I was interrupted while writing yesterday's post and accidentally hit the 'publish'-button. I was about to do something useful anyway, so I let the rest wait - so here's the second part of my re-read of Samwell Tarly's first very own chapter in the saga. The character Small Paul just appeared on the scene, so I'll go from there. Click here to read the first part.
The most prominent song of the novel, 'The Bear and the Maiden Fair', is mentioned even here in the dark and desperate flight of the Night's Watch and it feels forced. Martin really wanted to have that song everywhere. I've never really put much thought in the lyrics but now that I'm thinking about it I think it's quite obvious the alternate title for the song is 'King Robert and Cersei Lannister' or am I totally wrong? The bear, at least, has got to be Robert.
It becomes clear through his dialogue that Small Paul is a simple-minded man, and I love how Martin uses his dialogue to establish this fact instead of giving us exposition in the vein of "Sam knew Small Paul was called that because he had a small brain." Paul would've liked one of the ravens as a pet, but they've all flown off; Martin repeats this fact several times, presumably to make sure we will remember this for later. There's more thinking about what happened on the Fist, and it should be obvious by now that, after all the medieval politics in King's Landing, epic fantasy has landed in Westeros: "(...) he remembered the dead coming over the stones with arrows in their faces and through their throats. Some were all in ringmail and some were almost naked...wildlings, most of them, but a few wore faded blacks." It's more like a zombie flick at this point. I wonder if any of those wights could be Benjen Stark.
|It's not Sam, but it's too awesome a piece of art.|
We get some more on Small Paul, him being the strongest man in the Watch, and he's carrying Sam, but Paul's strides are shorter now, and there you get that "real-time" tension back into the chapter (I admit I had forgotten there were so many flashbacks in this chapter, and I find them a little bit intrusive when the atmosphere and tension of the 'current' is so atmospheric, so palpable). Beginning to lag behind, others tell Paul to leave Sam to die, but Small Paul remembers that Sam had promised him a bird, and so he carries Sam. Eventually, the two and Grenn realize they are alone. Now that's scary knowing the night is full of the living (and hungry) dead! And poor Paul no longer has the strength to carry Sam. It seems as if death has caught up with them, with icy claws. Knowing their torch will gutter out soon enough, they suddenly know they are not alone after all. What a relief...wait a minute.
"A horse's head emerged from the darkness. Sam felt a moment's relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back was a rider pale as ice..."
|This is not a scary Other I'm sorry to say. |
Reminds me of Grandpa Smurf.
Sam doesn't have a sword, Grenn does an Aragorn and waves with his torch, trying to scare the Other off. Can't wait for this on the television screen! Though it's kind of ... mm..could HBO have changed the Others' appearance to make them less similar to the Ringwraiths? Just a thought that struck my head like lightning on the Vatican roof.
Now most readers are probably firmly entrenched in the chapter during this scene, and it reads fast and furious, and poor Paul gets a crystal sword stabbed through his everything and all the poor guy can say is "Oh", and Samwell is gathering courage as he hears the voices of Alliser Thorne and his father Randyll urging him to stop being a craven, he even hears Jon - but hey - now that we've read A Dance with Dragons he could in fact be hearing Bran (how I hate that everything can now be attributed to Bran Stark of events beyond the Wall). Anyway, Sam stabs the Other with this obsidian dagger and it's a critical hit. In addition, the dagger does bonus damage (apparently) to Others so Sam's lucky in that regard. And we, as readers, get the all-important clue that these obsidian daggers are very useful in a fight with an Other. It's almost too cliché for A Song of Ice and Fire, but there you have it; and the story lines beyond the Wall have always been closer to Tolkien than the other story lines.
So, Grenn and Sam survive, and we're explicitly told that they also call obsidian for dragon glass BIG SIGN RIGHT THERE and Grenn shows some respect for Sam at last, which he better, and, almost unbelievably, the sun is rising in the east and they decide to go follow the pink light of dawn to catch Mormont and the others, and Sam...takes a step - and then another... All in all, a well-crafted chapter, the orange glow of torches in the darkness, the snow and the cold, the suffering, all framed by Sam's step-by-step journey through the dark woods... Lovely.