Stuart Reads A Game of Thrones – Chapter 20

Don't worry, I don't smoke soap bubbles in real life. That would be silly.

Chapter 20 – Eddard

Chapter 20, whoo-hoo. I’m almost . . . what, 30% done with the book? Whew. Let’s get some more Eddard Stark.

Oooh, Eddard’s at the Red Keep! He’s just arrived, so he obviously doesn’t know that Catelyn’s also there. It looks like thing’s are about to get serious already, though, because as soon as Eddard gets off his horse he’s told to join a meeting with Grand Maester Pycelle. He’s probably important. Is the meeting about Catelyn?

Hmm, Catelyn isn’t at the meeting, but I think the discussion will concern her: Lord Varys and Littlefinger are among the councilors, plus Renly Baratheon, King Robert’s younger, fitter brother.

The councillor Ned liked least, the eunuch Varys, accosted him the moment he entered . . . His hand left powder stains on Ned’s sleeve, and he smelled as foul and sweet as flowers on a grave.

Why is Varys so unthinkably disgusting? Does he have a disease or something? This plus his constant simpering really reminds me of Uriah Heep from David Copperfield.

I did not realize Eddard has never met Littlefinger before now — they exchange some pretty steely pleasantries, obviously:

“I have hoped to meet you for some years, Lord Stark. No doubt Lady Catelyn has mentioned me to you.”

“She has,” Ned replied with a chill in his voice. The sly arrogance of the comment rankled him. “I understand you knew my brother Brandon as well.”

Renly Baratheon laughed. Varys shuffled over to listen.

This is strangely delightful. These grown men are kind of acting like gossipy teenagers. And of course Eddard’s mention of Brandon is meant as another barb, considering Brandon dueled and scarred Littlefinger.

“Rather too well,” Littlefinger said. “I still carry a token of his esteem. Did Brandon speak of me too?”

“Often, and with some heat,” Ned said . . .

“I should have thought that heat ill suits you Starks,” Littlefinger said. “Here in the south, they say you are all made of ice, and melt when you ride below the Neck.”

“I do not plan on melting soon, Lord Baelish. You may count on it.”

Catfight! Hiss. Catfight!

Ahem, moving on, the meeting officially begins and Eddard takes his seat as Hand of the King. Robert has issued some sort of command and Eddard is clearly meant to see it through.

Was there no end to Robert’s folly? And to do this in his name, that was salt in the wound. “Gods be good,” he swore.

“What Lord Eddard means to say,” Lord Renly announced, “is that His Grace instructs us to stage a great tournament in honor of his appointment as the Hand of the King.”

Ooh, really? I can see why Eddard’s annoyed by this, but it sounds pretty cool to me.

Apparently it’s going to cost an ungodly amount of money, though, which leads to the revelation that Robert has virtually no royal treasury and that he’s been mooching off of everybody else for a while now.

Ned was stunned. “Are you claiming that the Crown is three million gold pieces in debt?”

“The Crown is more than six million gold pieces in debt, Lord Stark . . .”

Yeah, that sounds pretty terrible. Eddard’s disillusionment with Robert just keeps growing. When he points out that Mad King Targaryen had a massive treasury when they usurped him and asks where all the money went, all they can do is shrug and say “King Rob likes to party hard, man.” (Somewhat paraphrased.)

Eddard vows to talk the king out of this tourney and adjourns the meeting, absolutely exhausted, and heads for his new chamber in the Tower of the Hand.

Whoa, Littlefinger just appeared and is asking Eddard to follow him. He must be leading him to Catelyn. There’s a tiny possibility he’s bringing Ned into some kind of ambush, I guess, but that’s just my hyper-suspicious mind speculating.

“This is not the way to my chambers,” Ned said.

“Did I say it was? I’m leading you to the dungeons to slit your throat and seal your corpse up behind a wall,” Littlefinger replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Okay, I deserved that.

Hmm, he’s definitely taking him to Catelyn, but I didn’t realize she was so far away from the Red Keep:

They stepped out into the ruddy glow of dusk, on a rocky bluff high above the river . . . With that, [Littlefinger] was over the side of the cliff, descending as quick as a monkey.

Ned studied the rocky face of the bluff for a moment, then followed more slowly . . . The river was a long, dizzying distance below.

Jeez, this sounds dangerous. And then get on horses at the bottom, too. Ah, they’re simply riding into the city — to find the ramshackle inn brothel Catelyn discovered when she first arrived at King’s Landing.

Eddard gets fed up with Littlefinger’s obfuscations and almost attacks him, but Ser Rodrik appears and proves the truth of the situation, relaxing Ned.

“Catelyn is truly here? This is not some strange jape of Littlefinger’s?” He sheathed his blade.

“Would that it were, Stark,” Littlefinger said. “Follow me, and try to look a shade more lecherous and a shade less like the King’s Hand. It would not do to have you recognized. Perhaps you could fondle a breast or two, just in passing.”

Wow, Littlefinger’s hilarious. He’s actually becoming a new favorite character of mine really quickly.

Inside, Catelyn was waiting. She cried out when she saw him, ran to him, and embraced him fiercely.

“My lady,” Ned whispered in wonderment.

Aww. Eddard’s obviously confused, and he assumes Catelyn has come to tell him of Bran’s death, but she swiftly corrects him and explains the whole situation — the assassination attempt, her theory about the Lannisters’ involvement, etc. There’s an interesting moment here while Eddard is listening to Catelyn:

Bran’s wolf had saved the boy’s life, he thought dully. What was it that Jon had said when they found the pups in the snow? Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord. And he had killed Sansa’s, and for what? Was it guilt he was feeling? Or fear? If the gods had sent these wolves, what folly had he done?

I never thought to consider that. Damn, Eddard, you might have royally screwed up. But then, what else could he have done? He couldn’t move against Robert’s direct order. If the gods in this world are forgiving, I would hope they recognize Eddard’s lack of a choice. Oh boy.

Eddard considers all this new information and tries to cope with it, but there are a lot of variables: Tyrion may be responsible for sending an assassin to kill a comatose seven-year-old, but how do they prove that? They have nothing. Littlefinger reluctantly offers to help them in their fresh quest, but only for Catelyn’s sake — now that it’s just him, Cate and Ned he makes it pretty clear that he despises the Starks.

Still, Catelyn is glad of his aid, whatever his reasoning:

“I will not forget the help you gave me, Petyr. When your men came for me, I did not know whether they were taking me to a friend or an enemy. I have found you more than a friend. I have found a brother I’d thought lost.”

What a turn-around from the last chapter with these two. How sweet!

Once Petyr leaves them alone, Eddard convinces Catelyn to return to Winterfell and start amassing an army, which alarms Cate, but she agrees to it. Ned’s not playing around, man; he doubts the Lannisters will go down without a fight, so he wants to prepare for the worst. The chapter ends on a pretty grim note:

“If I find proof that the Lannisters murdered Jon Arryn . . .”

He felt Catelyn tremble in his arms. Her scarred hands clung to him. “If,” she said, “what then, my love?”

That was the most dangerous part, Ned knew. “All justice flows from the king,” he told her. “When I know the truth, I must go to Robert.” And pray that he is the man I think he is, he finished silently, and not the man I fear he has become.

This isn’t going to end well, is it?

Summary Time: Eddard finally reaches King’s Landing, ahead of Robert and the Lannisters, and is dragged into a brief meeting with Lord Varys, Littlefinger, Lord Renly Baratheon and Grand Maester Pycelle. He learns that King Robert plans to hold a massive (and expensive) tournament in Eddard’s honor, and leaves in a huff about it. Littlefinger catches him, though, and escorts him to Catelyn, who brings him up to speed on everything. Littlefinger vows to help Eddard root out the Lannisters’ treachery while Catelyn goes back to Winterfell, with the promise to prepare for a potential war.

I love it when characters are separated, survive crazy shit, then are united and share stories about said crazy shit. Entertaining and important for plot coherency.

Littlefinger continues to impress me, although his sense of humor strongly reminds me of Tyrion’s, which implies that G.R.R.M might have a limited supply of jokes at his disposal. I can imagine each character swapping the other’s lines — it’s just a nitpick, I still enjoy both of them.

I’m excited to see each of these new subplots play out, too: Catelyn will return to Winterfell and prepare for war, probably with Robb’s help, while Eddard and Littlefinger work together to find proof of treachery, perhaps settling their differences along the way. (Classic buddy cop story right there.)

Also, there’s the tournament to consider. I know Eddard said he will try to dissuade Robert from holding it, but I strongly doubt he’ll succeed, so I expect something exciting to happen during that. Maybe someone surprising will win the tournament? Or maybe it was Queen Cersei’s idea and it’s a nefarious Lannister plot somehow? I’ll be quite surprised if a simple, not-catastrophic tourney is all I get.

Not much else to say about this one, so thanks for reading and see you later.


Ian drew another portrait of Eddard while listening to this chapter, found here.


  1. Great comment about Littlefinger. I confuse him with Tyrion every time because of . . . “little”. Sorry to stereotype you, character dude.

    Also, comparing Varys to Uriah Heep explained much. Except Uriah is a stick and Varys carries eunuch-weight. Didn’t Uriah actually ooze something oily?

    And Eddard’s regret at killing the wolf pup is very sad. I sense a Greek tragedy unfolding.

    1. Fun fact: Littlefinger is actually name-dropped way, way back in chapter eight by Ser Jaime, but I just assumed he was talking about Tyrion. You and I are, like, so totally ableist.

      I may just start referring to him as Petyr or Lord Baelish, since even the characters seem to be taking that route.

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