“Give me your sword.”
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.
Next to Catelyn III, this chapter is the most important Catelyn chapter in ACOK, and arguably in the entire series as a whole; the character arc and plot companion to Cat III’s critical importance when it came to theme and argument. (It’s also the last Catelyn chapter, which is interesting in that it comes much earlier than the last chapters of the other POVs for no real reason that I could see) It’s also the chapter that focuses almost entirely on what may be Catelyn Stark’s most controversial decision, only rivaled by her decision to arrest Tyrion in Cat V of AGOT. If that decision causes many to blame her for starting the War of Five Kings, it’s this chapter that frequently gets her blamed for the Red Wedding and thus losing the War of Five Kings.
So it’ s important to take some time to make sure one fully understands what this chapter is about.
Depression, Anger, and LSH
In this chapter, we really get the arrival of Catelyn’s depression, which has been wavering in the background especially since the conclusion of her mission to Renly, but now comes in full force. This is probably the most cited aesthetic reason why people say they dislike her chapters, but I think there’s a bit more going on her than lacrimosity for lacrimosity’s sake:
The walls of the keep were thick, yet even so, they could hear the muffled sounds of revelry from the yard outside. Ser Desmond had brought twenty casks up from the cellars, and the smallfolk were celebrating Edmure’s imminent return and Robb’s conquest of the Crag by hoisting horns of nut-brown ale.
I cannot blame them, Catelyn thought. They do not know. And if they did, why should they care? They never knew my sons. Never watched Bran climb with their hearts in their throats, pride and terror so mingled they seemed as one, never heard him laugh, never smiled to see Rickon trying so fiercely to be like his older brothers. She stared at the supper set before her: trout wrapped in bacon, salad of turnip greens and red fennel and sweetgrass, pease and onions and hot bread. Brienne was eating methodically, as if supper were another chore to be accomplished. I am become a sour woman, Catelyn thought. I take no joy in mead nor meat, and song and laughter have become suspicious strangers to me. I am a creature of grief and dust and bitter longings. There is an empty place within me where my heart was once.
However, if we take a step back from the immediate environment of reading the chapter and whether we’re getting that immediate pleasure response, it seems odd that people resent Catelyn’s emotional state. This is a woman who has, in the last year, had her son almost murdered twice, lost her husband, had her daughters taken prisoner, and has now “lost” two of her sons. It is a scenario so cruel that it seems straight out of Greek tragedy – a woman devoted to family who loses her family one-by-one and dies alone and bereft – I’m surprised she retains her sanity for another half a book.
Moreover, in this re-read, I noticed that Cat’s grief is frequently paired with expressions of anger and a desire for revenge that suggests the first tremors of the Lady Stoneheart identity beginning to form:
“I want them all dead, Brienne. Theon Greyjoy first, then Jaime Lannister and Cersei and the Imp, every one, every one.”
…”Ned always said that the man who passes the sentence should swing the blade, though he never took any joy in the duty. But I would, oh, yes.”
Despair and anger are normal stages in the grieving process; what makes me think this might have something to with Lady Stoneheart is Catelyn’s desire to personally inflict vengeance and the pleasure she’ll take from that. And to me, that speaks to why Lady Stoneheart comes back the way she does, because when Catelyn dies at the Red Wedding she dies not only a broken woman but one who dies feeling unfulfilled because the injuries and injustices she suffered were never repaid in her life.
This is why I feel that, whatever might happen in the North and the Riverlands in terms of a rising against the Lannisters, I don’t think making Jon Snow the Lord of Winterfell is part of Lady Stoneheart’s agenda. LSH is ultimately a force of nemesis, not a person who can experience remorse and personal growth – if she could, then her death and rebirth would be far less horrifying, because she’d still fundamentally be Catelyn Stark and not an abomination who “came back wrong.”
Dark Wings, Dark Words
The inciting incident for this spate of depression – and indeed, for her later decision – is a letter with news from home:
“The maester woke me at once. That was dutiful, but not kind. Not kind at all…the bird came from Castle Cerwyn, from Ser Rodrik, my castellan.” Dark wings, dark words. “He has gathered what power he could and is marching on Winterfell, to take the castle back.” How unimportant all that sounded now. “But he said…he wrote…he told me, he…”
Before I get into the emotional significance of what Ser Rodrick wrote, one of the things I noticed on this re-read is that the timing might be quite important for the question of whether Roose Bolton was in on the sack of Winterfell, or whether Ramsay acted on his own initiative. The fact that Ser Rodrick has informed Riverrun of his mobilization suggests that it’s possible that the news might also have made it to the Twins (it’s probably not long enough since Harrenhal fell for the news to be sent directly there, but the Twins would have passed on the message) and thus to Roose Bolton.
If Roose Bolton had known at this time that A. Bran and Rickon are “dead,” and B. that the Stark loyalist presence in the North is gathering in one place and can be potentially wiped out in a single battle, he might well have authorized an attack while moving forward with his Red Wedding plans to finish up on the job. After all, if Roose had gone ahead with the Red Wedding but the sack of Winterfell had not happened, Roose would have had to fight his way into a North being held against him by Ser Rodrick’s army, which would be fighting in the name of the re-discovered Bran and Rickon Stark and likely to gain the support of the Manderlys, the hill clans, et al. And indeed, had the sack not happened, it’s possible the Red Wedding might not have happened at all – Roose is too cautious to strike at his masters without destroying their ability to retaliate, and Walder is too cowardly to strike without overwhelming odds (and someone else to wield the sword).
However, for Catelyn all of this matters naught. The only thing that matters is the blunt horror of what she believes has happened to her children:
“My lady, what is it? Is it some news of your sons?”
“…I have no sons but Robb…”
“Bran and Rickon tried to escape, but were taken at a mill on the Acorn Water. Theon Greyjoy has mounted their heads on the walls of Winterfell. Theon Greyjoy, who ate at my table since he was a boy of ten.” I have said it, gods forgive me. I have said it and made it true.
That line – “I have no sons but Robb” – reminded me immediately on Macduff’s “All my pretty ones? Did you say all?” from Macbeth in how brutal and how, well, stark the revelation of. Moving on, I want to talk about the importance of the story of Bran and Rickon’s “death” getting out. In sharp contrast to the show, which I will talk about at length at the end of the essay, the news works as a direct catalyst for terrible mistakes – both in the case of Catelyn Stark as we see here, but also in Robb’s case off-screen. However, I also want to note the specific way that this tragedy hits home for Catelyn – yes, it’s a case where Catelyn’s ignored advice turns out to have been right, but it’s also a case in which she feels like the rules of the universe, the rules the gods have set down, are been violated with total abandon and absolutely no retribution from on high.
Incest is Wincest: the Jaime Lannister Interview
And so already we jump into Catelyn’s extended discussion with Jaime Lannister – for a critical chapter, there’s really only one thing that happens in this chapter, but that’s so that GRRM can really take his time on this dialogue. For one thing, GRRM knows that he’s going to be introducing Jaime’s POV fairly shortly in ASOS, it’s been most of a book since anyone saw him, and even then he was a raging jackass who the audience had learned to hate, and so if he’s going to make his big villain-to-sympathetic-protagonist arc work he needs to give the new Jaime a preview. Thus the Jaime in this chapter is a lot closer to Milton’s Satan or the standard Byronic Hero – proud and arrogant, but also honest, independent, and sardonic – than the rather shallow, thuggish Blood Knight from AGOT.
However, he starts out being a massive, unrelenting asshole to everyone he encounters in this chapter, because like every other Byronic figure Jaime prefers to alienate people first before they can have a chance to do it to him:
“Are my bracelets heavy enough for you, or did you come to add a few more? I’ll rattle them prettily if you like.”
“You brought this on yourself,” she reminded him. “We granted you the comfort of a tower cell befitting your birth and station. You repaid us by trying to escape.”
“A cell is a cell. Some under Casterly Rock make this one seem a sunlit garden. One day perhaps I’ll show them to you.”
If he is cowed, he hides it well, Catelyn thought. “A man chained hand and foot should keep a more courteous tongue in his mouth, ser. I did not come here to be threatened.”
“No? Then surely it was to have your pleasure of me? It’s said that widows grow weary of their empty beds. We of the Kingsguard vow never to wed, but I suppose I could still service you if that’s what you need. Pour us some of that wine and slip out of that gown and we’ll see if I’m up to it.”
Catelyn stared down at him in revulsion. Was there ever a man as beautiful or as vile as this one?
Thankfully, though, Jaime’s annoying wordplay gives way to something a lot more interesting – a genuinely revelatory conversation in which the two exchange both information and their own personal philosophy.
“There are things I must know.”
“Why should I tell you anything?”
“To save your life.”
“You think I fear death?” That seemed to amuse him.
“You should. Your crimes will have earned you a place of torment in the deepest of the seven hells, if the gods are just.”
“What gods are those, Lady Catelyn? The trees your husband prayed to? How well did they serve him when my sister took his head off?” Jaime gave a chuckle. “If there are gods, why is the world so full of pain and injustice?”
“Because of men like you.”
“There are no men like me. There’s only me.”
Parsing Jaime’s Neizschean self-image takes a bit of work. On the one hand, this kind of recklessness, believing himself to be above the law, above all consequences, is absolutely fitting with Jaime’s character – especially before he loses a battle against Brienne and his sword-hand. On the other hand, I wonder how much of this is Jaime covering, similar to Tyrion’s advice about armoring oneself against the world. As we know, despite the brave face that Tyrion presents to Jon, he is actually incredibly sensitive to the slights that society piles on him. Likewise, I wonder how much of Jaime’s pretense at being an ubermensch is a defensive psychological pose against an unacknowledged inferiority complex – after all, Jaime knows that he lacks his father and brother’s cunning and political skill, and we know from his AFFC chapters that his total losses against Robb Stark (for all that he continually belittles him in this chapter) made him question his abilities as a general. Similarly, while Jaime clearly derives a good deal of comfort from his relationship with Cersei, we also know from his AFFC chapters that he’s very much both the passive partner and the one who is always called upon both to initiate and demonstrate his fidelity, and that this rankles.
One possibility is that Jaime is thinking himself as a peerless swordsman, which we learn in ASOS is central to his self-identity, and which is inextricably linked to his idea of being totally above the rules (see him attacking the Hand of the King in Eddard IX, threatening to kill Robert in Cersei V of AFFC, and his statements later in the chapter about killing half of Winterfell if need be). At the end of the day, Jaime really believes he can kill anyone who tries to enforce them upon him and that makes him truly heedless of all consequences. However, it’s not clear that his skill alone makes him unique among men – after all, Ser Barristan Selmy, the painter who works only in red (a trope from samurai manga that one can see from Samurai Champloo through to Blade of the Immortal) is Jaime’s equal in skill, and like any good professional Jaime has a sense of who his chief competitors might be (as we see in Jaime III of ASOS).
However, given Jaime’s discourse in the rest of the chapter, I lean toward the explanation that Jaime thinks (not entirely differently from Sandor Clegane) that, because of his pariah status, he is the only man who sees through the hypocrisies of society and tells it like it is – Westeros’ answer to Diogenes’ quest. Hence his argument that there are no gods – because if there were, why would they have not smote Aerys – and no justice, because otherwise why would he himself skate through life untouched, and that this means he can do whatever he wants because life is meaningless. It’s an attitude that isn’t surprising from a former child prodigy whose illusions went up in wildfire, but it wears rather thinner on a man in his mid-thirties than on a precocious teenager.
Thankfully, rather than sticking to freshman dorm room philosophy, Jaime takes his truthteller schtick to heart and finally admits what the reader has known for almost two books:
“Are you Joffrey’s father?”
“You would never ask unless you knew the answer.”
“I want it from your own lips.”
He shrugged. “Joffrey is mine. As are the rest of Cersei’s brood, I suppose.”
“You admit to being your sister’s lover?”
“I’ve always loved my sister, and you owe me two answers. Do all my kin still live?…it’s Cersei and Tyrion who concern me. As well as my lord father.”
“They live, all three.” But not long, if the gods are good.
Especially after writing 120-odd essays, there’s an enormous catharsis that comes with a smug, superior, hypocritical Lannister finally telling the truth. And it really could only come from either Jaime or Cersei, because it’s their lie and their belief that their word should never be questioned even when they know they’re lying which has driven so much of the plot for so long. (On an entirely different note, we can also see the signs that there’s something really wrong with Jaime when we see how little he cares about anyone in the world, even family members, who aren’t Cersei, Tyrion, or Tywin, because to Jaime they’re not really people. Notably, Jaime doesn’t give a shit about Joffrey or the rest of his children.) However, the catharsis and truth that Catelyn really wants isn’t the truth that Jon Arryn and Eddard died for, but rather what Jaime did to cover it up:
“How did my son Bran come to fall?”
“I flung him from a window.”
The easy way he said it took her voice away for an instant. If I had a knife, I would kill him now, she thought, until she remembered the girls. Her throat constricted as she said, “You were a knight, sworn to defend the weak and innocent.”
“He was weak enough, but perhaps not so innocent. He was spying on us.”
…”Blame the gods?” she said, incredulous. “Your was the hand that threw him. You meant for him to die.”
His chains chinked softly. “I seldom fling children from towers to improve their health. Yes, I meant for him to die.“
Ever since the publication of A Storm of Swords, Jaime’s fan-favorite status has led to a focus on his redemption arc and how it will come about; something hasn’t quite translated to the screen, in part because his story was so badly handled in Season 4 and 5. However, I’ve never been quite on board with the idea that Jaime’s story is a redemption arc, because he never comes to grips with his attempted murder of Bran Stark.
Here, the supposed only honest man in Westeros obfuscates and dances, blaming the gods and Bran himself before he claims responsibility for the act. However, there is a difference between claiming responsibility and accepting guilt, between saying “I did it” and saying “it was wrong for me to do it,” and Jaime never does the second. Jaime was absolutely a knight “sworn to defend the weak and innocent” when he flung Bran from the tower, and unlike the case of Aerys’ murder there is no King’s Landing to point to justify his act, because unlike Cersei, Jaime doesn’t give a damn about his kids.
My frustration with Jaime’s half-confession has only grown as the books have gone on and on with Jaime wrestling with his kingslaying, his relationship with Cersei, his failure to protect Tyrion, everything but his actions at Winterfell and I don’t think Jaime can redeem himself and go shriven to his end without having done so. My only hope is that, with Brienne leading Jaime to his meeting with Lady Stoneheart, Jaime will have to reckon honestly with what he did to House Stark in a way he didn’t here.
However, I will say that Jaime’s honesty is absolutely refreshing when it comes to the second attempt on Bran’s life:
“And when he did not, you knew your danger was worse than ever, so you gave your catspaw a bag of silver to make certain Bran would never wake.”
…”Did I now?” Jaime lifted his cup and took a long swallow. “I won’t deny we talked of it, but you were with the boy day and night, your maester and Lord Eddard attended him frequently, and there were guards, even those damned direwolves…it would have required cutting my way through half of Winterfell. And why bother, when the boy seemed like to die of his own accord?…I may indeed have shit for honor, I won’t deny it, but I have never yet hired anyone to do my killing. Believe what you will, Lady Stark, but if I had wanted your Bran dead I would have slain him myself.”
Gods be merciful, he’s telling the truth. “If you did not send the killer, your sister did.”
“If so, I’d know. Cersei keeps no secrets from me.”
“Then it was the Imp.”
“Tyrion is as innocent as your Bran…”
Almost a full book after the end of Eddard Stark’s investigation, we’re plunged back into noir detective mode, as Jaime definitively excludes himself, Cersei, and Tyrion from the list of suspects for Bran’s assassination, although for highly ironic reasons. Jaime isn’t the killer because he’s too egotistical to hire an assassin; Cersei isn’t the killer because she’d ask Jaime to do it (although I do think it’s hilarious that Jaime thinks Cersei has no secrets from him when she’s been schtupping Lancel, Osmund Kettleblack, and Moon Boy for all I know); and Tyrion Jaime simply trusts implicitly. What’s irritating however, is that Catelyn does so very little with this information:
“Then why did the assassin have his dagger?”
“…I seem to remember that dagger, now that you describe it. Won it, you say? How?”
“Wagering on you when you tilted against the Knight of Flowers.” Yet when she heard her own words Catelyn knew she had gotten it wrong. “No…was it the other way?”
“Tyrion always backed me in the lists,” Jaime said, “but that day Ser Loras unhorsed me. A mischance, I took the boy too lightly, but no matter. Whatever my brother wagered, he lost…but that dagger did change hands, I recall it now. Robert showed it to me that night at the feast. His Grace loved to salt my wounds, especially when drunk. And when was he not drunk?”
Tyrion Lannister had said much the same thing as they rode through the Mountains of the Moon, Catelyn remembered. She had refused to believe him. Petyr had sworn otherwise, Petyr who had been almost a brother, Petyr who loved her so much he fought a duel for her hand…and yet if Jaime and Tyrion told the same tale, what did that mean? The brothers had not seen each other since departing Winterfell more than a year ago. “Are you trying to deceive me?” Somewhere there was a trap here.
The weird way in which that GRRM allows his mysteries to go unsolved or partly solved – why doesn’t Tyrion look deeper into Littlefinger after the man set him up for death? Why do Jaime and Cersei only realize that Joffrey ordered Bran’s death after Joffrey himself is dead? – is quite frustrating, because especially in this series it leaves the mysteries open long after the people who would care most about the solution are dead. Here, we know that Catelyn’s an intelligent woman and fully capable of two and two together. So why does she repeatedly refuse to believe what the Lannister brothers are independently telling her; why repeatedly refuse to believe that Littlefinger might have lied to her? My only explanation is that Catelyn subconsciously realizes the truth, but can’t bring herself to admit that she’s been betrayed by someone she trusts so implicitly and has thus been made a catspaw in the destruction of her family.
My only hope in this particular line is that, following his political undoing at Sansa’s hands, Littlefinger flees to the Riverlands where he finds Lady Stoneheart. Littlefinger confesses his eternal love for Catelyn, and she pays him back by eating his brain. But I don’t put good odds on the latter part of this scenario.
Speaking of revelations, here’s where we get a huge chunk of Jaime’s backstory and learn how the heir to Casterly Rock became the Kingslayer:
“How can you still count yourself a knight, when you have forsaken every vow you ever swore?”
Jaime reached for the flagon to refill his cup. “So many vows…they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.” He took a healthy swallow of wine and closed his eyes for an instant, leaning his head back against the patch of nitre on the wall. “I was the youngest man ever to wear the white cloak.”
“And the youngest to betray all it stood for, Kingslayer.”
“Kingslayer…and such a king he was!…did your Ned ever tell you the manner of his father’s death? Or his brother…”
Jaime poured the last half cup of wine…”The pyromancers roasted Lord Rickard slowly, banking and fanning that fire carefully to get a nice even heat. His cloak caught first, and then his surcoat, and soon he wore nothing but metal and ashes. Next he would start to cook, Aerys promised…unless his son could free him. Brandon tried, but the more he struggled, the tighter the cord constricted around his throat. In the end he strangled himself.”
“As for Lord Rickard, the steel of his breastplate turned cherry-red before the end, and his gold melted off his spurs and dripped down into the fire. I stood at the foot of the Iron Throne in my white armor and white cloak, filling my head with thoughts of Cersei. After, Gerold Hightower himself took me aside and said to me, ‘You swore a vow to guard the king, not to judge him.’ That was the White Bull, loyal to the end and a better man than me, all agree.”
“…The Starks were nothing to me. I will say, I think it passing odd that I am loved by one for a kindness I never did, and reviled by so many for my finest act.”
This is a hugely important (and long) piece of backstory, which I had to cut down substantially but which is worth reading in full, and there’s several important things to unpack here:
First, there’s the topic of Aerys’ execution of Rickard and Brandon Stark, as well as the Arryns, Royces, and Mallisters who are too often forgotten victims, and what it meant for Robert’s Rebellion. As I’ve discussed in some detail on Tumblr, this act was an egregious violation of the feudal social contract. As we’ve seen, one of the key aspects of that arrangement was the lord’s offer of protection and justice in return for service. Aerys wantonly violated the right to trial by combat, one of the oldest rights of the nobility honored by both the First Men and the Andals, the Old and New Gods alike, and in so doing threatened every single nobleman in Westeros with the same fate should the king’s eye fall on them next – for if a Lord Paramount could be murdered, what lord is safe?
However, his actions went beyond that – the Mallisters and Royces serve the Tullys and the Arryns respectively because their liege lords swear to protect them; if the King can murder bannermen at will without any response from their Lord Paramount, why should any lesser House agree to do any service to a Great House? And finally, Aerys then orders Jon Arryn (a man whose heir he’s just murdered) to violate guest right and fosterage by murdering Eddard and Robert. It is sometimes said that Charles I caused his own death by repeatedly and unnecessarily antagonizing virtually every member of the political class of England to the point where nothing but his death would resolve the Civil Wars. The same can be true of Aerys II, who couldn’t stop undermining the fundamental customs that underlie social and political order.
Second, I want to talk about the vows of knighthood and the Kingsguard. In this speech, both in the “so many vows” section and the Gerold Hightower section, we see that Jaime clearly ran up against the problem that so many knights and Kingsguard have faced and couldn’t reconcile his oath to protect the weak and innocent with his oath to obey the king, and ultimately came to the conclusion that the ideal of knighthood he had aspired to his whole life was false and impossible to realize. Indeed, given the blatant hypocrisy of Gerold Hightower’s position (which we’ll see Jonothor Darry shared), Jaime ultimately concluded that it was better to be an honest kingslayer than a false knight.
However, I do want to take issue with the idea that the Kingsguard were bound to stand by and watch helpless people be tortured. Where I disagree with Ser Gerold and Ser Jon is that I would argue that, since every member of the Kingsguard, as far as I can tell, had already sworn the oath of knighthood before they swore the kingsguard oath, that first oath limited their freedom to swear any further oath to the king upon joining the kingsguard. We could think of this as akin to the principle of precedent (i.e, that a previous decision binds future courts) or the original meaning of a conflict of interests (i.e, that a previous interest might interfere with a subsequent duty), before that term entered into the general lexicon. Here, I think the example of Aemon Dragonknight is instructive – far from blindly obeying Aegon IV, this greatest of knights repeatedly clashed with the king when the king acted in ways that were dishonorable or that threatened the code of knighthood. If Aemon Dragonknight could take up arms against the king’s champion in a trial by combat and still be called the best Kingsguard who ever lived, then surely Jaime could have upheld his oath by acting in the best interests of the monarchy even if it required acting against the command of the specific monarch.
Third, let’s talk about what all of this has to do with Jaime’s self-image. Jaime’s statement that “I am loved by one for a kindness I never did, and reviled by so many for my finest act” fits perfectly into his Byronic self-image, that he stands above the crowd and unjustly is scorned by the masses despite actually being the bad boy they think he is. Of course, Jaime doesn’t bother to tell anyone why he killed King Aerys, because like a moody teenager who totally doesn’t care what people think of him while actually totes caring about what people think of him, which makes the whole thing a bit of a self-inflicted injury. However, as I have said, I don’t entirely buy this rather flattering portrait, because as I said earlier, Jaime threw a child out of a window and that’s not his “finest act.”
Why Did Catelyn Set Jaime Free, and What Were the Consequences
So now that we’ve finally gotten Jaime’s confession and tragic backstory out of the way, let’s discuss why Catelyn Stark decides to set Jaime Lannister free after listening to all that. When it comes to motive, Catelyn is rather explicit in that she tells us (or rather we overhear her talking to Hoster) why she does it:
“I keep remembering the Stark words. Winter has come, Father. For me. For me. Robb must fight the Greyjoys now as well as the Lannisters, and for what? For a gold hat and an iron chair? Surely the land has bled enough. I want my girls back, I want Robb to lay down his sword and pick some homely daughter of Walder Frey to make him happy and give him sons. I want Bran and Rickon back, I want…” Catelyn hung her head. “I want,” she said once more, and then her words were gone.
This is far removed from Cat’s careful politicking in the beginning of ACOK, and it’s driven by a desire to restore a loss that cannot be restored. And the desperation makes this a profoundly personal decision, rather than as a deliberate anti-war action as in her speech at the end of AGOT or a deliberately feminist statement akin to her argument to Robb in Cat I of ACOK. When Catelyn speaks of her “wants,” she’s using the definition of “to want” as “to desire” but also “to lack.” Catelyn is simply done, exhausted, she “wants” the passion necessary to carry on the fight, and she wants the loss to stop no matter what the consequences. And I question whether any of her accusers would fare better than she does, put into her position.
However, I do think Catelyn can be critiqued, not on what she decides to do, but how she decides to do it. As we’ve seen throughout this book, prisoner exchange is a delicate negotiation which requires both sides to work out terms through an exchange of written proposals until there’s buy-in from both sides, and it tends to work best when there’s a simultaneous exchange. By sending Jaime back without an explicit commitment from Cersei and Tywin, Catelyn has no way of knowing whether Jaime and Tyrion can actually speak for the whole of House Lannister. By sending Jaime back before Sansa and Arya are sent, the Lannisters have every incentive to renege on the deal once they get what they want. And worst of all, by not getting buy-in from the Lannister bannermen and Robb and his bannermen, Catelyn makes it impossible for this exchange to end the war as she wants. Instead, Robb’s bannermen will feel aggrieved and the Westerlords will feel emboldened because they can now go on the attack without fear of reprisal.
Even if freeing Sansa and Arya were Catelyn’s only objective, she went about it in the worst way possible.
However, and this is important, Catelyn is (probably) not to blame for the Red Wedding. After all, Roose Bolton married Fat Walda two chapters ago, which I consider to be a sign that the Freys and Boltons have come to terms on the Red Wedding. Roose has taken Harrenhal, which now means he has independent means of communicating with both Walder and Tywin. In the very next Arya chapter, Roose will give the orders to send his own men to their doom at Duskendale, which as I’ll explain in Arya X is a key shaping operation for the Red Wedding. Moreover, as we’ve now learned from the expanded Westerlands section, Tywin doesn’t necessarily hold back when his kin are taken captive.
In the end, as I’ll explain in ASOS, what Catelyn’s objectives did was to prevent the War of Five Kings from ending for the North in any kind of acceptable fashion.
Speaking of the Mad King…one of the historical problems that attended medieval civil wars is that, while the winning side was usually quite adamant that they were in charge now, there was a general incentive for both sides to agree that an anointed king is chosen by God and can’t be summarily removed, and that people’s oaths to a king should remain ironclad. While loyalists’ support for the divine right of kings is easier to understand, the rebels also had an incentive not to destabilize the new regime by suggesting that this king could be replaced like the last one.
This tends to leave inconvenient deposed monarchs hanging around, who need to be dealt with somehow. Edward II, overthrown by his wife and her paramour, was murdered in Berkeley Castle on their orders (although the story that he was killed by a hot poker to the rectum is probably a posthumous slander referring to his homosexuality rather than actual fact) so that Edward III could become king. Richard II, even after being defeated by Henry Bolingbroke, posed something of a difficulty for the new Lancastrian regime, as famously depicted in Shakespeare’s play:
Richard II was put into Pontefract Castle, where he was slowly starved to death – the idea being that this didn’t actually offer violence to a royal personage.
The next royal monarch who had to be dealt with was Henry VI who, as readers of this blog know, went through repeated bouts of catatonia and was taken prisoner and retaken a number of times. Given the difficulty of leaving him alive, since even as a mad king he was a rallying cry for the Lancastrian cause, Edward IV had him quietly killed in the Tower of London, although Thomas More put the blame on Richard III because why not. And as I’ve described, the Kingmaker and George of Clarence never learned that lesson, because despite taking Edward IV prisoner, they weren’t able to take over the government permanently and were thrown out of power the moment Edward escaped.
Thus, I think Jaime could find consolation in the fact that Aerys would have had to die – a point that I feel some Robert’s Rebellion fanfics ignore when they chart alternate histories. Regardless of whether Robert had lived or died or who was in charge, the rebels were never going to let Aerys stay on the Throne or let a Targaryen remain on the Iron Throne – having rebelled against the Targaryens in the past, a future Targaryen monarch could mean death for the Northern Alliance. However, Jaime might indeed have changed Westerosi history by preventing Aerys II from being the first king to be put on trial and sentenced to death by the lords of Westeros…
There’s really only one hypothetical in this chapter, and you know it:
- Jaime not freed? As I suggested above, this is something of an iffy case, as we don’t quite know how Tywin would proceed, and it’s been long enough since I read ASOS that I know I’ve forgotten some stuff. However, one thing that did come to mind is that, given the way that Robb reacts when he comes back to Riverrun at the outset of ASOS, he might well have been willing to trade Jaime for a long-term truce with the Lannisters. Not a peace exactly, and certainly not a surrender, but something akin to how I originally interpreted his terms about the prisoner exchange – that he would send Jaime back after an interval that was successfully peaceable. Now it’s quite possible that Tywin would have felt that, with the Tyrells on his side, Stannis defeated, and Winterfell sacked, he had the Starks over a barrel, and would have refused. However, given his “when they go to their knees…you must help them back to their feet,” attitude, Tywin might have been willing to let the Starks weaken themselves further by fighting the Ironborn for him.
Book vs. Show:
So I’ve had more than my fair share of problems with Catelyn and Robb’s Stark plotline in Season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, but one of the most puzzling artistic decisions that Benioff and Weiss made was to have both Robb and Catelyn not know whether Bran and Rickon were dead. And unlike in other cases where budgetary considerations might have required the excision of a battle or some characters, this is an entirely self-created problem – Benioff and Weiss were the ones who okayed a scene of Theon’s men killing all the ravens in Winterfell, which makes no sense for reasons I’ll get into in Theon V. Indeed, it’s something they double down on in Season 3 when they have Roose report that Bran and Rickon are missing when Winterfell is retaken.
I don’t understand what the advantage is of ambiguity – if Catelyn and Robb learned that Bran and Rickon had been killed, their grief might help sway some of the viewers into believing that was the case, and the emotional intensity would help to explain why Catelyn frees Jaime and why Robb marries Talisa Maegyr. As it stands, both Catelyn and Robb’s actions seem to happen with insufficient motivation, which makes them seem more stupid and less desperate with the lack of emotional context.
Likewise, I think it’s strange that the show sets up a clear threat to Jaime’s well-being following his attempted escape, which you’d think would actually give Catelyn a justification for her actions, and yet never brings that up again and has Robb throw her into house arrest starting in Season 3, Episode 1. It weirdly undercuts the seriousness of what she does and yet doesn’t.