Artwork by Pojypojy
Hi folks, back again with a 2-part series on Jaime Lannister as a commander. These won’t be so much complete command analysis posts as much as a battlefield analysis of two sieges of Riverrun and the ways that Jaimie Lannister evolved from a brash, short-term victory seeker to a mature, good strategic commander and thinker. We’ll also compare Jaime’s actions as a commander to historical medieval siege warfare in an attempt to better see Jaime’s maturation as a commander.
If you’re following along in the books, we’ll be looking at the following chapters from AGOT: Tyrion VIII, Tyrion IX, Catelyn IX, Catelyn X for part 1 and if you want to read ahead for the next installment, we’ll take a look at the following chapters from AFFC: Jaime III-VII.
Bold text for the post: Despite Jaime’s initial victories, he suffers a near-total defeat in the field outside of Riverrun on account of his own ambition and poor strategic thinking.
Rush to Riverrun: Success Through Speed
“Your brother has been covering himself with glory,” his father said. “He smashed the Lords Vance and Piper at the Golden Tooth, and met the massed power of the Tullys under the walls of Riverrun. The lords of the Trident have been put to rout. Ser Edmure Tully was taken captive, with many of his knights and bannermen. Lord Blackwood led a few survivors back to Riverrun, where Jaime has them under siege. The rest fled to their own strongholds.” – (AGOT, Tyrion VII)
At the outset of the War of the Five Kings, Jaime Lannister showed promise as a commander. Appointed by his father, Tywin Lannister, to lead an attack against the Riverlands, Jaime was quick to adapt to command. It’s worth noting here that the initial assault against the Riverlands did not seem to be one of conquest. Rather, it would appear that Tywin’s initial plan of attack was punitive and designed to assert Lannister dominance over a region, not destroy it. As he tells Joffrey later on:
“When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you. And any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king at all. Aerys never understood that, but you will. When I’ve won your war for you, we will restore the king’s peace and the king’s justice.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
I’d caveat that while Tywin didn’t necessarily intend destruction, on his way up to Riverrun from King’s Landing in AFFC, Jaime notes that the destructive nature of the campaigns in the Riverlands.
Anyways, back to the initial war in the Riverlands. As a subordinate leader, Jaime was given command of about 15,000 of the 35,000 soldiers that Tywin Lannister assembled in the Westerlands. The first goal of the invasion force was entry into the Riverlands. Here terrain comes into effect. Jaime’s host needed to move northeast through the River Road in order to approach Riverrun. This was the most direct route to enter the Riverlands as high mountains limited the approach of a large force.
Unfortunately for Jaime, moving up the River Road meant passing through the Golden Tooth. The Golden Tooth served as both a man-made and natural chokepoint to any advance on Riverrun from the Westerlands. In effect, the terrain mitigated any army size disparity. To boot, Ser Edmure Tully deployed two banner lords and a host south of the pass at the Golden Tooth to defend against Lannister incursion.
Now before we get to the battle itself, I have to admit that there’s not a lot of source material on it. We have a few scattered lines of dialogue, but we don’t have much. So, I’m going to do a fair amount of speculation on how the battle went, but I hope that my description of how the battle went down is accurate. With these obstacles in his path, Jaime set north towards the Golden Tooth and Riverrun beyond. Lords Vance and Piper blocked his routh just southwest of the Golden Tooth itself. Here, I think it’s fair to make the assumption that the terrain that the defenders used was not to their advantage. The castle walls of the Golden Tooth provide a better blocking position. Instead, most of the host was outside of the castle walls and lying in wait for the attack. Jaime’s attack seemed to have surprised Vance and Piper which leads me to think that the initial attack on their position was probably a charge by armored knights/cavalry as slow-moving infantry does not generally surprise an enemy. I’d also posit that Jaime most likely personally led this cavalry assault as at this stage of the war, he personally leads attacks against his enemies.
The result of this cavalry attack was devastating to the River Lords. Lord Vance was killed, and most of the Riverlander soldiers died or were put to flight by Jaime’s attack. The Golden Tooth was then taken and the road to Riverrun was open.
Battle Under Riverrun: Shaping the Siege to Come
Her uncle’s face was grave as he swung down off his horse. “There has been a battle under the walls of Riverrun,” he said, his mouth grim. “We had it from a Lannister outrider we took captive. The Kingslayer has destroyed Edmure’s host and sent the lords of the Trident reeling in flight.” (AGOT, Catelyn IX)
Jaime’s forces opened up the Riverlands to a wider invasion. Tywin Lannister passed through the Golden Tooth and advanced on Harrenhal. Jaime moved towards Riverrun in hopes of besieging Riverrun and subduing the Tullys for good. Again, we only have scattered lines of dialogue on the battle, but it would seem that Edmure Tully assembled what forces he could and met Jaime in battle outside of the walls of Riverrun. Now, I’ve been an Edmure defender especially regarding his actions when Robb went west, but in this instance, Edmure acted stupidly by giving up his natural barrier (Riverrun) and fighting on the field against an enemy that probably outnumbered him.
Again, (probably) using speed and heavy horse, Jaime crushed the Riverlords under the walls of Riverrun. Edmure was taken captive and only by the grace of the gods was Riverrun itself not taken during the initial assault. But having the gates barred to him, Jaime Lannister divided his forces into three sections to effectively contain Hoster Tully within the walls of Riverrun. Now, some folks might consider this three-way division of the army, folly, but Kevan Lannister makes this point after the battle:
“To cut off all the approaches, a besieger must needs place one camp north of the Tumblestone, one south of the Red Fork, and a third between the rivers, west of the moat. There is no other way, none.” (AGOT, Tyrion IX)
In effect, Jaime’s actions prior to besieging Riverrun were a shaping operation – namely a mission that is done prior-to or in conjunction with the main effort. Jaime’s actions outside of Riverrun destroyed any large-scale force that could oppose his siege lines.
Whispering Wood: Arrogance and Impatience
“The Kingslayer has us three to one,” said Galbart Glover.
‘True enough,” Ser Brynden said, “yet there is one thing Ser Jaime lacks.”
“Yes?” Robb asked.
“Patience.” (AGOT, Catelyn X)
So far, Jaime Lannister’s actions have been consistent with those of a good commander. His decisive use of speed ensured two major victories in the Riverlands, but there were flaws in his plan. The first is one is one which Coalition Forces found during the Iraq War. During the initial invasion of Iraq, U.S. and Coalition troops were able to use their speed, mobility and the quality of their soldiers to easily dispatch (comparatively) the Iraqi Army. Yet, the speed of movement caused other problems. For one, an insurgency was able to pop up as areas of the country were left unsecured due to the speed of the movement. Much the same can be said for Jaime’s movement on Riverrun. The rapidity of the advance allowed some Riverland soldiers to evade Jaime’s main advance and harry Jaime’s rear. Ser Marq Piper had a force of about 50 men who were attacking Jaime’s baggage trains and were suspected of killing Jaime’s scouts as well (AGOT, Tyrion X).
In addition to these “insurgents” behind him, Jaime (and Tywin for that matter) did not have a clear picture of the battlefield. Both commanders seemed to have believed that when the North rose, they would seek a quick victory against Tywin near Harrenhal or remain north of Moat Cailin to defend the North from Lannister invasion. I find it somewhat perplexing that Tywin Lannister never seemed to have considered that Robb would march to relieve the Siege of Riverrun. Jaimie, on the other hand, had made preparations to defend against another force.
“We’d built palisades of sharpened stakes around the camps, yet it was not enough, not with no warning and the rivers cutting us off from each other. (AGOT, Tyrion X)
And though Jaime was preparing for an approaching enemy, his belief that all of his outriders and scouts were disappearing as a result of Marq Piper shows that Jaime was a fool (which I don’t believe) or that he was too myopic in his focus on taking Riverrun. It’s my belief that the latter was the case. Seizing Riverrun would win Jaime the personal glory that he craved. Moreover, Jaime’s continued insistence on personally leading attacks shows a commander, who while personally inspiring, was not in the best position to command and control the various elements he led.
Unbeknownst to Jaime, Robb Stark split his forces into two. He sent his infantry against Tywin Lannister at the Green Fork under the command of Roose Bolton while he took his mobile cavalry and moved on Jaimie at Riverrun. Robb had his own force of outriders fly Tully banners and then divided his force into three contingents for the ambush. No one in Jaime’s camp saw it coming. With no scouts reporting back in, word seemed to have reached Jaime of another of Marq Piper’s band attacking one of Jaime’s supply trains. Taking only a few hundred men with him, Jaime moved into the Whispering Wood without any idea of what he was about to confront.
When Jaime and his men attacked this insurgent force, Robb Stark and his men attacked Jaime from three sides with several thousand cavalry. Jaime seems to have seen the trap as soon as it was sprung. He attempted to ride for Robb Stark and kill him. While he was probably fairly sure that he was going to lose the battle, killing Robb Stark would potentially win the war for the Lannisters. And though Jaime failed, it’s impossible not to cite his personal courage and his personal military acumen as he killed several of Robb’s personal bodyguard (Daryn Hornwood, Eddard and Torrhen Karstark) before being (probably) unhorsed and taken prisoner.
For more on Robb Stark’s campaign plan in the Riverlands, I wrote a series of posts on Robb Stark. Part 1, which deals with the Riverlands campaign, can be found here
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself: “All right, person who writes these military analysis posts about a fictional book series, what would YOU have done?” Well, my answer is bulletable.
- Intelligence, Intelligence, Intelligence – Jaime’s biggest blunder was to attribute the loss of his scouts to Ser Marq Piper. This would make sense except that all of his scouts and outriders went missing. Instead, by focusing myopically on taking Riverrun, he allowed himself to be caught unaware when Robb Stark moved on his army.
- Secure Your Flanks – The initial drive on Riverrun was an impressive one, but leaving the Twins and Seaguard untaken prior to Riverrun creates problems. For one, you have other armies in the field which can still engage your host or Tywin’s. Moreover, as we’ll see in part 2, seizing Riverrun, while an important propaganda victory, doesn’t necessarily subdue the Riverlands. In fact, it may provide a symbolic means by which other lords will resist you.
- Leading From the Front, while impressive, is not the way a strategic commander should operate – I know that this point will be controversial, but I want to point out that after the Battle of the Whispering Wood, Jaime’s host is effectively leaderless and is almost completely destroyed by Robb’s army. In contrast, Stannis Baratheon and Tywin Lannister both positioned themselves in battle in a place where they would be best able to control their elements. Now, ask yourself this, even though Jaime was essentially blind to what was coming to him, could he have sent a subordinate commander to deal with the Marq Piper? I would answer yes. If Jaime’s focus is on taking Riverrun, he can’t leave his main host for his own personal glory without jeopardizing the entire operation. As such, his capture by the Starks ensures the destruction of besieging Lannister forces.
Introduction to the Second Siege of Riverrun
“Jaime will deliver you the castle.” – (AFFC, Jaime V)
All right folks, in the first post, we talked about the First Siege of Riverrun and how Jaime Lannister failed as a commander on account of his own personal pride and glory. In this post, we’ll talk about how he succeeded on account of learning from his tactical mistakes from the First Siege of Riverrun and learning personal humility at the expense of a long imprisonment and the loss of his hand. At the same time, I’ll also show that Jaime’s ruthless side came in handy in forcing the surrender of Riverrun by Brynden Tully.
So before we delve into this post, I’ll give a very brief, good-enough-for-government-work background as to what Jamie was up to between AGOT and AFFC. After the Battle of the Whispering Wood, Jaime Lannister was taken prisoner by the Starks and held at Riverrun. In an attempt to barter with the Lannisters, Catelyn Stark freed Jaime in hopes of exchanging him for his two daughters. Unfortunately for the Starks, this backfired and the two Stark girls had already escaped from Lannister control. Jaime was taken prisoner by Vargo Hoat and had his hand subsequently removed. Vargo Hoat remanded custody of Jaime to Roose Bolton who then freed Jaime. Jaime arrived back in KL, assumed command of the King’s Guard, was scorned by his twin/lover Cersei and his father and subsequently resumed his duties in full as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard where he was ordered by Cersei to take the castle of Riverrun from Brynden “Blackfish” Tully where we pick up today’s post.
Today, I’ll hope to show that Jaime Lannister is one of the better commanders in the series on account of his learning from his mistakes, utilizing Machiavellian tactics to achieve strategic aims all the while extending something resembling good ethical practice to defeated enemies.
Securing the Route
Upon being given the mission to take Riverrun from the Blackfish, Jaime prepared to set out from King’s Landing to Riverrun. This was not a mission he particularly wanted. A man changed by his fate, Jaime had made oaths during his captivity to Catelyn Stark that he was loath to break.
“I swore an oath to Lady Stark, never again to take up arms against the Starks or Tullys.” (AFFC, Jaime III)
Yet, he was forced by his oath as Lord Commander of the King’s Guard to obey the orders of the King. He was ordered by Tommen (Cersei) to relieve Ser Daven Lannister as commander of the siege. But before he set out in force, he started to exhibit some tactical maturity.
This near to King’s Landing, the kingsroad was as safe as any road could be in such times, yet Jaime sent Marbrand and his outriders ahead to scout. “Robb Stark took me unawares in the Whispering Wood,” he said. “That will never happen again.” (AFFC, Jaime III)
I speculate that the year that Jaime spent in Riverrun gave him plenty of opportunity to think through what went wrong the first time around at Riverrun. One of the conclusions he probably reached was that Robb Stark was able to take him unawares in the Whispering Wood came as a result of a poor intelligence picture via the lack of outriders and scouts from his position. And while some may criticize Jaime for overcaution, I think this decision was wise it’s wise as no army is truly safe, even in friendly territory. It also demonstrated that Jaime was improving from the brash commander from a year and a half previously.
Numerical Superiority Means Nothing When Your Army is Starving
Jaime was to be given command of a combined host of Lannisters, Westermen, Freys and Rivermen. The command he was about to take was large to say the least. The wiki entry gives imprecise numbers for how many men Jaime would have under his command, but I’d say it was probably 20K to the Blackfish’s maybe 1K soldiers defending Riverrun.
“The Brackens have bent the knee, and they’ve got Tytos Blackwood penned up in Raventree. Piper, Vance, Mooton, all your bannermen have yielded. Only Riverrun remains. We have twenty times your numbers.” – (AFFC, Jaime VI)
And while large armies generally triumph over smaller ones (even in castles), it presented a logistical nightmare for the besiegers. Jaime realizes this.
Numbers were the last thing needed at Riverrun. A Lannister army already invested the castle, and an even larger force of Freys; the last bird they’d received suggested that the besiegers were having difficulty keeping themselves fed. Brynden Tully had scoured the land clean before retiring behind his walls. – (AFFC, Jaime III)
And while the Blackfish’s tactics are very ethically suspect, they’re extremely effective in parring down a stronger force’s advantages. Confronted with this grim logistical situation, Jaime needed to take the castle of Riverrun with some speed or watch as most of his army died or deserted on account of starvation.
Yet, the situation could have been less dire had the “allies” actually been allies.
“And how well are we provisioned?”
“So long as there are fish in the rivers, we won’t starve, though I don’t know how we’re going to feed the horses. The Freys are hauling food and fodder down from the Twins, but Ser Ryman claims he does not have enough to share, so we must forage for ourselves.” – (AFFC, Jaime V)
Firing Piss-Poor Subordinate Commanders
Whilst I’ve been building rams and siege towers, Ryman Frey has raised a gibbet. (AFFC, Jaime V)
When Jaime finally arrived outside of Riverrun, he was confronted with the dire situation on the ground. On one hand, the castle stood untaken. On the other, the besieging army he inherited was near-starvation. To make the situation worse, many of his subordinate leaders had doubtful loyalties (Vance and Piper), were selfish (Emmon Frey) or worst of all, were utterly incompetent (Ryman Frey).
Ryman Frey, heir to the Twins, was simply not a competent commander to say the least. Instead of training his men and preparing for the eventual assault on the castle, Ryman had his men doing other things.
The Frey lordlings and their knights had raised their pavilions comfortably upstream of the latrine trenches; downstream were muddy hovels, wayns, and oxcarts. “Ser Ryman don’t want his boys getting bored, so he gives them whores and cockfights and boar baiting,” Ser Daven said. “He’s even got himself a bloody singer. (AFFC, Jaime V)
And yet on account of his status as the heir to the Twins, he is given a senior command position in the besieging host and treated as an equal to other commander. Yet his work or lack thereof was depleting food shares and not helping the siege in any way. His only contribution to the siege other than treating his soldiers to a grand party outside of the walls of Riverrun was threatening to hang Edmure Tully every day. Each morning, he’d wheel Edmure out onto the gallows within sight of the walls of Riverrun and threaten to hang him in front of his Uncle’s eyes. And instead of capitulation, the Blackfish grew more stubborn.
Oh, one more thing about Ryman: his greatest accomplishment during the siege is recounted in hilarious fashion by Ser Daven Lannister:
Ser Ryman did. Rode up to the castle gates half-drunk and blustering, making threats. The Blackfish appeared on the ramparts long enough to say that he would not waste fair words on foul men. Then he put an arrow in the rump of Ryman’s palfrey. The horse reared, Frey fell into the mud, and I laughed so hard I almost pissed myself. If it had been me inside the castle, I would have put that arrow through Ryman’s lying throat.” (AFFC, Jaime V)
Anyways, one of the hardest but most essential tasks of an overall commander is firing bad leaders. It shouldn’t seem so hard, but the U.S. Army’s recent history of its failure to fire incompetent leaders should give anyone pause as to how “easy” it is to fire bad or mediocre commanders. And yet, Jaime distinguished himself outside of Riverrun by firing a terrible subordinate leader and replacing him with a marginally better commander.
“You are dismissed, ser.”
“You heard me. Go away.”
“But . . . where should I go?”
“To hell or home, as you prefer. See that you are not in camp when the sun comes up. You may take your queen of whores, but not that crown of hers.” Jaime turned from Ser Ryman to his son. “Edwyn, I am giving you your father’s command. Try not to be so stupid as your sire.” (AFFC, Jaime VI)
Winning By Not Fighting
“Yield the castle and no one dies. Your smallfolk may go in peace or stay to serve Lord Emmon. Ser Brynden will be allowed to take the black, along with as many of the garrison as choose to join him.” (AFFC, Jaime VI)
With Ryman dispatched (permanently as it turned out), Jaime prepared two courses of actions for Riverrun. While everyone from the Blackfish to the soldiers preparing to storm the walls probably thought that everyone was in for a bloody assault, Jaime had other plans. His wish to avoid bloodshed was as much based on personal reasons as well as strategic ones.
Jaime Lannister’s oath to Catelyn was important to Jaime’s identity and quest for honor. And yet there was a strategic reason why taking the castle by force of arms was not preferable: namely the number of casualties that would be taken in an assault would be hard to stomach and would potentially endanger the Lannister-Frey alliance.
And so, Jaime decided to try to negotiate the surrender of Riverrun by himself with disastrous result. Jaime was genuine in wanting to see Riverrun taken peacefully, but negotiations did not go well. By the end, Jaime and the Blackfish were trading threats of single combat and finally the Blackfish turned his back on Jaime. And so Jaime resigned himself to breaking yet another oath.
He would need to storm the castle. Well, what’s one more broken vow to the Kingslayer? Just more shit in the bucket. – (AFFC, Jaime VI)
But before he stormed the castle, he came up with one last plan to resolve the conflict peacefully: sending Edmure Tully to negotiate the surrender of the castle.
my men will escort you to Riverrun. What happens after that is up to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your uncle is an old man. Valiant, yes, but the best part of his life is done. He has no bride to grieve for him, no children to defend. A good death is all the Blackfish can hope for . . . but you have years remaining, Edmure. And you are the rightful lord of House Tully, not him. Your uncle serves at your pleasure. The fate of Riverrun is in your hands.” assault the walls of Riverrun if the Blackfish refused terms was Machiavellian. – (AFFC, Jaime VI)
And while Jaime’s plan was the avoid bloodshed, let’s not forget that if this plan failed, he planned to have lots of men die
“Your former bannermen (Riverlander soldiers) will make up the first wave of attackers, so you’ll start your day by killing the fathers and brothers of men who died for you at the Twins. The second wave will be Freys, I have no lack of those. My westermen will follow when your archers are short of arrows and your knights so weary they can hardly lift their blades.” (AFFC, Jaime VI)
And he also threatened personal bloodshed if Edmure did not capitulate.
Jaime got to his feet. “Your wife may whelp before that. You’ll want your child, I expect. I’ll send him to you when he’s born. With a trebuchet.”
I get the impression that GRRM is somewhat toying with the reader here. By the end of ASOS, my outlook (and I’m assuming that most readers’ outlook) of Jaime had improved. Here though, we see that Jaime still has a ruthless streak. Perhaps he is no longer seeking after his own glory and is only seeking to cause the least harm possible, but his threat to toss a baby over the walls of Riverrun should be taken as sign that Jaime has not completely changed from the man who pushed Bran out of the window at Winterfell.
Most of the readers know what happened next. Edmure entered the castle, lowered the direwolf sigil and then lifted the portcullis to allow the Blackfish to swim away in the night. The Lannisters took control of Riverrun, but without the Blackfish in custody, trouble is probably coming.
Jaime’s actions showed that he matured as a commander. His use of outrider during his movement towards Riverrun displayed a caution that was not present during the Riverlands campaign. His additional reluctance to assault the walls of Riverrun showed more of this restraint. And though these analyses have not been a long-winded as the ones on Stannis and Robb, I’m tempted to think of Jaime as the second best military commander in Westeros after Stannis. Time will tell if I’m right or not. Due to word restrictions on reddit, I’m going to write in the comments about historical siege warfare in the Middle Ages as compared to the Second Siege of Riverrun.
Per some reader comments, I’ve compiled previous analyses of Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon and this post into a blog. You can find the blog here and hey if you’re interested, I threw up an old picture from OEF as my gravatar. As I’m semi-new to blogging, feel free to PM suggestions or comment below to make it a better or easier reading experience. Thanks again for all the comments and PMs. I’ve really enjoyed writing these analyses. Any thoughts on who I should do next? Tywin? Daenerys? The Blackfish? Shitmouth? The choice is yours.