Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya II

pointy end

“Stick them with the pointy end.”

Synopsis: Arya sits through most of a rather uncomfortable dinner with her family, before running off to her room and refusing to come out. Her father comes in to discuss swords, Lyanna, who is to blame for the death of Mycah, and the nature of wolf packs. Three days later, Arya is late to her first dancing lessons, and meets the First Sword of Braavos.

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:

Recapping chapters that have child POV’s is rather difficult for a blog like this, but Arya’s story-line is something of an exception. The eponymous “Underfoot” Stark frequently acts as an unseen witness to political events in King’s Landing, giving us further information filtered through an unreliable narrator because nothing is ever easy. Here, we see that Lord Eddard Stark is fighting with the Small Council, although we don’t learn why or the result of their conflict. We can sift out from this anecdote that Eddard hasn’t made much in the way of allies on the Small Council (although you’d think with Barristan and Renly he could at least muster three out of six votes) and still hasn’t realized that the Hand has power outside of the Small Council.

We get a clearer picture, however, of Eddard Stark’s political theory of lordship as enlightened paternalism: ““Her father used to say that a lord needed to eat with his men, if he hoped to keep them. “Know the men who follow you…and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.”  It’s not entirely clear where Eddard got his hands on a copy of Richard Neudstadt’s Presidential Power, which recommends that political executives should cultivate multiple sources of information, especially at lower levels of their bureaucracy, so that they can get a more accurate grasp of the inner workings of their own government without the biases of their closest advisors, but it’s a rare sign that the Lord of Winterfell actually knows what he’s doing. Far more so than most lords, Eddard is well-informed about accounting, blacksmithing, horse-breeding, literature, and current events from a variety of class perspectives, which helps to explain why men would be willing to fight and die in his name long after his family is thrown from power.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize how this thinking is a hindrance when Eddard comes to King’s Landing. Far too often, commentators focus on his honor as his Achilles’ Heel, but as I have argued, it’s Eddard’s conception of power as entirely relational as opposed to institutional that’s the real problem. At the end of the day, Eddard doesn’t have to fight the Small Council – he has the authority to command them, or to replace them. If he dislikes the tourney’s drain on public funds, he could easily decree that competitors and audience members have to pay a per capita tax to defray the costs of the event. But as we will see again and again, to Eddard his role is to be Robert’s friend and adviser.

hat tip to elia-illustration

An interesting second topic introduced in this chapter is Arya’s resemblance to Lyanna Stark and what that tells us about the internal dynamics of House Stark. Not only does Arya Stark share the same “Stark look” (perhaps another reason why Ned shows a particular interest in his youngest daughter) as the “beautiful and willful” Lyanna, but she also has the “wildness…the wolf’s blood” that brought Lyanna and Brandon to an early death. Certainly, given Arya’s disdain for gender roles and her aggressive temper, this is particularly accurate, although I think there’s a strong argument to be made that the succeeding books have harshly tempered this tendency, focusing her aggression into sudden acts of violence through intense self-repression. I also think this resemblance explains why Eddard acts like a modern, “enlightened” parent in this chapter than then pulls back in Eddard V: Eddard allows Arya to run wild because of his love for his wayward sister, yet at the same time fears that Arya will share her fate.

At the same time, Eddard’s advice to his daughter that the Starks have to act as a wolf-pack in winter shows how the symbols and credos of the Great Houses shape their thinking. The Starks genuinely do form a united front against their enemies, while the Lannisters actively undermine and then murder each-other, and the Greyjoys dysfunction is riddled with abuse, assassination, and conflicting agendas. And while in the short-run, it hasn’t stopped the Starks from falling from power, the growing likelihood that the Lannisters will be brought down by their own actions and that the Greyjoys may well begin warring against each other.

Historical Analysis:

One point before I get to the history: Arya II marks the entrance of fan-favorite Syrio Forel into the narrative, but it also marks the first really strong signifier that Arya Stark is beginning to walk down the path of the hero’s journey. If Sansa’s narrative  throughout the Song of Ice and Fire series is a deconstruction of the Disney Princess myth, arguably Arya’s narrative throughout the series is a deconstruction of the traditional fantasy protagonist. Consider the following: Arya is born into a noble household that is betrayed and overthrown, forcing her to assume a false identity as a commoner and often as a boy; gets not just one but two mentors who train her and hand on moral lessons before disappearing from the narrative; has a list of people to revenge herself against in rising order of importance; and is currently hanging out with a bunch of mystic assassins in their secret temple. And yet, the result isn’t so much an upward slope of competence and empowerment and self-understanding, but a conga line of psychological trauma  identity loss, and an inability to deal with problems outside of violence (even as many of her revenge targets die unrelated deaths).

Now back to the history. In learning to become a “water-dancer,” Arya Stark joins the ranks of some pretty formidable historical women duelists who hacked their way through traditional gender roles centuries ahead of schedule. Julie d’Aubigny (aka “La Maupin”) was trained in fencing by her father, became the mistress of the Comte d’Armagnac (Louis XIV’s Master of Horse), dumped her husband to run off with a swordmanster and begin dressing as a man, dueled three men at once and later seduced one of them when he turned out to be the son of a duke, kicked off her bisexuality by seducing a novice nun, stealing a nun’s corpse and swapping it for her lover, and then burning down the novice’s room to hide her abduction (for which she received a royal pardon from the Sun King), became a opera contralto superstar (where she busied herself chasing around sopranos and fighting duels), and became the subject of a best-selling novel.

La Maupin on left, Dona Catalina on right

La Maupin on left, Dona Catalina on right

Another duelist  Doña Catalina de Erauso, also known as the “Nun Lieutenant,” escaped her nunnery by dressing as a boy, showed away to Peru where she became a duelist after a series of affairs with various married women and mistresses, rose to the rank of Captain in the Spanish Army, was discovered and shipped off to Rome, then arrested as a spy in France, and finally managed to get to Rome where she received a Papal dispensation allowing her to cross-dress. The countess Madame de St Belmont, whose husband was imprisoned for rising up against Louis XIV, responded to a cavalry officer who had billeted himself on her estate by dressing as a man and challenging him to a duel as “le Chevalier de St. Belmont,” which she then won, then dressed down the officer, saying ” “You thought…that you were fighting with the Chevalier de St. Belmont; it is, however, Madame de St. Belmont, who returns you your sword, and begs you in future to pay more regard to the requests of ladies.” 

It’s a pretty impressive track record for any young woman to live up to, but as we’ll see, Arya is well on her way to historic levels of awesomeness. I’m still amazed that there aren’t more movies about any of these women. Screenwriters, get on it!

What If?

I don’t really see much in the way of potential turning points in this chapter; one could argue, I suppose, that it was possible that Eddard Stark could have not hired Syrio Forel, but in order for that to happen, I think you’d need to go back and rewrite most of Ned’s childhood and personality.

This is one of those character-heavy, plot-light chapters that don’t particularly lend themselves to hypotheticals, but Daenerys III should provide more material to work with.

Book vs. Show:

The HBO show actually did this chapter fairly straightforwardly, with the only change being the addition of Sansa’s doll (which I like, especially when we have the callback to it in Season 2), and leaving out Eddard storming off from the table due to being angry about the tourney, which isn’t a particularly significant detail.



32 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya II

  1. Brett says:

    I love the historical context you add to these chapters, particularly when it’s people we don’t usually hear about in secondary school history (like these impressive women).

    • stevenattewell says:

      I hadn’t heard about them either before I did some research, but I had enough familiarity with the period that I knew there must be some women who learned to fence.

      That’s one of the things I like about this blog – learning new things by desperately trying to find historical parallels.

  2. CoffeeHound14 says:

    This blog is some of my favorite reading right now, right alongside Barbara Tuchmann though the two are very different in purpose and style.

  3. axrendale says:

    Brilliant analysis and great reading, as always.

    On the subjects of female duelists and Arya’s strong resemblance to her deceased aunt, this puts me in mind of one of the most intruiging parts of the ASOIAF backstory: the Tourney at Harrenhal – specifically, the incident revolving around the “Knight of the Laughing Tree”. Amidst the various themes the fandom have come up with regarding the KOTLT’s secret identity, one of the more popular ones (I’m very partial to it) is that it was Lyanna, who was revealed in ADWD (via Roose Bolton’s recollections and Bran’s weirwood visions) to have been a talented rider and to have had an enthusiasm for dueling (at least as a child). Given the degree to which generational parallels have been stressed, including in the books themselves, it adds some additional things to consider in speculating about the role(s) that Arya will ultimately come to play when she returns to Westeros.

    I like the point that you make about the deconstruction of the Hero’s Journey with regard to Arya – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how this applies to characters like Jon Snow and Daenerys, whose plotlines also have strong elements of the HJ.

    Regarding Ned’s credo about the importance of solidarity within the ‘wolf-pack’ for survival in the face of danger, I find it interesting that the events of subsequent novels will actually invert this wisdom completely. In all places where the wolves band together in packs – Ned and co. at King’s Landing, Robb and Catelyn in the Riverlands, Bran and co. in Winterfell – catastrophic events will leave them dead or scattered, so at the current point in the series, all of the surviving Starks have effectively become a collection of lone-wolves, forced to rely on themselves for survival.

    • stevenattewell says:

      The Knight of the Laughing Tree is definitely something I’m going to focus on when we get to the parts of the novels where that Tourney is discussed.

      I will talk more about Jon and Dany as Hero’s Journey participants when we get closer to them taking more significant steps in that direction. My initial thoughts is how interesting that both of their journeys are atm ending in failure – Jon Snow’s efforts to reform the Night’s Watch and to save the wildlings have been arguably counter-productive, and Dany has not been a very good queen of Meereen to put it mildly.

      While I agree that there is an element of inversion, I would point out that the initial splitting of the pack gives us Bran’s two brushes with death, Ned’s death, etc. etc. I also don’t think it’s an accident that the Starks seem to be converging on Winterfell as their house begins to rise from the dead.

  4. Hertolo says:

    Interesting as always (though this is my first comment ;))

    But is the first paragraph the final version? You got some (link)’s in there which lead me to believe you forgot to add the links 😉 Also the top picture is not working for me.

    Contentwise, the “lone wolf dies while the pack survives” has always stuck me as strange. First, it seems to be the opposite of what actually happens. Bran and Rickon avoid the other wolves/Northmen and split up, Arya goes into hiding and when she does reveal herself (to the BWB), it doesn’t help her at all. And secondly, Ned doesn’t seem to follow this path at all when he goes to Kings Landing. He doesn’t look for allies or take another wolf with him to the small council, Jory is a guard/soldier and doesn’t count in my mind.

    Interesting historical trivia about these fencing woman.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Will fix.

    • CoffeeHound14 says:

      I agree, for the most part, but I also think that it is worth noting that a more significant element of the “pack survives/lone wolf dies” ethos is the political solidarity between the various Starks that it generates. In other words, while physically banding together does nothing to help the Starks, that isn’t the point of the message. The point of his lesson for Arya is that the Starks cannot afford to fight or undermine one another, and I think that this ethos has benefits for the family within the story. Robb can march off south without worrying that Bran or Jon will build their own northern power base in his absence. Meanwhile, among the Lannisters we see a lot of distrust and deception when they come together in the same place. Imagine Cersei trying to make the decision to lead an army away from King’s Landing knowing that she’s leaving Tyrion behind if she does; she’d never be able to do it.

      • stevenattewell says:

        This right here was what I was getting at.

      • Hertolo says:

        To be fair, Tyrion and Cersei are older and we do not know how f.e. Rickon would turn out. Maybe he would try to get a bigger piece of the cake when he’s older. After all he is a wild one. Though I agree I can’t see them backstabbing each other to the degree the Lannister does. (But Sansa’s husband might not think like that ;))

        Can we put the Tyrells in the same place as the Starks, as they seem to work together very well (while the Baratheons and Greyjoys eat each other up and the Martell’s secretiveness doesn’t help them, but is due to the danger they face. The Tullys at last fall somewhere in the middle. And let’s not start with the Freys, Oldtowers, Florents, etc. ..)

        The talk to Arya also happens after a fight with Sansa, right? So it really just seems to be a education lesson for a child: Don’t treat your sister like that 😉

        And thanks for the fix, wasn’t complaining, just thought I tell you 😉

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yes, it’s the opposite of what happens – and look at what results.

  5. CoffeeHound14 says:

    @ Hertelo

    The Tyrells are an interesting bunch. Thematically they don’t figure as strongly in the story, as they are not given much narrative focus. It is tempting to write them off as a mechanism for the political part of the ASOIAF story. That being said, what we do see of them indicates that they are a far more functional family than the Lannisters, and this clearly benefits them politically; they would never have made it this far if they had splintered, because so much of their value lies in the enormous military and economic power that they bring to the bargaining table. If that power is fractured… Well they are in a weaker state of affairs, to but it blandly.

    What makes them most interesting, I think, is that they maintain their solidarity in spite of being led by a bumbling patriarch. This makes me wonder who the real power broker/leader of the family is. It seems like the family probably nods in agreement when Mace is talking, and then more or less takes instruction from a more intelligent relative. I’d say the Queen of Thorns, but she seems to sort of be blown off by many of the family. I almost wonder if it might not be Willas. But whatever, I’m head-to-toe immersed in the sea of conjecture now.

  6. Andrew says:

    I think Ned, in dealing with Arya here tries to avoid the same mistake his father made in dealing with Arya’s protege, Lyanna. Rickard Stark is described as having a stern face, and he was probably strict, discouraging Lyanna’s interest in arms and trying to force her to conform to a proper lady, and Lyanna did resist. Ned realizes that he couldn’t discourage Arya’s interest in arms anymore than his father could Lyanna’s. He feels that may have been a contributing factor into why Lyanna ran off with Rhaegar, it was the one decision she got to make about her life.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Possibly, but his reversion back to type later suggests a certain ambivalence – he wants Arya to have some freedom, but he also doesn’t want her to pay the price Lyanna did for hers.

  7. […] of a wife and a mother; gender discrimination in a nutshell. On the other hand, as I suggested in Arya II, I think that part of Eddard’s backsliding here has to do with his ambivalence about his […]

  8. […] is sovereign; he thinks of his subjects and his peers not through the lens of powers and duties but personal relationships; and at the end of the day, he sees his role as Hand to be the King’s friend and ultimately, […]

  9. […] the bannermen and reinforcing Moat Cailin. Moreover, Robb seems to have learned some of Ned’s theory of lordship in establishing a policy of listening to all of his advisers to help him sort through the […]

  10. Andrew says:

    Did Jeyne give Arya the description of Mycah’s body being mutilated in a deliberate attempt to be cruel or was it more innocent?

  11. […] Arya II (Arya as a deconstruction of the fantasy heroic protagonist, Syrio Forel and famous swordswomen) […]

  12. […] the class divisions between the nobility and the smallfolk. Even someone with Ned Star’s benevolent paternalism, who himself made the argument just the previous day that the Night’s Watch has need for all […]

  13. […] a bit anvillicious on the fifth re-read). It is this skill that will guide Arya throughout her deconstruction of the Hero’s Journey – Arya alone sees Jaqen H’gar for who he is and of what use he can be made, Arya can look […]

  14. […] commitment to good governance, and Robb Stark out of allegiance to his father’s belief in noblesse oblige, but Joffrey believes himself to rule absolutely without obligation to any element of […]

  15. […] justice.” I’ve talked about in the past Ned Stark’s firmly held belief in noblesse oblige, but I think we see the roots of it here. It’s not the same thing as Dornish nationalism […]

  16. Joseph says:

    It’s interesting that later on, Jon thinks he’s being true to Ned’s lessons when he declines an invitation to dine with his men. I’m not sure if Jon’s getting it wrong (because Ned was more distant from Jon than from everyone else this side of Theon) or if there’s just a fine line between being accessible and being chummy.

    • If I recall correctly, Jon thinks he’s being true to Aemon’s teachings, not Ned.

      • Joseph says:

        I was thinking of Jon III, ADWD:

        “I’ll see that he’s more careful,” Grenn promised, “and I’ll clout him if he’s not.” He hesitated. “My lord, will you sup with us? Owen, shove over and make room for Jon.”

        Jon wanted nothing more. No, he had to tell himself, those days are gone. The realization twisted in his belly like a knife. They had chosen him to rule. The Wall was his, and their lives were his as well. A lord may love the men that he commands, he could hear his lord father saying, but he cannot be a friend to them. One day he may need to sit in judgment on them, or send them forth to die. “Another day,” the lord commander lied. “Edd, best see to your own supper. I have work to finish.”

  17. […] Let’s start with the fact that Theon is basically threatening Farlen with having his daughter raped. That’s morally odious on its own. But to compound that by claiming he keeps her “safe” while ignoring the fact that Palla has already been raped on his watch is moral odiousness without moral odiousness’ basic honesty of purpose. And it’s a perfect encapsulation of how broken Theon’s theory of lordship is – demanding loyalty for doing the bare minimum, while threatening the weakest and most helpless into serving him. For all that Theon might think of Eddard Stark when he’s raiding the Stony Shore, he practices the opposite of Eddard’s hands-on benevolent paternalism. […]

  18. JP says:

    I know this is a while back, but what if Ned had hired someone BESIDES Syrio. If that person is unable to stop (or is complicit in) Arya being captured, what happens then? Harrenhal isn’t taken (at least in the same way) and the Hound is most likely killed, for starters. Also possible the BWOB isn’t near the Twins to find Catelyn. Anything I’m missing?

  19. […] toe, the evasive dialogue – these are signs of embarrassment and uncertainty, because Arya is insecure about her femininity as she knows she’s bad at performing it. Instead, Arya looks to other identities – she […]

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