Tony Black on Game of Thrones: Riverrun, the Blackfish, and why we’re going back…
Riverrun. Good old Riverrun. When was the last time we saw Riverrun? It’s been a while since the seventy minute opening credits of Game of Thrones took us there, but that looks like where we’re going for the show’s next episode, ‘The Broken Man’, as two of our favourite characters from George R.R. Martin‘s nihilistic fantasy saga are heading there – Jaime Lannister (hopefully with his brilliant sidekick Bronn in tow) and Brienne of Tarth, who this week indeed was confirmed by Martin to be of a very special lineage. But I digress. Riverrun. How many of you who haven’t read the books lately or done a full series rewatch before Season Six even remember much about Riverrun?
Well never fear, because we’re going to catch up on where the place is, what it means, and quite what may happen when Jaime & Brienne get there, because to be honest… all bets are off. Right now, we’re in a phase where certain elements of GoT we can predict with reasonable accuracy given how long we’ve had to theorise, but the fate of Riverrun opens up a few crucial possible directions that, in all honesty, could cause major ripples for the fate of Westeros. No pressure or anything, Riverrun.
When did we last go to Riverrun, then? It was a while ago, in the sixth episode of season three infact, ‘The Climb’, not long before ‘The Rains of Castamere’, which everyone probably thinks is called ‘The Red Wedding’ because of arguably the most legendary, infamous and shocking event that went down in Martin’s saga, both in the books and in the show. The Red Wedding, which saw the brutal murders of Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark and the heavily pregnant Talisa Stark, actually took place at the Twins, the stronghold of probably the most evil bastard in GoT if you look at it in terms of age and longevity, Walder Frey. The Twins is just up the road from Riverrun in the Riverlands, one of the most hotly contested areas of Westeros over the years, which have been for a long time ruled by House Tully from Riverrun.
The Tully’s, of course, most recently made alliances with House Arryn and House Stark through the marriage of their daughters Lysa & Catelyn to the ill-fated Jon Arryn & Eddard Stark. All of them are now dead and the Tully’s power, following the Red Wedding, was ripped away from them by House Frey, with the quiet backing of Tywin Lannister in King’s Landing, looking to politically end the War of Five Kings which kept everyone busy after Ned’s execution and in the wake of King Robert Baratheon’s death. Except the one castle not to yield to Walder Frey’s dominance in the area? Riverrun. Largely thanks to one man who escaped the Red Wedding with his life: Brynden ‘the Blackfish’ Tully.
Brynden may well be a slightly forgotten character but it turns out he could be crucial to several different major events brewing in a Westeros where the political arena has changed significantly since we last saw him. The uncle of Catelyn, Lysa and their brother Edmure Tully, the Blackfish is a respected knight who frequently quarrelled with many of the Tully’s, including ruling brother Hoster, earning a nickname which basically means ‘black sheep’ of the family. The Blackfish now, however, is the only one keeping the Tully name from vanishing into the mists of time. You see after he escaped the Red Wedding, he seized Riverrun from the Frey’s with his last remaining forces, plus the support of House Mallister, House Blackwood & the Brotherhood Without Banners, and has systematically beaten back every attempt by plucky old Walder to seize it in the last few seasons these old geezers have been off screen.
While the Lannister’s have been plunged into a political uprising by the faithful & their entire family split & decimated, and the Stark’s have almost died, actually died, and seen the End Times in weird visions, these two guys have been duking it out over one castle. For the Blackfish, it’s presumably about holding what rightfully belongs to the Tully’s, who were almost literally stabbed in the back and left for dead. For Walder, it’s about the Frey name losing face, and he cementing his Riverland dominance before he pops his hateful clogs.
That’s where we stand in season six and in ‘The Door’ & ‘Blood of My Blood’, two individuals in very different situations were sent packing to court the Blackfish. Firstly, Sansa Stark–finding out that Brynden still has a Tully force holding Riverrun–dispatches Brienne to entreaty the Blackfish into committing his forces to help her impending war against Ramsay Bolton for the North. The problem here is that while Brynden no doubt would want to help his great niece reclaim Winterfell as an ally to the Stark’s, if he takes his forces up North to join the brewing ‘Bastard Bowl’ then he leaves Riverrun open for the Frey’s to walk in and claim the entire Riverlands. Frey already has an ace in the hole – Edmure, who he took captive after the man’s wedding which ended in slaughter, and holds as a bargaining chip for the Blackfish to potentially cede control of the castle. It won’t necessarily be simple enough for Brienne to walk in & rally the Tully’s for help.
At roughly the same time, following his alliance with the Faith Militant, King Tommen Baratheon sends Jaime Lannister–newly resigned Lord Commander of the Kingsguard–to Riverrun in order to negotiate with the Blackfish in giving Walder Frey the castle. Jaime is very aware this is the High Sparrow scheming to get him out of the way so he can further brainwash Tommen, but sister Cersei encourages him to take Riverrun to show how easily the Lannister’s can get what they want. Only chances are it won’t be easy at all – Brynden has several houses backing him, and has dug in for a siege the Frey’s haven’t been able to best for months now, at least.
The big question is quite where events at Riverrun and beyond go, because it’s not easy to see clearly. Some have speculated the Blackfish’s war against the Frey’s isn’t the point of this plot line at all, so much as Jaime encountering his old buddy Brienne and potentially being made aware of the seriously worrying events happening in the North and beyond the Wall. Because let’s face it, now Jaime is out of the Kingsguard he’s a rogue element, and may well end up finding himself squaring off against Cersei if she realises killing Tommen may be her only avenue to seizing back King’s Landing. If Jaime becomes aware that the White Walker threat is real, and Westeros will need to rally together once Jon Snow (hopefully) seizes control of the North, then could his trip to Riverrun be a point of enlightenment for him to see the bigger picture?
As for the Blackfish, my money is on him being forced out of Riverrun and taking his forces North out of necessity, joining the fight with Sansa. It feels too early for Walder Frey to get his comeuppance (which surely must come at Arya’s hand), and Riverrun is too low stakes to be the ultimate point of spending time there by now. It may well be a catalyst for a bigger move in pulling the North and King’s Landing closer together, as the greater threat continues to loom.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.
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