Elena and I agree on something! Oh, How we glitter! 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. We are back with a Ned Stark chapter and I waive the white flag as Elena gets kind of nice this week (and like Robert, I’d rather be hunting or wenching than blogging).
A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
This is a funny chapter to me, because I know Jay likes it (no, he hasn’t told me why in the grander scheme, just that it’s one he enjoys), and I…had an interesting reaction to Robert based on what he reveals in this chapter. As I am certain I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t get a particularly good first impression of the king. He seems brash and blustery and stubborn in perhaps the wrong ways. That impression was only exacerbated here with his interactions with old friend Ned Stark.
Oh, but before we get to that, one important point about Ned.
This scene gave me new insight into Ned’s reasons for taking Jon back home with him and then keeping him around instead of farming him off on someone near Winterfell but not in it. I had assumed that he did it either out of sentiment toward Jon’s mother or simply a sense of duty to a child he sired—Starks take care of their own style.
But this discussion with Robert, in the context of Robert emphasizing how Ned “never [was] the boy he [was],” basically how responsible and honorable Ned had always been, and then Ned speaking with what sounded like self-loathing for having slipped up that once, made me think…did he want to keep Jon, at least in part, as a reminder to himself of the one time his honor failed him? (Or that he failed his honor; not sure which way it goes.) In that case, it wasn’t meant to hurt Catelyn but Ned, but if it hurt Catelyn and thereby his marriage, or at least added an additional prick of guilt to his conscience, perhaps he was in a perverse way glad about it, because that meant he was being punished for his transgression?
Secondary insight into Ned from this chapter: does he actually trust Robert, or is it a friendship that has outlived its natural timeline? Ned is mature, responsible, duty-bound, secure in himself and his position, and Robert is restless, wild, ungovernable, and willful. The fact that Robert thinks Ned can be as prickly as a hedgehog so often it should be on his banner implies that Ned doesn’t confide in Robert and has put off too-personal questions with that defensiveness for a long time. Which means that he doesn’t, at the end of the day, trust him with his secrets or his innermost thoughts.
Is it Robert himself that Ned doesn’t trust, though, or Robert the king? I can’t decide which one is more sad. Does this go back to Robert accepting Tywin Lannister’s murder (“It’s war!”) of the queen and her children, and the schism that caused between him and Ned? Even though Lyanna’s death “brought them back together,” some breaches of trust are simply unspannable, and perhaps Robert created one then. Or is Ned’s reticence with him now more just that they haven’t seen much of one another for 15 years and, since Robert is king, there is now a power imbalance between them? After all, as Aristotle (er…I think it was Aristotle) pointed out, true friendship can exist only between equals.
Okay. So on to the whole bit about Papa Lannister killing the old king’s wife and chirrens. Obviously Machiavelli has not shown up in this society yet (or if he has his name is Lannister, lol), because if he had Robert would have killed those last two Targaryens years ago, Jon Arryn notwithstanding. Because ole Mack understood that if you’re going to be merciful, you have to make that enemy love you, which option Lannister sort of took away from him. If Robert wanted to try it anyway, it would have necessitated raising Viserys and Dany in his own household as opposed to them wandering the free cities at the mercy of men who fed Viserys’s self-importance and delusions of grandeur and hatred of “the usurper.”
But since the Lannisters sort of made the decision for him to be ruthless, Robert really ought to have gone full ruthless. You can’t be half a gangster, as they say on Boardwalk Empire. If Robert really had the opportunity to kill those kids as he implied, then he should have, children or not.
Jon Arryn or not. I know that Arryn was like a father to him, but, damn, has Robert spent his entire time as king being ruled by other men’s advice? Ned thinks that he won’t be able to control him or temper his decisions, the way Jon Arryn could, which implies that neither of them look at Robert and see a good king.
I mean, kings should have advisors, I’m not saying a king should act like he’s an island or something, but it seems more that Robert doesn’t know how to be a king and doesn’t want to learn. In fact, he came right out and said as much to Ned, that he wants Ned to do the work of being king so he can just enjoy it. This just implies that Jon Arryn, his previous Hand, had been the one doing the work of ruling before his death.
Which brings up a rather glaring question: why the hell did Robert become the king in the first place? If he and Ned started the war together, why was he the one who took the throne? Was Robert the instigator? Was he the master tactician? Did Ned simply not want it? Would Jon Arryn have led an army if only Robert had been threatened but not if only Ned had been? Seriously. If this is discussed earlier when I had no proper context for it someone please point that out. Otherwise, is this question ever answered? (Please, just yes or no, don’t answer it!)
Another question: what did Varys the eunuch, the old king’s spy master, do to prove to the new king that he could be trusted? That seems…like a damn lot of trust to put into someone who used to serve the man you had killed. Perhaps he helped overthrow the old mad bastard?
Speaking of the overthrowing. Ned’s story about Jaime Lannister at 17 sitting on the king’s throne when he came into the sacked city. Uh. Why was this such a big deal? I hate to contradict myself and take Robert’s side, but if that was Ned’s big argument for why Robert shouldn’t give Jaime any power, it kind of fails.
Like, I agree with Ned: Jaime should not be made Warden of the East, because it puts too much power in the hands of one family, period, regardless of whether they have further pretensions to the throne. But if Ned had really felt like Jaime Lannister was sitting in the throne daydreaming about being king, and that was his point about not making Jaime Warden, then he should really have bitched out that story a little bit more. Because even I was like “that’s it? Really?
That’s the deep dark secret reason you hate Jaime Lannister that has kept you up at nights for 14 years?”—and I don’t even like the Lannisters! And I have the audience’s eyes that saw Jaime get caught fucking his sister and then push an 8-year-old out a window. 8-year-old, dude. So I despise the guy, but even for me that was a weak story.
However, this talk of Lannisters and Warden of the East brings up a final point: Is Robert retarded? Seriously, how does he not see that the Lannisters play these games in terms of decades, not years? Because right now, Lannisters have the West and the throne (Cersei; or, if she can’t be counted, then her son in a matter of decades, if not sooner), and Robert is planning to give them the East, as well? So the one family will then have East, and West? Seriously, he doesn’t see the problem with this? Or is he just that happy to abdicate responsibility because he never much wanted to be king, anyway, it was just a means to an end, and that end was staying alive and killing his enemies, and his life was just downhill from there?
At first I thought maybe he has a too-trusting nature, and would make him the archetypal tragic hero, because they are otherwise strong and admirable characters who have one fatal flaw. So with a tragic flaw of trusting the wrong people, there would be instance after instance in this story where if he had just done one thing different, chosen the other path just one time, thought for just one second that maybe his trust was misplaced, the whole tragedy would have been avoided.
That’s what I thought upon first consideration of this.
But after thinking about it all a bit more, I’ve changed my mind. To me, right now, Robert is just giving off a vibe of the big-titted blonde in the opening scene of the horror movie—too stupid to really be tragic when he gets offed.
Because I have no doubt that that is coming. Maybe not for a while, maybe not even in this book…but I do not think Robert will be making it to the end of this series alive. And that’s aside from the simple fact that it’s kind of hard to have a war over the succession if the king’s, you know, not dead. He’s just too stupid and short-sighted to make it.
Jay and I had a discussion a while back about why Robert trusts the Lannisters, and Jay made the point to me that Robert can’t mistrust everyone, and the Lannisters have given him no reason to distrust them. But I just can’t fathom his naiveté. The Lannisters didn’t involve themselves in the war for nearly a year…clearly they were hedging their bets.
Then they decided to support Robert’s insurrection by coming into the king’s stronghold as friends, only to betray that trust. Um. That is plenty of reason not to trust them. They are obviously (and understandably) out for their own best interests, so they wanted to side with the winners. Fine, but obviously they have no loyalty to Robert, only themselves.
Still, maybe that doesn’t give him a reason to be anything besides trust-neutral toward them (if there is such a thing, where you don’t exactly trust someone but don’t believe they are actively out to get you, either)…except that they are clearly not above betrayal of any vow they ever took in order to save themselves or satisfy their ambitions. They pretended to be coming to the king’s aid. Jaime was one of his sworn protectors.
They took the city, and Jaime killed him. And Robert doesn’t see any reason not to be the tiniest bit suspicious of them, to, perhaps, just perhaps, put someone besides a Lannister in the power vacuum? I mean, is Cersei just such an ungodly strident nag that he would literally give his throne to shut her up? Perhaps she was campaigning ceaselessly for Jaime for the Warden of the East, and Robert’s just too beat down from years of listening to her that he caved in?
Is it wrong that I want there to be some sort of blackmail they’re holding over his head? Like even though I had a bad reaction to him initially that has only gotten worse every time I’ve seen more of him, I don’t want Robert to really be this much of a fool. Or is he trying to like bring out the Lannisters to tip their hand to their treachery? That would be kind of awesome, but Robert doesn’t strike me as being subtle enough for that approach…he seems more the type to just toss someone off a tower if they pissed him off. But perhaps I give him too little credit.
If it’s not a spoiler to answer, riddle me this: did your opinion of Robert change as the story went on? Did your esteem of his personal character at some point separate from how you feel he is as a king? Be as vague as you like, I don’t want spoilers, just a bit of hope, because I hate disliking characters who don’t seem like they’re meant to be villains. I’d like to have some hope he’s not the complete tool that he seems to me right now. Yes, no, maybe so?….
– Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her. Thanks!
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Going to do this one a bit differently because I think Truth E-Nola brought extra thunder this time around. This will be a bit more of the “react” on my part and though I do want to offer some of my own observations, I also want to put some of my views in the comments as spoiler free material that Elena will and can read. As Elena said, this is a chapter I am personally fond of and it starts with me just loving the first line of the chapter:
The summons came in the hour before the dawn, when the world was still and grey.
I am unsure if Elena and I are at odds, and if we are, I’m even more unsure that we both agree on what exactly the point of contention is. It does however, afford us an opportunity to look at this series in a manner many epic fantasies –and truthfully fiction in general-do not allow us to: the option to differentiate feelings on character(s) from the story being told. My feelings or opinion of Robert as a man have very little bearing on how much I enjoy this or any other chapter and the reason for this is because on paper while hardly laudable, he’s not so drastic if applied to real life.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the idea that we are not friends with people who we know have done others wrong is, frankly, absurd. I consider my own friends and I’m intimately aware of acts, multiple, even habitual ones that would deem them untrustworthy or even dangerous to someone else, perhaps to most, that I wouldn’t even consider the possibility of being a potential victim of.
This of course is an extreme, but I think there are several levels between total/stupid trust, functional trust, and people you need to be wary of. Is it lack of genius that Robert doesn’t feel threatened by the Lannisters? Sure, but I’m not sure it’s “retarded” beyond having to be -on some level- cautious of everyone when you’re on top.
Elena would have no knowledge of a basic Westeros power scale, but I think we can perhaps agree that two houses currently have the ability to shift balances of power the most: Lannister and Tyrell. It’s a numbers, wealth, and land/food issue in such a society and for myself these two houses always represented.
That both can field inspirational and/or effective leaders/bannerman isn’t anything to scoff at either (Tarly, Garlan, Loras, The Kingslayer, the Cleganes etc). I think Jon Arryn’s insistence to tie the Lannisters to Robert was a good one and one that obviously had to be done (when considering both Lannister power and availability of potential Queens).
While I think most of us can see simple reasons not to promote Jaime, it’s not exactly the worst idea ever either. Say what we want about the Lannisters, but Robert’s simple words make some sense: they are a great house and the kid sealed his ascension to the throne itself.
I stress this more if Robert actually thinks his throne his threatened outwardly, binding his strongest ally (who both hates and have proven themselves against Targaryens as well) and putting a capable commander of men in place. At the end of the day it’s still his wife and (he thinks) kids’ family and they’ve done the MOST to garner royal favor. There’s also this idea that Robert may feel subconsciously indebted to the Lannisters, though I’m not sure how far I’d take Tywin’s (later) words regarding the “relief” on Robert’s face when he realized that he, “a hero”, did not have to kill children.
Personally? I agree with Ned, he should have given it to one of his brothers. In the end the appointment meant nothing, but is used to offer us something to reflect on. Immediately Elena – the new reader – recognizes this as bad appointment, and with what she would know of Jaime it’s not hard to tell why, but even Ned, who was to some extent sugar coating for sure, had to admit: Jaime isn’t a bitch, “An able and courageous man, no doubt”. I should also add that with an impending Dany invasion, my thought has always been that the fall of Lannister was a necessity because IMHO Tywin kicks Dany’s shit back to the sea, while his son is probably in the midst of the action rushing her person himself (ala Robb).
In an odd way, Robert’s thought makes sense (minus that whole they want to kill him angle!). It should also be noted that we the reader and Ned are burdened with the idea that the Lannisters killed Jon Arryn. Robert is not.
“Kingslayer,” Ned said. The rumors were true, then. He rode on dangerous ground now, he knew. “An able and courageous man, no doubt,” he said carefully, “but his father is Warden of the West, Robert. In time Ser Jaime will succeed to that honor. No one man should hold both East and West.”
I never understood this because I thought the fact that Jaime was a member of the Kingsguard meant that he couldn’t inherit. True, we know that Tywin always viewed Jaime as his heir, but it doesn’t seem like Ned would take for granted that Tywin would have is way in this (or that he would even want to).
This brings us to a point that Elena and I agree on, one that the commenters and I have discussed previously, namely, Ned’s reaction to Jaime. I know this is common battleground for Ned fans and detractors, and though I consider myself especially either, I really don’t like this from Ned and I feel like this may be the worse of him.
I’ve said this before, but Jaime judged and carried it out himself: Ned’s own credo. Ned himself rebelled against the King for what was done to his family. Could he not consider the pressures put on a teenager in Jaime’s position? It gets even worse when we later learn the why from Jaime’s POV. The whole “sitting on the throne” beef was just pretty stupid and while I don’t doubt that Ned in his natural state is capable of being an ass in a situation like this, I do wonder if his outlook was skewed by what he saw later. To consider a topic we discussed last time, I wonder if Ned’s current reflection on Jaime is at all skewed by what he saw later at the Tower of Joy from the other members of Aerys 7 that were still alive (minus Barristan who was at the Trident and captured and pardoned) that he apparently so much admires even though it’s quite likely they killed some of his best friends and tried to kill him. He puts and keeps them on a pedestal , yet hates Jaime who did something that had to be done by somebody.
Now, I can get this from our vantage point—that of the reader– but someone who lived it? By someone who lived the stakes of the rebellion and who faced the blades trying to kill him? Also…don’t we think Ned betrayed his King and friend for family? Wasn’t he doing the same when he tried to save Sansa? Jaime took all the shit and the “taint” of Robert’s rebellion and didn’t hide from it (in an odd way a lot like Tyrion’s whole “own what your are” speech to Jon). I mean…didn’t Aerys kill your dad and brother?
Like Elena, I think there are ample reasons why some may not like Jaime, but this doesn’t seem like one of them. The enormity of the act itself is huge, remember all that Jaime ever wanted to be was Arthur Dayne–the guy Ned talks to his children about–instead he becomes the antithesis, the man Ned scoffs at, not the one he puts on a pedestal for Bran. A 17-year old kid killed the most important figure in the world and had a seat afterwards. Seems harmless to me and I think Robert correctly called him out—hell even when we first meet Jaime we don’t see a figure who doesn’t give a shit one way or another about Robert or his reign and is perhaps as apolitical a figure one can be for being the person who personally ended a dynasty. Ned had to come a lot harder than, “How he glittered!” (frankly, I can’t believe that Ned Stark could utter such a line).
Elena’s point about Ned using Jon’s presence as a reminder and a form of self-punishment (I’d assume subconsciously on top of a real reason) is one I had not read before, but honestly seems to fit the character if true. Even in this chapter, everything is “dishonorable”.
“His” bastard, Jorah Mormont, the hunting of Tagaryens—the setting is grey but Ned seems to want to see things as black and white, even while he most assuredly a former agent of the former. What is odd to me is that while she has previously broached the question of Jon’s parentage and Ashara Dayne, she seems to have completely ignored the name mentioned in this chapter: Wylla. As obvious it is to us and as huge it seems to us, the story of Jon Snow neither seems to be at the forefront of new reader’s mind, or swim underneath other POVS. Ned is evasive with Robert on the subject just as he is with Catelyn, though it can’t be said he lied to Catelyn about Ashara (he neither confirmed or denied it).
It is interesting that Robert thinks it’s Wyalla, or rather Ned names her as such. I wonder if Elena thinks Rhaegar raped Lyanna? She has no reason not to since Ned doesn’t dismiss it. It will be interesting to see if she picks up on the random mentions later about the Prince of Dragonstone that don’t seem to reveal a rapist at all. We take Jon Snow’s parentage at face value because we take Ned at face value, but it would seem that the mentions we’ve had of Lyanna would stir something, but what may into play is the question of the King’s own children which immediately comes to the forefront due to what we KNOW the Lannister twins take part in.
It shouldn’t, and I never really considered how Martin hid Jon by throwing the royal house’s brood under the boss with very drastic concepts: incest and the attempted murder of an innocent child.
Is it Robert himself that Ned doesn’t trust, though, or Robert the king?
This is actually a topic brought up later, so I dig that Elena asks. We should not forget that these two have not seen each other from several years, since Balon’s rebellion, or there may be some natural feeling out process (again consider your own friends you haven’t seen in awhile, then imagine they are your King—kind of annoying for sure.)
What I did enjoy about a previous chapter was how quickly Robert’s ingratiates himself to Ned with his request to pay his respects to Lyanna upon arrival. Robert’s almost legendary ability to make people feel comforted in his presence and win them (excluding apparently his own family) is something I’ve always loved—not to mention helped him win a war– because I do think his fall is a tragedy and I love how Martin has him mounted here expressing/feeling freedom and later when he can’t even fit in his own armor it is that much more tragic, even when offered as comedy.
Robert Baratheon is a thoroughbred who was forced to pasture too soon. Look, I get it, womanizer, smacks his wife—it’s easy to just loathe the guy, and I’m not saying it’s not right to do so …but come on…it’s Cersei Lannister. Cersei would drive anybody crazy and though he doesn’t, we know she’s actively trying to kill him, fucks her brother, has stolen his royal line, and hunts down bastards to kill them. Needless to say, there are worst crimes than smacking the shit out of Cersei and even beyond our own morals and values, he’s the damn King. People may be mad at that, but he’s the King who made a decision and at that point it’s time to STFU—whether you’re Gregor Clegane of Cersei Lannister (speaking of which, one of the great scenes is Robert at the Tourney ordering the fighting to stop).
What bothers me is the double standard the other way. When he does back down from Cersei (with the wolves) people call him lame and a bitch. Sure, there’s something to be said about levels of reaction but what we do know of Robert is that he’s an extremist. He does nothing or wins Kingdoms with his hammer. Even Elena notes that he shouldn’t let others rule for him, but every time he makes what’s obviously a final decision, somebody has to try to knock him. Let’s remember this, it seems like Cersei would have pushed Jaime to be the Hand and obviously Robert overrode that, a move that FRIGHTENED his enemies (well, some of them, others viewed it as a terribly predictable mark).
“Good man!” The king clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ve half a mind to leave them all behind and just keep going.”
A smile touched Ned’s lips. “I do believe you mean it.”
“I do, I do,” the king said. “What do you say, Ned? Just you and me, two vagabond knights on the kingsroad, our swords at our sides and the gods know what in front of us, and maybe a farmer’s daughter or a tavern wench to warm our beds tonight.
What do readers think? Do you think he cared about being the King? Beyond the thought that “it’s good to be king”, Robert more than anyone strikes me as somebody who’d be happy doing exactly what he hints to Ned.
Where this book is full of others who seemingly live to play this game, Robert strikes me as somebody who long realized he didn’t give a damn and was unfortunate or fortunate enough to have landed the spot everyone else wants. YET he’s not so blind that his son seems to be inadequate, even if he’s blind that it isn’t his son. Robert knows what it takes to be a good King and has no delusions that he is a good one–he is self aware.
I firmly believe that if Robert’s son was a Rhaegar Targaryen (again, oddly enough) he’d abdicate and go chill. The reason for this is because everything that makes what Robert is doesn’t really require position, it actually takes from him (he can’t even really melee any longer). While everyone else plots on the throne to fulfill their ambitions, Robert just wants action, ass and feast. Remember that quote from Office Space? “Well, you don’t need a million dollars to do nothing, man…“. Robert is Conan but wants a Peter Gibbons lifestyle. Don’t we all like Peter? Did it ever strike anyone as strange that the guy Ned (and Jon Arryn) always seemed to try to dissuade from killing children is the one guy who may have every right to want to kill his (not) own children?
Let’s talk Ned for a moment. We met the guy beheading somebody with Valyrian awesome, and in a previous chapter we got the whole:
They whispered of Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, deadliest of the seven knights of Aerys’ Kingsguard, and of how their young lord had slain him in single combat. And they told how afterward Ned had carried Ser Arthur’s sword back to the beautiful young sister who awaited him in a castle called Starfall on the shores of the Summer Sea.
So, Ned – the only guy we know of at this point rocking a super sword – takes down the MAN (in a battle of super swords) and now here we find out more. It was Ned who pressed on to the capitol for Robert. It was Ned who continued the war down South. While some may prove me wrong with a time line (I want to say it anyway), it was Ned making his way to Aerys on a horse. Ned was there at Balon’s rebellion.
Ned is pretty hardcore.
I try to think if anything was revealed in my very first read that would make me think that Ned wouldn’t be a great Hand. I guess one could have offered his limited experience at court, but that also could be an advantage if you’re picking a man you believe is honorable to begin with. No ties or strings excluding one, which unfortunate to Ned was tied to both his best friend and the Lannisters.
The truth is that while Ned did have a strong sense of duty, he was just like Robert—he didn’t give a damn about the throne or power for the sake of power. There isn’t any reason for the reader to think that Ned isn’t the perfect hand, it’s his and our lesson that he isn’t.
An obvious one for sure, but not I think–if being honest- we can all admit to knowing at this point. I do wonder what Elena thinks of the appointment (after having an immediate reaction to Jaime’s appointment to Warden of the East). I think, however, it is important to note how hard this generation is as we are introduced to the next who really are handed the series. We often talk about how Robb is too like Ned in terms of his downfall (and for sure some positive attributes), but we should recall how well he performs in the field, which also seems like a chip off the old block.
What to come away with? The Demon of the Trident, Elena, and I all agree on something. Ned, quit hating on Jaime getting his lounge on. Kingslayin’ ain’t easy. I do want to mention what words I used to describe this chapter when I was emailing Elena (which is why she thinks I like it): Two boyz going on a ride. Again, even with the secrets – perhaps the best one – this relationship is genuine and it’s one of the few that really is. If we consider the many deaths and reactions of in this series, Robert and Ned’s –to take a word from Martin himself– was a fierce love and friendship. Pycelle tells us about the King at his former Hand’s deathbed, “His love was fierce to see.”
These two, from boys to men, were tarnished by the game whenever they dabbled in it. We often view them as lesser, shortsighted, and even slow because they are so inadequate at the game Martin presents to us as the main theme and the very title of his novel, but I do think it’s a tragedy and do not view their loss as some glorious victory of Darwin.
I think the weak survived, and with Robert and Ned we saw the passing of “True Steel”. They were lesser players in a game that was beneath them and literally beneath their contempt. I see no shame in that and I think the game ruins better people than it elevates. While the smart ass, generation x, neo-commonsense citizen in me wants to hoist the Littlefinger banner, I think the reality is that Ned and Robert represent that old fantasy we love, giving way to the new on that is merely but gloriously interesting.
I think the entire idea of this chapter — that the two real guys had to break camp and go off alone (they outpaced the guards), separate from all the rest was great because it illustrates how awful these two are at this sham. These are best friends who can’t agree on anything when it comes to crown policy because both of them would rather be talking about anything else.
A man could not always be where he belonged, though. Resigned, Eddard Stark put his boots into his horse and set off after the king.
Kind of an echo from what he says about his brother Brandon earlier. He was talking about himself, but it’s such a true sentiment that it almost applies to everyone and everything going on, the pieces in the game not all moving under their own volition. Many, like Ned, following the King who in this case is perhaps most aptly described by the words.
Up Next: Tyrion at the Wall!