Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard XII

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

Synopsis: Now that he’s solved the mystery of Jon Arryn’s murder, Eddard speaks briefly with Pycelle and Littlefinger, and then has a meeting with Cersei Lannister. The two speak frankly, but fail to reach common ground.

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:

To continue my roller-coaster analogy, Eddard XII is where you hit top speed and you’re zooming down the incline, and you can see that something’s not quite right (loose screws, a supporting strut that’s not quite in the right position), but you’re going way too fast to stop.

Eddard’s Investigation Completed

For all that we tend to focus on the end of the chapter, the beginning of the chapter belies Eddard’s reputation as a political naïf. As we discussed last time, his gambit of sending out Beric Dondarrion as a royal representative is basically working: “Lord Tywin is greatly wroth about the men you sent after Ser Gregor Clegane,” Pycelle informs Ned, but as Eddard points out, “Lord Beric rides beneath the king’s own banner. If Lord Tywin attempts to interfere with the king’s justice, he will have Robert to answer to. The only thing his Grace enjoys more than hunting is making war on lords who defy him.” Given Robert’s actions at Summerhall and the Greyjoy Rebellion, Eddard is likely right about the King’s reaction to any attack on his banner. And at the end of the day, Tywin does in fact attack the King’s banner, so that Eddard’s trap is sprung. How many people in ASOIAF can claim they actually politically outmaneuvered?

Secondly, as we can see, Eddard is hardly fooled when it comes to the machinations of the royal court: he can see plainly that Pycelle is the queen’s spy, “bound straight for the royal apartments, to whisper at the queen,” and as for LIttlefinger, “the man was too clever by half…there was scarcely a man in this city he trusted.” Likewise he puts little trust in Varys, who “for all his protestations of loyalty…knew too much and did too little.” Eddard’s downfall has many causes, but that he blindly trusted is not one of them – it is far more accurate to say that he gambled on which way Littlefinger would jump and guessed wrong, but more on that later.

Thirdly, Eddard has now succeeded in his initial task, to solve the mystery of “the sword that killed Jon Arryn.” He knows that at every time the Lannisters and Baratheons have inter-married (and it’s quite frequent, with two marriages inside thirty years, which is otherwise unusual in Westeros, “always he found the gold yielding before the coal.” And Eddard is fully aware of how dangerous this knowledge is, “he asked himself what Jon Arryn might have done, had he lived long enough to act on what he’d learned. Or perhaps he had acted, and died for it.” Ned Stark knows that this knowledge might be his death and Robert’s.

The White Hart and the Recall

One of the interesting things that one notices on a careful re-read is the critical importance of timing when it comes to how long King Robert will be hunting, and Joffrey’s return back to court. In the first place, we learn that “they found the white hart…or rather what remained of it. Some wolves found it first, and left his Grace scarcely more than  a hoof and a horn. Robert was in a fury, until he heard talk of some monstrous boar deeper in the forest.” On the level of dramatic timing, this turn of events is crucial – Robert has to be kept away long enough that Eddard cannot have an opportunity to tell him the truth about Joffrey’s true parentage, but not so long that Eddard has an opportunity to send Cersei away before Robert’s death can allow her to put Joffrey on the Iron Throne and seize power through him. As I have said many times, attention must be paid to how intricately GRRM times this – a matter of a day or even a few hours one way or the other, and Eddard’s story might not have been a tragic one.

Likewise, Joffrey’s return is highly significant. Regardless of whether she learns about Eddard’s knowledge and his actions, Cersei has clearly acted by this point to bring about her husband’s death and seize the monarchy itself. In order for her mission to succeed, she must have the crown prince on hand to enthrone.

On a symbolic level, it is highly significant that, just as at the beginning of this story, the sigil of House Stark was found having caused the death of the sigil of House Baratheon and vice verse, here we see that wolves have devoured the symbol of the King. In omens, repetitions and reversals are always significant, indicating a pattern being weaved by the fates that sends ahead of the event ripples through time – and so here, Starks and Baratheons are found brought together by death. And just as Eddard thinks that his actions will prove to be “Robert’s death” (in the sense that they will mortally wound his pride, his trust in others, and the tranquility of his country), he is preparing to act in a fashion that Varys will argue brings about his best friend’s death.

At the same time, there is also an interesting contrast between the white hart and the boar. As I’ve discussed before, the white hart symbolized purity and innocence, especially in the context of medieval Europe; the boar, on the other hand, represented wild anger, uncontrollable rage, virility (hence the unfortunate singer’s link between the king’s supposed emasculation and his defeat at the hands of the boar), and suicide (as wild boars were known and feared for their ability to, even when stabbed with a spear, pull themselves up the spear and kill the hunter). In this chapter, King Robert goes in search of innocence and instead finds violent death as both he and the boar seek to kill even while dying; it’s possible to see this hunt as a kind of symbolic suicide as Robert slays his drive for living.

Ned’s Biggest Mistake?

Finally, we get to the crux of Ned Stark’s story line in Game of Thrones, which is worth quoting extensively:

“I know the truth Jon Arryn died for,” he told her.

“Do you?” The queen watched his face, wary as a cat. “Is that why you called me here, Lord Stark? To pose me riddles? Or is it your intent to seize me, as your wife seized my brother?”

“If you truly believed that, you never would have come.”…

“My brother Jaime is worth a hundred of your friend.”

“Your brother?” Ned said. “Or your lover?”

“Both.” She did not flinch from the truth…

“My son Bran…”

To her credit, Cersei did not look away. “He saw us.”…

“How is it that you have had no children by the king?”

She lifted her head, defiant. “Your Robert got me with child once…my brother found a woman to cleanse me.”…

“You know what I must do.”

“Must!” She put her hand on his good leg, “A true man does what he will, not what he must.” Her fingers brushed lightly against his thigh, the gentlest of promises. “The realm needs a strong Hand. Joff will not come of age for years. No one wants war again, least of all me…if friends can turn to enemies, enemies can become friends.”…

“I shall say this only once. When the king returns from his hunt, I intend to lay the truth before him. You must be gone by then. You and your children, all three, and not to Casterly Rock…no matter where you flee, Robert’s wrath will follow you…”

“And what of my wrath Lord Stark?”

This moment is often seen as Ned Stark’s biggest mistake, a blundering error committed by a man with more honor than sense. And yet, if you look at the context of the conversation, there’s a lot more going on here. To begin with, one has to point out that if Ned Stark lets his honor get the best of him, Cersei Lannister is almost equally inept at intrigue. Ned Stark has proof that Cersei has committed adultery, but no proof that she committed incest – and yet Cersei volunteers this fact, and claims responsibility for the first attempt on his son’s life when she could have very made something up. It’s not surprising that the Lannister Conspiracy was known to virtually everyone at court. It might be argued that Cersei’s admissions here should be offset by the fact that her plan to kill Robert Baratheon and install her son as King was already underway, so that telling the truth to Eddard Stark was ultimately harmless.

However, that wasn’t true at the time and Cersei knew it – while she had already dispatched the order to get Robert drunk, that was no guarantee that he actually would die in the hunt. Likewise, Cersei did not yet have military hegemony within the capitol – at this point in time, Cersei “has a dozen knights and a hundred men at arms,” but that’s not nearly enough, especially given the number of enemies Cersei has collected in King’s Landing. Even minus the twenty men he sends with Beric Dondarrion, Eddard Stark has thirty Winterfell men, Renly has access to over a hundred, there are a substantial but unknown number of Robert’s own soldiers who accompanied him up to Winterfell, and the Gold Cloaks answer to the Hand and the Master of Laws (and have yet to be bought by either side). Even more so, it’s fully within Eddard’s powers as Hand or in his own private capacity to hire a hundred or so mercenaries to bulk up his forces. Cersei’s offer of both sex and a political alliance that would leave Eddard in power as Hand of the King is the best proof that the political situation was still fluid at the time, and that Cersei herself was in a substantial amount of danger.

However, it’s absolutely the case that Eddard had a number of ways of dealing with the situation that he does not avail himself of: there’s no reason why Eddard couldn’t have had multiple witnesses present, or have sent out letters to be opened in the event of his death (after all, he has about two weeks before the dying Robert returns, which gives him plenty of time), in order to prevent himself from being silenced; likewise, there’s no reason why Eddard couldn’t have seized the opportunity to forcibly but non-violently deport the queen and her children on the next ship heading to Essos before Robert’s return; he could have used the time to hire mercenaries and canvass the support of Renly, Robert’s personal bannermen, the Crownlands Houses and so on.

Historical Analysis:

It’s been a while since I did a proper historical parallel about a main character, but starting with this chapter, I intend to do a multi-part series on Eddard Stark’s historical parallel – Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, the first major leader of the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses.

In later segments, I’ll go into some of the particular events in Richard Plantagenet’s life that makes me see a parallel, but here I’ll start with the broad outlines. Like Eddard Stark, Richard was a powerful nobleman with huge landholdings in the North of his country, in this case much of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire, and Gloustershire. He also had a father who died at the hands of a King – Richard, the 3rd Earl of Cambridge, executed by Henry V for attempting to depose him, which means that Richard Plantagenet would start his career serving the son of the man who killed his father. Also like Eddard Stark, he married the daughter of a great house who would become pivotal players in the Wars of the Roses, Cecily Neville of the Nevilles of Westmorland, Salisbury, Northumberland, and Warwick.

Richard Duke of York was also a career soldier during the final stages of the Hundred Years War in France, put in command of the defense of Normandy, recapturing territory in northern France that had been lost to the resurgent French, then in defense of Gascony, and so on. It was in France that Richard began to dissent against royal policies that he blamed for English losses in the war, especially the preferment of the Beaufort Dukes of Somerset, the first two of whom proved to be inept military leaders. Richard’s later interest in becoming Lord Protector of the Realm while the King was incapacitated, and his conflict with the Queen Margaret d’Anjou (who supported the Beauforts and was alleged to have cuckolded the king with Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset)  found their foundation in his accusations of incompetence and corruption within the royal court.

So here we have a great Northern nobleman, son of an executed father, with a sound military reputation, who comes into conflict with a powerful queen over questions of corruption within the royal court.

Next time: it’s not easy being a Protector of the Realm.

What If?

In a chapter that ultimately comes down to a single decision, there’s a lot of room for coin-flip hypotheticals. I will probably miss some, but look forward to debating any in the comments.

  • Eddard doesn’t talk to Cersei? To many, this is the most obvious change; if Eddard does the smart thing and keeps his mouth shut, he’ll defeat the evil queen and her usurping son, prevent the war, etc. However, and I realize this might be controversial, I’m not sure how much this changes. Leaving aside the question of how much Cersei knows about Eddard’s investigation (she’s probably been spying on him, but how much intel she got is unclear), Cersei is already committed to installing Joffrey on the Iron Throne the moment her husband is dead, and the Queen Regency for her is an existential life goal.

So Cersei was probably intending to make some moves that would make Eddard her enemy even more so than status quo; although (depending on how genuine her offers are in this chapter) she may have originally intended to have Eddard front for her and double down on the Joffrey-Sansa wedding as a way to neutralize the Starks in the coming civil war, although that’s complicated in turn by the fact that her father is in the process of attacking his brother-in-law. Her finding out that he knows Joffrey is illegitimate and isn’t going to stand for his enthronement probably pushed her in the direction of getting rid of the Lord Protector, but she was probably intending to do so anyway. Perhaps the most information Cersei got out of the affair is that Eddard isn’t going to move on her person but is going to oppose her plans, which gives her a sense of how much room she has to maneuver, but is that all that much in the grand scheme of things?

However, the big question here is to what extent Cersei’s plans for what goes down in the Throne Room in OTL were predicated on the need to deal with Lord Eddard (i.e, was she actively looking to make deals to pick up more soldiers when Littlefinger came along, or was buying the Gold Cloaks enough of an obvious play that she would have done it regardless?). It’s possible that if Cersei didn’t know what Eddard was planning, she might not have enough men on hand to, for example, grab Eddard’s daughters and close off the gates and have the docks watched, and it’s possible (although unlikely given what happens between Ned and Littlefinger) that she might have missed the opportunity to buy them altogether. One interesting possibility, assuming that Cersei’s fear that she’s isolated in King’s Landing that is expressed in this chapter, is that Cersei does a runner down the Gold Road to get the royal family into Lannister territory, leaving the capital in Ned’s possession.

  • Eddard exiles Cersei before Robert comes back? To me, this would be the most significant diversion from the OTL; if Eddard came to the conclusion that the only way to avoid the bloodshed on the floors scenario he so loathes (more on this next Eddard chapter) is to forcibly remove the Queen from King’s Landing, rationalizing that, however unpleasant it is to arrest the Queen and her children, it’s better than having Robert kill all of them (and Eddard was willing to have them arrested when it came down to it, in OTL). It’s quite possible that Eddard pulls this off – Renly would probably see this as second-best to arresting them, but that’s less crucial when Robert is still alive and the Renly/Tyrell Conspiracy is still his go-to move; Littlefinger might feel differently about Eddard not being down with Joffrey’s Regent if Stannis on the Throne isn’t part of the deal.

This creates an interesting variation on some of my previous “Eddard’s counter-coup works” scenarios. If Cersei and Joffrey are gone when Robert returns mortally wounded, then Stannis is drafted into the will and we get a Stark/Baratheon/Tully/possibly Tyrell alliance against the Lannisters. However, unlike previous iterations, instead of the Baratheon/Lannister claimants being dead, they’re still alive and active in Essos. This could make things rather complicated – while Tywin would probably face a difficult situation on the mainland (his 45,000 against the 55-140,000 the alliance could bring together), he could probably pull back to a defensive position of defending the two mountain passes into the Westerlands while sending money to his daughter and the “rightful heirs” in Essos to hire mercenary armies for an eastern invasion. Then everything turns to a question of allies: Tywin’s going to reach out to the Greyjoys and offer them carte blanche in return for them attacking the North and the Riverlands, and trying to pry the Tyrells (and maybe Renly) away from Stannis and Eddard, since there’s not the prospect of a royal wedding for Margaery. Whether the Tyrells jump is iffy – Renly has good prospects as potentially Stannis’ heir, so they might decide to make their OTL alliance and hope/encourage Stannis to die in battle after he takes out the Lannisters, but it’s 50/50 between that and Joffrey’s hand. The Martells settle back with some popcorn to watch their hated enemies kill each other; Lysa Arryn will stay out as long as Littlefinger tells her to, but it will be harder for her to do so when a King on the Iron Throne with a sensible marriage.

  • Eddard has witnesses? Here’s where GRRM’s inattention to public opinion (save for the isolated incidents of the riot and the Antler Men) makes alternate history difficult. Cersei potentially made a huge mistake by admitting everything to Eddard; if Eddard had thought to bring, say, the High Septon and several influential lords within earshot of their conversation, he might have been able to rally public opinion to his side after Robert’s death by publicly outing the queen as an incestuous adulterer and murderer. Here, teasing out the impact is difficult to do: we only get one riot in King’s Landing, but had multiple riots broken out as a result of diminished legitimacy of the royal family, that would be an interesting complicating factor – can a relatively small ersatz army of police offers simultaneously defend a city from siege when the city is at war from within? Alternatively, we might also see Stannis’ open letter being taken more seriously across the Seven Kingdoms if Eddard’s name is attached to the allegation and it’s proceeded by widespread rumors that the Queen killed the Hand because he spoke the truth.
  • Cersei doesn’t say anything? While Eddard gets most of the opprobrium for being honest in this scene, we should also keep in mind that Cersei says a lot more than she needed to in this scene. Admitting adultery when your interrogator has the family trees to prove it is one thing, but I’ve always been nonplussed by the way in which Eddard and Stannis both leap to the (correct) conclusion that Cersei is schtupping her brother and, say, not any other blond man in the entire city? (Possibly this is just GRRM cutting a bit of a corner for the sake of narrative convenience) Likewise, I really feel that Cersei would have had a much better chance of managing Eddard Stark has she not, for example, immediately preceded her seduction attempt or her offer of an alliance by admitting that she tried to kill his son (yes, I know Jaime carried it out, but she implicitly admits culpability in this chapter).

Book vs. Show:

Benioff and Weiss made the intelligent decision to play this scene pretty much straight from the book (with the exception of the “I worshiped him” bit, but they have to retcon a bit since they made the change re: Robert and Cersei having a child), given how amazing the dialogue is in the source material. However, they made the decision to omit Cersei’s offer to sleep with Eddard.

This is kind of a big change for the character, emphasizing more Cersei’s confident schemer side and downplaying her use of her sexuality, and it’s one that’s been carried forward in the series with the removal of the Kettleblacks from the series. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this – on the one hand, Game of Thrones has enough problems with gender without making Cersei both a Jezebel-type as well as an Evil Queen type. On the other, I am somewhat worried about the knock-on effects for Seasons 4 and later. For example, how are they going to handle the breach between Jaime and Cersei (unless they throw everything onto Lancel)? Or Cersei’s plan to destroy Margaery via the Kettleblacks, and her own fall from grace?

While her outreach to Eddard is somewhat disposable in the final analysis, the latter are absolutely crucial for both major political plots and character development for Cersei, Jaime, Lancel, Margaery, the Sparrow High Septon, etc.

65 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Eddard XII

  1. Brendan McLeod says:

    I’m always delighted when I get an e-mail saying that there’s a new installment of this series available to read. I hope they’re as satisfying for you to write as they are for me to read. Looking forward to more about the Duke of York!

    • stevenattewell says:

      I almost always enjoy doing these (with the exception of certain Bran chapters where I have very little to say).

  2. Good post, as usual. One thing re the “two weeks” thing — that day-by-day timeline is a remarkable bit of work, but there’s some obvious errors and leaps, and the two weeks is a *huge* one of them. For one, there’s a text error in the spreadsheet — that should not be 11/1, as it’s between 11/10 and 11/15. For another, in Eddard XII Ned says he’s arranged for the girls to leave on a ship in 3 days, and Eddard XIV is the day they’re supposed to leave. So the timing is much, much tighter.

    Day 1, evening: (Eddard XII) Ned confronts Cersei
    Day 3, very late at night: (Eddard XIII) Robert returns; Ned refuses Renly and makes plans with Littlefinger
    Day 4: (Eddard XIV) Morning breakfast after Ned’s “brief exhausted sleep”. The girls were to leave that evening, Arya wheedles one last training session with Syrio out of him; Sansa wants to see Joffrey, runs out angry and presumably goes to Cersei; Robert dies, and so on.

    So at most it’s two-three days for Ned to make arrangements, not two weeks.

    Also, something that’s rarely mentioned is that Ned’s motivation for confronting Cersei was not simply honor or “stupidity”. It was memory of what had happened to Rhaegar and Elia’s children. His narration says “The realm could not withstand a second mad king, another dance of blood and vengeance. He must find some way to save the children. . . . Robert could be merciful. . . . This was something else: poison in the dark, a knife thrust to the soul. This he could never forgive, no more than he had forgiven Rhaegar. He will kill them all, Ned realized.”

    His motivations are to prevent *Robert* from becoming another mad king, to save innocent lives. He confronts Cersei to beg her to save herself and her children. (*Including* Joffrey, who Ned is not actively working against at this moment.) Witnesses would have made this impossible, as Ned needs to keep the secret too, to prevent Robert’s wrath. Of course, Ned’s motivations change after Robert returns deathly injured, but that’s a later chapter.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Good correction, thanks.

      I left out the dead children thing for next chapter so I can talk about my Ned PTSD theory.

    • David Hunt says:

      I’d argue that Ned isn’t planning on keeping the secret of the paternity of Cercei’s children at all, or a few days at most. He’s going to have to tell Robert the moment he gets back, because he either has to explain why they’ve all fled the Capital or (if they’re still there) he has to intercept whatever play Cercei is going to make to destroy Ned before he destroys her.

      The problem that I see with Ned bringing witnesses is that Cercei would be extremely unlikely to confess in front of them. Without them, she can simply claim that Ned is making up some vile slander in revenge for her spurning his treasonous sexual advances. He’s demonstrated that he’s willing to cheat on his wife, after all. That’s not a ploy that’s likely to succeed if Robert comes back alive and well, but it strikes me as the best that she’d come up with and her position would be extremely perilous at that point.

      Ned’s sure that he can prove the kids’ bastardy to Robert’s satisfaction now. He’s now trying to keep Robert’s wrath from falling on the children. Cercei is getting the lifeline he’s throwing her for their sake (or for the sake or Aegon and Raenys). If Cercei hadn’t had benefited from the deus ex machina of, the white hart being killed before Robert found it, word of the boar reaching Robert, Robert being drunk enough for the boar to mortally wound him at the exact time they found the boar, etc etc, then Ned should have eventually had her at Robert’s non-existent mercy.

      • stevenattewell says:

        ” Cercei would be extremely unlikely to confess in front of them.” It’s a godswood – plenty of trees to hide behind.

        Good point about the deus ex machina.

  3. Sean C. says:

    This might be better-discussed in Ned’s next chapter, but the question of buying the Gold Cloaks has always been a plot point that I’ve thought that even the author may have gotten a bit off.

    Namely, virtually everybody operates on the assumption that Janos Slynt and his merry band have no stake in the outcome, and are purely for sale to the highest/most sympathetic bidder. I really don’t see that as being the case. That assumption hinges on Slynt and co. believing that King Stannis and King Joffrey are equally acceptable outcomes, and the choice between them can be dictated by who will pay them more. Anybody who knows anything about those two would see that isn’t true.

    Joffrey is basically a continuation of the current regime, where Slynt and his cronies have been industriously lining their pockets with graft. Stannis is Eliot Ness. Does anybody think that, on arriving in King’s Landing to accept the crown, he wouldn’t have given Slynt and co. the Davos fingers treatment (and that would be if he was charitable)? And they should have known that.

    Really, you could apply this to Ned’s dealings with Littlefinger as well. He knows Baelish is corrupt. He should ask why a corrupt man would want to put a guy with an infamously low tolerance for corruption on the throne.

    • stevenattewell says:

      That’s a good point, although Ned doesn’t know Littlefinger is corrupt, simply that he’s not trustworthy.

      However, unless Eddard actually says who he’s supporting, Slynt et al. have no reason to believe that he’s for Stannis. They’re not politically well-connected enough to know in advance.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        In advance, perhaps not. But when Eddard sends Littlefinger to buy Slynt off (and if Stark really is as politically savvy as you argue he is, I’d think Littlefingers insistence that Stannis would be a terrible choice and bribery is the best way to do things might have more than the suggestion of a corrupt approach) so that Slynt follows Eddard’s orders instead of the queen’s, they can be pretty much sure they ain’t going to be helping in the reign of good King Joffrey. At the absolute minimum, they’re being asked to give up on the current profitable regime for an unknown quantity who might be Stannis.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Good point, although it’s not unreasonable for them to suspect a Renlyish motive – seize the boy king and his mother, set yourself up as Regent, force Tywin to back down.

  4. Brett says:

    I think they could have Cersei be rather messed up when Joffrey is assassinated right before her eyes, and make it clear that she’s on stronger ground in suspecting that the Tyrells were involved in the assassination (even if she thinks Tyrion was the chief instigator).

    It actually might be easier to sell that kind of mental downward spiral into greater alcoholism, depression, and paranoia on-screen than in the book.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Possible, but unless they’re planning to essentially have her booze her way into a series of affairs, I think an important part of her later storyline is missing.

  5. Priddy says:

    I love how Eddard Stark is defended on this website. It is nice to see someone point out that he wasn’t a complete idiot and that he had valid reasons for warning Cersei.
    Still, I have to agree with Varys that this action was foolish, because Ned seems to have genuinly believed that the queen would only have two options: flee King’s Landing or face Robert’s Wrath. He never seemed to consider that Cersei might take Door Nr. 3 and commit regicide, which was shockingly naive. After all, Lord Stark knew that the Lannisters already planned to assassinate King Robert during the tournament, that they tried to kill his son, and he believed that they had poisoned Jon Arryn. Since Cersei risked losing everything, if the truth reached the King’s ear, there was no reason for Ned to believe that she would stop at nothing to prevent this. Nor should he have assumed that his friend Robert was save from her on the hunting trip, because he was surrounded by many people. This was the perfect scenario for an assassination disguised as an accident (which is excatly what happens).
    Personally, I believe that Ned’s biggest mistake was warning Cersei without making preparations to ensure that she couldn’t murder King Robert.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Except that the assassination attempt had already been started, so it wouldn’t have mattered either way.

      However, I have to point out that the Lannisters were incredibly slapdash in all of their attempts, bungling the two attempts on Bran’s life and the attempt on the King, and that in every case their means of regicide were insanely uncertain. There’s no way to predict that a man in the melee will succeed in killing the king, or do so without being made to confess; likewise, it was perfectly possible that Robert would not have encountered the boar, and even possible that he, even in a drunken state, would have made his first thrust successfully.

  6. axrendale says:

    I generally think that you’re right on the money with regard to Cersei’s ineptitude as a political conspirator, but the instance of Robert’s assassination in these chapters is one place where I think that you aren’t giving her enough credit. It was definitely a stroke of luck for the Lannisters that Robert was killed by the boar in the way that he was, but I simply can’t believe that if getting him drunk had failed to work out, then that would have been the end of it, and he would have walked away from the hunt hale and hearty. There is a very pointed piece of dialogue in the next Eddard chapter, wherein Varys opines that forests are the “abattoirs of the gods”, full of potential mishaps for men who go hunting in them, and Robert was a marked man both in-text (both of his squires are Lannister boys with instructions to see him dead) and dramatically (insofar as GRRM needs to kill him off for the story to work). If the boar doesn’t kill Robert, then it is very easy to imagine alternate scenarios in which he takes a bad fall from his horse after Lancel does a bad job with the saddle, or a member of the hunting party fires off a stray arrow that ‘tragically’ hits the king (ala William Rufus). Cersei’s goons don’t even have to give Robert a mortal wound – they just have to make sure that he’s injured badly enough that he’s brought back to the Red Keep and entrusted to the tender ministrations of Pycelle, who would show just as much fidelity to his Hippocratic Oath as he did when he healed Jon Arryn.

    In any case, fantastic post. You’re really on fire with these.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I lean more towards the dramatic – the hand of nemesis aka GRRM was against him. But Lancel’s a not-particularly-spineful idiot and one of the absolute signatures of Lannister assassination attempt is their half-assedness. (Compare that to Varys’ comprehensive approach when he actually stirs himself to it, or LF’s skill at cut-outs)

      And they absolutely have to give him a mortal wound, because they need to prevent Eddard from getting there in time to tell Robert the truth. He’s not willing to hurt his dying friend, but if Robert just had a broken leg or something, Ned wouldn’t be so squeamish.

    • Priddy says:

      This is the reason, why several authors of criminal fiction have used hunting trips for a murder scenario: hunting trips have a huge potential for accidents – even if one is in the company of a large hunting party – far away from immediate help. Plus, an assassin can use the isolation of the deep woods as an ideal cloak. I am simply baffled that George Martin expects us to believe that Eddard would warn Cersei, when his friend Robert was in such a vunerable position. After all, he gives her a great motivation (for an action that she planned on doing anyway), she has the opportunity, and, seriously, Ned of all people should know that the Lannister are not above fighting dirty.

      • stevenattewell says:

        That’s true, but as I point out above, the Lannisters have to pull it off without getting caught; the King is constantly guarded by Barristan the Bold, and his brother Renly’s going to be around frequently.

        An assassination is no good – they need an accident that doesn’t give cause for the Hand to try “treason” and come after them.

  7. mitsho says:

    Still, Assassinations are tricky and Robert has the kingsguard around. You only need credible witnesses, like f.e. Renly or Barristan Selmy. Renly btw. is the wild card here, he flees the scene as he doesn’t want Stannis on the throne. If Robert survives or Eddard agrees to at least a Kingsmoot, Renly and the Tyrell’s men may make all the difference. One other thing that Eddard could have learned from Tyrion is to look at the Gold Cloaks more closely. They are not a monolothic block and Jacelyn Bywater seems to be the leader of the non-Littlefinger part of the Gold Cloaks. But there must have been more (otherwise the Gold Cloaks wouldn’t have been as docile later on when Slynt and his goons were ousted by Tyrion).

    I’m just saying there’s quite a few more balls up in the air and Cersei did have quite some look as the entry shows as well.

    I am not worried for the tv show as the last paragraph asks. There’s enough opportunities for the show to go in that direction. Make it character (de)growth that when Cersei get’s more desperate, she get’s more sexual and you have cause and effect in the same season.

    PS: The image at the start of the post is missing for me.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Not quite. Renly flees because he fears being captured/killed by the Lannisters, who he thinks will win if Cersei and Joffrey are not used as hostages.

      Odd, the image is working for me in Chrome.

      • Ian says:

        It’s not working for me either and I’m using chrome, maybe it’s a ‘If you aren’t American you aren’t allowed to see this’ thing

      • nobodysuspectsthebutterfly says:

        The image is hosted on fanpop, which doesn’t allow remote embedding. You see it because it’s in your cache, but it’s not working for anyone else. Save it to your computer and upload it to WordPress, that should work.

  8. Andrew says:

    Ned would have done well to heed Aesop’s fable of “The Farmer and the Viper”; he should have known that Cersei is not the kind of person to run away from a fight, and she’ll try to pull something rather than run.

  9. David Hunt says:

    I’ve been reading various comments about Ned’s mistakes vs. his intelligence and I’ve come to a conclusion about that his confrontation with Cercei. Although ultimately, it probably didn’t change much in regards to how the coup/counter-coup attempts went, it can be argued that it was still a very bad idea to for Ned to tell Cercei of his intentions and leave her free to act. It’s not as stupid as it might seem given that Ned has no idea that Cercei initiated an assassination plan immediately after she left Ned’s sickbed. I expect that Ned planned to surround the king with men he trusted as soon as he returned.

    However, I think that Ned had that meeting with her knowing how much initiative he was giving up because, even though he had compelling evidence regarding Cercei’s adultery he wanted to be SURE. Ned’s the type of leader who believes in the personal exercise of power and I expect he sees himself as a good judge of character. He wanted to see how Cercei would respond to the charge. I doubt he expected that she’d admit to it, but thought that how she denied it would give him enough to decide. He probably wouldn’t have risked showing her his hand if there hadn’t have been the children to prick at his conscience, but they are there, waiting for Cercei to usurp the throne for them.

    • stevenattewell says:

      To be fair, it’s not stupid for him to get confirmation – that part of the exchange was pretty mutually beneficial. Telling her what he’s going to do was the part he didn’t really have to do.

  10. David Hunt says:

    Oh and one more comment. You mention you think it odd that both Stannis and Ned decide that Cercei’s lover must be Jaime. From the point of view that there must have been a load a people at the court who weren’t from a bloodline with a history of giving the Lannisters dark-haired children, I can see that but I’d think there’s a little more to it than that. I actually have no problem with Stannis figuring out the paternity, given that he’d been at court, on and off, for years. When he concluded that the kids were bastards, he naturally wondered who the father was and looked to who was around Cercei . Given that Cercei’s default view of every living thing that isn’t Jaime, her father, Joffrey, and (maybe) her other two children is contempt, it doesn’t seem that farfetched that Jaime would leap the position of prime suspect. I know that Cercei can be charming when she wants something from someone, but it’s been my impression that said charm evaporates after she has whatever immediate goal she set herself to be replaced with smug superiority. Stannis is exactly the type of person to notice this. I’m sure that Cercei would have always treated as a minor functionary of the Court who should cowtow to her rather than a family. Stannis always remembers such slights and I think that he’d notice that Cercie treated everyone else the same…except Jaime. I suspect that the ONLY viable suspect she was consistently friendly to over the years that could have had that type of access was Jamie.

    Ned getting there is more of a stretch, but you yourself pointed out that they both conspicuously stayed behind during the hunt at Winterfell and she’s been trying to advance Jaime’s cause throughout the book. She’s obviously behind him being named Warden of the East. She makes up the ridiculous story of him drunkenly attacking Jaime (and a large troop of armed men!) while coming back from a brothel(!). I don’t think she has any other favorite at court that she’s put that much effort into advancing and I think that people would expect her to try to advance whoever she’s schtupping.

    • stevenattewell says:

      “Given that Cercei’s default view of every living thing that isn’t Jaime, her father, Joffrey, and (maybe) her other two children is contempt, it doesn’t seem that farfetched that Jaime would leap the position of prime suspect.”

      Maybe. But we don’t really get any textual evidence for either Eddard or Stannis noticing that. It’s just weird.

      • David Hunt says:

        The lack of textual evidence is a major shortcoming. I’m argued that it’s not farfetched in too many posts, already. But they all mostly come down to “Anyone who knew Cercei and was looking for a lover would probably zero in on Jaime.” This is a much better argument for Stannis than it is for Eddard. We’re privy to most of Ned’s thought processes to uncovering the adultery and I don’t recall anything that points to him knowing about the incest until he comes right out and says it to Cercei.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        I always figured it was a thought process that went like this:

        “A queen who sleeps with more than one man. That’s treason! Except when the Targaryens did it, of course, and then a queen would only do it with her brothers.

        Hang on…

        • stevenattewell says:

          I don’t think the Targs ever had polyandry – polygamy, to be sure, but not polyandry. Look at the crisis of Daena the Defiant and Daemon’s charges about Daeron II’s true parentage.

          Basically, any system of inheritance through the male line sees adultery by the queen as treason, given how it calls into question the succession.

      • SpaceSquid says:

        Fair enough, you can replace my previous comment with “A member of the royal family having two lovers? Disgraceful! Unless…”

        My point is after centuries of Targ rule, the link between bastards, royal crises and incest is a known one. I’m not saying Eddard didn’t make a leap, I’m saying the history of Westeros makes it a small one.

        Hell, any Westeros jester worth his salt – and not afraid of the possible consequences – would have taken one look at the first post-Targ royal family and asked: “So when is the Queen going to start screwing her brother? Traditions must be maintained!

    • MH81 says:

      I disagree. Her strong connection to Jaime could be (and probably was) interpreted by default as a pure love between siblings. It’s by all means natural that brother and sister love and care for each other without any incest-related meaning (even if they are mean to other people). Her despise for her other brother would not make this look suspicious (“why she cares so much for one brother but hates the other one?”) as: 1. Tyrion is a “deformed monster” that people are naturally inclined to despise (prejudice against disfigured people was nothing uncommon in middle ages); 2. It is widely known that twin siblings usually have exceptionally close ties, usually closer than between “regular” siblings. So for anyone without other strong proofs seeing Cersei care for Jamie would just mean he sees twin siblings caring for each other, not an incest relationship.

      • David Hunt says:

        Once you decide that Cercei’s cuckolding Robert, and you start watching her to find suspects, I expect that list of men she can even stand is very short. While I’m sure that the Jaime & Cercei’s status as brother and sister has discouraged most people at court from interpreting their closeness as anything other than the love of a brother and sister, I don’t think that would have held up once someone concluded that the royal children weren’t Robert’s. At that point you’re going to be carefully watching Cercei whenever you can to see how she treats any man. I think only the TV show has scene with Littlefinger saying that “all desires are valid” as he confirms to Varys all the depraved tastes he caters to, but it’s still clear to me that various sexual fetishes and outright perversions are well known in Westeros. I have no problem with the mind of someone watching Cercei for any illicit sexual activity going to the idea of a little twincest. Also, Cercei and Jaime were obviously nowhere near careful enough. Before Stannis figured it out, it had obviously been figured out by Varys, Littlefinger, and Pycelle. I can’t remember it Renly’s statements were indicative of him knowing ahead of time or not. It’s amazing to me how lucky they were that all the people who had figured it out before Stannis were people who found it advantageous for the secret to stay secret. Once Stannis and Jon Arryn figured it out, that’s the entire Samll Council except for (maybe) Renly and Barriston Selmy.

        Sidenote: Most of those people would have figured it out through spying on Robert and Cercei for political advantage and striking the motherload. I imagine Stannis figuring it out by sulking about the circumstances of Edric Storm’s conception for the thousandth time fuming about how the kid’s very appearance mocks him. “Except for the ears, he looks just like him. Just like all his bastards. Joffrey’s worthless, but at least he doesn’t remind me of my shame every time I look at him! Hey, wait a minute. NONE of Robert’s trueborn children look like him…”

      • stevenattewell says:

        Yeah, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

        On the other hand, historically, charges of adulterous incest weren’t unknown as propaganda – look at the case of George Boleyn’s execution in the matter of Anne Boleyn, which was almost undoubtedly false.

  11. Enigma says:

    I know that this would never be a legitimate hypothetical because of Ned’s honor, but what if Ned decides to play along with the seduction? It would be interesting to see what happens if there’s another Stark bastard, thanks to Ned, and he agrees to stay quiet – for now.

  12. Just to confirm, we know that Cersei had already started the assassination attempt because of the timeline? Or because she had already tried with the melee? Because Varys’ dialogue [It was not wine that killed the king. It was your mercy.”
    Ned had feared as much. “Gods forgive me.”
    “If there are gods,” Varys said, “I expect they will. The queen would not have waited long in any case. ] seems to suggest it was Ned’s act that caused it at that point, but that he would have been dead sometime soon anyway.

    • stevenattewell says:

      We know because of when Robert left, which was when Loras left with him, and the timing of Joffrey being recalled back to the capitol.

      The communication would have been too tricky and risky, to say nothing of the procurement of dreamwine, after the party had already left.

  13. drevney says:

    It is not clear to me why Cerci doesn’t state to Eddard that she is not the one who killed Arryn. At that moment he would believe her.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It is strange, but then again, Ned never accuses her of the murder either – a strange oversight – he simply says he knows the truth Arryn died for.

      • David Hunt says:

        Ah, yes. Another example of your motto: “Never leave any conversation with something unsaid.” Cercei would have (probably) denied the Arryn poisoning if Eddard had accused her outright, but I don’t think that she’d have volunteered that info unless she had to because she likely would have had to admit that she didn’t know who actually killed him. Cercei’s all about dominating those around her. In that head-to-head face-off with Ned, she would have interpreted admitting that ignorance as a sign of weakness. I doubt she’d have been capable of it.

        I sometimes wonder exactly how Cercei thought that Jon Arryn was poisoned. She knows she didn’t do it and knows Jaime well enough to know he wouldn’t have killed him in so subtle a fashion, yet his death was too convenient for even her to think of it as coincidence. My best guess is that she thinks Pycelle somehow managed to poison him instead of just making sure that Arryn didn’t recover. He’s an obvious creature of the Lannisters, afterall.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I think Pycelle is the most likely candidate for Cersei, unless my earlier theory about her outsourcing the job to LF is right. On the other hand, that raises the question of why she hires an effective assassin only once.

  14. Balmiki says:

    This is definitely one of the best chapter analysis. To be truthful, I have started reading the books after watching all the 3 seasons of the TV show.(Something which I am no doubt regretting with every turn of the pages). Honestly speaking the Eddard Stark in the HBO series looks extremely naive and there is not enough justification of why he goes to Cersei and spills out the beans. But reading the books and going through the chapters which have him as POV and the others where where he is mentioned or present, makes it more understandable in terms of who he is and what he does. The book Eddard is clearly a sharper man who figures out the Jon Arryn murder mystery almost on his own with little circumstantial help from here and there. Also he is not entirely devoid of people skills(which the show points to with his little alone chat with Cersei and his trust in Littlefinger) given the fierce loyalty he commands from his banner men and his household. He has a near mythical status in the North, which he has cultivated and has grown with his actions. Even devious schemers like Roose Bolton or unruly lords like Greatjon Umber were deftly handled by him in the difficult terrain of Robert’s rebellion. What he does wrong is he puts his eggs in the wrong baskets made out of the materials likes Littlefinger and Janos Slynt during the coup. If he had taken the support of Renly, Lorras and gang along with Varys, the outcome could have been very different. At least that would have made a Lannister Tyrell alliance in the next book very very difficult.
    This was a gamble on the part of Eddard. But if you think from his perspective, he is laying down the safest bet. Littlefinger seemed genuinely helpful throughout Ned’s tenure as a hand, except for the last hour. Catelyn vouched for Littlefinger. Littlefinger vouches for the Gold Cloaks. Much safer bet and much more risk mitigated compared to forming alliance with a bunch of green boys and an eunuch. In the culture in which Eddard is from, such oral contracts are binding. Cultures which exist in difficult terrains and scarce resources, which have strong tribal emotions normally put a great deal of importance consciously or otherwise in such understandings. That is the key to their survival.
    Like in history, the characters are gambling desperately all throughout the books with whatever limited resources and information that they have. Its just bad luck that the Stark gambles did not work in the long run and the darts thrown by the Lannisters made the mark. Robb’s desperate alliance with the Ironborn did not work; but Lannister alliance with Tyrells did work. Something which could have just easily been the reverse.
    Stannis desperately gambles with Melissandre. But she could have easily been a charlatan. Stannis had seen the red priest, Thoros for years in Kings Landing. No body could claim that he had displayed even a bit of supernatural powers in KL in all those years. And Stannis isn’t exactly the kind of person who would rely on this kind of fallback option. But his utter political defeat in the hands of Renly drives him towards the supernatural course of action….he had no other option.
    Lucky for him that worked.Luckier for the Lannisters that Renly was killed. Unlucky for the Starks because there could be no alliance with Stannis.

  15. […] Last time, I began my argument that Richard Duke of York was the historical counterpart to Eddard Stark in general terms. In this installment, I’m going to show how their political careers paralleled each other in many ways, as both men strove to right a tottering monarchy and clashed with a powerful queen and her allies. […]

  16. Jeff says:

    There was something I was curious about and I don’t remember if you covered it before, but what do you think would have been the result if there had been a trueborn heir to Robert? Say the child that was aborted grew up what would result of that?

    • It’s not a What If? I consider, as Cersei acted conclusively to prevent that scenario from happening and would always have done so, and I try to keep What Ifs? consistent with people’s behavior.

  17. […] defeat. However, as I’ve pointed out previously, this is absolutely not the case – Ned had already told Cersei his plans before Sansa could have told Cersei about them leaving; PrivateMajor’s timeline […]

  18. […] As we’ve discussed, for supporters of Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, the birth of Prince Edward of Lancaster was deeply inconvenient. No one liked King Henry VI’s weak and corrupt government, but no one was willing to unseat an anointed king (especially after the deposing of Richard II had led to so much bloodshed), so the moderate position was to insist that the Duke of York be made heir so that when Henry died (god willing sooner than later), good government could be restored. Prince Edward’s birth threatened a continuation of Margaret’s rule, as so the Earl of Warwick and other Yorkists publicly argued that Prince Edward was actually the son of Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, or James Butler, the Earl of Whiltshire, on the grounds that King Henry VI was too mentally gone to have sex, and pious to a fault even when sane. (Shakespeare added William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk to the list, but that was not claimed at the time) This nicely solved the problem for Yorkists, and had the bonus of bringing dishonor on the hated queen and her two chief allies. […]

  19. Scott Trotter says:

    This is my 3rd reading of the books, and the first 2 times I totally glossed over the possibility of Robert killing Cersei’s children as a justification for Eddard doing what he does in this chapter. Even so, I’m in the camp that believes that telling Cersei he’s going to accuse her of High Treason then just letting her walk away was a terrible, fatal blunder by Lord Stark.

    Once again, Eddard fails to act decisively. He should have arrested Cersei immediately, then either locked her up to face Robert on his return, or deported her and the children to Essos on the first available ship. He should also have sent riders out into the Kingswood with messages for Robert to return to the capital ASAP, and he should have sent sealed letters detailing the evidence to several trusted lords and bannermen in order to safeguard his own life.

  20. […] my analysis of A Game of Thrones, I described Eddard XII as the point of no return for Lord Stark, the last opportunity he had to avoid his death on the […]

  21. Anne Onnie Moss says:

    Incest makes sense because all Cersei’s children look like Lannisters, with no trace of other ancestry. Every single one.

  22. blacky says:

    Edd/Cersei’s meeting here is one of several plot points that don’t ring true to me. Edd the Honorable is bound, as the Hand, to arrest Cersei and Co. He knows she has committed Treason. Is he not an accessory after the fact when he lets her go?

    At this point Robert is hale and drunk. If a messenger is sent about the danger to his legacy he returns drunk and angry. What if Cersei does take her children and runs to Tywin the Outlaw? Seems like lousy Hand-iwork to me.

    • Because Eddard is not an HonorRobot. He’s profoundly shaped by his experiences during the Rebellion, namely the murder of highborn children, including his own kin.

      • blacky says:

        Ned letting them go is HonorRobot and he thinks he’s acting honorably. However, my point is that Kings and Hands of Kings would see Cersei’s actions as Treason. Not treason but TREASON!

        Aiding and abetting Cersei and not taking legal action as Hand of the King? I mean, as Hand can he just ignore high treason? I mean, isn’t Ned liable? Seems like Robert would find this actionable.

        Btw, I’m looking forward to reading about Ned’s PTSD. Maybe then this’ll make sense.

        And also btw, this website is beyond awesome. I really appreciate all the historical analysis.

        • Entirely disagree. Letting Cersei and her children escape is not honorable – it’s merciful. Different virtues.

          • blacky says:

            I think we’re going in circles here and I don’t think we’re arguing about the same thing. You’re right that it was mercy. You’re telling me why Ned did what he did and how his past motivates him.

            All I’m saying is that because he’s a Lord and because he’s the Hand he very well knows where his honor and duty lies. Not taking reasonable steps against High Treason like arresting Cersei endangers the Realm. His mercy puts his king and himself in danger. And directly threatens his own children. Given his experience he would know that beforehand. So, for me, that adds up to him not endangering everyone he loves for the sake of Cersei. Would he risk his own children for Cersei’s?

            Would Robert automatically execute the false royalty? Dany was different because her claim was true. Can’t they be locked up until his legacy is secure? Would Ned believe that Robert would automatically kill the blameless children? Robert was indifferent. Was he ever monstrous that would make Ned believe he would be again? And wouldn’t Robert want some kind of leverage over Tywin thru the persons of the false royalty.

            And why would Ned believe Cercei would fold her tent and give up? There’s already one suspiciously dead Hand. He’s seen her vindictive side condemning Sansa’s innocent wolf. And when he confronts her directly she shows no remorse.

            Anyway enough. I’m just relating my impressions when I read the book and impressions differ. Maybe Ned would ignore all the evidence and go with his heart. Maybe he demonstrated mercy and I missed it. I only saw a man dedicated to honor, duty, and the law. Maybe his past trauma blinded him. Just seems out of character. To me.

  23. […] children.) However, the catharsis and truth that Catelyn really wants isn’t the truth that Jon Arryn and Eddard died for, but rather what Jaime did to cover it […]

  24. […] misogynist who has replicated and then intensified the worst aspects of her own marriage with King Robert. But because Cersei is Cersei, calling Sansa an idiot and telling her that love is poison is as […]

  25. […] during the Wars of the Roses. In part because they had their roots in dynastic claims between the House of York and the House of Lancaster and in local feuds between the House of Neville and the House of Percy, the Wars of the Roses led […]

  26. […] royal bastards. Given that it’s been almost a book and a half since Eddard read of “the gold yielding before the coal,” and a book since Stannis’ allegations about Cersei’s children being […]

  27. Lauren Anderson says:

    The more I read of your analysis (which I love, thank you) the more I see Eddard was just unprepared for the combination of spiders web and sh**storm-waiting-to-happen that was KL politics. He seemed to have no intel going into the city. (You’ve covered what he could have done to correct that.)
    And, of course, a lot of the outcome is attributable to the incredible luck of the Lannister in pulling off their neferious schemes. Again, this is probably not unrealistic: sheer luck IS a factor in complicated, dynamic situations like war and political maneuvering. That’s a more realistic plot device IMO than having everyone just drop investigating LF.

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