Blog PostsRobb Stark: Romantic Hero or Spoiled Brat?

When I watched season 2 of Game of Thrones, I got the sense that the show creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, are rather fond of Robb Stark. I may have gotten this impression because Robb had more screen time and story than any other Stark character except for Arya.

The decision to move Robb to the forefront bothered me a little bit. I liked Robb in the books, but he wasn’t a POV character. Catelyn, Sansa, and Bran are all POV characters in the books. This season, I felt like I barely saw Catelyn or Bran, while Sansa had a strong showing in the “Blackwater” episode but was otherwise shoved into the background except when the writers needed to show Joffrey abusing her.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the decision to move Robb to the forefront and shove Catelyn, Sansa, and Bran to the back. In the book, I saw Robb through Catelyn’s eyes, and on the show, I have to see Catelyn as a supporting character in her son’s story. Catelyn’s motivations are less clear and less understandable on the show than they are in the books, and even though Michelle Fairley’s doing a great job with the material she’s given, I’m not pleased with her diminished presence on the show.

There’s also a part of me that thinks this creative decision is motivated by a fanboy man crush on Robb Stark, because Robb is the Young Wolf! He nobly wants to secede from the rest of Westeros to avenge his father’s death and to nobly begin a kingdom of his own! That’s so much more interesting than his boring mom who misses her children, or his lame little brother who can’t even fight anything.

(Heh, I just now realized that the war in Game of Thrones has the North seceding from the South. I is smart.)

At the same time, I’m not sure I can blame internalized misogyny for this creative decision, as these same showrunners have also made Cersei a more complex, sympathetic character than she was in the books while making Jaime less complex and more of a monster.

Anyway, whatever the creators’ reasons for putting Robb front and center, they’ve done it. He is a more important character than three of his family members. Now how does this decision affect the characterization of Robb himself?

Well, let’s look at the differences between Book Robb and Show Robb – specifically, at his decision to marry someone other than Walder Frey’s daughter. (In the next few paragraphs, I will be discussing spoilers for A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords.)

In the book, Robb doesn’t sleep with another woman until after he’s heard about the murders of Bran and Rickon. At the time, he is staying with the Westerlings, a noble yet small (i.e. “not rich”) house. In his grief, he sleeps with Jeyne, the virgin daughter of the Westerlings who was comforting him. To protect Jeyne’s honor, Robb marries her, and thus loses the alliance of the Freys. When he returns to camp, he learns that Catelyn freed Jaime Lannister (a decision she also made out of grief for Bran and Rickon, and fear for Sansa and Arya). Robb isn’t too happy that his mother went against his wishes, but he understands her reasons for doing it, so he pardons her. When Lord Karstark calls Catelyn a traitor, Robb essentially tells Karstark to get bent and stop insulting his mother.

On the show, Robb flirts with Talisa, a made-for-TV character. Talisa is from Volantis and doesn’t know how to keep her hair out of her face, even though she’s the Westerosi equivalent of a surgeon and might want to invest in a headband. Robb and Talisa flirt for several episodes. Meanwhile, Catelyn notices that her son’s soldiers are ready to murder the Kingslayer. Knowing that a dead Kingslayer will result in a dead Sansa and Arya, Catelyn releases Jaime and asks Brienne to deliver him back to King’s Landing. When Robb hears about this, he’s furious with his mother. He calls her a traitor and has his soldiers guard her. Then he talks to Talisa. They have a conversation where she exposits some backstory that I didn’t really pay attention to, and then they have sex. Two episodes later, Robb tells Catelyn that he’s in love with Talisa. She tries to tell him that marriage for love isn’t a luxury that a person in his position can afford, and he basically tells her to get bent, because she broke the rules when she released the Kingslayer, so now he gets to break the rules. Robb marries Talisa, still not knowing about the “deaths” of his little brothers.

Considering Robb’s strong, visible presence in the show, I can only conclude that Benioff & Weiss made these changes because they wanted to make him look good. They think they’re making Robb into an even better character by showing his romance and purity. Look, he doesn’t care about the rules! He wants to marry for love!

But instead of seeing a romantic hero, I see a whiny brat who has made a HUGE tactical error by throwing a metaphorical middle finger into the face of the Freys. And that would be fine if Robb was only putting his own life in danger, but he’s leading a rebellion that is affecting the lives of all of his people, and by sacrificing the extra help from Walder Frey’s huge army AND personally insulting the man, he’s putting them all at a much bigger risk.

But are we meant to see Robb as a foolish brat who puts his own desires above his people’s? No. I really think Benioff & Weiss want us to sympathize with his decision, and even think he was right to do it.

And I don’t understand this creative decision at all. Book Robb was sympathetic enough as written. If Benioff & Weiss wanted to throw a little romance into Game of Thrones, why not proceed with his story as it was in the books, but throw in a few scenes of Robb and Jeyne falling in love? Robb can tell her that he loves her but was promised to another, then sleep with her after Bran and Rickon “die,” and then marry her for love AND honor.

But no, now we have a character who’s meant to be “romantic” and “heroic,” yet comes off as more immature and bratty than his counterpart in the book, even though Book Robb is several years younger than Show Robb. I can’t see him as romantic or heroic because I’m too busy muttering, “You are stupid, stupid, STUPID, Robb Stark, possibly even stupider than Show Jon Snow, and you were lucky to get Walder Frey’s help anyway because you’re rebelling against the crown and Frey’s not even sworn to the Starks, he’s sworn to the Tullys, and why the hell do you need to have armored men guard your mother? She freed the Kingslayer out of love for your sisters, asshole, it’s not like she’s going to go around freeing every prisoner in camp because her ladybrainz are making her too impulsive!”

In short: Despite the creators’ intentions, and despite Richard Madden’s handsomeness and decent acting, Robb Stark on the show is a spoiled brat, not a romantic hero. In an attempt to highlight the character, they actually weakened his motivations and made him less complex and sympathetic.

And here’s the kicker: these are the same showrunners who are responsible for portraying Theon Greyjoy. I forgot to talk about Theon in my post on Monday, but his story was the highlight of the season for me. The writers and Alfie Allen did a marvelous job showing the complexities of his character and made him oddly sympathetic without whitewashing or excusing any of his terrible, terrible actions. How the writers can succeed with his character while failing with Robb, I don’t understand.

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22 Responses to Robb Stark: Romantic Hero or Spoiled Brat?

  1. Rhiannon says:

    I wonder if it can all be blamed on the “need” for a romance. A Clash of Kings doesn’t have *any* non-disturbing romantic pairings, and just as they’re romanticizing the relationship between Tyrion and Shae, perhaps they felt that they had to have a love story between a traditional, attractive young guy and mysterious rebellious girl to draw in viewers.

    I think it’s backfiring, though. I’ve been uncomfortable with Robb all season, but his attitude in the finale actually made me start to actively root against him and hope that he’ll get his comeuppance for his arrogant disregard for others. Not a good reaction to have, considering what’s going to go down next season.

    • Lady T says:

      I agree that they’re actively looking for a new romance to “spice up” the show. And it’s very frustrating because the producers have no patience – we have Jon and Ygritte next season!

      And yeah, I think this is backfiring, because nowhere in the Web fandom have I found a large group of viewers who are pulling for Robb and Talisa. The sense I get is that most fans are already shipping Jaime and Brienne and don’t give a hoot about Robb’s romance, so nice job, producers. *eyeroll*

  2. Caitlin says:

    I hate Show Robb which, considering I didn’t like Book Robb, says something. I really dislike that they took time away from the other Starks, just to make him more prominent.

    And I wanted to slap him when he called his mother a traitor and married Talisa. Yeah, that’s not going to come back and bite you in the ass.

  3. ronalon42 says:

    Haha I love dumb dumb Jon Snow. And Robb is turning out disappointing. He really isn’t doing too great is he? I got a lot of spoilers about who lives and who dies and so far I am satisfied. I guess it gets weird pretty soon, though I am not sure if it is the 3rd or 4th book. Think they will make all of them into show seasons?

    Maybe I should actually read the books.

    • Lady T says:

      From what I hear, they’re splitting book 3 into two seasons. This is probably a smart choice because A Storm of Swords is the book where SHIT GETS REAL. But then the next two books involve a lot of characters wandering around and never getting to where they want to go, so honestly, I think they should condense books 4 and 5 into one season.

  4. ronalon42 says:

    Oh and Cersei and Theon are the best. I mean they are awful awful people, but done so well and with complicity. I feel bad for both of them. They did a great job with them.

  5. Billy Jean says:

    I agree! The whole florence nightingale plot invention was totally unnecessary. The coolest thing about the book series is how it depicts females who choose to be something other than romantic objects, and the Robb-Talisa thing just cheapens the whole ethic in my opinion. Her hair and their “moments” are just so blecccchhh!!!
    But if i can vent about something else, I would like to know why the Brienne they cast, although very dyke (yay for them!) is still nowhere near as “ugly” as the Brienne in the book was supposed to be. I was really looking forward to seeing an Ugly main female character. The last time that happened was maybe Roseanne….? So empowering!!!
    And also, Show Ygritte is much finer and pretty looking than the character who I was expecting. Game of Thrones is starting to get a very creepy Tudors vibe to it… resist, HBO directors… resist!!!
    As a p.s. I have to add that I am completely satisfied with Jon Snow, in fact meeting him in series 2 really gelled in my brain for reading about him in the subsequent series’ novels.
    Thanks for your article, ff, really took a load off 🙂

    • Lady T says:

      I agree that Gwendolen Christie isn’t typically “ugly,” but I think they make her look plain enough on the show that I buy her for Brienne’s character. I can’t agree with the “dyke” description, though, mostly because isn’t Brienne rather obviously in love with Renly?

      I’ve come to accept that there’s a difference between “real life ugly” and “TV Ugly” – don’t LIKE it, but I accept it. And on GoT, at least it isn’t sex- or gender-specific. Tyrion in the books is supposed to be physically repulsive, and Peter Dinklage definitely is NOT.

  6. verityjes says:

    I wonder if book!Robb seems more sympathetic because we’re seeing him from his mother’s POV, so the brattiness and quasi-jerk quality don’t really come across, the way it does on the show, heh. I had sort of the opposite problem with the Davos-Stannis relationship; I started reading the books halfway through this season, and book!Davos and book!Stannis are much, much less interesting than they are on the show. Mostly because book!Davos seems a lot more subservient to Stannis, blinder to Stannis’ flaws, and more prone to go “it’s all Melisandre’s fault!” than show!Davos.

  7. Dragonfire says:


    I think they have focused on him more in the season because of the RW, he won’t be around much longer.. So I think they are pushing him to the fore front to make the RW more dramatic. To make people feel more attached to him on the show.
    I also feel like they wanted to punch it into our heads the importance of the War of Five Kings. That’s just speculation on my part.

  8. athenia45 says:

    Aww, I totally disagree. I think Robb comes off more as an idiot in the book than in the TV show. He’s grieving and he decides to have sex with the closest lady lying around? In the TV show, Robert, his father and every other king doesn’t give a crap who they sleep with–he probably feels within his rights. That, and in the book, a common theme is how he is rather young to be a king. Him falling in love in the tv show actually shows how being a king wears on him.

    I’ve always wondered why Robb wasn’t given a POV chapter. Perhaps cuz Martin knew the outcome, he didn’t want to do it. But now since Robb has gotten more screen time–moreso than the books! the next season will be more dramatic.

    • Lady T says:

      I feel like Robb and Jeyne probably had a genuine connection that was just, er, sped up when he was grieving over Bran and Rickon. On the show, all I see is some snot who’s flipping the bird in the face of a powerful family that is, frankly, risking a lot by choosing to side with him over Joffrey, for a marriage that is hasty and not even NECESSARY at this point. If he wants to marry Talisa that badly, why not play along with the Freys and then marry her AFTER they win the war? There’s nothing saying that he needs to marry her immediately, except apparently he really wants to stick it to his mother.

      I don’t think the show has done a good job showing how being a king wears on him. Many characters in this show are struggling and suffering and starving in a hostile, cruel world, and he’s upset because he’s supposed to marry someone he doesn’t love? Welcome to the bulk of Westerosi society, Robb.

      I think Martin didn’t give him a POV because, for the most part, he wanted to give POVs to the people who were close to the kings, just a few steps away from power. Daenerys is the only contender to the throne who gets a POV, but everyone else – Tyrion, Catelyn, Davos, Ned, Theon – are right next to power. Maybe he thought the perspective of a second-in-command was more accurate.

      I do remember him saying that he’d never give Littlefinger or Varys a POV chapter because they “know too much” and would spoil everything for the reader.

  9. stannis baratheon says:

    he does have to marry her right away. because in times of war, its good to have a heir and the freys would want that heir to have frey blood

  10. Heather says:

    I admit that I haven’t seen any of season 2 yet, but just based on what you say here…ouch, what a missed oppertunity. A character who marries a girl to protect her after making a bad decision is a lot more interesting than the same “true luv omg” song and dance that we’ve been exposed to since the first time we watched a Disney movie. Option One is a man who isn’t perfect, but is still unselfish enough to realize that his stupid choice has negative consequences for someone else, and concerned enough for the wellfare of other people to make a major commitment and yes, a sacrifice on his part, in order to protect the person that he hurt. I’d much rather hear more about that guy than yet another chorus of “true love is all that matters, and it justifies every stupid, selfish thing you do to get it!”

    • Lady T says:

      Option One is a man who isn’t perfect, but is still unselfish enough to realize that his stupid choice has negative consequences for someone else, and concerned enough for the wellfare of other people to make a major commitment and yes, a sacrifice on his part, in order to protect the person that he hurt. I’d much rather hear more about that guy than yet another chorus of “true love is all that matters, and it justifies every stupid, selfish thing you do to get it!”

      Yup. I really liked Robb in the books but I found him so distasteful in season two, despite the actor being very easy on the eyes.

  11. Evelyn says:

    I like Robb in the book. He has respect towards his mother as he commanded the guy who insulted Catelyn to be bent. But, why would the director change that part and make Robb tell Catelyn to be bent? I’m still thinking why the director decided to do that…

  12. AliKat7 says:

    I fell in love with the show before I read the books and Robb was one of my favorite characters. I still LOVE him (partially because I love Richard Madden and partially because I love all my Starks) and after seeing all the rage of the book fans towards his storyline with Talisa, I was like ‘whatever, its like Arwen in LOTR, they increased her presence to make it more romantic’. However, when I read Storm of Swords and got to the *sob* Red Wedding (even though I spoiled myself about the RW prior to reading it) I realized that oops, D&D just made Cat and Robb seem reckless and therefore the RW, while a horrible act of treason and brutality, was a little bit less sympathetic towards them. If they had a 5-10 min scene (cut out some of Ros or something) showing them reacting to Bran/Rickon’s deaths, then Cat and Robb’s actions are less reckless. I could understand if they wanted to keep Talisa – she’s spirited and show Robb is bolder so therefore he might need a little bit more fiesty Talisa and a little less sweet Jeyne. But that 5-10 min scene I suggested they add about Bran/Rickon would have kept the spirit of their decisions true to the book rather than making them reckless.

    I just found your blogs via a FB group post. I love your ASOIAF posts!

  13. Mikel says:

    I agree with Dragonfire; i believe they made the romance more front and center and pushed Robb into the foreground precisely to make the RW more dramatic (in the same way they made Ned a great warrior in his battle with Jamie, for example … making him more a traditional warrior-hero.

    I also think the intelligent and tough-talking Talisa is more interesting a character the the insipid Jeyne, BUT … that doesn’t alter the fact that the writers have made showRobb behave in an incomprensibly stupid manner.

    I seem to recall, btw, reading a statement from GRRM in which he said he regretted NOT having a p.o.v. chapter from Robb … but oh well, it’s too late now.

    • Kellen says:

      I found Talisa annoying because she was so obviously the ‘modern’ woman she might as well have been carrying a sign that said “Support Planned Parenthood”. A surgeon who hasn’t the sense to get her hair out of the way? A woman stupid enough to show up at a gathering of people her marriage was a public slap in the face to? To do what? Add insult to injury? Someone should have told the writers that if they were going for an intelligent woman, she had to do more than sound like she just blew in from the 21rst century.

      I thought Rob was an entitled twit in the books as well, but in the books, he was young enough for it to be believable that he didn’t know the difference between being called a king and having to think like a king — as in put his feelings second to the benefit of the people he ruled. He was also young enough that his being manipulated into bedding Jeyne was possible, and so was his basing his reaction on keeping his reputation looking spotless instead of where his people were going to be if the Freys decided to keep their word to him the way he kept his to them — which is what they did. (Of course we all know by then that if the Starks do something, it’s honorable, but when someone else does it, it’s despicable.)

      Where they lost me on Robb was the ‘how dare you?’ at Theon for shooting the charmer who grabbed Bran. You’ve put down your sword, there are two of them — one of whom is likely to cut your little brother’s throat at any second — and you’re irked with the person who saved your butts? Just how did he think that was going to go? He might as well just have said “How dare you steal my thunder? I”m the hero here.” If I’d been Theon, I’d have hit the switch on my ‘Dial Time Back Ten Seconds’ watch and left the frustrated Messiah to get himself out as best he could. .

      TBF, I never understood why Theon was considered to have a moral obligation to love the Starks and serve them selflessly the rest of his days. He was a prisoner, not a guest, and the Starks treated him like a member of the family when they were in the mood, and slapped him down for being overly familiar when they weren’t. SFE with the foster system, which is far from being a hostage, it takes far more than simply being fed, clothed, and not beaten to engender affection or respect, much less lifelong devotion.




  14. adrifter says:

    the I agree with those who’ve felt that they have done this to make the RW more dramatic when it does happen.

    Honestly, I saw seasons 1 & 2 in a two week sprint just after the season ended, and then read my way through the books twice– once as published, and then again with 4&5 intermixed as suggested on boiled so I had the show as my primary before coming to the books.

    That said, I think Bran & Catelynn while important did drag a little in the books. I get it, bran can’t walk, and he’s struggling with that. Aside from the visions of the 3-eyed Raven, I am okay with having to just imagine that– i didn’t gain much from his perspective on thinking about it. I did gain some insights into why certain approaches made sense as a leader by reading Catelynn’s POV chapeters, but I’ve found that they usually give her character a chance to voice these insights so I haven’t lost much there either.

    — I do agree though, that some of the magic of perspective shifts that work in the POV are lost in the always detached 3rd Person. Coming to view certain characters as being a certain way, but then learning more about why they do the things they do when they are able to narrate for themselves really is hard to do in a TV format. Specifically, the connection the Starks have to their wolves is hard to pursue with anyone but Bran. For the others, it is just very loyal, smart pets unless we’ve read the books.

    One question that I have though, is I wonder if the writers are going to have it be that Talisa was a plant by Tywin all along. A more elegant and direct approach to ruining the North through politics and in-fighting than the odd “marries” a potential enemy for honor and never suspects a trap that happened in the books.

    This is all speculation, but Here’s why I think the show might be doing this, and why it would be better (to me at least) if they are :

    Show Robb meets Talisa after a battle with Lannister forces. She works/weedles her way in to his circle and eventually seduces him– and gets him to admit he doesn’t want to marry the Frey Girl. She’s the one who has him look at the map when it dons on him to attack casterly rock, and had actually just advised him to take the fight to the Lannisters to keep his men focused on the cause. Robb shoots that idea down as foolish, but then she has him explain where things are. She has said she is pregnant, but that was actually after he’d decided to go to the twins, and she got him to come back to bed without consulting his maps and strategy by saying this. We can’t actually know if it is true yet or not. (though I do see more tragedy at the RW if I’m wrong about all of this since Talisa is actually attending when Jeyne didn’t).

    I admit that this could all be apart of the young-dumb-in-love plot we’ve said we hate, but I’d actually be more impressed with it if it were Tywin’s doing.– While the set-up and execution was never clearly explained in the books, it was clear that he’d arranged for Robb to fall for Jeyne (or he quickly saw a way to use their affections to his benefit) and that the Westerling’s defection was never as true as it had seemed, and that he had been in contact with the Freys and Bolton to make sure Robb followed the path that ended in the RW.

    — So I think that this would still fit Tywin’s approach to manipulating the Kingdoms and winning wars by not caring about the outcomes of single battles.

    Now, one could say that Talisa could just kill Robb, and that’s true in a sense. But actually, an outright murder by a Lannister assassin like that would probably rally the north again, just as Ned’s death did. What makes Tywin’s character so awsome was that he thinks of things like this, and uses them to his advantage. The beauty of the RW was that it really took out the whole North– it got all the problem makers in one place, and made Robb look bad to everyone that was on the fence and could be persuaded to join in or switch sides.— but the ones who looked guilty as hell were the Freys. Anyone who blamed the Lannisters probably blamed them first anyway. People on the Fence started hating Freys– so the Freys (always a dodgy ally) were now more stongly bound to the success of the Lannisters out of fear– another victory for the Lannisters.

    Another counter point could be that she advised Robb to spare Lord Karstark, but if you see her as a viper, you could say this is a choice that let’s her say what she wants, and it all works to undermine Robb’s position in the North. If Robb had listened, then the North-men would further lose respect for Robb, and if Robb shruggs her off, he loses the Karstark men AND she looks like a loyal advisor since she parrots what Robb’s mom and Uncle’s council. — You could even argue that this is the same logic used by Cerci in trying to get Robert to join the Melee– say no, so he’ll have to say yes.

    — This isn’t proof either way, but it would also have given Lord Bolton a reason for his sudden lack of enthusiasm since his status as one not worthy of whole trust has not been anywhere near discussed in the show as it is in the books.

    Bolton doesn’t have any credible reason to defect- and he doesn’t get any real screen time until after he begins to put the pieces in place to do so when he greets and free’s Jaime Lannister. Talisa could have intimated something to get that started that wouldn’t have been trusted to a random Raven that could be intercepted.

    —- The reason that I think this would be better is that it would truly be GoT being played by the master Tywin rather than just Robb being an idiot randomly and this stuff just happening. I like the idea that Robb is being manipulated into making these bad decisions rather than him just not getting it. Tywin arranging things so Robb thinks he’s in charge and making the decisions even makes Tywin’s strategy of avoiding conflict make more sense.– With Stannis reeling (and no problems from the Iron Islands) what problem except the Joffery/Tyrell Wedding are Lannister armies even worried about at this point on the show?

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