A Game of Thrones

by: George R.R. Martin

Chapters 20-24

Summary Chapters 20-24

The meeting of the royal council also introduces Ned—and the reader—to the intrigue, apathy, and jockeying that appear to dominate politics in King’s Landing. Littlefinger and Varys, for instance, both seem to recognize the extreme debt the kingdom is in, yet their greater concern is apparently appeasing Robert, even if it is to the kingdom’s detriment. The two also obviously harbor some animosity toward one another and are evidently maneuvering for some advantage behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Renly, who is Robert’s younger brother, clearly disdains Robert and the way he has run the kingdom. But he doesn’t vehemently oppose Robert’s spendthrift habits either. Everyone on the council appears to recognize that Robert’s spending is a serious problem, but nobody seems willing to do anything about it. Ned, who is accustomed to doing what’s right even when it is uncomfortable, feels horrified. By showing the council from Ned’s perspective, the novel essentially endorses Ned’s judgment of the council and its members, making the reader apt to share Ned’s view.

Ned does redefine some of the story’s moral boundaries, however, when he tells Arya that a lie can be honorable. Justice is one of the book’s overriding themes, especially as it relates to Ned, and truth and justice are closely linked in the novel. Here, however, Ned acknowledges that Arya’s actions are inherently just despite her lie. He suggests that the good intention (and perhaps the good outcome) of the lie outweigh the immorality of lying. By contrast, he was disappointed in Sansa for lying and saying she didn't remember what happened during Joff's fight with Arya. In that case, Sansa lied primarily out of cowardice. Significantly, as a result of Arya’s lie, Ned avoids killing Arya’s direwolf, and as a result of Sansa’s lie, Ned has to kill her direwolf instead. The book doesn't suggest this turn of events is some sort of karmic justice, but it does suggest that dishonorable behavior, such as Sansa displayed, rarely solves a problem and may in fact compound it.

Daenerys’ interactions with Viserys, Drogo, and Jorah in chapter 23 indicate that she has begun a dramatic character transition as a result of her new surroundings and newfound power. From the start of the book, Daenerys has feared her brother, and she has exactly what he's told her to do. In this section, though she still fears him, she defies him for the first time. As the new khaleesi, Daenerys recognizes that her brother no longer has any control over her, and in fact, he is punished by the Dothraki for threatening his sister. Afterward, Daenerys bravely faces a hard truth regarding Viserys while talking with Jorah. She admits that her brother will never manage to win the Iron Throne and take her home to Westeros. If she still wishes to return to Westeros, she must take matters into her own hands. The realization marks a dramatic change in her character, and it suggests she will no longer play a passive role in other people's plans. In something of a demonstration of her newfound sense of control, Daenerys then dictates how she and Drogo will make love.

Catelyn's reunion in this section recalls Ned's recent reunion with Robert: Robert and Littlefinger were like surrogate brothers to Ned and Catelyn, respectively, and both Ned and Catelyn find that the people they knew are changed. Catelyn and Littlefinger were friends throughout their childhoods, and when Catelyn sees Littlefinger after being apart for several years, she tells him that she feels she has found a brother she thought was lost. The young boy she remembers, however, is now a grown man who is the realm's Master of Coin. He is also, she learns, the owner of a few brothels. Robert and Ned are also not related by blood but were raised as brothers, and in chapter 6 Catelyn warns Ned that Robert has changed from the man he once knew. The duties of being king have changed Robert for the worse. He is essentially an alcoholic as he tries to escape the unpleasant realities of being king by drinking. In both Robert's and Littlefinger's cases, the novel suggests their new characters will play a lead role in the way the story unfolds.