A Game of Thrones, Part III
March 28, 2016 6:54 PM - by George R. R. Martin - Subscribe

Part III of our re-read of the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.

For the thread is dark and full of spoilers
This is a re-read of the books, and may contain spoilers for the entire series. First time readers who have watched the show should be ok with the level of spoilers on display.

This section of the re-read includes:

Bran V: Bran goes for a ride.
Tyrion V: Tyrion finds a champion.
Eddard X: Darkly dreaming Ned
Catelyn VII: Cat takes in a duel.
Jon V: Celebrations and negotiations.
Tyrion VI: How to eat goat and influence people.
Eddard XI: The Hand seeks justice.
Sansa III: An insight.
Eddard XII: When you play the Game of Thrones...
Daenerys VI: A crown of gold
Eddard XIII: Ned tries to cut a deal.
Jon VI: Jon says some important words.
Eddard XIV: A paper shield.
Arya IV: What do we say to the god of death?
Sansa IV: A wolf cub alone amongst lions
Jon IV: Some in the Night's Watch have the Wight Stuff.
Bran VI: Tough meat and a southward march.
Daenerys VI: Poisoned wine.

Major events in this section: Tower of Joy; duel in the Eyrie; Jon takes his vows; Viserys is killed; Robert dies; Ned is "betrayed" and captured; some wights arrive at the Wall; the North musters; Ser Jorah foils an assassin trying to kill Dany.
posted by nubs (35 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As always, feel free to post comments as you read through the section.

Lots here to chew on - the wonderful Tower of Joy scene, which really launches the R+L = J theories; the duel between Bronn and Vardis; Ned's inept power play and the fallout of it; Jon's encounter with the wights.

This batch of chapters is where everything starts really rolling downhill.
posted by nubs at 7:07 PM on March 28, 2016

you guys are reading way too fast for me! :(
posted by numaner at 10:03 AM on March 29, 2016

I can also slow down, too Trying to get the timing right here is a challenge; to be clear, I haven't read the section when I post, usually just a quick skim to remind myself what the chapters cover. the posts are intended for as we read, not that people are done and ready to discuss.
posted by nubs at 11:24 AM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dangit! I just finished the book.

Is there a way to have these posts pop up in new activity or to auto populate in My FanFare? I am sort of clumsily unfamiliar with how the subsite differs from and interacts with the man sites.


a miscellaneous point that occurred to me over the entirety of these (and the rest) of the chapters (and a concurrent, somewhat distracting show rewatch, currently mid s03):

After noting the beauty of the construction whereby Ned loses full use of a leg and thereafter cannot "bend the knee", I started paying attention to body parts wounded or dismembered and it is pretty fascinating. I am not sure the various woundings and separations are wholly intended as structural devices by GRRM but it clearly appears to be a theme. I haven't taken the time to assemble a list of the maimings, but my impression has been that when one character suffers an injury to a body part, another (often a relative) is likely to as well, and often in a way that is designed to call our attention to commonalities (or inversions) between the characters affected. It could just be paredolia on my part, but it's still an interesting technique, imbuing foregrounded blood and thunder with the literary value of foreshadowing.

what it actually most strongly reminds me of is floating couplets in Childe ballads.
posted by mwhybark at 10:58 PM on April 1, 2016

whoops, hit post and didn't even notice it, thought I was in preview.

part two:

Take for example the wight hand (the "wight" hand, not the left, I think we can safely surmise). It is found, then Jon burns his hand fighting the former possessor, and then Ned faces his fate - another Hand severed. This of course prefigures another dismemberment, but in another book so I'll hold off on that event.

Joffrey's bum leg prefigures Ned's bum leg which is echoed by Ser Jorah's bum leg.

Greatjon's loss of two fingers, which bind him to his lord, prefigure another set of digits lost - and here again, we have the motif of injury to the Hand, as both these men are described or shown as their lord's most crucial advisors.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty interesting and that it appears to me to be both the use and reuse of motifs by GRRM and to be used in a deliberate and shaped manner.
posted by mwhybark at 11:12 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think that is a really interesting point, mwhybark - I know I had a mental note a long time back about how certain body parts might tie characters together (for example, Jaime loses his sword hand, which is most likely the hand that threw Bran from the tower), but I hadn't picked up on the bits with legs/other stuff.

I do think there is a lot of deliberate parallels/couplets between characters, events, and other things in the novels - heck, the Others and R'hollor seem to have some interesting parallels between them - and it is one of the reasons I keep coming back to them. And in some cases, the parallels stretch across multiple books. But it is easy to lose the thread in the ongoing details of clothing, feasts, sex, and death. Re-reading this has been interesting for the fact that I'm finding it fascinating how many characters are introduced here that go on to be players at other points in the story, and what feels like a bunch of detail that just helps build the world is, in fact, worth trying to remember.

Other interesting note as I remain somewhat fixated on the Tower of Joy - "a storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death." I never noticed that blue is the colour associated with the eyes of death before; it makes sense - the wights have it, the Others, and I'll be looking to see where else it shows up. A fragment of some lost understanding, I would guess, that eye colour staying in some level of myth and legend.
posted by nubs at 9:28 AM on April 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I have to add that I am very curious what our show watchers, but first-time readers make of the Tower of Joy scene. It's really only been in the last season or so that the show has ramped up the hints about Jon's parentage, so how does this read given that it is both new and, I guess, somewhat stale news at this point?
posted by nubs at 9:31 AM on April 2, 2016

In the show, blue is a key color in Highgarden livery, Varys's livery (as a secondary color, and as in Highgarden, in colorwheel opposition to gold), and the livery of the Vale.

Margery and Joffrey, among others, have strikingly blue eyes.

Interesting lead.
posted by mwhybark at 8:35 PM on April 2, 2016

I'll have to go back to the Tower of Joy bit. Like Nan's stuff, it read as filler and I skimmed it even though I knew better.
posted by mwhybark at 8:36 PM on April 2, 2016

oh I had another pan-serial pomo thing GRRM may be up to. MM (look it up if you have to) often writes about sister/brother pairs with at least one carrying the color silver, often with black, as important key descriptors. Another author with extremely close ties to GRRM whose initials are RZ also wrote an epic postmodern fantasy series with the primary protagonist sporting black and silver.

In both the works of MM and RZ, the protagonist in black and silver acquires a sidekick - their hand, if you will - with red hair.

In GOT, Jon Snow most closely matches these cousins. But Dany does too, in particular because in MM's work, the hero with white hair comes from a line with a long tradition of incest. Which also loops Jamie and Cersei in.

I haven't even touched on dismemberment in MM. Suffice to say the theme's apparent. I can be more explicit if need be - I know this thread is all-spoilers but honestly figuring this stuff out is a joy if you are interested.
posted by mwhybark at 8:46 PM on April 2, 2016

Margery and Joffrey, among others, have strikingly blue eyes.

Are you talking about the show mwhybark?

Margaery actually is brown/"golden" eyed (just like Loras) in the books. Or did GRRM write something else in AGOT than later? Wouldn't be the first/only time he did that. There is green-/blue eyed Renly (hilariously brown eyed on the show) for starters.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 7:05 AM on April 3, 2016

yes, in the show, as noted. in the books, the only eye description i actively retain is Twyin's, probably because GRRM goes to great lengths to tie his eyes to Lannister livery. I suppose it's understandable the show didn't really try to bring that character's physical appearance to the screen.
posted by mwhybark at 10:55 AM on April 3, 2016

I suppose it's understandable the show didn't really try to bring that character's physical appearance to the screen.

Yeah, that would have been rather difficult. To find an exact physical match for all and any characters, really. My fangirl heart is still a bit bothered by a blond and blue eyed Loras though (despite having an embarrassing crush on Finn Jones).
posted by ZeroAmbition at 11:15 AM on April 3, 2016

Regarding dismemberment, I left out a thread, in some ways THE thread. Varys, Theon, the Unsullied. I realize the (ahem) body of these narrative events is outside the scope of this post, but:

Varys appears to be genuinely motivated by service to the realm, that is, un-self-motivated.
Theon experiences his loss in the context of a series of events which destroy his sense of self, and therefore his self-motivation. He may or may not be in the midst of recovering a sense of self-direction.
The Unsullied, a hugely problematic and possibly entirely ill-advised narrative element, experience a surgery which is explicitly described as an element of their development as perfectly will-less warriors.

I actively assume there are additional references to this specific maiming involving others in the books that I have not yet encountered.
posted by mwhybark at 7:26 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Varys is a potentially interesting case/non-case. We learn through this and the previous section that the Spider is a master of disguise - I think at one point I counted about three different guises for him in the space of a few chapters - so what is he really? Is Varys another disguise altogether? Is Varys really a eunuch? Could Varys be a woman playing at being a eunuch?

In terms of motivation, he certainly appears to be dedicated to the service of the common people - who wants stability so that their suffering is lessened as the Game of Thrones grinds to a stop. And it becomes a rationale we sympathize with because we see (over the course of all the books) how much crap goes on as a result of the political maneuverings and the outright levels of incompetence or ill-suited nature many of the rulers have. But really, why? Why is he dedicated to this cause to the point of his conspiracy with Illyrio, who doesn't strike me as having the same motivations at heart.

Anyways, one of the things I've been enjoying on this re-read is how from Ned's perspective Varys is the one not to be trusted, but Varys is always honest in his dealings with Ned; while Littlefinger protests his unworthiness of trust with every second breath, and yet is the one that Ned turns to for help in the endgame.
posted by nubs at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, we should really discount any physical appearance in the show as it relates to any kind of theme. It's another thing the show disregards, and sure, fine, it's probably hard to keep up with anyway.

All of Robert's bastards have black hair and blue eyes ("the seed is strong"), as so do his brothers. The Lannisters (including all three royal kids) have blond hair and green eyes, except Tyrion have a mismatched black eye. All Tullys and most of the Starks kids that take after Catelyn have auburn hair and blue eyes. However, Benjen Stark differed from his family name and had blue eyes too.

I'm jumping ahead to book 5 for this analysis. The theme with blue eyes so far (through book 5) definitely has been death and/or transformation.
- Catelyn and Bran (transformations after tragedy)
- Robert, Renly, and Joff (suspicious deaths)
- Robb and Joff (betrayed by supposed bannermen, Freys and Tyrells, respectively)
- Tommen and Rickon (the two youngest true-born males are the ones alive and healthy)
- Sansa and Myrcella (taken far away from home and kept by those who could be considered enemies)
- Stannis and Sansa (the belief, though truth for Stannis, that all of their true-born siblings have died)
- Brynden and Sansa (name changes and ending up at the Eyrie, great uncle and then grand niece)

Then there's the parallels of Jon and Arya, both considered outcasts/black sheeps of the Starks-Tullys, and now are in faraway places advancing their skills/careers (although we've yet to see what's going on with Jon...)

I'm sure there's others too!
posted by numaner at 10:04 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd add Jaime to your first group - transformation after tragedy.
posted by nubs at 1:07 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

a man has taken to hiding an element in a woman's salad preparation requirements every night. each night she seeks the element and realizes it has been hidden. a man reminds the woman that a water dancer moves without a trace. a woman informs a man that he is not roleplaying the man without a face oh no he is not. a man agrees.
posted by mwhybark at 11:14 PM on April 5, 2016

Man Without a Face, by the Idol Bard

I'm all out of time
The gods will have their due
Only death may pay for life
A girl must give a name
It could be anyone
A man does not fly
But the job will be done
One day a man is there

val-ar mor-ghulis man without a face
val-ar mor-ghulis man without a face
val-ar mor-ghulis man without a face
Got a lot of grace this man without a face
posted by nubs at 8:47 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

And to try to bring us back onto topic, was just re-reading the chapter with Syrio Florel facing off against the guardsmen/Ser Trant. I really like the way it reinforces the lessons he has given Arya; after advising her to assess and use her senses to understand a situation before reacting, we get to see him do so a moment later. The guard comes in, commands Arya to come with them, and she is at first unthinking about going with them. Then Syrio steps forward and points out that Lord Stark would never send Lannisters. Oh, that Syrio had held live steel that day...

Anyways, I had forgotten that the chapter ends with another visit to the Winterfell crypts, where Robb and Jon are out to scare the younger Starks. Sansa feels, but Arya doesn't - she sees through the ruse of Jon in flour, and by the end she, Jon, Robb, and Bran are laughing. Another tip to the fact that Sansa's path will take her away from her Stark heritage. And Jon, who technically has no claim to the Stark crypts, acts as the ghost in the crypt; Robb, who will die before any of them (and his body will not return to Winterfell) is the guide; and Bran will use the crypts as a hiding spot after his own death is faked.
posted by nubs at 9:07 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Of interest
posted by mwhybark at 6:45 AM on April 11, 2016

(Also I'm about halfway thru book II now and more injury-to-the-hand events have come up, both new ones and ones I had previously missed - Catelyn, for example, hurts her hand in combat at roughly the same time as Jon, and when Tyrion *becomes* the hand there are not one but two minor characters that have lost a hand in combat that take up positions in the security apparatus of the regime, one with an iron prosthesis.)
posted by mwhybark at 6:49 AM on April 11, 2016

(OK, I'll get part IV of this one up later today, and then maybe we'll just try ACOK as one big thread? idk; everyone seems very spread out in terms of pacing, or maybe they've given up).

Anyways, the New Yorker piece is...an interesting read? I don't know, it's full of the usual dismissive snobbery scorn ("like anybody both adult and sane, I had no intention of watching “Game of Thrones,”; "Lucinda, when I finally forced her to start watching, correctly told me to stop bitching about the dragons: they were part of the deal, the price of voluntarily lowering oneself into the pit of the brain.") towards anything fantasy or sword & sorcery-like; wrong on some of the factual bits (zombies continually attacking the Wall - wtf?; "when we’re stuck in the countryside somewhere, with the towering Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) endlessly escorting the tiny Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) from danger to safety, or from safety to danger," - Brienne has encountered Arya precisely once and never escorted her anywhere), which always makes me question how well the writer has truly paid attention. And, of course, it heaps praise on D&D for the plotting and the philosophical points being made, while being incredibly dismissive of Martin, who is only the guy who - you know - wrote the fucking books they started from in the first place and who first crafted many of the scenes, speeches, and moments the writer here is praising. Martin is not the best writer in the word, but this TV show you "reluctantly" watched and are now examining for how it has raised questions about civilization and power and so forth...well, you know, it was there on the page before these two guys got the idea to do the TV show.

posted by nubs at 8:03 AM on April 11, 2016

Despite James' unfortunate if predictable deployment of genre sniffiness (and come on, New Yorker fact checkers!), he did come up with this: "His big head is the symbol of his comprehension, and his little body the symbol of his incapacity to act upon it. Tyrion Lannister is us, bright enough to see the world’s evil but not strong enough to change it."

I like this insight very much as it seems to fit with my awareness of GRRM's use of the bodies of the characters as plot flags, and it is also clearly in dialog with the use of physical appearance in both modern fantasy literature and folktale to illuminate or predict character.
posted by mwhybark at 6:16 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, I did like several of the points of the essay; and I'm very much enjoying reading with some emphasis on the body/body parts as some type of illumination on the character. I'm actually most intrigued by Jon's hand at this point - burned, but not severed and not left useless. A point about Jon's future - killed, but raised?
posted by nubs at 9:18 AM on April 12, 2016

Part IV: The Concludening
posted by nubs at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2016

I'm up to Eddard XIII, I don't mind one big thread for a whole book since we're spread out anyways. I'm a slow reader, but since it's my reread I don't mind.

I completely forgot that it was Sansa and Arya arguing that gave Ned the insight to the difference between Cersei's kids and Robert's bastards. I guess it flows so quickly from his discovery to Robert's death to his execution that it becomes moot. And also I forgot he never told Robert before he dies. I always thought Robert lives on through 2 chapters after the hunt. I guess I had forgotten a lot in the first book.

There's a lot of setup here for Sansa's devastation later when her fanciful dreams about knights and princesses are just straight up crushed. I almost feel sorry for her if she wasn't blindly pining for Joffery every other paragraph.
posted by numaner at 9:58 PM on April 14, 2016

I was just re-reading the Sansa chapter where the argument happens last night (I really tend to blow past the Sansa chapters, so I made myself back up and re-read a few). Anyways, it is interesting to me that it is Sansa's comment about Joffrey being nothing like Robert that gives Ned the insight, as it is also Sansa who tips Cersei off to Ned's plan to get the kids out of KL. For all her naivete, she is the catalyst that drives the climactic events in KL. She also dreams of her wolf just before her comments create the insight, and I think that might be the last time she ever does.

Also of interest to me is the fact that this section is where we really see Ned lie for the first time; he lies to Robert about what he is writing on the will, changing Robert's words about his heir to elide Joffrey's name. To protect the children. If he had told the truth, what would have happened? Robert would have commanded everyone to die, but who would have enforced that - by the time Robert is on his deathbed, the balance of power around the court is already shifting dramatically. Ned might have tried, though he would have no stomach for it. Anyways, I was also wondering about a world in which Ned goes on to be regent for Joffrey and what kind of hot mess that would have been.
posted by nubs at 12:27 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah on this reread I'm really trying to give Sansa a better appreciation before Ned dies, because after that is when she really grew and became much less annoying as a character. But yes, her being a catalyst really serves to show you how these events are very intertwined. If Robert hadn't been hunting, and if he had and then Lancel didn't get him drunk, so many things would've changed. But at the same time we see the futility in a lot of these plans. Ned's last few chapters initially gave me so much hope, and it was all dashed away because Sansa said too much and because Littlefinger betrayed him. Ironically those two later leave King's Landing together and have their own adventure in the Vale. As if, knowingly and not, they detonated a bomb in the kingdom and ran for the literal hills.

Back to futility, being able to tell Robert the truth would've apparently not do any good, due to the betrayals. Imagine Cersei ripping up whatever Robert had signed. And imagine a healthy Ned with two working legs would still be overpowered. Although he did imply that if he was able he would go hunt down Gregor himself, now that would've been interesting.

Another detail I forgot and just noticed on the reread: the heart trees that Jon and Sam said their Night's Watch vows to; there are nine of them in a rough circle, with the faces looking inwards. I can't remember if that comes up again, but it feels like it'd be a waste if there are no more scenes involving such an amazing setting.
posted by numaner at 5:45 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I find the first book a very interesting mix of "well, if this event didn't happen or if that happened different, or if so-and-so said something then" moments that make you think about how this might have all be prevented/changed...and yet, there is an inevitability about all of it; a sense that no matter what might have happened different, it would have ended the same, with Robert dead and war breaking out. Because there are just too many moving parts happening that are leading to conflict - Cersei's secrets; Highgarden ambitions; Littlefinger's schemes; and the plots of Varys.

One thing I'm really noticing is how much more prominent Stannis seems to me this go-round; I think the first time through he is easy to kind of ignore because he is off-screen; mentioned, but not present. Now that we know who Stannis really is, he seems more present in the story.

-If Cat hadn't taken Tyrion prisoner...it maybe forestalls things a while longer, but the Lannister-Stark conflict is going to happen, because both Ned and Cat are operating under assumptions about Lannister complicity in the death of Jon Arryn and the attempt to kill Bran. Sooner or later Ned finds out the truth and confronts Cersei and the dominoes start to fall.

-If Ned had been able to ride out against Gregor...well, I would be very intrigued to see how that would have ended. Later on, Tywin seems very confident that Gregor would have captured Ned...and maybe that would have been the outcome. But could you trust Gregor to do that and not fuck it up? If Ned dies there, or if it goes the opposite way - Ned captures or kills Gregor...well, either way the conflict escalates.

-If Robert dies in the melee at the tourney, Ned is probably sent packing very quickly in favour of Tywin as Hand...but on his way home, I think Ned would still call on Stannis. And then the truth comes out and the Starks join with Baratheon again, in a war against the Lannisters.

-If Ned accepts Renly's offer...well, he might hold Cersei & children hostage, but Tywin would ride. And you wind up with Stannis holding KL with the Lannisters coming on, while the North and the Riverlands ride to try to stop them.
posted by nubs at 10:40 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, very true, I meant to follow up that it seems inevitable war would happen regardless. Although there's still a slim chance that Ned would live, if he hightails it back to the North if Robert had died sooner and he hadn't figured out the truth about the Lannister children.

Given what we know about Littlefinger and Lyssa's poisoning Jon Arryn, I wonder if that gave Littlefinger any cause to not support Ned's betrayal. Although I can't quite see the logic, since at that point Baelish's position hasn't been compromised. He had always planned on meddling until things get out of control and then hightail it to the Eyrie.
posted by numaner at 6:22 AM on April 19, 2016

I figure the only way the Starks would have stayed safe is if Ned refuses Robert at the outset. Robert might be suspicious, but he likely isn't going to live long enough to do anything about it...And when Robert dies, the realm starts to come apart and Ned stuffs some troops into Moat Cailin and holds out against the problems of the south.

In terms of the events of the book, I think Ned's best bet would have been to take Renly's offer. Littlefinger would have likely sided with them at that point, just for balance of power reasons, and if Ned was holding Cersei & kids, his position is a lot stronger. At that point, he secures a marriage between Robb and Margaery, and declares the throne is for Stannis. Renly might cause some issues, but this should provide Stannis with the North, the Riverlands, the Stormlands, and the Reach...leaving the Lannisters alone in the West.

Stannis is still a disaster as a king, but likely Ned and the Starks get back to Winterfell and carry on.
posted by nubs at 7:59 AM on April 19, 2016

It's very unlikely that war could have been avoided outright. The best chance for Westeros may have been for people to realize that the way you avoid having a Mad King is to avoid having Kings. It's certainly a lesson that the people are starting to realize in the latest events of the series.

I figure the only way the Starks would have stayed safe is if Ned refuses Robert at the outset.

Maybe from internal conflict. External conflict on the other hand...

I'm wondering if Jon would have decided to go to the Wall if Ned had refused. He volunteered, but I'm not sure he would have if Ned had stayed in Winterfell. If Jon doesn't go to the wall then the free folk are much more likely to succeed in getting through and they would likely kill all of the Night's Watch if they did. Even if the Night's Watch somehow stop them without Jon, the Night's Watch would never let the free folk through the wall like Jon did. Meaning the White Walkers get a lot more recruits. Sam probably wouldn't have survived very long without Jon either. If I'm remembering right it was Sam who discovered that dragonglass was able to kill White Walkers and he found a cache of the stuff.

Bran probably wouldn't have gone on his journey either. It's unclear what role, if any, he's going to play in stopping the White Walkers though.
posted by Green With You at 10:25 AM on April 19, 2016

Yeah, a war of some kind is inevitable. I just sometimes try to amuse myself with some different "what-if" scenarios.

Westeros does appear to be headed from some fairly large scale changes in terms of institutions, and I'm kind of intrigued to see what manner of political structure is in play at the end. I don't think we're going to get a "return of the rightful king/queen and all was well" ending.
posted by nubs at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2016

So, interesting to note that the last lord to join Robb at Winterfell is Karstark; the Karstarks will be the first Northern house to openly leave him when Lord Karstark is beheaded after killing prisoners.
posted by nubs at 9:14 PM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

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