Monday, July 5, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 20

Did you have a good weekend? For a long weekend that featured Canada Day on this side of the border, Independence Day on the south side of the border, the Pride parade, and a visit from the Queen of England, it was a fairly ho-hum stretch of days for me. Kinda blah. That's all I can say.

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


What Happens
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.

Commentary
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


What Happens
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.

Commentary
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 Ser Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin, and John le Carré, when he's not reading other stuff. He recommends Kate Beaton's comic for any fans of Sherlock Holmes. Bonus: The dude on the left in the Fiefdom header made a great Holmes until Downey Jr. came along, even though his Watson was an idiot. Jam!

8 comments:

Lya said...

That is a really excellent Ned chapter! Dunno how I missed its awesomeness but my "favorite chapter" designation is seriously overused with GRRM. Count me in as another reader scratching her head about how Cersei went from the dangerous woman we see here in the godswood to her laughable AFFC self. Great insights into Cersei's character - "goal oriented" is exactly what she is. The question of whether she loves Myrcella and Tommen as much as Joff is a legitimate one, and I guess I would posit that her love for Joff is kind of like her love of Jaime - there's an element of narcissism present. While I'm sure on some level she DOES care about Jaime and Joff's well-being, that concern is subordinate to what they represent. Jaime makes Cersei feel beautiful and Joffrey makes her feel ... well, like she's the mother of kings. Quite an accomplishment. I can see why she doesn't lavish the same attention on Tommen and Myrcella, sweet children though they may be.

Holmes is love! Rankin is goodtimes too. I have yet to pick up LeCarre, he's kind of intimidating! Icky weather persists this side of the border as well, but then again it's New England, we've grown to expect it.

Oh, and I don't really believe in A+J=T, I was just channeling my inner Dothraki with "It is known." Sorry for the confusion guys!

Lya said...

I'm 99% I already posted this comment but for some reason it's since disappeared. (And I'm sorry if you deleted it on purpose for a perfectly legit reason! I'll stop trying to repost it in that case.)

That is a really excellent Ned chapter! Dunno how I missed its awesomeness before. Damnit but every other chapter is a favorite chapter with GRRM. I'm another reader who's scratching her head about how Cersei went from the dangerous woman we see here to her laughable AFFC self. You have great insights into her character - "goal oriented" is exactly what she is. The question of whether she loves Myrcella and Tommen as much as Joff is a legitimate one, and I guess I would posit that her love for Joff is kind of like her love of Jaime - there's an overriding element of narcissism. While I'm sure on some level she DOES care about Jaime and Joff's well-being, that concern is subordinate to what they represent. Jaime makes Cersei feel beautiful and Joffrey makes her feel ... well, like she's the mother of kings. Quite an accomplishment. I can see why she doesn't lavish the same attention on Tommen and Myrcella, sweet children though they may be.

Holmes is love! Rankin is goodtimes too. I have yet to pick up LeCarre, he's kind of intimidating! Icky weather persists this side of the border as well, but then again it's New England, we've grown to expect it.

Oh, and I don't really believe in A+J=T, I was just channeling my inner Dothraki with "It is known." Sorry for the confusion guys!

ibeeeg said...

Kinda blah weekend huh? I suppose exciting weekends cannot happen all the time. ;)

Yes indeed, Martin does know how to write characters that we can loathe, and that is one of the brillant things about his writing!

I did not like Sansa either...not early on, and most especially not in this book.

Arya has been aweome from the get go...I am now at the point in the series where Arya does some stuff that has me in wonder...for instance...eating worms ...unm Yuck but geesh what guts or lack of fear (not certain which yet).

I am not certain either as to when I really grasped that the royal offspring where Cersei and Jaime's. I am thinking though that the strong clues did start in when Bran caught the two together. I do know, I found following Ned's journey of discovering the truth to be interesting reading.

I can see why the Eddard chapter is your favorite, I certainly remember that it kept my attention fully.

I sort of sympathized with Cersei, but allowing that one moment early on in marriage to ruin and set the tone for the rest of her married life was a sad, sad. sad mistake on her part. Yes, that was a horrid moment for which no woman would want BUT it takes strength of character to move beyond it...she does not have strength of character.
True, Robert is not without fault, and he most likely added greatly to the marital discord, but to feel complete sympthay for Cersei...even for a moment...I cannot.

Why put Robert higher in the pecking order for the throne? I am thinking that Ned never desired the position. It was not for him, and I do think he was better off that way. I am fairly certain that their relationship lent towards Robert being in the limelight (so-to-speak) while Ned was the backbone and stability, AND I am thinking Ned was just fine with that too.

Ned is an outstanding character, he would have been destroyed if he took Cersei up on her offer...destroyed even if Cersei did not do the actual destroying.

Cersei is for sure morally corrupt. Insane? I have to think upon that a bit. I see your point as to why she is not, but I also do not think she is completely on her rocker. She is a messed up soul, that is for sure.

That is a haunting last quote..."When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

Have not seen the Sherlock Holmes movie yet. Just put it in my blocbuster queue. Heard it was good movie. :)

Errant Knave said...

Lya, I see two very similar comments here. I've been burned a few times by commenting (or emailing) and having text disappear, so thanks for posting twice :D

I think Cersei was more effective when she wasn't running the show, when she had something to prove, and when she had her allies. By AFFC she is overburdened and undermined by the likes of Qyburn. Of course, she made that possible by being so arrogant. Keep in mind that she's benefiting at this stage from other machinations. For example, she wasn't behind the removal of Jon Arryn.

Myrcella and Tommen ARE sweet. It looks like Joff could have benefited from a bit of motherly neglect.

Holmes is indeed love. Met Rankin last year. The man is huge! Like 6'6". I don't know why I was expecting him to be more pint-sized. Le Carre is alright if you pick up the right book. Depends on your taste. I don't know why I added him to the trio of mystery writers.

My sympathies for the icky weather. I can take heat no problem, but sticky, humid weather is death. When I think of New England, I mostly think of Stephen King locales in and around Maine. Rain, fog, and Boston accents. Oh, and the Patriots crushing opposition in the snow. (Go Pats!)

ibeeeg, the Sansa dislike only gets worse from here for me. I don't think that started reversing until at least ASoS.

Ned's chapter is not my absolute favourite, but it's up there. Like I said, so much hangs in the balance in those moments. And then the good guy f***s up. How like life.

I don't know if it was a factor in making Robert the leader, but he was the oldest Baratheon, while Ned was the second-born. GRRM's written a few short story prequels... I wonder if he'll ever visit this particular duo.

Sherlock is fun. And Jude Law made a great Watson.

Anonymous said...

Robert was chosen to be king because the Baratheon's were distant relations to the Targaryen's.

Errant Knave said...

Anon, thanks. I just read that somewhere a couple of days ago, and said, "Oooooooh riiiight." And then, "Didn't I wonder about that in the blog? Should I go back and fix that? Maybe no one's caught it yet." So much for that :S

Rogerdering said...

Robert was the next Targayan in line of succession after the actual royal family. His grandmother or greatgrandmother was a Targayan.

Errant Knave said...

Thanks! I've updated the post to reflect this tidbit.

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