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 22 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 44 (“Sansa”), and 45 (“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 44: Sansa
Sansa is telling Jeyne Poole about the audience from earlier in the day over supper. She had been terribly upset that her father had refused to let Ser Loras go after Gregor Clegane, as she had thought it would be just like a story come to life, with the handsome knight sent after the monster. She had told Septa Mordane this, and to her humiliation Lord Baelish had overheard her. He had touched her cheek and told her that she may learn one day that life is not a song; the memory makes Sansa uneasy.
Jeyne opines that Ser Ilyn Payne should have gone, but Sansa thinks he’s more like a second monster, and is glad he didn’t get chosen. Jeyne approves of the choice of Ser Beric, because Sansa knows Jeyne’s been in love with Ser Beric since the tournament. Sansa tells Jeyne about a (mostly fictional) dream she had about Joffrey bringing her a white hart, and Jeyne mentions she saw Arya in the stables walking on her hands. Sansa tells her about the rest of the court session, which included a Black Brother recruiting (to no avail) for knights to join the Watch, and then the girls go to bed.
The next day Sansa watches Ser Beric’s party ride out, and then gets into a fight with Arya about the Joffrey/Mycah incident. Sansa tells Arya she won’t dare call Sansa names once she is married to Joffrey, and Arya throws an orange at her, ruining her dress. Sansa screams that they should have killed Arya instead of Lady. Septa Mordane sends them both to their rooms.
Later, Ned summons them both; Arya apologizes, to Sansa’a amazement, but Ned distracts them with his announcement that they are both returning to Winterfell. Both Sansa and Arya are appalled, and argue that they want to stay, but Ned replies that it is for their own safety. After a moment, Arya asks if Syrio can go with them, but Sansa continues to plead, insisting that she loves Joffrey and must stay so they can be married. Gently, Ned tells her that the betrothal to Joffrey was a mistake, and he will find her a husband worthy of her, but Sansa insists that he is. Arya opines, not if Joffrey’s like his father.
Sansa felt tears in her eyes. “He is not! He’s not the least bit like that old drunken king,” she screamed at her sister, forgetting herself in her grief.
Father looked at her strangely. “Gods,” he swore softly, “out of the mouth of babes…”
Ned tells them he is looking for a galley to send them on, and assures Arya that Syrio can come if he agrees to enter Ned’s service. Arya tries to cheer Sansa with the thought they they will see their brothers again, but Sansa is inconsolable.
I had to chuckle that Arya is fine with anything as long as she can keep Syrio. I like a girl who has her priorities straight.
As for what Sansa said about Robert, I totally thought Ned was just realizing from her comment of “old drunken king” that no one had any respect for Robert anymore.
And then I read the next chapter, and thenceforth became completely uninterested in thinking of anything else to say about this one.
Because, well. Down you scroll!
Chapter 45: Eddard
The next day, Pycelle tells Ned conspiratorially that Cersei received a letter from her father that morning, which indicated Tywin is “greatly wroth” about Ned’s edict regarding Gregor Clegane. Ned tells him Tywin can be wroth all he wants, but if he intereferes with the king’s justice he will have Robert to answer to. He is sure that Pycelle will immediately carry the tale back to Cersei, just as he’s sure Cersei had told Pycelle to tell Ned in the first place. Ned reflects that he will have to tell Sansa one day how she had innocently made it clear to him what had gotten Jon Arryn killed, and thinks that it will kill Robert too, if more slowly.
Littlefinger visits briefly to tell him sellswords have been flocking to Casterly Rock, and also that Robert is still hunting in the forest, though Joffrey and several others have returned, which means that Gregor’s brother Sandor is back too, and no doubt knows about Gregor. Ned points out that Sandor loathes Gregor, but Littlefinger replies that even so, he doubts Sandor will thank Ned for killing him. Littlefinger comments in passing on the genealogy book Ned is perusing as he leaves, and Ned wishes he could trust him, or anyone on the Council, with the secret. Ned realizes that Robert will “kill them all” when he finds out, but knows he cannot keep silent, nor can he afford to delay even for his daughters’ safety. Ned has Tomard, his new commanding guardsman, help him to the godwood, and orders the guard doubled on his apartments. Ned gives him a note to deliver, and waits.
At length, Cersei joins him, and Ned tells her he knows the truth: that she and her twin brother Jaime are lovers, that they tried to kill Bran because he caught them, and that all three of Cersei’s children are Jaime’s, not Robert’s.
The seed is strong, Jon Arryn had cried on his deathbed, and so it was. All those bastards, all with hair as black as night.
Cersei admits all of it with pride and no remorse, and tells him Robert got her with child once, but she managed to get it aborted, and that she has not had sex with him for years now. Feeling sick, Ned asks why she hates Robert so, and Cersei answers that on their wedding night, he called her “Lyanna.” Ned says that she knows what he must do, and Cersei offers herself to him as a bribe, both in body and as political ally. He asks if she made Arryn the same offer, and she slaps him.
She demands to know how he thinks he is any better than she, with a bastard of his own. Ned replies that he doesn’t kill children. Ned tells her he will tell the king as soon as he returns, and advises her to take her children, and her father and brothers too, and leave the Seven Kingdoms, to run as far as she can, because Robert’s wrath will follow. Cersei asks him softly, what of her wrath?
“You should have taken the realm for yourself. It was there for the taking. Jaime told me how you found him on the Iron Throne the day King’s Landing fell, and made him yield it up. That was your moment. All you needed to do was climb those steps, and sit. Such a sad mistake.”
“I have made more mistakes than you can possibly imagine,” Ned said, “but that was not one of them.”
“Oh, but it was, my lord,” Cersei insisted. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
She turned up her hood to hide her swollen face and left him there in the dark beneath the oak, amidst the quiet of the godswood, under a blue-black sky. The stars were coming out.
Oh. Oh. OH.
Excuse me, I have to smack myself around for a moment.
Okay, I’m back. (Ow.)
Of course. Of course of course OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT IT WAS HOLY SHIT IT’S SO FRICKIN’ OBVIOUS WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME I AM A DUMBASS.
Jesus, I am officially the world’s biggest idiot, you guys. How could I have not gotten this before now? This makes my total failure to guess the ending of The Sixth Sense look like Sherlockian deductive brilliance, here. Sheesh.
…I’m pretty pleased I didn’t, though. Because finding it out “properly,” so to speak, was pretty cool. Nothing like a really good dramatic reveal for visceral awesomeness in your entertainment consumption, I always say. And I swear that sentence makes sense in my head, hopefully it will to you, too.
Anyway. And I have to admit, all other considerations aside, as a plan of revenge it is a masterpiece. I mean, damn. Cuckolding your husband with his biggest rival, who also happens to be your twin brother? That is bloody epic.
And, you know, deeply fucked-up and a million kinds of wrong, but, yeah.
Ye gods. I have so many feelings about this chapter I don’t even know where to start.
I guess one place would be to express my urgent desire to shake Ned until his teeth rattle for his positively suicidal sense of fair play. What the hell is he doing? He’s giving Cersei Lannister a heads-up that he’s about to blow the whistle on her whole life, and he honestly expects she’s going to turn and run? That she will docilely accept exile? Has he met her?
Because, yeah, no. Not when the far simpler course of action is to just get rid of Ned before he can spill the beans. Which, I might add, Ned has just given her THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY to do. Robert might be dicking around in the forest for another two weeks for all he knows! And meanwhile Ned’s relying on a guy named “Fat Tom” to guard him? Oy.
Seriously. Seriously, Ned. In the words of one of my more entertaining former co-workers, that boy ain’t right.
Because look, I admire honor and integrity and all that as much as the next person, but there is a limit, okay? Playing fair with people who you KNOW are not going to play fair back isn’t honor, it’s just rank stupidity. Honor isn’t honorable when it not only could get you killed, but could get innocent bystanders — like, say, your children — killed as well. Not to mention what will happen to this kingdom if it’s left to frickin’ Robert to run.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Girl is crazy and evil, Ned, but she isn’t wrong.
Speaking of children, I am also beboggled that Ned can be so calm about the confirmation that the woman in front of him tried to murder his son, and succeeded in crippling him for life. I mean, I know that Ned thinks Robert’s probably going to kill her (and the rest of the Lannister clan) with extreme killination without Ned having to lift a finger, but even so, not even a blip of anger there? Nothing? Wow.
So, assassination attempt in our immediate future, check. Unless Cersei just tries to shut him up politically, but I personally can’t think of anything that would actually do that. It’s not like we’re dealing with a guy who has even a passing acquaintance with the concept of “self-preservation,” after all, so I can’t imagine what kind of leverage she could successfully apply. Demonstrably, not even threatening his family would work. If I were her (and really, thank God I’m not), assassination would seem like the only workable route.
“And why not? The Targaryens wed brother to sister for three hundred years, to keep the bloodlines pure. And Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We are one person in two bodies. We shared a womb together. He came into this world holding my foot, our old maester said. When he is in me, I feel… whole.” The ghost of a smile flitted over her lips.
…I am floored that Cersei actually managed to make incest sound logical for a second there. And admittedly, as she points out, there is precedent for it. Even in post-ancient times, the monarchies of Europe (and elsewhere too, I believe) were rather intent on keeping things in the family — really, really in the family, sometimes, though I don’t think that any of the European royals ever went quite as far as brother/sister marriage. (Did they?)
Still, even leaving the incest aspect out of it, the sheer number of political and moral wrongs she and Jaime are committing is amazing. It’s so diabolically over the top it’s almost perversely admirable, like Martin decided to make Cersei the living logical extreme of the quote Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Which is a phrase that I’ll admit has always rather irritated me, for reasons which are probably obvious, but I can’t deny that in this particular case, it really, really applies.
Because, you know, it’s easy to say that her response to the slight Robert gave her (calling her another woman’s name in bed) was extreme and disproportionate. Because, well, it was. But then again, what other kind of redress can she have? It’s not like she could divorce him. In a place and society where her only source of power over Robert is her womb and its ability to produce his legitimate heirs, what other form of revenge could be more effective? There’s probably answers to that, but I have to admit I was breathless for a moment at the sheer elegance of what she and Jaime are doing.
That said, they are still both monsters who threw a kid off a window ledge, and are well on their way to plunging an entire nation into war just to give Robert a big genealogical fuck you, so thus far my admiration of their cleverness does not diminish my desire to see them both get their extremely well-deserved come-uppance.
Whether I will ever actually get to see that, of course, is an entirely separate question.
And one which we will not answer today, my chickens! Enjoy your weekend, and assuming Tropical Storm Thirteen doesn’t drown us all down here on the Gulf Coast, I’ll see you next week!