Eddard is woken from sleep by Tomard and Cayn, who have brought the King’s steward with a summons to see Robert, who has returned from his hunt. Eddard passes Ser Boros, Ser Preston, and Ser Barristan on his way to the king’s chambers and knows something is wrong when he sees Barristan’s face. When he enters the king’s chambers, he sees Pycelle, Renly, and Cersei all hovering around Robert, who is mortally wounded. He had drunk too much wine and missed a thrust against a boar, which tore him from groin to nipple. Robert orders everyone to leave so he can speak to Eddard alone. He repents for sending assassins after Daenerys and tells Eddard to get paper and ink. He dictates his will, naming Eddard Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm until Joffrey comes of age. Eddard starts to tell him the truth about Joffrey, but cannot bring himself to hurt Robert more. Instead, he just writes “my heir” in the will instead of “Joffrey.” Robert also tells Eddard to let Daenerys live. They call Renly and Pycelle back in to witness the sealing of the will and then Pycelle gives Robert milk of the poppy so he will sleep.
As Eddard exits the king’s chamber, Varys comes up to him and Ser Barristan and asks how Robert came to be so drunk. Barristan replies that the king’s squire, Lancel, provided him with a steady supply of wine, and Eddard realizes that the Lannisters killed the king. Eddard orders Varys to cancel any arrangements he made to kill Daenerys. As he walks back to his own quarters, Renly approaches him and offers to give him one hundred swords to seize Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella so that the small council will confirm Eddard as Lord Protector and ward of Joffrey. Eddard refuses the offer and Renly stalks away.
When Eddard returns to his quarters, he tells Cayn to find Petyr, then tells Tomard to personally escort his daughters to the Wind Witch the next evening with twenty men and to stop by Dragonstone on the way back to Winterfell to deliver a letter to Stannis. Afterwards, he writes the letter to Stannis, which urges him to sail to King’s Landing with all his strength to claim the throne. As he finishes the letter, Cayn and Desmond arrive with Lord Petyr. Eddard tells him about Cersei and the children, which does not seem to surprise him, and Petyr advises Eddard not to deal with Stannis, claiming that it will mean war as the Lannisters will fight and the Tyrells, Greyjoys and others whom Robert pardoned will also rise for fear of punishment from the far more taciturn Stannis. Petyr offers to aid Eddard in ruling as regent for a modest price, but Eddard refuses and says it must be Stannis. He wants Petyr to insure the loyalty of the City Watch, and Petyr says he will pay them six thousand gold pieces so they will join Eddard in overcoming Cersei’s soldiers when the time comes.
This chapter left me with so many emotions and it’s hard to separate all of them out into their own little sections so I apologize in advance if this post comes across as a little ramble-y. I think the best place to start would be with King Robert Baratheon, King of the Andals and First Men, etc. you know the damn titles. I’ve talked about Robert at some length in previous chapters, and we’ve discussed whether he can really be considered a ‘good king’ in any sense of the phrase. Let’s reopen that topic, perhaps for the last time, now. As a King, he was negligent at best and apathetic and actively destructive to the realm at worst. His one redeeming quality, and I saw that it is a major one, was that he was an excellent battlefield commander, a leader of men in the fashion that the people of Westeros think of such things. He was the testosterone fuelled murder machine with a heart of gold (ok, heart of silver/bronze) that attracted great warriors and like-minded individuals to him. I would go so far as to say that he was the best man to unite the Seven Kingdoms after the rebellion. That said, he was beyond dismal as a ruler. Dismal would literally be an understatement and honestly, the only reason he isn’t the worst king in the series is because his rule is directly followed by one of the bloodiest civil wars ever – which itself says plenty about his rule. Yet, I would hate to think of Robert just as a King mainly because he hated being the King. When I think of Robert, and am in a somewhat generous mood, I think of the typical warrior archetype. He has everything he imagine great warriors should possess – skill at arms, strength, ferocity but also the ability to inspire loyalty and turn enemies into ‘friends’. I think Robert’s character is the perfect example of why the traditional fictional character type of the ‘Warrior King’ is destined to fail. You could argue that Rhaegar, had he survived would have been the perfect ‘Warrior King’ but I would say (though I admit this is a shaky argument) that the fact that he died and more importantly, that he lost, meant that he was not really that suitable after all – that and the fact that his actions directly resulted in Robert’s Rebellion. Robert had no subtly, no mind for politics or policies and he had no idea what to do with himself off the battlefield. Remember his statement, “How do you fight something you can’t hit?” Robert seems like the wrong king for Seven Kingdoms, but he would have made an amazing Khal, which makes Dany’s early storyline all the more comically ironic in some ways.
Anyway, we bid farewell to Robert and while I definitely understand why Ned wanted to spare Robert the details of the incest, I don’t think Robert deserved that particular bit of mercy. At some point the man needed to take ownership of his mistakes and his constant adultery and debauchery should have haunted him in the end, but I think I’ll settle for the boar ripping him apart. I don’t want to be cruel after all. I wonder why Ned didn’t just write ‘Stannis’ instead of ‘my heir’ or ‘my son Joffrey’. Not that it would have mattered – a paper shield is a terrible defence against a lion’s claws. I guess despite how the chapter ends, I still feel really bad for Ned when Robert dies. It can’t be easy losing such a close friend right in front of your eyes but beyond that there’s a lot of disappointment and unfulfilled promise from Ned’s point of view. This was Robert, closest friend. They were supposed to change the Seven Kingdoms for the better yet the realm teeters on the brink of civil war (in no small part thanks to Ned, it should be said), the realm is broke and the heir is a bastard born of incest. Worst of all, Robert died in regret lamenting his own poor rule (though I wonder if he really regretted his decisions as King?). It’s a terrible moment for Ned who has to face their shared failures as King and Hand respectively. Before we go on, I want to point out, if there are any further doubters of the R+L=J theory, that if you just look at the level of guilt Ned feels regarding ‘lying’ to Robert regarding the incest, it makes full sense that he would feel that much guilt at lying about Jon’s birth.
Anyway, it’s at this point that I lose my sympathy for Ned. After this point, the second he steps out of the King’s chambers, he does literally everything wrong. He does as much wrong as it was possible to do in the short span of a page. First of course, is refusing Renly’s offer for help. Sure, Ned has ‘noble’ reasons for not wanting to kill children in their sleep…wait, what was that?
“I will not dishonor his last hours on earth by shedding blood in his halls and dragging frightened children from their beds.”
Gosh, I sure would want them to be frightened. Seriously, is this still Ned? The same guy who brought his seven year old son to an execution is now against the idea of dragging kid’s into (what I assume will be) luxurious house arrest? For fuck’s sake, Ned man the fuck up. As for bloodshed in the hall, well we know how that turned out. There’s a truly misplaced sense of honour and righteousness here and what’s troubling me is not so much that Ned is not savvy enough to recognize the best options (because even if he is not savvy enough, these options are repeatedly presented to him on silver platters) but rather that he actively turns them away because he thinks he should for some reason by above such practices. Which is a nice concept when you’re in the centre of your seat of power but when you’re in the literal/figurative lion’s den, it’s like saying I will not fight the lion with a sword because it is unarmed not realizing that the lion already has an enormous advantage over your scrawny do-gooder ass.
Then there’s the whole Littlefinger conversation. Sure, Littlefinger might literally be the sketchiest motherfucker this side of the Trident, but I honestly did not find a single flaw in his argument re: why Stannis is a bad choice for King. I had forgotten this particular conversation’s details but Littlefinger makes great points in my opinion, the more salient of which I’ve presented below:
“Stannis cannot rest easy on the throne until Cersei and her bastards are dead”
This is absolutely true. What happened to Ned’s aversion to frightened/dead kids?
“Do you think Lord Tywin will sit idly while his daughter’s head is measured for a spike? Casterly Rock will rise, and not alone”
This is already happening and worse, Ned knows it’s already happening. There’s no Robert to rouse the men to war this time. Does Ned imagine he’ll lead the charge this time? Alongside Stannis? Yeah, ok.
“Stannis is less forgiving. He will not have forgotten the siege of Storm’s End, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dare not. Every man who fought beneath the dragon banner or rose with Balon Greyjoy will have good cause to fear.”
The last sentence is a little more questionable because I don’t think Stannis would execute past traitors now but the first sentence is such a well-known fact that it’s a miracle Ned doesn’t see it. Stannis is a divisive character both in-universe and out and as much as I love reading about the Mannis, there’s no questioning that there are some major problems with Stannis on the throne. Suddenly, Renly and the Tyrells who represent an enormous portion of the realm’s strength and wealth (not to mention food) are less inclined towards the Crown. The Greyjoys are not too keen on their King being the guy who slaughtered them less than a decade ago but that’s fine cos no one gives a shit about the Ironborn anyway. In summation, Stannis on the throne at this point is an iffy decision and Littlefinger’s option seems much cleaner though of course, all Ned sees is the moral ambiguity of it.