Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran VI, ACOK

“Cruel places breed cruel peoples, Bran, remember that as you deal with these ironmen.”

Synopsis: Bran awakes from a wolf dream to find that Theon has captured Winterfell, and has to formally surrender the castle to his foster-brother.

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:

As I discussed with regards to Eddard’s storyline in AGOT, there’s a moment in every tragedy where inevitability sets in, where the breaks fail and the rollercoaster begins to pick up speed at a sickening pace and you know that the car’s going to jump the rail at the next bend. For the Starks, Bran VI is that moment – literally on the heels of victory (link), they will go from disaster to disaster, with each mistake creating the conditions for the next, until they find themselves taking their seats at the Red Wedding.

And appropriately for a tragedy, disaster strikes from an entirely unexpected direction, as Theon Greyjoy of all people captures Winterfell. And this time round reading Bran VI, I started to notice a pattern with castles in ACOK – first, Storm’s End surrenders unexpectedly following the events of Davos II; second, Winterfell is captured in this chapter; and in the very next chapter Harrenhall will fall thanks to Arya’s weasel soup. Given that these are some of the last chapters before the Battle of Blackwater, I’m convinced that George R.R Martin deliberately created a pattern of threes in order to prime the reader to believe that the Red Keep of King’s Landing will also fall, so that the actual outcome comes as more of a surprise.

The Dream and the Nightmare

I’m not normally that keen on wolf dreams ink ASOIAF, but I found myself really liking how it’s used here, because of the way that the political plot – Theon capturing Winterfell – collides with Bran’s mystical storyline. Hence, the actual capture of Winterfell is seen through the eyes of a wolf:

This time the clink and scrape were followed by a slithering and the soft swift patter of skinfeet on stone. The wind brought the faintest whiff of a man-smell he did not know. Stranger. Danger. Death.

He ran toward the sound, his brother racing beside him. The stone dens rose before them, walls slick and wet. He bared his teeth, but the man-rock took no notice. A gate loomed up, a black iron snake coiled tight about bar and post. When he crashed against it, the gate shuddered and the snake clanked and slithered and held.

I’ll discuss what might have happened had Summer and Shaggydog been able to intervene in the What If section, but for the moment it’s interesting to see how the fractured wolf syntax complicates what’s going on just enough that it’s easy to miss what’s actually going on here. This almost certainly a strategy by GRRM to get the reader to feel the same confusion and incomprehension that Bran is feeling is this chapter.

At the same time, we also see Bran beginning to accept that he’s a warg. To begin with, there’s the comedic relief moment where Bran’s human side tries to make Summer climb a tree:

“He remembered how it was to climb it then….it was an easy tree for a boy to climb, leaning as it did, crooked, the branches so close together they almost made a ladder, slanting right up to the roof…The way was no way. They were not squirrels, nor the cubs of men, they could not wriggle up the trunks of trees, clinging with soft pink paws and clumsy feet. They were runners, hunters, prowlers.”

It’s kind of hilarious that it’s this moment of all things that finally gets Bran to admit that “Jojen told it true. I am a beastling,” and moreover that Jojen is a true greendreamer, “The sea has come. It’s flowing over the walls, just as Jojen saw.” At the same time, it comes as something of a relief, because the Refusal of the Call is the most irritating part of the Hero’s Journey, and as Bran is dislodged from his comfort zone in Winterfell and forced to confront his destiny in the True North, you don’t want him to be wasting his time in denial.

Why Winterfell Fell

If there is a critique I have about Bran VI, it’s that George R.R Martin really has to put his thumbs on the scale in order for Theon’s plan to work. After all, the scheme was so incredibly barebones that really anything could have caused it to fail:

I sent four men over the walls with grappling claws and ropes, and they opened a postern gate for the rest of us…

“They swam the moat. Climbed the walls with hook and rope. Came over wet and dripping, steel in hand.” He sat on the chair by the door, as fresh blood flowed. “Alebelly was on the gate, they surprised him in the turret and killed him. Hayhead’s wounded as well.”

With only four men, a broken rope, a cramped leg, or even a single guard facing the right direction would have meant disaster. And yet, everything goes Theon’s way. However, in order for this to work, GRRM has to throw the Idiot Ball to Ser Rodrik and Maester Luwin:

“Bran grabbed the bar overhead and pulled himself up, shouting for help. No one came, and after a moment he remembered that no one would. They had taken the guard off his door. Ser Rodrik had needed every man of fighting age he could lay his hands on, so Winterfell had been left with only a token garrison.”

“The rest had left eight days past, six hundred men from Winterfell and the nearest holdfasts. Cley Cerwyn was bringing three hundred more to join them on the march, and Maester Luwin had sent ravens before them, summoning levies from White Harbor and the barrowlands and even the deep places inside the wolfswood. Torrhen’s Square was under attack by some monstrous war chief named Dagmer Cleftjaw.”

Especially given his complaints about how weak Winterfell’s garrison was before, it’s a little out of character for Ser Rorik to completely empty out its defenses, especially when he had 900 men to hand – a few dozen weren’t about to make the difference. (And notably, here it’s not Bran’s idealism that makes the decision; the adults are the ones who fuck up) Indeed, I think GRRM kind of acknowledges what he’s doing by having Luwin admit that “Ser Rodrik took too many of our men, but I am to blame as much as he is. I never saw this danger, I never . . .”

The unusual obviousness of the thumb on the scales speaks to the importance of the fall of Winterfell to the plot – not only is the capture of the castle necessary for Bran’s critical moment of Crossing the Threshold, where the hero can no longer turn back and must instead pursue their destiny (think the moment where Luke comes back to find that his aunt and uncle are dead and their farm destroyed), but it’s absolutely crucial for Theon’s downfall and redemption, Catelyn and Robb’s path to the Red Wedding, Sansa’s plotline as the heiress to the North, Roose Bolton and Stannis’ duel for control of the North, and so on and so forth.

Theon Greyjoy by TheFirstAngel

Theon’s Arrival

This atmosphere of confusion, wrongness, and a jarring undertone of comic relief only gets worse when Theon actually shows up. Initially, Bran thinks that Theon is still an ally, and it takes all of Theon’s rhetorical power to convince the nine-year old that he’s an honest-to-gods enemy:

“Theon Greyjoy followed him into the bedchamber. “We’re not here to harm you, Bran.”

“Theon?” Bran felt dizzy with relief. “Did Robb send you? Is he here too?”

“Robb’s far away. He can’t help you now.”

“Help me?” He was confused. “Don’t scare me, Theon.”

“I’m Prince Theon now. We’re both princes, Bran. Who would have dreamed it? But I’ve taken your castle, my prince.”

“Winterfell?” Bran shook his head. “No, you couldn’t.”

“Leave us, Werlag.” The man with the dirk withdrew. Theon seated himself on the bed. “…Winterfell is mine.”

Bran did not understand. “But you’re Father’s ward.”

“And now you and your brother are my wards. As soon as the fighting’s done, my men will be bringing the rest of your people together in the Great Hall. You and I are going to speak to them. You’ll tell them how you’ve yielded Winterfell to me, and command them to serve and obey their new lord as they did the old.”

Almost immediately, Theon is striking all the wrong notes and thus, failing to intimidate a child. His insistence that ““I’m Prince Theon now. We’re both princes, Bran.” speaks both to Theon’s desperate need for status and recognition, but also to his odd desire to have things both ways, as both a conquering Greyjoy and a friend to the Starks. Take for example his lack of response to Bran’s claim of foster kinship (“you’re Father’s ward”) and his declaration that “now you and your brother are my wards.” In a world which takes the custom of fosterage very very seriously, this is a rather important commitment, and one that should make the moment where Theon is called a kinslayer in ADWD a lot more clearly. (No wonder Bran doesn’t take Theon’s claims of enemyness seriously) In Westeros, Theon and Bran are foster brothers, and considered just as much family as any blood brothers. Thus, the moment that Theon is seen as having killed his foster brothers in the eyes of the North, he’s marked himself out as the worst kind of villain…really didn’t think that one through, did he?

The Duty of a Prince

A second major theme of this chapter – which is entirely appropriate both for A Clash of Kings as a whole and Bran’s story-line specifically – is the duty of a prince to his subject, which as we’ll see applies both to Bran and Theon. For Bran, the question becomes what is the duty of a prince to his subject when the prince has been defeated? After all, for the entire book up until this point, we’ve been exploring what the virtues of a prince are when it comes to war – the importance of both personal bravery and strategic intelligence, their abilities to inspire their people to continue the fight, their responsibility to protect them from the enemy, their willingness to compromise or make peace to accomplish their ultimate objectives, etc. But is bravery still virtuous when the battle has been lost?

“I won’t,” said Bran. “We’ll fight you and throw you out. I never yielded, you can’t make me say I did.”

“This is no game, Bran, so don’t play the boy with me, I won’t stand for it. The castle is mine, but these people are still yours. If the prince would keep them safe, he’d best do as he’s told.” He rose and went to the door. “Someone will come dress you and carry you to the Great Hall. Think carefully on what you want to say.”

“Theon wants me to yield the castle,” Bran said as the maester was fastening the cloak with his favorite wolf’s-head clasp of silver and jet.

“There is no shame in that. A lord must protect his smallfolk.”

Here, I think we see the real virtue of the Starks’ philosophy of noblesse oblige – the way in which it focuses the ruler on the interests of their people, the emphasis on survival against common threats (like winter), and so on. Just as “a king protects his people, or he is no king at all,” the Lord of Winterfell is a steward of humanity against the threat of death or he is nothing. (Maybe Edmure was right after all?) As painful as it is for Bran to yield up his home to the enemy, therefore, the Starks’ ideology provides a framework to understand and justify what he’s doing.

Theon, unfortunately, has no such luck. His entire sense of himself as a Prince is rooted in his fractured identity and his toxic inferiority complex. At one and the same time, Theon wants to be seen as a conquering Ironborn and a Stark in all but name:

…”You’ll tell them how you’ve yielded Winterfell to me, and command them to serve and obey their new lords as they did the old…”

Theon ignored the outburst. “My father has donned the ancient crown of salt and rock, and declared himself King of the Iron Islands. He claims the north as well, by right of conquest. You are all his subjects.”

“Bugger that.” Mikken wiped the blood from his mouth. “I serve the Starks, not some treasonous squid of—aah.” The butt of the spear smashed him face first into the stone floor.

“Smiths have strong arms and weak heads,” observed Theon. “But if the rest of you serve me as loyally as you served Ned Stark, you’ll find me as generous a lord as you could want.”

On his hands and knees, Mikken spat blood. Please don’t, Bran wished at him, but the blacksmith shouted, “If you think you can hold the north with this sorry lot o’—”

“I will be as good a lord to you as Eddard Stark ever was.” Theon raised his voice to be heard above the smack of wood on flesh. “Betray me, though, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.”

The problem for Theon is that you can’t have things both ways.[1] If you promise to be a second Ned Stark, and try to win the hearts and minds of the people you seek to rule, then you actually have to follow through and care about what the locals think and say, all the while the Ironborn will condemn you for a weakling. If – immediately after you’ve made that promise – you try to rule by force and crush any resistance to your rule, you might get the Ironborn to respect you, but you show yourself to the locals as a liar and a hypocrite, and to both sides as inconsistent and vacillating.  Ultimately, this is where I think Maester Luwin has it wrong when he says that “your lord father did what he could to gentle Theon, but I fear it was too little and too late.” Rather, the problem is that Eddard seems to have been both not successful enough to prevent Theon from betraying the Starks, but too successful for Theon to ever really be the conquering Ironborn he wants to be – almost against his own will, and certainly contrary to his comments earlier, Theon keeps equating Eddard Stark with the way a lord should behave, but finding it impossible to live up to his example or to reject it. The result is promises broken in blood on the cobblestones.

[1] Speaking of trying to have things both ways, Theon seems to envision some bizarre scenario where “If Robb Stark can stave off the Lannisters, he may reign as King of the Trident hereafter, but House Greyjoy holds the north now,” because he can’t really get his mind around how thoroughly he’s betrayed his oldest and best friend, to the extent that he somehow thinks that Robb isn’t going to fight for his own home.

However, Theon has another problem – ultimately, even right of conquest requires the populace to recognize your claim. Even with overwhelming force, a would-be conqueror can’t convert occupation to conquest without consent – as both Aegon the Conqueror and Daeron I found out when the people of Dorne simply refused to accept that they were beaten and continued to fight until the occupier gave up. And a people as famously loyal as the Winterfell bannermen are not about to turn quisling because 20 Ironborn have sucker-punched them. In this fashion, Theon’s conquest is a microcosm of the entire Ironborn invasion of the North. Just as it’s ultimately impossible for 20 men to hold an entire castle, 10-15,000 men simply cannot occupy a country of 3-4 million people and 1.5 million square miles.

Hell, even Ramsay Snow Reek can see that the Northmen are not going to roll over and submit, just because Theon says he’s Prince of Winterfell: “Stark’s lords will fight you,” the man Reek called out. “That bloated pig at White Harbor for one, and them Umbers and Karstarks too. You’ll need men. Free me and I’m yours.” And this is where Theon’s tragic blindspot kicks in, because he really should have known that a mere servant, especially one best known for corpse-raping and other signs of feral amorality wouldn’t really have this good a grasp on North politics. But just as Othello can’t see Iago’s patent enmity until it’s too late, Theon just can’t see that there’s something wrong about Reek until it’s really too late.

Historical Analysis:

As I’ve talked about before, it was actually somewhat rare for castles to be taken by storm – they were generally designed really, really well, and there are many stories of relatively tiny garrisons of a few dozen men successfully holding off thousands and thousands of men. Far more often, castles would either be starved out – which tended to take a long time and be rather chancey, since smaller garrisons with prepared storehouses could more easily hold out longer than larger field armies could – or fall to treachery, as someone on the inside just opened a door in exchange for their safety and a big sack of cash.  But sometimes, castles would fall by stealth.

pictured; not stealth.

See, the downside of having a small garrison that can outlast a larger army outside is that you can potentially send a small force of people to sneak inside the castle and open a door, also probably in exchange for a big sack of cash. It’s incredibly risky – in that you’ve got some very tall walls to climb, there’s not a lot of doors and they’re very heavily defended, and if you get spotted, you don’t have anywhere to run to. The main question in any attempt to take a castle by stealth was whether you could get to a gatehouse and get a door open before the garrison can find you and stop you.

But it did happen, and indeed, was something of a specialty of the Scottish during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, in part because they didn’t have the equipment or the money for regular sieges. In 1308, Forfar Castle was taken on Christmas Night, by the simple expedient of leaning ladders against the walls as the garrison enjoyed their holiday cheer a bit too much (indeed, a lot of the Bruce’s victories in taking castles by stealth coincided with holidays which left English garrisons distracted if not outright inebriated) – which ended when the Scots slaughtered the garrison in their beds and Robert the Bruce ordered the walls pulled down and the wells poisoned, to prevent the castle from being re-garrisoned. Earlier that year, the Bruce took Douglas Castle by tricking the garrison into sallying out to raid a supposedly undefended baggage train. At Berwick in 1212, a daring attempt to scale the castle walls at night with rope ladders was foiled by a barking dog – shades of the direwolves there. At Linlithgow Castle in 1313, the Bruce used a wagon packed with soldiers hidden under the hay to jam open the castle gates and then sneak out and attack the garrison.

So if you ever need to take a castle by stealth, I recommend waiting until Mardi Gras.

What If?

There’s so many different ways for Theon’s plan to fail that it’s kind of hard to pick between them – a broken rope or two could have easily meant death for most of his climbers, given that we’re talking about a fall of eighty feet or more, and at the very least, enough noise to alert the castle’s defenders. A man on the right (or wrong) section of the walls at the right (or wrong) time could have easily meant that the sneak attack was spotted, and it’s not hard to simply cut grapnels and leave Theon’s men stranded outside the walls. Hell, if Alebelly had been facing the right direction, he could have just dropped the portcullis and left the intrepid climbers staring at the iron bars without any solution. My favorite by far, however, is if Summer and Shaggydog had been less penned up and able to run free in the inner courtyard, it’s quite possible that, like a much more lethal version of the Capitoline Geese, Theon’s invasion might have ended up inside the bellies of two growing direwolves.

In this scenario, Theon’s kind of screwed. He’s stuck outside the walls with only 16 men, and Ser Rodrik is out there with 900 men and is going to be rushing home pretty soon, and Dagmer Cleftjaw is his only ally within hundreds of miles and he’s only got 200 men. It’s quite likely in this scenario that Theon is going to get captured, and find himself even more the laughingstock of the Ironborn.

But as we’ve talked about, if Winterfell doesn’t fall, ASOIAF’s plot kind of falls apart. Catelyn doesn’t free Jaime, Robb doesn’t have to march North and thus doesn’t need to cross at the Twins or reconcile with the Freys, chances are the Red Wedding doesn’t happen, Bran doesn’t have the opportunity to leave Winterfell, cross the wall, and study under Bloodraven to some greater purpose we won’t learn until TWOW.

Book vs. Show:

As I’ve mentioned before, I think Theon’s storyline is one of the real gems of Season 2, with Alfie Allen’s flawless performance shining through, but also some great character work with Gemma Whelan, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Donald Sumpter, and Ron Donachie.

However, if there is one weakness, it’s leaving out Ramsay-as-Reek. While Ralph Ineson does his best, you don’t get the full impact of Theon’s fall from grace without having Reek at Theon’s shoulder urging him on to kill Bran and Rickon, offering to help him when the Northmen form outside the castle, and then the sudden turn against him. There’s a kind of retroactive horror that sets in when you realize where all of this Reek identity is going and the implications of the flaying, that might not have worked on initial airing, but would really have paid dividends later on, when binge-watchers would have gotten the payoff by seeing Reek turn into Ramsay and then turn Theon into Reek.

Indeed, I wonder if introducing Ramsay as Reek in Season 2 could have avoided or strengthened Theon’s rather circular plotline in Season 3.


76 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran VI, ACOK

  1. winnie says:

    Magnificent analysis of one of my favorite storylines!

    I have to say I really liked how this scene was handled on the show. AA and IH in their confrontation felt so much like brothers it was painful and Theon’s Moral Horizon when he executes Ser Rodrik was incredible and perfectly summed up his character. A sad little boy playing at being a big strong man.

    Also you’re totally right about the taking of WF being the whole Northern invasion in miniature. The IB by fluke manage to take the territory but they can’t possibly hold it and they seem genuinely surprised that the Northerners fight back and resist instead of bowing down to their rightous conquerors.

    And finally may I say how delighted I am you got this latest chapter up so quickly!

    • Andrew says:

      Theon like Balon is playing at “The Man Who Would Be King.”

      • This is also why I’ve never warmed to Asha like others have. She all of a sudden wants to be realistic about what the Iron Born can accomplish in the North after the invasion and after Balon is dead. I know she has to be the counter point to Theon and his plans but becoming the big “close the barn door” advocate when the horses are long gone never impressed me. Balon’s crazy from his sons dying but Asha plays into it even when she knows better. It get’s her people killed.

        • Winnief says:

          Very good points all. I wonder if we’ll ever see her acknowledge her mistakes there. I get the sense in ADWD that she’s souring on the Old Way a bit, but not yet ready to admit to herself that maybe Greyjoy’s aren’t born to conquer.

    • Glad you liked it!

      Yeah, I loved how this was acted in the show – especially the way the show managed to capture the emotional state of both actors, both in their confrontation in the bedroom and in their reactions during Ser Rodrik’s execution.

    • derzquist says:

      Back in Theon I, Attewell accurately compared Iron Born culture with Dixieland. Here we have the IB’s First Battle of Bull Run. ‘Clearly one Iron Born is worth ten of the mudsills & greasy mechanics of the greenlands.’ And we all know how that worked out.

  2. David Hunt says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this chapter. It contains what I consider the archetypal Theon moment for ACOK, which you mention. Theon have to raise his voice so as to be heard above the beating his men are delivering…to tell everyone what a kind lord he will be. That’s Theon’s essence.

  3. Chinoiserie says:

    Reek being there in the show could have been great but it might have been too much Ramsay to stomach with the rest of the seasons. People are already pretty sick of him already after 3 seasons and if he had been in 4 it would have been more insufferable. Ramsay has been in only two books so far so with the break it has been easier to stomach him in asoaif. So unless the show would not have shown him at all in seasons 3 and 4 it would not have worked. Not having Ramsay and Theon in seasons 3 and 4 would have been even worse decision (it would have hurt Theon’s arc to happen off-screen and us being completely unaware what is happening in the North until season 5) and cutting Ramsay and Theon screen time would not have truly fixed the issue.

    Anyway you have done 2/3 of Clash already! Very impressive. With this pace you are done with Dance before Winds comes out (hopefully exaggerating a little).

    • winnie says:

      Well he could have started ASOS by the time Winds comes out

    • Well, my hope would be is that if you built a foundation in Season 3, you wouldn’t have needed so much of him in Season 3 for example.

      A bit of an exaggeration. I’ll certainly be somewhere in ASOS when TWOW comes out.

      • Chinoiserie says:

        People would have been tired of Ramsay regardless of his screentime in season 3 by now for the main fact it feels unfair to people that such a horrible character keeps surviving season after season while the heroes die. Yes, if his screentime in season 3 was more limited it would help a little bit but it still would be frustrating for watchers to see how nothing bad never happens to him over so many episodes. And while I hated Theon’s storyline in season 3 in restropect it kind of works since now we know how broken Theon really is. So while I still wish a bit less screentime it could not have been cut that much that it would matter regarding Ramsay.

        • Probably true, but I think the major problems creep in later – shirtless Ironborn fighting, randomly beating Stannis, etc.

          • Winnief says:

            Frankly, Ramsay being a badass or fighting shirtless doesn’t bother people as much as the fact that Ramsay makes Joffrey look like Ser Pounce. His depravity is just completely repellant and that’s true on screen or on the page though IR certainly does his best with the role.

            Whereas Roose while evil and psychotic is at least the kind of character you love to hate. He has that whole “Magnificent Bastard” thing that Tywin had going for him and McElhattan’s performance has been truly chilling.

            So I’m not going to deny that viewers have a problem with ShowRamsay arc for legitimate reasons, I’m just not sure handling it the same as it was in the books would have worked much better since the whole Reek story is at heart so brutal it was always going to be damn near unwatchable however, you framed it.

            One change that I agree was clearly problematic and didn’t help matters was giving Sansa, Jeyne’s role. I agree with Amanda Marcotte’s take that Sansa as a person still seems tough anyway and like a survivor…its just viewers didn’t need to see her ‘survive’ anymore trauma thank you very much.

    • Roger says:

      People today likes so much psychos that they used Ramsay everywhere.
      Personaly I forgot a bit about Theon in book 3 and 4. So when he was back in Dance with Dragons it was a real blast for me. Almost as he was back from the dead! and he was almost a walking dead…

  4. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    You’re probably saving it for Asha’s visit, but another what if is what if Theon did the smart thing here and sacked the castle, killed the dirwwolves and high tailed back to Pike with Bran and Rickon.

    • David Hunt says:

      If he had fully thrown off the Stark identity, he probably would have. Unfortunately for Theon, he had to prove to everyone that he was a worthy heir to Eddard Stark. He had to make everyone love him.

      “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

      • winnie says:

        Yeah it was like Theon expected everyone to be impressed by his initiative..there may also have been an element of homesickness as well.

        Another factor is that Theon was thinking like a typical army commander where you can’t just invade a place you have to hold it rather than the Ironborn smash and grab style. But that very pillage and flee style that is the Iron born way, (and what Asha urged) is completely at odds with the idea of permanent conquest and colonial occupation which is something neither Asha or Balon ever really acknowledge. So really when Asha tells Theon his taking WF won’t work she’s already admitting the entire Northern invasion is doomed.

    • I am exactly saving it for that chapter.

  5. FourTen says:

    Not casting Ramsey in season 2 did blow the only chance at the kind of “identity reveal” that’s easy in books but impossible to do on TV (see: Artisan Whitebeard)

    Saying that, Ramsey was at least heard from in S2, as, in a bit of fridge brilliance, the horn blowing northman who was keeping Theon awake. A hint at torments to come. (Ramsey later blows the horn during Theon’s flaying)

    • Grant says:

      No one had seen Ramsay in the show before, which would have erased the problem.

    • winnie says:

      Also Roose specifically tells Robb that he’ll have his bastard gave up men to re-take Winterfell.

    • That’s a good point – it was one case where they genuinely could have pulled it off. People would have guessed that there’s something up with this guy, given the prominence of the actor, but they wouldn’t have known what.

  6. Andrew says:

    1. “‘Someone kindly shut that halfwit up. ‘
    Two ironmen began to beat Hodor with the butts of their spears. The stableboy dropped to the floor trying to shield himself with his hands.
    ‘I will be as good a lord to you as Eddard Stark ever was.’ Theon raised his voice to be heard above the smack of wood on flesh.'”

    You see the irony in Theon saying he would be as good a lord as Ned while his voice is being crowded out by the noise of his men beating a mentally handicapped man on his orders.

    2. “Stark’s lords will fight you,” the man Reek called out. “That bloated pig at White Harbor for one, and them Umbers and Karstarks too. You’ll need men. Free me and I’m yours.”

    Ironically, when the situation is reversed with Ramsay holding Winterfell and Theon as his prisoner, the Manderlys, Umbers and Karstarks (Alys) end up fighting against Ramsay when he takes up residence in Winterfell like Theon.

    • winnie says:

      Not so ironically. As Northerners the Boltons damn well should have expected to have trouble from their neighbors if they tried to supplant the Starks. I’m still a little surprised that Roose of all people thought he could get away with it. The blinding effect of ambition must have clouded his judgment.

      • Grant says:

        He could have, had things gone differently. As the northern lords themselves admit, they’ve had cruel lords in the past and those can be endured. Take out Ramsay’s insanity, maybe Robb dies in battle instead of at a wedding and Bran and Rickon really do die and the Manderly’s and rest might decide uniting under a strong lord is better than dreaming of a family that’s gone and dead.

        • winnie says:

          Good points all. BUT Roose did play a role in the RW which was no mere regicide but a violation of the Norths oldest and strongest taboo plus he helped slaughter members of all the great Northern families AND thousands of regular soldiers from the small folk as well.

          And of course the Stark boys were still alive, (and well Ramsay knew it-though maybe Roose didn’t know until after he returned North.)

          And perhaps most importantly of all there is Ramsay. Northerners may be willing to abide by Roose but Ramsay is something else entirely and the mere though of him one day being Paramount Lord is I’m sure motivating a LOT of the rebellion.

          • Keith B says:

            The only people who knew Bran and Rickon were alive either weren’t talking (Roose, Ramsay, Samwell, and Theon), weren’t available (Meera, Jojen and Osha) or couldn’t talk (Hodor, Wex). Did I miss anyone?

            Barbrey Dustin, at least, figured the Boltons would be defeated eventually and she and the Ryswells would take their place. Other lords were probably making similar calculations. But no single lord had the power to overthrow the Boltons and their Frey allies, and they didn’t trust each other enough to coordinate.

          • winnie says:

            Also there was the question of Sansa who was known to be alive and well-and also automatically came before “Arya.” Since Sansa was in the Lannister’s hands and even forcibly married to Tyrion at the time of the RW then shouldn’t that have worried Roose about the Lannister’s seeking to undercut him and take the North for themselves…which is indeed exactly what they planned to do?

            Now we all hated THAT storyline last season but to be fair it did address what the Boltons could do about a certain redhead if she ever turned up.

          • David Hunt says:

            winnie, it isn’t addressed anywhere in the books proper that I know of, but IIRC Tyrion’s trial also fingered Sansa as a conspirator in Joffrey’s assassination. I’m pretty confident that she has been attained and is under sentence of death. If that formality hasn’t been taken care of, it would be the moment her location became known. Anyone pressing Sansa’s rights to Winterfell is also making an explicit statement that they are defying the Iron Throne. They’d be in open rebellion.

          • Keith B says:

            There was a period between the time she married Tyrion and the Purple Wedding when Roose had to know that Tywin intended to use Sansa to undermine him. He knew then, if he didn’t before, that Tywin would betray him just as he used Roose to betray Robb. Tywin describes to Tyrion exactly what his plan is. So what did Roose mean to do about it?

            When exactly did Tywin offer Roose fake Arya? I think it had to be after the Purple Wedding. If it was before, the offer wouldn’t have done Roose much good with Sansa still having priority.

            By the way, quite a few people assumed Sansa was guilty, including Loras, Mace, Cersei, and Jaime, but she doesn’t seem to have been formally accused. It never came up in Tyrion’s trial. She wouldn’t have been sentenced or attainted without at least a trial.

          • David Hunt says:

            Keith B,

            I felt sure that Shae testified that Tryion and Sansa plotted the assassination together. I suppose there has been no formal sentence made against her because Tyrion short circuited the court trial to determine his guilt via trail by combat. However, he was found guilty of conspiring…with Sansa…to kill Joffrey. Regardless, my point about anyone openly pressing her rights effectively being in open rebellion against the Iron Throne stands.

            As to what Roose was thinking. I speculate that he was planning to nominally go along with Tywin seating Tryion and Sansa’s son at Winterfell. He’d be a callow youth and Roose would stay Warden of the North until the kid was a man grown. Given his cold calculating nature, I think Roose was expecting that everything would fall apart once Tywin died and then he could implement whatever plans he had in place to overthrow the kid and put himself on top. Having “Arya” married into the Bolton line still be very useful then. I’m also sure that Ramsey was not (and is not) planned to live long past him fathering a son on his wife. Roose then places his own puppet Stark in Winterfell and rules the North until he passes it on to either Ramsey Jr or his own Son via Fat Walda.

          • Keith B says:

            Tywin would have named Tyrion Warden of the North, not his son. And he would have turned the Freys against Roose. He had much more to offer them.

            Supposing that Tywin offered fake Arya from the beginning, the marriage of Sansa to Tyrion must have seemed extremely treacherous. It might have been enough to make Roose back out of the arrangement. Tywin would have done better to wait until after the Red Wedding but before Joffrey’s marriage; it would then be too late to back out.

            This discussion makes me wonder what Littlefinger was thinking. If he was sincere in telling Sansa that she would marry Harry and the Vale would then go to war against the Boltons for her sake, he must have realized that the Vale would effectively be declaring war against the Lannisters and Tyrells as well. But maybe he was counting on Cersei wrecking the alliance by that time.

          • Keith B says:

            Roose told Jaime about Arya at Harrenhal, after Sansa’s marriage. So he knew that Tywin was stabbing him in the back, and he was willing to gamble on coming out on top. He was that cold-blooded.

      • Keith B says:

        As far as anyone knew, though, there weren’t any Starks. They had “Arya,” and with no others available there was no one to oppose them. Even Lord Manderly, who probably hated the Boltons as much as anyone, wouldn’t move against them without Rickon.

    • 1. Yes.

      2. Yep. Also, keep those names in mind when we discuss the siege of Winterfell by Ser Rodrik.

  7. Brandon says:

    What do you think about the decision to leave Jojen and Meera out of S2 and introduce them in S3 instead?

  8. Sean C. says:

    Indeed, I wonder if introducing Ramsay as Reek in Season 2 could have avoided or strengthened Theon’s rather circular plotline in Season 3.

    The fakeout with Ramsay’s identity was the only part of that plotline that worked, so I don’t think that would have strengthened it. Plus, the showrunners were clearly trying to avoid any overt reveal of the Boltons’ treachery (which caused other problems, in particular the confusing end of Season 2).

  9. MightyIsobel says:

    To start off here, I am so on board with the theory that Winterfell is “a giant engine for fighting the Others.” And thus the fall of Winterfell — it’s a really important event, not just to make the plot of ASOIAF work, but as a break in the metaphysics of this world. .

    It’s not magic system-y, though. It’s all done with dreams and the turning of Fortune’s Wheel, and it’s told by two immature, uninformed narrators (compare to Cat VI, yeah?)

    Is there any particular image or detail or decision that stands out to you as possibly marking the importance of Theon’s displacement of the Stark in Winterfell in this chapter?

    • Winnie says:

      Oh, I agree Winterfell is VITAL to fighting the Others and part of that I’m sure has to do with having a “Stark at Winterfell,” Which is why the burning of WF and the fall of House Stark aren’t just personal tragedies but something with much deeper and darker significance for the fate of Westeros.

      The fact that this particular calamity *didn’t* come about from the machinations of the Others or black magic of any kind but just sheer human folly is Martin’s famous twisted sense of humor at work again. Basically, the Lannister’s (with help from Theon, House Bolton, and House Frey) have unwittingly gift wrapped the entire Seven Kingdoms for the Night’s King and his army.

    • Heh. My most unexpectedly ubiquitous theory.

  10. Jim B says:

    I suppose that, given that so many fictional works allow the “good guys” to succeed despite “million-to-one-odds” against them, it’s only fair that GRRM allows a not-so-good guy to pull off a million-to-one plan.

    • Sean C. says:

      Littlefinger has had a lot of that going for him so far in the series too.

      • Winnie says:

        Does he ever! It STILL bugs me that Tyrion didn’t pursue him more aggressively about the dagger.

        Also the more you get to know Cersei, the more it seems a marvel that she didn’t self-destruct LONG before this… and the more you wonder how much longer she can last and remain a political force long enough for Maggy’s prophecy to come to play.

        What makes ASOIAF truly unique though is that freak luck only works in favor of the bad guys-and of course Dany who if it weren’t for ‘destiny’ and plot armor should have died long, LONG ago.

        • Sean C. says:

          I’d hardly say “only”. Arya by all rights should have died a half-dozen times by this point.

          • Winnief says:

            True. I forgot our feral little Arya.

            Though whether she counts as a ‘good guy’ at this point is certainly debatable.

          • Jim B says:

            Jon Snow, too. He more or less lucks out when the wight shows up, manages to be the sole survivor of a suicide mission, is luckily absent when mutiny takes out his boss, and when he’s not being rescued by his magic wolf, he’s got Stannis showing up in the nick of time to save him.

            And he spends the entire time thinking how cruel life has been to him… oops, sorry, that’s a different Jon Snow rant.

          • M says:

            And Tyrion. He should’ve *drowned* twice in Dance alone,let alone everything else.

        • Jim B says:

          I suspect that Cersei had a little window of stability just before the series starts.

          She’s got her three beautiful blonde children, she has Jaime, and Tyrion is out of sight and out of mind. She’s figured out how to deal with Robert, and he barely even tries to have sex with her any more. She’s got more or less free reign to scheme and manipulate, because Pycelle is on her side, Barristan doesn’t do politics, Varys and Littlefinger see it in their respective interests to let her sow the seeds of future division, and Stannis and Renly are toothless if Robert won’t back them up. Sure, there’s Jon Arryn, but he’s handcuffed, too — the only thing his king gives a shit about is his tourneys and feasting and such, and in order to pay for that Arryn needs the Lannisters.

          It’s only when the series starts that things start getting really tense for her. Suddenly her family is being suspected of crimes whether they did them (Bran) or not (Jon Arryn). There’s a new Hand who is younger and stronger than Arryn was, and who already has a grievance against her family. Jaime’s behaving like an idiot. Stannis and Renly are behaving strangely, presumably plotting against her. Her precious golden son is going to be married off to some little bitch who might be that younger, prettier queen she’s been petrified of. And then, when she finally reaches her moment of triumph — Robert is dead, Stark is neutralized, Renly and Stannis fled, and she gets to rule as Regent, and break off Joffrey’s engagement as soon as she feels like it — suddenly fucking TYRION shows up and declares that he’s in charge, and worst of all he’s right!

          • winnie says:

            True. On top of which she has a war to deal with as well.

            In retrospect I think Blackwater with the booze soaked pity party was the point when she started to really unravel. I also have a theory that Blackwater was about contrasting Cersei with Sansa (who I believe to be the YMBQ) and frankly when the 13 year old hostage out performs the Queen Regent its a Bad Sign.

          • David Hunt says:

            I’ve pretty much come down on Joffrey’s death, followed in rapid succession by Tywin’s as what drove her over the edge. I agree she was definitely getting worse throughout ACOK. That is likely the point where she started to really worry about the valonquar, what with Tyrion being right there usurping her power. However, I think that she was still politically effective in pursuing her goals before AFFC. That’s where I think she goes totally off the rails.

  11. Steven Xue says:

    To be fair on Rodrick, there was really no reason anyone could have anticipated an attack on Winterfell. For starters this is the capital of the North we’re talking about. There’s no way any Northern houses would dare strike at it even while its completely undefended knowing the consequences they would face.

    Also at that time while the Ironborn had began their attack, I don’t think many thought they were out for conquest but rather there for a little pillaging like in the old days. Even so they were still mainly situated by the shores of the east side or in the south at Moat Cailin which didn’t present an immediate danger to Winterfell.

    While I agree it was stupid for Rodrick to leave a small contingent of guards at Winterfell, there is really no way in my opinion that he could have predicted the Iron Born being such a military threat so soon. He already had his hands full in dealing with the upheaval caused by Ramsay. Besides its not like the Iron Born could have possibly known at least from the Northern perspective that Winterfell would be undefended. It was just dumb luck they had Theon on their side who could read the situation better than any of his peers.

  12. Lann says:

    Does anyone think that there could have been a way to leave a more plausible garrison at Winterfell and have Theon win anyway? Sickness? Booze?

    • Steven Xue says:

      Maybe Theon could have snuck his men through a secret backdoor like the crypts

    • DLG says:

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. There’s no way that even a minimally competent commander would leave such a strategically and symbolically important fortification (Winterfell) AND the last two males in the dynastic line of succession so lightly guarded. There are too many historical examples of kings campaigning in the field being undercut or destroyed by betrayals of lords left behind, attacks from the strategic rear (1066!), or enemy breakthroughs into home territory (imagine if Casterly Rock were inadequately garrisoned when Robb raided the Westerlands).

      I was thinking off some combination of:
      a) A numerically adequate but old, undertrained, and poorly-officered garrison combined with,
      b) Some diversion/threat to Bran himself that happens near Winterfell but outside the walls — opening gates and drawing out a substantial portion of the garrison. E.g. some larger version of the near kidnapping of Bran by the Wildlings when Osha is first introduced to the story.

  13. Roger says:

    Lord Wellington once said he made many errors in Waterloo campaign, but that the man who makes less errors wins the day. So did Theon with Rodrick mistakes.
    His attack was well planed and well executed. It was effective, so we can’t hat it was too “simple”.
    Theon wanted to rule, not to simply conquer. That’s what his men didn’t understand. He also apreciated Winterfell people. Perhaps with time and wisdom he could win some loyals. But that’s real difficult. People doesn’t like colaborateurs. Especialy when they work with Gestapo (Ironborn).
    One wonders if Theon could have won the campaign with more support. IF he had sent a letter to Balon, perhaps the Greyjoys could have helped him with: a) making distraction attacks to other castles, to keep reinforcements from going to Winterfell, b) sending men to WInterfell (not risking Asha, of course), c) Sending Bran and Rickon to the Isles.
    I really like Alfie Allen work. As many actors in the show, he does the best with a losy script. Theon is most of the time almost mocked by the script. The lack of Ramsay/Reek is a huge mistake. And in next chapters we will see lots of mistakes with that part of the season.
    Great work, Steven!

  14. Roger says:

    It must be noted that Tywin Lannister said of Balon Greyjoy that “he thinks as a reaver, not a as king”. And he was right.

    • Winnie says:

      Precisely. Whatever else you can say about Tywin, he did at least understand that its not enough to have soldiers plant a banner and declare victory. You have to actually hold the territory and *rule* it. Balon doesn’t get that. Neither do his brothers or Asha. Theon thanks to his years with the Starks did begin to grasp the concept but he wasn’t the man for the job.

      Which the IB on their invasions often feels like the dog chasing cars…they wouldn’t know what to do with one if they caught it. Literally. Ok, you’ve got territory in the North-real land if no gold, but do you have the slightest notion how to settle it and survive once WInter comes?!? No you do not.

  15. […] fairytale contract with the contract killer – come together. It’s also, as I mentioned last time, the third in a pattern of three, as a major castle in a row falls to subterfuge, demonstrating […]

  16. […] As I’ve said before, Theon’s capture of Winterfell is a microcosm of the Ironborn invasion of the North. Just as Theon doesn’t have enough men to hold the castle, so too does his people not have enough men to hold the North; just as Theon is separated from reinforcements, so too have the Ironborn put seven hundred miles of the North between their footholds at Deepwood Motte and Moat Cailin; just as Theon’s men are poor horsemen, so too are the Ironborn not suited for fighting in the vast interior of the North, so far from the water. And these weaknesses have directly lead to him losing his major prize: […]

  17. […] that Theon took Winterfell with around thirty men, the loss of three of them is a price that Theon can ill afford to […]

  18. […] Stannis has been eliminated, that the Tyrells and the Lannisters have joined together, and that Winterfell has been lost (even though as far as they know it’s extremely likely to be retaken) and all of the sudden […]

  19. […] The hardcore loyalists – the Cerwyns, Cassels, and Tallharts – are dead both because of poor command decisions and because of a failure to mobilize and coordinate the North’s military resources. And the […]

  20. […] Stannis has been eliminated, that the Tyrells and the Lannisters have joined together, and that Winterfell has been lost (even though as far as they know it’s extremely likely to be retaken) and all of the sudden they […]

  21. […] on the block; but if he returns to his “prince of Winterfell,” he has to face up to his failures as a leader and the destruction of his home, and the guilt and despair that entails. In the myth of the Fisher […]

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