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 30, an Eddard Stark chapter.
Wow, what a long and unwieldy chapter this was. I’ve gotten spoiled with the fairly to-the-point chapters of late; this one caused me to dry out my pork roast because it took me too long to read (the more fool me for timing my cooking to my reading!). And it had a lot of Robert in the beginning, which is usually not my favorite reading, but Robert made me pity him more than dislike him more than I already did with his scenes (more in a bit), so that turned out better than I expected. The biggest part of the chapter is the end, of course, wherein we learn that Ned’s suspicions are correct: Jon Arryn was murdered…and on top of that the Robert is now Princess Leia to Ned’s Obi Wan Kenobi. I guess that makes Varys R2D2? Hm. A flawed analogy, perhaps, but I’m so amused by the thought of Robert bursting the seams of a flowy white gown that I’m going to stand by it. Help me, Neddy Wan Kenobi…you’re my only hope.
Sorry, where were we? Oh, yes. Discussing the chapter.
The opening sentence reminds us that a man died during the tournament, and that there was no one to mourn him except someone who did it on principle. Martin makes Sansas of us all with this image, as we pity the poor young knight who had no one who cared that he had died except Ser Barristan, who was only doing his duty. Ned is what I called in the margin “surprisingly insightful” in this scene, where he wonders if the Lannister bannerman of Mountain killed him specifically on their orders, before Ned could speak to him. Well, duh, Stark, but I’m surprised you picked up on that so quickly (and without any leading hints from anyone else).
We get I think a perfect encapsulation of Robert’s character in the tent scene. “Other men might reconsider words spoken in drunken bravado, but Robert Baratheon would remember and, remembering, never back down.” Yes. That sort of blustery “I must not be thought a coward at all costs” mentality, that leads him to be stubborn in all the worst places. Small wonder that, as Varys points out at the end of the chapter, his wife sought to exploit that braggadocio to his ruin…or that Ned and Barristan can use it to keep him in line according to their wishes by explaining that everyone would let him win.
Robert is actually pretty funny in this scene. Yelling at his squires (this is only funny because of how that Lancel kid is played on the show…reminds me of a Monty Python style squire, and it only gets more meta from there) and then telling them to go find a breast-plate stretcher and speculating on how long the various armorers and knights in camp could keep them jumping.
He also shows a bit of self-awareness (short-lived though it might be) in railing against Ned and Jon Arryn for sticking him with the crown and Cersei Lannister. Although…how much of this is the disappointment of a man who got exactly what he wished for but, like the monkey’s paw promise, ended up worse off for getting it? I mean, we’re only given Robert’s words here that “they” made him king—for all we know Robert was bound and determined to have it for himself, those 14 years ago.
He lets that self-awareness go just as quickly when he speaks of Joffrey and wonders how he could have made a son like that. Hm…let me think here. Maybe by spending all your time drinking and whoring and letting other men delegate your authority for you so you provide neither role model of knight nor of statesman for your son? For never spending time with him and teaching him yourself how to ride or hunt or perform executions? If you leave a son alone with his mother, why are you surprised if he becomes a mama’s boy?
Even better: “Jon despaired of me often enough, yet I grew into a good king.” Next to this I wrote “LOL” because fuckin’ a, yo, is he serious? Does Robert actually believe that he is a good king? At least he recognizes that to Ned, maybe he’s only better than mad Aerys Targaryen, but still. By his personal standards apparently he thinks he’s done a decent enough job.
Ned, it appears, has finally cut his teeth on how to think at court—only took him, what, a month and a murder investigation to get there?—and has begun to have “graver thoughts” about everything. AT LAST. Why, why, why didn’t you believe Littlefinger and his Trust No One advice? But at least this means Ned has a chance of comprehending the doom that seems to hang over his king and possibly himself when it actually comes down on his head, if he sees enemies in every Lannister surrounding Robert and is suspicious of every death surrounding their household.
I do find it sad that Ned has forgiven Robert the business with Lady. Here Ned proves he’s like Mr. Darcy and Robert is like Mr. Bingley—that is, easily led, and valuable for being so persuadable. Because Ned’s thinking is that “this was the boy he had grown up with” and if he could only get him out from under those nefarious Lannisters and under his own counsel then all would be well. I also noted that here Ned behaves like Sansa, so maybe she is not all Catelyn—because he’s compartmentalizing what happened and blaming the obvious villain, Cersei, instead of his friend’s weakness. It’s exactly what his daughter did.
Speaking of Sansa, she was obviously not overly troubled by the day or night before since she’s so absorbed in the tourney that she hardly even notices her father being there. And she seems over her aversion to the Hound with that “I knew he would win” comment.
I love how when she gets worried for Ser Loras Ned’s all “These are tournament lances, they splinter” and then thinks of the dead knight…yeah, broheim, she saw that, too. Not exactly a convincing argument for her the way it would have been at this time yesterday.
Mountain killing his horse happened without any fanfare and was moved on quickly. Shows what a damn mountain of violence this guy really is. The “people said” thing about him swinging babies into walls and raping their mothers and killing his wives…coupled with what we see of him here and heard of him from his brother, becomes truth. We can believe he did those things, because clearly he is that much of a brute. Is the question of giant-blood also a hint at his bestial nature?
Okay, so how awesome was it to have the Hound take on the Mountain and play hero? Did this have anything to do with Sansa sitting there crying and wearing the rose from Loras? One has to wonder why he told her all those things, if he had never told anyone, and if it’s true that he never told anyone then she is the closest thing he has to a friend in the whole world.
Wow, that’s actually kind of sad, to think that Sansa Stark is his best friend.
But the way he fights…without ever going dirty even though his brother is, and did so first? IS he trying to be “a true knight” today, either directly because she is there or because she put the ideal into his head? JESUS CHRIST IT’S BECOMING AN EPIDEMIC, SEEING THE WORLD AS SANSA SEES IT.
There is another brilliant Sansa moment when Arya finally shows up at the feast that night. “You must be a terrible dancer” she remarks when Arya shows off her bruise. Holy shit. DOES SHE NOT ACTUALLY KNOW?
This was actually a huge reveal for me. Like I thought they were just being ironic, calling it that because Syrio refers to it as the dance of the bravo not the hacking of iron knights, but apparently Arya learning sword play really is this huge secret that no one knows about except Ned and Syrio and maybe, MAYBE, Jory. The thought process Ned has here also makes me re-think his liberality as a father. He’s wondering if that crazy fer’ner was a good idea and assumes his daughter “would grow tired of this soon.” Which sort of implies that he wanted to indulge her not because he really wanted her to know swordplay but because he figured she’d get bored and find it not as glamorous or fun as she’d hoped and give up, obsession burned out on its own instead of left burning and only strengthened through being unfulfilled. His derision toward the “nonsense” Syrio puts her through that is aimed at dexterity and instincts besides direct bladework proves Syrio’s point perfectly about how knights view sword fighting.
Also? Best summary of his two daughters ever. Like I’m not sure I could think of a better word for either of them, if they had to be encapsulated, than “dreams and bruises.”
And now we get to the real meat of this chapter, the Varys scene.
First, this is where Varys grows on me as a character, from being obnoxious to being interesting. The fact that he creates a disguise by expectation by only ever allowing himself to be seen one way, so that no one will even suspect him when he appears another way, is kind of brilliant. It’s the Westeros spy equivalent of the old Chinese man and the Christian Bale twins in The Prestige—total, eternal commitment to the part because the role was ever and always part of the trick, but no one ever suspected the immersion of trick and life.
He’s also so delightfully cryptic in the way he speaks…he’s very meta and his own best audience, always referencing things that only he can understand so he can basically confuse everyone he speaks to while he laughs at his own cleverness.
- “The Red Keep has ways known only to ghosts and spiders”
- “Who will mourn poor Varys then? North or south, they sing no songs for spiders.”
- “When you see me next at council, be certain to treat me with your accustomed contempt. You should not find it difficult.”
Varys also sort of spells out for Ned the obvious things: that hating the queen and loving the king are not the same thing, that most of the people in the Red Keep served their own interests and not the realm’s, that the king has no true friends. Then he spells out things that Ned needs to know but has not been able to prove or even imagine on this own: the Lannisters want Robert dead, and that Ser Hugh had been the one to prosper in the wake of Jon Arryn’s death and therefore the one who had administered the poison.
So now we have Ned’s shortcomings on full display, the “wheels within wheels” make his head pound, and we have his own fantasy of before, of bringing down the family with proof of their harm to his own son compounding with worry for Robert. As Rachel will no doubt put it, STUPID NED STARK. If he were smart he would tell Robert all of this and let him go bash heads where he will, proof or no proof. Or just get as self-interested as everyone else there and back the fuck up out of that city and that viper’s nest and go home where he belongs. He’s already been told by now not one but two people that he’s not up to speed with everything at court, and yet he’s content to simply keep blundering on the way he has been with no subtlety and no sense of timing. Even if I hadn’t seen what’s coming I’d have no doubt that he’s about to keep doing the one thing that Varys basically tells him to stop doing: Asking questions.
Minor things I can’t let slide past without mention:
It was a cool detail to learn about the silent sisters who tend the dead bodies, that they keep their faces hidden because it’s considered “ill fortune to look on the face of death.” Finally another scrap of worldbuilding to remind us this isn’t simply medieval times but a fantasy culture.
Ser Loras’ cloak covered in flowers—that took a lot of seamstresses! Especially since it would had to have been done recently or the flowers would have wilted. And each one sewn on by hand…those ladies must have been asses to elbows around his cloak to get that done.
Finally, the most fascinating detail of all to me in this chapter was the off-hand reference to Lyanna between Robert and Ned. “Your sister would never have shamed me like that,” to which Ned replies, “You never knew Lyanna as I did, Robert. You saw her beauty but not the iron underneath.” This undercuts so very, very much of Robert’s so-called love for her. It makes me think, he did not love her, not in the way our culture now considers love to be an estimation of someone’s mind and character much more so than a physical attraction. He didn’t know her. He found her beautiful and interesting but his obsession with her is probably as much to do with the fact that she died as it was about how much he really cared to begin with. She died and so could never actually disprove his fantasy of who he thought she was. No wonder Cersei never had a chance—she was competing not even with a ghost, but with a fantasy. No real woman could ever had lived up to that…not even the real Lyanna.
–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!
–Don’t forget to check out the imperial Boomtron Podcast Elena and Rachel, the Ladies of Ice and Fire, host every week, dissecting each episode of Game of Thrones on HBO! (also known as “Two Girls Who say ‘Fuck’ a Lot!”)
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Rachel – Whew, hey guys! Thanks for waiting an extra week for us. We appreciate it! Read ONWARD!
Oh Barriston Selmy, did you just out-honorable Ned Stark? Yes, yes you did! You stood vigil for a boy you barely knew and for no other reason than he had no one else to do so for him. You totally awesome man, you. It’s probably a huge honor for Hugh’s family to have the Commander of the King’s Guard stand last vigil for him. It took nothing for Ned to say that the armor would be sent back to the family. He tells the Silent Sisters to do it. Does he have any way of actually making sure that it happened? I doubt it did happen (anyone know?). Ned forgets about it all instantly anyways but not Barriston. Barriston stood there all night. THAT is honor. The guy is smart too. He survived, he swore allegiance to a man who orchestrated the death of the man he served before. Surviving to fight another day, that’s exactly what Littlefinger and Varys and Barriston and Jorah and Bronn and all the other resident badass movers and shakers of Westeros do. None of those badasses are Starks. (Ghost doesn’t count.)
Regarding Eleana’s write up:
HA! Robert in Leia’s gown with the buns! That is my new favorite mental image. But what a crap Obi-Wan Ned makes haha. “Oh uhh.. I’m not helping you at all am I Robert? Oh well. Let’s go knock on the Emperor’s door and demand he be a better person.” Yub Yub.
I love this idea that Ned and Sansa are, in fact, very much alike. I’ve never thought that before. I prefer to put Sansa in her own little corner of Suck. Ned is dumb but oh so likable and that goes a long way with me… likability. I know there are tons of Sansa fans out there (I’m looking at you, commenters) but you gotta give this to me, Sansa isn’t very likable. It’s part of her character, it’s the role she plays in this story. She’s not SUPPOSED to be likable. I’m sure you can empathize yourself to death but a character that requires you to empathize with them in order to understand them is not a likable character. Sansa sucks. It’s OK that she sucks. Long live the characters we hate!
So in that respect I have never really sat down and thought about how alike Sansa and Ned are but leave it to fresh-eyed Elena to notice. Sansa and Ned trust that those in power keep themselves to the same morality that they themselves do. When someone makes them a promise or a recommendation THEY JUST TAKE IT, no questions asked. Sansa is out there building an imaginary world of Honorable Knights and Stoic Ladies but so is Ned! If Ned had lived what would have happened? I doubt things would have gone all that differently. Look at poor stupid Sansa; she spends all that time in King’s Landing just doing what she’s told. She trusts fools and totally rejects Tyrion when he WOULD have been a wonderful ally for her. If she could have gotten Tyrion to support her in any way (and he would have because who would say no to Winterfell and he’s a big ol’ softy anyways) then he could have helped her stand up to Cersei. But NO, she totally throws that away but Sansa (and Ned) are not LEARNERS. They don’t adapt and change they just plod ever onward. And when Littlefinger has her Sansa just goes and does what she’s told. Any resistance she gives as a result of deeper thoughts (that are PAINFULLY slow to come) is so ineffectual that it’s a freaking joke. (see the fact that she totally wimps out when Marillion attempts to rape her, why is she always just waiting to be saved?!) I really hope Sansa gets her shit together because otherwise she’s just doing a long drawn-out version of Ned sitting in a cell.
I think that’s why so many people love Sansa/Sandor. With Sandor, Sansa exhibits an aspect of her personality that she rarely shows. She knows Sandor will win because he told her that story and even though he was trying to scare her, what it actually did was help convince Sansa that the poor tragic Hound was a Knight in his heart (or some such drivel – I’m stealing from Knight’s Tale now). “I knew he would win.” Right you are Sansa you knew it the same way your father knew that Robert the Good King existed somewhere, because you wanted it to, because it fit with your romantic construction of reality.
Speaking of, when Robert mooed out that he was a good King did Ned take a breath? Did he roll his eyes? Did he agree? No he just kept his mouth shut. Why? Because to say “No” would destroy your whole inner world that somewhere on the inside Robert is a good King just waiting to bust out? He’s not. The fact that it never even occurs to him that everyone would let him win the melee is proof enough that Robert is just a guy with a flagon of ale, not a king. He refers to himself as the King all the time like he has to remind himself and everyone else. That’s not a good sign! Robert, you are only a good king when compared with the Caligula of Westeros. MAYBE. What about any other King? I know we never talk about any other King, the Targaryens live long lives so maybe no one remembers, but Rhaegar was out running around being awesome enough that Jon Snow knew enough about him to idolize him.
Robert, are you a good king compared to what Rhaegar could have been? We’ll never know. So let’s compare him to Aerys. In the end, both King Robert and King Aerys left their realms in war. They both spent the majority of their time engrossed in their own lives, wants, and ridiculous behaviors rather than concerning themselves with the affairs of the People. Neither King was able to hold his Crown. Aerys allowed powerful men to gather armies against him and couldn’t seem to keep his son reigned in (oh, Hello Catelyn and Robb how are you guys? Just waiting around to repeat the same mistakes as the previous generation? CARRY ON!) Robert doesn’t really know what I King is. He isn’t interested in knowing either. He’s interested in doing what he wants, when he wants and damn the consequences. Do I feel bad that Cersei isn’t interested in having sex with him? Even if you don’t go into all the screwed up reasons the biggest is that he’s gross and he probably just walks in, takes his pants off and says “Let’s bone.” Wow Robert. Wow.
So what is Ned’s problem. Why is he so dumb? I say it is willful ignorance. He carries with him such a contempt for politics, for the court and for those families in the South that in order for him to fucking GET IT, he would have to become like them. Or at least that’s what he thinks. Using people is wrong so he won’t do it no matter how many innocents his own blundering and ignorance hurts. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE Neddypoo. I’m astonished at his life. How he rebels against one king and has the gall to call Jaime a traitor. He isolates himself up in the North, surrounded by even more isolated Northman, and dares to cast judgment on people he hasn’t seen in over a decade? He totally checked the fuck out of that one. Was it PTSD after the war? I don’t know. But his disdain for all things Southern hurts his family in far more ways than is immediately apparent. He even dismisses Syrio later on as a silly waste of time for Arya. Then why did you choose him Ned? Because the style was appropriate for her but once you see how that style is achieved you think it’s lame and you’d rather Barriston teach little Arya how to bash things with her spindly sword?! What the hell Ned? Having a bad day? He is practically an isolationist. It’s a wonder he got involved in the war at all. Clearly it HAS to be personal with Ned or it’s not worth his time, which is dumb because if he played just the bare minimum of the game he could have done a lot to further secure Winterfell’s autonomy.
How could Ned have used the South to his own advantage? I have many ideas.
FOR EXAMPLE – He bitches to himself about Robert surrounding himself with Lannisters. Well what did you expect? There isn’t anyone else appropriate Ned! That’s just totally stupid of him. He could have put someone next to Robert as a squire that would have provided Ned with firsthand knowledge of the goings on at court! He should have! (and let me explain: Ned could have sent Jon to be Robert’s squire. No wait, stop yelling. He could have. There’s ample evidence (in the North too!) of recognized Bastards inheriting lands and titles so there could be no objection over a recognized Stark bastard as a lowly squire. It would have given Jon the chance to earn a Knighthood and provide for himself! He wouldn’t have had to join the black brothers, he could have CHOSEN to but he wouldn’t have HAD to. Where else does Jon have to go? Honestly yes, it would be more appropriate to send Bran but he is young. Ned could have sent Jon and then Bran later on. He would have had a foothold in the South and an excuse to carry on business there. But NO.. he hates them all so he doesn’t concern himself with any of it and look where that gets him! He names his son after the King and then totally checks OUT. It’s just poor planning all around. It’s like Ned never cared about any of it. Did he really only go to war for Lyanna? Sometimes I wonder… When Varys tells Ned that there are two types of men, those who serve the realm and those who serve themselves I truly believe he’s telling Ned that he serves himself. That’s why Cersei would see him as a threat because Ned would rather adhere to his own personal honor code then do what is right for the majority, ie: help build a stable government and avoid war. Varys probably has a chip on his shoulder because hey, he’s a freaking Eunuch! He wins all arguments. “I am the most dedicated because I went to war.” Oh YEA? “I’m the most dedicated because I literally don’t have any balls.” But he’s still right. He serves the realm. Is he stirring up trouble? Certainly, because Varys’ idea of what is good for the realm is totally different than any Lannister or Stark agenda. Sometimes I think that maybe it was Varys that had Hugh killed, though the logistics of that are a mystery. Maybe it was never intended? Maybe the Lannisters did get rid of poor Hugh. Or most likely it was Littlefinger (isn’t it always Littlefinger?) in an attempt confuse any lingering attention towards Lysa (probably by Varys?). Wheels within wheels indeed.
There’s a lot going on in this chapter and it is hilarious to me how closer inspection in this chapter by chapter deal Elena and I are doing makes me sort of hate Ned. I never really disliked him before. Ok, I still don’t dislike him. He’s cool. He’s got ETHICS and a code and a personal agenda. He’s a person. GRRM is very good at creating believable, realized characters. No one is a place holder or a plot device. Ned is just frustrating. You really want him to succeed because if Ned succeeds than that means the good guys are winning. Clearly we know that isn’t the case and it’s still not a sure thing who the good guys are, if there are any at all, and if they exist can they actually win this game? Seems like anyone without a bit of bad guy in them has no chance. So Ned and his clone-daughter Sansa are so good inside that they can’t conceive of anything not working out for them. The Starks are right and everyone will eventually agree because that is the way it is SUPPOSED to be.
But then I hear GRRM cackling in my head and asking, “Says who?”
– originally published 6/16/2011
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.