[This post contains a) spoilers through ADWD and b) subtle (?) digs at religion]
It's almost Easter again, which means I'm going off on a holiday for the next week or so. This means no re-reading but it certainly also means that I won't be able to watch the Purple Wedding on Monday! That is a bitter pill to swallow, but rather a bitter pill than bitter poison, I'd say. Heh. But when I do get to see it, it's almost time for episode three, and that's rather nice. There's been some furious debating again this week, on the grand Interwebs, regarding Martin's writing pace and how it contrasts to HBO's breakneck pace in getting Game of Thrones out. Well, breakneck pace is a bit of an exaggeration with ten hours of television a year, but for Mr. Martin it certainly goes way too fast. And many are complaining, fearing the day the show overtakes the books - and most of us seem to agree it will happen, and now Martin doesn't sound as confident anymore as he did a few weeks ago. Maybe we'll read The Winds of Winter unspoiled by the show, but it seems more than certain that A Dream of Spring will be watched before it's read (the broad strokes, at any rate). It's disturbing. I've been hooked on these books since 2000, that's fourteen years of dedication and the payoff is the TV show's alternative vision of A Song of Ice and Fire. Yeah, I can understand those who are frustrated, and yeah, I don't understand those who are perfectly fine with it. Of course there's nothing to do about it, it'll become what it'll become, but it's still a human right to be annoyed. There's still time for The Winds of Winter, though. It's April 2014. That being said, I assume the producers of the show will have to condense books four and five quite a bit, because there isn't really that much external action going on, and so I have a feeling these two books together will serve one season, one season and a half tops. Which brings HBO even closer to overtaking the books. Fortunately, Martin seems confident with Winds these days, claiming that he doesn't need as much rewriting, but we have no clue as to how far he's along, and so we can only watch the train coming closer and closer, hoping it won't hit our dear author.
|Come here, lover boy|
Let's shake off the worries and get back to Westeros - and the Wall - with Jon Snow, recently shot by Ygritte of the wildlings. I saw a meme the other day where Ygritte says to Jon, "You know nothing, Jon Snow" and then in the next picture she's looking at that small tower and says "Oh hey, is that a palace?" I thought it was rather funny. The sarcastic retorts Jon could've come up with at that point! If he wasn't such a wuss.
So Jon is getting the hell away from the wildlings, and even though his mare is blown, he forces the animal on, knowing that he can't let the Magnar get hold of him. And if this Magnar is anything like the fellow we saw in Two Swords earlier this week, I can sympathize with that...but the Magnar in the books is not a cannibal, fortunately. His wounded leg is growing more painful, and he has no saddle so he's probably got pretty battered ham too. Soon enough he reaches the kingsroad, and tells the horse that now all they have to do is to follow the road. The horse does not reply, for which I am grateful. I think I draw the line between good fantasy and not so good fantasy at talking animals. Oh wait, the crows. Corn! Corn! King! Dammit. And he's so light-headed he finds himself riding in the wrong direction a couple of times, which is kind of hilarious as there is only this one road to travel. He's actually turning around on the road. He dreams of seeing his friends again, drinking wine (a sign that he's turning into an alcoholic, Cersei-style?); Hobb and Donal Noye, both sorely missed on the TV show, maester Aemon in his rooms beneath the rookery (always getting bird shit in his face), the Old Bear, Sam, Grenn, Dolorous Edd, Dywen with his wooden teeth...Jon hopes they've escaped the Fist. And I wonder why his thoughts linger on Dywen's wooden teeth. A fetish? Okay, sorry, I realize I'm coming off as snarky here in this paragraph. Never been friends with Jon Snow that much, maybe that's why. Or I am just in that mood today. Who knows, oh oh? Perhaps someone under the sea.
And of course he spends time thinking about Ygritte. It's only natural that you think of your girlfriend when she's just shot you in the leg. As if he's got an angel and a demon riding his shoulders, one voice tells him he shouldn't have left her, and the other tells him he shouldn't have fallen in love with her. He almost misses Mole's Town, but in the nick of time he realizes he has reached the place and we get our first good look at a location that's been mentioned before, but never seen. Not that we get much - in a paragraph Jon's ridden off again. We learn that most of Mole's Town is underground, with only a handful of hovels above ground. The infamous brothel is "a shed no bigger than a privy", so I guess that means Mole's Town has one whore to serve the Night's Watch? At the adjoining stable (which I then have to assume positively dwarfs the brothel), he is given a new horse and something to drink (and I notice it's wine). He tells them to pack their things and get out of there, for the Wildlings are south of the wall.
At dawn the following day, he can see the Wall rising above trees and morning mist (lovely imagery), the fading moonlight still glimmering against the ice (again, lovely imagery). He's got a gelding now, which he urges on, and at last he rides past the outbuildings of Castle Black, but doesn't see guards or anything. WTF! Jon realizes just how dilapidated Castle Black is, and we're given a quick reminder of the fire that Jon had caused in the Lord Commander's tower (for a good cause, though). It seems deserted then, but for a wisp of smoke from the chimney of the armory, and here Jon finds one-armed Donal Noye working the bellows (but not very hard, considering the "wisp" of smoke; also, I am still trying to imagine how he gets anything done with one arm. Does he hammer blades and hold said blades at the same time? If yes, that's impressive. "Jon Snow," Donal states, and Jon replies, "None else." It's good to be back, Jon thinks, and I don't find that hard to believe.
Donal says they heard Jon had gone over to the wildlings, something Jarman Buckwell had told when he returned a couple of weeks ago. His scouts had seen Jon ride with the wildlings. Jon confesses the truth of it, but tells Donal that he acted on Qhorin Halfhand's orders, which he did. Jon wonders where the garrison is, and Donal tells him they are out defending the Wall against Jon's "friends", implying that he's suspicious still. Apparently, the Watch has spread out to counter attacks along several points: Woodswatch-by-the-Pool, Long Barrow, Icemark, Queensgate, Greyguard, Eastwatch...Jon tells him that it's all a feint to force the Night's Watch to spread itself thin, and that the main attack will come at Castle Black. Also, a quick notice of how Bowen Marsh has "obliged" Mance Rayder, telling us that Bowen isn't the best commander to have around. We'll keep it in mind. Donal sees how injured Jon is, and the fact that there's a wildling arrow sticking out of his leg gives him some cred. Donal wants to take him to Aemon, but Jon has to tell Donal first that there are wildlings even south of the Wall, coming up from Queenscrown to open the gate.
|Me so sorry|
There are only forty men left at Castle Black, and Ser Wynton has been named castellan in Marsh's absence; and he is obviously among the best either. In reality, it is one-armed Donal Noye who runs the business now. Jon thinks that's good, because Donal's a tough guy. Still, he'll have some trouble firing arrows. Donal asks for Ghost, Jon tells him he's left behind, north of the Wall.
Clydas appears, a stooped, round-shouldered man with small pink eyes. Pink eyes? Wow. He lays Jon down while Donal goes to fetch the maester. And the ravens are quorking "Snow."
Maester Aemon appears soon after, but moves slowly once he's arrived. A bit like Pycelle in the TV series. I wonder how worried Jon is that a 100 year old blind man is going to do a little surgery on him. Jon tells Aemon the same he told Donal, about the wildlings south of the Wall, then goes on to explain Qhorin's orders, as Aemon begins to perform his mad skills on him. There is pain.
It is time for Jon to get some news too - Mormont is dead, and they know it was other men of the Watch that had killed him. Here's a little tidbit from Aemon for Jon to remember once he gets himself to A Dance with Dragons - "The Watch is not what it was. Too few honest men to keep the rogues in line." Thanks for telling me now, Maester. So twelve out of two hundred men survived the Fist (well, perhaps the betrayers are still alive), which is a pretty hard blow; Bowen Marsh is now the Lord Commander until there's a choosing, and I do believe I saw where this was going right away. Jon ponders the potential candidates for a moment, Cotter Pyke, an Iron Islander, and Ser Denys Mallister from Seagard, who despise each other, seemingly the best choices he can think of. More pain and Aemon orders Clydas to give Jon the milk of the poppy. Interesting how Noye calls the Magnar a lord of Skagos (where there are cannibals, apparently) but Aemon understands that Jon means the Magnar of Thenn, a place in the far north of the Frostfangs. So when the TV producers decided to mix it up, they did it with some basis in the text, actually.
When Jon tells Aemon that Mance Rayder has found the Horn of Winter, Aemon pauses. He calls it a legend, and doesn't really believe Jon's claim. Jon tries to explain who Ygritte is when he tells them Ygritte spoke of opening graves in search of that horn, and tells them he broke his vows with her. He's beginning to lose his consciousness, the sentences fractured as he tries to explain. The maester picks up a hot knife, tells Clydas to hold Jon down; Jon tells himself he will not scream. He screams. As he suffers, he thinks of Ygritte. There is more sleeping and more waking and then he sees Pyp looking down at him. Joyful reunions are few and far between in A Song of Ice and Fire, but here we get one. Enjoy it while it lasts. Unfortunately times aren't good, so they might end up talking glumly about all the shit that's been going down.
Grenn's there too, stepping out of the darkness. Jon learns that Sam stabbed an Other and earned the nickname Sam the Slayer, and Grenn admits that they had to leave Sam behind. Yes, very joyful reunion this is turning out to be. They think Jon needs more milk of the poppy, but Jon begins blabbering about the Magnar and the wildlings again, but they try to assure him everything's being taken care of. Noye has even dispatched men to Weatherback Ridge - is this a brand new location? I can't remember hearing of it before now. And Maester Aemon has been dispatching birds. They tell him to rest, but he doesn't want to. He tries to sit up, and what do we see here? A young man who wants to take responsibility, who wants to...do something. Sounds like a commander in the making, huh. Especially since Mormont wanted him groomed for command, anyway. All the signs are pointing to this bastard of the North becoming the new Lord Commander. Unlike many twists and turns in the story, this one feels somewhat predictable (though how it all turns out in A Dance with Dragons was a new twist in the tale) and I always found it hard to believe that Jon Snow, at his tender age and with all his dealings with the wildlings, could become the Lord Commander. Seems that in the end certain men of the Watch agree, only it takes a while before there are consequences. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
To rip the last vestiges of joy out of the reunion, Jon is told that Balon Greyjoy has crowned himself king again, and has attacked the North. This includes the destruction of Winterfell, Jon's home. He learns that Bran and Rickon have been murdered at the command of Theon Greyjoy, a fellow Jon has grown up with! Can you imagine how that must feel? I can't. However, there is no vengeance for Jon to seek; apparently Lord Bolton's son killed all the ironmen and is flaying Theon as they speak. However, Jon did see Summer back at Queenscrown, and now he wonders whether Bran perhaps is living on in the direwolf. He can't understand how Winterfell can be gone and Martin chooses to mention the steaming pools and the stone kings in the crypts, which is one of many clues that there is a link between Jon and these places within Winterfell's walls. There are more than enough theories about the importance of Winterfell in relation to the Long Night, and I suppose these thoughts of Jon can be used to support these theories.
And there you go, he falls asleep and dreams he is splashing in those hot pools beneath a huge weirwood tree (wait a minute - those waters in the godswood of Winterfell - are they the hot pools? Now I'm a little confused). Ygritte's there, though, so it feels like the dream is part symbolic and part Jon's recent experiences being processed; Jon thinks of himself as "the blood of Winterfell" and that he will not father a bastard, to which Ygritte replies (predictably) that he knows nothing; this could be a clue that Jon eventually will father a bastard. The chapter ends when the dream shows Ygritte's skin dissolving in water, the flesh sloughing off her bones until only the skeleton remains - vivid imagery you've got there, Jon! It is also a pretty blunt clue that Ygritte will die, I suppose.
And that's it! Another slightly boring Jon chapter, though it's not too long. There are less interesting Jon chapters ahead, definitely. It receives a rating of 7.93 over at Tower of the Hand, which I find surprisingly high, what with all the repeated dialogue and the amount of conflicting thoughts continuing to work in Jon's head. The most important plot advancement is that Jon learns how the Watch fares, and that the Watch learns what Jon knows of the wildlings' movements. Still, there is plot advancement, and I feel that Martin portrays Jon's inner struggles rather well (although they feel more like the thoughts of a twenty-five year old, but hey, this story also features dragons, which are even more unlikely). Also, Jon gets to experience pain though I never really felt it along with him. Maybe I should stab myself with something while reading for proper immersion? I see a pencil on the table...yes, I will read this chapter one more time and hurt myself a bit. After all, Easter is all about sacrifice and stabbing. Though I have to say, that I don't find it very impressive to sacrifice yourself when you know you're going to rise from the dead in three days' time. It feels a bit like cheating. I do have a feeling that the Messianic sacrifice motif will come into play later in this saga, though, if not through Jon, then maybe Daenerys. I feel like somebody's got to stand up and become a martyr for Westeros in the battle for the dawn...if it ever comes our way.
All right, I'm off to celebrate Jesus' death. Have a nice Easter, and may the Easter Bunny deliver unto you chocolate of the most delicious kind. And enjoy Game of Thrones 4.2 dammit.