Synopsis

Catelyn goes to the godswood to find Ned, cleaning Ice after the execution. They discuss the dangers beyond the Wall before she tells him about Hand of the King Jon Arryn's death, and the king's journey to Winterfell to meet with him.

Theme: Obligation

Catelyn is surrounded by obligation. Her marriage was arranged, and while she's found love in it, her outsider status in Winterfell is brilliantly conveyed in her description of the godswood, notably:

Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil. This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names.

Her own relationship to religion seems to be driven much more by obligation than the solemn naturalistic reverence of the Starks. She knows all the rituals, but when she interacts with the deeply esoteric – like the portentious direwolf being killed – she doesn't turn to her religion for answers.

And she doesn't wait for her husband to finish processing after taking a life, because she has an even more important obligation. As the Lady of Winterfell, she needs to tell Ned as soon as possible about the political events that are unfolding around them.

There's plenty of discussion about obligation in the form of protecting the realm from what's beyond the Wall, but there's also a great deal of focus on protecting the children, now that they have extremely dangerous pets.

The text also says, of Jon Arryn's death, that Maester Pycelle was helpless, but gave him drugs to ease his pain. I found that particularly interesting – in America there is great concern about medication for pain, but this view is important. If we are unable to help, if someone is suffering and we cannot address it at all, we have an obligation to minimize that pain. That doesn't mean we can help. But it does mean we have something we need to do.

There's also talk about the obligation to fill the homes of widows with laughter and young life, to not let people be alone in their grief. This is interesting in particular because this is extremely important, and because it can be against people's wills, it's frequently set aside in modern practice. There's an epidemic of depression and loneliness, and perhaps that's because we respect people's desire to be alone with their sadness too much, when we have an obligation to ignore those wishes.

We also get to see a glimpse of Robert's burdens of obligation, even those he's not quite good at meeting:

"How many in his party, did the message say?”
“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers, and half again as many freeriders.

and:

"It sounds as though Robert is bringing half his court.”
“Where the king goes, the realm follows,” she said.

That's the weight of the crown for you. You can't visit a friend to ask for a favor without uprooting the capital.

Reading Practice - PaRDeS

Today, we'll be using the tool of Pardes – a four-step deep reading practice that treats the work as an orchard,  where we can reach up and grab anything and know it will be juicy.

Today, the randomly selected sentence is:

His eyes found hers, and she could see how hard it took him, as she had known it would.

The Peshat (what is literally happening) is that Catelyn is seeing Ned's reaction to the news his old friend and surrogate father Jon Arryn died.

The Ramez (the hinted meaning) is a bit harder to get at. In this case, I think this hints that Catelyn understood much of how this conversation would go. She knows her husband will be offered the role of Hand of the King. She knew this would be hard, but she also knew this conversation would be important. She wasn't looking at the blade like he was. She wasn't fixated on the extremely creepy surroundings we know unsettle her. She was already looking at him, because she knew how important the stakes were, how eventually he'd be distracted from his task too completely.

The hinted meaning is that Catelyn is simply much more politically aware than her husband, and that while he is impacted by the tragedy of events, he's somewhat slower to understand the fullness of events.

The Derash asks us to compare these words to other places we find them, and here there's a lot to learn. The eyes in particular signify quite a lot about family. It seems almost every noble house in Westeros has a distinctive hair-eye color combination, something in their face that identifies them on sight. And so when Ned finds Catelyn's eyes, we can understand it as Ned finding the eyes of a house close to his (namely, the Tullys). In many ways, this is a quintessential bit of understanding. We see later how, when the Lannisters find out, they turn inward, talking amongst themselves. But Ned looks to those he's loved and cared for. In the multi-book comparative leadership exploration seen in the Stark-Lannister fued, this seems like a perfect expression of who Ned is, and how the Stark children wish to be.

The Sod, the secret and esoteric meaning, sometimes never comes. And let me say, for a simple sentence like this, it took me a while. But of course, the esoteric element of this chapter is the giant creepy tree in the room. The eyes carved into the heart tree is described in the chapter as strange and watchful, and the red eyes specifically are watching and listening, thinking long slow thoughts. The Sod I found is, when their eyes find each other, they missed the strange record that being made and kept of the moment, the third set of eyes, as the events of the story get pushed into motion with these words. We could all do to remember how the things we do and say put things into motion, even in moments we believe are private. Those comments can mean the most to people.

Blessing

I'd like to bless the wisdom of Catelyn Stark. She seems to be the only person who understands the world they're in well enough to be cautious of the omens (the direwolf killed by the stag when it went south), and insistent enough to not ignore it, even when she knows her husband won't care. While she's in many ways defined by her strength as a mother and Lady, you can't help but think: she's essentially the only one properly prepared for what's about to happen.