Tag Archives: Varys

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 Jon 6

After that very heavy Ned chapter, it’s almost a relief to get back to Jon’s after-school special.

Septon Celladar: assigned to the Wall because he was an alcoholic, or an alcoholic because he was assigned to the Wall? Discuss.

“A man of the Night’s Watch lives his life … for the realm … [and] takes no wife and fathers no sons.” Know who else fits that description, or at least claims to?

How could this one-last-chance-to-not-take-the-oath thing work? The boys who were sent to the wall as felons surely can’t get off that easily. Is their choice “take the oath, or leave and be subject to execution/castration/amputation/whatever the alternative punishment was for your crime?” And while the boys in this chapter are told to forget their families, noble-born Benjen has apparently been allowed to maintain his ties. Bit of a double standard going on here!

“On the wall, you grew up or you died.” Interesting flip-side parallel to Cersei’s “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”


AGoT Eddard 8

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.

AGoT Arya 3

  • More obesity as comic relief: a “septa as big as a draft horse” with “legs as thick and white as marble columns.”
  • Oh, and Illyrio is “grossly fat, yet he seemed to walk lightly, carrying his weight on the balls of his feet as a water dancer might” — because, as we don’t learn until ADwD, he was one.
  • Myrcella and Tommen are uncharacteristically mean here.
  • Old Nan sayeth: there are steps to hell, and they are dark.
  • Varys to Illyrio: “the [Lannisters] tried to kill [Ned’s] son.” So Varys really doesn’t know who was responsible for the Bran assassination attempt? Or is he referring only to the defenestration?
  • Varys and Illyrio sure sound like they intend for a Dothraki invasion under Dany to be the main event of their coup — not as though she’s a distracting sideshow or as if they expect her to die, as is implied in ADwD.
  • Much has been made of Margaery’s resemblance to Anne Boleyn, but here she’s just as much Catherine Howard: a woman chosen by scheming relatives/courtiers to seduce the king and thereby win his favor for her procurers.
  • Lest we get too sympathetic to Varys, here he is ordering up fifty tongueless slave children.
  • Ned and Old Nan have a strangely late-twentieth century concept of a wizard: “a long white beard and a tall pointed hat speckled with stars.”
  • Yoren meets Arya, and mistakes her for a boy, making his later recognition and choice of disguise for her plausible.
  • Arya’s patronization by both her father and his guards is striking: do they really think she’ll believe one of them is worth ten of the enemy, or that it does her any long-term good to tell her so?

AGoT Eddard 7: Ned is clueless (more spoilery than usual)

“If [Ned] could prove that the Lannisters were behind the attack on Bran, prove that they had murdered Jon Arryn…” Honorable Ned, trying to prove an untruth! Then, later: “The dagger, Bran’s fall, all of it was linked somehow to the murder of Jon Arryn, he could feel it in his gut.” It’s fabulous to read a genre novel where a “good” character can have a *wrong* gut feeling, where his problem is less the existence of the array of baddies out to get him than his inability to correctly grasp the nature of their badness and thereby maneuver around it.

I’m wondering what this chapter’s non-effeminate Varys knows, though. He asserts that Arryn was killed for “asking questions,” which is only indirectly true if at all. Baelish, not the by-amateur-genetic-studies-threatened Lannisters, instigated Arryn’s death. Like Varys, Baelish may want to delay the coming succession crisis, and silencing Arryn would work in service of that — but clearing the path for further psychosexual manipulation of Arryn’s wife seems a stronger motivation. Does Varys know Baelish was responsible for Arryn’s death (in which case he’s deliberately allowing/leading Ned to think it was the Lannisters) or would he be as surprised by that knowledge as I was when I first encountered it?

Elsewhere in this chapter:

  • Robert comes around with a bullshit after-the-fact apology for killing a little girl’s dog. Sure, Robert, you’re real sorry.
  • He also wonders, “How could I have made a son like [Joffrey]” while calling Loras “a son any man would be proud to own to.” Surprisingly un-homophobic, or just oblivious?
  • Renly knows that Tyrion never bets against his brother … but Ned and Catelyn? Nope. (Also, this is Jaime’s second unhorsing in recent memory — was he already slipping as a jouster at this point?)
  • Another horse (and human) realism fail: book Loras, like TV Loras, is “slender as a reed,” as is his horse … never mind that a man and/or horse of that build could never carry a suit of armor.
  • First mention of Mya Stone (though not by name).

AGoT Catelyn 4: introducing Petyr Baelish and Varys

Petyr Baelish is introduced in an interesting step-wise fashion: first there was a passing mention by Cersei. Now he is further illuminated via Catelyn telling a story about his past, before finally showing up in the flesh.

He is described as a small, slender, sharp-featured man, not quite thirty years old, with “laughing” green eyes, dark hair with a little gray, a goatee, and a silver mockingbird brooch. And he demonstrates trick knife-throwing skills; does he ever do this again?

Varys, meanwhile, is yet another overweight, perfumed character. He also uses face powder, is completely bald, wears what Westerosi culture would consider effeminate clothing (a sparkly vest over a silk gown and velvet slippers), “giggle[s] like a little girl” and “squeal[s]” at the sight of a drop of blood. As with Illyrio, we experienced readers now know Varys is using these culturally despised (in Westeros) traits as sort of a disguise; it’s interesting to remember that a first-time reader wouldn’t know that yet.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in this chapter:

  • Like the earlier and related introduction of the murder mystery subplot, the whole song and dance about Ser Rodrik going to fetch the king’s armorer seems rather drawn out and contrived now that I know it isn’t going anywhere.
  • WiC #4.
  • Catelyn is noble to pay the oarsmen herself, but naive to think they’ll be allowed to hold on to the money if their employer doesn’t wish it. There’s probably a “company store” situation going on: after all, where else will the rowers get their food at sea?
  • Catelyn also reveals her unconscious commitment to the hereditary nobility system by dwelling on the fact that Varys isn’t a real lord (Petyr Baelish is, even if a minor one, and therefore worthy of at least slightly more respect in her eyes).
  • First mention of Loras Tyrell.

AGoT Eddard 2: miscellanea

  • I’m surprised at the extent to which both of Ned’s first two chapters are “about” Robert. I had forgotten that Ned’s is the only POV through which we directly observe Robert to any significant extent.
  • I am not convinced, however, that Robert is, or possibly ever was, Ned’s “friend” in any real sense. No one who actually knows Ned would propose to him a life of knight errantry and tavern wenches. And it takes a lot of doublethink on Ned’s part to remain “friends” with someone who condones the murder of an infant.
  • Still, “you were never the boy you were” is a pretty great line.
  • This chapter has the first mention of Varys that I’ve noticed (as the source of Robert’s intel about Dany’s marriage).
  • We learn in this chapter that Jorah sold slaves, though no reason is given beyond simple monetary greed.
  • Robert is mean to his horse. Boo.
  • Robert: “give them half a chance, [the Targaryens] will murder me in my bed, and my sons with me.” Umm, no, that’s not the Targaryens, it’s your wife.
  • More Robert wisdom: “Lord Tywin looms eternal as Casterly Rock.” Ha. (There’s a definite lack of clarity about Jaime’s status here, though: Robert does seem to think he will eventually “succeed” his father, despite being a Kingsguard.)