She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. We now move on to the first Jon Snow chapter, and the classic meeting between him and G.O.A.T. candidate, Tyrion Lannister.
If you missed our previous chapter, go back and check up on Ned Stark.
An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
I wanted to start off with a few macro thoughts that have occurred to me either in between reading “Eddard” and “Jon” or after reading this latest chapter.
Are the Starks (Winterfell = ice) and the Targaryens (dragon = fire) the two houses, both alike in dignity, referred to in the very name of the series? And is this one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, or simply one of his histories?
In a couple people’s comments, I was…nudged…on my seeming reluctance to “jump in” to this story, which I take to mean get emotionally drawn in by the characters. I spent some time thinking about whether I am (and y’all were complaining about how meta I was already being before now. Ha! That’s what you get! J). First, if there’s any doubt, I am enjoying the hell out of this story so far. Just because I’m nitpicking doesn’t mean I’m not liking it. Second, I think it’s a fair point, because I am a bit leery of taking anyone or anything at face value here, which, yes, does translate to keeping a distance from the characters. For now.
I pondered why, and it’s because I have not yet decided which characters I want to trust. I say “want to” for a reason. I don’t know whether all of them are presenting reality in a…real sense, or if the English major term “unreliable narrator” might be applicable to some or all of these characters. I can’t implicitly trust any of these characters, because obviously we are being presented only the world as they see it. If one of them is delusional, s/he might not know that, therefore we don’t know that. Or perhaps one of them might simply be so myopic in worldview and/or so excellent at rationalizing that the way their brain interprets what should be impartial data would become indistinguishable from delusion to someone reading their “thoughts.”
Even the word choice that the characters use for their own thoughts and feelings can make a world of difference: does one “blame” or “credit” a cause of something? I haven’t yet decided whether I think Martin’s MO involves creating unreliable points of view to muddy things. I haven’t read enough to be sure, but it has occurred to me that he might build in unstable elements. Thus, I can’t just assume the characters are presenting an accurate depiction of the world even if it is their honest depiction of it. In fact, of the first four chapters, the most trustworthy point of view to me is Bran’s, simply because he is too young to lie to himself. He might not understand everything around him, but it’s not deception, and those are different issues.
Speaking of carryovers from Bran’s point of view way back three chapters ago, I really liked what I saw of Jon Snow then, so I was very excited to jump into his point of view here. Aside: does it make me a cougar if that liking turns into a crush on the kid? I mean he is only 14, and at the ages these weirdos are talking about marrying off daughters and sisters that would totally (if barely) make me old enough to be his mom in this world. Lol. Rrrow.
As it happens, I continued to like Jon after seeing the world through his eyes for an evening. I found his perspective very sympathetic. I was a weird kid—improperly socialized is how I like to put it now—but whatever the actual case or reason for it, I was always an outsider at school and in social contexts, and like Jon does with his bastard status, I spent a lot of time observing everyone around me. His level of perception implies he’s intelligent, and his outburst about never siring bastards presents a strong level of self-awareness. He’s a son defining himself to some extent against his father’s mistakes—and that, as well, is something that makes him relatable.
I wondered, during his conversation with his uncle, who is Jon’s mother? It seems weird to me that he doesn’t know. And it made Uncle Benji’s (yes, I know it’s Benjen, but it made me think of Benji, and who doesn’t love that dog?) comment “mothers usually are [some kind of woman]” sort of mean. It seemed like he was trying to make a joke—I mean, he wasn’t trying to imply that sometimes children are born to creatures other than human women…OR WAS HE? Shit!—and it just fell flat because it’s such an obvious thing that to “state the obvious” becomes insulting in the context. ’Cause, yo, Jon has no frame of reference.
He doesn’t know if his mama was slave or enemy or whore or his father’s first love or just some girl at a roadside inn, he doesn’t know how his father felt about her, he doesn’t know if she was willing or if she was forced, he doesn’t….And that’s his fucking mother, and not knowing can eat at one’s mind a million times more than knowing, even if the answer is distasteful. Maybe he does know some of those details, but all that he thought of here was that he didn’t know who she was, which to me implies not knowing any of the rest.
The dwarf’s comment that Jon has “more of the north in him” than his half-siblings, makes me suspect she was a girl from Stark lands. But then again maybe she was just someone from a really weak set of genetics that were easier for Stark traits to dominate than whatever Catelyn brought up from the south. I also wonder if his unknown heritage is meant to be a ticking time bomb, or indicative of a bastard’s typical status in that culture—that no one bothered to notice who bore him, because he’s a bastard son. At least he can be sure that his father believes Jon is his son, and treats him like it, and that might well be better than the average situation for a by-blow.
I was glad to get a clearer look at some of the guests. Jon’s impression of the king matches my own, which was not flattering, but he must be king for a reason…right? So maybe he’ll redeem his current dissolution later. Jon is obviously very taken with his uncle and the idea of being a guard on The Wall. I don’t know whether to hope he stays behind, proud and alone but unbullied by what is likely to be a rougher life in the south, given how his father demoted him from the family table so as to not upset the queen, or to hope he isn’t given the choice to hide from the world. I know his uncle said he wasn’t ready, but if Jon begged his father, Stark might let him stay for the reason above.
What I didn’t get out of it was any better sense of the other children, either the royal or the rest of Jon’s siblings, nor Catelyn nor the queen. Yes, the queen came off looking kind of proud and bitchy, but that had been established by comments about “Lannister pride,” so that was really nothing new. Jon didn’t mention much about his stepmother at all—does he hate her? Or was she simply invisible next to an important stranger because of her familiarity?
Which actually brings up a point I was bitching about to discussing with Jay, and he promises me that it eventually gets better. But for now I am a little bit disgruntled with surprise and frustration at how…bland all of the females seem so far.
What I mean by this is, I have had strong reactions to several of the male characters, some positive and some negative. The females have been present but not really there, and I’m unwilling to take the men’s impressions of them as irrefutable. In the case of Dany and Catelyn both, I got no read on their own personalities because both of them spent the entire chapter thinking about the men around them. So why are all the females so placid? Such nulls?
Is this intentional—I mean, is Martin subtly reinforcing gender roles in this society, that either women all learn how to cultivate an inoffensive mask so that their real emotions and motives are constantly inscrutable, or to show how women are so unimportant that they don’t even notice each other? The latter seems inconsistent with having several major characters be females (I’m assuming that any pov character is a major character) and also with the deference given to the queen’s family.
Maybe that’s more about them being Lannisters then it is about them being her relatives, though. From various things I’ve heard, I do expect at some point to be able to form actual opinions about these ladies, but for now I’m honestly a little weirded out about the fact that all of them mentioned are still such blank slates when so many of the male characters are not.
I loved Jon’s interactions with his direwolf. Ghost, of the red eyes and silent steps and utterly intractable pride of place. I still see him as being a personality analog to his master.
Which leads into one final more general thought I had, after thinking back over the chapter and what the dwarf said to Jon: Are the characters chosen for each section chosen because that scene is/could be a defining moment in their life? Bran, seeing his first execution. Dany, discovering what her brother has planned for her. Ned, being faced with no choice but to leave his home, his land, and his people to obey the whim of his king.
Jon, hearing what might well become his life motto for the first time. The only one that doesn’t fit this is Catelyn—not sure what in her chapter could even by a stretch be considered a defining life moment. But the others kind of do. If that’s not a spoiler to answer with a “generally yes” or “maybe sometimes but not really” can you re-readers weigh in on that? I think it would color how I read scenes to know, one way or the other, and before you get all “blank slate! BLANK SLATE!” on me, please remember…I’m likely to keep it as theory and start misreading things if left to my own suppositions.
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Sometimes a chapter just speaks for itself. Going into this chapter I thought I’d have a lot more to say, partly because I knew this was the chapter that Jon would both meet Tyrion and offer his impressions of the royal procession. Instead, I found that it was a chapter – maybe even a classic one in my reading experience – that I soaked and basked in, and that would instead pleasantly elicit a spirited and lengthy response from my Westeros wing-woman who seems to have suddenly got hit with an explosion of possibilities, crackpots to the head and all!
As I’ve said before, that almost guaranteed positive shared experience – a recommendation that almost can’t go wrong – is one of the most exciting elements of this series. It’s the spec-fic slam dunk that never gets old, staying fresh with every new convert to the fold. This may sound really lame, but I get excited when I see an email from Elena now because it just might be about aSoIaF and not just the usual BSC policy related communique. After all, the only thing better than A Song of Ice and Fire is talking about it (henceforth will be called the first rule of Gestalt Club). But why now?
Well, it’s somewhat comfortable ground. I’d almost say that this chapter feels like the second Jon Snow chapter because he kind of stole the show in the first one, but I think I’d be unjustly diminishing Martin’s quiet accomplishment of presenting a POV filtered through a young(er) child. Above is my favorite of Elena’s breakdowns yet, and I wonder – even with her trepidations stated – if Jon kind of anchors the book for some (and perhaps myself in the beginning) readers because of his gullying of the initial chapter and simply (or rather, not so simply) being the “familiar” speculative fiction character, stocked with unknown parentage, searching for a destiny, and with an animal companion already in tow. He initially resembles as close to a traditional fantasy protagonist as we will get in the series.
This observations seems to work for me because, at least for myself, Jon kind of spins off that traditional trail just around the time Martin has trapped us into loving soapy intrigue of court and King’s Landing. Unrelated, but just zapped into my mind (and I’m trying to keep this real) – I don’t even want to mention this because it’s silly – but did anyone ever say Jon Snow, and think John Doe?
Okay, probably not, let’s move on and forget I said that! In the last chapter breakdown I, as an aside, mentioned Tyrion as a character who wants to “SEE“, and what I meant by that is a character that lives outside even the drama of their own lives, those that are slightly less self-invested. In an unrelated email swappage with Elena I mentioned that I always tend to notice “readers” in novels I read (possibly because I am one or due to some lasting affection for childhood favorite films that featured such, like The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story).
There are several people who “see” in this series, readers like a Tyrion, who as he himself (and Elena) points out the dwarf/bastard perspective, or a Rodrick Harlaw later. In a setting and society like this it seems apparent that experience and action that carries more weight and spawns more accolades – especially for males – and I think the certain oddness that Rhaegar’s own interests were viewed as is proof of that (indeed Sam is sent to the Wall for showing a too slanted interest in non-martial forms) even when he seems to have been more than ideal in “both” worlds – he of course went off and got killed by the quintessential man of physical action, a hammer wielding, whoring, melee stalwart in Robert who doesn’t even like reciting his own titles (though let’s give him a break, he was on his deathbed).
White, gold, crimson: the direwolf of Stark, Baratheon’s crowned stag, the lion of Lannister.
I know it will be remarked upon again later (I think by Catelyn regarding the royal children wearing the colors of Lannister as equal), but I wonder if it was common on such occasion that the Lannister banner would be as prominent as both the royal and hosting house. If so, is it because it’s the family of the Queen or is because of House Lannister’s status in general (rich, powerful, Wardens of the West).
“Don’t you usually eat at table with your brothers?”
“Most times,” Jon answered in a flat voice.
Kind of relates to the above. Jon mentions he has no prescribed future like his half brothers and sisters (the idea of which is a fallacy that gets thrown on it’s head for the Stark brood) so he has to think outward. He obviously knows the opinion that Catelyn has of him (speaking of which, I wonder if Ned would have sat him at the table if she said nothing –thoughts?), especially if you consider his own possible secrets regarding Jon.
Daeren Targaryen was only fourteen when he conquered Dorne,” Jon said. The Young Dragon was one of his heroes.
It’s just interesting that one of Jon’s heroes is a Targaryen, though not overly so since the unique nature of that family likely causes them to be central part of much of recent history. We get our introduction to who is perhaps my favorite character in fiction. Tyrion Lannister is just genius, a character that splits the underdog and pro-privileged vote, as lovable a true born bastard you’re going to find. We of course have plenty of time and more to see from Tyrion, but I just want to make it plain: Love the ‘lil guy.
Tyrion Lannister spun around in a tight ball, landed lightly on his hands, then vaulted backward onto his legs.
He’s still the best character I’ve ever read in fiction. Call it Jon’s drunk POV, claim it as a since-latent gymnastic talent, I’ll call it an absurd “Ta-DA!”, an oddly apt circus-like entrance trumpeting his introduction of the show. Jon offers us description of the Lannisters and Cersei’s children (which of course comes into play later), but it is Tyrion who reveals Jon to us:
“You have more of the north in you than your brothers.”
I might get trumped in the next few chapters because in the back of my mind I seem to recall that Tyrion made the trip up north to see the Wall, but if that’s not true I always wondered why a man in his physical condition (admittedly belied by the flipping above, and we do know what Tyrion is capable of physical activity and even exertion) would make such a trip, even given the extra care/comfort his status would afford him. Perhaps it’s just him taking advantage of the best opportunity/accommodations to make such a trip, and I usually think nothing more of it than that, but this time I think I read too much into this bit:
“You’re Ned Stark’s bastard, aren’t you?”
Jon felt a coldness pass right through him. He pressed his lips together and said nothing.
“Did I offend you?” Lannister said. “Sorry. Dwarfs don’t have to be tactful. Generations of capering fools in motley have won me the right to dress badly and say any damn thing that comes into my head.” He grinned. “You are the bastard, though.”
I wonder if Tyrion’s interest is in the moment, or is personal topic of interest, or even a subject talked about at court (Ned is a lord, not often seen, and at least his other children have to be a topical simply due to potential marriages).
Martin could not possibly guess all of the fronts of speculation he would cause, and I sometimes wonder if he consciously wrote Tyrion as a character whose own parentage is one some would/should question. If it is the case (I’d say, at least initially, unlikely), Martin is doing some crazy shit here with the meeting of Jon and Tyrion. If nothing else, I love this relationship, as brief it is, and love what Tyrion later does for the Starks, for Jon.
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.
What a great line. From cliche to catching a moment perfectly. I’d leave it at that, but later in the series we learn that shadows don’t have to be quite as benign as we’d probably like. I like this line as a simple statement and observation of the scene, but Tyrion/Targaryen folks like to use this as this one of the early indicators. I think it’s a nice Jon-perspective Tyrion bookend from the initial opinion he had of Tyrion entering the hall. Getting back to the introductions, I find the opinion of Jaime to be somewhat fascinating because we get the whole:
They called him the Lion of Lannister to his face and whispered “Kingslayer” behind his back.
Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed.
I find it interesting because as the reader, for a large chunk of the series we are conditioned to not like Jaime, but from a certain perspective, say the perspective of (as far as he knows) the grandson of Rickard Stark and the Nephew of Brandon Stark and Lyanna Stark, Jaime isn’t such a bad cat for killing Aerys (though we know that Ned doesn’t care for him). Jaime will of course quite literally throw any good graces owed out of the window later.
This chapter seemed to zip right by. Ironically all chapters containing Tyrion Lannister seem too short. Tall as a king indeed. It’s a chapter I found myself more reliving than re-reading; partaking, but more standing to the side – maybe the lone sentry on the battlement Jon spies who caught the hate shift during the Winterfell event of the decade – sneaking a peek from my duties, a duo in their cups and a direwolf – a trio that share the experience of never knowing their mothers.
And yes, everybody loves Benji (which he will now always be referred as), the cool handed uncle who wants you to get his nephew laid. ‘Laney, pull the weight girl, I’m back. I’m back in Westeros.
Nextup: Catelyn Stark.