It’s hard to tell what Varys and Baelish are angling for in this chapter. Do they want Robert to attempt to assassinate Dany, or don’t they? The previous chapter suggests that Varys, at least, intends for the Dothraki to invade and so should not want Dany dead. Does he believe (correctly) that a failed assassination attempt will hasten the invasion? Or is he using reverse psychology on Robert, thinking Robert would do the opposite of what he was advised (in which case Ned and Selmy may have ruined it for him)? Was he in cahoots with Baelish to prevent the hiring of an all-too-effective Faceless Man, or was that Baelish’s own initiative?
Elsewhere in this chapter:
- More of Robert’s lovely attitude toward women: Dany is a “whore” for having a child with her husband. (Oh, and we see where Joffrey got his fondness for heads on spikes.)
- Robert: “I am not so blind that I cannot see the shadow of the axe when it is hanging over my own neck.” Once again, he sees the axe as held by Dany when really, it’s Cersei. (But Ned’s “There is no axe” is even more clueless.)
- We learn that Selmy has “pale blue eyes,” and much about his character and affinity for Ned.
In a delicious little touch adding to the sense of mystery around Jon’s parentage, we learn that Sansa once asked her mother if Arya was a bastard (because, after all, Arya looks like Jon). Answered in the negative, “Sansa could not think why Mother would want to lie about it, so she supposed it had to be true.” If Jon isn’t really Ned’s biological son, Ned’s counting on everyone to have exactly that kind of reaction to Ned’s claim that he is.
We also see Joffrey’s mask really slip for the first time, revealing behavior that startlingly echoes Robb’s in Arya 1: both characters, in their respective chapters, let out streams of curses, threaten other characters with violence, and must be restrained (in Joffrey’s case, by Arya’s wolf). The underpinnings of Robb’s actions are completely different–he isn’t a sociopath–but something is being said about his own maturity and preparedness for responsibility.
I do find it a bit implausible that Sansa still seeks Joffrey’s approval after his behavior in this chapter, particularly the “terrible…filthy words” and his final rejection of her.
Characters we meet in this chapter:
- Barristan Selmy, described only as an old, white-haired, but fit man. I love how his spoken language sets him a generation apart from the other adult characters, whether he’s solemn (“[Ilyn Payne] has a fearsome aspect”) or joking around (“a prancing jackanapes*”).
- Renly Baratheon is about twenty and is the handsomest man Sansa has ever seen, tall and well-built with long black hair, green eyes, and a clean-shaven face.
- Ilyn Payne, “a gaunt grim man….pockmarked and beardless, with deepset eyes and hollow cheeks” and “colorless” eyes, not old but bald except for for a fringe “as long as a woman’s.”**
*BTW, according to Wikipedia “jackanapes” was the nickname of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk and is short for “Jack of Naples.” If Braavos is Venice, where is Naples 😉 ?
**OK, this has been bothering me: every description of a Westerosi male character so far which has mentioned the character’s hair length at all, has specified long hair. So how could long hair be considered specifically characteristic of women in this society?