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 29 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 59 (“Catelyn”) and 60 (“Jon”).
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!
[“It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game; somebody wins, somebody loses.”]
Chapter 59: Catelyn
As Robb’s army approaches the riverlands, Catelyn tries not to worry about all the other members of her family for whom she can currently do nothing. Her uncle Brynden has gone ahead to scout, and sends reports back that Lord Walder Frey has assembled a force of four thousand men, but is still holed up in his holdings at the Green Fork, which Catelyn thinks is typical of him (“Expect nothing of Walder Frey, and you will never be surprised”). Walder therefore holds the only viable crossing (a bridge called the Twins) over the river. She tells Robb that Walder has ties with the Lannisters despite being sworn to her father, but thinks that even Walder himself does not know which way he’s going to jump.
Brynden sends another message (via Theon Greyjoy) to report that he’s killed some of Tywin Lannister’s scouts, and vows they will not know when Robb splits his army; Brynden already plans to keep watch on the Twins to make sure Walder does not send a bird out to report it. Theon thinks Robb can take the Twins by force if necessary, but Catelyn counters that he can’t do it in time to prevent Tywin reaching them and attacking from the rear. Robb asks her what Ned would do, and she replies that he would find a way to cross, whatever it took.
Brynden himself returns the next day to report that Jaime has routed Catelyn’s brother’s army and taken Edmure captive, and the survivors are under siege at Riverrun. Robb curses Walder for blocking his way, and vows to “pull the Twins down around his ears if I have to.” Catelyn chides him sharply for thinking like “a sulky boy” instead of like a lord; chastened, Robb asks what she means, and she tells him the Freys have always been amenable to allowing crossings as long as they are paid their toll.
The army reaches the Twins, and it is immediately obvious to everyone that there is no way to take it by force. They are greeted by Walder Frey’s heir, Ser Stevron Frey, who invites Robb to dinner in the castle to explain his purpose there. The lords bannermen immediately all decry this as a trap, and hostilities are escalating until Catelyn loudly volunteers herself to go. Stevron agrees, and in exchange leaves his brother Perwyn with Robb as insurance.
Ninety-year-old Walder meets Catelyn in his castle surrounded by his twenty other living sons and veritable army of daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and bastards, as well as his sixteen-year-old eighth wife. He greets Catelyn rudely and bluntly, and shouts at his sons when they try to rebuke him for it. Catelyn tells him simply that they request passage to Riverrun, and asks Walder why he is not there; Walder lies that her “fool brother” lost to the Lannisters before the Freys had a chance to march. He then kicks all his family out to speak to Catelyn privately.
Walder sneers at her son’s army, and asks why he should help them instead of the Lannisters, even though he loathes Tywin for his haughty ways. He then tells her at length the ways in which the Tullys have insulted him as well. In doing so, he mentions that Jon Arryn had told him a year ago that his son Robert was to be fostered at Dragonstone with Stannis Baratheon.
Catelyn frowned, disquieted. “I had understood that Lysa’s boy was to be fostered with Lord Tywin at Casterly Rock.”
“No, it was Lord Stannis,” Walder Frey said irritably. “Do you think I can’t tell Lord Stannis from Lord Tywin? They’re both bungholes who think they’re too noble to shit, but never mind about that, I know the difference.”
Finally it gets down to haggling, and Catelyn returns to Robb at sunset to tell him that their passage is secured, as well as Walder’s gathered swords. In return, she has agreed to foster two of Walder’s grandsons at Winterfell, take on his son Olyvar as Robb’s squire and that Arya and Robb are both to be married to one of his sons and daughters, respectively. Robb is not thrilled, but agrees, and Catelyn is very proud of him. She and Robb cross the river that night with the smaller part of the army, while the larger remains on the east bank under Roose Bolton’s command, who will continue south to engage Tywin’s forces.
For good or ill, her son had thrown the dice.
Twenty-one sons? Holy lack of motility issues, Batman!
Excuse me, I have to boggle quietly for a moment.
(and that’s not even counting the daughters holy crap)
Okay, I’m back.
Well, Walder Frey’s a cantankerous son of a bitch, that’s for sure (and his attitude toward women is SUPER SPECIAL, oh yeah), but it appears that he’s not particularly stupid, either. I agree with Catelyn that it’s shitty of him the way he plays fast and loose with his oaths, but he certainly knows how to squeeze a situation for the most possible benefit to himself. Which is a kind of virtue, I guess, in a depressing way. I guess that makes him the Gordon Gekko of the Seven Kingdoms, eh?
I entirely do not know what to make of Walder’s claim that Jon Arryn had intended to foster his son with Stannis and not Tywin, contrary to what Catelyn (and we) had been told before, but I do entirely know that it Means Something. That was like a giant red flag, the way that tidbit was tossed out here, that something is most definitely fishy in Denmark—or the Vale, as it were. The problem is that it’s been so long (from my perspective) since it’s been brought up, that I can’t remember—hmm.
Okay, I went back and checked some of my own previous posts, and it turns out we first learn of the plan to foster young Robert with Tywin from King Robert himself, who mentioned it to Ned when he first came to Winterfell, whilst complaining about Lysa’s nuttiness re: it. So I can only assume the plan was changed sometime between when Arryn talked to Walder and when he died. The question is, who changed it, and why does it matter?
I don’t know, but I’m sure that it does. Dun!
Catelyn is again awesome here, and once again proves what a fucking waste it is that she is barred from more than an honorary leadership role just because she doesn’t happen to have a penis. Not that Robb isn’t doing as well as can be expected, but by all rights Catelyn should be in command here, not him, in my opinion. God knows what would have happened if she hadn’t been there to correctly divine the most effective method by which to circumvent Lord Fossil McCrankypants—or if Robb hadn’t had the sense to listen to her (for which he gets major kudos from me).
That said, ouch. Arranged marriages are something of a bugaboo of mine, in that my opinion on them is most emphatically HELL TO THE NO. And yes, I recognize that in this type of setting, where marriages are just as much (if not more) about political maneuvering as they are about love and happiness and silly stupid stuff like that, that arranged marriages are only logical, yes, fine, whatever, I don’t care, they suck. So There.
But it especially epically sucks that Arya got roped into this one. Because Arya’s my awesome independent sword-fighting girl, and so in this case my HELL TO THE NO comes with a side of FUCK THAT with Tabasco sauce and arsenic on top.
Robb looked nonplussed. “Arya won’t like that one bit.”
I hereby nominate this for Likely Understatement of the Geological Age. Gee, Robb, you think?
Of course, who knows whether Arya will ever even be in a position to have to agree with me on the suckiness here, because assuming she isn’t dead (which she had BETTER NOT BE, MARTIN), if she has a lick of sense in my opinion she should currently be on a ship (or a wagontrain, or whatever) to Anywhere That Isn’t This Clusterfuck, at least for the nonce.
(Okay, fine, I’m sure she’s actually trying her damndest to get back to her family right now, and I don’t really blame her at all for that, but I kind of wistfully want her to say “screw this shit” and go off and be, like, a lady pirate or something. That would rock.)
Chapter 60: Jon
Mormont asks Jon how his hand is healing from the severe burns he received from throwing the burning drapes on Othor, and Jon lies that he is fine, and tries to forget how he had dreamed that the corpse had had his father’s face. Mormont comments that there will be more of these creatures; summer is ending, and a winter “such as this world has never seen” is approaching. Jon asks for news, hoping to hear of his father, but Mormont tells him the recent messages concerned Ser Barristan Selmy, who is wanted for treason, and killed two of the watchmen sent to seize him before escaping. Jon knows there is more to it than that, for Sam had seen the letter to Aemon, and told him his half-brother Robb had called the banners and ridden south to war; Jon feels craven for not being there with him, and resentful that Mormont is keeping the information from him.
Mormont then presents Jon with a sword of exquisite workmanship, whose trappings had been destroyed in the fire and Mormont had had remade with a wolfshead on the pommel. Jon is shocked when Mormont tells him it is his family’s sword, called Longclaw, passed down for generations, and tries to refuse it, but Mormont tells him his own son is a traitor and insists he take it. Jon knows he should be honored by Mormont’s gift, and yet:
He is not my father. The thought leapt unbidden to Jon’s mind. Lord Eddard Stark is my father. I will not forget him, no matter how many swords they give me. Yet he could scarcely tell Lord Mormont that it was another man’s sword he dreamt of . . .
Mormont also tells him that he has sent Ser Alliser Thorne to King’s Landing, to show the new king Jafer Flowers’s severed hand in the hopes that it will spur Joffrey to aid in recruiting for the Black Watch, but Jon knows it was also for his sake as well. Mormont dismisses him, and Jon is accosted outside by his friends, who demand to see the sword. Jon tries to sound as pleased as he should, but thinks of the wights and how Flowers’s corpse had killed Ser Rykker and four others even after being decapitated, and excuses himself abruptly. He shows Ghost his new sword, and remembers how he had found the pup, alone because the others had pushed him away for being different.
Sam comes to tell him Maester Aemon has summoned him, and Jon divines that Sam has confessed to Aemon that he told Jon about the news about Robb, and leaves angrily. Aemon has him help feed the ravens raw meat, and asks him why he thinks the men of the Watch have no wives or children. Jon doesn’t know.
“So they will not love,” the old man answered, “for love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.”
Aemon asks that if Jon’s father had to choose between honor and those he loves, which would he choose? Jon hesitates, and then answers he would do “whatever was right.” Aemon replies that most are not so strong, and that the men of the Watch knew they could not have divided loyalties between family, and their duty to protect the realm from “the darkness to the north,” and thus have always stood aside from all the internecine strife of the Seven Kingdoms no matter who was involved. And now it is Jon’s turn to choose: love or honor?
Jon replies bitterly that Aemon could not understand, but Aemon counters that he has had to make that same choice three times now, most recently when his brother’s grandson and great-grandson and “even the little children” were slaughtered.
“Aemon Targaryen?” Jon could scarcely believe it.
“Once,” the old man said. “Once. So you see, Jon, I do know and knowing, I will not tell you stay or go. You must make that choice yourself, and live with it all the rest of your days. As I have.” His voice fell to a whisper. “As I have ”
Old Aemon, a Targaryen. I was not expecting that!
I think that makes Aemon either an great-uncle or great-great-uncle to Dany, but I’m not sure, because (a) I’m avoiding the genealogy indices at the end of the book for fear of spoilers, and (b) I don’t even know how you define these things when siblings are marrying each other as a matter of course. Talk about your gnarly family trees .
I guess Hollywood has trained me well, because I was immediately indignant at Aemon’s declaration that love is the bane of honor. And even after his (really quite cogent) explanation of that statement, I still want to be all “But—but—love, maaaaaan!”
How can you not be down with love, I am apparently conditioned to protest? And yet, I do see his point. And of course, his relating it back to Jon’s father is not evenly slightly accidental, narratively speaking, since that just happens to be the exact dilemma Ned is currently faced with. Funny, that!
And I see Jon agrees with me that Ned will let honor win, but I’m really not sure which way Jon himself is going to jump. My feeling is that Jon’s being set up way too significantly to be stuck on the Wall for this whole series, but I can’t currently see how anything’s going to work out re: him being a Leader of Men if he’s also being hunted as a deserter and oathbreaker. Not to mention, how could he be of help to Robb or Ned that way anyway?
[Jon] had burned himself more badly than he knew throwing the flaming drapes, and his right hand was swathed in silk halfway to the elbow. At the time he’d felt nothing; the agony had come after. His cracked red skin oozed fluid, and fearsome blood blisters rose between his fingers, big as roaches.
OW OW OW. The worst burn I’ve ever received to date (*knocks on wood*) was a few years ago when my potholder slipped as I was taking a pan out of a 400?F oven, and my thumb and part of my palm came squarely down on the grill underneath. (My life of danger, let me show you it.) That was no more than a second-degree burn, and yet it felt like my hand was still frying for almost a full day afterwards.
(I actually tried to go to sleep that night with my fist plunged into a pot of ice water, that’s how bad it hurt; as you can imagine, this approach did not work at all. On the, er, upside, you could play tic-tac-toe with my blister pattern, which was kind of hilarious. Later. Much, much later.)
My point is, if my wimpy little grill burn hurt as much as it did, I can only imagine what Jon’s burns felt like. Third-degree burns are supposed to be some of the most painful injuries it is possible to receive, and I believe it. Ow. Poor Jon.
But hey, at least he gets a Significant Sword in return! I do love me a weapon of symbolic portent, you guys. It is one of my very favorite fantasy tropes. It’s a shame Jon wasn’t really in the right headspace to fully appreciate the honor being bestowed upon him, but at least he wasn’t a dick about it. Mormont is so looking to replace traitor Jorah with a new son, you guys.
And now, of course, it is totally inevitable that Jon and Jorah will cross paths one day, and Jorah will be all WUT and Jon will be all YOU! and Jorah will be all MAH DADDYS SWORD ARGH JORAH SMASH, and happy dueltimes will ensue.
Or, you know, not. But that would be the logical thing to happen! Yes.
(My brain, ladies and gentlemen. Take a good look now, it’ll be gone soon!)
Um. What was I talking about? Oh, yes, swords. Can pommels of working swords really be made of stone? I’m hardly an expert, but I’ve read about a lot of swords in my day, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one with a stone pommel before, so that made me blink a bit. Oh, well, it sounded cool, anyway.
And Thorne is gone! HOORAY. Now Jon won’t have to kill him! Very awesome. Of course, that also means that Mormont just hinged his recruiting hopes on Alliser goddamn Thorne, which has disaster written all over it, but I’ll take my silver linings where I can find them. Hit the road, Jack, and dontcha come back no more no more no more no more! Whee!
And of course Ser Barristan is still on the loose, hah. I still feel very sorry for him, but I confess I grinned when Mormont mentioned he’d killed two of the guys sent to catch him. Take that, Joffrey! Neener!
“Lord Mormont’s raven likes fruit and corn.”
“He is a rare bird,” the maester said. “Most ravens will eat grain, but they prefer flesh. It makes them strong, and I fear they relish the taste of blood. In that they are like men . . . and like men, not all ravens are alike.”
Mmm-hm. No meta commentary here, no sir!
And that’s what I got for this one, kids. So have a good weekend, and many mighty cheers to ya!