“Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he’d made Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d paid to keep them.”
Synopsis: after finding the last of Robert Baratheon‘s bastards, Eddard Stark and his men are attacked by Jaime Lannister and a group of Lannister soldiers. The Stark men are murdered, and Eddard’s leg is broken when his horse falls on top of him.
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.
Eddard IX has the feeling of a noir action piece rather than much in the way of politics – Detective Eddard Stark finds one more clue, but it doesn’t get him to the answers he’s looking for, and then he gets jumped by a bunch of gangsters in the rain and his partner ends up dead. Swords and horses aside, it’s not hard to imagine Mickey Spillane or Dashiell Hammett writing something like this. So…probably a short recap.
What we do get is further confirmation that the Baratheon look is absolutely de-rigeur in Robert’s bastards, and a strong sense that Robert and Lyanna’s marriage might not have been the happiest (although Lyanna doesn’t seem to be that offended by Robert’s straying, certainly not to the extent Cersei will be). We also see Ned rethinking his perceptions of his old friend Robert, recognizing that he and his old friend share fundamentally different views on honor.
An interesting moment comes when Lord Stark finally just straight-up asks Littlefinger about what he knows about Robert’s bastards – interesting both because Ned had never asked before or anyone else for that matter, and because it shows that Littlefinger is clearly trying to hide what he knows about Jon Arryn’s investigation, mentioning Edric Storm to derail the conversation. At this point, I’m pretty convinced that Littlefinger has known this whole time about Cersei’s bastards, enjoying the “lovely tight little shiver inside” that he knew something Ned didn’t know. At the same time, we learn something truly horrific about Cersei, something I feel a lot of her defenders don’t contend with: she had two babies murdered and a woman sold into slavery for an “affront to Lannister pride.” I think one can empathize with Cersei’s plight but still note that this is deeply evil.
When the Starks are stopped by the Lannisters who suddenly find them in a massive city, two interesting things happen. First is that, despite Littlefinger’s rather transparent ruse to call the city guard, the Lannister men let him through their lines unchallenged, which I take as further evidence that Littlefinger set up this ambush. What that betokens is unclear: it’s possible that Littlefinger offered to spy on Ned for the Lannisters when Ned first arrived, which would explain how he had access to Ser Gregor, and why he kept his place on the Small Council despite Cersei considering him an enemy, or that this was an overture of Littlefinger’s as he began thinking about which side he was going to back when Robert died.
Second, we see Eddard thinking rather strategically and pragmatically when he threatens Tyrion’s life if he’s harmed, which shows that at least in settings he’s familiar with like battle, Eddard is more than simply an honorable man. And Jaime oddly begs off fighting to let the others do his dirty work for him – possibly a sign of GRRM still in the process of developing this character, or that Jaime’s vaunted courage doesn’t extend to fights where he wouldn’t get any glory.
And just like that, Eddard’s men are dead and he’s got a broken leg. This is absolutely crucial, as we’ll see later.
There’s not much to discuss this week, except maybe the history of prostitution, but the upcoming Daenerys IV will be absolutely chockablock with historical parallels.
If these isn’t a lot of historical parallels to discuss, this chapter, like any fight, opens up some really important hypotheticals for what might have happened had the violent clash of men with swords on horses in the driving rain gone slightly different:
- Eddard died? Either due to the wound going septic or the femoral artery getting nicked or landing wrong, Eddard Stark could easily have died in this alley-brawl. This changes the future dramatically: a grieving and remorseful Robert Baratheon would brand Jaime Lannister an outlaw, and would respond to Ser Gregor’s attack on the Riverlands as a challenge to his royal authority; Robb Stark might not rush down to save his father’s life and instead musters the whole strength of the North to crush House Lannister, and in all likelihood Jaime Lannister loses his head to Robb Stark after the Battle of the Whispering Woods. So potentially the War of Five Kings starts with House Baratheon and House Stark united against House Lannister, and public opinion in King’s Landing changed, with Eddard Stark as the murdered loyalist and the Lannisters as murderous traitors.
- Jaime stays for the fight? I always thought it was a bit out of character for Jaime Lannister to let anyone else do his fighting for him; possibly a sign of GRRM’s “gardener” method of writing where Jaime’s character hadn’t fully grown yet as they would once he started writing from Jaime’s POV. A lot could hang on the outcome: Jaime could easily end up like Eddard, given the treacherous nature of trying to ride a horse on rain-slicked cobbles, which means that he can’t flee from King’s Landing and wouldn’t be able to lead an army in the field – which means Tywin’s left flank comes under the command of the more cautious Kevan Lannister, which might mean that Edmure Tully has more time to rally his banners and drill his men, and doesn’t get ambushed and captured, which in turn would make Robb’s shift over the Twins unnecessary – setting up an even fight between Robb and Tywin’s armies, which could virtually end the war for either side. Jaime would definitely still be on the scene when the Gold Cloaks arrive, which possibly means he gets put on trial for murder and violating the King’s Peace, but in any case definitely means that he’s not able to lead an army in the Riverlands, and so on and so forth.
- Eddard doesn’t break his leg? This is the chief consequence of the fight. Eddard’s leg getting broken is absolutely crucial for GRRM for both character reasons (it allows a way for him to bring in the Tower of Joy vision) and for plot reasons: Ned having a broken leg means he can’t lead the king’s armies into the Riverlands, means that his realization about Jon Arryn’s investigation is delayed until Robert Baratheon leaves for his fatal hunting trip, and means that he can’t get his children out of King’s Landing before his disastrous coup attempt. As I said before with Catelyn Stark, there’s an element of Greek tragedy here: Eddard is hobbled, brought low by a complete accident, so that when the final clash comes, he’s helpless before his enemies. Without this, it’s much more likely that Robert Baratheon learns the truth, which sets off the Cersei/Jaime execution (exile at best), the Tyrell plan comes into effect as Robert now needs a new queen, a new heir, and a new bank, and the Stark/Tully/Baratheon/probably Arryn alliance comes together to smack down the Lannisters…in other words, the War of Five Kings is completely unrecognizable.
Book vs. Show:
Right up there with Eddard shouting “BAELOR!” to Yoren, or Arya becoming Tywin’s cupbearer, this is my favorite innovation of the HBO show. In the books, we never get to see Eddard fight, and, save for a few jousts and his duel with Brienne, we never get to see Jaime fight before he loses their hand. This fight gives Eddard Stark a properly heroic moment where he goes toe-to-toe with the best swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms and holds his own, something that really builds up respect for the protagonist right before his downfall. Arguably, it’s a better depiction of Jaime’s character, from his ruthless predatory handling of Jory Cassel’s attack to his honest enjoyment of a true challenge to his anger and frustration about having his artistic moment ruined by a thoughtless underling.
So I’ll just leave this here: