A Complete Analysis of Robb Stark as a Military Commander


“Battles,” muttered Robb as he led her out beneath the trees. “I have won every battle, yet somehow I’m losing the war.” – Robb Stark, ASOS, Chapter 14, Catelyn II


First, two bald statements to kick this post off:

  • Robb Stark was the greatest tactician during the War of the Five Kings.


  • Robb Stark was the worst strategist of the War of the Five Kings. (Though Balon Greyjoy gives Robb a run for his money for worst strategist.)

On the face of it, these two statements contradict each other, but in these posts, I will attempt to defend both of these statements with textual evidence and some non-technical references to military strategy.

The Difference Between Tactics and Strategy

  • Strategy – “The employment of battles to gain the end of war.” – Clausewitz
  • Tactics – “Tactics is the art and science of winning engagements and battles.” – Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication – MCDP 1-3


I’ll keep this short as I’m sure most everyone here is familiar with the events in AGOT. Before he was King of the North, Robb Stark was a man on a rescue mission. When his father, Eddard Stark was imprisoned for attempting to overthrow Joffrey, Robb Stark called his banners and proceeded to march south in an attempt to save his father. Along the way, he met up with his two most influential advisers: Ser Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully and his mother Catelyn Stark at Moat Cailin. There, Robb informed his mother that the Lannisters split their forces. One group of Lannisters led by Jaime Lannister defeated Lord Clement Piper and Lord Vance at the Golden Tooth and then defeated Edmure Tully outside of the walls of Riverrun. The other force, led by Lord Tywin Lannister, secured Harrenhal and raced north to the Green Fork.

The Residue of Design

“Luck?” Drizzt replied. “Perhaps. But more often, I dare to say, luck is simply the advantage a true warrior gains in executing the correct course of action.” – R.A. Salvatore, The Halfling’s Gem

Let’s address one thing from the start. Robb Stark was a lucky son of a bitch. But this luck came as a result of careful planning and good division of responsibilities initially. Robb Stark divided his army between his cavalry and his infantry. The infantry he sent to the Green Fork to engage Tywin, the cavalry to relieve the siege at Riverrun. Therein lies the ruse. Robb needed Tywin to believe that he was committing his forces against Tywin all the while sneaking his more mobile forces west to the Whispering Wood and Riverrun itself.

But, to me, sending his infantry against Tywin had a greater purpose than a simple ruse. Slow, heavy infantry has the ability to set up a blocking position in good terrain. Heavy infantry, under competent leadership, could endure a beating by Tywin as well as slow any attempt Tywin could make to unify his forces if he caught wind of the ruse. As a former infantryman myself, I cringe at the thought of these poor grunts dying in a secondary effort, but I understand the cold calculus that went into the planning. Preventing Tywin Lannister from unifying his two armies through sacrificing some of his infantry makes a lot of tactical sense. It was lucky that Tywin Lannister didn’t perceive Robb’s strategy, but it was a calculated risk that came through good planning and the correct course of action.

Preparation of the Battlefield: Whispering Wood

“They say he crossed at the Twins with the great part of his horse, riding hard for Riverrun.” A green boy, Tyrion remembered, more like to be brave than wise. He would have laughed, if he hadn’t hurt so much. – AGOT, Chapter 62, Tyrion IX

Map of the Battle of the Whispering Woods

While Roose Bolton and the 16,000 men fought Tywin at the Green Fork, Robb and his cavalry moved towards Riverrun and linked-up with Ser Marq Piper and the remainder of his father’s host that was harassing Jaime Lannister’s supply lines. To screen his movement, he sent Ser Brynden Tully and Theon Greyjoy ahead with his scouts. The scouts had two objectives: determining the disposition of Jaime Lannister’s host and killing enemy scouts/ravens who would alert Jaime of Robb’s approach. To this effect, the Blackfish’s strategy worked. Jaime Lannister had no idea of what was approaching Riverrun.

Robb sent a few hundred cavalry carrying Tully banners to lure Jamie Lannister into a confrontation. Jamie Lannister took the bait and attacked what he perceived to be another harrying force with a small cavalry force of his own. When he did, Robb pounced with a hidden force of several thousand soldiers. Despite taking key losses, he succeeded in capturing Jaime Lannister, thus removing the head from the snake.

Surprise, Mobility, Mass: The Battle of the Camps

When a dam is broken, the water cascades with irresistible force. Now the shape of an army resembles water. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; attack him when he does not expect it; avoid his strength and strike his emptiness and like water, one can oppose you. – Sun Tzu

Map of the Battle of the Camps

In order to besiege Riverrun, Jaime Lannister was forced by the terrain to divide his force into three separate camps to effectively contain Hoster Tully and Tytos Blackwood within Riverrun. It was the only way to besiege the (essentially island) fortress. But with Jaime Lannister captured and all Lannister outriders and ravens dead, Robb Stark moved his forces against two of the three Lannister camps during the night without detection.

To the north, Robb placed Ser Brynden Tully. To the west, he placed himself. The Blackfish initiated the attack on the camp north of the Tumblestones to the complete surprise of the Lannister host. The west camp, commanded by Lord Brax attempted to take ships across the river to assist the north camp, but they were driven back by a flurry of stones from soldiers atop Riverrun’s walls. Lord Brax was killed during the attempted crossing. When the soldiers from the west camp arrived back on the south short of the Tumblestones, they were suddenly set upon by Robb Stark, the Mallister and the Umbers.

As a last stand, the Lannisters tried to use a shield wall against Robb Stark’s heavy horse. Historically, a shield wall against a cavalry charge is actually fairly tactically effective. During the Battle of Hastings , the Saxon shield wall nearly defeated the heavily armored Norman cavalry of William the Conqueror for example. The Lannister shield wall may have been effective against the Robb’s attack but for one key element. The Lannisters seemingly did not count on the defenders from within Riverrun attacking their rear. The result was a complete annihilation of the Lannister west camp and north camp.

Planting the Seeds of Defeat through Victory

“Roose has no feelings, you see…” – ADWD, Chapter 37, The Prince of Winterfell (Reek IV)

Upon seeing the destruction of 2/3 of the Lannister host, Ser Forley Prester, commander of the east camp, retreated in an orderly fashion. The result of the battles was an overwhelming victory for Robb Stark. Even with the losses suffered at the Green Fork, Robb Stark’s host was now on something of a numerical par with Tywin Lannister’s.

But in the midst of victory, we start to see the strategic shortcomings of Robb Stark. To lead his diversionary/blocking force, he placed Roose Bolton in command of his foot. At the time, it made the most sense. Roose was cold and cunning – the type of leader who would sacrifice his men for ‘the greater good.’ And yet the man was ruthless and worst of all, untrustworthy.

“That man scares me.” – Robb Stark, AGOT, Chapter 55, Catelyn VIII

Following the conclusion of the battles, Robb Stark would have been wise to recall Roose Bolton back to Riverrun considering his own personal doubts about the man and furthermore to reconsolidate his men and materials. Instead, he allows Roose Bolton to continue to command a sizable portion of his army. Even more troubling, he doesn’t seem to provide any strategic guidance to the man who would eventually betray him, but I’ll get to that in a future post…

If interested further, check out Spencer Ackerman’s article and Steven Atwell’s Race for the Iron Throne article as they were terrific references for this post.

Politics by Another Means

“Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?” – Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995

I left out a lot of the political side of the equation yesterday, somewhat intentionally. I didn’t want to review the dealings with the Freys, northern lords or lords of the Riverlands, because well, honestly I’m not anywhere close to an expert, and I wanted to jump right into the military tactics and strategy. But I’ll try in an attempt to summarize as it relates to the Robb’s military strategy.

What was the endstate of Robb’s objective in fighting this war against the Lannisters? We get an idea of his objective when Robb instructs Cleos Frey of his demands to give to KL. He says the following:

“Lastly, King Joffrey and the Queen Regent must renounce all claims to dominion over the north. Henceforth we are no part of their realm, but a free and independent kingdom, as of old. Our domain shall include all the Stark lands north of the Neck, and in addition the lands watered by the River Trident and its vassal streams, bounded by the Golden Tooth to the west and the Mountains of the Moon in the east.” – ACOK, Chapter 7, Catelyn I

Essentially, Robb’s stated ambition was the control of half of Westeros. However, a little further down, Catelyn makes this curious observation:

“But bearded or no, he was still a youth of fifteen, and wanted vengeance no less than Rickard Karstark.”

Revenge as an endstate is not a clear goal or objective (As the BWB will come to find out with Stoneheart at the healm). It has a cataract effect on the individual and has the ability to make the mission and endstate of a war unclear or at least myopic.

Anyways, Robb used a combination of honor and strategic alliances to strengthen his position prior to his movement to Riverrun and thereafter. The marriage-promise alliance with the Freys was key to his army’s crossing into the Riverlands and key to shoring up the number of soldiers (particularly levy infantrymen) he had at his disposal. Furthermore, the rescue of Riverrun gave Robb command of the levies and knights of the Riverlands. However, it also had the effect of expanding the territory which Robb was forced to defend.

Realizing he needed more allies to win his war, Robb made his worst political decision. He sent Theon Greyjoy to Pyke to propose an alliance between the Greyjoys and the Starks. Releasing the only factor that kept the Greyjoys from roaring back into rebellion, he figured he could trust his closest friend. What he failed to recognize is that blood ties run deeper than friendship ties. Not even ill-treatment by an emotionally abusive, asshole father could keep dissuade Theon from becoming the turncloak. Even Catelyn, not known for being the most foresighted politician in Westeros, realizes this.

“I’ll say again, I would sooner you sent someone else to Pyke, and kept Theon close to you.” – ACOK, Chapter 7, Catelyn I

His other political decision was only foolish in retrospect. He sent his mother south to entreat with Renly Baratheon. Now, my intent is not to start a debate on whether this was the morally correct choice, but rather, to argue that it made the most pragmatic sense to ally with the strongest anti-Lannister faction in the realm. Of course, that ended in complete disaster, but not on account of Catelyn’s attempts.

I’ll leave it for there on the political side.

Tit for Tat: The Westerlands Campaign

“The Young Wolf was paying the Lannisters back in kind for the devastation they’d inflicted on the riverlands.” – ACOK, Chapter 39, Catelyn V

Simple Map of Disposition of Forces Prior to Start of the Westerlands Campaign  (Note: I may have placed Roose Bolton’s host too far north on my map. A wiki of ice and fire has Roose just east of the Twins at this time.)

Following the Battle of the Camps, Robb reorganized his host and prepared to move west. The general thrust of this strategy was that the Lannisters were weak and divided by geography. Tywin Lannister was in an extremely tough spot. Renly Baratheon and his Tyrell allies were slowly advancing northeast towards King’s Landing while Robb Stark and the Tullys were northwest of his position.

In this position, Robb made a fateful decision. He decided to move West to attack the Westerlands. He left Edmure Tully in command of the Riverlands. After leaving (vague – we’ll get to this in pt 3) instructions to Edmure Tully, Robb Stark and Brynden Blackfish led a (again) mostly mounted force west.

Now here I’m going to admit confusion. Was Robb’s intent to take the Westerlands while they were weak, sacking and burning the Westerlands? Or was it rather like what Brynden Tully says to Edmure in ASOS?

“We planned to run Lord Tywin a merry chase up and down the coast, then slip behind him to take up a strong defensive position athwart the gold road, at a place my scouts had found where the ground would have been greatly in our favor…” – ASOS, Chapter 14, Catelyn II

To this end, I’m not entirely sure whether this was the strategy or a way for Robb Stark and Brynden Tully to CYA for their failures, but again, I’ll get to that later.

Turning back to the Westerlands campaign, Robb and the Blackfish learned that a new Lannister host was being raised at Oxcross by Tywin Lannister’s cousin Ser Stafford Lannister. The problem in confronting this force lay in the terrain. The road leading to Oxcross ran into the Golden Tooth with high mountains running west to east on both sides. The Golden Tooth was a traditional choke-point to the movement of any Army towards Lannisport and Casterly Rock. The question of how to get around the Golden Tooth probably plagued Robb (We don’t know – no POV sadly), but a solution came to him at some point: GreyWind.

“He (Robb) slipped around it at night. It’s said the direwolf showed him the way…” – ACOK, Chapter 39, Catelyn V

One of the more interesting responses I received yesterday came from /u/I_Said] who posited that Robb warged into Greywind to accomplish this task. I don’t have an opinion on it, but it’s plausible to me that Robb would use the wolf and his senses to accomplish this objective. Bran warged into Summer to save Jon Snow for instance, but I digress.

Having successfully passed through the Golden Tooth without detection, Robb continued in his good tactical footing by having the Blackfish and his scouts kill any Lannister outriders. There were few enough to kill, as Stafford Lannister foolishly believed that he was completely safe on account of the terrain. (Note: no matter how great your position is, a dedicated enemy can and will find a way to kill you.) The Lannister scouts dead, Robb descended on the host utilizing one of my favorite terms: violence of action, that is: moving quickly and violently in order to leave your enemies, scattered, leaderless and unable to defend themselves from the onslaught. The result was a rout. The new Lannister host was destroyed, Ser Stafford Lannister was dead and the Westerlands were ripe for plunder.

Ashemark fell to the Stark/Tully host and was sacked partially in retribution for the burning that the Lannisters did in the Riverlands, but more practically to re-supply his Army. Galbart Glover and Rickard Karstark raided the coast along the coast of the Sunset Sea, the Mormonts captured livestock and sent the cattle back to Riverrun. Finally and most importantly, the Greajon Umber seized the goldmines in Castamere. This seizure of the gold and denial of a source of income may have been the linchpin which forced Tywin to move west, though that’s a topic for debate.

While Robb’s leal lords upended the Westerland economy, Robb moved toward the Craig…


I did not get as far as I wanted to in this post, meaning that I’ll do a part 3 next week (if folks are interested) which will deal with Edmure/Roose, the Westerlings and y’know finally delve into my theory of Robb as the worst strategic thinker of the War of the Five Kings. I hope I’ve demonstrated enough in this post and the previous one how formidable of a tactician I think Robb was (Remember, I think he was the greatest tactician in the war) and set the stage for why I consider Robb the worst strategist.

Part 3

Unclear and Unconcise: Robb’s Intent

“If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame. But, if orders are clear and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their oficers.” – Sun Tzu

Earlier, I painted the picture of Robb Stark as the greatest tactician of the War of the Five Kings. However, the second part of my thesis was that Robb Stark was the worst strategist of the War of the Five Kings. In this last section, I’ll demonstrate why I think so.

So while Robb and Brynden were out west defeating untested/untrained Lannister hosts and generally sacking/raiding their way from the Golden Tooth to the Sunset Sea, Edmure Tully, Robb’s Uncle, was left to defend the Riverlands. A major point of contention is what instructions Robb and the Blackfish left with Edmure before they departed for their merry campaign. We don’t get a POV of the instructions in real-time, but when Robb and his host returned to Riverrun from the Westerlands, they made the following claim.

“You were commanded to hold Riverrun, Edmure, no more.” – ASOS, Chapter 14, Catelyn II

How clear were those instructions? Let’s take a quick look at how the U.S. Army plans their missions via the Operation Order . Now, I won’t go into detail and explain how Robb didn’t follow the NATO classes of supply or failed to properly account for MOPP-level planning, because that’s both ridiculous and entirely unfair. However, I will point your attention to Paragraph III, Execution and specifically to the first sub-paragraph: Intent defined as “A stated vision that defines the purpose of an operation and the end state.” This is an ancient concept, not a modern one. Intent is the key to communicating purpose and end-state to subordinate leaders like Edmure Tully. Was Robb’s intent briefed to Edmure? I don’t think so.

“Lord Stannis was about to fall upon King’s Landing,” Robb said. “He might have rid us of Joffrey, the queen and the Imp in one red stroke. Then we might have been able to make a peace.

Edmure looked from uncle to nephew. “You never told me.”

Now, let me ask a simple question. Is the command “hold Riverrun” a clear and concise intent? To me, it absolutely is not. In his essay, The Riverrun Decision Stefan Sasse makes the following statement:

A lord is sworn to defend all his subjects, and in contrast to some (hi there, Brynden), Edmure takes his oath seriously. He can be no lord if he hides behind the castle walls, a point that is made through the series time and time again, because he would violate his oath and be seen as a coward, which is nothing a lord could stand for if he ever wants to command respect and obedience among his vassals.

This point rings true to me. Lacking a clear, concise intent from his commander, Edmure set about defending Riverrun and the Riverlands when the Lannister host moved from Harrenhal in an attempt to make it to the Westerlands. Edmure and his banner lords met Tywin’s host near the Red Fork in a series of engagements known as the Battle of the Fords. And let’s give credit to where it’s due. Edmure actually turned out to be a pretty decent tactician. Utilizing the wooded terrain to conceal his numbers, Edmure was able to successfully repulse assault after assault by Tywin Lannister and Gregor Clegane. He also utilized his key assets wisely, holding his heavy lance in reserve and placing scorpions and archers at key terrain points to kill enemy soldiers at their most exposed point (crossing the river). The effect was that the Lannisters were thrown back, key Lannister lords were killed and the Riverlands were safe. All was well until Robb and the Blackfish arrived back in Riverrun…

For his actions, Edmure received praise in public and utter damnation in private from his commander when he returned from the Westerlands. The intent all along, you see, was for Tywin and his host to pass through the Riverlands.

“We planned to run Lord Tywin a merry chase up and down the coast, then slip behind him to take up a strong defensive position athwart the gold road, at a place my scouts had found where the ground would have been greatly in our favor…” – ASOS, Chapter 14, Catelyn II

Well, that sounds like a pretty decent plan, doesn’t it? It almost sounds like the type of plan you’d probably brief the guy who’s supposed to lead your rear detachment so he doesn’t, y’know, fuck up your plan by blocking Tywin Lannister’s westward advance…

Final point on Edmure/Robb: It’s very possible that the ‘merry chase’ strategy was one that was thought up by Robb Stark and Brynden Tully to guilt Edmure into marrying one of the Frey girls to re-cement the shattered Frey/Stark alliance. Robb, being 16, had sex with Jeyne Westerling after being wounded at the Crag and then married her out of a sense of duty. But in doing his duty, Robb shattered the alliance with the Freys. Without the Freys, Robb saw no pathway to victory. So the theory is that Robb Stark and Brynden Tully left for the Westerlands without much of a strategy and then retroactively came up with this grand strategy, casting all the blame at Edmure’s feet, so as to force him into marrying a daughter of Walder Frey. To me, this is plausible but not wholly convincing. I do think that the merry chase strategy was decided from the outset or fairly early on. I don’t think it was communicated at all to Edmure. And lest we forget, it wasn’t Robb who suggested Edmure’s marriage.

“We must win back the Freys,” said Robb. “With them, we still have some chance of success, however small. Without them, I see no hope. I am willing to give Lord Walder whatever he requires… apologies, honors, lands, gold… there must be something that would sooth his pride…”

“Not something,” said Catelyn. “Someone.”

Deadly Friends: Roose Bolton

“Treason is like diamonds; there is nothing to be made by the small trader.” – Douglas Jerrold

From the start of the northern rebellion, Robb had one key confidant whom he (never should have) trusted: Roose Bolton. Lord of the Dreadfort (even the goddamn name is ominous) and future Warden of the North, Roose Bolton was key to Robb’s early strategy of bottling up Tywin Lannister at the Green Fork while he (Robb) moved to relieve the siege of Riverrun. Now, we all know how it turns out, but I want to talk a little about Roose Bolton prior to the Red Wedding, when he turned on Robb and how inattentive senior leadership on Robb’s part played a decisive role in letting Roose operate the way he did.

So, when we last left Roose Bolton, he was just east of the Twins having been defeated by Tywin Lannister at the Green Fork. What were his orders at that point? Well first, he was no longer being commanded by Robb Stark. When Robb left for the Westerlands, he fell under Edmure Tully’s command. Edmure Tully then ordered Roose Bolton to re-take Harrenhal which he did by bribing Vargo Hoat and the Brave Companions to turn cloak on the Lannisters.

All was well until Roose Bolton sensed that Robb Stark was losing and then switched sides, right? Maybe. /u/indianthane95 made this point in a comment from my first post.

“I think it stands to reason that Roose sent those Stark-loyalists against Tywin knowing full-well what the likely result was. Due to his lack of morals or misgivings or loyalty, Lord Bolton saw a win-win situation. The one thing he had to make sure of was that he himself didn’t get close to any harm, and he did that very successfully, retreating after seeing a full 33% of his host get chopped up.”

Was Roose killing off loyal Stark bannermen in an attempt to position himself for the future? I actually kind of think is plausible. Roose’s orders were to block Tywin’s advance into the Riverlands so that Robb and his main host could attack Riverrun. Instead, he chose to attack the Lannisters, and wound up defeated, losing a lot of soldiers, but few to none (as /u/indianthane95) of his own Dreadfort men. GRRM, himself, is a bit opaque on the subject itself, though he seems to hint at Bolton’s treason from the get-go.

Besides failures of communicating his intent, one of Robb’s other key strategic failures was mis-managing his subordinate leaders. And let’s not judge him too harshly, Robb’s liege lords both in the Riverlands and the North are all (unless I’m misremembering) older than him and most have battlefield experience. Roose Bolton, for instance, served under Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon at the Battle of the Trident. So, it stands to reason that Robb would have little reason not to trust in their ability. And yet, Robb’s generals go badly mismanaged. From Edmure in the Riverlands (lack of clear intent) to Roose at Harrenhal, Robb just sort of lets them do their thing. And for a while it works. The Riverlands aren’t the focus of Robb’s campaign in ACOK. Edmure and Roose’s efforts are a sideshow, so Robb doesn’t need to really need to manage his subordinates, right?

This is a pretty serious error on Robb’s part as we’ll see with the Disaster at Duskendale and Roose Bolton. And before we move too much further along, it’s worth remembering that Robb told his mother that Roose Bolton scared him. So, there was an element of fear/mistrust that Robb had for the man. And yet, he gave him a wide berth, and by wide berth, I mean the widest. No orders, no commands, no recall for (intentionally) mismanaging the war. These types of decisions that are essential for an Army commander to make were simply not made.

So, picking up the story again, Roose suddenly orders Robett Glover and Ser Helman Tallhart to seize Duskendale , a strategic point located northeast of King’s Landing. They are set upon by Randyll Tarly and Gregor Clegane who wipe the Northern host out. We, as readers, are initially led to believe that this was all Robett Glover’s doing, but eventually we find out that the disaster was implemented and planned by Roose Bolton, who by this point has fully turned cloak. Small theory: in addition to simply putting Glover and Tallhart in a position to die, Roose informed the Lannisters of the location and direction of the attack which allowed Clegan and Tarly to plan the best terrain for their attack and fully rout the northerners.

After being summoned to the Twins for Edmure’s marriage, Roose continues to let loyal Stark bannermen die on the way up while keeping disloyal Dreadfort men away from danger. He accomplished this by slowly moving to the Twins and when they reached the Ruby Ford, he safely evacuated Dreadfort men while leaving 2000 loyal Stark men behind who were set upon by Gregor Clegane.

Strokes of Brilliance at the End

“So long as Theon Greyjoy sits in your father’s seat with your brothers’ blood on his hands, these other foes must wait,” Catelyn told her son. “Your first duty is to defend your own people, win back Winterfell, and hang Theon in a crow’s cage to die slowly. Or else put off that crown for good, Robb, for men will know that you are no king at all.” – ASOS, Chapter 14, Catelyn II

A point I didn’t bring up in the previous installments is how impossible Robb’s strategic picture was. Having (foolishly in my opinion) dispatched his closest friend Theon to the Iron Islands to bring the Greyjoys into an alliance, Robb was stunned when the Ironborn launched a full-scale invasion of a weakened north. To top it all off, a further blow came when Robb was told that Winterfell had been put to the torch by the *Ironborn.

But more to the point, Robb was left in an untenable position whereby he was fighting in one place while his kingdom was held by another. On a personal level, I can’t imagine the thoughts that would have gone through my head had my homeland been seized while I was in Afghanistan. I can’t think of a worse morale-crusher than this for the northern rebels. Robb Stark was a king without a kingdom, and let’s face it, the Riverlands weren’t a part of the Kingdom of the North originally and served only to broaden the territory Robb was forced to defend. Read more here . But I digress.

At the start of ASOS, Robb is about to be cornered by 3 armies to his south, east and west. Tywin and the Tyrells are in KL, Gregor Clegane is in Duskendale and a new host is being formed by Devan Lannister in the Westerlands (ASOS, Tyrion III). At this point, Robb finally sees the precariousness of his situation and opts to move back north to retake the north from the Ironborn. In this, we see strokes of tactical brilliance again. Robb’s would attack Moat Cailin from two sides and would re-conquer the north, but that was not meant to be. Realizing he needed the Freys again, he attempted to re-secure the alliance through Edmure’s marriage. The Red Wedding followed.


I’ve really enjoyed writing this. Comments and suggestions are welcome below!


Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis

28 responses to “A Complete Analysis of Robb Stark as a Military Commander

  1. Pingback: A Complete Analysis of the Slaver’s Bay Campaign | bryndenbfish

  2. Ross

    This might make me sound stupid, but i really can see the answer for myself. if Lord Blackwood was under siege held up in Riverrun, then who is it that Lannister men were able to fire upon Lord Brax as he was crossing, from the walls of Riverrun?

    • Lord Tytos Blackwood led the sortie out from Riverrun that took the Lannister shield wall from the rear.

      Lord Blackwood had been able to retreat to within the walks after Edmure Tully’s host was destroyed outside of the walls of Riverrun by Jaime Lannister.

      As I interpret it, this last stand and shield wall by the Lannisters was comprised of survivors from Lord Brax’s attempted crossing. The Riverrun garrison that attacked the Lannister shield wall comprised of survivors of Edmure’s army. Hope this helps!

      • Ross

        I’ve seen my mistake now, i stupidly read the text wrong. I thought Lord Brax was apart of the Riverland Lords, and convinced myself that he was helping defeat the lannisters and i got confused about why men on the walls at Riverrun were firing on him, believing that he was a fellow river lord.
        Now I see he’s a Lanniters man himself sworn to Tywin

  3. Pingback: Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn IX | Race for the Iron Throne

  4. Hassan

    Hi i real appreciate one other major contributor to wedding happening is Edmure gets the four hundred north men Robb left in twins out and got them to join R Glover to retake Darry, Also Roose Bolton changes side when tyrell and tywin win battle for kings-landing

  5. Pingback: Early Evidence of Roose Bolton’s Treason | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  6. Darkdoug

    I would just like to point out re: Edmure’s choice to engage Tywin, that it was not a justified forward defense of his lands. Checking out the map shows that the Red Fork flows north and east towards the junction where Riverrun is located. The longitude of the battle where Edmure fights Tywin is due WEST of Riverrun. Tywin was not coming for the Tullys, he had already passed their position to the south and was heading in the direction of his own lands in the West. What was Edmure’s objective, aside from scoring a “win”, possibly to avenge his earlier humiliation and capture?

    Setting aside Robb’s theoretical end game, by defeating Tywin at the fords, Edmure trapped an enemy army inside his own borders! And by having Bolton cut off Tywin’s retreat to Harrenhal, he is encouraging the Lannister host to find different rivermen to pillage & dispossess for fresh shelter and supplies. Rather than continue to separate the two Lannister seats of power (Casterly Rock & King’s Landing), he left no other option to Tywin than consolidating the Western & Royal forces. Tyrion had earlier pointed out the strength of Tywin’s position at Harrenhal, by indicating the strategic advantage in that it allowed him to move against any possible threat, whether an attack on the city, from the North or the mountains, or from the Stark & Tully host at Riverrun. Robb was aware of the advantage of Tywin’s position, and drew him out of it, but Edmure forced him back into that position, where he was still capable of defending the city. This was hardly a secret, Tyrion admits how easy it was to figure it out: “I looked at a map.”

    Here’s a military quote: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is in the process of making a mistake.” And that’s what Edmure did.

  7. Dindomir

    I dont know how long ago this was written, but i still wish to thank you as the author for writing this excelent text.

  8. Marek

    Hi! Great text, I really enjoyed reading it!

    I agree that Robb’s greatest mistake as a war commander was leaving most of his forces (Bolton’s host and Edmure’s one) idle for most of the war. Luring Tywin from Harrenhall was a logic and brilliant move, but I thought of another possibility of crushin Tywin’s army.
    When Tywin left Harrenhall Roose moved quickly to seize the fortress. then he stayed there and plotted against Robb. BUT, if Roose continued to move south and engaged Tywin’s force from the back while he was fighting at the fords (at a very overstretched battline along the river) the victory could be assured without chasing Tywin up and down the coast. Edmure had 3000 horse and 8000 foot and Roose could have had around 10 000 (mainly foot). Tywin had less than 20 000 so the forces were matched in numbers and the Tully/Bolton combined host had a great tactical advantage. Roose could moved down the east bank of the river and detroy the repulsed from crossings Lannister forces piecemeal. What do you think of this battleplan?

  9. Roger

    Robb’s errors:
    1- Sending Theon. Lesser error, in my opinion. Balon Greyjoy was thirsty for war. He probably would have started war anyway. Theon’s posteriors actions were his won deeds, no Robb’s failures.
    2- Trusting Roose Bolton. Comprehensible error. But he should have kept some more trust-deserving man at Bolton’s side. Like Jason Mallister. “Keep your friends at your back and your enemies near- Tywin dixit.
    3- Becoming king. Big error. Aislates himself.
    4- Not marrying himself. Even Freys would had closed his mouth if Robb married Margaery Tyrell, Asha Greyjoy or even Shireen Baratheon.
    5- Sending Catelyn to Bitterbridge. Cat was more interested in pursuing peace than in making war alliances. He prefered to save an unknown woman (Brienne) than allying himself with Stannis.
    6- Treating his most powerful vassal (Edmure Tully) like an errand boy. Even the brutish Umber was more appreciated than the Lord of Riverrun. He acted before telling Tully his plan and without detailed orders. No wonder when Tywin attacked his fief, trying the crossing just in front Riverrun, Tully battled him.
    Nobody remembers perhaps Tywin wasn’t planning to follow Robb: but to besiege Riverrun to take back the Wolf. WOuld Edmure’s rep resist having Tywin passing in front of his wall, while burning his fields, while Lord Tully did NOTHING?
    7- Acting like a cavalry commander and never use enough infantry. With enough infantry he could have take Lannisport. With enough cavalry Helman Tallhart could have avoided defeat at Duskendale.

    • Darkdoug

      2 – He didn’t. Edmure was the one who sent Roose after Harrenhal.
      3 – As opposed to allying with a usurper, or the people who murdered his father? How long would he last, or how well would he do as ruler of the North if he did that? People follow and trust their rulers, because they think they can trust the rulers to do right by them. Robb points out that even if Harrion Karstark was willing to forgive or ignore Robb killing his father, his men would not allow it. How much moreso his own men and vassals if he makes peace with the Lannisters? Their execution of Ned and violation of his plea bargain deal also prove they cannot be trusted to deal in good faith. Note how little the Freys are trusted after their violation of hospitality in the Red Wedding. Maybe the southerners are more tolerant of such pragmatism, but as Robb says, “the North remembers.”

      The Greatjon’s case might not have been in the most rational or legalistic language, but he had a good point. Despite their common language, the northmen have a very different culture and value system, in addition to religion, and without Targaryen hegemony and firepower, their very reason for joining the political entity Aegon forged no longer applied. The rest of the realm was breaking up along the lines of the old Kingdoms already (West versus Reach/Stormland alliance), and recent European history suggests that ethno-nationalism is much stronger force than mere political arrangements, even ones that have lasted for centuries.

      As for the isolation, that was why Robb reached out to Balon. Balon’s idiocy was spitting on the only potential ally who was willing to tolerate his own independence. All the other claimants wanted the whole of Westeros for themselves, and would not have allowed Balon to retain his crown once they were done, while Tywin’s assessment of his chances of ruling in the greenlands is pretty much shared by Balon’s own daughter. The North is not a source of strength for the ironborn, unless they are willing to try ruling instead of looting it (Theon has the right idea, but bungles it). Balon would have got more use from the North under Robb as an ally, than as a place he had to keep in line by garrisoning troops. Together, they might have pulled off a secession from the Seven Kingdoms. Balon’s only real hope to be left alone with his own crown was a Stark victory. Any claimant to the Iron Throne would want the ironborn under his rule as well.

      4 – None of those wives were available to him. Shireen was too young, Asha would have brought only resentment of all those northmen we see in DWD who hate the ironborn, and I can’t imagine the Mallisters would have been much more sanguine, or even the rest of the Riverlanders, so recently delivered of Harren’s yoke. It’s even questionable if the Greyjoys are any more wealthy than the Freys. Margaery Tyrell was married to Renly at the outset of the war, and Robb was otherwise occupied in the short window between her widowing and engagement deal being brokered by Petyr.

      5 – Stannis was Robb’s preference for an alliance, but absolutely uninterested in letting the northmen go their own way. He might be a decent guy they could live with on the Iron Throne, but so was his brother and that did not end so well for the North and House Stark either. Stannis appears to be wed to an equally distasteful, grasping and unscrupulously ambitious House as Robert’s in-laws. Renly was more flexible but equally obdurate on the idea of the Starks governing themselves. At least sending Catelyn as an emissary kept her out of the way. It was the one episode in her arc when she did not actively make things worse for her family.

      6 – The “brutish Umber” is a proven warrior, and even Roose Bolton credits them with more cunning than they appear to have. He certainly doesn’t make any mistakes on the scale of Edmure’s, and he actually cut through the Gordion knot of their council of war to come up with a solution of allegiance that satisfied everyone.
      As for your summation of Edmure, you are the one who has the facts wrong. Tywin was not trying to besiege Riverrun. He was trying to cross the Redfork, to the WEST of the Tully castle! He had already PASSED Riverrun, as a simple glance at a map will show you! Bodies were seen at Riverrun drifting downstream from the battle. Well both the rivers that join at the castle, the Tumblestone and the Red Fork, flow west-to-east. If a body falls in the water at a battle, and then drifts down to Riverrun, that battlefield is to the west of the castle. Tywin WAS heading back to his own lands, and he was NOT coming to Riverrun, except by an indirect route. If, in fact, his plan was to cross the Red Fork and double back to get at Riverrun, Edmure’s dispositions were even more stupid, since he took all his troops out into the field to get their asses kicked, leaving no one to defend Riverrun (as Robb ordered him to) if Tywin beat him. Robb told Edmure to hold the castle. That means staying nearby, not risking its garrison on expeditions against an enemy with greater numbers, who could be feinting somewhere else to draw you away, or maybe luring you into a trap so as to leave no troops to defend the castle. Edmure did not need more explicit orders, he needed to follow the orders he was given. He’s grown man who should have been able to see the dangers to his orders of going out to fight Tywin, rather than holding the castle as commanded. But even if Tywin DID take it into his head to besiege Riverrun, how well did that work out last time the Lannisters tried it? If Jaime had sufficient time to ride to Riverrun from King’s Landing, to take charge of the siege, Robb certainly had enough time to get there from the Westlands and bust it up just as he had before.

      7 – You have no basis for assuming he could have taken Lannisport with his infantry, which were needed elsewhere (until Edmure moved them out of position, too), AND he had no need or intention of taking it. He certainly could not have held the city indefinitely or added it to his realm. He was fighting as a cavalry commander for the mobility, to allow him to elude that more numerous Lannister armies. Infantry can’t fight that kind of battle. Even if he could have taken Lannisport, by committing his entire force, then what? Tywin is still in the field, Joffrey is still on the throne, and they have even more troops to take Lannisport back. They would be much more familiar with the city and its surrounding terrain, and have loyalists inside its walls undermine Robb, who would need to divert troops to garrison and patrol the place. Robb needed to beat Tywin and planned to do so on a battlefield of his choosing, rather than sit paralyzed at the city like a snake trying to digest too large a prey.

      As for Duskendale, the notion that Tallheart could have won that battle, against the finest general in the south, with far superior numbers, is laughable. But even if it were possible, he would not have had those men, because the whole expedition was masterminded by Roose Bolton to diminish Robb’s forces. He sent Tallheart and Glover because they were both in a state where they were not thinking clearly due to their losses, so they would get themselves overextended and wiped out. He seems to have done the same thing at the Ruby Ford, leaving men more loyal to the Starks in his rear guard to be taken by the Lannister pursuit, while keeping the anti-Stark men, like his own and the Karstarks, with him for the Red Wedding and conquest of the North. There is no way Roose Bolton would have given Tallheart and Glover enough men to win at Duskendale. That was not a viable military objective, which Robb knew full well, from his reaction to the news of the defeat.

  10. Nate

    This is an awesome analysis. If you did an analysis of Jon Snow as a commander I would totally read the shit out of it.

  11. I have had this saved on Reddit for a few weeks to be read when I had the time. I have been missing out for weeks. I have really enjoyed this analysis and look forward to reading the rest of your work!

  12. That was a brilliant analysis. Please try to make such analyses of other prominent ASoIaF characters.
    Cheers 🙂

  13. KrimzonStriker

    Going to side on Steven from racefortheironthrone, releasing Theon had no real impact on whether the Ironborn were going to invade, between the noticed preparations even before Theon arrived to how Balon treated him and regarded Asha as his rightful successor, and how idiotic Balon is where no reasonable person could predict his stupidity, the Ironborn invasion would have happened regardless.

    • DubC

      I get the feeling that Balon Greyjoy was already gearing up for an invasion as soon as he heard Ned Stark went south, leaving his son to warden the North. All other news had to be good omens for an idea that’s been in his head. It’s funny how Robb didn’t live up to the Northern saying “The North remembers.” It would have been helpful to remember that he had enemies at arms length. If he would have remember Stark and Bolton history too it might have helped.

  14. Pingback: Reminiscing over Robb Stark | babbleworthy

  15. VeggieJellybean

    I enjoyed your analysis greatly. Your observations of Robb’s tactics are insightful and compelling. With a numerically inferior force, he’s able to win several battles by wisely dividing his army and attacking his foes in unique, unexpected ways.

    I think your criticism of Robb’s strategy is overly harsh however. It would be difficult to deny that his lack of clear, concise directive to his generals were problematic. Having said that, it’s difficult to know what is in the minds of your able-bodied generals. His choice in Roose Bolton is a logical one. This is denoted by his adviser’s approval (Caitlyn) and general lack of dissent by his chief lieutenants. There was no clear indication that there would be future treachery. All that was known at the time was that Roose Bolton would not waste men or material needlessly.

    An example of a well planned, but poorly executed strategy would be Robert E. Lee in the Civil War and the events that led up to the battle at Gettysburg. One of Lee’s most trusted generals, J.E.B. Stuart, was commanding 3 units out of 7 available during his raids for supplies and general harassment of the north. He left 2 units defending the supply line and 2 units attached to Lee for reconnaissance and shielding. It is oft said that Lee had no cavalry to scout for him during the events of the battles, but that is misleading; He didn’t have cavalry he trusted. Of the 7 units General Stuart had to divide, 2 were irregular units. These are the ones he left with General Lee, with whom Lee had no faith. Of the 5 regular units he had, the two that were left defending the supply lines were commanded by rivals of Stuart, both personal and professional. To raid and forage, Stuart had taken the best remaining divisions with him. When asked to explain this division of personnel, General Stuart was unable to give a cogent explanation.

    Now one could fault Robert E. Lee with not knowing the personal history and reasoning of one of his chief lieutenants and they would not be incorrect in their assessment. However, given the magnitude of the battles, the size of the armies, the continual management of resources, the distance between the army commanders, and the lack of ways to effectively communicate effectively, it’s unfair to expect Robb to be intimate with the personal feelings of Roose Bolton, especially considering he had already properly executed a well organized, well planned retreat with arguably minimal losses at Green Fork. I argue instead that Robb’s failing was not in his military strategy necessarily, but a political failing. This is not atypical with distinguished and brilliant generals (see Patton). Robb’s strategy, similar to Robert E. Lee’s strategy, is sound. Win the war by wearing down your opponent’s will to fight. Win the war on their turf and force them to the peace table. This strategy is trumped by Tywin’s ability to secure political and military alliances, which Robb completely fails to do by misfortune and lack of political savvy, and Tywin’s own strategic and tactical brilliance. Tywin, to his credit, never loses more than he has too. He withdraws and strikes at the right time and has irregular troops harry his enemy to keep them off-guard and reveal their intentions.

  16. NQ

    Great analysis! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I’m always impressed. Wondering if you would care to bring your insight to a brand new ASOIAF fan forum? http://facelessmen.freeforums.net

  17. Isaac

    Been wanting to find something like this for a while, thankyou! Great read, very interesting from someone who is clearly in the know. So excited to have found all these essays, can’t wait to start reading more.

  18. Pingback: Blood of the Conqueror, Part 5: A Conquest That Lasted a Summer | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  19. birk opgård

    so, i thought idd give my opinions and mention facts you dindnt mention here.

    throughout his campaign Robb made 3. horrible mistakes that if he hadnt made, he probably would have won in the end.

    far and away the biggest, is one not mentioned here, namely what he did right after becoming king. no, not sending an alliance offer to renly, but rather give the lannisters a chance at peacefull negotiation at all. after the battle of the wispering wood, robb had an army(including all the troops riverun and roose foot) around 30-35k strong in the riverlands. he had just reduced tywin lannisters army from 38-45k to around 16-19k strong, and almost all of those were at harrenhall, cut off from the westerlands and surrounded by the hostile riverlands, they had no chance at reinforcements at all.

    however rather than combining his army and then using that very strong force against his enemies, robb instead listened to his mother and gave the lannisters an offer of peace. this effectively required him to cease attack until an response was given if it was to have any hope of succeding, so robb spent that time just sitting at riverrun, not doing anything with his army, while his riverland levies returned home to try and protect their own land were they were isolated and was easily killed by lannister forces.

    thus when he actually got a response, and invaded the westerlands, he did so with only his heavy cavalry, a force of 3-6k men which he then used to great effect, showing what a brilliant commander he was.

    but what if he had invaded the westerlands with twice that number or 3 times as many men. answer, it would have succeded even more brilliantly.

    and that is what robb should have done, he should either have used his entire massive force to besiege harrenhall, and prevent any escape for tywin lannister, preventing him from either going to kings landing(thus easily allowing other forces to deal with joffrey), or left enough of a force that they could fight a geurilla war with tywin in the riverlands while he used the bulk of his forces to invade the riverlands.

    instead, robb listened to his mother and gave the lannister a chance for a peacefull end to the war.

    mistake 2 was trusing roose bolton and giving him far more independence in his operations than he ever should have. which lead to consequences to obvious i dont need to go over here.

    mistake 3 however i need to go over, because it leads into the topic of edmure tully.

    mistake 3 was to marry jeyne westerling, which many correctly point as the thing that in the end would lead to his death. however if not for edmure tully, this wouldnt really have mattered all that much.

    near the end of a game of thrones, robb crossed the twins, and left 500 men there, to have control over the garrison in case walder frey had second thoughts. i have NO doubt in my mind that when robb married jeyne westerling, he was fully expecting to be able to use this force to force walder into accepting whatever ammends robb would make up to him.

    which when the news came of the battle the fords(for which edmure gathered all the remaining force of the trident, including the men robb had stationed at the twins) then lead to a horrible realisation that not only had his uncle destroyed his planned end goal for the westerlands, he also unwillingly fucked over all his nephews plans to get walder frey to get back into the fold while having control over the situation.

    thus edmure screwed over all his kings plans due to well meaning, but strategicely bad plans.

    as for an overview of edmure’s plans, what he did and he should have done:

    edmure was given one order. hold RIVERRUN. he was not given any other orders. he was not given an order to protect the riverlands, or prevent him from getting back to the riverlands. thats NOT to say though that he shouldnt have done either of these, just that he went about it in a terribly inefficient way.

    when he was given news that tywin was marching west edmure gathered all the men from the riverlands he could(including the 500 northmen at the twins) to meet him in battle. he meet the westerland forces at the fords of the trident, where he succesfully forced the old lion back after a series of scurmishes. despite being outnummbered around 7k men.


    this however was not all that wise for several reasons. number one is that it could have backfired completely with a lannister victory. true, even in the event of a lannister victory edmure couldnt have lost more than half his 14k troops, due to how he split up his men before the battle. still in worst case scenario, thats still 6-7k of his own men dead, with himself possibly dead or captured.

    however before we go over what would have been better to do, we need to go over riverrun itself, the nature of fortresses and how to take them. as robb left riverrun when he marched west, tywin could not have taken it by storm if he had all the remaining men of the westerlands packed outside for him to use as a battering ram. taking a castle by storm is not easy. it requires at least 3-4 times the defenders numbers to take even the weakest castle. and riverrun is far from weak. sue to its nature, its notoriously difficult to storm. when lord tully held it against jaime, he probably had 2k men at the absolute best, probably far less, however, when robb left it, it probably had between 4-7k men inside its wall to hold it.

    meaning that at this point it would have stood even against the might of the tyrell/lannister alliance.

    this effectivly means that edmure had NOTHING to lose regarding fullfilling the order robb gave him by staying inside his walls, but everything to lose by venturing outside his walls and giving the old lion battle. catelyn says as much to him at riverun.

    however, thats not to say that fullfilling his orders to robb while at the same time going above what his king was expecting of him, would guaranteed to have been a bad thing. because there was something very simple that edmure could have done, that would practilly have oblterated all tywins forces by the time he reached the westerlands.

    Harry them all the way. most readers probably dont get jus how massive the distances between the golden tooth and harrenhall actually are, but needless, to say, its miles upon miles. it would have taken tywin at least two weeks to fullfill that journey. two weeks where edmure could have harried him all that way, and easily have set up a point to meet him in battle at the end of this journey, where his men where exhausted after weeks of marching,, lost thousands to harrying enemies, low on supplies(how low depedning on how much of the land edmure was willing to burn to deprive them of food) only to be forced to have to fight a defending force thats had at least a week to prepare, set up stakes, survey the area, and even possibly meet up with thier king and his battle hardened 6k strong force of heavy cavalry, etc. that would have meant a difinite end to tywin lannister and all his power to wage war, even if he somehow escaped the battle.

    far lower risk, with a much greater payoff.

    and this isnt even something you need to be a genius battle strategist to figure out either, it pretty simple stuff, however, its something edmure couldnt do. because doing so would have meant that he had to let tywin march and destroy a shit ton of the riverlands along the way. and that was somethign edmure simply couldnt do. fans often complain about edmure being a shitty shitty, battle leader, and he is, but not necesarrily because of stupidity. edmure’s actual battle plan, isnt bad in and out of itself, because it did lead to victory on the battle field, but there were far better ways to engage tywin and still achieve victory. however those roads, would require edmure to sacrifice some of his smallfok, and that simply isnt something edmure could do. he’s simply to nice a guy to strategily sacrifice people, be they his soliders or his smallfolk.

    thus he chose a way to fight that he didnt risk either of those while at the same time killing quite a lot of the enemies that was plaguing his people and land. Edmure was a good man, and i have no doubt that had robb won the war, he probably would have been instrumental in helping the riverlands recover from the war in winter. but he’s not a leader for battle, be it strategicly or tacticly. he simply doesnt have the capacity to sacrifice men to achieve a definite victory. wheter that makes a better or worse man i will not discuss here, but it does make him a bad battle leader.

    in the end robb’s plan to destroy all the forces of the westerlands was partially successfull in that he completely obliterated all the might the westerlands had not yet thrown into the war, but due to his uncle’s stregy he was not able to fully destroy tywins forces.

    Finaly i wanted to go over robbs plans for turning the war around. robb’s plans were to return to the north with 8k men, a far cry from what he started with(though his 3-5k heavy cavalry was mostly intact and was now probably the most experienced force in westeros), crush the ironborn, take back the north and gather all the remaining power of the norht behind him before he returned south. that remaining power would have been a massive boost to his cause, as while we dont knwo exatcly how many more men it would bring, we can make some guesses. when torrhen stark marched south against aegon, he did so with between 35-45k men at his back. also martin is recorded at least once in sources that may or may not be canonical or have been retconned, that at aboslute maximum the north would be able to field 60k troops at its very peak. in any case, robb would have brought with him a force equal to the one he marched south with the first time, and possibly with 10k or more than that.

    so even with the 60k strong troops the lannisters and tyrells now had, he would have been able to bring possibly 34-48k(20-35k northmen and 14k rivermen) men against them. not good numbers, but not 2 agaisnt one odds either.

    while he crushed the ironborn and gathered the norths reserves, his uncle brynden tully would then fight a geurillja campaign against the tyrell forces. how well he would do is uncertain, but idd guess that he’dd probably lose the eastern parts of the riverlands(after burning them down) while still holding the west by the time robb was done in the north.

    however, at this point there is something else to take into consideration, robbs new fleet. how many he’s made at this point is uncertain, but lets be generous and say he’s built half of his current 23 war galleys. 11 or 12 then.

    how many he could ferry is uncertain, but its possible he might get as much as 10k men on them(depending on how advanced the galleys are). which then could consiveably be used in a suprise attack on kings landing while the bulk of his army marched by road. how effective this could be could be is uncertain, but if absolutely everthing went right, he might take a completely unprepared kingslanding, capture the entire royal family, margery and loras tyrell, and sail away to stark friendly ports long before the tyrells could return there. at this point the war is essentially over, robb could make the tyrells leave the war, else both margery or loras lose their head, all lannister claimants are in stark hands an as such robb could either take tywin to the negotiation board to discuss peace, or obliterate his army, and simply annex the crownlands and westerlands into his own kingdom.
    either way he wins.

    however this is just a scenario where everything goes completely right for robb. things might go somewhat bad, yet still resulting in a stark victory, and for that there is still one last thing i want to discuss here. namely the vale. Had robb lived long enough for lysa to die, he would probably have suddenly gotten a new set of willing subject, the knights of the vale.

    the valemen was also another set of people that despised the lannister, and several of their leading lords openly talked of marching and joining the young wolf. however they were held back by their liege lord, robert arryn. or rather his regent lysa tully. after lysa’s death, littlefinger was able to strengthen his hold over the vale partly becasue there was nothing that oppesed that hold other than the valemen theirself. robb stark being alive however would change that. littlefinger might be able to claim the status as lord protector, but the valemen would have joined the young wolf, with or without his blessing. the most likely scenario is that the valemen essentially force petyr to either join stark openly or begin a siege of the eyrie.

    wheter petyr would be willing to join the young wolf i dont know, and cant say without knowing what his endgoal is.

    either way, the vales men would bump stark forces up by 30-45k more men, so robb would at this point have equal or more men that the lannisters/tyrells have depending on how well bryndens campaign is going.

    so even right before the red wedding, it was far from impossible for robb to win the war.

    and thats my overview of robb starks weaknesses as a commander and roads that could have been taken. if there was something you wanna ask about, feel free to reply.

  20. Maarten Kros

    What was the role of the Blackfish in this? He is experienced and he knew a lot of the Commanders from past battles. He must have known about the possible dangers of trusting Bolton, Greyjoy and Frey (after betrayal). Moreover he should’ve told Rob about the limitations of Edmure. I think it is pretty save to say that the Blackfish could’ve predicted Edmures actions that would allegedly undermine their plan. Did the Blackfish have an agenda of his own?

  21. Robb Sending Theon to treat with Balon was not a failure, steeping his letter in arrogance was the problem. At first I thought sending Theon was something Eddard would never have done (at least unsupervised) but the more I thought about it the more I came to reconsider. Was Ned planning on keeping Theon indefinitely? No, of course not, but I believe he kept Theon for so long because he was hoping for something more than mere collateral, particularly for a long-term investment.

    Theon being ten at the time of his abduction means there was much time to instill values in the boy. The crippling identity crisis of Theon aside, having a Greyjoy that at least understands the Northern perspective could be a ridiculously effective liaison between the two States. I believe this was Ned’s intention, and that the process was incomplete by the time of the war’s onset. Theon was simply not ready to do the job on his own, without a safety-net there to catch Theon once Balon rejects him. Quite frankly, he’s a follower that cultivated the facade of an arrogant leader as a defense mechanism. Had he been supervised, there would at least been no betrayal from him personally. Though they almost certainly would have been taken hostage if Robb’s message to Balon remained unchanged.

    The biggest mistake Robb made in this regard was one stemming from his own youthful arrogance, to treat Balon as an inherently inferior political actor. Regardless of this being the truth, Balon is a proud and vain man who is fully aware of the sparse and unproductive islands on which he rules, he is fully aware of the inopportune position of the Iron Islands at this time and any affront to his fragile ego, which is very much the ego of his entire realm, is harshly bruising.

    Balon seizes upon the language of the letter, that he would be “granted” a kingship, and by this point any hope of an alliance, however temporary it may have been, is a pipe-dream. However, how might Balon have received a letter addressed to “The Rightful King of the Iron Isles” from “The King in the North” entreating him join The North in an effort to exact vengeance on the Southron oppressors? It’s impossible to know if it would have been enough to convince him to abandon his previous machinations but even if the peace between the two realms were to fracture shortly after the South’s capitulation the North would have received the desired aid and the Iron Islands would be in a much stronger, and independent, position.

    Attempting to ally with the Iron Islands was not a bad decision, even sending Theon was not a bad decision, but in allowing Theon to go alone – without being coached properly on the customs of the Islands and the reception he was like to receive – and in not treating Balon with respect as an equal (and perhaps even an offer to join the two houses via marriage), the diplomatic missions was doomed to failure. Even if Balon would refuse to ally himself with the North and make good on his plans anyway, at the very least Theon (and whomever he would be sent with) would spend the war as hostages rather than taking Winterfell (precipitating its razing), throwing the Stark line of succession in to disarray, and projecting a moment of weakness to the Bolton and Frey turncloaks with which they could seize power.

  22. Pingback: Denethoring the Lannisters – Military Fantasy

  23. Vance

    One question I always had about the Battle of the Green Fork: Why did Roose Bolton conduct a forced March? In AGoT, Roose Bolton is given the command its because he is a man of “cold cunning.” In Tyrion’s chapter he is surprised that a forced March was attempted, noting that it was foolish to think they caught his lord father sleeping.

    Was the forced March an attempt to convince the Lannister force that it was being led by a 15 year old “more likely to be brave than wise”? It would explain what was later an orderly retreat.

    Was it a failed attempt by Roose Bolton to gain glory with a surprise attack? It seems highly unlikely, but we aren’t made aware of any stories of Roose Bolton winning glory in either Robert’s Rebellion or the Greyjoy rebellion.

    Was it part of the plan to undermine Rob? It does seem very early in the process. However, all the men naned who were either captured or killed had no particular loyalty to House Bolton.

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