You know, I had completely forgotten that Ned Stark is a point-of-view character. It’s details like this that justify my choosing to start the series from scratch rather than jump in where I left off. On the other hand, this means there’s yet another segment standing between me and the delightfully twisted mind of Tyrion Lannister. The Lannister Crazy will be my reward for making it through the Stark Emo.
I hate to stop and “ooh” over word choice in the very beginning of the segment, but I would just like to point out that Robert Baratheon’s retinue is described as “a pride of bannermen and knights.” Considering that all animals in the book are symbolic, the choice to use the group name for the Lannister animal is interesting. I don’t think it’s a hugely important signal, but I do think GRRM pays attention to things like this. It’s not a coincidence that Robert is represented by a horned animal, is it?
Some more names are exposi-dumped onto the reader: golden Jaime Lannister, burnt Sandor Clegane, and Tyrion Lannister, the Imp. Just seeing his name finally in print cheers me up. I may be a bit of a fangirl. ‘Tis pity I’m not a whore. (This is for you, Renaissance drama scholars.)
Then comes that awkward moment when a friend you haven’t see in ages says you haven’t changed and all you can think is how fat he got. That is to say, Robert is happy to see Ned, but Ned secretly wants to know why Robert couldn’t keep his figure. Robert’s queen is introduced as Cersei Lannister, but the children aren’t important enough yet to merit names (Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, to spare you the suspense).
Robert’s first order of business is going to the Stark crypt to pay his respects, and Ned is grateful for the attention to the mysterious “her.” The queen protests, there are some pointed descriptions of the protests as being only about practical things like travel fatigue, and the fact that Jaime is Cersei’s twin is slipped in there. I’m going to aside again about the quality GRRM’s writing: there’s a lot of exposition, and a lot of information to impart to the reader, but he does it so elegantly. Another good example is Robert’s complaints about the journey as he and Ned make their way into the crypt: Ned’s northern holdings are as big as the other six of the Seven Kingdoms combined. When Robert says there are scarcely any people to be seen in the north and marvels at the summer snow, it feels so much like he’s talking about Canada that I’m expecting him and Ned to start referring to the two halves of the continent as the hat and the pants.
Robert begins to tempt Ned with visions of the south: flowers, melons: the fruit kind, and melons: the breasts kind! Ned silently judges Robert for being a sybarite, but in hindsight, I’m fairly certain that what we have here is Robert wasting no time prepping Ned for his ultimate offer/order of a position at court. Robert should know Ned well enough to know that none of these selling points mean anything to him, but considering that Ned has everything he wants where he wants it, what else can Robert sell?
There is an appropriate atmospheric description of the crypt, but the really important part (the one that felt like just a bit of pretty writing the first time I read this when I knew nothing about it) is when Ned looks beyond the filled tombs into the darkness that contains the unsealed crypts “waiting for [Ned] and his children. Ned did not like to think on that.” (Somewhere in that darkness, GRRM’s laughter echoes softly.)
Although they came here for one specific tomb, we are given descriptions of two more first: Ned’s father Rickard and older brother Brandon. Brandon was the one who was supposed to marry Catelyn, but Aerys Targaryen (Dany’s father) smote them down with the power of his incest-augmented madness. The third tomb belongs to 16-year-old Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister and Robert’s betrothed, which explains why Cersei threw a polite hissy fit about this pilgrimage. Robert grumps that Lyanna should be buried somewhere sunny and warm, but it’s really just an excuse for Ned to a) talk about Starks belonging in the snows of Winterfell; and b) flashback to Lyanna’s death, her dying words asking him to promise her something – not that he bothers flashing back to exactly what that promise was – and someone named Howland Reed finding him still clutching her corpse. Robert is upset that he only got to kill Rhaegar (Dany’s older brother, compare and contrast with her remembrances of the stories of her family’s deaths) once for “what he did to her.” Well, that was nice and cryptic. (Ba-dum cha!)
On their way back to the land of the living, they discuss the death of Jon Arryn (the “bad news” that Catelyn brought Ned in the godswood). Jon seemed fine one way and then dead two weeks later of a sickness. (Your spidey senses should be tingling. This warning would be a spoiler but for the fact that pretty much everything in this book should send your spidey senses a-tingle. I bet it would suck to actually be Spider-Man in A Song of Ice and Fire, you’d never get any rest.) Jon and Catelyn’s sister Lysa have a son, Robert Arryn, and Robert arranged for Tywin Lannister (Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion’s father) to foster him, but Lysa freaked out, took her kid, and hightailed it away from court, holing up in the Eyrie. Robert isn’t happy and thinks grief has driven Lysa mad. He’s not wrong about the conclusion — let’s face it, Lysa is crazy and not even the fun kind of crazy, she’s just downright creepy — but his logic does grate against my modern sensibilities: why should the woman be happy about giving up her son? Ned offers to foster the kid himself, they’re family after all, but more than that, he hates the Lannisters. So far, the only reason we’ve been given is that the Lannisters waited till Robert’s victory was assured to join his rebellion against the Targaryens, but obviously there’s more to it than that. Robert points out that Lannisters are his family then switches the subject.
And then Ned Stark makes a joke. It’s a smirk-level, mildly amusing line, but I’m nonetheless impressed. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Ned’s strict code of snow-soaked honour includes a “never joke in front of the king” clause. Maybe there’s an exemptions for kings who tried to get into your sister’s pants?
Even Ned Stark joking won’t divert Robert from his course. He’s here to ask Ned to step into Jon Arryn’s place as the Hand of the King. Killing a king was fun but being one is not, and that Iron Throne is as uncomfortable as it sounds. Robert wants Ned to come with so Ned can do all the work while Robert enjoys all the melons, and he’s not hiding the fact. The nobles have a saying: “What the king dreams, the Hand builds.” The Westerosi 99% choose to think of it as “The king eats, and the Hand takes the shit.” The TV show offered a third version: “The king shits, and the Hand wipes.” Unsurprisingly, Ned is less than enthused about this.
Robert also wants to project his unfulfilled desire to sex up Lyanna Stark by betrothing his son Joffrey to Ned’s daughter Sansa. I’m frankly surprised that Ned brings up age (Sansa’s all of eleven) as a barrier to this, considering the track record this book has had with children so far. Not to worry, Ned, Robert will let the kids wait a few years before he forces them to act out his sex fantasies.
Ned asks for time to tell Catelyn, but he’s pretty much said “yes” already and he’s not happy about it. Also, in case you’ve forgotten, winter is coming (drink!).