Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from the Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment in the post, ask in the POIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
One word on spoilers: we assume that you read all the books, including the Hedge Knight short stories, and watched the current TV episodes. We don't include the spoiler chapters from various sources in the discussion, with the notable exception of Theon I, which was supposed to be in "A Dance with Dragons" anyway.
And now, up to ruling 11 of the Supreme Court of Westeros! Our guest judge this week is Mark Adamec, Boiled Leather and Nerdstream Era super fan.
What plan does Stannis have with the Black Gate?
Main opinion: Stefan
You know, until your question I totally forgot that Stannis has knowledge of the gate. But Sam also doesn’t waste a thought on it after “A Storm of Swords”. I think if Stannis has a plan involving the gate, it’s on freezer for now (heh), because, you know, he has a war to fight. I’d guess he simply acknowledges its existence as a sally port for the moment, especially considering that his seat, the Nighfort, currently doesn’t sport a gate through the Wall. Perhaps he imagines that he could mount a sally when the Others or the Wildlings attack Castle Black (again), but I don’t think there’s a masterplan to which the gate is essential. Perhaps he posted a guard there, so no one comes in. Should the theory of Stannis as Nightking turn true despite my interpretation, the Black Gate could serve as a detector and deny him passage. But other than that, I wouldn’t expect much for the near future.
Concurring Opinion Amin:
The Black Gate is one of those elements that seem more appropriate in another fantasy series, but Martin slips in there without us noticing or protesting too much. I agree with Justice Stefan on the potential tactical value and can’t think much beyond that for other uses for Stannis. It would be interesting to know whether a single Night’s Watch defector could potentially lead Wildlings or even Others through the Gate (if the latter could even get through an open gate while the Walll is standing) or if the Gate has a way to determine that the person has defected. How exactly it fits into the general “tree-net” is also interesting: whether it has a connection to the personality of a greenseer and whether it connects up with the general tree-net accessed by Bloodraven or it is truly an independent node.
Concurring opinion: Marc Adamec
So I think the only black gate Stannis is pondering now is the one the shadow babies come from. Sorry about that, had to. I agree with the Judge, Stannis isn’t worried about the wall at this point.
Final Verdict: There are no real plans for Stannis for the gate. He will use it if the opportunity presents itself.
What if Bran was never pushed from the window?
Main opinion: Stefan
Man, that changes everything. Bran will go to King’s Landing, and everyone remains oblivious to the knowledge of Cersei’s and Jaime’s incest for a while. In King’s Landing, Bran will spend his days training and climbing and perhaps mending the rift between Arya and Sansa, who knows? Catelyn will remain with Robb and Rickon. There will be no assassination attempt. The latter one is the most important factor, by the way - no Catelyn in King’s Landing means no abduction of Tyrion on the road, no reunion with Littlefinger and Eddard keeping his reservations about the guy. The events of “A Game of Thrones”, as Steven Attewell has shown perfectly, rely on a very carefully crafted series of events. The slightest change does haywire to the plans of Varys, Littlefinger and Cersei. Without the search for the dagger and Littlefinger’s maneuvers, Eddard might guess earlier that Jon Arryn died because he found out that Cersei and Jaime boned each other, Robert is not hunting then, and the Lannisters are done for. Or not. Perhaps Cersei acts faster and gains yet another hostage in Bran. If the coup still takes place, one thing is certain: Robb will not act like in the Original Time Line because he has Catelyn there from the start, and with Bran in captivity too besides the girls she might advise an entirely different course. Eddard will then take the Black, and because Robb has never marched, the peace negotiations will be easier. Or not. The point is this: the whole story relys on narrative cogs clicking into each other at precisely the right moment. Remove one, or add one, and the whole machinery changes. The consequences are unforseeable.
Concurring opinion: Amin
I agree with Justice Stefan’s general assessment. This event is pivotal and so early in the Game of Thrones timeline that it changes so much of what as happened. And yet, like previous weeks “what if?” situation, there are general plans undergoing that might adapt to this changed timeline. We know that Varys and Littlefinger had their overall plans going, with Varys trying to delay (for now) and Littlefinger try to accelerate the upcoming conflict between House Stark and House Lannister, as well as the unstable Cersei-Robert situation. These conflicts need to be resolved one way or another, and it may be that some sort of war happens in many of the alternate timelines.
Concurring opinion: Marc Adamec
The one character in the books that I think has a...fixed destiny is Bran. Even without falling from the climbes of Winterfell I belive Bloodraven would find a way to get him to the human tree fort that is Brynden Rivers.
Final Verdict: Bran's fall changes everything. It's impossible to say exactly what would have happened, but we can point to things that do not happen.
What if Ned refused to be Hand?
Main opinion: Stefan
The case here is a bit clearer than with Bran’s fall. Eddard’s not going to King’s Landing has one immediate consequence: the Lannisters remain unchallenged in the South and Tywin becomes Hand. The North becomes totally isolationist, and the friendship with Robert is done. There might be conflict further down the road, but most likely, relations will simply freeze (heh). Robert will remain king and alive, because no one investigates, so no incentive to kill him. Tywin will reign in Joffrey. Stannis might bide his time too long. When Dany and Aegon arrive, Ned will honor his obligations and go to war, but more importantly, he will send investigators north when Benjen disappears, and when Jon sends word about the whights, Winterfell will most likely support the Watch, because they are there and there is no war to fight. The Great Ranging doesn’t happen, at least not in that way, and if it does happen, its outcome will be different (a northern power available to hold the Wall). One could say that Robert doomed the realm by making Ned Hand in more ways than one.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Amin
I agree with Justice Stefan that the situation on the Wall would be generally improved, though it is interesting to note that Jon might not have gone to the Wall or at least not in the relevant timeframe if Ned remains in Winterfell. Ned would still support the Wall, but perhaps Jon is specifically needed at the Wall, because more men would help, but something more than men may be needed for ultimate victory according to the requirements of prophecy. And perhaps Jon would have made it to the wall regardless. I am not sure if Robert would have lived indefinitely, as Varys himself speculates that “Robert was becoming unruly, and she needed to be rid of him to free her hands to deal with his brothers.” What Ned would have done in the conflict would have been interesting, as he technically should support Joffrey but Stannis would have sent him word about Joffrey’s alleged bastardry.
Dissenting: Marc Adamec
This one is harder to figure. He sort of has to take the Handship for plot maneuvering. But let’s say Ned refused and Robert heads back to Kings Landing bitter as fuck. I only see that ending with Tywin as the new hand. And shortly after Robert is assasinated...ugh, I guess the story would suck?
Final Verdict: Better for the Wall, but unforeseeable for the rest of Westeros.