Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn I, ASOS


She was a widow, a traitor, a grieving mother, and wise, wise in the ways of the world.

Synopsis: Catelyn is put under house arrest at her own urging, comes to a realization about her father, gets some news about Robb, and gets into a fight with Edmure. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way…

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:

GRRM has frequently said in interviews that the reason why he chose to have Catelyn Stark be a POV is that:

“I wanted to make a strong mother character. The portrayal of women in epic fantasy have been problematical for a long time…the women in fantasy tend to be very atypical women…They tend to be the woman warrior or the spunky princess who wouldn’t accept what her father lays down, and I have those archetypes in my books as well. However, with Catelyn there is something of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the figure of a woman who accepted her role and functions within a narrow society and, nonetheless, achieves considerable influence and power and authority despite accepting the risks and limitations of this society. She is also a mother… Then, a tendency you can see in a lot of other fantasies is to kill the mother or to get her off the stage. She’s usually dead before the story opens…Nobody wants to hear about King Arthur’s mother and what she thought or what she was doing, so they get her off the stage and I wanted it too. And that’s Catelyn.”

This role of Catelyn’s as the woman who works within medieval gender norms, and who is a mother who refuses to exist only as motivation for a male protagonist but who acts in her own right and according to her own motives, is especially true in ASOS where she is absolutely central to the first half of the book. Hell, consider that the first two chapters of the book both center on her actions at the end of ACOK before we get to anyone else’s story.

A Mother’s Madness

Consider, for example, the running theme in Catelyn I of Catelyn Stark insisting on owning her crime. Catelyn releasing Jaime is a hugely consequential action (easily on par with her arrest of Tyrion), although I will argue here and elsewhere that it was but one of many dominoes of bad luck necessary to bring about the downfall of House Stark. However, Catelyn has to fight for most of this chapter just to be treated as an individual possessing the intelligence and agency to be blamed for her actions:

Ser Desmond Grell had served House Tully all his life. He had been a squire when Catelyn was born, a knight when she learned to walk and ride and swim, master-at-arms by the day that she was wed. He had seen Lord Hoster’s little Cat become a young woman, a great lord’s lady, mother to a king. And now he has seen me become a traitor as well.

Her brother Edmure had named Ser Desmond castellan of Riverrun when he rode off to battle, so it fell to him to deal with her crime. To ease his discomfort he brought her father’s steward with him, dour Utherydes Wayn. The two men stood and looked at her; Ser Desmond stout, red-faced, embarrassed, Utherydes grave, gaunt, melancholy. Each waited for the other to speak. They have given their lives to my father’s service, and I have repaid them with disgrace, Catelyn thought wearily.

“The news must have driven you mad,” Ser Desmond broke in, “a madness of grief, a mother’s madness, men will understand. You did not know…”

“I did,” Catelyn said firmly. “I understood what I was doing and knew it was treasonous. If you fail to punish me, men will believe that we connived together to free Jaime Lannister. It was mine own act and mine alone, and I alone must answer for it. Put me in the Kingslayer’s empty irons, and I will wear them proudly, if that is how it must be.”

“…confined to a tower cell, that would serve.”

“If I am to be confined, let it be in my father’s chambers, so that I may comfort him in his last days.”

Ser Desmond considered a moment. “Very well. You shall lack no comfort nor courtesy, but freedom of the castle is denied you. Visit the sept as you need, but otherwise remain in Lord Hoster’s chamber until Lord Edmure returns.” 

Catelyn really could have used the help of Brother Cadfael in solving this plant-based mystery…


Speaking of frustration, one of the things I discovered on this re-read is that I had mis-remembered how long it took for the Tansy mystery to revealed. In my memory, this mystery had stretched on and on in a way that made me hugely impatient because I had figured it out well before Catelyn. But in reality, the whole thing is resolved in one chapter:

“It is a monstrous cruel thing to lose a child,” she whispered softly, more to herself than to her father.

Lord Hoster’s eyes opened. “Tansy,” he husked in a voice thick with pain.

He does not know me. Catelyn had grown accustomed to him taking her for her mother or her sister Lysa, but Tansy was a name strange to her. “It’s Catelyn,” she said. “It’s Cat, Father.”

“Forgive me…the blood…oh, please…Tansy…”

Could there have been another woman in her father’s life? Some village maiden he had wronged when he was young, perhaps? Could he have found comfort in some serving wench’s arms after Mother died? It was a queer thought, unsettling. Suddenly she felt as though she had not known her father at all. “Who is Tansy, my lord? Do you want me to send for her, Father? Where would I find the woman? Does she still live?”

Lord Hoster groaned. “Dead.” His hand groped for hers. “You’ll have others…sweet babes, and trueborn.”

If Catelyn thought of her life as operating on dramatic logic as opposed to real life, she might have figured out a bit faster that, since Hoster starts talking about “Tansy” the moment she mentions losing a child, all of this talk of blood and death probably has something to do with a lost child. But real life doesn’t normally operate on dramatic logic, so I think it’s fair to give Catelyn a pass for her initial confusion. I’m more forgiving in part because it gives us this exchange:

“He was asking after a woman,” said Cat. “Tansy.”

“Tansy?” The maester looked at her blankly.

“You know no one by that name? A serving girl, a woman from some nearby village? Perhaps someone from years past?” Catelyn had been gone from Riverrun for a very long time.

“No, my lady. I can make inquiries, if you like. Utherydes Wayn would surely know if any such person ever served at Riverrun. Tansy, did you say? The smallfolk often name their daughters after flowers and herbs.” 

In retrospect, Maester Vyman is far more interesting than he appeared at first glance, because this is the man who actually prepared the tansy tea that Lysa was either forced into or tricked into consuming in order to terminate her first pregnancy with Petyr Baelish. However good he might be at responding “blankly” to inquiries, he absolutely knows what Tansy means. However, as a maester bound by oath to loyalty to the Lord of Riverrun, Vyman has to keep Hoster Tully’s secret and play dumb. At the same time, for whatever reason, Vyman does give Catelyn a little hint with his line about “the smallfolk often name their daughters after flowers and herbs,” trying to point her in the direction of “tansy tea.”

And once she’s got that clue to work on, Catelyn gets the right answer pretty damn quickly, especially when she starts thinking about the constant repetition of blood:

Lord Hoster moaned. “Forgive me,” he said, so softly she could scarcely hear the words. “Tansy… blood…the blood…gods be kind…”

His words disturbed her more than she could say, though she could make no sense of them. Blood, she thought. Must it all come back to blood? Father, who was this woman, and what did you do to her that needs so much forgiveness?

That night Catelyn slept fitfully, haunted by formless dreams of her children, the lost and the dead. Well before the break of day, she woke with her father’s words echoing in her ears. Sweet babes, and trueborn…why would he say that, unless…could he have fathered a bastard on this woman Tansy? She could not believe it. Her brother Edmure, yes; it would not have surprised her to learn that Edmure had a dozen natural children. But not her father, not Lord Hoster Tully, never.

Could Tansy be some pet name he called Lysa, the way he called me Cat? Lord Hoster had mistaken her for her sister before. You’ll have others, he said. Sweet babes, and trueborn.

Lysa had miscarried five times, twice in the Eyrie, thrice at King’s Landing…but never at Riverrun, where Lord Hoster would have been at hand to comfort her. Never, unless…unless she was with child, that first time…

Thus, in one chapter, Catelyn realizes that Hoster Tully forced or tricked his daughter into an abortion, because she had a child out of wedlock. Besides a brief period where she’s on the wrong track, Catelyn actually isn’t a half bad noir detective, especially in comparison to Ned. Frustration only sets in for re-readers of ASOS when they read this chapter in light of Sansa VII, and realize that Catelyn potentially could have blown the whole thing right there and then.

But whoever much we might want Catelyn to get the larger mystery – that Lysa Arryn murdered her husband, lied to Catelyn about the Lannisters being the culprits, and thus helped to start the War of Five Kings – there’s too many pieces of the puzzle that Catelyn simply has no access to. She knows that Lysa was suspiciously squirrelly about which Lannister killed Jon Arryn, and she has a suspicion that Littlefinger might have lied to her about the catspaw’s dagger, but at present she doesn’t have much of a reason to suspect a darker connection between Lysa and Littlefinger or that Lysa and/or Littlefinger wanted Jon Arryn dead. There’s also a lot of “red herrings” in that the Lannisters really did have some major secrets they wanted kept, and attacked the Starks to keep them. Now, if Littlefinger had gone to marry Lysa earlier, she might have been able to connect the dots, but that wasn’t the case.


Lysa “Tansy” Arryn, née Tully

This brings us to Lysa, a woman who I’ve described in the past as the foremost victim of the patriarchy in Westeros. And in this chapter, we see the extent of the damage done to her:

She and her sister had been married on the same day, and left in their father’s care when their new husbands had ridden off to rejoin Robert’s rebellion. Afterward, when their moon blood did not come at the accustomed time, Lysa had gushed happily of the sons she was certain they carried. “Your son will be heir to Winterfell and mine to the Eyrie. Oh, they’ll be the best of friends, like your Ned and Lord Robert. They’ll be more brothers than cousins, truly, I just know it.” She was so happy.

But Lysa’s blood had come not long after, and all the joy had gone out of her. Catelyn had always thought that Lysa had simply been a little late, but if she had been with child…

There is a tiny domestic tragedy in the fact that Lysa was happy in her marriage to a man twenty years older than her father – itself a depressingly common outcome in cultures with arranged marriages – as long as she thought that she was going to have Petyr Baelish’s baby. And I can’t help but imagine what might have been if Hoster had gone with the Lothston/Plumm solution to his problem – more on this later in the What If? section – especially when we see her sad hopes of having a close family relationship with Catelyn and her kids, instead of their virtual strangerhood.

And this only scratches the surface of what happened to Lysa. Now, it remains unclear whether Lysa’s fertility problems were due to her biology or Jon Arryn’s (Lysa mentions later that “his seed was old and weak,” and there is a previous history, with his first wife dying of a miscarriage and his second marriage was childless), but I’ve always wondered whether the herbal abortifacients her father gave her caused lifelong fertility problems. Which brings us to Hoster Tully’s role:

She remembered the first time she gave her sister Robb to hold; small, red-faced, and squalling, but strong even then, full of life. No sooner had Catelyn placed the babe in her sister’s arms than Lysa’s face dissolved into tears. Hurriedly she had thrust the baby back at Catelyn and fled.

If she had lost a child before, that might explain Father’s words, and much else besides…Lysa’s match with Lord Arryn had been hastily arranged, and Jon was an old man even then, older than their father. An old man without an heir. His first two wives had left him childless, his brother’s son had been murdered with Brandon Stark in King’s Landing, his gallant cousin had died in the Battle of the Bells. He needed a young wife if House Arryn was to continue…a young wife known to be fertile.

Catelyn rose, threw on a robe, and descended the steps to the darkened solar to stand over her father. A sense of helpless dread filled her. “Father,” she said, “Father, I know what you did.” She was no longer an innocent bride with a head full of dreams. She was a widow, a traitor, a grieving mother, and wise, wise in the ways of the world. “You made him take her,” she whispered. “Lysa was the price Jon Arryn had to pay for the swords and spears of House Tully.”

Cersei is usually held up as the gold standard for how the imperatives of feudal politics and dynastic alliances are worked out through women’s bodies, but I would argue that Lysa’s case is worse. It’s worse in no small part because Hoster Tully didn’t act out of maliciousness, but rather out of the kindest of motives. Rather than see his daughter disgraced and rendered unmarriagable, he pulled a high-handed power play on the power structure of the rebellion and got his daughter married to a great lord and the Hand of the King.

But even with these seemingly benevolent reasons, the sheer damage done is staggering – Lysa’s bodily integrity was torn from her with life-long devastating impact, and as a result, Jon Arryn was murdered, Ned Stark died, the Riverlands burned, and Riverrun given over to the house he scorned most in life. And the people responsible for the downfall of his house is the daughter who slept with the wrong man and the man he considered unfit for his daughter.

If this is the best that a benevolent patriarch can accomplish, what hope is there for the system as a whole? GRRM might not come out directly and put “ecrasez l’infame” in the mouths of his female characters, but I think the weight of evidence is starkly clear.

Dark Wings, Dark Words

Building on the idea of Catelyn Stark as a mother figure who has no option but but to watch and wait, the most momentous event of Catelyn I happens off the page. And this is true of so much of her life – Brandon’s death, Ned’s “siring” of Jon Snow, Ned’s death, the Battle of the Whispering Woods and the Battle of the Camps – these things happen to Catelyn from a long way away, leaving her as but an observer to her own life story. And so Catelyn becomes incredibly attuned to the importance of news from afar:

A raven came to the castle in later afternoon, flapping down on great black wings to the rookery. Dark wings, dark words, she thought…

“Something is wrong.” She knew it from his manner. He was hiding something from her. “Tell me. Is it Robb? Is her hurt?” Not dead, gods be good, please do not tell me he is dead.

“His Grace took a wound storming the Crag,” Maester Vyman said, still evasive, “but writes that it is no cause for concern and that he hopes to return soon.”

You almost get the sense from the way that Catelyn reacts to the sight of the ravens that she thinks that this is karma at work, that there has to be more punishment for freeing Jaime Lannister than just being confined to her father’s quarters. (Which, to be fair, is not a new attitude for her) But it’s just GRRM the fates at work, setting up all of the dominoes that are necessary to make the Red Wedding happen. And they really are dominoes, because no one thing on its own would make it happen:

  • if it had been Theon and nothing else, then Jaime would still be around as a prisoner to exchange, the Karstarks remain in the fold, and the Late Lord Frey’s betrayal would happen later – perhaps late enough that the deaths of Tywin Lannister and/or Balon Greyjoy might have changed the political equation enough to butterfly away the Red Wedding.
  • if it had been Jaime and nothing else, then Bran and Rickon’s survival at Winterfell would have obviated the need to return to the North (and quite possibly have nixed part of the Red Wedding – as Tywin would know that the Starks would fight on in the name of King Bran), Robb would have Jaime as a political chip to use, and the Bolton and/or betrayal might have been butterflied away or at least delayed.
  • if it had been Jeyne and nothing else, then the same thing happens up North, Robb still has Jaime on hand so the Karstarks remain in the fold, and he doesn’t need the Freys that much, either for their army or their bridge.
  • And even two out of the three probably wouldn’t have been enough – Theon and Jaime and no Jeyne might well have delayed Walder’s betrayal long enough for the Stark’s luck to turn with the deaths of Tywin and Balon; Theon and Jeyne would have still meant that Robb might have been able to bargain with Tywin for at least a truce; Jeyne and Jaime still means that the North holds for the Starks.
"The fuck did I do?"

“The fuck did I do?”

Edmure Tully, Eternal Baby Brother

Let’s talk about the long-suffering Edmure Tully, whom Catelyn seemingly permanently sees as just her fuck-up little brother – hence her comment earlier about “it would not have surprised her to learn that Edmure had a dozen natural children.” And let’s remember that Edmure has just come back from commanding a grueling multi-day battle fought across hundreds of miles:

“Edmure,” Catelyn said, worried, “you look unwell. Has something happened? Have the Lannisters crossed the river?”

“I threw them back. Lord Tywin, Gregor Clegane, Addam Marbrand, I turned them away. Stannis, though…he lost the battle at King’s Landing,” Edmure said unhappily. “His fleet was burned, his army routed.”

“…You do not understand. Highgarden has declared for Joffrey. Dorne as well. All the south.” His mouth tightened.

It is ironic at this moment that both Tully siblings have a difficulty with seeing cause and effect outside of where they want to see it: Edmure can see that Stannis’ defeat at the Blackwater has changed the balance of power in Westeros, by creating the Lannister/Tyrell alliance, but doesn’t connect the dots between his actions turning back Tywin and Stannis losing the battle. Meanwhile, Catelyn is narrowly focused on the immediate well-being of her family (and hung up on what she saw at Storm’s End) and is unwilling to see the cause and effect between her actions and the increasingly-desperate political position of House Stark:

“And you see fit to loose the Kingslayer. You had no right.”

“I had a mother’s right.” Her voice was calm, though the news about Highgarden was a savage blow to Robb’s hopes. She could not think about that now, though.

“No right,” Edmure repeated. “He was Robb’s captive, your king’s captive, and Robb charged me to keep him safe.”

Like all arguments between siblings, this one becomes immediately emotionally fraught, as personal grievances intersect with principled positions. It’s almost reminiscent of the central conflict in Sophocles’ Antigone: on a legal level, Edmure is entirely in the right. Catelyn had no right to free Jaime, and her doing so not only was an act of treason against her own son, but tainted Edmure’s honor by causing him to fail his orders from Robb without his knowledge. But on an emotional level, the idea of a “mother’s right” is unanswerable. As Stannis himself says, “the laws of blood are older than the laws of men.

At the same time, when we focus on the practical objective – getting Sansa and Arya back – I still think Catelyn is in the wrong here. Because without the right, there is no exchange of prisoners, just a jailbreak. And at some level, I think Catelyn knows this, but is still operating in a state of shock that means she won’t let herself think about this. Unfortunately for her, Edmure’s about to hit her with a piece of news that’s going to shove it in her face about how rickety her whole plan was from the beginning:

“…Cersei will never give them up.”

“Not Cersei. Tyrion. He swore it, in open court. And the Kingslayer swore it as well.”

“Jaime’s word is worthless. As for the Imp, it’s said he took an axe in the head during the battle. He’ll be dead before your Brienne reaches King’s Landing, if she ever does.”

“Dead?” Could the gods truly be so merciless? She had made Jaime swear a hundred oaths, but it was his brother’s promise she had pinned her hopes on.

As I’ve been saying from ACOK onwards, Catelyn ought to have known better. Yes, it’s absolutely true that Jaime’s word cannot be relied upon from his own admission, but she also knows from the attempted rescue that Tyrion’s entire offer was made in bad faith, so that even if he had remained Hand there’s no guarantee he would have handed over his prisoners. And even if that was not the case, Edmure’s comment about Cersei makes an important point – neither Jaime nor Tyrion are the only people with a say in what happens to the Stark sisters. Cersei is still the Queen Regent, Joffrey is still the king, and Tywin is once again Hand of the King, and they have as much if not more say in the eventual disposition of hostages. (And even if they were on-board, they don’t have Arya to hand over…)

And this is why I feel that her final retort to Edmure, however grounded it might be in perfectly understandable sentiment, is a bit unfair:

Edmure was blind to her distress. “Jaime was my charge, and I mean to have him back. I’ve sent ravens—”

“Ravens to whom? How many?”

“Three,” he said, “so the message will be certain to reach Lord Bolton. By river or road, the way from Riverrun to King’s Landing must needs take them close by Harrenhal.”

“Harrenhal.” The very word seemed to darken the room. Horror thickened her voice as she said, “Edmure, do you know what you have done?”

“Have no fear, I left your part out. I wrote that Jaime had escaped, and offered a thousand dragons for his recapture.”

Worse and worse, Catelyn thought in despair. My brother is a fool. Unbidden, unwanted, tears filled her eyes. “If this was an escape,” she said softly, “and not an exchange of hostages, why should the Lannisters give my daughters to Brienne?”

“It will never come to that. The Kingslayer will be returned to us, I have made certain of it.”

“All you have made certain is that I shall never see my daughters again. Brienne might have gotten him to King’s Landing safely . . . so long as no one was hunting for them.”

In the first place, as I have already said, there’s no reason for the Lannisters to give Sansa and Arya over to Brienne even if they had both of them – prisoner exchanges don’t work with one side making a verbal offer and then the other side handing over their part of the deal unilaterally, taking it on faith that the first party will follow through. You need a formal agreement ahead of time, where the leadership of both sides buy in to the provisions of the deal so that their decisions are binding on their subordinates. You also need a simultaneous exchange and/or a neutral place for the hand-over to occur, so that neither side can back out of the deal. Catelyn simply is not conducting a prisoner exchange, as much as she wants to believe otherwise.

Secondly, the Riverlands are not safe, regardless of what Edmure did. It’s not like Roose Bolton doesn’t have the Brave Companions reaving around Harrenhal, it’s not like the Brotherhood Without Banners aren’t out there looking for noble captives to ransom, and it’s not like Rickard Karstark isn’t going to send his men harrying the countryside the moment he gets back from the Westerlands and finds out that Jaime has been let go.

Thirdly, and speaking of Roose Bolton, this message from Edmure brings up something I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Given that Roose Bolton has advanced knowledge of Jaime’s escape with Brienne, is it therefore the case that he sent people out to find them specifically? And if that’s the case, why send a known loose cannon and backstabber like Vargo Hoat to recover such a valuable prisoner, isntead of someone more dependable like Steelshanks Walton? And why didn’t Roose do something more about Vargo Hoat trying to force his hand by removing Jaime’s? Something to keep my eye on for future Jaime chapters.

Historical Analysis

There’s a couple different historical topics to talk about this week, so let’s dig in!

The first one to talk about is the history of herbal abortificients, which have been in use pretty much throughout human history. (Indeed, the plant silphium was so popular among the ancient Greeks and Romans that they drove it into extinction through over-use) I still remember a paper I read for a course on the history of capitalism that I took as an undergraduate, which showed that the demographics of medieval Europe and Japan, both in terms of the spacing and gender patterns of births, show that family planning was used extensively by the peasantry regardless of any cultural taboos against it (although most customs against abortions in all circumstances are actually of very recent provenance, and historically up until the “quickening” of a child, authorities accepted the use of abortifacients) because peasants can’t be sentimental about family size and patterns of inheritance.

There are any number of herbs and other substances that have been used for this purpose throughout history – tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a very real plant that has been used for a variety of medical purposes from ancient Greece to the 19th century, and one of those purposes was to induce abortions. However, the problem with these methods is that they pretty much all work because they’re toxic in nature (and dosage is always a bit tricky with plants), and therefore they tend to come with some very nasty side-effects…including long-term fertility problems. So kudos to GRRM for doing his research here.

Second, let’s talk for a moment about prisoner exchanges. While we’re probably most familiar with prisoner exchanges in the context of the modern Geneva Conventions on the treatment of military prisoners, it’s a pretty ancient custom, easily predating the medieval custom of ransoms for knights and other noble prisoners. The Arabs and Byzantines made it a regular practice, building two bridges over the river Lamos on the Arab/Byzantine border in Cilicia, one for each side of prisoners. Men would be sent simultaneously, one-by-one across their intended bridges, until the exchange was over, at which point surplus prisoners would be ransomed for money or sold as slaves. This practice continued for two hundred years, with thousands of soldiers exchanged at each event, which would stretch out for weeks.

And one of the common themes of many prisoner exchange systems is a high degree of formality. Whether we’re talking about Mediterranean pirates holding Julius Caesar for ransom, or the frankly ridiculously complex German customs of weregild, or the ostentatiously lavish treatment of knightly hostages in Medieval Europe, this is a practice grounded in honor systems (hence the idea that those of higher status deserve better treatment and fetch a higher price than common soldiers). It’s not the sort of thing you do on the sly or in a hurry, so I don’t think this was ever going to work for Catelyn.

What If?

So I see one main hypothetical in this chapter (as opposed to the stuff with Edmure sending people after Brienne, which I handled last chapter):

  • What if Lysa had carried her baby to term? Now, the Arryns are a family known for their overblown sense of honor and pride, so it may have been the case that Jon Arryn knew about the pregnancy and insisted on a termination so as to avoid being cuckolded. But if that wasn’t the case, I do think it might have been best if Jon Arryn and Lysa Tully’s marriage had started with a healthy baby boy instead of five miscarriages. Jon would have left behind an adult male heir as opposed to a feeble child, and Lysa may well have continued to have four more children that could have prevented House Arryn’s slide into extinction. And while I don’t think their marriage would have been a particularly passionate one, I do think that Lysa’s improved physical and mental wellbeing and Jon’s improved satisfaction would have made it functional rather than murderous and neglectful, respectively.
  • And this changes a lot. To begin with, Littlefinger’s scheme doesn’t work at all if Jon Arryn’s death brings a Robb-aged Robert Arryn to power, rather than an extended Lysa regency which allows him to seize the Eyrie by right of marriage and regency. Yes, he can probably put the Starks and Lannisters at odds, but he has no way of ensuring that the conflict drags on by keeping the Vale out of the equation.
  • This is especially true if a less anxious Lysa follows through with her plan to have Robb and Robert be “the best of friends, like your Ned and Lord Robert. They’ll be more brothers than cousins.” If the name twins spend a lot of time hanging out as they grow up, then you have the makings of the reconstruction of the Southron Ambitions alliance from Robert’s Rebellion. In that circumstance, then the War of Five Kings happens very differently, with the Lannisters potentially knocked out of the war early if the knights of the Vale slam into Tywin’s army as it retreats from the Green Fork while Robb’s army relieves Riverrun. Then again, Tywin’s entire strategy might well change with that kind of knowledge.

Book vs. Show:

I felt very mixed on Season 3’s Catelyn storyline in the early episodes, although I think it gets better later on. Mostly, this is due to the sudden shift from the end of Season 2, where Robb is winning the war, to the beginning of Season 3, where he is inexplicably losing the war, but I’ll discuss this more in the next Catelyn chapter. Rather, because the Tullys have yet to be introduced, all of Catelyn’s post-Jaime interactions are all with Robb, which leads to some really awkward recrimination and moping in ways that aren’t hugely productive.

139 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn I, ASOS

  1. Grant says:

    A lot of dominoes did have to fall, but thinking about all the problems faced it’s not that surprising that sooner or later all the small things built up to be too much, both for Westeros’ political system and for the Starks.

    One thing I’ve always wondered about is why there doesn’t seem to be really strong warnings about the Boltons. They’re a family that has both been a dangerous rival to the Starks and has a very deserved reputation for brutal behavior. Robb mentions that Roose gives him the creeps, but nothing about Ned or Catelyn always reminding him to keep an eye on the Boltons?

    • Sean C. says:

      Jon thinks in ADWD that Ned “never had cause to doubt” Roose’s loyalty.

      • Grant says:

        I can’t find that quote or one similar in Jon’s chapters. In any case, that’s late into the series and they’re aware of other dangers throughout the early books. I wonder if the Boltons were introduced quickly.

        • Nittanian says:

          “What if Bolton never had his sister? This wedding could well be just some ruse to lure Stannis into a trap. Eddard Stark had never had any reason to complain of the Lord of the Dreadfort, so far as Jon knew, but even so he had never trusted him, with his whispery voice and his pale, pale eyes.” (ADWD Jon VII)

        • Ian G. says:

          The Boltons get introduced as menacing all the way back in AGOT – Bran specifically marks out their banner as “hideous” and Robb tells him in the same chapter that Roose scares him more than any other lord. House Bolton is consistently identified as ominous.

          The chapter in ADWD has Jon reflecting that Ned “had never had cause to complain of the Lord of the Dreadfort”, which I’ve earlier called the absolute best case scenario for Stark-Bolton relations, a sort of chilly politesse. It’s meaningfully less positive than the “never had cause to doubt” language Sean remembered,

    • True, but GRRM’s thumb is noticeable.

      As for the Boltons, they’ve been quiet for a long time, as per Roose’s policy of “a peaceful land, a quiet people.”

    • Steven Xue says:

      I think at this point in the North’s history the Boltons have become regarded to the Starks the same way the Royces are to the Arryns. Which is even though they had been historical adversaries to the Starks in the past, in the present they haven’t given the Starks cause to doubt their loyalty and seem at least publically to be working in their best interests. The fact that Roose has followed through in his feudal duty by joining the Starks in both rebellions would give one the impression that they are powerful yet loyal bannerman like the Royces.

      • Space Oddity says:

        That is not how the Royces are regarded by the Arryns at all, despite a great deal of fanon that suggests it. The Royces are loyal, and have helped prop up the Arryns on numerous occasions.

        • Steven Xue says:

          This I find quite surprising since they used to be bitter enemies, and yet even though they are now subordinate to the Arryns aren’t constantly trying to undermine or supplant their leigh lords. Surprisingly they don’t seem to resent the Arryns at all for taking away their kingly status when they invaded their lands all those centuries ago. I guess this just shows how honorable Valemen truly are.

          • Crystal says:

            It puts a new spin on why Domeric Bolton was fostered in the Vale with the Redforts. Maybe, possibly (though certainly not proven) this was, at least partly, Ned’s idea. Fostering Domeric in the Vale would teach him honor and loyalty. It seems to have worked; too bad young Dom really, really wanted a brother. :/

  2. Sean C. says:

    Ah, ASOS Catelyn chapters. A long straight descent into the abyss.

    • Brett says:

      Tell me about it. Just watching things fall downward, downward, until you get to the Red Wedding chapter . . .

    • Crystal says:

      Hers are the most heartbreaking and ominous, IMO – along with Theon’s ACOK chapters. Though the latter descends to the abyss through his own hubris and screwups, and Catelyn’s are much more fated, and Cat is a sympathetic figure where Theon is just an ass.

      • Sean C. says:

        Theon’s ACOK story at least has midpoint success that could have turned into a spectacular victory if not for his own errors. With Catelyn at this point, the cake is already baked, and to the extent that it isn’t, other people are making the key calls, not her.

  3. It’s interesting that Cat denies a mother’s madness in her dealings with Sers Desmond and Utherdyes, yet invokes a mother’s right with Edmure.

    • Speaking of people not being consistently consistent…

      • Brett says:

        That’s got to be one of the hardest things to write well – a character not being themselves because of grief or trauma. It reminds me of the complaints that Cersei had a derailed character because she descended into paranoia and worse after Joffrey was assassinated.

      • Yup, I was thinking she put on one face for the knights to show that indeed she was responsible, but then another for Edmure. Both are true. She was acting under her own agency with her own rationale,but her status as a mother cannot be denied or discounted in her transgressions.

  4. Brett says:

    Then again, Tywin’s entire strategy might well change with that kind of knowledge.

    I think Tywin just doesn’t go to war over Tyrion in that situation, instead trying other channels (like demanding that Tyrion be returned to King’s Landing to face trial, or the like). It would be way too risky, and what he did in the storyline was already risky.

    Did mixed marriages not happen frequently with the medieval nobility? I’m curious as to what happened with the aristocratic children of an aristocratic widow (or aristocratic child-out-of-wedlock haver) if or when she remarried.

    However, the problem with these methods is that they pretty much all work because they’re toxic in nature

    That also fits Pennyroyal to a T. It works as an abortifacient . . . if you don’t mind the potential liver damage from taking enough for it to work.

    • nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

      GRRM does say don’t try this at home, yeah. He knows how dangerous the plants are in real life.

    • Sean C. says:

      If you go back to Tywin’s strategizing sessions in AGOT, he was already assuming the Arryns would enter the fray, if I recall correctly (which makes his whole invasion strategy even dumber, though luckily for him GRRM made sure things worked out).

    • Oh, I think Tywin would go to war, but he would be slower about it and be looking around for more allies.

      What do you mean by mixed marriages? Between different socioeconomic groups? Second marriages? Etc.

      • Brett says:

        Second marriages, between nobles of relatively similar station.

        • scarlett45 says:

          I would assume regular inheritance rules still apply. If a highborn woman had children from her first marriage the “heir and the spare” may stay at their ancestral home to learn to rule and be raised by others, while the younger sons/girls would possibly move in with their mom and new husband. A man’s sons with still inherit in birth order, but then you have half siblings and step mother’s possibly plotting to move up in the line of succession.

    • Lann says:

      I think that Tywin totally expected the Vale to support the Riverlands OTL and had some plan against it. He had no reason to think that they wouldn’t aid the riverlands.

      • Steven Xue says:

        Knowing how swiftly Tywin’s army poured through the Riverlands and captured Edmure and other Riverlords before Robb came to their aid. I think Tywin was hoping to go for the quick kill and expected he would scatter both the North and Riverland armies by the time the Vale came to reinforce them.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by mixed marriages? Nothing happened to aristocratic children of an aristocratic widow when she remarried, why would it? They just continued to be who they had always been.

  5. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Fantastic essay, Steve.

    “(Indeed, the plant silphium was so popular among the ancient Greeks and Romans that they drove it into extinction through over-use)”
    This is something I’ve never understood. How can you harvest a plant so much that it becomes extinct?

    • By harvesting all of it.

      • Tywin of the Hill says:

        Can’t they just sow more?

        • Apparently they failed to.

        • David Hunt says:

          It’s been a long time since I read anything on the plant, but IIRC, something about the plant made it impractical/impossible to cultivate. It had to be found and gathered in the wild. I suspect if fell victim to a combination of over-harvesting and loss of habitat.

          • Crystal says:

            There are two books by John M. Riddle “Contraception from the Ancient World to the Renaissance” and “Eve’s Herbs,” discussing herbal birth control in the ancient world and Middle Ages. Riddle mentions sylphium, and, apparently, it had a very limited habitat in North Africa, could not be cultivated, could not grow anywhere else, so the only wild population got harvested into extinction.

  6. Andrew says:

    1. Regarding silphium, it’s speculated that’s also where we got the popular, anatomically-inaccurate heart shape given writers at the time connected it to sexuality and love. Funny, because nothing says I love you like Valentines given in the shape of a contraceptive/abortificant.

    2. It comes to no surprise now as to why Lysa never goes to see her father or contact him after that.

    3. “the Kinglsayer will be returned to us. I have made certain of that.”

    The irony being Jaime is returned to Riverrun only to be the one in charge with Edmure as the prisoner.

  7. Riusma says:

    “In retrospect, Maester Vyman is far more interesting than he appeared at first glance, because this is the man who actually prepared the tansy tea that Lysa was either forced into or tricked into consuming in order to terminate her first pregnancy with Petyr Baelish.”

    This is wrong…

    “That’s past and done, Lysa. Lord Hoster’s dead, and his old maester as well.” (ASOS, Sansa VII)

    The name of the “old maester” was Kym (ACOK, Catelyn VI). 😉

  8. stephendanay says:

    Great work as always man. Quick question, slightly on topic. Does Maester Vyman stay at Riverrun at the end of Feast? I know maesters are supposed to be bound to their castles but if Emmon and Genna wanted a fresh one and Vyman decided to accompany Jeyne and Edmure west in Forley Prester’s convoy, I feel like he’d be a fantastic choice for the Winds Prologue POV. It would fit the “Beyond-the-Wall/Maester” pattern we’ve had so far and it would also be a great way to get some further backstory on Catelyn and the Tullys, which would make an especially nice contrast given the likelihood of Stoneheart and the BwB attacking the convoy.

    • nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

      In AFFC Jaime VII, Prester leaves with Edmure and the Westerlings, and at the end of the chapter Maester Vyman at Riverrun gives Jaime the letter from Cersei, so nope, he’s not with them.

      • stephendanay says:

        Ah, that’s what I suspected. Thanks for checking.

        Man. I really wish Martin would release the Prologue like he did with Dance. Really curious to find out how that all goes down.

        • That’s exactly why he won’t and shouldn’t release it. It doesn’t make sense to release ahead things that people are eager and anxious to find out about. That way you diminish people’s interest in the book, instead of augmenting it. You release chapters that set things up and wet the appetite. The Dance prologue was super interesting and great, but didn’t spoil anything.

  9. nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

    I’m pretty sure Lysa was given the moon tea before she married Jon Arryn. If the marriage was to cover up a pregnancy, then she wouldn’t have been given an abortifacient. “Father said I ought to thank the gods that so great a lord as Jon Arryn was willing to take me soiled.” She lost her first child with Jon (her period came later than usual the first month, most likely a miscarriage) either because the moon tea had hurt her uterus or because of Jon’s “weak seed”.

    And yeah, it was Catelyn’s childhood maester Kym who prepared the moon tea for Lysa, not Vyman. Though Vyman does know what tansy’s for, so he could have been a bit more helpful.

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      My guess is that a senile Hoster told Vyman the moon tea’s story when the maester was taking care of him, and Vyman, trying to protect Hoster’s secrets and Lysa’s dignity, decided not to tell Catelyn.

      • David Hunt says:

        I don’t think Lord Hoster ever fell victim to senility, or at least only after we meet him. He was perfectly lucid but too weak to leave his bed when Cat visits him in AGOT. I think it’s the drugs that he’s given for pain relief that make him seem senile, but that he was instead in a permanent drug fueled haze.

      • Your 50s are too early to be senile.

    • nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

      Also there’s no way the timing would have allowed for Petyr’s baby to have been passed off as Jon’s. He’d been sent away almost a year before the double marriage, as Lyanna was kidnapped and Brandon’s murder was in early 282, and the wedding was months later, around the time of the Battle of the Bells (very early 283).

    • Keith B says:

      Jon Arryn probably didn’t know she had been pregnant, and certainly didn’t know it was Littlefinger. Even if she had been allowed to have the baby, he would not have accepted it as his own. And if he had known about Littlefinger, he wouldn’t have hired him for any position, especially one that brought him within proximity to Lysa.

      Everyone seems to be placing all the blame on Hoster. Why isn’t Lysa at fault too? Nobody forced her to sleep with Baelish. She knew it was wrong, and especially with him. What did she expect would happen?

      • Sean C. says:

        From the sound of it, Lysa raped Littlefinger, since he apparently thought it was Catelyn and thus clearly wasn’t in his right mind at the time. But as far as the pregnancy itself and the abortion go, I don’t see how she can be thought to be at fault; from the sound of it, she would have been fine with having the baby and the consequences that ensued (particularly if it had resulted in a shotgun wedding to her beloved).

        • nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

          Lysa and Petyr had sex at least twice. Once after the feast that Lords Blackwood and Bracken attended, where Petyr and Cat danced and when he tried to kiss her she was like “nope” so he got very drunk, and then Lysa came up to his room (she was drunk too) they had sex and he called her Cat. The other time they had sex was probably after the duel, when Lysa was nursing his wound. That’s why Littlefinger believes he took the virginity of both the Tully girls (which he boasts about), when both times it was just Lysa. Lysa probably became pregnant the second time, though the timing isn’t quite clear there.

          And yes, Lysa expected to marry Petyr, “I told Father that, I said Petyr’s so clever, he’ll rise high, he will, he will, and he’s sweet and gentle and I have his little baby in my belly.” Instead Hoster called him a “stripling” and “wretched boy”, and gave her the moon tea. (That convo’s in ACOK Catelyn V, so really this mystery of what Hoster did to Lysa that made her abandon him, that he keeps begging her forgiveness for, goes across the length of two books.)

          • Keith B says:

            Highborn girls in Westeros don’t get to marry whom they like. Neither do highborn boys, for that matter. Lysa knew that, but she went ahead anyway. In Hoster’s view, he tried to do the best he could for her, even after she had put him in a terrible position. “Family, duty, honor,” right?

            Sure, the system stinks, but all of Westeros’ social and political institutions are pretty horrible. Someone needs to put things right, and not the Targaryens. They had almost 300 years to do it, and were just as bad if not worse than all the rest.

          • @Keith B: When they get pregnant, they usually get hastily married to someone, even if he’s far below their station. So, Lysa had every reason to think she’d be allowed to marry Petyr.

        • It doesn’t seem like Lysa was aware that Petyr thought she was Cat while they were having sex, until he called her Cat. So, she probably did not set out to rape him.

      • Crystal says:

        Something tells me that Lysa was never that tightly wrapped in the first place. She got all of Edmure’s heedlessness and thoughtlessness, and none of his kind heart and good intentions. Cat and Edmure are both fundamentally decent people but I wonder if Lysa ever was.

        While patriarchy deeply screwed over women like Lysa and Cersei, I think there was a core of instability there to begin with – and, in Cersei’s case, being brought up by Tywin Lannister was a strike against her to begin with. (And the feudal patriarchy is bad for men like Sam Tarly and Tyrion Lannister, too.)

        I agree that Lysa had to have known that marrying Petyr was a no-go, and she shouldn’t, by the mores of her society, have slept with him (and she wasn’t forced!) – I think she had a case of Stubborn-and-Self-Willed-Itis. What would Hoster have done, I wonder, if she and Petyr did like Jaehaerys II and Shaera, and eloped? Could he have dissolved the marriage like Tywin did with Tyrion and Tysha?

        (And yes, the whole structure of Westeros needs an overhaul. A dominant middle class and constitutional monarchy, ideally! But I’d settle for Queen Sansa and Prime Minister Davos.)

        • On the contrary, marrying Petyr was probably the most realistic possibility once she got pregnant by him. Highborn girls who get “dishonored” often get married to men below their station (Delena Florent, Gatehouse Ami).

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I thought this as well. Arryn refused to take Lysa until he knew for a fact that the affair had been handled. Hoster made the marriage a sticking point of the alliance because he knew that he’d never get another chance to marry Lysa off after what she’d done.

      • Incorrect. He could have married her off easily – to someone far below her station, either Baelish or someone else. See Delena Florent, Gatehouse Ami. But he didn’t want to marry her to someone below her station.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          That is more or less what I meant- Lysa’s normal prospects were ruined, and she would have been reduced to a life far below what Hoster wanted for her.

  10. Steven Xue says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this essay. Very riveting work Steven.

    Until now I hadn’t realized how much of a victim Lysa actually was to the machinations of feudal dynastic politics. Although I can’t say she copped it worse than Cersei. Despite her morbidness, at least Jon was quite the gentleman compared to Robert. He at least didn’t spend their marriage drinking, womanizing and abusing (even raping) Lysa.

    Still I suppose the best of all possible worlds would have been if Hoster allowed her have Baelish’s child and pass it off as Jon’s. If that had happened I do wonder if Littlefinger would have still gone through with his dastardly plan? The reason why he has gone to the trouble of bringing chaos and strife to Westeros was partly out of revenge against Hoster Tully who banished him for impregnating Lysa and then terminating his unborn child.

    Had Lysa given birth to his kid and everyone pretended like that kid was Jon Arryn’s heir with Littlefinger still being in a position to work for Jon and getting to see his kid then that might not have driven him into going down a dark path.

    • David Hunt says:

      I can’t believe Lord Hoster would have allowed the child of boy half-a-step above a hedge knight to be passed off as the heir to the ancient Arryn lineage. Nor do I think it likely he would allow Lord Jon to be publicly shamed by giving him a wife with a bastard on the way, because if the baby is allowed to be born (especially a boy) he’s got to publicly proclaim it a bastard to make sure that only a trueborn Arryn inherited the Eyrie.

      But even if the Tully’s passed off Petyr’s child as Jon’s, I don’t think that’s going to make LF less of a vengeance obsessed psycho. He still was sent away without his beloved Cat who spurned him afterwards and never even read his letters. Losing Cat and being declared unworthy of her by the Great Starks and Tullys is the real “wrong” that sticks in his craw. I think he doesn’t even really want Cat anymore when the books start, but he wants the girl he lost in the duel with Brandon. That is why he’s so creepy with Sansa. She seems more the “Cat” he lost than the real one to him.

      • Steven Xue says:

        I think the reason why he is a ‘vengeance obsessed psycho’ is because he doesn’t have anything else going for him. He doesn’t have any family or friends or anyone who loves him to share happy moments with. All he really has is those happy memories in his youth and the resentment he now feels for them being snatched away by the people who looked down on him because of his low birth.

        I’m sure if his kid was born and he was allowed to see them grow and be around sort of like in Jaime’s position, then perhaps the wellbeing of his son might have given him something else to strive for than bitter revenge. I’m not saying that would have been the case but I seriously don’t believe Littlefinger is evil because he’s a vengeful psychopath but rather because he has no other purpose in life.

        • Crystal says:

          I wonder how much lack of family affected LF? Because there he is, grooming Sansa as both foster daughter and lover (ech) while naming her after HIS MOTHER. Freud would have a picnic with that one!

    • beto2702 says:

      Are you… suggesting that LF might not have been… as bad? Like a nice person happy with working for Jon Arryn?

      No, that’s not going to happen.

      Also, even in the extreme case that Jon would be willing to pass LF’s son as his own… he wouldn’t do it as his firstborn and heir.

    • Jon wasn’t as bad as Robert, but on the other hand, Cersei didn’t have to deal with five miscarriages.

    • Lann says:

      Somehow I don’t think LF cared much about the child since it was Lysa’s not Cat’s.

  11. nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

    Oh, btw, awesome essay as usual. It’s interesting, even though the tansy mystery is resolved in one chapter, you’d be surprised how many people think it was Hoster who got Lysa pregnant (I follow book liveblogs, it’s too damn common). Too much incest in these books, alas.

    But the mystery is also relevant throughout the book, in re the herbal posset Sybell Westerling gives her daughter Jeyne. Kind of a 1-2-3-4, with Hoster’s tansy, then Sybell’s herbs, then Lysa’s reveal, then Sybell’s reveal in AFFC.

    • Hoster…god, that’s gross. Seriously, it’s bad enough without.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, and at the end of ASOS, Lysa comes right out and says that it was Petyr’s child she was carrying. Jeez.

        There are far too many people that think GRRM has awful things happen to his characters for the sake of awfulness and that he just sits in Santa Fe laughing at how disgusted he makes his readers feel. They don’t get the point that there’s still about a third of the story to go and any character that gets a happy ending has been effectively written out of the story. e.g. the Hound.

        • Sean C. says:

          There are far too many people that think GRRM has awful things happen to his characters for the sake of awfulness and that he just sits in Santa Fe laughing at how disgusted he makes his readers feel.

          Well, by the time you get to some of the stuff in ADWD, I can understand where that sentiment comes from.

        • Sandor Clegane hasn’t gotten a happy ending. If that was the ending for him, being stuck as a mute monk at a monastery at age of 29 through no choice of his own. that wouldn’t be a happy ending, it would be damn depressing. But it’s clearly not a ending, and he hasn’t been written out of the story.

  12. Crystal says:

    Cat’s chapters in ASOS are one long gothic horror story with the ominous buildup to the RW.

    With Lysa – I think that it was a combo of her tansy-induced abortion plus Jon Arryn’s subfertility that meant Sweetrobin was their only, sickly, surviving child. Jon had no children with his first two wives, and aging degrades sperm quality. Even if Lysa hadn’t taken the tansy tea, she might have had trouble bearing a living, healthy child.

    Now if she’d been allowed to bear Petyr’s child, and hastily married off to Jon Arryn a-la Elaena Targaryen, then I think “this” Robert Arryn would have been healthy and normal, albeit spoiled rotten and doted on. I think that a Sansa/Robert Arryn betrothal might have happened sooner rather than later, as in even before King Bob came to visit – Sansa was always being groomed for a grand match (no bannerman’s son for her, I think!) – Cat would have pushed to marry Sansa to her cousin Robert, heir to the Eyrie, and a grand match.

    This would butterfly away the Sansa/Joffrey betrothal, possibly substituting a Joffrey/Arya one, though Ned might have put his foot down hard considering Arya was nine.

    On herbal contraceptives: I have a book called “Eve’s Herbs,” by John Riddle, which discusses herbal contraceptives used in the Middle Ages. Riddle concluded that herbal birth control was widely practiced from ancient times – and it often did work. It certainly was chancier and more dangerous than modern methods, but women have always tried to limit family size and space births by some means.

    Riddle also discusses sylphium – apparently it only grew in a limited area in North Africa and was impossible to cultivate or grow elsewhere, and so it was over-harvested into extinction.

    • Sean C. says:

      Re: Jon Arryn, his first wife, Jeyne Royce, died in the process of delivering a stillborn baby, so it doesn’t sound like there was necessarily a problem with his sperm at that point. Though we don’t know a ton about his marital history; maybe he and Lady Jeyne were married a while and had problems conceiving? I always figured that Lady Jeyne got pregnant in the normal course and then died, and he was married to Lady Rowena for a long time, but they never conceived — which would explain why, on her death, he was by that point content with Elbert inheriting and never tried for a third wife and heirs of his own until the War of Five Kings intervened.

      • Crystal says:

        And of course Jon *had* to try for an heir once Elbert was “Aerys’d” to death. But the ideas of the times would have blamed any infertility on the woman. Still, I don’t think Jon was super-fertile in the first place (or Rowena would have had a child), and aging could only have enfeebled his little swimmers even more. So while many readers blame the tansy entirely for SR being Lysa’s only living child, she still had to contend with a husband who was probably not very fertile himself.

        In his bio of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives blamed Henry VIII for the fertility disaster that was his marital career. He pointed out that Catherine of Aragon’s two surviving sisters had large families, Mary Boleyn had healthy children who lived to grow up, and so did Jane Seymour’s siblings. I’ve seen various articles on the subject pop up here and there, like this one:

        • Sean C. says:

          Well, Rowena could have been infertile. We don’t really have a basis for comparison there. I don’t think Jon had to marry again after Elbert died; he had Denys and his sister’s various descendants, more numerous at that point (indeed, Harry the Heir was Jon’s heir for the first several years of his life, until Robert Arryn was born). He married Lysa because it was Hoster Tully’s price for the alliance.

          • Crystal says:

            And, come to think of it – Lysa was not only young, fertile, and highborn – she was, in her youth, very attractive. I think that helped matters along. If it were not for her lack of virginity, she’d have been the perfect young trophy wife.

  13. poorquentyn says:

    Great essay! Very much looking forward to the Westerling intro and reveal in Catelyn II. Some of GRRM’s very best family-dynamics work in these early ASOS Catelyn chapters, on par with “The Princess in the Tower” or Stannis v. Renly at Storm’s End. All, of course, to cement the intimacy and familiarity so we feel it when the red runs like an Overlook elevator.

  14. beto2702 says:

    What if Catelyn goes nuts, stabs Edmure and runs away to Dorne to lead the Sand Snakes?

    Jk, but honestly, what if Edmure dies? Not sure if you have talked about Edmure not returning from his battle in previous chaps.

    Also… you talked too much about tansy and no “What if Cat gets the truth out of the maester?” scenario?

    • Sean C. says:

      If Edmure dies, Catelyn is the Lady of Riverrun and the bride at the Red Wedding is probably Catelyn herself, I’d think (there’s nobody else sufficiently important to offer). Identity of the groom TBD.

      The Freys would presumably have made more of a point of keeping her alive in that case, no matter if she went nuts. That would change things considerably.

      • Chris says:

        If Catelyn is already bound to Winterfell and Lysa is alread bound to the Eyrie, wouldn’t that preclude them from becoming Lady of Riverrun?

        • Sean C. says:

          No, not in the least. They’re not “bound to” those areas; that’s where they live at present. They can move, or move between residences, as the case may be.

      • beto2702 says:

        I don’t see Cat living peacefully with the Freys, specially if she witnesses the whole thing.

        I say Cat kills herself, if she’s lucky, she takes Walder with her.

      • Maybe they’d marry her to Black Walder, but while I can’t remember other adult male unmarried Freys, I’m sure there are others as well.

        In any case, they would be very eager to force her to have a child – and in that case, it would be really important for it to be a son, as he would be Cat’s heir, ahead of Sansa and Arya in the line of inheritance of Riverrun.

    • Well, she figures out the truth so it doesn’t work as a hypothetical.

      Edmure dying…yeah, I missed that one. Someone else has to step up to be the bridegroom, I guess.

      • beto2702 says:

        How about the Blackfish? Doesn’t he end up as the lord of Riverrun after all this?

        About the tansy, Cat has a good guess… but she’s not totally certain. Maybe she could have gotten LF’s name out of her father? Or maybe someone else, if she knew what she was looking for. I guess not much changes either way.

        • Keith B says:

          I believe the normal line of inheritance is sons, then daughters, then brothers, then sisters. (A will or other legal arrangement may change that.) If Edmure has no children and no brothers, Riverrun would go to his sister Catelyn; then her children (and their children); then Lysa and her children. Only if Hoster’s entire line becomes extinct would his brother Brynden inherit.

          • Steven Xue says:

            Normally I suppose they may go that route but since it is a time of war and the Riverlanders need a lord rather than a lady (a disgraced one to boot) leading them into battle, then under those circumstances Cat and Robb may just agree to pass Riverrun and overlordship of the Riverlands to the Blackfish. Robb does later on name him Warden of the Southern Marches when he was about to go back North. Giving him Riverrun will help add weight to his authority.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          A daughter comes before an uncle. After Edmure is his children, then Catelyn and her children, and Lysa and her children. Only once ALL of them are dead does the Blackfish get a claim.

  15. Captain Splendid says:

    While releasing Jaime is easily Catelyn’s biggest mistake, I’ve always found it a bit hard to fault her. Sure, her execution could have been a bit better (although given the circumstances, it’s impressive she pulled off the jailbreak in the first place), but Jaime wasn’t actually doing anything for Robb and his army, was he?

    I mean, If Jaime is as important to Tywin as we all think he is, you’d think he’d be negotiating with Robb, not attacking him and his allies.

    • poorquentyn says:

      I think the idea is to bring Robb to his knees to ensure that Tywin can get Jaime back with minimal cost. I very much doubt Tywin goes ahead with the Red Wedding if Robb still holds Tywin’s intended heir.

      • Captain Splendid says:

        That’s a bit unilateral, no? What if Robb says “back off or I’m beheading your heir?”

        • Keith B says:

          They have Sansa and (the Starks think) Arya, thanks to Ned’s bungling. So it’s a standoff.

          • Captain Splendid says:

            But that’s my whole point – no one, least of all Tywin, is standing off.

          • Sean C. says:

            Because Tywin has Sansa and (as far as they know) Arya. That effectively means that both parties’ hostages are useless for anything other than keeping the other side’s hostage alive.

          • Captain Splendid says:

            Except that both we and the characters are under no impression that Sansa + Arya are worth to Robb what Jaime is worth to Tywin. I understand there’s the “backup” of having your grandson as King, but Tywin seemed pretty invested in passing Casterly Rock on to Jaime.

          • @That’s what Robb’s bannermen thought, ecause the Kingslayer is a great warrior, while Sansa and Arya are “mere girls”. Actually, they got it backwards. Emotionally, none of Tywin’s children are as worth to him as the Starks are to each other, not even Jaime. They’d have better luck if it was all down to Tyrion and Cersei. Politically, Jaime is pretty useless – despite Tywin’s delusional desires, and unlike Sansa and Arya, Jaime isn’t and can’t be heir to anything, he can’t inherit lands or titles and can’t be used for marriage.

    • Well, think back to how Tywin dealt with Tyrion being taken. Going on the offensive is his thing because he wants to trade from a position of strength, but he does want to trade.

  16. Keith B says:

    Even if Catelyn had figured out the entire Lysa/Littlefinger conspiracy, at this point it would have been too late to do anything about it. The damage had already been done.

    There’s no reason at this point for Edmure to make the connection between the Battle of the Fords and Stannis’ defeat at the Blackwater. He doesn’t know about Robb’s plan, and he also doesn’t know the nature of the negotiations with the Tyrells. For all he knows, Mace Tyrell might have come to the aid of KL even if he hadn’t linked up with Tywin.

    Catelyn is a walking disaster area, although she’s not the only one. She accomplishes none of her aims, since Sansa had escaped before Brienne got to KL. Losing the Karstarks did more than weaken Robb’s army; their rampage through the Riverlands caused even more devastation, and (along with Bolton’s use of Vargo Hoat for foraging) helped convince the Brotherhood that the Starks were as much their enemies as the Lannisters. And freeing Jaime accomplished one of the prerequisites for the Red Wedding. GRRM’s practice of having his characters habitually make the stupidest possible mistake at the worst possible time makes it hard to feel as much sympathy for them as he intends, and makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

    Roose Bolton may very well have sent people out looking for Jaime, but he wouldn’t have stopped Vargo Hoat from reaving, and it so happened that Hoat found Jaime first.

    • Edmure knows that Tywin was at the Blackwater, that’s all her needs to know.

    • Grant says:

      They’re humans, with human weaknesses.

    • Steven Xue says:

      “their rampage through the Riverlands caused even more devastation, and (along with Bolton’s use of Vargo Hoat for foraging) helped convince the Brotherhood that the Starks were as much their enemies as the Lannisters”

      I blame Robb for failing to discipline his men properly and not putting his lieutenants under enough scrutiny. Sure Robb never ordered his men to attack civilians the way Tywin did, nor do I think he would give them permission to. But the fact that he didn’t launch any inquiries into what his commanders got up to when he was away in the Westerlands really shows what an inept commander and chief he was. Otherwise he must have just turned a blind eye to their activities which I think is even worse.

      • Keith B says:

        On the Stark side, Roose Bolton and the Karstarks were reponsible for almost all the atrocities. Roose used Vargo Hoat as his reaver, and Roose ordered the massacre at Darry.

        Robb completely dropped the ball on Roose Bolton. It’s as though he forgot Roose existed. So he does have some responsibility there. He had no control over the Karstarks once they left to look for Jaime.

        As far as we know, forces directly under Robb’s control did not commit atrocities. I think we would have heard reports from the Westerlands if they had.

        I think it’s fair to blame Robb for not establishing a clear chain of command. Was Edmure the theater commander in the Riverlands while Robb was in the West, or not? He certainly acted as though he was. He ordered the Tallharts to leave the Twins and join with Roose, and he ordered Roose to take Harrenhal. If he was the commander in the Riverlands, his orders to defend Riverrun were completely inadequate, and it was unfair to blame him for exceeding them. If he wasn’t, the other commanders should have been aware of that and refused to follow his orders.

    • blacky says:

      “Keith B says: GRRM’s practice of having his characters habitually make the stupidest possible mistake at the worst possible time makes it hard to feel as much sympathy for them as he intends, and makes it hard to suspend disbelief.”

      That’s exactly right. And it happens multiple times in the books. I know that people do make mistakes but come on! Letting Jaime go is not even a stupid mistake. It’s actual lunacy. There must be more plausible ways for Jaime’s story arc to continue without this nonsense.

      When Catelyn hears her crazy plan won’t work she should actually have a real breakdown. Instead she seems totally lucid…?

      And GRRM doesn’t seem to have deadlines to meet so why does this keep happening?

      And btw, thanks Steven…

  17. Iñigo says:

    I think Roose sent the goat to Jaime just for Bolton fun. He wanted to see what happened, and his allyance with Tywin would let him be safe of most consequences.

    • Grant says:

      Jaime easily could have died from their idiotic actions, and that probably would have gotten the entire region wiped out just so Tywin could be sure the culprits didn’t escape.

      • Iñigo says:

        Roose wouldn’t consider that a problem.

        • David Hunt says:

          Roose absolutely would consider that a problem if any of Tywin’s wrath turned itself onto him. Plus, he wanted Tywin’s goodwill so he could be made Warden of the North. The number of people that Roose cares about can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but Roose himself is one of them. As he explains to Ramsay, it’s very important that you cover your tracks and not get caught doing anything gauche.

          I believed Roose when he said that Hoat mamed Jaime in an effort to make it less viable for Roose to throw the traitorous Bloody Mummers back to Tywin via the expedient of tying Roose to Jaime’s maiming. Therefore, he didn’t send Jaime on until he was convinced that Jaime would tell Tywin what Roose needed him to.

          • Iñigo says:

            In this particular case, Rooses tracks are well covered. And at this point of time, Tywin can’t throw his wrath against Roose, because he needs him to execute the red wedding and control the north.

          • Grant says:

            Look at Elia and the Targaryen children. It’s somewhat possible that she was an accident, but I think there’s a lot to say that Tywin is a man who will absolutely get revenge for ANY slight on his family, no matter how long it takes.

  18. Winnief says:

    Wonderful analysis as always Steve. I agree that its commendable that Cat wants to ‘own’ her choices but it’s hard to see what else BESIDES a mother’s madness could explain her complete inability to understand that the ‘prisoner exchange’ was never, NEVER going to work and so while I sympathize with her it infuriates me as well especially her reaction to the Sansa/Tyrion marriage-like she never even considered the possibility the Lannister’s would see Sansa as their chance to steal the North…which again without maternal madness how do you explain that blindness as anything other than sheer stupidity?!?

    I suspect if LF has an heir to the Vale then he’s going to concentrate his schemes on ensuring his child’s prospects.

    As is, I have the sad feeling the House of Arryn will go extinct which is a shame-it was a long and noble line. There may still be hope for House Tully though, and you KNOW the Starks are coming back!

    • Sean C. says:

      House Arryn is fine, as of AFFC; the Vale is full of them. Now, the line of Lord Jasper Arryn is definitely in jeopardy.

      • Crystal says:

        The only one left standing at the end of the book is likely Timmett (probably the son of that Waynwood daughter kidnapped by Burned Men). Several people – including poorquentyn and IIRC Steven as well, think that the Burned Men and other Mountain clans are going to take advantage of the power vacuum left when Harry and his Vale Army march north. It would be ironic if Timmett took by force what is actually his by birthright in the first place, but I think GRRM would love that sort of twist.

        • Sean C. says:

          I’ve seen that theory, but it makes little sense to me. Even if Timmett was Waynwood-descended (which there isn’t any particular basis for; Timmett isn’t a hereditary chief, in particular). The Mountain Clans don’t have access to the Vale itself and aren’t numerous enough to take it over.

          • Lann says:

            Unless General Halfman comes to lend a hand along with some of Dany’s minions (and possibly Viserion)

    • Andrew says:

      Regarding Sansa she didn’t see her being married off to Tyrion coming given she was holding onto the desperate hope that she would be returned soon.

      I think given GRRM’s tendency to create expectations just to surprise the reader, Robert Arryn may actually live while Harry the Heir dies. As for House Tully, I think both remaining Tullys, Edmure and the Blackfish, will survive the series.

  19. Kirkd says:

    Excellent read, as always.

    On Lysa, Catelyn actually has access to one further piece of the puzzle. At the Erie, the maester states that Jon Arryn wanted Robert to be warden to Stannis and Catelyn even shortly notes that this would be a motive to murder Lysa´s husband. At a later event, some other noble repeats the same but she does take up that thought again. With more detective diligence, Catelyn could be suspicious that Lysa is blaming Lannister´s for a deed of her own.

    Still even if Catelyn had investigated more on Littlefinger’s false allegation on the dagger, she only knows that Littlefinger blames Lannisters as well. With clear knowledge of that, it is nevertheless unlikely that she would blame Robert. She would rather think that somebody stole Rob’s dagger to cover the deed (yet: why actually a Valyrian steel dagger at all?), and that could not have been Littlefinger anyway because he could not know of Bran’s incident. The Lannisters would still be a prime suspect in that scenario.

    But to see the full picture, Catelyn would have had to realize that Littelefinger was not just trying to marry her but Lysa as well and that he Lysa actually went to bed with him. To contemplate that the man who dueled for your hand was in bed with your sister, she had not the slightest reason to.

  20. Jim B says:

    I’ve often admired the way that GRRM has played with the trope of forbidden love, in the context of (what I am assuming about) Rhaegar and Lyanna: the two romantic young fools who run off because damnit, they just can’t bear to be apart no matter what their parents or society expects. (Yes, Rhaegar is probably motivated to some degree by prophecy as well, but I’d lump that in the category of “romantic young fool” too.) Their elopement triggers one bloody civil war and lays the seeds for a second decades later.

    The story of Lysa and Petyr is somewhat different, in that we know that Petyr doesn’t really love her. But Petyr still uses that foiled youthful romance as fuel for his own resentment, and as a means of turning Lysa into a murderer.

    • Winnief says:

      Not to mention Lysa thus helps kick off a civil war that results in countless deaths, widespread misery, and the near extinction of her own family…all of which she seems completely indifferent to. Then again the lady ain’t all there to begin with.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Yea, it absolutely bears repeating that no matter what Lysa suffered (and I freely concede the forced abortion and marriage to a guy older than her dad were extremely unpleasant), at the end of the day she is responsible for her own actions, including the actions that target her own completely innocent siblings.

      • Crystal says:

        I’m reminded of William Hogarth’s “Marriage A La Mode” in which an unhappy arranged marriage is a disaster for both families. Though in that case it was just the families, not the whole country, which suffered.

  21. Chinoiserie says:

    I feel the way Catelyn is written is rather flawed. While we should feel the struggles of her lack of agency I can not help but feel that everyone was right about her being in her right mind. Other issue is a reoccuring thing with the way Catelyn is written, it happens almost beyond count actually, Catelyn acts in a way that seems resonable form her point of view yet it will have horrible consequenses and all her good ideas are ignored. It is almost like she is cursed like show Catelyn thought. The plot does her a disservice since she is a realistically written character exiting in a piace of litterature where we usually see such a consistent behaviour flaws as a indicator of some thematic flaws of her character which is the way narratives usually function and due in this series with other characters (albeit not as often as with many other books).

  22. Nice analysis here!

    I liked the comparison between Edmure and McNulty. Edmure, whose decision to block Tywin’s advance arguably lead to a major reversal in the state of the war.

    I also wonder just how much harm notifying Roose of Jaime’s escape did towards building the blocks for the Red Wedding. There were any number of things that would have made Roose’s deliberate sabotage and betrayal less likely, and I wonder just how much more that contributed to the definitive event abruptly ending a once promising position for dear Robb.

  23. paul dehlinger says:

    You didn’t do a what if Edmure recaptured Jamie.

  24. You seem to think that Lysa’s miscarriage after her wedding to Jon was Petyr’s child, not Jon’s. Do the timelines match between drunken Petyr sleeping with Lysa thinking she’s Cat and Cat and Lysa marrying Ned and Jon respectively for her to pass off Petyr’s child as Jon’s?
    Timeline aside, I like to think the child was Jon’s. Because that would mean that she had a shot at happiness even with old Jon, if she could have healthy children like her sister, butterflying away Littlefinger’s influence on her, Jon’s death and so on. The “tansy” really messed up her reproductive system, her entire life and didn’t end up too well for Westeros.

    • I thought it was a possibility, but I was convinced I was wrong about that.

      • Could you elaborate? What convinced you that the child was Petyr’s and not Jon’s?

        One argument I have against that is if Lysa tried to to pass of Petyr’s child as Jon’s once, why not do it later, when she and Jon actually had so much difficulty conceiving an heir. They did have plenty of opportunity during their time at court. For Littlefinger, it would have been an nice fuck you to the Westerosi nobility if his bastard inherited the proud Arryn name.

        As infatuated as Lysa was with Petyr, I somehow don’t think she had it in her (unlike Cersei) to think of pulling it off.

        • There are quite a few people who think that’s exactly what she did, and that Sweetrobin is Petyr’s biological son.

          • Obviously, I’m not one of them. Point in my favour is that there is no evidence/ hints either from Lysa or from Littlefinger and neither of them are particularly subtle characters. Especially Littlefinger, especially around Sansa who had plenty of insights into him during aFfC.
            Also I think it cheapens the story a bit. There can’t be too many noble women wanting to pass of their bastards as legitimate heirs of their husbands. One Cersei is enough. Just like there cannot be too many secret Targaryens. There is just Jon. Aegon (or Jon-Con on behalf of Aegon) is kidding himself and so are the Tyrion-Targ believers.
            And I still maintain that Lysa is not someone who can think of something like that. (I don’t mean it in a wrong way. Look what Cersei’s plans did to the realm.) She did not have a happy marriage. But I don’t think she actively despised her husband like the way Cersei did Robert. She didn’t hesitate to murder Jon to clear her path for Petyr, but I don’t think she went behind him to be with Petyr while Jon was alive.

  25. charei says:

    Maybe LF never came to know, that Sweetrobin is his son. But they look similar. Sweetrobin shows no similiarity to jon Arryn.
    By the way, you think murder more common than having an affair? I hope you’re not right.

  26. […] GRRM wouldn’t bother to tell us about the link between Sybell and Maggy if it wasn’t the case; tansy tea has been sufficiently introduced that it wasn’t necessary to explain Jeyne’s lack of a child.) […]

  27. […] ordered them to kill Jaime Lannister, which doesn’t just invalidate Catelyn’s illicit prisoner exchange but also any possible peace deal that King Robb might make. This maximizes the damage he’s […]

  28. […] misreading bears some interrogation. The fixation on the Greyjoy threat owes a lot to the recency of the news about Bran and Rickon, but I think it also has to do with how she’s rationalizing her recent actions. If the […]

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