Catelyn is riding south with twenty Winterfell guards, including Hallis and Shadd, and five lordlings, including Ser Wendel, Robin, Lucas Blackwood, and Ser Perwyn Frey, as an escort. She had not wanted to be the one to treat with Renly, but Robb convinced her there was no one else. Robb was preparing to march as she took her leave. The riverlands are dangerous, but the war has not passed south of the Blackwater. As they ride, they soon encounter a scouting party led by Ser Colen of Greenpools. He tells her that Renly is camped near Bitterbridge, where the roseroad crosses the Mander, and that he will escort her there. As they get close to the Mander, the huge host becomes visible clustered around thousands of campfires. A great melee is being held next to the castle of Bitterbridge in front of a large crowd. As they ride up, a knight bearing the colors of House Tarth unhorses Red Ronnet Connington. Ser Colen tells Catelyn to have her men wait there, and he will present her to King Renly. As she approaches the dais, she notes some of his lords and ladies, including Lord Mathis Rowan, Lord Randyll Tarly, and Lady Arwyn Oakheart. At the center of them sits Renly with his new wife, Margaery. The melee is almost over now, with only four knights remaining. The Tarth knight quickly unhorses two of them, leaving the crowd favorite, Loras, as the final opponent. Loras almost finishes it, but the Tarth knight manages to turn the tide and defeat him. Catelyn asks Ser Colen who the knight is and is shocked to learn she is a woman, Brienne of Tarth, daughter of Lord Selwyn. Renly declares her champion of the field of 116 knights and says he will give her any reward she asks. She asks to join his Rainbow Guard, and he gives his assent. She is anointed Brienne the Blue. Ser Colen brings Catelyn forward. Renly says he will see justice done for Eddard. Lord Caswell has given Renly use of his castle, so he gives her use of his royal pavilion and offers her a place at the feast to be held that night.
That night, Catelyn is seated between Lord Mathis and Ser Jon Fossoway. Others at the feast include Brienne; Lord Willum and his sons, Josua and Elyas; Lord Steffon Varner; Lord Bryce Caron, Ser Robar Royce, and Ser Guyard Morrigen of the Rainbow Guard; Ser Mark Mullendore; and Ser Tanton Fossoway. Renly sits with Margaery on his left and Ser Loras on his right. Catelyn realizes that they are all so young and unblooded and labels them “the knights of summer.” Renly bids her leave the hall with him. He asks if Ser Barristan had been sighted at Riverrun and is disappointed that he has disappeared. He had been saving Brienne’s spot on the Rainbow Guard for him. He takes her to the battlements of the castle to gaze out at his army. He says he has 80,000, with 10,000 more at Highgarden commanded by Lord Mace and a strong garrison at Storm’s End. He will triumph. If Robb bends the knee and joins him, he can keep his titles, even King in the North, and rule as he pleases, but he must swear fealty. Catelyn mentions Stannis’s right to the throne, and Renly counters that he would make an appalling king. Renly plans to win the throne as Robert won his, through force of arms. As they talk, a rider appears and calls for the king. Renly announces himself, and the rider declares that Storm’s End is besieged by Stannis.
This was a long and extremely eventful Catelyn chapter. There’s a great to deal to discuss, mostly about the politics of the South, Catelyn and her duties as an ambassador for Robb but most of all, about King Renly Baratheon and his short-lived reign. I’ll also touch a little on Martin’s writing style because I’m fairly sure that I’m picking up some eccentricities in his style that weren’t present in A Game of Thrones and I think it’s worth exploring a little.
One day, she promised herself as she lay abed, one day she would allow herself to be less than strong.
But not today. It could not be today.
Let’s start by taking a look at how Catelyn has changed in the relatively short period of time that we’ve known her. When we first met her in the beginning of A Game of Thrones she was as close to happy as we’ve ever known her. Sure, she had some minor concerns regarding Robert’s journey to the North and whether Ned should go South or not, but she had her family and she was as happy as she could reasonably expect to be. Bran was safe, Ned was safe, her daughters were with her and no one was fighting any wars. Fast forward to this chapter and so much has changed that it’s hard to make a fair comparison between the character then and now but it seems to me that Catelyn Stark has become bitter. I understand where that bitterness comes from, of course; there are two large sources of emotional strain acting on Catelyn’s mind at this point in the tale – grief over Ned’s death and her constant concern for Robb’s safety and future. The problem is that, more often than not, it makes Catelyn’s chapters a little depressing to read. She has lost a good deal of her agency, I would say (at least at this point in the story), in the sense that now she seems to react to others’ actions more than taking action of her own. I guess a better way of explaining it would be to say that the fire in her seems to have burned out – it was burning strong when she captured Tyrion and when she actively sought justice for the attempt on Bran’s life but once Ned died and the war began, it felt like she began flagging and every action she makes seems laborious. The character still experiences and witness interesting events and in that regard she continues to be an engaging POV character but in my mind, she seems much more passive than before.
The knight raised a mailed hand, and his men formed a double column flanking Catelyn and her guard. Escort or captor? she wondered. There was nothing to be done but trust in Ser Colen’s honor, and Lord Renly’s.
We should also talk about Catelyn and her official role in this chapter as an envoy for Robb. The one thing that hadn’t struck me until I read the above line was that basically, there is no real ‘guarantee’ of any kind that Renly wouldn’t be a massive dick and hold Catelyn hostage. I can very definitely see some short-sighted Lords pulling something like that in order to neuter a potential enemy. I’m sure the thought occurred to Robb too. I’m sure he had faith in Renly’s honour but even then, I don’t know if I could send my parents right into the enemy camp, even under a peace banner. Apart from that though, I think Catelyn is pretty much the best kind of envoy that Robb could ask for. She has lived in the North and understands the kinds of deals that would strengthen and weaken the North yet at the same time, she is a Southron herself and she understands the politics and the way the game is played down South. Importantly, she is also from the Riverlands and knows their troubles too so any deal she cuts will probably be something that works out for both the North and the Riverlands. Remember, once everything is said and done, it’s the Riverlands that will need to bear the brunt of the future consequences – if there is residual bad blood between the Northern Alliance and the West, then it is still the Riverlands that will face the direct consequences of it given the shared borders.
And what do I tell him when I find him? That my son holds him no true king?
This is the real problem, however. No matter how well suited Catelyn is for the job of ambassador, it’s an inherently irrelevant position because there is really no terms and conditions that the two Kings will agree upon. Renly points out, quite accurately in my mind, that titles are just words that hold no meaning on their own and that as long as Renly is the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Robb pays him homage, Robb can carry on calling himself whatever he wants. Frankly, I think Renly’s offer is a decent one – the North hasn’t been an independent kingdom in centuries and honestly, the whole point behind this war was ostensibly to get ‘justice’ for Ned, not political independence. What’s the point of holding talks and negotiations when no one is willing to compromise? Of course, the way the story pans out, even if a decision had been reached, Stannis’ actions would have rendered it meaningless.
I think this is as good a time as any to talk about Renly and his pretensions to the Iron Throne. I have very mixed feelings about Renly. On one hand, I do think he would have had the people behind him and I think that generally speaking, the character is genial enough that he may even eventually have been able to heal the fractures within the Seven Kingdoms. The bit in this chapter where he show Catelyn the full size of his massive army is interesting in that I felt he conducted himself fairly regally and even while his knights (like Brienne, who we’ll get to in a minute), were getting all flustered by Catelyn’s manner of addressing their dear king, I was somewhat pleased to see that Renly was able to wave small matters like those aside in favour of the bigger picture. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to too much Joffrey that something like that seems more positive than it should but then again, I don’t think Stannis would have taken too kindly to that kind of talk either. Yet despite all these reasons, there are definitely warning signs in Renly that should make anyone uneasy about his future as a king. The first thing is that we can give Stannis all the shit in the world for assassinating Renly the way he did, but for now (especially since we haven’t reached that bit yet), let’s also not forget that Renly ignored Stannis’ claim which was legally stronger than Renly’s own. His might-makes-right attitude is pretty worrying especially because it sets a precedent for rebellions in the future in almost the same way that Renly quotes Robert’s example when defending his own actions. The slow progress and the spectacle in the camp tells me that Renly is a man who is aware of the importance of appearances but doesn’t seem to have learned the more fundamental importance of good judgement. Maybe he’s taking his time and putting on these shows to demonstrate that he is unconcerned by his rivals for the throne yet at the same time, I think it shows a certain immaturity that this would-be King actually thinks these displays are more important than, you know, securing his capital and reuniting the Kingdom. His demand that Robb pay homage also rubbed me the wrong way and not because I don’t want the Starks to be serving the Iron Throne again, or rather not just because of that, but also because Renly is content with Robb being King in the North. It tells me that Renly is fine with turning the Seven Kingdoms into Six but he just wants his money, which seems a little small minded. I realize I’m being a little biased about this whole business though – a more charitable interpretation of Renly’s actions could just be that he respects Robb’s cause but at the same time doesn’t want relinquish his claim over a Kingdom the size of the North and sees his offers as a middle point. After all, Dorne is semi-independent from the Seven Kingdoms and that seems to be working out ok…
“Because it will not last,” Catelyn answered, sadly. “Because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.”
“Lady Catelyn, you are wrong.” Brienne regarded her with eyes as blue as her armor. “Winter will never come for the likes of us. Should we die in battle, they will surely sing of us, and it’s always summer in the songs. In the songs all knights are gallant, all maids are beautiful, and the sun is always shining.”
This is a long quote but a famous one (the first part at least). Knights of summer is extraordinarily apt way of describing the children (because let’s face it, the majority of that lot are like college kids in freshmen year thinking that the rest of life will be like freshmen year) that Renly surrounds himself yet. Catelyn puts it perfectly when she says that they don’t think anything can go wrong because that’s how youth works – you never really, truly believe you can fail until you do. Brienne reemphasizes this in the quote above but in her case, I think it’s almost as though she wants to believe that winter well never come for them. I think she is trying to convince herself that this fairy tale that she’s living in will continue on forever – she will be Renly’s silent but loyal bodyguard and win his favour one day. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thinks that maybe one day she might catch him without Margaery…Well, anyway, despite Brienne’s insistence that summer will never end, her summer is coming dangerously close and from that point she’s well into her personal winter.
The face of a drowned woman, Catelyn thought. Can you drown in grief?
I’ll end with some interesting quotes. The above is neat bit of foreshadowing both in the sense that when she dies, her grief has drowned and then she literally dies in the river.
“Why, Your Grace, I’m the Kinslayer,” the fool said.
“It’s Kingslayer, fool of a fool,” Renly said, and the hall rang with laughter.
This one is so close to being a reference that I’m so sure that I’m missing something. The idea here is that Jaime is both Kinslayer and Kingslayer but that’s only possible if Aerys is Jaime’s father – or if there’s a new twist in the Lannister family drama in the upcoming books. This is just one of those things that comes so very close to being a fit but is just slightly the wrong size.