Arya has been hiding in King’s Landing since her escape from the castle. She catches pigeons and trades them for soup in the Flea Bottom neighborhood of the city. She has checked the gates, but they are all guarded. All of her possessions have been stolen save for the clothes on her back, her wooden sword, and Needle. She goes to the docks one day and sees that the Wind Witch is still in port with Stark guardsmen on deck. She almost goes to them, but realizes at the last moment that none of the guards are her father’s men, and it is a trap. As she returns to Flea Bottom from the docks, she hears a bell begin to ring. It is a summoning to the Great Sept, where Eddard is going to make an appearance.
Arya goes to the sept with the rest of the city. She climbs a statue and sees Eddard with the High Septon standing behind him. Many high lords are present, as well as Joffrey and Cersei flanked by five Kingsguard including Sandor; Varys; Petyr; and Sansa. Eddard confesses to plotting to dethrone Joffrey and take the throne, and he proclaims Joffrey the true king. Joffrey then says that his mother wants Eddard to be allowed to join the Night’s Watch, but he will take Eddard’s head. Sansa screams and Ser Ilyn comes forward to see it done with Ice as a man in black and red armor holds him down. Arya desperately tries to reach him, but the crowd is too thick. Suddenly, a man grabs her and a voice tells her not to look. When it is done, she looks up and sees that the man is Yoren. He shoves her into a doorway and pulls a knife.
And so, at long last, we bid farewell to Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell. It feels almost surreal ‘seeing’ the event happen from Arya’s perspective. This entire chapter had this air of confusion and anxiety about it, a tension that was there long before Arya knew of Ned’s impending execution. We’ll get to Ned, his life and manner of death soon enough but first we’ll start with King’s Landing as a city.
I don’t know if I’ve ever made this sufficiently clear, but I despise King’s Landing. If there is one city in Westeros that I would gladly see burn to the ground, it would be King’s Landing and I don’t think there is a second on that list. It reminds me of the kind of cesspit in which I myself was born, the same kind of gross division between the wealthy, powerful elite and the downtrodden, miserable proletariats. It is a vicious city, on all its levels; the elite are every bit as amoral and ruthless as those at the bottom just that those at the bottom have their meagre lives to blame or excuse their actions. Anyway, my point is that while it’s interesting enough to get a glimpse into life for the commoners in King’s Landing, none of that particularly endears me to the place, though I am impressed once again by Martin’s world-building. It all seems so real and authentic that it’s hard to believe that it isn’t.
Then we get to the meat of the chapter. I think I’ve said enough about Ned as a character during this re-read so far and I don’t think there’s anything much left to say. Frankly, reading this chapter was emotionally exhausting for me because I knew it was coming and I knew I would hate ‘seeing’ Ned die again, but at the same time, I also know how integral this event is to the story and so I can’t wish it were different either. Basically, I have emotions that I don’t know how to resolve and it sucks. Back to the point though, the one thing that does need to be said was how this was both the best and the worst kind of death for a character like Ned. It is the best death from a literary standpoint (or so the amateur literary analyst in me argues) because it forces Ned to his lowest point and subverts everything he has ever stood for. He lived his life as a honest man, with honour and integrity being the his core values as a character. Just the simple Lyanna-Rhaegar thing was enough to keep him agitated more than a decade after it had happened but imagine what lying to the realm must have been like for him. It was a lie, but not without honour, to paraphrase what he once told Arya and that is exactly why I think it’s a great ending for his character from a storytelling point of view. But those same reasons are also why it’s the worst possible way (in-universe) for him to go down. By him admitting his treason, suddenly Robb’s war just seems fuelled by revenge (which, to be fair, it is though he would call it justice) where had Ned maintained his innocence Robb could have claimed righteousness with more credibility. There were good reasons why Ned couldn’t of course; he knew Sansa was a hostage and he had reason to believe he would walk after a confession, but damn do none of those reasons make it easier to watch.
I guess there’s a question about how Yoren was able to recognize Arya or how he even found her, but I honestly am willing to let that pass. RIP in peace, Ned.