Bloody Roses! Time to get to know the Warden of North — Eddard Stark! She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the fresh newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are playin’ with ice and fire, reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, getting our POV on. If you missed it, check out our thoughts on the third chapter (where we go to the free cities and meet Targaryens) from last week or check out our archives and read them from jump.
Let’s get to Ned, and bring flowers and your respects for the crypt!
A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
This first segment from Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark’s point of view makes me sure Jay will be calling me traitor for a while longer. (So we’re all clear, I did NOT read his section on Dany, but my eye caught my own name on that last graf when I was scrolling down to the comments, hence I may have accidentally read that one wee bit of the section.) Why must he keep out the T-card? Because I kind of love Stark’s outlook and attitude on life and his place in the world, which naturally makes me ally myself with that character as opposed to, say, the Targaryens or the king.
What did I like about him? Mostly that he seems so very pragmatic and down to earth. He rules by the old way so that he doesn’t become disconnected from the consequences of his rulings as the lord of the northern principality (state? Area? territory?). He’s not prone to the same lurid excesses as the king, and all he wants to do is stay in the north and take care of the territory that has belonged to his family since before the Targaryens showed up in the first place. Obviously he has deep roots there, and honors them, with the old godwood and the tomb that goes on and on beneath his house, and so forth. My kind of guy.
I will say this, given all the expectations I’m getting from various corners regarding this reading project: the fact that I like Stark right now honestly makes me a bit leery of how much of my psyche I’m going to be exposing as we read further. I’ve got a, shall we say, unconventional set of moral imperatives, and I have this feeling one of two things is going to happen when we get to the WTF Stark moments—either I shrug it off and look like, I dunno, some sort of heartless sociopathic bitch because I don’t blink at murdered babies or something, or I get pissed off at the whole MO of the novel that sets up characters to be one thing and then turns them into something else.
Not in a something happens to them to make them change sense, but in an intentional misrepresentation from the beginning sense. That sort of setting up a character to be read in one manner through implication if not explicit depiction and then have them turn out to be completely different works (for me, at least), only in short form, not novels. In a short story, the entire point is often a turn at the end; every scene of that story is building toward that moment. In a novel it is, in my opinion, a cheap move to misrepresent characters for the sake of being able to shock an audience later…if the action would be insufficiently shocking were the character represented correctly from the beginning, then it’s a failure on the part of the story if the author has to artificially create that surprise by cloak-and-daggering a character’s true character. (With the caveat that in limited point-of-view stories when we know only what that character does, and they are fooled, then we can be fooled, and it works). So should I stop reading now? Lol.
So if I liked Stark so much, what did I think about the king? In general, I was not terribly impressed with him. He seems…complacent. Yes. That is the word for what he seems. He makes the comment that “Winning a throne is easier than keeping it,” but there is no real sense of threat in his words; he is not referring to having to defend his throne but rather to what is easier on him, i.e., what interests him. He wanted to dethrone the Targaryens for reasons as yet to be revealed, so doing so was interesting and satisfying to him. He wants the power and prestige of being the king, but he does not want to do the work of a king—hence his “need” for Ned to come do his job for him.
The more I think about this, actually, the more “not being impressed” trends toward thinking he’s a dissolute ineffectual lazy asshat. I do wonder, is his “Cavalier” (in the sense of Cavaliers vs. Puritans, the proper noun turned into an adjective not the generic derivation adjective) philosophy really what he thinks or just what he prefers to show the world? I mean, is he really that dissipated and ready to abrogate (or would the better word be arrogate? Or even derogate? Jesus. No wonder Peter Boller suggest pipe cogitations for figuring these words out!) his own responsibilities and to some extent power, or is that him making fun of himself but not a true reflection of his kingship?
I also think the prologue lends heavy dramatic irony to the situation. The king is about to open up the north to a world of pain that might have been avoided if Stark were there to heed the warnings and look after his own. But instead the king “needs” him in the south, and he clearly has no choice but to go, and so the north is going to be leaderless when the urSkexis-looking motherfuckers start overrunning The Wall.
This chapter also gave a clearer window into the Politics of Offense the king lives with and the games he must play to keep his power. Case in point: Ned can’t take his actual biological nephew as a ward because the queen’s father already offered—how retarded is that?! It underscores that family is only more important to the king when it concerns him directly; he’s not letting Stark do his duty to his family. I might say it shows that the female family ties are disregarded—but it’s the queen’s father the king won’t offend, so clearly that’s not the case.
Speaking of the queen—she remains a nonentity so far. There was little enough of her actually shown, just a bit more of Stark’s dislike for her. She seems to come from a family no one likes but no one wants to offend, but where in that is her actual personality or how she deals with her status? Not quite there yet, at least for me.
So there it is. At least for now I’m a Stark girl. Does that make me doubly a traitor, that I have little sympathy for either of the sides currently claiming pretensions to a kingship? You tell me…. 🙂
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
“Take me down to your crypt, Eddard. I would pay my respects.”
Man, I like Robert Baratheon. This series offers us numerous encounters, relationships, and interpersonal history and interaction. It emphasizes family, loyalties, bonds new, old, and broken. We know of loves and loves lost, sons and daughters, both honored and cast away. The POV chapter format gives readers incredible exposure to visceral and honest reaction –the characters are not lying to us – though sometimes they do so to themselves. Amidst all of this “living” we are exposed to, I view Ned and Robert’s relationship as one I can most believe in and relate to. These two were boys.
They grew up, learned, and essentially conquered their own worlds together. They grew apart, had their own families, jobs and responsibilities to deal with, and even had a major beef, but through it all, the Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon Ned and Robert friendship rang the most true and genuine to me. I know people don’t like Robert, and he certainly offers great reasons not to, but my looking at many of my owns friends (men and women), I know that in real life some of what he’s guilty of doesn’t get me enraged in the way some get worked up about characters they read about or watch on television or in film. I’ve hung out with Roberts, trusted them, and may have even been him in some regards (minus the sweet warhammer — maybe my next phase!).
“And if I hear ‘Your Grace’ once more, I’ll have your head on a spike. We are more to each other than that.”
I’m not trying to defend him.
I just find the bond between the two to be powerful due to it being recognizable. Martin makes it even stronger offering a Cersei that is fully aware of the bond and to some extent fears it. She was proven right even though she gained the upper-hand on him in the larger game, she “lost” her direct encounter (another powerful scene in this book that Ned was directly involved in) with Ned — She couldn’t have him like she had so many others. So much of this series is cloak and dagger, every corner asking yet again who can you trust?, and I know that is supposed to (and probably aptly does) reflect many relationships and politics, but the existence of even a dishonest true friendship always appealed to me.
While I knew the crypt scene was coming, I wasn’t prepared for Ned’s Lyanna flashback, which reflects poorly on me because we’re talking about perhaps one of the most analyzed/scrutinized passages in the entire series:
Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black.
Popular discussion likes to attribute these roses as the same crown of roses given to Lyanna by Rhaegar, when he crowned her (and not his wife) Queen of Love and Beauty at the tourney in Harrenhal. Ned will later (in this very book) describe it as a crown of winter roses, as blue as frost. There is also blood, and clearly the passage above indicates a meeting between Ned and Lyanna that occurred indoors, where his later revealed meeting with Ser Arthur Dayne and other the members of the Kingsguard occurred outside of the Tower of Joy.
I hope everyone can understand that I want to pass on the whole R + L = J debate in detail for now, mostly because it’s a discussion that I want to have with Laney later (at this point though please do comment below if its germane to this chapter). It is my hope that Elena and I can do some kind of spin-off post on the subject of Ned’s flashback(s) at a later date, thinking it may be better to tag team that subject exclusively when we get a few more Lyanna episodes under her belt. What I do find it interesting that she doesn’t mention Lyanna, nor Ned’s memories at all (not to mention, I should warn her about the danger of insulting the pride of Tywin Lannister!).
What is powerful for the re-reader (or just me) and what is not even worthy of mention to the new reader intrigues me here. For myself, the crypt scene was everything in this chapter, but I wonder if it meant anything to me at all when I first read the book. If being honest, I’d say probably not, due to the fact that I acknowledge this series as being the one that taught me that you can’t get away with skimming and that truly great writers don’t allow you to. Brilliant writers, however, offer that layer that if unrevealed doesn’t implode the whole read. Do we doubt there are readers who love A Song of Ice and Fire who never gave Jon’s parentage two thoughts?
I do want to touch on one aspect regarding Lyanna, namely Robert’s absolute hatred for Rhaegar that’s not only unmatched, but seemingly not shared in any degree by anybody.
“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted. “A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves.”
“I vowed to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her.”
“You did,” Ned reminded him.
“Only once,” Robert said bitterly.
Martin offers us a (non)response for the first one, “There was nothing Ned could say to that”, yet in the second, Ned could be wanting to keep Robert on his own track/train of thought (anybody ever hiding something from somebody while in front of them knows what I mean).
Look, I know we won’t be offering anything new to the speculation surrounding Rhaegar, Lyanna, Robert, Ned and whatever spawn may have come from the first two, but I’ve always focused on Ned’s actions around Robert because we know that that at the end of the day he hates (or would have) lying to Robert. This guy is his ACE. I was wondering if the length time since last seeing his friend (9 years) was related at all to guilt. The king literally had to come to him, and again it is a death that brings them back together (oddly enough, I have similar circumstances with friends of mine, see them only at funerals).
Since Martin plays with smoke and mirrors so much, I try to grasp on what I know is real, and everytime I think of the future scenes with Ned at Robert’s deathbed it makes me feel like one lies danger dies even while Ned makes another one for the sake of his friend. That scene shows us that Ned certainly can make choices for the sake of or to spare those he loves, and I wonder if there was some relief (haven’t re-read it) in the new lie, finally being able to possibly never divulge his old one to his old and true friend. While the idea that both Robert and Ned see only what they want to see, one out of complacency, the other out of a stubborn sense of honor (and guilt), it’s going to be interesting even beyond getting answers to the big questions because I just want to know the little stuff, like how can Robert can have this seemingly unique view of Rhaegar that nobody we’ve seen seems to mention.
I know everybody is on the Jon parentage kick, but that little fact bothers me the most. Like I said though, I want to tackle this with Elena in a special feature later — I think it will be much more awesome that way, but I want her to get to the point where she’s asking first! I will say this, I have to admit that the mystery that hinges on a half dozen other mysteries and has connections to several houses, prophecy, the Kingsguard and more, is perhaps the funnest and most passion inspiring one I’ve come across in entertainment. LOST (which I love) has shit on this. I would ask this (and please use spoiler tags if you care to answer), when and how did you start recognizing piecing together your own theories regarding Jon (and if it’s applicable, Rhaegar and Lyanna)?
We learn the details of Theon’s presence in Winterfell while Ned recounts Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, the last time -– 9 years ago -– that Ned had seen Robert. For some reason on this re-read, the fact that Theon was the one who held Ice in the first Bran chapter really jumped out to me. A reader pointed out Ned’s really rigid way of looking at things, and though I didn’t with that particular circumstance, I do of course agree that the trait is there, and here we see again a Ned that arms the man that would cut his family’s throat.
Let me say this though, and it is here where Elena and I agree regarding Ned: We can read the books and call actions daft or shortsighted, but at the end of the day I think we all can agree that Ned is an admirable man (even with significant story arc points not revealed to us yet). His way got his ass killed, but there’s something to be said about living your life the way Ned did. Even with so many introductions of major players in this chapter with Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, and Sandor, the name drop that most grabs the re-reader the most is one Howland Reed, “the little crannogman”. I’ve talked “friends” above, but it would seem with little doubt that Reed and Ned have a friendship that includes shared knowledge we’d all like to know.
One of the most interesting choices Martin will make is if he ever allows us to see Reed in a position to divulge anything, as at this point it seems all confirmed (living) roads lead to Reed. Related, at this point I’m more interested in how and if Martin will even choose to verify some of the popular fans’ speculation more than if they are even true or not.
Damn it, everything is really touched on in this chapter, Ned was even able to throw in problems about the Wall, which got the typical dismissal it always gets (except from Tyrion –the one man who wants to SEE). Even the machinations of the removal of Jon Arryn is put into more focus here, Tywin’s unprecedented offer to foster the young Arryn heir a nice red herring down the road to add as possible faux-evidence against House Lannister.
Before I finish this, I want to go back for a moment and add to my growing file chronicling my complete stupidity (soon to be a hit spin-off blog!). I just realized Ned’s talk with Bran in the first chapter is probably directly related to his beef with Robert (the King) being unaffected when presented the bodies of the Targaryens during the sack of King’s Landing. Coming into this re-read, one of my personal points of interest was paying attention to Ned’s reaction to the slaying of children, not because I’m morbid, but in order to see if there is more (than the obvious) to get my head wrapped around the possible occurrences at the Tower of Joy and elsewhere. T
he very thought also comes back to bite him in the ass when he refuses Renly entirely sensible offer in King’s Landing that probably would have saved his life, “I will not dishonor his last hours on earth by shedding blood in his halls and dragging frightened children from their beds.”
Ned. Closet. Skeletons. Jon Snow is next up!