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 21 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 41 (“Jon”), 42 (“Tyrion”), and 43 (“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 41: Jon
With great reluctance, Ser Thorne passes eight boys, including Jon, from his class to be full Brothers. The other boys offer congratulations, but Jon notices Sam Tarly standing off by himself, and goes over to offer him wine. Sam refuses sadly, but offers Jon congrats, remarking that he is sure to be First Ranger someday. At the feast that night, the boys discuss which sector of the Watch they might be assigned to, and Pyp asks why Jon is not more enthusiastic. Jon tells him that he is worried for Sam once they are gone; Pyp tells Jon he did all he could, but Jon is not appeased.
Jon contemplates the vow he is about to take, and the world it will cut him off from ever seeing. He thinks of riding back to Winterfell, but believes he will find no welcome there, particularly from Lady Stark. He goes to Maester Aemon’s rooms, and bulls his way past Aemon’s two stewards, insisting that he be allowed to speak to the Maester.
He asks Aemon to have Sam removed from training and installed as a Brother, and tells him the whole story of Sam’s persecution at Thorne’s hands and Jon’s efforts to protect him. He concedes that Sam is no good with a sword, but argues that that is not the only purpose a man can serve with the Night Watch. He suggests that Sam could serve Maester Aemon directly as a clerk, instead of being wasted at swordcraft he will never master. Aemon observes that Jon’s mind is as deft as his blade, but only promises that he will consider the notion before dismissing him.
Wow, Thorne actually passed Jon. I was totally expecting him not to, just to be an asshole. I guess that means Jon isn’t going to have to kill him yet. Rats.
In other news, Jon continues to be awesome, going out of his way to help his friend. It’s worth remembering (if a trifle depressing to contemplate) that while going to the mat like that for a friend is something that is more or less expected of heroic protagonists, and therefore something you see in stories all the time, actually coming across that level of altruism in real life is not nearly as assured a proposition. So it’s nice, I think, every once in a while to not take the Good Guy doing Good Things for granted, and give the character his proper appreciative due.
That ASOIAF has (thus far) a decided dearth of altruistic leanings, even among our soi-disant heroic characters, makes that appreciation a bit easier to remember than it might otherwise be, of course.
In other other news, I apparently really like oddly-constructed run-on sentences. Sheesh.
But, nevertheless: go, Jon! Whoo!
Even his own mother had not had a place for him. The thought of her made him sad. He wondered who she had been, what she had looked like, why his father had left her. Because she was a whore or an adulteress, fool. Something dark and dishonorable, or else why was Lord Eddard too ashamed to speak of her?
I will bet MANY IMAGINARY DOLLARS that it’s actually completely the other way around, Jon-boy. Not to be all meta, but there’s no way this is being built up this much if the truth is that Jon’s mother is just some random prostitute.
…Of course, now that I’ve said that, watch it turn out that she really is no one in particular. I don’t think so, though. I guess we’ll see!
Chapter 42: Tyrion
On the road from the Vale, Tyrion proposes to start a fire. Bronn thinks this is suicide, arguing that they should ride as hard as they can to avoid the clans, but Tyrion counters that this is impossible. Bronn asks how he knew that Bronn would stand for him in the challenge, and Tyrion tells him he didn’t know, but Bronn has learned that the Starks expect honor and loyalty without buying it, while the Lannisters reward with gold, and he hoped that Bronn would realize which he preferred. He tells Bronn to remember that if he’s tempted to sell Tyrion out, that Tyrion will match anyone else’s price.
They make a fire, and Bronn observes that Tyrion has a plan for the inevitable descent of the clans upon them; Bronn still can’t believe that Tyrion had actually paid the turnkey Mord the gold he had promised, and that Tyrion honestly was not involved in the attempt on Bran’s life. Tyrion smiles and asks if he looks like a liar.
Tyrion tells him the story of the first girl he bedded, how he thought he was rescuing her from brigands, and fell in love with her and secretly married her, and how when his father found out, he made Jaime tell Tyrion that the whole thing had been a set-up so that Tyrion would lose his virginity. Then his father gave the girl to his guards and made Tyrion watch. Bronn comments that he would have killed anyone who did that to him.
Tyrion swung around to face him. “You may get that chance one day. Remember what I told you. A Lannister always pays his debts.”
They are woken that night by clansmen, led by a man named Gunthor, who is ready to kill Tyrion and Bronn both for the goods they carry. Tyrion tells him that he will reward Gunthor’s clan richly if they escort them safely through the mountains instead, and Gunthor asks what he will give them.
“What would you give us for your lives, Tyrion son of Tywin? Swords? Lances? Mail?”
“All that, and more, Gunthor son of Gurn,” Tyrion Lannister replied, smiling. “I will give you the Vale of Arryn.”
Hah! Tyrion, you sneaky bastard.
Not literally a bastard, of course. Which is unfortunate, because after the story he told in this chapter I think it would be better to be an orphan than be related to Tyrion’s kin. Jesus H. Christ.
Tyrion, evidently, rather agrees with me, since unless I’m very much mistaken he just intimated to Bronn that Tyrion might want to have him kill his own father. And once again the series throws me into an extraordinarily bizarre ethical position, by making me kinda sorta be in favor of patricide. Ow, my principles.
I think I said a while back that I thought Tyrion is a character that could just as easily go down a dark road as a light one, and nothing I’ve learned about him since then has changed that impression — except maybe now I’m kind of astonished that he hasn’t gone all Sith Lord on everyone long since. Because God knows, his story makes Anakin Skywalker’s formative years look about as angst-ridden as an episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. I mean, seriously.
That said, I’m deeply impressed at Tyrion’s ability to be… um. I don’t know how to put it, exactly, but the closest I can come is: his ability to be comfortable with his own helplessness. That’s not the right way to put it, first of all because Tyrion isn’t helpless, clearly, and actually even physically he isn’t completely so, as he proved on the journey to the Vale.
Maybe a better way to put it is that having so often been put in a position where he has been made to acknowledge his physical inferiority to others, he seems to have made a command decision at some point to just go with it and not only not let it bother him (much), but use it to his own advantage in pursuit of surviving/winning/getting what he wants. That takes a combination of strategic brilliance coupled with sheer bloody-minded tenacity that I find, well, very impressive.
Either way he ends up swinging, I think it’s safe to say that I would not want to be Tyrion’s enemy. Which means Lysa’d better watch out, not to mention Catelyn. And Tywin. And, er, everyone, except possibly Jon Snow. And Jaime, unless Tyrion manages to cut off that particular Achilles heel. Whee!
Chapter 43: Eddard
Ned sits painfully on the king’s throne and hears the petitions of the villagers brought to him by Ser Raymun Darry, Ser Karyl Vance, and Ser Marq Piper, all bannermen to the Tullys. The villagers had been set upon and slaughtered wholesale by brigands, which the knights declared were really Lannisters, led by Ser Gregor Clegane. The knights have come to obtain the king’s blessing to retaliate against the Lannisters. Ned knows that they are right about it being the Lannisters despite the inconclusive evidence, but also knows that if the Tullys retaliate, the Lannisters will deny it, and claim that the Tullys broke the peace first. He also thinks that Tywin may be counting on Ser Edmure Tully’s gallantry to try to hold all his land and spread himself too thin.
Pycelle urges Ned to wait for Robert to decide on the matter, but Ned replies that the king is hunting and may be gone for days, though he sends Ser Robar Royce to bring Robert word of what transpires that day. Ned stands painfully and declares that normally he would go to bring justice himself in accordance with Northern tradition, but his leg makes that impossible now. Ser Loras Tyrell begs permission to go in his stead, but instead Ned sends Lord Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, Ser Gladden and Lord Lothar to strip Gregor Clegane of his titles and lands and then to execute him for his crimes.
Loras stalks out as the audience ends. Varys comments to Ned that it might have been better to let Loras go, as “a man who has the Lannisters for his enemies would do well to make the Tyrells his friends.” He also confides that Ser Ilyn Payne, the king’s executioner, is likely to feel slighted too. Ned points out that Payne is bannerman to the Lannisters, though the real reason is that he does not trust the man.
“Very prudent, no doubt,” Varys said. “Still, I chanced to see Ser Ilyn in the back of the hall, staring at us with those pale eyes of his, and I must say, he did not look pleased, though to be sure it is hard to tell with our silent knight. I hope he outgrows his disappointment as well. He does so love his work…”
So, I know that the plot of ASOIAF is based (loosely) on the Wars of the Roses, which makes perfect sense, but in my perhaps plebian American way I was minded of nothing so much here as the beginnings of the Hatfields and McCoys.
Of course, that’s really pretty much the same thing, only on a smaller scale. And with less people named Henry.
(Seriously, European monarchies. Stop naming people Henry!)
Now I’m wondering if reading the Wikipedia entry on the Wars of the Roses will count as a spoiler or not. Heh. I’m also wondering if I’ve brought this up before. My brain, she is fuzzy sometimes.
So I’m going to go waaay out on a limb here and guess that executing Clegane ain’t exactly going to go all that smooth. And even if it did, I have to say I’m not seeing how Ned thinks passing this judgment and ordering Clegane’s execution himself is going to piss the Lannisters off less than if the Tullys do it. I mean, his wife is a Tully! Who’s just taken a Lannister hostage! Which Ned told Jaime was at his command!
Yes, I know that logically, Ned’s decision as the King’s Hand should be regarded as independent of his family’s alliances, but come on. Let’s employ some basic knowledge of the human psyche here, Ned. Even if the Lannisters were otherwise as pure as the driven snow they wouldn’t buy that.
Of course, it’s probably the case that Ned knows this perfectly well, and is doing it anyway, for stupid noble reasons. Argh.
Ned could feel cold steel against his fingers as he leaned forward. Between each finger was a blade, the points of twisted swords fanning out like talons from arms of the throne. Even after three centuries, some were still sharp enough to cut. The Iron Throne was full of traps for the unwary. The songs said it had taken a thousand blades to make it, heated white-hot in the furnace breath of Balerion the Black Dread. The hammering had taken fifty-nine days. The end of it was this hunched black beast made of razor edges and barbs and ribbons of sharp metal; a chair that could kill a man, and had, if the stories could be believed.
Well, it’s not an epic fantasy unless there’s some seriously fucked-up furniture in it, I always say.
Okay, I’ve never actually said that before, but it’s still true!
And while there is perhaps a certain poetic elegance to the notion that a king should never sit easy, call me crazy but I’d think one could concentrate on being a better ruler if one was not also constantly worried about getting stabbed in the ass. Literally. Sheesh.
Also, I bet the long-term hemorrhoid risk off a chair made of swords has got to be astronomical.
And with that delightful image, we out! Have a weekend, and I’ll see you next time!