The new hotness and old and busted. She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are going George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. You can check out our thoughts on the first chapter (Bran) from last week, and now we move on to the second chapter, told from the perspective of Catelyn Stark. Personally, I can’t wait to get away from all of these traitors and start reading about some Targaryens.
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An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
So this chapter immediately disproves my theory that the last chapter might have been a second prologue; clearly the time established there is where we’re staying, at least for a while. And so even as we meet Catelyn, Bran’s mother and Lord Stark’s wife, I’m actually still thinking about the fact that one of the main characters is a seven-year-old boy.
That’s…different. I mean, obviously kids grow up and just as obviously the story could easily span 20 years and all that, but…I really haven’t read many fantasy books where one of the main characters is a child for significant chunks of the narrative. It allows for a very different filter on things like murders and executions and politics than you would have with only adult lenses. Both unfettered by ideology and an adult’s expectations of the world, and also clouded by ignorance and the sometimes-myopic view of a child. Interesting.
But I’m not here to just talk more about Bran. So, onto Catelyn.
First of all, Jesus Harrold Christ there was an Information OVERLOAD in this chapter! So many names. So many implications. I can already see that I’m going to have to do what I did when I read the (unabridged) Count of Monte Cristo: keep a character map. At least for now it seems the only way to keep everything and everyone straight. Perhaps someone can kindly tell me in the comments how large my paper will need to be?
Points that specifically jumped out at me: loved the godwood idea, and found it interesting that Catelyn’s people have moved their actual services indoors. It’s of a piece with the Stark family attitude toward executions, that they are old-school and ascetics and hard. They’re not going to go talk to the gods in a chapel, for fuck’s sake, when they’ve got a perfectly fine Old Forest style grove of trees to use!
The gods wouldn’t know where to find them if, after so many generations of using the wood, they suddenly started calling from under a roof. I wonder if what sounds like a trend of the more “civilized” (or maybe there shouldn’t be quotation marks there?) parts of the world being softer and moving away from the old traditions will be ubiquitous in this world, or if it’s just a single instance of that?
Poor Stark, hearing that his foster-father/mentor cum brother has just died. Poor Stark again, and poor Catelyn, too, in that they can’t go to his family (her sister) because the king is coming to visit.
The king…what an asshole. Ha! Like I know that, not having even seen him as a character yet, but obviously the Starks are being inconvenienced by his little visit in many different ways.
They can’t answer the call of duty to family because duty to the monarch trumps it. They don’t know how they’re going to feed the entourage that needs must accompany the king. They don’t like his wife…but at least maybe the kids will have fun? I’m curious to see how I react to the king and his court, given that my introduction to them was negative.
As far as specific people I’m also curious about who got mentioned…can’t say there are any. I am writing this up at the distance of a couple days after reading the chapter, and damn if I haven’t forgotten every single name that was mentioned. Like I said—overload. It was an elegant information dump, as far as they go in fantasy books, and I appreciated that.
But it was a ton of shit to remember that I have no context for, and it’s hard to memorize names and titles without any idea where this person will fit in the story (IF s/he will fit) and where s/he fits into society and so on. So, re-readers, if I am neglecting to discuss your favorite minor character here, this is why: on their first introduction—the pre-introduction, really, the off-stage mention of them—they didn’t make a big enough impression for me to call them out.
I feel like I should have some thoughts on Catelyn herself, but so far there’s little enough for me to think. She could be an insipid wife stereotype, she could be a badass. Didn’t get much of a read off her other than she loves her husband and understand him. So judgment withheld.
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
I know this is chapter-by-chapter, but I feel like I just have to make something known, because part of my responsibility here is to tote around my baggage.
Full disclosure. I come into this re-read as someone who mildly despises Catelyn. That’s not to say that I don’t love reading about her and looking through her eyes, or that the dislike is extreme and comprehensive, but I always get this feeling that there are pro-Cersei and pro-Catelyn camps that rarely intermingle. I don’t want to get too much into Cersei until later, but as heinous, petty, and as bitchy as she is, I feel like I can understand and rationalize her psycho ass. Most importantly, Catelyn is unfortunately part of what I think is the absolute worst element in the entire series, which even clouds her part and perspective in what is perhaps the greatest chapter of any book I’ve ever read.
I’m going to leave it at that and just add: Red Wedding beautiful. Zombies are the suck. Damn near midi-chlorian level suck. Like I said though, I enjoy reading her chapters, as I do all the POV chapters in the series (excluding Brienne in A Feast for Crows). I will admit I do love her chapters as the come, but something about resurrected Cat has always rubbed me the wrong way. I think it puts Martin in an odd position in that if she returns to do something major it will feel cheap, but if she “dies” uneventfully it begs the question of why bringing her back in the first place, especially in a strand of the series that (thus far) I personally find among the most uninteresting. If Catelyn is destined for (another) final moment, Martin has a lot of work to do for her to earn it. Her end was perfect.
We begin (post-Cate Hate) with a subtlety of the type that doesn’t make book reviews. When Martin puts us in Catelyn’s shoes, that Lord Eddard Stark guy we just met is just “Ned”. I don’t know anyone named Eddard, so I’m not sure if that’s the standard/common shortening of the name, but I really appreciate that touch, one that was made without having to reference itself in some “to Catelyn he was Ned” line. The chapter continues to reinforce the difference between the North and the lands to the South (Catelyn is a Tully of the Riverlands—the daughter of the Hoster Tully, who rules that region) specifically in matter of religion and belief. I said in the previous chapter, but the common thread here is that the North is hard.
Is he afraid?” Ned asked.
A little,” she admitted. “He is only three.”
Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.”
When you see other kids of other houses in this series, you will see a rather profound difference. Even the Starks word are pointed out by Catleyn as being different the other major houses, uniquely pragmatic. As a reader, the idea gets drilled into your head that these Northerners may be slightly backwards, but you probably don’t want to see these guys on the other side of a bar fight.
I’ll know it when I get to it, but I’m sure that somewhere in the future someone mentions a line that says something about the value of a single northmen (because while the largest geographically, the North does not boast a dense population) compared to their southern brethren. To be sure, it was mostly a patriotic statement, but I like to think there is some truth to it when comparing them with (in Catelyn’s own words) “the knights of summer.”
While Martin solidifies our perception of the North, he also starts introducing us to the outside world (just after Martin really drove in the fact that Catelyn really loves watching Ned Stroke his big, black, foreign, beautiful sword. Again the keyword here is “outside”, as I think Martin successfully has differentiated this region even when we know very little of and have never seen anything south of Winterfell. Before we get into that, however, I want to go first mention:
But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood.
I always just took this as something northerner’s did in general, but now it really does strikes me as one of the first examples of Ned’s guilt for whatever happened at the Tower of Joy. Of that, we of course still do not know details, but it will be interesting to view my re-reading in this mindset and I’m interested in getting to the chapters depicting his finals days with this thought in mind.
Back to the expansion, I just want to say that the only series I may like more than A Song of Ice and Fire is the largely untold and unwritten one of the generation past, or the a their prime. When I read the passage of Jon Arryn’s refusal to give up his charges, the young Robert and Ned, I loved this man instantly.
Banners raising is the medieval FU, and this single decision changed the landscape of Westeros. The draw of this era is course natural for the re-reader because most of the mysteries and burning questions have origins in the years of Ned (and King Robert’s) youth. Catelyn mentions Robert’s imminent arrival to Ned:
a smile broke across his face.
And it’s left there. Again, this is Martin at his best. While I was reading Elena’s entry I was wondering why she seemed prepared to be against Robert, and I wonder if she missed this part, as it would not be hard to do so because Ned’s reaction is left just at that, beyond an unobtrusive line toward the end of the chapter.
I get the impression that while by most definitions Ned is probably viewed as a good man, that outside of family not much makes him smile. Robert is family to Ned, no matter how much fate seemed to not want that to be reality (he even hates the in-laws). I don’t know, it’s just something about Ned – not Eddard – having a true friend that interests me, especially when considering how much he turns away because of duty and honor (see the offer of Renly later in King’s Landing).
I also feel like an idiot, because while I always got Ned naming his son after the King (or the man who would become the King), I never really considered the possibility that Jon Snow was (re)named after the man who once fostered Ned (I just figured it was the most common of common names for the region, and useful for that very reason).
Martin is commonly lauded for his ability to end his chapters, satisfying readers while finding precisely the right moment to jump to the next. This observation is for the most part true (we can’t wait for the King and court to arrive now!), but no ending would be satisfactory at all if the next — of often not directly related — chapter doesn’t reinvigorate us, giving us something new to fall into, so when we do reconnect with characters and places they are no longer just something we consciously yearn for, but instead one that hits us each time as a pleasant surprise because we momentarily forget after being so immersed with the moment in hand.
The next chapter will be our first example, as we move away from Winterfell, the Starks, and even the continent. I’m very interested in seeing Elena’s take since she considered this chapter an info dump, though I think she will dig the Dany arc as a whole.
Tomio=Targaryen loyalist. Vengeance. Justice. Fire and blood.
I just want you two to know that I am greatly enjoying this vicarious re-reading experience, especially since I have been working hard on other things and simply don’t have time to read these books again–though the Audiobook versions often accompany when I am exercising.
Thanks so much–I check your site all the time now, and I have read several of your other pieces.
I look forward to the next installment!
I love Elena’s thought processes so far. When I first read the series I read it the way she states that she normally reads and missed a great deal of bits here and there. But even if some of her suspicions are far off, the line of thinking that her comments reveal is exactly what she needs to catch the subtler aspects of the story.
Her initial take on Dany is very interesting especially since it is partially informed by hearing accusations of misogyny directed at GRRM. She is interested to see whether Dany will be forever weak and victimized. She gives a hint to her level of expectations with this line, “…and he perhaps becomes a shield against her brother.” If that is the sort of thing she is expecting I do believe she is in for a surprise.
For the next installment, I’m looking forward to reading her reaction to meeting King Robert and Queen Cersei.
@Anders: You make a good point…. but I also wonder if Jon wasn’t a name given to Jon by Ned as a cover name. I think there’s a SSM email about it somewhere, I’d have to go digging.
Anyway, my point is, I’ve always wanted to know Jon’s REAL (read: Targaryen) name 😉
Ah hah! Found it.
5. Since all of their mothers died, who gave Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister their names?
Mothers can name a child before birth, or during, or after, even while they are dying. Dany was most like named by her mother, Tyrion by his father, Jon by Ned.
So yes, I really want to know what name Jon was given when he was born. 😀
I just wanted to post and let you know I’m really enjoying reading both of your thoughts on this series, especially the first-time reader Elena. I have to admit, the first time I read the series I was the quintessential lazy reader, but that was mostly because I was so hooked I couldn’t stop reading the damn thing. But through Elena, I can get a feel of a slow, methodical first read-through, and so far it’s great to get that take on it. The way Elena digs for motives and second-guesses everything makes me think she’s going to get hooked just like I was in about…100 or so pages? Can Elena force herself to stop and pontificate when the story really takes off? I suspect in a couple months these updates will begin to come more frequently 🙂
Great post, and I look forward to reading your thoughts on the next chapter.
Also, I can’t wait for Elena’s reactions to later parts of the story!
Hell, everybody, y’all makin’ me blush like I’m going through some medieval “first night” ritual where everyone watches the consummation of the marriage. lol.
@ Quanta – here’s my thought process between seeing your comment earlier and having the chance to respond. “that wasn’t necessarily an expectation, just an expression of how something might not turn out to be how it looks. then again maybe he’s the biggest asshole in the world, just like V says. thanks for the tip though!” then i started second guessing what part of that statement you were referring to; could be dany, ie she would never allow someone to shield her from anything, and then i just got really amused that i can’t even take comments at face value!
@ Jay – i’m usually the last to be offended by stuff, too. i honestly think the main reason i’m even looking at in those terms is bc i’ve seen other people apply them.
@ Rob – I’m already hooked. speed of posting is more dependent on the fact that i’m balancing this with a FT job and writing for/editing another site on the side of that…though you may very well be right and it gets faster the more the plot weaves together and I get more anxious to know What Happens. Also, after all the damn “just wait till you get there”s I’m getting, I can’t either!!!
Reading these articles has become a real highlight amid all my online burrowings. After a bit of doomed protesting I’ve found myself back in Westeros again for the first time in a few years (though in my case I’m jumping in at A Storm of Swords, since I put my last re-read on hold after A Clash of Kings), and it’s as mucky and satisfying as ever, so thanks to both of you for that.
I’m really enjoying Elena’s fresh take on this. I know whenever my wife reads something that I’ve already read she doesn’t like me to press her for details until she’s done. I hope Jay isn’t foreshadowing too much for you.
You do know there’s a convenient spoiler-free appendix with family trees attached at the end of each book right? Unless by character map you mean something more elaborate…?
Thanks for pointing that out about Jon having possibly been named after Jon Arryn by Ned. That had kind of escaped me and it sounds about right.
Hi guys, started reading your blog today (thanks Nymeria). Very interesting, as I always like to read what first-timers think of the books. It’s cool to see Jay’s reactions to what Elena as a first-timer thinks and digging more in the deep stuff himself. I was also a bit surprised that Elena thinks she’s going to hate the king, but things will become clear for her in the next chapters as why the king is coming north. I’ve read them 6 times and started last week on the audiobooks so the chapters are fresh in my head!
Elena: you might also like to read another blog by a first time reader called ablogoficeandfire: http://blogoficeandfire.blogspot.com/ . He’s doing 2 chapters at the time, but on a very slow pace. It’s very refreshing to see someone look at the books with a very humorous tone, and he picks up on a lot of things I didn’t as a first-time reader.
Jay: it seems a lot, a lot of people hate unCat, but I absolutely love it. A zombie-mother on a killingspree revenge, they can’t write that in Hollywood. I have wondered if George wrote that epilogue to soothe the readers who were absolutely mad with frustration about the Red Wedding. It’s like he’s saying: “don’t worry guys, these Freys will get what’s coming to them, don’t start writing me angry letters now!”
Spoilers – No Elena Allowed! –
@Knurk Welcome and thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I guess there are two issues for me then. One, I consider the Red Wedding o be one of the best chapters I’ve ever read , and presently Catelyne’s existence diminished a part of that .Everything from the Rains of Castamere to the acts themselves was perfect. Second, I don’t particularly enjoy zombie fiction (nor zombie reality I guess!). I do realize the significance in the ability (and other instances of the fantastic returning), I just didn’t like it here because IMHO it creates a character that had a perfect end into one that can’t possibly (that I can see) have a finer resolution, mainly because the character is dead to me. I guess there might be some truth to the thought that the The Brotherhood Without Banners as a whole were never favorites (though I love many of the individual characters) of mine. AFFC was really he double whammy for me, because it used the most boring POV (for me) in the series to lead us to her, so there may be something to be said about having one of the final new impressions in the series that didn’t sit well.
Elena: I can’t tell you how many times I had to page through the appendix to rejog my memory when it came to the characters. Eventually, the important one will stick though.
Main reason why I stopped liking these books, if I gotta go to the appendix its more like work than fun.
because you’re plum dumb, Waverly Place.
@Jay (SPOILERS) Re Cat
i too think that Zombie Cat takes something away from her totally Gangsta end, but a comment at Westeros SSM is intriging to me
Martin has said that the characters brought back from the dead (Cat, Beric, Gregor?)while they are not wholly the same as before they do retain their core traits/mission if you like.
so while Cat in this book particularly makes poor decisions and sulks quite a bit she did always have the Gangsta part in her aswell which makes me retrospectively like her more
although i do also agree with Elena assessment of her
*CONTAINS INDIRECT SPOILER*
Hi there! I am also starting to re-read everything (and I fear I won’t have finished when the Dance comes out – damn, why does GRRM have to write that fast? ^^ SCNR)
Two things that struck me in this chapter:
1. About the children and the difference in how they grow up depending on whether they live in the south or in the north – isn’t it amazing that Bran and Tommen are the same age??
2. For the first time (I guess) I stumbled over the sentence: “The Others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years.“ – Sounds like a promise to me now that the children of the forest can’t be that dead either!
so much to respond to.
jay, i am right behind you in the “i hate cat” camp. i found that as a high born mother of the most important family of the north, her behavior in GoT was completely hideous.
she abondons her sons (after telling ned he can’t take bran to court) to deliver a message that truly could have been delivered safely and believably by ser rodrik. but somehow cat decides the only thing she should do is head to court after ned. completely out of character for a medeival mother. and then she chooses time and time again to stay away from winterfell, despite knowing that ned says a stark must always live at winterfell. perhaps she tells herself a stark IS at winterfell. in fact, there are 2. and they are aged 7 and 3. with no parents and a mere handful of servants.
finally her decisions show a woman driven on vengance with little common sense or self and family preservation. taking tyrion prisoner? riding to war with robb knowing that her husband was just executed? whatever. she is a selfish, silly, emotional woman not the mother of a noble house. just as crazy as her sister but in a different way.
i haven’t read the red wedding scene yet but it promises to be spectacular. and of course, unCat is still unread as well. but from the sounds of it, its just more of the same: a selfish, silly, emotional woman bent on vengance. just dead.
and yeah, zombies really suck 🙂