they should do this series when they catch up to grrm

Jonrya Reread: Jon II & III, Arya II

When I initially made the schedule for the reread, I didn’t quite think about maintaining the chronology of the books, so I’m correcting a little for that here. Last week, I posted a meta about the exchange of Needle in Jon II here, so for further musings on that, you can go there. This week, I’m drawing on a few things from Jon II, but the focus will probably be more on Jon III and Arya II, which are sequential. 

All the Tears

Man, Jon and Arya at least spend the first five chapters of AGOT in tears at one point or another. Every time I turned the page, tears. In Jon I, Jon cries when he flees the hall after speaking with Benjen. In Arya I, Arya cries when she flees her sewing lessons after being teased and shamed. So let’s follow up with some examples from Jon II, Jon III, and Arya II:

“Bran,” he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t come before. I was afraid.” He could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks. Jon no longer cared. - Jon II, AGOT

After receiving word that Bran’s woken up:

He realized he was crying. And then, through the tears, he found the sense in the words, and raised his head. -Jon III, AGOT

And then Arya, after the incident at supper in the small hall: 

When the bar was down, Arya finally felt safe enough to cry. - Arya II, AGOT

Of course, I’m sure they’re not the only ones to cry in the early chapters of the book, but it just struck me that every time I turn around, Jon and Arya are crying about something. It parallels nicely for them, and I think it does give insight into how they’re moved by emotion. Jon especially gets called out for being brooding (and maybe the tv series only emphasizes this), but he seems quite in touch with his emotions, in both sadness and joy. 


What I loathe about rereading the early Jon and Arya chapters is witnessing just how cruel people are to Jon and Arya, who are children. Adults, who should no better, (and kids, too, of course) just say shitty or downright horrible things to these two.

In Jon II, it’s Catelyn. No real surprise there. And I get it. She was shamed by having Ned bring home his bastard and she’s grieving in Jon II over Bran. But she’s also a damn adult. The things that really get me: 

He was at the door when she called out to him. “Jon,” she said. He should have kept going, but she had never called him by his name before. He turned to find her looking at his face, as if she were seeing it for the first time.

“Yes?” he said.

“It should have been you,” she told him. -Jon II, AGOT

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. The thing that gets me most isn’t even that she wished Jon would fall out of a tower and be inches from death. That’s inhumane, sure, but not the thing that makes me grieve so much for Jon here. In 14, almost 15 years, Catelyn never even called him by his name to his face. That’s next level cruelty, never acknowledging his full humanity. Even Tyrion Lannister, who has literally just met Jon in Jon I, calls Jon by his name in Jon III. My frustration over this is never ending because so many of the adults in this series don’t act like damn adults. 

And Arya. She gets it from both adults and her own sister and sister’s friend in Arya II. 

Sansa lifted her head. “It will be a splendid event. You shan’t be wanted.” 

It was her [Arya’s] fault, everything bad that had happened. Sansa said so, and Jeyne too. 

“Your mother and I have charged her with the impossible task of making you a lady.” 

At this point, I expect the cruelty from Sansa and Jeyne. Ned surprised me though. It’s not that it’s biting cruel, but that it’s defeat. We know that Arya wants to be some kind of lady, but she’s been given impossible standards to meet. That Ned just outright says that she’s never going to make it? That stings a little. What’s even more upsetting is that Arya is trying in two instances in this chapter to perform ladyship. 

“I’m not hungry.” Arya found it an effort to remember her courtesies. “May I be excused, please?” she recited stiffly. 

Then later: 

The next morning, as they broke their fast, she apologized to Septa Mordane and asked for her pardon. The septa peered at her suspiciously, but Father nodded.

Arya can’t catch a break. She tries, and she’s always either denied or thought to have an ulterior motive. If this is how it was for a whole nine years on top of the Sansa-is-perfect nonsense, it’s no wonder Arya could never be a lady. No one gave her a damn chance. 


Surrounded by so many people, and Jon and Arya are still terribly lonely and outcast. For Jon: 

Jon followed the rest back to the armory, walking alone. He often walked alone here. -Jon III, AGOT

Afterward he sought out Ghost in the loneliness of his cell, and buried his face in his thick white fur.  -Jon III, AGOT

“It’s better that I’m by myself,” Jon said stubbornly. “The rest of them are scared of Ghost.”  -Jon III, AGOT

I don’t doubt that others are afraid of Ghost, but I don’t believe Jon is just all cool with being alone. He makes that pretty clear. 

And Arya: 

No one talked to Arya. She didn’t care. She liked it that way. -Arya II, AGOT

Then maybe she wouldn’t feel so alone. -Arya II, AGOT

I don’t believe Arya didn’t care for a minute. Arya has proved herself, and particularly in her reflections of Winterfell and her family, an incredibly social little girl. GRRM spends several paragraphs talking about how Arya interacted with people at Winterfell. I do think she feels isolated, and without friends. And I think that Arya also tries to put on a brave face and pretend it doesn’t bother her. Here, I think she’s pulling a Jon: Everyone is afraid of Ghost; it’s okay I’m alone vs. I hate everyone and happy to be alone. Later in the chapter she even admits to feeling alone. 

Thoughts of One Another

Jon III and Arya II begin a long saga of Jonrya Arya and Jon thinking about one another. And not just a little bit. There are extended insights into their thoughts on their family, and always Jon and Arya think of one another last. 

So one thing to say before delving into their thoughts of each other when they’re apart. In Jon II, we get Jon and Arya finishing each other’s sentences.

Arya knew what was coming next. They said it together. 

Arya seemed puzzles at first. Then it came to her. She was that quick. They said it together: 

The repetition is telling, especially for such a short interaction. These two are in tune with one another. I might also add that having someone finish your sentence is often thought of romantically. It comes with a lot of time and intimacy (not even sexual, as in the case of Jon and Arya at this point). 

But now that they’re apart, we get this.

And Arya…he missed her even more than Robb, skinny little thing that she was, all scraped knees and tangled hair and torn clothes, so fierce and willful. Arya never seemed to fit, no more than he had…yet she could always make Jon smile. He would give anything to be with her now, to muss up her hair once more and watch her make a face, to hear her finish a sentence with him. - Jon III, AGOT

In that section, Jon spends no more than 19 words thinking about any individual sibling, except Arya. For Arya, Jon spends more than 19 words just describing her. He’d give anything to be with Arya. Not his brothers or Sansa, not his father. Arya

And for Arya:

She wanted Jon to muss up her hair and call her “little sister” and finish her sentences with her… - Arya II, AGOT

Steal some food from the kitchens, take Needle and her good boots and a warm cloak. She could find Nymeria in the wild woods below the Trident, and together they’d return to Winterfell, or run to Jon on the Wall. She found herself wishing that Jon was here with her now. - Arya II, AGOT

For Arya, both Jon and Winterfell are equal alternatives. Being with Jon is just as good as being at home. And the fact that books later, Jon tells Mance to bring Arya home to him? Both Jon and Arya think of Jon as being home to Arya. 


What sticks out to me most in these chapters is how much GRRM gives away in terms of foreshadowing for the later books. In part, that’s why I believe that all the little Jonrya moments in the early books are still meant to culminate into canon Jonrya eventually. 

But for now, the little giveaways to Arya’s and Jon’s individual plots, respectively: 

“I had Mikken make this special. The bravos use swords like this in Pentos and Myr and the other Free Cities…” - Jon II, AGOT

“Nine years Syrio Forel was first sword to the Sealord of Braavos..” - Arya II, AGOT

He wanted to ride with Benjen Stark on his rangings, deep into the mysteries of the haunted forest, wanted to fight Mance Rayder’s wildings and ward the realm against the Others…. - Jon II, AGOT

I have so many other things to say about these chapters, but I’m going to stop there. I know a lot of other people will pick up for them, and I’m also hoarding quotes for more individual, thematic analyses when I have a decent amount amassed. 

I do, however, expect to have a meta about Jon and Arya and their Winterfell arc soon. Winterfell sets the stage, and there’s three chapters that really tell us so much about what Jon and Arya are fighting for. 

anonymous asked:

What are your thoughts on Cersei's character? Do you like her?

When it comes to Cersei, I think you have to make a pretty clear distinction between book!Cersei and show!Cersei. I really like show!Cersei. I think she’s a great example of a villain who’s both sympathetic and irredeemable at the same time, I enjoy watching her manipulate and scheme, and I mean, Lena Headey blows everyone else out of the water with her acting. She’s phenomenal. If this show was about nothing else besides Cersei swanning around in ridiculous outfits being fabulous and evil, knocking back wine and dropping witty bon mots in every scene while shaking her head over her useless children and even more useless brothers, I would totally watch it. (Can I interest you in a spinoff, HBO?) Bascially, she’s one instance where I actually very much approved of the changes D&D made to the source material.

Because book!Cersei is a very different animal. And honestly, her depiction at times makes me uncomfortable. I can see, basically, what GRRM was going for: on the one hand she’s the beautiful princess in the tower turned inside out and ugly, and on the other hand she’s the Evil Queen™ there to show us all why evil - or at least, incompetent evil - really doesn’t pay. The problem is that there’s nothing really subversive about this portrayal. Yes, Cersei is petty and spiteful and cruel and we can clearly see how these things backfire on her and result in exactly the events she was trying to avoid - but what about any of this really comes as a surprise to the reader? Sure, there’s dramatic irony in her narrative, but Cersei herself is not really an ironic character, and she does all of these things in such a straightforwardly gendered way that it sets off a few alarm bells for me as a reader.

Rather than a subversion of a trope, Cersei seems to me like the Evil Queen played perfectly straight. Sure, GRRM takes a great deal of time showing us the way her psyche functions and how the patriarchal constraints on her life have contributed to her mental instability and serious character flaws - but an examination of how tropes happen is not the same thing as a critique, and in Cersei’s character, I’m just not seeing the critique. Her vanity is a reflection of a world that repeatedly taught her that her only value lay in her looks, and her spite is an outgrowth of a social system that both fed her anger and aggression and deprived her of any natural outlet for those emotions - but what we still end up with is a wicked female character defined by her vanity and spite. There’s an explanation, but no deeper purpose, no follow up answer to the vital question of ‘so what?’ Why does it matter that Cersei is the way she is? What lesson are we supposed to take from it? What entrenched idea is being undermined, what traditional narrative is being overturned? Because I can’t place it, myself.

The problem even goes a bit deeper than that. Alone of the central POV characters of the series (can we call her a central character? she is in the show, I’m not sure about the books, but…let’s go with it for now), Cersei is someone who has been fundamentally cruel and, yes, ‘evil’ since she was a child. I don’t mean just the incest, but also her treatment of Tyrion and the fact that she, you know, actually murdered a friend of hers at the age of ten purely to ensure her silence about an uncomfortable prophecy from an obscure woods witch, an act for which she’s never shown the slightest trace of regret. Patriarchy screwed her up, no doubt about it, but Cersei has basically always been a borderline-psychopath. Compare that with the sympathetic and nuanced portrait of Tyrion, Jaime, and even to some extent Tywin. In my opinion, it’s kind of suspect that the one truly hopelessly evil Lannister is also the only woman.

In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that - psychopaths can be interesting characters! Villains don’t have to be sympathetic to be fascinating! The problem is that all of Cersei’s character flaws are also so very clearly gendered and tied in to her identity as a woman. Her flaws are traditional ‘womanly’ flaws - jealousy, vindictiveness, vanity, impulsiveness, hysteria, pettiness - and her one redeeming trait, her love for her children, is also strongly female-coded. Her villain arc is similarly a classically feminine one: an evil woman who obtains power via treachery and aspires to the power and authority of a male role, but is soon toppled when the people turn against her due to her unjust and incompetent leadership. Where’s the subversion in that? Where’s the twist? I don’t know, I just don’t see it. I mean, did I just describe a subplot of ASOIAF or the storyline of Snow White? I can follow how GRRM is working with the trope, here, but I can’t figure out how it’s supposed to be a deconstruction.

And to my mind, even though GRRM clearly shows how patriarchy is to blame for a lot of her issues, the incredible disaster that is Cersei’s rule and Cersei’s morals and the inside of Cersei’s head also wind up reinforcing the basic tenets of a partiarchal system - because, like, do you really want a system that would make it easier for someone like Cersei to be in power? This is the catch-22 of how sexism works: first it screws you up, then it blames you for the screw up, then it uses that as an excuse to keep screwing you. And it always, always claims that you were screwed up from the start, that it is not patriarchy to blame but women’s own innate failings that keep tripping them up. So the fact that Cersei truly was a psycho all along is very troubling to me. It almost seems to function as a justification of Tywin’s and other men’s dismissive treatment of her.

So I do get frustrated with Cersei’s character, because I keep searching for reasons for this depiction of her and not finding them. It’s like that whole weird lesbian sex scene we get between Cersei and Taena - like, sure, okay, it’s there to highlight the point about how Cersei has always wanted to be a man and take a man’s ‘active’ role in the world and also in bed, apparently. But…we already knew that? It’s literally been beaten into our heads in every single Cersei chapter. The scene wasn’t necessary and didn’t give us anything new - it just seemed to be there for titillation. That seems to me to be a lot of Cersei’s arc in a nutshell. 

And look, I should say: I think her chapters are still very interesting, and GRRM does a really good job of instilling a sense of claustrophobia for the reader throughout Cersei’s POV that gives us a sense of the same feeling she’s been living with for most of her life - it’s ominous and tense and you can almost feel the physical weight of the walls of her mind closing in. So, you know, it’s not that her chapters are garbage or anything on those lines. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t still a problematic depiction of a female character.

So…yeah, those are my thoughts. Admittedly, the series isn’t over yet, and as long as Cersei is alive I’m still holding out a vague hope that GRRM could redeem her with some unexpected twist or depth of character. But at the moment, that looks pretty unlikely to happen. So I think she’s basically a failed attempt at a deconstruction that wound up just becoming one more example of her trope played straight, and…I don’t like it.

Stannis and the Starks

(Preferably to the tune of “Benny and the Jets”)

“I know he’s the King. My father died for him.”

As the frozen scales fall from Ned Stark’s eyes, as he sees what’s become of the kingdom he fought for and the king he loved, as he realizes he’s brought his daughters into the same hell that killed his father and his brother and then his sister, as his men die around him, as he is betrayed and shamed and given to ruin with roar and mockery in his ears, there is one person whose image in Ned’s mind stands (like the castle he should’ve inherited and murdered a good and honorable man to possess) against the storm of fatal deconstruction.

“A brothel?” Ned said. “The Lord of the Eyrie and Hand of the King visited a brothel with Stannis Baratheon?”

“If truth be told, I ofttimes wonder how Stannis ever got that
ugly daughter of his. He goes to his marriage bed like a man marching to a battlefield, with a grim look in his eyes and a determination to do his duty.”
Ned had not joined the laughter. “I wonder about your brother Stannis as well. I wonder when he intends to end his visit to Dragonstone and resume his seat on this council.”

Ned found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis
Baratheon, who had once held Storm’s End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting in sight of his walls.

"So when the king dies…”
“The throne by rights passes to Lord Stannis, the elder of Robert’s two brothers.”
Lord Petyr stroked his pointed beard as he considered the matter. “So it would seem. Unless…”
Unless, my lord? There is no seeming to this. Stannis is the heir.”

“I will give you a letter to place into the hand of Lord Stannis Baratheon. No one else. Not his steward, nor the captain of his guard, nor his lady wife, but only Lord Stannis himself.”

He drew out a fresh sheet of paper and dipped his quill in the inkpot. To His Grace, Stannis of the House Baratheon, he wrote. 

“Your son has no claim to the throne he sits. Lord Stannis is Robert’s true heir.”

And this, in the black cells, broken in every other respect:

“Stannis Baratheon is Robert’s true heir,” Ned said. “The throne is his by rights. I would welcome his ascent.”

Stannis is very, very pointedly missing from A Game of Thrones, a structuring absence that establishes the general irony of his character. Had he only been present in that first book, he might’ve won all. But he didn’t want to be in the same book as Robert, getting all the attention with his not-children and his scheming wife and his kingdom and his best friend in the world he loves like a brother and who’s exactly like me, Robert, can’t you see?

So he waits until the second book, and so Ned’s son (among others) gets a crown first, and he’s young and hot and charismatic like Robert was, and is beloved and battle-mad like Robert was, and leading a preposterously successful (at first) revolution like Robert was, and oh right he has the same fucking name besides…well. We know how Stannis feels about his fellow claimants to the Iron Throne. Nobody (except Tyrion and Sansa, of course) hates Joffrey quite like he does. Operas could and should be written about his relationship with Renly, and I’ll cry, so I’ll stop there.

But Robb?

On the one hand:

“The Starks seek to steal half my kingdom, even as the Lannisters have stolen my throne and my own sweet brother the swords and service and strongholds that are mine by rights. They are all usurpers, and they are all my enemies.”

"I am the rightful king, and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well.”

On the other:

"Good men and true will fight for Joffrey, wrongly believing him the true king. A northman might even say the same of Robb Stark. But these lords who flocked to my brother’s banners knew him for a usurper.

The leech was twisting in the king’s grip, trying to attach itself to one of his fingers.

“The usurper,” he said. “Joffrey Baratheon.”

When he tossed the leech into the fire, it curled up like an autumn leaf amidst the coals, and burned.

Stannis grasped the second. “The usurper,” he declared, louder this time. “Balon Greyjoy.” He flipped it lightly onto the brazier, and its flesh split and cracked. The blood burst from it, hissing and smoking.

The last was in the king’s hand. This one he studied a moment as it writhed between his fingers.“The usurper,” he said at last. “Robb Stark.” And he threw it on the flames.

When Stannis is at his best (i.e., when he’s doing what Davos says), he understands the social contract better than any other leader presented in the series, even more than Mance (and holy mother of god GRRM why was their conversation offscreen why), and so he understands and even respects Robb’s position in a way he can’t Joffrey’s or Renly’s. More to the point, he understands the perspective of Robb’s followers: men who quite reasonably have had enough of the Iron Throne, and whose primary political attachment has been to the Starks for a truly staggering amount of time. (There’s a reason so much of the imagery in the Theon-in-Winterfell chapters revolve around decay and old growth and crypts and memories; the removal of the Starks is an event of practically geological proportions.) Of course, Stannis would absolutely execute Robb if it came to it, but that’s an entirely different question, for no one more so than Stannis. So his relationship stands with the Starks in the wake of the Red Wedding; a grudging respect, a hinted kinship, but Stannis has a symbolic membership in the cult of Robb Stark’s assassination (an act already replete with fathers: Roose Bolton, Tywin Lannister, both Walder and Lothar Frey) and so he’s haunted, as always, by what could have been.

And then he meets Jon. 

“The woman was named Ygritte. I broke my vows with her, but I swear to you on my father’s name that I never turned my cloak.”

“I believe you,” the king said.

That startled him. “Why?”

Stannis snorted. “I know Janos Slynt. And I knew Ned Stark as well. Your father was no friend of mine, but only a fool would doubt his honor or his honesty. You have his look.”

"Why do you think I abandoned Dragonstone and sailed to the Wall, Lord Snow?”

“I am no lord, sire. You came because we sent for you, I hope. Though I could not say why you took so long about it.”

Surprisingly, Stannis smiled at that. “You’re bold enough to be a Stark.”

“They tell me that you slew one of these walking corpses to save Lord Mormont’s life,” Stannis said. “It may be that this is your war as well, Lord Snow. If you will give me your help.”

“My sword is pledged to the Night’s Watch, Your Grace,” Jon Snow answered carefully. 

That did not please the king. Stannis ground his teeth and said, “I need more than a sword from you.”

Jon was lost. “My lord?”

“I need the north.” 

Stannis’ rough, grouchy, but above all immediate intimacy with Jon is a remarkable thing to behold. The easy interpretation is that Jon’s the son Stannis never had, but given the context of Dance, I’d say it’s something a little weirder but also significantly more adorable: Jon’s a substitute Davos.

I say adorable because Stannis is otherwise very visibly uncomfortable and unhappy when Davos isn’t present: his meeting with Cressen, his confrontation with Renly, his interactions with the collective Night’s Watch after his arrival at the Wall, his brief conversation (if that) with Asha after her capture, and my personal favorite, his one-act play from Theon’s POV in Winds

“Knows me,” cried one of the ravens the maester had left behind. It flapped its big black wings against the bars of its cage.

“Knows,” it cried again.

Stannis turned. “Stop that noise.”

Did the king just tell a bird to be quiet? This Mal is desperately missing his Zoe. (It’s also hilarious because it has been a very long time since anyone told Bloodraven to shut up.)

And in public, private, and purely in his POV, Jon offers Stannis his unfiltered and unflagging support–a Davos after all.

“Just once you might try to give me an answer that would please me, Lord Snow,” the king grumbled.

“I would hope the truth would please you, Sire.“

“In times as confused as these, even men of honor must wonder where their duty lies. Your Grace is not the only king in the realm demanding homage.”

Lady Melisandre stirred. “Tell me, Lord Snow … where were these other kings when the wild people stormed your Wall?”

“A thousand leagues away and deaf to our need,” Jon replied. “I have not forgotten that, my lady. Nor will I.”

“It’s death and destruction I want to bring down upon House Lannister, not scorn.” Jon read from the letter. “The Night’s Watch takes no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms. Our oaths are sworn to the realm, and the realm now stands in dire peril. Stannis Baratheon aids us against our foes from beyond the Wall, though we are not his men …”

Sam squirmed in his seat. “Well, we’re not. Are we?”

One arrow took Mance Rayder in the chest, one in the gut, one in the throat…[U]p on the platform, Stannis was scowling. Jon refused to meet his eyes.

King Stannis said, “Lord Snow, tell me of Mors Umber.”

The Night’s Watch takes no part, Jon thought, but another voice within him said, Words are not swords.

“Sire, this is a bold stroke, but the risk—” The Night’s Watch takes no part. Baratheon or Bolton should be the same to me. “If Roose Bolton should catch you beneath his walls with his main strength, it will be the end for all of you.”

Jon realized that his words were wasted. Stannis would take the Dreadfort or die in the attempt. The Night’s Watch takes no part, a voice said, but another replied, Stannis fights for the realm, the ironmen for thralls and plunder. “Your Grace, I know where you might find more men. Give me the wildlings, and I will gladly tell you where and how.”

Note how rarely Jon fails to honor Stannis as King, even/especially in his thoughts. The quote atop this meta is from the show, but it’s one of the precious and rare moments in which the show sticks an emotional leap beyond the text.

Ned didn’t actually die for Robert. Robert was already gone. He didn’t die for Robb, who hadn’t yet marched. He didn’t truly die for Jon Arryn, whose killers betrayed him (Littlefinger, of course, but Lysa wrote the lie-filled letter to Catelyn that sealed Ned’s fate, and that of his daughters). He certainly didn’t die for Renly.

Eddard Stark died for Stannis Baratheon to be king, because a world that answered Littlefinger and the Lannisters with justice was a world worth dying for. It is important for Stannis to hear this, because it hints at a resolution to a remarkable number of the grievances that gnaw at him in the night. It is important for Jon Snow to say it, because it hints at the decision that Jon will make sometime early in the next season (for some stupid fucking reason)(could’ve been in season 4 in place of the astonishingly pointless torture-porn subplot)(and that would’ve pushed the battle at Castle Black up a couple episodes, tightening Ygritte’s storyline)(don’t get me started on what season 4 did to the North) to refuse Stannis’ offer of legitimacy, lordship, and Winterfell. It is crucial that Jon makes this decision before he is elected Lord Commander, before he knows that he has been nominated. The election doesn’t drive his decision; it validates it, even rewards it…perhaps more directly than we care to think. Jon realizes he could never allow Stannis and Melisandre to burn Winterfell’s godswood in his name only when Ghost (whom Jon recognizes as an emissary of the old gods) picks that moment to emerge from the haunted forest….and minutes later, the raven we all know to be controlled remotely by everyone’s favorite one-eyed cave-dwelling semi-immortal not named Beric Dondarrion (jury’s out on Euron; I imagine he’ll be hard to kill, but I don’t see him as the spelunking type) emerges from the kettle to establish Jon as Jeor Mormont’s natural successor. Remember Varys’ riddle. Who elected Jon Snow, truly? Dolorous Edd, who nominated him? Sam, who manipulated Cotter Pyke and Denys Mallister into supporting Jon, or Aemon, who subtly manipulated Sam? Or was it Ghost and Bloodraven, Team Old Gods anointing one of their champions? (Bloodraven has a significant stake in Jon’s future as well as Bran’s, and will no doubt be involved in his resurrection. Btw, what did Bloodraven tell his beloved brother’s grandson Aemon in their near two decades on the Wall together, while the former’s third eye was opening? Which leads me back to the question of whether Aemon knows Jon is his beloved brother’s great-great-grandson, and…)

ANYway, above all, it is important for us, the audience, to hear Jon say to Stannis that Ned had died to make him king. That’s especially true for the show-only crowd, who has very good reason to be baffled by Stannis and his continuing presence in the story; Jon’s quote puts the middle Baratheon’s opaque, seemingly tangential struggle into a larger and more emotionally familiar context. Of course, book Stannis would hate that, having his claim reduced to the catalyst for Ned’s death! Then again, in keeping with the aforementioned general irony, Stannis thaws at the Wall, in large part because he finds himself unexpectedly drawn to Northern culture and peoples. He respects Mance, and seemingly Val even more so. He allows himself to be wined and dined by the hill clans–which would be considered an utterly banal aspect of kingship for virtually any other leader in the series, but this is Stannis Baratheon, if I may quote Tywin (backhand-complimenting the only person he fears). Stannis had never pushed a PR campaign in person before arriving at the Wall; now the king courts his subjects, rather than sitting alone and loudly demanding the reverse. And he does it because he trusts Jon, and he trusts the North. I get the sense that, despite the nightfires, he quite likes the cold, or at least that particular Northern cold, the genuine article described in the opening pages of the first book…the grey wind.

(Any excuse to drop in my favorite line in fantasy: “And Lyra thrilled at those times with the same deep thrill she’d felt all her life on hearing the word North.” Always capitalize North, especially the Stark North.)

But it’s the idea of the Stark in Winterfell that attracts Stannis the most, shining a light on Stark mythos in a way he can appreciate, even admire. Stannis seeks to put Jon in Ned’s seat for reasons beyond military alliance. The context of their conversation (atop the Wall, ruminating on the War for the Dawn, Melisandre standing by as an avatar of ancient magic) reminds us that the Stark’s paramount position in the North is partially mystical as well as political, that the warmth of Winterfell is a slightly cosmic property as well as a physical one, and that, as with Harrenhal, the sheer tectonic weight of history on an ancient place makes its presence known within the flickering of mortal lives. Stannis is offering Jon a place in a powerfully long history, in large part because he feels it belongs to Jon in a way it wouldn’t to Tyrion or Roose or Arnolf Karstark. The latter becomes the king’s choice for Winterfell after Jon is elected Lord Commander, because Stannis is surprised and hurt by Jon’s refusal, makes no attempt whatsoever to hide it, and so gives the castle to a man whose nephew and lord betrayed Robb…a man who carries Stark around as part of his name, like he could give it away. It’s a decision designed to wound Jon, as is referring to Sansa as “Lady Lannister.” This could all come across as abusive and is unquestionably petty beyond description, but Stannis is at his most lovable when he treats people like furniture he can mutter his grievances at; Jon, to his credit, grasps this almost immediately, and adjusts his expectations accordingly. 

“His Grace is growing fond of you.”

“I can tell. He only threatened to behead me twice.”

But they aren’t truly sundered, as the cold war between Stannis and the Starks finally ends in my single favorite moment in the series, one which (as is so often the case with both Stannis and Jon) relies on our willingness to interpret and visualize subtle-to-the-point-of-nonexistent emotional cues, to be aggressively empathetic.

“Can I have his boots?” asked Owen the Oaf, as Janos Slynt’s head went rolling across the muddy ground. “They’re almost new, those boots. Lined with fur.”

Jon glanced back at Stannis. For an instant, their eyes met. Then the king nodded, and went back inside his tower.

Everything conveyed in the space between their eyes is left unsaid, by them and GRRM. Like a pre-60s cinematographer tilting his lens away from the soon-to-sex, the author respects their privacy (just as he did by never taking us inside the moment when Davos allowed Stannis to cut into him, an early echo of the future king’s respect for Northern traditions). We can, perhaps, easily project what Stannis was expressing to Jon in that moment: respect, understanding, one single drop of misty-eyed paternal affection, and of course gratitude for the honor of watching Janos Slynt’s head roll across the ground, a justice denied by Robert (and Littlefinger). But what was in Jon’s eyes?

Visions of Winterfell (and his family, and Ygritte, all that he’s lost) begin to invade Jon’s mind beginning in his sixth Dance chapter, when he learns that the person he loves most in the world is being given to a monster worse than Joffrey. Or, at least, that’s when GRRM shows us the visions; but I’ve always imagined that, for an instant, Jon saw Ned standing in front of the king’s tower, Ned watching him do justice as he himself did in the very beginning of the series, Ned alive and proud and ready to explain, explain himself, explain everything, so Jon could finally stop dreaming of Winterfell even when awake.

They both know it should be Ned standing there, as Stannis feels it should’ve always been him there next to Robert. What Jon and his king share in that moment is the understanding that what they’ve lost is gone, irrevocably, and they’re both likely to lose more, but they’re glad to have met along the way; they’re happy for the melancholy, switched-lives fate (the “bittersweet ending”) arranged for them by the Author. And all the king can do is nod, and go back into his tower, because he’s Stannis, and he’s been crying where no one can see him since Proudwing.