Sunday, December 21, 2014

[Re-read] Samwell V: The Choice is Sam's, actually. Kind of, anyway.


How did it come to this?
Last night I got a call from a neighbor asking if I wanted to go see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and, well. I wasn't particularly keen to see Peter Jackson thrash the legacy of Tolkien even further after the two previous Bilbo Baggins films, but then I heard that the teaser trailer for Star Wars was being shown, and that got me all excited - to see it on the big screen. Imagine my disappointment when they showed the trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings instead. Oh well; the main attraction was to be the third Hobbit film, and there was very little in it that I was able to truly like - a few shots toward the very end of the film that truly evoked the sense of Middle-earth. What the heck happened after Fellowship of the Ring? That film genuinely drew me in, and most of the scenes felt real and tangible; The Battle of the Five Armies felt like an especially hectic cartoon most of the time, and whenever there was a scene that was supposed to be poignant it just became laughable. I still like whatshisname's performance as Thorin Oakenshield, though. But what a mess of a movie.
At so many points I could only laugh at the silliness - grumpy Legolas, overacted Galadriel, the menace of the Ringwraiths reduced to cartoon-like silliness, Tauriel's unconvincing love, the need to overdo everything (towers falling to neatly wedge between two cliffs to form a bridge), Azog's swim beneath the ice, it was all so fricking soulless. Boo/hiss!
I suppose I could go on and write a grand dissertation about why I feel the Hobbit trilogy doesn't do justice to the source material, or even Jackson's own The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The films manage to both be overwhelmingly epic and detailed and at times beautiful yet they are never exciting or all that interesting; they are frustrating but not nearly as frustrating as the Star Wars prequel trilogy was, fortunately. The biggest sin, I think, is that The Battle of the Five Armies felt more like I was watching a Dungeons & Dragons film (we even got a token Scottish Dwarf) than a piece based on J.R.R. Tolkien's works. Enough about that, I've got to counter this dose of bad fantasy with some good fantasy. And what's better than A Storm of Swords? Not much, I reckon.

All right. A couple of days have gone by since I began this post. Right now, I just can't find it in me to read or write much. I can only think of the children. Of all the woes in the world, and of how much better it would be if we could only, somehow, bring enlightenment to the dark corners of the Earth, and chase away the merciless shadow of religion. No, I'm not going to go all political on you, and I'm not here to offend you if you think religion is the greatest thing since sliced lemoncake, but these are the kind of thoughts that occupy my mind right now, as I follow the tragic news and wonder what more tragedies will befall. I really should be reading and writing as therapy of sorts, I suppose. Maybe tomorrow. I feel drained.

~

All right. Another couple of days. Still angry with the world, but that seemingly insatiable urge for anything fantasy is making its presence known again. Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice seems to finally get going, a nostalgic return to World of Warcraft by way of a seven-day free trial has seen me throwing about my Smite spell again, Amazon had a very cheap Star Wars comic trade paperback for sale which I ripped through in no time (and wasn't really worth those two dollars) and of course I've been following all the latest news on The Winds of Winter. Here it is:

~

No longer as confused as he used to be
Okay. This is getting ridiculous. A few more days have passed in which I definitely haven't had much time for nerdity aside from a little reading. At least now I'm off work for a couple of weeks, but then there's this thing going on with presents and dragging trees into houses and all that silliness getting a pass because it's tradition. Can't wait to open The Wurms of Blearmouth though. I like ensuring that there is some cool stuff waiting for me along with the more predictable sock pairs and the cutlery. Or whatever. Anyway. I see George has been quite aggravated with North Korea of late, I'm hoping this passion is somehow funneled into those wintery winds. Not saying I don't agree with the author's sentiments, really. It's just that, I don't know, an author like Joe Abercrombie keeps updating his fans with these great posts on what he's been up to writing-wise, and Steven Erikson continually graces his fans with his online presence discussing the Malazan saga...I think it's great how Martin stands up for the cause, of course. Of course. It's all so confusing. The world is such a dangerous place and yet I'm pining for The Winds of Winter. Confused! A bit like Samwell Tarly, then, though he's come a long way since he rolled in among the dilapidated structures of Castle Black.

Martin actually immediately shows us Samwell as being, what's the opposite of confused, clear of mind: "The king was angry. Sam saw that at once." Simple and effective, we're immediately thrown into Sam's POV and we learn as well that Stannis is in a bad mood. Which of course leads us to read on because we want to know what's yanking Stannis' chain this time. Gradually Martin reveals to us that Samwell feels out of place, being present only to help Aemon up the steps; Melisandre stands at her king's side, and before them are arrayed the contenders for the open position of Lord Commander (we also learn that Bowen Marsh has withdrawn from the contest). And, of course, Slynt's present with his rather unlikable persona. Slynt immediately goes into lickspittle-mode, but Stannis interrupts his fawning. He tells the group that he is displeased that they still haven't elected a new commander of the Watch, because he will need a Lord Commander to discuss his plans for the future (which, while Stannis hasn't stated it yet, requires the Night's Watch). Slynt suggests that Stannis decide (maybe hoping he'll get the honor, which explains why he's all over Stannis), which the other Night's Watch men just feel is the wrong way to go about it as, traditionally, the Night's Watch chooses its own leader. Right, and just a little later we get confirmation that Slynt is fishing for the position, and is even backed by Bowen Marsh, who argues that a commander of the King's Landing gold cloaks should have the right kind of background experience for the job. I love how I didn't think much of this way back when, but now, now that we know Marsh a little more, it becomes so obvious in hindsight that this is a black brother you don't want to trust. After all, here it is, black on white - Bowen Marsh supporting Janos Slynt. Insidious.

I love how Stannis sees Slynt for the corrupt man he is and calls him out on it. Stannis also reveals that "everybody" knew that Janos was corrupt, and that this was supported by the master of coin at the time, Littlefinger. Once more Martin manages to flesh out his world through character actions and interactions hinted at but never fully revealed. It's another part of why this story is so mesmerizing, because everything feels so interconnected (though I admit that as the story progresses, I feel the world is getting smaller because all the interconnections between characters eventually become a bit too much - kind of like how the Star Wars galaxy shrunk when Anakin Skywalker became the one who built See-Threepio, to make an obvious example of what I'm trying to get at). Still, in this case, the connections do not feel contrived. After all, Slynt was the Lord Commander of the gold cloaks, so it only feels natural that he had dealings with Littlefinger, Robert et al.

There's some arguing back and forth; Stannis tells them he needs the Watch to make a choice at once because he has a war to fight; Ser Denys Mallister reminds him that the Watch takes no part in the conflicts of the realm, sworn as they are to defend the Wall. Stannis explains that he will not interfere with the Watch's duty. Small chuckle when Cotter Pyke proudly boasts they will defend the Wall to the last man, and Edd adds, "Probably me." Stannis then tells them he requires their castles and the Gift, the lands between the Wall and Winterfell. This of course agitates the black brothers; Stannis hears them out, then tells them that he has the power to take it from them, but rather wants them to gift it to him. Obviously then, Stannis has a plan. While the brothers are confused as to how Stannis will be able to man the castles, it should seem obvious to the reader that he's considering settling the Gift - and manning the castles - with wildlings. At least that's how I interpret this.
Melisandre tells them that they will need to light nightfires from now on, which is another thing the black brothers aren't all that excited about. I love her speech in this scene when she rises above them like some mythical figure (I can imagine her shadow growing larger and the candlelights flickering and an ominous sound playing in the background, you know like when Gandalf gets a little angry)..."Ours is a war for life itself, and should we fail the world dies with us." Martin notches up the fantasy here, with the whole "saving the world" trope and all. The twist being that the character proclaiming the need to save the world is, at best, an antihero(ine). Maester Aemon knows what she's talking about - the War for the Dawn; but he wonders, where then is the prince that was promised? At that, Melisandre of course tells him that he's standing right there - Stannis Baratheon. And I so wonder if she, at this point, believes it herself. The funny thing of course is, if Jon Snow ends up being the promised prince (and actually, technically, if Rhaegar is his father, he is a prince), the actual prince that was promised is hanging out like really close by and nobody's the wiser.

Eventually people are dismissed, except Melisandre, Maester Aemon and Sam - much to his astonishment, of course.

Stannis first reminds Samwell that he slew an Other; then, that he isn't much like his father Lord Randyll Tarly (and I still like how this fellow is off-screen but often mentioned, only when he finally showed up in Feast I was a little underwhelmed but that's the problem with anticipation/expectation, much like last night when I finally got to see one of my all-time favorite bands and it turned out they were just human after all). Stannis reveals (drum roll) that he is aware of more than Maester Aemon knows, when he calls him a Targaryen. We learn that Stannis has begun mining beneath Dragonstone for obsidian (what else might they find?!), and that Melisandre calls it frozen fire. It leads to a bit of clunky but needed exposition on the differences between wights and Others ("the only enemy that matters"); and Stannis orders Sam to reveal the gate through which he came (below the Nightfort, with Gilly and the babe) - a pathway for the wildlings? However, Sam doesn't get to finish telling him that only men of the Watch can pass safely through the Black Gate...I wonder when that's coming back to bite someone's ass. Maybe it happened in Feast or Dance and I've forgotten. This bit feels a bit contrived though, it seems to me it would be too important a detail not to tell Stannis no matter if you have to interrupt a king.

Aemon asks to see Lightbringer, with Sam describing it for him. Stannis once again reminds them to get on with the voting, and then Sam guides Aemon down the steps again. Alone, Aemon reveals that he has some serious doubts about Stannis' sword being the Lightbringer. And when Aemon doubts, we doubt. Reading between the lines, Aemon and Sam conspire to rig the upcoming choosing, although Martin elegantly writes around the fact so that a new reader can't be too sure about what's really being planned here. Me likey.
Next up is a longish sequence where Sam goes to the contenders trying to convince them to vote in order to get enough votes for one candidate (and please the impatient Stannis). It also allows Martin to give us a little more information on each of these characters though it feels more like padding than actually needed information (though it's nice, for example, to get a good description of Ser Denys Mallister)....and do we have a little foreshadowing when Ser Denys says that Stannis is not like to keep his crown for long? I have this feeling we'll see the last of Stannis Baratheon when the winds of winter finally blow. Not that I really believe that book will be published anymore.

We get to see Samwell's diplomacy at work, and it's fairly interesting as he tries to choose his words carefully depending on the man he's talking to. He also lies to both Ser Denys Mallister and Cotter Pyke, using their rivalry to his advantage, and the chapter ends when he seems to have convinced both these men of choosing someone else entirely for the job of Lord Commander - Jon Snow.

And that's it, finally! This post was weeks in the making, I can't believe how busy it's been lately, and it's not looking like things are going to be less busy in the foreseeable future. Which is kind of frustrating all the time I like, well, not being too busy.

But now the holidays are here, and that means a little more time for geekery. Woot! Maybe I'll even finish reading The World of Ice & Fire.

Happy holidays!

2 comments:

  1. Religion is more than fanatics who shame true beleivers :)

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  2. What's interesting - why is Sam worried Black Gate won't open from Stannis when all that is needed is black brother to recite his vows? 'Cause Gilly, her son, Reeds and Bran weren't Night Watch men either.

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