Quick Read: A Game of Thrones ch. 5 – 6

 

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Chapter 5: Eddard

Welcome back to the story of Thrones, and the assholes who love them.

King Robert Baratheon has arrived in Winterfell, accompanied by his incredibly dysfunctional family. Once upon a time he was all dudely and swole, but now his mighty thews have vanished under the weight of his kingly lifestyle.

He’d had a giant’s strength too, his weapon of choice a spiked iron warhammer that Ned could scarcely lift. In those days, the smell of leather and blood had clung to him like perfume.

Now it was perfume that clung to him like perfume, and he had a girth to match his height.

The decadent shady slaver guy who Dany and Visarys are living with was also fat and wore perfume. Remember, fat people are evil or incompetent and real rugged manly men automatically repel the scent of anything that isn’t sweat and lawnmower oil.

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Ned Stark probably has a lifetime subscription for these things.

I’m kind of impressed by how fast-paced these chapters are. Several important Lannisters get introduced here, but they have no verbatim dialogue and are only described in passing since the actual focus of the chapter is on Ned and Robert’s reunion.

After broing it up for a while about their respective kingdoms and how hot and filled with gorgeous scantily-clad women the capital in the south is they descend into the Winterfell crypts so Robert can pay his respects to Ned’s dead sister.

Backstory time: Robert and Lyanna Stark were engaged, but then one of the Targaryans kidnapped her and forced her to marry him instead, which is what started the chain of animosity that ultimately ended in civil war. During the siege of the capital Ned found Lyanna dying in circumstances mysterious enough to launch a thousand fan theories regarding the parentage of certain characters. Robert has never gotten over this, which naturally causes absolutely no friction at all between him and his actual wife Cersei Lannister.

They had come together at the ford of the Trident while the battle crashed around them, Robert with his warhammer and his great antlered helm, the Targaryen prince armored all in black. On his breastplate was the three-headed dragon of his House, wrought all in rubies that flashed like fire in the sunlight. The waters of the Trident ran red around the hooves of their destriers as they circled and clashed, again and again, until at last a crushing blow from Robert’s hammer stove in the dragon and the chest beneath it.

This seems very High Phantasy for these books. I wonder if there isn’t a bit of myth-making and selective memory happening on Ned’s part.

(Very different versions of the whole situation between Rhygar and Lyanna are given at various points in the story, and at least in the show we haven’t definitively been told whose interpretation is the correct one)

They get to talking about the recently deceased Jon Arryn, and Robert says that he sickened and died with unusual swiftness. I’m sure there was nothing suspicious about it at all.

Robert “offers” Ned the position of Hand of The King, and Ned has no choice to accept even though he doesn’t want it.

The Hand of the King was the second-most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms. He spoke with the king’s voice, commanded the king’s armies, drafted the king’s laws. At times he even sat upon the Iron Throne to dispense king’s justice, when the king was absent, or sick, or otherwise indisposed. Robert was offering him a responsibility as large as the realm itself.

It was the last thing in the world he wanted.

Oh also, their kids are totally going to be married.

We were meant to rule together. If Lyanna had lived, we should have been brothers, bound by blood as well as affection. Well, it is not too late. I have a son. You have a daughter. My Joff and your Sansa shall join our houses

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This offer did surprise him. “Sansa is only eleven.”

Robert waved an impatient hand. “Old enough for betrothal. The marriage can wait a few years.” The king smiled. “Now stand up and say yes, curse you.”

Huh. Sansa was thirteen at this point in the series. I have a theory this is because she’s is involved in various forced marriage plots and comes close to being raped on at least two occasions, and they thought ageing her up a bit would make these developments slightly less nauseating (at the same time they couldn’t make her an adult because the fact that she hasn’t started menstruating yet ends up becoming a plot point for reasons too contrived to get into here).

…I just read over that paragraph again and now I’m starting to wonder why I watched this show for as long as I did.

The TV series does a lot of jiggery-pokery with character’s ages like this; Cersei and Robert’s youngest daughter gets sent off to Dorn for her safety as a child and the next time we see her several seasons later she’s fifteen even though nothing like enough time has passed.

Chapter 6: Jon

Ah, Jon Snow. AKA the character who emits a Heroic Fantasy field, in the presence of which the story’s grimdark pretensions dissolve and the whole thing turns into a bog standard epic bildungsroman. With this character Martin is slipping readers and viewers exactly the kind of generic fantasy yarn that the rest of the story is supposed to be subverting, and a lot of people don’t seem to have caught on.

There were times-not many, but a few-when Jon Snow was glad he was a bastard

The beginning of this chapter is where I stopped reading the first time around. Trying to tackle it now, I’m finding myself rapidly losing interest again. This character is just boring.

Jon thinks about how he’s glad to be chilling with his bros at the end of the room instead of sitting with the legitimate Stark children. Then he describes the various royal personages who arrived with Robert.

Close behind came Robb, in grey wool trimmed with white, the Stark colors. He had the Princess Myrcella on his arm. She was a wisp of a girl, not quite eight, her hair a cascade of golden curls under a jeweled net. Jon noticed the shy looks she gave Robb as they passed between the tables and the timid way she smiled at him. He decided she was insipid. Robb didn’t even have the sense to realize how stupid she was; he was grinning like a fool.

…Wait, what? Is this supposed to be implying Robb is into Myrcella or something? Because I know he’s younger here than he is in the show– all of the Stark kids are– but there’s no way he’s that young.

 

Sansa looked radiant as she walked beside him, but Jon did not like Joffrey’s pouty lips or the bored, disdainful way he looked at Winterfell’s Great Hall.

Geez man, way to judge the guy at first glance. It’s not like he killed your dad or something.

Joffrey is followed by Jaime “I’m so god damn handsome” Lannister and his brother Tyrion, aka your favourite character in the show. Tyrion is a bit… different in the books.

His head was too large for his body, with a brute’s squashed-in face beneath a swollen shelf of brow. One green eye and one black one peered out from under a lank fall of hair so blond it seemed white

Some people have seized on the fact that Tyrion has white-blonde hair (unlike all his siblings, who have blonde blonde hair) and one black eye as proof that he’s secretly half Targaryan, white hair and dark purple eyes being Targaryan features. I’m not so sure about this since there’s a fairly compelling argument that another main character is also half Targaryan and it would be kind of ridiculous if they both were.

 

The last of the high lords to enter were his uncle, Benjen Stark of the Night’s Watch, and his father’s ward, young Theon Greyjoy

BOOOOOO

“Don’t you usually eat at table with your brothers?”

“Most times,” Jon answered in a flat voice. “But tonight Lady Stark thought it might give insult to the royal family to seat a bastard among them.”

So when Ned went off to fight the Targaryans he came back with Jon, a child he had with another woman while he was out adventuring. Catelyn understandably didn’t take this well, although the level of resentment she’s still heaping on Jon fourteen years later is pretty uncalled for.

The wine was making him bold. He tried to sit very straight, to make himself seem taller. “I want to serve in the Night’s Watch, Uncle.”

His uncle is like NOPE and Jon storms out in embarrassment. It’s all very YA-ish and uninteresting. When he gets outside Tyrion shows up and trolls him for a while.

He pushed himself off the ledge into empty air. Jon gasped, then watched with awe as Tyrion Lannister spun around in a tight ball, landed lightly on his hands, then vaulted backward onto his legs.

I’m pretty sure he can’t do that in the TV show (I recall reading somewhere that Tyrion’s acrobatics were also quietly dropped from the later books after Martin decided to go in a different direction with the character).

“All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.”
“You are your mother’s trueborn son of Lannister.”
“Am I?” the dwarf replied, sardonic. “Do tell my lord father. MY mother died birthing me, and he’s never been sure.”

[…]

When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.

I wonder how much of this is heavy-handed foreshadowing.

So that’s the first six chapters of A Game of Thrones. I liked it a lot more this time around, but I wonder how much of that is due to my familiarity with the books. Thinking about everything that happens over the course of the first season of the show doesn’t really fill me with excitement to go out and re-experience it all in a slow and more long-winded format.

Next time:

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15 thoughts on “Quick Read: A Game of Thrones ch. 5 – 6

  1. Archibald van Winkle

    I liked it better the second-time around as well. I think it is a case of knowing what’s coming, so you can better appreciate what’s happening now.

    For the next read, I’m guessing either a Weis and Hickman novel, or something from the Forgotten Realms.

    Reply
  2. Lissa

    “Remember, fat people are evil or incompetent and real rugged manly men automatically repel the scent of anything that isn’t sweat and lawnmower oil.”

    It gets worse. All the bad characters in Slaver’s Bay (Storm of Swords and onwards) wear heavy perfume, and there’s a slave owner who’s so obese he can’t wipe his own ass.

    Reply
      1. Sideband

        Something DnD related… On a blog about bad fantasy…

        Oh no.

        No.

        It’s going to be about the king of Mary Sues, the Ranger, isn’t it?

        Reply
  3. reveen

    I’ve always thought that the backstory about the rebellion against Aerys would make for a way more interesting story, where we have a clear central conflict to hang the story off of, a way more interconnected cast of characters who don’t all scatter themselves around the setting, Lyanna Stark actually being a character.

    I understand that Martin wanted characters that view the past in rose coloured glasses in order to further his “deconstruction” of high fantasy. But I feel the deconstruction would actually work a lot better if you actually had the story be about the high fantasy heroic plot that you deconstruct as the war gets murkier and less glamorous.

    Actually, I think that’s kind of a trend with grimdark fantasy. We have Bakker’s books taking place after the badass sounding Black Metal apocalypse, Joe Abercrombie’s books are constantly going on about the character’s fucked up backstories we don’t get to see. Richard K. Morgan’s books are all like “there was a war against lizard people, trust me”. Mark Lawrence… nothing of import happens in those books, past or present. Even Glen Cook’s Black Company books, the proto-grimdark, take place after the Dark Lord has already won and largely concern the evil wizards going around kicking sand in each other’s faces.

    Like, I guess it’s because they want to write the dark fantasy, but they also want to write realistic fantasy and fantastical elements would get in the way with that, or maybe they just think morally ambiguous conflict means that there shouldn’t be a clear protagonist and antagonist. Or maybe they just want to write politicking and noir stuff.

    Like, I dunno, I like dark fantasy. I kind of want to see that No-God thing instead of hear people blather about how awful it was.

    Reply
      1. reveen

        Uh, no. I meant that it was the sort of shit you’d see on a Children of Bodom album cover or something. Seriously, the No-God is a fucking sarcophagus flying around in a tornado that makes all the babies in the world stillborn. It’s grimdark, but at least it’s kind of bonkers and more interesting than some asshole stabbing toddlers.

        In the same vein, I think Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar would have been pretty rad characters to actually see instead of just hear about.

        Reply
        1. ronanwills Post author

          Oh ok, I misread that comment.

          I reviewed the first Bakker book (first half of it anyway) and would have welcomed something that goofy, if only to keep me awake.

          Reply
    1. zephyrean

      I think it’s just a specific instance of grass being greener on the other side. I can’t stand any of the prominent GoT characters, and Lyanna sounds like a decent protagonist. But the truth is that major GoT players are unlikable not because “that’s who they are”, as independent people, it’s because Martin wrote them that way following his very particular ideas of what makes for good protagonists and good stories. There’s no reason to expect that “Lyanna’s Epic Adventures” by George Martin would produce a likable Lyanna and every reason to expect the opposite.

      Reply

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