Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Game of Thrones: Catelyn Stark- Yea or Nay

A Clash of Kings  (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)

Catelyn Stark is a controversial figure in Game of Thrones fandom. Some hate her for the way she treated Jon Snow, among other reasons, while others cut her a little more slack. I always tended to kind of like her in the books- even though she is a problematic figure for many reasons- whereas on the show I did not like her portrayal at all. And as I was mulling the return of Game of Thrones and its seventh season, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Catelyn- books vs. show.

First of all this post will have spoilers. Catelyn is the wife of Ned Stark, the Warden of the North at the beginning of the series, and she comes from House Tully, one of the great Houses that rule Westeros. She seems to be a good mother for the most part, although we get hints that she might be a little less patient with Arya than with Sansa, who is more of a "proper" lady. And of course she treats Jon Snow very badly, which is what sets many fans against her. Jon of course is Ned's bastard child, raised alongside his legitimate children, and his daily presence at Winterfell is hard for Catelyn to accept. Of course Jon may not really be Ned's bastard- the most prominent theory out there is that Jon is the child of Lyanna Stark, the sister of Ned, and that he raised Jon as his own to protect him.

So let's look at this a minute. Catelyn can't stand Jon's presence- let's look at some background.

It was the one thing she could never forgive him. She had come to love her husband with all her heart, but she never found it in her to love Jon. She might have overlooked a dozen bastards for Ned's sake, so long as they were out of sight. Jon was never out of sight, and as he grew, he looked more like Ned than any of the true born sons she bore him. Somehow that made it wrong. 

Ned would not speak of the mother, not so much as a word, but a castle has no secrets, and Catelyn heard her maids repeating tales they heard from the lips of her husband's soldiers. They whispered of Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, deadliest of the seven knights of Aerys'  Kingsguard, and of how their young lord had slain him in single combat. 

And they told how afterward Ned had carried Ser Arthur's sword back to the beautiful young sister who awaited him in a castle called Starfall o the shores of the Summer Sea. 

It had taken her a fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked him to his face. 

That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. "Never ask me about Jon," he said, cold as ice. "He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady." She had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne's name was never heard in Winterfell again.

Who is Ashara Dayne, and why was there whispering? Well Ashara is the sister of Ser Arthur Dayne, and there were rumors that Ned fell in love with Ashara at a tourney, so maybe some assumed Jon was a bastard that Ned had with her?

The other thing to keep in mind here is that Ned and Catelyn were newly married at this point. When he came home from the war with a bastard in tow she hardly knew him- they had been married just before he went off to fight. So not only did she have to get to know her husband, but he came home with a bastard! Or so she thought, understandably. Given all this, I think it's pretty understandable that she feels the way she does.

Later Catelyn and Robb are talking over the succession if anything should happen to Robb, and he informs her he wants to make Jon his heir. She's shocked, and shares her concerns with him.

Catelyn knew how stubborn her son could be. "A bastard cannot inherit."
"Not unless he's legitimized by a royal decree," said Robb. "There is more precedent for that than for releasing a Sworn Brother from his oath." 
"Precedent," she said bitterly. "Yes, Aegon the Fourth legitimized all his bastards on his deathbed. And how much pain, grief, war, and murder grew from that? I know you trust Jon. But can you trust his sons? Or their sons? The Blackfyre pretenders troubled the Targaryens for five generations, until Barristan the Bold slew the last of them on the Stepstones. If you make Jon legitimate, there is no way to turn him bastard again. Should he wed and breed, any sons you may have by Jeyne will never be safe." 

Catelyn is thus eminently practical- and looking out for Robb first.

So let's move on from the Jon question. What else does Catelyn have going for or against her? Well I think she gave Robb good advice, both the counsel she gave him about Jon (it makes sense from her perspective), and also her general advice to Robb- who to trust, who not to trust, etc. You can't really fault her advice to Robb during the war, in my view. However she makes a huge mistake that arguably starts the whole war to begin with. Coming across Tyrion at an inn, and remembering the lies that Littlefinger told her, she arrests Tyrion, which infuriates the Lannisters and starts the fighting. Now granted it was probably just a matter of time before Starks and Lannisters came to blows, but this was not well thought out and has such terrible repercussions that it's not an exaggeration to say that she kind of started the war.

In her defense she is relying on advice given to her by Littlefinger, who she's known since childhood, and she's been sent home by Ned to prepare for war, just in case, so it's not much of a stretch for her to make that call when she encounters Tyrion. Littlefinger told her he was behind the assassination try on her son Bran. So what would she do? Not to mention her own sister had sent her a letter implicating the Lannisters in the murder of Jon Arryn. So she is being manipulated, no question.

Lastly I want to look at one of my favorite chapters in the series, the one where she meets with Renly to treat with him on behalf of Robb, who is claiming kingship of the North at this point. She is seeking an alliance with Renly's forces. There is so much good stuff in this chapter, I'll just share a few quotes. I especially like it when she puts Lord Randyll Tarly in his place!

"No disrepect to you, Lady Stark, but it would have been more seemly had Lord Robb come to pay homage to the king himself, rather than hiding behind his mother's skirts." 

"King Robb is warring, my lord," Catelyn replied with icy courtesy, "not playing at tourney."

Renly grinned. "Go softly, Lord Randyll, I fear you're overmatched." 

And when she muses that all the nobility, all the knights, in Renly's camp have no idea what's coming, Lord Rowan asks her what she means.

Because it will not last," Catelyn answered, sadly. "Because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming."

25 comments:

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    1. I think I might be neutral too... :)

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  2. Out of all of the characters in the series, Catelyn is probably the one I've had the most mixed feelings about. While I understood her motivations in many cases, she was still just so unlikable at times.

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    1. Yup. she is very controversial.

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  3. I don't blame Catelyn at all for the way she treated Jon. Ned didn't want to tell her the truth about Jon's parents - how is a woman supposed to feel when she is confronted every day with the result of her husband's supposed infidelity? I wonder how things would have been different if Ned had told her, in regards to the whole story, not just the Starks.

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    1. I generally don't either- what would a woman feel if she had to see her (honorable) husband's bastard every days? So yeah I totally get that.

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  4. I can't say that I ever really looked down on Catelyn for being how she was with Jon... She was quite awful to him come to think of it but at the same time it wasn't unprovoked.... So I guess I just accepted that it was a part of who she was.

    Although Catelyn may have followed Littlefinger's advice, I think he knew who she was at heart and he played her, so in effect HE started in motion the war that we have come to know. As much as I dislike and mistrust him, he is a mastermind.

    At times she can seem so wise and at times she seems to be played - but I guess noone is infallible!

    I actually really liked her character and I didn't mind the casting in the TV show either. I wonder if we're going to see more of her at all? Either in the books or in the show...

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    1. I don't either. I mean I thought it was unfortunate, but only a part of her. There was so much else going on, and she seemed like a good mother other than that. She also gave good advice to Robb. And I agree- Littlefinger was the ultimate instigator of the war (and Lysa too, for letting him manipulate her).

      I liked her in the books, she seemed practical and sensible. In the books she's still around- kinda- but in the show???

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    2. I don't see any mention of her in the show at all... And they never really seemed to even acknowledge the fact that she might actually come back. Whereas GRRM really made it clear that she was ... something... And he doesn't usually do stuff for nothing?

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  5. I agree with you, Greg: I found Catelyn much more likeable in the books than in the show. For me, it's because you have a direct window into her thoughts and feelings on Jon etc. in the books so you know *exactly* why she's behaving in such an unfeeling way, whereas you don't get quite as much detail in the show. Not that it makes her actions okay, in my mind. It just made them more understandable in the books.

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    1. Same. And exactly- her thoughts and behavior in the books make her WAY more likable, at least I thought.

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  6. I've only watched the show, but I did really dislike her for the way she treated Jon. Especially at the end when you find out what you do about Jon. To me it seems she would have done a better job by treating him as a family member, but again, you don't know how it would feel to be in that situation, at least the way she seems to believe it is, until it happens to you! Great post! Now I'm really getting excited again for the next season.

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    1. Yeah I understand why she feels the way she does, thinking Jon is Ned's bastard. It would all be different if she knew the truth! Too bad Ned didn't tell her. But his promise to Lyanna was so ironclad I guess he didn't dare tell even her.

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  7. I've only seen the first season and a few random episodes after that but I kind of liked Catelyn. Almost everyone has made some questionable decisions on that show lol but they're all being manipulated at times and I guess from a wife's perspective I can see where she's coming from. Not to necessarily approve but to understand.

    For What It's Worth

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    1. I like Catelyn, but more in the books, I wasn't crazy about the casting on the show. But yes everyone makes mistakes/ questionable decisions and she's no different. And I do think from a wife's perspective I would understand it too

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  8. I have only seen some seasons when we get the freebie HBO and they binge it. I'm having a feeling I would enjoy reading these anyway. Your review in particular is making me think I do need to read these to get a greater feel for the characters.

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    1. I hope you get a chance to read em. THe books provide so much more insight into the characters!

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  9. I've never blamed Catelyn for her attitude to Jon. How would any woman feel if their husband moved their bastard child into the family home and you had to look at him every day and remember what your husband did? Doesn't mean I don't feel sorry for Jon of course! I expected Catelyn to be really horrible in the first book to her children but she wasn't really.

    Her big mistake, I agree, was deciding to arrest Tyrion which sparked the war and caused heartache for the Starks and Tully's but would she really have known what the consequences would be? And of course it was really Littlefinger that was manipulating everyone so I blame him more than her. He gave her Tyrion's name as the dagger owner.

    I want to read this book so badly but I have others I mustget to first!

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  10. I just finish watching all 6 seasons for.. maybe the 4th time LOL I just can't get enough of GoT!!! I can't believe Cat died without knowing the truth about Jon! That tells you though how freakingly stubborn Edd was! I couldn't have stand the tension in my marriage all those years without telling the truth!!!

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  11. I think Ned should have trusted her with the truth. I know it was dangerous but she is not loose lipped, and I hate that Ned lied to her (well implied more than lied). Equally I hate how she treated Jon. I'm biased though as Jon is my favourite character, so I can't ignore slights on him.

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  12. It's been a VERY long time since I read the first couple books and a while even since I watched the show so I don't have any real details to back up my feelings but I've always really liked Catelyn. She's practical, smart, strong and passionate and wonderfully imperfect. I do remember disliking how hard she is on Jon, because we the reader know he is a good guy, trustworthy and doesn't deserve the ill treatment - his existence isn't his fault. However, the first scene you quote above I think justifies her feelings of resentment. Someone is being and asshole in that scene and it ain't Catelyn. She's his wife, it is absolutely her business to know where Jon came from (and to be honest, Ned's shutting her out of this is pretty OOC for him too) and by making it such a "thing that shall not be talked of" he makes the situation much worse. It implies that there is somebody that he owes more loyalty and devotion to than her. I have to say I think she's well within her rights to be a little irrational about this one situation. It's just too bad Jon pays the price and not Ned.

    Oh man, do I love George R.R.'s characters and relationships! So much fun to analyze!

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  13. I wonder, if Jon wasn't such an all-round good character whether people would be less opposed to Catelyn and the way she treats him?

    I love these sorts of discussion posts! Who will you look at next?

    Annette @ http://www.shesareader.com

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    1. I'm actually thinking of doing Jon Snow next! Should be up in a couple weeks. :)

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  14. I've only read the first two books and seen the first two seasons of the show so far, and while she isn't a favorite I don't have strong feelings for her either way.

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  15. Great post! However it makes me realize that I need to re-read the books. It has been forever since I have. I loved reading the quotes you put in. Makes me long for the books. I think book 'Catelyn's reaction is pretty justified.

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