SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. You’ve been warned.
Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.
Starks and their Honor
Don’t worry folks, I’ll get to the scene you want to talk about in a moment. I’m starting with Arya and the Hound a) to avoid spoilers prior to the jump and b) because within their scenes is a small nugget which represents the episode’s overarching theme: the family Stark and their unending honor. The dog and the wolf girl come upon a man trying to fix a broken wagon. He’s got to get to the Twins to deliver a load of salt pork, you see. The Hound intends to rob him, knocking his lights out before drawing a knife. Arya pleads with him not to kill the man. It’s wrong of course, and it will be plenty easy to rob him without slitting his throat. The Hound tells Arya that she’s very kind, and that it’s going to get her killed one day.
This, in a nutshell, is who the Starks are. They’re a kind and loving family who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. They run into situations like this one, in a which a person who should be allowed to live is staring death in the eye, and they save him, even when simply killing them and being done with it would be far safer in the long run. In the case of the man and his wagon, nothing comes of it. But in that of the wedding I’ll discuss in a moment, well, you know.
The Lannisters Send Their Regards
Well, I warned you, didn’t I? Episode nine is when shit goes down. Robb Stark died for the same reason his father did in the ninth episode of season one: honor. It was honor that killed Ned Stark. He refused to play the game of thrones, he took people at their word, lying and scheming hardly occurred to him, so it hardly occurred to him that lying and scheming would occur to others. In short, the very traits that made him admirable and drew us to him as a character were the cause of his demise. Of course, Robb shared many of these traits, it wasn’t simply that he was Ned’s son which endeared him to us. But Robb was more aware of the lying and machinations that come with being a high lord than his father was. After all, he learned the lesson that honor doesn’t result in victory in this series at the same moment we did: when Ilyn Payne sliced his father’s head off.
A different kind of honor led to Robb’s conundrums. He executed Rickard Karstark because the man killed two children who were under his protection, even if they were Lannisters. He married Talisa both because he loved her and because he had taken her virginity. It was the honorable thing to do. But even with all that, if every man in Westeros was as honorable and forgiving as he, there would have been no issue. Unfortunately, as we all know, that is not the world he lived in.
Robb died because he made the same mistake Catelyn did when she freed Jaime in the hopes that he, or more likely Tyrion, would honor their agreement and return her daughters to her. Each hoped that others would follow the same code that the Stark family does, that they would do the right thing, even if it was not the thing from which they stood to benefit from most. Roose Bolton got in the way of Catelyn’s idealistic plan to have her daughters returned to her, and it’s the reason she’s watches her son die in front of her with a blade at her throat.
Obviously, men like Bolton, Walder Frey, and Tywin Lannister follow no such code. It wasn’t just the hopeful code of honor followed by the Starks that they broke in planning and executing the Red Wedding. They also broke “guest right,” the ancient and sacred code of hospitality followed by the lords of ladies of Westeros, well, followed when it suits them. In short, when you offer someone your hospitality, when they sit at your table and eat your bread and salt, they are under your protection. No harm may come to them as long as they are beneath your roof. Lord Walder, of course, performs the ritual when Robb first arrives knowing full well he intends to break his oath, and break it hard.
Stark and Snow
Farther north, the concepts of the Stark code of honor and just how unsuited it is to reality are further cemented in our minds. Yet another sad result of Stark honor is the way the family is so split up and spread across the continent. Robb entrusted his “brother” Theon Greyjoy to bring his father Balon over to Robb’s cause, never considering that the Greyjoys might not go along with the plan just because it’s right and true and honorable and puppy dogs and rainbows. Winterfell has been burned to the ground while Bran and Rickon are on the run and believed dead.
As if the picture wasn’t clearer enough already: playing by the rules is more trouble than it’s worth, and the faster the remaining Starks adapt to that fact, the more likely they are to survive. We see this in the (near) meeting of Bran, Jon, and their respective companies. Jon finds himself in a situation much like Arya did. He is asked by his wildling companions to kill an innocent man, a friend of the Watch even. Of course, Jon’s under cover with the wildlings, and while Ygritte knows that he’s still loyal to the Watch, she’s willing to keep his secret. Orell is not so kind, having been suspicious of Jon’s intentions all along (and wanting to bang his girlfriend), he insists that Jon kill the man to prove his loyalty. As I mentioned earlier, the easy thing to do, the safe thing to do, is to kill the man and be done with it, to maintain his cover, live to fight another day, and get his vengeance when he’s not so heavily outnumbered. But Jon’s got the same sense of his honor that his brother did, and rather than kill the man he lashes out against the wildlings. Again, the fact that Jon would do this is the very thing that makes us root for him. But it also makes him, well, kind of an idiot. Jon only escapes because Bran takes control of his direwolf, Summer, and comes to his rescue. What’s more, earlier on, Bran is able to keep he and his friends hidden by warging into the anxious and shouting Hodor, an ethically sketchy move at best, and controlling is mind to make him calm. Ned Stark has four children still living. One of them, Bran, is starting to figure out that following the rules can lead to swift and certain death. We can only hope the rest of the family will follow his lead.
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Tags: Arya Stark, Barristan Selmy, Bran Stark, Catelyn Stark, Daario Naharis, Daenerys Targaryen, Edmure Tully, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones blog, Gilly, Jaime Lannister, Jojen Reed, Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Meera Reed, Nate Kreichman, Ned Stark, Osha, Rickon Stark, Robb Stark, Roose Bolton, Samwell Tarly, Sandor Clegane, The Hound, Tyrion Lannister, Tywin Lannister, Walder Frey, Ygritte