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Canon Claude

The mystery of Robb’s letter

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In “A Storm of Swords”, there’s a moment where Jeyne Westerling tells Catelyn that after he executes Lord Karstark, Robb spent a large part of a day writing a letter which he then burned.

Out of curiosity, any idea what could possibly have been the contents of that letter? Who it might have been addressed to? It seems a strange detail for GRRM to put into the books without it having some kind of meaning. Given the significance of letters in that book (Tywin’s letters to Bolton and Frey, the Nights Watch letter which reaches Stannis, etc), having Robb also write a letter and then burning it must mean something, surely? Or is it just a metaphor for how bad Robb was at diplomacy?

Edited by Canon Claude

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1 hour ago, Canon Claude said:

In “A Storm of Swords”, there’s a moment where Jeyne Westerling tells Catelyn that after he executes Lord Karstark, Robb spent a large part of a day writing a letter which he then burned.

Out of curiosity, any idea what could possibly have been the contents of that letter? Who it might have been addressed to? It seems a strange detail for GRRM to put into the books without it having some kind of meaning. Given the significance of letters in that book (Tywin’s letters to Bolton and Frey, the Nights Watch letter which reaches Stannis, etc), having Robb also write a letter and then burning it must mean something, surely? Or is it just a metaphor for how bad Robb was at diplomacy?

I think you managed to reach the answer yourself, to be honest. The book does has a theme of letters solving problems, and Robb was chiefly a general rather than a king. He was a master of the field, but letters and dealings in paper and ink led to his ghastly demise. He tries to write a letter. Maybe it's a letter to the Freys or Lysa Arryn, it doesn't matter. The point is that he burns the letter and doesn't send it because he knows it's pointless. He can't fight with quills and ink. All he knows is battles and war strategy, which is why he turns to his maps instead for some comfort.

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I know that a lot of readers hoping for a fairytale-ish Stark rebirth where they rise with the adoration of all and save the world will disagree, but I don’t trust Alys Karstark. At all. I wonder if that letter was to the Karstarks and it not being sent will come back to haunt the Starks.

· Alys says "Karhold remembers". Rather ominous given Robb cut off Rickard’s head. When Jon thinks of the Lannisters who cut off Ned’s head, he identifies with Alys’ future husband “Not fight for you. Kill you better. Kill you all”. Has Alys forgotten about Robb’s executing Rickard? Sigorn certainly hasn’t forgiven his father’s death. Neither has Jon forgiven Ned’s beheading…

· Just to underscore, Jon not forgiving his father’s execution is linked to Alys’ future husband Sigorn and the death of his father fighting the NW.

· Alys being similar to Arya who is obsessed with killing Joff and Cersei whom she blames for cutting off the head of her father can’t be good.

· The idea that Alys is just cool with the Starks because they are that super duper awesome goes against the revenge culture of Westeros, ignores human nature, and hand-waves off strong hints to the contrary.

· Sigorn and Alys are instantly taken with each other despite having just met, being from different cultures, having a very problematic language barrier, and neither being especially attractive. How did they bond? They both have fathers with deaths caused by Starks is one commonality.

· Jon asks for men from Alys “Karhold Remembers” and from Sigorn “Not fight for you. Kill you better. Kill you all.” That both of these statements come in request for support is rather ominous.

Arnolf, Arthor, and Cregan clearly aren't the sort to let things go. Rickard got into trouble because he couldn't separate murder from war.

 

ADWD Jon X

That did not surprise him. "When your stores begin to dwindle, my lady, remember us. Send your old men to the Wall, let them say our words. Here at least they will not die alone in the snow, with only memories to warm them. Send us boys as well, if you have boys to spare."

"As you say." She touched his hand. "Karhold remembers."

ADWD Jon V

"Fight for you?" This voice was thickly accented. Sigorn, the young Magnar of Thenn, spoke the Common Tongue haltingly at best. "Not fight for you. Kill you better. Kill all you."

The raven flapped its wings. "Kill, kill."

Sigorn's father, the old Magnar, had been crushed beneath the falling stair during his attack on Castle Black. I would feel the same if someone asked me to make common cause with the Lannisters, Jon told himself. "Your father tried to kill us all," he reminded Sigorn. "The Magnar was a brave man, yet he failed. And if he had succeeded … who would hold the Wall?" He turned away from the Thenns. "Winterfell's walls were strong as well, but Winterfell stands in ruins today, burned and broken. A wall is only as good as the men defending it."

 

ADWD Jon III

Sigorn was the first to kneel before the king. The new Magnar of Thenn was a younger, shorter version of his father—lean, balding, clad in bronze greaves and a leather shirt sewn with bronze scales.

 

ADWD Jon X

The Magnar all but ripped the maiden's cloak from Alys's shoulders, but when he fastened her bride's cloak about her he was almost tender. As he leaned down to kiss her cheek, their breath mingled. The flames roared once again. The queen's men began to sing a song of praise. "Is it done?" Jon heard Satin whisper.

The fish course was next, but as the pike was being boned Lady Alys dragged the Magnar up onto the floor. From the way he moved it was plain that Sigorn had never danced before, but he had drunk enough mulled wine so that it did not seem to matter.

 

Edited by Lollygag

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My take is that he was contemplating suing for peace, which in his circumstances would look a lot like surrender. 

@Lollygag while I agree that Alys Karstark may not be on the up and up with Jon (she makes reference to her father being dangerous while not being obvious and what she says about Sigorn fearing her could apply to Jon as well), I don't believe the letter had much to do with her and she did have more immediate problems at the moment. 

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"Lord Rickard defied me. Betrayed me. I have no choice but to condemn him. Gods know what the Karstark foot with Roose Bolton will do when they hear I've executed their liege for a traitor. Bolton must be warned."

"Lord Karstark's heir was at Harrenhal as well," Ser Brynden reminded him. "The eldest son, the one the Lannisters took captive on the Green Fork."

"Harrion. His name is Harrion." Robb laughed bitterly. "A king had best know the names of his enemies, don't you think?"

The Blackfish looked at him shrewdly. "You know that for a certainty? That this will make young Karstark your enemy?"

"What else would he be? I am about to kill his father, he's not like to thank me."

"He might. There are sons who hate their fathers, and in a stroke you will make him Lord of Karhold."

Robb shook his head. "Even if Harrion were that sort, he could never openly forgive his father's killer. His own men would turn on him. These are northmen, Uncle. The north remembers."

 

 

Replace Alys with Harrion to get your answer.

 

We don't even know what happen with Harrion since the first book, I assume most POVs have forgotten too, But if he is still alive. Any schemer knows the North would prefer a Karstark over a Bolton. So watch out for that.

 

 

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Maybe the letter was to Jon. In it Robb apologized for everything, admitted that he is really bad with all this diplomacy and leading people things, and asked Jon to come and help him. But then realised, that it's not fair to ask this from Jon, and thus burned that letter.

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6 hours ago, Ellard Stark said:

We don't even know what happen with Harrion since the first book, I assume most POVs have forgotten too, But if he is still alive. Any schemer knows the North would prefer a Karstark over a Bolton. So watch out for that.

Harrion was prisoner at Harrenhal when Arya was there. Then Roose took the castle and sent him out with those false orders to Duskendale. In ADWD, the last news they had was a year old and it said he was prisoner at Maidenpool.

I always just assumed that Robb was trying to draft his will, tbh. 

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1 hour ago, Megorova said:

Maybe the letter was to Jon. In it Robb apologized for everything, admitted that he is really bad with all this diplomacy and leading people things, and asked Jon to come and help him. But then realised, that it's not fair to ask this from Jon, and thus burned that letter.

Good grief.  Jon is the last person he needed for a task like that.  Jon couldn't even handle the few people he had at the wall.  He got on well with the wildlings but couldn't lead his own men.  Jon is poor at communication and a severe autocratic style of leadership.  His role in the marriage of Karstark + Thenn is not going to go over well with people outside of the watch either.  I can see why Robb would change his mind and destroy that letter.  Robb had to come to his sense and say to himself. "Gads, what was I thinking!"

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12 hours ago, Lollygag said:

I don’t trust Alys Karstark.

You make some interesting points, BUT...

Jon Snow is not a Stark. Why take out her vengeance on a bastard who's basically in exile at the Wall?

Alys has come to the Wall for help, is in desperate need of protection, food and shelter, and receives it from Jon, plus a sweet marriage deal. Seems pretty ungrateful to have undergone all that personal peril and suffering just to get at the reputed half brother of the dude who executed her father (for cause, let's not forget that.)

The Night's Watch is apolitical and stands as guardian against the threats north of the Wall. It's beyond petty to try to take down the Watch's Lord Commander over a matter of personal vengeance involving a family to which said Lord Commander was never a part of.

I don't have anything intelligent to say about Robb's burned letter, however. (back on topic!)

Edited by zandru

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2 hours ago, The Lord of the Crossing said:

Good grief.  Jon is the last person he needed for a task like that.

It's not about Jon's diplomatic skills, or other abilities, it's about him being Robb's brother, and his closest friend and companion, since the time they were born. Robb's people and his mother had high expectations of him, they constantly wanted something from him, they were constantly putting pressure on him. So he needed near him, someone like himself, someone who will understand him, and be able to give him moral support, and won't put additional pressure on him. And Jon was ideal for that role. Though, probably, Robb had second thoughts about it, he thought how can he ask something like this from Jon, if he himself haven't done for Jon nothing. When Cat chased Jon away from Winterfell, Robb didn't tried to oppose his mother, and protect Jon. Thus he decided, that he doesn't have a right to ask for Jon's help.

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57 minutes ago, zandru said:

You make some interesting points, BUT...

Jon Snow is not a Stark. Why take out her vengeance on a bastard who's basically in exile at the Wall?

Alys has come to the Wall for help, is in desperate need of protection, food and shelter, and receives it from Jon, plus a sweet marriage deal. Seems pretty ungrateful to have undergone all that personal peril and suffering just to get at the reputed half brother of the dude who executed her father (for cause, let's not forget that.)

The Night's Watch is apolitical and stands as guardian against the threats north of the Wall. It's beyond petty to try to take down the Watch's Lord Commander over a matter of personal vengeance involving a family to which said Lord Commander was never a part of.

I don't have anything intelligent to say about Robb's burned letter, however. (back on topic!)

I do agree with you in that context. But at this point, Jon is the last Stark as Sansa is believed alive but MIA and is still married to Tyrion Lannister. There's no obvious Stark heir so Jon is poised to become the Stark despite the pathway to that not being clear. I think Alys was at the Wall because the Boltons are not credible leaders and Alys had no where else to go, not because she was targeting Jon in any way. I don't think she was actively plotting against him, just that she wouldn't support him and would go against him if the opportunity arose. In the meantime, use him if it benefits her.

Jon did help her personally, but I think one of the big themes that we'll see become more prominent later in the books is an anti-tribalism theme. Rickard Karstark killed two innocent Lannister boys because Jaime Lannister killed his sons. A failure or unwillingness to consider the individual in their own merits apart from their tribe. This sort of tribalism will be what Westeros has to overcome to take on the Others. But they're not there yet. I agree with you, but it's not how Westeros works. The context around Alys says that she remembers.

Here Robb says "the North Remembers" in connection to Karstark being beheaded. Alys says "Karhold remembers".

ASOS Catelyn III

"Lord Karstark's heir was at Harrenhal as well," Ser Brynden reminded him. "The eldest son, the one the Lannisters took captive on the Green Fork."

"Harrion. His name is Harrion." Robb laughed bitterly. "A king had best know the names of his enemies, don't you think?"

The Blackfish looked at him shrewdly. "You know that for a certainty? That this will make young Karstark your enemy?"

"What else would he be? I am about to kill his father, he's not like to thank me."

"He might. There are sons who hate their fathers, and in a stroke you will make him Lord of Karhold.

Robb shook his head. "Even if Harrion were that sort, he could never openly forgive his father's killer. His own men would turn on him. These are northmen, Uncle. The north remembers."

 

If Robb had written a letter to Karhold explaining himself and his position, maybe something might have been different?

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5 hours ago, Lollygag said:

I think Alys was at the Wall because the Boltons are not credible leaders and Alys had no where else to go, not because she was targeting Jon in any way. I don't think she was actively plotting against him, just that she wouldn't support him and would go against him if the opportunity arose. In the meantime, use him if it benefits her.

Okay, I think I see what you're saying. I continue to hold the romantic view that since Jon, last surviving son of Eddard Stark (as far as anybody knows) helped Alys when she was desperate, her saying "Karstark remembers" was an affirmation that she would honor his role in saving her and her claim to Karhold. I don't think it was a threat to House Stark.

We'll just have to wait and see.

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2 hours ago, zandru said:

Okay, I think I see what you're saying. I continue to hold the romantic view that since Jon, last surviving son of Eddard Stark (as far as anybody knows) helped Alys when she was desperate, her saying "Karstark remembers" was an affirmation that she would honor his role in saving her and her claim to Karhold. I don't think it was a threat to House Stark.

We'll just have to wait and see.

I agree with you. I don't think it was either and Karhold remembers comes on the heels of Jon asking her to remember the Night's Watch and to send any men she can spare. 

Alys sought Jon because of who his father was, as the last living son of Eddard Stark. She didn't go to Jon because he is Robb's brother. She went to Jon because he is Ned's son. I think there's a clear difference. 

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6 hours ago, zandru said:

Okay, I think I see what you're saying. I continue to hold the romantic view that since Jon, last surviving son of Eddard Stark (as far as anybody knows) helped Alys when she was desperate, her saying "Karstark remembers" was an affirmation that she would honor his role in saving her and her claim to Karhold. I don't think it was a threat to House Stark.

We'll just have to wait and see.

I wouldn't mind if you were right. I just have to go with the context around it all over what I'd prefer to see.

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From Karhold:

  • West to the Last Hearth
  • Southwest to the Dreadfort and Winterfell (Bolton lands)
  • Northwest to Castle Black and Jon Show

If you take her version at face value, that Alys was fleeing a forced marriage made by an grasping uncle, which is confirmed by Cregan (her betrothed), then her actions are honest.  She turned to the only remaining relative she knew, Jon Snow.  I don't see subterfuge, I see an open-minded gal and her cousin significantly changing the power dynamic in the North, to both their benefit.  It's when we see Jon start acting like a King.

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It's probably an offer of truce or peace with the Lannisters, Robb knows that he will eventually lose the war now that the Tyrells are siding them and he has no access in the North,

he burns it because he will lose his kingdom and failed to avenge his Ned.

 

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I've thought about this quite a few times and the fact that he burns it really does add some mystery to it. It would be nice if it was to Jon but that wouldn't make any sense at all considering the desperate situation Robb's in. I mean he could just be writing him to say hi and to tell jon how miserable he is.

one of the biggest bummers in the story is that jon didn't get to go to war with robb. I get that it was fundamental for the entire story but I think that would've and could've taken the story into some really cool places.  

That aside writing a surrender letter just to see what it looked like on paper is possible. Not only that but he's married now and while Robb may be westeros prodigy when it comes to warfare he definitely realized he was losing everything else. He even says it himself in sos that he thought the battles would be the hard part and it really is extraordinary that he made the battles the easy part and was undefeated in the field yet lost everything else around him. It wasn't even him that screwed everything up but his lack of control  over those closest to him. Theon was his best friend and one would even say they were brothers in that Robert and Ned were but theon lacked the heart. That really is a shame because the iron islands/north military alliance is a good one. 

Regardless  I doubt he's looking for any kind if alliance because there's no where else to look and the will comes up later so I don't think that's it. 

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I've thought about this quite a few times and the fact that he burns it really does add some mystery to it. It would be nice if it was to Jon but that wouldn't make any sense at all considering the desperate situation Robb's in. I mean he could just be writing him to say hi and to tell jon how miserable he is

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