Sansa’s in a weird in-between state where she understands that she’s a hostage and that things are bad for her and her family, but still clings to the delusion that Cersei and Joff give a damn about her. I myself am also in an in-between state where I don’t dislike her as a character anymore, but don’t look forward to her chapters because they’re basically misery with very little forward movement in the plot.
As the misery increases, there will be more to write about. As is, there’s very little to recap. Joffrey is having some sort of public royal-decree-reading council session. The first item is a list of nobles ordered to present themselves and swear fealty. It’s a wall of names that includes the Baratheon brothers, the Prettiest Knight and his family, and concludes with the Starks. Sansa notices that the Stark names include Arya and thinks it means Arya safely got away on the ship Ned arranged for them.
Cersei is appointed to the council, as is Janos Slynt, the City Watch commander, who’s lifted into the ranks of nobility for his services. Ser Barristan Selmy is stripped of his status as a knight of the Kingsguard (I’m not sure if it’s unprecedented, but it’s highly irregular) and offered money and a retirement home in Lannister territory. Ser Barristan tells Cersei to fuck off with much dignity and gravitas. Also, the following happens (not verbatim, of course).
Ser Barristan: I’ve guarded the bodies of three kings.
Cersei: Funny how they’re all dead.
Ser Barristan: Maybe your brother should stop stabbing them in the back then!
He mentions Stannis sitting on the Iron Throne in his exit speech, so Joffrey orders him arrested and interrogated as a traitor. S. Clegane, who is very pointedly not a ser, is appointed to the Kingsguard in Ser Barristan’s place and you can just hear all the other kingsguard men grumbling about the neighbourhood going to the dogs. (ba-dum-cha!)
Then the Q&A portion of the panel starts and Sansa takes the opportunity to beg for mercy for Ned. Cersei’s disappointed, but we like you a bit more now, Sansa, so it’s not all in vain. Joffrey agrees to be merciful provided Ned confesses. Sansa is elated and relieved. I think this might actually be the last time in the series she gets to be naive and have hope, so I’ll let her have this one.
The first time we get to check in with Ned, it’s kind of horrifying and fairly nauseating. He’s been cooped up in a cell, in absolute darkness, and, we’re specifically informed, with no bathroom facilities even of the primitive bucket kind. GRRM is not one of those authors who pretends that bodily functions just don’t happen. He feels like he’s been buried alive, and this is where I should make a Buried joke, but I haven’t seen that movie.
Ned’s been filling his time with sleeping and thinking, and there’s no mention of anyone ever bringing him food, so I’m really not sure how long this has been going on. Shouldn’t he be dying of thirst by now? Also, he’s been having half-imagined, half-hallucinated (or maybe just all dreamt) conversations with Robert.
Side note: why does the name Robert get to appear unaltered when names like Edward, Jeffrey, and Edmund all got the fantasy make-over?
He’s visited by a jailer who gives him water, so I guess this is only a day or two after he’s been imprisoned, but won’t speak to him or answer questions. Afterwards, he dreams of the fateful tourney during which Rhaegar chose Lyanna to be the Queen of Beauty, instead of his wife Elia as tradition decreed. His brother Brandon was alive then, Robert was strong and fit, and young Jaime Lannister was welcomed to the Kingsguard by a king he’d shortly kill.
Ned counts days in water-visits until an unspecified number of days later, the door opens to reveal Lord Varys, Eunuch in Disguise. He comes bearing wine and news. It’s nothing we don’t already know, except confirmation that the Lannisters haven’t been able to track Arya down. At this point, it’s been several days since Sansa begged Joffrey for mercy. Ned wants to know why Varys is pretending to be helpful now. Varys responds with a story about his youth: he used to travel with a mummers’ troupe, so now he knows that life is a stage. He’s also doing that thing duplicitous manipulators do when they use truth as their best weapon of deception. He admits that he can but won’t spring Ned from jail, and will only deliver a message if its contents suit his needs. He claims his purpose to be peace and that’s neither here nor there right now. I think this conversation is an interesting one to re-read after book 5.
More pertinent to the plot right now is the bit where Varys confirms that Cersei used drugged wine, delivered through her cousin Lancel, to ensure Robert died during the hunt; it was Ned’s reveal that he knows about the children’s paternity that spurred her into action. Varys admonishes Ned for not going along with Littlefinger’s plans to support Joffrey until they were in a strong position, and I don’t think harping on this now is helpful, Varys! More helpful is his summary for the political lay of the land and Cersei’s opinions of it: while her father and brother(s) are off fighting Robb & Co, Stannis Baratheon has both the willpower and the military power to march on King’s Landing, and he’s likely to find allies in the Martells (who hate the Lannisters for the death of Elia Martell at the hands of G. Clegane). Varys suggests that Cersei will grant Ned mercy (mercy in the Seven Kingdoms mean commuting a death sentence to service in the Night’s Watch) if he shows her he’ll be her ally against Stannis. In other words, Ned needs to play the game and lie. Does that sound like Ned to you?
The mention of the Night’s Watch leads to a mention of Jon, and of course Ned thinks cryptic thoughts about it, but does he explain anything to us? Ha!
Ned outright refuses to dishonour himself when time comes, and Varys pulls out the big guns. That is to say, he points out that Ned’s decision affects Sansa, too. Ned begs that she not be involved, she’s only a child after all — Is that why you took her away from home and betrothed her to a stranger?! I really have to let this go before the book’s usage of the word “child” makes me burst a blood vessel in a fit of rage. — but Varys reminds him that Rhaenys (Rhaegar and Elia’s daughter) was just a child, too, and Ned’s (well, Robert’s, technically) rebellion led to her death. In the game of thrones (finish your drink), Varys paraphrases Cersei, it’s the innocent who die.