Saturday, November 23, 2013

[Re-read] Tyrion, IV: Of gold and mud - Part I


It's Tyrion Lannister, people! The Imp. The dwarf. A fantastic character and clearly the most beloved among Martin's many great characters. He is in fact so beloved that, what I at first took as a joke, he has a number of his lines of dialogue reprinted in his own little book, The Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister. I wonder how well it sells? The publication's main attraction I suppose is the artwork (because we already have all those quotes - some of us in multiple editions, even) but the artwork has its own peculiar style and doesn't really look or feel Westerosi at all. I also kind of have my doubts about some of the chosen quotes this book presents. If this book is supposed to help sell more volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, I'm not sure a quote like "With whores, the young ones smell much better, but the old ones know more tricks" can convince someone that these books are actually awesome in most every way. Taken out of context, much of Tyrion's 'wisdom' becomes rude and lewd, and I'm not saying that has to be bad, it's just that...I don't know, it just feels more gratuitous when you read the lines standing there all by their lonely selves occupying an entire page for themselves. In other words, this is not the most ingenious of Ice & Fire products I've seen, and not one I'd be desperate to buy. I would plop down money this instant for an online computer version of Fantasy Flight Games' board game, though; I would probably buy a good strategy PC game too (but I don't really have to, since the A Game of Thrones-mod for Crusader Kings 2 is free). The best Ice & Fire - stuff we already have, of course. The books. Those fine yarns of medieval fantasy, of which A Storm of Swords is the third. Nothing can obviously beat just reading the books, but for "living the fantasy", a computer game would come a close second. No, wait, third, actually - there's the role playing game, of course. That would be the second. And on a well-earned fourth spot, blogging about it ;-D

This fourth Tyrion chapter opens with a grim reminder of the battle between Lannister and Baratheon, in case we had forgotten the effects of war upon society, which Martin always is keen to explore. While the city itself got through relatively unscathed, the areas outside its walls have been reduced to "mud and ashes and bits of burned bone". Again we can admire Martin's incredible attention to detail and not forgetting to show us consequences. He could just as easily not have mentioned it, but a quick description makes the world become a little more real (until he begins overdoing the description, especially in A Dance with Dragons, that is). He also shows us how life tries to rise again, with people already returning to live there in the shadows of the city walls. People give Tyrion hostile stares as he rides past, but he's got bad-ass Bronn at his side - without his protection, Tyrion imagines that they pull him off his horse to smash his face in. When Tyrion likens them to rats ("they come back quicker than the rats" doesn't exactly liken them but the line does give me that impression. Interestingly, Bronn then comments that he could round up a few Gold Cloaks and kill them off, because, "Once they're dead they don't come back" which is an ironic line, of course, where Martin kind of winks at us and goes "tee-hee see what I did there?" Not only Lord Beric Dondarrion and the wights in the North, but a central character will come back after death in the epilogue. Tyrion thinks the people can stay there as long as they don't build hovels against the wall, because they burn easily or can be climbed I suppose. He tells Bronn he's seen enough, a neat way for the author to tell us that Tyrion has been doing an inspection round without stating it directly. He tells Bronn they'll return the next day with the guild masters "to go over their plans". He thinks for himself that he burned most of it so it's only fair that he rebuilds (which is kind of the opposite of Mad King Aerys in terms of, ah, taking responsibility for flames). Is there more to these thoughts? Did Martin actually write this sentence with the idea to contrast it to Aerys? Or did he just want to show us that Tyrion has a conscience? Or will the line actually be even more meaningful later in the story (imagine if Tyrion, say, had a dragon to ride and had it burn down a city - in such a case, this could also become ironic in its meaning).

We learn that Tyrion's uncle, Ser Kevan Lannister, is consumed by grief (his son has been murdered, his other son is a captive of the Starks, and his third son, Lancel is still grievously wounded) - nice to see some nice human qualities present in a Lannister, and also a reminder that war affects everyone. We are reminded that Littlefinger has sailed off to the Eyrie to wed Lysa Arryn. Tyrion knows he has to open the river for trade, and rebuild all that was destroyed in the battle, to return King's Landing to its former strength. No longer the Hand of the King, it seems he is still acting as one. Actually, you could say that of all the Hands we've seen so far (Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, Tywin Lannister) and of those we have yet to see, Tyrion is the only one who is actually good at being the Hand of the King. Also, he survives the title. Maybe he should've died - his story after A Storm of Swords really isn't nowhere as interesting, or it might just be me not able to adjust to a different kind of storyline. Throughout the first three books, he meets characters and challenges that make Tyrion shine; in A Dance with Dragons, not so much.Anyway, before I get off on another ADWD rant, I'll recalibrate my thoughts and return to the chapter at Hand (aha!): Tyrion and Bronn ride through the Mud Gate, where they see the Three Whores still dominating the market square. While still war machines, they are now used as a playground for children, of which I approve (as long as they don't hurt themselves climbing, eh). Oh! Tyrion worries about the same, and he wants guards stationed here so that no kids break their neck on the things. Heehee. Oh again! He changes his mind when one of the children throws manure at him.

He's in a "black mood" (wants to join the Night's Watch?), mainly because of his marriage to Sansa Stark. She might be beautiful, but she is also still a maiden. The bad thing isn't really that he isn't having his way with her, but the ridicule he gets because everybody knows they aren't being intimate with each other. He could almost imagine that the horses were sniggering as well. He wonders how everybody knows, and though he isn't sure, he thinks it must be either Sansa herself having told someone, or it is Varys and his little birds. There is one person who isn't amused by his failure as a married man, though, but that is of course Shae. Sansa is miserable, and he knows she hates him, so he's miserable too. They were clothes in bed, and he can see in Sansa's eyes how she is reviled by his appearance. He admits to himself that he is sexually attracted to her, and he wishes that she could like him. It really is a sad relationship, especially since we (or at least, I) as readers kind of know that Tyrion isn't all that bad and that she could probably be happier with a witty, intelligent guy like him than some gay flower knight or what have you.

We stay inside Tyrion's mind as he travels through King's Landing; he thinks back to when he told Shae about his marriage - but she already knew. Here we get a very different take on Shae's reaction than the one we see in HBO's Game of Thrones. There, Shae is angry and mad with Tyrion. In the book, which obviously takes precedence, Shae doesn't really seem to care, at least initially: She pulls her dress off, shows him her nakedness, and tells him she doesn't care. Tyrion had hoped for a little less indifference, which could be seen as a hint that Shae does indeed not love Tyrion but keeps herself attached to him for the gold (and glory of being a Lannister's concubine). I've never been sure about Shae's motives and her character as a whole; the books never really tell us where she stands, and I prefer that instead of the rather blunt way they deal with her reactions to the wedding in the TV series. We, along with Tyrion, remain unsure about Shae; does she love Tyrion or not?

Tyrion tosses coins at hungry children, prices in the city are high even though the Tyrells are bringing in food (which can be read as: the Tyrells are taking advantage of the situation, economically, by keeping prices high for their own coffers - and I choose to read it as that, the Tyrells are even sneakier than the Lannisters, if the Lannisters ever were that sneaky aside from Tyrion); also, Martin once more excels at giving us brief glimpes of the cost of war on civilians, as we see the Muddy Way's poor and huddled masses through Tyrion's eyes. I remember when Martin said he wanted to show more of the results of the civil war of Westeros when promoting A Feast for Crows I thought, 'but he's already done that in A Storm of Swords', not only here in King's Landing but also through Arya's chapters - there's misery and fallout everywhere. Tyrion is on some secret business, we realize, as he looks back over his shoulder to see if anyone's following him. Martin, of course, can't resist the urge to give us suspicions - anyone could be a spy: A carter beating his horse, an old woman, two little boys, three gold cloaks with a captive. They maneuver through the city in a way that suggests they are trying to shake off any followers, but Martin doesn't explicitly state they are doing this. Finally, they arrive at a dismal tavern. Here, they find a dark back room where a man is seated; a short fellow, with thinning brown hair and pink cheeks. In his hands he holds a woodharp "more deadly than a longsword". This is Symon Silver Tongue. Another example of my failing memory, I cannot recall anything about this character but that he's bard-like and his name (because he had his own card in the A Game of Thrones: Collectible Card Game from way back when I still collected those). I better go check him out at Tower of the Hand.
By the way! Stefan Sasse, who occasionally leaves a comment on this very blog, and who now also is a colleague of mine as he is also a writer for Blue Buddha Press (who will publish my Waiting for Winter, the sequel to Waiting for Dragons), has written a book on the third season of Game of Thrones. You can buy his It is Known: Season 3 Deconstructed (or at least give it a look to see) for the Kindle right here. I'll be throwing him a few of my hard-earned coppers, myself, once the salary arrives.
Oh, Symon Silver Tongue.
Oh again, this is kind of funny - notice how George R.R. Martin is signing a copy of A Flight of Sorrows: Collector's Edition. That's the book with my foreword in it. The self-same Slynt who time and again has been targeted as a "detractor" and "enemy". Heh. Note: I'm not.
Oh, Symon Silver Tongue.
*Checking*
Mmmmm. The otherwise excellent resources at Tower of the Hand can tell me that Symon is a singer and that he's short, stocky, with thin browning hair and pink cheeks.
Oh well.
Symon calls Tyrion "the Hand", so Tyrion has to tell him he is no longer the Hand, not even a finger. "You shall rise again, I am sure," Symon says, and I am thinking here we have yet another hint from the author that Tyrion is destined for great things. Greater things than being a Hand, even. They are to be found around, these hints. The most obvious one being early, early in A Game of Thrones with Tyrion's tall shadow and all that. He'll be tall when he's sitting a dragon, I tell you.
They did meet before, and I dimly recall it, but not what they were meeting about. Anyway.
Tyrion wants this man out of the city, that's for sure. He wants to pay him to leave Westeros, in fact; wants him to go to the Free Cities and perform there. So what have I missed? Does Tyrion believe him to be a spy, and therefor wants to bribe him off the continent? Feel free to enlighten me, as always.
The man objects, saying Tyrion has never heard him sing, and then he, well, begins to sing. The lyrics to the song he sings to Tyrion are obviously about Tyrion, and there's even a nice little bit of irony there ("and a chain and a keep are nothing...") for those who have read the books before, and I wonder why Symon chooses this song, because it is about Tyrion and Shae, which of course Tyrion doesn't want anyone to hear. Oh; Symon sings this on purpose as a threat. He could sing the song for Queen Cersei, or Lord Tywin. In other words, he's telling Tyrion he could go squeal about Tyrion's secret - Shae, the whore ("funny" is only in the TV series, right).
Tyrion offers to pay more for the man's silence, and Symon says his price is modest. Symon isn't interested in gold - he is interested in becoming one of the singers at Joffrey and Margaery's wedding! Honestly, this is the tenth time I'm reading the book, and yet I had forgotten about this little bit. A few years, maybe more, since the last time I read this chapter, but still. Obviously Symon is disappointed at not having been invited to sing at the wedding (or he has a hidden agenda much like other characters, or is paid by the Tyrells or what not); Tyrion believes this can be hard to arrange, because the number of singers chosen - seven - is important. Because, that's the number of gods in the south. Seven kingdoms, seven vows, seven gods, seven challenges and seventy-seven dishes (that's a lot of food); so what will the High Septon think if there are eight singers?

I think this whole bit is rather strange. I admit to being a little confused. Symon seems to take Tyrion's meaning so easily, why hasn't he gone and whispered in the Queen's ear already? He could be scared of her, of course, or not believing he would gain an audience; or he likes Tyrion more. Anyway, without stating anything bluntly, there is an agreement that Tyrion will see to it that one of the seven appointed singers disappears, opening a spot for Symon. Symon has more prophetic lyrics too: "For hands of gold are always cold..." Could this Symon be more than he seems? I have entertained myself with the thought lately that the Seven are walking among the mortals of Westeros - just for kicks, of course - and I was reminded of this now with Symon's song, how does he know so much and how come his song seem to perfectly match events later in the book (I know, I know; Tyrion links the song's words to the events and as such it is more like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but still...) - could Symon be a being of greater power, an avatar? I'm saying no to my own question, obviously, but the thought is entertaining. There are gods walking about in all sorts of fantasy novels, why not this one? Still confused, though. It seems like such a hassle for Tyrion to try and treat with this fellow when he can have Bronn just drop by and slice the man's throat. Why does Martin spend this time on Symon, showing us this seemingly insignificant character who somehow has a sort of control over Tyrion? I'm tired and hungry. And I'm kind of struggling to express my exact thoughts on this matter. I just find this meeting to be ... odd.

AH! Tyrion was just playing the man! And me, obviously. Once outside the winesink, he tells Bronn that he is not taking Symon to Duskendale; instead, wait three days, tell Symon that one of the other singers has broken an arm, which will make him go with Bronn and then Bronn can kill him. Still, lot of effort, but it seems then that the point was to lure Symon out of that tavern. Bronn, ever the charmer, suggests having Symon end up in a "savory bowl of brown", which is...disturbing. "All kinds of meat in it, I hear," yummy.

When Tyrion comes back to his chambers, Pod tells him that his father - Tyrion's father, that is - expects him at the Tower of the Hand (not the website). My interest is immediately piqued; a meeting between Ty and Ty is always bound to be interesting. Right now I can't recall what meeting this is going to be but once there I'll remember and re-enjoy it, I suppose. Let's see. When Tyrion arrives, his father is busy planning the wedding. It is no coincidence that Tywin wants rubies for the eyes of a row of lion's head studs - ornamentation for the gift he is going to present his grandson - a sword. Notice that the blade shimmers red and black, the Targaryen colors - and that rubies are, in the context of the story, related to Rhaegar Targaryen. "That's too much sword for Joff," Tyrion says, and I chuckle. If more people viewed Joffrey the way his dwarf uncle does...

Turns out the sword is of Valyrian steel (that's the third Targaryen-link), and we get a little history on blades of Valyrian steel which is always interesting to the fan/geek. Apparently there are two hundred Valyrian weapons in Westeros that are accounted for, but the Lannisters - until now- haven't had one. Well, way back the Kings of the Rock had owned one, Brightroar, so maybe we'll see that blade turn up later. Tywin has tried to buy Valyrian weapons but apparently no one has wanted to sell him one. You'd think that the mighty Tywin should be able to procure a Valyrian blade if he really wanted one. Tyrion thinks that the colors rippling along the steel are "wrong", and the armorer excuses himself, says that no matter what he tries the steel won't do what he wants it to do. I am quite convinced this will be of import sometime, why else spend half a page telling us that the red in the blade keeps darkening? Again, I am confused. If I read this correctly, Tywin wanted the blade to be Lannister crimson, but the armorer, whatever he tries, can't keep the blade from darkening, "as if the blade was drinking the sun from it". What is going on here? Is Martin simply trying to show us that you have to be a real good bladesmith to produce a perfect Valyrian weapon? Sometimes the simple answer is the right answer. I am not going to fry more brain cells over this.
Tywin is, perhaps uncharacteristically, pleased enough anyway.

Mmmm! Tyrion says that he likes this blade better the way it is! A (very) subtle hint that Tyrion will join the Targaryen side of things - or that he is, in fact, a Targaryen himself (of which there are many rumors on the endless Interwebs)? Or are we reading foreshadowing - will Tyrion end up owning this blade? Oh, and now the armorer reveals a second longsword. Thicker and heavier. Share the same distinctive color, "the ripples of blood and night". "It is meant for my son," Tywin says. Yeah don't get your hopes up, Tyrion. And he doesn't. But what a father, to say "meant for my son" when he has two sons, one of them standing right before his nose! The armorer, incidentally, is the same guy who had Gendry as his apprentice. When the armorer - Mott - leaves, Tyrion climbs up a chair and, spurned as he is, asks why he isn't getting anything. Tywin suggests he go to the armory where, according to Tywin, Robert Baratheon left "a hundred daggers". Besides, he didn't have enough material for three swords. Okay, thanks for trying dad.

They start discussing Tyrion's observations of the city. Tyrion suggests a few things that need to be done and that it will be costly, giving us another little gem that works so well after having read the book before: "If you do shit gold, Father, find a privy and get busy." No wonder these books are so eminently re-readable when Martin works in lines like this. Tywin tells Tyrion to find the gold that is needed to rebuild the city. Right now most money is being spent on Joffrey's overblown wedding. Tywin, however, thinks that a display of extravagance demonstrates the power of House Lannister - to which Tyrion suggests that maybe Tywin should cough up the money; they begin to argue over the costs of the wedding, it's all rather well written but I'm not awed or heavily invested in the banter. One fantastic line from Tyrion though: "I understand that a marriage can be just as binding without a dancing bear." It's about appearances - Tywin doesn't want the Tyrells to see him as a niggard. The wedding must be pompous. A display of power and wealth (so why doesn't Tywin pay a little bit from the coffers of Casterly Rock? - because he is a niggard, which is funny).

I need a break. How long is this chapter? I'll come back with the rest of my thoughts on Tyrion IV tomorrow. Slynt must sleep!

1 comment:

  1. The deal with Symon is just that he's the only one who knows that Shae is Tyrion's whore,which is why he wrote the threatening song. Remember that Cersei gets Alayaya (Chataya's daughter) and Tyrion plays along...

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