:

        I thought you handled the analogy well. You were careful in not calling anyone Nazis, avoiding the mistake Stefan made when he compared the Blackfish to Hitler.

        • Thanks. Yeah, Godwin’s law was very much in the back of my mind.

          • Andrew says:

            Yeah, well you’re not the first. Leigh Butler in the re-read on Tor compared Gregor to Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List when he randomly shot the prisoners from his balcony, saying like Goeth, Gregor performs these kinds of despicable acts, because he doesn’t expect and consequences for it and knows he can get away with it.

        • Meereenese Liberation Front says:

          Seconded. Most of the times Nazi analogies get thrown out, it’s just a cheap way to say you really despise this or that political actor (‘Hussein / Milosevic / Bush / Netanyahu / Ivan the Terrible / the Blackfish is no different to Hitler’), and that always goes horribly wrong, if not worse. (Hadn’t read about the Blackfish part, but Stefan Sasse seems to have a penchant for that; in one of his recent TotH-essays, it’s Daenerys that gets thrown in together with Hitler. It’s just ludicrous.)
          On the other hand, when it comes to unspeakable horrors being inflicted onto an individual, or a group of individuals, I believe it’s sort of inevitable that Nazism pops up in your head; it is, after all, the modern yardstick of evil. And strangely enough, out of all the fictional genres, horror might be better suited to deal with these experiences of evil, with the depth of the impact it has on the victim, than some of the more respectable ones.
          (Btw., if we’re talking about associations, I felt Gregor’s merry band of thugs were even more reminiscent of the classic Latin American death squads: the professional torturer, possibly with a diploma from Langley, the corrupt clergyman, the jovial sadist, and the lumpen-aristocrat at the helm, grimly satisfied with overseeing the work of violence against nameless peasants – it really fits.)

          • WPA says:

            Gregor’s “band” always reminds me more of the gang in “Blood Meridian” with Gregor as a less supernatural/eloquent Judge Holden. Basically deputized for a brutal purpose that they then primarily use to pursue their own depraved and insane interests.

  2. David Hunt says:

    Great to see another chapter analysis. Continued thanks for doing them.

    I see what you meant about how dark the Arya chapters were getting. I’ve re-read all five books now, but I totally missed the link to Arya’s Death List/Prayer and the origin story of the Faceless Men. Good catch.

    Although you didn’t mention it in your commentary of Arya’s psychology, I know that I’ve seen comparisons of her to child soldiers. I don’t know much about that practice, but what I do know seems to fit.

    • Glad you liked it.

      The child soldier comparison is a good one. And child soldiery doesn’t involve going out and recruiting sociopaths. Rather, it involves kidnapping children, drugging them, and traumatizing them into fighting.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree with Arya’s situation being like that of a child soldier. She wasn’t drugged, but she was kidnapped and pretty much forced to fight (to defend herself).

        Arya is hardly psychopathic or sociopathic, and I’m glad to see that people here don’t think so. Even after being thoroughly traumatized and fleeing to Braavos, Arya never abuses or exploits the ordinary people (Brusco and his family, the Happy Port whores) she lives and works with.

        • Jeff says:

          For me personally I think the most ludicrous thing about the whole “Arya is a sociopath” claim is that Ned and his family are obvious outliers in the history of House Stark of Winterfell. There were clues before but now with the release of ADWD and AWOIAF we now have the context available and it has been all but confirmed. GRRM even alluded to that when he first started planning for “The She Wolves of Winterfell.”

          Until Arya or Sansa start hanging the entrails of their enemies from the branches of a weirwood, tying corpses to the prow of warships or mounting the heads of the innocent up and down the shores of a continent I think they are going to be fine with regards as living up to the family reputation.

          Whatever horrible shit Sansa and Arya will do in the future would still probably make The Hungry Wolf, The Blacksword, Ice-Eyes, The Old Man of The North, The Implacable, and The Laughing Wolf especially laugh in their faces.

          • Hah, yeah. They’re not even close to the worst a Stark can get.

          • Winnie says:


            Personally I think one reason little Rickon is depicted as being such a feral child, is that he may be destined to become something of an “old-school” Stark lord in the North. I’m not saying he’ll be a full-blown monste/psychor but definitely wild and fierce and that may be what’s needed in times ahead to keep any Bolton heirs or Iron Born from stirring up shit in the region.

            Plus of course Osha’s influence could be a very good thing in the future with attempts to assimilate Wildlings into the broader Northern culture.

          • Crystal says:

            True! The Stark ancestors were pretty hardcore! There was a discussion on about the Stark family and “Northern honor” and it was pointed out that there is no way that the Starks could have survived as Kings and Lords Paramount if they were all “a bunch of Neds.” (Quoted for the inimitable phrase!)

            I think that Arya stands out in the present generation because she is a *female* child soldier. There is a deep-seated disquiet and revulsion, even in our modern mindset, about women who kill. Women are “permitted” to kill to defend their families and loved ones, but that is about it. Women are supposed to GIVE life, not take it, in Westeros as in the modern world. “A woman’s war is in the birthing bed” was the Westerosi saying (I can’t remember if it was Greatjon Umber or Randyll Tarly). I think that Arya being a young girl makes her mindset look worse than it really is. Theon Stark the Hungry Wolf or Jon Stark “Ice Eyes” would call Arya a softie.

  3. Sean C. says:

    When I was rereading this, it surprised me how long it takes Arya to get to Harrenhal, considering how large it looms in her ACOK story. Only her seventh through tenth chapters are really set there.

    • Yep. It feels a lot longer than it was.

      • Winnie says:

        I notice they spend a LOT more time at Harrenhaal on the show if you think about it-which was probably the right call given how big that interlude looms in Arya’s overall story arc AND the fact it gives viewers a lot of insight into Tywin Lannister and what’s happening in his war camp.

  4. Grant says:

    Tywin’s actions are still more evil (for a given value of the word) than logical, which really is odd for him. It might be argued that Tywin was infuriated with the existence of a resistance at all, but even with his elitist view of the world he still typically didn’t waste time and resources on this. It would have made much more sense if it was Gregor’s own initiative, but I don’t think there’s anything suggesting that. So the relocation, at least, is just odd.

  5. Grant says:

    Tywin’s actions are still more evil (for a given value of the word) than logical, which really is odd for him. It might be argued that Tywin was infuriated with the existence of a resistance at all, but even with his elitist view of the world he still typically didn’t waste time and resources on this. It would have made much more sense if it was Gregor’s own initiative, but I don’t think there’s anything suggesting that. So the relocation, at least, is just odd. With the Polish example, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t happening at the same time as a top-down civil war was ripping the nation apart.

    Maybe Martin was trying to find ways to show the damage of warfare and how bad people can be, plus how to get Arya to Harrenhal.

    • In the Polish case, it wasn’t exactly a top-down civil war, but it wasn’t that different either – there were a lot of ethnic separatist conflicts tied in with a larger geopolitical struggle for control of the Baltic.

      • Space Oddity says:

        Polish politics in that era were pretty close to a never-ending top-down civil war actually. Coupled with wars against most of their neighbors–which they did pretty well at for a while. Despite what people think, Poland in this era was a greater threat to Russia than Russia was to Poland.

        But of course, it didn’t last…

        • Abbey Battle says:

          If I recall aright this was the period when the Sjem – a little like a Polish Parliament, if the House of Lords were the only House at all – seems to have gone to great lengths to prove that a committee is the only form of intelligent life with less in the way of brains than it had heads to put them in.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Very much so.

            Though you have to understand, the Sejm is like the House of Lords–if the House of Lords seats every nobleman in the realm. Regardless of wealth or standing.

            Oh, and if it’s late enough–they can all stop a law from passing. Any one of them.

            To be fair much of this developed in response to the Polish Vasas, who kept having mad dreams of retaking Sweden…

          • Gotta love those Vasas.

          • Space Oddity says:

            They are fun.

            But to return to the Sejm–in 18th century Poland, a higher percentage of the public had the vote than in contemporary Britain. For realsie. It’s one of the things that make the Commonwealth as glorious as it was frustrating…

          • po8crg says:

            The Sejm had two houses, actually, the Senat of the bishops and the senior nobles – castellans and voivodes/palatines – plus the senior officials of the state (Hetman, Chancellor, Treasurer) and the House of Envoys, which contained representatives from the sejmiks (which were local assemblies of all members of the szlachta, the rather unusual Polish nobility).

    • Crystal says:

      I think there was a lot of the latter – that is, Martin showing how bad war can be and how some people are just monsters. (And as we see later, Tywin might have sicced his mad dog and the Bloody Mummers on the Riverlands, but, with the Bloody Mummers, he couldn’t stay in control of them. He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon.)

  6. Iñigo says:

    About the legality:
    I remember that, as the hand of Aerys, Tywin cut legal rights from the smallfolk. He might have legalized what he did in Harrenhal himself.
    But he was the voice of reason of the council.

    • He eliminated certain rights and protections granted by Aegon V, but I don’t think he went this far. There’s still a strong distinction between smallfolk and thrall.

      • Space Oddity says:

        And for that matter, a distinction between thrall and slave, even that one tends to get a bit muddier..

      • Iñigo says:

        Quite early in his first handship he had a lowborn woman naked and walking through lannisport. And it was perfectly legal, and he did it with no crime on her side.

        • I believe he accused her of theft. And as the Lord of Casterly Rock, he’s got the right of pit and gallows. But…that’s still not the same thing as thralldom.

          • Grant says:

            We hear repeated mention of how she helped herself to the former Lady Lannister’s jewelry, but I don’t know if Tywin was acting in his role as an enforcer of justice. It’s hard to say what conclusions can be drawn from that and Cersei since Cersei was such an extreme example and in the context of a religious punishment. All that I can be certain of is that it’s a rather misogynist punishment.

          • Space Oddity says:

            It’s Tywin. The man has issues. Deep issues. To the point where I’m pretty sure that Shae wasn’t exactly faking the whole bit about him scaring her, even if she was doing her usual ‘try to get Little Tyrion to do the thinking’ schtick…

  7. Winnie says:

    Great work as always Steve. I agree this wasn’t the best depiction of the Mountain yet, but the rest of Harrenhaal was so good-and so chilling, I can’t complain.

    And yeah, while there’s plenty of atrocities and innocent blood shed by both sides in war, *Tywin* is the one who seems to be making brutalization of the smallfolk, his actual *official* strategy. Frankly it seems like it was the one area of this war that he really knew how to do. And it definitely sets up why House Lannister being absolutely *hated* by the Sparrows a danger that Tywin and Cersei were both blind to.

    I also agree that Arya’s not exactly a sociopath according to the clinical definition, but she’s clearly developing massive PTSD, (as does her sister though it manifests itself differently,) and I would argue that the traumas she experiences are leaving her permanently psychologically damaged. And SeanC is right on with the child soldier analogy.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      I have to say that while The Second Mountain that Rides doesn’t look as much like my mental image of the character as the first did, if nothing else his speaking voice fitted Ser Gregor the Mad Dog Absolutely PERFECTLY.

      Deep and Dark and Hard as Nails that voice.

    • Thank you.

      It’s a very good point about Tywin, one that I intend to address with the next Arya chapter. “They lay with lions” and all that, but there is a clear distinction between Stark and Lannister nonetheless.

      Definitely agree with the PTSD thing.

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    Excellent work Maester Steven, as ever! (I am particularly impressed by your ability to make Harrenhal even less attractive than The Black Dread and three centuries of spectacularly horrible history have rendered it – really if you owned that particular stronghold and Innsmouth you’d probably risk those tentacles heading somewhere you would much, much, MUCH prefer they did not than face the near-certainty of turning into the protagonist of an Unfriendly Ghost Story).

    One topic I wanted to bring up was that the sad truth that throughout the history of asymmetrical warfare those fighting on the conventional side of such operations have tended to come to the conclusion that there are no such thing as civilians in Guerrilla Warfare – when your enemy flies no banner, when they bear no badges and costume themselves without livery to distinguish them from the peasantry, when your enemy suddenly strikes HERE and are gone before you get anywhere near there its impossible to become sufficiently familiar with those actually seeking to kill youth distinguish them.

    Under those circumstances its all-too-easy to form the conviction that EVERYONE is trying to kill you, no matter what the actual truth of the situation may be.

    Which truth does not really make me sympathise with the Hound’s mad dogs very much; even if there were no Lightning Lord to hunt out, they’d still be tormenting the locals to uncover loot and food and quite possibly for no more rational reason than to cultivate terror in the locals, as your chosen quotes make obvious.

    • You raise a good point. However, Tywin began this path long before any guerrilla resistance had begun.

      • Grant says:

        If you mean sending Gregor to the Riverlands while Robert was alive, that was part of an elite struggle with the Starks. Indeed Beric initially was sent after Gregor as an equal opponent, not an asymmetric resistor. So whatever Tywin’s plans (I’m interested to see your take on them in the next Arya chapter), they’ve either shifted as the situation has changed or he’s been remarkably slow to realize what he’s dealing with.

        • But my point is that Tywin from the offset has a deliberate strategy of targeting civilian populations. Robb Stark doesn’t.

          • Grant says:

            That the civilian population is being targeted isn’t debated. The strategic reasoning for doing it at different times is what’s at question, and with it the insight into what the policies mean. I can understand his logic pre-war more easily than during the war.

      • Winnie says:

        Tywin’s specialty has *always* been about going to extremes to make himself the most feared mother on the block. (A response no doubt to the way no one feared/respected his father.) Combine that with a certain callousness to the smallfolk, and you get someone whose natural instinct is literal slash and burn tactics on the general population to make sure everyone continues to fear the Lannister’s more than anyone else.

        Of course the problem with this, (which Tywin never really understood) is that such tactics also make hated-and hatred can sometimes be even more powerful than fear. Which of course is why Niccolo Macchiavelli did indeed say it was safer to be feared than loved, he also specifically cautioned against making oneself hated. And again while Tywin doesn’t consider the smallfolk to have any political importance or agency that in fact is *not* the case as events in KL make increasingly (and horrifyingly) clear.

        • Precisely. And now I really want my Machiavelli essay from Hymn for Spring to be out already.

        • Grant says:

          Tywin clearly distinguishes between fear and hatred. The best I have to explain his peasant policies is that he just isn’t mentally able to extend that reasoning beyond elites to people in general.

          • Winnie says:

            I think that’s it. He doesn’t see the smallfolk as people per se and he *certainly* doesn’t see them as constituting a potential threat-or if you could win them to your cause-powerful asset.

          • Crystal says:

            I agree with this. I doubt Tywin sees the smallfolk as actually human, let alone individuals with their own agendas and capable of opposition. It worked for him in the short term, but in the long term, it’s a disaster for the Lannisters.

            Tywin was convinced that he could get away with utterly everything and no consequences whatsoever – a classic case of hubris. Of course, we all know how that turned out in the end. (“I think I’ll taunt my hated dwarf son *while he has a crossbow trained upon me*! There’s no way that could end badly! Especially since said hated son has been convicted of murder and has NOTHING to lose!”)

  9. Jeff says:

    Great work as always.

    I remember when I read this. I had seen the show first and the Harrenhal scenes were pretty terrible. When I read I however, I had a kind of flashback to the scenes of Auschwitz in Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ from when I read it in High School. It’s a kind of violence and horror that seems almost too terrible to be real. Props to GRRM to keeping it centered because that can quickly become almost cartoonish.

    BTW thanks for that world’s “most hideous stage for Gregor Clegane’s avant-garde theater” now I am stuck picturing him as either an old fashioned circus ringmaster or The Emcee from Cabaret.

    Oh, and when you wrote “the doomed Atreus-like House Strong” sorry I don’t get that reference and I skimmed the Atreus article but I still didn’t make the connection to House Strong. Could you clarify please?

    • Glad you liked it.

      Speaking of Gregor as ringmaster, ever seen the movie Bronson with Tom Hardy?

      So…House Strong. I call it Atreus-like because of the associations between sex and violence in its downfall. Lucamore the Lusty being gelded by the Kingsguard, the cunning Larys Strong who may have set the fire that killed his father Lyonel and his brother Harwin, Harwin being the father of Rhaenrya’s children and having his bones broken by the spurned Ser Criston Cole after Cole had killed Rhaenyra’s husband’s lover, etc.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        When it comes to Atreus’ Kin, even A Song of Ice and Fire pales more than a little by comparison; coup and counter-coup, blasphemy, cannibalism, kin-slaying, fratricide, human sacrifice, hubris and just about EVERYTHING else that can summon up the Furies against you feature in the history of no more than a handful of generations in a single family.

        Quite frankly it’s enough to have House Targaryen writing to the Times in protest!

        • Space Oddity says:

          Hey, Menelaus was a cool guy. Honestly, reading the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey’, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that “Homer” wanted to make it clear that this was the guy who SHOULD have been leading the war.

          • Abbey Battle says:

            I must admit that for some time now I have felt considerable sympathy for Menelaus, especially given that of all the Princes in all the Kingdoms across the entire Middle Sea Helen chose PARIS to run away with. . .

          • Space Oddity says:

            Oddly, enough in Homer it’s made clear that Helen ran off thanks to Aphrodite’s influence, and is, by the time ‘The Iliad’ rolls around quite resentful of her situation.

            And one of the best damn fights in ‘The Iliad’ is where Menelaus takes on Paris–and literally drags him around the muddy playing field. When his fellow Greeks weren’t certain he was up for it.

  10. Will Rogers says:

    The Riverlands “Campaign” (more accurate to call it a wholesale slaughter of the land) is probably the best example of a) Tywin’s outlook on life applied to war and b) everything *wrong* with how Tywin goes about things.

  11. Space Oddity says:

    That and the Duskendale debacle. And the sack of King’s Landing.

    Really, it makes Tywin almost seem like the Donald Rumsfeld of the Seven Kingdoms. He’s not great at the wars, per se, but he’s pretty good at selling the wars…

    • Faber says:

      Oh, so Tywin’s to blame for Duskendale now too?

      Tywin is actually an excellent general, but you have to look past a superficial tally of “battles won” to see it.

      • He’s absolutely to blame for Duskendale. – it’s part of his RW plans.

        I don’t know that makes him a good general; it’s kind of easy to win when the enemy is telling you when and where it’s going to be. Even McClellan managed that.

        • Faber says:

          Whoops – I thought Space Oddity was referring to the Defiance of Duskendale 😛

          What makes Tywin a great general is that he pretty much never makes a wrong decision in the field given what he knows at the time. He is also a great judge of character, and repeatedly uses that to his advantage in war (Robb being the one exception in AGOT, but eventually Tywin is able predict his moves as well)

          • I don’t think that’s quite right. Tywin only really guesses Edmure’s moves. Both Robb and Stannis wrong-foot him.

          • Space Oddity says:

            I WAS referring to the Defiance. Specifically the bit where Tywin wound up sitting around on ineffectually besieging the town for long enough that people started to think he was trying to get Aerys killed. Hardly a brilliant bit of strategy or statecraft for that matter. (And yes, that portion of all the awful crap that went down at Duskendale is Tywin’s fault, even if the rest is all Aerys and Denys Darklyn’s evil baby.)

            Now, as to your claim to Tywin’s brilliant standing as a war commander–that I’m going to soundly disagree with. I’d say what we see in the text is a man who’s a decent-to-fair commander personally, but who’s built up one of the worst military staffs in Westeros as a result of his own command habits,and seems to coast by on a carefully created reputation for brutality. Tywin’s great at making sure his reputation gets hyped. At actual fighting–well, he’s better than Edmure Tully, but that’s a low bar to pass…

          • Tywin got through the war of the five kings completely on luck. If Robert doesn’t get more drunk than usual and die Tywin loses. If Littlefinger didn’t independently keep the Vale out of the war Tywin loses. If Balon doesn’t focus all of his crazy on the family keeping his son Tywin loses. If a shadow doesn’t kill Renley Tywin loses. If Edmure doesn’t exceed his orders and deny Tywin passage back to the Westerlands Tywin loses. If Ned moves to take over the goldcloaks earlier Tywin loses. etc etc etc

            If any one of a thousand long shots doesn’t go down Tywin loses.

            Tywin really reads Robert badly. Tywin thinks horrifically short term. Everything Tywin tried to build will be gone in a season. Tywin winning is a fluke.

          • To be fair, Tywin executes a well-designed strategy against the Tullys, and his command of the Green Fork is good. He’s competent, but he’s not great.

          • Winnie says:

            Good points all Milk Steak.

            I’d like to add; If Tywin’s hated dwarf son didn’t have the *brilliant* idea of an alliance with the Tyrell’s AND came up with such inventive strategies to defend KL AND led the attack at Blackwater when Joffrey quit the field then Tywin loses. Not that Tywin ever showed the slightest bit of appreciation for any of that.

            Also if Roose Bolton hadn’t been a traitorous bastard and if the Frey’s hadn’t been mind-bogglingly petty as well as dumb then Tywin loses but at least he awarded both those parties for their dirty work.

            No, Tywin doesn’t win by genius on the battlefield. His *real* talent, (besides his ruthlessness) is an incredible knack for making backalley deals. Which again raises serious questions about how he would have fared against the White Walkers and their army of the undead. No way to intimidate them by shows of brutality and it’s not a situation that lends itself to some kind of secret negotiation strategy either.

          • Faber says:

            Yes, Tywin got lucky. But have you considered that Renly rebelling was an incredible stroke of bad luck for Tywin in the first place? The man had no claim to the throne, and the Tyrells had no real grievance against the Lannisters. Joffrey beheading Ned was also shitty luck for Tywin. As was Robb finding a secret path around the Golden Tooth.

            Besides, being lucky does not contradict being good. Tywin can be both.

            A full analysis of Tywin’s moves in the War of 5 Kings is probably too expansive for this comment, but suffice to say that he is not mediocre or just “decent,” especially if you consider his campaign against the Reynes/Tarbecks. He and Robb Stark are the best commanders in the series (yes, Tywin is better than Stannis). There is more to war than just winning tactical battles, though Tywin has done his share of that as well

          • I don’t think Renly’s rebellion can be seen as bad luck. The Baratheons are going to rise up against the Lannisters on Robert’s death, that’s pretty much inevitable barring Renly and Stannis suddenly dropping dead. As for the Tyrells, they’d been trying to replace the Lannisters for some time – hence Renly and Loras’ scheme to get Margaery wed to Robert.

            However, I don’t think it’s right to say that Tywin is better than Stannis. Tywin never wins a battle he doesn’t have numerical superiority in. Rains of Castamere, the Riverlands campaign, the Green Fork, and the Blackwater – in every case, he outnumbers his opponent and wins by brute force. There’s very little finesse, very little sign of tactical ingenuity or strategic mastery.

            Stannis, by contrast, is shown as highly capable in many more different aspects of warfare – his conduct of the siege of Storm’s End, his naval skill at Fair Isle, Blackwater Bay’s incredible technical difficulty, his victory over Mance Rayder outnumbered easily 20:1 in terms of fighting men, the logistical difficulty of the march to Winterfell through Deepwood Motte, etc.

          • Faber says:

            Tywin guessed Edmure’s moves, as well as Ned’s (he knew Ned would want to ride out to personally punish the Mountain in AGOT), and Roose’s (“he will not give pursuit, he is too cautious”) and eventually Robb’s (since he apaprently plotted the Jeyne affair). As for Stannis, Tywin planned on him besieging Storm’s End, which was only derailed because of the shadow baby.

            Also, look at this quote from Tywin after the Red Wedding: ” “Most,” agreed Lord Tywin. “Riverrun remains, but so long as Walder Frey holds Edmure Tully hostage, the Blackfish dare not mount a threat. Jason Mallister and Tytos Blackwood will fight on for honor’s sake, but the Freys can keep the Mallisters penned up at Seagard, and with the right inducement Jonos Bracken can be persuaded to change his allegiance and attack the Blackwoods. In the end they will bend the knee, yes. ”

            That’s an extremely prophetic statement^, and shows Tywin’s astute understanding of his enemies.

            Sorry if I’m rambling here, but I am fighting against a popular trend of analysis (including on this blog) that basically gives Tywin zero credit for his accomplishments and skills. The man has serious faults, but he did not restore Lannister authority in the West, serve as a respected Hand for 20 years, marry into the royal family, and defeat Robb Stark and Stannis Baratheon purely on luck.

          • He didn’t guess Ned’s move – in fact, he fell into Ned’s trap by attacking the king’s banner and allowing witnesses to get away.

            He doesn’t guess Robb’s moves – he fully expected Robb to either stay in place long enough for Ser Stafford to come up or to attack Harrenhal, and then has to scramble to try to save the Westerlands.

            The shadowbaby is a deus ex machina, but it’s not unknown for sieges to end suddenly due to treachery.

            I’m not saying Tywin’s bad – his political skills are excellent – but as a general he’s merely competent.

          • Faber says:

            Again, I would (respectfully) suggest that you’re only taking a superficial glance at his military career. Adding up troop numbers and battlefield victories doesn’t cut it, especially for a big-picture commander like Tywin.

            He usually has numerical superiority not by accident, but through good preparation. He marched with only 3,500-5,000 men against the Reynes/Tarbecks, and still managed to beat them because of his speedy attack.

            And to say he shows no strategic finesse is just…I dunno. How about using the Mountain to provoke the Tullys into spreading their forces? Or luring Ned Stark in order to capture and trade him for Tyrion? Flooding Castamere was also brilliant, it must be said. Not to mention the Red Wedding plotting (though that wasn’t really a military operation on his part).

            And another important point – Tywin avoids making any lethal blunders or mistakes. Stannis, on the other hand, twice marches against a fortified position with enemy forces still in the field. The first time he lucks out with the shadow baby, the second time he is crushed. Plus Roose would have destroyed Stannis with his trap if it weren’t for Jon Snow

          • Tywin doesn’t succeed in luring out Ned. By contrast, Ned succeeds in forcing Tywin into committing open treason.

            My point about the numerical superiority is that I think you have to contrast Tywin against Robb Stark, who pulls off three battlefield victories against larger forces, each time completely re-orienting the larger strategic map. To me, that’s a much clearer sign of strategic and tactical brilliance, and it’s something Tywin just never concentrated.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Exactly. The action against the Reynes and Tarbecks were hardly “brilliant”–Tywin stomped a couple of badly outnumbered opponents who were clearly largely surprised that he was willing to go at them to begin with, and whose only real hopes of matching in the field were either getting a support from their fellow Lannister vassals that it turned out they didn’t have, or having the Iron Throne respond to desperate entreaties that something untoward was happening here, which again, was rather unlikely. The main reason they live on in Seven Kingdoms’ legend is that Tywin demonstrated a willingness to take the metaphorical tire iron to his foes that went above and beyond what most people in the “modern” Seven Kingdoms are comfortable with.

          • Faber says:

            No, Ned clearly would have led the mission against Gregor himself but his injury from Jaime forced him to send someone else. Jaime inadvertently blew his father’s plan

            And Tywin would have got away with capturing Ned, since this is Robert we are talking about and the Starks did start it by seizing Tyrion. “A misunderstanding, your Grace.” The Mountain might be thrown under the bus but then Robert would order Tyrion and Ned both returned to their families. What’s Robert going to do, go to war against Tywin over Ned and Catelyn’s recklessness?

          • That assumes that Tywin would have succeeding capturing Ned. He didn’t capture Ser Beric.

            And no, Tywin wouldn’t have gotten away with it, because Ned would have made it a point to carry Robert’s banner in order to force Robert’s hand.

          • Faber says:

            Force Robert’s hand how? What do you see Robert doing against the Lannisters? He will take the easy way out, which would be facilitating the trade

            I agree there was a risk Ned wouldn’t be captured though

          • Tywin Lannister will have openly committed treason by attacking the King’s banner. Robert cannot take the easy way out without destroying his own monarchy.

          • Iñigo says:

            Tywins political skills are terrible. He mishandles Oberyn for ridicoulosly stupid reasons, Tyrions trial is so badly mishandled on his side its laughable, his arrangings of marriages ended up in: Aerys insulting him, Jaime getting in the kingsguard, the long-term disaster of Robert and Cersei, the purple wedding and Olennas rejection.
            There is also the ignorance of the economic situation of the crown. And I’m probably forgetting something.

          • JT says:

            I think Tywin’s strategy as a general was sound. He’s clearly not in the Stannis/Robb Stark/Randall Tarly echelon, but at a macro level his instincts aren’t bad.

            When the war starts, it’s presumably the Lannisters vs. The Starks/Tullys/Arryns, with some sort of conflict with the Baratheons waiting in the wings. The West doesn’t have the manpower to stand against the combined North/Riverlands/Vale, but what they do have is superior organization and more senior leadership. Tywin attacks before those regions have time to call their banners and unite their forces.

            Yes, Tywin wins his battles due to numerical superiority vs superior tactics. But there’s also something to be said for dictating the battles so that you always have number superiority.

            He quickly defeats the Tullys and has numbers superiority against the Starks. Had he beaten Robb Stark, he would have been in position to reinforce KL against Stannis and/or mount a defense against the Vale at the entrance to the High Road.

            That’s not to say he doesn’t get tremendously lucky or make mistakes. Had the Vale entered the war early, he probably would have lost. But considering the overwhelming odds the West would face in a war vs. the North/Vale/Riverlands, the strategy he takes is the only correct one.

      • Faber says:

        Space Oddity, it’s clear you just have some gripe against Tywin. At their full strength the Tarbecks and Reynes would have heavily outnumbered Tywin’s small force, but he moved too quickly and efficently for them to join forces or call all of their banners.

        At 19, before even becoming lord, Tywin won two battles against more experienced commanders, and then swiftly brought down two major strongholds. But since it was Tywin and not Robb or Stannis, people will search for any excuse to deny him credit

        • Space Oddity says:

          Do I have a gripe against Tywin? Certainly–I’m supposed to. GRR Martin wrote him ultimately to be a villain, and it’s no coincidence that the man ends up gutshot on a privy by his despised dwarf son, with a funeral that winds up symbolically revealing the rotting mess behind the golden armor to the realm. And to be equally frank, I find Tywin fanboyism of the sort you’ve been exhibiting rather disturbing, right up there with the Littlefinger fans who swear that Baelish is trying to destroy feudalism in Westeros, so as to allow the rise of a mercantile state–short answer, no, he’s not–or the bizarre popularity of the Green Grace’s duplicitous ‘pearl without price’ speech.

          But with that said, that hardly means I’m blind to his skills. He’s a brilliant plotter, a skilled administrator, and a competent general personally. He’s an excellent politician in many ways, though again not without his flaws–it’s no coincidence that the Aerys/Tywin combo both brought the Seven Kingdoms twenty years of peace and prosperity, and devolved into one of the most toxic blends of clashing personalities Westeros has seen since the late years of Viserys I’s reign. And as I keep noting, one of Tywin’s most formidable gifts is his knack for self-promotion–as his grandmother Rohanne Webber liked to note, reputation is one thing lords live and die of, and Tywin makes sure he has one that makes people wary of looking at him sideways.

          The thing is you apparently wish me–and a good portion of the people on this thread, including Steven himself–to rewrite what we consider a “brilliant commander” to include Tywin, and when we don’t, you keep tossing out the same examples with an insistence that we aren’t getting them. My apologies if this seems rude–but it is getting tiresome.

          Now, seeing as this reply is getting large and unwieldy, I will leave off here with a note that–if no one objects–I’m willing to give my take on the Rains of Castamere incident in another reply. But to put it simply–to my mind it shows ruthlessness, military competence, and a clever exploitation of political advantages. But it also says something that Tywin’s defining military engagement isn’t the War of Ninepenny Kings, as opposed to many of his contemporaries, or his own younger brother Tygett–it’s stomping outnumbered vassals and doing it extra hard.

        • Roger says:

          I agree with you. Also you can’t say Robb is good general becouse he attacked by surprise ill-trained army of Steffon Lannister and killed sleeping me in Oxcross, and then say Tywin’s blitzkrieg against his rebel bannermen was unworthy.

          • Space Oddity says:

            No one says it was unworthy. (That’s the bit where he wipes out the family to a man after the fighting’s over.)

            What we is it wasn’t exactly brilliant. Competent, yes. Brilliant, no.

          • Faber says:

            Because you and Steven keep ignoring important factors, saying things like “well Tywin outnumbered his enemies” without examining WHY that was the case.

            If Robb or Stannis had flooded an enemy castle they’d be hailed as military geniuses

          • Space Oddity says:

            If that enemy was practically defeated and willing to come to terms, no they wouldn’t be.

            And now that you’ve more or less blown any chance of hiding what your earlier efforts to insist on moral equivalency between Robert and Tywin were about, I bid you adieu.

  12. Andrew says:

    1. I didn’t mention in the pervious chapter we got a nice “Ugly Duckling” reference. Gregor looked over Arya just as in the story a large, terrible hunting dog (Gregor’s sigil) passes over the titular character. Add to that Arya is the only one of her father’s children with his look compared to her other siblings who have their mother’s look akin to the duckling looking different from his siblings, and I think it is safe to say that Arya will mature into a swan. Finally there is Arya’s thought of “Part of her wanted to be a swan” comapred to the duckling seeing the swans and wanting to be one of them.

    2. I think the Holocaust comparison might be apt in that the prisoners who show the most courage and the most resistance are the ones killed off first.

    • Andrew says:

      3. As for Harrenhal’s curse, it was also the place that marked the beginning of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s doomed love. Some legends regarding haunted castles say it is because they were built on sites sacred to the Druids, and Harrenhal was built on the shores of the God’s Eye, home to the sacred Isle of Faces. The only castle I can think of with as much a long and bloody history is Leap Castle in Ireland.

    • 1. I don’t remember a hunting dog in the Ugly Duckling.

  13. Sean C. says:

    Next chapter: Man, I’d forgotten how little happens in Daenerys’ book two storyline.

    • Winnie says:

      Seriously. I’m not saying the show’s changes to the storyline were for the *good* in any sense, but I will say that I’m sympathetic to the fact that they didn’t want to do it the way it was originally written in ACOK. They just didn’t think of any better options there. Frankly, that one was a total waste on both page and screen.

      I agree that Jon was mishandled in Season 2, and unlike Dany they didn’t have the excuse of bad material in the first place to work with, BUT there is no question that things got better for him and the NW plot in general in Season 3 and his storyline in Season 4 was such a dramatic improvement, (even in the stuff the show made up like the battle at Craster’s) that I’m feeling cautiously optimistic for Season Five; the writers and KH now seem to have a good handle on the character AND on the importance of what’s happening at the Wall.

      • I don’t think Dany’s plot is bad material, it just needs to be done in a specific way. It’s not a heroic narrative, it’s a prophetic narrative. It’s not about a rise to power but a mystical revelation.

        But I’ll explain in some detail when I get to the next Dany chapter.

  14. Faber says:

    The rationale for Tywin’s actions are spelled out right in the book; the Blackfish says that this mass terror is meant to lure the Riverlords back to their keeps (which works) or to lure Robb into marching on Harrenhal (which doesn’t work).

    I know people want to reduce all of Tywin’s actions to petty spite for some reason, like he’s just a more mature Joffrey, but it doesn’t fit with the text. He is almost always thinking strategically

    On a different note, it’s interesting how GRRM spares us from seeing Robb’s campaign in the West. I doubt his army was as bad as Gregor, Lorch, and Hoat, but I’m sure it was still no picnic for the Lannister smallfolk

    • It’s totally rational, just not very moral.

      And the difference with Robb’s campaign in the west is that Robb attacks armies, castles, and gold mines, as opposed to peasant villages.

      • Grant says:

        I’d thought there was more to it. Simply attacking villages makes far more sense than forced relocation, which I thought was implied and in this context doesn’t make much strategic sense.

      • Faber says:

        But unless his army decided to forego food while fighting in the Westerlands, there must have been at least some forage and pillaging going on

        Especially when you consider that lords like Umber and Karstark were sent to raid on their own after Oxcross. Unlikely that either of them were very gentle

        • EDIT: sorry, misunderstood your comment.

          Yes, it’s true that Robb did some foraging and pillaging (a lot of cattle got stolen, for example). But there’s still a difference between that and what the Mountain does in his attack on Wendish Town, Sherrer, and Mummer’s Ford.

          • Faber says:

            No argument there. I still wonder if we were spared from “seeing” that campaign in order to preserve a heroic image of Robb the Underdog, rather than Robb the Scourge of Peasants.

          • But we did see that campaign – Oxcross and the fall of the Crag happen in Season 2. What we don’t get is any understanding of the strategy, due to the major change to the Battle of the Fords.

        • Bail o' Lies says:

          Didn’t Tywin when justifying mention the Robb kept his men in good order or something like that as for why the RW was necessary? When i hear go order I assume discipline meaning tries to keep the rapes to a minimum. The only time in the book we hear the North doing anything close to what Tywin’s army was doing was when Roose ordered Glover to put Duskendale to the torch, and Cersei trying to blame the attacks on the small folk on them to the High Sparrow.

          Also lets look at the after effects of the war The Riverland’s is utterly devastated and that was everyone says and everyone talks about when the mention it in AFFC, and ADWD. While the Westerlands no one seems that worried or concerned about what damage the Young Wolf did there. When the Lannitster army was heading back to the Westerlands in AFFC it was treated as them going back home after a war nothing more.

          Robb was trying to fight a with rules and trying to keep it a civil as possible. Tywin just unleashed his army to go on a full burn, rape, and pillage campaign.

          • JT says:

            I don’t know if we can definitively say that there was no murdering, raping or pillaging by the Northerners in the West. We see a bunch of smallfolk-esque POVs in the Riverlands, but none in the Westerlands. We know Stannis and Randall Tarly geld men for rape, but we never hear of Robb Stark doing it. Also, Robb’s forces split up a bit in the Westerlands – we don’t know what men commanded by the Greatjon (for example) do while in the Westerlands.

            Robb seemed more noble in the show (in part because of his romance with Talisa) than he did in the books to me.

            Given the context, I always took the “men in good order” to mean a lack of drunken sloppiness in Robb’s personal guard and no ability to bribe them.

          • JT: Why did Robb’s romance with Talisa make him look more noble? I’m curious. To me, he was far more annoying in the show, and worse written as well, and the portrayal of the Talisa romance and how he went about is one of the main reasons why.

  15. Corenaïr says:

    Another great analysis. I must say, it’s impressive that you manage to maintain this level of intellectual engagement while analysing one of the most analysed fictional setting on the web. Also you read Bakker’s Prince of Nothing ! I’d be curious to learn what you think about it. I for one find it nearly as stimulating a read as ASOIAF. Except bleaker. And not as emotionally engaging.

  16. Corenaïr says:

    That would be pretty cool. You got “StevenAttawellLabel” reading list ? Oh, and now that I think about it, I’d be really interested in reading about your ASOIAF RPG campaign. How do you go about it ? Do you create an hitherto unseen POV to the events of the book, who might, just might change the events ? (I imagine that would be an interesting source of “What ifs ?”) Or do you stay away from the events in the novels ?

    • I don’t have a formal list, but I might make one as I write that essay.

      Didn’t ever complete it, but the idea was a Bracken/Blackwood conflict during the Great Spring Sickness, well before the events of ASOIAF.

  17. Steven, I thoroughly enjoyed your inclusion on the history of the Polish re-enserfment, especially your comment about how the reemergence of the forced labor system in Eastern Europe created enough of a economic surplus for the aristocracy that it aided the coming economic/technological leap in Western Europe. Which immediately made me think of the boost that the American North received due to the cheap labor producing raw resources in the South throughout most of US history.

    Many of your posts regarding the state of serfdom in Westeros and slavery in Essos keeps bringing me back to David Graeber’s “Debt: A 5,000 Year History.” In particular his segments tying the rise and fall of slavery throughout world history. As the great empires rise during the Axial age, so does slavery. With the slaves largely derived from the peoples of conquered territory. With the collapse of those empires into the Middle Ages, slavery overwhelmingly disappears across the eastern hemisphere. But then as the mercantile empires of the modern age emerge, slavery returns. And the new slavery is far less dependent on conquered peoples and instead on the exportation of slaves who have been forcibly removed from their communities.

    Anyone familiar with this series can see the obvious parallels in current and historical societies of Planetos. However it makes me curious about the long term prospects of the smallfolk of Westeros. The modern age seems to be emerging in western Essos. Increasingly advanced city-states receiving cheap labor from Slavers Bay and raw resources from Westeros. And despite the best efforts of Braavos, the Free Cities still seem to be trending towards slavery (Ex: Pentos, where slaves are present despite the ban on the slave trade).

    But now the Dragon Queen has severely disrupted the brutal economy of Slavers Bay, and (unless GRRM throws us a major curveball) Daenerys and her nuclear deterrents will soon be leaving that region. And then Westeros will experience a dance of dragons closely followed by the winds of winter, and this is after a bloody civil war. So with the eastern slave trade in disarray, and now Westerosi central government possibly severely weakened by the events of ASOIAF, how long till the Free Cities begin looking westward for cheap labor to fuel their mercantile empires?

    I fear that within a generation, a slave trade could emerge across the Narrow Sea. Financially backed by the southern Free Cities, maybe utilizing the pirates of the Stepstones as intermediaries.

    • Thanks!

      I don’t think that’s going to happen, though. Westeros is way too large and powerful compared to the Free Cities.

      • Now, yes. After the the current war and the coming events we can reasonably predict (dragons destroying castles and cities, wights & walkers treading over miles of farmland), I’m not so certain.

        The coming metaphysical conflicts won’t be doing any favors to the physical or political infrastructures of Westeros. A century from now Braavos, Qohor and the rest will be setting up mills, founding universities and creating centralized states. Meanwhile I think Westeros will be devolving even more into semi autonomous regions. There might still be some formal fealty to the Iron Throne, but there’s only a few specific scenarios where I can envision Kings Landing maintaining or advancing centralized control.

  18. Roger says:

    Good analysis.
    We don’t know what happened in the whole Riverlands. We only see what Arya sees. So we can’t judge the extent of Gregor’s fury. Or count how many peasants did he kidnap.
    Also, we have no way to know if Robb’s was more human than Tywin in the Westerlands. I think so, but we only know Catelyn viewpoint, and he never was in the front. But remember the Starks stole thousands of cattle, and probably burned the mines. And his riverlords had no reason to be soft with the Lannisters.
    In the southern Riverlands, the Stark’s soldiers were hated for stealing food (like Roose men did). And Lord Beric hunted both wolves and lions. Tywin let Clegane a free terror reign the Riverlands. But Robb did the same with Roose. And also Roose was doing it to the King of the Trident own’s subjects. Not to the enemy.
    Talking about western Europe, you forgot Spain. The Reconquista meaned thousands of Moors were expulsed from their lands, or reduced to serfdom (or slavitude). More than 100.000 fled from Valentia’s region after James I conquered Valentia City.

    • David Hunt says:

      I believe that the implication of the books was that there is a certain amount of pillaging that is expected and considered proper when you’re fighting in your enemy’s territory and that was, generally, the amount that Robb was engaging in…at least with the portion of the army under his direct command. Tywin is going far beyond those understood norms of warfare from the very beginning.

      I’m not sure that Roose is a good example of Robb’s intents for how to prosecute the war, as he was committing various degrees of treason against Robb almost since the Robb was acclaimed king. Plus he was screwing over his fellow vassals in AGOT before that. I sometimes wonder how much of the Stark atrocities that we see in the Riverlands are the typical results of medieval warfare, how much is Roose deliberately screwing with all aspects of Robb’s warplans after he goes full traitor/double agent, and how much is just the Stark forces getting nasty in response to atrocities that their enemies commit.

      • Roger says:

        I think that is interesting that Roose plundered his part of the Riverlands, using brutal thugs like Vargo Hoat and no word of it reached Edmure or Robb. Perhaps that was becouse he also plundered Tywin’s side of the lines. But perhaps Robb needed supplies so bad he didn’t think about it. Small wonder the smallfolk of the Riverlands have never showed any loyalty for the King of the North. The Lords did, but the ordinary people, didn’t.

  19. OTL says:

    Regarding your argument about Poland, where else did you come across this? Other than the two documents linked. Historians, books, blogs whatever…

    It’s a very interesting idea because it raises big questions about necessity and development in history.

    I’ve heard about this argument before in Fukuyama’s work. However I think he approaches the question very differently from you so it would be good to get a bit more balance.

    • Let me be clear, I’m not sure I buy it, exactly. There were a LOT of different forces that enabled development in Western Europe, not all of them nice (the gold and silver brought out of Spain’s colonies, the cheap sugar and cotton brought out of Britain and France’s and from America), but there were also plenty of domestic forces at work.

      • I think what’s interesting Steven, is that both of the ‘alternate explanations’ you’ve listed are still tied to land theft and brutal large scale slavery. Regardless of how much weight we want to lend to one source or another, the sad fact is that a great deal of Western Europe’s leap forward must be attributed to conquest and exploitative labor.

      • OTL says:

        I meant “development” in the generic sense not specifically development in Western Europe.

        Could capitalism have developed without the Americas and colonialism? Big question. You could flip the question and say “the exploration of the Americas and overseas colonies were inevitable results of capitalist development.”. There appears to be some causal connection for no other reason that “capitalism developed in Europe (before anywhere else) and was initially preceded by colonialism and slavery (on a scale unparalleled anywhere else). Jury’s still out in my opinion.

        In any case, it would be helpful if you could reference anywhere else you came across the “refeudalisation” idea other than the articles linked.

  20. David Hunt says:

    Reading the torture scene, I’m reminded about a quote that I read regarding torture, but I can’t remember where it comes from. I’m thinking it’s Orwell, but the exact quote doesn’t lend itself to popping up in a search engine. The quote was “The purpose of torture is torture.”

    This is exactly what pops up in my mind with the Gregor’s actions. It’s clear that he’s already gotten as much as he’s going to from the villagers. They’ve already been told about every scrap of money and food in the village and they’ve gotten so many different stories about the Brotherhood that whatever the truth is, they won’t be able to recognize it when someone says it. There have been too many people desperately making up any likely story that they can think of in an attempt to get the torture to stop.

    And yet Gregor keeps the whole process going. If the whole bit about questioning the villagers isn’t an excuse to engage in torture, I don’t know what’s going on. The only reason that I have any doubt about this is Gregor’s habit of standing back and letting someone else inflict the torments, but psychopaths can be complicated individuals. It might be that Gregor feels that it’s beneath his station to engage in formal torture of prisoners. It may be that seeing horrific suffering and death is enough for Gregor and he doesn’t have to be the one that does it.

    • ad says:

      If memory serves, the Orwell quote is a comment by O’Brien in 1984.

      And of course, Ser Gregor and the Tickler would fit right into the lower reaches of the Ministry of Love.

  21. startingsomewhereblog says:

    I really enjoyed the section about the smallfolk being treated as thralls by Tywin at Harrenhal. Do we know what specific rights the small folk had in the Seven Kingdoms? Did it change from region to region, or was there a uniform baseline of rights in all regions governed by King’s Landing?

  22. startingsomewhereblog says:

    Reblogged this on Starting Somewhere.

  23. Amestria says:

    “If we got glimpses of the impact of the War of Five Kings on the smallfolk of Westeros in Arya’s travelogue with the Night’s Watch, here the audience’s view is directed (almost compelled, a la Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico Technique) to stare at the thing itself, with Harrenhal standing in as the world’s most hideous stage for Gregor Clegane’s avant-garde theater.”

    The image of Gregor as the star of an actual avant-garde theater made me laugh, which I’m not sure was the right reaction ^_^ The plays would probably involve some complicated drama involving lots of complicated people and which would end with Gregor showing up seemingly at random and cutting someone in half for a reason that is never properly explained. Very existential. Makes you think. Like, it would be really bad to run into that guy.

    • David Hunt says:

      Manager: So what do you call your act?

      Gregor: The Aristocrats!

      • Amestria says:

        You’re going to have to explain that…

        • WPA says:

          “The Aristocrats” is an old actors joke in which the opening is ” A man walks into a talent agency and says, “I have a family act…”. The teller then proceeds to depict the most depraved, foul, etc things they can think of for as long as they can, and it always ends with the punch line . “what do you call that?” … “the Aristocrats.”

  24. […] VII dumps us right back in Harrenhal, and after all that build up from last Arya chapter about the horror of the place, the reality is substantially different. Yes, Harrenhal is an old castle (although relatively young […]

  25. […] really forces itself to the forefront. Just as the strategic decisions of Tywin Lannister have come crashing down on Arya’s head, Joffrey makes Sansa pay the price for Robb Stark’s victory, in much the same way that an […]

  26. […] where Tywin would have a defensive advantage and the possibility of defeating the various pieces of Robb’s army in detail, while remaining within distance of King’s Landing so that he could reinforce it as […]

  27. […] And as we’ve discussed before, this means Roose Bolton is thoroughly doomed. Leave aside Harren the Black, Gargon “the Guest,” House Tower’s bloody rise to power, the incestuous and kinslaying Strongs, and the vile Lothstons. Let’s take just the most recent lords: House Whent was cursed and is now extinct, Janos Slynt goes to the Wall and then to the block, Tywin Lannister dies at the hands of his own son, Amory Lorch is fed to a bear, Vargo Hoat dies in unspeakable torment, Gregor dies by inches and is then turned into an abomination against nature. As much as Roose tries to pass off the castle as quickly as possible, he’s still on a list that includes only himself, Littlefinger, and poor Ser Bonifer Hasty among the living. […]

  28. […] chapter that I had in mind, because there is nothing as prophetic than going to a place where the barriers between the physical and spiritual worlds become thin, having a series of visions, and going through a gauntlet of temptation on the road to […]

  29. […] unconventional war chief among them – and yet, there is something that separates him from the reavers in the Riverlands. Perhaps it’s that Qhorin isn’t going after civilians, or that he accepts that he […]

  30. […] Riverlands is between her and safety and chances are she’s going to die horribly like Arya almost did), where does she […]

  31. […] to Vargo Hoat, supposedly to cover his rear when he marches to the Twins but really to try to dodge the curse) she’s also lying to Gendry, using her modest amount of social privilege as Roose’s […]

  32. […] game – he’s giving away his enemy’s land, he’s given Littlefinger a cursed castle in a blasted land, and he’s managed to screw over the Freys by giving them Riverrun but not the title that […]

  33. […] have pursued a deliberate strategy of attacking civilian populations, and they have engaged in  torture and slavery, practices that violate Westerosi taboos. And since we’ve been seeing much of the Stark side […]

  34. […] victory to me; that looks like the Doom of Valyria come again. That looks like a new Thin Place being created just outside of Oldtown, and Thin Places require deaths on a mass […]

  35. […] separate harm suffered by specific smallfolk as a result: a refugee crisis and widespread hunger, enslavement, torture, sexual violence, and executions on a mass scale. The smallfolk of Westeros are not brutes to suffer this kind of treatment in silence; they have an […]

  36. […] China (resentment from which helped to bring down the Qin Dynasty which had built it) , we create a thin place…and so the Curse of Harrenhal is […]

  37. […] sleeps.” As with so many wars before and since, families are ripped apart by disease and the equally random violence of armed men; new, makeshift families are formed out of the sheer necessity of survival (we never get any sense […]

  38. […] the Brotherhood have fallen off some moral perch – they’ve been using these IOUs since Arya VI of ACOK, and Tom seems entirely sincere, if somewhat rueful, about redeeming them. Indeed, the fact that […]

  39. […] for both of those things is that GRRM is slow-rolling his reveal of Beric Dondarrion, so that the myth arrives well before the man himself; indeed, Arya won’t actually meet Beric until Arya VI, […]

  40. […] first and most obvious connection between Arya and the Brotherhood is that way that Arya has been a witness to (and victim of) the evils done by the Lannisters in their hunt for the Brotherhood.  And just as much as her quest for vengeance […]

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