Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An analysis of Catelyn Stark

A guest essay by Mitchell Tweedie

Catelyn is probably one of the characters people are most partisan about. Whereas Joffrey is universally hated, Arya universally loved, and Samwell universally fat, Catelyn, like her daughter Sansa, divides people. Some people go so far as to say “Catelyn Stark is perhaps the most despicable character to have set foot in Westoros” (http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/69094-catelyn-stark-a-denouncement). These people, the Catelyn haters (like the Sansa haters), seem to lack empathy. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the way they criticise some characters, Catelyn especially, only serves to emphasize that they cannot empathise. Furthermore, many of the haters (and lovers for that matter) commit cognitive bias and draw improbable assumptions and conclusions as they try to express why a particular character or action should be hated (or loved).


I would argue that while Catelyn made mistakes, it is important that we remember that so too does everyone else. She just had the gross misfortune to consistently get the worst results possible. Plus, not all mistakes were created equal. There is a big difference between an action that could only end badly, an action that could end badly or goodly, and an action that could only end goodly. For example, a Lord Paramount has more chance of a good end to a rebellion than does the lord/landed knight of a holdfast. Both could possibly see a good conclusion, but the possibilities are not equal.

Stefen’s recent revisionist essay on Edmure and the Battle of the Fords is a good example of this. Stefen correctly raises the point that Edmure’s decision was both cunning and based upon what he knew and what he could feasibly anticipate. He had to “hold Riverrun” it seems, and he and his lords thought what they did was the best way to do so. Seeing as the Lords of the Trident know the Trident and Riverrun better than anyone else, perhaps they are right. While the Battle of the Ford’s had bad consequences, besieging Tywin in Harrenhal, or being besieged by Tywin in Riverrun might have had worse consequences, and attacking the Vale in retaliation to their neutrality would probably have the worst consequences of all. In the game of probability, some people are just lucky. The Starks and Tullys are unlucky. That does not necessarily mean they are stupid or “despicable”, nor does it mean they are clever and chivalrous. Neither decisions, nor consequences, happen in the vacuum, and it is only be analysis that we can truly evaluate a character’s intelligence and morals.

In this essay I attempt such an analysis of Catelyn, who is Bad Luck Brian incarnate. This analysis suggests that not only did Catelyn’s decisions take the worst possible, and perhaps least possible, turns, they nearly always had complex consequences that relied upon a very certain sequence of axualitery characters making certain decisions. Considering this, the idea that Catelyn is stupid or despicable (or both), seem, to me, to be demonstrably fallacious.

The ‘questionable’ actions that I will be analysing are (chronological order):
  1. Catelyn's mistreatment of Jon;
  2. Catelyn's citizen arrest of Tyrion;
  3. Catelyn and Roose;
  4. Catelyn and Walder;
  5. Catelyn and the Baratheons;
  6. Catelyn's citizen release of Jamie.

Catelyn's mistreatment of Jon
This get’s thrown about a bit, and I am not quite sure why. Not only is Catelyn’s resentment of Jon entirely understandable, but there is very little evidence of mistreatment. I think Catelyn’s subsequent ‘questionable’ actions and Jon’s popularity contribute to this criticism’s persistence, despite the evidence for it being scant.

As I said, there is very little evidence of mistreatment. Catelyn and Jon only interact a single time IIRC, and elsewhere we only catch glimpses of the relationship they had.

Although Catelyn is undeniably cold in aGoT Jon 2, she is also undeniably not herself too, which is why I do not view it as evidence of mistreatment. Even Jon is quite unperturbed by Catelyn’s words, so why should we be?

The two most common of the subsidiary evidences do little to bolster the hater’s claims (aGoT Jon 1 and aGoT Catelyn 2).

Benjen: “Don’t you usually eat at table with your brothers?”
Jon: “Most times, but tonight Lady Stark thought it might give insult to the royal family to seat a bastard among them.”
Benjen: “I see.”

I do not see the issue here. To begin with, Jon’s exclusion is explicitly extraordinary, plus it coincides with the extraordinary royal visit. In addition, Jon says Catelyn “thought” it “might”, had he said Catelyn demanded he be excluded, perhaps I would be more inclined to read into this the way the haters seem to do. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest Catelyn’s grounds were invalid. Jon and Benjen are uncritical, nor is there mention of Eddard arguing with Catelyn. What is more, not only does aGoT Catelyn 2 work to unravel the hater’s web  as well, but it lends credence to the above interpretation of aGoT Jon 1.

This scene is longer and more complex, so I will paraphrase. But first, as promised, this exchange suggests that Jon’s exclusion at the feast was justifiable.

Catelyn: “They say your friend Robert has fathered a dozen bastards himself.”
Eddard: “And none of them has ever been seen at court! The Lannister woman has seen to that.”

But I digress, basically, Eddard has agreed to be Robert’s Hand, and so, he is finalising arrangements with Catelyn and Maester Luwin.

Luwin: “What of Jon Snow, my lord?”

This comment prompts Catelyn to have an internal monologue about Jon. In it she acknowledges that “many men fathered bastards”, especially while on campaign. She even admits that “she might have overlooked a dozen bastards for Ned’s sake, so long as they were out of sight.” But alas, not only is Jon in sight, but he has the Stark look, is treated like a son, and is called son. To add insult to injury, Jon and his wet nurse had already taken up residence by the time Catelyn came to Winterfell. It is no wonder that Catelyn dislikes Jon, and she is perfectly justified to dislike him--he is walking talking evidence of her husband’s infidelity. Perhaps you could say she should blame Eddard, not Jon, but that is logical, and since when have emotions been logical?

This monologue also shows that Catelyn did ask “the truth of it” (Jon’s parentage), and she was dismissed. Eddard supposedly said, “he is my blood, and that is all you need to know.” This answer is important, not only because it is a part of the R+L=J puzzle, which is relevant to any discussion of Catelyn and Jon, but also because it shows that Eddard was guarded about the issue. His guard prevented it from being discussed, and thus resolved. On a side note, assuming R+L=J is true, admitting that Jon was actually his nephew would have resolved the issue quite easily. Considering Eddard’s character and how defensive he is of Jon, it is difficult to believe that he would not tell Catelyn solely on the grounds of mistrust. More likely is the assumption that he did not tell her because there was no need, which gives pause to the whole mistreatment theory.

I do not think there is enough evidence to suggest that Catelyn mistreated Jon. While Catelyn’s dislike of Jon is certainly not chivalrous, it is somewhat justifiable, and hardly “despicable”.

For these reasons, I think Catelyn is unfairly hated by the ASoIaF community. While not necessarily clever and/or chivalrous, she is certainly not stupid and/or despicable.

Catelyn's citizen arrest of Tyrion
Undoubtedly, this, along with her citizen release of Jamie, is Catelyn's most questionable action. I would argue, however, that it was actually quite cunning. Considering the context (Tyrion should not have been within Catelyn’s power, and yet, he was) it is surprising that most discussions of this is so negative. The reason why the above is the case is a mystery to me, but it is probably due in large part to Tyrion’s innocence, Tywin’s actions, and Lysa’s actions.

For a start, Catelyn arrested an innocent person (and popular character), however, she did not do it on a whim. She had evidence, inaccurate evidence perhaps, but evidence nethertheless. Both her sister (Lysa) and childhood friend (Petyr) had, ostensibly independently, given her grounds to suspect the Lannisters, and Tyrion in particular. In addition, Bran’s fall and Eddard’s opinion of the Lannister’s could have only exacerbated her suspicions. It should be noted that Catelyn’s most important piece of evidence, Petyr’s lie, was a lie uttered with Varys present. If anyone could have exposed Petyr, it is Varys, and yet, Varys did nothing. Nor did Eddard or Ser Rodrik (who had spoken to the master-at-arms for peat’s sake) make any attempt to challenge Petyr’s claims. Catelyn had more reason to trust Petyr than any one of these three, and less counter-arguments and/or counterfactuals to to boot, so why should we expected her to not take it to heart when they do too? Considering the speed in which Petyr weaved his oh so elegant lie, it is no wonder that honourable people such as Catelyn, Eddard, and Ser Rodrik were fooled, but Varys too, really? All of the evidence pointed to the Lannisters, and, ironically, this much was true. Both Jamie and Joffrey had attempted to murder Bran, and Cersei was an accomplice to Jamie’s attempt at least. The Lannisters (and their allies) had also murdered Jon Arryn and were plotting to murder Robert, they were hardly an innocent bunch, save Tyrion that is, and it was Tyrion Catelyn seized, awkward.

Even so, Catelyn’s actions were not so bad. Had it not been for Tywin’s actions, the consequences would be manageable, and had it not been for Lysa’s actions, Tywin’s actions could be made good. As it happens, essentially everything that could go wrong for House Stark, and Catelyn in particular, did. It is important to remember that Tywin’s and Lysa’s actions dramatically impacted the consequences of Catelyn’s. This waters down Catelyn’s share of agency, and leaves open the reading that Catelyn’s actions simply lead to a series of unfortunate, improbable, and utterly unpredictable events.

Tywin’s response to Catelyn's citizen arrest of Tyrion is incredible, and, IMHO, so much more stupid and “despicable” than Catelyn’s that they are incomparable. Just so we are all on the same page, Tywin wanted Tyrion released, and his plan to accomplish this was, and let me get this right, to raid the Riverlands. Yes Catelyn was born there, as were the majority of those who answered her call, but that is poor justification still, especially since she was ostensibly taking Tyrion to Winterfell and actually taking him to the Eyrie. This reaction only makes sense at a glance, and is so at odds with Tywin’s character and interests that it annoys me. Despite the raid being colourless, it was lead by Ser Gregor, and so the Lords of the Trident had reasonable grounds to suspect Tywin of violating of the king’s peace, hardly a cunning act of subterfuge to say the least. While it is possible that Robert would not be sitting the Iron Throne when news arrived, it is impossible that Tywin could have anticipated this. Furthermore, considering that this was not the only variable that Tywin to ‘take into consideration’, the risk he took is all the more amplified.

What if Robert had sat the Iron Throne, or at the very least had been in the city when the news arrived? What if Robert did not die on his hunt? What if Eddard lead the investigation personally, or appointed Ser Loras instead of Lord Beric. What if Eddard did not send 100 men, but 100 ravens instead. Even the slightest change in variables could have altered the sequence of events significantly.

The Robert what-ifs are the most important. As far as we know, Robert missed the news by a day or so, and considering this is the first (known) time since he and Eddard arrived in King’s Landing (months) that he had been absent from the city, Tywin is Lord Lucky of Luckyton. An alive Robert would almost certainly have every Lord Paramount’s backing bar Tywin’s and perhaps Balon’s and Dorans’ (but who knows, besides, these two are not like to support Tywin anyway). Tywin was lucky, and that makes Catelyn stupid? I am sorry, but that does not convince me.

Before moving on, I just want to say one more thing about Tywin and his embarrassing attempts at wisdom.

Tywin: “You have the right of it about Stark. Alive, we might have used Lord Eddard to forge a peace with Winterfell and Riverrun, a peace that would have given us the time we need to deal with Robert’s brothers.”

Lulwut? Unless Robert’s brothers were of Greatjon loyalty to Joffrey until Robert’s death when they suddenly became Roosey Gooseys with thick black hair (which is not the case), this makes no sense. Tywin started this war, it was not forced upon him. He raided the Riverlands, then invaded in the Riverlands, what did he expect to happen? Did the think the Tully’s and their probable allies Starks and Arryns would call their banners to stop that tyrannical usurper Renly from taking the Iron Throne from the lawful claimant? What is more is that peace with Winterfell and Riverrun was possible, but he had no interest in it. Perhaps Robb’s terms are harsh, but a watered down counter offer was not even attempted, nor were any confidence building measures. So I am not sure what the purpose of this passage is. Tywin is a stupid and dispicable gambler up until he dies, and yet, everyone praises him. No idea why. I guess he just got lucky one last time.

Another of Stefen’s essays, this time on the topic of the Blackfish and Tywin, though right in saying both have scummy morals, neglects to point out that both made some pretty odd decisions that probably should have ended badly (and in the Blackfish’s case, they did).

Now onto Lysa. Lysa’s actions are what turned an improbable series of unfortunate events into the shit-storm that they become. Had Lysa been what Catelyn remembered her to be, or even what she ought to have been (you know, not crazy), Catelyn might have ended up catching a boat to White Harbor with her hostage. Upon reaching White Harbor she might have heard of Robb’s calling of the banners, and so on, so forth. Basically, after the Battle of the Whispering Wood, Robb would have had both of Tywin’s sons, which might have made him seek terms. And so, innocent or no, war or no, taking Tyrion had its possible merits. In addition, no Tyrion means no clansmen, no chain, no wildfire trick, and so on. It might also mean there is no sally attempt. Overall, taking Tyrion might have meant starting a war, but it might also mean starting a won war, which is not such a bad thing.

If Tyrion’s innocence is not the sole reason why Catelyn’s decision was bad. If subsequent, and I would argue improbable and unpredictable, decisions by Tywin and Lysa were necessary to create the consequences that were created, how is Catelyn to blame? Everything that could go wrong, went wrong; she was very unlucky.

For these reasons, I think Catelyn is unfairly hated by the ASoIaF community. While not necessarily clever and/or chivalrous, she is certainly not stupid and/or despicable.

Catelyn and Roose
Why this (and Catelyn and Walder) is sometimes, although admittedly seldom, cited as evidence that Catelyn is a stupid and “despicable” character that we should hate is beyond me. Simply, the accusation is that Catelyn is the reason Roose was appointed to lead the ‘foot’, and because Roose later betrayed Robb, Catelyn is to blame. Since the relevant text is reasonably short, I will reproduce it so that everyone is on the same page.

Robb: “Once we’re below the Neck, I’d split our host in two. The foot can continue down the kingsroad, while our horsemen cross the Green Fork at the Twins.”
Catelyn: “Which force would you command?”
Robb: “The horse.”
Catelyn: “And the other?”
Robb: “The Greatjon is always saying that we should smash Lord Tywin. I thought I’d give him the honor.”

As we can see, Robb had initially thought to appoint the Greatjon to lead his ‘foot’. The parallel is stark, the Greatjon is loyal whereas Roose is disloyal. But no one knew this at the time, so why does it matter? Besides, it is poor logic to appoint someone to a position based on loyalty alone anyway. Similarly, it is poor logic to appoint someone such as the Greatjon to the task Robb had set the commander of the ‘foot’.

Catelyn: “Your father once told me that the Greatjon was as fearless as any man he had ever known.”
Robb: “Grey Wind ate two of his fingers, and he laughed about it. So you agree, then?”
Catelyn: “Your father is not fearless. He is brave, but that is very different.”
Robb: “The eastern host will be all that stands between Lord Tywin and Winterfell. Well, them and whatever few bowmen I leave here at Moat Cailin. So I don’t want someone fearless, do I.”
Catelyn: “No. You want cold cunning, I should think, not courage.”

It is important to note that Catelyn does not mention Roose’s name, she merely argues that “cunning” is more important than “courage”; this is sound council. All of Robb’s victories were the result of cunning, not courage. The Whispering Wood, cunning; The Battle of the Camps, cunning; Oxcross, cunning; even Edmure’s victory was due to cunning and not courage. Considering how the Greatjon speaks and thinks throughout the series, it is probable that his host would have been routed and perhaps destroyed by Tywin’s. Catelyn not only correctly identifies the error in Robb’s thinking, but tells him subtly: “It was his first misstep, but how to make him see it without wounding his fledgling confidence?”

As I mentioned above, Catelyn does not mention Roose’s name, it is actually Robb: ““Roose Bolton,” Robb said at once. “That man scares me.”” Perhaps Roose was Catelyn’s choice, but the wording of her response does not suggest that is the case: ““Then let us pray he will scare Tywin Lannister as well.”” Unless you are willing to argue that she would have shot down all of Robb’s suggestions until he suggested Roose, she can hardly be blamed for the appointment, which a better one considering the knowns (though perhaps not considering the unknowns).

I will now make two quick notes. Firstly, the idea that Catelyn should have known Roose was disloyal is preposterous. House Bolton bent the knee a thousand years ago, and rebelled only once, 700 years ago. Unless there are more recent rebellions that are not known to readers, there are no grounds upon which to suspect House Bolton of disloyalty. As for Roose, perhaps she should have suspected him, but no one else seems to, including his rival lords and Robb, so why would she? And secondly, some people suggest that Roose starting betraying Robb from the get go, but this assertion, while possible, is not plausible, as his council is sound, and the Battle of the Greek Fork was anticipated by Robb.

Whereas the “The Greatjon began to curse and swear as soon as he saw [The Twins]”, Roose simply said “That cannot be assaulted, my lords.” Which is true. In addition, it is Roose who points out to Robb: “Go in there alone and you’re his. He can sell you to the Lannisters, throw you in a dungeon, or slit your throat, as he likes.” This not poor council, nor was his assessment of Tywin’s strategy--to have Jamie besiege Riverrun whilst he slowly burned out the Riverlords--wrong. What is more are his sly comments about Tyrion: “My lady, a question, as it please you.” Roose Bolton, Lord of the Dreadfort, had a small voice, yet when he spoke larger men quieted to listen. His eyes were curiously pale, almost without color, and his look disturbing. “It is said that you hold Lord Tywin’s dwarf son as captive. Have you brought him to us? I vow, we should make good use of such a hostage.”

All of the above suggests sound service, and what is more, the Battle of the Green Fork was Robb’s idea. Only the way that it played out was Roose’s idea--the attempted surprise attack, the caution, and the retreat--and these were cunning attempts to mitigate the North’s inherent disadvantage versus Tywin. Yes, they failed, but it could have been quite worse quite easily. It might have been possible to keep Tywin distracted and avoid battle, but no one seems to think so. Perhaps the Northerners are stupid, but since everyone (readers included) seems to think Robb and the Blackfish are badass tacticians, though perhaps not strategists, neither of them seem to think of this alternative. So perhaps we (or GRRM) are missing something.

Overall, not only was Roose not necessarily Catelyn’s choice, but there is no evidence that he was anything but loyal prior to the Battle of the Blackwater (a year after his appointment). This begs the question, in what way could Catelyn, who did not even appoint him in the first place, possibly be to blame for actions that took place one year later?

For these reasons, I think Catelyn is unfairly hated by the ASoIaF community. While not necessarily clever and/or chivalrous, she is certainly not stupid and/or despicable.

Catelyn and Walder
Why this (and Catelyn and Roose) is sometimes, although admittedly seldom, cited as evidence that Catelyn is a stupid and “despicable” character that we should hate is beyond me. Since the relevant text is short, I will reproduce it so that everyone is on the same page.

Catelyn: “We want to cross.”
Walder: “Oh, do you? That’s blunt. Why should I let you?”
Catelyn: “If you were strong enough to climb your own battlements, Lord Frey, you would see that my son has twenty thousand men outside your walls.”
Walder: “They’ll be twenty thousand fresh corpses when Lord Tywin gets here. Don’t you try and frighten me, my lady. Your husband’s in some traitor’s cell under the Red Keep, your father’s sick, might be dying, and Jaime Lannister’s got your brother in chains. What do you have that I should fear? That son of yours? I’ll match you son for son, and I’ll still have eighteen when yours are all dead.”

To those who think Catelyn got a bad deal, reread that second point by Walder. Based on the circumstances, it is quite obvious Robb needs Walder a lot more than Walder needs Robb. Furthermore, since Robb can neither siege nor storm The Twins, he has no easy way to extort Walder. Conversely, Walder can extort Robb quite easily since he could always just join Tywin, or at least threaten to do so. That said, there is always the risk that Tywin’s terms would be poorer, that is why “the rest [is] haggling.” Both sides want an agreement today, and both sides want it as one sided as possible. Both have several cards to play, as seen above, Catelyn started with the threat card, which Walder countered quite easily, and so Catelyn appealed to Walder’s honour.

Catelyn: “You swore an oath to my father.”
Walder: “Oh, yes, I said some words, but I swore oaths to the crown too, it seems to me. Joffrey’s the king now, and that makes you and your boy and all those fools out there no better than rebels. If I had the sense the gods gave a fish, I’d help the Lannisters boil you all.”

Again Walder counters Catelyn’s argument quite easily. Although he does not bring it up, had Catelyn pushed him he might have pointed out that Hoster is the Lord of Riverrun. Walder owes Catelyn little, and Robb less. His easy countering of Catelyn’s arguments show that the only available alternative was concessions, and his. That said, it is important to note that Catelyn is not the only one to make concessions (Walder not only agrees to their passage, but joins them with all of his force as well), however, that said, she does agree to take two grandsons as wards, a son as a squire, another son for Arya, and a daughter for Robb. At a glance, these terms might seem one sided, however, they are not that bad in actuality. Personally, I have no idea why so many Houses shun the Frey’s, not only are they apparently able to raise 4k levies singlehandedly, but they have what is perhaps the greatest seats in Westeros (expecting the seats of the Lord Paramounts of course). They are almost certainly able to raise more levies than any of Robb’s bannermen, save perhaps House Bolton. (Remember: House Manderly and House Karstark raised less than 600 horse between them, and only just more than 3k foot, and they are among Robb’s more powerful bannermen.) In short, these marriage alliances are not that bad. Yes Robb does not get to choose which his bride, but big deal, with the obvious exception of Margaery Tyrell, is there a more suitable bride? As for the wards and squire, they are double edged sweeteners. Catelyn gets two hostages and Robb one. Plus real friendships might develop (Eddard and Robert). In the end, this deal is actually not as bad as it might sound. Had every Stark been forced to marry a Frey, then perhaps we could question it, but as it stands, the Lord to be and a girl assumed dead were the ones bethroned, not that bad considering the Stark’s still had three more possible matches. Furthermore, one of the most important castles in the riverlands, its notoriously cautious Lord, and 4k levies joined Robb, damn, Catelyn did well.

For these reasons, I think Catelyn is unfairly hated by the ASoIaF community. While not necessarily clever and/or chivalrous, she is certainly not stupid and/or despicable.

Catelyn and the Baratheons
Catelyn made a doozy of a mistake while down south treating with the Baratheons, however, is am not sure how this mistakes shows her to be anything but the opposite of “despicable”. This will be quick so I will just jump straight in. Basically, Catelyn saved Brienne instead of treating with Loras. The Tyrell’s needed a king to follow, perhaps King Mace/Willas/Garlan/Loras/Robb, anyone of these could have worked, especially since the Starks and the Tyrells both had unwed boys and girls of age and could have easily secured an alliance. And yet, Catelyn made no effort to explore these options. Though her haste might have saved Brienne, it did not remove the doubts of the role she might have played in Renly’s death, nor did it secure Highgarden for Robb/Robb for Highgarden.

In short, she gained one sword when she might have gained many tens of thousands. Perhaps an alliance with Highgarden was impossible, but her lack of trying was a mistake IMHO, but a mistake that highlights her humanity, not lack thereof.

For these reasons, I think Catelyn is unfairly hated by the ASoIaF community. While not necessarily clever and/or chivalrous, she is certainly not stupid and/or despicable.

Catelyn's citizen release of Jamie
Undoubtedly, this, along with her citizen arrest of Tyrion, is Catelyn's most questionable action. I would argue, however, that while a mistake some people blow it out to ridiculous proportions.

This is perhaps the most tricky of her decisions to dissect, because while treasonous, it was done with good intentions, and while risky, was done when all hope was lost, and while ‘potentially’ the cause of several problems (including the Karstarks, the Westerlings, and the Red Wedding), it was not the reason why these were problems.

No release of Jamie might mean no angry Karstarks, but no beheading of Rickard might have the same result.

No release of Jamie might mean Catelyn can talk Robb out of his marriage with Jeyne, but that is a big might.

No release of Jamie might mean Tywin does not risk the Red Wedding, but this is also big might seeing as the plot could have been adapted so that it was the Chain Wedding instead of the Red Wedding. Perhaps the Blackfish would kill Jamie, but with a bazillion lords and ladies, including his liege, niece, and nephew, captured, I doubt he would, and I doubt I am the alone in thinking this.

While Catelyn’s actions were ill done, the purpose of them is quite commendable, and highlights the greyness of ASoIaF and her character in particular. Why is Sansa worth less than Jamie... you sexist patriarch! It is an idea that everyone, characters and readers both, support, and yet, it is not that chivalrous, nor is it necessarily that smart. Perhaps Sansa could be married once freed, and perhaps the pros of this would outweigh the cons of releasing Jamie, especially a hand-less and on the path of redemption Jamie. People who belittle ethical questions like these misunderstand. Maybe Catelyn is doing wrong by Robb, but maybe Sansa was done wrong by Robb and Catelyn is saving Sansa. I think this is probably her worst decision, because it had the least chance of success, but stupid and “despicable” are strong words, and I am not sure if they can be fairly applied. I have not lost a father, husband, two sons, and possibly a daughter within a year or so before, so her circumstances are unknown to me, and to most of her critics for that matter.

Ironically, while in the short and mid term this decision pretty much could not have had positive consequences, in the lord term, it might become the best decision she ever made. Jamie 2.0 and Brienne are not done yet I think (I doubt Lady Stoneheart will be the death of either of them). Indeed, perhaps Jamie will save the Starks and Tullys in the end. It is hard to know when to draw the line. Does a decision need to have good consequence by a certain date? Also, is the wrong she did minimised by the fact that it probably did not change anything, bad things were incoming regardless? And is the right she did undone by the wrong? This is not simple, but some seem to think it is.

For these reasons, I think Catelyn is unfairly hated by the ASoIaF community. While not necessarily clever and/or chivalrous, she is certainly not stupid and/or despicable.

31 comments:

  1. I won't disagree since your reasoning seems logical. But to quote yourself: "since when have emotions been logical"?

    Jon and especially Tyrion are popular figures, Catelyn not that much. So it's clear, who gets the blame, that is bolstered up with "arguments".

    Regards

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  2. Finally ! A good Catelyn essay ! I was so surprised to see that she was one of the most hated characters ! I agree Catelyn actually gave good advice and the Frey deal was actually good. I personally believe this was GRRM's way of saying you should listen to your mother... One thing: do the Freys really have more soldiers than the Manderlys ? In my mind those are the top two vassals but Manderly didn't get his entire force south, from the Northen vassals I believe the Karstarks were the ones who took the bulk of their forces south. I mean the Frey sure have the money to pay soldiers but they don't control a major city ... But correct me if I'm wrong. I believe the Freys are despised due to Lord Walder's character and not because of their social standing (there are some minor houses who married Freys) because if Walder was boy at the time of Lord Whent's tourney his family should have been landed for a decent amount of time, unless Lord Walder himself was raised into nobility .... Sorry for the long comment :)

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  3. Haters base their logic in consequentialism which is philosophically challenged for centuries. Props for thinking in a more Kantian way.

    Random small point: you say "The Lannisters (and their allies) had also murdered Jon Arryn..." I thought it was actually Lysa and Petyr that poison Jon...but true that from Cat's perspective it was the Lannisters

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  4. Whoops, lost my comment :( This one will be shorter. Yea, I was speaking in perspective. However, that said, Grand Maester Pycelle played a role in Jon's death, and did so because he thought Cersei was the poisoner.

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  5. Proofreading before publishing: Can't see anything here.

    Rereading after publishing: "Kill it, kill it with fire" (http://themetapicture.com/kill-it-with-fire/).

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  6. I have so much love for this - I get so tired of defending Catelyn (and Sansa) and it makes me sad when some fans are so misogynistic about a work created by an author that obviously gives a lot of thought to the characterisation of his female characters (and certainly much more than any other fantasy author I've ever read). Catelyn is ultimately tragic, sympathetic, complicated and pretty much a case study of how shitty it is to be a woman in such a patriarchal society (also see: Sansa). I have such love for characters like Brienne and Asha, but there is also strength in acting within the restrictions of stereotypically 'feminine' ways and moving within the restrictions of your society in a realistic way rather than attempting to break out of it completely. The fact that Catelyn is held to such ridiculously high standards, while characters like Tyrion get a free pass because they're 'badass' really annoys me! Anyway rant over - great article!

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    1. Completely agree with you 100%!! The way that Catelyn and Sansa are treated by the fandom is in itself, an example of how difficult and unfair the lives of women were in a patriarchal society. Jaime gets a pass even though he tried to kill an 8 year old boy, but Catelyn gets demonized for things that are largely outside of her control.

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  7. I agree with some points you made, but in Martin's work most characters have good traits and bad, you know as in real actual humans, and accepting those flaws is what make good fictional characters.
    I still don't like her though. I don't hate her, like i hate Cersei. you are overlooking some of her negative traits. She doesn't have to beat Jon with stick to mistreat him, her attitude is enough, and book-Jon is 14, and that's just as hurtful, also she always reminds him that he is a bastard.
    Speaking of bastards, she is generally condescending and looking down on people of lower birth, like she did with Mya Stone at the Eyrie, she didn't say anything against her, but in her thoughts she was something along the lines of "I like you well enough, but stay away you low-born bastard"
    I like that she is willing to do anything for her children, but most times she is rush and harsh. She was harsh at Tyrion before she thought that he was responsible for Bran.
    All in all she is a human being and you can't just defend her, while overlooking her failings. That's what makes he intresting though.

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    1. The thing is, there is scant literally evidence of mistreatment. Perhaps she did, but perhaps she didn't, neither of us can be sure as of yet, but what we can be sure of is the fact that the two most common literally pieces cites as evidence of mistreatment are not as they might first appear.

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  8. It's hilarious how the above comment about how Catelyn condescends towards Mya Stone has to invent something that didn't even happen to make it's point. Stay away? Never happened. What Catelyn does think is that Mya Stone reminds her of Jon Snow, and that makes her upset, to remember Jon, but as for Mya herself Catelyn explicitly says -- in her thoughts -- that she has nothing against her. She gives props to Mya's skills and compares Mya's dreamy nature to her own daughter Sansa, and feels bad for her that her dreams won't come true. "Stay away you low-born bastard" my ass. Mya was Catelyn's guide up the mountain, Catelyn treated her perfectly well and the fact that people expect more from such an incidental acquaintance is silly. Is she supposed to invite Mya along on a cruise to Hawaii? She saw Mya, remembered Jon and felt some emotions come up about *HIM*, and that's it.

    Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill.

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    1. Furthermore, Catelyn haters talk about her "looking down on people of low birth" as if that was a trait only exhibited by Catelyn. It's a feudal society for God's sake! Anyone who is highborn would have looked down on small folk. It doesn't make it right. It's just the harsh reality of that world. To demonize Catelyn for something so inconsequential is ridiculous, especially when we have worse examples of cruelty (see Cersei) and unrestrained arrogance and stupidity (see Lysa).

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  9. I've never particularly hated Catelyn. I've never liked her much either however. Personally, I dislike Catelyn because she (like Sansa) is boring to me. She's not unsympathetic, but neither is she particularly sympathetic; her thought processes are not engaging like Tyrion's or Jaime's or Arya's. I understand that this is simply an essay to refute common arguments made against her, but I feel that it requires some tempering.

    On her treatment of Jon Snow:

    I'm not sure if anyone argues that she abuses him, but she certainly neglects him and willfully denies him whenever she can. In ASOS she tried her best not to have Jon inherit Winterfell despite the fact that a) she thought that the rest of her children were dead and b) Jon is Eddard's son, and Winterfell ultimately belonged to Eddard Stark. Would those thoughts have been painful? Yes. But it does not make them less true.

    And as for neglect. Jon's and Benjen's conversation did not have 'Catelyn demanded he be excluded' because they're all rather well cultured people. It did not need to be said explicitly for it to be felt, and Jon is polite enough to have summarized it in a seemingly favorable manner. Remember that in his farewell to Robb he lied about Catelyn's last words to him to spare Robb.

    Added to that, neglect is no small thing to scoff at, and while I don't think Catelyn was particularly cruel to him, indifference can be harsh too. A child needs love, and yeah, not *really* Catelyn's job, but ignoring it isn't really showing off her great character either. While I can understand her hating the sight of him for the first few years, how can she still persist to hate a child after she's watched him grow up? To me it's comparable to Aunt Petunia from Harry Potter, or the villagers and their 'cold glares' from Naruto if you prefer. Their positions are also understandable but nobody must like them.

    On Catelyn's capture of Tyrion:

    I feel like this was her biggest and possibly only mistake in the series. The others I can understand, but this one confounds me. It does not help that this is basically the catalyst for the War of the Five Kings, and I agree that it's this reason that's making it seem worse than it is, but Catelyn is not blameless here.

    You've explained it quite well, but as you've stated, Catelyn is an intelligent woman. She had to have known what Tywin was. Even if she did not, she could have guessed from what she thought she knew about the murders of Jon Arryn, attempted murder of Bran, etc. 'A Lannister always pays its debts' is pretty much the family motto there and did she think that she could just capture Tyrion and experience no consequences? Certainly she might have felt finding Bran's assassin was worth it, but if the Lannisters were reckless enough to try and murder a Stark, and actually murder the Hand of the King, surely they would be reckless enough to actually make her regret taking Tyrion?

    Lastly, a little on Tywin - basically he did gamble, but it was a relatively sound gamble. Funnily enough he couldn't have predicted Jaime, but if it were not for him, Tywin would have captured Eddard Stark and been none the worse for wear. If you recall, he was winning in the Riverlands until Robb came marching through. Tywin states that he does not have time to fight the North, but he can deal with the Tulleys well enough. And about making an alliance with the Tulleys - he doesn't need them. He thinks that he's enough to deal with Stannis, so there's no point in allying with Riverrun. And Robb's terms of peace were never acceptable because the North is about the size of the other six kingdoms combined, and giving up half your kingdom at the start of a new reign is never a good thing.

    So final word is, you've explained Catelyn's actions rather well, but not well enough to arose my sympathies. Thank you for trying however.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. While I do admit that it is possible Catelyn mistreated Jon, and based on a patchwork narrative across several books there does appear to have been something going on, we have no idea what that was. Perhaps she beat him, perhaps she ignored him, perhaps she kissed Robb and hugged Jon, we simply do not know, and yet, people are acting as if they do.

      As for Tywin, my point was pretty much: does things that could go bad or good, they go good, SMART! Whereas Catelyn, does things that could go bad or good, they go bad, WITCH! :)

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  10. As far as the whole Catelyn mistreating Jon thing goes, I don't think we can say she for sure mistreated him but we CAN tell that she didn't like him. And an author doesn't always have to TELL you what is happening so much as SHOW you. I am EXTREMELY biased when it comes to this though. My dad had me out of wedlock with another women before he met my stepmom and then when he married he expected her to mother me. That didn't happen. Instead she is constantly cold and distant towards me but doesn't actually ABUSE me which I think is probably the same way Catelyn is towards Jon. And, yes, it does hurt. Like I said though, I have a very biased opinion on her. Although, I will never forgive Catelyn for capturing Tyrion and releasing Jamie. Just stupid mistakes.

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  11. It's probably too late to say it, but anyway - the OP in the link at the start from the Westeros boards is clearly sarcastic.

    Excellent work anyway, there's way too many really groundless arguments against Catelyn repeated all the time in the fandom. Way too much of the hindsight is 20/20 stuff.

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  12. I dislike Catelyn. Virtually all of the characters have faults and shades of grey and many mistreat others, but the problem I have with Cat is that she tries to deal with everyone generally fairly...except Jon. While she had every right to be angry at Ned she chose to take that anger out on Jon. She makes a glaring exception of this innocent, powerless kid and that really rubs me the wrong way. In my book that makes her a bully.

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  13. Thank you for posting such an intelligent analysis about Catelyn's decisions. I will comment about all the various points you raised:

    1. Catelyn and Jon - You make such excellent points about the nature of Catelyn's relationship with Jon, and the unfair accusations that are levied against Catelyn by the fandom. Catelyn believes Jon to be the result of her husband's infidelity. Although this is not Jon's fault, Catelyn's dislike is perfectly understandable. Considering that Cersei has a vast number of Robert's bastards massacred, I doubt that Catelyn deserves so much contempt simply because she dislike her husband's bastard.

    2. Tyrion's arrest - If Tyrion wasn't such a popular character, I doubt people would think so negatively of Catelyn for arresting him. She has reasonable evidence to suspect Tyrion and the Lannisters. Just because Tyrion is innocent, it doesn't change the fact that the Lannisters DID try to kill Bran. In addition, the reason why Tyrion's arrest goes so terribly wrong is because Lysa botched everything up. I don't know if Lysa's decisions were caused by her insanity or craftily manipulated by Littlefinger from afar (although, this is pure speculation that has not been confirmed by the text). And I completely agree with you where Tywin is concerned. He's just a cruel, vindictive, power-hungry jackass. .

    3. Catelyn & Roose - Another ridiculous and unfair accusation. If Roose betrays the Starks, how is this Catelyn's fault? It's such misogyny! Why is it that some fans find it easier to blame a female character, instead of placing the blame where it belongs. Roose betrayed the Starks. Roose IS the sole responsible for his betrayal, not Catelyn, not Robb. Roose!

    4. Catelyn and Walder Frey - Another unfair accusation. Catelyn made the best possible negotiation given the information she knew. How was she supposed to know that Robb would break the marriage contract? And how is she responsible for Robb's decisions? I don't even think the fans who levy these accusations against her, could have foreseen the aftermath of this negotiation.

    5. Catelyn & the Baratheons - Really?? This is her fault too? First of all, Catelyn tried to bring the Baratheons into the fold. She tried to bring both Stannis and Renly to reason, and both refused to listen to her. Stannis is most at fault for this, heeding Melisandre's advise, and unleashing that abomination to kill Renly. Once Renly was dead, was there really any chance that the Tyrells would join with the North? Somehow, I doubt it. The Starks goal is to become independent from the Seven Kingdoms. Why would the Tyrells be interested in supporting the North's independence? How would that further their goal to make Margaery queen of Westeros? I doubt Mace Tyrell would have settled for making Margaery the Queen of the North, especially since Robb was already promised to the Freys. Again, I don't see any way that Catelyn could have broker a deal with the Tyrells. Given that context, why should Catelyn sacrifice Brienne when she knows she's innocent of Renly's death??

    6. Catelyn and Jaime - This is the only of Catelyn's decisions that I find objectionable. While I agree that the notion that Jaime is "more valuable" than Sansa is extremely sexist, the reality is that Jaime's captivity was the only leverage that the Starks had at the time. Catelyn's decision to release him is very bad judgment. However, I forgive Catelyn for the simple reason that she is grief stricken. Her husband is dead, she believes that Bran and Rickon are dead, Arya is lost and presumed by most to be dead. From Cat's perspective, Robb and Sansa are the only family she has left. I think it's perfectly understandable that in such an emotional fragile state that a mother would do anything to secure the well being of her child. Although I feel like she made the wrong choice by releasing Jaime, I understand her motivations.

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  14. How stupid does Catelyn have to be not to recognise that Jon was Lyanna and Rhaegar's child? Seriously? I'm glad Bran didn't get her stupid genes and his father's fool genes. Instead he is smart and honourable.

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  15. catelyn is the worst. she makes cheap mistakes that someone in her position should not be making. she lacks common sense and forethought and her mistakes get MANY people killed and allow situations to spiral out of control.

    i could really care less about her getting individuals killed. she just seems to be an awful character in terms of her ability to control herself and her situation. especially in comparison to cersei, as a queen or a lady, catelyn is a joke.

    she trusts all the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, and doesnt do what she needs to do.

    she also fails at owning up to how grave the consquences are of her poor choices.

    people hate sansa for the same reasons.

    they also act like whimpering simpering fools most of the time and are pathetic excuses for ladies, females, or authority figures.

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  16. also, just because a female is being blamed doesnt mean its misogyny. learn what words mean.

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  17. Most of your points are valid, although exception could be made based on the fact that your defense of Catelyn switches between her strategic expertise and her emotional state of mind. While certainly a deep character portrait painted by GRRM, we are allowed our dislike of her should she show proficiency in one area and deficiency in another. To wit, if her logicality in treating with Walder Frey and Roose Bolton marks her as having a sound strategic mind then why does she make the abysmal decision to release Jaime Lannister. And abysmal it is, from a strategic standpoint, regardless of the nobility of it.

    Furthermore, I believe we are meant to feel some dislike for Catelyn due to her coldness towards Jon. The rich characters that GRRM are praised for (at least the rich main characters) cannot be universally loved or else they are simply fantasy archetypes. Ned, our paragon of honor, can be disliked for trying to buy the Gold Cloaks, a decidedly dishonorable thing to do. Likewise we can dislike Catelyn for the unfair, although reasonable, coldness towards Jon.

    I am in total agreement, however, that her citizen's arrest of Tyrion was the best decision she could have made given her limited knowledge.

    The fandom's dislike, while somewhat rabid, is justified because like all of A Song of Ice and Fire's characters Catelyn is flawed, and we are allowed to dislike a character's flaws. That being said, your deep reading of Catelyn is commendable as with all of the flawed characters in A Song of Ice and Fire understanding their circumstances and motivations flesh them out as people rather than cardboard cutouts and I do believe we aren't truly meant to wholly dislike or like any of the characters.

    Except the Freys.

    Fuck those guys.

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  18. For me, personally, any time I see the heading "Catelyn" I cringe because I know the next section is going to be boring. It's like I have to pay a toll to read these great stories and this toll is having to read through "Catelyn."

    When I watched the show on TV I was sad they killed her off. Now I will throw myself a little party when that scene happens in the book.

    No.
    More.
    Catelyn.

    Do a little dance.
    Make a little love
    Get down tonight.

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  19. Well I for instance love Sansa, and I can see from her perspective, while I completly despise Catelyn She's just dumb as f**, never thinks in the reprocursions of her acts and acts like a know-it-all. She's worse then cersei in my books. The capture of tyrion and release of Jaime just came to prove how stupid she is. The way she treats Jon, on the other hand is behond me; she could forgive her husband but not the poor child who had nothing to do with it. I wish she had stayed dead as rock -.-

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    1. Worse than Cersei? The person who murdered her childhood friend at the age of 11, abused Tyrion while he was still in his cradle, had her husband's bastards massacred, had numerous people tortured and experimented on by Qyburn (and the list goes on?) No. Just...no.

      Catelyn haters are the absolute worst. Yes, she has flaws and has done some stupid shit. Like every other character in the series. Isn't that one of the main reasons people love George's work, and why his characters get so much praise? Because they're realistic, flawed, actual people who largely can't be defined as "good" or "evil"? Yet Cat is demonized by a large section of the fandom while other characters who have done far, FAR worse things get a free pass. I just don't understand it.

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  20. Catelyn is a judgemental, mean-spirited bitter woman. She had no business blaming Jon for his father's supposed infidelity. It is a special kind of evil person that can mistreat a child. Her words to him when he said goodbye to Bran were unjustifiable. My interpretation of the zombie woman she returns as, is that it's the perfect representation of her cold and evil soul.

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    1. If by special kind of evil you mean your own personalized definition that is unabashedly myopic ... but hey maybe some people are proud of that sort of thing!

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  21. If you read the books, you may agree that... The character, Catelyn Stark, is actually the vilest of characters. One shouldn't fooled by the motherly guise. She has no honor, because she is a ruthless liar, hypocrite, and fraud who ultimately started the war, which even worse, distracted and weakened the kingdoms from the greater threat beyond The Wall. Of course, Jaime was wrong to try to kill Bran. However, Catelyn is catastrophically selfish, impetuous, self-righteous, non-strategic (tactical only), aristocratic, and devoid of a sense of fairness. A cleverer woman, such as Cercei, would have constructed her justice without upsetting all 7 kingdoms and destroying countless lives. Proof of Concept: (1) Littlefinger, not Ned, was her first. No, she was not a "maiden" when she married. (2) Sansa is Littlefinger's daughter. She was unfaithful to Ned and has a bastard child as well! She manipulated Ned through his guilt of infidelity to allow her mistreatment of Jon Snow, and carried her big secret to the grave, which sets Sansa up for possible incest. Was it so impossible to raise infant John Snow as her own? She hated Jon since a baby and beyond his leaving to become a Crow. Why would she drive him to take an life's oath to joining the Black, especially considering how much she supposedly valued family. Where is Illyn Payne when you need him most?! Theon was treated better, and look how that worked out for the Stark family. (3) Tyrion has more honor in is “half-man” body than most any knight, high born, or ruler in the 7 kingdoms put together. (4) Catelyn is a terrible mother! She destroyed the well-being of all of her children, and countless others for that matter, in an attempt to avenge damage to one of her children, one of her "favorite" children. What she did was not for Bran, it was for her. Remember, she left him before we woke, because she her revenge could wait no longer. Don’t be fooled that it was to further protect Bran. She made it clear that she’d done all she could for him, and the rest was up to the gods. Then she decides to snatch the opportunity to kidnap Tyrion Lannister while her husband and only 2 daughters are in the Lannister's home, and her husband is The Hand of the king? She's an idiot. Personally, I prefer Joffrey to this dummy. At least he could be managed, even if only by his mother. His petulant cruelties were typically focused on one person at a time, and he was largely coached by his mother to ultimately become her savage avenger atop the throne of ultimate power. Catelyn was a catastrophic prima donna, disguised in semi-drab garb, with a spineless and obtuse husband, Ned Stark. Honor schmonor… the dud allowed Jon to be mistreated by his evil stepmother and denied the Stark name; slayed innocent direwolf, Lady, at the king’s command; decapitated the young Crow who'd warned them that winter truly was coming and some leagues just north of them. He decided when he was feeling self-righteous that it was reasonable stand up to Robert Baratheon, the king. He resigned being The King’s Hand to protect a stranger, Danaerys, (who is awesome and has managed to stay alive all this time, anyway, and may become one of the most destructive forces of all...), but wouldn’t preserve his family by declining the position as The Hand in the first place…misplaced loyalty and greater need to do right than to do what is right. Ned and Cat seem good and innocent, but they are 2 of the worst characters, and the underlying causes of the wars. That’s the genius of George R.R. Martin.

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    1. This is wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to start.

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  22. Stefan, do you consider that wrong by perspective or by fact checking the book? Consider that most conflicts, regardless of scale, begin this way...smaller interests that have a ripple effect. Some say that the road to hell is paved with "good intentions". As for Catelyn and Ned, there is no evil master-rminding, but that does not absolve them of their share of responsibility. An accidental or intentional death, in most courts, comes with a penalty/punishment, and depending on the country, the severity may be the same or different. Of course, your opinion is respected. Who knows, maybe the analysis you commented on is all sorts of wrong, but probably not. Martin's main characters seem meant to be flawed yet compelling. It's almost impossible to unequivocally love OR hate one of the characters, if you have the background knowledge and certain life experiences of your own. As with real people, they are all victims and culprits on some level. However, for me, I love to despise certain characters,i.e., Cat, Cercei, Joffrey, and Tywin. Not sure why some people get so protective of the Starks, especially Cat. The Starks aren't perfect, they just do a great job of appearing that way. You know people just like that, I'd bet. And, I'm not really a betting woman. :-)

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  23. 1) Littlefinger has never slept with Catelyn. That's the first major false assumpation right there. Sansa is therefore not LF's daughter.
    2) Catelyn also doesn't need to construct any reason for her treatment of Jon Snow, which by the way is a pretty far way off from "mistreatement".
    3) Yes he has, but neither Catelyn nor any one else can know that.
    4) Where do you even get these ideas? Catelyn is in paralysis at Bran's bedside because she essentially snaped, and the assassination attempt brings her back to the real world and her responsibilities (Family, Duty, Honor!) which she then resumes.
    The idea to capture Tyrion Lannister isn't dumb at all. It's actually a pretty good way to discern the truth in Westeros. She couldn't exactly factor in what a bad idea it was to bring him to the Eyrie.
    And Ned Stark spineless?! The fuck? And again, Jon Snow wasn't mistreated. He has no claim to the Stark name, and Ned never ever intended him to have one. That was Robb's idea, born out of a desperate war situation. And no one doubts that Ned's actions aren't exactly "clever", but they're not as random as you put it.

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  24. nope. Catelyn is a villain at heart and also dumb.
    She believed she was the smartest, reading her chapters were all about how she's better than everyone else, blaming everyone for every little mistakes they did .
    And i hate Tyrion and find Jon boring.

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