I’ve been putting this off, because the Red Wedding is just so unpleasant. But… in absence of anything else to blog about, time to dissect the Red Wedding as a crime against humanity.
Tywin Lannister isn’t alone in planning and executing this manoeuvre. In fact, it’s unclear how much or how little he was involved at all, but he certainly had forewarning of Roose Bolton and Walder Frey’s plot, and encouraged them with promises of royal pardons and rich rewards for carrying out the most savage breach of guest right since the Rat Cook.
Tywin wasn’t at the Twins when the Red Wedding occurred. He was in King’s Landing. He was smart enough not to leave any obvious trail of planning… so we need to dissect what we can from the POV chapters of Arya, Sansa and Tyrion to determine how much command responsibility Tywin Lannister actually bears for this gross and obscene crime against humanity.
What are the criminal elements of the Red Wedding?
There’s a lot that is horrifying about the Red Wedding, but what are the criminal parts, both in terms of domestic law (such as it exists in Westeros) and in terms of the law of war?
- Murder. It’s just generally a bad thing to do.
- Violence under a banner of peace – remember, weddings (even political ones) aren’t generally considered to be the theatre of war. The Northern and Riverlands troops that went to the Twins went as representatives of their noble houses to a wedding of their liege lords, not as armed forces to back up Robb, DAKINGINDANORF!
- Combatants (like Robb Stark, Dacey Mormont, all the soldiers outside) and non-combatants (like Catelyn Tully Stark and, in the tv show, Talisa Stark) were both targeted – breaching the Law of War regarding the principle of distinction.
On top of these things, which we can recognise in Westeros in a very basic translation of real world laws, there is also the fundamental legal and moral principle of Westeros: guest right.
Guest right: the biggest breach
What is guest right, and why is it so sacrosanct to Westeros?
As described in ASOIAF, guest right is the sanctuary granted to guests of your house and hearth from the moment they eat of the bread and salt upon entry, to the moment that they receive farewell gifts at the end. It’s a big deal for nobility, because the Lord of the house is guaranteeing safety for all those who are sheltered beneath his roof (literally or metaphorically) – not because he likes his guests, but simply because they are his guests.
This goes above and beyond mere politeness, and touches on the very heart of feudalism. Within his own halls, a nobleman is a king in his own little realm – the sole wielder of executive and judicial power, ostensibly on behalf of the king or his liege lord, but in reality… it’s a jungle out there. A very Hobbesian jungle. Everyone is on the verge of war with their neighbours all the time, and the law is pretty basic. The “king’s peace” which must be kept really only translates to 1) pay your taxes on time to the royal treasury, and 2) don’t make an unjustified fuss. But plenty of justified breaches of the peace can take place legally… so when you visit your neighbours that you might have been fighting with last week, you want to be sure you won’t be stabbed in the back under a banner of peace. Hence guest right: a guarantee that says “Yes, we are civilised here. You will enjoy the hospitality and safety of my halls for the duration of your stay.”
We see people take advantage of this throughout Westerosi history – like Aegon the Unworthy, who decided to tour his kingdom and just plonk himself down on the hospitality of the nearest noble when it was time for the evening’s feast, fucking and sleep.
But just because people take advantage of it, does not mean that the role of guest right is any less sacred to Westeros. The Red Wedding takes place in Chapter 51 ASOS, Catelyn VIII, but the lead up is covered in Catelyn VII. We see how tense Cat is about the Late Lord Frey’s continuous waspish insults about Robb’s breach of their earlier marriage pact, and she (correctly) senses trouble. So she demands food – bread and salt. Once the key Northern lords have eaten the token bread and salt, Cat relaxes. She knows it won’t be a pleasant wedding, but she trusts that the sacrosanct value of guest right cannot be breached.
Who knew what?
We know from the text and GRRM that there are 3 conspirators to the Red Wedding, and a fourth House that get something out of their compliance.
- Tywin Lannister. Gains the most, risks the least.The War of the Five Kings was sparked by Tywin ordering the Bloody Mummers to raid the Riverlands in retaliation for Catelyn (foolishly, but lawfully) arresting Tyrion on suspicion of Bran’s attempted assassination. But Tywin, the great Lion of the Rock, the richest and most ruthless lord in Westeros, couldn’t bring the stubbornly tenacious wolf pup to heel.
So Tywin sought another method. A cleaner one, that risked none of his troops necessary to redirect to the war against Stannis’ claim to the Iron Throne (must protect that Lannister legacy…)
- Roose Bolton. Most likely the one who came up with the plan.Roose and House Bolton gain much from turning their cloaks against their liege lords and traditional Northern rivals, House Stark. He is given the elevated rank of Lord Paramount in the North, and its wardenship, and is granted Winterfell and all of House Stark’s former lands (on top of his existing lands in the Dreadfort and surrounds) by King Tommen the Beetslayer (acting on Grandpa’s directions.)
Roose is an unpleasant character, with something off about him generally. While it’s unlikely that the absurd and entertaining mystical tinfoil that suggests Roose is some kind of preternatural undead entity, there is something definitely off about the flaying men of House Bolton. The penchant for violence, the sadistic streak…. Ramsay is out of control, but the apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree. Roose just hides his behaviour better than his bastard son.
- The Late Lord Walder Frey. The bitter old fart who is the prime suspect in all of Westeros for the Red Wedding, although in reality he just went along for the ride to get revenge for his hurt pride.
- House Westerling. Ostensibly traitors to the Crown, and more importantly to their Westerland liege lord Tywin Lannister, for marrying Jeyne off to DAKINGINDANORF, the Westerlings get some pardons and a good marriage or two out of Lady Sybell Spicer Westerling’s deal with Tywin Lannister, that she is very keen to ensure that Jaime knows about when he comes to Riverrun. (Covered in a different blog.)
Tyrion makes a pretty incisive analysis of who knew what when he hears about the Red Wedding in Tyrion VI ASOS:
“So much for guest right.”
“The blood is on Walder Frey’s hands, not mine.”
“Walder Frey is a peevish old man who lives to fondle his young wife and brood over all the slights he’s suffered. I have no doubt he hatched this ugly chicken, but he would never have dared such a thing without a promise of protection.“
“I suppose you would have spared the boy and told Lord Frey you had no need of his allegiance? That would have driven the old fool right back into Stark’s arms and won you another year of war. Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner.” When Tyrion had no reply to that, his father continued. “The price was cheap by any measure. The crown shall grant Riverrun to Ser Emmon Frey once the Blackfish yields. Lancel and Daven must marry Frey girls, Joy is to wed one of Lord Walder’s natural sons when she’s old enough, and Roose Bolton becomes Warden of the North and takes home Arya Stark.”
Also, right there: Tywin’s approach to the principle of distinction. Totally and utterly wrong by all the laws of war, even in Westeros, and completely ignores the importance of guest right to the general stability of Westerosi law and order. (Also, Tywin: your loyal lords killed a good deal more than a dozen men at that particular dinner….)
Tyrion accurately notes that while Walder Frey is peevish enough to carry on to the nth degree about slights against his upstart family, there is no way he would have carried out any retribution for the broken marriage pact, let alone on the scale of the Red Wedding, without assurances of the protection of the Crown from Tywin Lannister. Tyrion has worked out what his father was doing diplomatically in between the military action while out in the field: letting it be known to key bannermen that accommodations could be made for their apparent treachery (although Lady Westerling is put out when Jaime informs her that this reward is the burned and salted land of Castamere, and the bride of Casterly Rock for her son will be a bastard girl.)
We don’t know when or how exactly these arrangements were made, but we do know:
- Walder Frey was so suspicious of everyone from the beginning;
- at Harrenhal, we begin to see the Boltons and Freys meeting alone, with no other Stark bannermen around;
- the straightforward exchange of Harrenhal from Lannister to Bolton points to involvement between Roose and Tywin from an early stage, even though the subtle politics of this is lost on Arya;
- and Roose kept the bulk of his forces at the Dreadfort, under the command of Ramsay Bolton, his bastard son, rather than committing them to the war effort in the Riverlands.
So we know that Roose Bolton was, from the beginning, cautious in his supposed support of his liege lord, Robb Stark DAKINGINDANORF.
On the first read, it’s easy to be surprised by the Red Wedding. We don’t see the coming betrayal of the Freys until it’s too late. But on a re-read, there are some key clues in ACOK that show Walder Frey intended to betray Robb Stark well before Robb thought with his dick instead of his head. The marriage to Jeyne Westerling was the pretext that “allowed” Walder, in his twisted logic, to go forward with the betrayal, but it was on the cards from the moment the Tyrells threw in their lot with the Lannisters/royalist forces. I strongly recommend reading A Race For The Iron Throne’s blog on Arya X ACOK. Steven draws out the things that are extremely curious on a re-read.
In what’s putatively a gathering of Robb Stark’s forces, we have no Glovers, no Tallharts, no Cerwyns, no Karstarks, no Manderlys, only Roose Bolton and the Freys. … this lends evidence to the fact that the Dreadfort and the Twins are already an alliance on their own who naturally want to operate outside of the sight of loyal men…
Where it does make sense is on a political level. The Freys see that Stannis has been eliminated, that the Tyrells and the Lannisters have joined together, and that Winterfell has been lost (even though as far as they know it’s extremely likely to be retaken) and all of the sudden they think Robb Stark is a lost cause. Hence their sworn king and relative to be changes already from the “Young Wolf” to “our boy king” who “has lost the north.” And the timing for this is important – this scene takes place before news arrives from the Crag that Robb has married Jeyne Westerling and broken his oath to the Freys, and already we have the Freys looking for any excuse to get out of the Stark camp. As I have argued before, and as GRRM’s own statements have proved, the Freys were going to betray Robb Stark no matter what he did, and here we see clear evidence of a pressing motive.
The Battle of Blackwater, far to the South and conducted without the participation of any of the Northern forces, is the battle that loses Robb the war. Once the Tyrells sweep to victory and break away from the Baratheon cause, ditching the brother and rival of their king (Renly) for the existing “Baratheon” king, Joffrey, the royalist forces have sufficient power, economically and militarily, to wipe the fledgling kingdom of the North and Riverlands off the map. The fact that Theon has led an Ironborn raid on Winterfell and seemingly killed Bran and Rickon is almost irrelevant. Even if Robb had Winterfell to retreat to, the Riverlands is fucked: there is no way that the North can defeat the combined forces of the Westerlands, Reach, Crownlands and the parts of the Stormlands that came back to the general fold after Stannis’ defeat at Blackwater.
Roose Bolton and Walder Frey, who were already looking for any opportunity to turn on their young king (indanorf) have their excuse. And they’ve been discussing things with the man they know full well will be the power behind the Iron Throne: Tywin Lannister. Bolton and Frey are making sure that they will be protected (and rewarded) by Tywin’s boy king grandson for turning cloak on DAKINGINDANORF.
Better to kill a dozen at dinner?
For reasons that continue to perplex me, a number of fans have tried to argue that the Red Wedding was justified, for one reason or another.
The argument that the Red Wedding was justified because Robb broke the marriage pact with Walder Frey is nonsense, and is quickly debunked here by Something Like A Lawyer – and the evidence of the early planning of abandoning Robb’s cause, before the Robb-Jeyne wedding, as outlined above.
But what about Tywin’s justification, quoted above? Is it objectively better to slaughter a dozen men at dinner than a thousand man in a war?
Tywin is a butcher, and needs no justification to kill hundreds or thousands of men under the leadership of someone who the Lion has judged should be removed.
However, his justification to Tyrion is bullshit. Firstly, he is hugely downplaying the numbers of dead at the Red Wedding for the sake of a more poetic quote. But even without numerical accuracy, his justification doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
The biggest and most grievous breach of the Laws of Armed Conflict perpetrated at the Red Wedding is about distinction: non-military personnel were targeted for attack. Also, the attack came under a banner of peace. Both breach old school principles of the LOAC – we don’t need to look at the Geneva Conventions for these, we go back to principles of customary international law as old as war itself.
The idea of the LOAC is to try and make war less awful than it is, while recognising that it is pretty horrible. So limitations are placed: there must be distinction between military and non-military personnel and infrastructure, there must be proportionality in attacks, attacks should only be made for military necessity, and the attacks must not cause unnecessary suffering (i.e. weapons that kill slowly = very not legal.)
Leaving aside delving into the more complex areas of international law, you can see how these principles are breached at the Red Wedding.
There is no distinction between military and non-military personnel. The Boltons, Freys and Lannister-bought mercenaries slaughter Northern and Riverland warriors as well as the women, pages and non-military personnel brought to the wedding.
The attack is entirely disproportionate, partly because of the way it is carried out (did Catelyn Stark really need to be killed? And Greywind?) but also because it is a total annihilation of the Stark contingent. And they were rendered unable to fight back because the Freys made sure everyone was so drunk they were unlikely to be able to defend themselves when the Rains of Castamere began.
Was the attack necessary for military reasons? No. If the Freys and Boltons wanted to abandon the Stark cause, they could have just rode west or south and publicly aligned themselves with the Lannister/Tyrell forces. Or they could have had an open fight (and been soundly beaten, just on numerical disadvantage against the combined Stark and Tully commanded forces.) They went with deception and betrayal specifically because it was unexpected and devious.
Unnecessary suffering. The impact of the Red Wedding goes beyond just the deaths, injuries and harm done to those who attended, or those who lost family there. We see the Freys trying to allege Robb turned into a werewolf when at the Manderly’s keep, we see the ongoing imprisonment of Edmure and Roslin Tully at Riverrun and now Casterly Rock. We also see the social and military impact of the terrorist conduct of Tywin Lannister acting through his proxies of Roose Bolton and Walder Frey: no one in Westeros can trust guest right now.
Tywin, Roose and Walder fail all four of the key principles of the Law of Armed Conflict in the Red Wedding.
Does the realpolitik justification make it worth it? Tyrion might have had no reply to his father’s comment, but I do: is the military victory achieved at the Red Wedding is not worth the cost in so many ways.
- the principle of guest right has been dealt a destabilising blow
- Tywin authorised what was no more than a terrorist attack by backing Roose and Walder’s plan
- Tywin Lannister cemented his culpability in command responsibility by encouraging them to not just turn against Robb Stark’s cause, but to wipe the Northern and loyal Riverland troops out. It isn’t just that lots of people died – the key military personnel and bulk of the Northern troops were slaughtered under a banner of peace. To give this a Harry Potter analogy: this is a military and political victory secured by the means of the Unforgivable Curses. Make sense?
There is no way to claim that the Red Wedding is legally or politically justified. The ongoing fallout from the Red Wedding, whether from the Brotherhood Without Banners campaign against the Freys and Lannisters led by Lady Stoneheart, the resurrected vengeful zombie of Catelyn Stark, or the lack of trust from Westeros towards the “Baratheon”/Lannister Crown, who cannot be depended upon to keep people safe because the king rewarded the Boltons and Freys for the Red Wedding (something that cannot be overlooked in the uprising of the smallfolk in the Riverlands, in addition to the Sparrows and the spread of R’hllor faithful)….
Westeros is a powderkey of chaos waiting to blow. And much of that chaos in the Riverlands can be traced to the Red Wedding.