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Who really hired the catspaw?


Aebram
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Good morrow to all,

Who instigated the attempt to murder Bran?  I've been studying this question recently.  I found that, the more I studied it, the more mysterious it became.

There's some text (ASOS 59, 60, and 72) that makes Joffrey the prime suspect.  But I don't think this can be correct, for a number of reasons. 

The motive
 
 For one thing, Joffrey has no real motive.  He and Bran didn't interact much, and there's no indication of a quarrel or other event that might have given Joffrey a reason to want revenge.  

The text suggests that Joffrey was motivated by a desire for approval from his supposed father, King Robert.   Cersei tells Jaime (in ASOS 72) that Joffrey had heard Robert say, "we kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs whe they go blind ..."  But is this really a likely motive?  I started a separate thread recently to discuss this question.
   

 It seems that Joffrey and Robert were not close.  Arthur Peres reminded us of this amusing exchange:

Quote

 

“I am sorry for your loss as well, Joffrey,” the dwarf said.
“What loss?”
“Your royal father? A large fierce man with a black beard; you’ll recall him if you try. He was king before you.”
“Oh, him. Yes, it was very sad, a boar killed him.”  (ACOK 2)

 

I don't think there's any real evidence that Joffrey would go so far as to arrange a murder, just because Robert had said that the victim would be better off dead. 

As John Suburbs pointed out, there is also the problem of how Joffrey could tell Robert that he had arranged the murder.  By taking credit for it, he would be admitting to a serious crime.  And we know that Robert became extremely angry after learning that Joffrey had killed a cat, just to see what was inside it.  So it's unlikely that Joffrey would think he could win any praise by killing a child, especially when the child is a son of one of Robert's best friends.

Also in that thread, The Sleeper suggested that Bran's fall "... basically ruined his [Joffrey's] vacation."  Joffrey was no longer the center of attention.  "Given his personality, Robert's words gave him the impetus and rationalisation to act on those feelings.  He didn't need much reason or excuse to hurt or kill people."   That's the most plausible motive I've seen so far. 

But the question of motive is not the only problem with this theory.

The method

How could Joffrey find and hire someone to do the killing?  If the heir to the throne was going around Winterfell asking where he could hire a killer, it would have attracted attention.  So he would need a middleman, someone he could trust, and who had some experience in such matters, to find and hire a suitable catspaw without being noticed.  This middleman would himself need to be a somewhat unsavory character, someone who was willing to assist in the murder of a highborn child, rather than report the matter to Lord Stark or King Robert.  Does Joffrey know any such person?

The attempted murder was preceded by arson.  Someone, presumably the killer or the middleman, set fire to the library tower, to attract attention and draw the guards away from Bran's chamber.  This indicates a certain amount of premeditation and skill in planning the crime.  The catspaw may have been just some rough character who was willing to commit murder for hire; but in that case, the middleman had to be someone capable of planning a  more complex crime.

The weapon

The dagger was rare and valuable:  Valyrian steel and a dragonbone hilt.  We never did find out where it came from, or who had owned it.  Littlefinger said it had once been his, and that he lost it to Tyrion in a wager.  When Catelyn confronted Tyrion about this, he pointed out the flaw in Littlefinger's story, and said that he never owned the dagger.  Later, Tyrion suspected (ASOS 60) that Joffrey simply picked a blade at random from King Robert's weapons chest.  But we don't know if that's true, or even if Robert owned such a weapon.

And after that, the matter is dropped.  Cat doesn't make any more efforts to find out who owned the dagger, or who arranged the attempted murder.

The fact that the weapon is rare suggests that it was chosen by someone who was careless about covering their tracks.  But the overall nature of the murder, including the setting of the fire, indicates that some cunning was used.  Perhaps the rare dagger was a false clue, a deliberate attempt to throw the Starks off the track of the killer.  The catspaw may have been instructed to leave the dagger in Bran's chamber.  In that, at least, he was successful.

Other suspects

So if Joffrey isn't the instigator, who is?  Here are a few possibilities.

Jaime and/or Cersei:  They are the most obvious suspects, because they are the ones with the most to lose if Bran should wake up and tell that he saw them together.  Fortunately for Jaime, he already has an alibi.  ASOS chapter 72, where he and Cersei are discussing the murder, is written from his POV.  So we read his thoughts, as well as his spoken words; and it's clear that he doesn't know who hired the killer.

Cersei may have arranged the murder, and she may have told a couple of lies to cover her tracks.  In ASOS 72, there's this:

Quote

“There was a dagger. The scars on Lady Catelyn’s hands were real enough, she showed them to me. Did you …?” 
“Oh, don’t be absurd.” Cersei closed the window. “Yes, I hoped the boy [Bran] would die. So did you. Even Robert thought that would have been for the best. ‘We kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs when they go blind, but we are too weak to give the same mercy to crippled children,’ he told me. He was blind himself at the time, from drink.” 
Robert? Jaime had guarded the king long enough to know that Robert Baratheon said things in his cups that he would have denied angrily the next day. “Were you alone when Robert said this?” 
“You don’t think he said it to Ned Stark, I hope? Of course we were alone. Us and the children.”

Jamie asks Cersei if she was involved, and her answer is "don't be absurd."  Criticizing the question is a common way of evading when one does not wish to answer.  Also, notice those last two sentences.  If Cersei was lying about Robert having said this, her first instinct would be to say that no one else heard it, so that Jaime wouldn't go looking for other witnesses.  But then she would remember that, for her story to make sense, Joffrey needed to be present.

These clues are quite weak, of course.  But if Cersei loves anyone other than herself, it's her children.  She's not above lying to protect them; and she's not above killing to protect herself.

Varys:  The murder might have been part of his grand scheme to sow doubt, mistrust, and confusion within the nobility, to pave the way for the return of a Targaryen to the Iron Throne.  If he planned it in advance, of course, he wouldn't have known about Bran's fall.  But he might have instructed a couple of men to go to Winterfell, and to find an opportunity to kill someone, to arouse suspicion and anger.  He had the resources to acquire a rare dagger, and was clever enough to think of using it as a false clue.

Littlefinger:  It's hard to figure out what his role is in this mystery, but he certainly seems to have one.  He lied to Catelyn when she asked him to help identify the dagger.  And before that, he clearly had a part in the murder of John Arryn; and he probably was involved in the sending of the secret message to Catelyn, in which Lysa falsely accused the Lannisters of killing Arryn.  I suppose the second lie (the one about the dagger) might have been, in effect, a continuation of the first one, another attempt to cast suspicion on the Lannisters.  If so, the second lie may have been merely a convenient opportunity for him, and he may not have had any actual role in the attempt to kill Bran.  One might wonder why Llittlefinger is so determined to discredit the Lannisters ... but that's a topic for another thread.

Conclusions (or lack thereof)

Regardless of who instigated the crime, it seems likely that there was a middleman of some sort involved.  The catspaw was apparently just a common criminal who had attached himself to King Robert's royal progress to Winterfell.  The instigator must have been highborn; it doesn't seem conceivable that any commoner would want Bran dead, much less have a bag of silver and a rare dagger to provide to tne catspaw.  And as with Joffrey, no highborn man or lady would want to be seen around Winterfell asking to hire a killer.

With all that in mind, I'm sure you can see why I am mystified.  I find the dagger particularly puzzling; I can't think of a reason why such a valuable weapon would be used, except as a false clue.  Don't most catspaws have their own weapons?  

I can't help wondering if this is a "first book error" on the part of the Martin.  Perhaps he wrote a mystery into the story line, thinking that he would figure out and reveal the solution later.  I hope he will.

What do you think? 

Your humble scribe, 
Aebram of Underhedge

 

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10 minutes ago, Phylum of Alexandria said:

I can agree the Joffrey reveal wasn't exactly satisfying, but I chalk this up to shoddy execution on GRRM's part. I don't think this plot thread is coming back at any point.

I don't think it was shoddy execution at all regardless of people's dissatisfaction with the resolution.  But I do completely agree with you that this plot thread is not coming back because, to Martin, it's completely resolved.

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12 minutes ago, Prince of the North said:

I don't think it was shoddy execution at all regardless of people's dissatisfaction with the resolution.  But I do completely agree with you that this plot thread is not coming back because, to Martin, it's completely resolved.

Well, to be clear, I don't put it up there with "her cunt became the world" as an all-time worst writing decisions contender. I just thought it was a lot of hype and seeming narrative importance, and then kind of a shrug.

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5 hours ago, Nathan Stark said:

It was Joffrey. The little shit didn't need a motivation to have Bran murdered. Being a little sadist was enough.

This

He was bored up north , bran drew attention from him , he agreed with his drunken 'fathers'  views and of course we see time and again joffery views sadism as being strong leader/makimg strong decisions

He clearly enjoys murder and causing suffering and arranging an actual assasination would have been both easy and thrilling for him, hes too young for hunting (thus cant hurt living things that way)  and hes been denined sparring with edged steel (as he was under the delusion hed beat robb) so murder would suit

Edited by astarkchoice
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The truth of whether Joffery ordered Bran's death probably rests on if his claim to being no stranger to Valyrian Steel was a mere boast or fact. This is what clues Tyrion in to the idea that Joff may have been behind it.

Quote

“Sharp! I told you, I am no stranger to Valyrian steel.” 

I tend to think it wasn't a mere boast and that Joff had made acquaintance with Valyrian Steel. If so, how? From what I recall, none of the Kingsguard carried valyrian steel swords. Robert's weapon was his hammer, none on the small council possessed such a sword and neither did any of the regular noblemen surrounding the King. It's likely that Ice was the first such sword to be seen in King's Landing in quite a while and Joff had no opportunity to examine that. So perhaps this is a first indication that the only Valyrian steel weapon he had encountered and examined, perhaps even secretly played with, was indeed Robert's dagger, stored and unused. 

 

11 hours ago, Aebram said:

 For one thing, Joffrey has no real motive.  He and Bran didn't interact much, and there's no indication of a quarrel or other event that might have given Joffrey a reason to want revenge.  

The text suggests that Joffrey was motivated by a desire for approval from his supposed father, King Robert.  

I think Joff's real motivation was that he wanted very much to be like his father, rather than a desire for approval alone. Joff took pride in the two swords he possessed prior to receiving Widow's Wail, going as far as asking Sansa to kiss his sword. He obviously fancied himself a great swordsman and warrior, demanding live steel in the practice yard against Robb, intending to take Sansa to the ruby ford where Robert defeated Rhaegar and telling her all about it, speaking of leading men into battle and all that. This all points to wanting to emulate Robert, to achieve that prowess in battle and level of fame. In view of this (and the psychology of these issues), responding to what he may have percieved as his father's wish isn't too far fetched. It also suggests Robert could have significantly influenced Joff's character and mindset had he paid the boy more attention and taken the time to do so. 

11 hours ago, Aebram said:

The method

How could Joffrey find and hire someone to do the killing?  If the heir to the throne was going around Winterfell asking where he could hire a killer, it would have attracted attention.  So he would need a middleman, someone he could trust, and who had some experience in such matters, to find and hire a suitable catspaw without being noticed.  This middleman would himself need to be a somewhat unsavory character, someone who was willing to assist in the murder of a highborn child, rather than report the matter to Lord Stark or King Robert.  Does Joffrey know any such person?

The main suspects for a middleman would be the Hound and Boros Blount (perhaps also Meryn Trant). Not too long after the attempt on Bran's life, the Hound kills Mycah, presumably on Joff's or Cersei's orders. He had no qualms about doing that. Later, Arya badly wants to see him dead for this crime. How ironic, if the Hound was also involved as the middleman in Bran's case. Sandor was certainly willing to kill the howling direwolf and we note Joff places a longsword in his hand:

Quote

“It’s the wolf that makes the noise. I could scarce sleep last night.” Clegane cast a long shadow across the hard-packed earth as his squire lowered the black helm over his head. “I could silence the creature, if it please you,” he said through his open visor. His boy placed a longsword in his hand. He tested the weight of it, slicing at the cold morning air. 

So that's one option. If I had to place a bet however, it would be on Boros Blount. He's the sort of character who would do the prince's bidding, whatever the order, as we later see when he regularly complies with Joff's orders to beat Sansa - in full view of the court, no less. He would also keep the secret and may have received a reward for his service (Blount frequents brothels. No doubt he spends a lot of money there). 

Anyway, this is how it may have played out if Joffery was the culprit. 

 

 

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13 hours ago, Aebram said:

Good morrow to all,

Who instigated the attempt to murder Bran?  I've been studying this question recently.  I found that, the more I studied it, the more mysterious it became.

snip

 

Joffrey did it, but Littlefinger was the instigator.

To reiterate my earlier post, Petyr convinced Joffrey that the only way to prevent Ned from becoming Hand, and jeopardizing Joffrey's ascension to the throne, is if a Stark child were to suddenly die. So first, Joff tried to goad Robb into fighting with live steel, with a little night soil on his own blade. Then Bran fell and Joff though all was good, but when Ned came south anyway he sent the CP back to finish the job. And when they reached the Trident and there was still no word of Bran's death, Joff took the opportunity to use Cersei's plan to slut-shame Sansa on their little date to kill her instead. But fortunately they ran into Arya and Micah.

 

 

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1 hour ago, KingEuronGreyjoy said:

I don’t really think it matters at this point. It could’ve been Joff or Cersei IMO. Those 2 are the only ones that make any sense. And the Joffrey reveal felt kind of underwhelming. 
 

Crack theory, it was Bloodraven manipulating events to get Bran on the path to coming to him.

Oh of course it was Bloodraven (or maybe a Bran out of time). The question really is who did he use and how did he manipulate him?  Hey if Mance was here at the time like he says he was would he have been a potential agent?

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On 12/9/2022 at 7:21 AM, Evolett said:

So that's one option. If I had to place a bet however, it would be on Boros Blount. He's the sort of character who would do the prince's bidding, whatever the order, as we later see when he regularly complies with Joff's orders to beat Sansa - in full view of the court, no less. He would also keep the secret and may have received a reward for his service (Blount frequents brothels. No doubt he spends a lot of money there). 

Yes, I do think the middleman was someone like Boros Blount.  A Kingsguard knight with some vices, an officer in the City Watch, a captain of someone's household guard:  these are men with contacts both at court and in the criminal underworld. 

But these positions require a man to have some wits, as well as an instinct for self-preservation.  Joffrey was no more than 12 or 13 years old at this time; and Robert was still alive and in good health, so there was no reason to suspect that Joffrey would soon be King.  In those circumstances, I doubt that even Ser Boros could be persuaded to help arrange the murder of a son of House Stark.

On a related topic, I've finally thought of a plausible explanation for the dagger.  The catspaw may have been a common criminal who hired on as a laborer in Robert's entourage.  By day, he did some menial work such as cutting firewood or tending horses.  But at night, he would roam around camp, looking for opportunities to commit theft, as well as perhaps rape and other sundry crimes.  He had acquired the dagger by stealing it:  perhaps from Robert's weapons chest, or perhaps from some other lord or well-to-do knight or merchant.  In that case, it is indeed a false clue, but not one that was deliberately planted by some criminal mastermind, merely a coincidence.

Edited by Aebram
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After further musing, I am prepared to go beyond my usual "just the facts," and offer an actual Theory:

Cersei did it.  She is the one who instructed the middleman to hire an assassin and arrange the murder.

As explained in the OP, she and Jaime have the clearest motive; and we know from reading Jaime's thoughts that he didn't do it.  Cersei is ruthless enough to do it; and she has contacts with Kingsguard knights and other senior officers who might be less than entirely honorable, and could serve as the middleman. 

There's one other piece of evidence that I didn't include in the OP, because it isn't specifically related to the question of who hired the catspaw.  But it relates to Cersei's honesty, or lack thereof.  Here's a conversation that occurred just after Joffrey accused Tywin of "hiding under Casterly Rock" while King Robert won all the battles.

Quote

“Father, I am sorry,” Cersei said, when the door was shut. “Joff has always been willful, I did warn you …”

“There is a long league’s worth of difference between willful and stupid. ‘A strong king acts boldly?’ Who told him that?”

“Not me, I promise you,” said Cersei. “Most like it was something he heard Robert say …”

“The part about you hiding under Casterly Rock does sound like Robert.” Tyrion didn’t want Lord Tywin forgetting that bit.

“Yes, I recall now,” Cersei said, “Robert often told Joff that a king must be bold.” (ASOS 53)

First she says that Robert might have said it.  Then she suddenly remembers that Robert said it "often." If that were really the case, why didn't she remember it at once?  This fits the pattern of spontaneous lying, similar to the conversation in ASOS 72 that I included in the OP.

She was actually my prime suspect all along.  It was only the presence of the rare dagger that didn't seem to fit the theory.  Now that I've thought of a plausible explanation for that, there is no reason not to consider her the most likely suspect.

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Joffrey did it imo. Logically it's either him or Cersei, but I agree with Tyrion when he thinks that she would not use a blade that can be so easily traced back to her. I also think that if it truly was her, she would have thought about it at some point during Feast or Dance (she thinks of Robert and Melara). Especially during the walk. Joffrey is stupid and bold enough to think he could do it without consequences, so he did not even care about the dagger. And his reaction to Tyrion's insinuation in SOS also somewhat confirmed it (to me at least). 

The reveal was quite anti-climactic, but at that point in the story it did not even matter anymore. The war had become bigger than the assasination attempt.

Edited by Raven Princling
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1 hour ago, Raven Princling said:

I also think that if it truly was her, she would have thought about it at some point during Feast or Dance (she thinks of Robert and Melara).

The Martin does sometimes conceal characters' thoughts about critical moments.  For example, we know nothing of what Tyrion was thinking at the Purple Wedding when he dumped out the last of Joffrey's wine, or when he told Jaime, during his escape from the dungeons, that he had killed Joffrey.  And both of those happened in chapters that were written from Tyrion's POV.

If you think Joffrey did it, how do you think he found and hired the catspaw? And why would he need to provide a weapon?

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