She’s new, I’m the re-reader. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. Back to Eddard Stark!
A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
I was very glad we had an immediate answer to What Happens Next in the whole Arya-Joffrey debacle (as opposed to jumping back to Winterfell or across the sea to Dany or something). This chapter gave me a lot of emotional reactions to sort through, not really too many political things.
Marginal comment of the chapter: Robert is ruled by his crown, not the other way around.
First of all, any vestige of respect or hope for future respect that I had for Robert vanished with his behavior in this chapter. I had already thought him pathetic for being unable to take on the responsibilities of the kingship, preferring to let his Hand do the actual governing, but now I find him…hm. What’s the next grade down from pathetic? Piteous? There’s more anger in it than that. Loathsome? That implies a level of activity on his part that is clearly beyond his ability to do. My adjectival vocabulary fails, so I’ll proceed down the line to verbiage: I scorn him.
I despise him.
The word “coward” got written into three different margins in this chapter, once with the word “utter” preceding it, all in relation to Robert. They start when he bows to Cersei’s will on having Lady killed (“Have Ser Ilyn see to it”) and get progressively larger and more deeply gouged with my pen as he once more concedes to her (“Damn you, Cersei”) and finally proves himself to be beyond redemption by not having the courage of his convictions in killing the wolf himself. Like, that is to me the worst part about what he does. If he is going to let politics come first, and if he believes that his wife should be publicly favored over Ned Stark, his Hand, so be it–but in that case he should at least have the balls to mean it when he chooses the queen’s side in the argument. The fact that he does not, that he knows what she is asking is wrong, that he does not believe in it or want to see it done, but yet does not stop it, shows quite effectively that he is no king. He is only an empty man with a crown on his head.
The thing is, this is only news to the reader. Ned already knew this. He thinks as he goes into the audience chamber that there are too many people in it, that “left alone, he and Robert might have been able to settle the matter amicably.” As, in fact, they would have, with the you punish your daughter and I’ll punish my son agreement. Robert is not the same man when he is with Ned as when he is being king; the fact that Robert becomes a different person when he is being King Robert, instead of being the same old Robert except now everyone has to obey him, is why he’s a bad king. He’s no king at all; he has no conviction in his kingship, and that is why Cersei can behave the way she does.
I found it interesting how Joffrey was differentiated as being Cersei’s son until she’s trying to use him against Robert. In the first description it’s “Cersei Lannister and her son stood beside him,” not their son, which is how Ned sees the boy. And when the queen speaks of Joff the first time, it is “This girl of yours attacked my son”–again, not their son, not the prince, but her son. She calls him “your son” when she’s trying to goad Robert into letting her punish anything she can get her hands on, perpetrator or not, and Ned in his mind only calls him Robert’s son when Robert is directly looking at or interacting with the boy, as if he can’t get away from the reminder then. So clearly Robert does not have the controlling interest in his own heir, either in the mind of his best friend or his wife.
In fact, it seems to me that Robert has pretty much abandoned control to his wife, reserving only the right to walk away from any discussion that tries his poor nerves. He repeatedly loses his temper at the bickering children, but even they do not obey him for long. And then when it becomes obvious to everyone there that the queen is running this particular show, he just gives up the pretense and leaves.
I still want to know what hold that bitch or her daddy has on him. How can he go from being Robert the Brave, Robert the Bold, Robert the Leader of Men to being Robert the Browbeaten Husband? I can’t even pretty it up by calling him Robert the Pussywhipped, because it’s clear that he despises his wife–that after 15 years of marriage he, at least, has figured out his wife’s shortcomings (which is something it remains to be seen whether Ned Stark has done). But perhaps that was how it started, and this is what it has come to. I guess what I don’t understand, at the heart of all this, is why Robert is so afraid of having an opinion of his own. Because the way I see it is, he’s the king. And while he obviously can’t go ignoring the opinion of everyone in his court every time, he should be able to make up his own mind and be confident in his own decisions. Inevitably he’s going to piss someone off every time, but if he spreads it out then no one will have any real cause for resentment, because no one gets their way every time and that’s just life. I am guessing that Robert doesn’t want to be seen “dishonoring” his wife by overruling her in public, especially when there are just two conflicting choices and choosing against her automatically appears to be choosing in favor of the other person. If Cersei wants to play identity politics, let her; that doesn’t mean Robert has to. I mean, so what if it appears to be favoring someone over the queen, if it’s Robert’s independent decision or opinion regardless of who is offering either argument? That’s what kills me about Robert, that he’s not willing to follow his own values if they conflict with what Cersei has publicly claimed for herself. So even though he knows that killing Sansa’s wolf is wrong, he doesn’t do anything to stop his wife from demanding it–which he could have. He chose not to. And then he didn’t even have the courage to kill the pup himself, to face the consequences of his own weakness or politicking, however you want to look at it. But that is the nature of cowardice.
Cersei does not have the excuse of her upbringing for her behavior. She is not merely arrogant or selfish; she is vicious. She is targeting the Stark family as a whole for the behavior of one, and intentionally hurting Sansa because she can’t hurt Arya or Ned directly…this time. Her power play smacks of insecurity, in a way; she has to flex her dominance over Robert to prove that she has it. I wonder if Cersei would have done anything at all about the wolf if Robert had punished Arya as his wife saw fit, versus essentially dismissing the incident as “children fight; no harm, no foul.” I suppose in a way it was her only avenue, but that doesn’t mean she should have taken it. That was mere cruelty on her part, for no good reason except to prove that she has the power to be cruel.
The funniest thing she said, to me, was the bit about “the king I’d thought to wed.” Bitch, please. If Robert had been that king? He would not let you walk all over him. You would have hated that king.
Actually, maybe she wouldn’t have. Coming from a family like the Lannisters have been made out to be, Cersei seems the type to respect power. If Robert had more, she would probably respect him more. So maybe her jab was actually perfectly in line with her estimation of his character; she resents him for being so weak, even as she fills the vacuum of power that his mental abdication leaves. If I’m interpreting her attitude correctly (and I leave it well open that I might not be), then it reminds me of the climactic scene in The Proposition: the villainous Arthur, fatally shot by his brother, saying, “Why can’t you ever just stop me, Charlie?” Indeed. Why can’t you ever just stop her, Robert? Anyway, if that is what she’s doing–seizing power because he doesn’t stop her–I can’t entirely blame her for it. I have done precisely that in classrooms where the teacher could not control the discussions, so in fact that makes perfect sense to me. Bitch please retracted. Claws half-sheathed because I understand where she’s coming from, even if I disagree with her choice to be as nasty as she can be just to see how far she has to push Robert to make him stop her.
Her son? No redeeming qualities. Reading the last chapter I thought he might be able to learn something from this incident; clearly he has chosen not to. I loved the absurdity of his lie, that Arya and the butcher’s boy “beat him with clubs [and] set [the] wolf on him.” It proved that he could not accept responsibility for his own actions (if this hasn’t come up yet, that concept is very important to me, and I am sure I will expound upon it ad nauseum as the book progresses), nor could he stand to lose any of his pride. At least he’s not yet an accomplished enough liar to look his victim in the eye while he defames her; something for him to strive for, I suppose. Since he’s not going to learn from the world’s retaliations, and since his mother of course won’t let him suffer any consequences she can shield him from.
Sansa dropped a little in my estimation for her behavior in this chapter, though only a little. I actually thought that her behavior was right in line with her being Catelyn’s daughter, raised to Catelyn’s standards and Catelyn’s values. I thought the reason she is described, period, and particularly described the way she is–her elegant clothing and her shining auburn hair–was a reiteration of her being Catelyn’s daughter. As such, it made sense to me that she was unable to be completely disloyal to the boy she’s to marry, despite the fact that he was lying about what her sister had done. I was kind of glad to see her have consequences for that familial disloyalty and that piece of dishonesty–much as I hated that Lady paid the price of Lannister pride, Sansa might have avoided that if she had told the king and his court what she had told Ned that first night: that Joffrey had attacked them and provoked Nymeria.
However. I still hated the fact that her wolf got killed. You just…you don’t kill dogs. Ever. That makes Cersei ten times more awful than she was before, that she’d kill someone’s dog. I mean, I’m sure she chose that as a tool of maximum pain for Arya and Ned, but…you just don’t kill someone’s dog.
I guess for right now Arya’s punishment is guilt. I doubt Ned will be too hard on her; instead she’ll have to suffer knowing that her actions got her sister’s wolf killed and Mycah murdered. If she’s the type to feel guilt. I hope she’s not; it isn’t her fault that the king is weak, Joffrey is a spoiled little sociopath, and Cersei is the biggest bitch in the whole wide world (yes, you can queue the song from South Park). But since I suspect Sansa will blame Arya for it, Arya will probably feel guilty over it.
I actually really, really liked Ned killing Lady himself. It’s such a pragmatic action. I mean, I can understand the argument for not doing it himself, for making someone else do it so there’s not that last-minute turn where if you’d only waited five more minutes before shooting your kid, the lifeboat would have appeared as happens in horror movies…but that’s not realistic. He knew that the wolf was going to be killed. At that point, it was about taking control of her inevitable death to make sure it was as quick and painless as possible…and that she was sent home to the North to be buried as befit a Stark pet and symbol, not skinned for Cersei’s amusement. It’s his Stoicism, recognizing what he cannot change (Lady’s imminent death) and taking control of what he can (how she is killed).
Earlier in this read-and-react, I had brought up the idea of each chapter perhaps chronicling a defining moment in a character’s life, which most of you seemed to agree applied most but not really all the time. I want to talk about that idea, though, in the context of what this altercation means for Ned: is this the moment where his friendship for Robert suffers a fatal blow? I would not be surprised if it is; some things are simply unforgivable. I think that if this had been a case of Ned‘s pet being killed at Cersei’s whim, it would not be as hard for him to forgive Robert for allowing it to happen, but this involved his daughter’s pet. It is harder to forgive an insult leveled at someone you love, than it is to forgive one offered to yourself. And Robert’s action-by-inaction here resulted in Sansa’s pain and suffering, hence it is a worse offense to Ned. I am curious to see how this plays out in the two men’s relationship. It might make me re-evaluate Ned if he actually does let this go (in his own mind, at least–he doesn’t have to do anything to Robert as long as he knows in his own mind and heart that his friend is no more).
I know I should mention the end, where the Hound brings back Arya’s “little pet” and means by the words Mycah. It’s an example of the impunity with which a knight can abuse and debase a commoner, and an example of the cruelty of the Hound–and by extension his mistress–that he killed the boy instead of capture him, and that he thought it was great sport, something to laugh about, that he did. Horrid, horrid. This is not the smiling peasant fantasy-land; this is “now you see the violence inherent in the system” fantasy-land.
– 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–
That tells us something about Arya right off bat, as the people looking for her, some of them had to be skilled trackers considering we are talking men of the North and/or people specifically looking for the Hand’s daughter or to curry favor from the royal house itself. While there is no doubt that we are use to much more comfort, I was a grown man and experienced being outside (and somewhat wild) for several days and I’m not so sure I could have been avoiding adults, especially when in an environment that wasn’t my own. I do find it interesting that both her AND Mycah were able to stay lost for such a long time but this the first time I ever even noticed the duration.
“I am sorry, my lord,” Poole told him. “The guards on the gate were Lannister men, and they informed the queen when Jory brought her in. She’s being taken directly before the king . . . ”
This is just dumb to me. I’ve said this before but Cersei just trying to antagonize Ned is Starkian in how dumb it is. Remember, later in this book she tries to charm him in one of the great scenes ever? She should have done that, minus the sexual innuendo, from the beginning. It would have been easier to present herself as the future goodmother of his eldest daughter. Cersei’s ambition doesn’t bother me, it’s her need to be cruel that does. Her father, the great Tywin Lannister, knew how to use cruelty as a tool, but it wasn’t his only one. To him if the end justified a mean, cruelty was just one of many tactics he could and would choose to utilize. Cersei confuses the ability to commit cruel acts as a strength. She’s frustrating to me because she has everything she is supposedly fighting for, she’s just too stupid to see what her father wrapped up in a bow for her. Look, Tywin is the cause of a myriad of issues with his kids BECAUSE he utilizes the same thought process that helps him succeed in his other ventures ( yes ,ventures), to his kids. In the end – his daughter is the Queen – it justified him. She is the biggest disappointment, not to Tywin, but to me— and we will get more into that when we focus on Cersei.
My thought before going into this chapter was that while I know a lot of people dig this chapter because it’s kind of a gallery of character revelations, as a rereader I supposed that I’d actually find it tedious, an extra chapter having me say aloud “Are we there yet?” in between. With all the drama here, it is Renly who saves the chapter for me, made me reevaluate, and offers the reprieve to let me enjoy the chapter, one that I kind of dig the hell out of now. Like Renly, I needed to be sent out to think. I’ve mentioned this moment before but rarely, even with Stannis’ play later in the series, do you see even the potential of a hint of present Baratheon glory. Robert a shell of what he used to be, Stannis merely a shell from the beginning, and Renly still a chick, but he is the only guy in this entire chapter who kept it real. At this point, and Elena alluded to the possibility of just one avenue in our late write-up, we have no reason to not believe that Renly wasn’t Strider in the Prancing Pony. At this moment he’s the most handsome man Sansa had ever seen, a guy with fashion sense, and isn’t at all scared to mock Joffrey. In her songs he’s a hero in waiting.
“Stop them,” Sansa pleaded, “don’t let them do it, please, please, it wasn’t Lady, it was Nymeria, Arya did it, you can’t, it wasn’t Lady, don’t let them hurt Lady, I’ll make her be good, I promise, I promise . . . ” She started to cry. All Ned could do was take her in his arms and hold her while she wept. He looked across the room at Robert. His old friend, closer than any brother. “Please, Robert. For the love you bear me. For the love you bore my sister. Please.”
This is the one instance where Ned just goes there ala Tomioatic theory. I’m a not a simple man, but I’m very plain dude in “situations”. Denzel once said, I don’t scratch my head unless it itches and I don’t dance unless I hear some music. I will not be intimidated. I don’t mince words or have different waves or degrees of assault, I cut as deep as I know, or can go, even if it’s in detriment to my longterm situation. Ned, who just moments ago was about form, suddenly went there. Don’t remember? I got you:
Men called out to him as he crossed the castle yard, but Ned ignored them in his haste. He would have run, but he was still the King’s Hand, and a Hand must keep his dignity. He was aware of the eyes that followed him, of the muttered voices wondering what he would do.
Instead, for his children, Ned went for it and tested his pull, invoking his dead sister’s name in front of the court and just crashed. It’s kind of pathetic but in a good world it should have been enough, in a perfect one he should never have had to do it. Which ever, it’s plain that Robert no longer shared a world that Ned inhabited.
The castle was a modest holding a half day’s ride south of the Trident. The royal party had made themselves the uninvited guests of its lord, Ser Raymun Darry, while the hunt for Arya and the butcher’s boy was conducted on both sides of the river. They were not welcome visitors. Ser Raymun lived under the king’s peace, but his family had fought beneath Rhaegar’s dragon banners at the Trident, and his three older brothers had died there, a truth neither Robert nor Ser Raymun had forgotten. With king’s men, Darry men, Lannister men, and Stark men all crammed into a castle far too small for them, tensions burned hot and heavy.
The world isn’t about just Stark and Lannister. Shit happened before and it matters, no matter that the two most powerful men in the realm (save maybe Tywin) were in the house and having a very personal spat. This reminds us that in a society where knees have been bent, there is still local pride and you only were as formal and subservient as you had to be. Once again we get another mention of Rhaegar, though it seems not very important to Elena (again), in terms of the repetition of his mention(for a dead guy) thus far. I can’t recall for myself when he became one of my favorite characters to read about and I wish I could remember if he mattered to me in this book, or did it take Clash of Kings of Storm of Swords to really start considering the awesome that was the Prince of Dragonstone. The guy that got killed by the loser we meet in this chapter.
When we first started this project I stated that I was going to keep an eye on theme of Ned and dead children because I think what he saw done to the Tagaryen children just had this profound impact on him (now that I think on it, I wonder what other choices were given Theon before Ned to him as his ward –remember both he and Robert were there for Balon’s Rebellion). Ned seeing Mycah cut down – no less by the brother who was first hand involved in the sack of King’s Landing – had to be horrifying, especially because his own children were so connected to the events leading up to it. In ending, what do people think would have happened if the Hound would have happened upon Arya first? Was there real fear for her safety beyond her being lost and in the wilderness?
Ned isn’t a coward.
“Do it yourself then, Robert,” he said in a voice cold and sharp as steel. “At least have the courage to do it yourself.”
As reader we may read this line and take away from it some admiration for and of the recall to Ned’s beliefs in the first chapter. It’s actually something a little more awesome than that. Don’t get it twisted, these are fightin’ words. Martin tells us so, “cold and sharp as steel” – he’s attacking Robert. Previously, he attempted to invoke the shared love of Lyanna to bring his friend back, but right here – “at least have the courage” – he’s straight up saying show me you’re not a coward.
If you’re a guy, just any normal dude, and somebody calls you a coward, you react to it. Even now in a society that’s socially more pro-pussification, calling somebody scared probably starts trouble 50% of time when uttered. Now picture (and I do quote) this guy:
Fifteen years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy. Six and a half feet tall, he towered over lesser men, and when he donned his armor and the great antlered helmet of his House, he became a veritable giant. He’d had a giant’s strength too, his weapon of choice a spiked iron warhammer that Ned could scarcely lift. In those days, the smell of leather and blood had clung to him like perfume.
Jesus. You’d think Renly – not Ned – was describing a dude. What do you think happened when you called that guy a coward? Ned knows. Robert knows. He’s the very guy who Martin just told us in the last chapter – when I told you setting was important to frame Joff’s character – was near the grounds of his greatest victory. This guy crushed Rhaegar Targaryen one-on-one. We talk about Sansa’s song ending here but the same could be said of Robert, the Demon of the Trident. Remember the boar? Remember how adamant Robert – on his deathbed – was when speaking to Ned and Renly about how HE killed it, making Renly swear to the deed? The romantic in me thinks Robert remembers, “I killed the bastard, didn’t I?”
“Lady wasn’t there,” Arya shouted angrily. “You leave her alone!”
This is why we love Arya.
“Where is the direwolf?” Cersei Lannister asked when her husband was gone. Beside her, Prince Joffrey was smiling.
This is why we hate Joff.
If you had any doubts he wasn’t a prick and instead was just some misunderstood kid who was trying to lie to stay out of trouble, this crushes it. This is his future wife’s pet and Cersei shows that he can punish her to right wrongs to his person, much like a bad pet owner would. Cruelty is something he shares with his mother.
Does anybody think Ned should have been like, ‘F all this, let’s rumble”. Sometimes you have to fight your friends, and though I hate to hang this on Ned, it really falls to your ace to put you in check. I don’t think Ned could do anything to Robert that would make Robert kill him…period. A part of me thinks Robert wanted Ned to do this, maybe subconsciously because he picks for his Hand the guy that shared with him his last moments of glory…of when he was alive. And Ned did it. He took it there. He opened a door that Robert could have stepped through. Let me give you the quote from above with the next sentence attached:
“Do it yourself then, Robert,” he said in a voice cold and sharp as steel. “At least have the courage to do it yourself.” Robert looked at Ned with flat, dead eyes and left without a word, his footsteps heavy as lead. Silence filled the hall.
The windows to the soul and dragging dead weight. We only see them slightly ajar again when he faces death. When he has something to fight. I feel Ned here because he did exactly what I would have done. He trusted his friend with his and his family, and when his friend buckled, he called him out…all out. He put it all on table because there was nothing to suggest Robert wouldn’t come across the figurative table on him. I just wish this was the fight that Robert wanted to win. The one Ned invited Robert to win.
- originally published 3/1/2011
Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the Boomtron 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. You can follow her reviews and commentaries at Boomtron.
Jay is a silent partner in Extensive Enterprises, a bastard child of Amber, an Eleint Soletaken, a probable Targaryen, and was the second-to-last Starfighter.