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.)
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.
Ah, the irony: Ned will someday tell Sansa how helpful(!) she was to him this day. Varys is “worse” than Littlefinger because he “[does] too little.” (Yeah, what was he thinking prepping only three or four Targaryen heirs?) Jon Arryn died “for the truth” (although Ned is finally right about Bran almost-dying for it).
I forgot that Sandor is now technically lord of Cleganeland, or whatever it may be called.
To Ned, the guardsman Tomard isn’t laughable “Fat Tom,” but a sensible and trustworthy supporter.
This chapter is probably Cersei’s sympathetic peak.
“What would Catelyn do, if it were Jon’s life, against the children of her body?” Is that some kinda foreshadowing?
Ned, still snarky!
Second use of the titular phrase, by Cersei.
I could do without this purple-prose peasant drama, particularly the spelling out of dialect and the breathless not-quite-mentioning of the rape. (“Black and white and grey, all the shades of truth” is a bit on the nose, too.) But an uncomfortable real-world sociological point is being made here: that privileged people are not necessarily heroes for dragging the downtrodden (who are downtrodden precisely because the privileged have unto now failed to protect or notice them) into situations as likely to worsen their lot as better it in the name of “justice.”
Note that these particular peasants have Catelyn to thank for their plight: they were pillaged after their usual defenders were summoned to Riverrun, presumably in preparation for the consequences of her kidnapping of Tyrion.
“Thank you, Grand Maester Pycelle…I fear we might have forgotten that if you had not pointed it out.” I didn’t remember Ned being this snarky!
Tyrion: “Lord Eddard is a proud, honorable, and honest man, and his lady wife is worse.”
This implies that Catelyn is prouder, more honorable, and more honest than Ned. Is this true? She is proud, as in vain: by treating the existence of a bastard child, which seems quite common in noble families, as an egregious crime, she implicitly holds herself above other noblewomen. Pride also prevents her from seeing that her actions are problematic, even in the face of mounting evidence. She is honorable in the sense of adhering to the letter of prescribed standards for noble behavior, but much less so in examining her own actions for their adherence to the spirit of those standards. No doubt she believes she is honest, but she can be self-deceiving: she thinks of herself as devoted to her sons and, to a lesser extent, her husband, but her actions tend to undermine and endanger them. It’s as if Catelyn’s outer construction of honor is indeed more elaborate than Ned’s, but lacks the inner scaffolding that makes him this story arc’s most honorable (to an ultimately self-destructive fault) character by modern standards. Where Ned’s appreciation for his common soldiers and servants is repeatedly depicted, Tyrion knows that the most appreciation Catelyn could ever summon for someone like Bronn is “a polite word and a look of distaste.”
Elsewhere in this chapter:
- Will Mord ever show up at the gates of Casterly Rock?
- The Tysha story is told for the first time (I guess this is where we begin to approach those twenty thousand million rapes). Bronn, as the voice of common(er) sense, suggests a psychologically appropriate response.
- Are the mountain clans matriarchal? The clan chiefs repeatedly refer to their desire to please, feed, etc. “the mothers.” At minimum they clearly appreciate the miracle of childbirth.
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.”