This essay contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter
Storm’s End had fallen to Aegon, and with that “impregnable” coastal fortress, the young dragon now held the most strategically and symbolically important foothold in the south of Westeros. However great this victory was though, Aegon’s situation was tenuous. The Golden Company was scattered across the Stormlands, Narrow Sea and Stepstones, and a Tyrell army was descending on Storm’s End. Though secure for the moment behind the massive curtain walls of Storm’s End, Aegon, Jon Connington and the Golden Company’s hope for long-term success did not reside at Storm’s End. Their only shot at victory lay in defeating the Tyrells marching for them and developing alliances and local support in Westeros. The bitter history of the Blackfyre Rebellions had proved as much.
The Blackfyre pretenders’ inability to garner widespread support after the First Blackfyre Rebellion had led to their repeated failures. In that first rebellion, Daemon I Blackfyre and Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers leveraged the grievances and ambitions of secondary noble houses into a broad political and military coalition. In particular, Daemon and Bittersteel brought disaffected nobles from the Reach, Dorne and Westerlands under the black dragon banner against their regional and royal overlords. Though the First Blackfyre Rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, the coalition that the first Blackfyre pretenders assembled was instrumental to their near-success. Failed subsequent Blackfyre rebellions, like the Fourth (which had barely stumbled past its landing at Massey’s Hook) and the Fifth (which had never even reached mainland Westeros) had proved to the Golden Company that without widespread organic support, Westeros could – and would – cast them off.
The Westeros upon which Aegon and his company landed, though, was much more favorably inclined to the young dragon’s particular foreign invasion than that of his Blackfyre forebears. The mood in Westeros had turned hostile towards the ruling class long before Aegon and his band of sellsword adventurers arrived; the Lannister-Tyrell alliance, which had been Westeros’ dominant political and military power since the Battle of the Blackwater, was crumbling. Better still for the would-be king, internal dissent against Lord Mace Tyrell was growing among some of his lords bannermen.
The taking of Storm’s End had provided a foundation for Westerosi nobles to take notice of the young dragon, but Aegon desperately needed their homage and swords along with their notice. If it were to press Aegon’s claim to the Iron Throne, the Golden Company would have to do more than win the allegiance of its surviving Blackfyre allies. The Reach had proved fertile ground for Daemon I Blackfyre and Bittersteel when they rose against the Iron Throne. The Blackfyres’ ideological (and biological) successors would now turn to the Reach once again.
The Optics of Victory
Before we speculate on Aegon’s potential allies in the Reach, however, let’s examine the psychological impact of the young dragon’s victory at Storm’s End, how the Stormlands is starting to rally to Aegon as a result and how this serves as a likely microcosm for how southern Westeros will coalesce around Aegon.
In the recent past, the stormlords had proved fickle in their loyalties. As we covered in Part 5, many of the stormlords had turned cloak up to three times prior to the arrival of Aegon – not to adhere to mere sworn loyalties, but to secure themselves by backing the strongest royal claimant. For many stormlords at the start of the War of the Five Kings, Renly was that strong horse; at Renly’s death, some switched to Stannis, while many others abandoned Stannis for Joffrey after the Blackwater.
Aegon’s arrival and swift victories in the Stormlands provided yet another opportunity for these stormlords to turn cloak. Intentional or not, this very reliance on victories to gain allies had formed the foundation of the prince’s bold strategy:
“Move fast and strike hard, and we can win some easy victories before the Lannisters even know that we have landed. That will bring others to our cause.” (ADWD, The Lost Lord)
Aegon’s plan had borne fruit in the Stormlands. The chatter Arianne and her party heard as they passed through the Stormlands indicated that Aegon’s early victories were striking a chord with those left behind:
In The Loom, Joss Hood learned that half a hundred men and boys from the Weeping Town had set off north to join Jon Connington at Griffin’s Roose, including young Ser Addam, old Lord Whitehead’s son and heir. (TWOW, Arianne II)
Still, the reactions of these Stormlands knights and commoners was not universal. As Arianne made port at the same Weeping Town that had sent fifty men to Connington, she noticed the banners flying atop the town’s wooden walls:
The Peregrine made port at the Weeping Town where the corpse of the Young Dragon had once lingered for three days on its journey home from Dorne. The banners flapping from the town’s stout wooden walls still displayed King Tommen’s stag and lion, suggesting that here at least the writ of the Iron Throne might still hold sway. (TWOW, Arianne II)
Arianne’s observations speak to a town with divided Tommen and Aegon loyalties and hint at a greater regional divide. To that end, Aegon’s company had made a shrewd move to conquer castles possessing mixed Stannis and Tommen loyalists; the propaganda value in that move may have appealed to the sensibilities of the stormlanders. With Stannis ill-loved by his nominal bannermen and Cersei having unleashed a hostile army of non-stormlanders to besiege Storm’s End, the opportunity was ripe for Aegon to arrive as the “liberator” of the men he would make his bannermen.
Even so, Aegon and the Golden Company had landed in a region whose lords, levies and loyalties were scattered. This had allowed for the early successes in taking castles across the Stormlands, but it also meant that Aegon could not count on large numbers of stormlanders to flock to his banner. Stormlanders had taken the lion’s share of the casualties during the Battle of the Blackwater and those who survived the battle had been incorporated into Randyll Tarly’s army at Maidenpool or had gone north with Stannis. Those few that remained were simply not enough to be decisive for Aegon’s cause.
Weak Overlords, Overmighty Vassals
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
“You Starks were kings once, the Arryns and the Lannisters as well, and even the Baratheons through the female line, but the Tyrells were no more than stewards until Aegon the Dragon came along and cooked the rightful King of the Reach on the Field of Fire.” (ASOS, Sansa I)
The men and boys of the Stormlands racing north to join up with Aegon would be welcomed into the service of Prince Aegon, but they would not be enough to sustain the Golden Company’s early victories. However, one of the Seven Kingdoms had both the manpower and political prestige to significantly bolster Aegon’s chances at victory.
Most of the Reach was nominally aligned with the Iron Throne and the Lannisters, under Lord Paramount of the Mander Mace Tyrell (and his daughter, Queen Margaery). However, this alliance was showing significant cracks by the end of A Dance with Dragons. More significantly, the banner lords under Mace Tyrell, drawing on old rivalries and recent injustices, might be ripe for turning cloak against both the Lannisters and the Tyrells.
Once ruled by the Gardener kings, the Reach bent the knee to Aegon I Targaryen after Aegon, his sister-wives and their dragons annihilated the Gardener male line at the Field of Fire. In place of the Gardeners, Aegon appointed the Tyrells as overlords of the Reach. Officially, Aegon I’s choice of the Tyrells was a reward for their actions in opening the gates to the Targaryens and bending the knee.
Unofficially, Aegon the Conqueror was punishing houses whose pedigree was nobler than the Tyrells by establishing “mere stewards” as Lords Paramount of the Mander and Wardens of the South:
Afterward, a number of the other great houses of the Reach complained bitterly about being made vassals of an “upjumped steward” and insisted that their own blood was far nobler than that of the Tyrells. It cannot be denied that the Oakhearts of Old Oak, the Florents of Brightwater Keep, the Rowans of Goldengrove, the Peakes of Starpike, and the Redwynes of the Arbor all had older and more distinguished lineages than the Tyrells, and closer blood ties to House Gardener as well. Their protests were of no avail, however … mayhaps in part because all these houses had taken up arms against Aegon and his sisters on the Field of Fire, whereas the Tyrells had not. (TWOIAF, The Reach: House Tyrell)
Though House Tyrell had the backing of the Targaryens and their dragons, its reign as overlord of the Reach proved less valuable to Aegon’s successors. The flipside to a dynastically unimportant overlord with overmighty vassals was that when a rebellion flared up, the Tyrells could not cow their lords into backing the crown by pointing to their own ancient legitimacy (as could, say, the Starks, Arryns, and Lannisters). Reacher families such as the Peakes, Stricklands and Costaynes bucked the Tyrells and supported Daemon and Bittersteel during the First Blackfyre Rebellions, and the Reach itself served as the core of Blackfyre support. Other major reacher houses, such as the Oakhearts and Hightowers, split their loyalties between both claimants to the throne.
In the third century AC, House Tyrell re-focused its marriage efforts on internal stability. Luthor Tyrell was betrothed to Olenna Redwyne, the daughter of Lord Runceford Redwyne. This marriage reinforced internal Tyrell power by joining one of the mightiest of House Tyrell’s overmighty bannermen into its bloodline. The three children of this union became the instruments of securing Tyrell power in the Reach through marriage: Mina Tyrell was wed to Lord Paxter Redwyne to affirm the Tyrell-Redwyne bond, while Janna Tyrell was wed to Jon Fossoway to build bridges to another powerful Reach House.
It was in Mace Tyrell’s betrothal to Alerie Hightower that House Tyrell did its most substantial work in solidifying its hold on power in the Reach. Arguably, House Hightower was House Tyrell’s most powerful vassal house. The Hightowers controlled Oldtown, the greatest population center and economic power in the Reach, and had been petty kings before bending the knee to the Gardeners. Since Aegon’s Conquest, House Hightower was House Tyrell’s historical rival for the power in the Reach, and had partially opposed the Tyrells during the Dance of the Dragons and the First Blackfyre Rebellion.
By wedding Allerie, the daughter of Lord Leyton Hightower, to Mace Tyrell and re-solidifying the Redwyne-Tyrell union with the marriage of Mina Tyrell and Paxter Redwyne, Highgarden rested its power on the pillars of its strongest leal lords.
All of these dynastic moves significantly strengthened House Tyrell’s power in the Reach, but there were some houses that were left out of the Reach’s power equation. Notably, Houses Tarly, Florent, Oakheart and Rowan were left out of the grand Tyrell betrothal rodeo, but they were at a disadvantage to press any disagreement – that is until one of House Tyrell’s pillars was knocked out from under them.
Robert’s Rebellion might have been one of the few times in its history where the Reach was completely unified behind House Tyrell. Had the rebellion turned out differently, Mace Tyrell might have emerged from the war as the strongest lord paramount of Westeros: only he and Prince Doran of the paramount lords had backed the Targaryens, and the Reach far exceeded Dorne in economic and martial strength. Instead, House Targaryen was defeated and fell into exile, and the new Baratheon regime, while affirming Mace Tyrell’s paramountcy and wardenship, undercut some of the power that House Tyrell had established in the past fifty years. Stannis Baratheon was wed to Selyse Florent, a house left out of House Tyrell’s power paradigm (which itself had a strong, if not the strongest, blood claim to Highgarden).The elevation of the Florents implied that if House Tyrell ever rebelled against Robert or his successors, they could – and would – be replaced. There was a lesson here for Mace Tyrell’s bannermen as well: House Tyrell’s grasp on the Reach was already historically tenuous, and if Mace Tyrell backed the “wrong” claimant to the Iron Throne in the future, his bannermen stood to gain at the Tyrells’ expense.
The Ambitions of Lord Puff Fish
“We should have stayed well out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder. After Lord Puff Fish put that crown on Renly’s head, we were into the pudding up to our knees, so here we are to see things through.” (ASOS, Sansa I)
When Robert Baratheon died, some sixteen years after his rebellion, Renly successfully brought Mace Tyrell and the Reach under his banner. When Renly Baratheon himself died, however, several lords jumped ship from Mace Tyrell and backed Renly’s brother, Stannis, including the Florents and both Fossoway branches. These Houses may not have represented the majority of the Reach, but their move showed houses that may have hoped to gain at the expense of their liege lord by supporting the “correct” king. The defection of the Florents, in particular, may also have been a direct response to being shut out from three generations of Tyrell intermarriage with its vassals.
The Florent and Fossoway hope of backing the correct king proved forlorn. After Renly’s death, Littlefinger reached Mace Tyrell at Bitterbridge and successfully brokered an alliance between the Lannisters and Tyrells. Stannis’ rightful kingship was cast into further doubt when the now-combined Lannister-Tyrell armies decisively defeated him on the Blackwater. Thereafter, the Fossoways bent the knee to Joffrey, the new “rightful” king, but the Florents remained in defiance of the Tyrells and their new royal overlords.
The Lord of Highgarden was an assured opportunist; his backing of Renly had proved that fact. To put the new alliance on firmer footing, Tywin Lannister granted lands and titles to Mace Tyrell, his sons, and his bannermen after the Battle of the Blackwater, and betrothed Margaery Tyrell to King Joffrey. House Tyrell had been duly rewarded for backing the “correct” king, and even its vassals benefited from the arrangement – at least, on the surface. For the moment, all was well between the Lannisters and Tyrells.
Then disaster struck. Tywin Lannister died, and his death would have a strong, negative military impact on the Reach. Mace Tyrell’s decisive alliance with Tywin Lannister had shifted the bulk of the Reach’s soldiers into eastern Westeros, but it also had significant consequences on the Reach. Before, Mace Tyrell had something in the range of eighty thousand to one-hundred thousand soldiers in and around King’s Landing split into two major divisions:
- To the north, Randyll Tarly had a large host of Reachmen and Stormlanders in and around Maidenpool.
- In closer vicinity to King’s Landing, Mace and his son Garlan had command of the rest of the Reach’s armies.
Through the course of A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crowns, however, segments of this army would fall away. Randyll Tarly’s army saw action against the northmen at Duskendale early in A Storm of Swords, emerging victorious despite heavy casualties. Afterwards, his army marched back to Maidenpool and stayed there until the end of A Feast for Crows. After Cersei Lannister gave orders to Mace Tyrell to besiege Storm’s End, the Tyrell army in and around King’s Landing split into two detachments. Mace Tyrell and Mathis Rowan marched on Storm’s End, but Garlan Tyrell took “half” of the Reach’s strength back to the Reach to seize his post-Blackwater prize:
“Mace is taking half the Tyrell strength to Storm’s End, and the other half will be going back to the Reach with Ser Garlan to make good his claim on Brightwater.” (AFFC, Cersei III)
Internal power struggles between the Lannisters and Tyrells and the Ironborn invasion further divided the might of the Reach’s military as follows:
- Lord Mace Tyrell had an army of about thirty thousand surrounding Storm’s End.
- A detachment of Reachmen under the command of Loras Tyrell sailed to Dragonstone to take the island from Stannis’ rearguard.
- A roughly thirty thousand-strong force under the command of Garlan Tyrell, looking to seize Brightwater Keep from House Florent, have been redirected to throw the Ironborn into the sea.
- Lord Randyll Tarly still had an army positioned north of King’s Landing.
- Following Loras Tyrell’s “victory” at Dragonstone, Lord Paxter Redwyne and his fleet sailed back to the Reach to confront the “thousand ships” of the Ironmen..
Once a strong unified command, the various missions split the Reach’s combined military might decisively. That split, combined with the political undercurrent flowing away from Mace Tyrell by the end of A Dance with Dragons, will give Aegon, Jon Connington and the Golden Company a unique opportunity to score some quick victories and peel away some of Highgarden’s bannermen.
The Griffin’s Strategy: Robert’s Rebellion Redux
“Robert Baratheon won the Iron Throne without the benefit of dragons. We can do the same.” (ADWD, The Lost Lord)
Lord Jon Connington recognized correctly that without dragons or allies, there was no hope for seating Aegon onto the Iron Throne. When Aegon declared himself the “only dragon the Golden Company would ever need” and ordered the sellswords to set sail for Westeros, it was a de facto abandonment of the (literal) dragon strategy. Without Daenerys or her dragons, the allies Aegon could make in Westeros would be the only pathway to victory.
The Blackfyres and the Golden Company’s historical attempts at developing alliances and friendships in Westeros had mostly been unsuccessful; Daemon I had raised a potent coalition of powerful vassal houses, but the current Golden Company boasts no greater Westerosi connections than its “exiles and the sons of exiles”. However, there was one historical precedent that provided a gameplan for Aegon to acquire allies: Robert’s Rebellion. The allied rebels of Robert’s Rebellion had proved decisive in the fall of House Targaryen some seventeen years before, and while that alliance had been likely years in the making, the same ingredients and character archetypes were available for Aegon to weave a familiar-yet-unique path to the Iron Throne.
In Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark had found a protector who was politically and military able with years of experience under his belt. When Aerys II Targaryen had Lord Rickard and Brandon Stark murdered and then demanded the executions of Arryn’s two young wards, the Lord of the Eyrie had a morally just casus belli and rose in rebellion against the Mad King.
Jon Connington served the Jon Arryn role in what he hoped would be a similarly-successful war against the Iron Throne. He was a “second father” to Aegon and was politically and militarily experienced – having served as brief Hand of the King and commander of the royal army during Robert’s Rebellion. In the Griffin Lord’s mind, he also had “justice” to his cause. The murder of Elia of Dorne and Princess Rhaenys were crimes that could rally the nation to his cause. Likewise, the personal popularity and chivalric attitude of Aegon’s supposed father, Crown Prince Rhaegar, could help rally indifferent lords to the dragon’s standard.
Connington’s old, ancestral stomping ground was the Stormlands, but he needed to expand his outreach from familiar grounds to the rest of southern Westeros. In short, Connington needed to form something like a anti-southron ambitions coalition. The Vale, North and Riverlands were decisively engaged in their own military and political power struggles, and their loyalty to an alleged descendant of Rhaegar Targaryen was already suspect. So, Connington’s path ran through the Reach and Dorne – the two regions that had supported House Targaryen during Robert’s Rebellion:
“We will send out word secretly to likely friends in the stormlands and the Reach. And Dorne.” That was the crucial step. Lesser lords might join their cause for fear of harm or hope of gain, but only the Prince of Dorne had the power to defy House Lannister and its allies. “Above all else, we must have Doran Martell.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Unlike Jon Arryn though, the Griffin Lord did not have nearly the same amount of time to build alliances and friendships. To buy Aegon some time, Connington formulated a plan:
“Let King’s Landing think this is no more than an exile lord coming home with some hired swords to reclaim his birthright. An old familiar story, that. I will even write King Tommen, stating as much and asking for a pardon and the restoration of my lands and titles. That will give them something to chew over for a while. And whilst they dither, we will send out word secretly to likely friends in the stormlands and the Reach. And Dorne.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Connington’s tact worked as King’s Landing was confused about who exactly was attacking the Stormlands:
“We have had reports of sellswords landing all over the south,” Ser Kevan was saying. “Tarth, the Stepstones, Cape Wrath … where Stannis found the coin to hire a free company I would dearly love to know. I do not have the strength to deal with them, not here. Mace Tyrell does, but he refuses to bestir himself until this matter with his daughter has been settled.” (ADWD, Cersei I)
Precious time was bought, but it would only last briefly. By the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue, the small council was aware of exactly who was behind the attack:
“Connington may have more than the Golden Company. It is said he has a Targaryen pretender.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Fortunately for Aegon, the small council’s recognition of who they were facing had come far too late. The Reach’s military force disposition was divided, the Lannisters and Tyrells were at each other’s throats and some of Mace Tyrell’s vassals were ripe for turning cloak. It was exactly as Tyrion Lannister had put it to the young prince on the Rhoyne:
“Westeros is torn and bleeding, and I do not doubt that even now my sweet sister is binding up the wounds … with salt. Cersei is as gentle as King Maegor, as selfless as Aegon the Unworthy, as wise as Mad Aerys. She never forgets a slight, real or imagined. She takes caution for cowardice and dissent for defiance. And she is greedy. Greedy for power, for honor, for love. Tommen’s rule is bolstered by all of the alliances that my lord father built so carefully, but soon enough she will destroy them, every one. Land and raise your banners, and men will flock to your cause. Lords great and small, and smallfolk too. But do not wait too long, my prince. The moment will not last. The tide that lifts you now will soon recede. Be certain you reach Westeros before my sister falls and someone more competent takes her place.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
Connington had amassed nearly all the hallmarks which had once helped win Robert’s Rebellion: he was a politically experienced lord, foster-father to a young, eager, battle-ready pretender, and he had moral and popular justifications that could win lords to the Targaryen cause. He had reached out tendrils to likely allies, but tendrils would not be enough. For Aegon to sit the throne of his ancestors, Connington needed to build a powerful coalition, just as Arryn had once helped direct, and he needed to do it soon. Laswell Peake predicted just where this coalition would be found:
Laswell Peake rapped his knuckles on the table. “Even after a century, some of us still have friends in the Reach. The power of Highgarden may not be what Mace Tyrell imagines.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Laswell Peake may have imagined the old Blackfyre coalition rising around Aegon, but the young dragon would not be looking to the Blackfyres’ original friends to build his army. Still, Peake was more right than he knew: key Tyrell bannermen would hold the secret to victory. As such, Aegon’s first ally from the Reach was a reacher lord who had nothing to do with the Blackfyres – but everything to do with Robert’s Rebellion.
The Lord Fit to Gag
When Lord Mace Tyrell abandoned the siege of Storm’s End to rescue his daughter, he left behind a token force to keep Storm’s End invested in siege. In command of this force was Lord Mathis Rowan.
Lord Rowan was a powerful reacher lord, and one of Mace Tyrell’s most important bannermen. House Rowan held the strong castle of Goldengrove, and had significant lands and vassals of its own. Like all of the most exalted families of the Reach prior to the Conquest, the Rowans could trace their lineage directly back to Garth Greenhand, claiming Garth’s daughter Rowan as their namesake and mythical ancestress. They had blood ties to the Gardener kings, and they were among those that Maester Yandel recounted as having “older and more distinguished lineages than the Tyrells”, who had since become their overlords.
Lord Mathis Rowan himself is a gruff, middle-aged lord who is respected by his peers for his political acumen and military insight. As a politician, Mathis was so respected that both Jaime and Kevan Lannister thought that he would be a good fit as Hand of the King:
“Mathis Rowan is sensible, prudent, well liked.” (AFFC, Cersei II)
If someone other than a westerman was needed to appease the Tyrells, there was always Mathis Rowan. (AFFC, Jaime VIII)
As a military commander and tactician, Mathis is a cautious, yet respected, leader. In A Clash of Kings, Mathis Rowan urged Renly to leave Stannis at Storm’s End and focus on King’s Landing:
“Your Grace, I see no need for battle here,” Lord Mathis Rowan put in. “The castle is strongly garrisoned and well provisioned, Ser Cortnay Penrose is a seasoned commander, and the trebuchet has not been built that could breach the walls of Storm’s End. Let Lord Stannis have his siege. He will find no joy in it, and whilst he sits cold and hungry and profitless, we will take King’s Landing.” (ACOK, Catelyn III)
Mathis’ counsel was a wise course. Storm’s End could hold out against an extended siege as it had demonstrated time after time. After Renly decided to go forward with his attack on Stannis, Catelyn Stark noticed Mathis Rowan and Randyll Tarly consulting over a map:
Within, Catelyn found Brienne armoring the king for battle while the Lords Tarly and Rowan spoke of dispositions and tactics. (ACOK, Catelyn IV)
That Randyll Tarly, the Reach’s best soldier (according to Kevan Lannister), was consulting with Mathis Rowan over tactics signified that Mathis’ military acumen was respected.
Renly’s campaign had not been the first time Mathis had followed a Tyrell army to Storm’s End. During Robert’s Rebellion, Lord Mathis answered the Tyrell call to arms to back the Targaryens and marched with his liege lord to the Baratheon seat. When Ned Stark marched on Storm’s End, Mathis dutifully followed the lead of his liege and bent the knee to Robert Baratheon. Unlike Mace Tyrell though, Mathis Rowan seemed genuinely loyal to the Targaryens. When Catelyn Stark reported that Jaime Lannister alive in A Clash of Kings, Mathis was upset:
“Jaime Lannister is held prisoner at Riverrun.”
“Still alive?” Lord Mathis Rowan seemed dismayed. (ACOK, Catelyn II)
Whether he was unhappy at the prospect of facing Jaime in battle or felt that the notorious Kingslayer deserved death for his “crimes” is unclear. However, Mathis was very clearly upset when Tywin Lannister blameshifted the deaths of Elia Martell and her children:
“Prince Doran comes at my son’s invitation,” Lord Tywin said calmly, “not only to join in our celebration, but to claim his seat on this council, and the justice Robert denied him for the murder of his sister Elia and her children.”
Tyrion watched the faces of the Lords Tyrell, Redwyne, and Rowan, wondering if any of the three would be bold enough to say, “But Lord Tywin, wasn’t it you who presented the bodies to Robert, all wrapped up in Lannister cloaks?” None of them did, but it was there on their faces all the same. Redwyne does not give a fig, he thought, but Rowan looks fit to gag. (ASOS, Tyrion III)
Mathis Rowan was, thus, a natural mark for Connington to make his first inroad into the Reach. He was a Targaryen loyalist, seemingly more so than his own liege lord. Though he was a loyal subordinate commander who followed Mace Tyrell to King’s Landing and into the Lannister-Tyrell alliance, he couldn’t hide his own horror over Tywin Lannister’s anti-Targaryen war atrocities during Robert’s Rebellion. So, it was only natural that George R.R. Martin would leave lord-fit-to-gag outside of Storm’s End while Mace Tyrell rushed back to King’s Landing.
In Part 5, I theorized that the guile that Jon Connington planned to use to take Storm’s End would allow Aegon, Connington and a detachment of Golden Company sellswords to bypass Mathis Rowan’s small army investing the castle in siege. Though there was tactical value in avoiding a tertiary engagement with the Reachmen outside of Storm’s End, the greater utility in Connington bypassing Rowan’s siege lines was that he could negotiate with the Reachmen outside of the castle after the battle was complete and he himself was in a secure, fortified position.
After Storm’s End is seized, I think that Jon Connington will parlay with Mathis Rowan. With Stannis’ garrison all dead, the reachmen outside of Storm’s End will be in a strange spot. They had orders to take the castle from Stannis’ garrison, but no orders could have prepared them for an unrelated force doing their work for them and taking the castle for itself. This muddle might be broken when Connington presents young Aegon to Mathis Rowan.
In Arianne’s first sample chapter for The Winds of Winter, Arianne reads the letter that Jon Connington sent to Doran Martell. Though the words were intended to appeal to Prince Doran Martell specifically, the letter’s contents applied equally to Mathis Rowan:
To Prince Doran of House Martell,
You will remember me, I pray. I knew your sister well, and was a leal servant of your good-brother. I grieve for them as you do. I did not die, no more than did your sister’s son. To save his life we kept him hidden, but the time for hiding is done. A dragon has returned to Westeros to claim his birthright and seek vengeance for his father, and for the princess Elia, his mother. In her name I turn to Dorne. Do not forsake us.
Lord of Griffin’s Roost
Hand of the True King (TWOW, Arianne I)
Jon Connington’s words and presentation of the boy would almost certainly compel a reaction from the Lord of Goldengrove. Mathis would feel personally compelled to right the moral horror of Robert’s Rebellion. In The Winds of Winter, the first Reach House that will decisively join with Aegon will be House Rowan. Though his army is likely only a few thousand strong at best, its turn towards Aegon would significantly boost the Golden Company’s flagging numbers.
More importantly, Mathis’ turn to Aegon would be a political coup for the young dragon’s cause. Mathis is a respected, powerful, and well-liked lord in the Reach whose political acumen was identified as sufficient for a Hand and whose military counsel was respected by the best soldiers and commanders in Westeros. Mathis won’t simply bring himself and his small army into Aegon’s service. Instead, the banners of Goldengrove that will fly under Aegon’s red dragon banner will serve as clarion call to the nobility of the Reach – especially the ambitious and treacherous variety.
Stolen Valor and General Grievance: Lord Tarly
Artwork by Kevin McCoy
Tarly is the real danger. A narrow man, but iron-willed and shrewd, and as good a soldier as the Reach could boast. – Kevan Lannister’s thoughts on Randyll Tarly (ADWD, Epilogue)
Rowan, however, would not be the only reacher lord to join the dragon’s banner outside Storm’s End. Moreover, while Rowan’s motivation would likely stem from his idealism about the Targaryen cause, the other reacher lord would be motivated by his stern sense of personal justice and grievance. The Reach has long boasted both statecraft-minded nobles who could turn the political engine of Westeros and chivalrous knights whose storied histories extended back into the Age of Heroes, but there was no lord like ruthless Randyll Tarly.
The Lord of Horn Hill was an austere man known for his strict legalism and capability for Tywin-esque cruelty. Also like Tywin Lannister – and distinguishing from his reacher peers – Tarly was recognized as perhaps the finest soldier in the Reach. During Robert’s Rebellion, Randyll Tarly met Robert Baratheon in battle and issued the would-be Usurper his only defeat. Tarly, in command of the the Reach’s vanguard, smashed Robert Baratheon’s stormlander host at the Battle of Ashford.
However, the glory of that sole victory against Robert hadn’t gone to Randyll Tarly or his men: instead, it went to Randyll’s liege lord, Mace Tyrell (a fact not lost on another able commander, Stannis Baratheon):
“Your father is an able soldier,” King Stannis said. “He defeated my brother once, at Ashford. Mace Tyrell has been pleased to claim the honors for that victory, but Lord Randyll had decided matters before Tyrell ever found the battlefield. He slew Lord Cafferen with that great Valyrian sword of his and sent his head to Aerys.” (ASOS, Samwell V)
Randyll had won the battle for his liege lord, and for this prodigious feat, he was edited out of Maester Yandel’s official recounting of the event:
The present Lord of Highgarden, Mace Tyrell, fought loyally for House Targaryen during Robert’s Rebellion, defeating Robert Baratheon himself at the Battle of Ashford. (TWOIAF, The Reach: House Tyrell)
To further aggravate Randyll Tarly’s wounded pride, the Lord of Highgarden parlayed “his command” at the Battle of Ashford into a persona of keen military experience:
Mace Tyrell spoke up. “Is there anything as pointless as a king without a kingdom? No, it’s plain, the boy must abandon the riverlands, join his forces to Roose Bolton’s once more, and throw all his strength against Moat Cailin. That is what I would do.”
Tyrion had to bite his tongue at that. Robb Stark had won more battles in a year than the Lord of Highgarden had in twenty. Tyrell’s reputation rested on one indecisive victory over Robert Baratheon at Ashford, in a battle largely won by Lord Tarly’s van before the main host had even arrived. The siege of Storm’s End, where Mace Tyrell actually did hold the command, had dragged on a year to no result, and after the Trident was fought, the Lord of Highgarden had meekly dipped his banners to Eddard Stark. (ASOS, Tyrion III)
Randyll Tarly’s place of honor had been erased by the history books and the Fat Flower’s own retelling, but this fact did not prevent Mace Tyrell from using Randyll Tarly again and again in dangerous and morally flexible ways. Randyll rode with his liege when Mace declared for King Renly, but after Renly died, Randyll Tarly got down to the business of committing war crimes:
“Lord Tarly has seized Renly’s stores and put a great many to the sword; Florents, chiefly.” (ACOK, Tyrion X)
When Mace Tyrell agreed to join with Tywin Lannister and force-marched to lift Stannis’ Siege of King’s Landing, Randyll Tarly took the dangerous, yet prestigious, command of the center of the Lannister-Tyrell army. Though the vanguard won much of the battle (paralleling the Battle of Ashford), Tarly’s command of the center signified his place as among the best commanders in Westeros. The center in a medieval battle usually held the best troops, and Randyll Tarly’s place there was crucial. However, Tarly likely did not want to be in the center so much as in the vanguard. When he was still sworn to Renly, the Lord of Horn Hill had wanted to be in thick of the fighting on behalf of Renly:
“It takes more than a pretty cloak to charge a shield wall,” Randyll Tarly announced. “I was leading Mace Tyrell’s van when you were still sucking on your mother’s teat, Guyard.” (ACOK, Catelyn
Tarly had led the vanguard at the Battle of Ashford, and it would have been natural to commission him to a similar role in Renly’s army. However, Renly awarded that role to Loras Tyrell. When the Lannister-Tyrell alliance formed, Randyll might have expected to lead the van in the attack on Stannis’ army. Instead, he was given command of the center. Though being placed in the center of the Tyrell lines at the Siege of King’s Landing was an essential command, it was not the place of greatest honor on the battlefield. Instead, the honor of leading the vanguard was once again granted to Loras Tyrell (along with his brother Garlan). Randyll’s exclusion from leading the vanguard would have consequences later on.
When that battle was won, the Lord of Horn Hill was not granted leave to rest his weary soldiers. He was ordered north to fight another battle (this time against the northmen at Duskendale), winning a decisive victory on behalf of the Iron Throne. Thereafter, he took Maidenpool and began to put the region to rights.
Randyll Tarly had arguably done more militarily for the fledgling Lannister-Tyrell alliance than any other lord or knight in its service. So, it probably came as a shock to Randyll Tarly when he heard about the rewards for those who participated in the battles:
Highgarden reaped the richest harvest. Tyrion eyed Mace Tyrell’s broad belly and thought, He has a prodigious appetite, this one. Tyrell demanded the lands and castles of Lord Alester Florent, his own bannerman, who’d had the singular ill judgment to back first Renly and then Stannis. Lord Tywin was pleased to oblige. Brightwater Keep and all its lands and incomes were granted to Lord Tyrell’s second son, Ser Garlan, transforming him into a great lord in the blink of an eye. His elder brother, of course, stood to inherit Highgarden itself.
Lesser tracts were granted to Lord Rowan, and set aside for Lord Tarly, Lady Oakheart, Lord Hightower, and other worthies not present. (ASOS, Tyrion III)
Mace Tyrell had received a royal betrothal for his daughter and was further rewarded with a lordship and castle for his second son. Randyll Tarly likely had no personal qualms against Garlan becoming a lord, even one as great as the Florents: Garlan the Gallant had led the vanguard courageously during the Blackwater. Instead, the issue was that greedy, overly ambitious Mace Tyrell had once again profited from Tarly’s hard battlefield work. Even worse, Mace Tyrell was now stealing not merely Randyll Tarly’s fame and honor, but his legitimate spoil of war.
Alester Florent, Lord of Brightwater Keep, had forsaken the Tyrells and Lannisters, allying with Stannis after Renly’s death. Alester’s heir, Alekyne, had followed in his father’s footsteps and bent the knee to Stannis. Their support for the Baratheon pretender had legally stripped father and son of any right to Brightwater Keep. What likely upset Randyll was that, by rights, the next heir of House Florent was Alester’s elder daughter, Melessa … who happened to be wed to Randyll himself. Nor had the Lannisters merely appropriated Randyll’s legally expected prize. Lord Tarly was not recalled from Maidenpool for this small council meeting; if he had been present, it’s very possible that he would have objected to the arrangements made or voiced private protest to Tywin Lannister over awarding Brightwater Keep to Garlan Tyrell. As he was not present, though, Randyll had to suffer upjumped, former stewards profiting at the expense of House Tarly, and learning about this decisions only second-hand and belatedly.
If Lord Randyll nursed grievances over the theft of Brightwater Keep by the Tyrells, however, he kept it private. No POV character was near Randyll Tarly when he heard about Brightwater Keep. He and his army remained positioned around Maidenpool doing the hard work of clearing the roads of bandits and securing the Crownlands for the Iron Throne. However, Randyll Tarly was making political moves of his own to enhance Tarly power.
Perhaps stealing a page from his liege lord’s playbook, Randyll Tarly set to make his son an advantageous betrothal:
“Mooton’s daughter, she’s a maid,” the man went on. “Till the bedding, anyways. These eggs, they’re for her wedding. Her and Tarly’s son. The cooks will need eggs for cakes.” (AFFC, Brienne III)
House Mooton was a noble Riverlands House which controlled the once economically prosperous town of Maidenpool. Its current lord, William, had seen Maidenpool sacked thrice during the War of the Five Kings, and had hidden behind his castle’s walls each time. Not all of the Mootons had proven as cowardly as Lord William, however. William’s brother, Myles, been one of Rhaegar Targaryen’s squires turned knightly friends, and died fighting on behalf of the Targaryens at Stoney Sept.
Randyll’s betrothal and eventual marriage of Dickon to William’s eldest daughter, Eleanor, had little to do with Lord William himself. By betrothing his son and heir to Eleanor Mooton, Randyll ensconced himself in a key Riverlands family – a family that had personal ties of loyalty to House Targaryen.
The Lord of Horn Hill’s extended stay at Maidenpool would be broken up by the arrest of Margaery Tyrell and the cracking of the Lannister-Tyrell alliance. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to gain power at the expense of his liege lord, then at Storm’s End, Lord Tarly marched his entire army down the kingsroad and reached King’s Landing before Mace Tyrell:
“[Randyll Tarly] was the first to reach King’s Landing when this storm broke, and he brought his army with him.” (ADWD, Cersei I)
Randyll might have felt a sense of schadenfreude at the current misfortune of his liege lord, but he had a sworn duty to him still. His first course of action in King’s Landing was to free Margaery Tyrell from the Faith Militant, but he was only able to do so after swearing a holy vow that he would remand Margaery Tyrell back to the Faith for her trial. Mace Tyrell and Kevan Lannister arrived in King’s Landing shortly after Randyll Tarly: Kevan named himself regent and quickly began to re-sort Cersei’s small council.
Randyll might have expected that now he might receive his reward for good service and named Hand of the King: he had won resounding victories for the crown, freed his liege lord’s daughter and had brought his army to bear against the Faith Militant in a show of force. Instead, he would be thwarted yet again by his liege lord. Kevan named Mace Tyrell as Hand of the King while relegating Randyll to the subordinate small council seat of justiciar (formerly “master of laws”).
Lord Randyll Tarly was a prime target to be won over by Jon Connington. His grievances against his liege lord were great, and they provided a prime opportunity for Connington to pick up another friend in the Reach for his would-be king. Mathis Rowan’s turn to Aegon would bring a few thousand soldiers and notice to Aegon, but Randyll Tarly would bring his renown as Westeros’ best soldier – along with perhaps twenty thousand swords.
What I’ve wondered about for some time while writing this essay is whether one of Jon Connington’s secret messages had already reached Randyll Tarly by the end of A Dance with Dragons. We glanced the Lord of Horn Hill at Kevan Lannister’s small council meeting, and his conduct at the meeting might be construed as suspicious. Much like Aurane Waters did before him, Randyll Tarly downplayed the threat of the Golden Company:
“If this truly is the Golden Company, as Qyburn’s whisperers insist—”
“Call them what you will,” said Randyll Tarly. “They are still no more than adventurers.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Randyll then cast doubt on whether it was truly Jon Connington who had arrived in Westeros:
“And now we have reports that Connington is moving on Storm’s End.”
“If it is Jon Connington,” said Randyll Tarly. (ADWD, Epilogue)
Randyll’s counsel neatly dovetailed with Connington’s desire to disguise who was actually invading Westeros and what their intentions were. Randyll also seemed to dismiss Aegon as truly being Rhaegar’s son as well:
“Connington may have more than the Golden Company. It is said he has a Targaryen pretender.”
“A feigned boy is what he has,” said Randyll Tarly. (ADWD, Epilogue)
The other notable declaration that Randyll Tarly made in the small council was to speak antagonistically of the Faith Militant:
“His High Holiness insists upon a trial.”
Lord Randyll snorted. “What have we become, when kings and high lords must dance to the twittering of sparrows?” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Antagonizing the Faith Militant was definitely not in the small council’s best interests by the end of A Dance with Dragons (something we’ll get into in a later part). However, it might be fit a pattern of a cunning lord who had already turned against the Lannisters and Tyrells and was offering intentionally poor counsel.
It is impossible to know whether Tarly has turned against his overlords by the end of A Dance with Dragons, of course, or whether his council opinions represented the expressions of the blunt soldier, dismissive of sellswords or lords and their feigned pretenders. Regardless, Tarly was “the real danger” according to Kevan Lannister. His loyalty to the Tyrells and Lannisters was suspect prior to Aegon’s landing due to Mace Tyrell’s stolen valor and “theft” of Brightwater Keep from him. The young dragon provided the means by which Randyll could soothe his wounded pride and win “his” seat back from the historically upjumped Tyrells.
If Randyll has not already turned to Aegon by the end of A Dance with Dragons, he will in The Winds of Winter. With Tarly in hand, Aegon will have a dangerous and powerful lord and his twenty-thousand swords. More than that, Aegon will have an army extraordinarily well-positioned around King’s Landing and a lord in command with a willingness to do anything on behalf of the his benefactors.
The Halfmaester glanced at another parchment. “We could scarcely have timed our landing better. We have potential friends and allies at every hand.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
The decisive turn of the Rowans and Tarlys towards Aegon and against their Tyrell overlords will be one of the more momentous events in The Winds of Winter. Though these houses from the Reach will be vital for Aegon’s military efforts in southern Westeros, they won’t be enough for Aegon politically. The Blackfyre Pretenders of old dreamed of Westeros uniting under the great black dragon banner. So too will the descendants of the Blackfyres look for the whole of southern Westeros to rally politically under Aegon.
Jon Connington’s greatest hope for politically uniting Westeros was not in the Reach. Though their swords would be welcomed into Aegon’s service, they would not be the whole of a region. Lord Connington needed a great lord – a lord paramount – to swear to Aegon. Thus, Jon Connington will turn to one of House Targaryen’s oldest friends to bring his spears under the “red” dragon banner.
Before all that can happen, battle must be joined. The Tyrells have finally woken to threat of Aegon, and an army was marching for the young dragon at Storm’s End. This army, likely tens of thousands strong, had two purposes: annihilate the Golden Company and put the young dragon into the ground. Shockingly though, Aegon would not be content to hide behind the walls of Storm’s End. The young dragon was marching out to meet the Tyrells in battle, and the battle that would be fought would decide Aegon’s crusade for the Iron Throne.
Here’s a little video Q&A I did answering some of the questions below and some of the questions on facebook:
Thanks for reading. I invite you to follow me on twitter at @BryndenBFish. Additionally, I invite you to follow the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire twitter, facebook and tumblr to stay abreast of all that we’re doing!
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- The Tarly Turn by NFriel
- Why Randyll Tarly and Mathis Rowan will defect to Aegon by NFriel
- History of Westeros’ Live Q&A on The Winds of Winter
- House Hightower and House Redwyne: Friends in the Reach? by shopeIV
Next Up: Agincourt