Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya VIII, ACOK

“Weese,” Arya whispered that night as she bent over the tear in her shift…she wondered how much longer she would have to include Weese in her prayer, and drifted off to sleep dreaming that on the morrow, when she woke, he’d be dead.

Synopsis: As Lord Tywin marches from Harrenhal, Arya gives Jaqen H’ghar her second name. A mistake?

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

In the last Arya chapter I noted that folktales and fairytales that deal with genies and wishes have a similar structure – the first wish is always a test, the second test is always a mistake that creates a crisis, so that the hero can fix their mistake with the third.

War of Five Kings: Tywin Marches West

Before I get into Arya’s second wish, I want to address Tywin’s westward march and what it tells us about Robb Stark’s off-screen campaign. As I’ve suggested, Robb Stark’s strategic move is a lot more successful than it gets credit for.

Indeed, Robb has forestalled Tywin’s strategy completely. Tywin had hoped to use his raids and occupation to force Robb to attack Tywin’s army at Harrenhal, where Tywin would have a defensive advantage and the possibility of defeating the various pieces of Robb’s army in detail, while remaining within distance of King’s Landing so that he could reinforce it as necessary.

“He wasn’t man enough to march on Harrenhal, was he? Ran t’other way, didn’t he? He’d run now if he knew what was best for him.”

“So you say, but might be the boy knows something we don’t, maybe it’s us ought to be run…”

What Robb knows that these two soldiers don’t is the importance of establishing momentum and initiative, and how these can be used to make the enemy commander behave not only predictably but in a way that you’ve dictated. In this case, Robb has created a threat to the Westerlands that he knows Tywin must respond to:

“They were going to fight Robb, she knew. Listening to the talk as she went about her work, Arya had learned that Robb had won some great victory in the west. He’d burned Lannisport, some said, or else he meant to burn it. He’d captured Casterly Rock and put everyone to the sword, or he was besieging the Golden Tooth . . . but something had happened, that much was certain.”

While Robb Stark hasn’t attacked Lannisport, Casterly Rock, or the Golden Tooth, and in fact doesn’t have the necessary siege equipment to do so, Tywin and his commanders don’t know that, and the mere threat that Robb Stark might do any of these things is enough to force Tywin’s hand. In other words, this is a plan founded on a solid comprehension of feudal politics. Just as with Robb Stark, Tywin’s army is not a professional standing army, but a collection of the entourages of various vassals who serve conditionally – and if Tywin fails to maintain those conditions, he might well end up like his father Tytos, given how much of his reputation comes from his maintenance of law and order in the Westerlands.

westerlands at risk

In fact, we can see the importance of feudal politics in the description of the “main strength of Lord Tywin’s host.” While House Lannister itself has a significant force that requires “no less than four standard-bearers,” the majority of their army comes from the lesser Houses of the Westerlands:

“red ox and golden mountain, purple unicorn and bantam rooster, brindled boar and badger, a silver ferret and a juggler in motley, stars and sunbursts, peacock and panther, chevron and dagger, black hood and blue beetle and green arrow. Last of all came Ser Gregor Clegane in his grey plate steel.”

For the non-heralds among us, that’s the Red Ox of House Prester, the Golden Mountain of House Lefford, the Purple Unicorn of House Brax, the Bantam Rooster of House Swyft, the Brindled Boar of House Crakehall, the Badger of House Lydden, the Silver and Green Ferret of House Ferren, the Juggler of House Falwell, the Sunbursts of House Kenning, the Peacock of House Serrett, the Dagger and Chevron of House Foote, the Black Hood of House Banefort, the Blue Beetle of House Bettley and the Green Arrow of House Sarsfield (because GRRM loves his comic book references), and the three dogs of House Clegane. Now look at the map above and note how many of these House’s seats are close to the path of Robb’s army – while it’s not the majority, it’s easily a third, and given that they don’t know which direction Robb is going to raid, all of them are at risk. Already low in numbers, Tywin cannot afford to see chunks of his army desert in defense of heart and home in the same way that Robb lost the Riverlords after the Battle of the Camps(link), so he must march to keep his army intact.

Finally, as we will see in this chapter and the next Catelyn chapter, Robb’s strategy also works to simultaneously demoralize the Lannisters – hence “not natural, coming on them so fast, in the night at all. He’s more wolf than man, all them Starks are…” – and boosting the morale of his own forces (at least for the moment).

More on this later.

credit to

Why Did Arya Choose Weese?

So let’s talk about why Arya chooses Weese in this chapter. To begin with, it’s important to note that Arya is acting in haste without having much of a chance to think things through, in part because Tywin marching has added a sudden time pressure that didn’t exist before:

“Everywhere she went, Arya searched for Jaqen H’ghar, wanting to whisper another name to him before those she hated were all gone out of her reach, but amidst the chaos and confusion the Lorathi sellsword was not to be found. He still owed her two deaths, and she was worried she would never get them if he rode off to battle with the rest. Finally she worked up the courage to ask one of the gate guards if he’d gone…

“The Mountain would be leaving with Lord Tywin, though. He would command the van in battle, which meant that Dunsen, Polliver, and Raff would all slip between her fingers unless she could find Jaqen and have him kill one of them before they left.”

Note that here, Arya is thinking in somewhat grander terms than Weese (although not yet at the Tywin level) – she’s worried that the Mountain, Dunsen, Polliver, and Raff (all people from her list) are escaping her grasp before she can name them. And yet once she’s found Jaqen, Arya’s forgotten what she was originally intended, which makes sense. As any number of psychological experiments have found, putting time limits on people’s decision-making, like making them multi-task, significantly impairs cognitive function, so the mistake makes sense.

At the same time, Arya’s decision to name Weese has both conscious and sub-conscious motivations. Consciously, Arya once again acts to maintain some sense of self-actualization and control over her environment: “for a moment she had been a wolf again, but Weese’s slap took it all away and left her with nothing but the taste of her own blood in her mouth.” Both to maintain her identity as a Stark capable of defending herself and to prevent Weese from ever beating her again (“you won’t…you won’t ever again.”), Arya kills her immediate overseer

On a somewhat sub-conscious level, Arya also chooses Weese in order to facilitate escape from Harrenhal; as she muses to herself, “I could flee…She might have done it if not for Weese. He’d told them more than once  what he’d do to anyone who tried to run off on him…maybe if Weese were dead.” Throughout the chapter, Arya is assessing herself for strengths – the fact that “Weese never imagined she could read, though, so he never bothered to seal the messages he gave her…” and that “a mouse couldn’t use a sword but I can...” – that could serve as the foundation for an escape plan:

she thought about going to the stables and telling them that Ser Lyonel wanted a new horse. She had the paper, the stableboys wouldn’t be able to read it any better than Lucan had. I could take the horse and the sword and just ride out. If the guards tried to stop me I’d show them the paper and say I was bringing everything to Ser Lyonel.”

To me, this complicates the question of how much of a mistake it was for Arya to name Weese – unless we expect a 10-year old child to have military responsibility for their House’s war effort, escape ought to be the first priority for someone in Arya’s position. And her plan isn’t half bad – being literate in a world where most people aren’t (one of the strangest cases of intersectionality I’ve ever heard of) gives her the equivalent of the letters of transit from Casablanca, being trained in combat would allow her to kill an isolated guard (which she will do later to escape Harrenhal), and if the man in charge of the slaves is dead, it’s quite possible her escape would go unnoticed for quite some time.

The Second Murder

The downside of this is that Arya has to go to Jaqen to use another name – which is an important first step toward the dark side. In the beginning, Arya killed only in defense of herself and others; next, she killed arguably to maintain the moral balance of the universe. However, there’s no real argument that Weese’s slap deserves death as punishment, so it’s more of a self-interested murder.

And, following the logic of genie stories, it also means that Jaqen is one step closer to freedom – although interestingly, the consequences of his freedom are left ambiguous, whereas in the stories it’s usually quite explicit that the genie will try to kill the person who summoned it, or in general wreak havoc. Which brings us to the bath sequence, where GRRM deliberately writes the scene to play up the uncanny nature of our favorite Faceless Man:

“She found Jaqen soaking in a tub, steam rising around him as a serving girl sluiced hot water over his head…she crept up quiet as a shadow, but he opened his eyes all the same…how could he hear me? she wondered, and it seemed as if he heard that as well…”

“I have a message.” Arya…leaned in until her mouth was almost touching his ear. “Weese,” she whispered. 

Jaqen H’ghar closed his eyes again, floating languid, half-asleep. “Tell his lordship a man shall attend him at his leisure.”

To begin with, there’s something really out of place here – why does a mere common soldier rate his own bath and a servant of his own, which you think would be reserved for the officers and the nobility? Jaqen’s heightened sense of hearing could be explained by the House of Black and White’s training process that (as we learn in AFFC) involves temporarily eliminating one of the senses to improve the others (which has some scientific basis). Likewise, his seeming ability to read Arya’s mind might be due to his guild’s emphasis on human observation and acting lessons to cold read her. However, since we don’t know anything about the Faceless Men yet, it all comes off on the first read as occult and uncanny.

credit to UrdHandicrafts

This increasingly eerie feeling is only intensified by the deeply unnatural manner in which Weese is assassinated, with Jaqen H’ghar seemingly capable of perverting the proverbial loyalty of man’s best friend:

Weese was sprawled across the cobbles, his throat a red ruin, eyes gaping sightlessly up at a bank of grey cloud. His ugly spotted dog stood on his chest, lapping at the blood pulsing from his neck, and every so often ripping a mouthful of flesh out of the dead man’s face.

Finally someone brought a crossbow and shot the spotted dog dead while she was worrying at one of Weese’s ears. 

“Damnedest thing,” she heard a man say. “He had that bitch dog since she was a pup.”

“This place is cursed,” the man with the crossbow said.

“It’s Harren’s ghost, that’s what it is,” said Goodwife Amabel. “I’ll not sleep here another night, I swear it.”

…Arya lifted her gaze from the dead man and his dead dog. Jaqen H’ghar was leaning up against the side of the Wailing Tower. When he saw her looking, he lifted a hand to his face and laid two fingers casually against his cheek.

In retrospect, however, there’s a mundanity beneath the magic, continuing the theme of the the worst things in Harrenhal being people rather than curses. Jaqen H’ghar, continuing his signature style of killing people via “accidents” and/or poisons (incidentally, the former is why it’s more likely than not that Jaqen was the Faceless Man who killed Balon Greyjoy), simply slipped Weese’s dog some meat dosed with tasty, tasty basilisk venom and let the dog do the work for it.

And all of these atmosphere-building is for the benefit of the reader and Arya, to make us realize what kind of a person she’s made a bargain with, so that before we see Jaqen change his face both of us understand that he’s not just an ordinary hired dagger but something darker and more mysterious.

The Mistake

And so Arya realizes too late, in the classic mode of both genie stories and tragedies, that she’s made a horrible mistake by making a rash decision:

A shiver crept up Arya’s spine as she watched them pass under the great iron portcullis of Harrenhal. Suddenly she knew that she had made a terrible mistake. I’m so stupid, she thought. Weese did not matter, no more than Chiswyck had. These were the men who mattered, the ones she ought to have killed. Last night she could have whispered any of them dead, if only she hadn’t been so mad at Weese for hitting her and lying about the capon. Lord Tywin, why didn’t I say Lord Tywin?

Perhaps it was not too late to change her mind. Weese was not killed yet. If she could find Jaqen, tell him . . .

Again, we have to be measured in our judgement of a ten-year old, because in a major way it’s not her fault. GRRM, once again acting as the Greek Fates, needs Tywin to survive his brush with death for his plot to work – it’s necessary for the Battle of Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Tyrion’s trial and escape, and to make the downfall of House Lannister a proper Fall of the House of Atreus rather than a mere military defeat.

Thematically, I think it’s also important in GRRM’s ongoing deconstruction of fantasy, specifically his attitude to magic. Even as A Clash of Kings massively ramps up the presence of magic in Westeros and Essos, GRRM is very careful to ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of his story. In his world, magic is something that adds to the drama by creating problems for his characters to deal with, rather than something that decreases the drama by instantly (and costlessly) solving problems out in the world. Arya’s three wishes aren’t unimportant – after all, they are capable of capturing one of the largest castles in Westeros – but they’re not going to end the war. Similarly, Melisandre’s shadowy assassins can slay Renly and seize Storm’s End, but they can’t win the war for Stannis.

Thus, the balance is maintained.


Historical Analysis:

So while we’re hanging out in Harrenhal with everyone’s favorite Lorathi, let’s talk about the history of poisons in the premodern world. Prior to the advent of the industrial revolution, with all of its lovely byproducts like cyanide, strychnice, arsenic, and mercury, to say nothing of the 20th century’s chemical, biological, and radioactive agents, poisons were your original organic, locally-grown, and authentic solution for inconveniently alive people.

The most famous and popular of these, the four horsemen of the natural world, were hemlock (AKA the “Mother-In-Law’s Poison”), aconite (AKA monkshood, wolfsbane and the Queen of All Poisons), belladona (AKA deadly nightshade), and mandrake.

Hemlock, which is similar in effect to nicotine, acts on the nervous system as a very strong paralytic, causing the respiratory muscles to seize up, producing asphyxiation – all the while keeping the victim completely conscious. Hemlock was ancient Greece’s preferred method of execution, famously being used to dispatch the philosopher Socrates when some of his students attempted an aristocratic coup and pissed off the Athenian democrats enough to condemn their teacher to death.

Socrates takes his execution philosophically.

Aconite is an extremely efficient poison (it’s deadly at very low concentrations and can be absorbed through the skin as well as ingested) to that uses alkaloids to attack the heart and the respiratory system, while leaving almost no traces behind. Historically and in literature, it was one of the most popular – Medea attempted to poison Theseus with aconite, the emperor Claudius was killed by his wife using a dish of mushrooms laced with aconite, it’s used in novels from the Cadfael series to Joyce’s Ulysses, and because it’s speculated that aconite got the name wolfsbane by being used to kill wolves via poisoned projectiles, it became part of the mythology of both Dracula and the Wolfman. 

“Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

Yet another alkaloid-based killer, Belladonna was historically used more often as a beauty product than an assassination device – as the noble ladies and courtesans of Venice knew all too well, belladonna paralyses the muscles in the eyes that constrict pupils, causing the pupils to look much bigger, and when used on the cheeks causes them to flush, thus producing soulful eyes and a natural blush. Of course, use too much, and in addition to some really trippy hallucinations and confusion, you also get paralysis, tachycardia, and convulsions. The Empress Livia was suspected of having used belladonna to kill the Emepror Augustus, and if aconite wasn’t used to kill Claudius this certainly was. My favorite example, however, is that Macbeth of Scotland supposedly used belladonna to poison the army of King Harald Harefoot of England, forcing the army to retreat from Scotland.

Finally, mandrake. The plant’s human-like shape unsurprisingly made it a huge deal in folklore and magical traditions – that it only grew under gallows from the semen of hanged men, that it screamed when pulled out of the ground, which was either fatal and/or condemned you to hell, that you could use it to create homunculi, that it could cure impotence or be used to brew love potions, etc. As a poison, it has more panache than most – large doses of mandrake cause hallucinations, delirium, narcotic comas, and/or death by asphyxiation. Like many of these premodern poisons, it had as many medicinal uses – as an anesthetic (since it’s a fairly strong narcotic), to deal with rheumatism and other chronic pain – as it did homicidal ones.

Just goes to show, never piss off someone with a herb garden.

What If?

Once again, a chapter that involves the main character making a choice brings up some major hypothetical scenarios. So let’s jump into them:

  • Arya names Tywin? While obviously this choice would have enormous implications for Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime et. al. down the road, immediately the main impact is that the Lannister army’s morale would have been badly shaken (although I doubt the army would have collapsed immediately) and control would have reverted over to Kevan Lannister (FYI, you should definitely read this). What happens next is somewhat uncertain.
  • Kevan’s style has always been dutiful loyalty to Tywin’s wishes, which might mean that he’d try his hardest to get across the Red Fork – which probably means that the Lannister army would probably miss the rendezvous with Littlefinger’s messenger, given how tight the timing is, King’s Landing falls, and at that point Kevan probably swings round to the Gold Road to get home so he can sue for peace in the safety of Casterly Rock (especially since the lords of the West aren’t going to take no for an answer when it comes to getting back to their holdfasts). Essentially, the West would be knocked out as an active participant in the war, trying to weather the storm as best it could – and the question becomes what happens to them. The Starks could make a peace with Stannis if they can get Sansa back – with the Lannisters defeated and the Riverlands freed, it’s quite likely Robb decides that he’s accomplished his war aims, he doesn’t like being king, and it’s time to go home (especially with the North under attack). The Riverlanders might stay in for a bit to see if they can’t grab the Golden Tooth and firm up their defenses against the Westerlands. Given that Stannis is going to be preoccupied with consolidating his rule (starting with the Stormlands, and then trying to get the North, the Riverlands, and the Vale into his fold, while keeping a wary eye on his southern border) for some time, he might be willing to let the West bend the knee, as the guilty parties would be dead.
  • On the other hand, Kevan might try to get back to King’s Landing, given that he was never that keen on Tywin’s Riverlands strategy to begin with. In that case, he probably would be able to link up with the Tyrells (if they’re willing to go through with the deal without Tywin’s name on the dotted line) and win at Blackwater Bay, although it’s probable that without Tywin’s driving force, Stannis would at the very least be able to withdraw in better order than he did OTL, maintaining a larger army for his northern campaign. On the other hand, the politics would go absolutely loco – without Tywin’s strong hand on the rudder, Cersei and the Tyrells are going to tear each other to pieces from day one, especially if Cersei and/or Kevan isn’t fast enough on the ball to block Sansa’s Highgarden marriage, which Cersei especially would see as treason. Imagine Cersei’s AFFC plot, but much much faster.
  • Arya names the Mountain? Here’s an interesting one, somewhat smaller-scale. On the one hand, Gregor’s death probably wouldn’t change the outcome of many battles – the Fords, Duskendale, and Ruby Ford would probably go down the same, but with a lower casualty rate. On the other, it has a huge impact on a more human level. First, Oberyn lives, which probably means that the Dornish plot from AFFC is butterflied away entirely – it’s quite possible that he and Tyrion end up backing Myrcella for queen instead, or it’s possible Oberyn was lying about that since he clearly knew about the Targaryen pact. Second, Tyrion might well win his trial by combat, as Bronn (or a different sellsword) would probably not mind going toe-to-toe with a Kettleblack – on the other hand, I could definitely see Tywin sending him to the Wall anyway. Third, it almost definitely means that Cersei loses her coming trial, which might bring down the Lannisters in one fell swoop.

Book vs. Show:

If there’s one critique I have of the Arya Season 2 plot, it’s that I never felt like they quite got the second name right. Yes, they still have the sudden sense of urgency causing the mistake, but the assassination of Ser Amory Lorch is played for comedy, rather than tying back either to the death of Yoren and the sense of missed opportunity isn’t really hammered home (and again, is played for comedy in Season 3).

It’s not a devastating critique, but it seems like a missed opportunity.


69 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya VIII, ACOK

  1. Iñigo says:

    Thank you for your work!

    On the hipothetical of Kevan going to KL, I think that Kevan could explain to Cersei that marrying Sansa off quickly would be better than antagonizing the Tyrells inmeadeatly. After all, with none of her children dead and the Starks still around, she may control herself.

    The question is if Roose would go to the Lannisters with the red wedding without Tywin. He can control Walder Frey by himself, but the figure of Tywin taking the blame as the mastermind is crucial if he is to rule the North.

    • Grant says:

      If you mean Sansa marrying a Tyrell, the Lannisters would definitely want to avoid that to stop the Tyrells from building up their power even further. Unless the Tyrells did it openly, he’d probably have the same basic plan of forcing her to marry a Lannister first.

    • Another factor in this scenario is Tyrion. Even if he’s injured as in OTL, he’s still Acting Hand and has a overall positive relationship with his uncle.

      How long before the two of them decide that it would be best for the realm to have Kevan as Regent, Tyrion as Hand, and Cersei shipped back to CR. If this semi-coup were successful, it would have such a stabilizing effect on the governance of KL that I would imagine that Varys would feel compelled to make some dramatic move (ala his ADWD epilogue) to stir things up again.

      • David Hunt says:

        I’m not sure how much support Tyrion could count on Kevan for. We never see the two of them interacting when Tywin isn’t also there. Kevan has been following Tywin’s lead all his life and Tywin openly loathes Tyrion. More importantly, he has barely any respect for his abilities. That’s got to have rubbed on some on Kevan. They’re cordial, but I have no idea how much respect Kevan has for Tyrion’s abilities. If Kevan showed up at the Blackwater the same way Tywin did, I can easily see a situation where he’d be incilned believe whatever hogwash she told Tywin about Tyrion’s rule while Tyrion is busy almost dying from his wounds. It would depend on who Kevan was willing to listen to and believe.

        • But at that point the last thing Tywin did regarding Tyrion is name him hand and trust him to clean up Kings Landing. Kevan would probably see supporting Tyrion as carrying out Tywin’s last orders. Whether that extends to a coup would remain to be seen but Tyrion could definitely play on the mandate Tywin gave him.

      • John says:

        If Tywin is dead, Tyrion isn’t just Acting Hand anymore. He’s now just the Hand, presumably, and also Lord of Casterly Rock and probably Warden of the West.

    • Thanks! That is indeed a change.

      Yeah, I don’t think Roose moves without Tywin’s quid pro quo. He’s not an idiot.

  2. Grant says:

    For hypotheticals, Arya’s opportunity creates a lot more. For example, she could name Joffrey or Cersei (though things might actually stay pretty much the same if she named Joffrey, it’s just the killer who’s different).

    On Jaqen, he’s at some bathhouse. It sounds a bit strange for common soldiers in this setting to bathe, but I could see that being some amenity they might have. However his line is a bit interesting:

    “Tell his lordship a man shall attend him at his leisure.”

    That sounds pretty presumptuous for a guy who’s supposed to be just another soldier.

    • It does but it was for the benefit of the servant, to not let on the real message.

    • I try not to put in hypotheticals that stretch too far from what characters might choose – Arya’s not thinking in terms of King’s Landing.

      But Cersei would be rather odd.

      The baths are unique to Harrenhal, part of Harren the Black’s meglomania. But it’s odd that they wouldn’t be reserved for officers.

      • Grant says:

        Cersei’s on the list if I recall correctly. Perhaps less of a priority for assassination than, say, Tywin, but Arya is a young girl trying to hold herself together through a really rough time. Logical analysis of who to target shouldn’t be expected. Who’s to say what names she’d use if she didn’t use up her three for people at Harrenhal and to get out?

        And another thing that strikes me about all this is that Jaqen was so scared when she named him that he actually agreed to kill multiple people to get unnamed. It says a lot about how seriously his order takes death and service when you consider that in reality, there’s nothing physically forcing him to obey her.

        For Jaqen and the baths, if they are reserved for the officers (which we just don’t know) it’s also possible that he was marked for responsibilities. There’s something about the guy that really freaks out the people around him, it’s possible that he’s glib enough and creepy enough to make them think he’s another good candidate for ravaging tactics.

  3. Chinoiserie says:

    I wonder who is the most important of the Lannister vassals. It does not seem any of them has real influence (Tywin has probably worked to prevent this). We do not really know anything about them so I maybe they will never have a real importance in the story. They do seem rather loyal to the Lannisters so Kevan would not had had too much problems with making decisions if Tywin had died.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      Now this is an interesting question; I’d suspect that The Leffords have as good a claim to that title as any (given their control over the Golden Tooth, one of the major exits and entrances into the Westerlands – doubtless this strategic position, properly exploited, would give them a degree of influence comparable to House Frey at the very least, quite probably more so if they also have access to Gold Mines).

      If the Lannisters of Lannisport were not living under the shadow of Casterly Rock (and a junior branch of the Great House of the West) then the trade that flows through the Docks of Lannisport might give them some claim to the title, coupled with their share of the old Blood Royal.

      In fact it’s not impossible that with the impending implosion of the Casterly Rock branch of the House those Lannisters of Lannisport may actually secure the title of Lord Paramount, given their physical proximity to The Rock and their blood ties to the Paramount House (if I remember correctly the Twins and the Imp were born to a lady of that ilk).

      • Chinoiserie says:

        Joanna Lannister was daughter of Tywin’s uncle Jason so a Lannister of Casterly Rock. The only Lannisport Lannister I recall from the series Myrcella’s double Rosamund.

    • Sean C. says:

      I’d say the Crakehalls are a big deal. They’re the guardians of the Ocean Road to the Reach, which is, one imagines, both strategically vital and commercially lucrative, and Jaime was sent to squire for Lord Sumner Crakehall.

    • The Leffords and Crakehalls are good bets.

      Maybe the Marbrands or Lyddens?

  4. Keith B says:

    “The downside of this is that Arya has to go to Jaqen to use another name – which is an important first step toward the dark side.”

    Killing Weese is perfectly legitimate if she thinks it will help her escape. She’s a prisoner and she hasn’t given parole. If Jaime was justified in killing his guards while trying to escape Riverrun (and I think he was), then so is Arya.

    Even beyond that, she isn’t even a POW, she’s a slave — unlawfully captured. Weese is a slave master. She has every right to kill him.

    I’d also argue that every single person at Harrenhal who isn’t a captive or servant is a legitimate military target, especially since they are accomplices to Tywin’s massive war crimes.

    Arya apparently sees herself partly as a captive who needs to escape, and partly as a spy (the ghost in Harrenhal) who is trying to help her brother’s war effort. Her choices could have been wiser; the first target should be Tywin, the second the Mountain, and the third either Kevan or “weasel soup.” But I don’t see a moral problem with what she’s doing.

    • David Hunt says:

      The problem with Arya naming Weese is that, while you listed good reasons to kill him, one of the big determining factors in her naming him is that she just hates him. The reason she’s doing things matters, at least somewhat.

    • Keith B says:

      She hates him because he’s treating her as a slave and worse. If he only forced her to serve, she wouldn’t have named him. If he had merely been a harsh master who punished every infraction, she wouldn’t have named him. But he’s deliberately and consciously trying to dehumanize her; in her words, to turn her back into a mouse. The slap was just the last straw.

      She may think about going over to the dark side, but she never pursues it. She briefly but not seriously considers naming Hot Pie because she thinks he may compromise her. Later in the book she’s threatened by Goodwife Amabel. It’s a serious threat and one she was likely to carry out, given the opportunity. Arya realizes that Roose Bolton will kill Amabel if she tells him what she said, but she immediately knows she won’t. Everyone on her list is someone who has it coming. She doesn’t target innocent people, although she will kill from necessity. I think she has clean hands even by our standards, and certainly by Westerosi standards.

    • While escape is a factor, the overriding factor is revenge for being slapped.

      I’m not saying there’s no basis for it, I’m saying it’s a more self-interested choice than before, and that’s an important sign.

      • Andrew says:

        This is a man that set his dog in a serving boy for spilling wine and repeatedly threatens Arya with mutilation, on top of constant physical abuse. The “slap” was about him literally dehumanizing her and making her utterly helpless notnto mention fearing for her safety…

        There’s a lot more to it than mere hate. Of all her kills only the insurance salesman is morally dubious IMO and we overlook far greater body counts (eg all the people rob killed at Oxcross, the peoplentyrion burned alive for Joffreys crown…) And more dubious reasons…

  5. Abbey Battle says:

    Please allow me to congratulate you once again on your very fine work Maester Steven!

  6. MightyIsobel says:

    “Just goes to show, never piss off someone with a herb garden.”

    HAR! As an extremely amateur herbalist, I do give props to GRRM not only for generally getting the herb lore right (esp. accounting for some leeway on the fictional world) but also for persuasively blending the magical and the botanical in a way that “feels” right for both the genre and the analogous historical period.

    Good post.

    • Thanks!

      Well, some of the poisons he comes up with are a bit strange – even the hallucinations and confusion of real world poisons don’t stretch to murderous rage – but it shows he’s done his homework.

  7. Andrew says:

    1. On the subject of magic, GRRM said that if an entire army could be destroyed with a whispered word then what is the point of gathering an army. When magic is used in battles, it is small-scale like Grey Wind finding a goat path past the Golden Tooth and scaring the horses at the camp in Oxcross, at the Battle of the Wall with a skinchanger just being used for scouting the battle and Melisandre burning the eagle or even Bloodraven using weirwood arrows to kill Daemon and his sons. When large-scale magic is used like the Hammer of the Waters breaking the Arm of Dorne, in the end it doesn’t win the war. The dragons I would call medium-sized magic.

    2. Jaqen’s style likely is the preferred method of the FM, killing the target without it looking like a murder but like an accident or natural causes.

    3. Addam Marbrand may likely be one of the few good commanders Tywin has that doesn’t seem to be a psychopath or a brute. He is described as a good swordsman and horseman, an able soldier and charismatic, the kind of man who inspires confidence in his men. At the same time, he has no record of brutality. I wonder if he’ll make it out of the riverlands alive in the next books.

    • Lann says:

      On Magic, the dragons work because Martin makes it clear they are living creatures that can be killed. Indeed as newborns they are quite dependent on others to survive. Adult dragons give a huge multiplier and are very hard to kill but they can and have been killed.

      If the Arm of Dorne happened I imagine it would have had a huge cost to the children, possibly leading to their decline.

    • 1. Good quote.

      2. That’s certainly consistent with what we’ve seen so far.

      3. Marbrand was also part of the reaving, he’s not innocent.

      • Andrew says:

        1. Actually, the first sentence is paraphrasing. The rest is my own thoughts.

        2. Part of it is to avoid potential blowback to the FM, and the other being to avoid suspicion for the client.

        3. Never said he was, but compared to Gregor and Lorch, he’s not intentionally brutal with little to no justification. I know it doesn’t matter to the smallfolk whether or not he is following orders when he razes their villages and crops or he is just doing because he is a psychopath.

    • John says:

      Of course, Martin is a total hypocrite, because the conflict between Renly and Stannis is, in fact, resolved by magic.

      • Given that Loras and co. show up later to wreck Stannis at the Blackwater, resolved might not be the right description.

      • Andrew says:

        Yes and no- it s a deus ex machina but assassinating an enemy commander on the eve of battle is by no means alien to history. Its just the means involved, rather than the tactics themselves.

  8. Doug McMillan says:

    On the subjec of Marbrand, a quote from the book given in a previous chapter analysis:

    “I have no intention of remaining here…on the morrow we make for Harrenhal…I want Ser Addam’s outriders to screen our movements…unleash Ser Gregor and send him before us with his reavers….each is to have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the Riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.”

    Ser Addam Marbrand was one of those charged with scouting it specifically say tell “them”. From this I would argue tha Marbrand was likewise charged with the campaign of atrocities and terror enacted in the Riverlands.

  9. I always had issues trying to reconcile Melisandre’s actions in ACOK and the notion that magic in ASOIAF does not decrease the drama. On the one hand, Stannis goes from a minor pretender to a serious contender for the Iron Throne when the shadows kill Rnely and Ser Penrose, and he suffers little more than some minor physical decay and the occasional and very brief burst of remorse, so the wins for him outweigh the loss, even if he loses the Battle of the Blackwater in the end.

    On the other hand, the way ACOK is structured, theses shifts in fortune serve to amp up the stakes for Tyrion in particular and Catelyn and Robb in the long term, so it certainly increases the drama for parties that have more time in the limelight than Stannis.

    I guess my beef is that, from a writer’s perspective, I can’t help but feel that magical elements like Melisandre, the Faceless Men, Thoros, etc. become important only when the plot demands it and then wait on the sidelines until they are needed again. They always felt more like a convenient plot device than an organic part of the universe.

    • Sean C. says:

      With Mel, I can see both sides of that argument (when she can and can’t produce Shadowbabies is definitely more than a little convenient).

      The Faceless Men have always bugged me, as a piece of worldbuilding (purely for their function in Arya’s story, they’re fine), because it seems like most of the rules of the organization are just convoluted ways of trying to justify why these guys haven’t affected the plot nearly as much as a virtually unstoppable guild of mystical assassins should have.

      • And now that I think about it…why couldn’t Melisandre produce any other shadwobabies? Was it because nobody except Stannis had the “blood of kings”? Who needs to wake up stone dragons when you can simply lop off the heads of his enemy factions?

        • Grant says:

          It isn’t very clear exactly how “blood of kings” is defined and who would qualify. It does make sense that she wouldn’t dare use Stannis after the damage using it once caused, and she did use his nephew’s blood to (possibly) bring about the deaths of Robb, Balon and Joffrey.

          • You are right about not wanting to use Stannis to father another shadow, but just now I read the Davos chapter in ASOS where Melisandre visits him in the dungeons.

            Right after stating she doesn’t dare use Stannis again she says “With another man, though…a man whose flames still burn hot and high…” insinuating a man as lowly as Davos could produce a shadow, too. If that’s the case, why not use somebody like Axell Florent for the same purpose?

        • I think the issue with the shadowbaby is that you need a lot of lifeforce and/or kingsblood to survive the process. If her subjects die mid-coitus that starts raising suspicions.

          • But that’s what sticks in my craw, the rules are vague enough they seem arbitrary. What exactly is lifeforce anyway? Is it another name for willpower? Is it like the mana of D&D spellcasters?

            I’m sorry, but Melisandre always riles me up, and it has nothing to do with her character, but the impression I have she is more plot device than character. I’m annoyed that it’s properly explained why she can’t make any more shadowbabies (when she seems to consider Davos a worthy enough candidate), or why she only used the glamour to save Mance Rayder’s life and never employed it in any other context. Seems like a very useful ability.

            My point is, when dealing with magic, it’s better to create a system that establishes boundaries (so there’s no room for arbitrariness) than to have a lone she-wolf performing magic and refraining from it as the plot demands it.

            And maybe there will be an explanation for this further down the line, but Lost ruined my faith in that.

          • I dunno, to me the vagueness is what makes it magic. Give it mana and named spells, and all of the sudden it’s just a science.

          • I know, that’s the eternal debate. Personally, as you can probably infer by now, I’d sooner have some clear rules in place to keep magic under control. Otherwise, it feels like an annoying plot device instead of something alluring and fascinating.

          • animalia555 says:

            What you gus are talking about is the debate between hard magic and soft magic. And whichever system you use, or a blend some ideas or common to both.

            While Brandon Sanderson writes mainly Hard Magic systems he wrote some rules work fior both. He does stress that these are more GUIDELINES than anything else.

            *The First Rule is this.

            An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
            If characters (especially viewpoint characters) solve a problem by use of magic, the reader should be made to understand how that magic works. JOtherwise, the magic can constitute a deus ex machina.
            Ideally, the magic is explained to the reader before it is used to resolve a conflict. Much like a sword or a large sum of money, magic is a useful tool. Understanding the tools available to a character helps the reader understand the character’s actions. It avoids questions like, “Where did he get that?” or “How did he do that?”
            “Mysterious magic” (or “soft magic”), which has no clearly defined rules, should, in genre fantasy, not solve problems, although it may create them. Soft magic in genre fantasy is usually used to create a sense of awe and wonder, and the workings of it aren’t known to the reader and most characters. Brandon has said that J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R Martin’s use of magic is a good example of a soft magic system.
            “Hard magic” on the other hand has rules explicitly described by the author, meaning that the reader can understand the magic so that solving problems with it doesn’t seem to “mystically make everything better”. Instead, it’s the characters’ wit and experience that solves the problems. This makes magic a tool which can be used to solve problems and enhance the story. L.E. Modesitt Jr. and Melanie Rawn, according to Brandon, write in this way.
            The middle ground is a situation where the reader knows some of the limits and possibilities of the magic but doesn’t understand its workings. Brandon has cited the magic in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as a great examp

          • animalia555 says:

            Here’s the rest.


            Limitations > Power
            The limitations of a magic system are more interesting than its capabilities. What the magic can’t do is more interesting than what it can.
            Great limitations on magic systems will do many things, they will for example create struggle. It’ll make characters work for their goals and if the magic system is limited it’ll make the writer and the character have to be more clever. Sanderson offers his own Allomantic Steel and Iron as examples of this: They allow you telekinesis with a few limitations, the characters can only push or pull directly away or toward themselves and the objects must be made of metal. This forces characters to work harder and encourages better writing.
            An excellent magic system will also create tension, as the outcome is not obvious and makes the whole scene appear more dramatic. For example: Superman fighting an enemy is not very tense. But Superman fighting an enemy with Kryptonite is a lot more tense.
            It can also create depth in the characters and the system alike. For example: A character whose power is flight. But impose a limitation where she can only fly when she is happy. Her mood and ability to fly are both now directly tied into the plot.
            Limitations on what the magic can do can be simple – can’t use when too tired, can only be used in the sunlight- but more complex ones are more interesting. Sanderson gives us an example “Will and the Word”. A nearly limitless magic with nigh infinite power. You can make just about anything but cannot unmake or destroy. This limitation shapes the magic as a whole and tells the reader something of the magic’s very nature.
            Weaknesses and costs[edit]
            Weaknesses and costs alike make a magic system more interesting. Weaknesses are generally harder to keep sensible and the kryptonite example has become a staple of easy storytelling. Brandon encourages writers to make up more interesting weaknesses than “Lose powers if x”. Costs on the other hand are a great way of limiting a character and the use of the magic. In the Wheel of Time series the cost is
            that the users of the magic will slowly go insane, in The Stormlight Archive it’s the stormlight and in Mistborn it’s the metals.


            “A brilliant magic system for a book is less often one with a thousand different powers and abilities — and is more often a magic system with relatively few powers that the author has considered in depth.”
            It is important to consider the effects that a magic will have on a world. If for example your magic can create food out of thin air, what will that cause, what will happen? How will it affect trade, politics, warfare, education and social norms? Asking these questions and working out what effects your magic system will add depth to your world.
            Another important point is to interconnect. Try to make the powers a character has seem like a coherent whole rather than separate abilities. In Mistborn, for example, magics were designed to be what thieves would want and then the powers named accordingly. Tying your powers together thematically is an important part of worldbuilding and expands the world, rather than adding to it.
            Streamlining is also important in any magic system. Combining pre-existing magics and powers is often better than adding new ones. A different culture reacting to a magic entirely differently than what has been shown so far, is often better than a culture with its own unrelated magic system. For example: a simple heat-generating magic may be used by different cultures in very different ways. A warlike culture might use it for assault or for forging weapons, a peaceful one for heating and preparing food, for merchants for making products, nomads for powering transportation and so on.
            Remember, however, not to streamline too far as that will make the single culture or character seem too packed and might decrease their plausibility.

            And for fun I also through in an interview with him and B&N


    • jpmarchives says:

      I’m inclined to agree, but the alternative is too much magic (Raymond E Feist is a writer who struggles to give his incredibly powerful characters any difficulties) or no magic at all, in which case I’d be happier reading straight historical fiction.

      What really bothers me is GRRM’s use of prophesies. As a motivating factor for characters I find them infuriating because Martin will never play them straight, which makes the resulting story difficult to enjoy. It’s also why everyone thinks Jaime will kill Cersei, because prophesies never work as the concerned people think.

      • Absolutely, it’s a hard road to travel on. In terms of magic balance, I was thinking of Warcraft II and III, where you have armies with magical units that can beef up regular units, but all the armies have countermeasures, so that no side has too much advantage over the other (which is what Stannis has, even if it doesn’t pan out for him). Heroes of Might and Magic is another example.

        But maybe that’s more easily applicable to games than books, beats me. Feist is definitely guilty of that, and a good reason why I quit on him.

        Oh, and you’re right about prophecies, in whatever genre and whichever author, not just Martin. You either follow through with it to the letter, or subvert it through some pseudo-clever means. Either way, what’s the point ? Except use it as a crutch. I had enough of them.

      • Raymond E. Feist does much better than, say, David Eddings.

    • As you say, it’s increasing the drama by making Stannis a major threat where none existed before. We see this in next Cat chapter, hwhere Catelyn muses that “Stannis has made common cause with some darker power.” And yet, Stannis doesn’t get all of Renly’s army, nor does he take Blackwater Bay.

  10. Brett says:

    Excellent post. Hemlock sounds like a really horrible way to go, suffocating to death helplessly before blacking out and dying.

    I don’t know if Tywin would send Tyrion to the Wall, but he would tell him not so kindly to get out of King’s Landing and never come back – and that it would be wise for him to vacate the Rock if or when Tywin returns. Hell, Tyrion himself was thinking it might be a good idea to flee to the Free Cities for a while before Joffrey came into majority.

    (FYI, you should definitely read this).

    That was a really good essay. I’ve come more to the opinion that Tywin’s “cold and implacable as a glacier, does no half-measures” persona was an act on his part that he actively portrayed to cover up the fact that he was more like his children: temperamental, angry, and incredibly proud.

  11. Keith B says:

    If Tywin had died, Kevan may have been unable to march on King’s Landing, either before or after attempting to cross the Red Fork. When Tywin marches east, he’s essentially abandoning the Westerlands to Robb. His bannermen wouldn’t have liked that at all. Apparently Tywin had enough control over his bannermen that they were more afraid of him than of losing their holdings. Did Kevan have that much authority? If not, his lords might have forced him to march south to the Gold Road, despite the alliance with the Reach.

  12. winnie says:

    Late to the party because I was in Alaska (and it was amazing) but another great recap Steve. Basically you demonstrate once again that the Starks fall because Martin willed it-there was nothing inevitable about it and I like your nod to fairy tale tropes.

    No Tywin means no Red Wedding. Period. No way Walder pulls the trigger without Tywin’s reassurances and they HAVE to come from Tywin himself. Anyone else and Walder ain’t gonna risk it and Roose is gonna be a lot more cautious about open treachery as well.

    As for the Great Western alliance…
    Personally I really doubt that House Tyrell would ever have made the deal without Tywin and the power vacuum that leaves for House Lannister. And even if they had, Cersei would soon let them know what a mistake it was while there was still a chance of extricating themselves. Once they realized what dealing with her meant I’m guessing they’d at least *consider* if they might not be better off with Robb…especially if they could get Sansa for Willas and/or Robb or Edmure for Margaery.

    One thing’s for sure…no Tywin means Tyrion never weds Sansa and THAT opens up a lot of other possibilities.

    • Andrew says:

      They would have also dealt with Tyrion, who no doubt would have tried to keep Cersei in cheque and prevent her from derailing things, Who knows what Kevan would do? Tyrion would likely try to enlist his help in checkuing Cersei.

    • Thanks very much!

      It is interesting to think what happens if the Tyrell/Lannister breakup happens earlier. Do they pull out of the alliance, reach out to the Starks? Do they try to do a deal with Kevan and/or Tyrion?

  13. ragna01 says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do such a thorough analysis. I feel like I read the book half asleep, but you have opened my eyes!

  14. WPA says:

    I’m not so sure Kevan is able to hold the army together without Tywin, while the West is being invaded. It’s not that Kevan isn’t capable, he is. It’s that Tywin has a force of personality that cannot be discounted. He is legendarily ruthless, and most of his lords are probably the sons of the guys that rallied to him for his extirpation of the Reynes and Tarbecks and were probably with him for the sack of Kings Landing as younger men. So your core leadership has basically been raised on stories of and imperatives to follow this indefatigable, cold-blooded Lord Paramount whose means of dealing with defiance are legendarily brutal. He’s calling the strategic imperatives and that’s that. Once he’s removed, there’s a fair chance no one is able to fill that vacuum with a hostile army in the West and another army in the way. After all, in AFFC, the Lannisters basically begin to fall apart militarily (what’s left of them) without an organized field army opposing them anywhere south of the Neck… and then the Gold Company lands.

    • Winnie says:

      I think Kevan could still hold the army together…but I doubt he could do it without agreeing to march West to defend their home turf against Robb Stark.

  15. M says:

    Was the mistake to name Weese? His death demonstrably improves life for all the people working under him. Her third wish flips Harrenhall, but it’s heavily implied that that would have happened anyway, which seems more wasted to me.

    • Laural H says:

      Although technically getting her way with the weasel soup was a trick due to naming Jaqen himself, it is arguably a worse waste than the other two names, indeed.

  16. […] the flip-side of Arya VIII, we start out with the Stark/Tully perspective on the Battle of Oxcross and the subsequent Scouring […]

  17. […] As we’ve seen before, Arya’s mind is constantly bent on escape, but her reasons for escape keep shifting. On the one hand, she definitely wants to reunite with her family. On the other hand, escape is very much an expression of her desire to feel powerful and in control. In this chapter, for example, Arya brings up escape the first time when she feels confident about her sneaking skills and by extension what she’s retained from her time with Syrio Forel: […]

  18. […] the Blackwater, because the reality is that he’s spent most of the war being out-maneuvered, out-strategized, got beaten by Edmure Tully at the Battle of the Fords, and had to be rescued by the Tyrells. But […]

  19. ** says:

    Great analysis. Another minor but annoying book vs show change – we don’t see Jaqen in a bath. It’s just a little sad that in a show where female nudity is used (overused) as decoration, a canonical moment of male nudity (doesn’t need to be full nudity) is removed – why? Also, a dark room full of steam could have looked a bit mysterious and spooky, playing up the dangerous and otherworldy feeling around Jaqen.

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