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A Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin

Chapters 35-39

Summary Chapters 35-39

While Daenerys and Jorah are discussing a hypothetical battle between the Dothraki and Westeros, Jorah provides a strikingly accurate characterization of Robert and reveals the differences between the Dothraki and people of Westeros in the process. Jorah says Robert should have been born Dothraki, since he would prefer to fight his enemies with a sword instead of playing political games. Robert is not the powerful fighter he once was, but he would still sooner fight in the tournament’s melee than attend a meeting of the royal council. In chapter 12 Robert tells Ned about his distaste for ruling. Indeed, the financial decline of the realm demonstrates that Robert was more skilled at fighting for the throne than he is at ruling from it. For the Dothraki, a good khal wins wars by physical strength and maintains order with the threat of violence. A strong khal need only kill his enemies in battle. In Westeros, the criteria for a good king are much less clear. A good king might maintain peace, provide justice, and see that his subjects are provided for. A strong king can defend himself from the treachery and scheming that surrounds him at all times. Since he cannot provide justice or combat his political enemies with a sword, Robert does not have much taste for ruling.

Robert’s conversation at Ned’s bedside sheds new light on Robert’s notions of justice. Violence, their conversation suggests, is the only justice Robert understands. Since five Lannister men and three Stark men die when Jaime confronts Ned, in Robert’s eyes justice has been done. Then Cersei insults Robert, and he hits her as punishment. Ned abandons his position as Robert’s Hand, and Robert seems to forgive him because Ned suffers a violent attack and a painful injury as a result. Robert killed Rhaegar in battle, and he expected a life of happiness in reward. Now, Robert feels that life has been unfair to him since his victory has only resulted in more difficulties. Jorah points out that Robert’s character is better suited to the Dothraki life, and true to form, Robert asks Ned how he can fight an enemy he cannot hit, referring to the political difficulties he must contend with. Instead of dealing with enemies he cannot kill, Robert leaves to hunt and kill animals instead.

Like Arya’s lie to protect Nymeria’s life, Ned tells an honorable lie in order to protect Catelyn. The lie, however, continues a series of ethical compromises for Ned. Ned has made it clear that he values honesty, yet when Cersei asks Ned who he thinks he is to capture a Lannister, Ned lies again: He claims he is the Hand of the King, a position he recently renounced. This statement could be construed as simple confusion since Ned may not really have meant his renunciation, or he could be deliberately withholding his renunciation from Cersei and using the title for the authority it gives him. In any case, Robert ultimately reinstates Ned as Hand, and since Robert has not changed his decision about the children, Ned essentially violates his own principles by resuming the position.

While he sits in one of the Eyrie’s sky cells, Tyrion’s thoughts point out that pride is perhaps the Lannisters’ greatest weakness. He realizes that his family will be too proud to see that Catelyn’s unjustified actions have given the Lannisters a powerful argument to arrange for repercussions against the Stark family, like removing Ned as Hand. By the time Tyrion is in his cell, however, Jaime has already squandered the family’s leverage by killing Ned’s men and fleeing King’s Landing. Tyrion even realizes that his own pride has put him at a disadvantage. When he was brought before Lysa and Robert Arryn in the Eyrie, his mockery and indignation only made his situation worse. A little humility could have spared him a lot of trouble. As always, Tyrion is honest with himself about his failings and willing to face a difficult truth, whether about himself or the repugnant aspects of his family.