[Re-Read] A Game of Thrones – Catelyn XI


Summary:

Game of Thrones

Robb and Catelyn prepare to enter Riverrun by boat. Theon and Grey Wind are in the boat with them, and the Greatjon, Lord Rickard, and Ser Brynden are in the next boat. They are greeted by Ser Edmure, Lord Tytos, and Utherydes Wayn who offer condolences to Catelyn for Eddard’s death. Edmure takes Catelyn to see Hoster, who is dying. He is happy to see her, but seems extremely disappointed that Lysa did not come too. He also asks if Brynden has wed yet, as his refusal to marry Bethany Redwyne at Hoster’s order is the main cause of their quarrel. She goes looking for Robb and finds him praying in the godswood, so she waits. When he is done, he comes and tells her that Renly has declared himself king and he must call a council to decide what to do.

The great lords all gather. Hoster is too sick, so Edmure is there for him with Ser Brynden at his side. Arrayed around him are Lord Jonos, Lord Tytos, Lord Jason, Ser Marq, Ser Stevron, Karyl Vance, now a lord with the death of his father, and Lyman Darry, son of the late Ser Raymun. All the lords of the north are there too, Robb, Theon, Rickard, Maege, Galbart, and the Greatjon. Roose has reported that he has reformed his army at the causeway before Moat Cailin, while Lord Tywin has crossed the Trident and is making for Harrenhal. There is great disagreement over what to do next. Ser Marq urges a strike at Casterly Rock, while Lord Tytos wants to finish Tywin at Harrenhal. Lord Jonos feels they should declare for Renly and squeeze Tywin between them, and Lord Jason says they should bide their time since they are blocking Tywin’s line of supply. Ser Stevron thinks they should make peace and see who wins between Joffrey and Renly, but is shouted down. Robb is undecided. Joffrey is the true king, but he cannot bow to the Lannisters with his father executed. Renly has the might of the Reach and the Stormlands, but Stannis has the better claim. Catelyn makes an impassioned plea for peace, but she is shouted down. Finally, the Greatjon jumps up and says he has had his fill of these kings; he will bow to Robb as the King in the North. Soon, all the lords of the north and the riverlands alike are rising to their feet and offering fealty to Robb.

Source

Commentary:

The King in the North! The first time I read this chapter, I was hopeless naïve and thus hopelessly pumped for what kinds of vengeance Robb would bring to the Lannisters and slimeballs of King’s Landing. I had not yet realized what kind of story I was reading. Still, this chapter isn’t really about Robb though his own motivation for fighting this war does become the focal point of the second half of the chapter – this chapter is once again about the relationships between the characters, specifically in the Tully household. There was a great deal here that I had completely forgotten and had quite an enjoyable time re-reading this one.

The chapter opens with a touching comparison of Robb as a child and as he is now – it’s something that feels very natural for a character like Catelyn Stark, who is a mother first and foremost, to reflect upon. Reading the first couple of paragraphs, you’d be quite forgiven for forgetting that Ned had died. There is an odd serenity to it but then:

She wondered if indeed her heart would ever lift again. Oh, Ned . . .

Ned’s death has an enormous and vastly underrated influence on both Robb and Catelyn. It’s only mention so often in Catelyn’s POV but what Catelyn’s POV doesn’t tell us, or rather, cannot fully tell us, is how often the same kind of survivor’s guilt and grief wrack Robb too. There is a discussion to be had at this point about just what exactly can even set things to right at this point. Edmure offers Catelyn vengeance but she wisely and instantly rejects the idea as absurd – vengeance won’t bring Ned back to life but while that is all well and good, it does raise the question of what exactly Robb is fighting this war for. One argument is that it is for justice, the other is that it is for Sansa and Arya’s sakes but justice and revenge aren’t so very different and I suspect that if you ask any reader what Robb’s motive for the war was in ACOK or ASOS, the answer would be avenging Ned. As for justice, justice for Ned seems like a masturbatory philosophy – throwing away thousands of Northern men just to avenge one man. This isn’t a new argument either – it’s basically exactly what Catelyn is saying here, what’s the point? The motive of ‘saving’ the realm from Joffrey is also far too altruistic for this particular army and so we must ask, why do they continue fighting? If it is none of the earlier reasons, then can it be that Robb and his men just want to prove a point? That messing with the Starks will have consequences and if so, then what does his death (and its manner) say about this mission of his?

If you had not taken it upon yourself to seize the dwarf…

I don’t think it is at all unfair to place some blame of how things turned out on Catelyn. She needs to take ownership of the fact that her reckless, rash actions earlier did lead to these consequences for others though at the same time, we should not be absolving others of blame. Ned needs to shoulder his fair share but honestly, blaming Ned or Catelyn for the way things turned out is a lot like blaming a shopkeeper for being robbed. Perhaps the shopkeeper could have done more, but that should never, ever excuse what the robbery itself. Still, at the same time, knowing their stories its hard to fully blame Jaime, Cersei, Robert and all the other idiots in King’s Landing for the way things turned out. It is of course, their fault, but what I really like is how Martin has created this chain of causality going back generations so that each generation is so clearly shaped by its own circumstances; it makes the blame game very difficult.

Catelyn’s conversation with her father is very touching and not just because they seem for all the world like a totally normal family with their own memories and their own grudges. Hoster’s continued grudge match with the Blackfish over the latter’s marriage is sweet in its own way as is Bryden’s obvious love for his brother. It’s strange but I always find that Catelyn’s chapters, especially on this re-read, put me in a very forgiving mood. It’s like I am somehow feeling Catelyn’s grief through the pages and am more willing to give everyone a pass for their various antics, like Theon regaling people with tales of how he didn’t actually fight all that much. That mood lasts a good while in this chapter until I see things like:

The girls had traded him between them, serious and giggling by turns.

So much damage done to the entire realm by a bunch of kids who couldn’t know any better – it isn’t Catelyn’s fault of course, (Lysa…I’m a bit more reluctant to let off the hook) it is mostly Petyr’s, but my point here is more of a look in hindsight of how much damage could have been avoided to thousands of lives had just one childhood gone differently. I guess you could say the same about our world as well.

In any case, Robb assembles the council that would grant him his crown and by doing so seal his fate. A quick note on Rickard Karstark – what kind of father brings all his sons to a war anyway? I get that there’s the whole honour thing, no son wants to be implied to be a coward and not brought to battle, but still, don’t you leave at least one person, possibly your heir back home just to make sure things don’t go to utter shit in case one or all of you die? And having brought them all to battle, surely you can’t act surprised when they actually die? His grief is certainly understandable and forgivable, but it’s the mindset in general that I’m questioning here.

“What does Lord Stannis have against that, that we should cast it all aside?”

“The right,” said Robb stubbornly.

This is frankly infuriating to read. I mean, I don’t really care much for Renly – I think he would have become a king quite similar to Robert by the end of it, though arguably with far fewer bastards lying around. That does not however, mean that the whole six versus the west argument is wrong. In fact, even given the scene’s context, it’s hard to understand the reasoning for holding Stannis above Renly. Robb, in the end, doesn’t bow to either Stannis or Renly and ends up fighting the Lannisters on his own. It’s a stupid plan from the get-go and Catelyn’s nod towards Ned’s personality showing through is supposed to be a positive thing, I think, a sign that Robb is not just a good lord but also a good human being – except coming this soon after being a good human being got Ned executed, it doesn’t seem anything but ominous.

“When they are done fighting, we can bend our knees to the victor, or oppose him, as we choose.”

See, even the fucking Frey has a better battle plan than going full Yolo on Tywin and King’s Landing, which by the way, has as much a chance of working as Stannis’ own attempt on the capital. In fact, Stannis had the advantage of a combined land and sea assault whereas Robb plans to what, knock gently on the gates and demand Joffrey’s head? Has he not learned what happens to Starks who make demands in King’s Landing?

“Ransoms be damned, we must not give up the Kingslayer,” shouted Rickard Karstark.

Karstark clearly does not have an ulterior motive in having Jaime on hand. It’s not like he’s planning on having the most valuable prisoner the North has murdered or anything…

I find the discussion of peace that following very interesting from a purely intellectual point of view. In practice, there’s honestly no way of telling what the better plan of action is, even knowing as I do that the path Robb chooses ends in misery for everyone. On one hand, Catelyn makes a compelling argument, despite Robb’s idiotic attempts at being a badass, it is one that everyone must at least consider. I asked this earlier but is there really a difference between the justice that they say the seek and the vengeance that they really want? All the crimes that the Lords mention as reasons to continue fighting…well, all those reasons all warrant bloodshed and it feel almost like a convenient excuse for these lords. It’s like they’re saying “We don’t want to kill the motherfuckers who did this, but you see they broke the law, so we really don’t have a choice in the matter.” The best point however, is brought up by the Blackfish, unsurprisingly, who does note that whatever peace they have now will be temporary. My own thoughts went a step further – say, somehow, Tywin agrees to the peace and the old status quo is re-established, would Joffrey really let it go that easily? A year from now, five years, ten, would Joffrey, being the colossal bag of shit that he is, not find new ways of oppressing the Riverlands and the North? By that point, both Houses would not be in a position to oppose him without being themselves crushed?

Even their gods are wrong.

Does he really not realize that half the Lords in front him keep the new gods? In any case, I get the feeling that the Greatjon didn’t really think this through and this is also why drinking before crowning a king is a terrible idea. But hey, far be it from me to stop “THE KING IN THE NORTH!”

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One thought on “[Re-Read] A Game of Thrones – Catelyn XI

  1. Like you I felt pretty excited by the end of this chapter, and looking back am overwhelmed by the tragedy and stupidity unfolding before me. One of the things I like best about GoT is that motives are complicated, as you’ve highlighted here. Whatever the stated aims, a gut desire for vengeance driven by anger and grief is clearly behind a lot of what goes on here, and that’s not something that was ever likely to end well.

    Like

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