She’s new, she’s the re-re-reader. She’s the newbie, she’s the spoilery vet. Together they’re rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting their POV on. Today they move on to Chapter 20, a Ned Stark chapter.
Yes, loyal Playin’ with Ice and Fire readers, Elena is no longer riding solo on this project. The inimitable Darth Rachel of the comments and the Dune re-read has stepped in to fill the shoes of the re-reader, so starting today you will once more have both perspectives on the chapters. Jay is trash.
Also starting today, you will have a predictable schedule for postings: every Monday. There might be occasional extra chapters thrown in, so it’s always a good idea to check back more often or follow one of our news feeds, but at the very least you can rest assured that at least one thing will go right with every Monday.
Announcements over, so let’s get our perspectives on!
Boy, this was a long chapter in terms of the number of things I want to talk about in its wake. This may be a bit disjointed because not many of these things really flow into one another, but, hey, we’ve all read the damn thing so it’s not like we don’t know what’s going on here.
No marginal comment that was really pithy this time, but my comment to Jay was “at least now I know what hold the Lannisters have over Robert,” and that seems a good place to start. Robert, Robert, Robert…Robert who can’t be bothered to come to council meetings, Robert who lets his council and his Hand run the kingdom for him, and Robert who can’t then be convinced to live with what they outline for him. Robert is like MC Hammer. How. The. Fuck. Do you spend the entire treasury of a kingdom and then get 6 million dragons more into debt? Like, it’s almost impressive that he managed to fuck things up that badly, fiscally speaking. I would say you really have to try, but, then, that’s what the pipe dream of limitless funds tempts you to do (this week’s socio-political confluence–cough * the federal government * cough) . $30K a week for your entourage? Sure! Let me just see if I can run out of money! Only to realize too late that you can, in fact, run out of what seems even an infinite sum if you fund enough tournaments and throw expensive parties and never do anything to actually put money back into the coffers. Now, does this make me think any better of Robert for never standing up to his wife? Not a chance. It makes me despise him even more. But at least I sort of understand why he feels he can’t do anything to curtail Cersei–if, in fact, that is what drives his refusal to countermand her. It might not be.
The other big moment early on is Ned realizing just how much he does not belong at court. Like this was a big revelation; it was self-evident from his just wanting to stay at Winterfell and look after the shit that he is actually beholden to. The fact that he is there less than a day before he’s thinking things like “he had no patience with this game they played, this dueling with words,” and it’s striking him “forcefully that he did not belong here in this room with these men,” and that he “had no taste for these intrigues, but he was beginning to realize they were meat and mead to a man like Littlefinger”…um. Dude. Did you not know this before? There is no way this is a “beginning to realize” situation, or if it is then Ned and Catelyn are perfectly matched in intellect, if not philosophy, because it doesn’t take any damn kind of genius to know that a king’s court is full of nothing but intellectual power grabs. Even Robert understands that, and he’s a fucking moron, so why did Ned want to do this, again? Indefinitely, given that the position of Hand is for life? How long before he starts scheming how to fuck up badly enough to get sent home in disgrace? That’s what I’d be doing in his place. But Ned doesn’t seem that type. He’ll take a look at who’s in charge there, and realize he’s a more solid and responsible choice than they are and hope that his leverage with Robert will enable him to actually affect the king’s behavior, and stay, miserable.
So we get two more characters who know how to make jokes, Renly and Petyr. Renly I was disposed to like simply because he’s honest about his brother’s shortcomings. Obviously I was wrong about Petyr being one of the Queen’s minions; I still don’t trust him, though, despite Cat’s gratitude. (Because of it? Lol.) Whatever old affection he might have for Catelyn Tully, I can’t believe he would go so far out of his way to help her and Ned if he didn’t see a significant advantage in there for himself–maybe a means to bring down the Lannisters, if their influence over Robert prevents him from having more (or any), or perhaps the simple expediency of now having the King’s Hand substantially in his debt. Maybe there was even an ego thing, a wanting to show Ned Stark that he could rescue Catelyn where Ned could not have that goes back to that duel between Petyr and Brandon 15 years ago.
On the subject of fools and flatterers–I’m guessing Ned puts Petyr in the former, but I wonder if that’s true. I suspect it’s not. Though I’m not sure, then, who would be. Not Renly, not the spymaster, so that really only leaves Maester Pycelle and his marvelous pimp chains. Conspicuous consumption…any man has to wear his badge of office that boldly is overcompensating for not really having the knowledge his credentials imply he should. I bet he’s like an Ivy League equivalent, from the “you’re so smart and privileged we don’t need to bother giving you grades” school of maestrodom.
One final bit from this scene with the council–Varys’s comment about Joffrey. “I was grievous sad to hear about your troubled on the kings road. We have all been visiting the sept to light candles for Prince Joffrey.” As if no one else had been hurt in that encounter, as if no one had been hurt worse in that encounter, as if Ned’s first concern would be–or should be–the prince and not his own daughters. It felt like an intentional jab to remind Ned how little his daughters are worth at court.
We get a quick update on the girls, that Ned had kept them away from the royals for the rest of the journey (I wrote over this entire paragraph simply, “GOOD”) and that they are both still upset by what had happened. Sansa blames Arya and cries herself to sleep at night, Arya was devastated by hearing that Micah was murdered and has completely withdrawn into herself, and they are both miserable. And their misery means that Ned is pretty much done with being Robert’s friend. Truth. I wonder if this is why Robert has withdrawn to the wheelhouse to spend the rest of the journey drunk, or if it was merely his public humiliation at the hands of squabbling children and a sadistic wife?
As for Ned…that frozen hell he dreams of–is it with longing, that most people would consider Winterfell a kind of hell hence why it’s reserved for Starks, the only people who can love it, or is it a literal hell because he is also so miserable? Deliberate ambiguity, I’m sure.
The hostility between Ned and Petyr was kind of funny to me, specifically that it’s “Lord Baelish” when Ned first gets there and is trying to be polite that rapidly downgrades to the derisive nickname the moment they get outside the chamber. What happens when people stop being polite and start getting real, King’s Landing edition.
So what happens with Catelyn basically validates my point of why the hell did she go. Ned basically listens to the story and is then like “Get back to Winterfell because there’s nothing else for you to do.” Which means THERE WAS NOTHING FOR HER TO DO THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. There was nothing that she had to tell him that couldn’t have gone by letter or by Ser Rodrick, unsuspiciously, and not involved Petyr who may or may not have the Starks’ best interest in mind. They have no proof, only circumstantial evidence, and, as Petyr points out, Tyrion can easily claim he lost it. The fact that both Ned and Catelyn seem to think that just having his dagger is any sort of proof shows how simple both of them really are. There’s nothing Ned can do except be on his guard and try to find some sort of proof, and nothing Catelyn can do except fortify Winterfell, and both of those things could have been accomplished with entire secrecy if she’d just sent a damn messenger.
I found it interesting that Ned immediately believes Robert could have had something to do with it. He tries to not believe it, to rationalize it away, but the fact that he fears it means he thinks it’s possible even if he doesn’t want to admit it. So what does that really say about Robert, that his best friend believes him capable of scheming to murder his son when he could never quite bring himself to kill Dany Targaryen who might actually pose a threat to him? Although, to be fair, that (sending someone after Dany and her dipshit brother) would have required Robert to actually make a decision and act instead of just passively let things happen, and so of course that was never going to happen.
I’m curious what Catelyn will make of Bran’s new powers, if he admits them to her. He’s her little special boy, and will no doubt be even more special now that he’s crippled. She called it “some dark art” that Varys has, and as I posited in the last Catelyn chapter that if it is the same thing as what Bran has, her reaction to Varys makes me wonder how she’ll react to those same “dark arts” in her son.
Do-over moment of the week: Ned killing Lady. He realizes after hearing the story of Bran’s wolf killing the assassin that, hey, maybe there is some metaphysical connection to my kids and these symbols of my house. Shit. Also, for as much as I agreed with his decision at the time, it occurs to me that if he could kill the wolf and send its body back to Winterfell, that he could just as easily have simply sent the animal back to Winterfell. Drugged it if need be to make it look dead and had his men haul it off the same way. Would Lady have stayed away from Sansa, though? But that didn’t occur to him to do, and now it’s too late. Looks like Ned’s about to start quoting Schlomo, too. (Ah, like father like son….)
One final note, to go back to Robert again: I thought Ned’s thoughts were poorly conjugated in the final paragraph. I think it should have read “And pray that he is the man I THOUGHT he WAS and not the man I fear he has become.” Because, again, if Ned fears Robert is that other man, then he cannot simultaneously still think Robert is who he’d always thought Robert to be. That estimation of his old friend is gone, relegated to the past tense.
– 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–
Reading this chapter knowing what I know about what is going to happen soon and not so soon is what it must be like to be a time traveler and ending up declining Rome. You just want to pop up in the council chamber, stand on the meeting table and start screaming at Ned about overconsumption, distractions and never trusting anyone (oh and the Wall)… but I suspect you could spell that out in Ned’s morning porridge for weeks and he’d never see it let alone heed it. Damn, he is played the second he steps foot into that council chamber and he misjudges all of them… colossally. Standing there in his borrowed clothes. What a great metaphor. Ned definitely does not belong there. This whole thing is not him. There isn’t a crafty bone in the man’s body. It’s delicious.
PS- How much do I love Varys? GOD HE IS GENIUS. Please feel free to praise Varys in the comments.
But let’s address what Elena noticed. Robert and his beggaring of the realm. Was it an accident? Maybe Robert feels it was unintentional (even though he has no intention of stopping) but does he even KNOW how in debt they are? Does he know they’re in debt at all? Ned’s only got the council’s word that Arryn tried to talk to Robert at all but I highly doubt Robert was at any of these meetings. Arryn was making those decisions and I have a feeling he was easily dealt with by Peter and Varys during decision times. You can imagine Robert shaking off any verbal warnings in between goblets and wouldn’t it just be the perfect way to get rid of the Baratheon House by making it responsible for significantly depleting the realm’s ability to outfit, train, recruit and pay any sort of an army? Sure, that gives the Lannisters immense power but they would in turn deplete their own coffers when they eventually take on the realm’s debt (they’re never getting paid back once they take the throne, they can’t pay back themselves with empty treasuries). This makes them perfectly placed to be utterly crushed by the Targaryens who have the wealth of Essos at their backs.
God, I cannot wait for that.
Do I think that Petyr came across some information? Perhaps. I think if he’s not in on Varys’ plans, he knows enough about them to begin his own safeguarding and positioning. I just wish I knew WHAT/HOW! (PETYR YOU VEX ME!)
I love that when Cat gives Ned her full crazy lady story the first thing he thinks about is that Sansa no longer has Lady to protect her. YEAH NED! SO GLAD YOU THOUGHT OF THAT. Oh well I guess this means Sansa is in for a lot of hardship. *cackles* Can you imagine what would have happened to Sansa had Lady been there with her? NOT A FRAKKING THING. Which is why GRRM had to get rid of Lady. We had to see what would happen to a Stark child if they didn’t have a wolf with them. Couldn’t have happened to a better child. Plus, who names a direwolf Lady?
Meanwhile Ned, like Cat, thinks that their own word is enough to accuse the family that basically owns the entire Kingdom (which he knows at this point) of plotting and murder. Yea.. sure. Just your word and your wife’s word and the word of her bat shit crazy sister. One guy on his way towards elimination and two women. That seems like some people this medieval society would take really seriously.
Those of us reading again know that while Cat’s journey south from a reader’s perspective is totally stupid and just makes us hate Cat all the more, from an author’s perspective we know that GRRM needed a way to get Cat to cross paths with Tyrion and the only way to do that was to take up TIME because Tyrion is far to the North and I guess having him meet up with Cat at Winterfell wasn’t a good plan because Robb would have been there to call a halt to the crazy (hopefully, though we also know that Robb does an absolute crap job at reining in the crazy).
Actually this whole re-read is making me believe that perhaps the Starks totally deserved what was coming to them. I love Jon and Arya to bits, they’re my two favorite characters, but at this point they are the most un-Stark of all of them. Or maybe it is the opposite, they might be the only true Starks left, the rest having been made over into Tullys or made tired by years of war and disappointment.
I wonder at this point if Elena will even be surprised at the outcome. I doubt it. I just doubt it. I feel like she might throw the book in the air and start ranting about how she knew it and she TOLD us so. But I’ll bet Robert’s demise surprises her. Maybe.
Oh and favorite line of the chapter? “You did not wed a fool, Eddard Stark,”-Catelynn. HAHAHA. Oh you are just so funny Cat, you should take up comedy!
Oh and PPS – Dear Renly, I luff you. I know your fatal flaw is that you’re a Baratheon and after making a good decision you give in to about 12 million bad ones but I luff you. I want to write epic poetry about you and Loras. I know that you are supposed to convince the reader as to why people followed Robert in the first place but I don’t care. Loras/Renly forever! You would have made a good king where your brother did not. Well… with good guidance at least. No? Ugh, OK chuck it… he would have been good for a while and then beggared the realm with parties and gifting Loras with more and more ridiculous suits of armour.
Damn. No way out. There was no way out. We were doomed from the moment the players were put on the board weren’t we?
– originally published 4/11/2011
Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the BSC 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. Contrary to dogma, Rachel Parker is the mind-killer. She is a nerd, writer, and art historian living in Brooklyn, NY. You can read more of her posts at scienceofdiscontent.blogspot.com, or follow @DarthRachel on twitter.