Game of Thrones Bookclub (Week Three)

Game of Thrones Bookclub (Week Three)I want to talk about the Starks’ intelligence for a second now. Since the television series started I’ve seen a lot of online commentary saying that the Starks are pretty dumb. Obliviously stupid might be a better description. I don’t agree with that though and we can see that in what we’ve read so far. The Starks aren’t dumb per se, they’re just crippled by an inclination to trust and honor.

Ned is the epitome of a Stark partially because of these two qualities. From the beginning it’s strongly established that Ned tries to follow a rather strict code of conduct. He insists on killing the deserter brother of the Night’s Watch with his own hands. He tries to honor his words and pledges. He may sometime stray from his straight and narrow path (read: fathering Jon) but not without deeply regretting that for being dishonorable and trying to make amends by raising him like he would one of his “trueborn” sons. These are actually pretty honorable characteristics. They’re what make Ned a protagonist and not an anti-hero or antagonist. The problem is, Ned —and the Starks at large— live in a world that doesn’t actually reward honor. On the surface it does but deep down, dishonorable acts are what the winner do. That’s what makes me want to yell at the book like I would a horror movie. The Starks are just acting foolishly but they’re not foolish.

Same with Catelyn. She doesn’t even think to consider that the dagger the assassin used was put there to throw her off the trail of the person who actually wanted Bran dead. I suppose you could call this foolish but I think it’s more ignorant or a good example of denial.

So when Ned and Catelyn are talking to Littlefinger in his brothel and he says:

“For my part, I always found you Starks a tiresome lot, but Cat seems to have become attached to you, for reasons I cannot comprehend. I shall try to keep you alive for her sake. A fool’s task, admittedly, but I could never refuse your wife anything.”

I cringe because they don’t pick up on the poorly concealed subtext and hints Littlefinger leaves that his motivations are not the same as the Starks’. The problem for Ned and Catelyn is that they aren’t playing the same game as Littlefinger and the others.

I have to admit also, I actually like some of the major players of the Game of Thrones from the first time we meet them. Varys intrigues me and Littlefinger is the character I like to hate. I’m inclined to like Ned and Catelyn less because they refuse to see what’s right in front of them. I’m inclined to like Littlefinger and Varys more than I would because they accept the world they live in.

Erik: I basically agree with Daniel on this. I realize I’ve called Ned Stark and Catelyn stupid a number of times, and when I read (or watch) some of the ridiculously impulsive and impulsively noble things they do I can’t help but say “stupid, stupid, stupid” in my head (or outloud at the TV). But they aren’t stupid. They’re just generally too good for their own good. Too honorable. Too accustomed to the cold north and the straightforward ways of the northern people.

This gets them into a world of trouble, of course, but it’s also what makes Robb a brilliant general and Arya so determined and strong willed. And it’s what makes the family the central family of the story (outside of Dany). I like to hate Littlefinger also. Varys is certainly intriguing. But the Starks we can relate to and empathize with, which is why, I suppose, that I enjoy the  Stark chapters (except for Catelyn’s) the most outside of Tyrion.

Update: The spoiler thread for this discussion is here.

SECOND UPDATE 6/10/2011: Ryan B says it better than me:

I take the Starks as a nice illustration of how fragile a certain kind of ethics is. They live in a world where they are trying to universalize their maxims, as it were, but no one else is. And it leaves them extremely vulnerable when they step outside of their power zone.

All of which is somewhat ironic, of course, given (as Renly points out in the TV show, and I cannot remember if he does the same in the book) that Ned was one of the linchpins of a rebellion that put a false (or just “new”, if you want to be generous) king on the throne.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

18 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Bookclub (Week Three)

  1. Any chance we could get that alternative spoiler thread? I have something to say on the matter, but it leans pretty heavily on later events. Maybe you could put something in Off-The-Cuff?

    Also, when you post these things, could you devote a few sentences to where the story left off, so that I don’t inadvertently give something away?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. The Starks make me think of Superman, for good and for ill. More nuanced, to be sure, but so reliably true as to be uncompelling. I root for them, just as I root for Superman, but I don’t care as much as I do for Tyrion and others.

    To follow up on something I previously said, I’ve come around on Jon Snow. He was interesting when he was with the Starks, but with him on the wall, the more interesting conflicts that he evokes are notably absent.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. Just a note: it’d be awesome if each week’s post could indicate which chapters are at issue. Not all of us are watching the series yet, and I found I lacked sufficient self-control to pace myself in reading, so I finished the book last week. It’d be easier to avoid spoilers this way.

    Anyway, yes, the book does seem to lie pretty far down the “cynical” end of the sliding scale. But one thing I have noticed this time through is what I perceive as a parallelism between the Starks and Daenerys. Both seem to have pretty high standards of nobility in settings that do not tend to reward such. Has anyone else noticed this?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. Funny, I’m the same. I love Tyrion the most and Catelyn is one of the characters I like the least.

    Admission: Only in my rereading do I start to like Arya. I never have before. There I said it. Come at me.

      Quote  Link

    Report

      • That was my feeling for a long time too except I started to wonder, who will Arya become in this world? In the Forgotten Realms books she would surely find a place as some kind of vagabond-warrior-beauty. But in Westeros? We both know social customs will require Arya to eventually settle down and marry…if she lives long enough to get the chance. That’s what makes Arya interesting to me. I don’t particularly like her but how will her story resolve itself? For some reason I find the question of how Arya’s story will end more interesting than the question of how Tyrion’s story will end and I do want to know how Tyrion’s story will end. But my liking Tyrion has more to do with who he is now than who he will be in the end. With Arya it’s the opposite.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  5. I take the Starks as a nice illustration of how fragile a certain kind of ethics is. They live in a world where they are trying to universalize their maxims, as it were, but no one else is. And it leaves them extremely vulnerable when they step outside of their power zone.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • All of which is somewhat ironic, of course, given (as Renly points out in the TV show, and I cannot remember if he does the same in the book) that Ned was one of the linchpins of a rebellion that put a false (or just “new”, if you want to be generous) king on the throne.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • In response to your “false” king on the throne comment: Yeah but I don’t really think it’s worth debating whether Ned and Robert broke the law. They did and they got away with it. That’s really the justice of this world; it’s illegal if it can’t be stopped, it’s law if it can be defended.

          Quote  Link

        Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *