Playin’ with Ice and Fire A Game of Thoughts | Catelyn Stark Chapter 14

It’s been a long time. We should have never left you. Without a dope post to step to. Forgot about us? She’s new, I’m the re-reader. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on.  We return covering everyone’s favorite character, Catelyn Stark!

A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React

Elena –

My comment to Jay upon finishing this chapter was, “I figured out why I don’t like Catelyn; she makes emotion based decisions. “My marginal comment of the chapter was “Catelyn…not exactly a steel magnolia.”

I think last Catelyn chapter I was still lukewarm on her; I’ve decided now that I actively dislike her.  Perhaps I even despise her.  She and I just have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world and dealing with what it throws at us, and I think she is weak, and I judge her for it.

Shall we jump into the specifics?

First of all, what I mean by the steel magnolia thing.  The term is for that strong (Southern) woman who holds the family together in a crisis, who keeps everybody calm, keeps everybody focused, keeps shit rolling–you know, basically is the anchor of the family.  Obviously Catelyn is not that type.  She completely loses herself in her grief for Bran:  she disavows any responsibility for taking care of herself, even, much less someone else; she offers no comfort to any of her other children or her husband; she offers no support for her husband or any other member of the family or household in dealing with the royal visit; she barely even notices when they leave because she’s so subsumed in her own grief.  She basically becomes unable to function.  So obviously she’s not the strong type who holds everything together for herself and everyone else.  (Guess there’s not meant to be a correlation between the south that the Tully’s live in and the American South, since that is the land of the steel magnolia and the matriarchal tradition on the social side).  So that’s part of this–being a Southern girl, myself, I have little respect for Catelyn for this behavior.  I understand that mothers grieve, and I understand that it has to be hard to have a child sick and near to dying, but I also personally have been in the position of offering comfort while I was also grieving myself; it can be done, and it’s not that hard to do if you have some modicum of self-awareness.  (And to any of you who want to say “you just haven’t been there with your own child, and this comment makes that obvious,” go for it, I guarantee you won’t say anything worse than got said to me after my review of Remember Me, lol.)  Anyway, I think it’s very selfish of her to literally take only her mother’s love into account.  It’s selfish of her to devote herself only to watching over her sick child, because that allows her to feel only her grief and her fear, and not actually have to push that aside in order to offer comfort to her other children (who have to be scared and grieving, themselves), to her husband (also must be, etc.), to anyone besides herself.  Basically she’s being entirely selfish.  And I don’t necessarily think all selfishness is bad; a bit of it is necessary to maintain one’s self-identity, and to keep oneself sane and grounded and happy.  But this is a weak sort of selfishness, a childish fit of self-indulgence that no one is willing to call her out on because a mother’s love is sacrosanct or something.  Bullshit.  This bitch has four other fucking children who probably needed a hug or two from their mother throughout the weeks that she spent in Bran’s room, and she pushed them away in favor of her own agony.

All that was bad enough.  But then came the part where Catelyn finally comes out of her fog of grief and realizes that someone had actually tried to kill her son, that his fall therefore hadn’t been an accident, and deduces from context clues that it was Jaime Lannister (I’m going to come back to her logic on that in a bit, don’t worry).  I don’t disagree with her assessment that somebody has to go tell Ned about this…where she loses me is her decision to go handle this herself.  This despite the fact that Ned asked her to stay specifically to watch after Winterfell, this despite the fact that her 14-year-old son is having to be man of the house for the first time and having to make decisions for her because she has abdicated all responsibility and won’t make any decisions herself.

Side note on that–it has to be really hard for Robb to have to make decisions and yet still be accountable to someone else for them.  It would be one thing if his father had died and he had become lord of Winterfell, and, sink or swim, it’s his responsibility, his choices, his decisions, and he’s not answerable to anybody except himself.  In that case he would have to face the consequences if he failed, but that’s part and parcel of being Winterfell.  Okay. That’s fine.  But he’s not in that position; he’s in the position of having all the responsibility and none of the freedom that comes with being his own man.  He’s answerable to his father if he fucks something up, despite the fact that his mother wouldn’t make a decision and he had to make the best choice he could; he’s still answerable to someone else.  That’s kind of a fearful position, to have to make all the choices and yet still have someone who could get really mad at you if it turns out to be the wrong choice; it’s not a matter of just dealing with the consequences of the bad decision, but also the anger of the person who is losing something because of that bad decision.  I think it’s always easier to deal with consequences you bring on yourself, not those someone else brought on you or that you brought on someone else; there’s a strange comfort in having only yourself to blame when shit goes wrong.  Poor Robb doesn’t have that; his father didn’t give him the power–just the responsibility.  So I think it’s really shitty that Catelyn is doing to Robb, putting him in that position because she is too cowardly to be a leader.

And that’s what she’s doing.  She goes herself because she can’t accept responsibility–she’s not going to accept the guilt if something happens to one of those young men while they’re on this mission for her; she’s not going to trust someone else to do it for her; she’s refusing to actually be a leader.

Beyond that unwillingness to accept the guilt that would come from sending someone on a potentially fatal mission, Catelyn isn’t even acting out of any sense of responsibility, that she really is the only one who can deliver this message to Ned.  Any of the others could, and she knows it the same as her captain of the guard knows it.  She wants to do it, because she’s spiteful, and she wants revenge on the man who tried to kill her son.  Understandable enough, I guess, but, again, selfish.  And where is all of her “Bran needs me, oh, I can’t leave him, what if he wakes up and I’m not there, what if he dies and I’m not there” now?–that just magically went away after her restorative sleep?  Really?  So apparently she’s incapable of feeling more than one emotion at a time.  Which just makes her seem like a simpleton to me, but obviously by this point I’m not forgiving her anything.

I find it incomprehensible that Ned doesn’t have a better understanding of his wife’s character when they’ve been married for 15 years, that he actually thought she would be capable of being a leader in his absence.  It seems odd to me that he wouldn’t by this point have seen some example of behavior from her that might have told him she wouldn’t be able to handle it.

All I can say is, Ned really got the shit end of the stick having to marry her.  Not even because she’s so terrible, as far as women go–I think a lot of people, including plenty of females, are like this–but because I think they have essentially antithetical philosophies.  He is a Stoic, and she is an Epicurean, and I am not sure that pairing can ever have a truly happy marriage.  I am using these terms in their original senses, by the way, that to be Stoic is not to blindly accept your lot in life as unchangeable but to take the world and life as it comes and worry about changing only what is in your power to change (versus trying to change things you can’t, or giving up and doing nothing because of things that are beyond your control); and to be an Epicurean is to avoid pain (including an excess of pleasure, if it could lead to pain…such as drinking too much and then suffering a hangover).  Clearly to Catelyn guilt is the worst emotion she could suffer, so she refuses to risk the guilt of “abandoning” her son when she stays with Bran despite the physical distress that puts her in, and she chooses to avoid the potential guilt of getting Robb or Theon Grayjoy or one of the others killed on her mission by deciding to go herself.  And to me, there is a certain amount of weakness in the avoidance at all costs of things that you find unpleasant, a certain inability to just deal with the world that I find, well, pathetic.  It’s why I find Robert pathetic, as well, that he seems unable to deal with the fact that he is king and his role in the world has changed (but that’s another post).  And while I might swing toward Stoicism, I don’t think I’m nearly as prime an exemplar of the philosophy as Ned Stark is, so I can only imagine what he really, deep down, thinks about his wife’s antics.

Finally, as promised, I want to come back to the issue of Catelyn’s logic (or, you know, “logic”) about just who it was after her son.  Here was the line of thought that I had in my initial run-down of thoughts on his chapter (just talked out into my recorder during a commute to work one morning):

“And one other final note is that I think little old Lannister really kind of fucked up with having the assassin go try and kill Bran.  Because, you know, one way or another if the library’s burning and then Bran’s murdered in his bed, regardless of whether they catch the guy or find the knife, that’s really obvious, and they’re going to think about who was there the day he fell and who might have had a reason to push him, and it’s going to come back to him one way or another. So that was kind of stupid on his part.  On the one hand I understand wanting to tie up the loose end, but on the other hand, really all it’s going to do is throw suspicion back on himself.  Did he not realize that?  Did he not think that through?  I don’t know.  But it seemed kind of a bad move on his part.”

All of which still essentially holds, except that I have since thought about it furthered and wondered, WAS IT JAIME?!

I don’t think it was.  I had to go back and read the assassin’s 3 lines of speech very carefully to make sure there was nothing said like “HE told me there’d be no one here,” and there was not.  There was no direct attribution to so much as a gender of who gave him the information and the job, and I think that means it was Cersei.  For several reasons.  First, in the conversation we overheard with Tyrion, she is much more concerned about Bran waking up than Jaime is, so she seems more likely to take action to make sure he doesn’t wake up.  Second, that careful omission on Martin’s part is probably for a reason.  Third, it does NOT seem like a dude thing to give a fine blade away.  (a) A lord would have enough money to pay an assassin in gold, not in kind, whereas a lady might not, if all she has is pin money; (b) a lord is probably going to have some sentimental attachment to a knife–it’s his lucky blade, it was his father’s blade, it was the first thing he bought when he was his own man with money to spend, etc.–and therefore not give it up to someone; (c) a lord is probably going to realize that giving an assassin a blade that could be traced back to him is just plain stupid because he would know what an expensive knife cost and that a raggedy man wouldn’t be able to afford one, which a lady might not if the knife was given to the assassin for reasons other than being part of his payment (see points d-e); (d) a lord is probably going to be able to pick and choose his assassin and thereby find one with his own weapons, whereas a lady might be scraping the dregs of men she casually encounters, or she might have just one opportunity to go out unobserved, and must take what she can get, even if that means hiring someone for whom she has to supply a weapon; and (e) a lord is probably not going to want the sinister poeticism of having the target killed by his own knife, whereas I can more easily see a lady such as, say, Cersei getting off on the idea that a Lannister enemy is killed with a Lannister blade.  This was one of those insights that once it occurred to me, I couldn’t let go of.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I assume we’ll find out who really sent the man…eventually….

– Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her.  Please do not direct spoilers at her. Thanks!

–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–

Jay –

Man.

I wish we could have made our return on any other character because from the very beginning I knew that Catelyn, particularly early, was going to pose a problem. A little disclosure (was going to save this for the Making Of PwIaF Blu Ray) but before I thought of the idea of wonder twin power this series,  I began to map out my own reread and it was Catelyn who made me realize that I needed to bring another person in to make this project kick. When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that… You find someone to carry you. Catelyn is a drag. So you have Catelyn to thank for Elena, who if you read above, is all thankless about it! She gets nice here even though she’s completely wrong, something that speaks to the strength of the writing.

I’m not tired of reading about Catelyn but I am getting tired of writing about her. One thing that I’ve noticed about this reread and what I’m to have to avoid (as the rereader specifically) is ignoring the piling on. With Catelyn it’s tough not to be repetitive, and while I’m interested in reading Elena’s first go-around with the character to see if there is an evolution regarding her initial impressions of her, I find little joy in repeating a case for or against Catelyn each and everytime I’m confronted with one of her chapters. She has her moments, but the old saying regarding first impressions runs amazingly true with Catelyn, so much saw I hated seeing her circumvent death even for reasons beyond having one of the great death scenes in fiction taken from us. I’ve said that before, let me take it further and say I thought her death redeemed her. Not from the perspective of the story or for those around her, but from the outside looking. She had an end that a reader has to acknowledge, one that forces us to think, That Catelyn? She’s all right. Martin made her the voice of dissent in the course of action that led to Robb’s fall, and before that we get the pretty nice read of her sizing up Renly and “the chivalry of the South”. It wasn’t enough yet, but the walking, breathing mistake was put in a spot…and something interesting happens. Catelyn gets Eastwood. We’ve seen it before and though I’m cautious in crediting someone with gumption when their own self preservation is in play but let’s give her some credit…she’s not a punk when weapons are unsheathed.  We see this here, on the road with Tyrion and in her end. She’s straight hardcore when it’s all on the line. You compare that to Cersei’s bravado concerning what’s not afforded her because she isn’t a man and then picture her just sitting (with among other people, Sansa) waiting for the battle (men) to either end them or save them, and you have to admire Ned’s wife.

But I don’t.

Cersei does a lot of thinking and Catelyn does a lot of doing, often with similar results. Right now Catelyn is someone presented to us as being the one who pushes Ned to take Handship, someone who opposes Jon, and somebody not up to task- any tasks.  I tend to again marvel at characterization because there is actually choice here, and there is division in the fandom. Martin doesn’t paint a terrible woman for us, indeed to some she is normal or even optimal. There are reasonable and functional people in life we do not like. We don’t, however, meet too many in fantasy novels that have significant face time.  Elena touches on what George gives us to possibly cloud our evaluation of Catelyn and it’s easy and may even be right to roll with it, and perhaps Martin is exposing readers who want to look beyond and find a reason to hate her, labeling us in the process. What I do dig is this the reality that we are and are perceived by how we affect others. Elena chooses to feel for Ned and the Catelyn burden. Catelyn makes her – a woman – feel sorry for Ned.

Immediately established for us by in the very beginning of this chapter we have Maester Luwin – responsibility – in our stead imploring Catelyn to look to her other duties…to the rest of her family. This of course is a trap, one of the trapdoors I discussed earlier. While Elena see’s the immediate repercussions, the deepest cut is that Catelyn’s failure accomplishes making Robb someone we are drawn to. In the span of a single page, we feel for Rob. We are already inclined to like Rob because the way he treats Jon, but we are now firmly on his team and no longer  validated just through Jon, just a figure in his half-brother’s  story.   When you couple this with the occurrences of the previous chapter (Tyrion) we see Jon taking in the real world as well…the Stark boys enter the Game. Robb is the Stark in Winterfell. It’s true, even Catelyn says it right as she (as Elena points out) cut his balls out from under him. To his credit, Robb overcomes. One day a boy who probably thought he had had years to be groomed (North is isolated and we know Ned didn’t leave much and would have been rather safe) to the Lord of one of the 7 kingdoms —that has to make him one of the dozen or so most important people on the continent. I get stressed out when some sorry tennis match delays the airing of Mike and Mike, so I can only guess what Robb is going through is Mcflyian heavy.

You know where I think we are the most genuine?  Our filenames on personal computers. My document for this chapter was titled “CatelynWackness”, so I feel somewhat vindicated that Elena and the Throne are as one when it comes to her. She points out a lot of what I’ve mentioned before in previous posts and what we’ve haggled about in comments.  As Elena said, the enormity of GRRM’s grief card – one many of us cannot possibly relate to and only horror at – is still not, cannot, be enough to discount or be an excuse for everything she does. It’s not just what she does either. It’s why. I may not agree with Elena on the why, but even worse, for some reason I want to. I always take the Metal/Baratheon analogy and apply them to other families. We’d probably have to invent or discover some new shit for Catelyn. These passages lay next to each other in the chapter but I’m just going to flip the order real quick:

Catelyn had always thought Robb looked like her; like Bran and Rickon and Sansa, he had the Tully coloring, the auburn hair, the blue eyes. Yet now for the first time she saw something of Eddard Stark in his face, something as stern and hard as the north.

That’s the look Rob has when he said:

Motherfucker, what are you doing?”

Her answer doesn’t reveal somebody who is delusional or unsure. It reveals somebody, as Elena has pointed out, who has checked out. She answers Rob as if she’s appalled at the question. When I read this paragraph what struck me was the concept of the “mother” . I don’t know why and I don’t know if it was because Catelyn was so dialed in or the exact opposite.

She had begged Ned not to go, not now, not after what had happened; everything had changed now, couldn’t he see that? It was no use. He had no choice, he had told her, and then he left, choosing

So, it’s put on Ned.

Catelyn then  literally trips and falls down on her own wrongdomdumb.

“I can’t stand it, make them stop, make them stop, kill them all if

you must, just make them stop !”

She didn’t remember falling to the floor, but there she was, and Robb was lifting her, holding her in strong arms

We all know that one of those very same wolves would play a role in saving her and Bran’s life. One thing for sure though is that she’s isn’t dense after seeing something and freely admit she was wrong, essentially making the dire wolves official with her approval of them.

I don’t know why, but I found it interesting that the library was the building set aflame. Obviously it would seem a choice and convenient place to start a fire for several reasons, but I just found it interesting just having read about Tyrion pulling a book from the very same library, a book that was about dragons that prompted a talk about Targaryens.

“No,” she told him. “Your place is here. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.” She looked at Ser Rodrik with his great white whiskers, at Maester Luwin in his grey robes, at young Greyjoy, lean and dark and impetuous. Who to send? Who would be believed? Then she knew. Catelyn struggled to push back the blankets, her bandaged fingers as stiff and unyielding as stone. She climbed out of bed. “I must go myself.

First I want to point out “stone”, which I thought was interesting considering the future Lady Stoneheart.

We’ve talked about this before in comment threads to previous installments, but I don’t understand why Cateyln has to be the one who has to go tell Ned. It’s not logical or even practical. If anything her being the choice is the single dumbest beyond sending Robb himself. Catelyn impressively and seamlessly goes from chosen pathetic inactivity to purposeful and assertive dumb, both however are choices that put more stress on her charge. The latter is worse because she goes running back to Ned and starts a series of events that will put her son in a position of power and vulnerability in a war. While I guess several “what ifs?” can be played out with every character, I just feel that Catelyn’s, perhaps because they are so early in the book/series, are so demanding to be asked and critiqued because she should have just stayed her ass where her LORD husband told her to stay for the VERY reason he told her to do so like 15 minutes ago! That’s not “woman, listen to man”, it’s just pro-common sense. I always feel like that if we were able to know Ned’s thoughts 5 minutes before or after we see him in his cell scene with Varys we’d catch him (like I would be) thinking, damn Brandon, you really fucked our entire family leaving me this one.

If I’m being honest about relaying my re-read experience I find myself with a very real desire to be past the Tyrion abduction just so there’s something else to talk about because in some way I’ve always found Catelyn leaving Winterfell as one of the most contrived aspects of the series, something that had to happen to propel the Tyrion situation and to meet her sister but just made no sense. The problem is that Martin is known for being “realistic”, so anytime you point out such examples the argument of “not everything that happens or what people do makes sense”, which of course is true but it’s probably the single part of the series that I identify as very hard to wrap my head around so I have to make an excuse – part of my autodefense of the series – to just say Catelyn is dumb. I fight for it because her being dumb is better than contrived storytelling. Part of me wonders if originally Catelyn was always meant to survive this book because I can see her as being this central figure in this core of characters we are introduced to whose death would mean several different (and even interesting) things to different people. A bastard that isn’t hers, a daughter who left her angry, a crippled son, a young Lord etc, etc.  When I think that, however, it does strike me as perhaps too easy but even considering it speaks to my own difficulty in Catelyn leaving Winterfell, and the insistence that she was the only one who could accomplish the “mission”. Italian mail service couldn’t mess this one up and THAT’s saying something.

No,” Catelyn said. “A large party attracts unwelcome attention. I would not have the

Lannisters know I am coming.”

Who…what bandits or sellswords (we’d assume the Lannisters or their known allies – in this fantasy hypothesis – wouldn’t attack themselves) would attack the standard of the Hand of the King and Warden of the North, a guy who is known for going personally to beat people’s asses and cutting heads, and in some corners defeating the Sword of the damn Morning (not saying it’s true or not) and is  the King’s BFF? A family who by the way has just announced betrothal to the royal line? Catelyn reacts as if she lived her life as a second class  citizen or as a part of some oppressed middle class – she’s the wife of one of the most powerful Lords in the Realm, the daughter of another, and now the mother of the future Queen. What her reactions do accomplish is cement the thought that the Lannisters are the antagonists, which a new reader at this stage would have no reason to not believe. Further, in previous comment threads some of our readers put forth the idea that Catelyn is later well with in her in rights to arrest Tyrion, being a lady of high station. While I completely  disagree with the tact in doing it, I do agree with the thought of her status as a high lady of the Kingdom (in that very specific set of circumstances). Why not act like it here? She oddly goes real “Arya” here when she’s always more favors Sansa. Let’s be honest, the Sansa model stays at home and orders people to do what they are trained to do. That’s normal.

“Lord Eddard is a second father to me,” said Theon Greyjoy. “I do so swear.”

“My lady, if it comes to that, my House owes yours a great debt.”

If you consider Theon we really never have any reason to believe he isn’t a great dude excluding that he doesn’t like Jon (which happens). I actually like Theon and think he played it straight until he had no other choice but to die and that’s not really much of a choice. More Theon later because I know people think he’s a scumbag from the beginning but I don’t agree.

I do want to make clear that I don’t dislike the chapter, book or series. I don’t even dislike Catelyn. I merely like disliking a character. That’s a win, especially when you consider Catelyn’s plight. One of most interesting things about her, something that Martin makes you forget, is that Catelyn is hot. If you consider how much physical appearance is so often noted (Catelyn, Margaery, Dany, Sansa, Cersei) beyond their introductions, we kind of forget that Catelyn is a bit of a middle-aged catch. Past her prime for sure, but between Petyr’s fantasies and the reminders that Sansa favors her mother we know that Cat is attractive, yet we don’t really get this, whether she’s paired with the Tyrion or the ‘magnificent beast” Jaime.  There is a lack of  (supreme) vanity that I’ve never really picked up and it’s a credit to her that it doesn’t overwhelm her POV as it does some others. Even happenstance shields us from it, as when she’s sent to – a position that could possibly be aided by her station and looks – she gets sent to parlay with the gay claimant to the throne. I don’t even recall if her availability was ever broached post-Ned (though it might have been mentioned—probably by a Frey!). I like to remember Catelyn as a badass Aegon throat slitting MILF, but neither this re-read or memories of impending zombie bullshit will allow me to do so.

The first hundred some odd pages we have very little that resembles a quest, and what we do have that hints to that amounts to something rather childish and, yes, fun: secret messages sent between sisters.  Instead, Martin focuses on relationships and the differing and fluctuating depth of their orbit(s) between each character we meet (and don’t/haven’t). He world-builds without statues and monuments, preferring to do so with people, by people.  This is not more evident anywhere than regarding the mystery man who sent the murderer. Consider that kid, his motives, how pure (crazy) they are and then the dynamics behind them. Completely mundane. Completely fantastic for it. BTW does anyone out there feel the need to be the person who thinks Littlefinger is behind everything? I think this act by Joff is much more effective if it was his move alone.

If you look at one of the quotes above, Catelyn sizes up the men in that room and picks herself. The oddity is that she limited herself to those men was odd in itself, even more, only Rodrick or Theon were viable choices to being with. The Maester wasn’t going to leave, nor should Robb, but what’s wrong with sending Roderick with a full armed escort AND I would have sent a crow letting people publicly know a Stark contingent was on its way to King’s Landing. What do you lose again? Hell, you could send Theon, because if he’s with Northerners I seriously doubt he’d even consider treachery (and like I said, I think he was playing the Stark straight to this point). Of course, Catelyn not choosing Theon comes back into play later and seems to justify this moment, but it really doesn’t.

Next? Sansa. I like her. Thank you for coming back.

Oh, and guess what? We’ve kind of completely forgotten about the whole prologue already, right?

  • og published 2/13/2011

Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the Boomtron empire. She likes genre books, weird movies, and obscure references. She lives in New Orleans, where almost every day is good enough for good times. You can follow her reviews and commentaries at Boomtron.

Jay is a silent partner in Extensive Enterprises, a bastard child of Amber, an Eleint Soletaken, a probable Targaryen, and was the second-to-last Starfighter.