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.

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