neothoron asked:

Hello, you mention in your ask about Renly's manipulative cruelty that Mace Tyrell is actually shrewder than he appears. What makes you say that? Does that imply that Olenna's description of him as an oaf is an act put up for Sansa? Do you think he had a conscious part in the Purple Wedding?

Hiya! I’m so sorry this is so long in coming; a bunch of people asked on this topic, so I wanted to put something full-length together.

When people talk about The Quotes from ASOIAF, the ones that are basically GRRM dropping the veil and telling us how he thinks and feels about his subject matter, there’s this one from Varys that comes up a lot:

“Power resides where men believe it resides.”

And there’s a lot of political and Plato’s-cave truth to that. But there’s an equally relevant and powerful flipside to this trope: the power that can be achieved by deflecting attention, by appearing unimportant, shallow, secondary, a figurehead. In short, the tremendous upside to be exploited in being constantly underestimated.

For me, no character exemplifies this trope better than Mace Tyrell, that pompous, overwrought boob…who is currently serving as the Hand of the King, which is exactly what he has been trying to accomplish the entire time. Mace commands by far the largest armies in Westeros, and has acted at every turn to preserve them, committing to battle only at the Blackwater, where he was bolstered by Tywin’s forces and needed to prove his loyalty to the new regime, and at Duskendale, where his opponents had been set up to fail by their own commander (Roose Bolton, another man happy to be underrated). Where Tywin begins the war by rampaging around the Riverlands to work through his shame about Tyrion’s kidnapping (until Robb turns up and promptly makes him look like an idiot, so then that much more shame to slaughter civilians over), and Stannis begins the war by painstakingly preparing a list of reasons why his life sucks and everyone’s mean and he hates them (I love him so much because he’s a sullen, lonely kid forlornly kicking at empty plastic bags in the corner of the schoolyard), Mace begins the war like an adult. Specifically, he cuts off food supplies to King’s Landing.

Now, Renly is usually credited with or blamed for the strategy of moving his army deliberately slowly toward King’s Landing, but note that when Stannis threatens Storm’s End, Renly moves extremely quickly–in fact, too quickly:

Ned would surely have prevailed upon Robert to bring up his whole force, to encircle Stannis and besiege the besiegers. That choice Renly had denied himself in his headlong rush to come to grips with his brother. He had outdistanced his supply lines, left food and forage days behind with all his wagons and mules and oxen. He must come to battle soon, or starve.

So it seems more likely that Mace was responsible for this slow pace, with the primary goal (as we see through Tyrion’s POV) of starving the people of King’s Landing to the point of rebelling against Joffrey, a cruel but clever stratagem that came very close to working. When the Tyrells then ally with the Lannisters, they flood King’s Landing with food, winning the support of the people even though the Tyrells were the ones who cut off supplies to begin with:

“The Tyrells have been carting food up from Highgarden and giving it away in her name. Hundreds of wayns each day. There’s thousands of Tyrell men swaggering about with little golden roses sewn on their doublets, and not a one is buying his own wine. Wife, widow, or whore, the women are all giving up their virtue to every peach-fuzz boy with a gold rose on his teat.”

They spit on me, and buy drinks for the Tyrells.

Those bolded words of Tyrion’s sum up perfectly how well the Tyrells have played the commons relative to the Lannisters. Littlefinger’s upcoming embargo (as revealed in the recent “Alayne” chapter) will only ramp up the political leverage Mace has wielded throughout the series via Reach resources and exports.

Mace also managed to avoid ever alienating the Starks and Tullys, and so is not hated by the Young Wolf’s former supporters, a significant accomplishment given that they seem poised to wipe Houses Bolton and Frey off the face of Terros. Indeed, successful political maneuvering is as much about avoiding disastrous mistakes as securing ambitious triumphs; Lord Mace excels at this, which is why he’s been able to jump from Renly to Joffrey to Tommen, sacrificing remarkably little and picking up Brightwater Keep in the bargain. Hell, as Tyrion points out, he even left the door open to joining Team Robb should the Lannisters prove troublesome:

Bloody fool, thought Tyrion. “Sweet sister,” he explained patiently, “offend Tyrell and you offend Redwyne, Tarly, Rowan, and Hightower as well, and perhaps start them wondering whether Robb Stark might not be more accommodating of their desires.”

Note Tyrion’s construction here; Tyrell’s vassals take their cues from the Fat Flower, not the other way around. When Randyll Tarly and Mathis Rowan talk in council, this is what I hear:

Ser Kevan was his brother’s vanguard in council, Tyrion knew from long experience; he never had a thought that Lord Tywin had not had first. It has all been settled beforehand, he concluded, and this discussion’s no more than show.

(I know Kevan thinks Tarly’s the real danger, but Kevan also thinks Cersei is permanently cowed, so he’s not necessarily the most insightful guy.)

Mace Tyrell has spent the entire story steadily accumulating both hard and soft power, and nobody seems to notice, because unlike his mother or his daughter, he doesn’t fit the archetype of a classic political manipulator. If there is an unambiguous winner in the Game of Thrones so far, still standing amidst all the bodies, it is the Warden of the South…and yet it’s hard not to laugh at him when he does stuff like this:

The new King’s Hand was seated on an oaken throne carved in the shape of a hand, an absurd vanity his lordship had produced the day Ser Kevan agreed to grant him the office he coveted.

But the terrifying thing to consider is that he is not desperately compensating by making himself a Hand-Throne; he is, instead, deadly serious. (How long ago did he have that chair made, to have it ready on the spot?) Mace Tyrell intends to rule King’s Landing for the foreseeable future, and Varys and his little birds have made that immeasurably easier for him.

So, why do I credit all this to Mace specifically? It’s become a near-consensus that Lady Olenna is the true power in Highgarden, to the point I’ve actually seen people refer to House Tyrell as “matriarchal,” which is one hell of a misread. Highgarden is not Sunspear. The Tyrells are not the Mormonts (more’s the pity; all our lives are brighter with Lyanna Mormont in charge of the Bear Island letterhead). The Reach is the epicenter of feudal patriarchy in Westeros; Mace commands the armies, controls the resources, and makes the marriage contracts, not Olenna. We’ve seen this with Catelyn, Cersei, Lysa: noble women of patriarchal houses can exercise enormous power, but they do so through their sons, and Mace is no Sweetrobin. Don’t get me wrong, Olenna is unquestionably a strong influence on Mace’s decision-making, it’s just in an advisory capacity. Sure, she changes his mind on some questions (most notably on whether to wed Loras to Cersei), but Davos changes Stannis’ mind on the biggest question of all (who he’s really fighting for, and why); this doesn’t make Stannis any less responsible for the decision to sail North.

I would argue that Olenna’s storyline actually subtly demonstrates the enormous passive power Mace Tyrell wields in the realm, and has since at least Robert’s Rebellion (more on that in a moment). I think A Storm of Swords sets that up perfectly: Olenna isn’t Mace’s puppet master, she’s his assassin. I absolutely believe he knew about the Purple Wedding, because Olenna would be taking a frankly unbelievable risk by acting on her own. If she is discovered, she’s going to need Mace’s protection, which he can only effectively accomplish if he knows about it beforehand. As one of the judges, he can direct the investigation away from his family, which he does by repeatedly reminding his fellow judges that Margaery could’ve easily been poisoned as well.

Olenna’s dialogue is largely concerned with the limits of her power within the Tyrell household, and how the ultimate strategic authority rests with her son.

“Should you ever have a son, Sansa, beat him frequently so he learns to mind you. I only had the one boy and I hardly beat him at all, so now he pays more heed to Butterbumps than he does to me. A lion is not a lap cat, I told him, and he gives me a ‘tut-tut Mother.’ There is entirely too much tut-tutting in this realm, if you ask me. All these kings would do a deal better if they would put down their swords and listen to their mothers.

It was Mace who controlled the information within the Tyrell Conspiracy, as Olenna didn’t know about the Lannister twincest until he told her:

“It’s treason, I warned them, Robert has two sons, and Renly has an older brother, how can he possibly have any claim to that ugly iron chair? Tut-tut, says my son, don’t you want your sweetling to be queen?”

It was Mace who pushed the family ambitions forward, not Olenna:

“We should have stayed well out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder. After Lord Puff Fish put that crown on Renly’s head, we were into the pudding up to our knees, so here we are to see things through.”

Nor is book!Margaery actually obsessed with the crown, per Littlefinger:

“We shall have another wedding soon, wait and see. Margaery will marry Tommen. She’ll keep her queenly crown and her maidenhead, neither of which she especially wants, but what does that matter?”

Couple of quick things: one could argue that Olenna is being falsely humble to Sansa in the same way that I’m arguing Mace is doing writ large. But Olenna really has no reason to lie to Sansa about any of this; Sansa’s expectations and perceptions are not politically influential (although Alayne is a different matter), and Olenna is mining Sansa for information in this scene, not trying to sow misinformation of her own. Also, note the limitations of Olenna’s hands-off mantra:

“If truth be told, even our claim to Highgarden is a bit dodgy, just as those dreadful Florents are always whining. ‘What does it matter?’ you ask, and of course it doesn’t, except to oafs like my son.”

Well, Mace has to care about that sort of thing, because it’s the source of his legitimacy in the Reach. If he can put a grandson on the Iron Throne, he’ll have secured his authority back home from the likes of the Florents…and indeed, as soon as the Blackwater was done, Mace used his new access to the Iron Throne’s power to bring Brightwater Keep under direct Tyrell jurisdiction.

Mace’s go-to move, one which (again) he has in common with Roose Bolton, is to hoard his resources while allowing/encouraging his ostensible allies to self-destruct, counting on being the one with the most soldiers and food in the end. His primary war aim in Robert’s Rebellion wasn’t to defend the Targaryen regime (he neither joined Rhaegar at the Trident, nor defended King’s Landing from Tywin), it was to occupy the Stormlands. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for young Stannis’ iron resolve and inspiring leadership (bullshit “Stannis isn’t charismatic,” uncharismatic men don’t hold a starving garrison together for that long; the king’s men and queen’s men alike have followed him to Storm’s End, the Blackwater, the Wall, Winterfell, through fire and ice, the odds against them every time, roaring his name. No Baratheon is uncharismatic, there are laws on this.)

Mace’s siege wasn’t just a landgrab conducted under the pretense of loyalty to the crown, however; if Stannis had yielded, Mace could’ve broken Robert’s cause in the same way Theon broke Robb’s. What kind of king loses his castle, especially to Lord Puff Fish (or Theon, for fuck’s sake)?

But Mace never gave Robert Baratheon cause to kill him if (when, as it turns out) the rebel lord won, although the still-Warden of the South certainly committed himself to a lifelong campaign to keep Stannis off the Throne, which helps explain his willingness to join Team Joffrey after Renly’s death. Mace kept his titles, his land, his soft power. And when Renly came to him with the news that Cersei’s children were not Robert’s, Mace plotted with Renly to replace Cersei with Margaery and put a half-Tyrell on the Iron Throne, cementing Highgarden as the political powerhouse of the realm. As mentioned above, Mace commits himself to this plan before informing Olenna, telling her only to keep the family united in pursuit of a common end (which, again, is why I cannot believe Olenna would take the hugely risky step of murdering the king without getting her lord’s consent…or more likely, she was following his orders in doing so. Like she said, she wanted nothing to do with any of these assholes, but Mace tut-tutted, and that was that.)  

So what’s next on Mace’s agenda? Control the small council, get Margaery through her trial, and protect Highgarden from the Crow’s Eye. I’ve no doubt he’ll accomplish the first two, but the third is going to become very perilous very quickly (especially if I’m right in thinking Euron gets a dragon). Cersei’s already demonstrated how many fucks she gives about defending the Reach (between zero and let me check oh also zero how weird); moreover, she may very well break the alliance for good by sending Robert Strong after Margaery. So Mace Tyrell is going to yet again be in the market for a new client-king…and lo and behold, like an answered prayer, there’s one down at Storm’s End, and his first choice for Hand has, ah, a hand problem…


House Tyrell

High marshals of the reach, defenders of the marches and second wealthiest House in Westeros. The yrule from the ancient seat of Highgarden, the heart of chivalry in the Seven Kingdoms.

Growing strong.

  • Tyrion Lannister:And another thing about the Free Cities, they love sex positions. I present to you The Way of the Seven Sighs. I mean look at that. Who has seen that before?
  • Petyr Baelsih:I have. That’s the Meereenese Knot.
  • Mace Tyrell:Oh, that’s what they call it!
  • Oberyn Martell:This is the best meeting that we have ever had.

anonymous asked:

I can't come up with any reason this marriage would happen (maybe I don't understand Westerosi politics well enough but I just don't see how, at the very least, Mace Tyrell would not be against it) but I've read a few posts saying that had Robb married Margaery it could have changed a lot of things for the better. Do you think that's true?

Hi anon! Great question; a Stark-Tyrell alliance is one of my favorite ASOIAF hypotheticals to play around with, and it’s explicitly teased more than once in the text:

“Had it been me up there, I should have sent Ser Loras. He so wanted to go… and a man who has the Lannisters for his enemies would do well to make the Tyrells his friends.”

Bloody fool, thought Tyrion. “Sweet sister,” he explained patiently, “offend Tyrell and you offend Redwyne, Tarly, Rowan, and Hightower as well, and perhaps start them wondering whether Robb Stark might not be more accommodating of their desires.”

If you had to fall into a woman’s arms, my son, why couldn’t they have been Margaery Tyrell’s?

Now, why would this marriage happen?

Robb Stark’s campaign against the Lannister regime reaches its peak with the Battle of Oxcross. With Stafford Lannister’s army shattered, there’s basically nothing stopping Robb from sacking Lannisport and besieging Casterly Rock itself. Edmure holds Riverrun, Roose holds the Ruby Ford, and Maege Mormont and the Greatjon are raiding the rest of the Westerlands, makin’ off with all their gold and cattle. (Those rapscallions! Farmer Maggot’s gonna catch you one of these days!) Robb is an extremely attractive ally at this point to anyone not already committed to Joffrey’s rule. Indeed, we later learn that many Vale lords were champing at the bit to get in on the Young Wolf’s hot streak, prevented only by Littlefinger via Lysa.

We learn about Robb’s victory from Sansa’s POV in King’s Landing; the very next chapter, their mom witnesses Renly’s assassination. The Tyrells suddenly find themselves kingless, as Lord Mace has what you might call history with Stannis. (Namely, if not for Davos and his onions, Mace would’ve starved Stannis to death at Storm’s End during Robert’s Rebellion. Stannis does not forget. Stannis does not forgive.) What’s a wealthy, powerful, and conniving family to do? 

If Mace chose to marry Margaery to Robb, it’s almost impossible to imagine how either Stannis or Tywin could have defeated the new North-South alliance. Tywin’s vassals, now drastically outnumbered and with Robb loose on their lands, could well have demanded he sue for peace or even desert him if he refused. Even if they don’t, Harrenhal will soon come under siege by a massive, unwearied, and well-fed Reach army. The big question then becomes what happens at King’s Landing. Without Tywin and Mace riding in to save the day, Stannis will likely take the city and the throne…unless Robb and his new vassals stop him.

After all, with three of the seven kingdoms behind him, and a fourth (the Westerlands) about to fall to him as well, why shouldn’t Robb just go ahead and claim the Iron Throne for himself? (Putting aside for the moment the li’l matter that he has no claim to it but by force.) After all, up to this point, his kingdom hinged in large part on who his parents were; now it’s about who his kids will be. With the backing of Highgarden as well as Winterfell and Riverrun (and in all likelihood, Casterly Rock by conquest), Robb and Margaery’s kids won’t be ruling an “independent kingdom, as of old.” They will be ruling over the lion’s share (heh) of the Westerosi population. When your realm stretches from Oldtown to the Wall, you’re not really a secessionist any more. And of course Mace wants to see his grandson’s arse on the Iron Throne, and while his vassals (especially Randyll Tarly) would love to serve a king as classically charismatic and accomplished in war as Robb, they wouldn’t be happy being ruled from far-off and decidedly foreign Winterfell, where Northern lords would always have a leg up in influence.

But those Northern lords, naturally, want exactly that monopoly on the Young Wolf’s power; indeed, no sooner has Robb been declared king than Wyman Manderly moves to reap the benefits of independent fleets and finances. How would he feel about Tyrell gold suddenly displacing White Harbor silver as the literal and figurative currency of Robb’s realm? Moreover, there’s an ideological component to Robb’s declaration of independence that would lead Northerners to resist re-bending the knee to the Iron Throne, even if Robb himself were sitting on it. Rickard Karstark openly dismisses “their red castle and their iron chair as well.” Theirs, not ours. He swore an oath to the King in the North, not a half-Tyrell regime in King’s Landing.

As such, if Robb marries Margaery, he will immediately face one hell of a headache in managing the various interests of his new coalition; his best hope is claiming the Iron Throne to sate the Reach nobles while offering his father’s lords significant rewards (lands, marriages, positions at court) to earn their buy-in for this dramatic alteration of their military and political aims.

So why doesn’t this happen? Catelyn’s presence in Renly’s tent when he dies ruins any possibility of her serving as matchmaker (remember, she’s initially considered a suspect in his murder). Then Theon takes Winterfell. Just as Robb’s raids on the West made Tywin look dangerously weak in front of his lords (forcing him to march back toward home, despite the massive threat Stannis’ new army poses to the nascent Lannister dynasty in King’s Landing), Robb’s loss of his home castle destroys the aura of victory and legitimacy that would make him an attractive partner for the Tyrells. Mace instead teams up with Tywin to take down Stannis, but as Tyrion’s quote up at the top indicates, the lords of the Reach could still jump ship yet again, now in a position to open the capital’s gates to King Robb…except by then, King Robb has a queen. His marriage to Jeyne Westerling obviously poisons his relationship with the Freys, but if he’d married Margaery instead, Walder Frey wouldn’t have dared risk the Red Wedding, no matter how slighted he felt. (What Roose Bolton would’ve done in this scenario is a whole ‘nother post.) 

I love this hypothetical because it emphasizes the exquisite timing with which the War of Five Kings unfolds and the remarkable cultural upheavals it puts into play: when Robert Baratheon sat the Iron Throne, no one could have imagined the Tyrells fighting to sit a Stark there instead, but the dominos that fall after Robert dies bring us closer than you might think to exactly that scenario. It’s how you know GRRM’s a great writer; I love the story he tells, but the ones he doesn’t, choosing instead to faintly trace their outlines and structure the narrative around their absence, are almost as fascinating.