Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Today’s entry is Part 24 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 48 (“Jon”), and 49 (“Eddard”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 48: Jon
Sam comes and tells Jon excitedly that he is passing out of training with the rest of them, and Jon pretends to be pleasantly surprised. The trainees and the officers gather in the sept, and Mormont makes a speech, telling the trainees that regardless of where they came from, on the Wall they are all one house, and when they take their vows at sunset all crimes and debts are forgiven, and all former loyalties are erased. He asks if any of the trainees keep to the old gods, and Jon says he does. Mormont tells him there is no godswood at Castle Black, but there is a grove of weirwoods half a league beyond the Wall, where Jon may go to make his vows. Sam asks permission to go as well, which Mormont grants.
The announcements are made for where each trainee will go once sworn in, and Jon is astounded when instead of being made a ranger, he is told off to join the stewards along with Sam and Dareon, a singer. He sees Ser Alliser smiling, and is furiously convinced Alliser engineered it. Lord Steward Bowen Marsh assigns Dareon to Eastwatch, Sam to Maester Aemon, and Jon to be Lord Commander Mormont’s personal steward. Jon’s reply is rude, and outside he rails to Sam and Dareon that Alliser is doing this to shame him, and it isn’t fair. Dareon thinks he’s being a snob. Sam then points out to Jon that as Mormont’s steward, he will be Mormont’s shadow, see everything he’s doing, and bets that it’s because Mormont wants Jon to learn how to command. Jon is taken aback by this notion, and then ashamed of his outburst. He apologizes to Sam.
That evening, Sam and Jon and Ghost go with Marsh and a ranger escort to the weirwood grove beyond the Wall, which Jon is amazed to discover has nine trees, an unheard-of number. Ghost flits off into the forest. Awed, Sam and Jon enter the grove and say their vows as the sun sets. The others congratulate them, and the party prepares to leave, but then Ghost returns with something in his jaws. Jon has him bring it to him, and the party sees it is a human hand.
Ooh, whose hand is it? I betcha it’s Benjen.
“A man of the Night’s Watch lives his life for the realm. Not for a king, nor a lord, nor the honor of this house or that house, neither for gold nor glory nor a woman’s love, but for the realm, and all the people in it. A man of the Night’s Watch takes no wife and fathers no sons. Our wife is duty. Our mistress is honor. And you are the only sons we shall ever know.”
So, Jon’s a Black Brother now, huh. I’m glad for him, objectively, but I still think it’s kind of a raw deal. I mean, I know not everybody needs or wants glory or recognition or even love, theoretically, but yeah. Still kinda sucks. Especially since I’m not convinced a fourteen-year-old boy could even be reasonably cognizant of just how much he’s giving up with that vow.
But, he didn’t have much choice in the matter, so I guess, like Jon, me ranting about the unfairness of it all is a little immature, or at least fairly pointless. So I’ll shut up about it.
And I liked the little twist here, that Jon’s going to be learning command from Mormont. I always assumed he would end up in a leadership position in the Watch, but I had thought it would happen more organically, or accidentally, or whatever. But hey, this’ll work too. Certainly shows that Mormont has sense. And the whole thing was a nice way of showing that Jon still has a little growing up to do.
“The Night’s Watch is my House now,” Sam said. “The Seven have never answered my prayers. Perhaps the old gods will.”
Aw, Samwell. I bet you don’t give a rat’s ass about the gods; you just want to take the vows with your friend. I hug you metaphorically! And aw, Jon, too, for pretending to be all surprised about the news that Sam made it through. I also hug you metaphorically!
I’m interested in this rather unique religious set-up Martin seems to have going here. You don’t very often have a situation (in this type of pseudo-medieval historical period, anyway) where the followers of the “new” religion aren’t busy trying to stamp out or forcibly convert the followers of the old ones. Two different faiths, co-existing peacefully together? That’s just crazy talk!
Of course, we’ve been given very little detail on either faith system thus far, either in terms of their specific beliefs/tenets/dogma (and how they differ from each other), or in their history (especially in relation to each other). At least, if we’ve been given any real information on either religion I’m not remembering it.
Which is fine, really. Martin’s been doing a very good job of implying a rich background history on these and many other aspects of his world, without going into any more detail than is necessary to move the plot along, and I am all good with that, seeing as how I am a big fan of not having to deal with extraneous overly-wordy infodumps.
The pit trap I think a lot of epic fantasy authors fall into is that they are so proud of the elaborate worlds they’ve created that they sometimes cannot resist the temptation to Esplain It All to the reader, often at length, in excruciating detail. And I understand the temptation, believe you me, but that doesn’t make it any less of a big no-no. So I appreciate that (at least thus far) this is not a temptation Martin seems to be particularly prone to. It’s nice to be able to trust the author in that regard; I’m intrigued by the set-up here, but I’m content to let Martin explain it (or not) in his own time.
And suddenly Ghost was back, stalking softly between two weirwoods. White fur and red eyes, Jon realized, disquieted. Like the trees
Creepy! And, I’m sure, significant in some way. Or not. But creepy either way!
Chapter 49: Eddard
Eddard wakes to see the Lannisters’ men still in the courtyard, and curses Cersei for not running when she had the chance. At breakfast, Arya asks for one more lesson from Syrio before they board the ship, which Ned grants. Sansa doesn’t understand why Arya can have a lesson while she is forbidden to see Joffrey, and storms out when Ned cannot tell her why she can’t.
An hour later, Pycelle comes to tell Ned that Robert is dead. Ned puts aside his grief, and tells Pycelle to summon the council to Ned’s chambers. When Littlefinger arrives, he mentions that Ned’s “little task” is taken care of. Ser Barristan and Varys soon arrive also, but Varys tells Ned that Renly has left the city, along with Ser Loras Tyrell and fifty retainers, heading south. Ned is dismayed at the loss of Renly’s support, but moves on, producing Robert’s letter and giving it to the council to be read. Ned asks for their confirmation as regent, but before anyone can answer, Tomard enters to tell Ned that the new king has summoned his council immediately to the throne room.
In the throne room, Joffrey is already on the throne, surrounded by Cersei, his siblings, Clegane, five members of the Kingsguard, and twenty armsmen, but Ned is relieved to see that the City Watch guards in the room outnumber them five to one. Joffrey commands that his council make arrangements for his coronation immediately, and Ned produces Robert’s letter in answer. Cersei reads it and tears it up, to Barristan’s shock. Cersei says they have a new king now, and advises Ned to swear fealty to her son, in return for which she will let him live out his days at Winterfell. Ned answers that he cannot, and declares that Joffrey has no claim to the throne; Stannis is Robert’s true heir.
Joffrey screams that he is a liar, and Cersei commands Barristan to seize Ned. Barristan hesitates, and the Stark guardsmen surround him with steel drawn. Cersei calls this treason, and Clegane and the Kingsguard draw as well. Joffrey screams for them to kill Ned and his retinue, and Ned calls for the Watch to take the queen and her children into custody. Instead, the Watch begin killing Ned’s armsmen.
As his men died around him, Littlefinger slid Ned’s dagger from its sheath and shoved it up under his chin. His smile was apologetic. “I did warn you not to trust me, you know.”
NED DID I NOT TELL YOU WHY DO YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME SHEESH.
Yeah, so, I have approximately zero shock that this went badly, but it went even worse than I thought it was going to. At the risk of stating the screamingly obvious, this is really, really bad, you guys. The minute I read that Joffrey was already sitting on the throne I knew Ned was screwed. No, scratch that, the minute Ned agreed to walk out of his Tower without GETTING A GODDAMN CONFIRMATION FIRST from the council, I knew it. Seriously, Ned, WHAT IS YOUR DAMAGE.
I have such dread about this. I read the whole chapter with an ever-increasing sinking feeling in my stomach. Ugh, what a mess.
I’m still kind of staggered by Ned’s “game plan” here, and I hope you can picture the amount of sarcasm I am ladling onto those quote marks. So, his big strategy was to hole up in his quarters until Robert bites it, leaving Cersei free to do anything she wants in the meantime to set up her counterattack, and then sweep out and expect everyone to just fall in line, armed with nothing but a piece of paper and Littlefinger’s assurances of backup? Oy vey, Ned.
I hate to say it, but in some ways he almost deserved to get the rug yanked out from under him. Which is horrible, because he’s practically the only (adult) character we’ve met thus far who isn’t either an idiot, a liar, a cheat, a megalomaniacal loon, or some combination of the above.
Okay, fine, he may not be the only non-lying non-cheating non-delusional non-idiot character in this book so far, but it’s kind of telling that I’d have to sit and think about it for a minute before I could come up with another one. (Barristan. Okay, there’s one.)
My POINT is, it feels uncomfortably like blaming the victim that I am so angry with Ned for being honorable and expecting other people to be honorable in return. That really, really should not count as a character flaw. And yet.
Someone remarked in the comments recently that one of Ned’s biggest mistakes is that he failed to secure allies at court, and that is so totally on the money it’s not even funny. If you look up one day and the only guy you’ve got in your corner is a man who you KNEW you couldn’t trust even if he hadn’t specifically told you not to, then you have fucked up most egregiously, dude.
All that said, eat shit and die, Littlefinger, you weaselly two-timing little bastard. Christ, what a douche. You think Catelyn’s going to like you better for betraying her husband or something?
(Parenthetically, I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but I got a kick out of the fact that the name of the City Watch’s commander is Janos. Two-faced, eh? Ha.)
Still, I suppose I can hope that Renly’s taking off presages some kind of rescue attempt for Ned or something, rather than what it currently looks like, which is distinctly of a “rat deserting a sinking ship” flavor. Granted, I don’t know how likely that is considering Renly’s with Ser Loras, who is not exactly Ned’s biggest fan, but Cersei being in power is certainly not something Renly would want, so, maybe, right? I can hope that someone has Ned’s back for once, can’t I?
God, what a trainwreck.
Oh, and, uh, bye, Robert! It’s sort of strangely fitting that we didn’t get any big deathbed scene for him. In with a bang, out with a whimper, huh? It’s kind of sad, but, like I said, fitting. And now that’s he gone, I can at least stop cringing in anticipation of what he’s going to muck up next, and just feel sorry for him instead. So yay for that? I guess?
And, yeah. That’s what I got for this one, kids. Have a lovely weekend, and catch you on the flip side!