Politics of the Seven Kingdoms: The Stormlands (Part II)

credit to ser other-in-law

The Andals in the Stormlands

Earlier, I discussed some of my frustration with the historical sections of the Stormlands chapter. In this section, we get to some of my biggest pet peeves with this section of the WOIAF – namely, that its account of the Andal Invasion of the Stormlands doesn’t really pass muster, especially when viewed in comparison to the other Seven Kingdoms.

Let’s begin with the annoying fact that there’s yet another large gap in the historical record between Ronard the Bastard (who ruled not long after the third century post-Durran) and Erich VII (who must have ruled around 1,700 years later). Again, this is a long period of history, during which some rather significant events happened and it would be interesting to see the Stormlands’ perspective of them – for example, Garth Goldenhand’s war against the Lannister-Durrandon alliance.

But that’s something of a side issue compared to the implausible narrative of the invasion itself. The depiction of the Durrandon state during the arrival of the Andals – similar to its depiction during the up-and-down fortunes of the dynasty during the Age of Heroes – is a state that was already in crisis before the invaders arrived and quite unprepared for the conflict ahead:

Erich VII Durrandon was king in the stormlands when the Andal longships first began to cross the narrow sea. History remembers him as Erich the Unready, for he took little note of these invaders, famously declaring that he had no interest in “the quarrels of strangers in a land far away.” The Storm King was embroiled in his own wars at the time, attempting to reconquer Massey’s Hook from its infamous pirate king, Justin Milk-Eye, whilst fending off the incursions of the Dornish king Olyvar Yronwood. Nor did Erich live to see the result of his inaction, for the Andals remained occupied with their conquest of the Vale for the rest of his lifetime.

His grandson, King Qarlton II Durrandon, was the first to face the Andals in battle. After four generations of war, that monarch—who styled himself Qarlton the Conqueror—finally completed the reconquest of Massey’s Hook, taking Stonedance after a year’s siege and slaying the last king of House Massey, Josua (called Softspear).

The Storm King held his conquest for less than two years. An Andal warlord named Togarion Bar Emmon (called Togarion the Terrible) had established his own small kingdom north of the Blackwater but was being hard-pressed by the Darklyn king of Duskendale. Sensing weakness to the south, Togarion took to wife the daughter of Josua Softspear and crossed Blackwater Bay with all his power to establish a new kingdom on Massey’s Hook. He built his own castle at Sharp Point, at the Hook’s end, whilst driving the stormlanders from Stonedance and setting his wife’s brother to rule there as a puppet dancing to his strings.

Qarlton the Conqueror soon had more serious woes to concern him than the loss of Massey’s Hook. The eyes of the Andals had turned south, and longships had begun to come ashore all up and down his coasts, full of hungry men with the seven-pointed stars painted on their shields and chests and brows, all of them bent on carving out kingdoms of their own. The rest of his reign, and that of his son and grandson (Qarlton III and Monfryd V) after him, were times of almost constant war.” (WOIAF)

Once again, we see the Durrandons struggling to maintain their control over Massey’s Hook or hegemony on military force against outside forces – further evidence of a failure of a state formation similar to that of the Riverlands. No wonder, therefore that the Andals under Togarion Bar Emmon were able to grab Massey’s Hook so quickly, a rare case where we can see a direct line between Andal invaders and influential houses in the present (although the survival of House Massey is less explicable) and one that follows the model of the leading Andal houses of the Vale.

Where things get confusing is why we’re given so much information about Erich the Unready if the Andals arrived in the Stormlands two generations after his death – which raises the question of why he was given his nickname or why his unreadiness is relevant if it didn’t play a direct role in the Stormlands’ difficulties. But far more confusing is the larger narrative of the war:

“Though the Storm Kings won half a dozen major battles—the greatest of these being the Battle of Bronzegate where Monfryd V Durrandon defeated the Holy Brotherhood of the Andals, an alliance of seven petty kings and war lords, at the cost of his own life—the longships kept coming. It was said that for every Andal who fell in battle, five more came wading ashore. Tarth was the first of the stormlands to be overwhelmed; Estermont soon followed.

The Andals established themselves on Cape Wrath as well and might well have taken all the rainwood if they had not proved as willing to make war on one another as upon the kingdoms of the First Men.” (WOIAF)

This passage gives us a fairly straightforward narrative – the Battle of Bronzegate likely taking place as the Andals pushed south overland from their foothold on Massey’s Hook, and their defeat leading the Andals to adopt a strategy of marine landings on the islands (hence Tarth and Estermont, which both raise the question of how those houses persisted to the present) leading to an attack on the southern Cape. Infighting aside, however, this is a narrative that follows much more closely to the First Men defeats in the Riverlands and the Vale, where the Andals were able to overrun territory and hold it, rather than the outright victory of the Starks or the successful assimilations of the Lannisters and Gardeners.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, we get a narrative of the Durrandons basically winning the war through a series of frankly implausible events:

“But King Baldric I Durrandon (the Cunning) proved expert at setting them one against the other, and King Durran XXI took the unprecedented step of seeking out the remaining children of the forest in the caves and hollow hills where they had taken refuge and making common cause with them against the men from beyond the sea. In the battles fought at Black Bog, in the Misty Wood, and beneath the Howling Hill (the precise location of which has sadly been lost), this Weirwood Alliance dealt the Andals a series of stinging defeats and checked the decline of the Storm Kings for a time. An even more unlikely alliance, between King Cleoden I and three Dornish kings, won an even more telling victory over Drox the Corpse-Maker on the river Slayne near Stonehelm a generation later.” (WOIAF)

As much as I find the Blackadder reference amusing, this isn’t a great explanation for how a kingdom previously characterized by dysfunction and stalemate somehow managed to fend off the Andals. For one thing, as I’ve said before, the highly visible presence of the Children of the Forest thousands of years after they were supposed to have retreated from the world of man is a significant worldbuilding error – why would the maesters of the Citadel believe that “they never lived at all” (AGOT) when they were making military alliances well within the scope of written records? (The plausibility of their involvement isn’t helped by the fact that the Children conveniently disappear after the Andals and First Men make peace, which makes them seem more like dei ex machina than historical actors.) Nor is there any explanation of why the Children’s alliance would be so determinative in the fight against the Andals, given the Children’s manifest inability to defeat the First Men invasion which had been carried out with much weaker technology. Likewise, there’s really no explanation of why the Dornish would make an alliance with a historic enemy when the Dornish would have had their hands full with Dornish invaders on their own soil, or why that alliance would have been useful outside of the Marches.

Finally, I just find that the end of the narrative doesn’t particularly work in a literary sense either, coming off as rather vague, indistinct, and repetitious compared to other chapters:

“Yet it is an error to assert that the Storm Kings turned back the invaders. For all their victories, they never stemmed the Andal tide; though many an Andal king and warlord ended with his head impaled upon a spike above the gates of Storm’s End, still the Andals kept coming. The reverse is also true; the Andals never truly conquered the line of Durrandon. Seven times they laid siege to Storm’s End or sought to storm its mighty walls, history tells us; seven times they failed. The seventh failure was seen as a sign from the gods; after that, no further assaults were made.

In the end, the two sides simply came together. King Maldon IV took an Andal maiden as his wife, as did his son, Durran XXIV (Durran Half-Blood). Andal war chiefs became lords and petty kings, wed the daughters of stormlords and gave them their own daughters in return, did fealty for their lands, and swore their swords to the Storm Kings. Led by King Ormund III and his queen, the stormlanders put aside their old gods and took up the gods of the Andals, the Faith of the Seven. As the centuries passed, the two races of men became as one … and the children of the forest, all but forgotten, vanished entirely from the rainwood and the stormlands.” (WOIAF)

In previous chapters, we’ve seen at least two (three if you count the Iron Islands) similar scenarios where the Andal invasion ends in assimilation and marriage alliances. But in those cases, there was a plausible narrative as to why the Lannisters and the Gardeners prospered – the growth of strong and stable polities through the actions of monarchs like Loreon the Lion or Garth Goldenhand, which gave monarchs like Tyrion III and Gerold II in the West and the Three Sage Kings in the Reach the necessary strength to force a favorable settlement. Here, we have a weak and divided polity that pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and then the Andals just give up.

To me, it would have worked much better if the Andals had won in the Stormlands. This would move the meta-history of the WOIAF closer in line with how its portrayed in the books – with the Vale, Riverlands, and Stormlands having fallen to the enemy, only the strong kingdoms of the Reach and the Westerlands having managed to establish a peace on their own terms, and the Iron Islands and Dorne falling unhappily in the middle, this would be much closer to the story of how “the Andals crossed the narrow sea and swept away the kingdoms of the First Men.” (AGOT) Moreover, and especially if the Andal victory had come through canny warlords forcing a puppet Durrandon king to marry an Andal bride, there would be a nice parallel with how the Baratheons supplanted the Durrandons, which would give the Stormlands a more distinct arc compared to other chapters. Finally, in order to preserve the idea that Storm’s End has never been taken, you could the defeat of the First Men be the result of a Durrandon king who “gave battle in vain” – which also continues the theme both of the Durrandons’ stubborn temper and how it leads to hubris, in this case ignoring the painstakingly-constructed defenses of their ancestral castle.

It would also have worked better if the arrival of the Andals had a noticeable impact on the Stormlands, if not the complete cultural and political reworking of the kingdom that the Vale and the Riverlands experienced, perhaps more akin to the cultural regeneration seen in the Westerlands and the Reach. Instead, we get another enormous gap in the historical record, this one stretching from Ormund the III (who ruled sometime around 5600 BC) to Arlan I (who ruled around 450-400 BC). Needless to say, this gap of more than 5,000 years covers some hugely consequential periods in Stormlands history: how did the Durrandons respond to their near-elimination at the hands of Gyles III around 5000 BC? What led to Durran the Third’s invasions of Dorne and how did the Stormlands react to his defeats (given the way in which his nomenclature suggests some major crisis of succession around 700 BC)? Why was Arlan I called “the Avenger”? And once again, what happened in between these periods, how did the Stormlands interact with the other players of the Great Game?

A Most Unlikely Empire

Without answers to these questions, we don’t really know what long-term factors led to the ascendancy of the Durrandons between 400-100 BC. What we do know is that such ascendancy happened:

“House Durrandon reached its greatest heights in the epoch that followed. During the Age of the Hundred Kingdoms, King Arlan I (the Avenger) swept all before him, extending the borders of his kingdom as far as the Blackwater Rush and the headwaters of the Mander. His great-grandson King Arlan III crossed both the Blackwater and the Trident and claimed the riverlands in their entirety, at one point planting his crowned stag banner on the shores of the Sunset Sea.” (WOIAF)

The Durrandon Empire, which spanned all the way from the Dornish Marches to the Neck, seems to have occurred in a few brief stages. Moniker notwithstanding, Arlan I was successful in war against both the Kings of the Trident and the Kings of the Reach, incorporating a significant swathe of territory that included much of the eastern Reach and the present-day Crownlands. This in turn would have increased the punching power of the Stormlands far above its current levels, as I discussed earlier. Three generations later, Arlan III used that military might to conquer the Riverlands as discussed in Part IV of this series.


(credit to Adam Whitehead)

However much we lack for context, it cannot be denied that this period of Stormlands history has a level of panache and excitement that is missing from everything that came before. All of the sudden, the underdog in the Great Game comes closest to winning out of any of the historical participants (as far as we know), building an empire that included all of the Stormlands, the Crownlands, the Riverlands, and part of the Reach. But rather than just being a story of triumphal military expansionism, we instead get a grand narrative of hubris, over-reach, and a long twilight struggle against inevitable decline:

“With the death of Arlan III, however, an inevitable decline began, for the stormlanders were stretched too thin to hold this vast kingdom together. Rebellion followed rebellion, petty kings sprang up like weeds, castles and keeps fell away … and then the ironborn came, led by Harwyn Hardhand, King of the Iron Islands, and it all befell as previously related. Even as the stormlanders reeled back before the ironmen in the north, the Dornish came swarming over the Boneway to press them in the south, and the Kings of the Reach sent their knights forth from Highgarden to reclaim all that had been lost in the west.

The Kingdom of the Storm shrank, king by king, battle by battle, year by year. The fall was halted briefly when a fierce warrior prince, Argilac (called the Arrogant), donned the stag’s crown, but even a man as mighty as he could only stay the tide, not turn it back. Last of the Storm Kings, last of the Durrandon, Argilac did just that for a time…” (WOIAF)

Once again, we can see the rules of the Great Game in action, as the Ironborn respond to internal rebellions within the Riverlands, and then when Harwyn’s victory at the Battle of Fairmarket revealed the Durrandon’s weakness (if my calculations are right, Arrec Durrandon lost some 20,000 men, which would have majorly affected their ability to mount defensive operations on multiple fronts), the Gardeners and Martells took advantage of the situation to regain the lands they had lost to Arlan I three hundred years earlier.

Moreover, it is in this period that we can see both the strengths and weaknesses of that legendary Durrandon temper. The stubborn unwillingness to accept that the Riverlands was lost meant that “King Arrec twice attempted to cross the Blackwater and take back what he had lost, but without success. His eldest son and successor, King Arlan V, tried as well, and died in the attempt.” (WOIAF) Given their diminished military power (since the loss of the Riverlands and the northern half of the Crownlands would have meant that the Durrandons could field some 27,000-odd less men) it would have been hard enough for the Stormlands to fend off the Reach and Dorne at the same time, but with tens of thousands of men being drawn into a largely fruitless conflict with the Ironborn, decline was almost guaranteed. At the same time, however, it was that same temper that drove Argilac the Arrogant to engage in what might be seen as a foolhardy attempt to turn back the tide of history to surprising results.

Argilac, Last of the Durrandons

In a strange irony, we get the most detailed portrait of any of the Durrandons with the very last one. And the portrait we get is another of Westeros’ military wunderkinds, a man who almost single-handedly managed to reverse centuries of imperial decline:

“From their great citadel Storm’s End, the Storm Kings of House Durrandon had once ruled the eastern half of Westeros from Cape Wrath to the Bay of Crabs, but their powers had been dwindling for centuries. The Kings of the Reach had nibbled at their domains from the west, the Dornishmen harassed them from the south, and Harren the Black and his ironmen had pushed them from the Trident and the lands north of the Blackwater Rush. King Argilac, last of the Durrandon, had arrested this decline for a time, turning back a Dornish invasion whilst still a boy, crossing the narrow sea to join the great alliance against the imperialist “tigers” of Volantis, and slaying Garse VII Gardener, King of the Reach, in the Battle of Summerfield twenty years later. But Argilac had grown older; his famous mane of black hair had gone grey, and his prowess at arms had faded.”(WOIAF)

Despite the relative briefness of this passage, we learn a lot about how Argilac managed to accomplish this. First, Argilac pursued a policy of inflicting punishing defeats on his enemies that would render those fronts quiescent for extended periods of time, allowing the Stormlands to concentrate their remaining force against one threat at a time – notably, the Dornish don’t seem to have threatened the Stormlands between Argilac’s boyhood (sometime in the 40s BC) and the raids on the Marches in 0 BC; likewise, the death of Garse VII at the Battle of Summerfield (sometime around 22 BC) managed to end hostilities on that front for several decades. Second, sometime during the reign of Argilac or his father, the disastrous reign of Halleck Hoare, which included “unsuccessful wars against the…stormlanders,” allowed the Durrandons to at least temporarily retake territory north of the Blackwater Rush, giving them breathing room on their northern border for a time.

Third and most intriguingly, Argilac seems to have turned his military talents to commercial purposes. Rather than purely acting out of geostrategic motives, we learn that “the Westerosi Storm King, Argilac the Arrogant, led a host into the Disputed Lands—in return for the promise of gold and glory.” (WOIAF) After all, while the Stormlands’ army is relatively small by Westerosi standards, it’s absolutely massive compared to most Essosi mercenary companies. Thus Argilac would have been able to name a very high price from the merchant princes of Tyrosh, Pentos, and Braavos, boosting the Stormlands’ economy similar to how Italian city-states, German principalities, and Swiss cantons exported military services during the Renaissance and Early Modern periods.  Now we don’t know what Argilac did with the money (I would guess probably used it to hire mercenaries to make up for the Stormlands’ shrinking armies), but it is a rare case of Westerosi-Essosi interactions in a chapter that has very little of that, despite the close proximity of the Stormlands to the Free Cities.

But despite all of Argilac’s efforts, he couldn’t overcome the larger geostrategic deficit that his kingdom was now operating with against the rising power of Harren the Black. And so, in his desperation, the Storm King gambled on a diplomatic solution to his woes, trying to build an alliance with House Targaryen:

“…no king in Westeros felt more threatened than Argilac the Storm King, last of the Durrandon—an aging warrior whose only heir was his maiden daughter.

Thus it was that King Argilac reached out to the Targaryens on Dragonstone, offering Lord Aegon his daughter in marriage, with all the lands east of the Gods Eye from the Trident to the Blackwater Rush as her dowry.

Aegon Targaryen spurned the Storm King’s proposal. He had two wives, he pointed out; he did not need a third. And the dower lands being offered had belonged to Harrenhal for more than a generation. They were not Argilac’s to give. Plainly, the aging Storm King meant to establish the Targaryens along the Blackwater as a buffer between his own lands and those of Harren the Black.” (WOIAF)

On the face of it, the idea of creating a friendly buffer state in the Crownlands actually makes quite a bit of sense for the Stormlands, putting Aegon and his dragons between himself and the Ironborn, and regaining some Durrandon influence over the eastern Riverlands and northern Crownlands through a marriage alliance to the proposed new kingdom. And if Argilac hadn’t been too clever by half in proposing to give land that he didn’t control as a dowry – instead of outright proposing a military alliance against the Hoares – he might have had more luck. History had other ideas, however, and Argilac’s attempt to make peace on his northern borders would ironically be the occasion for the violent overthrow of his House:

“The Lord of Dragonstone countered with an offer of his own. He would take the dower lands being offered if Argilac would also cede Massey’s Hook and the woods and plains from the Blackwater south to the river Wendwater and the headwaters of the Mander. The pact would be sealed by the marriage of King Argilac’s daughter to Orys Baratheon, Lord Aegon’s childhood friend and champion.

These terms Argilac the Arrogant rejected angrily. Orys Baratheon was a baseborn half-brother to Lord Aegon, it was whispered, and the Storm King would not dishonor his daughter by giving her hand to a bastard. The very suggestion enraged him. Argilac had the hands of Aegon’s envoy cut off and returned to him in a box. “These are the only hands your bastard shall have of me,” he wrote.

Aegon made no reply. Instead he summoned his friends, bannermen, and principal allies to attend him on Dragonstone. Their numbers were small. The Velaryons on Driftmark were sworn to House Targaryen, as were the Celtigars of Claw Isle. From Massey’s Hook came Lord Bar Emmon of Sharp Point and Lord Massey of Stonedance, both sworn to Storm’s End, but with closer ties to Dragonstone.” (WOIAF)

There are several things that need to be unpacked from these few paragraphs. First, in light of what we’ve covered before, Aegon’s counter-proposal seems to have been something of a deliberate provocation, aimed at giving Aegon a casus belli against the Durrandons –Orys Baratheon’s bastardy aside (although I doubt he was ignorant of the implications), Aegon was essentially proposing that, in exchange for taking the Durrandons’ former possessions in the Crownlands and Riverlands, he should also get a good chunk of the northwestern Stormlands, without giving Argilac much of anything in exchange.

Second, it’s pretty clear that Orys’ Durrandon temper made this diplomatic strategy particularly ill-judged – it’s not that an anti-Ironborn politics would have been unpopular (after all, the Arryns were looking for such an alliance at the same time), but if you react to every potential slight by mutilating envoys, you’re basically going to create more enemies than you started with.

Third, and most importantly, we see in Aegon’s war councils the continuing weakness of the Durrandon state. Despite thousands of years of warfare to control Massey’s Hook, the Storm Kings had failed to build a either a state bureaucracy or a common cultural identity strong enough to keep House Bar Emmon and House Massey loyal, and thus Aegon started the war with a foothold on his enemy’s territory.

And so began the Last Storm…






70 thoughts on “Politics of the Seven Kingdoms: The Stormlands (Part II)

  1. Steven Xue says:

    I swear the Stormlands truly are a historical black hole. I have a theory which sounds quite silly, that maybe somewhere way back in the Age of Heroes, a Storm King did something that offended the Citadel so badly and out of stubbornness refused to make amends, so ever since the maesters have made the least amount of effort to record the history of the Stormlands in revenge.

    When it came to the Andal invasion and assimilation into the Stormlands, one thing that has got me really head-scratching is how the Faith of the Seven manage to take hold and become so dominant in that area? Every other kingdom has an explanation to how the Seven either succeeded or failed in becoming so prominent in those lands. In the Stormlands there doesn’t seem to be any reason to why their people threw off the Old Gods and converted to this new religion. It just happened magically. I especially find it bizarre because if the Stormlanders did have an accord with the Children who helped them keep the Andals at bay for a time, then surely the Stormlanders would have been as devout in their worship of the Old Gods as the Northerners. Plus I for one cannot see how the transition from Old Gods to the Faith of the Seven would have been in anyway peaceful. I would imagine there might have been some instances of religious unrest and wars in the Stormlands (that could have been a cause of their stagnation) before the followers of the Seven came out on top.

    • Brett says:

      I was thinking that too. Maybe the in-universe explanation is that a lot of records were lost (or just not kept) in the turbulent and volatile Stormlands both before, during, and after the Andal invasion, and all that Yandel knows about it is effectively pro-Durrandon myth-making created by maesters and Andal writers many years after it all went down. That would explain why a stronger Stormlands comes across as so surprising when it happens.

    • KrimzonStriker says:

      They lost the Stormlands bit by bit though so generations would have gone by with much of the Kingdom under occupation and being converted. To me this makes more sense as a matter of a King reasserting his authority over rebellious vassals then fending off foreign invaders once the Andals had their foothold. And ultimately the Weirwood Alliance failed so it wouldn’t be hard to lose faith in the face of that defeat.

    • Sean C. says:

      TWOIAF’s portrayal of the Andals’ arrival in the south is so different from what ASOIAF itself indicated about it, to the point where the Andals barely seem to have actually conquered anything, but yeah, the Faith’s spread in the Stormlands isn’t given much in the way of justification.

      In general, it feels to me like GRRM really wanted to write lots of little Age of Heroes origin myths, which wouldn’t be possible if the Andals had really swept away the First Men kingdoms like they were said to have.

      • Agreed. This becomes very clear when you see how much many of the kingdoms of Westeros were fully developed states by the time that the Andals came – GRRM’s origin stories didn’t have much room for the Andals.

        • medrawt says:

          Much as I’ve enjoyed reading all the material you’ve been able to generate using the resource of WOIAF, I decided not to buy it when it came out because it seemed to me like something that would inevitably be a less satisfying product for being produced under these circumstances than if it had been put together after Martin was done with the novels, and the various inconsistencies you’ve pointed out reinforce my feelings about that. Given that in the novels Martin is so consistently good at managing details that a discrepancy in the shape of the hips of a character who appears in, what, three scenes, is considered notable, this stuff is really disappointing to me. (Acknowledging that there’s also a lot of cool material in the book.)

          Reinforcing the kind of eternal permanence of the realms-as-we-know-them is an odd choice to me – doing it differently still leaves room for a lot of great stories! – and is more in line with some of the cutesier, gimmicky world-building touches (like the “bastard names”) than the relative realism the series so often achieves. I especially find this peculiar since the “Seven Kingdoms” thing is, itself, an arbitrary way to think about Westeros; move the Targaryen invasion up or back a hundred years, you likely get a different number.

          • Sean C. says:

            While the term Seven Kingdoms is particular to the time of the invasion, the overall variance isn’t really that great, to be honest. Westeros has, throughout its history, had seemingly eight geographic regions that have either been unified for the whole time or otherwise — in the case of Dorne until the Rhoynar and the Vale until the Andals — comprised their own sheltered political environment.

            Note that, even though Dorne was a splintered polity until Nymeria’s arrival (so, for seven eighths of known Westerosi history, even though all of the other major regions were essentially unified around 2000 years in), this doesn’t seem to have prevented it from resisting encroachment by the Reach and the Stormlands for 7000 years, despite no Dornish ruler have remotely close to the resources of its neighbours.

            It was only for a few hundred years prior to Aegon’s Conquest that the Riverlands, one of the eight main regions, ceased to be an independent entity and became more in the manner of an imperial possession of one of the others.

          • Hedrigal says:

            I’m honestly amazed George didn’t take the opportunity presented by shit like his description of the early Reach to write about the incredibly fantastical first man kingdoms of the Casterlys, the Durandons, and the Mudds, only for them to be succeeded by a much less magical and fantastical Andal period. It would fit the kind of story he’s writing in ASOIAF overall well, and emphasize the magical connection the Starks have to the conflict with the Others.

            I mean, George would have to come up with a whole set of names for the First Men houses overthrown by the Andals, but that is what he describes. And frankly the history wouldn’t be too huge a leap, the Norman Conquest alone provides a decent way to model it in terms of the kind of shift.

    • Excellent point regarding the religion – it would be very hard to deny the power of the Old Gods when their priesthood has been working magic and winning battles in living memory.

      • Murc says:

        It seems worth noting that the Faith of the Seven seems to have a very strong ecumenical thread running through it; it can, at times, recognize and even de facto approve of the existence of other deities and powers.

        Witness the septon who makes an explicit appeal to the power and might of the Merling King to Doran Martell (and this guy isn’t implied to be a heretic or not in good standing with the Faith) or the many people who invoke “the Old Gods and the New” to witness oaths, blessings, fealty, etc.

        I don’t think the Faith would have had to deny the power of the Old Gods at all.

        • They do now, but I think that’s a legacy that very much emerged post-Revolt of the Faithful.

        • Steven Xue says:

          Its hard to ignore the existence of other deities and supernatural entities when in this world magic does exist and can be physically demonstrated. Then again even though all the major religions do acknowledge gods of competing faiths, some of them still make the effort to disparage said gods. It seems like the clergy of R’hllor, the Drowned God and even the Seven all claim that all other gods are either false or they are demons incarnate. And in the case of the Faceless Men, they believe all gods from the major religions are just different faces of the very god which they worship.

          I got to say though its rather strange for a religion as mundane as the Faith of the Seven to be so popular in Planetos where there are followers of religions in this world that can literally perform miracles. This makes me wonder if the Seven were originally just seven people who were powerful sorcerers like the Warlocks that came to Andelos where they founded a cult which eventually grew to the Faith of the Seven.

          • Murc says:

            The Faith of the Seven is an obvious Christianity analogue, and part of its appeal is going to be that, at its best (embodied in men like Septon Meribald and the Elder Brother, not the corrupt Most Devout or the theocratic dream of dominance of the High Septon) it is a profoundly humanistic, uplifting faith. It says “the Godhead is a reflection of you, and in its seven faces it embodies all men and women and the lives they live here in the mundane world. The God came to earth in all its seven aspects and walked among you. It wants nothing more than for you to be excellent to each other, honorable and true and brave and moral and just.”

            Now, this works out rather different in practice than in theory, but in a world packed with gods that demand you do all manner of insane, bloody things in their service, a faith that doesn’t make nutty demands is potentially going to gather a lot of adherents.

          • Steven Xue says:

            That’s true. I suppose the fact that its message is so appealing and unlike many of the other religions it has some strong moral foundations is probably why so many people (especially the commonfolk) are drawn to it instead of any of the more ‘wondrous’ religions. Plus unlike the Old Gods, the Seven have an army of clergymen and devotees thumping for them (although the Red Priests are giving them a run for their money).

            Still I cannot help but wonder if this religion started with either one or seven messiah figures working in a partnership? Even Christianity had Jesus who healed the sick and performed all kinds of feats to show his divinity.

          • Murc says:

            Still I cannot help but wonder if this religion started with either one or seven messiah figures working in a partnership?

            Well, I mean, that’s explicitly part of the doctrine, that the Seven-Who-Are-One walked among the faithful in Andalos, preforming great miracles and feats of divine magic.

  2. Great read. I remember that the Stormlands felt a bit lackluster in WOIAF, but I didn’t bother analyzing it and shrugged it off as fatigue on my part. Your proposed improvements would definitely have made it better.

    A small nitpick: you have a (link) that doesn’t, well, link to anything. It is in the paragraph about mercenary companies.

  3. I found the Stormlands so underwhelming upon re-reads I actually wrote a six-page expansion on its section in TWOIAF. If you wouldn’t mind could I send it to you because I’d really like to get your thoughts on my ideas for improving the history of the Stormlands?

  4. KrimzonStriker says:

    I don’t get the point about the Andal invasion of Dorne being an issue for them not helping the Stprmlands, especially for the Stony Dornish, it was sporadic and miniscule in their accounts with few Andals choosing to permenantly settle there and most accounts putting them near the coasts and not the mountains, Drox being on Cape Wrath would have been a direct threat to the Stony Dornish.

    • The Andals still grabbed major chunks of Dorne – Hellholt, Sandstone, Godsgrace, the Tor, Spottswood, Sunspear, etc. – and somehow this divided kingdom was able to lend resources to fight on behalf of an ancient enemy where the much stronger and richer kingdoms of the south were unable to do before?

      • Murc says:

        Why not?

        The Andal invasions occured during the course of many, many decades. Why is it beyond belief that there was a period in there where some of the Dornish kings decided “the Andals are a bigger problem than the Stormlanders and are a common foe to us both; we should team up, enemy of my enemy etc.”

        • Because A. the Dornish are historically far more likely to dogpile on kingdoms in trouble (especially the Stormlands, as we’ll see in Part III), B. we don’t see this happening with other kingdoms that have far more of a history of cooperation, and C. the Dornish also have the fewest resources to spare.

          • Murc says:

            Forgive me, Steven, but… none of that seems dispositive. Historical exceptions to broad trends can happen, especially in times of crisis in political systems that are driven by personalities rather than institutions. Indeed, the most interesting parts of history are the exceptions to the broad trends! I mean, hell, the novels themselves involve a shit-ton of violations of longstanding historical and social precedent and lot of very unlikely maneuvers and alliances to make them work.

            B. we don’t see this happening with other kingdoms that have far more of a history of cooperation,

            … we don’t?

            What kingdoms had a long history of cooperation with each other and were both willing and able to help each other out when the Andals came? The easterly kingdoms were rivals with their neighbors and either weren’t great powers (such as the petty Darklyn kings) or didn’t perceive the unique nature of the Andal threat until it was far too late. The westerly kingdoms were also rivals with each other and thanks to the examples set in the east adopted policies of reconciliation and assimilation, where they wouldn’t have needed help. And then there’s the unique cases of the North (actually won) and the Iron Islands (the Andals vanish into ironborn culture with barely a trace.)

            I would submit that the other kingdoms did not have far more of a history of cooperation with each other than the Stormlands and Dorne did.

          • They’re not dispositive, but they re persuasive to me.

            As to point B, “It was against [the Ironborn] and their followers that the kings of House Gardener contended for three centuries, sometimes in alliance with the Kings of the Rock.”

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        Geography feels like it would answer a lot of those concerns. Regarding their dogpile tactics, those were in instances where the threat distracting the Stormlands came from the opposite direction of Dorne. Drox being near the river Slayne puts him directly between the Stony Dornish and the Stormlands proper, posseing a direct threat to them as well while ironically acting as a buffer to the Durrandons who’d no longer be the immediate problem, and with a name like the Corpse-maker he definitely didn’t sound like someone you wanted as a neighbor. Not like the Stony Dornish couldn’t make some opportunistic landgrabs on Cape Wrath after Drox was dead either, with those landa being far more valuable then the ones in the rest of Dorne.

        As for the Andals in Dorne, hey still didn’t ever seem to amount as a direct threat to the Stony, kind of mixing into the power dynamics that were already in play in Dorne proper, between the vast distances of the desert seperating everyone so they never united or made a concentrated migration, and their competition with the native Sandy and Salty Dornish Houses keeping them busy, with the some like the Martells openly swearing fealty to First Men houses at times even.

        As for why the stronger southern kingdoms didn’t help, well going off the Reach section the Stormlands made for a convinient sacrificial buffer zone while they used the time bought at the Durrandons expense to mobilize their greater resources and fortify the Reach’s position. The Stony Dornish didn’t have that luxury with Dorx literally on their doorsteps as well as the Durrandons, so it makes sense for them to strike first before he became a threat they had no hope of containing.

        • 1. That might be persuasive, except that there’s no explanation whatsoever in the text, and that’s a big part of my problem.

          2. I disagree with that description of the Andal invasion of Dorne. They would have caused huge problems for the Yronwoods, for example.

          3. I’m saying why did they help in other instances. This is the only instance of inter-kingdom cooperation against the Andals, which I find odd given that the same logic would apply to the Westermen aiding the Riverlands against the Andals, and so on.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            1. I can see that and agree it’d be nice if GRRM had elaborated more here and in other parts of the Stormland section, though I feel like I’ve seen you make bigger leaps and similar assumptions in your previous essays based on just geography :p

            2. I think the addition of the Andals in the crabbucket of Dornish politics would have caused problems for the Yronwoods UNITING Dorne, that’s true, but based on their settlement locations and desert between them and the Yronwoods personal land holdings, along with the accounts in the Dornish section, we never see a direct threat to the Yronwoods/First Men Houses like in the other kingdoms, or a major cultural shift in Dorne itself, until Nymeria finally came.

            3. Fair point, but to play devils advocate the Lannisters hadn’t yet orgainized and united the Westerlands to direct a policy of cooperation like the Durrandons had with the Stormlands. And it’s not like the Dornish seemed to have helped the Durrandons beyond dealing with Drox when he was conviently postioned to threaten them both at the same time.

  5. thatrabidpotato says:

    Actually, with regards to the presence of the Children in the Stormlands at the time of the Andals, I don’t think that’s odd at all. During the time of the First Men, the Children had been given dominion over the deep woods while the humans got basically everywhere else. The modern Kingswood and Rainwood certainly would qualify as some of the deepest woods south of the Neck, and would be the first places you’d go to look for Children. It’s not until the Andals establish their dominion that they throw the Pact out the window and begin hunting down the Children wholesale.

    • KrimzonStriker says:

      Also to be considered regarding the Weirwood Alliance is that with the Storm Kings forces the Children make up for a lot of their weaknesses, ie physical fighting prowess, numerical superiority, and complete technological inequality, while providing the First Men with magical support that had fought them to a standstill in the first place. Together they’re much stronger than if they faced the Andals individually.

      • S. Duff says:

        The Children’s superior intelligence capabilities alone would allow the Wierwood Alliance to outmaneuver the Andals time and time again.

    • Here’s my beef with that. There are other deep woods in Westeros – definitely in the Riverlands, in the Westerlands, and definitely in the North. And yet, in all of those places, the Children of the Forest cease to be an active force in human politics thousands and thousands of years prior to the Andal invasion. So why did the CotF act in the Stormlands and nowhere else, when they were under existential threat everywhere?

      • Murc says:

        If you’re arguing that the Children of the Forest should have been active in the Riverlands as well as the Stormlands during the Andal invasions, especially given the presence of numerous Old Gods holy sites and the friggin’ Isle of Faces, then I concur with you completely, Steven. 🙂

        • Sort of. I’m saying it should be one or the other. Either active everywhere or nowhere.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Technically they did seem to fight in the Riverlands at leadt. And this was the only instance we know of where a First Man King actually went and offered an alliance. Admittedly it does feel a little inconsistent that no one else thought about working together though.

          • Not the only instance. Gwayne IV (the Godsfearing).

          • Murc says:

            I can get behind that, yeah. Or at the very least, there should be some implication that the Children in the Stormlands were doing something weirdly unusual and unprecedented, like they there led by a greenseer who decided “fuck these Andals, it’s murder time” when all the other greenseers were all “no, we don’t really do that anymore.” Some myth or story to explain it.

          • Steven Xue says:

            Yeah I could see that happening. If you think about it after taking out the Vale, the Andals would have hit the Riverlands first which makes me think that the Children living there didn’t have the time to mobilize against the rush of Andal invaders, or they just weren’t so motivated to help out their former enemies and decided to let the humans quarrel amongst themselves. But after some time passes and the Andals were dominating most of the kingdoms with not only the First Men falling victim to their conquests, the surviving Children would have grown weary of the Andals. Once the Stormlander Children heard how their kinsmen living in the Riverlands and elsewhere were being butchered by these newcomers, they finally decided enough was enough and knew they had to make common cause with the First Men living in their neighborhood if they were to survive.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            I seem to recall they ARE specifically mentioned as fighting in the Riverlands- “of the night in the White Wood, when the Children emerged from beneath a hollow hill to send hundreds of wolves against an Andal camp, tearing hundreds of men apart beneath the light of a crescent moon…. The great hill called High Heart was especially holy to the First Men, as it had been to the Children before them. Crowned by a grove of giant weirwoods,ancient as any in the Seven Kingdoms, High Heart was still the abode of the children and their greenseers. When the Andal king Erreg the Kinslayer surrounded it, the children and First Men attempted to defend it”

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Ah you’re right, though we have no idea at what point he tried it. Perhaps the losses in the Riverlands and the Weirwood Alliances failure caused the children to see the writing on the wall so to speak, about the only thing I can think of anyway.

  6. After the seventh they just stopped? That really does sound more like a story which was given in retrospect by the Septons. It might have been better if we heard that after this there was peace, implied to be for some other reason, and this story enabled the Andals to save face, justifying their failure by claiming the Gods did not wish them to conquer the Stormlands yet.

    The bit about the Children is just… odd. If it was a Durrandon using the Children against earlier invaders or even against the First Andals that would make sense, but they feel like an afterthought. I can assume the Dornish Kings might have just agreed to the alliance through… I can’t be sure. Did Durrandon and the Marcher Houses have to marry out their female relatives to Dorne to enable this? Were the Dornish afraid the Andals would invade them? Were these from Houses that might have had better terms with the Durrandons but are now gone?

    Like you I am amused at Baldric’s cunning plan (I wonder if he was acquainted with House Wyl) but from a worldbuilding perspective… eh.

    The bit about eventual reconciliation feels a bit hurried and standard, they came together, the King and his vassals marry Andals, and so on. I wish we could know more details, the names of those the Durrandons marry (GRRM missing out details on the women? Who would have thought it). Unlike with the Graftons and Shetts, where we hear about a little drama with the Andal marriages, things are not clarified. Unlike with the Westerlands and Reach we don’t hear enough of Andal Houses settling there alongside the First Men Houses, when realistically from a geographical perspective there should be quite a few major Andal Houses.

    As for the Massey’s survival it might be that all the strong males were killed and the Durrandons left a weak son of Josua Softspear (suitable considering John Softsword’s son was regarded as weak) there to give an appearance of legitimacy. Though I would have thought Josua’s daughters might have been married off to loyal vassals of the Storm King. Was she mayhaps sent away before Stonedance was taken in an attempt to form an alliance? But Bar Emmon waited until Josua was dead then made his move. Has there been some distortion with the records? After all some of these problems could be attributed to historical distortion (Geoffrey’s ‘History’ was treated as an official history). It is an oddity with GRRM’s world that things happen on a bigger scale, you have really big Kingdoms and dynasties lasting thousands of years, with histories apparently going back that far. But I suppose within this world distortion of the histories can only work so far as an excuse for a lack of structure in the worldbuilding.

    I agree with how the Durrandons should have been taken over by the Andals. It could parallel Stonedance, with a weak child monarch being left in place by the Andals after his father is killed in battle. I presume something like this may have happened with Tarth and Estermont.

    The SL history seems to be largely one of decline but somehow surviving, rather like the disability services in Britain, they appear to constantly be shrinking, occasionally perking up again before continuing a decline.

    In a way with Storm’s End’s strong walls and difficulty to take I think the Stormlands is reminiscent of the Byzantine Empire. They kept going through periods of decline but their capitol being so difficult to take means that somehow they keep surviving and recovering their territory (I wrote an essay on how the Byzantines survived the Arab invasions and did another such essay in my exam this year).

    Again the Stormlands looks like one of the weaker parts of worldbuilding, which somehow survived through the invasions. From a worldbuilding perspective they seem like an afterthought kingdom, there to fill up Westeros’ 7K. I sort of hope that TWOW might give us a bit more on the Stormlands as we see Aegon’s invasion, such as Arianne’s POV talking about the Rainwood. I even heard a theory somewhere the Conningtons might be exiles from the Vale, with their Vale type names and their Griffin Sigil. But alas. And again, I do wish we could have more on the Marcher Houses. How were they reacting to all this? It would be nice if we had a hint about the war where the Dondarrions were given their lands.

    Towards the end the SL does get interesting and we see the problem with overreach. Argilac is a pretty interesting character, interacting with Essos, and being one of the occasional Stags that stops the Kingdom’s collapse. Though cutting off an envoy’s hands shows quite an undiplomatic anger. Argilac may have been capable in some ways but in a moment of rage he crosses a line. But could that have been Aegon’s plan? Would he really know Argilac would be that angry? Did Argilac have a history of this and was growing more desperate and furious in his old age? Argilac seems to embody the Durrandon line, old with some moments of success but ultimately unable to halt history, being subsumed by the new.

    Interestingly enough GRRM thought up the name Argilac the Arrogant long before he began writing ASOIAF, it’s in Dreamsongs. GRRM wrote Dark Gods of Kor-Yuban involving the exiled Prince R’hllor and Argilac and in the end Argilac’s arrogance led to him being eaten by the Dark Gods, his tragic flaw of arrogance causing his downfall. And that’s what will be covered next time…

    It is interesting how the Baratheons have inherited the stubbornness and temper of their Durrandon ancestors, as if a part of Argilac lives on.

    As always your essays are very interesting, especially as I am doing worldbuilding myself. Though when you mentioned Strong and Stable I had a little chuckle over how for much of the time the Durrandons seemed to be as strong and stable as the current Tory Government.

    Next time the Baratheons, the House of my fave character, who in a way resembles Argilac.

      • Thx. You may belong in the Pantheon of Analysts but I’m glad to contribute to the field of thought… while making comments on the sorry state of affairs in the UK.

        Do you think there is something to the comparison of Storm’s End with Byzantium?

        • Thanks!

          Yes, there is something there, although I’m more persuaded by the KL/Constantinople comparison.

          • Well, mix and match. It’s not quite a direct comparison, just similarities in the way a well-defended capitol enables the state to survive as from there the rulers can retake their land.

            Though yeh, KL is more Constantinople. Though it might soon resemble Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

    • Murc says:

      After the seventh they just stopped? That really does sound more like a story which was given in retrospect by the Septons.

      I’m not so sure about that. “We got our asses kicked seven times so we’re going to stop” is a recurring theme in the Andal invasions, and it also persists all the way into modern times. When the ironborn invade the Shield Islands, for example; Harras Harlaw challenged the defenders of Grimston to single combat, and when he’d slain seven in a row the septon inside the castle decided it was a sign from the gods and yielded the castle without further bloodshed.

      Some people take that number real seriously.

      • Well the circumstances are a bit different here, this is a castle on an Island being invaded by the Ironborn. With the Stormlands it is another of the wide-scale invasion attempts going on by the Andals. But this is all just theorizing. The 7 defeats in the SLs may have contributed to the idea. It has a practicality to it, if you’ve failed 7 times continuing to fight is not looking like a good option.

    • On the bit about the Septons, I like to think the alliance with the Children fits that as well. That the only way they lost was because the Durrandons made a deal with the devils against a holy alliance. Sort of like how the Lannisters blame Robb for sorcery after losing at Oxcross.

      Over time, it became less of an inflammatory claim, and more of a footnote as records were lost.

  7. fjallstrom says:

    Æthelred the Unready paraphrasing Chamberlain. And isn’t Bar Emmon a riff of some historical character? Possibly biblical? (Searching for it doesn’t help, with all the ASOIAF hits.)

    Hmm, in a way I find the Stormlands history realistic. It’s the other kingdoms that are strange in how they are united and then enter political stasis for thousands of years. The Stormlands fall to pieces repeatedly – clearly lacking the institutional mechanisms of empire building beyond the personal charisma of the Durrandon in charge. But it always gets reunited under the Durrandons, because no matter how much the Durrandons lose they have a magical castle to retreat to and wait until a capable heir is born. That is something that is more realistic to do for a long time then crab-bucket politics that usually doesn’t last longer than it takes for someone to figure out how to game it.

  8. artihcus022 says:

    I think we’ll learn more about the Stormlands in TWOW. That Rainwood sequence in Arianne II chapter was pretty awesome and suggestive, and of course we get to meet Jon Con and Co. after they will take Storm’s End. That might be why TWOIAF was light on it, GRRM wanted to save some of the Lore for the book.

    But yeah, the Stormlands generally just seems to be…there without a lot to offer.

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    I have to say that while one understands the impulse to cry “More and Better!” (we’re only Human and addicted to Mr Martin’s world building to boot or we wouldn’t be posting here in the first place), I do feel that it’s a little unfair of us to expect the Old Master to have worked out everything down to the last dotted “i” on THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE, since if I remember correctly his contributions to that book were mostly written while he was still struggling through A DANCE WITH DRAGONS.

    Given this, it seems perfectly reasonable that he wrote what amused him as inspiration struck, rather than stressing over every detail until this exercise of his creative powers was more pain than pleasure. Delightful as it would be to learn even more about the Stormlands, I’d much rather Mr Martin enjoyed his work, the better to produce even more of it!

  10. Abbey Battle says:

    On a note sounding a little less like Goody Two-Shoes, I just wanted to say that your idea that the House of Durran Gods-Grief came out laughing on the other end of the Andal Invasions seems an exaggeration: from what we can gather the Invasion of the Stormlands was a messy, back-and-forth business due to a lack of any singular Warlord on the Andal Side, but in the end only Storm’s End itself withstood the Conquest and all other Bastions of First Men were overrun (I would also suggest that accounts of the Children of the Forest might simply be half-remembered accounts of guerrilla warfare conducted by persons drawing on the lore of the Children to lend weight to their efforts – perhaps Greenseers with a theatrical flourish?).

    For some reason I find the mental image of the Andals conquering the Stormlands but requiring the Last of the First Men to unify them (under sufferance) a rather amusing and possibly-even compelling one.

    It therefore seems not unreasonable to suggest that the Sons of the Seven elected to make peace with the Heirs of Durran in part because the tradition of a widely-shared descent from the Daughter of the Sea God (admittedly via King Ronard the Bastard) proved too useful a rallying point to risk extinguishing the fountainhead of that bloodline … especially since they could never quite finish off Storm’s End in the first place, so it would now make more sense to suffer the continued existence of the King at Storm’s End for the sake of co-opting that National Myth as the keystone of a more united kingdom (especially since it would be easier to tackle the Durrandons when they were Kings dependant on Andal Swords than it was when they were defenders hurling defiance from their last redoubt).

    One more thing: I do find your scenario of the somewhat-phyrric Final Triumph of the House Durrandon very plausible, not least because there is nothing I can see in the actual text which contradicts this interpretation of the events surrounding that fateful Seventh Siege of Durran’s Defiance!

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