Fri
Sep 16 2011 1:57pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones, Part 24

A Read of Ice and Fire by Leigh ButlerWelcome 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

What Happens
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.

Commentary
Dun!

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

What Happens
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.”

Commentary
GODDAMMIT.

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.

*headdesk*

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?

(…Right?)

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!

49 comments
ryamano
1. ryamano
A pity you didn't quote the Night's Watch vow, Leigh. It's one of my favorite parts. I always get the chills on my spine and arms when I read it. "Night gathers and so my watch begins. It shall not end until the day I die..."

I think favourably of the Night's Watch. OK, so there are no places for glory or fathering children, but still their mission is important. They're like the Knights Hospitaller, but having to protect an ice wall from barbarians and who knows what else (zombie apocalypse!), not the pilgrims to the Holy Land.
ryamano
2. TG12
Yeah, like I think I commented last week, the hits, they pretty much just keep a' comin' from here on out..

And may I just parenthetically observe, I *heart* the words of the Night's Watch vow. "Night gathers, and now my watch begins..."
Captain Hammer
3. Randalator
Ned is not an idiot? Have you not read the last Eddard chapters fairly recently? I seem to remember that you did. His handling of the whole Cersei-Joffrey-bastard situation has been nothing but idiocy turned up to eleven. And this eleven actually IS one louder!
Tricia Irish
4. Tektonica
Hi Leigh! So glad you finally got to the denouement...kind of. And the plot twists.....

It always gives me such a feeling of hopelessness in mankind, to see the only honorable character, Ned, so alone and almost reviled for his lack of gamesmanship. Such a nest of vipers. See any parallels in RL?

I love when Jon shows his youth and lack of understanding when given his assignment, and then the light bulb goes on when Sam explains the import of the position he has been given. I keep forgetting Jon is such a kid. The Night Watch vow is pretty moving too. Love the setting.

I get the feeling you are liking this book?
ryamano
5. Dragonara
I can't stop wondering. Did Leigh read the chapter and create the post 6 months ago? Or does she really have the discipline to read 2 chapters a week?

When I read two chapters like these, I can't put the book down. When I do force myself to put it aside, I know I'm going to be back tomorrow the first chance I get.

As TG12 warned, strap in this ride is just picking up speed.
ryamano
6. olethros
considering Renly’s with Ser Loras

chortle
James Whitehead
7. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I was caught off guard when they came for Ned as I wasn't expecting it.

However, the fact that "King" Joffrey has his "court" arrest two of the more competent & upstanding peple in the room does not bode well for Westeros; or at least from the POV of us the readers who "know" something about things up North - or at least, think we do. ;-)

I don't think Ned is an idiot, just not suited for a job he did not want. These nobles don't seem to have listened to the Stark moto of "Winter is Coming." Yeah people like Littlefinger & Cersi are better suited for court intrigue & political manchinations than Ned was (not that that's saying much, sadly) but come the cold I know who I'd want up north defending the realm.

Kato
ryamano
8. Zeynep
(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.)

....you know, I'd never noticed that up until now.

Huh.

And heeeee.
Captain Hammer
9. Randalator
re: Janos

That's unfair to the god Janus who is not the preferred deity of two-timing, throat-slitting treacherous bastards and split personalities but the god of transition and beginnings/endings who is looking into the past and the future at the same time...
Steven Halter
10. stevenhalter
Yeah, Ned kind of blew every aspect of this. Talk about your wide eyed stupid.
Vincent Lane
11. Aegnor
Regarding the religeous cohabitation thing, while they currenly live next to each other without too much friction, that wasn't always the case. Or at least it can be inferred. If you remember in Catelyn's first chapter she talks about how all of the wierwoods in the south were cut down, and aside from in the North, people don't follow the old gods, but follow the Seven instead. You don't usually get that kind of uniformity without some force at some point in the past.
Rob Munnelly
12. RobMRobM
Love Sam in the first chapter. Almost like an overgrown puppy but then really snaps in with the sharp insight on Lord Mormont's plans for Jon. Leigh didn't quote the text of Sam's analysis but it was really good.

Nothing much to say about the second chapter, eh? I never realized Littlefinger used Ned's own blade as opposed to one of his own - pretty gutsy, that. Re Renly, hate to say it, but he laid out his plan to Ned and Ned said no, so would not put overmuch hope in a Renly-based save Ned scenario.

Rob
ryamano
13. sofrina
how were you able to stop at chapter 49? even having already seen the entire series, i was plowing ahead. do consider reading 50/51/52 together.

i thought elio garcia said it very well in his character analysis on tor.com earlier this year: ned and robert are "constitutionally incapable" of playing games of intrigue. neither has the skill set to thrive in king's landing. it just isn't their arena. and, frankly, ned saw this coming when they found the wolf pups. that omen has been on his mind constantly. ned stark has to be who he is, no matter the price.
ryamano
14. Dragonara
Adult non-lying non-cheating non-delusional non-idiot characters - I excluded Eddard based on idiocy.

I included (at this point in the series) Mormont, Tyrion, and Khal Drogo as well asBarristan. The Hound does a great playing as asshole, but never really follows through.
Rob Munnelly
15. RobMRobM
@14 - Benjen, Yoren, the Blackfish, Maester Luwin, Rodrick Cassell, Jory Cassell, Syrio Forrell, and the three Kingsguard members from Ned's flashback dream a few chapters ago.
ryamano
16. Joel Prophet
Martin, does get you thinking; when honesty is seen as a character flaw. All to offen in RL being honest works against the person. I kind of like my fanasty to be less like RL. Escapism and all that.

So what is the lesson Martin wants us to come away with here. If you're not an ass..ol stay away from power politics. Or is he saying honesty is simplely a sign of a lack of sophistication. One could say, Martin is saying Littlefinger is the ONLY smart person in the book. Everyone is playing to Littlefinger's tune...or they get screwed.
ryamano
17. nancym
Wow, I'm hooked on this story. I was desperately trying not to purchase any more books, but my sad local library doesn't have this one, so next payday I will have to splurge.

Would someone pretty please post the words to the Night's Watch Vow? Commenters are saying how goose-bumpy it is and I'd like to read it. (I did look online but my google-fu is weak today)
Thank you!
Rob Munnelly
18. RobMRobM
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
ryamano
19. fanganga
The painful thing here is that this is the playing out of the philosophy that became apparent when Ned rejected Renly - Honourable Ned has to play by the book, not drawing first blood, never escalating but rather trying to ensure he has enough force to meet his enemy's escalation. I have to admit, I was suckered by seeing things from inside Ned's head - I was so impressed with the size of the force he "had" on his side, I forgot he had it on the word of a man whose initial plan he had rejected as treasonous. In hindsight, that's practicaly Viserys territory - why do these people always forget that the people they're counting on for their soldiers have motivations of their own?
David Goldfarb
20. David_Goldfarb
There's a fan-made video of Jon and Sam reciting their oaths, from the HBO series, on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8MrKpmYVLY
Sky Thibedeau
21. SkylarkThibedeau
Personally at this point I had to wonder if Ned's surviving the revolt against the Targayens had more to do with Jon Arryn than anything else? The noble thing for him to have done was surrender to his King like his father and brother did and be quick fried to a crackly crunch.
Ben Frey
22. BenPatient
I don’t know how likely that is considering Renly’s with Ser Loras...



LOL.
Joe Vondracek
23. joev
In Ned's defense, he is still in a lot of pain from his leg and possibly a bit befuddled from the "milk of the poppy" that he'd been consuming. But, yeah, intrigue is not his forte.

I thought this area was to remain spoiler-free. What's with the "cutesy" remarks?
ryamano
24. Skyweir
I always come to Littlefingers defense here, actualy.

In the previous Eddard-chapter it was pretty obvious that there is nothing for Littlefinger to gain and everything to lose in supporting Eddards rather...idiotic scheme.
Stannis as king would mean garanteed civil war, untold bloodshed and (not unimportantly) likely a new small council without Littlefinger. Eddard basicly asks Lord Baelish to support an apparent coup and treason that will lead to war and lose him his job, and for nothing at all except the dubious thanks of the Starks and Stannis Baratheon (heh).

Littlefinger gave Eddard many ways out of his dilemma, but he would not bend his "morals", even to prevent war. That is not the actions of a particulary ethical person, as I see it.

But then again, I don't particularly like Eddard or his morals.
Stefan Mitev
25. Bergmaniac
As I've said before, Ned's downfall wasn't caused only by him sticking to honour and his reluctance to hurt children in any way. He made some really big mistakes which had nothing to do with honour. Littlefinger told him just before Ned send him to bribe the Gold Cloaks that Stannis as a King would mean a new small council and that means Litlefinger would lose his job, most of his power and given the cut-throat nature of Westeros politics, maybe even his life. Expecting an ambitious man who by his own admission doesn't care who is the "rightful heir" and spend most of his meetings with Ned mocking him and his honour, to go against his own interests just because 15 years ago he was a close friend of Ned's wife, was quite foolish. Maybe it was the painkillers clouding Ned's brain...

In a way I liked that Ned got beaten here, I've had more than enough of the typical fantasy trope where the heroes do really dumb but honourable things and give the villains chance after chance, yet somehow win in the end without having to compromise their beliefs even a little thanks to luck or their opponents being idiots. This here is a nice aversion. Plus Littlefinger might be a treacherous bastard, but I find him much more entertaining to read about than Ned.

A shame about Ned's family, though, which is in trouble now because of his fall.

Jon groomed for leadership - sadly here the cliches seems to be working perfectly and he is starting on the way to leadership, since of course being an Young Hero with a Mysterious Parentage he can't just be destined to become a run of the mill member of the Watch.
ryamano
26. nancym
Thank you, RobMRobm and David_Goldfarb, that was awesomely chilling indeed. To the bookstore!
Fade Manley
27. fadeaccompli
Bergmaniac, I tend to read Jon's grooming for leadership as being less "Young Hero with Mysterious Parentage" than a combination of:

1) We wouldn't be getting his viewpoint scenes unless he was going to be doing something interesting, which 'stand watch on the wall for twelve hours a day for the next twenty years' wouldn't be, and:

2) He's a young man with the training of a lord. Which means at fourteen years old, he has more training in tactics, leadership, strategy, analysis, swordsmanship, management, and a hell of a lot of other useful things than a lot of people sent to the Wall would have at forty.

One of the reasons hereditary aristocracies don't implode within two generations (usually) is that while leadership being passed down by bloodline is a fairly stupid idea on its own without some sort of magical benefit to said bloodline, knowing exactly who's going to be in charge next means that person can be trained from birth for the position. A bastard son of a lord who's been trained along with the legit ones in all the ways to run a large amount of land with a lot of sub-lords beneath him and so forth is, with any natural talent at all, almost certainly going to rise in the leadership of a place like the Wall not because of being inherently better in some genetic way, or because he's a protagonist, but because he has the training for it.
Stefan Mitev
28. Bergmaniac
Sure, Jon had a much superior education to the vast majority of the people in the Night Watch, but he wasn't the only one with a noble father in there. The Night Watch is far from its former glory, but some nobles still join it, and their training is not a guarantee that they are capable, as Waymar Royce proved in the Prologue. Mormont choosing Jon to be trained to be his potential successor while Jon was still 14 or 15 still sounds quite far-fetched to me, especially given that Jon behaved like a bully and a fool in his first few weeks there before Donal Noye set him straight.

Plus I am not sure Jon was taught leadership the same way as Robb or even Bran - he was a bastard after all and not groomed to take over Winterfell one day.

It's not a big deal really, I am just not fond of the fantasy trope where really young heroes climb through the ranks at lighting speed often by really stretching plausibility. So far Jon is a pretty moderate case of this though, thankfully.
ryamano
29. bluemeanies
But the training to be a potential successor was also in large part Sam's spin on things. Yes, young lordlings who prove themselves capable fighters get fast tracked (Waymar was given command of a ranging with very little experience and I am still not convinced he made any actually bad decisions based on what was known). Aemon might have also suggested it when he got Sam promoted. There is actually no guarantee that it was entirely about Jon- how can it be that someone with a position as high as Lord Commander of the Nights Watch like Mormont who is part of the landed nobility doesn't expect someone capable and literate to assist him especially as he gets older. Aemon could have pushed for that when he asked for Sam.
Debbie Solomon
30. dsolo
Considering that most of the Nightwatch is gleanings from prisons, even a bastard son like Jon would seem like a godsend. He's already shown leadership skills and diplomacy among his peers. Mormont is not getting any younger, and he needs to start preparing someone else for his post. Benjen might have been a possibility, but he's gone. Even if Jon was never specifically trained to take over Winterfell, he was trained alongside his brother and by his father. Whatever else his faults are, Ned loves all of his children. Too bad he didn't realized what a viper's nest he was taking his daughters to.
Leigh, after you finish the book I hope you are going to watch the HBO series. It's really quite well done and pretty faithful to the books (except all the children are aged up a bit).
ryamano
31. peachy
There are basically three ways to join the NW.
- Be a criminal or other undesirable
- Be a knight or lord who ends up on the losing side in a serious squabble, but either isn't quite important/dangerous enough to simply execute or is too important to execute without repercussions
- Be a junior member (ie, way down the line of succession) of a Northern house with a tradition of NW service

The first class is perfectly adequate for filling the rank-and-file - the Watch wouldn't be the first or last military outfit to do perfectly well recruiting from the gutters. But you're not going to get many officers from the gutters, especially in a status-conscious world like this. The Watch ultimately depends on the support of the Seven Kingdoms, and thus the Lord Commander has to be someone the powers-that-be will listen to... and however competent he may be, they're not going to listen to Bob from Flea Bottom.

The second class provides plenty of leaders, but its numbers are crucially dependent on factors beyond the Watch's control - if there are no civil wars, there are no internal exiles. And the last big brewup down south was quite a while ago, so the Watch is possibly running short on them. (I also get the impression that Robert was pretty open-handed with the pardons.)

Which leaves number three. Look at the four senior operational commanders of the Watch at the opening of the series - all from noble houses, all from the northern half (or thereabouts) of the kingdoms. From the moment he shows up, Jon is on a pretty short list of possible future leaders.

Two other factors to consider: first, it's not like Mormont is planning on dying tomorrow - barring catastrophe, Jon has time to be properly seasoned before the question of succession arises. And second, if Mormont has chosen Jon as a possible successor, that's a reflection not just on Jon's potential and/or qualifications, but also on those of the other candidates. It's conceivable, given all the requirements for the position, that there just isn't a better choice available. (Benjen Stark would presumably have been a slamdunk, but betting on his availability for the post is probably not a good idea right about now.)
ryamano
32. EmmaPease
A couple of other points. First having Jon as his steward is the quickest way for Mormont to check out whether he has what is necessary to lead. If he doesn't, he gets moved elsewhere. Second Jon (like Benjen before him) has and will have close ties of friendship (even if one ignores the blood connection) with the ruling family of the North. If and when the Nightguard needs to beg for aid from them, what better envoy than Jon (other than Benjen) and where better to learn what is needed than as Mormont's steward. I suspect Benjen followed a similar path and once seasoned was moved to a position of command (in his case in charge of the rangers).
Julian Augustus
33. Alisonwonderland
Skywear @24:

I agree completely. On an earlier chapter I suggested that I was waiting for the appropriate time to expand on my view that Ned is not only an idiot but a selfish hypocrite in the bargain. That time is not here yet, but you make some of my points.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
34. tnh
Ned Stark is neither a fool nor a hypocrite. His problem is that he doesn't understand that the political map has changed.

The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were conquered by the Targaryens because they had dragons and no one else did. While this was more realpolitik than consecration, it did establish them as the single unique ruling dynasty. Many Targaryen kings followed: good, bad, incompetent, daft -- the usual mix. When their dragons dwindled and died, their unique power went away, but the dynasty kept running on inertia, like a bicycle that's lost its chain but still has enough speed to go on coasting.

Aerys Targaryen ended that by being too homicidally crazy to leave in place. Robert Baratheon succeeded him, but Robert had a much less robust claim to the throne. Unlike the dragon-having Targaryens, his kingship was, in a sense, arbitrary. He also made a lousy king. In that situation, everyone with any claim to kingship was bound to start thinking that he could fill the position as well as Robert did, and some of them would start working to make it happen.

Ned hasn't been around for that. He's been up north for most of Robert's reign. He's still thinking in terms of the old model, where there's a king everyone acknowledges as legitimate. He's missed the changeover to the new model, where being king is a matter of having enough power to dominate the kingdom and take the throne. He's not being foolishly stubborn; he's playing the wrong game, and it leaves him vulnerable.
Julian Augustus
35. Alisonwonderland
Teresa:


Ned Stark is neither a fool nor a hypocrite. His problem is that he doesn't understand that the political map has changed.




On the matter of Ned being an idiot, I suppose it is a matter of opinion. For my view, I cite in support Ned's conversation with Cersei where he told her he knew of her incest with Jaime. Even more critical, I cite Ned's conversation with Renly when Robert had just died. If those were not the actions of a dangerously stupid and deluded individual, I don't know what is.

On my charge that Ned is a hypocrite, I reproduce below the conversation Ned had with Littlefinger shortly after speaking with Renly. I will underline the crucial point I would like kept in mind.



"No," Ned admitted. "I know the secret Jon Arryn was murdered to protect. Robert will leave no trueborn son behind him. Joffrey and Tommen are Jaime Lannister's bastards, born of his incestuous union with the queen."

Littlefinger lifted an eyebrow. "Shocking," he said in a tone that suggested he was not shocked at all."The girl as well? No doubt. So when the king dies . . ."

"The throne by rights passes to Lord Stannis, the elder of Robert's two brothers."

Lord Petyr stroked his pointed beard as he considered the matter. "So it would seem. Unless . . ."

"Unless, my lord? There is no seeming to this. Stannis is the heir. Nothing can change that."

" Stannis cannot take the throne without your help. If you're wise, you'll make certain Joffrey succeeds."

Ned gave him a stony stare. "Have you no shred of honor?"

"Oh, a shred, surely," Littlefinger replied negligently. "Hear me out. Stannis is no friend of yours, nor of mine. Even his brothers can scarcely stomach him. The man is iron, hard and unyielding. He'll give us a new Hand and a new council, for a certainty. No doubt he'll thank you for handing him the crown, but he won't love you for it. And his ascent will mean war. Stannis cannot rest easy on the throne until Cersei and her bastards are dead. Do you think Lord Tywin will sit idly while his daughter's head is measured for a spike? Casterly Rock will rise, and not alone. Robert found it in him to pardon men who served King Aerys, so long as they did him fealty. Stannis is less forgiving. He will not have forgotten the siege of Storm's End, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dare not. Every man who fought beneath the dragon banner or rose with Balon Greyjoy will have good cause to fear. Seat Stannis on the Iron Throne and I promise you, the realm will bleed.

"Now look at the other side of the coin. Joffrey is but twelve, and Robert gave you the regency, my lord. You are the Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm. The power is yours, Lord Stark. All you need do is reach out and take it. Make your peace with the Lannisters. Release the Imp. Wed Joffrey to your Sansa. Wed your younger girl to Prince Tommen, and your heir to Myrcella. It will be four years before Joffrey comes of age. By then he will look to you as a second father, and if not, well . . . four years is a good long while, my lord. Long enough to dispose of Lord Stannis. Then, should Joffrey prove troublesome, we can reveal his little secret and put Lord Renly on the throne."

"We?" Ned repeated.

Littlefinger gave a shrug. "You'll need someone to share your burdens. I assure you, my price would be modest."

"Your price." Ned's voice was ice. "Lord Baelish, what you suggest is treason."



I hope this is absolutely clear: Even if he was too blind to see it himself, Ned was given a convincing explanation, which he didn't dispute, that the realm will be plunged into civil war, that the realm will bleed, if he put Stannis on the throne. This passage, and his subsequent actions, made it crystal clear that Ned didn't care about the realm being ruptured and hundreds of thousands of people dying in the war he could unleash by seating Stannis; all he wanted to do was he considered the right thing.


I want this point remembered because I will refer to it again at the appropriate point in the re-read.
ryamano
36. Alo
The more I think about, the more I see Ned as a grown up Galad from Wheel of Time. He does the right thing no matter who gets hurt, even himself.
Rob Munnelly
37. RobMRobM
It's time, and indeed past time, for the Blog of Ice and Fire.

_____

Lord Commander Mormont speaks at Jon’s graduation from lowly trainee to prestigious black brother. Thanks to Jon, Sam is graduating with them, on the way to becoming a steward. Jon watches as his friends join the rangers, only to have his name called to be a steward as well. Suddenly, Emo Jon is back, and oh how we’ve missed his tantrums, martyrdom, and superiority complex. Jon looks ready to put on his black eyeliner and blog about his woes, but Sam tells him that by making him his personal aide, LC Mormont is actually grooming Jon to be his heir. Jon says he never asked for this, but I’m sure he never asked to be a bastard either. You don’t always get what you want, Jon. Plus, being Mormont’s bitch is like being a Supreme Court clerk: you gain a ton of subtle power and experience in exchange for waiting hand and foot for some old guy. Grooming Jon makes perfect sense from Mormont’s standpoint: Jon has all the positives of a highborn upbringing and none of the Waymar Royce pretentious douchebaggery.

Jon and Sam say their vows and become official Night’s Watchmen. I must admit the NW oath is pretty badass, complete with epic words and powerful sayings. The vows better be awesome if you’re forswearing women and personal property for the rest of your life. They are about to head back when Ghost finds something in the snow. It’s a hand. Not Jon Arryn, or Eddard, but a real, human hand. Did they just find Uncle Benjen?


____________________

Eddard slowly makes preparations to seize power from Joffrey. He presents to the council King Bob’s dying wish to make him the “Protector of the Realm,” but Cersei simply rips up the royal decree. Both sides tensely face each other, and Eddard calmly tells the city watch to arrest the Lannisters. Instead, they kill Eddard’s men, because that double crossing Benedict Arnold slippery snake Littlefinger betrayed him! Poor Fat Tom, speared through the chest without warning.

Eddard may be surprised, but there’s no way his plan could have worked. He warned Cersei days in advance, refused Lord Renly’s offer of help, and put all his trust into the man who has a lot of reasons to dislike Starks. Littlefinger was almost killed by Eddard’s brother, loves Eddard’s wife, and creepily stalks Eddard’s daughter. What makes Ned think that this guy was going to be loyal to him? Plus, LF is all about the bottom line dollar-wise, and House Lannister is by far the richest family. Tyrion said it best to Bronn: the Starks are not made for this type of stuff. They can be honorable and dutiful and extremely badass, but they suck horribly at being deceitful or cunning. You want the Starks on your side when you play football, not chess.
Rob Munnelly
38. RobMRobM
AIW - you're missing two important points: (1) the realm is going to bleed if Joff takes the throne too. First, of all Ned know Stannis and kows there will be civil war if Stannis does not get the crown. Further, Joff is a total nut, and Ned knows it. Cersei is also bloodthirsty and without significant restraint. Toppling them may mean civil war now but may save lives in the long run; (2) retaining Joff and accepting Renly's proposal both mean throwing out the window bedrock principle that have governed the realm for thousands of years - oldest legitimate heir takes the throne. If this is not set in stone, it is an invitation to civil war when the next king dies, and the next. Again, it might save lives now but cost many more in the longrun.

The basic fact is Ned had no good choices. Picking Renly meant a civil war with Stannis. Picking Joff meant a civil war with Renly and Stannis. Picking Stannis was the best hope of avoiding all out war, as he is the legitimate heir, was a strong war leader and had a reasonable chance of getting Renly to back off in return for a promise to have the throne for himeself or heir when Stannis died; and the two of them could combine with other allies (North, Riverlands, Vale) to take down the illegitimate Lannisters without excessive loss of life..

Rob
Julian Augustus
39. Alisonwonderland
RobM


Picking Stannis was the best hope of avoiding all out war, as he is the legitimate heir...


Not as far as the people of Westeror are concerned. We as readers are privy to a lot of knowledge that the actual players in the book don't have. We and Ned all know Joffrey is not the son of Robert, but none of the powerful families in the realm do know, or even care. Re-read Littlefinger's explanation again. Where's Stannis going to get his army when no one wants him on the throne? Puny little Storm's End? And who else? Since we've both read aCoK we know what happens next, but there is no certainty that there would have been a civil war started by Stannis if Ned had acted as Littlefinger advised, or that Stannis would have gotten any support even if he had wanted to start one.


In any case, my point is not about whether or not Stannis can start a civil war if paased over, but that Ned was aware putting Stannis on the throne was almost certainly going to result in a civil war that would entail tremendous deaths and hardships for many, and didn't think it was as important as his precious honor. That, in itself, doesn't make him a hypocrite. I will resurrect this argument at the proper point in the re-read.
ryamano
40. fanganga
I think I see where Alison's going, and agree that it's too early to explore her line of thinking fully.

However, the discussion of Stannis' likely actions currently gives a reader another reason to want to scream at Ned. We suspect that Stannis knows what Jon Arryn knew and what Ned now knows. If Littlefinger's account of Stannis is plausible enough for Ned to believe it, we know that Stannis is a rigidly honourable man who would accept a brutal civil war as the price of truth and justice. And yet, Stannis is biding his time, making preparations on Dragonstone. You'd think that that would give Ned, who is in a weaker position than Stannis pause.
Rob Munnelly
41. RobMRobM
AIW and Fan - Agree we can discuss it later but my basic point holds - circumstances put Ned into a bad place. It is the game of thrones and you make the "correct" choice or you die. War was nearly certain whatever choice he made. So he chose the lawful King and to arrest the pretender. If Littlefinger had gone along, things might have been ok. He'd have hostages, so that Tywin and Jaime might be forced to stand down. And no doubt he would hope that Stannis and Renly could work things about between themselves. His problem is not being a hypocrite, it is not doing the things necessary to make his plan truly work - such as counterproposing to Renly that they would take Cersei and kids hostage but only if Stannis gets the throne, or some such.

Rob

P.s. Note to Fanganga - FYI, Alisonwonderland is a guy.
ryamano
42. fanganga
Whoops. Thanks for the correction, Rob, and sorry about the mistake, AIW.
Matthew Watkins
43. oraymw
I find fascinating the discussion over the practicality of Ned's actions in regards to his situation. But I find myself wondering about Ned's character, and whether he made the good decision. Obviously he made a very many unwise and unstrategic decisions, and perhaps the Seven Kingdoms would have been better served by a man who was a principled as Ned, but also as wise as a serpent.

But I think that I admire Eddard Stark for the way he can stick to his principles even when things are ugly and dark, and even when it can be something that will kill him. Eddard lives for his principles; these principles of Justice and Fairness and Honor and Truth. If he hadn't lived up to those principles, what kind of man would he have truly been?

I think that is part of the message that GRRM is sending. Sometimes, when you are the principled hero, it ends up getting you dead. But I wonder if it is better to die by your principles than live without them.
Captain Hammer
44. Randalator
oraymw @43

My problem with the whole thing is that Ned could have implemented a contingency plan (actually several of them) to improve his life expectancy considerably without compromising his honour and morals, yet utterly failed to do so. Despite the fact that he knew that the whole affair got Jon Arryn killed.

Also, if buying the loyalty of the Watch is acceptable in his world of honour, why not taking children hostage? Especially seeing how he isn't exactly new to this part of the political business (Theon). Actually, that whole Watch thing would have ammounted to some sort of hostage situation anyway. So, yeah...

I'm all for Ned in the morality department. But if you're that principled and honourable, you damn better have the cunning as well. Or at least the common sense to know what's coming. Which Ned doesn't. At all.
ryamano
45. fanganga
Bribing the watch was Ned's contingency plan. It just wasn't a very reliable one. Plan A was to evacuate his daughters, send a message to Stannis and hold tight until Stannis arrived and they could press the succession issue with Stannis' army to back them up. Unfortunately for that plan, Cersei knew she had to take the initiative, the political situation was such that she could openly defy Robert's dying wishes without losing all her support (I suspect that one was a surprise to Ned) and Ned wouldn't swear himself to an illegitimate king, even for as long as it would take to sail to Dragonstone and back.

I think the critical difference between holding Theon as a hostage and taking Joffrey is that Ned took Theon at the end of a war and is advised to take Joffrey at the start of one. Ned's perfectly happy to meet an enemy in declared battle, but drawing first blood in a sneak attack because he thinks someone else isn't going to respect a legal and peaceful transition isn't his way. That his approach cedes the initiative to the Lannisters is a risk he thinks he's got covered (wrongly as it turns out - maybe he was so concerned with Cersei's ruthlessness it blinded him to that of others, such as Littlefinger)
ryamano
46. MickeyDee
Skyweir@24: Yep, to my mind Ned was a very moral, upstanding, loving man who was also demonstrably unethical. Seriously, who puts their personal honour above the lives of tens of thousands of the Smallfolk? LOL - plenty in GRRM's world.

Three re-reads on and I still want to have seen Ned and Jaime go toe-to-toe with blades in hand. Le sigh.
Captain Hammer
47. Randalator
fanganga @45

And how exactly is Ned bribing the Watch going to keep an assassin from sticking a knife in a handful of organs he still has use for, or his food from tasting a bit like Tears of Lys in the meantime...?

As long as Cersei and Joffrey are free to act, controlling the Watch means jack poop. The only way to be safe from pulling a Jon Arryn is either to have hostages or to have arranged for destructive information to be revealed in case someone plays unfair. Ned didn't do that, so he has got the whole initiative thing decidedly NOT covered.
ryamano
48. fanganga
I'd say that having a lot of armed men happier to have you alive than dead is an important part of keeping sharp metal things out of your innards (preparations against Cersei pulling a Renly would cover her pulling a smelly stable-man too), and it's not like he couldn't arrange for a restricted diet and a taster or two knowing what happened to his foster father. Admittedly, it's a less than ideal situation - and relying on strangers with tenous loyalty to watch you day and night is very far from ideal in a place like King's Landing, but Ned's staking out a position on the risk vs dishonour tradeoff.

Using the information as an insurance policy works very well in a modern setting, but in an age without mass media, there are plenty of obstacles to making sure that the right people a: know the truth, b: believe it (or hate the Lannisters enough to use the information as an excuse to act whether they believe it or not) and c: know that enough other people know and are willing to act that they won't end up decorating castle walls the instant they withhold taxes or whatever. If Ned hadn't told Cersei as soon as he worked out the truth (I'm not denying that's an error.) AND Cersei hadn't acted anyway (if Varys is to be believed she's already tried to kill Robert once, and Littlefinger's certainly well positioned to tell Cersei what Ned knows), then he might have had time to lay the groundwork. As it is, the best use of what limited resources he has is to get his family out and a message to Stannis.

As for hostages, he thinks he's already got one. As it happens, he's wrong, and he's already seen that that hostage isn't worth much when negotiating with the ideal member of the family, but in his mind that's probably still mitigating the risk of refusing to storm the Lannister compound before Robert's dead and Cersei's announced her intent to install an illegitimate king
ryamano
49. Steve L
Bergmaniac@28,

Sure, there may have been other scions of noble houses in the Night's Watch. But Jeor Mormont likely knew Ned Stark reasonably well in several ways: from talking to Benjen, from the fact that the Starks are the closest major noble house to the Wall and there's likely been some visits both ways, and from other reasons that I can't remember if they've been revealed yet.

He wouldn't necessarily know the quality of training that the kids from a southern noble house underwent, but he can guess what kind of training Ned put Jon through (and perhaps even watched some of it on trips to Winterfell) and that would give him a little extra confidence in Jon's abilities. Add in whatever Maester Aemon and perhaps even Tyrion said about Jon and it's not an unreasonable decision to start grooming him for command as the Lord-Commander's steward.

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