Friday, June 1, 2012

[Re-read] Catelyn I: In a Boring Room

Oh yeah, A Storm of Swords. It is quite nice knowing they'll split the book in half for the TV show. I hope that will give the episodes a little bit more space to breathe, if you know what I mean. Also, there will be a lot of cursing and whoa-ing on Twitter (the link takes you to reactions to last week's Blackwater episode) say from the middle of the story until the end of what will be season four...And then, it will be up to HBO to continue the story without dipping in quality (like the novels, in case you didn't catch that). Completely unrelated, but Peter Brett's The Painted Man is improving and last night I read a bit and was sufficiently captured to get beyond 30% of the novel, so I guess I'll finish it. But will I read the sequel? 

So, A Storm of Swords (again). Big book, that's for sure. It's kind of intimidating to be only one chapter in - looking at all those pages still waiting. So many words to re-read. It's definitely a fatty. Fortunately Martin has a pretty good grasp of putting those words in cool orders that make for a pretty exciting and unpredictable story. So much so it is more entertaining to read/hear about non-readers going on about the TV show than actually watching it. Pretty sure they hooked a lot of new people with Blackwater, though perhaps they went a little too graphical at times (I mean, that guy who gets half his head cut off). Even a hard man such as myself had to look away for a second there. Oh, you thought I was some weak book-nerd? No, I am as hard as Bronn and Sandor combined, with a little Icarium to top it off.

"Bronn, Sandor, et al, go to bed. Now."

Nah. I'm not that hard. This picture by the way is nine years old (dammit!) and was taken at a medieval outdoors museum. Already back then I was pretending to be some dastardly hedge knight of Westeros. Time flies. Where was I? Oh yeah, A Storm of Swords (again). And Catelyn's first chapter. Last we saw her she had sent Brienne off with prisoner Ser Jaime, leaving her somewhat less popular in Riverrun and environs. 

For once Martin dares open a chapter with pure exposition. Normally he has some catchy sentence that makes your eyebrows go 'woosh' and all you can do is read on (as I've mentioned earlier, Martin is a good example to use to illustrate the point of "catching your reader"). The exposition is about Ser Desmond Grell. He has served Riverrun all his life, the point being that he has been a witness to Catelyn Stark's life from she was born up to this point - when she has betrayed them all by sending the Kingslayer away. Leading us gently into the present, Martin reminds us that Grell is castellan of Riverrun (in brother Edmure's absence) and that he is the one who now must judge her for what she has done. So within the first paragraphs we get a little exposition on Grell to make us care a little extra about the outcome - because now we know this guy has practically known Catelyn all his life; will he be nice to her for old time's sake, or is he as hard as, say, winter? Quite brilliant to open a chapter with exposition and have it be useful immediately, pushing us forward. Turns out he doesn't really like having to do this either, a nice hint to the reader that Grell is indeed fond of Catelyn. To make it easier on himself he's bringing along dour Utherydes Wayn, the guy who sounds like he jumped out of some Arthurian legend to join the cast of Westeros, and Catelyn thinks of them both as loyal men she has betrayed. How often does Catelyn think of her self in favorable light? Can't say I remember. She's really always thinking depressing thoughts about herself but maybe this time she deserves to ponder her own judgement.

Wayn and Grell begin by trying to come with words of consolation: "Your sons (...) The poor lads. Terrible (...) We share your grief, my lady (...) All Riverrun mourns with you, but..." It's that but at the end there that fascinates me. How this simple word makes everything sound less sincere - yes, the guys are probably genuinely saddened by the supposed deaths of Bran and Rickon, but at the same time that's not what they are really here to talk about. 'But'. So fascinating. The sentence missing, that Martin does not need to spell out for us is of course something like "...but their deaths is no excuse for releasing the Kingslayer." But Catelyn sticks to her swords: "I understood what I was doing and I knew it was treasonous. If you fail to punish me, men will believe we connived together to free Jaime Lannister. It was mine own act and mine alone, and I alone must answer it." Now, that should be another point in favor of Catelyn Stark (I've been trying to point out the many good things about the character since '09, when I started this blog - it also means I am an incredibly slow blogger, with an average of one Martin book per year - but hey, it's a hobby, not work). In the end Catelyn's punishment is rather mild. Confined to a tower cell, and she even manages to talk them into letting her stay with her old father. In the east, you can get killed and raped simply for attending a wedding party, yet here Catelyn commits a crime against the North and must suffer...oh wait, her father is a terrible bore. That's the punishment, I guess. Guess you're luckier when you're born noble, eh. Speaking of punishment, if there was one thing I wish they kept in Blackwater, it was the Antler Men. I had looked forward to seeing Joffrey fling them off the walls with catapults, dammit. 

Lord Hoster Tully, being the bore that he is, is sleeping when Catelyn is ushered into his chambers, with all her stuff (just called "her things", but as she's a woman I envision three or four coffers, a couple of bags, a few pouches with powders and lipstick and stuff, and a wardrobe of shoes). Hoster's been moved "half a turn" down the stair (not sure what that means - halfway down the stairs?) so that he can look through the windows onto the river. Shame he's asleep.

Perhaps not the most awe-inspiring sigil. Or motto. They could at least have thought of using a fricking shark.

Catelyn moves out onto the balcony, enjoying the luxury of fresh air on her face (truly a punishment this), wondering whether Ser Robin Ryger will have caught up with Brienne and Jaime. There's a 'smell of death' about the room, which is disquieting, and could be read as foreshadowing Lord Hoster's death (that would be the obvious one) or even...Catelyn's death? Nah, that would be reading a bit much into it. The strange thing is, in my opinion, that the room smells of death at all. It's not like anyone's dead in that room. Just old and sleeping. She mutters to herself how cruel life is - not only did she lose her husband, but now her children are dropping like flies - to which Hoster wakes up, sputtering the immortal line, "Tansy." Followed by a little more interesting stuff, like "Forgive me, the blood...oh please Tansy". Now I love how Martin is playing around with us, creating these small mysteries within the larger narrative framework and having us wondering if Tansy is a name (which is logical to assume since it's spelled out with a capital letter) or if the old geezer is actually babbling about 'tansy', as in that stuff women put in their tea to cleanse their wombs of unwanted pregnancies. Curious...ten years ago, when the debate was still hot.

Not that there is much mystery, not really, because a few lines of Catelyn wondering about women named Tansy her father says, "You'll have others...Sweet babes and trueborn," which all but confirms that Hoster is talking to Catelyn's sister Lysa, and from there the speculation goes quickly into Lysa - Littlefinger territory. At least that's the prevailing theory if I'm not utterly and irrevocably mistaken. However, there is one thing. Littlefinger is a small-time lord (of the Fingers) so wouldn't that child be trueborn? More importantly, why does George decide to add this detail to the story? A bastard son in Lysa's womb and her father helped her get it out of there a bit early. To help her and hide the shame? Who was the father if not Littlefinger, and how will this be integral to the rest of the story? So when I say "not that there is much mystery, not really" I actually mean "what the fuck is going on here, my head is about to burst". Lovely though, isn't it, how Martin adds all these little details to make the world come alive. Every character has a secret, or a cool trait, or something to set them apart. Distinctive is the key word.
A last note on this particular mystery, maybe Martin added it simply to flesh stuff out. It kind of helps characterize Lysa in how protective she is of Sweetrobin, now we know why kind of. It was the only child she ever managed to have. Stroking one of my chins with a pondering frown, I believe this could be the simple answer to the question I posed above. This kind of detail sadly gets lost in the TV series.

Maester Vyman appears when Hoster screams, mixing him a dose of milk of the poppy (better than milk of the puppy) and so Hoster falls to sleep again. What a host. Catelyn asks Vyman about Tansy but the maester knows of no one with that name, which is Martin nudging us along in the right direction. Still, he muddles the issue when Vyman begins thinking of how smallfolk name their daughters for flowers and herbs. Would be lovely to get a POV in The Winds of Winter from peasant's daughter Cannabis. Or not. Oh, but then Martin sets the ship straight again when Catelyn rectifies Vyman's memories. Good. Case solved, then: the tansy is the herb, the recipient was Lysa, and Hoster feels bad about the incident. The maester hurries off, telling her he really shouldn't be talking to her, since she's a prisoner (more like being grounded).

In the next sequence, we stay with Catelyn as she stays the day inside the chamber. Now if this was A Dance with Dragons that could well have taken up a chapter as she inspected the various items available to her in the room and pondered where they were made and by who, but Martin quickly skips to evenfall when Maester Vyman returns to check on the old man. He reveals that Jaime is still free, and when Catelyn asks for more news, she presses him to tell her that Robb Stark has taken "a wound storming the Crag". I've said it before, I'm saying it again: Robb really should've had his own POV chapters in this book. Would be so cool to actually witness the storming of the Crag, the taking of that wound, and all else that he experienced in his war of vengeance. Vyman assures her the wound is nothing serious, but for the reader it is a (subtle?) reminder that people can get wounded - and people can die. So better pray for Robb Stark, gents and ladies, because maybe just maybe his streak of luck is coming to an end. When Catelyn asks where he was wounded, it would've been kind of droll if Vyman said, "I just told you, at the Crag", but instead he gathers his potions and hurries off, already feeling he's told her too much. Another old guy at the keep with a soft spot in his heart for the Lady Tully-Stark, then. And Hoster continues to hack and cough and sleep and mutter about blood and tansy.

In the night, Catelyn's dreams are dark and disturbing, not really giving her the rest she needs. Catelyn continues to wonder about the mystery, and Martin gently leads us by the hand to Lysa, who had "miscarried five times (...)", which supports the theory. How bad must he have felt forcing upon her tansy when she finally got pregnant? This is followed by more background story, filling in gaps in the relationship between these two sisters. Reading it impresses me - all these intertwining backstories going all the way back to Robert's Rebellion - and it all fits like a puzzle all the way back to A Game of Thrones. Now, when Martin - through Catelyn - almost concludes that Hoster forced Lysa to abort, I become suspicious. Is he obfuscating (look I know a difficult word! *hopes he uses it correctly*) here to make us not see the truth? And why the heck was Hoster so worried about Lysa getting married to Jon Arryn yadayada when his true heir was and is, in fact, Edmure? That bit doesn't make sense, and therefore, while I agree with myself that I think I know what I know (er...), I am not making bets here. 

She throws on robes and goes to stand over her father. What else to do when you can't sleep? Oh. There you have something that brings a little sense: "Lysa was the price Jon Arryn had to pay for the swords and spears of House Tully." Phew. Still cool how it all ties into Robert's Rebellion. Without that rebellion as a fully formed and fleshed out background, this series might well have broke with inconsistencies. Martin did a fantastic job setting it all up and so I refuse to believe he has just "a couple of scattered notes". All right, the next day she writes a letter to Lysa, telling her that Hoster, their father, needs her forgiveness. That is a good deed and another point for Catelyn. Another hint of Hoster's impending death when Vyman tells her he'll probably be dead before Lysa can reply. Catelyn thinks Vyman has said it before, which tells us something about just how persistent Hoster is. Maybe we'll see him rise from his bed in the final book, crowning the new King (or Queen) of Westeros (I honestly can't remember right now whether Hoster still lives - I blame it on the beer. Maybe I should never drink beer again. Think I have to go and pop open another.)

Yadayada, this chapter isn't very tense, is it. Calm, gloomy. Catelyn goes to the sept to light a candle (reminding us she's somewhat more religious than many other characters in the series, we also note how helpful that is), and then it's back to boring Hoster's bedside where she reads "the same passage over and over." Interesting. Fortunately, there's a trumpet blaring which rouses her to action. Off she goes to the balcony, realizing her brother Edmure has returned. Where had he been? Out fighting Lannisters I suppose. Or buying groceries.

Two hours later he comes to her in their father's chambers. The man is thin and drawn with pale cheeks, an unkempt beard and "too-bright" eyes. Uhm? Oh. They're bright with pride, I guess: "I threw them back. Lord Tywin, Gregor Clegane, Addam Marbrand, I turned them away." I would be proud too. Those are formidable foes. Edmure also reveals that Stannis lost the battle at King's Landing (oh really!), which dismays Edmure. Not Catelyn so much. After all, she knows he was behind the quite dishonest murder of Renly. To sum it up, Edmure tells her that "Highgarden has declared for Joffrey. Dorne as well. All the south. And you see fit to loose the Kingslayer (...)" Awesome reprimand, Ed. Go season three! Catelyn says she had a mother's right, and I find it a pretty weak excuse over all. She tells him how Brienne swore on her sword to bring Arya and Sansa back. Yeah, Edmure is probably doing a mini-wave in celebration of you now, Cat. There's no "mother's right" in Westeros. This is medieval woman. Learn your place. Next up Edmure tells her Tyrion is most likely dead after getting an axe to the head (it's often the result), and with that knowledge Catelyn's brilliant plan crumbles like, er, very old parchment. Now this action - freeing Jaime - may be the main reason why people dislike Catelyn but come on, even abducting a few points for her stupidity in this specific case doesn't make her a bad mother or woman or character. 

Edmure Tully looking all unperturbed. 

Ed tells her he's sent three ravens informing of Jaime's "escape", one of them "certain to reach Lord Bolton". There's that Bolton guy mentioned again. Weird how often his name shows up lately. Mm. What this essentially means for anyone not having read further than this chapter, is that Edmure with one stroke (three ravens) has ruined her plan - with Jaime escaped, why should the Lannisters have any reason to give her back her daughters? Exactly. Dumbass Edmure Tully, I can see how these two are siblings. No really. And that's how the chapter ends, with Catelyn is dismay. I was about to write "things are starting to look dark for Cat" but it's been dark since the prologue in the first book. I saw somewhere ( I believe) someone finding the TV show a bit too dark and predictable in that the good guys always lose and the bad guys live, I hope they continue to watch because while it is partially true it is not entirely true, is it. I mean, there's at least one two bad guys going down in this book (unfortunately the series is much weaker without them). And now I've written enough for today. After all, it's Saturday and a man should be socializing more. Writing about a fantasy book and listening to dirty old school thrash metal is kind of a solitary thing. Here in my little nifty office I have been able to raise with mine own hands. I love it. I've never had an office before. It's not technically an office, more of a guest room, but hey, I have all my CDs stacked up in shelves, a nice computer with dual monitors, and a lot of other gadgets in here. It's like my own private cave. However, the party is in the living room. So peac eout and enjoy the weekend as much as you can. Really. 

The Hound was awesome in Blackwater, wasn't he. Finally. Oh, one final thought. What if Martin re-characterized Hoster to be more like Homer Simpson. That could liven up these chapters. 


  1. "Trueborn" means legitimate - as in, not a bastard.

  2. "There's no mother's right in Westeros. This is medieval woman. Learn your place."

    Somewhere, a medievalist is crying.,_Countess_of_Norfolk,_Duchess_of_Schleswig