Monday, October 7, 2013

[Re-read] Arya V: Gibbets and Gigolos

[The first paragraph turned into yet another Martin-rant. You have been warned and can freely skip to the second paragraph. Edit: And by second paragraph, I mean third.]

So what's the deal with Martin writing so much about that tiny cinema he bought? It's not like 99.999999% of his blog readers live in his town and thus have any interest in what's going on in his moving picture house. Of course he can write about anything he wants, I just doubt it is a very useful way to spend his time when it doesn't affect his readership. Yes, it was fun watching the trailer for House on Haunted Hill, but I can do that on YouTube as well (actually you can watch the full movie there) but I can't help but feel that his cinema posts in particular should be on a separate blog perhaps dedicated to the cinema in question. His sports posts at least have interested people, and the HBO series, and his other writing. I still think it is awesomely weird that in his new updated blog rules he actually rules out discussion of A Song of Ice and Fire. Yes, he refers you to online communities specifically dedicated to discussing the series (though he forgets to mention Is Winter Coming? for some reason), but still...He could at least give an explanation as to why this must be so. Is he afraid that discussion will affect his writing? That could be a good reason I'd support - but he just comes off as his usual grumpy unsociable self. And still no sighting whatsoever of The Winds of Winter. Nothing. We aren't even fed crumbs. No wind picking up at all. Quiet. Maybe people are temporarily satisfied knowing that they soon can read The Princess and the Queen Yadayada. Other related stuff may also keep folk happy while they wait. Me, I'm done with submerging myself in the setting. I just want the story. Between A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, yes, I was blinded into keeping myself invested in the setting through purchases: the art book, art prints for the wall (still not up on the wall though), collecting the card game, the board game, comics...But now I'm not spending anything anymore (aside from a moment of weakness about half a year ago where I bought one of those Game of Thrones mugs - what can I say, I was thirsty) and I believe if more people flat out refused to invest in all the out-of-book Ice & Fire stuff thrown at them, Martin might just work a little bit harder on the next book. Now, judging by the Not-a-Blog, it seems he is more interested in his licenses and projects than A Song of Ice and Fire (and by 'now' I mean the last decade or so). Enough ranting, let's read Arya! Oh, all right - one tiny tiny rant because the thought occurred to me while seeking out Star Wars: Episode VII spoilers earlier today - one of the reasons I didn't like the prequel trilogy was the Jedi overdose. In the originals, the Jedi aspect of the movies was just one part of the whole, there was a civil war going on that got more screen time - the balance was good. In the prequels suddenly lightsabers are flashing everywhere and it's all about Jedi and Sith and the Force and it became too much and the essence was lost; why am I writing it here? Because I have a nagging suspicion that something similar is happening with our beloved Ice and Fire saga, only replace "Jedi" with "Targaryens". There's an increased focus by Mr. Martin on the Targaryens what with the histories and genealogies and all and I am sure there are a lot of Targaryen fans lapping it up, but personally I think they should remains one smaller part of the whole, just like all the other things going on.

The above paragraph was written several weeks ago, before I "lost" my computer to an accident involving lots of water and a little bit of electricity. Today, the same laptop has been fixed (complete with a new keyboard, which feels good to my fingers oh yes it does), but my points above definitely stand - for what has happened over at Not a Blog? More posts about his private cinema, a building only those living in his vicinity can actually visit, thus ruling out most readers. Does he really believe people are that interested? Or does he simply like to write about it (perhaps as a means of blowing off some steam after an intense The Winds of Winter can hope)? I don't know. I still think he should make a section of his website dedicated to his cinema so that his readers. And now, Arya V. For the really real reals, with the computer up and running things will be a little easier again with regards to posting and, well, everything else.

So while I'm re-installing some of my favorite programs and games, I'm whipping up my Kindle version of A Storm of Swords, which is always quite handy (though I still think the feeling of pulling the massive tome off the shelf and read on actual dead tree remains the better option) and diving right back into the story, which picks up in Stoney Sept, the biggest town Arya has seen since King's Landing. The opening sentence also teaches Arya (and us) that Lord Eddard Stark, her father, won a famous battle in this town, a battle that links to A Dance with Dragons in which we'll meet another character present at the battle. In this regard, it becomes doubly interesting to re-read the rather obvious info dump we are presented with right at the start of the chapter.

Harwin tells Arya the tale, speaking of the Mad King's men hunting Robert (Baratheon) and how Lord Connington the Hand took the town and started searching for Robert house to house; however, Lord Eddard came to town and stormed its walls, resulting in fierce fighting (even on the rooftops!); the septons rang the bells, Robert came out of hiding, slaying six men, among them Rhaegar's squire Myles Mooton. Lord Jon Connington wounded Arya's grandfather, Hoster Tully but fled when the battle turned against him. I like Martin providing us with these back stories, especially when they are short and concise, only giving us glimpses - what isn't told often helps give these stories that air of mystery and legend. I admit that when I finally could read A Dance with Dragons, the name Jon Connington didn't mean much to me, but now that I am here in Stoney Sept again, it is kind of relieving to see that he was already part of the mosaic, tying together books three and five in a minor way (and thus, hopefully, giving me more enjoyment upon reading book five when I get there again).

Whoever made this, you rule. Love it.

Arya notices that the town looks as if there's been fighting recently as well, which is great way to tie the background information to the present story being told. At the gate, we're given more information. The captain there explains that the town has some food at present, as the Huntsman brought sheep, and there has been some trading. We are also told again how everyone and their grandmother is looking for Ser Jaime Lannister, and that Lord Hoster Tully is dead or dying. We get some info on this Huntsman character and boy has he had bad luck lately (raped wife, raped sister, crops to the torch, half his sheep eaten, other half killed for spite, six dogs dead) - I suppose this is enough to tell us that the Huntsman is one bitter guy, without explicitly telling us so. Ah, the old show don't tell. I love you.

The outlaws, Arya among them, ride into town and from the (very) short descriptions I can't help but think of bombed-out French villages during the second World War, even though that's silly. Stoney Sept is ruined, and silent - but the people are there, only hiding - until they begin to pop out to greet the outlaws. I love how Martin keeps reminding us of the horrible effects of war, keeping his story grounded in its reality and never romanticizing warfare as so often happens in fantasy literature. As a literature teacher it is interesting to see that trends in fantasy follow the general trends in literature across time; as an example, we had the romantic period in literature which was followed by the realistic period - a reaction to the romanticizing; I see the same with Martin - A Game of Thrones can be seen as a reaction to the overly romantic fantasies where the heroes have no flaws and violence is portrayed in heroic, dare I say noble, ways whereas Martin gave us a fantasy which was more real, with more realistic dialogue and definitely more realistic consequences. And he was, of course, followed by a slew of authors who now also wanted to show more real settings with more true characters. So, out of experience, I'm telling you that the next big thing in fantasy literature will be a novel that takes us back to heroic romantic fantasy. Maybe. The pendulum swings. No idea what I'm trying to express here? Check out romanticism and realism here and compare it to the developments in fantasy literature over the last two decades. It's like a miniature history repeat, for fantasy. Kind of!

Anyway, back to Arya. They come to the market square where Arya sees a dozen iron cages, which she knows are called crow cages. I think the word they used in the real world is gibbets. And they are full of folk. Lem wonders why they just didn't hang the lot (and with that thought, Martin so deftly shows us what kind of man Lem is/has become). Turns out these prisoners, which include three dead men with their eyes eaten out by crows, are Stark loyalists. Because sure, Arya needed more trauma. Once more Martin gleefully and graphically gives us the details on just how badly these prisoners have been treated. Plenty of readers would argue that maybe he goes too far toward the gritty side of things, but really, if you check out some medieval history, Martin is quite right about most of the terrors visited upon people in Westeros and so I find it both terrifying to realize that people actually endured such horrors as Martin describes, and somehow also fascinating. Arya is curious and asks who they belong to. A townsman explained that they were looking for the Kingslayer (confirming that they are Stark men) but they did some murder and rape and so here they are in their crow cages. See, another bit of realism - even the "good guys" do bad things. Stark men, raping and killing. There is ambiguity, and we must always consider, back and forth, character motivations, consequences of war etc. It boggles the mind, how Martin manages to keep it all straight and yet muddle it all at the same time. Arya, being a likable character, can't believe these men - which includes a rapist with "maggots where his manhood ought to be" - belonged to her brother Robb. 

Somewhat surprising, then, Arya fills a cup of water and climbs up to a cage to pour water over them, which the prisoners lick greedily. A townsman warns her that the Mad Huntsman (which is an awesome nickname by the way) won't like her doing this, to which Anguy replies coolly, "He'll like this even less, then," shooting the prisoners dead in their cages. Valar morghulis, Arya thinks. The way I read it - and this bit is a little bit ambiguous - is that Arya thinks the prisoners have suffered enough for their crimes, and gives them one last mercy in the form of the water, knowing that Anguy will shoot them out of their misery afterward. Only, how can Arya know this is what will happen? The text doesn't indicate anything, it just happens like this. Did Arya really just want to be nice to them? There is no reaction from her after Anguy kills them, but she does think "Valar morghulis", and this is why I read it as a combined action from Arya and Anguy, although it seems a little odd. ANYHOWS.

They end up at an inn with half a roof burnt off, where a buxom red-haired innkeep greets the company with howls of delight and some sarcastic comments. She's quite in the mood, considering there are people rotting in cages just outside, and war and all, but hey, after the first few paragraphs of death and gloom, who doesn't enjoy a buxom wench calling the outlaws for "randy old goats" and "old". "Old" is always fun. Except when I'm called old. Apparently Tom o'Sevens has a son riding with the Mad Huntsman, but he denies that he is the father. Love these small character building off-hand remarks, that Tom sure has seen his share of "conquests". And who knows, maybe Martin will give us a scene down the road where Tom must face a bastard son or two? He is kind of like Robert Baratheon in a way, isn't he? In a way, Tom serves as a vehicle for letting us imagine how Robert went about the kingdoms back in his younger days. Clever, or coincidental?

And of course the woman's name is Tansy, adding to the mystery of Lord Hoster Tully's delirious talking about "tansy", but I'm not falling for this red herring, Mr. Martin. Only after meeting Tansy does Martin give us the inn's name (the Peach) and a few more names of serving wenches (Cass, Lanna, Jyzene - those two first names Cass and Lanna seem a little lazy to me; or are we supposed to infer that we are seeing a Cassel and a Lannister girl here?) Anyway, Tansy orders the outlaws washed and fed, which I suppose is a good thing, but Arya of course in that totally adorable way of hers thinks it was enough with the two baths she got back at Acorn Hall.

Later, Arya thinks of Syrio Forel (we miss you too!) and his lessons; this leads her to conclude that the Peach isn't so much an inn as a brothel, which seems obvious in retrospect especially since Tom seems to know the women here quite well. Arya and Gendry get into an argument over this, are overheard by one of the girls who claims to be a bastard of Robert Baratheon (his ghost really hovers over this chapter) and calls herself Bella - sounds like she was conceived shortly before, during or after the Battle of the Bells, then. Ironic how Arya thinks of Gendry having black hair too, but that doesn't mean he's the king's bastard. I see what you did there, George. Bella offers herself to Gendry but he stalks off angrily for some reason we cannot be entirely sure of; Arya's explanation might suffice - "He's just stupid." Still, being the son of Robert, it is kind of weird that he seems to have no sexual antennas. Unless he really struggles with his identity, or is smitten with Arya? Or maybe he prefers boys. Or donkeys. Who knows? I'm thinking he's got a soft spot for Arya. It kind of echoes Daenerys/Khal Drogo and Sansa/Tyrion in a way.

An old dirty man comes up to Arya calling her a "sweet peach" but fortunately before it can devolve into an unseemly scene, Gendry returns claiming to be her brother, in effect rescuing her (reinforcing the idea that he's protective of her which could indicate feelings). She overhears talk about her mother having released Jaime which she refuses to believe; she gets into another argument with Gendry after this and it seems he really doesn't like that she's a Lady of House Stark and he a lowborn commoner. Is Martin playing with the age-old "star-crossed lovers" theme here? Maybe. In a way. Seems like their chemistry is being blown apart after the revelation of Arya's identity, though. It also vaguely reminds me of the Princess Leia - Han Solo relationship (Arya's feisty too). I don't know. I really don't know what to make of the Arya - Gendry relationship, to be honest. But I am quite certain they will meet again in book six or seven. They just have to, don't they?

That night she goes to bed, once again listing the people she wants dead: Queen Cersei, King Joffrey, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn. Dunsen, Raff, and Polliver. The Tickler, the Hound, and Ser Gregor the Mountain. Sleep comes, and the next day she wakes up to the barking of dogs. Opening the windows to check out the commotion, the day is revealed to be grey and overcast. Riders have brought in a Lannister prisoner, it seems, and I know the first time I read this chapter that I wondered whether they had gotten hold of Ser Jaime somehow. Especially the way Martin repeats "Lannister" made me think in that direction. When they also mention that they will "send what's left o' you to your bloody brother", I supposed they were talking about Tyrion. I like how Martin toys with us and even ends the chapter without giving away who the prisoner is - well, he does reveal it kind of:

"Lannister," said Arya. "I heard him say Lannister."
"Have they caught the Kingslayer?" Gendry wanted to know.
Not the Kingslayer, Arya thought, when she saw his face. The gods had heard her prayers after all.

Now, she is sitting in a window overlooking the market square so when she sees his face it must be a distinct face for her to know instantly who it is - which would lead most astute readers to conclude, correctly, that the prisoner is in fact Sandor Clegane, the Hound, with his scarred face. I do wonder at the chapter's closing line, though: The gods had heard her prayers after all. I didn't notice she's been praying for the Hound to be captured? Or does Martin mean her long list of names and now one of those names is standing there, bound by rope, a prisoner of the Mad Huntsman? In that case, shouldn't it read the gods had heard one of her prayers after ? I wonder as I ponder, and I ponder as I wonder.

A fine if somewhat macabre chapter then. I do enjoy the outlaws with their banter and the whole trek through the riverlands. It reminds me at times of a (much) grimmer Robin Hood-type of tale. It is quite different from the other story lines in A Storm of Swords in that regard. More of an adventure. I wish the TV show followed this story more closely; I miss Lem Lemoncloak and the Ghost of High Heart and Tansy and the gibbets. Sigh. But what the king dreams, the Hand can't always build eh.

And that's Arya V, with Jon Snow returning next to ponder the mysteries of fire-kissed (pubic) hair!

Mm. The Arya/Gendry relationship keeps tugging at me, as if there's something I'm forgetting, or not seeing clearly. What is it Martin is building between them, and why? How does their chemistry affect the plot, and if it doesn't, why is it so pronounced? Why build them up and then splitting them later? Should I stop now and go to bed? [Inner voice: YES!!]

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