Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Star Wars Brainmelt

When I went online half an hour ago I didn't expect to get all hyped up, but there it is: the cast for Star Wars: Episode VII has been announced.
Remembering all too well how the prequel trilogy took way too much of my brain capacity (I kept making up my own versions of what I thought would be a better backstory, I spent countless hours on the net discussing, etc.), remembering how incredibly frustrating it was to see the original trilogy tainted and there was nothing I could do about it, I know I must stay cool and not get overly excited.
But then they slap me with the return of Luke, Leia, Han, the droids and Chewie. How can I not get riled up? It's the biggest news. And though I *know* it will be a frustrating experience I will probably just get more excited. 
- Already it seems that we are getting a stale story - I base this mostly on what kind of roles J.J. Abrams needed for the script and the fact they are going back to Tatooine again - and it will probably be aimed at a new generation, not old nerds like myself who still hold that Han shot first and who loved the subdued Jedi roles in the classic films and hated the silly acrobatics in the prequels.

I wouldn't mind having a seat here. Just seeing Mark, Harrison, Carrie, Peter, Anthony and the new cast including fricking Max von Sydow and Andy Serkis...HOLY FECULENCE PEOPLE!

Yet, yet...Star Wars has been the big love since I was seven, it has always been with  me. I used the originals as therapy dammit. I know the answers to all the questions in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit without time to consider, dammit. And now they are going to shoot a sequel to Jedi dammit.
And boy do I hate trying to type a post with a phone.

I think I need to go read some Ice & Fire. If Star Wars is my wife, then Ice & Fire is my mistress. :-p

Damn. Han Solo is coming back. I hope he goes down in flames, heroically, like he should have done in Jedi. Looking at the cast one CAN kind of see a parallel to the prequel cast: Han will be the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan of Ep7. Though I much prefer a story structure not similar to the existing episodes. But I guess Lucas has told Abrams to keep to the "symphony" and "rhythm" of the two existing trilogies. How did they get Harrison Ford to join this anyway? Has to be a good part. Now I have to stop. Can't take it. What if we get both The Winds of Winter and Episode VII next year? Brainmelt.


First Darth Whitewalker, now this.

Monday, April 28, 2014

[Game of Thrones] 4.4, "Oathkeeper"

[Better skip this post if you haven't seen the episode if you care]

Game of Thrones 4.4: Oathkeeper, then. So I sat down to watch it, knowing little of what to expect and not having read any reactions on any of the many dedicated fan sites. After seeing it, the episode and especially the ending kept lingering in my mind, and now, well ten hours later, the episode still won't let go. If the writers were worried that last week's scene between Jaime and Cersei was going to continue to be a hot topic, they don't have to worry anymore. Not that there wasn't some gratuitous raping going on in this episode as well. But when Darth Maul himself returns from the dead (and the freezer), you know people will have something new to discuss - which I found out quick enough when I went to check out the reactions to the episode at Tower of the Hand, Winter is Coming (obviously) and even Westeros. And it is not at all surprising that people are excited, upset, and debating this week's episode and especially that last scene. What I didn't expect was to see people stating that this episode was a real deviation from the books, as if the previous episode was much better. Maybe it's just me, but I found there to be far more similarities to the books in this episode, only perhaps it was overshadowed by everything at Castle Black basically being not in the books. And I don't know if I liked the changes or not. On the one hand, the scenes in the North had some fantastic acting by Burn Gorman as "Karl", instantly entering the top ten list of most despicable villains in the series, and any scene where a baby is not having a good time gives me the fucking chills all over and not in a good way, and I can see why they chose to have Bran and company meet up there. On the other hand, it is rather ridiculous that these idiots at Craster's Keep managed to imprison Ghost (the only counter argument that makes some sense might be that someone managed to imprison Grey Wind as well - and that Nymeria needed only a rock to her head to yield), and the CGI monster scenes became, for me, too over the top (but I felt the same way about the ending of season two, for example) - the dragons usually look great in the show, but the Others / White Walkers always look like crap, which is a shame. They aren't much horrific at all the way they are portrayed - but maybe that's the point. 

Actor of the episode!

Anyway, this episode belonged to Ser Jaime Lannister anyway. All his scenes were great, and my top three scenes of the episode were all with him: His visit to Tyrion in the cell, where the story is at its most humane and realistic - a total contrast to the cartoon ending. In the books it is easier to accept the supernatural elements because they are usually confined to certain chapters; for example, I totally believed in the Others when they appeared in A Game of Thrones' prologue, and while there's always a somewhat jarring contrast when you read about the politics in King's Landing in the next chapter, the jarring effect is tenfold when shown in relatively quick scenes. It's like someone taped over the last ten minutes of your Braveheart VHS copy with a scene from a monster film. 
After the cell scene with Tyrion, I really enjoyed Jaime and Bronn saying goodbye to Brienne and Pod. A very nice scene, with real emotions that came across. For the third scene, I just can't dislike Bronn and Jaime's interaction no matter how it never happened in the books. 

It was a nice change to have an episode start in Essos, though, I have to admit. Though the Grey Worm/Missandei-scene felt completely unnecessary to me, the following sequence with Grey Worm leading Unsullied into Meereen to hand the slaves of the city weapons was well directed and written. Still, the Essos scenes took more than ten minutes, and had I been on the writer's team I'd ditch Grey Worm/Missandei for an instant, as they are secondary characters at best. Loved the Targaryen flag draped over the Harpy though, even though the CGI was very apparent here. Those precious first minutes with Grey Worm and Missandei could have been used to give us something more from the book, if you ask me. 

Sansa and Littlefinger's scene aboard the ship was good, although it still seems as if Aiden Gillen feels really uncomfortable playing Littlefinger; he's better than he was in the previous episodes (he doesn't sound so overly evil this time) and Sansa is beginning to learn to play the game of thrones, which is good. It was about time she had some nudge toward her arc. Nice to see her in a different place, too. Littlefinger's implied lust for Sansa is well played - and that last line of Tyrion before this scene is just goosebumps. So Sansa hasn't killed anyone...yet. Sounds like clear foreshadowing to me.

Not sure we needed Olenna Tyrell to rehash the information we already got in the previous scene, but I know the books fairly well - for new viewers it might be necessary. I believe it was a smart choice to give people the answer to the mystery of Joffrey's murder in this episode, because it really isn't that important who did it; the important thing is that Tyrion is incarcerated for it, and Cersei wants Sansa arrested, so that two new plot lines emerge: Tyrion's trial and Brienne's quest. I'm also in the camp who just don't buy Anne Boleyn as Margaery Tyrell unfortunately. I know most fans think she's great, but to me there's something...off about her in this role. I don't know. Probably a matter of taste.

I like Jon Snow showing the new recruits - including that little boy who is guaranteed to replace the book's Satin character - love the actors playing Grenn and Pyp. Slynt's his usual nasty self, as is Thorne, and I totally understand why they put Locke in the Night's Watch - it adds tension. But can you imagine a A Storm of Swords with Vargo Hoat at Castle Black, slobbering all over Jon and Sam? To be honest I'm getting a little tired of Ser Alliser Thorne, he needs a few new insults for Jon. It's just "bastard" all the time. There's a short glimpse of Jon tending to swords which is reminscent of a scene from Game of Thrones 1.1 which is nice.

Jaime and Cersei have a scene, last week's altar debacle forgotten. I like their interaction but I wish we had a scene where Cersei tried to rekindle the flame before realizing she no longer loves Jaime (kind of like last week's scene then, but without the implications). No, seriously, the show feels more like A Feast for Crows than A Storm of Swords by this point, and I am not sure I like it. Not only does the story grow weaker (personal opinion!), it feels like the writers have skipped too much material from A Storm of Swords. Now, I'm all for them pumping out the story fast, as that may help us get The Winds of Winter...sometime...but...yeah. Their screwing with the timeline is not helping the show right now.

Tommen comes into his own, and every fan rejoices as Ser Pounce's cameo. Seriously, that cat owned the scene. Otherwise a fine little scene, and again a total contrast to the episode's end scenes. 

A Song of Ice and Fire?

But that Karl guy! The way his eyes flicker, that insolent look...he really is a nasty piece,well acted to be sure. Worse than Joffrey, if you ask me. I wish Bran Stark looked like he did in season 1, he was so cute and adorable then. Now he's this awkward teenager who doesn't look like cute adorable Bran Stark anymore.

And how that baby didn't freeze to death long before Rast put him on the forest floor, only the Old Gods know. 

And then come the final shots, and fans all over the Internet are gasping in shock as they witness the Heart of Winter - the fortress of the Others! I was like WTF WTF WTF like the rest of the fandom, and right after I just had to put on Immortal's "At the Heart of Winter" and try to grasp what I had just witnessed. Had the series gone into spoiler territory even for book readers? I do think that what is shown on screen has been implied in the books - that Craster's offerings - his sons - are the Others (or White Walkers dammit), and then we get Darth Maul appearing all white and blue-eyed and I was like WTF WTF WTF ALL OVER AGAIN and he puts his nail in the baby's face and the baby's eyes become White Walker-eyes and I was like WTF WTF WTF WTF and then I read that this might just be the Night's King but now it's not (HBO put up a description calling him "Night's King", then removed it) and I was like WTFH WTFH?! The implications here are just staggering. According to legend (in the books), the Last Hero rode out with twelve companions, and what do you know, here we have this Icy Sith Lord accompanied by twelve other Others. I really didn't like the look of that horned guy, was he the Great Other perhaps? Shit. Maybe I should stop watching now? It's also a bit disappointing that the Others reside at a rock not unlike the Fist of the First Men (although, this might suggest that the Fist and the Heart of Winter are similar "magical" locations) and have these strange crystals just handily protruding from the ground reminding me of Superman-movies. Some of the magic and mystery of the series has been stripped away, today. We still don't know the hows and whys, of course. How did Craster end up sacrificing his sons like this, and why do the Others not just take all the Wildling babies north of the Wall (or do they?), and why does the Other on the horse have such nice feminine boots? I liked that the reflection of the Other in the ice crystals was already shown in Bran's vision last time (or was it 2.2). 

The stronghold of the Others, as envisioned by Norwegian black metal prophets IMMORTAL way back in '99.

A very strange and jarring experience, these last scenes in the Land of Always Winter. I don't appreciate the look of the Others (and in particular, the horned one), and it is weird that this is how I get to know more about these beings after waiting for the answer since '00. I am interested to hear what George R.R. Martin and/or the writers will say about this material. Some people doubt its "canonicity"; I don't - it is such a vital piece of the plot line of the Others that Martin wouldn't let them get away with this if it isn't the way he wants it to be.

The episode once again reinforces, for me, the fact that what makes the series so fantastic to me, are the military and political conflicts between the noble Houses of Westeros, and not so much the supernatural elements - even though I'm a fantasy buff. Martin has made the medieval parts of his story so ridiculously compelling that the supernatural elements can't compete, not even the admittedly kewl dragons.

And poor Hodor. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!?!?!

Dammit, I am going to lose sleep over this episode tonight! They might not be telling the story I'd love to see (that is, the story as written), but they sure know how to make me want to see the next episode FASAP.

Something's wrong with the perspective here, but still it's a nice shot. I wonder what they eat there. Ice cream?

I just can't stop thinking of the implications of these last scenes, it's quite annoying to be honest. And I can't stop thinking about how they have gone well into books four-six territory while they could have kept the season to book three, part two. I miss you, Ghost of High Heart. I miss you, tomb of Tristifer. I miss you, ferry across the swollen river. I miss even you, Penny. All I can do is either stop watching and try to forget, or keep hanging on to this crack. I have a feeling I'll stay on. 

[Re-read] Catelyn VII: Yeah, it's *that* chapter

[Spoilers for everything, particularly everything you don't want to know if you haven't read this far]

It's that time of the week again - a new episode of Game of Thrones has aired, but just like last week I am avoiding all related Internet sites so that I can see it without having other people's thoughts about it running through my mind. I still don't know what to think about last week's entry, and I hope 4.4 Oathkeeper feels closer to the narrative of the books - though I know there have been warnings about a continued and increased divergence from the actual book the season is based on, which would be that lil' nice tome known as A Storm of Swords. I've come to Catelyn's seventh chapter (I wonder how coincidental it was that this chapter would be her seventh - I am sure a Septon would see it as a sure omen), the fifty-second in the book, and of course it's the infamous Red Wedding. What can be said about that wedding that hasn't been said a gazillion times before? I don't know, I'll give it a try. But before I start, here's some bread and salt for you. Go sit by the hearth-fire, to dry your soaked cloak. After all, it's been raining like never before or since in the history of fantasy literature.

"Frey Hospitality" © Fantasy Flight Games

Fourteen fricking years ago, and it's almost to the day as well, because I remember it was sunny springtime, and I was living in a dilapidated house somewhere in nowhere with a few other students. I was still a student back then, sigh. One of my roommates had recommended me the series earlier, and now I had come to the fifty-second chapter of A Storm of Swords. I had become deeply immersed in Martin's world. It was the first work I read in English. Before this, I had read The Lord of the Rings in Norwegian, and The Hobbit, and tried a few translated Dungeons & Dragons novels which I never finished. I remember I wasn't all that interested in tackling these books, but my buddy kept insisting I should, so I bought them, the original big Voyager UK hardcovers, and they still stand proudly on the shelf. By the time I reached this chapter, Martin had made me a voracious reader, and changed the way I ran my role-playing games. Gone were the goblins and throwing hammers of much smiting, replaced by devious characters, intrigue and murder, warfare and feudalism. With this chapter, he would further hammer home the fact that a few shocks here and there could really add to a story's tension (and only later have I learned to see how effectively he built up the Red Wedding; at the time, it did come as a hammer to the teeth).

So there I was, student who should be studying, curled up on the bed with this tome, and I was wondering what the heck was going on - re-reading sentences here and there to catch their meaning, and then, like so many others have done, I threw the book at the wall...only to pick it back up, to see if I got that correctly, and to see what the heck would happen now. Most of all, I felt a twinge of sadness for Arya Stark, who was so close by now, yet so far away. Just a twinge, folks, these are fictional characters. But still; no work before or after has moved me to throw it across the room, and though in hindsight I'd argue that this is the moment when the story loses some of its qualities (I'll get back to that), it is also the moment that made reading anything else...just not as much fun. Now, of course, the whole world knows about the Red Wedding, but back then it was a well-kept secret among fellow nerds, and we knew we were reading something special, but little did we know that thirteen years later, people would be filming their spouses as they watched the scene to catch their surprise. In the TV series, they upped the violence a notch, but it is still the book version that brings the feels, as we see the proceedings through Catelyn's eyes as her mental health deteriorates rapidly throughout the text until there is nothing left of her sanity. It's dark, it's horrific, it's awesome, and it was such a fresh breath / death, in effect launching the whole "gritty fantasy" thing (I am aware I am exaggerating a little, but this is how it feels), paving the way for other fantasy authors with a more cynical bent.

Best of all, in my humble opinion, is that Martin showed that you can write a series of books and have some of the main characters die, even this far in (though he did cheat a little with Catelyn, of course). To be honest I don't understand all the people claiming Martin kills off so many characters, because most of the fallen are minor characters at best, and really, we've only lost Ned Stark as a true major character. I can understand that some readers find it off-putting, but I prefer the perspective that you can lose characters if that's best for the story. That being said, I think Martin made a mistake in killing off Robb, Joffrey, and Tywin in this novel, as it means the glue holding together much of the first three books - the conflict between House Stark and House Lannister - is now gone, and leads to a wholly different story than what we might have had; this is of course purely a matter of taste: I always loved the conflict between the two Houses and the wars between the Young Wolf and Lord Tywin, and with this element gone and more focus on stuff elsewhere in the world, a little of the glowing interest waned. On the other hand I don't know how it all will end, but so far I haven't felt that the story from here on improved with the falls of Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister. It's a topic that requires its own post, I suppose. Of course, we wouldn't have such a provoking, evocative chapter without this toll. Also, Robb had it coming.

Martin launches straight into a headache with drums pounding along with Catelyn's head. The effective use of repitition (pounding, pounding, pounding) ensures that we get his point. Pipes are wailing and flutes are trilling, fiddles screech and Catelyn thinks to herself that Lord Walder Frey must be deaf to call this noise music. Of all the hints that something's wrong, this is the one I love the best, because it is both subtle and not so subtle. It is clear that the people playing aren't really the best musicians in the world, but you don't necessarily think of it as a hint when you read it the first time. When it turns out these guys molesting the instruments are actually hiding crossbows and are soldiers ready for ambush, you're like oooh... 

Catelyn drinks wine, watches Jinglebell prance to the sounds of "Alysanne", though she again notes the musicians play so badly she can't be sure that's the actual song being performed. We're reminded that it is still raining outside but inside the air is thick and hot, and the hall is filled up with wedding guests. She's on the dais (unlike in the TV series), placed between Ser Ryman Frey and Lord Roose Bolton,  and she's tired of their stink - Ryman stinks of wine and sweat, Roose of hippocras - a sweeter smell to Roose than Ryman, but no more pleasant, Catelyn thinks, the author gleefully putting in that good old message of not judging a dog by its hairs.  She also notes how Roose seems to lack an appetite, as the food presented isn't what you'd expect at such a wedding - another hint not taken. I mean, thin leek soup, cold mashed turnips, jellied calves' brains, stringy beef? Compare this to the seventy-seven courses in a later wedding and you're bound to realize Walder is being rather skimpy, but of course, this can be seen as a little insult from the lord of the Crossing. In a way, it makes the betrayal even more effective because you're thinking, "What a weasel this Walder is, treating his guests like this," and you're lulled into believing this is Walder's way of getting back a little at Robb breaking his agreement with House Frey, and you're happy that's it (like Robb, who pretends to be all happy about the food being given), and then WHAMMETYWHAM in your face bitch.

Edmure is totally lost in Roslin Frey, kissing and giggling and Catelyn is kind of annoyed that he was complaining all the way from Riverrun. Now, though, he's happy as a clam (or trout, I suppose) and has, by the looks of it, already fallen head-over-heels in love. It's sweet, and makes the upcoming betrayal that much more poignant. Masterful. However, Catelyn does note that Roslin's smile seems false, but she supposes Roslin isn't looking forward to the bedding. 

We learn that Robb has honored Walder's request of dancing with his daughters, and he has danced with each one, including Roslin and the eight Lady Frey, the widow Ami and Roose's wife Fat Walda, even the six-year old Shirei. She tries to talk to Ryman, but he isn't very companionable. If the food's bad, Walder has at least made sure there's enough alcohol provided (oh really!), which will make it all the easier of course for him to destroy the Starks. Some of his own brood are drinking heavily too, but of course the Freys outnumber the Starks so it doesn't really matter. She overhears Fat Walda talking to Ser Wendel, speaking of how everyone believed Bolton would choose Fair Walda as her bride, but he picked her because that would mean more silver for him, at which she laughs, showing that intelligence isn't one of her strong suits. There is a hint that Walda has slept with Bolton ("I'm Lady Bolton now and my cousin's still a maid (...)") which might suggest a baby Bolton in a future book. Which again suggests a conflict between Roose and Ramsay. 

"The Twins" © Fantasy Flight Games

Catelyn thinks it is a joyless wedding, then remembers her own daughter Sansa was married to Tyrion Lannister. Not that she was there to witness it, but she supposes it wasn't a very happy ceremony. Another note is made of how unskilled the musicians are - we get it now (but did I get it the first time?) A few more hours, and the worst will be over, Catelyn thinks, which is ironic as, at least for her, as her grief and pain and sorrow will continue to burn even beyond this wedding. The music is so loud she barely hears Jinglebells' bells as she thinks that Robb will win his battles and that Ned taught him well. So, how did Ned end up? Oh, right. Damn.

Martin loves to add detail here, to give us a real good insight into where everyone is seated, and what is going on. You could argue that adding a paragraph about two dogs falling upon each other over a scrap of meat doesn't advance the plot, but it adds to the atmosphere (aggression) and Lord Walder laughs at it (no compassion) - and one could argue that the two dogs, symbolically speaking of course, represent the conflict bubbling beneath the revelry. The dogs also lead Catelyn to think of Grey Wind, so that Martin can remind us once more that the direwolf isn't allowed inside the hall - Robb had protested the decision, but in the end Walder had won, having the best arguments (yes, really). Robb had been angry but complied, so here we are, and the fact that Grey Wind isn't around should be another nice little hint for the new reader that things might just go wrong. After all, we know that Grey Wind is protective of Robb.

The Greatjon is literally roaring drunk, creating dissonance when the musicans are playing "Flowers of Spring" while he is roaring "The Bear and the Maiden Fair". I like how Martin uses the music to give that sense of unease, of, indeed, dissonance. Without ever telling us something's wrong, things just feel wrong, and when Roose Bolton murmurs words too soft to hear and leaves to find a privy, a quick sentence just tucked in there, that sense of discomfort on Catelyn's behalf just increases. Apparently there's a second feast going on in the other castle, and she thinks that maybe some guests here are going there instead, in case it's more fun. Which it probably is. "The bastard feast" they call the party in the other castle, and we learn that Frey has provided enough wine and ale and mead for the common soldiers outside, as well. He wants them drunk, Catelyn, can't you see that?! Arf. 

Robb sits down in Roose's chair so he can have a chat with his mother. He soothes her, tells her it's soon done, then asks Ser Ryman Frey if Olyvar can continue to squire for him as he marches north. Ryman, however, replies, "No. Not Olyvar. Gone...gone from the castles. Duty," and the way Martin writes this line of dialogue is a way of showing Ryman being taken unawares, and he quickly has to make up an excuse, I love it. It adds to the unease, the feeling that something's going on that we're not seeing, and Robb seems to think Ryman is lying, though we don't know for sure because we're not inside Robb's head. Robb then asks Catelyn for a dance, but she declines. The musicians are playing "Iron Lances" now, while the Greatjon is singing "The Lusty Lad" - love the contrast between the song titles - another hint. Catelyn asks Ryman about Alesander Frey who is supposed to be a singer, and now Ryman begins to sweat and tells her Alesander's gone too, and he rises and leaves. Yes, Catelyn, you might just wonder why Alesander, who actually can sing, isn't present to sing....or you can just shrug it off and watch Edmure kiss Roslin, or watch Ser Marq Piper and Ser Danwell Frey play a drinking game, or watch Lame Lothar crack a joke, or watch your son lead Dacey Mormont in a dance. Sigh. 

Finally, Lord Walder Frey claps his hands and the noise from the gallery stops (finally - Martin writes it so vividly I can practically hear them play). He calls out to Robb, asks if it is time for the bedding. Frey men begin to bang their cups and shout "To bed!" Roslin goes white. This is so clever because Catelyn assumes the obvious, that the girl is afraid of the sexy time to come, yet she might just know that something else is going to happen. We're given a quick glimpse of Catelyn's own wedding night and we learn that Jory Cassell had actually torn her gown off, and Desmond Grell had made naughty jokes, and Lord Dustin upon seeing her naked had told Ned he really liked Catelyn's breasts. Dustin's dead, though. You'd think this little bit of information is there for the sake of world building, but lo! and behold, the Dustins make a comeback of sorts in A Dance with Dragons. Briefly she wonders how many of the men in the hall will be dead before the year is done, in the service of House Stark. It's so sadly ironic. Robb agrees to Walder's suggestion, and the hall roars in approval. The musicians begin to play "The Queen took off Her Sandal, the King took off His Crown" and Alyx Frey calls out, "I hear Tully men have trout between their legs instead of cocks", which is kind of rude if you ask me, "Does it take a worm to make them rise?" Obviously, Alyx is deep in his cups and has become bold. However, he gets an appropriate retort from Ser Marq Piper, and everybody laughs. Phew. And so Edmure and Roslin are carried from the hall. Others remain; Catelyn thinks that Robb might be insulting Walder by not joining the bedding, but she sees that there are more people not attending. And the drums are pounding again, pounding and pounding and pounding. And so everything begins to unravel before Catelyn's eyes.

Dacey whispers something to Edwyn Frey, but he wrenches himself away "with unseemly violence", telling her that he doesn't want to dance with her. A doubt grips Catelyn's heart, but she tells herself she must stop worrying so much. She decides to go after Edwyn, probably to ask him why he was so rude, but as she crosses the hall she hears the musicians on the gallery play "The Rains of Castamere". Edwyn is hurrying, but she catches up to him. And she feels iron rings beneath his silks. She slaps him hard, and realizes that Roslin wasn't weeping for her loss of virginity, and that the absence of Olyvar, Perwyn, and Alesander has another meaning. Catelyn is shoved aside, and suddenly Robb has a quarrel sprouting from his side. Another bolt pierces his leg; half the musicians - well, the half that aren't musicians - have their crossbows out now and are shooting down into the hall from the gallery. Chaos ensues. 

Smalljon Umber, heroically, flings a table over Robb to protect him; Robin Flint is butchered by an onslaught of daggers held by Freys; Ser Wendel Manderly gets a quarrel right in his mouth and out through the back of his neck; and Catelyn is hit and thrown to the floor as well, though she doesn't know what hit her - sounds like a quarrel. The Smalljon bludgeons Ser Raymund Frey with a leg of mutton, but is driven to his knees by a bolt. Catelyn thinks, In a coat of gold or a coat of red, a lion still has claws, which seems a little random perhaps, but allows the author to tell us, perhaps bluntly, that this treachery is Lannister-approved©. Gore flies, and we're given a few more descriptions of the fights going on. Catelyn cries for mercy, but isn't heard. Dacey Mormont gets an axe in her stomach; now we know why Martin spent a paragraph on her earlier in the chapter (when she danced with Robb), to make her death now feel more dramatic. The doors open, Catelyn rejoices as she recognizes the men streaming inside as northmen, but that hope is quickly dashed as one of them chops the Smalljon's head off. Not the Smalljon, you bastards! He was cool! 

In the midst of slaughter, the Lord of the Crossing sat on his carved oaken throne, watching greedily.

She decides to get hold of a dagger she spies on the floor and kill Walder Frey. Robb gets to his knees, looking a bit like Boromir when he was peppered with Orc arrows, and Lord Walder raises a hand. The music stops (but one drum, I wonder why Martin chose to let one drum continue to pound - maybe to keep the tension, the beat if you will, in the text?) She hears Grey Wind howling outside. 

"Heh", Lord Walder cackled at Robb, "the King in the North arises. Seems we killed some of your men, Your Grace. Oh, but I'll make you an apology, that will mend them all again, heh."

Catelyn grabs Jinglebell by the hairs and drags him out of his hiding place, shouting for Lord Walder. Enough, she tells him. Walder has repaid the betrayal with a betrayal of his own, now let it be. She pleads for Robb, her only living son, she swears they will not avenge themselves for this slaughter, just let him live...poor Catelyn. I think they realized this part very well in the TV series - the dialogue is almost exactly like it is in the books. Walder listens but isn't about to let Robb go. She presses the blade deeper into Jinglebell's throat, Ser Ryman and Black Walder circle behind her back. She is losing all hope now, she doesn't care anymore, she just wants Robb to live. She wants to trade the lackwit for Robb, a bad deal if there ever was one (I'd say the TV show's decision to have Catelyn hold Walder's wife instead gave it more punch). Walder tells her the lackwit was never much use anyway. A man in dark armor and a pale pink cloak steps up to Robb, tells him Jaime Lannister sends his regards, then thrusts his longsword through Robb's heart and twists (for good measure). Obviously, it is Lord Roose Bolton, but why doesn't Catelyn name him? Because she is losing her mind, perhaps? She begins to saw at Jinglebell's neck, such a vividly grotesque image right there as she does indeed lose her mind. Someone takes away the knife. It hurts so much, she thinks, and, fans of Weirwood Heart Trees take note, "The white tears and the red ones ran together (...)" She begins to scream madly, and then, just like that, someone says "Make and end", and someone cuts her throat (though she is worried they will cut her hair, further cementing her descent into madness).

Whew, and that was the red wedding! Not the cheeriest of chapters to read on a warm sunny day, but now I'm through it again. It doesn't evoke the same feelings it did the first time anymore, obviously, but I still find it a particularly strong chapter for the way Martin builds up the tension, and of course, the shocking and brutal end to it. There is little subtext beyond the Frey threat under everything, but that final mention of red and white blood does suggest some link to the Old Gods for Catelyn, as if they have accepted her as a Stark - or maybe it's just the author's way of telling us she dies like a Stark - to be resurrected in the name of the Lord of Light. I am rather curious about Lady Stoneheart's further role in the series, and hope to see her in The Winds of Winter. The Freys must pay.

I hope you enjoyed this week's Game of Thrones episode. I am looking forward to it. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

[Re-read] Arya X: Not a Stark in Sight

[Heed the call - spoilers abound]

Crusader Kings II: A Game of Thrones
Finally the makers of the excellent and impressive A Game of Thrones mod for the obtuse yet appealing game Crusader Kings II released a patch that allowed me to run the game with the mod again. It's quite a hefty modification to the game, requiring power like Cersei Lannister on wine. Having shed my former alter ego "Slynt" after he became over-the-top evil in the TV series, I have come to the conclusion that I better belong to House Mallister of Seagard. I grew up by the sea, I love the sound of the name Mallister, and they are actually on the good side (if there's a good side in Westeros, that is). And the man himself, who we saw briefly a few Catelyn chapters ago, seemed to be a good guy. Hence, I am playing Crusader Kings II: A Game of Thrones as, you guessed it, Lord Jason Mallister of Seagard. Heck, even their banner is cool. Their motto, "Above the rest" might sound a tad arrogant, but I can live with that. It's better than "We slaughter children without batting an eye". So, in the game, you can start in a few different time periods. I picked Robert's Rebellion, and the first thing I had to decide was whether to stay loyal to King Aerys Targaryen, or join the rebels against the Iron Throne. Well, seeing as Lord Jason is a vassal of Lord Hoster Tully, and Tully is a rebel, I didn't really feel I had a choice. Though it would be interesting to see how fast the river lords would decimate me if I chose to stay loyal.
The game is basically a map and a lot of screens filled with information, yet it is the kind of game that allows you to create your own histories, and there are no set victory conditions, making it a game with infinite replayability. Just now (I am playing as I write, two computers in front of me). Not much has happened in the first few years of my rule as Lord Jason, but one big thing that rewrites Martin's tale is that my son, Patrek Mallister, is betrothed to one-year old Lady Margaery Tyrell. Heh. I didn't expect Lord Mace to agree on the proposal. Viserys Targaryen might just never reach Pentos; he is imprisoned at Harrenhal. Alternative Westeros history rocks, when you're in the thick of it yourself. I highly recommend checking out Crusader Kings II with the A Game of Thrones modification. However, be prepared for a game that requires some work on your part. As a fan of Ice & Fire, its a feast. Pick any of several timelines, choose among countless characters to play (including a lot of fan-made, but they always sound like they belong to Westeros proper), its a great experience. The backside is it takes a lot of time, which I generally don't have. But popping in now and then for half an hour is nice too.

Arya X, then!
(c) Victoria Ying
In case you hadn't noticed, Arya is absolutely one of the stars of George R.R. Martin's saga. So far, she has had the most chapters in A Storm of Swords, with Tyrion and Catelyn still behind (and Jon Snow will eventually have as many chapters as Arya) - point is, I suspect Tyrion, Jon, and Daenerys are the ultimate main characters, and that Arya will continue to play a vital role, but may just end up dead before the story is over. Not only are there clues in the text for this already, but while she has a lot of pages devoted to her in these early books, her importance seems to dwindle in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, while the three aforementioned characters still have a more regular number of chapters (and the most chapters). It remains to be seen, of course, but I have a feeling we shouldn't attach ourselves too much to Arya. Which is hard, because she's so likable, even if her character arc is rather dark and, well, almost nihilistic (no one, truly). I think that when and if Arya bites the dust, it might be one of the harder character deaths to tackle. Anyway, she's still alive and well (somewhat well, in any case), so let's see where her travels with the Hound take her in this chapter. Last time, they got themselves across the swollen waterways, and her relationship to Sandor Clegane is quite different on text from Game of Thrones' darkly humorous partnership. I mean, who hasn't muttered "What the fuck's a Lommy?" or "You're the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms" lately? 

So this chapter begins just an hour after Arya IX, so the time frame is really short here. Arya and Sandor meet a knight and two squires on the muddy road, and the Hound warns her to keep her mouth shut and her head down. They are riding a wagon now (or a wayn, as Martin likes to call it), with Sandor's horse, Stranger, tied to it. Sandor is wearing a hood now, so a lot of the imagery from this chapter has already been used in Game of Thrones, they just moved the wagon and the hood earlier. When Martin describes Sandor as hiding his face beneath the hood and looking like a big, "down-at-heels" farmer, one could easily see this as a little foreshadowing; there is this big gravedigger hiding his face beneath a hood on a certain island in A Feast for Crows, and here we have a hint, if one chooses to read it as such, that the grave digger is indeed Sandor Clegane, the Hound. I like how Arya thinks of herself as looking different too, like a farmer's son or a swineherd, another nudge to her development into someone who can disguise herself rather well, a foreshadowing of her learning in Braavos in the next books. 

The three outriders encircle them, and brandish weapons. Arya had decided to get herself freed from Sandor when they met someone, but she doesn't recognize this stranger knight's sigil and so she doesn't dare to do anything (getting the knight's help to get rid of Sandor, one can assume); she had hoped to see the direwolf sigil of House Stark, but alas, little girl / boy, the Starks aren't exactly numerous in the south anymore. The knight asks if they have business at the Twins, and the Hound replies they are carrying salt pork for the wedding feast. The knight pays no attention to Arya (another nice little detail to show us how Arya can become no one, truly), but stares for a while at Stranger, clearly realizing farmers don't usually travel about with a horse trained for war. Clegane lies that the horse is a wedding gift for Edmure Tully, and that he is giving it on behalf of 'Old Lady Whent'. Fortunately for Sandor and Arya, the knight believes the lie, and lets them pass. 

After this encounter, Sandor reveals that the pitchfork knight who stopped them was Ser Donnel Haigh, and apparently Sandor's met him before in tournaments, almost killing him once. Sandor thinks that Donnel didn't recognize him because Donnel wouldn't look twice at a peasant. Again, a nod to the whole theme of appearances and how they can deceive. We're told how they came by the wagon (Sandor took it from a farmer at swordpoint, vaguely reminiscent of the scene we saw in this week's Game of Thrones, only there the Hound takes a farmer's silver). 

Come evening, Arya thinks that they are almost there, but she isn't excited - instead, her belly is knotted up tight, and I remember the first time I read this book how I hoped to see Arya reunited with her mother and brother, reading and reading and waiting for her to finally reach the Twins and the wedding, but, like Arya, feeling that this would probably not end the way I'd like it to. She does sense danger, kind of, as she had a troubling dream that she can't remember. She feels uneasy about Roose Bolton, for she has fled him after all, and she wonders if he will recognize her; or if, indeed, Robb or her mother will recognize her. She doesn't really look like a highborn lady anymore, especially not after the Hound has shaved the hair off half her head.
They hear music before they see the castle, and the Hound says they have missed the wedding but that he will soon be rid of Arya anyway. Arya thinks that it is she who will be rid of him. Love that little thought there, wouldn't mind if she said it to him instead. And Martin makes sure to draw out the tension, not giving us the emotional release of seeing Arya reunite with her family - suddenly time slows to a crawl as Martin deems it necessary to describe the road's direction, the apple orchards and a field of drowned corn they pass, and then they see the encampments and the thousands of soldiers everywhere. 

The sound of horns and drums is loud, but I am kind of surprised they can hear the music being played inside the castles (especially the one on the far bank). It's not like they have invented amplification yet. It might be the way it is written that confuses me here, but it does indeed seem as if Arya is hearing music from within the two castles of Lord Walder Frey, in addition to the din of the encampment. Nowhere does the text suggest the musicians are outside playing. Arya wishes it was day so she could look for friendly banners, but rain and mist and dusk makes this impossible.

They are stopped by guards at a hedge of wagons and carts, a crude wooden defensive wall. One can wonder why they are making walls out of wagons and carts...The guards wear the livery of House Bolton, and Sandor gives them the same tale he'd spun for Ser Donnel Haigh. The Bolton man isn't as agreeable, however. He tells them the feast is half done, and that the castle is closed and the lords within are not to be disturbed. The Bolton guard tells them to unload their wagons here outside instead, and that the lords in the castle have no need for more food. Here, pavilions are lit and so Arya has a chance to see some sigils: she recognizes only Lord Smallwood's, however. A very subtle hint of unease from Martin: "The music grew louder as they approached the castle, but under that was a deeper, darker sound: the river, the swollen Green Fork, growling like a lion in its den." In other words, there is something ominous going on at the same time as the revelry, and likening it to a lion (House Lannister's sigil) is surely no coincidence. Arya tries to look for the direwolf of House Stark, but all she sees is strangers. It is apparent that the party has been going on for a while, and soldiers and camp followers alike are drunk. To think how close Arya is to see her mother and brother again! At the feast tents, most revelers have gathered to sit dry and drink, shouting toasts to Lord Edmure and Lady Roslin, and the Young Wolf and Queen Jeyne. Arya wonders who that queen can be, knowing only of Queen Cersei. 

Finally, Arya spots men of the North. In one feast tent, she recognizes Karstarks and Umbers, and believes there will be Stark men there too. And they are eating, and the smell of roasted meat makes her mouth water. Sandor won't have it, however - he doesn't want to heed the Bolton guard's command, he is going to find a way inside because it is "your bloody brother I want." Again with the subtext, George! First Sandor called it a "bloody wedding", and now he calls Robb Arya's "bloody brother". Not the most subtle of allusions, perhaps, but you know, it works. 

And that's how this surprisingly short chapter ends! Not much to work with, really, it's just an account of their last bit of traveling and finally reaching the Twins. Of course, now that Arya is so close you must be either dead, deaf or down in Dorne not to want to flip that page and continue to read, waiting for the next Arya chapter to see if she will indeed rejoin her family. Well done, Martin. Still, this chapter has a dark undercurrent which becomes all too obvious on a re-read (the Green Fork is literally the undercurrent in Martin's metaphor described earlier). 

And ouch, next chapter is Catelyn again. I read another book on fiction writing again yesterday, a rather short one, but one of its tips was to make sure chapters and characters were evenly divided in size and occurence. Here, Martin breaks the rule by focusing more on the Catelyn and Arya plot lines as they almost converge here at the Twins. I think it works just fine, and the other characters can wait as we bite our nails to see what is going on at Lord Edmure Tully's wedding...which we'll get to in the next chapter. That chapter. Oh, how Martin stretches the moments leading up to it. Lovely. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Wow it looks like that Jaime/Cersei scene really made the rounds in terms of people's engagement. Book purists and viewers alike seem to think the scene ruins Jaime's arc (not that we know it fully). Even the director and Martin himself have made comments. Me? I thought it was a fairly disturbing scene but the show has far more disturbing scenes than this one, even in the same episode: I found telling a young boy his parents will be eaten (after seeing them murdered) much more provocative.
Besides, it's not a big leap for Jaime - as a character, I'm in no way condoning (attempted?) rape - he's lost his hand, lost his father's goodwill, lost his sister's love, lost a son (I know he doesn't seem to care about Joffrey but it should still be psychologically damaging), his entire identity... it is not improbable to see him fail in a weak moment like this; it's just unusual in stories to have setbacks of this kind. For me it was far from the greatest crime against the books as committed by the show. The scene even appears in the book although, admittedly, it does not read as a rape the way it was shown on screen.
Shouting about misogyny feels strange to me in a series which has always been offensive in many of its depictions. I'd argue that one of the series' strengths is the fact that it disturbs, and provokes, and makes you consider human worth.
All this being said,  I planned to read and blog a chapter today but found myself finishing a short story for SFF World's March/April competition instead.  So far it seems I have a good chance as I'm the only one who has an entry. Cue mad cackling.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.3: Breaker of Chains

Breaker of Chains indeed.
I enjoyed the episode, but this one really didn't feel much like the source material it is based on. So many scenes that aren't in the book! Even for a fan of the books there were a lot of surprises to be had. I've grown to like the non-book additions but this episode...well, I finished watching it only a minute or two ago, but I found it to stray perhaps a tad too far from the books in many sequences, but I am sure the writers know what they are doing. A good example is the Sam/Gilly-plot in this episode. There must be a reason why they decided to move Gilly to Mole's Town (can't think of a good reason right now). Of course, there were bits and pieces from the source material here; Sansa's escape was good. I feel they are taking the Hound/Arya plot line a little too far into black comedy territory, though that girl (Sally?) was so cute. Glad she survived her meeting with Sandor Clegane. Most scenes are good on their own, I suppose, but it still feels "off" for a nerd like myself. Styr is just so over the top. Didn't like. Show-Littlefinger remains Littlefinger only in appearance. Tyrion and Pod's scene was my favorite. Tywin and Oberyn...I don't know. It was pretty cool I suppose. Tense. Cersei and Jaime's scene...I don't know. Something didn't work in that scene and I'm not talking about Joffrey. All in all, this is an episode that I must watch again to wrap my head around it. I am, as this post surely shows, rather confused at this point - what to think about it all. I am both disappointed, and entertained.
The last scene featuring gorgeous Daenerys fell a little flat too, mainly because I can't find myself warming up to the new Daario. The Queen of Thorns was good in this one, though. And Tommen, First of His Name? I don't know...
A weird episode. Definitely the weakest so far this season (and, knowing I'm repeating myself here, it is coincidentally also the episode the most loosely based on the book).

Off to read reactions at Winter is Coming!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Before the Breaker of Chains

Oooh it's that time of the week again - Mondays, here in Europe, is when we get a new episode of Game of Thrones. The third episode already, it is quite clear that ten episodes a year is a little on the skimpy side. I wish there were, say, twenty, and that this would give the writers the time to more fully incorporate the missing elements from the novels. Of course, that would lead to slower episodes which the general audience might not be as interested in, and they would have been forced to find a way to show the complicated back story (instead of having characters just talk about it) so I suppose that ten episodes giving us the highlights and keeping it relatively fast-paced is preferable for the vast majority of the audience.
Usually I lurk online after a new episode has aired in the USA to read the reactions from fans at Winter is Coming, which leads to me having a rather good idea of what to expect from the episode, usually knowing the exact scenes and the order in which they come. Watching last week's 4.2: The Lion and the Rose I felt like I had already seen it before. Not this week! I saw the preview clip last Monday so I've forgotten most of it, and so I am looking forward to today's episode without knowing too much of what is going to happen (though, obviously, I am pretty sure we'll see Tyrion in a bad place; and Cersei in a different kind of bad place).
Last night I was going to continue my read of King of Thorns, but due to me digging up that link to The Fifth Sorceress (see this post) I ended up reading reviews of said masterpiece until I fell asleep. Not a good way to spend your precious geektime! Well, it was entertaining to a degree, but...bah. Internet makes it so incredibly easy to waste time. And people thought TVs were bad. Who's got time for TV these days anyway? [Unless it's Game of Thrones, of course].
And then it was too late to read King of Thorns, because it's a physical book which needs light and people were sleeping all around me, so I decided to start another waiting novel on my Kindle instead. One I've had for eons as well. C.J. Sansom's Sovereign. Well, not eons, but I did order it January the 28th, 2011. So it is about time I actually read it. Another book bought because of Martin with his making-me-like-medieval-stuff-stuff. And so it goes! King of Thorns moved down the queue, Sovereign up. Quite entertaining so far as well.

Another Martin Lite consumed

All right, second Easter mini-trip over. High up in the mountains, the silence and relative isolation makes a man read more (and wish to have Internet access), and so I finished Anthony Ryan's Blood Song.

A long time ago, while waiting for A Feast for Crows, I began to feel the need to read more stuff that was as great as George R.R. Martin's books. I tried a few books but they didn't grab me. I thought I could never read a thing again. And it sure took a while. Eventually, I was able to enjoy other works even though they didn't hit me the way Ice & Fire did. In the wake of Martin, more fantasy books were published that were called "gritty", an adjective that basically told you 'If you like A Game of Thrones, you might like this'. That's how I found Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. In between the tropes of the genre Abercrombie added black humor and also kept his fantasy more medieval than fantastical. I found Patrick Rothfuss and his The Name of the Wind. He combined a coming-of-age-tale and a host of other genre tropes with a deep point of view that felt vividly real. Some books didn't make good on their promises. Steven Erikson first confused the hell out of me, until I realized he was a big deal and perhaps even a deal bigger than Martin himself, in many ways (but not all ways). New fantasy authors gave us worlds that felt realistic and lived-in, without the sparkling elves; The Steel Remains, Throne of the Crescent Moon, The Winds of Khalakovo, The Dragon's Path, The Painted Man... and I'd argue that Blood Song belongs to this latter group of novels; shorter than the usual fantasy doorstopper, with a small(ish) cast of characters, with a stream-lined, simple-to-follow story in a world more medieval than fantastical. I've enjoyed all these novels, and I enjoyed Blood Song too, for what it is; but I never fell into it, eager to read the next chapter, the next paragraph, the next line. They are all Martin-lite if I can use that description.

In the case of Blood Song, this is especially apt, as the author does not only mimic Martin's style, but, if you squint, the plot bears a number of resemblances as well - in Blood Song, we have a group of boys who come together at an ancient institution with strict rules. Here they learn to master a variety of weapons and other skills which they will use to defend the realm. Night's Watch or Sixth Order? The magic is at first subdued, but becomes more prevalent; there are lords and knights and battles and intrigues galore; there is a magical wolf; there is conflict of faith; in other words, with so many fantasy novels out by now lightly touched by Martin's medieval fantasy, it becomes harder to seem original, and as such, Blood Song feels, indeed, like Martin-lite. And it's a great way to pass the time until the next Martin novel. At times, I really enjoyed the book. The beginning and the end were the strongest, with the middle section almost making me quit. There's a particularly long chapter in there which broke the otherwise efficient pace of the story which was hard to get through - it just wasn't interesting enough.

Another reason to call it 'Martin-lite' is because the author never takes the brutal realism of Martin, the perversions, the betrayals - into the uncomfortable. Some blood is shed, and some horrible crimes are committed, but it feels mostly PG all through. Like a lighter version of Martin, right? The characters in the book are also "light" in the sense that most of them feel a little shallow, but enjoyable enough to read. Most characters are also blessed with forgettable names that don't really stand out. That's just a nitpick, really. Some characters deserved more words, others got too many.

I haven't read any reviews of this book yet, so I am curious to see what other people think. I assume, from seeing average scores at Amazon and Goodreads, that people are generally positive to this novel. I am, too, but only in the sense that it was a nice but ultimately forgettable side-adventure, the way I felt about the aforementioned titles as well. Perhaps this one, along with The Throne of the Crescent Moon for its colorful setting and The Steel Remains for its humor, was slightly better than ye average somewhat-gritty fantasy debut of the last decade. The author, of whom I know nothing (really, I wasn't aware of the existence of this novel until I was recommended it), has a non-descript prose (which suits the story fine), and is generally good at conveying whatever he needs to convey - I found some of the characters rather flat or uninteresting, and certain events I didn't quite get a grip on; he was at his best during action scenes, in my opinion. I'd guess any fan of Ice & Fire would enjoy this little romp, but I don't see it as the Next Big Thing. Did it entertain me enough to pre-order the sequel, Tower Lord, to be published in July? I am still on the fence. The book has (fortunately) a decent enough closure; there are definitely some mysteries left for the author to use as a dangling carrot, and the main character Vaelin is enjoyable enough to read more of (he's a mix of Jon Snow, Conan the Barbarian, Logen Ninefingers and Aragorn if that makes any sense, I suppose it doesn't), but it's not a must (I never continued, as an example, Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin saga of which I read book one, The Dragon's Path - but now that I'm thinking about it, I am beginning to wonder if I shouldn't finish that series if it is indeed finished).

Still, realizing I sound negative, I'd say Blood Song is a more than decent debut, and one of the better new fantasy novels I've read. I can't really pinpoint exactly what I feel it lacks; other reviews will probably be more enlightening on that matter (or what makes it good, for that matter). One of these days I am going to rank all the fantasy novels I've read (assuming I can remember them all). In one way, Blood Song lacks a certain spark, a certain uniqueness if you will; it could have happened in any low fantasy setting kind of. At the same time, as I was reading, I was entertained and invested. Sigh, a hard book to try to review.

Tomorrow it is time for another Game of Thrones episode! I also just checked the Not A Blog for the latest updates on The Winds of Winter (yup, that was sarcasm) and noticed Martin had published a link to a photo gallery of author hands showing their writing advice. I scrolled through, wondering what Martin had on his hand but of course he wasn't there, which is all kinds of funny since his mantra is "I enjoy having written." So he links to all these great motivational quotes written on authors' hands and his hand isn't even there (probably covered in chili-con-queso). Sorry, that was an old-fashioned cheap dig. Sometimes, the irony becomes too much to bear and a man must go below the belt.

Anyway, if I had to give Blood Song a score between 1 and 10, where 1 is The Fifth Sorceress, the worst fantasy novel I have attempted to read, 5 is an entertaining but badly written licensed fantasy novel, and 10 is, well unattainable because there might always come something better but for this purpose let's say it's A Storm of Swords, I would give it... 7.58.

Having giving it some more thought as I was writing this, I think I have officially decided I will follow along with Tower Lord. I was adamant about following Abercrombie too, and he just got better and better. And this is a really good starting point and it seems I don't have to wait five years for the continuation. Ahem. Maybe Martin should write on his hand, "How about a two-year cycle at the max?"

Speaking of scores, I wrote an article called Scoring the Game for Tower of the Hand the other day. Enjoy (or not, entirely your decision).

(Do note that they fricking re-published that Fifth Sorceress tripe! I'm officially flabbergasted. Seriously: Stay away or read it because you get a kick out of reading the utterly loathsome) The Fifth Sorceress, incidentally, I believe was the first novel I ordered from Amazon after I had finished Martin and wanted more awesomeness. It's a wonder I'm still reading after that.

Allow me to quote this fantastic review from user deprived at Amazon:

Just these two lines should provide all the proof you need.

Wigg went on. "This passageway is the last defense before entering Shadowood proper, and if anyone of unendowed blood or without the benefit of time enchantments enters this tunnel, they are recognized by the incantations we left behind, and immediately killed. Only gnomes are exempt."

"By the way," the old wizard(Wigg)asked of the gnome. "How is it that you can traverse this tunnel without being of endowed blood?"

I think those that gave the book 2 or more stars were being overgenerous. Those that gave it 4 or 5 stars would seem to be crackheads. I found this crud in a bargain bin, after having read 1/3rd of it, I knew why. This is a truly atrocious piece of crap.
I lol'd.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn VI: Pass the bread, salt and hints please

[Batten down the hatches, spoilers ahoy]

I'm only home for tonight before going off on a second short holiday trip, but I am still hooked on the mighty saga of ice and fire (more hooked than usual, that is) and want to squeeze in another chapter before leaving. Family takes time, and so geek time suffers. I'm about 80% done with Anthony Ryan's Blood Song and hope to finish Mark Lawrence's King of Thorns after that one. And then, at last, I shall triumph and finish ponderous The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson), gathering dust on the shelf for four years (all right, I've brushed off the dust occasionally, I believe I have about half of it left to read - and I wonder why it is so highly praised, aside from the fantastic production quality. Maybe the last half rocks).
I've also been polishing some old drafts for chapters for my very own novel, some of those drafts are three years old so I can understand where George R.R. Martin is coming from when he has Arya chapters that are even older. After I finished last year's NaNoWriMo and got a discount on the Scrivener software, my interest in writing my own stuff has increased a lot, and is another way to have fun during the Long Waits - I mean, if you can't get The Winds of Winter, why not try to write your own stuff. It's a fun exercise and it has so far taught me a lot about the struggles an author faces, and (perhaps fortunately) has made me understand Martin's creative processes better. And I am all the more amazed that Martin claims to have little notes, considering the vast amount of characters and the rich background stories he's created. I mean, in today's chapter alone there are like a hundred characters. Let's rock on with Catelyn Stark, as her chapters become increasingly gloomy (often due to rain).

Hold on, Martin has published another teaser on his website. The man is positively Santa Clausish these days. Aegon's Conquest is a sample from the upcoming The World of Ice and Fire world book (read a rather interesting discussion, including yours truly being his same grumpy self, right here). I haven't read it yet, I probably will but I'm not really that interested right now. Catelyn and Robb's journey to the Twins is much more gripping than the dry style Martin currently enjoys so much. I wonder, though, if Martin has caught on to the innuendo of a blog post called Aegon is Coming? I suppose it's not a real surprise, considering Septa What's-her-name Lenore (?!) stripping off her clothes every morning on that turtle-filled river. Haaahah.
But why did Martin suddenly decide to give us this teaser? Well! Just like he suddenly gave us the Arya chapter ("Mercy") right before lines from that chapter were used in Game of Thrones 4.1: Two Swords, we might get something related to Aegon's Conquest in a later episode of the TV show. In other words, he prevents the TV show from spoiling his stuff. And it might be related to Bran's vision in episode 4.2: The Lion and the Rose, where we see the shadow of a huge dragon across the cityscape of King's Landing. No, I realize that the city didn't exist when Aegon came (huhuh) but...Well, we'll see. I just can't believe Martin provides his fans so much goodness out of his good heart. Maybe his editor is pushing him, I don't know. Maybe he really has finally acquired a PR assistant. At any rate, people show their love for him on his blog, so hopefully he likes that and continues to feed us scraps until The Winds of Winter is published.

Sigh, that's just like me. I just can't start reading a chapter before writing down some thoughts, so pardon the digressions. 

The fiftieth chapter of A Storm of Swords opens with a paragraph describing for us the Green Fork, the river a boiling torrent, likened to the growl of a great beast. We are also reminded that, back in A Game of Thrones, Robb had vowed to take a Frey bride, as payment for his army crossing Lord Walder Frey's bridge. Also, Catelyn's heart is full of misgivings. I see what you did there, Martin; heart

Robb puts the crown on his head and summons her and Edmure to ride by his side. I love that little detail; it shows that Robb needs to feel secure, and who better to provide that feeling than your closest family? 

How's this for atmosphere: "The gatehouse towers emerged from the rain like ghosts, hazy grey apparitions that grew more solid the closer they rode." It's not original in any way, but the image still strikes me as haunting when I read it. The choice of words - ghosts, apparitions - lends, literally, that haunting quality to the description. And of course, the words are related both to death and undeath. 

We are given a fresh description of the Frey stronghold, which is a wise choice by the author, so people don't have to rummage through their closet looking for their tattered, abandoned copy of Thrones to be able to visualize the place. Also, every time you open that closet door there's a slight chance of Harry escaping and we can't have that.

Martin is really layering it on, isn't he? "(...) Catelyn could see several thousand men encamped around the eastern castle, their banners hanging like so many drowned cats from the lances outside their tents." This one is almost comical in its foreshadowing. Quite the allusion. And the rain, it just won't stop. There's so much rain in these Catelyn chapters that I need to go for a biobreak several times while reading.

She warns her son to be careful, and to not let himself be provoked, and Robb promises to be as sweet as a septon. I hope he doesn't mean Septon Utt. She is uncomfortable, tells him to not refuse any refreshments, and if nothing is offered, he must ask for bread and cheese and a cup of wine; this, of course, is the ancient custom of guest right we've read about many times prior to this chapter...and now it comes in handy for us readers to be reminded of this - so much that I can't help but wonder how I didn't see the Red Wedding coming when I re-read these now so obvious statements from Catelyn. "Once you have eaten of his bread and salt, you have the guest right, and the laws of hospitality protect you beneath his roof." Maybe Martin managed to instill a sense of security in that Catelyn is on top of things, telling Robb how to deal with Walder? Another image related to death follows when Robb replies he'll gladly eat "stewed crow smothered in maggots" if that will please the Lord of the Crossing. It's easily one of the less delectable dishes Martin has offered us in this work. 

They are approached by four Freys, Ser Ryman Frey, the current heir to the Twins; the other three are Walder's great grandsons, Edwyn, Black Walder ("a nasty bit of business"), and Petyr Pimple. With a one-sentence description for each, Martin still manages to make these characters come alive on the page, perhaps because we're already so invested in the tale and already "believe" the tale we're being presented. Robb's banner is drooping on its staff (which can be read as another hint that things won't go well with the Young Wolf; alternatively, that Robb has erectile dysfunction); Grey Wind watches the Freys through slitted eyes, obviously suspicious (another hint). And the direwolf growls at them. That's, you guessed it, another hint. A hint to Robb to be careful, at any rate. The wolf even leaps forward, snarling, spooking Ser Ryman's palfrey, and Petyr is thrown off his saddle. Robb manages to call the wolf to his side. Black Walder, too cool to be much affected, was ready to strike at the direwolf with his sword, so he's not much afraid. "Is this how a Stark makes amends?" he shouts, so calm it almost defies belief. I mean, imagine a direwolf coming right at you. 

Ser Ryman wonders why they are late, but more importantly where Jeyne Westerling is. Catelyn tells him she stayed behind at Riverrun; Black Walder tells them that Lord Walder won't be pleased (another hint). Robb, Edmure, and Catelyn are given chambers in the Water Tower, but the rest of the host must remain outside, which is fair enough, since the host is quite large. Still, that's another bad sign. With his host encamped on the far bank, it won't be easy to call for aid should anything unfortunate happen. On re-read, I want to reach through the page and tell Robb to get his ass out of there quick as a river trout. In this regard, perhaps these scenes aren't as rewarding on re-reads as much, because these scenes are mostly setup for the Red Wedding, with little subtext once you have read it through once. 

Edmure wants to meet his bride-to-be, and Edwyn promises that she waits within. He tells her that she's shy. He's also grumbling about Lord Walder not showing up in person to meet them (another hint?), though, as Catelyn suggests, it's not at all surprising that a ninety-one year old can't be bothered. Still, considering the number of wives he has, he seems rather vigorous - so Catelyn does wonder if his absence is an intended slight. 

More trouble, at the gatehouse; Grey Wind begins to balk. Catelyn thinks the wolf doesn't like the place. Oh really? Lame Lothar and Walder Rivers come up on the drawbridge to meet them, and Rivers suggests that the direwolf is afraid of the water, because "beasts know to avoid the river in flood." Nice one, Rivers! Robb decides to leave Grey Wind with his herald, Ser Raynald Westerling. Catelyn thinks it clever, because that will keep the Westerling out of Walder's sight. Bah! I think that they should at least have been a little suspicious. A line about not liking to leave the wolf behind, or whatever. 

Say what you will about Lord Walder Frey, but he's a joy to read. He's so full of insolence, has some nasty lines of dialogue, he's a real entertainer. I liked him in the TV series too, but on the page he comes across as even nastier and is definitely in the top ten...twenty...of nastiest fellows of A Song of Ice and Fire. There are so many of them! He has grown weaker physically since the last time Catelyn saw him; like Doran Martell, he suffers from gout. Propped up in his high seat with a cushion, he really is a sorry sight, but his wits are still intact. Love his chair as well. I love most chairs in Westeros. So many of them have heraldry worked into them, like Walder's, its back "carved into a semblance of two stout towers joined by an arched bridge." I wish they had gone with that description in the TV series but I didn't see a chair like that (but then, it was always quite dark in his scenes so maybe I just didn't catch it). Walder reminds Catelyn of a vulture (that's another hint - vultures feast on the dead). More Frey characters are shown - Lord Walder's hall is filled to the brim with his offspring. Oh, I love his hehs

"You will forgive me if I do not kneel, I know. My legs no longer work as they did, though that which hangs between 'em serves well enough, heh.

Yeah, you see Robb, Walder doesn't recognize you as a king. That's a hint! We're also introduced to Aegon, the lackwit fool. Naming him Aegon, I laughed at that. I could really just write down the entire exchange between Lord Walder and Robb Stark there in Walder's hall, because it's so brilliant. And suddenly we have lots of subtext to work with again. Through the dialogue, we learn that Walder has little (or no) regard for the Crannogmen of the Neck (which can, theoretically, come and bite him in the ass later in the story); him naming the lackwit Aegon shows what he thinks about Targaryens. And Catelyn remembers that Walder usually hides Aegon - or Jinglebells - away when there's visitors, so that's another hint. Also, Jinglebells? Puts me in a right Christmassy mood. Walder reminds Edmure that he has outlived four previous Lords Tully, which can be seen as a veiled threat, or at the very least another hint. Walder tells Edmure that he will get to see his bride, but in a dress - seeing her naked is reserved for the bedding, heh. You just feel the trap closing around the Starks. It's probably not important, but I'm noting that Roslin Frey has a brother named Benfrey. Maybe we will meet him again. And Roslin, too. I know someone is intent on meeting Freys later in the story. 

Then Walder wonders where Robb's bride is. Robb's responses are icy, reminding Catelyn of her husband, Ned. Another hint: Walder pays Robb's iciness no heed, which he would have done if he didn't already know he had them trapped, right? Even though the show brought Robb's wife to this hall, a lot of the actual dialogue was kept relatively intact in the transition. I admire that. And what an episode 3.9: The Rains of Castemere is! Walder's talk about how a set of breasts is enough to distract a young man and Walder suggesting Robb makes his apologies to his daughters are both straight from the book. Love the comedic part where Walder becomes unsure of the names of all his daughters - just the slightest bit of humor in an otherwise bleak chapter. A four year old girl also injects a little bit of sweetness with her "I'm Ser Aemon River's Walda, lord great grandfather," followed by a curtsy.

It's also vaguely comedic how Walder talks about his daughters while they are in his presence, suggesting that they aren't much to look at, calling the daughter who is a widow "a woman broken in", but at the same time he is annoyingly misogynistic. Over the top misogynistic, perhaps. He becomes almost a cartoon villain, but then, so are several other villains in the series (only the Lannisters are as well drawn as the Starks in that regard, I suppose, and perhaps Varys and Littlefinger, though I am not sure about Baelish). 

Finally, Edmure gets to see his wife to be. Martin makes sure to make us think of Roslin Frey as a pretty girl. Apparently, her mother was a Rosby. That's another hint, by the way. The hall is full of ugly ducklings and Walder chooses the prettiest girl for Edmure. Right. That doesn't feel odd at all. Why doesn't Catelyn even consider this? Edmure wonders why Roslin is crying, though. This Edmure isn't as silly as TV Edmure. She probably knows what's up (but why would Walder let her in on his devious plans?) So maybe she's just crying because, you know, she's forced to marry. "We'll have music, such sweet music, and wine, heh, the red will run, and we'll put some wrongs aright." That's a classic line right there, and if it still all so achingly obvious that things will go down badly. I mean, the red will run...I wonder how many readers caught all the small hints in this chapter and kind of knew that this would be the end for Robb Stark; and I wonder if many felt that way, but refused to believe it. I believe I was in the latter group, catching on to the most obvious hints - Grey Wind's reactions - but just not seeing what was really going on until it was too late. Hence the shock once the Red Wedding drew to a close and I threw my first beloved copy of A Storm of Swords to the wall, only to pick it up later to continue, heart racing for a story like it never had done before.

Almost too late, Catelyn remembers to ask for food - Robb seemingly has forgotten, and Edmure too - and at that, Frey's mouth "moved in and out" (he's got no teeth in the book, he's sucking his gums), as if considering this possible complication. It's obvious that Walder realizes that they are invoking guest right here, but no suggestion that he really cares about it. Which is a hint, too. Oh, I had almost forgotten that some of Robb's bannermen are present as well. The Greatjon, Ser Marq Piper, and others. They really faded into the background here - the dialogue is so catchy and poignant and dripping with all kinds of veiled threats. 

And more hints: the rooms prepared for the guests are large and richly appointed, and Catelyn takes it all in as if coming to a luxury suite at a five-star hotel after having lived in a caravan for sixteen years. Still, she is at least somewhat suspicious, suggesting to Edmure that they put up their own guards at the doors. She takes a look out a tower window, notices that the rain is lessening (!). "Now that we're inside," Edmure comments, which is just another way for the author to say, Now that it is too late. That's a lovely one.
Edmure is happy with Roslin, prettier than he dared hope. But Edmure, young man, pretty doesn't help if she has the personality of a white-faced saki monkey!
Oh wait, "Spare me the sermon, septa." He knows there are more important things. Good. I kind of wished they had this discussion in a scene in the TV series, because Edmure comes off as just stupid there with his fascination for sweet Roslin Frey. Oh come on, Catelyn. Really? "Perhaps Lord Walder actually wants you to be happy with your bride." Really? For really reals? Still, let's not forget that marrying off a daughter to the lord of Riverrun is a politically sound idea - unless you know that the game will change soon. They talk a little more - and I like it; when thinking of these books, when it comes to siblings, it's easiest to think of the Stark children or the Lannisters, but here we have a nice scene between brother and sister Edmure and Catelyn. 

Gotta love this little line: "After she undressed and hung her wet clothing by the fire, she donned a warm wool dress of Tully red and blue, washed and brushed her hair and let it dry, and went in search of Freys." Even in this seemingly mundane bit of information, Martin manages to smuggle a nice little foreshadowing into it. Searching for Freys, all right. She returns to the hall, which is empty now but for Lame Lothar and a few others drinking by the hearth. I don't know how important it is to the story that Lothar introduces the lot, but it does give that sense of a living, breathing setting. Here we have Raymund, Lothar's brother by the same mother, there is Lord Lucias Vypren (sounds like a real devil, that one - the name makes me think Lucifer Viper and at the same time this kind of name makes me curious about the character but I am afraid this is the first and last time we meet him); there is a Ser Damon, and Ser Hosteen whom we've met before; there is Ser Leslyn Haigh (another cool name, I just like the sound of it; and that is enough to make me want to read more about the character); Ser Harys and Ser Donnel, Leslyn's sons. Wait a fricking minute.  I know why Martin bothers to give us these names. It's because we will see them again. You read it here first - we'll see this lot die at a certain Lady Stoneheart's command, for sure! Maybe we already have and I have forgotten. Yup, it will be good to revisit books four and five, if only to get all those little details back into my understanding of the entire narrative. Catelyn asks for a maester because she's having "a woman's complaint", and goes to see Maester Brennet. Another character I had forgotten existed. Her real mission is to ask about Roslin's possible infertility (she talked about it with Edmure up in the Water Tower). Roslin's mother, Lady Bethany, apparently gave Lord Walder a child every year, the dirty bastard; five of them lived - Ser Perwyn and Ser Benfrey, Maester Willamen "who serves Lord Hunter in the Vale" (keeping that one in memory hopefully in case we meet him there), Olyvar who squired for Robb, and Roslin. In other words, nothing to worry about, Cat! Roslin's going to push out more than enough sons to secure the Tully line. Also, it's another hint. She knows Walder is vengeful and now he's not only giving Edmure his prettiest daughter, but one who is sure to be fertile as well, yet she doesn't ponder it overly much. Sigh. I just want her to realize that it's all staged. 

The chapter continues with Catelyn going to see Robb, who she finds together with Robin Flint, Ser Wendel Manderly, the Greatjon and the Smalljon. They are standing by the fire, and have been joined by none other than Lord Roose Bolton. 
Bolton has some bad news. Wendel Manderly is distraught because the Lannisters have caught his brother (again), and Catelyn learns that more good men died at Winterfell than she previously knew. Bolton, however, tells her that some of her people were taken to the Dreadfort by his son, Ramsay. 
Catelyn reminds Roose that this Ramsay has been accused of murder, rape and worse, and Roose agrees that the boy has tainted blood, but that he's a good fighter and will be of valuable aid in the fight against the Iron Islanders who have taken much of the North. Catelyn feels that Roose is a cold man; he hopes to have a trueborn son by Lady Walda.
Roose presents a letter and a piece of skin when Robb asks about Theon Greyjoy. He presents it to Catelyn as a small token of revenge, and its such a brilliantly awkward scene. I feel like the other northerners are all thinking the same as me: WTF dude?! 

They get into a political discussion, with Roose suggesting that holding Theon hostage is a good thing; because Theon is the only living son of Balon Greyjoy, he holds the claim to the Seastone Chair, and whoever ends up in that also-cool chair will want Theon. Robb agrees (albeit reluctantly), and tells Roose to keep Theon alive at the Dreadfort for the time being. Eeew, if you only knew, Robb. Roose goes on to explain how his force was separated by the Trident (at the ruby ford, even) and that he could not come to the aid of the Norreys, Lockes, Burleys - and Ser Wylis Manderly - when they were attacked by Lannisters on the opposite bank. This bit I would never ever have noticed the importance of, if it weren't for the Internet discussions. What really happened, it seems, is that Roose got rid of the part of his host that were Stark loyalists, in essence there was a culling. For all we know, he fought together with the Lannisters to get rid of them (or at least planned it that way). In other words, Roose was on the wrong side of the river on purpose. Gotta love Martin for trusting his readers here and not spell it out for us. Ser Gregor Clegane himself took part in the battle, as Roose tells it, attacking with heavy horse and driving the northerners into the river. Oh, Robb, by the way - this is another hint that things are going the wrong way - you've always won your battles, but now things are unraveling. To think how cold and calculating Roose must be to stand there before the king and some of his loyal bannermen telling this tale...Notice also how Roose left six hundred men at the ford to defend it against Clegane - and that these men were "spearmen from the rills, the mountains, and the White Knife," reducing the amount of Stark loyalists even more in his own host (unless I am mistaken? It's hard to keep it all straight for such a simple soul as myself). Love how Robb tells Roose that he did well. Well, love to hate to love. Kind of. I always read Ser Kyle Condon as Kyle Condom, by the way. 

Bolton further speaks of grievous losses on the Green Fork and Glover and Tallhart at Duskendale. Robb promises that Robett Glover will answer for, uh, something when they meet again. See, that's what I mean, here I am re-reading A Storm of Swords and I have no idea why Robb is wroth with Robett. I know, from checking Tower of the Hand, that Roose is lying here about Duskendale, but to what purpose I have no clue. And I probably read about it in the previous Catelyn chapter. These small details just slip my mind, and it annoys me, perhap because I'm usually quite good at remembering stuff and stuff. Maybe it's that thing they call age. Oh, there was an Arya chapter in which Roose gave the order to march on Duskendale, so it was his mistake, not Robett's, so what Roose is doing here is effectively pushing the blame on Glover instead. All rightee, that makes me feel better to understand what the implication here is, but still. I kind of wish I could memorize it all. 

The chapter ends when Catelyn asks how many men Roose has brought. Most of them are Dreadfort men, and men from the Karhold, which Roose wants to keep close now that the loyalty of the Karstarks is in doubt...that's so cold of him. To say it like that, I mean. While Catelyn has a quiet suspicion of the man, Robb seems happy with the arrangement and tells him that they are going to the Neck as soon as his uncle Edmure is bedded and wedded. "We're going home." 

Yay for a joyful ending to a chapter, I suppose. That line in particular, about going home, becomes so poignant on a re-read (or ten). Martin is really tightening up the plot in this chapter, slowly but surely leading us toward doom. The dialogue is strong, though, as I said, I had to work to figure out the last bits with Roose Bolton. 

All right, have a nice Easter and hopefully next episode of Game of Thrones will be just as wicked as the previous two have been.