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.|
...at 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.