[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 timer...it'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.