Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya II, ASOS

“Child…put up that sword, and we’ll take you to a safe place and get some food in that belly. There are wolves in these parts, and lions, and worse things. No place for a little girl to be wandering alone.”

Synopsis: Squab and co. meet the Brotherhood Without Banners. Then Arya meets Harwin and things get very dusty for a minute.

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:

If Arya I was a bit slow to get off the blocks, the pace dramatically lurches up to speed in this chapter, as our protagonist encounters the Brotherhood Without Banners, who she will spend the next six chapters with (a longer time than she spent in Harrenhal, or with the Night’s Watch, or that she’s spent in the House of Black and White). And for the first time since AGOT, Arya will be openly recognized as a Stark in Winterfell, which is a huge moment for her – but before we can get to that, there’s a lot to get through.

Prelude: What It Means to Survive

As if to punctuate that Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie will shortly emerge from their sojourn in the wilderness of anarchy and abandonment by adults into some kind of society again, the chapter opens with a semi-feral group of children:

 “…grubbing for vegetables in a dead man’s garden when she heard the singing…she thought of the Bloody Mummers and Roose Bolton’s men, and a shiver of fear went down her back. It’s not fair, not when we finally found the Trident, not when we thought we were almost safe.”

… I knew we should never have left the woods, she thought. They’d been so hungry, though, and the garden had been too much a temptation. The bread and cheese they had stolen from Harrenhal had given out six days ago, back in the thick of the woods.

Only why would the Mummers be singing?

This passage introduces a theme of the morality of theft versus the necessity of survival in a time of war that runs throughout the chapter. On a surface level, what Arya and company are doing is technically stealing (which they will be called out for later) – but clearly Arya has morally justified her actions to herself by noting that the owner is dead and therefore the property is vacant and thus the theft of crops that would otherwise rot in the field hurts no one. At the same time, any condemnation of Arya’s actions raises difficult questions about why, in the wake of natural and human disasters, we label the same actions either scrounging (and thus morally acceptable) or looting (and thus morally unacceptable. Which in turn brings in Anatole France’s famous observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread,” which raises the question of we should consider law as a source of morality at all.

At the same time, this passage works to subtly begin a comparison of the Bloody Mummers and the Brotherhood Without Banners, those darkly mirrored antagonists who symbolize both the worst and the best of how the War of Five Kings have affected the Riverlands. Arya’s omni-present fear at the thought of the Bloody Mummers absolutely will color how she interacts with the Brotherhood, but at the same time…

Meeting the Brotherhood Without Banners

It is noteworthy that the Brotherhood Without Banners are first heard rather than seen – it situates our outlaw band in the realm of song and legend, while also asking the reader to compare and contrast the myth and the reality:

“Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho…I’d steal a sweet kiss with the point of my blade, heigh-ho, heigh ho…I’d make her my love and we’ll rest in the shade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho…”

Here the innocent act of singing – the way it works as a deliberate eschewing of stealth and ambush and a signal of benign intentions – is contrasted against the far more morally ambiguous lyrics of the song, which make us re-examine the “romantic” nature of the Robin Hood abduction songs that Henry VIII was so fond of by focusing in on the normally sublimated violence of the action. At the same time, however, it can’t be denied that the Brotherhood do actually offer quarter rather than attack from ambush:

“Could be a wolf. Maybe a lion.”

“With four feet, you think? Or two?”

“Makes no matter. Does it?”

“An honest man would come out and show us his face. Only an outlaw would skulk and hide.”

This last pre-visual exchange serves two purposes: first, it continues the theme (already introduced in Jaime II) that for the smallfolk of the Riverlands, there is no distinction between the armies of Robb Stark or Tywin Lannister. As Terry Pratchett once put it, “SoldiersOurs or theirs didn’t matter, when a war had gone on this long.” This also works as a subtle preview of the Brotherhood Without Banners’ political philosophy, which will be a major thematic element of the next six Arya chapters. Second, it also works to emphasize the binary of honest men vs. outlaws that runs throughout this chapter: Arya and Co. are constantly trying to figure out which these strangers are, while these strangers are likewise trying to size up these children. (More on this later…)

credit to Sir Heartsalot

So who are the members of the Brotherhood that we meet here?

They were men afoot, travel-stained and mud-specked. She knew the singer by the woodharp he cradled against his jerkin, as a mother might cradle a babe. A small man, fifty from the look of him, he had a big mouth, a sharp nose, and thinning brown hair. His faded greens were mended here and there with old leather patches, and he wore a brace of throwing knives on his hip and a woodman’s axe slung across his back.

The man beside him stood a good foot taller, and had the look of a soldier. A longsword and dirk hung from his studded leather belt, rows of overlapping steel rings were sewn onto his shirt, and his head was covered by a black iron halfhelm shaped like a cone. He had bad teeth and a bushy brown beard, but it was his hooded yellow cloak that drew the eye. Thick and heavy, stained here with grass and there with blood, frayed along the bottom and patched with deerskin on the right shoulder, the greatcloak gave the big man the look of some huge yellow bird.

The last of the three was a youth as skinny as his longbow, if not quite as tall. Red-haired and freckled, he wore a studded brigantine, high boots, fingerless leather gloves, and a quiver on his back. His arrows were fletched with grey goose feathers, and six of them stood in the ground before him, like a little fence.

“…Well, as to that, I’m Tom of Sevenstreams, but Tom Sevenstrings is what they call me, or Tom o’ Sevens. This great lout with the brown teeth is Lem, short for Lemoncloak. It’s yellow, you see, and Lem’s a sour sort. And young fellow me lad over there is Anguy, or Archer as we like to call him.”

Through these three, we see that the Brotherhood Without Banners are squarely in the model of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, those most famous and trend-setting of outlaws – a topic we will discuss in more detail in the Historical Analysis section – as all three have close parallels to various members of the Merry Men, although as usual GRRM is doing his remixing on their characters. To begin with, Tom Sevenstrings is a close parallel for Alan-a-Dale – they’re both minstrels who fight as outlaws and frequently work as spies in those areas held by the forces of law and order, and they’re also the member of the band who’s responsible for creating and transmitting the legend of their bandit chieftain to the masses. However, Tom has some idiosyncrasies that distinguish him from the archetype:

Tom Sevenstrings walked slowly, and liked to strum his woodharp as he went. “Do you know any songs?” he asked them. “I’d dearly love someone to sing with, that I would. Lem can’t carry a tune, and our longbow lad only knows marcher ballads, every one of them a hundred verses long.”

“We sing real songs in the marches,” Anguy said mildly.

“Singing is stupid,” said Arya. “Singing makes noise. We heard you a long way off. We could have killed you.”

Tom’s smile said he did not think so. “There are worse things than dying with a song on your lips.”

“…If a song makes a maid want to slip off her clothes and feel the good warm sun kiss her skin, why, is that the singer’s fault?” asked Tom. 

Tom has the slightly obsessive attitude of the professional artist – complaining about his companions’ taste and skill, complaining about his audiences always wanting the same songs, complaining about the critical reaction to his own music, but also clearly a true believer in the value of music to enrich our lives and give voice to the human spirit. And like any good rock n’roller, Tom’s also all about wine and women, although unlike Alan a Dale, he’s much more the love-’em-and-leave-’em type than the marrying kind.  (More on this in a bit…) He’s also, in a somewhat surprising turn, both the leader of the group and the most compassionate of the three, which doesn’t quite fit either the legends or RPG adventuring group logic.


See the resemblance?

The neglected middle child of this trio (seriously, just count how many words Lem speaks and compare that to his companions), Lem Lemoncloak resembles Will Scarlett – they’re both defined by the color of their clothing (although in Lem’s case, his yellow cloak is a sign of his “sour” temper, whereas Will Scarlet’s red clothing was linked to his firey temper), they’re both talented swordsmen (although Lem doesn’t dual-wield like Will is sometimes shown doing), and they’re both somewhat comedic characters. In this chapter especially, we see Lem getting all wet and muddy retrieving a duck, getting thoroughly mocked, and then getting his nose broken by a child. I’m not saying Lem is one of those people destined to be the butt of life’s jokes, but I am saying that he’s got a lifetime subscription to the ACME Corporation’s catalogue.

And finally, we have Anguy the Archer. Anguy is an interesting case, because here GRRM has divided a character from the legends in two: in this case, Anguy is a master archer who has all of Robin Hood’s speed of reflexes, keenness of eye, and strength of arm (whereas Robin Hood’s other qualities, especially his leadership abilities, are vested in the absent Beric Dondarrion):

“The archer’s hand moved quicker than Arya would have believed. His shaft went hissing past her head within an inch of her ear and buried itself in the trunk of the willow behind her. By then the bowman had a second arrow notched and drawn. She’d thought she understood what Syrio meant by quick as a snake and smooth as summer silk, but now she knew she hadn’t. The arrow thrummed behind her like a bee. “You missed,” she said.”

“More fool you if you think so,” said Anguy. “They go where I send them.”

…As they waded across, their singing flushed a duck from among the reeds. Anguy stopped where he stood, unslung his bow, notched an arrow, and brought it down. The bird fell in the shallows not far from the bank. Lem took off his yellow cloak and waded in knee-deep to retrieve it, complaining all the while.

At the same time, Anguy the Archer has a complicated identity and backstory (although we’re not privy to most of yet) that sets him apart from Robin of Sherwood. On the one hand, there’s an innocence to him – “Do you think Sharna might have lemons down in that cellar of hers?” said Anguy…”A Dornish girl once cooked me duck with lemons.” He sounded wistful.” – that constantly reminds one that Anguy is a teenager whose biggest moment in his entire life was winning the archery contest at the Hand’s Tourney. On the other hand, after the Mummer’s Ford, Anguy has a disturbingly cavalier attitude towards killing people: “when I don’t fancy a man’s eyes, I put an arrow through one.”  That’s a strange thing to say at any time, but the way that Anguy says it among friends while he “smiled over his ale,” suggests someone with a deep well of anger from what he’s seen so far of the War of Five Kings but who hasn’t figured out how to express that anger outside of war.

So what do we think of these three outlaws in all their human ambiguousness? Ultimately, our evaluation must rest on their treatment of these three children – always a good test of character in ASOIAF, as we’ve seen both in Arya and Sansa’s stories. And in a rare turn of events, the Brotherhood Without Banners genuinely want to help these kids, offering them both immediate peace and safety and a longer-term place of refuge, which in the Riverlands during the War of Five Kings is something close to a miracle:

The three men looked at her, standing there in the road with her blade in hand. Then the singer idly plucked a string. “Boy,” he said, “put up that sword now, unless you’re wanting to be hurt. It’s too big for you, lad, and besides, Anguy here could put three shafts through you before you could hope to reach us.”

“Child…put up that sword, and we’ll take you to a safe place and get some food in that belly. There are wolves in these parts, and lions, and worse things. No place for a little girl to be wandering alone.”

Speaking of places of refuge, this brings us to our first major location of the chapter…


The Inn of the Kneeling Man

While it’s more common in film than in literature, there are times when the location becomes a character – and that is definitely the case in Arya II. And GRRM is careful to establish character before Arya ever claps eyes on the building itself:

“There’s an inn not far ahead kept by some friends of ours. We could share some ale and a bite of bread, instead of fighting one another.”

“An inn?” The thought of hot food made Arya’s belly rumble, but she didn’t trust this Tom. Not everyone who spoke you friendly was really your friend. “It’s near, you say?”

“Two miles upstream,” said Tom. “A league at most…Sharna is the innkeep’s name…She has a sharp tongue and a fierce eye, I’ll grant you that, but her heart’s a good one, and she’s fond of little girls.”

“I’m not a little girl,” she said angrily. “Who else is there? You said friends.”

“Sharna’s husband, and an orphan boy they took in. They won’t harm you. There’s ale, if you think you’re old enough. Fresh bread and maybe a bit of meat.” Tom glanced toward the cottage.

The core elements are all there: the Inn is a place where you can find food (which also means guest-right); the Inn is a place where you’re not going to be harmed so you can put aside the war-of-all-against-all; the Inn is a fuctional family, with Sharna as matriarch looking out for orphans and little girls. And GRRM carefully piles on the repetition to enhance all these themes so that we know what the Inn of the Kneeling Man means even before we see it. That way, when we see it, like Arya, we are convinced that “It did not look like an outlaws’ lair, she had to admit; it looked friendly, even homey.”

And when Arya arrives and actually gets to meet Sharna and her family, it’s everything that Tom Sevenstrings promised:

The painted sign above the door showed a picture of some old king on his knees. Inside was the common room, where a very tall ugly woman with a knobby chin stood with her hands on her hips, glaring. “Don’t just stand there, boy,” she snapped. “Or are you a girl? Either one, you’re blocking my door. Get in or get out. Lem, what did I tell you about my floor? You’re all mud.”

“We shot a duck.” Lem held it out like a peace banner.

The woman snatched it from his hand. “Anguy shot a duck, is what you’re meaning. Get your boots off, are you deaf or just stupid?” She turned away. “Husband!” she called loudly. “Get up here, the lads are back. Husband!”

Up the cellar steps came a man in a stained apron, grumbling. He was a head shorter than the woman, with a lumpy face and loose yellowish skin that still showed the marks of some pox. “I’m here, woman, quit your bellowing. What is it now?”

“Hang this,” she said, handing him the duck.

Anguy shuffled his feet. “We were thinking we might eat it, Sharna. With lemons. If you had some.”

“Lemons. And where would we get lemons? Does this look like Dorne to you, you freckled fool? Why don’t you hop out back to the lemon trees and pick us a bushel, and some nice olives and pomegranates too.” She shook a finger at him. “Now, I suppose I could cook it with Lem’s cloak, if you like, but not till it’s hung for a few days. You’ll eat rabbit, or you won’t eat. Roast rabbit on a spit would be quickest, if you’ve got a hunger. Or might be you’d like it stewed, with ale and onions.”

…Husband had stepped outside, but at her shout he hurried back. “The duck’s hung. What is it now, woman?”

“Wash these vegetables,” she commanded. “The rest of you, sit down while I start the rabbits. The boy will bring you drink.” She looked down her long nose at Arya and Hot Pie. “I am not in the habit of serving ale to children, but the cider’s run out, there’s no cows for milk, and the river water tastes of war, with all the dead men drifting downstream. If I served you a cup of soup full of dead flies, would you drink it?”

Sharna really is a sharp-tongued but clearly caring mother-figure, there is really is food and drink available for free (!), and the Inn really is a place where orphaned children are cared for. The war is still there – hence Sharna offering ale to children because the rivers are filled with dead bodies – but it’s far away enough from the door that people are free to act human to one another. It’s a heartwarming scene, almost unbelievably so, as if Arya and Co. had walked through a door and suddenly ended up on Westeros’ equivalent of Cheers. (Seriously, the dynamic between Sherna and “Husband” isn’t that far off from Sam & Diane, and the way that Sherna busts on Anguy and Lem for being doofuses isn’t that far off of Norm and Cliff.)

In a particularly heartwarming moment (on a Very Special Episode?), the Inn of the Kneeling Man becomes a permanent refuge for Hot Pie. After twelve chapters of being little more than the Comedy Fat Guy (or you know, an ordinary child plunged into the horrors of war who’s somehow managed to retain some innocence), Hot Pie finally gets to show his worth:

Hot Pie made a face as soon as he tasted it. “That’s bad bread,” he said. “It’s burned, and tough besides.”

“It’s better when there’s stew to sop up,” said Lem.

“No, it isn’t,” said Anguy, “but you’re less like to break your teeth.”

“You can eat it or go hungry,” said Husband. “Do I look like some bloody baker? I’d like to see you make better.”

“I could,” said Hot Pie. “It’s easy. You kneaded the dough too much, that’s why it’s so hard to chew.” He took another sip of ale, and began talking lovingly of breads and pies and tarts, all the things he loved. Arya rolled her eyes.

While Hot Pie isn’t going to say goodbye just yet (that’s going to happen next chapter, because GRRM likes to space out his heartbreaks), this Inn with a kitchen waiting for a gifted apprentice baker, is clearly the end of his story. Hot Pie was always an unlikely travelling companion, one so clearly unsuited for the rigors of travel and war in a fantasy universe that the fact that he managed to survive and find a good home at the end of the road is both a minor miracle and yet further evidence that GRRM is not a grimdark nihilist who lives for crushing the hearts of his fans. (And not before time either, because as Bran’s Last Hero story should remind us, unlike in Tolkien, the protagonist’s boon companions aren’t going to have many happy endings…)

This whole scene would result in a major tone whiplash, except for two things: first, it’s a well-timed moment of comic relief in a novel which can be pretty unrelenting in its long march to tragedy. And second, we then get a sudden reminder that we’ve seen this place before in a different genre context:

“There’s strange horses in the stable,” he announced, as if they hadn’t known.

“Aye,” said Tom, setting the woodharp aside, “and better horses than the three you gave away.”

Husband dropped the vegetables on a table, annoyed. “I never gave them away. I sold them for a good price, and got us a skiff as well. Anyways, you lot were supposed to get them back.”

I knew they were outlaws, Arya thought, listening. Her hand went under the table to touch the hilt of her dagger, and make sure it was still there. If they try to rob us, they’ll be sorry.

“They never came our way,” said Lem.

“Well, I sent them. You must have been drunk or asleep.”

This inn, which moments ago was so warm and inviting, is in fact a haven for outlaws, a secret refuge for the Brotherhood Without Banners that provides bandits with a steady stream of victims and supplies in return for a cut of their proceeds and their protection from the wolves and lions. While Brienne and Co. managed to avoid being waylaid on the road, you can tell from the suddenly-owner-less horses that many others who weren’t so lucky to find Anguy in a good mood and probably ended up thrown into a river.

At the same time, if we think back to the frank discussions of eating horse-meat in Jaime II, you begin to realize that this refuge for lost children depends on the robbery of passersby to put food on the table – and that the Brotherhood Without Banners are engaging in large-scale banditry in part to feed refugees. As with Arya grubbing in the dead man’s garden, it raises the question of where we draw the line when it comes to survival, in a far darker and more adult context.

King’s Men and Honest Men

This brings us to the issue of the Brotherhood Without Banner’s ideology, because the justification of banditry is obviously a major issue for them. The Brotherhood is a pretty unique institution in ASOIAF: in a story in which the nobility predominate as POVs and major characters, the BwB are a majority-smallfolk institution who shape the story (albeit in often subtle and complex ways); in a story which has centered so much on the polarizing conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters (as we have already seen above) the Brotherhood are not merely neutral but view the two sides as morally indistinguishable. And their ideology is likewise rather complex:

“Anguy the Archer said, “We’re king’s men.”

Arya frowned. “Which king?”

“King Robert,” said Lem, in his yellow cloak.

“That old drunk?” said Gendry scornfully. “He’s dead, some boar killed him, everyone knows that.”

“Aye, lad,” said Tom Sevenstrings, “and more’s the pity.” He plucked a sad chord from his harp.

Arya didn’t think they were king’s men at all. They looked more like outlaws, all tattered and ragged. They didn’t even have horses to ride. King’s men would have had horses.

Here we learn that the Brotherhood Without Banner’s neutrality between the Starks and the Lannisters is due to them taking a third option by pledging their allegiance to the now-dead King Robert, the last undisputed monarch in Westeros. As we see with Tom Sevenstrings, there is an element of nostalgic romanticism to their choice, a naive belief that “Good King Robert” wouldn’t have allowed the devastation of the Riverlands despite the fact that the historical Robert was something of a drunken absentee officeholder who had very little to do with efforts to prevent the devastation of the smallfolk. (We also see with Lem Lemoncloak that not every member of the Brotherhood is equally on-board for this romantic position.) As I’ll discuss more in the Historical Analysis section, this position also allows the Brotherhood to mount a critique of the social order (not so much here, but in future Arya chapters) without placing themselves outside said order. Similar to how peasant rebellions would cloak their radical demands with outward shows of loyalty to the king and denunciations of “evil councilors,” the Brotherhood can always point to their allegiance to King Robert as proof that they’re not rebels or radicals.

There’s another consequence of this: because the Brotherhood Without Banners claims legitimate political authority through King Robert, they’re not just a group of bandits – they’re a guerrilla movement. This not only places their banditry more in the realm of revolutionary nationalization of property and emergency requisition of supplies during wartime (more on this in a second), but it also raises the question of how the Brotherhood Without Banner relate to the people of the Riverlands. When the Brotherhood Without Banner first run into Arya and Co., they almost act as law enforcement:

“…And whatever you stole from Old Pate’s garden besides.”

“We never stole,” said Arya. 

“Are you Old Pate’s daughter, then? A sister? A wife? Tell me no lies, Squab. I buried Old Pate myself, right there under that willow where you were hiding, and you don’t have his look.”

So here we have the Brotherhood Without Banners acting as the rough-and-ready arbiters of local justice, which as I’ll discuss more in the Historical Analysis section is also pretty familiar to anyone who’s studied or experienced how guerrilla and resistance movements interact with the communities they live among, in terms of both providing “protection” (and how that intersects with the desire for justification and legitimacy) and in terms of asserting that authority through revolutionary justice. In this particular case, as discussed above, Arya and Co.’s grubbing in dead men’s gardens is much easier to defend from a moral position if you think of the owner as an abstract entity who no longer needs or uses their property. But when you’ve got someone standing in front of you naming the owner, who knows how they died and why, and can point to living descendants who have every right to complain, it becomes a bit harder.

At the same time, however, GRRM turns it around and raises the question as to whether the Brotherhood can claim any moral high ground when it comes to this issue of theft-for-survival, by contrasting Arya and Co.’s behavior with the Brotherhood’s own pattern of requisitioning:

Tom sat down across from her. “Squab,” he said, “or Arry, or whatever your true name might be, this is for you.” He placed a dirty scrap of parchment on the wooden tabletop between them.

She looked at it suspiciously. “What is it?”

“Three golden dragons. We need to buy those horses.”

Arya looked at him warily. “They’re our horses.”

“Meaning you stole them yourselves, is that it? No shame in that, girl. War makes thieves of many honest folk.” Tom tapped the folded parchment with his finger. “I’m paying you a handsome price. More than any horse is worth, if truth be told.”

Hot Pie grabbed the parchment and unfolded it. “There’s no gold,” he complained loudly. “It’s only writing.”

“Aye,” said Tom, “and I’m sorry for that. But after the war, we mean to make that good, you have my word as a king’s man.”

Arya pushed back from the table and got to her feet. “You’re no king’s men, you’re robbers.”

“If you’d ever met a true robber, you’d know they do not pay, not even in paper. It’s not for us we take your horses, child, it’s for the good of the realm, so we can get about more quickly and fight the fights that need fighting. The king’s fights. Would you deny the king?”

The question of whether the Brotherhood Without Banner’s IOUs are any better than theft is actually more complicated than one might think. To begin with, it’s not a sign that the Brotherhood have fallen off some moral perch – they’ve been using these IOUs since Arya VI of ACOK, and Tom seems entirely sincere, if somewhat rueful, about redeeming them. Indeed, the fact that the Brotherhood provide these bills of exchange instead of simply asserting their right to requisition supplies from the people in the name of the King (although Tom still does make the argument that “it’s not for us we take your horses, child, it’s for the good of the realm, so we can get about more quickly and fight the fights that need fighting. The king’s fights.”) puts them ahead of most historical guerrilla and resistance movements.

While the value of the Brotherhood Without Banner’s IOUs are often derided by novices, it’s not entirely clear that they’re worthless. If these IOUs are not just debts owed by the Brotherhood but are also transferable instruments, what’s actually happening is that the Brotherhood Without Banners is essentially printing a rebel currency:

The value, therefore, of what Tom is offering Arya and Co. is dependent on the extent of the Brotherhood’s political influence in the Riverlands. Where the Brotherhood is seen as the legitimate expression of the political community (which is the ultimate goal of pretty much all guerrilla and resistance movements, after all) their IOUs will circulate at or close to their face value. Where the Brotherhood’s influence is weaker (say, Maidenpool under Randyll Tarly’s rule), their value will decline to the point of worthlessness. However (and this is an important point), this is basically true of all forms of currency – the value of the currency ultimately depends on the political influence of the government that issues them. And in times of war, especially civil war, this in turn will depend on the people’s willingness to accept and circulate this currency.

But at the end of the day, it’s hard to see Tom’s actions as entirely moral either. Theoretical arguments about the value of paper money aside, the reality is that the Brotherhood is taking Arya and Co.’s major source of mobility against their will – and as much as he believes that he’s doing it so that the Brotherhood can fight “the fights that need fighting,” I think there’s part of Tom that recognizes that here the Brotherhood is (however much out of necessity) taking from someone who can’t spare the loss. Hence, “war makes thieves of many honest folk.”

Freedom and Identity

Strangely, from the moment that she enters the Inn, Arya’s stress goes up and up rather than relaxing and this loss of physical freedom, a real blow to her plans to get to Riverrun, almost takes her over the edge, to the point where she almost loses it when the Brotherhood laugh at her counter-offer that “you can have our horses for that boat outside.” And it is a real sign of the tension that she’s under that – in response to Sharna telling them that they’ll be kept safe when riders approach the Inn – this is Arya’s response:

Lem grabbed her wrist. “We’ll have no more of that, now.” He twisted her arm until her hand opened. His fingers were hard with callus and fearsomely strong. Again! Arya thought. It’s happening again, like it happened in the village, with Chiswyck and Raff and the Mountain That Rides. They were going to steal her sword and turn her back into a mouse. Her free hand closed around her tankard, and she swung it at Lem’s face. The ale sloshed over the rim and splashed into his eyes, and she heard his nose break and saw the spurt of blood. When he roared his hands went to his face, and she was free. “Run!” she screamed, bolting.

While for Hot Pie and Gendry, the Inn and the Brotherhood can be a real home, Arya can’t accept what she’s 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 to Riverrun, her actions were in vain. But also in part, it’s because these refuges can’t be for her what they are for Hot Pie and Gendry, because they’re not the protagonist and she is. For most of Arya’s chapters from ACOK on, we’ve seen this more as a negative for them (they don’t have her training as a water dancer, they don’t have her highborn education, they don’t have a murder genie) it also works as a positive – they don’t have Arya’s burden of a family name that means a family she has to reunite with.

So Arya panics, desperate to hang on to the physical autonomy that’s been her one constant except for the worst period in her life, and instead finds the one other thing she has been desperate for since the end of AGOT:

“Harwin?” Arya whispered. It was! Under the beard and the tangled hair was the face of Hullen’s son, who used to lead her pony around the yard, ride at quintain with Jon and Robb, and drink too much on feast days. He was thinner, harder somehow, and at Winterfell he had never worn a beard, but it was him—her father’s man. “Harwin!” Squirming, she threw herself forward, trying to wrench free of Lem’s iron grip. “It’s me,” she shouted, “Harwin, it’s me, don’t you know me, don’t you?” The tears came, and she found herself weeping like a baby, just like some stupid little girl. “Harwin, it’s me!”

Harwin’s eyes went from her face to the flayed man on her doublet. “How do you know me?” he said, frowning suspiciously. “The flayed man…who are you, some serving boy to Lord Leech?”

For a moment she did not know how to answer. She’d had so many names. Had she only dreamed Arya Stark? “I’m a girl,” she sniffed. “I was Lord Bolton’s cupbearer but he was going to leave me for the goat, so I ran off with Gendry and Hot Pie. You have to know me! You used to lead my pony, when I was little.”

His eyes went wide, “Gods be good,” he said in a choked voice. “Arya Underfoot? Lem, let go of her.”

“She broke my nose.” Lem dumped her unceremoniously to the floor. “Who in seven hells is she supposed to be?”

“The Hand’s daughter.” Harwin went to one knee before her. “Arya Stark, of Winterfell.”

I maintain that anyone who doesn’t tear up after reading that passage is a monster lacking in all human emotion, because it’s such a beautiful encapsulation of all of her hopes and desires and fears rolled up into one page. Arya is often misunderstood by the fandom as an invincible murdering badass, but while she’s absolutely able to wrestle with fierce physical challenges as she’s had to do, there is an underlying vulnerability that speaks to the fact that she is still a child. A child who desperately wants her home, her family, but just as much, recognition. For thirteen chapters she has had to deny who she is, to remain hidden behind an array of false names and identities, and we can see what this effort has cost her when she thinks for a second that “she’d had so many names. Had she only dreamed Arya Stark?

And so when Arya meets Harwin, someone she knows from back in the day, this need for human recognition bubbles up from inside her, as undeniable and unstoppable as a flood – taking her all the way back to childhood. Again, if you need any proof that GRRM is a romantic above all else, it is that this moment of aching human vulnerability is requited in a scene straight out of a chivalric romance.

Historical Analysis:

So I promised that I would talk about the Thirty Years War when Arya met the Brotherhood Without Banners, and while I don’t want to go on too long because there’s a lot to talk about with this chapter and there are other chapters where it fits better. However, I do want to talk about requisitioning – i.e, the forced transfer or official theft of supplies from civilians – because it was at the heart of what made the Thirty Years War a nigh-genocidal conflict that wiped out a third or more of the population of Germany.

For an entire generation, Catholic and Protestant armies from almost every nation in Europe marched across Germany on the way to or from various indecisive battles and along the way they “lived off the land” in the manner of the chevauchée or Sherman’s March through Georgia. Armies stripped the land bare like locusts and doing that year-in, year-out, for thirty years left whole swathes of central Europe depopulated, either as people desperately sought refuge anywhere where food was and soldiers were not, or due to famine and the epidemic diseases that ravaged the malnourished. Hence why Bertolt Brecht placed the theft of a cow at the center of Eilif’s story in Mother Courage.

Image result for mother courage

On to Robin Hood! The Robin Hood mythos, like a lot of medieval literature, is a shifty thing indeed because people kept adding to the story and changing it in important ways, like fanfic writers let loose on the canon. And because literate people tended to be of the upper orders, these changes had some real political weight to them. For example, while modern audiences associate Robin Hood as a partisan of the true King Richard Lionheart against the evil usurper Prince John, the earliest ballads make no mention of either King, and Robin appears as a much more anti-establishment figure. Likewise, earlier versions of the Robin Hood legend describe him as a yeoman (hence his skill with a peasant weapon like the bow) as opposed to Sir Robin of Loxley. In these ways, writers and minstrels made Robin Hood into a safe figure of approved rebellion against generalized badness, instead of the kind of man who orders his men to:

loke ye do no husbonde harme
That tilleth with his ploughe…
…he was a good outlawe,
And dyde pore men moch g[o]od.

More on this in future chapters…

Finally, let’s talk resistance and guerrilla movements. It’s a tricky topic to discuss, because the idea of a guerrilla movement misusing and abusing its power, twisting revolutionary rhetoric to justify any oppression against the masses it claims to speak for, has a basis in reality, but is also often used and over-used to cast aspersions on all forms of resistance (while often failing to make the same fearless moral inventory of the state).

At the same time, it’s also true that resistance movements have been and are frequently mythologized – a classic example of this being the way that the Resistance in France or other areas of Western Europe were embraced after WWII as a way for occupied countries to assert moral purity and paper over the messier realities of collaboration, when their Resistance movements were relatively small especially in comparison to the Resistance in Yugoslavia.

More on this in future chapters…

What If?

So there’s not a lot of room for hypotheticals in this chapter, since Arya doesn’t really make any choices, but let’s take one potential alternative:

  • Arya gets away from the Inn? Now, the first major change that follows from this is that Arya doesn’t meet Sandor Clegane – which in turn means she doesn’t get kidnapped, which means she doesn’t get taken to the Twins and doesn’t become a witness to the Red Wedding.
  • But one interesting possibility is, if Arya got to Riverrun, when would she arrive? According to my calculations, Arya arrives at the Inn a week and change before the next Catelyn chapter (when Robb returns to Riverrun). Now the Inn is 120 miles from Riverrun, and 240 miles from Harrenhal (which makes Arya’s trek rather impressive in retrospect) – and it took Arya a full month to make that 240 mile journey, so on land she’s not going to make it. But on a skiff, Arya could potentially make the trip in as little as two days, which would put her on schedule to reunite with her family. The question then becomes, what happens to her: does she go with Robb to Riverrun, hoping to belt-and-braces the peacemaking Frey unions? (Won’t Elmar be happy?) Or does she get left behind, and become a rallying symbol for Brynden Tully and the other Stark loyalists in the Riverlands?

Book vs. Show:

Now, I have to say that I feel somewhat ambiguous about this scene in the show. On the one hand, the initial introduction of Thoros and Anguy and their meeting with Arya and Co. works rather well on a relatively comedic level. So I don’t have much to complain about that syncs up with this scene in particular – only to say that having Arya be obsessed with only fighting and have her recognition come from Sandor Clegane kind of misses a lot of the character work that GRRM is doing here.

My problems kick in later, where I feel that Benioff and Weiss try to telescope characters too much, rushing them to the end-state that they know the character is going to get to without letting them develop at a natural pace. Hence, in general Arya’s path towards violence is accelerated considerably compared to the books. And as I’ll discuss more in future chapters, the Brotherhood Without Banners are made way too close to their later incarnation, which makes the whole theme of a fall from grace kind of wasted, much like they will be…


99 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya II, ASOS

  1. Hedrigal says:

    In terms of the show vs the books, the fall from grace narrative happens almost in reverse. They do all their bad shit, then suddenly Berric Dondarion hangs all the bad ones, takes in Sandor, and they march off to go do whatever it is they planned on doing.

    • Winnief says:

      Good point.

    • Who knows where they go, since they’re not doing LSH.

      • Ioseff says:

        To King’s Landing, ’cause Cleganebowl! Nevermind the fact that Gregor Clegane was a human being who dehumanized almost everyone by his own (weak, violent) choice, while Robert Strong has NO will. Only MINDLESS obedience. ‘Cause he got no mind.

        I do agree that I would like this to happen in the books sooner or later, not for the show sadistic purposes, but because “The Hound is dead. Sandor is at peace” means that Sandor would be fighting a thing for whatever purpose of protection. But certainly not before that trial happens, as some would want it.

        Also, I noticed, is it too much coincidence? R’hllor, fire, Beric telling Sandor (or the Hound again? shitty show) of his own defeat, when he faced his very fear, perhaps the showrunners will make Sandor be the champion of fire or some shit, but in their way. You know the way, the “Look Theon, i know you had some bad years, just cheer up!” And he’s cured

        Fucking showrunners.

        And they are surprised of the “endorsement vs depiction” discussion.

        • Hedrigal says:

          Also, just book wise, I don’t think Sandor could physically fight anyone anymore. He’s “half crippled” which would make it seriously difficult for him to fight properly.

      • Keith B says:

        I thought show Beric mentioned that they were heading North to fight the Others.

  2. Winnief says:

    Wonderful analysis as always Steve of the importance of the BwB. Also knowledge of a living Arya with the Blackfish is going to seriously screw with some of Littlefinger’s plans and those of the Lannisters as well.

    Love your bringing in The Thirty Years War and ‘Mother Courage’ one of the greatest plays ever written. Saw it performed in D.C. with Kathleen Turner in the title role-no joke.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Not too much, because Riverrun falls under siege immediately after the Red Wedding and she’d inevitably get captured anyway.
      Now, if she’d gone to Greywater Watch…

      • Sean C. says:

        Not immediately. I expect the Blackfish would have done things differently if he’d had Arya there with him, in any event.

    • Glad you liked it!

      I saw “Mother Courage” at ART when I was a kid and it blew my damn mind.

  3. “The question then becomes, what happens to her: does she go with Robb to Riverrun, hoping to belt-and-braces the peacemaking Frey unions?” I don’t understand this sentence. I think in part it’s because you meant to say “does she go with Rob to the Twins,” not Riverrun. But I don’t get the “belt-and-braces” thing, either.

    • Yeah, I meant the Twins. Belt-and-braces refers to whether Robb would think that Edmure would be enough to pacify Walder, or whether he’d have Arya show up to get married to Elmar as well.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      My theory has always been that she’d have been named heir as opposed to Jon in OTL, and packed off to Greywater Watch as opposed to the will in OTL.

      • Keith B says:

        She certainly would have been named heir. It was only the belief that she was dead that prevented Robb from making her his heir, as Catelyn wished, rather than Jon Snow.

        Sending her with Maege Mormont would have been the wisest thing to do, but he might have sent her to Seagard instead to wait for Catelyn to join her. I very much doubt that he would have allowed his designated heir to marry Elmar Frey.

        By the way, Elmar seems to have completely disappeared from the story after Roose’s meeting with Jaime at Harrenhal. He was Roose’s squire then, but it looks like he didn’t go north with him and the other Freys.

        • Hedrigal says:

          Its not really clear what grounds to dismiss a squire would be, but I could easily see Roose just telling Walder that Eldar wasn’t working out because he was too freaked out by the leeches, and that he should send him another boy who isn’t afraid of touching a leech or ten thousand.

    • Steven Xue says:

      I’ve always felt that one consequence of Arya reuniting with her mother and eldest brother would be her dobbing on Roose Bolton. Arya was in the meeting between Roose and his Frey lieutenants who were already showing dissatisfaction towards Robb’s leadership and ready to throw in the towel (even before Robb reneged on their deal). Plus once Robb hears about the decisions Roose was making in his name while Robb himself was away in the Westerlands (eg attack on Duskendale) and then hears a different story from the man himself at the Frey wedding. I’m pretty certain this will make him and Catelyn unlikely to take his briefing at face value, it will also make them call into question Bolton’s loyalty. This coupled with the Freys already lack of enthusiasm to continue fighting for Robb would I think made them take more precautions when meeting them at the Twins which could potentially have prevented or at least escaped the Red Wedding with their lives.

      • That’s a very idealistic hope, but first Arya would have had to get there with enough time to spare for her to drop enough hints about Roose for someone to question her closely. She’s not very clear about anything, which is why her father didn’t take her warnings about what she overheard under the Red Keep between Illyrio & Varys seriously. She’d have to be able to repeat the conversations word for word in order to get the point across, otherwise the benefit of the doubt will go not to a child who may have misunderstood what she heard, but to the adult who can easily lie his way out of any accusations thrown at him from a traumatized child. Besides which, even if Arya made it in time to get into all that, Robb is hardly likely to do more than celebrate the fact that she’s back, ask her about how she is, introduce her to his wife, then ditch her to go focus on kingly things. Her mom would spend more time fawning over her and possibly pick up on something from talking to her, but Robb never listens to her either. And it’s far more likely that her mom would be more focused on all the things Arya had to do to get there. Under her mother’s questioning, it wouldn’t be long before she admitted to SLITTING A MAN’S THROAT to escape Harrenhall, and then comes the big emotional breakdown as all the terrible things she’s seen and done finally catch up to her. Instead of becoming a hardened assassin to whom a spot of murder is nothing, she’s a little girl again. Odds are she’ll just wind up trying to run away from the Twins out of sheer discomfort once word spreads that she’s a killer and people start looking at and treating her differently.

  4. Great review, always a delight to read. Note I think Lem Lemoncloak has some resemblance to Little John as well — mostly the height and being a butt of jokes, where Beric takes Will Scarlet’s skill with a sword and gives Robin’s archery to Anguy. It’s more of a blend than straight up analogues.

    Also the orphan inn in AFFC is the Inn at the Crossroads, sorry? (As is the inn in this scene in the show.) I don’t think the Inn of the Kneeling Man is ever mentioned after they leave it next Arya chapter.

    And yeah, Arya and company got pretty close to Riverrun. More than halfway from Harrenhal. The Brotherhood take her so much further away, to High Heart and Acorn Hall and Stoney Sept, it’s no wonder she gets so depressed about it. (

    • Yeah, Lem’s a bit of Little John as well. Although Robin’s supposed to be a good swordsman as well.

      I thought I’d straightened out my Inn confusion – still, given Sharna’s attitude, it seems clear that this is a pattern for the BWB of establishing Inns as HQs and orphanages.

    • Keith B says:

      Yes, the Crossroads Inn is the orphan shelter. In the show I believe there’s only one Inn. It’s where Brienne finds out from Hot Pie that Arya is still alive.

  5. David Hunt says:

    Heck, I teared up halfway through the summary excerpt of that passage. She gets a brief respite before everything starts going to Hell again. Next chapter, she’s going to be taken away from her goal, but for that night, she’s alright. She dearly needed that.

    Excellent job as always, Sir.

  6. Keith B says:

    Ah, good. Another chapter.

    Arya and friends are now somewhat west of the burned out village mentioned in the previous Jaime chapter, so they’re only a few miles from the Inn. Despite the difficulties in navigation, they have reached the Red Fork and can’t fail to reach their destination as long as they follow the river upstream. Since they’re so far from Harrenhal, the Mummers are less of a threat. In fact the most serious danger at this point is from Karstark men pursuing Jaime. (Thanks Mom!)

    “I’m a girl,” she tells the Brotherhood. After the Night’s Watch and Harrenhal, she should know better by this time. If people mistake her for a boy, she shouldn’t be so quick to undeceive them.

    Also, “The painted sign above the door showed a picture of some old king on his knees.” She ought to know this too. It’s her own family history, after all. She would have heard of Torrhen Stark.

    And finally, “the now-dead King Robert, the last undisputed monarch in Westeros.” Ahem. There’s a girl in Essos who might take exception to that.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Good points about her femininity and Torrhen Stark. She should’ve known better on both of those, but IIRC she was never particularly good at any formal education except math (the polar opposite of me in that).

    • I’d bet any money that the king on the inn’s sign is depicted in the Riverlands art style, and bears no resemblance to the style of the statues of the Stark kings in Winterfell’s crypts. (Unfortunately GRRM doesn’t worldbuild the different art styles of the regions of Westeros much.) To Arya he’d just be some southern king, with no Stark features, nothing like the Torrhen Stark she knows.

      • David Hunt says:

        Good point about the iconography of the INn’s king likely following Riverlands style. It hadn’t occurred to me that this would be an additional level of confusion for Arya. I had simply concluded that while she knew the story of the last King in the North kneeling to Aegon, that she had no idea that she was at an Inn erected on that very spot. I figured that Torrhen’s picture looked nothing like his statue as the sign was doubtless repainted many times and thought that was enough.

      • Hedrigal says:

        I would also guess that she might have been quicker to make the connection if the king was kneeling to a dragon, rather than just kneeling.

      • Keith B says:

        I don’t see why the style of representation would throw her off. She does see that it’s “some old king on his knees.” How many people in Westerosi history do you know of who are called “The King Who Knelt?” This is a major, major event in her family story. If she knows nothing else at all about her family, she should know Brandon the Builder, Theon the Hungry Wolf, Cregan, and Torrhen. She’s supposed to be clever, she should make the connection without needing an exact match to the features of the statue in the crypts.

        • Tywin of the Hill says:

          The inn is on the Riverlands, a land famous for its political instability, so a King kneeling wouldn’t be out of place. Arya doesn’t know much about Riverlands’ history, and why would she assume that a picture in the Riverlands is honoring the King in the North?

          • Sean C. says:

            It isn’t “Riverlands history”, though, it’s the history of her family, probably one of the most consequential moments for any Stark king.

          • Tywin of the Hill says:

            @Sean C. What I meant was “Arya saw a picture of a kneeling king in a Riverlands inn, so she assumed the King represented was from the Riverlands and, since she doesn’t know much about Riverlands’ history, she didn’t give it much thought.”

          • Keith B says:

            If it so happened that the inn commemorated some Riverlands King from thousands of years ago, that Arya had never heard of, and she mistakenly thought that it was her ancestor Torrhen Stark, that would be understandable. But she doesn’t think that. She doesn’t even think, “well, it could be Torrhen but it’s probably just some minor Riverlands guy.” The painted sign simply doesn’t register with her. It’s as if Kings kneel all the time, so there’s nothing special about it. But if that were the case, Torrhen would merely be “a king who knelt.” Instead he’s The King Who Knelt. It’s his trademark. It’s his shtick. And it’s something that should come to her mind, at least as a possibility, as soon as she sees it.

    • Well Aerys fits the tyrant image better due to the whole burning people without trial thing.

    • Murc says:

      Also, “The painted sign above the door showed a picture of some old king on his knees.” She ought to know this too. It’s her own family history, after all. She would have heard of Torrhen Stark.

      Will she have, tho? Arya Stark is all of nine years old. Here in the first world, she’d be in the fourth grade. How much family history did you know when you were nine? How much national history?

      I mean, it would be plausible if she did know what this place was, in the same way it is plausible that Bran, even younger than Arya, knows all those old Lords of Winterfell and Kings in the North down in the crypts because Bran loves songs and stories and histories (of a certain sort, at least) and has learned them well. But it is equally plausible that Arya doesn’t really have more than a hazy idea of who Torrhen was, especially since Ned Stark doesn’t seem like one of those asshole noblemen who insist his children be able to recite the entire family tree to the nth generation.

      So it is equally plausible that she doesn’t know it.

      And really, even if Arya were older it wouldn’t be out of line for her to be ignorant. These people aren’t what you’d call formally educated to a standard curriculum.

      Look at Loras Tyrell. He’s an eighteen-year-old knight, nearly as highborn as you can get, from Highgarden, the place in Westeros in which people have bought into chivalric and courtly culture to the greatest extent possible. Up until Renly died he was drunk on it, on knighthood and the culture surrounding it and all that entailed. And on top of that he had access to the finest education available without actually going whole hog and going to the Citadel like his cousin Leo did. Loras ought to be able to tell you about all the most famous knights of Westeros and recite their splendid deeds and their high calumnies.

      Loras doesn’t know who Criston Cole was.

      Criston Cole, Lord Commander under Aegon II, without whom the Dance of the Dragons probably does not happen. Loras is ignorant of that.

      There are knowledge gaps, and they’re perfectly understandable.

      • Keith B says:

        She’s ten. And by the time I had finished fourth grade, I strongly suspect that I could have told you at least a few things about American history. Probably important Presidents, something about what they did, major wars and battles, early European explorers and settlers in North America, and the like. I also learned something about Biblical history in Sunday school. And in Arya’s case, her family history is national history.

        As for Loras, the text doesn’t say he didn’t know who Criston Cole was. It says he didn’t recognize the Cole coat of arms. Since the house no longer existed, except possibly in exile, that’s not surprising. The text doesn’t say whether Loras had heard of Cole or not, but he definitely knew about many other members of the Kingsguard and what they had done.

        • Crystal says:

          I’m thinking a few things: Sansa and Bran seem to have been the studious ones in the family. We see Sansa having studied her heraldry upside down and backwards, and Bran his legends. I don’t think Arya was as interested. Not less intelligent, just less interested/studious. I recall in her ACOK chapters when she was at Harrenhal, Arya didn’t trust Robett Glover or Harrion Karstark enough to go to them for help because she wasn’t sure of their heraldry. She thought to herself that she let her mind wander during history/heraldry lessons while Sansa paid attention.

          Second, there is the little matter of PTSD, which Arya would have had *in spades.* Under ordinary circumstances, or with a reminder from someone (Sansa? Catelyn? Septa Mordane?) she might have remembered, “Oh yeah, Torrhen Stark!” But under the conditions Arya is in now? I went through a period of extreme work and personal stress and my brain turned to Swiss cheese; and we’re talking just ordinary twenty-first-century American stress, not war refugee stress like poor Arya.

          It’s possible that there was a hiccup in the world building, but also possible that a child under extreme stress and trauma just forgot.

          • Ioseff says:

            You’d be extremely surprised of how people can remember seemingly-innocuous things under stress… specially under stress of nostalgic loss, and wanting to see ANYTHING resembling home… though I agree with another poster that the art of the Riverlands would not be much resembling, that this is also a hiccup in worldbuilding, and that Arya doesn’t mind all that much the sign, it’s not that she forgets, it’s that she doesn’t care because she doesn’t learn it by now

    • But the key thing is she’s in Essos, not in Westeros!

  7. Brett says:

    I think my post got eaten.

    The parchment IOUs are remarkable, especially since Westeros has neither cheap paper nor printing presses. Do you think there’s anything on them other than writing – did Beric bring a seal with him to stamp them for any kind of legitimacy?

    In any case, anyone with them would be smart to sell them to someone else as soon as possible for a discount on the face value. They would be worse than worthless in the “Randall Tarly at Maidenpool” scenario, since I could see him passing an order that anyone possessing or passing them is guilty of treason and banditry.

  8. “I never gave them away. I sold them for a good price, and got us a skiff as well. Anyways, you lot were supposed to get them back.”

    Hilarious. Talking about fair exchange of goods and in the next sentence saying they were supposed to be stolen back. I do like the BWB. And the nostalgia for King Robert is another interesting aspect. He is being classed as the Good King rather then the wastrel warrior who didn’t care much for ruling his Kingdom, rather like King Richard, who though a good warrior was a poor King who spent only six months of his ten year reign in England.

    • Sean C. says:

      From the perspective of ordinary people, Robert’s reign was 15 years of peace (with one minor rebellion that didn’t affect this area at all), so it’s not surprising he’s remembered that way.

    • ad says:

      There was peace while King Robert lived, and war when he didn’t. From the peasants point of view, I should think that classes him as The Good King.

      • Murc says:

        Hell, some of the peasants are still Targaryen partisans. Aerys was probably a great king if you weren’t one of the people he was personally abusing. There were no wars and no calamities.

        Indeed, the period between the War of the Ninepenny Kings and Robert’s Rebellion, nigh on thirty years, was a remarkably stable and peaceful time for a monarchy that had been bedeviled by misrule, murder, and rebellion ever since the Dance of the Dragons. There were personal tragedies (Summerhall, Jaehaerys dying early) but that was a pretty good time for Westeros and the Targaryens all things considered, until Rhaegar and Aerys fucked it up.

        • Grant says:

          During Aerys’ time Aegon V’s reforms were completely stripped away by Tywin, probably with Aerys’ full support.

          Of course that could fall in their minds in the ‘evil councilors’ category, much like ‘if only Comrade Stalin knew what these people were doing’.

          • Crystal says:

            I recall the Russian peasants in the Tsarist era would blame the councilors and nobles for all their suffering, but the Tsar or Tsarina was “Little Father” or “Little Mother” and on their side.

            Since Aerys was not personally frying any smallfolk, I could see *some* of the smallfolk being pro-Targaryen; but there are probably those who thought he was a dangerous maniac anyway (because most kings don’t burn people to death without a trial). Robert, OTOH, I can definitely see the smallfolk as thinking he was a good king. There was peace and stability on his watch, he wasn’t an obviously unstable nutcase, and his hail-fellow-well-met persona and martial abilities would have made him admired.

    • What Sean and ad said – Robert is remembered as a Good King because times were good when he was kind, even if he had nothing to do with that.

  9. artihcus022 says:

    I think the political issues of Resistance and Collaboration (circa WWII) become more pertinent in AFFC than in ASOS, where the Brotherhood are against Starks, Lannisters and surely in theory Renly/Stannis, and this in the middle of an active conflict, whereas AFFC is against an occupation and is obviously more Vichy France…

    The main thing about BWB in ASOS is that it’s idealized Resistance in that it takes an “against-all-sides” stand that historical resistance movements did not take, whereas in AFFC you have a more partisan organization. You mention the Yugoslavian Resistance which was a Communist-led resistance and that chose a side. The Polish Home Army were caught in the middle between Nazis and Communists, but the British insisted they fight the former while shrugging over Stalin’s annexation of Kresy and burying the Katyn massacre. The British under Churchill also betrayed the Greek Resistance of ELAS and reinstalled pre-war fascists and Nazi Collaborators after the end of the war, solely because of Churchill’s fixation with the “Meditteranean underbelly”. So under those circumstances, glorifying the French and the partigiano made sense, especially the former, where the Resistance really did “win” i.e. win the peace, hearts and minds and the exclusive publication rights to write history.

    I remember Alan Moore noting that “you are only allowed one kind of hero”. He mentioned how people celebrated the Tank Man against Tiananmen Square as a resister but nobody commented on a man who immolated himself to protest Thatcher.

    • Wait until we get to Sandor’s trial – believe me, the Resisatance becomes very relevant.

    • ad says:

      Mrs Thatcher undoubtedly became Prime Minister lawfully, via a pre-existing democratic process. The Communist Party of China very definitely did not gain power like that. So we are back to issues of legitimacy

      • artihcus022 says:

        To which the CCP would say, their predecessors the KMT, the Japanese, the Warlords, the Qin dynasty are equally illegitimate, with only Sun Yat Sen’s party having contested and won a majority in elections in 1912 which Yuan-Shih Kai subverted promptly leading to Sun Yat Sen staging a second revolution, which understandable in context only serves the CCP as justification that a revolutionary agitation and seizure is legitimate grounds for foundation, especially against a corrupt and decadent authority, since their most democratic predecessor (who IS revered in China) supported that. Chiang Kai Shek and KMT were backed by the USSR (who also invented the CCP initially as more or less a tiny book club in Shanghai) and he famously bit the hand that fed him by persecuting the Communists and more or less inventing Mao more thoroughly than the latter ever could. And then Chiang Kai Shek landed in Taiwan where he massacred and purged and colonized the land…”Legitimacy” in real-world terms does not equal democracy. After all the Dalai Lama is the legitimate ruler of Tibet but even he admits that it was more or less a theocracy that he was trying to reform when the Chinese arrive.

        And ultimately this isn’t about the legitimacy of the governments, its about the legitimacy of protest and resistance. And which is seen as heroic. Moore’s point was that the Tank Man’s heroic stance against the Chinese ranks, while exceptionally brave, is somehow more acceptable than a similarly courageous and suicidal stance against Thatcher, which did not have the same effect. Both are more or less, non-violent protests, i.e. not violent to other people and property and responses to state actions.

        Ultimately, it has do with Humpty Dumpty’s dictum, “Who is to be master”. Remember it was only in the 21st Century that Nelson Mandela was removed from America’s terror watchlist, and remember that the first head of state he visited in the Americas after apartheid was Castro’s Cuba (whose legitimacy was beyond doubt in Mandela’s eyes)…It took a while before Mandela went from terrorist to freedom fighter.

        The issues of legitimacy are at the forefront of AFFC. Jaime Lannister thinks he can be Arthur Dayne and win the smallfolk…but Arthur Dayne was a genuine philanthropic Knight, Aerys II whatever his faults did not really have an anti-smallfolk reputation (indeed his actions and rivalry to Tywin might even have been seen in a Populist light, i.e. King putting that Snob on the same level as the rest of us) but the Lannisters do have that well-deserved anti-smallfolk reputation, Jaime is the Kingslayer Breaker-Of-Oaths, and in the Riverlands, the BWB have more legitimacy than the Lannisters by the end of the WOT5K. You can compare it in a way to the legitimacy of the Triads in Hong Kong against the British and the CCP overlords, the support of the Mafia in Sicily against the Risorgimento Northern Constitutional Monarchy. That was actually a real problem for the French Resistance, they didn’t have legitimacy but only moral authority, and De Gaulle’s bombast, i.e. pretending he was the leader and true moral icon of the Resistance for so long that it eventually came true.

        • Sean C. says:

          Moore’s point was that the Tank Man’s heroic stance against the Chinese ranks, while exceptionally brave, is somehow more acceptable than a similarly courageous and suicidal stance against Thatcher, which did not have the same effect. Both are more or less, non-violent protests, i.e. not violent to other people and property and responses to state actions.

          It’s a dumb point, because Tank Man was trying to prevent soldiers from massacring protesters. Some dude immolating himself to protest the Thatcher government isn’t doing anything like that.

          • Incidentally, I’ve never understood people who immolate themselves to protest something. It always reminds me of the Suicide Squad from The Life of Brian. What is the point, it’s not like the people you’re protesting against are going to give a damn? How are you hurting them or making anything better?

          • timetravellingbunny: and gandhi’s hunger strikes, who cared? the british didn’t. everyone else did.

          • Sean C. says:

            The British cared quite a lot about Gandhi’s hunger strikes, since it was a huge political problem.

            In any event, there’s still no comparison between what people admire in Tank Man and the alleged lack of admiration for one dude committing suicide to protest Thatcher.

            Also, Thatcher, whatever you thought about her, was not a dictator.

      • Lots of dictators have technically gained power in democratic elections.

    • The Resistance in Yugoslavia didn’t get as much attention in Western media and portrayals of WW2 due to the obvious reason mentioned above, but sadly, the governments, educational systems, media and popular sentiments in the countries of former Yugoslavia themselves have been treating it even worse since the early 1990s.

      A certain amount of historical revisionism was (or would have been) a good thing, after decades of very black-and-white portrayal of the “People’s Liberation War” as one of the cornerstones of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s national myth that was never to be questioned (alongside communism and Marxism as the ideal economic system/philosophy, ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ of the peoples of Yugoslavia. and the personality cult of Josip Broz Tito). Things that were only whispered or talked at home but never in public before the late 1980s had to finally be spoken about – things like the executions or persecution/mistreatment of ethnic Germans and anyone who was labelled as a “collaborator” on often dubious grounds, including ‘class enemies’.

      But unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. Thanks partly to the anti-communism prevailing in the 1990s and later, and partly to the nationalism fueled by nationalist elites and opportunistic politicians, the remains of Yugoslavia became a unique example of a country trying to ignore and rewrite its history of anti-fascist WW2 Resistance. The fact that the Resistance, or at least the forces that were most numerous, committed and effective Resistance, were Communist-led and not nationalistic (in the sense of belonging to any of the specific ethnic groups) became a major stumbling block. Instead, there was – and still is – the trend of trying to rehabilitate or glorify other forces with a different ideological bent whose participation in Resistance or collaboration is a matter of controversy; more disturbingly, outright and undeniable collaborators have also been rehabilitated (or there were attempts to do so, at least) with the justification that they were only trying to save their people from possible reprisals by the German forces (yes, but which people? Not the Jews or the Roma…) and even, most disturbingly of all, there was nationalist glorification of actual genocidal Nazi movements, organizations and puppet states. The worst of it may have mostly passed with the end of the 1990s wars, but the trend is not 100% gone even today.

      • artihcus022 says:

        Yeah I heard of that. It’s especially bad in the Baltics and in Ukraine. In Lithuania, Jewish holocaust survivors who fought alongside Red Army as partisans are called “war criminals” while Nazi collaborators are swept under the rug. And in Ukraine these days, Stepan Bandera is made into a hero despite being an incredibly horrible murderer of Jews and Poles. He’s become a martyr solely because he’s one of the few people whacked by the KGB who really did deserve it.

        And of course, Greece is under threat of a right-wing takeover, who have legitimacy in part because it was the only occupied nation of World War II to never have post-war trials of Nazi collaborators or reparations from Germany (which is part of the subtext of its current relations with the EU), all thanks to the British (and the Americans).

        It’s important for the Resistance to not only come to power but write history, otherwise you face problems.

      • Yep, the politics get very complex and very ugly very fast.

      • Mr Fixit says:

        Well, by far the most popular singer in Croatia, who attracts huge crowds on his concerts, is a guy who openly espouses Nazi ideology and begins every concert with a fascist chant/greeting from WW2 Nazi puppet regime. Top politicians — ministers and such — are regularly present.

        It would be hilarious if not for the fact that Croatia had one of the strongest and most influential resistance movements of WW2 with huge numbers of people participating and keeping large parts of the country free from occupation all through the war. Of course, that resistance was formed by Serbs and Croats together. Since the new narrative in the 1990s decreed that Serbs are the eternal enemies of Croatia, the heroic WW2 resistance has become outright vilified to such an extent that the latest public opinion polls actually show that people sympathize more with Nazi collaborators who committed genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma than with people who gave them their country.

  10. ad says:

    While the value of the Brotherhood Without Banner’s IOUs are often derided by novices, it’s not entirely clear that they’re worthless.

    If they are IOUs to be repaid when the war ends, who will do the repaying? Not King Robert, obviously, since he is dead. Not the new King, because the Brotherhood do not support any of the claimants, so no successful claimant will owe them anything. Not any of the Riverland lords, who don’t lead the Brotherhood and aren’t bound by its promises.

    So the Brotherhood can’t redeem its IOUs now, and will not be able to do so in future.

    So how can they not be worthless?

    • Hedrigal says:

      I mean Stannis would probably redeem the IOU’s if they were brought to his attention. They were given by a legitimate representative of King Robert and his whole justification for ruling is rooted in legal continuity from Robert. Also, the Brotherhood are the only other R’hllor worshipers in the country, so making friends would be good.

      • JG says:

        I highly doubt Stannis would recognize the IOUS unless the BWB committed to Stannis’ cause. They have no legal basis and obviously Stannis is a stickler for the law.

    • Hedrigal says:

      But their value is really outside of whether or not they will for sure be repaid, and rests more in people’s belief it will be repaid, and in the fact that having currency which only has value to other riverlanders in areas where the Brotherhood operates makes them safer in an era where bandits and foraging parties only want gold.

    • Adam says:

      They take 40k gold or slightly less from Sandor later on, an unfathomable sum of wealth (4 gold a year is a pretty respectable income based on Dunk and Egg, right?) that is surely many times more than the entirety of the IOUs they issued in the war. Obviously they can’t have counted on that, but I’m sure the theoretical plan was to try to pay things back themselves later on based on stealing/liberating resources from whoever they ended up fighting.

      • Keith B says:

        I can’t believe Sandor was actually carrying around that much money. Gold is heavy. If a gold dragon weighed half an ounce (like the U.S. ten dollar gold eagle), 40,000 of them would be more than half a ton. Stranger could never haul that much. Sandor would need an ox cart.

        • Crystal says:

          I know! I think that was one of those world-building hiccups, a Writers Can’t Math thing. I bet GRRM was thinking along the lines of a purse of gold (which would still be heavy – a medieval purse was like a drawstring pouch, now fill it up with large coins!) and then gave a number which meant to signify “a great fortune.” The thought of Sandor hauling around an ox-cart full of gold coins is funny. He should have gone and deposited it with the Iron Bank! (Westeros, btw, really needs a bank of its own; I think Steven talked about this quite a bit in his economic development posts.)

          • Keith B says:

            The trouble is, we don’t know enough about how the Iron Bank operates. We know they lend to merchants in Westeros, but do they borrow as well, or do they only lend their own capital? A bank borrows short-term and lends long-term, and makes a profit on the difference in the interest rates. If the Iron Bank only lends its capital, it’s not really a bank at all. It’s just an investor.

            If the Iron Throne issued Consols, that would suit Sandor perfectly. It wouldn’t help Anguy, who believes the only use for money is to squander it, but Sandor would likely welcome a steady, dependable income on 40,000 dragons.

        • If we use the British pound coin instead, I make it about 669 lb of metal.

          • Keith B says:

            Still too much for a horse to carry. Especially since Sandor himself, with his saddle and other equipment, was probably nearly 300 pounds.

            With a gold standard, the value of the coin is the actual value of the metal in it, so the ratio of the weights would be equal to the parity of the exchange rate of the two currencies, except for a small delta reflecting the expense of transporting gold across the ocean. (The coins aren’t pure gold, but fairly close.)

            Taking your estimate that the per capita GDP of Westeros was about that of medieval England ($800) and that the average person earned 3 to 5 dragons per year, that’s at least $160 per dragon. So it was worth far more than the pound or the $10 eagle. Of course that doesn’t tell you the weight unless you know the price of gold, but with all the gold dug out of the Westerlands over the millenia, you’d think it wouldn’t be out of line with our world.

    • Well, the Brotherhood is robbing people throughout the Riverlands, so I imagine it can repay said IOUs through that.

  11. Murc says:

    Steven, if you’ll allow me to quibble with you…

    Now the Inn is 120 miles from Riverrun, and 240 miles from Harrenhal (which makes Arya’s trek rather impressive in retrospect) – and it took Arya a full month to make that 240 mile journey, so on land she’s not going to make it. But on a skiff, Arya could potentially make the trip in as little as two days

    I know a little bit about handling watercraft. Not enough that you’d want to go out with me in choppy weather, but more than someone who can look at a boat and go “yup, that sure is a boat.” I can ship a pair of oars without embarrassing myself.

    And please let me say that there’s a radical difference between going downstream and upstream, even on a river as wide and gentle as the Trident, that managing a sail isn’t something you can just pick up in a few minutes, and that rowing, itself, is non-trivial to pick up if you want to do it in an efficient manner and not just rapidly tire yourself out while not making very much headway and, potentially, spinning yourself in a circle while others watch and laugh. Especially if the current is constantly trying to turn your boat around and make it go the other way.

    Brienne of Tarth is an enormously strong woman, who grew up on an island and has thus probably been handling boats of all types much of her life, and who was rowing with the current. Arya and Co. are none of those things, although Gendry has a certain amount of brawn to him (and more importantly endurance, from having to lift a hammer all the livelong day) and would probably make decent headway once he figured things out.

    Two days is, shall we say, uncommonly generous.

  12. Grant says:

    The problem the Brotherhood has is they express and use dissatisfaction with the major actors without any clear goal of their own to fight for.

    Tactically they’re not bad and they understand the need to spread out and keep connected to locals, but they don’t seem to really have an endgame. They aren’t asserting themselves as the proper government, they aren’t calling for one of the candidates to win (in fact in this chapter they see no difference between Stark and Lannister even though there’s more nuance later).

    So what’s a win for them? A king who will protect the people? They’re leaving that completely out of their hands and running the risk Westeros will be ruled by a coalition that couldn’t care less about innocent people.

    Admittedly it’s not entirely in their hands. They don’t have a clear choice between Renly and Stannis, they obviously can’t go for Joffrey and siding for Robb would mean being separatists for a king explicitly separate from the institution of the one they still honor. But the Brotherhood could end up very popular in the Riverlands but only really capable of making it ungovernable.

    • Considering the fact that the ‘Stark’ forces in the Riverlands are actually the forces under Roose Bolton, plus those under the orders of Rickard Karstark, there’s a pretty good reason for them to consider them no different from Tywin Lannister’s forces. Arya herself has seen in Harrenhal that there is no difference between what Tywin does and what Roose does.

      • Tywin of the Hill says:

        And it’s not just Bolton and Karstark. Cleos Frey mentions to Tyrion that the riverlords are burning their own crops (which presumably means starving their own smallfolk), and then there’s the Bracken’s “They lay with lions”.
        If the smallfolk can’t rely on their own lords to protect them and feed them, they’re going to have to look somewhere else.

    • I think they have some goals, but I’ll get into that in the future.

      • Steven Xue says:

        As of right now the war is over and has been for a good while now. I feel the Brotherhood’s only purpose for existing is 1. continued revenge against Freys and Lannisters under renewed leadership, 2. perhaps protecting the smallfolks against even worse bandits and brigands as the local authorities are doing squat about law and order, and 3. to avoid prosecution from the crown as many of its members probably have large bounty on their heads and can no longer just slip back into civilian life.

        • Grant says:

          The war wasn’t over at the time of these chapters (what I call the first phase of the Westerosi Civil War), and that’s the time I’m arguing they don’t seem to have a real vision of how they want to influence the race for the Iron Throne (couldn’t resist).

          I’m interested to hear what Attewell’s thoughts are on the Brotherhood’s political goals for this phase, since to me they seem well-intentioned and popular but not able to turn that into a winning strategy.

          As of the latest book, I think they have some plan for a Tully restoration and destruction of the Freys, though what they plan to do about the Lannisters and Tyrells is another question.

          • Steven Xue says:

            Well when it comes to their political goals. I suppose Thoros’s missionary efforts can be counted as just like Mel he is trying to convert Westerosi to join his religion (though not as aggressively). And of course ever since Lady Stoneheart has taken over they made it their mission to drive the Freys and perhaps even the Lannisters out of the Riverlands.

            I think that because the Brotherhood is a reactionary force, they don’t exactly have any long term goals in mind. Also not every one of its members are striving for the same goals as some among their ranks are criminals who are in it for the hard crime. Still I think its main ideologues are legitimately doing what they can to scrape by and protect the people who are suffering because of the war and are waiting patiently for a ‘true king’ to come along and bring justice and stability to the realm. Because there really much else they can do.

    • Hedrigal says:

      This is a common feature of rebellions in the medieval era and to a certain extent into the modern era. They can put forward a fairly long list of things they are against, but they lack a clear and distinct program of what they are for. To a certain extent they want land reform and an end to the privileges of feudal lords, but the form that all of that takes is up for enormous amounts of debate and its only in the modern era that these concerns begin to really get put together into a coherent program and alternative vision of society.

  13. somethinglikealawyer says:

    One of the more unique things I’ve noticed about the romanctization of revolutions afterwards is that revolutions and states have often characterized the other side in black-and-white terms. While the revolution itself is remarkably murky and colored in various shades no matter which way you shake it, there’s often rhetoric of “with us or against us” that justifies police crackdowns and re-concentration camps to curtail rebel mobility on one hand, and outright theft and murder on the other. The rebellion almost gets turned into its own rhetoric.

  14. The chapters with Arya hanging out with BwB are some of my favorites in ASOS exactly because they (or at least some of them*) offer moments of hope, happiness and humanity (alliteration was not intended, believe me), which is really necessary after all the awful things that have happened and right before things get even darker and bleaker in the latter part of ASOS and the next two books. But more about that in upcoming Arya chapters, where we see BwB interacting with various people – from Lady Smallwood to various commoners, including Tansy the owner of the Peach, and the Ghost of High Heart – who re helping BwB and mounting their own quiet resistance, but also finding ways to live their lives and have some sort of a freedom in spite of everything. Arya even gets to have moments of levity and happiness.

    *The exception would be the stuff with the Huntsman and the torture of captured war criminals… that was pretty dark and disturbing stuff worthy of Arya’s ACOK arc.

  15. Shelley says:

    I love this analysis, and all the comments discussing resistance and revolutions throughout history. One of the things that really impresses me about ASOIAF is the amount of attention paid to non-nobles that is almost entirely absent from other works of fiction, and the general realism in which they are portrayed.

  16. […] III does start out with a neat bit of imagery that nicely continues the question from the previous chapter as to whether the Brotherhood Without Banners can be trusted, or rather whether they’re really […]

  17. […] is going to repeat somewhat what I said about Arya II and Arya III, but this chapter is an excellent example of why Benioff and Weiss’ habit of […]

  18. Paulo Passos says:

    In the begging of your post you write “our protagonist encounters the Brotherhood Without Banners, who she will spend the next six chapters with (a longer time than she spent in Harrenhal, or with the Night’s Watch, or that she’s spent in the House of Black and White).”

    The Night’s Watch ? I’m confused…Arya has no intercations with Night Watch, except for one Chapter in Braavos.

  19. […] climax, he steers into the Hound’s digression by getting into an extended debate about who the Brotherhood really are and what they stand for. Very much playing the role of the cynic – and if you think […]

  20. Prof. Cecily Cogsworth says:

    That was an especially interesting analysis of the IOU and of the lyrics Tom sings.

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