Eddard lies in the dungeon for days, delirious with pain and infection. He thinks of events past and present and ponders the future and his own foolishness. Eventually, his mind wanders to the year of the false spring when he was eighteen and down from the Eyrie for the great tournament at Harrenhal. He remembers Brandon, Robert going wild in the melee, and Jaime Lannister kneeling in front of the king’s pavilion and taking the vows of the Kingsguard with all six of his new brothers in attendance. Prince Rhaegar Targaryen owned the field that day, unhorsing all comers, including Brandon, Yohn Royce, and Arthur Dayne. Eddard remembers the moment when all the smiles died as Rhaegar rode past his own wife, Elia, to name Lyanna queen of love and beauty and give her a crown of winter roses. Thoughts of Lyanna once again make Eddard consider the promise he made her as she lay dying.
After many days, Varys comes down to see him disguised as a gaoler. He informs Eddard that Cersei will come down to see him the next day and ask him to confess his crimes and order his son to lay down his arms. If Eddard does so, he will be permitted to join the Night’s Watch rather than be executed. Eddard at first refuses, but Varys lets him know that Sansa may pay the price in that case. Eddard realizes he has no choice.
Here’s a sobering thought: this is the last Eddard Stark POV chapter. I’ll hold off on the eulogies until we see his execution ‘live’ since it seems odd to remember a living character like that. It’s perhaps the saddest irony of Ned’s life that one time he does the ‘dishonourable’ thing and lies (and it’s really debatable that it was dishonourable in any way – I mean picking your daughters’ lives over politics seems perfectly reasonable) he ends up punished for it. I remember the first time I read this chapter I was wondering what kind of revenge Ned would lead, how he would meet up with Robb in the Riverlands and maybe even pick up Arya along the way, or something. There was much angst that day when I finished the next few chapters.
But coming back to this re-read and this chapter, I think there’s still a fair bit to comment on in Ned’s final appearance.
The king dies, Ned Stark thought, and the Hand is buried.
No, Ned, the Hand dies too. The position of Hand of the King has a remarkable fatality rate but it’s as dangerous an occupation these days (or rather, I should say, in days to come) as being King. Ned’s description of his imprisonment is honestly terrifying – stuck in the dark, horrible sanitation, a festering wound and worst of all, nothing to do. They say the worst thing about solitary confinement is the ‘solitary’ part and it’s not hard to see why. Even if you’re extremely introverted, there’s literally only so much time you can spend with yourself in a cramped environment devoid of stimuli before you start losing it and I don’t think Ned’s fever driven delirium is helping.
“Look at us, Ned,” Robert said. “Gods, how did we come to this? You here, and me killed by a pig. We won a throne together . . .”
In a sentence, this sums up the great tragedy of these two, doesn’t it? They were the unlikeliest of friends, honestly, the brutish hedonist and the cold stoic but somehow, someway they became friends that went to for each other and they overthrew a dynasty that lasted almost three centuries. They had the potential to achieve something great but their personal flaws threw it all away. It’s easy to blame Robert for the situation now, and well, honestly, it is easily mostly his fault, but we shouldn’t ignore Ned’s own role in it. He sees his mistakes now that there’s nothing else to see in the dark, but it’s far too late.
He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.
I guess if we go back a little further, we could really blame it on that moment, couldn’t we? Rhaegar’s idiocy in picking another man’s (highborn) betrothed when his own wife was present was far from a wise move, but it doesn’t excuse Ned and Robert’s mistakes. There’s also a mention of blue winter roses, which from this point on will be considered slang of Lyanna Stark. I like the picture of the Year of the False Spring that Ned paints – it seems so utopic, everyone happy, the world is bright and sunny. Yet, it’s almost comical in how Rhaegar giving Lyanna a crown of flowers ruined all of that like a black thundercloud or something. Unlikely though it may seem, Rhaegar turned out to be the biggest wet blanket of all.
“Our new king loves her not.”
I want to be surprised by Joffrey’s pettiness, but I’m really, really not. In any case, let’s talk about Varys’ ability to disguise himself. I’m thinking about the time a different former Hand of the King spent time in the black cells and was visited by Varys disguised as a turnkey. Is Varys the chief of the prison? I can’t really remember, but this is the second sign that we see of Varys being adept at disguise, to the point that Ned didn’t even recognize him besides the voice.
“Your blood is the last thing I desire.”
This actually brings me back to what exactly Varys wants at this point. It seems he does honestly want Ned alive, but for what cause? Does he think that Ned will have a better chance of leading the Northern army to victory? Bear with me for a moment as I do a little theorizing:
- If Ned is sent to the Wall, he becomes irrelevant to the picture. He is a man of honour and won’t break his Night’s Watch vows by taking part in the fighting. This option gains Varys nothing.
- If Ned does join the fighting, suddenly the Northern army becomes a more formidable force – while Robb is capable and all, Ned seems like he would have a much better grasp over the lords than Robb, not to mention be less inclined to toss away a marriage contract. Also, Karstark and Bolton become a little more hesitant to start shit. Plausibly, this either loses the Lannisters the war in the long run, or at the very least, protracts the war, which Varys would certainly want. Furthermore, he remembers Ned as being sympathetic (ish) to Dany’s cause, or at least against her death which is a deal more than he can expect from the Lannisters or either Baratheon.
Somehow, I think there’s a possibility here that Varys just likes Ned and thinks he’s a good man who doesn’t deserve to die just because he’s terrible at politics.
“Peace,” Varys replied without hesitation. “If there was one soul in King’s Landing who was truly desperate to keep Robert Baratheon alive, it was me.”
Is that really true? I mean, it seems like he’s doing exactly the opposite, but I can’t think of why Varys would lie to Ned at this juncture. It’s not like Ned will go rat out to the Lannisters, or anyone else for that matter. It feels like he’s being honest here but if he is, then something’s not matching up with his plans regarding Dany. I’ll need to look into this a little closer and hopefully the sixth book (if we ever get it) will answer some of these questions.
“When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why.”
Don’t kick the man when he’s down, dammit.
“In Dorne, the Martells still brood on the murder of Princess Elia and her babes.”
It’s interesting that Varys knows about this, implying that it’s fairly common knowledge (by the way he says it and groups it with things that are common knowledge). I wonder what gave it away?
“You want me to serve the woman who murdered my king, butchered my men, and crippled my son?”
Well, when you put it that way. Honestly, while I’m certainly no man of honour, I can see why this whole plan is rankling Ned. Cersei doesn’t just want him tame, to someone like Ned (and honestly, anyone with pride) she wants nothing short of humiliation.
The thought of Jon filled Ned with a sense of shame, and a sorrow too deep for words. If only he could see the boy again, sit and talk with him
Don’t we all? I wonder why Ned feels ashamed? He did the best he could, given the circumstances. Varys claims he serves the realm, but one has to wonder why? He wasn’t born in Westeros. He owes the Westerosi nothing – they certainly haven’t treated all that well. Where does this loyalty to the realm come from? In any case, I find it very interesting that Varys very specifically mentions Princess Rhaenys but nothing about Prince Aegon. I thought nothing of it the first time I read the books, but now, the omission certainly stands out.