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 33: Stupid Ned Stark.
This was simultaneously a chapter I’ve been waiting about 300 pages for, and one of the most exasperating moments in a series of exasperating Ned moments.
Finally, finally, finally, Ned wakes up to the fact that the Robert he knew is gone, and that he has no business in King’s Landing. He had thought the latter before but not with any animus behind it. This time, at last, he realizes it on a very conscious level that demands nothing less than his immediate removal from the court.
The scene where he finally tells Robert off is quite brilliant. Very satisfying. It was interesting to see that what bothered Robert in this scene is the suggestions that he is a coward, and Ned’s unwillingness to simply do his bidding—despite that it was exactly why he wanted Ned for his Hand.
“You talk of murdering a child.” Robert doesn’t care.
“You will dishonor yourself forever if you do this.” Robert doesn’t care.
“Mercy is never a mistake. [Robert] sent his own master to tend Ser Barrista’s wounds.” Robert blushes but still insists this is different, and the girl must die.
“Have the years so unmanned you that you tremble at the shadow of an unborn child?” And here, finally, we get it: Robert purpled.
“Do it yourself, Robert. The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” Robert can barely contain his fury that, yes, Ned means it.
“I had thought you a better man than this, Robert. I thought we had made a nobler king.” Robert’s face was purple.
Martin sums it up quite eloquently a bit earlier in this section, “Defiance was not a dish he tasted often.” After 15 years of never being told no, of living with the pretense that his word is law and that he must be obeyed, Robert actually has someone stand up to him besides his wife. That it is his best friend has to cut worse—I think the reason he is so angry is that somewhere, he believes Ned is right and is feeling that cycle of shame that someone he respects is seeing him make such a choice, which only feeds his stubbornness to stick to it in defiance of that person and that shame.
This is also a tragic moment. I had thought Ned realized weeks ago, with the Lady thing, what Robert had come to, but he was able to Sansa that shit and blame it on Cersei. But there is no blaming this on Cersei. Ned has to recognize that the Robert he had once known is gone, or perhaps never was at all. He feels “saddened by the memory of the man who had pinned it on him, the friend he had loved,” and rightly so. Without question two of the most awful feelings in the world are losing someone’s friendship and having one of your best friends shatter your illusions about them, and here is Ned getting stuck with both at once.
And, honestly, hard as it is, good for him. Robert is irresponsible and unreliable. He does not rule with the same sort of duty and discipline that Ned runs Winterfell, and he leaves the bulk of the ruling to the people around him—even those he has blatantly admitted to not trusting or not respecting (flatterers and fools).
As to the issue at hand, killing Dany and her baby, my thought is that Robert should have done it years ago, like the first time he got word of where they were, if he was that worried about it. Now that he played the hand of mercy, he should stick with it; is it truly a threat that the Dothraki would cross the sea when they never had in all the years they’ve been in contact with the Free Cities and thus aware of the Seven Kingdoms’ existence? I do not believe in taking reactionary positions against possibilities. There is no reason to kill her because neither she nor her child is an actual threat, merely, as Ned says, shadows faded some 20 years. The other councilors are couching it in terms of how much damage does it do to the kingdom if the Dothraki invade and cause another war, and while I understand the argument, I also don’t think that she poses an active threat, and I kind of agree with Ned’s point that you shouldn’t compromise what you believe in—whatever the reason, even the good of the realm—over a vague possibility. But since everyone else there either has different things they believe in or has already sacrificed them, they have no conscience anymore. “Eddard Stark had seldom felt so alone,” indeed.
So how hilarious is Petyr in this chapter? “When you find yourself in bed with an ugly woman, the best thing to do is close your eyes and get on with it. Waiting won’t make the maid any prettier.” Ha! (Actually, this goes to my point about Robert should have done this 14 years ago if he was going to.) Then with Ned, “If truth be told I’d sooner marry the pig,” and “I’m certain if you put your mind to it, you could come up with a few names,” and “It’s not murder I find amusing, Lord Stark, it’s you.” And the best line of the chapter, that sums up Ned’s time at court more succinctly than anything I could compose:
“How big a fool do you take me for?”
“Well, quite an enormous one, actually,” said Littlefinger, laughing.
Also, how spot on was his point about how his suggestion to offer a title for Dany’s death costs the realm nothing up front and de facto spares her life? This is the classic argument of pragmatism of philosophy. You can be as high-minded as the day is long but unless you have a practical application to sell it to other people on logic, cost-benefit ratio, or simple feasibility, then they are going to be swayed by other people’s implementation argument, even if in their hearts they agree with your idea. That is the nature of politics. This is why Littlefinger wins. He’s like the Gary Johnson of Westeros.
Ned has one big logic fail in this chapter that I just can’t get past. It honestly feels a little bit contrived to me, that Martin needed him not to leave and get back to Winterfell and so he had to have this lapse of logical thought. The line getting to me is this: “He was not free yet; until he was away, he must play their games.”
Um, really? Because maybe it’s just me, but I thought I just saw you resign your position in front of the entire council and get told by the king not to let him see your face again. Sounds to me like you’re pretty goddamned done at court, and everyone knows it. They know you’re preparing to leave—Littlefinger fucking ASKS you when you plan to leave—and yet you still feel the need to “play their games”? For true?
No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. There is no fucking way anyone actually thinks that.
He’s already realized he and his daughters “may not have a day” and need to get the fuck out of dodge. He’s had the conversation with himself about “and what then?” (rhetorical answer being: fuck it, I’ll just go bowling) if he DOES uncover the secrets he has been seeking. He’s acknowledged to himself that “some secrets are safer kept hidden…some secrets are too dangerous to share.” There. Is. No. Reason. To. Keep. Playing. Their. Games.
Yet he does. He sees Littlefinger, and he takes the bait Littlefinger dangles in front of him (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know we don’t see that till next Ned chapter, but of course I do know he takes it—but this was my reaction from watching the show, too: So fucking what? You’re about to leave. You’re fucking done with that place and those people. Just walk away.)
Other small things I want to bring up. First, Ned’s thoughts about Rhaegar Targaryen and how he is the only person Ned has seen Robert stay angry with permanently. 15 years, and yet Robert hates him as much as ever. Why? Seems to me the one to hate would be the one who tried to kill him and Ned—Aerys. This goes back to Lyanna, I guess…as long as Robert loves her (or tells himself he does) he has to hate Rhaegar? Or is it vice versa, that as long as he hates Rhaegar he has to pretend he still loves Lyanna? Which way does that run, I wonder….
And the moment where Ned is thinking about why part of him doesn’t want to leave Robert alone in that place, that he and the council will “beggar the realm…or worse, sell it to the Lannisters.” Okay, so I get that Ned hates them—but is that really the worst of all possibilities? Tywin might be ambitious and faithful only to his own best interests, but if he’s the head of one of the more powerful families in the realm and has kept or expanded the family fortunes enough to loan the crown as much as all the other debtors together, then he’s not fucking incompetent at what he does, running a fucking empire. Seems to me he might be a better king than Robert, if that’s Ned’s primary concern.
Although, to be fair, Tywin would not balk at killing a child. But, then, he’d have done it right away and not thought about it since. Not to go too Arrested Westeros on you, but…you gotta lock that down.
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 from future books at her. Thanks!
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Omg… very soon that’s going to say “A Dance With Dragons” in the spoiler warnings. Eeeeep.
Ned… why in Seven Bleeding Hells would you drop what you were doing and decide to go meet Petyr at that brothel you don’t give a fig about anymore because FUCK IT ALL YOU ARE GOING HOME? Eh? EH? Stupid Stupid Man. – I wrote that bit before I ever read Elena’s reaction, I’m glad she’s with me on this. Too many people are like.. “Oh Ned is so honorable he would never actually stop working in defense of the realm even if he was fired/quit.” What are you talking about? He threw his cloak down and played the “I know you are but what am I?” game with Robert just moments before! You know what is honorable? You know what a good King’s Man would do? SHUT HIS DAMN MOUTH AND DO WHAT HIS KING TOLD HIM! If you are truly loyal to your King… you believe your King has wisdom and abilities you do not have. That’s why they’re the King. Divine Right by Battle Hammer.. or whatever. Instead Ned waltzes into King’s Landing and proceeds to be judgy Mcjudgerson all over that place. He never stops. That is not a loyal man. Ned’s basically Varys but with Scruples and like… no spy network. Does Ned even know the concept of a spy?
It gives our modern sensibilities (yay America, overthrow the monarchy! Fuck yeah! – to our British readers… sorry. To our French readers.. *high fives*) a happy when Ned tells Robert he sucks as King and his decisions are wrong but that is not Ned’s job. Ned’s job is to enforce the will of the King. Ned isn’t doing that. I’m not going to say that there are no scruples in war but if you have a chance to wipe out your enemies you take it. Picard didn’t give Hugh a virus and then send him back to the Borg but he did get REAL happy when he realized that Hugh’s individuality would be worse than a virus. He still sent that Borg packing right home!
The thing that doesn’t make sense.. is why Robert perceives Dany and Viserys to be a threat at all. They’ve got no money, no army and even if Dany does have a son (and not a daughter or a miscarriage. I guess they’re the same thing? Sigh…) there’s only a small chance that Dany’s son is even raised in knowledge of his heritage. He might reject it and go full throttle horse-lord. With that total disinterest in anything other than collecting broken statues like all the other Dothraki. It’s Varys pushing to have the assassination and that’s because he is plotting with Illyrio to get Drogo actually interested in Westeros. Right now he doesn’t care but as soon as Robert threatens what is Drogo’s then it’s something he cares about. It’s like direct challenge. Even if they had succeeded in killing Dany, Drogo would still come for revenge. Done. Trouble for Robert. Now Varys and Illyrio are obviously not going to allow Dany to be killed, we know that but Drogo never would. It’s all these men that surround the king that have all these other interests beyond what the King wants and making that happen that should worry Robert, not the Targaryens. But the hammer.. is not his brain.
So what was I talking about? Oh right, Ned’s imminent decision to go hang out with Littlefinger. It’s not even like Petyr is subtle about the fact that he shouldn’t be trusted. He says it enough and he’s constantly changing his story. Kill her, don’t kill her, it’s all the same to him because he doesnt give a rip. He’s a guy who is very occupied with his own interests thank you very much and is probably only interested in the Targaryens in that they seem to occupy much of Varys’ time and that’s a good thing for Petyr. But I guess that’s what tricked Ned. Petyr flew the villain flag so proudly that Ned figured it was a disguise. Doesn’t he know that villains LIKE being villains? It’s not like Darth Vader picked a kitten meow for his voice or anything! You have been in war man! You don’t recognize a man aiming for your vitals when you see one?
Let’s talk about Rhaegar!
Elena is still stumbling around that whole triangle but she’s picking it up. I think it will take one more reference before she puts it all together. But that’s why Robert hates Rhaegar so much. That entire situation is an insult to Robert’s manhood. That Lyanna would choose someone else instead of Robert, it probably didn’t matter who that other man was – Robert would hate him irrationally. The fact that Rhaegar was in fact the coolest, dreamiest, Renaissance Manest man in Westeros was just a lot of salt in the wound. He was even married! Which means he truly didn’t deserve her because it was all just so dishonorable! The Targaryens took all of Robert’s boyhood dreams from him when they took Lyanna. Well then.. fine. But that just made you King. You’d think that would make him happy, but it didn’t. And being Lyanna’s Husband wouldn’t have made him happy either. Lyanna knew that. She knew he was a whoring, future drunkard and she wasn’t into it. That’s why Robert has to believe it was an abduction/rape scenario. COME ON. Ned knows the truth. Ned let’s Robert think that but Ned knows that Robert knows that he knows. Ya know? Robert was only offended by two of Ned’s barbs – that he was somehow not a real man and that the Targaryens aren’t so tough. IMPOSSIBLE. They had to be total monsters in order to have stolen Lyanna away. When deep down Robert knows it was his own insufficiencies that didn’t win Lyanna’s love. She needed a REAL MAN.
Try that story on Sansa. See what happens. Ha.
Speaking of, using Sansa as a verb is my new favorite thing ever. Can we make that happen? It’s certainly better than fetch.
I remember when I first read this chapter that I was really disappointed in Renly. I had hoped that Renly was all his brother was not. Seems like perhaps they really are cut from the same cloth (that makes Stannis the cardboard box the cloth is wrapped around). He so easily decided to kill people he didn’t even know. Because I have a modern brain that resists divine right of rule, I too think that a man should prove himself worthy of the crown. Offhandedly deciding to kill a girl you don’t even know because it’s boring and there are better things to talk about? Not Kingly. Nope. Renly redeems himself later on when he goes to Ned with his plan to take over, at least to me, but Ned rejects him. Maybe because of the decisions made in council in this chapter. Ned remembers stuff like that. Definitely. Also.. yea. Renly isn’t next in line BUT SO WHAAAT. No one like Stannis. Nobody. NOBODY LIKES HIM. HE SUCKS. Stannis is like a fantasy poison. You’re into the story, you’re not coming up for air and suddenly STANNIS TIME and you can’t find something else to do fast enough. What’s on TV? A reality show about competitive bidding for cruddy storage lockers? Sold. Better than Stannis!
Maybe Stannis should be a verb too. No wait.. it’ll ruin all the other verbs. Keep it a noun. What does it mean when you totally Sansa a Stannis?
Also, what would Ned have done if Robert had nodded and said, “Ok.” when Ned challenged him to kill Dany himself? Could you imagine? If he had said OK he would have gotten to go on an adventure! The vengeful King Robert. He assassinates his enemies WITH HIS OWN HAND/HAMMER. (The hammer is his…. I’ll stop.) Now that would have been fugging awesome.
Robert on a boat and training Rocky style to get fit enough to like.. join the Dothraki in order to get close enough to kill her.
Instead we get drunk Robert and his merry band of used car salesman and Ned is the guy who believes the loan shark when he says he can really help him out with that financing.
Sometimes he doesn’t pay to be the good guy. Hell.. when does that ever pay?
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.