Monday, May 30, 2016

[Re-read] Jon I (ADwD) Same Scenes, Different Lighting [Part 1/2]

Well, that's just great. I have to spend all Monday being alive without watching Blood of My Blood, the sixth Game of Thrones episode of the year. And now that it's getting exciting and surprising and all that. My schedule just filled up like a bottle in a rainstorm, and now I realize I won't get to see it for another twelve hours. Yup, another first-world problem. And I'm like itching to go to Watchers on the Wall and Winter is Coming and Tower of the Hand to enjoy all the discussion about the new episode, speculation, possible new information pertaining to what we already know, to read what people thought was done well and not so well...
...but going into an episode and not having a clue what's coming is so awesome I must stay away from those sites. Of course, I have some basic ideas about what is going to go down in this episode, based on last week's teaser and by the way the story seems to be going...but there are still so many opportunities to shock and surprise.

Like last week - I totally didn't see it coming that the Others were made by the Children (does that make them other children?); and I'm not entirely sure this is how it will be explained in the novels, but still - a sudden barrage that changed our perception of the story. It becomes doubly surprising when, of course, we've been waiting for stuff like this for decades. When it's finally revealed, it's almost too much to take in. As a whole, season six is a weird experience, with ups and downs, but for the first time it gives me the feels, and the sense of experiencing an event, that Game of Thrones can end up being one of the most glorified entertainment productions of our time, being for television what Star Wars was for the movies. Maybe?
Anyway, I'm kind of re-hyping on the whole Ice & Fire thing so here is a brand new re-read post, this time Jon Snow. As it is basically the same chapter as last week's Sam, but with a POV switcheroo, it is only fitting I for once manage to write two posts in relative quick succession. The fact that Martin repeated verbatim so much of the dialogue from Sam's Feast-chapter was something that struck me as, well, bad, once I finally had my hands on Dance. Bad because it felt like cheating, in a way; here we finally get a book six damned years later, and he copies stuff? I forgot about it soon enough, but now that I am rereading both books four and five I remembered how it irked me back then. As if a few lines of dialogue matter that much in two such fat volumes. But at the time, I admit that anything Martin did was filtered through an angry, angry reader's lens. That reader is still me, although I fortunately stopped being angry and disappointed. At last I could make peace with the simple fact that Martin does whatever the hell he pleases, and no amount of raging nerds can stop him from that. And the more I've tried my hand at writing stories myself, the more I have learned just what an absolutely colossal, improbable project A Song of Ice and Fire has become. Not because of size (Erikson easily wins that distinction), but because of the after all very intricate plotting. If he truly is a "gardener" type of writer, one could assume that he will in fact not be able to finish his series. Fortunately there are many hints that he does outline, if only in his head - the latest most obvious example, of course, being Hold the Door.
ANYWAY. With my anger and resentment replaced with a more timid "I'll eat those crumbs of your plate mr Martin" (well almost - he still annoys me), I also find these chapters together - Sam's first in Feast and Jon's first in Dance) to be much more palatable than way back when.
Eleven years since Feast? No wonder I cooled off.
(A weird thing in this regard is that I remember actually considering whether Martin had hired a ghost writer for Feast, because the writing felt so different; I guess some of this is due to high expectations not being met - who would've expected Areo Snoozah to follow that immensely thrilling last third of A Storm of Swords? - but these days I don't really see or notice that much of a difference in the writing. The long years between books changing perception? Me getting used to new stuff? I don't know). ANYWAYWAYWAY. Let's flip open to Jon, whom we technically haven't seen since A Storm of Swords. I have to say I already prefer this mixed order of books four and five if only because you don't get this artificial and frankly disruptive skipping of an entire book.

In fact, seeing these two chapters unfold from two different perspectives isn't that bad, at all. It's even interesting, with Sam's terror in the previous chapter's and now Jon's need to be cold in this chapter. Interesting, of course, because we can contrast and compare; I remember reading the Sam chapter back in '05 and I thought that Jon came across as uncharacteristically hard; aeons later, in A Dance with Dragons, we can reach into Jon's thoughts and see what is going on. These two chapters, then, work better in quick succession, because a reader gets a better look into both viewpoints right away. So that's another point in favor of a mixed reading order.

So we're at Castle Black and you know, it gets harder and harder not to visualize the Castle Black that we see so often in the TV show. Not surprising, but still different than what I used to "see" when reading. That being said, of all the locations in the show, I think Castle Black was one of the absolutely best realized sets, and the continual gloom inside adds to the atmosphere - so much so you pretty much know where you are the moment a scene at the Wall begins.

I...just...watched the first scene of last night's episode... woooh....and I have time for another one before real life beckons me back...but  wooooooh ... second scene ... so sweet...

Man I hate myself for starting when I know I can't finish. The rest of the episode (and probably this post) will have to wait for many more hours. I wonder what the comments are like everywhere on the Internet. It's like there's a huge party and I wasn't invited buuuh---

RIGHT. Castle Black. Jon Snow. A letter. Words (of wind, most likely). Not Jon's letter, but something he is expected to sign as the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. I wonder what it is, I honestly don't remember. Jon wants to burn it, so it must be about something he really disagrees with. The words not brooding enough?

Good old "Dolorous" Edd Tollett, and I just don't understand why they didn't make show!Edd at least a little dolorous, opens the door and tells Jon that Gilly is outside. He tells Edd to let the wildling girl in. Okay, here comes another example of why the writing in A Feast with Dragons sometimes drops in quality; instead of showing us that Jon is apprehensive about the chat he is going to have with Gilly, he just tells us "He dreaded this." That's not how show don't tell works George, and you know it from those first three books where you did a great job showing and not telling. All right, it's a minor nitpick, and to be honest in this case I'm fine with Martin just telling me how Jon feels. But still...Martin can do better than this. Jon tells Edd to find Sam and line him up in the queue by the door. "He'll be down with the books," Edd says, which we of course don't need a reminder for when we're reading the chapters back-to-back, but what is probably more important in terms of foreshadowing (which Martin remains cunningly good at) is the rest of his dialogue, "My old septon used to say that books are dead men talking (foreshadowing Jon's death since he just read a letter, or even foreshadowing Samwell's death?). "No one wants to hear a dead man's yabber" (again, possible foreshadowing of Jon, or that we'll hear dead men talking - the wights, perhaps?)

Gilly enters and she goes to her knees at once. See, that's show don't tell. Martin isn't telling it us directly, but from the action described we realize that Gilly defers to Jon. "That's just for kings," Jon says, which is another way of using show don't tell, in this case showing us that Jon still has his feet on the ground. Gilly seems half a child to Jon, and she's wrapped up in one of Sam's old cloaks, making her look big. If you squint, you could perhaps see a foreshadowing of Gilly becoming the mother of many of Sam's babies. I'm not counting on it, but it could work. The foreshadowing, I mean. Jon's first question is about the babes, which always confuses me until I realize he means babies. Two babies, oh yeah right, Val's baby and Gilly's baby. One with king's blood, or so they claim.

Gilly has enough milk for the both of them (which is pretty lucky considering her upbringing and the kind of environment she's survived so far). Jon has a hard chat ahead of him; he is going to tell Gilly to take the other baby, Dalla's baby, let's call him Mini-Mance, to the far south (as far as south goes yadayada) and leaving her own baby behind. This is the kind of dilemma where you just can't fathom how anyone can base a decision upon. It's the kind of do-or-die problem that A Song of Ice and Fire is full of; the kind of extreme that makes this story stand out from all other stories. It's brutal and poignant; and you just have to flip to the next page to see how Gilly reacts, no?

And her reaction is this endearing non-reaction, as if she doesn't register the gravity of the question asked. Have to say Jon is sly the way he phrases it, though: "Only you can do that, Gilly." 
'That' being saving Dalla's boy. Woot. I have to admit I don't really remember Dalla the character much. Not that she's to be important in the future because dead. Not even in the show. But where is Martin going with this storyline? What fate does he have in store for Dalla's boy? Will he eventually become the heir to Horn Hill or is that just fancy fan fiction? I guess in the show Dalla's boy is actually Gilly's boy though. So it doesn't seem to matter very much whose boy it is. At any rate Jon explains that Gilly has to leave her own child behind, and it is a plausible setup. Although it is weird Gilly doesn't protest more. But she's perhaps a weaker character in the books than the Gilly I now see in my mind's eye. I like how Martin takes the whole "Ice and Fire" concept down to microlevel here, when Jon tells Gilly that she saved her own boy from the ice, and now she must save Mini-Mance from the fire. Is this saga actually about these two babies?!??!?!
(The fire, by the way, is Melisandre's sacrificial fires; she is still going for the king's blood angle at this point)

Jon sees a future for Gilly's real boy in the Night's Watch (though I'd keep an eye on him, considering who his father is). Eventually Jon has to threaten to kill her baby if Mini-Mance is burned by Melisandre, and at this point Gilly is reduced to a shrunken wreck and left without a choice in the matter, because really Jon why are you so cruel? When she leaves running, Jon notices Ghost "stretched out beneath the anvil, gnawing on the bone of an ox". I really have no idea whether this is meant to be a clue or anything, but the description strikes me as somewhat odd, mostly because of the anvil. But then again I have to remember he is in an armory and then it doesn't become so odd after all. In fact it helps remind us where we are because this chapter, unlike Sam's, hasn't really stated where Jon is holding court.

Jon returns to his chair, reads Aemon's letter one more time, then Samwell turns up and we get the same scene from Sam I (AFfC) but from Jon's viewpoint. I feel Martin could have written the scene with more thoughts from Jon to make it stand out from Sam's viewpoint, because, after all, it's the same scene and a more dramatically different angle would help separate the two chapters. There is stuff here, of course, like when Jon regards the look on Sam's face, which is something we obviously can't get from Sam's viewpoint. After a longish discussion we read in the previous chapter, Jon fixes his seal on the letter and hands it to Sam. Then we get into Sam asking about Gilly, same dialogue, just different tags, we get to the same "Tell me something useful. Tell me of our enemy" where Sam has nothing much new to relate about the Others, there's the promise of a lot of ancient lore still hiding in the cellars of Castle Black (or veiled threat that it will all burn) and really, George, you are better than copy-pasting so much from the Sam chapter! Ooooh mention of a Night's King (not the Night's King), a hint that the history of the Night's Watch is shorter than previously assumed (is Martin revealing secrets or backpedaling on the age of his setting, a man wonders), obsidian daggers are obviously useful against Others, namedrop of Small Paul (I liked Small Paul ;/), Valyrian steel is good to have at your side (and was called 'dragonsteel' back in the day).

Jon tells Sam he's going away with Gilly, to Oldtown, and now we get that conversation again, lots of repeated dialogue from the Sam I chapter, oh look there yeah so Dalla's baby is going to Horn Hill, I wonder what Martin is planning, it's really curious innit, I like how Jon doesn't seem to notice the abject panic taking place within the considerable frame of Samwell Tarly, instead he is puzzled because he expected Sam to want to go the South, he obviously hasn't listened well enough when Sam talked about Daddy Randyll, and so much copy/paste, it's just the weirdest thing. Such a phenomenally successful author copy-pastes so much dialogue between two chapters of the same story.

Once Sam leaves I can breathe again, not gnashing teeth over the copy/paste-thing. Again, Martin goes for tell rather than show: Jon was tired. That's okay, it's a small thing...but not really a necessary line, since the paragraph that follows adequately shows why Jon should be tired.

Long monologue from Aemon again, babbling on about his Targaryen past and this time even about Egg from the novellas, and Aemon is like "Kill the boy" to Jon, and that is kind of interesting as another foreshadowing of the last chapter in Dance (Jon's last).

Instead of going to bed, Jon goes outside, making a round of Castle Black as he does every day, listening to reports, watching archery practice and stuff. Two southron knights have left Castle Black, Horpe and Massey, who claimed Stannis had sent them out. They are both Queen Selyse's men, and probably too important to not go on some secret mission on behalf of Selyse or Stannis. Basically George is telling you here to keep an eye out for these two. Okay.

That night Ghost sleeps at the foot of his bed, Jon has a nightmare resulting from guilt over Gilly, Westeros suddenly has names for the hours of the day, more foreshadowing ("Ghost is more alive than I am" oh yes Jon is gonna warg Ghost no matter what show!Jon didn't do), Jon points out in his thoughts that the two babies are similar enough for the ruse to work, then it's off to say goodbye to Sam, Gilly, and Aemon. And copy-pasted dialogue. (It didn't charm me after all. It was just grating.)

When they leave, Jon must turn his attention on business, even though it's a sweet and poignant farewell with Sam that feels like the most natural closing scene. According to I! Aw, all that business is so slow and (sorry!) uninteresting. Yes there's a point to remind the reader just how understaffed Castle Black is, really I see the point. Introducing replacement characters for those who have fallen, I see that point too. But perhaps at this point the story has gone on for so long that I don't feel like investing in more background characters, I don't know, it's just tedious this last bit of the chapter. (And I'm writing and reading at lightning speed because of that episode I want to see before night)

I'm afraid of missing something vital in the process of rushing through this, but I remember being bored on my first read as well. And suddenly there is this long infodump about some past King-beyond-the-Wall and I'm left wondering just how important this is for the plot development, and suspecting it isn't and then I begin to skip words and sentences-

Moving good old Janos Slynt to Greyguard is a plot point, of course; we are seeing Jon strategically placing and replacing soldiers and captains. Having Slynt out of the way can only be a good thing.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I can't wait any longer. I just have to see "Blood of My Blood" now dammit!!! Teehee I'm so excited and all that.

I'll finish this chapter tomorrow or whenever I find time is on my side.

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