[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Catelyn I


Summary:

a-clash-of-kings

Ser Robin Ryger brings Ser Cleos Frey before Robb, who is attended by Catelyn, Theon, Edmure, the Greatjon, Olyvar, andGrey Wind. He is wearing his new crown, based on the original crown of the King in the North lost to Aegon the Conqueror, a bronze circlet incised with the runes of the First Men and surmounted by nine black spikes in the shape of longswords. Robb orders Ser Cleos to carry a message to Cersei and then return to his captivity. The message is an offer of peace. Lord Rickardleaves the hall in disgust when this is announced. The terms are as follows: Sansa and Arya must be released, after which Robb will release Willem and Tion; Sansa’s betrothal to Joffrey is to end; Eddard’s bones and those of his household must be returned, as must Ice; Lord Tywin must release his captives from the Green Fork, after which Robb will release his captives save Jaime, who will remain a hostage; and Joffrey must renounce all claim to the north and the riverlands. Maester Vymanhas drawn a map denoting the borders of the new kingdom. The agreement is to be secured by ten highborn hostages, two of which Robb will release each year of peace.

Catelyn, Edmure, and Robb confer afterwards. Catelyn is worried about Lord Rickard, and Edmure states that losing him would be disastrous. Catelyn wanted better terms, but had a hard time convincing Robb to make any offer at all; she is desperate to get her girls back. Edmure thinks they should march on Harrenhal, but Robb does not have the strength and his host gets smaller by the day because Edmure gave leave to the river lords to return to their lands. Ser Marq, Lord Karyl, and Lord Jonoshave already left, and Lord Jason has stated his intent to do the same. Catelyn continues to badger Robb about the girls, angering him. He asks if she will not go back to the Twins or Winterfell, but she says she must stay while her father lives. Robb is sending Theon to Pyke to treat with Lord Balon Greyjoy, for his longships will be necessary for the continued prosecution of the war.

Catelyn goes to see her father and finds Ser Brynden with him, just returned from a scouting mission. Catelyn tells him thatHoster sleeps most of the time now, gets weaker every day, and rarely makes sense anymore when he speaks. Catelyn is happy, however, that Brynden has made peace with him. Catelyn and Ser Brynden go outside and discuss the comet. The Greatjon thinks the old gods sent it as a message of vengeance, Edmure thinks it is Tully red and heralds victory, and Catelyn fears it is Lannister crimson and spells defeat. Brynden thinks it heralds blood. Brynden reports that the fighting goes badly in the riverlands. Ser Marq and Lord Karyl have won minor victories and Lord Beric continues to raid the Lannister rear. SerBurton Crakehall claimed to have killed him, but then fell into an ambush orchestrated by Lord Beric and died. Elsewhere, the lords of the riverlands are faring less well. Lord Jonos was repulsed from Stone Hedge and wounded; his nephew Hendry was slain. Lord Tytos retook Raventree, but the land around it is a scorched desert. Lyman’s men retook the Darry keep, butGregor descended on them a fortnight later and put the whole garrison to the sword, including Lyman. Gregor, Ser Amory, andVargo Hoat are pillaging everything, leaving only ruin in their wake. Worse, Ser Stafford and Ser Daven Lannister are gathering another army at Casterly Rock, though this army will consist of sellswords, freeriders, and green boys and will take time to put into the field. Lord Tywin obviously wants Robb to march on Harrenhal, which would be foolish, as it is one of the mightiest castles in Westeros. King Harren the Black built it three hundred years ago, but when Aegon the Conqueror arrived, he merely burned the castle, killing Harren and his family. The castle has been reputed to be cursed ever since, and misfortune seems to haunt its owners. Catelyn decides that they must force Tywin to come out, and the only way to do that is to convince Renly to come north.

Source

Commentary:

This is Catelyn’s first chapter in A Clash of Kings and like the first round of chapters we’ve seen so far, this one introduces the major elements of the character’s future arc. We see the tension with Jaime Lannister in the camp, we see Catelyn’s desperation to save Arya and Sansa, we see the various elements of political strife within the Nortern camp and lastly, on a somewhat more minor note, we end with Catelyn’s dispatch to meet Renly. It’s a long chapter and there are actually several articles of great interest (at least to me!) from both a stylistic and plot point of view.

Of gold and silver and gemstones, it had none; bronze and iron were the metals of winter, dark and strong to fight against the cold.

Just from a stylistic point then, this line really resonated with me. I contrast it to the mental images I have of the Targaryen crowns, filled with rubies and gold and I think the Northern Crown stands out just being so representative of what the North stands for and has a great symbolic value because of it. There isn’t much to note about the crown beyond that, certainly not in terms of the larger story but I thought it was a neat bit of writing albeit a little purple prosy.

Her son’s voice was not as icy as his father’s would have been, but he did not sound a boy of fifteen either.

Robb’s age is emphasized again and again and in part this emphasis create some real tension for the reader because most of us would be thinking (though not consciously, I think) ‘Damn, fifteen is really young to rule anything bigger than a high school club’ and indirectly it impresses us and makes us sympathize with this boy who has taken a man’s burden but at the same time we end up wondering whether he can cut it as a ruler especially surrounded by these nuanced dilemmas (that will arise later in this chapter and especially later in this book). Despite all that, I wonder if Robb’s age detracts from his storyline a little. Like with Jon, I can’t help but feel that Robb’s age drags me out of the story a little and messes with me suspension of disbelief because no matter how you look at it, fifteen is just too young to rule a nation or command the Wall.

He had been the first to proclaim her son King in the North, and he would brook no slight to the honor of his new-made sovereign.

I think a simple summary of the Greatjon is that he is a simple man – if he doesn’t like you, he will show it but once you win him over, he is yours to the very end. I can’t remember if he dies in the Red Wedding but I hope that if he doesn’t, he is freed and gets some revenge. I think it’s that simplicity that makes him so likable as a character, especially in a world where the characters’ motives are often too morally grey to outright like or dislike.

“I want your pledge, on your honor as a knight, that after you deliver my message you’ll return with the queen’s reply, and resume your captivity.”

Can you imagine a society where a concept as abstract as honour is enough to make a man travel through war-torn lands twice only to resume his captivity? I mean, at some point you have to figure that you’d be better off being forsworn than putting up with that shit. I guess it just goes to show that importance that the Westerosi place on honour and I think it ties in nicely with what I talked about in the last chapter about Jon’s need to ‘earn’ honour by fighting on the front lines. It’s like honour is almost a currency (either that, or I’ve been playing too much World of Warcraft).

His place was at Winterfell, he said as much, but would I hear him? No. Go, I told him, you must be Robert’s Hand, for the good of our House, for the sake of our children…my doing, mine, no other…

I remember I gave Catelyn some shit for her insistence on sending Ned south and honestly her regret here doesn’t change the fact that it was a bad decision at the time as well (though a very understandable one) but I feel bad for blaming her after seeing her beat herself up over it. I would strongly disagree with the last part though – while Catelyn does share some (small) part of the blame, the overwhelming majority of the blame has to lie with Cersei and Ned himself – Ned more than anyone else, I would think, actually. As to the actual terms of Robb’s demands, they don’t seem unreasonable but at the same time I can’t imagine Cersei agreeing to them in any situation. I think if it were Tyrion or Tywin in her position, they might have been willing to talk if for no other reason than to earn themselves a quick respite from the fighting to regroup against Renly and Stannis. Robb would clearly want Joffrey’s head for Ned’s and I don’t know what kind of deal they could arrange in which Jaime would be returned to the Lannisters, but none of that matters since it didn’t happen. A lot of Robb’s negotiation terms are delivered as though from a position of power, which as far as I know, is sound negotiating practice. I do wonder though whether Robb has drunk a bit too much of his own kool-aid. Does he really believe that he has enough of an advantage to – in his own words – “give her another Whispering Woods?” The answer is probably not since he does seem very aware of his army’s limitations but I feel like that knowledge of his limitations isn’t reflected in his treaty terms unless he intended Cersei to come back to him with a counter-offer or something.

She studied Theon Greyjoy’s sly smile, wondering what it meant.

This line comes right after Robb states that Jaime will remain a Stark hostage basically forever and I don’t know what to make of Theon’s smile. Of course, Theon is in the same situation as Jaime, technically since they would both be hostages for life but what part of that is making Theon happy? Is he glad that he has someone to commiserate with over being a Stark hostage? Because you can be damned sure that the Stark won’t be letting Jaime walk around Winterfell or treat him like one of their own like they did Theon.

“What I saw was Lord Karstark, walking out.”

And so it begins. I’ve mentioned before that I find Karstark’s position both understandable and a little immature (and if I haven’t before, well, I have now). Yes, he lost his sons and yes, that’s a terrible thing but honestly, if you don’t send people to war and then act shocked and outraged that they die, that’s not how war works and if at your age (I think I remember Karstark being fairly old, though that might just be the TV show overwriting my memories) you don’t understand that, then that’s really not Robb’s fault. Still, the whole situation is a mess and there will be no winners once the Storm hits.

“An offer had to be made, though a wiser man might have offered sweeter terms.”

Catelyn is spot on here. The terms were aggressive and not particularly favourable to the Lannisters even considering their position in the four way war. I get that Robb wants blood and who can blame him, but still, this is a part of the reason why fifteen is far too young to be making decisions that affect thousands of people. For all you know, this is just Robb’s angsty teen phase talking and everyone got screwed over just because puberty is a bitch.

“Don’t call me the boy,” Robb said, rounding on his uncle, his anger spilling out all at once on poor Edmure, who had only meant to support him.

This is also a natural reaction though again I feel like Robb’s age makes it seem a lot more petulant than it should. Catelyn’s comment about Robb not valuing the girls enough is actually very uncomfortable because while Robb would definitely want his sisters back, he is in a society where he cannot justify releasing Jaime for two girls who would contribute nothing to the war effort. I wonder though if that were really true – Sansa and Arya could both be married off to other houses for an alliance though even I will admit that that does not quite match up to giving Tywin back his heir. I don’t think Jaime is that much of a commander but combined with his position in the Kingsguard and as Tywin’s heir, two pre-teen girls just don’t match up. At this point, it isn’t even a matter of Westeros’ rampant sexism – I wouldn’t make that exchange if Sansa and Arya were boys either.

Listening to all of Catelyn’s advice, I can’t help but wonder why Robb won’t listen. Does he think he knows best as king? Or is it more that he trusts his own instincts too much, over advice given by others? The funny thing is that regarding Theon, especially, both Catelyn and Robb are right. Theon was loyal to Robb, as far as he could but Robb was too ignorant of Theon’s inner conflict (to be fair, it seems like Theon wasn’t too sure about it himself) over his time as a ‘ward’ of Winterfell. Theon’s story is one of my favourites in ASOIAF, but also the hardest to read. For better or worse, we’ll get to him in a while.

“Was there ever a war where only one side bled?”

These are the words of a man who really knows war. The interpretations of the comet are something we’ve touched on in previous chapters but I’ll reiterate that I really like how each side interprets it to their own ends. Meanwhile, we get our very first mention of the many resurrections of Beric Dondarrion – I don’t think I paid any attention to it the first time I read ACoK, at least not until Arya sees it first hand for herself (though I think that only happens in the next book).

The boy would have brought a fine ransom, but what does gold mean to a frothing dog like Gregor Clegane?

Seeing the state of the Riverlands, I will be amazed if even a fifth of the population survives winter. I mean, this is still a good year from ADwD but still, most of these lands are well and truly fucked in terms of food and basic survival needs. They are also lacking manpower thanks to Gregor and company slaughtering things for the fun of it. I don’t know if it’s true but I remember Gregor killing the cattle and sheep he stole just for the fuck of it. I hope I’m remembering that wrong though I would be utterly unsurprised if I turned out to be right.

“Unless he must leave Harrenhal,” she said, “to face some other threat.”

I have mixed feelings about Catelyn as an advisor to Robb. She is certainly not perfect as her bias against some and towards others (Jon and Sansa and Arya, respectively) mean that her advice is not always reliable despite coming from a good place. Still, since she isn’t as caught up by the whole honour, man-fighting aspect of things, she is able to offer insight and alternatives that would not occur to the likes of Robb, Edmure and the Greatjon. She is also a capable reader of characters and seems to have good insights on various characters motivations though her biases make her assessment of characters hard to trust entirely.

In any case, it looks like Robb and Catelyn both get what they want this chapter – Catelyn gets to help the war effort and Robb gets to get rid of Catelyn’s ‘advice’ for a while. In the next chapter, Tyrion gets Robb’s message and Cersei isn’t too pleased (is she ever?)

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