Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Arya Stark Chapter 7

She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the nubile newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are g-mashin’ 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

Elena –

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–

Jay –

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,”

And…

“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.

24 comments

  1. I think it’s Edric Storm you’re thinking of, Jay. Robert used to visit him now and then and the kid worshiped him for it. There is a line about it being Varys who used to pick the presents for the kid, though.

    If the next chapter is the chapter I’m assuming it is, I can’t wait for the write-up.

  2. That’s who I thought it was but I figured asking was better than being wrong – thanks! Hell, yeah I’m right there with you about the next chapter!

    As I noted I would above, I just want to post my answer to the question Elena asked readers below so she can read it (again she doesn’t read my bits for obvious reasons):

    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 (which BTW I’m also re-reading) 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.

  3. where do you think Ned would have attempted to wed Sansa if not for this visit?

    Wow, that’s a harder question than it sounds on the surface. My first thought was Jojen Reed, simply for the lulz. 😉 And then Theon, which made me feel almost worse than the thought of Joffrey. Maybe he’d pull a Queen of Thorns and broach the idea of Willas Tyrell? There would have been the possibility of Tommen as well, as the heir to Casterly Rock (legitimately through Cersei, since Jamie and Tyrion are childless (or at least as far as the world knows!))

    I don’t think she would have been proposed to any of the Northern houses, the Starks already command fierce loyalty there. Arya though, she would have been well suited as, say, an Umber. :)

    ***tiny hinty spoilers***

    the whole “A wolf with a fish in its mouth” was to me just a joke

    Or maybe it was foreshadowing. 😉

    ***end tiny hinty spoilers***

  4. Thanks for answering, Jay, and yes posting it here so I could see it. :)

    Like I said, I’m not couching this in terms of gender studies shit, though I know it might sound that way just from the fact that i brought it up. What it actually made me think of was like, childhood adventure books. Where, typically, at least from what was still going on when I was a kid, were books with mostly boy characters for boys and books with female lead characters (sometimes only girl characters), for girls. (Not that kids couldn’t and didn’t read both, but…there was certainly very little “needs to be gender neutral” bitching going on in like 1989.) The females in adventure stories are almost always NOT the traditional “feminine” role…i mean, pretty princesses are almost by definition of what they are incapable of going adventuring. So Arya felt like an archetypal character to me of the girl who rejects the feminine constraints of her society. And I was wondering if she felt like that (archetypal) to male readers, or not. nothing to do with casting aspersions for the use/not use of the gender roles or anything like that. simply it stuck out to me as something that made me wonder, “Huh, HAVE i seen this from male writers a lot or not?” And yes i know it creates an artificial lens to even wonder that sort of thing, when really it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) make a difference to reading experience, but…it’s an issue i notice. Don’t think this is the place to go into the politics of why, but suffice to say that for me its the politically INcorrect police rather than the reverse.

    • loved the fantasy book where the girl had traditional “housewifey” magic… and went on adventures (build a boat with your “weave” magic, etc..)

  5. Oh, and to sort of go to your point about Dune – clearly that was a society without the same conditions of “femininity.” that’s a different issue than what I’m talking about…i’m pointing out a character type that is specific to a society where it is against the norm or even against the acceptable for her to behave that way.

  6. Elena, I was just speaking on my complete inability to be aware of archetypes (and not a all politics) regardless, because even in other media my SF/F has always been female strong (see even Macross/Robotech) so I never even think to consider it (until asked). That said, I think Arya will prove to be a nice storytelling surprise, her journey in this series isn’t something that struck me as familiar (not that there is anything inherently wrong with familiar). What you say kind of hits homes for me with a with a character like Eowyn (Lotr).

    Carrie,

    It always interested me because as we know she’s about that age and it had to be something that at least crossed their minds. Potentially, she’s a pretty substantial chip. Since she’s obviously worthy of wedding the heir, her options are near unlimited. I know it’s difficult to foresee what would have occurred if the King didn’t visit Winterfell, but I’ve always been interested in who the Starks (who seem out of touch and – at least Ned – not quick to trust the South) would have married her off to. I think we have to assume that a non-first son of a well to do house would be a disappointment. I think we could rule out Tommen, because I just don’t see Ned dealing with the Lannisters if not for Robert’s direct request/presence (though it would have probably been shrewd). The Tyrells have 3 sons – on the surface – that would seem to be winners. Perhaps a Quentyn Martell would be on their radar at the least? Part of me thinks Ned would keep her close with Catelyn and Sansa perhaps battling him every step of the way. Anyone else think that? Would Renly be on the table?

    I do want to add the request for people to please be mindful of labeling spoilers for our readers and Elena.

  7. Eowyn would definitely fit the mode.

    And if it’s your complete inability to recognize ANY archetype…then I get to blame this just on being an English major. :)

  8. Well, archetypes in terms of there quality of being safe or potentially offensive (or not progressive). I’m certainly aware of archetypes, I just tend not think about them because you can’t throw a rock without hitting one. I addressed this in-post but when I view Arya I find myself more focused on age are rather than the tomboy aspect (which is certainly present). You will find another female character in this series that I think will be an interesting “study” who fulfills the role of definitely being someone who is comfortable in her feminine skin, but often remarks on her perceived (or not) limitations in the society because she is not a man.

  9. Regarding gender issues: I’m a man, and I can’t help noticing things about gender portrayals as well (I’m a sociology major, that’s probably why). I very much like GRRM’s portrayal of women in the series. They are severely restricted by society, and have to either fight like hell or conform. And not all those who fight do so succesfully, which in my opinion is a very fair portrayal of the struggles that women have faced through history, and to some degree still do. Regarding Arya and Sansa, I think it’s a wonderful pair, because Arya is so easy to like and Sansa is so difficult. But it’s a long series and they will face challenges and become more and more nuanced. I look forward to following your thoughts on this perspective through the series.

    Regarding the marriage options, ironically I think that both Jon Arryn and the Tyrell boys would have been options, though Sweetrobin is cousin to the Stark girls. Probably Sansa-Tyrell and Arya-Jon Arryn, due to age. Also Sansa would fit much better in Highgarden. Theon is possible as well, but would Ned have sent one of his daughters away to the Iron Islands? Jojen Reed would have been an option, but I have a feeling that the Reeds couldn’t care less about political marriages.

  10. Possible spoilers to follow……

    Possible Matches for Sansa other than Joffrey: Robert Arryn, Tristan Martel, possibly even Renly. Although based on age and the background of their fathers, I think Sansa/Joffrey must have been considered a likely match by everyone, including Ned and Cat. Just that in cases such as this you wait for the king to broach the subject lest you come across as presumptuous.

    I will be curious to find out if Elena can finish the next chapter and stop without immediately flipping the page to start the next chapter if just to find out the fate of Bran.

  11. Jay,

    My immediate thought wasn’t Edric Storm, but rather Robert Baratheon’s first by-blow, Mya Stone. At the Vale of Arryn, Mya relates to Sansa her early memories of her father–basically a large man who would toss her in the air and always catch her, and how Mya equated this to the feeling of being completely safe. This is then contrasted with the betrayal she clearly felt when her beloved Mychal, a noble, did not marry her.

    And interesting you would throw in a Robotech mention. My wife always equates Sansa with Minmei. Oy…

  12. Guy reader here, I can vaguely remember my first introduction to Arya and it was much the same as yours Elena. I like this kid. I couldn’t stand Sansa early on, but she kind of grew on me. I’ve always liked Arya, though, right from the get go. I only found out last week how to pronounce hers and Sansa’s name properly after hearing George Martin pronounce them at Aussiecon.

    • feelin’ set up to hate Sansa, more than that she’s hateful, on the look-back. too much ID with Arya… which the author intends…

  13. Sansa fan here.

    One of the reasons I *didn’t* immediately love Arya was because of her gender characterization. I basically said “Oh look, here’s another tomboy, who seems to hate everything about being a girl, and she’s being shoved down my throat to make me feel guilty that I like to wear skirts!” I was the ‘princess’ type girl growing up (full of dress-up, rules, and hating sandboxes/dirt), and I felt like those characters didn’t get a honest perspective in fantasy. I only really saw was the Tomboy, the Airhead, and the Seductress.

    Sansa steps away from the norm in this novel, just as Arya does though. They both grow into different people, and I still adore them both. Arya grew on me when I stopped trying to think of her as a girl, and Sansa solidified my love by her courtesy and inexhaustible courage.

    • Wow. good to hear that someone IDed with Sansa. I sure as hell didn’t. (an’ I do like skirts, and horses, and swearin’ like a sailor).

  14. Magnar, You have a good point and I wonder if it was the presumption at court that Joff would probably marry Sansa (and thus tieing the Stark to the Throne). Considering age, Sansa’s family status, and the obvious fact that everyone must know that Rob and Ned were friends must have made such a union at least a partial favorite (I seem to recall Ned being surprised by Robert offering though). In the same fashion I wonder of Mycrella was ever a consideration for Rob (who also had to be the subject of some rumor, being the heir to Winterfell and Warden of the North). My opinion (going with the thought that we don’t know what would occur), you have to like any of the Tyrell options. I don’t think the Reeds or any other of the Northern Houses really seem like they’d be an even match (though I could be wrong).

    AYH, that was the line I was remembering “tossing”, I just assumed it was about Edric–thanks! The Robert as a father thing bugs me, I seem to recall there was a reason why he had little to with Joff and Tommen, but it strikes me as non-Robert to not cherish his healthy male hit heirs (he touches on this a bit later). I understand Varys taking care of the bastards, as that’s just expedient to do considering Cersei.

    Birdie, I think I’m more on your level when considering the two Stark girls. I always thought Sansa got a bad wrap for being almost EXACTLY what her lord father and mother wanted.I guess that after we meet a Margaery Tyrell we can see where she (Sansa) lacked a dimension needed in court, but in terms of what was being taught her, she seemed a quick study and to excel. I enjoy both Stark sisters quite a bit though, it is true that Sansa got hit with the same stupid stick that inflicts much of her family!

    Minor spoilers for AFFC, but not really:

    I also wanted to add that the scene with all of kids playing (in the yard fighting) was reminding me of Doran at the Water Gardens, in terms of this idea of innocence, where they all came from, and where everyone would have to go.

  15. Elena–

    On the subject of gender and ‘traditional’ roles for men and women (boys & girls) in this book, I actually find the series quite refreshing because it seems to take the issue on directly without recourse to some of the more clichéd narratives of male power vs. female power that seem to infest fantasy literature (such as the male = warrior, female = spell user split), and it doesn’t sugar coat the difficulties. I would consider myself as much a feminist as the next guy, if not more, but I remember when I read C. J. Cherryh’s “The Paladin” as a young teen, and while it was not a great book in any case, I remember being frustrated by the stark differences that separated the female student from the male teacher–it seemed like the book was harping on the differences instead of emphasizing the equalities.

    Looking back, I sort of see that as an attempt at really making something that is ‘true’ to certain facts of life, and, though I have not gone back to check the book, I suspect that Cherryh was remaining quite true to a certain kind of female empowerment without demanding that the world be much different from ours. It was not a lesson that my younger self could handle properly, and perhaps Cherryh’s book didn’t explain the issue well enough. Martin, on the other hand, seems to be walking a fine line very wonderfully here, suggesting that certain differences cannot be overcome but that others are largely irrelevant–depending on the character. I would love to hear your thoughts on this further, Elena, as you get a little deeper into the series and bump up against more of this issue.

    (some spoilers may follow, depending on how you define the term)

    Jay–

    Your question is really tricky, and I think a lot of the other posters here have covered the best options. I suspect that Ned would want to emphasize bonds between houses that he felt were important and had a connection with, and so if he were planning to marry Sansa to anyone, Robert’s kids would be a great choice. His native caution would lead me to believe that he would not broach the subject regarding Joffrey, but perhaps a later marriage with Tommen would be something he would consider as ‘possible.’ Other good possibilities include Renly or little Robert Arryn, though I don’t know/remember what the rules for cousin-marriage are in Martin’s world. I suspect it wouldn’t be a problem.

    We know so little of the Reeds that while I suspect Howland’s kids might be a good match, but something makes me think Ned was hoping that perhaps Arya might find a home she enjoyed there much more than Sansa. If time had permitted (of course that is the way of all things in Martin’s books) I wonder if Arya and Bran might have gone to visit the Reeds to see if they enjoyed life there.

    Lastly, while it would probably be a great idea to try building alliances further south, I just don’t think that Ned would be looking to Dorne for a match, nor do I feel he would consider the Iron Islands. He is an eminently practical man, our Ned, but he is also a sentimental one, and sending his eldest daughter to a place where he could no longer protect her effectively (nor call on local allies to protect her) seems like something he would not be interested in–nor does it seem like he would choose a match that would make Sansa unhappy, unless protocol or other circumstances demanded. After all, while keeping the children alive has to be his primary concern after his experiences during the rebellion, that feeling transfers into other kinds of emotional attachments and desires for his children–after all, look at what he did for them in the south.

    Once again I am impressed by the work that is going on here, and I really enjoy getting the chance to read these–it’s the first site I check on Google Reader, so you must be doing it right!

  16. Thanks everyone for the comments–and, for better or worse, I’m sure that I will continue to view this book through at least a little bit of my femaleness :)

    Also to reiterate what Jay said somewhere above but I think got lost: please direct any comments you want me to read to me, at the front of your comment, and please note if there are spoilers. I’m trying very hard not to have anything put in my head that wasn’t there before I started reading the book, so I’m kind of skipping comments not addressed to me specifically.

    @ Birdie: I do have to agree that there is a dearth of traditionally feminine characters who are portrayed as something besides a dishwater shallow and dishwater interesting character in fantasy. At a guess, much of the challenge is that in taking a character who “conforms” to social expectations in a society that expects “skirts” and everything that goes with them, it becomes very difficult to create a character who actually has an interesting story around her. One story that I have read recently that I felt took a character like that but handled her well was the sharon shinn novella in the “never after” collection. i do look forward to seeing more of Sansa–as I said, she didn’t really do anything to put me off other than being as you say exactly what her parents want, and i can hardly hold THAT against an 11-year-old.

  17. Spoilers:

    I think Cersei later admitted that she deliberated kept Robert from being a father to the kids because she feared that close interaction would rouse suspicions from Robert. She did all she could to keep the interactions brief and infrequent.

    And Robert is not the kind of guy who’s going to spend a lot of effort getting through Cersei’s wall when there is wine and wenching to be had elsewhere.

  18. Thanks everyone for the comments–and, for better or worse, I’m sure that I will continue to view this book through at least a little bit of my femaleness :)

    Also to reiterate what Jay said somewhere above but I think got lost: please direct any comments you want me to read to me, at the front of your comment, and please note if there are spoilers. I’m trying very hard not to have anything put in my head that wasn’t there before I started reading the book, so I’m kind of skipping comments not addressed to me specifically.

    @ Birdie: I do have to agree that there is a dearth of traditionally feminine characters who are portrayed as something besides a dishwater shallow and dishwater interesting character in fantasy. At a guess, much of the challenge is that in taking a character who “conforms” to social expectations in a society that expects “skirts” and everything that goes with them, it becomes very difficult to create a character who actually has an interesting story around her. One story that I have read recently that I felt took a character like that but handled her well was the sharon shinn novella in the “never after” collection. i do look forward to seeing more of Sansa–as I said, she didn’t really do anything to put me off other than being as you say exactly what her parents want, and i can hardly hold THAT against an 11-year-old. :)

  19. I too would dismiss The Iron Islands even though I think their opinion of Theon is probably higher than that of most readers and would consider. While readers may – at this point – remain ignorant of the Iron island, we can be reasonably sure that Ned isn’t. The idea of protection – if you’ve been following us you know how I’ve harped on Ned/Children — is an interesting on I have to stop now though, because now I have myself thinking of destinations for all of the “A” children, if what happened didn’t happen. I would have to agree though, barring perhaps Margaery Tyrell (assuming Dorne is off the board for their own reasons), the Joff/Sansa probably would have been the clear favorite odds at Vegas.

  20. @Elena – Just to add to what most people are saying. As a man, I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to Arya. She does come off as a typical ‘tomboy’ character at first, but I always feel its best to give an author the benefit of the doubt, and see where they take their character after our first impressions. It’s easy to put a character in a certain category after first meeting them, but eventually all characters become different in some way (in my opinion) and Arya is no different. I find her to be a completely unique character.

    ***SPOILERS***

    Jay – Because this is a re-read, I have to share a favorite forshadowing line that appears in this chapter. I can’t take credit for pointing this one out, as I read it in a thread on the westeros board. As Jon and Arya are watching the boys fight in the yard, Arya asks why Jon isn’t fighting, and Jon says something about bastards not being allowed to strike young princes. But, with what we know about Joff’s parentage, and what everyone thinks they know about R+L=J… I love how that line fits in the story.
    @Elena – Just to add to what most people are saying. As a man, I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to Arya. She does come off as a typical ‘tomboy’ character at first, but I always feel its best to give an author the benefit of the doubt, and see where they take their character after our first impressions. It’s easy to put a character in a certain category after first meeting them, but eventually all characters become different in some way (in my opinion) and Arya is no different. I find her to be a completely unique character. ***SPOILERS*** Jay – Because this is a re-read, I have to share a favorite forshadowing line that appears in this chapter. I can’t take credit for pointing this one out, as I read it in a thread on the westeros board. As Jon and Arya are watching the boys fight in the yard, Arya asks why Jon isn’t fighting, and Jon says something about bastards not being allowed to strike young princes. But, with what we know about Joff’s parentage, and what everyone thinks they know about R+L=J… I love how that line fits in the story.

  21. If that all does come to pass, it is a damn fine bit of irony. Not that I have a ton of experience in gauging these things, but in various re-reads of large works I’ve done I’ve always found that if an author has a fundamental mystery, they often can’t help but leave the most clues or make the most mistakes early (partly for story, and I fear, partly due to an innate desire to point to their craftiness–of course in this case it could be the double-play herring, which makes my head hurt).

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