A Song of Ice and Fire analysis- Catelyn Stark and Robb Stark

Catelyn Stark

Instincts and foreshadowing

’Catelyn had never liked this Godswood.’ ’For her sake, Ned had built a small sept where she might sing to the seven faces of God, but the blood of the first men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his Gods were the old ones.’

From the outset, we are shown that Catelyn has a strong sense of her identity tying to her Tully roots and  phrase- family, duty, honour. She has never assimilated to the North or completely understood it, yet she and Ned have such a clear respect, love and peace for each other. She is very religious and superstitious, however, and it’s interesting that the first encounter we get of the Godswood is from her perspective. She fears and believes the omens that Ned has shut down:

‘There are darker things beyond this wall’. ‘His smile was gentle. ‘You listen to too many of Old Nan’s stories. The others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years. No living man has ever seen one.’ (Ned). ‘Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf either.’

Catelyn has keen instincts which, combined with her faith, allow her to take caution from omens and foreshadowing. Yet, she often dismisses her own gut, presumably due to her place as a woman. It is after all, Catelyn who has taught Sansa her ideals- to be a lady is to be dutiful, gentle, well spoken, and maintain her ‘place’ as female, never overstepping the powerful men that surround her.

‘Dread coiled within her like a snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she loved, this man who put no faith in signs.’

The dismissal of Catelyn’s instincts has had a disastrously detrimental impact on her life and family, particularly when Cat does share her suspicions, only to be rebuked by characters she is surrounded by. Two key examples of this are her lack of trust in Theon Greyjoy from the beginning, and her caution around Walder Frey, whom so many others underestimate and disregard:

 ‘If truth be told, I doubt even Lord Frey knows what Lord Frey intends to do. He has an old man’s caution and a young man’s ambition and has never lacked for cunning’.

Despite, however, her insight and caution, we do frequently see Arya’s feistier qualities in Catelyn, and she can display a rashness at times, for example, her decision to arrest Tyrion. Her more impulsive nature wins out in instances where she is thinking only of her children. To her credit, Catelyn always has fair motives, and does always come to realise that she has acted rashly. She is incredibly hard on herself at these times:

‘It was your doing, yours, a voice whispered inside her. If you had not taken it upon yourself to seize the dwarf…’

She is slower to dismiss Tyrion that other characters, and since travelling alongside him, has  begun to understand some of the nuances of his character and the extent of his cunning: ‘Once, she would have named Tyrion the least dangerous of the Lannister’s. Now she was not so certain’. She begins to begrudgingly believe in Tyrion’s word and believes that he is her best chance to get Sansa back: ‘Not Cersei, Tyrion. He swore it, in open court. And the Kingslayer swore it as well.’ ‘She had made Jaime swear a hundred oaths, but it was his brother’s promise she had her hopes pinned on’. Cat’s decision to free Jaime for her daughters is one that is completely understandable, yet very rash. It plays into Cat’s role as a mother, but influences Robbs later doubts and hits in warfare and their consequential downfall.

Catelyn takes time to really perceive the Lannister’s and I think she has a better understanding of them than many. I enjoyed the parallels between Cat’s motherhood and Cersei’s, as she considers Cersei’s own motives. They are both primarily mothers, and this is something that is often underestimated by the men in this world. It by no means lessens the hatred that Cat feels towards Cersei but allows Cat an understanding of Cersei. She knows how Cersei works and understands her Achilles heel:

‘Cersei is a mother too. No matter who fathered those children, she felt them kick inside her… The crack was still there; even Cersei could weep for her children.’ When thinking of what happened to Ned and Jon after Cersei fears the mortality of her children: ‘Small wonder the queen had killed them both. Would I do any less for my own?’

‘For men the answer was always the same, and never farther away than the nearest sword. For a woman, a mother, the way was stonier and harder to know’.

I also enjoyed Cat’s interactions with Stannis and Renly, as they allow us to see her feistier nature, and let GRRM be playful. Cat essentially breaks down the Baratheon’s war fuelled feud into what it is- pride. She stands before Stannis, who we have been taught to fear, and acts as a mother reprimanding her prideful children: ‘You each name yourself King, yet the Kingdom bleeds, and no one lifts a sword to defend it but my son.’

War symbolism & Greek myth parallels

‘It must not come to war, Catelyn thought fervently. They must not let it.’

‘War will make them old, as it did us. I pity them’.

Catelyn is almost a personification of the consequences of war and a symbol of true war; not the glorification of the stories and songs and songs that create excitement amongst young men, but the reality of the death and destruction it leaves mothers, families, houses. At the beginning of the books, for many younger characters there is an excitement brewing around the upcoming battles, the chance for glory, ‘honour’, fame. Catelyn is someone who has seen war before and truly grasps it’s consequences:

‘So young, Catelyn thought, trying to remember if she had ever been like that. The girl had lived half her life in summer and that was all she knew. Winter is coming, child, she wanted to tell her’.

Interestingly, after Ned leaves her in charge of Winterfell and she becomes enveloped in Robbs war storyline, Catelyn does associate far more frequently with the North and its way, something she herself is often surprised by.

‘She was no stranger to waiting, after all. Her men had always made her wait.’  

If you have read any of my blog posts so far, you will know I love a wee Greek mythology parallel, and Catelyn acts as the Penelope of this story. She symbolises the fear, dread and sense of duty created by those who are left behind during war, and her story during Robert’s rebellion parallels the Penelope to Ned’s Odysseus (Odysseus less in character, more in story structure). Like Penelope, Cat puts duty and family first in all things, and it is duty that often balances her and gets her through, or at least allows her to mask, her grief throughout her arc. After saving Bran:

‘Catelyn remembered the way she had been before, and she was ashamed. She had let them all down, her children, her husband, her House. It would not happen again. She would show these Northerners how strong a Tully of Riverrun could be’.

She represses her own needs throughout, leading up to the Stoneheart, and is plagued by grief and doubt in herself as a mother, often torturing herself:

‘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…’

‘I have come so many thousands of leagues, and for what? Who have I served? I have lost my daughters, Robb does not want me, and Bran and Rickon must surely think me a cold and unnatural mother. I was not even with Ned when he died.’

Cat holds a respected place in the North due to her keen sense of duty and marriage to Ned. It is her grief and humility that balance the Northmen’s desire for vengeance, the bloodthirsty game of war that they are heading towards. She reminds them of the peace that they once held and the future that they desire, the danger of war and all its horrors, and its purpose . It is directly after Cat’s plea that Robb is crowned King of the North with the aim of freedom and political peace:

“I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods.”

Catelyn’s weariness for war and experiences during Robert’s rebellion result in her frequent dismissal of vows for vengeance. She understands that this cannot bring the closure men wish for and knows that her only hope is to grasp on to her humanity, and the family she has left.

‘Your grief is mine, Cat. The Lannister’s will pay, I swear it, you will have your vengeance’ (Edmure) ‘Will that bring Ned back to me?’ she said sharply.’

This is the antithesis of who she becomes as Lady Stoneheart. She is driven by vengeance, lacks mercy and has lost her humanity. I love that GRRM will often take a character’s core belief, drive or personality and dismantle or shift it- Ned and Jon’s honour, Jaime’s warrior, Sansa’s gentle lady. I have to say, I wasn’t thrilled with the introduction of Stoneheart. I hate any zombie like tropes and feel like the books don’t need her. I do, however, think she might have an interesting arc, maybe Arya related since she’s on her own path of death and vengeance with no clear end in sight.


The less likeable side of Cat’s personality is her hatred of Jon and the unfair decision to blame him rather than Ned for his birth. She tries to forget, for the sake of her duty, but withholds her resentment, and it has consequently festered within her, haunting her when she doubts herself. ‘Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved her fiercely… Jon was never out of sight, and as he grew, he looked more like Ned than any of the trueborns she bore him. Somehow that made it worse.’ Interestingly, in a conversation of inheritance, Robb shares plans to legitimise Jon as heir. Catelyn is blinded by hatred and her usual even temperament and instincts are gone, replaced by a deeply unlikeable version, a twisted manipulator:

‘If you make Jon legitimate, there is no way to turn him bastard again. Should he wed and breed, any sons you may have by Jeyne will never be safe.’ ‘Jon would never harm a son of mine’. ‘No more than Theon Greyjoy would harm Bran or Rickon?’ ‘Grey Wind leapt up atop King Tristifer’s crypt, his teeth bared. Robb’s own face was cold. ‘That is as cruel as it is unfair. Jon is no Theon’.

‘Should I die without issue, I want him to succeed me as King of the North. I had hoped you would support my choice.’ ‘I cannot’, she said. ‘In all else, Robb. In everything. But not in this…this folly. Do not ask it.’ ‘I don’t have to. I’m the king’.

It is sad that Catelyn will likely never learn the truth, unless GRRM has plans for Lady Stoneheart to play a part in the revelation of Jon’s true parentage. GRRM is sure to tell us that Robb has written his wishes as a royal decree, in the presence of Cat, and the letter legitimising Jon and naming him heir is surely waiting to come up in a future plot point.

Robb Stark and motherhood

‘My son is leading a host to war, she thought, still only half believing it. She was desperately afraid for him, and for Winterfell, yet she could not deny feeling a certain pride as well. A year ago he had been a boy. What was he now? she wondered.’

Robbs character arc has excellent development, resulting in his relationship with Catelyn changing. We only ever see Robb through Cat’s eyes, through the lens of a mother who is weary of war. We see Cat strain to allow Robb the space to grow from her child son into a King.

‘Mother?’ he said, his voice thick with emotion. Catelyn wanted to run to him, to kiss his sweet brow, to wrap him in her arms and hold him so tightly he would never come to harm… but here in front of his lords, she dared not. He was playing a man’s part now, and she would not take that away from him.’

Catelyn rarely gives herself credit as a mother or leader, frequently comparing Robb to Ned whenever he leads well, and dismissing the council that she gives. I believe Catelyn’s role in the success Robb had as a leader was very significant, and she acted in place of hand. She changes her role from mother to lady when required, and Robb takes her council:

‘The day will come when you need them to respect you, even fear you a little… Laughter is a poison to fear. I will not do that to you, much as I might wish to keep you safe.’ ‘Robb, I will not soften the truth for you. If you lose, there is no hope for any of us. Remember the fate of Rhaegar’s children.’ She saw the fear in his young eyes then, but there was a strength as well. ‘Then I will not lose’, he vowed’.

Catelyn provided Robb strength as a mother, council as a leader, hard truths as a King and the love and courage to persevere. She gives herself over to Robb, focusing on him to give her spirit and purpose whenever her thoughts stray to her other children: ‘And yet there was nothing she could do for any of them, and so she made herself put all thought of them aside. You must save your strength for Robb, she told herself. He is the only one you can help. You must be as fierce and hard as the North, Catelyn Tully. You must be a Stark for true now, like your son’.

She is, however, confined to gender roles and experiences the misogyny that all the female characters are privy to. This permeates into Cat’s own self-esteem and lack of confidence in her ability to influence Robb, often withholding her council or instincts. She is, however, respected and very aware of her place as a Lady. I would argue that Cat is far more politically minded that she believes, with the ability to think tactically. She can make men listen and can use her gentle, highborn nature to her advantage, in a way that we are seeing paralleled in Sansa.

‘Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you will see how gentle a woman can be,’ Catelyn replied. ‘Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy…but I understand futility’.

I’m taking a wee space now to share instances where Robb himself gives us some lovely characteristics reminiscent of Neds. ‘That makes him evil’, Robb replied. ‘I do not know that it makes Renly King. Joffrey is still Robert’s eldest trueborn, so the throne is rightfully his. Were he to die, and I mean to see that he does, he has a younger brother. Tommen is next in line after Joffrey.’ When others argue for Renly’s many Kingly qualities: ‘What does Lord Stannis have against that, that we should cast it all aside?’ ‘The right’ said Robb stubbornly. Catelyn thought he sounded eerily like his father as he said it’. We frequently see evidence throughout these chapters that Robb would have made a balanced and fair King, due to the influence of both Ned and Catelyn.

As time goes on, however, Cat loses some of her influence over Robb: ‘He wants me gone, Catelyn thought wearily. Kings are not supposed to have mothers, it would seem, and I tell him things he does not want to hear.’

They both make errors in judgment that have dire consequences; Catelyn freeing Jaime, and Robb marrying Jeyne (is she another future plot hidden pregnancy?) This gets in the way of Robb heading Cat’s council, and he is no longer as receptive to her instincts, for example, his decision to distance himself from Grey Wind due to Jeyne’s fear. He begins to show his age and stubborn attitude after marrying, holding Cat at arm’s length:

‘You always kept him with you before.’ ‘He’s part of you, Robb. To fear him is to fear you.’ ‘I am a not a wolf, whatever they call me’. Robb sounded cross’. ‘‘These wolves are more than wolves, Robb. You must know that. I think perhaps the gods sent them to us. Your

father’s gods, the old gods of the north.’

Robb becomes disillusioned and extremely strained as he begins to grasp the truth of war and his burden. It is due in part to his and Cat’s rash actions and their consequences that his success begins to unravel, and we head towards the red wedding. It is also now, that we see Robb and Cat grow stronger together, as they both understand what they have lost and prepare themselves to press on. Catelyn does try to encourage him to surrender, however, she understands that this is her motherly desire, that he is too like Ned and has come to far to do so. When they meet their end, they are at a place of mutual understanding, prepared to carry on for their family and home.

‘Gods be good, why would any man ever want to be king? When everyone was shouting King in the North, I swore to myself, that I would be a good king, as honourable as Father, strong, just, loyal to my friends and brave when I faced my enemies… now I can’t even tell one from the other.’

Catelyn’s scene at the red wedding is heart wrenching, and her last act is to offer herself as sacrifice for Robb, paralleling Ned for Sansa. ‘They could do as they wished with her; imprison her, kill her, it made no matter. She had lived too long, and Ned was waiting. It was Robb she feared for’. And, of her last thoughts, Ned:

‘No, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair’.

I want peace for Catelyn and for her to be with Ned. I think GRRM knows this and intends it for the reader, which is why I feel like Arya will have a part to play in Lady Stoneheart’s story, possibly killing her and allowing her to be at peace with the knowledge that at least some of her children live.

Lady Stoneheart

As I mentioned before, I don’t love the Stoneheart plot and prefer to leave it with Catelyn. I do, though, appreciate the extent of GRRM’s foreshadowing, so will leave this post with so wee quotes. Please let me know what you think of Cat as she can definitely be a bit of an ambivalent character and let me know how you think her arc will end. I really appreciate anyone who has read this post and shares my love of ASOIAF!  

‘Sometimes she felt as if her heart had turned to stone’ (AGOT)

‘The face of a drowned woman, Catelyn thought. Can you drown in grief?’ ((ACOK)

‘When they took his head off, they killed me too.’ (ACOK)

‘The silent sisters do not speak to the living, but some say they can talk to the dead. And how she envied that.’ (ACOK)

‘I am become a sour woman. I am a creature of grief and dust and bitter longings. There is an empty place within me where my heart once was.’ (ACOK)

‘It is too late for ifs, and too late for rescues’, Catelyn said. ‘All that remains is vengeance’. (ASOS)

‘If anything befell you, I would go mad, Robb. You are all I have left’. (ASOS)