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 20 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 39 (“Eddard”) and 40 (“Catelyn”).
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 39: Eddard
Ned dreams of his confrontation with Ser Arthur Dayne, Ser Oswell Whent and Ser Gerold Hightower, the last remaining faithful knights of Aerys Targaryen’s Kingsguard. Ned had seven men to their three, but when it was over only Ned and the crannogman Howland Reed were left alive after the three knights refused to pledge fealty to Robert. He wakes to find Vayon Poole at his bedside, who tells him he’s been unconscious for over six days, and that the king has commanded that Ned go to him as soon as he wakes. Ned tells him to tell the king that Ned is too weak to leave his bed, and Robert can come here if he wants.
He speaks to his new guard captain, Alyn, who tells him Jaime Lannister has fled the city, and is rumored to be going to join his father at Casterly Rock. He assures Ned his daughters are well, though he comments that Arya seems furious, and that Jory and the others have been sent home for proper burial. Alyn leaves.
Robert and Cersei enter, Robert already drunk. Robert offers him wine, but Cersei declares Ned is lucky to still have a head on his shoulders. Robert tells her to shut up. Ned tells Robert that Catelyn is blameless in the Tyrion affair; she was acting on his orders, as his right as the King’s Hand. Robert demands that Ned have Catelyn release the Imp and Ned apologize to Jaime. Ned asks if he is to forget his men that Jaime had butchered, and Cersei claims that Ned was returning drunk from a brothel and attacked Jaime and his men, not the other way around. Robert admits that Littlefinger had confirmed they were coming from “some whorehouse”, and Ned angrily tells him he was coming back from checking on Robert’s bastard daughter. Robert is abashed at this, and Cersei cold and silent.
Ned asks for permission to hunt down Jaime and bring him back for justice, but Robert refuses, and tells him it ends here. Ned shoots back that he is glad he is no longer the King’s Hand then, if this is Robert’s idea of justice. Cersei taunts Robert, asking him how he tolerates such insolence, and declares that he ought to be in skirts and she in mail. Robert backhands her hard enough to knock her down, and she tells him she will wear the bruise as “a badge of honor”. Robert kicks her out.
Robert admits to Ned that he should not have done that, and remarks despairingly that Rhaegar won even though Robert killed him, because Rhaegar has Lyanna now, while Robert is stuck with Cersei. He pulls out the sigil of the Hand and tosses it at Ned, informing him that he is the King’s Hand again whether he likes it or not. Ned asks why Robert would want him if he refuses to listen to Ned’s counsel.
“Why?” Robert laughed. “Why not? Someone has to rule this damnable kingdom. Put on the badge, Ned. It suits you. And if you ever throw it in my face again, I swear to you, I’ll pin the damned thing on Jaime Lannister.”
Oh, good, Ned’s alive. I was half-wondering, the last time we saw him, whether Pycelle wasn’t going to poison him, or at least attempt to do so, since I’m about two-thirds convinced it wouldn’t be the first time he’s offed a Hand of the King that way. I’m not sure I’m right, but currently I think Pycelle is my top suspect for Jon Arryn’s murder. Which isn’t to say that I think he was in on it alone, of course, but based on what I’ve seen from him I think there’s a very good chance that he was the one who actually did the deed.
Also, dammit. I knew Ned wouldn’t get away from this snake pit of a royal court. Mostly because otherwise there wouldn’t be a story, but also because no one gets off that easy in this series that I’ve seen. (Sheesh.) I’ve already said it, but it’s worth repeating: he SO should have gotten the hell out when he had the chance. Too late now. I guess the only way out is through. Yay, not.
I am so thoroughly unnerved by Robert’s weakness of character it’s not even funny. Someone who is so easily manipulated, and so totally ruled by their excesses, shouldn’t be in charge of a kiddie pool, much less a nation. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that already, but if ever a sentiment bears repeating, it’s that one. The man is a walking disaster waiting to happen. Or maybe he already has happened, and the damage is just taking a while to kick in.
Also, Cersei is a heinous bitch from hell, this is not in dispute, but that still doesn’t excuse Robert hitting her, at all.
[Robert] stared down at his hands, as if he did not quite know what they were. “I was always strong . . . no one could stand before me, no one. How do you fight someone if you can’t hit them?” Confused, the king shook his head.
Christ on a pogo stick, you guys.
This is not rocket science, Robert: “strength” is not only (or even mostly) about who hits the hardest, you dumbass! Seriously, why did anyone think you were smart enough to be a king?
Also, FYI? Anyone who hits anyone else who, for whatever reason, cannot hit back, is scum, full stop. Just because you are apparently too stupid to get why that makes you scum does not reduce your essential scumminess. Oh, and feeling bad about it afterwards? Does not help. Still scum! God.
I loathe Cersei, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t change a thing about how much bullshit that is. Plus, all it means is that she won, Robert; you let her goading get to you, and that makes you the weak one. And that common violence is the only way you can find to reply to her poisonous words makes you pathetic. And doomed to fail, ultimately.
Ugh. I have such deep contempt for people who are so profoundly weak-minded, so afraid of those under their power that physical abuse is their only way to compensate for that fear, that I can hardly express it. Though I’m pretty sure I just gave it the old college try.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.” As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he could hear Lyanna screaming. “Eddard!” she called. A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death.
“Lord Eddard,” Lyanna called again.
“I promise,” he whispered. “Lya, I promise . . . ”
So I have no idea what any of this is about, but whatever it is, it was very prettily said. I’ll just note it for future reference, shall I?
(Death has blue eyes? Who knew?)
Lastly, this is random, but I could not figure out for the life of me whether “crannogman” was a term that had a real-world meaning, or if it was something Martin had made up. A quick Google for it, though, only shows results for ASOIAF wikis and such, so I’m assuming it’s the latter and it will be explained to me at some point. Okay then!
Chapter 40: Catelyn
At dawn, Catelyn and Rodrik confer: Rodrik tells her that Jaime is gathering a host at Casterly Rock, and her brother Edmure has written to say he is guarding the pass unto Tully land, and to promise her that he will yield no ground “without first watering it with Lannister blood.” Catelyn wonders why this didn’t come from her father Hoster, and worries that this means he is very sick. Rodrik says that Lysa meant to tell her about the letter only after the duel, which Catelyn calls “a mummer’s farce.” Catelyn says Lysa let Tyrion play her “like a set of pipes”, and declares her intention to leave that day regardless of the outcome.
Catelyn and Rodrik head to Lysa’s chambers in the hope of talking her out of going through with the challenge. They are met by her uncle Brynden as he storms out, furious at Lysa’s refusal to send men to aid Edmure. He has resigned his post as Knight of the Gate and intends to head to Riverrun at nightfall; Catelyn convinces him to accompany them instead, and promises him that she will get him the men he needs.
They enter to find Lysa and young Robert holding court in the garden where the duel is to take place. Catelyn tries to convince Lysa to call off the challenge, telling her the Imp has no value dead, and if he should win… several of the Lords assure her condescendingly that there is no way a common sellsword could prevail against Ser Vardis, but Catelyn has seen Bronn fight, and she is not so sure. She reminds Lysa that Tyrion is Catelyn’s prisoner, but Lysa shouts that he murdered her husband and she means to see him pay.
Aside, Rodrik asks Catelyn if she really believes Tyrion killed Arryn; Catelyn is sure that the Lannisters did it, but is not sure Tyrion personally was involved. She remembers that Lysa’s original letter had named Cersei, not Tyrion, but now she seems to have changed her mind. Rodrik points out that poison might be something Cersei or Tyrion would use, but is an unlikely choice for Jaime. They discuss young Robert’s need to be away from his mother to learn discipline, and overhearing them, Maester Colemon mentions that Lord Jon agreed, and had been planning to send the boy to foster at Dragonstone.
“You are mistaken, Maester,” Catelyn said. “It was Casterly Rock, not Dragonstone, and those arrangements were made after the Hand’s death, without my sister’s consent.”
The maester’s head jerked so vigorously at the end of his absurdly long neck that he looked half a puppet himself. “No, begging your forgiveness, my lady, but it was Lord Jon who—”
They are interrupted when Tyrion is brought in and the two champions enter; Catelyn notes that Bronn is taller and younger than Vardis, and is wearing half the weight of armor that Vardis is. Lysa mentions proudly that the sword Vardis is using is Jon’s, and Catelyn thinks it would have been better for Vardis to use his own. The duel begins, and it quickly becomes clear that Bronn intends to wear Vardis down. Catelyn remembers the duel many years ago between Brandon Stark and Petyr Baelish, and how Petyr hadn’t stood a chance, but refused to yield until Brandon had almost fatally wounded him.
Vardis is tiring, and as the fight continues he loses more and more ground to Bronn. At Lysa’s urging Vardis makes one last charge, but Bronn pins him underneath a statue and kills him. There is a shocked silence. Young Robert asks if he gets to make the little man fly now, and Tyrion tells him no, and declares his intent to leave. Furious, Lysa is forced to allow it, and orders that Tyrion and Bronn be given horses and supplies and set free at the Bloody Gate. Catelyn knows that leaving them to traverse the high road alone is as just as much of a death sentence, and thinks Tyrion knows it too, but Tyrion only bows and remarks that they know the way.
Well, I don’t know how much the gods had to do with it, but that duel ended the way it should have, for my money. Yay, Tyrion lives to snark another day!
Though it’s a crying shame Ser Vardis had to lose his life, just because his liege lady is an idiot. It always sucks the most when nice guys get the shaft (er, literally, in this case) just for doing their duty.
At least Catelyn gets points for being fully aware of how unhinged Lysa is. Actually, Catelyn talks nothing but sense this entire chapter. Like this, for instance:
“What will we gain by the dwarf’s death? Do you imagine that Jaime will care a fig that we gave his brother a trial before we flung him off a mountain?”
Preach it, sister. Not that Jaime doesn’t seem bound and determined to start some shit anyway, but no, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have helped.
I also took a certain grim glee in how Catelyn totally called the duel in Bronn’s favor from the start and, of course, was completely right, even as the jackass courtiers were all busily mansplaining to her how she was too female to understand how these things worked.
It’s times like these I really wish there were such a thing as a “disdain” font, so you could properly appreciate the tone in which I typed that last. *rolls eyes*
Ser Lyn was a different sort of folly; lean and handsome, heir to an ancient but impoverished house, but vain, reckless, hot-tempered . . . and, it was whispered, notoriously uninterested in the intimate charms of women.
Well, hey, look at that. A direct and completely unambiguous reference to male homosexuality! Gosh, it’s been ages since I’ve seen one of those!
(For those of you who only follow this blog and not my other one, let’s just say that’s a little inside joke, there.)
It’s not a particularly flattering reference, of course, but in this setting I’m hardly surprised by that. It remains to be seen whether the other big hurdle on this front will be accomplished in ASOIAF: a gay character with a significant speaking role — or even, if we want to get just crazy up in here, a gay character who is sympathetic and/or not a screaming caricature of stereotypes. I live in hope!
(Note: That is NOT an invitation to list in the comments ASOIAF characters I may meet in the future who are gay. Spoilers Bad, y’all. Shh!)
Back to the plot(ting), we also have here Maester Colemon’s extremely intriguing information here that Arryn planned to send young Robert off to be fostered with Stannis (who I believe is at Dragonstone, right?) even before King Robert decided to send the boy to the Lannisters after Arryn’s death. That, my friends, is very, very interesting.
Because, you know, it occurs to me that while I totally understood (and agreed with) Lysa’s vehement rejection of the idea of sending her son to be fostered with the Lannisters, because yeek, after actually meeting her I think it’s safe to say that fostering young Robert at all is something Lysa would have been violently against, no matter who the kid would have been going to.
Violently against enough, perhaps, to murder her own husband?
…I dunno. I might be wildly overthinking this, and it is admittedly a fairly horrific notion. But, you guys. Lysa? Is not right in the head. Especially when it comes to her ickle widdle wovey-dovey baby schnookums, there. I’m just saying.
…Okay, so maybe Pycelle isn’t my top suspect in the Murder Of Jon Arryn. Maybe. Agh. So many motives, so little time!
Oy, my head, she’s a-spinning. Which is a good sign I oughta get off this merry-go-round! Have a prog-rock-FABULOUS weekend, peoples, and I’ll see youze later!