27 7 / 2014
Sybell Spicer (Westerling) seems to be one of those characters that most readers agree on uncontroversially hating. While I personally find Sybell very interesting, I can understand why. She’s a character we see very little of and she’s not exactly portrayed sympathetically within the text. But I’ve seen a lot of stuff insinuating she’s some kind of super-villain/criminal mastermind or even one of the most evil characters in the series and I really don’t think there’s much to support that.
As readers, I think there’s a tendency to ally ourselves with the Stark family, since they’re set from the beginning as the ~honorable protagonists. And beyond that, fandom tends to vilify those who go up against the Starks in a way that’s outright disproportionate. This also plays into the reading of Theon Greyjoy, particularly as his threatening of Bran and Rickon is often given more large-scale weight than his actual murder of two miller’s sons. By ADWD, I don’t know if we could still call the Starks the series protagonists but they’re still an important, sympathetic center within the novels. As readers, we are meant to sympathize with members of House Stark and that’s fine.
I think it’s also important to realize, however, that to people within the universe, particularly smallfolk or noble houses with less power (such as the Greyjoys or the Spicer/Westerlings), the Starks are not heroes. There are several mentions from the smallfolk of seeing no difference between Renly or Stannis or Robb or Joffrey. And from the perspective of the war, let’s be real, there isn’t that much of one. The Lannisters are known for using particularly brutal war tactics but everything we hear from the smallfolk indicates one army is pretty much like another. This isn’t a judgment of the characters that happen to be in charge (I think we can all agree Renly and Robb are better individuals than Joffrey) but they’re individuals running giant machines and those machines just don’t look that different. I’ve even seen some posters at westeros.org insinuate Jeyne Westerling saw Robb as a hero for taking her castle and excuse me, do you even know what taking her castle means? He may have turned it into a pretty line (‘I took her castle, she took my heart’) and outside of the text, it can be turned into a starcrossed situation, but the fact of it is that he invaded their family home, took it for his own and killed several people. I doubt anybody from the Crag was thrilled about that.
When Robb takes the Crag, Sybell is a mother of four children, all still young enough to be at home, and her husband is being held captive by Stark armies. She is, as far as we know, the head of that household and the fact that she was the one to negotiate with Tywin further indicates she was primarily responsible for the Crag. Robb could have ordered her husband executed at any time if anyone within that house displeased him. And what Robb would do in this case isn’t important—Sybell probably never knew him very well. We see him within the text as Catelyn’s son, the Stark children’s brother, Theon’s friend and brother, but to Sybell, he was her captor. She had no real reason to feel allegiance to him.
Now I’ve seen some theories that Sybell engineered the whole Robb/Jeyne relationship and I seriously doubt this. Jeyne had already been turned away as a wife for one of Kevan Lannister’s sons (younger sons of a minor branch of the family—it was not an overambitious match by half) on account of the Spicers’ status as ‘foreigners’ and ‘new money’. Like I said, Sybell never knew Robb very well. While I wouldn’t entirely rule out her using Jeyne as a bargaining chip to potentially spare her husband’s life, I really think she would have had a lot more to lose than gain from that. With a daughter potentially publicly known as a king’s mistress, Jeyne’s prospects and those of their family in general would further weaken. Either way, I am almost positive she didn’t plan the marriage. There’s no indication that she ever knew Robb well enough to predict what he did, considering it’s an extremely unusual decision for him to make. Everyone, with the possible exception of Catelyn, is surprised he did not just leave Jeyne at the Crag. I don’t see why she’d expect anything else.
So presuming her daughter’s marriage has been sprung on her entirely, when Jeyne and Robb marry, Sybell is turned from a captive to a queen’s mother. And her captor, the man who had been holding her husband, is now her son in law. By placing themselves with the Starks (as opposed to their previous overlords, the Lannisters), the Westerlings are allying themselves with the victors—however, the fact of the marriage has weakened the Starks beyond measure and the Westerlings are unimportant enough to be seen as collateral damage to most other families. A member of House Frey says in front of both Robb and Jeyne that his sisters would not object to marrying a widower. When Tyrion hears of the marriage, his immediate speculation is that the Westerlings will be killed. It’s a shock to everyone that the Starks end up the hardest hit—the Westerling family is the expected collateral and if Sybell hadn’t managed to buy a deal with Tywin, they likely would have been.
We don’t know exactly how Sybell learned about the Red Wedding but she didn’t orchestrate it or plan it. It would have happened with or without her involvement. While she may not have mourned Robb, she’s not responsible for his death. She didn’t even know the extent of it. Tywin happily let her send off her son to the wedding with her believing Robb Stark would be the only victim (further illustrating the motif of Tywin’s disregard for individual lives, previously shown through Tysha and Elia). Her only job was to make sure her daughter didn’t become pregnant.
Now this one is hard for me because while I can understand why she did what she did, it’s still outright disgusting. I don’t really care about a potential fetus that never even existed but to wrest control of her daughter’s own body from her without her knowledge or consent is pretty gross. I don’t blame Jeyne a bit for hating her for that.
That being said, we’ve already seen how much Tywin cares about individual lives (read: not at all). If Jeyne had become pregnant, she would have undoubtedly been killed by the Lannisters before the northmen had the chance to rally around a potential heir and thereby keep their kingdom together. Elia Martell is presumably pretty common knowledge and she was murdered for the simple crime of, like Jeyne, being married to a man who was a more major player in the war than she ever was. “By herself, she was nothing,” Tywin says about Elia. With the most powerful person who cared about her dead, Jeyne would be viewed exactly the same way. She doesn’t even have a family, like the Martells, that could ever really retaliate.
While feeding her the potions was a disgusting infringement upon Jeyne’s agency, it saved her life. I really don’t know what to say to people who put the focus here on another potential Stark. Regardless of how you feel about Jeyne, I honestly don’t think you can argue that the life of a young woman should be given less weight than a fetus or potential fetus. That’s just so gross to me.
Sybell’s clearly ambitious—but most characters in the books are. As Liv pointed out to me, bannermen and the Lannister bannermen in particular serve as mirrors of the houses they serve. Jaime all but explicitly compares her to Cersei when they speak. Like Cersei, I think her motives sprung from a mixture of ambition and self-protection. Neither, in themselves, are bad.
Now the physical harm she did to Jeyne in the same scene with Jaime gave me serious pause. I don’t think we know enough about her to state definitively that she’s physically abusive but it’s possible. If she is, that’s certainly reprehensible and I don’t condone it in any way. Even if not, she’s still clearly not a good person and she has done awful things for self preservation and power. But I think that to position her as a cartoon villain motivated solely by ambition and specifically an enemy to the Starks is to miss the nuances of her circumstances in a big way.
27 7 / 2014
but omfg, they’re making a BLUE Nightwing: