Wednesday, March 26, 2014

[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.

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