By Charles Matthews

Saturday, July 23, 2011

12. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 501-541


Ned is wakened from a bad dream by the king's steward, who tells him that he has been summoned by the king. He hadn't known that Robert had returned from the hunt, but when he arrives at the king's chambers he learns the terrible truth: Robert has been mortally wounded by a boar. "They had done what they could to close him up, but it was nowhere near enough. At his bedside are Cersei, Pycelle, and Renly, but when Ned arrives Robert orders them to leave.

In broken speech, the king tells Ned that he was right about not killing Daenerys, and then orders paper and ink. He dictates to Ned his orders that Ned should act as regent after his death until Joffrey comes of age. Ned wants to tell him that Joffrey is not really his son, but decides to to add to the king's torment. "So Ned bent his head and wrote, but where the king had said 'my son Joffrey,' he scrawled 'my heir' instead. The deceit made him feel soiled. The lies we tell for love, he thought," unknowingly and ironically echoing Jaime Lannister's comment before he shoved Bran from the window. Ned finishes the letter and hands it to him to sign, commenting, "The seal should be witnessed." Before Ned calls the others to return, the king says, "Daenerys. Let her live."

Cersei has returned to her room, and Renly and Pycelle witness the seal on the letter. Pycelle gives the king the opiate, and Robert says, "I will give Lyanna your love, Ned. Take care of my children for me." The words are painful for Ned, who thinks of the king's real children, the bastards, and wishes again that he didn't have to lie to the king when he vows to "guard your children as if they were my own."

Outside the king's chamber Ned talks to Ser Barristan, and Varys silently approaches to ask who gave the king wine on the hunting trip. Ser Barristan says it was his squire, Lancel, who Varys observes is "Ser Kevan Lannister's son, nephew to Lord Tywin and cousin to the queen. I hope the dear sweet lad does not blame himself." Ned mentions Robert's "change of heart concerning Daenerys Targaryen," and asks that the arrangements made for her death be canceled. But Varys says it may be too late: "I fear those birds have flown."

As Ned is returning to his quarters, being helped by his guards because of his broken leg, Lord Renly approaches and asks to speak to him privately. "Give me an hour, and I can put a hundred swords in your hand," Renly says. He proposes to "get Joffrey away from his mother and take him in hand," and to seize the queen's other children. "Once we have her children, Cersei will not dare oppose us." Ned refuses the offer, saying he will not "dishonor [Robert's] last hours on earth by shedding blood in his halls and dragging frightened children from their beds." But after Renly leaves, Ned wonders if he had done the right thing, remembering Cersei's statement, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."

When he returns to his room he sends for Littlefinger, and makes sure that arrangements for the ship to take Sansa and Arya away are in order. He tells the guard that he wants a letter delivered to Stannis Baratheon on Dragonstone, informing the king's brother what has happened. He expects Stannis to make his claim on the throne. "The new king would choose his own Hand. Ned would be free to go home."

Littlefinger arrives, already having heard from Varys the rumor that Robert has named Ned regent. Ned tells him what he has learned about the parentage of Joffrey and the other children. Littlefinger says he is shocked without looking shocked, and then elicits from Ned the conclusion: "The throne by rights passes to Lord Stannis, the elder of Robert's two brothers." But Littlefinger observes, "Stannis cannot take the throne without your help. If you're wise, you'll make certain Joffrey succeeds." He points out that Stannis is "hard and unyielding" and that he "cannot rest easy on the throne until Cersei and her bastards are dead." This will mean war. "Seat Stannis on the Iron Throne and I promise you, the realm will bleed." On the other hand, if Ned makes peace with the Lannisters, makes Catelyn release Tyrion, marries Sansa to Joffrey, Arya to Prince Tommen, and Robb to Myrcella, and finds a way to get rid of Stannis, "Then should Joffrey prove troublesome, we can reveal his little secret and put Lord Renly on the throne."

Ned is appalled and calls this plot "treason." "Only if we lose," Littlefinger replies. But Ned can't forget the murders of Jon Arryn and Jory Cassel, and the attempt to kill Bran. Littlefield sighs at Ned's naïveté. "For a moment I did not remember that I was talking to a Stark." Ned also reveals that he is counting on the support of the City Watch, which "is two thousand strong, sworn to defend the castle, the city, and the king's peace." Littlefinger says, "Ah, but when the queen proclaims one king and the Hand another, whose peace do they protect." He gives the dagger on the table a spin, and the blade points at him: "They follow the man who pays them," he says.

Littlefinger has just given Ned a clear warning of the outcome of what he proposes to do, but Ned is too angry to see it. So Littlefinger leaves, saying that "For the sake of the love I bear for Catelyn," he will go to Janos Slynt, the commander of the watch, and offer six thousand gold pieces for his support for Ned.


Jon's visit to Maester Aemon has paid off: Samwell comes to him excitedly and tells him that he is to be made a brother with Jon and the others, and that he is to be a steward for the maester. So they go to the sept together where the officers of the Night's Watch assemble for the oath-taking. But Lord Commander Mormont asks the brothers-to-be if any of them worship the old gods. Jon says that he does, and the commander gives him the option of taking the oath in a godswood, as his uncle Benjen had done. The only weirwood in the vicinity is beyond the Wall.

To Jon's surprise, Sam speaks up and asks to say his oath there too. He admits that his family worships the seven gods of the sept, but "The Seven have never answered my prayers. Perhaps the old gods will." So Mormont agrees. Then he proceeds with their assignment to the various orders: rangers, builders, and stewards. Sam's appointment the stewards has already been agreed on, but Jon, who had expected to become a ranger, is also assigned to the stewards. When he looks at his old enemy Ser Alliser, he knows what has happened: "Jon had never seen the master-at-arms look quite so happy." He learns next that he is to be personal steward to Lord Commander Mormont. When he protests, "Do you take me for a servant?" Maester Aemon, before whom he had pleaded so eloquently for Sam, says, "We took you for a man of the Night's Watch ... but perhaps we were wrong in that."

Outside, Jon rages that Ser Alliser had wanted to shame him and has succeeded. But Sam has a different view of things:
"The old man is Lord Commander of the Night's Watch," Sam reminded him. "You'll be with him day and night. Yes, you'll pour his wine and see that his bed linen is fresh, but you'll also take his letters, attend him at meetings, squire him in battle. You'll be as close to him as his shadow. You'll know everything, be a part of everything ... and the Lord Steward said Mormont asked for you himself!"
Sam recalls how his father used to take him to events of importance, but when his more favored younger brother got old enough, his father would take him instead: "He wanted his heir at his side, don't you see? To watch and listen and learn from all he did. I'll wager that's why Lord Mormont requested you, Jon.... He wants to groom you for command!" Jon admits that Sam may be right, recalling how Ned Stark had made his heir, Robb, part of his councils.

That afternoon they set out for the forest on the other side of the Wall, accompanied by the Lord Steward and an escort of rangers. Ghost goes along with them, though he quickly vanishes into the forest. The sun is behind the trees when they reach the weirwoods and say their oaths. The forester who had come with them urges them to return, "Dark is falling, and there's something in the smell o' the night that I mislike."

Ghost appears from the forest, carrying something in his mouth. It's a hand.


Ned is having breakfast with his daughters, still expecting them to leave that day. Arya pleads for one final lesson with Syrio Forel before their departure, and Ned agrees. Which then makes Sansa plead to see Joffrey, which he forbids. She leaves the table in tears.

An hour later, Grand Maester Pycelle enters to tell him the king has died. Ned tells him to summon the members of his council. Ser Barristan, Littlefinger, and Varys enter, but when he says they should wait for Lord Renly, Varys informs him that Renly has left the city with Loras Tyrell and his retainers, headed south. This is disturbing news: Ned had counted on Renly's support.

Ned then asks Ser Barristan to produce the king's letter, the seal of which Barristan and Renly had witnessed. Barristan then reads, "Lord Eddard Stark is herein named Protector of the Realm, to rule as regent until the heir comes of age." Ned, who doesn't mention that the heir -- i.e., Stannis -- is already of age, then asks them to confirm him in the office, but before they can do so, the royal steward enters and tells them "the king demands the immediate presence of his small council in the throne room." Ned isn't really surprised that the summons has come so quickly, so he agrees.

In the throne room, Joffrey is seated on the Iron Throne. Cersei is there with her other two children, and at the foot of the steps leading to the throne is Sandor Clegane. There are twenty Lannister guardsmen behind the throne, but Ned takes heart from the presence of the City Watch in their gold cloaks. "They outnumbered the Lannisters five to one."

Joffrey rises and announces that he wants the coronation to take place within a fortnight, and that today he wants his councilors to give their "oaths of fealty." Ned produces Robert's letter and tells Varys to take it to Cersei, who reads out the words "Protector of the Realm," asks, "Is this meant to be your shield, my lord? A piece of paper?" and rips it to pieces. She tells Ned to swear fealty and he can resign as Hand and return home. But Ned stands his ground: "Your son has no claim to the throne he sits. Lord Stannis is Robert's true heir."

Joffrey screams, "Liar!" and Cersei orders Ser Barristan to "seize this traitor." The Stark guardsmen surround Ned, the Hound draws his sword, and the men of the Kingsguard and the Lannister men move in to support him. Joffrey screams out, "Kill all of them. I command it!" So Ned tells Janos Slynt to have the City Watch take the queen and her children into custody.

Instead, the nearest man of the watch pierces Fat Tom with his spear, and others move in to kill Ned's guards.
Then Littlefinger steps forward, grabs Ned's dagger, and puts it under his chin. "His smile was apologetic. 'I did warn you not to trust me, you know.'"


Arya's swordsmanship has improved to the point that the "almost" touches him with her sword in one of their practice duels. He tells her that when they get to Winterfell, he may start letting her practice with Needle. But just then the doors of the hall open with a crash and a member of the Kingsguard with four Lannister guardsmen enter and order Arya to come with them. When Arya asks why, they say her father wants to see her, but Syrio asks why he is sending Lannister men, and Arya realizes something is wrong. She refuses to go.

The guardsmen move in, and when one of them draws his sword, Syrio breaks his hand with his wooden sword. Then Syrio tells Arya to run to her father. As she does so, she looks back to see Syrio taking out five guardsmen with his wooden sword, poking one man's eye out with it, and using his dexterity so that they are killing one another. "'Arya child,' he called out, never looking at her, 'be gone now.'" But as she leaves she sees the final remaining knight cut Syrio's stick in two.

As she races through the palace, she remembers all of the things that Syrio has taught her, but especially "Fear cuts deeper than swords." When she finds herself on the way to her father's chambers, she remembers another, "Never do what they expect," and goes another way. When she hears the sound of fighting, she realizes that she can't go back. Then she comes across Hullen, the master of horse at Winterfell, who has been stabbed numerous times. With his dying breath he tells her to warn her father. She finds more bodies, and decides the best thing to do is take a horse and ride north on the kingsroad until she gets to Winterfell.

Then she finds the wagons that had been loaded to take her clothes and her sister's to the ship. She retrieves some clothing and a silver bracelet she might sell, and gropes into the chest for Needle. As she finds it, a stableboy appears and recognizes her. She asks him to help her saddle a horse and her father will reward him, but he says her father is dead and the queen will reward him for capturing her. As he grabs her, she forgets everything Syrio has taught her and remembers only the one lesson "Jon Snow had given her, the very first. She struck him with the pointy end, driving the blade upward with a wild, hysterical strength." When she pulls the blade out, he dies.

As she starts to saddle the horse she realizes that the gates will be closed and that the guards will recognize her. But she knows there is another way out of the castle if she can find it. She makes her way to the sept, where she takes some prayer candles, and then finds her way into the dungeons, going to the room where the monsters were. She remembers when Robb took her and Sansa and Bran into the crypt and Jon had scared them by pretending to be a ghost. "The memory made Arya smile, and after that the darkness held no terrors for her."

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