Lord Eddard questions Grand Maester Pycelle on the death of Jon Arryn. It is extremely hot, causing Pycelle to comment that the smallfolk claim the last year of summer is always the hottest. He goes on to say that King Maekar’s summer was even hotter and had even some in the Citadel claiming that the Great Summer, the summer that never ends, had come at last, but it broke in the seventh year and was followed by a long, harsh winter. Jon had come to Pycelle asking after a certain book one day, and the very next day, he had a terrible stomach illness. His Maester, Colemon, was purging his stomach, and Pycelle sent him away because he feared it might kill Jon. He often called out Robert’s name in his final days, and his last words were “the seed is strong.” Eddard suggests he may have been poisoned, but Pycelle discounts it, saying that he has been Grand Maester for nearly forty years under Robert, Aerys II, Aerys’s father Jaehaerys II, and even Jaehaerys’s fatherAegon V and did not think Jon’s illness was suspicious. Eddard mentions Lady Lysa’s accusations that poison was the culprit, but Pycelle counters that while poisonings are common in the Free Cities, the poisoner has always been held in contempt in the Seven Kingdoms as recorded by Grand Maester Aethelmure. When Eddard mentions that poison is a woman’s weapon, Pycelle counters that it is also the weapon of eunuchs and warns Eddard not to trust Varys. Eddard prepares to take his leave and asks Pycelle to send him the book Jon was reading, a book of genealogies written by Grand Maester Malleon. Eddard asks if Cersei was with Jon when he died, and Pycelle reports that she and her children were journeying to Casterly Rock when it happened, escorting Lord Tywin who had come to the city to see the tournament held on Joffrey’s name day.
On the way back to his chambers, Eddard sees Arya practicing balancing, and they talk about Bran, whom they have just learned has woken up. Arya asks if he can still be a knight, and Eddard tells her that he cannot but may still be a great lord and councilor. Arya asks if she can raise castles and be a councilor too and is disappointed with Eddard’s answer that she cannot. Eddard returns to his rooms, and Alyn comes to inform him that Lord Petyr requests an audience. He has been doing his own investigating and discovered that four members of Jon’s household remained after Lysa fled to the Eyrie, a pregnant kitchen girl, a stablehand who joined the City Watch, a potboy discharged for theft, and Jon’s squire, Ser Hugh of the Vale, who was knighted by the king after Jon’s death. Eddard says he will call on the squire, and Petyr shows him two spies, one from Varys and one from Cersei, that keep him under watch. He tells Eddard he should send a man he trusts instead. Eddard tells Petyr he was wrong not to trust him, but Petyr rejoins that not trusting him was one of the few smart things he has done since coming to King’s Landing.
Holy crap, how old is Pycelle exactly? Ok, so bear with me because this chapter is kinda meh in terms of any long-term consequences, but I had no idea that Pycelle had been alive since Egg. Not only was he alive during Egg’s time – he’s been Grand Maester as well! For all that then, doesn’t Pycelle seem a little…stupid…for someone who’s been a Grand Maester for that long? I mean, I get that he’s not literally retarded, but at the same time I would hardly call him a prodigious intellect. But having served that many kings, damn, it makes the way Cersei dismisses his sincere advice in AFFC all the more hilarious. I guess like so many of Martin’s characters, Pycelle is really a mixed bag of nuts – on one hand he is undoubtedly the most accomplished Maester in the realm (looking on the most superficial of levels) but despite that he also has his darker, more fucked up side – he has no qualms about breaking any of his vows. Not only is he all too happy to sleep with girls young enough to be his great-granddaughters (seriously dude, what the actual fuck) but he also breaks the vow to take no sides (I realize that the wording is from the Night’s Watch, but I believe that the Maesters have a similar vow to forget their family loyalties?) by siding with the Lannisters the way he does. As we will later learn in ACOK, Pycelle does not send Coleman away because he thinks that Coleman will kill Jon Arryn but rather because he thinks Cersei is poisoning Jon and that Coleman might save him. Which is honestly a pretty fucked up thing to do – I get that he’s infatuated with Tywin (whether sexually or not, I can’t tell) but of all people Cersei is the last person in House Lannister you want to back in a political intrigue (reference: AFFC). All of this comes back to my point of Pycelle being suspiciously stupid, all things considered. Funnily enough though, he was probably telling the truth regarding Cersei’s absence when Jon Arryn died but I think Ned might have taken that as further proof that Cersei was behind it all. I’ve always felt that this entire plotline was really just a case of Ned seeing exactly what he wanted to see and his whole attitude proving unfortunately prophetic.
I’m a fan of the phrase ‘the seed is strong’ mainly because it’s just so damned ambiguous. Lysa is utterly wrong in thinking that it applies to Robin, though I guess I can’t blame someone that emotionally unstable for reaching that conclusion. It could apply to Robert and his own seed which is as strong as it widespread and of course, in the context of the story that is the implied meaning. Still, I can’t help but think that it is also a veiled reference to Jon Snow’s parentage. I should clarify that I do not think that Jon Arryn knew about his namesake’s parentage, assuming it is what it is, but rather it is more of a meta shoutout or easter egg or whatever you call it.
I find Ned rather adorable here – he’s going around playing the super-sleuth without really realizing how dangerous a game he’s playing. He thinks he’s being a total sneaky boss, roaming around checking in with people Arryn visited before dying and shit, not realizing that literally everyone else involved in this little scheme is so far ahead of him that they are literally lapping him (see: Littlefinger). I don’t really mean that to sound as condescending as it does here because the first time I read AGOT, I do remember taking all of this in a thinking that Varys was a legit possibility for the poisoner and honestly, when I say Ned is being adorable here, I do say it with more a small tinge of poignancy. The introduction of the book is a nice touch here though I’m not entirely sure if Martin’s understanding of genetics is entirely sound. I’m not complaining, I don’t care if it’s mathematically possible for Joffrey and his siblings to his Robert’s children and still be blonde, within the story’s context it’s clearly not possible and that’s all that matters.
There’s not a lot to say here, so I’ll end with something that struck me in this chapter. Does no one find it weird that Ned and Jon Arryn don’t seem to have corresponded at all in recent memory? Ned never thinks about the last letter he got from Jon nor do we ever hear of Ned hearing about Robert being a god awful king from Jon. I guess it’s not totally implausible, but it does get me wondering.