Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya X, ACOK

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“I am a direwolf, and done with wooden teeth.”

“It is wolves I mean to hunt. I can scarcely sleep at night for the howling.”

Synopsis: Following the capture of Harrenhal, Arya sits in on a planning meeting with Roose Bolton and decides to get the hell out of there.

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:

For my money, Arya X is the best character arc-ending chapter in the book, and may well be the best Arya chapter in ACOK. On this re-read especially, I found myself astonished at how much work this chapter has to do. This one chapter contains the totality of Arya’s interactions with Roose Bolton (which I had quite forgotten, because their relationship seems to be so much longer in duration in my memory). This chapter is also the major setup chapter for the Red Wedding (at least from Roose Bolton and the Freys’ side). And in addition, this chapter also has to get Arya out of Harrenhal and set up her ASOS plot arc, while providing a satisfying conclusion for her thematic arc in ACOK.

The (Strange) Fruits of Her Labors

The chapter begins with a brutal subversion of Arya’s big moment from last chapter. Arya helped to capture Harrenhal for the Starks (even if Vargo Hoat was going to sell it out anyway), and this is the result of her work:

Tothmure had been sent to the axe for dispatching birds to Casterly Rock and King’s Landing the night Harrenhal had fallen, Lucan the armorer for making weapons for the Lannisters, Goodwife Harra for telling Lady Whent’s household to serve them, the steward for giving Lord Tywin the keys to the treasure vault. The cook was spared (some said because he’d made the weasel soup), but stocks were hammered together for pretty Pia and the other women who’d shared their favors with Lannister soldiers. Stripped and shaved, they were left in the middle ward beside the bear pit, free for the use of any man who wanted them.

Three Frey men-at-arms were using them that morning as Arya went to the well. She tried not to look, but she could hear the men laughing. The pail was very heavy once full. She was turning to bring it back to Kingspyre when Goodwife Amabel seized her arm. The water went sloshing over the side onto Amabel’s legs. “You did that on purpose,” the woman screeched.

These hideous reprisal killings and rapes are, to me, the thematic beginning of A Storm of Swords. Well before Jaime and Brienne stumble across the tavern wenches who “lay with lions,” well before Arya encounters the Brotherhood Without Banners, here we see in full detail how the war in the Riverlands has become a war of all-against-all that saves its worst for the hapless smallfolk caught in the crossfire between Stark and Lannister, and the worst of the worst for women. And this horror is being carried out by Stark bannermen, after two books where we have thought of the Starks as the unambiguous good guys.  And as with “they lay with lions,” there is a brutal illogic to these war crimes – neither Tothmure, Lucan, Harra, or any of the others had much choice in whether they would serve the Lannisters, any more than the survivors had a choice to serve the Boltons and the Brave Companions (as we’ll see later).

Arya’s responsibility for these war crimes gets called out immediately:

“See there?” Amabel pointed across the yard at Pia. “When this northman falls you’ll be where she is.”

“Let me go.” She tried to wrench free, but Amabel only tightened her fingers.

“He will fall too, Harrenhal pulls them all down in the end. Lord Tywin’s won now, he’ll be marching back with all his power, and then it will be his turn to punish the disloyal. And don’t think he won’t know what you did!” The old woman laughed. “I may have a turn at you myself. Harra had an old broom, I’ll save it for you. The handle’s cracked and splintery—”

“…You think you’re safe with that little bloody man on your teat, but you’re not! The Lannisters are coming! See what happens when they get here.”

Amabel’s sadism, penchant for threats of sexual violence, and vaguely Lovecraftian allegiance to the Lannisters doesn’t make her the best advocate for this argument, but it is interesting to see how quickly news of the Battle of Blackwater has spread both geographically and down the class ladder. Gendry, on the other hand, makes a far better lawyer for the prosecution:

… “Admiring your work?” he asked.

He was angry because he’d liked Lucan, she knew, but it still wasn’t fair. “It’s Steelshanks Walton’s work,” she said defensively. “And the Mummers, and Lord Bolton.”

“And who gave us all them? You and your weasel soup.”

Arya punched his arm. “It was just hot broth. You hated Ser Amory too.”

“I hate this lot worse. Ser Amory was fighting for his lord, but the Mummers are sellswords and turncloaks. Half of them can’t even speak the Common Tongue. Septon Utt likes little boys, Qyburn does black magic, and your friend Biter eats people.”

The worst thing was, she couldn’t even say he was wrong. The Brave Companions did most of the foraging for Harrenhal, and Roose Bolton had given them the task of rooting out Lannisters. Vargo Hoat had divided them into four bands, to visit as many villages as possible. He led the largest group himself, and gave the others to his most trusted captains. She had heard Rorge laughing over Lord Vargo’s way of finding traitors. All he did was return to places he had visited before under Lord Tywin’s banner and seize those who had helped him.

Gendry strikes right at the heart of the issue – Arya acted as a partisan of House Stark, assuming the same moral superiority of her side that we the readers have, up until this point. And the result was that Harrenhal fell, not to Robett Glover or Smalljon Umber, but Roose Bolton, who in turn has given the run of the place to the Bloody Mummers. And in this speech, Gendry points out that the Bloody Mummers are hyperbolically evil on both an individual level – Utt’s a pedophile, Qyburn is Westeros’ answer to Joseph Mengele, and Biter’s a damn cannibal (reading that sentence, I really wonder…how did Gendry know this? Pure rumor, or did Biter eat someone in the fallout of the capture of Harrenhal?) – and a collective level.

I’ve written a bit before about the incredible brutality of the Thirty Years War, how the great powers of Europe carried out a holy war in Germany through parallel efforts at brutalizing anyone deemed of being of the wrong religion. But this aspect of it, with mercenary armies switching sides and using their knowledge of the civilians who collaborated with them (out of a desperate desire to survive) to punish them, could come straight out of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage. Just as religion created a Catch-22 for civilians during the Thirty Years War – remain a staunch Catholic or Lutheran and you’ll be massacred if an army from the opposing side comes through, convert and your former side will massacre you as a traitor and heretic – the people of the Riverlands are caught between the Starks and the Lannisters. Remaining loyal to their local liege lords and the Starks means you get killed by the Mountain, serve the Lannisters to save yourself from the Bloody Mummers and they’ll murder you anyway.

Roose and the Freys

From here we move on to the one viewpoint we get on the interaction between Roose Bolton and the Freys. As I’ll argue in just a minute, I think that this chapter shows that the Red Wedding and the Freys’ betrayal was in the works  well before the news of Robb Stark marrying Jeyne Westerling made it to the Twins.

We start with something fairly innocuous, a literal comedy of errors where Elmer Frey and Arya Stark meet their intended betrothed without realizing it. Elmer, to be frank, is something of a doofus: he’s a mooch, he’s lazy, he’s a braggart, a bit of a snob, and a total wuss when it comes to leeches (then again, who isn’t?):

Elmar could be friendly when he needed help, but afterward he would always remember that he was a squire and she was only a serving girl. He liked to boast how he was the son of the Lord of the Crossing, not a nephew or a bastard or a grandson but a trueborn son, and on account of that he was going to marry a princess.

Arya didn’t care about his precious princess, and didn’t like him giving her commands. “I have to bring m’lord water for his basin. He’s in his bedchamber being leeched. Not the regular black leeches but the big pale ones.”

Speaking of leeches,  this chapter is where we get a whole side of Roose Bolton that the show simply never attempted to portray, in one of the weirdest introductory images of a major villain that I can remember. Roose Bolton controls the room completely in an amazing display of total vulnerability turned on its head; at the same time, it’s an almost LBJ-like power play because he’s literally making the whole room crowd in close and stare at his naked body:

The lord’s bedchamber was crowded when she entered. Qyburn was in attendance, and dour Walton in his mail shirt and greaves, plus a dozen Freys, all brothers, half brothers, and cousins. Roose Bolton lay abed, naked. Leeches clung to the inside of his arms and legs and dotted his pallid chest, long translucent things that turned a glistening pink as they fed. Bolton paid them no more mind than he did Arya.

…Roose Bolton’s voice was so soft that men had to strain to hear it, so his chambers were always strangely hushed.

GRRM structures this scene like a slow reveal in a horror movie, increasingly adding more and more unsettling details without ever letting you see the movie monster. We start with the out of place imagery of Roose Bolton holding a council of war buck-naked, but then add on top of that the not-quite-right fact that it’s only the Freys in the room. In what’s putatively a gathering of Robb Stark’s forces, we have no Glovers, no Tallharts, no Cerwyns, no Karstarks, no Manderlys, only Roose Bolton and the Freys. From a Watsonian perspective, this lends evidence to the fact that the Dreadfort and the Twins are already an alliance on their own who naturally want to operate outside of the sight of loyal men; from a Doylist perspective, this allows GRRM to bring the individual Freys into focus so that we start to know the men who are going to become some of the biggest recurring villains of the series.

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The Origins of the Red Wedding: Roose Bolton’s Strategic Situation

The next unsettling detail is that Ser Aenys Frey tells us that the strategic situation has changed markedly for the worse, despite the fact that they’ve just captured both the biggest castle in the Riverlands and the lone Lannister stronghold in this theater of war:

“We must not allow Lord Tywin to trap us here at Harrenhal,” Ser Aenys Frey was saying as Arya filled the washbasin. A grey stooped giant of a man with watery red eyes and huge gnarled hands, Ser Aenys had brought fifteen hundred Frey swords south to Harrenhal, yet it often seemed as if he were helpless to command even his own brothers. “The castle is so large it requires an army to hold it, and once surrounded we cannot feed an army. Nor can we hope to lay in sufficient supplies. The country is ash, the villages given over to wolves, the harvest burnt or stolen. Autumn is on us, yet there is no food in store and none being planted. We live on forage, and if the Lannisters deny that to us, we will be down to rats and shoe leather in a moon’s turn.”

“I do not mean to be besieged here…”

“What, then?” demanded Ser Jared Frey…

“Lord Tywin is many leagues from here,” Bolton said calmly. “He has many matters yet to settle at King’s Landing. He will not march on Harrenhal for some time.”

Ser Aenys shook his head stubbornly. “You do not know the Lannisters as we do, my lord. King Stannis thought that Lord Tywin was a thousand leagues away as well, and it undid him.”

The pale man in the bed smiled faintly as the leeches nursed of his blood. “I am not a man to be undone, ser.”

On the one hand, it’s interesting that we’re already seeing the completely burned-out Riverlands of ASOS and AFFC (which is, ironically, mostly due to Roose Bolton not closing the door after Tywin following his retreat from the Green Fork). But on the other hand, there’s something not quite right about the strategic logic here – after all, it’s not that long since Tywin Lannister was somehow able to feed twice as many men through foraging and he didn’t have the resources of the part of the Riverlands protected by the Trident. The same supply problems that would apply to Roose Bolton would apply even more so to any army Tywin would send to Harrenhal, since their supply lines would have to stretch all the way down past King’s Landing to the Reach.

So Roose Bolton is quite right in his mysterious confidence. On a re-read, we know that Tywin is going to be far too busy planning weddings to march his entire force out of King’s Landing. At the same time, we also know that Roose is right not so much because of his superior ability to judge what his opponent will do, but rather because Roose is communicating with Tywin in preparation for the Red Wedding and knows exactly what the Lannisters are going to do.

Origins of the Red Wedding: Frey Motivations

However, the Freys’ terror at the thought of Tywin Lannister doesn’t stop at the supply situation:

“Even if Riverrun marshals all its strength and the Young Wolf wins back from the west, how can we hope to match the numbers Lord Tywin can send against us? When he comes, he will come with far more power than he commanded on the Green Fork. Highgarden has joined itself to Joffrey’s cause, I remind you!”

“…I have been Lord Tywin’s captive once,” said Ser Hosteen, a husky man with a square face who was said to be the strongest of the Freys. “I have no wish to enjoy Lannister hospitality again.”

Ser Harys Haigh, who was a Frey on his mother’s side, nodded vigorously. “If Lord Tywin could defeat a seasoned man like Stannis Baratheon, what chance will our boy king have against him?” He looked round to his brothers and cousins for support, and several of them muttered agreement.

“Someone must have the courage to say it,” Ser Hosteen said. “The war is lost. King Robb must be made to see that…He has lost the north…He has lost Winterfell!… King Robb must make his peace with the Lannisters. He must put off his crown and bend the knee, little as he may like it.”

Again, this is somewhat odd from a military situation. We’ve been told that Robb’s 40,000 men wasn’t enough to put Harrenhal under siege, so if “Highgarden has joined itself to Joffrey’s cause,” then it makes a lot more sense to hold Harrenhal and use its defensive multiplier to hold down Robb’s eastern flank and force Tywin and the Tyrells to tie down valuable men and resources putting it under siege, creating an opening for Robb to attack where those men are not and potentially defeat his enemies in detail. Certainly Roose’s 10,000 men would stand a better chance behind the walls of Harrenhal than they would in the open field against the same numbers. And yet here is Aenys, Hosteen, and Harys once again telling Roose to abandon the castle.

Where it does make sense is on a political level. The Freys see that 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 think Robb Stark is a lost cause. Hence their sworn king and relative to be changes already from the “Young Wolf” to “our boy king” who “has lost the north.” And the timing for this is important – this scene takes place before news arrives from the Crag that Robb has married Jeyne Westerling and broken his oath to the Freys, and already we have the Freys looking for any excuse to get out of the Stark camp. As I have argued before, and as GRRM’s own statements have proved, the Freys were going to betray Robb Stark no matter what he did, and here we see clear evidence of a pressing motive.

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Origins of the Red Wedding: The Battle of Duskendale

But what about Roose Bolton; where is the evidence that he had switched sides before Robb’s marriage was known? Well, here we have even stronger evidence in the form of the orders he gives right in this meeting:

“I will send a letter of my own…to Ser Helman Tallhart…Tell him to put the captives to the sword and the castle to the torch, by command of the king. Then he is to join forces with Robett Glover and strike east toward Duskendale. Those are rich lands, and hardly touched by the fighting. It is time they had a taste. Glover has lost a castle, and Tallhart a son. Let them take their vengeance on Duskendale.”

As we’ll see in ASOS, the Battle of Duskendale is a key precondition for the outside portion of the Red Wedding. Between Roose Bolton and the Freys, they only have 7,500 men compared to 10,000 loyalists (the 3,500 men Robb brought to the Wedding, plus the 6,500 men lost as Duskendale and the Ruby Ford). Thus, in order for Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to get away with their treason, they need to reduce the loyalist faction of the Northern army to a small enough number that victory is certain. And the only way to do that is if Roose Bolton sends a raven to Tywin Lannister informing him exactly where and when the Northern infantry will be marching. Because it’s not enough for the North to suffer an ordinary defeat – thousands of casualties have to be inflicted before the Red Wedding math works out, and that in turn requires a lopsided victory on the part of the Tyrell/Lannister alliance, which in turn means the necessary intelligence needed to set up an ambush.

Hence, Roose and Tywin have to be already in the process of working out a deal, because this is going several steps beyond what he did at the Green Fork and Roose Bolton is far too cautious a man to commit high treason without getting a firm commitment on Tywin’s part that he’ll have a ship to jump to. At the Green Fork, all Roose did was incompetently carry out the orders he was given – here, Roose is engaging in independent action by ordering his men to carry out a new offensive, all of this supposedly “by command of the king.” As we’ll see in ASOS, this potentially exposes Roose to accusations of treason when he links back up with the King in the North – hence the need to draw on the fact that “Glover has lost a castle, and Tallhart a son” to concoct a cover story that Robett and Helman acted without orders. And this too requires Roose to arrange for a total defeat at Duskendale, because if either man makes it back to the rendezvous with their king, they will contradict his story immediately. All of this is to say that, like Eddard Stark’s demise in AGOT, the Red Wedding has a lot of dominoes that have to fall exactly right in order to bring down Robb and Catelyn Stark.

And if you need any further evidence that Roose Bolton has decided to betray the Starks, consider that the moment this strategy meeting ends, his first item on his to do list is:

“It is wolves I mean to hunt. I can scarcely sleep at night for the howling.” Bolton buckled on his belt, adjusting the hang of sword and dagger. “It’s said that direwolves once roamed the north in great packs of a hundred or more, and feared neither man nor mammoth, but that was long ago and in another land…”

Roose Bolton hunting down House Stark’s spirit animal. Not exactly subtle.

Arya Gets Some News

Moving on, Arya X also gives us a moment of intersection between character arcs that will become increasingly rare in ASOIAF – although as I’ve discussed elsewhere, I think we can see in ADWD a sense of narrative gravity forming around Winterfell and King’s Landing and beginning to draw character arcs towards one of the those two poles. Here, we see Arya getting news about what Robb Stark has been doing off-page:

“My princess,” he sobbed. “We’ve been dishonored, Aenys says. There was a bird from the Twins. My lord father says I’ll need to marry someone else, or be a septon.”

A stupid princess, she thought, that’s nothing to cry over. “My brothers might be dead,” she confided.

Elmar gave her a scornful look. “No one cares about a serving girl’s brothers.”

This is an interesting move – GRRM essentially spoiling the big reveal of Catelyn II of ASOS – but it’s kept just vague enough that you only really catch it on a re-read. At the same time, this scene is a darker parallel to Arya’s first encounter with her onetime fiancé, with the specter of the Red Wedding hovering over Elmar and Arya’s argument. Indeed, I think you could even go so far as to say that Arya’s inadvertent wish for her own death could be a preview of Arya’s own fake-out “death” in Arya XI of ASOS; while she doesn’t physically die at the Twins, there’s a strong argument that a good bit of her identity as a Stark and blood relative of the King in the North does end there.

At the same time, Elmar’s grief is meant to appear selfish, childish, and inconsequential in comparison to Arya’s as she learns that:

For a moment Arya forgot to breathe. Dead? Bran and Rickon, dead? What does he mean? What does he mean about Winterfell, Joffrey could never take Winterfell, never, Robb would never let him. Then she remembered that Robb was not at Winterfell. He was away in the west, and Bran was crippled, and Rickon only four. It took all her strength to remain still and silent, the way Syrio Forel had taught her, to stand there like a stick of furniture. She felt tears gathering in her eyes, and willed them away. It’s not true, it can’t be true, it’s just some Lannister lie.

This is the second time that Arya has lost family members to a violent death (or at least so she believes), and it won’t be the last. And while the news is false, it also probably won’t be the last time that she’ll get a much-exaggerated report of the murder of kin, and the emotional impact is real enough to act as a necessary kick in the pants to get Arya to make up her mind to leave Harrenhal.

Arya’s Choice

Before Arya can leave Harrenhal’s orbit, however, she has to make a larger decision as to where her destiny will take her, which is intertwined with the larger question of who she wants to be:

Sometimes she wished she had gone off across the narrow sea with Jaqen H’ghar. She still had the stupid coin he’d given her, a piece of iron no larger than a penny and rusted along the rim. One side had writing on it, queer words she could not read. The other showed a man’s head, but so worn that all his features had rubbed off. He said it was of great value, but that was probably a lie too, like his name and even his face. That made her so angry that she threw the coin away, but after an hour she got to feeling bad and went and found it again, even though it wasn’t worth anything.

…A large ragged sheepskin was tossed across the papers. Arya had started to roll it up when the colors caught her eye: the blue of lakes and rivers, the red dots where castles and cities could be found, the green of woods. She spread it out instead. THE LANDS OF THE TRIDENT, said the ornate script beneath the map. The drawing showed everything from the Neck to the Blackwater Rush. There’s Harrenhal at the top of the big lake, she realized, but where’s Riverrun? Then she saw. It’s not so far . . .

…If I had wings I could fly back to Winterfell and see for myself. And if it was true, I’d just fly away, fly up past the moon and the shining stars, and see all the things in Old Nan’s stories, dragons and sea monsters and the Titan of Braavos, and maybe I wouldn’t ever fly back unless I wanted to.

For all that people think of Arya’s time at the House of Black and White is often seen by the fans as an identity-erasing false direction that’s standing in between Arya and her destiny in Westeros, it’s important to note that Arya has a really strong strong connection to the coin and what it promises, and that her go-to Plan B is to go to Braavos, long before the events of the Red Wedding. So it’s a real choice – does Arya decide to go backwards or go forwards, embrace her identity as part of a family or seek out new interests that could define her as a unique individual?

Ultimately, as we’ll see a bit later on, Arya will make the decision that she’s a Stark and her destiny is Winterfell. However, GRRM’s plan for Arya is for her to go to Braavos, so the path she chooses here to go to Winterfell by way of Riverrun has to be obliterated by the Red Wedding. Which raises an interesting question: is GRRM making this a false choice, which I would normally call out as bad writing because it tends to invalidate character development, or is it an intensification of the thwarted-destiny thread in the Starks’ storylines which is necessary to justify Arya’s transition into a ruthless assassin?

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Well, if there’s any doubt that GRRM thinks this is an important moment, we get a literal Deus Ex Machina moment, where Arya drops to her knees in the godswood and appeals to the gods on high to give her a sign:

“Tell me what to do, you gods,” she prayed.

For a long moment there was no sound but the wind and the water and the creak of leaf and limb. And then, far far off, beyond the godswood and the haunted towers and the immense stone walls of Harrenhal, from somewhere out in the world, came the long lonely howl of a wolf. Gooseprickles rose on Arya’s skin, and for an instant she felt dizzy. Then, so faintly, it seemed as if she heard her father’s voice. “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” he said.

“But there is no pack,” she whispered to the weirwood. Bran and Rickon were dead, the Lannisters had Sansa, Jon had gone to the Wall. “I’m not even me now, I’m Nan.”

“You are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you.”

“The wolf blood.” Arya remembered now. “I’ll be as strong as Robb. I said I would.” She took a deep breath, then lifted the broomstick in both hands and brought it down across her knee. It broke with a loud crack, and she threw the pieces aside. I am a direwolf, and done with wooden teeth.

I’m surprised that this moment isn’t something that the ASOIAF fandom doesn’t make a bigger deal about; yes, we’ve seen Arya hear voices before, but in that case she only heard things that she heard before and it could be argued that she was remembering. Here, there’s a mix of memory and genuinely new statements, seemingly coming straight from a ghost (and while GRRM has had a number of supernatural elements in his story, I don’t think we’ve ever had a ghost appearing while someone was awake). On the other hand, given the description of the event – “for a long moment there was no sound but the wind and the water and the creak of leaf and limb. And then, far far off…from somewhere out in the world, came the long lonely howl of a wolf” – I wonder if this is another case of time-travelling Bran using his greenseer powers to direct his family members to where they need to go in order to get the skills they need for the final battle.

Regardless of who’s behind this moment and whether or not GRRM invalidated this choice, this is a big moment for Arya’s character arc. Breaking the wooden sword is a pretty militant statement that Arya is putting away childish things, and certainly I would argue that a good deal of Arya’s innocence has been burnt away during her time at Harrenhal. Going forward, Arya’s degree of violence is only going to grow, even before her ambition to reunite with her family (and thus her childhood) is brutally invalidated by the Red Wedding, which supposedly leads Arya down a dark path.

Arya’s Great Escape

Speaking of which, in this chapter Arya conceives of and executes an escape from Harrenhal in a more organized, thought-out, and frankly adult fashion than she thought up the capture of Harrenhal. However, in the process we see a moment of Arya’s potential for more ambiguity that goes along with espionage and prison escape stories, where moral compromises are a key part of the genre. Take for example the way that Arya gets Gendry to go along with her plot:

“They’ll do you worse. Lord Bolton is giving Harrenhal to the Bloody Mummers, he told me so.”

Gendry pushed black hair out of his eyes. “So?”

She looked right at him, fearless. “So when Vargo Hoat’s the lord, he’s going to cut off the feet of all the servants to keep them from running away. The smiths too… We’ll need bread or oakcakes or something. You get the swords and I’ll do the horses. We’ll meet near the postern in the east wall, behind the Tower of Ghosts. No one ever comes there.”

While Arya is mixing the truth in with this story (Roose Bolton is giving Harrenhal to Vargo Hoat, supposedly to cover his rear when he marches to the Twins but really to try to dodge the curse) she’s also lying to Gendry, using her modest amount of social privilege as Roose’s cupbearer to exert influence over him. Now, Arya is more right than she knows – Vargo Hoat’s tenure as Lord of Harrenhal will end with death, mutilation, and degradation for pretty much everyone who remains in the castle, as Jaime finds out in AFFC – but that ultimately comes down to dramatic irony rather than Arya lying for a good cause.

At the same time, though, it’s impressive how Arya judo-flips the new power hierarchy to aid in the planning of her escape:

“Lord Bolton requires three horses saddled and bridled…Lord Bolton is not in the habit of being questioned by servants…”

Leading the horses across the castle was the worst part. She stayed in the shadow of the curtain wall whenever she could, so the sentries walking their rounds on the ramparts above would have needed to look almost straight down to see her. And if they do, what of it? I’m my lord’s own cupbearer.

When I say that GRRM isn’t a nihilist and makes the lows lower to make the highs higher, this is the sort of thing I’m pointing to. Roose’s own system of merciless authoritarianism is directly responsible for this prison break, because in any other scenario people would exercise their individual autonomy to second-guess why a bunch of children are requisitioning supplies. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that compared to the last time the trio went wandering by themselves, Arya’s instincts for how to use her surroundings have been honed dramatically – almost the moment she sees the map in Roose’s quarters she’s got a comprehensive strategy that involves intelligence, logistics, transportation, and weaponry.

 At the same time, though, there s a price to be paid for success:

She made no effort to hide, but approached the guard openly, as if Lord Bolton himself had sent her. He watched her come, curious as to what might bring a page here at this black hour. When she got closer, she saw that he was a northman, very tall and thin, huddled in a ragged fur cloak. That was bad. She might have been able to trick a Frey or one of the Brave Companions, but the Dreadfort men had served Roose Bolton their whole life, and they knew him better than she did. If I tell him I am Arya Stark and command him to stand aside…No, she dare not. He was a northman, but not a Winterfell man. He belonged to Roose Bolton.

…She could see the gleam of steel under the fur, and she did not know if she was strong enough to drive the point of the dagger through chainmail. His throat, it must be his throat, but he’s too tall, I’ll never reach it. For a moment she did not know what to say. For a moment she was a little girl again, and scared, and the rain on her face felt like tears.

“He told me to give all his guards a silver piece, for their good service.” The words seemed to come out of nowhere…Her fingers dug down beneath her tunic and came out clutching the coin Jaqen had given her. In the dark the iron could pass for tarnished silver. She held it out…and let it slip through her fingers.

Cursing her softly, the man went to a knee to grope for the coin in the dirt, and there was his neck right in front of her. Arya slid her dagger out and drew it across his throat, as smooth as summer silk. His blood covered her hands in a hot gush and he tried to shout but there was blood in his mouth as well.

“Valar morghulis,” she whispered as he died.

Throughout the Arya chapters in ACOK, I’ve charted her moral development, because understanding how we get from a child sword fighting with a broomstick to the protagonist of “Mercy” hinges on seeing the moments of transition that justify that profound a transformation. And this is one of the more profound moments – in order to effect her escape, Arya commits a cold-blooded pre-meditated murder, one not justified by appeal to any larger cause. Indeed, her recognition that the guard is a Northman and that, in some way, her killing of him is a betrayal of House Stark’s cause (or at least its responsibility to protect its bannermen), making this a major loss of innocence. (Hence why GRRM emphasizes her size and feeling like a child in the moment.)

At the same time, we can also see from hindsight that this is a momentous moment for her relationship with the Faceless Men – long before Arya makes it to the House of Black and White, she uses their coin to kill and their words to justify her actions.

Historical Analysis:

I’m going to save the discussion of the Thirty Years War for when Arya makes it to the Brotherhood Without Banners in ASOS because it’s a tad more apropos then, so today our topic of historical analysis is leeches – although first we have to discuss the four humors. The theory of the four humors is probably one of the oldest in the history of medicine: its medical formation dates back all the way back to Hippocrates of the famous oath in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, the physician Galen wrote a book about it in the 2nd century CE, the Persian scholar Avicenna believed in it, and it was influential in medical circles into the 19th century when it was overtaken by germ theory and the study of the cell. The basic idea is that human bodies contain four fundamental fluids – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm – and that diseases and disorders stem from an imbalance of one of these fluids.

The four humors, as explained by Cracked.com. According to this chart, Roose suffers from Michaelangelo-Miranda-Daphne-Elaine-George Harrison-Thing Syndrome.

It all gets very complicated – a lot of these theories thought the fluids corresponded with the classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water, as well as hot/cold and dry/wet modalities – but the medical logic was straightforward. Figure out which of the humors is in deficit or excess, and either supplement it or drain it off. And that’s where we come to leeches. Excess blood was believed to cause inflammation, fever, headaches, and apoplexy (as well as overconfidence and dreaminess), so to treat those conditions, leeches were an alternative to the messy business of blood-letting.

And the medical community were not messing around – much as in the description in this chapter, leeches were prescribed by the dozens (some doctors recommended a minimum of 50 a session), because fainting due to blood loss was seen as a sign that the treatment was working.  This supported a very healthy leech-production industry, so that by the 1830s, France was importing 40 million leeches annually (for a population of only 30 million people). Which is good news for Chett’s father, as long as the Citadel doesn’t throw up a Pierre-Charles-Alexandre Louis.

What If?

There’s not a lot of different hypotheticals in this chapter, given that the chapter focuses largely around one major decision by Arya, but there are a couple different ways this could play out:

  • Arya goes straight for Braavos? Here, the main difference for Arya is that she never meets up with the Brotherhood Without Banners or Sandor Clegane, and is spared the near-miss at the Red Wedding that puts her in a state of profound depression. In addition, Arya gets a four month jump on her training compared to OTL. However, to me the more profound change is what happens to everyone else – it’s likely that Gendry and Hot Pie don’t end up at the Inn at the Crossroads, and Sandor Clegane likely never “dies” and doesn’t wind up at the Quiet Isle. Finally, with less time spent in the Riverlands, it’s possible that Brienne never gets on Arya’s trail and instead focuses all of her efforts on Sansa, more like in the show.
  • Arya doesn’t leave Harrenhal? This may well be the darkest timeline. The most likely scenario is that Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie die horribly when the Mountain sacks Harrenhal, and that’s if they’re lucky. However, it’s possible that this means that Arya is recognized by Jaime Lannister and Brienne when they arrive in Harrenhal, which might mean that Brienne doesn’t stick around King’s Landing and instead heads straight for Riverrun with Arya, so maybe Arya ends up escaping along with the Blackfish bound for the Brotherhood Without Banners after all?

Book vs. Show:

Arya’s arc in Season 2 of Game of Thrones leaves me very conflicted about adaptational choices. On the one hand, I wouldn’t trade Maisie Williams’ scenes with Charles Dance for the world, and I can see why Benioff and Weiss considered it more important to build up Tywin Lannister’s character in the season immediately proceeding the Red Wedding. Moreover, I have to admit that the visual image of the Lannister guards pinned in place as Arya crept out of Harrenhal, steeling her nerves as she did so, was quite powerful and has stayed with me ever since. (I can also appreciate that Arya’s transformation probably worked better as a more gradual process, as too much repetition of depressed horror can be numbing – hence moving her coin/murder scene to Season 4)

On the other hand, these decisions are not without cost. Most profoundly, the character of Roose Bolton has been sheared of much of his weirdness. In the show, he’s a relentlessly pragmatic and level-headed villain, almost bloodless in his calculation of interest. What you miss is his profound if quiet strangeness – his belief that the darker desires of humanity (which he clearly has – hence his siring of Ramsay) can be leeched out of the human body, his dissociative relationship with everyone around him including his own progeny and the future of his northern dynasty, and the strange associations he has to the occult (I didn’t mention the book-burning in the main text, which I think is meant to remain a mystery). Certainly, I don’t think a show-only watcher would have ever come up with something as unhinged as the Bolt-On theory. (Incidentally – if Roose was a vampire, why would he be trying to get rid of blood? Unless he was a reverse vampire…)

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183 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya X, ACOK

  1. winnief says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. Love your comparisons to the 30 years war and how both sides are guilty of brutality.

    I agree that this chapter makes very, VERY clear the Freys and Boltons were both planning treason before Robb’s marriage. Why some people still argue this even after hearing Word of God on it seems very strange.

    Agree to disagree on Bolton. The leeches were certainly…a visceral element but Book Style Roose would have been WAY too over the top on screen and It would have spoiled the RW for viewers only. Thanks to McElhattan’s soft voice and cold, cold creepy eyes Roose is still incredibly unnerving…its just much more subtle. And frankly it’s more interesting and tragic if House Stark (who I’m convinced are central to defeating the Others) were brought down without any interference from inhuman creatures but by greedy, spiteful, vicious, and short sighted humans.

    • Grant says:

      It’s an easy and simple argument, helped by show-only watchers.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, I don’t know if viewers would have been able to reconcile McElhattan’s cold pragmatism with full frontal male nudity and leeches. But I would have liked it!

    • Crystal says:

      I agree that the Bolton/Frey betrayal alliance was already in place by the time news of Robb’s marriage to Jeyne Westerling was received. I think the catalyst was Theon’s sacking Winterfell – Robb became The King Who Lost The North then. Roose says as much to Theon in ADWD, “the Starks were done and doomed the night you took Winterfell” and saying Theon is the reason Roose is the Warden of the North.

      If Robb had held up his agreement to marry Roslin, the poor girl would still have been used as bait, just on Robb and not Edmure.

      Robb’s fatal mistake was in sending Theon to Pyke. Yes, Balon would have rebelled anyway, but, without Theon to take Winterfell, the Northerners would have easily crushed the Ironborn and poor ol’ Balon /sarcasm would have been left with a big fistful of nothing. Winterfell would be intact, Robb would not be the King Who Lost The North, and Roose wouldn’t have had his grand opportunity to make his move.

      • Grant says:

        Robb never expected Theon, the guy who was raised by him as a brother, to abruptly betray him and join his father on an idiotic revanchist war. Indeed, without knowledge of Balon’s personality you’d have good reason to think he’d be more willing to ally with Robb than anyone else. So maybe it was a mistake, but it was one that many would probably make.

        Also Winterfell didn’t doom the Stark cause so much as it was a big problem at the same time as the overpowering Lannister-Tyrell alliance. After Stannis lost the battle for King’s Landing, even if Roose and the Freys had stayed loyal Robb couldn’t have won the war against the Lannisters.

        • LadyKnitsALot says:

          “Robb never expected Theon, the guy who was raised by him as a brother, to abruptly betray him and join his father on an idiotic revanchist war. ”

          Robb is as naive as Sansa – he should have listened to his mother. Theon never forgot he was a hostage. I don’t think Theon went to Pyke intending to betray Robb, that happened on the fly when he was desperate to please his father. But it was so naive of Robb not to send someone with Theon, someone senior who would be able to prevent Theon’s dented pride from throwing in with the squids.

          • Grant says:

            Theon was actively fighting for Robb and the two regularly acted as brothers. Robb could certainly have sent a lord with Theon, but I don’t think he really had a lot of reason to think that Theon would abruptly turn on him. Would you expect the man who’s spent most of his life laughing, fighting, eating and playing with you, who might be reckless but has still really fought hard for you, to betray you and harm your cause? Theon himself didn’t seem to have any thoughts like that until his father revealed his idiotic plan. His narration mentions that he’d hoped to marry Sansa or Arya.

            As for Catelyn, she does have some good political points but she’s also had some misses as well (like Jon). So she’s a source of advice to listen to, not one to treat as perfect any more than some fans like to view her as useless.

          • LadyKnitsALot says:

            Cat is definitely very paranoid (her treatment of Jon comes to mind) but in this case her paranoia was justified.

            Robb thought of Theon as a brother, and forgot that Theon was in fact a hostage to his father’s good behaviour. Balon was the guy who launched an independence bid that was quashed by Robert and Co less than 10 years before Robb is sending Theon back to Pyke to be an envoy.

            I don’t think, and am not suggesting, that Theon went to Pyke intending to betray Robb. We know from his internal monologue that he didn’t. But we also know from his behaviour so far in the story that Theon acts before thinking things through, is emotional and impulsive, and has a chip on his shoulder about being a hostage. Robb should have sent someone senior with him, someone like the Blackfish – loyal to Robb and able to talk sense into Theon.

          • Even if Robb trusted Theon, he should have realized that he couldn’t trust Balon, that Theon may not have such a sway over his father, that Theon would be in a tough spot if he had to choose between his biological family and Robb.

          • LadyKnitsALot says:

            Absolutely.

      • Steven Xue says:

        While I agree that Walder and the Freys would have still betrayed Robb even if he stuck to his betrothal agreement. The thing is I doubt they would have done anything as horrendous as the Red Wedding. Walder is a smart guy he would know the implications of breaking guest rights and how it would affect his family’s standing.

        I for one believe the Red Wedding was a combination of being slighted so gravely by Robb (after all this is a man who cherishes his slights), as well as the fact that he was fighting a losing cause and he feared what Tywin Lannister would to him and his family if they lose.

        Also to pull something as universally disgraceful as the Red Wedding Walder would have to convince his entire family to take part in it. I doubt he would have found too many volunteers if Robb honored the bargain he made with their family. But because Robb reneged on their deal, Walder was thus able to persuade virtually his entire family to commit sacrilege in order to avenge their family’s honor because no doubt all of them would have felt equally spurned by the ‘boy king’.

        • Sure, the form would have been different – I’m guessing everyone gets captured so that Walder can claim he didn’t hurt any guests. But the macro-political substance would have been the same.

          • Steven Xue says:

            I always thought that if Robb did honor his oath the, Freys would have offed him some other way. Tywin did initially wanted Robb to die by a stray arrow, I’m sure the Freys could have arranged that. As long as Robb was out of the equation then his side could have sued for peace, Walder may still have gotten good marriages with the Starks and that would have been that.

          • Space Oddity says:

            When Tywin insists that he wanted Robb offed by a stray arrow, it is the psychopathic monster talking from behind his usual insincere “rational Machiavellian” mask. He wanted Robb dead, he wanted it horrible, and he wanted afterwards to officially wash his hands of it, and insist “not what I wanted”.

          • Andrew says:

            Yep, the whole “a thousand dying in battle v.s. a few dozen at dinner” blatantly ignores the fact that THOUSANDS died at the Red Wedding- the loss of Robb’s army was at least as important as the death of Robb et al- but for whatever reason (hint- he’s a raging hypocritical manchild governed by rage and spite a la Joffrey) Tywin only counts the soldiers for the battle.

            And Tyrion doesn’t call him on it.

            The funny thing is, even here with the supposed equivalence of the Starks and the Lannisters (or perhaps more generally the smallfolks’ indifference to their conflict) ignores the fact that Bolton himself is not in any way a Stark man and would ultimately end up betraying them. For all that the various players either ignore the smallfolk or discount them the northern clans in ADWD show that Ned v.s. Roose is definitely a difference that the “smallfolk” have as well.

            Even The Prince tells us that the love of the people is the strongest wall and foundation one can build a regime upon.

          • “The funny thing is, even here with the supposed equivalence of the Starks and the Lannisters (or perhaps more generally the smallfolks’ indifference to their conflict) ignores the fact that Bolton himself is not in any way a Stark man and would ultimately end up betraying them. For all that the various players either ignore the smallfolk or discount them the northern clans in ADWD show that Ned v.s. Roose is definitely a difference that the “smallfolk” have as well.”

            Yes, and that’s why the supposed equivalence doesn’t work, especially in hindsight. It’s also my one big problem with ACOK: I’ve never liked the fact that Robb disappears after the first Catelyn chapter and is only talked about in most of the book. This always felt like a cop-out: the suffering of the smallfolk in war is a big theme, maybe *the* big theme of ACOK, and certainly of its Riverlands portions; and GRRM needed this false equivalence for his theme to work, but he never actually showed Robb Stark ordering or condoning atrocities such as Tywin and Roose do; however, at the same time, we don’t see Robb condemning them or trying to prevent them or punishing them (the way that we later hear Stannis is gelding rapists in his army). We simply don’t see Robb’s campaign up close at all – he is in the Westerlands, far away, and we know that he does the plundering, but we have no idea if his army is allowed to rape, torture and kill civilians, and if not, what is Robb’s policy about his soldiers doing those things. This is why I think GRRM is right that he really should have had Robb as a POV – or if not, because of his ‘kings have no POV’ rule, he should have given Dacey Mormont or someone else close to him a POV. Not to take away any of Catelyn’s POV and marginalize her as the show has done – definitely not that! – but to show what Robb was doing when he was far away from his mother and therefore did things “off screen”.

      • LadyKnitsALot says:

        I really need to do a re-read or ten. I had always attributed the Freys’ disloyalty to Robb down to Lord Walder’s dented pride, but had also seen Roose Bolton’s disloyalty from here. How did I miss the Frey connection? Derp.

        Great analysis.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      I agree but it would be great if Roose could use leeches in Season 6.

    • I’m pretty sure that Roose is 100% human, and anything else is just crackpot, just as much as any ideas about Daario being Benjen or Euron or whoever.

      Other than that, I agree. McElhatton was great as Roose and quietly scary. It worked really well on screen. At least until the show writing made him really OOC in season 5 and also gave him a back seat in favor of his son.

  2. Keith B says:

    Escaping is a very risky move (as we see in her first ASOS chapter), especially since Gendry and Hot Pie can’t ride as well as she can. It looks like the least bad option, though. Goodwife Amabel reminded her that she’s in extreme danger when the Lannisters return, and when Roose Bolton tells her he’s turning over the castle to Vargo Hoat, she know she’s in danger even before that. She probably remembers Rorge’s threat from a previous chapter. She doesn’t know that Gregor will kill everyone except Ben Blackthumb, Pia, and the cook, but she does see what’s happened to the people who helped the Lannisters when Roose and Vargo took over.

    It’s interesting that she’s able to get Gendry and Hot Pie to follow her, even though she’s younger, smaller, and a girl. The Brotherhood has no trouble identifying her as the leader rather than Gendry, even before they know who she is.

    • Winnief says:

      Good catch about Arya being the obvious leader somehow. Kinda like how Nymeria becomes the Alpha of the wolf pack in the Riverlands, a deliberate echo I think.

      Also, yeah it is important that we have Ned’s voice urging Arya to rejoin her ‘pack’ as it were. We haven’t gotten anything like that on the show yet, but Season 6 might be about to change that.

      • Keith B says:

        Except that she-wolves often lead wolf packs, and Nymeria is far larger and stronger than any of the others.

        • Winnief says:

          Obviously, Arya is more an outlier than Nymeria, but I think there’s some similarity in the roles they occupy. If you asked Gendry and Hot Pie, WHY they followed Arya they’d be at a loss but they do. (And for what its worth female leaders in Westeros are NOT unheard of either-look at the original Nymeria!) And I wouldn’t be surprised if Arya finds herself leading another pack of sorts if/when she gets back from Braavos.

          • Keith B says:

            Female leaders certainly aren’t unheard of, either in Westeros or on Earth, but more common among wolves than humans. Primates and canines both have dominance hierarchies, but they aren’t quite the same.

          • Winnief says:

            True. Though it’s worth noting that bonobos, (who are the most sexually active of the apes,) have a matriarchal society.

      • Given that we’re seeing blind Arya and that’s a big moment for her re her pack, I’m holding out some hope.

    • And I just checked, Vargo Hoat does chop some people’s feet off, so she’s not horribly wrong.

  3. David Hunt says:

    Great posting here. Just amazing. I had forgotten how much stuff seems to happen in this chapter. I wonder if it’s because Arya has more freedom of movement above the castle more free time now that she’s been made Roose’s cupbearer. She’s getting some of the news with less iterations of great game of Telephone that determines the news the smallfolk get.

    Also, given that Roose is chewing up the scenery in this chapter, I figure this is a good time to mention something that you’ve probably read and/or sussed out yourself. Poor Quentyn recently stated a major piece of evidence that Ramsay took and burned Winterfell on Roose’s orders instead of his own initiative. Ramsay knew to find and caputre the Frey boys alive. I expect that Ramsay knows about his father’s marriage to Fat Walda, but I find it difficult to envision him being able to do the moral and/or political processing to care about their lives without prodding from Roose. Something to consider when you get around to when you do Theon VI.

    • Winnief says:

      I think Ramsay slew Rodrik and took control of Winterfell on Roose’s orders for sure, (and Roose no doubt warned him to keep the Frey boys alive,) but setting WF ablaze was I think Ramsay’s own idea, since Roose wouldn’t want to have to go through the trouble of rebuilding his future seat especially with winter coming. That I think, was just another indication of Ramsay’s ‘scorched earth’ tactics which are quickly becoming a MAJOR liability for House Bolton.

      Also want to add in how much I LOVED Arya/Tywin in Season 2. Maisie Williams and Charles Dance were pure magic together, and it really did help Tywin’s character development with him reminiscing how his father’s weakness nearly destroyed their house and that great meeting scene where he banishes a guy for daring to ask for a break. You just KNOW that Tywin Lannister is the sort of person to pull all nighters all the time and keep on plugging expecting everybody else to do the same. Useful because while Tywin is definitely a Baddie, he’s a very different kind of baddie to Joffrey or the Bolton’s-there’s no sadism there just an icy cold ruthlessness and (false) believe that compassion and honor are weakness while brutality and cruelty are strength. Weirdly enough in that scene when they’re about to torture Gendry you’re actually *relieved* that Tywin shows up, (which is usually the last reaction you have to him,) because that kind of *senseless* horror is something that Tywin wouldn’t stand for because it’s so impractical as he immediately points out. Which is why of all the Lannister’s, (or any other HUMAN characters in the series) Tywin was really the only one who seemed like a worthy, plausible antagonist to Dany and the only one of the baddies whose reaction to something like the White Walkers would have been really interesting to see. Joffrey, Walder, Roose, and Ramsay are even more hateful but they don’t even seem *worth* my hatred sometimes-you just want them dead and gone, while Tywin was the only one you kinda wanted to see the whole thing play out for before his inevitable defeat.

      • David Hunt says:

        Oh Tywin isn’t above cruelty for cruelty’s sake when his pride’s been wounded. I’m reminded of his utter humiliation of his father’s mistresss, and I think that what happened to Elia Martell is exactly what he wanted to happen whether he gave Gregor explicit orders or not.

        But in general, yes Tywin is a very utilitarian plotter. It’s a good part of what built his legacy on a foundation of sand. His comment that “you can’t buy food with love” is wrong on so many levels. First, you almost literally can buy food with love. If someone loves you, they’ll feed you. But his willful disregard for any of the social norms (rules of war, guest right, etc) have made sure that his works won’t outlive him by more than…three years?

        • Winnief says:

          Yeah, I think I what I really *wanted* was for Tywin to live long enough to see his tactics backfire, (with the Northern rebellion for instance,) or even better watch his whole worldview collapse with the arrival of the Others.

          By definition that was a problem which couldn’t be solved via brutality and back alley deals. As one person put it Tywin was always going to be a loss there since the Night’s King doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to be intimidated by battle atrocities, or to agree to attend a peace meeting unarmed. And he might have even been forced to make common cause with his natural rivals like Jon and Dany.

          • Captain Splendid says:

            Ahh, the curse of strong, interesting, well-written secondary characters. They’re really only there to serve the protagonist’s plot and growth. RIP Tywin.

          • Personally, I was delighted that Tywin got the ending he did. He doesn’t deserve to go in a big heroic way against Dany or the Others. He deserved to die while sitting on a privy, shot in the gut by his son for a horrific and cruel thing he did to him and a lowborn girl, shit himself while dying, and have his dead body stench up the place. “In the end, Lord Tywin Lannister did not shit gold” was the perfect last line of the chapter that showed his death.

          • Andrew says:

            That last line about Tywin not shitting gold basically says his policy and method wasn’t “gold” or perfect.

        • Space Oddity says:

          Yep.Tywin is a vicious bastard–the thing is much like Roose he understands being a vicious bastard can be a problem, and so tries to make sure that when he does something vicious, either the target’s in no position to strike back (his father’s mistress), or he has plausible deniability that he was actually responsible for said viciousness (Princess Elia).

          • Winnief says:

            Hell even for the RW he had the Frey’s do the dirty work for him. Funny, though, how the normally cautious Walder, failed to realize how bad the backlash for that ONE would be. At least Roose, knew damn well he’d be hated by all his neighbors, (he was just betting they couldn’t do anything about it,) but the Frey’s actually seemed surprised to learn everyone in Westeros, (including the Lannister’s) now held them in complete contempt and that it was open season on anyone wearing the Twins insignia.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Walder’s not as cautious as he likes people to believe, and is a stupid git at the bottom of it to boot. In this case, the combination of Robb’s jilting them, and the chance to “get back” at Hoster Tully through his kids was too much for Lord Weasel to resist.

          • Andrew says:

            The Freys remind me of the Galactic Empire. Tarkin destroyed Alderaan, a peaceful unarmed planet, believing the act would inspire loyalty through fear to the Empire. Frey likely believed the same with the RW, in which he killed unarmed guests, with sending the message of “don’t mess with House Frey” a la “The Rains of Castamere.”

            Of course, the Rebel Alliance got more support as a result of Tarkin’s decision as the act of destroying Alderaan generally didn’t strike fear into the galaxy but anger. Frey didn’t strike fear into the hearts of Westeros for the RW, but revulsion and anger with people of the riverlands aiding the Brotherhood without Banners against the Freys.

          • Punning Pundit says:

            Destroying the Arquitens-class light cruiser over Ryloth didn’t hurt the Rebel cause either.

            I do wonder: had the Rebellion lost at the Battle of Yavin, would the Imperials have been seen as invincible, and Tarkin’s plan have been vindicated?

      • Agree that the burning was Ramsay, especially since Roose goes through so much work to fix up the damn place.

        • winnief says:

          Precisely. And he has to do it with the winter snows and Stannis’s army on the way.

        • Andrew says:

          And he wasn’t able to use the glass gardens he would have otherwise needed to feed the castle. That he didn’t repair due to lack of available workmen skilled in glass making.

    • That has a VERY prominent place in my outline for Theon VI. No way in hell Ramsay keeps two children alive without being told to.

      • David Hunt says:

        I figured. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I hadn’t thought of it until PQ mentioned it. I’m not a good measure for these sorts of things as I often miss things that any little bit of thought can reveal, but I knew you’d written a fair amount about the uncertainty of how much Roose had betrayed the Straks at various points so I knew you’d want to hear about that on the off chance it had escaped you.

      • Keith B says:

        I’m looking forward to it. But there’s a problem with Ramsay acting under Roose’s orders. Maybe you can address it. The problem is that, from the time Rodrik Cassel captured Ramsay until he returned to the Dreadfort to get the troops to attack Winterfell, Roose didn’t know Ramsay was alive. Nobody did.

        When Ramsay got back to the Dreadfort, he may have learned that Roose had married Walda and was currently at Harrenhal. So he could have sent a raven to Harrenhal asking for orders. But why would he do that? Ramsay is in a hurry. He has already made up his mind what to do, and he needs to get back to Winterfell as soon as possible because he doesn’t know when Rodrik will return. He can’t afford to wait a week or however long it takes to exchange messages. What’s more, he’s not the kind of person to ask for orders. He has plenty of initiative. Why ask his father what to do when he already knows what he wants to do?

        So I don’t think Ramsay was acting under direct orders. He probably figured out that, if Roose had married a Frey, he probably wouldn’t want her relatives killed. Especially since one was her brother.

        • Milk Steak says:

          I’m sure the Dreadfort’s master had the instructions froom Roose and would have given them to another captain if Ramsey hadn’t come back. I doubt Roose didn’t leave some back up in case his bastard screwed up

          • Keith B says:

            You think Roose left orders with whoever was in charge at the Dreadfort to attack Winterfell but spare the Freys? But the attack was Ramsay’s plan to start with, and it developed from knowledge of what was happening that only he possessed.

          • John says:

            Yeah, I don’t see how this possibly works. I really cannot see how the logistics works for Roose having anything to do with Ramsay’s attack on Winterfell. Certainly rather out of character that he’d spare the Frey boys on his own, even with the knowledge that they’re his father’s relations now, but “rather out of character” works better for me than “logistically impossible.”

  4. Noseflower says:

    That’s Lennon, not Harrison. Great analysis, as always!

  5. Ethan says:

    As regards Gendry’s knowledge of Biter’s cannibalism, iirc Biter chews the finger of a dead lannister jailer immediately after the jailbreak.

  6. thatrabidpotato says:

    I’m surprised by how negatively you treat the killing of the guard. It’s ugly, certainly, but look again at the quote you posted. Arya goes down the list of other options before decides on killing him. She doesn’t just whack him for the jollies, she tries to avoid bloodshed before she realizes that there is no other way if she wants to get out of Harrenhal.
    And she has to get out of Harrenhal. Even leaving hindsight out of it, she knows the Bloody Mummers are going to be left in charge. Can you imagine any scenario where leaving three children in the hands of Rorge, Utt, and buddies is going to end well?

    • Andrew says:

      This exactly. Roose Bolton himself is talking about getting out of dodge, and the whole incident with the washerwoman is making it explicitly clear to her that she’s got a big target on her back if she’s still there when the Lions return.

      It’s very important that every one of Arya’s kills before she joins the League of- I mean, the Faceless Men- are a life-and-death situation; it’s only after she gets training that she starts doing vigilante wetwork. Her time in the Riverlands drills it into her head over and over again that she needs to be sneaky and underhanded and ruthless in order to SURVIVE, that she can’t rely on anyone- not her friends, not her family, not her supposed allies- to save her.

      I would in fact argue that ALL of the prisoners would be justified in killing the guards to escape. Bolton may not be as outright horrid as Tywin was (or maybe he would have been) but that doesn’t change the fact that the laborers here are basically slaves.

      This is part of GRRM’s modus operandi- Batman would have gotten past without killing anyone, but Arya, a tiny, malnourished child? Her only choice is to do a stealth kill.

      Arya’s whole arc is about rebellion against oppressive authority figures, from the Septa to Joffrey at the Trident to Tywin in the Riverlands. GRRM is forcing us to question whether we value peace or justice more- whether we are willing to cheer for a violent uprising against a genuinely broken social system. In that sense the Faceless Men, and Braavos itself, are merely the next step in that journey.

      Her willingness to get down and dirty- to accept both the hard truths and the hard work- reminds me of Ned, after a fashion, and is in stark contrast with Littlefinger’s “keep your hands clean” motif. Notably Varys also does some of his own killing… but that’s an unrelated tangent.

    • David Hunt says:

      What’s negative about it is that a ten year old girl is committing cold-blooded murder. Highborn boys might be made squires at that age and some of them would have seen battle at that age, and some small number of them would have actually managed to kill someone in battle. But that’s not what Arya did here. She’s already killed men in battle.

      I’ll readily concede that killing the guard was the logical choice when you look at without sentimentality or moral baggage…but that’s part of the point. To escape Harrenhal, Arya has to compromise some of the morals that she considers part of her identity. An important part. And yes, she did consider other methods of getting past the guard, but she quickly arrived at “murder him.” Also, she clearly knew that this was a real possibility before she goes out to the postern gate. I think that she knew it might come to that the moment she decided that she was taking Gendry and Hot Pie instead of escaping alone.

      • Keith B says:

        You can’t put her in one situation after another where it’s just, proper and/or necessary to kill people, as the author does, and then say that she’s morally compromised by doing so. There’s nothing in the book that indicates she had any way of escaping other than killing the guard. If GRRM is trying to show that she’s being morally compromised, he’s going about it the wrong way. If she were losing her sense of morality, she would have Amabel killed, but she immediately rejects the idea of doing so.

        That she’s ten years old isn’t relevant. There’s no adult authority she can appeal to. The adults are evil or helpless. She can’t report Septon Utt, or Raff, or the Ticker, to the police. There aren’t any. She can’t hand Dareon over to her father for punishment. It’s all on her. Batman doesn’t kill people, but even he has Commissioner Gordon. There’s still law in Gotham City, as there is not in Westeros.

        • David Hunt says:

          I’m not saying her murder of the guard wasn’t justified, but I am saying that it WAS murder. You’re correct that Arya was in situation where her options were very limited. They boil down to stay at Harrenhal and try to survive Vargo’s “enlightened” ideas of rulership. or make an escape attempt. That escape attempt had a real chance of her having to murder someone to get out and she damn well knew it.

          I’m not saying that she made the wrong choice. Given what we know about Hoat and Bolton now, I’d say she might well have chosen the only path that got her out of there alive. But executing a deliberate murder is different than killing someone in battle. If you can’t see that, I don’t think we have any basis of continued conversation. She might have needed to do that, but it’s still a major (and sad) thing that she did do it. If I may be allowed an attempt at aphorism, the killing may have been justified, but it wasn’t just. The poor guy was just doing his job in good faith and a someone in the uniform of his own lord cut his throat.

          Plus, the fact that she’s ten damn well is relevant. You’re correct that she’d got no trustworthy adult authority to appeal to, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s a kid being force to deal with adult decisions that she is poorly prepared to make. There’s a long well thought out rant about child soldiers and development ages that I’m not smart, eloquent or informed enough to make, so I’ll just say that Arya is still a young girl being forced to make adult decision that she shouldn’t have to make and it’s going to hurt in ways that she may never recover from.

        • Salvation122 says:

          The fact that she killed the guard isn’t what shows that she’s morally compromised. It’s that she finds killing the guard so completely unremarkable that she’s nonplussed when Hot Pie is taken aback by it.

      • Andrew says:

        Her choice is either do nothing and wait to be raped and brutally murdered or to escape. She can’t trust Bolton (and he threatened to maim her if she dared ask heach take her with him), she can’t appeal to a guard, she has only herself.

        What, pray tell, is the “moral” choice here? Wait around to die? Do you condemn soldiers for killing in battle as well, because they have about the same amount of choice as Arya does.
        Arya at this point is a child and a refugee. She is almost entirely lacking in agency or freedom or safety and it is utterly ridiculous to hold her actions against her here.

        • David Hunt says:

          I’m not sure Ayra does have a “moral” choice available to her. All her options are bad. That doesn’t chance the fact that option that she did deliberately choose included the cold blooded murder of a man. I’m not saying that this was wrong, but murdering someone is different than killing someone in battle. There’s the justification of eminent danger plus there’s tje whole social structure of Westeros that defines moral action in battle.

          Here she’s committing an act that her society considers a heinous crime. It’s going to have effect on her character going forward.

      • Andrew says:

        Her choice is either do nothing and wait to be raped and brutally murdered or to escape. She can’t trust Bolton (and he threatened to maim her if she dared ask heach take her with him), she can’t appeal to a guard, she has only herself.

        What, pray tell, is the “moral” choice here? Wait around to die? Do you condemn soldiers for killing in battle? They have more agency and culpability here.

        This isn’t “cold blooded murder.” This is kill or be killed, the lawlessness of a kingdom at war.

      • ^ This. Arya isn’t killing wantonly or needlessly, it’s very much pursuing her self-interest to do so. But it’s still a departure.

        • Wat Barleycorn says:

          Whether her killing was moral/justified (I agree it was) isn’t the point; the point is that killing people is fucking taboo, and she just blows through it like it’s not. She doesn’t let moral considerations–on an intellectual or visceral level–move her to a second-best plan like appealing to the guard as a Northman or trying to intimidate him by name-dropping Roose. She isn’t hurting the guard inadvertently in a rage, she isn’t psyching herself up, she isn’t being talked into it, she’s not full of adrenaline and confusion and terror. She’s just like, “Ya know, to get past that guard, it makes the most sense to kill him. I’m at a big disadvantage when it comes to that. Oh, here’s a plan that’s got me walking up to him in plain sight, staying cool and keeping it together, and then pulling off an incredibly intimate murder in a very tiny window of opportunity. So, yeah, that’s what I’ll do.”

          Compare her Harrenhal escape to her bumbling, lucky escape from the Red Keep & King’s Landing. She is a very different character now, and her escape is possible because she can murder without compunction. Most people who do something so deeply transgressive (um, especially as children) do it because they are profoundly messed-up human beings. Arya just does it because she (correctly) sees it as her best chance for survival. I do think this is when we should really start to worry about Arya. At what point does “ah, just kill him” become her go-to problem-solving tool? And is that really something we’re OK with?

          But we also see how her circumstances have not changed her. She takes Gendry and Hot Pie with her. (Sure, they bring something, but a girl who can get horses from the stables can’t come up with a plan to filch a couple loaves of bread?) And, of course, we see that suffering the horrors of Harrenhal (and her role in some of those horrors) hasn’t broken her sense of worth as a person. She still sees herself as someone worth killing for. Although as I think about it, maybe that’s why she brought Gendry and Hot Pie along? Because she subconsciously knew she could do what must be done to escape on their behalf, but might not on her own?

          • blacky says:

            in response to Wat Barleycorn “move her to a second-best plan like appealing to the guard as a Northman or trying to intimidate him by name-dropping Roose.”

            She considered appealing to the guard as a Northman but did not as she didn’t know him because he was from the Dreadfort. Could she take the chance of failing to intimidate him and being caught trying to escape? What happens then? Here’s a what if.

    • I’m not saying it makes Arya EEEEEEEEEEEEVIL. I’m saying it’s an important moral departure. It’s not self-defense, it’s not killing in the heat of the moment, it’s not being done for a higher cause.

      BUT, and this part is important, it’s still morally different than killing because she doesn’t consider him a person, or because she enjoys the sensation of killing or the feeling of power, etc.

  7. Winnief says:

    Also like your take on the humors/elements.

    I wonder under which categories do the Stark and Lannister kids come under?

    Think its safe to say that Dany is fire/yellow bile.

  8. Tom says:

    I was really excited what you would make out of the goodswood-scene and are surprised how much more there is in this chapter! Great Job!
    I agree with you that Arya is not just remembering her conversation with her dad. But when we try to figure out who this “ghost” is, we should perhaps remember Syrio’s lesson about “true-seeing”: Who knows about this conversation between Arya and Ned in Kings Landing? How could Bran know about it? Are we trying to not see the obvious?

    • Bran can see backwards in time and communicate through trees.

      • Tom says:

        But, as far as I understand it, he can only see what happens in front of a weirwood tree. Ned and Arya were in a room inside the Tower of the Hand. And if he could see it, why didn’t he talk to Arya as her brother (“remember what dad told you…?”)? Why did he sound like his dad?
        I might be wrong, but I think Bran is not the “ghost”.

        • David Hunt says:

          First, what Bran can do as of the last lesson that we saw Bloodraven give him doesn’t necessarily matter because he might get around that restriction in (for example) the ADOS epilogue and then take care of the matter, retroactively.

          Second, Bran has NEVER been limited to only seeing what happens in front of trees. His coma dream chapter in AGOT includes him looking in on his mother in present time as she sails to King’s Landing and some other stuff that was nowhere near a tree.

          • Tom says:

            But this dream is considered to be a prophetic/green dream. Maybe it is present time, but it’s also connected with “A storm was gathering ahead of them, a vast dark roaring lashed by lightning, but somehow they could not see it”-prophecy.
            More people have those kind of dreams/prophecies. Do they all have the power to time travel? Change the story? Bran is more powerful than Bloodraven thinks, but to see actual events (past/present/future), I think, he needs weirwoods.
            And again, why and how would/could he use his father’s voice?

        • Lann says:

          IIRC Bloodraven said that Bran will learn to go beyond the trees.

  9. Jim B says:

    That bit about Bolton issuing orders “in the name of the King” reminds me that Robb never appointed a Hand. But I guess that’s a Targaryen tradition, isn’t it? I don’t recall seeing any references to the Kings in the North (or any of the other seven kingdoms) having Hands.

    Of course, Robb could still have adopted the practice, but that probably would have created as many problems as it solved, disrupting the delicate balance Robb was trying to maintain among the lesser houses of the North. I suppose if he was forced to name somebody he probably would have chosen the Blackfish, who more or less served that role unofficially anyway.

    • He does appoint Wardens, and I think that’s telling – he’s entirely focused on winning the war first, second, and last.

    • Crystal says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the regional kings of old had trusted family members or childhood friends who served as de facto Hands. I surmise that Torrhen “The King Who Knelt” Stark’s bastard brother Brandon Snow was one of these. Wives might also serve this purpose – see Elaena Targaryen whose husband was the Master of Coin in name, but she was in fact.

      If Robb had appointed the Blackfish as Hand, it probably would have gone over OK with everyone, since the Blackfish is so widely respected and is Robb’s uncle. But otherwise, it probably would have caused rivalry, especially regional rivalry – appoint Greatjon Umber, and the Riverlords might grumble; appoint Jason Mallister, and the Northern lords’ noses would be out of joint.

  10. Ryan S. says:

    I’m sorry Steven but you’re still wrong about the Freys. You’re twisting both the text and the SSM to support an idiosyncratic interpretation of what happened. For example, nothing they say to Roose in this chapter even reaches the level of treachery; they’re just speaking common sense. Their panic after the news of Blackwater/Winterfell is how one would be expected to act. Roose’s calm amusement is the red flag, because he is clearly working with Tywin at this point, but that doesn’t mean Walder is.

    And you misrepresented what GRRM said in the SSM. It certainly didn’t “prove” that the Red Wedding would have happened no matter what. Would you really describe the Red Wedding as a “desertion”???

    The bottom line is that Jeyne Westerling has no point in the story unless she is the catalyst for the Frey betrayal. If the Frey’s real motive was political survival, GRRM would have just wrote the massacre at Robb’s wedding instead of Edmure’s.

    • I think they’re going further than common sense into outright defeatism that fueled a desire to get out of the Stark camp, for reasons I stated in text.

      But I highly resent the implication I misrepresented what GRRM said. Walder was looking for a way out already, the marriage just changed the form it took.

      • Ryan S. says:

        But the “form it took” (assuming some betrayal was inevitable) is rather important, no? Lord Bracken and the other Riverlords deserted the Stark cause too, but in a far less devastating way.

      • Ryan S. says:

        And you can resent my comment all you want, but the fact remains that GRRM did not say what you claimed.

    • Grant says:

      Roose by this point was actively helping destroy Stark loyalist forces. There is no way that came just from panic, the only reason to do that would be if he had switched sides and needed to make sure that his treachery was effective.

      Similarly, I believe it’s been established by Martin that the Freys were already intending to switch sides. Loyalty is something they’ve never been known for. The only question was whether or not they would have carried out this massacre, something that seems unlikely absent the broken engagement.

  11. Will Rogers says:

    Roose Bolton, the Last Airbender.

    I wonder if you’ll get into Vlad III in a future Bolton-heavy chapter. Roose owes more than a little to the popular image of Vlad, just with people on saltires instead of pikes.

  12. hw@gmail.com says:

    “Roose Bolton controls the room completely in an amazing display of total vulnerability turned on its head; at the same time, it’s an almost LBJ-like power play because he’s literally making the whole room crowd in close and stare at his naked body:”

    Did you just make a Lebron James reference? GO CAVS

  13. Keith B says:

    “I think that this chapter shows that the Red Wedding and the Freys’ betrayal was in the works well before the news of Robb Stark marrying Jeyne Westerling made it to the Twins.”

    They couldn’t have been planning the Red Wedding. No doubt Walder Frey was trying to keep his options open, and no doubt Roose Bolton was betraying Robb any way he could. But any plans for the Red Wedding were contingent on an actual wedding, and the offer to have Edmure marry one of Walder’s daughters had not yet been made.

    From what the Freys said at their meeting with Roose, they weren’t at this time planning to betray Robb at all. What they wanted was for him to accept terms. If he did, the Freys would gain nearly everything they wanted without risk to themselves. Even if he wasn’t King, Robb was an extremely desirable son-in-law for Walder Frey to have. It wasn’t until he foreclosed that option by marrying Jeyne Westerling, and made it clear that he would not surrender, that Walder decided on treachery.

    I strongly suspect that Roose was negotiating with Tywin by himself, and that he did not involve the Freys in planning Duskendale. While Duskendale did set up the Red Wedding, it also had its own benefits in weakening the remaining Stark loyalists. It also showed Tywin that Roose was a reliable person to deal with, and thus formed the basis for later collaboration, which turned out to include the Red Wedding.

    • Ok fine, to be more precise. They were planning to betray Robb by this point. Roose has married Walda, Ramsay gets the note about keeping the Frey boys alive, Roose is keeping the Freys out of Duskendale, etc.

      If Robb had married Roslin Frey, it would have been him as the bridegroom in chains.

      • Winnief says:

        And no doubt with Robb the chained bride groom, Roslin would soon definitely be found to be pregnant with ‘his’ child so the Frey’s could snatch Winterfell-just like they’re now trying to do with Riverrun. Though that would have set the Frey’s up against the Boltons.

        • And against the Lannisters, who would have been pushing for Sansa’s child’s claim…

          • Winnief says:

            And what a three-way fight that would have been!

            Of course the surprise twist is that the Northerners NEVER would have accepted any of those options but were ALWAYS going to rally around Rickon.

            In a sense, though you already do have some of these conflicts breaking out-if Sansa hadn’t escaped then a Bolton-Lannister showdown for the North would have been inevitable, and Emmon Frey may soon be at odds with the rest of his family if Roslin has a boy.

            One thing for the show-as much as we all HATED Sansa’s storyline in Season 5, it *was* good to have it openly acknowledged that the interests of House Bolton and House Lannister post RW were NOT the same-and really never were. Roose didn’t kill his liege lord after all, for Tyrion’s children by Sansa to take Winterfell. And Roose isn’t dumb enough to count on ANY help from the Lannister’s now that Tywin’s gone.

            I wonder if there may soon be similar revelations in Season 6 about House Lannister and House Frey…certainly now that Tywin’s dead, Walder can’t count on the Lannister’s for protection. Hell House Lannister can’t even protect themselves. That’s a dynamic I look forward to in AFFC, when at least some of the Frey’s start to realize how expendable they are to Jaime and Cersei-and how fucked that leaves them. Though not as fucked as those Frey’s who were dumb enough to go North…

          • Gonzalo says:

            I guess that Tywin’s original plan was to make Roose the Warden of the North and then grant the title to Tyrion’s Lannister-Stark child once he comes of age.

      • Keith B says:

        The Freys were not yet planning to betray him. They wanted an out, yes. But the out they wanted was for Robb to surrender. Roose Bolton was planning to betray Robb and was already doing so.

        • That was the out that Aenys and Co. wanted. But GRRM says that Walder would have deserted anyway, just in “a less savage form.” Which is something more than urging Robb to surrender.

          • Winnief says:

            Yeah, urging Robb to come to terms, is just bannermen giving advice to their liege lord, (perfectly normal,) and wouldn’t be considered ‘treacherous’ at all. Walder was clearly looking for a way to get in good with the Lannister-Tyrell regime AND pick up some prizes as well so SOME kind of back-alley deal had to be on the table to make that happen. And unlike Robb, Tywin could offer Riverrun…

            I wonder if at least part of the RW, was House Frey thinking this was gonna be *their* Rains of Castamere moment that established them as the Biggest, Baddest House of all and would make everybody respect and fear them…needless to say if that’s what any of them thought would happen they couldn’t have been more wrong. Hell, the whole deal didn’t even reflect well on the Lannister’s since everyone in Westeros now knows that Tywin essentially had to *cheat* to defeat the Young Wolf. I think, Roose at least had no illusions about how his actions would be viewed, but being Roose didn’t GAF as long as he thought his fellow Northerners incapable of retaliation.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Yep. Plus, again, Walder Frey is a prickly ball of hatred and resentment who isn’t nearly as clever as he imagines. In his mind this was getting back at everyone whoever slighted him, and SHOWING THEM ALL!

          • Ryan S. says:

            Then why are you conflating their desire to surrender with a desire to betray?

          • Keith B says:

            I’ve read the interview you reference, and I don’t think GRRM is saying anything that can’t reasonably be inferred from the books. (If he had I would have been irked, as I was when Rowling declared that Dumbledore was gay. If it’s part of the story, it should be in the story, not dicta.)

            Here’s what he says: “…he would have searched for some way to disentangle himself from a losing cause sooner or later, but his desertion would likely have taken a less savage form.”

            “Sooner or later” doesn’t mean immediately, and it’s contingent on continuing to be part of a losing cause. There’s no indication here that Walder’s thinking differed from Aenys’ or Hosteen’s. If Robb had done what he wanted, surrender and marry Roslin, there would have been no Red Wedding or anything like it. Why should there be? Walder would have removed the threat he faced from being on what he perceived as the losing side, and his daughter would be married to a Lord Paramount. He would have ended the war in a better position than he began, balancing his ambition with his caution. It was only when Robb attacked both, first by marrying Jeyne and then insisting on continuing the war, that Walder started to regard treachery as necessary.

            Roose Bolton was in a different position. Walder’s gains didn’t have to be at the expense of the Starks, Roose’s did. Roose wanted to improve his own position, and he could only do that by damaging others: first his immediate neighbors, then any Stark loyalists, and finally if possible replacing the Starks themselves. But even so, he was prepared to stop anywhere along the way, up to the time Jaime visited Harrenhal, if he didn’t obtain the support he needed from the Freys and from Tywin.

      • Grant says:

        The Red Wedding makes me wonder about something. Would killing someone a member of your family has married be considered kin slaying? The Brackens and the Blackwoods might have something in their past to shed light on that.

        • Well, Robb certainly didn’t think so when he announced his intention to make Sansa widow by cutting Tyrion’s head!

          …Eh, that ‘marriage’ was likely not indicative of how marriages are normally treated in Westeros. But I don’t think that killing in-laws is considered kinslaying. No one ever called Lancel’s and Cersei’s involvement in Robert’s death “kinslaying”, for one.

          And then there’s Victarion, who definitely didn’t think killing his own wife was kinslaying; in fact, this was the reason he thought it was more acceptable than killing his brother.

          • Sean C. says:

            Robert is never called a kinslayer, even by Dany and Viserys, for killing Rhaegar, who was his first cousin, so it seems like that taboo extends only to immediate blood relatives.

          • Rhaegar is his second cousin, actually. He’s only his first cousin on the show (under the assumption that the DVD histories are canon), because they eliminated one generation between Egg and Aerys II.

          • Sean C. says:

            Oh, right, I misremembered that. All the same, that’s a clear limit on how far bloodline relations are thought to extend. I can’t think of any examples involving first cousins.

          • David Hunt says:

            Rhaegar was his second cousin as they shared a great grand parent: Aegon V. Don’t want to be pedantic, but the whole point here is how close a relationship is important.

          • David Hunt says:

            Hmmm. Timeline of the responses here is weird.

            Sean, I suspect that there isn’t a totally hard and fast rule on how close a blood relation is before killing them is kinslaying. I’m sure your parents, siblings, and offspring all count, but beyond that…I suspect that how close you were in life has something to do with it.

            People call Theon a kinslayer for the Bran and Rickon even though he has no blood relationship to them because he was raised with them like a brother and was technically fostered to Ned even though he was really a hostage. Nobody gives Robert any grief for killing his second cousin, Rhaegar who he had only occasional formal contacts with. Jon Arryn refuses to give up the two young men that he fostered in the Eryie, because they’re like sons to him.

            I personally suspect a first cousin or uncle/aunt/nephew/niece would be considered close enough to trigger the taboo, if for no other reason, that it helps keep things like a Lord’s younger brother from killing the sons of his diseased brother so he can usurp them. Just my two cents.

  14. Winnief says:

    OT, but at Watchers on the Wall they’ve got a HUGE number of new pics up. I especially like seeing Sansa with Theon, (both of whom look pretty beat up as you’d expect,) but also views of Asha and Balon. I’m actually kind of keen on seeing Balon again in hopes that we might something we didn’t get in the books-namely his reaction to seeing his Great Northern Invasion collapse.

    Asha for the record looks pretty grim faced.

    • Keith B says:

      Thanks for the heads up. None of them look very happy.

      • Andrew says:

        Though I’m reluctant to use the show as evidence for future plotlines the things they trimmed and shuffled around does suggest certain things… like the fact they kept Stannis going to the Iron Bank, despite everything, implies it’s important, whether for getting Arya to the Wall or perhaps (longshot) setting up Braavos being in conflict with Dany at some point or another.

        I do think that neither the Ironborn nor the dragon horn are not nearly as important as people think they are; they are largely plot devices to wreck other people’s faces, first Robb with Winterfell and now the Tyrells with Euron.

    • When has YarAsha looked anything but grim faced on the show?

  15. Wat Barleycorn says:

    Oh yay! Since you mentioned bloodletting and the medical theories that justified it, I want to mention hemochromatosis.

    It’s a disease where, essentially, your body absorbs too much iron and it starts to build up and cause all sorts of health problems. But the exact problems it causes vary widely, and without blood tests it can be tricky to diagnose.

    And, to dramatically oversimplify, it’s (in part) hereditary. The gene that causes it is _extremely_ common in people of European descent. The treatment? Well, these days the common way to treat it is to have the person donate blood…

    Now, George Washington would be the first to point out that Western medicine really took it too far. But it is kind of unfair to just make fun of this “four humours” nonsense without pointing out that for most of the history of Western medicine, unless you had an obvious break to be stabilized or wound to be stitched, nothing we did actually worked. But a surprising amount of the time, across a wide spectrum of maladies, white people (especially men!) actually got better if you bled them! And it wasn’t quackery, we still use it today.

    But this is not to explain Roose. He is SO weird, it totally confuses me about what’s his motivation. Like, “Oh, look, Ned’s dead, might as well see if I can rule Winterfell and the North, that’s an interesting orange to peel until I inevitably die myself…”

    • winnief says:

      Yeah especially since Book Roose also seems remarkably unconcerned with the future of his House under Ramsay. As Lady Dustin puts it, Book Roose is just playing games with EVERYBODY and for no real end.

      Show Roose seems much more clear in his ultimate plans…and its also pretty obvious the show version might well ditch Ramsay for heirs with Walda since Ramsay really is much more a liability than an asset at this point.

      • Grant says:

        Roose is saying that to Reek Theon, someone he knows can’t keep anything hidden from Ramsay if asked. I wouldn’t be so sure that Roose isn’t considering offing the guy and is just keeping him in a false sense of security so Ramsay doesn’t strike first.

        • David Hunt says:

          This. I’m long been convinced that Roose is doing exactly what you’re talking about here. Child lords might be a bane, as Roose says to Theon, but Lord Ramsay would be ten times worse.

          • Grant says:

            The other possibility is that he’s really just in it for the moment, raising himself up and he really doesn’t care about anything after that. For the time being I’m guessing it’s a ploy on his part, but I can’t deny the possibility that he’s got his own serious issues skewing his behavior.

      • zonaria says:

        Often wondered if Roose’s motivation is religious at root. There is something very northern and sacrificial about the way he offs Robb Stark personally.

  16. Great work. The seizure of Harrenhal always struck me on re-reads like when the Soviet Army liberated some of the lesser known, smaller concentration camps the NKVD or SMERSH guys or whoever would look around and go “Hmm…Okay…we can work with this.”

    Wish more people would play that up. The Lannisters are very much influenced by the Nazis and a good chunk of the fandom can see them that way. But no one ever mentions that at their worst the Northerners are practically the Soviets on their way to Berlin. And it does do GRRM credit that there are no truly “good guys” in this war.

    It also says something about how The North and it’s people have been ruled by a relatively light touch from Winterfell for a very long time. A guy with a huge devotion to strong central authority like Stannis crushes any man of his who seems to get out of line. A Roose Bolton couldn’t exist as one of his subordinates.

    • Grant says:

      Remember that we don’t see much of that group except when they’re outside Robb’s command. Plus unlike Stannis’ holdings, the North is HUGE.The Starks are hardly blind and deaf, but they don’t have the ability to be in all of it.

    • Ian G. says:

      The Boltons, favourites of mine though they are, make absolutely no sense if you step back from the narrative. Here you have a powerful (and totally evil!) rival to the Starks that for literally thousands of years have been at daggers drawn with Winterfell. The absolute BEST that relations between the Starks and the Boltons seem to get is the sort of frigid “Lord Stark had never had cause to complain of Roose Bolton” stuff that Jon remembers early in ADWD. At worst, there are regular Bolton uprisings, all of which eventually get snuffed out by the Starks. The Boltons are conspicuously absent from the Stark family tree, which is wildly rare for a prominent Northern family.

      And it’s not as though the Boltons offset their precarious position with their overlords with a web of alliances with other lesser Houses! Everyone hates them long before the Red Wedding! Every time there’s dissention in the Northern ranks, it seems to take the form of Bolton men getting into fights with some other House’s retainers. Even their allies post-RW, the Dustins and the Ryswells, have this weird arms-length “well, I guess Roose used to be married to Bethany” justification for the alliance. They are, in short, totally isolated – no one is going to care if the Starks get rid of them, whether in the style of Tywin with the Reynes or something more merciful.

      I know our genial host has said, well, they have a lot of men and there are more pressing problems. This makes sense in the short term, but the Starks have successfully besieged the Dreadfort at least three times. Given that the Starks are not as cuddly as one might think just looking at Ned and Robb, it sort of beggars belief that some King of Winter or other hadn’t decided that it was time to install a new House at the Dreadfort. This is doubly true when you consider that it would not appear likely that the people of the Weeping Water would be nostalgic for Bolton rule.

      All of which is to say, yeah, Stannis wouldn’t have put up with Roose’s machinations, but I find it very hard to believe he was ever in position to make them.

      • Ian G. says:

        One final thought – I do wish GRRM had some sort of tossed off line to justify the Boltons’ continued existence, because they are delightfully evil. Like an Umber rebellion that they helped put down or something, or one of Rogar the Huntsman’s sons becoming best friends with the heir to Winterfell or something. A few flecks of light against the dark would go a long way.

        • From the descriptions, it seems like Domeric Bolton was normal, which I found fascinating. I wonder if over the years some Boltons were relatively normal lords, which would justify keeping them around rather than risk bringing down the entire family and installing someone else to rule his lands.

      • blacky says:

        “Ian G. says: The Boltons make absolutely no sense.”

        Thanks for pointing another one out. This series is filled with things that beggar belief. Broken Bran was how old when placed in charge? Ned placed his children in danger rather than attempt to arrest Cersei? Rob chooses a Bolton to be his second?

        I’m sure there are more and better examples. Anyone know of a source that’s compiled a list?

      • winnief says:

        Yeah, realistically a House with a habit of collecting the *skins* of their own liege lords SHOULD have been put down long ago and no one else would have objected.

        To then have a member of that house be made 2nd in command of the Northern forces, (despite being unbelievably creepy to boot)-it beggars belief.

        I sincerely doubt that the Boltons are going to survive as a House much longer. If their fellow Northerners or Stannis don’t do them in Ramsay and Roose are likely to murder each other.

        • blacky says:

          winnief says: a House with a habit of collecting the *skins* of their own liege lords…
          I doubt that would ever be forgotten or forgiven. Reminds me of how something similar was recently done…

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          Odd how you people forget that the last Bolton rebellion was a thousand years ago.

          • blacky says:

            thatrabidpotato says: February 17, 2016 at 10:43 pm
            Odd how you people forget that the last Bolton rebellion was a thousand years ago.

            Well, how much time am I allowed to distrust someone who displays my ancestor’s skin as a trophy? Seems like a tell to me.

      • Jim B says:

        I agree that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The best justifications I can think of are:

        1) Westerosi history is unreliable, and tends to project the current status quo backwards indefinitely whether it’s true or not. Over the last couple of thousand years, there may very well have been long stretches where Boltons and Starks were best buddies and intermarried. (I can imagine House Bolton being a useful check on the power of House Manderly once they appeared. Or maybe they were pivotal in the many wars with the Vale?) But since relations haven’t been very good in recent centuries, a lot of that has been forgotten/whitewashed/glossed over, and we’re left with “yeah, we’ve never liked those guys” on both sides.

        2) Even if the other Lesser Houses of the North aren’t terribly fond of House Bolton, they may be very sensitive to the precedent of House Stark just wiping the Boltons off the map a la the Reynes of Castamere. Crushing a rebellion and taking a few hostages may be about as far as the Starks could have gone without jeopardizing their position. Is there a record of any other Northern House being extinguished? I believe several characters, Starks and others, have observed that the relationship between Greater and Lesser Houses is less hierarchical than in the South. Tywin Lannister may have been able to get away with wiping out rebellious vassals and come out being respected for his toughness, but the North might take a different attitude.

        But as I said, I don’t think that these are ultimately satisfying explanations.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          The Starks wiped their own cadet branch, the Greystarks, out root and branch. After the Greystarks allied with the Boltons in revolt.

  17. You linked to the chapter where Catelyn negotiates with Walder Frey, but closed comments on it. Nowhere in that analysis or this one did I see you refer to Walder’s continuous use of the word “mayhaps” in his negotiation with Lady Stark. As we learn in this book, the Frey game “Lord of the Crossing” teaches Frey kids that they can lie as much as they want if they can get away with it, and when you take that and re-read the chapter where the Stark host reaches the Twins, you realize that Walder Frey WAS LYING FROM THE BEGINNING. The Red Wedding was inevitable in one form or another. But Robb Stark was still a moron to marry a Westerling, regardless.

    • Laural H says:

      Sorry, but unless it was in the off screen negotiations, Walder Frey doesn’t say “mayhaps” to Catelyn in aGoT. (The word only appears twice, once with Tobho Mott, once with Samwell.) He did say it twice before the “bread and salt” prior to the RW.

  18. Also . . . book burning?? Occult connections??? What am I missing here?

    • Laural H says:

      “The old dry leather went up with a whoosh, and the yellow pages stirred as they burned, as if some ghost were reading them.”

    • Keith B says:

      It’s not just the book. He also has Arya burn a letter from his wife. A completely innocuous letter, so it’s not that he’s trying to hide something. So what’s up with that? Two instances of burning writings looks like a pattern, but there’s no indication anywhere (that I could see) of what it might possibly mean.

      • Crystal says:

        Or maybe he was just embarrassed because the letter opened with “Dear Roosie-Woosie,” and ended with “RB + WF = LUV4EVR” enclosed in a heart drawn in pink ink…

      • Wat Barleycorn says:

        A completely innocuous letter from his wife…who is a Frey. And at Frey HQ.

        It’s possible that Big Walder (or whatever Walder) was communicating with Roose through innocuous letters from his wife. Like, sunny skies = no news; rain = negotiations with Tywin are going poorly; a bumper harvest = we’ve allied with Tywin; hail = Robb has found out about us. There’s a zillion things that could be sent in this kind of pre-arranged code.

        Not sure if that was happening, but it does explain why you’d burn innocuous letters. A clever maester or other listener might start to suspect, but it’s harder to prove the case when all the evidence is gone.

      • Gonzalo says:

        GRRM mentioned in some interview that the letter and book burning scene is meant to be a microcosm of the character: Roose burns everything he reads to keep that knowledge to himself and prevent anyone from gaining that same knowledge and use it against him some day. It goes in line with his “fear is what keeps a man alive in this world of treachery” line from ADWD

  19. Lann says:

    I think the red one is Raphael.

  20. Keith B says:

    Some miscellaneous comments.

    1. Pia didn’t seem to be terribly traumatized by her ordeal, judging from her later behavior with Jaime. Maybe GRRM just didn’t take her seriously until AFFC.

    2. The Stark side’s atrocities are all by the Boltons and their ally Vargo Hoat, and later by the deserting Karstarks. And Roose was already planning to change sides when he moved into Harrenhal. We don’t hear of atrocities committed by troops under Robb’s direct command. Robb wouldn’t have allowed his soldiers to commit crimes against the Riverlands, but if GRRM wanted to make the point that the Starks were as brutal as the Lannisters, he would have had someone mention war crimes during Robb’s invasion of the Westerlands. So it seems clear that he is not putting Robb on the same moral plane as Tywin.

    3. Elmar Frey is surprisingly friendly to Arya considering that he’s a trueborn son of one of the greatest (he thinks) Lords in the land, and she’s just a serving girl. He’s not overbearing and he allows her to insult him without retaliation.

    4. “Arya’s transition into a ruthless assassin.” Except that she’s not becoming a ruthless assassin. She never accepts the credo she’s taught at the House of Black and White. She won’t kill the crooked insurance man until she knows what he’s done. When she hears about the abused child, she thinks the FM should have killed the father instead of the child. The Kindly Man is quite right when he says she only wants to get their training, not to become one of them.

    • regarding some points
      1. i would not discount grrm dismissing pia as of now because pia is viewed all the time by people who are socially above her( like jaime who has a penchant for seeing emotions he wants to see. like with tyrion he never once thought how traumatic tysha episode was for him) and by people who don’t want to look to closely( like arya who does not want to look and most of the time seems to avoid pia unless asked for some work to be done. remember she is daughter of catelyn “patriarchy brain” stark)
      3. elmar is friendly only when wants some work done or is being a self centered pity party and nothing else. he does not physically hurt her but would have had given a chance( “…ran away before he could catch her”) .arya used to be cruelly teased by a lowly born steward’s daughter jeyne poole despite the fact arya is warden of the north’s daughter. exhalted status is clearly no excuse for being a boor even in grrm’s world. another example is jaime who despite tywin’s elitist education seems to rub well with everyone when required.

      • Keith B says:

        Jaime encounters Pia shortly in ASOS shortly after the events of this chapter. There’s no reason to believe anything Pia tells him about how much she’s attracted to him, because she knows that if she can get him interested her life might take a turn for the better. But she’s not so shell-shocked that she can’t at least feign a strong sexual interest. I don’t want to make a huge deal out of that, I just thought it worthy of note.

        Arya runs away after insulting Elmar, but she must have known it was safe, because he didn’t retaliate later when he had the chance. He doesn’t regard her as an equal, but compared to the way Roose and the other nobles treat her, he’s downright gracious.

        • “But she’s not so shell-shocked that she can’t at least feign a strong sexual interest.”

          Because survival is a very strong motivation?

          • Wat Barleycorn says:

            Gotta agree with the bunny. Some people are tough as nails. Just because someone doesn’t break, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been through hell and back.

            And GRRM shows us this–for instance, when we hear Shae’s perplexed response to Lollys Stokeworth’s trauma after her gang rape and subsequent pregnancy: “all they did was fuck her.” All the sexual violence in this book, Lollys is the only victim who’s had the stereotypical “victim” response, and Shae–who clearly has seen and been through a lot herself is like, um, you respond like that you really don’t make it to adulthood.

            We just got told what Pia went through. It’s horrific. Why does it suddenly become not-horrific if she’s got lots of fortitude. Shoot, that kid who ate human flesh and walked over the Andes after a plane crash–is that not a big deal if he’s able to have a semi-normal life afterwards?

            It’s just so ridiculous that a woman’s ability to not fall apart after being through a horror show immediately suggests that well, nothing so terribly bad actually happened at all.

            Not to mention, if Pia has to respond like Lollys for us to see the horror, then Pia would die. Somebody’d beat her to death, somebody’d throw her out of Harrenhal, she’d starve. So, um, that’s kinda a no-win situation for most victims.

        • nit-picky it would seem but the dialogue you are trying to recall happened before gregor clegane smashed her teeth of for being exactly as herself( which used to make her life easier not harder before that point.) and some people are extremely hardy and resilient. to paraphrase elder brother: a warrior breaks, maybe after one, maybe after 99 but his 100 battle would be the one…feigning or no pia has a resilience of a warrior and how she is coping with it is not jaime’s concern nor is it arya’s so might never know and just because we see her making moves on someone who seems nicer than the lot she has seen it does not mean that she might be traumatised inside or not.it is patronizing and unfair assessment which in our NGO-which helps abuse survivors-are told never to indulge.
          as far as arya is concerned, we know she is extremely impulsive, especially when riled, her retorts to gendry is example enough. don’t give elmar more credit than necessary, the only thing which stops him is that he is a wuss and most probably scared of arya( she now has a reputation associated with weasel soup, remember?)

  21. Laural H says:

    So, when Roose is critiquing Reek/Theon, he points out (as does Dance in the show) that servants say “m’lord” not “my lord.” I mean yeah Roose doesn’t give a shit about any peasants but he basically tells Theon “don’t do what my cupbearer did, or ppl will know you’re not lowborn.” And yet… Is Bolton just that awful, that he wouldn’t even try to ransom an obvious noble girl?

    • David Hunt says:

      Even if Roose spotted highborn education in Arya, if “Nan” had thought that someone would ransom her, she’d have tried to get herself ransomed. She can’t be anyone important and, therefore, she’d not worth his time to pursue that. He’s in the middle of a massive, dangerous game and some random bastard of a (maybe) landed knight can’t concern him.

      And that’s if he noticed at all. Roose knew who Reek was and was actively critiquing his performance since Roose could personally suffer some consequence if the deception failed. Servants are almost invisible to Roose, having no more agency than livestock. He was both surprised and angry when Arya asked him a question unbidden. His threat to,IIRC, have her tongue out was the equivalent of lightily swatting a dog across the nose because it’s eyeing the pot roast on your plate.

    • Throughout ACOK, no one ever suspects that Arya is anything but a commoner. Throughout ASOS, the only people who realize she’s highborn are those who happen to know her and have recognized her (Harwin). We’re clearly supposed to think that Arya doesn’t sound highborn and that most people don’t suspect that she is.

      • Laural H says:

        Which is funny after the KL kids totally tried to beat her up for talking funny. But yeah peasants being ignored by nobility is common enough. The accents seem to happen only when GRRM wants them to – Tyrion recognized the KL boy in the mercenaries camp, the aforementioned Arya scene – but none of the Northerners in Harrenhal can tell Arya is one.

  22. Sean C. says:

    On this re-read especially, I found myself astonished at how much work this chapter has to do.

    It’s quite remarkable, in general, how much happens in Arya’s comparatively few Harrenhal chapters (particularly when compared to the somewhat meandering chapters before she gets there in the same book).

    • Winnief says:

      Yeah it just goes to show that its not page length but page *content* that counts.

      Also, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Harrenhaal in the series, (it’s too important thematically,) and I wonder when/where it will appear next.

  23. “Going forward, Arya’s degree of violence is only going to grow, even before her ambition to reunite with her family (and thus her childhood) ”

    I think you’ve missed a couple of words here. I assume it’s supposed to read “even before her ambition to reunite with her family is destroyed” or something like that?

    Great analysis of the chapter. It’s one of my favorite chapters in ASOAIF. In fact, last year when there was a “Favorite chapters” Guessing game/vote in the Games section on Westeros org (before it got FUBARed), I put it at #4 place on my list.

    I’m going to disagree with you completely on the Arya/Tywin scenes in S2, however. I never liked them, and I think they were one of the early signs of D&D enjoying their own fanfiction too much (and since they got praised for it, they may have started to believe they should write more of it). Those scenes were completely pointless and out of character. They were basically an example of writers thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool if these two characters met?” But those scenes only took up a lot of screentime while they didn’t lead to anything at all and had no significance for either character. (How ironic is it that many of the same people who praised them are now criticizing the scenes between Missandei and Grey Worm for taking up screentime. At least those will probably matter to those two characters, if not for others.) The “chance to get to know Tywin better” is a poor excuse, since:
    1) if you want to have Tywin talking about his father, why do you need to have him talk about him to a random Northern girl (which is very unlikely for him) – rather than, say, someone from his own family? Like his brother Kevan, for instance?
    2) Tywin was completely OOC in those scenes. That nice grandfatherly guy was not Tywin Lannister from the books, and it was not the Tywin Lannister we see in the next two seasons. Tywin is a classist, proud, ruthless MOFO. This guy, on the other hand:
    – gives a random Northern girl – presumably a commoner – a place of high honor as his cupbearer, just because – he finds her cute? She is a little girl? He’s a nice grandfatherly dude? It’s not clear. Roose at least gave her the position partly as a reward for her actions (and rewarding loyalty was generally thought to be good PR in feudal society, so to speak), partly because it was hard to find servants who were not grossed out by leaches;
    – talks to this serving girl as if she were an equal, talks to her about his family, and compares her to his daughter the Queen. Tywin Lannister wouldn’t piss on a commoner to help her if she were on fire, let alone treat her like that.
    – lets the Northern commoner serving girl talk back and glare at him (“Anyone can die”). Tywin Lannister would more likely threaten to have her tongue cut out if she even asked too many questions, as Roose Bolton does in this chapter when Arya politely asks him about whether he will leave Harrenhal to the Mummers.
    – at some point, he suspects or realizes she may not/is probably not a commoner. Or did he realize that from the start? But in spite of that, he doesn’t try to find out which family she is from, and does not treat as a hostage?!
    – his ‘punishment’ of the guy who let him down was little more than a slap on the wrist. Hardly terrifying. Tywin Lannister is supposed to be someone everyone in Westeros is afraid of.
    And don’t get me started on what those scenes did for, or rather against, Arya’s arc. Arya’s Harrenhal arc was amazing, one of the most important in the series (and one of my favorite), and they completely destroyed it, just because they thought it would be cool to give her scenes with Charles Dance. Instead of feeling helpless like a mouse and hating it and wanting to strike out against that, instead of undergoing daily abuse and witnessing even worse abuse of other people, instead of learning to be stealthy and underhanded and keep her mouth shut when she needs to (which will all serve her well in the future as she trains to be a FM), instead of having to be resourceful and smart and come up with a way to save herself and escape Harrenhal, instead of the massive subversion of the “adventures of a Rebel Princess/Plucky Tomboy” trope – the show served the trope without any subversion. Show!Arya only witnesses horrors for less than a half of an episode, before Nice Grandpa Tywin appears to save her. She then gets a nice position as a cupbearer, gets to have chats with Tywin, talks back at him and he seems to enjoy it because she’s the Cool Girl/Plucky Tomboy and everyone loves her. She learns nothing in Harrenhal and has little character development, other than getting a chance to have a few people killed by Jaqen (and doesn’t even think of asking him to kill Tywin, which is far less understandable on the show than it was in the book). And in the end, in spite of being the Plucky Tomboy who suffers no repercussions, she does next to nothing to save herself – she doesn’t have to plan her escape or to lie to guards or kill them, Jaqen does it all for her. (Come to think of it, that’s typical of the show version of Strong Female Characters: being sassy and talking back (or, in Dany’s case, giving Badass Speeches in a monotone voice) is the sign of being Empowered, but when it comes to actual agency, female characters tend to actually have far less of it and do a lot less than in the books (see: Sansa’s entire arc on the show, Dany the Damsel saved by Drogon and Jorah…)

    Also, she knows she is Not Like Other Girls and despises her gender, and we’re supposed to agree with her: “Most girls are stupid”. That’s what Cersei would say, not Arya – Cersei is misogynistic, Arya is not, Arya says things like “the woman is important, too!”, gets along with Lady Smallwood, adores her mother, protects Weasel, and has Chyswick killed because he told a horrible story about a gang rape of a young girl as a joke, and later has a number of friends among the women in Braavos, including the prostitutes.

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      I totally agree on all of these. Maisie Williams and Charles Dance act the h*ll out of their scenes together, but they make so little sense that it took me out of the story.

      My main problem is that Tywin is smart enough to realize that Arya is a nobleborn Northerner who has been lying to him, and then he just leaves things there. You would think that finding out that your cupbearer is (a) literate and (b) very likely to be someone who is a member of a house opposed to you is a potential disaster. Either lock her up and ransom her or just kill her. She can read your messages, she has a chance of eventually getting back to her family, and she is legally able to testify. But Tywin just leaves her there, apparently without telling anyone who she is!

      Second, realizing that she’s a fleeing Northerner and not at least exploring who she is is just dumb. Yes, they’re pretty far away from King’s Landing, but obviously, not so far that you can’t walk that distance in the time since Arya went missing, and Arya has to be right behind Jaime as the second most celebrated missing person on the whole continent. It’s like Lex Luthor not considering whether Clark Kent might be Superman – it’s plot driven and makes Tywin look dumb.

      Third, if this is supposed to be a softer side of Tywin that he can only show to people who (a) are noble enough to talk to but (b) don’t matter, I think they should have done more to sell it, and to do something with that aspect of Tywin’s character later.

  24. It’s mentioned that Goodwife Amabel went a bit off the rails when Goodwife Harra was murdered, which may explain her degree of rage. Those two elderly women were clearly very close, and presumably served together in Harrenhal for many years. There’s no mention that either of them has a husband or children, though they may be widows. There’s also no mention of the two of them being related. It’s perfectly possible they were simply very close friends, but am I the only who wondered if they may have been something more?

    • Crystal says:

      Nope, you’re not the only one! Historically, lesbians have tended to fly under the radar, due to ideas that sex must necessarily involve a penis, therefore two women can’t REALLY be having sex! Nope, they’re good friends or companions! Or if people suspected something more, oh well, who cares, no penises involved.

      Besides, it’s *Harrenhal* – which of the servants is having sex with whom is pretty far down on the list of “Things for lords, ladies and castellans to bother about.”

      According to Behindthename.com “Amabel” means “Lovable.” How ironic is that, considering her personality!

  25. Bolt-ON is obviously batshit crazy, and that’s exactly why I love it.

  26. My biggest “what if” in this chapter occurs when cup-bearer Arya asks Lord Bolton if he is going to take her with him when he leaves Harrenhal. Out of all the times Arya could have announced her true identity, this one strikes me as the most likely, since she has Roose alone at the moment and he just told her that he plans to leave her behind with Harrenhal in control of the Goat. While she doesn’t have Sansa’s knowledge of sigils, I’m fairly confident that she could convince Lord Bolton, at the least, that she was a noble born daughter of a Northern house, if not Arya Stark.

    Now I don’t think this “what if” ends well for Arya, but it does change things in some interesting ways. Hot Pie and Gendry more than likely die in Harrenhal when the Mountain takes the castle, Arya most certainly never gets to Braavos, and the need for Jeyne Poole/fake Arya is washed away as the Boltons now have possession of the real deal. Brienne never picks up her trail, Sandor never reaches the Quiet Isle, Sam dies in Braavos, so many delicious and terrifying outcomes all prevented because of a 11 year old girl’s (or is she 10 at this point?) decision not to trust one of her brother’s highest ranking bannermen and instead plan her own escape. Not to say she didn’t make the correct choice, but it is yet another example of the author’s thumb weighing down the scales to get the results he needs.

    • Sean C. says:

      Brienne never picks up her trail

      In that instance, Brienne would have known that the Arya marrying Ramsay is the real deal, which would in turn have probably led to something like the setup for the show’s season 5 Brienne story (not the execution, mind you).

    • Andrew says:

      Except the whole chapter is building up Arya’s distrust of the Boltons and she’s repeatedly shown to be exceptionally perceptive and a keen judge of character not to mention being all but groomed for a position as spymaster…

      the dude just threatened to maim her. I don’t think she’s going to confess to him, especially when one considers the longstanding enmity between Boltons and Starks.

  27. […] points. The first is that Ramsay says “save me the Freys.” As I argued back in Arya X, I think that the Freys and the Boltons agreed to betray Robb Stark before the news came back about […]

  28. […] There’s Dany’s visions, Robb’s marriage to Jeyne Westerling, Roose’ war council (Roose and the Freys had already decided to betray Robb even before his wedding to Jeyne), and Cat’s own […]

  29. […] the Tyrells threw in their lot with the Lannisters/royalist forces. I strongly recommend reading A Race For The Iron Throne’s blog on Arya X ACOK. Steven draws out the things that are extremely curious on a […]

  30. Roderick Mehringer says:

    Any thoughts on what Roose is reading in this chapter. The large leatherbound tome that he places in the fire when Arya comes into the room.

    I wonder if it is a history of some of the houses that held Harrenhal, and it is where Roose gets the idea to give the castle to Hoat in order to thwart the curse.

  31. […] first major theme of this chapter is resolving the loose plot thread from the end of Arya’s ACOK storyline – namely, what Roose Bolton is going to about Arya and company’s escape from […]

  32. […] letters” Tywin is using to “win” the War of Five Kings. I have argued from Arya X of ACOK that Tywin had already reached an agreement with Roose Bolton – more on this in a […]

  33. beto2702 says:

    Really? No Roose discovers Arya ‘what if’? That was a must! Even if Arya doesn’t trust Roose there are many ways in which this could have happened. She could have been discovered. She could have told Roose right off the bat before he gave her reasons to distrust him (He is Robb’s bannerman). She could have been caught reaction to Bran & Rickon’s news.

    Interesting also the special scenario where is Elmer the one who discovers her in their conversations. The Freys knowing that Arya is there would be different than Roose having her all for himself.

  34. John says:

    I too have wondered why Arya does not immediately reveal her true identity to Roose Bolton. He is Robb’s bannerman and the whole weasel soup escapade was all about delivering Harrenhal to the Northmen. Yet once the castle is in northern hands, Arya keeps her disguise. Why?

  35. […] There’s Dany’s visions, Robb’s marriage to Jeyne Westerling, Roose’ war council (Roose and the Freys had already decided to betray Robb even before his wedding to Jeyne), and Cat’s own […]

  36. […] being offered. In part, I think this is because Arya is still reeling from the shock of having killed in cold blood to effect her escape from Harrenhal and somehow feels that if the whole group doesn’t make it […]

  37. […] a huge chapter in the broader story of ASOIAF. While it’s true that the plan was in the works long before news of the events at the Crag were known, this is the chapter where the Red Wedding becomes a part of the POV of the character who will be […]

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