Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Arya I


“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.

Political Analysis:

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.”

hot pie

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.

A side-note: 

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.

Historical Analysis:

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.

What If?

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.


85 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Arya I

  1. Tobias says:

    I would think that the caravan isn’t actually bought with Nights Watch’s money that Joren brought there.
    It more likely to represent a donation/tax from Kings Landing to the Watch. Probably a bigger one then usual as the funds where probably authorized by Ned himself while he was still Hand.

    • somethinglikealawyer says:

      It could be, or the Night’s Watch could receive a largess from the Crown, tied to the rotations of the moon given Westeros’s erratic seasons. When a wandering crow arrives at King’s Landing, he turns the money into finished goods to bring back to the wall, since gold does little good at Castle Black, and if Yoren is out and about picking up men, he might as well pick up supplies as well.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Jaehaerys I put together a sort of operational fund for the Night’s Watch in the budget. As the prestige of the Night’s Watch diminished, the fund got smaller and smaller, but the usefulness in having a prisoner dumping ground means that the Iron Throne would usually throw money (if not finished goods sold at cost, enforced by the might of the crown’s bully pulpit) at the Watch.

      • Winnie says:

        I always myself sort of assumed there was a system in place where when the NW came to KL every now and then the Crown would see to it they were supplied with basic goods for the next season.

      • We don’t have ANY evidence of a monetary largesse, and textual evidence of a grant in land instead.

        • Shilpa Abrol says:

          Don’t we have a small comment when Jon is down in the ice stores with Head Steward. It was along the lines of the lords have been generous, and good summers have meant we have adequate provisions just not for the wildlings.

        • somethinglikealawyer says:

          That is true, there isn’t any evidence that King’s Landing would grant money to the Night’s Watch (aside from one-off times like Queen Alysanne funding Deep Lake). Given the negative perception of the Watch in those modern times, that was likely an unfounded assumption. Sorry.

          • No problem. It’s not unheard of, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of religious charities in the south get monetary donations.

          • David Hunt says:

            Since Ned had been Hand of the King, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the supplies had been supplied by the Crown. We don’t have any direct evidence of such a thing, but I can see Ned looking at the fat purse from the Hand’s Tourney and deciding a few wagons of supplies and some animals was nothing next to that. We’re unlikely to ever get that confirmed if it’s correct, but I think it’s entirely within the bounds of probability,

            Or Yoren could have simply come south with a large portion of the disposable income from the Gift…

    • It’s possible but unlikely that King’s Landing gave some funds – and the chapter does describe Yoren buying.

      However, I think the NW does have enough surplus to pull it off. If we take the Night’s Watch at its height of 10,000 men as the maximum the Gift(s) are capable of supporting, and then multiply that by how much scutage the land could generate in lieu of fighting men, that works out to 6,600 pounds sterling (or the equivalent of 5.5 million pounds today). Now, the Gift’s productivity has fallen off substantially, but so has the Night Watch’s demands on that production.

      Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Gift(s) is a third as productive as it was at its height, such that it supports only 3,000 knight’s worth of fee/scutage. Subtract about 900 for the actual needs of the Night’s Watch, and you’re left with a surplus of 2,100 knights – or 1.2 million pounds today of surplus income.

  2. Winnie says:

    Great take as always Steve. I especially like the way you key in on the contrasting stories of the two sisters. S could never have survived the dangers of the open road like A did but A would almost certainly have gotten herself Killed in Kings Landing. Queen C couldnt have survived in either ones shoes.

    • Thanks! And yes, as many people overlook, neither sister would have survived in the other’s place.

      • Winnie says:

        One thing I do like is its becoming increasingly obvious that both girls are being groomed to play a HUGE role in the coming order of things but they are being set up to be important in very different areas. Both warriors and spies like A will be needed…but so will natural politicians and diplomats like S.

  3. Abbey Battle says:

    Queen Cersei could not have, but Lady Cersei daughter of Lord Tywin might have, before she had Westerosi gender norms acculturated into her (this being The Lion Lady, in all her temper, doubtless at the point of a cane); consider that for all her arrogance and pride she’s actually pretty good at being sneaky herself, but less good at managing either an extensive conspiracy or a kingdom.

    • Winnie says:

      I’m not sure about that. C is sly and is certainly a match for A in terms of aggression but I don’t see her having that kind of feral toughness that A has. (Few people do. The famous wolf’s blood in action….)

      As for S’s situation C can be charming and less naive but she lacks the iron clad discipline and self control of her young captive. In fact C and self control don’t even belong in the same sentence.

      Both Ned’s girls were made of strong stuff-just in very different ways. Frankly the lioness for all her golden beauty and roar just isn’t as impressive as the she wolves.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        The Cersei we have seen in the novels, YES, but it would be interesting to see how she compared with Arya and Sansa at the same age – please also remember that nurture matters just as much as nature, so who can tell what Cersei Lannister might have become under the same pressures as one or the other of Ned’s girls.

        • Winnie says:

          True. It’s of course highly likely that all three Lannister children would have turned out a helluva lot better if they’d been raised by the Starks instead of Tywin…

          Cersei=Something like Lyanna or Margaery.
          Jaime=Ser Selmy, the Blackfish, other Knights he idolized in his youth…

          • Abbey Battle says:

            It would be nice to think so; heck being raised by Uncle Kevan might have made solid citizens out of them, but we’ll probably never know (it should also be noted that while Lord Eddard is a fine example, I doubt every Lord of the North was as admirable as he or every Lord of the West as terrible as Lord Tywin).

            Still one can only hope that it takes a highly specific set of circumstances to produce a family quite as horribly maladjusted as the senior line of the House Lannister are at present.

    • I don’t know. Cersei hasn’t fared very well when she doesn’t have the resources of her family behind her.

      • Winnie says:

        And there in lies the rub. Would a different education in her youth have made her more competent? Or was she always lacking in some key ingredient?

        • She might well have – certainly, had she been raised on Bear Island, her efforts to learn how to fight wouldn’t have been blocked.

          • David Hunt says:

            Hell, if her mother had survived after Tyrion was born, I expect that she’d have turned out very different. I expect her mother would have made her a better politician – the ability to plan in the long term or just anticipate the obvious consequences of her actions would have made her a much abler player. She might have ended up less vicious as well, but I don’t know how much of her personality is inherent and I really don’t that much about Johanna Lannister.

            Of course if Johanna Lannister had lived, there’s a good chance she’d have ended up married to Oberyn Martell. I vacilate back and forth on my opinion of how she’d have come out in that situation.

          • Agreed. And I think Cersei would have greatly enjoyed herself in Dorne, given its liberated attitudes toward women’s role in society. With more independence and the freedom to learn how to fight, and in a culture where she could have and exercise political power, I think Cersei could have gotten over the whole monogamy thing especially if she was fostered in Dorne.

  4. Andrew says:

    Do you think the boy Yoren was presented in the side note was Gendry? With the guy being Varys in disguise? He brought a boy Gendry and a bag of coin to Tobho Mott.

    • Yes and yes. This is a big part of why I think Varys actually got out Aegon from King’s Landing. Whether that baby became Young Griff, not so sure of now.

      • WPA says:

        He’s a smooth operator. Smooth op-er-a-tor.

      • Winnie says:

        I do like that theory Steve that our favorite eunuch did in fact save the infant prince…but that plan may have been upended by a certain
        magister. If so it will be very interesting to see his reaction when he learns the truth.

      • Andrew says:

        I think the baby swap story is a lie. Elia would have been protecting her daughter in the Sack of King’s Landing rather than some strange child. The baby was supposedly swapped for a jug of Arbor gold, and it reminds me of a phrase “lies and Arbor gold.”

        • That assumes she knew. Or that she wouldn’t have been willing to die to save her son.

          • Sean C. says:

            I tend to think a mother would recognize that her son had been switched for some random kid purchased from a peasant.

          • An infant, chosen to resemble her own child?

            The substitution made at the last minute, as she’s distracted by the sack of the city?

            The fact that most royals leave their children in the company of nursemaids?

            And the possibility that Varys came to her and offered to save her son and she chose to die to keep him safe?

            I think those are good enough reasons to suggest it would have worked.

          • Andrew says:

            Aegon was a year-old, and Elia would have recognized him. I doubt Elia would sacrifice her daughter in Varys’s scheme.

            Larys Strong was able to smuggle out Jaehaera, Aegon II and Maelor out of the Red Keep, so I doubt Varys couldn’t have smuggled out Rhaenys. Elia would have had him help both her children. At least everyone would still think Aegon is dead.

      • David says:

        You don’t think Occam’s Razor suggests only one FAegon substitution, not two? Varys distrusts magic and desires a “prepared prince” who’s been drilled on the idea that kingship = protecting the realm’s populace, not living the good life. From that perspective, wouldn’t a carefully-prepared patsy be even *better* than a real Targaryen? A patsy would have no connection either to inherited madness or inherited sorcery.

        RE: Gendry, I think that could cut both ways. Perhaps Varys was horrified by what happened to Aegon, guilt-stricken that he failed to foresee and forestall it, and resolved never to let it happen again if possible.

        • No, I don’t.

          1. Varys has previous form for trying to rescue people (Ned, Gendry).
          2. Varys had means, motive, and opportunity.
          3. Varys had no reason to lie to Kevan.
          4. Illyrio’s backstory for Varys in ADWD I think is evidence of a pattern of behavior. Varys made his/Illyrio’s money by returning stolen property for a fee and then using information as an edge – I think Varys/Illyrio have been running a larger version of their old scam on Westeros, stealing Rhaegar’s heir and then selling him back to Westeros.

          Given that Varys clearly sees environment rather than inheritance as the controlling factor – that Joffrey et al. went bad because they were raised to think of power as their right rather than as their duty – I don’t think he’d think that way about baby Aegon.

          Moreover, ANY patsy would have a problem with “inherited madness/sorcery.” The Blackfyres are Targaryens on both sides, and clearly practiced incest down the line (hence Maelys the Monstrous). There’s no way to get a baby that would pass muster as a Targaryen that’s not going to be running that risk.

          • David says:

            1. I buy Varys-as-utilitarian-where-possible; I’d just point out that both Ned & Gendry post-date FAegon, so they’re not useful as a pattern for proving Varys-saving-Aegon.
            2. I agree that he had means and opportunity; I’m still not sold on motive.
            3. I agree that Varys had no reason to lie to Kevan, but did Varys say anything that wouldn’t be compatible with the notion of a fake Aegon? For Varys’ intents and purposes, there *is* no meaningful difference between a FAegon and an Aegon; no one at that time could have predicted the return of dragons, which is arguably the biggest and most fatal distinction between real and faux Targaryens.
            4. Hm. I take your point here.

            5a. I agree that Varys accepts nurture over nature, but that’s not the same thing as Varys rejecting the importance of nature entirely, esp. RE: sorcery. I’d suggest that Varys and the Maesters’ Conspiracy have some room for overlap in that they think of Targaryens (or any other closed, magic-reliant dynasty built on flying flamethrowers) as antithetical to their desired vision of Westeros.
            5b. Isn’t there a line somewhere about “half the whores in Volantis [having] the purple eyes/silver hair of old Valyria?” I don’t think Varys needs a Blackfyre to find a baby with the right coloration… esp. if Serra happened to be one of the aforementioned sex workers.

          • 1. I don’t think post-dating matters. If you’re asking what factors would weigh on the probability that a person has done something, other instances where they’ve done that same thing matters.
            2. He wanted a perfect prince – fate gave him an infant Targaryen who he could raise from infancy. That’s motive.
            3. Because Kevan says Aegon died and Varys says no he didn’t.
            5. If Varys cared about sorcery to the exclusion of all else, why not back Renly? Again, it’s not just the right coloration – he’s sending him to live with Jon Connington who spent most of his life around Rhaegar and Rhaegar’s family. This kid needs to be as close as possible to looking like a Targaryen and like Rhaegar’s kid if possible.

          • David says:

            Addendum: I’d suggest that FAegon’s inevitable demise might produce maximum tragic irony if he hasn’t so much as a drop of Targaryen blood (Blackfyre or otherwise), attempts to command a dragon during his impending conflict with a back-on-the-warpath Daenerys, and is promptly turned into crispy bits for his trouble.

          • That is a possibility, but that goes against both theories. Remember, Targaryen blood doesn’t guarantee a bonding works – see Prince Joffrey Velayron.

          • Winnie says:

            Also from Varys’s perspective, if they’re going to get the boy’s Targaryen claim recognized, then the kid should look as much as possible like Rhaegar. The best way to do that is for the kid to actually be Rhaegar’s son. So VARYS might have had good reason to prefer a legitimate Targ, but it doesn’t mean that Illryio did…

            Then of course unbeknownst to anyone there IS another son of Rhaegar out there without any Targ features at all, but probably has something MUCH better for proving his rights….an affinity with dragons. And of course dragons were something neither Varys nor Illyrio had ever counted on…in fact I kinda wonder what Illyrio planned to do about the fact that Dany’s dragons WOULDN”T recognize her so-called nephew.

          • Right. That’s why I think if Aegon’s a fake, Illyrio’s the one who did it.

            And Illyrio hadn’t planned on the dragons – no one did. But if Aegon is a Blackfyre, he should have enough of the blood. But it’s a risk.

          • David Hunt says:

            @Winnie. Given how much Aegon looks like a real Targaryan, I’m going to go with the theory that he’s got Targaryan blood whether he’s really Rhaegar’s son or not. Of course that doesn’t mean that the dragons would accept him, and if they met on the battlefield I doubt a dragon would pause to roast Aegon the Conqueror himself. Also, why should we assume that Illyrio would know that bloodlines would affect how the dragons react to someone. Tyrion’s read a good deal about dragons and Brown Ben Plumm figured it out because he was around them a lot, knew his something of his bloodlines, and is moderately clever. And even if Illyrio knows about the bloodline bit, I’m convinced that the kid is really Rhaegar’s son or he’s a decedent of Daemon or Bittersteel.

          • Ser Biffy Clegane says:


            I love the idea that Varys’s weakness is his trust in Illyrio, and I think that’s a plausible way for Varys to fall. (In particular, IllyrioIllyrio initially selects and trains the little birds.)

            But overthrowing the entire realm of Westeros seems a little over the top of Varys’s goal is to put the actual Aegon on the throne. I’m not sure he can count on a lot of gratitude in that case – another strong possibility of comeuppance is that Aegon pulls an Octavian/Prince Hal and decided he is better off without Varys – and if all he wants is a all governed realm, then why not champion Rhaegar?

            On top of that, Varys does have a pattern of trying to save people where he can, but not too my knowledge by substituting an innocent in their place. Unless Gregor is in on the conspiracy, any plan to save baby Aegon would require giving Gregor a live baby and hoping that he smashed it beyond recognition. (Or fantastic good fortune, like Gregor mistaking the wet nurse’s baby or something, out I guess a sufficient violet eyed white haired baby that it would look plausible).

            On the other hand, if Varys is a Blackfyre conspirator, both his commenting of distrust against Rhaegar and his path to profit make some more sense to me.

        • JT says:

          @Winnie @DavidHunt – the kid *better* look like Rhaegar – he’s being fostered by Jon Connington, who not only was a close friend of Rhaegar’s, but also was in love with Rhaegar. In Jon’s POV chapters, he spends a decent amount of time reminiscing about Rhaegar’s looks (which he clearly remembers well despite the passage of time) – if (f)Aegon didn’t look like Rhaegar, Connington would be the first to notice.

          On the flip side, if Jon Connington believes (rightly or wrongly) that Aegon is Rhaegar’s son, that gives Aegon’s claim to being Aegon Targaryen a lot of legitimacy – much like how the Boltons had Theon give “Arya” away at her wedding to Ramsay. As Theon noted, he grew up with Arya and knew her well, so if he said she was legitimate, that would buy the acceptance of her in the eyes of the Northern lords. I imagine the same thing will be true of (f)Aegon – if Jon Connington says that (f)Aegon is legitimate, it may convince Arianne Martell and whoever else…

  5. Sean C. says:

    I think the show made a good structural decision in moving this chapter into the end of the first season. Martin sometimes indulges in rather cheap misleading cliffhangers, and the end of Arya’s final AGOT chapter is one of those.

  6. WPA says:

    Am I the only one that gets a sense that the Night’s Watch recruiting of semi-starved indigent poor in a largely rural society smacks of the British Army’s style of recruitment during the late-18th century into the Napoleonic period? For all the pre-industrial rural poverty- to get people desperate enough to sign up for a long stint of Georgian British military discipline- march and lash and march and fight- compared to the slightly better regarded Navy- you’d NEED a big chunk of small-time criminals and half-starved societal dendritis with literally no where else to go.

    • Yeah, there’s a similarity, but a pre-enclosure, quite possibly serf-oriented society doesn’t produce enough landless poor.

      • WPA says:

        Makes one curious if they have major wandering vagrancy statutes in Westeros.

      • MightyIsobel says:

        What’s your favorite textual evidence that Westerosi agricultural workers are tied to the land? Like many economic issues in the series, there is a lack of detail to work with….

        • There’s not much detail – Viserys refers to the poachers Jorah sold into slavery as chattel, for ex.

          • MightyIsobel says:

            Hm. Viserys isn’t a super-reliable source on that point (never actually ruled, is misinformed about conditions in Westeros, has massive superiority and persecution complexes).

            I also wonder how much the privations of the superlong winters are supposed to hand-wave away some of the question in a way that historians of actual European history can’t do.

  7. Andy says:

    Could you elaborate on this “conspiracy to execute Ned?” If you’re saying that Arya is one of only a few people to know that the plan was to send Ned to the wall, the change of plans would still most simply be explained by Joffrey being an impulsive psycho. I didn’t realize there was a competing narrative until you brought up the theory of Littlefinger whispering in Joffrey’s ear, which I’m inclined to believe. Still, I don’t see how Yoren’s comments point to that, or how it would come up later.

    • Yeah, maybe that was a bit of a stretch.

    • Winnie says:

      I am thinking though, that at some point, we’ll officially learn in the books that LF *did* encourage Joffrey to execute Ned-and that revelation may be what spurs the girl with purple snakes in her hair to slay the giant….

      • Son of fire says:

        By the end of ADWD the red keep is completely covered in snow,their’s a savage giant in ser robert strong & a maid sand snake is on her way to kings landing.
        Killing qyburn may have an effect on a certain headless 8ft tall knight.
        Methinks that dream a dwarf on a hill had was of two different feasts & maids,Sansa & Tyene.

        • Maybe, but my intuition says it’s just Sansa.

          • Son of fire says:

            Well i think cersei will win her trial by combat but if lady nym is at the red keep & present at the trial she might want to see who’s under the helmet of her champion.
            Headless man + faith militant = bloodbath,the faith would most likely attaint house lannister & king tommen…blackmagic ect & ser strong would go beserk….made vow to kill king tommen’s enemies ect.
            I do think ser strong will be the reason cersei flees kings landing,tommen will be held captive untill jon connington murders him,then myrcella will be murdered by lady nym making way for aegon to take the throne & princess arianne will be his queen,being younger & more beautiful.
            Back at the rock cersei gets a visit from jaime….
            My humble theory.

            Great work by the way
            I’m going through all cbc analysis from the start!

  8. JT says:

    There were always two things about the way the Night’s Watch recruits that don’t make much sense.

    1.) Yoren mentions he’s only lost 2 people so far. Realistically, if you had one authority figure (Yoren – who is the only man of the NW on this trip) transporting a bunch of criminals on a thousand mile+ journey while also transporting slow moving wagons containing weapons and valuable goods, there would be a ton of desertion. I’d expect a plurality of the group to grab what they could at night and leave (and given the makeup of the group, at some point Yoren would probably get his throat slit in his sleep).

    Desertion carries a low risk here – it’s not like there’s anybody in Yoren’s party (besides Yoren) to chase deserters down, and he needs to watch his wagons and keep stewarding the rest of the recruits. If you desert from the wall, Aemon sends out ravens to all of the nearby castles (and there are hundreds of men with horses that can track and chase you down). But if you desert from the wagon train, it seems very unlikely you’d ever get caught.

    Sure, the recruits include some clueless kids like Hot Pie or Lommy (or Arya, who’s not clueless but can’t really leave) who probably can’t function on their own, but there are also poachers who can function fine on their own (as we’ll see later), dangerous criminals, and just bad people. Even a “good” criminal in the NW (i.e the “rapist” who was just a lowborn boy who got caught having consensual sex with a highborn girl) would probably relish his freedom.

    2.) Before the men of the NW take their vows, Jorah Mormot addresses the group and tells them that they’re free to go now, but once they take their vows they serve for life. That doesn’t really make sense either. Most of the recruits are lowborn criminals who decided to join the NW en lieu of their lord’s justice. You would think that they’d “have” to join the NW, but it sounds like there’s an out for them if they want it.

    • rw970 says:

      My guess is that part of Yoren’s skill is properly assessing who’s a flight risk or too dangerous to be allowed mobility – like the three guys in a cage. I expect that if someone else flees Yoren is actually OK either sending out other recruits and/or participating in the chase himself, because a lot of the recruits want to be there because they’ve got nothing better going on. The other guys joined the Night’s Watch in this instance probably because it offers a better life than what they currently have, which is basically hoping to get by on subsistence living and not running afoul of someone in a social strata above yourself. Also, good luck surviving by yourself this far away from home. Sure, you could grab yourself a salted ham from the big train of supplies, hope you get away, but then what do you do when you’ve finished the ham? Yoren offers you ham, and more importantly, the promise of more ham to come. The Night’s Watch has plenty of food.

      Second, I bet that during peace time it’s a lot harder for random vagrants to just be running around the Kingroad or whatever. Yoren could just stop by a castle, tell them to be on the lookout, and ravens go forth around the area with the description. Strangers in a strange land are bound to be noticed, inquiries made, etc. Now, of course it’s war time, there’s chaos, there’s people running everywhere, but this also acts as a disincentive. Yoren’s Recruits are a medium sized armed band with a source of food and can rely on the non-interference of the law. Escaped poacher guy cannot. Of course, that’s not how it turns out, but it’s probably logical to think “I’ll stick with these guys” rather than “I’ll seek my fortune on my lonesome.”

    • 1. First of all, Yoren’s not alone here – he’s just the NWman in charge. I think this under-estimates how much a pennyless vagabond stands out in a society where 90%+ of the population are stable farmers living in small villages where everyone knows everyone. Why convert a life sentence to death?

      2. Jorah is not addressing those among them who are criminals, he’s addressing the volunteers. Also, he’s a bit of a traditionalist who still thinks of the NW as the institution it used to be.

      • David Hunt says:

        2. Yeah, I’d assumed that if any of the criminals who joined the watch in lieu of their sentence being carried out decided to leave before taking their vows, the Watch had some method of making sure that the sentence got carried out anyway. Of course the criminals would likely try to just run instead of saying, “nah, I’d rather be hanged/gelded/whatever,” but I expect occasionally someone thinks he can make it. I’m sure that’s why the recruits are dressed in black as soon as they arrive. If a volunteer changes his mind, they’d give him his old clothes back, but a convict would be ar man dressed all in black traveling alone in the North. Instantly marked.

        They probably didn’t have to do it often, but I imagine there’s been one of two hangings at the Wall because some “pardoned” criminal ran off, and I’d bet good money that Maester Aemon has treated a few rapists after he or some other member of the watch gelded the guy.

      • WPA says:

        Right- pre-1400s or even pre-wars of religion, (and why we mentioned vagrancy laws), people wandering the countryside were extremely rare. Encountering someone from the next village over would be the highlight of your week or month- a total stranger is rare and often frightening. Think of the Return of Martin Guerre where a guy from basically the other side of the valley was able to show up and convincingly impersonate another man for about 8 years without being recognized except by occasional chance and bizarre coincidences and that’s in 1500s France where the roads and trade were a little more stable. There’s a reason so many fairy-tales feature some sort of murderous transient or figure as a menace. So yeah, outside of the disruptions naturally caused by war (and the resultant soaring increase in banditry that gets remarked on all the time) famine, or plague, you’d stick out like a sore thumb if you were wandering the countryside and likely as not the locals might hang you for whatever recent local crime occurred or as a precaution even before the local magistrate or enforcers got there to administer justice themselves. I mean, just think how much your speech pattern would stick out if you were even fifty miles from home.

        They even remark on that in the Ned Chapters on deserters from the Wall, EVERYONE in the North knows how to pick out a Night’s Watch deserter- and even then it’s probably not difficult guy- military-age guy nobody knows who’s wandering the villages near the Last Hearth- I doubt he lasts long out there. Even in the Southern regions without the natural conclusion of “hrm, maybe a deserter from the Wall”- you’re still going to attract notice.

  9. empire25 says:

    I am really interested in your description of medieval childhood. What interests me is how much more similar it is to our own conception that I would have thought. Additionally, in many ways it seems more natural than our own grouping. Treating 16 and 20 year old’s alike makes more sense than treating 10 and 16 year old’s alike. I have two questions, and would like to use the Power of the Comments Section to get you to say more as a historian.

    1) Is this something where class differences effect how we see this issue, much like gender roles? Meaning that there was more flexibility in the lower classes than the upper ones?

    2) Is this an issue, also like gender, where things were far more fluid over time than modern people imagine, rather than a one way ratchet.


    • 1. More flexibility, no. If anything, less. Education among the lower classes was rudimentary at best, and occupational choice was pretty non-existent. The further up the scale you go, the more rich and diverse education became, and generally the more options for careers for men existed (among skilled craftsmen, merchants, gentry, etc.).

      2. Yes. Not just in time but also in place. A lot of this has to do with urbanization and economic development, and how the uneven rate of same produced very different needs for raising people.

      • JT says:

        Historically (i.e. medieval times), was it better to live in the cities or the countryside if you were a commoner?

        In ASOIAF, Martin does a good job of showing the horrors of both…

        • Depends on what metric you use. There was a lot more one could do in the cities, you had more rights and were less under the thumbs of the nobles, there was much more social and economic mobility, etc.

          On the other hand, your nutritional standards probably took a bit of a hit, and your chance of dying of epidemic disease definitely went up.

          • Andrew says:

            Disease was a problem since you had a higher concentration of people with poor sanitation and ventilation that makes it easier for the spread of disease. In plenty of medieval cities, the influx of immigrants helped to keep the population stable with the death rate exceeding the birth rate.

            Another problem in the cities was that the population usually exceeded the number of jobs available, and as a result of number people resorted to crime as you mentioned in your last Arya chapter analysis, so there was a higher crime rate compared to the country. Also, pigs and feral dogs roaming through the streets could be hazards to young children.

            On the other hand, common people in the cities were usually freed form the feudal obligations of their countrymen, and even someone of a profession as seemingly uninteresting as a baker could rise high as records show, in terms of wealth and comfort.

            In Westeros, it tends to lean toward northern Europe where cities and towns were free zones in feudal enclaves while in the Free Cities, they tend to follow more Italy and Spain, where towns kept their Roman character as regional capitals with cities administering over large swathes of territory.with a highly urbanized aristocracy.

  10. Loved to read about the historiography of childten Steven, as I studied this recent approach for my monography last year. An amazing analysis as always, congrats!

  11. Beto says:

    What if Arya kills Hot Pie?

  12. Roger says:

    Bowen Marsh said it has been a long summer, and many lords have been generous. Lady WHent is listed as a friend of the Watch. And also are so Lord Royce.

    Giving an amnisty in exchange of military service was common place in the Crusades. Also in Spain many famous brigands were pardoned if they joined the army in Italy. Once in Catalonia a whole regiment was created only from former bandoliers (1.500 men!).

    Despite Yoren words, many of his men weren’t so bad. Former poachers and old sellswords showed some loyalty and fought for him. Of course, Rorge and Bitter changed the estadistic for worse! How could he thought these ones could be good crows? They are good for crow’s food, only.

    • David Hunt says:

      There have been some real scum that were turned into Brothers of the Night’s Watch. It’s possible that Rorge and Biter could have been turned in Brothers who just needed a strong hand to control them. Chett served as a steward in the Watch for four years before the Great Ranging, for example. I wouldn’t be surprised if recruits are just irredeemable, they get sent out on a ranging with an experienced ranger and find a way to “die heroically.”

      • I think the bigger issue was that Yoren thought they would be a flight risk and a danger as long as it was just him and a dozen or so men on the road, but that when he got them to Castle Black they’d be surrounded by hundreds of Night’s Watchmen who could police them.

    • ajay says:

      Giving an amnisty in exchange of military service was common place in the Crusades.

      Forget the Crusades – judges were giving minor criminals a choice between the Army and prison in the US as late as the 1970s. Among the criminals who chose the army – Jimi Hendrix! (In fact, some judges are still doing it, but the army is a bit pickier about its recruits now, and doesn’t generally take them.)

  13. David says:

    Could the message mentioned in the side not be Ned’s that Varys is sending out?

  14. beto2702 says:

    Maybe you already covered “What if Arya is caught at the gates” in previous chapters, but… ‘What if Arya kills Hot Pie?’

  15. […] Landing/Battle of Blackwater arc) or with Dany (as was the case in AGOT), or with Arya who began the novel, but with […]

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