“By the time Yoren pulled her off him, Hot Pie was sprawled out on the ground, with his breeches brown and smelly, crying as Arya whapped him over and over and over.”
Synopsis: as we meet Gendry,
WTF is a Lommy, and Hot Pie and the rest of the crew of the HMS Night’s Watch Convoy, Arya proves she’s the toughest in the prison yard by beating the shit out of Hot Pie.
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.
Arya I is a rather short and simple chapter, mostly just introducing the cast of characters that Arya will be spending her time with for the next two books, so this is probably going to be a short essay.
At the same time, this chapter does set out some important thematic signposts that will carry through Arya’s story from now to TWOW. Following on from Arya’s last chapter in AGOT, there is the theme of the constant danger that faces anyone who falls on the less powerful side of social privilege, especially as it comes to gender, class, and in this case, age. Interestingly, Sansa’s chapters track Arya’s chapters here (a departure from the first book), like two sides of the same coin, but doing it from the other end of the spectrum. Arya will experience the dangers that women are faced by hiding her gender; Sansa will be unable to hide, and has to rely even more on the social tools given to women in Westeros. Arya is a witness to how the smallfolk of the Riverlands are exposed to the horrors of the chevauchée, whereas Sansa will experience how the wealthy fear the bubbling resentments of the urban poor.
To begin with – the issue of gender and safety. After spending much of AGOT defiantly shouting “I’m a girl!” when her gender is thrown into question by her choice in clothes and activities (which, note went hand in hand with her liking to spend time with the lower classes), Arya now has to rely on her androgyny for safety. “Now you hold still, boy…this lot, half o’ them would turn you over to the queen quick as spit for a pardon and maybe a few silvers. The other half’d do the same, only they’d rape you first. So you keep to yourself and make your water in the woods alone…no one spared Arya glance. They were looking for a highborn girl, daughter of the King’s Hand, not for a skinny boy with his hair chopped off.” However, in an inversion of the usual Sweet Polly Oliver trope, this doesn’t really work – quite a few people see through her disguise quickly, she’s unmasked fairly quickly when they’re captured by the Mountain, and she’s still threatened with violence and rape (in the case of Rorge). Whatever gender privilege attends on being a smallfolk male just isn’t enough to compensate for the lack of class privilege.
Nor does any protection come from the supposed innocence of childhood, because children aren’t innocent – because being free from privilege when it comes to class and age doesn’t make you a better person. Again, following up on last chapter, it’s “Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie” who “were the hardest part. Orphan boys. Yoren had plucked some from the streets with promises of food for their bellies and shoes for their feet…the men paid her no mind, but she was not so lucky with the boys. She was two years younger than the youngest orphan, not to mention smaller and skinnier, and Lommy took her silence to me an she was scared, or stupid, or deaf.” While with hindsight, we know that these two are basically idiots talking tough out of a survival instinct and Hot Pie at least is a decent kid, in this moment Hot Pie presents as a rather gruesome, and sexualized, threat to Arya’s putatively male person: “He kicked a boy to death. He’ll do the same to you…I knocked him down and I kicked him the balls, and I kept kicking him there until he was dead…I kicked him all to pieces. His balls were broke open and bloody and his cock turned black. You better gimme the sword.”
Arya’s reaction, where she quite literally beats the shit out of Hot Pie, owes more to trauma (both over her father’s death, and her own guilt over killing the stableboy – note how she thinks Yoren will disown her if he find out about that) than it does to our usual underdog story. Just like Jon Snow in AGOT, Arya lashing out makes her a potential bully because she has equipment and training bought by her rank in society – and needs to be brought back to earth by a gruff voice of working-class NCO authority. Hence Yoren’s lesson that “it wasn’t him as killed your father, girl, nor that thieving Lommy neither. Hitting them won’t bring him back.”
Indeed, Arya’s story here resembles less of a bildungsroman/Hero’s Journey and more of a British prison drama – some of the most famous of which (Scum, Ray Winstone’s debut role, being one of the best of the genre) are set in borstals. Hot Pie and Lommy are the initial threat to the protagonist who get dealt with as a way of proving the protagonist’s chops, “the Bull” is the experienced jailbird who becomes the protagonist’s right-hand man, and Yoren is the reasonable authority figure who is replaced by the more monstrous face of authority, the Mountain.
Finally, in this chapter, we learn a little bit more about how the Night’s Watch operates. To begin with, as we saw with Hot Pie and Lommy, the Night’s Watch to an extent offers the same kind of “absolute last option” for the poor that the Victorian work-house offered – but despite the massive inequality of Westeros, the fact that most poor people are peasants on the land (who may or may not be tied to the land, evidence differs on this point) means that few people are quite desperate enough for food to endure a life of penal military service in the frozen North. Moreover, the Night’s Watch also stands at the intersection of the criminal justice system and the class system as we saw in the AGOT Prologue: “grown men from the dungeons as well, thieves and poaches and rapers and the like. The worst were the three he’d found in the black cells.” While rapists are clearly violent criminals (indeed, note that Martin always makes the rapists in the Night’s Watch the antagonist figures who get what’s coming to them), thieves and poachers are the poor in the dungeons (given that poaching is inherently tied to aristocrats claiming exclusionary privileges over hunting rights) little different from the poor on the streets.
As for the Black Cell prisoners – I’ve always wondered why Yoren took these three maximum-security criminals with him to the Night’s Watch, given how dangerous he seems to think they are. On the other hand, it’s not like the Night’s Watch doesn’t have murderers among their ranks, so it may well be that the reason Yoren caged them was that they were considered escape risks, which is another reason besides the severity of one’s crime to put someone in the Black Cells. More on the whole Jaqen H’gar thing later.
We also learn that, while the Night’s Watch is manpower-poor, it’s extremely resource-rich. Yoren’s trip alone brings up “five wagons out of King’s Landing, laden with supplies for the Wall: hides and bolts of cloth, bars of pig iron, a cage of ravens, books and paper and ink, a bale of sourleaf, jars of oil, and chests of medicine and spices. Teams of plow horses pulled the wages, and Yoren had bought two courses and a half-dozen donkeys for the boys.” This is expensive stuff – note the relative absence of raw materials and foodstuffs versus the variety of finished goods and luxury items – if the Night’s Watch can afford this on a regular basis, it’s clearly got more coming in from the Gift than it needs to support itself, adding to my earlier theory on this point.
I did want to note that Arya is one of the few Starks out there who knows that there was a conspiracy to execute Ned Stark – even Sansa, privy to so many of Littlefinger’s secrets doesn’t know that “It wasn’t supposed to happen like it did. I was set to leave, wagons bought and loaded, and a man comes with a boy for me, and a purse of coin, and a message, never mind who it’s from. Lord Eddard’s to take the black, he says to me, wait, he’ll be going with you. Why d’you think I was there? Only something went queer.” Nothing’s really come of this in the books, but keep your eye out for this when Arya gets back to Westeros.
Ok, I’ve mentioned before wanting to say a word on the historiography of childhood, a fascinating recent sub-field in social history. For a long time, our understanding of medieval childhood was that large family size, high infant mortality (50% likelihood of death in the first year is the reason why life expectancy statistics look so bad, it’s not that people were suddenly keeling over in their 30s and 40s), and the need for farm labor meant that parents didn’t form close relationships with children who could very easily die at any moment, children who survived were treated as “little adults” to be put to work to fill the labor needs of the farm household, and that our current understanding of childhood as a special, innocent, protected stage of life was a product of the bourgeois cultural revolution that accompanied the 18th century Enlightenment.
More recent historians have complicated the story by studying medieval writing on children in a number of different areas, especially in educational texts. I don’t have the space here to explain in detail the quite rich literature on the many different sub-sub-fields of current scholarship, but a few things can be generalized here (note, this will not be true for every period and place, but I want to give an overall impression). First, medieval societies understood that children were different from adults, but they chopped the different stages of development in very different ways than we do – children from ages 0-7 were seen closer to how we think of children today, they were not expected to work, and they were cherished in intimate emotional terms, often refracted through the Catholic Church’s models of Mary, Mother of God and the Baby Jesus as ideals to be aspired to. Second, starting at age 7-14, children were understood to be in a developmental stage where they could be expected to help around the house and in the fields, but that was understood as much as a process of education and preparation for assuming their future roles in society, as the overwhelming majority of the population would grow up to be agricultural laborers and needed to know what to do. Generally, they weren’t assigned particularly heavy work because they were not seen as capable of it, but rather would provide assistance to their parents.
Third, starting at age 12-14 and then lasting well into the 20s, children were transitioned into the position of “youths” who were to be put to work in a sustained fashion, but quite often in a trainee capacity. In the cities, this was most often experienced as apprenticeships, in which youths were to be both given a skill, but also placed under moral supervision by a master who was responsible for curbing the dangerous rowdiness seen as characteristic of this age group; in rural areas, this would more often be experienced as extensive instruction in farming and land management, handcrafts critical for largely self-sufficient households, and the extremely difficult work of keeping the household going, and could stretch on a long time until the youth in question could afford to set up a household.
Martin here is actually treading fairly close to recent understandings of medieval childhood – the noble Stark children have a fairly intimate relationship with their parents, albeit one mediated by a fairly large staff concerned with their upbringing, and have a lot of formal education poured into them because it’s expected of their future role in society. Gendry passes through the apprenticeship system of a skilled trade, and we can see a hierarchy of knowledge even there between a smith who interacts with nobility as his clientele and a dyer or baker who primarily serve the Flea Bottom consumer base.
There’s not really a hypothetical here. We’ve already discussed the Ned Stark going with them, Arya’s not going to lose to Hot Pie, etc.
More in next chapter, though.
Book vs. Show:
So, this scene in Episode 10 of Season 1 is toned down a lot from the books, which is part of a trend with Arya’s storyline throughout Seasons 2 and 3, although we’re starting to see a change in Season 4. On the one hand, I get the desire to have Arya’s character mature along with the actress, but I do worry we’re losing something important about how traumatized Arya is from the beginning, which makes the moments in which she fails to find a safe status quo crucial missed opportunities.
GRRM frequently uses the analogy of the child soldier to describe Arya’s storyline, and I don’t think we’re getting that in the show – at least not until Season 4.