“Was there ever a war where only one side bled?” (ACOK, Catelyn I)
Tywin Lannister in Retreat
At the end of A Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister was in a weak position. With Jaime’s army destroyed outside of Riverrun and two armies now positioned to his west and north, Tywin Lannister retreated south towards Harrenhal. But Tywin Lannister knew that his position was weaker than it appeared. While his army was outnumbered by something like 2 to 1 in the Riverlands, the Lannisters faced two new threats to the south and east. Renly Baratheon had married Margaery Tyrell and had been crowned king. The might of the Reach and the Stormlands now rode with him. To the east, Stannis Baratheon was marshaling a smaller army but larger fleet at Dragonstone. In short, Tywin was not simply threatened to his north and west, he was threatened by hostile armies in every direction. A new strategy had to be devised.
The platoon engages targets in direct relation to the danger they present. If two or more targets of equal threat present themselves, the platoon should engage the closest target first. – U.S. Army Field Manual 3-21.8: The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, Chapter 2, Para 11
While Tywin Lannister faced multiple enemies, he had to make a decision as to who posed the most dangerous threat. More than being the most immediate threat, he had to fight the force that most proximate to his location. To that end, he decided to continue the war against Robb Stark.
Robb Stark now had a clear advantage over the Lannisters following the destruction of his army outside of Riverrun. Approximately 12,000 infantrymen under the command of Roose Bolton were east of the Twins. At Riverrun itself, Robb’s cavalry was bolstered and augmented by soldiers from the River Lords.
And so Tywin returned to a familiar strategy: threatening the Riverlands with two armies. His army was well-situated in Harrenhal to prevent any Stark advance on King’s Landing. He also called for a new army to be raised in the Westerlands under the command of Ser Stafford Lannister. If you’ll recall from part 1, Stafford Lannister was Tywin’s cousin who was one of the Lannisters exchanged for Lord Tarbeck.
This was part and parcel of Tywin’s strategy to threaten his enemies on multiple fronts. It worked during the initial invasion of the Riverlands. The River Lords were smashed by Jaime at the Golden Tooth and beneath the walls of Riverrun. I think this may have been accomplished in no small measure by Tywin’s force to the east. The Riverlands did not know the invasion route, because there were two armies in the field. Moreover, Tywin had more soldiers with him than Jaime did, which would signify that Tywin was the main effort for the Riverlands campaign. That being said, Brynden Tully further suspected that Tywin wouldn’t move from Harrenhal until the second Lannister host was prepared to move.
This lot will be sellswords, freeriders, and green boys from the stews of Lannisport. Ser Stafford must see that they are armed and drilled before he dare risk battle . . . and make no mistake, Lord Tywin is not the Kingslayer. He will not rush in heedless. He will wait patiently for Ser Stafford to march before he stirs from behind the walls of Harrenhal.” (ACOK, Catelyn I)
Now, there are problems with Tywin’s strategy. First, it’s a strategy that the Starks/Tullys were aware of. They saw it in action during the initial invasion when Tywin used two hosts to threaten the Riverlands. Perhaps they would act before Stafford’s host was ready. Second, there was no real line of communication between the two hosts. The reason for the Roose Bolton ruse and attack at the Green Fork was to distract Tywin from Jaime’s army which was not too far away. Now, there was a large army between Tywin and Stafford Lannister. Sending riders would take weeks to deliver orders. Moreover, with Renly approaching from the southwest, the window where Tywin’s riders would be able to pass through was closing. And sending ravens would be a no-go as their flightpath would take them directly over Robb’s army, the same army with a propensity to shoot ravens.
“Theon, when you return to my uncle, tell him he is to place his best bowmen around the Twins, day and night, with orders to bring down any raven they see leaving the battlements. I want no birds bringing word of my son’s movements to Lord Tywin.” (AGOT, Catelyn IX)
Now, much like my thoughts on when Tywin’s host was assembled, I have to think that Stafford’s mustering of troops started probably prior to the events of A Clash of Kings, but I don’t have textual evidence to support this. However, Stafford has about 10,000 soldiers at his disposal. These would be 10,000 soldiers who were raised in addition to the 40,000 or so that Tywin departed the Westerlands with in A Game of Thrones.
But Tywin still faced a numerically superior force in the Riverlands. To that end, he employed Ser Gregor Clegane, Amory Lorch and a band of sellswords known as the Brave Companions to accomplish this task.. Their job was simple: burn the Riverlands.
“Unleash Ser Gregor and send him before us with his reavers. Send forth Vargo Hoat and his freeriders as well, and Ser Amory Lorch. Each is to have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.” (AGOT, Tyrion IX)
By burning and pillaging the Riverlands, Tywin hoped to weaken the concentration of forces gathering in and around Riverrun. Perhaps, he might be able to pick off a few lords who would return to their homelands.
Burning the Riverlands
As the world darkened, the fire seemed to grow brighter and brighter, until it looked as though the whole north was ablaze. (ACOK, Arya III)
The first phase of Tywin’s plan was instituted shortly after the events of A Game of Thrones. The Riverlands burned. The extent of the destruction that Tywin unleashed in the Riverlands was immense.
“The riverlands are awash in blood and flame all around the Gods Eye. The fighting has spread south to the Blackwater and north across the Trident, almost to the Twins.” (ACOK, Catelyn I)
In response to this, Robb Stark allowed several of his lords to return home with their armies to return to their keeps and lands to defend them from these marauders. Though dispersed, some of these lords won victories against Tywin’s men, but not before their cattle and crops were stolen or destroyed. Other lords were not so lucky.
Darry men recaptured their lord’s keep but held it less than a fortnight before Gregor Clegane descended on them and put the whole garrison to the sword, even their lord.”Catelyn was horrorstruck. “Darry was only a child.”
“Aye, and the last of his line as well. The boy would have brought a fine ransom, but what does gold mean to a frothing dog like Gregor Clegane? (ACOK, Catelyn I)
This war crime and the others were designed to separate out individual lords from the Stark main host outside of Riverrun. Additionally, Brynden Tully believed that these provocations were meant to lure Robb into a battle at Harrenhal. Behind the walls of Harrenhal, Tywin could either defeat the Northerners or wait out the siege until Stafford could bring his second army up. Tywin believed in strong walls, and believed that he would be in a strong position if the Northerners decided to besiege Harrenhal, even if the Lannisters would be outnumbered.
Soon enough, he must test the truth of another of his father’s sayings: one man on a wall was worth ten beneath it. (ACOK, Tyrion XI)
Disaster in the West
“You have not heard?” The man seemed surprised. “His Grace won a great victory at Oxcross. Ser Stafford Lannister is dead, his host scattered.” (ACOK, Catelyn V)
But Robb Stark did not act in the way that Tywin wanted him to. Instead of bringing his host east to Harrenhal, Robb went west with about 6000 soldiers, all cavalry. But fortunately for the Lannisters, the only road to the Westerlands passed through the Golden Tooth. And by now, we’re all familiar with the Golden Tooth and how it serves as a strategic chokepoint for any army passing in and out of the Riverlands. And fortunately for the Lannisters, the Golden Tooth was held by House Lefford: a house sworn to House Lannister Unfortunately for the Lannisters, magic was at play. Guided by his direwolf, Robb Stark and his army moved around the Golden Tooth without ever having been seen by the Lannister bannermen atop the Golden Tooth. After bypassing the Golden Tooth, Robb and his army set on Stafford Lannister’s Army at Oxcross. Despite being outnumbered, the Northern host won a smashing victory against Stafford and killed Ser Stafford. The Westerlands were now open to Robb Stark to do as he wished with them.
“The Young Wolf was paying the Lannisters back in kind for the devastation they’d inflicted on the riverlands.” (ACOK, Catelyn V)
Another victory by Robb Stark followed at Ashmark. Worse news was yet to come to Tywin. Resources which made the Lannisters wealthy were captured by the Starks.
Lords Karstark and Glover were raiding along the coast, Lady Mormont had captured thousands of cattle and was driving them back toward Riverrun, while the Greatjon had seized the gold mines at Castamere, Nunn’s Deep, and the Pendric Hills. (ACOK, Catelyn V)
Without food, Tywin couldn’t feed his army. Without gold, he couldn’t pay his soldiers or the sellswords he hired. More than that, his strategy to compel the Young Wolf into heedless conflict failed completely. Another Lannister host was destroyed, leaving his force in Harrenhal as the only Lannister army in the field.
Moreover, the Baratheon brothers were coming for King’s Landing where his son, daughter and grandchildren were located. The choices before Tywin Lannister were all bad. He could:
- Advance south to meet the Renly/Tyrell Host at Bitterbridge and attempt to defeat a force which outnumbered his 4 to 1.
- Retreat back to King’s Landing and hope to hold the city against an extended siege.
- Remain in Harrenhall and hope Robb Stark moves back from the Westerlands to besiege him.
- Attempt to move back to the Westerlands to meet Robb Stark in battle and defend what was left of his material possessions in the Westerlands.
Tywin Marches West
Ser Desmond’s squire dashed panting into the room and knelt. “My lady . . . Lannisters . . . across the river.” (ACOK, Catelyn VI)
Tywin elected to pick up his army and march west to confront Robb Stark. The choice is interesting. In previous sections, I’ve written about the value Tywin placed on family. Here, Tywin takes a giant gamble and endangers his entire family in order to secure his livelihood. Now, we know the outcome of A Clash of Kings, but it’s an interesting plot point for Tywin that he would value the Westerland economy over his children and grandchildren.
But before he was to cross back into the Westerlands, Tywin chose to march through the Riverlands. I believe that Tywin thought It was really the only way that he could move back to the West. Looming to the southwest was the Tyrell/Baratheon host which numbered some 80,000 strong. In the open, Tywin might be attacked by the this host as he tried to bypass Riverrun to the south. More than that, Tywin’s movement to the Westerlands would be quickest if they moved straight through the Riverlands.
All of above is spitballing, because I really have no idea why Tywin wouldn’t move southwest to skirt Riverrun and its defenders. The Tyrells were many miles to the south at Bitterbridge, and probably would allow Tywin to move back into the Westerlands as it prevented Tywin from playing an active role in the upcoming Siege of King’s Landing. To me, Tywin’s straight shot from Harrenhal to the Green Fork is a convenient plot-point for reasons that will become abundantly clear soon. About the only logical reason for Tywin to move west on the Riverroad would be if Tywin wanted to besiege Riverrun in 0rder to draw Robb’s army back from the Westerlands. That’s about really the only logical reason why Tywin would just move west along the Riverroad back to the Westerlands. And I guess that point makes sense, but it’s not explicitly stated in the text.
Anyways, Tywin’s westward advance first had to pass through Riverrun. Standing in his way was Edmure Tully and a force of Riverlander soldiers. Edmure was appointed by Robb to… well, that’s a source of controversy. What he ended up doing when he heard about Tywin’s advance was to assemble his men and place them at key positions west of the Red Fork of the River Trident to block his westward advance.
Tywin was no fool. He did not attempt to charge headlong across the river. Instead, he sent mounted soldiers in probing actions in an attempt to find weak spots within the Tully lines in the north.
“He is probing, feeling for a weak point, an undefended crossing. If he does not find one, he will curl all his fingers into a fist and try and make one.” (ACOK, Catelyn VI)
Edmure’s army frustrated Tywin’s attempt to find a weak point in the north by killing most of the outriders who were trying to find a place to cross. Tywin next tried to move south. Ser Flement Brax attempted to move a dismounted force through the Tully lines to the south. This advance was discovered and met with archer and scorpion fire resulting in more Lannister casualties and no foothold west of the Trident.
Finally, Tywin sent Gregor Clegane and a band of soldiers to the Stone Mill. After a fierce fight, Gregor and his men occupied a beachhead on the west bank of the Trident. Unfortunately for Gregor and his soldiers, Edmure had a mobile reserve force that was held back for just this event.
In the end the Mountain and a handful of his best had gained the west bank, but Edmure had thrown his reserve at them, and they had shattered and reeled away bloody and beaten. Ser Gregor himself had lost his horse and staggered back across the Red Fork bleeding from a dozen wounds while a rain of arrows and stones fell all around him. (ACOK, Catelyn VI)
Tywin and his army moved away from the river. “Retreated” in the words of Edmure Tully. To the Tullys, Tywin suffered another humiliating defeat, perhaps one that would be decisive to winning the war for Robb Stark. Fate, as would have it, had a different outcome in store.
Opportunity Through Defeat
“When you stopped Lord Tywin on the Red Fork,” said the Blackfish, “you delayed him just long enough for riders out of Bitterbridge to reach him with word of what was happening to the east…” (ASOS, Catelyn II)
Meanwhile, events were shaping up to Tywin’s east. Renly Baratheon died in mysterious circumstances. Most of Renly’s bannermen defected to Stannis Baratheon, his older brother. But not everyone defected. The most prominent not to join with Stannis was the Tyrells. Boasting a 80,000-man army, the Tyrells were situated at Bitterbridge. Stannis, then at Storm’s End, began the long march to King’s Landing with the intent of seizing the city and overthrowing the Lannisters/Baratheons in power there.
A close reading of the text gives us a clue that Tywin discovered that Stannis was moving on King’s Landing at some point during the Battle of the Red Fork
“They shall not cross, Cat,” Edmure scrawled, “Lord Tywin is marching to the southeast. A feint perhaps, or full retreat, it matters not. They shall not cross.” (ACOK, Catelyn VI)
And so, Tywin wheeled his entire force from the Riverlands and took up a forced march to and broke off his attack to move towards King’s Landing. Along the way, riders approached with news that would save the Lannisters. Lord Petyr Baelish had concluded a marriage alliance between Margaery Tyrell and Joffrey Baratheon. The entire Tyrell host was now at Bitterbridge awaiting direction. Tywin moved quickly.
Lord Tywin turned his host at once, joined up with Matthis Rowan and Randyll Tarly near the headwaters of the Blackwater, and made a forced march to Tumbler’s Falls, where he found Mace Tyrell and two of his sons waiting with a huge host and a fleet of barges. They floated down the river, disembarked half a day’s ride from the city…” (ASOS, Catelyn II)
Enemy at the Gate
They rode through the ashes and took the usurper Stannis in the rear. It was a great victory, and now Lord Tywin has settled into the Tower of the Hand to help His Grace set the realm to rights, gods be praised.” (ACOK, Tyrion XV)
When the Lannisters and Tyrells finally linked up at Bitterbridge, they began their movement at once. To save on time, they floated down the river on a massive of fleet of barges that Lord Mace Tyrell had constructed only to disembark a half day from King’s Landing itself. Most of Tywin’s force at this time was comprised of Lannister and Tyrell cavalry. This made a huge difference in that cavalry could move much more quickly than infantry towards the city. And speed would be essential to any Lannister victory against Stannis. It was a remarkably easy journey to get to King’s Landing. None of Stannis’s outriders were present. In fact, most of them as it turned out were killed by Mountain Clansman in the employ of Tyrion Lannister before Tywin arrived.
“And if Tyrion’s wildlings had not slain most of Lord Stannis’s scouts, we would never have been able to take him unawares.” (ASOS, Tyrion VIII)
When they finally reached King’s Landing, they found that Stannis was nearly inside of the city. It was a miracle in and of itself (and due in no small measure to the actions of Tywin’s dwarf-son, Tyrion) that the city was still being held by the Lannisters. Stannis’s force was divided into two large components. The first was on the north shore of Blackwater Reach. These soldiers attempting to knock down the gates of King’s Landing. The second component was still south of Blackwater Reach. Here, Stannis Baratheon himself was located, commanding the battle most likely from a high point where he could observe and control the battle. Lord Tywin divided up his forces thusly:
1. The Right: Tywin Lannnister
2. The Center: Randyll Tarly
3. The Right: Mace Tyrell
4. The Vanguard: Ser Garlan Tyrell
And so the Lannisters and Tyrells charged. Stannis’s men did not know that they were being assaulted from the rear until the swords were coming down on them. This was in part due to their attention being fixed on King’s Landing and the wildfire still lit in Blackwater Bay as well as the fact that the smoke from the wildfire obscured their field of vision.
“They came up through the ashes while the river was burning.” (ACOK, Sansa VII)
The battle was a complete rout. Stannis’s army was attacked in the rear and much of his it was completely destroyed. The battle came as such a shock to Stannis that the Tyrell vanguard led by Ser Garlan Tyrell conducted most of the fighting and inflicted most of the casualties. The cherry on top of the assault was that Ser Garlan Tyrell adorned himself in Renly’s armor, causing many of the soldiers fighting on behalf of Stannis to defect on sight.
Stannis was badly defeated outside of King’s Landing, but he survived and fled the scene to fight another day. For Tywin, the new Tyrell alliance had proved for the moment to be useful in tipping the balance of power back to the Lannisters. But all of this came as a result of defeat. The fruit of Tywin’s defeats in the Riverlands was an alliance with the most powerful house in Westeros. With the influx of 80,000 Tyrell soldiers, Tywin Lannister now had all of his enemies outnumbered badly. But would he have use these soldiers or could he accomplish his strategic aims in a way that didn’t involve utilizing these soldiers?
Thanks for reading again. This one is not as long as the last analysis, but I hope it’s enjoyable even though it’s well-trod ground. The next section will be the final section on Tywin Lannister that will deal with his tactics and strategy after his relief of the Siege of King’s Landing. Thanks again for reading. Cheers.