Friday, March 29, 2013

That pesky Meereenese knot

Good Friday morning and the sun has barely crested the forest-clad ridge east of the house; in fact, the first rays of light are just now slipping in through the kitchen window and hitting me square in the eye dammit, as I sit by the table waiting for the coffeemaker to finish brewing that oh so necessary first cup of dark glory in the morning.
I just couldn't sleep. I was twisting and turning in bed, and, like any sane person would do on such a splendidly beautiful Easter morning, was thinking of the Meereenese knot in A Dance with Dragons. You see, Martin never explicitly stated what exactly the knot entailed (unless I've missed something which is always a possibility of course), but last night (and the nights before actually) I've been kind of sneak-reading a little bit in A Dance with Dragons to see if I can capture some of that magic that other people so easily seem to grab. Which led to waking up so early today thinking about George, Dance, and the many characters of Westeros and Essos. I guess it beats getting crucified. 
OOohh, coffee's done. Mmmm...lovely smell of coffee wafting through the kitchen. The sun is now officially making it hard to see the laptop screen. It's still minus 15 degrees Celsius outside, but with the sun coming up, that will soon change into a degree or two on the plus side. Fricking cold at night, then, and all the waters melting in the sun during the day turn to ice during the night (well whatever hasn't turned into steam that is), making for some extremely slippery roads hereabouts. 
And discussing the Meereenese knot and George RR Martin is a slippery road too so I better step carefully. What an eloquent transition, people.


So, as I've been reading through Dance (remember, I've only read it once fully), skimming here and there, reading chapters here and there, and I noticed this very clear pattern (and I am sure I'm only presenting old hat here, but I just have to get it out of my system, so apologies if I'm coming with exactly nothing new here) throughout the book.

The pattern is simply the fact that Jon, Dany and Tyrion's chapters move at a glacial pace compared to the other characters who have POVs. While nothing much of consequence seems to happen in the three main characters' chapters (most of them, not at all obviously), the story retains a decent pacing with good intervals between story peaks in chapters like Bran Stark's, Theon Greyjoy's, and Davos Seaworth's. Of course, these characters have way fewer chapters than the Big Three, but do notice how these chapters most resemble the way Martin wrote chapters in the first three novels - structure-wise, story-wise, characterization-wise and other wises. I read a Theon Greyjoy Reek chapter and it was a breeze, it was interesting, with the right mix of exposition, dialogue, misery, interesting secondary characters and all you'd expect from an Ice and Fire - chapter (it was the chapter where he goes into Moat Cailin to negotiate with the remaining Ironmen, and toward the end Roose Bolton comes riding up the Kingsroad). The chapter had a forward momentum, going from point to point until we get a small peak toward the end of the chapter making us want to read the next Reek chapter to see what's going to happen (Reek recognizing Poole, Ramsay's not-quite-veiled threat). In contrast, I reached a Jon Snow chapter last night and I just couldn't bother to finish it. Nothing seemed to happen, even when I tried reading between the lines. The book's been accused of padding and it is in the chapters of the Big Three that this is most keenly felt. I've earlier cited a particularly horrid example from a Jon chapter, where we get an absurdly long inventory list of just what the Night's Watch has stowed away in the cellars beneath Castle Black. The same goes for Daenerys Targaryen's chapters; so many chapters we have her whiling away her days in Meereen without much happening at all. There is less exterior story - much of the prose takes place inside her head, where she is mostly concerned about Daario. Yes, there are some minor developments - mostly introducing a host of new characters with similar names (making it hard to get attached to them, and making it hard to think of them as important to the overall story), but, like Jon's arc in the novel, it seems that the important bits are tucked in at the very end and we could have had one or two chapters detailing all that came before (instead of ten). 

So far, so good. It must be said that Tyrion's chapters are a tad more interesting than Dany's and Jon's; this might be simply because his story arc actually has forward momentum. After all, he's on a journey, so there has to be movement. But also in his chapters, a lot of the material feels like padding. Nothing new here, really; a cursory read of Amazon reviews shows that many people think the same. How much of the journey on the Rhoyne is really necessary? 

Bran Stark's chapters, on the other hand, are just as good as they've always been; stuff happens, new characters, old characters, mysteries revealed and new mysteries added; Ser Davos Seaworth's story is likewise interesting. Cersei's two chapters pack more drama than all of Jon's together. Reek's story is by far where Martin is at his best. Even Quentyn Martell, boring as he is as a character, fulfills his arc in what three chapters (I'm not going into the problem of the fragmentation of the story into so many new POVs here, though that certainly doesn't add to the quality of the book).

So here's my observation - the Meereenese knot was / is simply this: Martin had all these stories set up - Theon's, Bran's, Davos' primarily I guess - and got them all to a certain point in the timeline, which forced him to "slow down" Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys' arcs to make them all sync. This explains why the Big Three's chapters feel so...devoid of story, while in the other chapters we can glimpse the great story writer that Martin evidently is. The Big Three's chapters are padded, so that they can line up with the rest of the story toward the end. This hopefully means that come The Winds of Winter, Jon, Tyrion and Dany's stories will become interesting again and move with the speed of Jon Connington and his crew, who in a few chapters manage to travel from Essos, land in Westeros, and seize Storm's End (maybe). 

Could Martin have invented more interesting material to fill up those chapters? Definitely. Instead he went for world building and endless detail and needless bits that distract rather than add to the story. Can we hope that we're in line for a great sixth volume where the pace picks up and the ship rights itself? Yes, we can. Anyway, the whole point of this post was to illustrate how the infamous Meereenese knot perhaps didn't have so much to do with Meereen at all. Feel free to call me out on this. It is curious though, isn't it, how the stories in the North seem to have the pace and grit of "old school ASOIAF" while the Big Three's chapters are meandering like the Rhoyne itself.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Time of Renewal

Easter again. Nothing against it, really. Lots of days off, and with the weather being as fantastic as it's been the last couple of days, well, you wouldn't think it of a nerd perhaps but I've spent most of the time outdoors,  skiing up and down forested mountains, bringing something nice to drink and eat and just enjoy the nature. This in turn leads to less time for geeking out, but whenever I come back from a long trip in the fresh air I feel so inspired, either to read something, play something or write something. So far this Easter I've been reading a couple more Forgotten Realms novels (mostly out of curiosity to see if they're as bad as the one I read a while ago, Red Magic - which they, so far, are not), tried out the free-to-play yet-another-fantasy-MMO Wizardry Online for a couple of minutes (and yes, there's a reason the try-out lasted only a few minutes) and of course kept an eye on the ever closer premiere of Game of Thrones: Season Three. They've been spewing out all these clips and yes, I've devoured them and I am thrilled about another season no matter that once I see it, it'll be all awkward and I'll be wondering why they changed this or changed that, and then I have to watch it again to get comfortable with it. Four days to go as of writing. Very exciting. Not new-book-in-the-series exciting, but exciting none the less. I've also watched with some interest the various interviews and panels that have been cropping up, but I'm still not wiser when it comes to George R.R. Martin or how far he's progressed with The Winds of Winter

I did notice today, however, that the good man's website finally got a face-lift. I have to say it was about time. Now it doesn't feel as if I'm using the Wayback Machine when I sneak over there to check out on the latest sales or sports commentaries. I did also notice that the new design allows for more content on the front page, which I guess is good, and that they have opted for a website about the author with no focus on the A Song of Ice and Fire saga specifically. And I understand that decision, totally. He wants recognition for more than just the books that happen to be his masterpieces and for which he gains 99,99% of the attention. What I don't understand is why so much of the front page's space is devoted to selling stuff. Oh, all right, I get that too, but it's a bit... I don't know, it's kind of a confirmation to people who feel Martin is more interested in money these days, than his art. Going to the site, I'm offered Valyrian steel swords, DarkSword miniatures, and a FevreDream comic before I've gotten my bearings. I just think it would've been nicer if there was simply one window leading to a marketplace-type of page. It would look and feel nicer, if you know what I mean. But then again, he's the millionaire while my wallet is covered in hoary cobwebs. Anyway, whatever one thinks of it, the mere fact that his site has received an overhaul is in itself interesting. It might just mean that he's finally gotten someone to work on the PR side of things. The vintage look is gone, then, and we're in a new era, the post-vintage Martin era. No longer the author of those great books that sold mostly because his fans recommended them to others who in turn became fans; now he is George R.R. Martin, "the man behind Game of Thrones", for good or for ill.

Oh, I'm still playing Game of Thrones: Ascent, the game that isn't really a game and which has so many technical problems it's a wonder anyone - let alone myself - is still playing. What is it that makes me come back every morning to check on my fief? I really don't know. It's the continual "surge", I guess; everytime you log back on, there's more money in the treasury and always something new to build to get even higher power ratings and stats. It's like a MMO but they've stripped away the game-play and left you with the dings (if that makes any sense). Oh well, that's three GoT-games not really worth the time. And the next one up is a MMORPG. What are the chances it will actually be good? A man wonders. And while Martin is renewing his presence online, I'm going old school with a week now where I've been listening to my old, scratchy Iron Maiden records. Lovely.

Coming up: More re-reading from A Storm of Swords

Monday, March 18, 2013

Season III is coming as I ascend

An interesting article about the TV show versus the books over at Not superinteresting or anything, you know, but still. 

And another clip! This time it's the second full-blooded trailer and I'm pretty excited about it. I see some drastic changes to the book - Melisandre meeting Thoros of Myr stands out (if that really is Melisandre - the general consensus seems to be it is but I don't think it looks quite like Van Houten); I see material that as a reader I didn't learn before A Dance with Dragons; Stannis Baratheon looks different, I believe it's the makeup; Daario's lost his moustachios but looks the part anyway; Robb Stark is at Harrenhal;  and I also see a lot of promising goodness.  It really looks quite cinematic now, more so than the previous season trailers, so I have a feeling they've upped the ante and this season will blow a few minds. A few bits have me stumped but it's fun to speculate and wonder. The trailer does what it is supposed to do, though. It's getting people excited about the new season. Two more weeks. Don't you love it when there's Ice and Fire stuff popping up at regular intervals?

Why does Sansa look like an old woman in that shot anyway? I do love how people not familiar with the books probably believe she's marrying Joffrey here. Someone should film people's faces as they watch the show and put it online for the amusement of the hardcore crowd. There's bound to be a few WTFs as the story turns and twists so magnificently as it does. 

In other news, Facebook-game Game of Thrones: Ascent remains, mysteriously, something of a guilty pleasure for me. I have to log in every day to produce stone and iron and wood and whatnot, and I have to send my Sworn Swords on various quests and I have to check the leaderboard to see how far I've dropped behind since my last power surge. Like I said earlier there's almost no game to it, just clicking and reading messages and waiting for timers to cool down (at a glacial pace), but somehow it has kept me busy since it was released. I was quite powerful for a while too (and by that I mean I was among the top 800 players out of some 50,000) but I've lagged behind a bit so now I'm at 1800-something Power. And does it matter? Not at all (even if it is the only game that matters, said Littlefinger). It's fun to imagine being a somewhat cunning and somewhat cruel and sometimes just lord of the Westerlands. But there is not much immersion when your Sworn Sword goes to do the same mission for the twentieth time just for the XPs. Oh well. I better go upgrade my Watchtower. I need a Third Story to be able to produce an Assassin. They boost a character with some points. Isn't it cool?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

[Re-read] Jaime III: Hands-On Fightin'

I admit that these latest promo clips to come out from HBO are getting me excited about the third season of Game of Thrones. This week I've re-watched all the episodes from season two and I am happy to be wrong about my initial misgivings - to some extent. While I still find the season to deviate far too much from the books (even accepting the fact that certain things need to be changed to work on the screen), I found the series on its own much better and easier to appreciate for what it is on the second round of watching. Most actors do a fabulous job bringing the characters to life, and they've certainly done a fantastic job with set dressing. On crisp bluray, I appreciated the detail in, say, Renly's command tent in the Stormland much more than I did when I watched them last year. In some less crisp format. I believe it will be the same with the next season: the first time around there will probably be a lot of "WTFs" slinging about, because you know, I'm so mired in the book, and a second round will probably enlighten me. One of the fun things about the show is trying to second-guess the writers as to why they chose to change this or that. And a tiny little part of me enjoys liking Game of Thrones simply because a certain celebrity doesn't. Re-watching season two also makes me giddy to read a little more in A Storm of Swords, of course.

That's the War preview right there. Goes to show that after four years of blogging about A Song of Ice and Fire I have finally bothered to find out how to put a YouTube video straight into a post. It wasn't very hard. It entailed clicking a few buttons. To celebrate this momentous occasion I'll also throw in the Beast preview clip. For what it's worth, HBO are doing a real good job with these clips, can't imagine how you couldn't want to watch this stuff when it's presented like this. Of course, with even longer episodes there'll be plenty of scenes with people just talking - just like in the two previous seasons - but it does seem to me that we are getting even more spice this time around. The only thing I'm truly worried about (in that fanboy sense of being worried, it's not like I'm worried in the same manner that I worry about, say, the people of North Korea), are the Others and the Wights. When they show up toward the end of last season's final episode, and that weird-looking dead guy or Other or whatever it is looks down on really takes me out of the enjoyment of the series because to me it just looks so damn goofy. After 9.9 episodes of mostly awesomeness and a gritty and grim look to most things, we get this cartoon character that's just one step above Jar Jar Binks in terms of scariness. Thing I've figured out, though, is that Game of Thrones to its books is kind of like the Lord of the Rings movies to the book: A lot of things get nailed/are spot on, and then there are some flukes here and there. I can live with flukes. But I hope that undead guy/Otherly grandpa doesn't feature too strongly in season three. Enough about the TV show, let's read another chapter of that book I seem to love so much!

Okay, seeing as this is Jaime III we're going to involve ourselves with, I have to say one more thing re: Game of Thrones. I miss Cleos Frey! It seems a little bit silly for Brienne of Tarth to go off with Ser Jaime in that tiny raft like that; with Ser Cleos as a second guardian, it would become a bit more believable, know, I've always loved Jaime's journey down the river and I think adding Cleos would have been nice. That being said, I also miss Jhalabhar Xho, Donal Noye, and a good many other tertiary characters. Where are the Sons of Slynt? Boo and hiss! All right, now I really am going to leave the TV series aside and concentrate on the next chapter of A Storm of Swords, the Book that Keeps on Giving (and Taking, too, for most of the characters in it).

The first paragraph of the chapter gives us a panoramic (if disturbing) view of the countryside along the kingsroad, once again reminding us how the land itself fares under times of war. Martin paints a vivid and realistic (nobody I know has actually been to the Middle Ages to confirm, but he seems to be about right) landscape torn by war, something fantasy novels seldom do and which is one more thing that makes this story more special. Rather than describing a trudge endlessly, however, we get to Maidenpool, main location for the chapter, in just the second paragraph. The pace is quick and the descriptions just enough to give us an image without overdoing it - which I find is a problem in later books, but I guess you knew that already: "At Maidenpool, Lord Mooton's red salmon still flew above the castle on its hill, but the town walls were deserted, the gates smashed, half the homes and shops burned or plundered. They saw nothing living but a few feral dogs that went slinking away at the sound of their approach." There's a nice contrast too coming up right after this description. In the legend Florian the Fool had first glimpsed Jonquil bathing in the pool the town takes its name from, but now it is choking with rotting corpses that have turned the water into a murky grey-green soup. So, in two paragraphs we have established the setting, and Martin efficiently moves straight into dialogue, with Jaime taunting Brienne in the same way he's been doing for a little while now, and Ser Cleos trying to make him be less rude to her. He also reminds Jaime that Lord Mooton of Maidenpool is sworn to Riverrun, so we also know that Jaime is in enemy territory, adding a little suspense to the beginning of the chapter (though I'm not really feeling it as of yet, since the town seems quite deserted). Cleos does add that there might be enemies lurking about, though. It's a perfect setup for a roleplaying game session, with the players coming upon such a town. Who or what could be watching them? If I ever get around to using all those A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying books from Green Ronin that I've bought blindly, I think it would be pretty intense and cool to run a game in the Riverlands at this point in the chronology. Hey, this reminds me I never bought their latest book, The Night's Watch. Mmm.. Actually, I have gotten around to try out the game. We played one session, taking place in the Stormlands, but I didn't feel it, so we switched to old school AD&D gaming in the Forgotten Realms, as mentioned in an earlier post. I've been playing for too many years in a game world very much like Westeros so I was pining for some different kind of RPG entertainment. Enough, back to the book. Again. Sorry. I do tend to ramble, from time to time. I should've called myself Old Nan.

You just hold that helmet good.
There's a quick memory from Jaime about how he and Cersei would sleep together at Casterly Rock, which as they aged evolved into a sexual relationship, and how their mother had discovered it but died in childbirth (giving birth to Tyrion) so Tywin never knew. This leads him to think about the fact that Stannis has been spreading the "news" about their incest across Westeros, and he almost feels relieved that the secret is out. When he considers the notion of marrying Joffrey to Myrcella, we realize - if we hadn't before - that Jaime probably isn't the greatest dad in the world. In fact, he may just be the worst father in the entire series. Perhaps tied with Craster. No, forget it. Craster's worse. But Jaime is a lousy dad, let that be said. Does he ever show affection for his kids? I often find myself forgetting that he is the actual father of the kids. But of course, they've had a surrogate father all the time so there has been no need for him to involve himself, and he couldn't, because that would spill the secret that the world now knows about. However, we are seeing a slight change of Jaime's character already here, when he amuses himself with the thought of keeping faith even though it's just because everyone else expects betrayal. Sublime stuff, really - all these years Jaime has been following other people's decisions and whims; mostly as a Kingsguard, but also doing whatever his sister has requested of him, and probably his father. Now he entertains himself by thinking of going against the grain, so to speak. Excuse the cliché. It's just one facet of his long arc.

Before we know it, there's a so-called thrum, an onomatopoetic word that immediately suggest the loosing of an arrow. Jaime picks up on it quickly, shouting "Down!" and throwing himself against the neck of his horse. I like Martin's further description of the sound: "(...)as if a dozen birds had taken flight at once." However, that suggests to me twelve birds leaving their perch, not the sound of arrows. Anyway. That's nitpicking on a level even I won't stoop to...often. His horse gets hit by an arrow, no, not in the knee dammit, but in the rump. Ser Cleos lurches from the saddle, and is dragged along as his horse bolts. Love that image, one which we will never see, thank you very much Home Box Office or whatever your acronym means. Jaime watches as Brienne fights heedless of the arrows in her back and leg; he realizes the enemy is behind the wall, so he shouts like a good commander for the group to go at them, which is kind of funny all the time he is the group's prisoner. Also nice how subtly Martin shows us that Jaime is the kind of guy to take command - a natural leader. It's funny when he charges on his horse and is hoping on Brienne following him before "they realize they're being charged by an unarmed man in chains." Fortunately for Jaime she is right behind him, shouting "Evenfall!" and "Tarth!" 

The bowmen break and run and melt into the wood, and Jaime and Brienne stop at the wall. They have a little bit of banter, and most of their banter really is wicked good and entertaining, but this one feels more like it exists to inform the reader of some simple medieval battle tactics about the importance of charging into bowmen because they will break because they can't reload - erm, re-draw? - fast enough. There's some comedy gold to be had as well; when Jaime suggests to help her with the arrows lodging in her body, she says, "You?" and Jaime counters that cousin Cleos is of little help, as "His palfrey was using his head to plow a furrow". I chortle, and at the same time I'm thinking, don't you have any empathy not even for your own cousin, Jaime? They go looking for Cleos and find him dead. 'Nuff said. I realize Cleos may be an extraneous character, what with him dying like this but dammit would have been good television. There are some lines here that will be lost forever to the TV-only public and that's a shame. How about Brienne kneeling and holding Cleos' hand, saying, "He's still warm," and Jaime following up with, "He'll cool soon enough. I want his horse and his clothes." Reminds me of people quitting MMOs and everyone saying "Can I have your stuff`?" Jaime then, is a rather pragmatic if empathetic fellow. Will he ever learn to become a good person, or will his arc remain shallow, as in, people see a changed man but he hasn't truly changed? How can a man who's so nihilistic (hope the term works in this context) change to something better? Is it possible? I guess that is one of the more interesting questions re: Jaime and a topic Martin is exploring for us. 

Again, Jaime tries to convince Brienne to unchain him, and again she says no. However, with the many times this comes up, it feels like it is only a matter of time until she actually frees him of his shackles. I mean,  I know it happens now of course, but I had the feeling it would happen the first time I read the story. Martin is building up toward it, thus giving us expectations, and then of course he totally nipple-twists us all with how it all turns out. Lovely. Funny also how Brienne as a character unchains Jaime in a metaphoric way, but that's for later down the (kings)road. 

Not quite like the description in the book.
Great actress, though.
Jaime, just like me really, finally gets enough of Brienne's wariness. Jaime was tired. Tired of her suspicions, tired of her insults (because he doesn't insult her at all, of course), tired of her crooked teeth and her broad spotty face and that limp thin hair of hers. Quickly, he pulls Cleos' sword out of its scabbard, a longsword as a matter of fact (that's 1d6 damage in your ugly face, Brienne! Whoops sorry), pivots around and wham! he attacks Brienne! It's such a turnaround! I love it. From banter to turning around swinging at her, I love how Martin describes this with quick, short sentences to convey the suddenness of it. And, Jaime of course, is one of the best knights in the realm so he better be quick even though he's chained. Brienne, however, gets her own blade out in time to parry, and Jaime can only laugh and say, "Very good, wench" but I kind of suspect by the way Martin described Jaime's thoughts of being tired of Brienne that Jaime is in fact quite annoyed. 
Brienne, with the sense of humor of an empty clam shell, says, "Give me the sword, Kingslayer," and Jaime can't really reply with anything else than "Oh, I will". And there we are, witnessing the two fighting! So sudden, so spectacular, so...well, expected but still. Expected and unexpected. At a guess, we've seen bits of this in the preview trailers above, where they are on a bridge. Not nearly as cool as a burnt-out village, HBO! Boo and hiss. 

The fight is described efficiently and it really feels like we're fighting through Jaime's eyes; his observations are martial, if you know what I mean: "Left, right, backslash, swinging, upswing, overhands, moving, step and slide, step and strike, hacking..." He stops thinking in sentences, just observing the moves as they duel, like a swordsman would. Nifty. They take a few short breaks to hurl words at each other, Jaime being cocky, Brienne being...Brienne. She is really good at swordfighting, though. Jaime, though impeded with chains, is having trouble (though he doesn't acknowledge this himself; it's what the reader infers from reading the text; it's brilliant). Like I said in a post not so long ago there are parts here that don't translate well to re-read posts, they should just be read and enjoyed. They're fighting - nuff said. Jaime realizes just how strong this woman is. Brienne is forcing Jaime down to a brook, shouting for him to yield. She's everything Jaime (and most other Sers in Westeros) is not; a true knight. He falls, he bleeds, there is blinding pain, and Brienne keeps shouting, "Yield, y'all!" Well, yield! at any rate. She kicks away his sword, and ...

... let's stop time a bit. Do you remember the first time you read this? Did you stop to wonder and ponder how this would go? I remember doing it, I was all giddy and excited and telling Lady Slynt... that, that, that these people are fighting and you should read this crazy shit and... I didn't know how it was going to turn out. I knew it was awesome. I wondered. I kind of had the feeling Brienne would have the upper-hand but then Jaime would do something nasty or unfair which would give him the victory but another nickname like "woman-slayer" know what I mean? At the same time, it would be strange if Brienne lost and died, so I had a feeling that maybe the roles would simply be reversed, with Jaime towing Brienne in chains from here on, wherever that would take them. To Casterly Rock, perhaps....

What we got was, And the woods rang with coarse laughter. And I was like? Huh? What? Who's laughing? And of course there was only the one thing to do: read on, read on! Brienne lurches to her feet, Jaime takes the time to think that she looks like she's been caught having, ah, intercourse and not fighting, Jaime crawls over the rocks to shallow water, wiping blood from his eye, and sees armed men lining both sides of the brook. I guess they'll be covering the bridge, then, in the TV series. 'Cause these guys you can't just leave out of the story, I hope. 

Jaime finds his humor as he says, "My pardons if I disturbed you. You caught me chastising my wife," but the funny is lost when the reply from a thick man in a halfhelm is, "Seemed to me she was doing the chastising." Heheh. Well, funny is lost for Jaime, not for the reader. Jaime takes a good look at who is surrounding them and it is a ragtag band of fellows for sure:
Swarthy Dornishmen and blond Lyseni, Dothraki with bells in their braids, hairy Ibbenese, coal-black Summer Islanders in feathered cloaks. And he knows them: The Brave Companions. Actually, the original first forum for what is now Is Winter Coming? was called something akin to 'The Brave Companions versus the Unfinished Tales' or something in that direction. Since Martin's loyalists were called the Brotherhood without Banners, you know. The obvious choice at the time was to go for the opposite to show that we were shunned by the people over at Westeros for daring to ask questions. Is Winter Coming? is a lot easier on the tongue, though, and kind of gives you a hint anyway. 

Among the Brave Companions are a couple of fellows we've met before in Arya's chapters - Rorge and Biter. This could mean that Jaime and Brienne are in trouble. Read on, read on. And these fellows, these brave companions, they sure are foul-mouthed in a way not even Sandor Clegane is. I remember almost feeling offended by these fellows the way they were talking. True evil, unlike the Ring-wraiths, can be found in this company. As Brienne listens, a Dornish fellow suggests Rorge turn her over and rape Brienne from behind. It is threatening, and revolting. Never had I read a book where perverted wickedness was so...sad to say, realistic... Sickening stuff. These guys deserve a comeuppance or two. Anyway, Jaime asks who the leader is, Urswyck says it's him and he also says he knows that he's talking to Ser Jaime Lannister. Tough luck. They talk a bit about Lord Vargo Hoat (the author setting up the character in our minds for when we see him again, and reminding us of the character too, from Arya's Harrenhal adventures); they also realize Brienne is a nobleman's daughter so she can bring them some money (which I guess is a good thing, otherwise they'd kill her outright). Jaime learns that Hoat has been promised Harrenhal and he wonders whether his father has gone mad. Jaime is now learning just what kind of "dogs" his father employs, and this will be part of his "redemption arc" (as I've seen it called) - by experiencing what kind of people his family employs, he'll dislike his family (father at least) more. 

The only Urswyck the Internet provides.
But it's a pretty awesome piece.
Ack, there's so much nasty stuff being said. These people are more beasts than men. I mean, come on. Did we need to know Biter's chewed some septa's teats off? Jaime, arrogance incarnate that he is, bids the men strike his chains off, but Urswyck only chuckles. Jaime realizes that he, though he is a Kingsguard and son of the mightiest lord of Westeros (arguably), these fellows won't treat him like that. Not only this - they have changed their allegiance from House Lannister to House Bolton, whom they call the King in the North! Now there's an eye-opener and that's for sure, in the immortal words of what's-his-name from what's-that-book! Damn! Bolton. Bolton! When Jaime comments, "And men say I have shit for honor?"  the comment isn't taken happily. Two of the mummers grasp Jaime by the arms and Rorge punches him in the stomach (with a mailed fist, obviously). Brienne protests at this, "Stop! He's not to be harmed!" which is kind of funny considering she was beating the crap out of him moments earlier, but Rorge just hits Jaime again; Brienne dives for her sword, but the Mummers are over her, and though she is strong, they have the numbers. Bleeding and with a few teeth less in their mouths, they are dragged through the woods. Jaime feels sorry for Brienne because he knows what will most likely happen - gang rape. They are bound back to back atop Brienne's horse. There's an interesting little bit of description of Cleos' surcoat (Rorge wins it as they divy up his possessions) - "The arrows had punched holes through lions and towers alike" - a subtle foreshadowing of the falls of House Lannister and House Frey, or me reading too much into it? Actually I believe all the great Houses will fall before the end. Seems to me feudalism doesn't work very well in Westeros. There'll be a great change all right, perhaps Westeros will end up a Republic with one of the surviving heroes as its president. I vote for Hot Pie or Tommen (since that would result in the outlawing of beets - but then again, there's practically no chance Tommen will survive the series so boo, beets it is). Jaime realizes Brienne is brave (so now he has "brave" and "strong" on his list of positive adjectives on Brienne - the list of negatives is still by far the longest). He tries to warn her as they whisper in the saddle, that she'll be raped and that the best thing to do is go along with it. That's some great consolation right there. 

Jaime calls for Urswyck. The sellsword reins in and rides alongside them. Jaime essentially tries to pull the trick that worked for Tyrion in the Sky Cell of the Eyrie in A Game of Thrones; he suggests Urswyck can have "all the gold in Casterly Rock" if he takes them to King's Landing. He promises the man a knighthood, and a pardon for any crimes committed. But Urswyck is no Mord, alas. He's clever. But also particularly perverted and cruel, telling Jaime that he killed his own wife. Actually, I find that Martin perhaps goes a bit overboard with making these guys so perverted and corrupted and evil. Almost charicature-like. But then I'm reminded of all the atrocities performed by people in real life and I'm like, yeah, these guys could actually exist. It's not a nice thought. Westeros is not a nice world. And Urswyck is not a nice man. There's been a lot of realizing for Jaime in this chapter, and here comes another one: Urswyck (dammit that name! I always hit the 'q' when I am supposed to hit the 'w') does not fear Jaime Lannister. Must be a bit of a turnoff for Jaime, who's so used to being feared, respected (out of fear), famous / infamous. And this guy just gives him an insolent bitchslap. I admit I enjoy seeing Jaime's dignity go the way of the [insert extinct species, more than enough of those]. But I also begin to feel sorry for him (but still more for Brienne). Love how Martin is twisting our perception, and there will be a whole lot more of that going on as we move forward. Urs doesn't trust Jaime, though, and again it comes back to King Aerys. Kind of unfair, isn't it? Everybody was happy to get rid of the Mad King, yet Jaime has been saddled with the "kingslayer" tag ever since. 

Toward evening, they are dragged into the presence of Vargo Hoat, who is busy sacking a small sept with another dozen of Brave Companions. Martin gets another opportunity for the depiction of depravity, of which he seems fonder and fonder. They are using the corpse of a priest for an archery butt. Nuff said. I wonder....It is quite obvious that the series' content gets more and more depraved/perverted as the story goes on; will HBO shy away from the worst, or latch onto it? There's some pretty grim stuff shown already, like that guy in the Blackwater episode who gets his head cut in half vertically. That was an eew! moment if ever there was one. 
Anyway, the Hoat, er, the Goat, is eating a half-cooked bird off a skewer (why didn't he wait to eat it when it was well done?!). Brienne says, rather politely given the circumstances, that she is Brienne of Tarth, on a mission for Catelyn Stark. Hoat just tells his men to silence her. Actually, thilence her. He has a lithp you see. "Hear me," Brienne calls out, but then she's dragged off her horse and they give her a good kicking. Man, this has got to be too dark for TV. I do hope they keep the essence intact, because when the heroes (if ever) get a moment of glory it will be all the more fulfilling after having seen them go through so much horror. 

Jaime decides to try the Lannister trick on Hoat as well. The trick being bribery. Money is all the Lannisters have, really. And good looks. Hey, is Martin trying to tell us something here? That money and good looks isn't all there is to life? A theme that fits well with Jaime's story at any rate. He is fast losing everything that makes him a Lannister, yet he is changing into a better person. Anyhoo, the chapter is rapidly coming to a close as Jaime is shoved forward, and gets his legs kicked out from under him. They grab his chains and yank his arms out.

...aaand let's stop time. Raise your hand (aha!) if you thought they were going to free him. I thought they would. I admit it. I still hadn't grasped Martin's ways yet, I guess. I was like, all right! High five! Things aren't bright, but at least they are releasing him from his chains and then he'll like whirlwind through them all with a sword. A storm! Of swords! 

Hey, wait a minute. Why is he thinking They mean to scare me. Of course, Martin wants to keep up the suspense. Make us unsure about what is going down (except from the arakh). Jaime will be so relieved. And find a chance to avenge himself on these sick bastards. 

Sunlight ran silver along the edge of the arakh as it came shivering down, almost too fast to see. And Jaime screamed. 

Hhnngggrr! Was there ever a chapter that begged you to continue reading the book like this? Why did he scream? Where was he hit? What was hit? Martin didn't mention the sound of chains being broken? What's this? Ooooh! Aaah!

And then you flip the page and see "ARYA." Dammit!!!!11!

But I bet you this will be the last scene in one of the upcoming episodes. Have a great Sunday evening, at least better than what Jaime and Brienne are experiencing in the woods outside Maidenpool. Iron Maidenpool. Up the Irons!

Monday, March 11, 2013

[Re-read] Catelyn III: To End the Night's Dark Dance

The sky is blue and the snow is melting - winter is, ah, going away. Over the last week or so I've spent most of my time in the real world, with a few detours to the Forgotten Realms (now I'm reading Shadowdale, the first book in the Avatar trilogy and I wonder if I will manage to finish it; it's just so...kind of the opposite of A Storm of Swords in so many ways, and since ASoS is fricking good you can only guess what I feel about Shadowdale), two minutes played in the second beta weekend for Neverwinter, developing a trio of nations for a new short story where I intend to combine the things I like about old school fantasy roleplaying games with what I like about 'new school' gritty fantasy literature - we'll see how that goes, and dueling with plastic lightsabers with my son while pumping Duel of the Fates from the stereo (all right, from WinAmp on the computer - but "stereo" is way quicker to write. Oh well). Oh! And watching the first episode of Game of Thrones, Season II on bluray. Yes, I've yet again given mr. Martin some of my money (though I do not know how much one bluray set sale earns him), but you know, there is this thing called temptation and I have a sneaking suspicion that on rewatch, I will appreciate it more (I was disappointed the first time around). Finally, I've kept at improving and expanding the domains known as Slynthold in Game of Thrones: Ascent on Facebook. Believe me I've never been more on Facebook than I've been the last week. The thing is you just drop by and click a few buttons and then you go away, to return a while later to click a little more. Very easy to play, then, in the sense that you don't have to commit that much and yet have a feeling of being doing something useless to get that fantasy itch scratched. Like I said in a previous post it's not so much a game as an extremely linear story you follow, but for some reason I haven't been able to put it aside. Maybe it's just good to be a Lannister....

Hard times for the rivermen. least it's better to be a Lannister than a Stark these days don't you think? We've reached Catelyn Stark's third chapter in A Storm of Swords, and she's been having a rough year or so I'm sure we all can agree. For those readers who find Catelyn too introspective may I remind you she lost her husband, her daughters are captured by the enemy (or so she is assured), she believes her two youngest sons to be dead at the hands of Theon Greyjoy, she witnessed Renly Baratheon's death, her sister is a raving psycho, her brother is a bit incompetent, her father is dying and I'm sure there's more grief I've forgotten at the moment. She is trying to do her best as a mother and it all crumbles in her hands. From this point of view, I think Martin really writes Catelyn well, and could probably have made her even darker and more depressed without taking away from the reality of it. 

Speaking of depression, this chapter goes straight for the dark as Grey Wind howls in the distance and two corpses are laid before Catelyn in the hall of Riverrun. It's a nice contrast to the meeting in the previous chapter where everyone is discussing the war but at a distance and everyone is safe inside the Red Keep. In Riverrun, the torches flicker along the walls and the mood is entirely different, so quickly established by the two corpses. Robb is standing next to her, and the corpses are two boys, older than her sons, naked and wet. Martin goes on to give a thorough description of the bodies, maybe to embellish on the tragedy of war, or maybe because he knows where Catelyn's story is going and so prepares us by letting us see, through Catelyn's eyes, the wounds inflicted upon the two boys. Interestingly, Catelyn thinks that she would have wept if she had more tears left. Not sure I latched onto this one before but it kind of foreshadows her personality change come the epilogue and A Feast for Crows. Looking upon them, she thinks of Sansa and how she may be laid before the Iron Throne in the same manner - the author telling us that the Lannisters will want revenge for these two deaths, without going straight out and telling us who the corpses are, keeping the interest high. 

Her brother Edmure is present as well, eyes puffy from sleep - establishing the scene as being in the middle of the night, again a nice touch from Martin. Instead of telling us it's night, he shows us. I love that. He's really good at that. Martin pulls the camera back to show us Robb's captains and lords bannerman standing about, makes care to mention Ser Rolph (is he the reason why the wolf is howling, per chance - and not the corpses?). Finally Martin reveals to us the names of the corpses - Tion Frey and Willem Lannister. Something's been going on between chapters, that's for sure, and I honestly don't recall whether I had a guess as to exactly what. The Greatjon marches prisoners through the doors, and there's a very nice description of it: "(...) Catelyn made note of how some other men stepped back to give them room, as if treason could somehow be passed by touch, a glance, a cough." Not only do I like the wording and how it makes you think - it resonates, kind of - but Martin also gives us a little bit more insight at the same time, due to the use of the word treason. We now understand that someone belonging to Robb Stark's faction have murdered Willem Lannister and Tion Frey, and for an astute reader it's probably obvious that the culprit is Lord Rickard Karstark who was so vehement about Jaime Lannister's release from prison. Essentially, Catelyn made an enemy of him. There's a huge authorial mistake here though: Catelyn thinks of how Ned had told her that the north is 'hard and cold' and without mercy, a thousand years ago. This is clearly impossible, as Catelyn is only, what forty-five? Robb wonders why they are only five - the Greatjon explains that two were killed and one is dying. 

Lord Rickard Karstark, then, stands before the high seat, and though Robb insinuates that it is kind of cowardly to assault to unarmed squires with eight armed soldiers, Karstark's reply is that "Any man who steps between a father and his vengeance asks for death." Catelyn feels the guilt, Robb speaks as a king as he tells the traitor lord that what he did was murder, not vengeance. Karstark, however, has stepped beyond reason, yielding no ground, obsessed with his vengeance and self-imposed righteousness. In most fantasy novels the sides are a tad more defined, so reading this was, at the time, a real treat; betrayals and treason that hurt. It makes for much more compelling stories, of that there can be no doubt. You can never be sure in A Storm of Swords, just hope for the best in the end. When Karstark tells Robb that Catelyn murdered these boys as much as he did, it must really hurt for Catelyn, and she does indeed almost faint. Karstark does have one point in his favor: "How can it be treason to kill Lannisters, when it is not treason to free them?" It all comes back to Catelyn letting Jaime go; and I have uttered this numerous times before, but damn isn't Martin good at managing consequences? And not just that, but realistic consequences, consequences that you perhaps didn't see coming but when they do, they make sense? Karstark, then, is clearly no longer pleased with Robb's rule, snarling, "(...) or should I call you the King Who Lost the North?" which is kind of unfair because, you know, Robb had no idea the Greyjoys would try their hand at some good old pillaging and warfare again at this point? At the same time, it's totally believable that Karstark spits these bitter words, of course. The Greatjon wants to kill Karstark right away, but is interrupted when the Blackfish, Catelyn's uncle, bursts into the hall, water running from cloak and helm, followed by Tully man-at-arms, having something important to say. Robb tells the Greatjon to hang Karstark's co-conspirators, but leave Karstark himself alive; when one of the men begs for mercy as he only stood guard, we can see how Lord Eddard Stark lives on in his son: "Lord Umber, this was only the watcher. Hang him last, so he may watch the others die." The Old Ways, baby. The Old Ways. 

A view of Riverrun according to Ted Nasmith.
The next scene, then, is in the darkness of Robb's audience chamber, with Edmure, Brynden and Catelyn attending. Brynden tells them that the Karstarks have left, and Catelyn notices Robb's despair (or anger) at this; as if he didn't believe it could happen, or more likely, as if he knew it would happen but refused to believe it. Karstark has promised the hand of his daughter to anyone who can capture the Kingslayer, so most of his men have scattered maybe in order to find him. I wonder a little about these guys going off, leaderless, and whether we will see them again (speaking of consequences); right now, I can't remember, so that's one disbanded faction of characters I'll be on the lookout for. Would be cool if somewhere in The Winds of Winter a bunch of weary Karstark soldiers and the readers are all like WTF?! and then Oooohh!!! but at the same time it's better perhaps to narrow things down toward a conclusion instead. Maybe that whole "consequence" thing is what slows Martin down? Gah, so many ways to look at things. And stuff. I mean, he's thinking things through and wants realistic consequences to so many events, and these repercussions in the plot may be why he - as he claimed during A Dance with Dragons - wrote himself into a corner, somewhat. Here, though it is still all good. What a story, people! But you knew that already.

Writing this post reminded me it's been a while since I visited George so I popped over to his Not-a-Blog (which still remains conspicuously similar to a blog) and was met with the headline "DEADLINE!". I am sorry to y'all who find my rants counterproductive or what have you, but...the irony. Back to the reading.

So Karstark's forces are out hunting for Jaime, with the promise of marrying a noble lord's daughter, about three hundred of them, in fact. Could be a story on its own, really. The Three Hundred and the Daughter's Hand? It goes to show that Robb's streak of success has come to an end, and the leaving of Karstark's mounted riders is the deal that seals this truth. Even Catelyn, who is not a military strategist or tactician, realizes that Robb is now surrounded (and we're subtly reminded of the existence of the Freys). Edmure suggests that they must keep it a secret so that Tywin doesn't hear, at the same time revealing his feelings for the man (not in that way); "Mother have mercy, when he hears," Edmure says, telling us that Edmure has a healthy dose of fearful respect for the Lord of Casterly Rock. Catelyn, however, thinks of Sansa and how she probably will be murdered over this situation (the death of the two Lannister prisoners, that is); now they have no hostages to keep Cersei in check. I'd think that with three hundred riders out there, the truth will be hard to hide, but this is not suggested; we're told that Willem was the son of Kevan (and thus, the nephew of Tywin) which is, well, not good. The other one was in addition of Frey blood, and we get the Freys mentioned again, keeping their existence in the reader's mind. Brilliant, really. And when Edmure says they have to keep it a secret, and Brynden responds, "Until we can bring the murdered dead back to life?" you really get an appreciation for how tightly woven these novels are (I guess you understand what I mean here with this semi-foreshadowing).

Well, there is a long sequence where the characters debate what to do about Karstark, but in the end it is Robb's decision and the Old Ways are kept intact as he decides to execute Karstark northern style. And Eddard's spirit is so present when Robb announces that Karstark killed more than a Frey and a Lannister; he killed his honor. Good stuff. Speaking of Old Ways versus New Ways (which is an essential part of Game of Thrones: Ascent by the way, though I don't know how exactly it works other than "coloring" the points you score either old or new) - could Martin be, underneath it all, be saying something about old vs. new, as in a thematic subject? There are a number of themes explored in the saga, and the "old vs new" definitely crops up in many iterations (many iterations if you want) but with the Starks not really getting things right throughout this novel, is Martin trying to say that the old must (often) stand aside for the new, and that only those belonging to 'the old' who can adapt may survive? If so, it could mean that we'll be left with Sansa and Arya only of this family as they are certainly better at adapting...oh wait a minute. Bran is more of an old-wayer isn't he? Not the execution old way style, but even older really. Children of the forest-style. Now my head hurts as I begin to consider implications - will we see Bran and Jon versus Arya and Sansa in the end? Ack, there's not enough space for all the stories one could spin further. The longer I wait, the more possibilities there are to be mulled over. 

A supporter of the Old Ways.
So the following morning, when the gods (old and new heh) have seen fit to give Riverrun the perfect weather for an execution (grey, chilly, steady rain), we are given Karstark's execution which mirrors that early scene from A Game of Thrones where Ned beheaded Gared. Like father, like son. Old...and new. Also, a poetic description: "River lords and northmen, highborn and low, knights and sellswords and stableboys, they stood amongst the trees to see the end of the night's dark dance." The image this conjures up ... perfect for a TV show. I guess it will appear too, considering Karstark had a bit of focus in season two. Long Lew, another woefully underused character (I kid, but you know what I mean; lots and lots of bit parts forgotten the instant you've flipped the page), is supposed to do the execution but Robb wants to do the deed himself, obviously, for which Karstark is grateful. I can't imagine what it feels like to have your head on a butcher's block, but I am pretty confident I would be somewhat less calm than Karstark appears to be. Karstark reminds Robb of how long his House has supported the North and been loyal, but Robb is resolute: "This kinship did not stop you from betraying me," he says, and they are both right, and as a reader you can only choose to observe and think - the author doesn't spell it out for us, you know, Karstark's bad mmmkay? or Robb's a bit of a jerk here, okay? This is another thing that makes me like this series so much. Make up your own mind about who you think is doing right and who is doing wrong; and Martin, perhaps most successfully through the Lannisters, is also able to make us understand those we maybe do not identify with. Anyhoo, Karstark's final words are pretty ominous, aren't they? "Kill me, and be cursed. You are no king of mine." Unlike Ed's clean chop, Robb hacks at Karstark thrice before separating the man's head from the body - nice touch, to show that Robb isn't quite the man Ned was yet (unless the TV series has colored my memory of the books and Ned needed more than one swing in the book). It is obvious that Robb did not like executing Karstark one bit, but he did it nonetheless, again echoing his father. 

The Blackfish assembles men and goes after the escaped Karstarks, and here I'm thinking, uhm, shouldn't they have gone after them like right away instead of waiting so long? Catelyn retreats to Lord Hoster Tully's solar, sitting down next to her father. Vyman has warned her that Hoster's time is almost up. In the evening, she is visited by Jeyne Westerling. Jeyne basically needs some advice from her mother-in-law. I think Catelyn is acting pretty decent here toward Jeyne, considering how she represents the breaking of trust with House Frey; Cat was still cold to Jon Snow after what sixteen or so years, but Martin doesn't put us in her mind so we can feel any tension; instead, we are given their exchange almost completely in dialogue. Jeyne is worried about Robb because he's miserable and angry (and disconsolate)...oh really? Catelyn's advice is patience; let him brood and think and plan and look for some way to salvage the mess that his campaign is turning into, and be there for him. "Jeyne, child, you have wed the north, as I did...and in the north, the winters will come." That's a great and foreboding line, although it must be said that by A Feast for Crows we learn that winters do come to the Tully lands as well. 

Before Jeyne leaves, Catelyn also tells her that Robb will need an heir. She smiles and tells her that her mother makes a "posset" for her every day to make her fertile. She goes so far as to tell her mother-in-law that they are humping twice a day, which I find breaks my immersion a little bit (just a little bit), but let's just keep this information in mind...she's being given a posset every day for fertility, yet Catelyn observed in an earlier chapter that Jeyne has hips good for giving birth (now there's no correlation I know between being fertile and having nice hips but the author planted that thought in Catelyn's mind for a reason). 

After Jeyne leaves, Catelyn thinks about the girl that wed her son, and hey! it is reiterated! Or I actually remembered this last line of the chapter and it hasn't been stated before after all... Catelyn thinks about those hips, and then Mr. Martin (and I can imagine him looking all gleeful as he basically spells it out for us) writes, "And good hips, which might be more important." Warning bells anyone? Lovely. Lovely. Lovely. 

And with that, 25% of A Storm of Swords has been re-read for the tenth time. Next up is Ser Jaime Lannister, can't go wrong with that guy's chapters. Horrible things ahead, at any rate.

'tis the season to be jolly...
Good chapter, again. Makes me all itchy for the new season to start on TV in, oh, about two weeks time. Remember those days when there were rumors that maybe someone would perhaps be able to make a show about A Song of Ice and Fire? And now we're going into fricking A Storm of Swords. The best thing about it, from Martin's point of view, is that it keeps awareness of his series high most of the time, which becomes more and more important the longer it takes between books. I haven't been following the production as closely as I did the previous seasons (partially because I lost interest a bit with the second season and partially because I haven't prioritized it), so I don't know much aside from a few new actors and roles. Rather exciting, actually, to be relatively unspoiled. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

[Re-read] Tyrion III: Tywin Tywin Tywin! -*_*- [Part II]

[One big A Dance with Dragons-spoiler in the following opening paragraph]
All right, let's get back on track and finish Tyrion's third chapter in A Storm of Swords. Since yesterday's post about Game of Thrones: Ascent I admit I've kept an eye on the game, watching building queues slowly progress, watching my sworn swords slowly do their quests (by watching a's not exactly exciting but dammit, there's some allure there anyway). Maybe I can bring some glory back to House Slynt after the Glorious Leader's pointless execution. 

Tyrion, then! And Tywin Tywin Tywin, stealer of the show in this chapter with his cold, ruthless, calculating, manipulating, tyranty personality! He should have risen higher than he did. One of Martin's best characters, at least up to a certain point in this very novel, when he kind of twists Lord Tywin way around to the point that I am not sure what's true or not about Tywin anymore. More on that, when (and if) we get there. It's March the 3rd as I write this by the way (at least in this part of the world) which means Game of Thrones Season 3 is about to start in a few weeks, slowly but surely catching up with George RR Martin. There's a huge debate over this at Winter is Coming, and it seems at first glance that most fans believe that the TV show will actually finish before the author. Which is funny and sad at the same time. But enough of the digression. Enough I dare say!

So the lords are assembled around the table, we've established that Lord Tywin is the baddest of the badasses, and Tyrion's fall was long and hard - from Hand of the King to now sitting far away from his father on Pycelle's old chair. The discussion has turned to Balon Greyjoy and I like how the characters' opinions make sense - for example, Lord Redwyne laughs and says "What is there North of the Neck that any sane man would want? If Greyjoy will trade swords and sails for stone and snow, I say do it, and count ourselves lucky." It is a line that perfectly illustrates what most southerners think of the North; and it suggests a possible course of strategic action for House Lannister. The line, in this sense, both enhances the setting and gives us some insight into military decisions, and I bloody love it as always. Lord Tywin's face, however, gives no hint as to his feelings (again with the aloof characterization), and he points out that there is more to consider - mainly, House Arryn or what remains of it. Man, I admire Martin for keeping all these things straight as he wrote, having to remember small details like reminding us that the Arryns, while having been dealt a crushing blow by Jon Arryn's death, are still part of the equation. Lord Mace Tyrell shrugs Lady Lysa Arryn off as not being a threat, which is where Tyrion comes in, reminding them that she put him in a cell, on trial, and hasn't come to King's Landing to swear fealty to Joffrey. I think it's a good choice to tell us that Tyrion is still dreaming of those sky cells, waking in cold sweat: It makes him more human. In contrast, I read a chapter of a Dungeons & Dragons novel last night where characters witnessed two gods fighting and one of them dying which resulted in terrible chaos (like hillsides fricking fighting each other by throwing rocks and rubble) and they didn't so much as shrug. 
We get a hint that Mace has no liking for Tyrion, which can be a subtle foreshadowing, or just a pinch of characterization ("Mace Tyrell's smile was jovial, but behind it Tyrion sensed contempt."); we are - once again - reminded of just how impregnable the Vale of Arryn is (I have spoken about this at length before that we're clearly being set up here for some subversion, which I believe will be that the Vale will fall due to Daenerys landing on the shores of the Vale, making all the defenses along the Mountains of the Moon useless); Lord Tywin tells the lords he has plans for Tyrion (engaging our curiosity) and tells them that "the key to the Eyrie" is Lord Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger. 

Rather bluntly, Petyr tells them he will go off and woo Lysa so that he can marry her - and deliver the Vale to House Lannister "without a drop of blood being spilled". Ooh, what wicked game are you playing now, little lord? Lord Rowan looks doubtful (and rightfully so, I'd say, considering Littlefinger's status); I do like how casual Littlefinger is about it all when Rowan asks him if Lysa would have him, and he replies, "She's had me a few times before, Lord Mathis, and voiced no complaints". I chuckle at the man's sauciness. Another nice touch is when the lords eye each other as they realize that Littlefinger has already grown in status; he has been granted the title of Lord of Harrenhal, and thus has a better chance at actually marrying Lysa Arryn. Tyrion notes the looks but what I think the author is insinuating here is that of all the lords around the table, it is Tyrion who sees Littlefinger for what he truly is - a very good player of the game of thrones... Lord of Harrenhal an empty honor? Tyrion thinks. Bugger that, Father. Even if he never sets foot in the castle, the title makes this match possible, as he's known all along. Tyrion has started to see the machinations of Littlefinger, but will he realize just how complex they are before it's too late? Also, I was a bit surprised to see Tyrion using the Hound's catchphrase ("bugger that") which he doesn't often do. The lords quickly decide to try out the plan, or as Tyrion puts it in his mind, the sheep were bleating their agreement, unaware of how neatly they'd been shorn - yes, Tyrion, that's a good way to put it. It all leads us - very neatly I must add - to the replacement that the Red Keep will need for Littlefinger; if he's off to marry Lysa in the Vale, someone else must become master of coin - and that title, of course, goes to our very own Tyrion. 

Littlefinger declares himself ready to go to the Vale the next day, on a ship named The Merling King. Mace, perhaps suspicious though the text does not indicate this, comments that Littlefinger will miss the king's wedding, to which Petyr shrugs (ah, to re-read this is so nice, knowing what's coming up and all that); there's a droll comment from Petyr worthy of inclusion here: "Drowning would definitely diminish my charms as a bridegroom." The sauce! The sauce of it all. 

Turns out the whole discussion with Littlefinger was merely a digression, or that's how Martin writes it anyway, perhaps to better keep his cards close at hand; Lord Redwyne wishes to go back to discussing Balon Greyjoy. It's quite clever, cause it makes you think that Balon is the real thing here, while in fact the most important piece of this chapter is Littlefinger being allowed to go and woo Lysa Arryn. Devilish, mr. Martin! Can we have some more of this kind of writing in The Winds of Winter? Sincerely, Slynt. And the talk about Balon does indeed feel a little bit like "filler" once you're clued in to the proceedings here, with the characters discussing back and forth, and Tywin concluding that "The best thing to do about our lord of Pyke is nothing", and Tyrion is watching his father closely as he says this, having a hunch that Lord Tywin is hiding something from the assembled lords. 

Ser Kevan suggests moving on to the wedding. First we get a paragraph merely describing the High Septon's  speech about the preparations before we get dialogue from Pycelle (thus telling us readers that the Septon's words aren't as important to pay attention to); Pycelle explains that three hundred Dornishmen are riding toward King's Landing to attend the wedding. Mace is angered, and we get a little exposition on the relationship between the Tyrells and the Martells, and our first mention (that I am aware of) of the Red Viper. So, more factions are joining the fray. This story continues to expand, it just becomes bigger and bigger still. Prince Doran is coming to town and he is coming to claim a seat on the council, "and the justice Robert denied him for the murder of his sister Elia and her children" - which, as ironically as it gets, is what Lord Tywin himself was responsible for! One could gnash teeth for less. Even here, so far into the story, we are given new characters that nonetheless share important backstory with some of the main characters. It makes for such a delicious tapestry of relationships, complications and possible plot lines; it's staggering, actually. 

The enmity on display (mainly in Mace Tyrell's facial expressions when discussing the Dornish) kind of reminds me, if ever so vaguely, about the way Elves and Dwarves in Middle-earth behave around each other; old grudges and all that. Yeah, I'm thinking the Tyrells and the Martells are the Dwarves and Elves respectively. Kind of. Know what I mean? There's a faint echo, if nothing else. 

The council isn't over yet, folks, for the next topic of discussion among the assembled is, as Tywin calls it, "a more pleasant task (...) The fruits of victory await division." That's one way of putting it. The lords have their demands, which we are given in a paragraph of exposition. Highgarden gets the most, which to the reader may come as a surprise considering how...absent they've been in the story so far. But it goes to show how someone can come out of nowhere and lay claims. It, once again, adds to the reality of the setting. Tyrion thinks that Mace has a "prodigious appetite" which I'm sure Martin didn't put in there just for kicks - it tells us a lot about Mace and it also gives us some suspicion toward him - what are his designs? To become the next King of Westeros? To enrich his family? To become more powerful? That last one is a certainty. Martin doesn't dwell on just how powerful the Tyrells become during this meeting for nothing; it effectively shows us how the newcomers (so to speak) become a force to be reckoned with; it re-arranges the game board. A new crown must be made for King Joffrey (Martin wraps up a loose thread here - what happened to the crown of the High Septon who was murdered in the streets of King's Landing? Well, the crown he wore at least seems to have been disassembled and sold in pieces).

It is Varys' turn to speak. He has a report of a sighting of a true kraken seen "off the Fingers"; there is fighting on the Stepstones; sailors report that a three-headed dragon has hatched in Qarth...before he's cut off. I'm pretty sure there's some truth in all these reports (considering the last one being a "warped" version of the truth), but Tywin isn't interested in "grumpkins" (a continuing subtext to the story is that the great lords do not pay attention to the return of magic and wonder); Tywin rather wants to know if they've found Tyrek Lannister yet, and you may be forgiven if you've forgotten just who the heck Tyrek is. The way Varys responds - "Alas, our beloved Tyrek has quite vanished, the poor brave lad" - in that slippery manner of speaking, has me thinking that Varys knows very well where Tyrek is. Could Tyrek be the Mummer's Dragon we meet in A Dance with Dragons? There are some gold cloak deserters returning. Cersei immediately wants their deaths (she remains such a sympathetic creature) but Varys suggests sending to the Wall instead, because there have been "disturbing messages from the Wall of late" - which goes right back into the "grumkins" thing, with the lords not paying attention to what they ought to pay attention to. Lord Tywin decides on this matter, however, forever enamoring himself with ...someone, I suppose: "The deserters serve us best as a lesson. Break their knees with hammers. They will not run again. Nor will any man who sees them begging in the streets." The Others may be cold, but Tywin is cold. Baby.

Tyrion speaks up, which I expected him to since he's been up there and all that, trying to make a compromise by suggesting to not break the knees of all of them, so that a few can be sent north. Lord Tywin doesn't want to hear it, though. There's a curious line from Tywin that I am wondering about; wondering if Martin is planting another seed here, or whether it is a throw-away line: "And if not, this Mance Rayder might even prove a useful ally." Finally, Ser Kevan can tell us that the meeting is over, but really it's all so well written that I can practically hear the shuffling of the lords' hands, the creaking of their chairs, I can practically see the light filtering through the windows, illuminating Tywin's stone face; and I can practically feel like Tyrion sitting there. 

The chapter ain't over, however! Tywin wishes a private word with his children. The discussion that follows is at first about Littlefinger, and it shows us (at least that's how I read it) that Cersei trusts Littlefinger blindly, while Tyrion tries to warn them about him; Kevan also does not seem to fear Littlefinger. They simply underestimate him due to his low birth and lack of martial prowess. Even Tywin defends Littlefinger saying he had told them of a Tyrell plot to kidnap Sansa Stark (this one is especially entertaining on a re-read). Tyrion tries to hint that Littlefinger could have fabricated this story to ingratiate himself ("Littlefinger brought you word? Not our master of whisperers? How interesting."), and over the course of this chapter I think many a reader raised a suspicious frown, and came to realize just what a player Littlefinger really has been all the time (he's one of those characters who grows for each read, as you realize his importance). Lovely! 

Time for a plot twist, too, don't you think, to have both reader and Cersei reeling. Tywin thinks its time to discuss her marriage. It all comes down to this exchange:
"I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!"
"You are my daughter, and will do as I command."
Gotta love that bit. Being in Tyrion's shoes POV, it's actually exhilarating to watch Cersei caught unawares like this. Martin really makes each moment of triumph for a character feel like a triumph, even when it's something like this. Of course, Martin is just as quick as to take it away again. But for the moment, this instant, Tyrion thinks, Just when I was about to give up praying, some sweet god gives me this. Tywin goes through a list of possible candidates for Cersei, arriving finally at Willas Tyrell, heir of Highgarden (who is scheduled for a wedding already - with Sansa Stark). Tyrion, brilliantly, comments, "That would be the cripple," forcing me to laugh as I imagine Cersei's face as he utters those words. Tyrion does not consider, however, what will become of Sansa if her betrothal to Willas Tyrell is cancelled...Cersei leaves, furious (perfectly in character by the way), and now comes the grand finale of the chapter, one of the best plot developments in the series in my opinion because I totally did not see it coming (though it's more obviously spelled out for us than I care to admit). 

More dialogue gold as Tyrion realizes that his father plans to marry him to Sansa Stark: 
"His Grace the royal pustule has made Sansa's life a misery since the day her father died, and now that she is finally rid of Joffrey you propose to marry her to me. That seems singularly cruel. Even for you, Father."
"Why, do you plan to mistreat her?"
> Insert chortling sounds.

There's a lot of back-and-forth between the two, going through the various possible complications that could arise; Tyrion leans back, mulling it over as his father and his uncle discuss the matter. Cold as ice, Tywin tells his son that this might just be his one true shot at greatness; he explains, without sympathy, how the lords of Westeros declined marrying their daughters to the Imp; I really want to simply re-write the entire sequence of dialogue here in praise. It's so good. Through it, Tyrion shows his true self, his redeeming qualities that make him a (tragic) hero; through it, we see how pragmatic Tywin is to the point of being almost without humanity; and through it, Martin explains ever so deftly why this or that scheme won't work (like, for example, why not marry Tyrion to Asha Greyjoy instead) so that the reader can fully believe in the decisions made and the reasoning for them, yet at the same time have a great plot going on that keeps surprising you at every damned turn. Unholy degenerates of Ubuntu, this really is a classic, isn't it.

Finally, we also realize that Littlefinger isn't the only meddler in town; Tywin himself can assure Tyrion that Robb Stark will father no children on "his fertile Frey", immediately telling us that we shouldn't be trusting Robb's new friends all that much (add to the mix Grey Wind's obvious dislike for was it Ser Rolph Spicer and we know just who Tywin uses up in Riverrun for his plans - I mean, how else would Tywin know these details? He must have a spy inside the walls of Riverrun). Tyrion learns that Robb broke his vow to the Frey and went for a Westerling instead, there's a mention of the maegi (keep it in mind)...and it goes on and on, detail upon detail, for pages, back and forth, exposition through dialogue, "The Rains of Castamere" is given a proper introduction, and there's this great line: Every once in a while, Lord Tywin Lannister would actually threaten to smile; he never did, but the threat alone was terrible to behold. Oh man, how well Martin plays up Tywin's ominous presence. And how he takes it down again later. Bah. 

Really, there's so much to digest in this chapter alone. It changes the plot. It gives us new insight, and makes us view old information in a new light. It has characterization, some comedy gold. It is a chapter easily overlooked when thinking back on the series (as it is one scene around a table), but it holds so much information relevant to what is in store for Westeros. 

All right, I have to run. Off to a family gathering - hope it's a little less like the one I just read about.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ascending the Throne

Behold...the lands of Slynthold. Also, the game's main screen.
Interrupting the regular schedule to make a note of the game Game of Thrones: Ascent, in which you play a noble in Westeros, dealing primarily with menu screens and long waiting times, but also I have to add a very correct mood and atmosphere; if it hadn't been yet another try-and-milk-you-out-of-money type of game, and was more involving as a game more than a somewhat-roleplay-ish menu observation program, I'd recommend it like freshly baked lemon cakes. I was heartily entertained by the various screens where I could decide on a fair number of actions, reminding me of Crusader Kings II, actually. I also like how the mechanics are split into three types of "combat": physical fighting (still just pressing a button, mind you, you're not actually controlling characters as they slug it out), trade, and intrigue, which reminds me of Fantasy Flight's A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (only the three main branches of conflict are battle, power and intrigue). There's lots of nice art, and I noticed that even though I mostly don't do anything while "playing" it, it kept me entertained for a solid while (a few hours, that is) before I began to itch for more story and gameplay. The mere fact that you can buy in-game coinage for real money makes this the type of game I abhor, but honestly Ascent still captures Martin's setting better than the two "real" games Game of Thrones and Game of Thrones: Genesis.

Ten minutes after I asked to become friends,
she wanted to marry me. How could I resist? 
Still, if you're on Facebook ('cause that's where the ascending is taking place), it's worth taking a look. For a few moments at least I felt like I was indeed the noble lord of House Slynt (surprise right there!), and that my actions would have repercussions all over the ganz land of Westeros. Until I saw the leaderboards, and realized just how low I am in the ranks. Speaking of those boards, I quickly scouted out a few fellow Lannister bannermen, and added them as 'Friends'. One of them just sent me a marriage proposal (with a crossbow as a gift, which I am not taking as an ill omen, oh no), so maybe once you get to know more real-life players the game opens up more.

I like the roleplay opportunities present, the music is descent (from the TV series if I'm not mistaken), but if you've played Facebook-games before you'll probably realize a lot of this stuff is old hat. You know, build stuff to build stuff which lets you build some other stuff that allows more stuff to be built if you build that stuff (all of which you can pay for with your real money). But now it is time to put the dang computer away and get to bed! And hopefully find time to finish that Tyrion-chapter tomorrow. No wild plans for tomorrow, so it should be doable. Today's six-hour drive through a snowstorm has made me very sleepy now..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oh well, I joined an Alliance led by the wondrous lady I married. Not that I know what being in such an alliance entails but I'll have to figure that out some other timezzz..