Thursday, November 14, 2013

Promise Me, Ned

The story of Rhaegar and Lyanna is one that has captured my imagination, and not only because layers of it continue to be revealed as the Game of Thrones saga continues. We first hear of it from Robert's perspective, and many readers (myself included) like Robert a lot at this point. He seems to speak his mind, regardless of what his icy queen has to say, and of course we love Ned, and Robert is Ned's friend, so this early in the book, we trust him. When he says, “'I vowed to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her,'” (Martin 44), we think that surely Rhaegar was some terrible person, a figure we should loathe. This statement is paired with Ned's fond and bittersweet memories of Lyanna: “Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black...They had found him still holding her body, silent with grief...'I bring her flowers when I can,' he said. 'Lyanna was...fond of flowers'” (Martin 43-44).

Rhaegar strikes a sinister figure in the following memory as well. Clad in black, he and Robert clashed on the Trident, and Robert says, “'In my dreams, I kill him every night...A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves'” (Martin 44). At this point, I was convinced that Robert truly loved Lyanna, and Rhaegar crushed their chance of happiness.

Yet we later see a different side of Robert, and a different side of Rhaegar.

I won't go into the details of every mention of either; you've read the books. (Hopefully. And if not, go right now to the library.) However, I would like to look at both characters within the frame of two of Eddard's memories.

The first is the Tower of Joy scene. Much-debated, it is the most fascinating glimpse into one of the most mysterious secrets in the history of Westeros. The Tower of Joy is located at the entrance of Prince's Pass, which leads into Dorne. Far out of the eyes of King's Landing, the event escaped much of the notice of the Seven Kingdoms, and Martin's retelling of it leaves us with a myriad of questions and a host of theories. Why was Lyanna in a “bed of blood” (424)? Why does Ser Arthur Dayne have a “sad smile” (424) on his face? Lyanna calls out to Ned before the battle is joined; what did she want to say to him? And perhaps the most important question, why do the Kingsguard guard Lyanna? Ned mentions all the places they should have been: with Rhaegar on the Trident, with the Mad King in the Red Keep, with the queen (pregnant with Dany) and Viserys on Dragonstone; all the places we would expect the three of them to be. They were some of the most famed members of the Kingsguard. Why are they guarding 16-year-old Lyanna Stark in the mountains north of Dorne? The Kingsguard are sworn to protect only the king and his family, leading many (myself included) to believe that somehow Lyanna had become a member of the royal family.

Eddard and his brother Brandon, as well as Robert, seemed to believe that Lyanna had been abducted; yet Lyanna is likened to Arya more than once, our fierce little Arya whose favorite pastime is swordplay. That leads me to think that Lyanna would not have complied with an abduction...unless she desired it.

Lyanna is ever on Ned's mind from that moment until his death, and right before he is taken to the Great Sept of Baelor, he gifts readers a second memory: that of the tournament at Harrenhal. “Ned remembered the moment when all smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty's laurel in Lyanna's lap” (Martin 631). He remembers his promise to her and weeps, and the reader is left with the looming question of what he promised. Those three words of Lyanna haunt Ned until his death, and likewise haunt readers.

Lyanna's view of Robert provides a strong clue in how we should view him. When she heard that she had been betrothed to Robert, she said to Ned, “'Robert will never keep to one bed'” (Martin 379). Ned tried to persuade her that Robert truly loved her, but she responded: “'Love is sweet, dearest Ned, but it cannot change a man's nature'” (Martin 379). We receive more evidence of Robert's infidelity all throughout the first book, and even meet a few of his bastards. For all that, I still like Robert, but not as the husband of the lovely Lyanna, and I have grounds to mistrust his view of Rhaegar, as we hear other characters' perspectives of the deceased prince.

Now, I really enjoy the story of Rhaegar and Lyanna because of the theorized connections to Jon Snow (probably my favorite and most firmly believed-in theory), and it's hard not to get swept up by a story that looks a lot like true love. Readers who are new to the universe may not realize that Targaryens accepted polygamy, and so some people hold that Rhaegar didn't find any issue with pursuing Lyanna, assuming he wanted her to become his second wife. While polygamy wouldn't work for me in my worldview, it may have worked for Rhaegar Targaryen, who wanted three children to be the three heads of the dragon. And I think that if it hadn't worked for Lyanna, she would have been screaming for Ned to save her. As it was, she simply yelled his name, and from the context, I deduce that she wanted to tell him more, a thought which is backed up by the promise that she extracts from him right before her death.

I want to be clear that I haven't advanced any new theories here; just compiled a few of Ned's memories, combined with some theories, to think through the Tower of Joy, Lyanna Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen. I am so excited to see what Martin does with those characters, already dead for years in the series, as well as with this fated, enigmatic event.

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