Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya VII, ACOK


“On the road Arya had felt like a sheep, but Harrenhal turned her into a mouse…she had killed Chyswick with a whisper and she would kill two more before she was through. I’m the ghost in Harrenhal.

Synopsis: Arya goes about her day-to-day in Harrenhal until she encounters a friendly murder genie who offers her three wishes.

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:

There’s a lot going on in this chapter – everything from the ongoing story of Harrenhal to high strategy in the War of Five Kings, to Arya’s personal journey – so you’ll need to bear with me because there’s a lot to cover here and this is going to be a long one.

The Happiest Place in Westeros ™

Arya 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 by Westerosi standards) and a lot of awful things have gone down there, and it’s led to a lot of ghost stories:

Whatever names Harren the Black had meant to give his towers were long forgotten. They were called the Tower of Dread, the Widow’s Tower, the Wailing Tower, the Tower of Ghosts, and Kingspyre tower…

 …ghosts, some said, the spirits of Harren the Black and his sons…Harren and his sons had died in Kingspyre Tower, that was why it had that name, so why should they cross the yard to haunt her?

But the reality is that, compared to Arya’s march around the Godseye, it’s not that bad a place. Arya herself goes from sleeping on the ground to sleeping “in a shallow niche in the cavernous vaults beneath the wailing Tower, on a bed of straw.” She goes from stinking to having “water to wash in whenever she liked,” and even “a chunk of soap.” Yes, she has to work and “the work was hard, but no harder than walking miles every day.” And in return for work, “there was bread every day, and barley stews with bits of carrot and turnip, and once a fortnight even a bite of meat.” And Arya’s friends are doing well too:Hot Pie ate even better, he was where she belonged…Gendry had been sent to the forge.”

If there is something off about Harrenhal, it’s due to very ordinary human causes: the damn place is a giant white elephant that’s almost impossible to prevent from decaying to pieces:

Harrenhal was vast, much of it far gone in decay. Lady Whent had held the castle as bannermen to House Tully, but she’d used only the the lower thirds of two of the five towers, and let the rest go to ruin. Now she was fled, and the small household she’d left could not begin to tend to the needs of all the knights, lords, and highborn prisoners Lord Tywin had brought, so the Lannisters must forage for servants as well as for plunder and provender. The talk was that Lord Tywin planned to restore Harrenhal to glory, and make it his new seat once the war was done…Lord Tywin had commanded that they be made fit for habitation again. 

Harrenhal covered thrice as much ground as Winterfell, and its buildings were so much larger they could scarcely be compared. Its stables housed a thousand horses, its godswood covered twenty acres, its kitchens were as large as Winterfell’s Great Hall, and its own great hall, grandly named the Hall of a Hundred Hearths…was so cavernous that Lord Tywin could have feasted his entire hosts…walls, doors, halls, steps, everything was built to an inhuman scale. 

For those of you on Foreshadowing Patrol, note that Tywin’s effort to rebuild the former seat of kings (or king, anyway) makes him the symbolic owner of a monument to hubris that picks him out as doomed to a horrible death, long before ASOS. And while Casterly Rock might symbolize Tywin’s power and prestige, his sense of history and dynasty, there’s a fit with him and Harrenhal, a shared sense of egotism and indifference to humanity. As we learn in AWOIAF, “Harren the Black had driven thousands to their deaths in the building of his great castle.” And how appropriate is it that the human suffering Arya has experienced and witnessed is caused by Tywin’s patrician command for more servants to rebuild the same castle, re-enacting Harren’s life’s work?


However, as Arya finds out in this chapter, what makes Harrenhal an evil place is not the building itself, but the people who live in it:

If there were ghosts in Harrenhal, they never troubled her. It was the living men she feared, Weese and Ser Gregor Clegane and Lord Tywin Lannister himself…in his own small strutting way, Weese was nearly as scary as Ser Gregor. The Mountains swatted men like flies, but most of the time he did not even seem to know the fly was there. Weese always knew you were there, and what you were doing, and sometimes what you were thinking…it took him only three days to earn the place of honor in her nightly prayers.

Harrenhal is a prize of war, a symbol of conquest and colonial exploitation that allows the holder to oppress the entire region, and thus it calls conquerors and exploiters to it, like a lodestone of evil.

The Bloody Mummers

And no group of inhabitants of Harrenhal better express this magnetic draw than the Bloody Mummers. Foreigners to the Riverlands, to Westeros itself, the fate of the Bloody Mummers is tied up with Harrenhal; it will be the stage of their betrayals and their horrid pastimes, it will be the prize that Vargo Hoat tries and fails to grab, and it will be the place of the death of many of them. At the same time, though, the Bloody Mummers are a disruptive force within Harrenhal, putting the lie to Tywin Lannister’s outward show of controlled and civilized power and authority, bringing the violence that is sweeping the Riverlands within the walls:

Arya did not know who Bloody Mummers were until a fortnight later, when the queerest company of men she’d ever seen arrived at Harrenhal. Beneath the standard of a black goat with bloody horns rode copper men with bells in their breads; lancers astride black-and-white horses; bowmen with powdered cheeks; squat hairy men with shaggy shields; brown-skinned men in feathered cloaks; a wispy fool in green-and-pink motley; swordsmen with fantastic forked beards dyed green and purple and silver; spearmen with colored scars that covered their cheeks; a slender man in septon’s robes, a fatherly man in maester’s grey, and a sickly one whose leather cloak was fringed with long blond hair…

The Brave Companions were housed in the Widow’s Tower, so Arya need not serve them. She was glad of that; on the very night they arrived, fighting broke out between the sellswords and some Lannister men…Lord Tywin hanged them both from the gatehouse walls, along with one of Lord Lydden’s archers…the archer had started all the trouble by taunting the sellswords over Beric Dondarrion…Vargo Hoat and Ser Harys embraced and kissed and swore to love each other always as Lord Tywin looked on.

Whenever you’re temped to take A Song of Ice and Fire too seriously, remember that Tywin made Vargo Hoat and Ser Harys Swift make out once. Fun aside, the Bloody Mummers are a nightmare of the worst impulses of soldiers directed at civilian populations. Note that the Bloody Mummers never win a straight-up battle against other soldiers (unlike Ser Gregor, they are cowards) – their victories are betrayals and war crimes (hence Saltpans). And their membership is a horror show: Vargo Hoat is a sadistic rapist and torturer, Urswyck the Faithful betrays everyone, Septon Utt is a pedophile and serial murderer, Qyburn is a mad scientist, Shagwell is a Batmanesque lunatic, Zollo and Tireon are rapist thugs, and so on and so forth. No wonder Rorge and Biter are accepted so readily.

credit to Sidharth Chaturvedi

The Mountain’s Men

And yet their horror is matched, pound-for-pound, by the Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane, and his merry band of sociopaths. We’ve seen them in action before, but it’s been kept to mostly off-screen. Chyswick’s story gives us an up-close and personal view of their activities:

“…all the time the brewer’s saying how glad he is to have us…the fool won’t shut his yap, not him, thought Ser is not saying a word, just brooding on the Knight o’ Pansies and that bugger’s trick he played. You can see how tight his mouth sits, so me and the other lads we know bett’n to say a squeak to him, but this brewer he’s got to talk, he even asks how m’lord fared in the jousting. Ser just gave him this look.”

“…what does the old fool do but he goes to Ser and asks him to make us leave the girl alone, him being an anointed knight and all such.”

“Ser Gregor, he wasn’t paying no mind to none of our fun, but now he looks, you know how he does, and he commands that the girl be brought before him…”

“When it’s all done, Ser tells the old man that he wants his change. The girl wasn’t worth a silver, he says…and damned if that old man didn’t fetch a fistful of coppers, beg m’lord’s pardon, and thank him for the custom!”

I had to cut this story down substantially, because this may be the worst thing to have happened in A Song of Ice and Fire, and I didn’t want to go into lurid detail. Competition is fierce, but there is something about this incident that, on re-read, really grabs me. The Red Wedding, the Mountain and the Viper, Ned’s execution – these things are structured by the tropes of tragedy and its ultimate cathartic purpose. Moreover, it’s pretty rare for the atrocities in this series to be narrated by the guilty party. Normally, George R.R Martin has the victims testify as to what happened to them (think about the peasants testifying about Ser Gregor’s attack on the Mummer’s Ford). Here, he offers the perspective of the perpetrator, by way of evidence for the prosecution. Ser Gregor’s casual brutality and his desire to make the innkeeper complicit in the destruction and degredation of his family to pay him back for mentioning the jousting reminds us once again that he is the murderer and defiler of Elia and her children, Raff’s pedophiliac and murderous tendencies presage his death in “Mercy,” and Chyswick’s twisted sense of humor, the reality that he finds all of this funny, justifies Arya’s actions.

And this is why the story is important – it inspires Arya to move beyond her previous stance of self-defense, to commit murder-by-proxy. As I have said before, I think it’s fundamentally wrong to call Arya a psychopath or sociopath. It is very, very important for GRRM that Arya’s turn to pre-meditated murder be entirely justified, driven by a sense of justice and morality. Arya is not supposed to be a villain, so GRRM goes to some lengths to have Arya be a witness to this story so we understand exactly what is motivating her to do this. At the same time, I do think it marks a divergence between Arya and Sansa’s story – from here on out, Arya will embark on a deliberate path of vengeance, whereas Sansa chooses mercy (although she will kill, unknowingly). On the other hand, Sansa is put into a story line where her choice makes sense; there is goodness to be found in Sandor Clegane that simply is not there in Gregor Clegane, or any of the rest of the Mountain’s Men.


The War of Five Kings: Tywin’s Situation

Completely separately from Arya’s own story arc, Arya VII also gives us a fascinating window into Tywin Lannister’s military operation, in a way we haven’t gotten since the last Tyrion chapter of AGOT. Due to presentism, there is a tendency of the ASOIAF fandom to assume that the victory of the Lannister war machine was inevitable, that Tywin never lost a step before his fatal appointment with a privy. However, in this chapter we see that absolutely was not the case:

“King Robert’s brothers Stannis and Renly had joined the fighting, she heard…Even Lannister men questioned how long Joffrey would hold the Iron Throne…”

Lord Tywin would soon march on Riverrun, she heard. Or he would drive South to Highgarden, no one would ever expect that. No, he must defend King’s Landing, Stannis was the greatest threat…destroy Roose Bolton and remove the dagger from his back. He’d sent ravens to the Eyrie…he was writing Lady Stark to make a peace.

…a northern army under Roose Bolton had occupied the ruby ford of the Trident. “If he crosses, Lord Tywin will smash him again…Bolton’ll never cross, not till the Young Wolf marches from Riverrun with his wild northmen and all them wolves.”

For all that Tyrion likes to make metaphors about lions stalking in the long grass, the reality is that Tywin is in deep trouble right now. He’s got one enemy army on his western flank at Riverrun, another on his eastern flank at the Ruby Ford (now that Roose Bolton has finally done what he should have done five months prior), and two more enemy armies advancing on his position from the south. And to deal with this, Tywin really only has the one army – Ser Stafford’s forces are not yet ready to close his intended trap, Tyrion’s forces are more nominal and are fixed in defense of the capitol – thus, whichever way Tywin turns, he’s leaving himself open to every other flank. And he’s running out of time to make up his mind; eventually, one of the Baratheon armies is going to bring King’s Landing under siege and Tywin is going to have to decide which way to march.

No wonder Lannister morale is so low that his men are fighting and killing each other, and Tywin is forced into hanging his own men in order to maintain order. Making things even worse is the growing legend of Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners:

There was always talk of Beric Dondarrion. A fat archer once said the Bloody Mummers had slain him, but the others only laughed. “Lorch killed the man at Rushing Falls, and the Mountain’s slain him twice. Got me a silver stag says he don’t stay dead this time neither.”

One of the woman said that [Amory Lorch’s] men had ridden all the way around the lake chasing Beric Dondarrion and slaying rebels…

…Ser Gregor returned…she heard he’d lost four men in one of Lord Beric’s night raids…

One of the things I absolutely love about GRRM’s writing is the deft way in which he’s able to use third-party conversations to build up a reputation for off-stage players. Whether it’s Stannis in AGOT, or Beric Dondarrion here, or Marwyn the Mage throughout, this technique works wonderfully to ensure that, in a huge sprawling cast of characters, many of whom come in and out of the narrative at different times, the reader is primed to react appropriately. Thus, when Stannis stalks onto the page in the Prologue, or when Beric Dondarrion emerges from the darkness inside the hollow hill, they have a weight far above their “screen-time” would suggest. It’s not a technique that has worked as well in the show as it did in the books, but props to D&D for trying.

As for Beric himself, this is the other side of his legend. We’ve already seen the Robin Hood-esque robs-from-the-rich, gives-promissory-notes-to-the-poor part of the story, so that we understand why the smallfolk see him as someone on their side. But here’s where we see why he is feared by those who would do them harm: he’s an unkillable outlaw who is immune to the violence of the reavers, a will o’ the wisp who can operate under Tywin’s very nose and vanish just as quickly, who mounts daring raids to strike back at those who would harm the people. It’s a hell of a story, and the truth is, for once, even better than the legend.

Arya’s Story

However, this chapter is Arya’s, not Tywin’s. And in this chapter, we get two distinct and inherently divergent paths for Arya being set up. The first path is Arya’s re-connection with the North and her drive to reunite with her family. The second path is Arya’s new connection to Jaqen H’ghar, and through him, the Faceless Men of Braavos.

Taking these in order, Arya’s arrival at Harrenhal means that, for the first time since Arya III of AGOT, Arya learns where the rest of her family is, and encounters other Northerners:

Arya had not known her brother was so near. Riverrun was much closer than Winterfell…when she thought of seeing Robb’s face again Arya had to bite her lip. And I want to see Jon too, and Bran and Rickon, and Mother. Even Sansa, I’ll kiss her and beg her pardons like a proper lady, she’ll like that.

…three dozen captives taken during some battle of the Green Fork of the Trident…four brothers took their exercise together every day…three of them were Freys of the Crossing, the fourth their bastard brother…two other brothers arrived under a peace banner with a chest of gold, and ransomed them…no one ransomed the northmen, though.

One fat lordling haunted the kitchens…the clasp of his cloak was a silver-and-sapphire trident…the fierce, bearded young man who liked to walk the battlements alone in a black cloak patterned with white suns…one of the guards told her that Lord Cerwyn had died.

This first quote should be brandished at anyone who claims that Arya isn’t really a Stark, or that she hates her sister Sansa and will try to kill her. So strong is Arya’s love for her family that she will, over and over again, throughout the rest of ACOK and much of ASOS, do anything, trying everything to get back to her family. But at the same time, there’s a series of roadblocks placed in her way to ensure that she won’t succeed until GRRM is ready. In this case, the roadblock is recognition – she doesn’t recognize most of these prisoners, and believes in return that they won’t recognize her. Thus her instant despair when Lord Cerwyn dies, closing the door on making a connection to these prisoners, as far as Arya is concerned. It’s also quite consequential, because it means that knowledge of Arya’s survival and her whereabouts does not reach the Northern camp from Harrenhal, despite how likely that would seem to be.

Once again, a pattern becomes noticeable in the fates of the prisoners: Ser Wylis Manderly, poor bastard, will be liberated by Arya and his fellow Northmen, only to be captured again at the Ruby Ford, returned to Harrenhal, turned into a cannibal by Gregor Clegane, and finally returned to his family a completely broken man. Harrion Karstark will be freed, sent off to die at Duskendale, taken prisoner at Maidenpool, and then his uncle will try to murder by him by proxy to steal his lands. And the three ransomed Freys happen to be Ser Jared, Ser Hosteen, and Ser Danwell – the first will be killed and eaten by Wyman Manderly in revenge for the death of Ser Wendel Manderly, the second is heading to his death at the Battle of Ice, and the third is still at large but is marked by the Red Wedding for an inevitable death at the hands of Lady Stoneheart. No one truly escapes Harrenhal.

credit to Tony Foti

At the same time, though, Arya’s immediate destiny lies not in the North but with Jaqen H’ghar, and through him the Faceless Men of Braavos. Almost immediately, Arya and Jaqen share a bond:

Then she saw the three near the end of the column…Jaqen H’ghar still smiled. His garb was still ragged and filthy, but he had found time to wash and brush his hair. It streamed down his shoulders, red and white and shiny…only Jaqen H’ghar so much as glanced in her direction, and his eyes passed right over her.

Arya was dreaming of wolves running wild through the wood when a strong hand clamped down over her mouth…”A girl says nothing,” a voice whispered close behind her ear. “A girl keeps his lips closed, no one hears, and friends may talk in secret. Yes?”

“…a boy becomes a girl,” he murmured.

“I was always a girl. I didn’t think you saw me.”

“A man sees, a man knows…a man pays his debts. A man owes three.”


“The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest…three lives you shall have of me. No more, no less. Three and we are done. So a girl must ponder.”

I’ve talked a bit about how Arya’s story is a deconstruction of fantasy and fairy tale tropes, and this is some of the best evidence in the series for that. Arya goes on a journey and along the way she meets a stranger – in myth and fairy tale, these encounters are a testing of character, much in the same way that a stranger showing up to someone’s house is a test of their xenia. Here, Arya looks past Jaqen’s appearance (demonstrating insight), provides assistance as requested (showing compassion), and rescues him from danger (illustrating courage). As a reward for this act of heroism, she is given three wishes. What makes this a deconstruction is that Arya’s wishes are coming from a murder genie. She can’t wish for her freedom, she can’t wish to be united with her family, nor can she wish for more wishes – she can only wish for death. (It’s also a deconstruction in that Arya freeing Rorge and Biter arguably allows the Sack of Saltpans to happen – courage and compassion leading not to a virtuous outcome but horrible unintended consequences).

This seemingly puts Arya into a very different trope – the monkey’s paw scenario. Thus, her wishes become another stage of testing. If she chooses poorly or selfishly, they’ll backfire; only if she demonstrates wisdom and virtue will she be rewarded. And thus Arya has to ponder:

“Weese…Dunsen, Chiswyck, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound, Ser Gregor, Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei…” If she left herself forget even one of them, how would she ever find him again to kill him?

“Weese…Dunsen, Chiswyck, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Gregor, Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei.” She thought she might add three more names to her prayer but she was too tired to decide tonight.

…When she closed  her eyes, she saw faces swimming before her. Joffrey and his mother, Ilyn Payne and Meryn Trant and Sandor Clegane..but they were in King’s Landing hundreds of miles away, and Ser Gregor had lingered only a few nights before departing for more foraging, taking Raff and Chiswyck and the Tickler with him. Ser Amory Lorch was here, though…

As she worked, Arya thought about the people she wanted dead….the Starks were at war with the Lannisters and she was a Stark, so she should kill as many Lannisters as she could, that was what you did in wars. But she didn’t think she should trust Jaqen. I should kill them myself. Whenever her father had condemned a man to death, he did the deed himself…

Arya leaned close and whispered, “Chiswyck,” right in Jaqen’s ear…on the third day Arya went to the kitchens with Weese to fetch their dinner. “One of the Mountain’s men fell off a wallwalk last night and broke his full neck…some are saying it was Harren’s ghost flung him down.”

A couple things of note here: first, Arya’s prayer is changing, mirroring her changing circumstances. Weese gets added to the list and Chiswyck gets taken off it, and Arya almost adds Rorge, Biter, and Jaqen H’ghar to the list for their betrayal, setting up her third wish way in advance. Second, contrary to much of the fandom’s recollection, Arya is being quite discerning with her wishes – Arya doesn’t fully trust Jaqen H’ghar, so she’s testing him out; she’s thinking about the practicalities of who’s in the vicinity; and finally, she’s thinking about questions of justice and the need to take personal action to revenge her family. Third, Arya’s choice works to renew her sense of control over herself and her environment – rather than a helpless, harmless mouse, Arya now has a way to strike back at her captors, to restore a moral order in which crime (Chiswyck’s enjoyment of rape and murder) is met with punishment. If Sansa will wonder whether all the stories are lies and think that the monsters always win, Arya will act to enforce a system of moral justice on the universe, however bloodily.

However, to get back to the deconstruction of fairy-tale below, GRRM is working a rather subtle game here. First wishes tend to be mundane or frivolous tests of the system, and Arya’s would appear to be one of these. At the same time, because of Chiswyck’s story, Arya’s naming is paralleling the slaves of Old Valyria whose prayers were granted by the first Faceless Men, whose cries for revenge were deemed worthy by the God of Many Faces. And as we’ll see later, her future wishes both conform and diverge from the mythical model.

Historical Analysis:

Given that Jaqen H’ghar has finally unveiled himself as one of the Faceless Men of Braavos, let’s talk about the historical parallel, the organization that gave birth to the term “assassin,” the Ḥashshāshīn of the Nizari Ismailis. This is a difficult subject to get to the bottom of, for two main reasons. The first is that most of our historical sources are incredibly biased, given that so many of them were filtered, first through anti-Nizari propaganda and then second through Western orientalist writers writing centuries later. The second is that pop culture – most noticeably the Assassin’s Creed video game series – has done a number on the public’s historical imagination, so that there’s a lot of additional misinformation to be pared away.


To begin with, the Ḥashshāshīn were the result of a religious schism within Islam – if you pay attention to modern world politics, you’ve probably heard of the Sunni and Shia split within Islam, but you may not be familiar with the Ismaili who split off from the Shia over whether Isma’il ibn Jafar or Musa al-Kadhim were the true spiritual successor to the sixth Shia Imam. The Nizari were a sub-sect of the Ismaili, who believed that Nizar was the true heir of the Fatamid Caliph-Imam of North Africa, who had been murdered by an ambitious general who replaced him with another heir. The Nizari fled Egypt and found refuge in the mountainous regions of eastern Syria/western Persia.

Somewhere in the late 11th century, a Nizari missionary named Hassan-i Sabbāh came across the mountain fortress of Alamut in northwest Persia and took it, through the less-than-dramatic means of converting a bunch of the locals and then buying the fortress with donations. This fortress became the legendary Fortress of Eagles, and Hassan-i Sabbah would go down in history as the “Old Man of the Mountain.” And from this fortress, Hassan-i Sabbah built a small kingdom of Nizari converts, eventually controlling no less than nine fortresses, in the mountains of northwest Persia/eastern Syria. From these fortresses, the Assassins would wage an unrelenting unconventional war – primarily against the Seljuk Turks ruling from Baghdad and the Fatamid Caliphate of Egypt, but including any power that sought to control their strategically vital area.

But here’s where the misconceptions start. To begin with, the Ḥashshāshīn did not call themselves Ḥashshāshīn (i.e, users of hashish) – as with so many group names in history, this started as a slur. The story that the Assassins inducted acolytes by drugging them with hashish was propaganda invented by their enemies – the Fatamid Caliphate, then the Turks, then the Mongols – as a way to undercut their piety as rooted in drug-addled fantasy. In reality, the Assassins were a rather austere and monklike group, who used much more ordinary forms of indoctrination and training to convince the Ladiq (“Adherents”), actually the lowest and most disposable of the order, to carry out the targeted killings that their group became famous for.

Another misconception is that, while the Assassins were very good at infiltrating their enemy’s strongholds, what made them terrifying wasn’t the master of disguise or stealth thing. Rather, it was the fact that the Assassins would carry out missions that they knew were going to end with their death – whether it was the killing of Nizam al-Mulk (Visier of the Seljuk Empire), or the killing of the newly-elected King of Jerusalem Conrad of Monferrat, or the attempted assassinations of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn or Mongke Khan – Assassins very rarely survived their most famous missions, getting struck down by the belated bodyguards of their targets after they accomplished their task. And this was what terrified the powers that be, because it is almost impossible to guard yourself against someone who is ready to die. Thus, their most famous missions usually took place out in the daytime in public areas, to demonstrate that no one was safe – psychological warfare being a key doctrine of the Assassins.

So to say the least, we’re going to have to watch our step here in future installments.

What If?

This is an extremely rich chapter when it comes to hypotheticals, because so much of Arya VII revolves around decisions/questions. And they really boil down to two major questions: will Arya reach out to the Northern captives, and which name would she give to Jaqen?

  • Arya reached out to Ser Wylis Manderly? I started with the best one first, because the consequentiality of Arya’s decisions here entirely depend on whether any of these poor bastards make it out of Harrenhal. And Ser Wylis will eventually make it out – which would mean that Wyman Manderly would learn that Arya is alive and well, for a given value of well. And this could be extremely relevant during ADWD, if Wyman could produce the real Arya in a bid to undercut Roose Bolton. Not that Wyman still isn’t going to try to get his hands on Rickon – a male Stark trumps a female Stark real or not, and he can’t exactly marry Wylla to Arya.
  • Arya reached out to Harrion Karstark? This one is a bit difficult to measure, because as far as we know, Harrion Karstark is still a prisoner at Maidenpool despite the best attempts of his uncle to get him killed. However, it would be interesting in ADWD if Arnulf had been able to try to leverage this information against Jon Snow to get him to release Alys Karstark – certainly a good case of the “human heart at war with itself” if Jon Snow has to choose between the right thing (protecting Alys from her awful relatives) and his family.
  • Arya reached out to the Freys? I consider this one extremely unlikely – Arya is way too smart to ever trust a Frey – but if Arya did reach out to the Freys, it would potentially complicate some things. Potentially, it would mean that Tywin might find out that Arya was within his very grasp all along – which is a hilarious thought. However, while I doubt that this would prevent the Red Wedding (Walder has way too much riding on that particular event to back out over Arya), it might have created some interesting tensions between the Freys and the Boltons over who gets to claim Winterfell through Arya.

Regarding the assassinations, one of the things I think fans often overlook is there are limitations that Arya is working with for her murder wishes – chiefly, geography. Arya and Jaqen are in Harrenhal, almost 400 miles away from King’s Landing, so Jaqen is unlikely to travel to King’s Landing to assassinate anyone, especially because Jaqen is inhabiting a cover story and doesn’t want to break character. Moreover, from a narrative perspective, it’s far more meaningful for Arya to order the death of someone in her vicinity, so that she can see cause and effect.

And one of the reasons why I think hypotheticals work so well here is that Chiswyck is such a nothing character – even among Gregor’s goon squad, he’s not the worst offender – that he gets written out of the show altogether. Here, GRRM is leaning into the trope – the first wish is almost always a wasted wish to raise the stakes and tension for the next two wishes. And it works here, because it gets you thinking “oh, if only she’d…”

  • Arya named Gregor? In an extremely rich target environment, one of the biggest bastards for Arya to name is the Mountain himself, especially because he’s responsible for so much of the suffering Arya has had to witness. And his death here would be incredibly significant – to begin with, if Gregor dies unexpectedly, he’s not on hand to retake Harrenhal from Vargo Hoat, who’ll die of an infected ear. In ASOS, there’s no reason for Oberyn Martell to travel to King’s Landing and risk his life if the Mountain and Amory Lorch is dead (which might mean that Tyrion is condemned and sent to the Wall or executed). Furthermore, if Gregor Clegane isn’t killed in such a drawn-out fashion, Qyburn probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to turn him into Ser Robert Strong – which means Cersei would really be in trouble in TWOW.
  • Arya named Vargo Hoat? Another particularly apt target would be the Goat himself. Now, if Vargo Hoat dies, a whole bunch of things suddenly change. To begin with, it’s quite possible Roose Bolton either doesn’t take Harrenhal or takes it completely differently (because you really can’t hold Harrenhal with 300 men). Next, it’s quite likely that Jaime Lannister doesn’t get his hand chopped off and either gets taken to King’s Landing directly or gets returned to the Starks – the latter of which would short-circuit the Red Wedding – and Brienne would probably avoid the bear pit.
  • Arya named Tywin? This is the biggest one; Tywin’s death at Harrenhal is supposed to be the “one that got away,” as Arya will find out. Because if Tywin dies here and now, everything changes – no one’s coming to save King’s Landing, so King’s Landing falls. Kevan Lannister is a good and worthy man, but he’d be dealing with an army in an absolute morale crisis at the very moment that the lords of the Westerlands learn that Robb Stark is loose in their fiefs; for all the best motives in the world, Kevan would bang his head into the Tully defenses over and over again, just long enough for King’s Landing to fall, Robb Stark to return to Riverrun and command the net to be closed around the Lannister army. Another interesting question: without Tywin’s hand behind it, how far along would the Westerling honey trap go? As I’ll discuss later on, there’s a good deal of ambiguity as to at what stage Tywin became involved that potentially could change Robb Stark’s destiny enormously.

Book vs. Show:

As I discussed in the podcasts, the Tywin/Arya relationship is one of the biggest divergences from the book to the show so far (pre-Season 5, anyway)…and it’s sublime. It’s a perfect example of how the show’s emphasis on having main characters directly interact as opposed to ships passing in the night can bring out the best in the actors and elevate the show, because Charles Dance and Maisie Williams are two great actors working wonderfully together.

From a process standpoint, it reminds me a little of J.K Simmons and Miles Teller in Whiplash – not so much because of the similarity between the characters (although Tywin and Arya have a bit of a mentor-mentee thing going on), but in the way that their scenes showcase a veteran actor giving a magnetic performance, but without overwhelming their junior partner, who surprises you with how well they’re able to hold their own. I think we all loved Maisie Williams as Arya from the beginning of Season 1, but it really wasn’t until Season 2 and her interactions with Tywin that we got to see the full scope of her range. 

And likewise, while Roose Bolton is a fascinating character, it’s far more important for the show to get inside of Tywin’s head at this moment, because Tywin is going to become an absolutely central character in Season 3 and Season 4, whereas it kind of works for Roose Bolton to come out of nowhere in the Red Wedding.

If I have a critique of this storyline on the show, it’s a relatively minor one – that having Jaqen kill the Tickler set off an odd line of dominoes – it meant that Arya’s tavern encounter in Season 4 wouldn’t be the same as it is in ASOS, which in turn means that her re-enactment of Lommy’s death got borrowed from “Mercy,” which in turn prompted GRRM to release that preview chapter to show that he was still the best, which in turn is probably going to spell death for Ser Meryn Trant if and when he accompanies Mace Tyrell to Braavos.


119 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya VII, ACOK

  1. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Nice work.

    Minor note, you spelled compassion wrong in the passage where you talk about the xenia.

    As for Arya, the sociopath thing seems to me to be a misunderstanding of what sociopathy is, and the conflation of desensitization to violence (which she most certainly is) to the traditional view of sociopaths who view people as objects.

  2. David Hunt says:

    In the “Arya’s Story” section you write, “the first will be killed and eaten by Walder Frey in revenge for the death of Ser Wendel Manderly”. I think that you meant to write Roose Bolton instead of Walder Frey.

    Really great read. You’re right about how little Chyswick stands out in Gregor Clegane’s merry band of villains, I’d forgotten who he even was

  3. Sean C. says:

    Random trivia: The chapter begins a sequence of four Stark female POVs in a row, one of only two times this will happen in the books published to date (the other being the Red Wedding).

    Potentially, it would mean that Tywin might find out that Arya was within his very grasp all along – which is a hilarious thought.

    This is one of the silliest parts of the show’s version of this story, incidentally. Tywin figures out that Arya is a Northern noblegirl, but not only does he just leave her behind without a thought, when he gets to King’s Landing and presumably finds that Arya is missing, he never puts 2 and 2 together.

    • David Hunt says:

      Everyone in King’s Landing assumes that Arya is dead. If she had escaped back to Stark held lands, the Starks wouldn’t have kept it secret as she would be very valuable for marriage pacts, plus the propaganda/morale value of recovering her. If someone one the Lannister side had gotten her, she’d have been cashed in immediately. So everyone in KL thinks she’s dead. Although there were stupid assumptions made by the Lannisters, I can’t really say that was one of them. It will be highly consequential, but that’s different.

      • Sean C. says:

        Cersei is still looking for Arya in episode 201. And yes, while the obvious assumption would be that she’s dead, once Tywin learned that the capital was lying about having Arya, his mysterious cupbearer should be his first thought.

        • Grant says:

          That would a hell of a coincidence. True, they do happen but a girl you know is a northerner and who knows how to read is also a missing girl of a major noble family who somehow managed to survive a pretty long journey from Kingslanding to Harrenhal? Even in Westeros, being literate probably isn’t so rare that this would be your first guess.

          • Sean C. says:

            Tywin figures out that she’s a noblegirl because of how she speaks (“my lord” vs. “milord”). He calls attention to that at one point.

          • Aegon the Pot Head says:

            It still amazes me that Tywin never bothered to check if is his northern noblegirl cupbearer couldn’t be a valuable hostage

          • Chris says:

            He probably planned to find out how valuable she was, but a northern girl from a minor (probably) noble family just wasn’t his most pressing concern when Stannis was about to take King’s Landing. She was a prisoner after all, and he couldn’t predict that she would both befriend and outwit a murder genie and escape before that was taken care of.

    • Well, we don’t ever see him finding out. Quite possible Cersei tells him she died, plain and simple.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      Well, maybe Show Tywin considered the possibility of his cupbearer being Arya when he found she was missing. But what can he can do about it when he is in King’s Landing? I do not think Tywin speaks of his thoughts aloud to people so we would not know. Maybe he sent a raven to ask about her but she was already missing.

  4. Iñigo says:

    The Tyrells could have won the battle of Blackwater by themselves. The battle got decided with the Renly prank and Garlans vanguard. Tywin being there meant nothing.

    • Sean C. says:

      Well, first, Tywin’s army was on the northern bank of the river, and thus coming to the rescue of the city itself, whereas the Tyrell force was on the south bank. That would have affected the battle in some respects.

      But more significantly, it’s dubious whether the Tyrells would agree to come to the Lannisters’ rescue with Tywin dead. He was the lynchpin of Lannister strength, and the idea of him mattered a lot (see also: Balon), even when his real position was much weaker.

      • winnie says:

        Precisely. No way the Tyrell’s are going to make a deal with the likes of Cersei and Joffrey.

        Also without Tywin’s backing I don’t think Walder Frey would ever have risked the Red Wedding.

        But most of all in the wake of Tywin’s death my guess is the whole Lannister war camp falls onto complete chaos.

      • Iñigo says:

        The Tyrells wanted Margaery to be queen, so saving kings landing is important to them anyway. And the Tyrell army is bigger than Stannis’ army by itself. With Tywin dead, and saving kings landing on their own, they become the ones that control the realm after marrying Joff and Margaery.

        • Sorry, I don’t buy this. If the Tyrells’ desire for Margaery to be queen so outweighed Mace Tyrell’s epic case of the slows, then they would have attacked Stannis days earlier.

          In reality, Mace waited at Tumbler’s Falls for almost a month, was just barely in time. And that’s with Tywin showing up.

          Mace is not going to fight on Littlefinger’s say-so. Tywin is absolutely necessary to make the alliance genuine.

          • Iñigo says:

            Randyll Tarly had been killing Florent men long before the battle of Blackwater. If they were not joined in the alliance by then, what was he doing?

          • Tarly was at war with Stannis on behalf of Renly and the Tyrells, and was acting to deny Stannis Reacher forces. Notably after his massacre at Bitterbridge, he does nothing for a solid month.

      • Agreed on both points. If the Tyrells attacked on the south bank alone, the city still falls, Joffrey and Cersei die, and Stannis is on the Iron Throne. Which puts the Tyrells in a very sticky political situation.

        • Iñigo says:

          Tommen was away from the city at the time. They could just have saved themselves the effort of killing Joff.

          • Tommen had completely disappeared as far as anyone in KL knew, and the Tyrells don’t know that Tommen is missing to go looking for him.

            Moreover, he’s all the way up in Rosby, way north of the city, and the Tyrells landed south of the river.

      • John says:

        That being said, who else is there for the Tyrells to support? The surviving Lannisters can still offer them more than Stannis is ever going to, and Mace is still not going to want to see a King Stannis. There’s no real reason to think that Mace ever seriously considers independence for the Reach. With Tywin dead and the Lannisters in disarray, Mace is more or less the only one who can prevent Stannis from seizing the throne.

        • Sean C. says:

          They could ally with the Starks (who, especially with Tywin dead, are in a much better position than the Lannisters), or they could simply go into business for themselves. Stannis taking KL, on its own, doesn’t pose a mortal threat to the the Tyrells; it doesn’t gain him huge numbers of soldiers, and he can’t threaten the Reach on his own.

        • Or Margaery could become pregnant with “Renly’s heir”…

          • David Hunt says:

            Yeeesh. Hadn’t thought of that. I wonder who they’d trust to be their stand in for Renly. The Tyrells seem to have a marked lack of trust for their closest bannermen. Something about how they all think they have a better claim to be lords of Highgarden…

    • The Tyrells would not have been there if Tywin was not there.

      • Iñigo says:

        This has always been said. But the Tyrells were already on their way to kings landing before Tywin turned, and were preparing their attack when Tywin joined them. Had Tywin not been there, the Tyrells would have taken complete control of kings landing.

        • That’s not the case. Mace camped out at Tumbler’s Falls and waited with a bunch of boats.

          • somethinglikealawyer says:

            I’ve always had the belief that Mace was looking to see what concession he could wring out of whoever wished to treat with him. The whole thing has basically been a “what can everyone do for old Mace” deal for him.

            Renly makes his daughter a Queen. Great, he joins Renly. But Mace isn’t the type to do the heavy lifting himself (which I view as separately from being a fence-sitter, he was invested, but he wasn’t going to expend his own power to do so).

            Littlefinger gives a song and dance at the Tumbler’s Falls, but Littlefinger is merely the Master of Coin, and the Hand could easily override him. Mace doesn’t march until Tywin gets there, because as the Hand to a boy king, he’s got the authority (it helps that Tywin won’t shut up about the Lannisters paying their debts). Mace knows that Tywin is in dire straits but keeps his promises, so when Tywin promises, Mace leaps. Not before.

          • Precisely. Mace knows that Tywin is the real power behind the Iron Throne, so he’s going to wait until Tywin signs on the dotted line.

          • WPA says:

            Also there may be an awareness from Mace that going against a victorious Stannis puts him in a situation where he doesn’t have many experienced non-Tarly forces against a fairly experienced army. Also, there’d be a major incentive for one of his less than foursquare bannermen with a claim to Highgarden to turn to Stannis mid-battle and overthrow him.

          • Crystal says:

            WPA: The Florents would probably be on THAT like lint on a cheap suit. Stannis is married to a Florent, after all. I could see them doing a Lord Stanley on Renly and going over to Stannis in return for Highgarden.

  5. winnie says:

    Wonderful as always Steve! I especially love your analysis of how Harrenhaal is Tywin’s *true* seat and of Arya’s psychology.

    But why oh why couldnt she have given Tywin’s name?!?


  6. Grant says:

    It’d be nice if we got more explanation of these three deaths. Does it only apply if a Faceless Man is one of those saved? Do they believe that if they are in a situation where they will die, those around them are also definitely fated to die? I can’t imagine them making this offer to everyone who saves another person’s life.

  7. Sokket says:

    “And Ser Wylis will eventually make it out – which would mean that Wyman Manderly would learn that Arya is alive and well, for a given value of well.”

    This may be one of the most astute ways to describe Arya’s situation in Harrenhal that I’ve ever seen.

    • Since Wylis comes under the command of Bolton, would he simply inform Roose? If so, does that put Arya under Bolton’s control at Harrenhal? That has a lot of potential implications.

      • He might. I decided to leave the Bolton stuff until after Arya meets Roose, and discuss it then.

        • winnie says:

          And that chapter also supports the theory that Bolton was planning his betrayal long before the Westerling marriage.

          • David Hunt says:

            Oh yeah. I caught that on the second read. Roose orders an attack on Duskendale, and in ASOS you get to see Robb shock why someone (Glover I think) would have spent so many men on a such a doomed campaign. I don’t recall for sure but I think Roose is standing right there when Robb is wondering aloud why Roose’s patsy would do that.

          • WPA says:

            “I blame myself.”

            and Robb’s “Robett Glover will answer for this when I see him.” should have been huge giveaways in retrospect.

          • Crystal says:

            Roose tells Theon/Reek in ADWD, “The Starks were done and doomed the night you took Winterfell,” and said he (Roose) ought to thank Theon/Reek for his wardship of the North. I think that Roose did indeed plan for betrayal early on, but was hedging his bets for quite some time – because it was not apparent that Robb would lose and the Lannisters triumph, until Robb becomes “The King Who Lost The North.”

            That makes me wonder just how much Roose might have known or suspected about what would happen when Theon went back to Pyke, and if he was urging Robb to send Theon in the first place (or at least backing him to the hilt and telling him that oh yes, sending Theon is the right thing to do!). I think that Theon taking Winterfell was the turning point after some time of hemming and hawing and seeing which way the wind was blowing.

          • Mr Fixit says:

            I’d say there is some evidence he planned since the beginning – hence all the dead and captured Northern lords at the Green Fork. He was hedging his bets all the time. If Robb wins, Roose is remembered as a loyal general whose neighbors like Karstarks, Hornwoods, and the like “happened” to have a run of bad luck. If Robb loses, Roose positions himself to take maximum advantage.

          • John says:

            The Duskendale attack comes after news of the Westerling marriage, doesn’t it? I haven’t looked at the chapter myself, but from the summary in the wiki it sounds like Roose orders the Duskendale attack immediately upon learning of Robb’s marriage. So, obviously, he’s been already been actively considering the possibility of betraying Robb, and quite possibly has already opened a correspondence with Tywin about the possibility of such a betrayal, but it’s not clear that he’s done anything openly treasonous up to that point.

          • witlesschum says:

            Yeah, I think is playing his own game all along, but doesn’t really commit to going all the way into betraying Robb until that point. I’d guess the Duskendale betrayal probably doesn’t just include ordering the attack, but also telling Tywin what’s coming so he can move forces into position to trap and destroy it.

  8. SpaceSquid says:

    Glorious as always – particularly like your arguments regarding Arya’s choice of names.

    That said, I think the Cerwyn’s have suffered enough without them being renamed by you…

  9. ad says:

    “No one truly escapes Harrenhal.”

    A point that makes me thoughtful. What does this tell us about the future of Arya Stark?

    Nothing good, it would seem.

  10. The original Assasins called themselves Asasiyun because they came from a town called Asas apparently. They became quite a cult for the likes of Nietzsche and William Burroughs before becoming a multi-million blockbuster.

    The Faceless Men is interesting in that its based more on the romantic revisions of Assassins than the actual one and it avoids orientalist ideas.

  11. Crystal says:

    Harrenhal is an absolute white elephant. I hope that Dany, or Jon, or Sansa, or whoever winds up ruling Westeros after the dust settles, just razes the damn thing, and uses the stone and timber for other buildings. It’s not practical to garrison or maintain. (I did read a fanfic where Dany settled in at Harrenhal because it was the only castle that could hold her khalasar which was all of the Dothraki by then, her Unsullied, and her three dragons, and besides, KL was burnt to a crisp. That made sense in context.) I suppose it could be pressed into service as a Westerosi Versailles, but the expense would still be considerable.

    I recall, in the text, that Arya did not recognize the various heraldry of the Northern men at Harrenhal. She recalls that Sansa was the one who was interested in the subject and good at it, but now she, Arya, wished she had paid attention to Septa Mordane and her lessons. Yes, Sansa would have recognized Karstark and Manderly, BUT, no way would Sansa ever have escaped Harrenhal undamaged. Sansa could not be disguised as a peasant or a boy, nor did she have Arya’s practical survival skills. Each Stark sister was in the situation where she could use her best qualities to survive.

    If Arya had named Tywin – kerflooie would go the Lannister cause. All Hail King Stannis. Unfortunately, I think that when word got to Joffrey that Tywin was dead, he might kill Sansa, even if Tywin’s death looked “accidental,” just because Joffrey is like that. Littlefinger would be dead meat on rye (and so would Tyrion).

    If Arya had named Gregor – Oberyn would still be alive, and possibly be the designated Dany marriage candidate instead of poor hapless Quentyn, or at least be wingman and guide to poor hapless Quentyn, ensuring that the Dornish marriage expedition would not be the fiasco it was in ADWD. (Even if not married, Quentyn would escape dragon-grilling.) It would be the worse for Tyrion, though; but if he was sent to the Wall, things might go differently for Jon and the fight against the Others.

    • WPA says:

      Just letting the damn thing rot, or be casually used as an above ground stone quarry by the locals would probably be the best bet. Even the demolition of that monstrosity would be an enormous undertaking and probably would cost dozens, if not hundreds of lives.

    • DLG says:

      For peace-time use, Lady Whent seemed to have the solution — occupy the lower levels of two or three of the towers and don’t bother with the rest.

      During conflict is a more difficult question. The location IS strategic – not only on the God’s-Eye, but also near the Kings Road ford of the Trident and the crossing with the road into The Vale. (And as discussed in a previous chapter, the shifting riverbed and geography made a modest town, much less a major fortification, infeasible at the ford itself.) On the other hand the extensive walls would require a large garrison just to secure the place. The best option might be to rework the walls so that they are as short as possible without leaving any of the towers on the outside. (A tower on the outside would be a major asset to any siege.)

  12. Will Rogers says:

    The Tywin/Arya scenes in the show are great simply because of how they make Tywin seem like an actual human being as opposed to the books’ walking construct of arrogance and spite.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      In books we see Tywin from mostly Tyrion’s point of view and hear what things he has caused so we see him at his worst. I think he would feel a bit more human from someone else’s point of view.

    • winnie says:

      Good points. We know that Kevan and Genna both loved Tywin and that there was a time when he wasn’t such a bastard. It was good to get that perspective on the show…and the exposition on Tytos and how seeing his fathers weakness influenced Tywin.

      It also established Tywin to viewers as a truly magnificent bastard. Ruthless and cruel but pragmatic-nothing senseless about his actions however brutal which is why you’re kinda relieved to see him show up becayse you know he wouldn’t stand for such *pointless* sadism. And unlike Cersei or Joffrey Tywin was clearly a *rational* bad guy which was almost refreshing at that point.

  13. Andrew says:

    Another good analysis, Steven.

    It should also be noted that Tywin took up residence in Kingspyre Tower, the exact same tower where Harren and his sons were killed. Something tells me Tywin and his children are not long for this world.

  14. Bail o' Lies says:

    Isn’t the Northern lord who died Cerwyn not Corwyn?

  15. John says:

    In terms of the Tywin assassination What If, one question that arises is who becomes Lord of the Rock. Presumably it’s Tyrion, right? Jaime is in the Kingsguard and also a Northern prisoner, and I think Kevan, despite some reluctance, would be honest enough to recognize that Tyrion is the rightful heir. That makes him Lord of the Rock, which is, well, interesting. On the other hand, it weakens his position as Hand, which he held as his father’s designee. Cersei, as Regent, would technically have the right to dismiss him and appoint a more amenable hand. But at that point Tyrion actually controls the balance of forces in King’s Landing, so such a move might be unsuccessful. I think you might end up with Tyrion forced to essentially overthrow Cersei as Regent and appoint himself in her stead.

    And I don’t see that Tywin’s death at this point is necessarily fatal to the Lannister cause. Kevan is in Harrenhal, and perfectly capable of commanding the Lannister army. The situation in King’s Landing is the same. The Tyrells still have some pretty compelling reasons to ally with the Lannisters rather than with Stannis. I’m not convinced the Blackwater goes the other way.

    • If it happened at this point in time, Tyrion would claim the title without much effort.

      Kevan is perfectly capable of field command, but he doesn’t have the political presence. When Robb Stark is loose in the West, the lords of the Westerlands are not going to hang around on his say-so. The army is going to disintegrate.

      And there’s not going to be a Red Wedding.

      And I don’t think the Tyrells are going to move fast enough without Tywin’s signature on the deal.

      • winnie says:

        Agreed. Kevan just doesn’t have the fear factor among the Lannister bannerman that Tywin did to keep them in line.

        And I doubt Kevan would even think of the Westerling honeypot much less the Red Wedding. And even if Walder Frey still thought of it he’s just not going to pull that trigger without Tywin’s promise of protection.

        And yeah Tyrion would get the Rock and Jaime would have been the first to congratulate him.

        And yeah the sooner we see the last of Harrenhaal the better just raid it for building supplies to make someplace that isnt a horror show.

      • John says:

        Definitely no red wedding, I agree. I’m not sure why we’d expect the Lannister army to simply disintegrate, though. I think the issue would more be that there’d be a lot more pressure on Kevan to go west, rather than defend King’s Landing. Likely that means Kevan goes west a bit earlier than Tywin did. Does that butterfly away Edmure’s fight at the fords? If so, Kevan perhaps manages to get his army mostly destroyed by Robb. I’d say that *that* would almost certainly allow Stannis to take King’s Landing.

        That actually gets you to a really interesting place. The Lannisters look to basically be done at this point – Tywin’s dead; Joffrey, Tyrion, and Cersei are likely dead at the fall of King’s Landing; Jaime’s a prisoner, Kevan’s probably either dead or a prisoner, Tommen probably ends up a prisoner (would Stannis murder an innocent little boy?). So you end up with Stannis controlling King’s Landing, the Crownlands and Stormlands, but the vast majority of the Seven Kingdoms answering to other lords who are either outright separatists (Robb and Balon Greyjoy) or ones who haven’t explicitly recognized him yet (Lysa Arryn, Doran Martell, Mace Tyrell). I assume that all but Greyjoy are fairly likely to make some kind of terms with Stannis. But it’s interesting to think about. Certainly Robb is in a difficult position – he doesn’t want to fight Stannis, but it’ll be hard for him to give up the crown without alienating many of his own supporters (especially the Northerners). Similarly, Mace isn’t going to be at all enthusiastic about King Stannis. And, between them, Mace and Robb have the dominant military position.

        • The army would fall apart because it’s a feudal army – these aren’t professional soldiers in a standing army, they’re the retinue of various lords who serve for a limited time as part of their feudal obligations.

          But if Tywin’s dead, who’s the liege lord? Who gives the orders? And why are they hanging around the Riverlands while their homes are being besieged and sacked by Robb Stark?

          • Grant says:

            On Tywin, well in the books people do reappraise the Lannister position purely because they’ve lost Tywin, but Kevan has shown that he can lead. I won’t say he’d be able to pull off the same feats, but at the least I think we could say that he could avoid a total Lannister defeat.

          • As I’ve said, he’s a decent field commander. But he’s not the Lord Paramount of the Westerlands…the lords making up Tywin’s army have no loyalty to him. And in addition to just losing their lord, they’d be completely unsure who the new lord is.

          • Jaime'slefthand says:

            The upshot of this ‘What if?’, though, is that Robb Stark marries a Frey. Poor guy, he’s in a lose-lose situation. I suppose if it’s Roslin then it’s ok, and if there is no great western alliance then he needs the Freys less so he at least holds a useful balance of power over Lord Walder for the future.

          • John says:

            Kevan’s almost certainly giving the orders in the short run, and I don’t see any particular reason to think that the army will simply fade away immediately into nothingness. But I think you’re right that the Western lords are going to demand that Kevan go west to protect their homes, and that he’ll be forced to do that in fairly short order. No relief of King’s Landing, almost certainly, and Robb can probably spring his trap on Kevan.

        • Hedrigal says:

          It likely won’t happen immediately, but it will definitely happen. Kevan lacks the presence to keep them to a single purpose, and that will result in them returning home to deal with their lands.

  16. Amestria says:

    “The Happiest Place in Westeros ™”

    Something about Harranhall really seems to bring out your sense of black comedy.

  17. Abbey Battle says:

    Fine work Maester Steven!

  18. OTL says:

    If Tywin dies, the Tyrell’s don’t march quickly enough, Stannis takes King Landing and kills Tyrion, Cerise and Joffrey the war takes on a whole new angle.

    Stannis still has a relatively small army (15k lets say, after casualties) and he is still is only in control of two Kingdoms. And “control” here is a lose term. If there are 100k men loyal to the Tyrells in the Reach, Stannis can’t effectively control the Stormlands.

    Secondly Tommen will probably be still around as a figurehead for Lannister loyalists, and indeed anybody who can’t stand Stannis on the throne. Likewise Myrcella could also be a potential claimant with Dornish support.

    Margery probably would suddenly turn out to pregnant with Renly’s heir as well. What a shocker! I can imagine Stannis’ reaction already.

    Then there are separatists like the Starks and the Greyjoys (and possibly the Martells too).

    In fact, given how many important people stand to lose from Stannis sitting on the Iron Throne and how this unlikely coalition (Tywin, Cerise, Tyrion, Littlefinger, the religious hierarchy, the Tyrells and Varys) works together, for a change, at the Battle of Blackwater, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the great lords of Westeros turn to Dany and eventually, when he turns up, Aegon as rivals to Stannis.

    Basically Stannis is far from out of the woods if Tywin dies and he takes KL.

    However he would have two advantages:

    1. Even if Stannis ends up besieged in Kings Landing (by anyone) he has the dominant Westerosi navy in the Narrow Sea. Unless Bravos enters the war against him or the Greyjoys do something constructive for a change, he can always resupply the city from sea. This puts him in a strong position if anyone tries to besiege him.

    2. I always thought Stannis knew that the great lords of Westeros would only accept him as King if they had no better alternative – the whole Machiavelli “feared and loved” thing. If Stannis took KL and killed Joffrey then he has gotten rid of the strongest rival claimant and he now has all the symbolic power of actually sitting on the throne. This would probably sway some lords to throw their weight behind him.

    From there is’s basically just a slow and methodical slog for him to conquer the rest of Westeros in the face of determined opposition. And isn’t that the show the fans really want to see!

    • John says:

      I’m not sure about Stannis’s navy. Tyrion will still have the chain and the wildfire, so most of Stannis’s fleet will still burn. And the Redwyne fleet is untouched at the Arbor. Of course, capturing King’s Landing means capturing Horas and Hobber, so Stannis will probably have enough leverage to keep Redwyne from joining Mace in rebellion. But that threat will certainly be there until the Tyrells are dealt with. And if the twins are killed in the sack of King’s Landing, all bets are off.

      • OTL says:

        True, Stannis only really has naval superiority in the Narrow Sea as long as the Redwyne fleet stays put. Which mainly depends on what the Tyrell’s do if Tywin, Joffrey, et al are dead.

        I’d like to see some kind of deal where Stannis promises to marry Shireen to one of the Tyrell’s at some point in the future. Surely a King in the family is better than a Queen, right?

        But assuming the Tyrell’s are against Stannis and that the Redwyne’s side with the Tyrell’s, Staniss still has some time. It seems to take them ages to sail around Westeros later in the books, so Stannis still has enough time to repair and re-equip his fleet using the superior resources of Kings Landing. Or just use the treasury to loan a fleet from one of the free cities.

        • John says:

          Doesn’t really depend on the Tyrells. Redwyne doesn’t involve himself before the Blackwater, in spite of his close familial ties to the Tyrells and his obligations as a vassal, because his sons are prisoners in King’s Landing. He’s operating basically independently of the Tyrells until his sons are safe. If Stannis secures Hobber and Horas during the sack of King’s Landing, he can presumably keep the Redwyne fleet neutralized. If they escape or are killed, all bets are off.

  19. jpmarchives says:

    Well Steven, you’ve kicked a hornets nest this time: the death of Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal is probably the most interesting What if? you’ve done so far.

    What’s most intriguing is how the potential fallout of Tywin’s death highlights GRRM’s excellent characterization. On paper the Tyrell/Lannister match can still happen without Tywin, KL can still be saved from Stannis without Tywin and the Red Wedding can still go ahead without Tywin. But in reality, it’s very difficult to see how any o these things would happen with the Lannister patriarch out of the picture.

    For a start, Tyrion becomes Lord of Casterly Rock, yet has no hope of making his claim beyond nominal appointment because he cannot leave KL to Cersei. It is debatable whether Kevan could keep his army together – marching westwards maybe, marching to KL, probably not. I’m extremely doubtful that the Joffrey/Margery match happens, since in this timeline news of Renly’s death begins to spread at roughly the same time as Tywin’s does. In a climate of extreme uncertainty like this, the “Great Western alliance” begins to look like a hell of a gamble, especially if Kevan cannot stop his army moving out Westwards. If there is one thing Mace Tyrell would hate, it’s having to do all the leg work in an uncertain alliance.

    Beyond this, it’s very difficult to say what would happen. Tyrion would enjoy total control of KL and probably replaces Cersei as regent (as an act of self preservation if nothing else, since he is all that stands between her and the Rock) but he wouldn’t have time to enjoy it for very long before Stannis attacked and daddy’s not coming to save him. Tyrion, Cersei, Joffrey and Tommen all die and Sansa probably does as well; which means Jaime is losing his head.

    And that would make Kevan Lord of Casterly Rock, hampered by the fact that potentially all three of his sons would be captives of Robb and Stannis and has no choice but to sue for whatever peace he can… which he would get because he’s such a political non-entity compared to his brother. From there on out we can only wonder how Stannis would deal with Aegon and Dany, where once again the Tyrell’s would be pivotal.

    And all that change from one man dying. If only, if only.

    • DLG says:

      The obvious next move is a marriage alliance between Robb and Margery. (The Frey’s have lost almost all their leverage and are bought off with a couple of minor marriages to save face.) Then the Northerners and Tyrells have a choice: They can negotiate for respective autonomy with notional vassalage to Stannis on the Iron Throne, along the lines of a favorable interpretation of Renly’s offer to Catelyn. Or they can go after the Iron Throne itself by calling for a Great Council. If Stannis acquiesces he might keep the throne with Robb as heir-designate; or if he resists it’s more war, Stannis probably loses, and fAegon’s prospects improve. Barring the impending onslaught of ice and fire unforeseen by the Westorosi political forces, a Stannis-Robb regime buttressed with a Tyrell marriage alliance would be likely to produce at least two generations of peace and competent rule — easily the best possible outcome of the War of Five Kings.)

      • Brian says:

        I doubt Robb would go for being in line to the IT…he doesn’t want it. Now, he would be in the position of kingmaker, because with Stannis on the IT, Littlefinger is just so much crow food, so the Vale becomes a wild card. Give him Dornish status over the North and Riverlands, plus his sisters…I think he goes for that in a heartbeat.

        At which point the Tyrells basically *have* to give Margaery to Robb, but maybe get Sansa for Willas to lessen the sting.

        As for Arya…maybe betroth her to Trystane Martell or Edric Dayne,, unless Stan decides to legitimize Edric Storm or Gendry if something happens to him and Shireen?

    • winnie says:

      And what effect would the news of Tywin’s death (and the likely dissolution of the Western forces, the fall of KL, etc.) have on the Greyjoys and the Iron Born since it would make it clear Balon couldnt expect Lannister support?

      • OTL says:

        Maybe they decide to kick a dog (or lion as the case may be) while he’s down and decide to trash the Westerlands? If the Greyjoy’s think the Lannisters are done they might decide to try and curry some favour with the new powers and make a killing in the process.

        The Ironborn prefer to fight people who don’t fight back so if all goes belly up for the Lannisters at this point, the Wastelands are the best choice.

        Of course this would never happen in the books because it’s basically a win-win situation for all concerned.

        • derzquist says:

          Meh. Balon is too set on vengence against the ghost of Ned Stark to look anywhere other than the North for conquest. Back when Steven was covering the first couple Theon chapters of this book, I know that I (and I think a couple other commentators) thought that Theon’s Operation: Casterly Rock actually had some merit. But unless we concoct a double what-if where Euron comes home early, the Ironmen are stuck in their chilly quagmire for at least another year.

          • jpmarchives says:

            You’re probably right. But in Euron’s case he could be inheriting substantially less manpower.

            Euron might not come back any earlier, but if Robb still loses the North, he’s definitely going back sooner because he’s now unencumbered by the need to fight the war in the south. The plan he outlines to Catelyn in one of their final chapters (sob) sounds like a good one and probably would have worked if he got the chance, which means that by the time Euron kills Balon, Victarion, Theon and Asha have all been killed by vengeful Northmen and the Iron fleet has been devastated. Not that this would stop Euron doing whatever he wants, the monocular lunatic.

          • WPA says:

            Agreed. Somehow he’d manage to convince himself that the collapse of the Lannisters would leave Robb Stark right where he wanted him, and still attack the North.

    • witlesschum says:

      I wonder if upon hearing of Tywin’s death and the fact that Kevan can’t or won’t come to save King’s Landing through a source he believes Tyrion wouldn’t abandon the capital and run for the Rock, with as many of Tommen, Cersei and Joffery in tow as he can. If he doesn’t have help, he knows he can’t hold the city, but he should be able to hold out indefinitely if he can get to Casterly Rock.

      • jpmarchives says:

        Even if that probably would be the most sensible thing to do, that leaves the issue of Joffrey abandoning the throne. Already Joffrey is struggling with a legitimacy problem thanks to Stannis’ letter. The chances of anyone outside the Westerlands choosing to fight for him if he flees his”rightful” throne to hide in Casterly rock is practically nil. Stannis marches into KL unopposed, takes up residence in the Red Keep and devotes all of his attention on undermining whatever authority Joffrey has left. A potentially knock out blow without another battle needing to be fought.

  20. Claire says:


    First, I want to tell you how much I appreciate your analysis of the ASOIAF chapters! Each time, I am finding ideas I had not thought or new ways to see things. And for that, I am truly grateful. I am usually a “silent reader” of your blog, but I felt like, well… I can at least tell him how I appreciate it! 🙂

    I also want to inform you about a little mistake. You are quoting the chapter: “The Brave Companions were housed in the Widow’s Tower, so Arya need to nerve them.” It should have been: “The Brave Companions were housed in the Widow’s Tower, so Arya need not serve them.” English being my second language (I guess, it’s obvious!), sometimes I’m struggling to understand everything. But, for that one, I had to look in the book itself! :-))

    Again, thank you for your work. I’m really impressed!

  21. Roger says:

    Arya killings are motivated by indignation and rage in the first cases, but for no ethical reasons in the case of the old man in Braavos, in the last novel.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      You must’ve read a different chapter than I did.When she takes out the insurance salesman, she spends the previous several days searching for a reason- the guys an asshole, he’s tired of living, etc. She has to justify it to herself.

    • Laural H says:

      The insurance salesman has been brought to the attention of the Faceless Men specifically because the family of one of his clients didn’t get their payout after said client’s ship sank. I guess if you think reneging on insurance contracts is cool, there’s no “ethical reason” for him to die…

  22. Roger says:

    Harrenhal is restored by Tywin not just for its iconic value, but for military necessity. He needs it to keep his strategic situation. Remember Lady Whent had the castle in such bad state that it felt without resistance.

  23. Beat_Train says:

    …three dozen captives taken during some battle of the Green Fork of the Trident…four brothers took their exercise together every day…three of them were Freys of the Crossing, the fourth their bastard brother…two other brothers arrived under a peace banner with a chest of gold, and ransomed them…no one ransomed the northmen, though.

    I’ve always taken this as a sign that the Freys were tied to Tywin well before most assumed.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Not necessarily. We know Tywin was bombarding the North with messages about ransoms. It could just be that the Freys were the only ones with so little spine as to pay them.

      Indeed, how could the North even pay a ransom, with the Ironborn cutting off the Neck?

      • Beat_Train says:

        Ships and a lot of coastline. At the very least, it implies Walder Frey was exploring backup plans ahead of any broken promises.

    • Roger says:

      Hosteen said he wasn’t well treated by Tywin when he was his prisioner. So I don’t see any reason for believing that.
      It only shows that Roose Bolton used them as first-line troops at battle of Green Fork. Freys are only cannon fodder for him.

  24. Roger says:

    I wonder if Hoat somehow hoaxed Tywin. When he contracted the Brave Companions he probably wanted a crack troop, to compensate the lack of battle experience of his Westernmen. Remember the Lannisters didn’t fought at the Usurper’s War or at Balon Rebelion (at least not substantially). With other companies busy in the Free Cities, and little time to negotiate with the bigger ones (Golden Company was also a polytical risk), Tywin choose bad. Hoat and his bullies were the worst of the lot. They fled after the battle of Rivverrun and some even changed sides (probably Greenbear, of Dondarrion gang, was there).

    Due to their unability for battle, the brutaly pragmatic Tywin used them for the only thing they are good for: terror. Gregor men are also used for it, but as Steven said, they are also brave soldiers. Used as shock troops at Stone Mill.

    If Tywin could had contracted the Long Lances or the Windblown, probably Beric Dondarrion would have lasted less.

  25. […] Sansa can’t leave, hasn’t been trained to fight back, and Ser Dontos is hardly Jaqen H’ghar. There is no strategy to avoid the violence, because what Joffrey is after is sexualized […]

  26. […] fight, and have the gall to think of themselves as hard cases. Compare Theon’s crew to the Bloody Mummers, and the latter come off better for their basic honesty of purpose. And the greatest moral failing […]

  27. […] the last Arya chapter I noted that folktales and fairytales that deal with genies and wishes have a similar structure […]

  28. […] lost her father, we get the sense of a developing abandonment complex. To free these prisoners, to exert her will over her captors, is to consciously attempt to break this […]

  29. […] At the same time, we also know that Roose is right not so much because of his superior ability to judge what his opponent will do, but rather because Roose is communicating with Tywin in preparation for the Red Wedding and knows […]

  30. […] we know that these people are, to a man, murderers, robbers, and worse, and that their deaths probably make the world a better place. But on a literally visceral level, […]

  31. […] the latter, the larger-than-life extravagance (some might say over-compensation) of the castle – “its stables housed a thousand horses, its […]

  32. […] bandits and “broken men,” we see Beric Dondarrion nipping into the dialogue just like in Harrenhal, his legend as a Will-o’-the-Wisp outlaw growing with leaps and bounds every time his name is […]

  33. […] desperate to hang on to the physical autonomy that’s been her one constant except for the worst period in her life, and instead finds the one other thing she has been desperate for since the end of […]

  34. […] The fact that these desperate people share the food they’ve risked life and limb to hide from marauding foragers, and the fact that the outlaws share their game (which, given how scarce meat gets in war zones, is […]

  35. […] Mummers wouldn’t launch unprovoked ambushes against travelers, when we’ve seen them ravaging the Riverlands before and we’ll see them do it again at […]

  36. […] part of GRRM’s threefold revelations strategy: first, GRRM subtly hinted something was up in Arya VII of ACOK, now he’s laying it on more thickly, and then in Arya VI of this book he’ll show it […]

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