So what better way to kick off the first full week of July than with the latest from Westeros. This episode will feature some royals and not-yet-royals behaving badly, and the previously promised chapter that I'm oddly partial to. See? I eventually deliver.
In the interest of continuity, here is the last post (part 19), the intro post, and the first post. You can follow along using the #ASOIAF hashtag on Twitter, and the RSS button near the upper right of the screen. Your comments on these and other matters are always welcome, World Cup predictions included.
Picking up almost where we left off last time with The Ballad of Ned Stark...
Chapter 44: Sansa
Sansa is upset and embarrassed that her father did not send Loras Tyrell after Ser Gregor when he clearly would have made the perfect hero. Her friend, Jeyne Poole, thinks Ser Ilyn should have gone, but she also thinks the world of Ser Beric. Sansa thinks Ser Beric is too old at twenty-one.
Sansa tells Jeyne about what else happened at the gathering, including the appeal from a black brother for men to join the Night's Watch. The man was hideous and dirty, and if he was the sort of man that came from the Wall, Sansa felt sorry for Jon Snow.
The next morning she watches as Ser Beric and the others leave King's Landing. She goes down to the kitchens and sees Arya there. Their conversation descends into bickering and name-calling, until Septa Mordane sends them both to their rooms.
A few hours later, the septa brings the girls to their father, and he tells them that they are going back to Winterfell. Arya hopes they can take Syrio Forel, but Sansa is crushed as her dream of marrying Joffrey is being denied. She verbally lashes out at Arya, thinking it all her sister's fault that they're leaving, and begs Ned to let her stay. She swears that she loves Joff and can't bear to be parted from him.
Ned tells her that she is young, and he will make another match for her, with someone far better than Joff. She argues that she just wants the prince. She wants to give him blonde babies, "as brave as the wolf and as proud as the lion."
Arya made a face. "Not if Joffrey's his father," she said. "He's a liar and a craven and anyhow he's a stag, not a lion."
Sansa felt tears in her eyes. "He is not! He's not the least bit like that old drunken king."
Her words trigger a reaction in Ned. "Gods," he swore softly, "out of the mouths of babes..." He calls for the septa to take his children away, promising to talk to them again the next day. But Sansa just cries, angry at her father and sister.
Sansa, Sansa, Sansa. Give Martin credit; he knows how to write characters we can loathe. I think I've mentioned that I like Sansa, but not at this point in the story. She is the epitome of a selfish, stuck-up brat. It's a little surprising, considering her upbringing. You'd think she had better manners for her father, even if she dislikes Arya. She loses it in front of Ned. I guess the courtly manners don't last when a dream is being taken away.
Arya continues being awesome in her very brief appearance, showing maturity and restraint when it comes to Sansa.
And it was finally revelation time for Ned and the mystery of Jon Arryn's death. The royal brats are offspring of Cersei and Jaime. Ick.
That's been such an accepted part of this series for so long that I can't remember when I first clued into the truth. There's any number of clues, of course. A more intelligent armchair detective might even have considered it elementary but I don't think I got it until Mya Stone showed up on the heels of Gendry, and then baby Barra confirmed it. So, everything has clicked into place for Ned, and he must act. No, wait... not everything. He still thinks Cersei murdered Jon Arryn. But that's a finer detail, and not pertinent to the main thing, which we'll get to in the next chapter.
"But say nothing of this. It's better if no one knows of our plans." Of course Ned would say that. It's not like he had a choice, but those two lines might as well make a big, neon sign that says: "JINX!" I don't think the saying "Loose lips sink ships" existed in Ned's day. Such is life.
Chapter 45: Eddard
The king is not yet back from his hunt, and Ned has received word from Pycelle that Lord Tywin is not happy about the orders against Gregor Clegane. Ned dares Tywin to defy the king, knowing that would mean war.
After a brief meeting with Littlefinger, Ned deliberates over what he must do with the knowledge of Cersei's incestuous children. Robert would kill them if he knew the truth, but he had to know, for the honour and duty of the king, realm, Jon Arryn, and Bran.
He sends Fat Tom to deliver a message to someone while he waits in the godswood. After a while, Cersei arrives alone, asking why he wanted to meet there? "So the gods can see," he answers. He tells her that he knows the truth Jon Arryn died for.
"I remember Robert as he was the day he took the throne, every inch a king," he said quietly. "A thousand other women might have loved him with all their hearts. What did he do to make you hate him so?"
Her eyes burned, green fire in the dusk, like the lioness that was her sigil. "The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister's name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered Lyanna."
Ned pities her and Robert, but he must tell Robert the truth. Cersei briefly comes on to him, promising companionship in exchange for the safety of her children. Ned refuses, and she scorns him for acting like he has such high morals. After all, he has a bastard of his own. How is he any different from Robert or Jaime?
"For a start," said Ned, "I do not kill children." He tells Cersei to take her children and flee because Robert will surely hunt them all down and have them killed. His wrath will follow them everywhere.
"And what of my wrath, Lord Stark?" she asked softly. Her eyes searched his face. "You should have taken the realm for yourself. It was there for the taking. Jaime told me how you found him on the Iron Throne the day King's Landing fell, and made him yield it up. That was your moment. All you needed to do was climb those steps, and sit. Such a sad mistake."
"I have made more mistakes than you can possibly imagine," Ned said, "but that was not one of them."
Cersei disagrees and leaves Ned alone in the godswood.
This is actually one of my favourite chapters in this book. Everything in the series is hanging in the balance here. You feel like finally there is some closure about major events, such as Jon Arryn's death, the seed that is strong, and what is up with the Cersei-Jaime-Robert triangle.
I think I'll even say that this is the one time I can sympathize with Cersei. She's being honest, and she's a little bitter, but there's an underlying sadness for everything that could have been yet never was. It's one big What If, capped by her question about why Ned didn't take the throne when he found Jaime sitting on it. (Question: What put Robert higher in the pecking order for the throne?)
EDIT: "Robert was the next Targayan in line of succession after the actual royal family. His grandmother or greatgrandmother was a Targayan." Thanks to @Rogerdering for that answer.)
Of course, there's another What If that's raised, ever so briefly. Can you imagine if Ned had taken Cersei's offer? I doubt he would have lived long (see what happens to the Kettleblacks for proof), but the option was there. There's no chance Ned would ever do such a thing, but perhaps someone just a bit less scrupulous would have. It's a ridiculous though, I know, but Cersei had to think there was a chance to suggest it. This isn't the unhinged Cersei of the future we're dealing with.
And yet, we also see the Cersei that is totally okay with incest and murdering children. She's rationalized the former because a) the Targaryens did it, and b) because her brother is worth a hundred of Robert. She's rationalized the latter by saying that she loves her children and would do everything to protect them. (We've seen precious little of Myrcella and Tommen, so we can't say if she cares about them as much as Joff.)
Morally questionable? Yes. Insane? Nope. She is goal-directed, and it's to Ned's own detriment that he doesn't see that. She says it herself: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."
Tune in Thursday for Part 21 of Royals Behaving Badly Part, when we witness the passing of a king.
An armchair detective of the imaginary kind, Francesco enjoys looking for clues in stories by