Ned is internally whining about how uncomfortable the Iron Throne is. That’s not a metaphor about the burdens of kingship, the throne is literally the least comfortable seat imaginable. On the other hand, at least it’s a seat, the people flooding the hall to seek the king’s justice have to stay standing, except for Varys and Littlefinger (and Pycelle, who doesn’t count). I think the entire scene is a metaphor for this book: the little guys are screwed, the kings are screwed in a more showy fashion, only the slimy bastards are doing well for themselves.
The actual king is off hunting, of course, so Ned gets to hear all the petitions. The object of Robert’s marksmanship, by the way, is a white deer, except with GRRM’s chosen synonym of “hart.” Is that supposed to be a metaphor for innocence slain? I don’t know, I’ve taken a week-long break and now I’m rust. A moratorium on metaphors, this is going to be a simple recap!
The problem at Hand (hand… Hand… get it? The moratorium does not extend to puns!) is that some village has been attacked by Lannister soldiers. Varys bleats something about the villagers being mistaken and it being only “brigands.” Alright then, “Lannister brigands.” There, is that better? (This sneering rebuttal comes from Raymun Darry, the lord whose home Robert commandeered in order to sentence Lady to death when Nymeria bit Joffrey for waving a non-metaphorical sword around.) The Riverlands lords have a list of names of settlements and towns that the Lannisters have been sacking. The surviving villagers of one specific populated area are here to give evidence, that is to say, recount the horrors of war inflicted on them by the Lannister forces. I hope Catelyn is happy with what she’s started.
Ned asks for proof that these were Lannisters. Lots of opinions follow, the bottom line being: no one was dumb enough to charge screaming “Lannister!” or to forget to exchange a gilded helmet for a plain one, but G. Clegane is called the Mountain That Rides for a reason. This is why assassins, spies, and other trusted monsters in one’s employ should be inconspicuous.
It’s Littlefinger who asks the good lords where they were when their people were slaughtered and their fields burnt. They were, of course, with the army Edmure Tully’s amassed to protect his sisters. Now that the attacks have happened, Edmure’s relocating bits of that army to protect the remaining villages, which, as Ned astutely realizes, was the point of these attacks. Ned thinks of Edmure as “more gallant than wise.” I’m sorry, but when Eddard Stark thinks that your gallantry is throwing your priorities out of whack, you know you have a problem.
The Riverlands lords want the king’s permission to bring the hammer of justice down on the Lannisters. Pycelle objects: if they have proof of anything, it’s only of G. Clegane’s fuckery; let Lord Tywin deal with it. Ned points out that the king has ultimate authority in the land. Pycelle objects again: then let Robert decide what to do. I’m sure everyone would love that, Maester Useless, but Robert doesn’t want to, remember? He picked Ned specifically so he wouldn’t have to. Robert may have sided with his in-laws, to whom he’s 3 million gold in debt, while Ned has legitimate reasons to rule in favourite of his own in-laws, who are the injured party. I guess Robert should’ve thought of that before he un-fired Ned.
A relative of Royce Zombie’s is found lurking in the hall and turned into a messenger boy to bring a descriptive word of the day’s proceedings to Robert’s hunting camp. Before Ned rules, however, he will take another opportunity to trumpet the “you judge it, you kill it” ways of the North. Shut up, Ned, no one cares. Not even the readers. I bet there is only one cook in Winterfell, because to task an assistant cook to kill a lobster would be against Ned’s laws. He actually implies that if he hadn’t been wounded, he would’ve taken off to fight G. Clegane himself. I don’t think that’s how being the man in charge works, Ned, you still have a kingdom to run. The Prettiest Knight jumps up and down, his hand stretched up, yelping, “Pick me! Pick me!” Ser Loras Tyrell, the Hermione Granger of Westeros all of a sudden. Ned picks four men who are less pretty (compared to Loras, everyone is less pretty), but in his mind more suited for the job, then, in the name of Robert’s long official title, he tasks them to take twenty men each and go kick No-Longer-Ser G. Clegane’s ass. I don’t think stripping him off his title will make him any less likely to eat these people for breakfast, Ned.
Ned brings his workday to a close and the crowd starts dispersing, only Varys hanging back for a few words. He questions the wisdom of not making friends with the Tyrells by sending Loras. I don’t think a mare in heat would help Loras this time. Varys’s next candidate would’ve been the appropriately named Ilyn Payne, the royal executioner. Ned didn’t send him because the Paynes are Lannister vassals and he didn’t want to place anyone in the position of divided loyalties. We’ll see how that goes when the King of divided loyalties finds out what you’ve done. In the meantime, Varys ominously suggests that Ser Ilyn is unhappy and may be holding a grudge. Go away, Varys. Until things get really sad at the end of this book, I’m treating it like a fun adventure romp, stop pre-emptively casting a gloom over it.
Sansa and her friend Jeyne Poole are having the exact same conversation over their dinner. Sansa says Ned should’ve sent Ser Loras and Jeyne says he should’ve sent Ser Ilyn. Everyone thinks they can do this job better than Ned, even teenage girls. Sansa had that conversation with Littlefinger, who creepily stalked her after Ned ended the proceedings, then creepily called her “sweetling,” and creepily touched her face. Go away, creepy Uncle Petyr. Sansa ignores Jeyne’s crush on one of the men Ned did choose and instead tries to delude herself about Joffrey by pretending she had a dream about Joffrey and the white hart. I said no metaphors! No one can doubt Sansa’s commitment to denial, she wades deeper and deeper into it this chapter. There’s a brief mention of the Night’s Watch brother, Yoren, who finally got to ask for some recruits. No lords volunteer, so he gets to scour the dungeons instead. Like her brother, Sansa is surprised to realize not all Black Brothers are like Uncle Ben and feels sorry for Jon being stuck on the Wall with the lice.
The next morning, she and Arya fight as usual, but it gets vicious enough for the Septa to send them back to their rooms. Sansa cries herself back to sleep and dreams of Lady (*tear*). Later that day they’re brought to Ned where Sansa says it’s all Arya’s fault and Arya meekly apologizes. Sansa is surprised. She’s not doing it for you, Sansa, she’s trying not to add to your father’s burdens. You might want to look into that yourself. Ned’s not here to mediate his daughters’ squabbles, he just wanted to let them know that he’s shipping (literally: sending them on a ship) them back to Winterfell, out of harm’s way. Arya doesn’t want to go: her swordmaster is here! Sansa doesn’t want to go: the boy she forced herself to fall obsessively in love with because Ned decided she should marry him is here!
Arya’s problem is easily solved: Ned’s fine with Syrio joining his employ full time. Sansa’s problem is another matter. Ned finally realized what a moronic decision it was to begin with — Ned is such an asshole for doing it in the first place. A friend he hasn’t seen in fifteen years basically asked him to hand over his adolescent daughter and he just went along with it! — but Sansa’s tenacity when it comes to constructing her fairy tale is not to be underestimated. She will marry Joffrey, the golden-haired lion boy, and have many golden-haired lion babies!
Arya [picking up the actual keyword]: That would be stag babies, Joffrey Baratheon, remember?
Ned [lightbulb]: Oh shit, no, she’s right, Lionnister babies!
Arya and Sansa have one more little squabble before the chapter ends, but the important thing is that Ned finally caught up with the rest of us.