[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.