Ned and company are on the Kingsroad heading south to King’s Landing. It’s the wee hours of the morning when Ned is awoken to go on a cold ride with King Robert, who apparently suffers from insomnia. The purpose of this ride is ostensibly because Robert wants to ride around like a wild man and remember his younger days when he didn’t have the responsibilities of a king, but rather seems to be for Ned and Robert to chat and elucidate back story for the readers. Points of interest:
• Robert prods Ned about his bastard’s mother. Ned names a commoner woman called Wylla as Jon’s mother, and refuses to speak anymore on the topic. (That’s twice now he’s refused to discuss the subject with people he esteems! First with Catelyn, and now with Robert. Hm.)
• A message has come from Varys, Robert’s spymaster. Ser Jorah Mormont, who we know is now with Dany, apparently went into exile to avoid Ned giving him the chop for selling slaves. Jorah wants a royal pardon so he can come back home, and is feeding information to Varys. Uh oh, Dany!
• He has informed Varys that Dany has wed a Dothraki horselord. Robert doesn’t like this at all, due to his prejudice against any and all Targaryens, and wants to send an assassin to kill her and Viserys. Ned is against this, because he thinks the murder of children is inexcusable. He also points out that the Dothraki hate the sea, and are really not a problem since there is, in fact, a sea between them and Westeros.
• Robert and Ned argue about who should be the new Warden of the East, now that the old Hand Jon Arryn is dead. Robert has already promised it to Jaime Lannister, which upsets Ned, since now Lannisters will be wardens of both the west and the east. Why doesn’t he trust the Lannisters, you ask? Well, during Robert’s Rebellion, Tywin Lannister stayed out of the fighting until it was all but over. He then went to King’s Landing, asked the Mad King to let him in so he could help protect them, and then when permitted entry sacked the city. Similarly, Jaime Lannister, who was sworn to protect the king, murdered him. And when Ned entered the throne room afterwards, Jaime was sitting on the throne. Ned sees this as damning evidence of their untrustworthiness, but Robert just laughs it off and rides away. Ned wonders what the heck he is doing going to King’s Landing to try to help rein in this wild king.
I can’t remember if we knew of Jorah’s history as a slaver before this chapter, but it’s interesting to have not just that, but his status as a spy, revealed here. It puts a whole new spin on all his interactions with Dany and Viserys.
We get some more Robert’s Rebellion back story, which is some of my favorite stuff! Robert alludes to the sparks that ignited the war: “What Aerys did to your brother Brandon is unspeakable. The way your lord father died, that was unspeakable. And Rhaegar…how many times do you think he raped your sister? How many hundreds of times?” (113). He clearly has strong feelings when it comes to Targaryens, but we still don’t know what exactly was done to Brandon Stark and Grand-Daddy Stark.
His rage against the Targaryens continues when Ned points out that King’s Landing was won without honor, thanks to Lannister treachery. “What did any Targaryen ever know of honor? Go down into your crypt and ask Lyanna about the dragon’s honor!” he swears, to which Ned responds that Robert avenged Lyanna at the Trident, and he privately recalls that “Promise me, Ned, she had whispered” (116). What’s going on with this promise? Still waiting on more puzzle pieces.
And last but not least, the subject of Jaime Lannister earning the title of Kingslayer. I have never really understood this—the Mad King Aerys was pretty much universally detested, or at least universally acknowledged as cray-cray, but when someone finally kills him they’re all GASP OMG KINGSLAYER. Okay, sure, Jaime was sworn to protect this guy with his life for basically forever, but I mean…if he was that bad surely someone was going to have to off him eventually. I get that being an oathbreaker is a big deal in Westeros, and that someone else could’ve killed Aerys so that Jaime didn’t break his oath, but you’ve gotta break some eggs to make an omelet, right?
Tyrion is riding north to the Wall with Benjen Stark and Jon Snow. Along the journey they join up with another brother of the Night’s Watch, Yoren, and some peasant boy rapers who were given the choice of castration or the Wall. Tyrion notices that Jon Snow seems dismayed at these new companions, and realizes the boy probably thought the Night’s Watch was made up of honorable men like his uncle. He feels sorry for Jon and the rude awakening coming to him.
Benjen is not very nice to Tyrion, and since Tyrion isn’t much use anyway when it comes time to set up camp every night, he goes off to read instead. As he reads his book, we learn that Tyrion has a fascination with dragons. He recalls the time when he found the old dragon skulls the Targaryens had decorated the walls of the throne room with, gathering dust in the cellars now that Robert has had them removed. He remembers that while the most recent skulls were small and misshapen, as he progressed back in history the dragon skulls got larger and more fearsome until he arrived at the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, who Aegon the Conqueror rode when united the seven kingdoms of Westeros. We get another little Westeros history lesson about the time before the conquest, when the king of the western lands (now Lannister territory) and the king of the Reach (now the turf of House Tyrell, but I don’t think they’ve been mentioned yet in this book) joined forces to oppose the Targaryens. They met them in the field of battle, and it was the only time Aegon and his 2 sisters, Rhaenys and Visenya, unleashed all 3 of their dragons (Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar, for the students of history and otherwise detail-oriented reading this) at the same time. It was called the Field of Fire, and as you can imagine with a name like that, it did not end well.
Jon comes along and interrupts Tyrion’s reverie, and asks why he reads so much. Tyrion responds that as a dwarf he doesn’t have the physical capabilities of, say, his brother Jaime or King Robert, but that he does have his mind, and it is his best weapon. Tyrion then starts needling Jon, insinuating that his family never accepted him, he’d been hoodwinked into thinking that the Night’s Watch was anything other than an amalgamation of criminals, and that the job of the black brothers is a useless one anyway. Jeez, Tyrion, lay off! Jon understandably gets upset, and when Tyrion feels a bit of remorse and moves to comfort the boy, Ghost appears out of nowhere and knocks him down. This ends up having the effect of easing the tension between them. Jon faces up to the hard truth and Tyrion approves, but as they return to camp it’s clear that these revelations about the reality of the Night’s Watch still bother him.
As much as Tyrion talks about how he accepts that he is a dwarf and “wears it as armor” so other people can’t hurt him with it, it still clearly happens. His sensitivity seems to be the best reason I can come up with for his verbally ambushing Jon like that. This is much clearer when the direwolf attacks him and Jon makes Tyrion ask nicely before calling off the wolf : “Tyrion Lannister felt the anger coiling inside him, and crushed it out with a will. It was not the first time in his life he had been humiliated, and it would not be the last. Perhaps he even deserved this” (125). Uh, ya think?? Yes, Tyrion has gotten a whole lot of adversity dumped on him in this life, but it’s pretty unfair of him to take it out on Jon, who is dealing with a bit of adversity himself. Big difference between show Tyrion and book Tyrion—show Tyrion is pretty universally awesome, while book Tyrion definitely has his douchey moments.
And of course we get a very famous line: “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge…that’s why I read so much, Jon Snow” (124). Pretty much something all book-lovers can relate to. :)
Catelyn is understandably upset about the coma state of arguably her favorite child, but she is also clearly suffering from the ill effects of lack of sleep and grief. Maester Luwin comes to her at Bran’s bedside (which she hasn’t left in weeks) to discuss the budget post royal visit and to make some new appointments to replace the men who went south with Ned. Catelyn is having none of it and lashes out at Luwin, but then Robb comes in and says that he’ll take care of it. Robb tries to talk to his mother and get her to snap out of it, but not even the reminder that, a) she didn’t see her family off when they rode for the capital, b) that she has a 3 year old wandering around the castle needing her attention, and, c) that Maester Luwin has assured them Bran won’t die, aren’t enough to help her climb out of the pit of despair and perhaps temporary insanity due to lack of sleep and participate in life again.
She is doing the Catelyn thing of taking the world on her shoulders, explaining that she can’t leave because she’ll never forgive herself if Bran dies while she’s gone, and wanting the howling direwolves to be quiet when Robb looks out the window and realizes that the library tower is on fire. Catelyn is so far gone that her only thought is gratitude that the fire won’t be able to make it to Bran’s room, and she stays with him as Robb goes to rally help.
When she turns away from watching the fire out the window, there is a strange, skuzzy, armed man in the room with her. He notes that she wasn’t supposed to be there, and then proceeds to try kill Bran. Catelyn grapples with him, fending off the blade with her bare hands, but it’s Bran’s direwolf who comes galloping in and saves the day, by tearing out the would-be assassin’s throat. Some Winterfellians find her there shortly after, give her a little opiate therapy with some milk of the poppy, and she finally sleeps.
And wakes up a few days later, feeling much more like her old self. She seems to have snapped out of it, and calls in her advisors to talk about the situation. She has pieced together the chain of events of the fire being set as a distraction so that the assassin could kill Bran because Bran saw or heard something that SOMEONE is afraid he will wake up and share, and prods Robb along until he arrives at the same conclusion. Robb has taken up the mantle of lord in his father’s absence, and Catelyn is proud of him. When the info comes out that the knife was Valyrian steel with a dragonbone hilt (obviously not the weapon you would expect a gross, commoner-type assassin to have), Catelyn informs them all that based on that, her sister Lysa’s allegations against the Lannisters, and the fact that Jaime Lannister did not participate in the hunt the day Bran fell, she believes the Lannisters are behind Bran’s fall, or rather throw.
Maester Luwin notes that proof is necessary if they are to accuse a Lannister, and that someone must take the dagger to King’s Landing to find the truth of the matter. Catelyn says that Robb must stay (since there’s always gotta be a Stark in Winterfell, yo), and she will go herself. Master-at-arms Ser Rodrik (of the epic facial hair) will accompany her, and just the two of them they will hire a ship and beat Ned and the King’s party to King’s Landing. She also has no more complaints about the direwolves, and even wants Bran’s to stay in the room with him. Ain’t nobody wanna take on a watch-wolf!
Aiiiii, what a painful chapter. You can simultaneously see the pain Cat is in and really feel for her, and yet also want to shake her and get her to attend to her other responsibilities. And it’s so great when she does! It’s awesome to see her take the reins again after she wakes up from her drug-induced slumber and start to get shit done. We get to see her intelligence as she guide her eldest son to be a good ruler, and also as she pieces plotty things together, one of which we know to be true (Jaime shoving Bran out the window). And it’s also very gratifying to see her accept the direwolves at last.
And now, for a moment of appreciation of awesome writing. Consider this:
“Catelyn said a prayer of thanks to the seven faces of god as she went to the window. Across the bailey, long tongues of flame shot from the windows of the library. She watched the smoke rise into the sky and thought sadly of all the books the Starks had gathered over the centuries. Then she closed the shutters.
When she turned away from the window, the man was in the room with her.” (132)
GRRM lulls us into a sense of security with the meandering paragraph of Cat’s observations of the library on fire. The terse and abrupt switch in the next sentence serves to jar the reader in much the same way that Catelyn herself must be jarred by seeing this strange man when she thought she was alone with Bran. In the same way, the use of the definite article “the” rather than the perhaps more-expected indefinite “a” before “man” makes the reader wonder, “Wait, the man? What man? What? What’s going on?” just as Catelyn herself must feel. (Did I just go super word-language-grammarian nerdy on you?) Well played, GRRM!