Tuesday, May 19, 2015

[Re-read] Tyrion I: Wine, whores and song

Come to the Dark Side...we have mushrooms.
Right, so wow, I went onto the great interwebs last night after watching episode six, and there sure was a storm blowing - that last scene with Ramsay, Theon, and Sansa sure sparked a controversy, and I can totally understand why. It is a disturbing scene, perhaps extra so because this happens to a character we like, and who has seen nothing but setbacks since the beginning of the story. Remember when she was sitting in front of a mirror and her mother was combing her hair, and she was dreaming of becoming the queen and all that? Sansa is like the embodiment of that age-old expression, "Shit happens".

The controversy seems to have several sides - there is the discussion whether this was sex with consent or rape, and there's the discussion whether this was a setback to Sansa's arc, which has promised a more savvy, maneuvering Sansa who has learned to play the game of thrones, or if this was actually part of the learning of the game. My personal opinion is that it was indeed rape, because Sansa was forced to do this because she understands that anything else will get her into a much worse situation (a chilling thought right there that it could actually be worse), but also that this is part of her development - by not resisting Ramsay, she will gain an edge on him (however, if she continues to be his plaything like this, he'll bore of her soon enough and then we can discuss whether Sansa has learned anything at all). Time will tell, but I'm willing to give Weiss and Benioff the benefit of the doubt here. It feels like people are reacting much more strongly to this scene - which was telegraphed well in advance - than even the horror of the Red Wedding, which is surprising in one way. I didn't lose any sleep over it, at any rate. These are fictional characters, and not even the characters we know from the books. The best thing about the episode was that it made me excited to get back into the books, so here I am with a new re-read post. As my last post about Episode 6 made clear, there's a lot of detail in books four and five that I don't remember (such as the masks - thanks for pointing that out in the comments). Not only did the episode give me the urge to read, it also made me think of Slayer's "Dead Skin Mask". Neat tune to listen to while reading another chapter.

But let's forget all about TV-Sansa and get back inside the mind of Book-Tyrion. Oh, but I do remember the long wait for A Feast for Crows, only to be faced with a book without Tyrion. That was pretty painful. He was, after all, one of the most - if not the most - enjoyable point-of-view character in the entire series. His sarcastic wit, his kindness, his misguided feelings, and above all how he shone when sparring against characters such as sweet sister Cersei and Bronn all make him one of the story's most popular characters. But Martin had other plans; I had to wait another five or six years (!) before getting back to Tyrion Lannister. That's a very long time waiting for the continued adventures of our intrepid Imp.  And when we finally did get him back, well, he was changed. Reading A Dance with Dragons, I found myself bored during his chapters. Bored! By Tyrion chapters. I did not believe it was possible. What happened? Had I built up expectations too high for so long? Was I missing something? Was it the setting around Tyrion that made it less interesting? That the characters he interacted with weren't as much fun as, say, Bronn? That his adventures in King's Landing feel more realistic ("medievally real") than the more fantasy-coated adventures in Essos? 

I am excited and anxious to see whether his chapters will take on a perceived better quality this time around; it's been quite a while since I last visited these pages. I have come to terms with the changes in his character and how it all relates to the guilt Tyrion is feeling; after all, while I waited eleven or so years, he had only just killed his father and Shae, the woman he loved (they both loved?) so I should have expected a development like this, perhaps. This is why I hope I can now enjoy the characterization for what it is, knowing that by the end of his arc in Dance, we begin to see flashes of Tyrion's old self. 

He drank his way across the Narrow Sea.

So opens the next part of Tyrion's story, and it has become something of an iconic line, hasn't it? I think we were aware of this line years before the book was published. It is a line that nicely sums up Tyrion's journey across the Narrow Sea: It tells us what he spent his time doing, and it says something about his state of mind - drinking himself into oblivion, wanting to somehow escape the knowledge that he has killed not only his own father, but also the woman he has loved - and to add additional trauma, he found her in his father's bed. How could any person remain sane after experiencing this? Not to forget all he did for King's Landing and the crown without ever being recognized for it; or witnessing Prince Oberyn, in his defense, get his skull crushed like an overripe melon. Yeah, it's not hard to believe that Tyrion turns to King Alchohol at this point. Martin spends some time showing us Tyrion's condition; how he avoids food, and drinks all the more, and how he is seasick for most of the journey (which might be added to supply a contrast for when he eventually rides a dragon - which I'm convinced he will). A few reminders of what went down before this chapter are added as well, for those who didn't re-read the first three a gazillion times while waiting. Tyrion stays mostly in his cabin, nagging at the ugly cabin boy, asking him a lot of questions but never getting answers. This behavior is, by the way, baked into the TV show when he is talking endlessly to Ser Jorah Mormont who only occasionally answers - by slapping Tyrion. 

There are more reminders - the Red Viper's death at the hands of Ser Gregor Clegane, that Lord Jeor Mormont is the Commander at the Wall but might be dead and superseded by Janos Slynt, stuff that is easy to glaze over because we know, but which on closer inspection does tell us a little more about where Tyrion is emotionally and mentally. He is wondering whether the Wall is his only chance at survival - because the Watch does not take part, Tyrion might just avoid Cersei. Of course this could be seen as potential foreshadowing or setup for Tyrion returning to the Wall; it certainly feels like George had his reasons for sending Tyrion there in the beginning of the story, and not just for taking a piss. And here we go with the first of many "Where do whores go?" Yeah, all the repetitions become somewhat tiresome, even if they suit the character at the moment. He is repeating his father's last words, not so much needing an answer to the question - it feels more like Tyrion, by saying this, reminds himself that he actually murdered his father. 

So we are told that Tyrion learned High Valyrian "at his maester's knee" which comes out of the blue and feels like a very obvious insertion because he is going to need that language later on (to talk to the dragons?); this would feel more comfortable if we knew Tyrion knew the language from early on; perhaps one of the books he was reading in A Game of Thrones (when traveling to the Wall) could have been mentioned as being written in High Valyrian. Dammit, maybe there was a mention of it. Now I have to go find a copy of Thrones and check, just to be sure. How annoying. He thinks of Dorne, this too feels a bit contrived, in the sense that it feels like authorial intrusion: it feels like Martin wants to tell us something about Dorne, not that Tyrion's thoughts progress naturally toward thinking of the Dornish. 

Tyrion thinks back to the killing of his father, and another few paragraphs are devoted to letting the reader catch up. We are reminded that Varys is good at disguising himself, and through Tyrion's thoughts we become privy to his justifications for killing Lord Tywin. Also, it does sound, from Varys' tittering, that Varys knew all along what kind of man Tywin truly was, which adds fuel to the theory that Varys made sure that Tyrion would discover that fact - perhaps to further steer Tyrion away from his family, and closer to Daenerys Targaryen who might provide a means of vengeance for Tyrion. All the while, Tyrion continues to drink wine. He talks to himself, mulling over and over again the events that lead him to this cabin, in this ship crossing the stormy Narrow Sea. 

I have to be honest; I feel it takes up a lot of space; nothing has happened so far - no exterior action (unless you count the storm, which never feels like a real threat), lots of thinking and remembering and wondering. Of course, Martin is delving deep into Tyrion's psyche here, but I feel it could have been stripped down a little without taking away the sense of just how hard Tyrion has hit the bottom. And just as I finish writing this, something happens - albeit Tyrion himself only barely registers, he suddenly finds himself in a wine cask. I do like how Martin keeps this event somewhat vague, because Tyrion is drunk, so there's that. An echo of Tyrion's comedic wit as he thinks to himself, A palanquin fit for a man of my stature. So did you know what a palanquin was before reading this series?

There's no way I can't mention that this reminds me of Tolkien's The Hobbit, what with a dwarf in a cask and all, being rolled out of harm's way, so to speak. For half an hour Tyrion is being rolled, and then he hears voices in a tongue he did not know (I thought the chapter just established that he knows a smattering of words in several of the languages used in the Free Cities, so this sounds weird - I mean, that he doesn't even recognize the language - I can buy that he doesn't understand the words but shouldn't he be able to at least think, "Mmm that sounds like some kind of Pentoshi" or whatever). 

And so Tyrion Lannister meets Ilyrio Mopatis. And I have to say, their first exchange is good fun. I le chuckled:

The fat man looked down and smiled. “A drunken dwarf,” he said, in the Common Tongue of Westeros. “A rotting sea cow.”

One minor nit here is that Martin has Tyrion thinking of the fat man as a sea cow before giving us this dialogue - it takes away from the punch. Weird decision. If only I was at hand to help edit this tome... The two are in a long, dim wine cellar, as opposed to the sunny balcony in the TV show (and, of course, they did a character change in the show with Varys opening the cask instead of Ilyrio but that's another story entirely). Mopatis offers Tyrion a bath, food, and something to drink, and Tyrion only has a mind for more wine. Mopatis, here, speaks similarly to Syrio Forel ("Just so") - I thought the "just so" phrase was exclusively Braavosi, but it seems it is Pentoshi as well. For we are in Pentos, at Ilyrio's mansion. Ilyrio reveals that he is friends with Varys - and through this perhaps finally revealing just who the two men were, that Arya spied way back in A Game of Thrones. Kind of interesting that Arya spied Ilyrio and Varys in the chamber with the dragon skulls - that was a nice, subtle hint to the two mysterious friends' allegiance, no? I wonder why Ilyrio was in King's Landing, though. And what kind of ship can carry this guy across the Narrow Sea because, seriously, nobody is described as ... obesely as Ilyrio.

Tyrion falls asleep while bathing (don't try it at home, kids), and finds himself waking up in a goose-down feather bed - inwardly I'm happy for Tyrion to find a moment of respite, and once more I am reminded of Tolkien's work, particularly when Frodo wakes up in Rivendell. I half expect Ilyrio to sit by his side to tell Tyrion the date. For some reason, Martin deems it necessary to tell us that he wakes with an erection "hard as an iron bar". To tell us that without wine, Tyrion functions more like his old self? He relieves himself in a chamber pot (another "visually arresting image") and goes to look out a window. He looks at a statue so lifelike that Tyrion is startled to realize it is a statue (a very subtle foreshadowing of the Stone Men?) Beyond the mansion's walls, he sees the city of Pentos, including a red temple (which reminds me - Daenerys keeps dreaming of a red door - could that door belong to a temple of Rh'llor? Mmm.) He spends some time idly wondering where he is, concluding that he must be in Pentos. Ilyrio enters and confirms Tyrion's suspicion. Pentos it is. Almost sounds like 'penthouse', kind of fitting.

Ilyrio says that Tyrion can make use of his servants (when Tyrion asks where whores go), and Tyrion wonders whether they are slaves. Ilyrio's casual about them, that's for sure. However, he explains (and I almost feel like he's turning his head toward me and winking) that slavery is forbidden in Braavos , but the text implies - between the lines - that they simply play with semantics here. So, in essence, Ilyrio has slaves but they're not slaves. Kind of. It helps sell the duality of Ilyrio, though; that he's both a blessing to Tyrion right now, but perhaps not an entirely honest man. Ilyrio says he has to go to a meeting with 'the prince' and that Tyrion better not leave the mansion. Tyrion thinks about Tysha, something we haven't seen him do that much, and there's more reminders for us. Helpful, but a bit filler. And more "Wherever whores go." Sigh.

Tyrion goes exploring the manse, asking servants ...you know, where whores go. More memories of his father dying while taking a crap. We are given a long list of wines available to Tyrion, he considers climbing over the wall and flee, he takes note of the three gates, and how they are guarded by eunuchs; he encounters a woman washing clothes at a well, and has a chat with her. It's mostly Tyrion talking to her, though, despondently. Somewhat clunky Martin has Tyrion talk about his niece in Sunspear, as if to remind us more than, again, that it feels as if it comes naturally during the course of his talk to the woman; it feels more like exposition than dialogue, if you know what I mean. He even asks the clothes hanging on the line where whores go. That tells us enough about Tyrion's state of mind, so let's wring our hands and get to some actual business here.

He spots some mushrooms growing up through a cracked paving tile (I didn't know mushrooms did that; I've only ever encountered them in the forest and on our lawn). Do note the colors Martin describes the mushrooms with: "Pale white they were, with speckles, and red-ribbed undersides dark as blood." That's a foreshadowing of Tyrion riding Viserion, that is - and there will be more of those. The red and the blood obviously hints at House Targaryen. But are the Seven trying to tell him something (he notes that there are seven mushrooms)? Are the Seven somehow connected to the Targaryens, or is George adding it to muddle the somewhat obvious symbolism here?

More sleeping. More bitter thoughts. More bathing. And then dinner with the fat lord. A blue-eyed and fair servant picks him up, and to Tyrion's surprise she speaks the common tongue of Westeros. Tyrion immediately hits the wine. Guess what question he has prepped for this servant girl. He realizes he doesn't want to have sex with her, which astonishes him. Something comes over him and he becomes very rude to her, tells her to be ready and naked when he returns from his dinner with Mopatis; and he sees that she's merely revulsed by him - there is no fear. This makes him go one step further in his rudeness, just to get a rise out of her fear (he threatens to kill her). Naughty, naughty Imp.

When he arrives, Ilyrio awaits him. Again, subtle details here lay groundwork for things to come - note the description of Ilyrio's rings - tourmaline, ruby, amethyst, sapphire etc. - corresponding with the old emperors of Yi Ti (or whatever - I didn't pay much attention while reading The World of Ice and Fire - it wasn't a very engaging text). The link? You better search out well articulated theories on the Internet, but there's definitely a link between these emperors of old and Daenerys Targaryen, and possibly the Red Comet too. And the Long Night. Yes, things are beginning to come together as opposed to moving farther apart, despite the fact that Feast and Dance are more sprawling than ever. I'm not sure how much these small details will matter in the long run, but they are there, and now that I am reading the story with more focus, they are easier to spot though I don't feel (so far) that it enhances the reading experience as much as distract me from the story - and perhaps these distractions (the mushrooms, the rings) serve to ignore that nothing much is actually happening in this chapter. Well, things happen, but slowly, there's a slow burn here as opposed to the more tightly written scenes in A Storm of Swords. Gods, what a page-turner that book is.

They have a small barbed exchange before diving into the food. Not one for breaking this particular tradition, we get a full description of what's on offer here. And it makes me want to stop writing right now and go grab something to eat. That's my biggest beef (pun not intended) with Martin's eloquent food descriptions. They take me out of the story and make me hungry. Mopatis explains that Astapor and Meereen have fallen. Tyrion shrugs it off, because it's far away, but Mopatis says that the world is "one great web", which is basically the author telling us that everything is connected, just wait and see (at least, that's what I take from this). Tyrion is served mushrooms; he stops when he suspects they might be poisoned and asks Mopatis to eat first. The fat lord refuses. The exchange that follows is slightly confusing - are the mushrooms poisoned, and is Ilyrio merely testing Tyrion's resolve, offering him a quick death? And if not, well, then Tyrion has enough wits about him to be useful to Mopatis (and by extension, Varys or Daenerys)? Tyrion learns that Cersei has offered a lordship to the man who brings her Tyrion's head; Tyrion admits that the nobles of Westeros put too much stock in their house mottos and sigils; and we get a reminder that Tyrion still wants Casterly Rock (perhaps a foreshadowing, perhaps not - might we see Tyrion flying Viserion there to conquer the Lannister fortress?)

Tyrion learns that Stannis is at the Wall (again, the Wall - it sure comes up a lot); Dorne and Myrcella are mentioned again (though this time it feels more natural that it comes up in the conversation). Mopatis says that there is a road to Casterly Rock, but not through Dorne (Tyrion considered queening Myrcella just to spite Cersei) - all he needs to do is join the "savior" of Westeros. Though the text doesn't state it explicitly, the reader is lead to think of Daenerys Targaryen, of course - someone with a better claim to the Iron Throne, and all that. "A dragon," Mopatis says, "A dragon with three heads." 

I do note that he never explicitly states he's talking about Dany at this point, so Martin could be pulling one on us here - Mopatis could be talking about Young Griff, right? Not that I believe it, but it could happen. Maybe both, and Tyrion's the third head. That's an option, too, of course. The chapter sure does foreshadow Tyrion as an eventual dragon rider, that's for sure. And with that ominous but not spectacular line of dialogue, the chapter ends.

It's a bit slow, isn't it? But I like it more than before. The subtle symbolism and perhaps not-so-subtle foreshadowing does add some texture that was lost on me the first time around, I readily admit. And things did pick up once he got off the boat. And there's enough mystery here. What, in my opinion, takes the chapter down a notch is the seemingly endless repetition, though I understand that Martin is working with characterization here, and through the endless drinking he is trying to show us that Tyrion is going in circles - mentally. I have to chew on this some more; perhaps Martin is doing a great job here, at least better than what I initially gave him credit for. But I don't think I'll ever come to love all the turtles. Turtles in a book about dragons. Geez.


  1. Once you accept the fact the book's plot is not going anywhere, and start reading just to enjoy the scenery, it's much easier to enjoy the process.

  2. In Clash, Saan points out a carved seat on his ship that is explicitly described as huge to fit Illyrio's buttcheeks.