“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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.