Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya III, ASOS

“I could have stayed with Hot Pie. We could have taken the little boat and sailed it up to Riverrun. She had been better off as Squab. No one would take Squab captive, or Nan, or Weasel, or Arry the orphan boy. I was a wolf, she thought, but now I’m just some stupid little lady again.”

Synopsis: Arya has two conversations with Harwin, one more honest than the other.

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:

Arya III is a bit of an odd chapter, in that not much actually happens plot-wise (another parallel with Sansa!) but there’s some crucial thematic work going on that’s worthy of analysis. The reason for both of those things is that GRRM is slow-rolling his reveal of Beric Dondarrion, so that the myth arrives well before the man himself; indeed, Arya won’t actually meet Beric until Arya VI, which makes for quite a wind-up. As I’ll discuss in this chapter and Arya IV and V, GRRM probably could have slimmed this section of the narrative down…except that the overarching plot requires that Arya can’t get to the Twins before Robb and Cately,, so she has to spin her wheels a little. Then again, there’s worse ways to pass the time.

The Difference Between Being Lost and Going the Wrong Way:

Arya III does start out with a neat bit of imagery that nicely continues the question from the previous chapter as to whether the Brotherhood Without Banners can be trusted, or rather whether they’re really working in Arya’s interests:

“On the morning of the third day, Arya noticed that the moss was growing mostly on the wrong side of the trees. “We’re going the wrong way,” she said to Gendry, as they rode past an especially mossy elm. “We’re going south. See how the moss is growing on the trunk?”

He pushed thick black hair from eyes and said, “We’re following the road, that’s all. The road goes south here.”

We’ve been going south all day, she wanted to tell him. And yesterday too, when we were riding along that streambed. But she hadn’t been paying close attention yesterday, so she couldn’t be certain. “I think we’re lost,” she said in a low voice. “We shouldn’t have left the river. All we had to do was follow it.”

There’s a good bit of uncertainty in Arya’s conclusions: she’s made mistakes about moss before because despite being a quite precocious eleven-year-old, she’s still an eleven-year old. As a result, Arya’s concerns come off initially more like a niggling doubt – are we heading to Riverrun (as Arya wants) and it’s just that the river is bending, or are we heading elsewhere (as the Brotherhood Without Banners might want)? – than a clarion call.

It also plays an important role in delaying Arya’s realization until after she’s spent a bunch of time with the Brotherhood Without Banners:

“Look at the sun,” she said. “We’re going south!” Arya rummaged in her saddlebag for the map, so she could show them. “We should never have left the Trident. See.” She unrolled the map on her leg. All of them were looking at her now. “See, there’s Riverrun, between the rivers.”

“As it happens,” said Jack-Be-Lucky, “we know where Riverrun is. Every man o’ us.”

“You’re not going to Riverrun,” Lem told her bluntly.

It’s a particularly child-like revelation too, as Arya carefully assembles the evidence, checks it against the map, and then gains everyone’s attention…only to find out that everyone already knew the truth the whole time. It’s child-like in another sense, because it shows that the the Brotherhood Without Banners aren’t magical helpers from a fairytale but real adults with their own agendas which may or may not align with Arya’s own.

Farewell to Hot Pie

The revelation of the BwB’s ulterior motives stings all the worse because Arya was already feeling increasingly isolated because Hot Pie has left her:

…he was the only true friend she had, now that Hot Pie had left them.

“Sharna says she needs me to bake bread,” he’d told her, the day they rode. “Anyhow I’m tired of rain and saddlesores and being scared all the time. There’s ale here, and rabbit to eat, and the bread will be better when I make it. You’ll see, when you come back. You will come back, won’t you? When the war’s done?” He remembered who she was then, and added, “My lady,” reddening.

Arya didn’t know if the war would ever be done, but she had nodded. “I’m sorry I beat you that time,” she said. Hot Pie was stupid and craven, but he’d been with her all the way from King’s Landing and she’d gotten used to him. “I broke your nose.”

I’ve already talked about Hot Pie’s larger meaning in the previous chapter, so I’ll try to avoid repeating myself. However, in part because I’ve been thinking about PoorQuentyn’s series on Quentyn Martell’s POV, it does seem to me that Hot Pie works as an early deconstruction of the idea of adventure – on the face of it, he definitely seems like a Samwise Gamgee-style unlikely hero (given his build and domestic interests), but rather than rising to the occasion, he’s mostly just been a normal kid who’s only been “stupid and craven” because he’s been plunged into a dangerous nightmare that no child should have to endure. Paralleling the division between Arya’s interests and the Brotherhood’s, moreover, Hot Pie’s reasons for leaving go straight to the point that (unlike Arya Stark of Winterfell) the War of Five Kings is not his fight. For him, finding an inn where he can ply his trade and be safe and well taken care of is a victory in a way that it can’t be for Arya.

At the same time, it’s still true that Arya’s feeling of loss as her ramshackle peer group gradually falls away from her is a genuine one. Generally speaking, it’s good for our psychological health to have friends, family, a support network, around you, whereas isolation can be quite problematic for someone going through such extended and repeated trauma as Arya. Something to keep our eye on as Arya moves ever closer to her rendezvous at the Twins.

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credit to JB Casacop

Harwin and Home

That kind of isolation is still a matter for the future, however, thanks to Arya’s newfound bond with Harwin of Winterfell, who represents her old home, recognition of her true identity, and the main liaison between Arya and the Brotherhood:

“Harwin made up for it some. She had told him about his father Hullen, and how she’d found him dying by the stables in the Red Keep, the day she fled. “He always said he’d die in a stable,” Harwin said, “but we all thought some bad-tempered stallion would be his death, not a pack of lions.” Arya told of Yoren and their escape from King’s Landing as well, and much that had happened since, but she left out the stableboy she’d stabbed with Needle, and the guard whose throat she’d cut to get out of Harrenhal. Telling Harwin would be almost like telling her father, and there were some things that she could not bear having her father know.”

Indeed, the two fo them work rather well as mirrors for one another – both born in Winterfell, one highborn and one smallfolk, both of whom have lost fathers to the Lannisters, and both of whom have wandered very far from home. That being true, it’s not surprising that Arya should see Harwin as something of a stand-in for Ned Stark, since she hasn’t had a specifically Northern mentor in a long time.

However, a full reconciliation between the two of them is impossible, as Arya says “there were some things she could not bear having her father know.” This is partly out of shame – the stableboy and the Northern guard at Harrenhal are the two instances where Arya has killed outside of the heat of battle, the latter coming closest to cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder. But there’s more than just guilt at work – Arya also keeps schtum about “Jaqen H’ghar and the three deaths he’d owed and paid,” because part of her will always want the vengeance that the Faceless Men represent for her.

For his own part, Harwin isn’t telling the whole truth either about what he’s experienced and how his experienced have changed him. Notably, when he gives Arya a recap about what happened to the forces that Ned Stark sent to hunt down Gregor Clegane, he holds back as much as he puts forward:

“Only six Winterfell men remained of the twenty her father had sent west with Beric Dondarrion, Harwin told her, and they were scattered. “It was a trap, milady. Lord Tywin sent his Mountain across the Red Fork with fire and sword, hoping to draw your lord father. He planned for Lord Eddard to come west himself to deal with Gregor Clegane. If he had he would have been killed, or taken prisoner and traded for the Imp, who was your lady mother’s captive at the time. Only the Kingslayer never knew Lord Tywin’s plan, and when he heard about his brother’s capture he attacked your father in the streets of King’s Landing.”

“I remember,” said Arya. “He killed Jory.” Jory had always smiled at her, when he wasn’t telling her to get from underfoot.

“He killed Jory,” Harwin agreed, “and your father’s leg was broken when his horse fell on him. So Lord Eddard couldn’t go west. He sent Lord Beric instead, with twenty of his own men and twenty from Winterfell, me among them. There were others besides. Thoros and Ser Raymun Darry and their men, Ser Gladden Wylde, a lord named Lothar Mallery. But Gregor was waiting for us at the Mummer’s Ford, with men concealed on both banks. As we crossed he fell upon us from front and rear.”

“I saw the Mountain slay Raymun Darry with a single blow so terrible that it took Darry’s arm off at the elbow and killed the horse beneath him too. Gladden Wylde died there with him, and Lord Mallery was ridden down and drowned. We had lions on every side, and I thought I was doomed with the rest, but Alyn shouted commands and restored order to our ranks, and those still ahorse rallied around Thoros and cut our way free. Six score we’d been that morning. By dark no more than two score were left, and Lord Beric was gravely wounded. Thoros drew a foot of lance from his chest that night, and poured boiling wine into the hole it left.”

This is clearly what we could call the cover story for what happened at the Battle of the Mummer’s Ford, the version that the initiates of R’hllor’s first Westerosi mystery cult can share with the uninitiated, carefully edited so that Beric Dondarrion is merely a charismatic leader with preturnatural good luck and Thoros of Myr merely a gifted healer.

Despite this redaction, there’s an enormous amount we can learn from this passage. To begin with, this is where we first learn what Tywin’s plan was when he began the War of Five Kings, and how much Jaime’s attack on Eddard Stark disrupted Tywin’s plans (helping to seed that particular theme well before Jaime gets back to King’s Landing to resolve his daddy issues). It also demonstates that Tywin had completely fallen for Ned’s stratagem, and was contemplating open warfare against the Hand of the King, which would have marked him out as a rebel, traitor, and outlaw if anyone had survived to tell the tale (which they did in OTL).

Next, it explains quite succinctly what happened at the Mummer’s Ford – namely, a very well-executed ambush carried out during a river crossing (always the moment of maximum vulnerability for any army) with attacks coming in from two directions, trying to pile advantage onto advantage. (This retelling also does a good job of reminding the reader about the seemingly unstoppable force of nature that is Gregor Clegane ahead of his duel with the Red Viper.) Incidentally, it’s also in this chapter that we learn that Tywin was very much a part of the Battle of the Mummer’s Ford, as “the Mountain’s men were only the van of Lord Tywin’s host” – and given that Gregor isn’t exactly gifted when it comes to strategies more complicated than frontal assaults and sacks, it’s likely that the carefully-planned strategems used here were Tywin’s work. (Also, if Tywin was planning to take Eddard prisoner, he’d want to be near to take the prisoner into his possession.) No wonder, therefore, that the future Brotherhood Without Banners suffered a 66% casualty rate in the intiial engagement.

Beric Dondarrion, Guerrilla Messiah

What’s more surprising is that Ned’s expedition remained intact as a military force after suffering losses that have broken other, larger armies. Here, two factors explain this miracle of morale – Thoros’ able leadership in engineering the breakout so that the survivors retired in good order, and the apostheosis of Beric Dondarrion:

“Every man of us was certain his lordship would be dead by daybreak. But Thoros prayed with him all night beside the fire, and when dawn came, he was still alive, and stronger than he’d been. It was a fortnight before he could mount a horse, but his courage kept us strong. He told us that our war had not ended at the Mummer’s Ford, but only begun there, and that every man of ours who’d fallen would be avenged tenfold.”

“By then the fighting had passed by us. The Mountain’s men were only the van of Lord Tywin’s host. They crossed the Red Fork in strength and swept up into the riverlands, burning everything in their path. We were so few that all we could do was harry their rear, but we told each other that we’d join up with King Robert when he marched west to crush Lord Tywin’s rebellion. Only then we heard that Robert was dead, and Lord Eddard as well, and Cersei Lannister’s whelp had ascended the Iron Throne.”

“That turned the whole world on its head. We’d been sent out by the King’s Hand to deal with outlaws, you see, but now we were the outlaws, and Lord Tywin was the Hand of the King. There was some wanted to yield then, but Lord Beric wouldn’t hear of it. We were still king’s men, he said, and these were the king’s people the lions were savaging. If we could not fight for Robert, we would fight for them, until every man of us was dead. And so we did, but as we fought something queer happened. For every man we lost, two showed up to take his place. A few were knights or squires, of gentle birth, but most were common men—fieldhands and fiddlers and innkeeps, servants and shoemakers, even two septons. Men of all sorts, and women too, children, dogs…”

Now it’s not clear from the moment whether Harwin is one of those members of the Brotherhood who remains in denial about Beric’s resurrection or whether he’s simply holding back in front of an unbeliever, but even without the knowledge that Beric Dondarrion rose from the dead that dawn (incidentally, I wonder to what extent Harwin’s description of Beric as “stronger than before” refers to a simple recovery from his deathbed or whether R’hlloric resurrection gives the same inhuman strength that wights display?) we can see how Beric kept his forces together and transformed them into the Brotherhood Without Banners – with ideology!

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credit to Rafal Hrynkiewicz

Given that they were formerly a collection of Riverlanders who had looked to the Iron Throne for redress of grievances, Northmen following the orders of their soon-to-be-dead lord, and random adventurers acting in obedience to the Hand of the King, to suddenly find out that they had gone from King’s Men to outlaws would indeed feel like the Lannisters had “turned the whole world on its head.” What Beric Dondarrion did in that moment was to provide an ideological framework: to begin with, he provided them with a vision of the future that reinterpreted their losses as a temporary setback and gave them enhanced purpose (“He told us that our war had not ended at the Mummer’s Ford, but only begun there, and that every man of ours who’d fallen would be avenged tenfold”). Next, he built upon their pre-existing royalist populism/loyalist opposition by shifting the source of authority and legitimacy from the person of the king to the “King’s people” much in the same way that others have used “the realm” to symbolically supplant the Iron Throne itself.

Beric’s equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount has another purpose beyond ensuring that his twoscore followers kept the faith – it’s part of his “miracle of recruitment” whereby “for every man we lost, two showed up to take his place.” A major part of this miracle is a transformation in the social base of the Brotherhood Without Banners, as the new recruits were “common men—fieldhands and fiddlers and innkeeps, servants and shoemakers, even two septons. Men of all sorts, and women too, children, dogs…” Excluded as they might be from the Game of Thrones, the smallfolk of Westeros are not ignorant of their own interests, and if Beric Dondarrion wanted his Brotherhood to “move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea” he would need to appeal to them to rebuild his army and provide the civilian support structure that all guerrilla movements require.

The BwB in Their Element

And indeed, in Arya III we see that this support structure goes far beyond one inn, that whatever Sandor Clegane might think, the Brotherhood have a genuine standing among the smallfolk of the Riverlands:

“That night they sheltered in a burned, abandoned village. At least it seemed to be abandoned, until Jack-Be-Lucky blew two short blasts and two long ones on his hunting horn. Then all sorts of people came crawling out of the ruins and up from secret cellars. They had ale and dried apples and some stale barley bread, and the outlaws had a goose that Anguy had brought down on the ride, so supper that night was almost a feast.”

Like the treefort town Arya will visit in her next chapter, here we see the smallfolk of the Riverlands surviving by hiding themselves through cunning artifice, quite similar to how the Brotherhood hide themselves in networks of inns and the like. It’s another way to demonstrate the affinity between the Brotherhood proper and their supporters. The fact that these desperate people share the food they’ve risked life and limb to hide from marauding foragers, and the fact that the outlaws share their game (which, given how scarce meat gets in war zones, is quite valuable) speaks volumes to the relationship between these groups. Unlike in so many cases where guerrilla movements plunder indiscriminately from the civilian population, using the rhetoric of sacrificng for the revolution to justify expropriation, while offering little in return, the Brotherhood actually reciprocate.

Moreover, Arya III also gives us two examples of why the Brotherhood’s outreach is so successful. The first example speaks to how Beric Dondarrion’s practice of recontextualizing the ideology of feudalism into more populist forms has taken root among the people:

“Would he hang him, Lem?” one of the village women asked. “It’d be half a shame to hang a man as pretty as that one.”

“A trial first!” said Anguy. “Lord Beric always gives them a trial, you know that.” He smiled. “Then he hangs them.”

In this case, Lord Beric is expanding the principles of royal justice beyond a concern for the privileges of the nobility by including non-nobles as both plaintiffs (as we’ll see in Arya VII) and defendants, which is a major step given that smallfolk don’t normally enjoy the right to a trial. As with the IOUs, we see him trying to at least maintain the forms of due process in the face of constant pressure from the necessities of guerilla warfare – in this case, demands from both civilians and his own followers that he make good on his promises that “every man of ours who’d fallen would be avenged tenfold.

At the same time, we also see that not all of the smallfolk are equally politically savvy – while some join the Brotherhood and share its vision, others simply bear grudges against either/both the lions and wolves, and yet others simply want to survive the War of Five Kings. Thus, village women who remember Jaime Lannister the handsome tourney knight celebrity and don’t connect him to the Lannister invasion of the Riverlands. To appeal to this constituency, therefore, the Brotherhood Without Banners uses Tom Sevenstrings to associate their rebel band with culturally significant outlaws of years past:

“The brothers of the Kingswood,

they were an outlaw band.

The forest was their castle,

but they roamed across the land.

No man’s gold was safe from them,

nor any maiden’s hand.

Oh, the brothers of the Kingswood,

that fearsome outlaw band…”

While last chapter I talked about the parallels between the BwB and Robin Hood’s Merry Men, there’s equally quite a few parallels between the Kingswood Brotherhood and the Merry Men: Simon Toyne takes the place of the nobleborn master of disguise Robin of Locksley and the Smiling Knight exemplifies the master swordsman Errol Flynn Robin Hood, while Fletcher Dick and Ulmer exemplify Robin Hood the master longbowman and Oswyn Longneck picks up the escape artist side; Big Belly Ben is a pastiche of Little John and Friar Tuck; and Wenda the White Faun is a take on Maid Mariean (who herself only entered the Robin Hood mythology in the 16th century). At the same time, there’s a clear deconstructive aspect to the Kingswood Brotherhood: Simon Toyne is driven by a famly feud against the descendants of Aegon IV rooted in oath-breaking, execution, and attempted regicide, the Smiling Knight is a sadistic maniac who makes even Jaime Lannister shudder in fear, and even Wenda the White Faun was infamous for branding her victims.

The parallels are there for the two Brotherhoods as well: Beric Dondarrion has bits of Simon Toyne and Oswyn Longneck as the aristocrat but also the execution survivor; Lem seems to be sliding into Smiling Knight territory (especially post-aquisition of the cursed Hound helmet) where previously he had more of Big Belly Ben about him; Anguy takes up Fletcher Dick and Ulmer’s position as master archer; and Lady Stoneheart takes Wenda’s place…showing that even a deconstruction can go darker and edgier.

Finally, there is another element of the Brotherhood Without Banners that makes them something more than just outlaws:

“The villagers could only shrug at that. Greenbeard stroked his thick grey-and-green whiskers and said, “The wolves will drown in blood if the Kingslayer’s loose again. Thoros must be told. The Lord of Light will show him Lannister in the flames.” 

Namely, after decades of largely unsuccessful top-down missionary efforts and a few sailor’s temples in port cities, the Brotherhood Without Banners are the largest group of followers of R’hllor outside of Stannis’ camp. And it’s no wonder that the faith is beginning to spread the way it does, when the inner circle can see Beric Dondarrion’s immortality as proof of the Red God’s might and the outer circle can see the efficacy of Thoros’ pyromancy in providing health care, military intelligence, and an infinite supply of burning swords.

A Man’s Got to Have a Code

And so we finally come to the revelation that Arya hasn’t been rescued by the BwB as much as she’s been kidnapped for ransom, a revelation that lands with the appropriate weight because of how much time she’s spent around the Brotherhood absorbing their mythology. Moreover, it’s a relevation that GRRM structures in an interesting way, with multiple layers:

“Ah, don’t look so hurt, child,” said Tom Sevenstrings. “No harm will come to you, you have my word on that.”

“The word of a liar!”

“No one lied,” said Lem. “We made no promises. It’s not for us to say what’s to be done with you.”

To begin with, we get a continuation from the previous chapter‘s thematic focus on the competing demands of being an honest man vs. being a King’s Man, but with an added twist. Now, it’s not merely a question of the needs of the revolution trumping any individual ethics, but rather allegiance to the leadership of a given organization – by joining the BwB, Lem, Tom, and the others have alienated part of their right to make decisions or promises, a difficult concept for any child to grasp but even more so because Arya has been outside of institutions since the end of AGOT (even with the Night’s Watch her secret put her in a liminal position vis-a-vis the Watch).

Since Beric Dondarrion is now the decision-making authority, this raises the question of how he operates as a leader, and what kind of decisions he might make. And even at this stage, we know very little about this “wisp o’ the wood:”

“…off to see the lightning lord, whether she wills it or not. He’ll know what’s to be done with you. I’ll wager he sends you back to your lady mother, just as you wish.”

Lord Beric Dondarrion. Arya remembered all she’d heard at Harrenhal, from the Lannisters and the Bloody Mummers alike. Lord Beric the wisp o’ the wood. Lord Beric who’d been killed by Vargo Hoat and before that by Ser Amory Lorch, and twice by the Mountain That Rides. If he won’t send me home maybe I’ll kill him too. “Why do I have to see Lord Beric?” she asked quietly.

“We bring him all our highborn captives,” said Anguy.

Because of her time at Harrenhal, Arya knows a good deal of the legend – even if she doesn’t know the supernatural truth beyond his impossible survival skills – but that’s not the same thing as knowing him as a person. And the reader doesn’t know much either – in the very few pages where Beric was “on screen,” he was a pretty conventional young lordling and we only have the barest indication of the transformation he’s undergone.

And while the Brotherhood’s suggestion that Beric’s chivalrous nature (as with his concern for due process) will mean she’ll get ransomed back to her own family as opposed to the Lannisters, it’s still true that they’re not telling the whole truth, that the reason Beric insists on having “all our highborn captives” brought to him is so that he can conduct his firey trials by combat (more on that in future chapters). Not that Arya is particularly a target for that particular threat, but just goes to show that not everything is aboveboard.

And so, just as in her last chapter, when Arya reaches a high enough level of stress over not being able to return to her family, she immediately and instinctively flees:

North or south, east or west, that made no matter now. She could find the way to Riverrun later, once she’d lost them. Arya leaned forward in the saddle and urged the horse to a gallop. Behind her the outlaws were cursing and shouting at her to come back. She shut her ears to the calls, but when she glanced back over her shoulder four of them were coming after her, Anguy and Harwin and Greenbeard racing side by side with Lem farther back, his big yellow cloak flapping behind him as he rode. “Swift as a deer,” she told her mount. “Run, now, run.”

Unlike her departure from Harrenhal, there is no planning here, just total panic. And while Arya’s horsemanship manages to get her away from her pursuers for a time, the price is that she gets lost immediately. For all that she thinks her trick with the moss can suffice for real experience, the truth is that she doesn’t know where to find the “fields again” or “a road,” and even when she gets to a game trail, she can’t keep her directions straight. And so, as you’d expect when a child goes up against trained adults, Arya loses:

Both horses were lathered and flagging by the time he came up beside her, reached over, and grabbed her bridle. Arya was breathing hard herself then. She knew the fight was done. “You ride like a northman, milady,” Harwin said when he’d drawn them to a halt. “Your aunt was the same. Lady Lyanna. But my father was master of horse, remember.”

The look she gave him was full of hurt. “I thought you were my father’s man.”

“Lord Eddard’s dead, milady. I belong to the lightning lord now, and to my brothers.”

“What brothers?” Old Hullen had fathered no other sons that Arya could remember.

“Anguy, Lem, Tom o’ Sevens, Jack and Greenbeard, all of them. We mean your brother Robb no ill, milady . . . but it’s not him we fight for. He has an army all his own, and many a great lord to bend the knee. The smallfolk have only us.” He gave her a searching look. “Can you understand what I am telling you?”

“Yes.” That he was not Robb’s man, she understood well enough. And that she was his captive. I could have stayed with Hot Pie. We could have taken the little boat and sailed it up to Riverrun. She had been better off as Squab. No one would take Squab captive, or Nan, or Weasel, or Arry the orphan boy. I was a wolf, she thought, but now I’m just some stupid little lady again.

To me, this is one of the most meaningful passages in the whole of ASOS, for the way that it re-contexualizes everything we’ve seen before. With the exception of Davos, we’ve experienced ASOIAF through the eyes of highborn characters who view their Houses as the organizing forces of society – hence Arya expecting Harwin to be “her father’s man,” which means putting Ned’s daughter’s interests ahead of his own. And while we’ll meet many people for whom that is how they see the world, Harwin has experienced an ideological rebirth: not only has Harwin changed how he sees himself, with his fellow outlaws becoming his new family, but he’s also changed how he sees the War of Five Kings and by extension the broader political landscape.

Just like Arya, the reader has been used to thinking of Robb Stark as the “good guy,” the hero out to avenge his father’s murder. But for Harwin and the smallfolk, Robb is another member of the ruling class, with “an army all his own, and many a great lord to bend the knee.” Robb’s cause of independence for the lordly classes of the North and the Riverlands is not the same cause of the smallfolk of the Riverlands (or at least those who aren’t currently serving in his armies, because war changes people’s political identities in many ways). And it is on these foundations that much of the argument of AFFC will be built.

Historical Analysis:

So last time, I began discussing the theme of resistance/guerrilla movements and the legend of Robin Hood – two themes that are intimately linked, since arguably the legend of Robin Hood is one of the earlier examples of a guerrilla movement acting in resistance to government forces (as opposed to a more general resistance to a foreign invader, although in the earlier versions of the Robin Hood myth the recency of the Norman Conquest blurs those lines).

In this installment, for obvious reasons, I want to discuss the role that kidnapping for ransom plays in both Robin Hood lore and the modern history of guerrilla movements. To begin with, kidnapping people for ransoms was the major modus operandi of the Merry Men, to the point where Robin Hood is introduced in the “Geste of Robin Hood” (one of the earliest written versions of the Robin Hood legend, dating back to around 1450) talking with Little John about kidnapping people for ransom:

Then bespake him Little John
All unto Robin Hood:
‘Master, an ye would dine betimes
It would do you much good.’ 

Then bespake him good Robin:
‘To dine I have no lest,
Till that I have some bold baron,
Or some uncouth guest,

…That may pay for the best,
Or else some knight, or some squièr
That dwelleth here by West.’

As if to forestall any accusation that Robin Hood should be viewed as merely some common criminal, the narrator immediately reassures the reader that Robin Hood would hear three masses daily because of his adoration of the Virgin Mary, and that for her sake he would “he no company do harm/that woman was therein.” (The origin of the dashing highwayman.) More importantly, the narrator also quickly establishes Robin Hood’s populist credentials by having Little John unnecessarily ask his boss for instructions about how he should go about kidnapping people so that Robin Hood can set out his criteria:

Thereof no force,’ then said Robin;
‘We shall do well enow; 50
But look ye do no husband harm
That tilleth with his plough.

‘No more ye shall no good yeoman
That walketh by green-wood shaw;
Nor yet no knight nor no squièr 
That will be a good fellaw.

‘These bishops and these archbishops,
Ye shall them beat and bind;
The High Sheriff of Nottingham,
Him hold ye in your mind.’

This is the origin of “robbing from the rich to give to the poor,” although in operation it’s more like “don’t go after working class people or even members of the middle class who respect the social contract, but beat the shit out of the Church elite and royal officials who have broken the social contract.” Moreover, in the original Geste, Robin Hood’s practice of sparing the less well-off has a practical side to it as well: his first victim, the poor knight with less than half a pound to his name is spared and given dinner besides, and in return the knight tells him of a greedy abbot with four hundred pounds who he can rob instead.

The more recent practice of “political kidnapping” by guerrilla movements – which comes closest to the Robin Hood myth, as opposed to kidnappings with purely monetary objectives – is decidely less romantic. While political kidnappings have had a long history, they increased dramatically in frequency following a series of successful kidnappings of ambassadors and other government officials in Guatemala City in 1968-9, then the October Crisis in Quebec in 1970. Unlike in the Robin Hood mythos, these kidnappings often ended in death rather than dinner: in the Guatemalan cases, American ambassador John C. Mein and German ambassador Karl von Spreti were both killed either in the process of abduction or when negotiations broke down; in the October Crisis, while British diplomat James Cross was released following negotiations, Pierre Laporte was killed. Kidnappings involving the Red Army Faction in West Germany (which are covered quite well in the 2008 film Baader-Meinhof Complex) or their Italian counterparts the Red Brigades tended to especially likely to end in death, with Hans-Martin Schleyer being killed in 1977, Aldo Moro the former Italian Prime Minister being killed in 1978.

What If?

Unfortunately, there’s not really a good hypothetical here that’s different from the one in Arya II, so I’m skipping this for now. But don’t worry, there’s always next chapter!

Book vs. Show:

As I discussed last time, one of the negative tendencies of Benioff and Weiss when it comes to character development is a habit of telescoping characters by presenting them initially much closer to where they’ll end up and rushing them along the process rather than letting them grow organically.

And this is especially true for the Brotherhood. While yes, the Brotherhood have their darker moments – we haven’t even gotten into the use of torture, revolutionary tribunals, and summary execution – they also, as this chapter demonstrate, also have their more idealistic side. So when in Season 3 the Brotherhood immediately jump to selling Gendry to Melisandre (their version of the twist here) without really explaining who the Brotherhood are, what they stand for, and showing them actually walking the walk, they come off as essentially pre-corrupted. This makes for a huge mood whiplash when Lem murders Septon Meribald in Season 6, then Beric shows up as a good guy and, if the trailers are to be believed, goes up to Beyond-the-Wall to fight the Others.

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108 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya III, ASOS

  1. Haplo-6 says:

    Say Steven, I’ve been meaning to ask, are you and SomethingLikeALawyer (and his cat) going to do post-show breakdowns again?

  2. fjallstrom says:

    Excellent as always.

    On the guerilla kidnappings I think we have a closer modern parallels in various movements that kidnaps for money in the various war zones around the world. In particular I come to think about the quite professional way that Somali pirates kidnapped people passing by. With their mix of guerillas against the Ethiopian invasion (with US support) and unemployed fishermen because of the pillaging of Somali waters when they lacked a coastguard (waters also possibly contaminated by dumped trash from Italian mob) they were a combination of guerillas, religious extremists, social reaction and common banditry.

    Rote Armee Fraktion and similar movements wanted to be guerillas but never really reached critical mass for that.

  3. fjallstrom says:

    I’ve got a what if.

    What if Harryn had gone with Arya to Riverrun? Sure, it’s a bit out of character (and I know you don’t do OOC what ifs, but that doesn’t stop us commenters) from what we see, but he has got to be conflicted about it. Previous loyalty conflicting with current and all that. The difference from Arya going alone is that Harryn is a grown man, has seen the Bolton cruelties (and as a Northerner know to separate wolf from wolf) and will have some time with nothing to do but debrief Arya.

    With his predisposition against the Boltons from his second loyalty, forming Arya’s bits and pieces into a narrative of King Robb’s bad advisor Bolton would for him help square his loyalties while presenting a case against Bolton.

    From there on, I’ll quote Steven Xue from last Arya chapter.

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

    • The thing with debriefing Arya is that Arya is rather notoriously bad at explaining things that happened (see Arya III of AGOT).

      • Keith B says:

        In her defense, she was under a lot of pressure, barely understood anything she heard, and her father had already dismissed her story and wasn’t interested in probing her for details. I’m sure she would have remembered a lot more if Ned had been patient enough to get it out of her. I’d have trouble explaining things myself under those conditions, and I’m older than nine.

  4. Murc says:

    As I’ll discuss in this chapter and Arya IV and V, GRRM probably could have slimmed this section of the narrative down…except that the overarching plot requires that Arya can’t get to the Twins before Robb and Cately,, so she has to spin her wheels a little. Then again, there’s worse ways to pass the time.

    I see these Arya chapters as serving to an extent as the precursors to the Brienne chapters in AFFC; part of the point is Arya traveling around the Riverlands so we can get to know the setting itself as a character.

    It isn’t an exact parallel, of course, but I definitely think that’s a big part of what’s going on here. Arya’s journey in ASOS is all about the Riverlands and the people in it, the war there at ground level.

    I might be reading into things, but I detect a bit of narrative frustration in them as well; Arya needs to go to a bunch of different places (travel time!) but not spend a huge amount of time there, while other stuff is happening at the same time, but with important and logical scene-breaks at the end of each one. This means, structurally, she gets a lot of little chapters that aren’t very filling on their own as opposed to the meatier chapters she can be given later on, where weeks or months pass with the camera trained on her and a lots of stuff happens in sequence.

    Could just be me, tho.

    This is clearly what we could call the cover story for what happened at the Battle of the Mummer’s Ford, the version that the initiates of R’hllor’s first Westerosi mystery cult can share with the initiation

    I don’t mean to be a nitpicker of this sort, Steven, I really don’t… but I think you mean “with the uninitiated” here, yes? I only point this out because you do it twice, I think; later on when you say “whether Harwin is one of those members of the Brotherhood who remains in denial about Beric’s resurrection or whether he’s simply holding back in front of a believer,” I think you mean unbeliever.

    To begin with, this is where we first learn what Tywin’s plan was when he began the War of Five Kings

    Well, we learn what Harwin, a low-level soldier not privy to the counsels of the mighty, thinks was Lord Tywin’s plan.

    That said, the logic is super sound, and I think narratively the clear intention here is that Harwin is correct and is relating this information to us, the readers, accurately.

    It’s a very, very high-risk plan on Tywin’s part, isn’t it? I mean, yes, it has a chance of working; you capture Ned, and then you go “okay, the Starks took one of mine, and I took one of theirs. Why don’t we all calm the fuck down and work this shit out, okay?” That… could have happened. (I’m assuming Tywin has no good reason to think Robert is about to die.)

    It also has a super high chance of going tits-up and turning the Lannisters into a traitor house surrounded on all sides by enemies. If Eddard dies in battle instead of being captured, House Lannister has to contend with the entire Baratheon coalition plus also probably the Dornish and maybe even the Iron Islands. That wouldn’t go well for them.

    Tywin Lannister appears to go right from zero to eleven when someone strikes at his family directly, even family members he doesn’t particularly like. The man’s psychological damage with regard to the Lannister name being mocked or disrespected or laughed at can’t really be overstated, can it?

    Only then we heard that Robert was dead, and Lord Eddard as well, and Cersei Lannister’s whelp had ascended the Iron Throne.”

    Man, you know… Cersei really did a bad job of making anyone like her son, didn’t she?

    To an extent that’s Joffrey’s fault, because of, you know, the sociopathy. But… well, Robert was a popular, well-beloved monarch. It seems like with only a minimum of effort Joffrey would draw some support from people who are all “well, I loved Robert, so I’m going to support his kid as well.” But almost nobody, from the lowest to the highest, perceives Joffrey as a Baratheon; as Arya noted when she cracked open The Case of the Incest Twins for her father, he’s universally perceived as a lion, not a stag. The people who like stags go Renly or Stannis or “let’s wait and see.” None of them go “Joffrey Baratheon, he’s my guy.”

    You almost have to wonder if people could just sense on some level what was really going on even if they didn’t know consciously.

    (incidentally, I wonder to what extent Harwin’s description of Beric as “stronger than before” refers to a simple recovery from his deathbed or whether R’hlloric resurrection gives the same inhuman strength that wights display?)

    I think it has to be the latter… but in a subtle way.

    The only time we actually see Dondarrion throw down is in his fight with the Hound. Sandor Clegane is a huge, powerful man who knows how to leverage said size and power to his advantage in a fight. He’s not the Mountain but he’s still a big dude.

    Dondarrion, on the other hand, looks like a corpse that’s walking, all hollow ribs and sunken cheeks. And yet, he holds his own, repeatedly driving Clegane back and proving his equivalent in strength and speed and determination. He doesn’t dominate, he doesn’t do the classic super-strength move of “I backhand you and you fly thirty feet into a well” thing, but he’s clearly stronger and more vital than someone who looks like a dead man should be.

    It just isn’t obviously supernatural because being stronger and more vital than a dead man simply brings you up to the level of “normally strong dude.”

    we can see how Beric kept his forces together and transformed them into the Brotherhood Without Banners – with ideology!

    And RIBOFLAVIN.

    Unlike in so many cases where guerrilla movements plunder indiscriminately from the civilian population, using the rhetoric of sacrificng for the revolution to justify expropriation, while offering little in return, the Brotherhood actually reciprocate.

    Well. They do now.

    The Brotherhood are still in the early phase of their revolution. There hasn’t been a schism yet, and they’re still largely controlled by the charismatic founders who put adherence to their moral codes above almost all else.

    A lot of revolutions start that way… and then at some point they go sideways as the inevitable moral compromises of fighting an insurgency and balancing needs accumulate on top of them, and as they attract people who might be more interested in burning shit down or making themselves powerful rather than the cause itself to them.

    Beric Dondarrion has bits of Simon Toyne and Oswyn Longneck, especially post-aquisition of the cursed Hound helmet

    … eh?

    Steven, you’re more likely to be right than I am, but… doesn’t the Hound helm not come into the possession of the Brotherhood until long after Beric is dead for reals?

    It stays with Sandor. Elder Brother leaves it on his “grave.” Rorge picks it up. Then Lem gets it after Brienne kills him.

    I hadn’t considered that the Hound helm was cursed. Because of course. Of course it is. That makes so much sense. God damn, this stuff has layers.

    If he won’t send me home maybe I’ll kill him too.

    Say what you will about Jaqen H’ghar, he had a pretty good idea of the kind of seed of violence that could grow and blossom inside of Arya Stark’s heart if it were carefully tended. A lot of these little clues are hard to find on a first reading.

    • David Hunt says:

      “Well, we learn what Harwin, a low-level soldier not privy to the counsels of the mighty, thinks was Lord Tywin’s plan.”

      Murc, I’m not sure how low-level Harwyn is anymore. He isn’t one of the more flamboyant members of the BwB with an obvious analogy to a Merry Man, but he is one of the core members who was there at the start. There were 40 of those guys then, and who knows how many of them have died.since then. He’s not part of Beric’s strategy sessions these days, but at the very beginning he was among the few and I strongly believe that all those people knew the score as to what Tywin had done to them. In short, he may not be one of Beric’s elite apostles, but he’s at least an apostles favorite cousin.

      • Murc says:

        but at the very beginning he was among the few and I strongly believe that all those people knew the score as to what Tywin had done to them.

        “What Tywin did to us” and “why he did it” are two very different things, are they not?

        Like, Harwin is specifically describing Tywin’s motivations and long-term plans here. “Tywin was doing what he did because he wanted Lord Eddard to come himself, and he was gonna capture him.”

        This is based on pure logic and speculation on his part. (Or maybe they captured someone and did some tickling of their own?) It’s almost certainly correct, but it involves Harwin needing to look at the facts that happened and deduce motivations and intent from them, as Harwin was probably not privy to Tywin’s war councils. He only thinks, he does not know. Therefore even if we, as readers, know that Harwin is likely to be correct, we should consider the words and their source before taking them as factual.

        His account of the facts (how Tywin surrounded them, how the Mountain killed a bunch of dudes, how they cut their way free) are things he was actually there for and saw and nothing we have any reason to doubt.

        • fjallstrom says:

          When they were down to forty, they probably discussed why the Lannisters attacked them with such force. And given that they were a diverse group in dire straits I think it is reasonable that they would pool what they knew. To the southern knights Harwin is a member of the Hands personal guard, plus since the North mostly doesn’t do knights his actual rank would probably be confusing. So I think he has access to what they know as a group and what intelligence they can piece together during their guerilla campaign.

          Still not high lord level of intelligence, but I think it is reasonably accurate. Plus the Doylist reasons.

    • Whoops. There are some errors there – the Hound helmet was supposed to be in a different sentence about Lem. Will fix!

    • Goodqueenaly also made the connection to Brienne in AFFC, that’s a good point.

      Re: Tywin’s plan. I lean more Doylist on this point; GRRM doesn’t bother to write that unless he wanted to do the backstory and exposition but not have those words come out of Tywin’s mouth, say in the Tyrion chapter of AGOT where they meet up.

      Good point re Dondarrion’s strength!

      • Murc says:

        Goodqueenaly also made the connection to Brienne in AFFC, that’s a good point

        That’s why she’s the Queen and I’m a mere villain.

    • Jim B says:

      “Tywin Lannister appears to go right from zero to eleven when someone strikes at his family directly, even family members he doesn’t particularly like. The man’s psychological damage with regard to the Lannister name being mocked or disrespected or laughed at can’t really be overstated, can it?”

      Yep. I think a lot of fandom looks at Tywin as being some cold-blooded Machiavellian schemer, but I think that’s not quite right. I think Tywin seethes with rage and resentment at the merest hint of a challenge to him or his family; it’s just that he’s capable of harnessing that rage and engaging in medium-term vengeance schemes as opposed to flying completely off the handle.

      If Tywin was proactively thinking of the long-term interests of his House, he would have taken a hell of a lot more interest in the upbringing of Joffrey and his siblings, instead of being surprised to discover that Joff is such a psychopath. What was his plan for the succession of House Lannister? Presumably he was hoping to disinherit Tyrion by some means — but then what? Jaime can’t inherit unless he gets some special dispensation from the king, and if the plan was to make Tommen or Myrcella the heir to Casterly Rock, you would think Tywin would have taken more of an interest in their upbringing. I suppose maybe the plan was to name Kevan his heir, but that’s a dicey proposition given the potential competing claims.

      Tywin probably should have remarried and had another son, just as Roose Bolton did. But his heart overruled his head there, with his loyalty to his dead wife outweighing the need for a heir.

      And of course, we also learn that Tywin doesn’t really have an objection to using prostitutes — he has an objection to being caught using prostitutes.

      • David Hunt says:

        Tywin’s plan for Casterly Rock was that he was going to get Jaime back as his legal heir. How he planned for that to happen is a mystery, but I don’t doubt it for a second. He jumped all over the precedent of Boris Blount’s dismissal to tell Jaime to quit, but I have no idea what (if anything) he had planned before that. If that hadn’t worked out and he thought he didn’t have much longer to live, I’m pretty certain that he’d have had Tyrion murdered and let the inhertitance pass through Kevan’s line that’s in a pre-Robert’s death world where Cercei being queen and simultaneously Lady of the Rock causes political complications. In ASOS, after Jaime has told him to sod off, he’s clearly planning to force Cercei to marry someone else and have that line inherit the Rock. He’d still have to murder Tyrion, but that’s a feature not a bug for Tywin.

        • Jim B says:

          I agree with all of that. Especially that getting Jaime back was Plan A,which is what I meant by “getting dispensation from the king” — presumably Robert would have had to consent to release Jaime from his vows. Which means Tywin ought to have been putting some time into making sure that Cersei has a good enough relationship with Robert to sweet-talk him into it, and (upon realizing that ain’t the case), developing his own relationship with Robert so that he can ask for the favor. I suppose Tywin might have been counting on Robert being eager to jump at the chance to solve his “Kingslayer problem,” but then we don’t get much evidence that Robert sees it as a problem, per his comment to Ned that “well, somebody had to kill Aerys….”

      • fjallstrom says:

        I think fandom gets the Machiavellian genius image from accepting Tywin’s projected image. Similar to the show writers accepting Renly’s projected image.

        You are quite right that attacking Ned in force is a bad plan. In particular since his son-in-law is the king and the court is crawling with Lannisters. There are options to invading your neighbours and Tywin hardly explores them. Likewise his plan for the war when he lucks into Robert dying is to defeat the other kingdoms one-on-one instead of trying to make peace to get Joffrey accepted as king by as many kingdoms as possible, as fast as possible. If it wasn’t for the author needing him to win so that he could be an effective antagonist (and he is a great antagonist), his odds of winning would be very low.

        Good point about the lack of family foresight. I think he never accepted the loss of Jaime and always assumed he would get him back. He has a hard time accepting losses.

        • Felix O'Kelly says:

          Yep, this is people getting the wrong insight. Like when they think LF is a genius who wants to be King and Ned and Robb and Sansa are idiots and Stannis is the stupid fanatic who everybody hates.

      • Crystal says:

        I think that Charles Dance’s charisma has really swayed some of the fandom Tywin-ward. Add me to the list of people who thoroughly enjoyed Dance’s portrayal, but I never really bought into the “almighty Tywin” idea, and Steven has completely disavowed me of that. 🙂

        Besides taking an interest in the upbringing of his grandchildren, you’d think Tywin would have trained Cersei better for queenship. While Sansa was terribly sheltered, naive, and ignorant of political realities, she was superbly trained in those “soft skills” that served queens so well. “If I am queen, I will make them love me.” Same with Margaery Tyrell, though she is not sheltered and naive.

        We never see Cersei sing, play music, dance, read books, embroider, endow charities – all of the things that medieval consorts were expected to do (except maybe reading, but many medieval queens were well-read patrons of literature). She manages to alienate just about everyone through her charmless, vindictive nature. Oh, and the incest. Which, I think, she and Jaime were more careless about than they thought they were being, and I’m sure quite a few people knew. Oh, and seducing and corrupting her cousin Lancel, which made Uncle Kevan very mad. (Kevan is not the Nice Guy some of fandom thinks he is, but he *is* a devoted family man who loves his wife and kids. Just as a father, Cersei’s actions wrt Lancel must have made him furious.) Cersei doesn’t give a toot about Duty and Honor, and Family is pretty limited to “Jaime and Kids.”

        • Jim B says:

          Good point re Charles Dance. And it’s not just that it’s a good performance, but specifically that Dance delivers a sort of steely-eyed quiet menace that leads one to think that Tywin is more disciplined than he is.

          Something that just occurred to me: isn’t Tywin is a lot like Littlefinger? They’re both highly sensitive to any slights, but they respond not by losing their temper and punching your face immediately, but by devoting the next six months or more to ruining your life, even at considerable risk to their own interests. And both benefit heavily from GRRM’s thumb being on the scale. (I also suspect that Littlefinger’s downfall will be because he’s overconfident that his “daughter” Sansa won’t betray him, much as Tywin’s downfall was due to his own children.)

          Of course, Tywin is the highborn lord who’s good at war and such, so he uses different tools than Littlefinger does.

  5. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Always a pleasure, Steve.
    1. “Beric Dondarrion has bits of Simon Toyne and Oswyn Longneck, especially post-aquisition of the cursed Hound helmet”
    I don’t understand this. Wasn’t Lem the one who adquired the Hound’s helmet?
    2. It’s funny how you’re dedicating an article to political kidnappings, since yesterday in Spain was the Miguel Ángel Blanco’s 20th death anniversary.

  6. Gonzalo says:

    I wonder how much it changes if Loras Tyrell had led the host and gotten resurrected by Thoros

    • Murc says:

      Assuming that Melisandre still kills Stannis? R’hllorite-on-R’hllorite violence is what happens.

      That said, I’m pretty sure that if the favorite son of House Tyrell is on the field rather than a Marcher lord from a distant and important-but-second-rank house, Tywin is very careful to take him captive rather than kill him.

      • Crystal says:

        Yes, if Tywin knew what was good for him (and you know Gregor Clegane was taking marching orders from Tywin and would obey) he’d take Loras alive and unharmed and a secure hostage. That way the Tyrells are dancing to his tune; kill Loras and Mace will come down on Tywin like a ton of bricks, and game over.

        • Abbey Battle says:

          This all assumes that Lord Tywin can actually CONTROL Sir Gregor when the latter is in the field: consider the case of Princess Elia for particularly tragic evidence that The Mountain is an effective, but by no means a particularly intelligent agent of the Lannister cause.

          • David Hunt says:

            That assumes that Gregor wasn’t doing exactly what Tywin told him to do. Elia had slighted House Lannister by marrying the future King that Tywin wanted for his golden daughter. And Tywin always goes straight to sexualized violence when he’s revenging his ego on a woman. Plus I’m of the firm opinion that Tywin knew exactly what he had in Gregor and what he’d do it left to his own devices. So I think he either just ordered Elia’s murder, knowing Gregor would do something horrible to her or (more likely) ordered Gregor to do exactly what he did.

            While you could argue that Tywin would have made sure to make his position more deniable by giving Gregor more open instructions and trusting Gregor to be Gregor, I’m struck by Tywin’s “loyalty” to Gregor in his utter unwillingness turn him over to the Dornsh and tying to blame everything on Lorch. I think Tywin wasn’t willing to let them have Gregor because he had given Gregor explicit instructions regarding Elia and the Mountain would have no reason to keep quiet if Tywin gave him up.

    • David Hunt says:

      I’m not sure it would have worked on Loras. My memory of Thoros’ tale of the event is that Thoros had formed a friendship is Beric on the road. If affection/love was part of the cocktail of ingredients that triggered Thoros’ power of resurrection…well, let’s just say that Loras is not the most endearing of individuals once you get past the most superficial veneer. Or to put it more indelicately, I think Thoros would have hated Loras’ guts and wouldn’t have bothered to give last rites to some twerp lordling.

      But if you want a real WTF scenario, Thoros doesn’t go with Beric at all. He’s with Robert when the boar gets him, because, of course he is. Robert dies on the spot instead of lingering and Thoros gives the Kiss to his old friend, the King. The whole of ASOIAF is then overturned. Even Dany’s actions are driven by her hearing of Robert’s death in ACOK.

  7. David Hunt says:

    Steven, As always, these analyses are a joy to read.

    When reading Harwyn’s tale that there were only two score of Beric’s forces left after the Mummer’s Ford, I had a weird connection form in my mind. It’s especially weird because I know nothing of the subject but the title and some Wikipedia info: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I now that in the Thousand and One Nights, the Thieves were murderous thugs, but my own introduction to them was from watch the 1944 movie about them on a Saturday afternoon as a child and they were freedom fighters in that movie. They were clearly an attempt to transplant Robin Hood and his Merry Men into a different exotic locale and cash in and the groundwork Errol Flynn et al had laid and cash in on it.

  8. Steven Xue says:

    Great essay, I especially enjoyed the parts pertaining to the Brotherhood. I can understand why with the breakdown of royal authority along with the rank abuses brought on by both sides of the war on the smallfolk, that many of the smallfolk would turn to the Brotherhood for protection in this time of chaos and upheaval. And while their commitment to justice and egalitarian philosophy has proven to be a huge draw to the smallfolk which has helped the Brotherhood in their cooperation and gaining new members. One thing I have always wondered is how and why worshipers of the Seven which includes Septons and Septas are willing to go along with them given their differences on religion? I mean even though unlike Mel’s little group, Thoros’s sect does practice religious tolerance, this can’t always be a two way street as I would have expected believers of the Seven (especially if they are Septons) would be somewhat weary of these outlaws who worship a foreign god which dabbles in the occult. And since now R’hllorism has taken root at least in the Riverlands, beyond the Wall and parts of the Crownlands and is growing more popular by the day, I am surprised the Faith’s hierarchy is tolerating all this. I thought by now the High Septon would be trying to discourage people from joining this new religion and at least be thinking about launching a religious crusade against them.

    • Thanks!

      That was a fascinating detail. I think it has to do with the Brotherhood’s defense of civilians – for example they help liberate a sept from Septon Utt.

    • Murc says:

      One thing I have always wondered is how and why worshipers of the Seven which includes Septons and Septas are willing to go along with them given their differences on religion?

      The Faith, at least in its book-era conception, has a strong thread of ecumenicism and toleration running through it. “The old gods and the new, we don’t cut down and desecrate weirwoods anymore,” sort of thing.

      This is prominently on display in one of the TWOW preview chapters, where Arianne remembers some conversations on the Stormlands her father was having with a septon, and that septon, and actual priest of the Faith of the Seven, is flat-out saying “the Stormlands are stormy because House Durrandon pissed off a god, not one of my gods a totally different one, and that gods wrath continues to this day.” And it isn’t implied this dude is a heretic or renegade of some sort.

      I imagine that the smallfolk are going to care more about how these outlaws treat them than what weird god they worship. Maybe some of them will be interested in this new god, in fact! Many smallfolks only encounter with the Faith will be through mendicant preachers such as Septon Meribald. Septon Meribald is a good man who has probably given good counsel and solace to many… but even if we assume all mendicants are like him, it means those people see a priest twice a year at most. And even if you live somewhere big enough for its own sept, well… that sept didn’t do much for you when war came.

      Some of them, of course, will be all “screw this heresy.” Others will become sparrows and re-dedicate themselves to the faith as Poor Fellows. But some are going to drift away.

      And since now R’hllorism has taken root at least in the Riverlands, beyond the Wall and parts of the Crownlands and is growing more popular by the day, I am surprised the Faith’s hierarchy is tolerating all this.

      The Faith’s hierarchy doesn’t know about the en masse wildling conversion (and the North is outside their remit anyway; they worship the old gods up there) and so far R’hllorism in the Riverlands and Crownlands is very small. It is growing, slowly, but as far as the hierarchy know its confined to the Brotherhood, who appear to be a largely spent force as the Riverlands are slowly brought back under royal control and the peace of the king.

      Now, if word gets back to King’s Landing that there are nightfires and shadowy cultists skulking around out there, not just in the tattered remnants of the BWB but having taken root among the smallfolk, I imagine the High Septon would be all “crusade time.” But for now they just don’t know.

      • I think it’s true that there are some elements of the Faith that are ecumenical and others that are not – after all, Northmen are referred to quite frequently as “savages who worship trees,” and various High Septons have referred to Stannis as having turned from the gods and the Sparrows call R’hllorism “demon worship.”

  9. Keith B says:

    “We bring him all our highborn captives,” said Anguy.

    She didn’t like that word “captive”. She’d already been there and done that.

    At the beginning of AGOT, we learn that she can do two things well (or at least better than Sansa): riding and bookkeeping. This chapter is the one and only time in the books that we get to see her riding ability. We’ve yet to see her do any bookkeeping. If the author brings it up, he ought to do something with it.

    Also, when Harwin praises her riding ability, he says, “Your aunt was the same. Lady Lyanna.” But how did he know that? He would have been a very young child when she died. He might have heard it from his father, but he says it as if it were his own experience.

    By the way, “she’s still an eleven-year old” — I think she’s still ten at this point.

    • Grant says:

      His father handled the horses, he’d be among the ones to know about their riders.

      • Keith B says:

        I know. Hullen would certainly have been able to judge. I just think it’s odd that Harwin doesn’t say he heard it from his father, he says it as if he’d actually seen her ride when he was old enough to tell how skilled she was.

        • David Hunt says:

          I don’t recall getting any indicators of Harwin’s age other than he was a soldier at Winterfell and his father was still active. If Hullen married young he could be a vital man in his of fifty or even a little younger and Harwin could be a man of thirty or tad less and still have vivid memories of Lyanna. She disappeared about 17 years prior and Harwin obviously knows horses and riders. He would have known that as a teenager and even younger. He didn’t need Hullen to know that.

        • Grant says:

          I was speaking about Harwin. Children can observe, especially since their fathers are drilling instructions about the topic into their heads.

          If this woman is doing everything that you’re supposed to do, maybe even pulling off stunts other riders can’t, he could easily remember.

    • Andrew says:

      I imagine Arya will end up interning in the Iron Bank somehow. It would make use of her talents (and let her home her ability for politics and governance…. I am beginning to believe she will be queen of the Trident when all is said and done) and give us a nifty glimpse at Braavosi politics.

    • Murc says:

      We’ve yet to see her do any bookkeeping. If the author brings it up, he ought to do something with it.

      I want to hesitantly say that that line may have been less about Arya and more about Sansa?

      As in, it isn’t a Chekov’s gun lying around just waiting for Arya to add up some columns of numbers, it was brought out to demonstrate “Arya would be a terrible lady-in-waiting or courtier, but is the one who is practical and good with money and can balance a ledger, whereas Sansa is all about the courtly graces but is maybe not well equipped to figure out how much grain they’ll need to store for the winter.”

      Also, when Harwin praises her riding ability, he says, “Your aunt was the same. Lady Lyanna.” But how did he know that? He would have been a very young child when she died.

      Not necessarily?

      I mean, let’s say that Harwin is thirty and his father was in his mid-fifties. That would make Harwin… two to three years younger than Lyanna. Why wouldn’t he remember her horsemanship, if he was basically her peer?

      Something I think it is important to keep in mind is just how young all these people are. Stannis Baratheon is in his mid-thirties. Eddard Stark wasn’t even forty when he died. During his confrontation with Jaime Lannister in the throne room at the end of Robert’s Rebellion, if they were in the real world, Eddard would not have been old enough to drink and Jaime would not have yet graduated high school. And Lyanna was younger than Eddard.

      So I would submit that Harwin is simply in his late twenties to early thirties and, thus, remembers Lyanna Stark perfectly well.

      • Sean C. says:

        I remember when I read that Arya line about the girls’ differing talents and thinking, in retrospect, the talk about Sansa’s writing and musical ability feels really weird, because as far as I can recall she never thinks about those things. Like, when she sees musicians, she never evaluates their playing ability, etc. as a fellow musician might; we’re told she composes poetry, but she never displays any inclination toward artistry (she could, at this point, surely produce Westeros’ first emo poetry collection based on all her experiences)..

        • Sansa does very much enjoy the harp lessons she (finally) gets when Margaery’s entourage comes to King’s Landing. And yeah, she judges musicians, for example at Joffrey’s wedding and Marillion’s tragic songs in the sky cells.

          • Sean C. says:

            She does think about the music, but what I meant is that I don’t see much of anything in those thoughts that mark her as a musician. Granted, this may be because GRRM himself doesn’t play an instrument and so can’t really model that.

            But beyond that, we never get the sense that Sansa is the sort to strum on the harp to pass the time or whatever, which is the trait I’d associate with a musician. She’s characterized more as a fan of songs than somebody who plays them.

          • There’s a difference between a musician and a highborn maiden with musical ability though? Training, some talent, appreciation, but not aptitude or desire to go out and do it yourself. Note all the professional singers in Westeros seem to be lowborn or foreigners, too. Even Elaena Targaryen’s third husband, Michael Manwoody, played the harp for her (and she loved it so much she had his effigy carved holding one), but he wasn’t a professional musician, he was a knight. For the highborn, it’s probably something just not done.

          • Steven Xue says:

            I suppose the fact that Martin himself isn’t so musically inclined might be the reason why Sansa despite having an interest in music isn’t very talented in playing an instrument. Its my opinion that Sansa is more of a fan of music and poetry and art rather than having any actual desire to do these things as a pass time. Her interest in music is no different to opera or heavy metal fans who find it more pleasurable to listen to these types of music rather than produce it themselves. If Sansa really did show an interest to learn how to play the harp, I’m pretty sure Ned would have found her an instructor just like he did for Arya. If Roose would let his son learn how to play the harp, why wouldn’t Ned?

        • Also if her thoughts about the Unkiss (“She could still remember how it felt, when his cruel mouth pressed down on her own. He had come to Sansa in the darkness as green fire filled the sky. He took a song and a kiss, and left me nothing but a bloody cloak.”) aren’t emo poetry (or fanfic), I don’t know what is. 😉

      • Keith B says:

        I was being a bit snarky about the bookkeeping. GRRM apparently put it in as a roundabout way of saying “She’s really smart. She can add and subtract.” But if you think an author should show and not tell, just tossing the remark out and not doing anything with it doesn’t contribute much. I do like the idea of her interning with the Iron Bank, eventually becoming its CEO, and effectively ruling the world.

        As for Harwin, see nobodysuspectsthebutterfly below and my response. The latest Harwin could have seen Lyanna was when he was eight.

      • Ned was about 35 when he died.

    • Harwin says he was Arya’s age (10-ish) when he first heard the gossip about Ned and Ashara, which per Catelyn was only talked about by the servants in her first year at Winterfell. Which means Harwin’s in his mid-20s now, and was certainly old enough at the time (7-8 or so) to remember Lyanna.

      • Keith B says:

        You beat me to it. Yes, we can pin this down because Lyanna disappeared in 282 AC and Ned couldn’t have returned to Winterfell with Jon until about two years later. Harwin says he heard the story “once” because as soon as Ned heard that rumors were going around, he told everyone to shut up about Ashara Dayne. So Harwin was born in 274 AC, the oldest he could have been when he last saw Lyanna was eight, and he’s 25 at the time of Arya III. Dates are approximate, but close enough.

        I’m skeptical that at age eight he would have been so impressed by Lyanna’s horsemanship that he would have thought to mention it 17 years later. That’s just judging by myself. If you want to believe he was talking about his own recollection, I won’t argue.

        • Hedrigal says:

          His father is the master of Winterfells stables, from an early age horses and horsemanship is going to be something that is constantly drilled into his head, discussed, and explained. Lyanna’s talents were from all accounts exceptional, and even if genuinely she disappeared too early for her to have left a strong impression on him personally, it would still likely be brought up enough for it to stick in the mind. All it would take is his father bringing her up as “the greatest woman rider he’d ever seen” a handful of times for that impression to stick, and for him to bring it up to Arya.

    • Lyanna disappeared some 15 years ago. If Harwin is in his 20s, he’s old enough to remember her well. I have memories from when I was 2 years and 2-3 months old. There’s no reason why a child of 7 or 8, let alone 10, would be able to remember a person very well.

      • Jim B says:

        I’m assuming you meant “no reason . . . would NOT be able to remember.”

        It’s also not like Harwin is recalling some in-depth detail. I would suspect that everyone in a lord’s household, from children through Old Nan, knows at least a thumbnail description of every member of the ruling family. At the start of the books, every kid in Winterfell probably could tell you that Sansa is the pretty, well-behaved daughter, Arya is the tomboy, Bran likes to climb, etc. They’re the “royal” family — everyone gossips about them.

        “Lyanna is a good horse rider” is some pretty basic information that probably everyone in Winterfell in that time period knew, even if they weren’t the son of the Master of Horse.

    • Depends on when her birthday is in 299.

  10. poorquentyn says:

    Great work! You always manage to bring to life chapters that didn’t interest me much; I agree that there’s some palpable wheel-spinning going on with Arya at this point, just as with her early ACOK chapters. For me, Brienne’s quest in AFFC and Quent’s in ADWD work much better in this regard because there’s that edge of genre deconstruction and because they’re actually making the decisions that drive their journey, whereas at this point Arya’s mostly along for the ride. Still, as Murc said, these chapters are about in large part getting us in tune with the Riverlands, and as you said, with the Brotherhood as well.

    • Murc says:

      You’re very kind, Quentyn.

      I think that ASOS is where Martin started getting really, really good at developing the setting as a character, about drawing us into the world and its environment.

      This is not to say he was ever bad at it. We get an excellent sense of King’s Landing, of Winterfell in the first two books, and especially of the lands beyond the wall. But I think that ASOS is where he really came into his own with it, with Jaime, Brienne, and Arya in the Riverlands.

      He only got better in FFC (Crackclaw Point) and ADWD (Volantis, the Rhoyne, Winterfell under the Boltons), and, if the Arianne-in-the-Rainwood preview chapter is any indication, he’s still at the top of his game in this regard.

      (I am an enormous sucker for scenery and setting porn. ENORMOUS sucker.)

      • poorquentyn says:

        Agreed! You see flashes of it in book one (I’m thinking the Vale especially), but as he’s gotten more and more comfortable with this world, his lens on it has only gotten richer.

        • Felix O'Kelly says:

          Oldstone is another good part of setting the scenery. And I hope we’ll eventually see the Westerlands.

  11. Andrew says:

    1. Jaime wounding Ned isn’t the first time he unintentionally messed up his father’s strategy. Being impatient and chasing outriders and falling into Robb’s trap, resulting in his army being annihilated and the siege of Riverrun being broken created the biggest setback for his family in the war. Tyeion, OTOH, came up with and implemented the idea to negotiate a marriage alliance with the Tyrells and the winch chain, ultimately ended up saving his family and his father’s aims. Ironically, the son Tywin favored kept giving him headaches while the one he despised ended up giving him successes.

    2. “I wish I had a good mean dog,” said Arya wistfully. “A lion-killing dog.”

    Don’t worry, the author will find you a nice, big hound. 😉

    • David Hunt says:

      Yeah, and there was that whole, accept a post in the Kingsguard so that I can schtup my sister, thus depriving my father of his chosen heir and making the person he hates most in the world next in line.

    • Andrew says:

      Y’know she also wished for a flaming sword.

      I wonder what would happen if someone stabbed Lady Stoneheart with a sword…. Your own mother (undead as she is) could count as a Nissa Nissa.

    • 1. It is the first time, chronologically speaking.

      2. Good point.

  12. Anders Bloomquist says:

    I dreamed I saw Dondarrion last night
    Alive as you or me
    Lord Beric, I said, you’re six times dead
    I’m back again says he
    I’m back again says he

    • Felix O'Kelly says:

      Not bad at all.

    • Hedrigal says:

      Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
      Glory, glory, hallelujah! his soul’s marching on!
      He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord! (3×)
      His soul’s marching on!
      (Chorus)
      Berrick’s knapsack is strapped upon his back! (3×)
      His soul’s marching on!
      (Chorus)
      His pet sheep will meet him on the way; (3×)
      They go marching on!
      (Chorus)
      They will hang Clegane to a sour apple tree! (3×)
      As they march along!
      (Chorus)
      Now, three rousing cheers for the Brotherhood; (3×)
      As we are marching on!

  13. artihcus022 says:

    It sort of gets lost when discussing the highwayman and outlaw myth is that it has historically been fairly counter-revolutionary. The fact that Robin Hood was never deemed threatening by the English doxa is proof of that.

    Like during the French Revolution you had the Chouannerie Rebellion, led by Jean Cottereau or Jean Chouan, who had the whole living in the forests and opposing the “Republic” concept, and he was a suspected murderer before the Revolution but later made into a royalist hero during the Restoration and the myths about the Chouans drew a lot on Robin Hood. The more familiar American example is Frank and Jesse James who became Confederate anti-reconstruction heroes. Eric Hobsbawm missed that when he wrote about Primitive Rebels and branded Jesse James a “social bandit”, which was largely an attempt by him to co-opt the concept for the Left, which unfortunately risks sanitizing James.

    Attempts by the Left to co-opt the outlaw myth and mystique…so you had many gangster and crime movies which made Gangsters into Tragic Heroes as per Robert Warshow. Mao Zedong drew on OUTLAWS ON THE MARSH for inspiration during The Thirties.

    I personally think seeing the Brotherhood mainly in the lens of Robin Hood kind of limits their originality. Because they really don’t rob from the rich and give to the poor, and their main focus and priority isn’t social justice but justice in the abstract. There’s a kind of meritocracy there but not any class tensions (so Gendry is a high-ranking BWB member and partisan, even potentially a Rhillor fanatic by the time of AFFC).

  14. I’m glad that GRRM did not slim down Arya’s chapters about her time with the BwB, since those are some of my favorite ASOS chapters. But we’ll talk more about that in the upcoming chapters.

  15. thatrabidpotato says:

    For some reason I got this chapter and Arya 2 mixed up; I had to go back and read the earlier one to clear things up.
    The thing about Arya’s time with the BwB, and really most of her storyline in Storm outside of the Red Wedding, is that it’s practically a walk in the park and a vacation compared to her time in Clash. She spends most all of the novel in the company of people who either care for her or at least don’t want to see her harmed, she isn’t doing slave labor anymore, she’s being fed on the regular.
    Yet the Red Wedding blots all of that out and ensures that by the time the book ends she’s worse off mentally than she was immediately after Harrenhal.

  16. Ryan S. says:

    Robert Baratheon would not go to war against Tywin for capturing Ned Stark, Hand of the King or no. He would order both Houses to trade their captives and be done with it, because he absolutely does not want to get dragged into a Lannister-Stark conflict. KILLING Ned is another story of course, but nothing in Robert’s behavior up to that point suggests he would be willing to fight his wife’s family for the reasons you describe, or that he considered an attack on his Hand to be an attack on himself. He brushed off Jaime’s attack, but he will brand Tywin an outlaw for doing basically the same thing? Not buying it, especially if Ned was captured in Lannister territory.

    Robert isn’t Stannis; he won’t attack his own allies just to uphold the letter of the law, especially after learning about Dany and Drogo.

    This contrarian view you espouse – that Ned was actually a great strategist while Tywin was an overrated fool ruled who succeeded only through luck – just doesn’t hold up. It flies in the face of everything we read in the text, where it Tywin is indeed a superb machiavellian politician and an excellent military commander. Finding Shae in his bed doesn’t negate his strategic acumen.

    • Grant says:

      Tywin decided to invade the Riverlands with absolutely no reason to think it was necessary and gave Ned an easy chance to put him on the wrong side of the king’s law.

      Tywin openly attacked a king’s banner. Not Ned Stark’s banner. A king’s. His king’s, to be precise. That’s openly treason and if he had Ned Stark prisoner, that means that sooner or later the truth would come out since Ned has to be traded sooner or later.

      Tywin was completely fooled by Robb’s gambit at the river and only avoided being dragged through the Westerlands while Stannis took KL by chance

      He only got Robb killed because Roose and Walder were eager to switch sides and Roose had been double-crossing Robb from the moment he had autonomous command.

      Tywin’s hardly incompetent, but the man isn’t a genius of warfare.

    • David Hunt says:

      As Ryan S.above mentioned, attacking a force under the King’s banner is open treason and based on what we know Tywin himself was there and ordered it. This is not Jaime (no longer heir to the Rock since he’s Kingsguard) attacking the Lord of Winterfell (Ned had resigned the Handship). This is the Warden of the West attacking the King’s forces. Robert cannot let that stand and remain king. Add on the fact that Robert doesn’t seem to really felt alive since the Greyjoy Rebellion and that he’s been feeling his oats since Ned came South and I don’t see how he’s going to just let this slide. The Starks and the Lannisters fighting each other is entirely different from one of them attacking the King.

      This is not to say the Tywin is doomed to be executed if Robert doesn’t die. Settign aside the various conspiracies against him in KL, assuming Tywin eventually bends to knee, I’d guess that he’d keep the Rock, but lose some land somewhere. More importantly from Tywin’s perspective, all those Lannister apointment in the King’s Landing that Cercei has managed over the years will disappear and I’d be shocked if Robert didn’t take the opportunity to cancel out the Crown’s debt to House Lannister as recompense…and that might hurt Tywin more than being seen as weak after Robert kicked his ass.

      • Felix O'Kelly says:

        It would really hurt Lannister prestige. For all this idea of a cold and calculating man Tywin does engage in needlessly violent actions without thinking through the long-term implications. He’s more like the twins then he first appears.

      • David Hunt says:

        Arrrgh. The first sentence above should have read “As Grant above mentioned.” This was meant to be a reply to Ryan S. regarding Robert and his response to Tywin attacking Berec’s force.

    • Keith B says:

      It’s an unpopular opinion around here, but I agree with you. Nobody in the books thinks Tywin made a boneheaded move by attacking the Riverlands. Villanous, sure. A war crime, definitely. But not stupid.

      Tywin began by sending Gregor and his men without banners or other identification, thus maintaining deniability. When Beric Dondarrion came to arrest Gregor, Tywin used only Gregor’s vanguard to destroy his forces, keeping the main body back until Beric’s forces were had scattered. It’s not entirely clear when Tywin learned that Robert had died, but by the time his army had reached the Inn at the Crossroads he knew it. By that time there was no longer any possibility that he would be accused of treason. At any time until Robert died, Tywin could claim that the attackers were bandits and not his men, or if that failed he could claim that it was Gregor acting alone and Tywin himself had nothing to do with it.

      It would have worked, because Tywin had already defeated Ned before he was even named Hand of the King. The Royal Court was stuffed with Lannisters. Pycelle was already arguing against taking any action against Gregor. Robert’s squires were Lannisters, all of his guards were Lannisters, four of the Kingsguard were either from the Westerlands (Jaime, Preston) or sympathizers (Boros, Meryn). Pycelle on the Small Council was a toady, Littlefinger was corrupt, Stannis was absent.

      Tywin completely understood Robert, as Ned did not, even though he had grown up with him. Robert may have liked battle, but he didn’t like fighting with his wife or his court, and if he had thought to take action against Tywin they would have hounded him unmercifully until he gave in. So even though everyone knew Tywin was behind the attacks, he could have denied it successfully as long as he acted through a catspaw. It’s not enough to know or believe that Tywin was a traitor. You need to prove it, and the standard of proof is whatever Robert will accept. Cersei, Pycelle and the others would have made sure that standard was so high that no evidence would be sufficient.

      It was Tywin’s good fortune that Ned Stark was his adversary. Far from outmaneuvering Tywin, Ned almost guaranteed his own defeat. He had good reason to believe that Cersei had killed his predecessor, he had direct evidence that she was malicious and dangerous, and he observed that the court was full of Lannisters and that they had far too much influence. Yet he did nothing to get out of the hole that Tywin, acting through Cersei, had put him in. When he sent out Beric to arrest Gregor, he provided a force that was far too small for the purpose. That’s one of at least three times Ned provided an insufficient force to accomplish his goal, so it seems that he was incapable of learning from experience.

      Tywin had a forty year record of success in political and military affairs, and when he chose ruthlessness, it had never failed for him. He wiped out the Reynes and the Tarbecks, he took King’s Landing by perfidy during Robert’s Rebellion, he had his men murder Elia and her children, he committed atrocities in the Riverlands, he bribed the Freys, Boltons, and Spicers to betray Robb, he freely used lies and dirty tricks at every turn, and he had always been rewarded. Sending Gregor to attack the Riverlands worked. Not in the way he had originally anticipated, but all the same he won. Just like all the other times. It’s a mistake to assume that it was just a lucky accident that events broke his way. It’s a lot more reasonable to think that he would have found a way to win, come what may.

      Every character in the book who has an opinion regards Tywin as the Grand Master, including people as varied as Tyrion, Big Walder Frey, Balon Greyjoy, Davos Seaworth, and Jon Connington. It didn’t matter who else you defeated if you hadn’t beaten Tywin. With Tywin against you, your chances were slim; once he was gone, in the opinion of all his enemies, your odds of success went way up.

      I’ve seen complaints that many readers have the impression that to win the Game of Thrones, at least in Westeros, you have to be a ruthless monster without a conscience, just like Tywin. But GRRM has done his part to create that impression. Because Tywin never lost in any political or military endeavor. He was murdered by his son because he was a horrible father, not as a consequence of any of the political or military evils he committed. I think it would have been an interesting story to see if someone (Stannis, Daenerys, Varys, Littlefinger, Euron?) could bring him down. That’s not the story GRRM wanted to tell; fine. But by having him die unbeaten, GRRM, along with all the shrewdest characters in his books, has effectively declared him unbeatable.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        I think that you are overstating the case in Lord Tywin’s favour; he was undoubtedly a dangerously capable opponent, but he was simultaneously a man who benefitted from some truly astonishing strokes of Luck – as Maester Steven has pointed out at some length and in considerable detail.

        If nothing else his decision to trigger the War of the Five Kings without a single ally to his name amongst the other Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms was reckless in the extreme and on the face of it ABSOLUTELY INSANE: quite bluntly if Lord Tywin’s hold over King Robert were as strong as you claim it to be he could simply dispatch a petition to Kings Landing asking for the return of his second son, the Kings own brother-in-law, and expect that either “The Imp” would be delivered safe & sound or those who laid violent hands on him would be subjected to censure & punishment.

        Instead Lord Tywin effectively declares War on the rest of the Seven Kingdoms without any serious hope of a lasting Victory even if he beats his opponents in the field: either King Robert will thoroughly resent the disrespect for the King’s Peace, HIS Peace (not to mention the inherent insult to his manhood, equivalent to saying “You cannot protect me and you cannot stop me if I protect myself”) OR King Robert will see his reputation crash in flames as he effectively makes himself a second Aenys or Aerys the First (a king who fiddles while his realm burns) destroying respect for the King on the Iron Throne all over again – placing Lord Tywin’s grandson(s) in a most invidious position when he comes into his Crown.

        Quite bluntly I disagree that Lord Tywin was unbeatable – it would be more accurate to say that he was lucky enough to survive his defeats and clever enough to win back much of what he had lost (though by no means ALL, for example he never won back his Golden Heir), right up until he died and left only a poisonous legacy that continues to threaten the very existence of his House.

      • Jim B says:

        “Every character in the book who has an opinion regards Tywin as the Grand Master, including people as varied as Tyrion, Big Walder Frey, Balon Greyjoy, Davos Seaworth, and Jon Connington. It didn’t matter who else you defeated if you hadn’t beaten Tywin. With Tywin against you, your chances were slim; once he was gone, in the opinion of all his enemies, your odds of success went way up.”

        Really? Everyone in the books regards Tywin as the best commander? I’m pretty sure that at various times, characters comment on the skills of Robert, Ned, Stannis, Robb, the Blackfish, and Randyl Tarly, to name just a few.

        I’d be interested to see the specifics of the opinions you reference, and see them in context.

        Tyrion, as much as he hates his father, also reveres him, so he’s hardly an unbiased source. Big Walder Frey’s opinion isn’t worth much. Balon Greyjoy is just trying to justify his stupid decision to attack the North, pretending that it’s motivated by something other than spite against the Starks for helping squash his last rebellion and taking his son hostage.

        Davos and Jon C I take seriously, but for the most part, Tywin leads their only relevant opposing force, so of course he’s the one they fear and think about. Davos never has occasion to consider Ned or Robb Stark as his enemy, Stannis is his own leader (and I don’t think we ever hear Davos think that Tywin is a better leader than Stannis). I’ll assume that Davos saw Tywin as a more dangerous opponent than Renly, but that’s not saying a lot.

        Ditto for Jon C — by the time we meet him, a lot of the other top leaders are dead, Stannis is stranded at the Wall with a diminished force, and the Lannisters are consolidating their control of Westeros. Of course Jon is relieved that Tywin is dead, because (1) Tywin was a bigger threat than the likely alternatives of the solid but unexceptional Kevan, and the empty suit of armor that is Mace Tyrell; and (2) it leaves a leadership vaccuum and struggle for power among the Lannister-Tyrell alliance.

        How you go from characters acknowledging the banal truth that “Tywin is more dangerous than Renly or Mace” to “Tywin is nigh-unbeatable” is beyond me.

        Also, you’re invoking an odd double standard. As far as I know, there is not a single example of Tywin pulling off a military victory where he didn’t already have the odds in his favor. So in order to declare Tywin the #1 badass in Westeros, you have to rely on his scheming and letter-writing and underhandedness and willingness to violate norms. Ok, fine, maybe that’s appropriate to take into account — after all, dead is dead, whether on the battlefield or slaughtered at a wedding. But if it’s fair to take non-military factors into account, then why does Tywin’s complete incompetence to manage his own House get hand-waved away? It’s not just that dies as a result of shaming and rejecting and taunting Tyrion, even when he’s got a crossbow pointed at him. It’s the entire series of events that gets put in motion because he couldn’t be bothered to monitor what his children were up to: Cersei and Jaime bring more disgrace to House Lannister than all of Tytos’ weakness and Tyrion’s whoring put together, and Cersei is allowed to raise such a sociopath that the Tyrells feel compelled to murder him and use Tyrion as a fall guy (another Lannister disgrace that happens right under Tywin’s nose).

        In other words: why is Tywin a genius badass for killing Robb Stark with a couple of strategically-written letters, but getting himself killed because he continued to provoke his already angry and desperate son is just bad luck?

        • Ryan.S says:

          Keith listed a staggering number of characters who explicitly state their respect and fear of Tywin, people from all different factions who would agree on very little else.
          And you respond by dismissing these characters as unreliable SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY RESPECT TYWIN lol. Arguments like “well Balon is dumb because he chose not to attack Tywin, therefore anything he says about Tywin is dumb.” It’s almost impressive how circular that reasoning is. Almost as good as theargument that Tyrion’s opinion of Tywin can’t be trusted (unless it’s bad, of course) because “he reveres Tywin.”

          You’re twisting yourself in knots trying to argue against what GRRM has written. This blog’s understanding of Tywin is not particularly sophisticated, its actually the major weak spot. Ditto for Renly and Stannis.

        • Keith B says:

          I think you can find the references yourself. The Balon reference is from one of the early Theon chapters in ACOK, where he gives Tywin as one of the reasons he thinks the North is an easier target. Big Walder is from one of the Bran chapters in ACOK, after Oxcross. Davos hears about Tywin’s death when he’s on the Sisters, he immediately thinks it changes everything. It’s from one of his chapters in ADWD. Jon Connington is from one of his chapters in ADWD, he thinks there’s less risk in invading Westeros now that Tywin is gone. Tyrion tells Sansa (more or less) that Oxcross isn’t so important because it wasn’t Tywin; it’s from a Tyrion or Sansa chapter in ACOK. You can probably find them through A Search of Ice and Fire. Just look under the book and POV for the word Tywin.

          I never said that Tywin was the best military commander. He’s competent. The others don’t have the political skills or sheer force of will that he has. Robb was an excellent commander. He won all his battles and lost the war. Pure military ability by itself isn’t enough.

          You say “there is not a single example of Tywin pulling off a military victory where he didn’t already have the odds in his favor.” Uh huh. I refer you to Sun Tzu, who says somewhere that a good commander never fights unless the battle has already been won. When Tywin finds the odds against him, he goes on defense, tries to turn his enemies against each other, and waits for them to make a mistake. They always do.

          It’s always possible to discount people’s opinions for one reason or another. But who thinks Tywin isn’t the most formidable leader around?

          Tywin isn’t completely unbeatable. You can think of ways he could lose. But somehow he never does. Fans who think Tywin’s methods are the way to win the Game of Thones aren’t getting that idea from nothing. If GRRM wanted to show him losing, he would have.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Multiple people have already pointed this out, but an attack on the King’s banner is figuratively an attack on the King himself. Robert would have no choice but to fight Tywin, regardless of whether he wanted to.

      • Ryan.S says:

        Try telling King Robert he “has no choice.”

        If it were as simple as you say, Tywin could just fly the royal banner when he captured Ned and that would shield him from consequence. He is the lawful warden of the west, no?

        • Hedrigal says:

          The Lawful Warden of the West kidnapping the Lawful Warden Of the North is still very illegal, and even in that station he doesn’t have the authority to outrank direct agents of the royal person.

    • Hedrigal says:

      War is just about the one thing on this earth that Robert does not want to “just be done with” as a king. It’s the one thing that makes him feel alive and if his foster brother was attacked under his own banner he would have come out for that challenge. It’s practicall the thing he’s been praying for honestly. He can be done with all the things which he superficially decide make him miserable, and embrace his passion one last time.

      • Keith B says:

        In response to points several people have made above:

        Robert shows what he’s made of first at the Trident, when he orders Sansa’s direwolf killed just to placate Cersei, even though he knows she’s completely innocent. And second after Jaime attacks Ned and his men in Kings Landing. Robert by this time knows about Tyrion’s arrest, knows that there will be trouble, and immediately goes hunting. Robert may like fighting but he doesn’t like confrontation. He’s fundamentally a weak person. Cersei knows it and Tywin almost certainly does too.

        It’s also worth noting that Catelyn put Ned in a very bad position when she arrested Tyrion. She forced Ned to back her up, and she had no proof of her accusations. It would have been far better to let Tyrion proceed to KL and have Ned deal with it. When conflict starts between the Starks and the Lannisters, Cersei would point out the the Starks started it and Tywin was merely defending the honor of his House, and she’d have a point.

        And I repeat my earlier point: Tywin maintained deniability by acting through Gregor. Even if nobody believed him, they couldn’t prove that he was the one who attacked the King’s banners.

    • Sorry, but I entirely disagree. Tywin attacking Robert’s own banner against Robert’s envoy sent out to bring an outlaw to justice is not something Robert could ignore and remain king.

  17. Felix O'Kelly says:

    Not sure if the post went through on wordpress, there seems to be a problem with trying to post it there. When I tried to repost it said this was a duplicate so I presume it went through.
    As always this is a great analysis. Even in what seem like filler chapters there is a lot to analyze.

    Agree on Hot Pie. Adventure is a dangerous business and most people would just prefer to take the easy route where they can be certain there’s a roof over their head and food. Hot Pie is one of those links to the smallfolk, Gendry providing another type of link.

    Harwin is Arya trying to find a link to Winterfell, to her old life. After all for all the squabbles the Starks love their family and WF, and Arya wants to return to that. But things have changed and Harwin has to follow his new family, even if he is a good guy, and, as Arya comes to understand, they do have noble reasons for holding her, getting money which they will use to buy food for the smallfolk.

    I agree Beric is a Messiah-type figure, as he rallies various peoples from the lower orders to his cause. Obviously the BWB take a lot of inspiration from Robin Hood, down to the King they are fighting for not being the hero many portray him as (and I know Richard being the King didn’t become standard for some time and it was a King Edward in some versions but you get the idea). The Kingswood Brotherhood are a more realistic depiction of outlaw bands, who are, well, outlaws, people outside the law.

    But the BWB is an army that seems to be fighting for the people, the ideology continuing even when the War is apparently over, and Beric has truly died (though of course he dies for others, he is like a Messiah).

    Great to see more analysis of Robin Hood, and the way his legend has developed. But as this is dark fantasy (if reconstructive) the Robin Hood figure is a reanimated corpse. In a way, Beric is like an Azor Ahai writ small, with his sword of fire. Of course, Jon and Dany look set to be the main versions, Jon coming back, and both of them fighting against oppression. The Others are the overall oppressive villains, being, as Poor Quentyn puts it, Eldritch Slavers. But Beric leads the fight against the human versions of the oppressive elites. Yet being a hero is not easy. As he becomes more of a legend and less of a man, Beric is becoming less of a man. Beric may be a more ideal heroic lord but it comes at a cost, the loss of his humanity.

    Like Robin Hood and unlike the Kingswood Brotherhood Beric’s Brotherhood does have a religious side… though it is for R’hllor rather then Fantasy Catholicism. And I like this side to R’hllorism. While R’hllorism is often seen as generic scary Eastern religion (not helped by the shows rather one-sided portrayal of religions) here we see a branch of R’hllor followers who are following the social contract, though are an outlawed group. Though the fact we hear of Septons joining them does blur this a bit. Worship of R’hllor does help bind them together, but they help people regardless of religion. Thoros isn’t really out to convert, people seem to be joining R’hllorism of their own volition, although Thoros’ genuine powers do make a convincing cause.

    We see the way the BWB effects people with with Gendry, who seems the average smallfolk guy (he may be a King’s bastard but has grown up as a member of the Smallfolk) who doesn’t think much of religion, but the BWB helping people and the power of Thoros causes him to join them and convert to worshiping R’hllor.

    We must remember that the BWB is a Brotherhood, a family for the people who have lost families. Harwin doesn’t seem to have any other family we hear of, his father being murdered by the Lannisters, so the Brotherhood is his family. We see something like this later with the orphans at the Inn, people trying to form a family after losing their own families in the war.
    Also like the Doctor Who image, even if I think that episode was lacking.

    But things are going well, my graduation was on Monday, and now we have this!

    Next time I think is Samwell.

  18. I really enjoyed the brotherhood plot lines. I think LS will end up being very dark in the book. That is one plot line that George regrets not being in the show. He said he fought for it to be in the in show but could not convince D & D so it never turned out. Nice detailed article!

  19. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, please allow me to compliment you on a most excellent chapter analysis once again and extend my Best Wishes for your continued Good Health.

  20. Andrew says:

    I never really got the complaining about Arya and Brienne in the Riverlands. Aside from being some of my favorite worldbuilding they also accomplish a lot thematically and narratively.

    It’s interesting that Aryas stoeyline is constantly being confronted with issues of justice, power, and class conflict, Martin taking the rebellious tomboy princess to her logical conclusion and making her into an actual rebel. In the first book she’s constantly hostile to symbols of royal authority- she attacks the frikken Prince and becomes an enemy of the crown (including both the new king and the KG). In the second book she’s among the nights watch, a band of outcasts set to redeem themselves on the wall, and then a prisoner to Tywin, the “magnificent” Lord of the West in all his power. Now she’s with Not!Robin Hood (and then the Hound who opens a whole ‘nother can of worms with the Mycah incident and the whole conflict with his brother over chivalry) and in AFFC she spends time with the Not!League of shadows rubbing up against their Buddhist style of detachment in a city literally founded by escaped slaves.

    I suspect in TWOW she will go full Leia Organa and champion the rebellion in the Riverlands, perhaps even against a burn happy Daenerys given the connections to Harrenhall and various dragon foreshadowing.

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