Nobody seems to love Cat, and that's not fair. Okay, I'll admit right off that I have gargantuan problems with some of her choices, first among them being starting a damn war with her ill-conceived plan to snag Tyrion out of an inn and blame him for the attempt on Bran's life, based on nothing more substantial than Littlefinger's suppositions. Twofold stupid: first, I don't care if Littlefinger grew up with you; you don't know him well enough to trust him anymore and neither does anyone in Westeros, and second, Tyrion has a damn good point in asking what kind of idiot would arm a footpad with his own dagger.
Arrgh. Okay, this really is a Cat-positive entry, but I had to get that off my chest. And that's probably the biggest mistake of hers, but it's not the last one by a long shot, and she doesn't seem to spend much time with regrets about any of them. It is very frustrating.
Fans seem to think that's all there is to her, though, and that's not true. In my reread I found this little gem at the end of the first book, as Robb's army is debating their next move:
"Why not a peace?" Catelyn asked.
The lords looked at her, but it was Robb's eyes she felt, his and his alone. "My lady, they murdered my lord father," he said grimly. He unsheathed his longsword and laid it on the table before him, the bright steel on the rough wood. "This is the only peace I have for Lannisters."
The Greatjon bellowed his approval, and other men added their voices, shouting and drawing swords and pounding their fists on the table. Catelyn waited until they had quieted. "My lords," she said then, "Lord Eddard was your liege, but I shared his bed and bore his children. Do you think I love him any less than you?" Her voice almost broke with her grief, but Catelyn took along breath and steadied herself. "Robb, if that sword could bring him back, I should never let you sheathe it until Ned stood at my side once more...but he is gone, and a hundred Whispering Woods will not change that. Ned is gone, and Daryn Hornwood, and Lord Karstark's valiant sons, and many other good men besides, and none of them will return to us. Must we have more deaths still?"
Hear that? Out of all the noble lords and ladies involved in the conflict, Catelyn is the only one who sought an end to the war at a point when it could have been managed. Other characters tried to keep themselves and their own people out of the fighting, or join the side that would win, but who actually stopped to think about the inevitable loss of life that a rebellion, however righteous, was going to cost? Catelyn and Varys (one of my top three favorites in the entire series), and nobody else. As soon as she mentioned it, she was shot down by her son's bannermen and then they made him a king rather than swallow their pride.
The truly heartbreaking part of Catelyn's perspective is the way she keeps thinking about her daughters. I wonder if Robb would have budged at all if he had known what Sansa was going through? (Arya of course was unattainable, unbeknownst to her family.) Cat has five children and never once thinks in terms of losing one to spare the others - any harm to any one of them affects her personally and deeply, just as her husband's death did. She meddles and she takes action and makes choices that sometimes turn out badly because she's giving everything she can to protect her family, and she has to, because nobody else is going to value them like she does.
Part of the disdain for her I think comes from her unquestioning acceptance of the traditional wife and mother roles. Given the setting in a sexist society, fans are generally more excited by those of the female characters that subvert the expectations of their gender, like Arya, Dany, or Brienne. Alongside them, Cat might look like the meek victim of the patriarchy's brainwashing. But check out this conversation her and her uncle (the Blackfish, a character who has regretfully not thus far appeared in the show):
Ser Brynden snorted. "Nor do I, but...it seems to me Lysa is only playing at courtship. She enjoys the sport, but I believe your sister intends to rule herself until her boy is old enough to be Lord of the Eyrie in truth as well as name."
"A woman can rule as wisely as a man," Catelyn said.
"The right woman can," her uncle said with a sideways glance. "Make no mistake, Cat. Lysa is not you."
Day-um! Are the Tullys ahead of their time or what? Cat's not gonna hold her tongue when it sounds like someone objects to a woman in charge, and Brynden's not gonna hesitate to agree with her. They know the laws of inheritance don't reflect reality when it comes to gender, but this is the world they live in. They can't work on fixing the laws because they're busy with other things, like raising five children and dealing with the wars started by some proud men and Tyrion's alleged dagger.
If only someone could have just given the Eyrie to Catelyn. Or the Red Keep, for that matter. Stupid mistakes and alleged daggers and all, I'd take her as my queen any day.