Vayon Poole reports to Eddard that Jory has found Arya, who has been missing for four days. She has been taken before the king. They are staying at the castle of Ser Raymun Darry. The situation is tense, because House Darry fought for Aerys II, and Raymun lost his three older brothers at the Battle of the Trident. Eddard enters the audience chamber, where King Robert is presiding with Cersei and Joffrey. Arya, Jory, Ser Raymun, Lord Renly, and Ser Barristan are there as well. Eddard is furious that Arya was brought before the king, but Cersei responds that she must answer for the crime of attacking the crown prince. Joffrey claims that Arya and Mycah beat him with clubs and set Nymeria on him. Arya tells the true story as Vayon arrives with Sansa, and Lord Renly has a laughing fit at the thought of Joffrey being bested by a skinny girl with a stick, and is dismissed by Robert.
Eddard urges Sansa forward and tells her to say what happened. Sansa lies and says she does not remember, causing Arya to attack her. Cersei takes this as proof of Arya’s wildness and demands that Robert punish her. King Robert decides that he and Eddard should discipline their children privately. Cersei brings up the direwolf. Nymeria is missing, so Robert is content to leave it at that. Cersei announces a reward for the man who brings her Nymeria’s pelt and taunts Robert for not being a man. Cersei says they should execute Lady and Robert agrees, saying the animal would have turned on Sansa eventually anyway. Eddard challenges Robert to do it himself, but Robert leaves, and Eddard says he will do the deed if it must be done. He has Jory fetch Ice and uses it to kill Lady. He tells Jory to have four guards take the body back to Winterfell for burial. As he is returning to his quarters, Sandor comes back from searching. He found Mycah and rode him down.
In terms of tone, these introductory chapters seem to be all about setting up the Lannisters as the indisputable villains. By association, this portrays the Baratheons as unsympathetic bystanders or more harshly, as enablers of the Lannisters’ malice. There is a particularly disgusting amount of pettiness and cruelty on display in this chapter, by Cersei especially. Robert himself seems incapable of growing a spine and standing by his decisions, instead simply choosing the simplest available option that would let him get back his debauchery. Ultimately, it is the blameless Lady who has to pay the price, in a stinging display of the cost the innocents incur when the people in power play their game (of thrones. Yes, I just had to say it). Sansa, of course, does emotionally suffer from Lady’s death but it’s hard to say based on the evidence here that it’s undeserved. In all fairness though, perhaps it is a little too much to expect a 11 year old in love to think rationally. However, despite seeing only one chapter from her POV, it is clear that she is the least Stark-like of all of Ned’s children and Lady’s death symbolizes the death of this Stark side or perhaps the price she pays for straying from the wolf pack. The TV show highlights a different side of the issue – Sansa is brought before the King and Queen and asked to name the crown prince a liar. Surely that would explain some of the huge pressure she was under and it makes her eagerness to remove herself from that mess very understandable.
Ned displays a certain determination and purposefulness here, both fuelled by his anger and anxiety. It quickly becomes clear that Ned is a distinct second to Cersei in terms of power. It says a lot that I have no idea where Robert is in the rankings. An attentive reader would pick on just how out of place Ned is here – Cersei is able to use Robert’s pride despite there being a mutual dislike between them while Ned, who is closer to Robert than any brother, is unable to leverage that mutual love and brotherly affection to get Robert to save Lady. And that is a very strong indication of what Robert values and his world view. The reader should see this and other questionable decisions Robert has made to reach the conclusion that he is a terrible leader and ruler. However, despite being clearly unsuitable for the job, he still has the final say and ultimate power; an extremely dangerous combination. I am disappointed that Ned did not discipline Sansa more severely for lying when the truth could have helped Arya. On previous reads, I did not realize that Ned knew at this point exactly what Sansa had seen and thus, knew the truth. However, given that Sansa lost her wolf, I assume that he felt that that was punishment enough. The trouble with that is that Sansa ends up attributing Lady’s death to Arya and if I remember correctly, Cersei, despite being there to hear Joffrey lie blatantly about it.
It is all too easy to go after Cersei for her cruelty and spiteful pettiness. However, there is a time and place for that – first let’s try to look at things from her point of view. So, she is afraid of the influence Ned will have over Robert and her son has just been ‘savaged’ by one of Ned’s daughters (I doubt the fact that it was Arya’s direwolf that attacked Joffrey will occur to her). To her paranoid mind, perhaps Ned asked Arya to set the direwolf on Joffrey on purpose – after all, Cersei herself is perfectly capable of doing something like that and people like her tend to think that that’s how everyone thinks. Next thing you know, before she can dispense her cruel and unusual brand of justice on Arya, Ned barges in, addressing Robert as a familiar and Robert just lets this slide. Clearly, Ned’s got a lot of leeway as far as Robert is concerned. Therefore, he must be taught his place, apparently. However, no matter how much I try to put myself in Cersei’s shoes, I find it impossible to justify her need for some kind of blood and revenge. She is supposedly a woman grown and should be above such small-minded pettiness. The scary thing is that it’s quite clear that had Ned not been around, Cersei would have been <em>all</em> for whipping Arya bloody. Even after discovering her slightly more sympathetic motivations in AFFC, it is hard to justify the sheer blood-thirsty ruthlessness that she displays here. The hardest thing for me to personally accept is the basic, fundamental logical fallacy of killing an innocent animal because the ‘guilty’ animal isn’t on hand.
Renly Baratheon makes a strong bid for the readers’ affections just by simply mocking Joffrey. That’s how bad it is – Renly doesn’t have to do anything inherently good to be liked, he just has to dislike the same people that the readers dislike. Arya too continues to remain in the readers’ good books by standing up for Lady despite clearly being angry at Sansa for not standing up for her. Clearly, Arya has inherited more than just looks from Ned; she also has his strong moral code. Unfortunately, that moral code mixed with her inner wolfish wildness makes for a volatile combination. Sandor Clegane establishes some serious villainous credentials here by killing Mycah for no reason. It was a pretty smart move on hindsight, doubtless on orders from Cersei since Mycah could have provided key evidence to what exactly happened. If his story matched Arya’s in every detail, it was powerful evidence that would have tilted the scales in favour of Arya.
Once again, I’ll end with a question – Jaime’s absence was noted. How would things have been different had Jaime been around? He would obviously have been another person in the Lannister camp but I’m not sure if it would have helped Joffrey’s case or hurt it. Thoughts?