Comic Con? Losers. The well-adjusted cool saved their money, stayed home and refreshed until this update. I decided to put this up today so George R.R. himself could attend the gathering tomorrow. Among the people at NYCC this weekend is Elena (shower her with praise if you see her), but before she took the jet to New York, she dropped of the next edition of our trek through A Game of Thrones. Who is Elena?
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. Let’s see what Jon Snow is up to! If you skipped last week, correct yourself and go read our thoughts on Tyrion.
An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
I want to talk about this chapter, at least for a bit, in terms of the life-changing moments I had wondered about earlier. By the end of the chapter I felt like we had seen two—one on Jon’s part, and one on Arya’s.
For Jon, this chapter was about growing up. By that I mean facing down the terror of his childhood years: Catelyn. It’s now two weeks after Bran fell, and Jon and Uncle Benji are going to be the first Starks to run off while he’s still broken. They have no choice; winter is coming, and they have to get back to The Wall before it gets there.
So he wants to say goodbye to his brother, and he has not been invited into the sickroom before now or been willing to intrude because Catelyn has been there the whole time. The moment where he pauses on the landing to breathe through his fear could be construed as a young man not wanting to face a sickroom, but the line (which I thought was greatness) about Jon going to The Wall, where he would “face things far more frightening than Catelyn Tully Stark” makes clear what he doesn’t want to face is his father’s wife.
The moments with Catelyn didn’t make me like her any more, but despite her attitude toward Jon they didn’t make me like her less. She’s obviously a mother who loves her son, and probably because she realizes Bran would want to say goodbye to Jon she doesn’t stop him from coming in.
Her introspection about praying that Ned would let her “special boy” remain behind was…well, I don’t really know what it was. Dramatic irony, I guess. Yes, it’s a case of a prayer being answered but not in the expected way, be careful what you wish for, etc., but really it wasn’t any god that caused Bran to stay, just the Lannisters. However powerful they are, I don’t think they quite count as deities.
I don’t know if those moments really changed the way Jon looked at his stepmother (is that an appropriate word for the relationship, even if she has never acknowledged him as a son?), or if the simple act of facing her down was enough to mark a turning point in his life. Clearly her words still had the power to hurt him, when she flung that it should have been him who had fallen. Ironically it’s one of Catelyn’s daughters (though less ironically that it’s her least favorite daughter) who makes Jon feel happy again.
We had seen Arya’s perception of their bond before, but this time it was from Jon’s point of view—and, except for the last line, shown mostly through actions and not his actual thoughts. He isn’t thinking about why he commissioned the sword for her, or how much he’s going to miss her; he just gives it to her, and they joke about it, and the only bit about his emotional involvement is that thinking of those moments and that goodbye “warmed him” on the long ride north.
For Arya, I think it’s fairly obvious, being given a sword by her favorite brother is a turning point in her young life. It is a direction of her energy, interest, and study toward something she naturally loves (although in a house with that many brothers, is it “natural” inclination or simply that she likes what her brother(s) like?), that her mother and sister would not approve of, and that could at some future point decide her life in a dramatic way. It doesn’t have to, but it could, and this being a novel it likely will.
Now, will it be that she saves herself or someone else when they should have died, or will it be that she completely rejects the life her mother plans for her, or will it be simply that her love for swordplay is found out and taken from her and that denial becomes a catalyst for some bigger, grander rebellion—or becomes the final straw that breaks her down into being an obedient child?
But whatever it is, I expect her new hobby will come to make a difference in her life. If nothing else, in an immediate sense it is proof that at least one of her brothers loves her for what she is, and that sense of not just familial connection but unconditional acceptance is beyond value for a child who feels like an outsider.
I’m curious to see how Arya and Jon react to one another when they meet again—I’m guessing it will be a couple years, and very formative years at that. Will they prove to have the sort of friendship and sibling bond that makes all of that irrelevant, or will it be a disappointment or a disillusionment to meet again?
There was one other person who might be having a life-changing experience here, too, and that’s Robb. Jon notices that he’s organizing and giving orders, taking up authority where Catelyn has let hers drop—becoming more of the man of the house because it is getting thrust upon him.
One thing that struck me also about the scene with Arya, and I won’t know if it’s important or not till I see more of Sansa, is what she’s doing with her wolf. Not just keeping her like a pet, but actually giving her commands and tasks. Somehow I can’t imagine Sansa ever letting Lady near any of her clothes, or getting up to enough mischief that she would need her to stand guard. Another thing that may come back later as hugely important.
Probably my favorite moment of the chapter was the very end, with the moment of shared ironic humor between Jon and Ayra. “All the best blades have names…this one’s your favorite thing.” “Needle!” Ha, ha. Nicely played, Mr. Snow. Now every time your sister has to embroider anything, she’ll think of her sword and her favorite brother. I wonder if the improved humor will help Arya’s stitching?
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Goodbyes are odd in that they can be the worst feeling in the world and at the same time among the most optimistic and exciting moments of our lives. It’s a process I’m going through now as I near a move back to the U.S. after several years in Europe, but even before, as a child-military brat I had the same thoughts as Jon has to start this chapter off, “Jon climbed the steps slowly, trying not to think that this might be the last time ever.”
When I read it, it seemed terribly dramatic and even romantic, but I have to admit to and testify its place in reality – it’s genuine ground. I love how Martin puts us on such footing to begin the chapter, which goes back to harping on his ability to continuously establish new ledges to dangle you from, even as we still cling to the previous cliffhanger.
I’ve mentioned that I’m not the biggest fan of where Catelyn goes in the series, but enjoy and even understand her until her deviation. I have to amend that slightly and prove to be a bit more moved than Elena, as I kind of feel like she’s being a superbitch even if she has every excuse to allow for emotional outburst and loosening of previous (if such existed) restraints concerning Jon.
I think he shows amazing restraint, because let’s face it, he’s going through his own shit and is himself still just a kid. What he tells Rob, “She was . . . very kind” just seals the deal on this pre-Wall and transitional trial.
I’ve always liked Rob, which is why his own end is such a kick in the balls –reminds me of a less complimentary interpretation of Erikson’s “wide eyed stupid” (which he – Rob – my have inherited from his father and mother).
“Then I haven’t seen you.”
Robb and Jon are boyz. I’ve always loved that, and though Catelyn has her own issues, I always thought it spoke well of the parents that Robb was tight with Jon. It adds extra gravity to how we have to assume Jon feels about Robb’s death and of course adds depth to Aemon’s own admission later. People like Robb, and in that way he resembles the man he was named after in being able to make allies, remember, he got on with Theon as well (who didn’t get along with Jon).
The more and more I think about Catelyn, my thought of her has a neutral wanes. I now have a hard time reconciling her as ever being remotely likeable (please note: not a prerequisite for being a great character). I know I’m being wish-washy with this, but though scenes I spoke of when I talked Kingslayer man love – her parley with Renly, and her all-time classic demise (since stolen from us) are ones I love, do we ever really like Catelyn?
I feel like I should, but in many ways she is as mistake prone as Cersei and I find the comparison between the two to be more and more intriguing. There is no question that Catelyn – when offered – wanted for her kids what Cersei had and there is a cruelty in Catelyn that matches Cersei’s own, though the degrees of action are different.
I also begin to find it quite odd that the grand idea of uncovering the mystery behind the death of Jon Arryn is putting yourself and your own children in danger by putting them into the power of the accused. At some point, somebody thought fuck it, we are marrying into the royal line. I mean Catelyn really started a war by herself and I got the feeling that she enjoyed ordering and confirming the loyalty of her father’s bannerman.
She was kicking a cripple, and while I know that what’s legal in a setting like this has a lot to do with what you can do when you can do it (and if you can get away with it), I’m not so sure that her arrest of Tyrion was legal. If I were Jaime or Tywin, I’d be PISSED too. I also now think to the condescending nature of her observations when at Renly’s host and it makes me wonder…who the fuck is Catelyn? Starks – even married in – don’t do well when leaving the North and Catelyn didn’t do anything to make bards amend their themes – seems like a rough road for a lot of the Westeros ladies to reach the venerable status of a Queen of Thorns. Hell, maybe it’s not just the Starks, maybe Brynden is “the Blackfish” because he’s the only worldly/competent Tully.
The Arya bit may have been slightly too close to the previous Arya chapter for me. I felt like I just came from here but one cannot deny the future value of the scene. Jon gives her a piece of home to take with her, and the eventual fate of Winterfell and the path of their two stories gives this scene more gravity. Even before life would gettruly crazy, however, I always loved this bit from later in the book:
Arya could not lie to him. She lowered her eyes.
Lord Eddard Stark sighed. “My nine-year-old daughter is being armed from my own forge, and I know nothing of it. The Hand of the King is expected to rule the Seven Kingdoms, yet it seems I cannot even rule my own household. How is it that you come to own a sword, Arya? Where did you get this?”
Arya chewed her lip and said nothing. She would not betray Jon, not even to their father.
After a while, Father said, “I don’t suppose it matters, truly.” He looked down gravely at the sword in his hands.
I wonder if Ned figured it out (I think so, as the number of people Arya would disobey her father for probably narrowed it down) but even if he didn’t I love this rather Starkish moment. In some small way aren’t we made to feel that Ned, Jon and Arya perhaps share more than the others? Not only does Ned give Arya the sword back – in some manner honoring a pact/gift of the person who gave it to her – but he also enables her by getting her lessons. These are the instances that makes us love Ned even while we get this feeling he’s hopeless.
I will add, on a not so positive note, that more than any other chapter thus far, this one seemed to really go for stock – even if believable – dialogue that at times felt like it was trying too hard, down to the “It should have been you”. There is necessity, however, and Martin does get it done within a single, short chapter – these emotions we see are looks at the core of each character.
There is no posturing, the Starks feel very natural and honest in their interaction (even when Jon lies to Rob) in ways we don’t feel with the Lannisters at something simple as a family breakfast in the last chapter (even when they are being honest!). Even Catelyn and Jon’s clash does not feel like jousting, there is a complete lack of pretense. Martin did what he had to, and in the end was successful, (re)establishing a base of relations for the reader before we get to the crossroad. Again, what’s at stake; the eventual cost.
This chapter perhaps laid it on slightly too thick for my taste but it’s heavy handed like anchor, which is apt because this is the base and foundation of the characters we meet. The crossroads aspect I mentioned earlier echoes again for me because I think back to when I first read this and I’m not sure if I had read Fantasy that had – at this point – separate but equal players. Sure, their had been great supporting characters and group quests but his is a much more vague and intriguing fork in the road.
No matter how much we may all say we like Solo more now, in our heart we know that it was Skywalker with the destiny. Jon Snow could get assassinated by Samwell Tarly tomorrow and the only question I’d ask is if there were any bloody roses around.
“And whatever you do . . .”
Arya knew what was coming next. They said it together.
“don’t . . . tell . . . Sansa!”
Jon and Arya had found a mutual negative (not saying that I think there is abnormal dislike in any direction) and turned it into their thing, something fun. Again, it’s kind of goofy, but if being honest, the Starks are all this way. There’s nothing goofy, however, about family and what I love must is the pure unselfishness occurring in all directions and at the same time between Robb, Arya, and Jon — they all comfort each other.
Looking ahead, Dany is next. It again feels like perfect timing because for now I’ve had my fill of the Starks and their keep. I do wonder – and I’m sure this was probably asked/addressed somewhere already — if Martin had a set wordcount in mind for his POV chapters and if he had an model that he thought worked and tried to utilize.
Writing the narrative is tough enough, but piecing together these chapters must have involved a lot of trimming, rewrites and additions on the top and bottom of each. Again, the timing is perfect and the effectiveness of the hook is not dictated on a singular emotion: The memory of her laughter warmed him on the long ride north. Martin picks us up as well as he suspends bombs over our heads.
How does Martin do this? Well, we will have to check as we go, but that line – the last of this chapter – is also odd and striking because it’s completely outside of the confines of this chapter and possible perspective. It’s such a feel good line that many of us would probably just scoot right over it, but in that way it’s the best of a drastic change in narrative, one that works and you don’t notice – just appreciate – while it does so. That it also perfectly fits into this semi-nostalgic goodbye chapter while also pointing ahead is frustratingly perfect. But we are not trapped, there is no tunnel vision. Why? The next chapter that deals with Jon is from Tyrion’s POV. We go from Jon’s final thought above to the first thought of Tyrion:
The north went on forever.
Where Jon was warmed and carried the memory of laughter, Tyrion’s outlook was “It had grown colder after that, and far more quiet.”
Fire and Ice, baby. Ice and Fire.
More than anything, I’m now interested to see how the imminent expansion of our setting and players is going to play on Elena. Us re-readers know that really this entire time in Winterfell is a bit of a prologue in itself, a portal before we actually start the game, much less level 2.
Next up: back across the narrow sea to Daenerys!