Monday, March 31, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn V: Rain & Ruins (Cont'd)

Time to read the rest of this chapter! So far, we've mostly stayed inside Catelyn's head with the occasional dialogue between her and some of the other high-ranking characters following Robb Stark north - but both weather and characters are a bit on the gloomy side, which gives the chapter a somber touch. All lost now, Catelyn reflects - not for the first time, Winterfell and Ned, Bran and Rickon, Sansa, Arya, all gone. Only Robb remains. Depressing stuff, and to think - as was pointed out in the comments in the previous post, how Theon Greyjoy's lie affects the story in many ways! I have a suspicion the Old Gods aren't too happy with how Greyjoy effectively helped bring ruin to House Stark (whether that was his intention or no) - and I suspect we'll see how it plays out in The Winds of Winter. But that's still many years ahead! 

Lord Jason Mallister catches up with the host somewhere in the bogs of Hag's Mire - a location only mentioned in passing, but it sounds interesting enough. Robb calls a halt, and in the evening she finds her son inside the king's tent, looking at a map, Grey Wind sleeping at his feet. The Greatjon's there, Galbart Glover, Maege Mormont, her brother Edmure Tully, and a man Catelyn doesn't recognize, a balding fellow. Lord Jason Mallister offers Catelyn his seat; she notes that the Lord of Seagard is still a handsome man. He tells her he has good news. Good news in Westeros? This is a trick. The way the next sentence follows up Jason's announcement of good news is kind of funny; Catelyn sits down to listen to the rain pattering against the tent canvas. I can totally see her mouthing la-la-la and not being interested in the news. Just an unlucky juxtaposition. 

Anyhow, Lord Jason has brought a sea captain with him, the captain of a vessel named the Myraham ("ham from Myr"?) and that is the same guy who brought Theon to Pyke back in A Clash of Kings. The one with the frivolous daughter with high hopes. The news, then, is that Balon Greyjoy is dead. Catelyn is surprised and when her heart skips a beat, you know she's paying attention with more enthusiasm than she has mustered for anything so far in the chapter. The captain explains that Balon apparently was blown of a bridge between the islands of Pyke, and that he washed up two days later, bloated and broken. It wouldn't have been Martin if he didn't want to add the detail that the crabs had eaten Balon's eyes. You know, just in case you couldn't picture it well enough on your own. 

Next part of the news - and now I'm doubting the goodness of the news - is that Balon's brother, Euron Crow's Eye has returned. Now that I re-read it, I see the obvious link: Balon dies as Euron returns. Back in the day? No idea. Probably had enough to wrap my head around the fact that now there was another character from the Iron Islands to keep track of. Apparently Euron has been "to Asshai and back" (which might be where he procured a certain horn); Euron has gone and sat down in the Seastone Chair, drowning Lord Botley in the process, for objecting to this. That's when the captain saw an opportunity to get the hell out of that crazy society - to Seagard, I suppose, where he could tell Lord Jason Mallister.

When the captain's escorted outside, Robb explains that Theon has talked about this Euron, and that he apparently is a bad guy of sorts (well, that's how I read "Euron Greyjoy is no man's notion of a king" anyway) - and so more complications arise: Theon is the rightful heir to the Iron Islands if he still lives; Victarion Greyjoy, another of Theon's uncles, controls the Greyjoy fleet. Galbart Glover reminds Robb there's a daughter as well (Asha), who holds Deepwood Motte and family of Galbart. Robb asks Lord Jason to sail two longships around the Cape of Eagles and up the Neck to Greywatcher Watch (as I suspected but had forgotten); Lord Jason hesitates, saying that it's dangerous to go there with ships, and that Greywater Watch actually moves around, making it hard to find. Howland's Moving Castle anyone? Robb tells him that the crannogmen will find him; he needs to deliver a message to Howland Reed, and so he orders Galbart Glover and Maege Mormont to board these ships and bring Reed whatever it is he thinks Reed needs to get from him (the text does not make it clear - I am confident it is the document naming Jon Snow his heir, though, since it was brought up earlier in the same chapter). 

We are reminded again how Moat Cailin is the key, and that is why Balon sent his brother Victarion there to secure it. With Cailin in their hands, the Greyjoys control all passage between north and south. What an irritating castle that is. However, Robb also suspects that Victarion will want to return to the Iron Islands to discuss Euron's usurpation of the Seastone Chair, and leave Cailin with less men. Galbart Glover protests, saying that to attack up the causeway is too narrow. However, Robb has a plan which involves not attacking from the south, but from the north and west simultaneously. With Bolton and Frey back at his side, he will have no less than 12 000 men which really should be enough to chase a few crabs off. He'll put up a ruse: send some men up the causeway to take the Greyjoys' attention away from the other sides of the castle. I'm not sure I quite understand it all; I thought you couldn't reach Moat Cailin from the west or east, but there you go. Oh, Edmure shares my concern: "You talk of attacking the ironmen in the rear, sire, but how do you mean to get north of them?" 
(The word sire just leaped off the page here; it isn't used that much in the series, is it? Still, shows Edmure accepts Robb's command.)

Robb explains that there are ways through the Neck that aren't on any maps (then why have you been looking at your maps all chapter long silly boy!). Feels a bit like a plot convenience that it comes up now, but maybe it has been mentioned before and I have already forgotten it (again) - there must be an 11th re-read. Until I know everything (unlike poor Jon Snow). So Robb needs Howland Reed to guide his men through the Neck, then, because the crannogmen know the ways. He is going for a guerrilla type war, our Robb. The Greatjon likes the plan a lot. Glover remains adamant. 

Robb tells Catelyn that he wants her to stay safe, and Lord Jason Mallister has offered to keep her under his protection at Seagard until the war is done. Catelyn wonders if this is punishment for being such a nag about everything, but this is more likely your common "women don't belong on a battlefield" thinking of the Middle Ages. She'd rather want to return to Riverrun, but Robb won't have it, because he already has a treasure there - his wife. He wants to deploy his mother elsewhere, to lessen the risk of losing too many at once (how ironic is that, considering the upcoming events). Robb then makes every man present sign his document, but we are never told if he indeed ended up naming Jon Snow his heir. Did he listen to his mother in the end? This is one of the story's details that I really want an answer to, soonish! 

Catelyn can't help but be impressed, though; not only has Robb concocted a clever (if somewhat deus ex mechanical) trap for the Ironborn at Moat Cailin, he has trapped her as well. He really is a king now, and in many ways like his father, Lord Eddard Stark. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn V: Rain & Ruins

[Here be spoilers for all books

As I mentioned during my re-reads of A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, I've always been fond of Catelyn Stark as a character. She is just so well-realized, her thoughts and fears and flaws so human. It just hit me that when we realize what has become of Catelyn Stark at the end of this book, Martin took his arguably most human character to turn into something more...inhuman. An interesting choice, which may or may not have been a deliberate choice - or it just ended up that way because Martin writes, as he has admitted from time to time, by the seat of his pants fisherman's cap.

In other news, the cinema show Martin organized seems to have come and gone without any heart-lifting announcements. "I've learned that waiting is the most difficult bit, and I want to get used to the feeling, knowing that you're not with me, even when you're not by my side," Paulo Coelho apparently wrote about The Winds of Winter. I know how he feels. I know, oh oh.

Catelyn's fifth chapter opens with a rather sweet description of how her son - and king - Robb says goodbye to his recently acquired wife, Jeyne Westerling, not once, not twice but thrice. This is enough to show us how infatuated he is with her, a quick and efficient description (though I wonder if Martin now regrets not showing us more of Robb and Jeyne's relationship - it would make the tragedy to come perhaps even more brutal); sweet, or endearing if you will, because it's such a typical young love thingy. Hard to say goodbye and all that. It feels almost out of place in this setting. It's probably going to rain soon. Young Jeyne even comes galloping up after him after he's finally said goodbye (or so he thought). And here we go: "A drizzle had begun to fall (...)". Apparently Robb is a little angry at this, but hides it beneath gentlemen's manners. Of course, he's got a whole host at his back watching this (did she ride past all the soldiers if we're assuming Robb's somewhere in the front?) See, not three lines after the drizzle begins to fall and Grey Wind is shaking rain from his coat. One final kiss then, and Robb sends her off.  It is kind of strange that we only see Robb and Jeyne from a "distance" so to speak; we don't hear them talk or anything, the character of Jeyne Westerling is almost invisible for some reason (a literary reason, I presume - maybe George just didn't want to write romance when he can write about fat pink masts and Myrish swamps instead muhahaho).

The implication of this public affection, of course, is that other people see it, and in particular Freys see it; and they have reasons to take this as an insult, since Robb broke his vow to marry a Frey girl waaay back in A Game of Thrones. Gotta love how things in book one affect (severely!) things in book three, so many pages later. Cause and effect, and it flows so naturally and realistically most of the time in these books. Of course, you can argue that Jeyne Westerling is nothing but a plot device, but as a literary construction it works because it is believable - people do fall helplessly in love; people do break promises. I believe it was a good decision from the writers of Game of Thrones to give Robb and TV-Jeyne (Talissa) more screen time, though. They could have kept her as Jeyne Westerling, but to show them in love would I am just repeating myself. Sorry about that.

Lame Lothar Frey comments that "Queen Jeyne has a loving heart, I see," - I'm sure I didn't give the line a second thought on my first read, I never really picked up on the many hints that foreshadow the wedding to come, but having read A Storm of Swords this line becomes much more interesting, as we can read into it a certain...irony, I suppose. Which quickly becomes pure sarcasm when he adds, "Why, I would wager a guess that even now Roslin is dancing around the Twins chanting, 'Lady Tully, Lady Tully, Lady Roslin Tully." Lame Lothar turns to Edmure, then, wondering why he's so quiet (and I have a feeling Lothar doesn't really wonder about it, but that's he rather poking him).

Catelyn leaves her brother and Lame Lothar behind, riding off into the sunset. I mean, to join her son Robb. We learn that it was Catelyn who had insisted that Jeyne remain behind at Riverrun and that Robb rather would have kept her by his side - then why was he so angry with Jeyne coming up for one final kiss? I thought he was afraid of what the other lords would say, or that he thought they would see him as weak if they did. Apparently not. Catelyn simply thinks that bringing Jeyne along would be more insulting to Lord Walder Frey than not bringing her. She believes that Robb already misses his beloved, another clue that he does indeed love her well and true (one has to fish for it, since we're not seeing them together all that much, their entire affair is practically off-screen). The only Westerling to join them on their journey to the Twins is Jeyne's brother, Ser Raynald, who bears the banner. It is mentioned that Jeyne's uncle, Rolph Spicer, was sent off to bring Martyn Lannister back to the Lannisters in exchange for Robett Glover, but more importantly, that with Spicer gone, Grey Wind has returned to Robb's side. I wonder why the direwolf picked out Spicer as the one to dislike in particular. Is Rolph the man with a plan, knowing of the coming betrayal and perhaps in cahoots with Roose Bolton? I can't remember if the book further expands on Rolph Spicer's character, or if he's to return in a later volume, but for now I simply wonder. Clearly, the direwolves should be trusted and if Grey Wind doesn't trust Spicer, then I don't.

Jeyne's mother, Jeyne, Eleyna (her sister) and Rollam, Robb's squire, stay in Riverrun. Rollam has been left behind as another way to mitigate the damage, because Rollam replaced Olyvar Frey as Robb's squire. So many minor characters to keep track of. Ser Raynald then, is the only Westerling present, and he's a cheerful fellow who ain't afraid of no Frey.
We are reminded not to trust Walder Frey (through Hoster Tully, in fact, as Catelyn remembers him talking about the Lord of the Crossing); we learn that the Blackfish, Brynden Tully, Cat's uncle, remains behind to protect Jeyne - and that Galbart Glover (that would be recently freed Robett's brother) commands the scouts and outriders instead of the Blackfish.
More information about the composition of Robb's host follows, with Greatjon leading the van, Ser Wendel Manderly commanding the baggage train,  and Robin Flint commanding the rearguard. I like Martin's description of the army; in many fantasy novels you only get the shining armor and splendid swords and banners, here we get the sheep trailing them, camp supplies, plodding horses and footsore camp followers. Robin Flint. Who's he again? Better check with the Tower of the Hand. Great resource, that. Ouch! Now I know his fate. Just one of many characters you kind of forget in the grand scheme of things.

They are 3500 leaving Riverrun, and we're reminded of all the battles these people have been engaged in (Whispering Wood, Oxcross, Battle of the Camps, Ashemark, the Crag, the Lannister lands) - and I wish we could have seen those! More and more, then, I come to miss a Robb POV in these books. It was never meant to be. Now I sad. Cheerlessly thinking of Bran and Rickon and Ned, she hopes that Brienne can bring her girls back. That way she would at least have someone. Oh, cruel fate!
Now this is weird; now it begins to rain again, even though it already rained. Or I am just being mischievously pedantic. Martin speeds up travel, quickly jumping to the next day "beneath leaden skies", heavy rain, people not talking much because of the constant patter. This fact is immediately followed by someone talking. Which I find a little funny.
Lady Maege Mormont, then! "We are stronger than we seem, my lady," she tells Catelyn, as if believing that Catelyn is worried they are too few, or whatever. Catelyn has taken to liking this Maege and her daughter Dacey, because they seem to understand where Catelyn's motivation to release Ser Jaime came from. Dacey is cheerful, believing Robb to be invincible (she's idolizing him, it seems). If this were a jolly old Star Wars movie, you'd expect Catelyn to break out the "I have a bad feeling about this" any minute. She is sorrowful, and struggles with it; she is pessimistic, downtrodden and weary; yet she knows she must be strong for her son, the King in the North. Reading her thoughts make a me a little sad inside, especially when you know that Martin is setting up this plot line as a tragedy. Still, she occasionally dares to imagine a positive outcome, as when she wonders what if Edmure and Roslin end up happy with the arrangement - but she's quick to go back to the basement: "Even then, what chance will we have, caught between Lannister and Greyjoy?" That's a good question. Robb apparently ponders this very same question all the time.

Martin skips ahead to an undefined day on the journey, inside Edmure's pavilion. Edmure is worried that Roslin Frey will look like her father (he's so shallow, eh), Ser Marq Piper says that there's bound to be a few good-looking Frey women considering how many wives Lord Walder's had. When Catelyn's anger flares at this shallow manly talk, Edmure becomes irritated and avoids her the next day. Instead he rides with Ser Marq, some fellow named Lymond Goodbrook (raise your hand if you remembered that guy), Patrek Mallister (Oh! the Mallisters! I'd like more on them, I like the Mallisters for some reason) and the Vances (a nod to Jack Vance, one of Martin's favorite authors, I believe). So why does Martin feel he needs to point out who Edmure is hanging out with that day? Is it just color? Could someone argue that it's bad writing because we don't know these characters and so they are just names and nothing substantial? Someone probably could. I don't. I like how Martin throws names around to make the world feel so inhabited as it does. Catelyn begins to regret having been harsh on her little brother (personally I think she was in the right); it gives off a sense that Catelyn is feeling insecure, really. And that's what she is - she doesn't feel safe, she fears for everyone and everything, and could be seen as the beginning of a paranoia or madness that will eventually blossom...for a few minutes, at the wedding. And there's more rain! The tears of the gods.

On to some Stark family background information - Catelyn was disappointed when she first met Ned, because he was somber whereas her original betrothed, his brother Brandon, was full of mirth and full of rage. So Brandon had a short temper? That's a minor point I had forgotten. Catelyn did eventually come to love Ned, though.

Their route takes the army through the Whispering Wood, where they won their first great victory and captured Ser Jaime Lannister. We're given a nice, sodden description of the woods now being in autumn (rather than summer, during the battle in A Game of Thrones). I never really noticed that A Storm of Swords was the book in which autumn made its full appearance the first time (or times) I read it, but now I'm reading it all the time. It gives the book a certain ambiance and of course prepared us for the fact that winter's up next.
They pass through the battleground, Catelyn wishing that Theon Greyjoy had died at Ser Jaime's hands during the battle; if Lord Karstark's sons could have lived instead, things would have been different. But what is done is done; there's some nice evocative imagery lying around on the battleground: "An overturned helm filling with rain, a splintered lance, the bones of a horse." Strange, really, that no one has been here to loot stuff. There's even corpses lying about! Eew. She wonders if Ned's bones have reached Winterfell, escorted by Hallis Mollen. Who?! Oh, captain of the guard after Jory Cassel went south with Ned, and the guy who was with Catelyn when she visited Renly Baratheon's camp. Another brave northerner almost forgotten. So where are those bones? I believe it's a semi-important plot point. Can't put my finger on exactly why it is so, but I have a feeling this will be brought up again (I vaguely recall some mention of Ned's bones in A Dance with Dragons if I'm not mistaken - I'm beginning to look forward to re-reading the two next books). ANYWAY, in the TV show Littlefinger presents Ned's bones to Catelyn while she's at Renly's camp, so it's probably nothing crucial. Maybe it's just to symbolize that while Ned's dad and brother never got home, Ned did. In bone format, but still.

Sigh, lots of internal stuff going on in this chapter. Catelyn is emoting so hard. Now she feels lonely even though she's surrounded by thousands of others. She wonders if she'll ever see Riverrun again. Of course, you will, Cat. Of course you will. Just hang in there.

Five days later scouts come riding, telling Robb that the wooden bridge at Fairmarket's gone and there are no other intact bridges in the vicinity. Catelyn fears that this delay will further insult Walder Frey. Gotta love Robb's sardonic, "A sorry king I'll be, apologizing with every second breath." Also, so deliciously ironic for the re-reader, Robb hopes that Roose Bolton got across the Trident in time - he should reach the Twins before them, which is of course pretty useful for Bolton in getting some time to scheme with Walder. After that, Robb wishes to go north and reclaim, well, the North; Catelyn wonders if he's mad enough to attack Moat Cailin, but he smiles enigmatically - as in, he's got another idea. Greywater Watch?

Eight more days of rain and they come to Oldstones, making a camp overlooking the Blue fork, within the ruined stronghold of the "ancient river kings" - very compelling imagery, the rain and the ruins. In the center of the yard they find a sepulcher (weird place to have one, perhaps), reminding me of the sepulcher of Aragorn when Arwen has that dreamy future vision thingy in The Two Towers, the movie. Robb stands at the sepulcher, all gloomy and now that I'm reading it again I can't help but notice the obvious "He's doomed!" plastered all over the scene. Here you have Robb, standing next to a sepulcher! No rain, though. Rain stopped.

Catelyn tells him the castle ruins are named Oldstones; she has been here once, with her father, and Petyr Baelish; Robb recalls a song, Jenny of Oldstones, and another hint of doom when Catelyn says, "We're all just songs in the end." Back in the day, Catelyn had played Jenny with the flowers in her hair, and Petyr had been her Prince of Dragonflies (doesn't sound quite as threatening as, say, Dragon King). Robb wonders who's entombed, and Catelyn recounts the tale in a most expository fashion. "Here lies Tristifer, the Fourth of His Name, King of the Rivers and the Hills." As if ripped straight from the annals of Middle-earth. More foreshadowing of doom as Catelyn puts her hand on Robb's shoulder right when she tells him that Tristifer died in his hundredth battle. It's so frustratingly obvious on a re-read. I love the scene I must add; though Catelyn's tale feels a bit intrusive ("here the author wants to comment on this historical thingymagog" if you know what I mean); House Mudd died with Tristifer the Fifth, the Fourth's heir had failed him. Martin is laying it on pretty thick, here. In hindsight. I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that Robb says Winterfell will pass to Sansa if he should die without an heir. I thought it would pass to Bran, as the next male, and that only the Dornish didn't care what gender the next in line has. Worse, Sansa is married to Tyrion Lannister. And Robb doesn't want him to have Winterfell, for well-founded reasons. Catelyn tells him to name another heir in the meantime. A discussion ensues as to who that heir should be; Catelyn suggests a few Vale lordlings who have Stark blood, but Robb has already decided: Jon Snow. Catelyn reminds him that bastards cannot be trusted, throwing out a casual example about how the Blackfyre pretenders troubled the Targaryens for five generations until Ser Barristan Selmy slew the last of them (or did he, dum dum duuum dum!).

Catelyn just can't support Robb on this one - but Robb doesn't have to have her support, as he says, "I'm the king." So when will this plot point return to entertain us? A man can wonder. Did I mention that it begins to rain again? More days follow, and like Edmure, Robb begins to avoid Catelyn. Perhaps you're nagging too much, Cat. More somber thoughts follow, as Maege Mormont asks her if something is amiss. It is a stupid question, though, all things considered. Because everything is amiss for poor Lady Stark. Basically. And now the rain is even evil. According to Maege, anyway. Exposition is given on the she-bears of Bear Island, we are reminded that Ser Jorah across the Narrow Sea is a Mormont, and how unhappy his wife, Lynesse Hightower, had been in the North. And again with the dark thoughts and hurt. It's almost too much, even for a fan of the character. More days, more rain, more riding.

Aw, night gathers and now my sleep must begin. Bit of a slow chapter, this, beautifully written and dark and moody and somber, with slow exterior action but it is doubtless a worthwhile experience to really be inside Catelyn's head now for later impact. Will read the rest of the chapter tomorrow (hopefully). For now, have a good night/day, with little or no rain.

Friday, March 28, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime VI: Reborn

While the Ice & Fire-fandom is still reeling from the release of not one, but two sample chapters from The Winds of Winter, to the point that Martin apparently all of his own broke the Internet, and, for once, actually discusses a little of the process behind his writing (and look how thankful people all for it, but then he smacks it down and tells people to go elsewhere and discuss the books that make him stinking rich and everybody loves) which I find bad PR policy (again). Not that he doesn't have an official forum on his site, but the manner in which he talks to his devoted fans. I'll leave it at that, and rather enjoy another chapter of A Storm of Swords, while I wait for more news on The Winds of Winter. And Ian C. Esslemont's Assail, last of his Malazan Empire series, and Steven Erikson's Fall of Light, second in his Kharkanas-trilogy. And the third from Patrick Rothfuss. But mostly, The Winds of Winter. With two rather good chapters the last week, fans seem to feel that book six will be a return to form, and they might be right; the more we see of it, the more it seems that books four and five's flaws indeed seem to be the curse of the scrapping of the five year gap. Fingers crossed, hype level high. The magic eight ball tells me the release date isn't before some time between November 2015 and July 2016, so that hype level needs to go down down down all the way to Dorne, as far south as south goes. Now, surprise us all, Mr. Martin, with your announcement. You'd be like Santa Claus, the Second Coming and the Science of Positive Thinking all rolled into one big beefy yum. Or something.

Ser Jaime Lannister's sixth chapter in the book, then. One of my favorite characters, for many reasons. Even though he is quite the jerk from time to time. Though with the loss of his right hand, he is changing, and though I approve of the arc and I love how Martin has created a kind of subversion by having a character start out as something of a bad guy and turn into a good guy, I think I like Jaime the best when he leans mostly toward the darker scale of morality. For entertainment purposes, obviously. The arc does give the reader questions to ponder, though; Can I stand behind a character, no matter how good he's become, when that character tried to murder a child? It's easier, of course, since the man's entirely fictional, to like him. Suppose you met someone who smiled and cracked great jokes but you knew that a few years ago he tried to kill a child. Yeah. Unfortunately, Jaime, there are men like you and it saddens me that we can't have one fricking planet in this universe where all people can treat each other nicely all the time. Boo and hiss, humanity...which is precisely what Martin is showing us through Jaime's arc, though: A vile character bordering on psychopathy can become more human. It just takes some dismemberment. Jaime should have a club card, "Dismember Member". No wait, that's Theon Greyjoy ohoy!

Let's return to Harrenhal and see what's up with Jaime, Brienne, Roose and all the others at the most sinister castle of the Seven Kingdoms.

The chapter opens briskly; we're told his stump is healing nicely and that he is no longer in danger, Jaime is anxious to get away from dreaded Harrenhal and get back to "a real woman" waiting for him in the Red Keep, Roose Bolton tells Jaime that he is sending the disgraced maester, Qyburn, with him to King's Landing to look after Jaime, and we're off. I love Jaime's deluded thoughts about Cersei being a real woman. So much has changed since he last saw her. Actually I wish there were a few more scenes where Jaime thought lovingly of her, to mark the contrast of their actual reunion even better. It's a great plot point. Cersei too, yearns for her twin brother, and we hear it through some of her dialogue on the way, but less so, it seems from Jaime. Is he not as invested in Cersei as he thinks he is? A man can only scratch his chin and furrow his brow.

Jaime is given an escort (note how carefully protective Roose Bolton is of Ser Jaime; not only does he get a maester to tag along, but also an escort led by Steelshanks Walton, described as fiercely loyal and a true soldier - someone who Roose can count on to keep Ser Jaime alive. So why is it so important for Roose to keep Jaime alive all of a sudden? Isn't Roose a loyal bannerman of the King in the North? Yeah, I'm not really wondering about the answers to these questions - just noting the small details that combine to create Roose's off-screen scheming. Well, it's not entirely off-screen obviously or we'd have no dots to connect but you get my meaning. I think it's rather interesting to keep an eye on Lord Bolton in this regard; Martin wove his story so cleverly into the whole, it's really is one of the great subplots that I at least never noticed on the first read.

Two parties leave Harrenhal a cold grey morning, and yes, there is the promise of rain in the clouds, and Roose tells Jaime to give his father, Lord Tywin, Roose's warm regards. Ka-ching. Jaime replies, "As long as you give mine to Robb Stark," which is meant as a quip, I suppose, but...Ka-ching! In the courtyard, they are seen off by the Brave Companions - Jaime, perhaps gloatingly, trots over to them, high on his horse and high on freedom, being sarcastic. The reply from Rorge is as simple as the man himself: "Bugger off, cripple." Ouch, that's got to hurt, Ser Jaime! Do you remember way back in A Game of Thrones, when you said you'd rather be dead than a cripple? Fate is a bitch. Martin wisely chooses not go into Jaime's mental reaction to Rorge's retort, leaving that for us to ponder. "If you insist," Jaime replies, then adds, "Rest assured, though, I will be back." He means it as a threat, to say he'll come back for them and avenge himself (and his hand). It is also nice that Jaime will be back - and rather soon. I can't call it foreshadowing, really, but it's a nice touch.

To further suspect Roose to be up to something, the Lord of the Dreadfort has outfitted Jaime like a knight, with chain mail and weapons and a dark brown surcoat - that is, not looking much like a prisoner anymore. He finds an old battered shield to complete his change, reminding me of a later scene in which Brienne dons an old and battered shield; Jaime finds a shield with the sigil of House Lothston painted on it, an extinct family. The sigil shows a great bat. Don't know if this a particular choice by Martin, or random. If it was deliberately chosen, why did Martin have him pick a shield featuring a bat? Is he trying to show us parallels between Ser Jaime and Batman perhaps? Both rich, both morally grey, both out for revenge? According to the Internet, the symbolism of bat is all about seeing through things, to see through illusions; Jaime is not quite there yet, but there are definitely some illusions being shattered throughout his story arc - and one Martin is setting up right now is the illusion of Cersei Lannister being this great woman and one true love waiting for him.

The escort of two hundred men move south along farmer's tracks and game trails, avoiding the Kingsroad at Steelshanks Walton's insistence, though Jaime is clearly eager to travel faster and get home to his beloved Cersei. He might even arrive in time for Joffrey's wedding! Again we feel how distant Jaime's feelings are when it comes to his own first-born son; as if he does not acknowledge him as his son at all. Which is not that weird, considering he's always had to have a distance to his children as, in the eyes of the realm, they belong to King Robert Baratheon, last of his name. After a while Jaime realizes he has been in the area before; he notices a deserted mill by the lake. He remembers the miller telling him about the tournament, as if Jaime didn't know, which is a segue Martin uses to give us some more exposition through Jaime's thoughts about King Aerys Targaryen. He remembers when he was given the white cloak of the Kingsguard, and that he had realized he had become a Kingsguard not for his prowess but simply because the Mad King wished to spite Lord Tywin; now, the next in line to inherit Casterly Rock became Tyrion. Already then Jaime showed a hint of knightly conduct, though, as he decided to keep the white cloak on because he had said his vows. Love how this minor detail - Jaime becoming a Kingsguard - can have so many repercussions throughout the tale.

Qyburn interrupts his thoughts, wondering if he's troubled by his hand. Jaime corrects him - he's troubled by the lack of his hand. Sad and funny at the same time. In his dreams, he still has two hands. Apparently, Qyburn had sent a whore named Pia to Jaime's tent one night on the journey. Qyburn has been enjoying her skills too, it seems. Still, even though Pia had told him how she had seen him become a Kingsguard and how she dreamed of him and thought of him when doing sexy time with other men not like him, Jaime sends her away. Yes, Ser Jaime Lannister, despite all his flaws, keeps to one woman. In that regard, he is more true than many other men in the realm. Qyburn explains that he often checks pleasure girls' health because Hoat once was unlucky, which is funny in a "take that, fool" kind of way. The conversation is setup, though, for Qyburn to be able to tell Jaime that he has examined Brienne and that she is healthy - and still a maiden. Also, her father has offered the sum of three hundred golden dragons for the return of his daughter, but Hoat won't have it - he is still convinced the Lord of Tarth is disgustingly rich based on Ser Jaime's lie about the sapphires. This news irritates Ser Jaime - I suppose because he feels guilty about making up the lie and it worked too well. We also begin to see that this Qyburn fellow, who has seemed kind of amiable up to this point, isn't the nicest man around either, the way he talks: "If her maidenhead's as hard as the rest of her, the goat will break his cock off trying to get in" he jests, showing he has no sympathy for Brienne's fate at all. Men with morals...they are few and far between in Westeros. Jaime thinks of how strong Brienne is, and that she might get through it all, but in his thoughts he's still kind of cold toward her and her plight. Or is that just "tough Jaime" talking to himself?

Another hint that Roose is doing his best to ingratiate himself with Lord Tywin Lannister - the column, headed by a banner-bearer named Nage, carries a peace banner on a staff topped by a seven-pointed star, to honor the seven gods of the South (as opposed to the Old Gods of the North) - a subtle hint, really. Walton explains they need a southron peace, so that's why they carry a southron banner.

Jaime wonders what Tywin will make of all this, and whether the man thinks his son is worthy anything at all now that he has lost his sword hand. Knowing Tywin, it doesn't look very good for you, Jaime. More backstory in the form of Lord Tarbeck is given us to show how unsentimental and hard a man Tywin is. They come to a burned village which Jaime also recognizes. He remembers the innkeep who was honored by Jaime's presence; the text does not make it clear when in Jaime's past he visited this place; I can't remember if it happened in the books, to be honest. I don't think it did. Or maybe it did, but it wasn't described and we learn about it now. At any rate, the place gives him a bad feeling and at his request the party of two-hundred and three rides on  until evenfall, when they make camp in a forest. Lying down, Jaime hopes to dream of Cersei. Now, he uses a stump (no, not his stump) as a pillow - could it be the stump of a weirwood tree? The text so far seems to indicate strangeness around weirwood stumps, so why not? And Jaime does have a strange dream.

He's naked and alone, surrounded by enemies, somewhere in the massive cliffs below Casterly Rock. He is relieved to have two hands. Dark figures in cowled robes wielding spears encircle him; they wonder what business he has in Casterly Rock - this could symbolize Jaime's estrangement from his family. The 'naked and alone' part could be interpreted as Jaime becoming isolated, and vulnerable without the safety net that is his father and family (which we've already seen play out, as Jaime tried to invoke his father's name and wealth, resulting in the loss of his hand). One can also read this as foreshadowing of the same points.
He is forced down a twisting passageway, and he wonders why he must go down, feeling certain that his doom awaits below - something dark and terrible lurks there (is there a castle in Westeros where there is not something dark and terrible lurking below? I mean, we have the Winterfell crypts, the black cells beneath the Red Keep, shadow assassins born beneath Storm's End...) - but I'm reading this as very vague foreshadowing of Jaime's future trajectory: Things are only going to get worse for him (he's going down), and, well, if this dream is more than just your regular old nightmare, he might just die. Which ties neatly into the theories about Jaime ending up sacrificing himself for some greater good to finally come full circle as a truly valiant knight honoring the knightly codes. He ends up at a ledge, on the edge of an abyss. A spear jabs him, shoving him into the darkness - he shouts as he falls, landing upon soft sand - he thinks of the "watery caverns below Casterly Rock", but this one is different - some other place, then? He hears all the voices of all the Lannisters ever, telling him that this is his place, as opposed to theirs. Another hint of his isolation and beginning different attitudes - but also textual implication for those who subscribe to the theory that Jaime might be a Targaryen, or in some way connected to the prophecies of Azor Ahai. Cersei, pale and beautiful and holding a torch, can be viewed as a foreshadowing of her torching down the Tower of the Hand in A Feast for Crows (forgive me if it is another place she torches; I haven't read that book in many years). "Stay with me!" Jaime pleads, "Give me a sword at least." 
This is interesting too, isn't it? First, if one assumes that Jaime has some connection to the prophecy of Azor Ahai, the sword he finds at his feet has a pale flame flickering along the blade's length; a burning sword - Lightbringer? Second, this bit of text can be seen as a counterpoint to a scene late in A Feast for Crows where Brienne is given the choice between noose...and sword. At any rate, Jaime picks up the burning sword, moving in a circle, wary of what may come out of the darkness (his true self, if one takes this dream as a psychological "cleansing" of Jaime's mind). He tells himself to beware the water, for there may be creatures living there, which can suggest an encounter with the Greyjoys - or a kraken, for that matter (there are hints throughout the text that can be read to mean that there will come a big huge kraken up from some sea, some time in the future). Another hint that Jaime will sacrifice himself - with Lightbringer in hand; when the flames of the sword die, so must he. Ominous, foreboding, and pretty cool stuff to boot.

Suddenly, Brienne is part of the dream, replacing Cersei. See what Martin did there? Quite cunning. "Do they keep a bear down here?" Brienne asks, and we'll see that she's down with a bear soon enough, and it is kind of prophetic in a way that Jaime dreams this stuff - another hint that there's more to him, one of the only characters with such dreams outside the Stark family (Daenerys being another example). Touched by the gods? Maybe he represents the Seven, it's not like they've been as active as other gods so far. And the escort is carrying a seven-pointed staff. And, as they meet a group of riders coming out of the darkness, five of them, they are seven in this dream-cave. These riders seem armored in snow, which to me reads like a very obvious hint that Jaime will face the Others - so we might just yet see him take the black, which also corresponds with him mocking Jon for becoming a Night's Watch man (or was that just in the TV series? If so, it doesn't really matter - the show writers are using Martin's future plans to set up their own version of the story). The five are former Kingsguard members - Oswell Whent, Jon Darry, Lewyn Martell, Gerold Hightower (the White Bull), and finally - not a Kingsguard member but certainly involved with them - Rhaegar Targaryen, "crowned in mist and grief"...It feels almost like Ned Stark's dreams of the Tower of Joy now, this dream of Jaime's. The same kind of mood, with mist and what's the link between Ned's dreams and Jaime's? I feel like there must be something - and it may come down to Jon Snow, and maybe, just maybe, we'll see Jaime fight alongside said bastard of the North. There is still so much yet we must learn about it all for this particular dream sequence to make sense...Unless I'm completely off the trail here and miss obvious stuff. Speaking of the Others, these fellows draw their swords and "it made no sound" which is a pretty clear allusion to the soundless unsheathing of weaponry - by the Others, in the prologue of A Game of Thrones. I'm almost counting this as a definite hint that Jaime will face them in the future.
Now, we're getting to see some of Jaime's guilt in dream-shape. Rhaegar blames Jaime for killing his father, Aerys the Mad King; Jaime says the king was about to burn down the city (of King's Landing), but they harp on about their oaths to protect the King - then comes a very curious passage: Prince Rhaegar burned with a cold light, now white, now red, now dark. "I left my wife and children in your hands." Those would be Elia, of course, and the children, Aegon and what's-her-name. But note how he's described as white (snow, winter, Stark), then red (sun, fire & blood, Martell/Targaryen) and then black (uhm...dead?). Man, where does Martin find all this seemingly endless literary spice?
And maybe I'm reading way too much into this dream, for now, as Jaime stands accused for regicide, the flames of his sword gutter out - while Brienne's remains aflame. Aha! She is Azor Ahai! Certainly born amidst salt (Tarth is an island, no?). Just throwing out thoughts.

And Jaime wakes up just before the five ghosts attack him. He told them he didn't fear them, but his heart is pounding. He almost cries actually, when he realizes he's back in reality, where he is one hand less. Qyburn is present and correct, saying he heard Jaime shout. And Walton too, wondering why Jaime screamed. Jaime tells them it was just a dream; Qyburn says he's still having a bit of fever going on. The maester wants Jaime to go back to sleep, but he doesn't want to because he has a feeling he'll only go back to that dream again. And there it is - Jaime notices that the stump he's sleeping on is indeed the stump of a weirwood tree. It's been messing with his head, I tells ya.

"Do you believe in ghosts, maester?" he asks Qyburn, sounding like a small child. I expected the old man to reply with some sort of derision, what with him being maester and all, but instead he makes a strange face and says he had an experience which he only can think of as ghostly, speaking of how some part of people's souls remain behind in the world...something the archmaesters didn't like, but a certain Marwyn did like. So, Marwyn and Qyburn are both more into the spiritual side of things, not discounting the supernatural. I wonder if this is more setup from Martin. How he's going to weave the whole maesters/Citadel/yay for science, nay to the supernatural (which I applaud by the way) into the narrative, I have no clue. Maybe it will remain a background subplot.

Jaime decides he needs to go back to Harrenhal; the dream, the talk of ghosts, it seems that this has made him confident that something has told him he must go back and save Brienne. He needs to make a convincing argument to make Walton turn back, threatening him to tell his father Lord Tywin (isn't it ironic, he isn't learning - now he uses his father's reputation - but this time, it works) that Walton is responsible for cutting Jaime's hand off. Some gold enters the equation, too. And by dawn, they are halfway back to Harrenhal. They reach the castle beneath a darkening sky that, lo! and be surprised, threatens with rain, and start shouting for someone to open the gate. When a face appears on top of the battlements, I can't help but think of Monthy Python and the Holy Grail, and maybe Martin was indeed thinking of that scene here. No elderberries, though.

Fantastic art! (c) Marc Simonetti

Harrenhal seems deserted, there's a roar somewhere, and Jaime wonders if he's too late; to think that a dream can be so vivid to spur him on like this! He knows what is happening, and yes, Brienne mentioned bears in that dream. So there's a pit, and Brienne and a brown bear are in it. Still in the gown she wore when they dined with Lord Roose Bolton, with no armor (to be fair, the bear doesn't even have a gown). At least they gave her a sword, Jaime thinks, again linking the dream to reality, and the Mummers are gathered around the pit, shouting and having fun with the spectacle. Jaime tells Vargo Hoat to pull her out of the pit, and Hoat of course doesn't comply, threatening to cut off Jaime's other hand as well. Brienne is obviously scared shitless facing a bear like this, and Jaime realizes this bear has met foes before, as it is wary, which has bought him time. The sword Brienne has is, unfortunately, just a practice sword with no edge. It's an exciting piece of the chapter, though there's little to ponder like one can do with the dream sequence, it's more a thrilling set-piece. And when Jaime jumps in the pit, his character has definitely undergone an important change. It is also, if you will, a hint that Jaime indeed has it in his character to perform a selfless act of sacrifice, for jumping into a bear pit to help a woman with a practice sword is not considered to have good odds, I assume. Steelshanks Walton has his archers fire arrows at the bear, because he's afraid to damage Roose Bolton's prize, which is a good thing for Jaime and Brienne, of course. There's a brilliant little exchange after the bear is slain when Jaime asks Brienne if she's still a maiden, she says yes, and he's all "Oh, good, I only rescue maidens." Here he both mocks himself for doing this sudden chivalrous thing, but with the flair of a good heroic scoundrel. I can practically hear the somewhat sardonic voice in which it is said. Hoat and his crew of degenerates stand no chance against Walton and his two hundred men, so they give Brienne up.

When they have left Harrenhal safely behind for the second time, Walton turns on Jaime with anger, wondering if he's mad (nice little nod to Mad King Aerys there)..."No man can fight a bear with his bare hands!" Jaime of course has to correct him (he's only got one hand - oh, the hand jokes); Jaime admits he took a chance, that he expected Walton's help because of the arrangements Lord Bolton made; and finally, the chapter ends with Brienne asking Jaime why he came back, and instead of coming with a cruel jape, he simply says, "I dreamed of you." 

So - anyway - I know I was rambling about the Seven and stuff, but since he slept on a weirwood stump it's probably safe to say Jaime's dream comes from the Old Gods / Children of the Forest / Bloodraven / some such. But why are they interested in Jaime? Because...they know he must fulfill a prophecy? What else could it be?

And that's the end of that chapter. You may have noticed the increase in re-read posts lately; this is simply because I've had more time lately, and that I'm hyped for Game of Thrones Season 4 and those damned morsels sample chapters. Sucker for punishment. Ser Jaime Lannister, folks. More to him than most people think...actually, thinking on it, notice how often he's referred to as Kingslayer. Could this also indicate a sort of poetic way of saying that people don't know him beyond this single event; will he clear his name and become some sort of martyr? Dear Mr. Martin, if you hurry up we might someday know!! Seems the author doesn't have too much on his plate compared to earlier, though; just the Rogues anthology and some other stuff. He also seems to hint over at his blog that he's making better progress with Winds than the previous two books (however little that means). Hyped.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

[The Winds of Winter] Mercy

[Here be spoilers!]

It was good to round off the day with a new chapter from The Winds of Winter last night. It was even better that this chapter, like Tyrion II which was released last week, was really good. There were a lot of interesting things in it, and as I decided to read it slowly and with eyes like a hawk, I spotted most of the things of note. The one thing I had to check online to figure out, was the identity of the Westerosi noble visiting Braavos; it was Harys Swyft, who left King's Landing in A Dance with Dragons to treat with the Iron Bank of Braavos. Looking back on the character, it's fun how he's been a part of the saga all the way and yet I had no clue last night (but then, there are quite a few characters and it's been a long while since I read the epilogue in book five - say, three years).

Anyway, Arya is wearing faces (it is quite evident that Mercy's personality is shining through in the way Arya thinks and acts which are not like her at all - brilliantly written), playing her sister in a play, and there's this little nugget of a shout-out to her siblings tucked in there ("bloody paste" referring to Bran, "crown" referring to Robb); there's the satisfaction of having Arya tick one enemy off her list (and said enemy being his usual self); there are small possible foreshadowings (she says she'd like to see a dragon, wistfully; but is that Mercedene, or Arya speaking?); we meet Izembaro, the King of Mummers, bringing to mind that there might be a connection between Varys and the Faceless Men; there's some delightfully disgusting and disturbing text, Martin-style, an ambiguous ending (though I am quite confident Arya will continue to serve the Kindly Man - wearing Mercedene's face and being involved with mummers is part of her training), a suitable grotesque and sinister murder, and, as always, some delightfully amoral characters and allusions. There's also a pace set in the chapter that keeps me glued, the way it should be when reading A Song of Ice and Fire. Boy, am I getting my hopes up.  The whole chapter, by the way, is in subtext because Arya's and Mercene's characters have merged, making it doubly good. I think I want to read it again soon.

One thing that surprises me is that, even though this might be the oldest chapter in The Winds of Winter (George wrote it many years ago, it seems), there are still a few typos in there. Took me a while to realize, too, that the underlined sentences are thoughts, which will probably be in italics when the whole book gets printed.

We're left with the Big Question. Does this sudden mad...eruption of sample chapters - I mean, two in a week, when the heck did that ever happen - mean that The Winds of Winter is close to completion, or that it is still a long way off? I'm betting on the latter. And hoping for the former. Of course. There are arguments both ways. He's building up hype for his book; or is he building up hype for Game of Thrones 4. But does that show need anymore hype? There's always more money to be made. The chapters released are all old and hoary; he hasn't anything new to give us, so the book is late; No, the book is nearly finished but he chooses early chapters in the book that don't spoil too much. Whatever argument you decide to like, the Big Question remains a question until an announcement is made. And, according to the Internet, there is an announcement being prepared for the public in two days. Still betting on Wild Cards. I refuse to get my hopes up again and again and again. And again.

Favorite line in the book (I'm sure I wasn't the only one to voice a quiet or loud "Yes!" and pump a fist gently in the air - gently because the lady was sleeping next to me):

"Think so?" asked Arya, sweetly.

Two thumbs up. Aaaand back to the Long Wait.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

[Re-read] Arya VIII: Dark Heart (Cont'd)

Man, it's been more than twelve hours since I found out about George R.R. Martin's tease for an upcoming new old sample chapter. And he said coming soon. I think twelve hours is the limit of soon, but hey, as we all know Mr. Martin operates on a...stretchier timescale than most other authors. I am still convinced the chapter title "Mercy" refers to Arya, especially considering the fact that he had at least one Arya chapter moved out of A Dance with Dragons, and no other character seems to fit such a title. I've seen various theories bandied about including Cersei because it rhymes with mercy (though I, and many other northerners, have always pronounced her name Ser-SYE teehee; until Game of Thrones came on screen at any rate), Asha Greyjoy, Theon Greyjon, Aeron Damphair, Sansa Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Jaime Lannister, Bran Stark, even Catelyn Stark and Aero Hotah. And probably all the other characters still alive. Jon Snow. Daenerys Targaryren. Melisandre. Ser Barristan Selmy. No one seems to expect another Tyrion chapter, though. But only Arya Stark fits the bill, I am betting a beer on it. I'll be so red-faced if it turns out to be someone else's chapter. If I had to pick another character, I'd have to choose between Asha and Sansa. But I don't, because it's Arya. Now update that sample page before people start flinging turds around in anticipation. It's almost cruel, the way he treats his fans. I am sure he thinks he's being nice and all, but he has no idea how seriously people take this stuff. Man, there are even people spending huge amounts of time blogging about it. Go figure.

Oh well, back to Arya, Gendry et al. I haven't really gotten an impression of this Ned character yet though he's going to get his moment in a page or two. But wait! A thought occurred. George is using his silly frog and his "hiya hiya" so it's going to be online on April the 1st NO WAIT AGAIN IT HAS BEEN UPDATED!! [Yes, I F5'd] "MERCY" is online!! And I was right hehe. ARYA it is. Well not Arya, but MERCY. Yeah now I' motivated to finish this post...but now that's it there, I can relax and wait. In fact, I'd rather he didn't tease us with these samples because by 2018 when the book's finally published I've read so much of it already. But I do appreciate the gesture. Maybe there's a new PR management in the house. Who knows? But what a delightful coincidence that I'm reading an Arya chapter right now.

Yeah. I'll read it in bed tonight, instead. It's not like I am that anxious to read a new Arya chapter. Not that fond of her adventures in Braavos, to be honest. I remember believing she'd end up leading wolf packs, roaming Westeros. That would have been pretty cool. I want her back to the continent where she belongs! Still, once I'm reading it I'll probably be relatively engrossed in it anyway. So now, Arya VIII.

It rained all through that night, and come morning Ned, Lem, and Watty the Miller awoke with
Edric Dayne (c) Fantasy Flight Games
 There really are copious amounts of rain in the Riverlands these days! It's like raining all the time. The group decides to go to an abandoned village half a day's ride to the north where they can find shelter from the rains. The colossal rains. They urge their horses down the hill, it keeps raining, they ride through the woods and ford swollen streams and others begin to cough as well, and Arya realizes that Gendry doesn't like young Ned. Do we have yet another Targaryen, or someone with Targaryen blood at least? Ned had big blue eyes, so dark that they looked almost purple. And his hair was a pale blond, more ash than honey. Martin sure likes to hint at Targaryen bloodlines, at least. And who's to say? If Robert could have bastards all over the Seven Kingdoms, why not some Targaryen? But what I'm actually thinking, and it's crackpot I that young Ned sounds like what a child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen could have looked like. Doesn't he? Lord Beric Dondarrion's squire's description sounds more like a son of theirs than Jon Snow does. Could it be that Jon was a red herring all along? I suppose not. It would kind of ruin everything. But it's fun to speculate the what ifs. And, of course, Ned is a Dayne, and the Daynes do have some Targaryen genetic material mixed in their blood. If I'm not mistaken and have gotten it all wrong (again). But I digress! While Gendry seems to dislike the fellow, Arya likes him; he's a little shy and good-natured and there are pretty few of those in Westeros. She asks him how long he's been Beric's squire, and off we go on a mystery tour.

Ned was seven when Beric espoused his aunt (excuse me while I go look up that word and see if it is what I think it is) - right. It is. Became a squire at ten. That's quite impressive. At the Mummer's Ford, Ned pulled Beric out of the river (a parallel to a later similar event). Ned is shocked when she asks if he's killed anyone (love the casual way she asks) - while Arya thinks back to those whose deaths she has been involved far. The stable boy in King's Landing, a guard at Harrenhal, Ser Amory Lorch's men, Weese, Chiswyck (good riddance)...another hint that Ned could be of Targaryen heritage is that he had a palpe purple cloak. He tells her he saw her father, Lord Eddard Stark, also a Ned, at the Hand's tourney and he remembers that he saw Loras Tyrell give Sansa a rose. Lord Beric hasn't married his aunt (though espouse can mean marriage too) and now it seems that the match will never be; after all, he roams the countryside dying. And now, for more mystery!

Ned asks Arya about Jon Snow. Arya misses him most of all. That's such a sweet little sentiment tucked in there. Ned then surprises everyone who is reading the book for the first time (and for addled people like myself, the tenth time) by calling Jon his "milk brother". Ned's mother had no milk, so someone named Wylla had to nurse him - and when Arya wonders who Wylla is, Ned says "Jon Snow's mother. He never told you? She's served us for years and years. Since before I was born." I can't quite get it to match up, because I'm really not seeing Jon and Ned as being of the same age. Arya wonders if the boy is mocking her, because Jon never knew who his mother was, and here comes this whelp and says he knows that woman. So why does Martin put this information here for all (and specifically, Arya) to hear? One can it a red herring, or is it the truth? Ned sound sincere, so I am convinced he believes it to be true. When Arya threatens him, he doesn't say, however, "I swear that Wylla is Jon's mother", but "Wylla was my wetnurse". Clever, Martin, but I'm not falling for it one bit. You write it convincingly enough, but shrewd enough that it works both ways - whether Wylla is Jon's mother or not.
This in turn leads to Ned revealing his full name and that he is a lord - he is Edric Dayne, the Lord of Starfall. That's an awesome title! Gendry groans, which is funny. Arya plucks a crabapple off a passing branch and throws it at Gendry, and Ned says, which I also find funny, "What kind of lady throws crabapples at people?" to which Arya replies, making the scene perfect, "The bad kind." This should have survived the adaptation to television screens. Love it. But hey! Edric Dayne is not in the TV series, is he? There you go, he's a red herring. Not important enough to warrant a role. The show, by its very existence, does help eliminate theories about this or that character. Of course, they have almost stripped the whole Jon Snow's mother back story out of the show (for now), so it might just be important because the fans want to know the truth, not because it weighs that much for the story as a whole. Arya decides to remember this so she can tell Jon if she ever meets him. Another little nugget there supporting the idea that they will indeed meet again. I'm afraid they might meet at sword-point, unfortunately. There have been hints, one in A Game of Thrones comes to mind where Jon tells Arya she'll be found frozen clutching her Needle. Paraphrasing here!

Arya recalls the name Arthur Dayne, "the one they called the Sword of the Morning." That would be one of the three Kingsguard who Lord Eddard Stark fought at the Tower of Joy. A legendary figure, to say the least. Time for some expo. Through dialogue, fortunately. Flows better. Ser Arthur, then, was Ned's uncle, and his wife was Lady Ashara, Ned's aunt. Lady Ashara, then, was the one who couldn't produce milk. However, she threw herself into the sea before Ned was born. According to Edric Dayne, his aunt Ashara committed suicide because her heart was broken. He then goes on to say that she did this because she loved...Lord Eddard Stark, and that he loved her in return. Arya doesn't want to hear it, to which Gendry oh so dryly interrupts with a well-placed "He must have found that bastard under a cabbage leaf, then." Score for Gendry! I haven't realized he could be so droll. Is it a rare sparkle of a moment for him?
Anyway, what if Lord Eddard did indeed fall in love with Ashara but he felt honor-bound to return to Catelyn in the north? It seems unlikely considering how rigid Eddard always was, but in that way there's some truth to Edric's tale - and Jon Snow can still remain the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar. Even Eddard Stark could make a mistake, I dare say. I am sure he thought that himself, on the steps of the Great Sept. Gendry gets angry about the whole discussion, bringing in the fact that he doesn't know his father and that he's probably dead. Arya is, at any rate, upset about this. So upset, she rides ahead and asks Anguy the Archer if it's true that Dornishmen are known to be liars; probably some prejudice she's picked up somewhere (though it does come a little out of the blue) and he's of course saying "They're famous for it," which is Martin working to make us feel uncertain about it all, but really now, Arya likes the boy and thinks he's good-natured, she just doesn't want to hear that her lord father could have had a lover while he was south the first time. When he didn't have to return north as a bag of bones. Those were the times.

She leaves the trail, ignoring their shouts. Harwin rides up to her after a while, telling her not to try to run away from them. He consoles her, telling her that if Lord Eddard was having some sexy time with Lady Ashara Dayne, it doesn't matter because at the time it was her uncle Brandon who was betrothed to Catelyn Stark her mother. Man, how complicated can stuff get? No, really? Again, I get that iffy feeling that all characters are related by events somehow. I wonder how long a line one could make from Arya through all her connections, for example? Pretty much everyone on Westeros could come into play. Just think - Arya knows Gendry who is the bastard son of Robert who was married to Cersei who at the moment is Sansa's mother-in-law and Sansa is Arya's sister...oh, I went full circle fast there. Never mind.

Harwin suggests that Ashara killed herself because she lost her brother, Ser Arthur Dayne. He died at the Tower of Joy, possibly by Ned's Ice. So much to ponder in this scene. I would love to know what went into writing this scene, and how Martin decided what Ned would say to Arya, and what Ned's motivation for saying it is if there's any beyond plot purpose...just to mislead us, or is there something more? Instead of writing "Half a day later they reached the village..." he gives us this talk between Arya and Ned Dayne...ponder ponder. Lovely though, to have a story so rich with detail that you can keep pondering fourteen fricking years after publication. Or is it fifteen already? Sigh.

Well, eventually they do reach the abandoned village and they take shelter in a stable with only half a roof. A ruined village, not just abandoned. It's an old place, and Arya learns that it was attacked by Lord Hoster Tully's forces during Robert's Rebellion. Again, Martin loves to surprise us with small twists to remind us nothing is wholly good or wholly evil. We've met Lord Hoster only as a dying, frail man, but now we learn that he too has commanded the murder of innocents. Lord Goodbrook, who ran the village back when it was still inhabited, stayed loyal to Mad King Aerys Targaryen instead of joining Robert Baratheon, and for that, he faced annihilation. Here is one of many hints sprinkled through the text, with increasing regularity, that there were and are many who are loyal to House Targaryen. It almost feels like Martin is preparing us for something... I'd feel bad about it if someone told me one of my grandpas had exterminated a village.

Thoros gets a fire up and running and begins gazing into the flames as he did on the hill; this time, Arya hears him mutter "Riverrun" though that's hardly enough to give us anything useful. Tom o' Sevens doesn't want to go to Riverrun because and he launches into a tale involving Lysa Arryn and his nakedness, before Thoros interrupts them: "Lannisters," Thoros said. "Roaring red and gold." Uhm you can't roar colors. How weird is this. By the way I'm not sure I understand Tom's tale about being sent up the high road. Enlighten me at will. Thoros of Myr tells Arya more specifically what he has seen in the flames: Riverrun in a sea of fire, and the flames looking like lions with crimson claws. In other words, Riverrun will come under attack. Incidentally, how do they know if they're seeing the past, the present or the future? It's not like there's a switch or anything. And a Lannister siege of Riverrun is forthcoming, true enough, but not until A Feast for Crows. But was it that dramatic? Can't say I remember much of it now - I remember Ser Jaime and Ser Brynden having a chat. Not much fire. Looking forward to re-read that chapter. Jaime's chapters in that book are without a doubt the best. Thoros reminds us that Catelyn and Robb aren't at Riverrun, but at the Twins - though it would, ironically, be better if they were at Riverrun because there's no siege at the moment and at the Twins things are going to get a little rough.

Anyway (is it just me or is this chapter exceedingly long?) Arya is asked if she know Ser Brynden Tully aka the Blackfish but she doesn't but it's cool that he's mentioned here because, you know, the siege at Riverrun being foreseen by Thoros of Myr right before. Lord Beric and his merry companions begin bickering about where to go - Riverrun or the Twins. Arya can't take it anymore, and no wonder, she's just ransom to these people and off she darts again. This time, Lord Beric's men lose her good. Because the Hound is suddenly there, grasping her and telling her she's his now. It's a great way to end the chapter. It has been a slow one, with backstories and exposition and mystery more than being forward-driving, best shown through the brotherhood not being able to agree on where to take her, and then BAM! Sandor Clegane is outside the house, people! And he's taking Arya with him. Excellent stuff and just when your eyes are about to close because it was a lil' bit ponderous, you are all excited again and eager to see what will happen next. Can't believe how short Arya's stint with the brotherhood was in the TV series, I missed so many of the characters from said brotherhood. I'm a bit of a fan.

And with that, it's off to bed to read Mercy.

[Re-read] Arya VIII: Dark Heart

The things we do for fun.
I barely managed to post how the Tyrion II sample had me all eager for MOAR MOAR The Winds of Winter and George surprises us all with the promise of a new chapter sample, a chapter he calls "Mercy". At first I was like ooooh! and a little aaaah! and then the old cynical me began to grumble. Right now I'm in a strange state of fandom where I've stepped back from the much maligned Detractorship, but I'm not entirely back to being a zealous fanboi either. I read comments both at the Tower of the Hand, where people sway in both directions, Westeros where people are generally only positive, and Is Winter Coming? where people generally are cynical (but fun!). In other words, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I look forward to reading this mysteriously titled chapter (which character would refer to themselves as Mercy?), on the other hand I'm thinking...that it's kind of silly to see people thank him so profoundly on his blog, like dogs begging for scraps from the table. What other author can get away with giving away small bites of a coming novel - a novel that might still be years ahead of us - like this? And it's not even a fresh chapter, as Martin admits himself in the blog post. It's an old chapter, probably intended for A Dance with Dragons, but he's revised it and revised it (incidentally I was reading a book about writing yesterday and one of its main points was to know when enough editing is enough - but of course A Song of Ice and Fire has grown rather complex and so I suppose it needs more time to gestate). I also shudder every time I see that silly frog and that "catchphrase" Martin uses along with said amphibian, "Hiya kids, hiya hiya hiya". It just feels so...condescending in a way. I'm sure he doesn't mean it like that. Commence the furious refreshing of the sample page! As to who the chapter is about? I see various suggestions around the web. Some believe it to be a Sansa chapter. Others Arya. Brienne has been suggested. I believe these three are the most popular candidates for "Mercy". I'm betting on Arya (Brienne wouldn't refer to herself as "Mercy" - people are suggesting this is the word she used in her last chapter in A Feast for Crows). Could be an entirely different character too, of course. Hopefully not another new POV, though!
But look at those comments (and my apologies if you, dear reader, are being paraphrased now). People ask for an annual tradition where Martin gifts us a sample chapter once a year. How about finishing the book? Someone suggests that Martin only gives us old chapters (intended for A Dance with Dragons) because the newly written chapters are too spoilery - how about He hasn't written much new material and he's spent time fine-tuning those old ones? The most relevant comment in my opinion is, Something is something. And that it is - trying to put the cynical me away and be happy to get another morsel. But I just hate feeling like a begging dog. And with that, it's time to delve back into A Storm of Swords. We've come to the book's forty-fourth chapter, Arya's eighth chapter, and we have definitely passed the halfway mark and we're in the middle of Act II. There shall be biting of lips and things that are stupid! We love her. Arya Stark of the many faces.

The chapter opens with Arya realizing the band has returned to High Heart, the great hill where she saw the Ghost of High Heart the last time she was hanging around. A few hours pass by as they make their way to the top and here Arya takes a walk around the circle of weirdwood stumps (they're like weed, those weirwoods - hard to get rid of entirely). This little detail kind of seals the deal that there is a connection between the Ghost of High Heart and the Old Gods of the North (and the Children of the Forest, which might yet be two names for the same entities). In addition, the coloration of the Ghost helps seal the deal, of course. But what is a Child of the Forest doing here on that hill, and where is she now? Hiding inside it? It's a really tall hill, by the way - it stands above the rain. That's tall! Or the clouds are conspicuously low in this part of the Riverlands, I don't know. Still, there's wind. Never a Martin chapter without some weather, now that I've begun to pay attention to it. And all the while, in that book I was reading about writing, the author says you better not write about the weather...unless it's important. Well, weather I suppose is kind of important in these books, what with winter coming and all. I like it, though. The weather. Adds to the atmosphere. Also, there's been a lot of rain lately in the book and it's better to show the weather than tell us that "Hiya, kids, hiya hiya, it's autumn!"

They build a campfire on the hill's top, and Thoros sits down in cross-leg formation to gaze into the flames, as if there was nothing else in the world". Arya asks Ned what Thoros is doing. The squire tells her that Thoros sometimes sees things in the flames, Melisandre-style (he doesn't say Melisandre-style). A quick nod to Yoda the Jedi Master when Ned further explains, "The past. The future...." and here I almost expect "Friends long gone" (which means I have seen The Empire Strikes Back way too many times), but Ned finishes the sentence with "Things happening far away." BUT IS IT THE FLAMES OR THE WEIRWOOD STUMPS? A man can wonder. Maybe the magic of Rh'lorr and the magic of the Old Gods draw from the same mana source? To see things happening far away is at any rate a description of one of the powers of the Heart Trees. Gendry and Arya are trying to look for stuff in the flames too with little success beyond, well, flames. Gendry asks if Thoros truly can see things, and Thoros replies that, yes, sometimes he gets visions but not this evening. Gendry then goes on to say that his (former) master, the armorer in King's Landing what's-his-name-Tobacco Motto or something - calls Thoros for a "sot and a fraud, as bad a priest as there ever was" (incidentally, Thoros seems to me to be the most sane priest in Westeros; remember Septon Utt from the previous Arya chapter?) Thoros just chuckles at that, but admits it's true. Oh, there's his name. Tobho Mott. Thoros used to buy his swords from Mott. Another weird thing about this series is that while the main characters almost never meet (at least not from this book onward), all the minor characters seem somehow connected, like Thoros and Mott now. You could make a pretty long line of connections from these two. It's a weave, but sometimes I feel it becomes too convenient. Anyway, Thoros launches into a little of his backstory so he can get some more depth. So far, we know very little of him, except for his participation in the Greyjoy Rebellion (the first through the breach) and at the Tourney of the Hand (laying about with his sword) and that he has an alcohol problem. One thing that bothers me about the character (and I'm nitpicking) is that he doesn't feel as if he's from across the Narrow Sea. Nothing exotic about him, he's more the Brother Tuck of Robin Hood Beric Dondarrion's gang, and feels as if he's always lived here (as opposed to having been raised in a Red Temple). Turns out he's a missionary, having been sent to Westeros to convert the heathens to the Lord of Light.

Lord Beric interrupts in a rather ominous way; while Thoros speaks of his life in a rather light-hearted tone, Beric comes in and ruins the fun: "Fire consumes. It consumes, and when it is done there is nothing left. Nothing."
What I'm reading into this is that the Lord of Light maybe isn't the best choice after all. The power of fire is destructive. Annihilation is what it brings, and I can imagine that a zealot like Melisandre would rather cleanse the world of life in the name of her Red God than let it fall into the hands of other religious factions. Maybe?
We're given the hint that Lord Beric has been raised from the dead six times so far.
Arya hears wolves (again).

Oooh there she is! During the night, while Notch, Anguy and Merrit have the watch, Arya can't sleep and spies the Ghost of High Heart lurking about. Martin literally compares her to Jon's direwolf, Ghost; another nail in the coffin for anyone who theorizes that this little gnarled lady is Ser Gregor Clegane in disguise, and we get another round of mysteries to enjoy. All she wants for her visions is some wine and a sloppy kiss from Lem with the yellow cloak. Lem refuses and she says she can do with a song from Tom'o Sevens. Her news this time isn't as mysterious as the first time they met her, though, and are easily enough deduced.
She tells them Balon Greyjoy is dead, Hoster Tully is dead, and Ser Gregor Clegane is marching on Harrenhal to wrest it from the hands of Vargo Hoat. After this, however, her words become more cryptic unless you've read the books before. The words, once muddled during the first read, become crystal clear: She is telling them of the Red Wedding, soon to come. The wolf howling in the rain with grief is Grey Wind; the clangor is the music played at the wedding; the screams obviously of the dying at said wedding; and the sad sound of little bells refers to Lord Walder Frey's jester Aegon, whose throat Catelyn slits before getting her comeuppance (that was naughty of me). The Ghost of High Heart goes on to give us a vision of Sansa Stark with the hairnet with poison in it, and later of her building the castle of snow at the Eyrie (the giant being that doll, I suppose - though it could possibly also refer to Sansa's eventual victory over Littlefinger). Obviously then, if we take into account what Bran Stark learns in A Dance with Dragons, the Ghost has used these weirwood stumps (a stump should be enough, then) to see to other places and other times. And then she turns her eyes on Arya and bids her step forward.

"I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death..." This is such a great line of doom. It fits Arya Stark well, of course, especially with her involvement with Jaqen. "You are cruel to come to my hill," the Ghost tells Arya which is unfair because it's not like Arya wants to be here, why hasn't she seen that in her visions? Then, the cryptic "I gorged on grief at Summerhall (...)" and I'm like WTF BABY. What was the Ghost doing at Summerhall, the Targaryen summer residence? Which apparently burned down? "Begone from here, dark heart!" the Ghost exclaims, all pompous (but I like it). Lord Beric assures her they will take her away in the morning, to Riverrun and her mother. Oh, look at that. The Ghost confirms for me that Thoros is indeed using the flames (and not the weirwood stumps - only his contact with the Red God is broken here because the place belongs to the Old Gods). The Ghost tells them that Catelyn is not at Riverrun, but at the Twins for a wedding. Convenient! Now they don't have to travel all the way to Riverrun to find it empty.

With that, the Ghost wants her song, the song about Jenny. Is the Ghost of High Heart in fact Jenny? Who knows? The sky opens, lightning cracks and thunder rolls, and the rain falls in blinding sheets - even though we had it confirmed that it rains below the hilltop - it's crown is above the clouds? Hoho! I noticed a discrepancy!

The chapter has more mysteries to throw at us though. Even if the visions presented by the Ghost are easily accounted for now, the next set is about stuff we're still waiting to have answered. I'll deal with the rest of the chapter later today, as for now, the Lady of the House has determined that my body is in need of exercise and so we will go skiing (cross-country) through landscapes eerily reminiscent of the lands beyond the Wall. Always inspiring. If I meet an old crone with white hair and red eyes, I'm going to ask for the release date of The Winds of Winter and bring it back to y'all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Alyn Cockshaw is Coming

Another evening in the Castillo. Darkness has crept down from the mountain, and while the days are clear and fairly warm, the nights still belong to winter. During the day, the massive amounts of snow still clinging to the landscape melt, and then it freezes again during the night. It makes for some treacherous footing in the morning. But more importantly, that Tyrion II sample chapter only made me crave more and now I am right back into compulsive order mode, checking for news on The Winds of Winter and the series in general (which is how I found that theory about Euron Crow's Eye earlier today). 

There are many ways to get a fix, fortunately. I binge-watched Game of Thrones season one last week, and yesterday I fired up season two. I had completely forgotten the last scenes of the first episode ("The North Remembers"). It's without a doubt, in my opinion, the most morally reprehensible scenes in the series. Like I said when Arya had to see Robb's body riding around with Grey Wind's head attached, the writers are certainly upping the ante when it comes to the violence. They are even more sadistic than the old man himself, at times. Lest you forget, Janos Slynt wasn't exactly a stand up guy in the books but in the show they have him ruthlessly murder an infant. With a knife. While the mother watches. Riiiiight. That's so brutal I winced when it returned on my TV and it made me sick all over again. Not going to watch it again, it really disgusts me. I feel they could have been just a tad more insinuating about the whole thing. Also, not cool. So not cool I wish I never picked "Slynt" as my online moniker. Not that my second choice would have been better. I use it only in a few places. "Roose Bolton". I definitely don't want to be associated with a child murderer, though, so I suppose I have to visit a gazillion websites and change my nick. Still want an Ice & Fire - related nick, though. And I do always become more fascinated by the bad guys in stories for some reason (well, not Ramsay, because he's too scary). Of course I realize it doesn't matter if I call myself Slynt or whatever, but before the TV show he was a minor character most normal people don't know, but now he's all over TV screens around the world knifing babies and I hate that. 

So I guess "Slynt" is out, and some other minor character with less baggage is in. Alyn Cockshaw, perhaps. Fairly unknown, at a guess. 

The rest of the episode, and "The Night Lands" (episode two) and "What is Dead May Never Die" (episode three) are pretty good on a re-watch, though. I remember how much I disliked this season the first time around, now I enjoy it a lot. I find myself liking the portrayal of Asha Greyjoy a lot, even though she's quite different from the books (even her name has changed), and Yoren of the Night's Watch too. Hot Pie's good too. Beautiful scenery, it's nice to take the time to enjoy the details that rush by during the first frenzied viewing. It is really impressive, considering it's a TV show. I'm so ready for season four now. Wonder if they can drag Slynt's good name even further into the mud. 

[Speculation] A fun theory

[Spoilers and speculation for all books and future books]

I was browsing the Internet last night when I came across someone speculating about Euron Crow's Eye's role in the rest of the story of A Song of Ice and Fire. It was a post deep within a long thread and it seemed to be ignored by most people (maybe because it was kind of off-topic, it was about the Citadel of Oldtown and the maesters rather than Euron Crow's Eye) but I found it strange that people did not jump all over it, because it made so much sense.

So I'm not taking any credit for this idea, but it was so good I'm putting it up here so I can hopefully remember it for when my re-read finally takes me to the Iron Islands and the depraved family of Theon Greyjoy.

So the idea is basically that Martin is setting up Euron Crow's Eye as a character who will hatch dragons of his own. Yes! It sounds all kinds of out there, but the text does support it. It all seems to match up, and is now one of my favorite theories for the future of the story (not that I'm a big fan of Euron or anything, I just felt like it 'clicked'; it seems that Mr. Martin is indeed setting this up) - and what clinched it for me, was that in a recent interview, Martin said that it is known that dragons can kill dragons. Yes, most people assume he is referring to his novella, The Princess and the Queen....but is he?

The fellow/fellowine who posted it goes by the name tjm335, so all honors to you. Here's what was posted:

I had a theory, which may or may not be crazy, but here it goes:
We know:
-Maesters have an obsession with eradicating dragons.
-Dragons are powerful and dangerous.
-Dragons hard hard to tame.
-Dragon Eggs are rare, valuable, and can be hatched (which specific methods work we do not yet know)
-Euron Greyjoy is obsessed with dragons
-Euron Greyjoy left his post on the Shield Islands to head to Oldtown.

We suspect:
-According to the popular opinion the faceless man Jaqen H'ghar was the Alchemist in Old Town in the prologue of book three, and thusly assumed Pate's identitiy in Sam's last chapter. Jaqen (if it is indeed him) therefore is in posession of a secret key.
-Balon Greyjoy died quite suddenly, and some suggest Euron hired a FM to take him out to pave his way to kinghood.

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, heres my theory:
The Citadel has a stash of something wich they need to keep under lock and key. It is so secretive that only the Archmaesters have a key to open it. I think that their great secret is a hidden cache of dragon eggs. They have probably hunted down all the dragon eggs they could get their hands on, so they could not be hatched. Euron, through his great travels has heard tales of this, and concocts a plan to raise a fleet of dragons. To do this he contacts the greatest assassins in the land: the Faceless Men. Therefore, Jaqen will pilfer the key (as he has), stay undercover until Euron arrives, and then give him the key. The result? Euron Greyjoy owns a bunch of eggs which he may be able to actually hatch.

Sorry the post is so long, and is sort of off topic, but I think it sort of applies here. Please discuss.