Tuesday, June 17, 2014

[Re-read] Sansa IV: A Stranger to Trust

[Spoilers unbound]

June 16th, 2014 - Diary of a Madman
What to do, what to do. Game of Thrones is over, and Rogues isn't coming out until tomorrow, and I don't believe we'll see The Winds of Winter this week. Yet I need a fix of ice and fire. I kind of want to binge-watch the TV series again or have a few friends magically pop up to play the A Game of Thrones board game with me, but I think I will have to settle with another chapter of A Storm of Swords, the sixtieth to be precise. Which leaves twenty-two more chapters before I'm through with one of my favorite trilogies of all time. The TV series has outrun me (to think that my re-read of A Game of Thrones was published when the first season began) but I do want to catch up and finish this third novel soonishly, before tackling that illustrious duo that continue the story. You may remember I had a debate with Stefan Sasse over at Tower of the Hand, and this debate made me decide to go for the Feastdance concept: re-reading both books four and five at the same time in a certain order, hoping that this will improve the reading experience. It has been a good while since I read these two books, and I certainly haven't read them with the same focus as I did the first three, so I am curious to see if I can get more out of them this way. I was not very pleased with A Feast for Crows and the first time I read A Dance with Dragons I found many of the chapters outright painful to read. But that's still twenty-two chapters away, of course.

So, in the previous chapter we saw the unhappy marriage through Tyrion's eyes, and now we flow into Sansa's point of view in the same time frame. As I mentioned, I really like it when the story sort of flows from one character to the other without huge leaps in geography or time. Perhaps because it doesn't happen too often in this series. Joe Abercrombie did an epic sequence in his novel The Heroes where the "camera" (POV, that is) switched from character to character to character in a most entertaining way. I loved that bit. It's not exactly what's going on here, but it reminds me of it. Lovely little technique. Could get old fast, though. Unlike most characters inhabiting Westeros. Except Sansa. I have a feeling she'll be standing when all is said and done, though I can't explain why I have that gut feeling. She'll be much changed, though, I suspect. Did Game of Thrones kind of spoil us on her continued story arc when she showed up in that part weird part evil lady costume in the Eyrie (in episode eight)? Will she essentially take over Littlefinger's role? Nah, I don't think there's time for such a huge transformation and the consequences attached to it in the limited number of books Martin thinks he has left to write - but if I had to place one bet on what Sansa will be up to, I bet she will be the fall of Petyr Baelish. ANYWAY, right now she's still married to Tyrion Lannister (perhaps the most delicious of ironies in the books), waking up from a sweet dream where everything was quite all right: A dream in which her father and brothers were alive and well. I do wonder if Martin intentionally left Arya out of that dream, or if it just slipped his mind. Curious. It is one of those little details that make me curious. Does the author wish to imply that Sansa does not care about Arya? Is it just another way of telling us that Arya is no one, truly? Now if Martin ever does a proper AMA and gifts his devoted readers with some answers, remind me to ask him about this one.
In the next paragraph, when she's fully awake and dismisses the happy dream, she does think of Arya when she tells herself that they are all dead: Robb, Bran, Rickon, Arya, her father, her mother, even Septa Mordane. It makes her feel alone in the world. That's another little irony when we as readers know that Bran, Rickon, and Arya are all alive.

Sansa thinks about Tyrion next, how he is a bad sleeper and likes to rise before dawn. It is nice to see her perspective right after we have had Tyrion getting out of bed and thinking entirely different things. There is contrast and a certain sadness to it all, because they cannot understand each other's motivations at all. Opening up the shutters she watches the clouds and they remind her of "two huge castle afloat in the morning sky". It is quite the poetic and interesting paragraph if you choose to try and read something in it. What is Martin trying to tell us, or foreshadow, or hint at here? The Twins - Is Sansa subconsciously still grieving her mother and brother? The Eyrie with its castles high up in the mountains rising from surrounding clouds? The wind mushes the clouds together, leaving only one - what could this mean? Could the two cloud castles represent Sansa and Tyrion, and when the clouds mush together, that Sansa will be alone - without Tyrion again? You could also choose to read it as Sansa and Tyrion, both under the influence of the "one", Petyr Baelish. Again, one can conjure up a hundred different metaphors here, and be none the wiser. As long as Martin doesn't talk about his writing, we can't know. It could be just a description and done.

Maids enter the room with hot water for her bath, and she reflects on something Tyrion said, that they are all Cersei's spies. She asks them to come to the window and watch the castle in the sky. There's something dream-like not just about the fact that Sansa was dreaming (which is very dream-like) but the whole sequence here with the castle in the sky (which really sounds a lot like "The Eyrie" to me - my hunch is that this bit simply foreshadows her going there). When one of the maids (an insolent one, to Sansa's mind) comments it looks like gold, and the other maid says it looks like a ruin, well, one could easily see this as a metaphor for the ruin of House Lannister. If you so wish. Martin, are you playing with us here? Do tell. Leave a comment, thankyouverymuch. Or how about answering questions about your text as a nice gesture to your loyal readers. I am sorry to be harping on this but man there are so ridiculously many small things I am sure he could talk about and we'd be all fricking ears. Like Elves on methylphenidate!

June 17th, 2014 - Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Yeah I began posting yesterday, but then there was a World Cup match I wanted to keep half an eye on, as well as a couple of children that needed their old father's attention. I was about to explore the concept of Elves on methylphenidate but now I've forgotten what that was all about. Anyway, when I woke in the morning today Rogues had downloaded itself and so I am ready to delve into yet another anthology. Once again, the table of contents shows us that the real treat has been buried in the back of the book - Martin's story once again is the final piece in the anthology, like The Princess and the Queen was in Dangerous Women. There was a pleasant surprise, too - Abercrombie is present with a story, I hadn't noticed that before. I beheld the content, and it was good. I've been reading my paper version of King of Thorns this week, and it is really good. On the Kindle I've been reading R.A. Salvatore's The Companions. It is so bad I am considering dropping it, but I paid for it, so I have this weird desire to finish it anyway. I guess they will go on the backburner the both of them with Rogues now ready for devouring. But first, Sansa IV. A character who has changed quite a lot since her introduction in A Game of Thrones, and is still changing. She has a relatively consistent character arc so far, though I fear with only a few books left that the remainder of her arc might feel rushed (just like her "sudden" dark clothes in the TV series felt a bit abrupt).

The maids put Sansa in the tub to scrub her clean; Sansa is so nervous she is tempted to ask for a cup of wine to calm her nerves. And no wonder - the wedding is at midday and the feast after will have a thousand guests. Still, it must be a kind of relief as well to see Joffrey wed to Margaery - surely she must feel a little off the hook? 

Tyrion arrives, wants a cup of wine. Sansa tells him there will be enough wine later, but Tyrion doesn't want to face Cersei sober. An interesting juxtaposition of characters - Sansa thinks of drinking wine, but doesn't do it; Tyrion goes straight for a cup of red, while reminding us it is a new century, three hundred years after Aegon's Conquest. She sends him off to dress for the wedding and when he returns both Tyrion and Pod look more proper (she does not that a pimple on Pod's face ruins the impression, and that he is such a timid poy, especially for being a Payne, which is what you'd expect a girl like Sansa to think, nice characterization). I love how timid Pod is (Sansa's spot on with that observation), looking away when she talks to him, shuffling his feet, blushing. Tyrion notices it too, telling Sansa that Pod might just tell her toes the story behind his family's coat-of-arms. I chuckle. Sansa would rather stay in her chambers, but tells herself she must be brave like her brother Robb, and so she takes Tyrion stiffly by the arm and they go to the first event of the day, the breakfast in the Queen's Ballroom.

Once inside, we are treated to another list of food, Martin-style; for me personally it only makes me hungry. More interesting is what we can see rather than taste in my opinion; Ser Dontos galloping about on a broomstick horse and Moon Boy making farting sounds. Well, this isn't extremely interesting, but I like how Martin keeps Ser Dontos in our perception by adding him to the detail Sansa notices as she enters the ballroom. Sansa does think a lot about food, though. She notices how Tyrion eats little, and she herself tries some spiced Dornish eggs, and "nibbles" at fruit and fish and honeycakes. I like how everytime Joffrey looks at her, she feels like she's swallowed a bat. Kind of spoils the breakfast for her, without Martin having to state "Sansa felt miserable because..." Ozzy Osbourne approves. 

After the breaking of fast, Cersei presents Margaery with the wife's cloak, which she wore when she married Robert, and her mother wore when she married Tywin. Sansa, who still has that mind-set of evaluating things based on their outward appearance, thinks of the cloak as threadbare, not considering its affective value. Following this, it is gift time. Jalabhar Xho shines in his performance as he hands Joffrey a great bow of golden wood. Lady Tanda offers the king a pair of supple riding boots; Ser Kevan gives his nephew a leather jousting saddle, Prince Oberyn Martell presents a red gold brooch in the shape of a scorpion (how's that for veiled threat), silver spurs from Ser Addam Marbrand, a silk tourney pavilion from Lord Mathis Rowan (who's that again...grumble...must check wiki....Lord of Goldengrove...sent Daeron to the Wall for having sex with his daughter...bannerman of Mace Tyrell...currently advisor of the small council....all right); there's a model of a boat given by Paxter Redwyne, as well. Except for that last gift, most of the gifts Joffrey receives seem interconnected as if they planned to give him all he needs to visit and partake in tournaments across Westeros (basically, a knight's equipment). The model, however, is a representation of the actual thing being built on the Arbor, and will be called King Joffrey's Valor. Could a ship have a more ironic name? Still, it is a mighty mighty gift and you could wonder just how rich is this Paxter Redwyne anyway. What we also see of course is Tyrell bannermen ingratiating themselves, helping their liege lord's alliance with House Lannister.

Sansa notes how Joffrey plays the gracious king, indicating that by now she does truly understand the boy's true nature. However, that true nature is about to come forth when Tyrion Lannister presents him Lives of Four Kings, a gorgeously illuminated book. In the words of Tyrion, the book is "Grand Maester Kaeth's history of the reigns of Daeron the Young Dragon, Baelor the Blessed, Aegon the Unworthy, and Daeron the Good" and the title alone tells me that from now on, Martin's growing fascination for his own creation - House Targaryen and its kings and queens - is beginning to seep properly into the story. Joffrey shoves the tome across the table, telling Tyrion that he, like his father (he's talking about Robert) doesn't have time for books, and if Tyrion didn't read so much maybe he would have found time to put a baby in Sansa's belly. Joffrey laughs, and the court laughs with him; Sansa reddens (though the text does not say whether she's angry or ashamed). She's glad to see that Tyrion keeps his mouth shut instead of letting this turn into a nasty situation similar to what she experienced at her own wedding. What's most infuriating is how Joffrey is allowed to tell Sansa that he'll visit her and show Tyrion "how it's done" after he's put a child in Margaery's belly. So, while his wife-to-be is there, and his mother and his grandfather, and his uncle, and Sansa, he actually says this! That is so incredibly antisocial I can only laugh at it. What a douche. We don't get to read what kind of reaction the audience gives to this extremely bad behavior - I assume they just look down into their cups, awkwardly. 

Lord Mace Tyrell himself gifts Joffrey a golden chalice glittering with seven gemstones, each representing one of the great Houses. Joffrey comments that they will have to chip off the direwolf, and replace it with a squid. True, that. But not nice to say in Sansa's hearing. Did I mention Joffrey lacks each and every social antennae? Finally, it is time for Lord Tywin to present a gift. It turns out to be a longsword, so splendid the ballroom falls silent. It is of Valyrian steel, and Joffrey names it Widow's Wail. In this case, I think the TV show did a splendid reinterpretation by showing us Tywin melting down Ned Stark's Ice and reforging it into the two blades. I also appreciate how they kept parts of this breakfast scene intact, only the breakfast should have been much more crowded. And the Queen's ballroom looked distinctly like it was going on in the outside, which is weird. Joffrey slices Tyrion's gift apart. "I am no stranger to Valyrian steel," Joffrey claims, a hint from the author that Tyrion picks up on, too. Poor Tyrion. He gives the king the one gift he might just actually need, and it gets sliced in half. Such ungratefulness, infuriating. Ser Garlan Tyrell tells the king that there were only four copies of this tome, suggesting that it is in fact an invaluable item, but Joffrey just says, "Now there are three." Which is kind of funny. Is it a wonder people cheer when Joffrey finally is taken from the world? And then he manages to tell his uncle that he demands a new gift since the book is ruined. Love how Martin makes me hate this kid so much I want to reach through the book and strangle him myself. Tyrion stares at his nephew, suggests a dragonbone hilt dagger. Joffrey, oblivious to the implication (or not caring), says that sounds good. What we can gather from this, then, is that a mystery from A Game of Thrones has finally been solved - it was Joffrey who sent the assassin to Bran Stark's chambers and ended up tangling with Catelyn Stark. Love how it is dropped on us so casually, not even through the POV of the character realizing the truth. 

After this, Tyrion and Sansa leave, only to encounter Prince Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand as they cross the yard. And, not to my surprise, I mentally conjure up the images of Pedro Pascal and Indira Varma here. Actually, I'm also seeing Peter Dinklage and Sophie Turner now. Dammit. Sansa spends a moment eyeballing Ellaria, wondering about this woman who went from whore to a prince's paramour. Oberyn comments on the book Tyrion gifted Joffrey, through which Martin gives us some fragments of backstory but also manages to weave a sort of foreshadowing into it: Oberyn gave a shrug. "A year of a fortnight, what does it matter? He poisoned his own nephew to gain the throne and then did nothing once he had it." What I'm seeing here is Martin planting little seeds of doubt in the reader's mind (for later) - did Tyrion poison his own nephew? Lovely little detail. 
The conversation continues, and Sansa joins in, and I have a feeling that what the characters are saying, isn't really what we should be reading, if you catch my drift. Tyrion is basically saying that someone better get rid of Joffrey before it's too late; Oberyn is saying that he's going to kill someone ("I'd sooner save my fangs for someone juicer...") - there's implied threat and some nice coloration here, and it helps build toward the surprise later (when Oberyn becomes Tyrion's champion) - why else put this seemingly random encounter here? The scene also allows Sansa to consider women who are quite different from herself. 

Tyrion and Sansa find their litter, close the curtains for fear of thrown dung, and are off. Sansa "makes herself say" that she's sorry about that book, implying that she really doesn't care - still, she seems to have found some sympathy for her husband at this point. Tyrion asks about Bran, to confirm his new suspicion, but Sansa doesn't have anything useful to say. Tyrion becomes silent and she wonders why he looks at her, still loving how she isn't able to read him. When he asks her if she loved her brothers, she fears a trap instead of seeing that the Imp might just actually be talking about the love between siblings. He tells her that he never harmed Bran and that he has no intention of harming her. Still she isn't able to sense his sincerity. She thinks that he wants something from her, but she doesn't know or understand what. Love how she compares it to a starving child wanting food - she can sense a certain desperation in him, then, but doesn't understand that he simply wants her trust. It is both frustrating as a reader who loves Tyrion and wants the best for him, and rewarding because this awkward pairing of characters rings true because Martin sticks to the characters' psychology and isn't tempted to break free and give us a happy moment where Sansa gives Tyrion a hug and tells him she believes he wants the best for her, or what have you. It is one of the elements of this series that makes it so good.

The chapter ends with Tyrion wondering why Sansa hasn't asked how Robb and Catelyn died. She tells him she doesn't want to know, and he says that he won't (another sign that he wants to earn her trust); she tells him that is kind of him, still in a way that implies she doesn't trust him anymore for this, and Tyrion responds, "Oh yes. I am the very soul of kindness. And I know about dreams." And by stating it like that, we can practically feel Tyrion's bitterness, not only at the world for seeing him not for who he is but what he is, but also for not getting through Sansa's defenses. Wonderful characterization throughout this chapter, and such a contrast to the high fantasy adventures in the North (again).

We'll stay in the flow of this particular storyline as the next chapter switches back to Tyrion again (and we'll have Sansa after that again) - I really like it. It does break up the structure of the story so far, but then there never was a particular structure to the way chapters are ordered anyway. I think it's good that Martin didn't settle for a solid framework as it allows him to play around with the story structure a lot more, tightening the story where it is needed (like here), and broadening the scope elsewhere. Coming up, then, is the Purple Wedding, just nine weeks after it was shown on HBO. Will be fun to re-read, and spot similarities and differences between the two versions of the chapter. 


  1. Waiting for Winter part 2? Any idea when you'll finish this?

  2. Thanks for asking, Part 1 & Part 2 both were finished back in 2012. and were originally to be published by the same publisher who did Waiting for Dragons. That publisher changed his mind and so I was left with the script, which was picked up later by Blue Buddha. Part 2 was scheduled for release just about now, but there have been some delays there so it looks like a September release (at least that's how I interpret it).

  3. I see no importance of making this chapter as Sansa's POV - it could be continuation of Tyrion chapter. Here, we just learn for the N-th time that Sansa doesn't trust Tyrion.
    P. S. I sensed smth. wrong with dagger - thanks for explaining.