Monday, March 29, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 2

I am bleary-eyed today, courtesy of some unscheduled essay-editing for my still-in-school siblings. I'm also in a hyphen-at-will kind of mood, which could be because of my lack of sleep. But who has time for sleep when there are kingdoms and thrones on the line?

Disclaimer: There are some spoilers. If you haven't read all four books, surprises could be ruined. The intro post is here, Part 1 was here, and all entries are being logged with the "ASOIAF re-read" tag.

That's enough official business. Now for Part 2 of the Re-read, in which we get up close and personal with the people of Winterfell, and I find it hard to be brief.

Chapter 4: Eddard

What Happens

Ned watches as visitors enter the gates of Winterfell. There are men he recognizes, and one fat, giant man who turns out to be the king. Robert crushes Ned in a hug and tells him he hasn't aged a day in the last nine years, but Ned thinks Robert has put on at least eight stone in that time. He greets the king formally, and then Robert asks to see the Stark family crypt. Queen Cersei starts to protest, but Robert only looks at her before her twin brother Jamie takes her away.

As Ned takes Robert down to the crypt, the king jokes about the journey north, and about how Ned should go south for a while. He talks of warm weather, good food, fine wine, and scantily clad women. Ned has never shared the king's large appetites, and says little. When they arrive at the sarcophagus of Lyanna Stark, Robert is finally moved to silence. He looks at the carved likeness of his former betrothed, and complains that she was more beautiful than the stonemason's work implied. He wishes she had been buried in a sunny place with fruit trees around her, but Ned says she was a Stark of Winterfell, and her place is with the rest of the line. Ned remembers finding her in a pool of blood, and he remembers the promise he made her before she died. Robert, still grieving, remembers killing Rhaegar for what he did to Lyanna, and regrets only being able to kill him once.

The old friends turn back and talk of other matters, particularly the sudden death of Jon Arryn. Lysa Arryn has returned to the Eyrie with her son, against the wishes of the king. Now Robert has come to Winterfell to ask Ned to be the King's Hand. It is an honour Ned does not want, since it means helping to rule all seven kingdoms, a very difficult task. Robert counters that Ned is the best man he knows, and they could have been brothers once. Then he adds that their families can still be joined by marriage if Ned allows his daughter, Sansa, to marry Robert's son, Joffrey. The offer surprises Ned, and he asks for time to think about it. The king agrees, and the old friends leave the crypt.

That chapter was bigger than the first few, and it certainly helped with some back-story. There's the Robert-Lyanna betrothal, followed by the avenging of her kidnapping and death. We get a few teases about the war that made Robert king, including a flashback to the Battle of the Trident, where Robert hammered Rhaegar into the river. It's kind of hard to picture Robert as six and a half foot tall man who used to be "clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden's fantasy." That was the warrior who beat the prince of the Targaryen's, avenging his lady love. Then the warrior became king and went to seed. He's probably just as immature as he ever was, only now he has let himself go. Then there are the hints of Robert's infidelities, his lack of shame concerning them, and his lack of feelings for Cersei. It's interesting that the Robert of old looks like a hero, a knight straight out of an Arthurian romance. Meanwhile, our first glimpse of the deceased Prince Rhaegar casts him in the "Bad" side of the war. That's a Targaryen for you.

Then there is Ned; grave, loyal, and conflicted. He doesn't want to be the Hand. He wants to stay and rule the lands around Winterfell with his family. Will he choose to go with his old friend and his king? He has a fleeting sense of foreboding, and that's about where I start wishing characters would listen to their instincts once in a while. Of course, if they did, this series would be a lot shorter. As in, it could have ended here. All Ned has to say is: "No, Robert, I will not go with you and that ever-so-charming Lannister you married instead of my sister. She's a keeper." And they lived happily ever after. Or not. So let us read and find out how things start going to the seven hells.

Chapter 5: Jon

What Happens

During the feast at Winterfell, Jon is dining at a table separate from his family and the royal guests. He is reflecting on the benefits of his lower station. For one thing, he can have Ghost with him, while his half-siblings are not allowed to have theirs at the main table. For another thing, he can drink as much as he'd like. His uncle Benjen Stark takes a seat beside him and asks why he's not with the others. It seems Lady Catelyn thought this arrangement would be better. Jon pretends not to care, but he asks his uncle if he can join the Night's Watch. There are no prospects for a bastard at Winterfell, but he could win renown on the Wall. Benjen is a man of the Night's Watch, and he tells Jon that he might be too young for a lifetime in the Brotherhood. They have no families, sons, or wives. Jon has never been with a woman, so Benjen thinks he cannot know what he would give up. Jon loses his temper when his uncle mentions fathering bastards, inadvertently making a scene as he yells at Benjen and then runs out of the hall, tripping over himself. He exits to the sound of laughter, angry and ashamed.

Out in the yard, a little man asks Jon about his direwolf pup. The man is Tyrion Lannister, as stunted and hideous as his siblings Cersei and Jamie are tall and beautiful. The dwarf makes some small talk about the pet, and then shifts the topic to Jon's lineage. When Tyrion advises Jon to make the best of his situation, Jon is still not in the mood for advice.

"What do you know about being a bastard?"
"All dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes."
"You are your mother's trueborn son of Lannister."
"Am I?" the dwarf replied, sardonic. "Do tell my lord father. My mother died birthing me, and he's never been sure."
"I don't even know who my mother was," Jon said.
"Some woman, no doubt. Most of them are." He favored Jon with a rueful grin. "Remember this, boy. All dwarfs may be bastards, yet not all bastards need be dwarfs." And with that he turned and sauntered back into the feast, whistling a tune. When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.

And the cast of characters grows. We get a better look at most of the Lannisters, even if it's still from a distance. The only one Jon looks on favourably is Jamie, since he looks like more of a king than Robert. But this chapter is more about the unfortunate ones at the feast. First there is Jon, the Heroic Bastard, drinking like a fish since he can't dine at the the main table. Benjen puts in the first of his brief appearances in this series, and he does his part to comfort Jon and be a decent uncle. Jon is neither sober or in the mood for advice, so he makes his cringe-worthy exit from the hall.

That's when he meets the other unfortunate character, Tyrion. His siblings are beautiful, powerful, and feared, while the dwarf is none of those things. But he's self-deprecating, witty, and he's one of the smartest people in the realm, something that most of the realm tends to forget. He falls into a trickster category somewhere between Plucky Comic Relief and the Guile Hero, although he's much more than comic relief, and calling him a hero might be a stretch. Here he starts off on the right foot, offering Jon comfort a la tough love. When the chapter ends, you can't help but hope that someday these two characters make good.

Chapter 6: Catelyn

What Happens

Catelyn and Ned finish lovemaking. She stays in their warm bed while Ned goes to stand in the cold air coming from the open windows. He wants to refuse Robert's offer, but Catelyn says he must not. She thinks Robert will see noncompliance as opposition and eventual rebellion. The memory of the dead direwolf killed by the broken antler is what worries her, though she does not tell Ned. Instead she tells him of the honours of being the King's Hand, and the possibilities for their daughter if Sansa were to marry Joffrey and eventually become queen. Ned laments that he must make these decisions that would have belonged to his brother, Brandon. As the older brother and eventual lord of Winterfall, Brandon was supposed to marry Catelyn, but custom made Ned marry her when Brandon was killed.

They are interrupted by the arrival of Maester Luwin, their counsellor. He tells them that he anonymously received a box containing a lens, with a message hidden in a false bottom. The message is for Catelyn, and her dread increases when she sees that it is from Lysa. The letter is written in a private code the sisters used to share, but Catelyn burns it after reading. She tells Ned that there is contained a warning and an accusation: Jon Arryn was murdered by Cersei. Catelyn and the maester tell Ned that he can be instrumental to protecting the king and the realm if he is the King's Hand. After some thought he agrees, but he needs Catelyn to rule Winterfell in his stead, and she is not pleased by that decision. He will leave her with Robb and baby Rickon, taking Sansa, Arya, and Bran with him to King's Landing. When it comes to Bran, Catelyn says: "Keep him off the walls [...] You know how Bran loves to climb."

Then Maester Luwin asks what they'll do about Jon Snow. Catelyn tenses at the name. She has never loved Jon. Bastards are common enough in the world, but when the rebellion against the Targaryens was over, Ned brought the baby Jon back to Winterfell with him. To have him in plain sight and to hear Ned call him "son" for all the world to hear is something Catelyn can never forgive. She will not keep Jon at Winterfell, and Ned is reluctant to bring him to King's Landing where he would be mocked for being a bastard. The maester tells them that Jon wants to join the Night's Watch. Ned is shocked, but Catelyn is quietly thankful; that would get Jon out of the way, and the vows of the Watch would ensure that Jon has no heirs to challenge the Starks for Winterfell. The chapter ends with Ned having a lot to think about.

Poor Ned. We have Catelyn to thank for getting this King's Hand business on the roll. Here she is doing a Lady Macbeth impersonation, admittedly because she is worried about the bleak foreshadowing courtesy of the dead direwolf. Unlike the fellow from That Scottish Play, Ned is completely uninterested in honour, fame, and riches. Duty is all that binds him, but is his duty to the North, or to his king? Egged on by his wife, Ned chooses the king. (Save the groans for later.)

Bran's wall-climbing habits: Methinks I see another bit of foreshadowing.

Once again there is the subject of Jon's lineage. In case the last chapter left Catelyn's feelings for Jon ambiguous, this chapter clears everything up, and I'm sad to say that she's being a bit short-sighted on this one. True, the feelings of shame are understandable, but I wish she could have had just a little bit of affection for the boy. Then there is the possible (re: probable) red herring when Catelyn reminisces about her arrival at Winterfell, and her introduction to Jon and his wet nurse: the story of young Ned killing Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, first of Aerys's Kingsguard. There were rumours that Ned hooked up with Dayne's sister, Ashara, a beautiful woman. The only time Catelyn was ever frightened by Ned was when she asked him about it. Ned said "He is my blood," which still doesn't clear everything up, but he must have done something afterwards because those rumours were never mentioned again. By the way, just how tough must Ned have been to kill the deadliest of the Kingsguard in single combat? That's the cream of the crop right there. He might think of Robert as having been a peerless warrior, but Ned was no slouch back in the day.

Back in the master bedroom, Maester Luwin effectively solves Catelyn's problem. Ned doesn't like the thought of sending Jon away so young, but the boy's options are limited. He'll think about it, but readers know the writing is on the wall.


And that's all for now. I have work to do, then I need to get cracking on the next few chapters, and then I need to sleep. Tune in Thursday to see if the summaries get shorter in Part 3. I'm outta here for now. Thanks and buh-bye.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since you're not averse to future spoilerage, you might want to note that it's later clarified that Ned didn't kill Arthur Dayne alone, but was instead on the winning side of a 5 vs 3 battle, with only his ally Howland Reed surviving along with Ned.

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