Friday, October 17, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime IX: Dejection by Rejection (and a flabby...)

It's Friday! That's pretty good all by itself, but in addition I am treating myself to another chapter feat. my favorite character (at the moment, at any rate), Ser Jaime Lannister! And I'm reading it while listening to a classic King Diamond-album, Them, from 1988, one of the most glorious years in the history of metal music. Not saying King Diamond enhances the reading experience, but I just needed to get off my chest how awesome this Danish horror-metal-meister is. His music - and perhaps especially his vocal styles - are a love it or hate it thing. However, I didn't come here to extol the virtues of King Diamond, but the (slowly appearing?) virtues of Ser Jaime Lannister, one of the most ambitiously written characters in the fantasy genre. Last time we saw him, he was having a meeting in the White Sword Tower and checking out that White Book, now let's see if this 73rd (!) chapter in A Storm of Swords features more color.

The chapter opens with a droll description of the king, at the head of the table, with "a stack of cushions under his arse". Now there's a word you don't see that often in the saga: arse. Isn't this the British spelling? Why did Martin write arse and not ass? To make it feel more medieval? Who knows. The nice thing about this introducing sentence is, by adding that stack of cushions, the author immediately gives us a vivid picture and reminds us the new king is a small, young boy. Deftly done, in typical Martin-fashion (not sure if Martin and fashion belong in the same sentence, but there it is - except if we're talking about being fashionably late, perhaps).

It is the boy's granduncle, Ser Kevan Lannister, who is handing the young king documents to sign, and by having Kevan say "Only a few more, Your Grace," we immediately understand that the boy king is tired and bored of this work - again, Martin at his best, feeding us information and entertaining us at the same time and letting us connect the dots without over-describing everything (yes, I'm contrasting to A Dance with Dragons here). Tommen is actually signing documents that strip Lord Edmure Tully and Ser Brynden Tully of any claim to Riverrun, so Martin manages to slip in some politics as well, which is sweet (but not for the Tullys). 

Tommen isn't the only one who is bored - his uncle Jaime is bored too, wondering what fun lies in having power like this. Jaime is sore, too, having trained with Ser Addam Marbrand. A neat reminder that Jaime has to train his left hand for fighting. Interesting to learn that Ser Jaime and Ser Addam are basically childhood friends, and that Jaime trusts the man almost implicitly. Wonder if this detail will come back in some form (betrayal, most likely). Jaime realizes that he would have been dead if he had been fighting Ser Addam as opposed to training with him, which gives us a sense of how much Jaime lost when Vargo Hoat chopped off his hand. I think it's fantastic that Martin chose to write a little about Jaime's thoughts here, because losing a hand should be a big deal in a world where you can't be instantly healed or given a replacement mechanical hand. Again, consequences are shown to be important - and another aspect of importance here, of course, is to see that Jaime does not give up but shoulders on; a fascinating insight into his character development. He is, however, afraid that people will learn how weak he has become; he is afraid Ser Addam will tell someone. Briefly, Jaime considers training with Ser Ilyn Payne instead, the guy being without a tongue might make it easier for him to keep secrets, which of course sets up part of Jaime's story in A Feast for Crows. However, if I were Jaime, I would be thinking that it can't be that hard to spill some beans if you really want to, regardless of your lack of tongue.

There is some more setup for Feast as well, as we learn that the Riverlands are officially handed over to Ser Emmon Frey and Lady Genna, whom we will meet in that fourth novel. I like how Martin does not tell us straightaway that Genna is a Lannister here (I suppose the appendices tell us, but for someone not scrutinizing everything, there might be wonderment - why are they handing Riverrun to the Freys?). Lord Roose Bolton's bastard is legitimized, Roose becomes Warden of the North, and Ser Rolph Spicer is granted Castamere and raised to lord. Telling us this, Martin basically reveals who the important accomplices in the Red Wedding were. And I wonder if Rolph's fate can be guessed by what castle he receives...or maybe he's out of the story, now. Or maybe he appears in books four and/or five, and I've forgotten. So many options!

Some pardons are signed for a number of lords, and by that time Jaime's had enough and wants to take his leave. Kevan tells him to go to his father and make amends; Jaime is upset about the gift he received from said father, taking the gift as mockery. Kevan looks distressed at this, as if the gift was genuinely heartfelt, and maybe Kevan does feel it that way. Still, a Valyrian sword is a wondrous gift, you'd think. Jaime takes it as a slight because he's lost his sword hand, of course.

We get a closer look at Tommen; he has Joffrey's golden curls and green eyes, but is plumper, his face pink and round, "and he even liked to read" (that's actually a good sign, Ser!) - he basically doesn't look much like the actors who have portrayed the character in Game of Thrones. I like book Tommen better. He's sweeter, funnier: "Pressing his royal seal into the hot wax was his favorite part of being king, so far."  Younger, more a child. More endearing. It will be really sad when he ends up on some block or pyre. 

Outside, Jaime meets Ser Meryn Trant and he thinks that if the rest of his guard learn just how fragile he has become, it won't turn out well. Out in the courtyard, he greets Steelshanks, and we get a look at a young bride being sent north to the Boltons. Love how the aftermath of the Red Wedding continues to create new hooks and shows us some of the agreements made beforehand come to fruition now. The girl is Jeyne Poole, acting as a stand-in for Arya Stark, and she's frightened. Martin writes this part in a way that made me first wonder if Jaime wasn't aware of the identity switch, but then he gives us Jaime's thoughts and we learn that he does indeed know. Just a bit of awkwardness there because Martin wants to save the "truth" for us to keep us hanging. Brienne of Tarth hates that. The northmen ride out of the Red Keep with the bride in tow, and she looks "small and forlorn". I almost feel glad for this fictional character that she doesn't know what awaits her. Imagine having her POV, that would be harsh - but maybe having a "fake Arya"/ Jeyne POV could have strengthened the story in some ways, too? 

As he watches the column ride off, his thoughts drift to Ser Gregor Clegane, now being tended to by Grand Maester Pycelle, and we learn that the Mountain is suffering from the Red Viper's poisoned spear. These thoughts give us a few important tidbits - that Tywin Lannister is afraid of shaking up things even more with the Dornish; that they try to heal Ser Gregor so that they can execute him (!) for political reasons - I never noticed this little detail before, that's just so Tywin, love it; there's the fact that Stannis seems to have left Dragonstone and that Tywin (mistakenly) fears he will come up on Storm's End. Lots of juicy bits tucked away here that sets up the story to come. 

Back in the tower, his twin sister awaits him. Her gown is, of all things, white, so while the chapter has been more colorful so far than the previous, white still seems to dominate - is Martin trying to use white as a metaphor know, winter? She wears green and gold too, though. Jaime really takes in the sight of her, with a lengthy description that is summed up with Jaime's thought, She is so beautiful. Cersei has tears in her eyes: Tywin does not want her on the council anymore. She wants Jaime to talk to him. However, Tywin isn't very happy with Jaime, either, and wants to strip him off his Kingsguard cloak and send him home to Casterly Rock. After all, Tywin has seven years of rule ahead of him until Tommen is of age. Cersei complains about not wanting to leave her little boy behind, and how they are planning to marry him to Margaery Tyrell, twice his age and already twice a widow. Jaime makes it clear he does not have the same parental feelings that Cersei has, cold but honest. He also reveals how often Cersei had warned him not to show interest, so he has basically trained himself for years not to take an interest in his children. Through their discussion, they realize that the one who had sent an assassin to take out Bran Stark (all the way back in A Game of Thrones) was Joffrey, and that Joffrey had overheard Robert Baratheon talk about offering death as a mercy to crippled children. Through this, Jaime also seems to realize that Tyrion might have a good reason to hold a grudge against his nephew Joffrey. This helps sell the idea that Jaime, in the end, decides to help his dwarf brother escape King's Landing. Cersei is really breaking down here, and no wonder - she's lost one son, her daughter has been shipped off like cattle to be sold, and now Tywin wants to keep her away from Tommen. I think it works brilliantly and believably the way it is written here: though knowing of the prophecy of Maggy the Frog (introduced in Cersei's story in Feast) makes her breakdown here perhaps even more dramatic (because we know Cersei might be fearing that prophecy is coming true), I still think it works just as well without. 

Cersei then tells Jaime that Tywin plans to marry her off again as well, which is a blow to Jaime. However, the two twins remain at odds: Jaime does not want to relinquish his duty as Kingsguard, and she doesn't want to show the world her love for Jaime. An impasse, then. Jaime tries mentioning the Targaryens, but Cersei won't hear it (ironic though how Targaryen-like she becomes in Feast). Their conversation is rather fantastically written, and it's one of those key moments that you perhaps don't remember in detail later, but which are so defining for both characters in their future; the dialogue shows so much of where they are now mentally, and how far apart they have drifted. It also becomes apparent here that Cersei not only blames Tyrion, but actively believes he should be removed from Planetos. As they go on, Cersei angers Jaime more and more, and he actually declines her - rather direct - attempt at using make him hers, which is a major development considering how the two have lived their lives up to A Game of Thrones, and as a reader it's so frustrating to kind of understand both sides and see their relationship deteriorate. Not saying it's a healthy relationship, but it's sad none the less. And so unlike any other fantasy novel, am I right? 

The palpable tension, how they become more agitated as they converse, it's all beautifully captured by Martin - yes I am saying 'captured' because it almost feels like he just stole into that room in the White Tower and recorded the discussion. That's how alive these characters become in my mind when reading this. Cersei delivers a final insult aimed at Jaime's peepee before she storms off, Jaime's left not so much seething (as you would expect) but...kind of dejected (and rejected). 

Jaime goes downstairs, tells Ser Boros Blount that "When you're done with your drink, tell Ser Loras I'm ready to see her." Now, that is the one small blunder in the chapter, the rest of it is just extremely good material, but here a reader will get confused. Is Ser Loras a she? Is Jaime using "her" about Ser Loras in a derogative way? Of course, Jaime is talking about Brienne of Tarth, but the way it is phrased here is a little clumsy. But I'm okay with that. Rather one clumsy line in an intense and personal chapter, than many typos.

When he meets Loras, the Knight of Flowers admits that Brienne of Tarth may be innocent (of Renly's murder). More important development as Jaime realizes that Brienne has, in his own words, astonishing eyes. How could he have overlooked those for so long, if they are astonishing? What we get now is a contrasting scene to the previous scene. Instead of his sister Cersei, he now faces an entirely different woman (in every way), Brienne. It reads very differently from the other discussion simply by virtue of Brienne and Cersei being two different people, and Jaime reacting to them in different ways. And gotta love Jaime comparing vouching for Brienne's honor to a whore vouchsafing for her maidenhood. I chuckle mightily. 

Jaime goes on to tell her about the Jeyne Poole/Fake Arya ploy, which makes it easier to streamline Brienne's upcoming choices, and he also acknowledges her battle prowess (if understating it, as if not really wanting to admit his admiration for her); he explains how Tyrion's trail went down; Jaime is certain his little brother is innocent and Brienne is certain Sansa is innocent; and then Jaime presents her with a gift, echoing the talk of Tywin's mocking gift to Jaime earlier in the chapter. Valyrian steel then, looks pretty cool. And he gives Brienne the quest to find Sansa. Such a lovely turnaround! I am not sure if Jaime wanting it named Oathkeeper is stretching it a bit, I mean, as if his redemption arc is suddenly coming on too strong, but Martin is smart and takes it down again by having Ser Jaime get annoyed by Brienne's "bleating", in this way showing that all is not suddenly perfect between them. "Sansa Stark is my last chance of honor," Jaime says, summing up all his conflicted reasons for sending Brienne off to find Sansa and save her before Cersei finds her. 

Finally, Jaime is alone, night falls, and he sits down with the White Book. And he begins to write. Awkwardly. In case you had forgotten the missing hand. And that nothing comes easy. Including writing (well there's a lesson!). His choice of words is brutally honest, and I love how by merely reading the lines he writes into the book, we see how dejected Jaime has become with it all. Defeated, captured, ransomed for an unfulfilled promise, captured again, maimed...And then the beautiful, if perhaps a tad predictable and bluntly written ending that becomes the very signal of Ser Jaime Lannister changing into a better man (or so we hope and assume):

(...) the rest Jaime Lannister would need to write for himself. He could write whatever he chose, henceforth. Whatever he chose...

Such a perfect note to end Jaime's first story-line with. Dejected and despondent he may have become, and angry at the world for many things, but here, with those lines of thought, shines hope, hope and a conscious decision to improve upon himself. I like that.  I like how characters, and perhaps especially Jaime, never seem to stagnate, they are continually evolving in different ways, keeping both story and interest alive. Think of Arya at the beginning and at the end (of the story so far); or Bran; or Daenerys; their internal struggles really help breathe life into their characters, and for my part, Jaime does this the best. Not just because he's got fun dialogue and a bad-ass attitude (at times). But because Martin is really exploring the human condition through him, in different ways. Love it. 

And now. Back to work. Yes, you too!

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