Robb & Honour: What was Ned’s example?

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Gif sourced from FanPop

One of the Young Wolf’s major disastrous decisions is his hormonally-influenced rash choice to totally ignore the marriage pact his mother arranged with Walder Frey to guarantee the Northern armies could cross the Trident during the War of The Five Kings, in favour of wedding the girl whose honour he had besmirched by bedding her when upset after learning about the “deaths” of his younger brothers.

Would Robb have made a wiser decision if he had learned different lessons about honour from daddy dearest Ned Stark?

What impact does Robb’s relationship with his much loved and, by his mother, much hated bastard brother do to inform Robb’s decision making process?

Or was Robb’s dick just making all the decisions for him?

On so many levels, this decision is understandable: Walder Frey’s hardly a fine looking fellow, the Frey girls (and there are so many of them) are really far below the Starks in terms of social standing in Westerosi nobility so the match is a bit iffy anyway, and Robb’s just 15/16 when he is so quickly matched off so his armies can cross the damn river.

Yes, it wasn’t necessarily Catelyn’s finest diplomatic work… but it also wasn’t her worst. Walder Frey was not budging, despite the fact he should have been loyal to her because her father is his Lord Paramount. The Late Lord Frey has form for turning up with insufficient numbers of armies to major civil wars, as he showed in Robert’s Rebellions, and has abused his control over crossing the Trident repeatedly during Catelyn’s lifetime. I think that Cat and her father Hoster Tully just weren’t aware of just how bad Walder was getting at this – continually using pacts of marriage to foist his numerous progeny off onto the nobility of Westeros, by using his stranglehold over the only crossing fit for use in a wide and dangerous river to bow anyone who wants to cross to his petty whims. He’s a prick! Cat knows he’s a prick…. but she also knows that Robb’s armies need to get South to Riverrun and beyond. What other choices do they have? Nothing, go back north, or swim. In plate armour, with war horses and gear…. yeah, not so much of a choice there.

Cat reminds her son that most noble marriages are born out of such treaties and pacts, not love, citing her own example of being betrothed to House Stark. Ned and Cat grew to love each other deeply, and so their children remember their parents being in love and happy – what Robb and his siblings didn’t see what how Ned and Cat began, as distrustful strangers thrown together by their parents’ political ambitions.

Much like Ned’s naivity failed Sansa (full analysis here), it also failed his son and heir.

The legend of Honourable Ned Stark

What’s the one big thing we know about Ned Stark? He’s honourable. Everyone in Westeros calls him honourable. When he gives you his word, you know it will get done.

How exactly did Ned get this reputation? Is there something in the as yet untouched past history from Robert and Ned’s experiences in the Vale as foster wards of Jon Arryn, where Ned did something honourable? Is it simply that Robert, who was now King, told everyone who would listen about his best mate, honourable Ned Stark?

Either way, we do know one honourable thing that Ned did: he honoured his father’s wishes for a marriage alliance with House Tully. Brandon, Ned’s older brother and heir to Lord Rickard Stark, had been betrothed to Catelyn Tully, Lord Hoster Tully’s eldest daughter for many years. But then… Rhaegar and Lyanna ran off, Brandon got himself a head full of steam and rode down to King’s Landing to challenge the Crown Prince to come out and answer for his “kidnapping” of his baby sister, and Mad King Aerys reacted predictably. Bye bye Brandon Stark.

Suddenly, not only is Ned now Lord Eddard Stark, head of House Stark and Lord of Winterfell, Warden in the North, but he’s faced with a choice: break off the alliance with House Tully, who as Lord Paramount of the Riverlands commands a seriously important section of Westerosi armed forces as well as controlling access to the Southern kingdoms through the Trident, or… suck it up and marry his brother’s bride to ensure the alliance with the Tullys. Which he does.

But it seems that the Stark children don’t know this history. They know that Father rode off to battle with Robert Baratheon, and overthrew the Mad King, ending the Targaryen dynasty and helping his friend become king. They know the basics. But the kids seem to be utterly oblivious to the political machinations of how this all occurred. Which leads to fatal consequences for Robb and his men…

A man of honour: with a bastard son. Oops?

The other defining feature of Honourable Ned Stark is that he, not so honourably, brought home a bastard son from the Rebellion. Oopsie daisie!

Still, it’s easy to see how a young man, on a battlefield, facing death might forget his recent marriage to Catelyn Tully and shag some woman. Right? That’s all the rest of Westeros seems to think – har har, isn’t it funny that stuck up “Honourable Eddard Stark” did what we all did and rooted some woman? Not so honourable now, is he?

Now, if me and many fans are right, Ned didn’t bring home his bastard son, he brought home his nephew: Lyanna’s son, Jon. Ned couldn’t let Robert know that another son of Rhaegar Targaryen still lived, not after being repulsed by his friend’s outright enthusiasm for the gross murder of Elia Martell and her children during the Sack of King’s Landing. Robert might not have given the order, but he made no secret that he approved of the outcome. This drove a major wedge between Robert and Ned, for many years, and even during the events of AGOT was a point of discontent between them. Remember, Ned resigns as Hand of the King when Robert is adamant that assassins need to be sent after 13/14 year old Daenerys Targaryen in Essos. Killing Targaryen children who are no immediate threat to Robert’s throne is a big thing for Ned.

But Catelyn and all of Westeros don’t know that. For reasons only known to Ned, he keeps his silence and he keeps Jon safe. Is this what he promised Lyanna? “Promise me Ned” recurs again and again in Ned’s memories.

But the consequences are that he needs to deal with a particularly frosty pissed off noble lady wife who is NOT amused at her husband’s infidelity and is NOT happy about keeping the fruits of this supposed infidelity at Winterfell.

Another consequence is that his boys grew up as close as brothers, just as he hoped. But this means that Robb spent his life making excuses for why his best friend and best brother Jon is treated like shit by everyone, including his own Lady Mother.

But the other huge lesson that Ned gave his sons by his own behaviour: take responsibility for your mistakes. If you cause a woman to bear a bastard, take responsibility for that child. Ned never said this to Robb, but it’s what Ned himself did. Robb learned from his father’s actions, which spoke far louder than anything Ned might have said during whatever passes for a “birds and the bees” chat between Westerosi fathers and sons. It’s a case of “don’t do what I do, do what I bloody tell you”, except Robb got it the wrong way around.

Robb’s biggest lesson: don’t have a bastard!

It’s unclear if Robb’s experiences with Jeyne Westerling were his first sexual encounters, or if it was just his first sexual encounter with a high(ish)born lady. Remember, Theon, who Robb has come to see as another brother, spends most of his time in Winterfell before everything goes to shit going off drinking and whoring in Winter Town. And Jon recounts to Sam at the Wall that Robb and Jon went with Theon at least once, to lose their V cards and spend time with the ladies of the night. It’s not a stretch to assume that Robb is no virgin, but Jeyne Westerling is one of the first times he’s been with a woman who isn’t paid for her sexual services, and thus consequently can be assumed to be in relatively control of her reproductive cycle. Birth control is known in Westeros – “moon tea” is utilised frequently by women of all classes to control their wombs, but is specifically within the sex worker’s arsenal of professional tools.

It’s important to remember the context during which Robb loses the plot: he’s been fighting a war against the Lannisters for months. He’s just been injured in battle, and has just been informed that Theon Greyjoy, who he thought of as a brother and sent to Pyke to be his envoy and get the Iron Fleet onto the Northern Kingdom’s side in the War of the Five Kings, has turned traitor in the most spectacular way. Winterfell has been sacked by the Ironborn, led by Theon, who has (apparently) killed Bran and Rickon Stark as well as most of the household guard left in Winterfell, who were Robb and his siblings trusted allies, friends and mentors. He’s pretty damn upset, and does what anyone would do: hits the wine and tries to forget about it all. Enter a pretty girl…. and the inevitable happens.

Robb wakes up from his night of drinking and shagging his woes away to realise that he is a guest at House Westerling’s home in the Crag, and he’s just deflowered their maiden daughter. On a scale of “oops” to “I done fucked up”, he’s a fair way along the scale of things you just don’t do in a medieval society. But why doesn’t he just give her some moon tea and run away?

Because he’s Honourable Ned Stark’s son, and he knows that he’s done more than just potentially give Jeyne a bastard. In Westeros, much like IRL medieval times, a woman’s virginity is prized. A bloody bedsheet on a wedding night is paraded around as a sign that the bride came to her lord’s bed pure and intact. He has taken away that option from Jeyne and her family, she’s now “soiled goods” under the puritanical doctrine of the Faith and Westeros’ fucked up morality.

But maybe it’s also about the potential for a bastard. A huge part of Jon’s identity is his status as a bastard, and how he’s not happy about it. Who is the POV we never see within Winterfell that might show other thoughts about this? Robb.

What’s the one thing Robb learned from watching his parents and mentors over the years? Bastards have a really bad go in life. He loves Jon, dearly. They’re best mates. We see this in the way that Jon reflects on Robb in his internal thoughts, and how Robb reacts to Catelyn when she tries to make him see what an idiotic choice he’s made in marrying Jeyne Westerling.

Catelyn did not need to be told what sort of comfort Jeyne Westerling had offered her son. “And you wed her the next day.”

He looked her in the eyes, proud and miserable all at once. “It was the only honorable thing to do. She’s gentle and sweet, Mother, she will make me a good wife.”…

“[Walder Frey] is not reasonable,” said Catelyn. “He is proud, and prickly to a fault. You know that. He wanted to be grandfather to a king. You will not appease him with the offer of two hoary old brigands and the second son of the fattest man in the Seven Kingdoms. Not only have you broken your oath, but you’ve slighted the honor of the Twins by choosing a bride from a lesser house.”

Robb is trying in vain to make his choice to immediately wed the girl he’s bedded look like a chivalrous and noble thing to do, but his mother is right: all he’s done is broken an alliance with the churlish and surly Walder Frey for a quick tumble. He keeps telling his mother that he loves this Westerling girl… but he has to convince himself that it was the right choice, that she will “make me a good wife”. Robb knows he fucked up, politically. But he justifies it, stubbornly, as doing what Eddard Stark would have done: by taking responsibility for any potential bastard born of this hasty fling, and taking responsibility for ruining the girl’s chances of any other match.

Never in Cat’s wildest and worst dreams did she ever expect that Walder Frey’s reaction to this slight would be as extreme as it was. While she mulls a bit over how “fortunate” the Westerlings are to unite with the King in the North through marriage, Cat doesn’t go as far as some fans as to assume that Jeyne’s parents threw her in the path of the forlorn King Robb, hoping to distract him or lead him into doing something rash and stupid, as he does.

So… did the Westerlings plan to trigger the Red Wedding?

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This adorable art is by Bangalore Monkey on Deviant Art

Politics are important in the Game of Thrones.

The Westerlings, from the Crag in the Westerlands, are bannermen to House Lannister.

You remember them right? Led by the infamously ruthless Tywin Lannister, the man who thinks that the genocide of two Westerland houses is totes approps for the “sin” of not paying some taxes to Lord Tytos Lannister, his father.

Tywin “Go Big or Go Home” Lannister, who absolutely did not order Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane and his rapist buddy Armory Loach to climb the Red Tower, rape Crown Princess Elia Martell before murdering her and her children Rhaenys and Aegon, but proudly displayed their corpses as a weregild to the new King Robert Baratheon.

The same Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King to King Joffrey Baratheon, who ultimately rewards Lord Roose Bolton and Lord Walder Frey for their conspiracy to eliminate Houses Stark and Tully in the Red Wedding with dominion over the North and Trident respectively. The man who, yet again, managed to gain the greatest military and political reward from a crime against humanity, without being seen to have directly ordered it.

And the Westerlings, who apparently deceived their liege lords of House Lannister by shacking up with House Stark in marriage after the Young Wolf’s conquest of their castle and turned their cloaks against their old banner lords…. no punishment. In fact, full pardons are granted by King Joffrey Baratheon (acting on the advice of his grandfather the Hand in Chapter 72 of ASOS) In AFFC, Lady Sybell Westerling goes so far as to ensure that Jaime Lannister is fully apprised of all of her efforts to make sure that lovestruck foolish ex-Queen Jeyne Stark bore no heir to the northern kingdom when she encounters him at Riverrun.

Curious, non?

Curious enough to make me wonder if Sybell threw her daughter at Robb Stark, after being asked by Tywin Lannister’s envoys to make sure that Robb was enticed to break his alliance betrothal with a pretty young girl.

We know that Roose Bolton, Walder Frey and the Westerlings are pardoned for their part in serving under Robb Stark’s armies, and rewarded by the Crown for their parts in the Red Wedding.

Is it possible that Tywin wanted his bannermen the Westerlings to get Robb to do something immature and politically stupid? Yes.

Is it probable? No.

Tywin demanded absolute loyalty from his bannermen, and bloody well drowned an entire castle of people to prove his point about this once before. This is not a man who would encourage the Westerlings to go rogue. Whatever Sybell Westerling’s plans were, she wasn’t given a go-ahead by Tywin.

Roose Bolton may well have been looking for a way to abandon the Starks from early on, but we have zero evidence that he was involved in getting Jeyne to Robb. And why on earth would Walder Frey choose to pass up wedding one of his girls to a damn King for a pardon from Tywin Lannister later on? It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe Robb’s naivety was so obvious as to be exploited by a plan in advance, but it’s far more likely that all these parties just took advantage of the situation once he put his dick somewhere he shouldn’t have put it. Either way, Robb did something seriously stupid in the name of honouring his honourable father, and paid the ultimate price for it.

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Robb & Honour: What was Ned’s example?

  1. While I agree that Tywin only told Sybell to make sure that they don’t get pregnant, you misinterpreted Lord Walder if you think he wouldn’t have betrayed Robb but for Jeyne. After Blackwater, the Freys with Bolton (before hearing Robb is married) keep insisting Robb needs to bend the knee. Bolton is calm bc he’s been sending letters to Tywin, but obviously the Freys think Robb won’t be able to withstand the Tyrrell-Lannister alliance.

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  2. LadyKnitsALot says:

    I think the Freys, and perhaps most Riverlanders in Robb’s army if we got to hear from them, were justifiably concerned about Edmure allying them with a Northern kingdom – they knew that their lands would be decimated in a civil war to get to the rebellious North. The calls to bend the knee are really directed at Edmure – “let us stay in the Seven Kingdoms, and leave the Northern weirdos to their own fate”, or “convince your nephew to pull his head in before we all die!”

    Walder Frey is a cunning shithead, but he would not try to force Tywin Lannister into a marriage in the same way he did Catelyn Stark.

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    1. LadyKnitsALot says:

      Part of Tywin’s hatred for Tytos is actually that Genna, his only sister, was married off to the “lowly” Freys rather than a more prestigious house. This is in TWOIAF from memory.

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      1. Yeah, she loved that at age ten he stood up to Tytos about it. But my point was more that they were already tied together, and Emmon is the one who actually gets Riverrun from the Red Wedding, too.

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  3. What Robb is stupid about more than anything is assuming that just because he married Jeyne, the whole family is going to fall at his feet. Yet he disowns Sansa for being married to Tyrion. There’s a serious disconnect there.

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    1. LadyKnitsALot says:

      By this point, Robb is suffering from PTSD I think – not just from being thrust into not just lordship, but kingship, but the impacts of multiple battles, the loss of his father, the loss of his brothers and Arya being MIA…

      But he’s also being pragmatic. Even if they rescue Sansa, they expect she will have been raped by Tyrion at the behest of Tywin to get a Lannister heir for Winterfell (and while Robb and Catelyn are wrong about Tyrion, they aren’t wrong about Tywin – that was precisely what Tywin expected Tyrion to do, and threatened to do himself if Tyrion refused!) So they’re expecting, best case scenario, to have to come up with a way to save Sansa but ensure her child cannot inherit Winterfell. Worst case scenario, they have to write her off as a casualty of war.

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