She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the nubile newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. The key word for the day is “hair” as we finally get to our first Arya Stark chapter.
An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
There. Was that so hard? I had an immediate sense of who Arya was—at least enough to form an opinion on her. I like her! She seems like my kind of girl. I found it interesting that one of the commenters (forget which chapter!) noted a difference in reaction to Arya and Sansa between herself and her friend in terms of which sister each related to, with each thinking it self-evident which one was to be admired. I definitely related to Arya and disliked Sansa, as much because it put me back into my childhood visceral dislike of “girly girls” as because of anything she did. Although she was kind of mean to her sister, but you know what? Children are mean, especially siblings. My brother was either the best playmate ever or the worst kind of asshole, never anything in between. So just because Sansa laughed at her sister in front of the princess and got her in trouble doesn’t mean anything about their relationship, except that it’s not artificially nice. But Arya, like Jon, reminded me of myself in some ways, so I found it interesting that they are close—perhaps logical, since they both feel like outsiders and have the Stark “look,” but perhaps that’s just coincidental to their bond. (To them, I mean; of course it’s probably not a coincidence in the scheme of the writing.)
I am actually very curious to know what any of the guy readers thought of Arya’s introduction on your first read, if you can remember that far back? To me she is very much an archetype of female-driven storytelling, but I started reading books by women (and to some extent for women, though not in all cases) long before I started paying much attention to gender depictions by male writers vs. female writers. And I don’t mean to be all Gender Studies about this, either, just so we’re clear: it’s a matter of curiosity for me with respect to writing as a craft, not some dedication to PC enforcement! Anyway, my basic point is that the tomboy/misfit girl who doesn’t want to be feminine either by inclination or because she is no good at it and rejects it in favor of what she does find appealing or what she does have a talent for, is a really commonly used female character type in my experience of reading, and I’m curious to know whether this is something that the average male reader has seen a lot or if it’s something different in y’all’s experience.
Anyway, moving on to some of the other revelations of the chapter…I agree with Jon’s assessment of Joffrey as “a little shit.” Yup. Couldn’t have said it better. And the pandering of everyone in his entourage was also disgusting. No wonder princes grow up like Jay’s deluded boy Targaryen, if everyone around them always behaves so sycophantically. While part of me would have liked to see Robb knock him on his ass, if real swords were involved of course Robb would be punished for wounding a prince. It’s how that sort of situation goes. Maybe Sansa will come through for me and kick him in the balls for copping a feel or something (doubtful).
The naming of the direwolves by Sansa and Arya was hilarious. I am guessing it was meant to show their divergent views of the world and valuations of the world, but on the other hand naming a fucking slavering direwolf “Lady” could be the height of irony. If, you know, an 11-year-old pretty-princess type could be assumed capable of that kind of irony….
I found Jon’s point to Arya regarding Joffrey’s double-arms (that Lannister pride again, thinking they’re arms are as necessary as the king’s own…their self-consequence is certainly being sledge-hammered in) interesting as a point of illumination for Arya’s relationship with her mother. Jon made the point that if Arya values the female line equally to the male, she should put the Tullie family arms with the Stark—and Arya didn’t like that idea. Is she a daddy’s girl? Or does she just not respect her mother either (a) because women in general are not respected, at least when it comes to having a separate life and heritage from the man they marry, or (2) because Arya doesn’t measure up to Sansa’s standards and resents her mother for judging her for that? Certainly the last line of the chapter with Catelyn waiting in her room to punish her, as well, was certainly very ominous.
Can’t wait to get to the next chapter and see how Bran is feeling about the royals!
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Seemed like a pretty short chapter. I’m not going to count words but it felt like Martin wanted to be brief – and keep special — these tender moments of sibling interaction between Jon and Arya, two characters that I think most will agree are set up for the reader to have more of an immediate attachment to than others. The combination choice seems even more precise because it forces us to view the proceedings in the training yard from the perspective of people that we would want to trust and like. This idea itself – and one example is Elena’s own thoughts – is rather astounding considering we literally just met Arya. While I don’t suggest that Arya doesn’t speak for herself, I think there’s something to be said about the early idea of if they are cool with Jon, they are cool with me.
Elena’s perception of Joff is (in part) accidentally apt. Both are products of incest, but I have to say nothing he does here appears to be abnormal to me. In the beginning he’s just a typical privileged rich kid, gifted with a not uncommon bad attitude. You couple that with the fact he’s also a good looking cat, and what you have is “a little shit”, but not one most of us wouldn’t be use to. At this point it could just be big city fat cat visiting the country. Elena says herself that “Children are mean”, and Joff is simply in a position to be so without much consequence. I remember a part of me wishing that Joff wasn’t so easily dislikable, as the scene here doesn’t bother me much, but of course, he (de)evolves into a big pile of shit later. Sure, later, we get the whole “daddy” issue angle (which may be an understatement), but it fails to make Joff even the least bit sympathetic . Robert’s own later thoughts on Joff always struck me as powerful, because under most circumstances I think a “parent” saying and thinking negatively (on such a fundamental level) about their children is probably one of the worst feelings to carry. While Robert is probably an absolute failure as a parent, it always struck me, as for some reason I can easily see him doting on a child (I think there is a passage later in the books where he did so for one of his bastards—help me out peeps?). This may just be me, as I fully admit to to view Robert as rather a tragic figure, one who I think I would have liked. Also, for the record, I despise Viserys, though I find him far more sympathetic than Joff. I do want to add that while the traditions and social truths of the setting don’t escape me, I do find it slightly disappointing that Joff’s nature isn’t a much bigger consideration for Ned, Catelyn, AND Robert).
I’m glad that Elena doesn’t (at this point) dismiss Sansa. Throughout this project of ours I’ve hinted that I don’t – as many do – find Sansa to be so terrible, and I while this chapter could easily be viewed as a damning or at the very least a getting off the wrong foot appearance, I actually think it perfectly illustrates how ideal Sansa is, if not for the rather extreme circumstances that occurred to the Starks. In this setting, she was born to be a Lady of (presumably) a high house, it’s a role and station that completely ingrained into her (note her choice of name for her direwolf). Little suggests that she would not have been ideal in such a role (considering that I think Ned and Catelyn would have secured a reasonable destination if the big fruit wasn’t put in front of their face). I guess you could say – to use Catelyn’s word – Lady of Summer, as we’ve previously seen Sansa be viewed as someone who would “flourish” at court. As an aside, I would ask readers a completely hypothetical question – where do you think Ned would have attempted to wed Sansa if not for this visit?
Sure, we can all call Sansa ignorant (Cersei, someone who Sansa probably viewed as a role model blatantly told her she was) but she’s still just a kid, and we do find her becoming (I think) an interesting character, one who isn’t one-trick, after she has the experiences to inform her. If making a monumentally stupid decision is reason to shun a character, none of us should like Ned.
Before getting back to Arya, I first want to answer the question Elena threw out regarding female characters. I may be obtuse and part of the problem, but I seem to read with no active social conscious. I feel like I’m a reasonably perceptive reader, but I go into reads void of angst (deserved or otherwise) or angles probably because I’m somebody who could be described as a rather carefree in general. I once considered Erikson’s Malazan series and how so many of the heavyweight characters are darker skinned or women and then wondered if my reaction spoke to the ultimate success or ultimate failure of the novel. Then I thought about it a second time, and remember that I didn’t much care so I never considered it again. Whether you’re Gene Wolfe or Terry Brooks, I don’t much care what or what not your putting on the table as long as it kicks ass. The last thing I want to do is get in my own way and actively try to find ways of not liking shit that I already like. Among the first SF/F books I read was Chapterhouse: Dune (and yes, I liked it), a book that on the surface is one female ass kicking organization trying to survive the invasion of another group of female ass kickers, both using the shit out of men who couldn’t catch a break even when they died, because these ladies would just clone your ass and proceed to fuck you all over again. The other group? Pet sex toys via sexual imprinting (okay, bad example, sign me up for that with the ambrosia meal plan). I didn’t miss a single beat when I was a kid picking up my third Shannara novel and it was Brin Omshford holding it down with Allannon and really continuing the legacy of my familiar guide. The only time in the last several years that I can recall being irritated was reading Robin Hobb’s (who I dig) Soldier Son trilogy, a series that I think I liked more than most to begin with, but by book two or three I was like, “fuck, are we still talking about trees?” I guess I didn’t feel anything revolutionary was going on with Arya, but I don’t think she’s presented as such, and any character that is, isn’t. Wait until Elena gets a load of the face dancers faceless me!
note: I will probably post this part in comments for Elena.
What I did get was age, and more of Martin successfully presenting a young POV:
The wolf pup loved her, even if no one else did.
Obviously we know just as well as Arya does that she doesn’t lack for people that lover her. This is a child’s thought, a girl’s moment of feeling sorry for herself. Martin continues to highlight the mind of a young girl:
Arya looked. An ornate shield had been embroidered on the prince’s padded surcoat. No doubt the needlework was exquisite.
Only a child’s mind (or a Seinfeldian adult) would still be on the subject of needlework! Unlike Elena I didn’t take her snarkiness about the Tully emblem to be something that set off alarms, the whole “A wolf with a fish in its mouth” was to me just a joke, something that I think comes easy between Jon and Arya.
Ghost, already larger than his litter mates.
Most view the direwolves as in some way embodying their owners, so I thought that was an interesting quote. Jon continues to be much more of this rather accelerated wizened kid than I ever seem to recall, which I’m honestly rather pleased with because previously his change after his ascension to Lord Commander always seemed abrupt to me. That said, it should be noted that thus far he appears this way via Bran and Arya, two younger characters who he seems to have amiable relations with. When we did seem with a character we know to have some life experience in Tyrion, he does kind of get schooled (and for myself, I thought it quite evident that a childish tinge was present during whole Ghost/Tyrion encounter) – to Jon’s credit he didn’t seem adverse to it. His conversation with Arya:
“A shade more exhausting than needlework,” Jon observed.
“A shade more fun than needlework,”
“You’re too skinny,” he said. He took her arm to feel her muscle. Then he sighed and shook his head. “I doubt you could even lift a longsword, little sister, never mind swing one.”
Sets up Jon giving her Needle later and making this bit payoff, adding to the list that makes people love him.
This very small, almost a throwaway line, is my favorite Arya bit:
Arya stopped at the door and turned back, biting her lip. The tears were running down her cheeks now. She managed a stiff little bow to Myrcella. “By your leave, my lady.”
Even Arya understands protocol, and even if her desire to leave was not something the Septa would approve of, I’ve always found this consideration by Arya to be very proper and balance the character — she’s not a disaster.
As a re-reader what actually came across as most welcome was the Sandor appearance.
“How old are you, boy?”
“Fourteen,” Robb said.
“I killed a man at twelve. You can be sure it was not with a blunt sword.”
I think we all love the Hound. There’s just something refreshing about him, a sharp contrast to the refined and haughty (well, excerpt the King) visitors we’ve seen thus far. Just when you think Rodrik shut him up, the Hound moves right in to embarrass Rob, who BTW is another Stark I love who just has to make the ONE monumental mistake. I’m not the only one, because Jon gets all serious, “His face had grown as still as the pool at the heart of the godswood”., and Then is there to hold Rob back. We know that Theon and Jon don’t get along, but is speaks well of Rob that he has the respect/friendship of the two. Man, Rob still pisses me off…
This is the first time I noticed this:
“Nothing is fair,” Jon said. He messed up her hair again and walked away from her, Ghost moving silently beside him. Nymeria started to follow too, then stopped and came back when she saw that Arya was not coming. Reluctantly she turned in the other direction.
Again, possible implications about Jon/Ghost.
Lots of hair talk in this chapter, right? We’ve previously mentioned Martin stressing physical traits in this series, and hair was either described to us or directly interacted with no less than nine times in this chapter. Don’t believe me?
- Sansa corrected the younger girl, gently stroking her hair to take the harshness out of her words.
- Worse, she was beautiful. Sansa had gotten their mother’s fine high cheekbones and the thick auburn hair of the Tullys
- Her hair was a lusterless brown.
- Jon grinned, reached over, and messed up her hair.
- Robb and Sansa and Bran and even little Rickon all took after the Tullys, with easy smiles and fire in their hair.
- Jon messed up her hair again.
- His hair shone like spun gold. He looked bored.
- a tall knight with black hair and burn scars on his face, pushed forward in front of the prince.
- He messed up her hair again.
Forget about the prince that was promised rumors. If you are all set for a night out on the town, stay the hell away from Jon, because he’s dangerous to your style. What we also get is that Jon –every time we see him – is a watcher. He’s an observer, because he’s never the guy that he himself can go out “to be seen”, because nobody cares about bastards. This quality, however, is perfect in that people leave you the hell alone – though most kids would prefer to be the observed and not the observer. I think they are both good-natured to begin with, but Jon and Arya obviously share some bond about limitations placed on them by society ( I’m sure the common folk just feel terrible for them).
This is also at least the third non-Jon chapter – along with Bran and the second Catelyn – that Jon at least partially steals the show. I’m not sure if his appearance seems stressed to me because of all of popular rumors that swirl around Jon, or if it’s just that damn obvious that this is his story.
It was worse than Jon had thought. It wasn’t Septa Mordane waiting in her room. It was Septa Mordane and her mother.
Regarding this final line, while some of what Elena points out between the relationship of Arya and Catelyn may or may not exist on some level, even if does, I just kind of took it as this early sampling of everyday life: in this case a child simply being in trouble. We’ve all done this before. Running off from our responsibilities to do or watch something we aren’t supposed to, fully cognisant that punishment was unavoidable. This is just childhood shit. In fact, more than anything, I took this chapter as one that’s about everyday life, even in the wake of the royal visit. A little playground fighting, sibling jealousy, the preppy girls hanging out, kids playing with pets, and when the doom at the end of your day was the possibility of getting grounded This is all normal. It’s a different game. It’s innocence. All three will be lost too soon.
This is the ante to play the game of thrones.