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[Book Spoilers] Where is Catelyn Stark and what has HBO done with her?


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#1 fauxkaren

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 07:21 PM

I was rather dissatisfied with the way that Catelyn was written in 2x01 and am not feeling too confident about the way that the show is handling the Robb and Cat portion of the story. I mean, I understand that this is an adaptation and that things have to change, but I'm struggling with understanding WHY certain changes were necessary. The following is adapated from something I wrote on tumblr, but I thought it would be a good jumping off point for discussion.

Really, I think HBO just does not understand the Robb and Cat storyline. It seems like the show is playing Robb As Hero completely straight. I think part of that is a by-product of aging up the character. It’s kind of hard to sell Richard Madden as a Boy King. So in the books when Robb pulls the Grey Wind stunt with Cleos Frey, it’s immature posturing. But in the show when he does it with Jaime, I think we’re supposed to read it as him being bad ass which completely misses the point of his character (the point being Robb as a deconstruction of the idea of a boy king).

But the way Cat was handled was even worse. There were four big mistakes with the way Cat was written in 2x01.

1. In the books, it is Catelyn who suggests to Robb that they go to Renly in order to try to get the Baratheon brothers to work together to take down the Lannisters. I love that it is Catelyn who has the political mind to see this solution. The fact that in the show they gave that idea to Robb does away with the idea we see in the books that while Robb is a capable general on the battlefield, he needs help ruling because he's not skilled in politics and diplomacy. It also de-emphasizes Catelyn’s perceptiveness and cleverness.

2. I didn’t really like the fact that the only reason Cat gave for not sending Theon to Balon to treat was because Balon was untrustworthy. I mean, that is true, but in the books she relents and says that if Robb has to treat with Balon send someone else other than Theon. I think that in order for later events to be most impactful, it’s important that she tell Robb specifically to NOT send Theon. Her opposition to sending Theon also shows her wisdom. Theon is a HOSTAGE. He is their leverage over Balon. WHY WOULD YOU GIVE UP YOUR LEVERAGE, ROBB? Robb was letting his emotions and his affection for Theon make his decisions for him, so he ignored Cat's wisdom.

3. I was annoyed that Cat didn’t get her line about girls not being worth it. Catelyn knows how the world works and she knows that in Robb’s eyes his sisters aren’t worth giving up his prize hostage of Jaime Lannister. I mean, I believe Robb loves his sisters, but he also doesn’t want to risk angering his bannermen and they would be upset if he traded Jaime for Arya and Sansa. But with the line about girls not being worth it, it becomes explicit that Cat understands how the politics of it all is very gendered and how girls aren’t worth much in this game of thrones. And I think that is important to her character because she's a character who fulfills the gender roles of her society. She LIKES being a wife and mother and is generally traditionally feminine, but that doesn't prevent her from seeing how unfair her society is to women. I mean, I think we still got some of that it in the show, but it could have been done better and more explicitly.

4. And finally and most aggravatingly, I was upset at her line about it being time for her to go home. I mean in the book she does want to see Bran and Rickon, but she knows that her duty right now is with Robb. So her wish to see Bran and Rickon in the books is more of a “I wish we were all safe in Winterfell” or a “I wish I could be in multiple places at once” type thing. In the book she makes a conscious choice to be with Robb because she knows that he needs her more at that moment in time (Robb is trying to stage a rebellion after all, while Bran and Rickon are far away from the fighting in the care of trusted guardians). But Robb is a typical teenager about it, trying to assert his independence and wanting his mom out of the way, so he tries to send her away to various places. I feel like by changing things to have Catelyn want to leave Robb and be with Bran and Rickon, it’s like the showrunners are validating all the Catelyn Critics who complain about what a terrible mother she is for abandoning Bran and Rickon which is just... not true.

All of these things might seem like minor changes, but there are specific shades of meaning and nuances and complexity in the original text that I think were lost in the adaptation to screen and I just don't understand why those changes were made. The only reason I can see is that the writers don't fully understand Catelyn as a character and subsequently those changes didn't seem like all that big of a deal. But I guess that to me, as someone who loves the character in the books, those changes just really stood out to me and didn't sit well with me at all.

#2 Alexia

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 02:14 PM

What the writers seem to be doing with Catelyn is really upsetting me. In the original text, she was a pragmatic feudal lady with keen political insights, whose less competent teenaged son pushed her aside and wanted her to go away and leave him alone. A teenaged son who was portrayed as generally politically inept, and whose chest-thumping refusal to trade the Kingslayer for his sisters enabled the Red Wedding, a Lannister power grab through Sansa, and a Bolton power grab through a false Arya.

The way that she has been adapted for the screen is, frankly, sexist. She was a politically smart and ambitious woman who was ignored for merely being a woman while a young teen ruined their House through misplaced trust and naiveté. She is hated by fans for, well, being a politically smart and ambitious woman who interferes with the male “heroes” and points out their poor decisions instead of going back to her babies where she belongs.

So the way HBO decides to adapt her is to make Robb recite her lines from the book that show political insight, remove her from the table where the political decisions are being made, and validate all the misogyny being directed her way by having this adapted character say that her place is back with her babies (because, of course, that’s where a good woman belongs and should want to be!).

In the books, she was *right* in almost every call she made — but her opinions are dismissed because she is a woman and Robb is 1) a rebellious teen; and, 2) has embraced some of the ingrained sexism of his society and doesn't want his bannermen to see him taking advice from Mom. The commentary here, which passes straight over the heads of a lot of fans, is really genius. If Robb *had* listened to mommy, House Stark would not have been demolished the way it was.

And the writers chose to not only ignore that, but to diminish the female character so as to pump up the male — in a way that completely validates the misogyny targeting the character (a good woman’s place is with her babies and not involved in politics – in fact, if she’s involved in politics at all, it should be reluctantly!) but that also misses the point of the entire arc. My honest-to-God reaction was, WTF are you doing HBO?

Catelyn's plotline deals heavily with themes of sexism. After Ned’s execution, she was calling for peace while the men around her chose war (and devastated the North and the Riverlands). Robb wanted her to go back to Bran and Rickon but she wanted to stay with him, where the future of their family was being decided. It was her idea to visit Renly to attempt to make an alliance, not Robb’s. She wasn’t entirely against sending an envoy to Balon, just not Theon. She wanted Ned to go south to become Robert’s Hand.

Now, she’s been downgraded. One assumes that the reasons for it are three-fold: 1) To pump up Robb and make him sexier to the audiences instead of portrying the tragic boy king in over his head that he actually was; 2) to make her more palatable to audiences (because a woman’s place is with her babies, doncha know); and 3) to amend Cersei’s characterization as she gets the storyline of a son who has slipped her control instead.

Congratulations on either completely missing the entire point of a character arc and plotline or demonstrating a stupendous level of sexism, all while validating the misogyny that permeates this fandom.

Edited by Alexia, 03 April 2012 - 03:56 PM.


#3 Buckwheat

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 03:55 PM

I have not really noticed it while watching, but really - I hardly noticed Catelyn's presence, which is, I believe, the exact thing you are tring to say, they are making Robb's role much more obvious, so Cat's suffers for it. Therefore, I agree with you completely.

#4 A Bong of Ice and Fire

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 03:58 PM

I agree 100%. The show's writers blew the Catelyn character pretty badly. What you are seeing now is the show starting to come undone, as the writers stray farther and farther from the source material and start offering up "composite characters" and adding new invented scenes that $#!+ all over the book characters (LF-Cersei abomination comes to mind /sad.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':(' /> ).

Season 1 was nice, but put a fork in her in season 2. She's done.

#5 Brewmaster

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:01 PM

Given the level of hatred directed at Cat by the book readers over the years, my guess is most of the changes to her story are simply to make her a more sympathetic character.

#6 Buckwheat

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:02 PM

Given the level of hatred directed at Cat by the book readers over the years, my guess is most of the changes to her story are simply to make her a more sympathetic character.

I do not see how "I should be with Bran and Rickon in Winterfell" and yelling at the new star Robb could possibly make her a more sympathetic character.

#7 int11

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:16 PM

I agree. Catelyn and her POVs where of my favorites from ACoK and ASoS. By the way, I love this part as well:

[Robb:] “That’s different. The man at the Crag was a knight Jeyne had known all her life. You can’t blame her for being afraid. Grey Wind doesn’t like her uncle either. He bares his teeth every time Ser Rolph comes near him.”

A chill went through her. “Send Ser Rolph away. At once.”


Edited by int11, 03 April 2012 - 04:19 PM.


#8 Brewmaster

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:18 PM

I do not see how "I should be with Bran and Rickon in Winterfell" and yelling at the new star Robb could possibly make her a more sympathetic character.


I don't want this to dissolve in another of the long sexist arguments that take place on the novel boards over this topic, but one of the issues people have with Cat is the fact that she left Bran and Rickon in Winterfell and wouldn't go back, even when asked to and told she wasn't needed.

The OP's points about her being a brilliant political strategist who's plans would have been golden if Robb listened to them are kind of moot, because he didn't. The end result of her actions and her counsel, start with the beginning of the war against the Lannisters, when she wrongly accuses and kidnaps a fan favorite character in Tyrion, does not spend any time with Bran and Rickon who repeatedly is stated really needs his mother, frees Jamie, which looses Rob's hold on his army and allows for the events leading up to the Red Wedding to happen.

She's seen as a meddler, a neglectful mother and is either wrongfully cruel or wrongfully accusing of 2 fan favorite characters in Jon and Tyrion.

In the arguments is support of Cat, people always do the mental acrobatics to show that in each individual instance she was at least somewhat justified, or at least should be forgiven for her actions. However, again, this is a moot point. The end result is that many, if not most, reactions to her are negative because of this. Without even being privvy to her internal monologue, this is only going to be magnified in a TV show.

Allowing Cat to be the one who wants to go home to her children, and have others being the ones that are needing her and asking her to be elsewhere is a good choice, IMO, in terms of keeping sympathy for the character.

#9 legba11

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:20 PM

Disagree on many points. I find her book character to be extremely hard to like. She is the source of so many of the bad things happen, but as opposed to people like Ned (who's flaw is Honor), her flaw is her need for vengeance (which is much less sympathetic). She abandons her family to seek her revenge (anyone could have brought the news of the assassin to Ned), leaving behind her duties to her children and to her people (by leaving Winterfell). She knew what kidnapping Tyrion would do, yet did it and left the other half of her family surrounded by vipers. After that blows up in her face, she insists on staying with her dying father (continuing to neglect Bran and Rickon and now her people are being ruled by an 8 year old).

Fast forward and she throws her son's army away in a desperate grab for her daughter. (There is no reason anyone would think Arya was in the Lannister hands by that point).

We'll ignore zombie Catelyn for now...

In the TV, she makes the sensible play and wants to return home and take care of her youngest children and take charge of her son's kingdom. I think she will be seen in a much better light as things play out.

#10 Alexia

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:23 PM

Disagree on many points. I find her book character to be extremely hard to like. She is the source of so many of the bad things happen, but as opposed to people like Ned (who's flaw is Honor), her flaw is her need for vengeance (which is much less sympathetic).

No, a need for veagence is not her flaw -- it is Robb's. She repeatedly tried to get him to make peace. He responded by questioning her love for Ned.

Allowing Cat to be the one who wants to go home to her children, and have others being the ones that are needing her and asking her to be elsewhere is a good choice, IMO, in terms of keeping sympathy for the character.

"It is a wise woman who knows her place."

Now that HBO taught Catelyn Stark her place, we can feel sympathy for her now. She's learned, after all, that politics is men's business and her place is at home with her babies. Finally, a woman who doesn't threaten any male heroes.

#11 mermer

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:37 PM

Sorry but not going with her children and remaining where she was I think was more a show of her political character and of her self-forgetfulness. She had to be where she was more useful and she also was the Lady of Winterfell, had to exemplify with her actions.
When i read the books i always have the impression of her being righteous ad for me her actions are always justified because she wanted the best for her family. And dont forget JOn was a shame for her, he was a bastard and not a member of her family-. What average guy brings a child home and says honey this is my son i had him when i was away, take care of him while i go to work (bullshit), she wanted to protect her children. Always. And would have done anything (sorry for the off-topic)

Edited: I´m not going to blame HBO producers for changing cat´s character and i don´t think is something that disminishes the role of women in westeros. I only say that we are forgetting who cat is Family Honor Duty. It´s so simple yet so difficult to understand.
And HBO just turns her values and that is what I´m annoyed with cat´s role at the chapter, although well portrayed she is not that.

Edited by mermer, 03 April 2012 - 06:12 PM.


#12 you wouldn't know me

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:40 PM

I think its a bit soon to start saying they are messing up her character, we only saw her for a few minutes and its only natural she would want to return to Bran and Rickon since her husband has just died and her daughters are being held captive by the Lannisters. I also don't agree with you about how Robb should have traded Jaime for his sisters as Robb mentions in the show his bannerman would string him up, Robb made many mistakes but that wasn't one of them. I wasn't a massive fan with the way they portrayed her in this episode but hopefully once she goes off on her own to meet Renly her character will become great again.

#13 Brewmaster

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 04:41 PM

Now that HBO taught Catelyn Stark her place, we can feel sympathy for her now. She's learned, after all, that politics is men's business and her place is at home with her babies. Finally, a woman who doesn't threaten any male heroes.


If you take issue with this, you should probably take it up with GRRM, not HBO. If he wanted to better show her to be politically shrewd and competent, he could have made some of her plans work out at some point. They don’t.

If he wanted her to appear more likeable, he could have written it so that she isn’t cruel to fan favorite characters right off the bat. She did.

If he wanted to make it seem as though she didn’t need to be with Bran and Rickon back in Winterfell, he could have written in some extra childcare there. There wasn’t.

Honestly, you would think that in such a powerful stronghold, they would have had more than just Septa Mordane to look after the kids. But, they sent her South and in every Winterfell POV after that its stated that Rickon is literally devolving into a beast, who “needs his mother” with nobody to look after him.

It’s a little hard to blame this on sexism and it has nothing to do with her being a woman. This is the character that George has written, and she’s unlikable for a lot of readers. It simply has to do with the actions she’s written to have taken.

#14 fauxkaren

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 05:46 PM

If you take issue with this, you should probably take it up with GRRM, not HBO. If he wanted to better show her to be politically shrewd and competent, he could have made some of her plans work out at some point. They don’t.

If he wanted her to appear more likeable, he could have written it so that she isn’t cruel to fan favorite characters right off the bat. She did.

If he wanted to make it seem as though she didn’t need to be with Bran and Rickon back in Winterfell, he could have written in some extra childcare there. There wasn’t.

Honestly, you would think that in such a powerful stronghold, they would have had more than just Septa Mordane to look after the kids. But, they sent her South and in every Winterfell POV after that its stated that Rickon is literally devolving into a beast, who “needs his mother” with nobody to look after him.

It’s a little hard to blame this on sexism and it has nothing to do with her being a woman. This is the character that George has written, and she’s unlikable for a lot of readers. It simply has to do with the actions she’s written to have taken.


GRRM DOES show that she is politically shrewd and competent. She knows what the Freys want and thus is able to treat with them and make the deal that allows Robb to cross the Twins. She is the one who comes up with the idea to treat with Renly. Yes, this plan doesn't work out... AND IT ENDS IN RENLY'S DEATH. It was still a good plan, but Renly and Stannis did not listen to her reason. If Robb had listented to Catelyn and not sent Theon (WHO WAS THEIR HOSTAGE) to Pyke, it's possible that Winterfell would never have been sacked. Catelyn was wise to see that the Freys would not be happy at the Red Wedding which is why she advised Robb to eat right away in order to establish guest rite. How was she supposed to be able to see that Walder Frey would go against that sacred tradition and murder guests in his own home.

Catelyn is mean to a fan favorite right off the bat, but Jaime also pushes a child out a tower window right of the bat and somehow readers are able to forgive him and Jaime is one of the most popular characters in the book. Please try to tell me that there is not some degree of sexism involved in that. Female characters are held to higher (and more unreasonable standards) than their male counterparts.

Maester Lusin, a maester and a man who has known Bran and Rickon since BIRTH is at Winterfell with the boys. How is that not adequate childcare?? Rickon and Bran were miles and miles and miles away from the fighting. Robb was trying to stage a rebellion. I'm sorry if I just don't understand how it is not obvious to everyone that Robb is the one wh needs Cat most.

Personally, I do not find Cat unlikable. She is my favorite character and I find her to be imminently likable and sympathetic with a compelling and unique story to boot. The reasons that many people come up with to hate her do have their root causes in sexism. They judge her based on her not being a good enough mother whereas you hardly see characters hated for being awful fathers (OF WHICH THERE ARE PLENTY IN THIS SERIES). Part of the reason people dislike her treatment of Jon is because she wasn't a mother to him even though she had NO social obligation to be a mother figure to him, but that expectation is put on her because she is a woman and amother. They ascribe her actions as irrational when she does act on emotions (like when she frees Jaime) and declare her to be stupid and a hysterical woman even though they are a lot of male characters who also act on their emotions (Robb marrying Jeyne, Tyrion killing Shae and Tywin, Jaime pushing Bran out a window).

#15 Xerox in 4 Parts

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 05:59 PM

I think its a bit soon to start saying they are messing up her character, we only saw her for a few minutes and its only natural she would want to return to Bran and Rickon since her husband has just died and her daughters are being held captive by the Lannisters. I also don't agree with you about how Robb should have traded Jaime for his sisters as Robb mentions in the show his bannerman would string him up, Robb made many mistakes but that wasn't one of them. I wasn't a massive fan with the way they portrayed her in this episode but hopefully once she goes off on her own to meet Renly her character will become great again.


We've seen her for ten episodes, not a few minutes.

#16 Brewmaster

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:05 PM

She is the one who comes up with the idea to treat with Renly. Yes, this plan doesn't work out... AND IT ENDS IN RENLY'S DEATH. It was still a good plan, but Renly and Stannis did not listen to her reason. If Robb had listented to Catelyn and not sent Theon (WHO WAS THEIR HOSTAGE) to Pyke, it's possible that Winterfell would never have been sacked. Catelyn was wise to see that the Freys would not be happy at the Red Wedding which is why she advised Robb to eat right away in order to establish guest rite. How was she supposed to be able to see that Walder Frey would go against that sacred tradition and murder guests in his own home.


Like I said above, these are moot points. "Should have", "if", "how was she to know"..enough said.


Catelyn is mean to a fan favorite right off the bat, but Jaime also pushes a child out a tower window right of the bat and somehow readers are able to forgive him and Jaime is one of the most popular characters in the book. Please try to tell me that there is not some degree of sexism involved in that. Female characters are held to higher (and more unreasonable standards) than their male counterparts.


Jaime wasn't liked until 3 books later and many people still dislike him. He was the most hated character in the book for the first 2 books. Apples and Oranges anyway, as George had Jaime commit one horrid act and then purposefully went about making him bend over backwards to show how different he was in book 3. Cat doesn't go through any kind change (until un-Cat)

Maester Lusin, a maester and a man who has known Bran and Rickon since BIRTH is at Winterfell with the boys. How is that not adequate childcare?? Rickon and Bran were miles and miles and miles away from the fighting. Robb was trying to stage a rebellion. I'm sorry if I just don't understand how it is not obvious to everyone that Robb is the one wh needs Cat most.


Ask George, not me. He's the one that writes that Rickon "needs his mother". Not me. He's the one that writes Rickon as being neglected and allowed to become a feral child. As I wrote above, I would think they should have adequate childcare there. However, George didn't write it that way.

And nobody in Westeros and most readers don't find it obvious that Robb needs Cat at all.

Personally, I do not find Cat unlikable. She is my favorite character and I find her to be imminently likable and sympathetic with a compelling and unique story to boot. The reasons that many people come up with to hate her do have their root causes in sexism. They judge her based on her not being a good enough mother whereas you hardly see characters hated for being awful fathers (OF WHICH THERE ARE PLENTY IN THIS SERIES). Part of the reason people dislike her treatment of Jon is because she wasn't a mother to him even though she had NO social obligation to be a mother figure to him, but that expectation is put on her because she is a woman and amother. They ascribe her actions as irrational when she does act on emotions (like when she frees Jaime) and declare her to be stupid and a hysterical woman even though they are a lot of male characters who also act on their emotions (Robb marrying Jeyne, Tyrion killing Shae and Tywin, Jaime pushing Bran out a window).


Again, you have to go to the source on this one, of GRRM and stop ascribing sexism to the reasons why Cat is disliked. It is pretty clearly not sexist in nature. You keep giving examples of other characters that do bad things, or make mistakes, and that's true. In ASOIAF nobody is perfect, and in this series everybody finds different characters to like and forgive. However, no point of view character, other than perhaps Cersei makes more decisions that lead to such bad results. People's reactions to Cat are natural occurrences from the way she is written. You can forgive anybody for anything. You don't have to justify as many actions for other characters as you do for Cat. Even in your defense here it was nothing but justification after justification for either poor action or poor result. For every other POV character, that's just not the case with plenty of simply good actions in between.

Most people don't come around on Jaime until he has a truly heroic moment, throwing himself into the bear pit to save Brienne. George really went out of his way to turn that character around. He didn't do the same for Cat.

#17 Kaitscralt

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:10 PM

In the books, she was *right* in almost every call she made —


We must have read different novels. Whenever she wasn't talking to Robb, and on her own, she did things extremely narrow-minded and basically is the cause of the entire conflict.

#18 Xerox in 4 Parts

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:13 PM

The cause of the war was many people.

It's not moot that Catelyn's good advice went nowhere. That's the point of her story: people did not listen to her when they ought to have. That's like saying Cassandra has no story because Troy didn't listen to her.

#19 Alexia

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:15 PM

We must have read different novels. Whenever she wasn't talking to Robb, and on her own, she did things extremely narrow-minded and basically is the cause of the entire conflict.

Yeah, I think we did read different novels. In the books I read, the conflict was caused when Jaime and Cersei ended up having to fight a war to keep their incestuous bastards on the throne after their secret started coming out. In the book I read, Jaime attempted to murder Brandon Stark and that is when their house of cards started falling.

In the book I read, she brokered the alliance with the Freys (that Robb later broke), advised against sending Theon to his father (also recommended by Ned), advised attempting to broker an alliance with Renly (completely failed when Stannis murdered him with black magic), advised trading Jaime for the girls (Roose Bolton and Tywin Lannister got the last laugh on the value of girls), advised surrendering when their cause was lost (they all died shortly thereafter at the hands of Robb's allies).

In the books I read, she was a Cassandra figure.

#20 seeyouintee

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:37 PM

While I agree that the character's different, I disagree with almost everything else you said. Robb probably did bring down the Starks, but it wasn't because he didn't trade Jaime for Sansa, it was because he broke his engagement vow, causing the Red Wedding. After she tried to treat with Renly, she should've gone back to Winterfel and tried to help Bran and Rickon. She would've been the biggest political asset there, where they were politically weakest. Robb actually made fairly good decisions except alienating the Karstarks and breaking his vows.

[edit] Catelyn is also not as good as you make her out. I am not a Cat-hater like most everybody else here, but she was downright cruel to Jon and later becomes obsessed with vengeance at the expense of her humanity.

Edited by seeyouintee, 03 April 2012 - 06:41 PM.