Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn III, ASOS


Outside the thunder crashed and boomed, so loud it sounded as if the castle were coming down about their ears. Is this the sound of a kingdom falling?”

Synopsis: Rickard Karstark commits suicide in an extremely elaborate fashion.

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:

Catelyn III is something of a tragedy in miniature – not the peak of the grand guignol which will come later (although one could possibly argue that it is the loss of innocence necessary for the tragedy to occur), but rather a thematic foreshadowing of what will come later. We start right away with a ghastly scene of murdered children, harkening back both to the supposed deaths of Bran and Rick in ACOK but also in many ways presaging the Red Wedding:

“They carried the corpses in upon their shoulders and laid them beneath the dais. A silence fell across the torchlit hall, and in the quiet Catelyn could hear Grey Wind howling half a castle away. He smells the blood, she thought, through stone walls and wooden doors, through night and rain, he still knows the scent of death and ruin.

She stood at Robb’s left hand beside the high seat, and for a moment felt almost as if she were looking down at her own dead, at Bran and Rickon. These boys had been much older, but death had shrunken them. Naked and wet, they seemed such little things, so still it was hard to remember them living.

The blond boy had been trying to grow a beard. Pale yellow peach fuzz covered his cheeks and jaw above the red ruin the knife had made of his throat. His long golden hair was still wet, as if he had been pulled from a bath. By the look of him, he had died peacefully, perhaps in sleep, but his brown-haired cousin had fought for life. His arms bore slashes where he’d tried to block the blades, and red still trickled slowly from the stab wounds that covered his chest and belly and back like so many tongueless mouths, though the rain had washed him almost clean.”

The thematic parallels to the Red Wedding are written into the very environment: it’s night-time, it’s raining, and a direwolf is howling. However, they’re also very much written into the bodies of the untimely Lannister and Frey dead, with Willem Lannister’s “red ruin…of his throat” paralleling Catelyn’s wounds and the idea of wounds acting as “tongueless mouths” paralleling the way that Lady Stoneheart pronounces her judgements through a slit throat. And this is not the last time we’ll see these parallels at work in this chapter, so keep your eyes on this thread.

Rickard Karstark’s Suicide Run

At the same time, Catelyn III is also a chapter that is widely misunderstood by much of the fandom. Robb’s decision to execute Lord Rickard Karstark is often thought of as one of “StupidRobb’s” key mistakes, bleeding him of fighting men by privileging personal honor over political expediency. However, this conclusion misses the extent to which in this chapter Rickard Karstark carefully constructs a scenario in which there is no escape, a nihilistic death spiral which will draw in hundreds (if not thousands) of young men in a pointless quest for vengeance, like Immortan Joe promising eternal life to his war boys.

Rather than lingering overlong on the spectacle of murdered children, Catelyn III barrels straight into the central argument between Robb Stark and Rickard Karstark. This is a debate that is easily misunderstood as the sheer intensity of Rickard Karstark’s final performance can easily obscure the logics at work:

It seemed a very long time before Robb lifted his eyes from the bloody dead. “Smalljon,” he said, “tell your father to bring them in.” Wordless, Smalljon Umber turned to obey, his steps echoing in the great stone hall.

As the Greatjon marched his prisoners through the doors, Catelyn made note of how some other men stepped back to give them room, as if treason could somehow be passed by a touch, a glance, a cough. The captors and the captives looked much alike; big men, every one, with thick beards and long hair. Two of the Greatjon’s men were wounded, and three of their prisoners. Only the fact that some had spears and others empty scabbards served to set them apart. All were clad in mail hauberks or shirts of sewn rings, with heavy boots and thick cloaks, some of wool and some of fur. The north is hard and cold, and has no mercy, Ned had told her when she first came to Winterfell a thousand years ago.

“Five,” said Robb when the prisoners stood before him, wet and silent. “Is that all of them?”

“There were eight,” rumbled the Greatjon. “We killed two taking them, and a third is dying now.”

Robb studied the faces of the captives. “It required eight of you to kill two unarmed squires.”

Edmure Tully spoke up. “They murdered two of my men as well, to get into the tower. Delp and Elwood.”

This passage is essentially the bill of indictment against Lord Rickard Karstark, that not only has his reckless action led to the murder of two child prisoners (which by itself violates several taboos) but also several casualties among King Robb’s Northern and Riverlander subjects, to whom Lord Karstark owed a duty of loyalty and to whom Robb also owes a royal duty of protection. (Thus, already we’re seeing the motif that vengeance will lead not to satisfaction but an ever-widening gyre of ruin which will come to dominate the second half of ASOS and the whole of AFFC.) This obligation should also be kept in mind when we consider Robb’s decision to execute Lord Karstark, but I’ll get into that more later.

Catelyn’s somewhat outsider perspective lends an interesting aspect to this passage as well. To begin with, her impression that there is an inherent similarity between the men who stayed loyal to Robb Stark (even at the cost of several injuries) and those who betrayed him speaks to why there is this fear that treason could be contagious. If the Karstark men are no different from any other Northman, than any other Northman might also prove themselves traitors (looking at you, Roose Bolton and co.), and this collective paranoia is poison to morale. This also is a factor in Robb’s decision to execute Lord Karstark. Finally, there’s also the ironic intersection between the idea that the North is “hard and cold, and has no mercy” and the idea that it took eight Northmen to kill two children – one that suggests either an underlying cowardice that belies the “hardness” of the Karstarks, or that Northern culture might lean more towards the cold and cruel and less to the courageous than we might like to think.

Regardless of which implication one agrees with, this indictment is answered first by the defense, who decides to throw into contention the meaning of the deaths of Tion and Willem, essentially stipulating to the underlying facts of the case:

“It was no murder, ser,” said Lord Rickard Karstark, no more discomfited by the ropes about his wrists than by the blood that trickled down his face. “Any man who steps between a father and his vengeance asks for death.”

“…I saw your sons die, that night in the Whispering Wood,” Robb told Lord Karstark. “Tion Frey did not kill Torrhen. Willem Lannister did not slay Eddard. How then can you call this vengeance? This was folly, and bloody murder. Your sons died honorably on a battlefield, with swords in their hands.”

“They died,” said Rickard Karstark, yielding no inch of ground. “The Kingslayer cut them down. These two were of his ilk. Only blood can pay for blood.”

“The blood of children?” Robb pointed at the corpses. “How old were they? Twelve, thirteen? Squires.”

“Squires die in every battle.”

“Die fighting, yes. Tion Frey and Willem Lannister gave up their swords in the Whispering Wood. They were captives, locked in a cell, asleep, unarmed…boys. Look at them!”

Here, Karstark is trying to argue that his actions fit within the framework of revenge killing and thus are at least sanctioned by custom. This argument requires a good deal of disingenuous redefinition: his night-time assault on his fellow soldiers is described as acceptable collateral damage, and the murder of children is recast as legitimized through a theory of blood guilt. Needless to say, Karstark’s theory of vengeance is quite broad and rather dubious, given that legends of the Rat King make it quite clear that there are in fact red lines that one cannot cross in the pursuit of vengeance. Guest-right is one of them, but who’s to say that treason and the murder of tangential child relatives aren’t as well?

Robb Stark’s counter-argument rests instead on military jurisprudence (to the extent that exists among a feudal military caste): Tion Frey and Willem Lannister did not kill Torrhen and Eddard Karstark, so they are not proper targets of vengeance; Torrhen and Eddard died fighting Jaime Lannister with swords in their hands on the battlefield, which is not considered murder requiring of vengeance (above and beyond the necessity to defeat one’s enemy); and finally, that Tyion and Willem’s surrender of their arms means that they cannot be lawfully killed without the permission of their captor (among other circumstances).

Image result for geneva convention

Needless to say, Robb has the stronger argument, and we can tell that this is the case because Rickard Karstark immediately abandons his initial approach in favor of an emotionally charged tu quoque argument:

Lord Karstark looked instead at Catelyn. “Tell your mother to look at them,” he said. “She slew them, as much as I.”

“My mother had naught to do with this,” Robb said angrily. “This was your work. Your murder. Your treason.”

While Catelyn’s guilty conscience (and tendency to assume personal responsibility for all setbacks) means that she latches on to Karstark’s rejoinder as proof that It’s All Her Fault (“I did this. These two boys died so my daughters might live…”) – I’d like to take a second to point out that Karstark’s argument is pure bullshit. To begin with, Lord Karstark has clearly been on a suicidal spiral ever since his sons died and would have attempted something like this even if Jaime had never been freed by Catelyn, most likely whenever Robb eventually handed over Jaime as part of a general peace. Next, abandoning his responsibility for his actions and throwing it into Catelyn because he’s pissed off at her for a different action is the definition of childish logic. Third, “you also committed treason” is a poor argument that your actions weren’t treason, and it’s an even poorer argument for a pardon, since mercy is a gift at the discretion of the sovereign.

And as if to underline how little conviction he has in this argument, Karstark retreats to a third position, which masquerades as Northern nationalism, but clearly comes from a darker place:

“How can it be treason to kill Lannisters, when it is not treason to free them?” asked Karstark harshly. “Has Your Grace forgotten that we are at war with Casterly Rock? In war you kill your enemies. Didn’t your father teach you that, boy?”

Lord Karstark spit out a broken tooth. “Yes, Lord Umber, leave me to the king. He means to give me a scolding before he forgives me. That’s how he deals with treason, our King in the North.” He smiled a wet red smile. “Or should I call you the King Who Lost the North, Your Grace?”

Especially in feudal politics, to the extent that the nation exists, it’s founded on reciprocal connections. Karstark cannot claim that he is part of the “we” who are allowed to kill “your enemies” without accepting the obligation to follow the rules set down by the leaderhip of that “we” – in this case, the rule that you’re not allowed to do violence to the king’s captives without his permission. Speaking of which, Rickard’s view of war as an unrestricted tribal affair in which you can do whatever you want to someone with the wrong last name or the wrong livery ignores the fact that in the Westerosi way of war, you don’t kill prisoners out of hand, because the entire political class understand that they have a vested interest in keeping wars relatively limited. And Rickard damn well knows that, because his surviving son Harrion was in the process of being exchanged before Harrenhal was retaken,

This counter-argument somewhat misses the point, however. Lord Karstark isn’t arguing in good faith, because he’s not trying to win an acquittal. (We can see signs of this elsewhere, as I’ll discuss later.) Instead, he’s trying to antagonize Robb Stark as much as possible and as personally as possible to provoke his own execution, a kind of suicide-by-judge if you will. And we can see that this works, because Robb essentially pre-renders his judgment here:

“I will hear Ser Brynden privily, in the audience chamber.” Robb rose to his feet. “Greatjon, keep Lord Karstark here till I return, and hang the other seven.”

The Greatjon lowered the spear. “Even the dead ones?”

“Yes. I will not have such fouling my lord uncle’s rivers. Let them feed the crows.”

One of the captives dropped to his knees. “Mercy, sire. I killed no one, I only stood at the door to watch for guards.”

Robb considered that a moment. “Did you know what Lord Rickard intended? Did you see the knives drawn? Did you hear the shouts, the screams, the cries for mercy?”

“Aye, I did, but I took no part. I was only the watcher, I swear it . . .”

“Lord Umber,” said Robb, “this one was only the watcher. Hang him last, so he may watch the others die. Mother, Uncle, with me, if you please.” 

If he’s willing to inflict this kind of punishment on the men who carried out the killings, and even on those who merely stood by and watched, there’s no way in hell that the man who orchestrated and ordered them is going to be let off the hook. Interestingly, Robb’s actions have something of a parallel to the aftermath of the Red Wedding, given the way that hangings become a motif of Lady Stoneheart, who is just as willing to execute the peripherally involved as we see through the eyes of Merrett Frey.

Rickard Karstark’s Desertion

Going back to my argument from the beginning, one of the key ways that Rickard Karstark makes this a no-win scenario for his king, and one of the details that is most often forgotten by the fandom, is that the Karstark men desert the army before Robb ever renders judgment:

The Blackfish shut the door. “The Karstarks are gone.”

“All?” Was it anger or despair that thickened Robb’s voice like that? Even Catelyn was not certain.

“All the fighting men,” Ser Brynden replied. “A few camp followers and serving men were left with their wounded. We questioned as many as we needed, to be certain of the truth. They started leaving at nightfall, stealing off in ones and twos at first, and then in larger groups. The wounded men and servants were told to keep the campfires lit so no one would know they’d gone, but once the rains began it didn’t matter…They’ve scattered, hunting. Lord Karstark has sworn to give the hand of his maiden daughter to any man highborn or low who brings him the head of the Kingslayer.”

We can see from this passage that Lord Karstark carefully orchestrated this desertion ahead of time to make it impossible for Robb to prevent the desertion of his men – he’s not just revenging himself against Jaime Lannister, but also the king (who subconsciously he blames for his sons’ deaths). Moreover, he hasn’t just ordered his men to desert, he’s ordered them to kill Jaime Lannister, which doesn’t just invalidate Catelyn’s illicit prisoner exchange but also any possible peace deal that King Robb might make. This maximizes the damage he’s causing to Robb Stark and the Northern cause, a further sign that his supposed nationalism is not even skin deep. And all of this means that Robb Stark isn’t responsible for the desertion of the Karstark men.

At the same time, the reason I compare Rickard Karstark to Immortal Joe is that, in order to get his men to go along with a blatantly treasonous action, is that he’s promised them “the hand of his maiden daughter to any man highborn or low who brings him the head of the Kingslayer.” This is the weaponization of fairy tales, a mad old man looking to wreak his vengeance from beyond the grave by getting foolish young men drunk on fantasies of chivalric romance and righteous revenge. And it results in not the self-actualization and upward mobility of the Hero’s Journey but total failure. Rather than killing Jaime Lannister (who Roose Bolton takes care to protect via Steelshanks Walton[1]) they run around the Riverlands brutalizing the smallfolk (in the process threatening Arya Stark, I might add). Rather than win the usual hero’s reward from the hand of a grateful patriarch, any Karstark cavalryman lucky enough to make his way back home will find that Alys has chosen a Thenn warlord to uphold her claim to Karhold.

We’ve Got to Talk About Rickard

All of these considerations, then, should guide us when we contemplate the ensuing debate within Robb’s inner circle as to whether principle or practicality should govern the decision of Rickard Karstark’s fate.

“No word of this must leave Riverrun,” her brother Edmure said. “Lord Tywin would…the Lannisters pay their debts, they are always saying that. Mother have mercy, when he hears.”

…Robb gave Edmure a look that chilled. “Would you make me a liar as well as a murderer, Uncle?”

“We need speak no falsehood. Only say nothing. Bury the boys and hold our tongues till the war’s done. Willem was son to Ser Kevan Lannister, and Lord Tywin’s nephew. Tion was Lady Genna’s, and a Frey. We must keep the news from the Twins as well, until…”

“Until we can bring the murdered dead back to life?” said Brynden Blackfish sharply. “The truth escaped with the Karstarks, Edmure. It is too late for such games.”

“I owe their fathers truth,” said Robb. “And justice. I owe them that as well.” He gazed at his crown, the dark gleam of bronze, the circle of iron swords. “Lord Rickard defied me. Betrayed me. I have no choice but to condemn him.”

On the face of it, Edmure’s position seems quite reasonable and the same logic has no doubt undergirded many government cover-ups. The problem with this proposal (and his follow-up that Rickard should be held hostage), is that Rickard Karstark has specifically engineered his scenario so that it can’t be covered up, as hundreds of Karstark cavalrymen blunder around the Riverlands who aren’t going to be lured back without the promised reward. Moreover, as with the Lannister peace negotiations, deception doesn’t help you in the long-run, since the Starks cannot ultimately produce WIllem and Tion any more than the Lannisters could ultimately hand over Arya.

At the same time, one of the reasons that Robb tends to come in for criticism from the fandom at this point, is that his thinking are different from Brynden’s practical thinking. Rather, he focuses on truth and justice on the one hand, and law and authority on the other.  Whether Robb’s reaction is a display of good kingship (more on this in a bit) or a foolish attachment to honor in a Machiavellian world rests ultimately on how you analyze the situation. By this point, I hope I’ve adequately shown that there was no way for a Machiavellian solution to work because Lord Karstark had already sent his men away, preventing any compromise or coverup.

At the same time, there are deeper political reasons why Robb Stark “has no choice to condemn him.” As I’ve argued before, Robb’s authority as king rests on ground that Karstark’s actions have undermined. First, a king has to act as a protector (a role especially central to the Starks, and Lord Karstark has both injured and murdered his subjects (as I’ve discussed above) and his captives of war, prisoners, wards, and hostages, all of whom have in some form have been given guarantees (albeit more limited ones) of the king’s protection. Second (and the two are related), the king is also a lawgiver, and in order for decrees and judgments to be generally respected and thus have the force of law, his decisions must be backed up by a monopoly of violence. Karstark’s actions have directly called into question whether Robb Stark’s judgments are final, whether his word is law. If he doesn’t execute Rickard Karstark, he is no longer a king.

Image result for medieval king as judge

Henry II of England sitting as a judge.

Finally, if we want proof that Robb Stark is not politically stupid, I would point to the fact that immediately after he says this, he goes on to demonstrate a firm grasp of Northern political culture:

“Gods know what the Karstark foot with Roose Bolton will do when they hear I’ve executed their liege for a traitor. Bolton must be warned.”

“Lord Karstark’s heir was at Harrenhal as well,” Ser Brynden reminded him. “The eldest son, the one the Lannisters took captive on the Green Fork.”

“Harrion. His name is Harrion.” Robb laughed bitterly. “A king had best know the names of his enemies, don’t you think?”

The Blackfish looked at him shrewdly. “You know that for a certainty? That this will make young Karstark your enemy?”

“What else would he be? I am about to kill his father, he’s not like to thank me.”

“He might. There are sons who hate their fathers, and in a stroke you will make him Lord of Karhold.”

Robb shook his head. “Even if Harrion were that sort, he could never openly forgive his father’s killer. His own men would turn on him. These are northmen, Uncle. The north remembers.”

As we will see in ADWD, Robb Stark is quite right that “the North remembers,” and that Northern political cultural mores mean that Northmen will pursue blood feuds even when personal interest might argue otherwise[2]: consider Wyman Manderly pursuing his vendetta even if it means his own life, consider Crowfood and Whoresbane Umber’s dangerous inside/outside game at Winterfell, consider Big Bucket Wull looking to die with Bolton blood on his tongue. If southerners think they play the Game of Thrones with more finesse, consider that Northerners play it without the limits of self-preservation.

There is also the irony that none of these deliberations will matter. Whether Harrion Karstark would or wouldn’t be Robb’s enemy, Roose Bolton has already sent him and most of the Karstark men to Duskendale – the remaining men will turn against the Starks at the Red Wedding, but because they are loyal to Roose Bolton, not Harrion Karstark. Indeed, this follows that their downfall is ultimately due less to their mistakes as to completely unknown or unlikely threats.

“He Killed My Honor”

At the same time, it’s important to see how and why Robb is thinking in terms of honor. It does play a role in his ultimate decision:

Robb reached down with both hands, lifted the heavy bronze-and-iron crown, and set it back atop his head, and suddenly he was a king again. “Lord Rickard dies.”

“But why?” said Edmure. “You said yourself—”

“I know what I said, Uncle. It does not change what I must do.” The swords in his crown stood stark and black against his brow. “In battle I might have slain Tion and Willem myself, but this was no battle. They were asleep in their beds, naked and unarmed, in a cell where I put them. Rickard Karstark killed more than a Frey and a Lannister. He killed my honor. I shall deal with him at dawn.”

The difficulty is that honor can be interpreted in several ways: given the way that Robb emphasizes dying in battle vs. dying in a cell, we can certainly think of honor as a code of behavior that’s extremely concerned with things being done the right way. On the other hand, given the way Robb emphasizes “a cell where I put them,” Robb could also be talking in terms of his word of honor and the necessity of upholding the king’s promises (something of a theme with Robb).

Whichever way you interpret him, I do see something of a difference between this and Jon Snow’s honor before reason as seen in the finale of Season 7; not only have we clearly demonstrated that there are potentially-civilization-breaking reasons to maintain honor codes when it comes to prisoner exchanges, envoys, and guest-right, but the negative consequences of executing Karstark are much lower than often believed.

At the same time, I do think there is something slightly self-destructive in Robb’s thinking, because I think one could see Robb as beginning to enter something of a depressive spiral that will last arguably until Catelyn VI (when Balon Greyjoy’s death allows him to see a way forward):

“Gods be good, why would any man ever want to be king? When everyone was shouting King in the North, King in the North, I told myself . . . swore to myself . . . that I would be a good king, as honorable as Father, strong, just, loyal to my friends and brave when I faced my enemies . . . now I can’t even tell one from the other. How did it all get so confused? Lord Rickard’s fought at my side in half a dozen battles. His sons died for me in the Whispering Wood. Tion Frey and Willem Lannister were my enemies. Yet now I have to kill my dead friends’ father for their sakes.” He looked at them all. “Will the Lannisters thank me for Lord Rickard’s head? Will the Freys?”

I’ve argued before that much of ACOK is an argument about kingship, but ASOS continues this thread in important ways, as we examine Stannis through Davos, Mance through Jon, and so forth. Here, we see the down-side of kingship, part of GRRM’s argument about the Aragorn model of monarchy: it’s not that Robb is a bad king because he is a good man (that way lies Benioff and Weiss’ belief that being good makes you stupid and being evil makes you smart), but rather that being a good person doesn’t make it any easier to be a good king. Here Robb is doing what a king should and must do, but because he’s a good person, it is profoundly hateful to him in a way that it wouldn’t be for an amoral ruler.

For Hate’s Sake

Everything I’ve been talking about so far comes to a head in the great set-piece of the chapter, Rickard Karstark’s execution. It begins as an echo of the earlier trial, with Rcikard makes what seems (but is not) the case for the defense, and Robb Stark presenting the case for the prosecution:

“The blood of the First Men flows in my veins as much as yours, boy. You would do well to remember that. I was named for your grandfather. I raised my banners against King Aerys for your father, and against King Joffrey for you. At Oxcross and the Whispering Wood and in the Battle of the Camps, I rode beside you, and I stood with Lord Eddard on the Trident. We are kin, Stark and Karstark.”

“This kinship did not stop you from betraying me,” Robb said. “And it will not save you now. Kneel, my lord.”

As Robb Stark points out, kinship goes both ways: Karstark cannot rely on it as a shield against his punishment without accepting that he had violated the custom of kinship by betraying his kin. (I would also note that Karstark continues his pattern of slanted reasoning by listing all of his past loyalty without mentioning his recent disloyalty, as if arguing that the good does in fact wash out the bad.) However, this does raise the issue of kinslaying:

“Old gods or new, it makes no matter,” Lord Rickard told her son, “no man is so accursed as the kinslayer.”

“Kneel, traitor,” Robb said again. “Or must I have them force your head onto the block?”

Lord Karstark knelt. “The gods shall judge you, as you have judged me.” He laid his head upon the block.

“Rickard Karstark, Lord of Karhold.” Robb lifted the heavy axe with both hands. “Here in sight of gods and men, I judge you guilty of murder and high treason. In mine own name I condemn you. With mine own hand I take your life. Would you speak a final word?”

“Kill me, and be cursed. You are no king of mine.”

Needless to say, this is not how kinslaying works. The kinslaying taboo applies to close kin only – hence Robert Baratheon killing his second cousin Rhaegar Targaryen is not considered kinslaying – and it’s limited like that because, given the way that nobility intermarry, if the killing of more distant relatives was taboo war could not take place, and that doesn’t work in a society dominated by a warrior aristocracy. If we examine Robb and Rickard by the example of Robert and Rhaegar, the whole thing falls apart: Robb’s great-granduncles (the sons of Artos the Implacable) were half-Karstark, but their line seems to have petered out; the most recent connection after that is his great-great-great-great grandmother Alys Karstark (the mother of Beron Karstark). At best, they are third cousins once removed.

But then again, Rickard Karstark isn’t making this speech in order to convince Robb Stark to spare his life; he’s doing it to cause the maximum emotional and spiritual damage on his way out. And given that all of this is being instigated by Karstark, that he is making Robb his unwilling execution, it is profoundly spiteful and selfish, as if he is trying to drag the whole world into the grave with him.

I weep no tears for the man.

Poor, Poor Jeyne

Speaking of which, one of the signs that we’re edging into the full-on tragedy section of ASOS is that there’ s one last section involving Jeyne Stark née Westerling that absolutely breaks your heart:

“As you wish. How might I serve you, Jeyne?”

“It’s Robb,” the girl said. “He’s so miserable, so…so angry and disconsolate. I don’t know what to do.”

“…Robb has not eaten all day…He spent all morning writing a letter and told me not to disturb him, but when the letter was done he burned it. Now he is sitting and looking at maps. I asked him what he was looking for, but he never answered. I don’t think he ever heard me. He wouldn’t even change out of his clothes. They were damp all day, and bloody. I want to be a good wife to him, I do, but I don’t know how to help. To cheer him, or comfort him. I don’t know what he needs. Please, my lady, you’re his mother, tell me what I should do.”

“…Sometimes,” Catelyn said slowly, “the best thing you can do is nothing. When I first came to Winterfell, I was hurt whenever Ned went to the godswood to sit beneath his heart tree. Part of his soul was in that tree, I knew, a part I would never share. Yet without that part, I soon realized, he would not have been Ned. Jeyne, child, you have wed the north, as I did…and in the north, the winters will come.” She tried to smile. “Be patient. Be understanding. He loves you and he needs you, and he will come back to you soon enough. This very night, perhaps. Be there when he does. That is all I can tell you.”

One sign of deconstruction done right is that, rather than being done simply to undermine the tropes and themes of a genre for its own sake, the effort leads us to think differently and more deeply about those tropes and the cultural context they came from. In this case, one of the things that GRRM does well with Robb and Jeyne’s brief relationship is to question what a Love At First Sight relationship would actually be like, and to remind us that these tropes often emerged from a cultural context in which marriages were often arranged between people who’d not spent much if any unmediated time together.

What makes Jeyne’s situation poignant, therefore, is that while she cares very much for Robb (even to excess as we’ll see in a bit), she’s only known him for a month or two, and the two don’t have much of a foundation to their relationship. This makes it extremely difficult for her to live up to the standards of a good wife. She’s trying the conventional strategies – making sure her husband has food and clean clothing, trying to be helpful – but that doesn’t help when her husband’s problems are trying to win a war or dealing with the emotional aftermath of carrying out an execution personally (especially when her husband is also a teenager who’s not always good at expressing his emotions). Catelyn’s advice is perhaps the best she has to hand, but “do nothing” is unlikely to be much consolation.

And then GRRM really twists the knife:

“…there’s one more thing Robb needs from you, though he may not know it yet himself. A king must have an heir.”

The girl smiled at that. “My mother says the same. She makes a posset for me, herbs and milk and ale, to help make me fertile. I drink it every morning. I told Robb I’m sure to give him twins. An Eddard and a Brandon. He liked that, I think. We…we try most every day, my lady. Sometimes twice or more.” The girl blushed very prettily. “I’ll be with child soon, I promise. I pray to our Mother Above, every night.”

I think what makes Jeyne’s situation so poignant is that she is being betrayed in the most intimate and invasive fashion imaginable; the only thing that comes close in my mind is Lysa Tully, and even then you have the counter-balancing factors of patriarchy and illicit love. By contrast, Jeyne is in a relationship her mother pushed her into, and gamely trying to work within the role her society has set down for her, and her downfall happens because the one person she ought to be able to trust most in the world when it comes to matters of reproduction has turned her womb into a pawn in the game of thrones.

I will be very sad indeed if what I think happens in the prologue of TWOW happens, but I can at least hope that if it happens, some special act of contrapasso justice is meted out to Sibyl Westerling.

Historical Analysis:

Since I’ve discussed things like ransoms and treatment of prisoners on tumblr quite a bit, I decided not to write a very long historical post, but instead to suggest some historical sources I consulted to make sure that I wasn’t horribly wrong about the issues w/r/t Karstark and the murder of prisoners.

  • Jean Dunbabin, Captivity and Imprisonment in Medieval Europe. What’s handy about this book is that it covers a fairly wide spectrum of conditions – from prisoners being temporarily held until trial or their debts were paid off in the civic prison of Florence in the 14th century to noble hostages taken in private conflicts – and time periods, so you can see how treatment of prisoners changed in the course of the High through Late Middle Ages. Key point I took from Jean’s work: prisoners  (whether custodial or coercive) were largely held in order to get something out of them, and imprisonment was seen as a transitory state.
  • G Geltner, The Medieval Prison: A Social History. For those of you who prefer history from the bottom up rather than top down, this book is an incredibly vividly-written study of the various meanings and experiences of being imprisoned in the Middle Ages. If you’re unsure, check out the opening narrative of how the jailors of 14th century Florence were far more attentive to the health and well-being of their charges during a natural disaster than most 21st century carceral states during, if only because the “prisoners’ death would translate into an irrevocable loss of the fines and debts they owed” – which is my key takeaway here.
  • Jim Bradbury, The Medieval Siege. An excellent source which I’ve used many times in the past, this book has something to say about a surprisingly broad list of topics. On this particular subject, Bradbury helpfully points out that “the treatment of prisoners was, to some extent, part of a recognized code. Chivalry only catered for the capture of knights by knights, when reasonable treatment might be expected, though not always received.” Status and process really mattered to the treatment of prisoners of war.

Some other sources: Jarbel Rodriguez’ Captives and Their Saviors in the Medieval Crown of Aragon does a really good job of showing how prisoner ransoms and exchanges were important part of the constitution of Christian Spanish monarchies as they sought to mobilize their citizenry to help reconquer Iberia from the Muslims; Bennett and Weikert Medieval Hostageship is very good at covering a broad range of unfree statuses across a very expansive period of time (700s to 1500s).

What If?

This may be a bit controversial, but I’m going to put aside not killing Karstark, because A. the man is so determined to die that he’d probably set himself on fire and jump off the top of Minas Tirith, and B. as I’ve been arguing for several thousand words, it didn’t really change that much. To me, the more interesting question is:

  • An heir to the North? So let’s say for some reason Sibyl’s potion doesn’t take and Jeyne becomes pregnant. This really does complicate things down the road, because I don’t think Brynden Blackfish surrenders the heir to the North to the Lannisters whose track record with politically-inconvenient babies is not a good one, Edmure or no Edmure.

Book vs. Show:

On the face of it, the show did this bit not too badly – they set up Rickard’s grudge by having Jaime murder Torrhen Karstark in his (poorly-staged) escape attempt, the child hostages are a bit sickly-sweet in the over-emphasis on their innocence, the death scene is quite gripping (even with the subtle build-up of Robb by giving him the one-chop rather than the more realistic messy affair we see here).

My main complaint comes with the way that Benioff and Weiss handled the thematics, because of the way they conceptualize Honor as synonymous with Stupidity (although bizarrely also with Goodness, which is a terrifying worldview). Crucially, they have Robb execute Karstark BEFORE the desertion of his men, so that Robb voluntarily flings away a good portion of his army in the face of his entire inner circle telling him not to, much in the same way that Jon will torpedo a peace deal (although how sincere it was is another question) just because he will never tell a lie.

Needless to say, this demonstrates a poor grasp on the structure and purpose of tragedy. In his Poetics, Aristotle coined the term “hamartia” to describe the tragic error that the protagonist commits which leads to the sequence of events which will ruin their good fortune, and that error is supposed to say something more important about the character and about humanity: Oedipus the wise ruler is ignorant of his birth, Othello is at the same time too trusting of Iago and too insecure about his relationship with Desdemona, Agamemnon’s hubris leads him to offend the gods by walking on the purple tapestries which bore their likenesses, Hamlet is too much of an intellectual and his dithering means that everyone dies instead of just Claudius.  Being too stupid to live is not a good flaw, because it doesn’t teach us anything.


[1] Merely the first of many times in which the now-traitorous Karstarks will find themselves betrayed by their would-be allies…

[2] This may be an outgrowth of the North’s lesser remove from clan-oriented societies. In winter, the individual is dispensable – hence the tradition of voluntary suicide-by-exposure in times of famine – as long as the group survives.


109 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn III, ASOS

  1. Winnief says:

    Also if Jeyne’s carrying Robb’s heir then Sansa AND Fake Arya are much less available to be used as tools by various factions looking to filch Winterfell which could have a lot of impact on Sansa’s arc but also save poor Jeyne Poole from Ramsay.

    • Sean C. says:

      Ned’s daughters would remain powerful legitimizing symbols even if Robb had a son, particularly since the Boltons would simply argue that Robb and his line were attainted.

      It certainly would affect the politics of the North going forward, but not to the extent of altering political designs on Sansa and fArya.

      • True… but the North would see Robb’s child as the true heir.

        • Grant says:

          Robb’s name might be powerful, but an infant king isn’t a good sign when your region’s in a bad winter and ripped apart by war. Lords might rally to the child, or they might rally to one of Ned Stark’s daughters (especially if the daughter has a sizable force backing her).

          Of course Jeyne might marry a lord to serve as Lord Protector, unpleasant as that’d be for her after everything.

          • But eventually when they grow up they would likely be seen as the best claimant. The North loves the Starks and hates the Lannisters.

          • Gonzalo says:

            The Boltons would insist on the line touted by the Freys on White Harbor: that Robb abandoned the North to carve a southron kingdom for himself.

          • Grant says:

            That’s a period of at least a decade, probably closer to two. At the best of times there’d need to be someone firmly ruling on the child’s behalf, which means someone both strong and popular, or else there would be trouble from the lords. Look at what Baelish has to deal with in the Vale because he’s unpopular, and that’s a place untouched by war.

            So in the North currently split by war and where survival is very uncertain, Robb’s child could certainly be a point to rally around if handled correctly, but it still wouldn’t be easy.

    • Less useful than they would be otherwise, yes. Much less? Unclear.

      You can always spread rumors that the child died, that the child is a bastard, etc.

  2. Steven Xue says:

    Happy New Year Maester Steven, I am excited to see what you have in store for us this year.

    Just a little nitpick on why Karstark brought eight men to carry out his revenge. I always assumed he felt he needed that many men to overwhelm the gaolers on guard that night. He did have to take out at least two of them and his men did take injuries/casualties as a result. So even though it does make him and his men look like a bunch of wusses for needing so many of them just to murder a couple of unarmed preteens, for all he knew there could have been a dozen men guarding the dungeons that night.

    • That’s a fair point, but it’s still in aid of a pretty cowardly action.

      • Eric Ellis says:

        I don’t really consider Rickard’s actions as cowardly per se, just hugely short-sighted in terms of his obvious goal for vengeance. It seems to me that the only way for him (and the North et al) to get true vengeance is for them to win the war against the Lannisters and make those like Tywin, Cersei, and Jaime pay for the pain they inflicted on the North. To that end, murdering the Lannister prisoners who are just small boys and largely irrelevant parts of the Lannister machine really accomplishes little to assuage that pain while putting the war effort itself into a position from which its impossible for them to actually win the war. I suppose Rickard had done the math and decided that the war itself was already lost once Jaime escaped, so I can understand why he decided to settle for what little revenge he could get, but in the end it really did little to “hurt” the Lannisters (Kevan being the one most affected) and basically ended any pretense that the north could ultimately get justice. I just don’t think “cowardly” really describes it accurately as all of them were probably quite aware that they would not be escaping the assassination with their lives. It just didn’t serve to gain them the vengeance they seeked in my opinion.

        • Kaustubh says:

          I think Rickard’s actions were more about getting vengeance from beyond the grave.

          At this point in the war, making peace would’ve looked like a good option to all concerned parties. Robb was in a losing position being vastly outnumnered, so it didn’t seem like he had a chance to win. OTOH, he’d proven himself formidable enough to make the Lannisters think that yes, he could do a lot of damage before he goes down. But now if the girls were actually exchanged for Jaime, all parties concerned should be willing to atleast start negotiating.

          In Rickard’s mind, if he starts killing hostages (and gets Jaime killed as well), then its possible that the Lannisters would’ve retaliated through Sansa and Arya. Once that happens, any peace is off the table and both parties fight to the bitter end. And that’s what he was really after.

  3. fjallstrom says:

    The show’s writers probably think they say something deep and interesting with “honour gets you killed”. It’s like why grimdark appeals to teens, it is on the surface more realistic, or at least appears so to those who wants to see the world in shades of darkness. Pity, when they had the books to use.

    I will say though, that while the show messed up a lot, they got the feeling of the run up to the Red Wedding right. The Starks win every battle, but still things are going down the drain, they feel boxed in, and then when they are seeing a way out, planning – but not spelling out the details, thus preserving the unspoken plan guarantee – the trap snaps shut. Reminds me of the contrasts in the Dune series between the scheming urban and palace settings and the open dangers of the desert.

    Oh, and “Kickard Karstark” is a great misspelling. Could be a Stan Lee hero, or perhaps a villain.

  4. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Happy New Year, Steven. Your analyses make for a great respite as we await the release of Book 6.

    I’d add that another reason to execute Karstark is that the Lannisters could have retaliated by killing a Northern hostage. Of course, Tywin and Roose are setting up the Red Wedding and they would never waste a bargaining chip so near to completion, but Robb had no way of knowing that.

  5. Sam says:

    I agree with you the notion that Catelyn is to blame for Rickards actions is absurd. Rickard is a fully grown man and I have felt that much of the fandom uses this as an excuse to hate Catelyn more. Also Catelyn didn’t murder anybody when freeing Jaime an important distinction.

    Another important distinction is that Catelyn took full responsibility for her actions and didn’t make any excuse’s and was fully prepared to face any consequences. Contrast that with Rickard who blamed everybody but himself and was essentially acting like a man child throwing a tantrum.

    Yeah it is going to be very satisfying seeing Sybell Westerling and her brother get hanged wish poor Jeyne wasn’t in the firing line though. Seriously characters named Jeyne have no luck in asioaf. There is Jeyne Poole, Jeyne Westerling, the Jeyne who Maegor married.

    • Rickard is being immature about the whole thing. I’m now imagining him tweeting TREACHEROUS CROOKED CATELYN! He refuses to admit he was in the wrong, but by this point he doesn’t really care.

      Well there’s Jeyne Arryn. Jeyne Heddle at least had Brienne to protect her.

    • That’s a very good point. Catelyn has a tendency to take too much responsibility, and Rickard is very much the polar opposite.

      • Jim B says:

        Doesn’t this all demonstrate that the character of Rickard Karstark is a little unrealistic?

        It’s a little strange that a northern lord — one who’s too old to be excused as a “sweet summer child” — would be so unhinged by the loss of his sons (via honorable deaths in battle) that he violates multiple sacred taboos, abandoning his own honor and jeopardizing his house’s existence, in a pointless suicidal campaign?

        At a minimum, it’s another example of GRRM putting his thumb on the scale against the Starks.

        • I wouldn’t say that. Plenty of people have been unhinged by grief and done terrible, self-destructive things as a result, and I don’t think maturity is the deciding factor.

          Rather, I think it’s a characteristic of personality and environment. If Rickard was more like Wyman, he might go another way. If Harrion was with him, so that Rickard was less isolated in his grief, he might go another way.

        • Lucerys says:

          So Rickard doing crazy things out of grief is unrealistic while Cat doing crazy things out grief makes sense? Doesn’t seem fair.

          • Jim B says:

            For reasons I explained in a rather lengthy post further down, I think the two situations are pretty distinguishable.

        • Hedrigal says:

          We don’t know Rickard well outside of this, but I do think its worth mentioning that the death of ones children is never easy, and he might just not be a person well equipped to handle that.

    • Eric Ellis says:

      I’ve noticed the latest trend is to try to absolve Catelyn of any blame when it comes to the consequences of the War of the Five Kings and I think a lot of it is simply contrarianism to be honest (since the earlier opinions about Catelyn in the fandom were the polar opposite). I mean, in my opinion Catelyn is more to blame for the ultimate destruction of House Stark than anyone else. Her seizing of Tyrion set the whole thing off and it was something she never should have done (especially based only on the word of LF, an inimitably untrustworthy guy). Taking an action of that magnitude (in which you know will directly spark a war) is something that should’ve been decided by more than just one person in a spur-of-the-moment decision. Her action also then FORCED Eddard (her own husband) to take responsibility for it (since he couldn’t let Catelyn take responsibility) and that put him in a very vulnerable position in KL, considering he was surrounded by Lannisters and Jamie.

      Then again, as Steven has so eloquently put it throughout this CBC analysis, the person obviously most to blame for the downfall of House Stark is none other than GRRM and his damn thumbs on the scales! He so thoroughly stacked the deck against the north and the Starks in particular that it really didn’t matter what any one character did, they were always doomed from the start. For fun I often read through the books and put myself in the various POV character’s shoes to see if I could think of ANY way out for them but every chapter some other major thing goes catastrophically wrong (sometimes inexplicably, like Robb not bothering to clue Edmure into his overall western strategy before leaving) and it becomes more and more clear that there is no way out.

      I wonder why George loves the stupid Lannisters so much? Lol…

      • He obviously doesn’t – certainly not more than Starks. It’s not like the Lannisters haven’t had just as many horrible things happen to them.

        He needed the Lannisters – the bad guys – to come out on top in the first half of the story (up until halfway through ASOS) so they had all the luck – until they did not, because from that point on, things have been going progressively worse for them.

        The difference is that I’m pretty sure the writing is on the wall for the Stark resurgence in the last part of the story, especially with the younger generation (4 major POV characters) obviously being primed for major roles in the resolution of the story. That’s far less likely to happen to the Lannisters, and their youngest generation at least Myrcella and Tommen) is obviously doomed. Tyrion may have some chance of surviving the series, but I wouldn’t bet on it, Jaime is pretty unlikely, Cersei is definitely doomed.

      • JG says:

        “I mean, in my opinion Catelyn is more to blame for the ultimate destruction of House Stark than anyone else.”

        Nah, it’s clearly Lysa and Littlefinger.

  6. James says:

    Robb gave up his right to judge treason the moment he blithely pardoned his mother on the basis of sentiment alone, and shouted down anyone who acknowledged it. Compare him to Stannis, who is forced by political necessity to pardon treasonous lords but apologetically acknowledges the injustice of it to Davos and assures him that he will mete out justice as soon as it’s feasible.

    • Pardons are not the same thing as acquittals. “The quality of mercy is not strained” and all that.

      • James says:

        You’re all correct of course; in a feudal system that intentionally concentrates power in a hierarchical system, with the king at the top, it’s expected that everyone will not be treated equally. I made the mistake of approaching it from a 21st century democratic perspective, particularly in regards to the concept of universal justice.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          We still have pardons today, in the form of a presidential pardon. This isn’t a 21st century/medieval thing necessarily.

          • James says:

            But if a US president pardoned a family member on that familial relationship alone there would be huge controversy, as there was when Trump hinted at the possibility. The pardon is supposed to be reserved for miscarriages of justice etc.

          • Agreed to the first point, although the U.S and Westeros have wildly different political cultures and expectations.

            However, strongly disagree with the second. Pardons have been used for many purposes, miscarriage of justice being only one of them. I’d recommend Hamilton’s Federalist Paper on the subject.

          • “if a US president pardoned a family member on that familial relationship alone there would be huge controversy”

            Yeah, that’s happened in recent history, but it didn’t get anything like the controversy it deserved.

        • Eric Ellis says:

          Well, I would argue that to pardon Catelyn for releasing Jaime while wasting no time whatsoever in condemning Rickard shows a very biased double standard in King Robb; i.e. he is not too concerned with treason when it comes to his closest loved ones. Had anybody else released Jaime as Cat did, do we doubt Robb would’ve had their heads?

          • Jim B says:

            I think it’s a little glib to say that Robb is “not too concerned with treason.” Robb knows exactly the problem that Cat put him in, and he’s quite agitated about it.

            And I don’t think it’s just because she’s family that he pardons her. No doubt it’s a factor — what man wants to execute his own mother? — but also in Cat’s favor are the following points:

            1) She’s grief-stricken and not in her right mind.
            2) She’s a woman, and presumed to be more vulnerable to grief.
            3) Her actions, however misguided, were at least intended to serve an honorable and constructive goal: freeing Arya and Sansa.
            4) Her actions did not directly cause any harm: she did not murder any guards (though I believe some did die during the efforts to recapture, hence “directly”).
            5) Her actions may have embarrassed Robb and House Stark, but did not dishonor them.
            6) Measures short of death can effectively prevent Cat from committing further such acts. She has no actual authority, and has been publicly stripped of any implied authority to act in Robb’s name, so guards aren’t going to listen to her in the future.

            Karstark can only claim #1 — and even there, his loss of two grown sons hardly compares with Cat’s loss of a husband, two young sons, and the apparently capture of two young daughters, all in close succession, plus the imminent loss of her father.

            As to the rest: Karstark is a man, a trained warrior, who in Westerosi culture is expected to be able to deal with the loss of sons in battle. Killing the captives served no constructive purpose. He killed two Tully men in the process. The end result is that House Stark’s honor is tainted by the murder of helpless child captives. And Karstark is the head of his House and, unless executed, is going to continue to have the power to murder captives or, more generally, to disobey orders and cause problems. Even the Wall isn’t an option here, because there’s no reason for Robb to believe that Karstark would accept the sentence and meekly head off to Castle Black — he’s more likely to start an insurrection in the North. Indeed, Karstark is openly mocking and defying Robb right up to his death.

            So I don’t think it’s fair to call it a double standard. The situations simply aren’t the same. If you want to claim that none of those things should matter and that Robb should have had Cat beheaded, well, ok. But there’s certainly reasons beyond familial relationships for distinguishing the cases.

            To answer your specific question: if, say, Septa Mordane had been at Riverrun, and released Jaime for similar reasons as Cat, I don’t think Robb would have beheaded her, either, and I’m assuming that Robb wasn’t terribly close to the septa.

          • JG says:

            Even if Robb wanted to, it would not be politically feasible for him to execute his own mother. It would delegitimize his kingship and Stark dynasty, destroy the alliance with the Tullys and Riverlands, and stain him forever as a kinslayer and evil tyrant.

        • From the 21st century democratic perspective, or just general human perspective, murder – and murdering children and/or prisoners of war – is a much more severe crime than letting a prisoner go.

          From the European medieval perspective, executing noblewomen was just not done.

          From the Westerosi perspective, kinslaying is the worst crime it is. I can’t even imagine what executing your own mother would be considered!

          In short, from any perspective there is, you have no leg to stand on.

          • Eric Ellis says:

            I wasn’t saying he should’ve beheaded his own mother, I was just saying that she should’ve faced at least SOME consequence for releasing the Kingslayer. And it also wasn’t just letting some guy go, that action was almost a direct death sentence for the entire northern war effort in and of itself. Nearly the entire northern army ended up dead directly because of Jaime’s escape. Had Robb still held him at Riverrun there is no way Tywin ever sanctions the massacre at the Red Wedding, for instance, so all of that blood is right there on Catelyn’s hands.

            Of course this is all just my subjective opinion. I’m not saying anybody else is wrong, but as a reader and fan of this series my personal view of Catelyn is pretty low.

          • The Red Wedding had been in the works for quite some time before Jaime was released. Tywin and Roose had been exchanging letters and making plans.
            I think you’re overestimating how much Tywin cares for any of his children.

            And no, even if that were true, that blood would not be “on Catelyn’s hands”. It would be only on the hands of those who, you know, actually organized and carried it out.

    • Sean C. says:

      Pardon is, by its nature, arbitrary. You cannot lose authority simply by pardoning some but not others, as that’s inherent in it.

      • Murc says:

        I don’t think this is true. If you’re seen to be exercising powers you formally possess in a capricious, unjust, or malfeasant way, you’re going to weaken and undermine your authority even though you had a perfect formal right to do those things.

    • Adam says:

      Stannis wasn’t “forced by political necessity” – both before Storm’s End and after the Blackwater he was willing to wage war with only 5000 men. He chose to overlook his principles because doing so would boost his army’s ranks, and only apologetically acknowledges it in private to one man. Meanwhile, there’s no way he can “mete out justice as soon as it’s feasible” – what, as soon as he wins the Iron Throne, he announces he’s executing everyone who didn’t support him from the very beginning right after they helped him win his crown? That would destroy his legitimacy. These people rightfully expect lands and honors for fighting in his wars. All he says to Davos is that he hasn’t forgotten what kind of people they are, so I expect they theoretically get rewarded with previously-abandoned Night’s Watch castles instead of prime southern farmland.

      • James says:

        I have no idea what Stannis would have done after winning the throne, but the way he talks about how everyone “from the lowliest gutter rat to the highest lord will reap what they’ve sown” (or something) and Davos leaves him “brooding on his plans for vengeance” I suspect it’s more severe punishment than what you’ve suggested.

    • Hedrigal says:

      The point of a pardon is that it is meted out non-universally.

      And what exactly was Robb supposed to do, execute his own mother?

      • James says:

        If he believes that people who commit treason are deserving of death, then yeah. “No, not her, that’s my mom” is not a great argument for the uneven delivery of capital punishment.

        • Sean C. says:

          Within the moral logic of Westeros, Robb cannot order his mother’s execution even if he wanted to. He would be a kinslayer. So while he certainly could have been less forgiving than he was, capital punishment was never in the cards.

        • Hedrigal says:

          “She’s my mom” might actually be the most valid reason to pardon her available in a culture that expects him to be the executioner, and which condemns kinslayers as beyond the pale of acceptable human society.

          Literally, theres no way for a punishment to be carried out in a culturally acceptable way, and its arguable that condemning her would be an act of kinslaying.

          • He doesn’t have to be the executioner, but ordering her execution would still be kinslaying.

            Plus, if Westeros is anything like real life medieval Europe, executing women would be seen as unchivalrous and something that’s just not done.

  7. zonaria says:

    I suppose “Kickard Karstark” is a typo, but it brought a smile to my face all the same.

  8. Quiver says:

    This is, like, my third read through of your series. I don’t exactly have any stellar insights into anything here, I just wanted to take a second to chime in with ‘Thanks’. This blog is fantastic, and I’ve had a great time reading it. Can’t wait for the next update.

  9. artihcus022 says:

    My feelings about the prologue of TWOW are not so dire as some think it is. I think the real target for Lady Stoneheart’s retribution and potential moral event horizon is going to be Roslin Frey, since Roslin really was guilty of knowing about the Red Wedding in the same way that guard who Robb executes was, i.e. she knew it was going to happen, knew it was wrong, and did nothing to help or warn anyone. You can make a far greater case against vindictive justice (and by extension, capital punishment) by making the victim of such cases guilty than innocent, and Roslin’s complicity is of the same order as Merrett Frey and others.

    And Catelyn’s final chapter makes specific mention of her remembering Roslyn’s tears…and attacking Roslyn will drive Stoneheart against Edmure. Attacking Jeyne Westerling in the prologue of TWOW is too obvious and clunky a Kick the Dog moment for GRRM’s revenge-is-bad message, closer to Dickens’ demonization of Madame Defarge and Bioshock Infinite’s cheap take on Daisy Fitzroy (so bad that they retconned it in the DLC). It doesn’t affect and compromise any character we care about, or implicates and challenges the reader. Attacking Roslyn will hurt Edmure, and turn brother-against-sister. At least that’s what I think/hope/expect.

    Great CBC as always, and a wonderful vindication of King Robb the Young Wolf.

    I think Weiss and Benioff are going to be due for a backlash very soon, if the recent video by Dragon Demands is any indication…and their weird edgelord notions are facing a cultural turn and counter, especially since the show’s version of Jon Snow is the blandest and least convincing pop culture hero of any major genre and geek show.

    • I’ve been hoping for the backlash ever since they had Stannis murdered by Brienne. And I hope we are moving towards it. But people keep up the pretense that the show is wonderful and the best show on, though if it had writing as dreadful as this in the first season…

      • Jim B says:

        “But people keep up the pretense that the show is wonderful and the best show on”

        Or — and just work with me here — maybe, just maybe, some people just have a different opinion than you (or me)?

        What, exactly, do you think is the motivation for fans who “know” that the show is actually “dreadful” to pretend otherwise?

        • The Emperor’s New Clothes effect.

          • Jim B says:

            Meaning what? That people are somehow afraid to say that the show is bad? That there’s some social pressure to pretend a bad show is good?

            I find that pretty dubious. There’s never been a shortage of people willing to criticize popular shows, even ones that are critical darlings — and I wouldn’t quite put GoT in that category. (It gets plenty of praise, sure, but there’s been criticism right from day one, whether by fans unhappy with adaptation choices, or critics annoyed by the gratuitous T&A, or many other perceived flaws.) Look at the current reactions to The Last Jedi — although it’s generally popular, there’s no shortage of fans willing to say at great length how awful it supposedly is.

            It also doesn’t ring true with personal experience. I have a few friends who got into the show partly at my urging. Now, when I’m expressing my own ambivalence about the show, they’re still insisting that it’s great. They’re not saying that to get along or to curry favor with me, because they just heard me criticize it. I assume that they just have different opinions than mine and genuinely still enjoy the show.

          • @JimB: Oh come on, the sheep mentality has always been strong with people. Whenever there’s a massive backlash against a show or movie etc., a lot more people join in, because they realize they’re not alone in disliking it, or even because they weren’t even sure they liked it, but then they realize it’s supposed to be cool to dislike and trash this thing. On the other hand, if something appears to be the Cool Thing that everyone is supposed to like, far fewer people will be willing to openly attack.

            The sheep mentality these days is particularly strong with shows that started out weak and improved, but their early offerings did too much damage in establishing the reputation of The Show that’s Cool to Mock (and a lot of time is needed for that impression to change), and GoT is the best example of the opposite: a show that was once good and that is still popular and that people still really want to like.

            There’s a lot of people criticizing GoT, but every criticism is usually met with an angry backlash of show fans who act as if every criticism is outrageous and usually try to make it seem as if “everyone else” agrees with them. You’d think that, if they actually had counter-arguments, they’d present them (e.g. if I explain why this or that storyline is nonsensical, why not explain why I’m wrong?), rather than going for such arguments like “You’re the only one who feels that way” (which is very easily debunked), “But, but, Emmys!”, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch” or, my favorite, “It’s just a TV show!”

            It says a lot that a show that was praised as a smart and complex prestige political drama is these days defended with the argument “It’s just a TV show, man, don’t be a spoilsport! Fun! Dragons! Battles!” Even one of the professional critics wrote in one of their reviews of season 7 that GoT is completely nonsensical at this point, but it’s supposedly “still the best show on TV” because it’s “entertaining”. That’s certainly something I never expected from someone who expects to be taken seriously as a critic. By that logic, someone could counter that [insert any trashy reality show] is the best show on TV, since they find it more entertaining.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      To be fair, Jon is easily one of the most boring major characters in the series. GRRM might work his ass off twisting and refining the tropes, but there’s still plenty of generic “chosen one” claptrap about him because there has to be. Dany suffers a similar problem too, but being female and having dragons helps blunt that. It probably also helps that she has a much richer history because there’s no big secret that has to be held back for narrative purposes like there is with Jon.

      • artihcus022 says:

        Book!Jon is pretty complex right from AGOT through ACOK/ASOS and ADWD. I think the show missed the subtlety by making him too much of a duty-bound stuck up about Ned, whereas in the books, Jon loves Ned but there’s also a sense of resentment hidden underneath, and we hardly get a sense in the books about how close Ned and Jon are since GRRM refused to give them a scene together which the show did…And in ADWD, Jon and Stannis, Jon and Mel, Jon and Val, are incredible foils together…I mean seriously Jon and Stannis are both comedy gold and the World’s Finest team-up of Westeros that could have been and never will be.

        But of the Stark kids, I think Jon is on the whole a less interesting character than his co-siblings. Robb Stark was intended by GRRM to be a foil for Jon Snow, in that he was the conventional hero who failed but ultimately Book!Robb and even Show!Robb is the more interesting character, stealthily enough. This is true even in the show, mostly because Richard Madden is a better actor than Kit Harrington is. I mean poor Kit doesn’t have a lot of range and he gets little and less material which he compensates with screen presence, whereas Richard Madden gets more chops to do. The most complex characters among the Starks are Ned and Catelyn, Catelyn moreso than Ned, and of course the daughters Arya and Sansa, while Bran and Rickon are inherently interesting because of the whole children in the middle of stuff they have no place in thing.

        Daenerys is a pretty complex character but the problem with her, and to some extent Jon, is that her age is kind of discordant with the consciousness and situation. Both she and Jon are young but seem too old and you have to partly forget their ages to get into their arcs. With Daenerys there is always that suspense about which way she will go, will she go messiah or antichrist, whereas Jon Snow doesn’t have that suspense and tension. Tyrion of course has that too. As does Jaime. In the show, Emilia Clarke is a better actor than Kit, but she doesn’t get good material…and the sexism of Benioff and Weiss doesn’t quite allow them to get into her, what with their secret confederate sympathies showing in Tyrion’s olive branch to the slavers and whatnot.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          “secret confederate sympathies” oh FFS.
          You had me up until that one. D&D are firmly in the leftist camp and very few even on the right nowadays have a kind word to say for the Confederacy.

          If D&D have Tyrion offering an olive branch to the slavers, it’s probably due to the tendency Steven has noted of glorifying Machiavellianism and “evil is smart” rather than any camouflaged KKK membership on their part.

          • artihcus022 says:

            I was referring to their announced (and hopefully soon to be canceled) Confederate AU TV Show whose very premise and assumptions as Steven Attewell, Ta-Nehisi Coates among many others have mocked and made fun of.

            GOT the TV Show is filled with a bunch of adaptation changes that show how the showrunners are…okay Confederate-curious. You have the sentimental whitewashing of Jorah Mormont, where the show makes us feel that Ned Stark was a little too hard on his slaving ass and where Jon Snow in S7 kind of “pardons” him. You have the jobbing in the Meereen-Volantis plot with the Harpy made into a supervillain team in a manner quite similar to how DW Griffith made the KKK in Birth of a Nation into a force that could mount a cavalry attack on the US Army when in reality the US Army crushed the KKK into oblivion under Grant.

            And of course there’s the Iron Bank of Braavos being involved in slavery, because capitalism = slavery, when in reality it was capitalist states or proto-capitalist states like Jacobin France, Parliamentary Britain and the American Union who crushed slavery.

            And I am not at all convinced that the showrunners have leftist camp. Remember that the American “Left” is not the same as it is historically in another countries, it’s a good deal more centrist, and heterodox. Someone like Bernie Sanders is a good deal less radical by global standards for instance.

            GOT is already a good deal less pro-smallfolk than the books are. Less deconstructive than the books are…and it’s less deconstructive, to the point that the show is becoming the very model of the fantasy show that Martin is trying to criticize.

          • fjallstrom says:

            While their politics is clearly – and anachronistically – modern day US left (religion bad, religious oppression of gays etc), their writing contains a lot of unfortunate implications when it comes to women (can recommend gotgifsandmusings’ retrospectives here) and people of colour (and let’s not forget turtle-paced’s detailed re-watches, they give us numbers).

            I think it is mostly lazy leaning on tropes and not really caring about the story, rather than an intended message. But if you do the same with a series where the confederacy won the civil war, I think you are likely to end up with a series that will unintentionally upset a lot of people.

          • btk says:

            “very few even on the right nowadays have a kind word to say for the Confederacy.”

            But they’re thinking that “there are fine people on both sides”…

    • High Tide, Driftmark says:

      Two out of Roslin’s three a/v brothers (Willamen being a maester in the Vale), Perwyn and Olyvar, are two out of only three (known) Freys to be kept away from the Red Wedding because they are so pro-Stark it’s not unlikely (if not probable) they would’ve warned them. I imagine Roslin was forced to play her part for the safety of her brothers. If her father, other brother Benfrey, & various other kin are willing to break guest right against thousands of people by savagely murdering them (including their king & his mother, nephew & sister of their liege lord, the bridegroom), then what’s to stop them from kinslaying?

      Yes, Lord Walder “cares” to a degree for his vast brood by giving them a roof, but would he & other cruel Freys like Ryman & Black Walder (in particular) hesitate at thinning the ranks a little if necessary? I very much doubt it. And Roslin would only need to be cowed by the threat of harm to her brothers, which she would have every reason to believe by the very inevitability of the Red Wedding. It seems like GRRM’s made a point of making the Rosby-Freys, at least the majority, as good people, especially compared to much & more of their house.

      I count Roslin in that with Olyvar & Perwyn, that she wasn’t (anywhere near) as culpable as the likes of Merrett. Who wasn’t greatly so, why his execution by Lady Stoneheart & co leaves such a bad taste & makes us question just how just it actually was, or not. Hell, however unlikely, I don’t discount that Benfrey may have been in a similar situation as his sister. Yes, he seems to have actively tried to take a part in the fighting, grabbing Dacey Mormont’s arm (the flagon to the face most likely being the wound that killed him). But can we be certain he wasn’t forced to? He had two young toddlers, the elder seemingly with some hearing impairment as she is called Deaf Della. Such innocents would certainly increase the emotional blackmail, if not against their father, then easily against their aunt …

    • Oh, I think LSH started over the moral event horizon, but we’ll see.

  10. While it is understandable Rickard is upset at suddenly losing two sons he is still being selfish. Other people have problems. It’s one of the big things in analyzing ASOIAF that while you can understand why someone might do bad things it doesn’t excuse it. It’s awful Cersei is a victim of the patriarchy and was raped by Robert, that doesn’t excuse her cruelty and treatment of other women, such as Sansa. It’s terrible that Lysa was forced into an abortion by her father and married to a man much older than him. It doesn’t excuse her murdering her husband and lying to her sister to start a huge war. LF was raped by Lysa and unable to get his love, but that doesn’t excuse how creepy he is, nice guy syndrome in full effect, and of course, starting this horrible war.

    I feel I should try and contrast Rickard’s behavior with Wyman Manderly, who loses a son to the Freys. Wyman may not kill the Freys who personally murdered Wendel, but guilty by association sort of applies here, these Freys are still representatives of the horrible force that took part in it, and are unrepentant, loathsome villains who twist round their facts because of how smug they are they have got away with it, they were not innocents. Wyman is careful to make sure he doesn’t break established custom, waiting till by the laws of guest right they are no longer under his protection before he strikes. And he makes sure his surviving son is safe first.

    Rickard is in a suicidal state, if not for this he may have just run into the thick of fighting in the hope he’d get killed. Unfortunately he wanted to get some form of vengeance and took it out on innocents, also spiting Robb in the process.

    Manderly is also going to what he knows is his death, provoking Hosteen Frey and making it blatantly obvious he hates them, but he’s not killing innocents, and has ensured some punishment on those who killed his son… who was killed treacherously, not in battle, meaning Manderly has better cause for vengeance. Although as I’ve oft said, Manderly might be happier dying if he has to eat less for winter. Old Men in winter…

    On the note of Manderly making sure his family is safe first… Rickard behaving like this when his son is out in the field could endanger his heir if the Lannisters capture Harrion again. And a reminder the Lannisters still have hostages. There is a worry they might kill some of them in retaliation for the murder of Tywin’s nephews. Also, Rickard’s actions lead to further problems for his children, when his scheming uncle Arnolf (who I am pretty sure is basically flat-out theatrical Richard III without the brilliant dialogue) tries to ensure Harrion’s death in order to take control of Karhold.

    Little note which I’m sure you’ve picked up on, there are a lot of Richard III-associations with the Karstarks. The Sun in Winter, the sigil, Rickard killing children in the cell does feel Princes in the Tower-esque… mix and match history of course.

    And I like the detail that Umber, another really masculine Northern Lord, started out looking like an enemy of Robb, had an experience which could have made them Robb’s enemy but gained respect for them, he and Karstark are the first two to declare Robb King, and the Greatjon is now so devoted to them that he strikes Rickard for insulting his King. And their uncles are also foils… but more on that later.

    It is quite sad looking at Jeyne, who wants to be a good wife but feels she can’t do anything. And looking back we see how her mother is manipulating her, pushing her into bed with Robb then secretly preventing her from conceiving under the guise of helping her. Sybell (huh, just realized that name is suitable considering her grandmother) deserves condemnation for her actions, though I am sure she will have her defenders. Well she could have not manipulated her daughter, it’s still traumatic for her, and it’s suitably ironic she loses a son at the massacre. Like u say, I hope Stoneheart gets Sybell. While the new BWB may not always punish the worse, if the worse do fall into their hands they get their just deserts.

    I do wonder what was in that letter Robb wrote and burned? Was he writing to the Lannisters over this, but couldn’t think what to say, considering peace negotiations? Was he writing an apology to Harrion? Was he writing to someone else, hoping for an ally?

    On the subject of tragedy what exactly would you say was Robb’s hamartia? Because he seems a great commander who is really unlucky. With Robert it’s neglect outside of traditionally masculine activities, with Stannis it’s devotion to what he sees as his duties, with Rhaegar it’s his obsession with the big picture of prophecy.

    Also yeh, I really do not like this idea the Starks are all honorable idiots. The world may not be all roses and so-on, but it is more complicated than Good is Dumb. Slight reminder that the guy who said Good is Dumb ended up losing… D&D really do not get the Starks and honor, thinking that evil makes you smart. Right, because Cersei is always so smart. I’m sure if she could tweet she’d tweet on about how smart she is, how she has a very high IQ… Good and Evil, Smart and Dumb, they are all mixed around. By trying to make their more complicated world, D&D are oversimplifying it in a rather unpleasant fashion.

    Anyway, great work as ever.

    • Steven Xue says:

      I think Robb’s tragedy if anything was his youth and inexperience. Its my opinion that he was taking on far more duties than he could actually handle at his age (hence the feeling of losing innocence at Rickard Karstark’s hands), and this was compounded by the fact that while he was trying to dispense justice and be a good king, he may have subconsciously being trying to live up to his father’s standards.

      Now had Ned been the one in his position, maybe he would have handled this matter a lot better. In fact if Ned was in charge I bet he could have prevented Karstark from being so rash and foolhardy. Because unlike his son Ned understands the political mindset of his bannermen a lot better, and also has known Rickard a lot longer than Robb has. I’m certain he would have anticipated Rickard’s plans on taking matters into his own hands and put in measures to prevent it from happening, like sending him away from Riverrun, putting more guards on the Lannister boys and ensuring his men don’t try to go rogue.

      But even if he couldn’t stop Rickard from succeeding, although he would of undoubtedly punished him the same way Robb did, I think Ned would have handled the execution a lot more professionally. Unlike Robb not only would Ned have dispensed justice on his disgruntled bannerman, he would have made sure the message sinks in. I think Ned might have made it a public event by inviting all the smallfolk, all his available lords/knights and their retainers into Riverrun to bear witness to the execution (maybe even have members of the clergy on stage with him to invoke the justice of the gods). At which point he would have made proclamations before drawing his sword to denounce Rickard for his unruly behavior and appealed to the people’s desire for justice and maintaining the rule of law.

      I think overall Robb’s decision to dispense justice when it needed to be done wasn’t a bad decision that cost him political points. The problem was he did it all without any panache, which would have allowed word of the deed and the justification behind it to spread like wildfire. Plus later on he ends up brooding a lot on this matter and becomes withdrawn which makes his inexperience and indecisiveness apparent to everyone working under him.

      • Grant says:

        I can’t see any way for great publicity of an execution changing the problems that Robb faces. The fear they had was the impact Karstark’s execution would have on the loyalty of his men. His men had already deserted before the execution, and even if they hadn’t there’d still be that problem of their loyalty. Lords and smallfolk seeing a spectacle of Karstark’s death and septons preaching (who aren’t even of Karstark’s faith) isn’t going to change that.

        If you mean the talk of rule of law and justice outweighing the fact that Robb’s just killed Lord Karstark, I don’t think it’s going to outweigh that their battle commander and man they’ve served for years has just been killed. Even with the law on Robb’s side, that’s going to be something they’re not okay with.

      • I don’t think Ned would have done this situation much that different – he was going to take Jorah’s head for slaving after all, and public speaking isn’t historically his strong suit.

    • The comparison to Wyman is an excellent one.

      I don’t know what was in the letter. The Lannisters are a good choice, Harrion’s another, Roose Bolton is a possibility, Lysa Arryn might also be one.

      With Robb, there is the wrinkle that his doom comes more from outside than inside, but I would say that it would be about being too trusting – trusting that Roose Bolton was loyal, that the Westerlings would not be acting against him, trusting that the Freys would work within the system.

      • Indeed. Robb was a bit too trusting. Of course that doesn’t make him an idiot, everyone makes mistakes, and he’s clearly capable. It’s just misplaced trust and bad luck. If not for giving Roose command Tywin would have been thrashed soon enough, and initially Robb intended to give the Greatjon the command.

        It is brilliant how GRRM has all these foils between characters, such as with the Northern Lords. And of course, Rickard’s vengeance causes further problems for his family. Live for the living, not the dead.

        Well, at least Rickard’s daughter was able to see past short-sighted revenge. I love Alys Karstark!

        • Steven Xue says:

          Well choosing Roose over the Greatjon wasn’t really a bad decision in my opinion. Because if you compare the two men, Roose appeared more cautious and reserved while the Greatjon was a huge boor of a person. Honestly when comparing the these two men, I would have considered Roose to be the more capable battle commander. However Steven is right when he points out that Robb should have been a little more weary of Bolton and maybe have a spy watch his every move to make sure the guy isn’t up to anything. Even if he believed Bolton was unflinching in his loyalty to him, there’s no reason he shouldn’t keep him under close surveillance (maybe have his letters intercepted once in a while) considering how much power Bolton has been delegated.

  11. Also, it’s a nice touch that Edmure mentions the names of the men of his who were killed, Delp and Elwood. You can rely on Edmure to remember those that would usually be seen as less important. Just like how after Jaime’s escape attempt he mentions the men who were killed or wounded. Edmure is such a lovely person, mayhaps not a great leader for war, but in peace this is just the sort of Lord you would want.

    • James says:

      I have to point out though that Cersei Lannister also remembers the names of the Lannister guardsmen who die in the Eddard-Jaime brawl in King’s Landing.

    • Yes that’s a good point.

    • DavidW says:

      I never noticed this until the most recent Tumblr post “guest right and hostages part 2”. Poor Delp. He was wounded by Jaime in his ACOK escape attempt, and he was on the brink of death according to the maester. I guess he recovered and was on some light duty guarding kids. Maybe that’s why Edmure was able to remember his name so easily, his death was a minor tragedy. I wonder if that’s some message from GRRM that you can’t escape your fate.

    • JG says:

      Nice little character touch and a great example of “show, don’t tell”. It’s especially interesting since Edmure gets a lot of “tell, don’t show” from his sister and uncle who are always shitting on him and spelling out his weaknesses.

  12. Zee says:

    Well written piece. A few type-os but I can’t believe I read the entire thing. Very impressed. I never realized the importance of the sequence of events in this chapter until now.

  13. Wadege says:

    This was a great analysis. Everyone calls and treats Catelyns decision to free Jaime as “A Mother’s Madness”, but I think Rickard Karstarks plan and mindset much better encapsulates the crazyness and stupidity of a grieving parent (Father’s Folly perhaps?). Of course, no one mentions this because Rickard is a Man and has Man’s ‘need for revenge’ and stuff

  14. Murc says:

    However, this conclusion misses the extent to which in this chapter Rickard Karstark carefully constructs a scenario in which there is no escape, a nihilistic death spiral which will draw in hundreds (if not thousands) of young men in a pointless quest for vengeance, like Immortan Joe promising eternal life to his war boys.

    The Karstarks as a family seem to really roll deep in this way; when they commit to a course of action they don’t fuck around.

    We haven’t seen much of Harrion so far, but I mean… Rickard basically engineers his own death in a way that’s going to cause maximum grief for Robb, set the Riverlands on fire even more than they already are, and potentially get Harrion killed all because he wants his fuckin’ vengeance and once he decides he’s going to get his vengeance, he’s all in. “Proportional response” isn’t in his vocabulary.

    Then you’ve got his uncle Arnolf and his cousin Cregan, who concoct an elaborate betrayal and murder scheme vis-a-vis Alys, Roose Bolton, and Stannis. Arnolf, in attempting to seize Karhold for his son and wipe out the legitimate line that would contest that, is really going all in on his usurpation. Cregan is full of defiance and rage, and vomits it forth into Jon’s face, even as he’s imprisoned in an ice cell and being informed, oh yeah, Alys is marrying a warlord and marching back to claim the seat either in the name of Harrion or herself.

    And of course there’s Alys herself, who when she figures out what the game is shinnies out of Karhold, steals a horse, and rides it to death pell-mell across the north in the dead of winter in the very, very slim that Jon Snow, who she met once over a decade ago, the “last living son of Ned Stark” as she says, will help her. That’s a super thin reed to hang your hopes on but she goes for it hard once she makes the decision.

    The Karstarks, put bluntly, do not screw around. It seems to be a family trait.

    To begin with, Lord Karstark has clearly been on a suicidal spiral ever since his sons died and would have attempted something like this even if Jaime had never been freed by Catelyn, most likely whenever Robb eventually handed over Jaime as part of a general peace.

    Hell, he maybe doesn’t even wait that long. Maybe he decides to deal with Jaime while he’s still in Robb’s captivity. That would satisfy his urge to watch the world burn in a lot of different ways, possibly by making a general peace completely impossible.

    If he’s willing to inflict this kind of punishment on the men who carried out the killings, and even on those who merely stood by and watched, there’s no way in hell that the man who orchestrated and ordered them is going to be let off the hook.

    I think that nameless Karhold man would have been better served begging for mercy on the grounds that he and his accomplices were obeying their own liege lord, and if they chose wrongly in obeying the lord they’ve bound their lives to over their king, that’s a hard, cruel choice to ask them to make.

    Robb would respect that argument, I think, and while it wouldn’t get them a pardon it might get them the chance to take the black, which means they live.

    Interestingly, there is, so far as I can tell, zero discussion at all in this chapter regarding allowing Rickard or accomplices to take the black. None at all. There’s some of keeping him alive as a hostage, but no notion that he might be sent to the Wall.

    I mean. Rickard would hurl that offer right back in Robb’s face, but you’d think it would’ve come up.

    Needless to say, this is not how kinslaying works.

    I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here; while Rickard is certainly looking to inflict maximum damage on the way out, I think he, and his family more generally, do have a kind of… I guess I’m going to say pretension to Starkness, if that makes any sense?

    This isn’t the first time Rickard has brought up the close blood ties between Stark and Karstark, and he won’t be the last Karstark to do this. Let’s take a look at nearly the very first words out of Alys’ mouth two books on, when she meets Jon in ADWD:

    “My house and yours are bound in blood and honor. Hear me, kinsman.”

    She goes straight to the “we’re kin” line without missing a beat. Granted, she wants something from him, but… let’s look at her father again. Rickard thought he might marry his daughter to Lord Stark’s eldest son and heir, and have her be the Lady of Winterfell. He named two of his sons Torrhen and Eddard, strong Stark names. He brought up the supposed “close ties” between Karstark and Stark every chance he got. And he was very, VERY angry that his wants and needs weren’t being equivalent weight to Catelyn’s, as if she were a favored family member he is being pushed aside for when he feels he deserves better.

    I think that, for Rickard and his children at least, this isn’t political calculation. I think they’ve drunk their own kool-aid to a limited extend. When people say “Karstark” that’s not what Rickard hears; he hears “Karhold Stark” with an emphasis on the “Stark.” Rickard, consciously or subconsciously, thinks he is a Stark and should be treated like one. And I think at least some of his kids picked this attitude up from him as well.

    I could be reaching here. But man… Rickard REALLY wants to be treated like a Stark and gets pissed off when he isn’t.

    This may be a bit controversial, but I’m going to put aside not killing Karstark,

    I think the two much more interesting what if scenarios are “what if Rickard is sent to the Wall” and “what is Catelyn had never freed Jaime and he’s still in the dungeon when Rickard gets all murder-happy.”

    • Hedrigal says:

      I’d be interested to know to what extent Robb buys into the same spiel Jon bought into early on that the nights watch is more than a glorified penal colony, and that hed not want to send Jon a bunch of child murderers.

      • Grant says:

        They all know that the NW takes criminals and Robb’s shown he’s pretty well versed in North criminal justice. He might not get exactly what it means in practice, but there’s at least some knowledge.

    • Quiver says:

      The “wanted to be treated as a Stark” thing is an interesting point to note, considering Barbrey and Theon’s conversation in ADwD.
      I wonder how widely that attitude has suffused the North? There are a lot of people who show themselves to be very willing to support, or who want to be, Starks. Part of that identity theme that Martin has running throughout the books, I think…

    • 1. Agreed about the Karstark; never doing anything by halves.
      2. Yeah, who knows when Rickard acts.
      3. I think the issue with the Wall in this scenario is that Robb doesn’t have a good means to do that, since the North is barred to him.
      4. I can see the pretension argument. He’s still bullshitting about kinslaying tho.

    • fjallstrom says:

      Adding to the Karstark’s not screwing around is the way Alys marries the Magnar of Thenn and is all “let him be scared of me”. No regrets, full steam ahead!

    • JG says:

      Alys is one of those great tertiary characters who I hope ends up okay in the end.

  15. Shannon says:

    Just wanted to say once more: ❤ your CBCs & other posts~& that I hope you are recovering well (am sure, as an RN, it’d have been/be a pleasure to have you as a patient).

  16. […] do get a sense as to why smaller sections are ordered the way they are. Jaime III comes right after Catelyn III because it shows us the other side of the fallout from Catelyn freeing the Kingslayer: last […]

  17. […] Speaking of the costs of vengeance, one of the running threads that affects Arya deeply in this chapter is the repeated appearance (first at the treetop village and second at Sallydance) of the Karstarks off on their suicide run: […]

  18. Chris Walker says:

    Can’t help but point out this tiny bit of (maybe inadvertent) LSH foreshadowing:

    ‘”We must keep the news from the Twins as well, until…”

    “Until we can bring the murdered dead back to life?” said Brynden Blackfish sharply.’

    With Catelyn right there, too!

  19. […] of the Riverlands. (This passage also gives us a bit of an update of the situation with Jaime and Riverrun, although Stoney Sept hasn’t yet gotten the breaking news that Jaime’s been captured by […]

  20. […] altering everyone’s trajectories: Hoat’s plan to find safety in the North is undone by Lord Karstark’s rash action; Tywin’s military strategy has shifted to an arm’s length approach due to his need to […]

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