“Joffrey is not your son,” he wanted to say, but the words would not come…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.
Synopsis: Ned Stark is awoken to find that Robert Baratheon, first of his name, is dying. In his last act for his oldest friend, Ned writes down his last will and testament more in the spirit than the letter of Robert’s intent. Now Regent of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Ned sends a letter to Stannis Baratheon naming him the new King. He then has two meetings, one of which he thinks goes better than the other.
SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.
In a way, my analysis of Eddard Stark as a political actor throughout A Game of Thrones has all been leading to this point – the moment where Eddard Stark makes his most important and penultimate political decision, refusing to take up Renly or Littlefinger’s offers, then trusting Littlefinger to buy the Goldcloaks or him. There’s a lot to get into, so be prepared for a long post.
A Sidenote on Ned and Mental Health
Before I begin, I want to talk about a question I’ve been pondering for some time. In this chapter, Ned suffers a rather horrendous nightmare where he’s in the tombs of his ancestors with living statues and his sister weeping blood. Then once he wakes up, his initial reaction to seeing three Knights of the Kingsguard is to have a flashback to the Tower of Joy. This is not the first time that Ned’s had episodes that could be construed as traumatic nightmares or waking flashbacks: he has a moment in Eddard XII where he “thought of pale blue roses, and for a moment…wanted to weep;” in Eddard X there’s his fever dream of the Tower of Joy; in Eddard IX, “riding through the rainy night, Ned saw Jon Snow’s face in front of him;” as far back as Eddard I, we learn that “he could hear [Lyanna] still at times,” and we see him hearing “promise me, Ned,” in Eddard II as well.
This has led some to consider whether Eddard Stark has, from the very beginning of A Game of Thrones, been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Certainly, he does seem to fit some of the criteria set out in DSM IV: “exposure to a traumatic event,” (Ned suffered the loss of his sister, brother, and father in quick succession and then spent two years fighting in a war in which he saw heavy combat, suffered significant wounds, and was witness to the massacre at King’s Landing) “persistent re-experiencing” (Ned has both flashbacks and nightmares that revolve around what he’s seen in the past, and spends a lot of time thinking about what happened at the Tower of Joy and the Sack of King’s Landing), “persistent avoidance and emotional numbing,” (perhaps his intense gloominess and rigid self-control?), “persistent symptoms of increased arousal,” (not so much, which is where this theory shows its weakness), and so on.
If Ned has PTSD, and it’s not a lock that he does, I think this throws his decision-making in the later chapters of AGOT into a different light: instead of seeing Ned as driven totally by honor into making stupid decisions, it instead suggests that what we have here is a veteran who suffered huge losses in the Rebellion for whom taking on the job of Hand has meant re-exposure to triggering events of violence (the two attempts on Bran’s life, the fracas between Arya, Sansa, Joffrey, and how the queen handled it, the death of Ser Hugh, the murder of his guards, his own injury), and who is perhaps subconsciously trying to avoid a breakdown of his mental stability by choosing options that preclude further violence.
Robert Baratheon’s will, and Ned’s part in crafting and implementing it, is one of the most frequently debated topics in AGOT. On the one hand, this event is held up as a rare example of Ned finally bestirring himself to do something underhanded in the pursuit of a greater good, and finally acting in a political way. On the other, it’s also seen as Ned’s greatest error (although some would put his conversation with Cersei in first place), where an honorable fool puts his trust in untrustworthy men and his faith in a peace of paper.
After all, it’s argued, what use is paper when swords determine who wins the Game of Thrones? Well, as Varys puts it:
In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. “Do it” says the king, “for I am your lawful ruler.” “Do it” says the priest, “for I command you in the names of the gods.” “Do it” says the rich man, “and all this gold shall be yours.” So tell me – who lives and who dies?”…
“Power is a curious thing, my lord…Power resides where men believe it resides.” (A Clash of Kings)
In other words, paper can matter a great deal – because what we’re talking about here is legitimacy. Cersei may pretend that swords are the only things that matter, but at the end of the day her first move was to put Joffrey on the Iron Throne and proclaim him king, not to launch an armed coup without justification. Littlefinger may be something of a nihilist and a sociopath, but he understands the value of titles and old names. So legitimacy still matters, and wills can be powerful sources of legitimacy – after all, Stephen may have usurped the crown from the Empress Maude (or Aegon II from Rhaenyra if you’re being picky), but Henry I’s will (or Viserys I’s) was still important enough to pull half the kingdom behind the challenger to the throne and fuel a civil war that lasted for years. A will was enough to make Richard III Lord Protector of England, and that was enough to make him King. Octavian Caesar was a rather unimpressive youngster competing against a decorated and beloved military commander in Marc Antony, but at the end of the day Caesar’s will naming him his son and heir was vital to his becoming Augustus.
If anything, Eddard’s real mistake here was that he didn’t rely enough on the will, failing to publicize it widely – instead, Eddard sleeps on the matter, intending to announce his Regency in the morning. Had he acted more like Stannis did with his open letter, and had it proclaimed throughout the capitol that very night that Eddard Stark was “Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm,” he could have parlayed the legitimacy of Robert’s will into real political power among the smallfolk of King’s Landing, the noble Houses of the Crownlands (to say nothing of the Vale, those Stormlands Houses that went with neither Stannis nor Renly, and the Dornish), the other non-Lannister nobles present in the capitol, and possibly even among the rank-and-file of the Gold Cloaks. Certainly Eddard was thinking in those terms when he had Pycelle and Renly witness the sealing of the will (and it may be that Pycelle’s eagerness to slip Robert some milk of the poppy asap was aimed at forestalling Robert from making an official will), and summoned the Small Council to have it read out the next morning.
It would also be interesting to see what would have happened had Eddard Stark more widely publicized his declaration that Stannis Baratheon was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Remember, the cover story that Eddard eventually agrees to before Baelor is that “I plotted to depose and murder his son and seize the throne for myself.” As I’ve argued before, if it had become public knowledge that Eddard Stark had claimed that Joffrey was a bastard and Stannis was the rightful heir, this would have changed the political and military situation at the start of the War of Five Kings – if Stannis starts the war with it known that two of the Seven Kingdoms are going to back him, then I think Stannis gets much more support among the Stormlords and has a better shot with the lords of the Vale; Renly would still get the bulk of the Stormlands and the Reach, but important Houses like the Florents would be swayed both by the practical politics and the legitimacy of the Regent’s decree.
At the end of the day, it’s not 100% one way or the other. It’s not that military power didn’t matter during the coup and counter-coup that’s about to ensue, but the nature of its importance isn’t quite what many people think. Eddard didn’t need military hegemony within King’s Landing to succeed, only military parity long enough to allow him to get the word out, prevent Cersei from capturing himself and his family, and hold out for Stannis who with 5,000 men on Dragonstone could easily take the capitol at this point in time. Had he simply prevented Cersei from gaining local hegemony the day Robert dies, this would be a very different story.
The Military Balance of Power
And indeed, the military balance of power was finely balanced at this precise moment: Cersei has “a dozen knights and a hundred men at arms,” and she has a lot she needs to do (hold the seat of government, defeat opposing forces, secure the gates and the port, maintain public order). Ned Stark came south with 50 men, he loses three when Jaime Lannister attacks him, and then gives 20 to Beric Dondarrion, so he has 27 men. At this point, it’s too late to reinforce or recruit, which as I’ve argued was a major mistake, but those aren’t the only men in the city. We know that Renly has access to 100 men, and we also know that there are anywhere between 100-200 “king’s men” (either Crownlanders or Baratheon bannermen) who came up to Winterfell and back to King’s Landing.
Moreover, we’re talking about a situation where physical control of the Throne itself and a very few people is enough to seize political power. When it all goes down in the Throne room, Cersei only has twenty six men of her own on the spot, and relies heavily on the treachery of the Gold Cloaks to win the day. A better timing of Ned’s coup or even a moderate shift in the balance of forces in the limited space in the room, and there’s a sword at Joffrey and/or Cersei’s throat and the coup goes the other way – it’s ultimately about having the most met at the precise point where you need them.
So by any count, there’s potentially an anti-Lannister military superiority in the capitol, as long as the Stark and Baratheon forces can unite, if the Gold Cloaks stay out of it. Of course, the moment the Gold Cloaks get into it, victory goes to whoever controls them – but only if the conflict is decisive. As I’ve said above, if Ned had succeeded in getting the word out to Stannis and avoided capture, quite possibly it’s Stannis’ 5,000 who would be decisive.
The Two Offers
On to the heart of the chapter: Renly and Littlefinger’s offers and Ned’s objection to them.
In the first case, Renly offers Ned “a hundred swords in your hand,” and proposes to:
“Strike! Now, while the castle sleeps…get Joffrey away from his mother and take him in hand. Protector or no, the man who holds the king holds the kingdom. We should seize Myrcella and Tommen as well. Once we have her children, Cersei will not dare oppose us. The council will confirm you as Lord Protector and make Joffrey your ward.”
On a pragmatic level, Renly’s offer makes a lot of sense – it would be possible for Ned and Renly together to establish local superiority of force, gain control over the person of the heirs, and thus take control of King’s Landing. And Renly is quite correct that seizing the moment in the face of Lannister ruthlessness is key. To this extent then, those who criticize Ned for rejecting him are justified.
At the same time, there’s more going on here than just Ned’s honor. I’ll get to my criticism of Renly’s plan as an alternative to civil war later, but first I’d point out that Renly’s political skills fail him a bit here. In the first place, Renly fails utterly to gauge the man he’s dealing with and frame his plan as a means to avoid bloodshed, even though he knows that Eddard was the kind of man who would resign the Handship rather than accede to the assassination of a young girl. Second, Renly doesn’t offer much in the way of a political alternative to the status quo (notably he doesn’t put himself forward for the Throne, a difference from the show that really wrong-footed me, more on which later) – keeping Joffrey as one’s “ward” is a really short-term plan with no solution for what happens when a young man whose family has been held prisoner gains his majority and becomes King. Third, as I’ll point out later, Renly doesn’t account for some critical factors that would have led to civil war despite his coup.
At the same time, I think Ned deserves some opprobrium here – but not about being honorable. Most importantly, Ned says nothing to Renly about Joffrey’s legitimacy and his plan to make Stannis king; even more so than Renly, he completely fails to offer a political alternative to Lannister dominance. While Renly might not have liked the idea of Stannis as King that much, he may well have responded to the argument that Stannis’ 5,000 men were necessary for survival. Almost as importantly, Ned doesn’t make an actual request for Renly’s swords for any plan, despite knowing that “he might well have need of Renly’s hundred swords.” It’s a massive mistake apart from the question of honor.
In the second case, Littlefinger is told of Ned’s plan to make Stannis the King, and argues that “Stannis cannot take the throne without your help. If you’re wise, you’ll make certain Joffrey succeeds.” In a speech that is so perfectly pitched to run counter to everything Eddard Stark is that I’m fairly certain Littlefinger had no intention of ever carrying out this plot, he argues that:
“Stannis is no friend of yours, nor of mine….He’ll give us a new Hand and a new council, for a certainty…And his ascent will mean war. Stannis cannot rest easy on the throne until Cersei and her bastards are dead. Do you think Lord Tywin will sit idly…Casterly Rock will rise…
Joffrey is but a boy of twelve, and Robert gave you the regency, my lord. You are the Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm. The power is yours, Lord Stark. All you need do is reach out and take it. Make your peace with the Lannisters…it will be four years before Joffrey comes of age…Long enough to dispose of Lord Stannis. Then, should Joffrey prove troublesome, we can reveal his little secret and put Lord Renly on the throne.”
I will explain why this plan is insane in a moment, but I want to be clear: being too honorable to take up Littlefinger’s offer, and ultimately then honorable enough to trust that Littlefinger will follow him despite turning him down, is not the reason Ned Stark fell from power. The reason Ned Stark falls from power is his inability to understand institutional power. Instead of understanding the fiscal powers of the state as an institution that exists outside of the man who occupies the office, he sees Littlefinger as “the man who pays” and thinks that he has to use Littlefinger. In reality, Ned is Hand of the King and Lord Protector of the Realm – he doesn’t need Littlefinger to take command of the City Guard.
I’ve discussed before that Ned Stark has every authority to simply replace Janos Slynt and his leading officers and take command of the Goldcloaks, but even if we accept for the sake of argument that he’s left it too late to do that, Ned could simply seize the royal treasury and buy their support himself. His twenty-seven men isn’t enough to take on Cersei, but it’s more soldiers than Littlefinger has, so he could simply open up the vaults and use the gold to buy Slynt and every mercenary in the city. Indeed, as Hand of the King and Lord Protector, this wouldn’t even be illegal; he’s got full authority to make use of royal funds as he sees fit and he’s ultimately responsible for making sure the guard get paid.
Why These Plans Are Insane:
Ned Stark is frequently criticized for turning down these offers, to the point where sometimes it’s argued that\ to the smallfolk Eddard is just as much a villain as the Lannisters because his stubbornness and attachment to personal honor caused the War of Five Kings, whereas if he’d taken up either offer, war would have been averted.
However, both plans ignore several key factors that by this point made war inevitable and which render these plans unfit for purpose:
- Stannis already knows about the incest, and is going to war. Ever since his time investigating with Jon Arryn, Stannis has believed that Cersei’s children are abominations born of incest and that he is the true heir to the Iron Throne. Hence why he’s been gathering 5,000 men to protect himself from the Lannisters and seize the Throne from the usurpers (or the usurper’s usurpers, if you’re a Targaryen loyalist). Regardless of whether Ned takes up the offer of either Renly or Littlefinger, there’s going to be a civil war between those who uphold Joffrey’s right to the Throne and those who hold for a legitimate Baratheon. If he takes up Renly’s offer and has Joffrey seized, Ned is going to be in the impossible situation of having to defend his “ward” from Stannis while his “ward’s” family fight him at the same time.
While Renly says that Cersei won’t fight them while they hold her children, what he ignores is that Tywin’s not the kind of man who rolls over when someone kidnaps his blood relations – he’s already making war on the Riverlands for Tyrion’s sake, he’s not going to do less for his daughter and her son who Tywin sees as the foundation of a Lannister dynasty. Thus, Ned will have to defend the capitol with insufficient forces from Stannis, who’ll have a free hand to raise the Stormlands against the Lannisters (since Renly will be stuck in King’s Landing and unable to rally his bannermen), while the main Stark forces are up in the North with Tywin’s army between them and the capitol.
If on the other hand, Ned takes up Littlefinger’s offer, even assuming Tywin’s interested in making peace with the Starks, Littlefinger offers no evidence why Renly would back Joffrey and the Lannisters over Stannis when we know that Renly views the Lannisters as a threat to his lie. It’s much more likely that Renly would react to a Stark/Lannister alliance by rallying the Stormlands and the Reach (possibly even allying with Stannis to further bolster his numbers), which means there’s going to be a grueling civil war, not an easy pushover like Littlefinger predicts.
- Renly is already trying to seize the Throne. We’ve seen already how Renly was scheming with the Tyrells to shove Margaer into Robert’s bed, and we will see that Renly will later marry Margaery to give himself the military might to seize the Throne. As I’ve said, if Eddard takes up Littlefinger’s plan, Renly’s going to decamp to Highgarden and rally the south against the Lannisters, which means there’s going to be a drawn-out civil war as I’ve said.
This also acts as a major problem for Renly’s plan too – at some point, he’s going to need Joffrey out of the way, which means that Eddard is going to be in the awful position as guardian to a lad likely to be murdered, and allied to a man who wants to overthrow him and take the Throne. All of this is going to be going on as Littlefinger and Varys work to destabilize King’s Landing from within (because they both want the civil war to continue), and while Eddard is likely having to fight both Tywin and Stannis.
- Both plans don’t reckon on Balon Greyjoy. While Robb Stark gets a lot of criticism for letting Theon back, people don’t really think about how long it takes to pull a navy together and plan an invasion of a territory as big as the North. Balon Greyjoy must have been planning this for months if not years, waiting for any vacuum of power (just as he did when Robert was on the Throne, just as his grandfather Dagon did during the Great Spring Sickness) to attack.
So regardless of which offer Ned takes up, he’s going to be in a difficult situation in which either he calls in the army of the North to defend his position in the South, or can’t get any reinforcements at King’s Landing because Robb Stark is fending off the Greyjoys. It’s hugely problematic for Renly’s plan – what happens if the Greyjoys prevent Eddard from bringing Stark troops to bear when Stannis attacks the city, regardless of which way the Lannisters go. It’s also hugely problematic for Littlefinger – a Stark/Lannister alliance becomes much less invincible against the Baratheons (or the Baratheon/Tyrells) if Balon attacks EITHER the Starks or the Lannisters.
- Both plans don’t reckon on a Targaryen Invasion. As we know, Varys and Illrio are plotting to grab themselves a Dothraki army and the Golden Company, and both or either force is going to land on Westeros soon – indeed, despite Varys getting thrown off schedule by Stannis’ assault on King’s Landing and the sudden reversal with Dany’s dragons, in OTL Aegon lands in the Stormlands about two years from now. Neither plan is well-suited to deal with this – Littlefinger assumes that the Targaryen loyalists wouldn’t rise against a Stark/Lannister alliance, but doesn’t really have a plan about how to keep both the Dornish and the Reach from doing so with or without the arrival of a significant professional army and a Targaryen candidate for the Iron Throne. Likewise, Renly doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on Dornish politics, possibly because of his connection to the Tyrells, and assumes they’ll be down with the Tyrells backing a Lannister on the Iron Throne.
Ultimately, both plans ignore powerful factions that will become engaged in the War of Five Kings (although to be fair, neither could have predicted the last factor, and it would have been a stretch to assume the next to last factor), and assume that political actors will act in a completely uncharacteristic fashion.
Ned’s mistake isn’t that he doesn’t take up either plan, but rather that his own plan – seize the Throne and hold it for Stannis – is hobbled by Ned’s inability to make use of institutional power (and not acting quickly enough).
Last time, I began my argument that Richard Duke of York was the historical counterpart to Eddard Stark in general terms. In this installment, I’m going to show how their political careers paralleled each other in many ways, as both men strove to right a tottering monarchy and clashed with a powerful queen and her allies.
First, some background: much of the Wars of the Roses grew out of political conflicts that broke out after the death of Henry V in the Hundred Years War. In 1425, English power was at its height in France thanks to Henry V’s victory at Agincourt and in the conquest of Normandy that followed: Brittany, Normandy, Gascony, Aquitaine, Poiters, Champaigne, Maine, Anjou, and Paris were all under direct English rule, and the powerful Duchy of Burgundy was a major English ally. Following Henry V’s death, political power was divided nominally between Jon of Lancaster, Henry V’s brother and the Duke of Bedford, who was made Governor of Normandy and Regent of France, and his younger brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was made Protector of England.
However, English public policy was paralyzed by clashes between Bedford and Gloucester over who was really in charge, and a second division between Gloucester and Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester (and later Cardinal), the former of whom favored war with France and the latter peace. Despite Gloucester being named Protector, Beaufort was much better at influencing the Privy Council and controlled much of the Regency Government between 1422-1437. He was especially good at advancing the careers of his Beaufort relatives, especially the Earls and Dukes of Somerset, and in making an alliance with the powerful de la Pole family, especially William de la Pole the Earl and later Duke of Suffolk, who he groomed as his political heir.
All this is important, because when in 1435 Richard Duke of York went to France to replace the aging Duke of Bedford, he began to clash with Suffolk, Somerset, and Beaufort when the war began to turn against England. Paris had been lost in 1436, and York along with the renowned soldier John Talbot had barely held off a French invasion of Normandy in 1437. In 1439, as Beaufort attempted once more to make peace, he sent Somerset to France as Lieutenant Governor, an act York viewed as deliberately undercutting his position as Regent and as retaliation for York supporting Gloucester in his criticisms of Beaufort’s policy of offering concessions for peace. In 1443, France unexpectedly invaded Gascony and Somerset botched the defense of the province losing it completely, while York had to hold Normandy without reinforcements (Somerset would die in 1444, with some historians suggesting that he may have killed himself in shame, and was replaced as Earl by his brother Edmund). York developed a lifelong hatred for Somerset and the Beauforts who he believed were deliberately undermining him and promoting military incompetents.
In 1444, Bishop (now Cardinal) Beaufort and the Earl of Suffolk proposed a truce with France accompanied by the marriage of Henry VI to Princess Margaret of Anjou, despite a secret provision of the truce that required England to give up the provinces of Maine and Anjou despite Margaret’s lack of a dowry. Suffolk was the main negotiator for the English and stood in for Henry VI at their engagement, which fueled rumors of an affair between the two which would dog the Queen and her bannerman for years (similar to Cersei). The following year, York returned to England to be replaced by the brother of the Somerset who lost Gascony while Suffolk took Beaufort’s place as the leading figure in domestic government, just as the news that Maine and Anjou were to be handed over was leaked. York joined Gloucester in his criticisms of the Beaufort pro-peace contingent, and when Goucester was arrested by Suffolk for treason and died suddenly while under arrest in 1447, took up his banner (shades of Jon Arryn). He was exiled to Ireland for his pains.
Just like Ned Stark, York had a strong reputation as an honest administrator who opposed the corruption and maladministration of the Beauforts, but lacked political support among the great nobles. When an impatient Charles VII of France seized Maine in 1448 and invaded Normandy in 1449, Somerset proved to be completely unable to stop him and Normandy was lost as well. At the same time, the Queen succeeded in getting Somerset and Suffolk made Dukes, and protected both men from charges of treason, which in turn fueled rumors that the Queen was also sleeping with Somerset.
In 1450, Richard Duke of York landed in England, raised an army and marched on London, where in an act reminiscent of Ned Stark, he knocked on the King’s door and simply asked him to reform the government. Admitted to the Privy Council, York pushed the Commons to pass an Act of Resumption to restore the King’s finances (reminiscent of Eddard and the tourney) and to have Somerset impeached. Thanks to Margaret’s lobbying, Somerset was promptly released from prison, and Henry VI refused to remove him from office despite the House of Commons 1451 petition to do just that. In 1452, York lost patience with trying to go the legal route (given the Queen’s interference) and formed an army to march on London. His forces met up with a royal army at Blackheath, but rather than go to arms, York agreed to disband if Henry VI would have Somerset arrested. The King agreed, but thanks to the Queen’s lobbying, went back on his word and York narrowly avoided arrest.
In 1453, the political landscape underwent an earthquake when Henry VI had a nervous breakdown and went catatonic for a year just as the Queen gave birth to a son many claimed was a bastard. Somerset and the Queen attempted and failed to form a regency under themselves, but Richard was named Lord Protector and Regent during the King’s incapacity. Promptly arresting Somerset, York proved an effective regent, quelling public disorder, and restoring royal finances…only to have all his work undone in early 1455 when the King recovered from his breakdown, dismissed York, freed Somerset, and returned to his free-spending ways.
This cycle would repeat itself over and over again: later that year, York took to the battlefield again when the Queen and Somerset maneuvered for his arrest, crushing a royal army at St. Albans, where Somerset died and the King was captured. Once again, York was regent, the King went mad, and the royal finances were restored…only for Henry to recover in 1456, sack York, and the cycle to begin again.
So…rumors of royal adultery, an unwilling politician trying to right a government paralyzed by debt and corruption, and growing conflict between the Regent and the Queen.
Next time: Richard and Ned mount a failed coup.
Oh, there’s so much great material for hypotheticals here:
- Ned proclaims himself that night? One legitimate criticism that has nothing to do with Ned’s honor is that he simply failed to act fast enough, presuming things would wait for the next day. Even with his reluctance to commit bloodshed at this point (he’ll get a lot less unwilling next chapter), he might have been willing to publicize that he had been named Lord Protector and Regent. As I’ve discussed earlier regarding publicizing his support for Stannis, the outcome of this change is hard to forecast: given the political tumult, I doubt public legitimacy would have swayed the Goldcloaks, but like the London mob, if the smallfolk and merchants of King’s Landing had known and believed that Eddard Stark was the rightful Regent, they could have proved a formidable force to destabilize Cersei if they’d begun to riot when Eddard was arrested. While it wouldn’t have prevented his death, it would likely have accelerated the pace of public discontent in the capitol, greatly complicating efforts to hold the capitol as Stannis draws near, especially…
- Ned’s letter/kids gets through? I’ve kind of done this hypotethical to death, but I want to point out GRRM’s intricate plotting in the fact that Eddard writes a letter to Stannis proclaiming him King, but waits until the evening tide of the next day to send it (along with his two kids). 24 hours difference and the letter gets into Stannis’ hands, with dramatic consequences for Stannis and Robb’s relations during the War of Five Kings.
- Ned asks Renly for his aid? Eddard never tells Renly that Joffrey isn’t legitimate (although Renly probably knows), and he certainly never asks Renly for his support in holding the Throne for Stannis. I honestly don’t know whether Renly would pick the long game of supporting Stannis in the hopes of replacing him later or becoming his heir, but it would set up a fascinating situation. Let’s say Renly and Eddard manage to hold the capitol with their hundred and twenty-odd men – the ensuing race for King’s Landing as the armies of House Lannister, Stark, Baratheon, and Tyrell rush to defend their precariously isolated respective family members and seize power would be something to see.
Book vs. Show:
HBO does this chapter very, very differently from the book, and not necessarily in a better vs. worse way. Instead of leaving Renly’s intentions opaque as happens in the book, here Renly straight-out tells Eddard he wants to be King and Eddard should support him, and that Stannis can’t rule. It’s a powerful scene, so effective that I genuinely forgot that Renly doesn’t declare for himself and had to be reminded of this fact. It makes Renly out to be a better man than he is in the books. It also changes Ned’s refusal somewhat – instead of rejecting Renly out of fear of bloodshed, Ned’s refusal is more principled (Renly has no right to rule at all) rather than squeamish.