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Blog / Race for the Iron Throne

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Race for the Iron Throne is a blog by Steven Attewell, a policy historian who also writes heavily on political websites like "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and "Graphic Policy". He is also a trained historian who really does know medieval history and has a background in which to decipher the series many Allohistorical Allusion.

The blog does Chapter-by-Chapter analysis of the world of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice And Fire while also hosting reviews of Game of Thrones, some of the expanded universe of the series such as Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories and The World of Ice & Fire. As of August 2017, he has completed A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings and commenced A Storm of Swords.


Most of the essays are analysis of chapters found in the main series, but he also does essays as a guest writer for other blogs (which the blog provides links to). Most of his essays are in the popular fansite "Tower of the Hand" where he has done extended series on the "Hands of the King" we see in the books and cited historically, the Blackfyre Rebellion, and an analysis of the Politics of Essos (Free Cities, Slaver's Bay) and the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

He also did a "headcanon", "A Commentary on “The True Life of the High Spider”, detailing the life of Westeros' most corrupt and depraved High Septon Lewys Flowers, set two thousand years before Aegon's Conquest.


This blog contains examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: Some of his essays deal with characters and events before the main series. Many of them explore George R. R. Martin's supposed and hypothesized historical influences on the books.
  • Alternate Universe: Most of the Chapter-By-Chapter analysis end with speculations on how the plot would be altered if the characters made different choices or their actions resulted in different outcomes.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: How he sees Littlefinger, noting that he often pretends to be smarter and more knowing then he is, tends to be on the nose in his resentment and takes every slight, especially from Tyrion, personally.
  • Culture Justifies Anything: He's skeptical of any defenses of evil practices on the idea of culture or geography. He's especially critical of the idea that the Ironborn are doomed to remain stuck in Rape, Pillage, and Burn and wasting it on unprofitable wars that makes them despised across Westeros, citing how "the Old Way" has actually adapted and the attempts by some rulers of the Iron Islands to establish ties to the mainland. He also defends Daenerys' campaign in Slaver's Bay by noting that she is popular among the enslaved and the only way her campaign can be seen as imperialist is if you agree that the only culture that matters is that of the masters and not of the slaves.
    This raises the question - why is the authentic culture of Slaver's Bay that of the masters and not of the slaves? Going back to the American example, and I'm going to do this a lot in this essay, there are plenty of people today who claim to be advocate for or aficionados of "Southern heritage" - but who choose to define that heritage as a celebration of the Confederacy and the antebellum South. But doesn't Southern heritage also belong to those who fought, resisted, and endured slavery, and who created wonderful music, food, and literature in spite of slavery? Why celebrate the former and not the latter?
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  • Deadly Decadent Court: The essays have the dubious honour of highlighting just how bad the decadence actually was.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Discussed when he mentions that the author is "putting his thumb on the scales" to get the outcome he wants. He notes that the novels avoid this generally but the writer invokes it when he lays the seed of Robb winning the war and losing the peace, namely in how the improbable Ironborn invasion campaign works as planned, and Theon's "plan" to take Winterfell goes off.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Steven argues that "honourable" characters like Eddard and Catelyn Stark failed not because they are idiots, but they failed to take into account seemingly small details which later blew up in their faces.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: He cites his own picks for certain models and cultural background, especially ones that are little known. For instance he states that the Ironborn don't resemble the Vikings a great deal, and their culture of revanchism, glorification of "The Old Way" and rewriting aggressive wars they started into defensive wars is more analogous to the American South and it's obsession with the Lost Cause.
  • Hidden Depths: As with Alternate Character Interpretation, his analysis argues that many characters have this. Notable examples include both Catelyn Stark and Jon Arryn. He argues that Cat was more political savvy than most fans give her credit for, just that her gamble ultimately failed. He also argues the same thing for Jon Arryn.
  • Fan Nickname: Attewell dubs "the Great Game" the period between the Andal invasion and Aegon's Conquest in which none of the southern kingdoms, particularly the Kingdom of the Rock, the Reach and the Stormlands, get to conquer Westeros south of the Neck because the other kingdoms would gang up on any would-be conqueror
  • Four-Star Badass: Attewell uses sound military history to show how impressive Robb Stark and Stannis Baratheon really are. He also notes that while Tywin Lannister has this reputation, he has also never won a battle without overwhelming force and he notes that it's ambiguous how good of a general he really was.
  • General Failure: Balon Greyjoy is repeatedly shown as this, and the blog highlights how poorly conceived and strategically bankrupt his plan was.
  • The Good Chancellor / Evil Chancellor: Steven explores and deconstructs both tropes. He notes that in the 300 years since the Hand of the King was introduced, you can count successful Hands who die a peaceful and natural death on one hand. He also notes that Ned Stark failed primarily because he did not understand or exercise the powers he had as a Hand. He notes that Ned did execute a political masterstroke in sending Beric Dondarrion to arrest Gregor Clegane, since it put the onus on Tywin to openly flout a royal banner and host and invite accusations of treason.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: In his "Life of the High Spider" this seems to be the rule for the Drylands. They include Apollyon Dryland, his kinsman Septon Mulciber, and his vassals Houses Malebranch and Acheron.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: He mentions Tyrion's wildfire scheme as being this. Noting that the author gets us to root for a character who committed a reprehensible act of mass murder and tries to distance himself from the guilt by blaming Stannis of forcing his hand by lanching an assault on King's Landing. Attewell argues that Tyrion would be culpable for war crimes in the way those who used chemical weapons in World War I were.
  • Rule of Drama: Steven argues that Tyrion and Catelyn's meeting at the inn was this, as Tyrion has a way longer journey than Catelyn and covered a lot more ground than her in the same amount of time, especially odd as Catelyn has more reason to travel quickly then Tyrion.
  • Shout-Out: In "The Life of the High Spider" a Dryland Septon who is an architect rumoured to use blood magic is named Mulciber. In Paradise Lost Mulciber is the architect of Pandæmonium.
    • Dryland's vassals include Houses Acheron and Malebranch. In The Divine Comedy the Malebranche are a band of demons who torment barrators. There is also mention of a section of dangerous sand near the Dryland lands called the Rottenpockets. In "The Divine Comedy" the section of Hell the Malebranche reside in is called Malebolge, which can be translated as Rottenpockets.
  • The Siege: Discusses it in incredible historical detail during the build-up to Blackwater. He also points out that Tyrion's point about doing whatever was necessary to safeguard the city from Stannis was dubious since even Sansa notes (in A Clash of Kings, Chapter IV) that "The last time King's Landing had fallen, the Lannisters looted and raped as they pleased and put hundreds to the sword, even though the city had opened its gates. This time the Imp meant to fight, and a city that fought could expect no mercy at all" and Attewell then goes on to note:
    The rule that Sansa talks about in this chapter — that a city or castle that fights to the last will be given no quarter, whereas a city that surrenders would be spared – was a real practice of warfare from ancient times through the Napoleonic era. Due to the high casualty rate that came from assaulting a city or a castle... it was generally understood that those men who survived would be free to do whatever they wanted to the civilian population... it was generally understood that it was almost impossible for a general to prevent his army from committing massacres in the event of a successful assault... Even a generals as feared and respected as Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, found it impossible to control his army following the successful assault on Badajoz, leading to the death of thousands of civilians at the hands of a "pack of hell hounds vomited up from infernal regions for the extirpation of mankind." So the danger that Tyrion has placed King’s Landing in is very real indeed.
  • Sketchy Successor: Steven has this evaluation of Aegon IV (already known as the Unworthy in-universe).
    Steven: Maegor might have been crueler and Aerys II madder, but Aegon IV really takes the prize for willful and needless destruction of the peace of his realm...unless one considers that perhaps the story that Aegon IV had been planning to disinherit Daeron in favor of Daemon...
  • Title Drop: The blog is subtitled You win or you die, which is a quote from Cersei on the nature of the game of thrones, and the title of an episode in Season 1 of the TV series. Also counts as a Meaningful Name; see Didn't See That Coming above.


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