Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion IX, ACOK


“The unshaven and the unwashed stared at the riders with dull resentment from behind the line of spears. I like this not one speck, Tyrion thought…”

Synopsis: Tyrion and the royal family go down to the docks to see Myrcella off. Joffrey talks to his subjects, and the King’s Landing Riot ensues.

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:

Tyrion IX holds a special place in my heart, as it is the moment in the main ASOIAF series where the smallfolk of Westeros make themselves known as a political force. It’s not the only moment in the history of Westeros – as I discuss somewhat here and in more detail in my essay “Revolt From Below,” which you can (eventually) read in Hymn for Spring, there are many instances where the smallfolk have been a profoundly political force. But this is where it all started.

The Dornish Alliance

But before we get to all that, let’s discuss some of the things that come up before the riot kicks off. To begin with, Myrcella Baratheon is sent off to Dorne with a heavy naval escort, because:

“If the girl was captured before she reached Sunspear, the Dornish alliance would fall to pieces. So far Doran Martell had done no more than call his banners. Once Myrcella was safe in Braavos, he had pledged to move his strength to the high passes, where the threat might make some of the Marcher lords rethink their loyalties and give Stannis pause about marching north.”

I had honestly forgotten that Doran moving Dornish military forces to the border with the Stormlands had been part of the deal. It’s an interesting detail, because it shows us something about how the Prince of Dorne uses the threat of power to win concessions and influence the strategic behavior of others without actually committing any resources. A very early hint that, despite his outward show of passivity, Doran Martell is actually getting a surprising amount done.

Another little detail that’s worthy of note is the role that Braavos is playing in the Martell/Lannister “alliance.” Tyrion “had engaged the Braavosi to bring her the rest of the way to Sunspear. Even Lord Stannis would hesitate to wake the anger of the greatest and most powerful of the Free Cities.” For a supposedly neutral power, Braavos is surprisingly (if subtly) active in Westerosi politics when you add this to the fact that the Sealord witnessed the pact between Ser Willem Darry and House Martell, to say nothing of the Iron Bank’s actions in AFFC/ADWD.

The War of Five Kings: The Importance of Timing

Another idea that crops up in the pre-riot lull is the critical role that timing plays in the upcoming Battle of Blackwater. To begin with, we see the critical importance of Ser Cortnay Penrose in ensuring that Stannis doesn’t attack until Tyrion has the boom chain ready:

“Tyrion glanced back to where the Rush emptied out into Blackwater Bay and was relieved to see no signs of sails on the wide green horizon. At last report, the Baratheon fleet still lay off Storm’s End, where Ser Cortnay Penrose continued to defy the besiegers in dead Renly’s name. Meanwhile Tyrion’s winch towers stood three-quarters complete. Even now men were hoisting heavy blocks of stone into place, no doubt cursing him for making them work through the festivities. Let them curse. Another fortnight, Stannis, that’s all I require. Another fortnight and it will be done.”

That fortnight is crucial to GRRM’s plotting of the battle, because (as we’ll discuss in full in Davos II) if Stannis had marched directly on King’s Landing, he would have arrived 22 days earlier than in OTL, when Tywin was still fighting at the Fords, far too far away to intervene in time. Speaking of which, their arrival is also very precisely timed:

“He wondered again about Littlefinger. There had been no word from Petyr Baelish since he had ridden off for Bitterbridge. That might mean nothing – or everything. Even Varys could not say. The eunuch had suggested that perhaps Littlefinger had met some misfortune on the roads. He might even be slain…more likely, the Tyrells were balking at the proposed marriage.”

If relief arrives too early, the battle loses its drama; if relief arrives too late, then the battle is lost. And the two parts have to work together – if the chain wan’t finished when Stannis attacked but Tywin got the message in time, then the Bay would have remained open, Salladhor Saan’s fleet could have sailed in to transport Stannis’ army across the river, allowing him to force his way into the city before Tywin and the Tyrells (great band name, btw) could arrive, and denying the Tyrell’s center and vanguard a target on the southern bank. If the chain was finished, but Tywin hadn’t gotten the message in time, Stannis’ forces on the north bank could have secured the city while the remainder could have been portaged across the bay and then marched to the city.

O.K., O.K. and O.K. by Pojypojy

by Pojypojy

Cersei and the Kettleblacks (another great band name)

Another key pre-riot development is the ongoing struggle of wills and wits between Tyrion and Cersei that we’ll see played out as a game of espionage and counter-espionage

I know your secret, Cersei, he thoughtCersei would don a plain brown traveler’s cloak and steal off to meet a certain hedge knight with the unlikely name of Ser Osmund Kettleblack, and his equally unsavory brothers Osney and Osfryd. Lancel had told him all about them. Cersei meant to use the Kettleblacks to buy her own force of sellswords.

There are a couple things that jump out here: first, Cersei is being unusually active against Tyrion, which on a second read-through we know is partly because of Maggy’s prophecy, but also because whatever else you might say about Cersei as a conspirator, she does understand the critical importance of maintaining a monopoly on violence. Second, we can see that Tyrion really does excel at this kind of tradecraft, planting agents inside Cersei’s camp, and then turning her agents. Third, on the second read-through, knowing that Littlefinger is actually a third party behind the Kettleblacks, you really do have to give him credit as a spy of the first order. Fourth, I do think there’s something to this idea of the Kettleblacks as miles gloriosus – who will inevitably fail anyone who employs them, just as they’ve failed Cersei in her hour of need. Which means Littlefinger is due.

The King’s Landing Riot – Preparations, the Mother, and King Bread

Now that we’ve cleared the decks, let’s get to the main event. As the party sets out, we can already see GRRM starting to layer in foreboding with the silent crowd (see the before-the-jump quote) and Tyrion’s intensive preparations, which will do nothing to prevent the debacle (shades of the best-laid plans of mice and men):

“Ser Jacelyn Bywater went in front, heading a wedge of mounted lancers in black ringmail and golden cloaks. Behind him came Ser Aron Santagar and Ser Balon Swann, bearing the king’s banners, the lion of Lannister and crowned stag of Baratheon…two of the Kingsguard flanked the couple, the Hound on the king’s right hand and Ser Mandon Moore to the left of the Stark girl…Ser Preston Greenfield, and then Cersei, accompanied by Ser Lancel and protected by Meryn Trant and Boros Blount…. a double column of guardsmen brought up the rear.”

While this might seem like mere detail, I think GRRM is actually laying some thematic groundwork. On the one hand, we have an ostentatious show of authority – the twin banners silently pointing out who actually sits on the Iron Throne – backed up by military might. However, all of this knightly power is essentially the military equivalent of the 1% vs. the 99% – all of that armor, all of those weapons, all of those horses, all of those years that these men have spent training in arms without having to work for a living, are funded by feudal taxes extracted by threat of force (or out in the Riverlands, the actual use of force) from the unarmed, unarmored, shoeless mass of civilians who are going to go to war with their masters with their bare hands.

The thematics kick into high gear with the appearance of the mother and her dead baby, a symbolic figure who seems to have come straight out of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (thinking here of the Marquis St.Evrémonde’s carriage running down the peasant child in the streets of Paris, or the broken wine cask set-piece):

“Halfway along the route, a wailing woman forced her way between two watchmen and ran out into the street in front of the king and his companions, holding the corpse of her dead baby above her head. It was blue and swollen, grotesque, but the real horror was the mother’s eyes…the coin bounced off the child and rolled away…the mother never once blinked. Her skinny arms were trembling from the dead weight of her son…the mother heard her. Somehow the queen’s voice cut through the woman’s ravaged wits. Her slack face twisted in loathing. “Whore!” she shrieked. “Kingslayer’s whore! Brotherfucker!” Her dead child dropped from her arms like a sack of flour as she pointed at Cersei.”

This nameless woman and her starved child personifies the toll of hunger and privation that is war in winter – the human cost of the Tyrell’s embargo on grain, the net result of Littlefinger’s entry fees. Here she comes face to face with the woman who arguably started it all, and the contrast is chilling: motherhood twisted, with one woman birthing her own nephews and the other carrying death instead of life; the imbalance between Cersei’s insincere charity and the “sack of flour” that could have saved a baby’s life. The result is a rage that will set the city on fire.

At the same time, however, we can also see in the riot the power of Stannis’ public letter – the accusation of incest and adultery has clearly stuck in the public imagination. The idea that a king or lord could engage with their subjects through rhetoric and persuasion is often discounted or dismissed in ASOIAF and its fandom. The assumption is that people will believe only what is convenient for them to believe based on their own interests and loyalties, and that the only thing that really matters is the allegiances of the Great Houses that make up the game of thrones. However, this scene shows otherwise – ideas have power, even in Westeros,a dn the beliefs of the masses can be swayed to enormous effect. For all that Stannis is seen as uncharismatic and a poor politician, his public letter is remarkably influential, undermining the legitimacy of Joffrey and Tommen’s monarchy and stirring people to rebellion across a broad swathe of Westerosi society. Did Renly ever accomplish a political feat of that extent?

Of course, one thing that helps to decide how well people respond to Stannis’ arguments is the political environment the common people of King’s Landing find themselves in. In this case, we have King Joffrey opening his mouth at the worst possible time:

“I want the man who threw that!…a hundred gold to the man who gives him up…Bring the man who flung that filth!…he’ll lick it off me or I’ll have his head…Dog, cut through them and bring-“

As I’ve said before, Joffrey’s sadism and hatred of the commons has been steadily wearing down the bonds of allegiance between the king and his subjects to a thread under immense tension. And with this last provocation, issued not from the safety of castle battlements but directly to their face, the people of King’s Landing see that their liege sees them as victims not subjects. The thread breaks.

It as this point that the crowd begins to speak, after a book and a half where the only political voices in this series have spoken in the accents of the powerful. Deciphering their speech isn’t easy, because you’re dealing with an organism made up of a hundred thousand thinking cells:

“A few voices raised a cry of “Joffrey! All hail, all hail!” as the young king rode by, but for every man who picked up the shout, a hundred kept their silence. The Lannisters moved through a sea of ragged men and hungry women, breasting a tide of sullen eyes.”

“A tumult of sound drowned his last words, a rolling thunder of rage and fear and hatred that engulfed them from all sides. “Bastard!” someone screamed at Joffrey, “bastard monster.” Other voices flung calls of “Whore” and “Brotherfucker” at the queen, while Tyrion was pelted with shouts of “Freak” and “Halfman.” Mixed in with the abuse, he heard a few cries of “Justice” and “Robb, King Robb, the Young Wolf,” of “Stannis!” and even “Renly!” From both sides of the street, the crowd surged against the spear shafts while the gold cloaks struggled to hold the line. Stones and dung and fouler things whistled overhead. “Feed us!” a woman shrieked. “Bread!” boomed a man behind her. “We want bread, bastard!” In a heartbeat, a thousand voices took up the chant. King Joffrey and King Robb and King Stannis were forgotten, and King Bread ruled alone. “Bread,” they clamored. “Bread, bread!”

To begin with, it’s interesting to see the breakdown of loyalty – even after Joffrey’s thoughtless execution of Eddard Stark plunged the kingdom into war, even after Joffrey’s wanton murder of their neighbors, there remain some people in the crowd who still maintain their loyalty to the anointed, crowned, enthroned king. At the same time, we can see that Stannis’ letter has poisoned the well – the accusation is omnipresent, swirling in the air held in thousands of lungs like an epidemic virus.

However, what prevents the King’s Landing Riot from being truly revolutionary is that it seems to be genuinely spontaneous, rather than organized, because the crowd can’t get behind 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 the past, the King’s Landing mob can hurl royal families and their court out of the city, but it requires consensus behind an alternative. In the absence of a frontrunner, the mob creates a symbolic figure of their own: King Bread. A perfect synecdoche of the desire for legitimate authority and life-giving sustenance, King Bread fits into the English tradition of fictitious rebel leaders – Robin Hood, Captain Swing, Ned Ludd, all figures that never really existed but gave the common people an invincible hero figure to rally behind and put fear into the hearts of the wealthy.

delicious, delicious King Bread.

The King’s Landing Riot – Political Consequences

Riots always bring about consequences, and in this case, among the consequences of the King’s Landing Riot are a marked political shift among the general population:

“We held the city today, my lord, but I make no promises for the morrow. The kettle is close to boiling. So many thieves and murderers are abroad that no man’s house is safe, the bloody flux is spreading in the stews along Pisswater Bend, there’s no food to be had for copper nor silver. Where before you heard only mutterings from the gutter, now there’s open talk of treason in guildhalls and markets.”

“Your eunuch must have told you, there is small love for the Lannisters in King’s Landing. Many still remember how your lord father sacked the city, when Aerys opened the gates to him. They whisper that the gods are punishing us for the sins of your House—for your brother’s murder of King Aerys, for the butchery of Rhaegar’s children, for the execution of Eddard Stark and the savagery of Joffrey’s justice. Some talk openly of how much better things were when Robert was king, and hint that times would be better again with Stannis on the throne. In pot-shops and winesinks and brothels, you hear these things—and in the barracks and guardhalls as well, I fear.”

There’s actually a lot going on here. First, the “open talk of treason in guildhalls and markets” will eventually give rise to the Antler Men – another sign, as I have suggested above, that Stannis is able to generate loyalty in surprising quarters. Second, the mentioning of Aerys and Rhaegar’s children reminds me a lot of the increasing mentions of Targaryen loyalists in AFFC, showing that GRRM is seeding some ideas well ahead of time. Third, this “small love for the Lannisters” is a really persistent force – while the crowd’s dislike for the Lannisters seemed to have been banished by the arrival of Margaery Tyrell in ASOS, the success of the Sparrow movement in AFFC owes a lot to the public’s resentment toward the Lannisters and their perceived lack of legitimacy (as I discuss in my “Revolt from Below” essay). In light of AFFC, the Tyrell’s public relations coup looks a lot more fleeting. Indeed, if we look at the social history of crowd actions and social movements, there is almost never a case where radicalization is permanent and unawavering; it’s much more common for them to have an almost oceanic ebb and flow, where sudden lulls can disguise a gathering storm. Thus, we shouldn’t mistake a temporary regrouping for something more long-term.

At the same time, one of the political consequences of the riot is a similarly long-lasting blot of Tyrion’s reputation among the masses. This moment is critical for Tyrion’s character, to the point that I’d put this chapter up there with his trial and his confrontation with his father in ASOS:

“They hate my family, is that what you are telling me?”

“Aye…and you most of all, my lord.”

“Most of all?” The injustice was like to choke him. “It was Joffrey who told them to eat their dead, Joffrey who set his dog on them. How could they blame me?”

“His Grace is but a boy. In the streets, it is said he has evil councilors… it is you they blame most. Your sister and the eunuch were here when times were better under King Robert, but you were not. They say that you’ve filled the city with swaggering sellswords and unwashed savages, brutes who take what they want and follow no laws but their own. They say you exiled Janos Slynt because you found him too bluff and honest for your liking. They say you threw wise and gentle Pycelle into the dungeons when he dared raise his voice against you. Some even claim that you mean to seize the Iron Throne for your own.”

“Yes, and I am a monster besides, hideous and misshapen, never forget that.” His hand coiled into a fist. “I’ve heard enough. We both have work to attend to. Leave me.”

Tyrion’s self-conception as a Hero With Bad Publicity who is denied his rightful acclaim by the public’s ableism, yet who nonetheless maneuvers to save those who hates and fears him is at the very heart of his arc in ACOK, and will culminate with his sally to the bridge of burning boats during the Battle of Blackwater, and his subsequent betrayal and fall from power (indeed, one can argue that Tyrion’s overall arc goes something like this: Book 1, begins to think he can be something more; Book 2, becomes a hero with bad publicity; Book 3, makes a decision to become the villain the world thinks he is; Book 5, gradually learns he doesn’t have to be).

At the same time, as I have argued, I don’t think this was inevitable. If Tyrion had paid more attention to public relations, he could have used the same tradition of evil councilors to play up Janos Slynt’s brutality and corruption, Pycelle’s oath-breaking, lechery, and treason, and established himself as the Halfman in the public’s imagination. Reformer, war hero, underdog – these are qualities that could have been harnessed, had Tyrion believed that he could have any reputation other than a monster.

The King’s Landing Riot – The Cost

At the same time, we can’t forget that popular uprising always have human costs, no matter how glorious their causes. Whether we’re talking the journées of the French Revolution, the Boston Massacre, the February Revolution, the Keil Mutiny, or the Arab Spring and the color-themed Revolutions in our own time, thousands and thousands of people die in these spasms. In the case of the King’s Landing Riot, the cost was almost apocalyptic:

“Fire!” a voice screamed down from atop the barbican. “My lords, there’s smoke in the city. Flea Bottom’s afire.”

Tyrion was inutterably weary, but there was no time for despair. “Bronn, take as many men as you need and see that the water wagons are not molested,” Gods be good, the wildfire, if any blaze should reach that…“we can lose all of Flea Bottom if we must, but on no account must the fire reach the Guildhall of the Alchemists, is that understood?”

Now, I’ll discuss what might have happened if the fire had spread in more detail in the correct section, but it is interesting to note that, shortly after Tyrion complains about being hated by the masses, he shows that he’s perfectly willing to sacrifice the poorest section of the city to save the rest. It points to an irony in Tyrion’s character, that as much as he rails against being called a monster because of his appearance, he actually has a monstrous side of his character that is just as ruthless, vindictive, and uncaring as his father. It’s not the whole of his character, and its usually kept in check by the better angels of his nature – until the end of ASOS when he reaches his limit.

But while we’re talking about casualties, the butcher’s bill from the King’s Landing Riot does not come cheap:

“three gold cloaks went down under the surge, and then the crowd was rushing forward, trampling the fallen man…Tyrion saw Aron Santagar pulled from the saddle, the gold-and-black Baratheon stag torn from his grasp. Ser Balon Swann dropped the Lannister lion to draw his longsword. He slashed right and left as the fallen banner was ripped apart, the thousand ragged pieces swirling away like crimson leaves in a stormwind. In an instant they were gone…Lady Tanda, half crazed with fear for her daughter Lollys…the High Septon spilled from his litter, screeching prayers as the crowds swept over him…Ser Preston Greenfield of the Kingsguard riding back toward the High Septon’s overturned litter…”

“The list of the slain was topped by the High Septon, ripped apart as he squealed to his gods for mercy. Starving men take a hard view of priests too fat to walk, Tyrion reflected.

Ser Preston’s corpse had been overlooked at first; the gold cloaks had been searching for a knight in white armor, and he had been stabbed and hacked so cruelly that he was red-brown from head to heel.

Ser Aron Santagar had been found in a gutter, his head a red pulp inside a crushed helm. 

Lady Tanda’s daughter has surrendered her maidenhood to half a hundred shouting men behind a tanner’s shop. The gold cloaks found her wandering naked on Sowbelly Row.

Tyrek was still missing, as was the High Septon’s crystal crown. Nine gold cloaks had been slain, two score wounded. No one had troubled to count how many of the mob had died.” 

There’s a lot going on here. First, it’s interesting to note the way that the mob goes after sources of authority – the destruction of the royal banners are a huge sign that (despite the continuation of the “evil councilors” ideology) the mob is attacking the symbolic power of both Church and State, and it’s unclear how far the High Sparrow would have gone had these institutions not been shaken by the riot. Second, the case of Lady Tanda is sadly not that unfamiliar in that the crowds of history rarely act as the morally virtuous capital-letter People or Working Class, and the same impulse that brings down tyranny can also bring about gendered or racial oppression. Third, the vanishing of Tyrek is a great mystery that I will discuss in full later on.

Fourth, there’s also a running theme of the deconstruction of chivalry. It starts with the brutal reality of these warrior-caste elites being pulled down and beaten to death by people with empty hands and empty bellies; it continues with the fact that so many of the Kingsguard show themselves to be completely unworthy of their white cloaks and that the only one who tries to follow the script – Ser Preston Greenfield, who turns his horse around to try to rescue the living avatar of the Seven – is unromantically butchered for his naivete. And of course, it reaches its apogee with the rescue of Sansa:

Sandor Clegane cantered briskly through the gates astride Sansa’s chestnut courser. The girl was seated behind, both arms tight around the Hound’s chest…Blood was trickling down Sansa’s brow from a deep gash on her scalp. “They . . . they were throwing things . . . rocks and filth, eggs . . . I tried to tell them, I had no bread to give them. A man tried to pull me from the saddle. The Hound killed him, I think . . . his arm . . .” Her eyes widened and she put a hand over her mouth. “He cut off his arm.”

Clegane lifted her to the ground. His white cloak was torn and stained, and blood seeped through a jagged tear in his left sleeve. “The little bird’s bleeding. Someone take her back to her cage and see to that cut.” Maester Frenken scurried forward to obey. “They did for Santagar,” the Hound continued. “Four men held him down and took turns bashing at his head with a cobblestone. I gutted one, not that it did Ser Aron much good.”

This is Mallory turned on its head – on the one hand, you have a lone knight saving a fair maiden, with whom he shares a courtly romance; on the other, the only one who actually lives up to the duties of knighthood is the one who refuses to become a knight. Instead of the bloodless Errol-Flynning of Hollywood, here rescue involves mutilation, murder, and the unfairness of a fight between a sword and a cobblestone. And rescue involves not liberation, but continued captivity.

by Mathia Arkoniel

Surveying the damage done, Tyrion finally lashes out at Joffrey and the Kingsguard who have abetted his sadistic bullying:

“Traitors,” Joffrey was babbling excitedly, “I’ll have all their heads, I’ll-“

The dwarf slapped his flushed face so hard the crown flew from Joffrey’s head. Then he shoved him with both hands and knocked him sprawling…

“You set your dog on them! What did you imagine they would do, bend the knee meekly while the Hound lopped off some limbs? You spoiled witless little boy, you’ve killed Clegane and gods now how many more, and yet you come through unscathed. Damn you!” And he kicked him.

“Ser Mandon, you were her shield.”

Ser Mandon Moore remained untroubled. “When they mobbed the Hound, I thought first of the king…”

“The others take your fucking cloaks! Take them off if you’re afraid to war them, you bloody oaf…but find me Sansa Stark or I swear, I’ll have Shagga split that ugly head of yours in two…”

On a surface level, this is immensely cathartic; someone is finally standing up to Joffrey, really for the first time since Sansa I of AGOT, and calling out the false knights who have shown themselves not only to be abusers, but cowards as well. However, if we look closer, we can see that Tyrion is making a huge mistake, not only because he’s creating the evidence that will be used against him at trial, but also because he doesn’t really accomplish anything by his outburst.

As Machiavelli says, “People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.” If Tyrion really believes that Joffrey is a threat to Tyrion himself and the Lannister regime, he should ensure that any action taken against Joffrey is decisive rather than personally satisfying.

Another reason why Tyrion might be making a huge mistake is that it’s quite possible that Tyrion’s physical attack on the King and his verbal attack on the Kingsguard is the catalyst for Ser Mandon Moore’s assassination attempt at the Battle of the Blackwater, whether at Joffrey’s command in revenge for the assault, or possibly simply because he doesn’t like being insulted. More on this later.

Varys and Tyrek

Now that we’ve discussed everything else, let’s talk about Varys and Tyrek. It is noticeable that Varys is nowhere to be seen when the riot kicks off – as we’ve seen with the Purple Wedding, we have to be very careful when a major conspirator is suddenly absent at the same time that someone else disappears. Moreover, Varys’ comment that he was “about the king’s business, my sweet lord,” is incredibly suspicious when we consider his true loyalties.

So the question becomes, not why has Tyrek been kidnapped, but how that kidnapping benefits (f)Aegon. While most speculation has focused on the fact that Tyrek is a potential heir to Casterly Rock (if that was what Varys was after, why not kidnap Sansa at the same time?), or even the fact that Tyrek is betrothed to the heiress of House Hayford. However, at this point, I don’t think that Varys could have foreseen that Tywin, Jaime, and Tyrion (to say nothing of Willem and Martyn, or Cersei) would have been out of the picture – even if he was planning to “winnow the field” somewhat, that’s a lot of assassinations before Tyrek is the heir.

Rather, I think the key here is Tyrek’s role as Robert Baratheon’s squire alongside Lancel – which makes him an unimpeachable witness to Cersei’s adultery, incest, and regicide, all charges she continues to deny prior to her trial by the Faith. If Varys is looking to put Aegon on the throne, Tyrek coming forward at the right time and place could see Tommen toppled or at least publicly discredited, just as Aegon VI lands pushing the Targaryen claim to the throne.

Historical Analysis:

In part because so many medieval sources focus entirely on the actions of royalty, nobility, and the church, and because medieval society was so unequal and hierarchical, there’s often something of a popular conception (one very much present in a lot of fantasy novels) that “the masses” don’t really become a player in politics until the time of the French Revolution.

As I’ve discussed before, the urban crowd was actually quite a potent, if somewhat inconsistent, force in premodern politics. During “the Anarchy,” the London mob balked the Empress Matilda at the height of her power, forcing her to cancel her coronation as Queen of England – the historical basis for GRRM’s storming of the Dragonpit forcing Rhaenrya out of King’s Landing to her fate on Dragonstone. 80-odd years before the Wars of the Roses, the Great Peasants’ Revolt had seen the common people of London in alliance with the rural peasantry occupying the Tower of London, destroying Savoy Palace, and killing the Lord Chancellor and Lord High Treasurer of England before they were betrayed and dispersed. Throughout the Wars of the Roses, the London mob was key to control of the capitol, and tended to have Yorkist sympathies due to the popularity of the Earl of Warwick as a pro-merchant, anti-piracy figure. It was the London mob that stopped Margerite D’Anjou after her triumph at Wakefield, and the mob that elevated Edward IV to the throne.

And even if we look to to the era of the French Revolution, we can see a number of premodern features that fit with GRRM’s depiction of the King’s Landing Riot. As George Rudé’s classic The Crowd in the French Revolution points out, the Parisian mob was quite similar to their medieval ancestors – while the guild system was beginning to break down, the vast majority of wage-earners in Paris still participated in the same system of apprentices, journeymen, and masters; while there were occupational districts, there was actually quite a bit of class diversity in the Parisian districts, with apprentices and journeymen living under their master’s roof and the rich and poor often living in startling proximity, just as Flea Bottom abuts the Red Keep.

Most important for our purposes, Rudé’s masterwork shows a crucial connection between the price of bread, crowd actions, and political activism. As anyone who’s studied the French Revolution knows, 1788-9 saw an epicly bad winter that led to the price of a loaf of bread rising to 14 sous at a time when a laborer’s daily wage was around 20-30 sous. As had happened before, this lead to bread riots, where the crowd demanded that the authorities step in and control the price of bread, insisting on the kind of “moral economy” that the great social historian E.P Thompson brought to life in The Making of the English Working Class and his essays in Past & Present. Something had changed, however – this time, when workers rioted against wage cuts at Reveillon in April, they were shouting “vive le tiers état” (long live the third estate). In the July Days, which saw the storming of the Bastille and the Tennis Court Oath, the same sans-culotte who saved the National Assembly also forcibly dismantled internal customs barriers blamed for raising the price of food. In the famous October March on Versailles, in which the working women of Paris heeded the calls of Marat and Danton and Demoulins to bring the King back to Paris to end the royalist veto over legislation, they did so in quid pro quo that the National Assembly would lower the price of bread. As the women marched on Versailles, they sang “allons chercher le boulanger, la boulangère et le petit mitron.” (let’s go find the baker, the baker’s wife, and the baker’s boy – referring to King Louis, Queen Marie-Antoninette, and their son)

Thus, the King’s Landing Riot – in the way that concerns flow from the material to the political, where the demand for food is also a demand for reciprocal protection from the government, the way that it displays both the most heroic (you try taking on an armed and armored knight with your bare hands) and the most brutal aspects of human character – fits quite well with the social history of the crowd.

One more thing that we can learn from said history: crowd actions involve learning. The people who rioted in 1789 remembered the bread riots of 1775 and how they’d forced the government to cut the price of bread; and the people who would riot in 1792 to establish a republic remembered that it had been them who made the Revolution possible 3 years earlier. Those King’s Landingers who survived the riot and the siege are people with a better conception of their own power than those who came before…

What If?

As you might expect from a chapter in which any character who appears could have potentially died, there are a huge number of hypothetical scenarios – I’ve identified ten, but I’m sure my commentators will spot some that I’ve missed.

  • Joffrey dies? Let’s start with the cheeriest scenario. If Joffrey dies, there’s some interesting ripple effects. Without Joffrey’s ignominious retreat, the morale of the goldcloaks would be greatly improved, possibly preventing their rout. Moreover, with Margaery marrying Tommen right off the bat, there’s no need for the Purple Wedding. In turn, this means that Tyrion doesn’t get blamed for regicide and that Sansa isn’t kidnapped by Littlefinger (at least not then) – which sets up a weird power struggle in the North between the Boltons and Tyrion and Stannis. In addition, Oberyn lives, which butterflies away the Dorne plot from AFFC.
  • Tommen dies? This one is kind of the reverse of the last one in terms of mood, but it does set up the interesting question of whether the Tyrells are cold-blooded enough to keep Joffrey alive (since now Tommen isn’t available as a Plan B) even if it means harm to Margaery, or whether they go through with a post-bedding poisoning and Cersei a pregnancy to make Margaery the Queen Mother, or whether they go through with the Purple Wedding and offer Margaery’s hand to Aegon down the road.
  • Joffrey and Tommen die? A more extreme version of the two scenarios, this one creates an immediate crisis of authority within King’s Landing. With no King on the Iron Throne, it’s quite possible Tyrion might lose control of the city before Stannis can get there (especially when the death of two heirs will be perceived as the punishment of the gods). While there are some who might support Myrcella over Stannis in the abstract, far fewer are going to do so that with Myrcella away from the city and Stannis at the gates with an army. At the same time, the Tyrell alliance breaks down completely – the Tyrells aren’t going to back the Lannisters to make a Martell King Consort, and even if Tywin or Littlefinger were to offer to break the betrothal, the Martells have Myrcella in hand, so that’s not going to fly.
  • This scenario might lead to a fractured Westeros, with Queen Myrcella (supported by Dorne and hypothetically by the Westerlands, but there’s practical limits to what Tywin can do in this scenario), King Stannis (supported by the Crownlands and the Stormlands), the Reach possibly forming its own kingdom, and then Robb and Balon fighting over the North.
  • Tyrion dies? If Tyrion dies with battle preparations half-completed, it’s quite possible Stannis takes the city with relative ease, with the wildfire being used solely in catapults allowing his navy to seize control of the river (which actually might be able to attack Tywin and the Tyrells while they’re barging down), the lack of a boom chain allowing him to move his troops across the bank with ease, and the lack of anyone coordinating sally parties allowing him to breach the gates quickly. On the other hand, Tywin avoids his date with destiny…
  • Cersei dies? This one is quite fascinating. With Cersei not around, things change quite dramatically – it’s possible there’s no assassination attempt against Tyrion (which might prevent his fall from grace completely), but it’s also possible that without Cersei to run Tyrion down he might not have as bad a fall from grace. The big changes come with ASOS – without Cersei to level the accusation, it’s quite possible Tyrion doesn’t get arrested during the Purple Wedding, which means Tywin might not die on schedule. However, if and when Tywin dies, there’s little to stop the Tyrells from completely taking over in AFFC. Which might well be better for Westeros.
  • Sansa dies? An ugly scenario, but one in which a lot changes – not only is Jaime not released, but it’s quite possible Jaime is executed in revenge, which in turn means the Karstarks don’t leave, Tyrion possibly isn’t rescued after the Purple Wedding, Riverrun doesn’t fall, etc. Also, Littlefinger’s scheme is completely blown out of the water, so gods only know what his plan B is.
  • Sandor dies? This one is a bit more subtle; it’s possible that Arya might end up dying or being captured at the Red Wedding (which might make the Freys try to betray Roose Bolton in favor of putting a Frey in as lord of Winterfell). Alternatively, if Arya is recaptured by the Brotherhood Without Banners, it’s possible she gets ransomed back to Brynden Tully, and escape with him after the second siege.
  • Ser Preston Greenfield doesn’t die? This one is more focused on the weird chain of Kingsguard replacements that takes place throughout ASOIAF. Without the death of Ser Preston, there’s one less slot – which might well keep Frankengregor out of the Kingsguard, preventing him from being used in Cersei’s trial.
  • High Septon doesn’t die? This is another succession one – without the fat High Septon dying, Tyrion doesn’t get to appoint a High Septon, Cersei doesn’t have that one executed, and therefore there might not be an opening for the High Sparrow to be elected. Not that it would stop the High Sparrow, but it would mean a more aggressive anti-heretical effort by the church, limiting the spread of the Sparrow movement.
  • the fire reached the wildfire caches? This is a really crazy one, but let’s think through this. If King’s Landing goes up in flames – taking the entire royal family and the religious hierarchy of Westeros with it – just as Stannis is marching on the city, there is no way that everyone doesn’t view this as divine judgement. For the Lannisters, this is basically game over; the alliance is off, and I think even Tywin’s presence won’t be enough to keep his army together when there’s no one left to fight for. For Stannis, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s got to be annoying to lose the capitol one was looking to besiege; on the other, his army is going to be absolutely fanatically devoted to him and R’hllor now. Look at the level of fanaticism Melisandre has been able to achieve with relatively minor effects – now she can take credit for something on the level of the Hammer of the Waters. You might well see R’hllorism spreading quite rapidly in the Stormlands and parts of the Reach…

Book vs. Show:

While the show does a fine job with the riot, given the limitations of not really being able to have a large-scale crowd or horses, I really do have to ding them for not using the mother as the catalyst for the riot – it’s such a potent image that’s it’s a shame not to use it. Likewise, while the crowd does mention hunger and wanting food, it also seems like a waste not to have the crowd chanting “KING BREAD!”


148 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion IX, ACOK

  1. winnie says:

    Great as always Steve. This chapter I think is what really sets up the High Sparrow and Cersei’s Walk of Shame.

    Agree that Tyrion has to learn good pr strategy. Maybe he’ll get some practice in Mereen.

    And yeah gripping the popular imagination is important something I think faegon will do in the books and that Dany and Jon will do in the show.

    Obviously it wasn’t a great move to slap Joffrey but I really can’t blame Tyrion for losing it that time.

    Like your theory that the Kettleblacks will let LF down.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it.

    • Crystal says:

      None of the Kettleblacks are happy with LF at the end of AFFC, I’m sure. If Osney survives his torture, he’s going to blame Littlefinger, at least partly – “All you have to do is worm your way into Queen Cersei’s graces! Easy-peasy!”

      • Andrew says:

        Their father Osmund is likely pissed most of all with all his sons imprisoned, and one having been tortured and likely awaiting execution. The other two are either getting the Wall or execution.

        • Crystal says:

          I don’t *think* Papa Kettleblack was at the Gates of the Moon during the Alayne TWOW chapter – IIRC, he’s stuck at Ye Olde Drearfort on the Fingers, which means that news from KL might be slow in arriving. However, he *will* eventually find out and he’s not going to be a happy camper; and it’s typical Littlefinger to disregard what someone like Osmund Kettleblack thinks of him, and I think that is one of the things that will lead to his downfall.

  2. David Hunt says:

    Wow. This one was really something. I’ll only post one thing before the the comment explode, that being I view the long term consequences of Sandor’s death on Arya’s path a little differently.

    If Sandor’s dead, I think Arya is recaptured by/goes back to the Brotherhood, but that she’s with Berec when they find Cat’s body and she’s actually reunited with her mother in what may be the worst possible way. My first thought was that Arya would be restraining influence on Stoneheart, but I’m not sure. I can’t think of any point where Arya ever actually advocated NOT killing someone…

    • Winnie says:

      I’m thinking Arya gets Nymeria and the pack together for a visit to the Twins-though, that might still happen anyway.

      I do wonder what dominoes would fall differently if Arya is never trained as a Faceless Man…especially if there’s any fallout from her targeting a member of the Westeros delegation to the Iron Bank…

      Tyrion’s death=All hail King Stannis

      Joffrey’s death=Merry Christmas!

      Seven only know what House Tyrell would have done if Tommen had died and Joffrey lived but if they both die then its House Martell’s big chance.

      Cersei’s death might well forestall both the IB sacking Oldtown AND the possible burning of KL.

      Sansa’s death might well have averted the RW, (though Cat might have made the trade anyway, in hopes of still getting *Arya* back, not realizing the Lannister’s didn’t have the younger Stark girl,) but there may have been less desirable fall back as well, if speculation that Sansa may be integral to getting the Vale army up North at a critical point. So it’s hard to know whether the ultimate outcome was for better or for worse there.

    • Grant says:

      Arya does have a sense of responsibility and opinions of what is the right sort of killing and what isn’t. See her reaction to the tale of the first Faceless Man and unhappiness that he first killed a slave.

      Of course increasing obsessions may be a thing with the resurrected, so Arya might be completely incapable of restraining Stoneheart.

    • Hadn’t thought of that. Creepy.

    • Keith B says:

      I can’t recall from the books, but in the show she stops Sandor from killing someone on at least two occasions.

  3. Edmund West says:

    Check out Sansa VI p.635: “Men in my party supplied grisly tales about how the mob had killed Ser Preston Greenfield and raped the Lady Lollys.”
    Do you think this proves Littlefinger organised the riot?
    BTW you’re my favourite blogger, keep up the good work 🙂

    • winnie says:

      I don’t think that’s LF’S forte. Varys could have helped orchestrate it but not the Master of Coin.

      • David Hunt says:

        I lean toward you being correct on whether LF could have managed the riot. However, I refuse to believe that he WOULD have lit that fuse while Sansa was in the royal party. I think ending up with her in his possession too important to LF’s I’ll Show Them All How Dare They Keep What I Deserve From Me plan.

    • Thanks very much!

      No, I don’t think he did. David Hunt makes a good objection to that theory.

      The bottom line is, LF doesn’t really have the means to set off a riot like this remotely without Varys knowing about it. You’d need way more than 3 Kettleblacks to pull it off – you’d need teams of dozens of people stirring up anger and mobiliziing it. Indeed, I would argue the very divisions within the mob point to not-LF – there’s no sense of the mob having a single political purpose.

      • Haplo-6 says:

        The LF as the orchestrator of the riot theory removes the genuine power of the discontent and desperation of the citizens of KL, turning them into a tool, wholly owned by a selfish, petty man.

  4. Punning Pundit says:

    There’s a whole lot here, so:
    Idea I’ve noodled with: if Stannis is killed by a random archer, while Joff & Tom (terrible band name) are killed in the riots… Is there any plausible rout to Robb becoming King of the 7 Kingdoms?

    • Winnie says:

      I don’t see how since Robb has no claim to the IT, (nor does he have the means to hold to Seven Kingdoms. In that outcome though, I’m betting that while Dorne might try to make Myrcella, Queen, (and Davos or others might campaign for Shireen,) Robb’s going to seize control of the Riverlands and North and the IB will eventually be driven out. Seven only knows what the next play is for Baelish and the Vale in that scenario.

      • Steven Xue says:

        This would be quite a stretch but if Robb could somehow get hitched to Dany, he would have a very good shot of taking the Iron Throne assuming most of the stronger contenders (Joffrey, Stannis, Tommen) are eliminated. Of course such a scenario would be completely implausible seeing how Dany’s on the other side of the world and for all Robb knows she’s dead. When we played as Robb on Crusader King’s II, me and each of my friends all took the Iron Throne by marrying Dany and boy did she make things easier for us all.

    • Grant says:

      If he had survived long enough and a female claimant was the only candidate left in a war-weary Westeros (presuming many years of civil war) then it’s possible, depending on political circumstances, that he and she might marry but with all the other actors in the conflict that would probably need a lot of work by the author to make everything go perfectly for Robb.

    • There’s a couple problems with that:

      1. Robb doesn’t really have a claim to the Iron Throne.
      2. Robb doesn’t really have the means to put the rest of the Seven Kingdoms under his dominion.
      3. Robb doesn’t want the job, nor do his lords particularly want him to have it. I think the North would love it if the Ironborn and the Vale joined their breakaway Kingdom, because that would be a unit they could actually govern fairly effectively. But it’s hell trying to administer the Reach from Winterfell.

  5. Punning Pundit says:

    In ~2002, Le Pen for 20% of the vote for President in France. In 2006, Keyes got 20% of the vote for Illinois Senator.

    I call 20% the “some of the people all of the time” factor. That’s Joffery’s support in KL in this chapter.

  6. Stephen Mace says:

    Great as usual. I want to give my thoughts on Braavos’ seemingly bizzarre commitment to Westoros. I think Braavos is so friendly with Westoros because of the latter’s long standing ban on slavery. That coupled with Braavos’ relatively cosmopolitan attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a more personal attachment to the Westorosi than the strictly business attitude with the slave-trading free cities.

    • Thanks!

      Dunno, didn’t see that attitude in any of the chapters that take place in Braavos.

    • Crystal says:

      Gulltown is also quite close by across the ocean,and the Vale is fruitful where Braavos is a city on otherwise barren islands – I wouldn’t be surprised if Braavos depends quite a bit on trade with Gulltown, and possibly White Harbor as well (which would supply silver, wool, and timber).

      And you are right that both Westeros and Braavos have a similar hard line against slavery.

      • Westeros also seems like it would be a good trading partner in times of war with the other free cities. Westeros is far enough behind the east to be less of a threat but Bravos needs Westeros somewhat stable to avoid becoming surrounded.

        • derzquist says:

          I’m guessing a large part of Braavosi interest in Westeros is realizing that the Sunset Kingdoms are only 1or 2 (political/economic/technological) revolutions away from becoming a superpower. If/when that happens Braavos will want a sympathetic leadership in place.

  7. Grant says:

    I think the cries of support for Joffrey are probably more wanting to appear good to him in some vain hope of reward or fear of what might happen if they don’t.

    As for the rumors about Tyrion, I’m of the opinion that while they might have happened anyway, there’s a good chance they were spread on the orders of Baelish. It was just before this that he was boasting of his ability to spread rumors about Shireen, Tyrion really made him angry from the mole hunt and Janos might have still had value to Baelish.

    • David Hunt says:

      I never considered that LF might have something to do with the anti-Tyrion stuff in the city. I mean, it is entirely possible that all that crud emerged organically without any help from LF, but it is the type of thing that he’d do as part of his revenge for Tyrion taking away Something That Should Have Been HIs. I’m certain that one the reasons LF arranged for Tyrion to be fingered for Joffrey’s murder is that Tyrion reneged on his promise to give him Harrenhall.

      • Grant says:

        Tyrion was always a good fall guy, but everything shown of Baelish just tells me that making it Tyrion, the guy who was so much of an irritant during his time as Hand, made the scheme so much sweeter.

      • He didn’t necessarily “make Tyrion the fall guy” he just didn’t make sure he was in the clear. For LF if it get’s passed off as choking, if Tyrion get’s the blame, or if the Red Viper get’s the blame it comes out well for LF and his allies.

        Both LF and Varys work towards overall goals but leave enough flexibility to compensate for the unexpected or take advantage of opportunities. It’s what separates them from Doran and Balon and the like.

        • Grant says:

          He arranged for a dwarf tournament to happen on that day and in fact took a lot of trouble to make sure that it happened. He wanted there to be an open, obvious hate between Joffrey and Tyrion. Add to that Sansa being spirited off and Baelish would have had to be drunk not to already know what conclusions people would come to. If Joffrey died and no one suspected (not very plausible given Pycelle’s abilities), probably from his view it at least gets the job done but I am very sure he really wanted Tyrion to take the fall.

          As for Oberyn, I’m not handing that one to Baelish since at the time he was setting things up so the Tyrells would need Joffrey dead he couldn’t have planned on Oberyn going to King’s Landing

  8. poorquentyn says:

    Excellent work! Man, this and Davos II right in a row, that’s a LOT of heavy lifting…

  9. Ok, post has been updated with historical section and the missing what if.

    • winnie says:

      Enjoyed those sections as well Steve.

      Another example of a populist rebellion was how thousands rose against Henry Viii in protest against the dissolution of the monasteries and destruction of the churches.

      Like the wildfire what if but there is a caveat-even if KL burns there’s still a chance at least *some* of the royal household escape (and then probably flee to the Rock) but as you point out that would cost them their very last of legitimacy and they wouldn’t last long.

      And in that scenario its truly frightening to think how powerful Mel becomes and how many followers she gets.

      • David Hunt says:

        It’s possible that some of the royal family would get of KL, but I don’t think it’s very likely. The chaos in the streets would make an escape attempt to one of the gates or the docks almost as suicidal as staying in the Red Keep. If they tried to get to the docks to get out that way, I suspect they’d find that everything that floats would have already been taken away from the city and the other gates out of the city would require moving through a large portion of the (burning, rioting) city. They might try to stick it out, not knowing that there’s probably still an increasingly unstable cache of wildfire somewhere under the Red Keep…

        Mel being able to convert massive amounts of followers is frightening in many ways, but it would probably make it easier to rally Westeros against the Others. Existential threats like that tend to make moral arguments complicated.

        • Winnie says:

          I would definitely be willing to make a lot of sacrifices to get Westeros to rally against the White Walkers.

          The problem is that Mel isn’t necessarily the right person to rally behind-ESPECIALLY since at this point, she’s still under the misimpression that *Stannis* is AA and in this time line its not clear whether she’d ever make it up to Wall to realize her mistake. And without the *real* AA, (and whatever other important info Bran’s going to communicate via weirwood,) I’m not sure whether Mel’s efforts would ultimately do much good against the threat at all and may even be counterproductive with the whole burning people to death *pointlessly* angle.

          But now you got me wondering if the eventual burning of KL, might not be something that sends people rallying behind Jon Targaryen.

          Also if/when Jon rises as AA and battles the White Walkers that’s going to result in a enormous public outcry from peasants, tradesmen, and gentry alike that *he* take the Crown…whether Jon liked it or not. (In another great series irony the person who actually has the best claim of all to the IT, is someone who NEVER wanted it.)

        • Docks could be on fire too – lots of wood, rope, tar, etc. Very flammable.

          And wildfire isn’t put out by water.

      • Yeah, the Pilgrimage of Grace.

        There’s a chance, but it’s not a hugely good one. The problem is that the Red Keep is on the very edge of the city with its back against a cliff. So unless Varys is on hand to show them the secret tunnels, the only way out is across the whole of the city.

  10. Iñigo says:

    Now that it is complete, great work!

    As long as the Lannisters paid, Braavos did them a bunch of favours, it would seem. This proves how terrible a mistake it was to stop paying them.

    • winnie says:

      Seriously. One thing I loved from the show was the way they compared the Iron Bank to a temple…and I’m thinking there will be more fall out to come for offending that faith.

      not to mention Ser Strong might be seen as an affront to the Many Faced God . Braavos still has a HUGE role to play I’m sure.

  11. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Excellent work with the chapter.

    Minor note, you said about Stannis: “For all that Stannis is seen as charismatic and a poor politician…” when I think you meant uncharismatic. But your assessment that Stannis is fairly savvy if deeply stuffy, impersonal, and awkward has always been spot-on, and among my favorite of your ‘contrarian’ viewpoints.

    And it’s always a good parallel to see that the smallfolk can’t agree on a single leader to get behind much the way the nobility can’t have a single candidate as they did in Robert’s Rebellion, thus almost forcing the war to be bloody and chaotic.

    And if the mob can take down dragons, Aron Santagar and Preston Greenfield stand no chance.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, that was supposed to be charismatic. Will fix.

      • derzquist says:

        As politics writer Adam Serwer once said “Stannis Baratheon, the Al Gore of Westeros”.

        • blacky says:

          Not sure derzquist but I don’t think people generally understand that Gore actually won Florida when the recount was finished. Are people aware of the crooked partisan voter purge that took place there? Or that a bent supreme court actually awarded the election to the loser?

          • Punning Pundit says:

            The argument you’re looking for is “overvotes”, which is when a voter punches/marks/whatever the ballot for their perfered candidate, and then also writes in that same candidate’s name on that same ballot. This is clearly establishing the “intent of the voter”, but all the overvotes in Florida in 2000 were tossed out. Had they been counted, Gore wins the state quite easily.

            Purging of voter roles is just routine election tampering. Nothing to get too excited about.

          • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

            Factcheck did a good piece on this in ’08. Leaving aside the threshold question of whether a recount would have complied with Florida law, a group of newspapers spent about a million simulating the recount, and their best estimate was:

            – Bush would probably have won a recount under the rules that Gore was requesting or under the rules that the Florida Supreme Court was proposing, but;

            – If you also count overvotes, which no one was requesting at the time, then their best estimate is that Gore wins by 50 to 150 votes out of 6 million cast.

            So Punning Pundit is right, except I disagree with “quite easily.”. The numbers are close enough in all of the recounts that the outcomes are more likely to be swayed by quirks in the recounting process then they are to be much closer to accurate.

  12. Punning Pundit says:

    Oh! I just remembered the 3rd thing I had wanted to note (but I had to work…)

    One of the things that has constantly struck me about real life actual politicians: most of them really aren’t all that charismatic. I’d go so far as to say Stannis is just about average. Show!Stannis is probably significantly above average.

    Charisma is a somewhat overthought statistic for politicians. The successful ones understand what they want to accomplish and how to achieve it in a way that’s compatible with their long term goals.

    Say all you want about Stannis not being beloved by (many of) the people who actually know him. The Stormlords have stuck with him from Renly’s camp to the Wall and to the Winterfel Campaign. The small folk in King’s Landing have been listening to his words, and making his arguments. I don’t think Cersei would be on trial if Stannis’ letter had never been sent. That is an _effective_ maneuver- even if it’s not something that anyone would “love” him for.

    Likewise… I’m not going to bring actual American politics into this. But the people in congress who are getting stuff done are also people that you would never notice at a dinner party unless you knew who they were. You know their names, but you simply aren’t pulled in by the force of their personality. It’s an amazing thing to realize.

    • Depends on what era and region you’re talking about – your charismaless politicians don’t generally show up until you’ve got a strong party system so they can win elections without charm.

      And yeah, I’m definitely going to be talking about the loyalty of Stannis’ army in the next chapter.

      • Punning Pundit says:

        I was thinking specifically of the many politicians I’ve met in 21st century America.

        “Politics without Charisma, case studies across historical perspectives”- book title that no one will read.

        Though, yes. Your point is taken. 🙂

  13. By the way today is August 10. The day monarchy ended in 1792, when they stormed the Tuileries. Five days from now is August 15, Napoleon’s birthday.

    Great chapter, I’ve been read a lot of George Rude myself, mostly his book on Robespierre but I have his book on the crowd with me. Another book on the Revolution that I read that shows how the crowd is active and that goes into how they learn from events is this book “When the King took Flight” by Timothy Tackett, that was entirely about how the French people became vigilant and halted Louis XVI from his treacherous flight solely by keeping their head on the ground and taking advantage of their new agency, and how overnight, Louis went “Louis the Good” to “Louis the Pig”, there’s this graffiti painted outside the Tuileries after he’s brought back and its written “A Pig who escaped is now brought back to his Pen”. I wonder if we’ll ever see a “Team Smallfolk” moment like that.

    The Antler Men is one major puzzle that troubles me. Why would a group of merchants and capitalists risk their lives for Stannis. Maybe they knew and dealt with Stannis when he sat on the Small Council? They have grievances and have some issues of injustice?

    • Grant says:

      It’s possible that they simply were so disgusted with Joffrey and the Lannisters that even a claimant lacking in popularity and not being noted for his ability to compromise would be worth risking their lives for.

      Another theory is that the Antler Men were actually supporters of Baelish that Varys arranged to have arrested to weaken him. After all, the only evidence we have that they really were planning this is Varys’ word, and that’s not worth much.

      Either one is possible, though with how badly things were handled it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the local rich decided that anyone else was better than Joffrey.

      • Lann says:

        I remember that Tyrion almost regretted having the Antlermen flung when he became master of coin because they owed money to the crown. Could it be that Varys was aware of LF’s Ponzi scheme but it suited his own goals so not only he didn’t stop it but he added fuel to the fire?

      • Crystal says:

        I agree that the crowd was probably thinking “Anyone is better than Joffrey at this point!” Even Stannis. Or Robb, who none of them knew from Adam (Robb was never in KL.)

    • Doug McMillan says:

      Maybe Stannis is seen as predictable in a way that is good for business? As Master of Ships he traveled to the Three Sisters to threaten them with the consequences if they continued to endanger commerce by wrecking merchant ships. Protecting commerce was one of his jobs and the merchants of King’s Landing are likely very aware of him and his record. On the other hand it could be that his inflexibility is seen as a virtue by those who need stability to operate. A king who is predictable, who will lay down rules and principles and stick by them instead of bending them for bribes or favours, is one who creates stable environment to do business in. Sure you can’t bribe him with wine or gold but at least your competitors can’t either; and bandits, pirates, and wreckers live in fear.

    • I think the Antler Men decided that Joffrey’s a lunatic who’s causing riots, which are bad for business, and if Stannis wins, the city can get food from the Stormlands and the islands.

  14. Scott Trotter says:

    A minor point, but the crowd never shouts the phrase “King Bread.” That’s just Tyrion’s inner monologue.

  15. Here’s another what if – what if Varys did grab Sansa as well? I’m inclined to agree that he took Tyrek more for his value as a witness than for his place in the succession… And yet if the Lannisters lose Tywin’s kids are all dead and Kevan’s kids might be knocked from the succession if he’s attainted. So he’s definitely useful one way, could be another way, and a Stark hostage is definitely a way to try and force negotiations with the North-Riverlands coalition.

    • Winnie says:

      Not to mention all the theories that Varys might want to try to marry Sansa to fAegon to gain support from the North and Riverlands. Sansa certainly has value.

      And yeah, while Tyrek’s primary purpose is probably to be a witness against Cersei it could also prove to be very, VERY useful to Varys to have the next ruler of the Westernlands under his thum.

      • Sansa marrying Blue Aegon is likely only a backup plan – while I believe he could well be fake (I think it’s even odds though, not a certainty) I don’t believe the common correlation that Illyrio was being honest for once when he said he figured Dany would die. I think Viserys and Drogo were meant to die when Blue Aegon saved Westeros from the Dothraki, with Dany becoming a war prize bride to shore up her maybe-nephew’s legitimacy.

        Sansa as a backup if they do lose Dany is a pretty good choice, though, as well as her value as a bargaining chip.

        I definitely think Varys kept it in mind when he snatched Tyrek, that he could also be a useful claimant to the Rock if things fell out in particular ways. He knows Cersei is a train wreck waiting to happen and I am sure Tywin and Kevan were always on his hit list. Lancel is weak, Tyrek a little older than the twins Martyn and Willem… If he wanted to kick the West into a little extra chaos, an older cousin from a junior line trying to claim a title is far from unheard of. Tyrion was probably his main bet as Lord Lannister, but if he falls through…

        • Lann says:

          He did murder Kevan and there is a strong suspicion that Tywin was being poisoned prior to his encounter with a crossbow bolt. Many suspect the Viper but what if it had been Varys?

        • winnie says:

          Not to mention the theory that Varys planted Shae in Tywin’s bed in hopes of getting Tyrion to kill them both.

          In any event I think Varys always planned on getting rid of Tywin at some point since he’s too competent and dangerous to fAegon while having Cersei in charge was the surest way to bring the Lannister dynasty to its knees.

          • Grant says:

            How would he have been sure that Tyrion would ever end up there, let alone be able to kill Tywin? It could be a sign that he’s impulsive and thinks he can control more than he really can, just like Baelish, but Varys really seems like he’s more the type to never let himself get too far out into the open.

          • Mm, I’ve always thought that theory was a little too pat – how could he know Shae would recall just enough of the way for Tyrion to recognize later? Without that Tyrion wouldn’t have known where to stop unless Varys told him outright, and Tyrion would likely sense a set-up then.

            I do think Varys always meant Tywin and Kevan to die, but I don’t think he set that up. He hardly needed to, given how easily he killed Kevan and Pycelle in canon. It’s likely that his plan for both Lannisters was what he eventually does in canon. Kill them directly when he has full control of the murder scene, at once or separately, in such a way as to sow maximum distrust and suspicion among their side. Cersei plus distrust is, as you say, the best scenario for Blue Aegon.

            When Tyrion killed Tywin for him, Varys moved to phase two, planting the Gardener coin in his Rugen quarters to sow the necessary suspicions.

  16. Lann says:

    Re: Sansa dies what if: Considering that Robb never gets the information that Arya was never captured its likely that the information about Sansa’s death does not reach Riverrun in time to prevent Jaime’s escape.

    • Well, both Robb and Cat realize that something’s up by the fact that she’s never mentioned.

      But there are WAY too many witnesses to prevent word from getting out about something like this.

  17. Keith B says:

    The Gold Cloaks are commoners, but they have no hesitation in defending the nobles against the mob, even though several of them are killed. The one percent can almost always count on the support of enough of the 99 percent to ensure stability. Human society is strongly hierarchical, whether in aristocracies like Westeros or in democracies like the modern US.

    That’s why King Richard was easily able to put down Wat Tyler’s rebellion after Tyler’s death, and even rescind all the concessions he had previously made. It’s how the Chinese were able to crush the Tiannamen Square revolts with military force. It’s why the police brutally suppressed the Occupy movement on behalf of the bankers. Loyalty up the ladder turns out to be much stronger than solidarity to those on your own level.

    It takes really extraordinary circumstances for hierarchy to break down. If it does, and the forces of order start standing aside instead of stopping the mob, the rulers are doomed. It hasn’t happened in King’s Landing, and won’t as long as the Gold Cloaks stay loyal.

    That’s also what’s wrong with Varys’ parable about the sellsword. Such people as Varys described, with no existing loyalties at all, are extremely rare. If they were common, society wouldn’t be possible at all. Intelligent though he is, Varys has a very limited understanding of how society works. He thinks power is an illusion that can be destroyed as soon as the illusion is broken, but it’s a much stronger relation than that.

    • winnie says:

      But how long will the gold cloaks stay loyal?

      You’re right that it takes a LOT for traditional heirarchy to break down completely but there’s an awful lot happening right now what with the Walk of Shame, IB sacking the Reach, and the upcoming trials by the Faith and likely discovery of what Qyborn’s been up to with Franken Gregor. Not to mention the inevitable arrival of dragons at some point and the biggest game changer of all:the White Walkers.

    • Grant says:

      Actually Varys was arguing that power exists where people believe it to exist, which is an underlying basis for a lot of work in political science. Stalin might have dismissed the pope in the 1930s as a man with no divisions to command, but it was a pope’s visit to Poland in the 1980s that helped show just how disconnected the Communist state had become from its population.

      In AFFC and ADWD, a good number of people give the Faith under its new leadership a lot of loyalty, and so the throne is forced to negotiate rather than order.

      • Keith B says:

        Of course power exists because people believe it exists, but where does that belief come from? Varys says it’s “a shadow on the wall”, or “a mummer’s trick”, in Tyrion’s words. Following Varys’ reasoning, you need to work constantly to keep up the trick or your power vanishes. If that were true, human society would be very unstable. But it isn’t, because the vast majority of people have strong and persistent loyalties and commitments to some kind of authority. Varys’ putative sellsword, with no allegiances whatever, does exist, but he’s rare.

        • Grant says:

          He doesn’t imply that it’s nearly so quick to change. He says that it isn’t an actual, physical thing.

          • Keith B says:

            I think he’s making a much stronger point than that. “Mummer’s trick” and “shadow on the wall” goes beyond simply saying it’s not physical. But if you read it differently, so be it. I guess I’m just not impressed by Varys’ political judgment. Starting a civil war for the sake of bringing back the Targaryens, who were no better and in many ways much worse than Robert, shows either lack of wisdom or evil intentions. Take your pick.

          • Grant says:

            True, an understanding of political science doesn’t translate into an understanding of political maneuvering. Varys I think is a man who doesn’t see any hope in the current system and is swayed by stories of Aegon I and Aegon V, men who respectively established a new peace by the sword and sought to improve the lot of the entire population of Westeros. His problem is that I don’t think he realized just how risky the civil war would be and while it could clear the playing board for his own piece, it could have also led to one of the Houses he wanted out to cement their own grip on power*.

            Also he didn’t realize that Aegon V didn’t live the same life that his Aegon VI has lived. And that even if two boys live a commoner’s life, they can still result in extremely different people.

            *Unless of course he knew more about the dragon eggs and was expecting them to get hatched, in which case one would want to know exactly how much he knows about magic. But even then a civil war is an extremely dangerous gamble.

    • There is the famous Jay Gould quote, but I have to say I’m a bit amused at your description of the Gold Cloaks as loyal, when they’re one of the least loyal and battle-ready forces in ASOIAF.

      • Keith B says:

        They protect the nobles against the mob even when a number of them are killed and injured. That’s loyal enough. They could just stand aside. They’re mostly from the same class of people as the protesters. Loyalty to their superiors trumps class solidarity. It almost always does, and that’s a big reason why human societies are as stable as they are. I think Varys doesn’t really understand that.

  18. Keith B says:

    Stannis’ letter is having an effect, but its influence is muted because he has crippled his own efforts. First, he only has a bare accusation without supporting evidence; that allows the Lannisters to respond with counter-accusations and confuse the issue. If Stannis had stayed in King’s Landing and helped Ned Stark build his case, he might have had a claim that wasn’t so easily countered.

    Second, incest is an abomination in the eyes of the Faith, but Stannis made it clear that he had repudiated the Faith. That undercuts the premise of his accusation, and undermined his support by turning the Faith against him.

    So Stannis really is a bad politician after all. He simply doesn’t know how to build support and form alliances, and doesn’t feel he needs to. That’s why he was stuck on Dragonstone with 5000 troops while Renly managed to acquire twenty times that many.

    • Grant says:

      Stannis might have gotten killed had he stayed in King’s Landing. Which ironically would have left Renly the only legitimate claimant left in Westeros and might have made Robb’s life a lot easier by making it easy to declare for Renly.

      As for Renly, that was in good part because the Tyrells saw a chance at a Tyrell kid on the throne and took it. Maybe he could have gotten them if he’d been better at negotiations, but he probably would have always had an uphill fight.

      • Keith B says:

        So he fled to Dragonstone because he was afraid? Not very kingly. Also not very considerate of Ned Stark, who had to start from scratch, or to his brother, whom he almost certainly knew Cersei was trying to murder.

        I think the chance of putting his grandson on the Iron Throne was almost the sole reason that Mace Tyrell went ahead with marrying his daughter to Renly, Joffrey, and Tommen. Regarding the what-ifs above, Mace was certainly cold-blooded enough to marry Margaery to Joffrey if Tommen were killed, and Olenna wouldn’t hesitate to go forward with the purple wedding. Olenna made it clear to Sansa that she didn’t care about her son’s ambitions, only her grandchildren’s happiness.

        Mace Tyrell himself is a behind the scenes baneful influence on events He’s cautious and ambitious, really a lot like Walder Frey in a way, but with better public relations.

        • Sean C. says:

          Regarding the what-ifs above, Mace was certainly cold-blooded enough to marry Margaery to Joffrey if Tommen were killed

          Mace, whatever his foibles, has never come across like the sort of person who would knowingly put one of his kids in a situation like that. He wants political success, no doubt, but the Tyrells seem to be a genuinely functional family unit (one of the things they have going for them) (though with TWOIAF, he may also be trying to make up for his parents’ both being rejected by royal betrotheds; albeit that would be ironic, since that lead to his own conception). He seems fairly soft at heart, though opportunistic, and when Margaery is in trouble later he immediately abandons his siege and marches back to the city.

          Also, one shouldn’t make the mistake of taking anything Olenna tells Sansa at face value. I think there’s every indication she’s fully onboard with the family project.

          • Sean C. says:

            Actually, wait, Mace wasn’t in on the plot to kill Tommen anyway, so Tommen being dead wouldn’t have affected his decision-making to begin with. It would then be a matter of what the ladies in the family (and possibly Willas and Garlan) opt to do, and how much influence they have (while Mace is in the position of formal authority, and nowhere near the awful caricature the show turned him into, I’m skeptical he has the force of personality to overcome his entire immediate family, including his sons).

          • Keith B says:

            I think you mean that Mace wasn’t in on the plot to kill Joffrey, not Tommen.

            Mace knew there was something wrong about Joffrey, which is why he insisted that Loras join the Kingsguard. But he didn’t know how bad it was, partly because he didn’t really want to know. Of course he wouldn’t deliberately harm Margaery, but his ambition partly blinded him to the potential danger. Olenna was more clear-eyed, but even she had to get Sansa to confirm what Joffrey was.

            I disagree that Olenna was on board with the family project. It’s not really the family, it’s Mace and Loras. Olenna loved her family, but she made it clear what she thought about the sagacity of both. And I don’t take everything Olenna said to Sansa at face value. I’m not certain she was completely sincere about marrying Willas to Sansa, because she knew she was going to murder Joffrey and she probably expected that Sansa would be blamed.

        • Grant says:

          He had no forces holding King’s Landing, knew that Jon Arryn had just been murdered for what he’d known, had only a bit of knowledge about Eddard Stark, didn’t believe that Robert would believe him about this and most importantly of all, he had no guarantee that he’d still be alive by the time Eddard arrived at King’s Landing.

          Stannis isn’t my favorite character in ASOIAF, but realistically what choice did he have?

          • Keith B says:

            He could have made the choice to stay and do his duty. Renly stayed, with his 100 guards, and Stannis could have raised that many. At the very least he could have stayed long enough to meet with Ned and tell him what he knew: Jon Arryn’s investigation, the book, the bastards, Janos Slynt’s corruption, Littlefinger’s plots, etc. Then, if he couldn’t form an alliance with Ned that would have protected both of them and Robert, he might have gone back to Dragonstone.

          • Grant says:

            Renly could call on the Tyrells and I am dubious that Stannis could just get one hundred men into the city. Maybe the royal navy, but where’s he going to get the excuse? He’s not the Hand of the King and even Eddard would have needed an excuse like the Dothraki to raise men, a potential threat that they didn’t even know existed until some time after Stannis had already left.

            And this ignores that the trip between King’s Landing and Winterfell was going to be a long one. These people don’t have cars and reliably paved roads, they’re traveling, at their fastest, by horse. The reason why Robert’s procession was so long, besides grandeur and security, was that his court was going to have do a good amount of work.

            So we have Renly, who hasn’t actually been proven to have known about Joffrey’s parentage* and did have defenders, and we have Stannis, who knew that Arryn’s murderers would probably be ready to go after him and was a long way from his own lands. So perhaps during the time Robert was gone he could have brought some part of the royal navy ashore.

            And then what? What would he do, arrest every Lannister in the city besides Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella, the Lannisters that actually matter? What would he do once Robert got back, Tywin Lannister was razing the Stormlands, Stannis had one hundred men in King’s Landing without Robert’s permission and was illegally holding a bunch of minor Lannisters? Robert, the same brother who never listened to him before and certainly isn’t going to listen to Stannis when he’s done this.

            And let’s remember, Stannis had absolutely zero certainty that he would still be alive by the next week, let alone by the time Robert got back. As Arryn proved, the conspirators could strike at the highest levels of power.

            *People bring up Margaery but it would hardly be the first time that a medieval king set aside a wife to marry someone else without his wife cheating on him. Given Robert’s lusty behavior and open hate of Cersei, it would probably have been fairly simple, albeit dangerous.

    • See, I don’t really buy this.

      1. There isn’t exactly much proof to begin with. Stannis’ retreat to Dragonstone was tactically wise, unless you think he should start out the war with 0 troops.

      2. Incest is an abomination in the eyes of all faiths save that of the Valyrians, and it’s illegal as well. I don’t think that point holds.

      • Keith B says:

        Let’s go back to when Ned Stark became Hand. Robert is fat, drunk, and out of shape, but still healthy and still a young man. If he disposes of Cersei, he remarries, probably to Margaery, and his trueborn children are his heirs. If the Lannisters make trouble over it, it’s Robert who will be fighting the war, and he’ll want Stannis’ navy, not his negligible number of soldiers.

        With the help of Stannis, Jon Arryn has compiled evidence that Cersei’s children are bastards. Presumably that’s the same evidence that Ned found later. The evidence has to be strong enough to convince Robert, or there’s nothing for either Jon, Stannis or Ned to do about it.

        Stannis’ duty is to protect his brother’s life and to get the evidence out as soon as possible, so that Robert can do what’s necessary. In order to do that, he needs to stay in King’s Landing and explain to Ned what’s going on, instead of leaving him to flounder around in the dark. If he does this, he doesn’t need to raise his own army. Ned Stark has much greater ability and authority to raise troops than Stannis could possibly have. Stannis is the one honest, trustworthy ally that Ned has on the Council (except Ser Barristan, who’s useless for this). By hiding out in Dragonstone, he’s only making sure that the realm falls into the hands of traitors, usurpers, and moral abominations, which can hardly have been his intent.

        On the second point, sure incest is an abomination in the eyes of other faiths. But most people in Westeros don’t adhere to those other faiths. Their religion is the Faith of the Seven. If you’re going to denounce something as a religious abomination, it can’t possibly help to do so in the name of a religion most people don’t believe in, haven’t heard of, and can’t even pronounce. Stannis would be much better able to win public opinion to his side if he had the help of Septons throughout the realm. The High Septon in KL may be under the Lannisters’ thumb, but they don’t control the Faith all over Westeros. But he’s denying himself that help by making his accusation in the name of the Lord of Light. He’s putting the Faith in the position that, by supporting him, they also support his false God.

        • Grant says:

          It’s the historian’s fallacy to say that Stannis should have stayed in King’s Landing to help Ned. At absolute most he’d have met Ned a couple of times as a teen a long time ago, not remotely enough to have any certainties about whether or not he could trust Ned with a secret so dangerous it got another Hand of the King murdered or if Ned would be any help, especially not when Stannis had very good reason to think that he wouldn’t even be alive by the time Robert and Ned arrived.

          • David Hunt says:

            Although I agree with virtually all of your reasoning and the conclusion that you came to, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about Stannis meeting Ned as an adult. Stannis and Ned were both big players in putting down the Greyjoy Rebellion 5 years into Robert’s Reign.

          • Grant says:

            You’re right there, I’d forgotten that both were in that war, though the reaction Stannis has towards Ned Stark after his death doesn’t suggest that the two were familiar with each other.

          • Jim B says:

            Stannis may know Ned Stark, but he doesn’t trust him as much as Robert does. Stannis is all too aware of Robert’s flaws, so he probably doesn’t hold his brother’s friend and enabler in as high regard as he otherwise might.

            So when Stannis hears that Sansa Stark is betrothed to Joffrey, he has good reason to doubt that Ned will be receptive to his argument that Joffrey is illegitimate.

            Sure, WE know that Ned is honorable to a fault, but Stannis doesn’t. Ned may have a reputation for integrity, but he’s also believed to have fathered a bastard before the ink was dry on his marriage certificate. (Doesn’t Stannis make a remark to that effect at some point?)

          • Keith B says:

            “And I knew Ned Stark as well. Your father was no friend of mine, but only a fool would doubt his honor or his honesty.” Stannis to Jon Snow, ASOS.

            Stannis knew Ned both from Robert’s Rebellion, when he accepted the surrender of the Tyrells as Storm’s End, and from Greyjoy’s Rebellion. He knew Ned Stark well enough to know he could get a fair hearing, at least. But he didn’t give himself the chance.

          • Jim B says:


            Tough to argue with that quote. (I was going to say that we should discount it a little because he’s talking to the man’s son, and he needs something from Jon, but… this is Stannis we’re talking about, so he probably meant every word.) Perhaps some of it is hindsight — it’s easier for Stannis to say Ned’s honor is obvious after Ned has stood up to Cersei at such a high cost to himself and his House.

            But generally, I concede the point — Stannis probably did know that Ned could be trusted to do the right thing. Then I guess this invites the question — why does Stannis make this mistake? Stannis isn’t a genius, but he’s competent and meticulous enough to plan ahead. If it’s not misjudging Ned, then what was his error?

            Perhaps Stannis thought he had more time? That he could get his other ducks in a row and then discretely bring Ned into the plan? Maybe he underestimated Cersei’s willingness to kill Robert, and figured he had years rather than months? (Ironically, Jon Arryn’s death probably should have put him on high alert that the situation was urgent, even though as it turns out that wasn’t Cersei’s doing.)

          • David Hunt says:

            Jim B,

            As to why Stannis didn’t “trust” Ned and stays at Dragonstone, I think it’s important to remember Stannis knows that there’s a difference between being honorable and doing what’s right. He mentions (I think to Davos) in ACOK that he realizes that there are honorable men serving Joffrey and even Robb who think that they’re doing the right thing, that they’re service their true king, and contrasts those men with the Lords that defected to him after Renly died. Lords who had to know that they were serving a usurper because they’d have been with him from the start otherwise.

            I think Stannis would have though Ned likely to do what he thought was right, but what if Ned didn’t believe him. Stannis is intensely aware of how poorly liked he is and how anything he says personally is often viewed by others the absolutely worst light. Once Jon Arryn was dead, I’m guessing that Stannis concluded that the only man he had any confidence would give his suspicions a fair hearing was dead and that war was inevitable and started preparing for it.

      • Chinoiserie says:

        Stannis did not need to start a war, he could have just excited the city for a while and return when Ned came to the city of just send Davos or somebody to deliver Ned a letter. And I am sure Stannis could make some excuse to bring some men to city if he truly needed to. But playing game of thrones is not without risks, Stannis waiting until after the war begun certainly was not risk free and effective.

        • blacky says:

          Just another example of GRRM putting his thumb on the scale to move the plot chinoiserie. Certainly would have been more believable if an alliance between Ned and Stan had been tried and then failed…

  19. doug says:

    So, I want to first make clear that I’m not advocating the destruction of a city full of innocents (even if they are fictional). But wow, your “what if” of KL going boom could make for an amazing story in the right hands. Talk about subverting the genre. The whole book setting up these high fantasy medieval battles, and then nothing – only a charred pit along the Blackwater. All the machinations of the Game are shown to be meaningless for those sitting on top of unstable explosives. The next Davos chapter as he revisits the ruins of where he grew up would be riveting. We’d see the kingdom disintegrate as there are no longer dragons, Targaryens, or even an IT. Tywin’s army presumably disintegrates, and Robb makes his way home. Probably the stories get very localized, but I would totally read that.

    Otherwise this was a great write-up. Thanks.

  20. Sean C. says:

    In turn, this means that Tyrion doesn’t get blamed for regicide and that Sansa isn’t kidnapped by Littlefinger (at least not then) – which sets up a weird power struggle in the North between the Boltons and Tyrion and Stannis.

    I think the “(at least not then)” precludes the later stuff. Littlefinger was going to extract Sansa from the city; the wedding was just a convenient time for it in terms of all his other plans.

    Also regarding Sansa, one thing I realized on a recent re-read is that, while we tend to talk about Tyrion and Sansa as intertwined POVs in King’s Landing, the crossover between them in terms of the characters themselves is entirely one-sided in ACOK. This chapter is, if I’m not mistaken, Sansa’s only real appearance in any of Tyrion’s chapters in this book, and notably, she and Tyrion don’t actually talk or anything. They’re just both in the same place.

    This chapter is certainly a fertile breeding ground for what-ifs, given the number of characters involved. Another would be what if Lollys isn’t raped (or is raped but doesn’t become pregnant), since that means no Stokeworth marriage for Bronn; I’m sure Cersei would have found some other sufficiently compelling bribe, but at a minimum that means the extended Stokeworth clan is still alive and who knows what else that Bronn will end up doing with his position in TWOW never happens.

    As far as the show version of this, I think they did a pretty good job. This is probably the scene where I notice the lack of horses the most, but filming realities are what they are.

    • The key thing for LF is that he wants to distract from Sansa’s disappearance as much as possible, otherwise people might start asking questions, and LF has made his interest in Sansa very obvious to the Small Council.

      I think that description is a bit much – Tyrion shows up in Sansa I and III and they talk quite extensively in those two chapters.

      • Sean C. says:

        Er, yes, that’s what I said: they interact only in Sansa’s chapters. She doesn’t appear meaningfully in Tyrion’s. Hence, one-sided.

      • Sean C. says:

        I don’t think Littlefinger really distracted anybody from Sansa’s disappearance. If anything, he upped the focus by making her the most wanted regicide in the land.

        • Keith B says:

          He distracted attention from his own involvement, and did a masterful job of it. Nobody even suspected he had anything to do with it. Even Varys was completely in the dark. At the same time, he’s put Sansa completely under his thumb. She doesn’t dare defy him or reveal her true identity, because she’s wanted for Joffrey’s murder.

          • Sean C. says:

            I think people really overstate the leverage Joffrey’s murder gives him over her. As the escaped (presumed) last Stark, the Lannisters would be out to catch her regardless, and the regicide charge would only matter to people already inclined to cooperate with the Lannister regime.

            Littlefinger’s main shield against suspicion was distance, which would still be in place regardless.

          • Keith B says:

            At this point, few people would be inclined to defy the Lannisters, especially since Mace and Loras Tyrell are equally convinced of Sansa’s guilt.

          • Sean C. says:

            Sure, but those same people would have turned her over as a fugitive from court too. The regicide thing would only really give Baelish more leverage if it turned some otherwise impartial authority against her (akin to framing somebody for a crime in real life to get the police after them).

    • Keith B says:

      The scene in the show has a lot going for it. You actually get to see Sandor rescuing Sansa, which the book’s POV precludes. And Peter Dinklage has a much better line than book-Tyrion: “We’ve had vicious kings and idiot kings, but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!”

  21. […] element that political actors must practice, much the way Tyrion Lannister does during his tenure as Hand of the King throughout A Clash of Kings. If Tyrion was monstrous, and only capable of […]

  22. Steven Xue says:

    That lady getting into Cersei’s business about sleeping with her brother is a little out of place given how for three centuries, the royal family were known for constantly practicing brother-sister incest. I thought that by now at least the people of King’s Landing would be used to that sort of thing.

    • Grant says:

      I think there are a good number of refugees flooding into the city and before those were the Targaryens. The people whose practices were tolerated (and sometimes weren’t) because they were outsiders who ruled from the backs of dragons.

  23. Haplo-6 says:

    One of your best chapter analysis so far. Certainly up there with the Arya meets Harrenhal essay. I typically associate AFFC as the first book in which the Voiceless masses push back, clearly overlooking the rise of King Bread.

  24. Chinoiserie says:

    This was a great analysis. And I had never considered Tyrek’s importance as Robert’s squire. But isn’s he married to lady Ermesande and not just engaged (it is such an creepy thing this is possible in Westeros).

  25. Jim B says:

    It’s not surprising that Tyrion is neglectful of public relations considerations. For all his political skills, he’s not terribly adroit in dealing with commoners. Whether it’s due to his privileged upbringing, the sneers and dirty looks he gets as a dwarf, or his general cynicism, Tyrion seems incapable of dealing with people on anything other than a transactional basis. (Especially women!)

    Among the nobility, that’s a fairly reasonable approach, because they’re constantly playing the game, so you can do pretty well just by figuring out what each person wants and dangling it in front of them. But a different tact is needed with commoners, because there’s way too many of them to bribe them all.

    Tyrion gets a lot of praise for surviving by dint of his wits, such as his trial in the Vale, but he really just employs a single tactic over and over again. “I’m a Lannister. We’re rich. And we pay our debts. So help me, and I’ll make you rich.” That makes him smarter than Joffrey or Cersei, who think they’re entitled to obedience automatically, but it’s hardly the toolbox of a master politician.

  26. Faber says:

    “Did Renly ever accomplish a political feat of that extent?”

    Renly’s alliance with the Tyrells is the whole reason the city is starving in the first place…

  27. Andrew says:

    Another good job, Steven.

    1. “Prince Aemon the Dragonknight cried the day Princess Naerys wed his brother Aegon,” Sansa Stark said, “and the twins Ser Arryk and Ser Erryk died with tears on their cheeks after each had given the other a mortal wound.”

    Aemon and Naerys is a call out to Jaime and Cersei (brother-lover in Kingsguard with sister married to overweight, philandering king, and rumored to be next king’s father). I may get eye rolls, but here goes, the other half talks about twins killing each other. We know Jaime is the valonqar so that could be a hint that Cersei makes sure she won’t leave without Jaime when he is killing her.

    2. Cersei reared up like a viper. “Your place is where my brother says it is,” she spit. “The Hand speaks with the king’s own voice, and disobedience is treason.”

    One of the rare moments where Cersei and Tyrion are completely united.

    3. I think Varys did plan to use Tyrek as Aegon’s puppet Lord of CR. This was before Tyrion’s framing, and incorporating him into Plan Aegon.

  28. […] 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 intrigue, an in-depth […]

  29. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    Very nice work as always, Steven.

    I totally agree regarding Tyrion and Joffrey. All the way back to my first read, I never understood what Tyrion’s long term plan was.

    He never tries to educate Joffrey in a way that might work, and it’s pretty apparent that if Joffrey reached the age of majority, sooner or later, Tyrion is headed for the wall or the grave. Does Tyrion plan to kill Joffrey at some point, or does he think Tywin can remedy the situation? Or is he just hoping the house will learn to sing?

  30. […] of this essay, it’s important to note two main things. First, Tyrion’s belief that he cannot be loved is rooted in this moment, where he believes he was duped into believing that he was loved. Second, […]

  31. […] On the one hand, it’s good to see Catelyn acknowledge that, even in Westeros, some basic aspects of human genetics still applies that demonstrate that inheritance comes from both the father and the mother. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that I agree that the comparison between Edric Storm and the Lannister kids is so inconsequential, any more than I’ve agreed in the past that Stannis’ letter doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, Cersei feared the physical comparison enough to order dozens of babies murdered, and Stannis’ mere accusations were enough to set off a devastating riot that nearly wiped out the royal family. […]

  32. […] as entirely neutral instruments of the elected official’s will. Thus, in the aftermath of the King’s Landing riot, we get new […]

  33. […] closest thing that Sansa has experienced to a battle, it’s natural that Sansa should use the King’s Landing riot as a point of reference, and so finally we see that event through her eyes. At the same time, […]

  34. […] rather startlingly naive about about how her actions have been perceived. After the violence of the King’s Landing riot, I am amazed that she can’t see how Joffrey’s actions have been perceived by the […]

  35. […] is the identity that Tyrion has been longing for from the beginning and which he has been denied repeatedly, and it’s given to him like a conqueror’s laurels. It’s a crucial moment, […]

  36. […] and incompetence of the past year has been swept under the rug and everyone is pretending that the King’s Landing riot never happened. And so the whole court, from King Joffrey and Queen-Regent Cersei and the High […]

  37. […] sharply is that this is due to him being outplayed when it comes to the Kettleblacks – while Tyrion could offer gold  to secure loyalty and information, he can’t offer the consolations of rank and sex that […]

  38. beto2702 says:

    In your Cersei dies scenario, you mentioned Tyrells taking over after Tywin dies… but, if Tyrion is still there, couldn’t he fight that back?

  39. […] more than the Tyrells have by restoring cut-off food supplies to the capitol), which can easily turn into hatred the moment that conditions turn for the […]

  40. […] arrived in King’s Landing, there was a large body of smallfolk in the city, who had already rebelled against the monarchy and survived, a rich recruiting ground for the future High Sparrow. We should therefore look at the High […]

  41. […] of the Westerlands tied these two phenomena together and explained their recent misfortunes by blaming the evil usurper. This reaction was made more likely by the continual presence of divided loyalties from the […]

  42. […] chapters away), already we get the sense that, for all of Tyrion’s cleverness in conducting counter-intelligence operations in ACOK, that he’s made a major tradecraft mistake. Once again tunnel-visioning on Cersei, he’s […]

  43. […] cloak their radical demands with outward shows of loyalty to the king and denunciations of “evil councilors,” the Brotherhood can always point to their allegiance to King Robert as proof that […]

  44. geewhiz says:

    “Cersei and the Kettleblacks (another great band name)”.

    {successful} google search for kettleblacks band:

  45. […] the fact that Varys manages to pull off a mummer’s trick of fake-crying over the Lannister he all-but-certainly kidnapped right in Tywin’s face is sang-froid of the highest order. As I’ve speculated before, I […]

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