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!

1 comment:

  1. The Night's Watch installement is a bit of a bummer, in my eyes.

    And you're seriously overinterpreting Frey's coat.