In Defense of Walder Frey

I wanted to try something nice and easy for my second post, so I’m just going to go ahead and justify the Red Wedding.

Two notes, and the first one probably goes without saying:

  1. I’m about to spoil one of the most significant plot twists in both the Song of Ice and Fire series and the associated TV show, so if the phrase “Red Wedding” doesn’t mean anything to you, you might want to stop reading.
  2. I’m going to be relying on book canon to give me some background information, so if you are only familiar with the show and are waiting until later to read the books, consider yourself warned

Okay: so, let’s try an exercise in imagination here. Let’s pretend you’re Walder Frey.

The first thing to remember– always remember– is that you are the laughingstock of the kingdom in which you live. You’re one of your liege lord’s most powerful bannermen, you control the single most important piece of real estate in the Riverlands, and your relatives hold influential positions in ruling families all over the country, so by rights, the Tullys should be kissing your feet to keep you happy. Apparently, though, no one told the Tullys that. They’re too busy laughing at your sex life, making up names for you behind your back, and gossiping about how ugly your daughters are to remember how valuable a supporter you are. Lord Tully didn’t even bother to show up to your wedding, which, for a bannerman of your status, is an enormous insult.

They think they’re justified because once, fifteen years ago, you were a little reluctant to get your whole family killed in a battle that no one asked you if you wanted to join, a battle that was treason against a rightful king and would have meant execution if you lost, a battle that started, as far as you can tell, because Lord Tully decided that its leaders would be good husbands for his little daughters. You showed up late to that battle, and that means that your family wasn’t slaughtered in it, and if they mock you for it now, well, then, let them. They’ll be back soon enough. Sooner or later, the Tullys always need something from you.

And then, sure enough, they come. It’s not Lord Tully this time — he’s sick, or so they claim — but one of the little daughters that he married off, and her son, who wants to be king. They’re asking from you the same enormous sacrifice that they asked before. They you to commit treason and rise up against a rightful king. This isn’t risking your life. This is risking your family’s life, and the lives of all your people. If you lose, the royal family will kill you, burn your castle to the ground, and salt the earth.

You refuse at first, of course. It’s the smart thing. The right thing. But Lord Tully’s daughter keeps coming back with better offers. She’ll make your son a knight. She’ll marry her daughter to your grandson and make him a prince. Finally, the last offer, the trump card — help them, and her son, who wants to be king, will marry your daughter. She’ll be a queen, and her sons will rule the new northern kingdom.

It’s too good an offer to refuse, and so, against your better judgment, you agree. You let the boy king cross your bridge and send your sons and grandsons to fight with him, and if it’s not long before bodies start coming back, well, then, at least they’re dying for a cause. At least you know that for the first time, the Tully’s truly respect your family’s sacrifice.

That’s how it seems at first, anyway.

Now, imagine a few months pass — maybe a year. You still hang onto your high hopes, but you’re starting to realize that the boy king doesn’t really care what he promised you. He might be only half Tully by blood, but he’s all Tully in arrogance, stubbornness, and entitlement. Your family is dying in droves under his banner, and yet, there’s no knighthood for your son, the girl who was supposed to marry your grandson has disappeared (so they say), and the boy king hasn’t even bothered to meet your daughters, let alone marry one. No riches or power or even thanks are coming your way — just more demands for supplies and soldiers that you send out knowing that each one leaves your family less prepared for the legendary winter that’s coming very soon.

You’re patient. You wait. Your reward will come. The Tullys have changed. You have to believe this. You’ve bet your family’s future on it, so it has to be true.

Then, at last, word reaches you: the boy king has chosen another bride.

Any choice other than your daughter would be an insult, but this one in particular is worse — spit in your face. She’s the daughter of a minor lord — a Westerlands lord, for heavens’ sake, a Lannister bannerman — with none of the power or riches that you have to offer. Her father has hardly any knights to provide, has no supplies, has no useful territory. Her mother is a commoner. The girl isn’t even pretty. If he’d chosen a bride specifically to insult you, he couldn’t have made a better choice.

Worse, much worse: word reaches you that the boy king is losing the war. It’s not even bad luck. It’s bad judgment. It’s elementary mistakes. He missed his one chance to really smash Tywin Lannister’s forces because he decided it was beneath him to fully explain his plan to his generals. He had Tywin Lannister’s son in prison and let him escape. He trusted a hostage to stay loyal to him when he freed him and then was somehow taken totally by surprise when that hostage turned around, burned the boy king’s home to the ground, killed his little brothers, and took his kingdom. It was the most predictable disaster possible, but the boy king somehow didn’t see it coming.

The boy king is also very quickly running out of allies. He lost the Karstarks when he cut off their lord’s head for basically no reason. He lost your family when he spit on your deal. That leaves him with a few diehard Northern followers and Roose Bolton, and if there’s one thing to know about Roose Bolton, it’s that he doesn’t back losing horses. The minute things go sour, Roose will turn on him, too.

Slowly, you start to panic, because you can’t fight the truth: the boy king you threw your family’s lot in with is going to lose the war. He can’t win. Your whole family will be put to the sword, and the worst part is that you did it for nothing.

And then, one day, you get a letter from the king — not the arrogant half-Tully boy king who got you into this mess, but the true king, the rightful king, the one you betrayed. The letter is a miracle. The king writes that he forgives you. He is ready to pardon your treason. Your family won’t suffer for your bad choices. You can make it all right again. You can make things the way that they were. You can make them better than they were — he’ll give you riches, power, the respect that you always dreamed of, the future for your children that you hoped Robb Stark would give you but never got.

All you have to do, the king writes, is rid him of this arrogant boy king, the one who broke your agreement, the one who insulted you, the one who never valued what you had to offer, the one who betrayed his rightful king and committed a capital crime, the one who nearly got everyone you love killed.

And, okay, maybe you take more pleasure in following the true king’s command than you should.

Then again, though, maybe not.

4 thoughts on “In Defense of Walder Frey

  1. patricksponaugle says:

    Thumbs up on defending such an otherwise unlikable character. I’ll be referring to this post specifically in a few months. (I write a blog post about Game of Thrones every week until the new season when I take a hiatus and watch the show, and I’ve scheduled a Frey-related essay for February or March.)

    I’m enjoying reading these posts.

    Like

  2. patricksponaugle says:

    Hey, in a few days I’ll be posting an In Defense of the Freys, which is taking a slightly different focus than what you have, but I’ll be directing folks here from my post for your defense of Lord Walder.

    I do really like your defense, but I feel it’s only weakness is your statement about Robb wanting to be king, and that being part of the negotiation. That’s not the case.

    When Catelyn made her request, Ned was still alive, Robb was merely acting as the head of the Stark household with his father imprisoned. It wasn’t until after Riverrun was freed of the siege, and Ned Stark beheaded did the Northerners “elect” Robb, who was debating if they should respect Stannis’ claim or follow the more charismatic Renly.

    (Robb should have backed Stannis.)

    I still think your defense works well though. But it’s not quite as solid if it relies on Robb as the boy-king at the bridge.

    Like

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