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 28 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 57 (“Sansa”) and 58 (“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 57: Sansa
Sansa is attending the first court session of Joffrey’s reign; she notes that no commoners are present, and only twenty or so nobles, all of whom either avoid her or pretend she doesn’t exist. Joffrey and Cersei enter, escorted by all the Kingsguard except Jaime. Joffrey commands Pycelle to read his decrees. Pycelle reads out a long list of names, those who are commanded to present themselves and swear fealty to Joffrey, or be named traitors and stripped of lands and titles. The names include Stannis and Renly Baratheon, Loras Tyrell, Lysa and little Robert Arryn, the Tullys, and many others, and then at the end, Sansa’s mother, brothers, and sister are called. Sansa gasps at Arya’s name, as it must mean that Arya had successfully fled.
Pycelle then announces the appointment of Tywin Lannister as the new Hand of the King, in place of “the traitor” Eddard Stark, and the appointment of Cersei to the council in place of Stannis. He also announces that Janos Slynt, Commander of the City Watch, is to be made a lord and given Harrenhal, as well as a seat on the council. This does not sit well with the other lords in the room.
Then Cersei calls forth Ser Barristan Selmy, thanks him for his service, and tells him he is to be retired. Shocked, Barristan protests that appointments to the Kingsguard are for life. Joffrey accuses him of letting his father die, and tells him he is too old to protect anyone. Barristan speaks with passion of what he has sacrificed to devote his life to his calling, but Cersei ignores him, and announces Jaime Lannister will take his place as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
“The Kingslayer,” Ser Barristan said, his voice hard with contempt. “The false knight who profaned his blade with the blood of the king he had sworn to defend.”
Cersei warns him to be careful, and Varys attempts to placate him with mention of the land and gold to be granted him for his retirement, but Barristan rejects their pity, and removes his cloak and armor and draws his sword, which alarms the rest of the Kingsguard, but Barristan tells his former comrades with contempt not to worry. He tells them they are not fit to wear the white if they will agree to serve under the Kingslayer, and flings his sword at Joffrey’s feet.
“Here, boy. Melt it down and add it to the others, if you like. It will do you more good than the swords in the hands of these five. Perhaps Lord Stannis will chance to sit on it when he takes your throne.”
He marches out, and Joffrey immediately orders his arrest for speaking to him like that. Cersei announces that Sandor Clegane will join the Kingsguard. Sandor agrees, but refuses to swear a knight’s vows. The herald asks if there is any more business, and Sansa screws up her courage and steps forward. She kneels before Joffrey and begs mercy for her father. She does not deny his crimes, but insists that he must have been misled. Joffrey asks why Ned had said he wasn’t the king, and Sansa tells him it must have been the pain of his broken leg. Thoughtfully, Cersei says that if Eddard were to confess his crime, and repent Sansa asks Joffrey to do this for love of her, and Joffrey finally agrees.
“I shall do as you ask . . . but first your father has to confess. He has to confess and say that I’m the king, or there will be no mercy for him.”
“He will,” Sansa said, heart soaring. “Oh, I know he will.”
Oh my God, Sansa, have you met your father? He so totally will not!
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
Well, I suppose I could be wrong, but yeah, no. I do not buy for a nanosecond that Ned will stoop to lying through his teeth just to save his own neck. Especially not about this. The idea runs contrary to every last thing we’ve learned about the man so far.
Doom doom doomy doom, y’all.
Also, I felt so bad for Ser Barristan here that I can’t even tell you. Dude, what a low blow. And of course it had nothing to do with Barristan being too old for the post, because I bet you Barristan could wipe the floor with anyone in that room, including Mr. Sandor Pissypants I-Won’t-Take-Vows-So-Neener Clegane.
No, it was totally to do with the fact that Barristan is not, fact, a brainless conscience-less toadying boot-licker, which is so not de rigueur in the court of King Cersei whoops I mean Joffrey. Integrity? Well, we can’t have that! Out, out, damned Ser!
I kind of want to be upset with Barristan for screwing himself (in true Eddard fashion, even) with his little “fuck you” performance there, but on another level I can’t really blame him in the slightest. I wish that he hadn’t, because it’s landing him in prison, but I’m also sort of glad that he did, because really, fuck you, Cersei/Joffrey.
I recognize that this is probably hypocritical of me, in light of the criticisms I’ve leveled at Ned in the past for his overdeveloped sense of honor, but hey, I’ve never made any bones about how conflicted I am about the whole deal. One thing I will say is that Martin is doing an excellent job of keeping things firmly in the gray, morality-wise, which is a braver narrative choice than you might think.
Chapter 58: Eddard
In his lightless, filthy cell, Ned mourns Robert and curses his betrayers, but most of all he curses himself for a fool. He is given water, but no food, and the turnkey refuses to speak to him or give him news. As time goes on, his wounded leg becomes infected, and Ned starts having feverish dreams and hallucinations. He remembers the tourney at Harrenhal when he was eighteen, when Crown Prince Rhaegar won the jousting, and instead of giving the laurel to his wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, Rhaegar gave it to Ned’s sister Lyanna instead.
Eventually Varys comes to see him, disguised as a turnkey. He offers Ned wine, and tells him Arya has escaped and is still unaccounted for, while Sansa is still betrothed to Joffrey, and had come to court to plead for mercy on Ned’s behalf; meanwhile Catelyn has lost Tyrion, who Varys presumes is probably dead in the mountains somewhere. He informs Ned he is a dead man, but that Varys does not wish him dead. Ned asks if Varys will free him, then, but Varys replies he will not. Ned asks what he wants, and Varys answers “Peace.” Varys asks what possessed Ned to tell Cersei he knew about the incest.
“The madness of mercy,” Ned admitted.
“Ah,” said Varys. “To be sure. You are an honest and honorable man, Lord Eddard. Ofttimes I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life.” He glanced around the cell. “When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why.”
Varys also confirms that Cersei engineered Robert’s accident as a direct result of Ned’s “mercy,” but adds that Cersei would not have waited much longer anyway. He tells Ned that Cersei has other enemies she fears more than him, including Lysa Arryn, the Martells in Dorne, and Ned’s own son Robb, but especially Stannis Baratheon, who is utterly merciless, and has the true claim to the throne. Ned replies that he would welcome Stannis’s ascent, but Varys tells him he will not live to see it happen if he does not guard his tongue.
Varys tells him Cersei is coming to see him the next day, and urges him to confess to treason, command Robb to stand down, and denounce Stannis and Renly. Cersei knows his honor, and if Ned promises to take her secret to the grave, Varys believes she will allow Ned to take the black and go live on the Wall with his brother and bastard son. Ned longs to see Jon again, but is suspicious of Varys’s motives. He tells Varys that his life is not worth sacrificing his honor, but Varys asks, what about the life of his daughter? He reminisces about Rhaegar’s little daughter Rhaenys, and how she had been murdered, and wonders why it is always the innocents who suffer when “you high lords” play the game of thrones.
“Ponder it, if you would, while you wait upon the queen. And spare a thought for this as well: The next visitor who calls on you could bring you bread and cheese and the milk of the poppy for your pain . . . or he could bring you Sansa’s head.
“The choice, my dear lord Hand, is entirely yours.”
And the fun just keeps on coming.
And back and forth I go again on the subject of Ned’s honor. And don’t think I’m not made a tiny bit uncomfortable to hear some of my thoughts on the subject echoed by a guy like Varys. But still Argh.
Do I think he should take the deal? Guys, I’m completely serious when I tell you I don’t know the answer to that question.
Do I think he’s going to take the deal? Well, I was sure when Sansa originally said it that there was no way. But, now… he did, after all, compromise his honor once before but now he considers that a ruinous mistake. But then again, there’s Sansa to consider… but then, Cersei. But…
Yeah, I don’t know the answer to this question either. If I absolutely have to put my money on one number, though, I’d say he’s not going to. I guess I’ll find out soon enough if I’m right. I’m kind of dreading the results of either decision, frankly.
Also, at this rate Ned’s going to die from gangrene before anyone has a chance to kill him. Get the man a doctor, please! Or a maester, or whatever! Hell, I’ll settle for someone getting him a crust of bread at this point, God.
Varys, of course, is playing an angle—who isn’t in this story?—but I wonder what that angle actually is. I’m getting a little muddled with all the factions and such, but it seems to me that urging Ned to fall in with Cersei—assuming it works, which is a Very Large assumption in my opinion—would only bring Varys’s allegedly-longed-for peace in the short term, if even that. Granted, it will presumably call off Robb’s army, but if Stannis is anything like everyone says he is, he won’t give a crap about Ned’s allegiances, and there will be war regardless of what happens with the Starks—or the Tullys, or the Arryns, and etc.
Seems to me that it would be more effective in the long term to help Ned escape, and get him to Robb, and from there to Stannis and the Tullys and maybe even the Arryns if Lysa can be induced to pull her head out of her ass. Then everybody can gang up on the Lannisters, wipe them off the map, install Stannis, and call it a day. It’s not immediate peace, but, well, nothing’s going to get immediate peace that I can see, and it seems like a safer bet to stack the odds on one side as high as possible. Putting Ned in with the Lannisters just seems to split everything more.
Then again, it is way more than likely I have no idea what I’m talking about, and Ned capitulating to the Lannisters really would shut everyone else down, but I don’t see it, personally. I’m probably missing something.
(Man, this is almost as confusing as real history!)
The other big thing in this chapter, of course, is Ned’s memory of Prince Rhaegar back in the day, which, whoooooa. Ned’s memory didn’t say it straight out, but am I seriously meant to infer that Robert decided to start a civil war and overthrow a dynasty because Rhaegar was hitting on his girl?
‘Cause, you know, wow, if so. That’s like Helen of Troy-level insanity, there. And without even any meddlesome gods to kickstart the crazy!
Of course, there’s something more to this story I haven’t been told yet—I still don’t know exactly how Lyanna died. I’m really hoping “bed of blood” is a metaphorical term, but I have a feeling I’m not that lucky. I’m pretty sure that Lyanna’s death is a key element to understanding this whole debacle, so it’s possible (probable) that there’s more to it than “Yer flirtin’ with mah woman I KEEL YOU,” but from where I’m currently standing, jeez.
Speaking of killing presumably-innocent women, Varys also later mentions, when listing Cersei’s enemies, that the Martells in Dorne are still upset about the murder of Elia and her children, which if I recall correctly was the work of the oh-so-lovely Jaime Lannister. And so it’s certainly understandable, but presumably they’ve been pissed about that for years now; why are they suddenly an immediate concern? I guess the current unrest might give them notions about jumping in and taking advantage?
If so, sheesh. Just what this war needs: another faction. Is it weird that I kind of want to bitchslap an entire fictional continent right now?
Okay, yes, it’s weird. But I stand by it! And I also stand by weekends, so here, have one! See you next time!