Ser Kevan seldom “had a thought” that Lord Tywin had not had first. (AGOT, Tyrion VIII)
Ser Kevan Lannister is one of the characters for whom many ASOIAF fans have a special fondness. Whether it’s his cool epilogue chapter from A Dance with Dragons or his tart retorts against Cersei Lannister in A Feast for Crows, Kevan is viewed with some affection by fans. We also briefly glimpse his time in power and see that he works to undo many of the follies that Cersei Lannister enacted during her time in power in A Feast for Crows. Characters from Jaime Lannister to Varys to even Sansa have a relatively positive impression of Kevan Lannister. However, is this good reputation earned or not?
If you’ve read my title, you know my answer on it. Ser Kevan Lannister is a well-developed character who in true A Song of Ice and Fire fashion is not drawn as white or black. Instead, Kevan resides in the grey territory that all characters in A Song of Ice and Fire occupy. The rub comes in when we start to talk shades of grey. Many would argue that Kevan Lannister occupies a lighter of shade of grey, but I think he’s a darker shade of grey than most fans would think. This darker shade of grey manifests itself in Kevan Lannister in a form that haunts all currently-living Lannisters: the less-than-dearly departed Tywin Lannister. In the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire, Tywin Lannister might occupy the darkest spot on GRRM’s gray spectrum. And it’s only in relation to Tywin Lannister that Ser Kevan Lannister can be evaluated.
For Kevan Lannister is nothing if not Tywin’s shadow.
Tywin’s Vanguard Follower
“My uncle Kevan would make a passably good regent if someone pressed the duty on him, but he will never reach for it. The gods shaped him to be a follower, not a leader.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
Artwork by HBO
Much of the last third of A Game of Thrones revolves around the opening moves of the War of the Five Kings. In an escalating series of engagements, the Westerlands and the crown find themselves squaring off against the North and the Riverlands. As far as we know when war broke out, Ser Kevan Lannister was simply serving Tywin Lannister as a household knight prior to the great civil war that would engulf Westeros. Kevan earned his knighthood first by serving as a page and squire for the Lord of Castamere and finally through valiant service during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.
Lord Tytos’s three eldest sons also acquitted themselves well upon the Stepstones. Knighted on the eve of the conflict, Ser Tywin Lannister fought in the retinue of the king’s young heir, Aerys, Prince of Dragonstone, and was given the honor of dubbing him a knight at war’s end. Kevan Lannister, squiring for the Red Lion, also won his spurs, and was knighted by Roger Reyne himself. (TWOIAF, The Westerlands: House Lannister Under the Dragons)
While we know that Kevan grew to be a good swordsman as well as a good knight in his own right, he was Tywin’s from the first to the last. When Tywin became the Lord of Casterly Rock, Kevan stood at his side as a household knight. Seemingly, all of Kevan’s exploits came at the behest of Tywin Lannister: Kevan’s good act in ridding the Westerlands of robber knights and outlaws, for instance, occurred because Tywin Lannister ordered it.
In defense of Kevan, his subservient role to his older brother is not without precedent. Stannis Baratheon did his duty as the younger brother to Robert in Robert’s Rebellion due to Robert’s seniority and was incensed when his younger brother Renly refused to recognize his seniority and claim to the crown.
“His,” Stannis broke in, “when by rights they should be mine. I never asked for Dragonstone. I never wanted it. I took it because Robert’s enemies were here and he commanded me to root them out. I built his fleet and did his work, dutiful as a younger brother should be to an elder, as Renly should be to me. (ACOK, Prologue)
Kevan Lannister was serving his brother Tywin before the War of the Five Kings, and this subservience as Tywin’s shadow is the key component to Kevan’s personality. While we cannot say for certain, we can be fairly confident that Kevan Lannister marched with Tywin to King’s Landing when it was sacked. And as a household knight to Tywin Lannister and modelling off of what we see in A Game of Thrones, it’s almost a certainty that Kevan sat on war councils with Tywin Lannister and thus was a part of the planning process for the horrific sack of King’s Landing. But Kevan’s specific role was likely one not simply to listen and give feedback to Tywin.
Ser Kevan was his brother’s vanguard in council, Tyrion knew from long experience; he never had a thought that Lord Tywin had not had first. It has all been settled beforehand, he concluded, and this discussion’s no more than show. (ASOS, Tyrion III)
Thus, if Kevan were there and there was a strategy session between Tywin and his subordinate commanders (a certainty), it’s very possible that it was Kevan (though we know it was Tywin’s thought first) who broached the idea of sacking King’s Landing. To put it simply, Kevan’s potential role as the mouthpiece for the cruel sack means that he has some moral complicity with the sack itself.
Giving the Order
Chevauchee (Mounted Hobilars) by Mariusz Kozik
Returning to events from A Game of Thrones, when war finally broke out, it was initiated militarily by the actions of House Lannister. Following a series of war atrocities dressed up as military raids by Gregor Clegane, the main Lannister host marched east into the Riverlands. We first meet Kevan Lannister sitting with Tywin Lannister in Tywin’s command tent. He recounts the campaign to Tyrion as such:
“Your father and I have been marching on each in turn,” Ser Kevan said. “With Lord Blackwood gone, Raventree fell at once, and Lady Whent yielded Harrenhal for want of men to defend it. Ser Gregor burnt out the Pipers and the Brackens …” (AGOT, Tyrion VII)
At this point in the story, the horror of over-and-beyond Lannister chevauchee of the Riverlands has only started, and faithful, complicit Kevan Lannister is only doing his part by marching in turn with Tywin. And as we know, Kevan’s role in Tywin’s council is to first broach battle plans that Tywin has already dreamed up. So, we can surmise that Kevan Lannister was the one who gave the “advice” to unleash Gregor Clegane on the Pipers & Brackens, and that’s to say nothing of Gregor’s prior war crimes against the Darrys — war crimes that were likely discussed and approved at during Lannister war councils.
But moving the story ahead to past the Battle of the Green Fork, Tywin, Kevan and Tyrion receive word that Jaime Lannister’s host has been destroyed by Robb Stark and Jaime himself captured, a war council is held. Various strategies are discussed therein. But in the end, Tywin Lannister dispatches Tyrion for King’s Landing while he prepares to march for Harrenhal. He gives a very specific task to Kevan Lannister.
“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.”
“They will burn, my lord,” Ser Kevan said, rising. “I shall give the commands.” He bowed and made for the door. (AGOT, Tyrion IX)
If you don’t take away anything else from this analysis, take away this: Though Kevan Lannister likely didn’t personally raise a sword against the smallfolk, participate in a rape of a peasant or light a torch, he is entirely complicit in mass murder, mass rape, and burning of the Riverlands. Giving immoral, evil orders that take innocent life is something that Kevan Lannister fans don’t remember often. But it’s there in the text all the same. And the results of Kevan Lannister’s complicity are awful:
- Innocent, unarmed non-combatants are murdered from the God’s Eye to the Blackwater to the Trident. Children are also murdered such as 8-year old Lyman Darry (ACOK, Catelyn I).
- Half of the fields are reportedly burned. (ACOK, Arya II)
- Smallfolk women, as well as Lord Bracken’s daughter, are brutally raped by the Mountain (ADWD, Jaime I)
Though Tywin Lannister, Gregor Clegane, Amory Lorch and Vargo Hoat are looked at as the perpetrators, it should not be forgotten that Kevan Lannister’s only response to the immoral and unjust order by Tywin was, “They will burn, my Lord. I will give the command.”
The Deeply Personal Slights of Cersei Lannister
As Tywin Lannister’s shadow, Kevan Lannister also seems to have shared traits of Tywin Lannister which are not wholly apparent at first glance. In the past, I’ve argued that Tywin Lannister is not the Machiavellian moral consequentialist that many believe him to be. Instead, he’s a man who holds deep grudges and moves the politics and warfare of the nation to quench his deep emotional thirsts. In a similar fashion, Kevan Lannister holds the same Tywin-esque desire to visit vengeance on those who wronged him.
Following the War of the Five Kings and Tywin’s death, Kevan Lannister came into conflict with Cersei Lannister. The centerpiece of this conflict was Kevan’s role in the new regime. Cersei Lannister knew that Kevan had some leadership ability, but Kevan (rightly) only saw disaster in Cersei Lannister. Additionally Kevan Lannister was exhausted from conducting all of those war atrocities and wanted to be with his wife and mourn his dead son, Martyn.
Thus, early in A Feast for Crows, Kevan Lannister and Cersei squared off in a passage which a lot of Kevan fans look at with some admiration. To give Kevan a fair shake, his interactions with Cersei demonstrated that he possesses the sarcastic wit of a Lannister. But when examined closer, something crops in that isn’t often explored. Kevan is humiliated by Cersei Lannister, and this humiliation inevitably leads to Cersei’s walk in A Dance with Dragons.
Here’s how the conversation goes down
“I am tired.” Her uncle reached for his wine cup and took a swallow. “I have a wife I have not seen in two years, a dead son to mourn, another son about to marry and assume a lordship. Castle Darry must be made strong again, its lands protected, its burned fields plowed and planted anew. Lancel needs my help.”
“As does Tommen.” Cersei had not expected Kevan to require coaxing. He never played coy with Father. “The realm needs you.”
“The realm. Aye. And House Lannister.” He sipped his wine again. “Very well. I will remain and serve His Grace . . .”
“Very good,” she started to say, but Ser Kevan raised his voice and bulled right over her.
“. . . so long as you name me regent as well as Hand and take yourself back to Casterly Rock.” (AFFC, Cersei II)
Cersei was shocked that Kevan would even suggest that she relinquish any power. But instead of simply rejecting Kevan, she had to make it personal. She started by throwing wine into Kevan’s face and insulting his social standing
She threw the contents of her wine cup full in his face.
Ser Kevan rose with a ponderous dignity. “Your Grace.” Wine trickled down his cheeks and dripped from his close-cropped beard. “With your leave, might I withdraw?”
“By what right do you presume to give me terms? You are no more than one of my father’s household knights.” (AFFC, Cersei II)
But she wasn’t done there. That could have been the end of it, but Cersei decided that she had to add great insult to injury and deny Kevan something that he deserved: the Wardenship of the West. But more than that, Cersei even denied Kevan Lannister the role of castellan of Casterly Rock. Instead she named Daven Lannister the Warden of the West while Damion Lannister became the castellan of the great Lannister stronghold.
Your service was required here. Cersei had named her cousin Damion Lannister her castellan for the Rock, and another cousin, Ser Daven Lannister, the Warden of the West. Insolence has its price, Uncle. (AFFC, Cersei III)
Regardless of that service, Kevan Lannister had served House Lannister. To be denied the Wardenship of the West or even the castellanship of Casterly Rock was a deliberate slap in the face; one that Kevan likely felt quite deeply. When Jaime Lannister met up with Daven Lannister near Riverrun, Daven related Kevan’s attitude.
“Aye. He passed here on his way west. I asked him to help us take the castle, but Kevan would have none of it. He brooded the whole time he was here. Courteous enough, but chilly. I swore to him that I never asked to be made Warden of the West, that the honor should have gone to him, and he declared that he held no grudge against me, but you would never have known it from his tone. He stayed three days and hardly said three words to me. Would that he’d remained, I could have used his counsel. Our friends of Frey would not have dared vex Ser Kevan the way that they’ve been vexing me.” (AFFC, Jaime V)
But it wasn’t simply politics that fed Kevan’s grievance. Cersei’s relationship with Lancel was the impetus for Lancel’s decline, eventual turn to the Faith and abandonment of the Lordship of Darry. Cersei’s arrest ensured that Kevan found out about Cersei’s relationship with Lancel. When Kevan and Cersei interact again for the first time, this is one of the first things that Kevan and Cersei speak about.
She did not want to sit. “You are still angry with me. I hear it in your voice. Forgive me, Uncle. It was wrong of me to throw my wine at you, but—”“You think I care about a cup of wine? Lancel is my son, Cersei. Your own nephew. If I am angry with you, that is the cause. You should have looked after him, guided him, found him a likely girl of good family.” (ADWD, Cersei I)
Kevan was deeply offended by Cersei’s actions, and the slights suffered at Cersei’s direct intervention. And if the opportunity would present itself, Kevan Lannister would not let those slights go unanswered.
Outside the wind was rising, clawing at the shutters of his chamber. Ser Kevan pushed himself to his feet. Time to face the lioness in her den. We have pulled her claws. (ADWD, Epilogue)
That opportunity for vengeance provided itself when Cersei Lannister was arrested by the Faith Militant for her crimes. We learn in Cersei’s 1st chapter in A Dance with Dragons that Kevan Lannister has taken residence up in the Red Keep, as Lord Regent. This action in and of itself is seemingly innocuous, but it’s actually a pretty deliberate slap against Cersei. Returning to King’s Landing and styling himself the Lord Regent subtly shows that he’s casting Cersei’s regency in serious doubt. Moreover, Kevan is also demonstrating that he is establishing himself as the protector of Tommen in stark contrast to Cersei.
But that was only the start to Kevan’s vengeance. The next step was one that was much more dire, cruel, and vengeful. In popular telling, Cersei’s crimes required atonement before the High Sparrow would release her. This atonement came in the form of a Walk of Atonement, and this action was ordered by the High Sparrow. Here’s how Kevan phrases it to Cersei:
“I have spoken with His High Holiness. He will not release you until you have atoned for your sins.”“I have confessed.”“Atoned, I said. Before the city. A walk—”
“No.” She knew what her uncle was about to say, and she did not want to hear it. “Never. Tell him that, if you speak again. I am a queen, not some dockside whore.”
“No harm would come to you. No one will touch—”
“No,” she said, more sharply. “I would sooner die.” (ADWD, Cersei I)
So, it would seem that Cersei’s walk was the act of the High Sparrow and that Kevan was powerless to stop the Faith from imposing its will in the matter. But does this evidence back this assertion up? In a word, no. The evidence more strongly backs up the idea that Kevan Lannister was the one who suggested the idea to the High Sparrow who eagerly agreed with Kevan’s suggestion. Kevan needed Cersei to suffer this fate for 2 key reasons:
- Cersei had to be shamed publicly and humiliated in order to de-claw her politically
- More importantly, Cersei had to suffer for the shame and slights that she personally inflicted upon “House Lannister” or more accurately Kevan Lannister.
These two assertions might seem like bold statements, but before I defend them, I think it’s best to make a brief examination of these so-called walks. In the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire, these “walks of atonement” have only occurred twice. Coincidentally, they have only occurred when Lannisters have been involved. Before Cersei, the only other person to make such a walk was the unnamed mistress of Lord Tytos Lannister.
When Lord Tywin’s father died he returned to Casterly Rock to find a . . . a woman of this sort . . . bedecked in his lady mother’s jewels, wearing one of her gowns. He stripped them off her, and all else as well. For a fortnight she was paraded naked through the streets of Lannisport, to confess to every man she met that she was a thief and a harlot. That was how Lord Tywin Lannister dealt with whores. (AFFC, Cersei I)
Tywin Lannister marched his father’s mistress naked through the streets of Lannisport to remove her from any markings of power, but he really needed to humiliate this woman who brought great shame on House Lannister, or more accurately Tywin Lannister. So, it’s curious that this punishment which was only dealt out once previously to a woman who had brought shame to House Lannister was met out again against a woman who brought great shame on House Lannister.
But strong coincidence between the two does not make a case. Instead, we have to look at the text itself. First, Cersei wonders off-handed why Kevan Lannister did nothing to prevent the Walk of Atonement from happening.
The queen had to find another defender or today’s ordeal would be the least of her travails. Her enemies were accusing her of treason. She had to reach Tommen, no matter the costs. He loves me. He will not refuse his own mother. Joff was stubborn and unpredictable, but Tommen is a good little boy, a good little king. He will do as he is told. If she stayed here, she was doomed, and the only way she would return to the Red Keep was by walking. The High Sparrow had been adamant, and Ser Kevan refused to lift a finger against him. (ADWD, Cersei II)
If it was simply the Faith’s instigation, it’s a wonder that Kevan did not object at all to the action. It would almost seem that Kevan had some complicity in the action itself, but more than that, it seems very likely that Kevan had political and personal motivation for the walk. In the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue, Kevan Lannister speaks with the Small Council and tells them that his actions have removed Cersei from political power.
“Whatever Cersei may have done, she is still a daughter of the Rock, of mine own blood. I will not let her die a traitor’s death, but I have made sure to draw her fangs. All her guards have been dismissed and replaced with my own men. In place of her former ladies-in-waiting, she will henceforth be attended by a septa and three novices selected by the High Septon. She is to have no further voice in the governance of the realm, nor in Tommen’s education. I mean to return her to Casterly Rock after the trial and see that she remains there. Let that suffice.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Of course all of the above make it seem like Kevan’s only actions were to remove Cersei’s lackeys and force Cersei to have septas accompanying her consistently. However, the next paragraph makes it plain that Kevan’s involvement in Cersei’s walk was much deeper.
The rest he left unsaid. Cersei was soiled goods now, her power at an end. Every baker’s boy and beggar in the city had seen her in her shame and every tart and tanner from Flea Bottom to Pisswater Bend had gazed upon her nakedness, their eager eyes crawling over her breasts and belly and woman’s parts. No queen could expect to rule again after that. In gold and silk and emeralds Cersei had been a queen, the next thing to a goddess; naked, she was only human, an aging woman with stretch marks on her belly and teats that had begun to sag … as the shrews in the crowds had been glad to point out to their husbands and lovers. Better to live shamed than die proud, Ser Kevan told himself. “My niece will make no further mischief,” he promised Mace Tyrell. “You have my word on that, my lord.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
What exactly is the rest left unsaid here? Kevan’s statement immediately following this guilty line speak to Kevan’s involvement with the Walk of Atonement. Kevan’s thoughts drift to how shamed Cersei had been and how the walk had exposed her for who she truly was. And that had some personal satisfaction for Kevan — though there was guilt too.
I have no reason to feel guilty, Ser Kevan told himself. Tywin would understand that, surely. It was his daughter who brought shame down on our name, not I. What I did I did for the good of House Lannister. (ADWD, Epilogue)
Kevan Lannister never explicitly coughs up to suggesting the idea to the High Sparrow, but this what I did I did for the good of House Lannister statement is very suspicious. If Kevan’s only action was only to agree with the High Sparrow, you would imagine that he wouldn’t feel much guilt at all, and it’s curious that Kevan’s thoughts next drift to Tytos Lannisters’ mistress and then back to Cersei Lannister.
All the self-seekers who had named themselves [their father’s mistress’s] friends and cultivated her favor had abandoned her quickly enough when Tywin had her stripped naked and paraded through Lannisport to the docks, like a common whore. Though no man laid a hand on her, that walk spelled the end of her power. Surely Tywin would never have dreamed that same fate awaited his own golden daughter.
“It had to be,” Ser Kevan muttered over the last of his wine. His High Holiness had to be appeased. Tommen needed the Faith behind him in the battles to come. And Cersei… the golden child had grown into a vain, foolish, greedy woman. Left to rule, she would have ruined Tommen as she had Joffrey. (ADWD, Epilogue)
So, if we can agree that Kevan at least looks pretty guilty in suggesting the act to the High Sparrow, we can circle back to the motivation side. To me, it seems that the shame that Cersei Lannister brought down was not only on House Lannister but on Kevan Lannister individually. By denying him the Wardenship of the West and further insulting him by granting the castellanship of Casterly Rock to a lesser Lannister, Kevan Lannister’s humiliation had to be repaid in similar coin. And while there was a definite political component in the act, the primary purpose of Kevan’s actions was to satisfy his thirst for vengeance.
It’s in this act that we truly see Kevan imitating Tywin. He uses Tywin Lannister’s method of shaming and humiliation and he does it for the same 2 reasons that Tywin Lannister does it to Tytos’ mistress. And while many fans are satisfied with the result (Cersei humiliated), that doesn’t make the act moral or just. Much the opposite, I think Martin is evoking imagery from World War II history when women suspected of sleeping with German occupiers were stripped and shaved and thus humiliated to the entirety of the local community.
This pains me, my lord. You do not deserve to die alone on such a cold dark night. There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes … but you were threatening to undo all the queen’s good work, to reconcile Highgarden and Casterly Rock, to bind the Faith to your little king, unite the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen’s rule. (ADWD, Epilogue)
Varys makes this statement to Kevan Lanniser just after striking him with a crossbow bolt, but is it true? Is Kevan a good man in service to a bad cause or is he a bad man in service to a bad cause? For me, Kevan bears an equal culpability to the evil of Tywin Lannister for the war crimes of the Lannisters from the War of the Five Kings. Though Kevan may not have been voicing original thoughts, his culpability comes through carrying out immoral and unethical military orders without question or hesitation.
But the abuse of Cersei Lannister is all on Kevan Lannister’s shoulders. He shares culpability with the High Sparrow for sure, but the unoriginal thought and execution is on Kevan. It’s my estimation that Kevan’s role in Cersei’s walk will be more plainly revealed in The Winds of Winter perhaps by the High Sparrow or someone else involved with the Faith.
Admittedly, this piece has been less hard analysis and more opinion, but at the same time, as Duncan Royce said on twitter, “Would you write a nuanced piece for Reinhard Heydrich?” It’s my final estimation that Kevan Lannister was not the awesome character that many believe him to be. Instead, if he was tried at Nuremberg, he would have been justly convicted of mass war crimes and hanged.