“Someone has to rule this damnable kingdom. Put on the badge, Ned. It suits you. And if you ever throw it in my face again, I swear to you, I’ll pin the damned thing on Jaime Lannister.”
Synopsis: After a strange dream, Eddard wakes up to find Robert and Cersei at his door. The three of them have an unhappy conversation, Eddard gets his badge and gun back, and Robert leaves on a hunting trip on which nothing bad will happen.
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.
This is a short chapter, and likely to be a short recap. However, I expect next week’s coverage of Tyrion’s trial by combat to be a more in-depth analysis.
Tower of Joy
Ah, the Tower of Joy. Friends turned against each other, doomed love, epic swordfights with some of the best warriors in living memory, it’s got it all. A fan favorite flashback and probably the most lamented omission from Season 1 (as the House of the Undying was in Season 2), it’s one of the few mysteries linked to Eddard Stark that remains relevant to the current plot.
But what are the political ramifications of this incident?
- Assuming R+L=J, which is frankly the only theory that bears any dramatic weight to it, the fact that Ned Stark wins the skirmish and climbs the Tower of Joy means that Jon Snow is not raised as a Targaryen pretender. This avoids the problem of too many Targaryen pretenders for the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy, because honestly, they were having issues already with Aegon/”Aegon” and Viserys and Daenerys.
- Lyanna’s death in childbirth means the Lannister match happens. Now, it’s quite possible that Lyanna would have died anyway, given the dangers of childbirth in a premodern environment. However, high stress is bad during pregnancy, so the thought that your brother might die might have been enough to raise her blood pressure just enough at the wrong time. Potentially, had Lyanna survived the birth, she might have gone on to marry Robert, leaving the Lannisters as a potentially dangerous third party, hated and distrusted by both the victorious rebels and the Targaryen loyalists.
- A small conspiracy is formed to hide Jon Snow’s birth from the world, and it’s remarkably successful. As far as we know, none of the top players of the Game of Thrones (Varys, Illyrio, Littlefinger, The Queen of Thornes, Doran Martell, etc.) have any idea of who Jon Snow really is. This suggests that the conspiracy was limited to a few incredibly loyal people – Ned Stark and Howland Reed are obviously two of the participants, but way back in Eddard I, he refers to “they had found him still holding her body, shaking with grief.” So there must be at least one other person than Howland Reed who is likely to have known the truth of Jon Snow’s birth – Wylla, the wetnurse of House Dayne, may well have been brought by Ser Arthur Dayne to look after the child, and is probably the best bet for the third party.
- Three of the most famous members of the Kingsguard are not present at the Battle of the Trident because instead they were guarding Lyanna and the future heir to the Iron Throne. Had they been there and guarding Rhaegar, two things might have happened differently: one, it’s possible Robert might have lost his duel with Rhaegar, which would have blunted the force of the Rebellion if not broken it completely. Second, it’s possible that Robert might have won and captured the three men, which probably would have meant they would have been pardoned and retained on the Kingsguard, which would have severely limited the opportunities to fill vacancies in the future.
The last and most personal impact is that Eddard, an honorable man and Robert Baratheon’s closest friend, carries a secret with him for the rest of his life that mandates he maintain a distance between himself and Robert. With the exception of the Greyjoy Rebellion, Ned does not see Robert again after their reconciliation at King’s Landing until the death of Jon Arryn, which notably means that his seat on the Small Council as Warden of the North remains vacant, aiding the process of Lannister infiltration that much more.
The second thing we learn is that Eddard’s injury has put him out of action for a critical seven days, which means that Robert is gone hunting when Eddard finally pieces it together than Joffrey is the illegitimate son of Jaime and Cersei, which means that Arya and Sansa’s ship from King’s Landing is delayed, which means Ned doesn’t have the opportunity to make sure a message gets through to Dragonstone or Winterfell or anywhere else about the truth, and which ultimately means that Ned doesn’t really have time to reach out to anyone else to plan out how to prevent Joffrey’s ascension to the Throne until it’s too late.
As I’ve said before, Ned has to be literally hobbled in order for the War of Five Kings to happen. If Catelyn’s tragedy is like something out of Greek tragedy where a woman devoted to family is made to suffer the loss of her (she thinks) entire family, Ned’s tragedy is more reminiscent of tragedies like Romeo & Juliet or King Lear, in which timing (especially the crucial delay of news or a warning until just too late) is crucial.
Truth, Justice, and the Westerosi Way
When Eddard wakes up and confronted by Robert and Cersei, he’s faced with a series of confrontations that ultimately, revolve around truth and justice: first, he’s challenged implicitly by Robert as to what level of responsibility he has for “what Catelyn has done;” Ned being the man himself takes on all responsibility, but dos so as “the Hand of the King…charged by your own lord husband to keep the king’s peace and enforce the king’s justice,” which is impressive political maneuvering for a man doped up on painkillers.
Likewise, for as much as he’s criticized for relying on Robert, it’s notable that Robert trusts his word over Cersei when she again tries and fails to rewrite history, laughably claiming that “Lord Stark was returning drunk from a brothel. His men attacked Jaime and his guards.” At the same time, Eddard’s trust is damaged when he is denied the right to bring the Kingslayer to justice for his assault. Robert may not be the best king, but he does have the common sense to maintain a middle position between the Starks and the Lannisters in this conflict, charging Eddard to “command [Catelyn] to release the dwarf at once, and you will make your peace with Jaime.”
Ultimately, it comes down to a question of whether the crown will favor the law or the older laws of blood, which is clearly the only laws that Cersei considers binding: “Jaime and Tyrion and your own brothers, by all the laws of marriage and the bonds we share. The Starks have driver off the one and seized the other,” therefore the King should treat the Starks as the latter.
For the moment, King Robert chooses to honor the law, and by re-appointing Ned as Hand of the King implicitly agrees with Eddard’s revision of history, that the seizure of Tyrion Lannisters was a lawful arrest and not a private act of war against the king’s peace.
Returned to service, Ned tries to tell his old friend the truth, but is too weak to reach Robert before Robert goes off “to the kingswood to hunt.” Yet further proof that no one in A Song of Ice and Fire should ever wait to finish a conversation.
The Lannister Conspiracy – a Question of Timing
Unbeknownst to the reader, as Robert leaves for the kingswood, the Lannisters hatch a second assassination attempt against him, this time banking on fortified wine laced with milk of the poppy to dull his reactions during the hunt.
As I’ve suggested before, there is a common signature to the Lannister Conspiracy: a slapdash, jerry-rigged style with a heavy emphasis on setting up “accidents” that may or may not pan out. As much as Varys might darkly speculate, the reality is that there’s no guarantee that Robert Baratheon would actually be killed in the melee. Melees are chaotic environments, equally likely to see the would-be assassin or assassins blind-sided by another opponent in a critical moment, or to be downed by the King himself, or simply never able to get to the king in the opening fray where an assassination attempt might be hidden. Likewise, there’s a high chance that Lancel’s strongwine would not do the job – either because Robert doesn’t encounter the boar randomly in the forest, or if he’s just a bit luckier with his spear, or if the wound wasn’t as bad. More on that later.
What’s interesting is the timing of all of this. Cersei must have decided to do this the moment she left the room, since Robert is leaving for his hunt and she doesn’t have much time to get to Lancel and get the strongwine set up. Which in turn means that either Eddard’s mention of seeing Robert’s bastard was enough for Cersei to realize that the jig was about to be up and she needed to get Joffrey on the Iron Throne as soon as possible, or that the fact that Robert chose Eddard over her in this conflict was proof enough that Eddard would have the Handship and the Crown on his side in the coming Stark/Lannister war that she had to get Robert out of the way and claim the political high ground.
I don’t really have much in the way of historical material for this rather personal episode. Sorry! More should be coming with Catelyn VII and Jon V.
There aren’t a huge number of hypotheticals for this chapter – I tend to focus on hypotheticals consistent with people’s character, and there really wasn’t any chance that Robert was going to have Eddard arrested or worse for brawling in the street with a man Robert despises or for having Tyrion arrested, not for Cersei’s sake.
- Robert doesn’t go hunting? One thing that I do see consistent with Robert’s character is that he might decide to delay his hunting trip a day or two, if something comes along to distract him (a shiny rock, or maybe some yarn?) at a convenient moment. This has the potential to change many, many things:
- one, it means that Robert is sitting in judgement when the Riverlords come to seek royal justice. For all 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 definitely send more than 120 men out to capture the Mountain, and might even decide to go himself to get a chance to hit someone while upholding “the King’s Peace.” This changes the calculus for Tywin rather dramatically – capturing Eddard and forcing an exchange of hostages that keeps face is one thing, but open rebellion against the King is another.
- two, it means that Eddard has the opportunity to get his kids out of the city as planned – which in turn means that Arya and Sansa probably get home safe. This means that, when open war breaks out, Robb doesn’t have his sisters as a war aim and Catelyn has no motive to free Jaime Lannister. This gives Robb a great deal of strategic flexibility following the Battles of the Whispering Wood and the Camps: he could declare victory and go home, he could offer his sisters’ hands in marriage to Houses Tyrell, Martell, Greyjoy, possibly Arryn, etc. to expand his coalition, etc. It also means that Theon taking Winterfell becomes potentially even more dire for the Starks if the sisters aren’t married off by that point.
- three, it means that Eddard has a chance to tell Robert about the truth. If this is the case, Jaime’s an outlaw with a death sentence on his head, Cersei and her children are probably dead or in exile at best, Robert remarries to Margaery Tyrell, and Tywin’s screwed. Hence we see why Robert has to die, and why Cersei gets lucky.
Book vs. Show:
This scene in the HBO show was pretty close to the book, with the significant loss of the Tower of Joy. While I would be the last person to get up in arms about the loss of every little flashback from the show, and I understand why some fan-favorites like this and the House of the Undying had to be cut, I do worry that Benioff and Weiss are setting themselves up for a big problem down the road.
Jon Snow’s parentage is a major meta-mystery in the book series, but it really hasn’t been mentioned for a season and a half now, and we don’t really have much of an opportunity to bring it back in to the plot. What I’m worried about is that the fandom isn’t going to be that invested by Season 7 or 8 when the truth that Jon Snow is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen comes out, and how that explains so much of what happened earlier.
My one caveat here is that the Reeds are a vehicle for re-introducing this plotline via the stories about the Tourney at Harrenhal, and the potential for Bran’s greendreams being used as a loophole to get around the “no flashbacks” rule and the fact that Bran’s storyline is the one where the showrunners are most in danger of burning through the back catalogue GRRM’s built up.