I should've had a V8.
When season four of Game of Thrones premieres this Sunday, House Stark, which ruled the north since the Age of Heroes, is all but extinct. Winterfell lies in ruins, Robb and his bannermen have been obliterated, and all the adult members of the immediate family have been murdered. To make matters worse, all of the legitimate child heirs are either imprisoned or on the run. How did one of the great houses of Westeros fall so far, so fast?
The answer: Catelyn Tully (a.k.a. Catelyn Stark, a.k.a. Dr. Wrong Choice).
Many fans of the show view Catelyn as a stoic matriarch who puts family above all. And to a certain extent, that’s true. But what’s also true is the fact that Catelyn Stark is a horrible, horrible decision maker whose poor choices were the driving force behind her ancient family’s downfall.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Catelyn’s choices were all stupid. I’m simply saying they were, for the most part, all wrong. Whenever she had to make a major decision, it backfired in a major way. With that in mind, here are the increasingly poor decisions of Catelyn Stark (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Stannis).
5. Leaving Winterfell
What's the worst that can happen besides the downfall of my family?
When Ned left for King’s Landing to act as Hand of the King, Catelyn stayed behind in order to tend to Bran, who was still in a coma. After an assassin unsuccessfully attempted to kill Bran, Catelyn began to suspect the Lannisters were behind the attack. So she did what any worried mother would do; left her crippled, recently attacked son behind and traveled to King’s Landing with just one bodyguard.
Wait, what? Why? That makes absolutely no sense?
First of all, why is it now safe to leave Bran? Someone literally just tried to murder him in his own bed, but she’s comfortable jaunting off to the capital? If she suspected the Lannisters were behind the attack, she should also suspect that they have enough money to hire a second assassin, considering there’s a running, nationwide joke about Lannisters shitting gold.
Second, if she’s going to travel at all, why not take more guards, and why keep it a secret? Because it will attract attention from the Lannisters? Well if that’s her concern, why go at all? Why not just send Rodrik Cassel? If she trusts him to travel along as her only body guard, certainly she should trust him to deliver a message to Ned. Maybe she thought she needed to speak with Littlefinger in person (we'll get to that next)?
At any rate, Catelyn foolishly chose to hit the road, and as a result, she never saw her home or young children again.
4. Trusting Littlefinger
Wait, I recognize you! You're the guy who loves my wife and hates my family!
While Catelyn’s trip to King’s Landing was very ill advised, her next choice makes even less sense. Trust is important. When figuring out whom to trust in a life and death situation, spurned suitors and people who have a vendetta against your husband’s family should probably not be near the top of your list. As such, Petyr Baelish (a.k.a. Littlefinger) was a doubly-bad choice.
In her younger days, Catelyn was courted by Littlefinger, but she rejected his romantic advances. To add insult to injury, Baelish challenged her fiancé (Ned’s older brother) to a dual, and was almost killed. Yet Catelyn, in her wisdom, decided to make Baelish Ned’s point man in King’s Landing. After all, why shouldn’t they trust him?
Oh right; because of all the obvious reasons I just listed.
In the end, Ned took Littlefinger’s advice, and ended up losing his head as a result. You should have never listened to your wife, Ned.
3. Arresting Tyrion and Taking Him to the Eyrie
I'm not very big. You could have just told me to f*ck off.
While returning home from their ill-advised trip to King’s Landing, Catelyn and Rodrik stopped to rest at a small inn. Here, they ran into Tyrion Lannister returning from the Wall. At first, they tried not to draw attention to themselves, but despite their efforts, they were eventually spotted by the Imp.
Rather than play it cool and make up any number of plausible excuses (“I’m visiting my father,” “I really like the soup at this inn,” “F*ck you Imp, mind your own business,” etc.), Catelyn went into full panic mode, and had Tyrion taken into custody for the attempted murder of her son. She did so despite the fact her only evidence was a random blonde hair and an unsubstantiated accusation (ownership of the dagger) from a questionable source (Littlefinger). Not to mention the fact that Tyrion had no discernible motive for killing the boy.
As a result of her actions, House Lannister was put on an inevitable collision course with House Stark. Ned was seriously wounded by Jaime Lanister on the streets of King’s Landing, and many of his men were killed, including Jory Cassel. Not to mention the smallfolk of Riverrun who became collateral damage of The Mountain and his avenging marauders. I'm sure there are lots of dead, fictitious peasant families who wish Catelyn had just left that damn inn without causing a scene.
What's for lunch?
To make matters worse, Catelyn decided to take Tyrion to her sister in the Eyrie rather than returning with him to Winterfell. Granted, her motivation for doing so made sense, considering she was looking to throw any Lannister men off her trail. But as with all Catelyn’s decisions, this also backfired.
Upon arriving at the Eyrie, it was discovered that Catelyn’s sister Lysa was completely unhinged (assuming you consider breastfeeding a six-year old unhinged). She refused to help the Starks in their struggle against the Lannisters, and allowed Tyrion to manipulate his way into a trial by combat. Even if Tyrion had lost his trial, his death would have accomplished nothing in regard to solving the mystery of Bran’s fall, and would have only further enraged the Lannisters. But he survived, gaining Bronn and the hill tribes as allies in the process, and strenghtening his family's position.
2. Promising Robb's Hand in Marriage To A Frey
Take your pick, young man!
Again, this was not necessarily a stupid decision, based on the options at hand. But there’s no denying it came back to haunt House Stark in a very profound and gruesome way.
When Robb Stark and his armies marched south after the arrest of his father, they found themselves at the mercy of Walder Frey, who controlled access across the Green Fork. Since Lord Frey was one of her father’s bannermen, Catelyn offered to negotiate in place of Robb to lessen the risk of a kidnapping. Sure enough, she secured safe passage across the bridge, but in exchange, Robb agreed to marry one of Lord Frey’s daughters, who were not known for their beauty.
Arranged marriages for political purposes certainly aren’t uncommon in Westeros, but as you might imagine, committing a teenage boy to an ugly girl he’s never met is problematic. In all fairness to Catelyn, it’s not as if Robb didn’t sign off on the deal, so he’s just as responsible. But she was the one who negotiated the terms which allied the Starks with the Freys, and set off a string of unfortunate events ending with the worst wedding in history aside from Kim & Kanye.
1. Releasing Jaime Lannister
If you let me go, I promise not to try and kill any more of your kids.
Most of Catyln’s decisions may not look good in hindsight, but many at least had some hope of a sucessful outcome at the time they were made. Releasing Jaime Lannister was not one of them. It’s possibly the most idiotic move anyone has made on the show thus far.
After Winterfell was sacked, Catyln believed her two youngest sons were dead. So, in a brilliant attempt to secure the release of her remaining children, she covertly released Jaime Lannister. What? Why?
Jaime Lannister was the highest ranking prisoner the Starks had captured, and the only real bargaining chip House Stark had when it came to keeping Sansa and Arya* alive. For those reasons alone, letting him go is idiotic. But he’s also one of the most despised men in all of the Seven Kingdoms, and is universally distrusted. Not to mention he has openly confessed to throwing Catelyn’s son off of a tower, or the fact that the Lannisters previously cut off her husband’s head. Bereaved or not, there’s no possible reason for Catyln to trust Jaime or his family.
I really should have just stayed home with the kids.
As a result of her actions, Robb ends up losing support of the Karstarks, and is left with no other option but to return to Walder Frey with his hat in hand. This ultimately leads to the Red Wedding, and the almost complete destruction of House Stark. So while Catelyn might have been a good mother, her decision making skills left a lot to be desired.
*I know Arya was on the run, but Catelyn thought she was a prisoner.