“The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.” Summer that lasts for years and years. With winter almost here and temperatures dropping, I can see the appeal of that. I imagine a nine-year summer in Winterfell must be really nice. Nine years of summer in King’s Landing, or worse yet: Dorne, on the other hand, must suck balls. Sweaty, humid balls.
Bran is child four of five for the Starks, not counting Jon if you’re a bitch like Catelyn, and he’s a whole seven years old. That’s right: seven, for those of you joining us fresh from the warm, family-friendly bosom of the HBO show. I bet you think Daenerys was seventeen when she married Drogo, too. Bran’s riding out with his father’s entourage on their to an execution, as one does, and it’s his first time. He’s thinking about all the tales of Beyond the Wall his Nan told him — but was he sucking at her tit while she did so? He doesn’t say. Focus on what’s important, Bran!
I actually like Bran, I remember him being my third favourite character. We’ll see if he stays in the top five this time around, he’s rapidly losing points by making creepy-ass metaphors about his father (Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark) taking off one face and putting on another. Anyway, the party has reached its destination — the middle of nowhere — and Gared, whom we recognized by his defining lack of ears, is there, having survived Royce Zombie’s munchies but fallen prey to Ned Stark’s stern adherence to Honour Before Reason (TV Tropes, look it up, they spell the doom of many a character in this series).
Aside: GRRM’s just lost a point too. “Dragged the ragged”? Really? Not to mention “dragged” has been used already just a paragraph above. Imagine if Bran knew the man’s name, we’d get “dragged the ragged Gared” in a sentence. It’s like a Winterfell tongue-twister.
The execution gives GRRM a chance to infodump a whole lot of names and concepts, such as Valyrian steel and named weapons forged from it; Theon Greyjoy, Ned’s ward; Robb Stark; and Jory Cassel, the captain of the guard. We also find out that Robert I Baratheon is the king. We meet Jon Snow, who’s a bastard, we know this because everyone carefully makes sure to add the word “bastard” as a qualifier to any description of him. Thus, Bran thinks of Jon as his “bastard brother,” something for which I once again blame Catelyn. And we haven’t even met her yet, I should pace myself lest I suffer a rage-induced aneurysm when we get to her point-of-view chapter next.
Anyway, Gared’s dead and everyone takes it in stride. Some — cough Theon Greydick cough — even find it entertaining. Nothing like a morning stroll and a good head-chopping to work up an appetite! The group starts back to Winterfell. Robb and Jon banter, and even though it’s only a few lines, GRRM is a very good writer, because we can glean quite a bit of information from these lines if we pay attention.
Jon calls Robb “Stark,” which seems a pretty pointed thing to do, considering Jon doesn’t get to call himself by the name of the House to which he belongs. They have a good enough relationship to take off racing each other, but Robb does so laughingly and Jon is intense about it. The balance of power in their relationship is tilted. Jon and Robb are the same age, but their standing is not equal. Robb is the heir no matter what, his place in the world is certain and absolute. Jon, on the other hand, has no legitimate position in society and will have to prove himself, will have to be strong enough to take what he wants because nothing will be given him.
Ned and Bran talk for a bit, Bran showing a bit of that analytical mind that made him my third-favourite in the past (look, unlike Catelyn, I do not affect these childrens’ wellbeing, I am allowed favourites), and then Jon and Robb find the highly symbolical dead direwolf (the Starks’ spirit animal) with highly symbolical deer (the Baratheon spirit animal) antlers sticking out of it, and highly symbolical puppies endearing themselves to the Stark children.
The entourage wants to kill the puppies and the Stark children do what children usually do when there are puppies around: “I’ll walk him, and feed him, and house-train him, and you won’t have to do anything, can I pleeeeeaaaase keep him.” Jon does this noble sacrifice thing where he says the puppies are highly symbolic because there are five of them and Ned has five kids, ahem, but then it turns out there’s a sixth puppy — an albino, just in case we forget that Jon’s last name is Snow — and while Jon will eventually name him Ghost, I choose to think of him as Fuck You Catelyn.
Speaking of Catelyn! This review is running long, but mercifully, her POV chapter is very short and not worth its own review (haha!), so I’m tacking it on.
Our introduction to Catelyn begins appropriately with a negative. Catelyn’s bitching about the godswood in Winterfell. I think, and considering what will happen to Catelyn several books from now I may be right, that GRRM might not like Catelyn so much either. Then again, it’s not like good things happen to anyone in these books, GRRM is not a kind god.
We learn a bit about Westerosi religions: Catelyn is part of the Faith that worships a god with seven faces, and worship is done in a “sept”, whereas Ned follows an old religion with “nameless, faceless gods” and worshipping is done in a godswood. It’s fairly Church versus Paganism, but people in the Seven Kingdoms already have plenty of reasons to kill each other, so it looks like they’ve learned to live with their theological differences.
Ned is displeased to learn that his 3-year-old (Rickon) is apprehensive about being given a monster world as a pet. Buck up, Rickon! At this rate, you won’t even get to see your first beheading until you’re in the double digits! We get our first dialogue mention of “winter is coming” (drinking game time! imagine how much more fun my anti-Catelyn rants will be then). Catelyn has been married to Ned for 15 years, that’s about half her life if I remember her age correctly, but she still thinks of “northerners,” that is her husband, children, and everyone around her, as some kind of “other.” Acceptance and understanding, that’s our Catelyn!
They finally get to the reason for the scene: Catelyn has good news and bad news. Ned doesn’t get to choose, instead she shrewdly depresses him first — Ned’s foster father and brother-in-law (work that one out), Jon Arryn, is dead — only to use the second item to cheer him up — Ned’s foster brother and king is coming here! It would work better if the “good news” didn’t come with the hassle of arranging accommodations for over a hundred people on basically no notice, plus Ned can’t stand the queen’s family. So even though Catelyn probably did this in the right order, she still sucks at cheering her husband up.
It’s all good news for us, though, because we don’t give a fuck about Jon Arryn and the royal entourage includes Tyrion Lannister, who’s about to pimp this place out! Yay!