“It wasn’t fair. Sansa had everything…Worse, she was beautiful. Sansa had gotten their mother’s fine high cheekbones and the thick auburn hair of the Tullys. Arya took after their lord father. Her hair was a lusterless brown, and her face was long and solemn.”
“if a girl can’t fight, why should she have a coat of arms?…Girls get the arms but not the swords. Bastards get the swords but not the arms. I did not make the rules, little sister.”
Synopsis: Arya Stark shows her gender non-conformity and some strained relations with her sister Sansa. She runs away from Septa Mordane to join Jon Snow as they watch the Stark and Lannister boys duel in the practice yard. The practice bouts don’t end well, as Joffrey displays an interest in bloodsports and a natural talent for pissing people off. Arya gets caught by her mother and Septa Mordane, and has ‘splaining to do.
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.
Not a lot that’s directly political happens in Arya I, given that it’s a chapter from the point of view of a child who’s in a domestic setting, as opposed to later when much of the book’s narrative shifts to the more explicitly political King’s Landing. However, there are some small details that have real significance to the longer plot.
To begin with, the issue of heredity and the “look of the North” or the “wolf blood” that Arya and Jon Snow share more than the other Stark children. What’s a bit confusing is that the “North” or the “wolf blood” seems unrelated to the First Men heritage from which the ability to warg or become a greenseer comes from. After all, Bran has the “Tully look” and has the strongest warging ability of the children. Rather, the “wolf blood” seems to refer more to whether a Stark comes out “cold” and brooding like Eddard or “hot”-tempered like his older brother Brandon. Certainly, the “wolf blood” seems to relate to poor impulse control and strong emotions – both Jon and Arya begin the book unable to restrain their feelings of embarrassment and have a tendency to lash out violently when they are angered (by their feelings of injustice), just as Brandon did when he challenged Rhaegar to a duel to the death or Lyanna when she donned the armor of the Knight of the Laughing Tree.
However, this brings us to a larger point – fans of the books and the show are judging Eddard Stark unfairly when they say the length of time it took him to grasp the truth of Joffrey’s parentage shows he’s stupid or unintelligent, and in fact are betraying their own ignorance of genetics. Consider the following facts: Robert Baratheon has three children who all look like their mother…and so does Eddard Stark. Should we then presume that Catelyn Stark has been schtupping Edmure? No.
Below, you can see a hypothetical Punnett square looking at Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, and their first four children together. For the sake of argument, I’m assuming that Eddard Stark has one recessive red hair gene and one dominant brown haired gene (genotype Rr), while we know that Catelyn’s red hair mean she’s a double recessive (rr). So what are the odds that Catelyn Stark bore three children with the “Tully look” and only one with the “look of the North,” given that there’s a 50/50 shot that any one child will get a recessive r from Eddard?
It’s still 50/50, no matter how many times Catelyn has a child; each child is an independent event with the same genetic odds. So while Catelyn finds the coloration of her sons in comparison to Ned’s alleged bastard an aggravation, she really has no reason to complain.
The same situation should apply to Ned’s thought process about Cersei’s children – he has no reason to suspect that Cersei is cuckolding the king, and his own experience teaches him that multiple children can favor their mothers. Here, fans are committing the arch-sin of historians – presentism. Because we know that Cersei is sleeping with her brother, we assume that it should be obvious to everyone else, but we have access to information and viewpoints that no one else, especially Ned has access to.
This is why Eddard’s gradual process of tracking down all of Robert Baratheon’s heirs is actually a necessary investigative step – if Robert Baratheon has the genotype (Bb) with a recessive blond gene, than it’s not statistically improbable for him to have three blond children. And the fact that say, Gendry, looks like his father but had a mother with blond hair isn’t statistically determinative on its own, just another 50/50 shot. It’s only when Ned has tracked down multiple bastards with mothers with varying genotypes who all resemble their father, and when he confirms in the book that the Baratheon lineage has no examples of recessives (which is genetically improbable, but that’s a topic for a different blog), that he has circumstantial evidence that Cersei has been unfaithful – and even then, he has no proof that Cersei was sleeping with her brother as opposed to any other blond man in Westeros.
Given that his accusation would be not merely one of gross treason on Cersei’s part but also of an abomination in the eyes of the Gods, and that Ned Stark will have to prove his accusations at trial, the methodical nature of his investigation is actually a point in his favor.
One interesting point that comes up in this chapter is the question of whether Joffrey knows or suspects about his parentage. In the books, Joffrey reacts with real anger when Eddard proclaims his bastardy; in the show, he’s now been confronted with the rumor, and his actions seem to suggest he believes that it might be true. And yet…Joffrey’s coat of arms have “on one side…the crowned stage of the royal House, on the other the lion of Lannister…he makes his mother’s House equal in honor to the king’s.” The sword he wants to fight with is called Lion’s Tooth, not Stag’s Horn. Given that Cersei certainly knows the truth, it’s exceedingly stupid of her to allow her son to so over-emphasize his Lannister heritage when the truth of her son’s heritage is possibly known to Lysa Arryn and Stannis Baratheon. Then again, given her son’s…questionable sanity, it’s possible that Joffrey would have done so anyway.
In Arya I, we’re given an interesting scene where Joffrey antagonizes Robb Stark over the question of blunt versus bladed swords, provoking Robb to a profane outburst. It’s interesting partly because it foreshadows Joffrey’s taste for sadism and his twisted and insecure ideas about maturity and how Robb’s temper is going to be a problem later on in the series. However, I think it also makes an interesting parallel to the obscure origins of the York and Lancaster feud that began the Wars of the Roses.
While the York and Lancaster feud was grounded in Henry Bolingbroke’s (son of Jon of Gaunt, the brother of Edward the Black Prince) coup against Richard II and the violation of the feudal order of succession and the conflict between Margaret of Anjou and the Duke of Somerset’s francophile peace party and York’s pro-war and pro-reform party, there were also personal conflicts that underlay the larger political division. The Beauforts had always hated the Yorks, and the Percys (the House of Northumberland) and the Nevilles (the House of Salisbury and Warwick) fought each other privately before the civil war properly broke out. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI,(Act II, Scene IV), there is a famous scene in which Richard Plantagent, the Earl of Cambridge (later of York) and the Duke of Somerset, the Lancaster champion, quarrel in a temple garden and call upon the lords of the land to choose one side or the other by plucking a rose off of a brier.
The initial conflict is a selfish one – which of them has the better claim to the Dukedom of York – but the arguments towards the two sides escalate to the point with Richard taunting his opponent “Now, Somerset, where is your argument?” and Somerset replying “Here in my scabbard, meditating that/Shall dye your white rose in a bloody red.” By the end, the Earl of Warwick prophecies that “this brawl to-day/Grown to this faction in the Temple-garden/Shall send between the red rose and the white/A thousand souls to death and deadly night.” Here we see one of the great dangers of the feudal system – because political power is so intertwined in the persons of the nobility, their personal rivalries and injuries become casus belli between the regions they represent, are named for, and in the feudal mindset in some mystical way were.
Westeros’ equivalent to the Wars of the Roses could have easily begun in such a trivial fashion (here’s my What If? for the chapter). Had Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon dueled with live blades instead of wooden swords, it’s highly likely that Joffrey would have attempted real injury and that Robb would have won the bout and injured Joffrey. While King Robert would have considered dueling scars in the practice yard to be an ordinary part of growing up for young noblemen, from what we see later, in the “duel” between Joffrey and Arya, the Lannister reaction to any injury is violent and immediate.
Similarly, there are interesting parallels between Prince Joffrey and another royal accused of bastardy, Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales – the only child of King Henry VI and his French Queen, Margaret d’Anjou. Because of Henry’s extreme piety (which especially manifested as a horror of public lewdness) and his recurrent bouts of insanity, which Yorkists argued overlapped with the conception of Prince Edward, it was widely rumored that Edward was the son of Edmund Beaufort, the 2nd Duke of Somerset, who was a leading Lancastrian (in part because his father had been the man who lost the Dukedom of York to Richard Plantagenet) and who was himself a grandson of Jon of Gaunt and thus a cousin to King Henry VI. Edward’s parentage was the central conflict between York and Lancaster, as York argued that Edward was a bastard and thus he himself was the rightful heir to the throne, which convinced Queen Margaret that York was not merely a dynastic threat but an active traitor.
The Prince of Wales, a handsome blond youth, was known for his fondness for blood; as one chronicler writes, “this boy, though only thirteen years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle. ” At the battle of Wakefield, where Richard of York (the closest equivalent to Eddard Stark died), his son Edmund of Rutland was murdered, and their heads were placed on spikes on the walls of York with a paper crown on Richard’s head so that York could overlook the town of York – all before the approving eyes of the Prince. And like Joffrey, the Prince of Wales came to a bad end – more on which later.
To prevent this post from growing overly long, I want to save the discussion of medieval gender roles and war for a later chapter, but Arya’s desire for a sword is definitely noteworthy.
TV vs. Book:
This chapter is both condensed and moved around in the show – Arya runs away from her sewing to shoot a bow rather than swing a sword (ironically in the books, Arya’s skill with a sword is not matched with any dexterity with a bow), and the parental reaction is rather more indulgent; the sword-fighting between the Stark and Lannister boys is omitted altogether.
While it might have been nice to see that, I think this is an example of the need for narrative economy in television and the importance of adapting in adaptations – while we can have an image of Robb and Joffrey fighting in our minds without a problem, a fight between Richard Madden and Jack Gleeson would look very different, given their respective ages and sizes.