King Robert asks Eddard to ride with him and discuss matters of state. He asks about the mother of Eddard’s bastard. Eddard tells him her name is Wylla, but will say no more. They discuss Dany’s marriage to Khal Drogo. Robert wants her assassinate but Ned seems against the idea. Eddard thinks of Rhaegar’s daughter dragged from under her bed crying and Rhaegar’s baby son being torn from his mother’s breast to have his head dashed against a wall and protests that harming a child is vile. Robert retorts that the way Ned’s father and brother died was unspeakable and that Rhaegar raping Lyanna was the worst sin of all. He means to see every Targaryen dead. He had wanted to send assassins after Daenerys and Viserys long ago, but Jon Arryn always stopped him.
Eddard presses Robert about naming a Warden of the East. He refuses to name Robert Arryn, particularly with the threat of a Dothraki invasion on the horizon, so Eddard advises he name Stannis, who proved himself at the siege of Storm’s End. Robert admits to Eddard that he has already named Jaime Lannister Warden of the East, and Eddard is very uncomfortable, as this leaves half the realm’s armies under the control of the Lannisters. Eddard expresses doubt that Jaime is trustworthy and reminds Robert that he did kill Aerys II. When this is not enough to convince Robert, Eddard decides to tell him the rest of the story, which he had always held back.
Robert had taken a wound from Rhaegar at the Trident, so he charged Eddard with the pursuit of the defeated Targaryen army while he recuperated. They fled to King’s Landing, where Aerys still had a force of several thousand loyalists. Expecting to have to besiege the city, Eddard was surprised when he arrived to see that Lord Tywin Lannister had taken it. The war was almost a year old by this point, and Tywin had ignored calls from both sides to add his strength to their cause. After the Battle of the Trident, he appeared at the gates of King’s Landing with 12,000 men professing to be an ally, but sacked the city when Aerys opened the gates. When Eddard arrived in the throne room of the Red Keep, he found Jaime seated atop the Iron Throne in his golden armor and Aerys dead at the foot of it. When Eddard challenged him, he got up, said he was just keeping the seat warm for Robert, and stated that it was not a comfortable seat. Robert is not concerned by the incident and rides on, leaving Eddard to doubt that he will be much use as Hand of the King.
The overarching theme of this chapter is similar to what I have iterated in previous chapters – the sins and grudges of previous generations continue to reverberate among the current generation and in turn among the generations to come. Whether it is Ned being unable to live comfortably with the lies he has told or Robert being unable to forgive the Targaryens for Lyanna’s abduction or Ned being unable to forgive Jaime for his youthful thoughtlessness, we see that the issues of the past still burn fiercely in the hearts of these main characters. Even among the peripheral characters like Tywin Lannister we can see his inability to move past the death of his wife or the slights he endured at the hands of Aerys. We will examine Robert and Ned’s own grudges in this chapter and see their far-reaching consequences.
Martin’s word choice when describing Ned’s cause for lost sleep is very telling – clearly Ned is referring to Jon’s mother when saying he has lived his lies for 14 years. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that this is Jon’s age at this time. It is unclear in the story why Ned feels so strongly responsible for the death of his beloved sister. Regardless of the reason, it is abundantly clear that Ned has not been able to move past the traumatic incident, as evidenced by the frequency with which it appears in his dreams. The consequences of his actions are clear – Jon grows up not knowing his heritage and a void remains between Jon and Catelyn for neither of their faults. Among the many grudges that the characters in this series hold, this is perhaps the one of least consequence to the events of the books though, amusingly, of the greatest interest to fans.
The reason Robert hates the Targaryens is not exactly shrouded in mystery. He believes, likely incorrectly, that the love of his life was stolen from him and judgement was not forthcoming. Where matters become considerably more ambiguous is when we question whether Robert even truly loved Lyanna to begin with. Was she actually his one, true love or was she just a woman he was strongly attracted to? The answer to this questions impacts the next – was Robert’s anger caused by genuine concern about Lyanna’s safety and at the possibility that she might come to harm or was he merely angry that someone had stolen something he assumed belonged to him? I will take the easy route out and propose that there was some element of both involved. Interestingly, Martin very deliberately juxtaposes the intensity of Robert’s fury with Ned’s unflappable calm. Considering that Ned lost a sister, brother and father in the conflict, it looks extremely odd that he has the more mellow reaction of the two. Regardless of what he knew of the circumstances of Lyanna’s death, Ned nevertheless has much more reason to hate the Targaryens than Robert does.
Ned’s grudge against Jaime Lannister is actually just an extension of his mistrust of the Lannisters in general. As we know, this particular disagreement (to put it mildly) began when Tywin ordered the deaths of the royal family, including the children. While this put Tywin very firmly on the Baratheon side of things, there are several things about it that set alarm bells off in Ned’s head, and surprisingly his political acumen is spot-on here; Tywin’s decision to commit to a side only after victory was all but assured spoke of a lack of commitment to the cause, a large degree of selfishness and an excellent reason not to trust the Lannisters in general. Combined with Ned’s mistaken assumption that Jaime almost seized the Iron Throne for himself, and the recent allegations regarding Jon Arryn’s murder, Ned’s mistrust of the Lannisters is at an all time high and Robert does nothing to alleviate Ned’s fears by appointing Jaime Warden of both the East and the West. Ned’s mistrust is both well-placed (though for different reasons) and fatal since it forces him to go up against Cersei Lannister who is in different class in the deadly game that they play in King’s Landing.
Robert’s insistence in murdering Dany and Viserys is very canny of him, and serves as a strong reminder to the reader that while Robert may come across as a hedonistic, self-centred oaf, he was (and perhaps still is) one of the pre-eminent generals of his generation, out-classing several experienced military men and winning decisive battles in his time. The readers will know that Robert has Viserys’ plan completely figured out though it might be a little generous of me to attribute this to Robert’s own intelligence. Nevertheless, Ned would seem to be at fault for not taking it too seriously but his logic is sound too – the Dothraki would not have crossed the ocean without prompting from Varys. Robert is considerably less savvy in his decision to appoint Jaime Lannister as joint Warden of half the Realm’s armies. It is unclear from this chapter whether Robert didn’t care enough to think this decision through or whether he was subtly coerced into the decision by his wife and her family. Curiously, Jaime doesn’t reflect on this decision at all, presumably because by that point things are way passed the point of Wardens and armies.
Of course as a member of the Kingsguard, Jaime should not be able to inherit any titles or such in the first place – but clearly his ties to the royal family, and more importantly, the Lannisters allow him a greater degree of freedom. The chapter ends on an interesting note – Ned once again shows excellent intuition by recognizing that he does not belong in King’s Landing. His musings that one cannot always be where one belongs is absolutely spot on from a responsibility and duty point of view but as readers we can’t help but fret (and clearly, our fear is vindicated by the end of the novel).