Monday, April 26, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 10

Good day to all, and welcome back to the Re-read.

We left off at the end of Part 9. Today we'll cover chapters 25 and 26, in which there is a lot of talking, a bit of action, and someone finds out he could be sleeping with the fishes if he doesn't behave.

The intro post is here, and entries can be tracked with the ASOIAF tag. (#ASOIAF on Twitter.) This post and all posts contain occasional spoilers for the first four books in A Song of Ice and Fire. Read at your own discretion. Also, we are only covering the main books so far and not touching any of the short stories that have been published in collections.

The preamble is over. We begin after the jump.

Chapter 25: Eddard

What Happens

Grand Maester Pycelle is telling Ned about the circumstances of Lord Arryn's death. The old maester rambles about the heat and the other hot summers he's lived through. Ned steers the talk back to Jon Arryn. Pycelle says that Arryn had seemed burdened for a while, perhaps by his sickly child, or by his wife, Lysa, or by affairs of the realm.

The day before Arryn fell ill he asked to borrow a book from Pycelle, and he was as healthy as ever. The next day he lay sick in his bed. Pycelle sent away the maester tending to Arryn for fear that his inexperience was killing the older lord. Arryn was feverish, but he asked after Robert. There was no telling whether he was asking for his son or his king, but Lysa kept the child away and the king went to Arryn's side. His last words before slipping away were said to Robert and Lysa: The seed is strong. They took it as a blessing for Arryn's son.

Ned asks about the possibilities of unnatural death. Pycelle says the death was no stranger than any other he had seen in forty years as Grand Maester. Ned suggests poison. That surprises Pycelle. For one thing, murder and poison are not common among the noble houses, and a poisoner is beneath contempt. For another thing, Arryn displayed none of the signs. The Hand was loved by all. Who would have him murdered?

Ned points out that poison can be a woman's weapon. Pycelle agrees, and suggests that it can also be used by eunuchs, equating them with women and cravens. He tells Ned not to trust Varys. Ned thanks him for the advice, gets up to leave, and then asks after the book Arryn was looking at. Pycelle says it was a book on the lineage of the Great Houses, and he will find and deliver it. Then Ned asks if the Queen was around when Arryn died. Pycelle answers that she and the children were going to Casterly Rock to be with Lord Tywin. The two men then say goodbye.

"Come to me as often as you like, Lord Eddard. I am here to serve."
Yes, Ned thought as the door swung shut, but whom?

On the way back to Ned's chambers, he finds Arya practicing her balance as per Syrio's instructions. She asks if Bran will join them now, but Ned tells her that Bran needs his strength. He will never be knight now, but he can still be a lord, or a king's councillor, or a High Septon. Arya asks if she can do the same.

"You, Ned said, kissing her lightly on the brow, "will marry a king and rule his castle, and your sons will be knights and princes and lords and, yes, perhaps even a High Septon."

Arya thinks that's more for Sansa, and gets back to her practice. In his chambers, Ned is informed that Lord Baelish is waiting to see him. Littlefinger begins the meeting with small talk about Ser Barristan and the coming tourney, and then tells Ned that there are four people from Jon Arryn's household staff who remained in King's Landing when Lysa left. This news pleases Ned, and he wants to send for them, but Littlefinger starts telling him who around them is spying on Ned for either Varys or the queen. Ned is dismayed by all the intrigue.

"Is everyone someone's informer in this cursed city?"
"Scarcely," said Littlefinger. He counted on the fingers on his hand. "Why, there's me, you, the king... although, come to think on it, the king tells the queen much too much, and I'm less than certain about you."

He asks Ned if trusts any of his men, and is amused when ned says yes. As he leaves, Ned calls after him.

"Lord Petyr, [...] I... am grateful for your help. Perhaps I was wrong to distrust you."
Littlefinger fingered his small pointed beard. "You are slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest thing you've done since you climbed down off your horse."

The thing about liars is that you never know when to believe them. Take Littlefinger's last lines. Those were pure truth. The rest? We may never know. He easily throws suspicion on Varys and the queen by naming a boy and a guard as spies, but aside from the possibility that he is lying, he also makes it seem like he doesn't have his own eyes and ears hiding in King's Landing. So, Ned, take Littlefinger's fair warning.

Moving back to the first half the chapter, Pycelle seems like a kindly, honest, and wise old maester. Sounds like an Ancient Keeper to me. What we can tell so far is that his story is sound on the surface, but there are a few places where I'd look further if I were Ned. For example, was Arryn getting any better? We can't know because Pycelle replaced Maester Colemon, so we have to accept Pycelle's version of events. Also, Jon Arryn was healthy one day and cramping up the next. Just because Pycelle shrugs off the suggestion of poison because it is a coward's weapon does not mean it isn't a valid option. Or THE option, as it turns out.

Pycelle also slights Varys. The Spider does not have any friends at court it would seem. I guess that's the price he pays for being more open about his spying than, say, Littlefinger. Yet I wonder if all the distaste for Varys comes from his job. He is a eunuch, and therefore he is considered less than a man. Also, we discover that we was born a slave in Lys. So, between his appearance (fat, bald, kind of smelly), his background (foreign, former slave), his manhood (um... lacking), and his occupation (spymaster), you have a man who might not be easy to like or trust in a position of power in Westeros.

Varys is never less than an interesting character. Does he deserve to be so mistrusted? We'll see. What we know for sure is that he is just one of many who can play the game of thrones better than Ned, at least for now.

I included the quote about Arya because I wonder if any of it will ever come true. It sure does sound like that's more of Sansa's thing, but you never know for sure.

Chapter 26: Jon

What Happens
A new recruit arrives at Castle Black one morning. He is the fattest boy Jon has ever seen. Pyp tells Jon he sounds like a southern lordling. Ser Alliser calls the new boy Ser Piggy, and the Lord of Ham, then gets him to spar with Halder, one of the largest boys in the group.

The boy yields almost immediately. Ser Alliser urges Halder to hit him some more, and he does. Jon wants to intervene but Pyp holds him back until Ser Alliser asks Halder to hit the boy again. Jon pulls away from Pyp and tells Halder to stop.

"The Bastard speaks and the peasants tremble," the master-at arms said in that sharp cold voice of his. "I remind you that I am the master-at-arms here, Lord Snow."
"Look at him, Halder," Jon urged, ignoring Thorne as best he could. "There's no honour in beating a fallen foe. He yielded."

When Halder backs down, Ser Alliser gets Jon to draw his sword.

"The Bastard wishes to defend his lady love, so we shall make an exercise of it. Rat, Pimple, help our Stone Head here." Rast and Albett moved to join Halder. "Three of you ought to be sufficient to make Lady Piggy squeal. All you need do is get past the Bastard."

Jon readies himself to face three boys alone, but Pyp steps in to help the odds, and Grenn is right behind him. The six boys fight, with Jon's trio winning and Ser Alliser leaving the yard in disgust. Jon is bruised from the fight, and the new boy helps him remove the armor. The boy introduces himself as Samwell Tarly. The others give their names, and Grenn asks why Sam didn't fight. Sam answers that he thinks he's a coward. The admission stuns the boys, who cannot believe that smeone would admit such a thing.

"You were hurt," [Jon] sad. Tomorrow you'll do better."
Sam looked mournfully back over one shoulder. "No I won't," he said, blinking back tears. "I never do better."

Sam goes to the armory, and the others go their separate ways. The day's duty calls for Jon to spread crushed stone on the top of the Wall. He thinks about Sam's situation and what Tyrion would have made of it, figuring that it takes a particular kind of courage to admit being craven. Gravelling the path takes the better part of the day. It is dusk by the time Jon is done, and most of the others have finished the evening meal. Jon sees Sam sitting alone, and goes to eat with him. The boy seems frightened of everything, so Jon decides to take him for a walk outside, away from everyone else.

The two get to know each other as Sam describes the south land where he's from, but he breaks down in tears when Jon asks why he's so afraid of everything. Ghost comes to the rescue, licking Sam's face and making the boys laugh. Jon tells Sam about finding the direwolf pups, and then he goes on about his dreams of Winterfell. In the dreams he is walking down empty halls looking for his father, or Robb, or Arya, or his uncle. Benjen is still missing. When Sam asks if he finds anyone, Jon says no. The emptiness scares him, and he runs screaming until he reaches the crypts.

"Somehow I know I have to go down there, but I don't want to. I'm afraid of what might be waiting for me. The old Kings of Winter are down there, sitting on their thrones with stone wolves at their feet and iron swords across their laps, but it's not them I'm afraid of. I scream that I'm not a Stark, that this isn't my place, but it's no good, I have to go anyway, so I start down, feeling the walls as I descend, with no torch to light the way. It gets darker and darker, until I want to scream." He stopped, frowning, embarrassed. "That's when I always wake."

Jon doesn't know why he told Sam this when he never told anyone else. Sam, meanwhile, opens up about his home, Horn Hill. His father, Lord Randyll Tarly, wanted a strong and suitable heir to follow him. He was disappointed in Sam's softness and lack of martial ambition. Lord Ransyll tried everything from hiring different masters-at-arms to hiring warlocks from Qarth to make Sam brave. Nothing worked. When Sam's mother finally gave birth to another son, Lord Randyll gave the new boy all his attention until the day Sam turned fifteen. Then he told Sam that the lands and title would pass to his younger brother, and Sam would voluntarily enlist on the Wall or he would suffer an unfortunate huntingaccident.

Jon is surprised that Sam can tell his story calmly and without tears. Jon invites Sam back to the common hall for hot cider, but Sam decides to go rest. He figures he'll need to rest since Ser Alliser will make him fight again in the morning. When Sam leaves, Jon finds the other youths still sitting in the hall. A couple of them joke about Sam, but Jon silences them and then tells them what they're going to do from now on. One by one, he gets the other to agree, all except Rast.

"You girls do as you please," Rast said, "but if Thorne sends me against Lady Piggy, I'm going to slice me off a rasher of bacon." He laughed in Jon's face and left them there.
Hours later, as the castle slept,three of them paid a call on his cell. Grenn held his arms while Pyp sat on his legs. Jon could hear Rast's rapid breathing as Ghost leapt onto his chest. The direwolf's eyes burned red as mbers and his teeth nipped lightly at the soft skin of the boy's throat, just enough to draw blood. "Remember, we know where you sleep," Jon said softly.

The next day, and every day after that, no one attacks Sam when Ser Alliser tells them to. Instead they just block his clumsy attacks. Ser Alliser is furious, but the boys don't attack. Within a few weeks, Sam is eating and joking with the others. He knows Jon must have done something, and he tells him so, but Jon says they're all brothers now.

Jon reflects on that statement when Sam leaves. It was just as Benjen had said; Jon might dream of Winterfell and miss the Starks, but his true brothers were now the outcasts on the wall.

When I first read about Sam, I wondered whether Martin was taking a page out of Lord of the Flies, with Sam (Ser Piggy) as Piggy and Jon as Ralph, but any similarities stopped there. Piggy was not the coward that Sam is, although Jon is right to think that it takes a peculiar kind of courage to admit you're a coward.

Sam waddles into this story at the age of fifteen, weighing in at 20 stone (approx. 280 lbs or 127 kg). He could have been an endless source of fat jokes, but instead Jon steps in to save the day and gain a faithful follower, much to Ser Alliser's dismay. The defiance of Ser Alliser keeps going, and the legend of Lord Snow keeps growing. Of course his side wins when the boys have to fight three on three, and Sam gets to survive his first day of training.

Despite earlier mentions of the the Night's Watch being populated by men without much honour, honour is exactly what Jon is preaching when he gets Halder to stop humiliating Sam. How very Ned Stark of him. It's a measure of the respect that Jon is earning that the argument works and Halder listens to him instead of Ser Alliser.

Jon's walk on the Wall gives us a bit of a break before the transition to the evening meal. The funniest line in this chapter comes from Sam after he asks Jon what they will do when they go for a walk outside "Talk," Jon said. "Have you seen the Wall?" "I'm fat, not blind. [...] Of course I saw it, it's seven hundred feet high." Heh. Ok, so it's not going to land Sam paid gigs at Yuk Yuk's, there are so many dark moments in this series that you have to appreciate the moments of levity.

Jon's dream: I've mentioned this before, but nothing says foreshadowing like recurring dreams. The empty Winterfell sounds ominous, but what is in the crypts? To those who theorize that Jon is not a Stark descendant at all, this dream would seem to suggest otherwise. He may not be a "Stark", but their blood calls.

Speaking of Stark bodies, we get a tiny bit more about Benjen. More rangers have gone searching for him, finding nothing except some blazes on trees until the marks stop in the stony northwest highlands and all trace of Benjen disappears. It's reasonable to assume that tracks would be difficult to find on stony land, but the rangers know what they're doing. Either they looked and could find nothing because there was nothing to find, or they could not search that land for some other reason (wildling occupation, perhaps). No trace whatsoever could also mean that he's met the Others and did not survive, or... there was some other supernatural occurrence. Or both. We don't know yet.

Back to the conversation between new friends. Lord Randyll is a lousy human being. Lots of children are disappointments to their parents, and some parents do not love their kids, who relishes the thought of hunting down their son like a pig? Randyll Tarly, that's who. We meet him much later. He's still lousy.

It's a good thing Jon has honourable intentions, because in another life he would have made a great gang leader. He's a good guy, so he's a Bully Hunter with a healthy dose of Big Brother Instinct. Aside from undermining Ser Alliser's authority (deservedly so), the nighttime visit to Rast is one horse's head shy of a message from the Mafia. Again, Jon is standing up for what is just, but threats and force are still bully tactics. You can debate whether the end justify the means. As far as this story is concerned, all it does is show us that Jon is shaping up to be a leader among his new brothers. And I suppose that's good enough.


That's it? Already? Awww. Well, come back on Thursday for Part 11, as we go from one bastard to another youth of questionable lineage, and we'll get to see how the Lord and Lady Stark are getting on with their separate endeavors. Be sure to chime in with your comments. Bye!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying to my replies!
(1) My favorite character is Jaime. I am prone to excessive fangirling on this subject.
(2) When you mentioned “the bits with Mat” I was all Mat what Mat? Compared to KoD anyway, which was very much Mat’s book, in the same way ACoK was Tyrion’s book. I need more Mat in my life.
(3) Can Arya poison a Braavosi – er, Sicilian while she’s at it? I don’t particularly care if she does it before or after she brings on the lefthanded badassery.
(4) I write fanfic but not in the asoiaf fandom. I don’t think any of us are entitled to attack GRRM for his position re: fanfic – it’s his baby and he calls the shots – but I do believe that his reasoning is fundamentally flawed. Here is some intelligent fanfic-related commentary: Naomi Novik in a phone interview ( talks about getting her start as a fantasy author in the fanfic trenches. The Feminist SF blog ( talks about Robin Hobb, another author who keenly disapproves of fanfic. And here is Cory Doctorow (, “In Praise of Fanfic.” I don’t know if I could make a convincing argument, even now, that fanfic is a net social good and we should all hold hands with intellectual property rights lawyers and sing kumbaya … but I am floored that there is so much debate surrounding the subject and people actually write their Ph.D. theses about it.

Okay on to the actual post.
(1) You know what I just realized? Ned has been neatly pinioned by the Triumvirate of Espionage Doom – namely Varys, Pycelle and Littlefinger. They each tease him with tantalizing tidbits of information, all the while warning him not to trust the others. Ned’s epic failure to handle them strikes a nice contrast to Tyrion, who plays the game like a pro. I’m thinking of the 1-2-3 chapter in ACoK, savvy?
(2) The trope of the soft southron lordling intrigues me.
(3) WWTD = What Would Tyrion Do? Hahaha love it.
(4) That line about being fat not blind is one of my all-time faves. Thanks for spotlighting it.
(5) Sadly, Westeros is the kind of place where Randyll Tarly and Roose Bolton would co-write a parenting handbook that tops the Kings Landing Bestseller List for three winters running.
(6) Good call on Jon fighting fire with fire with the bullying tactics. It was necessary, and it sets him on the path towards becoming a grayer character.


Errant Knave said...

Some answers and musings:
1) Jamie tops my list in ASOIAF. I don't know what excessive fangirling entails, but I might be prone to the male equivalent.
2)I know Mat is barely in TGS, but his humour seemed off so I didn't mind. I understand that the next book, Towers of Midnight, will be more Mat-centric. I hope it works out because he's my fave.
4) Regarding fanfic, I think I get most of the arguments, but I don't think writing it should be a problem. I also think I'd be flattered or at least amused if anyone wrote fanfic for anything I'd published. My only concern would be that a lot of fanfic isn't good, but the same goes for most "original" content submitted to publishers. (If I had a dollar for every Mary Sue...) I'll read the links you posted. It's interesting that you bring up Cory Doctorow. According to this very long but informative post, you might want to take what he says about copyright with a grain of salt. Or a lot of grains.
1) The Triumvirate of Espionage Doom: I might have to use that title in related posts. Except that I'd replace Pycelle with Cersei, since he's her pawn. And Tyrion's mastery of the game in ACoK is great to read about. Too bad he's undermined by just about everyone except Bronn.
4) "I'm fat, not blind." That is such a Mat line. Or maybe Perrin. What I'm saying is, it has a dry, Two Rivers sense of humour.
5) The thought of a Tarly/Bolton bestseller made me laugh.
"The 7 Habits of Highly Manipulative Fathers" with a forward by Tywin Lannister :D

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