Saturday, June 7, 2014

[Re-read] Daenerys V: Unpromising Sewers

All right, weekend! And with the Monday off work to boot, for some (religious) reason. Pentecost, I believe you English-speaking folks call it. Apparently there are several reasons depending on religion for celebrating it, but for good old heathens like myself it's a nice extra day off. And it will mean I can watch Game of Thrones 4.9: The Big Bad Battle right away instead of waiting to get home from work. Yay Pentecost. Not that I am excited about the next episode; I feel that they might be taking a risk with only two major characters at the Wall (Sam and Jon) and a host of minor characters, whereas the 2.9: Blackwater had a host of major characters, creating a dynamic experience around the single event. The camera could follow Tyrion, Joffrey, the Hound, Sansa, Stannis, and Davos. However, the next episode might give some more room for characters like Pyp and Grenn, which could be a good thing of course, the actors portraying the two of them are pretty great in my opinion. And of course, the season has been preparing the audience for the coming of the wildlings in each episode, so the buildup is there. And now, to get into the mindset of ice and fire, let's check out the fifth Daenerys chapter in A Storm of Swords, the 58th chapter total.

So, Daenerys and her motley crew have reached another city on their world tour - this time it is Meereen, and the mere mention of the city's name makes me shiver. It is the city that will ground Daenerys' plot to a halt, remove the momentum of her march, and though I believe I know why Martin chose to go for this choice (having her settle here), it still mires the plot. I'm thinking that Martin wanted a higher degree of believability to her story and character, and he needed to stall her progress to make story lines on the continent of Westeros sync up with her timeline. Before the story began to expand, I suppose, Martin had planned to have Dany land on the shores of Westeros at an earlier point, but now there are many plot elements back on Westeros that need to be resolved before he can push for that long awaited, long heralded plot point. Even TV viewers, who have forty-seven episodes to their name, are becoming impatient with Daenerys. Oh well, maybe this time I'll find it a better read. After all, I am trying to kind of delve a little deeper than a casual read. Not on the level of some other fans, whose intellectual efforts while probing the texts are admirable, but, you know, in my own little way. I'm thinking of essays like A Laboratory of Politics Part II and the thought-provoking words found on The Meereenese Blot. These guys really turn the texts inside out. 

All right, the chapter opens with some dry information but useful to keep in mind nonetheless, I suppose. The city is as big as Astapor and Yunkai combined, and unlike those two mono-colored cities she visited earlier on the tour, Meereen is built of bricks of many colors. Maybe Saruman had a hand in building it. I know Martin likes his fan fiction. The walls are impressive, and the pyramid at eight hundred feet tall is quite impressive too. The pyramid is taller than the Wall! Also, is Martin purposefully giving Daenerys a tall building to mirror Jon Snow at the Wall? After all, ice/fire yadayada. Maybe, maybe not. Daario Naharis comments that the harpy statue atop the pyramid is "a craven thing", immediately showing his disdain and lack of respect for the Meereenese. It is at this point that Martin grabs the reader properly, writing that a hero rides out of the city's gates, and we pay a little closer attention because, you know, what is this then? He is the champion of the city, daring any of Daenerys' followers to come and face him. Her Dothraki bloodriders immediately want to ride forth to fight, but Dany tells them to stay put. Ser Jorah immediately seizes the opportunity for some bootlicking from his friendzone by her side, telling her she is wise to refuse the Dothraki this fight. 

Whitebeard (I keep forgetting he still hasn't revealed his identity in the books, it feels like he did that so long ago because of the TV series) tells her that as long as that silly-looking champion is taunting them, he is building courage in the defenders of the city. She wonders what good it is to send someone to fight the champion when the gates will remained closed, even if that champion is defeated. Barristan (whoops!) argues that this is all about honor. Daenerys thinks that one "pink-and-white hero shouting insults" isn't the most important matter at the moment - she's more concerned about how many men of her host aren't fit for fight. The Meereenese have been using the scorched earth-tactic as Daenerys advanced on the city, so her army hasn't been able to forage and is hungry. That is a problem. And they had, as shown in the TV series, nailed children up on mileposts - 163 of them. In the show, the children looked old, but the plot point is the same: Meereense do bad things, mkay? The children hanging about with their guts hanging out has only hardened her resolve to take down this city, though. She's so...warrior queen-like here. What happened between A Storm of Swords and A Dance with Dragons? I feel like we're missing some insight into her character's changes. Or maybe I read Dance too quickly. We'll see. 

The hero continues to taunt her for an hour, which is quite impressive. Also, that must wear him down slightly, which is good for Daenerys. And the champion has a name - Oznak zo Pahl. Another easy-to-remember Essos character. "Pink-and-white" works better. Or just "champion". Anyway, it is Brown Ben Plumm who tells her this, a fellow who has been voted as the new commander of the Second Sons. I just got done reading some in-depth speculation on Plumm's role in the series, but I am not sure just how deep this character's story goes, even after reading the theories. I'll try to keep an eye on him, because, you know, he does become a recurring character even into The Winds of Winter. It's a character I have difficulty taking seriously and I believe it is because of his name, which I find a little bit silly. Plumm. 

So, the great pink-and-white champion of Meereen, whatshisname, decides to dismount and take a piss in the general direction of Daenerys' golden pavilion. Or was it golden after the champion takes that piss? Daaro rides up, all swagger, and offers to cut off the champion's peewee and stuff it in his mouth. I can understand how she is charmed by this fellow...On the city wall, a crowd is cheering their champion on, and Daenerys realizes that she must indeed send someone forth to accept this challenge. And so she calls for Strong Belwas. Who?! Oh, him! Love how he casually wipes his hands and sends Barristan for his sword without a word. He is kind of a cartoon character, though. I can understand why they cut him from the show. "Find liver and onions, Whitebeard. Not for now, for after. Killing makes Strong Belwas hungry." Right, that is a bit...cartoony, I suppose. Dany decided on Belwas because if he wins, it will be more of a disgrace to the city because he used to be a slave in the fighting pits. Or some such. And he is the one who is most expendable, Daenerys thinks coldly and calculatingly like a merciless warrior queen.

The champion comes riding for Strong Belwas, who takes it easy, ever so slightly reminiscent of Indiana Jones' swagger perhaps. I will always love that scene where he faces that sword fighter, shrugs, pulls out his gun and shoots. So the champion comes thundering toward Belwas, lance pointed right at him, but Belwas is faster than anyone could have guessed, spinning away at the right moment. The champion is obviously a bit of a fool as he rides past Belwas to lance him instead of just trampling him down and be done with it. Anyway, Belwas cuts down the man's horse to even out the odds, and he proceeds right away to decapitate Meereen's hero. The memorable part is not the fight, however, it will forever be Strong Belwas turning his back to the city, squatting down and delivering a poopoo, then wiping his ass with the champion's cloak. I'm childish, so I think it's funny, though it's quite depraved too. Just to go a little bit over the top, Belwas explains that he lets all his opponents take one cut at him, and so you can count how many people he has slain by counting his scars. Well, what if someone hit you in the same place? Scars beneath scars and overlapping wounds can be hard to count. Strong Belwas, but not strong mentally perhaps. I don't know...I am entertained and Martin enjoys his twisted humor but it doesn't feel right if you know what I mean. 

Daenerys cleans his wounds (to his cartoony protests) and then holds a council, gathering her loyal men about her to discuss how to seize Meereen. I'm not complaining that Belwas is "cartoonish", I am amused by him; but I agree with the show makers that perhaps the story on screen is better off without him (at least as described in the books; but then, they turned Daario into a radically different character so why not a more realistic Belwas? I assume they find they have enough characters to juggle already, but hey, Belwas could've had the screentime they are devoting to Missandei and Grey Worm's "tragic" love story; but then again, they probably know their audiences and maybe said audience needs stories like these to keep interest? I don't know.)

At the council, she tells her men that she must have the city, because they've got a lot of food that she needs. Daario adds that they also have gold, silver and gems, and Jorah says he can see no weakness in their walls. However, Dany points out that the city also has seaward walls, standing on "a jut of sand and stone" where the Skahazadhan River runs into Slaver's Bay. She wonders if three ships could attack from the sea and I suppose that's where we see she's still a young girl after all. She wonders about siege towers, which is also explained to not be a good choice. I like those harpy heads with open mouths atop the city gates, which can "spew" oil on attackers. Nice little detail. Daario tries to goad Grey Worm, but fails. Grey Worm is a very serious young man...ish fellow. Brown Ben Plumm manages to utter a memorable line of dialogue when he says there are old and bold sellswords, but no old bold sellswords - essentially telling her that it would be useless to send the Second Sons to the city gate as well. The option to starve the city into submission is also ruled out, because they will starve first - and people in her army are already catching bad diseases due to the river water. Finally, Ser Jorah has some actual advice. Only, the advice is to leave Meereen be. And I have a feeling that countless readers are whispering OH Hell's YEAH! when Ser Jorah tells her what we all want to tell her: "You cannot free every slave in the world, Khaleesi. Your war is in Westeros." However, she takes Meereen as a challenge she must overcome to prove herself good enough to seize the stone castles of Westeros. Dammit. Ser Jorah though argues that the dragons will grow stronger and bigger, and then Westeros won't pose much of a problem.  Even the Dothraki try to persuade Daenerys to leave Meereen alone, arguing that the city has already been defeated since they are hiding cowardly behind their walls. But Daenerys cannot forgive the 163 milepost-nailed children with their skinny arms pointing the way. Well, she can forgive the children, of course, they were after all nice enough to make her journey to Meereen convenient by pointing out the route, but she cannot forgive the masters of the city who did this.

So when it seems they have come to an impasse, you naturally expect a sudden, unexpected idea to come to her, but instead it is Brown Ben Plumm who provides what I almost dare call a deus ex machina, or at the very least a very convenient plot device: Plumm knows a way through the great brick sewers because that's how he escaped Meereen once. He tells them the sewers are closed with iron grates but some have rusted through, and inside there is a maze that must be navigated, all the while swimming through excrement. It does not sound nice. Also, you can't send an entire army through there without alerting the defenders. I have to chuckle when Daenerys says the sewers do not sound promising. As if there are promising sewers. Ew! She decides to think on this suggestion from mysterious Plumm, and dismisses the gang. And then, out of nowhere, Viserion flaps his wings and goes to settle on Ben's head as if approving of the man. That's when Plumm tells her he's got a "drop of dragon blood" in him. She is surprised, of course; he doesn't seem like the type to have Targaryen blood. He explains that there once was a Plumm in Westeros who wed a Targaryen princess, but it seems the tale has grown in the telling as this Plumm apparently had a six foot long penis.  I wonder why Martin adds this detail. My suspicion is that it is simply to show that the dragons are amiable to anyone with a hint of Targaryen blood (I do believe the tale, except for that size); it might just crop up later when needed. There might be a little foreshadowing aften Ben leaves and Dany tells Drogon that if he had been big enough, she'd fly him over the wall of Meereen. It might suggest we'll see Drogon and Dany fly over...I don't know, the Wall? Her thoughts turn to Daario. 

She finds herself stealing looks at him, and she's fascinated by his eyes, teenage infatuation style. We learn that he has brought her flowers on a daily basis. Maybe there's something more to this than him just trying to get her in bed? He says it's to teach her, so she can learn the land. Daario makes her laugh, which Jorah never does. And now she imagines kissing Daario, and the thought is both exciting and disturbing. When alone, then, Daenerys becomes the young girl she really is, and one must wonder how much of her warrior queen style is simply a role she plays. She does realize that Daario isn't good for her, but I suppose that only reinforces the attraction and excitement she's feeling. She eventually gets tired of overthinking her relationship to both Daario and Jorah and decides to go for a ride. Missandei and Whitebeard join her. They take a ride along the shoreline, away from Meereen. A "sudden wild anger filled her", which is quite interesting - has the city woken the dragon, so to speak? Could be. We get a glimpse of the Unsullied training, and we learn that they bathe everyday to keep themselves clean, which gave the TV show writers the (excellent) excuse to show us a little more of Missandei. Out on the waters, she looks at the ships anchored there, cogs and galleys belonging to Magister Illyrio. Did you know that magister is latin and means "teacher"? More description follows as she watches her encampments (giving the reader a closer look at her army, and reminding us she's almost a Messiah-like character to the freed slaves now serving her in the host).

Suddenly (and finally) the chapter picks up when a tall ragged man with a shaved head and a sunburnt face accosts her, yanking her from her saddle and drawing up a sword. It's Mero. Wait, what, he's alive? Oh I guess he is. Confusion from mixing book and show again. Mero's etiquette is once again pristine as he tells her he's going to cut off her teats, but fortunately Whitebeard intercedes with his tall hardwood staff. Mero scoffs, calls him grandfather, but now the old man can show his true prowess and we get a quick fight. The fight shows us just how good Whitebeard is. When Mero's done with, he kneels before Daenerys and apologizes for not coming to the rescue quicker (he didn't recognize Mero immediately because he had shaved off his hair and beard). She is unsettled by the sudden attack, reminded that she has enemies everywhere (been a while since the last attempt, though, so a man can forgive her).

She is taken back to her pavilion, where she's angry with Ser Jorah for not telling her Mero, the Titan's Bastard, had escaped. He says that he didn't want to frighten her. I suppose he did not tell her out of kindness / love, but this is a small first mistep that eventually will lead to the two parting ways, as happened in last week's episode of Game of Thrones. Ser Jorah is a tad more charismatic in the show, though, so I felt more sorry for him in the show than I do in the books. Ser Jorah sounds like he can't believe old Whitebeard could have slain Mero; Daenerys wants to have the man knighted. Nope, I never saw that it was Ser Barristan, but it really is announced in many ways before the reveal. I am sure brighter minds saw through the man's ruse from the get-go. Whitebeard though tells them he is already a knight, and finally we get the reveal from him. Ser Jorah finally recognizes him (kind of weird that he hasn't already).

Ser Barristan Selmy gets tears in his eyes as he explains his backstory to us Daenerys. I had forgotten that this scene was actually also the scene where Ser Jorah is revealed to have been a spy for King Robert Baratheon! It does make for a stronger scene than the two separate reveals we got in the show, of course, because now Daenerys has two advisors who both have betrayed her in different ways (one witholding truths, the other spying on her). She becomes furious, and the dragons sense it too. A hint that Daenerys' emotions affect the beasts? We might see more of that. She thinks of both of them as false. Suddenly this chapter got a whole lot more interesting, didn't it? Encampments and sewers is all fine but having this fallout between Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah is of course much more interesting as it directly involves Daenerys' future. And maybe both these count as two out of the three betrayals the Undying had told her would occur?

She wants them both out of the tent. She is very disappointed, and angry. Understandably. Drogon actually screams. They are linked to her, it seems. Mentally or emotionally or whatever. "The Others can take you both," she snaps, and secretly I am hoping this is foreshadowing...she want them to go to hell (not seven, just one) but the chapter ends as she realizes the perfect place to deposit the two betrayers that anger her so much.
And while the book doesn't mention it explicitly, I guess even I wasn't dim enough to not realize she is sending them into those sewers, a stinky hell if there ever was one. The whole chapter is well constructed then, pulling through on the setup (the sewers) by way of advancing the plot (the betrayer knights). Good stuff, if a little long!


  1. I really hope they also show the battle from the willings point of view. I mean we need to see mance before the battle.

    1. Yeah, I hope so too. I have a feeling they will; after all, we had a short scene with Ygritte and Tormund last week. And if they want to [SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS] get some emotion out of the viewers with a certain character's death[END SPOILERS] I suppose it would be smart to indeed see certain scenes from Ygritte's point of view. I wonder if people will be shocked or not, after all, there's been a (semi) important character dying in almost every episode this season.

  2. I also thought on sewers when chapter ended abruptly. =D