Sunday, March 23, 2014

[Re-read] Daenerys IV: Sister

[Per usual, spoilers for all books in the series may appear]

Yes, I am excited about Game of Thrones Season 4. So excited in fact, that I've managed to cram in, at the expense of some sleep, a re-watch of the entire first season in the week that was. I was surprised at how many small scenes I had already forgotten, and how well put together it actually is. Back then I was focusing mostly on the "disturbances" if you will - King's Landing doesn't look like King's Landing!, Where is Jhalabhar Xho? Hey! Jaime and Cersei never had that scene on the balcony overlooking the Iron Throne!, and so forth, but this time I was able to relax and just enjoy what the show actually gives and it is actually the season that is the closest to its source material if I'm not mistaken. The actors lift the whole series, though, many of them making the characters truly come alive on the screen. I wonder if I can manage to sneak in a re-watch of seasons two and three before four is out. The few things that still stick out as a really sore thumb to me now are: The appearance of the Others, and the lack of splendor (due to $$$ of course) - the Tourney of the Hand feels like a small event, and Robert Baratheon's hunting Where is the entourage? Aiden Gillen as Littlefinger is finally starting to grow on me, though his character might just be the most mauled compared to the book version (but I'm sure there's a reason the show-runners do it their way).

A Storm of Swords chapter 43 takes us across the Narrow Sea and onto Essos again, it's kind of weird that Essos feels like this mega-continent and when you see Westeros next to it you almost get that feeling that Westeros is to Essos what Great Britain is to Europe. It's just the feeling, I know. I can't remember where I heard or read this, but isn't Westeros supposed to be the size of South America? If that is the case, then Essos is pretty huge, though. I'm not lying awake over this of course, but I've always found the distances suggested a bit hard to fathom. 

So, Daenerys and her crew, then. Slowly but surely she's gathering followers to her, much like the Charisma bonus works in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Kind of. There's - as I've mentioned earlier - something Messianic about her character in these early days of her adventures, and there's something almost Biblical about the places she visits what with the torture and abuse everywhere, yet come A Dance with Dragons Martin will take that trope and slap it in the face repeatedly over many a chapter. I like the intention, taking this character down a notch (same happens to Jon Snow who is too young for his command; which could be part of the problem Martin faced when he scrapped the five year gap - in fact, the drawn-out story-lines of both these characters, dare I call them Ice and Fire, may not have even have existed if there was a five year gap. Anyway, we're not there yet but I am looking forward to re-reading the fifth book now that I've had some time to wise up and listen to some constructive voices; and find that I like trying to like ADWD. I've been re-reading some chapters here and there I admit. One thing I think makes it so hard to really like AFFC and ADWD has unfortunately to do with the Long Waits. The previous three books' story have become so ingrained into my conscious that the two latter books with their delays feel as if they "don't belong" to the "trilogy", if you know what  I mean. It's kind of hard to explain, too. It's like it becomes awkward when it's not entirely like the three first books, in a way. Ah, forsooth! Let's just read Daenerys. The more I re-read A Storm of Swords and see the early connections to certain plot points in books four and five, the more hopeful I become that I can end up seeing all the five books as one whole, as it should be.

"A Targaryen's Destiny" © Fantasy Flight Games
Oh, look, Mr. Martin has finally updated his Not A Blog. I was curious about this, because there's been so much back and forth between him and HBO on the number of seasons for Game of Thrones. They're probably best friends, but when they say different things in media interviews one begins to wonder...anyway, I did not really expect him to give an update on this, I rather expected him to come with a post that has nothing to do with anything and just pretend that last week's buzz didn't happen. And I was right (although I predicted a post regarding Wild Cards) - an exciting new post about the NFL is up for you to enjoy.

Quoth George R.R. Martin:
All in all, considering what the Jets have done this pre-season, I have only two words:

Said I, arrogant entitled consumer:
All in all, considering all we've learned about your progress on The Winds of Winter this season, I have only two words:

And now, for really reals, without further ado! Back to Essos and the Mother of Dragons! Sometimes I just really go on a digressionary trip. I apologize. Is is the nature of the ahem dragon.

The chapter opens with Daenerys and Ser Jorah Mormont riding through a birchwood forest (not often those kind of woods are mentioned in the series, but good to see birch represented) and then up a sandstone ridge. On the crest, they stop and watch across a field, where there is an army - a Yunkish host, to be more specific. Fun adjective, "Yunkish". Like slang for "like genitalia". Those tight swimming trunks make you look a little Yunkish. Not the strongest opening of a chapter in this book, Dany remembers how Whitebeard taught her how to 'best count the numbers of a foe'. I hope it wasn't counting on your fingers, because this Yunkish host counts five thousand soldiers. More specifically, according to Mormont who really knows a whole deal about the various cultures of Essos (how long has be been here anyway? I have to look that up...), there are Yunkish soldiers in the middle and mercenaries on the flanks - the Second Sons on the left wing and the Stormcrows to the right. One fifth of the host, then, is composed of sellswords. 

Daenerys wonders if it will be a difficult fight if she chooses to go in, and Ser Jorah replies that it will be an easy - but not bloodless -victory for her. She decides to invite the Yunkish for a parlay come the evening, because "slavers like to talk" (kind of a weak reasoning if you ask me, but hey, it moves the plot forward), and she also wishes to invite the captains of the two mercenary companies (but not at the same time - I like how Martin doesn't tells us why, but let us speculate for ourselves to come up with the most plausible reason, that she can play them better when they are not together). She is confident they will come not only because slavers like to talk, fortunately - they will obviously be curious about the dragons she's got with her - and she assumes they will wish to gauge her strength, after all, news of the fall of Astapor has reached Yunkai, since they have assembled a host to meet her. Not nearly as interesting from a logistical point of view as the troop movements, supply trains and battles on Westeros, it's all a bit simpler in Essos. I assume this is simply because Martin has a much firmer grasp on European medieval history, and Essos is far more "made-up", a mishmash of Middle-Eastern cultures, distinct and exotic, yes, but the veneer feels thinner, if you know what I mean. 

Daenerys returns to her host (the text never specifies whether Ser Jorah accompanies her back) and we're given a brief overview of her camp. She encounters Grey Worm, who is now the highest ranking of the Unsullied (voted by the Unsullied themselves, so he's probably a frighteningly good warrior ... and definitely not Yunkish ahah...). He tells her the Unsullied thirst for blood, and she in turn tells him that the "Wise Masters" have assembled a slave army to face them. It seems that the Yunkai's slaves are mostly enslaved for whoring and not fighting, so this should be one magnificently one-sided battle, or that is at least the impression Martin seems to want to make on us. Both Ser Jorah and Grey Worm have already commented on the fact that Yunkai slaves are good lovers, not good fighters. Martin slips in some quick exposition on the Unsullied and how they used to draw new names every day, but Daenerys has abolished this custom. Grey Worm kept the name he drew the day he was freed by her, which is nice. Daenerys tells him to spare any slave who yields, so she can grow her own army. Before leaving him, she tells him she wants him present when she is going to treat with the mercenary captains of the Stormcrows and the Second Sons. 
Relatively straight forward bits so far, with no subtext I am aware of. But then I sometimes don't see trees in the woods.

There's some explanation as to how many freed folk of Astapor decided to follow her army, and that she had left that city in the hands of a council of former slaves (I guess we can file that fact away for A Dance with Dragons). Seems that those who joined her are quite useless though: Only one in a hundred has a donkey, camel or ox; and only one in ten is strong enough to fight. However, she can't bring herself to refuse them to come with her, which proves burdensome. And it proves, silver lady, that you do have a gentle heart. Sick burn baby! So she has the best and the worst all in the same army. 

Whitebeard stands outside the entrance of her tent, and Strong Belwas is eating a bowl of figs nearby. The two of them are her bodyguards now, having sent Jhogo, Aggo and Rakharo off to lead the Dothraki horsemen. She goes inside the tent and says to Whitebeard that Yunkai will have war, which feels a little sloppy to me because Whitebeard is still standing outside. I know tents don't muffle sound that much but it feels off. Anyway, the tent is full of people and legendary monsters - Irri and Jhiqui have covered the floor with carpets, Missandei has lit a stick of incense, Drogon and Rhaegal are snoring atop some cushions, and Viserion is there too, awake. Missandei explains to Dany that the Yunkai'i speak a different dialect than Astapor's but it's still Valyrian. Another sloppy bit when Missandei tells Dany that the slavers of Yunkai name themselves "Wise Masters" and Daenerys goes all "Wise?" when the slavers have in fact already been called Wise Masters earlier in this chapter. Boo/hiss! Oh wait. She is being scornful. Still. A little bit sloppy, then. "We shall see how wise they are," she continues. I like it. Cliché thing to say, no doubt, but effective. Shows us that Daenerys isn't taking no for an answer anymore. She's tough. A warrior queen. 

And now begin the impossible-to-remember-names-of-Essos...oh no! Hope I can keep them all apart. It gets worse in A Dance with Dragons, I don't think there's too many strange names in this book, but here we have one, as Ser Jorah enters the pavilion bringing along three Stormcrow captains. One of them belongs in the category "Names I Never Remember" - Prendahl na Ghezn. He's a thickset Ghiscari with a broad face and dark hair going grey. The two others are Sallor the Bald (not that I remember his name before getting to this chapter again lol) and, of course, the one and only inimitable Daario Naharis. I like to pronounce his name with a certain Italian or Spanish or what have you accent. Possibly one of the characters that most divide readers when it comes to their opinion of him, Game of Thrones - fans coming to the books will be in for a surprise when they read his initial description: "Daaro Naharis was flamboyant even for a Tyroshi. His beard was cut into three prongs and dyed blue, the same color as his eyes and the curly hair that fell to his collar. His pointed mustachios were painted gold. His clothes were all shades of yellow; a foam of Myrish lace the color of butter spilled from his collar and cuffs, his doublet was sewn with brass medallions in the shape of dandelions, and ornamental goldwork crawled up his high leather boots to his thighs. Gloves of soft yellow suede were tucked into a belt of gilded rings, and his fingers were enameled blue."! That is quite the colorful, glaring guy. He makes Tom Bombadil look positively drab in comparison. Crispy. Now, I do like Daario Naharis as a character (his personality, his skill, his somewhat duplicitous nature - I am sure he is one of the betrayers Daenerys will face, but more on that later) but I think Martin went a little overboard with the colors here. He's like a beacon the way he dresses. He really likes to be noticed then. By the by, I feel like I am the only fan of the series who actually thought Ed Skrein's role in season three was top notch. I would rather have him continue the role in season four, but he's been, as you already know, been replaced by my Dutch brother Michiel Huisman. Huisman's a great actor, but I'd prefer Skrein, I thought he did a good job and he had that scoundrelly smile that made me believe this was a fellow Daenerys could be blinded by (a bit Han Solo-like perhaps, only more brutal) - without the need for flamboyant clothing and gold-tipped mustachios. Huisman looks more plain, and I think Daario should have a little more flash, because that's Daario, and hence...Skrein was a good choice. So there.

It's nice with some opposing characters for Daenerys to deal with, as that gives us more interesting dialogue and of course we're curious how this all we be resolved - will she fight the Yunkai and bleed? I love how she makes herself less threatening when she says to Prendahl, who speaks for the three, "I am only a young girl and do not understand the ways of war (...)" but she seems to forget that she just conquered Astapor the other day. They argue for a while, but Prendahl is a rude man who doesn't seem to want to listen to Daenerys' proposal (she even suggests that the Second Sons will change sides even though she hasn't had any dealings with them yet), even going so far as to tell her he will breed her to his stallion, which makes Strong Belwas angry of course, but she keeps her smile on her face, telling Prendahl that he should tell his men what she's offered, in case any of them are smarter than him (at least, that's the implied meaning here). "Our answer is no," Prendahl concludes the meeting and they leave, but Dany notes that Daario glances back as he leaves and gives her a polite nod. 

See, now the TV show has me all confused about who's who. I was sure Prendahl was in the show, but that was Mero, called the Titan's Bastard. They mixed the two mercenary force into one, didn't they? Because Daario in the show is a Second Son along with Mero. Bah! It's the Titan's Bastard who, in the series at least, is the crude dude who's really rude. Let's see how rude he is in the book. Phew, at least I figured it out. So Daenerys is trying to set these two companies up against each other, whereas in the show for obvious reasons they kept it to one mercenary company to avoid confusion. Damn! First time I've gotten confused because of the show I believe. And thoroughly at that! I bow my head in shame (and point one finger toward Yunkai). Okay, rudeness, here we go: I can only laugh as Mero launches straight into said rudeness: "I believe I fucked your twin sister in a pleasure house back home. Or was it you?" It's comedy rudeness, really. Can't take the man seriously at all. Daenerys remains icy calm, though. I bet she would love to hit him in the brains, though. As in the show, Mero is quite confident of his own capabilities and sexual charisma. Daenerys begins asking him the same question she asked the captains of the Stormcrows, to gauge him and his mercenaries, it's quite nice actually with these two separate meetings. It shows some of the ingenuity Dany has acquired. From somewhere. Not her golden-crowned brother.
She tries to convince him to join her side, offering her more payment than what he receives from Yunkai, and Mero admits she is worth fighting for, but he's already pledged his sword to the Yunkai'i. Also, he tries to get her to promise him some sexy time (which is all kinds of awful when you remember how old Dany is in the books); Ser Jorah does not like this, Dany notes - this talk of course, a hint right there, Daenerys. Mero manages to secure himself a whole wagon of fine wine from Daenerys' war-loot, though. Kind of a smart, if spontaneous, move by Daenerys there. I mean, if she has to fight the Titan's Bastard (great nickname by the way), she might as well give them a bad hangover. 

Whitebeard warns her after Mero leaves - "That one has an evil reputation, even in Westeros" - so he's quite the famous bad guy, then. Ser Jorah agrees. 

In the evening, the Yunkai slavers arrive, fifty men on black horses and one on a great white camel. And here comes Names Not to be Remembered #2 riding into the saga: Grazdan mo Eraz, lean and hard. Oh, Kraznys too has a difficult name but he was kind of the only one for a while and so he's remembered. Anyway. He looks crazier than Daario fashion-wise but has an eloquent tongue, speaking beautifully of the proud city of Yunkai, telling Daenerys she won't find easy conquest here (like she did in Astapor, I assume he is implying). They discuss a little back and forth, Grazdan coming with veiled threats, then trying to bribe her with fifty thousand golden marks. She slams the chest shut, presumably offended by the offer, and tells him she has an offer for him as well - Yunkai must free all its slaves and send them out of the city, and then and only then Daenerys shall not attack the city.

You know, the whole "Daenerys doesn't like slavery and is going to do something about it" - angle I never really caught on previous reads as such a big part of her storyline. I always kind of thought that these cities were in her way as she moved toward her ultimate goal, but that's kind of silly so boo me for not noticing this really until the TV show made it clear how much she despises slavery. Of course, Dany has been a slave in theory all her life so it's all in good character for her to want to try and liberate, ah, Essos from slavery. To this, Grazdan can only reply that she must be mad. It is quite a demand. 
Is this the chapter's first could-there-be-more-to-this moment? Because, as we know, whenever a Targaryen is born a coin is flipped, and they come out either mad or brilliant (or some such), and we've never been quite sure about Dany have we? And here we have someone state it openly - "I say, you are mad." Maybe she'll get crazier and crazier, like her father, the Mad King himself? I wonder what Dany would think of those rather disgusting long fingernails her father had. Eew! Anyway, Daenerys means business and she lets her dragons fry the fellow just a little bit. This leads to the first soiling of pants in a while. Pretty embarrassing to let yourself go like that in front of the enemy commander. Oh well. It also pisses him off, but Daenerys is hard and strong, and keeps up her stern voice and warns the slave master that he has three days to deliver her the slaves. If not, there will, you guessed it, fire and blood. And probably more soiling.

It's such a brilliant move when, as a pitch black night falls, Dany summons her bloodriders and once they and her captains are assembled in her pavilion, she tells them they will attack one hour after midnight. A brilliant move both by Daenerys and by the author - because the tension kind of leaks away once the last emissary has departed her pavilion, and you're three days away from action, and then, KABOOB, nope, the attack is tonight, better get ready for action. Ser Jorah Mormont scowls, clearly not as quick on the uptake as he sometimes can be. Indeed, the Stormcrows "will be arguing about my offer. The Second Sons will be drunk on the wine I gave Mero. And the Yunkai'i believe they have three days." Yes, Daenerys seems to be as brilliant and ruthless a commander as Lord Tywin Lannister here. A little mad and a lot of brilliant, then? She repeats how she is only a young girl and knows little of war, it comes across as a bit cheesy, but Ser Jorah's comment weighs up for it: "I think you are Rhaegar Targaryen's sister," he says. However, wasn't he a peaceful nerd who only late in life decided to become a warrior? Or was it the other way around? Oh, that Rhaegar. Always lingering in the background, ghostly. The most dangerous part of her plan is of course that it's a really dark night. Kind of hard to fight without light. Night battles must be very risky, so I find it strange that no one objects to her plan, if only to give it realism.

Anyway! Daario Naharis is caught as he tries to sneak into camp (did he let himself be caught on purpose, I instinctively ask myself) and he is brought before her. She thinks of how different Daario and Ser Jorah are, and to sum it up, Ser Jorah might be glad he can't read thoughts. Daario tells her happily that the Stormcrows are hers, and then proceeds to empty a sack, and out spill the heads of Prendahl and Sallor the Bald (well, this at least was pretty close to what we saw in the show and I'm back on track). Viserion decides to fry Prendahl's head and the other two dragons stir at the smell of roasted meat. Mmm... Daario seems oddly comfortable around the dragons, Dany notes. Daario admits he killed the two other captains, and speaking of madness, his reasoning is that Daenerys is so beautiful. When Daario further boasts of himself, he says this little curious line: "(...) and the days that I have lived are as numberless as the stars in the sky." He is a real braggart, this fellow, but this particular line strikes me as rather odd even within context. Could he be some sort of ancient? Or is it just crap he's spouting. Probably the latter. Dany laughs at him, though, liking him more than most readers (I almost wrote raeders which would be the word for a Targaryen bookworm I suppose). He offers his service to Daenerys pompously and probably infuriating Ser Jorah who really doesn't need competition. Want competition I mean. 
"My sword is yours. My life is yours. My love is yours. My blood, my body, my songs, you own them all. I live and die at your command, fair queen." 
Just how beautiful is Daenerys supposed to be anyway? I've always thought there was something fishy about Daario's utter dedication, and knowing how much scheming there is in the series, it's hard to believe Daario is honest. Love Ser Jorah's cold hard stare. Martin doesn't need to elaborate.
Ser Jorah tries to dissuade her from trusting Naharis, but hey: He has blue eyes. 
Here begins Daenerys' descent from fearless warrior queen of the east to infatuated teenage girl. Right here! "Even his beard wears false colors," Ser Jorah says. Yeah, I don't trust him either, Ser, but I am not entirely sure I trust you either. None of you are worthy Daenerys Targaryen. She needs someone kind, someone who can comfort her, Samwell Tarly, I suppose.
Daenerys gets angry at Ser Jorah for his constant misgivings about everyone but himself. I suppose it hurts when she calls him a "better brother than Viserys ever was". Not what he wants to hear, Khaleesi!
He's woken the dragon, she thinks after she has dismissed him...and this is the first time she uses the words her brother Viserys always used when he got angry. I like that development from a story-telling perspective. No matter how stupid he was, they still share the same genetic material and as such there must be some similarities between them. Also, it contrasts so nicely with Mormont's comment about Rhaegar: When she's being all strategically minded and cool and commanding, she's Rhaegar's sister, but when she gets angry here and Ser Jorah wakes the dragon...well, she is Viserys' sister. A little of both, then? Mad and brilliant? I like to believe that is what Martin is getting at in this chapter (in addition to the bare plot). 

And now I must make an end to this post prematurely (again) - it's a long chapter, though I'm more than halfway through, but I'll finish it up tomorrow. Eyes almost closed as I type these words..z... zzz.. Dany will dream of a flamboyant Tyroshi tonight, and I will dream of having three dragons of my own, taking them to the mailbox and saying Dracarys! to have them incinerate the bills that no doubt are waiting there...

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