Eddard arrives at King’s Landing and is informed by the king’s steward that the small council is meeting and would like him to make an appearance. After leaving instructions with Vayon, he changes and goes to the council chamber, where Lords Renly,Petyr, and Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle are waiting for him. Eddard asks after the other members and is informed that Lord Stannis has left for Dragonstone and that Ser Barristan is guarding Robert. When Eddard suggests waiting for Robert, he is informed that Robert rarely sits in on council meetings. Renly presents a command from Robert stating that he will hold a tournament in Eddard’s honor in which the winner receives forty thousand gold dragons, second place receives twenty thousand, the victor of the melee receives another twenty thousand, and the victor of the archery competition receives ten thousand. When Pycelle asks Petyr how this is to be paid for, he says that they will have to borrow from Lord Tywin because the treasury is empty. The crown is over six million gold pieces in debt, with the largest part owed to Lord Tywin and the rest owed to Lord Tyrell, the Iron Bank of Braavos, several Tyroshi trading cartels, and even the Faith. Eddard is stunned, asAerys II had left a treasury flowing with gold, and cannot believe that Lord Jon would have let Robert beggar the realm. Pycelle says that Robert often disregarded Jon’s advice. Eddard means to convince the king to call the tournament off, but the other counselors tell him it will be a futile gesture. Eddard angrily calls a halt to the meeting, saying he is tired from the journey, and leaves.
Eddard watches the king’s party make its way into the castle. Eddard stayed at the head of the column after the incident on the Trident, while Robert confined himself to the wheelhouse and stayed perpetually drunk. Sansa blames Arya for what happened to Lady, while Arya has brooded silently since the death of Mycah. Petyr approaches Eddard as he is heading back to his rooms and bids him follow in another direction. When Eddard asks where they are going, Petyr only tells him that his wife is waiting for him. They go out the castle and climb down a hidden ladder carved into the cliff. At the bottom, they mount horses and ride to a brothel that Petyr owns, and Petyr tells Eddard that his wife is within. Eddard is angered when he realizes they have come to a brothel and insults Petyr, but Ser Rodrik appears and assures him that Petyr is telling the truth.
They go inside and meet Catelyn, and she explains all she knows about Bran and the dagger. Eddard wants to accuse Cersei, but Petyr says there is not enough proof and they best be rid of the dagger. Catelyn has also told Petyr about their suspicions over the death of Lord Jon, and he has agreed to help in the search for the killer. Catelyn fears Varys, but Petyr says he has him in check. After all is told, Eddard orders Catelyn and Ser Rodrik to ride back to Winterfell. He tells Catelyn to order Helman Tallhart and Galbart Glover to each post two hundred bowmen at Moat Cailin to hold the Neck and for LordWyman Manderly to fortify White Harbor. Furthermore, he orders Theon closely watched, as they may need House Greyjoy’s fleet. He feels there will not be war, but he must not show weakness. When he has all the evidence he needs, he plans to go to Robert and expose the Lannister treachery.
I am struck on this read through by just how badly Ned fits into King’s Landing. While Littlefinger, Renly and the rest are smooth and generally seem like an easy going lot, Ned seems like the stern parent who’s trying to bring some discipline into the household. Of course, he speaks good sense, but you get the impression that the rest of the small council had their own way of dealing with whatever new calamity Robert delivered upon them but they would never consider actually changing Robert. Ned’s approach is much more direct, perhaps coming more the immediacy of his relationship with Robert himself, but it is also far too blunt for the likes of this council. This council, on the surface at least, is little more than a set of enablers that allow Robert to continue making a mess of things. The metaphor that comes to mind would to say that they are doctors trying to heal the realm while Robert continues to chip away at its health. The latest in his list of follies is of course, this tourney that will be held in Ned’s honour.
I can go on at some length about how Ned is just not at home in King’s Landing, but I’d rather talk about the bigger picture here. We see that Ned is a practical man, a stern man certainly, once you look past the fact that we see these events through his point of view and adopt a more objective perspective. He is, if you’ll pardon me, a very stark man, just as the North is very a stark place. What I mean is that they are, on the whole, poorer than the other kingdoms in terms of resources and luxuries. The North is a harsh place where there is little time for tourneys and merry-making. They give the impression, both so far and in the series as a whole, of being a joyless lot who enjoy the dreariness. Compare that then with someone like Renly, who is the epitome of the South. He is frivolous and like the rest of the council, concerned with a very limited part of his context. The Stark words put it best – “Winter is Coming”. The Starks and the North as a whole seem to be more about the bigger picture rather than the individual’s honour, glory and wealth. Each of the current small council (excepting perhaps Selmy and Pycelle, unless I’m forgetting something) have their own small, narrow agendas. Varys’ agenda is still unknown, and Littlefinger just wants to move up. Stannis broods over his agenda while Renly moves with the Tyrells to forward his. It’s perhaps very appropriate then that they are ruled by a man like Robert, who is the very pinnacle of self-absorbed desire. In comparison to them, Ned cannot hope to prevail and that is surely his character’s real tragedy.
The second half of the chapter is more plot driven as Ned finds Catelyn in a brothel. It’s a sad moment really because as far as I can tell, Ned and Catelyn never meet each other again. I wonder what is going through Littlefinger’s mind here as he sees that Catelyn loves Ned in a way she has never loved Littlefinger himself. Is this the point where he realizes Ned must be out of the picture? I don’t think so myself, but it’s an interesting to think what his plans for Ned were from the beginning. He brings up a few points himself that are worth considering. The first is the matter of Sansa’s direwolf. Lady’s death is mostly forgotten by ADWD but it is clear that she is the only one of her siblings who do but have the strange wolf dreams. Does the Stark blood allow these visions to come or is it the direwolves that cause them? In any event, Sansa herself has always seemed to be the least Stark-like of all of Ned’s children and perhaps Lady’s death just solidifies that. (I feel like I’ve said that before). The next point is Lyanna Stark. He remembers her pleading but of course, infuriatingly, he does not mention what about. It’s noteworthy that memories of Sansa’s desperate pleading evoke memories of Lyanna’s. There is also the matter that Ned, experienced in war as he is, gives explicit orders for Theon to be watched. Robb’s war begins to falter when he does not heed this advice. Lastly, let’s talk about this enormous debt that the crown owes the Lannisters. Oddly, enough I feel nothing ever comes of that part of the debt though the Iron Bank’s involvement in ADWD hints that the Seven Kingdom’s financial woes is going to be a problem soon. Are we supposed to assume that the Lannisters wave the debt when they rise to power? That just seems like a terrible financial policy though.
Ned’s mistrust of Robert is a little sad to see. He tries to stay loyal to his friend and refuses to entertain the notion that Robert might have been involved in the assassination attempt on Bran, but the fact that the thought comes to him at all is rather indicative of what he thinks of Robert. It is here that Ned becomes a slave to his own honour. In a strange way, Littlefinger’s advice of dropping the dagger in the river and forgetting about the whole affair was probably the best course of action for the entire realm. Of course, had Ned done so, Littlefinger would have found another way to undermine him and to create new conflict, but of course, at the same time, Ned could not have let the matter go because of his precious honour.
I guess, all in all, I feel it comes to down Ned not just having too much honour, but him going about fulfilling it in all the wrong ways and to too large a degree. His honour limits the options he has because there are some things that he will just never consider. He is also completely clueless at political manoeuvring and that basically allows Littlefinger to wrap him around his little finger.