[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Catelyn VII


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Read the summary here.

Catelyn chapters continue to be an absolute pleasure to read, what with their heartbreaking grieving and their incredibly poor (albeit understandable) decision making. This particular chapter is eventful though and featuring one of my favourite conversations in the entire series. This is the first time that we get a hint that Jaime isn’t just this soulless, heartless bastard but that he too is just trying to make the best of his lot in life. It isn’t enough to make him fully sympathetic, not yet at least, but it gives his character substantially more depth that he had before. Before we get there though, we need to see exactly the kind of state of mind Catelyn needs to be in order for her to solicit help from the man she reviles more than any other.

“Theon Greyjoy, who ate at my table since he was a boy of ten.”

That has to sting but at the same time, the contrarian in me can’t help but point out that when Theon was on her side, she didn’t treat him particularly well and there’s a certain level of hypocrisy in her thinking that she extended enough hospitality to him that he owed her anything. It’s an understandable set of thoughts to have but ultimately it’s essentially Catelyn trying to have her cake and eat it too.

“The queen . . . she has a little girl of her own”

Yes, she does but Cersei is also spectacularly deficient in both  compassion and empathy. I’m usually all for both sides reaching a compromise in order to end a conflict but there is absolutely no way that Cersei can be trusted with the responsibility of being big enough to let bygones be bygones. Were it Tywin in her place, surrender might be a little more palatable. This is Brienne grasping at straws but also showing her naivete.

Ice can kill as dead as fire.

This is an interesting comment given the series’ title and the twin threats of dragons and Others. Is this an indication that the Fire side, represented by Dany and her dragons, as well as R’hllor, are just as ‘evil’ as the Others? In this series, both ice and fire preserve and destroy in different ways. The fire of life, that the Red Priests can somehow spark in the dead can return them to life while we know that the Others, the ultimate representation of ice in the series, can also return people from the dead. There are some interest outliers though – the Drowned God, for example, can return the drowned back to life via its priests, if Aeron is to be believed, while there is something fishy going on with the Faceless Men and death too. In the latter case, they don’t exactly circumvent death, but they do seem to work alongside it.  Regardless of whether it’s delivering death or saving people from it, the idea of resurrection is prevalent in the series.

I want my girls back, I want Robb to lay down his sword and pick some homely daughter of Walder Frey to make him happy and give him sons. I want Bran and Rickon back, I want . . .” Catelyn hung her head.

Hearing her list out everything that she wants is just heartbreaking. It isn’t just that she never gets any of that but also that hearing her list it out, it’s clear that she realizes just how utterly impossible her desires are. At this point, her personal losses have run far too deep and they’ve already begun exacting their toll on her morale, which, after months of anxiety, worry and grief, wasn’t particularly strong anyway.

Was there ever a man as beautiful or as vile as this one?

This is one of the reasons I like Jaime so much. Along with characters like Stannis, Tyrion and even Arya, he showcases the duality of Martin’s characters. It’s not just about them being neither black nor white – they are also both at once.  Jaime is easily one of my favourite characters in the series but this particular scene doesn’t really endear him to me. He comes across as cocky without cause, morally repugnant and an all-around asshole. To be fair, he is all those things even on his better days, but beneath it all, there is a person of some, barely adequate moral caliber.

“There are no men like me. There’s only me.”

When I think of Jaime Lannister, this is the line that comes to mind. In my head, he isn’t saying it to brag or to haughtily brush Catelyn off.  He genuinely means it, along with all the connotations, both good and bad, that they bring with them. If you think about it, he is rather unique for what he is – he is a knight of the Kingsguard with the nickname of ‘Kingslayer’, a contradiction right off the bat. He isn’t the first member of the Kingsguard to either love his queen or his sister (thanks, Targaryens) but neither is it particularly common. More than anything, no other character seems to straddle the line between good and bad the way Jaime does – perhaps Tyrion can give him a run for his money, but not in my reckoning. Jaime’s full of confidence and swagger, but at the same time, he’s also haunted by his own actions and knows as well as we do, that the life he has lived thus far, the life that brought him to the Riverrun dungeons, has been a rather empty one.

If there was ever a spark of honor in him, it is long dead.

This is an interesting comment in light of Jaime’s redemption. This whole conversation throws some light on the many contradictions inherent in Westerosi life. It is a part of what makes Jaime such a fascinating character – his entire life is spent alternating between moments of heroism and villainy. His personality does him no favours but seeing the way he is now, you would think that he has no regrets about the way things turned out. It is only later in the series that we realize that that’s not the case.

“I seldom fling children from towers to improve their health. Yes, I meant for him to die.”

We never get any reconciliation between the nice and utterly ruthless sides of Jaime Lannister. At this point in the story, it does feel like that ‘nice’ part doesn’t even really exist and it is only his maiming that really brings the change in his character. Still, despite all those changes, I don’t think he ever does demonstrate any actual regret at trying to kill Bran. It makes it both easy and difficult for me, as a fan of the character, to justify my tastes – on one hand, the fact that he is capable of deeds both good and bad make him human and fallible, a great example of a three dimensional character who rises above his mistakes, but at the same time, see the looks you get when you tell people your favourite character is an incestuous child murderer.

“…yet if Jaime and Tyrion told the same tale, what did that mean?”

It means that you’re wrong and that Littlefinger is playing you like a piano. There is a line that really emphasizes how far back Catelyn and Petyr go and I get the feeling that the only reason it’s even there is because Martin wanted to ensure that it isn’t far-fetched that Catelyn is so trusting of Littlefinger. To Catelyn’s credit, it isn’t that she has eliminated all possibility of her being wrong but clearly, at this point, she just in far too deep to let doubts like those affect her.

“He was never unfaithful to Robert, was he?”

Hmm, or was he? You could argue that Ned keeping Jon’s true parentage a secret from Robert does constitute a bigger a betrayal than Jaime stabbing Aerys in the back. Still, Jaime’s point is well taken in all this – no one is perfect and Catelyn’s claim that Jaime is literally the worst piece of shit ever, while not completely baseless, rings hollow when she is surrounded by so many flawed people. Of course, none of those people flung boys off roofs, so Jaime’s attempt at showing he’s no worse than anyone else is doomed to fail. That said, you have to love his boldness is really Catelyn to go shove it, despite being entirely at her mercy. People tend to forget that Jaime has never really been in a war before – he’s a good fighter, a great fighter even but as a soldier, he’s never been combat tested and moreover, he’s never been a prisoner. A lot of his bravery comes from the knowledge that they can’t do anything too crazy to him for fear of what Cersei will do to Sansa but still, he clearly doesn’t give a shit about consequences (as seen by pretty much everything he says and does).

Up next, we see another character who didn’t think carefully about consequences but really, really should have: Theon.

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3 thoughts on “[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Catelyn VII

  1. You know, I didn’t realize it until now, but when you pointed out that Theon line, there’s an uncomfortable similarity between Catelyn and Cersei here. I’ve heard Catelyn and Cersei parallels and put out there, but when Catelyn talks about Theon and how she wants him and all her enemies dead, I’m reminded of Cersei in AFfC.

    That moment during the first small council meeting with Cersei’s council full of sycophants, the moment where Cersei talks about Sansa and how “She shared my hearth and hall, played with my own children.” is where I start to see comparisons. They both likely feel they treated their wards better than in truth and feel rage and a taste for vengeance from their wards’ betrayals. Now, both situations have their differences, what with Cersei being a much worse caretaker for starters, but this comparison makes me feel there’s more truth to the parallels between the lioness and the she-wolf.

    And yeah, Catelyn is heartbreaking to read. It isn’t bad enough she loses her husband, she loses (not in truth, but she definitely didn’t know that) her sons, her daughters are kept hostage (only one in truth, but I’d say Arya’s current situation might actually be WORSE than being a Lannister ward) and her son’s warring as the leader of a rebellion.

    Man, if only I could give an entire continent a hug. For Catelyn, all the hugs and fun times where her husband is still alive, her daughters are by her side and the gods sing as they listen to her prayers!

    And enter Jaime!

    I love how you included the “There are no men like me. There’s only me.” line in this post. And I think you really nailed it with the notion that he genuinely means that in a non-haughty manner.

    In my opinion, that is a, if not the, line that encompasses the unique nature behind Jaime to the bone. He’s a Kingsguard deemed ‘Kingslayer’, an outwardly knight in shining armor with plenty of twisted amorality, a man accursed being without honor… but one whose greatest deed was cursed by others. And the series would be lessened if we didn’t kick start his POV with this fascinating discussion between two great characters (god, these characters are great).

    And, lucky for me, your contemplations on the ‘nice’ and ‘ruthless’ sides of Jaime leads into a nice segue into my thoughts on the incident itself and Jaime thoughts.

    There are two points to the incident that make me think that Jaime didn’t, at first, want to push Bran off the window. That he didn’t want to be a worse man than he assumed he already was.

    1. The fact he asks Bran to take his hand before he falls.

    Why is that? Cersei already shrilled out that Bran saw them. Jaime even confirms it right after. He’s already got a motive to let him fall. Jaime has absolutely no incentive to let Bran live at this point with him being witness to royal adultery and incest. So… why save him at first? Jaime could have easily pried Bran’s fingers off the ledge and let him fall. If he was an absolutely terrible human being at this point, the choice should be obvious.

    2. The asking for age.

    Now, if Jaime’s already thinking of pushing Bran off, this question becomes a bit redundant. Why would he care for Bran’s age if the plan to push Bran was already set in motion?

    With these two ‘strange’ actions, I find two possible interpretations with what was going on in Jaime’s head.

    1. He was just as panicked as Cersei, not letting it show on his face, and wanted to weigh in his options (taking Bran in and asking his age) before pushing Bran off. (I personally buy into this possibility.)

    2. He already had pushing in mind and just wanted to own up to this terrible crime (asking his age), consciously staining his hands with this act. (This might be more in-character though…)

    You once put out that you didn’t think Jaime is a good guy faced with a hard choice. I personally don’t agree with that either (I think it undermines Jaime’s character and disillusion if he was a straight-up good guy there), but I’d say the situation’s a bit more complicated in Jaime’s head. He’s pushing off a child whose only crime was being a witness. This is far different than Jaime’s last big (outwardly, seriously, screw Aerys, the scumbag) crime and much less defensible.

    I think the key to finding Jaime’s ‘nice’ side, early on, is through Tyrion. We constantly see Tyrion idealize and idolize Jaime for being showing him affection and respect and, you know, Jaime thinks the same of Tyrion in terms of intellect matters in ASoS so it’s clearly a caring relationship between the Lannister brothers. Plus, he cares for his family in general, Cersei in a different way. So there’s one aspect of Jaime’s ‘nice’ side.

    As for the rest… well, Jaime’s spent years being scorned as “Kingslayer” by everyone for his greatest act. He’s already disillusioned on matters of knightly conduct and everyone constantly shat on him for doing what he considers the best thing he’s done. Everything he does will be tainted by his scorned title and Aerys. I imagine Jaime just had a very ugly reaction to that, wanting to give them all a giant middle finger: if everyone will keep seeing him as a bad guy, then screw being ‘nice’ when it’ll get him nowhere.

    The maiming just made him reflect more.

    I think Jaime was and can be a nice guy. He definitely believed in chivalry until Aerys. It’s just years of this disdain against him had eroded the ‘nice’ or ‘good’ part of him until he became we see in AGoT. And linking this to Bran, I imagine Jaime did contemplate an undesirable choice. He wasn’t a good man. He was a flawed man who had a choice between his family and wanting not to be a worse man than he already thought of himself.

    He chose to sink lower for his family, but mostly, for Cersei.

    Also, if it helps, your favorite character is an incestuous ATTEMPTED child murderer. Bran technically didn’t die. xD

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    • “I imagine Jaime just had a very ugly reaction to that, wanting to give them all a giant middle finger: if everyone will keep seeing him as a bad guy, then screw being ‘nice’ when it’ll get him nowhere.”

      Like you said, I think this is an example of a character acting in the way that they are labelled. You know how in real life, describing children as kind and generous leads to them demonstrating those qualities? I think the same thing is at work with Jaime – he is described as a honourless bastard and thus proceeds to act that way. It’s almost like; ‘welp, people have already made their mind up about me, I might as well behave the way they expect me to’, instead of ‘screw them, I’ll prove them wrong’.

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      • This is something I find… disappointing in a rather understandable way with Jaime. He was demonized for this (mostly, he likely had smaller reasons) selfless act and he chose to lash out in a (understandably) immature manner, starting with not telling Ned about the motive/reasoning behind it. I mean, you’re right, Jaime did have the choice to try to prove his naysayers wrong by performing good deeds worthy of knightly conduct after killing Aerys. Heck, the rescuing Tysha situation is a point in his favor there. Be the bigger man, he could have.

        Then again, he was rather young (17-18) when he did this ‘crime’ and was faced with the opposite reaction he expected (and, to be fair, this was his finest act), thus cementing the person he’d fall to be. If anything, I kind of blame Westeros for turning Jaime into such a bastard. Jaime doesn’t get a free pass here, but Westerosi conduct and its system, with its unrealistic and contradictory standards of honor, is culpable in the man Jaime became.

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