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After his conquests in the Westerlands when King Robb returns to Riverrun, his first priority was retaking the North from Iron Islanders. His marriage to Jeyne Westerling had alienated the Freys and matters were further complicated by the treasonous murders committed by Karstarks. His passage to The North via The Twins was in peril.

As per Catelyn Chapter III in ASoS he was actively exploring alternate routes to go North, including through the Bloody Gate of Vale:

Robb: I've asked only that she (Lysa Arryn) open the Bloody Gate for us, and provide ships at Gulltown to take us north. The high road would be hard, but not so hard as fighting our way up the Neck. If I could land at White Harbor I could flank Moat Cailin and drive the ironmen from the North in half a year.

He was spending a lot of time brooding over the maps. Why did not he or any of his counsellors think of the following route:

  1. Follow the Red Fork from Riverrun to Darry.
  2. Reach White Harbour from the Bay of Crabs.
  3. Flank Moat Cailin from the rear and retake rest of the North.

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Admittedly, it would have been a long sea journey and the only show stopper I can think of could be lack of sea-faring vessels at his disposal. But he only needed ships to carry his men and not war-ships. Certainly, the naval prowess of Riverlands at his disposal was sufficient for this voyage?

PS : I am still in the middle of ASoS, so beg your pardon if there is a reference of this option (and reasons it was not feasible) in subsequent chapters.

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I think there are two things that you are overlooking.

The first is that the Lannister army could have easily cut them off. Having an entire army move anywhere is a slow and laborious prospect. The Lannisters would have known where the Stark army was moving (through spies etc.), and moved their own army to cut them off. Then the Starks would have had to contend with the Lannisters, something they did not want to do at all.

Even the risk of this would be enough to discourage Robb and his advisers, they would not want to potentially fight through an entire army, only to then go and fight another, their forces would be decimated. In order to retake the North they needed as many men as possible.

The reason they wanted to go through the Vale and depart from Gulltown would have been to avoid any confrontation with the Lannisters. This would be via land or sea, as departing from the Saltpans would mean a much longer sea journey, and the Lannisters backed up with ships from Highgarden could also have intercepted them easily.

Secondly, there are the logistics of such movements. Having to move an army across the country from west to east, then carry them across the sea, all whilst keeping them fed, and also transporting all of their weapons etc. is very costly. I'm not sure if it's explicitly stated where any ships from the Riverlands might be, but they might not all be able to reach the eastern shore to transport them.

This would mean hiring civilian vessels, most likely merchant ships, to transport troops. Those ships would not doing any trading at this time, so they would have to be compensated for that, even if they do agree to take them. Hiring individual ships to do this would be ridiculously costly, and the Starks had already spent a lot of money on this war.

Then the merchant ships would have to make a journey they possibly haven't made before. And it's not like they would be an organized force, hiring merchant ships might mean that some troops arrive there in 2 weeks, and some in 2 months. They would then have to regroup and only then could they attack Moat Cailin.

It's also unlikely Robb or the Stark bannermen would have chosen to trust civilian vessels to carry large chunks of their army overseas.

  • I do not agree with your first point. Lannister army had almost completely retreated all the way back to the King's Landing at this point. (apart from the small groups commanded by the mountain) I do not think either Lannister or Tyrell fleet was anywhere in the vicinity. Your second point is much more plausible but it would be great if we can find any references of Riverrun's naval strength. – pat_nafs Apr 7 '15 at 14:45
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    @pat_nafs - When an army moves cross country you don't really need a huge army to pick it off, and you wouldn't want to. An army, as stated before, moves very slowly. Small raiding parties can nibble away at a moving army and destroy farmlands in its path (to deprive it from food). You only need another huge army if the opposing one is coming in your direction. In real life, much of the Hundred Years War was fought like that. – System Down Apr 7 '15 at 16:41
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I think you've found the problem yourself: lack of sea-faring ships.

  • In the quote you provide, Robb mentions that he asked Lysa Arryn to provide ships, and she refused.
  • You mention the naval prowess of the Riverlands. But remember that the Riverlands has been torn by war and pillaging for a long time - whatever resources they had at the start of the novels must be quite depleted by now. And they might not have had many sea ships to begin with anyway. You need different types of craft for sailing on the sea and on rivers.
  • Who would be able to provide ships at Saltpans? Who even held Saltpans at that time? It wouldn't be like going to the Vale of Arryn, which had remained relatively stable throughout the war so far.
  • I did not propose acquiring the ships from Saltpans. I implied sailing from Riverrun. Riverlands were ravaged by wars but there was no large scale destruction of their navy and considering their intimate dependence on rivers / water find it hard to swallow they did not have significant naval strength, including sea-faring vessels... – pat_nafs Apr 7 '15 at 11:07
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    @pat_nafs I doubt he'd be able to bring ships large enough to go to sea all the way along the Red Fork from Riverrun. River boats are very different from sea ships, and I doubt the Riverlands had many of the latter. Certainly not at Riverrun - maybe at Seagard or Saltpans, if they count as Riverlands (I can't remember the exact borders). – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '15 at 11:09
  • Yep, I also have doubts about the Naval strength at Robb's disposal. And since, this option was not discussed (or at least shared with Catelyn), I think this is the only logical conclusion we are left with. Thanks. – pat_nafs Apr 7 '15 at 14:52
  • On a related note : another reason why it would have been great to have Robb POV chapters! – pat_nafs Apr 7 '15 at 14:55
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There are two important factors here.

First of all, there are several reasons why the sea travel is not an attractive option:

  • As you said in your question, it will be a much more lengthy travel.
  • A lot of things can happen in the course of the war while they sail north.
  • There are Iron Men involved in the north revolt, they are fierce and temible on water, and surely Rob, who doesn't have enough intel about enemy forces at the moment, could fear Iron Men intercepting his vessels during travel north.
  • Arriving by sea at White Harbor could span several weeks since the first vessels arrive and the full strengthen army completes the arrival, as travel by sea is much more prone to weather delays. It's quite difficult to maintain perfectly grouped a large army, even military fleets face often problems to keep grouped. This could allow enemy forces to put siege to White Harbor or, at least blockade their port, forcing the rest of the fleet to find other safe places to disembark and making them vulnerable to quick attacks.

The second factor is that Rob truly believes that he can put a diplomatic solution to their feud with the Freys. This will open him safe pass to a ground enter in the North, faster, cheaper, being less vulnerable to a counterattack, and with it's army in better conditions.

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