This post will be talking about House Frey, from Game of Thrones. If you’ve never read the books or seen the show… House Frey is a minor noble house that’s headed up by the old and crabby Lord Walder Frey. That’s it. Nothing else to see in this post.
Go read the books, or watch the show.
Go on now. Shoo!
Whew. The last thing I want to do is spoil anyone about the Freys.
So, everyone still reading this is all up-to-date, at least through the Red Wedding? Cool beans.
Defending the Freys – Literally
First off, if you have come to this post expecting me to justify Walder Frey’s betrayal of his leige lord Edmure Tully and King in the North Robb Stark, I am not going to be doing that.
(Although if you want to read something like that, you can find an excellent examination defending Lord Walder Frey on the In Defense blog. It’s an entertaining read and I like all of her defenses of awful characters, as well as character assassinations of fan favorites.)
I find the Freys reprehensible and largely unworthy of defense. But while they invite criticisms of the moral and ethical character, the physical property of their sweet defensive setup at the Twins is admirable.
What bullshit is this? I hear you say. The title of the post is “In Defense of the Freys” !!! What click-bait scam is this?
I’m working a slightly different angle in regards to defense, but if you bear with me, at the end of the article I do try to make a case for why we want the Freys around, as odious as that might seem.
Let me explain the reason behind this post…
I have this friend named Bob. (His actual name.)
Bob hasn’t read the books but he watches the show. He’s a good sport; at the beginning of each season (after the first one), he’d made long lists of predictions speculating on what he thinks will happen.
That’s great, because the plotlines of Game of Thrones are really hard to foresee, and it gives book readers like me a chance to read Bob’s predictions and laugh. Like we do. Smug book readers, we. (We also grade them.)
But I’ll give this to Bob: sometimes he’s kind of prescient. In the first season of the show, when Catelyn Stark made her negotiations with Walder Frey, Bob was not happy. He did not like Walder Frey.
Sure, I mean who does like him? (Okay, in the books I really enjoyed how snarky he was. When I was first reading the series, I imagined that Old Walder would be alongside Robb in the future books, being a pain in the ass, insulting everyone, but still be one of those unpleasant but dependable allies. Boy was I wrong.)
But it wasn’t just that Bob found Walder unpleasant, he couldn’t stand him. He didn’t trust him. He insisted that someone should have come along and wiped out the Freys years before, and took over managing the river crossing.
Me: But, the Twins are pretty well defended. It’s not that easy.
Bob: Nonsense! His neighbors would have ganged up on him long ago.
Bob considered this something that really weakened the entire series. Dragons and supernaturally stable glaciers and the walking dead, Bob’s cool with all that. But he couldn’t accept that obnoxious and vile Walder Frey would be in charge of a bridge for so long.
Bob and I argue about Game of Thrones. A lot.
You can find previous debates that we’ve had on my posts about the Wall, the Night’s Watch oath, the Iron Bank of Braavos, the Sand Snakes, Bronn, etc. (I keep writing posts about Bob’s foolish opinions in the hope that he’ll get his own blog and make fun of me. Then the circle would be complete.)
So I felt that it was time to articulate just why the Freys are so secure in their heavily fortified toll bridge, and why it’s unlikely anyone is going to bother to take it away from them. So now I will defend their existence.
Okay, if you’re not interested in hearing me talk about siege warfare, I understand if you bail now. But I promise I’ll have a weird and hopefully fun section at the bottom of this post that might be worth a chuckle. Trust me, warrior.
(It’s cool if you just jump to the bottom.)
Time to break out a map. Sorry.
The Twins, the seat of Frey power, is essentially a bridge across the Green Fork river.
No one would ever *have* to use the Frey crossing. If you had all the time in the world, to cross from the west Riverlands into the east where the Kingsroad is, one could travel north into the wilderness, past the mouth of the Green Fork. That’s kind of a haul into the middle of nowhere. Or travel south to Riverrun, then take the Kingsroad east to the Trident crossing.
(And of course, the reverse is true, for people east of the Green Fork who want to quickly get to the Riverlands.)
Having to get around the Green Fork makes for a long detour.
Small groups of people probably boat over all the time, but caravans and larger groups would have an easier (and far faster) time using the Frey river crossing. There’s value in the location.
So, my friend Bob would ask, why hasn’t anyone wiped out the Freys? Taken over the spot and collected tolls?
I’ll skip over the fact that had the Twins been manned by pleasant and friendly folk, who were eager to assist Robb Stark and his army, I doubt Bob would be demanding to know why they haven’t been wiped out. Just saying…
Let’s assume that someone wanted to go to the effort of taking the Twins from the Freys, to use for their own financial purposes. How would that go?
Good luck storming the Castle!
The first rule of a siege is to surround the location, to restrict aid coming in, and to prevent people coming out. If your forces aren’t fully controlling the area around a target castle, you are not actually setting up a siege. You’re mostly just having a protest. Possibly a flash mob.
Imagine trying to surround the Twins.
Let’s assume you don’t need to station troops in the river. But you’d still need two armies, one on the east bank of the Green Fork, and one on the west bank. Both groups theoretically should arrive at the same time to block the endpoints of the bridge, and to prevent the Freys from taking advantage of the army en route.
Frey Guard: My lord, there’s an enemy host massing at the eastern bank.
Walder: Send out the men to the west to see where the other half of their army is, we’ll kill their scouts, and lead the host into that valley where we ambushed the Brackens that one time. Send word to the Mallisters. They owe me.
Assuming both armies do arrive in time, both groups will have to be supplied, since the best bet would be to starve out the Freys. The Frey archers don’t have a lot of wall to defend, the river is their wall. So any assaults on the defensive structures will be very focused where the advantage will go to the archers on the walls and behind murder holes.
Looking at the above map, it’s clear to see that the two armies are going to have vulnerable supply lines if the same supply infrastructure is provisioning both hosts. Having two independent supply lines is twice as complicated, expensive, and vulnerable.
This will be a problem for the besiegers when help for the Freys arrive. And it will certainly arrive.
The Riverlands are full of feuding riverlords, and if one of them is busy attempting to capture the Twins, the Freys will soon have an eager ally who has dreamed of sticking it their mutual enemy (and being able to get a cut-rate deal on the next river crossing.)
If the Blackwoods are busy setting up a siege of the Twins, Lord Walder would have already made arrangements for the Brackens to be on the march to help lift the siege (or start razing Blackwood lands.) There’s no question and I will brook no argument.
Things might be different post-Red Wedding. The Freys might be so universally hated that old enemies would make common cause to unite against Lord Walder. But I’m talking Season One here and Bob’s battle plans to bust the Freys.
In any case, the Freys now have a strong alliance with the Lannister forces in the Riverlands, so they’d still be able to expect relief. It might be hard for the Riverlands to field a large enough force, and it would have to be large.
When Catelyn Stark first made her appeal to Walder Frey in Season One, it was clear that the Lord of the Crossing was not impressed with Robb Stark’s forces.
Lord Walder: Why are you here?
Catelyn: To ask you to open your gates, my lord. So my son and his bannermen can cross your bridge and be on their way.
Lord Walder: Why should I let him?
Catelyn: If you would climb your own battlements you would see that he has twenty thousand men outside your walls.
Lord Walder: There’ll be twenty thousand corpses when Tywin Lannister gets here.
The wording is interesting.
Not “when Tywin Lannister gets here, there’ll soon be twenty thousand corpses” or “after Tywin Lannister gets here” – the meaning is that Robb and his men need to take the Twins soon, and Robb doesn’t have the manpower or the positional advantage to do that. All he can do is try an all out assault, with his men funneling into a slaughterable group.
Tywin’s troops wouldn’t even have to do much when they arrived. Clearly, Walder Frey feels he’s in a very good position.
Tywin Lannister thought the same thing. He didn’t even consider Robb being able to make a deal with Walder Frey, and assumed that there would be no way he could force his way across the Green Fork. He planned on Robb coming down the Kingsroad with his northern host, which made Robb’s march on Jaime a complete surprise.
So, if I can answer Bob’s question as to why no one has taken over the Twins?
Because it’d be a giant pain in the ass and wildly expensive in regards to the logistics and lives lost. Just to save some bucks on going across the river? Just pay the toll, dude.
A Reason To Not Wipe Out Walder Frey
Okay, I’ll actually try to give a compelling reason that, even though we hate the Freys for the Red Wedding, it might be in everyone’s interest that Lord Walder be left alone.
The actor, David Bradley, who plays Lord Walder Frey, is also on the FX show The Strain. Bradley plays an old vampire hunter.
He’s pretty badass. And he’s old and kind of crabby. It’s hard not to think of him as Walder Frey, fighting vampires in New York City.
Although Westeros isn’t under assault by weird biohazard worm-centric vampires, they do have a major undead problem looming in the North.
Walder Frey is so old, for all I know he was alive during the last Big Winter when the Others were on the march. (He wasn’t, that was thousands of years ago. But I like thinking of Walder Frey as a crotchety old immortal.)
With the Night’s Watch completely unprepared for the army of the dead, we have to consider that the Others are going to be spilling into the North, and that the new Bolton regime won’t be able to organize the people under the banner of the Flayed Men and stop their advance.
And that they’d continue south as Winter falls.
Frey Guard: Lord Walder! An army of the dead have been sighted in the north, marching through Moat Caillin and out of the Neck..
Lord Walder: Finally! It’s about time. Time to open up my secret weapon vaults.
Frey Guard: What? The Chamber of Secrets? Those vaults have never been opened in living memory!
Lord Walder: Not in your memory, you insolent pup. Don’t ask questions, just do as I command. I have Seven Kingdoms to save. (Not that they’ll thank me.)
In my fanciful conjectures, it might be important for undead-fighting Walder Frey to coordinate the defense of the realm once the Night’s King and his horde pass south of the swamps and into the Riverlands.
We might have to be rooting for the Freys to be a tactical obstacle to the Others. (Unless people want to root for the Others. I’m not judging them. No, I’m not. Maybe a little.)
But it would be so typical of George RR Martin to set up an unpleasant situation that we resign ourselves to root for, and then have it all be undone.
Maester: A raven from the Twins, Lord Commander.
Ser Jaime: Ah, Lord Walder reports. The Others split their forces at the mouth of the Green Fork, and tried to flank the Twins, but the Freys somehow destroyed the horde on the western riverbank. (He’s cagey just on how they did that.) Our forces can use the Twins as a staging platform against the wight army going down the Kingsroad.
Maester: Very good, Lord Commander. But here’s another raven from the Twins.
Ser Jaime: Arya Stark has killed Walder Frey. What? Arya Stark! The Freys are in a panic and have lost control of the Twins. Well that’s not good.
Hopefully, it won’t come to that. I prefer my Freys dead, with no regrets on their deaths.
Except for Fat Walda, I like her and feel sorry for her for being married to Roose Bolton. And I also like Roslin Frey. It’s hard to believe that Walder Frey is actually her father…
Okay, we have just under two months until Season Six airs, and we’ll see how much Frey pie we’re served up. (Right, book readers?)
And maybe we’ll see some Frey vs. a particular undead. (We book readers keep hoping and hoping…)
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) David Bradley in his role as Abraham Setrakian is from the Strain on the FX network.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved