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 4 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapter 7 (“Catelyn”), and Chapter 8 (“Tyrion”).
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 7: Catelyn
In Riverrun, Catelyn watches Robb fidget under the weight of his newly-forged crown as he confronts the prisoner before him, Ser Cleos Frey, who is also Tywin Lannister’s nephew. Robb uses his wolf Grey Wind to intimidate Cleos, to the amusement of the court, and informs Cleos that he is to carry Robb’s terms of a peace offering to Cersei Lannister, before returning on his honor to resume his captivity. Cleos agrees stiffly. At the mention of a peace offering, Catelyn notices Lord Rickard Karstark shove his way out of the hall.
Robb lists the terms: in return for the return of two of the queen’s cousins, Cersei must release his sisters and cancel Sansa’s bethrothal to Joffrey. He demands the return of his father’s bones and his greatsword Ice, and a general exchange of prisoners of war, with the exception of Jaime Lannister, as well as a renouncing of all Joffrey’s claims to the northern lands, which are now Robb’s, and a withdrawal of Tywin’s forces pillaging there. Lastly he demands ten highborn hostages, to be treated well and returned gradually as long as the pact holds.
After the audience, Catelyn meets with Robb and her brother Edmure alone, and points out how Karstark walked out. Edmure sympathizes with Karstark not liking the idea of peace, and advocates marching on Tywin at Harrenhal before their forces dwindle any further. Catelyn snaps that that was his doing, for insisting all the river lords be allowed to leave and defend their own lands. Robb says he will speak with Karstark, but is clearly not very happy with the idea of peace himself. Catelyn tells him an offer had to be made, though she thinks the terms could have been “sweeter.”
“Cersei Lannister will never consent to trade your sisters for a pair of cousins. It’s her brother she’ll want, as you know full well.” She had told him as much before, but Catelyn was finding that kings do not listen half so attentively as sons.
“I can’t release the Kingslayer, not even if I wanted to. My lords would never abide it.”
“Your lords made you their king.”
“And can unmake me just as easy.”
“If your crown is the price we must pay to have Arya and Sansa returned safe, we should pay it willingly.”
Robb repeats that he will not free Jaime, not even for Arya and Sansa. Catelyn is angered at the implication that his sisters are worth less than his father would have been; hurt, Robb insists he will do all he can for Arya and Sansa. He tries to convince Catelyn that she should go somewhere further from the fighting, and Catelyn realizes he doesn’t want her there anymore, speaking harsh truths. They also argue over the wisdom of sending Theon Greyjoy to treat with his father Balon; Catelyn thinks they will betray Robb, but Robb says he doesn’t care if Balon wants to be king of the Iron Islands so long as they help him against the Lannisters.
Catelyn goes to visit her dying father, and finds her uncle Ser Brynden Tully with her father. Brynden has just returned and not seen Robb yet. They discuss Hoster’s declining health and the ominous comet and various interpretations of its meaning. Brynden opines that allowing the river lords to scatter was a foolish mistake, as they are being slaughtered by Lannister forces, even Lord Darry, who was only a child; he was killed by Gregor Clegane.
Catelyn reminds him that it is Tywin Lannister who holds Clegane’s leash, and Brynden agrees that the atrocities are deliberate attempts to provoke Robb into attacking Tywin first, at Harrenhal. Catelyn thinks of the fortress’s dark and cursed history, and frets that Robb may fall for the bait. Brynden also tells her that there is yet another Lannister army massing at Casterly Rock, led by Ser Stafford Lannister, Tywin’s cousin. Though he adds that Stafford is “a bit of a dullard,” he believes that Tywin’s caution will more than offset that, and that he will not march from Harrenhal until Stafford’s forces are ready. Catelyn counters, unless Tywin must leave Harrenhal, to face another threat.
Her uncle looked at her thoughtfully. “Lord Renly.”
“King Renly.” If she would ask help from the man, she would need to grant him the style he had claimed for himself.
“Perhaps.” The Blackfish smiled a dangerous smile. “He’ll want something, though.”
“He’ll want what kings always want,” she said. “Homage.”
Look at Catelyn, being all devious and clever and shit. There’s a million ways this plan could go wrong, of course, but then that’s true of just about any plan.
Well, now I know where Robb is, at least. And from all appearances, we are still on the fence as to whether he’s going to be a good king or not. Catelyn articulates very clearly in this chapter the internal battle she sees between the boy Robb still is in many ways, and the leader he is forging himself into becoming – and that at this point it’s still very much touch and go on whether he’ll screw up that forging in the process.
This both annoys and pleases me. Because it is, after all, very realistic, and very much in keeping with Martin’s talent for creating characters whose flaws ring unsettlingly true. As usual, I find this simultaneously gratifying on a meta level and frustrating on a practical one, because while I really like realism from an aesthetic point of view, the problem is that in general, reality, well, sucks.
It’s a very interesting thing I have developed as a consumer of more-or-less popular entertainment, which is that I demand the grittiness of realism while longing for the sensawunda of idealism. I want a hero/heroine I can trust to believe in while also wanting to be able to believe such a person actually exists.
I think this means I am high maintenance. Or a glutton for punishment. Or, possibly, just plain delusional. It certainly means that in more cases than not, I am destined to be disappointed. We’ll have to wait and see where ASOIAF leaves me.
Anyway, back to the chapter. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was frankly surprised at first by Catelyn’s admonishment to Robb that the terms of peace he set for Cersei were too harsh, because if you ask me they seemed downright reasonable. He didn’t even demand reparations for Tywin’s pillaging! And of course he’s not going to be willing to give up Jaime. Emotional reasons re: Ned aside, Jaime is Robb’s trump card. He shouldn’t play it unless he absolutely has to.
But then as I read further, I realized Catelyn was right: they are “too harsh” if you know the other party’s priorities well enough to know which term or terms would be absolute dealbreakers – in this case the refusal to return Jaime – and then demand precisely that. In my opinion, the problem is that both Robb and Catelyn are right. Robb is right that Jaime’s release is unacceptable, and Catelyn is right that to Cersei, no other outcome is acceptable.
Whoops. So, war then? War then!
I think they are also both right about Arya and Sansa. Robb is correct in his estimation of their worth politically and Catelyn is right about their worth emotionally. The question is, which of those, if used, does the most good and the least harm? Don’t get me wrong, I really really want to see Sansa get out of King’s Landing, but at the cost of inflicting Jaime Lannister on the world again? Erm.
Ned had the truth of it, she thought. His place was at Winterfell, he said as much, but would I hear him? No. Go, I told him, you must be Robert’s Hand, for the good of our House, for the sake of our children . . . my doing, mine, no other . . .
Oh, Catelyn. You’re… not wrong, unfortunately, but only hindsight is twenty-twenty. At least take comfort in that you thought you were doing the right thing? A cold comfort, maybe, but still.
Chapter 8: Tyrion
Tyrion dines with Janos Slynt, getting him drunk while they discuss who is to replace him as Commander of the City Watch when he goes to take lordship of Harrenhal. Slynt says any of the six men he recommended will do, but singles out Allar Deem as the best choice. Tyrion mentions he’d been thinking of Ser Jacelyn Bywater, but Slynt dismisses him as too “rigid” in matters of honor, and a cripple besides (he’d lost his hand in battle). Deem is better; he’d never meant to kill that whore, only her babe as instructed. Tyrion asks why he chose Deem for that, and Slynt says it takes “a certain sort” to be able to do that kind of task. Tyrion asks casually who sent them after the whore’s bastard in the first place, but Slynt laughs and refuses to answer.
Tyrion turns the talk to Eddard Stark, and confirms that Cersei and Varys had had no knowledge of the order to execute him beforehand, that it was all Joffrey’s doing. Tyrion congratulates Slynt on his trade: a lordship and a castle for “a spear thrust in the back”. Slynt grows angry at the taunt, but Tyrion tells him to be thankful it is he Slynt is dealing with and not his father. He tells Slynt his eldest son will inherit the title of Lord Slynt, but he will not have Harrenhal any more than Janos will, as Janos will be on a ship in the morning for the Wall, to join the Night’s Watch. In disbelief, Slynt goes to leave to appeal this to Joffrey, but is stopped at the door by Ser Jacelyn Bywater, the new Commander of the City Watch. Tyrion hands Bywater the list of six men Janos gave him and tells Bywater to make sure they join Slynt on board, though he’d be best pleased if the one named Deem accidentally drowns on the way. Bywater agrees calmly and takes Janos away.
Varys comes in and congratulates Tyrion on a good job; Tyrion responds sourly, and accuses Varys of leaving out the fact that it was Cersei herself who ordered that baby killed. Varys admits it, but says that while he’d taken steps to remove the older bastard boy from harm’s way, he hadn’t thought a baby girl born to a whore would be at risk. He remarks how the mother had loved the king; Tyrion wonders aloud if a whore can truly love anyone, thinking of Shae and how she seemed dissatisfied despite the wealth he’d showered on her.
Varys comments that now that Tyrion has control of the Night Watch he will be in a position to prevent things like Stark’s execution from happening again, though Tyrion reflects that he may have only changed Littlefinger’s man (Slynt) for Varys’s (Bywater). Tyrion asks Varys why he is being so helpful, and Varys protests that he always serves the Hand. He asks if Tyrion has thought on his riddle, and Tyrion replies that it is a riddle with too many answers, as it all depends on the man with the sword.
“And yet he is no one,” Varys said. “He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel.”
“That piece of steel is the power of life and death.”
So does that mean the swordsmen all have the true power? Varys asks. And if so, why do they obey kings, even when they are children or “wine-sodden oafs”?
“Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or… another?”
Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?”
Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
“So power is a mummer’s trick?”
“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
Tyrion asks Varys intently who he really is and how he came to be a eunuch, but Varys avoids the question and moves on to his report. Tyrion decides to submit a traitorous captain to Joffrey’s justice, and thwart the Redwyne’s brothers’ attempt to bribe themselves out of captivity, but ignores the report that Timett killed a man who cheated him at gambling, as well as the glut of beggar “holy men” in the town, and a report that a nobleman had made a joke at the king’s expense. Varys leaves, and Tyrion wonders whether he has done enough to be safe from Cersei’s retribution over the Slynt business.
He goes to his rooms and tells Bronn about Slynt’s new vocation, and asks how the recruiting goes. Bronn tells him he got three new men tonight; he vets them by making them try to kill him. Tyrion asks Bronn, if he told him to kill an infant girl, would he do it without question? Bronn answers, no: he’d ask how much he’d get paid first.
And why would I ever need your Allar Deem, Lord Slynt? Tyrion thought. I have a hundred of my own. He wanted to laugh; he wanted to weep; most of all, he wanted Shae.
Well, I like Bronn a lot less than I did before, that’s for sure.
Also, good to see Tyrion’s self-appointed quest for justice is off to such a scintillating start! Ow.
Though I do think he’s doing better than he gives himself credit for. Certainly no one else would have even bothered to try avenging that baby’s murder – well, not anyone alive and currently in King’s Landing, anyhow. Except Sansa, maybe, but unfortunately she doesn’t count.
Anyway, the only thing that sucks in my opinion about Slynt getting the boot is that now Jon Snow and Co. are going to have to put up with him. Here’s hoping he gets eaten by a MONSTER BEAR almost immediately. If Harrenhal’s lords are cursed (even those who never even saw the place, apparently, heh), let’s fulfill that curse in style, sez me!
[Shae] wanted to be with him more, she told him; she wanted to serve him and help him. “You help me most here, between the sheets,” he told her one night after their loving as he lay beside her, his head pillowed against her breast, his groin aching with a sweet soreness. She made no reply, save with her eyes. He could see there that it was not what she’d wanted to hear.
Well, of COURSE it wasn’t, Tyrion! Jeez.
Here’s my prediction for this one: Shae really does love him – and why wouldn’t she, when he is so good to her (well, when he isn’t inadvertently telling her he only values her as a whore, anyway) and bloody well worships the ground she walks on? I suppose there are women who wouldn’t fall for that if it came from an ugly man, but Shae doesn’t strike me as being that foolish. But, Tyrion’s own self-esteem issues are going to fuck everything up between them anyway, because he’ll never be able to bring himself to believe she could possibly love him for real. Sigh. I hope I’m wrong.
Very interesting philosophical conversation between Tyrion and Varys, I must say. And Varys is totally right, in my opinion. Perception, more often than not, trumps reality. Power is a construct, a mutually (and often unconsciously) agreed-upon optical illusion used to attempt to impose order on chaos, and create structure where there otherwise would be anarchy. War happens when some people discover that they don’t buy the construct anymore – like, say, when they find out the line of succession is a big giant lie – and decide to substitute their own version instead.
It is often very weird to contemplate how much of so-called civilized life that we subconsciously consider immutable and inevitable only exists because a bunch of people got together at some point and decided This Is How It Is.
And it was Varys who rescued Gendry! Not out of the goodness of his heart, I’m sure, but I can still be pleased for Gendry’s sake, who I bet is going to do well at the Wall provided he survives long enough to get there. However, I do have to wonder, if Cersei knows enough to send guards searching for Gendry in Yoren’s caravan, does she also know who put him there? Varys might want to watch his back, is what I’m saying.
And that is about what I’ve got for this one, kiddies. Have a lovely weekend, as always, and I’ll see you next week!