Monday, September 8, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime VIII: I'm dreaming of a white whiteness

A white book sat on a white table in a white room. 

So opens this eighth Ser Jaime Lannister chapter of A Storm of Swords, and I just kept staring at it for a while. It fits so well right now, because I'm in a bit of stress because I have a gazillion projects going on at the same time and it has just become a bit too much lately, and I feel like I'm ... well, staring at a white book, a blank page. And I hate it, because not doing anything about anything makes me even more stressed. So, in order to tick off some boxes on the too-long to-do list, and picking one that I actually enjoy doing once I'm in the zone, here's • "Write a new re-read post". And all the while I'll probably have my conscience gnawed from within by all the things I probably should prioritize.
Which relates perfectly to Ser Jaime at this point in the story - he's struggling with his priorities, and in this particular chapter we'll get a real close look at precisely that. A character development chapter, more than action and high adventure. Right, let's crack open that white book.

Ser Jaime Lannister, Lord Commander

Martin throws the word white at us six times during the first few sentences; it is a non-color associated with good; with justice, honesty, honor, all that. It also must be hell for the servants in the White Sword Tower, keeping everything clean when everything's white. I can't remember if this tower has been mentioned before in any capacity, but as I sit here re-reading it, I feel this is the first proper introduction of the location, what with Martin spending several paragraphs describing its contents and appearance. The topmost floor is the Lord Commander's apartments - so this is where Ser Barristan Selmy lived, and this is where Ser Jaime now has his office. Jaime sits by the book, waiting for the other members of his Kingsguard, a longsword hanging from his hip. From the wrong hip, Jaime thinks, but that sounds just a little weird to me, because he does only have one hip, am I right? Shouldn't he rather be thinking, Hanging on the wrong side? Surely that's what Martin intended too, because in the next paragraph Jaime thinks of how he had always worn his sword on the left side; now, he has changed sides because he no longer has his sword hand. The word white reappears so many more times during these early paragraphs that I am already sick of it. I get it, everything's white. His clothing is hanging loose on Jaime, which is Martin telling us that Ser Jaime has lost weight (no wonder).

Jaime keeps thinking as he sits alone at the table, thinking of how he has become "a stranger in his own House". His son is dead, his father has disowned him, and Cersei is keeping her distance. He looks around the room, notices some white stuff, then considers the chair which Ser Barristan the Bold sat in, and other luminaries before him: Ser Gerold Hightower, Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, Ser Ryam Redwyne, Ser Duncan the Tall, Alyn Connington. The mere mention of these names adds a whiff of legend, I like that particular gift of Martin. Of course, the shout out to the Hedge Knight himself, Duncan, is fun too, I wonder if we'll ever get to see Dunk become one of this "exalted company". And now Jaime belongs to this group of legends as well.

Interestingly, the table is made of old weirwood - yet another chapter in which Ser Jaime is close to this material, and yet another hint that Ser Jaime might just be connected to the Old Gods somehow. Again, Martin likes to present to us a somewhat unusual piece of furniture (why are all the tables in Westeros so cool?); this table is carved in the shape of a huge shield supported by three white (no, really) stallions. I like how we get a glimpse of the inner workings of the Kingsguard. We've seen them for three long books, and finally we get to see their headquarters. Their white headquarters.

Next up is some exposition on that book (white) by Jaime's side. It's formal name is The Book of the Brothers, and it holds the history of the Kingsguard. We learn how every knight who has served as Kingsguard has a page to record his name and deeds. Kind of like an early version of Facebook. Kind of. One of the Lord Commander's duties is to keep the entries up to date - kind of like being a moderator. Problem is, Ser Jaime's right hand is gone, and he has a ways to go when it comes to writing left-handed. He needs to enter the deaths of Ser Mandon Moore and Ser Preston Greenfield, as well as the brief service of Sandor Clegane - and he must start new pages for Ser Balon Swann, Ser Osmund Kettleblack, and the Knight of Flowers. It's hard work, being a Lord Commander.

Ser Jaime reads the entry belonging to the former Lord Commander, Ser Barristan Selmy. I suppose it's quite impressive. By letting us read the entry through Jaime's eyes, Martin finds a neat way to give us some background information on the Barristan character, and puts the information close to his reveal on the other side of the Narrow Sea; very clever - so when Barristan reveals himself to Daenerys, we still have, fresh in our minds, his backstory (ideally; I forget this stuff the moment I close the book). Anyway. We learn he is the son of Ser Lyonel Selmy, and that he squired for Manfred Swann; he was named "the Bold" when he was only ten years old when he was doing the mystery knight gig but was defeated and unmasked by Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies. He became a knight at the tender age of sixteen, and from there comes a long laundry list of mighty and epic deeds. Became a Kingsguard at 23 which means he served as Lord Commander for a very long time before he was demoted. Seeing all the people he as fought or defended, I hope to hear more about Ser Barristan from some of these characters. Jon Connington, for example, or Lord Jason Mallister. But what I'm seeing in this resume, is that almost everybody mentioned is dead by the time Jaime reads this entry: Robert Baratheon, Oberyn Martell, Rhaegar Targaryen, Balon Greyjoy, Joffrey....could Martin have had some fun with this, telling us that the people mentioned herein will be dead before the end of the series?

When Jaime compares Barristan's entry to his own, he feels inadequate. He feels that his life seems "rather scant", and he knows Barristan didn't even record everything. Jaime remembers serving with Barristan under Ser Arthur Dayne, allowing us to be reminded of the existence of a certain sword named Dawn which I suppose will come into Jaime's left hand one of these days. Martin again demonstrates his ability to make certain historical characters seem somehow greater than anyone alive; and Jaime thinks that the world was simpler in those days, and that men were finer then. Bit of nostalgia, really. Jaime thinks of how he had wanted to be like Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way turned into the Smiling Knight instead. This is a poignant moment of his character development. We learn that Jaime did set out to become as great a knight as the Sword of the Morning himself, but ended up short. Can he redeem himself and set out on that original path again? That's the question I feel lingers throughout this chapter.

The doors open and we're taken back to the present, with the arrival of Ser Osmund, who grins at Jaime. It is clear from their exchange that Jaime doesn't like Osmund very much. The others arrive, and Jaime asks who guards the kings. That would be Ser Osney and Osfryd Kettleblack, as well as Ser Garlan Tyrell. Not sure why Martin needs to point this out, other than to establish that whenever the Kingsguard have a meeting, some will not be presented because of their duty to protect the king. It establishes a ritual for us to witness.

One chair is empty, as Ser Arys Oakheart is off in Dorne. Jaime thinks of the gathered men as "old and new", and remembers that during the Dance of the Dragons, the Kingsguard itself was divided, and he wonders if he should fear something similar happening. I guess, as a reader, you can start to worry, since Martin takes the time to have Jaime worry over it. He also wonders what Dayne would think of this sorry lot, again reinforcing the thought that the Kingsguard no longer is what it used to be.

Jaime asks them about the murder of Joffrey, to hear their opinions on whether Tyrion is guilty or not. Some are eager to blame Tyrion; Ser Balon Swann is more level-headed about it, explaining that there were a lot of people on that dais could have been involved; Ser Loras Tyrell blames Sansa Stark and sounds pretty sure about it, too. Jaime even thinks Loras' accusations make sense, especially since Sansa ran off (though he could try and see it from her point of view and realize she wouldn't have had much of a chance by staying behind).

Jaime goes on to tell the knights that the Iron Throne is Tommen's now, and that Tommen is going to sit it "until his hair turns white and his teeth fall out - and not from poison", giving Martin an opportunity for a twist later. We might just see Tommen's hair turn white and his teeth fall out, and it might be from something else than poison; but not old age. The way Martin writes this, makes me think we have been given a foreshadowing of Tommen's demise. Perhaps by some spreading disease, come to the shores of Westeros by, oh, I don't know, a certain griffin perhaps? I don't know. Shrug.

Good ol' Boros Blount.

Jaime orders Boros Blount to taste everything Tommen will eat and drink, but Boros gets angry and tells the Lord Commander he's no food taster, but a knight. Ser Jaime throws back a nice sarcastic comment: "You will find carrots and pease less threatening, I hope." This, of course, makes Blount even angrier, going so far as to call Jaime a cripple and that he would suit the office of food taster better. To this, Jaime can only counter with a threat - inviting Boros to a duel - but Boros spits at Jaime's feet and leaves the party in anger. This makes Jaime realize Boros is indeed the craven he knew he was all along, but at the same time he knows that Ser Boros would easily have defeated him in a sword fight. Jaime's reputation is still holding up for him.

Next, Jaime asks Ser Osmund to tell him about himself; Jaime claims to know every knight and freerider in the realm, yet he has never heard of Ser Osmund Kettleblack before. The man doesn't really tell us much beyond having traveled all over Westeros - making it sound he has a past as a sellsword. Kettleblack explains that he served in the Stepstones, and some in the Disputed Lands; he rode with the Gallant Men and has fought for Lys and Tyrosh. In other words, Kettleblack has spent much of his time abroad. What is interesting is, that Martin goes out of his way to keep some mystery to this man. Maybe we will learn more later on - could Osmund Kettleblack be involved in the secret politics going on? Some sort of involvement with Connington, perhaps? A spy? When Jaime asks who knighted him, and Osmund replies, "Ser Robert...Stone" it seems that the man is making up a name on the spot, so why does he want to avoid spilling the truth about how he became a knight? Could be simple - Osmund might have been fighting for a wrong side, and doesn't need to dredge up that old history now. Or there is more to Osmund Kettleblack than we and Jaime know...yet.

Next up is Ser Meryn Trant. Jaime goes straight to the point, telling the knight to stop obeying anyone but the Kingsguard; Trant, of course, was the fellow who happily obeyed Joffrey to slap Sansa around. While we still don't know much about Trant, I assume he is a violent and cruel person who enjoyed following Joffrey's orders, though one could also argue that Trant's quick "Aye. As you command, my lord," suggests that he is equally obedient to Jaime here. Is he the kind of fellow who just acts, and never reflects? I sure don't like Ser Meryn Trant.

Next, Jaime talks to Ser Balon Swann. Man, this chapter is like a, you know, checklist. Jaime questions Swann's allegiance for a while (since his family hasn't been very supportive during the war). He is especially worried about Balon's brother, but Ser Balon, while uncomfortable being asked these questions about his loyalty, swears to "not do as Jaime did". Ser Jaime tells him to have his brother Ser Donnel add a weathervane to his shield, which is all kinds of funny.

And then only Ser Loras Tyrell remains in the chamber. Jaime considers him a green boy, thinking of it all as a game, a tourney. Jaime realizes that Ser Loras is just like Jaime himself was when he was young - "cocksure arrogance and empty chivalry", and he reflects that this is how you become when you are too good, too early in life. What's interesting is that Jaime seems to dislike Ser Loras, which means, reading between the lines, that Jaime now has come to the decision (conscious or not) that he doesn't like who he was, who he became based on his formative years. We learn that it was Ser Garlan Tyrell, Loras' brother, who posed as Lord Renly's ghost during the liberation of King's Landing, and that it was Littlefinger who came up with the ruse. We learn that Loras buried Renly himself, in a secret place near Storm's End. And no one will find him. This just screams "somebody's going to dig up Renly's corpse for some reason!" or maybe "when the Others come south, the dead will rise from their graves and Renly's one of them". Or maybe Renly will rest in peace in his secret spot forever, who the hell knows.
Jaime also decides that for all his faults, Loras is at least still honest, especially when he talks about Renly, who Loras claims "was the best of them". Love Jaime's silent retort, "The best dressed perhaps." Chuckle.

Jaime tells Loras he still holds Brienne of Tarth in a tower cell; Loras gets angry, tells him that she deserves to die. He finds out that Loras has no real evidence that Brienne was involved in Renly's murder. Jaime defends Brienne, using what he can to show Loras that she might be innocent. It's quite cleverly written, and as a reader you can understand both points of view. Jaime turns everything Loras said against him, mirroring it so as to make the boy see sense:

"How could anyone have hurt him? Unless they were part of it."
"How could Joffrey die? Unless you were part of it?

Eventually Loras explains that he doesn't really believe Brienne could have killed Renly, or, he knows that Brienne couldn't have done it because of the strength required to slice through Renly's gorget, but he has refused to believe in this rumored "shadow" that killed his king, so his only option was to blame Brienne. Ser Jaime then offers Loras to go to Brienne's cell and talk to her, ask her questions, so he can make up his mind. If he then still thinks she is to blame, Jaime will see that she will answer for the crime. He asks Loras to judge her fairly, on his honor as a knight - using the kind of wording that would have made an impact on his younger self, Jaime has effectively probed the Knight of Flowers' state of mind, and it seems to me that by now Jaime is confident Loras will end up agreeing that Brienne does not deserve to die.

As Loras leaves, he turns and says, "Renly thought she was absurd. A woman dressed in man's mail, pretending to be a knight."  Jaime tells him that he would not have complained if she was dressed in pink satin and Myrish lace - suggesting that Jaime thinks she looks fair enough once she's in some more feminine attire.

When he's alone in that white, white room again, he wonders if he should not become more actively involved in avenging his (secret) son; then he looks at his stump and decides to get himself a golden hand, but first there are some debts to pay.

And that ends a short chapter of exposition, character development and our first good look at a Kingsguard meeting. I love getting this glimpse, and each of the present members were given a little screentime, allowing us readers to get acquainted with the new kingsguard. The bits and pieces of history scattered throughout help build the reality of the setting, and as always, Ser Arthur Dayne stands out as the most awesome dude ever. I am sure that is going to come back and bite us in the face. Nobody is entirely free of vices in this world, am I right?


  1. I thought Jaime meant Brienne looks better in the armour rather than in female dress.

  2. People were sent after Selmy immediately after he was outed, so how come he did find time to write? Though maybe no one thought to look for him in his chambers, thinking he'd immediately go out of the city