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Chapter-by-chapter analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire. Essays about my favorites, Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, and others as the mood strikes me!

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Game of Thrones - Jon I (Chapter 5)

“There were times - not many, but a few - when Jon Snow was glad he was a bastard. As he filled his wine cup once more from a passing flagon, it struck him that this might be one of them.”

Aww, poor Emo!Teenaged!Jon Snow!! But more importantly, this is the chapter that introduces us to the Imp and the Kingslayer.

We’ve seen Jon through the eyes of his younger brother Bran, and now we get to meet him ourselves (and note his observations on the King’s party.) Jon thinks Cersei is as beautiful as reputed, though he notices that he can “see through her smile.” I’m not thinking this shows Jon as some flawless judge of character, given that we already know Cersei is not exactly thrilled to be at Winterfell with Robert’s BFF and the Stark family, exacerbated by Robert’s rather publicly leaving her in the courtyard of Winterfell to go visit Lyanna Stark’s grave the moment he arrived. However, there’s a theme of “these things are not what they seem to be” running through this chapter, particularly in regards to the royal party.

“The king was a great disappointment to Jon.” Ned’s apparently talked up “the peerless Robert Baratheon” as this legendary warrior but Jon only sees a “fat man, red-faced under his beard, sweating through his silks.” If only Jon knew that he’s echoing Ned’s disappointment as voiced in the previous chapter. Robert’s putative children come in after Robert and Cersei, accompanied by Stark kids; Jon is dismissive of Tommen and Myrcella (“insipid”) and then Joffrey who has a tangle of blond curls and his mother’s (and father’s!!) deep green eyes. The most Jon can find to criticize in Joffrey (who’s gallingly taller than Jon OR Robb, though he’s younger than both) is his “pouty” lips and disdainful glances at Winterfell.

And then come the Queen’s brothers. Jaime’s charisma is self-evident, and I think it’s no accident that our fullest description (including the fact that he has two nicknames: “Lion of Lannister” to his face and “Kingslayer” behind his back) of Jaime to date comes from Jon, whose path will in so many ways mirror Jaime’s. Like Jaime, Jon will join a corrupt/degraded institution at a very young age, be rather disillusioned (though Jaime’s disillusionment was certainly harsher than Jon’s finding out that there were criminals in the Night’s Watch!) and be forced to choose between conflicting vows (or perhaps more accurately between what is morally the right thing to do versus what is the outward appearance of honor, in Jon's case with his sojourn with the Wildlings.)

“Ser Jaime Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a knife... Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed.”

Again, we get this idea of things not being what they seem: the Kingslayer looks like a king, the King looks like a sweaty drunk ...

Jon is also fascinated by Tyrion, perhaps because he’s never seen a dwarf before. “All that the gods had given to Cersei and Jaime, they had denied Tyrion.” And yet, at this point, and as we’ll see later in the chapter, Tyrion is by far the best of the Lannisters, despite his ugliness.

Benjen and Theon round out the group at the high table, with Benjen giving Jon a smile and Theon ignoring him, which Jon thinks is pretty par for the course.

Jon keeps trying to convince himself that he’s happy not to be at the main table with the royals, but clearly he’s not happy about the distinction made between him and his legitimate half-brothers and sisters. He tells Benjen that it was Lady Stark’s decision that it might be insulting to the royal family to be seated with a bastard. OK, so now I need to digress because this particular moment is often introduced as evidence that Catelyn Stark is a horrible, evil stepmother person - and first of all, clearly this is completely different from Jon’s usual experiences, which are that he eats with his brothers/sisters “most times.” So Jon is clearly almost never treated like Cinderella forced to skulk in the ashes or whatever people like to throw in as how horrible Catelyn is to him. And on top of that, she is right that the royal family - or Cersei in particular - would take it amiss to have Ned’s bastard placed near her children. Queen Cersei already been humiliated by Robert on this visit, and Catelyn is quite right to see that avoiding any additional grounds for hostility from Cersei is probably a good idea.

Furthermore, we only have Jon’s word for it that it was Catelyn’s decision anyway - either Ned concurred (because if he hadn’t, Jon would have been eating with the King and his family) OR Jon’s banishment to the depths of the hall was actually at Ned’s instigation. If Jon is who I very firmly think he is (i.e. Lyanna’s son by Rhaegar Targaryen), then the last thing Ned wants to do is arouse any suspicions, or have this kid who looks soooo much like his dead sister (Arya and Jon supposedly look very much alike and Arya is said to resemble Lyanna so I’m extrapolating) or cause Robert to ask him uncomfortable questions about Jon’s mother that would force Ned into outright falsehoods and have the additional negative effects of being deeply insulting to Catelyn. To sum up, while Jon believes it’s Catelyn’s doing that he’s not sitting with the rest of the family, I’m not so sure he’s reading things right, even though he says that “a bastard has to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.”

Anyway, family banquet aside, Jon begs Benjen to take him to the Wall, and Benjen quite rightly suggests that Jon is maybe not old enough to make such a life-changing decision.

“If you knew what the oath would cost you, you might be less eager to pay the price, son.”

I’m pretty curious about Benjen, like I really want to know what he makes of Ned’s having a bastard, or if he knows the truth about Jon’s parentage - I don’t think he really does, because I think Ned told NO ONE! - and when he joined the Night’s Watch and what moved him to do so. Was it before or after Robert’s Rebellion? It must have been after, since there’s “always a Stark at Winterfell,” and Brandon was dead and Ned was off chasing Lyanna and fighting Robert’s war. And Benjen would have been Ned’s heir at that point too, right? So ... what made him decide to join the NW AFTER Ned came home? All questions I will never know the answer to, but also a tribute to how sympathetic this relatively minor character is! I don’t believe Benjen is Coldhands, by the way, for a variety of reasons.

But then Benjen loses me a bit by telling Jon that after he’s fathered a few bastards, he may feel differently about joining the Night’s Watch. First of all, because it’s clear that he really doesn’t understand Jon if he thinks Jon would father bastards, and secondly because, although it’s all of a piece with Wetseros thinking, I kind of abhor the idea that sexual experience is what differentiates adulthood from childhood which is what Benjen seems to be saying here.

Anyway, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS poor Jon, so he heads out into the yard to have a good cry in private except instead of privacy, he gets Tyrion Lannister, who is instantly sympathetic (though I’m glad Martin rethought the tumbling skills!) and recognizes in Jon a fellow outsider in a way that Jon’s own uncle, who loves him dearly, has just proven completely incapable of doing.

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” (Tyrion, of course, signally forgets his own advice during his relationship with Shae, but that’s for another chapter.)

And then he gets off a couple more of his great lines. First: “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes,” which is something Jon needs to hear, i.e. that he is not the only person in this position and in fact in some ways his life is better than others’ because his father (or “father”) clearly loves him and we’ve seen throughout this chapter that he has loving relationships with his siblings and uncle and that his father’s men truly care for him. Cheer up, emo Jon, things are only going to get worse for you from here.

Tyrion leaves Jon with a bit of parting wisdom: “All dwarfs may be bastards, yet not all bastards need be dwarfs.”

One final Very Interesting Thing: as Tyrion leaves, the shadow he casts is elongated “and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood as tall as a king.”  So Jon, disappointed in the actual King his father loves so much, has now seen BOTH Lannister brothers as kings - Jaime earlier, and Tyrion here - which I find interesting. It’s also interesting that one of the despised Lannisters ends up being the person who shows Jon the most empathy in this chapter. It’s the first inkling we’re getting that all is not always what it seems, since thus far, the Starks are positioned as the Heroes and the Lannisters as their antagonists.

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