Ned! Back again so soon? Yes, yes he is. On one hand, King’s Landing is where all the action is reaching its climax, so it makes sense that we’d spend so much time there. On the other, when you have a book with multiple POV characters, it feels really unbalanced to be favouring one character so heavily. I’m not complaining, exactly, I’m just saying it’s really noticeable and also I miss Tyrion. Luckily, I have an active imagination and I’m still having fun pretending that Ghost!Tyrion is commenting on the action.
Ned is awakened by the sound of Lannister swordsmen posturing conducting morning exercises, he assumes on Cersei’s command for his benefit. Why doesn’t she flee?! Ned thinks in frustration. Why don’t you pull your head out of your honourable ass and think about what that might mean! I implore in impotent desire to change the outcome of a piece of fiction I’ve already read. Lord Stark wouldn’t be the first man to underestimate my sister’s desire to hold on to power, Ghost!Tyrion smirks.
Breakfast with Sans and Arya is about as fun as one can imagine. Arya scarfs down her food in order to have time for one more lesson with Syrio before they embark on the sea-trek back to Winterfell. Is it wise to do physical exercises on a full stomach? Sansa is on a hunger strike because she still loves Joffrey and wants his babies, or at least to get to say goodbye to him. How many of the most horrible female traits and stereotypes can Sansa possibly embody?
After breakfast, Pycelle brings Ned news of Robert’s death and it is a symptom of Robert’s place in the hierarchy of this series that his death happens “off-screen.” As a completely unrelated aside, do you know who has the most ignominious death in English literature, as far as I know? Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: he keeps on trying to have a proper Shakespearean death speech, but Cleopatra won’t shut up about how horrible it is that he’s dying, so he dies as a stage direction in the middle of her speech and she just goes on talking. I always found that hilarious.
Ned calls for a council meeting and they’re joined by Ser Barristan, Littlefinger, and Varys who brings news of Renly having fled the city, along with his swordsmen and the Prettiest Knight. Maybe he’s like King Leonidas from 300, just out for a stroll with a host of his closest, well-armed, completely heterosexual friends. (The connection here is Lena Headey, who played Gorgo in 300 and Cersei in Game of Thrones.)
Before Ned & co can get down to any counselling except the reading of Robert’s will, a man arrives to inform them that they’ve been summoned by King Joffrey. Ned calmly complies, feeling safe in the knowledge that Littlefinger bought the City Watch’s loyalty for him. Ned, you are honourable, principled, a decent enough parent, and probably a good landlord — you’re also played by Sean Bean, that’s a big plus — but you go beyond genre blindness into such general obtuseness that you truly become too stupid to live. Detail of Symbolic Significance: Ned is leaning on Littlefinger as he walks (remember, his leg was wounded) and will keep on using him for support when they reach the throne room.
Walking into the throne room and towards Joffrey on the Iron Throne, Ned remembers finding post-kingslaying Jaime here and “forcing” him off the throne. Really? I don’t remember Jaime putting up a fight the first time we heard that story. Do you think Cersei ever bitched him out with her “in the game of thrones, you win or you die” speech? We get a detailed description of Cersei’s current outfit, for some reason, is it to show that she’s not wearing mourning? It’s not like we’ve been told what the mourning customs are in the Seven Kingdoms. Maybe “sea-green silk” and “Myrish lace” is what you’re supposed to wear when your husband is gored by a boar. Everyone, including Joffrey and the Kingsguard, get outfit description and that kind of bothers me. This isn’t a limited third-person narrator describing Ned’s point of view, and would Ned really have bothered noticing Cersei’s jewels and adornments? Would Ned even be able to tell Myrish lace apart from any other type of lace? I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, maybe Ned’s all about lace.
Joffrey starts issuing orders and proclamations: he wishes to be officially crowned within two weeks and he wants the councillors to make their loyalty vows now. Ned responds by producing Robert’s will, the one that names him regent and Lord Protector of the Realm. Cersei responds by ripping it up. Oh, the woes of living in an age before Xerox. Now, the document was officially witnessed, by Renly and Pycelle, but the destroying of it is more of a symbolic gesture anyway, as I said in the last Ned entry, no one cares about the wishes of a dead king.
Side note: Ned called Cersei “my lady of Lannister,” no one present seemed to think that strange at all, and in narration she’s consistently referred to as “Cersei Lannister.” Does that mean that noble women revert to their birth House upon the husband’s death? No one ever referred to Cersei as “Cersei Baratheon,” but the Tully sisters have always been “Catelyn Stark” and “Lysa Arryn.” Is it because Robert was King, do kings not get to absorb their wives into their House? I bet you the Targaryens practised incest just to avoid having to think about this kind of meaningless bureaucracy. Rhaegar’s wife, by the way, is only ever called Elia of Dorne, I don’t think I remember a single canon instance of Elia Martell or Elia Targaryen.
Cersei tells Ned to kneel and swear fealty and promises that this will lead to him being dismissed as Hand and allowed to return to Winterfell, in fact, to be banished there.
If I were Ned, I would honestly just do as she says. I know he thinks he has the upper hand manpower-wise here, her certainly has the moral high ground, but has Ned learned nothing about lulling his enemies into a false sense of security? You are not among friends here, Ned! You know this, you hate this place. Go back home and if it matters to you so much whose ass sits on the Iron Throne, then offer military support to Stannis when time comes. I know possession is 9/10ths of the law and all that, but it’s not like Joffrey’s position would be all that secure even if his mother is his regent, not with the Northlands, Riverlands, Dorne (they hate the Lannisters for the brutal deaths of Elia and her children), the Vale, and probably Highgarden backing Stannis, or at least uniting against Joffrey. One could fanwank that Ned doesn’t want another all-out civil war, except one is already going on.
So Ned, having never met a reasonable course of action he couldn’t turn his back on, refuses to kneel and leave, and instead publically denounces Joffrey’s paternity. Cersei mobilizes the Kingsguard and the Lannister swordsmen. Ned mobilizes the City Watch. Unfortunately for Ned, it’s not mobilized on his behalf. While Janos Slynt, the Watch Commander, and S. Clegane make short work of Ned’s men, Littlefinger holds a dagger to Ned’s throat and gloats about how stupid Ned was to trust him.
Let me just point out now — although I’d have even better cause to do so at a later reveal — that had Catelyn not begged Brandon Stark to spare Littlefinger’s life, none of this would’ve happened. It comforts me to know that I can logically blame her for this mess.