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.