Do you know how competitive reality audiences can predict, with some accuracy, who’s going to be eliminated at the end of the episode? They know because the episode footage and contestant “confessionals” tend to get edited to focus on that person. It’s a Ned chapter again. I’m just saying.
Ned’s having one of those flash-back dreams again, this time about the crypts of Winterfell. Once again the dream ends with Lyanna’s voice and her words, pleading with Ned to promise her something. Gee, I wonder what it is. I’m sure GRRM will reveal it all by the end of the book. (This was me circa 2000 when I first read it.)
A knock on the door wrenches Ned back into the waking world. Good thing, too, we left off on something important last time, didn’t we? Look, I know Lyanna and her mysterious request are very interesting, but we’ve got incest and political intrigue coming to a boiling point here, let’s not get too distracted. Ned’s informed that Robert is back and wants to see him immediately. He complies with dignified haste.
Robert received Ned while in bed, but he’s got a legitimate excuse, and it’s not some new fifteen-year-old mistress. In fact, no mistresses in sight, but plenty of other people: Cersei, Pycelle, Renly, and some servants, all buzzing around the gravely wounded king. Ned thinks the room smells of death. He’s not dead yet, Ned, sheesh, isn’t he your friend? I mean, I know he’s about to bite it that doesn’t mean you can’t be a bit more optimistic, or at least hopeful.
Moral of the story: wild boars do not care that you’re a king, all they see is a fat, old, drunk dude and that’s a mighty big target.
I’ll give Robert credit: he’s not dying with dignity exactly, but he’s dying with gusto and guts (that are spilling out of his gored stomach). There’s a certain courage to the scene, he’s not bothering with the bartering stages of death. He once said that in death, Rhaegar gets Lyanna. Maybe his spirit is being bolstered by expectations of afterlife nookie?
Robert orders everyone out to have one last tête-à-tête with Ned. He confesses to believing the boar to be the instrument of divine punishment for the planned assassination of Daenerys. It’s so sad that it’s the one thing Robert got right, Dany really does have plans to invade and reclaim the throne, but is convinced otherwise in the end. He dictates to Ned his last will and testament in which he names Ned the regent until Joffrey comes of age. There is no delicate way of saying “By the way, your wife’s children aren’t actually yours, they were fathered by her twin brother with whom she’s been carrying on an incestuous love affair her entire life” to a dying man, so Ned let’s it go and just writes down “my heir” instead of “Joffrey.” Quick thinking, Ned, except that I doubt any of Robert’s bastard children get to be in the line of succession, that makes his heir Stannis, who’s too old for legal guardians.
With death’s-door clarity, Robert calls himself out on what a horrible king’s he’s been. Ned loyally allows him to have been a better king than the homicidal maniac who preceded him. Isn’t Ned just the sweetest? Can you imagine Ned’s pillow talk with Catelyn? “Well, honey, that wasn’t the best sex I’ve had, but you’re much better than a donkey I fucked on a dare once when Robert and I were still living in the Eyrie.”
Back to Dany, Robert asks Ned to try and stop the assassination if it’s not too late. Many negative things can be ascribed to both Varys and Littlefinger, but “lack of efficiency” is not one of them. After that, the attendants are allowed back in to try and make Robert’s last moments more comfortable. Cersei isn’t there anymore and Ned thinks that means she’s packing to flee. Oh, Ned.
Robert’s not dead yet, but this is the last time we’ll see him, so we’ll say our goodbyes now. Goodbye, Robert. You weren’t very smart or very nice, or very anything that could endear you to us, but you occasionally showed glimmers of self-awareness and were apparently quite a hunk back in the day. Also, you were played by Mark Addy on the show and that made me happy. Go peacefully to the big tournament grounds in the sky.
Outside the king’s chamber, Ser Barristan is sad to have failed in the king-guarding duties. Again. I would say it’s not his fault that his kings keep dying of unnatural causes, what with the rebellions and intrigues and all, but you have to admit, he doesn’t have a very good track record. Still, at least someone’s sad about Robert.
Varys pops up at Ned’s elbow and makes vague but pointed suggestions about Robert’s wine-skin and the attendant who was in charge of it (Lancel Lannister). In reply to Ned, he says it’s too late to stop Dany-killing plans but he’ll try.
Renly catches up to Ned as the latter makes his way back to his rooms and, having realized that Ned was given the regency, starts making militaristic plans to get Joffrey away from Cersei. If there’s one thing I learned from reading Tudor biographies is that despite every ruler’s desperate scramble to figure out succession, nobody actually gives a fuck about the wishes of a dead king (or queen). Ned is choosing to be stupid rather than practical, he’s going to do things by the book and pretend that everyone else does too.
By the time Ned gets back to his chambers, however, he’s acquired some rudimentary common sense and decides to do something. He orders Littlefinger brought to him and instructs the ranking guard who’ll be taking the girls back to Winterfell to deliver a letter into Stannis Baratheon’s hands (the ship will be passing by the Dragonstone on the way). Ned confirms my earlier musings that his regency is meaningless if Joffrey’s paternity is exposed. In his plans, it will last only until Stannis arrives to assume his rightful place and then he’ll be free to go home, to his family. Ok, heartstrings were tugged just a little here.
Littlefinger arrives and they start making plans for the post-Robert era. Littlefinger sees two options.
Option 1: giving the crown to Stannis results in civil war, rivers running red with blood, locusts eating all the crops, and I think it rains frogs? I might be thinking of Biblical plagues, but you get the picture.
Option 2: Ned rules the land through Joffrey and Littlefinger gets to be the brains of the operation. Worst come to worst, they buy enough time to kill Stannis, get rid of Joffrey and put Renly on the throne instead.
Obviously, Ned goes with option 1. This option requires Ned to have a fighting force (so get Renly back here, apologize, and say you changed your mind?), that is to say the City Watch, and that requires money, which apparently only Littlefinger has or can get. It’s good to be the man holding the purse strings. Do you think he has to borrow money from Tywin Lannister to finance a minor war against him? I bet if anyone could, it would be Littlefinger.