After chapters of chasing cats and balancing precariously at the top of stairwells, Arya is finally getting to practice some swordplay. Syrio is calling out his blows (high, low, left, right) and she’s parrying accordingly, but then he calls left when actually swinging right and Arya starts that eternal refrain of the adolescent soul: it’s not fair! Syrio tells her that she should’ve paid attention to the cues from his body language instead of just relying on him to tell the truth. Get it? It’s thematically appropriate, because it’s the mistake Ned made. Oh those silly Starks and their touching attachment to truth and honour.
Syrio starts to tell Arya a story and on the scale of zero to Van Helsing, his accent is about the level of Hercule Poirot at his hammiest. When serving as the first sword to the Sealord of Braavos, Syrio got to see many things, including such wondrous animals as:
- “striped horses” — zebra;
- “great spotted things with necks as long as stilts” — giraffes;
- “hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows” — no idea. Rhinos, maybe?
- “stinging manticores” — mythical, but self-explanatory;
- “tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch” — tigeroos?! That’s cool, I guess;
- “terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws” — I’m going to go ahead and say these are velociraptors; the book just got 50% more awesome.
The story is actually about a cat that Syrio called a cat, because he looks with his eyes, hears with this ears, tastes with his mouth, smells with his nose, feels with his skin, and wants Arya to learn to do the same. Even the things he says sound like Hercule Poirot. Any minute now, he’s going to start explaining “little grey cells” to her, only they get interrupted by the ubiquitous loud bang of doors being aggressively opened.
A member of the Kingsguard and five Lannister swordsmen are here to take custody of Arya. That seems like overkill. I think we stumbled onto the ASOIAF version of the light-bulb joke: how many knights of the Kingsguard does it take to arrest Arya? One, but he needs five swords as back-up. Syrio dispatches the swordsmen with skill and ease. I’m assuming, anyway, I tend to skim paragraphs of fighting play-by-play and just read the results. The result, in this case, is five dead Lannister men and a final match-up between a man with a wooden practice sword and a knight with a steel one. I imagine if Syrio had a real sword in his hands, the outcome would’ve been different. Side note: the knight is Ser Meryn, whose name deeply amuses me by being the Russian word for a castrated horse; I’m going to call him Ser Gelding from now on.
Arya finally runs before seeing Ser Gelding strike the final blow. Her plan is to find Ned first, but when she sees a dead guard at the entrance to the Tower of the Hand and hears fighting, she realizes her fear for her father’s life is coming true. She makes it to the stables, which are filled with dead people and, fortunately, live horses. Even more fortunately, her luggage is there with her sword, Needle, in it. That’s when a non-Stark-loyal stableboy finds her, tells her that her father’s dead (not actually true yet, I believe) and tries to catch her, expecting a reward. Arya hilariously kills him. I mean, the fact that a little girl has to kill someone isn’t hilarious, but GRRM has a dark sense of humour, so what happens is after all this time repeating Syrio’s lessons like a mantra, Arya forgets them all in a moment of panic and only remembers Jon’s “stick them with the pointy end” — and just does that. It’s very effective.
Arya’s a pretty smart kid, realizing that it’s no good trying to get out through a guarded gate, she remembers the dungeon/sewer exit she stumbled into when chasing cats. She tries to figure out a safe way to get there and then hallucinates Syrio’s voice reciting his one-liners. It’s weird, she doesn’t remember him telling her these things, she actually drops her things in surprise at hearing his voice in her ear. Alas, this does not mean Hercule Syrio’s alive. At least the hallucination’s useful, she avoids making the mistake of trying to avoid detection by looking extremely suspicious and instead calmly crosses the court-yard. There’s lots of guards up on the walls, but probably Arya just looks like a stable-boy from above. Nobody would expect her to just stroll about her business.
She makes her way to the dungeon. It’s dark and scary, so she makes herself feel better by remembering how much darker and scarier the Winterfell crypts are. She has a really sweet memory about Robb and Jon being assholes, as teenaged big brothers can be sometimes, and taking her, Sansa, and toddler Bran down into the crypt to show them the tombs that have been thoughtfully pre-made for them. What kid wouldn’t want to see their own future grave? Actually, Robb is the one who took them, Jon covered himself in flour and pretended to be a ghost (… of course). Arya discovered the prank when she punched him — Arya is a little too intrepid for my taste, to be honest, her chapters are pretty much my least favourite although that’s mostly because they ultimately become so disconnected from everyone else — and they all had a good laugh. Well, except Sansa, who obviously ran away screaming. Bolstered by the memory of happier days, which she’s pretty much guaranteed to never have again, she walks on. Isn’t it weird to think that she’s starting this journey with Winterfell as her destination? That is, it’s not weird that she’s planning to go home, it’s weird to know that was the plan when she ends up somewhere geographically opposite.
Sansa spent three days confined in a room with a weeping Jeyne Poole. She guessed that Robert is dead because the city’s bells were ringing (a day after we’ve been told he’s died, for some reason) and she’s heard fighting, but doesn’t know how things stand and is worried about her father and, of course, Joffrey. It’s a little unclear (purposefully, I believe) if she knows what the fighting was about, or even who the fighting sides were.
On the third day, she’s brought before Cersei, Littlefinger, Pycelle, and Varys. Cultural note: black is the colour of mourning in the Seven Kingdoms, Sansa confirms it when noticing Cersei’s black dress. I guess she just didn’t feel like wearing black when facing off against Ned in the throne room. Cersei is super-sweet to Sansa and Sansa herself has been ever so very polite and lady-like to everyone else. Miss Manners would approve of this entire chapter.
Cersei isn’t happy that Jeyne has been put in the room with Sansa. She’s pretty pissed about it, actually. Why? Who cares? Littlefinger volunteers to “find a place for her.” Now, Jeyne is useless to the story and would just be dead weight in the Sansa chapters, so I was originally happy enough to have her disappear from the story. Kind of makes me feel like an ass in light of how it turns out for her.
Despite not having the benefit of Hercule Syrio’s instructions, Sansa is paying attention to body language cues. Varys is fidgeting, Pycelle is avoiding looking at her, and creepy Uncle Petyr is staring at her creepily. Cersei sweet-talks her out of her moment of clarity and then tells her that Ned is a traitor. The letter Ned wrote to Stannis is presented as evidence. Cersei is ever so torn. She is ever so fond of Sansa, but, oh, how can she let a traitor’s daughter marry her son?
Moment of truth, Sansa.
Sansa loves Joffrey and has to marry him and anyway she wasn’t complicit in what her father’s done, they can’t hold her responsible for it. She’s proved loves Joffrey more than her father when she came to Cersei to warn her that her father was sending her away!
This is why people hate you, Sansa.
On a brighter note, this is why I love GRRM. In the beginning, it really sounded as if Sansa knew absolutely nothing about what was going on, that Cersei had simply managed to get a hold of her the way she tried and failed with Arya. So you basically go from “aww, Sansa” to “oh, you bitch!” within a span of a few pages.
Varys and Pycelle think that she’ll grow up to betray Joffrey, being her father’s daughter. Littlefinger thinks she’s more Catelyn’s daughter because she looks just like her mother. I guess we know where these people stand in the nature versus nurture debate. There’s a really ugly moment when Sansa says that Arya’s the one with all the traitor blood. I’m really so ready for this chapter to be over. It’s just a whole lot of Sansa ugliness while Cersei slithers her way to the real point of the scene.
Sansa’s persuaded to write letters to her family, informing them that she’s being held hostage — not in so many words, of course, but Sansa’s an idiot and we are not — and that their war against the Lannisters has morphed into a rebellion. They’re urged to come to King’s Landing and swear fealty to Joffrey. Because that worked out so well the last time a king ordered the Stark family to do that.
Afterwards, Sansa gets back to her de-Jeyned room and escapes into her favourite novels. Hours later, she realizes she forgot to ask about Arya. That’s alright, Sansa, Arya didn’t remember to worry about you either. No love lost between the Stark sisters, that’s for sure. Considering Sansa and Arya, and Catelyn and Lysa, sisterhood is not faring well in the series so far.