Wednesday, May 23, 2012

[Re-read] Jaime I: "Throwing a Wench in the Works"

Immense slow-down when it comes to re-reading A Storm of Swords, I know. Only the prologue so far. That's not much. How can I whine about authors not finishing writing their books when I can't find the time to write about those books? Well I'm not whining as much as I did back in the days, and also this blog is just for fun, so there's a difference right there. You could of course argue that it's not just fun as my first re-read was published as a book, but that came about long after I fired up this place and began jotting down my inane thoughts about A Song of Ice and Fire (and later, a lot of other geeky things too). Still, it's all in good fun. Something to do while waiting for A Dance... I mean, The Winds of Winter. So in the couple of days since I was left suffering offline for days, I've been getting back into geek shape by eating unhealthy food, playing Legend of Grimrock (a curse upon the ninth floor!), dabbling in Everquest 2, since it's free to play and I needed a levelling-up fix (but gods old and new, what a weird game), gathering ideas for a short story for SFF World, reading up on fantasy gaming news (curious about Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, the latter game more in the train wreck-sense), participated in a Magic: Avacyn Restored pre-release draft online (winning a couple of matches but eventually ending up sixth or so), reading Peter V Brett's The Painted Man (how long hasn't that one been on my to-read list) as well as a book on the aftermath of Alexander the Great's death which is very interesting (it's called Ghost on the Throne). And tonight I'll be geeking out on the eighth episode of Game of Thrones of course. I still view the series as spiralling downward the more it deviates from the books (I know, I know, they are different entities but still), but I'm kind of hoping that things will be tied back together toward the end of the season. It's not bad, the acting's good and all that, but the story isn't as good as it should be. They would have needed more screentime, I know. Which is why they should've split A Clash of Kings over two seasons as well, instead of getting these incredibly cramped ten episodes and still missing a lot of vital stuff. Meh.

But hey, I was thinking of reading the first chapter of A Storm of Swords today. I remember the first time I opened the book how pleasantly surprised I was to see Jaime's name at the head of the first chapter. My eyebrows rose in apprehension, curiosity, surprise and tantalization. Martin subverted so many tropes when he gave Jaime the spotlight. It was a good thing. Though I admit I enjoy the bad guy Jaime more than the inverted-Anakin character. In A Storm of Swords, the transition fortunately is given time to develop.

...And that's how far I got before something came up that I had to do. Now, two days later, I aim to continue my re-read of the first Jaime chapter. In the meantime, however, I've seen the eighth episode of Game of Thrones and I was quite curious because I knew there would be the first scene between Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. I remember this was a vivid spark of a combination of characters in the book, and the scenes where they traveled downriver toward King's Landing were highly entertaining. The scene in the TV episode was...well, it was quite good for what it was. The banter was there, and both actors look the and play their parts very well. But still...they left Robb's camp in the tiniest little boat ever, with no supplies. That was weird. I think I prefer the book. It all, once again, comes down to being able to accept the TV show for what it is, and continue to enjoy the books for what they are (much better, for a start). So, it's been a couple of years, maybe three or four I don't really know anymore, maybe it's as much as seven years ago that I read A Storm of Swords, prior to Feast being published. Seems it took the world a lot of time to catch up on how great these books are and now we are being overwhelmed with Game of Thrones everywhere we look. Nah, let's see if the first Jaime chapter is as cool as I remember it to be, or if I'm just wearing my nostalgia-tinted glasses again.

You know before I really delve into this, I loved how Martin kept Ser Jaime under lock and chain for so long. It gave me as a reader a real sense of Jaime being imprisoned for a long time, so that when this chapter kicks off and we get into his head, it does indeed feel like a breeze of hope after all that time in the darkness of the Riverrun dungeon: "An east wind blew through his tangled hair, as soft and fragrant as Cersei's fingers." Not only does mr. Martin in one quick opening sentence give us that feeling of freedom, but he also gets straight into characterization with Jaime thinking of his twin sister. It feels as if Jaime is aware of the world for the first time, with him noticing the birds singing and feels the river moving beneath the boat; his senses are tingling after so long in the monotonous dark and cold, making his experience so vivid. He even has to laugh out of pure joy - but now Martin is veering too close to happiness so best get both the reader and Ser Jaime back to the ground with a brutish "Quiet" from Brienne. Jaime thinks of her as an amusement, picturing her in Cersei's gowns (comparing her with his true love, in other words); but he also admits to himself that Brienne is a good rower. So there's that.

Unlike the TV series, they aren't alone, however. There's Jaime's cousin Ser Cleos, who isn't half as enduring and strong as Brienne. Jaime, exhilarated by being back in the world, is still manacled though. He spends some time thinking back to how he got to this boat but remembers only bits and pieces. We're told they bundled him in a traveler's cloak, so nice touch there, HBO - the cloak was in the episode. All in all, Jaime is in a much better position now than he was - he can even stretch his legs, which is a luxury now. So already here we see early signs of Jaime's transformation; he is beginning to appreciate things I assume he has been taken for granted all his life. I love how he thinks of how Tyrion is going to laugh when he tells him he slept through his own escape. Both because it's funny and because his dwarf brother isn't far from his thoughts. I like it when other people think of Tyrion with no hate. He deserves some love.

We get some banter, and Jaime definitely isn't courteous toward Brienne, which Cleos reminds him of. This only makes Jaime think of Cleos as a weakling ("The Lannister blood runs thin in this one"). We're given some background on Cleos (son of Aunt Genna Lannister married to a Frey), and Jaime's humble opinion of the man: Ser Cleos looked like a weasel, fought like a goose, and had the courage of an especially brave ewe. Yeah, being inside Jaime's head is fun. Also, I had to google 'ewe'. A female sheep. All right, another word for the vocabulary.

We're also told how Ser Jaime had to swear to never again take up arms against Stark or Tully, which is something to file away for later. Jaime doesn't think much of it right now, telling himself that he, after all, was chained and drunk and at sword point, but it'll come back later if I remember correctly. Jaime ponders for a bit, realizing that Catelyn Stark puts her trust in Tyrion, and not him; they are going to King's Landing to try and trade Jaime for the Stark girls, but it is Tyrion, as the acting Hand of the King, who may be the key to success for Catelyn. Funny how Jaime thinks of himself as a "man with shit for honor": does he truly realize this or is he telling himself this because that's what he always hears? A complex character then, somewhat like Theon in the previous book; doing some pretty nasty stuff, rationalizing said nasty stuff, and finally (hopefully) coming around to see himself  in a different light. Don't know if I made sense now.

There is more banter; some of it existing in almost similar wording in this week's TV episode, only in the book Martin can of course go a little deeper. There's a nice bit of subtle foreshadowing when Jaime hoots "Are there monsters hereabouts? Hiding beneath the water, perhaps? In that thick of willows? And me without my sword!" because, you know, they'll be facing "monsters" soon enough in the form of those awesome Brave Companions. We get a quick glimpse of Jaime's thoughts regarding him shoving young Bran Stark out of the window all those chapters ago (and two books) ago, but it's not really convincing as a rationalization ("Innocent? The boy was spying on us") - I had wished perhaps a deeper, or more complex, chain of thoughts regarding this little crime of his. Jaime continues to speak roughly about Brienne, Cleos sounds embarassed and tries to make him stop.

I know I'm not alone in thinking that Jaime's use of the word "coz" feels misplaced; as the story progresses we get more and more of these little words that most readers seem displeased with ("nuncle" comes to mind). I can totally see Jaime shortening words, being cool and all, but "coz" sounds so...I don't know, anachronistic? At the same time I know people think the swearing in these books is just as out of place (where did I read that Martin's books have been dubbed The Knights who say Fuck? I read it somewhere...) so I'm not complaining too loudly about a few small words. But I sure wouldn't mind if Jaime just called Cleos for "cousin". Anyway, this minor nitpick aside, Jaime begins to wonder about Cleos and what kind of man he is, and decides he is a lickspittle, in a rather funny sequence where Cleos seems to suck up to Jaime by telling him he's a great swordsman, at the same time perhaps warning Brienne not to go too far. Ser Jaime, though quite impotent at the moment, is after all one of the greatest swordsmen of the realm, so this is also a reminder from the author to the reader I suppose. A trapped lion. There's a small flashback scene between Jaime and Cersei which we saw in the first season of Game of Thrones (the scene where Jaime talks about "the war for Cersei's cunt", I am pleasantly surprised to see that this line was actually from the book- it's hard to judge sometimes what with lines spread across the series and sometimes spoken by different characters). More importantly, we learn that Jaime doesn't know who sent the assassin to kill Bran in his sleep; so now we know it isn't Tyrion and it isn't Jaime, but we don't know yet whether it was Cersei (or someone else). A long-standing mystery, for sure, and nearly forgotten midst all the other cool things happening all the time.

They continue their journey on the river, with more banter. Jaime tries to convince Brienne to go to his father Lord Tywin instead, but she won't hear it. Then, Jaime wants to have his head shaved: "The realm knows Jaime Lannister as a beardless knight with long golden hair. A bald man with a filthy yellow beard may pass unnoticed. I'd sooner not be recognized while I'm in irons."
Now, I guess this won't happen in the TV show, but in the books I believe this scene was added to symbolize Jaime Lannister's transformation. In this scene, we see his physical appearance - the exterior part of the character - undergo a radical change, to set us up for the lengthier, more complicated changes of the interior. That's how I read it anyway. But I'd perhaps have Jaime convince Brienne that it's smart to do this because then they won't have to deal with other Lannisters wanting to free him, bounty hunters, assassins, or even Stark men coming after them, disagreeing with Catelyn's decision. I mean, it's a better proposition is it not? No matter, off goes Jaime's hair.

By midday, Cleos is snoring. They pass a swollen Lannister-cloaked corpse. We get exposition on river trade and how the war has affected this, but it is mercifully short and to the point (and helps remind us about the situation). Then, when Cleos is up again rubbing his eyes, they spot smoke in the distance. They see a burning house and an oak from which many women dangle, hanged. Pretty grim sighting. This sighting segues nicely into a discussion about knighthood between Brienne and Jaime, further illustrating and contrasting their characters in an entertaining way. Brienne, being truly honorable, decides to land at the place and bury the dead. Jaime splashes into the water, noticing how bad his state of health is when he sees how thin he's grown in the water's reflection.
Next up is a discussion between the characters about who could have done this, which really covers up for the author reintroducing various factions at war. This again leads to Brienne revealing that she was one of Renly's seven Rainbow Guards, suggesting she is indeed a good fighter (which Jaime thinks unlikely). Before they can start digging graves (or burning the corpses, it's not entirely clear what Brienne has in mind, though Cleos mentions their lack of shovels), Brienne spots a sail on the river and so they run back to their boat. Turns out they are being followed by a Tully ship: someone wants to have Jaime back at Riverrun, and not off to King's Landing, which is quite understandable from a political point of view. And I love Martin for not skimping on the consequences of whatever actions characters undertake; I mean, he could just have them sail down to King's Landing and be done with it, but instead he considers consequences, and one logical consequence of Catelyn's rash decision to let Jaime go is that of course someone else at Riverrun will go after Jaime to recapture him. Awesomety.

The chapter becomes more intense now, exciting; we get a river chase. It's not the Death Star trench, but it's exciting none the less. Martin shrinks time effectively, giving us concrete details - "That is a river galley coming after us (...) Nine oars on each side, which means eighteen men (...) We cannot outrun her." Shorter sentences, quick and hard descriptions to get us into the scene, a little more humor (Jaime once again begs Brienne to take off his shackles, I can almost hear the despondency in his voice), and Jaime showing off his knowledge when it comes to combat tactics. Brienne's stubborness, Jaime going from cocky to commanding, Cleos a nervous wreck - this is Martin at his finest, a memorable scene from the series even though it is still just two probably fairly slow boats following each other on a river.

When the Tully ship is close, Jaime cups his hands and shouts at the ship's captain, Ser Robin Ryger, again very amusing banter back and forth. Also noteworthy how Jaime kind of naturally takes some measure of command aboard their little boat. Arrows fly. I love how arrows fly already in the first chapter. Nothing like a bit of a thrill early on in the book. Jaime challenges Ser Robin to a duel, which Ser Robin declines, not having "been born this morning" which is funny not only because it's true but also because Ser Jaime oh so cockily responds, "No, but you're like to die this afternoon." Splendid stuff. Gotta love Jaime Lannister. He's like the Han Solo of Westeros, only with a lot more badassery involved. Hopefully we won't get a revised edition where Bran pushed first.

Brienne meanwhile has scrambled off the boat, climbed up the cliffs and just as Ryger's archers are about to pepper Jaime and Cleos, she hurls rocks down at their boat disrupting their attack. The rocks and pebbles are followed by a boulder "the size of a cow", smashing their ship. It's a real adventurous, almost Indiana Jones-like scene, isn't it? Wonder if they'll add this in the TV series. I guess not; their version doesn't really need Ser Robin Ryger following them. Unfortunately. The scene shows us just how immensely strong Brienne is - as well as quick-thinking - and when she returns to them, having left Ryger and the Tully soldiers wet and cold in the river, Jaime offers her an oar instead of, well, smashing her in the head with it. Is he granting her some respect? Is he afraid of her now that she's shown her superior strength? Or does he now find confidence that she may just get him all the way to King's Landing? We don't know; Martin is wise enough not to dwell on the why, just telling us that "Instead he found himself stretching the oar out over the water. Brienne grabbed hold, and Jaime pulled her in." Martin lets us come to our own conclusions here, almost like the ending of a good short story, but that last sentence could be interpreted as laying it all out for us: Brienne grabbed hold, and Jaime pulled her in.

The chapter ends with the two going straight back into their banter, but the reader should understand now that these two characters, different as they are, are being drawn together though they are not aware of it yet themselves. That's some quality writing right there, don't you think?

Wow, it felt as if this chapter just flew by, it was really good to be back with Jaime and yes even Brienne again. The chapter is kind of light-hearted in one way (the adventurous feel), grim in another (the corpses, Jaime's rough verbal sparring), but sets up so much interesting stuff for later. Next up is Catelyn's first chapter, which will be interesting as we now know she is probably facing some repercussions after having let Jaime go with Brienne and Ser Cleos.

Now here was a chapter with traveling that didn't slow down with characters sitting about looking at stuff. This was a chapter full of characterization, plot advancement, exposition and all the works. And for a first time reader, as I remember fondly having been once upon a time back in the day, the story really can go anywhere from here (except where I expected it to go, I guess); who could have imagined, reading A Game of Thrones for the first time, that they'd be seeing the world through Jaime's point of view like this? Bloody brilliant first chapter, if you ask me.

Until next time :)

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