Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Catelyn Stark Chapter 6

She’s new, I’m the re-reader. The newbie and the spoilery vet. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on.  This week we revisit Catelyn Stark — and unlike our first encounter, she has Laney feelin’ something!

game of thrones

An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React

Elena –

This chapter made me wonder whose side I am supposed to be on.  Was I supposed to empathize with Catelyn?  I found that difficult.  She obviously has ambitions and pride of her own to spare.  While I suppose I applaud that—the line about it being good that Jon Snow would sire no sons to “contest her own grandson’s right to Winterfell” showed that she has a sense of what her life’s purpose has been, and she doesn’t want to see that dismantled—I thought it was kind of funny that she was so quick to say Ned should agree to the king’s request because she wants to be honored and vetted at court and preen as the mother of the future queen, etc., only to have him tell her she has to stay.  Whoops, backfire!

Pursuant to my discussion last chapter about trusting characters, two things came up with respect to that this chapter.  First, I wondered if Catelyn told the truth about what was in her sister’s note or if she lied to Ned to give him a better reason to go South with the king than he’d had before.  On the one hand, if Lysa fled in the night with her son back to their people instead of letting Lannister take him as a ward, that obviously shows that she is fearful of the boy’s safety (or her own) and does not trust the king or the Lannisters.  Thus such a notice is in line with her behavior.  Point taken.  On the other hand, if it was a secret message in a language that only she and Catelyn spoke, it could have said anything.

Also, Catelyn didn’t really give anyone the chance to see that it was in a different language so we only have her spoken words that it was, and it seems to me that such a carefully shrouded message—in terms of its narrative reveal to the audience, given that we easily could have read it along with Catelyn if we were meant to know its true contents—implies that it didn’t say what she said it did.  Or not just what she said it did.  So what the fuck did it say?

Second, I find that I have come down on the side of liking Eddard Stark and trusting his perspective.  Much more so than his wife’s.  Maybe simply because he just wants to stay the fuck where he belongs, keep out of politics, and look after his own.

He’s not ambitious, and he’s not interested in playing games; he doesn’t want to leave, and only agrees that he must because he’s trying to keep his family safe.  Even then, he makes what seems a very practical decision to leave his wife in the North with his heir to rule Winterfell and teach Robb how to do it in the process.

Was this hedging his bets, a bit, to keep his eldest (and as it happened, youngest) sons out of the South?  Or was it aimed, as Catelyn wondered, as a punishment to her for some personal strife between them?  Was it a hard decision for him to make, to leave his wife behind?  There was no mention of how Catelyn thinks he feels about her, so I’m curious what he does feel for her.

(more on that in a bit).  I also wondered if it was a telling piece of Ned’s character formation as a child that he was the second son, so everything he has was never what he expected from his life.  Whether any of it was what he wanted, even if he “never asked for it,” is a different and possibly more intriguing question that I hope is answered at some point.

So I sort of got my questions from Jon’s chapter answered:  no, he does not know who his mother is and neither does anyone else at Winterfell, not for sure.  Possibly Lady Ashara Dayne, possibly not.  Whoever the mother was, Stark met her on the campaign to overthrow the king and brought Jon home with him when he returned.

Presumably Ned loved her and that is why he cherishes Jon, but that is merely supposition on Catelyn’s part (and perhaps others as well).  While I find the notion sort of highly romantic and also extremely sad, I can also see where Ned could have had other reasons for keeping the boy close and treating him as one of his own sons.  Whatever the actual case, that is what his wife thinks, and that is why Catelyn doesn’t like Jon.  She tells Ned she won’t let him stay in her house when Ned has gone—so off to The Wall with Uncle Benji it looks like Jon’s going to go.  (As a side note, this makes me happy, because I’m still curious about the weird glowing shadow-ghosts from beyond the beyond and want to see them when they start overrunning shit.)

On a personal level, I found the words around the whole Jon section a very foreign depiction of love.  Catelyn describes herself as having come to love Ned “with all her heart,” but she still can’t forgive him for having loved someone else, and keeping the bastard right in her face.  On the surface I understand that, except…if your pride is so affronted that fourteen years and a life together can’t erase it, can you honestly truly love “with all your heart” the person who gave you the offense?

It seems to me the offense becomes less important and true forgiveness extended if that were true…unless she’s still that insecure about her place in Ned’s heart, in which case how can she really have given him all of her own?  I don’t believe real life works that way, that love can be sustained indefinitely in the face of indifference or insecurity.  Maybe for a few years—not like 15, though—but eventually wouldn’t it twist and wither into something more like hatred?  But perhaps that is projecting too much of my own experience onto a character who does have room in her soul for her pride and her love both.

All the same, Catelyn certainly doesn’t seem to embody the “true love forgives all” Jesus ethic.  Perhaps that’s refreshing.  But despite my general enjoyment of spiteful and revenge-bent females, I don’t really respect it in Catelyn.  Is this because it’s aimed at Jon, who I like?  Or is it because it seems so slave-like and skulking, to take her anger at her husband out on the child because she is unwilling or unable to either confront the husband about the hurt and/or actually deal with the pain and anger (vs. boxing it into a corner and misdirecting it)?

Upon consideration, the latter.  But perhaps Stark’s temper got in the way of her expressing her feelings.  Apparently he has one.  I’m trying not to judge her too harshly, but at least after this chapter I see her more negatively than neutrally.  (Hey, at least it’s an opinion, though!  Part of me wants to call it a win just for that. J)  I will say, depending on how she conducts herself as de facto Warden of the North in Ned’s absence, it could go back the other way.  I remain ephectic.

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

Jay –

I’m just pumped that Elena acknowledged and named a non-central (at this point) character in one of her write-ups! You can kind of feel the foundation – trap doors and all — being laid out for her here, and they were placed there by an author who too the time to have moments of dialogue that could mean on, two, or several things, but still maintain their power in any case(s).

When we covered the initial Catelyn chapter I mentioned that I did not  like what the character becomes, but I DO enjoy her well enough all the way up to and through her death. She probably makes as much sense to me in this chapter as in any: a mother is going to do what it takes to both protect and propel her children. In this way she’s always been, for me, an interesting parallel/foil to Cersei (for one, neither married who they thought they would and both have serious issues with bastards).

This line always interested me:

Her loins still ached from the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. She could feel his seed within her. She prayed that it might quicken there. It had been three years since Rickon. She was not too old. She could give him another son.

While I guess in this society males may  be of  more value, perhaps doubly so in the North, it just seemed like an odd specification to me and always has.

I – for many of the same reasons Elena does – like Ned, however, in this case I can’t agree with him (even vested with knowledge of the outcome). While I admire the hell out of concepts like doing what you do, forget about everyone else, take care of yours, love your home, this is an extreme opportunity. The book is called The Game of Thrones, and the king – his best friend – is offering him Parcheesi on a platter for time served. I completely feel Catelyn here, and what could look like manipulation and undermining her husband, to me can resemble typical parenting decisions being made, though the tone here this time had this very feint sinister underlining to it, a perhaps misrepresented and clouded  observation due to the later discussion about Jon.

“Honors?” Ned laughed bitterly.

“In his eyes, yes,” she said.

“And in yours?”

“And in mine,” she blazed, angry now.

That said, while understanding her motivation, I did find Catelyn’s debate tactic to  potentially be pretty damn cutthroat and I do wonder if she was actually playing on Ned’ known disgust to what happened to the Targaryen children and Elia Martell (yeah, I’m back on that again!). If so, that’s on some SUPER bitch shit. Yet…I do agree with what she wants, and even more than that, I admire the hell out of Ned’s quick calculations and possible counter  about who he should take to court (and why)  a moment before being against the idea (though I’m sure he thought of that before this conversation).

Elena’s thoughts on his choices – if there was a a bit of a a small victory regained by Ned within them – are really interesting, but I never viewed this relationship as one that wasn’t a solid team. I believe in the Ned/Catelyn love, mostly because of their children (yes, even Sansa – I’ll get to that when we get to her). The kids all seem to adore their father and most (at least one) would not if he was cold to their mother, even in this society.

We still don’t blame Ned, do we? We can’t. Beyond even us knowing what happens to Ned himself; his father, sister and brother went South and never came back alive. That shit didn’t happen even 50 years ago. Not only that, whatever happened at the Tower of Joy could not have been pleasant, and the last time he saw children in the royal family, they were butchered by men under the command of the new Queen’s father. I think this line says it all:

His eyes were haunted

HAUNTED. This is Catelyn’s POV. She knows.

Previously, one of our commenters mentioned an appreciation for a later chapter where Robert talks with Ned about leaving the crown and becoming a sellsword. It’s very Robert, but I wonder how much like his friend Ned used to be:

“Brandon. Yes. Brandon would know what to do. He always did. It was all meant for Brandon. You, Winterfell, everything. He was born to be a King’s Hand and a father to queens. I never asked for this cup to pass to me.”

We get that Ned is dutiful, hard (but kind) and we’d think he was in many ways the opposite of Robert, but I always wonder what the boy growing up in the Eyrie was like, and we forget what a prominent figure Ned is/was in recent Westeros history as a young man and how much fame and song may be attached to him. Ned  came, saw, conquered, and then went home.

Catelyn heard her maids repeating tales they heard from the lips of her husband’s soldiers. They whispered of Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, deadliest of the seven knights of Aerys’s Kingsguard, and of how their young lord had slain him in single combat.

I wonder if this lost youth, the idea that young men aren’t ready for some events is partly why he refuses to unleash Loras on the Mountain later in this novel. Remember, it was the Mountain’s work he saw on Elia Martell and baby “Aegon” Targaryen. Reach #2, and yeah, I did it again with the kids.

This is of course the chapter that reveals Catelyn’s “knowledge” of Jon Snow’s origins and one of the aforementioned trapdoors.

That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. “Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know.”

It’s as powerful if Jon is indeed Ned’s son or otherwise. If not, it’s ‘That’s my dead sister’s boy, step off bitc”… you get the picture. Note that Catelyn states this is the only time Ned had ever frightened her (and occurred not long after he returns from war) so this essentially means he’s never done it again for virtually the entire time they’ve been together.

This is more evidence to my conclusion that Catelyn and Ned’s relationship is solid, she just remembers shit like every woman I’ve ever met does (to better remind you of later(s)) excluding the one-veto-a-life item all men get (in this case Ashara Dayne). Catelyn does get her opportunity to lash out here though (and from Jon’s POV we probably know she’s cold to him in general–though in the instance we see, he’s a sport about it) not to mention this odd line that Ned thinks in this chapter, “Ned would do the boy no kindness by leaving him here at Winterfell.” BUT it’s worse. It’s NOT Ned thinking this, it’s Catelyn thinking it rather matter-of-factly. Would she harm Jon?


“How can you be so damnably cruel, Catelyn? He is only a boy. He-“

His fury was on him. He might have said more, and worse, but Maester Luwin cut in.

Ned was going to battle over this, and this time reading it, I really wanted him to. What did Luwin cause us not to know?

This is a late addition to this write-up, but it’s another example how perhaps intent and atmosphere being positively disjointed really had me watching my step and kind of feeling (or at least understanding) Elena above. Didn’t it really seems like Maester Luwin is all world championship tag-team with Catelyn against Ned here? I never really noticed it before, but in this chapter – I generally think I like the guy elsewhere – he’d really pushing my buttons, but they are appealing to Ned’s weaknesses (which is why it’s semi-dirty), justice and family. Ned acts like he doesn’t notice or see (which, as  a previous commenter mentions, happens a lot), and it might just be me, but I found myself (I think with Elena) thinking this was a pretty combative meeting, one that a first time reader may take exactly what Elena took away from it (and one that I’ve missed or forgotten). Most important to me, however, is the ease in which Ned was outmaneuvered by Cat and Luwin – he was just shut down. I don’t know why, but I remain movable on who got what they want here, even knowing Ned’s convictions about the north, about home.

I hate to keep harping about the children and Ned in these write-ups, but this line – talking about his best friend – really struck home this time:

“You must,” he said. “Sansa must wed Joffrey, that is clear now, we must give them no grounds to suspect our devotion.

And this:

He is a sweet boy, quick to laugh, easy to love. Let him grow up with the young princes, let him become their friend as Robert became mine. Our House will be the safer for it.”

Ned kind of flips Catelyn’s own arguments points against him back at her, and does systematically. The amount of thought regarding safety of his house and family – after witnessing the death of both for the Targaryens – is something he really has on his mind, in what would seem like an ideal situation – aligning with and in the future becoming blood of the power in the land. Ned’s got serious issues, and I’d love to read a story from around the time of Balon’s rebellion where Robert and Ned last met nine years ago, just to see where his head is at, because reading this chapter this time around has caused it to become this meeting of people with serious issues, where before it was always a strategy meeting. Clearly, it is emotional as Martin’s word choices indicate (cruel, bitter, anger, haunting) but this is the first time this meeting really struck me as DEFCON 1 level proceedings.

Again, Ned knows what Robert is capable of can look past of if he feels he is betrayed (perhaps if a loved one betrays him?). More and more as I read this, the idea that what Ned saw during the sacking of King’s Landing has never left him, and I even wonder if he took Theon on to keep him out of Southern Courts. Okay, that’s reach #2, I’m riffing here and it’s been a long post. I do want to apologize for how long this one took to come out, I’ve been on the warpath looking for new contributors for the site and tweaking the site itself.

In ending, I love this line, “They waited, quiet, while Eddard Stark said a silent farewell to the home he loved.” Martin called a quiet moment a quiet moment and it was still awesome. I don’t even know what you call that, so I’m sticking with awesome.

Up next: Enter Arya!


  1. Wow, very interesting. I never realized how telling this chapter was. I’m going to have to read more carefully next time I re-read the chapters.Personally, I have never hated Catelyn, even when she was nasty towards Jon. Maybe it’s because I’m not a huge fan of Jon to begin with. I just feel that he was somewhat manufactured to be the hero, the one everyone roots for from the beginning and I didn’t like that.

  2. You got a repeat paragraph in there Jay :-)Elena yet again has some great/different perspectives on things I hadn’t really thought about before.She obviously is fresh to the story, but she’s heard things about it already and it’s interesting to see how that influences her reading. *SPOILERS*I’d never thought about Cat lying about what was in Lysa’s message. I only put it as a spoiler, because why should Elena know whether or not Cat was lying. Let her keep her suspicions for awhile 🙂 Although if she thinks Cat is lying, then maybe she won’t think the Lannister’s are that bad. I’m sure that will change in another couple of chapters though.I never questioned Ned and Cat’s relationship. There are obviously some issues between them, but I think GRRM makes it equally obvious that they had grown to truly love each other. They both mention wanting to be with the other at some point during the book.*SPOILERS*

  3. I didn’t think Catelyn wanted to be honored as the mother of the queen, she just has ambitions for her children to rise high, that’s pretty normal for moms. She wanted to go with Ned because she loves him, not because she cares about personal self aggrandizement.Catelyn’s issues here should be understood in the context of her society. Bastards would just never be raised in the house where the lady and her own children live, inheritance issues too big a deal in Westeros.

    She comes to love Ned despite her grievance also because it’s her duty, and when women are sent so far away from their homes they become strangers in strange lands, so if they don’t have good relationships with their husband they will often have no one else for support or company. They’re just very dependent on their husbands’ good will.

    I think Cat tries to love Ned and succeeds, and then tries to love Jon for his sake but fails there. Ned is the reason her anger has nowhere productive to go, because he forbids her to talk about it and she has to obey him. And Catelyn doesn’t usually take her anger out on Jon actively, she just avoids him.

    I think Martin did a more interesting thing giving us both Cat and Jon as protagonists; Elena suggests it would be easier to be into Cat’s bitterness if we didn’t like Jon, but that’s taking the easy way out.I think Cat blazes angry at Ned because he is taking a dig at her for finding Robert’s offer an honor, which she doesn’t have a problem with. This is where their personalities are different, he shuns ambition wholesale while she is more normal about it — take it when it doesn’t cost anything, but avoid it when the cost is too great.

    I don’t think she was insinuating anything about Elia’s children.And I think that because people like Ned, they don’t also realize perhaps that he isn’t a natural at his job, that Cat and Luwin have to prod him for a reason — otherwise he will miss opportunities. He was not raised for lordship, but Cat was always raised for politics.

    He misses his home, and so we miss it with him, but if you consider Catelyn’s life, a woman has to give up her home for basically ever and ever because politics demand it. She has a different perspective: while Ned mourns, she doesn’t even have the luxury to do that, so though she feels for him she can’t indulge him.I think it’s understandable that Cat can’t forget about Jon, he’s always there after all. If Ned sent him away and had him raised with bannermen, like most people do, it’d be easy to forget.

    I find it more interesting that Ned is insecure about Brandon after all this time, even though nobody really gives him reason to be.

  4. Call me a Starkophile, but I’ve always wanted to give them each the benefit of the doubt. Yes, even Sansa… Rickon kind of freaks me out, but I dig it…

    Catelyn’s treatment of Jon, although completely devoid of grace, is justifiable when you take it in the context of a survivalist society. Of course she sees him as a threat to her kids. And I have to assume that Jon is the reminder of the one piece of Ned that she has no access to. You don’t need to be a jealous/cruel person to feel that way…

    Great post, as always…

  5. I agree with the above, it never struck me to consider Catelyn’s honesty in regards to the message–that was good call by Elena. As noted above, I do agree Matt, in this – and for me most of the occasions – I find Catelyn’s actions and convictions to be perfectly justifiable given the setting, if not optimal to our own ideas of “grace”. Hell, we know what Cersei does and it’s apparently public knowledge.

    Man, I can’t find the duplicate paragraph. Usually if I do that, what’s happening is my latest save isn’t posting (having a ‘fresher’ autosave–which is annoying and has happened more than once). This was the case here, but I’m not sure if it corrected the issue, as I didn’t see it before I updated to the latest save. If not, double the fun!

  6. The first paragraph starts with, “That said, while understanding her motivation”. And a couple paragraphs later there is one that starts with, “Going back to what I said above, while understanding her motivation”. After the beginning words, they’re almost identical.

  7. Oh and Jay, I think “He would do no kindness leaving him here” just means that Cat would not be affectionate or attentive toward Jon, and so if Ned is not there no one would be around in Winterfell to parent him. She’s saying “I’m not going to take care of him, don’t expect me to”.

  8. It’s more than that, Cat wants to ensure that Winterfell is safe for Robb, and Jon is just one more obstacle in that regard. It’s not just that she’s unaffectionate, she’s ruthless when it comes to games of power, which ironically the lowborn suffer the most when those games are played.

  9. Submitted on 2010/09/01 at 10:55 pm

    Hrmm, I don’t think Cat is ruthless when it comes to games of power.


    Compare her to Cersei or Littlefinger later on, she doesn’t have or set people up to be murdered, she doesn’t really care much about Robb’s crown, she just wants her family alive. But marrying off your kids well is normal and not a particular sign of ruthlessness, even Lord Rickard Stark did that. As for not wanting Jon to usurp Robb’s rights, she’s protecting what is due to hers, not taking what belongs to someone else. That’s a pretty clear distinction between her and other game players.

    Sorry for not responding directly, I’m having some problems with the comment system!
    Hrmm, I don’t think Cat is ruthless when it comes to games of power. ***SPOILERS*** Compare her to Cersei or Littlefinger later on, she doesn’t have or set people up to be murdered, she doesn’t really care much about Robb’s crown, she just wants her family alive. But marrying off your kids well is normal and not a particular sign of ruthlessness, even Lord Rickard Stark did that. As for not wanting Jon to usurp Robb’s rights, she’s protecting what is due to hers, not taking what belongs to someone else. That’s a pretty clear distinction between her and other game players. Sorry for not responding directly, I’m having some problems with the comment system!
    ApproveUnapprove | Reply | Quick Edit | Edit | Spam | Trash

  10. Mike, got it thanks.

    AF – definitely like the Luwin/Cate prodding, it fits entirely especially with Ned’s thoughts on Brandon (my Elia/kids example in term of Catelyn was taking the “sinister” track or angle that this chapter confronted me with for the first time). I think Martin successfully debunks any such thoughts if we as readers respect Ned, because he clearly gives Luwin respect when he later tells him to essentially be Catelyn’s right hand and that he trusts him in all things

    I do want to be clear: I’m firmly in the Catelyn is doing what I’d do camp. Under no circumstances would you turn this opportunity down. Some aspects about her may pop up here as unlikable (or simply, not optimal), they do not change what “side’ I’d be on, and that would be true even if her sister was not in play.

    I must say I’m not understanding the page break issues (I just press “enter”!). If you want use HTML code, there is an html button on the menu bar. Can someone tell me what’s not working for them? Thanks! I’m going to edit and fix others, and sorry for any inconvenience.

  11. For me, the line breaks weren’t working and I’m unable to respond directly to other comments, but maybe it’s my browser that’s at fault!I will add that I think Elena’s perception of the relationship as a little bit foreign is intentional on the author’s part, because it shows the remnants of the origins of the marriage: political duty, a product of a system that exploits the heir-bearing capabilities of women. It gets us into the mindset of Westeros more quickly.

    **** Spoilers ****

    What is funny is how in this chapter, Cat and eventually Ned think that rejecting the king’s offer is a sign of disloyalty, whereas in the next Bran chapter we learn that Cersei thinks that accepting is suspicious. Makes me wonder if Martin was in a rush to get the plot rolling, and to be honest I always found this chapter really odd, almost hasty. Sorry in advance for any further HTML issues!

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