The north is hard and cold, and has no mercy. (ASOS, Catelyn III)
The North was in ruins. The North is in ruins. The king was dead. His armies decimated. Half the country was under foreign occupation. And the Starks, the ancestral rulers of the North, were dead, fled or captives of hostile houses. The Ironborn Invasion, the savagery of the Bastard of Bolton and above all the Red Wedding had despoiled a whole region of its king, its lords, its lands, its armies and its people. Injustice reigns in the North. But despite all the horrors visited on the region, despite it being a broken country, there was hope, a hope that wrongs would be righted and that justice would return.
Hello! And welcome to a brand new monthly series analyzing northern politics and winter warfare in the wake of the Red Wedding. In this series, I’ll be covering the major, middling and minor players, their plots and their conspiracies set in the North. We’ll be taking a deep-dive into all of this, because if anything, the North is an intriguing mess. Shifting alliances, vengeance and claims to Winterfell and the North present readers of A Song of Ice and Fire with a chaotic and enticing plot that starts in A Storm of Swords and takes off in A Dance with Dragons.
To kick things off, I wanted to talk about a theory about a subtle double-crossing that starts in A Clash of Kings, bounds its way into A Storm of Swords and sees some ramifications in the northern plotline from A Dance with Dragons. Tywin Lannister conspired with Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to betray the Starks and end Stark independence, but that may not have been the only betrayal he planned. In fact, Tywin Lannister seemed to be planning another betrayal against those he conspired with.
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
“There is power in a king’s blood,” the old maester had warned, “and better men than Stannis have done worse things than this.” The king can be harsh and unforgiving, aye, but a babe still on the breast? Only a monster would give a living child to the flames. (ADWD, Jon I)
“Sacrifice is never easy or it is not true sacrifice” underpins the central struggle between Stannis, Melisandre and Davos in A Storm of Swords. Where Stannis wonders aloud, “what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom”, Davos responds with “everything.” The context of this conversation is the fate of Edric Storm, bastard nephew to Stannis. And while readers find resolution in the survival of Edric Storm in A Storm of Swords, the question that Stannis poses and Davos answers doesn’t conclude with Edric Storm.
While Game of Thrones showed us a version of that conclusion with the burning of Shireen Baratheon, this will likely not be the extent of the dynamic of human sacrifice in A Song of Ice and Fire. Instead, George RR Martin has laid down significant groundwork in the extant material for a similar conflict to erupt early in The Winds of Winter — with Melisandre, a Davos archetype and the life of a bastard boy set against the fate of a kingdom.
Artwork by Marc Fishman
From Visenya’s Hill, the call went out to the faithful that Maegor’s Laws were undone; the Faith of the Militant had been reborn. Granted extraordinary powers by the crown, knights flocked the banner of the Warrior’s Sons while smallfolk men and women gathered under the Poor Fellows. Meanwhile on Aegon’s High Hill, Cersei Lannister began her preparations to undercut the growing power of Highgarden and bring about the downfall of Margaery Tyrell. None of these parallel political movements and conspiracies accounted for the wildcard of Aegon’s coming.
Across the Narrow Sea, Prince Aegon and his party made their final preparations for their invasion of Westeros. Prince Aegon had a strong force in the Golden Company, but he also had another weapon in his arsenal: ideology. Aegon had been shaped for rule since his youth, and part of his royal instruction included a strong religious education. When the young dragon landed in Westeros, he would bring his army of sellswords to bear against the might of Highgarden and Casterly Rock, but he would also present a striking ideological alternative to the ruling elite of King’s Landing. To the High Sparrow, this would present a difficult choice on whether to back Aegon, but to the young dragon, if he were to stand a chance at taking King’s Landing, he would need the support of the High Sparrow.
Meanwhile, with the Tyrells and Lannisters in near open conflict with each other, the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant were quickly becoming power players in Westeros, and their growing power in the capital itself made the them the most powerful political actors within the city itself in advance of Aegon’s final approach to the city.
Artwork by Tribemun
This is a piece I’ve had in the back of my mind for sometime now, like at least a year and a bit, and I’ve finally found the time to get around to actually doing it.
I’ve heard a lot of comments about how the character of Ramsay Snow comes across as being a one dimensional horror movie villain. In this piece I want to counter this position and really dig into the character of Ramsay Bolton. I will argue that Ramsay is more than a one note B villain. Instead, Ramsay is a well developed and multifaceted character in his own right.