From what I can see, many readers often misconstrue Catelyn's character as "just an emotional woman who makes bad decisions". While certainly some of Catelyn's decisions are less than ideal (due mostly to unforeseeable circumstances), in my view minimalizing her character to just this is a misreading of text. Upon further analysis, I think Catelyn is one of the strongest voices of reason, and one of the most intelligent characters in the series
I. Catelyn recognizes the real threat before any other character
“He was the fourth this year,” Ned said grimly. “The poor man was half-mad. Something had put a fear in him so deep that my words could not reach him.” He sighed. “Ben writes that the strength of the Night’s Watch is down below a thousand. It’s not only desertions. They are losing men on rangings as well.”
“Is it the wildlings?” she asked.
“Who else?” Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel length of it. “And it will only grow worse. The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good and all.”
“Beyond the Wall?” The thought made Catelyn shudder.
Ned saw the dread on her face. “Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear.”
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
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. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one.”
“Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf either,” Catelyn reminded him.
It takes several hundreds of pages for anyone else to even remotely acknowledge the Others, while she does it in her first chapter
II. Catelyn wanted Ned to stay in Winterfell
Despite popular belief that Catelyn urged Ned to go to King's Landing, this is only true initially. After Bran falls...
She had begged Ned not to go, not now, not after what had happened; everything had changed now, couldn’t he see that? It was no use. He had no choice, he had told her, and then he left, choosing.
How much misfortune could Ned have avoided by listening to his wife in this instance?
III. Catelyn surmises that Jaime threw Bran out of the window on little evidence
“My sister Lysa believes the Lannisters murdered her husband, Lord Arryn, the Hand of the King,” Catelyn told them. “It comes to me that Jaime Lannister did not join the hunt the day Bran fell. He remained here in the castle.” The room was deathly quiet. “I do not think Bran fell from that tower,” she said into the stillness. “I think he was thrown.”
She quickly pieces together Jaime's absence, with Bran's fall and later assasination attempt meant he was thrown by Jaime. This shows just how quick she is
And why does she come to this conclusion? Because she knows correctly that..
“There is no limit to Lannister pride or Lannister ambition,” Catelyn said.
IV. Catelyn and the oarsmen
When Catelyn travels to King's Landing with Rodrik, she decides to thank the oarsmen of the Storm Dancer for getting her there quickly by giving each a silver stag. When the captain tells her that she should give their bonus to him, so that he may hold it for them as to keep them from spending it badly, she tells him
“A man must make his own choices,” Catelyn said. “They earned the silver. How they spend it is no concern of mine.”
For she knows the captain will likely pocket the money himself, at no gain to the oarsmen. She also goes further and hand delivers the silver stags to each man, to make sure they get it.
V. Catelyn on Varys
“But Varys has ways of learning things that no man could know. He has some dark art, Ned, I swear it.”
“He has spies, that is well known,” Ned said, dismissive.
“It is more than that,” Catelyn insisted. “Ser Rodrik spoke to Ser Aron Santagar in all secrecy, yet somehow the Spider knew of their conversation. I fear that man.”
Given how dangerous Varys has grown to be in this story, and how we the readers endlessly debate his motives, it seems to me that Catelyn was more correct about how he is than anyone else. She knows it extends beyond simple information network
VI. The arrest - Tyrion outwitted
When Catelyn arrests Tyrion stating she was to take him to Winterfell, Tyrion learns..
“This is the high road,” he gasped, looking at Lady Stark with accusation. “The eastern road. You said we were riding for Winterfell!”
Catelyn Stark favored him with the faintest of smiles. “Often and loudly,” she agreed. “No doubt your friends will ride that way when they come after us. I wish them good speed.”
Even now, long days later, the memory filled him with a bitter rage. All his life Tyrion had prided himself on his cunning, the only gift the gods had seen fit to give him, and yet this seven-times-damned she-wolf Catelyn Stark had outwitted him at every turn.
This was a wise move in itself, by misdirecting her pursuers she gets to the Vale with Tyrion in tow, before anyone is the wiser. Of course, things do go badly for her later, but this is the fault of her sister more than anyone else
VII. Catelyn on female power
“A woman can rule as wisely as a man,” Catelyn said.
These thoughts are far ahead of most people in her time. For example, if the Iron Islanders thought like Catelyn, there would be a Queen Asha instead of a King Euron.
VIII. Catelyn and Lysa
“We’re safe here,” Lysa was saying. Whether to her or to the boy, Catelyn was not sure.
“Don’t be a fool,” Catelyn said, the anger rising in her. “No one is safe. If you think hiding here will make the Lannisters forget you, you are sadly mistaken.”
Lysa covered her boy’s ear with her hand. “Even if they could bring an army through the mountains and past the Bloody Gate, the Eyrie is impregnable. You saw for yourself. No enemy could ever reach us up here.”
Catelyn wanted to slap her. Uncle Brynden had tried to warn her, she realized. “No castle is impregnable.”
Lysa is half right, because the Eyrie is impregnable by the common route of assembling an army to assault it. But Catelyn wisely tells her that the Lannisters won't forget her, and no castle is impregnable. And what happens later? The Lannisters, who wish to bring the Vale to their side, allow Littlefinger to go to the Vale. Lysa lets him in, he kills her and is planning to do away with her son. Impregnable by an army, but easily conquered by one man. Had she listened to Catelyn she would have prevented this fate
IX. Tyrion's trial by combat
“The dwarf has played her like a set of pipes, and she is too deaf to hear the tune.”
She sees how badly this will go and tries to prevent it
X. Catelyn handling her son's position
“And you are fifteen now. Fifteen, and leading a host to battle. Can you understand why I might fear, Robb?”
His look grew stubborn. “There was no one else.”
“No one?” she said. “Pray, who were those men I saw here a moment ago? Roose Bolton, Rickard Karstark, Galbart and Robett Glover, the Greatjon, Helman Tallhart … you might have given the command to any of them. Gods be good, you might even have sent Theon, though he would not be my choice.”
“They are not Starks,” he said.
“They are men, Robb, seasoned in battle. You were fighting with wooden swords less than a year past.”
She saw anger in his eyes at that, but it was gone as quick as it came, and suddenly he was a boy again. “I know,” he said, abashed. “Are you … are you sending me back to Winterfell?”
Catelyn sighed. “I should. You ought never have left. Yet I dare not, not now. You have come too far. Someday these lords will look to you as their liege. If I pack you off now, like a child being sent to bed without his supper, they will remember, and laugh about it in their cups. The day will come when you need them to respect you, even fear you a little. Laughter is poison to fear. I will not do that to you, much as I might wish to keep you safe.”
She knows her son is less than ideal for command, but she knows that sending him back will be damaging to her son's authority in the future. She therefore chooses the best option and decides to help him while leaving him in charge. She also knows a remarkable bit about the relations between a bannerman and his liege lord. Laughter being poison to fear is one of Tywin's central ideals. There can we call Catelyn foolish while praising Tywin's leadership?
XI. Catelyn sees through Cersei's ruse
“There was a letter,” Robb said, scratching his direwolf under the jaw. “One for you as well, but it came to Winterfell with mine.” He went to the table, rummaged among some maps and papers, and returned with a crumpled parchment. “This is the one she wrote me, I never thought to bring yours.”
Something in Robb’s tone troubled her. She smoothed out the paper and read. Concern gave way to disbelief, then to anger, and lastly to fear. “This is Cersei’s letter, not your sister’s,” she said when she was done. “The real message is in what Sansa does not say. All this about how kindly and gently the Lannisters are treating her … I know the sound of a threat, even whispered. They have Sansa hostage, and they mean to keep her.”
XII. Surrender is not an option
When considering their next course of action, and the danger the war will bring to Sansa and Ned, Catelyn states..
“What I do know is that you have no choice. If you go to King’s Landing and swear fealty, you will never be allowed to leave. If you turn your tail and retreat to Winterfell, your lords will lose all respect for you. Some may even go over to the Lannisters. Then the queen, with that much less to fear, can do as she likes with her prisoners. Our best hope, our only true hope, is that you can defeat the foe in the field. If you should chance to take Lord Tywin or the Kingslayer captive, why then a trade might very well be possible, but that is not the heart of it. So long as you have power enough that they must fear you, Ned and your sister should be safe. Cersei is wise enough to know that she may need them to make her peace, should the fighting go against her.”
“What if the fighting doesn’t go against her?” Robb asked. “What if it goes against us?”
Catelyn took his hand. “Robb, I will not soften the truth for you. If you lose, there is no hope for any of us. They say there is naught but stone at the heart of Casterly Rock. Remember the fate of Rhaegar’s children.”
She is politically perceptive enough to know that at this point, battle is unavoidable. But she knows a captured Tywin or Jaime can put an end to this
XIII. Bannermen are not your friends
Robb hesitated. “The Greatjon thinks we should take the battle to Lord Tywin and surprise him,” he said, “but the Glovers and the Karstarks feel we’d be wiser to go around his army and join up with Uncle Ser Edmure against the Kingslayer.” He ran his fingers through his shaggy mane of auburn hair, looking unhappy. “Though by the time we reach Riverrun … I’m not certain …”
“Be certain,” Catelyn told her son, “or go home and take up that wooden sword again. You cannot afford to seem indecisive in front of men like Roose Bolton and Rickard Karstark. Make no mistake, Robb—these are your bannermen, not your friends. You named yourself battle commander. Command.”
She is more right than she knows
XIV. Knowing who is best fitted to a job
When Robb suggests putting Greatjon in charge of the foot, she tells him how a fearless man like him would be ill-suited to the position. Robb changes his mind based on this to Roose Bolton which Catelyn agrees to. She can see that Roose Bolton who is cautious and calculating would make a better commander against Tywin than Greatjon, who as we know is reckless and unwise. Given that there are heavy losses at the Green Fork despite this, I can't help but think that it would be even worse with Greatjon. It's likely he would have fallen for Tywin's trap
XV. "Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens"
Sound familiar? Catelyn thinks of it before Tywin ever does
“Damn the man,” Robb swore. “If the old fool does not relent and let me cross, he’ll leave me no choice but to storm his walls. I’ll pull the Twins down around his ears if I have to, we’ll see how well he likes that!”
“You sound like a sulky boy, Robb,” Catelyn said sharply. “A child sees an obstacle, and his first thought is to run around it or knock it down. A lord must learn that sometimes words can accomplish what swords cannot.”
XVI. Wars aren't won in one battle
After the Whispering Wood, Theon brags
“But such a battle!” said Theon Greyjoy eagerly. “My lady, the realm has not seen such a victory since the Field of Fire. I vow, the Lannisters lost ten men for every one of ours that fell. We’ve taken close to a hundred knights captive, and a dozen lords bannermen. Lord Westerling, Lord Banefort, Ser Garth Greenfield, Lord Estren, Ser Tytos Brax, Mallor the Dornishman … and three Lannisters besides Jaime, Lord Tywin’s own nephews, two of his sister’s sons and one of his dead brother’s …”
“And Lord Tywin?” Catelyn interrupted. “Have you perchance taken Lord Tywin, Theon?”
“No,” Greyjoy answered, brought up short.
“Until you do, this war is far from done.”
Catelyn always has her eyes on the bigger picture
XVII. Peace when war is futile
After Eddard's death, at the meeting of assembled Northern and River Lords, Catelyn tries to speak to their better judgement
“Why not a peace?” Catelyn asked.
The lords looked at her, but it was Robb’s eyes she felt, his and his alone. “My lady, they murdered my lord father, your husband,” he said grimly. He unsheathed his longsword and laid it on the table before him, the bright steel on the rough wood. “This is the only peace I have for Lannisters.”
The Greatjon bellowed his approval, and other men added their voices, shouting and drawing swords and pounding their fists on the table. Catelyn waited until they had quieted. “My lords,” she said then, “Lord Eddard was your liege, but I shared his bed and bore his children. Do you think I love him any less than you?” Her voice almost broke with her grief, but Catelyn took a long breath and steadied herself. “Robb, if that sword could bring him back, I should never let you sheathe it until Ned stood at my side once more … but he is gone, and a hundred Whispering Woods will not change that. Ned is gone, and Daryn Hornwood, and Lord Karstark’s valiant sons, and many other good men besides, and none of them will return to us. Must we have more deaths still?”
“You are a woman, my lady,” the Greatjon rumbled in his deep voice. “Women do not understand these things.”
“You are the gentle sex,” said Lord Karstark, with the lines of grief fresh on his face. “A man has a need for vengeance.”
“Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied. “Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy … but I understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner, falsely accused of treason. We fought to defend ourselves, and to win my lord’s freedom. “Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our reach. 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. I want you safe, Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat. I want you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son. I want to write an end to this. I want to go home, my lords, and weep for my husband.”
Had they listened to her, many people would still be alive. As we can see, Catelyn speaks wisely in this issue as she has several times before
XVIII. Sending Theon and Balon's intention
Catelyn not only foresees what a bad idea sending Theon to treat with Balon is, but also predicts that Balon may want to crown himself once more
Catelyn ignored that. “I’ll say again, I would sooner you sent someone else to Pyke, and kept Theon close to you.”
“Who better to treat with Balon Greyjoy than his son?”
“Jason Mallister,” offered Catelyn. “Tytos Blackwood. Stevron Frey. Anyone . . . but not Theon.”
Her son squatted beside Grey Wind, ruffling the wolf’s fur and incidentally avoiding her eyes. “Theon’s fought bravely for us. I told you how he saved Bran from those wildlings in the wolfswood. If the Lannisters won’t make peace, I’ll have need of Lord Greyjoy’s longships.”
“You’ll have them sooner if you keep his son as hostage.”
“He’s been a hostage half his life.”
“For good reason,” Catelyn said. “Balon Greyjoy is not a man to be trusted. He wore a crown himself, remember, if only for a season. He may aspire to wear one again.”
XIX. The real enemy
“Clegane is no more than Lord Tywin’s catspaw.” For Tywin Lannister—Lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West, father to Queen Cersei, Ser Jaime the Kingslayer, and Tyrion the Imp, and grandfather to Joffrey Baratheon, the new-crowned boy king—was the true danger, Catelyn believed.
XX. Calling a council to decide the succession
“The Lannisters tried to kill my son Bran. A thousand times I have asked myself why. Your brother gave me my answer. There was a hunt the day he fell. Robert and Ned and most of the other men rode out after boar, but Jaime Lannister remained at Winterfell, as did the queen.”
Renly was not slow to take the implication. “So you believe the boy caught them at their incest . . .”
“I beg you, my lord, grant me leave to go to your brother Stannis and tell him what I suspect.”
“To what end?”
“Robb will set aside his crown if you and your brother will do the same,” she said, hoping it was true. She would make it true if she must; Robb would listen to her, even if his lords would not. “Let the three of you call for a Great Council, such as the realm has not seen for a hundred years. We will send to Winterfell, so Bran may tell his tale and all men may know the Lannisters for the true usurpers. Let the assembled lords of the Seven Kingdoms choose who shall rule them.”
This is one of the best ideas presented in the entire series, but it falls on deaf ears. Had things not gone south with Renly's death, perhaps this could have worked out in some form and Westeros would be much better off for it.
XXI. There is no point in dying for the dead
“If you left us, where would you go?” Catelyn asked her.
“Back,” Brienne said. “To Storm’s End.”
“Alone.” It was not a question.
The broad face was a pool of still water, giving no hint of what might live in the depths below. “Yes.”
“You mean to kill Stannis.”
Brienne closed her thick callused fingers around the hilt of her sword. The sword that had been his. “I swore a vow. Three times I swore. You heard me.”
“I did,” Catelyn admitted. The girl had kept the rainbow cloak when she discarded the rest of her bloodstained clothing, she knew. Brienne’s own things had been left behind during their flight, and she had been forced to clothe herself in odd bits of Ser Wendel’s spare garb, since no one else in their party had garments large enough to fit her. “Vows should be kept, I agree, but Stannis has a great host around him, and his own guards sworn to keep him safe.”
“I am not afraid of his guards. I am as good as any of them. I should never have fled.”
“Is that what troubles you, that some fool might call you craven?” She sighed. “Renly’s death was no fault of yours. You served him valiantly, but when you seek to follow him into the earth, you serve no one.”
XXII. Catelyn tries to prevent Edmure's mistake
As we know, by doing battle with Tywin, Edmure delays him long enough so that outriders can reach him of Stannis' attack on the capital. But did you know Catelyn was against this from the start?
Edmure swung down from his saddle. He was a head taller than she was, but he would always be her little brother. “Cat,” he said unhappily, “Lord Tywin is coming—”
“He is making for the west, to defend his own lands. If we close our gates and shelter behind the walls, we can watch him pass with safety.”
“This is Tully land,” Edmure declared. “If Tywin Lannister thinks to cross it unbloodied, I mean to teach him a hard lesson.”
Had he listened, perhaps things may have gone better for their war effort
XXIII. The wolves
Catelyn see the true nature of the wolves better than the Stark children themselves
“Any man Grey Wind mislikes is a man I do not want close to you. 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. Five wolf pups, Robb, five for five Stark children.”
XXIV. A true King
Catelyn tells Robb what his main priority is
“The next battle,” Robb said. “Well, that will be soon enough. Once Joffrey is wed, the Lannisters will take the field against me once more, I don’t doubt, and this time the Tyrells will march beside them. And I may need to fight the Freys as well, if Black Walder has his way . . .”
“So long as Theon Greyjoy sits in your father’s seat with your brothers’ blood on his hands, these other foes must wait,” Catelyn told her son. “Your first duty is to defend your own people, win back Winterfell, and hang Theon in a crow’s cage to die slowly. Or else put off that crown for good, Robb, for men will know that you are no true king at all.”
XXV. Sometimes it is best to do nothing
When Jeyne comes to Catelyn asking her what she should do for Robb after he is angry and disconsolate following Karstark's execution she tells her
“Sometimes,” Catelyn said slowly, “the best thing you can do is nothing. When I first came to Winterfell, I was hurt whenever Ned went to the godswood to sit beneath his heart tree. Part of his soul was in that tree, I knew, a part I would never share. Yet without that part, I soon realized, he would not have been Ned. Jeyne, child, you have wed the north, as I did . . . and in the north, the winters will come.” She tried to smile. “Be patient. Be understanding. He loves you and he needs you, and he will come back to you soon enough. This very night, perhaps. Be there when he does. That is all I can tell you.”
Wise words we can apply to our own lives
XXVI. Knowing when to bend the knee
Catelyn tries to prevent her son's impending doom by getting him to bend the knee once the war looks lost. She is rebuffed. Even though she hates the Lannisters as much as Robb does, she knows when things are over, and when to cut your losses. She looks beyond her own feelings to do the logical thing. Funny how "irrational" is the first word used to describe her by most
XXVII. Avoding slights
It had been her who had insisted that Jeyne remain at Riverrun, when Robb would sooner have kept her by his side. Lord Walder might well construe the queen’s absence from the wedding as another slight, yet her presence would have been a different sort of insult, salt in the old man’s wound.
XXVIII. Naming a bastard as heir
Catelyn wisely forsees the issues with naming Jon as his heir. As a man of the Night's Watch, he cannot inherit any lands or titles nor can he wear any crowns. Naming him, and then thinking he could be released from his oath by 100 men even though there are no precedents of people being released from the Watch, is foolish. She also sees the issue this could have later on with Jon's potential children contesting trueborn Starks. Indeed, we may see some potential issues in later books thanks to this ill-thoughtout document. The cousins in the Vale would be the better choice by far
XXIX. Claiming guest right
Catelyn is the only one who predicts that they may be less than safe under Walder's roof. So she urges her son to put himself under guest right protection
Catelyn shifted her seat uncomfortably. “If we are offered refreshment when we arrive, on no account refuse. Take what is offered, and eat and drink where all can see. If nothing is offered, ask for bread and cheese and a cup of wine.”
“I’m more wet than hungry . . .”
“Robb, listen to me. Once you have eaten of his bread and salt, you have the guest right, and the laws of hospitality protect you beneath his roof.”
I suppose people don't want to give her any partial credit for this, seeing as how it failed to save them. But she was still the only person intelligent enough to predict something like the Red Wedding before it happened
XXX. Trying to save a life
Catelyn takes a hostage to save Robb at the Red Wedding, which has a better chance of preserving his life than the feeble attempts the Northerners made to fight off their attackers
Overall, I think Catelyn is not appreciated by the fanbase enough, and gets too harshly criticized as "stupid" or "the doom of her house". I think that the real way to see her is as someone whose consistently good ideas and thoughts are never followed upon by the people she directs them too. I think the real tragedy is that people don't listen to Catelyn not that Catelyn herself is a negative influence
Edited by Salinda, 05 June 2014 - 08:33 PM.