Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn III, ACOK

This one will never bend, she thought, yet she must try nonetheless. Too much was at stake.

Synopsis: Stannis and Renly meet at Storm’s End, with Catelyn Stark mediating. It doesn’t go well.

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:

I must admit to a certain apprehension in writing about Catelyn III, because I consider it to be *the* central chapter of A Clash of Kings. This is not the same thing as the climax – that’s clearly the epic setpiece Battle of the Blackwater – but rather, this is the chapter in which GRRM is most fully exploring and expounding on the central themes and arguments he’s developing through the novel. After all, this is A Clash of Kings, and this is the only moment in this book, indeed in the entire War of Five Kings, where two kings will directly clash. Every other conflict – whether it’s Robb at Oxcross, or Tywin at the Battle of the Fords, or Roose Bolton capturing Harrenhal, or Theon capturing Winterfell, or Stannis at King’s Landing – involves indirect warfare, as kings and princes and lords try to pounce on undefended territories (and thus reshape their enemies’ behavior) or counter such moves, without risking a king-to-king engagement. And thus, Catelyn III is where we get GRRM holding forth on the idea of kingship.

Bringing Peace to the Storm

Catelyn Stark gets something of a bad reputation as a “camerawoman” POV, that she’s not particularly active as an agent but exists to observe what more interesting characters are doing – and this chapter is often used as a key example. However, I think this is a misconception, especially in this chapter. Catelyn is very much an active presence here, a woman on a mission: “It would be no easy thing to forge a peace between these brothers, Catelyn knew, yet for the good of the realm, it must be tried.” In theater, one of the tests of good writing is whether all of the characters have something that they’re trying to get or accomplish in a given scene; while it might seem that the real action in Cat III is between Stannis and Renly as they struggle over which of them will give way, Catelyn Stark is just as engaged in trying to bring about an agreement between these two brothers.

I’ll discuss the substance of her mission a bit later, but one of the things that’s obvious from the very start is that the signs are not good. Consider the backdrop of this parlay:

Storm’s End had been raised in ancient days by Durran, the first Storm King…Elenei had yielded her maidenhood to a mortal’s love and thus doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and her grieving parents had unleashed their wrath…his friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls…when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild….His lords pleaded with him to build inland; his priests told him he must placate the gods by giving Elenei back to the sea; even his smallfolk begged him to relent. Durran would have none of it.

Storm’s End is a monument to insane stubbornness and irrational defiance, and as we’ll see in this chapter, the modern Baratheons have fully inherited that particular trait from their Durrandon ancestors. Thus, Catelyn’s mission is preordained to failure by the Durrandon blood these men share, the ancestral traits that are driving these two stags to butt antlers. As Jon Arryn might have said, the seed is too strong. At the same time, Storm’s End symbolizes another aspect of the inevitability of conflict: the castle is itself a symbol and foundation of the grievance between Stannis and Renly. This is the place where Stannis’ legendary stubbornness manifested in a siege defense carried out almost beyond the limits of the human body, the seat and power given to Renly, the younger brother, the reason why Stannis is endlessly bitter at his own kin and equally endlessly resented by them for his sourness.

Ted_nasmith_a_song_of_ice_and_fire_storms_endAt the same time, Storm’s End‘s construction also marks it out as a mystery, very similar to that of Winterfell. Leaving aside the legend of the sea god (another possible link between the Drowned God of the Iron Islands and the Stormlands?) and the goddess of the wind, consider the nature of this “castle like no other.” The “great curtain wall was a hundred feet high” is self-explanatory as a defensive measure, but why does the wall have no “arrow slit or postern” for the defenders to fire or sally forth from? Why is the curtain wall “forty feet thick at its narrowest, and near eighty on the seaward face,” the direction where no human army could actually assault from? Why is there only one “colossal drum tower, windowless where it faced the sea,” into which the entire castle’s “granary and barracks and feast hall and lord’s dwelling” are concentrated, rather than spread out across the interior?

As with Winterfell, I think the answer is magical in nature, but I’ll discuss that in the next Davos chapter.

Leaving the castle aside, the point here is that the foreshadowing is being laid down that the brothers are going to be excessively Baratheon this chapter. Renly kicks it off with an extremely petty move: “Renly would be last to arrive. He had told her as much when she set out…the first to arrive must wait on the other, and Renly would do no waiting. It is a sort of game kings play.” Stannis for his part arrives first, and immediately starts in obsessing about past slights and being socially awkward, as is his wont:

“I am sorry for your lord’s death…though Eddard Stark was no friend to me.”

“He was never your enemy, my lord. When the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne held you prisoned in that castle, starving, it was Eddard Stark who broke the siege.

“At my brother’s command not for me….Lord Eddard did his duty, I will not deny it. Did I ever do less? I should have been Robert’s Hand.”

“That was your brother’s will. Ned never wanted it.”

“Yet he took it. That which should have been mine.”

“…To take the city, I need the power of those southron lords I see across the field. My brother has them. I must needs take them from him.”

“I have no quarrel with Renly, should he prove dutiful. I am his elder and his king. I want only what is mine by right. I mean to have it. From him, and from these other lords.”

“Kings have no friends…only subjects and enemies.”

At the same time, for all his off-putting ways, there is a core of justice to Stannis Baratheon. Of the two brothers, Stannis is the one who promises that “I give you my word, you shall have justice for his murder,” privately as opposed to Renly’s public offer, and moreover is the only one who agrees that “if your children are found when I take the city, they shall be sent to you.” As with so much else, Stannis has substance but no presentation, and Renly all style and no substance.

An Argument of Kings

It’s ironic that, in a book about the War of Five Kings, when the two kings meet, they don’t come to blows (either in single combat or a more dubious Daeron I-style assassination), but rather engage in an argument about monarchy. It’s a rather complicated argument, operating on many layers (much like an onion). First, there is a disagreement between the two about the very nature of monarchy – where royal legitimacy comes from, how the succession should function. Second, there is a disagreement over the truth of Stannis’ letter. Third, there is a disagreement over their dueling peace offers. And forth and finally, there are their personal conflicts that prevent peace.

In this section, I’ll be addressing these different layers sequentially. However, to fully grasp what’s going on here, you’ll need to have read Hollow Crowns, Part IV, where I’ve already done much of the analysis of how Stannis and Renly view the monarchy, because it’s a good essay that you should read, but also because I’ll be referring to it repeatedly.

An Argument of Kings: On the Nature of Monarchy

Stannis studied her, unsmiling. “The Iron Throne is mine by rights. All those who would deny that are my foes.”

“The whole of the realm denies it, brother…old men deny it with their death rattle, and unburn children deny it in their mothers’ wombs. They deny it in Dorne and they deny it on the Wall. No one wants you for their king.”

As I discuss in my essay, it’s telling that Stannis and Renly’s disagreement begins at a foundational level of what monarchy is and where the right to rule comes from. Stannis’ theory is grounded in legalism and the right of succession by blood, which reflects both his own obsessions with law and justice, the fact that he’s just spent a couple years of his life investigating the paternity of the Queen’s children, and a small bit of self-interest (at least to the extent of a deep desire for recognition and respect) that he happens to be the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

For his part, Renly argues for a charismatic theory of monarchy – which is handy, given that he’s the most charismatic of the two brothers. However, it needs to be pointed out that Renly is not a proto-democrat, for all that he references “the whole of the realm.” We’ll see this very clearly in Catelyn IV when he shuts down the idea of settling the civil war via Great Council. Rather, Renly is putting a good face on the political theory that “might makes right” – as he sees it:

 “Tyrell swords will make me king. Rowan and Tarly and Caron will make me king…Tarth swords and Penrose lances, Fossoway, Cuy, Mullendore, Estermont, Selmy, Hightower, Oakheart, Crane, Caswell, Blackbar, Morrigen, Beesbury, Shermer, Dunn, Footly, even House Florent…they will make me king.”

As I explain in my Hollow Crowns essay, this is an incredibly dangerous and tyrannical idea, dressed up in the attractive clothing of populism, and threatening the destabilization of the monarchy. To win the crown, Renly is putting himself in the hands of the Tyrells, making them the true power behind the Iron Throne. And while it’s true that Renly has more skill and understanding of politics than Robert did (even as Renly attempts to parallel his actions to Robert’s), Robert had the advantage of a broad coalition; with the support of the Tullys, Arryn, Starks, and the Baratheons, he wasn’t reliant on any one House for their support, even the Lannisters.

The larger point here is that both of these candidates, the only kings who could credibly try to topple Joffrey off the Iron Throne (since neither Robb nor Balon are claiming it), would be terrible kings, with no real thought for the good of their subjects, and no interest in protecting them. Stannis might be correct about his rights, but his stubborn refusal to let go of his grievances would have made him a vindictive, backward-looking monarch. It won’t be until Stannis is forced by defeat to mature and forced by Davos to re-examine his theory of the monarchy and put the good of the realm first (much as Varys would have wanted, ironically) that he becomes a king worth following. As for Renly…well, unfortunately for him, he won’t live long enough to get a second chance.

An Argument of Kings: A Debate on Truth

As Catelyn points out, Stannis’ own conception of monarchy as founded on the right of inheritance by blood hinges on the truth of his public statement about the paternity of Cersei’s children:

“You are very free to name others traitor and usurper, my lord, yet how are you any different, you say you alone are the rightful king, yet it seems to me that Robert had two sons. By all the laws of the Seven Kingdoms…we are all traitors, however good our reasons.

“Joffrey is not my brother’s seed…nor is Tommen. They are bastards. The girl as well. All three of them abominations born of incest.”

“Isn’t that a sweet story, my lady?…I was camped at Horn Hill when Lord Tarly received his letter, and I must say, it took my breath away…I had never suspected you were so clever, Stannis. Were it only true, you would indeed be Robert’s heir.”

“Were it true? Do you name me a liar?”

“Can you prove any word of this fable?”

“Lord Stannis…if you knew the queen to be guilty…why did you keep silent?”

“I did not keep silent…I brought my suspicions to Jon Arryn…from me, such accusations would have seemed peevish and self-serving, a means of placing myself first in the line of succession. I believed Robert would be more disposed to listen if the charges came from Lord Arryn, who he loved.”

“Ah,” said Renly. “So we have the word of a dead man.”

“…Cersei had him poisoned, for fear he would reveal her. Lord Jon had been gathering certain proofs-“

“-which doubtless died with him. How inconvenient…”

“My sister Lysa accused the queen of killing her husband in a letter she sent me at Winterfell…”

Several threads come together here: Catelyn’s presence is absolutely key to this debate, because she provides a link back to Lysa’s letter, the attack on Bran (although she won’t put two-and-two together until next Catelyn chapter), and Ned’s investigation. And her confirmation of Stannis’ claims is important, because it throws into harsh relief Renly’s pretense of skepticism and disbelief. It suits Renly at this moment to pretend that he was ignorant of the incest, because as long as Joffrey is the rightful king, Stannis and Renly are equal as traitors (as Catelyn acknowledges) and the choice between them can be reduced to the qualities of the individual.

But beneath Renly’s appearance of doubt (and how appropriate is it that all of Renly’s challenges to Stannis’ letter are all about the appearance of Stannis’ argument rather than the fact of the claim?), he absolutely knew the truth all along. I recognize that this is a rather controversial claim, but bear with me. Let us begin with the fact that all of the Small Council – Littlefinger, Varys, Pycelle, Jon Arryn, Stannis, and Eddard – knew about the incest. Does it seem likely that someone with Renly’s skill in the game of thrones would be the only one to be ignorant of the truth, to not have spies on Cersei to overhear or see her coupling with Jaime or to not have spies on Jon Arryn or Stannis or Eddard to find out what they had uncovered? Moreover, consider Renly’s offer to Ned in AGOT: why would Renly fear for his life at Cersei’s hands if he didn’t know that a live Baratheon was an existential threat to Cersei (or if he thought Cersei knew he knew)? Third, as Stannis himself points out, Renly’s Tyrell Conspiracy doesn’t make sense if he didn’t know:

“A year ago you were scheming to make the girl one of Robert’s whores.”

“A year ago, I was scheming to make the girl Robert’s queen…but what does it matter?”

If Renly thought that Joffrey and Tommen were legitimate heirs, there’s no point in making Margaery Robert’s queen. Even if Robert set aside Cersei as Queen Consort, she would remain Queen Mother to the Crown Prince of Westeros, and the future King Joffrey would surely revenge himself on the woman who displaced his mother and the men who supported her. Nor would Mace Tyrell agree to marry his daughter if it didn’t mean he would get what he wants most, “that one day he may see his grandson with his arse on the Iron Throne.” (ASOS) Those who argue that the Tyrells would simply try to displace Cersei’s children with Margaery’s children miss a vital point: there would be no legal means of doing so. When the Hightowers attempted to replace the Arryns in the succession during the reign of Viserys I, they could argue that a male child comes before a female child; when Unwin Peake sought to replace Queen Jaehaera with his own daughter, Jaehaera and King Aegon III had had no issue; when the Hightowers and the Harroways and Tyanna of the Tower attempted to supplant one another in the succession through Maegor, they did so because Maegor had no heirs.

The only way for Mace to achieve his ambitions, and for Renly to persuade him that a marriage between Margaery and Robert was the way to do it would be to put Joffrey and Tommen out of the line of succession. Indeed, given the extreme difficulty of a King putting aside his wife – see Aegon IV and his wife Naerys – there would also need to be a reason to set Cersei aside. And the reason for both of these things was there at hand: Cersei’s incest and the illegitimacy of her sons.

And there is one final piece of evidence as to why Renly knew – and the evidence was living under his own roof for the last twelve years. Everyone who’s ever looked Edric Storm in the face has seen the living image of Robert Baratheon and compared that to the utter lack of semblance between Robert and Joffrey, and Renly would have seen Edric regularly. Once again, Renly was not a stupid man and as Varys says, “the bastards were there for all to see…so when Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen slid out between your sister’s thighs, each as golden as the sun, the truth was not hard to glimpse.” And with Loras Tyrell fostered at Storm’s End as Renly’s page and squire, Renly would have the perfect witness to testify to Mace Tyrell that Cersei and her children could be set aside at the opportune moment.

No wonder Renly defaults to “you may have the better claim, Stannis, but I still have the larger army.” 

An Argument of Two Kings: The Peace Offers

Unlike previous peace offers, here the actual terms aren’t that far apart. Arguably, what we’re seeing here is not so much a negotiation but a stare-down, as the issue is who takes the offer:

“I propose that you dismount, bend your knee, and swear me your allegiance…if truth be told, I’ve never liked you, Stannis, but you are my own blood, and I have no wish to slay you. So if it is Storms End you want, take it…as a brother’s gift.”

“It is not yours to give. It is mine by rights.”

“I am not without mercy,” thundered he who was notoriously without mercy…”Strike your banners and come to me before dawn, and I will grant you Storm’s End and your old seat on the council and even name you my heir until a son is born to me. Otherwise I shall destroy you.”

On the face of it, these aren’t terrible offers – Storm’s End, the Lord Paramountcy of the Stormlands, and in Stannis’ case, the position of Crown Prince of Westeros, as the price of standing aside. The problem is one of personal factors causing both to present the offers in their worst light. While it’s probably the case that Stannis couldn’t particularly help himself turning a peace offer into an open threat (he was being baited after all), Renly is skilled enough at politics to know that opening peace talks with a series of insults about Stannis’ popularity, his own superior virtues, his dislike for Stannis, and a statement that Stannis is a cuckold is a bad way to go about it. There really isn’t good faith on either side here – Renly clearly has no interest in peace, and Stannis believes that Renly is destined to die.

As historical theories go, this is as good a brief for the Great Man Theory (or individual agency) as you can get. The course of Westerosi history is being decided here by the fact that Stannis and Renly simply can’t stand each other.

And this is a major – if not the major – turning point in the War of Five King. If either of these two candidates had taken the other up on their offer, the Lannisters cannot win the War of Five Kings.  According to Errant Bard’s timeline, at the very moment that Renly and Stannis are conferring, Robb Stark has destroyed Stafford Lannister’s army at Oxcross and will force Tywin to march west. If their horse had ridden to King’s Landing at this very moment, they would have hit the city the same day that Tywin marches west to Riverrun, 380 miles from the capitol, too far away to to relieve the capitol. Instead, the delay caused by their conflict will delay Stannis marching for another three weeks, just long enough for Tywin to fight the Battle of the Fords and make it back to King’s Landing.

And of course, the only one who recognizes this is Catelyn Stark, who really becomes an actor rather than an observer in this part of the chapter, as she offers a third proposal:

“If you and your brother were to put aside your quarrel-“

“We three share a common foe who would destroy us all.”

“This is folly…Lord Tywin sits at Harrenhal with twenty thousand swords. The remnants of the Kingslayer’s army have regrouped at the Golden Tooth, another Lannister host gathers beneath the shadow of Casterly Rock, and Cersei and her son hold King’s Landing and your precious Iron Throne.”

“Listen to yourselves! If you were sons of mine, I would bang your heads together and lock you in a bedchamber until you remembered that you were brothers.”

“We ought to be hammering out the terms of an alliance…”

Cat’s proposal – that Stannis and Renly should temporarily set aside their quarrel, join with the Starks, and destroy the Lannisters – is a good one. If there is a failing here, it’s that Catelyn doesn’t press the politics of her argument hard enough. As the second-largest army in Westeros, the Starks should have thrown their weight around and “held out the hand of friendship” to whichever of the brothers agreed to Catelyn’s proposal, while threatening to ally with the enemy of whichever brother rejected it first. In return, why not offer that Robb Stark might bend the knee as she’ll do next chapter?

Interestingly, Catelyn also enters the debate over the nature of kingship, portraying her son as an elected monarch, who “reigns as King in the North, by the will of our lords and people,” and who uses his powers for the common wealyou each name yourself king, yet the kingdom bleeds,  and no one lifts a sword to defend it but my son.” This is a slightly odd argument – Catelyn has always defined the purpose of the war in terms of her family’s interests as opposed to some larger conception of the common good, and she will continue to do so in the future. To some extent, this suggests that GRRM needed a mouthpiece for this perspective and simply used Catelyn.


The War of Five Kings: The Siege of Storm’s End (299 AC)

The funny thing about Catelyn III from a military perspective – and we’ll see more of this in Catelyn IV – is that this is a chapter about a battle that doesn’t happen, as the armies of Stannis and Renly never actually come to blows at Storm’s End. However, there are some odd things going on here that should be examined. First, there is the question of Renly’s army:

“Tyrell swords will make me king. Rowan and Tarly and Caron will make me king…Tarth swords and Penrose lances, Fossoway, Cuy, Mullendore, Estermont, Selmy, Hightower, Oakheart, Crane, Caswell, Blackbar, Morrigen, Beesbury, Shermer, Dunn, Footly, even House Florent…they will make me king. All the chivalry of the south rides with me, and that is the least part of my power. My foot is coming behind, a hundred thousand swords and spears and pikes.”

…when he’d learned of his brother’s assault on Storm’s End, Renly had split his forces…his great mass of foot he had left behind at Bitterbridge with his young queen…while Renly himself led his knights and freedriders in a swift dash east….

As I mentioned in the last Catelyn chapter, there’s something strange about this army. To begin with, even though Renly claims the support of House Hightower, House Caswell, House Shermer, House Dunn, House Footly, and House Blackbar, their banners didn’t show up at Bitterbridge when we saw this army last. Moreover, the numbers have changed. Previously, Renly had claimed to have 80,000 men at Bitterbridge, which would mean 60,000 foot were left there – but here, Renly is claiming to have 100,000 foot in addition to the 20,000 cavalry here. Now, it’s quite possible that Renly’s lying or exaggerating here, but it’s important to know how many men have been left behind at Bitterbridge and what will happen to them.

Moreover, there’s a problem with the representation of Houses here – Renly names 22 Houses as present (via their banners), of which 16 are of the Reach, and only 6 are of the Stormlands – which would suggest that 72% of his cavalry is of the Reach. And yet, 80% of this army is going to go over to Stannis following the events of Catelyn IV – but you’d assume that most of the defectors would be Stormlanders. Moreover, while we know that the Reach Houses Florent, Meadows, Mullendore, Crane, and Fossoways (along with the Varners, who Renly doesn’t mention and don’t show up in Catelyn II but who shows up later) will side with Stannis instead of their liege lord Mace Tyrell, the Rowans, Oakhearts, Tarlys, Tyrells, Cuys, and Beesburys don’t (nor presumably do the other Reacher houses Renly claims support from who haven’t shown up) – and given that those Houses are 27% of the total number, how did Stannis get 80% of Renly’s cavalry? (And for that matter, how is it that between the Reach and the Stormlands, there’s only 20,000 cavalry?)

Likewise, there’s some weirdness with the Stormlands Houses as well. Renly mentions the Houses Tarth, Penrose, Morrigen, Estermont, Selmy, and Caron, but only the Morrigens, Estermonts, and Carons will see action under Stannis’ banner. Moreover, Stannis will have the support of the Stormlands houses Connington, Errol, Hasty, Bollings, Horpe, Peasebury, Fell, Wylde, Grandison, and Wensington, even though they haven’t shown up at all to date. (There’s also a number of Crownlands Houses who show up that I will discuss later) Now, while some of these are perhaps not important enough to be mentioned, the Conningtons, Errols, Fells, Peaseburys, and Wyldes are significant houses with named castles, and yet they haven’t been mentioned by Renly or Catelyn.

This feels to me like GRRM letting the world-building slip a bit.

Regardless – up against Renly’s 20,000 cavalry, Stannis has only “five thousand and be generous, codfish lords and onion knights and sellswords…you have fewer than four hundred horse, my scouts tell me.” It would seem as if he was drawing dead at Storm’s End unless he was entirely trusting to Melisandre, which seems out of character for an arch-combat pragmatist like Stannis.

My own suspicion is that Stannis had something very different in mind when he came down to Storm’s End: with less than 400 horse, he’s certainly not planning to meet Renly head-on in a traditional clash of knightly charges. Rather, given what we learn of Stannis’ army from the Prologue, Stannis has an overwhelming advantage when it comes to infantry (especially archers), and has had time to construct fieldworks: “Stannis Baratheon’s foragers had cut the trees down for his siege towers and catapults.” I think that Stannis planned for something like Crécy, in which the force of Renly’s cavalry would be blunted by earthworks and his disciplined infantry, leaving them vulnerable to his archers.

And had this battle taken place, it’s highly likely that Renly would have complied, because the inexperienced younger brother had left himself badly exposed and in need of a quick resolution, as Catelyn notes:

Ned would surely have prevailed upon Robert to bring up his whole force, to encircle Stannis and besiege the besiegers. That choice Renly had denied himself in his headlong rush to come to grips with his brother. He had outdistanced his supply lines, left food and forage days behind…he must come to battle soon, or starve.”

Moreover, when we see Renly’s command tent, we see that he’s planning an aggressive attack, and ignoring his best commander, by offering “Lord Mathis, you shall lead the center of my main battle. Bryce, you’ll have the left. The right is mine. Lord Estermont, you shall command the reserve…the greatest glory by rights belongs to the greatest knight. Ser Loras shall strike the first blow.” Even Mace Tyrell, no one’s idea of a great general, knew to put Randall Tarly in charge of his vanguard – and without his experience, there’s no way a glory-hungry Loras in his first battle is going to see a trap coming.

One major reason why Loras isn’t going to see it coming is that his mission is to kill Stannis for Renly. During their parlay, Renly mentions Lightbringer and quips that “Loras will make me a gift of it after the battle” – which obviously implies that Stannis is going to be dead. Renly will be a lot more open about this in Catelyn IV, but it’s clear that the moment he sees that Catelyn Stark gives credence to Stannis’ comments, he’s decided to kill his brother:

“Your brother is the lawful heir.”

“While he lives…”

“I ask your leave to return to Riverrun.”

“You do not have it…you shall see what befalls rebels with your own eyes, so your son can hear it from your own lips.” 

When the fandom discusses Renly Baratheon, especially in the context of whether Renly or Stannis would make a better king, one of the things that most often counts against Stannis is his supposed kinslaying. What’s more often overlooked is that Renly Baratheon is arguably more guilty of the same crime; as I’ll discuss in the next Davos chapter, Stannis’ culpability for the shadowbaby assassin is unclear, but Renly clearly intends to kill his brother, eliminate his claim to the Iron Throne, and wants Catelyn to witness this as a threat to her son. Underneath the pleasant surface, Renly’s substance is far darker than many think.

Historical Analysis:

When we last left George of Clarence in 1471, he’d been forgiven for his manifest treason and was now quarreling with his brother Richard over the estate of his father-in-law, the Kingmaker. In the wake of the Battles of Tewksbury and Barnet, the Lancastrian claim seemed completely obliterated, so Edward IV could enjoy the good life (which he did in full, increasingly giving himself over to wine, women, and food that would eventually turn the svelte warrior king into the image of Robert Baratheon). However, George of Clarence found himself largely on the outside of royal favor – he was given the Earldom of Warwick, although Richard’s marriage to Anne Neville meant he couldn’t get all the lands he believed himself due; by contrast, Richard was made the Lord President of the Council of the North, and relied upon by his brother for successful campaigns against Scotland and France.

By contrast…George went a little nuts. His wife Isabel died of postpartum infection in 1476,  and George had Ankarette Twynyho, her lady-in-waiting, arrested, charged with murder by poisoning, and then proceeded to:

“caused her to be brought to the Guildhall at Warwick before divers of the justices of the peace in the county then sitting in sessions and caused her to be indicted…the justices arraigned the said Ankarette and a jury appeared and found her guilty and it was considered that she should be led from the bar there to the gaol of Warwick and from thence should be drawn through the town to the gallows of Myton and hanged till she were dead, and the sheriff was commanded to do execution and so he did, which indictment, trial and judgment were done and given within three hours of the said Tuesday, and the jurors for fear gave the verdict contrary to their conscience, in proof whereof divers of them came to the said Ankarette in remorse and asked her forgiveness.”

After this little quasi-murder, Clarence then tried to re-marry in 1477, this time to Mary Duchess of Burgundy, which Edward IV squashed (not wanting his disloyal brother to be Duke of the Low Countries), causing Clarence to leave the court.

At which point, he apparently began consulting Dr. John Stacey, an Oxford astrologist and magician, trying to find out when Edward IV would die, and if possible, bring it about by black magic. This, plus apparent attempts to start up yet another rebellion, pushed Edward over the line, and he had George attainted, and then executed. The story that George was drowned in a but of malmsey wine was only mentioned after his death, but may have been an allusion to George’s descent into alcoholism after the death of Isabel.

One of the funnier bits of Tudor propaganda was the attempt by William Shakespeare to turn the compulsively treasonous George into an innocent condemned to the Tower and murdered by Richard III to send Edward IV to an early grave. Never has anyone less deserved a posthumous redemption.

What If?

Man, there are some fascinating hypotheticals in this chapter. So let’s jump right into them:

  • Stannis accepts Renly’s offer? Now, this one is the least likely. Let’s face it, Stannis would probably die rather than back down. But if Stannis had a complete personality transplant, Renly would absolutely steamroll the Lannisters, albeit not without some pretty high casualties before Renly realizes the value of Randall Tarly. Especially with Balon Greyjoy taking Moat Cailin, Robb Stark would likely bend the knee to Renly, while retaining the title of King in the North. Especially without suffering the losses of Duskendale and the Ruby Ford, and without the Riverlanders being in danger and needing to stay home, Robb would easily have enough manpower to retake the North. The interesting thing is what happens in the south – do the Tyrells become the new Lannisters, overreaching in-laws who try to monopolize power and antagonize the other Great Houses? Does Melisandre strike down King Renly to put King Stannis in his place? How does Littlefinger and Varys adapt to a new political order?
  • Renly accepts Stannis’ offer? This one actually makes a lot more sense for Renly, if he were inclined to be cautious – he’s young, his wife’s family makes him incredibly powerful, and Stannis is unlikely to have a male heir. Militarily, things go even better than before – Stannis is too skilled a general to make some of Renly’s mistakes, which likely results in a much lower casualty bill. Politically, things get very tricky – Renly is definitely waiting for Stannis to die as soon as possible, and we know the Tyrells are not above a spot of assassination; likewise, I imagine Stannis probably alienates a lot of people as king, with Renly acting as the “good cop” in the wings and everyone choosing between the King’s party and the Prince’s party, as happened in the reign of Aegon IV (not that I’m comparing the two).
  • Stannis accepts Catelyn’s offer? Here’s where I think Catelyn failing to bring Robb Stark’s allegiance into question held her back. As we saw in the Prologue, Stannis isn’t above allying with the Starks as long as he’s not being shamed by his wife, and especially if Robb Stark is willing to bend the knee, I think that solves his problem. Especially in comparison to the Reach and Stormlands lords whose allegiance he accepts later, I think Stannis understands Robb’s position, even while his own absolute commitment to justice bars him from acknowledging it. The political consequences are rather interesting here: now Renly has to deal with the fact that Stannis now has two Kingdoms backing him just as Renly does, and all of the sudden Stannis looks a lot more politically viable even without his brother’s army. You might get an interesting situation in which Stannis sets sail from Dragonstone, lands on the north bank of the Trident to link up with Robb’s forces there, and then marches on King’s Landing. Alternatively, if Stannis accepts this offer and then Renly dies, you might get one hell of a donnybrook if the Battle of Blackwater gets altered with, say, Edmure pushing east and Roose Bolton pushing south, after the Battle of the Fords to hit Tywin’s rear just as Tywin hits Stannis’ flank.
  • Renly accepts Catelyn’s offer? I’ve already discussed this a bit in Catelyn’s previous chapter, but the best Stark scenario at this point is if the post-Renly Tyrells defect into their camp instead of the Lannisters, on the grounds that they have a deal with the Starks already and the Starks have a young king on hand. As I’ve argued before, there’s no point in Robb Stark staying loyal to disloyal Freys – if he has to break his word to get the Tyrells to back him and absolutely destroy the Lannisters, Machiavellian theory says he should do it.
  • Both of them accepted Catelyn’s offer? I’ll discuss this in greater depth in next Catelyn chapter once she brings up the Great Council theory, but the politics of such a scenario are quite interesting. If an alliance of Three Kings eliminate the Lannisters, a number of possible outcomes could occur: possibly, you could get Westeros splintering into the Kingdom of the North, the Kingdom of the South, and the Kingdom of the Middle. Possibly, you could get some very interesting negotiations in the Great Council – who votes for the Westerlands with the Lannisters out of the picture? Which way does Robb vote his two kingdoms? Do the Vale and Dorne take part, and which way do they vote? Do the Iron Islands participate, or are they too busy fighting the Starks and/or the Tyrells? More on this later.

Book vs. Show:

I don’t really have much to say about the adaptation of this scene – as far as I’m concerned, the show executed from the books absolutely perfectly, and I now have the show’s image of this scene in my head when I read the chapter. Besides that, I love the ad-lib about Stannis being a ham.


200 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn III, ACOK

  1. somethinglikealawyer says:

    I will confess to a fair amount of anticipation for this chapter, and you didn’t disappoint. Easily one of my favorite chapters in ACOK.

    I’ve studied more Japanese and Arabian military history than Europe, but I loved the Crecy comparison. I always got a sense of occassion for this battle, and I was thinking something along the lines of the Battle of Nagashino as a way Stannis could have pulled off slaying Renly on the field of battle. He doesn’t have the numbers and muskets haven’t been invented yet, but he does have infantry, and with a little effort, he could have had a wood-and-earth bulwark and had his infantry take down the charging knights with spears while his bowmen make pincushions of Renly’s slower infantry.

    I don’t think Stannis would be believing in Melisandre’s power until after she proves Renly dead, so that was my thought, but Crecy fits more in line with the disposition of forces than Nagashino, so good observation there.

    One ting I’ve always wondered is what would have happened if Stannis had allied with Robb Stark here. I’ve wondered just how many Stormlords might lose faith in Renly and defect to Stannis’s army, as might the Florents, which could bring Stannis’s force in a rough parity, or at least formidable enough that it cows Renly into submission. I wonder if the religious question would be raised this early in the game, though.

    Though I wonder what Varys and Littlefinger would do with that development. If either one of them jumped ship to safer harbors, that sort of defection might further shake King’s Landing.

    • Grant says:

      It’s off topic, but would you have anything to recommend on the Arabs? I find that you can find books on Japan (disproportionately on the late-period samurai of course), but Arab military and warfare is much harder to find. Kind of strange actually, considering how the Arabs were a major issue for Europe for a very long time, while there was barely any conflict between samurai-led armies and Western forces.

      As for Stannis, given the sheer disparity of numbers it’s still one heck of a gamble, but quite possible that he simply realized he could either choose to fight now and have some chance at victory through his brother’s recklessness, or Stannis could choose to allow himself to be pushed aside.
      And for the show, you do have to wonder exactly how Melisandre got into Stannis’ confidence so quickly. Did she show off some power offscreen? Was not dying from poison enough to make him gamble?

      • somethinglikealawyer says:

        Which era of Arabian history are you looking for?

        • Grant says:

          In my own studies of political science, the past century or so is the most immediately relevant, but I’m hardly picky on chances to read more on topics that don’t get the attention they deserve.

          • somethinglikealawyer says:

            House of Many Mansions, by Kamal Salibi. A fascinating book about the Lebanese civil war.

            The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk. Fisk’s work is excellent, and this is one of his top pieces.

            The Fighting Cameliers, by Frank Reid. This one is a lot of fun to read. Not am academic piece by a long shot, but a treasure to read. Discusses Palestine campaign during WWI.

            No God but God, by Reza Aslan. This is essential reading and offers great insight into the religious elements that colored and continue to color conflicts in the Middle East to the present day.

            The Accidental Guerilla, by David Kilcullen. This book explains a great deal about insurgent tactics and mindset, even if it isn’t Middle East specific. Many modern conflicts have strong correlation to the concepts explained in this book.

      • I might have something for you on that subject in a bit. But the announcement isn’t quite ready.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it!

      Yes, you’re right, Nagashino makes for a good parallel as well.

      As I’ll discuss in the next Davos chapter, one of the interesting things about Stannis as a political figure is that, while his letter doesn’t seem to work initially, his cause really takes off the moment he gets a credible army. So it would seem to me that if Stannis suddenly went from 5,000 men to 45,000 men, that would change the political calculus greatly.

  2. Karl says:

    Great as always. But, is this a typo?

    “topple Joffrey off the Iron Throne (since neither Robb nor Joffrey are claiming it)”

    Shouldn’t that second Joff read Balon? Or did I miss something?

  3. winnie says:

    Wonderful as always Steve but I wouldn’t use the word “stubborn” to describe the Baratheons but rather “bullheaded” though that still doesn’t do them justice.

    ITA that Renly or at least strongly suspected the Twincest and also that Renly taking his brother’s offer would have been the best outcome with the deal possibly sweetened by finding a Reach groom for Princess Shireen?

    One thing the show added that I really liked was showing Stannis mourn his brother-it showed him as human after all.

    As you note at this time neither brother has a great argument for being King and personally I hope that when all this is over the Throne *is* decided by a Great Council.

    Definiteky something mystical about Storm’s End.

    And yeah it is curious this is the ONLY time during the whole war that any of the Kings meet face to face.

    • Grant says:

      The problems with a Great Council are that both figures have reason to be worried about the outcome (Renly’s legally dubious move and the mess it could cause and Stannis’ unpopularity) and that both would have to please the lords to get their votes. In contrast, military victory would settle it for either of them quickly and they would owe far fewer people.

      • OTL says:

        A brilliant military victory would also give Renly the ‘Trident like’ legitimacy that Robert had.

        • David Hunt says:

          Robert also had the advantage that he was a very close relative of Aerys and Raegar. This is one of, perhaps the biggest, reasons the rebels decide that they’re backing Robert instead of Jon Arryn or Ned. That legitimacy, plus the manifest justifications they had in rebelling vs allowing their own summary executions, wouldn’t have meant anything if they hadn’t won, but I’m sure it helped shore up the early years of Robert’s Reign after they achieved victory

          • Chinoiserie says:

            Renly would have also had an advantage of being Robert´s brother. Since Viserys and Danaerys lived the Targaryan ancestry would have only been mildly helpful the same way Renly´s being Robert´s younger brother would have been.

          • Grant says:

            It’s not really a brilliant victory if you won a battle that, given the disparity of numbers, you should have won anyway.

      • Good point. I’ll discuss this in much greater detail in Cat IV. Renly especially has a lot to lose.

    • Well, bullheaded means stubborn…

      Agreed to all points.

  4. JT says:

    I don’t think Catelyn can be characterized as a camera. She’s not always affecting the world around her in every chapter like Tyrion is, but she does a lot to change the trajectory of the story – see kidnapping of Tyrion, releasing Jaime, bringing Brienne into her service.

    Areo Hotah is camera. He has no real opinions on the world around him, and he only serves to show what Doran Martell is doing without revealing Doran’s thoughts.

    • winnie says:

      All valid points and yet another reason no one liked Hotah’s chapters.

      • Jaime'slefthand says:

        I like Hotah. I want him, Barristan, Tormund Giantsbane, The Blackfish, and The Greatjon to all show up at the wall and make the White Walker army implode due to overexposure to sheer awesome badassery.

        • Jaime'slefthand says:

          I also actually enjoy the chapters. I suppose I like the fact that someone is patiently observing without trying to force their own agenda all the time. It’s refreshing, and it feels like Hotah is in the same position as a reader. Plus the Martells are interesting to observe. I understand why this would not work all the time and why people might dislike his chapters.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      I agree. I kind of think Hotah is a radical experiment in close third-person narration, where the speaker is actually not the POV, but is so closely aligned in interest with the POV as to be functionally identical as a narrator, but without the POV’s knowledge to spoil the fun. His chapters were much more interesting when I simply read them as Doran I and Doran II.

    • I don’t think so either, but it is a common complaint.

    • zonaria says:

      I doubt Martin would create a character whose instincts are to “serve, protect, obey” without him being ordered to do something pretty unpleasant somewhere along the line.

  5. Grant says:

    When I commented on the Great Council issue a moment ago, a thought occurred to me about Renly and Stannis. In The Prince, Machiavelli specifically mentions that a figure who comes to power through the efforts of others will find it easy to take power, but very hard to hold it. In contrast, a figure who comes to power by their own effort will find it difficult to take power, but once in power they will find it much easier to retain. I’m not so certain about the latter (or at least I’d want to know if Machiavelli meant hegemonic power), but I wonder if Martin wrote Renly and Stannis to deliberately evoke this issue.

    • winnie says:

      Good point Grant. But for the record I wasnt saying a Great Council could have settled things then…..but that its a likely future solution when nobody feels like fighting each other anymore instead of the White Walkers.

      Also that point applies to Cersei and Joffrey who essentially came to power because of Tywin rather than their own merits-and neither one showed much ability to retain it.

    • That’s true, but Machiavelli was speaking more specifically about coming into power with the aid of someone else’s army, not being elected to power. The man was a staunch small-r republican, after all.

      • Grant says:

        I was referring more to the different situations Renly and Stannis face over their time in the books. Renly was in a situation where he was forced to seek the aid of another faction so that he could claim power, and in doing so he acquired a great force, but probably would have had serious trouble maintaining stability and would have had to rely on Tyrell military might which would have left his freedom for policy limited. In contrast Stannis has used only what he himself has, and if he came to power he would have his own force to call upon and could pursue the policies he prefers.

        Given that Martin specifically has Tywin called a lion and a fox to evoke Machiavelli’s description of what a prince should be, I do think that the differences between Renly and Stannis may have been intentional.

        However I’d argue that the basic argument works in electoral politics as well, even if Machiavelli may not have recognized it given how democracy has changed from his time. In 1930s Spain one of the many problems the pre-war minority government faced was that it was reliant on the further-left parties, and so very incapable of restraining political violence and further polarization which ultimately led to the civil war (and, ironically, the dominance of the right for about forty years after). Most examples aren’t going to be that extreme, but being an elected figure or political party that needs the support of distinct figures who are stronger than you is never a pleasant position to be in.

  6. OTL says:

    Does anybody think that maybe Martin is highlighting the stupidity of monarchy in general? Instead of asking “What makes a good king?” Isn’t the lesson of Clash that Mance (who has no ‘blood’ claim to anything) is the best King of them all? I mean the fact that people will follow Joffrey just because of who they believe his father is? Or that together Renly and Stannis would make a perfect ruler but monarchy doesn’t allow this?

    God knows I prefer Stannis to Renly but Stannis really does have flaws. Some he overcomes, others he doesn’t. For instance there’s no point following the letter of the law if it’s completely wrong; but that’s a whole other ball game.

    In terms of book v show, in the “making of” video for this episode the producers say that Staniss would be a “terrible” King, and not in the way you mean. They then contrast Renly favourably with Stannis. Still the producers have slowly been improving Stannis over time and hopefully that will continue in season 5. On the other hand I wouldn’t be too surprised if they make Stannis prejudiced towards the Wildlings and it has to be Jon who persuades him to join the 7 Kingdoms…

    One more thing, I love the Crackpot theory on the ‘Manifesto’ website that Stannis’ plan B was to use Lightbringer to blind Renly’s cavalry charge (all 20k of them)?!

    • winnie says:

      There’s no question this whole series is designed to make shatter any and all illusions that monarchy is a good or even stable system of government.

      • OTL says:

        I think that’s the correct interpretation but, at the same time, most of the fandom seems unwilling to admit this and instead argues about a) the legality of the claimants and b) who most deserves to be King/Queen.

        • MightyIsobel says:

          I agree, and this chapter is an excellent example. The characters are deeply concerned with the legal claims and the suitability of the claimants, but for readers to adopt those concerns as our own is to miss so much of what is happening here.

          • Amestria says:

            Who has the better legal claim is no small matter. Had the lawful succession been followed, as opposed to defied and schemed against, the War of Five Kings would have been avoided or seriously mitigated. The lawful system of government has broken down because powerful actors have either chosen to break it down themselves or have decided to let it break down so they could pick up the pieces. The problem with Westeros is its a system where people matter more then law. Hereditary monarchy has its advantages in the premodern world. Edward Gibbon remarked that it might seem ridiculous for the bravest and wisest men to bow low before the cradle of an infant upon the death of his father, but this saves everyone from the dangerous pastime of finding themselves a master, a pastime that in larger countries will inevitably involve armies and appeals to pure force (as happened in the Roman Empire).

          • WPA says:

            Agreed with Amestria. This not a world or society that is going to switch to a parliamentary democracy or representative republic anytime soon. The vest that can be hoped for is a system of good faith actors and enough checks and balances to keep from going entirely off kilter.

      • ad says:

        I’d find that more convincing if the author had introduced another system and suggested it to be superior. It seems to me that GRRM is thinking about the sort of person that makes a good ruler, not which system of government is best.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          I agree with this. All systems of government that we’re shown have major problems. Valyrian republicanism ended with the country getting literally destroyed. Volantene and Braavosi elections led to a Century of Blood.

          Martin isn’t criticizing monarchy so much as he’s criticizing humanity, and its natural tendency to kill each other.

          • Jim B says:

            I agree, but I think he’s paying particular attention to monarchy, and specifically to deconstructing the fantasy trope of the Rightful King who everyone just kneels down to as soon as the Evil Usurper is defeated.

            It’s one of the reasons I’m doubtful that the series will end with King Jon Snow on the Iron Throne.

    • Amestria says:

      Assuming you could practically blind the opposing side without inconveniencing your own, Stannis would only have to blind the vanguard. If they cut down sure to overreach Loras Tyrell it would be a major blow.

    • There’s an element of that, to be certain, but if you look at Martin building the theme of “the good of the realm,” “a king protects his people, or he is no king at all,” “save the kingdom to win the throne,” I think there is an argument about a monarchical social contract there.

  7. Son of fire says:

    Excellent read!!
    Just below the preordained to failure link near the top i think there’s a typo
    “the castle is itself itself is a symbol…..
    one to many itself is’s 🙂

  8. MightyIsobel says:

    This chapter is breathtakingly good. What a delight to encounter it again, and to get your analysis of it.

    I agree with you that Martin’s deployment of Catelyn as the POV here is underappreciated by the fandom. Her perspective works beautifully here. She is established as a solidly reliable narrative voice, especially about intra-familial feudal politics, with a level of wisdom that the Baratheon brothers pointedly lack. Meanwhile, her advocacy on behalf of the King in the North is an emotional counterpoint to the stubborn prickliness of Renly and Stannis. Why do genre readers romanticize a world where thousands march to war because two boys decide to tease each other to death? Readers who are unwilling to grapple with that question arising directly from Catelyn’s perspective are missing so much of what Martin has to offer, and how he explores it.

    And then, to push the point, I like your analysis of what-if a Stannis-Robb or a Renly-Robb alliance here, but I don’t think that Catelyn is actually willing to take sides in the brother vs brother conflict here. I think she would need, as you put it, “a personality transplant” because of her sense of the fundamental wrongness of an interloper stepping into a family dispute. Correct me if I’m wrong?

    The whole situation is devastating when you think about who will be dead within the next two volumes, and how they will die. And how changed the world will be when Brienne travels the Riverlands in search of a maid of three-and-ten. Renly and Stannis both still think they are playing the Game, a Game where even the loser can get a freakin’ magic castle, if he lives that long; neither of them appreciate the danger of the unholy Lannister-Frey-Bolton faction shredding the rulebook entirely.

    • Winnie says:

      Well said to all of that! Where else but in a feudal monarchy could intra-family disputes be responsible for the deaths of *thousands* if not millions of innocent third parties?!?

      Though to his eternal credit, Stannis actually *learns* something along the way and he is after all the only guy in the Seven Kingdom to answer that raven. Though, perhaps Renly had he lived *might* have redeemed himself.

    • “And then, to push the point, I like your analysis of what-if a Stannis-Robb or a Renly-Robb alliance here, but I don’t think that Catelyn is actually willing to take sides in the brother vs brother conflict here”

      I would disagree with this – Catelyn is in the process of doing precisely that when she arrives at Bitterbridge, for example.

  9. Winnie says:

    Oh, one other thing-though I agree that the current Baratheon siblings certainly inherited at least part of their obstinacy from the Durrendon storm Kings, it’s worth noting that the original Baratheon founder Orys, was prone to holding grudges something that has unfortunately been passed down as well.

  10. Amestria says:

    Have a possible solution to the question of where Renly’s cavalry are coming from. The answer is, all over the place. After the Battle of the Blackwater Brienne meets hedge knights heading off in search of new work. There are also landed knights who are essentially their own lords. There would be many such knights in Westeros and they probably don’t have anything resembling national loyalties. Renly slow progress would have allowed the disparate, unemployed chivalry of the more distant kingdoms to reach his tourneys and join his army. This would also enhance his legitimacy as it gives the illusion of consensus among the Southern warrior class. So Renly’s cavalry has the forces of a number of great Houses (some present in token amounts, some at full strength) plus many landed knights and free knights from the Stormlands, Crownlands, Reach, Vale, and Westerlands who are there independently.

    Of course such an army would go over to Stannis, for most its less a matter of allegiance and more a matter decent employment and/or fun.

    • David Hunt says:

      Interesting idea, but I see one problem with it. If you own land and you’re not the king, then you’re at least technically a vassal to someone higher up. Think of Ser Eustuse in The Sworn Sword. He and Lady Webber were both vassals of a greater lord whose name I don’t recall and am not going to look up. That lord was either a direct vassal of Lord Tyrell or to one of the Reach’s major houses that was directly sworn to Highgarden. In my opinion people at the lower level of landed knights are not typically the ones who are going to be bucking the higher-ups directly above them. They don’t have the juice to survive the wrath of their lord during or after the war. It’s people further up the chain like the Florents who (eventually) turn against the Tyrells.

      OTOH, free riders, hedge knights, etc? People hoping to be rewarded when the old order is overturned? I can definitely see them flocking to the side that looks to be on the rise. For example, I recall that a hoard of men were knighted in King’s Landing for actions taken at the Blackwater.

      • Crystal says:

        Per the wiki, they were sworn to House Rowan, who were sworn to House Tyrell. (Rather like the Smallwoods, who were sworn to the Vances of Wayfarer’s Rest, who were in turn sworn to the Tullys.) And agreed that the small houses wouldn’t be the ones going out on their own or otherwise turning cloak.

        The true free agents seem to be the ones like the hedge knights, and probably very poor obscure houses like Baelish, who would, as you said, be in a good position to collect a reward if they sided with the winners – and wouldn’t have much to lose if they sided with the losers. Houses like the Webbers or Smallwoods wouldn’t want what they had taken away – they did have something but not enough to afford to gamble.

        Yes, we do see lots of up-and-comers knighted at the Blackwater (Josmyn Peckledon for instance). Good old Petyr Baelish gets Harrenhal because he’s willing to side with the powers on the rise. And the Merryweathers, while I suspect they are taking orders from Littlefinger (or maybe Varys in Taena’s case), give ambition as a reason why they want to side with Cersei against Margaery. The Merryweathers lost much of their land and wealth in Aerys’ reign. Then we have House Connington, reduced from lords to landed knights after Robert comes to power – and JonCon is of course backing Aegon (or “Aegon”) partly in hopes of restoring his house to glory.

    • No, I don’t think that’s it. Renly’s pretty specific about which houses are providing him troops.

      • Amestria says:

        There are political reasons to emphasize the Houses, but that doesn’t mean all the cavalry are theirs. Hedge Knights and free riders don’t have banners and they aren’t a unified political force. And powerful knightly families and minor nobility might act independently of their nominal lord for their own reasons, just as high lords act independently of the paramounts and paramounts act independently of the kings, especially if they get caught up in what seems like a very good show.

        • Hedge knights and free riders are a small part of any army though – look at Tywin’s at Green Fork, for example.

          The majority of the cavalry are going to be household knights of various lords and landed knights, just based on the nature of how feudalism supports armies.

          • Amestria says:

            A small part of any normal army, but this was an army that took form over months of tournies with the goal of attracting as many knights as possible. Renly’s host would likely have grabbed up every hedge knight and free rider in the Reach and neighboring areas. That has got to be worth one or two thousand horse, at least.

  11. Allenips says:

    If Renly had come out of the confrontation with Stannis dead, do you think he would be as sincerely remorseful as Stannis is about his sibling’s death? So far, neither brother has any great remorse for the death of their older sibling, Robert, but Stannis has a reason for that and its not in his nature to express his emotions passionately, but Renly just seems to be indifferent about the matter entirely and only refers to Robert when he’s trying to bolster his own claim. In the worst sense, I get the feeling that Renly is sociopathic and unremorseful about his actions, simply saying and doing what he needs to get people to do what he wants without a care for them, as much as he manipulates the commons and outward images of himself. Heck, his relationship with Loras could’ve been him taking advantage of getting a powerful piece into his repertoire and the Tyrells with it. Not to say that there was nothing there, Loras could’ve sincerely been into the relationship, but with Renly’s older age and if he’s just being calculating, then he could’ve initiated the relationship with that in mind.

    • David Hunt says:

      Oh, Renly’s definitely calculating in his actions and a snake, generally, but I wouldn’t say that he’s a sociopath. Maybe a narcissist, but not a sociopath. Personally, I think that Renly had some feelings for Loras. I doubt that he was anywhere near as devoted to Loras as Loras was to him, but I think there was actual love there. It’s just that Renly loved himself more and would have sold out his own brother to get what he wanted. Case in point: he DID betray his own brother to get what he wanted.

      • winnie says:

        Sums up my feelings about Renly too….not a sociopath but definitely a narcissist with glib charm and wit but insufficient character or backbone. He just wasnt up to for a long war much less the arrival of dragons and/or white walkers.

        • Crystal says:

          Agreeing with both Winnie and David here. Renly was a narcissist to the core – absolutely textbook. I do think he had some feelings for Loras, but I also agree that, one, there was a large element of calculation to this relationship on Renly’s side, and two, Renly would have sold out his own brother – in fact he DID – to get what he wanted, so if he had to sell out Loras to get what he wanted – bye-bye Loras. (I do think Renly would have got a legitimate heir by Margaery or anyone else he married. He’s not the type to let being gay stand in the way of having an heir and probably a spare as well.)

          Now Loras really DID love Renly. Loras may have been full of himself, but he was capable of sincere love and devotion to his sister and his lover (and at least those were two different people!). I think Renly would have broken Loras’ heart eventually.

          I really do NOT like Renly.

          • Jim B says:

            I find Renly pretty despicable, too.

            Life was pretty kind to him: he was born a noble, handsome and capable. Initially he was just the third son of one of the major Houses — still nothing to sneeze at — but before he reaches adulthood his eldest brother has become King, he’s holding the family castle and a seat on the council. True, he’s gay in a society that doesn’t make that easy, but he manages to work around that pretty well, and if he wants an excuse to stay unmarried he could always get an appointment to the Kingsguard.

            Then he has a chance to become Stannis’s heir and ensure victory over the Lannisters, and he discards it over nothing more than ego. I don’t think that even he buys into his theory that he deserves the throne more than Stannis; it’s just a paper-thin justification for something he wants to do anyway.

            I mean, the Ironborn are awful people, but they’ve constructed a whole twisted set of moral rules to at least attempt to justify it. Even Littlefinger can at least claim that he’s avenging a grudge for how the high and mighty have treated him. Renly’s a complete shit for no better reason than that being second best isn’t good enough for him.

    • Judging from his comments in Cat III, I don’t think so.

      Sociopathic – no. But very self-involved.

      • WPA says:

        Yeah, he’s basically entitled, arrogant, and hasn’t gained much experience or self awareness. I mean really, even in this series of terrible actions, is there anyone else that goes out of their to make fun of another figure’s kid? Particularly a kid that’s their blood relative? Even the Brackens and Blackwoods don’t go there against each other.

  12. There is no good way Catelyn could negotiate Robb bending the knee to Stannis—Renly seems certain to prevail in the battle, and Catelyn and her escort’s freedom and possible safety are at issue as they are held in a quasi-hostage situation in Renly’s camp. (I wonder if his refusal to grant her leave to go wasn’t a prelude to taking hostages to force Robb bending the knee.) So really the best she could have hoped from the meeting was persuading Stannis to accept Renly’s terms, something he would never, ever do.

    • Stannis has a fleet, he could pull out quite easily.

      And Renly taking her as hostage would be a bit deal – she’s a peace envoy and they’re supposed to be inviolate.

  13. David Hunt says:

    First let me say that this even more a great read than usual.

    Your points supporting the argument that Renly knew about the twincest are pretty convincing. I’d been moving away from that view toward Renly being ignorant of it before Robert’s death. I’m pretty much convinced back to the He Knew About it camp now. But it made me curious about something. What does Renly personally gain from replacing Cercei with Margaery? Margaery gets to be queen. Mace gets a grandson with his arse on the Iron Throne. Loras gets a white cloak once Jaime’s executed. What does Renly get? He can’t really rise much higher. My theory:

    I think that Renly was planning on getting named Hand after Lord Jon passed away. Jon was still healthy, but he was still old and he wasn’t likely to last that much longer. Cut to Stannis brooding on Dragonstone shouting “I should have been Robert’s Hand” to anyone who can’t invent an excuse to be elsewhere. Plus Robert was likely to do Renly the favor of dying before any son reached adulthood. The kid’s going to need a regent. There’s Renly, who ferreted out Cercei’s treason, with support from the massively powerful Tyrells. Once the kid achieves his majority, he’ll name Renly his Hand if Renly has played his cards right. He could end up with all the power of a strong Hand “serving” a weak king.

    That’s my best guess as to Renly’s ideal endgame prior to the series. Opinions?

  14. Petyr Patter says:

    Steve, you make a pretty decent case for Renly knowing Joffrey’s parentage, but I still can’t buy it. If he wanted Tyrell power in court, revealing the truth gets the job done. It is a lot easier to get Robert to remarry as a widower then as a dubious divorcee. And once he passes over Cersei, who are the other marriageable women? Sansa is still to young and I doubt Eddard would want her married to someone so much older. Lysa Tully wouldn’t be interested, is much older, and her one child is… “challenged.” Arrianne Martel, now we are getting somewhere. But, the Martells still are upset over Robert’s possible complicity, and at the very least refusal to punish, the deaths of Elia and her children. I suppose there are lesser lords, such as the Freys or Hightowers, but Tyrells are the clear front runners and Renly can do much to insure Robert remarries into that house… once the Lannisters are done and gone.

    Yes, trying to displace a true male heir is legally difficult, but is consistent with your own analysis of Renly’s approach to monarchy. Ultimately, he was going to rely on the fact EVERYONE hated the Lannisters, and the Tyrells could produce the largest army barring a multiple kingdom coalition. To be fair, this is what essentially happened in his lifetime with the Robert’s Rebellion using personality, war, and dynastic interests to displace the legal dynasty.

    So, if he KNEW who Joffrey’s father was, or even if he thought he could make a convincing case, he would have made sure the salvo was know.

    PS) According to Varys, Stannis told Jon Arryn to investigate, and somebody whispered the truth to Stannis. I think this is a mystery waiting to be revealed, but we don’t know how Stannis first put it all together. Eddard only did it with Littlefinger by pointing him in that direction and following Jon Arryn’s notes.

    • You left out one potential match—just think of how much fun an Asha Greyjoy/ Robert Baratheon marriage would be.

      • Winnie says:

        May the Drowned God save us All!

        In all seriousness, while Asha can be a great character, she’s one of my dead *last* choices to end up Queen or Queen Consort of Westeros at the end-a golden Crown on a Reaver, (even a former Reaver,) just doesn’t work.

    • Jim B says:

      Renly just leaking the truth about Cersei, without having Tyrell support on board, is incredibly risky. As Ned realized, Robert would go apeshit, killing Cersei and Jaime and the kids and probably attainting the entire Lannister House while he’s at it, though either way, House Lannister’s pride and very survival would be at stake.

      Tywin would have to call his banners and march on the capital, presumably denouncing Robert as a madman (or the classic alternative, “under the influence of bad advisors”). Now you’ve got a civil war, and Tyrell support will be needed. You may be confident that Margaery is so clearly the only option for Robert to marry that it’s a foregone conclusion, but I think Mace is going to want a wedding before he commits his troops.

      And even if Margaery were truly Robert’s only option — which I doubt — Robert isn’t House Tyrell’s only option! Tywin isn’t too old to take a new bride, crown her a queen, and start producing Lannister-Tyrell heirs to the throne.

      So if the plan is to get Robert to marry Margaery anyway, why run all those risks?

      • Petyr Patter says:

        The Lannisters don’t have the power to challenge the Stormlands, the Vale, the North, the Crownlands, and probably the Riverlands. Plus, the Tyrells didn’t need a wedding to commit to fighting for Joffrey, just a promised betrothal.

        Tywin’s best course of action, if he feels peace is off table (which is likely), is to play defense in the Westerlands, not try to rush the capital, which won’t open its gates for him this time. If he gets lucky, Robert will die trying to storm the Golden Tooth

        Renly’s position was a lot more precarious after Robert died then it would have been had Cersei’s incest been revealed.

        • Jim B says:

          “The Lannisters don’t have the power to challenge the Stormlands, the Vale, the North, the Crownlands, and probably the Riverlands.”

          No, presumably not. Tywin would probably need to pull some slick maneuvering, like… oh, I don’t know, getting the Freys to betray the Tullys, the Boltons to betray the Starks, promising advancement to Littlefinger in exchange for keeping the Vale neutral if not joining the Lannisters. But that all seems pretty far-fetched!

          ” Plus, the Tyrells didn’t need a wedding to commit to fighting for Joffrey, just a promised betrothal.”

          You’re splitting hairs here. No, they didn’t literally require a wedding, but they had a promise from Joffrey’s Regent and Hand that yes, Joffrey will marry Margaery as soon as practical. (And the capital will be occupied/surrounded by Tyrell troops to deter any change of heart.) There’s a huge difference between that and Renly saying, “oh, I’m sure Robert will marry Margaery eventually, I mean, there aren’t a lot of other options, are there?”

          • Winnie says:

            LOL, Jim B. A lot of readers make the mistake of thinking that the defeat of the North/Riverlands coalition at the hands of the Lannister’s was inevitable, but in fact as has been pointed out before at this site, it actually required that a LOT of things go wrong, and go wrong in a very particular way not only for the RW to happen, but to ever make it possible for Cersei’s children to occupy the IT as long as they have.

          • Sean C. says:

            No, presumably not. Tywin would probably need to pull some slick maneuvering, like… oh, I don’t know, getting the Freys to betray the Tullys, the Boltons to betray the Starks, promising advancement to Littlefinger in exchange for keeping the Vale neutral if not joining the Lannisters. But that all seems pretty far-fetched!

            All of which he was only able to do because he was already winning. The Freys and Boltons have no incentive to join him if he’s getting his ass kicked, and neither of them, separately or together, are anything near enough to turn the tide. The fact is that the Lannisters enter the war with no allies to speak of, and they only gain the Tyrells due to factors Tywin has nothing to do with.

          • Jim B says:

            Winnie and Sean, my point isn’t that a Lannister victory is inevitable (as our host has pointed out on several occasions, GRRM has to stack the deck a little to make it happen), or that things would go exactly as they did in the actual storyline of the novels. My point is only that revealing the incest is going to spark a civil war, and the Lannisters are at least a force to be reckoned with, so that a prudent schemer would want to be prepared.

            Remember, this is in the context of me refuting the argument that “of course Renly didn’t know about the incest, because he would have just spilled the beans right away instead of scheming to hook Robert up with Margaery first.” And so my point is that, from Renly’s perspective, there are very good reasons to get your Tyrell ducks in a row before dropping a metaphorical bomb on the Westerosi political scene. Just as Stannis was trying to ensure that, among other things, an alliance with the Arryns was secure before he revealed the truth.

            Renly has many flaws, but he’s not a complete idiot. And only a complete idiot would start a war without being ready for one.

      • This. Another danger: what happens if, as Robert is killing his wife and heirs and the realm is dividing, the Targaryens cross the sea again, this time with the Tyrells as free agents rather than linked in with House Baratheon?

        • Jim B says:

          Exactly. Which I think is another illustration of how neither Varys nor Littlefinger needed this exact series of events to bring about civil war — the ingredients for chaos were all there. (Though some of those ingredients were put in place by Varys, of course.)

          Even without the whole incest/illegitimacy thing, you had a brand new unproven royal house, led by a king who was a mediocre peacetime leader at best, with two ambitious brothers resentful of the queen’s aggressively ambitious family, and two powerful Houses (Tyrell and Martell) who weren’t part of the winning coalition and are hungry for power and revenge, respectively. Plus the Iron Islands are inevitably going to cause trouble again, and there’s always the danger of Targaryen sympathizers forming a fifth column.

          Westeros under Robert was pretty much a powder keg. At most, LF lit the fuse a little sooner than Varys wanted to.

          • Winnie says:

            Oh, yeah. Of course LF also helped arrange it so that the coming civil war happened in a way that was most devastating to Houses Stark and Tully-and kept the Vale out of the whole thing as well.

          • That’s true, but it can be over-emphasized. OTHO, the ruling coalition was genuinely powerful. It takes a very specific set of circumstances to take it apart.

    • Amestria says:

      The thing about Renly is that he doesn’t want to increase Tyrell power, he wants to increase his own power via the Tyrells and avoid his brother Stannis becoming King. The Margaery scheme was obviously aimed at making himself regent to his brothers children (assuming Robert kicked the bucket before the eldest heir reached the age of majority, which was likely) and godfather of the Tyrell rise (lots of political capital). His plan for firing the twincest gun was to get Robert into Margaery so everything would be all set up for replacing her with Cersei – the less uncertainty the better. Once Robert died early Renly decided he might as well use what he’d carefully built over the years to become King instead. So the plan shifted from Renly plotting to make himself the power behind the throne to Renly simply taking the throne.

      • David Hunt says:

        Glad to see that someone agrees that Renly was looking to be Regent to a boy king. Something I didn’t write above as I was getting into tl;dr territory is that I suspect that Renly wasn’t going to be especially patient about Robert kicking the bucket once he had a healthy heir to rule through. I assume the Loras has gotten his White Cloak after Jaime’s executed, so ‘s he got his lover with Robert’s life in his hands at numerous moments. Maybe Loras is in on this, maybe Renly just expects that Robert is eventually going to strike Margaery like he did Cercei and Renly knows how Loras will react. Either way, I wouldn’t expect Robert to outlive a son by Margaery by a great length of time. This gives him 15 years to rule uncontested in the name of his nephew, plus the he’ll still be the real power once the kid’s of age.

        Or at least that’s what I think Renly was envisioning. He shares a good bit of Cercei’s habit of assuming that all the ducks will line up by themselves. I’m also sure that if things got that far he’d be scheming about the next step of getting rid of the king and placing his own arse on the Iron Throne. I’m not sure how he’d be planning to make that happen, but it’s kind of moot at this point.

        • Sean C. says:

          I’m not sure I’d see Renly going so far as to kill Robert. Moreover, given Robert’s generally hands-off style of governance (except that he’s still somehow able to cause the kingdom major financial problems — I always felt GRRM was having it both ways there), Renly as Hand would be quite powerful anyway.

          There’s also, I suppose, that Robert’s hard style of living might catch up with him fairly quickly anyway.

          • Julian says:

            Hands off on major policy decisions, but fond of feasts and and tourneys, I guess.

          • Crystal says:

            I think that was the idea – Renly was probably counting on Robert’s hard living sending him to an early grave – and, like his historical counterpart Edward IV, he probably would have obliged. I don’t think Cersei, Lancel, and the boar hastened his end by that many years.

          • The Littlefinger Debt Scheme as I understand it seeks to bridge the gap of a peacetime medieval economy somehow struggling with massive debt out of the blue.

        • Amestria says:

          Assuming Robert would croak well before his next eldest son’s 16th birthday was probably a safe bet. And Robert might be willing to reward the person who exposed his false queen with the Handship and running the kingdom. So even with a miraculously long lived Robert Renly could end up sitting pretty (though since he’s perfectly willing to kill Stannis later, he’d probably be willing to kill Robert, if it came to that).

          All in all it was a pretty good plan, at least until that meddling Ned Stark blundered into things and pulled the trigger before Robert could be introduced to Margaery.

        • I don’t think he’d need to go that far. Robert’s not making it that long, and he’s so disinterested in power that Renly could rule as Hand and get all of his men into position before Robert kicks it.

    • “If he wanted Tyrell power in court, revealing the truth gets the job done.”

      Nope. Robert could remarry anyone – there’s no guarantee it’s a Tyrell.

      The whole point of waiting until Robert’s hooked up with Margaery is to ensure that A. Robert has a motive to get rid of Cersei, and B. once he has, he’s going to go with the Tyrells.

      “who are the other marriageable women?”

      Anyone. People keep forgetting that a King doesn’t have to marry a Great House. As history has shown, Lesser Houses are perfectly acceptable.

      • Winnie says:

        Exactly Steve. Looking at past Queen Consorts, they came from House Blackwood, House Penrose, House Hightower, House Harroway, House Costayne etc. etc-heck even a few imports from Essos. Margaery for a lot of reasons would be the logical choice, but there was no guarantee in place that Robert would pick her, and I imagine that the Tyrell’s would need something a little more solid than a promise by Renly that Margaery was Robert’s ‘type.’

        • Crystal says:

          When you think about it, Jeyne Westerling could have been a candidate! It’s true that Margaery was the only eligible candidate *from a Great House* – Asha Greyjoy is a reaver, no way would Arianne Martell ever marry Robert Baratheon, and Sansa Stark is way too young (and no way would Ned marry her to Robert). But there would have been plenty of candidates from lesser noble Houses, as long as they had a sufficiently noble line of descent – no hedge knights’ daughters or Freys.

          Margaery was an obvious candidate but by no means a shoo-in, which is why Renly planned to use the “She reminds you of Lyanna, right? RIGHT?” line. Of course, Margaery does not resemble Lyanna in either appearance or character, as Ned rightly pointed out. They were both attractive, brown-haired young women, but that’s nothing to hang a resemblance on.

        • Precisely. And who knows? Robert might have followed Henry VIII in wanting a more compliant wife after his more strong-willed and domineering wife.

  15. Sean C. says:

    The case you make for Renly having known about the incest is reasonably compelling, but the obvious counter to that is: what’s he waiting for, then? Stannis and Jon Arryn were hunting for better proof; Littlefinger and Varys were withholding it for their own purposes; Pycelle was a Lannister man (you also forget Ser Barristan, who didn’t know either). We see him sounding out Ned about Margaery looking like Lyanna, but it’s not like remarriage has to be guaranteed before Renly pulls the trigger; Margaery would be at the top of any list of potential candidates for Robert’s second wife, and Renly knows she’s beautiful. Moreover, Renly can surely see that their position is precarious, and best-served by acting swiftly. Indeed, the ideal time would have been for Renly to accompany Robert to Winterfell and then tell him there, whereupon Cersei and Jaime could be seized and placed under arrest with no possible hope of escape or rescue. Renly really has no reason to horde this knowledge, compared to others.

    Unrelatedly, this chapter raises a bunch of questions about what the status of Westeros’ succession laws at the royal level are after the deposition of the Targaryens. Granted, TWOIAF kind of tamped down the idea that the Iron Throne going to all male dynasts first was an ironclad rule, but it seems to have been fairly close to one under the Targaryens, by the time of the books, anyway. Anyway, here we have Stannis offering to name Renly as his heir until he has a son. There are two distinct questions about this:

    1) Is this merely Stannis forgiving Renly’s treason and offering to restore him to a status he already would otherwise have had, or is this Stannis offering to modify the succession?
    2) If the latter, does this make any sense for Stannis’ character? The man is obsessed with slights (perceived or real) that have been done him, and believes himself insufficiently respected; likewise, he’s extraordinarily unwilling to compromise on anything of substance that affects his rights. Is he actually offering to set aside his own daughter as heir? Because that would seem like something he would find quite debasing to himself to do, and if that is what he’s offering, no other character ever remarks on how extraordinarily generous that is, based on his normal personality.

    • Sean C. says:

      As an addendum, while GRRM has repeatedly stated that he views issues relating to succession law as highly changeable and circumstance-dependent (the old “rule of men, not rule of law” quote), Stannis is the opposite: you’d be damn sure he has an ironclad understanding of what he believes the succession law of Westeros is (much as, in the next book, he actually takes Aegon II’s side in the Dance of the Dragons, which suggests to me that his natural law-ish theory of the Crown includes the idea that the king should not be able to readily modify customary law).

    • Winnie says:

      Good questions both. I feel that it would HAVE to be a case of Stannis offering Renly his normal status, because under no circumstances could I imagine Stannis compromising his daughter’s ‘rights,’ considering how adamant he is that even after his death that Davos keep fighting to give Shireen her crown. He’s as touchy about her rights really as he is about his own, and if Shireen came before Renly, he’d NEVER consider putting Renly first. In the North a daughter comes before an uncle but that is not the case in the South.

      • Sean C. says:

        Having seen TWOIAF, Cregan Karstark should have urged Jon to take another look at the family tree and note the fates of Serena and Sansa Stark.

        Though the North is not unusual in that regard, either; daughters come before uncles everywhere except the crown, by the normal rules.

        • Winnie says:

          LOL! But Jon could have replied that

          a. Just because it’s been done before doesn’t make it right now-look at first night rights.

          b. We don’t *know* that Serena or Sansa were opposed to their marriages-or that their uncle/husbands were also conspiring to get their brothers murdered at the same time as well.

          Though, for the record that’s another chink in the argument that Jon Snow having been raised as a Stark would have to be opposed to the idea of wedding one of his foster sisters/actual cousins since apparently marriages between close relatives happened in the past for the Stark line-and even more so for the Targ strain!

          I take your point about Southern succession, but still I think the succession of the crown must have been going to Renly first over Shireen, since again I just don’t think Stannis would even consider giving his much disliked annoying little brother priority over his own beloved daughter unless that was the law. Stannis of all people is not going to subvert the law to favor Renly over Shireen.

          • No, it’s not a chink in that argument at all. These are two completely different things. Marriages between close relatives – who were generally NOT raised as siblings – happened often enough, but marriage to someone you’ve always considered a sister amd grew up in the same household with as a sister, and only have had brotherly feelings for…. Somehow I don’t think he’d up for that. I find the idea absurd from the perspective of how humans actually feel and behave.

            What it IS a chink in the argument of, is the idea that Jon would be shocked and horrified at the idea of a relationship with his aunt who he had never met while growing up or considered a family member.

            Psychology of real life humans has this to say about those two scenarios:

            Westermarck Effect:
            Genetic Sexual Attraction:

            And that’s why, as research has shown, people IRL are far more likely to be attracted to or fall in love with or even hook up with a very close blood relative they only met after their adolescence, than with someone who’s not even a blood relation but who was their adopted or foster family member.

            But you don’t need to even know about these psychological phenomena, I think that common sense is enough to tell us that someone learning that their sibling (who they really love as a sibling and never had a Jaime/Cersei thing going on with) does not actually share the same biological parent(s) as them, is not going to result in them going: “Hey, maybe we should hook up then!”

    • “what’s he waiting for, then?”

      1. Margaery. It’s not a question of marriage vs. betrothal, it’s that Robert is free to marry other people.
      2. Allies. Renly doesn’t want to move alone. If he can move with the Starks and Tullys/Arryns, he’s in a much better position.

      Regarding the offer:

      1. Stannis is stubborn enough that he would insist that Shireen be his heir – see Stannis in ASOS, ADWD, and TWOW. So I think he is making a shift.
      2. Yes. Stannis is also incredibly willing to bend when it is pragmatic to do so, see Stannis in the next Davos chapter.

      • DLG says:

        I get the need for allies. But apart from that, why, from Renly’s perspective, does Robert’s second marriage HAVE to be to Margaery? I get preferable because it brings the Tyrells as powerful allies. But a marriage to any house that didn;t have both means and motive to oppose Renly’s ambition would not be fatal to his plans.

        BTW: Based on what Renly knows before Robert’s death, the only real threat on this score is — the Starks (!) (As readers we know that’s unlikely for several reasons, but we have no evidence that Renly does. And yes, ick, but we’re talking dynastic alliance here, not a modern love-match.) I think this explains Renly’s slow and tepid feelers towards what would otherwise be a natural alliance with Ned.

        • Well, let’s not forget that Renly is in a long-term relationship with Loras. He can’t legally get married to him, but I think he’d think of it similar to how people normally think of these relationships as both personal and political.

          Another House wouldn’t have any ties to Renly himself.

  16. Andrew says:

    1. Regarding Renly’s peach, I am starting to think it is to ASOIAF what the orange is to The Godfather trilogy.

    2. If Renly and Stannis had a better relationship, some kind of loving relationship, then they actually would have made a formidable team with Renly’s style and Stannis’s substance. Renly would also be averse to the idea of usurping his brother’s claim, and would have supported his brother, so KL falls in ACoK. Stannis may not have left KL, or at least would have kept in contact with Renly when he went to Dragonstone, and Ned would have had more help in KL.

    3. Renly is a bit of a shitty person. Besides, deciding to usurp and kill his brother, his comment about his niece, Shireen, is not the first such remark. We see him refer to her as “that ugly daughter of his” in AGoT. He’s not exactly aiming for “Uncle of the Year.” I don’t know if Renly cares about anyone in his family.

    • Winnie says:

      Shireen’s a great litmus test for characters-anyone who’s mean to Shireen no matter how ‘cool’ they seem otherwise does not pass muster with me. (CoughValCough.) Renly’s cruelty there, shows that for all his charm he’s not a good person.

      • Grant says:

        Or Val could be absolutely right and staying near any survivor of greyscale is sitting right next to a time bomb. Because we’re looking at a world where magic and superstition go side by side, we really can’t say.

        • Sean C. says:

          The main issue I have with that is that it strains credulity that nobody south of the Wall has ever noticed this about such a major infectious disease.

          • Grant says:

            If we assume that it involves magic in some way (and considering what greyscale does, the Bridge of Dream and the Stone Men that seems reasonable) then it’s quite possible it’s much less dangerous south of the Wall so long as the Others aren’t on the move. From Val’s mention of wood witches, it’s entirely possible that the magically-inclined figures know something about it.

            So if we see something terrible happen in the books through greyscale victims, we’ll know that Val was right. If it isn’t brought up again in the books except to show how people react towards Shireen, we can safely assume that she was wrong. Until then, I’m not discarding either possibility. Val may or may not be right.

          • Winnie says:

            My big fear (one of them) is that JonCon brings a greyscale infection to Westeros and as panic starts to spread even faster than the outbreak, Shireen becomes a scapegoat and that helps get another great ‘offering’ to the Lord of Light.

        • I lean more to superstition/red herring.

          Personally, I think greyscale/grey fever epidemic would be over-egging the pudding when it comes to apocalypse. We’ve got the Others, let’s focus on them.

    • 1. Yeah, I could see this.

      2. Agreed. Velvet glove and iron hand, good cop/bad cop.

      3. Yeah, he’s an asshole about Shireen.

  17. Great job.

    Would it have been possible for Stannis to offer to make Renly his hand and heir regardless of any sons he may have had? I wonder if that could have moved Renly’s vassals to pressure Renly to compromise.

    • David Hunt says:

      Not once Renly’s at the meeting outside Strom’s End. At that point, he thinks he’s going to have it all within the year. All he has to do is roll over Stannis, making sure his brother “dies bravely” in the fighting, then move on King’s Landing and kill Joffrey and Cercei. He’d kill Tommen as well if he can find him or his guards sell him out. Renly’s invested a lot in his campaign to become king and he’s the type of person who will assume that things will go his way. For instance, he’s assuming that killing Stannis and taking the Red Keep will be easy. He’s assuming that Robb is going to invest Tywin at Harrenhal, pinning him down. Nothing can be more than a minor setback. Now that the prize is so close, he’s going to reach for it.

    • Possible, but unlikely.

  18. Jim B says:

    “Catelyn also enters the debate over the nature of kingship, portraying her son as an elected monarch, who “reigns as King in the North, by the will of our lords and people,” and who uses his powers for the common weal: “you each name yourself king, yet the kingdom bleeds, and no one lifts a sword to defend it but my son.” This is a slightly odd argument – Catelyn has always defined the purpose of the war in terms of her family’s interests as opposed to some larger conception of the common good, and she will continue to do so in the future. To some extent, this suggests that GRRM needed a mouthpiece for this perspective and simply used Catelyn.”

    I disagree. This is the one argument I can think of that both Renly and Stannis are vulnerable to. Stannis is so prickly about doing his duty that the idea of Robb having to act because Stannis is failing to behave like a king might make him think twice. Indeed, it’s pretty much the argument that Davos wins him over with. Renly, of course, doesn’t give a shit about duty, but the idea that someone else is the glorious Hero of the People might spur him to reconsider.

    Obviously Catelyn’s argument doesn’t work on either brother, but I don’t think it’s strange or out of character for her to use it.

    • My beef with it being out of character is that Catelyn never describes the purpose of the Stark war effort as defense of the realm before or after, and it directly contradicts freeing Jaime and her advice to abandon the Riverlands.

      • Jim B says:

        Ok, but are you saying that it’s out of character for Catelyn to make an argument to Renly and Stannis that she doesn’t really believe in if she thinks they will find appealing? And if so, is that because you think she’s ethically constrained from making a somewhat disingenuous pitch, or because you don’t think she’s capable of coming up with the argument?
        I disagree on both counts. She’s certainly capable of it: look how well she sets up the arrest/kidnapping of Tyrion. And a woman who’s willing to disobey her own son and king, and release a key prisoner, is not going to balk at being a little disingenuous with the brothers Baratheon.
        I think all of Catelyn’s behavior shows that she’s willing to do just about anything short of slitting throats to try to bring the war to an end and get her daughters back.

        • Firstly, Catelyn kidnaps Tyrion completely sincerely – she’s not being disingenuous, she really thinks he tried to kill her son.

          Secondly, I’m just not sure why she’d think it would be an apt argument: Renly doesn’t seem to give a damn about the good of the realm, and nor does Stannis at that moment.

          • Jim B says:

            It’s not that Catelyn was being insincere, but she was being manipulative, appealing to family loyalties and duties. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way; it’s just that she’s capable of choosing her words carefully for political ends.

            And as I said above, it’s not really “the good of the realm” per se: I agree that neither brother seems to care about that (yet) in an altruistic sense. But Stannis is quite prickly about being seen to do his duty, and Renly can’t like the idea of another young charismatic king winning heroic victories. Perhaps Catelyn should have been more direct if that was her intent.

            And maybe I’m misjudging Renly: how much does Renly actually believe that being a good tourney knight and all that truly makes for a good king, and how much of it is just him using whatever means will get people to like him?

  19. cantuse says:

    Amazing read. I found the arguments regarding Renly’s knowledge of incest extremely compelling. I need to ruminate and consider the counter-arguments made in the comments, but wow that’s something savory to ruminate on.

    I most definitely agree that Stannis is extremely unlikely to have gambled his whole strategy on Melisandre’s magic, suggesting he had no overt culpability in Renly’s assassination. Stannis is the kind of man to want proof of such a power before he would base any plans on it—which is why he subsequently resorts to it against Cortnay Penrose. I believe a strong argument for this ‘proof of concept before utilizing’ for Stannis is first evident in the Prologue, where Melisandre predicted Cressen’s suicide (prediction made unseen), as per a very compelling argument made by /u/loogieasoiaf. I think using this argument as a foundation for subsequent ‘proof-then-usage’ helps substantiate Stannis’s lack of premeditation in Renly’s assassination.

    Another point that I strongly concur with is that this is a central chapter in ACOK. As a major essayist on Stannis’s northern campaign, I strongly believe that it is the chapters where we see Stannis conducting council where the biggest decisions are being made. Seems obvious to say that, but in particular I think Stannis chews *all* the input he gets to splinters, and is far craftier than a superficial impression provides.

    • Thanks!

      And while I’m at it – I like your stuff. Don’t agree with all of it (I think Ramsay wrote the Pink Letter, for example), but it’s interesting and textually grounded.

  20. KrimzonStriker says:

    We really need to clarify the issue of Queen Naerys and Aegon IV’s marriage Steven and who wanted to set it aside. According to World of Ice and Fire Naerys wanted to end the marriage and take the vows to become a septa after Daeron II had been born and had grown up a bit. Aegon IV kept the marriage by ‘insisting she perform her wifely duties), mostly out of vindictive spite no doubt against both her, their brother Aemon, and eventually Daeron I wager.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I don’t recall her wanting to become a septa. I just thought she wanted Fatty to stay out of her bed.

      • Winnie says:

        LOL. But she did want to become a septa in her youth, (probably to escape being married to Aegon,) only her father wouldn’t allow it.

        For the record, I think that while nothing would have pleased Naerys more than ending her marriage, Aegon *did* start what were no doubt false and vicious rumors of his wife’s adultery so that he could disinherit Dareon II. God what a bastard.

        • Andrew says:

          Add to that that the Unworthy knew full well that adultery committed by a queen is punishable by death. He was putting his sister-wife in harm’s way to disinherit his son. No wonder Daeron opposed his dad.

          He’d execute her, but he wouldn’t let her become a septa.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          I seem to recall it being said somewhere that Naerys was the only woman that Aegon IV bedded that he got no pleasure from.

          So he’s not even getting any enjoyment out of this himself, he’s just doing out of pure malice. Jackass.

        • Crystal says:

          I think Aegon was trying to pull a Balon there – after all, killing a sister-wife would be kinslaying, but if she was executed for adultery, then his hands are clean.

          But it does go to show how hard it would be to make such accusations stick. Ser Morgil’s accusations didn’t even get to the official point; if Naerys had been *formally* accused, it would have come up in Cersei’s trial as a precedent, but it didn’t. Morgil started the nasty rumors, the Dragonknight kicked his ass, and that was the end of it.

          I think that Naerys being “sickly” made her more of a doormat than might otherwise be the case. I’m picturing someone whose strength is sapped by an illness like lupus or fibromyalgia – Naerys might have felt tired, “brain fogged”, etc. much of the time, and took refuge in religion, and didn’t have the energy or brain power to defend herself like other queens might have under the circumstances.

          But in any case, Aegon was being cruel and was an utter bastard and, indeed, unworthy. And it wasn’t easy to just “get rid of” a queen – Aegon couldn’t just demand a divorce, nor could Robert; even childlessness, or having only daughters, wouldn’t suffice (or Stannis could have divorced Selyse…). It took *proof* of incest and/or adultery.

          • Winnie says:

            What’s weird is that since the Targaryen’s were known to take multiple wives, that Aegon didn’t just revert back to that ancient family custom and get himself another Queen. He had a better excuse than most since it didn’t look like Naerys wasn’t supposed to have any more children after Dareon and he could argue that from a dynastic perspective the Realm needed multiple royal heirs.

          • David Hunt says:

            I think Aegon V could have never made taking a second wife stick without actual dragons backing him up. No Targ king has managed that since the dragons all died.

          • David Hunt says:

            Crud. I meant Aegon IV, Regardless, without the dragons, I think the Targs couldn’t have gotten away with bigomy. Look at the problems it gave Maegor when they did have dragons.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        I recall this was mentioned in the earlier pages during her youth/when she was first married to Aegon by Viserys so I guess I just made the assumption she’d try and go this route again. We know for sure already married wives can do this and it was likely the most expedient way to justify/get a divorce, looking back on Fireball and his wife. She even had a valid medical excuse by the masters as well after Daeron’s birth left her weak.

        • Crystal says:

          I wonder just how easy it was to tell one’s wife to “take the gray” – because Fireball seems to have been the only, or one of the few, to have done this. If it were that easy, Walder Frey would no doubt have gone through twice as many wives as he already has. I’m very curious as to what the grounds for divorce/annulment are in the ASOIAF world.

          • Sean C. says:

            I believe GRRM’s clear that non-consummation is the only ground for annulment.

            Apart from a single seeming mention about Prince Daemon asking for Viserys to set aside his marriage, there’s never been any indication that divorce exists at all in Westeros.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Given what happened to Sam going to the Night’s Watch I wouldn’t guarantee taking the gray has never been used as an expedient out for a messy legal/familial entanglement before.

            As Sean says I think the only real basis anyone has made the case for outright divorce has been the possibility of a barren union (at least within the faith). And even then that’s been extremely difficult to come by as Daemon found out.

          • Crystal says:

            Given that Randyll Tarly told Sam that he, Sam, could either take the black or meet an “accidental” death, I surmise that Fireball might have told his wife the same thing about taking the gray. “You will join the Silent Sisters, or I will arrange for you to be in a terrible accident/get a fatal stomach ache.”

            It probably didn’t happen too often for various reasons: possibility of angering the wife’s family, no guarantee of a good second marriage, etc. I note that Fireball had the prize of a Kingsguard appointment dangled before him. Tarly didn’t make Sam join the Watch until a second son had been born – and even then, wanted to make Sam’s fate plausible enough that his wife, Sam’s mother, wouldn’t be too upset. Given the number of barren marriages and daughter heirs in Westeros, I doubt that getting rid of a spouse or undesirable heir was easy or commonly resorted to.

          • David Hunt says:

            Also, Lord Randyll made Sam join the Night’s Watch as opposed to two other ways that Sam could have plausibly disinherited himself. We already know that Randyll refused Sam the option of becoming a maester, but couldn’t he have become a septon and removed himself from the line of inheritance that way? But nooooo. Randyll Tarly’s son has to join a warrior society! I’m sure that the facts that the Wall is so far away that he can safely assume he’ll never see Sam again, and that Sam’s vastly more likely to die as a Black Brother are mere coincidences and them aligning with Randyll’s barely hidden wish for his eldest son to die and stop embarrassing him by existing wasn’t planned at all.

            I swear, the more I find out about Randyll Tarly, the more I hope that his wife was stepping out on him with Sam’s real dad while Randyll off slaughtering someone.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            All true considerations on why it was difficult Crystal, but I’m mostly examining the cases by which a divorce might have been legally obtained and not so much on the practical reasons behind it, and thus far only two scenarios have arrived. Once in which the King can grant it ( which makes sense since technically he sanctions marriages as well), on the basis of a barren union, or by legally having them disavow it by joining an organizations that forbids those types of relationships. I note that Fireball had to have his wife go to take vows first before he could be eligible to be a Kingsguard (unlike instances where it doesn’t seem to be an obstacle for the Night’s Watch), so there are technically legal aspects that have to be worked around depending on the circumstances.

    • Let me clarify: I’m referring to disinheriting Daeron, which he never does (WOIAF, p 96).

      • Crystal says:

        I think that disinheriting an “undesirable” heir, unless one was prepared to go the Randyll Tarly route (join the Watch or else suffer an “accidental” death) was, in practice, hard-to-impossible to do, even if one was a King. When it comes down to it, I suppose the unworthy one could have “Tarly’d” Daeron and made him join the Watch – but if he refused, Aegon would have had to back down or kill his son, and kinslaying seems to be something even Roose Bolton balks at. (I think Tarly threatened Sam knowing Sam would join the Watch rather than suffer an “accidental” death. Or he would arrange for Sam to die at someone else’s hand, like I think Balon wanted to do with Theon, thus observing the letter if not the spirit of the prohibition.)

        Aegon could bluster, threaten, and favor his bastard offspring, but he was stuck with Daeron, unless he wanted to start a civil war (which he did anyway).

        • KrimzonStriker says:

          In terms of the practical reasons behind it, yes it’s usually impossible. But Aegon insinuating that Naerys was unfaithful with Aemon would have been an attempt I think to lay the ground work in case Daeron did push Aegon too far, by claiming he was a bastard born of treason by the Queen and Aemon, much like Daemon would later do, to allow him a legal means of disinheriting Daeron. While Aegon might never have been able too you can still see he was working the scenario of how to go about it and present the best ‘face’ for getting around the matter, much like Randyll Tarly did with Sam and the Night’s Watch even if Aegon himself never went through with it.

        • I disagree. Aerys seemed quite capable of replacing Rhaegar with Viserys as Crown Prince.

  21. thatrabidpotato says:

    You may want to leave out the legend of Storm’s End’s construction, but I’ve always read the wall being thicker on the seaward side as Martin hinting that those legends absolutely have truth to them. It’s not like it has to worry about naval bombardment.

    That aside, great analysis, as per the usual.

  22. Jaime'slefthand says:

    This might be a what if? for Catelyn’s next chapter, but what if the shadow baby doesn’t happen and there is Crecy-like battle, perhaps with heavy overnight rain to make the charging of earthen ramparts even less effective, that Stannis wins?

  23. new djinn says:

    Interesting analysis. I agree that considering the differences in opinion and personality between the Baratheon brothers, this was the inevitable outcome, but that a Crecy\Aljubarrota situation would be likely(Stannis could also retreat by sea at any time), after all, a atheist like Stannis would be unlikely to put all behind Melisandre vision’s at this point.

    I must add my voice to the group that is of the opinion that it doesn’t make much sense for Renly to know about the twincest without pulling the plug on it while Robert lived. The journey to WF and back would be ideal to capture Cersei, Jaime, Joffrey, Myrcella, Tommen and added bonus of Tyrion and pretty much paralyze Tywin capability to respond. And at no point does Renly is showed to collecting any evidence(unlike JonA or Stannis). He just likely assumed that if Marg manage to turn Roberts head, the rest of Westeros would help to neutralize Tywin’s response(like he assumes Dorne\Stannis will back him up).

    Catelyn’s situation is a odd one: she doesn’t feel with enough leeway to accept Renly offer in Robb’s name but to propose that Robb would set his crown aside for a Great Council(when Robb isn’t claiming the IT, does it really make sense) seems an overstep. Also, Renly’s popularity based claims face a serious challenge from Robb, after all, Renly might be big deal in the South(except Dorne and Reach without a marriage) but the further North you go, the less he’s regarded.
    In the end, her reaction to the shadowbaby(understandably) does not help any sort of diplomatic agreement.

    I’ve always wondered about the possibility of Stannis actually had found a cache of petrified dragon egg’s in DS, sold them to hire sellswords(maybe even the GC) and then used that to surprise Renly(or maybe it’s just my difficulty in understanding the leap from ”born from smoke and salt” to Stannis) in a hammer(GC)\anvil(Stannis) situation.

    • 1. Renly doesn’t have the manpower or authority to arrest them there.
      2. The key thing is that Robert hasn’t met Margaery yet, so there’s no buy-in.

      • Sean C. says:

        No, but Robert does. He just has to tell Robert.

        I really don’t buy that Robert needs to be totally infatuated with Margaery for this to go ahead. He’s not going to remarry instantaneously, and given that the arrest would meant the collapse of the Lannister alliance, Margaery is the beyond-obvious choice. Moreover, assuming Robert believed Renly, Renly would have a ton of political capital at that point that could easily be used to insist on Robert meeting Marg.

        • Crystal says:

          That’s a good point. There are other women in the kingdom who would be of the required aristocratic/old nobility background. But if Robert were to accuse Cersei of adultery and treason, he’d anger the Lannisters, and Tywin was a force to be reckoned with. So Robert would want to form a powerful alliance in addition to marrying a new, young, and ideally more submissive wife. The Tyrells fill that bill.

          Technically, if Robert married Sansa (eww, gross, yuck, poor Sansa) he’d get the North, the Riverlands, and the Vale on his side, but Sansa is eleven at that point and would not be able to consummate her marriage and bear children for several years. And she’s his “son’s” fiancee.

          Though, another wealthy Reach family – a Hightower or Rowan – would still be able to fill the bill of gaining a powerful alliance, because I think the Tyrells would support a bannerman family against the Lannisters.

        • If Renly does this before Margaery is locked in, he’s not assured of anything, nor are the Tyrells.

          A Great House marriage is not the beyond-obvious choice, since it almost never happens historically.

          And assuming Renly’s going to have political capital is a dangerous assumption – Robert might well resent Renly for revealing that he’s been cuckolded.

  24. One of my favorite chapters! On my first read I basically found Renly’s plan to be little more than a banana republic coup. And all of this only reinforces that view.

    An addition I’d like to make to your historical comparison section, Steven: Renly as McClellan.

    -Charismatic men who seemed to love building armies and the trappings of standards and fancy uniforms. Yet when opportunities to actual fight, use your vastly superior numbers and likely end the war quickly, both leaders developed maddening cases of ‘the slows’.

    -Powerful factions out of power tried, and failed, to use each man as their figurehead.

    -One could even look at McClellan’s flirtations with subverting the civilian-military power structure as resembling Renly’s willingness to upend the existing line of succession.

    • WPA says:

      I agree, I made that comparison myself in the last Catelyn write-up.

      • derzquist says:

        Y’know, I went so far as to google “race for the iron throne McClellan” cuz I thought I had seen another reference to this idea, but nothing seemed to pop up in the results.

        I knew I probably needed to give credit somewhere!

    • Grant says:

      I’m not so sure. Martin’s used the American Civil War in the books (Reconstruction and Daenarys) but with Renly it was a political show and not realizing that he needed to move fast, while with McClellan he seemed to be just trying his best to actually avoid fighting.

      • Well, let’s not forget, there was politics to McClellan too: he wanted to win the war without undermining slavery, in part because he wanted to run for president as a Democrat (and did).

        So in both cases, the slowness has political motives.

        • derzquist says:

          And in both cases the politics of the slowness is to help reinforce the image of the Man On The White Horse coming to save the day and heal the land…yet somehow staying above all the nastiness of war and death.

          Plus a general willingness to ignore the larger injustices involved in the conflict and simply use it as a path to power.

    • I see a lot of similarities there.

      • derzquist says:

        I’ve not seen any reference that the American Civil War is a big area of interest for GRRM, but when you add together your essay on Dany & Reconstruction, plus the parallels of Renly & McClellan, and even further with Stannis as a kind of Grant/Sherman proxy…

        I wonder if George has been influenced by that era more than he’s revealed.

  25. Iñigo says:

    About the talk, I think this face to face was neccessary for the shadowbaby magic to work. Melisandre set everything up for the talk to fail, after convincing Stannis to go.

  26. WPA says:

    So you seem to be arguing that tactically, Standish has set himself up very well to have a shot at pulling off a Crecy or Agincourt style victory? That’s really interesting- and a convincing argument with Renly half-assign his strategy and relying on his overeager vanguard. Assuming Stannis doesn’t take a stray arrow and such, how do you think that ends? A mauling of Renly’s vanguard, with Loras almost certainly dead- a boxing in of Renly’s follow up force with a flanking counter attack crumbling what’s left of the assault. Renly captured?

    Then what? Presumably if the battle looks lost and the Reach cavalry is bleeding out in front of them ala Agincourt or Pickett’s Charge, do the Stormlords switch sides and swear to Stannis right then and there? Then it gets very interesting. What does Mace now do, having lost son and his king in an afternoon… does he simply unleash Randy to try to clean up the mess, fall back on Highgarden and wait it out… fascinating what if.

    Also, Stannis’ attempt at a pre-battle St. Crispin’s Day speech would probably be something along the lines of. “Let them get close. Aim low.”

  27. thatrabidpotato says:

    I get the feeling that Stannis would need an absolute miracle to pull off a Crecy style victory here. It hasn’t been raining, so no muddy ground to hinder the knights charge. Stannis’s men aren’t particularly high quality, nor are they grizzled veterans like the Englishmen at the aforementioned battles.

    Not only that,but Renly’s command situation isn’t so bad as you make it out. Yes, the van is commanded by Loras, and Loras is a hothead, but he isn’t entirely stupid, certainly not stupid enough to charge the van onto sharpened stakes.

    Even more importantly, Mathis Rowan, “prudent, sensible”, holds the main body of troops. Bryce Caron, a veteran Marcher Lord, has the left. Even if Loras somehow totally botches it, are these guys going to be suckered as well? I don’t think so.

    • Luok says:

      If Stannis’ soldiers killed Renly and Loras is captured, the battle ends and Stannis wins.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        And Renly’s commanding the reserve, the last force to engage, so I fail to see your point.

        Not to mention that Renly KNOWS that Stannis’s only real chance is to take him out.

    • You don’t need mud for Crecy – that’s Agincourt. All you need are effective fieldworks and disciplined infantry.

      Stannis’ men are experienced mercenaries, not green noblemen.

      Renly’s plan was pretty much just charge, if you look at Catelyn IV.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        I know mud was Agincourt. My point is that Stannis has none of the mitigating factors associated with the great English victories of the Hundred Years War.

        And I repeat that you are being far too dismissive of Renly’s own commanders. Loras is not a halfwit, Renly himself is with the reserve and thus the least likely to get killed, Mathis Rowan and Bryce Caron are not going to be easily suckered.

        • My point was that, with breastworks, infantry can stop cavalry cold, and Renly has no such cavalry.

          The French commanders at Crecy, Poiters, and Agincourt weren’t halfwits, they just didn’t see a revolution coming.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Most of Stannis’s troops are the levies of the Narrow Sea, Dragonstone, Driftmark, etc. Very few are mercenaries. The only notable mercenary force under his command is Salladhor Saan.

        None of his levies have ever tasted battle, so yes, they are green.

  28. Roger says:

    Stannis and Renly’s meeting was stagged by Melisande to personaly see the King of the South… And then know who was the man her shadow had to kill. Probably the shadow couldn’t work without previously identity it’s victim.

    I’m not sure Renly knew about Jeoffrey’s true parentage. I think Stannis letter really surprised him. He knew Cersei hated him and all Baratheons (in AFOC she bitterly remembers “Renly’s jiggles”). And probably she knew Renly was planning to make Robert “substitute” her for Margaery. Renly wasn’t acting on paternity suspects, but hoping the dark-haired, beatiful Margaery would reming Robert his lost love, Lyanna.

    The proof is Renly lacked any plan for Edric Storm. He simply kept him at his castle.

    Renly was highly irresponsable, to say the least.

    I think many Stormlords weren’t as “Renlyists” as we suspect. I think many of them obeyed him, becouse they know Stannis was a lost cause and lacked Davos integrity. But many of them next followed him to the Wall. Not the highest lords, but the better knights (as the Bastard of Nightsong and his Estermont’s cousins).

    • I don’t think sight is necessary, otherwise how do you explain Ser Courtney Penrose.

      That’s not proof – keeping Edric Storm at his castle keeps him safe, as opposed to the bastards that Cersei has murdered.

  29. Roger says:

    Catelyn had good intentions, but she was almost-clinicaly depressed at that point. Something Robb didn’t valued. Her idea of a Great Council was the most civilized one. But clearly nobody was going to take it. She should have chosen one brother. And after Renly’s death, ask for Stannis pardon.

    What if Robb had sent a more able diplomat?

    • David Hunt says:

      “What if Robb had sent a more able diplomat?”

      He didn’t have one. Catelyn was well suited for her mission and grew up in the culture south of the Neck. If Hoster Tully hadn’t been dying, Robb could have sent him. Lord Hoster would have had the gravitas of being a Lord Paramount so he might have had better luck than Cat did. However, we never see him when he’s not bedridden, so that’s just a guess. Absent him, I’m not sure who else Robb could have sent that had the unique combination of good political skills, lofty position to command respect, and (most important!) Robb’s trust to look after his interests.

      • David Hunt says:

        Oh, and I forgot. Robb’s fighting a war, so if this someone who’s a better diplomat is also an important field commander, then he’s likely out of the running. For instance, Robb explicitly mentions that he can’t spare the Blackfish, Although I think that Cat was a better choice as envoy than Brynden, Robb would have been mad to send him even if he better. The Blackfish is arguably Robb’s greatest military asset.

      • Crystal says:

        Maybe Jason Mallister or Tytos Blackwood – the same men that Catelyn suggested Robb send to the Iron Islands instead of Theon. Mallister and/or Blackwood had the birth and the gravitas; the trouble is that Robb doesn’t really know them well, so he’d have no reason to trust either one over Catelyn. (And the *real* trouble is that we’d have yet another POV, ha. Sending Catelyn means sending someone whose POV we already have.)

        • Roger says:

          I agree with both options. Mallister is brave and courteous, and has a good reputation. So has Blackwood. Also Lord Vance seemed a sensible man in AFOC.
          Also Catelyn was too good a hostage to send her. Thank the Seven nobody thought about kidnapping her.

          • David Hunt says:

            I think taking an envoy hostage would be a major breach of protocol. Renly’s not at war with them and he’s given no indication that he’s willing to cross that line…at least when Robb sends her.

            Sidenote: the idea of sending Mallister, the lord of Seaguard, to treat with Balon Greyjoy seems like a recipe for disaster. Catelyn even mentioning that strikes me as indicating how desperate she was to keep Theon away from Balon.

    • What exactly would this more able diplomat have done? Choosing Stannis was not an option, unless Robb decided to give up on the title of King in the North; Renly may have been OK with it as long as Robb gave him fealty, but for Stannis, Robb was a traitor, and Stannis is not one to take a moderate position on that. And I don’t see how more firmly choosing Renly over Stannis would have helped in any way, and Robb was, via Catelyn, already offering an alliance to Renly. Catelyn merely suggested to the two of them to stop bickering, because this is only helping the Lannisters, and to make peace and form a powerful block against the Lannisters, which was an excellent suggestion. The only mistake she probably made was telling them straight to their face how she felt – that they were being childish. Buttering kings’ egos usually works better than calling them on their crap.

      • Roger says:

        Not sacrificing the chance of a good alliance just for saving Brienne, for example. The good part of chosing Renly is that after his death, you can ask for Stannis’s pardon and get it. As the Florents did.
        I agree: Catelyn talked the Baratheon’s like they were kids. And that’s a bad idea when talking to crowned, bitter adults.
        Even Stannis, later, thought that he and Renly, together, could had smashed Tywin. “A victory that would have made Robert proud”. But it was impossible to negotiate with Renly unless he submited to his younger brother. Somewhat unthinkable for a proud man.

        • David Hunt says:

          Let an innocent woman take the fall for regicide and what she gets for that is binding her son in alliance with a man who uses black magic to kill people? I can’t fault Cat for hightailing it out of there as fast as she could, even with Brienne.

          • Roger says:

            Some would say a young lord (Robb Stark) able to keep a man-eating big warg (Grey Wind) to maim loudmouth lords (Umber) and win battles (Oxcross) is also suspect of using black magic.
            Why saving Brienne, who he meet last week, is more important than saving the North?

      • David Hunt says:

        As I said below, I can’t fault Cat for deciding not to pursue an alliance with Stannis once Renly’s dead. He a blindingly obvious suspect for being the instigator of the black magic that killed Renly. However, they could have made it work if they were willing to take his side. Cat could point out to Stannis that the circumstances of their revolt was highly similar to what happened to the Starks in Robert’s Rebellion, that Stannis took part in, and that no one had heard even an accusation that Joffrey was illegitimate when Robb was proclaimed king. Bringing Stannis over to letting Robb keep the title and some special privileges in exchange for alliance and bending the knee might have been a little harder, but if Stannis agreed, then he could be counted on the honor the deal.

        Unfortunately: murder by black magic right in front of Cat and she wisely makes herself scarce before Loras kills her in a rage along with everyone else around him.

        • Roger says:

          Of course Renly killing was horrible and Catelyn reaction was adequate in human terms, but a cold diplomat would have acted in a different way.
          It must be noted that, after Catelyn departure, the Northerners losed any connection or direct information about what happened in the South.

  30. Your historical analysis part is quite interesting, and highlights the fact that anyone who is looking for 1:1 parallels to real world history in ASOAIF is dead wrong. If George, Duke of Clarence can be considered as a historical counterpart of sorts of of Renly, then the contrasts between them are just as strong as the similarities, as you’ve demonstrated here (e.g. trying to use black magic against an opponent vs being a victim of black magic). I would add that GRRM mixes and matches things because George was the brother who was always showing jealousy and whining about being overlooked (though with much less justification than Stannis!) and, while Renly’s whole shtick was that he was incredibly popular and able to convince people that he would make a splendid king, one of George’s main problems was that he wasn’t able to convince almost anyone that he was good king material – something even his father-in-law Warwick realized and switched his support to Edward of Lancaster. In fact, “No one wants you for their king” is something one could imagine someone telling George (though in his case, because of his too obvious chronic backstabbiness, unrealiability and lack of competence, as opposed to Stannis’ rigidity and lack of people skills). Although, in George’s defense, one advantage (?) he may have over Renly is that he *may* have believed himself to be the rightful heir to his father, due to the Edward IV paternity controversy.

    Speaking of which… I want to return to a historical discussion that was going on a while ago on this site in some of the previous chapters comments page. There was quite a bit of talk about the looks and genetics of various York family members. I think the entire Edward IV paternity controversy rests on the place and date of his conception and the location of Richard, Duke of York at the time; Im not sure that using Edward’s and other family members’ looks as evidence really leads anywhere (even if such simplified evidence is something GRRM likes to use, e.g. Cersei’s kids, Rhaenyra’s kids). Because, after having looked over what contemporary descriptions, portraits and actual physical evidence there is for those historical people’s appearances, here’s my attempt to entangle the genetics of the Plantagenet family:

    – Edward IV was indeed exceptionally tall, especially for that age (though this should perhaps not be exaggerated, since apparently medieval people were on average just a couple of inches shorter than the people of today?) – 6’4″ (or 6’3.5″, which is apparently how tall they found his body to be when they opened his grave) and he’s said to have been very muscular. Richard, Duke of York was said to be medium height and wiry – and Richard III took after him (slender and 5’7″ without the effect of scoliosis). BUT – George is also said to have been rather tall, and their sister Margaret was apparently 6′, really tall for a woman. I don’t know about the heights of other siblings. They didn’t need all to take after their father. Do we have any idea how tall Cecily Neville was?

    – You’ve said several times, Maester Steven, that Edward IV was blonde. But where does that information come from? Every portrait of him I’ve seen shows him with brown hair. The hair they found on his body was also apparently brown, and not even particularly light brown.

    – Similar with the idea Richard III being dark haired: contemporary accounts make no mention of his hair color, the earliest surviving portraits (not exactly contemporary, but presumably copied after his death from an earlier, contemporary portrait) show him with medium brown hair and grey-blue eyes. The recent DNA analysis lead to some media jumping to ridiculous conclusions that he was blonde and to a really terrible blonde makeover for his reconstructed head – but what the results showed was actually just that he had a high *probability* of having blonde hair *as a child*. I was blondish at 4 and now I’m dark. Going by how the portraits represent him, it seems he had brown hair – definitely not blonde but also surely not jet black as some like to imagine him.

    – In fact, the portraits all show Edward IV and Richard III having the same hair color, brown. So where does the idea of blonde Edward and dark-haired Richard come from? My guess is, stereotyping. We all kind tend to see Edward as a blonde dude and Richard as a dark-haired one because it fits with their respective personas. And maybe some writers 1) liked to call royals blonde even when they weren’t, because it was a popular hair color, and 2) wanted to make a bigger contrast between Richard and the rest of his siblings.

    – George is also portrayed with brown hair. If this,_1st_Duke_of_Clarence#/media/File:George_Plantagenet,_Duke_of_Clarence.jpg and this,_Duke_of_Clarence.jpg are more or less accurate, he had an unusual face… and he looked a lot like his mother, Cecily Neville: same little heart-shaped mouth and similar eyes and forehead, except his face is longer. His nose is not that dissimilar to Richard’s, though, and possibly Edward’s too.

    – Richard III was said to have been the spitting image of his father. There aren’t many available portraits of Richard, Duke of York – but if the stained glass representation of him in the church of Ludlow is anything to go by, that certainly seem to be true.

    – BUT the same stained glass representation shows Edward IV and it makes him rather similar to his father as well. I don’t know how accurate or not this representation is, though I’ll say that it certainly makes Edward IV better-looking than in most of his portraits (seriously, if this dude was supposed to incredibly handsome, his portraits don’t do him justice – now I wish we had his facial reconstruction, too, like we have Richard III’s now…).

    – AND despite of the contrast in height and build, if you look at the portraits of Edward IV and Richard III, there’s actual a strong similarity in features – while there’s also the strong contrast, with Edward being the plumped-faced one with a little heart-shaped mouth (Cecily’s mouth) and Richard the one with the bony face and longer, thin mouth. Compare, for instance, this or this and to Richard’s National Gallery Portrait: Edward may also have a somewhat straighter nose – and an even bigger chin than Richard in the portraits, and we know from Richard’s facial reconstruction that he had quite a prominent chin!

    – I also wonder if the portrait of young Henry VIII gives us an idea of what Edward IV may have looked like. Henry really took after his maternal grandfather in looks, physicality and many other ways. (Maybe that’s part of the reason why he was his mother’s favorite and why his father Henry VII didn’t like him much.)

    – The only difference is hair color – Henry VIII, like his daughter Elizabeth, and like his mother Elizabeth of York, was a redhead. (Incidentally, I’ve also seen Elizabeth of York described as blonde, even though the portraits show her as a ginger – I;m guessing that’s another instance of people wanting to assign the “desirable” hair color to a royal, as opposed to the one with traditionally negative associations.) This, I believe, should mean that they got the red hair gene from both parents, without the gene necessarily expressing itself in those people. I don’t know what hair color Elizabeth Woodville really had; but Edward IV could have had a red hair gene from his mom; again, no idea what Cecily’s hair color was (the women’s medieval hairstyles in those portraits are sure not helping!) but it seems that red hair may have been running in the Neville family, since Anne Neville was apparently a redhead. Her only portrait where you see her hair loose shows her with long, red hair; and there’s a mention in Croyland Chronicles (apparently often mistranslated/misinterpreted) about “vain exchange of clothing” between Anne and Elizabeth of York, which was earlier thought to mean that they were wearing the same clothes, but a new translation reads that they were exchanging clothes because they were of same height/build and coloring.
    Henry VII may have had a red hair gene too as, just like the Nevilles, Beauforts were descended from John of Gaunt and Kathryn Swynford.

    Whew! So, all in all… I don’t think that Edward IV’s looks particularly support the idea of his bastardy; but it’s difficult to draw any conclusions. All these people were related to each other, some closely, some distantly. It’s really about whether Richard, Duke of York was physically in the place to father Edward (there are disagreements in that regard). But, in any case, I don’t agree with your argument that, if Cecily was unfaithful once, she was likely to be unfaithful many times and have any number of bastards – especially since I can’t see her husband being OK with that and just going on as normal while they were having children almost every year.

    • Roger says:

      Interesting notes. I know nearly nothing about the Tudor kings, but you and Maester Steven raise my curiosity!

    • Agreed that there’s a lot of mixing and matching going on. George was charming and had good press, Richard was dutiful but had bad press, etc.

      Every description I’ve read says that Edward IV was blond.

      • But George didn’t exactly have a good “press”, did he? Even Warwick quickly realized he couldn’t make George king. While Richard had pretty good press as long as Edward was alive, and became polarizing only after he became king (and even then a lot of people wanted him to be king because they didn’t want a boy king controlled by the Woodvilles), and the really bad press only seems to have started with the Princess in the Tower. (And remained popular in the north, while Stannis wasn’t really very popular anywhere to begin with.)

        Where do those descriptions of Edward come from?

      • Austin says:

        In Alison Weir’s The Wars of the Roses she says “when Edward’s skeleton was found by workmen repaving the choir in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, it was discovered to be over 6’3″ long, and still wisps of golden-brown hair adhering to the skull.”

        Golden-brown is a vague enough term though that I could imagine that different people would describe someone with that hair color as anything from blond to brown. The image in the book of Edward IV’s portrait though seems to be pretty clearly brown-haired to me, however. Link below to image of the same portrait used in the book.

        • The thing with the surviving portraits of Edward IV, just like the surviving portraits of Richard III, is that they were painted long after their deaths, presumably copied from older portraits that had been painted during their lifetime – so, they all have the same basic features, but there’s some variety in the presentation (say, several different portraits that seemed to be copied from the same, older one). This particular portrait of Edward was a part of the series of portraits of English kings painted around 1540, during the reign of Henry VIII: The same page below shows different versions of portraits of Edward IV as well Henry IV, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VII, obviously all copied from the same source portraits.

          However, the majority of Edward’s portraits does show him brown-haired – like this one from around 1510 (slightly lighter hair, but still brown). There are portraits where he’s blonde, but they were painted at an even later date, like this one, which is dated no earlier than 1570:|-Renold-Elstrack,-or-after

          I’m not sure how many contemporary representations of Edward and other Plantagenets survive – most of them seem to be pictures in books etc. that were drawn in a more cartoonish fashion rather than the portrait style. There’s, for instance, this picture in the Luton Guild Book (around 1475) which represents king Edward IV, queen Elizabeth (Woodville) and the royal family kneeling before Bishop Thomas Rotherham and the Trinity. (There’s speculation that the man in green is Richard and the man in blue may be George, and the ladies behind the queen may be one of her sisters, and further behind Isabel and Anne Neville.) Another picture from the same book shows the queen’s brother Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, presenting a book to king Edward. Edward is definitely depicted as brown-haired in these images (and not even particularly light brown).

  31. Roger says:

    About George of Clarence and the “Oxford Wizard” it reminds me a history about Prince John of Aragon (future King John the Hunter), son of Peter IV of Aragon, in the XIV century. Prince John accused Queen Sibila, his father’s second wife, of trying to kill him using black magic.
    King Peter IV called his son a fool. He literaly said “If someone could kill a prince by magic, all princes in Europe would be already dead!”.

  32. […] new from a Stark/Tully perspective. Part of that has to do with GRRM’s choice to have Catelyn on the scene in Storm’s End. But I think part of the reason is to show how thoroughly Robb Stark has wrecked Tywin […]

  33. […] One of the things I love about this chapter is that we really see Catelyn at her best as a political thinker. For all that her political moves get reduced down to capturing Tyrion and then letting Jaime go, it’s impressive to see how quickly Catelyn puts the pieces together after being confronted with Stannis’ theory: […]

  34. […] assault viable. However, it’s also crucial that Stannis doesn’t become the same kind of war-ending behemoth that Renly was, in order to make the eventual outcome of the Battle of Blackwater plausible and his later conflict […]

  35. […] Mathis Rowan, Randyll Tarly, and Lady Oakheart are all Reachermen and -women who followed Renly because of his person and his marriage to Margaery, not because of any fealty to House Baratheon.  Moreover, as […]

  36. […] to Catelyn III, this chapter is the most important Catelyn chapter in ACOK, and arguably in the entire series as a […]

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

  38. […] confiscations and redistributions went on and on – when Warwick the Kingmaker rose up against Edward IV, he would redistribute lands once again, taking the Duchy of York from […]

  39. […] is consistent with the kind of person who thinks that leading the vanguard (which is normally an honor and reward is how one makes amends for a […]

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