Wolf at the Door: A Character Analysis of Rickard Stark


Rickard Stark, by Elia Mervi


Rickard Stark was responsible for much of Westeros’s recent history. From marriage alliances to civil war, all of it can be traced back to the political machinations of one Lord Paramount. A long-faced, stern man, Rickard was the only child of Edwyle Stark and Marna Locke that survived to adulthood, and married his second cousin once removed Lyarra Stark, bringing together two distant branches of the family. The North, a remote and distant kingdom, did not interact much with the southern kingdoms. After all, only one King-Beyond-the-Wall ever strove against Westeros to mandate the Warden of the North having his position activated, and the Starks and Umbers defeated him before the rest of Westeros would have even been able to make the march north. Indeed, the North only ever seemed to involve themselves in eras of instability, good examples being Rickon Stark fighting in Daeron’s conquest of Dorne or Beron Stark allying with Tybolt Lannister to fight off rebelling Greyjoys, but little is said about the North involving themselves in the greater Westerosi political picture over the three-hundred tenure of the Targaryen kings. Torrhen Manderly was involved in the regency and administration of the early reign of Aegon III, but the Manderlys have many southron traditions and leanings, which coupled with their extensive political support of Rhaenrya Targaryen in the Dance, does not detract overmuch from Northmen largely involving themselves with the North and not the larger picture of Westeros. Cregan Stark best emphasizes what appears to be the common pattern of Northern involvement: fulfill your oaths and bring stability, perhaps with a marriage to help keep the peace. Perhaps they smoldered over the New Gift being ceded from the North to the Night’s Watch, or perhaps the courts and pageantry of the south were simply too foreign and too distant for the much more personal and direct politics of the North for the Northmen to feel any especial kinship. But all of that would change when it was Rickard Stark’s time to sit as ruling lord of Winterfell.


Image by HBO

Weakness on the Horizon


The War of the Ninepenny Kings, a succession war instigated against the recently-crowned monarch Jaehaerys II, was one of the few times in Westerosi history where the entire nation of Westeros faced an external threat together as a single kingdom. There were many wars in Westerosi history, but almost all of them were a kingdom or region against another, an intra-Westeros war, rather than a war between Westeros and another power. The regional Warden titles were activated, and as Warden of the North, Rickard Stark was expected to contribute and fight. The text doesn’t state what contributions Rickard did make, and we do not know how old Rickard Stark was at the time of the Ninepenny Kings, but given that there is no explicit mention of accolades or dishonor, it can be assumed that Rickard did reasonably well assuming he was of the age of majority, neither dishonoring himself nor winning glory equal to that of Steffon Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, or Brynden Tully.

However, this war brought many of the Lords Paramount into a setting where they spent a length of time with each other, and “fast friendships” grew as a result. Great Houses either sent their lords or heirs to win glory for their houses, and friendships forged in the fires of battle stayed long after Maelys the Monstrous’s blood ran dry on the Stepstones. This was one of the few times where the notion of pan-Westerosi thought actually ran strong, even for a short time. Rivermen whose ancestors had been subjugated by Stormlords and Westermen fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the descendents of their conquerors. Even the Ironborn under Quellon Greyjoy “led a hundred longships around the bottom of Westeros during the War of the Ninepenny Kings and played a crucial role in the fighting around the Stepstones.” (The World of Ice and Fire, The Iron Isles, The Old Way and the New), which gave many high lords, Ironborn, Andal, and First Men alike, the chance to interact for a good series of time.

However, while this idea of Westeros as a singular entity was stronger than it had ever been, the central monarchy could not boast the same claim. The previous king, Aegon V, had made marriage alliances with Houses Baratheon, Tyrell, and Tully, but all three of his children defied him, causing a brief rebellion where Lyonel Baratheon crowned himself the Storm King and had to be pacified by Ser Duncan the Tall. What’s worse, Jaehaerys II, the second son to the king at the time, commanded that his two children be wed on the words of a woods witch. Whether or not the prophecy was true, it made Jaehaerys appear befuddled and easily manipulated. After all, rational men scorned prophecy as quackery, with Gorghan of Ghis colorfully saying that prophecy “will bite your prick off every time” (A Feast for Crows, Samwell V). For a crown prince (Prince Duncan having given up his crown for a commoner who introduced the same witch to court) to follow such nonsense could, to conventional reason, spell disaster for the realm if he had used the same poppycock to influence decisions on war or economic policy. Worse still, Aegon V was so weak that he permitted the union, making the king appear so ineffective that he could not effectively quell disobedience from his own son, even though the incestuous union was blasphemous to the Faith, and Aegon had been known to be personally against wedding brother to sister, having “become convinced that such incestuous unions did more harm than good” (A World of Ice and Fire, Aegon V).

Aegon V had also made few friends among the nobility by passing a wide variety of unpopular edicts, likely inspired by complaints he had heard while he was wandering the land as the squire of a hedge knight. These royal commands won him much love among the smallfolk, but under which the nobility chafed considerably, as they were predictably not fond of having their rights eroded. Likely, they felt particularly cheated since Aegon owed his seat on the Iron Throne to them, as they were the ones who elected him via the Great Council. The other candidates were particularly unappealing (save Maester Aemon, who refused on moral principles), but to their view, they had put considerable trust in him and granted him great power, and were rewarded with royal commands weakening them in comparison to the smallfolk.

There was still the power of the Throne to quell any immediate revolt, but this was not as strong as it was in yesteryear. Without dragons to enforce their hegemony, the Kings of the recent past had used Brynden the Bloodraven’s spy network to help enforce order during periods of unrest, famously quoted as having “a thousand eyes” to ferret out treachery. However, this network was considerably weaker than in its heyday with the absence of its terrifying spymaster. After all, Lyonel Baratheon was able to successfully revolt and only relented after a duel, whereas the Blackfyre pretender John the Fiddler was successfully uncovered and imprisoned by Bloodraven before his rebellion ever got off the ground.

In contrast, several of the Great Houses were stronger than ever. Ormund Baratheon had died in battle, but his young son Steffon quickly demonstrated his skill in both battle and command. Tytos Lannister was weak, but Tytos’s son and heir Tywin distinguished himself in combat along with his two brothers Kevan and Tygett. House Tully sent Brynden Tully, one who so impressed Westeros with his skill in combat that offers of marriage came flowing in from places as far as the Arbor.

In the peace that followed, Jaehaerys died, spending much of his short reign reconciling the angry nobility, before dying of illness at 37 years of age. Aerys II took over afterward, and he had much of the charm that Jaehaerys lacked and friendships that Aegon V couldn’t make, especially with two of his most powerful bannerman, Steffon Baratheon and Tywin Lannister. Aerys had a conceit to him, declaring his wish to be the greatest Targaryen king yet. Despite that, he had the potential to establish closer bonds with his vassals and fortify the Throne’s position and power, if he only played his cards right.


“His Grace was full of grand schemes as well…most indeed, were forgotten within a moon’s turn.” -A World of Ice and Fire, Aerys II


Yet almost immediately, Aerys started to show signs of weakness. He became known as erratic and capricious, always drifting from one fancy to another, and often overreacting dramatically, once declaring the capital city’s odor offended him so greatly that he would build a new city. Rickard Stark almost certainly recognized these oddities personally, as he was mentioned to have paid a visit to King’s Landing in 264. Indeed, his visit stoked a wild idea from “Aerys the Wise”, to raise another Wall, adding one hundred leagues to Westeros’s territory (how he was to raise the Wall was not mentioned).

To make matters worse, it became increasingly evident that Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King, was effectively ruling the Realm, setting tax and tariff policy, holding tournaments, making infrastructure investments, and treating with foreign powers. While Tywin, as Hand, was charged with these duties, and uniquely empowered to act as the voice of the king when other duties call the sovereign elsewhere, Tywin was ever-increasingly performing all of the King’s duties. This clearly spoke of astonishing weakness within the court.

So with a series of unpopular and ineffective monarchs, and the rise of strong, powerful Great Houses, Rickard Stark set a series of moves that would change the very fabric of Westeros.


Image by Guad

Wolf, Trout, Falcon, and Stag – Making Alliances With Other Lords Paramount


At home, Rickard had four strong, healthy children, all free of deficiencies of mind, body, and personality. While this is great for the propagation of the family line, having healthy sons and daughters made it possible for Rickard to make alliances with other families. This was true both in Westeros and the Middle Ages of our own past, where noble families made alliances through children. After all, Cersei Lannister wed Robert Baratheon not of any attraction, but to ally Robert with Tywin Lannister and tie him closely to the Iron Throne. In this marriage economy, healthy sons and fertile daughters were the currency, and Rickard was lucky enough to have four pieces to play with.

His eldest son, Brandon, and his sole daughter, Lyanna, were both wild and passionate people. Brandon was quick to rages, full of confidence, and always eager for excitement. Lyanna was no less willful, she was quick to chastise rudeness, and it was said that she would have gladly carried a blade had her father permitted it. Lyanna, it was said, was also fantastically beautiful. A maiden with the last name Stark was a great offer for any marriage alliance, but her beauty made her a powerful asset in the marriage economy. Just like some commodities are worth more than others, a beautiful daughter was a far more lovely prize than a homely one.

By contrast, his second son Eddard was all that could be expected of one not in line for the head seat at Winterfell’s table. He was dutiful and honest, yet quiet and grim. One that would not shirk from cutting the head off of a Night’s Watch deserter, but yet one that was too shy to ask the lovely Ashara Dayne to dance, and needed to be prodded by his older, hot-headed brother to do so. A perfect second son: one that could be given orders, and strive for the betterment of his house, without the desire to take the Lord’s seat for himself.

One thing that is rather striking about the Stark children’s upbringings, and one that merits strict comparison with Aegon V, was that Rickard always established control and authority over his brood, especially hot-blooded Brandon and Lyanna. Lyanna desired to carry a blade, yet Rickard forbade it and Lyanna herself was not seen carrying a sword (it did not stop her from picking up a blunted sword and stopping bullies from attacking a young Howland Reed, but Rickard was not present for such matters). Brandon Stark took the maidenhead of Barbary Ryswell and would have taken her as a wife, but Rickard forbade the marriage and more importantly, Brandon accepted his father’s authority.

In the wake of the weakness of the central monarchy, Rickard Stark (perhaps prodded by his maester Walys if we are to believe the bitter Barbary Ryswell) began to politick with other Great Houses. He arranged for Eddard Stark to foster with Jon Arryn, the childless Lord of the Vale, who had also gained stewardship of the young and recently orphaned Robert Baratheon. The two became inseparable friends, and Rickard furthered this connection by promising Lyanna Stark’s hand to Robert, bringing these three regions into close connection. Later, Rickard would arrange for Brandon to wed Catelyn Tully, a natural choice given the Riverlands adjoined the lands of the Starks, Arryns, and Baratheons.

Oddly, no betrothal pact seemed to have been made for Eddard or Benjen Stark, though this perhaps could have been because of their respective youths, or perhaps Rickard was waiting to see who he could extend the offer toward. Certainly a marriage offer to Cersei Lannister could have borne fruit and brought Tywin into the fold following Aerys’s humiliating snubbing of Tywin’s offer of a Cersei-Rhaegar match, but that (and the likelihood of Tywin’s acceptance) is beyond the scope of this essay, as would a prospective match between a Stark and a prominent Reachman daughter.

While the Southron Ambitions theory spells out how unique this system of intra-Great House marriage and fosterage plainly, it is less clear as to what the conspiracy’s ultimate aim was. Tywin Lannister had already been working to undo the reforms made by Aegon V, and none of these four houses reached out to include him within the conspiracy, so the restoration or enrichment of noble power could not have been the sole aim. After all, Tywin had been working to undo Aegon’s reforms, and including him would have been a sensible step. It is certainly possible that they thought Tywin was still too close to Aerys despite increasing friction, or perhaps Tywin’s infamously lacking social skills called them off, or perhaps they simply thought that Tywin was too greedy and grasping for his own power rather than someone who would treat his fellow Great House lords as worthy equals. Overthrowing Aerys was possible, but the coalition never picked a successor for the throne or concocted plans to deal with a Targaryen ouster, at least, from what we can see in the text. Given what many of them could have conceivably thought as Aegon’s betrayal of their trust, they might have decided against propping up a new king in the event of a repeat of Aegon’s unpopular edicts. The most likely motive was to establish a counterbalance to unilateral royal action, which could have taken form as bureaucratic blockage, a rival assembly, or simply a force large enough to require backroom dealings to manage. This is the belief subscribed to by most believers of the Southron Ambitions theory, but Hoster Tully’s machinations right before Robert’s Rebellion suggested that he was not 100% on-board and required further capitulation, which could possibly mean that the conspiracy was either not fully formed, or not fully unified in aim.

After all, the evidence of Southron Ambitions was relayed largely through a thoroughly embittered Barbary Ryswell, now Dustin, 20 years after the fact. Likely Barbary had no access to Walys’s thoughts, so it’s not known exactly how she knew of this conspiracy, and cries of “it was a conspiracy” are often heard among embittered people who feel cheated out of their due. The cigar could have easily just been a cigar, or Rickard Stark could have just been a relatively unique Stark in wanting to expand beyond his own borders.


Image by HBO

On The Murder and Kidnapping of Starks – Why Royal Credibility Matters


When Rhaegar Targaryen named Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty, there were few happy with that state of affairs. Naming a Queen of Love and Beauty was a champion’s right, and most commonly, tournament champions favored their beloved, intended, or lawful wife with the garland of roses that marked the Queen. By shunning Elia Martell (who was present) and dropping the roses in the lap of Lyanna, engaged to Robert Baratheon, Rhaegar stoked the ire of many of the nobles in attendance.

Brandon Stark was particularly enraged, as Rhaegar’s actions suggested that his sister was a woman who would cheat on her betrothed with another man, one who was married at that. Robert Baratheon, another hot-headed man and quick to take offense, was said to have brooded on the insult to his betrothed. Even Eddard Stark, a man thought to have ice in his veins, was noted to have been displeased at the turn of events. House Martell did not look upon this insult any kinder, and that insult would not serve Aerys and Rhaegar Targaryen later in the war to follow.

While the nobles were content to gossip and seethe on this slanderous incident, it would quickly spiral out of control when Lyanna Stark was seemingly abducted by Rhaegar Targaryen near Harrenhal. What she was doing in the Riverlands is unknown, but it was likely that she was going to Riverrun for her brother Brandon’s marriage to Catelyn Tully, or had remained in the area to help plan the wedding. This would be the final straw for wolf-blooded Brandon, who brashly went forth to King’s Landing, demanding that Rhaegar “come out and die” for his kidnapping of Lyanna, much to chagrin of Hoster Tully.

Neither Rhaegar nor Lyanna were present in the capital, but Aerys II was, and he had Brandon arrested for plotting the murder of the crown prince. He issued a demand for Rickard Stark to go to the capital and answer for his son’s crimes, to which Rickard agreed, and the Lord Paramount made the journey to King’s Landing to ransom his son. What happened next was infamous and spelled the end of the Targaryen dynasty. Rickard himself was charged with treason, and when Rickard demanded trial by combat, he was burned to death in a grotesque mockery of the law of Westeros, by Aerys declaring fire the champion of House Targaryen, all while his son Brandon watched, strangling himself to death in a vain attempt to free his father.

Many Targaryen apologists say that Aerys was within his rights to execute Brandon for seeking the death of the crown prince, but these people ignore critical pieces of Aerys’s conduct, that he had stated that Rickard was to come to King’s Landing to account for his son. This is not a mere courtesy, highborn prisoners charged with crimes had the right to trial, and Aerys had made it plain that Rickard was to come to King’s Landing to settle affairs, meaning that Brandon would have had his due when Rickard arrived. Rickard, acting in accordance with the law, was suddenly seized, bound, and murdered.  So, whether Aerys could have had Brandon killed on royal authority is irrelevant. Once he had issued his decision, he couldn’t retract it without risking royal credibility and authority in the face of highborn rights.


“King Aegon felt he had no choice but to condemn (Bloodraven), lest the word of the Iron Throne be seen as worthless.” -The World of Ice and Fire, Aegon V


This point is proven by a critical piece of precedent, that murdering people coming on behalf of the Crown had happened before, and the Crown needed to save face quickly as a result. When Maekar I died and Westeros was mired in a Great Council on the issue of succession, Aenys Blackfyre had been promised safe passage from Tyrosh to King’s Landing to present his own claim in person. When he arrived in King’s Landing, he was seized on Bloodraven’s orders, executed, and his head presented to the lords of the Great Council to warn them against any lingering Blackfyre sympathies. Yet Aegon had to punish Bloodraven, and sentence him to death for the crime of murdering a man who came at the Crown’s behest. The message is clear: when the Crown extends an offer of safe passage only to revoke it and murder a man who arrived in good faith, it is considered abhorrent conduct, worthy of a death sentence. Royal credibility as an institution is a real and established concept, one that the Yunkish use to elicit great concessions out of Daenerys. The institution of the Throne is larger than a single king, and the notion that ‘the king can do as he likes’ is ridiculed, and rightly so, by all who deal with Joffrey, and the notion that Aerys II could do so is likewise ridiculous.

By issuing a command and then using it to murder his obedient lord, Aerys II undermined all semblance of royal credibility, and in a feudal system of government, where the specifics of service due by both lords and vassals, are outlined in contracts, credibility at the top is absolutely vital.  As Steven Attewell points out in his column: “if one law-abiding Lord Paramount can be executed on a whim, any of them can.” However, it goes slightly further than even the great extent that Mr. Attewell offers, for not only was Rickard murdered, but he was murdered in a fashion as to spit in the face of lordly rights with a showy “trial by combat.” This exercise mocked both the lordly rights that highborn enjoyed as a privilege due to their status, but the very gods who were supposed to sit in judgment over trials by combat and render their verdict through the swordarm of the truly just party. Aerys demonstrated that he believed highborn noble rights to be a joke, that he was the absolute authority whose dictates superseded all laws of gods and men. In doing so, he caused half of his kingdom to rise in revolt and spelled the doom of his authority.

Others believe that Rickard Stark was a fool to step into the lair of an obvious madman, that he foolishly marched to his death and should have never trusted the crown to act rationally in the face of such provocation. However, that point of view neglects several key components of the situation. Brandon in his rashness had left before marrying Catelyn Tully, leaving the state of alliance with Hoster Tully in doubt, and, as one of the most remote kingdoms, Rickard rebelling immediately would have meant asking other allies to put themselves between Rickard and Aerys while he called his banners and marched his troops south of the Neck, which is a very hard sell. Brandon had been offended, and rightly so, by Rhaegar abducting Lyanna Stark, and that abduction demanded a response. After all, the crown prince just absconded with his sister, to allow such was to suggest that Stark daughters could be taken by any desirous noble and that House Stark was so weak as to not enforce their own contracts. However, Brandon’s response was to demand Rhaegar’s head, blood for the insult that he had carried out, not just the return of Lyanna Stark, and this fundamentally changed the nature of the demand and it’s impact to other lords. The former plays into the very office of the Throne, as the king cannot reasonably anticipate loyalty if his family members simply snatch highborn maidens away like a common brigand, disrupting the marriage economy that all the lords depended upon to make alliances. The latter, however, is Brandon attempting to avenge the insult to House Stark, and that matters little to non-Starks. While some lords would be quick to voice support for the return of Lyanna Stark, lest their own betrothed daughters be next to be taken as a royal mistress and deprive them of a coin in the vicious Westerosi marriage economy, fewer would be willing to fight for the honor of House Stark on principle. Stark honor is a Stark concern, and not one that merits a different family’s food, soldiers, and coin.

Rickard did the best of what can be expected, and only a drastic failure of all present within the court caused the events surrounding Brandon Stark to spiral out of control. Rickard himself could not possibly have foreseen the consequences, specifically because the outcome that happened was so drastic, so against the social grain, that do so meant inevitable rebellion, and Rickard had good reason to believe that Aerys, even as capricious as he was, wouldn’t have thrown centuries of tradition and law into the dirt on mere whim. Aerys was violent and capricious, but he was still aware of reality.

Still, Rickard’s death was not in vain. Fully committed to his madness, Aerys would demand that Eddard also be killed to eliminate any Stark reprisal, and Robert Baratheon be killed to pre-empt any chance of Lyanna’s betrothed avenging her honor. These would lead to Jon Arryn rising in revolt, the North and Stormlands (mostly) rallying behind their lords, and Robert’s great rebellion. And at the start of it all was a man who never shows up alive during the books, who has barely a hundred words devoted to him in the text, but like Jon Arryn, a man whose influence lasted far beyond his death.


Filed under ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Political Analysis

19 responses to “Wolf at the Door: A Character Analysis of Rickard Stark

  1. KrimzonStriker

    Some minor points on an otherwise good though debatable essay. One, an incursion by the wildlings did elicit a response by King Jahearys I who rode out to meet them himself apparently. Two, just how in control was Rickard of Brandon or how far did any apparent promise to Barbera really go, especially the prospect of marriage since it’s never said Brandon promised anything of the sort himself, and seeing as how it didn’t stop him from charming Catleyn or the speculation behind what happened with Ashara Dayne. Third, how much if any credit should the great lords get for Aegon V given how they basically gave him the crown by default, not out of some great trust or faith. Finally, I doubt Aerys and Rhaella’ s marriage mattered to anyone, the Targaryeans have gotten away with the incest question since Jaehearys I, it’s not like Aerys and Rhaella were betrothed to anyone else unlike with Aegon V’ s sons. And I question what the Starks have to complain about regarding Aegon V’ s reforms given how communal they are with their subjects to begin with? Or Dorne about Rhaegar and Lyanna given their… lax attitudes about paramours, which you never hear a bad word about from the Dornish themselves by the way regarding Rhaegar. I guess that’s all I have to comment on the matter, good points on the War of the Ninepenny Kings.

    • somethinglikealawyer

      1. The King Jaehaerys riding out to meet the wildlings is only mentioned once by a second-hand source, told to excite children, so it’s truth can not be verified. It’s also not mentioned as to whether it was in support of the Watch (an organization Queen Alysanne had great respect for) or the North itself.

      2. We have only what Barbrey said, but it’s not likely that Brandon Stark ever associated with Catelyn Tully until the match was arranged, so he didn’t charm her before the arrangement, and any arrangements with Barbrey stopped after that was made. As for charming ladies and sleeping around, it seems that men doing such a thing is socially expected. Being gratuitous about it is bad, but there are enough bastards to warrant a special naming convention.

      3. Plenty of credit. They could have propped up a puppet king, but awarded it to Aegon instead. They likely felt that Aegon owed them, at least in some part, for naming him instead of the people who came further in succession.

      4. Aerys and Rhaella’s marriage mattered a great deal, since it was known that Aegon definitely didn’t like that arrangement and the crown prince flagrantly defied him. It made Aegon look weak in the eyes of his bannermen.

      5. We won’t know what the noble’s complaints were until we know what Aegon V’s unpopular edicts were. All we have is that they didn’t like them.

      • KrimzonStriker

        1. Wildling incursions go hand in hand with Northern and Night’s Watch interest, I don’t see why they’d be excluded here given that relationship.

        2. But even if he only charmed her afterwards, which Cat recalls he did, then the opposition to the match Barbera mentioned by Brandon rings rather hollow. Plus there’s sleeping around and then there’s crossing boundaries which poaching a lady his brother Eddard was interested in, who Brandon introduced Ned too, goes a step too far. I don’t believe Robert would have crossed that line for all his vices with Ned.

        3. Their choices weren’t exactly inspiring in that regard with a lot of potentially dangerous drawbacks to them and only Aemon’ s refusal kept it from going against Egg in the end. Not being crazy, which is what they asked for, seems appropriate payment for having made the obvious choice to me. Plus Lyonel loved Egg and was his biggest supporter of his reforms, up until the Jenny thing, you can’t tell me that was something Egg could have seen coming or should have put down like in the second BFR without trying a peaceful resolution first. And Egg amply demonstrated great strength when he turned back the fourth Blackfyre in a smashing victory with few casualties.

        4. My main point was about the incest thing, the sons defying Egg is a ship that sailed way past Aerys and Rhaella and would only be a footnote otherwise.

        5. Agreed, though I notice the non-follow-up about Dorne and Rhaegar, so do I get that point?

      • somethinglikealawyer

        1. Because there’s no remark about the North marching, so the Warden of the North position wasn’t needed. But as I said originally, the problem is that it’s a second-hand source telling a story to children, not exactly a verifiable historical record.

        2. If you believe Steven Attewell, Ned slept with Ashara. Or maybe she never had a child at all, and she committed suicide over her beloved Eddard killing her brother Arthur. There’s not enough evidence to warrant holding these claims up as true.

        3. That’s the thing about succession. Bypassing it is a big deal, no matter how unappealing the candidate. After all, disputed successions in Westeros end up with a great deal of Westeros fighting itself, so the Great Council was fairly monumental, and giving it to Egg was, at least to the nobles, more than likely seen as a great boon for him. Remember, what you think about it really doesn’t matter, it’s about what the characters would think about it. As for looking strong, when a subject does what he likes instead of what he’s told, then the lord looks weak, and this is true of vassals or lord. See Tytos Lannister for how that ends up for lord unable to enforce their edicts.

        4. As I’ve mentioned above, Jaehaerys had them married solely based on the account of a prophecy given by a woods witch. It makes him look easily duped, since most men see prophecy as foolish and false mysticism. Aegon had the power to stop it, and didn’t. That’s an actual problem and speaks to endemic weakness in the monarchy.

        5. No, there was nothing to respond to. It’s not about Lyanna being taken as a paramour, it’s potentially meaning that Rhaegar is putting aside Elia as a wife and taking Lyanna (there’s plenty of precedent for this in Westeros). It’s possibly the whole Margaery Tyrell plot a generation earlier with Rhaegar, which would leave House Martell with an already-married daughter and two children not capable of inheriting anything. Whatever the Dornish think isn’t really the point, it’s the implications of greater political uncertainty, of a potential move by House Stark to supplant House Martell as the house married to the crown prince.

      • KrimzonStriker

        1. The Warden title might not have been needed if Jaehaerys was on hand with a dragon to lay the smack down and take control of the matter personally. Regardless wildlings are serious business in the North, mobilization or no mobilization, the gesture so would have been appreciated by them provided it happened. I get the reservations, though using a historic name suggests a basis of truth that’s being referenced, but let’s leave the matter there.

        2. I respect Steven but I’m gonna disagree with him there. Consistency has to count for something and if we’re going to hold honorable Ned regarding Jon then I’ll hold him to that sit with Ashara until otherwise. I thought Ser Barristen provided the account suggesting the pregnancy? He’d be among the interested parties who’d want to know. And what about Brandon’s ‘I never wanted the match’ speech to Barbera if we hold Cat’s memory of him up for comparison?

        3. Which they gnawed their teeth over while trying to give it to Aemon instead, which Aegon would have known since he and his brother conversed about his ascension to the throne. Unless that subject had cause which other subjects would sympathize with. Then mercy’ s a great tool to diffuse a volatile political situation and show your subjects your open-handedness. Baelor Breakspear can be the argument for the other side of that coin.

        4. And I still say the ship still sailed well after with what happened with Egg’ s sons, and we don’t know if it was a problem, it certainly didn’t stop anyone from welcoming Jaehearys and Aerys to their thrones. Or from Daney the Dreamer getting her props for the Doom, so examples of prophecy aren’t exactly discounted out of hand either.

        5. That’s never been suggested by or indicated by anyone they thought Rhaegar was going that far, nor were are there any indicated laws/examples of the previous marriages children being disinherited outright like that with the only known comparison, given how unheard of divorce is, of widows remarrying anyway. And the Maregeary conspiracy has a lot of caveats added to it like the legitimacy of Cersei’ s children in the first place. Anyway, I doubt anyone thought that given House Stark’ s reaction to the event. And I’m referencing your point about House Martell’ s reaction when I bring this up. Nobody in Dorne seems to hold it against Rhaegar personally, and my critique is of you adding that assumption given that lack of evidence from the Martell’s and once again about the whole lax attitude of Dorne regarding paramours and their acceptance of them alongside political marriages.

      • somethinglikealawyer

        1. Like I said, there’s no other reference, and who wouldn’t want to tell kids an exciting story.

        2. Barristan is also, specifically, one of the people who’s least likely to know. He was a celibate man, and one sworn to his duties, which would leave him little opportunity to go and visit Ashara Dayne in Starfall, after she would show signs of pregnancy. The only other clue we have is that Ned was short when the name Ashara Dayne was mentioned in his presence, which would make little sense as to why he’d be angry if Brandon slept with her. I personally don’t believe Ashara even had a child, until we get more evidence. The man she fancied killing her brother after the war was over, good men who respected each other but a war forced them on opposite sides? That’s plenty tragic, especially if Ashara wanted Ned and found out that he had to wed Catelyn.

        3. I’m not even sure what you’re saying. The entire point, as I’ve mentioned, is that it’s entirely logical to think that the nobility resented Aegon for, what was in their view, handing Aegon the crown only for him to issue a bunch of decrees that eroded their rights, and then breaking three marriage alliances.

        4. I just point to the growing Southron Ambitions conspiracy after Aerys took office to say that murmurs of discontent were starting. As for Daenys the Dreamer, you’ll remember that the rest of the Valyrian Free Lords thought that the Targaryens were befuddled, so indeed, listening to prophecy was looked on as idiocy more than it was looked on as wisdom.

        5. I think you misunderstand. Casting doubts on paternity is very common practice for succession crisis, both in Westeros and our own past. In the Dance? Part of it was that Rhaenyra was a woman, part of it was aspersions on the legitimacy of her children. Daemon Blackfyre? Part of the Blackfyre revolt was saying that Daeron II was the illegitimate child of Aemon the Dragonknight. This is a common practice, and fearing the possibility of it is not far-fetched at all.

        As for House Martell resenting the crowning of Elia, I point to this SSM: “There were Dornish troops with Rhaegar at the Trident, under the command of Prince Lewyn of the Kingsguard. However, the Dornishmen did not support him strongly, in part because of Rhaegar’s treatment of his wife Elia and in part because of Doran Martell’s innate caution.” Sorry, in black and white, straight from the man himself, House Martell resented it.

  2. Good essay, thanks.

    I’m not sure how much conspiracy was involved prior to Aerys’s murders, that felt more like normal noble intermarriage. But I enjoyed reading your analysis.

    • Grant

      The thing is, there weren’t that many normal noble intermarriages at this level prior to that time period. It might happen on occasion, but I think that marrying their children to those of their subordinates to reinforce local unity was much more common (i.e. marrying a Stark to a Manderly).

      Considering this, the aborted dual marriage between Jaime, Cersei, Elia and Oberyn and the strange Harrenhal tournament, it’s possible that there were a number of slow moving attempts at elite coalition building in this time, only hampered by the unusual nature of it and possible lack of clarity on what was intended.

      Now, as the article notes, maybe it really was just Rickard being ambitious on a more national scale and having the opportunity to marry off multiple attractive children. But given the timing and events that are confirmed to be true, even though we only have Barbary to say that there were political backroom deals, I’d say we can view the Southron Ambitions theory as very likely if not yet confirmed.

  3. Grant

    Looking at Brandon I think one point was forgotten in why Aerys was perfectly justified for arresting him. Brandon was openly threatening the life of the prince. Any decent king in that situation would have done the same, they couldn’t tolerate such an act without giving up any control of the kingdom. It’s just that Aerys was nuts and turned a resolvable political crisis (which is really what they were dealing with there more than questions of criminal justice) into a war.

    • somethinglikealawyer

      The point wasn’t about arresting him, it was about murdering him.

      • Grant

        It seems to look at the situation, but move on. In that situation, anyone who would be an apologist would have to remember that the context wouldn’t be arresting a man so much for being a crime, but rather as a move to quickly clamp down on a situation with the expectation of political resolution and as a reminder that you just don’t threaten royalty. Or at least, under most other kings besides Aerys.

        So really, even before Aerys made his call Rickard shouldn’t have had a reason to assume he was going to his death and that rebellion was necessary. Obviously it was a dangerous situation for the realm, but personally dangerous?

  4. nobodysuspectsthebutterfly

    Two points:

    – Re the Brandon and Barbrey question, Catelyn and Brandon were betrothed when she was 12 and he was 15. The marriage itself wasn’t arranged/announced until 5 years later, but Brandon was almost certainly aware he was promised to someone else when he first slept with Barbrey.

    – Brandon’s companions were also arrested by the crown. “Aerys accused them of treason and summoned their fathers to court to answer the charge, with the sons as hostages. When they came, he had them murdered without trial. Fathers and sons both.” These were Kyle Royce and his father, Jeffory Mallister and his father, and Elbert Arryn. Elbert’s father was already dead, but he was the heir to Jon Arryn. Notably Jon did not come for the “trials”. But Elbert should especially not be ignored when factoring the reactions of the lords of Westeros to Aerys’s handling of “justice”, nor the others.

    • somethinglikealawyer

      1. Sleeping around seems to be expected for men, but marriage or a lover on the sly is something different. Bastards are common enough to warrant their own naming conventions, after all.

      2. Certainly, blanket executions are a scary thing, but I kept the focus on Rickard as the highest ranking member, as well as the one who had his right to trial by combat revoked and mocked.

      • Grant

        Arryn actually does raise a point though. Did Jon Arryn expect there to be imminent danger at Kingslanding? If so that might argue against Rickard having no reason to expect danger, though it could easily be argued that Arryn did intend to go, but for some reason Rickard arrived first (perhaps Arryn was ill) and while he was still preparing to go news arrived that Rickard had been arrested.

        Alternatively, Rickard and Arryn may have agreed that Rickard would go while Arryn would remain in the safety of the Vale where Robert and Eddard would have reliable security, though by that point we’re just speculating.

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  9. This is a very well written and researched essay, and very enjoyable to read as well!. To my mind, and in my reading and construction of the ASOIAF world, this and the SA theory are as close to cannon as we commentators can be, and explain the historical and political situation in the period right before Robert’s Rebellion.

    I honestly think, however, that Rickard Stark’s purpose in creating this structure was not a result of an idiosyncratic personality trait, or any personalized desire or ambition (although I understand why some characters in the books see it as ambition and why readers the personality of Rickard) but instead because of the actual and symbolic position the Starks hold in the construction of this world, and why I think that the future is going to be much wilder than people expect/imagine, as, Eddard’s children (except for Rob) never finished their education in “the stark way” .

    Again, thanks for writing this. In my mind it is one of the essential, supplemental essays for scholarship (layperson’s or professional) on ASOIAF.

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