“I’m not an evil child, she thought. I am a direwolf, and the ghost in Harrenhal.”
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.
Arya IX is an odd case of a storyline climaxing before the book itself does. Right before the Battle of the Blackwater kicks off, all of themes of Arya’s storyline – her struggle to get back to her family, her desire to maintain some sense of self-actualization and control over her environment, her encounter with Jaqen H’ghar, her captivity, and the culmination of her 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 well ahead of A Storm of Swords that in the War of Five Kings, there is no refuge, no stronghold, no holdfast where safety can be found.
And yet, and yet, I think we can see in the margins George R.R Martin playing with these tropes, undermining what appears to be happening on the surface.
The Meanings of Escape
As we’ve seen before, Arya’s mind is constantly bent on escape, but her reasons for escape keep shifting. On the one hand, she definitely wants to reunite with her family. On the other hand, escape is very much an expression of her desire to feel powerful and in control. In this chapter, for example, Arya brings up escape the first time when she feels confident about her sneaking skills and by extension what she’s retained from her time with Syrio Forel:
Syrio had told her once that darkness could be her friend, and he was right. If she had the moon and the stars to see by, that’s enough. “I bet we could escape, and Pinkeye wouldn’t even notice I was gone,” she told Hot Pie.
…Eating Ser Amory’s tart made Arya feel daring. Barefoot surefoot lightfoot, she sang under her breath. I am the ghost in Harrenhal.
At the same time, when Arya encounters the Northern prisoners, she gives up on the idea of liberating herself alone in favor of joint liberation, because she instinctively feels kinship – “They’re northmen. My father’s men, and Robb’s.” Thus, Arya attempts to convince Gendry that:
“You could smash the door open with your hammer…we’d need to kill the guards. Gendry, there’s a hundred northmen. Maybe more, I couldn’t count them all. That’s as many as Ser Amory has. Well, not counting the Bloody Mummers. We just have to get them out and we can take over the castle and escape.”
“Well, you can’t get them out, no more’n you could save Lommy.”
I’ll discuss a bit more why Gendry (and indeed, Hot Pie) is resisting Arya’s please, but his reminder points to another reason why escape is so important to Arya. Arguably, ever since she escaped from the burning holdfast, Arya has been feeling completely helpless as her guides, friends, and companions variously died, were captured, and simply disappeared. Especially for a child who has just recently lost her father, we get the sense of a developing abandonment complex. To free these prisoners, to exert her will over her captors, is to consciously attempt to break this cycle.
So let’s talk about these Northern prisoners who provide the catalyst for this decision. Brought in by the returning Bloody Mummers -upon re-read, it becomes very clear that the “silver plate, weapons and shields, bags of flour, pens of squealing hogs and scrawny dogs and chickens” they bring with them are part of Roose Bolton’s bribe for changing sides – we first encounter:
By his bearing and the proud way he held his head, he must have been a lord. She could see mail glinting beneath his torn red surcoat. At first Arya took him for a Lannister, but when he passed near a torch she saw his device was a silver fist, not a lion. His wrists were bound tightly, and a rope around one ankle tied him to the man behind him, and him to the man behind him, so the whole column had to shuffle along in a lurching lockstep. Many of the captives were wounded. If any halted, one of the riders would trot up and give him a lick of the whip to get him moving again. She tried to judge how many prisoners there were, but lost count before she got to fifty. There were twice that many at least. Their clothing was stained with mud and blood, and in the torchlight it was hard to make out all their badges and sigils, but some of those Arya glimpsed she recognized. Twin towers. Sunburst. Bloody man. Battle-axe. The battle-axe is for Cerwyn, and the white sun on black is Karstark…
This is a lot of page-time devoted to a tertiary character, but GRRM is investing the time because it’s important we know who Robett Glover is, for future developments. One of the more underrated Northern generals, Robett Glover is a talented, and above all lucky soldier – he worked out Robb’s battle plan at the Whispering Woods and the Battle of the Camps, he managed to survive the Battle of the Green Fork despite Roose Bolton’s best efforts, and he’ll manage to survive a suicide mission at the Battle of Duskendale, and avoid the Red Wedding in the process. Along with him are an interesting mix – on the one hand, Roose is continuing his pattern of weakening his rivals by sending out Glovers, Karstarks, and Cerwyns on a dangerous mission; on the other hand, Roose also sends Bolton and Frey men, probably because of how important Harrenhal itself is for his future plans. (More on this later)
And while it’s hard to say whether the design of the scheme to capture Harrenhal belongs to Roose Bolton or Robett Glover, it’s impressively designed. Few commanders are going to question a victory that brings in prisoners – maybe if it’s Vargo Hoat’s men who supposedly “cut his van to pieceth. Killed many, and thent Bolton running” – and thus, the Northmen get a hundred men inside the walls. In this fashion, Harrenhal can be taken without risking the rest of the 10,000 soldiers in Roose Bolton’s army. (Actually, it’s that last detail that makes me think it was Robett Glover’s idea; no way Roose Bolton tries to limit casualties when he still has regional rivals and Stark loyalists to eliminate)
However, the existence of this plan does raise the question of how consequential Arya’s actions truly are – a topic I’ll return to later. On the other hand, I’ve always been curious how Vargo Hoat and his men don’t seem to have taken any action to fulfill their half of the bargain once Robett and his men are inside the walls; it’s hard to say whether Glover’s objection that “we were promised honorable treatment-” was play-acting or a genuine response to a double-cross. Would the Brave Companion have left Robett and co. locked inside the dungeons, going back on their word? It’s not like that’s a foreign concept to them. On the other hand, it’s not like Vargo Hoat has any loyalty to Amory Lorch and the second half of his bribe is worth quite a bit to the lisping Qohorik.
Arya and the Magical Murder Genie – the Thrilling Conclusion!
In order to liberate the Northmen and herself, Arya first has to finish her business with Jaqen H’ghar, her personal magical murder genie. And in doing so, the fairytale influence that we’ve been talking about for the past couple of Arya chapters suddenly leaps from subtext to text:
Jaqen still owed her one death. In Old Nan’s stories about men who were given magic wishes by a grumkin, you had to be especially careful with the third wish, because it was the last. Chiswyck and Weese hadn’t been very important. The last death has to count, Arya told herself every night when she whispered her names. But now she wondered if that was truly the reason she had hesitated. So long as she could kill with a whisper, Arya need not be afraid of anyone . . . but once she used up the last death, she would only be a mouse again.
…Help me you old gods, she prayed silently. Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell. Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever.
A bunch of different things are going on here. Firstly, I do think it’s noteworthy that GRRM, someone who had lauded the act of reading and writing both in his own works and in public talks, has Arya succeed in her quest because she paid attention to Old Nan’s stories. Arya and Old Nan are quite correct – in genie stories, the third wish is crucial, not only because it’s the last Arya’s going to get, but also because in the original Arabian folklore, djinn are malevolent spirits who want to kill our plucky protagonist and are only kept from doing so due to the bindings on whatever vessel they’ve been confined to, so there’s always the looming problem of what happens if you don’t use the third wish to force them back into the bottle.
Secondly, I also think this is GRRM commenting on the Hero’s Journey. In part because of how much attention he paid to the legends of Theseus and Perseus and similar figures, Joseph Campbell put Supernatural Aid as one of the most important steps, the acquisition of some sort of magical item or ally that will allow the hero to triumph over the Threshold Guardian, and in his more psychological side suggested that these mystical talismans were meant to signify the growth of the individual as they gain control over themselves and their environment (leading to a sense of greater maturity and security). However, here GRRM seems to be suggesting that the whole idea of “chosenness” and “specialness” is holding Arya back, that she’s refusing to pull the trigger and save a bunch of people because she doesn’t want to go back to being ordinary, or seen from another angle, to have to hack it on her own.
Third, as we’ve seen earlier, there’s a key linkage here between the desire for home and the desire for self-actualization – for Arya, being a wolf means both being a Stark and being enough of a threat to not be messed with. However, one of the things we’ll see when Arya confronts Jaqen is that increasingly, there’s going to become a tension rather than a link between these things, and Arya is going to have to choose between her family and her development as a person.
Thus, by the time that Arya speaks with Jaqen H’ghar, the environment is already primed with fairytale logic; hence why their encounter begins with a fixation on the Rule of Three and the importance of true names:
Jaqen H’ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees. “A man comes to hear a name. One and two and then comes three. A man would have done.”
“…is Jaqen H’ghar your true name?”
“Some men have man names. Weasel. Arry. Arya…A man knows…my lady of Stark.”
Maybe the gods had sent him in answer to her prayers. “I need you to help me get those men out of the dungeons. That Glover and those others, all of them. We have to kill the guards and open the cell somehow—”
“A girl forgets,” he said quietly. “Two she has had, three were owed. If a guard must die, she needs only speak his name.”
“But one guard won’t be enough, we need to kill them all to open the cell.” Arya bit her lip hard to stop from crying. “I want you to save the northmen like I saved you.”
He looked down at her pitilessly. “Three lives were snatched from a god. Three lives must be repaid. The gods are not mocked.” His voice was silk and steel.
Here, the Rule of Three comes up because Arya, like so many protagonists in wishing stories, is trying to cheat the system – freeing the prisoners being the equivalent of Aladdin trying to wish for more wishes. Here, the three names are both an individual debt and an assertion of a kind of cosmic order that needs to be resorted, and the Faceless Man like any good Braavosi is going to insist that the books have to balance their debits and credits. True names are likewise usually a key element of magical theory – if you know something’s name, you can control it by speaking that name – and wise people attempt to conceal their true names at all costs. And here, both negotiators are concealing their true names – Jaqen H’ghar is not really Jaqen H’ghar, he is “no one” (which in turn suggests that the negation of identity serves both a spiritual and protective purpose for the Faceless Man); and Arya hides who she is by assuming different identities, borrowing names in much the same way that Jaqen borrows faces.
To defeat Jaqen H’ghar in this battle of wits, Arya turns to another element of fairytales – the unbreakable promise. In the modern world, contract law has established that there are limits to whether someone can be held to an agreement – contracts can’t be enforced if they’re obtained by misrepresentation or fraud, if the contract was made under duress or if the terms are unconscionable, and so on. In the world of fairytales, no such rules apply – oaths are supernaturally binding, and woe betide anyone who breaks an oath. (Incidentally, a great subject for a deconstructionist fantasy story would be what would happen if all of the sudden a modern contract lawyer was dropped into a fairytale world) Thus many stories hinge on people being doomed when they make a promise without conditions, only to find what they’ve been asked for will destroy them:
“The name…can I name anyone? And you’ll kill him.”
Jaqen H’ghar inclined his head. “A man has said.”
“Anyone?” she repeated. “A man, a woman, a little baby, or Lord Tywin, or your father?”
“A man’s sire is long dead, but did he live, and did you know his name, he would die at your command.”
“Swear it,” Arya said. “Swear it by all the gods.”
“By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it.” He placed a hand in the mouth of the weirwood. “By the seven new gods and the old gods beyond count, I swear it.”
…Arya put her lips to his ear. “It’s Jaqen H’ghar.”
Even in the burning barn, with walls of flame towering all around and him in chains, he had not seemed so distraught as he did now. “A girl . . . she makes a jest.”
“You swore. The gods heard you swear.”
“The gods did hear.” There was a knife in his hand suddenly, its blade thin as her little finger. Whether it was meant for her or him, Arya could not say. “A girl will weep. A girl will lose her only friend.”
“You’re not my friend. A friend would help me.” She stepped away from him, balanced on the balls of her feet in case he threw his knife. “I’d never kill a friend.”
Jaqen’s smile came and went. “A girl might…name another name then, if a friend did help?”
“A girl might,” she said. “If a friend did help.”
Despite Jaqen’s tempting offer to have Joffrey killed – what a great example of a deus ex machina not going off! – Arya puts Jaqen over a barrel. It’s unscrupulous, underhanded, and a blatant example of rules-lawyering your way to victory, so it fits in perfectly into the fairytale milieu, where so often the winner is the person who can parse words the best.
It’s also an interesting glimpse into how Jaqen H’ghar and by extension the Faceless Men work, although it does raise questions about how orthodox the ersatz Lorathi is. Here, we’re told that Jaqen would kill anyone, even his own father – but in the House of Black and White we’re told that you can’t kill someone you know. Similarly, it’s interesting that Jaqen always talks about the gods in their multiplicities as opposed to the Many-Faced God’s unity, although it may be that that’s a secret that’s not meant to be shared with the uninitiated. Finally, we learn here that Faceless Men move at their own pace: “On the morrow, at the turn of the moon, a year from this day, it will come. A man does not fly like a bird, but one foot moves and then another and one day a man is there, and a king dies.” (If nothing else, this does add further weight to the theory that Euron brought a Faceless Man to Pyke, since the Faceless Men move at mundane speeds to their target.)
Once Jaqen’s on board, the plan to liberate the Northmen can go ahead. And there’s something wonderfully appropriate to how mundane the plan is – rather than some sort of grand act of magic or ninja wire-fu, Jaqen makes use of the tools of the smallfolk whom the Lannisters have abused so much:
“A hundred men are hungry, they must be fed, the lord commands hot broth…
Biter licked the grease and honey off his fingers as Jaqen Hghar donned a pair of heavy padded mitts. …The broth was boiling hot, and the kettles were heavy. Arya and Jaqen wrestled one between them, Rorge carried one by himself, and Biter grabbed two more…
“Fuck, we need bowls, cups, spoons-“
“No you don’t,’ Rorge heaved the scalding hot broth across the table, full their faces. Jaqen H’ghar did the same. Biter threw his kettles too…he went down like a sack of sand and lay still. The rest were screaming in agony, praying, or trying to crawl off.
There’s an interesting thread here where Jaqen repeatedly works to make Arya physically complicit in the murders of the guards – “A girl must run to the kitchens and tell pie boy…a girl will help make broth….A weasel will help” – to rub it in how morally complicit she is in this act of premeditated murder, which is a big step for someone who’s previously only killed in self-defense or by proxy. In part, this is Jaqen jabbing Arya for breaking the Rule of Three: “A girl is greedy.” Jaqen touched one of the dead guards and showed her his bloody fingers. “Here is three and there is four and eight more lie dead below. The debt is paid.”
But at the same time, there’s also a ritual tactility to Jaqen’s efforts here: “the Lorathi brought the blade to Arya still red with heart’s blood and wiped it clean on the front of her shift. A girl should be bloody too. This is her work.” For a death cultist like Jaqen H’ghar, this is an anointing, a dedication to the God of Death. And given what we learn in ADWD how the cult of the Faceless Men recruited its second adherent, it might well be that Arya’s greediness has placed here in metaphysical debt to the Many-Faced God.
And of course, the irony here is that Arya may have put herself into hock for nothing. After all, as we’ve seen above, the Brave Companions had already betrayed the castle to the Northmen, so it’s quite possible that the only thing that Arya changed was the manner of how Harrenhal falls:
The first man through was the lord with the mailed fist on his surcoat. “Well done, he said. “I am Robett Glover…”
Once freed, the captives stripped the dead guards of their weapons and darted up the steps with steel in hand…none of them seemed quite so badly wounded as they had when Vargo Hoat had marched them through the gates of Harrenhal. “This of the soup, that was clever…I did not expect that. Was it Lord Hoat’s idea?”
In comparison to the fall of Storm’s End, and certainly to the capture of Winterfell, there’s an ambiguity here that’s hard to parse. Is this dramatic irony, that Arya morally and metaphysically compromises herself knocking down an unlocked door? Is this deconstruction of all of those fairytale elements we’ve been discussing before, if the third wish is actually completely superfluous?
I’m not sure, but I think the answer lies in the way that everyone Arya talks to reacts to the idea of freeing the Northmen. When Arya broaches the idea to Hot Pie, he responds by saying that “I don’t want to escape. It’s better here than it was in them woods. I don’t want to eat no worms. Here, sprinkle some flour on the board.” It’s hard to argue against the fact that being fed is better than starving, or that having a roof over your head is better than sleeping on the ground. But the grand finale belongs to Gendry, who argues that:
“Why should I wager my feet for the right to sweat in Winterfell in place of Harrenhal? You know old Ben Blackthumb? He came here as a boy. Smithed for Lady Whent and her father before her and his father before him, and even for Lord Lothston who held Harrenhal before the Whents. Now he smiths for Lord Tywin, and you know what he says? A sword’s a sword, a helm’s a helm, and if you reach in the fire you get burned, no matter who you’re serving.”
Ultimately, I think the ambiguity of the fall of Harrenhal points to the ambiguity of the meaning of the war. To the Northmen, and to highborn people like Arya, there’s a difference between the Lannisters and the Starks as masters of Harrenhal – it’s a huge shift in the war in the Riverlands, with strategic significance for defense of the Red Fork, control of the hill country, etc. But to the smallfolk, who controls Harrenhal doesn’t matter when the very existence of Harrenhal leads to oppression.
Arya “Murders” Jaqen
However clever Arya’s ploy to secure Jaqen’s help was, as with any kind of magic in the world of ASOIAF, there is a price to be paid:
“The debt is paid,” Arya agreed reluctantly.
“A god has his due. And now a man must die…my time is done.” Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls.
And here the price is the symbolic death of Jaqen H’ghar, with Arya standing in as his symbolic killer (note how often in this chapter Arya’s held responsible for various deaths). At the same time, the importance of the revelation that Jaqen H’ghar is something more than a merely mundane professional killer cannot be understated – this is the first moment where Arya encounters magic, and it changes her life forever, because at the same moment Arya sees another future open to her aside from being a Stark:
Arya’s mouth hung open. “Who are you?” she whispered, too astonished to be afraid. “How did you do that? Was it hard?”
He grinned, revealing a shiny gold tooth. “No harder than taking a new name, if you know the way.”
“Show me,’ she blurted. “I want to do it too.”
“If you would learn, you must come with me.”
Arya grew hesitant. “Where?”
“Far and away, across the narrow sea.”
“I can’t. I have go home. To Winterfell.”
“Then we must part,” he said, “for I have duties too.” He lifted her hand and pressed a small coin into her palm. “Here…a coin of great value…if the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him – valar morghulis.”
Here we see yet another reason why the Red Wedding is dramatically necessary to ASOIAF’s larger plot – it’s the catalyst that drives Arya to establish an independent identity, but Arya is already thinking of being a face-changing assassin as a positive well before that particular event. At the same time, from a re-reader’s perspective, it’s kind of curious what this little ritual means to a Faceless Man. After all, Jaqen H’ghar isn’t actually Jaqen H’ghar – especially if the show can be trusted – which raises the question of whether his “symbolic death” is anything of the kind. Is this just him burning a compromised identity, since Jaqen is a known Lannister guardsman who just murdered a whole bunch of Lannister guardsman and that sort of thing raises questions? Or is this some sort of penance for breaking the cosmic balance? The show might suggest that, given what happens to the Kindly Man at the end of Season 5, but at the same time, given that not-Jaqen is active in Oldtown, I don’t think that’s what’s going on.
Introducing Roose Bolton
One consequence of the fall of Harrenhal that can’t be contested is the way that it brings Roose Bolton to the foreground after a book and a half where he’s been very much in the shadow of Robb and Catelyn Stark. And the moment he gets away from adult supervision, Roose Bolton immediately lets his freak flag fly:
“Frequent leechings are the secret of a long life. A man must purge himself of bad blood. You will do, I think. For so long as I remain at Harrenhal, Nan, you shall be my cupbearer, and serve me at table and in chambers.”
“…That evening, a page named Nan poured wine for Roose Bolton and Vargo Hoat as they stood on the gallery, watching the Brave Companions parade Ser Amory Lorch naked through the middle ward. Ser Amory pleaded and sobbed and clung to the legs of his captors, until Rorge pulled him loose, and Shagwell kicked him down into the bear pit.”
When I was prepping Arya X, I was astonishing to realize that Arya only spends a chapter and a bit working as Roose Bolton’s cupbearer when I had remembered it as being a much longer period. This misremembering stems from how much vivid and weird detail GRRM crams in, making it very very clear to the reader that Roose Bolton is more than just a soft spoken bannermen with eyes that “were very pale, the color of ice” – rather, Roose is a goddamn Bond villain, complete with bizarre character ticks, displays of casual ruthlessness, and his own agenda.
And Harrenhal is key to that agenda. It’s important less for its military value and more for its status as a major holdfast that Roose Bolton holds by right of conquest, which he can use as a bargaining chip, and which keeps him away from Robb Stark and outside of direct supervision. Indeed, as we’ll see in Arya X, the fact that Harrenhal has its own ravenry makes it crucial to his plans. Unfortunately for Roose, this means that he unambiguously has to take ownership of the castle:
It was almost evenfall when the new master of Harrenhal arrived…”On your knees for the Lord of the Dreadfort!” shouted his squire, a boy no older than Arya, and Harrenhal knelt.
And as we’ve discussed before, this means Roose Bolton is thoroughly doomed. Leave aside Harren the Black, Gargon “the Guest,” House Tower’s bloody rise to power, the incestuous and kinslaying Strongs, and the vile Lothstons. Let’s take just the most recent lords: House Whent was cursed and is now extinct, Janos Slynt goes to the Wall and then to the block, Tywin Lannister dies at the hands of his own son, Amory Lorch is fed to a bear, Vargo Hoat dies in unspeakable torment, Gregor dies by inches and is then turned into an abomination against nature. As much as Roose tries to pass off the castle as quickly as possible, he’s still on a list that includes only himself, Littlefinger, and poor Ser Bonifer Hasty among the living.
Yet another reason why I don’t think the Boltons are winning the Battle of Ice.
For the careful scholar of Machiavelli, the betrayal of the
Bloody Mummers Brave Companions is less of a surprise and more of the other shoe dropping. As the Florentine pointed out again and again and again (he was a little bit obsessed about the topic:
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are at once useless and dangerous, and he who holds his State by means of mercenary troops can never be solidly or securely seated. For such troops are disunited, ambitious, insubordinate, treacherous, insolent among friends, cowardly before foes, and without fear of God or faith with man. Whenever they are attacked defeat follows; so that in peace you are plundered by them, in war by your enemies. And this because they have no tie or motive to keep them in the field beyond their paltry pay, in return for which it would be too much to expect them to give their lives. They are ready enough, therefore, to be your soldiers while you are at peace, but when war is declared they make off and disappear. I ought to have little difficulty in getting this believed, for the present ruin of Italy is due to no other cause than her having for many years trusted to mercenaries, who though heretofore they may have helped the fortunes of some one man, and made a show of strength when matched with one another, have always revealed themselves in their true colours so soon as foreign enemies appeared. (The Prince, Chapter XII)
In his own time, the best example of mercenary treachery were the Sforza dynasty, founded by the infamous condottieri Giacomo “Muzio” Attendolo. While serving Perugia in their war against the Visconti of Milan, he promptly defected in favor of the Milanese, building up a relationship with the ruling Dukes. His son Francesco would play the Milanese against the Florentines against the Venetians against the Pope against Naples, betraying each in turn when some particularly rich fief or dowry was offered, before becoming Duke of Milan when the death of the last Visconti through the city into chaos and the senate turned to their commander in chief.
Sforza was hardly alone, though. As I mentioned on Tumblr, a lot of the famous mercenary companies of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance developed a reputation for fighting on both sides of the same war – the Grand Catalan Company fought for the Byzantines against the Turks in Anatolia, and then recruited 3,000 Turks into their ranks, and then attempted to seize Thrace and Macedonia from the Byzantines; John Hawkwood fought for Pisa against Florence in 1364, then fought for Milan against both Pisa and Florence in 1370, then fought for the Pope against the Italians, then took a bribe from the Florentines not to attack them, then switched sides to fight against the Pope and for the Milanese, then fought for Florence again, and so on and so on in a dizzying dance.
Basically, it’s just not a good idea to trust mercenaries farther than you can throw them.
As we’ve discussed above, there are a whole bunch of plot reasons why Arya has to name Jaqen H’ghar. But what if she didn’t?
- Arya names Joffrey? This being the temptation that Jaqen dangles in front of her, this might be another example of a wasted wish, since Joffrey’s death is already being plotted by Littlefinger and the Tyrells. However, if Arya had also joined the fray, you might have had an interesting scenario in which Joffrey dies before the Red Wedding. Given Jaqen’s penchant for disposing of his victims by “accidents,” it’s quite possible that Tyrion might have avoided an open accusation. This in turn means that Oberyn and the Mountain don’t meet in trial by combat – although there’s no way that Oberyn isn’t going to try to kill the Mountain – and quite likely means that Tywin doesn’t get killed at Tyrion’s hands. With Tywin still in charge of the Lannisters, a lot of the destabilization of their power bloc never happens – the Boltons don’t get Winterfell, Tyrion remains married to Sansa, etc.
- Arya names Tywin? Potentially another case of assassinating a walking dead man, the key thing here is timing. If Tywin gets whacked on the way to Tumbler’s Falls, it’s quite possible that the Lannister/Tyrell attack might be delayed just enough for Stannis to take King’s Landing. If he “dies of his wounds” following the Blackwater, then there’s no one around to curtail Joffrey’s insane behavior prior to his death, and it’s quite possible that Cersei has Tyrion executed without trial following the Purple Wedding.
- However, the more tantalizing question is what happens to Arya? Does Arya still get the Faceless Men’s coin if she fulfills the Rule of Three? If not, where does Arya go after the Hound’s “death” – seems like the only option might be the Inn at the Crossroads with Gendry, but does she make it there? Does Jaqen kill her to maintain his cover identity once their arrangement is concluded, or does she get to go on her own way?
Book vs. Show:
Because of a lot of decisions about the timing of Tywin and Robb’s movements, Roose Bolton’s capture of Harrenhal was excised from the show. Now in some ways this makes a lot of sense – Arya’s escape from Harrenhal is dramatically simplified without a need for two climaxes to the same story, you avoid tipping your hand with regard to Roose Bolton’s true nature, etc.
However, I do think something was lost with this decision – namely Roose Bolton’s weirdness. Don’t get me wrong, I think Michael McElhatton has done a splendid job of showing the cool and calculating side of Roose Bolton’s character. However, as a result, compared to Ramsay, Roose Bolton seems a paragon of Machiavellian pragmatism, and that’s not the whole of his character, and it would have been genuinely mind-blowing to show Roose Bolton conquering Harrenhal, and then stripping off and having leeches put all over his body while he makes everyone watch.