A Game of Thrones

by: George R.R. Martin

Chapters 55-60

Summary Chapters 55-60

Analysis

Catelyn's advice to Robb to not mistake fearlessness for strength recalls Ned's earlier point that one can't be brave without fear, and both suggest that fear is a positive feeling. Catelyn wants Robb to understand that being fearless can also mean being reckless. Fear, she suggests, means that one is fully aware of the dangers around and of the risks and consequences involved in any decision. The Greatjon is fearless, and this fearlessness implies that he does not fully consider those factors. Consequently, he's not an ideal leader. Robb would be better choosing someone who will consider all the dangers around and make the best decision based on a clear understanding of the situation. The argument is similar to the one made by Ned earlier that one cannot be brave if one doesn't feel fear. Ned's point was that bravery means overcoming fear, not lack of fear. Again, the suggestion is that fear entails understanding all the risks and consequences an action entails, and that bravery is deciding to act in full awareness of those risks and consequences. In both Catelyn's and Ned's arguments, fear implies understanding the reality of a situation, and it is thus a useful and even healthy emotion.

In the meeting between Tyrion and his father Tywin we see firsthand what Tyrion meant by his earlier comment that all dwarves are bastards in their fathers' eyes. Tywin evidently thought Tyrion had been killed, but when he sees Tyrion again he displays no feeling whatsoever, except perhaps disdain. He even blames Tyrion for starting the war, saying that Tyrion's brother Jaime would never have let a woman capture him. Tywin's behavior makes plain the contempt he feels for his son. Tyrion, meanwhile, feels acutely aware of his body in his father's presence. The dynamic between the two appears to stem directly from Tyrion being a little person, or dwarf in the parlance of the novel. Tywin interprets it as a failure on Tyrion's part and a disgrace to the Lannister family, despite Tyrion having no control over the way his body developed. He regards Tyrion as somehow illegitimate as a result, and Tyrion, who reads people easily, does not miss his father's feelings of contempt for him

Ned struggles to see how unjust means can lead to noble ends as Varys explains his goals to Ned. For Varys, a life of lies, spies, cowardice, and deceit is allegedly lived for the good of the realm and the greater peace. For Ned, a life of honor and honesty has won him a dirty cell and a broken leg. Varys explains that Ned’s honorable actions have led to worse things than that. He reminds Ned of the Targaryen children that were killed as a result of Robert’s war. Varys asks Ned why the innocents suffer when lords play the game of thrones, which amounts to an accusation that Ned has been using unjust means, or the lives of innocent men, to fight for what only Ned thinks are noble ends, or the crowning of one rightful king or another. Varys expects that the gods will forgive Ned, suggesting that Ned is guilty of a crime that needs to be forgiven.

Ned must also confront a final choice between love and duty. Ned can maintain his integrity to the last and proclaim Stannis the king when he is let out of his cell, but in doing so he may be putting Sansa's wellbeing at risk. The alternative is that he can lie, make a false confession, betray Robert’s memory, and in doing so save Sansa’s life. Varys has shown Ned that, in the past, Ned’s honorable behavior has led to the deaths of children and innocent men, and now seems likely to lead to Ned's own death. (Other honorable men we see in the novel have fared only slightly better: Aemon’s devout service to the Night’s Watch has brought him a great deal of sorrow, and Barristan’s life of duty to the Kingsguard has ended with a public shaming at the hands of a boy king.) Ned realizes that he must now choose between maintaining his honor, which can be described as the way that other people perceive him and therefore an abstract quality, and doing what's best for Sansa, which will have a tangible, real-world effect on someone he loves. The loophole here, of course, is that a lie can be honorable, as Ned explains to Arya earlier in the novel. If Ned confesses to treason, he will be disgraced in the eyes of the public perhaps, but he can still feel he is doing the honorable thing by lying to save his daughter.

Jon faces a decision between love and duty much like his father’s, and Aemon helps Jon see the truth of what his decisions could cost him. Aemon has suffered through the death of his entire family, undoubtedly as have many other men of the Night’s Watch. But given the choice between doing his duty and abandoning his post to help his family, Aemon has always opted to fulfill his duty and remain loyal to the Watch. Much as Ned tells Bran a man can only be brave when he is afraid, Aemon tells Jon that a man can only be honorable when he must choose between two competing loyalties. Jon has sworn that he will not marry or bear children, but he still has a family in the Starks. Now Jon’s duty is to the lives of all people in the realm, regardless of whether Jon loves them or not. Like many other men on the Wall, the price of his duty could be the lives of the people he loves.