Monday, February 2, 2015

[Re-read] All hail the Epilogue!

[Spoilers for everything under the sun]
And so I finally get to wrap up A Storm of Swords, the third book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. It is a novel so full of twists and turns and awesomely paced excitement and intrigue and character development, it pretty much has to be my favorite novel in the series. Never mind that I said A Clash of Kings was my favorite (I still think book two is pretty darn awesome, though); it is this third volume that truly upped the ante, raised the stakes, lifted the story to a new level in so many ways - through this one, we slowly had our perceptions of Ser Jaime Lannister changed; in this one, we came to realize that Beric Dondarrion was a setup for, well, today's epilogue I suppose; in this one, Prince Oberyn Martell came, saw and didn't conquer, stunning many a reader and TV show fan; in this one, we got so much more of everything we liked about Martin's writing, taken up another notch. And it remains the series high, I suppose. What a novel, eh. It was the book that turned me from very appreciative of the story to an obsessive fan. And I still remember the moment I put the book down, being done. And there was no continuation. I began my search for other novels that could be as awesome, and for a long long time I didn't find any. There was only one thing to do, and so my first re-read began.
And now, I'm once again going to follow Merret Frey on the road up to Oldstones. Letz flip open ze book-zingy.

I just have to digress just a little bit before getting into the epilogue (my apologies). Because, of course, there's been some commotion on the Internet again, regarding George R.R. (who would've thought). His publisher has announced that we most likely won't see The Winds of Winter this year. This wasn't much of a surprise, but it still got the fan community ashiver again, of course. Even over at Westeros Censoros a thread was created where people could bemoan the long, maddening wait (of course, it was quickly locked because, you know). As was noted over at Is Winter Coming?, more and more people get more and more frustrated, and websites where one can vent usually see an influx of new members. What I'm trying to say is, that maybe it wasn't the best strategy to come out with this information. Frustration keeps building and will continue to do so until the release date is announced, I suppose. All right, anyway, I wasn't surprised, I'm so used to it by now that I merely shrugged. But what did raise my ire is that the publisher, almost as an appeasement, promised us a collection of the three The Hedge Knight (Dunk & Egg) novellas. It made me angry because I already bought the three anthologies containing these stories (Legends, Legends II and Warriors - correct me if I'm wrong); in addition to the comic book adaptation of The Hedge Knight and The Sworn Sword, both in magazine format and collected in two hardcover books. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Are they really thinking that I'll happily go buy these stories over again and that it will somehow keep me happy and warm while I wait for goddamn winter?! MAGOO!

The other big news (if you can call the non-announcement big news) is of course the Game of Thrones Season Five trailer which hit a few days ago. There will be a lengthy discussion about it sometime soon at Tower of the Hand (I'm participating too), so keep an eye out. I'm not as excited for season five as I have been for the previous seasons, and I am not sure where the line goes between too much original material and just the right amount, but it looks as if the show is definitely moving farther away from the source material. And, who knows, maybe it will work, and maybe it will work even better than A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons which both are obviously less adaptable than the first three books.

Finally (since we're in the realm of GRRM news), the man who earned a cool $15.000.000 or whatever last year and who buys himself cinemas when it pleases him, would very much like your money. 90% of the man's blog posts last year was advertising for products or asking your money for charity. I find it somewhat...well, it gives me a headache much like Merret Frey's. Let's see if the fellow has been able to circle the stone road and reach the summit of the hill...


I was reading a few more pages of The World of Ice and Fire yesterday (yep, that means I was on the toilet) and came to the section on the Westerlands (after a long wade through the grey seas surrounding the Iron Islands). It is perhaps the area I was the most interested in learning something new about, because it has (in my opinion, anyway) been the most neglected area of Westeros (with the Reach coming second). I was surprised to see Oldstones on the map; I thought it lay much closer to - or in - the Riverlands, yet here it is deep within Lannister territory. Or am I seeing a different Oldstones on the map in the book? Anyway, Oldstones is a castle ruin on the top of a hill, and our friend Merrett Frey is on his way up there as the epilogue starts. Right, I had to go check the Wiki to make sure I'm not confusing myself. It is the Oldstones I saw on the Westerlands map in The World of Ice and Fire, but it's actually in the Riverlands according to the Wiki-map. And it was here Catelyn and Robb had a chat at this sepulcher of an old Mudd king. I can't remember that this was on a hill from that scene, actually. Never envisioned the two Starks being on a hill during that scene, but there you go. I like how Martin takes us back to this place, though, as it kind of sets up the meeting with Lady Stoneheart in a roundabout way. The last time we saw this location, we saw it through the eyes of Catelyn Stark, and now, through the eyes of Merrett Frey, we are back there again and what do you know, maybe Catelyn is around again as well. NO! Wait. Dammit. I am confused. This is not the same Oldstones as the Oldstones on the Westerlands map?! This Oldstones lies in the north of the Riverlands, and it is pretty far removed from the Lannister lands after all. *Checking some more maps and stuff* Oh. Oldstones lies very close to the northern edge of the Lannister borders. I guess that is what I noticed in the book last night (I don't have it here right now, so that's why I had to go online to figure it out). Right, as if it matters to the universe anyway.

Merrett, by Mico (from A Wiki of Ice and Fire

So, the epilogue opens with Merrett walking up this hill, thinking 'gloomily' that it is unnatural that there's snow in autumn in the riverlands. First, it always kind of grates on me when Martin uses an adverb (gloomily), mostly because I've been told and/or I have read so many times that as an author, you should avoid using adverbs. That is, words that describe a verb. I don't really care that Merrett is thinking gloomily, but it always sticks out to me because I remember those words of advice. Not that Martin is the worst offender in the fantasy genre (gods, I almost threw up in my mouth as R.A. Salvatore's The Companions came to mind - see my previous blog post). The second, and much more interesting thing about these thoughts of Merrett, of course, is not just that Martin hints one more time that winter is finally, truly approaching - if not yet entirely (most of the snow is already gone by sunrise), but how Martin manages to sneak in that word "unnatural" - Merrett takes the snowfall as a "bad omen" - hinting at the resolution of this chapter, which of course is quite unnatural. That's some nice writing, right there. Also, I continue to be impressed by how quickly George RR can paint a hitherto unknown character, a character appearing in one chapter only (like he did with Maester Cressen in A Clash of Kings for example) and make that character feel almost as well-rounded as some of the regulars. Of all these "one-shot characters" I think Merrett Frey might actually be the best of the lot, this epilogue really gives us a good look at this hapless character before he's gone from the stage.

Martin quickly sketches up Merrett for us, the first character trait being that this fellow is "always" unlucky. As he comes to the castle ruins, he notes how forested the area is and how a hundred outlaws might be lurking about, watching him - it gives a sense of tension right away, as we start to wonder the same thing. Now, for a first time reader, it is not yet obvious that this character is a Frey (yes, he appears in A Game of Thrones during Catelyn's dealings with Lord Walder Frey, and he is mentioned in A Clash of Kings but his last name has not yet been mentioned here in the epilogue), and I assume Martin left out the Frey surname here to allow the reader to experience Merrett as a person first - because, you know, most people will be hating hard on the Freys at this point in the story, what with the Red Wedding and all. Just something I noticed. I cannot, obviously, know if that is why Martin does not introduce Merrett with his last name. Like the rest of the world I know infuriatingly little of Martin's writing process. Gah!

A quick description of the types of trees growing in the shadow of the castle ruins allows Martin to sneak in a possible foreshadowing of Merrett's fate, by mentioning that some of the trees look skeletal. That's a hint of death, of course. Lovely. In a creepy, morbid way. We learn more of Merrett - he hates woods, and he hates outlaws even more. Which goes with the sense of Merrett being an unlucky fellow, because here he is, in the woods, and more than likely surrounded by outlaws. The chapter does give you a sense of someone walking straight into a trap, but I am not sure I noticed this on my first read. I do remember liking this character and getting really shocked at the conclusion of the epilogue. It was like I was sure that Martin could not shock me any further after all I had been through with the characters in this novel, and then he managed to top it anyway. And he had even kind of foreshadowed it with Lord Beric Dondarrion. Man.

So why do I like Merrett as a character? He is described as an alcoholic (or near as), with a reputation as the biggest drinker of the Twins. He once hoped to be the greatest knight ever (echoes of Bran Stark's dreams here, as a kind of mirroring), and he blames the gods for taking those dreams away from him; he drinks to stay clear of headaches, he dislikes his wife and thinks of his children as worthless (those children will feature in Feast, according to the Wiki - I can't remember them at the moment, another thing to look out for in the upcoming mammoth project). Well, what I like about Merrett is that he is deeply flawed. It makes him feel real, as if he stepped into Westeros from reality almost. Almost. He is a vulnerable man, a loser really, yet Martin manages to contrast this with how most Freys so far are presented and show us that Merrett might yet be the best man among them, flaws and all. Merrett is both a device to show us that Freys are can be people too, warts and all, and he is a glimpse into our own weaknesses, a contrast to all the larger-than-life characters populating this world.

He is sober now, he thinks to himself, yet he's had two horns of ale and a cup of wine, excusing himself that it was to keep his head from pounding - this description, too, serves to humanize Merrett (and the Freys by extension, possibly?) - without telling us, Martin is implying that Merrett is addicted to alcohol, because it really sounds like how an addict would think, making up excuses for why he is taking more. Also, those headaches, described as a thunderstorm between his ears, makes me feel sorry for Merrett - he has really trudged himself a vicious circle he can't break out of, something I've seen a lot in real life. So many people caught in their own follies. Sad, really, and sad is how I would describe Merrett if I could use only one word. It is revealed that sometime in the past, an outlaw did something to him that caused these headaches, giving a little depth to his hate for outlaws. Not sure it's necessary, why would anyone like outlaws anyway - but it's there. Now, I do not remember it, but I have a feeling we might learn just who this outlaw was, because as the story progresses there seems to be an increase of..."inter-connectedness" between characters and events in the series, to the point that it stretches believability. A little like how George Lucas actually made the Star Wars galaxy smaller with the new movies, where it felt as if every character was somehow related to other characters in some way (prime example being Darth Vader was the builder of See-Threepio). It seems that Martin has kind of fallen into this trap as well, with a lot of small connections between characters, making Westeros feel smaller. You could even argue that it is happening right now, in the sense that out of all the hills in the area, Merrett goes to a hill we already visited earlier in the story (likewise, I have a feeling there's only one inn in the Riverlands). It makes a little sense that we find Lady Stoneheart at Oldstones, though, so this one is excused. ANYWAY. Will be interesting to see if Martin resisted the urge to name this "nameless outlaw", or if we'll get a hint of who it was. I have a feeling I'll be touching on this topic a few times during the next two books, we'll see.

Martin takes his time letting Merrett round the hill, using it for characterization as mentioned above, and now to explain what Merrett is up to: He is here to pay a ransom for Petyr, and he knows there are outlaws in the ruins of Oldstones, and these outlaws are going to take his money and he's going to take Petyr home. A simple ransom, as Merrett thinks to himself. Knowing Martin and this story, nothing is ever simple. And knowing Martin's prologues, featuring one-shot characters who end up dead, one might reasonably suspect Merrett to die as well (the suspicion greatly helped by skeletal elms and oaks, being at the ruins by sunset and a bloody bag of gold).

Lem Lemoncloak © Fantasy Flight Games

Now we finally realize just who Merrett is. He remembers that he had stepped forward to offer to carry the ransom, and his father had laughed through his noise, "that hideous heh heh heh laugh of his." Yes, Merrett is the son of Lord Walder Frey, and the hostage he is going to pay for is Petyr Frey, a relative of his ("great-nephew" according to the Wiki; I know, I'm kind of cheating today). Upping the tension, Martin describes something moving in the underbrush and it turns out to be a squirrel. Cheap tactic, Martin! Works, though. Heart thumping in his chest, tempted to turn around and spend the gold he carries on wine instead, he nonetheless moves toward the ruins of Oldstones, even though he really thinks that Petyr Pimple isn't worth it. We also learn through Merrett's memories that he was in the Kingswood back in the day, fighting "the old Brotherhood" (a first hint as to who's to blame for his incurable headaches); but now he's only facing the "lightning lord's sorry lot of brigands", conforming for the reader that he's about to face Lord Beric Dondarrion's crew.

I just love how Martin makes Merrett's headaches a way to describe tension; when it begins to pound, softly at first, it's like he turns up the tension; outwardly, so to speak, there's nothing really going on, just a fellow on his way up the hill, but the pounding head of course becomes like a beat increasing in strength, like a soundtrack getting more and more intense (and thus, exciting). A simple but effective tactic. Love.

Still stretching it out for our benefit (in the sense that the author is building up the suspense), Merrett decides he should not think ill of Petyr. Turns out Petyr's wife is cheating on him, with Petyr's brother, Black Walder. We also learn that Black Walder is having his way with other Frey women, possibly to set us up for this character come Feast (giving us a little insight into yet another despicable character). It sounds to me like Merrett is a little bitter that he isn't as sexually adventurous as Black Walder - mainly because at the thoughts of Black Walder, Merret curses under his breath. He also knows he can't get out of this, because if he returns to the Twins without Petyr, he'll be a dead man. Ironically.

Next up is a little update on Walder Frey himself: Soon 92 years old (oldest character alive that we know of?), eyes almost gone, gout really bad, should be dead soon enough. Merrett reflects that when Walder dies, everything will change for the worse, actually. That's the spirit of Westeros right there. Merrett also seems bitter about not being acknowledged by the Lord of the Twins; if I could choose two words to describe the character, I'd go for sad and bitter. What follows is Martin trying to explain to us, as simply as possible, what Merrett thinks will happen once Walder dies. As it stands, Ser Ryman Frey now stands to inherit the lands of House Frey, followed by his sons, Edwyn and - you guessed it - Black Walder. Lame Lothar once said they hate each other more than they hate the rest of the family, which suggests to me that House Frey might just fall due to internal intrigue and strife rather than being annihilated by other forces (though, as we'll see, there's at least one ...deadly... force out for the Freys specifically). Interestingly we learn that it was Lame Lothar who planned out the Red Wedding with Roose Bolton, teaching us who is truly the most dangerous Frey. Merrett is really thinking the same thing - "It was like to be every son for himself when the old man died, and every daughter as well." Maybe we'll see a plot where, say, Lady Stoneheart or some other character sneaks into the Twins like a ghost, setting the Freys against each other (stealing something from Black Walder and putting it in Edwyn's chambers, say), hastening the demise of the House? It kind of feels like that is what Martin was considering when writing this, but as you might know, there's precious little Red Wedding fallout in Feast and Dance. Again, if I remember correctly.

Walder Frey's shadow looms over the epilogue.
And we continue to be trapped, as it were, in Merrett's thoughts. This is a really long ride around the hill. Still, it is all quite well written and interesting. Now he's worried about his future, thinking of himself as unlucky, the ninth son of a House being of no use to him. He has no money, nothing really but for the clothes he wears. We get a lot of background story on Merrett now, as well as a closer look at what he looks like. I've always envisioned the Freys as tall and thin, yet Merrett is big and broad and not that tall; another difference between him and the others, making him stand out as a contrast to the general perception we have built ourselves. I like it. So Merrett was squire to Lord Sumner, but Merrett caught the pox from a camp follower and then managed to get captured by the White Fawn, a woman (clearly Merrett thinks of women as inferior as this shames him so). Then, after having been ransomed, he had been struck by a mace in the head - hence, headaches forever. And so Merrett never became Ser Merrett. We still don't know who hit him with that mace, though. Nice.
His wife has always been a disappointment to Merrett, "always" popping out daughters; the eldest of them he thinks of as a slut (and now I think I remember who that is), the second a glutton. Oh, and here we go: Ami. Gatehouse Ami! I remember her, if only because of that nickname. So Merrett's her dad. That's funny. And makes Westeros a little smaller? Hey! And Fat Walda, now married to Roose Bolton, is a daughter of Merrett too?! Chortle & chuckle! She is of course the glutton Merrett refers to.

"You think Bolton gave a mummer's fart that she was your whelp? Think he sat about thinking, 'Heh, Merrett Muttonhead, that's the very man I need for a good-father?"

Can you not feel sorry for Merrett Frey? Even getting his daughter married to Bolton isn't good enough for his father, because Bolton of course chose the fattest available Frey because her weight would determine the price. Merrett's job during the Red Wedding had been to get Greatjon Umber so drunk that he couldn't fight, and Merrett had failed at that, too. And so the characterization of Merrett comes full circle as we finally understand just why he was so eager to go out there and pay the ransom for Petyr: he wants to prove himself to his father, a very human trait, again. And that means that, now, Mr. Martin, we've had enough inner thoughts and are ready for some excitement, some action, some encounter, something more than a poor hapless fellow on the road. Some dialogue, something to break it up. We're invested in Merrett now, knowing where he's coming from, what's at stake, and I for one would like Merrett to succeed at least this once in life. Heh. Kind of.

More nice descriptions where Martin uses the "show don't tell" adage ("Merrett found himself shivering, despite his cloak") and a more blunt, fun reveal that the fellow has a fawn burned into "the cheek of his arse", just in case you didn't find Merrett pitiful enough already. Three words for him, and the third word would be pitiful. I love how he, against all odds, decides to hope that Petyr Pimple might end up Lord of the Crossing one day, here he's justifying to himself this dangerous mission he has blundered himself into.

...and finally the chapter goes into "direct mode", with Merrett coming upon a man in patched, faded greens across the sepulcher (in other words, Tom o'Sevens seated on the tomb of the Mudd king, where Catelyn and Robb had their discussion earlier in the novel - geez, was it really atop a hill?!). The singer wonders whether Merrett recognizes him. Merrett says no, and Tom explains that he sang at his daughter's wedding. Then he asks why he wasn't asked - ever - to play at the Twins, which is the first sly hint from Tom that he has a grudge regarding Walder Frey and the Red Wedding. Suddenly Merrett's surrounded by outlaws, twelve or more. Suddenly the chapter's moody introspective style is shattered by this direct confrontation; if you were dozing, now's the time to pay attention.

Martin clearly enjoys not giving us character names, but it is of course entirely in tune with Merrett not knowing who these fellows are, and of course it is satisfying when we as readers do recognize these outlaws. The big bearded man with crooked green teeth, a broken nose, a halfhelm and a patched yellow cloak is, of course, Lem Lemoncloak (I recently read some theories on who he just might be, as if there aren't enough secret identities around by now). Lem asks for the money and we become privy to the sum: one hundred golden dragons. That's quite a healthy sum, and it surprises me that Walder Frey would bother, actually. Isn't it a little out of character for Walder Frey to offer up one hundred gold dragons for Petyr Pimple? Unless Merrett didn't get a hundred gold when they sent him off, expecting him to be killed anyways. As I don't remember, I now have an additional interest in getting through this epilogue. Mmmm, a squat one-eyed outlaw (Jack-be-Lucky) inspects the sack of money, and it seems to indeed be there. Merrett begins to realize they might not intend to let Petyr - or him - go. Nail-biting commences! (On my part.)

Merrett asks for Beric Dondarrion, known to be the leader of these outlaws, but after some jesting, they reveal that he is "needed elsewhere". There's also the description of a woman in a cloak three times to big, I almost blazed right past the description in my eagerness to read on. Sneaky, Martin. Merret's head keeps pounding now, he tells them to give him Petyr, and they tell him that they will take him to the godswood, where Petyr waits. He has to give them his horse, and tries to at least get his wineskin, to no avail. Merrett and his luck, eh.

With leaves of autumn crunching under their heels, they come to the godswood just as the sun sets (here Martin uses the sunset as a symbol for the second time in this chapter - the sun setting on Merrett's life, that is). The first thing he sees upon entering the godswood is Petyr hanging from the limb of an oak, "a noose tight around his neck". Well, there's a shocker for you, Merrett. I kind of like, in a morbid way, how Petyr's eyes bulge from a black face, staring at Merrett accusingly (hey that's another adverb). Admit that although the scene is quite macabre, I had to chuckle when Merrett croaks, "You killed him", Jack-be-Lucky responds, "Sharp as a blade, this one." Likewise when the poor Frey says they had no right to kill Petyr, Lem replies that "We had a rope," that's a great sinister reply. Too shocked to struggle, Merrett gets his arms bound tight behind his back. He calls them out b but Tom simply admits they lied.

Jack-be-Lucky © Fantasy Flight Games

The noose is tied around his neck, and Merrett claims they wouldn't dare hang a Frey (for fear of repercussions, I assume he means) but Lem laughs it off, telling him that Petyr had said the same thing. So this means that Walder Frey indeed saw fit to send one hundred gold with Merrett. Mmm. I guess I'll have to accept that, then. Merrett tries to threaten them, but again the outlaws are rather nonchalant about the whole business. Then, Tom says that if Merrett answers one question, he'll tell the others to let him go. A glimmer of hope for poor hapless Merrett! Gods, how many times have I written his name in this post? Anyway, they ask if he knows where Sandor Clegane is. Merrett, unfortunately, doesn't know - even though there was a chance of him knowing, as Sandor (and Arya) were indeed present at the Red Wedding; well, outside the castle, at any rate. That's kind of sad. "Well, up you go," Tom says so casually it almost ruins my immersion (because I never felt Tom or most of the other men of Dondarrion were that merciless, but of course, certain things have changed); of course, Tom tells the others not to hang him as promised, and then the others just continue with the execution.

Poor Merrett resorts to pleading for his life, telling them he did as best he could, came with the gold, that he has children. "The Young Wolf never will," says Jack-be-Lucky and to me that's a clear signal from the author that Jeyne Westerling is with child, TV series version of events be damned. You heard it here first. Knowing that she will be featured in the prologue of The Winds of Winter, here's my quick speculation about that prologue: It will be from the point of view of one of the characters escorting her to the Crag. Jeyne is inside a litter or wagon, pregnant. The POV character must know that she's pregnant, of course, somehow. And then the wagon comes under attack, and Jeyne is killed. This will match the TV series enough, and it gives this line of Jack-be-Lucky some extra weight on re-reads. Just my hunch!

Merrett explains that Robb Stark had shamed his House and that the Freys had to cleanse the stain on their honor, which is all kinds of ironic considering how little honorable they acted when they murdered the Starks during the wedding. Yet from Merrett's point of view, one could argue that it makes sense too. As much sense as one can find in such a brutal setting, anyway, know what I'm saying? The stain on House Frey's honor, people. Clearly the Freys have done such a vile thing (violating guest right) that the North will remember, like, forever. That's not just a stain on your honor, that's basically signing away the continued existence of your bloodline. What is weird though, in a sense, is how you in war can rape and pillage and burn fields, but if you betray someone after having given them food and water, well then you are obviously insane. Goes to show how custom and tradition often get in the way of developing healthier rules and laws. Enough about this.

Merrett tries to justify the murder of the Starks, calling it vengeance, saying they had a right to their vengeance. He tries to blame it on Catelyn cutting Jinglebell's throat, which is all kinds of feeble really but Merrett is trying to save his life here so I can kind of understand how he lies about this (in the sense that Catelyn wouldn't have killed the lackwit if the Freys hadn't begun the slaughter first); he tries to get sympathy from the outlaws by mentioning the deaths of some of the Frey allies, but the outlaws won't hear it. When Lem mentions the outrageous act of sewing Grey Wind's head on Robb Stark's body, Merrett says that it was his father's - Lord Walder Frey - doing. All Merrett did was drink.

Then, Merrett remembers that Lord Beric always gives a man a trial (as we witnessed earlier with Sandor Clegane), "that he won't kill a man unless something's proved against him." It really is Merrett's last shot, and it's kind of surprising he's capable of coming up with this idea. Maybe because he is (somewhat?) sober? Merrett continues by saying that they have nothing against him, because the Red Wedding was his father's work, as well as Ryman's and Lord Roose Bolton's. We learn that Lothar rigged the tents to collapse upon the northmen, and arranged the crossbowmen in the gallery (further reason for us to loathe Lame Lothar). But Merrett, Merrett only drank wine. Poor sap. "You have no witness," he reiterates, but Tom says he's wrong about that, then calls for the hooded woman.

When she lowered her hood, something tightened inside Merrett's chest, and for a moment he could not breathe. 

Even the undead can be hot, one could argue.
The description we get gives us a pretty nasty picture - far nastier than the image accompanying this paragraph (above). Her flesh is soft as pudding and the color of curdled milk; half her hair is gone and the rest is white and brittle; her face shredded and black with blood. In her eyes, Merrett only sees one thing: Hate. Incidentally, I've been listening to the new Hate-album (that's a Polish death metal band) while writing this post. Anyway. Lem explains that the woman - whom we now realize, with a shock, is Lady Catelyn Stark - can't speak because the Freys cut her throat too deep, but, not unlike the North, she remembers. Lem asks her if Merrett was part of the Red Wedding, and she simply nods.

Once more Merrett tries to plead, but his words are choked off by the noose. Ouch. A fairly depressive end to the third and most splendid of A Song of Ice and Fire-novels, so dark and foreboding. The first time I read this, I remember having to re-read those last bits one more time right away, to see that I had understood it correctly. Then I remembered Arya watching Nymeria drag that corpse out of the water...considered Thoros of Myr's ability to breathe life back into Lord Beric...and sat there, astounded. I felt sorry for Merrett with his pounding head, yet I fist-pumped the air for Lady Stark's vengeance (the epilogue does show how vengeance only begets more vengeance, a theme I'm fairly sure is a conscious addition by the author, both here and in other parts of the work).

Only later did I ponder how the return of Lady Catelyn as a semi-alive/half-dead creature might cheapen the story, in the sense that Martin potentially can bring back any dead character this way. However, after more consideration (the old gods know I've had the time to ponder this, it's close on fifteen years since I first experienced Lady Cat's return to the world of the living) I came away with the fact that Martin had already laid the groundwork for this reveal through the constant resurrections of Lord Beric Dondarrion, and had already introduced to us the limits of this power, so it's not an out-of-the-blue deus ex machina. Due to the way Catelyn was brutalized, she looks and sounds (in Feast) more like a zombie/wight but we have to remember that she is actually alive in the same sense that Lord Beric was; I guess there was something about her having been in the river for so long had done something to her mental faculties, making her more undead-like upon resurrection than Beric, but she is still Lady Catelyn Stark, and the next book will reveal a little more about who and what she has become after the traumatic events at the Twins. So in the end I am quite fine with this plot development/twist, and the way Martin leads up by the nose up to that noose throughout the epilogue is just brilliant. Still, I do hope we don't have to go overboard with it (I'm foreseeing a similar resurrection in Winds feat. a certain Night's Watch character), it really is a trick that is interesting and shocking only one time. It worked with Cat despite Beric because Cat is an important main character and you really don't expect a character like that to come back almost as a hell-bent monster. In many ways, it's incredibly entertaining. And you can bet your family I wanted to have the next book in my hands right away the moment I finished A Storm of Swords. All I had left, though, was the Appendix, starting with the Kings and their Courts. Bah.


Thank you for joining me on my long journey through this third book. My next project, then, is the reading of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons combined, using the order suggested by Boiled Leather Audio (all leather must be boiled!), come to my attention through my discussion of the merits of the two later books with Stefan Sasse of the Nerdstream Era and Tower of the Hand.

My mission: To re-read Feast for the third time, and Dance for the, er, one-and-a-halfth time; as well, become reacquainted with this latter half of the story which I'm beginning to forget, it's quite detailed.
My hopes: To see if combining the two makes for a more interesting reading experience, and to see if I can become more enthusiastic about these two novels.


  1. Great Work Mr. Slynt! How long have you been doing the re-read?

    I know the books are usually really long and therefore take a lot of time to be finish, but I'm still pretty sure that the sixth book will come out late this year or early the next, all reports and/or speculation from publisher and news sites be damned.

    I have to admit that out of all the prologue and epilogue characters Merrett is also my favorite for reasons you already stated, though Maester Cressen is still the one that saddens me the most.

    Anyhow, congratulations on finishing the re-read. Will look forward to your "Feast/Dance" re-read and other projects you might have in the fandom.

  2. Thank you, Roger. I started all the way back in 2009 (or perhaps early 2010) with 'A Game of Thrones', so I am doing it pretty slowly. There's no haste as Martin takes his sweet time, too ^^ I hope to be able to be a little more frequent with the next two books, as I both want to finish what I started, and I want to spend those hours I'm blogging writing my own stuff. Maybe. Possibly. Thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks for the reread

    One thing though:
    How does "The Young Wolf never will," imply that jeyne is pregnant? To me that implies the exact opposite ,that he will never have a child because she isn't pregnant and he is dead. You don't need to be alive to have a child

  4. Hi Brent, thanks for reading. I guess I didn't make it clear - you are right, but I was thinking that George RR Martin loves himself some irony. In context, Merrett begs for mercy because he has children, and then Jack says "The Young Wolf never will" {because he is dead}, the irony being that Jeyne Westerling is pregnant with Robb's child (the irony being that the Young Wolf - even though he is murdered - has, at least at the moment Merrett encounters the outlaws, did father a child). Of course, this is pure speculation on my part :-)