This post will be talking about Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. There will be spoilers here if you’re not caught up with the show. Or if you’re only reading the books, because we’re past the printed page, mostly. Fair warning.
Although the last half of the sixth season featured dragons unleashed in Essos, crazy battlefield action in the North, and some political pyrotechnics in King’s Landing, I was happy that at least some of show’s dramatic hooks took place in the Riverlands, where dangling threads from the Stark vs Lannister conflict from the earliest seasons were woven back together.
To me, almost all the really cool stuff in the series has happened in the Riverlands. (I know I’m exaggerating slightly. Please bear with me…)
Time is flowing like a river. Let’s go upstream…
In all of the Seven Kingdoms, if a major fight was going to break out, the most likeliest place would be the Riverlands. It’s always been kind of a rough neighborhood.
For starts, the Riverlands has the most neighbors with whom to have a squabble.
If we count Ironman’s Bay as a border with the Iron Islands (and we should… they have boats!) then the Riverlands touches every kingdom but Dorne and the Stormlands.
So many roads to make marching in armies convenient, so many chances to bump into hostile armies coming from another direction. It’s no wonder that back during Robert’s Rebellion, almost all of the major fighting happened inside the Riverlands, from Stony Sept and the Battle of the Bells, to the Trident where Rhaegar fell.
Stannis: Riverlands, harrumph! I held Storm’s End! IN THE STORMLANDS!
Me: Yes, yes. You’re right. Some fighting happened in the southeast.
Jaime: I seem to remember urban conflict happening in King’s Landing, actually.
Me: Whatever, Kingslayer.
Arthur Dayne: Don’t forget the Dornish Marches where Rhaegar’s vacation hideaway Tower of J-
Me: FINE! (But seriously Dayne, that was a battle between 10 men. Step off.)
Fighting happened throughout the Seven Kingdoms during the Rebellion, but the Riverlands saw most of the large scale major battles, with some of the River houses fighting for the rebels, and some of the houses fighting for the crown. (House Darry was definitely in the camp of Targaryen loyalists, since Ser Willem Darry protected the last living children of Aerys – Viserys and Daenerys – and smuggled them out of Dragonstone and off to Essos.)
In the previous seasons of Game of Thrones, the bulk of military clashes took place in the Riverlands –
Stannis: Except for Blackwater and the Battle at the Wall! Both of those were mine!
Me: Aren’t you dead?
– with of course the exception of Stannis Baratheon’s failed siege at Kings Landing, the dooming of thousands of Wildlings to be turned into wights when Stannis blocked their desperate migration south of the Wall, and Stannis First of his Name’s ridiculous and comical defeat by the Boltons at Winterfell.
Me: Have I covered all of your triumphant actions, your Grace?
Stannis: Grrrr *grinds teeth so loud, my dogs start whimpering*
As a reminder, Tywin Lannister sent Gregor “the Mountain the Rides” Clegane with a small force into the Riverlands to indiscriminately terrorize and rampage, as reprisal for Catelyn Stark arresting Tyrion Lannister.
This prompted Ned Stark to deploy Beric Dondarrion and a force of men to interdict the Mountain. But in addition to Clegane’s men, the Dondarrion expedition ran into a huge Lannister army that had entered the Riverlands for some earnest warfare. Dondarrion was killed.
Dondarrion just didn’t stay dead. Relentlessly so.
Then Robb Stark and the northmen came down into the Riverlands, outmaneuvered Tywin by making a pact with the Freys, lifted the siege of Riverrun, and rallied the river-lords to join with the North against the lions. The Riverlands effectively seceded from the Seven Kingdoms along with the North.
That separation, marked by more and more successes by Team Stark in pushing out the Lannisters, lasted until the Red Wedding social event when the combined forces loyal to Robb Stark were betrayed, and the loyal-to-the-crown Freys were granted control of the Riverlands.
Lannisters returned as crown-approved peacekeeping forces, and began to run wild in the region. This ended up becoming a problem for the Lannisters as Riverlands refugees streamed into King’s Landing. And got religion.)
Those are some sustained levels of conflict, pretty much spanning all of the seasons on the show.
Time is flowing like a river. Meaningwhile, on the Riverbank…
The back end of this season illustrated that the Riverlands had not been pacified by the Frey good name or the Lannister peacekeepers. Blackfish Tully had recaptured Riverrun which was not just a symbolic victory. Had the siege stretched on until the arrival of Winter, maintaining it would be a complicated situation at best. The longer a Tully was seated at Riverrun, the less likely the Freys would have any sway over the land as the legitimate overlords when Spring returned.
The Mallisters of Seagard and the Blackwoods were already testing the limits of the Freys by rebelling (or possibly they had never been properly brought to heel after the Red Wedding) and the smallfolk of the land were being encouraged to defy the establishment by the persistently hard-to-root-out Brotherhood without Banners. (The good members at least. Those who hadn’t descended into banditry.)
But Riverrun’s rebellion was handled (nearly) bloodlessly by Jaime Lannister, who was so motivated against putting Brienne of Tarth in danger that he brought his A-game in pressuring Edmure Tully to order the castle to stand down. This was a temporary boost to the Frey stock, but Ser Jaime gave a frank assessment to the presumptive overlord of the embattled region: the Freys were weak custodians of the authority in the Riverlands. The Lannisters were the real power.
And then the head of Hydra, I mean the Freys, was neutralized by Arya. Agent of S.T.A.R.K.
Which makes the future of the Riverlands interesting to consider, not only with this blow to the Freys but also when taking into account Cersei’s sudden rise to power and how she accomplished her ascent. (By climbing on Littlefinger’s Ladder of Chaos.)
So, Season Seven and the Riverlands. What’ll be happening?
I assume Hot Pie is still making bread at the Crossroads.
Arya was last seen at the Twins and I believe she has a destiny with the Hound, and a prophesied reunion with a certain Red Priestess of R’hllor who ended Season Six riding south in exile. (South of the North is the Riverlands.)
I’ll be shocked if Brienne and Podrick Payne don’t boat down into some of these characters. So there should be plenty of opportunities for scenes in the Riverlands.
But I don’t want to get tied down with who is traipsing about. I want to talk about the future of the Riverlands in regards to the political situation in the Seven Kingdoms.
The Riverlands has never had its own king, the region has always been a collection of feuding, squabbling lords, zealously controlling their river crossings and access to mills and other river-based industries. The only time there’s been a king about, it’s either been a foreign conqueror (Black Harren, the Ironborn king and his formidable but doomed keep at Harrenhal) or when the river lords followed House Tully into secession with the North, acknowledging Robb Stark as an alternative to the various Baratheons or faux-Baratheons like Joffrey. But there has never been someone analogous to a River King.
I don’t think that will change anytime soon. But it is pretty clear that the pacification of the Riverlands has failed. Rebellion is a given with the Freys now headless and Queen Cersei’s legitimacy of authority practically non-existent beyond the reach of her soldiers. She’ll be needing those swords against the south.
As much as I’d like to see the Riverlands declare their independence (I’d timed this post in regards to the recent July 4th US Indepedence Day celebration) that’s unlikely to happen. Or be something that lasts. Unless Dany takes over, and this occurs:
Dany: Being queen is awesome.
Yara: Can I be a queen over on the Iron Islands?
Riverlands Envoy: Hey, can the Riverlands be independent too?
Dany: Sure! Whatever makes you happy!
Tyrion: Didn’t I talk to you about this?
Assuming the #Rexit party doesn’t get its way and the Riverlands continue to be part of a larger geo-political entity, they do have some options on who they’d like to be allied with. They tied themselves to the North once before, when the King in the North had a force in the area to help maintain their mutual sovereign status, but Jon the Snow King will not likely be able to look southwards with the imminent threat of the Others coming from the top of the map.
I’m sure Euron Greyjoy would be delighted if the Riverlanders somehow lost their minds and agreed to resume being a vassal state, like they were 300 years before until Aegon changed all that. But they’d probably be in a better position to declare for Daenerys.
I expect there are some old and musty dragon tapestries that can be pulled out of storage.
Whoever wins the Iron Throne, if the throne even matters 13 television-hours from now, it would probably be wise of the monarch to royally extend the Crownlands to include the Riverlands, effectively creating an executive buffer zone between the various kingdoms as well as increasing the influence of the crown, politically and financially.
It might make for a more stable situation for the region. Part of the obstacles in the first season of the show (and the analogous first book) was Tywin Lannister’s disregard for the sovereignty of the Riverlands, opting to pursue extra-judicial reprisal against the Tullys as a reaction to Tyrion’s arrest.
(That still seems suspicious. It’s possible that Tywin assumed Robert wouldn’t object too strenuously and would rather ignore than react to the Lannisters, but if I was Tywin, I don’t know if I’d risk my head to the reluctance of a man who owed me a lot of money and could achieve debt forgiveness by accusing me of being an enemy of the realm. It’s almost like Tywin knew Robert would not be a problem for long.)
It’s one thing to march an army into another peer-province, breaking the King’s Peace (which might not get a reaction from the king.) It’s another thing entirely to invade royal territory. I’m not exactly sure the existing river-lords would go for this repartitioning plan. It might help to do something symbolic on behalf of the countryside.
Ideally, something that I would love to see would be the restoration of the huge, ruined castle of Harrenhal. Since it was destroyed by the first Targaryen conquest, and since King’s Landing is not quite as cool as it used to be now that Cersei Lannister has been blowing stuff up, I think it would be a nice contrast (assuming Dany takes over) for a Targaryen to build up something that they’d broken before. (And make Casterly Rock figure out how to finance the urban renewal of the capital.)
Harrenhal is kind of a white elephant. It’s a ruin, too huge for an individual lord to really restore. It’s an honor to be granted the surrounding lands, since the incomes would be good, but… it’s such an eyesore. Being re-architected would show the crown’s investment and interest in the Riverlands.
Littlefinger is currently the lord of Harrenhal, so I’d prefer he be stripped of that title before any construction contracts get signed. And stripped of other things. Like his life. (Not a fan of the Baelish, yo.)
Time for a random poll!
Okay, full disclosure: I have selfish reasons for wanting to see Harrenhal restored to its glory. People who were following my blog before the sixth season started up might have noticed my articles relating to a Game of Thrones concept album, called SEVEN. I so relentlessly promoted the album that the artist, Haley Bowery, granted me Harrenhal. Don’t believe me?
So, that’s my property! (At least in my head-canon.) If it gets a make-over, that just improves my position in the game of thrones. Winning!
Alright, we’re now entering the hiatus between the sixth and seventh seasons, and my Game of Thrones blogging efforts have begun again. I’ll be cranking out a new blog post every two weeks until 2017, when I’ll go weekly until the new season.
I think I have some entertaining and offbeat articles planned to kill the time between seasons. This is a kind of therapy for me, and I hope it’s enjoyable for my blog readership as well.
I’ll let you know when I’m ready to have a big party at Harrenhal. That’ll be happening. I’m hoping to get an excellent band.
(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.) The map of the seven kingdoms, featuring the Riverlands was found via Google, but I think the source was here: http://gisetc.com/the-maps-of-game-of-thrones/
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
*”Not every story is true” is a quotation from the lyrics for Summer, the final track on SEVEN. That’s a Bran-centric song, but seemed a legit thing for Brienne as well.
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