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 react to Chapter 25 – a Ned Stark chapter.
I am tempted with this chapter to simply list my bullet points of underscorings and marginal comments:
- Silk tunic? Really?
- Ostentatious speechifying to give climate history lesson.
- Of course Ned finds the milk too sweet, he’s an ascetic.
But that would never do, would it? You might not understand everything I meant, and we couldn’t have that, now. So, the silk tunic—I know it’s court garb and he changes into linen later, but I have a hard time buying he’s not wearing a linen one underneath, ladies’ shift style. This has to do with the fact that I have sewn some historical costumes, and before/while doing so did a great deal of research about materials and construction and so on. One of the more interesting things I learned is that silk would never have been used for something that lay against the body, like a shirt, because washing techniques were so rough that it would be destroyed within a few wears, and the material was too expensive for that. It would have been saved for outer garments. So even though it’s meant here to be an affectation of the court, I find it…troublesome. But I forgive Martin because I would never, ever, have doubted such a detail before delving into that highly specialized realm of knowledge.
My take on Pycelle’s maundering speaks for itself; his “foolish meanderings” are merely a convenient narrative way to exposit a bit more about this climate. Which, can I just bring up again, makes no sense to me in an astronomical sense. Seriously, where are the people on this bassackwards planet who can actually keep accurate enough records of seasons and star charts to be able to predict them? It’s a pretty rudimentary skill to living on a planet. Can someone tell me if this is ever explained (you don’t have to explain, I just want to know if at some point it is)?
Ned. Ascetic. Honey. Duh.
My take on the whole conversation with Pycelle is that he was in on the murder of Jon Arryn, which if Lysa’s letter is to be believed means that he is in bed with the Lannisters. Pycelle speaks of having sent away the apprentice who was purging Jon Arryn. Of course he couldn’t have the poison coming out before doing its worst. He does NOT answer the question of whether Jon’s death was like or unlike anything he had ever seen; it’s an obvious dance-around, too, to say that “every case is different, and every case is alike.” Pycelle is way too unshocked by Ned’s suggestion of poison. His eyes flicking open to me seem to indicate surprise merely that Ned had the balls (or the stupidity) to bring it up, before he shifts “uncomfortably” in his seat. Why would he be uncomfortable unless he knew that’s what it had been? If he’d never thought of it he’d be either shocked and rethinking everything, or reassuring Ned that Arryn’s symptoms were not merely none of the signs of poison but exactly like X disease that carried off X person in a similar situation. Then he immediately tries to deflect suspicion from women (Cersei) onto eunuchs (Varys) when Ned suggests poison being a woman’s weapon. Or maybe he really is just a fool, as Ned categorized him in the first place, and he really hadn’t thought anything of Jon’s death.
Before we move on to the other acts in this chapter, let’s talk about the person who did think about Jon Arryn’s death, and find it terrifying: his wife, Lysa. Perhaps I have just read too many gothic novels, but I am always suspicious when men start characterizing a woman I have not yet seen on stage as “crazy.” That’s a red flag for me that maybe she’s crazy or MAYBE she’s just inconvenient. I don’t know if Lysa really is crazy (my twice-written marginal comment was, With reason?, when it came to her being anxious/paranoid). But she seems pretty damn savvy to me, hauling her son off to the middle of nowhere in the dead of night before anyone can restrict her movements or essentially ransom him against her good behavior. The surest way to discredit her is to call her mad. Not a raving lunatic, but weak, depressed, paranoid—the sort of person who would say such outrageous things for attention, or because they cannot handle the truth of her own mediocrity or unimportance. Pycelle hits this hard. “His son was ever sickly, and his lady wife so anxious that she would scarcely let the boy out of her sight. It was enough to weary even a strong man.” “The Lady Lysa was never [the strongest and most disciplined of minds]…she has seen enemies in every shadow, and the death of her lord husband left her shattered and lost.” I dunno…having the wherewithal to remove her entire household from King’s Landing on short notice and write to her sister in a secret language might be paranoid, but it’s not deranged, it’s calculating. Obviously unlike her sister, Lysa doesn’t freeze in a crisis.
I had an interesting note near the section about her being anxious. “The problem with being a Tully is that she probably felt herself unable to fight back…hence, nervous breakdown.” Because, to my mind, the worst part of being attacked or bullied or dominated when you can’t defend yourself, because the consequences for doing so are worse than the consequences of submission, isn’t the domination but the sense of not being able to fight back. If this is what happens when a Tully woman goes to court, though, it does not bode well for Sansa, Catelyn’s daughter through and through.
Couple brief points before we move on:
-It’s sad my estimation of Robert is so low that I actually wrote “did he?” in the margin next to him going to sit with Jon Arryn and speak of old times, but of course he did. Robert wants to live in the good old days, so of course he’d go talk to an old friend/father figure and re-tell all those old stories one more time.
-The seed is strong…Baratheon? Or Lannister? Or TARGARYEN?
-A ponderous tome on the lineages of the great houses…hm. Was Jon Arryn trying to find a way to depose the Lannisters? Lol.
-“I am here to serve.” Yes, Ned thought, but WHOM? Well, at least he realizes that…..
On to Arya, and the stairs, and the talk of Bran.
I love that Ned questions what she is doing and cautions her to be careful, but never once tells her not to. And he is a good man for not telling Aya pretty untruths—especially not after the discussion he had with her last chapter about how winter is coming, and they had best prepare…seems like the only time for illusions, like squabbles, is summer. I do wonder what answer he would give to Sansa in the same situation? But she would probably never ask the question, because Sansa does not want to know about the world as it really is.
I loved Arya’s reaction to her prospective fate: “No, that’s SANSA!” It does show us that Ned is not quite a modern father, despite his giving Arya a sword master. The expectation is still that she will follow the pattern of life for every noble lady.
That Ned respects the commander of the Kingsguard and Petyr finds him tiresome, means he’s probably a stubborn old honorable man like Ned, not facile and scheming like Petyr. Ned should take that as a sign he can maybe trust the old guard, or at least predict him, which is a kind of trust (better the devil you know, after all).
And can I just say that, damn, I love Petyr here. He is growing on me as a reader, even if me as a Stark sympathizer doesn’t trust him. This chapter shows that he is smarter than the people around him—Ned had no out of the box thinking if he didn’t suspect any servants might have stayed. Granted, he has no way to access that information that would not make his investigation obvious, but he didn’t even think to have, say, Petyr ask. Petyr had to think of that possibility for him.
Petyr is no doubt after his own ends when he points out the people watching Ned—I noticed, for example, that he does not mention the pair of his own pair of eyes he inevitably has on the King’s Hand. But he also shows his point of view, which is against the queen and against Varys, by pointing out their spies. So to the extent that he is an enemy of the enemy (the Lannisters), Ned can rely on him.
“The wiser answer was, no, my lord but be that as it may.”/”You are slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest thing you have done since you climbed down off your horse.” Trust no one. It’s, X-files, Westeros edition. Well, Mulder would have plenty of legends to chase down out beyond The Wall and across the sea in the east. Damn, when does that character show up, the crazy anthrozoologist? Lol. Anyway. The theme is apt: Trust no one.
Harder than it sounds, like nihilism. Shit does not bode well for my simple Stoic.
– 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–
Quick, who can be the crazy anthrozoologist? I could see it being Samwell Tarly. He knows stuff, he travels, he happens to be a bumbling idiot sometimes. I can see him starring in the BBC comedy production of Game of Thrones – Flying in the Wingbeats of Dragons. Narrated by Richard Attenborough. I don’t see Sam narrating himself, too much stuttering.
On to the chapter:
For shame on Grand Maester Pycelle for trying to push the blame onto Varys. What do you mean he can’t be trusted just because he is a eunuch? Eunuchs deserve far more love than they get! I’m reminded of another favorite eunuch in another book series I happen to be re-reading. I feel like if you are a eunuch in a genre novel at the very least you are going to be a badass schemer because, forgive me, what else are you going to do? Think about it, the Wall or the CIA? Which would you choose I wonder?
Pycelle is such a useless man. Indicitive of the court I think, left over. So many in King’s Landing are left over from the Targaryen reign and if they aren’t, they’re a Lannister. Robert brought very few of his own people to the city to help him run the Seven Kingdoms. He’s got Jon Arryn (er, had) and who else? His brothers? Now there’s two men who work well together…. And Petyr doesn’t count because he was brought ot court via Lysa and Petyr has far bigger plans than serving a king. I love the idea of this old man who can barely taste anything anymore, sipping honeyed milk (ew) with Ned and reminiscing about the good ole’ days.God you’d think Robert would WANT people he likes around him. It can’t all boil down to the Lannisters owning everyone can it? Robert would rather fight than plot and he doesn’t seem to have anyone to fight. Which is why he drinks. I would drink too.
Anyways, the mystery of Jon Arryn’s death and Ned’s attempt to play out an episode of Law and Order is just so BORING. We get it, the initial mystery is what causes Catelynn to arrest Tyrion, it’s responsible for Bran’s fall, blah blah blah. It is still BORING. I do not care that some old guy died. I don’t. I never will. But Elena is spot on about Pycelle and the Lannisters, sometimes you get a glimmer of hope that Ned is waking up to the ways one must behave to survive in King’s Landing, but then hope fades.
It’s hilarious the way Petyr and Ned tolerate each other but it’s even more hilarious to think about Petry pretending to help Ned. At this point I have no illusions that Petyr didn’t know exactly what happened from the start, Catelynn bringing the knife was probably a hitch in the plan because Joffrey is an idiot and who ever remembers to plan for Joffrey being an idiot? So he’s got to play out some long bullshittery to convince the Starks he is helping them, keep them busy while he moves and plots. I’ll bet the Starks coming to King’s Landing was really annoying for Petyr. Just when he thought he’d gotten everyone where he wanted them, but he did manage to make the best of new opportunities. Poor Sansa.
I can’t wait to see how Elena reacts to Ned visiting Gendry right after Petry bothers to point out that he’s being WATCHED at all times. If he’s trying to figure out the mystery of JOn Arryn’s book and “the seed is strong” you’d think you would want to do it without literally everyone in King’s Landing knowing about it. But no, I think parading around as the King’s Hand trhough the streets and to the armory in broad daylight sounds like a SPLENDID idea. No wonder Cersei knows about Gendry. At least Jon Arryn was subtle. I don’t think Petry could teach Ned subtlety if he taught him using a fun diddy, “I always feel like, somebody’s watching meeeeeee.”
Someone start a band called Littlefinger. Please.
What else? Elena liked that transition scene where Ned moves from Pycelle to Petyr by way of Arya balancing on the stairs. At this point Arya isn’t hiding her activities from anyone either, at least the household and from what Petry says that means the entirety of the Red Keep. It couldn’t have been considered proper for Arya to be learning swordplay, hence the “dancing lessons”. But here she is out in the open balancing on her toes. Maybe Ned telling Arya that she’ll be expected to marry someday just means that Ned still believes that all the swordplay is child’s play. That Arya will grow out of it. It’s hard to understand his motivation. I want it to be complicated but it could very well be a man indulging his daughter.
But whatever it is, it certainly saves Arya’s ass on more than one occasion.
Ned blundering around the Red Keep investigating Jon Arryn’s death is just so lame compared to what is happening on the Wall or even with Cat. It’s so underwhelming for me that this boring little story line is what get’s Ned all headless. I know I’m going to get some heat for that statement but Jon Arryn isn’t interesting. Lysa isn’t interesting, she’s just annoying and crazy, and Robert Arryn is a first grader who still breast feeds! Why do I care if these people were treated unfairly? Far better characters have been treated unfairly as well so why should I give a rip? I don’t really… I just care about the aftershocks.
It’s so frustrating to read these Ned chapters again, as you see Jon and Bran go through so many changes and Ned just keeps plodding along singing his same old honorable song.
– originally published 5/4/2011
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.