How Robb Stark is like Hannibal of Carthage

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Reaction to Sunday’s, dare I say, landmark episode of Game of Thrones — show me another television show which offered as dramatic AND violent a plot twist involving its major characters — continues to rage.

Kelsey D Atherton analyzes Robb Stark’s strategic mistakes and draws an analogy to Hannibal of Carthage.

His failure, like Hannibal’s, is the result of two faults: an inability to exploit victory, and sheer political ineptness that caused defeat well before the last battle was even fought.

The greater lesson in all of this, the one that isn’t limited to ancient history or fantasy wars, is how absolutely crucial politics are to the heart of war. Good generals win battles, but battles are not the sum total of war. Instead, they serve to enhance the negotiating position of one side against another, forcing through blood and toil acceptance of a political end that was once so objectionable they’d fight to oppose it. Similarly, wars are won not by singular individuals but by the groups of people bound to their cause. Robb Stark fatally mismanaged the latter. Had he focused more on the former, on the overriding political settlement his war was supposed to achieve, he could have avoided his grisly fate.

Meanwhile, Alyssa pushes back against those who view “evidence that the show is participating in some of its characters disgusting enjoyment of violence against women”:

Though Talisa’s murder is unspeakably cruel, it didn’t read that way to me. Rather, the decision to kill her by killing her fetus made, within the astonishingly cold-blooded context of the Red Wedding, a great deal of sense. A comprehensive attempt to make the Starks extinct would include an attack on everyone in their family line, born and unborn. And as an attempt to make Robb Stark feel unspeakable emotional pain before his physical death, an attack on his wife and his unborn child that he has to witness while he is physically incapacitated is a twistedly brilliant thing to do. As Talisa died and Robb held her, the focus was on their faces, and their shared pain, just as they’d shared joyful glances during Edmure’s wedding vows, and flirted during the banquet. Our sympathies and focus were on them, rather than on a pornographic contemplation of the violence to which they’d been subjected.

Rowan Kaiser argues the chief success of Game of Thrones is that “it’s a magnificent depiction of how sexist systems ruin everyone”:

So many of the show’s best scenes deal directly with how power is acquired, lost, and maintained in the patriarchal system that this becomes an effective lens for seeing when Game of Thrones loses its moorings. The show’s much-discussed—usually female—nudity is often illustrative of a sexist world, but occasionally and subjectively goes too far and illustrates no real point other than to show nude women. And some of the worst parts of the show’s third season have deviated too far from the theme of systemic oppression. For example, both the murder of the lowborn character Roz in the middle of the season and the constant torture of Theon Greyjoy have demonstrated little except for the personal cruelty of a few of the characters. The brutal depiction of Robb’s wife Talisa’s death at the wedding falls into that category as well.

But when Game of Thrones works, it’s a magnificent depiction of how sexist systems ruin everyone, even those they’re supposed to help. Every woman on the show is oppressed in some way. And the only men who can succeed are those who submerge their humanity and happiness, or were sociopaths to begin with. Westeros’ patriarchy may be a metaphor that can’t exist in our real world, but that’s what makes it so rhetorically powerful.

H/t to Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Dish.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.