The new hotness and old and busted. She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are going George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. You can check out our thoughts on the first chapter (Bran) from last week, and now we move on to the second chapter, told from the perspective of Catelyn Stark. Personally, I can’t wait to get away from all of these traitors and start reading about some Targaryens.
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An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
So this chapter immediately disproves my theory that the last chapter might have been a second prologue; clearly the time established there is where we’re staying, at least for a while. And so even as we meet Catelyn, Bran’s mother and Lord Stark’s wife, I’m actually still thinking about the fact that one of the main characters is a seven-year-old boy.
That’s…different. I mean, obviously kids grow up and just as obviously the story could easily span 20 years and all that, but…I really haven’t read many fantasy books where one of the main characters is a child for significant chunks of the narrative. It allows for a very different filter on things like murders and executions and politics than you would have with only adult lenses. Both unfettered by ideology and an adult’s expectations of the world, and also clouded by ignorance and the sometimes-myopic view of a child. Interesting.
But I’m not here to just talk more about Bran. So, onto Catelyn.
First of all, Jesus Harrold Christ there was an Information OVERLOAD in this chapter! So many names. So many implications. I can already see that I’m going to have to do what I did when I read the (unabridged) Count of Monte Cristo: keep a character map. At least for now it seems the only way to keep everything and everyone straight. Perhaps someone can kindly tell me in the comments how large my paper will need to be?
Points that specifically jumped out at me: loved the godwood idea, and found it interesting that Catelyn’s people have moved their actual services indoors. It’s of a piece with the Stark family attitude toward executions, that they are old-school and ascetics and hard. They’re not going to go talk to the gods in a chapel, for fuck’s sake, when they’ve got a perfectly fine Old Forest style grove of trees to use!
The gods wouldn’t know where to find them if, after so many generations of using the wood, they suddenly started calling from under a roof. I wonder if what sounds like a trend of the more “civilized” (or maybe there shouldn’t be quotation marks there?) parts of the world being softer and moving away from the old traditions will be ubiquitous in this world, or if it’s just a single instance of that?
Poor Stark, hearing that his foster-father/mentor cum brother has just died. Poor Stark again, and poor Catelyn, too, in that they can’t go to his family (her sister) because the king is coming to visit.
The king…what an asshole. Ha! Like I know that, not having even seen him as a character yet, but obviously the Starks are being inconvenienced by his little visit in many different ways.
They can’t answer the call of duty to family because duty to the monarch trumps it. They don’t know how they’re going to feed the entourage that needs must accompany the king. They don’t like his wife…but at least maybe the kids will have fun? I’m curious to see how I react to the king and his court, given that my introduction to them was negative.
As far as specific people I’m also curious about who got mentioned…can’t say there are any. I am writing this up at the distance of a couple days after reading the chapter, and damn if I haven’t forgotten every single name that was mentioned. Like I said—overload. It was an elegant information dump, as far as they go in fantasy books, and I appreciated that.
But it was a ton of shit to remember that I have no context for, and it’s hard to memorize names and titles without any idea where this person will fit in the story (IF s/he will fit) and where s/he fits into society and so on. So, re-readers, if I am neglecting to discuss your favorite minor character here, this is why: on their first introduction—the pre-introduction, really, the off-stage mention of them—they didn’t make a big enough impression for me to call them out.
I feel like I should have some thoughts on Catelyn herself, but so far there’s little enough for me to think. She could be an insipid wife stereotype, she could be a badass. Didn’t get much of a read off her other than she loves her husband and understand him. So judgment withheld.
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
I know this is chapter-by-chapter, but I feel like I just have to make something known, because part of my responsibility here is to tote around my baggage.
Full disclosure. I come into this re-read as someone who mildly despises Catelyn. That’s not to say that I don’t love reading about her and looking through her eyes, or that the dislike is extreme and comprehensive, but I always get this feeling that there are pro-Cersei and pro-Catelyn camps that rarely intermingle. I don’t want to get too much into Cersei until later, but as heinous, petty, and as bitchy as she is, I feel like I can understand and rationalize her psycho ass. Most importantly, Catelyn is unfortunately part of what I think is the absolute worst element in the entire series, which even clouds her part and perspective in what is perhaps the greatest chapter of any book I’ve ever read.
I’m going to leave it at that and just add: Red Wedding beautiful. Zombies are the suck. Damn near midi-chlorian level suck. Like I said though, I enjoy reading her chapters, as I do all the POV chapters in the series (excluding Brienne in A Feast for Crows). I will admit I do love her chapters as the come, but something about resurrected Cat has always rubbed me the wrong way. I think it puts Martin in an odd position in that if she returns to do something major it will feel cheap, but if she “dies” uneventfully it begs the question of why bringing her back in the first place, especially in a strand of the series that (thus far) I personally find among the most uninteresting. If Catelyn is destined for (another) final moment, Martin has a lot of work to do for her to earn it. Her end was perfect.
We begin (post-Cate Hate) with a subtlety of the type that doesn’t make book reviews. When Martin puts us in Catelyn’s shoes, that Lord Eddard Stark guy we just met is just “Ned”. I don’t know anyone named Eddard, so I’m not sure if that’s the standard/common shortening of the name, but I really appreciate that touch, one that was made without having to reference itself in some “to Catelyn he was Ned” line. The chapter continues to reinforce the difference between the North and the lands to the South (Catelyn is a Tully of the Riverlands—the daughter of the Hoster Tully, who rules that region) specifically in matter of religion and belief. I said in the previous chapter, but the common thread here is that the North is hard.
Is he afraid?” Ned asked.
A little,” she admitted. “He is only three.”
Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.”
When you see other kids of other houses in this series, you will see a rather profound difference. Even the Starks word are pointed out by Catleyn as being different the other major houses, uniquely pragmatic. As a reader, the idea gets drilled into your head that these Northerners may be slightly backwards, but you probably don’t want to see these guys on the other side of a bar fight.
I’ll know it when I get to it, but I’m sure that somewhere in the future someone mentions a line that says something about the value of a single northmen (because while the largest geographically, the North does not boast a dense population) compared to their southern brethren. To be sure, it was mostly a patriotic statement, but I like to think there is some truth to it when comparing them with (in Catelyn’s own words) “the knights of summer.”
While Martin solidifies our perception of the North, he also starts introducing us to the outside world (just after Martin really drove in the fact that Catelyn really loves watching Ned Stroke his big, black, foreign, beautiful sword. Again the keyword here is “outside”, as I think Martin successfully has differentiated this region even when we know very little of and have never seen anything south of Winterfell. Before we get into that, however, I want to go first mention:
But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood.
I always just took this as something northerner’s did in general, but now it really does strikes me as one of the first examples of Ned’s guilt for whatever happened at the Tower of Joy. Of that, we of course still do not know details, but it will be interesting to view my re-reading in this mindset and I’m interested in getting to the chapters depicting his finals days with this thought in mind.
Back to the expansion, I just want to say that the only series I may like more than A Song of Ice and Fire is the largely untold and unwritten one of the generation past, or the a their prime. When I read the passage of Jon Arryn’s refusal to give up his charges, the young Robert and Ned, I loved this man instantly.
Banners raising is the medieval FU, and this single decision changed the landscape of Westeros. The draw of this era is course natural for the re-reader because most of the mysteries and burning questions have origins in the years of Ned (and King Robert’s) youth. Catelyn mentions Robert’s imminent arrival to Ned:
a smile broke across his face.
And it’s left there. Again, this is Martin at his best. While I was reading Elena’s entry I was wondering why she seemed prepared to be against Robert, and I wonder if she missed this part, as it would not be hard to do so because Ned’s reaction is left just at that, beyond an unobtrusive line toward the end of the chapter.
I get the impression that while by most definitions Ned is probably viewed as a good man, that outside of family not much makes him smile. Robert is family to Ned, no matter how much fate seemed to not want that to be reality (he even hates the in-laws). I don’t know, it’s just something about Ned – not Eddard – having a true friend that interests me, especially when considering how much he turns away because of duty and honor (see the offer of Renly later in King’s Landing).
I also feel like an idiot, because while I always got Ned naming his son after the King (or the man who would become the King), I never really considered the possibility that Jon Snow was (re)named after the man who once fostered Ned (I just figured it was the most common of common names for the region, and useful for that very reason).
Martin is commonly lauded for his ability to end his chapters, satisfying readers while finding precisely the right moment to jump to the next. This observation is for the most part true (we can’t wait for the King and court to arrive now!), but no ending would be satisfactory at all if the next — of often not directly related — chapter doesn’t reinvigorate us, giving us something new to fall into, so when we do reconnect with characters and places they are no longer just something we consciously yearn for, but instead one that hits us each time as a pleasant surprise because we momentarily forget after being so immersed with the moment in hand.
The next chapter will be our first example, as we move away from Winterfell, the Starks, and even the continent. I’m very interested in seeing Elena’s take since she considered this chapter an info dump, though I think she will dig the Dany arc as a whole.
Tomio=Targaryen loyalist. Vengeance. Justice. Fire and blood.