Fourteen-year-old Jon Snow is drinking wine, as one does when one lives in a mediaeval fantasy world. Lest I mislead anyone into thinking that Jon is in need of an intervention and a twelve-step program, it should be said that this is happening during a feast. Jon is secretly gloating over the fact that his brothers and sisters — sitting with the adults at the hosts and royalty table — would only be allowed one glass, whereas he, being seated on the benches in the crowd, can keep on drinking while the young squires surrounding him do the mediaeval fantasy version of the “chug chug” chant. Ok, so maybe a small intervention.
Jon’s impression of the royal guests: Cersei is beautiful, blond, and bitchy; Robert is fat, dark-haired, drunk, and disappointing; Myrcella is a silly little blond girl; Tommen is plump and has long blond hair (I think that’s pretty much all we learn about him for the next one-and-a-half books); and Joffrey is really tall, really blond, and really stuck up. Separate attention should be given to the Lannister men: “The Lion and the Imp.” Jaime, who’s also called the Kingslayer, is what a king should look like (tall, fit, magnetic, blond). Tyrion is a dwarf, is ugly and has mismatched eyes (one green, one black; Jaime and Cersei both have green eyes). Guess the colour of Tyrion’s hair. It’s not the same as his siblings’. Do you think that means he’s a brunette? A redhead? Psych! It means he’s even more blond than either of them. Closing the procession are Theon Greyjoy, being a dick as usual, and Benjen Stark, Ned’s little brother, who’s part of the Night’s Watch.
None of the other Stark children got to bring their direwolves, but there are so many dogs around the less important people, but Jon got to sneak FYC in. He thinks about all the wine and the puppy-licking he’s getting that his siblings are not, but his incandescent happiness is marred by the smoke in the air making his eyes water. Aww. He takes a whole chicken and sneaks it under the table for the puppy to eat and then another dog tries to take it, but FYC is too fierce to let someone who doesn’t have “dire” in her name to boss him around. The Battle of the Chicken is an understated affair, played out mostly with psychological warfare, and results in the castle mutt’s utter defeat. Winner gets the chicken and head rubs from Jon. Jon himself gets head rubs from Uncle Ben, who’s come to join the plebes. Ben laughs off Jon’s drinking because he himself was even younger the first time he got drunk. You know, with their views on how long a boy’s childhood should last, the Starks would really get along with the Spartans from 300. (Incidentally, Lena Headey, who plays Cersei Lannister on HBO, also played Queen Gorgo in 300.)
Benjen tactlessly rubs salt in the wound by pointing out that Jon usually eats with this family. Jon points out that usually Catelyn doesn’t have an excuse to dick him over, but the royal guests have provided her with plenty. I think Ben’s being really dense asking the question, but I also think it’s maybe supposed to tell us a bit about what it’s like on the Wall: highborn and lowborn men serving together, more than likely quite a few bastards among them. Not that they’re completely devoid of social hierarchy, we saw how Royce Zombie’s inexperienced command turned out.
They both notice that Ned isn’t having much fun at his own party, and neither is Cersei. Benjen is impressed with Jon’s acuity and Jon rattles off his martial accomplishments — lance: Robb > Jon; sword: Jon > Robb; horse-riding: Jon !< anyone else. (Math, do you speak it?) Jon isn’t just showing off, he wants to go with Ben back to the Wall and join the Night’s Watch. And now of all times, Ben thinks that age is an issue. Jon isn’t just being a kid about this, though, he’s thought it through. His brothers and sisters have a place in society, but if he wants to find his path in life, somewhere like the Wall, a place where people of all backgrounds mingle and rely more on their skill than pedigree than anywhere else in the land is a better place for him than here. There some euphemism-filled dialogue beyond which hides a simple point: Ben’s hesitating because the Night’s Watch demands an oath of celibacy and he thinks Jon needs to know how awesome sex is before he gives it up. Wouldn’t it be easier for him to give it up if he doesn’t know how awesome it is? You can’t miss what you never had and all that. I’m becoming more and more convinced that Benjen Stark is a bit of a moron, because he thinks Jon needs to father a few bastards of his own to understand what a lonely life on the Wall means. Yes, because what Jon wants is children who will be treated with scorn by the rest of society. That will make him feel great about his own lot in life. Jon is justifiably angry at his uncle’s crass attitude on the subject and goes outside to cool off, stumbling drunkenly on the way, making people laugh at him and fuelling his anger.
Going outside to the courtyard was the right thing to do because that’s where Tyrion Lannister is and any place where Tyrion is much more awesome than any place where he isn’t. Tyrion is perching up on a ledge above the door and somersaults his way down onto the ground. Cannonball! (I believe GRRM has said in an interview that if he could go back and rewrite this scene, he would, because Tyrion Lannister, Dwarf Ninja, is a little too ridiculous in hindsight.) Tyrion pets the puppy, because no conversation can happen before a cute animal gets his due, and then exchanges introductions with Jon. Jon knows that Tyrion is Tyrion and Tyrion knows that Jon is a bastard. Unlike Benjen, he doesn’t say it because he’s dense about how Jon feels. He says it because he knows that no one will let Jon forget it (as if he could) and Jon needs to learn how to shrug it off or live his life feeding the rage. He counterbalances his bluntness about things that suck with equal sincerity about things that don’t suck and also matter to Jon: he looks like a Stark whereas the “trueborn” sons Catelyn bore Ned look mostly like her.
Tyrion sympathizes with Jon because his life sucks in a comparable way: as a dwarf whose mother died in childbirth, he’s as unloved and undesirable to his family as a bastard would be. He has a line here that I love and was sad to see cut from this scene in the show: “All dwarfs may be bastards, yet not all bastards need be dwarfs.” And with that nugget of wisdom, he goes back to where the booze is, throwing off a shadow as tall as any man.