[This post contains spoilers for A Dance with Dragons. Be forewarned!]
I watched Jack the Giant Slayer yesterday; fantasy films are few and far between, but I found some time last night to give it a go. I wasn't impressed by anything, really; some of the wide shots perhaps. I did like the care-free fairy tale presentation and I am sure kids will gobble it up, but for an old grognard like myself there has to be some potent characterization, obviously. Anyway, the one thing I did enjoy more than anything was John Ottman's score. It has been a while since I've heard a decent score that I can use for roleplaying games, but this one had it all: soaring epic, suitably dark moments, and heart-lifting pieces (though the characters in my game, like the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, seldom get those scenes). So I was more listening to the movie than watching it, picking it out pieces of music and re-imagining them for roleplaying scenes. It also reminded me that I haven't really listened to Game of Thrones: Season Three's soundtrack yet but I have a feeling it's possibly the best out of the three. And in two weeks' time, we'll have a fourth. So now, as I delve into chapter forty-one of A Storm of Swords, Bran III, I'm listening to John Ottman's Jack the Giant Slayer score and enjoying Martin's prose. With a cup of coffee and the morning sun shining in through the window. I like these geeky moments. Another such moment occurred when I changed my re-read banner, I like to mix it up, what can I say? "Let's see what Bran Stark's up to", for example. At the Tower of the Hand (the fan website, not the one in King's Landing), which keep a rather detailed overview of all chapters in all books, this chapter is ranked 7.59 overall, which I suppose is quite good, but not fantastic either. However, the previous chapter, which I rather like, is ranked even lower.
Martin launches straight into a description of the locale that will provide the setting for this chapter. Through Bran's eyes, we see a tower upon an island. The introductory description is one of serenity, and I love it not just for its pastoral atmosphere, but also because it links Bran Stark's character to that which has to do with the earth: "When the wind blew, ripples moved across the surface of the lake, chasing one another like boys at play. Oak trees grew thick along the lakeshore, a dense stand of them with a litter of fallen acorns on the ground beneath." Now, I don't know how thoroughly Martin works on his allusions in his prose, but to me these two sentences hold a few deeper meanings (at least, that's how I chose to read it). First, I like how Bran thinks of the ripples in the waters at "boys at play" - Martin reminding us that Bran is a young boy, and that he yearns to be a normal boy who can play with other boys, but he can't because he's broken - it gives the sentence a depth of melancholy, lovely as that also fits the autumnal mood. Second, we have oak trees growing thick, which is closely related to where Bran ends up in A Dance with Dragons, literally speaking, and third there are the "fallen acorns" which I feel symbolize Bran in the way they can sum him up from his fall from the tower in Winterfell to becoming part of nature (kind of) below the ground. Yes. I might read too much into these sentences. But Martin writes it in such a manner that he invites you to go deeper. There is meaning where you want it to be, and you can never be sure whether Martin intended these lines to so closely match Bran's arc, but there they are.
Next, we're told there's a village here as well. I didn't remember there was a village here as well, I only
Bran has the urge to "slip inside" Summer's skin to chase deer, but Meera Reed waves the group on toward the shore. It's one of many moments where one could wonder if Bran is becoming more feral, or if he is simply having problems resisting the seduction of being able to move about freely. It is Rickon who's the wild one, so I am thinking Bran is more tempted because of the freedom it would give him, not because he's growing more wild like his younger brother. We're given a quick rundown of the geography in the lands they now visit; from here to the Wall, they will face nothing but fallow fields and rolling hills, high meadows and lowland bogs; they have left the mountains behind (though I never got the feeling they were traversing mountains - was this in between chapters perhaps?) Bran gives us more exposition on the land, calling it the New Gift, and it belongs to the Night's Watch. He launches into some ancient history as well, presenting to us for the first time Queen Alysanne and her dragon Silverwing, who visited the Wall and the Night's Watch, and gave the Watch even more land to control.
Anyway, they begin to argue about whether going through Castle Black or not; Jojen says it is not safe, Bran wants to go there. It's really curious how often Benjen crops up now in this part of the chapter. Bran thinks of how he went missing. And then their discussion is interrupted when Jojen spies a rider.
Bran squints, and realizes it is a man on a horse, also called a rider. This one I love: "Hodor?" Hodor had put a hand over his eyes as well, only he was looking the wrong way. "Hodor?" Such a sweet little addition to the text. Meera realizes the rider is making for the village, so they decide to go inside to hide themselves from view. Bran reminds us and the Reeds that Summer is still gallivanting about with the deer near the village, but Meera assures him the wolf will be fine. Also, that suits the story better of course. And hey, look, it begins to rain as they go inside. There is a lot of rain in these books, especially Starks get more than their fair share of wet drops on their heads, when it isn't melting snowflakes or howling winds. Poor Starks. Always in the worst weather. But that's what you get when you constantly think winter is coming. Eventually it will come. Or so a man can hope *grumble*
Meera creeps out on her belly onto a north-facing balcony from the chamber on the fifth floor to spy on the
Bran can feel Summer being fearful, and opens his Third Eye, slipping into the direwolf; he finds himself in the rain, belly full of deer, cringing in a bush. He can sense men about, heards the clink of armor, sees men moving about.
And...oh! It's over already! That's weird. I swear I remembered this chapter going on for a while longer, but of course the scene will continue from Jon's point of view instead. And that's the next chapter. I like it when chapters are closely linked like this, which is a pretty rare occurence (is this the only time I wonder? No, there must be some of them in A Game of Thrones before characters are scattered across Westeros). But still, what a way to end the chapter. Martin builds up the tension brilliantly, and then... Summer smells the scent of fear and it's over. Ah, I can't complain, though, can I? The next chapter picks up right where this one ends. Unlike certain cliffhangers in later books where you have to wait years and years for the continuation. In conclusion, I like cliffhangers when I don't have to wait five years for a resolution, and I hate them with the passion of a waking dragon when I do have to wait.