Near the end of a book, and immediately after one of its two major climaxes, is a heck of a place to put a giant infodump about distant past history and legend. Nonetheless, it works all right here.
- Old Nan says: there was once a blind knight, Symeon Star-Eyes. Also, she is apparently a pretty effective teacher of Stark family history.
- …but Luwin protests her story of the children of the forest: “The man who trusts in spells is dueling with a glass sword.” Which is, of course, exactly the kind of sword you need against the others.
- “Hodor is a man, not a mule to be beaten.” Or, you know, possessed. Even if it makes you like “a knight together.”
- Luwin: “[Eddard’s death] will not be for many years, gods be good.” Yikes.
- The First Men’s intimidation of the children with horses reminds me of the Conquistadors in Latin America.
Here comes some backstory about the tournament at Harrenhall:
- Ned was eighteen.
- Brandon was present.
- Robert fought well (if “berserk”ly) in the melee.
- Jaime was inducted into the Kingsguard.
- Rhaegar won the joust, and gave his favor to Lyanna instead of his wife.
Elsewhere in this chapter:
- Two more mentions of the titular phrase: Ned once again repeating Cersei’s words in his head; and Varys, in a populist usage reminiscent of Jorah’s.
- Ned still dwells on how he “failed” Robert. Come on, Ned, has it never yet occurred to you that it’s the other way around?
- The “scarecrow” of a gaoler (the one that isn’t Varys) reminds me of a passage I just heard in the audiobook of Roger Zelazny’s The Hand of Oberon: Zelazny puts himself in the book as a cadaverous, novel-writing dungeon guard. I doubt GRRM could be mistaken for a scarecrow, though.
- “Catelyn held [Cersei’s] brother; [Cersei] dare not kill [Ned] or the Imp’s life would be forfeit as well.” Really, would Cersei care about Tyrion’s life? (Not according to Varys a few paragraphs later.)
- “There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.” I dunno, Stannis (the subject of this little speech) hasn’t been all that terrifying. Daenerys has perpetrated some (mostly unintentional) terror in the name of justice. But the most terrifying characters so far (Gregor, Ramsay et al.) have nothing to do with justice.
- “…or he could bring you Sansa’s head.” Gorgeous, chilling writing.
Mormont: “The things we love destroy us every time.” Is this true? Just sticking to the major POV characters:
- Ned is destroyed by his love of (his idealized image of) Robert, and his resulting blindness to crucial aspects of his situation. (His love of honor figures in also, but this reread has shown Robert to be much more important than I previously realized.)
- Catelyn is destroyed by her love of her family(or of her concept of herself as perfect family woman), and of drama (e.g., foolishly insisting on traveling to King’s Landing herself; kidnapping Tyrion and then ignoring all logical arguments as to his innocence).
- Jon is destroyed by his love of being right (see his own comment about himself below). Ultimately this stems from his love of his father and yearning for a level of security and recognition not afforded by his social status.
- Daenerys was, for quite a while, on the path to being destroyed by her love of her people, or more cynically, of her image of herself as mother savior and emancipator. (Daario’s just a blip on the radar screen.)
- Theon is destroyed by his yearning for validation, stemming from his frustrated love of the Starks and what they stand for.
- Jaime did rather poorly living a life defined by his love of his sister.
- If Brienne has been destroyed, it’s by her love of honor and, possibly, Jaime.
On the other hand:
- Arya loves her family, her freedom, and the satisfaction of attaining mastery, and has mostly benefited by at least the latter things. And she’s about as far from destroyed as any major POV character at this point.
- Sansa loves her illusions, and is also far from destroyed yet.
- Tyrion loves his own intellect and the idea of being in love with a woman. Things haven’t gone well for him, but when it comes down to it, most of his misfortunes have been visited on him by others in spite of his efforts to avoid them. In particular, the bane of his existence is his father, who he mostly has the sense to hate.
- Bran suffered significant harm due to his love of climbing, but once again, I think the blame for that (as well as for his increasingly creepy situation) largely falls on others, including possibly the gods/fate.
- Davos seems to love his family and to have a generally strong but realistically calibrated moral compass, which one could describe as a love of goodness. He’s lost a lot, but once again, largely due to the actions of others, and he has remained more stolidly himself (i.e., undestroyed) than any other major adult character.
- Sam loves knowledge, comfort, and his brothers (particularly Jon), and is doing quite well so far.
- Cersei loves herself (her brother/husband and children, I think, are loved only as extensions thereof). I don’t think I’d call her destroyed as all her sufferings don’t seem to have made much of a psychological dent.
Elsewhere in this chapter.
- I think this is the point where Jon chapters, never my favorites, become the boring stuff I have to get through to reach the good stuff (like, yes, Sansa chapters). I’m just not that into zombies, male bonding, or teen angst.
- “Jon Snow was nothing if not stubborn.” Word.
- Jon was “a babe in arms” when the current summer began. So Robert’s war took place in winter?
- Old Nan says: in the past, the Others invaded the south and destroyed human cities and even kingdoms.
- Jon is bright enough to doubt that Joffrey would allow Eddard to live (Joffrey’s handlers apparently weren’t).
- “If Lord Eddard was killed, [Catelyn] would be as much to blame as the queen.” Word again.
- Mormont’s raven initially screams “corn,” but is later able to manage the much more situation-appropriate “burn.” If the raven is a front for the three-eyed crow, this suggests a limited degree of control of its faculties (insufficient, for example, to make it say “There’s a zombie in the solar!”)
Ned actually tells Septa Mordane to let Sansa go (tell the queen his plans). Then he leans on Littlefinger for support.
Random thought: in this chapter, Ned is described as having “forced” Jaime Lannister off the throne during Robert’s coup. Previously, Jaime was depicted as having surrendered the throne willingly, if snarkily.
Boros Blount, Preston Greenfield, and Barristan Selmy are explicitly compared to the three knights at the Tower of Joy. Presumably only Selmy resembles the stylized, archetypal knights of Ned’s fever dream. (I say presumably because I’m not sure about Greenfield: if the books ever tell us anything of note about him, I don’t remember it.)
That fever dream left me with the feeling that Ned believes, sometimes and on some levels, that he should not have survived the encounter at the tower. Are the present “three men in white cloaks” ghosts come to take the life that he got to keep only by mistake, as Jaqen H’gar will later take three lives in recompense for the three Arya prolongs?
Then Robert becomes Lyanna: “Promise me, Ned.” Will we eventually find out that Lyanna’s demand was as mundane as “eat the pig that killed me?” I somehow doubt it. Now the three knights look more like a debased mirror of the past: noble knights and noble promises replaced by base and shallow ones. But if that were the idea being communicated, it would have been more effective to use a third lesser knight in Selmy’s place.
On reread, the irony in this chapter is nearly unbearable: “His regency would be a short one.” “[S]harp as the difference between right and wrong, between true and false, between life and death” — even the last being, in this world, not a very sharp distinction at all.
Miscellanea from this chapter:
- Third occurrence of the phrase game of thrones, in Ned’s head as a memory of Cersei saying it.
- Ned continues to perceive Tomard, the overweight commoner, as a real and valuable human being.
Ned’s dream about the Tower of Joy is almost certainly not a strictly accurate representation of history: Ned’s exchange with the knights of the Kingsguard has a stagy, call-and-response quality uncharacteristic of dialog in the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
We do learn some basic facts about the situation, though:
- There were seven on Eddard’s side (including a Wull and a Dustin, names that will come to be meaningful only several books later!) versus three Kingsguard.
- Only Ned and Howland Reed survived.
This chapter also has the famous “I’ll honor you again” scene. My feelings about this are complicated. On the one hand, domestic violence (like most physical violence) is just plain not OK. And Robert is not an admirable guy, so the fact that the violence is committed by Robert highlights its wrongness. But Cersei does seem to be provoking and using the violence to her own ends. I don’t believe it’s automatically wrong or sexist to portray a woman as manipulative in this way, but it does hew closely enough to stereotypes used to justify domestic violence to make me uncomfortable.
Ned sure is racking up the chapters. In this one:
- We learn that Lyanna believed Robert would be unfaithful to her, while Ned (apparently apropos of nothing) muses that Rhaegar would not have been.
- We also learn that the (still unspecified) deathbed “promises” (plural) Ned made to Lyanna have had a high price.
- Robert is said to have impregnated Edric Storm’s mother “while Stannis and his bride were still dancing.” Stannis, dancing?
- Cersei already had a couple of Robert’s bastards killed and their mother enslaved(!)
- Sheesh, Ned, how long does it take you to give up on the continued existence of “the Robert [you] had known”?
- Again with the casual, pervasive sexism: Jaime won’t stake much on “a woman’s honor.”