Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn IV, ACOK

“She thought she glimpsed movement, but when she turned her head, it was only the king’s shadow shifting against the silken walls. She heard Renly begin a jest, his shadow moving, lifting its sword, black on green, candles guttering, shivering, something was queer, wrong, and then she saw Renly’s sword was still in its scabbard, sheathed still, but the shadowsword…the steel of his gorget parted like cheesecloth beneath the shadow of a blade that was not there.”

Synopsis: Catelyn and Renly meet for the last time. It does not 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:

If the death of Ned Stark is the major shock of A Game of Thrones,  and the Red Wedding is the major shock of A Storm of Swords (although I would argue it’s not the climax of the novel), I think Catelyn IV is the major shock of A Clash of Kings. It’s a completely unexpected turning point, altering the entire course of the War of Five Kings (a subject I’ll be addressing in detail in Davos II), made more unexpected by the fact that GRRM carefully avoids all forms of foreshadowing.

A Sidenote About Theology

Before we plunge into the meat of the chapter, I did find Catelyn’s rumination on the Faith of the Seven to be an interesting little bit of world-building:

God is one, Septon Osmynd had taught her when she was a girl, with seven aspects, as the sept is a single building with seven walls…

The Father was bearded, as ever. The Mother smiled, loving and protective. The Warrior had his sword…the Smith his hammer. The Maid was beautiful, the Crone wizened and wise. And the seventh face…the Stranger was neither male nor female, yet both, ever the outcast, the wanderer from far places, less and more than human, unknown and unknowable…

“Each of the Seven embodies all of the Seven,” Septon Osmynd had told her once. There was as much beauty in the Crone as in the Maiden, and the Mother could be fiercer than the Warrior when her children were in danger. 

Here, we learn that the Faith of the Seven – at least as far as it goes with the religious education of the elites – goes in for a version of consubstantiality/hypo-stasis, in which multiple entities are seen as elements of the same being (with the most obvious historical parallel here being to the Trinity in Christian doctrine, which became a dominant philosophy within the Catholic Church although not without enormous controversy during the first four centuries of early Christianity). This is further emphasized by the invocation of the Stranger as a subject of sacred mystery through the repeated pairings of incompatible characteristics.

What’s less clear is the extent to which the smallfolk – who make up the overwhelming majority of the Faith’s congregants see their faith as monotheistic versus polytheistic. Given that none of the prayers or other religious invocations we see in this chapter or any other refer to a general God versus the specific Gods of the Seven, I’m leaning heavily towards the latter.

At the same time it’s rather interesting that this is how George R.R Martin opens this chapter, given that the chapter will end with a shocking demonstration of supernatural power (which Melisandre will attribute to R’hllor), when the Faith of the Seven is the one religion in Westeros that has never shown supernatural power. Not sure what to make of that just yet.

Catelyn’s Conclusion and Her Offer

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:

Ned must have known, and Lord Arryn before him. Small wonder that the queen had killed them both. Would I do any less for my own? Catelyn clenched her hands, feeling the tightness in her scarred fingers where the assassin’s steel had cut to the bone as she fought to save her son. “Bran knows too,” she whispered, lowering her head. Gods be good, he must have seen something, heard something, that was why they tried to kill him in his bed.

“The Lannisters tried to kill my son Bran. A thousand times I have asked myself why. Your brother gave me my answer. There was a hunt the day he fell. Robert and Ned and most of the other men rode out after boar, but Jaime Lannister remained at Winterfell, as did the queen.”

“So you believe the boy caught them at their incest…”

While Catelyn doesn’t get everything right – like Ned and Stannis, she believes that Jon Arryn’s death was caused by the Lannisters, as there’s no evidence of Littlefinger’s hand in the deaths of the last two hands for her to latch onto – it does make you wonder what might have happened if it had been Catelyn doing the investigation in AGOT while Ned Stark went to prep the North for a civil war.

At the same time, I think it’s an important reality check for how we should look at Catelyn and Renly’s characters, because there’s a lot we can learn from how people react to sudden and unexpected information. Catelyn’s reaction to her revelation is to turn on a time and try to reinvent the entire Stark political and diplomatic agenda; Renly, following his behavior in the last Catelyn chapter, decides to discount this information entirely because it confirms an inconvenient truth. Which should throw some cold water on the “Renly would have been a great king” idea.

For more on this point, let’s turn to Catelyn’s proposal to bring the issue of the succession to a Great Council and put the crown to a vote, short-circuiting the War of Five Kings:

“Robb will set aside his crown if you and your brother will do the same,” she said, hoping it was true. She would make it true if she must; Robb would listen to her, even his lords would not. “Let the three of you call for a Great Council, such as the Realm has not seen for a hundred years. We will send to Winterfell, so Bran may tell his tale and all men may know the Lannisters for the true usurpers. Let the assembled lords of the Seven Kingdoms choose who shall rule them.”

It’s an ambitious proposal on Catelyn’s part – it would require Robb and the lords of the North and the Riverlands to back down from their call for independence, and it’s unclear whether the currently neutral Vale and Dorne would participate, let alone the Lannister-controlled Westerlands and Crownlands or the rebellious Iron Islands. Moreover, this would be a huge leap forward for Great Councils – the Councils have traditionally had the authority to decide the succession, but they’ve never claimed the right to decide outright who the next king would be outside of the ruling dynasty. This would be a huge step towards an elective monarchy, and Renly recognizes that.

On the other hand, if the three Kings in question did put their kingdoms into the pot, so to speak, it would be an open signal to the rest of Westeros that whoever won the vote at the Great Council would have the allegiance of four Great Houses, which was decisive enough to win the last civil war. That fact alone might bring the stragglers into the discussion, or at the very least help bring the War of Five Kings to a swift conclusion.

And that what makes Renly’s response so important: “tell me, my lady, do direwolves vote on who should lead the pack?…the time for talk is done. Now we see who is stronger.” Unlike in the show where Renly dies offering an olive branch to the Starks – which lends its own version of tragedy to the event – here Renly goes out deliberately shutting down the idea of any kind of resolution to the War of Five Kings short of absolute victory, which makes him more of a warmonger than he’s remembered as. What makes his response even worse is that, with the Reach and the Stormlands behind him (or at least the better part of both of those), and his own personal charisma, Renly stood a good chance of winning that vote outright. Instead, he chooses violence – this isn’t the action of a “better” king, it’s the actions of a thug with good P.R. Even King Robert, with all his many faults, understood the legitimacy of the support of the Great Houses of Westeros.

Renly’s Battle Plan:

It doesn’t get any better when you see what Renly was rejecting Catelyn’s offer in favor of:

“…our battles are well drawn up. Why wait for daybreak? Sound the advance.”

“And have it said that I won by treachery, with an unchivalrous attack? Dawn was the chosen hour.”

“Chosen by Stannis,” Randyll Tarly pointed out. “He’d have us charge into the teeth of the rising sun. We’ll be half-blind.”

“Only until first shock,” Renly said confidently. “Ser Loras will break them, and after that it will be chaos…when my brother falls, see that no insult is done to his corpse. He is my own blood, I will not have his head paraded about on a spear.”

I’ll discuss the battle-that-might-have been in more detail in the What If? section, but needless to say, ignoring Randyll Tarly’s advice about the terrain, gambling everything on the success of a cavalry charge by a mere portion of his army, and “chaos” is not good military tactics.

However, I think this scene has ramifications for Renly’s character, because this is the moment where the King in Highgarden is struck down by a shadow-assassin. One of the reasons why I’ve never gotten on board the Stannis-hater train is that it’s always seemed to me that, even if we assume Stannis ordered the death of his brother, at the very worst this seems like a case of pre-emptive self-defense. As I’ve suggested in the previous Catelyn chapter Renly is ordering the execution of his brother, although without stating it explicitly – which makes him an attempted kinslayer at the very least.

While I’ll discuss the whole question of Stannis and intentionality in Davos II, I’ve never understood why it’s somehow more moral to kill someone with 20,000 cavalry as opposed to a single shadow-assassin, any more than I’ve ever understood how a drone strike is morally different from a cruise missile or a bombing run or an infantry battalion. Unless we’re making an argument that this form of magic – apart from all other forms of magic in ASOIAF – is somehow ontologically evil, it seems motivated by nothing more than irrational fear and prejudice.

credit to Rafal Hrynkiewicz

Robar the Witness

In the aftermath of Renly’s assassination, Catelyn’s reaction is interesting. It’s not perfect – Catelyn is conscious of her own state of shock but is unable to overcome it in time to speak before things turn violence – but I had forgotten that in addition to reasoning with Ser Robar Royce, she also manages to disable Ser Emmon Cuy. Regarding the former:

“Robar, no, listen…you do her wrong, it was not her. Help her! Hear me, it was Stannis.” The name was on her lips before she could think how it got there, but as she said it, she knew that it was true. “I swear it, you know me, ti was Stannis killed him….Sorcery, some dark magic, there was a shadow, a shadow…a shadow with a sword, I swear it, I saw. Are you blind, the girl loved him! Help her!…She is innocent, Robar. You have my word, on my husband’s grave and my honor as a Stark!”

“I will hold them,” Ser Robar said.

I don’t think it quite qualifies as a “threefold revelation,” but it is noticeable that in a chapter that’s ultimately all about how sudden violence can disrupt rational discourse, Renly’s death is echoed by Ser Emmon’s jump to conclusions and his fight with Brienne (which prevents Catelyn from explaining the situation or making any alliance with the Tyrells), and Loras’ off-screen murderous rampage, which means that Ser Robar’s message dies with him.

On the other hand, and this is something I’ll discuss more in the What If? section, it’s hard to tell how much his survival would have changed.

Stannis the Villain?

At the end of this chapter, we get Catelyn’s realization of what all of this sudden violence has meant, that it has given Stannis an improbable victory and made him a threat not only to King’s Landing but also to the “heroes,” the Starks:

All the power of Storm’s End and Highgarden, the power that had been Renly’s an hour ago. They belong to Stannis now, she realized, even if they do not know it themselves yet. Where else are they to turn, if not to the last Baratheon? Stannis has won all with a single evil stroke. 

I am the rightful king, he had declared, his jaw clenched hard as iron, and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well.

That last part is critical for ensuring that the readers’ sympathies begin to trend against Stannis, who so far has been a rather ambiguous presence, the moment that Stannis acquires an army that makes him a real threat. Indeed, I would argue that in the latter half of ACOK, Stannis becomes the main antagonist – especially as he comes into conflict with a POV protagonist like Tyrion. That’s not the same thing as him being a villain; the purpose of Davos’ POV is to maintain ambiguity about Stannis’ character from now until the sudden reveal in ASOS, when he comes riding to the rescue.

It’s an impressive trick, reminiscent of the way that GRRM pulls a switcheroo on the audience’s expectations about Jaime Lannister by introducing his POV, if something more of a longer con.

Historical Analysis:

There’s not really a good historical topic that’s grabbing me at the moment, so I’ll punt to Davos II, where I’ll address any historical parallels that involve either chapter.

What If?

As with other chapters that involve a sudden death, there are a bunch of hypotheticals to consider here, if:

  • the battle had had happened? In Catelyn III, I suggested that Stannis might have set up a Crecy-like battle plan, taking advantage of the fact that Renly’s army was all-cavalry and had a pressing need to bring the battle to a conclusion. In this chapter, we learn that Stannis has also set up the battlefield such that Renly’s army would have been charging into the sun, an important advantage in pre-modern combat, and that Renly had absolutely no plan other than to have Loras’ vanguard charge and then “chaos.”
  • Thus, I see two options for what could happen here – if Stannis’ army isn’t quite up to par and Renly wins, then Stannis is dead and the Renly train keeps on rolling to King’s Landing. The main question thereafter is how many men Renly loses trying to seize King’s Landing – is it enough that Tywin could make any difference in relieving the capitol, or enough to make the Stark/Tully vs. Baratheon/Tyrell conflict even? Or does Renly march on to victory. On the other hand, if Stannis wins and manages to capture Renly and/or Loras, he might have gained a lot more than 20,000 men if he could parlay Loras’ capture into the Tyrells’ belated support.
  • the Great Council had happened?  So it seems to me that, assuming for the moment that these are the only Kingdoms who attend, and assuming that the Kingdoms are roughly equivalent in voting power (since we don’t know how apportionment in the Great Council works), you’d start with a 2:2:1 (with 1 being Stannis and the Crownlands) split, where the Starks could have played kingmaker with either faction. On the one hand, Catelyn’s initial mission suggests leaning toward Renly; on the other hand, if Robb and his lords heard and believed Bran’s story (and it’s an open question whether Bran would be able to testify, what with the upcoming Ironborn invasion), I think they’d feel honor-bound to declare for Stannis. Regardless, any of these options would be awful for the Lannisters, who desperately need their enemies to remain divided lest Tywin’s relatively modest army be crushed.
  • Robar Royce had lived? Here’s the one where I feel unsure about what would change. The Tyrells aren’t going to ally with Stannis regardless, it’s not clear whether anyone would have believed Ser Robar, etc. It would make a big difference to Bronze Yohn, who’s experienced a surprising amount of tragedy for a minor character. It might make a difference to Brienne, if she’s not arrested in King’s Landing because of Loras. Beyond that, I’m not sure…

Book vs. Show:

To me, the main difference between the book and the show here is a combination of the changing circumstances in which Renly dies, which I’ve already touched on, and the fallout, which eliminates some of the surprise of the Tyrell/Lannister alliance due to Littlefinger’s surprising appearance at Storm’s End (honestly, people need to cool it with the teleportation crack – LF makes some pretty impressive geographical jumps in the books too, so it’s not like the show invented that), and gives Loras a more mellow response to his lover’s death.

More on this in Davos II.


132 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn IV, ACOK

  1. winnie says:

    Fine analysis as always Steve. I would argue the show unlike the books does try to set us up for Renly’s death sooner and imply that Stannis is the one to watch out for.

    I do think that Cat’s proposal of a Great Council was clear foreshadowing and will actually happen at some point. I have my own theories about who gets chosen then.

    Also its good to be reminded how isolated the Lannister’s truly were before the Tyrell alliance and how outnumbered. And the way things are going Cersei is likely to put them in that same position again. (Which makes me wonder what the Tyrells do or what happens to them once the Great Western alliance inevitably collapses.)

    Which is one reason I wonder if Cersei will align with Euron because otherwise its hard to see how she can survive much longer.

    • Thanks!

      I’m a bit more skeptical of whether the GC will happen.

      • blacky says:

        Why is Loras allowed a murderous rage? Is he allowed to cut down anyone he pleases?

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          IIRC, Loras thought Ronnet was blocking him from pursuing Renly’s killer, and therefore in on it. With his father’s army behind him, no witnesses and few people excited to try him in a trial by combat, I think Loras walks. (Jaime was in a similar situation at the beginning of the series – social standing and an ability to win trial by combat means you have a lot of leeway)

          The scene where Loras realizes that maybe Brienne is innocent is one of my favorites.

  2. jpmarchives says:

    Great stuff steve.

    The Great council idea is one which again highlights the conflicting characters of the Barathean brothers. I think Renly’s opposition to a grand council stems from more than just his faith in military power; a grand council of any kind would make discovering Joffrey’s true parentage a priority. If that is definitively solved, then the whole inheritance issue will raise it’s ugly head and Renly is left trying to use his considerable diplomatic skills to persuade people to accept a destabilizing royal appointment.

    Conversely, Stannis has potentially everything to gain from a platform in which he can present his claim in a way that does not require military strength. At court Renly is master, but in a tense negotiating room, I’d be more inclined to back the Iron over the bronze, if only because Stannis is such a potent counterpoint to the danger of the Lannisters.

    Of course, Stannis wouldn’t agree to a council, no matter how much it might benefit him because he does not base his claim on the opinion of Lords but the rule of law, which is not open to debate.

    TV show Stannis is one of the main reasons why my positive feelings about the show have slowly curdled from Season 2 onward. They’ve taken pains to make him more likable this year, but that’s just pissing in the wind after they robbed him of his raison d’etre; Davos persuading him to head north. Instead of a seminal moment in Stannis’ character like it is in the books, Stannis callously orders Davos’ death and has to be persuaded otherwise by Melisandre of all people. It’s a decision I’ve never quite gotten over.

    • You raise a good point – on the face of it, if the lords of Westeros believe Bran’s testimony as providing corroboration to Stannis’ claim, then Renly is in a bad position. However, if they don’t…

    • KrimzonStriker says:

      I hardly call it callous, he gave Davos a lot of chances prior to that sentence and his hard stance on the rule of law did make his decision in character whatever the media outlet

      • jpmarchives does have a point though – the show didn’t handle Stannis’ Season 3 character arc right. What’s weird is that it wasn’t consistent – some episodes would be pure Stannis (his visiting Davos in the cells) and others wouldn’t be Stannis at all.

        • KrimzonStriker says:

          That I’ll agree with regarding season 3’s inconsistency with him, Depression and desperation doesn’t suit him very well but they were trying to drag his arc out and hey, at least they introduced Shireen.

  3. Sean C. says:

    Pour one out for Robar Royce.

  4. Ser Squirt says:

    How about the death of Empress Elizabeth turning the seven years’ war in favor of Fredrick the Great for historical analysis.

    • Yeah, I was also thinking the Emperor Julian, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

      • Matthew says:

        The death of Yuan Shikai in 1916 and the warlord period in China is a great historical parallel.

        Not so much for the specific death of Renly, but the whole war of the five kings.

        Independent regional armies, over the top personalities, betrayals, spies, the idea of the Republic of China analagous to the 7 kingdoms where all swear de jure fealty to the idea but disagree on who is the rightful government.

        • Sir Squirt says:

          So Stannis faces crushing defeat and makes a long march (sail) to the north (Shanxi) where he could better fight the others (Japanese).

          • Matthew says:

            Even better in the sense that Stannis says he’s going north to fight the true enemy, the white walkers (the Japanese), but doesn’t really fight them at all and keeps on prosecuting the civil war.

  5. Benjamin Holm says:

    Excellent write-up as usual. I always thought that Stannis as a kinslayer was a bit of a stretch, but one brother was going to kill the other, as you say.

    And I think the whole drone controversy comes down to, yet again, people freaking out about a new technology. When it’s a weapon, the hysteria is all the more heightened.

    • Grant says:

      It may have something to do with the difference between killing a combatant during battle and killing a potential combatant (who in this case wasn’t even really one) in a clear assassination. Once you do the latter, remember that you were the one who threw open the floodgates.

      Also drones are not known for being terribly accurate and have been known to have bombed wedding parties on the assumption they were militants.

      • Renly absolutely was a combatant – he’s the opposing general-in-chief, and in command of the right wing.

        As for drones, they’re not less accurate than cruise missiles or a carpet bombing – the moral issue is whether or not you launch a strike at a target in a civilian area.

        • litgreg says:

          Drones differ from cruise missiles in terms of threshold energy required to act. They have the same standoff capability, but with a smaller payload, they reduce the odds of collateral damage. A strike you would be unwilling to risk with a cruise missile you might attempt with a drone. It’s a small difference, but if you’re a innocent on the business end of a strike, it would be all the difference.

    • Amestria says:

      It’s a new weapon that has the potential to vastly increase the power of the ruling class.

  6. Sean C. says:

    Also, the other notable hypothetical: What if Catelyn had departed prior to the arrival of the assassin, or either calculatedly or through lack of swift action not intervened to save Brienne? The result being that she, as the chief Stark negotiator, is at ground zero of an army on the verge of dissolving, and with the Tyrells, in particular, as free agents.

    In a lot of the fandom debates around a potential Stark/Tyrell alliance (and, in particular, debates about whether Robb should have immediately ransomed his sisters back in exchange for Jaime and then used her for alliance-building purposes), it’s overlooked that the above scenario is the only window Robb would ever have had to make such an offer, and due to Catelyn’s presence/intervention in favour of Brienne, that opportunity never presented itself.

    This would also, interestingly, offer the possibility of Catelyn coming face-to-face with Baelish at Highgarden, if he was still sent on his diplomatic mission.

    • winnie says:

      Yeah as much as I’d miss Brienne (and she is crucial to Jaime’s redemption) Robb/Margaery and/or Sansa/Willas not only would have saved the Starks but increasingly I believe it would have been far better for the Tyrells as well. And Sansa would have been well suited to be Lady of Highgarden.

      And a Cat/Lf showdown could have been legendary especially if she started to realize the truth about his activities.

    • Ah, that’s a good scenario. Yeah, it’s possible she might have been able to make the pitch to Loras and Randyll on the spot.

      Although I thought Baelish made the deal at Bitterbridge?

      • Sean C. says:

        There’s some weirdness on that point. In ACOK he says he’s going to Bitterbridge, but in ASOS it’s always treated like the deal was struck in Highgarden (certainly, Olenna was present for it, and she wasn’t at Bitterbridge, as far as we know).

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        He could have just met up with the Tyrell host at Bitterbridge but then ratified/hammered things out back at Highgarden.

    • Mr Fixit says:

      This is an interesting one, though I’m having trouble coming up with something sweet enough Catelyn could’ve offered Tyrells. Marrying into Baratheons-Lannisters, Marg becomes Queen. Allying with Starks, on the other hand… short of trying to establish some kind of rump Southern kingdom, what’s in it for them that Lannisters can’t beat?

      • Sean C. says:

        I expect Catelyn would have essentially offered that they should ally and take the Iron Throne, with Robb/Margaery as king and queen. She already proposed in this chapter that a great council be called to adjudicate the succession to the throne, which implicitly would involve Robb dropping the whole independence movement (which Catelyn never liked to begin with).

        Now, this would be a pretty big surprise for Robb and his lords if she struck this deal, but seeing as it would guarantee victory I think they’d pretty much have to take it.

        As for why the Tyrells might go for it, consider that this is the height of Stark/Tully power. Robb has more soldiers in the field than Tywin does. He has proven himself the best general in the field, winning a string of impressive victories that have destroyed two armies in the span of a few months.

        • John says:

          From what one can gather, the Riverlords were not particularly into the King of the North idea. In the council where Robb is proclaimed, Jonos Bracken suggests swearing to Renly, and Marq Piper agrees. Stevron Frey urges caution. Edmure cautiously suggests supporting Stannis. Blackwood also seems to tend towards Renly – when Catelyn suggests peace with the Lannisters, he suggests that this might be seen as treason if Renly wins. Mallister doesn’t seem to weigh in – he only makes strategic suggestions

          The call for a “King in the North,” probably unsurprisingly, comes largely from the Northern lords – it’s the Greatjon, and Karstark, and Maege Mormont who stand first. The Riverlords are then swept into the enthusiasm, but it’s definitely not their idea. And, of course, many of the northern lords aren’t present for this either – we have Galbart Glover in addition to the three independence enthusiasts, but Roose Bolton, Helman Tallhart, and Robett Glover are at the Twins, and a number of leaders are imprisoned in Harrenhal. Wyman Manderly hasn’t weighed in, his eldest son is a prisoner, and his younger son may not even be present at this council. The Dustins, Ryswells, Lockes, and Flints don’t seem to have had a chance to weigh in, either, although I suppose Robin Flint is likely present at Riverrun.

          The only houses that look to be hardcore independence supporters at this point are Umber and Karstark (even Maege Mormont spoke up for Stannis earlier in the discussion). Getting Robb to step back towards accommodation with Stannis and/or Renly shouldn’t be impossible.

          • It’s not their idea, but the important thing is they bend their knee to him as king. I don’t see any signs from later on that the Riverlords (besides the Freys) are faint-hearted in their loyalty to Robb.

          • John says:

            I wasn’t thinking about them betraying Robb by supporting Renly or Stannis, so much as whether they’d feel betrayed if Robb decided to bend the knee to Renly or Stannis. I don’t think any of the Riverlords would have much of a problem with that, in the way that Lord Karstark or the Greatjon might.

        • Mr Fixit says:

          Maybe it could work. In the long run though, a Northern and culturally very different dynasty ruling the whole realm… I don’t think the South would be happy with such an arrangement.

          • Sean C. says:

            Well, Robb is half-Tully, and if his kids with Margaery were raised in the south (which they’d pretty much have to be), they’d be pretty southern too.

      • Well, if the Lannisters get beat, they can’t offer much. Which is something the Tyrells have to take into account.

  7. NoSeptaOsmyndette says:

    This is a tiny and insignificant, but always weird that Catelyn learned about the Faith in her youth from Septon Osmynd rather than a septa. I think the show just gave more to Brienne than Loras which I’m okay with that. It’s kind of superfluous so many folks mourning a third-tier character on the show and Renly’s death motivates Brienne’s plot (especially in the future if she’s in The North and meeting up with Stannis) more than Loras’ plot both in ASOIAF and GOT.

  8. Son of Fire says:

    Nice write up, i’ve missed these!
    I spotted an additional “by” just above the cool picture of the shadow “it seems motivated by by nothing more than irrational fear and prejudice.

  9. John says:

    Wouldn’t an obvious comparison for the Polytheism vs. Monotheism of the Faith be modern Hinduism? As I understand it, there’s a philosophical Hindu tradition, followed by the upper classes, that views all the gods as aspects of a single divinity, while for ordinary people Hinduism presents as basically polytheistic. That seems to fit fairly well with what we see of the Faith of the Seven.

    • winnie says:

      For that matter modern day Catholicism as practiced by regular people is a wee bit polytheistic itself….all those people who light candles or direct prayers to one specific Saint.

      And then there’s that old joke about how a builder doing repairs in a church by the main alter to Jesus sees a woman praying to the statue of the Holy Virgin. As a joke he hides behind the alter and speaks so she’ll think Jesus is talking to her…but she’s all pipe down I’m talking to your mother!

      • Crystal says:

        There are many areas where Catholicism has blended with polytheistic religions as well – the Virgin of Guadalupe is a native Mexican saint, possibly with origins in an Aztec goddess. Afro-Caribbean religions combine Catholicism with African religions. The Irish St. Bridget was originally the goddess Brigid. I wouldn’t be surprised if many parts of Westeros have “the Seven” combined with older religions and they got subsumed under “The Mother” or whoever. Syncretism has a long history – it’s so much easier to convert people if you agree to let them worship Old Goddess under the guise of the Virgin Mary.

        I also note that there was one passage – I think maybe from Catelyn’s POV – which described the Mother and the Maid as having the most candles lit to them. Just like the Virgin Mary had more devotees than Jesus in many places.

        • This is not specific to Catholicism. In Slavic Orthodox Christian countries, the most popular saints are old Slavic gods by a different name. Saint Ilija/Elijah is called “Gromovnik”, Thunderer, because he has clearly replaced Perun, the god of thunder and lightning. The most popular female saint is Saint “Petka” Paraskeva (Paraskeva was a 10th century Greek female saint, and “Petka” means Friday – similar to the Greek “paraskevi”), who is believed to have taken on the traits of Slavic earth goddess Mokos. And even the Christmas celebrations have their roots in the old pagan worship of Svarog, the Sun god, and the winter solstice as the time when the old Sun god dies, and the new, young Sun god is born – or, perhaps, when the Sun god is reborn as a younger self.

        • Another reason why Mother and Maid have most worshippers is what they are supposed to represent. Mother is mercy, or healthy children, Maid is love and innocence – it says a lot that this is what people most want, rather than justice (Father) or success in battle (warrior).

    • Yeah, I suppose. I mostly stuck with the Catholic thing b/c Martin was raised Catholic, and even as an atheist that stuff sticks with you.

    • derzquist says:

      I also got a slight vibe of Hinduism from the Faith of the Seven, and you could also point to the Neoplatonist philosophies of the Roman Empire in the early C.E. centuries (again, there is a distant, great Deity behind all the other supernatural & philosophical stuff that’s closer to us). But at the end of the day The Faith’s ‘bureaucratic’ structure is definitely reflecting the Western (Roman) Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. You’ve got a pope, parish priests, monks, nuns, even a tradition of itinerant priests. Though strangely, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of system of bishops.

      One thing that has always struck me as odd about the The Faith is the lack of any reference to schisms or heretics. With two other well established religions sharing the continent for hundreds of years, one would expect there to be a range of odd blendings of religions popping up along the religious borderlands.

      • Crystal says:

        Until the High Sparrow, the Faith didn’t seem zealous in rooting out “heretics” past the Andal conquest. AWOIAF noted that Viserys I may have poisoned Baelor the Blessed to keep him from launching a holy war with the North – Viserys (and many others!) did not want a potentially ruinous civil war. I surmise there was a lot more of “live and let live, just pay your taxes and tithes and we won’t fuss over the fine points of heresy” than what went on in medieval Europe.

        • derzquist says:

          I guess my question is more along the lines of; Has the Faith never encountered an issue like Iconoclasm or one of the other big heretical debates of the early Christian centuries? There’s gotta be a few things in the Seven-Pointed Star that are vague and open to wide interpretation. Hell the fact that apparently The Seven once existed in human form in hills of Andalos would be an open invitation to Miaphysite vs Nestorian style disagreement.

      • There are Cardinals – the Most Devout.

        There have been some schisms and heresies – there was that Ironborn King or Lord who tried to combine the Seven with the Drowned God – but they are pretty rare. Especially given how the Faith crossed political boundaries, you’d expect some kind of tension: why don’t the Septs of the Vale think of themselves as the original center of the Faith vs. the upstarts down in Oldtown? Do the Septons of Dorne moderate themselves to “Dornish ways” to the consternation of the High Septon? Etc.

  10. I have a question, how does the morality of one-shadow assassination compare to the Red Wedding. Tywin himself asks why it’s different to kill thousands on a battlefield instead of a dozen at dinner. Does Tywin have the same point in the Red Wedding as Stannis does with Shadow Assassination?

    • Jim B says:

      The difference is that a military camp like Renly’s is traditionally considered “fair game.” It’s why camps set guards and dig defenses — you expect the possibility of attack at any time.

      The Red Wedding was a violation of the laws of hospitality. And those laws aren’t just some quaint little meaningless tradition, they’re an important institution, like the immunity of ambassadors or peace delegations or a flag of truce/surrender. (Which Tyrion violates, too.)

      In the long term, it’s a huge loss for a society when things like the Red Wedding happen, because it undermines several of the mechanisms by which peace can be achieved and maintained — weddings themselves (often used to seal bargains), and hospitality in general. If you can’t even trust someone enough to sit down and talk with them without extensive negotiations about where the meeting takes place, how many guards each person brings, and constant monitoring to ensure compliance, it becomes very difficult to build or maintain peace. That’s what Tywin was willing to sacrifice for his own selfish short-term gain. And that’s why the Freys and the Boltons are so hated for what they did.

      By comparison, there’s no societal loss from a sneak attack on an army camp because again, it’s understood that you’re always at risk of attack when you’re in the field and have declared war.

      • Grant says:

        This isn’t sending an attacking force but really closer to getting someone to stab someone else in the back. So Stannis really can’t complain of the use of assassins if someone hires a cook to poison him in his war camp.

        • Jim B says:

          If the “this” you’re referring to is Stannis’s shadow-assassin, then I disagree. It’s more analogous to an elite commando force of one than it is to a spy or saboteur entering a camp under false pretenses.

          But even if I accept the analogy, it’s hardly the same as the Red Wedding. Steven will know much more of the history than me, but my understanding is that spies and saboteurs have traditionally been in a “grey zone” of morality — they’re often spoken of with disdain, and weren’t entitled to the more honorable treatment of regular soldiers, but they were still in pretty common use. Sending an assassin to kill the enemy commander was perhaps not the stuff of songs and legends, but it wasn’t a breach of the “laws of war” such as they were generally understood.

          • Grant says:

            I didn’t call it morally equivalent, but it certainly is an assassination and kinslaying no less (even though when we hear from Stannis about it he seems to be in denial). Personally I don’t consider either brother, at this point in the story, to be clearly superior (something that I think actually puts me in the minority).

          • ^ This. Also, leaving aside the did-he-give-the-order controversy, Stannis does say: “strike your banners and come to me before dawn…otherwise, I will destroy you,” and Renly dies pretty much as that deadline expires. So it’s not like there was a broken truce or something.

          • Bail o' Lies says:

            Generally when a enemy soldier is tried and executed he is given a firing squad. When a spy is captured he is hanged. It is normally considered a disgrace by military men to be hanged instead of given a firing squad.

    • winnie says:

      Well for one thing thousands did die during the RW and its buildup like Roose’s march on Duskendale. A precision assassination it was not.

      And as others pointed out violating Guest Right creates a very, VERY dangerous precedent.

      Not to mention it was all being done on behalf of someone with no right to the throne and who was utterly unfit to hold it.

    • I think people have rather covered this: for me, it has to do with the thousands of people who Tywin had killed at and leading up to the Red Wedding vs. the thousands of people Stannis didn’t have killed, and also the issue of breaking down the social contract by violating guest right.

    • Bail o' Lies says:

      The difference between them is Stannis killing Renly before the battle was that it was “unsporting” by breaking their agreement before the battle though Renly’s lord were suggesting he break their agreement as well. Also most people think it was Lady Tarth because of women scorn.

      The Red Wedding is different because the Frey were Robb’s bannermen and he was also their guest. So they broke both their oath to their King/Lord, and the broke the scared hospitality law/guest rights. “How can you trust a man if you can’t sit down and have a meal with him? How can anyone trust anyone if the crown instead of punishing this heinous act instead rewards the perpetrators?”

    • Faber says:

      People say the difference is the bad precedent of violating guest right, but IMO the use of dark magic is a pretty bad precent as well. It opens up pandora’s box

  11. Chinoiserie says:

    “I’ve never understood why it’s somehow more moral to kill someone with 20,000 cavalry as opposed to a single shadow-assassin”

    You sound rather like Tywin here ;). And before anyone mentions, yes I know there were more than dozen at dinner killed in Red Wedding (although you can not prove Tywin knew that beforehand btw 😉

    Anyway I think Renly in personally unlikable. I am not interlay sure why maybe he is a bit shallow, cocky and superior sounding? Or maybe because many ignore his flaws? Mostly because he was so easily ordering the deaths of his brother and the supposed children’s of his brother. He is not horrible however and mayhaps he could have learned to become a better king with time and difficulties but I feel the opposite is more likely.

    Tyrell allience is interesting possibility but I feel Catelyn should have done some groundwork with befriending Margaery or Loras. On the spot alliance in these kind of circumstances feels impossible.

  12. RoyceMakesMeThinkOfJimBelushiMovie says:

    Enjoyed the singling out of Ser Robar Royce so weird that there is no payoff to his death with Bronze Yohn. Always felt so random for a random Valian (or Valite? or Valish?) knight being with Renly. I could totally over read this, but maybe GMMR likes to reuse names and Royce as good as any.

    • Well, we don’t know there won’t be a payoff – after all, it’s not like Bronze Yohn isn’t a player in Westerosi politics, and if Ser Loras isn’t dying of his injuries from the assault on Dragonstone, he may well find himself dealing with a bloodfeud.

      • Andrew says:

        If I were a claimant to the IT trying to win Vale lords, I would start by offering Bronze Yohn justice for Robar’s death which he knows he can’t get under the current Lannister-Tyrell regime that controls the IT.

  13. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Great analysis, Steve.

    I’ve always liked this chapter because we get to see Renly’s true character. The romantic notions of meritocratic, politically canny, populist super-candidate to petty warlord in roses. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to say that this chapter and the quote on: “You don’t have my leave, sit and watch me crush Stannis and tell Robb that I’m not playing around” nugget showcase Renly’s own personal inadequacies for the Iron Throne, as opposed to the (equally true) point you make about the startling precedent he sets for the Throne if he wins.

    I’ve never liked the show adaptation of Renly’s death, though I understand it from a broad strokes perspective to make the Stark cause more tragic. I almost feel at time it was written in lieu of the showrunners not showing how close Robb’s military campaign was to ending the Lannister army in the Riverlands, though I have to say I’d disagree with that particular choice given the way it completely changes Renly’s character.

    One thing I always wondered was if the shadow assassin was to cast doubt on Stannis’s victory over Renly so far as to limit those who would throw in for him after his victory at Storm’s End. If Stannis had secured a military victory, it would have been respected a great deal among the martial Westerosi to the point where many might view that deed as a sort of right to acclaim in his own right in the vein of Aegon the Conqueror. This credibility might lead to more than just the Antler Men clamoring for Stannis’s return, and could have bled support away from Tyrion and King’s Landing at the time it needs it most.

    • somethinglikealawyer says:

      Renly’s deal, not Renly’s death. Blast it all.

    • Tom says:

      This is a pretty good point. Really shows the authors hand pressing down on events, and might even be an argument in favour of Stannis being ignorant of the shadow since I imagine he’d be fairly confident of his own military abilities over his brothers (although perhaps he would have assumed Renly to at least have the sense to put Randyll in charge, making him more wary).

    • Thanks!

      I actually didn’t mind how they handled it in the show. My problems were more with the dogs dinner they made of Robb’s campaign, the timing/knowledge stuff with Bran and Rickon and Robb and Cat’s actions, and of course Jon and Dany.

      • winnie says:

        Yeah I think for the show it made sense to clarify things more regarding the Shadow baby (and they certainly didn’t need Penrose or 2 shadow babies) so while there were plenty of missteps in Season 2 and Stannis hasn’t always been fairly treated (though its gotten a lot better on that front recently) I think they handled this one all right.

      • somethinglikealawyer says:

        Sadly, I minded all of those things too.

    • jpmarchives says:

      I always liked that Renly’s true character is actually a mix of the chivalrous knight and the morally grey schemer; it takes a pragmatic man to order the death of his brother on the field of battle to secure his throne and it takes a romantic man to favour a cavalry charge directly into the rising son led by his own lover.

      Negative reaction to this chapter generally stems from the visceral shock of the magical elements of the story intruding so violently upon what was previously a political plot line. I find it very hard to feel angry at Stannis for killing his brother when Renly was making clear and undeniable plans to… kill his brother. And that’s if we assume that Stannis knew about the shadow baby, when there is ample evidence which suggests he didn’t. (Subconsciously is another can of worms.)

  14. KrimzonStriker says:

    Given how nearly half the Lord Paramounts voted for Laneor back in the great Council of 101 but were outvoted like 20:1 apparently I’m guessing all the high-lords at least got a vote on the matter and not just the LP’s and Wardens. You’d get split votes then from both the Stormlands and the Reach, not majority but a sizable minority at least given the tricky issue of the right of succession with Stannis being the oldest once they get out of a less chaotic situation and out of the the looming threat of the Lannisters. Not that the current Stannis would likely agree to subject his kingship to a vote any more then Renly did, though out of principle in the former’s case, Plus how likely would it be for Robb to convince his bannerman to put down the cause for independence now that the issue has been brought up?

    • That’s a fair point. For the sake of clarity, I assumed that the lesser Houses would follow their liege lords in terms of vote-counting, but that hasn’t been the case historically.

  15. Excellent job as usual Steve.
    Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Renly so the death by shadow baby didn’t bother me. For me it was just another war tactic and an advantage over a superior numeric force; Renly’s offhand ‘Loras will break chaos’ is very strange considering that Loras is just one man and he alone wouldn’t do much unless Renly had directly tasked him to target Stannis himself and concentrate only in Stannis.

    Another interesting thing regarding the shadow baby is Stannis conversation with Davos later on, that he was trashing in his sleep when Davos’ son went to wake him and couldn’t do it. At the time perhaps he didn’t understand the meaning of it, after Penrose, he might have had a clearer view on what happened with Renly.

    Cat, my poor Cat, her GC was a wise decision as it had a high chance that it would be a bloodless succession, but I wonder if Robb would have been ok with her idea. I just feel so badly for her when she feels leaving that she failed Robb and knowing that Robb with the crown had made an enemy of Stannis a very deadly one who had the ability to target Robb himself.

    Looking forward reading your nex analysis.

  16. colin c says:

    How much control, if any, does Melisandre have over the Shadow-baby? Does it have any tact and wait for its moment to strike or just bam instant murder? What if Catelyn and our Brienne weren’t in the tent? Or what if it was only Renly and Loras in the tent and the Shadow-baby murdered one of them and framed the other? How would the alliance react? And would that make any change to the force Stannis absorbs?

    Will we see anymore Shadow-babies before the end?

  17. djinn says:

    Very good analysis of the situation. It’s really one of GRRM achievements that he manage to create a clash between two very ideological different characters while making a meta commentary about the nature of leadership(and IMHO, modern political elections).

    It’s also worth noticing that in a GC scenario, Renly would actually be in a disadvantage against Robb, since Robb has earned the loyalty of two regions(North and Riverlands), has clear influence in a third(Vale), leverage over a fourth(West-Jaime), and a pretty neutral relation with a fifth(Dorne). Renly really only has most of the Reach and Stormlands, no pull with any of the others and the whole precedent of inheritance line against him.

    I actually like to question what exactly makes Renly a great diplomat and politician? He has the support of Stormlanders(granted by Robert’s gift of SE) and Reachmen(brought by his wife’s family). A gift from a older brother and a marriage alliance don’t seem like anything beyond what many other highborn would aspire, they just weren’t as lucky. How does he expect to gain Dorne, North , Vale, Riverlands or Iron Islands support? What does he do for it? Threats.

    The debate about the use of the shadowbaby could also fit to Daenerys Dragons, Arya’s Faceless Men, Olenna’s & LF & Oberyn’s poisons, Bran’s warging, Euron’s sorceror’s , Stark’s Direwolfs, etc.

    • Jim B says:

      “Great” may be an overstatement of Renly’s skills, but he does have them. And I think you gloss over the support of the Stormlords and the Reach too quickly.

      Yes, Robert gave Renly Storm’s End, but there’s a big difference between the Stormlords doing their duty to their Lord Paramount if, say the Stormlands are attacked, and joining a rebellion against both the Iron Throne AND the rightful heir of House Baratheon, with essentially no legal justification. Scumbag though he was, Walder Frey was correct to note that he swore an oath to Joffrey as well as to House Tully. It certainly took me by surprise when I read that the Stormlords were rising for Renly rather than Stannis. I’m still not sure that GRRM has given adequate justification for it — “Stannis is a grouchy meanie” doesn’t really cut if for me, and unlike the Tyrells, the Stormlords do have a perfectly viable alternative to support. So by implication, I’m going with “Renly really cultivated some strong alliances in his years in charge of Storm’s End.”

      As to the Reach, sure, that comes via a marriage. But the marriage didn’t come out of the blue. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of potential marriage partners for Margaery: Robb Stark, Robert Arryn, Tommen, Edmure Tully, Quentyn Martell, just to name the Great Houses, as well as presumably many possibilities among Reach bannermen. So why marry the extremely eligible Margaery to Renly — the one man on that list who they know is immune to her considerable charms, and thus harder for the Tyrells to manipulate? (Though I suppose he’s not immune to Loras’s charms.)

      No doubt the answer is “because Renly has a better claim to the Iron Throne than the others (except arguably Tommen).” But it’s rather attenuated — he’s fourth in line, so it’s going to take some rather convenient deaths and/or a civil war to put him on the throne. So now the question is, will men fight to put Renly on the Iron Throne? Does House Tyrell want to put all its chips in the pot in reliance on Renly? Do they trust him to be a good enough leader and king that people will support him, but receptive enough to Tyrell interests that it’s worth the risk? Renly had to do a lot of work persuading them of just that.

      Of course Renly was dealt some good cards to play, but he played them well, which is more than we can say for most of the highborn characters in Westeros. Littlefinger gets plenty of breaks, too — a king who spends a lot of coin and doesn’t look closely at where it comes from, a King’s Hand and Lord of the Vale with a weakly son and a wife who is utterly smitten with LF, and a succession crisis powder keg that LF can set off whenever he finds it to his advantage — and yet he’s praised as a genius.

      • djinn says:

        Great is the term usually used, and that why i question it.

        As for the Stormlords, Renly is their liege Lord and a approachable one, while Stannis isn’t either of those things and Joffrey more usually favor Lannister symbolism. Renly contacts them first after Robert’s demise and none were know to be fence sitters(unlike Walder). And still, Tarth and Penrose receive Davos(likely trying to keep that line of communication open), Swann/Estermont splits his allegiance, Trant stays with Joffrey, Dondarrion is in disarray with Beric death. Renly acted first(being at KL certainly helped) and got most of them.

        As for the Reach, sure he makes the marriage, but the fact that his former squire(and current lover) is the brides brother(likely being the Kings brother and a LP played a part in that), that he has a distant claim to the Throne and a army of his own clearly play a not so insignificant part in that deal. Think of it this way: if Renly was simply Lord of Summerhall, do you thing Mace would’ve backed him up?
        And with all that, the Florents are split, Redwyne taps out(his sons are Lannister hostages), none of Hightowers youngest warrior sons joins Renly.
        He makes the marriage, but that is the method that every highborn male in Westeros tries to improve their situation, it’s that Renly has much better conditions for it. 90% of the highborn bachelors in the Realm would gladly marry Marg, but only a few actually have the chance. Are Ned, Walder, Robert, JonA, Jorah, Daven, etc lauded as great diplomats? No, and neither should Renly.

        He has a claim(unlike Robb, Edmure, SR. Quentyn?), Mace is eager for warrior’s glory(so some fighting is ok), Margaery will Queen of all of Westeros, his personal qualifications are not important(notice how later they of Joffrey’s ship gladly) and the more he depends of the Tyrells for support, the more leverage they will have in court and with Renly on the IT, Marg as Queen, Mace become the logical choice for Handship.

        Sure, LF is also a superman(with only a Sansanite to worry about), but Renly plays the obvious cards, that any non-stupid person would. What does he do outside of that? What contact did he made with Doran? Lysa? Balon? Edmure? Robb? It’s Robb that tries to make alliances besides gift from elders and marriages(his approach are flawed, but he does make the approaches).

        Jon Arryn, Tywin, Hoster, Tyrion or even Walder(yes, him) have diplomatic feats. Renly does the same moves most would, but with better cards(he’s even lucky enough to be a bachelor, i mean, Stannis had to marry early for the Baratheon regime interests, but Renly doesn’t).

    • I dunno quite about those odds – Renly has supporters in the Vale as well, Robb can’t exactly rely on votes from people he’s a t war with, and no one has any support from Dorne.

      • new djinn says:

        In the Vale, Robb is Ned’s son and SR cousin, in the Riverlands he’s Hoster’s nephew and their saviour, in the Iron islands(before Balon’s invasion) he’s Theon’s best friend, in the West he hold Jaime captive and in Dorne, well is not married to a Tyrell of Highgarden. Way better odds that Renly.

        • John says:

          The Westerlands will not be sending anyone to the Great Council. More importantly, Robb doesn’t want the Iron Throne. A Great Council would really be about Robb deciding whether to throw his support to Stannis or Renly. Trying to claim the Iron Throne for himself, despite a complete lack of any hereditary claim, would be a recipe for civil war with the Baratheons, which Robb has no interest in.

          • djinn says:

            Sure, but in a GC, Robb would be the most influential person there and even if he doesn’t want the IT, he could be the one deciding who get it. Besides, neither Baratheon knows Robb, so since both want it they are more likely to assume Robb does as well.
            Declaring independence pretty much puts him at odds with them anyway.

            Renly pretty much bluffs of overwhelming support(Reach, Stormlands, Dorne, Stannis!) to trick Robb to join him because the alternative would be a dicey GC or fighting Tywin and Robb and Balon and Stannis and Doran with the risk of complete separation.

  18. derzquist says:

    Very glad that you gave some time to the topic of religion, Steve. While GRRM’s story is far more about politics than faith, he doesn’t avoid the fact that the two are often widely intertwined.

    I’ve been recently picking my way through Diarmaid MacCulloch’s ‘Christianity: The First 3000 Years’ for a second time and I was struck by what I feel are some broad strokes of parallel between Stannis & Constantine:
    -Inherited the throne from a family member, but came into it without control of the capitol & several other claimants about.
    -Allied himself with a relatively new, foreign religion, A belief system outspokenly monotheistic & allowing little/no theological room for other systems and other deities.
    -While Constantine surrounded himself with symbols of Christianity, there is a wide consensus among historians that his devotion to the faith may not have been very deep (much like Stannis).
    -From what we’ve seen in Essos, Stannis appears to be the first (hopeful) leader of a large state to align himself with R’hlor, much as Christianity had only made minor inroads into state power in the Near East before Constantine forced the religion to start asking tough questions about temporal power.

    So, between a harsh but just claimant to the Iron Throne keeping a red priestess by his side, and a communal band of freedom fighters spreading night fires throughout the Riverlands, what’s the religious map of Westeros gonna look like in a generation or two?

    • Grant says:

      Remember that the Faith of the Seven is currently undergoing a radical puritan bend that, while extreme, may also satisfy the desire of the general population for security and justice. It may be that the next two books will feature a major clash between two religiously motivated forces.

      As for the outcome, that really depends on who has an army when this is all over, what role Dany (and more importantly, her dragons) play and exactly who did what fighting the Others.

      • derzquist says:

        Whichever religion is allied with the ultimate holder of the Iron Throne will of course have a strong leverage. However I think that R’hllorism has solidly established itself in the Riverlands.

        ” ‘My scouts report fires in the high places at night. Signal fires, they think…as if there were a ring of watchers all around us. And there are fires in the villages as well. Some new god…’ No, an old one. ” Jaime V, AFFC

        And a region that has been the crossroad for conquerors for a few centuries will look for anything that could serve as a unifying identity. And while the other three religions on Westeros all seem to allow some opportunity for converts, R’hllorism seems to be the only one that actively proselytizes. I’m not saying that any of the previous religions are just going to vanish, but I think that the Red God has a strong future in the hearts and minds of the Westerosi.

        • Bail o' Lies says:

          R’hllor is more or less the religion of the Brotherhood without Banners. You know the group that has been trying to protect the smallfolks in the Riverland. So it makes sense a lot of villagers would convert. They follow the god and group that they think protect them.

    • Interesting parallel! I liked that.

    • Crystal says:

      That’s so interesting – I hadn’t noticed the parallel, but now that you mention it, I can see it. Great idea!

      Something I noticed with the religion of R’hllor – unless Melisandre is an exception to the rule, there are female priestesses of the Red God. And, again unless Melisandre is just making things up, the marriage vows before R’hllor don’t involve the woman promising to obey, unlike with the Faith of the Seven. (Catelyn recalls “obey” being in her marriage vows, while the R’hllor ceremony joining Alys Karstark with Sigorn of Thenn did not require Alys to obey.) Does this mean that R’hllor is a more gender-egalitarian religion than the Faith of the Seven? Will women flock to the new religion as women in the Roman Empire did to Christianity? And will R’hllor worship become less gender-egalitarian as it became the temporal power in the region, again as happened with Christianity?

      • Bail o' Lies says:

        Either they will flock to it to remove the oath obedience from their marriage vows or The Faith will adapt and just remove it themselves.

  19. Faber says:

    I think we are supposed to agree with Renly’s assessment of the coming battle. If Stannis had a good chance of winning anyway, it takes a lot of the dramatic shock and significance from Renly’s death

    • I don’t think it does, particularly. I would argue that having Stannis embark on a battle he couldn’t win when he’s still not committed to Melisandre’s way isn’t in character.

      • Faber says:

        Seems like a way to avoid admitting that Stannis either made a bad strategic decision by confronting Renly or that he knew Renly would die in advance.

        5,000 men of mixed composition (including sellswords) situated between a strong garrison and 20,000 elite troops…you really gonna bet on those odds?

  20. Faber says:

    Also, saying that Renly’s assasination was just “pre-emptive self-defense” kinda ignores the fact that it was Stannis who threw the first punch by besieging Storm’s End in the first place. No one thought of the two brothers as enemies, including Renly, until he did that.

    • I think declaring yourself king is sort of throwing the first punch, no?

      • Faber says:

        Yes, the first punch against Joffrey. Stannis didn’t announce the incest or claim the throne until well after Renly had been crowned, and then sailed to attack Renly’s seat. And yet Renly is the aggressor, just because he is younger?

        I don’t blame Stannis for killing Renly after giving him a chance to surrender – “when you play the game of thrones,” etc. I just think people demonize Renly in order to whitewash Stannis (who is a very dark character in ACOK)

        • Erin says:

          Yes, Renly’s the aggressor because he’s younger. Westeros (except Dorne) runs on a first son first served basis. Under the circumstances, Renly declaring himself king is a huuuuuuuge abrogation of Stannis’ legal rights and an announcement that he intends to be the oldest surviving Baratheon when all is said and done.

          Personally, I feel that Stannis is a deeply misunderstood character in ACOK. In ACOK the structure of the narrative itself encourages readers to see him as a villain. (Can’t wait for the Blackwater chapters here!) The fact that most of the book’s sympathetic characters involved in the Wo5K stand to suffer or die if Stannis wins doesn’t help his cause with the readers either. But it does not necessarily follow that a Stannis victory is a bad thing for Westeros. At the very least, even if Stannis turned out to be a useless monarch, his taking the throne would have been following the law of the land and avoided the Hobbesian nightmare scenario.

          And as Steve has so ably outlined, Renly doesn’t need the fanbase to actively demonise him. He does that perfectly well himself.

        • In a society that universally passes down wealth by age of birth, yes, yes he is.

          • WPA says:

            Yep, when you take into account that Renly’s action threatens the basic social order (in a political sense) as much as the Red Wedding’s violation of Guest Rite, then Stannis actually offering him a way out comes off as pretty generous.

          • Faber says:

            All the Houses that declared for Renly evidently didn’t feel that he “threatened the basic social order”

            A monarch adopting a foreign religion would also threaten the social order, no? Or is that ok simply because Stannis does it?

          • Yes, because people never do something for short-term gain that they regret later.

          • Faber says:

            That you say this to disparage Renly for being younger, but not the blood-magic using, foreign-God serving Stannis, shows you’ve got a lot of bias going on in your analysis

  21. Hal says:

    Great analysis as always Steven.

    As a tangent, I remember in the WoIaF book that revealed a lot of R’hllor worship across Essos. Unless I’m mistaken, it seems strange that Melisandre didn’t tap into any potential zealots or support from across the Narrow Sea to build up Stannis’ numbers (or at the very least build up some propaganda for his cause)? Or maybe the red priests don’t have a martial aspect to them like other faiths?

    • The Red Priests absolutely have a martial aspects – the Fiery Hand, for example.

      I think it’s more that Melisandre is a splinter from the larger group – most of the Essosi R’hllorites are pretty firmly convinced Dany is Azor Ahai.

    • Roger says:

      The Fire cult is very powerful at Volantis, but I doesn’t seem to be the case in the Narrow Sea.
      Also the Faith keeps them at bay, probably. Considering R’hllor a devil.

  22. Roger says:

    Renly most impressive feat was looking sympathetic despite being an usurper, a narcistic and a would-be kinslayer.

    I think I read somewhere that Stannis had build defenses. Probably caltrops and trenches. Renly despides his brother’s men as coddfish lords. But remember he had the Royal Fleet and probably many veterans of Greyjoy Rebelion and even the Trident (many at Rhaegar’s side). His men fought bravely at Blackwater, later. And many Reachers were enthusiastic amateurs.

    • WPA says:

      And a lot of those guys are the same ones that later followed Stannis up to the Wall to dispatch Mance’s army with extreme prejudice. Yeah, factoring in experience, tactics, and Renly’s sending Loras headlong at them with exposed flanks, there’s a pretty good chance Renly’s vanguard receives a medieval version of Pickett’s charge.

    • Faber says:

      Wow, Stannis ordered his paltry force to build defenses? Obviously he would win in that case! Especially because nobody from the Reach knows how to fight, right??

      • Roger says:

        A cavalry charge against defenses isn’t a good idea.
        The Reach has good fighters, but King Renly is not a good general.

        • Faber says:

          He’s a better general than Stannis, at least when it comes to strategy

          • No, he’s really not, and that’s repeatedly lampshaded in the text. Leaving behind his supplies, charging into the sun, ignoring Randyll Tarly, etc.

          • WPA says:

            Yeah, a lot, of Renly’s “strategy” seems almost a “how to” of negating your superior numbers and wrecking your own army in detail. Stannis has to take some long chances due to the numbers disparity and hope Renly makes a mistake like hurling a portion of his army at him, but he plays his cards well. Renly seems quite happy to oblige him. And yes, ignoring Randyl Tarly’s advice in favor of making sure Loras gets some glory is… not very sound.

          • Faber says:

            STRATEGY, Steven. Those are called tactics

      • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

        Renly wasn’t first to think that numbers were enough to beat Stannis on his chosen ground, and it looks like he won’t be the last. I doubt it will go much better for the Freys…

  23. […] he gets to play around with partial information in interesting ways. Here, we the audience knows what’s really happened to Renly while the Small Council doesn’t, just as we know better than the folks in King’s […]

  24. […] a single candidate. Split between Robb, Stannis, and even Renly in an ideological clash of kings mirroring the actual there’s no way to focus the energy of the crowd into a united force. As we’ve seen in […]

  25. […] Clash of Kings, I would argue that Davos II is one of three most important chapters, up there with Catelyn IV and Tyrion IX. It’s also an incredibly rich chapter – there’s political […]

  26. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    Nice work as always, Steven!

    I think you can add Robar to your list of true knights. It wasn’t a complicated test, but he sure passed it.

  27. […] seems to believe in the Faith although not without some questions and misgivings, something else she shares with her mother. On the other hand, as we’ll see in ASOS, Sansa also has a strong connection to the Old Gods, […]

  28. […] the Battle of Blackwater, and arguably one of his biggest mistakes in the entire war. Up until the death of Renly, Stannis had generally leaned toward appointing men based on merit rather than rank – hence […]

  29. […] surface appearances vs. hidden depths, Sansa unintentionally makes things worse when she references recent events during the War of Five […]

  30. […] all of ASOIAF, the idea of a Great Council really comes up only in ACOK, when Catelyn Stark proposes it as a way to stop the fighting between the anti-Lannister […]

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