Friday, September 17, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-Read: A Game of Thrones, Part 27

Welcome back to the ASOIAF Re-read, for it is indeed back. Those of you who are not first-timers here might wonder where I've been. I wrote about it in a separate post so as not to take away from this. Suffice to say that I'm happy to be back, and I hope you're happy to read my ASOIAF-related ramblings. I hope you were well in the month since I last posted.

Where were we anyway? Oh, right: we'd finished Part 26, meaning we're now up to Chapters 58 and 59 (!!!). I hope you'll forgive any rust on my part, and hope we can get right back to the ensuing chaos in the Seven Kingdoms. (There's a lot of hoping going on here.)

Before we continue, please note that there are some spoilers in the post and in the comments regarding all four ASOIAF books. First-timers can start the re-read here or here, and you can follow using the RSS tab, or Google Friends, or Twitter.

There are kingdoms and lives to save. Let's roll.

Chapter 58: Eddard

What Happens

Alone in his cell since the time of his capture, Ned wavers between dreams of rescue and nightmares of betrayal. His injured leg burns, and he has no company in the dungeon depths except a gaoler who brings meagre nourishment once a day.

Ned finds himself thinking of Robert more, to the point where he has conversations with himself, imaging that Robert is answering him. At one point he remembers the tourney at Harrenhal when he and Robert had been young, strong, and happy. There were plenty of occasions for joy at the tourney, but all that changed when Rhaegar became jousting champion and crowned Lyanna as the queen of beauty.

More days pass, and then a new gaoler comes to visit. The man is Varys in disguise. The eunuch tells Ned that the Lannisters only have Sansa, but Catelyn has lost Tyrion, making the Stark bargaining position very weak. He asks Ned whatever possessed him to tell Cersei he knew about Joffrey's true lineage, then tells him that his show of mercy only put the wheels in motion for Cersei to have Robert poisoned.

But there is a way out, and Varys tells him that if he confesses to certain sins, compromises certain beliefs, and commands Robb to stop his army, then he will be allowed to join the Night's Watch. Varys says he wants peace for the kingdom, so he tells Ned to consider the lives of the innocents that hang in the balance. If he will not, the Lannisters still hold Sansa, and who would want anything bad to happen to her?

Commentary
Somehow Ned has managed to keep his wits in solitary confinement and survived the likely infection in his leg. Not too many people can do that. In a fair world, he'd get something good out of it, like a reunion with Jon Snow.

Then there's Varys admitting he knew about Cersei's secret, only he doesn't have the same scruples as Ned. Varys says that Littlefinger is the second most devious man in the kingdom, and I'm inclined to believe him. I'm also inclined to believe that he wants peace for the realm, although I'd like to know what his idea of peace would entail.

I know backstory isn't as vital or interesting as the current story, but I really wouldn't mind a bit of info on Elia of Dorne. Rhaegar + Lyanna is fine and dandy, but what about Elia and her kids? We actually do get a smidge of info on one of the kids, Rhaenys, and her black cat Balerion (the old one Arya was trying her damnedest to catch). Varys makes her sound like a sweet little girl, up until Gregor Clegane and certain Lannister henchmen got their hands on them.

Chapter 59: Catelyn

What Happens

Catelyn arrives at the Twins with the Stark army. Lord Frey has marshalled his forces, yet they linger instead of going to help Riverrun's cause. She worries that Lord Frey will stall long enough to ruin Robb's plans. But the Twins are too well fortified, and a show of force won't faze the Freys.

Some of Lord Frey's kin go out to greet Robb, and convey the Lord's wishes for Robb to go dine with him--alone. Naturally, Robb's bannermen are outraged, so Catelyn decides to volunteer herself to go in her son's place. She is aware that she could be walking into a trap, but would rather sacrifice herself than Robb.

Walder Frey is a caustic old man, full of petty pride. He resents that Hoster Tully calls him the Late Lord Frey, and that his lord did not come to his last two weddings. Then again, he has little love for Tywin Lannister. He acknowledges the vows he made to the Tullys, but he reminds Catelyn that he also made vows to the king, so who should he follow? He knows the Starks need to cross at the Twins, and he knows they cannot force him to allow them to. So he natters at Catelyn for a while before getting down to business: haggling.

When Catelyn returns to the camp, she has succeeded in obtaining the crossing. Her agreement included fostering two of Walder's grandchildren, using another Frey as Robb's squire, promising that Arya will marry another Frey, and promising that Robb will marry one too. Robb doesn't seem overjoyed by the arrangement, but he accepts, seeing no other choice.

Robb leaves a large host on the eastern bank to march under Roose Bolton, while he and a smaller force crosses the river that night to go south to Riverrun.

Commentary
I believe I've known one or two people like Walder Frey. They're as much fun as root canals without anesthetic. Cranky, first and foremost, holding grudges forever, but cunning enough all the same, and with an attitude that makes it seem like everyone else can just go to hell. And would that man use a contraceptive already? The Frey castle is like the set of Cheaper By the Six Dozen.

It's hard for me to really judge Catelyn's performance here. Going into the Twins took guts, and she has those. But that deal with Walder? Perhaps it was making the best of a bad situation, but I'd like to think someone with either a bit more experience in negotiations, or a more skilled, silver-tongued player of the game of thrones would have walked away with the same deal but for less. I like how the chapter ends with her thinking, "For good or ill, her son had thrown the dice," like she gave Robb much of a choice.

I give Catelyn an A for guts, a B+ for effort, a C- for giving away the farm, and I'll stop just short of an F for how it all played out in the end. Harsh? Yeah. Was she in a tough spot? You bet. But the road to the Red Wedding starts right here.

***

That felt rusty. It also felt good to be back, but if there's spelling mistakes or errors of reason (more so than usual), I apologize. I hope you'll come back again for Part 28, which should be up in a few days. Thanks for visiting.

Cheaper by the Six Dozen is in no way a real movie, but a comparison to Octomom would have been unfair since she had eight kids at once and Walder Frey had them one at a time, more or less. (Well, probably not less.) Suggestions for cooler pop culture references than a Steve Martin family flick may be submitted at any time via the open comments or through telepathy. Please allow 6 to 8 business days for confirmation of telepathic receipt.

4 comments:

Lya said...

Glad to have you back mate. I'm starting to think there is something to this psychic business, because I literally just commented on this blog last night to ask why you were MIA and voila, I wake up in the morning and you've updated. I'm sorry to hear about your troubles.

ANYWAY. Catelyn. I'm inclined to think that she did the best she could, given that she's not exactly trained in negotiation - aggressive, diplomatic, or otherwise. What it comes down to is this is Robb's war. Yes, he's only fifteen but ultimately he's the one who decided to call the banners and march south, and he has to live with the consequences of his lack of foresight. I can even see the rationale in sending your mother in to negotiate (you don't want to give Walder Frey the impression he's your equal, and/or you don't want to risk your royal ass in a potential hostage situation) but the onus is on Robb to find a way across the Twins, not on Catelyn to drive a palatable bargain. In the end she didn't. The main sticking point, the part where she "gives away the farm," is obviously the betrothal, and try as I might I just can't think of any way she could have avoided that. That was the lynchpin, that was the thing that was holding the whole package together. Lord Walder knew he had the Starks by the balls, he knew they were pressed for time and had run out of other options. The best way to drive a good bargain is to withhold crucial information from the other side, but in this case all the cards are on the table. Everybody knows what's at stake.

/essay
also varys' repeated protestations that he only wants peace for the realm are ... i dunno, i'm sure he's sincere and all but i'm also sure he's not telling the whole truth, so any time he starts bleating about having the realm's best interests at heart i'm going to be giving him the side eye, here. the difference between him and littlefinger is, littlefinger is unpredictable. he enjoys wreaking havoc, chaos for the sake of chaos. littlefinger understands that randomness is an asset, and makes it so nobody is quite certain what he's up to or what he's after. Whereas Varys clearly has a plan - we just don't know what that plan is, and it probably requires advanced training in alchemy to understand anyway - i'm not so sure that littlefinger even has a plan. maybe he's just out to bring more entropy to the universe?

Lya said...

ahahaha A++ cut text

did you know that the brits (some of them) and the continental europeans (most of them) say "after the jump" instead of "under the cut"? at first i was really confused when i'd see that, i thought it was a literal translation of "despues del salto," but then I realize that native English speakers use it too. I hope you Canucks don't subscribe to this madness!!

Errant Knave said...

Madness? THIS... IS... SPARTA!!! (Couldn't resist.)

I don't know what other Canucks subscribe to, but I've usually seen "after the jump," and I can't remember when I last saw "under the cut." What I'd like to know is how a site like Tor.com can have each of their jumps/cuts read different lines instead of having the same one every time. And if I change what it says on one post, it changes the jumps/cuts for all of the previous ones. Dis-like.

I agree with you about Catelyn making the best of a bad situation. I just wonder if someone else had gone there, if he or she could have twisted Lord Frey's suspicion and pettiness to their advantage. We see Petyr and Tyrion do it all the time, getting something for nothing, or without giving up all the assets. I also wonder if it was Tywin crossing the other way with a host only as large as Robb's, what he would have done.

The trouble with Varys is that he's such a smooth talker that it's hard to tell when he's lying or telling the truth or claiming to be misunderstood. A slippery character, to say the least.

Rogerdering said...

I really don't think anyone could have done better. Walter Frey held all the cards, Robb absolutely had to get past the river, he could have named any price.

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