[Re-Read] A Storm of Swords – Catelyn I


If there was ever a character conceived who had the opposite of the Midas Touch, it would most certainly be Catelyn Stark. I’ve said more than enough in past posts about my sympathy for Catelyn and her increasingly poor situation but regardless of the excuses that her fans make for her, there can really be no denying that her track record is less than stellar. After the previous chapter (Jaime), we know that Catelyn did not in fact kill the Stark’s only major political (and military, though for better or worse that doesn’t come into play) prisoner, but instead released him. This is the first Catelyn chapter in her last book – and she is more miserable than ever. She has very little reason to happy, truth be told – she thinks Bran and Rickon are dead, she has heard no news of Arya , her father is dying and she has entrusted Sansa’s life and safety to the honour of the likes of Jaime Lannister. Things are not looking up for Lady Stark and her tone throughout this dull chapter ensures that we know it.

“Forgive me… the blood… oh, please… Tansy…”

It’s sub-sub-plots (if you can even call it that) that make me love A Song of Ice and Fire so much. The prevailing theory here (though, it’s pretty much spelled out by the time of A Feast For Crows), in case you’re unaware, is that Littlefinger got Lysa pregnant long, long ago and that Hoster Tully, horrified that his younger daughter had given her maidenhood away for free to some half-dead squire (remember, this happened right after Littlefinger’s duel with Brandon Stark for Catelyn’s hand), had forced an abortion on Lysa. It seems here that he is still dealing with the guilt of what he did to his youngest daughter. It’s only tangentially related to the major plots of the series in that it explains the history that the Tully sisters share with Littlefinger but that’s also why I love it so much. These soap-opera like dynamics between the characters brings them to life in a way that their politicking and heroics do not. We get a full explanation a little later in the chapter, but interestingly, Catelyn does not make the connection that it was Littlefinger who got Lysa pregnant. True, there’s no real reason to think it but that’s the final link she needed to connect all the dots, though even then it’s debatable whether or not she would think that Littlefinger was obsessed with her.

Though he has said much the same before… Tully men did not surrender easily, no matter the odds.

This neatly foreshadows the Blackfish’s stalwart resistance. Edmure stood his ground for a reasonable amount of time and it was only when Jaime started threatening his child that Edmure really buckled, to which I say, fair enough.

“I threw them back. Lord Tywin, Gregor Clegane, Addam Marbrand, I turned them away. Stannis, though…” He grimaced.

Even though it isn’t spelled out for us, we now have all the pieces necessary for Robb’s downfall in place. Better writers and more knowledge fans than I have analysed the reasons for Robb’s military and political downfall but I’ll posit a quick summary of my own to throw my hat into that ring. Robb was a victim of misfortune but also had a fairly awful set of counsellors. I say he’s unlucky because in the story so far, several calamitous events occur in quick succession, each of which individually would be a heavy blow to his authority and the faith in his regime. First he loses Winterfell and his heirs, then he goes on and foolishly compromises his alliance with the Twins, Catelyn then decides to release Jaime, Edmure bungles his orders and Robb cannot spring his trap on the Lannisters and finally, soon after, Robb will also lose the Karstarks. The time frame for these events is unclear, but it seems to happen in an incredibly short period of time and the net result is that the political glue holding Robb’s military together pretty much evaporates. Second, his advisors have not informed him well – Catelyn’s objectivity has been compromised since the beginning, but even militarily, defending the Riverlands was a fool’s errand to start with. It has no natural borders and it’s just too big to properly defend without spreading yourself too thin. We’ll touch back on this in a later chapter though; I don’t want to totally shift the focus of this post.

“I had a mother’s right.” Her voice was calm, though the news about Highgarden was a savage blow to Robb’s hopes.

It’s a little galling how unapologetic Catelyn is and I’m not sure if it’s because she knows that if she admits guilt, she will lose a lot of her bargaining power and standing. I don’t think she’s concerned with power in the traditional sense but she needs to be in a certain standing politically if she is to be able to stay by Robb’s side and have her voice heard. Before we go on, I also think it’s useful to discuss the merits of Catelyn’s decision to release Jaime, however few there might be. Catelyn’s release of Jaime Lannister is only excusable from an emotional perspective. Jaime Lannister has openly admitted to trying to kill Bran and incest – there is absolutely no discernible reason to think that his word is worth anything. True, she is pinning her hopes more on Tyrion but why should she expect better results when after the way she treated him? She sends Brienne along too, partially to safeguard Jaime but also ostensibly to ensure that he keeps his side of the bargain. Has she not considered that she is throwing Brienne’s life away? What about the life of the prisoner guard Brienne had to kill in order to free Jaime? We can say that Catelyn was mad with grief, that she was desperate and I can certainly sympathize, but the simple truth is that if this were the first misstep in a long series of competent decisions, fans’ view of her would be much more understanding. Instead, she has made a royal mess of things from the beginning – pushing Ned to leave Winterfell, her mistreatment of Jon, the whole Tyrion affair and now this. At each stage, there were reasons – good ones too – for why she did what she did, but at some point, we’re going to have to accept that Catelyn’s competence has been overstated.

“If this was an escape,” she said softly, “and not an exchange of hostages, why should the Lannisters give my daughters to Brienne?”

“It will never come to that. The Kingslayer will be returned to us, I have made certain of it.”

This is actually a tricky one. Edmure was clearly thinking along a single dimension – retrieving Jaime. From that angle, notifying and mobilizing search parties in multiple locations is most definitely the right thing to do. Catelyn is coming at the matter from a different perspective – if the Stark forces still fail to capture Brienne and Jaime, but Tywin hears that it was an escape not an exchange, then he will have little reason to honour the terms of the exchange. Neither side is wrong, but given that Catelyn is banking so hard on Tyrion’s honour, I think she will just have to assume that his honour (and his father’s) will hold up. In the meanwhile, Catelyn now has yet another reason to fret and be miserable which will be all kinds of fun in her next chapter. I can’t wait.


One thought on “[Re-Read] A Storm of Swords – Catelyn I

  1. In many ways Robb’s downfall was a mix of his own decisions and the people around him fucking things up. Roose was always going to cause problems no matter what. Since he was looking to advance his own position from the very beginning.

    Walder probably sooner or later would have backstabbed Robb if he thought he could gain form it, Robb’s breaking of their arrangement just gave him a excuse to act.

    Sending Theon back to his dad was probably the biggest mistake Robb made overall considering that Balon’s actions pretty much cost him any chance of winning the war.

    Though you could also point to Umber persuading him to be king in the north that started his downfall, since that led him to be bogged down in the riverlands and unable to press on to Kings Landing without any allies.

    Though things could have gone another way if stannis hadn’t killed Renly, then lost at Kings landing thanks to the Tyrell’s siding with the Lannisters. Or if Cat hadn’t released Jaime, then Tywin might have held off on the red wedding.

    Or if Edmure hadn’t attacked Tywin and Robb manage to trap Tywin in his own lands.

    Though like anything with this series, it could have been worse or better, since it’s the little things that influence the big events in this series.

    Since Littlefinger, Vary’s and others would have influence things to swing it in their favour.

    I have always like Cat’s stuff for taking a lot of traits and character that are usually portrayed as positive and turning them upside down to show how costly they can be. Cat’s flaws are part of what make her in my eyes a very interesting character, even if some of the results of her actions ended up causing a lot of damage. Not to mention that in some ways they all build up to when she turns to stone inside out and show how much of a wolf she’s been hiding.


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