AGoT summation: character notes

Characters I ended up paying special attention to this reread, some on purpose, some not:

Catelyn Stark:I tried really hard to give Catelyn the benefit of the doubt on this reread, yet ended up actually liking her less than I did before. She’s a good person and generally thinks she’s doing the right things, but her stubbornness and self-absorption keep preventing her from seeing the true effects of her actions.

Robb Stark:Prior to this reread,I remembered Robb as an uninteresting stock noble-young-prince from central casting, and was fascinated by the way many readers seemed to project depth and nobility into his character. Paying special attention to him on this reread, I found his character a bit more fully developed on paper than I had thought. Not much more so, though, and not in particularly interesting ways: he loves his brother, loves his mom but wishes she wouldn’t treat him like a kid, feels overwhelmed when thrust early into a position of leadership. Pretty (deliberately) clicheed stuff there. And if he’s supposed to be a military genius, it’s not coming across to me: his strategies don’t seem that radical, and surely his advisors — particularly Brynden — have a lot to do with them?

Ned Stark: Here I have to take issue with the common “being too honorable was his downfall” characterization. Ned actually shows a reasonable degree of political awareness and is under no illusions about the honor of the Lannisters or the Small Councillors. Sure, Littlefinger played him, but Littlefinger has successfully played just about every character in the novels; besides, Ned didn’t so much foolishly expect him to behave honorably, as falsely believe he’d gotten to the bottom of his dishonorableness. And warning Cersei was a big mistake, but it was an error born of compassion, not “honor” (as the example of Stannis shows, compassion is if anything antithetical to Westerosi ideas of honor and justice).

If Ned has a central tragic flaw, it’s his blindness to the true nature of his “best friend,” Robert. Ned’s insistence on behaving as if “the Robert he had known” had his back — even after the Robert he knew *now* had repeatedly demonstrated that he didn’t — made him think he was far safer than he was. (Not to mention that, just as Ned was never the boy he once was, Robert quite possibly never was the noble “Robert” Ned thought he had known. But that’s something we’ll see more clearly in later books.)


AGoT summation: obesity

I chose to track obese characters on this reread because I remembered the series as being curiously full of contenders for “fattest dude POV Character X has ever seen,” and wondered if there were any discernible patterns in the ways Martin uses this characteristic.

Obesity played for simple comic relief. Here we have Mord the Eyrie jailor and the pseudo-Baratheon kids’ nameless septa. As of the end of AGoT, the Manderlys are in this category; it’ll be a few books before we find out that at least the paterfamilias is actually/also an exemplar of…

Obesity as disguise. Varys manages to at least partially hide his scheming under his obese and effeminate appearance (not to mention his perfume). Illyrio belongs here, too. These characters might not have become obese on purpose, but they certainly use the characteristic to their advantage in distracting others from their more important non-physical qualities. Then there’s…

Obesity as the outward sign of corruption or fallen-ness. Here are Robert, Lysa, and the High Septon.

Obese characters who defy categorization.Sam Tarly is the prime exemplar here: he’s not corrupt or fallen, he’s not comic relief (sure, Jon pokes a little silent fun at him, but his hazing is mostly played as the horror it is), and he’s not cleverly hiding behind his bulk (though he might learn). He’s simply Sam, a person with many characteristics, one of which — but not the only defining one — happens to be great physical size. (Judging by Sam’s dialog in this book, his self-declared cowardice is much more central to his own self-concept than his obesity.)

I think Fat Tom belongs in this last category too: to Arya he’s comic relief, but Ned clearly views him as a full-fledged person and valuable employee.

Overall, Martin has a good record of portraying obese characters: most obese characters (like most non-obese characters) are occasionally the butt of humor, but only “extras” are played strictly for comic relief (and one senses a little sympathy even for Mord). Obese characters can be smart, brave, and likeable (or smart, scheming, and dislikable). And they’re not always fat because they’re lazy or decadent, although occasionally (Robert, the High Septon) this may be the case. I’m most fascinated by the characters who use their obesity to help make themselves seem innocuous, and wonder if Sam, jaded by his exposure to those scheming southron maesters, will eventually end up in this category.

AGoT summation: Old Nan’s stories

Fourteen chapters (!) mention Old Nan’s stories, most of them more than once. I was originally going to do a story accuracy scoreboard, but the idea seems to overwhelming now. I was amazed at the degree to which all the Winterfell-based characters* incessantly return to the phrase “Old Nan’s stories” to signify both the respected wisdom of the past, and the supposed silliness of things everyone supposedly knows aren’t true. That’s one conflicted relationship with history, legend, and magic there.

*Even Catelyn, who was exposed to Old Nan only after she was old enough to know better! If anything, she should be remembering  “Old Mabel of Riverrun”‘s stories or the like.

AGoT summation: this blog’s tag cloud as of the end of the first book

AGoT summation: the titular phrase

Five chapters used the phrase “game of thrones.” These fell into a few different categories:

  • Populist usages, declaring the power struggles of the one percent a “game” in the sense of being ultimately meaningless and cruelly indifferent to the good of the ninety-nine percent. Jorah and Varys use the phrase this way.
  • Admiring usages by Cersei, who sees the “game” as the ultimate expression of self-actualization for the sort of superior person she imagines herself to be.
  • Bewildered usages by Ned: though the phrase occurs in his consciousness (repeatedly) as a memory of Cersei’s words, he’s closer to Jorah and Varys’ position, seeing the game as pointless and harmful. He’s not as self- and socially aware as the latter characters, though.
  • Stevron Frey’s realpolitik usage: he sees the “game” happening, and sees in it an opportunity to benefit by kowtowing to the winners. Socially aware, but indifferent to the plight of the commoners.

The overriding theme here: the succession struggle is indeed, in the grand scheme of things, just a game, but most of the characters don’t see it yet (and those who do, Jorah and Varys and Stevron, are not exactly taking productive actions as a result).

AGoT Daenerys 10 – the end, at last

Wow, this was a long slog. Not that anybody’s listening, but if I keep this up through the remaining books, I’ll be trying to track fewer motifs.


AGoT Catelyn 11

This chapter introduces Brynden’s refusal to marry. If said refusal is the only grounds for believing Brynden to be gay (as it seems to be), I’m not buying it. Marriage in Brynden’s social milieu need have nothing to do with sexual desire: noblemen can and do marry for political advantage and to produce heirs, while having sex on the side with people (including, in Renly’s case at least, male people) they’re more attracted to. Lack of attraction to women would be no reason to refuse marriage; indeed, marriage to a sexually undemanding woman would provide much more effective cover than conspicuous refusal to marry. Faithfulness to an unattainable woman, like Hoster’s wife, seems more plausible, but couldn’t it be that the guy just doesn’t want to be tied down?

But, “Walder Frey … any of three, he said…” Hilarious.

Also in this chapter:

  • The titular phrase again, from Stevron Frey.
  • Catelyn: “We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the Riverlands…” Yes, because of YOUR actions! And now you want peace! Sheesh.