Chapter 22 – Arya
So, I’ve been off my game for a while — or should I say off my Game of Thrones for a while, am I right? Yeah? No? Well, my point is I haven’t read any further for a long time, so I might be a little rusty on the fine details of the story. So, who have we got today? Arya Stark? She’s at King’s Landing, I believe, which means she just missed her mother, who returned to Winterfell in the last chapter or so. Let’s dive in.
Her father had been fighting with the council again. Arya could see it on his face when he came to the table, late again, as he had been so often. The first course, a thick sweet soup made with pumpkins, had already been taken away when Ned Stark strode into the Small Hall. They called it that to set it apart from the Great Hall, where the king could feast a thousand, but it was a long room with a high vaulted ceiling and bench space for two hundred at its trestle tables.
I love how even the smallest dining room in this place still amounts to the size of a cathedral. Also, now I’m remembering the stuff from a chapter or two ago about Eddard and his new position as Hand of the King. He’s already at odds with the council, it seems.
Right, King Robert wants to hold a tournament in Ned’s honor, which Ned is rather tiffed about, to say the least. I wonder if the Hand’s tourney is a customary thing, or is Robert holding it because he sees it as an expression of fondness or respect for Eddard? Either way, Eddard’s main beef is that the crown is already in enough dept to sink a horse, so he doesn’t want to sink any farther by holding an expensive tourney.
Obviously Sansa wants to go to the tourney, since she sees it as a chivalrous event and not an expensive wrestling match. She’s eleven or something, though, I’ll cut her slack.
Arya doesn’t want to go because she knows Prince Joffrey will be there, but in this particular case Eddard puts his foot down and insists they both go. As much as he opposes the tourney, he knows it would be a massive faux pas not to seat his daughters among the nobility. Good. This is looking to be a source of conflict, but at least the characters are behaving sensibly.
No one talked to Arya. She didn’t care. She liked it that way . . . She wanted to tease Bran and play with baby Rickon and have Robb smile at her. She wanted Jon to muss up her hair and call her “little sister” and finish her sentences with her. But all of them were gone. She had no one left but Sansa, and Sansa wouldn’t even talk to her unless Father made her.
Damn. Arya’s really suffering here. I guessed this would happen once they set out, but she doesn’t even have her direwolf to keep her company anymore. Sansa basically hates her because she blames her for her own direwolf’s execution.
Yeah, now she’s recalling the sweet times she had in Winterfell with the soldiers, too. But in a depressing twist, her opinion of these same men has taken a 180 since arriving in King’s Landing: obviously she’s sad her friend Mycah, the butcher’s boy, was killed by the Hound, but she genuinely believed her father or the soldiers would have sought vengeance for the boy’s death. When they did nothing — I guess she’s too young to understand they really couldn’t do more than nothing — she started to hate them. Augh, this is terrible.
Jeyne Poole had told Arya that [the Hound] cut [Mycah] up in so many pieces that they’d given him back to the butcher in a bag, and at first the poor man had thought it was a pig they’d slaughtered.
OH HOLY CRAP EWW WHAT that’s disgusting and evil.
Now I’m actually a little confused: Eddard couldn’t do anything about Mycah’s death, I get that — he was too late and the Hound was following orders from the Queen — but tormenting the butcher with his son’s bagged remains has got to be unnecessary. Eddard must’ve been able to speak out against that. Maybe he didn’t know, I suppose. Still, wow, that’s awful.
So, yeah, Arya basically despises everyone in the room with her. This is looking so bad I might predict that Arya’s gonna turn into a bad guy, or maybe some kind of vengeful anti-hero.
“Pray, where do you think you are going, young lady?” Septa Mordane asked.
“I’m not hungry.” Arya found it an effort to remember her courtesies. “May I be excused, please?” she recited stiffly.
“You may not,” the septa said. “You have scarcely touched your food. You will sit down and clean your plate.”
Oh jeez this isn’t going to turn out well . . .
Yep, Arya bolts and flees to her bedroom, which conveniently has a massive door capable of withstanding any punishment. She hides there and cries, while the guard outside tries unsuccessfully to coax her out. Very depressing.
Arya considers running away, but Eddard arrives and she lets him in. He sees her sword Needle, though, and it’s the first he’s heard of it. She doesn’t tell him that Jon gave it to her, though.
“I ought to snap this toy across my knee here and now, and put an end to this nonsense.”
Oh crap. I was kinda hoping Eddard would be a little more understanding, but he clearly does not want Arya practicing swordplay. I’m afraid this is gonna get tense.
Never mind, Eddard’s hugging her now. Arya wants to practice with her sword, but she also blames herself for Mycah’s death: after all, the whole fiasco wouldn’t have occurred if she hadn’t asked him to spar with her.
“Joffrey lied, it wasn’t the way he said. I hate Sansa too. She did remember, she just lied so Joffrey would like her.”
I forgot about that. Jeez, Sansa, I know you’re only a kid, but Joffrey’s an amoral prick. You saw it yourself.
“We all lie,” her father said. “Or did you truly think I’d believe that Nymeria ran off?”
Arya blushed guiltily. “Jory promised not to tell.”
“We had to throw rocks,” she said miserably. “I told her to run . . . only she kept following . . . I hit her twice. She whined and looked at me and I felt so ‘shamed, but it was right, wasn’t it? The queen would have killed her.”
Oooohhh, of course. Ugh, that’s hard. So Arya scared her direwolf away and Ser Jory watched her do so, then he lied to Eddard to keep her safe. Very depressing.
Hmm, Eddard is taking on a philosophical tone. Sounds like he’s going to deliver some Sage Advice!
“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a good woman, and Sansa . . . Sansa is your sister . . . It is time to begin growing up.”
He’s right, of course. There really are worse threats here than Sansa or the septa, no matter how extremely annoying they are. I hope Arya starts to learn this, although it’s obvious she’s never going to grow up to be a “fine lady,” so I also hope Eddard doesn’t actually break her sword.
Ah, as I suspected, he gives Needle back to her and makes her promise not to skewer her sister with it. Yay!
Bit of a time-skip going on here. Arya apologizes to the septa, then three days pass and she’s in the Small Hall again, only the room has been cleared.
The hall seemed empty, until an unfamiliar voice said, “You are late, boy.” A slight man with a bald head and a great beak of a nose stepped out of the shadows, holding a pair of slender wooden swords. “Tomorrow you will be here at midday.”
Ooooh, she’s gonna get swordfighting lessons. I guess Eddard did a 180 on his “swords aren’t for girls” thing. A lot of 180s going ’round recently.
Yeah, Beakface is teaching her how to hold the sword correctly, and he’s pretty pleased to find she’s left-handed, since he knows her enemies will be caught off-guard by that.
I guess his name is Syrio Forel, but I got thrown off because he tends to speak in the third-person. Also, he keeps calling her “boy,” which Arya picks up on:
“I’m a girl,” Arya objected.
“Boy, girl,” Syrio Forel said. “You are a sword, that is all.” He clicked his teeth together. “Just so, that is the grip. You are not holding a battle-axe, you are holding a –”
“– needle,” Arya finished for him, fiercely.
Snappy work, Arya, I approve.
And then the chapter’s basically over. Arya practices with Syrio for a few hours, incapable of hitting him, and it is implied he’s an excellent teacher. Finally, some good news.
Summary Time: Arya hates everybody, including herself, since it’s technically her fault that Mycah the butcher’s boy was savagely executed. Her father Eddard sees her with Needle, her sword, and while first angry with her he adjusts his tactics and imparts some wisdom. Later, he apparently hires a sword-master to teach her how to fight, a bizarre foreigner named Syrio Forel, who seems to be a good match for her — although it’s too early to say for sure.
On the whole, an uplifting chapter. It’s funny how a happy ending can scourge so many of the depressing elements in a chapter. I mean, at the beginning I was honestly contemplating the idea that Arya would go berserk or turn into a supervillain, and later I was afraid Eddard’s narrow-mindedness would sever any positive relationship between him and his daughter, but now everything’s looking up.
Unfortunately I don’t have anything else to say, but I’m glad to see Arya’s developing both her social skills and her fighting skills, and I hope she sees her direwolf again.
Thanks for reading. I’ll try to update more frequently, but no promises.
While listening to this chapter, Ian drew a portrait of Joffrey, found in this post.