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Sunday, 09 June 2013

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Doctor Memory

The Boltons deserve no credit. They're the North Koreans of the ASoIaF universe: a useful tool for the superpower that controls them, but insane on their own merits. (Or if you prefer a less contemporarily fraught metaphor, they're the early S.A. to the Nazi party: useful shock troops who in all likelihood will be purged the moment their ambition outstrips their usefulness.)

But the Lannisters? For a while after reading the books, my favorite argument-bait amongst my fellow nerds was to insist in all seriousness that Tywin Lannister is the clear hero of the books, and of "A Game of Thrones" most especially.

Consider the context: Westeros is facing what many believe will be the worst winter in living memory, and worse yet an imminent invasion from the north by the Others. Meanwhile for the last few centuries the "weapons stockpile" of aerial fire-breathers (easily the single best way to combat the Others) has been dwindling down to nothing, and (due to inbreeding and bad judgment) simultaneously the legitimacy of the Targaryean dynasty. Then Robert's Rebellion gets rid of the Mad King, but Jaime Lannister has a fatal attack of conscience and actually allows Baratheon and Stark to live long enough to claim the Iron Throne. (Which, given the behavior of Tywin's bannermen in the sack of King's Landing, I think we can assume was Not The Plan At All.) Robert turns out to be nearly as useless as a leader, and the kingdom stagnates and draws apart while it needed to be laying in supplies and forging alliances overseas.

And as much as the Starks keep mournfully intoning that Winter is Coming, they are largely farmers who are attempting to hunker down for the winter, and are not only taking no steps to re-arm the North and the Watch; quite the opposite actually. Ned Stark in particular is a disaster as the Hand of the King: unable to rein in Robert's fiscal and policy excesses, and allowing his wife to kidnap the heir of a rival family while blundering through an investigation of the previous Hand's death, sparking a disastrous civil war which drags on for years before the Starks finally lose decisively.

Of the real contenders for power at the time of Robert's death, only Tywin Lannister has both the understanding that a militarily united kingdom is an absolute necessity, and the combination of existing wealth, power and tactical skills to actually pull it of. The single best thing that could have happened to Westeros would have been for the Starks to immediately sue for peace.

mxyzptlk

Wake Up Dolores, That Train Don’t Stop Here. If the Lil’ King of Everything got his way, the Wicked Rain of Castemere would wash away everything but the Bare Necessities, leaving the kingdoms on the Short Side of Nothing, and there’d never be Peace. House Targaryen and House Stark would be left like Two Dogs and a Bone, looking at The Mess We’re In and wondering Is That All There Is?

(you might have already seen that.)

mxyzptlk

Doctor Memory, that's an interesting argument. Let me play with it a bit:

Regarding the Wall and the oncoming horrors, wasn't the Wall/Night's Watch considered part of the common good for centuries and supported by all the kingdoms, almost like a utility? And as the warm seasons persisted, the Night's Watch received less and less support, to the point that it was left up to the North to maintain the Wall. And the North, no matter who leads it (Starks, Karstarks, etc.), is the most sparsely populated of all the kingdoms. So it's hard to blame them for not maintaining the Night's Watch and the Wall up to code when they don't have -- and never had -- the requisite manpower (or its attendant wealth) to keep the Wall as strong as it was 200 or 300 years ago.

If Tywin was really concerned about any threats north of the Wall, and he's really that smart militarily, why not use his authority and political power to organize the proper support needed at the wall to make sure any possible threats stay north of the wall? If the argument is that Tywin is the best leader for the oncoming winter, he's a little late on that front.

Furthermore, if Westeros is facing a threat requiring combined military strength, who would be a better leader and organizer of military might, Tywin Lannister or Robert Baratheon? Baratheon proved he wasn't much during peacetime, but he was pretty successful as a warlord -- the Churchill of Westeros. And had Tywin left Baratheon and Ned Stark alone, who would be in a better position to call on Robert Baratheon to organize the kingdoms into a united military front against a threat from north of the Wall than Ned Stark? By orchestrating those two deaths, Tywin eliminated the two leaders best positioned to actually organize a joint military force that could manage an invading front. Tywin, by virtue of his past vacillations when it comes to his loyalties, could never command enough respect to bring together enough of the seven kingdoms to create the necessary military force.

But if we go back to the beginnings of Game of Thrones and question why Ned Stark taken from the North to begin with, it has Tywin's fingerprints all over them. He's invested in getting his progeny on the throne, but that becomes problematic when the previous Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, discovers that not only are Robert and Cersei's children not really Robert's, but that there are others with more claim to be Robert's heir than Joffrey. Since the Hand of the King is the real power behind the throne, it stands to reason that Jon Arryn did his job well enough to cop on to Tywin's long con; if he hadn't, Tywin wouldn't have been found out, and Jon Arryn wouldn't have been silenced.

This suggests the Lannister's are more concerned with acquiring and maintaining personal power than they are with the well-being of Westeros. Had Ned Stark remained in the North and Robert on the iron throne, Stark would have seen the threats on the way as more Wildings moved south, could have alerted King's Landing, the urgency of that existential threat would have lit a fire under Baratheon's fat ass to be a warrior again (the one thing he's better at than anyone else in Westeros), and the Wall most likely would have been re-staffed, re-stocked, and properly supported.

In other words, I think you present an interesting argument, but I don't see enough evidence to suggest Tywin is actually more concerned about the land than he is about covering up his family's past indiscretions and consolidating regional power. Because if he or his family were found out, what legitimacy he's bought would be lost.

/nerdmode

Doctor Memory

MXYZPTLK: yeah, it's an argument that works best if you've only read the first book or seen the first season of the show. By the time AFFC rolls around, it's crystal clear that Tywin is not without his own massive tactical blinkers (especially as regards his own children, but also completely overestimating his ability to play both the Tyrells and the Martells) and is missing the greater strategic picture viz the North just as much as anyone else in Westeros.

(Well, except arguably Stannis, but when last we checked in with him, it was unclear if Stannis' army was even a match for the rump Bolton force occupying Winterfell, nevermind the Army of Darkness unleashed by Ash, oh wait, sorry, wrong movie.)

Still, it's hard to argue the point that of all of the policy options for the just-barely-united kingdoms of Westeros to pick on the eve of the worst winter ever, a multi-way civil was was by a long yard the worst possible one. Any other option, including both total capitulation to the Lannisters and for that matter restoring Viserys to the Iron Throne, would have left the realm in better shape.

mxyzptlk

I just wanted to make it clear that I wrote my post 15 minutes before the third season finale aired, and in that episode Tywin pretty much went ahead and admitted personal and family power and reputation are more important than anything else. And so did Balon Greyjoy. And so did Walder Frey. And like Balon, Stannis was about to put the idea of family ahead of an actual member of his family, until he got word that the white walkers were approaching the wall and they were all frozen toast. And all of them know they can't unite what's left of the different kingdoms to do much of anything about it. Bet they wish they had a Robert Baratheon to whip the lords into line and a fearless Stark family guarding the north now.

But you're right -- after just the first book, because Tywin's so shadowy and behind the scenes, I think you could push the case that he's the hero of A Game of Thrones. He's at least the most successful.

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