Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn II, ASOS

It was the moment she had dreamt of and dreaded. Have I lost two sons, or three?”

Synopsis: “No I would not give no false hope/On this strange and mournful day/But the mother and child reunion/Is only a motion away…”

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:

I have to admit that I was somewhat daunted at the thought of writing this essay, because Catelyn II is such a huge chapter in the broader story of ASOIAF. While it’s true that the plan was in the works long before news of the events at the Crag were known, this is the chapter where the Red Wedding becomes a part of the POV of the character who will be the witness to that horrific event.

Laying the Foundations for Tragedy

As a result, the undertones and symbolism of tragedy that have been in the background of Catelyn’s POV ever since Ned’s death surge to the fore. This begins with the weather, which will become an ever-present, oppressive presence in her chapters:

“It had been raining for days now, a cold grey downpour that well suited Catelyn’s mood. Her father was growing weaker and more delirious with every passing day, waking only to mutter, “Tansy,” and beg forgiveness. Edmure shunned her, and Ser Desmond Grell still denied her freedom of the castle, however unhappy it seemed to make him. Only the return of Ser Robin Ryger and his men, footweary and drenched to the bone, served to lighten her spirits.”

This idea that weather and the larger environment is a reflected of the tragic protagonist’s state of mind is a pretty well-established trope in the genre: Macbeth’s “so foul and fair a day I have not seen” is meant both to call back to the Three Witches’ earlier prophesying, but also to speak to Macbeth’s state of mental and physical exhaustion; likewise, the apocalyptic storm that rages across King Lear from Act III onward is meant to suggest something of the Fisher King’s link between the disordered mind of the king and his disordered kingdom.

However, it’s more than weather that picks out the chapter as the opening act of a tragedy. While Catelyn has had elements of the tragic heroine present for some time, it’s really starting in this chapter that she acquires the gift of foresight so familiar to Greek tragedy. As in those plays, however, this gift isn’t the same thing as superior intellectual but rather a random premonition – Catelyn fixates on details that will be significant without knowing why she’s doing that:

“…A boy she did not know seemed to be acting as Robb’s squire. Behind him stood a young knight in a sand-colored surcoat blazoned with seashells, and an older one who wore three black pepperpots on a saffron bend, across a field of green and silver stripes. Between them were a handsome older lady and a pretty maid who looked to be her daughter. There was another girl as well, near Sansa’s age. The seashells were the sigil of some lesser house…”

There’s no particular reason for Catelyn to focus on these people as opposed to anyone else in the audience room, but one of the benefits of tragic foresight is that you only focus on plot-relevant details. (Which makes it handy for GRRM, because it allows him to play his three-fold revelation games by using Catelyn to draw the eyes of his audience where he wants them to go). For a further example, think about how Catelyn reacts to something that isn’t there:

“It was only then that Catelyn realized what was amiss. The wolf. The wolf is not here. Where is Grey Wind? She knew the direwolf had returned with Robb, she had heard the dogs, but he was not in the hall, not at her son’s side where he belonged.”
“…Grey Wind doesn’t like her uncle either. He bares his teeth every time Ser Rolph comes near him.”
A chill went through her. “Send Ser Rolph away. At once.”

As she herself admits, Catelyn has no rational basis for mistrusting Ser Rolph Spicer. (Likewise, Robb will make some fairly practical, if unknowingly inaccurate, points about Bran and Rickon not being protected by their wolves.) And even if you’re re-reading the books, Rolph Spicer is hardly a driving force behind the Red Wedding, so his being sent away is ultimately inconsequential. This is because foresight was originally seen as an unbidden (and usually unwelcome) gift from the gods, which showed the recipient their fate but never gave them the ability to escape it.

Part of what makes Catelyn’s prophetic impulses work is the way that GRRM plays with information in this chapter: by having Edmure withhold information from the POV character (out of anger for her freeing Jaime), he withholds information from the reader as well:

“Something else was wrong as well. On the day her brother returned, a few hours after their argument, she had heard angry voices from the yard below. When she climbed to the roof to see, there were knots of men gathered across the castle beside the main gate. Horses were being led from the stables, saddled and bridled, and there was shouting, though Catelyn was too far away to make out the words. One of Robb’s white banners lay on the ground, and one of the knights turned his horse and trampled over the direwolf as he spurred toward the gate… Close to forty men poured out through the castle gates, to what end she did not know.”

In sharp contrast to her flashes of insight, Catelyn here is seeing the Freys react to the news of Robb’s marriage without understanding. It nicely leavens her moments of impossible anticipation, preventing her from becoming insufferable or removed from the normal constraints of humanity. At the same time, by letting the reader know that something’s up but withholding the full significance until the end of the chapter, GRRM ensures that the reader shares Catelyn’s sense of tension and unease, which builds and builds until the moment of release when Robb finally explains what the hell is going on.

Trapped by Forgiveness

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t like it when Robb Stark is portrayed as StupidRobb either in the book or the show (because it reinforces the tendency to dismiss him as a feckless adolescent whose death is less a tragedy and more of a necessary clearing of the stage for our real heroes) and I don’t like it when Catelyn is unnecessarily hatred on by the fandom or stripped of her political nous in the show in order to make Robb look better. And no small part of that is because their relationship in the books (when it’s done well) is a complicated thing between two intelligent people who don’t need to be made less to make the other look good.

The complex nature of their relationship makes itself known in their reconciliation. Initially, Catelyn is desperate for forgiveness from Robb. In part, this is because he is the one child left to her:

Robb, she knew, the moment she heard the kennels erupt.”
“Her son had returned to Riverrun, and Grey Wind with him. Only the scent of the great grey direwolf could send the hounds into such a frenzy of baying and barking. He will come to me, she knew. Edmure had not returned after his first visit, preferring to spend his days with Marq Piper and Patrek Mallister, listening to Rymund the Rhymer’s verses about the battle at the Stone Mill. Robb is not Edmure, though. Robb will see me.”
“But now Robb was returned from the west, returned in triumph. He will forgive me, Catelyn told herself. He must forgive me, he is my own son, and Arya and Sansa are as much his blood as mine. He will free me from these rooms and then I will know what has happened.”

Beyond an emotional need for connection and catharsis, it’s telling that Catelyn also sees forgiveness as a means to escape the bonds of ignorance and inactivity, a means to get back into the political world that she’s been exiled from since the end of ACOK. It might not be the most admirable reaction, but it’s a deeply human one: GRRM has spoken repeatedly that his decision to make Catelyn Stark a POV character was his interest in exploring an Eleanor of Acquitaine-type – in other words, a political figure and not just an capital-M mother figure, and we see that here.

Indeed, you can see a lot of this side of Catelyn in the way that Robb approaches the question of forgiveness:

“If Robb looks at me as Edmure did, I do not know what I will do. But it seemed to her that it was not anger she saw in her son’s eyes, but something else…apprehension, perhaps? No, that made no sense. What should he fear? He was the Young Wolf, King of the Trident and the North.”
“…The gods are good, then.” Catelyn took a deep breath. Say it. It cannot be avoided. “They will have told you what I did. Did they tell you my reasons?”
“For the girls…”
“…Enough.” For just an instant Robb sounded more like Brandon than his father. “No man calls my lady of Winterfell a traitor in my hearing, Lord Rickard.” When he turned to Catelyn, his voice softened. “If I could wish the Kingslayer back in chains I would. You freed him without my knowledge or consent…but what you did, I know you did for love. For Arya and Sansa, and out of grief for Bran and Rickon. Love’s not always wise, I’ve learned. It can lead us to great folly, but we follow our hearts…wherever they take us….I know what it is to love so greatly you can think of nothing else.”

On a public relations level, Robb walks a careful line, quite protective of – because no one respects a king who lets his bannermen badmouth his female relations – and empathetic towards his mother’s motives, while being very clear that he doesn’t approve of the results of her actions. And for all that Robb often gets labelled as a political dullard; look at how cleverly he traps his mother into forgiving him by framing the discussion in terms of the excesses of love (while at the same time using that framing to give his bannermen a narrative to explain his mother’s actions that they’ll accept). It takes some political sangfroid (to say the least) to box someone in this way when you’re in a weak position yourself.

Likewise, if we’re putting Robb Stark’s political skills to the acid test, one of the things that struck me on this re-read is how cunning Robb’s use of language is here. When Robb tells his mother “I know what it is to love so greatly you can think of nothing else,” or when he tells her that “I took an arrow through the arm while storming the Crag…I had the best of care” without explaining who that care came from or what form that care took, he is in essence confessing without actually explaining what he’s done, winning forgiveness without having to make a full account of his misdeeds. Again, it may not be the most admirable quality, but it is a quality that is most useful to kings and other political figures. (After all, would it benefit the Northern cause if Robb was to baldly state before the entire audience hall that he schtupped and then quickie-married Jeyne Westerling, or would it just inflame public opinion?)

Just as Robb’s reaction to his mother freeing Jaime Lannister is lightyears different from his rather harsh (and hypocritical) response on the show, so too is the reaction of the political community of the North and the Riverlands a more complicated spectrum. Yes, it’s true that Rickard Karstark is deeply embittered and resentful of Catelyn’s actions:

“Aye, my lady.” Lord Rickard Karstark pushed past the Greatjon, like some grim specter with his black mail and long ragged grey beard, his narrow face pinched and cold. “And I have one son, who once had three. You have robbed me of my vengeance.”
Catelyn faced him calmly. “Lord Rickard, the Kingslayer’s dying would not have bought life for your children. His living may buy life for mine.”
The lord was unappeased. “Jaime Lannister has played you for a fool. You’ve bought a bag of empty words, no more. My Torrhen and my Eddard deserved better of you.”

It’s also true, however, that Rickard Karstark was deeply embittered and resentful long before Catelyn did anything – and was probably spiraling down into a suicidal depression ever since the Whispering Wood – and represents a pretty extreme reaction. He has some sympathizers – “Galbart Glover and Lord Jason Mallister were cooler, and Jonos Bracken almost icy” – but no one else is willing to openly antagonize the king by openly accusing his mother of treason, so even those who disapprove make sure that “their words were courteous enough.” At the same time, however, there’s a good deal of Robb’s followers who sympathize with Catelyn:

Her uncle was the first to greet her. As black a fish as ever, Ser Brynden had no care for what others might think. He leapt off the dais and pulled Catelyn into his arms. When he said, “It is good to see you home, Cat,” she had to struggle to keep her composure. “And you,” she whispered.
“…Leave off, Karstark,” rumbled the Greatjon, crossing his huge arms against his chest. “It was a mother’s folly. Women are made that way.”
“… she found herself surrounded by a circle of well-wishers. Lady Mormont took her hand and said, “My lady, if Cersei Lannister held two of my daughters, I would have done the same.” The Greatjon, no respecter of proprieties, lifted her off her feet and squeezed her arms with his huge hairy hands.”

While the Blackfish’s support comes from a place of unconditional familial love (remember this for later) that doesn’t characterize most of Robb’s bannermen, it’s interesting to note the contrasting reasons for Catelyn’s support: the Greatjon buys into Robb’s framing completely, while I doubt that Maege Mormont bought into it for a second. Instead, she supports Catelyn’s actions on their own terms, making quite clear that at least on Bear Island, daughters are not considered lesser than sons.

After the Audience

The narrative of Catelyn II becomes even more complicated when you consider that everything that’s come before – from Robb’s praise of Edmure that “Lord Tywin…had his fill of northmen and rivermen both,” to his forgiveness of his mother – was all intended for public consumption. Once the hall has been cleared, both Catelyn and the reader are made privy to a second layer of truth, which recontextualizes what’s come before going back to ACOK. Even here, though, GRRM uses the slow burn to delay full revelation:

“My lady, sers, are you new to my son’s cause?”
“”New,” said the younger knight, him of the seashells, “but fierce in our courage and firm in our loyalties, as I hope to prove to you, my lady.”
Robb looked uncomfortable. “Mother,” he said, “may I present the Lady Sybell, the wife of Lord Gawen Westerling of the Crag.” The older woman came forward with solemn mien. “Her husband was one of those we took captive in the Whispering Wood…Ser Rolph Spicer, Lady Sybell’s brother…the children of Lord Gawen and Lady Sybell. Ser Raynald Westerling…Eleyna…Rollam Westerling, my squire…”

On a re-read, it’s almost comical how much Robb (and GRRM) are slow-rolling things here, introducing Catelyn to seemingly every single member of the extended Westerling-Spicer clan before getting to the actual point. But it does work to raise the reader’s tension along with Catelyn’s as she proceeds in a state of incomprehension. And then just when the tension couldn’t be worse, GRRM drops the bombshell:

The maid came forward last, and very shy. Robb took her hand. “Mother,” he said, “I have the great honor to present you the Lady Jeyne Westerling. Lord Gawen’s elder daughter, and my…ah…to my lady wife.”
The first thought that flew across Catelyn’s mind was, No, that cannot be, you are only a child.
The second was, And besides, you have pledged another.
The third was, Mother have mercy, Robb, what have you done?
Only then came her belated remembrance. Follies done for love? He has bagged me neat as a hare in a snare. I seem to have already forgiven him. Mixed with her annoyance was a rueful admiration; the scene had been staged with the cunning worthy of a master mummer…or a king. Catelyn saw no choice but to take Jeyne Westerling’s hands.

Just as with Robb’s moment of forgiveness, Catelyn’s reaction is a complicated one: her first reaction is a simple emotional response common to pretty much any parent who hears that their child has gotten married, had a kid, graduated college, and so on. Her second and third reactions are the responses of a seasoned politician, recognizing the implications of Robb’s actions (more on this when we get to the Freys). At the same time, Catelyn doesn’t wax censorious about the dishonorable nature of Robb’s actions – indeed, later on Catelyn will wish that Robb had simply been more effectively dishonorable, thinking “if you had to fall into a woman’s arms, my son, why couldn’t they have been Margaery Tyrell’s? The wealth and power of Highgarden could have made all the difference in the fighting yet to come.”

More importantly, Catelyn’s reaction to the news doesn’t begin or end with her horror at a broken engagement. While it’s often overlooked by the fandom, she does have a fourth reaction, which is to realize that Robb has completely outplayed her by publicly forgiving her for rash actions taken out of love, which she takes as a sign that he’s actually rather good at being king, and not a political naïf as he’s often reduced to. Moreover, the fact that Catelyn responds to his move with “rueful admiration” shows both the strength of her emotional connection to her son (just as he doesn’t reject her because of Jaime, neither will she reject him because of Jeyne) and how much she values political skill – however mad she might be about Robb’s actions, game has to recognize game.

A Side-Note: The Hips Do Lie

A slight digression: I have to admit that, back in the day, I was a believer in the theory that, given the difference between the description of Jeyne in this chapter as being “slender, but with good hips, Catelyn noted. She should have no trouble bearing children, at least” and the description of Jeyne in Jaime VII of AFFC as having “narrow hips” meant that the second Jeyne was an imposter, and that the real Jeyne had been spirited away from Riverrun by the Blackfish. Since then, it’s been confirmed that the latter description was a mistake on GRRM’s part – which makes it one of the most significant error in all of ASOIAF, save perhaps for the annoyingly persistent “controversy” about the house with the red door and the lemon tree.

credit to Lauren Cannon

With that in mind, the business with Jeyne’s “good hips” seems instead like a foreshadowing of Sybell Spicer’s efforts to prevent Jeyne from giving Robb an heir – part of the cruel joke that GRRM the Fates have turned poor Jeyne’s life into. That being said, I think my attachment to that theory was a big part of the reason why I initially bought into the Talisa-is-a-spy theory during Season 3 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Because I was expecting some sort of twist or unexpected reversal to occur, and in part because Talisa’s character was otherwise such a non-entity, I was convinced that there had to be something there. Just goes to show that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

What Really Happened At the Crag

Speaking of layers of truth, once Catelyn is finally privy to Robb’s big secret, we start to get the inside story about how and why Robb came to marry Jeyne:

“Tell me how this came to be.”
“I took her castle and she took my heart.” Robb smiled. “The Crag was weakly garrisoned, so we took it by storm one night. Black Walder and the Smalljon led scaling parties over the walls, while I broke the main gate with a ram. I took an arrow in the arm just before Ser Rolph yielded us the castle. It seemed nothing at first, but it festered. Jeyne had me taken to her own bed, and she nursed me until the fever passed. And she was with me when the Greatjon brought me the news of…of Winterfell. Bran and Rickon.” He seemed to have trouble saying his brothers’ names. “That night, she…she comforted me, Mother.”
Catelyn did not need to be told what sort of comfort Jeyne Westerling had offered her son. “And you wed her the next day.”
He looked her in the eyes, proud and miserable all at once. “It was the only honorable thing to do.”

In this context, there really is a parallel between Robb’s sleeping with Jeyne and Catelyn freeing Jaime, both acts of desperation prompted by the news of the “deaths” of Bran and Rickon and the fall of Winterfell, both actions that once done could not be easily undone – although there is a bit of timeline weirdness in the fact that Robb hears about it first, despite being further away from Winterfell and being in a much more difficult communications situation than Catelyn was at Riverrun.

And a big part of the reason for this parallel, as I have said elsewhere is that Robb’s decision to marry Jeyne after he’d slept with her is very much driven by the fact that he is the oldest son of both Ned Stark and Catelyn Tully. This is sometimes a controversial (and misunderstood) point: when I say that Robb was thinking of his father when he married Jeyne, I don’t mean that it’s what Ned would have done (because in marrying Catelyn despite all other attachments and in supposedly fathering Jon Snow, he clearly did the opposite) but rather it’s what Ned ought to have done. Remember, Robb had grown up believing that the worst thing his father ever did, the one time he ever besmirched his honor, is that he sired a bastard. And even if Ned Stark’s example wasn’t enough, you can be absolutely sure that Catelyn had educated Robb, both explicitly and implicitly (given the way that she insisted on her children maintaining the social distance between themselves and Jon Snow) that siring a bastard was a Bad Thing. (I wonder if Robb ever heard the stories about Ashara Dayne?)

At the same time, while I no longer believe the Jeyne hips/switch theory, I am a firm believer in the theory that Sybell Spicer was more than a little involved in making sure this came to pass. I’m not going to rehash the entire argument, but I’ll boil it down to Means, Motive, and Opportunity. As the granddaughter of Maggy the Frog and the chief prescriber of medicines as we see with Jeyne herself, Sybell absolutely had the means and opportunity to drug either or both parties with an aphrodisiac. (Indeed, narrative economy would suggest that 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.) As for motive: with Jeyne in Robb’s bed, not only is Sybell and her family protected if Robb wins the war, but she also has a bargaining chip to use with Tywin which she wouldn’t if she was merely a defeated vassal.

The Political Fallout: The Freys

Now that everything’s out in the open, the next thing to do is to assess the political implications of what we’ve learned. And this can be very easy to get wrong through over-simplification, and very often is. For example, take Robb’s despairing self-critique in this chapter:

“I’ve made a botch of everything but the battles, haven’t I? I thought the battles would be the hard part, but . . . if I had listened to you and kept Theon as my hostage, I’d still rule the north, and Bran and Rickon would be alive and safe in Winterfell.”

For those who argue that Robb was responsible for losing the war or was bad at being king (or that he should have listened to his mother), this quote about his decision to send Theon to Pyke is Exhibit A. What often gets omitted from the record, however, is the fact that Catelyn, who has every reason in this moment to be critical of her son, rejects this analysis: “Perhaps. Or not. Lord Balon might still have chanced war. The last time he reached for a crown, it cost him two sons. He might have thought it a bargain to lose only one this time.” And while Catelyn doesn’t have the first-hand account that we the readers do, she’s absolutely right: Balon had been preparing to go to war long before Theon was sent to Pyke, and he had no commitment to Theon either as kin or as an heir.

This points to something I’ve been saying for a long time: that while the Starks certainly made their fair share of mistakes, their downfall was ultimately the result of a number of different factors, many (if not most) of them completely unforeseeable (to say nothing of unlikely) – like Theon taking or Ramsay burning Winterfell. This in turn means that it can be difficult to sort out the truly consequential mistakes from the ones that turned out not to matter.

This brings us to the question of the Freys. As I have argued for a long time, while Robb marrying Jeyne Westerling was the catalyst and pretext for the Freys withdrawing from Robb’s coalition, the timing of the Red Wedding means that Walder Frey had already been in the process of betraying both his king and his Lord Paramount before Robb arrived at the Crag. This issue of timing makes it difficult to get an accurate perspective of the impact of Robb’s mistakes:

“And you,” she said softly, “have lost the Freys…dare I ask how many swords came with your bride, Robb?”
“Fifty. A dozen knights.” His voice was glum, as well it might be. When the marriage contract had been made at the Twins, old Lord Walder Frey had sent Robb off with a thousand mounted knights and near three thousand foot.”

For example, contrary to much fan opinion, the loss of House Frey’s forces did not doom the war effort. Altogether, House Frey’s 4,000 men make up only 15% of the Northern alliance’s forces, making their defection a significant loss but not a fatal one. (To get a sense of perspective, the North’s casualties from the Battle of Duskendale alone are almost as large as House Frey’s entire manpower.) And this points to the critical importance of Roose Bolton in making the Red Wedding – because by themselves, the Freys simply weren’t large enough to pull off the attack on Robb’s army – and Roose Bolton’s defection had absolutely nothing to do with Jeyne Westerling.

So thus, it is quite true that “you have done House Frey a grievous insult,” but the resolution of the conflict with House Frey is more complicated than that, depending very much on the personalities of the people involved. It matters greatly that Walder Frey “is not reasonable…He is proud, and prickly to a fault.” But Walder Frey isn’t the only player involved, and as a man who’s his nineties, he’s not necessarily the last word on what House Frey’s policy is, both because he might not be around forever and because he needs younger men to set his policies into motion. And this is something that Robb recognizes:

“With Ser Stevron, I might have been able to make amends, but Ser Ryman is dull-witted as a stone, and Black Walder . . . that one was not named for the color of his beard, I promise you. He went so far as to say that his sisters would not be loath to wed a widower. I would have killed him for that if Jeyne had not begged me to be merciful.”
“And I may need to fight the Freys as well, if Black Walder has his way . . .”

Stevron Frey’s death, likely at the hands of Black Walder, is precisely one of those dominoes that had to fall just right in order for the Red Wedding to happen. As the heir to the Twins, Ser Stevron would have both been an influence on the Twins in favor of reconciliation with the Starks, but also would have been extremely difficult to hide the Red Wedding planning from. By contrast, Black Walder is a massively destabilizing influence within the Twins, always Edmund-like pushing for the course of action that might get him one rung closer to lordship. And from the way he’s described in this chapter, it seems like warring against the Starks and their supporters was part of Black Walder’s agenda of advancement – remember, Black Walder becomes de facto Lord of Seagard thanks to the Red Wedding – for some time.

In the end, we’re left with a complicated and difficult-to-parse situation when it comes to the genesis of the Red Wedding. On the one hand, it is true that Walder Frey is somewhat motivated by spite and pride:

“He wanted to be grandfather to a king. You will not appease him with the offer of two hoary old brigands and the second son of the fattest man in the Seven Kingdoms. Not only have you broken your oath, but you’ve slighted the honor of the Twins by choosing a bride from a lesser house…It has always rankled him that older houses look down on the Freys as upstarts. This insult is not the first he’s borne, to hear him tell it. Jon Arryn was disinclined to foster his grandsons, and my father refused the offer of one of his daughters for Edmure.”

On the other hand, we also have Word of Author that Walder Frey would have betrayed Robb Stark even if Robb hadn’t married Jeyne Westerling, and quite a bit of evidence from later in ASOS and AFFC that, however much “the Red Wedding was motivated by his desire to wash out the dishonor that was done him,” his bargaining with Tywin Lannister for castles, titles, and marriages was done very much in cold blood as opposed to hot. To reconcile these two perspectives, I think we have to reject a monocausal explanation – it was politics or it was ressentiment – and to conclude that it was both.

The Battle of the Fords and Edmure Tully: Closing Statement

As if there wasn’t enough to cover in this behemoth of a chapter, we also get the last piece of the story of the Battle of the Fords, one which plays a major part in the ongoing debate within the fandom over whether or not Edmure exceeded his orders, which we last addressed back in Catelyn VI of ACOK. This is a subject that I’ve expended a lot of words on over the years, but this scene in particular is so important that I think it’s worth doing a close reading.

As with the earlier plot lines about the Crag and Robb forgiving his mother for freeing Jaime, this thread starts with a public façade that then gets revealed as false in private:

Edmure stood below the crowded dais, head bowed modestly as Robb praised his victory. “. . . fell at the Stone Mill shall never be forgotten. Small wonder Lord Tywin ran off to fight Stannis. He’d had his fill of northmen and rivermen both.” That brought laughter and approving shouts, but Robb raised a hand for quiet. “Make no mistake, though. The Lannisters will march again, and there will be other battles to win before the kingdom is secure.”

The first thing to note here is that Robb is, once again, doing some rather good political work: as mad as he is about what Edmure has done, he keeps it under control and publicly praises Edmure’s actions in the interests of preserving the North/Riverlands alliance, hence his phrasing of “northmen and riverlands both” balancing out the two halves of “the kingdom” he rules. At the same time, this cuts against the argument that Robb is trying to make Edmure the judas goat for his failures as a commander – if that was the case, especially given the very public nature of his recent marriage, the obvious strategy is to make Edmure’s humiliation as public as possible to provide the biggest distraction form Robb’s actions.

Instead, Edmure gets called onto the carpet in private – to the extent that Brynden Tully waits until no one is present other than Cat and Robb before he reveals the truth:

Edmure was filling his uncle’s ear with the whole story of the fight at the Stone Mill. It was only after the servants had come and gone that the Blackfish cleared his throat and said, “I think we’ve all heard sufficient of your boasting, Nephew.”
Edmure was taken aback. “Boasting?
“I mean,” said the Blackfish, “that you owe His Grace your thanks for his forbearance. He played out that mummer’s farce in the Great Hall so as not to shame you before your own people. Had it been me I would have flayed you for your stupidity rather than praising this folly of the fords.”

Contrary to his rather one-note characterization on the show, Brynden Tully is not habitually belittling or dismissive towards Edmure. Instead, he’s characterized by his fierce love for his kin; hence his desire to rush to Riverrun’s defense back in AGOT, hence his instant forgiveness of Catelyn in this chapter. This would suggest that Brynden’s anger towards Edmure over “this folly of the fords” is quite genuine, as it would have had to overcome a natural instinct towards forgiveness. This brings up a major weakness of the Edmure-was-right theory: it relies on assuming that the Blackfish, who has no reason to lie to Edmure in this moment, would essentially gaslight his nephew for a selfish (and indeed pointless, as I’ll explain in a bit) purpose that is entirely out of character. Meanwhile Edmure’s reaction speaks to the important question of Edmure’s motivations:

“Good men died to defend those fords, Uncle.” Edmure sounded outraged. “What, is no one to win victories but the Young Wolf? Did I steal some glory meant for you, Robb?” What do you mean?”
“Your Grace,” Robb corrected, icy. “You took me for your king, Uncle. Or have you forgotten that as well?”

While Edmure’s solicitousness for his subjects speaks to his characteristic good-heartedness, the fact that his initial reaction to being told that he made a mistake is to focus on the “glory” won or lost rather than the military goals that the battle was meant to accomplish speaks to Edmure’s frequent blind-spot when it comes to the bigger picture of military strategy. And the fact that his immediate assumption (an assumption which many pro-Edmure critics share) is that Robb is doing this out of a jealous desire to hoard all of the credit for the War of Five Kings – which as an analysis of character is flatly contradicted by Robb’s weary and self-deprecating interactions with Catelyn earlier this chapter – speaks to his tendency toward immaturity and his motivations for fighting the battle in the first place.

But all of this is as prologue to the main issue of what Edmure’s orders were, whether he exceeded them, and how this relates to Robb’s larger strategy in the Westerlands:

The Blackfish said, “You were commanded to hold Riverrun, Edmure, no more.”
“I held Riverrun, and I bloodied Lord Tywin’s nose—”
“So you did,” said Robb. “But a bloody nose won’t win the war, will it? Did you ever think to ask yourself why we remained in the west so long after Oxcross? You knew I did not have enough men to threaten Lannisport or Casterly Rock…
“You think we stayed for plunder?” Robb was incredulous. “Uncle, I wanted Lord Tywin to come west.”
“We were all horsed,” Ser Brynden said. “The Lannister host was mainly foot. We planned to run Lord Tywin a merry chase up and down the coast, then slip behind him to take up a strong defensive position athwart the gold road, at a place my scouts had found where the ground would have been greatly in our favor. If he had come at us there, he would have paid a grievous price. But if he did not attack, he would have been trapped in the west, a thousand leagues from where he needed to be. All the while we would have lived off his land, instead of him living off ours.”
“Lord Stannis was about to fall upon King’s Landing,” Robb said. “He might have rid us of Joffrey, the queen, and the Imp in one red stroke. Then we might have been able to make a peace.”
Edmure looked from uncle to nephew. “You never told me.”
“I told you to hold Riverrun,” said Robb. “What part of that command did you fail to comprehend?”
“When you stopped Lord Tywin on the Red Fork,” said the Blackfish, “you delayed him just long enough for riders out of Bitterbridge to reach him with word of what was happening to the east. Lord Tywin turned his host at once, joined up with Matthis Rowan and Randyll Tarly near the headwaters of the Blackwater, and made a forced march to Tumbler’s Falls, where he found Mace Tyrell and two of his sons waiting with a huge host and a fleet of barges. They floated down the river, disembarked half a day’s ride from the city, and took Stannis in the rear.”

Given the importance of this passage, it’s worth breaking it down in detail. The first is the question of what Robb’s orders were: here, Brynden Tully says that he was “commanded to hold Riverrun…no more,” which is confirmed by Robb’s comment about “what part of that command.” This is significantly different from the version of Edmure’s orders that Catelyn heard back in ACOK, and since the news of those orders were coming from a mere scout, either Robb is telling an utterly transparent lie that no one would believe or Edmure was embellishing the content of his orders to his subordinates in order to magnify his own importance to the war effort (and lend legitimacy to the orders he was giving that set up the Battle of the Fords).

The second, and related question, is whether Robb’s orders were sufficiently clear: should he have told Edmure about his intentions to lure Tywin into the Westerlands and prevent him from reinforcing King’s Landing? This is a rather difficult question to answer because of the way that presentism influences our thinking; unlike either Edmure or Robb at the time that the orders were given, we know both how that influenced the Battle of the Blackwater (as they have now discovered) but also the Red Wedding (which they don’t know). So the fairer question to ask is: given the established military traditions of Westeros which Edmure, Robb, and Brynden were raised in, were Robb’s orders to “hold Riverrun” insufficiently specific or insufficiently explanatory of the larger strategic picture?

I would argue not. Whether we’re talking about Ned’s orders to “raise a hundred bowmen each and fortify Moat Cailin,” or Tywin’s orders to set “the riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork,” military orders in Westeros tend to be simple, limited to a single objective, and without reference to the larger strategic picture. Indeed, this makes a lot of sense, given the level of military science in Westeros – we’re not dealing with the rationalized German Army of WWI, with a general staff war-gaming out strategic plans in detail but expecting highly-trained junior officers to exercise discretion in the field, we’re dealing with medieval armies where it is extremely rare for even an overall commander like Tywin or Robb not to be able to see their subordinate officers on the same field and give verbal orders, and where coordination between separate armies in the field is extremely difficult given the limitations of ravenry to a set network of castles. (Consider, for example, Tywin’s total inability to communicate with Jaime’s army at Riverrun after the Battle of the Green Fork revealed that Robb had divided his forces.) And at the end of the day, if as it seems in this chapter Edmure’s orders were only to “hold Riverrun” and not to “guard his rear,” I think we have to conclude that the specificity and simplicity of that order was well within the norm of Westerosi warfare.

The third question is whether Robb’s plan as presented here – to “run Lord Tywin a merry chase up and down the coast, then slip behind him to take up a strong defensive position athwart the gold road” and either force Tywin to fight a battle on their terms or “if he did not attack, he would have been trapped in the west, a thousand leagues from where he needed to be” – is plausible. The second half of the plan I think is pretty uncontroversially sound: Robb was well aware of the threat that Stannis and Renly posed to King’s Landing and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if Tywin is almost a thousand miles away, he’s not going to be there to defend the city.

The first half, where Robb plans to force a setpiece battle between his 6,000 cavalry and Tywin’s 15,000 men, is far more daring. Now it’s possible that Robb and Brynden might have been planning to use the classic cavalry tactic of using superior mobility to attack your enemy in detail – Brynden does mention that “We were all horsed…the Lannister host was mainly foot,” so it’s possible that they were hoping to separate the foot from the horse when they were running “Lord Tywin a merry chase up and down the coast” and just fight Tywin’s cavalry.

On the other hand, Robb and Brynden had previously fought and won battles where they were outnumbered, so it may be that they were (as with the Whispering Wood and the Camps) planning to use geography to overcome any numerical advantage. And it’s here that we have to consider why Robb and Brynden would have wanted to “to take up a strong defensive position athwart the gold road…where the ground would have been greatly in our favor.” It is somewhat unusual, to say the least, for an all-cavalry force to fight a defensive battle: traditionally, cavalry rely on their speed and mobility to constantly be on the attack (and on the move), whereas defensive fights tend to involve defending a fixed position. On the other hand, it’s very common for defensive battles to be conducted in a location where the terrain makes it impossible for the attacker to make use of their advantages: the thick forests at Teutoberg Forest which prevented the Roman legions from getting into formation, or the forests which prevented the French cavalry from flanking the English position at Agincourt.

So here’s how I think the “Battle of the Gold Road” would have worked (many thanks to Something Like A Lawyer @warsofasoiaf for his assistance here): Robb and Brynden, after fighting a series of skirmishes throughout the Westerlands intended to wear down and string out Tywin’s army, take up a position along the Gold Road, threatening to prevent Tywin from leaving the Westerlands to come to the defense of King’s Landing. (Yes, Tywin could take the River Road, but it’s the longer route and it goes straight by the strongly-held Riverrun, and it’s a bad idea to allow yourself to get trapped between two enemy forces.) The “ground” at this position is typified by large hills that prevent Tywin from bringing his superior numbers to bear and funnel his army into the roadway – at the same time, the hills give Robb and Brynden the ability to see all of Tywin’s troop movements while screening all of their own movements. In the center along the roadbed, Robb places a dug-in line of dismounted man-at-arms (similar to Henry V’s tactics at Agincourt) to hold Tywin’s army in place and prevent it from achieving a breakthrough. Once Tywin commits his reserves in an effort to do just that, Robb and Brynden send their hidden cavalry reserve around the hills on either side and into Tywin’s rear, trapping his entire force in the roadbed between the dug-in men-at-arms and the oncoming cavalry.


Needless to say, this is a rather ambitious plan, but it’s hardly outside of the norm of military science. Certainly, I see nothing here that would suggest that the plan is implausible to the point of being an obvious falsehood. As with before, the Edmure-was-right theory has to explain why Robb and Brynden would lie about something so easy to disprove; after all, Brynden’s story states that there were multiple scouts involved in choosing the putative battlefield who would know for certain whether or not they had found such a location and reported on it to their commander.

A last final word on the subject: at the end of the day, Edmure (who more than anyone else at this moment has the greatest motivation to mount a counter-argument against their case, completely accepts that he was in the wrong:

Edmure looked ill. “I never meant . . . never, Robb, you must let me make amends. I will lead the van in the next battle!”
For amends, brother? Or for glory?

And it’s here where I think the Edmure-was-right camp falls between two stools: if Edmure is the kind of easily-manipulated simpleton who would buy such a transparent farrago of lies, he’s hardly likely to also be a strategic mastermind whose plan for the Battle of the Fords was clearly the best course of action; on the other hand, if he’s that good at military strategy, why would he be taken in by an obvious fraud? I would argue a third case, one far more based on Edmure’s character as described in text: Edmure exceeded his orders out of a desire to prove himself, which is consistent with the kind of person who thinks that leading the vanguard (which is normally an honor and reward is how one makes amends for a mistake.

Dilemmas and Fate

And so we are left with the basic setup for the Red Wedding: Robb has to march North to retake his home and his kingdom, in order to do that he has to go by the Twins, which means placating the Freys, which means Edmure has to marry a Frey. (Incidentally, this is another Doylist reason why the Edmure-is-right theory doesn’t work: in order for the Red Wedding to happen, Edmure needs to agree to the Frey marriage he’s previously and subsequently disparaged, which requires him to have done something wrong to atone for. If Edmure’s done nothing wrong, then he has no motive to agree to the wedding.) Right?:

“So long as Theon Greyjoy sits in your father’s seat with your brothers’ blood on his hands, these other foes must wait,” Catelyn told her son. “Your first duty is to defend your own people, win back Winterfell, and hang Theon in a crow’s cage to die slowly. Or else put off that crown for good, Robb, for men will know that you are no true king at all.”

From the way Robb looked at her, she could tell that it had been a long while since anyone had dared speak to him so bluntly. “When they told me Winterfell had fallen, I wanted to go north at once,” he said, with a hint of defensiveness. “I wanted to free Bran and Rickon, but I thought…I never dreamed that Theon could harm them, truly. If I had…”

“The last word we had from the north, Ser Rodrik had defeated a force of ironmen near Torrhen’s Square, and was assembling a host at Castle Cerwyn to retake Winterfell,” said Robb. “By now he may have done it. There has been no news for a long while. And what of the Trident, if I turn north? I can’t ask the river lords to abandon their own people.”

“No,” said Catelyn. “Leave them to guard their own, and win back the north with northmen.”

“How will you get the northmen to the north?” her brother Edmure asked. “The ironmen control the sunset sea. The Greyjoys hold Moat Cailin as well. No army has ever taken Moat Cailin from the south. Even to march against it is madness. We could be trapped on the causeway, with the ironborn before us and angry Freys at our backs.”

“We must win back the Freys,” said Robb. “With them, we still have some chance of success, however small. Without them, I see no hope. I am willing to give Lord Walder whatever he requires…apologies, honors, lands, gold… there must be something that would soothe his pride…”

“Not something,” said Catelyn. “Someone.”

On the other hand, this passage suggests a number of strategic and political dilemmas that aren’t necessarily solved by returning north and setting up the Red Wedding. First, even though Catelyn has a point about the need to relieve Winterfell, there are political costs to her strategy of “win[ning] back the north with northmen.” As Robb’s comments suggest, he runs the risk of losing the southern half of his kingdom in order to regain the Northern half, both in a military sense (abandoning the field to the Lannister/Tyrell alliance) and in a political sense (demonstrating to his Riverlord vassals that he isn’t going to protect them and values the North more than the Riverlands). Second, whether it’s necessary or worthwhile to relieve Winterfell relies upon inaccurate information about both the state of Ser Rodrik and Winterfell that won’t be revealed until Catelyn IV – at the end of the day, Robb is marching to relive a ruined castle. And third, Robb doesn’t necessarily need the Freys – they’re not that vital to the war effort as I’ve said above, and if the plan is to abandon the Riverlands to their own fate, then he’d be leaving them behind anyway – as much as he needs their bridge.

At the same time, one of the things we should be getting from the above passage is the way in which the Red Wedding required everything around it to happen just right: Winterfell has to fall (and we talked about in Theon’s chapters in ACOK what an unlikely scenario of events that took to happen) to give Robb a motive to march North, but the timing of the siege and the sack and the news of same have to be just right to prevent him from giving it up as a lost cause; at the Crag, Robb has to sleep with and then marry Jeyne so that Edmure’s marriage at the Twins is necessary to mollify them (and so that Tywin has something with which to goad the cautious Walder into finally signing off on the plan); at Riverrun, Edmure has to win the Battle of the Fords such that Tywin gets to King’s Landing in time to win the Battle of the Blackwater, and Catelyn has to free Jaime to prevent any retaliation in that quarter and to set up the Karstark rebellion; at Harrenhal, Roose has to be put into a position so as to make his plans with Walder and Tywin without being observed, and to be able to make the disasters at Duskendale and the Ruby Ford happen.

Beyond these big picture items, we have the small details like the murder of Stevron Frey as mentioned above, but we can even see the hand of GRRM in the weather. Without the rains that cause the Trident to flood, the bridges at Fairmarket and Oldstones and the ford at Ramsford aren’t made impassible, nor is there a pretext for Robb’s foot to get caught at the Ruby Ford, nor would the ferry crossing at Lord Harroway’s Town (another potential crossing-point for Robb’s army) be flooded out as it was for Arya and the Hound.

Thus, in analyzing Robb and Catelyn’s actions in the past, present, and future, we always have to be cognizant of the shadow of GRRM looming above them, as he carefully cuts off every avenue of escape, drawing them ever closer to their destiny at the Twins.

Historical Analysis:

I don’t want this section to go very long because this is already a record-beater in terms of length. But while we’re on the subject of Greek tragedy, there were certain resonances in this chapter with several Greek tragedies that are worth noting. If Medea is the tragic villain as anti-mother, then Hecuba – the wife of King Priam of Troy, the mother of Hector, and the protagonist of both The Trojan Women and the eponymous Hecuba – is the tragic hero as mother, and an interesting comparison to Catelyn. In both plays, Hecuba is a figure marked by suffering the loss of her children at the hands of men, but also (in the latter play) a figure who manages to revenge herself against her betrayers even after her downfall, a trait that Catelyn will terrifyingly embody after the Red Wedding. (Hecuba is also the mother of Cassandra, whose cursed gift of prophecy Catelyn begins to share in this chapter).


At the same time, Robb’s entry to Riverrun is highly reminiscent of the beginning of Agamemnon – in both cases, we have a conquering king returning home after a long absence, but who in his absence has made an unwise romantic connection to the enemy (by taking Cassandra as his slave-concubine or bymarrying Jeyne Westerling) and committed an act of hubris (by stepping on the carpet of purple that is laid out for him by his treacherous wife Clytemnestra, or breaking his oath to the Freys). And just like the titular King of Mycenae, Robb will die not in battle but in a domestic betrayal (murdered in the bath by his wife and her lover vs. murdered at the Red Wedding despite guest right).


What If?

There’s really only one hypothetical I see emerging from this chapter in particular:

  • Robb didn’t marry Jeyne Westerling? If Robb’s moral sensitivities were less finely tuned, and he had instead decided to love her and leave her, I’m actually not sure how much changes at this point. Depending on how advanced the Freys plans to betray him were, it’s quite possible that Black Walder could decide that merely sleeping with another woman is enough of an insult to justify the Freys’ departure.
  • Alternatively, if there is less of a spur to Walder’s side, it may well be that the plan changes instead to Robb and his bannermen being captured at a feast at the Twins en route to the North, rather than brutally murdered. On the other hand, given that Tywin’s plans for the North very much hinged on there being no male Starks left alive…

Book vs. Show:

As I have said before, I am not a fan of how Benioff and Weiss depicted the Riverlands plot in the show. While Season 3 was generally a huge improvement over the very uneven Season 2, one of the remaining major problems was the way the show handled Robb and Catelyn’s story – which ultimately had far more to do with script-writing problems created by the showrunners by first not casting key characters (in this case, Edmure and Brynden Tully) and then not writing around their absence in such a way that allowed a seamless return to the main storyline (given that Jaime besieging Riverrun could be easily written around without showing the castle back in Season 1, I don’t see why that couldn’t have been done in Season 2). In this case, the war effort suddenly turns on a dime in Season 3 Episode 1, where all of the sudden Robb goes from winning the war to losing the war, with no more explanation than some nonsense about a plan to trap Gregor Clegane that conflicts with earlier writing by Benioff and Weiss.

riverlands campagin

Credit to r/AbouBenAdhem

More importantly, the showrunners really damaged Robb and Catelyn’s relationship by having Robb order his own mother put under house arrest in Episode 1, only to completely reverse himself in Episode 2 – this not only starts their arc in an oddly angry place, but also makes Robb look both hypocritical (he’s made a major fuckup himself) and indecisive. And this is all the more strange, because with a bit of re-ordering– i.e, by having Robb hear about the fall of Winterfell and the loss of his brothers and then marrying Talisa before Catelyn frees Jaime and talks to him about why he shouldn’t marry Talisa, you could set up a situation very similar to the books where Robb forgives Catelyn for her transgressions in order to force her to forgive him for his.

122 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn II, ASOS

  1. Murc says:

    This is some of your finest work, Steven. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it but its all good stuff.

    Because I was expecting some sort of twist or unexpected reversal to occur, and in part because Talisa’s character was otherwise such a non-entity, I was convinced that there had to be something there.

    I believe you made the point on tumblr recently that Talisa, in the show, existed only to die. Jeyne Westerling has an actual plotline undergirding her; Talisa’s only purpose in the show is to be grotesquely fridged for shock value.

    I think D&D changing her name is an implicit admission that Talisa is so far removed from Jeyne that giving them the same name can’t, at all, be justified. (As opposed to their baffling decision re: Asha Greyjoy, which is simply straight-up insulting to the intelligence of an audience they purport to respect.)

    As I have argued for a long time, while Robb marrying Jeyne Westerling was the catalyst and pretext for the Freys withdrawing from Robb’s coalition, the timing of the Red Wedding means that Walder Frey had already been in the process of betraying both his king and his Lord Paramount before Robb arrived at the Crag.

    Indeed, and as you note, you have word of god backing this up.

    That said, I think this may have been a poor choice on Martin’s part. The story works perfectly well if the Crag is a catalyst rather than a pretext, and making Walder Frey’s betrayal set in stone opens up a whole host of complications.

    Because… I mean, why? Dear god, why? Up until the Battle of the Fords and the Blackwater, the Stark coalition is not just winning, the Lannister coalition is getting the shit kicked out of it. Tywin Lannister is isolated with a reduced host that has to be bleeding men, Robb Stark is out west tearing apart the lands of his bannermen (thus making Tywin a failure at that most important of feudal responsibilities, offering protection to his subjects) and while the Fabulous Baratheon Brothers might be squabbling with each other for the support of the Stormlands and the Reach, there’s a truly monstrous host down south and it is aimed right at King’s Landing and the heart of Lannister legitimacy; if anything happens to Joffrey and Tommen, the entire rationale keeping the Lannisters in the field collapses.

    Given all that, Walder Frey should, if he has a lick of sense, stand absolutely pat with the Starks right up until the Fords and the Blackwater. Would he keep a back channel to the Lannisters open? Yes, absolutely, probably via Emmon. But him deciding to stab Robb in the back prior to it being a good political option seems like gilding the lily: “Walder Frey is just so damn treacherous and so damn ornery he’ll betray anyone at any time! Doesn’t need a reason, just an excuse!”

    • Sean C. says:

      They changed the name because they’d already changed basically everything else about her and GRRM reminded them that “Jeyne Westerling” isn’t a Volantene name.

    • Hedrigal says:

      I think the implication is that the real catalyst of Walder’s betrayal was years of resentment towards the Tully’s and a mad ambition that no one thought he had in him. He had so much more to win if he sided with the Lannisters than if he was faithful to Robb, and much like Roose, that’s a persuasive factor on his part towards treachery. Which combined well with the obvious grudge he’s been nursing ever since Hoster turned him down for a marriage. Which is remarkably petty, but not out of character for him.

      • Crystal says:

        And I think there’s quite a bit of “Walder is not that smart” as well. Or rather, greed and pride are overcoming common sense. If Walder betrays Robb – his nominal liege lord and king – what was to stop someone from betraying him in turn? He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon, and all that.

    • So here’s the thing about Walder: he never wanted to join the anti-Lannister coalition, only did it because Robb showed up on his doorstep with an army, and basically thinks Tywin’s rep trumped all of that. But I’m pretty sure Blackwater sealed the deal for him.

      • Murc says:

        That’s fair enough, I suppose. Deserved or not, Tywin Lannister has a hell of a reputation and I have no doubt the Freys have done quite well out of their pre-existing Lannister connection.

      • I don’t think Walder Frey had decided to betray Robb before the Jeyne marriage, and I think he was thinking only about it before, but only since the tide started turning for the Lannisters with the news of Winterfell and Blackwater. In ACOK, when Arya overheard Roose and the Freys talking, the Freys were suggesting to Roose that things were turning against Robb and that it may not be a good idea to still be on his side, while Roose was silent about the issue. It certainly didn’t seem like there was already a conspiracy that all three sides had agreed on – or else that conversation would not have happened.

        What I think was really going on is that Roose was the one who had already decided to betray Robb and was making a deal with Tywin in constant correspondence, but was keeping that secret from everyone, while the Freys were only starting to think about jumping ship once they heard of Blackwater. Their surprise and anger at Robb’s marriage was certainly very genuine. I think Roose was probably the crucial player there and that he convinced the Freys to organize the Red Wedding while making it seem like it was their idea.

  2. Steven Xue says:

    Wow this was one hell of an essay to read. So many details and subjects to take in. Very spectacular Steven.

    It puts me off that the show made Talisa a Volanteen noblewoman when Oona Chaplin doesn’t someone of Volanteen high society at least described in the books. I know its a small thing to complain about but really she doesn’t have fair skin, platinum hair or violet eyes that the Old Blood are known for. If the showrunners wanted to maintain her backstory as a sympathetic feminist noblewoman nurse who lived in a slave state. It would have been more convincing if they made Talisa a Tyroshi because of her olive skin.

    By the way I think that maybe Robb married Jeyne not only out of a sense of honor, but rather a sense of urgency to produce an heir. He had just heard his brothers had been killed and with his sisters held captive, that made him the only Stark left standing. He may have felt compelled therefore to marry Jeyne (after sleeping with her) and get her pregnant to continue to Stark line. And frankly having an heir quickly at that point in time was probably more important to maintaining his political ties with his vassals than losing four thousand soldiers. After all what good is being a king if your vassals have no confidence in you continuing your line and bring about infighting if you suddenly die.

    • Thanks very much!

      Honestly, I feel like the “Volantene” look is ultimately less of an issue than the fact that her background (whether Tyroshi or Volantene) meant nothing and went nowhere.

      • Steven Xue says:

        I agree, it would have been better if she were a spy and her whole backstory was just a cover. Like you I did peg her to be a Lannister spy up until the point where she was gutted at the Red Wedding. I suppose the showrunners were afraid people might start “hating” Talisa if she turned out to be a Lannister mole working to undermine the Stark war effort after setting her up as such a sympathetic character.

        Still I think they shouldn’t have made her disappear into the ether at the end of Season 3. It would have been nice if they had called back to her story later on as a way of confirming that she was who she said she was. For example in Season 5 while Tyrion was traveling through Volantis, he could of bumped into Talisa’s family and we could have gotten some intense drama from that.

    • Summer says:

      “Fair” skin sounds unlikely when Targaryens are noted for tanning quite dark.

  3. Excellent read, as usual. I am still a bit uncertain where I stand regarding the Battle of the Fords, but I definitely agree that Robb and Brynden aren’t gaslighting Edmure… I just happen to believe that they are not quite correct. Oh well. I think this is one of those issues were swaying either side will be difficult, as I think that both sides have some merit.

  4. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Nice to see this again.

    Depending on how advanced the Freys plans to betray him were, it’s quite possible that Black Walder could decide that merely sleeping with another woman is enough of an insult to justify the Freys’ departure.

    And Robb and Edmure are gonna let him get away with it? I mean, at least with the wedding the Freys have a reasonable excuse. This would make them look like self-serving opportunists (which they are, but they usually cover it well enough to not be punished for it).

    • Hedrigal says:

      Even the people most skilled at justifying their opportunism have to play with the hand they’re given in terms of pretexts for a betrayal. If the Freys aren’t given a good reason to leave in a huff, then they will need to give it whatever shallow justification they could find. They’re not going to stick with Robb for lack of a reason not to if its a lost cause.

      • fjallstrom says:

        I agree. They could also add that the second betrothal they had is off, the one between the silly boy Frey Arya observes in Harrenhall, and Arya herself. Again, not a good reason, just a reason.

        And Walder Frey’s reputation as stingily comes well in here. People would believe he called of a betrothal to the King because his honour had been smirched.

        • Though if Walder Frey really cared about his honor he wouldn’t have done something that makes the Freys known as the dishonorable House, tarnishing them like the Glencoe Massacre did to the Campbells. Their reputation is so bad that if Planetos gets its own Dante’s Inferno, Ptolomea will probably be named after the Freys.

          • Tywin of the Hill says:

            That’s a problem with many nobles. They confuse “honor” with “pride.”

  5. Sean C. says:

    So the fairer question to ask is: given the established military traditions of Westeros which Edmure, Robb, and Brynden were raised in, were Robb’s orders to “hold Riverrun” insufficiently specific or insufficiently explanatory of the larger strategic picture?

    I would say yes, there. Edmure is the theater commander, and has no communication channel with Robb once he’s in the field. The status quo at the time is Tywin holding Harrenhal. If Tywin makes any unexpected move, Edmure has to be able to react to that. If Tywin had made a sudden drive for the Twins, would Edmure have still been expected to “hold Riverrun” and not send any help? If Robb’s plans hinged on luring Tywin west from the beginning, Edmure needed to know that. If this was something Robb came up with while he was in the Westerlands, conversely, then the strategic picture changed, and it was his responsibility to notify Edmure about it, not to assume Edmure understood what Robb was doing.

    But as Opinions-About-Tiaras recently put it on Tumblr, this is likely to be an instance where what GRRM intends narratively (where indeed it seems like the characters are meant to have perceived Edmure as making an error) is at odds with what he actually wrote.

    • Winnief says:

      Well said Sean C! Martin’s intentions don’t always translate entirely to the page.

      Thanks for the latest recap, Steve. These are only gonna get more painful as we approach the Red Wedding.

    • Murc says:

      But as Opinions-About-Tiaras recently put it on Tumblr, this is likely to be an instance where what GRRM intends narratively (where indeed it seems like the characters are meant to have perceived Edmure as making an error) is at odds with what he actually wrote.

      Oh man, people read my tumblr. There are folks in the ASOIAF fandom I have yet to have alienated with my overly-aggresive posting style!

      More seriously: I originally wrote that essay intending to post it here once Catelyn II went live, and then I went “this is like a thousand words long. Maybe that’s not appropriate for Steven’s blog. That’s his place, not yours.” And so tumblr instead.

      I stand by what I wrote, tho, and may post some more succinct thoughts about Edmure later. But the TLDR takeaway for me is that Edmure isn’t just a garrison commander, and he isn’t just the Lord of Riverrun; he’s the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands. In the absence of his sovereign, in the absence of someone to whom that sovereign has delegated authority, and assuming he does not violate the orders and discernible intent of said sovereign, Edmure absolutely has the right to order the war in the Riverlands as he sees fit. The actions he takes in that regard may be wise, or they may be foolish; they may come from a pure heart, or they may come from a burning need for glory and respect. But he totally has the right to take them.

      • Keith B says:

        Well, I read your essay, and I mostly agree with it. It’s worth pointing out that Helman Tallhart thought Edmure had the right to give him orders, and Roose Bolton at least acted as if he was taking orders from Edmure, and Bracken, Blackwood, Mallister, and other river lords accepted Edmure as their commander and supported his plan. So it’s not just Edmure screwing up out of vainglory. If every single officer is confused about the chain of command and the scope of their orders, whose fault is that?

        Also I believe it’s wrong to focus too much on the author’s intent. The author may have many intentions, some of them conflicting with each other. The author may not fully understand his own intent. The author may be cagey about communicating his intent to the reader. In the end, what we know is what the author actually wrote, and the story has to stand on its own.

        As for Edmure’s psychological issues, what of them? Most of the people in the story have issues. Edmure’s issues aside, was his plan a good one? I think it was. If Roose Bolton hadn’t already decided to pursue his own agenda, once Tywin left Harrenhal he and Edmure might have trapped him between them and destroyed him by attrition or even in open battle, since Roose’s and Edmure’s forces together were larger than Tywin’s. They probably couldn’t have prevented Tywin from making his way to the Blackwater where Mace Tyrell’s barges were waiting to take him down river, but of course they had no way of knowing about that.

        • Sean C. says:

          I think authorial intent is relevant if you’re trying to reconcile seeming contradictions between what the narrative seems to be telling us via the characters, etc. and what people believe is fair looking at the situation purely in strategic terms.

          • Keith B says:

            Funny, because I think that’s when attempting to infer the author’s intent is most likely to be misleading, since it’s a sign that the author is confused, conflicted, or trying to put something over on the reader, possibly because he has a reveal coming later or for some other reason.

          • Sean C. says:

            While I agree that one should wait until a story is concluded before assessing it fully, this particular plotline seems well and truly over. Like half the relevant participants are dead, and remaining Tullys have other problems. I don’t see how or why this would be revisited going forward.

      • David Hunt says:

        Murc, a quibble. Edmure is neither the Lord of Riverrun, nor the Lord Paramount of the Trident when the Battle of the Fords takes place. His father is still alive and Edmure is acting of his authority. I don’t think that this significantly alters your argument of Edmure’s authority as his bannermen follow his orders as they pretty much had to. However, I have vivid memories of Cat correcting Edmure and others whenever they were calling him “Lord.” There’s a viper’s next of family dynamics tied up in that, but all politics are intensely personal at this level. Food for thought

        • Murc says:

          Murc, a quibble. Edmure is neither the Lord of Riverrun, nor the Lord Paramount of the Trident when the Battle of the Fords takes place. His father is still alive and Edmure is acting of his authority.

          That’s not a quibble, that’s important! And you are right to point it out.

          I believe, and I hope he’ll correct me if I’m wrong, that Steven has described Edmure as being in a “liminal state.” Which I took to mean he is not officially the Lord Paramount or Lord of Riverrun, but with Hoster dying the mantle of authority is de facto recognized as belonging to him.

          You see something similar with Robb. Robb is not the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North when he calls his banners and marches south with them to free his father and make war on the Lannisters; Eddard yet lives, after all. But with Lord Eddard unable to exercise his office, his son and heir wields his power and everyone more or less accepts that it is within his purview to do so.

    • Sorry, where is it stated that Edmure is the theater commander?

      And where are the examples of orders that were more extensive in their description of larger strategy?

      • Sean C. says:

        If he’s not the theatre commander, why does everybody act like he is? Bolton, maybe, you could assume is just going along for his own reasons, but Tallhart obeys his orders as well, and if it’s not Edmure, it would have to be one of the other two. He’s the acting Lord Paramount, as well.

      • Murc says:

        Sorry, where is it stated that Edmure is the theater commander?

        I would ask the question, if not Edmure, then who?

        I mean, let’s run down the possibilities here.

        One is that Robb and Brynden departed for the Westerlands without making any explicit declaration about who was in charge in the Riverlands, either because they didn’t feel it was necessary or because they planned to continue trying to run the war there themselves.

        This would be uncharacteristically foolish of them; trying to manage the war in the Riverlands when you’re hundreds of miles away and are going to spend long periods of time completely unreachable by raven or rider is… not smart. And then you have the fact that there are two distinct chains of command in the Riverlands; the Riverlords all roll up under Edmure, but the northmen roll up under Robb directly; Edmure has authority over the former but not the latter unless Robb explicitly delegates it.

        Worth noting: even in this scenario, Edmure retains the right to boss around his Riverlords (subject to aforementioned restrictions; don’t overturn Robb’s orders, etc.) and defend his lands as he sees fit.

        Another is that Robb designated some person we don’t know about as being the guy in charge. This happens; lords and kings delegate their authority in this way all the time. Roose Bolton probably has a bunch of lords in his host who are not sworn to the Dreadfort in any way, but obey Roose because their king told them “Roose is in charge of you until I say otherwise.” So maybe Robb set someone above Edmure.

        This also seems unlikely, because if this were the case it seems like we would have seen it on the page, with Robb very upset that this person allowed Edmure to usurp his authority and/or that he approved Edmure’s plans. It would be too important to leave out, I think.

        A third is that when Robb left, he put Edmure in charge of the Riverlands and the war there.

        This seems the most likely because Edmure is the Lord Paramount and already has the fealty of the Riverlords, and, well… the Riverlands are his demesne.

        Wait, no, I take it back. There’s a fourth scenario that I think is the most likely: that Martin didn’t take all of this into account and left the lines of authority and control in the Riverlands leading up to the Battle of the Fords unaddressed. But that’s out-of-universe.

      • fjallstrom says:

        It isn’t stated. But he should have put someone in charge, both from an historical perspective and from a Westerosi standpoint.

        Real history first: I wanted to check how things were done before 19th century German military staff changed things. So I went Swedish history, because that’s​ what I know. Once Sweden becomes a power in European politics one finds examples of the king invading country A, and country B invading Sweden. For example, when Charles X invades Poland in 1655, Russia invades Swedish Livonia (Swedish Baltics for those who are wondering). There Magnus de la Gardie is Governor and military commander (also Master of Coins in Sweden, etc etc) so he fights the war while the king used the main army in Poland and then went of to fight the Danish.

        Unfortunately, Swedish history doesn’t appear to have genuinely medieval examples of the king going of to another country fighting, because Denmark was the dominant power back then. So, it’s possible that theater commanders were a thing introduced after the end of the medieval period.

        Fortunately, Westeros has its own system of delegated military authority, with the Hand of the and the Wardens. So, Robb should know the value of appointing a theater commander. And appoint one.

        And maybe he did, didn’t he make the Blackfish Warden? Well, then he shouldn’t have brought him to the Westerlands with him.

        Is GRRM making a point about the importance of proper delegation of authority?

  6. Andrew says:

    1. Edmure’s biggest enemy isn’t Tywin, but his ego. He wanted to make up for his failure in the beginning stages, and prove himself, only to end up screwing himself even more. He is basically that character in a TV show who makes a mess, and then tries to make up for it by creating an even bigger one.

    2. Sybell Spicer later finds that she manages to find something in common with the Freys in that she doesn’t get any respect from the Lannisters for her actions ( to her chagrin). In a society that values valor and honor, betrayal and underhanded methods earn little respect among the warrior caste.

    3. It seems a Bolton-Frey-Spicer plot. The Boltons are headed for extinction, and I think the Freys are likely the same way. The Spicers aren’t likely to get away either. I think Rolph’s reign as Lord of Castamere is going to be brief. Sybell will likely be found hanging from a tree somewhere.

    • Winnief says:

      1. I always saw Edmure as warm hearted and well-intentioned…but a bit of a bungler.

      2. Always found it grimly amusing that the Spicers and Frey’s were *surprised* by Jaime’s contempt for them. They really believed this was going to promote their status among the High Lords who’d shunned them in the past and instead it made them more despised than ever. House Bolton was arguably even more hated but at least Roose never had any illusions about what people would think of the whole thing-he just didn’t care.

      3. Well the show’s already spoiled that House Bolton goes extinct. (Good Riddance.) House Frey appears to be in real trouble as well, and I doubt House Spicer can look forward to any relevance in the future. Especially now with what’s coming to the Westernlands when Dany invades. Siding with the Lannister’s doesn’t seem to have been a good strategy for ANYBODY.

      • Andrew says:

        1. As Genna Lannister said of Edmure is “He is soft of heart and soft of head.”

        2. Yeah, well I’d call Sybell Spicer close to the Littlefinger version of a highborn woman: coming from a new aristocratic family, and willing to screw over anyone in pursuit of ambition from liege lords to good-sons. The Spicers seem to be following Littlefinger’s example and living up to the stereotype projected on them by older houses. The same can be said for the Freys with Emmon thinking he was going to be made liege lord of the riverlands. As you say, the Boltons seem to be the only ones who own it, and don’t expect praise and admiration.

        3. The problem is that the Red Wedding effectively left them tied to the Lannisters. After the Red Wedding, they’ve become political poison. How can any potential monarch trust their word of loyalty after what they did to Robb? And to join with another cause they would have to betray their current Lannister monarchs. Being willing to break guest right makes anyone reluctant to trust their word on anything, and allying with them would cost potential support form houses in the North and riverlands. If I were launching my campaign for the IT, I would be more likely to win support by promising justice for the Red Wedding than allying with the Freys.

      • Murc says:

        3. Well the show’s already spoiled that House Bolton goes extinct. (Good Riddance.)

        That kinda makes me sad if it carries over to the books. Walda Bolton is pregnant, and neither she nor her yet-unborn child have done anything wrong per se.

        • Summer says:

          3. That’s something that could easily be show-only. Maybe not, but Walda + bb could make it. Theoretically.

      • Dan says:

        3. In regards to the Freys, maybe on the show, no chance in the books. Do you have any idea how many Freys there are? It’s probably in the hundreds. And Martin has gone out of his way to show there are some good ones.

      • The show is irrelevant to the books and can’t spoil anythin about the books, because it’s clear that the showrunners are making stuff up a lot of the time, and we can’t know when they’ve decided to strike something from a checklist (like Jon gets stabbed) and when they’re making up something because they felt like it. Do you also believe that Ellaria will kill Doran and the Snakes will kill Trystane early on in TWOW (and Arianne will… disappear or something)?

    • 1. Yeah, I agree.

      2. Yes. Hypocritical of Jaime in the extreme, but it’s definitely the inversion of “honor not honors.”

      3. Don’t forget the Lannisters!

  7. beto2702 says:

    Great essay as always. Still I kind of expected mroe what-ifs.

    Yeah, I know you covered the big one, but there surely are others mainly focused in the public audience. Robb could have made a msitake and handled things differently, wonder how public opinion might have changed things. Also, is this the chap where we find out Stevron died for the first time? That could make it worth a bit more of a speculation in the what-if section. Lastly, what about Grey Wind? Keeping Grey Wind near could have changed something going forward? Was there a chance of the direwolf showing more visible traces of distrust to Rolph or even Sybell?

    • David Hunt says:

      We get news of Ser Stevron’s death in ACOK in a Bran Chapter where Bran learns a little about the symobology of Jojen’s green dreams and comes to believe of them. Robb’s victory at Oxcross where Stevron died is the good “meal” that that Bran doesn’t like the taste of while it’s also the “bad” meal that the Walders greatly like the taste of. The two of them immediately start going over the line of succession to figure out how much closer they are to being Lord of the Crossing.

    • No, we heard about Stevron a while back, as David Hunt noted.

      Keeping Grey Wind by his side is more significant at the RW, and I’ll cover it there.

  8. poorquentyn says:

    Terrific work as usual, especially on how early the dominoes were falling.

    My sticking point with Edmure is that all the defenses rely on him acting with motives he wasn’t actually exhibiting. It’s explicit both in ACOK and (as you say) in this chapter that what’s driving him isn’t *any* larger strategic impulse, but his intense desire to prove himself to the lords and his father after Jaime kicked his ass.

    • Murc says:

      My sticking point with Edmure is that all the defenses rely on him acting with motives he wasn’t actually exhibiting.

      I would respectfully submit that it is entirely possible to defend Edmure in ways that make his motives irrelevant, and also that people can have more than one reason for doing things. Edmure can have an intense desire to prove himself to the lords and to his father at the same time he genuinely wants to serve his king and conduct an effective campaign. Like, those aren’t mutually exclusive.

      But speaking only for myself, I by and large don’t care much about Edmure’s motives when it comes to this question. For me, what it boils down to is “Was Edmure’s plan manifestly a bad idea based on what he knew or should have known?” and “Did he have the authority to implement that plan?” And I think the answer to both is a firm “yes.”

      • So he had the authority but it was a bad idea?

        • Murc says:


          I am a horrible writer.

          Please accept this revision:


          But speaking only for myself, I by and large don’t care much about Edmure’s motives when it comes to this question. For me, what it boils down to is “Was Edmure’s plan manifestly a bad idea based on what he knew or should have known?” and “Did he have the authority to implement that plan?” And I think the answer to the first is “no” and the second is “yes.”


          I feel stupid now.

      • Keith B says:

        This, exactly. Defenses of Edmure don’t depend on his having pure or worthy motives, and his motives in any case are less unworthy than the Edmure bashers are willing to admit.

    • Agreed. He should have thought of the grand plan rather then trying to prove himself and thus causing problems.

  9. And I agree, Robb isn’t a moron who lost the war for love. The Starks lost the war through a whole variety of factors. Roose Bolton’s treachery is a major factor here, after hearing Robb is in a more difficult situation he ensures that Robb will be massively weakened by sending thousands to be killed at Duskendale. The Iron Islands attacking the North was unexpected, partially because of how stupid a plan it was, and realistically it should have collapsed.

    And let’s not forget Walder Frey is a selfish and horrible old man who only cares about honors when it benefits him to do so. And his horrible family will certainly have played it on. Black Walder is angling to become the new Lord Walder Frey and the Rosby Freys don’t have the influence to do enough.

    As for military I think Robb and Brynden’s plan could have worked. Despite the image he puts on and which much of the fandom believes, Tywin is not a brilliant commander. He shows some strategic cunning, but much of the earlier stages of ASOIAF relies on the villains being quite lucky. Tywin’s tactic is to use overwhelming numbers, strategically and tactically Robb could beat Tywin with a slightly smaller force, especially considering the infantry and cavalry contrast. I still do wonder, what if Edmure had been given the military plan?

    You seem quite certain that Black Walder slew Stevron. I don’t deny it’s in character, as Black Walder is built up as a particularly vile and power-hungry Frey, but I would be interested on the reasoning.

    Love the Greek Tragedy comparisons. Catelyn really is like Hecuba.

    • As for the reasoning…Ser Stevron was the heir to the Twins. When he dies, Ryman Frey becomes the heir. Black Walder is Ryman’s second son.

      So killing Stevron puts Black Walder two steps away from the heirship.

      • I agree with that, it’s just some people think Stevron might have just died as he was wounded and well into his 60s. Oh and there’s also little Walda to consider… but I imagine Black Walder can take care of her in the way a scarred lion takes care of his family. I wonder if this was Martin’s intention or if it’s fans trying to find suspicion in what could have just been a death from a wound. Will we ever get an answer? Will there be further hints? Ah well, Frey civil war is currently looming.

        • Hedrigal says:

          I mean he might have just died, but there is a generally suspicious ring to the way it actually went down, with him being near death, bouncing back a bit, and then abruptly dying under Black Walders care. That could be poison, or it could be that the wound went septic after most of the outward damage had healed, there’s not really enough to go on to say anything definitive. However it would be totally in character for Black Walder. Plus he had means, motive, and opportunity. So I think it just generally works.

  10. Ryan says:

    Maybe I’m alone in this, but I still think that Edmure made the operationally correct decision (i.e., given his orders to hold Riverrun, the most sensible plan was to stop Tywin’s army at the fords rather than potentially allowing his castle to be invested). It was obviously the wrong decision strategically, and I don’t think there’s a serious argument that it wasn’t, but given the orders he was given, Robb is clearly partially at fault for not better controlling his subordinates. Robb and the Blackfish knew or should have known that Edmure was 1) someone who deeply cared about protecting his people and by nature unwilling to tolerate putting them at risk, 2) desperate to avenge his prior defeat, and 3) not a brilliant strategic thinker (albeit competent tactically). Given those facts, Robb and the Blackfish should have known that they needed to explicitly tell Edmure to allow Tywin to pass over his lands and/or not to risk battle. If you don’t tailor your commands to the proclivities of your subordinates, the fault is yours when they fail.

    • Murc says:

      Maybe I’m alone in this, but I still think that Edmure made the operationally correct decision (i.e., given his orders to hold Riverrun, the most sensible plan was to stop Tywin’s army at the fords rather than potentially allowing his castle to be invested)

      To put on my anti-Edmure hat for a moment, the problem with this argument stems from Edmure’s motivations, which are clearly not JUST to hold Riverrun, but to actually defeat Tywin Lannister for good and all. He admits this candidly.

      I mean. You’re clearly correct; if you want to hold Riverrun from a force coming from Harrenhal, and you have the men to conduct operations in the field, you absolutely bleed your enemy at the fords; every one of them who dies in the rivers is one less to potentially end up outside your walls.

      Edmure was trying to hold Riverrun, but not just to hold Riverrun; he wanted to win the war. Specifically him, Edmure Tully.

      However, it is possible to construct a defense of him that doesn’t hinge on his motivations, but instead hinges on the fact that he absolutely has a right to try and win the war so long as he also obeys all other orders of his sovereign in good faith.

      I agree with you that if Robb and Brynden’s plan absolutely hinges on Edmure letting Tywin march past unmolested, they ought to have given orders to that effect. If Edmure were merely a garrison commander or merely the Lord of Riverrun, they wouldn’t have to; if you tell your garrison commander “hold the castle” and they decide to re-shape the entire theater of war to their own liking, you absolutely have the right to get mad at them.

      But when you tell the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands to “hold the castle,” if you want them to hold the castle and only do that, to not take part in the wider war in any way or attempt to influence and shape it to their liking within their demesne, I would humbly submit that you need to give them that order. Explicitly. “Hold the castle and do nothing else. Sit behind your walls and do not sally forth.”

      • Ryan says:

        I agree with everything you said here, though I think I should point out that I think Edmure’s motivation is irrelevant except insofar as it should have resulted in Robb anticipating his actions.

      • Rufus Leek says:

        Yeah, Robb could have told Edmure something as simple as ‘Just hold Riverrun. I’m trying to lure Tywin back into the westerlands.’

    • You’re very much not alone. But I disagree for the reasons stated above.

    • Hedrigal says:

      My issue with this defense is that it ignores Edmure’s actual goal in fighting the battle of the Fords, which as stated was defending Robb’s rear. You can definitely argue that from the perspective of preventing a siege of Riverrun, Edmure’s moves were valid but that’s not really his goal and I’ve always read his attempts to argue in that direction as a post hoc justification of what he did rather than a genuine explanation of his motives, given how it mostly comes up after his whole argument about defending Robb’s rear was torpedoed. Like in general my biggest critique of Edmure here is that it’s only really after the fact he starts constructing the argument for why he fought the battle. Which tells me that he went off half cocked and didn’t think things through. Because I do think that if he thought about it beyond his need to win back his reputation, he would probably acknowledge that Tywin leaving the Riverlands is absolutely a good thing.

      And I do have some critique of Robb and Edmure’s whole strategy here, because I actually think leaving Edmure out of the strategy (not just out of the loop), was a mistake. Their whole plan would only have been helped if Edmure’s job was explicitly to make sure that Tywin gets a bloody nose, while still ultimately letting him pass. That way Tywin is that much less of a threat once he gets to the Westerlands.

      • Ryan says:

        Who cares about Edmure’s actual goal? Robb knew Edmure, and should have known how he would behave, especially given that Edmure was essentially second in command of the army. Also, given that Edmure’s goal was to hold Riverrun, the operationally correct decision remains stopping Tywin from potentially investing the castle. If Edmure was a better strategic thinker, then, yes, the battle would not have happened, but Edmure was not a strategist. Moreover, every element of the plan to stop Tywin at the Fords appealed to Edmure given his personality, and Robb should have known his inclinations after the disastrous battle below the Golden Tooth. If you know your subordinate tends towards “prevent the enemy from getting through at any cost,” you need to know to give specific orders against that.

  11. Ethan says:

    I’m not being contrarian, but if I was Robb’s bannerman how could I not lose respect for him after pardoning his mother? Anyone else would be a traitor who lost their head, how is she different?

    • Murc says:

      Anyone else would be a traitor who lost their head, how is she different?

      Would they, tho?

      If a hypothetical Lady Manderly were to have freed the Kingslayer in return for Willas, I do not think King Robb would have her head struck off. He would probably be considerably harsher with her than he was with Catelyn, but I don’t think she’d go to the block.

      It isn’t entirely reliable (witness what Aerys did to Lady Darklyn) but noblewomen have something of a protected place in Westerosi society, especially vis-a-vis other nobles. They’re often treated more gently and conduct that would get a man killed might merely result in them being, say, confined in a convent.

      • David Hunt says:

        All of what you’ve said is valid. I’ll also point out that this is Westeros and it absolutely does matter that Catelyn is Robb’s mother. They’re a military aristocracy and certain people are just more important than others.

      • Crystal says:

        Lady Darklyn probably got such harsh treatment because 1) she was a foreigner and 2) Aerys was batshit insane and burned his own bannermen to death. Arguably 2) was the bigger factor here but I wouldn’t be surprised if a foreign woman without influential family would be dealt with more ruthlessly than the daughter and sister of a Lord Paramount.

    • Well, we have some examples in the chapter.

    • Hedrigal says:

      A big part of it is the taboo against kinslaying. Because I highly doubt that had he sentenced his mother to death it would have gone over well. Like they all know that he isn’t going to sentence her to death, so they’re already geared up for a disapoited if they wanted heads to roll over this. From a perspective of the whole thing necessarilly being a let down from the get go, it’s not that much worse than any other punishment he could give.

      And other thank Karstark, it seems like these are overall people capable of empathy in the situation who can understand what a tremendous headache this kind of situation would be. This goes along with the fact that other than Karstark, Jaime isn’t too important to them, because he’s kind of a white elephant as a hostage. You can’t actually trade him for anyone except maybe the Greatjon or the Blackfish. They could have traded him for Ned, but without that he’s just an insurance policy for the Stark girls continued safety, and literally just the benefits of him not being personally present in the war.

      • Crystal says:

        This is true about the kinslaying. Rickard Karstark is stretching it on how far it applies to distant kin, but there is no doubt that a mother is close kin and covered by the taboo.

    • Seriously?! You are aware that kinslaying is the greatest sin one can commit, in the mind of everyone in Westeros?

      Not to mention, if Westeros is anything like the real medieval Europe, noblewomen were not to be executed. It was considered something you just don’t do, until Henry VIII.

      • Crystal says:

        I read somewhere that Henry VIII was really the only *absolute* monarch England ever had. Most of the kings, even pre-Magna Carta, had to step pretty carefully around their nobles. Exile an erring nobleman, or strip him of his estates? Yes. Send a wife or mother to a convent or remote manor? Yes. (Edward III sent his unpopular mother, Isabella, off to remote Castle Rising to keep her from causing trouble, though he always treated her with respect.)

        In fact, as we see later, Robb was planning to do just that with Catelyn; he would go north and she would be kept in honorable confinement at Seagard. I’m sure he had the option of sending her to a motherhouse (Westerosi version of a convent).

        But kinslaying? Nope, no way, no how. Catelyn even thinking of the possibility of execution or imprisonment in shackles goes to show what stress she was under, I think; when you consider that she thought Bran and Rickon were *dead* it’s a marvel she’s coherent and functional.

  12. thatrabidpotato says:

    We’re getting into my (and most people’s) least favorite part of the saga now. I may have mentioned it before, But I’ve never actually read the chapters that contain the Red Wedding itself. It’s enough to know that it happens.
    I like the analysis of the hypothetical battle where Robb owns Tywin on Tywin’s own soil- just Example # 52876353577 of how the Starks would’ve won if GRRM hadn’t screwed them. Which is what the entire first half of Storm is about, GRRM screwing the Starks. I actually prefer the series as a whole after the Red Wedding, because you can have a genuine feeling that things are on the upturn, and that we’re going to get a reasonably decent ending and revenge. Before the Red Wedding, everything is focused on leading up to it, and even the little spots of joy are poisoned by the knowledge of what’s coming.

  13. Brett says:

    With rare exceptions, it feels like the more they diverged from the books, the weaker the writing (as opposed to the production quality and acting, which stayed good) got. They didn’t replace stuff with good show-only changes most of the time.

    • There are more than a few exceptions, but I think it’s generally true.

    • Murc says:

      If this blog had a like button I’d be mashing it like a hamster at the feeder bar.

      After Season 1, which had a number of outstanding show-only bits (Robert and Cersei’s conversation about how their marriage is what’s holding the Realm together, so good) the show only made one change that I found to be really, truly outstanding.

      And that’s Brienne and Jaime getting back to King’s Landing before Joffrey dies and Brienne not being confined to a cell, such that she’s walking around amongst the Lannisters and Tyrells and being part of that whole dynamic. Her conversation with Cersei re: Jaime, oh man.

      But most of the changes verge from “meh” to “fuck you.”

      • Sean C. says:

        That latter change leads to Brienne standing around King’s Landing for weeks and not even trying to talk to Sansa, though.

        • Murc says:

          You ever get tired of being right, Sean?

          It seems like you’d get tired of that. 🙂

          • Sean C. says:

            Thing is, it’s not something that couldn’t have been finessed (say, if Jaime was suggesting Brienne keep away from her for the time being while they tried to figure out what to do; or if the Lannisters wouldn’t let her near Sansa), but the writers didn’t even try.

    • That’s because Benioff and Weiss are below average TV writers. They really should not have gotten it into their heads that they can do better than GRRM.

    • Lucerys says:

      I think the worst atrocities came about when they change something from the books then they go back to the books to do some ‘cool’ scene without accounting how the changes they made affected the scene. Exhibit A: The scene with Joffrey’s wake.

  14. artihcus022 says:

    Congratulations on this. A most worthy Vindication of the Damnable Lies visited on the Noble King Robb and A Defense and Refutation of the Same.

    I loved the whole public-private thing that happens in this chapter and then the next.

    This whole issue of “inevitability” that you check here, puts me in mind of how people translated Caesar’s “Alea iacta est” as “The die is cast” rather than the more accurate “Let’s roll the dice” (he was quoting a Menander play and doing it in Greek rather than Latin but let’s keep it short). The former suggests inevitability and a doomed fatal march into destiny, the latter suggests improvisation, gamble, risk and maybe some hope for an alternative.

    I think the “dice-rolling part” comes through here more clearly.

    • Murc says:

      Congratulations on this. A most worthy Vindication of the Damnable Lies visited on the Noble King Robb and A Defense and Refutation of the Same.

      You know, as a guy who is doing a LOT of Edmure defending in this thread… I’d like to second this. Strongly. You took a lot of time to convincingly and thoroughly rebut some of the more vile slanders perpetrated against Robb, Steven, and I love you for it because I love me some Robb.

      I feel that a lot of people like to defend Edmure by tearing down Robb, by making him a gaslighter, a manipulator, someone who is tossing his uncle under the boss in order to conceal his own poor planning and lack of clarity, with the collusion of Brynden.

      And that’s just not the case. It doesn’t fit Robb’s character and it doesn’t fit the narrative.

      It is not necessary for Robb to have done wrong for Edmure to have done right.

      • artihcus022 says:

        Edmure is part of the overall subversion of fantasy that ASOIAF is going for and part of the whole “good man” may not necessarily be the best ruler, best soldier overarching theme. Edmure is a good man and he’s not without his talents and skills and god he does try but that by itself is not enough and sometimes those very tropes people celebrate in other works (wanting to prove myself, make Daddy proud, win respect of peers) tends to make things work otherwise.

        And you know, I think Edmure’s character transformed like that. You see in AFFC a shrewder, and colder Edmure. The guy who appears as a moron and fool, but gets his uncle Blackfish to escape. So you might see that Edmure at the end of the series comes off as a colder, shrewder man, more pragmatic and intelligent, burdened by failures and setbacks he suffered.

  15. sgac says:

    One reason Robb *has* to recover Winterfell is that Winterfell is vital to the survival of the North in winter. People need the stores, the shelter, and the hot springs. With the ironborn, who don’t give a shit about the Northern people and don’t understand what winter means in the north, holding the castle, a sizeable chunk of the Northern population will die and the kingdom will be weakened.

    If it was still summer, Robb could maybe afford to let Winterfell go for a year or so while he dealt with Tywin. Maybe the ironborn would be driven out, maybe they’d abandon it. But it’s autumn. Winterfell isn’t just a beloved home, and it isn’t just another castle. It’s at the centre of the North’s survival strategy in winter. Burning it was probably the most destructive thing Ramsey’s ever done.

  16. Lahari says:

    It is going to be really painful when you eventually come to the Red Wedding

  17. rewenzo says:

    “On the other hand, we also have Word of Author that Walder Frey would have betrayed Robb Stark even if Robb hadn’t married Jeyne Westerling”

    I don’t think this is supported by the page you link to. There’s GRRM is asked:

    “We know that Roose Bolton had already taken Walda Frey to wife before Robb married Jeyne Westerling. Does this then mean that Walder Frey had already planned to ally himself with Bolton to murder Robb before Robb’s marriage betrayal, or was his anger towards Robb and his reasoning towards his own family as to why Robb had to be killed more than just a pretext, and the genuine reason for the Red Wedding?”

    GRRM answers:

    “”What if” questions are impossible to answer with any certainty… knowing old Lord Walder’s character, it is likely he would have searched for some way to disentangle himself from a losing cause sooner or later, but his desertion would likely have taken a less savage form. The Red Wedding was motivated by his desire to wash out the dishonor that was done him…

    As for Bolton, if you reread all his sections carefully, I think you will see a picture of a man keeping all his options open as long as he could… sniffing the wind, covering his tracks, ready to jump either way… even as late as his supper with Jaime at Harrenhal…”

    From my reading, GRRM specifically says it was not for sure that Walder would have betrayed Robb anyway, but that it is likely that Walder would have considered it. If Robb never marries Jeyne Westerling, abandoning Robb may not have turned out to be that attractive.

    • Grant says:

      It says that Walder probably would have tried to find a way out of this but his treachery wouldn’t have been as extreme.

      So I’d say that is saying Walder was going to betray Robb. It wasn’t about the marriage, that was just what made Walder commit such a taboo, but about Robb being on the losing side.

      • We know (from the conversation at Harrenhal that Arya overheard) that the Freys had been thinking about jumping ship since the news of Blackwater came, but they clearly had not arranged anything with Roose, or else that conversation would have never happened. There’s no indication that they wanted to betray Robb before things started going badly. And their anger at Robb’s marriage certainly seemed very genuine.

        I think that Roose was far, far more into arrangements of treason in correspondence with Tywin (though he was still probably keeping his options open and not fully committing to it) than the Freys were – they were only starting to consider it after Blackwater, but I bet Roose had been thinking about betraying Robb far before.

        • Crystal says:

          I agree that Roose had been thinking of betraying Robb for some time – in fact, I surmise that he had been biding his time as to when and how ever since Ned was executed and Robb proclaimed king. I think that *plausible deniability* was ever in Roose’s mind; if Robb did prove himself to be a strong king, Roose wanted to be able to cover his tracks. He probably thought “young, inexperienced king = will probably slip up some time = I’ll be waiting like a hyena for the spoils.” Roose was never ever trustworthy.

          What gave Roose the opportunity on a platter was not Robb’s marriage to Jeyne, but the sack of Winterfell. As Roose himself tells Theon in ADWD, “The Starks were done and doomed the night you took Winterfell.” Robb’s marriage to Jeyne was a figleaf.

  18. Keith B says:

    At this point, nobody’s mind is likely to be changed about whether Robb or Edmure is at fault for spoiling Robb’s plans. But did Robb have a good plan to begin with?

    Robb entered the Westerlands with about 6,000 men, all cavalry. Since he hadn’t and couldn’t capture the Golden Tooth, he was essentially cut off from reinforcements and fresh supplies from home.

    Tywin’s army by this time was about 18,000. If he had crossed the Red Fork he would have been able to join up with Forley Prester and an additional 4,000 at the Gold Tooth. Thus he would have outnumbered Robb by three or four to one.

    Robb won a lot of battles, but he never really faced a capable commander. Jaime was reckless, and Stafford Lannister was just incompetent. Tywin was neither. He might not have been the best general in Westeros, but he was one of the better ones. The Green Fork alone was proof enough that he knew how to fight battles.

    Tywin would have been fighting on his own territory. He and his subordinates would have had a better knowledge of the terrain and better intelligence. It’s extremely unlikely Robb would have been able to lead him into a trap. Tywin also had a number of fortresses to which he could retreat, including Lannisport, the Golden Tooth, and Casterly Rock itself. What’s more, the Westerlands was largely hill country, which is not especially favorable terrain for cavalry.

    Robb may have hoped to defeat Tywin in detail or wear him down by attrition, but that strategy works both ways. Robb was losing troops even without having to face Tywin. By the time he took his army to the twins, he was down from 6,000 to 3,500 men. Some of those were Karstarks and a good number were Freys, but Robb must also have taken substantial losses. And Robb, with an army only a fraction the size of Tywin’s, could not afford heavy losses.

    Tywin had iron control over his lords. He was well able to resist demands to fight on terms he considered unfavorable. Robb may have wanted to plant himself in a defensible position on the Gold Road and dare Tywin to come at him, but there’s no reason to think he would have been successful. Tywin could wait him out. Robb had to live off the land, Tywin didn’t. Robb might well have hunkered down in the hill country between Deep Den and Tywin’s army until he starved.

    Robb’s plan, with those odds, against that opponent, and in those circumstances, was more likely to be hubris than a sound strategy.

    • Bail o' Lies says:

      The best thing that could happen to Robb at that time, and he brings it up is, “Stannis conquering King’s Landing.”

      The “merry chase” strategy sounded like he wanted to distract Tywin in the west while Stannis took control of King’s Landing. If Tywin tried going back east to support his family Robb Stark would try his best to block/delay him.

      After Stannis takes control of King’s Landing Joffery is dead, Rosby would probably to try an appease Stannis give him Tommen (thought neither Tywin or Robb know he is not in King’s Landing at the time), and Doran is not going to back a losing (really lost) horse so he give Myrcella to Stannis as well. Tywin has no claimants to the throne any more so his forces lost the cause they were fighting for. He will probably continue to fight for honor’s sake and vengeance. But he is done and so is his line.

      Robb would probably then try to treat with Stannis. He refused to treat with Joffery and the Lannister because of the murder of his father. But even if Sansa died (cersei was planing on killing her and people will believe Stannis claim if it happens), he would probably be willing to work on an agreement with Stannis even if it is losing his crown.

    • Steven Xue says:

      We have to keep in mind that Tywin when he left Harrenhal to return west with his host of 15,000, he went in such a rush that I don’t think he brought much of a baggage train with him. Of course whatever supplies he had in the Riverlands or Crownlands would be cut off once he’s past the Golden Tooth.

      I for one think Robb worn the Lannister host down by attrition. Keep in mind that the Stark forces have been in the Westerlands for a while now. They should know by now where the Westermen keep their food stored. Since the Northerners had already plundered the Westerlands of hundreds of heads of cattle and other food stuffs, I am guess that was all part of a grander plan to starve Tywin out once he has returned to his home region.

      Tywin by bringing his entire army back home in such haste would as expected be short on supplies. With that in mind Robb could have already conducted a scorched earth campaign in the Westerlands and destroyed several towns and villages between the Golden Tooth to Casterly Rock. Robb would therefore have a strong buffer of dead land between him and the Lannister army, while Tywin will find it hard to live off his own lands which have already been stripped bear by Stark forces and will therefore be unable to launch any immediate attacks on the Stark army despite his greater numbers. With his 6000 elite cavalry, Robb could just keep harrying the Lannister host as they try to chase him across the Westerlands, taking out their foragers and supply lines until they start crumbling by starvation.

  19. Lewis says:

    You’re wrong about Edmure. Even though Edmure exceeded his orders, the fault lies with Robb. Sun Tzu explains: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame.”

    Robb goes west without explaining his strategy to Edmure. It’s clear by his reaction in this chapter that if Edmure had fully understood Robb’s strategy, he wouldn’t have acted as he did. It’s also clear from Robb and Bryden’s reaction to the Battle of the Fords that they did not explain their strategy to Edmure before they left. “You think we stayed for plunder?” Robb was incredulous. “Uncle, I wanted Lord Tywin to come west.” The time to explain your plans is before you leave, not afterward. If Robb had told Edmure that he wanted to lure Tywin west before the Battle of Oxcross and Edmure stopped Tywin from crossing into the Westerlands anyway, only then Edmure would have been at fault.

    The “norms of Westerosi warfare” aren’t an excuse. If you’re going to fight a war with two armies across hundreds of miles, you need to make sure the commanders of both armies understand what the strategy is.

    That said, I love this twist in the narrative. Robb is undone because of a victory, not a defeat.

    • Steven Xue says:

      Steven did explain that Robb was afraid by telling Edmure, others might also discover his strategy which had the danger of getting back to Tywin. Knowing how boastful Edmure is, I have to agree with Robb on not letting him in on it. Stonewall Jackson once pointed out that if his own men don’t understand what he’s planning, the enemy will never figure it out. Though what Robb should have done was give Edmure stricter orders not to engage the Lannister host under “any circumstances” before he embarked west.

      • Bail o' Lies says:

        Stonewall Jackson was talking about his own troops under his own command. Not another general out on the field. In fact, didn’t he die from friendly fire?

        Generals need to know what the plan is in order to enact it, or else they will enact their own plan. The only person other then Robb that knew about his plan was Bryden Tully. If he did not trust Edmure with the plan, then he should have left Bryden Tully in command instead.

        • Lewis says:

          Agreed. If you can’t trust a general not to blab your secrets, you can’t trust him with an independent command. Keeping your subordinates in the dark about your intentions is a recipe for disaster – as Robb found out. Robert E. Lee held regular war councils with his primary generals, including Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, even when they were operating close by on the same battlefield, for the obvious reason that they can’t implement a plan they can’t understand.

  20. Bail o' Lies says:

    I believe that Jeyne Westerling story will be encapsulated in the Prologue of the next book.

    The lesson of Jeyne’s Story is: “In order to end a war between two warring factions (ie Romeo and Juliet) you kind of need both the lovers to “Be” from the main houses of those warring factions, not a king from one and the other a lady from an unimportant impoverish noble house that are only vassal of the other factions leaders.” Which Jenye will probably reflect on in her chapter as, “if only I was a Lannister instead.”

    Her Chapter will most likely be her own the road to the west with the rest of her family, Edmure Tully, and the Lannister army that are going home. While on the road she reflects on what has happened to her life while staring at her crown. First thinking of her backstory of a poor girl from an impoverish noble family that could not find any betrothal agreement because no one of high status wanted to marry her because her peasant grandmother. Then her thoughts will turn to Robb, who she had first heard of as this frightening rebel savage from the north, that just so happened to be injured invading her home. Her mother from “some reason” orders her to treat his injures personally. During which she learns so much about him, and eventually comforts him when he learns news of his brothers death at the hands of a man he considered a sworn brother. At first she realizes because she has had sex her marriage prospect have now become even lower then before, and she may even be carrying his bastard. But she accepts this. Then the next day while she was thinking about this he comes up to her apologizes about taking her maiden head then proposes to her, which makes her fall eternally in love with him. While the Frey & some lords are unhappy about it others accept it, but more importantly her entire family is happy for her even her new mother in law; who is so kind to her.

    Then her thoughts turn towards the Red Wedding where she remembers mourning the death of her love. When her mother told her the truth and she see who her mother truly is for the first time. When she realizes that she was just a pawn to bring down her love. Then she thinks either again or for the first time “if only I was a Lannister instead.”

    At some point (this either happens before or after the thoughts on the red wedding) the Brotherhood attacks kills most of the army and captured her, her family, and Edmure Tully. Which are taken into a nearby forest. During this time she recognizes some of the people that have captured her are from Robb’s army. Her father probably even calls out Lords Vance and Piper. Showing us that the brotherhood forces has been taken over from Beric original force by the remnant Northern/Riverland army of King Robb. So the King’s Men have gone from King Robert’s Men of Justice to King Robb’s Men of Vengeance.

    They are brought to the place of their trial. Edmure is released at some point in this chapter, not exactly sure when though. There are three judges Bryden Tully a man that swore to defend her with his life until he learned the truth, Her brother Raynald who believes his family betrayed their kind king as well as used even him as sacrificial pawn for his family’s advancement, and Lady Stark her kind mother in law who has now become a revenant of vengeance. Then her family is hanged. The end.

    As for the show well D&D have made it clear the “themes are for 8th grade book reports.” So they only really care about the show having a lot of twist, drama, and action while ignoring all the themes and similar elements from the book. They never really cared about Cat (or Robb for that matter…or honestly any of the Starks to be frank), thought that her dying at the Twins was dramatic enough and didn’t have any desire to bring her back from the dead. The woman who replaced Jeyne whose name did care to even remember is just another example like Dorne and the Loras Tyrell where they thought they could tell a better story then George. So she was made a strong independent noble woman that rejected all the weak feminine traits a lady is suppose to have as well as her slaver society of Volantis; so people would like her more then GRRM’s Jenye Westerling. Then have her get pregnant then killed for more of a dramatic effect.

    • “There are three judges Bryden Tully a man that swore to defend her with his life until he learned the truth, Her brother Raynald who believes his family betrayed their kind king as well as used even him as sacrificial pawn for his family’s advancement, and Lady Stark her kind mother in law who has now become a revenant of vengeance. Then her family is hanged. The end.”

      Wait. I’m confused. Who are “her family” that are hanged? Didn’t you just say her brother Raynald is “one of the judges”? Why would he want to hang his own mother and… who else? Kinslaying is the greatest sin imaginable to the Westerosi people.

      And did you include Jeyne in those who are hanged? Again, 1) her brother is not going to be hanging her, and 2) she’s Robb’s widow. Why and how would people you say are about honoring Robb hang his widow?

      Not to mention that, if Westeros is anything like the real medieval Europe, executing noblewomen was a big “no” and considered unchivalrous.

      Secondly, I don’t see how Lady Stoneheart can be there hanging the Westerlings, when she’s currently occupied waiting for Brienne to return with Jaime Lannister, a cliffhanger that will obviously be resolved only *after* the prologue.

      BTW, we only know that Jeyne will appear in the TWOW prologue, not who will be the POV of that prologue.

      • Brian says:

        As much as I’d like to see it be Sybell, I think it Martin is more likely to have it be Jeyne. If he says flat out that Jeyne is the POV, then we all know she’s dead. By not confirming it, he can keep everyone guessing.

        Personally, I’d just like to see the book come out. I will say, though, that I think Jeyne doesn’t deserve to die because of her mother’s and uncle’s actions. But I think that’s precisely why Martin would kill her off…

      • Bail o' Lies says:

        I was bored, so I made my prediction as dramatic as possible. The “three judges” bit was for more style then anything else, at the end its really just a show and Lady Stoneheart will order her hanged anyways.

        Most of her family is with her from what I recall. At least her mother, sister, and her were in Riverrun. Her father was with the army besieging Riverrun. The youngest son should be there as well since I think he was also in Riverrun. Not sure about the Uncle that is now Lord of Castemere. The oldest brother was said to be at the red wedding but they never found the body, so having come in abandon his family and act as a judge for their hanging sounded interesting.

        Also remember this isn’t a standard medieval court this is “Lady Stoneheart’s Hanging Court,” any considered an ally of the Lannister get hanged. Brienne was also a noble lady, yet Stoneheart was going to hang her if she didn’t bring her Jamie. Also nothing says that she had to stay in one spot until Brienne brought Jamie. She could order her to bring Jamie to a certain spot to be captured by her men while the rest attack the prisoner caravan.

        Jeyne makes the most sense to me for her to be the prologue pov. The mother may show us the her part she played in planning the red wedding and why she did it. But it doesn’t have the same emotional impact -the tragedy- learning the side of the story of a poor girl that was merely a pawn in her mothers game that doom the man she fell in love with. Before dying to the revenant of her mother law that was so kind to her but is now “something” that is consumed by revenge. It serves the meta plot by critiquing stories like Romeo and Juliet. It also serves the story by one) confirmed how far Lady Stark has fallen (she before had hanged Frey, and threatened Brienne with hanging her, but now she is going to hang Jeyne the loyal wife of her son), two) showing us that the Brotherhood is bringing in the remnants of Robb’s army (they could show us that in either Brienne’s and Jamie’s chapter true but this is more interesting), three) confirming that she is dead and there is no hidden prince of Robb’s hidden somewhere

    • Steven Xue says:

      Awesome prediction, I think it would be quite the twist if Jeyne actually is pregnant but is either keeping it to herself or her mom outright lied to Jaime (I always assumed that’s why her hips were now different). Then when the Brotherhood captures her and company from the Lannisters and she is confronted by her mother in law from hell who finds her and her family guilty of their part in the Red Wedding. I bet either Jeyne or her mom would beg Stoneheart not to execute them because Jeyne is carrying Robb’s child but by now I’m sure the now soulless Catelyn will not give a shit and hangs them all anyway, thus killing her unborn grandchild to avenge Robb.

      Also I’ve always felt that Jeyne’s story is more akin to Cinderella (and a very twisted version) than to Romeo and Juliet. Jeyne is an impoverished noble lady who didn’t have much big things happening for her, but one day a handsome barbarian king invades her land, sweeps her off her feet and marries her, thus she goes from a daughter of a poor nobleman who is lives that much different from a well off peasant to queen of his kingdom. Although in this case its her mother rather than an evil step mother who plots against her best interest and actually succeeds in ruining her chance for true happiness.

      • Well, you assumed wrong, since GRRM has explained that her hips being different was a mistake, and that has been removed from the newer editions of AFFC.

        And like I said, I don’t understand how Lady Stoneheart can be in two places at the same time, both intercepting Jeyne and waiting for Brienne to return with Jaime.

        • Grant says:

          The latter depends on timing and where precisely people are in relation to each other when.

          Personally I don’t think Stoneheart is going to do that to Jeyne, but it’s not entirely impossible.

          • The last time we saw Stoneheart, she was hanging Brienne. Then Brienne went to find Jaime, and that was the cliffhanger to be resolved in TWOW. That’s all we need to know about *timing*. GRRM is not going to show Stoneheart doing something in the future, then jump back to the past. He’s never done that, and it wouldn’t make sense. And Stoneheart is not going to be travelling West to intercept Jeyne and then go back to see if Brienne has fulfilled her promise and brought Jaime. Especially since I’m pretty sure BwB did not tell Brienne “oh and you can come back in a month”, and people in the books don’t teleport all over the place as they do in the show.

        • Bail o' Lies says:

          We know that the prologue is most likely going to be about the Westernland army escort being attacked by the the Brotherhood. The pov is going to be someone in that escort whether you think its Jenye, Lord Prester, Lord Westerling, Lady Sybell, or any random solider in that escort doesn’t really matter. Though Jeyne is the best choice out of options from where I stand.

          So now that what is most likely going to be the prologue of the sixth book, but that’s impossible now; since Lady Stoneheart sent Brienne out to find Jamie to lure him into a trap. So because Stoneheart needs to set a trap to capture Jamie, it is now impossible for that prisoner caravan to be attacked. Just like it is impossible for Robb’s army to attack both Tywin and Jaime’s armies at the same time.

          Hello! It’s called, “dividing up your forces.” She only need a few people to capture Jamie. She can leave Ser Bryden in charge of the Brotherhood attack on the escort to free Edmure and capture the Westerlings for trial.

          • Yes, because LS is totally uninterested in confronting Jaime herself, and GRRM is not going to have that confrontation. Or maybe LS just teleports all over the place.

          • Grant says:

            Or maybe more than one person can be confronted in chronological order since it’s not as though Catelyn HAS to be present at the ambush on the convoy itself. And we don’t know the location of the convoy or the speed it’s traveling at.

          • Bail o' Lies says:

            I’m not saying Lady Stoneheart is leading the attack or even in command of it. The person in command of it would most likely be Ser Bryden.

            OK let look at this then. During the siege Devan tells Jamie when he arrives that there are numerous beacon fires surrounding his army, which believes are the remnants of Robb’s army. He also believes the Riverland forces there other then the Frey (who he holds in utter contempt) hearts are still “wolfish.” Now that’s before Jamie does anything.

            Jamie takes hold of Edmure from the Freys along with their Bard (who we believe to be Tom o’ the Sevenstreams, a member of the Brotherhood). He makes a deal with Edmure that if he releases the castle peacefully he would send him as well as his wife and child to Casterly Rock. He then leaves both Edmure and the Bard alone. (This is when people believe that Tom announces he from the brotherhood to Edmure.) Edmure then goes to the Castle waits a full day before surrendering, during which his uncle was given enough time to swim out of the castle and a get a good head start (and most likely meet up with the brotherhood). Jamie keeps up his end of the bargain while threatening Edmure after he learned he let Bryden escape. He send both the Westerling and Edmure under heavy guard back to the west.

            (Now isn’t it likely that Edmure told Bryden about both the Brotherhood, and the fact that he is being taken to Casterly Rock if he relinquishes the castle? Now isn’t it possible that they would come up with the plan that Edmure would hold the castle for a day to give Bryden time to meet up the Brotherhood, then he would try to convince the brotherhood to allow him to mount a rescue by attacking Edmure’s escort?)

            Now then after that Lord Vance comes to Jamie and asked him to help lift the siege at Raventree since Lord Blackwood would never surrender to Lord Braken. Which he does then he heads back to Riverrun stopping at a village called Pennytree, where he meets Brienne who is now forced to lead him into a trap.

            Now that maybe where Lady Stoneheart is but that again doesn’t mean they can’t divide their forces giving Bryden command of a force to free Edmure and capture the westerling “for trial,” while she lays out a trap for Jamie. Does this sound completely impossible to you?

          • Are you talking to me? I never said Brotherhood wouldn’t intercept the group escorting Jeyne. I just don’t see Lady Stoneheart popping to judge or hang any of them and then going back to confront Jaime.

  21. claudiusv says:

    Hi Steven, after reading your essay ASOS Catelyn II, there are two things that people tend to forget about the confusion of orders between Robb and Edmure.
    1. As you mentioned in your essay in ACOK, Catelyn was already in Riverrun when Edmure began to rally the troops to fight Tywin, Cat already noted what Edmure was foolish on a strategic level because she could see what was happening in the bigger picture with Stannis invading King’s Landing. She tried to explain this to Edmure, but he ignored her because of his ego and was determined to defend the Riverlands inch by inch to make up for his past failures. Another example where Catelyn was ignored when she was providing sound advice to her family.

    2. When Robb gave Edmure to defend Riverrun and no further, he was being conscious of several things about the Big Picture. First Stannis and Renly were going to clash over their claims as King and fight to the death. I wouldn’t be surprised that Robb and Brynden had assumed that Renly was going to wipe out Stannis’s puny army and then make his way to KL. So by keeping Edmure in Riverrun, they are keeping one front in a stalemate to allow one of the Baratheon brothers to bloody their noses fighting the Lannisters on the way to KL. It doesn’t matter which Baratheon became King because A. the Lannisters have been removed. B. The same Baratheon would undoubtedly be weakened themselves taking the Capitol and would have to be more amendable to the North and Riverlands when it came to making peace. Unlike the Lannisters.

    With that being said. No doubt they would be surprised that Stannis managed to best Renly and assume the majority of Stormlands forces to invade KL. Nonetheless, Robb’s plan still stays the same as long as the Lannisters are eliminated from the equation, then everything is going according to the plan. Not to mention Robb and Brynden would have had to include Edmure in the war councils they had planned to keep the Future Lord Paramount of the Riverlands in the know of what’s going on.

    It’s sad to read about Jeyne Westerling. I used to dislike her like she was the Yoko Ono of Westeros. But the more I think about it, Jeyne was GRRM’s way of giving Robb some moments of love and happiness before meeting his tragic fate at the Twins. Because you raised a valid point about Walder Frey’s likelihood of betrayal, if the Lannisters win, then the Freys would jump ship regardless if Robb was unmarried. Because knowing Tywin, he would demand nothing less than a complete break with the Stark Cause and eliminate Robb by any means necessary.

  22. […] less momentous for the over-arching plot of ASOIAF than last chapter, Jon II nevertheless does an excellent job at taking the undercover-agent tension from Jon I and […]

  23. […] this setup goes beyond just the battle of Duskendale. In the wake of Robb’s western gambit having failed, the Lannisters are preparing to renew their offensive in the Riverlands. However, here again we […]

  24. […] factors of patriarchy and illicit love. By contrast, Jeyne is in a relationship her mother pushed her into, and gamely trying to work within the role her society has set down for her, and her downfall […]

  25. Hergim says:

    I’m not convinced that Robb’s strategy in the Westerlands was viable. Dismounted cavalry in strong defensive positions are only viable battle winners if the enemy is foolish or there is a disparity in the missile arm in favour of the dismounted force. Robb, however, has almost wholly heavy cavalry and any mounted archers he has will number in the hundreds.

    In comparison, even with his losses, Tywin will still have hundreds of mounted archers and thousands of foot archers. No matter what kind of defensive position Robb takes, short of an actual fortified town or defensive fieldworks, he’s not going to be able to make up for this disparity in longbows. This means that Robb will be forced to either leave his position or charge, and either scenario works out in Tywin’s favour.

    There are other factors at work as well. While Robb might have initially had the advantage of surprise thanks to his impossibly stealthy sneak attack, the superior lines of communications in the Westerlands are going to allow Tywin or his representative to order food stores moved to castles and holdfasts, the livestock scattered or brought within the baileys of castles, mills and bakeries destroyed and bridges broken down. Without hand mills, carpenters, bridging equipment, portable forges, portable ovens and the usual spares and helpful equipment in an ordinary baggage train, Robb is soon going to hit a wall and find himself bogged down in the Westerlands. Then, when many of his horses are without shoes, foraging consists of trying to storm holdfasts more than looting village stores and his routes are mostly centred around fords,Tywin will arrive. Tywin won’t be in anywhere near perfect condition, but he will have a baggage train,easy access to food and fodder, horse shoes, etc and superior communications. Robb will then have to somehow avoid Tywin funneling him into a position where he is at a disadvantage.

    While it’s not impossible for Robb to win the campaign, it’s more likely Tywin would win a bloody pyrrhic victory.

  26. […] Ned Stark and the way he’s patterned the issue of sex and infidelity for Jon as well as his putative half-brother.  Much more personally for Jon than for Robb, Ned’s supposed fall from grace is directly […]

  27. […] the ideology of the Brotherhood Without Banners and that of the Stark cause. While Robb Stark sees his western campaign as a means to the end of establishing independence for the North and the Riverlands, the smallfolk […]

  28. […] setting up how his temper will eventually get the better of him) is somewhat expected, given how Robb’s return to Riverrun went down. But acting totally unconcerned about the death of children (and not particularly fussed about […]

  29. […] we get an unusual parallel being drawn between Edmure, a character most often associated with well-meaning failure, and the military wunderkind Robb […]

  30. Prof. Cecily Cogsworth says:

    I quite liked the Catelyn as a type of Hecuba commentary.

  31. […] – but then suddenly spirals out of control into nasty, personal recriminations about Theon Greyjoy that had seemingly been settled between the two of them half a book ago. What’s going on here […]

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