I’m going to suggest that some of you stop reading right now.
Those I’m talking to are the TV and book fans who’re making their way through Game of Thrones or intend to start. I may just screw up your enjoyment of one of the finest pieces of reading, or television, you’ll ever have in your life.
This applies to everyone who’s not finished A Storm Of Swords, or got through Season 3, the TV equivalent. Don’t worry though; I’m not about to ruin the last few episodes of Season 4.
This entire article will be spoiler heavy, and primarily focused on the TV show.
Alright, those of you still here … Let’s go visit The Twins.
The King in The North, Robb Stark, has traveled to The Twins for the arranged marriage of his uncle, Edmure Tully, and Rosyln Frey, daughter of Lord Walder Frey. He gets there with his army, for whom Walder Frey has set up large camps outside the castle walls, and he and his entourage – his key advisers, his own wife Talisa and his mother, Lady Catelyn Stark – go inside.
They are served with a plate of salt and bread, and they each take, and eat, a piece. It is an old custom, offering protection from harm within the walls, a tradition we call “guest right”, and is the basis for every modern diplomatic mission, and, indeed, the whole nature of international diplomacy itself. On this occasion, it sets everyone at ease.
But not for long. Robb Stark still has to attend a most uncomfortable meeting in old Walder’s throne room. As you’ll doubtless recall, Robb Stark is at the wedding to make his personal apology to the old man for breaking a vow of his own. He was supposed to marry one of the Frey daughters, but, and let’s not beat about the bush, he wasn’t keen on the idea, none of them being exactly noted for their beauty and elegance.
Instead, he met, fell for, and married Talisa.
It’s for this slight that he has to make amends, and so he first offers his apologies to Walder and then to his girls. The old man sneers his thanks, and then does something most … discomforting. He asks Talisa to come forward, and for the next couple of minutes the lecherous old sod compliments her assets, accuses Robb of giving up his daughters not for love but for “firm tits and a tight fit” and generally creeps out everyone in the room.
Robb is incensed, and his mother has to visibly take his arm to stop him insulting the old man’s pride further. Robb needs the Frey family and their army, and so he grinds his teeth, offers his thanks for the hospitality shown him and his men, and at that old Walder gets to his feet.
“Well let’s get ready …. The wine will flow red, and the music will play loud, and we’ll put this mess behind us,” he says.
In the end, it’s the blood that flows red and the music is loud, but not as loud as the screaming. Book readers, and now TV lovers alike, know it as The Red Wedding, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of days, as I considered, with amusement, the news that the Sevco board had a nice wee sit-down recently with the Union of Fans.
What’s happening at Ibrox really is like something from the show. The battle between the various factions, the boardroom bloodletting of the past two years, and the arrant stupidity of some of the protagonists is all right out of the books and the show.
Those who expressed their disbelief at the Red Wedding weren’t watching closely enough. When we first met Lord Walder in Season 1 he made his disdain clear not only for the Stark’s but for the Tully’s, the Lannister’s and everyone else. This was not a guy you could ever put faith in, and a man you would not want to offend. Robb Stark’s trusting him was folly.
None of those arrayed on either side of the Sevco Saga trusts anyone in the other camps, and with very good reason. A lot of them are simply not trustworthy. Let’s look at two of the main characters, Dave King and Sandy Easdale. They’ve both admitted income tax evasion and fraud. These guys are criminals, one in South Africa and one in Scotland, and both are asking for the fans to trust them with their money and the future of the club.
Can you think of two people you would less want with a role at Celtic Park?
I don’t know if the Union of Fans team were offered salt and bread when they walked into Ibrox the other night, but if I’d been part of their delegation I’d have had my back to the wall until it was time to leave, all the better to stop someone sticking a knife in it.
By the way, I’m not simply talking about those on the other side of the table.
You will recall, no doubt, that it was Roose Bolton, Robb Stark’s own banner man and second in command, who wielded the blade at the end. He might have used the words “The Lannister’s send their regards”, but in fact this was a move born of personal ambition and self interest. I have no doubt the board at Ibrox is playing a little “divide and conquer” here. Their meeting with the fans was a clear effort to split them from Dave King, and I think it’s more than possible certain fan groups within the Union itself have been courted at the expense of the rest, and I don’t doubt for a second that some of them are considering their options.
There are some signs already that there are splits emerging. Someone left that meeting and ran to the press to tell them the board was being reasonable. Someone else spun it that the board had “climbed down.” Yesterday one fan group was running back to the press saying the board had not got back to them, so all deals were off. Did it all seem like it happened in a big rush? It did. The Union of Fans looks as if it’s fragmenting already, and so the stab in the back is as likely to come from within their ranks as it is from Easdale or the board.
Everyone involved knows this.
So not only is there mistrust across the table, but the mistrust extends to people who are sitting together on the same side.
What a shambles this is.
I entitled a previous article “A House Divided”, but that was about the need for unity amongst the Celtic fans at a time when the Green Brigade were faced with serious questions after the Motherwell fiasco. Their response to that was, I thought, outstanding. They offered a detailed explanation as to what had happened that night, took their due criticism for not paying close enough heed to some of the elements associating themselves with their name and they moved on from it with a maturity and class that has impressed the Hell out of me ever since.
Divisions within the support are tough enough to endure when you are riding high. Can you imagine how difficult it will be for a club trying to claw its way up from the gutter when its support is fragmented and at war with itself?
In Thrones, Roose Bolton was split from Robb Stark easily, because Bolton is a pragmatist, as he makes clear in his wonderful discussion with Catelyn Stark about how he too had to marry one of the Frey girls. He was offered his bride’s weight in gold, so he scorned the prettier ones and took the fattest. “She must make you very happy,” said the female patriarch of the Stark clan. “She makes me very rich,” Bolton tells her, shortly before she realises he’s wearing chain-mail under his wedding outfit, and that something very bad is happening.
Bolton looked at the Young Wolf and saw a train wreck of tactical mistakes, culminating in a desperate, last ditch, all-or-nothing proposal to strike at Casterly Rock, the home of the Lannister family. In the book, more than the TV show, it is clear to all on the Stark side that this is a suicide mission, but by then the North is almost out of alternative moves. Old Walder strikes out of wounded pride, lust for power and hate. Bolton’s betrayal is born of cold logic, cool and bloodless analysis and strategic calculation.
You cannot look at Dave King’s plan with detachment and believe it can succeed. He, like the Young Wolf, is all tactics and no strategy, and even they are becoming increasingly bizarre and hard to understand. There is no Grand Scheme here. Its back-of-a-fag-packet stuff, with no appreciation for the real world, and we “observers” can’t be alone in noticing that. There have to be elements of the Union of Fans who have their own doubts, who can see the flaws (and there are many, many flaws) in the big idea, who know that it’s not going anywhere.
So put yourself in their position. You have to know the damage being done to the club, and you have to know a large percentage of the support will hold you and yours responsible if it crashes. You look at King and you know his chances of success are somewhere between slim and none.
All the while, the clock is ticking in the background. The season ticket renewal deadline expires today. McCoist needs to start assembling a team, and quickly. Above all, you are making yourself an enemy of the club and its leaders (not to mention fellow fans) … and these leaders hold all the cards. Whatever happens next, the chances are very, very good that they will be the last men standing.
Do you really want to be on the other side? To cut yourself off from everyone in power, forever?
How hard would it be to break you away from the rest? From the kamikaze suicide pact the others appear to be embracing with the religious fever of the newly converted? If the board threw you a couple of morsels from the table, would you bite your fingernails and stay seated? How much until you were on your knees, picking the bones off the floor?
Or shoving a knife into your allies backs?
It’s human nature, and the manner of men on the other side of the desk, bleeding the club in full view of the world, is pretty clear. They aren’t renowned for playing nice.
These unscrupulous sods know how to play The Game of Thrones. They know that the only rule is “you win or you die.”
Or, rather, the club does. Again.
The Red Wedding is one of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever read in all the books I’ve picked up in my life. It is painfully difficult to watch on-screen, and I watched the whole episode the day after it aired with a mounting feeling of dread, knowing it was coming and being unable to avoid it. It is brutal, vicious and it shatters your expectations forevermore. It might well be the finest scene of television I’ve ever watched, full stop.
I expect there will be more meetings between the Sevco Rangers board and the fan groups before the new season starts. I imagine the fans themselves would meet in their own little conclaves before, and after, those meetings take place.
I suspect – strongly – that before long we’re going to be reading about The Blue Wedding, with as much bloodshed and back-stabbing as George RR Martin could ever have dreamed. Whoever’s standing at the end of the massacre will probably imagine themselves in a good position. Indeed, if you’ve followed the show up until now it will look very much to you as if the Bolton-Frey alliance is in a relatively good place to be. But then, the Stark’s looked secure not long ago, and the Lannister’s don’t seem to be doing all that badly, despite what’s befallen them.
Wait a while. In Thrones all glory is fleeting.
Whoever “wins” the Iron Throne of Ibrox is going to have to clean up one Hell of a mess. If you’ve followed along this far, you’ll need no introducing to the Iron Bank of Bravos, who deal in hard numbers and suffer no debts, or fools. A day of reckoning will come, whoever is in that chair.
Sevco Rangers fans still expect someone to come to their aid. Think of them for a moment in the role of Arya Stark. Look how close she was to being reunited with her brother and her mother. So near and yet so far.
She too is trying to hang on to hopes that it will all end well. “How many Stark’s do they have to behead before you get it?” The Hound asks her, in an effort to convince her of how tough and brutal the world really is.
Nobody is coming to save Sevco. There is no way out of this hole.
Or to put it another way:
“If you think this has a happy ending … you haven’t been paying attention.”
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