Tuesday, October 9, 2012

[Re-read] Jaime II: Two Kingslayers travel together when...




Dungeon crawls: Is there anything they can't do?
Finally I got rid of the WoW-bug. The repeated clicking of buttons to do the exact same thing, sometimes with different animations, does get old fast (although I did a dungeon run which was kind of funny; however, nobody talks or roleplays these days so it was just like being in a single-player game), so I'll be stopping my subscription again this month. And maybe go back in a year or so for another month. It really can be an entertaining game in its own special way, but not for long periods of time. Is my opinion, anyway.
Unfortunately, this week saw the release of Almost Human's dungeon level editor for their excellent Legend of Grimrock, and so I've been glued to the screen learning a little bit about lua scripting and building my own dungeon, 'The Ruins of Yultur'. Their editor is probably the most user-friendly content generator I ever saw for a computer game. You can build entire dungeon complexes without knowing a thing about scripting (although in this case, you can only use the assets already existing in the game); with a little scripting knowledge, you can get more creative and, if you're good enough I suppose, make something that only barely resembles the original game. Not that I'm there. At all. I spent an hour just getting a lock puzzle to work. But hey, it's fun. And it gives me an itch to play some good old fashioned AD&D or something like that. Ack, the days of yore, when countless hours were spent delving into the depths of dark dungeons, cracking bad jokes with friends as we stuffed our bodies with unhealthy but tasty drinks and foodstuffs.

Oh well. One way to scratch the itch is to read a good fantasy novel. And what do you know, the next chapter in A Storm of Swords features Ser Jaime Lannister, one of my all-time favorite characters regardless of genre. I must admit I found him less entertaining in A Feast for Crows and his one sorry chapter in A Dance with Dragons, but he really shines in this third volume of ice and fire. Almost rivaling Tyrion. Not a bad feat.

So, this chapter opens with Jaime spying an inn near the river, but it seems deserted. That's how quick Martin establishes an urge to read on - setting up questions like 'why is the inn deserted?', 'will they check it out?' and 'what will happen if there's someone hiding there?' I love it when a chapter quickly sets up something for the reader to wonder about. Makes you more invested. Ser Cleos Frey says that the inn was open the last time he was there, and Brienne voices our own suspicions: "There may be people (...) Hiding or dead." They end up angling toward the dock to go inspect this inn, Jaime still in his chains.

Jaime laughs when he recognizes the inn's sign - they have come to the Inn of the Kneeling Man. Jaime laughs because of the irony - the inn, according to Ser Cleos, "stands upon the very spot where the last King in the North knelt before Aegon the Conqueror to offer his submission." Jaime adds some additional backstory exposition to the explanation, but before we can really digest this information, Jaime finds himself "eye to eye with a loaded crossbow". That's a great and simple description. Really, it's so easy to imagine without Martin spending a lot of words on describing the scene - eye to eye with a loaded crossbow is all we need to see what's going on; and of course, Jaime won't be that interested in everything else (like, who is holding the crossbow) - he's staring right at a quarrel aimed at him. It's a "chunky" boy holding the crossbow, and he asks, "Lion, fish, or wolf?" which is kind of cool instead of "Lannister, Tully or Stark?" It also allows Jaime to reply ever so dryly, "We were hoping for capon." I chuckle.

Jaime threatens the boy - if he shoots Jaime, Ser Cleos will hack him to pieces and they'll both be dead. For the reader it's pretty tense as we know Cleos isn't all that much of a fighting man. I chuckle again when the boy wonders why Jaime is in chains, and he replies, "Killed some crossbowmen." This droll wit is certainly part of Jaime's appeal, and, as a side note, I feel they really captured this part of Jaime's character in the TV series.

Mmm...horse...
The boy isn't the only one at the inn; a man steps through the cellar door, evidently having just butchered a horse so they have something to eat. I suspect horse meat is somewhat stringy and tasteless, but this is based purely on my reading of fantasy literature. I wonder whether any fantasy author has actually tried horse meat?  According to Wikipedia, horse meat is in fact a major meat in a few countries in Central Asia, who consume about four million or so horses a year. That sounds so weird. Consuming horses. I guess I'm too used to think of them as work animals, but hey, if you can eat chicken, pig or lamb or what have you, why not horse?  Martin does give us the impression eating horse isn't all that common in Westeros either, except during times of need - such as when the Riverlands are burning.

Jaime points out how honest the innkeep is, who says that the horse was old and tough, and that the bread is hard and the oatcakes stale - which is an interesting little line, because it causes me to reflect on the man's honesty - is he really honest? Right after, the man tells Jaime that he isn't the innkeep - the innkeep is buried out in the backyard with his "women". I like how Martin is playing with perception here; and also note how Jaime is the one doing most of the talking, even though he is the one in chains. Of course, since the chapter's POV is his, this makes the most sense from a literary viewpoint; it wouldn't be as direct or interesting if we read about Jaime listening to Brienne talking to the innkeep; but at the same time it shows us how quickly Jaime can take control of a situation, chains and manacles and shackles be damned. I like this scene a lot, it's like a standoff, no one trusting each other, a loaded weapon is involved, and nobody is saying everything they could be saying. I dearly hope this scene will make its way onto our television screens next year. Speaking of Jaime taking control, we see him pick the best chair before the others, another sign that he is gaining an upper hand somehow (oh, how ironic this sentence will be in not so long a time).

An interesting little detail here as he goes to sit down; he is annoyed by the sound of his chains clinking along with his movement: Before this is done, he thinks, I'll wrap these chains around the wench's throat, see how she likes them then. Again, we are witness to Martin's incredible attention to little details that flesh out his world. Not only does this foreshadow a certain event in a certain Tyrion chapter later in the novel, it could (and probably will) also foreshadow Jaime actually wrapping a chain of some sort around some woman's throat (I am referring to the valonquar prophecy in A Feast for Crows here). Great stuff.

"Inn of the Kneeling Man" (c) Fantasy Flight Games
So, they sit in the Inn, eating stale food, the boy with the crossbow keeping his weapon cocked and loaded. Not the most relaxing way of eating. The innkeep sits down with them, and turns to Cleos, whom he takes for the leader of the group (his other options are a talkative prisoner and a woman, so there you go); funny how Cleos quickly glances at Brienne, acknowledging that she is the leader and not him, before answering the keep when he asks about news from Riverrun. When the innkeep learns they are going to King's Landing he tells them it is a foolish idea, as Stannis is outside the walls with a hundred thousand men and a magic sword. This brings out a physical reaction in Jaime, but as he is chained there's nothing he can do. The innkeep further warns the party of lions and wolves prowling the kingsroad, but also "bands of broken men preying on anyone" which we'll see more of later. The discussion continues for a while, Brienne giving the innkeep information on how she intends to get to King's Landing. I remember the first time reading it that I was angry with her for spilling the beans to this untrustworthy-seeming fellow.

We get a little build-up of the character Lord Beric Dondarrion, briefly seen in A Game of Thrones, so by now it should be clear he'll feature later in the story. A legend is growing around Lord Beric, as we can discern from the innkeep's description of him; a lightning lord who cannot die, accompanied by a red priest wielding a sword of fire. The twist here is that, in a world so far rather devoid of fantastical elements, we'll see that there is truth to the story; Lord Beric will see several resurrections, though in Westeros there's a price to pay.

It seems quite obvious on re-reads that the innkeep is trying to steer Brienne to take a certain route so that he, or companions of his, can ambush her party down the road. Indeed I expected this would happen the first time around; Brienne and co. follow the innkeep's treacherous advice, get ambushed, and this would somehow free Jaime.

They go to the stables to purchase horses, Jaime advising Brienne (again assuming control of the situation, kind of); Brienne offers the man three golden dragons (which is much more than what Jaime suggests to pay for the animals) and their skiff which they don't need anymore. After some haggling which lends the scene credibility, Jaime tells Brienne that it will be difficult riding when he's chained up the way he is. Oooh! The innkeep tells them there's a smithy nearby, and so they go there to strike off his chains. Jaime gives Brienne a sharp look when he says "There's far too much horse shit about here for my taste. I would hate to step in it," suggesting to her (and us) that he's aware that the innkeep is playing them false and hoping Brienne gets it too. Brienne is still suspicious (no wonder) so she doesn't strike off his wrist chain, only the ankle chain; this will allow Jaime to sit a horse but still not have his hands free. The innkeep reiterates the route they should take, and Brienne thanks him for the advice and the trade, and it seems that Jaime doesn't realize that Brienne is actually playing the innkeep, ahead of the game, so to speak. It's an important part of the development of their relationship, because Jaime is going to realize that there is more to Brienne of Tarth than raw strength and a homely face. And so they leave the Inn of the Kneeling Man.

Oh, Tumblr.
Reaching the burned village the innkeep told them about, Brienne swings her horse onto the southern road; "Jaime was pleasantly surprised; it was the same choice he would have made." So Jaime and Brienne have something in common, whereas Ser Cleos Frey is a dumbass, objecting that it is the road the innkeep warned them against. Brienne lays it all out, how the innkeep is probably trying to lure them into a trap, and so we get that bit of development: Jaime gave her a grudging smile. Yes, Ser Jaime, prejudice is a vice. Get rid of it on your way to become a better man. I love how Brienne serves as a catalyst for Jaime's transformation, something that was lost I feel in A Feast for Crows; or rather, it could have gone on longer to make it more believable. His arc needs more time.

That night on the southern road, they shelter in a small grove, without lighting a fire. Off in the distance, there are wolves howling (I can only assume this is Nymeria and her pack; though one could say that Nymeria is really on the move because there are always wolves howling in chapters taking place in the Riverlands). Cleos falls asleep, leaving the two to talk, which gives us some exposition on Brienne; how she always looked at herself as a man, a son, and what she hates about Jaime: He may not have harmed her, but he has harmed others, "those you were sworn to protect. The weak, the innocent..." Jaime tries to explain why he became a Kingsguard without mentioning it was mostly because of Cersei, his sister, and we get more backstory on the Lannister twins. Who remembers that Jaime squired to Ser Sumner Crakehall? Or which lord had a sleeping lion for his sigil? I love these background additions, breathing history into the setting. Not so much the line of Targaryens, but the lordly houses of Westeros, the medievally ones. There's a lot of info compressed here, the bitter irony being Jaime and Cersei trying to be near each other and ending up switching places and remaining far away from each other. There's a tragic love story here that is easy to forget when Jaime pushes Bran out of the window, a story that easily could have been turned into a romance novel on its own. An idea for a prequel, perhaps. You can read Robert's Rebellion: A Prequel to 'A Game of Thrones', I'd actually love to read about the Lannisters in Jaime & Cersei.

There's a great bit of back-and-forth between the two characters, Martin really makes their relation develop seamlessly, showing weaknesses in both of them. Brienne accusing Jaime of being evil for having slain King Aerys, yet not wanting to hear how stories are spreading about her own involvement with Renly's death. Of course, she's innocent, but is that what the world wants to hear? And has the world warped Jaime's story? It's complicated material for a fantasy novel, I guess, but it's also really lovely. Another successful pairing from the master of grimdark, then. It's also a scene I really feel needs to be in the TV show. I can imagine Nicolai Coster-Waldau (excuse my probably wrong spelling) blurting out the line, "Your wits are quicker than mine, I confess it. When they found me standing over my dead king, I never thought to say, 'No, no, it wasn't me, it was a shadow, a terrible cold shadow", delivered with mockery and disdain. Oh yes, I wring my hands at the mere thought of this scene coming to life with the two great actors donning the roles of Jaime and Brienne.

Jaime is really getting her riled up by the way, anger barely held in check by her vows. This is a woman who takes her honor and her oaths seriously, and as such is quite the opposite of Jaime, and this is also of course the reason the sparks are flying here.

Jaime remembers the moment when he came upon King Aerys, and it's a haunting little sequence giving us some juicy detail on how things actually went down in the throne room that fateful day. There's enough material here for another prequel, say, The Last Days of the Mad King. This is also the point in the story where, I suspect, readers begin to experience a change in how they feel about Ser Jaime Lannister. We begin to see the man behind the mask, so to speak; we get some honest insight from him, and start to realize he has, for most of his life, felt that he has been treated unfairly. There's more to him than swagger and cockiness, and plain badassery. Brilliant.

This relatively long chapter ends with two paragraphs - one telling us Jaime is dreaming of the dead, gowned in swirling green flames (which could allude to the Battle at Blackwater Bay, or something still to come - or it could just be his guilt playing out), and the last paragraph being Brienne kicking him in the ribs to wake him up; it has begun to rain, and before the sun comes up they are back in the saddle and riding.

Still my favorite piece of ASOIAF art.
After a tense scene at the Inn, Brienne revealing her cunning, Jaime beginning to show his humanity, and some very interesting backstory, that last paragraph is kind of an exhalation - here, perhaps wisely, the author deems it good enough to just end the sequence on a quiet note, instead of ramping it up with some cliffhanger, and I think it works well this way, with the three moving on in the rain and gloom, leaving us wanting to know what happens next without resorting to some cheap cliffhangery trick. By now, Jaime and Brienne's pairing is so interesting that it powers interest on its own, if you know what I mean.

And that concludes today's reread, next up is Jaime's brother Tyrion, so it's all good.

Will Jaime and Brienne end up wedded and bedded? Only more books in the series can tell. May they be published.

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