Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard III

“If it must be done, I will do it.” Cersei Lannister regarded him suspiciously. “You, Stark? Is this some trick? Why would you do of such a thing?” They were all staring at him…”She is of the north. She deserves better than a butcher.”

Synopsis: Eddard Stark arrives back at Castle Darry to find his daughter has been taken by Queen Cersei‘s guards before the King. The new Hand clashes with Cersei over the disciplining of his children and the execution of their pets; Sansa and Arya have a breakdown in their normally stable sisterly relations; and Renly finds everything rather amusing.

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.

Political Analysis:

In this chapter, we see Cersei Lannister for the first time as a political actor (as opposed to as a political observer in Bran II). So what should we make of the woman often considered the worst politician in Westeros? Well, I think we can see in this really brief encounter some of Cersei’s strengths and weaknesses become readily apparent, and she does have both (although that doesn’t prevent her from being a deeply flawed and ultimately doomed ruler).

To begin with, the Queen is actually quite good at using Lannister numbers and an understanding of strategic choke-points to her advantage – here, she uses the placement of Lannister gate guards (rather than Baratheon guards, a sign of how successfully she’s insinuated her independent military power into the royal court) to bring Arya before the King before Eddard could get hold of her, put himself as a parent in between his children and the court, or negotiate with King Robert in a private context. It’s a smart political move, and she makes the most of it, just as she will later when she uses her control over the throne room and the person of her son to preempt Eddard’s installation as Regent.

Cersei also has something of a gift for revisionist history, creating propaganda that puts herself on the moral high ground and demonizes her opponents, but it’s a limited one. Her story, that “this girl of yours attacked my son. Her and her butcher’s boy. That animal of hers tried to tear his arm off,” is clearly not believable. Arya’s story is clearly believed over the Queen of Westeros, and Cersei and her son are exposed to public mockery at the hands of Lord Renly, a major political rival. Likewise, when it comes later in the series to coming up with propaganda to smear Lord Stannis and later Margaery, her instant go-to suggestion of sibling incest is laughably bad. On the other hand, her initial story about the supposed treachery of Eddard Stark does succeed, at least initially – in part because for once, she goes with the simplest story.

I think the reason that her first foray into revisionist history fails is one of Cersei’s major weaknesses: she’s not good at understanding other’s motivations or figuring out their levers. She can rather crudely manipulate Robert – she succeeds in publicly shaming him into executing the wolf, she can use reverse psychology on him to try to get him into the melee at the Hand’s Tourney, and she can wheedle him into making Lannister appointments. However, Robert clearly sides against her in favor of Eddard when it comes to the punishment of Arya, and will do the same when it comes to taking Eddard back as Hand. Likewise, she shows no understanding of Eddard’s motivations at all in this chapter, or any understanding that people might be motivated by impulses other than self-interest, and has no way of dealing with Renly at all.

Secondly, Cersei displays a strangely vindictive, scorched-earth approach without thinking deeply about how her actions are syncing with her long-term motivations. It is simply not worth it to spark a vendetta against the Starks, who Cersei already has reason to fear the enmity of (due to her role in the attempted murder of Bran), over a bitten arm and a pet wolf. In the end, she succeeds in having Lady executed, but gains nothing by it – indeed Cersei potentially undid her endgame by alienating her son’s fiancee (and this is a point where I think George R.R Martin’s normally solid characterization breaks down; I find it odd that Sansa would go running to the woman who had her pet executed).

Unfortunately not an accurate portrayal of their relationship, by cabepfir

Finally, I’d say Cersei’s biggest problem as a politician is that, because of the fact that her political gifts and education was completely neglected by her father (who curiously seems to have never really taught any of his children his own political skills) and the way that her own gender constraints have created this curdled resentment inside, she’s really only suited to destroy rather than to build. As a usurper, Cersei is remarkably successful – she manages to thoroughly cuckold her husband, eliminate a formally more powerful enemy in the Hand of the King, and install herself as Queen Regent of Westeros. However, once she finally gets to the position she’s been working for her entire life, she has no idea what to do. She immediately loses control over her son’s actions, turning the relative cold war in the Riverlands into an immediate war with the Starks, and has no plans for dealing with either Baratheon beyond trying to command her father to abandon the war effort against the Starks and allow them to pin his army against the walls of King’s Landing.

The most instructive moment comes when the immediate threat to the Iron Throne is crushed; once Tywin actually establishes an alliance with the Tyrells and Martells (a diplomatic coup of the ages), her immediate instinct is to destroy this coalition, because she has no understanding of allies on an equal footing, again because she can’t conceive of others as either servants or enemies. This quality follows through to her choice of subordinates, where Cersei instinctively avoids competence for fear of competing agendas, and instead somewhat subconsciously appoints incompetents and traitors who she feel won’t question her decisions.

In the end, though, I think the real question is what Cersei would have looked like as a politician if she had grown up in a context where her gender and her political interests weren’t in conflict. Because for all that the medieval society of Westeros is truly oppressive to women, there are survival strategies for women with Cersei’s interests and qualities that she never had access to at the decidedly woman-free Casterly Rock. Margaery and Olenna Tyrell make the cultural proscriptions of gender work in their favor, Arianne Martell and the Sand Snakes show that there are alternative cultural spaces in Westeros, even Catelyn Tully doesn’t let the frustrations she feels with gender-imposed limitations poison her life.

Historical Analysis:

Robert Baratheon was, in his lifetime, a flawed King, although I have argued that not every flaw of his should be blown out of proportion; most medieval monarchs were perpetually in debt, if not chronic bankrupts. However, this chapter does show one of his more egregious shortcomings – Robert has no interest or ability in his role as the chief judicial power in Westeros. To be fair, it’s not the easiest situation to sit in judgement of one’s own son and heir over a domestic matter, but Robert Baratheon completely dithers, swayed first by Eddard and then by Cersei, motivated more by his desire to have the thing over and done than any interest in truth or justice.

This negligence is quite bizarre when you consider how absolutely central the position of king-as-judge was to the centralization of power in the monarchy from the middle ages onward. The best example of this is the case of England:  Henry I was known as “Beauclerc” and the “Lion of Justice” for his creation of the Charter of Liberties; Henry II standardized judicial decisions into English Common Law, established itinerant royal justices to tour the country and popularized the use of juries, and the creation of legal handbooks; Edward III created Justices of the Peace to keep the peace; Henry VII spread them to every county, and created the Star Chamber; and so on and so on down the centuries.

They did so not just out of the goodness of their hearts but because exercising judicial power allowed the Kings to intercede between the great lords of their lands and their vassals and create direct connections between king and subject that could be the source of a base of popular support for the monarchy; it allowed the King to interject themselves into conflicts between lords and thus make the lords need to curry favor with the monarch; and finally, it allowed the King to act through the courts against their enemies, and thus use the machinery of the law to force them into outlawry, seize their lands and properties, mobilize other lords against them under the guise of law enforcement, and so forth.

Robert’s consistent neglect of this, avoiding conflicts here at Castle Darry, but also when Eddard and Jaime come to blows and when Tywin Lannister moves against House Tully, is perhaps the worst thing he does as king. By refusing to take action to keep the peace outside of a military situation, he created the environment in which a War of Five Kings could break out.

What Ifs?

Overall, I can really only see one major “what if” coming out of this chapter: what if the judgement had gone differently? Now, I find it unlikely that Robert would have ordered any punishment for Arya or that Eddard would have allowed him to do so, but it’s not impossible – and the result would be an early breach of trust between the King and his Hand, which might have made Eddard more likely to reach out to allies if he thought he couldn’t rely on Robert’s judgement at all (as opposed to his rather mixed feelings in OTL).

It’s more likely that Robert reflexively sides with his old comrade and lets the wolf alone. The results of this are rather subtle – namely, that the relationships between Eddard and his daughters (and between Sansa and Arya) aren’t damaged as they are in OTL. Eddard’s failure to prevent the execution of Lady causes a breach between himself and Sansa; removing that may mean that Sansa doesn’t run to inform Cersei. This potentially could butterfly away Cersei’s successful coup against the Stark Regent, or at the very least allow Eddard to successfully smuggle his daughters out of King’s Landing. This in turn has huge effects – Catelyn Stark has no reason to release Jaime from captivity and probably heads to Winterfell with her children; the sack of Winterfell is probably butterflied away, and it’s possible that Jaqen H’ghar dies in the Riverlands.

Book vs. TV:

There are a couple of big changes between the book and the show. In the show, Arya is found first by the Lannisters, as opposed to by Jory and then brought before the King, and likewise in the show, Sansa is brought to the King by Cersei behind Eddard’s back. Both of these changes give a sense of the Lannisters’ ubiquitous power and makes the Starks seem even more hapless or in danger; my own sense is that it over-eggs the pudding a bit, but then again perhaps necessary for first-time viewers.

A big change is the removal of Renly’s presence – in the books, Renly provides the reader with a third perspective outside of the Stark-Lannister conflict, and gives a sense of how ridiculous Cersei’s story is. It also changes how Robert plays out – in the show, Robert is openly contemptuous of his son (which adds another layer of complexity into Joffrey’s abnormal psychology), but in the book, it’s more that he’s embarrassed by his son’s obvious failure especially in the presence of “the young, slim Robert” Renly Baratheon.

25 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard III

  1. Brett says:

    Finally, I’d say Cersei’s biggest problem as a politician is that, because of the fact that her political gifts and education was completely neglected by her father (who curiously seems to have never really taught any of his children his own political skills) and the way that her own gender constraints have created this curdled resentment inside, she’s really only suited to destroy rather than to build.

    I thought Tyrion thinks at one point that he and Jaime both sat in when Tywin held court, at least until Jaime ended up in the King’s Guard in his mid-to-late teens. Not that I think it helped that much, since all three of Tywin’s children tend to be impulsive and short-tempered (albeit cunning and clever as well). Tyrion’s main education came from learning to think things through to wield any type of influence, and even he makes stupid mistakes by letting his mouth run (such as at the Eyrie).

    In general, I think Tywin mistrusted his three children, particularly since none of his plans for them seemed to work out. He saw them as extensions of himself and his plans, and they inevitably disappointed him when they didn’t do what he wanted.

    • Zach Z says:

      I don’t particularly remember that tidbit, but even if Jaime sat in Tywin’s council for years he strikes me as someone that would not pay attention in such a setting especially a young teenage Jaime who was obsessed with knights and swords and battle…

  2. leee says:

    Sorry for the n00b question, but what does OTL stand for?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Not at all. OTL is alternate history jargon for “original timeline,” as opposed to ITTL, “in this timeline” or ATL “alternate timeline.”

  3. Sean C. says:

    Regarding the justice issue (I have two degrees in history and am currently studying law), I’ve always thought that GRRM’s depiction of the Westerosi Crown shows a central government that, despite having many of the features of a very organized state (permanent capital, permanent civil service, at least in the capital), has an incredibly small “footprint” in most of the kingdom.

    If you aren’t in the Crownlands, which the the king rules directly (and thus, isn’t really acting in the capacity of king), I can’t think of any indication of any sort of royal officialdom you would interact with in the course of everyday life. All aspects of administration are run through the local lords, who are supervised by the Lords Paramount on a regional basis. There are no royal courts (which you’ve noted before), but just as importantly (perhaps moreso) there are no sheriffs. Officials of that sort, who wield royal power directly and owe their positions to the king’s patronage are a crucial counterweight to the power of a lord.

    Westeros is a federal state with an incredibly weak central government, one that’s dependent for essentially everything on the goodwill of the provincial governors (who, in four of the eight cases, are the historical royal families of those regions). It’s tempting to wonder how it was that, at least after the dragons died, the Targaryens were able to keep all the Lords Paramount on their side without evident problems for a century and a half, despite multiple rebellions from more minor nobles, given how much power they wield.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Agreed. My hypothesis is that the extremely limited numbers of the Targaryen invasion (1,600 men) compared to those of William the Conqueror (3-30,000 men), and the Doom of Valyria cutting off reinforcements prevented the Targaryens from doing a real “plantation” of the Continent, and thus had to rely more on local elites, preventing centralization of power. We do know that they did intermarry with the noble Houses – House Arryn and House Martell and House Hightower married in, House Baratheon were cousins, and so forth.

      There is, however, the Royal Court and his Master of Laws. And we know from Game of Thrones that the King has authority to act as court of appeals in conflict between Lords Paramounts. So there’s a passive central authority, but no active network in the provinces.

  4. jazzbumpa says:

    Another thing illustrated in this chapter is how utterly out of his depth Ned is in dealing with King’s Landing style politics – a deficiency he ultimately pays for with his life – and they aren’t even there yet!

    Robert was a deeply flawed man and a spectacularly awful king. Ned was the only noble on the continent for whom the word “noble” isn’t a bitterly ironic joke. But he was a spectacularly awful Hand, because he didn’t even know – let alone understand – the rules of the game he was unwittingly thrust into.

    Robert chose him based on loyalty, rather than any sense that he might be competent for the job. Rather a Bushian kind of choice – no?

    Cheers!
    JzB

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think that’s an overreaction. Eddard wasn’t awful as hand, and Robert was actually a fairly decent king, historically speaking.

      Choosing Eddard because he could trust him whereas he couldn’t trust the others isn’t a bad idea.

      • jazzbumpa says:

        The time line on Ned’s tenure is rather vague – a few weeks to a few months, perhaps. Maybe he could learned the game in time – he wasn’t stupid – but he got gamed by both Circe and Littlefinger, both pros in this league.

        Giving Eddard a spot on the small council might not have been a bad idea, but making him hand was a huge blunder – and isn’t this typical of Robert? Is there no one else in the realm that Robert could trust? I really can’t think of anyone. Doesn’t that speak poorly of his leadership qualities? Plus he was half in the bag most of the time, and had far more concern for venery – in both senses – than for governance.

        He was an awful king because he couldn’t be bothered with any of the responsibilities of kingship. I hadn’t thought of this before, but as a ruler, he was quite like W – disconnected, incurious, incapable, and unconcerned. The notable exception might be his obsession with Daenerys Targaryen, which I believe is really more about his hatred of Targeryens in general than concern for the stability of the realm.

        Cheers!
        JzB

  5. jazzbumpa says:

    i should mention how glad I am to see you back at this. Your insights are cogent and thought provoking.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  6. Lord Littlefinger's Lash says:

    There is some purpose to Cersei’s execution of Lady. Cersei asserts her dominance over Eddard by slaughtering the symbol of his house and his daughter’s beloved pet. This puts all other members of the court on notice, anyone thinking of jumping ship, that Eddard cannot protect him. The pettiness of the situation only serves to broadcast Cersei’s dominance, to a greater degree,

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s weak power politics – Cersei asserts her dominance over something completely inconsequential, alienates Eddard Stark when she had every reason NOT to, relinquishes the advantage of surprise, and puts Renly in sympathy with Eddard.

      • Lord Littlefinger's Lash says:

        Cersei doesn’t really have any reason to fear Ned. Even if Ned became aware the Lannisters pushed Bran out a window, he’d still need a war to gain sadisfaction and knowing that wouldn’t indicate the incest. I find it difficult to consider Ned a credible threat to Lannister power in Robert’s court. And after the killing of Lady that becomes obvious…. which makes the reason for it plain. After the killing of Lady, Ned and his House Hold guard seem utterly inadequate for the task at hand.

        That is not to say Cersei isn’t a poltical incompetent. Its just that she is not as incompetent as Ned. Ned doesn’t take the lesson from her actions. Ned doesn’t reinforce his troops. He doesn’t see Cersei’s willingness to take the iniative, even when improper, as with brining Arya before the king. Ned is a order of magnitude dumber than Cersie and her tactics are appropriate given her opposition.

        • stevenattewell says:

          You’re thinking with too much hindsight. Cersei knows very little about Eddard Stark besides the fact that Robert trusts him more than her, and that he’s now the second-most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms. Antagonizing him without actually doing real damage falls under Omar’s Rule #1.

      • Lord Littlefinger's Lash says:

        LOL in fact Ned begins his practice of sending off his men on random missions. He sends troops back to Winterfell to bury lady…. So Ned’s basic lesson is to weaken his forces.

  7. Lord Littlefinger's Lash says:

    P.S. favorite character? i think its obvious who mine is, though i’m partial to Euron as well.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Davos most consistently, I think Beric Dindarrion and Robb Stark are underserved by thr narrative, and I really liked Tyrion in GoT and CoK, but less so up until he actually started being productive in ADWD.

      • Lord Littlefinger's Lash says:

        CoK is Tyrion at the height of his power. Davos s easy but hge’s too lucky I find to really admire. The same is true of Jon Snow. I realy enjoy Tyrion and Petyr’s scene’s together in aCoK. What’s two masters sizing each other up.

        Robb, I dunno, Robb seems pretty stupid to me. Robb’s accomplishments are The Frey of alliancew. The Wisperingwood, Battle of the camps, OxCross. It seems to me the Frey alliance is Catelyn’s doing, the Wisperingwood and possibly the camps, are Brynden’s doing. Oxcross is either Blackfish or Greywind. Then there’s poor orders for Edmure, the Westerlings, picking Theon as an envoyI don’t think he defended Moat Cailin was defended well. given how hard it was for Roose and Ramsay to retake, when it only contained the dregs of the iron fleet who had no supplies or support.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Too lucky? Davos has lost half of his fingers, 57% of his children, been shipwrecked repeatedly, etc.

          As I will go into later, Robb Stark is really underappreciated in the fandom.

  8. […] to the business of government is revelation enough; when he thinks back to Robert’s behavior on the Kingsroad, Eddard is hardly idealistic when it comes to his old […]

  9. […] that Robert doesn’t like getting in the middle of fights (as we saw with his judgement in Eddard III, open violence is one of the things that Robert understands and takes seriously. He’d […]

  10. I think the reason Sansa runs to Cersei and doesn’t blame her for Lady’s death could be oddly aligned with Eddard’s own philosophy of “whoever passes judgment should swing the sword.” Since Eddard kills Lady, Sansa blames him (and Arya by proxy) for her wolf’s death even though it was Cersei through Robert who gave the order.

  11. […] the series the Hound as always been a figure who’s represented violence, both as an aggressor and as a victim. It makes sense, therefore, that as Sansa feels trapped by the coming battle, she […]

  12. […] danger, will demonstrate enormous bravery in the field in Davos III, and while he certainly did murder Micah, that doesn’t make him that different from most knights. It may be the case – […]

  13. […] about it I’m astonished that it all comes back to Sansa I of AGOT, where Sansa finally tells the truth of what happened along the Kingsroad. Two books later to the chapter, Joffrey finally reaps what […]

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