Tag Archives: Ned Stark

The King Beyond The Cover: John Says More On A Song Of Ice And Fire

I’m almost exactly half way through George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series, and I’m still writing about it because it’s all I think about. Every day.

I’ve already written about power in Westeros and how much of a disappointment Ned Stark is.

Read Part 1 On Power

Read Part 2 On Power

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out whose story it is. Political power in ASOIF is fascinating (to me), in part because we attach our concepts of power to ideas of right and wrong. In books and other media that usually means a righteous protagonist uses power to fix injustices.

That’s because protagonists are stand-ins for the triumph of our values. Generally, these are Judeo-Christian ideas about right, wrong, sacrifice, and love.

I’ve asked before, but why is it every movie has an underlying love story? Why is there such a strong connection between overcoming fantastic opposition and finding the one true, perfect love that was meant for you? Seriously, it’s in every movie about anything. It’s virtually omnipresent in American cinema. So much so that when it’s absent movies feel wrong or “French.”

In that same vein, why does the hero always win? Seriously, 99 times out of 100 the good guy wins after great personal sacrifice. Books. Movies. Television. Everywhere but Breaking Bad. To be fair, there are plenty of places where the good guy loses… just at a fraction of the amount that he or she (probably he) wins.

It’s because the hero is the personification of our beliefs. When Luke Skywalker is honing his mastery of the Force, that is really us, collectively, preparing to stand in the face of great hardship. When Aragorn comes back from a terrible fall, that’s us knuckling down against our own obstacles. When Harry Potter resists temptation, he fulfills our own sense of right… generally speaking.


Aragorn falls off a cliff from The Lord of the Rings… by Anyclip

The hero beats the bad guy, who represents our struggle for moral righteousness  And obviously the righteous get the girl because she (right or wrong) represents going to a state of happily ever after. In that state you get to live in peace and have kids because you’ve won out over adversity.

Which is why most of us hate it when good doesn’t triumph over evil and why foreign films and indy flicks with morally ambiguous characters don’t sell as many tickets. Buried will never make more money than Green Lantern. It will only cost less to produce.

If you’ve ever seen The Grey you know what I’m talking aboutRecently widowed  Liam Neeson is forced to fight for survival for what seems to be no reason. His reliance on rugged individualism fails him. His cries to god go (literally) unanswered. Win or lose (and we don’t know which), it feels strange because we (or at least I) find myself asking what was the point?

That’s because there’s no moral lesson to take away unless that lesson is: sometimes bad things happen even when you try really hard and do the right thing. Not very stirring.

I’m not sure ASOIF is that kind of story, given that we don’t have an end yet, but it remains that point of view characters have a powerful connection with the reader. We learn their histories, desires, fears, and vices.When you understand why a person does what they do, it’s hard not to find them sympathetic. Every man is the hero of his own story.

So whose story is ASOIF? Who’s acting out our ideas of good?

I used to think it was the Starks by sheer numbers of POV characters. Ned, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and John are all narrative windows. And all of them are centrally important to the movement of the plot. Not sure why Rob didn’t get any love. Oh, and all the Stark children are wargs; a special distinction in a world that seemingly has no magic.

But then Ned, Catelyn, and Rob all bite it in the first three books and Winterfell gets burned to the ground (spoilers). Meanwhile, all the Lannister characters start creeping into the mix. Tyrion was always a POV character, but Jaime and Cersei are added in later books.

Jamie is one such character. He was originally cast as an incestuous villain and oath-breaker– having killed the previous king he was charged to protect. As the story unfolds, Jaime’s motives for killing his king and making war against the Starks are shown as much for loyalty and honor as self-preservation. Speaking to Catelyn Stark he said the following:

“How can you still count yourself a knight when you have forsaken every vow you swore?”

Jamie reached for the flagon to refill his cup. “So many vows. They make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets, do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.”

He took a healthy swallow of wine and closed his eyes for an instant, leaning his head back against the patch of nitre on the wall. “I was the youngest man ever to wear the white cloak.”

And the youngest to betray all it stood for, Kingslayer.”

“Kingslayer.” He pronounced it carefully. “And such a king he was.” He lifted his cup.”To Aerys Targaryen, the second of his name.”

I think that’s what excites me the most about these books. All of the people I thought were going to be my favorite characters are dumb and/or dead. I want to see whose tale this turns out to be. Mayhaps it’s the tale of Daenerys restoring her family’s throne. It could be about the ascension of John Snow from humble man of the Night’s Watch to protector of the North. But I wouldn’t count Bran Stark or any of the Lannisters out yet.

Maybe these books aren’t about a specific group of people at all, but about something that just happens the same way things in large groups of people often do.

Maybe it’s a case study on what it takes to create a king. In which case we should probably just read The Leviathan.

Next week I promise I’ll write about something else.

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Follies Of An Iron Throne

I walked away from GenCon with the newest edition of A Song Of Ice And Fire RPG. Since then, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around running the game for friends. How do you put a series so detailed and beautiful into a sandbox for players? It’s not as if I’m lacking for materials, but the flavor and voice of the series is so nuanced and addictive I almost don’t know where to start in order to do it justice.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

So, I’m putting together a plan. I’m going to create the perfect ASIF game for my friends and they are going to have the most fun anyone has ever had imagining they were doing something, ever. And I fully intend to write about soon, but not today.

Today I want to talk about rereading A Game Of Thrones.I first read the book some years ago when my dad threw it at me and said it was good. I was like, “Whatever, old man. I’m gonna replay KOTOR until the sun rises.”Eventually, I did come around to opening the pages, and I must say, I was really, really… bored. I quit two chapters in and went back to video games.

But six or so months later, I found the book and decided to give it another go. This time I read the first THREE chapters before I quit. I didn’t have time for this shit.

About a year after that, I decided to give it one last chance. Maybe I had low blood sugar or was especially poor, but I got over that three chapter hump and started to really enjoy the book. There is just something about the way George R. R. Martin describes his characters and settings that enthralled me.

So, I read the whole series… up to A Feast For Crows and then went on with the rest of my life . I haven’t looked back until now.

But I need (and it is a need) to run this game, and I haven’t even read A Dance With Dragons. I’m trying to run a game in this world, and I’m not up on anything that’s happening. Seriously, I can’t even remember what happens at the wall for the entire series.

Clearly, I needed to go back to the source material.

But now I’m more than half way in, and we’re getting to one of the two deaths I’ve been dreading.

For those that haven’t read the books/watched the show, what I’m about to talk about is the brutal murder of what we were lead to believe was the main character of the book. At least, I had always thought Ned Stark was the protagonist because his family made up most of the POV characters.

Ned Stark’s death hurt my soul when I read it the first time, and now that I have the advantage of hindsight, watching him barrel past the shrewd wisdom of everyone in King’s Landing on his way to a beheading makes it so much worse. I can’t even say what bothers me about it so much. His honor is such a fault that it gets him killed and leads to a five-way war, the death of his wife and son, and the sacking of their castle. Actually, it pretty much destroys the seven kingdoms.

In the few chapters before his death, I read no less than four different plans people came up with to help him sieze power, much less avoid his own death. People are literally walking up to him and asking his permission to stop exactly what he is trying to stop, but they want to do it with sneaky court intrigue. All of them point out how doing it the honorable way will not only endanger his life, but also the entire realm.

I really should have titled this post “Ned Stark Is A Selfish Dick” because real honor would necessitate the sacrifice of one’s own values to save lives and keep the peace. Ned got caught up in this idea of legitimate succession that didn’t matter. Robert Baratheon got his throne by violence, as did the line of kings he rebelled against. Did it really matter who’s DNA sat on the Throne?

Blarg.

So now I have to listen (bought the book on Audible for when I drive) to Ned set himself up for death, and I don’t even know why it bugs me so much. Tyrian and Baelish are infinitely more interesting. Even Jaime Lannister gets super fascinating once you learn why he killed king Aerys.

At least if my players prove this honorable/dumb, I know it will be easy to keep them waylaid in their own castle.

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