Lord Selwyn’s Only Living Child

I was reading through Brynden BFish’s blog archives today (my job takes up my time, but not my mind), and he posed a question awhile back concerning future movements of two major Stormlands characters, including our favorite Sapphire Islander. It’s a fair question, but oddly enough, this one leads even me to a lot of shrugging.

The question, from BFish, is this:

Brienne faces a similar predicament. While much has been made of her oaths to Catelyn against her oaths to Jaime Lannister, I wonder how Brienne will react if and when she hears the news of the fall of Tarth. Brienne’s arc in ASOIAF has been a study in inner conflict between her oaths.

Her father was reputed to be a good man. If Tarth’s fall reaches Brienne, will she abandon her conflicting oaths to Catelyn and Jaime and seek out her father? Will she serve Aegon if he agrees to release her father? Admittedly, this is the weakest section of this analysis, because I’m not as recently read-up on Brienne’s arc. Please let me know in the comments below whether this point is far-fetched or whether there’s evidence for or against this idea.

The relevant bit of text is from one of the sample chapters of The Winds of Winter:

“Now it’s said to be Jon Connington, the Mad King’s Hand, come back from the grave to reclaim his birthright. Whoever it is, Griffin’s Roost has fallen to them. Rain House, Crow’s Nest, Mistwood, even Greenstone on its island. All taken.”

“Tarth has fallen too, some fisherfolk will tell you,” said Valena. “These sellswords now hold most of Cape Wrath and half the Stepstones. We hear talk of elephants in the rainwood.” (TWOW, Arianne I)

So from the little we’ve seen of Book 6, it seems that the Sapphire Isle has been taken over by the new Targaryen conquerors, or will be soon enough. The question here, then, is how Brienne will respond to the news that her ancestral lands, including her father’s castle, are being occupied by a new claimant to the throne.

(This bugger is pretty long. I’m thinking through the matter as I write about it. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about House Tarth, but were afraid to ask!)

There are some comments on BBFish’s article, but hardly anyone has anything constructive to say about Brienne. There’s one commenter who points out that Brienne can ask Jaime to take his troops down to Tarth and come to her father’s aid, and he may well do so for a variety of personal reasons. Nobody else seems to have any ideas about what happens when our big swordswench hears about her father being in trouble.

I may have given this a bit of thought (to no one’s surprise) but not recently. At the time of giving it some thought, I seem to have assumed that while her father’s welfare would be a source of anxiety for Brienne, it wouldn’t pull her away from Sansa, Podrick and Jaime. She’d ultimately stay where her squire, her one-handed knight, and her lady’s daughter needed her, even while thoughts of her father kept her up at night.

And, honestly, I still think that, however the news of Tarth’s occupation would affect her, she would not choose her father’s castle over her protection assignment.

Much of my thinking on this topic is motivated by the fact that Tarth family dynamics are still weirdly underdeveloped in GRRMartin’s books. I’m not entirely sure whether Martin is deliberately vague about how Brienne gets along with her father, or if that area remains squishy because he was herding too many cats already. If he’s deliberately stayed vague about Tarth family dynamics, then this issue could be more significant for Brienne in TWoW. If he simply forgot to go into detail about Lord Selwyn’s rapport with his only living child because there are only so many hours in the day, then her father’s situation probably won’t have much effect on Brienne’s actions.

What do we know about House Tarth so far? We know that they share their House name with their land, a large island in the northern Stormlands. We know that their castle is called Evenfall Hall, and their sigil is crescent moons and starbursts on quartered blue and rose. (The color blue is heavily associated with Brienne.) We don’t know their words, which seems like a weird omission, given how many nearly page-absent Houses there are with known mottos. They’re sworn to House Baratheon of Storm’s End, which means they first supported Renly in the War of Five Kings, though what happened with House Tarth’s loyalties following Renly’s death is IMO a worthy area of inquiry. We hear from Brienne in ACoK that her mother died when she was too young to remember. TV!Catelyn assumes Lady Tarth died in childbed, and that’s as likely a cause of death as any, but all we really know is that Brienne grew up without her mother. She discloses in AFfC that she had two sisters, Alysanne and Arianne, who died in infancy, and an older brother, Galladon, who drowned when he was eight years old and Brienne was four. After all those deaths, it was just her and her father, who is not too old to remarry and get more children (Brienne says he’s 54), but so far hasn’t tried to take a new wife. He has ladies. A different lady every year. And he’s not actually rich in gemstones.

The last interaction shown on-page that involved Lord Selwyn was when the Brave Companions sent him a ransom letter, and he sent his response. Vargo Hoat was assuming that Selwyn would offer a giant load of sapphires for his daughter’s safe return home. He wrote back and offered three-hundred gold dragons. Which is a fair ransom for a knight, but nowhere near comparable to Brienne’s weight in gemstones. For the purposes of this analysis, we know that Lord Selwyn knows that Brienne was held captive at Harrenhal, for at least a little while, but we don’t know what he knows about what happened to her after that.

In order to minimize complications (more on that later), I will assume that the Tarth family is bigger than Lord Selwyn and Brienne. I will assume she has male cousins who serve as Lord Selwyn’s household knights. One such cousin was Ser Endrew Tarth, who served as the master-at-arms for the Night’s Watch until he died. Let’s assume there are more Tarth knights where he came from. Many of those knights went with Brienne to fight for King Renly’s cause, and maybe a few of them stayed at Evenfall to maintain order on the island. Not nearly enough, though, when the Golden Company showed up.

The real question mark for the Tarths is the matter of Renly’s death and Stannis making off with most of his army. Following Renly’s death, Brienne fled from camp with Catelyn Stark, while the rest of the Tarth knights didn’t. Perhaps they ran off and joined up with Stannis? (The index of Feast lists Brienne and her father among “Lordlings and Wanderers.” The index of Dance lists Lord Selwyn and his daughter among the houses sworn to Storm’s End. And I’m not sure how to interpret that.) They may have been among the Houses that bent the knee to Joffrey following Stannis’s defeat at Blackwater (it sounds like a lot of them bailed on him following that battle), but they also may have stuck to their guns and chosen to stay loyal to Steffon Baratheon’s line rather than swear fealty to Cersei Lannister’s inbred bastard. I don’t quite know that much. I’m much more interested in what Lord Selwyn and his knights heard about King Renly’s death, and what he believes.

We all know that Stannis and Melisandre are the ones responsible for Renly going to an early grave, but most people in Westeros don’t know that. I’m sure Lord Tarth and his knights are clueless. We all know that some people believe Brienne killed Renly. Her accusers vary between books and show, and either way the accusation doesn’t seem to be limiting her mobility, but still: there are people who say Brienne was Renly’s killer, the idea being that she was in love with him (she was), but he wouldn’t love her back (he didn’t), so she killed him in a fit of spurned rage (buuuuuuullshiiiiiiiiit), because bitches be crazy, amiright? The question is: has Lord Selwyn heard the rumors that his daughter was Renly’s killer, and if so, how did he respond? There are shades of gray in possible responses to this question. It’s possible for Lord Selwyn to wonder if his daughter may have been capable of this crime. I’d like to know how much he wonders about this. I’d like to know his thoughts on the matter of Brienne having fled the camp following Renly’s death. I’d also like to know what position his knights take on the question of Brienne’s guilt.

When we see Brienne in AFfC, she recalls growing up at Evenfall with her father. He sounds like a decent guy and a decent dad, and isn’t Westerosi nobility short on decent dads? She occasionally thinks she misses her father and she’d like to see him again. But she doesn’t start thinking about going home until she’s at the Crossroads Inn—literally, at the crossroads—running low on ideas about how to find Sansa. Only when she has no way to fulfill her oaths to Catelyn and Jaime does Evenfall seem like a good place to be. Here, I will minimize complicating factors and assume that she sent a raven home, following her release from the tower cell at the Red Keep, to let him know that she made it out of Harrenhal in one piece and now has another big job to do. I’ll assume that much is not a sword hanging over their heads.

The question I’m really trying to answer with Brienne and her father is: what kind of reception does she expect to get if she goes home to Evenfall? Not what kind of reception she’d really get, but how she believes her father would respond if she came home.

When she visits the Quiet Isle with Septon Meribald, and the Elder Brother advises her to give up this quest before it gets her killed, insisting that surely her father will miss her, this is her response:

“A daughter.” Brienne’s eyes filled with tears. “He deserves that. A daughter who could sing to him and grace his hall and bear him grandsons. He deserves a son too, a strong and gallant son to bring honor to his name. Galladon drowned when I was four and he was eight, though, and Alysanne and Arianne died still in the cradle. I am the only child the gods let him keep. The freakish one, not fit to be a son or daughter.”

Martin, George R.R. (2005-11-08). A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4) (p. 532). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And then she’s overwhelmed by the memories of all the emotional upheavals of her young life, and when she’s finished crying, she’s more resolved than ever to find and protect Sansa, or die in the attempt.

First off, her entire sense of self-worth is overwhelmingly tied up in this protection assignment; she’s invested so much of her identity in being Sansa’s protector, a good mentor to Podrick, and a friend to Jaime. Not so much in being Lord Selwyn’s daughter.

Second, do I detect a hint of ambivalence over her bond with her father? It’s like she thinks he’s not proud of her.

What might give her that idea?

The fact that Brienne is her father’s last living child is significant; it puts a lot of pressure on her. The pressure is to inherit her father’s titles, which means she’ll need to marry and produce more heirs to Evenfall, and so far she seems really uninterested in that. She’s had three betrothals, which ended, in this order: Lord Caron’s younger son died of natural causes, Ronnet Connington rejected her at first sight, and she told Humfrey Wagstaff to fuck off after he tried to use threats of violence to keep her in her place. That she’s first in line to a castle and title with a juicy chunk of land makes her a desirable spouse for many relatively low-ranking men who otherwise wouldn’t touch her, but she doesn’t seem open to marrying a man who won’t show her some genuine affection and respect. Humfrey Wagstaff didn’t fit the bill, and I’m thinking her father may have been just the tiniest bit annoyed with her for breaking their betrothal. She’s a hopeless romantic at heart (no, really, look at her parts in ACoK, she’s adorably starry-eyed and naive), and her father needs her to be pragmatic.

The text says he stopped trying to find her a husband after that, and his giving up so easily makes me think he must have some nephews who’d be good enough candidates to inherit his title if Brienne dies without issue. Even so, she seems to think she hasn’t made things easy for her father, and that he maybe wouldn’t miss her if she died young. She probably hasn’t developed that idea without some help from him. I’m not suggesting that he doesn’t love her with all his heart, just that sometimes he’s not sure what to do with her.

As for what that suggests about her actions in TWoW…honestly, I think Brienne’s quota of conflicting vows is more than met already. That business with Lady Stoneheart is going to keep her and Jaime occupied for a while, and when they’re finished with that, I think they’ll be sufficiently traumatized and exhausted that jetting off in yet another direction on yet another dangerous quest won’t seem worth the trouble. For instance, I’m not especially optimistic that Podrick will survive the LSH ordeal. I think Brienne will get herself and Jaime out of there alive and without further loss of limb, but it would be the most tragic irony if they couldn’t save Podrick, wouldn’t it? She’s in that predicament because her vows to Catelyn have already come into conflict with her vows to Jaime, or at least Undead Catelyn thinks they have. She doesn’t need another bout of conflicting vows to keep her presence interesting. I’m sure the struggle with LSH and the Brotherhood Without Banners will give her enough angst to carry her through the last two books. The fall of Tarth isn’t going to compete with her protection assignment. If she decides to return to Tarth, either to pry her father out of Young Griff’s grasp or to bend the knee to him, it’ll be because she already has Sansa safely squared away somewhere else. But seriously, I don’t expect to see Lord Selwyn on-page until the winner has taken the throne, and I don’t expect to see Tarth up close until even later. I think Brienne will be worried about her father, but not enough to abandon Sansa and Jaime. They’re the ones who need her now.

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