Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When Women Play the Game: Catelyn Stark

Note: I previously wrote on Catelyn Stark over at Nerdy Pop, but I thought I'd post a more detailed analysis of her character here at Anything You Can Do.

Catelyn and Sansa by Martina Cecilia
In the TV series especially, Catelyn Stark is seen as a shrew in the beginning.  As the show progresses, she becomes more like her character in the book.  While she never felt like Winterfell was her home during her marriage to Ned Stark, she longs for it after her Ned had died.  To her, family is everything, and she will fight with her all until they are all together again.  Her family is her life.  She tells Brienne in A Clash of Kings: “As hard as birth can be, Brienne, what comes after is even harder. At times I feel as though I am being torn apart. Would that there were five of me, one for each child, so I might keep them all safe” (Chapter 45).


Catelyn Stark had her own journey of justice once she receives a letter from her sister Lysa, accusing the Lannisters of killing Jon Arryn.  It had not been until Bran had been attacked for the second time that Catelyn took to truly delving into her investigation of Bran’s fall and subsequently Jon Arryn’s death.  This time, she had as proof a long blonde hair in the keep from which Bran fell and a knife that was meant for Bran’s death and rather was intercepted by her hand.  Her investigation led her to consult with Ned and Petyr Baelish.  Littlefinger knew exactly which Lannister the knife belonged to: he had won it in a bet from Tyrion but had not seen it recently.  That was proof enough for her to verify what she had suspected, that one of the Lannisters had attempted to kill her son.  And so Catelyn holds Tyrion prisoner and takes him to the Vale, unknowing that Tyrion had designed a contraption that would allow Bran to ride a pony.  At the Vale, she seeks her sister’s judgment on his guilt, for she, too, had accused the Lannisters of murdering her husband.

But once he saw her sister, she knew she had made a grievous error.  Lysa’s mental instability nearly claimed the innocent Tyrion’s life.  Now, Catelyn knew there would be great consequences for actions and possibly for the Vale as well.  Where the Lannisters use violence, ruthlessness and backstabbing to defeat their enemies, Catelyn uses truth, honor, and justice to bring her enemies down.  This tactic, though, has not done her any favors because not many others hold such value.

Not only does her investigative journey include that of justice but that of secrecy.  Catelyn pieces together the reasons for everyone’s actions: Stannis’ capture of Robert’s bastard Edric Storm to parade through the streets as proof that Joffrey is not Robert’s.  That the Imp staged Jaime’s release under the coverage of an envoy.  That Bran knew of Cersei and Jaime’s incestuous relationships.  That Petyr Baelish just may have lied to her about the dagger that was meant to kill Bran.  She also seeks to find out who Tansy is, the woman of whom her father speaks on his death bed (though tansy is an herb used for abortions).

An emotional journey, like the rest of the POV characters, also marks Catelyn’s chapters, though it’s less a journey and more an avalanche.  At the beginning of the books, she is warm, as symbolized by keeping her marriage bed warm while Ned is away in the cold thinking and praying.  Though she is cold and aloof to Jon Snow, she tolerates him to stay in Winterfell.  It’s this matter that many see her as a shrew and a horrible character from the start.  She could not take her anger out on Ned, but she did so on his bastard, though Jon had no part in the affair.  When the Lannisters attempt to kill her son Bran, she turns into the mother she-wolf as Ned is away.  She will do anything to protect her children.  Summer attacking the assailant is very much a symbol of Catelyn’s rage and embodiment of her own inner wolf.  Day and night, she sat beside the comatose Bran.  Despite her unwillingness to leave her children, she knew the trial of a Lannister would protect her children in the long run.  She was sure of the unfortunate fate that would befall the Lannisters. 
As she traveled to the Eyrie to allow her sister Lysa justice on the Lannisters, her guide to the Eyrie was a bastard girl named Maya Stone, reminding Catelyn of Jon Snow.  She quite liked the girl but held pity for her, as she would never have the happy ending she so desired from the boy she loved.  She also held slight disdain for her as a bastard for that reminder of what bastards do to those who have been wronged, such as she had been.  Catelyn was brought up to strictly adhere to court social rules, which she dutifully followed in being arranged to marry Branden Stark then Eddard.  She ran the Tully castle like any proper lady would after her mother’s death.  She then taught these rules to Sansa, who, like, her dutifully adhered to them.  Bastards were not part of that; they were a taboo, a stain on the court, at least in the majority of Westeros (Dorne being a clear exception). 

Upon learning on Ned’s death and Sansa and Arya’s captivity in the hands of the Lannisters, Catelyn further fueled her hatred for the Lannisters and hence a vengeance as mother wolf and a determination to reunite her family with her protection.  Robb persuaded her that she must be an emissary to Renly, who holds a great force.  Robb would see the defeat of the Lannisters to protect their family once and for all.  “Fate drives me south and south again, Catelyn thought as she sipped the astringent tea, when it is north I should be going, north to home. She had written to Bran and Rickon, that last night at Riverrun. I do not forget you, my sweet ones, you must believe that. It is only that your brother needs me more” (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 22).  Then word of her father Hoster Tully being on his death bed led her to Riverrun.  It was there, in her homeland, that she learned of Bran and Rickon’s deaths after her own father’s.  This led to a downward spiral. 

All her hopes now lie with Robb, and so she places all her energy and focus in his military campaign for the crown.  When she does, she advises as a Tully and not as a Stark.  She does not voice her concerns and knowledge through what she’s learned from Ned because what good did that do Ned and his kin when they died and her father, uncle, and brother yet lived?  She dwelled on that very thing in chapter 45 of A Clash of Kings:

“Our duty.” Catelyn’s face was drawn as she started across the yard. I have always done my duty, she thought. Perhaps that was why her lord father had always cherished her best of all his children. Her two older brothers had both died in infancy, so she had been son as well as daughter to Lord Hoster until Edmure was born. Then her mother had died and her father had told her that she must be the lady of Riverrun now, and she had done that too. And when Lord Hoster promised her to Brandon Stark, she had thanked him for making her such a splendid match.

And again in the same chapter: “Osmynd, my father, Uncle Brynden, old Maester Kym, they always seemed to know everything, but now there is only me, and it seems I know nothing, not even my duty. How can I do my duty if I do not know where it lies?”  She thinks she doesn’t know anything, but she does.  She offers far greater advice than many in Robb’s council.

Catelyn has come into her own as a Tully and has become a threat to her enemies.  They know the mark of Catelyn on certain events, influencing Robb.  Catelyn notes that Arya is the only one of her children that had Stark features.  The rest look like Tullys.  And so it is that the Tully blood runs thick, for Catelyn reverts back to the Tully ways, despite having been a Stark longer than a Tully.  She grew up quickly; she was forced to do so after her mother died.  So when Ned dies, she slowly sheds the fur coats of Winterfell and dons the Tully red and blue, not as a dishonor to Ned, but as a discovery or return of who she is.

Perhaps most important in her journey was her ability to forgive Robb for marrying a  She had arranged his marriage with a daughter of Walder Frey in order for Robb’s army to pass, he had imprisoned her for releasing Jaime, he had married Jeyne Westerling, and she had scorned him for betraying the oath he made Lord Frey and warned him that Frey would retaliate.  He was not a man to be crossed.  She eventually came to accept Robb’s decisions, for it had been done, and he had to make his own mistakes.  She did just as her father had done on his deathbed concerning Lysa, regretting forcing her to abort her baby with Petyr.  When Robb’s life hangs in the balance, she believes all her children are dead, so she gives her life to save his – trading one son for another (Lord Walder Frey’s).  At this point, she had nothing left to live for.  If her death would mean her son’s life to see her plans of the destruction of House Lannister, the crowning of Robb, and the safety of Sansa.
lowborn woman, a daughter of a Lannister bannerman, mirroring Duchess of York Cecily Neville, King Edward IV, and Elizabeth Woodville.

Catelyn Tully by ElinJ
Her honor as a Stark and as a Tully had been a great wisdom.  If only Robb had listened to her, he might be alive and so would she.  Her understanding of politics and customs would be Robb’s reason for her treaty emissary.  As an advisor to Robb’s council, Catelyn does not offer battle tactics but warns of repercussions and effects of any actions.  She attempts to persuade the Baratheon brothers to set aside the crown for now to raise united arms against a common enemy.  She offers that Robb would remain King of the North only and that they can let the people decide who would best fit the crown once the Lannisters are defeated.  She even attempts to mollify them by acting as the mother they no longer have.  “Listen to yourselves! If you were sons of mine, I would bang your heads together and lock you in a bedchamber until you remembered that you were brothers” (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 31).  She even scolds Renly and company when she retorts to Lord Tarly:

“I call it weak.” Lord Randyll Tarly had a short, bristly grey beard and a reputation for blunt speech.  “No disrespect to you, Lady Stark, but it would have been more seemly had Lord Robb come to pay homage to king himself, rather than hiding behind his mother’s skirts.”
       “King Robb is warring, my lord,” Catelyn replied with icy courtesy, “not playing at tourney.”
(A Clash of Kings, Chapter 22)

Both Jaime and Tarly note that Robb hides behind his mother’s skirts.  She is the one to be feared; she is the one that holds any manner of royalty, inspiring more fear than her son.  She drew herself to be a woman of power in a man’s world, like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Cecily Neville.  She is by far the most sensible one in Westeros, yet none heed her advice. 

Catelyn acts as an emissary to Old Walder Frey, pleading for her son to cross the river, as someone who had grown up knowing the Freys and her father’s dealings with them.  When Robb marries Jeyne in secret, even from her, she knows Walder Frey will be unhappy being betrayed.  She knows he’s dangerous and untrustworthy.  He wanted a king for a son, and he did not get that.  She knows the only way this could possibly be settled is if her brother Edmure marries a Frey.  It’s no Stark, but they are of the same blood.  And there are no Starks left.  But Catelyn is still uneasy about the Freys, especially when at the Twins.  Her suspicions activate when she sees her guest chambers not cold and bare but decorated with Tully colors, fine furniture, and food and drink and a fireplace to boot.  This was not common of the Freys.  Just as Grace O’Malley acted as a liaison between her son/Ireland and Queen Elizabeth I, Catelyn did so as well.  The Tullys are very much an Irish clan as such.  The salmon were revered in Irish myth, and the Tullys keep it as their sigil.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t compare the two.

As each person in her family died, she becomes less of a person.  She notes to Brienne: “I take no joy in mead nor meat, and song and laughter have become suspicious strangers to me. I am a creature of grief and dust and bitter longings. There is an empty place within me where my heart was once” (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 55).  With her emotional journey moot, all that’s left is a revenge-fueled journey of ruthless justice.  The hardened heart had been there long before, though.  She tells Brienne at the dinner table:

“The Starks do not use headsmen. Ned always said that the man who passes the sentence should swing the blade, though he never took any joy in the duty. But I would, oh, yes.” She stared at her scarred hands, opened and closed them, then slowly raised her eyes. (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 55)

Lady Stoneheart by Elia Fernández
Her revival as Lady Stoneheart may have liven her life, but now she is but a shell of herself.  Now she leads her own pack of wolves through the Riverlands, just like her daughter Arya’s wolf Nymeria leads a pack through the Riverlands hunting and killing men.  With the deaths of her children, her father, and Ned, all that hearth that could warm a bed is gone, and all the love that she could ever give anyone is gone.  In this respect, Lady Stoneheart becomes a person much like Jeanne de Belleville, who upon the beheading of her husband Oliver III, lord of Clisson in 1343, forms a band of knights to assist her in slaughtering nobles who stood for the man responsible for her husband's death, Charles of Bois.  She continued to seek out and kill the followers of King Philip IV.  In the spirit of vengeance, Lady Stoneheart carries on de Belleville's legacy (Salmonson, Jessica Amanda.  "Jeanne de Belleville".  The Encyclopedia of Amazons, Doubleday, Anchor Books Edition, 1992, pg 132).

Lady Stoneheart even feels nothing for Brienne, a woman to whom she'd grown close and respected, when she attempts to hang her as an accused traitor.  She and Arya are now more alike than any of the Starks ever were, which is surprising, given how different they had been, how frustrated Catelyn had been raising her, how similar Arya had been to Ned in looks, and how similar Arya had been to the Stark boys.  The differences, though, lie in how they both became killers and how they both serve different gods.  Catelyn’s heart has been taken from her piece by piece, whereas Arya’s had been given up in order to become an assassin of the Faceless Men.  Lady Stoneheart, like Arya had been doing for so long, kills in her own judgment.  Arya must now kill for The Many-Faced God; Stoneheart kills for herself, despite being revived due to the power of the R’hllor.

Mothers by Hailey Schumacher

Catelyn gets more criticism than any character as the most hated, even more so than Theon Greyjoy or Ramsay Snow.  Theon and Ramsay, everyone.  I don’t understand why.  She’s a wonderful character and is the heart of the novels.  As a mother, she is no different from Cersei Lannister.  She tells Brienne of the hardships of being a mother, a different war that a woman must fight: “As hard as birth can be, Brienne, what comes after is even harder. At times I feel as though I am being torn apart. Would that there were five of me, one for each child, so I might keep them all safe” (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 45).  They are exact opposites, but they are both in the same face of The Mother.  Catelyn even sees that, knowing that Cersei must feel as she does, fiercely protective of her children.  Cersei does have an ulterior motive, however in protecting her children: her own power.

“Does Cersei pray to you too, my lady?” Catelyn asked the Mother. She could see the proud, cold, lovely features of the Lannister queen etched upon the wall. The crack was still there; even Cersei could weep for her children. “Each of the Seven embodies all of the Seven,” Septon Osmynd had told her once. There was as much beauty in the Crone as in the Maiden, and the Mother could be fiercer than the Warrior when her children were in danger. Yes... (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 33)

The Mother (Catelyn) by mustamirri
While other women wanted to have power, Catelyn did not.  She only stood resolute for her children.  In A Clash of Kings, Catelyn “woke aching and alone and weary; weary of riding, weary of hurting, weary of duty. I want to weep, she thought. I want to be comforted. I’m so tired of being strong. I want to be foolish and frightened for once. Just for a small while, that’s all... a day... an hour...” (Chapter 22).  It’s such a beautiful thing that she refuses to grieve in order to be strong not only for her children, especially Robb, but for Robb’s army.   When Robb breaks down, she rises to the occasion.  She never wanted to fail her children, and, in doing so, she trusted very few people.  Petyr Baelish was one of them, and that was a grievous mistake.  Catelyn is not by any means free of fault: much of what happens to her family was a result of her actions against the Lannisters.  She could have stayed to attempt to convince the Knight of Flowers that she nor Brienne murdered Renly and taken Renly army to Robb, leading the army in Robb’s name against Stannis.  But she didn’t.  She feared none could understand, and she was right in that.  As a Tully, Catelyn always tried to live up to her family’s motto: Family.  Duty.  Honor.  And she did so with grace, resolution, a commanding presence, and heart.  Will Catelyn, after so much slaughter, flee to safety and reunite with her daughters, like her medieval historical counterpart Jeanne de Belleville?

Previous entries in When Women Play the Game:
Sansa Stark
Brienne Tarth
Daenerys Targaryen

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