Wed
Sep 9 2009 2:59pm

Stick them with the pointy end: George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones

I joked a little while ago that I was going to do a chapter-by-chapter re-read of these and post one every hour. I really can’t read slowly enough to do that sensibly. I read in great gulps, not in considered sips. So it’ll be one post per book, as usual, and that means I’m not going to say every possible thing there is to say, but I think that’s OK. You go ahead and say the other things in comments.

A Game of Thrones is the first volume in an unfinished fantasy epic series A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s notable for having very good volume completion. It’s very difficult, writing a series like this, where you have chapters from lots of people’s points of view, to make each character thread have an ending. A Game of Thrones does that brilliantly—every point-of-view character has grows and changes and has a story. You could almost take each one out and read it separately—the Daenerys thread was in fact extracted and published as a novella. The threads are closely intertwined, it is all one story, but each story has completion, and despite nothing being resolved, the volume does come to a conclusion, or anyway a satisfying place to stop. This is impressive.

This is a very good beginning, solid worldbuilding, great characters, plotting and complications that often surprised me. When I heard that Martin was writing an epic fantasy series, I was disappointed. I’d been a fan of his for years, ever since reading the story “Sandkings,” I’d read everything he’d published to that time and I wanted him to write more SF, not fantasy. I read it anyway, and I was very pleasantly surprised. This was a book where, the first time I read it I turned straight back to the beginning and read it again. It really is that good.

It’s always interesting to see how a story begins, especially a huge sprawling story like this one. After a brief prologue, Martin begins with all the characters who will have points-of-view in this volume (except Daenerys) together at Winterfell, he goes out from there as they go their different ways. The story begins with the Stark family finding some dire wolf-cubs. The wolf-cubs are given to the children. This sets up certain expectations about the kind of book it is and the kind of way things will go, which turn out not to be the case at all. This is just the beginning of the undermining of standard fantasy expectations Martin’s doing.

 

The book starts with a small event, from which everything follows. Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King has been murdered. Ned has to replace him. Lysa, Catelyn’s sister, accuses the Lannisters of his murder. The question of who killed Jon Arryn and why preoccupies Ned until he solves it. Bran gets thrown from the tower because he discovers the secret—which is the incestuous adultery of Cersei and her twin, Jaime, and the corresponding illegitimacy of Robert’s children. For the first half of the book Westeros is at an uneasy peace, which is broken by Catelyn seizing Tyrion, Ned finding out the secret and Cersei taking things to the next level. By the end of the book the country is in flames, but it ends on a high point with Robb declaring himself King of the North. Meanwhile, all through the book, we have the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen on another continent.

It’s interesting that Martin starts off introducing us to his complex world so relatively quietly. He gives information about the world sparingly. We learn slowly that the world is one where seasons last for years, unpredictably and magically, and with a wall of ice at the top of the world that has stood as a defence for eight thousand years. The murder and attempted murder of Bran give us an interesting question and a chance to get to know the world before the wars begin—we see tournaments and marriages and a fragile peace. It’s a good choice to show us the land at peace before it is broken.

Lady’s death and the way Nymeria is driven off were the first things to really surprise me the first time I read this book. I expected the wolves to stay with the children. I was equally startled later by Ned’s death. This just isn’t the kind of thing you expect in this kind of story—and that’s one of the things I love about it. Ned’s fall and betrayal is tragedy in the real sense, a man betrayed by his own tragic flaws, which in this case are honour and mercy. Re-reading it all the numerous chances he has to make things go differently are very plain to see—if he’d only compromise. Ned is like Cato, bringing down the world on his head because he insists on treating the world as he would have it rather than the way it is.

This world isn’t a sanitised fantasy world. It has magic, but it’s also full of betrayal and lice and shit and rape and slaughter. It’s a very clever world—I said in my intro piece that it’s as if Sauron arose again to find Gondor going through the Wars of the Roses. Martin constantly reminds us of the darker colder threats—Winter is coming! But he also knows you’re just as dead if you die in a minor battle, or even in a tournament. There’s a sense that everyone is being distracted from the real issues, but there’s also the way that today’s issues are real and as important as what may hit in the winter. Winter isn’t here yet, after all.

We are not, in this volume, given any point of view characters it’s hard to like—Martin goes out of his way to make Tyrion Lannister sympathetic. Nobody is a villain in their own mind. But we have plenty of horrible characters whose heads we don’t see into, and I find Sansa very unsympathetic here, with her insistence on romantic dreams, and Catelyn isn’t much better, with her impulses, dashing off to King’s Landing, trusting Littlefinger, capturing Tyrion.

Daenerys’s story is completely separate from the others. She’s in another continent. But it’s also crucial, her dragon-waking is what’s going to change everything. She’s also the other threat that hangs over Westeros—she’s the last Targaryen. Robert’s right to be afraid of her. Yet we’re shown her first as very young and very intimidated. Her story is one of growing into power. But the whole book takes only about a year. She’s not fifteen at the end, when she’s giving suck to dragons. I like the Dothraki horse barbarians and their culture. They’re clearly based on the Mongols, in the same way Westeros is based on France and England. I like their vast empty city lined with the broken statues of gods of conquered people, and the two markets where people from both sides of the world come to trade with each other.

Jon Snow’s story also lies apart from the others. He begins at Winterfell, but when the others go south he goes north to the Wall. He’s a bastard (that’s true whoever his parents are) and he has a white direwolf. He thinks Eddard Stark is his father by an unknown mother, but it seems likely that he’s Lyanna’s son by Rhaegar, and whether it was rape or not is an open question. (The Crannogman Howland Reed knows, and will perhaps reveal this later.) Ned constantly thinks of Lyanna begging him to promise, and of what his promise has cost—which I think must be his happiness with Catelyn, who never accepted Jon. Jon’s story in this book is about learning to be a brother of the Night Watch, with only the first signs of winter coming from beyond the wall. At the end of the book he’s about to range beyond the wall. Jon’s story has a lot more honour than the others, in this volume at least.

Arya and Sansa are sisters who couldn’t be more different. Arya wants to learn to fight, Sansa wants to be a perfect princess. Sansa’s arc in this book ends with her betraying her father, and Arya’s with escaping in the company of the Night Watch. I like Arya an awful lot more, but Arya (in this volume at least) is a kind of character we often see in fantasy stories, the feisty heroine who learns to use a sword, while Sansa is much more unusual as a point of view. Sansa wants to be good and wear pretty clothes and fall in love, and she doesn’t look any further than that. Neither of them are going to have a good time in the next volumes.

Tyrion is such a great character—a highborn dwarf who wants to prove himself, who makes wits do instead of height. Who does that remind me of—but Tyrion isn’t at all like Miles Vorkosigan. He isn’t driven by honour and love of family, his father despises him, he has a thing for whores, he mocks honour and chivalry. Tyrion has a quip for all situations.

There are a number of things here that are mentioned as set-up for the later books—most especially Theon Greyjoy and Thoros of Myr. They’re tiny little easily missed details in this volume, I’d hardly notice them if I didn’t know what direction things were going. I’m also going to put Bran in this category. Bran in this book seems as if he’s just there to give us a point of view back in Winterfell. He has the dream of the crow, he’s adapting to being crippled, but his part seems all set-up. Yet this is unfair, some of the best images—the army going the wrong way and the eyes in the tree, come from his sections.

By the end of the book we have three declared kings jostling for the succession. For most of the characters the fifteen year peace of Robert’s rule—and that ten year summer that’s just ending—has been most of their lives. But the past informs the present. Starks and Lannisters and Baraethons are tangled up together because of the events fifteen years ago, and Targaryens too—and underneath everything, winter is coming, the ice-zombies are getting ready to attack, and the dragons are coming. Yay.

The best about this is the way you can trust it to all fit together and make sense. If Martin mentions something without explaining it, it’ll be explained later, or anyway alluded to so that you can put it together yourself. It’s overflowing with detail and you can trust that all of the detail belongs and is necessary and interesting. The world and the story are completely immersive, with no jolts to jerk you out of your suspension of disbelief.

On to A Clash of Kings!


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

40 comments
Naomi Libicki
1. AetherealGirl
Arya and Sansa are sisters who couldn’t be more different. Arya wants to learn to fight, Sansa wants to be a perfect princess. . . . Arya (in this volume at least) is a kind of character we often see in fantasy stories, the feisty heroine who learns to use a sword, while Sansa is much more unusual as a point of view. Sansa wants to be good and wear pretty clothes and fall in love, and she doesn’t look any further than that.

Didn't you do this in Prize in the Game?
Marcus W
2. toryx
Man, what an incredible book. I actually stumbled on George R.R. Martin pretty late. I'd picked up the first volume of Legends, the anthology with novellas set in several major fantasy worlds, primarily to read the Robert Jordan and Stephen King stories.

Much to my surprise, I didn't like either novella even half as much as The Hedge Knight, GRRM's story set in the world of aSoIaF but years in the past. It was a great story from start to end but what really impressed me was that the ending caught me completely by surprise. It had been years since I'd been so shocked by a fantasy story.

I finished the Hedge Knight and ordered The Game of Thrones from Amazon five minutes later.

Once I started the novel I was blown away by all the things Jo mentions: the harsh reality of the world, the mystery of the murder, the noble rigidity of Ned and the disaster of Robert's rule. When Bran was thrown off the tower, however, I was hooked for good and true; I'd never have guessed that would happen. Bran was set up to be the young hero, after all, the cliche of every fantasy epic.

That's when I realized that one of the great things about these novels was that there wasn't going to be one titular Hero of Light. Nor were there any obvious Shadow Lord. The shades of gray in each of the characters appeal to me tremendously and you truly never really know what might happen.

Fabulous, wonderful stuff.
Rob Munnelly
3. RobMRobM
"He thinks Eddard Stark is his father by an unknown mother, but it seems likely that he’s Lyanna’s son by Rhaegar, and whether it was rape or not is an open question. (The Crannogman Howland Reed knows, and will perhaps reveal this later.)"

I don't remember this. Guess I'm going to need to do a re-read after all. Rob
Lsana
4. Lsana
Tyrion is such a great character—a highborn dwarf who wants to prove himself, who makes wits do instead of height. Who does that remind me of—but Tyrion isn’t at all like Miles Vorkosigan. He isn’t driven by honour and love of family, his father despises him, he has a thing for whores, he mocks honour and chivalry. Tyrion has a quip for all situations.

See, I always thought that Tyrion was just like Miles, with the caveat that Tywin is nothing at all like Aral. Tyrion, like Miles, is looking for that "well-done, son," but while Miles always had Aral's love and manages to earn his respect, Tyrion will never have either. Despite that, he keeps chasing after it.
Jo Walton
5. bluejo
Aethereal Girl: I suppose I did. I wasn't consciously thinking of Sansa and Arya, but I had certainly read A Game of Thrones before I wrote that. What I was thinking about when I came up with Elenn and Emer was the true and false Guineveres and about how the difference between adultery and abduction in the Arthurian mythos is whether you give the woman a point of view, and about the whole Fionabharr/Gwenhwyfar which is what I was playing with there, but who knows what was going on in the back of my mind!
Lsana
6. Rob T.
I'm fascinated by your description of how GoT works as a book, because that process was invisible to me when I first read it; the story flows with such seeming inevitability that the book might almost have written itself.

Or to put it a little less fancifully, it's as though having worked in TV for a number of years and having several cherished projects fall through (or realized with less-than-hoped-for results), Martin freed himself from his TV commitments, sat down to write, and this great flood of previously dammed-up story just came tumbling out of him.

I don't mean to disrespect or diminish Martin's hard-won narrative craftsmanship, and can only imagine how long he'd been consciously working on GoT (or how much longer the book's characters, themes and plot elements had been gestating in his unconscious) before he started the actual writing. But it says a lot about the book that the craft and effort Martin put into it is nearly invisible, with only subtle clues apparent to those readers who make it their business to know literature from the inside out.

Thank you for pointing out some of those clues, and for enhancing your readers' appreciation of GoT. I'm sure "Ice and Fire" has such a devoted following due to the extraordinary high quality of that first book, and equally sure that one of Martin's problems with finishing the series is trying to match that high standard in all the following volumes.
Elio García
7. Egarcia
I often feel like Catelyn Stark is taken to task a bit too readily. She's probably the character I admire most (as far as admiring Martin's craft) goes, and she's certainly my very favorite character just to read and consider on. She feels so utterly human, so "real", this pretty ordinary woman in extraordinary times. She's strong, she's competent, she's intelligent but not brilliant, she's devoted to those things everyone says she should be devoted to ("Family, Duty, Honor"). But the cards are stacked against her, and she suffers terribly, wrestling through one loss after another and still never less than a support for her family.

It's easy to see her flaws as a matter of impulsiveness, but looked at within the context of the situation she's in, just about all of her decisions make sense.

Going to King's Landing? She explains why she needs to do it, why she can't just send a message or an underling. If Ned decides to bring things out into the open, her voice is going to be a lot weighter than an aged castellan's or maester's.

Trusting Littlefinger? Well, yes. But her flaw here isn't impulsiveness, as such. It's that she's not very good at this intrigue stuff either, and she's not able to ferret out the lie. But of course, Littlefinger is a master of lies, and he dupes a lot of people.

And capturing Tyrion? That's the one that irks me most, to be honest! She tried to hide from him, very deliberately. She didn't want to have to have a thing to do with him, so long as he didn't realize she was there. Because if he saw her -- and she was at this point mostly convinced that he and his family tried to kill her son (and she was half right, which is the thing that made it all so plausible) -- then that would warn the Lannisters that she knew too much and that they had to move against Lord Stark now instead of later.

Had she had her druthers, they would have passed each other by like ships in the night and Tyrion could have gone his merry way ignornant of her presence in the south so close to King's Landing.

One can note the points where her advice is sound, as well, and ends up being ignored. Probably Robb should have listened to her about making peace -- he'd probably still be alive, and Winterfell unrazed. There's several more occasions in the next book. She's not exactly Cassandra, but ... well, I guess she sometimes feels like she is, forseeing all the terrible danger and being roundly ignored by everyone.
Lsana
8. JoeNotCharles
The only thing that bugged me about this book was that NOBODY ever stepped back to say, "There's no way Tyrion would send an assassin with such an incriminating knife." Tyrion brings it up in passing at one point and Catelyn dismisses it, but that doesn't ring true - why wasn't he hammering that point home over and over as soon as he found out why she suspected him?
David Bilek
9. dtbilek
I don't remember this. Guess I'm going to need to do a re-read after all

It's not made explicit. If you're not reading carefully you might well miss it, but once you do see the clues it seems utterly obvious and impossible to miss.

We know Ned doesn't lie. He, quite literally, chooses death before dishonor. But when asked about Jon, all he will say is "He is of my blood". Because he's trying to thread the needle of letting the deception stand by implication without actually lying about Jon's parentage. Because Jon is of his blood; Lyanna was Ned's sister.

Other clues abound. Note that of the legitimate Stark children Arya takes after her father's bloodline the most. She is described as looking like Lyanna. And which of the Stark children does Jon most resemble? Arya. Like Robert's get, it is clear the seed is strong in Lyanna's kids.

Now the battle at the Tower of Joy where Howland Reed, Ned Stark, and 5 others confront three of the Kingsguard, including Arthur Dayne (the Sword of the Morning) and Gerald Hightower (the Lord Commander), before discovering a dying Lyanna. This is probably the strongest evidence: Tell me, why are three Kingsguard including both the Lord Commander and perhaps the greatest swordsman of the age, all of whom are sworn to protect the Royal Family, standing guard outside a tower with nothing but Lyanna Stark in it? The answer is obviously that there must have been a member of the Royal Family inside. You don't send Arthur Dayne to guard a prisoner of war no matter who it is. (Not that Lyanna was a prisoner of war. It seems clear that Lyanna and Rhaegar were in love. The only one who says differently is Robert, and he isn't the most reliable of sources.)

So, we have an unnamed and unaccounted for member of the Royal Family present at the Tower of Joy. Lyanna stark is described as lying in a "bed of blood", pale from blood loss. She asks Ned to make her a promise, one which he can only make at great personal cost. We're led to believe that he promises her to bring her body back to Winterfell. That's patently absurd since he wouldn't have to be begged to promise that; he'd carry Lyanna the entire way to the North on his own back if he had no other way. The only thing that makes sense is Lyanna having given birth to Rhaegar's heir and dying of complications. Something which isn't exactly rare at these tech levels. And she makes Ned promise to raise Jon as his own and never reveal his parentage. Since Robert would have Jon killed without pause if he discovered Jon Snow was actually Jon Targaryen, heir to the Iron Throne.

Oh, and this part is just speculation, but note that the Targaryen's were known for marrying brother to sister. And, of course, if Jon is Rhaegar's son he has a half sister. One suspects that a case could be made that the Song of Ice and Fire is Jon and Danaerys' song.

Uh, yeah, I really, really like A Game of Thrones. It's taken me rather a long time to deal with never seeing the series conclude but I believe I have reached the final stage of grief and have accepted it. Sadly.
Sam Kelly
10. Eithin
I like the comparison of Ned with Cato - another is Thomas of Woodstock, though mostly in the eponymous play, rather than actual history.
Elio García
11. Egarcia
Joe,

The Starks don't know the Imp that well. There's a whole bunch of lewd, unpleasant stories about the ugly dwarf son of Tywin Lannister, and in their mind Tyrion's capable of committing any enormity. Unfair, but them's the breaks. A short trip through the high road isn't going to really change anyone's mind, and his loudly protesting that he'd never do anything so stupid -- when he's an arrogant Lannister, everyone knows that -- isn't really going to fly on its own.

dtbilek,

Are you terminally ill? Sorry to hear it.

You are mistaken about Ned choosing death before dishonor, however. He does lie at the end, to save his daughters; and he himself tells Arya that there can be honorable lies.

He claims he was a traitor before the gathered throng, and Joff is supposed to send him to the Wall. Instead, he has his head taken off.
David Bilek
12. dtbilek
Egarcia: Nah, just realistic. Life expectancy is only in the mid 70s after all. But, hey, if I'm wrong, great! I get to read the rest of the story and I benefit financially as the owner of an unbroken lettered set of the Meisha Merlin / Subterranean Press editions. And the Tor hardcovers which I use as reading copies, of course.

I suppose I was using hyperbole about Ned and "death before dishonor". It's true that he confessed to being a traitor before he was executed, but I don't think that can be taken seriously as a lapse in his honor. It's no different than captured airmen these days "confessing" to being spies on video. Everyone knows it is a pantomime. Nobody seriously believes Ned was a traitor; it's just a convenient fiction he agrees to in order to save his children.

In any case, you could still make the argument that he had chosen death before dishonor well before that, when he refused to take the actions necessary to ensure he came out on top in his power struggle with Cersei&co.
Lsana
13. R. Emrys
I love these books. The first is my favorite, simply for the number of times it surprised me, but I'm still very much looking forward to finding out what happens next. And I have a reasonable degree of patience with slow writers.

I had managed to miss that there was anyone left alive who knew about Jon's parentage. Interesting!
Jo Walton
14. bluejo
DTBilek: I'm glad you're not terminally ill or on death row, I was concerned. And I think you mean Bantam hardcovers!
David Bilek
15. dtbilek
Oops, yes, I read the Bantam hardcovers. I just threw out the Tor since this is the tor site. Free publicity!

Are you excited about the HBO series, Jo? Because I know how much you always look forward to movie and television adaptations of books you like. I bet you can't wait!
Lsana
16. Resplendent Indignity
Brief synopsis of this series:

Shit fuck tits piss murder. I want rape for dinner.

Like this guy? Want his plans to succeed? Well he's dead. Ha ha.

Love,

George R R Martin

PS - see you in 6 years.
Elio García
17. Egarcia
dtbilek,

Oh, unbroken sets are rare indeed. Very cool thing to own.

Ned clearly felt it was a lie, given his adamant refusal that he'd never do such a thing until he was threatend with harm coming to his daughters. So for him, this was a "lie with honor". Obviously, a coerced confession or a coerced oath would doubtless make the High Septon raise an eyebrow (as Jaime will note later on), but by Ned's standards it wasn't so clear cut.

You know, the HBO adaption is exciting, but it's its own thing. The pilot script that leaked was remarkably faithful (but not entirely so, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in somewhat annoying ways; but apparently things aren't set in stone), and the casting news has been (I think) on the whole pretty impressive. Whether it'll go to series remains a question, but one can hope.

Resplendent Indignity,

You forgot the incest and torture.
Jo Walton
18. bluejo
DTBilek: I'm relatively indifferent to it. I love these books, but I read them when I was grown up, they are not entwined in the roots of my soul.

EGarcia: Perfect rejoinder.

Also, re Ned's death and "confession" -- he does it to save Sansa and (he thinks) Arya, so yes, he does put love higher than honour there. It's the threat to bring him Sansa's head that moves him, not the offer of his life. But this is also an amazing moment -- after the careful diplomatic manouvering, after the quiet agreements and bribes and threats and all of that, it all comes down to Joffrey's teenage cruelty and Ilyn Payne resenting Ned for having sent Beric Dondarrion to do the king's justice. The way that works, and we see it work, and believe in it -- especially as we see it from Arya's POV and she didn't know any of the complex agreements -- is absolutely masterful, one of the best moments in the series.

At the time I first read this, I was playing in a weekly RPG in which we had an agreement not to kill a character unless their player was there -- if you went to the bathroom, or if you couldn't make it that week, your character was safe until your return. This seemed like an extension of the same unspoken rule in fantasy generally that a character would only die significantly and in close up. Killing Ned out of his own point-of-view struck me as a violation of that unspoken rule -- I was simultaneously thrilled, horrified and upset.
Bridget Sullivan
19. Ellid
dtbilek@12

"Oh, and this part is just speculation, but note that the Targaryen's were known for marrying brother to sister. And, of course, if Jon is Rhaegar's son he has a half sister[..]"

Minor nit - if Jon is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna (or R+L=J, as it is known on the board's parlance), then Daenerys would be his aunt, not his (half)sister. Daenerys is Rhaegar's much younger sister, being the daughter of King Aerys and Queen Rhaella, just as Rhaegar is their son. Then again, Daenerys and Rhaegar are both siblings and each other's first cousins, too ;)
Rob Munnelly
20. RobMRobM
@12 - Bravo! Thanks. I'm not at WoT-level depth with GRRM so I missed it on my first and only read. I was wondering about Jon's parentage and thought it hadn't been disclosed in the series. Wow. Rob
Lsana
21. Superquail
Ellid - I was just about to comment on that.

Rhaegar had a wife and two children, but I'm pretty sure they're both dead. His daughter Rhaenys was stabbed, like, 200 times or something and her body was laid out in front of Robert wrapped in Lannister cloaks. That was a pretty horrific image that got mentioned a few times.

His son by Elia of Dorne was baby Aegon. The Mountain smashed his head in, and then raped Elia to death. Now, possibly, the babies could have been switched at that point. King Aerys was a crazy person, but he had it together enough to evacuated his pregnant wife and his younger son to Dragon Stone before the armies showed up. So maybe the baby who was killed was not Aegon. But I don't know if there is any textual evidence to support that possibility.

If Rhaegar and Lyanna are the parents of Jon, I think he is still a bastard and therefor not eligible to inherit. UNLESS you argue that Targaryens can legally take a second wife. Aegon the Conqueror had two wives, both of whom were his sisters, but there is no other case mentioned of a Targaryen king with more than one queen.

Then you have the question that even if Jon is Rhaegar's legitimate son, does that mean his claim to the Iron Throne is stronger or weaker than Dany's? Who comes first in the line of succession, the daughter of the previous king, or the son of the previous heir?
Lsana
22. Superquail
dtbilek -

I really like what you said about Ned's confession being a pantomime. I think you really hit the nail on the head.

Later on, we have a scene with Dany where she hears that King Robert is dead and that Ned Stark has been declared a traitor. Jorah Mormont scoffs at this saying, "A traitor? Not him!" So even a guy who has every reason to hate Ned doesn't believe that he actually would betray Robert. That's kind of the best endorsement you can get.
- -
23. heresiarch
"Tyrion is such a great character—a highborn dwarf who wants to prove himself, who makes wits do instead of height. Who does that remind me of—but Tyrion isn’t at all like Miles Vorkosigan."

I feel like they're both takes on the Richard III archtype, in different modes. Lsana nails it at 4--Miles is Richard with a great father, and Tyrion is Richard with a Great, but terrible father. (Then that made me try to fit Mark in there, and he really was an attempt to make Richard III straight up: brilliant, traitorous, and doomed.)

Egarcia @ 7: "I often feel like Catelyn Stark is taken to task a bit too readily."

Me too. One of the things that GRRM does really well is show the limits of being a woman, even a highborn woman, in a warrior culture. Catelyn is one hundred percent right that war should and could be avoided and she is patted on the head and sent on her way by everyone, including her own son. It's frustrating as all get out as a reader, and makes Catelyn seem foolish, but it's not due to Catelyn's failures. She just hasn't yet come to grip with the fundamental truth that Cersei discovered long ago: nothing she does will ever matter as much as what a man does. It drove Cersei mad; it's not surprising that Catelyn avoided learning it.

Sansa's story is another variation on this theme: Sansa thinks that being a good girl, being pretty, learning manners and how to sew is as worthy a goal as the pursuits of war, and bears a proportionate reward. In reality though, wielding a sword is infinitely more rewarding--and valued. No feminine graces will stop Jeoffrey from beating her, nor prevent Cersei from marrying her off to Tyrion. The pursuits she has dedicated herself to are mirages.
Lsana
24. Superquail
Heresiarch -

In some ways I think Catelyn is a foil for Cersei, and vice-versa. Catelyn is there to show us what a high-born woman who is comfortable with herself as a woman can do within the confines of her society. She is actually remarkably successful and influential given her massive limitations.

Cersei decided early on that "being a girl isn't fair!" and "Jaime gets to have all the fun because he's a boy!" and really hasn't evolved too far beyond that. She resents being a woman, but because she's beautiful, she can fairly effortlessly get through life being a superficial approximation of what people think she should be. She compensates for her lack of a cock by being the manipulative bitch we all love to hate.

Brienne is another take on the situation. Brienne is a high born woman who isn't comfortable being a woman or being high born, and she takes another path. She is a great warrior, something Cersei couldn't ever be, but Brienne gets pretty much constant abuse as the result of her choice. I like Brienne, but I wouldn't want to be her.

Arya and Sansa are navigating these channels as well. Arya seems to be going for the Brienne route, but my guess is that she will grow up to be a great beauty and then the Cersei-style options will present themselves. Sansa wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and be an honorable woman, but from the need to survive, I think she, too, well end up being more like Cersei than she would like.
Bridget Sullivan
25. Ellid
superquail@21

"If Rhaegar and Lyanna are the parents of Jon, I think he is still a bastard and therefor not eligible to inherit. UNLESS you argue that Targaryens can legally take a second wife. Aegon the Conqueror had two wives, both of whom were his sisters, but there is no other case mentioned of a Targaryen king with more than one queen."

Maegor the Cruel, the Henry VII meets Ivan the Terrible analogue, who had serial marriages supposedly had more than one wife concurrently.
Lsana
26. Superquail
Re: 25

That's right! I had forgotten about him. He's the one who had several mistresses as well, and then there was the Kingsguard knight who was found in bed with the king's mistress and it all seemed really funny until you found out what actually happened to Lucamore the Lusty, or whatever his name was.

So, clearly there is adequate precedent for a Targaryen to have more than one wife. The question would then be if Rhaegar and Lyanna were actually married. If Lyanna was genuinely abducted and raped by Rhaegar (a story that is hard to square with the rest of what we are told about his character) then it is unlikely that she consented to marry him, though clearly consent can be forced for marriage as well as sex. Still, if they were married, than Lyanna was probably a willing partner, which makes the whole situation all that much more tragic.
David Bilek
27. dtbilek
Still, if they were married, than Lyanna was probably a willing partner, which makes the whole situation all that much more tragic.

I think it is hard to argue anything else. Oh, one could make the case that they were in love but hadn't technically formalized the arrangement yet. There doesn't appear to be evidence either way as to whether an actual ceremony was carried out. But I believe it makes the most sense both in terms of story and based on what we know of the characters to assume they had been formally married.

Jo: I figured you wouldn't be bothered much by the HBO series either way, I was just having a little fun based on how I remember your reaction to the LOTR movies in RASFC and RASFF. Which I assume you still haven't seen.
Lsana
28. Superquail
Re:dtbilek

I agree with you that the story works well if Lyanna eloped with Rhaegar, but one of the recurring themes in ASOIAF is these really noble characters with fatal flaws. Eddard Stark is honorable and fair and compassionate, and so stiff that he isn't able to save his own neck because he can't bear to get his hands dirty playing the intrigue game. Tyrion Lannister would have been a great lord admired and respected by all if he hadn't been born a dwarf. Jaime is a great warrior and an arrogant asshole. I could go on.

The idea of a Rhaegar who was a great guy in so many ways, but who was overcome by lust and abducted and raped a woman would also kind of fit in to the GRRM world.

Dany, specifically, has this shining image of the wonderful man Rhaegar was - the perfect warrior, the perfect singer, the perfect musician, the perfect son. To have her come to terms with her brother's failings could produce the same kind of character growth that learning about the insanity of her father seemed to do for her earlier on.
Lsana
29. Superquail
Re:dtbilek

I agree with you that the story works well if Lyanna eloped with Rhaegar, but one of the recurring themes in ASOIAF is these really noble characters with fatal flaws. Eddard Stark is honorable and fair and compassionate, and so stiff that he isn't able to save his own neck because he can't bear to get his hands dirty playing the intrigue game. Tyrion Lannister would have been a great lord admired and respected by all if he hadn't been born a dwarf. Jaime is a great warrior and an arrogant asshole. I could go on.

The idea of a Rhaegar who was a great guy in so many ways, but who was overcome by lust and abducted and raped a woman would also kind of fit in to the GRRM world.

Dany, specifically, has this shining image of the wonderful man Rhaegar was - the perfect warrior, the perfect singer, the perfect musician, the perfect son. To have her come to terms with her brother's failings could produce the same kind of character growth that learning about the insanity of her father seemed to do for her earlier on.
David Bilek
30. dtbilek
superquail: What you say is true. However, I don't believe the idea that Rhaegar abducted and raped Lyanna is consistent with what we've seen so far. Remember, it is only Robert Baratheon who hates Rhaegar and rants about him abducting Lyanna. Ned, who would have even more cause than Robert to hate Rhaegar, does not appear to share Robert's anger. He doesn't contradict Robert when he is talking about Rhaegar raping Lyanna, but that is consistent with his promise to her.

Given what we know about Ned and Lyanna, it seems obvious to me that he would have torn the Kingdom apart to get at anyone who raped Lyanna. And yet he shows no anger at all towards Rhaegar. Is he even present at the Battle of the Trident when Rhaegar is killed? I can't recall precisely but I feel like he wasn't, and I can't imagine him not being there at Robert's side when they confronted Rhaegar if there was even the possibility that he had abducted and raped her.

Everything seems to point to R&L being in love.
Kristina Blake
31. kab1
First, let me say that this blog comes at the perfect time for me! I'm currently on my first reread and I forgot how wonderful and rich these novels are. Like RobT I was fascinated by your description of how these books/chapters/POVs work. Thanks!

@9-
"We know Ned doesn't lie. He, quite literally, chooses death before dishonor. But when asked about Jon, all he will say is "He is of my blood". Because he's trying to thread the needle of letting the deception stand by implication without actually lying about Jon's parentage."

I agree that Rhaegar and Lyanna are likely Jon's parents, but aren't there a couple of times when Ned straight out says he dishonored Catelyn? Which is fine, I think Ned's lying to protect Lyanna's secret.

However, a couple of questions, where was Lyanna during the 9 months of her pregnancy? How did no one notice this? Why was the lie spread that Rhaegar had murdered her? Wasn't she betrothed to Robert? Anyone have a link to stuff on this? Should I go to Westeroes.com?
Elio García
32. Egarcia
Ned may well have slept with another woman during the time of the war. As Catelyn says, it's not that odd -- they were practically strangers, and only spent two weeks together before he was off fighting.

Lyanna's location is somewhat contested, but it seems likeliest that she spent most of that time at a place that Rhaegar called "the tower of joy". My belief is that it was named that because it's where his wife Elia gave birth to one or both of his children by her. The tower is described as being somewhere in the vicinity of the red mountains of Dorne, and George has said it was not part of the ruined castle of Summerhall. We are later told that when Rhaegar enters the war late in the game, he was returning from "the south", supporting this notion.

That's about all we know. I like the idea that it was not necessarily part of Summerhall, but a watchtower or something in the vicinity -- Rhaegar loved Summerhall.

It's not said that Lyanna was murdered, per se. But Robert (who was indeed betrothed to her; he had a passion for her, but it's clear she didn't feel the same, and was just being dutiful) was the one who conceived that Rhaegar raped her hundreds of times and that this led to her eventual death. Ned says she died of fever in the mountains.

I have written a probably-TLDR article on Jon Snow's parentage, trying to sift through all the evidence and all the possibilities, at the Citadel, with page references and the like. Unfortunately, the site is crawling along right now (the servers were among those compromised at the Planet's co-lo facilities recently and it came at the worst possible time for our server admin, so getting things fixed up is taking awhile -- and in any case, we'll be moving to new servers soonish), but if you can get through I think it may illuminate things ... or maybe just make it even more confusing, I'm not sure.
David Bilek
34. dtbilek
Ned may well have slept with another woman during the time of the war. As Catelyn says, it's not that odd -- they were practically strangers, and only spent two weeks together before he was off fighting.

I can't agree with this. I don't care even if Eddard Stark had only glanced briefly at his new wife from across a crowded room, he wasn't going to sleep with another woman. I'm not claiming he's a saint or anything but he did do his damndest to live by a rather strict set of principles. One which didn't serve him well in the "decadent" south, of course, but still.
Elio García
35. Egarcia
I don't know. I do think he did, myself, and very much in the same fashion as Robb slept with Jeyne: grief-stricken at the death of his sister, he took comfort in a woman's embrace.

He was certainly pretty angry when Robert brought it up. It could just be his anger at being forced to vocalize his lie, it's true. But ... I don't know. He was a man, not a machine.
Jo Walton
36. bluejo
Egarcia: In A Storm of Swords it's pointed out that when Ned met Ashara Dayne, the one who killed herself and whom Catelyn suspects of being Jon's mother, he wasn't promised to anything and Catelyn was engaged to his doomed brother Brandon.
Elio García
37. Egarcia
That is true, but it's actually a part of the whole confusion that people in the setting have about just what Ned was doing (and with whom). It's all kinds of "inside baseball", but basically Harrenhal was way before the war started (as much as two years before), and Jon's birth is way after it (according to George, Jon is born more or less at the Sack of King's Landing, at the end of a war that lasted approximately a year).

So generally, if one thinks Ashara Dayne is Jon's mother by Ned, one has to suppose Ned and Ashara slept together at some point after his marriage to Catelyn. Or if one believes Ned's apparent claim that it was some woman named Wylla, one has to suppose the same anyways.

My own view is that Ned did sleep with someone -- perhaps Wylla, perhaps Ashara, perhaps someone else we don't know of -- after his sister's death (and perhaps after Ashara'a [apparent] death ... err, that's in the case where he's slept with Wylla or unnamed third woman, _not_ Ashara) and he has then used it as a smoke screen to let others assume Jon's parentage from some such assignation.

Hence, his anger and his statement that he broke his vows. The best lies have a grain of truth: yes, he did break it ... but it has nothing to do with Jon's parentage. That's my take on it, anyways.

(I say Ashara's apparent death because... well, I shall regale you with my looney theory:

Ashara Dayne is the mysterious Quaithe of the Shadow. Quaithe speaks flawless Common Tongue despite allegedly being from the opposite side of the world, and we never see her face, or get a description of her eyes [which are violet, if she's Ashara] or hair color [ash blonde]. And George revealed, way back when, that Ashara Dayne's body was never recovered after she supposedly leapt into the Summer Sea out of grief for her brother's death. A crazy person can just imagine Ashara faking her death to go east, to learn the prophecies which led Rhaegar to plunge the realm into war, and learning magic along the way.

It is a looney theory. I'll be hailed as a prophet if it turns out to be true, and if not, well, it was a joke ... right?)
Lsana
38. Superquail
Re: Egracia

I love your Ashara Dayne theory! Generally it's a safe bet that if someone dies without leaving a body, they're not really dead. Sometimes even if there IS a body, they're not really dead (e.g., Bran and Rickon). My guess is that Davos isn't dead either, but we'll have to wait until the next book to know for sure.

If Ashara Dayne is still alive, is it possible that she might know something about Jon's true parentage? We have been led to believe up to this point that the only person still living who would know is the mysterious Howland Reed, but if Ned and Ashara were as close as they were rumored to be, then maybe he confided in her.
Elio García
39. Egarcia
I think it highly likely that she knew, since I believe the main reason Ned went to Starfall was not just to return Dawn or talk to his former(?) flame, but because she had Jon Snow there after taking the child away for greater safety and because his mother was dying of potentially-infectious illness.

Remember, Jon Snow's first wet nurse was Wylla, who probably then and certainly now does reside at Starfall.
Lsana
40. skyhawkafm
about who will have more right of succession then remember a dragon has three heads. so its jon + daenry +.......(i hope arya but i always like our feisty warrior maids with lot of attitude)
For me the only thing about this book that disturbs me is the long delay between parts. other than that it is simply a fantasy which is better than fantasy

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