Saturday, May 21, 2016

[Re-read] Samwell I (AFFC): It's not about the Others, it's about the WAYNS

Whoops, it looks like I accidentally published this post before I was done writing it. The rest should appear after the break now.

I'm sorry I'm so slow on this re-read of A Feast with Dragons, almost as slow as these chapters were written, but here at last is a new chapter disassembled and scrutinized.

Right in the middle of Game of Thrones season six, the season I wasn't going to watch and which so far is...well, it's pretty amazing what they are able to produce, even if we're far off course from the source material. I was watching a recap of seasons 1-3 because my better half wants to catch up (basically because she heard me cry when Jon and Sansa reunited). So it looks like I'm going to watch seasons four and five again.

A man can get confused watching seasons four and five while simultaneously following season six and re-reading books four and five so excuse me for any blurring of the lines between show lore and "trve" lore in this re-read post and all re-read posts to come.

Today's chapter is Samwell Tarly's first chapter in A Feast for Crows. 

dun-dun-DUN-dun, dun-dun-DUN-dun



Some actors need more direction than others
So it's Game of Thrones time again - the fifth episode already of the sixth season. I feel like I say this every year - how fast time flies, how fast the episodes come and go... but now it feels like a bulldozer with jet engines barraging its way to the inevitable, actual conclusion of the story many have waited twenty years for. Contrasted against the long waits for book four, then book five, and now book six, the TV series takes on an extra aspect of ultradimensional hyperspeed frenzy. ANYWAY, I have the new episode ready, and after it was leaked a day early I was unable to avoid a few spoilers, so I am not so excited as I was with the previous two episodes.
Meanwhile I've also started a rewatch of seasons four and five to get my better half back on track, and I have to say wow, with some distance it is easier to see just how stunning the show looks. Particularly "Two Swords" (first ep of season four) made me gasp with all its fantastic visuals. I will always wish for a more correct adaptation but re-watching makes me appreciate more what D&D actually have accomplished. And, Thrones being the most succesful show on Earth, they certainly did a lot of things right. It's kind of amazing really, how they are able to keep audiences hooked even as characters drop for several seasons and then suddenly show up again. ANY ANYWAY, I'm set on re-reading Sam's first AFFC chapter first before spoiling the endgame of thrones more. Oh, and in one of the early season four episodes there's this great little scene with Arya and the Hound, where a farmer mentions Walder Frey and the camera so lingers on Arya's vengeful look. I think I know who will deliver Walder's comeuppance. Old news to everybody probably. Still. Neat. Game of Thrones is using a lot of narrative techniques from the movies as opposed to TV shows, and as such it really is more like a seventy/eighty-hour movie, with foreshadowing and callbacks and everything connected (if somewhat sloppily at times). I'm not sure a better adaptation of the series can be made, despite all the things I feel could have been better - it's the overall presentation, all the many hours together, and the increasing budget, that lifts this to something truly extraordinary and epic, something that won't be rivaled or bested for many, many years. And that's enough digression for this post, let's get back into Samwell Tarly.............'s point of view.

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What a weird contrast to open the chapter with: Sam was reading about the Others when he saw the mouse. Reading about the Others should obviously be the intriguing, enticing hook here, but that mouse really distracts me. And Sam, most likely. Sam is clearly very tired, and there's dust everywhere. It's the dust rather than tiredness that makes him rub his eyes red and raw, but by the lack of tallow left he must have been studying for a long time. SO TELL ME WHAT EXACTLY ABOUT THE OTHERS IS SAM READING: KIND OF INTERESTED.
Reminiscent of Gandalf's research into ancient matters in the library (?) of Minas Tirith, Sam just isn't able to stop himself as he goes through page after page of ancient documents. Also, apparently, Sam isn't eating much, and so we should probably expect him to have lost a great deal of weight by now. Sam knows he should kill the mouse (because it might eat paper, gnaw on books, drop...droppings on everything) but he's such a soft-hearted fellow (really, he's an anomaly of Westeros)...but eventually he decides the books are more important and he plans to squash it (eew) with a big fat tome of lore. Still, I have to say, that for me personally, this just doesn't work. At this point in the tale I am more than ready to learn more about the Others, who we, after all, have been mystified by since the very prologue of A Game of Thrones, and so focusing on a damn mouse just makes me irritable. It feels like stalling, it feels like the author doesn't want to reveal too much (or anything at all), it feels as if the author doesn't really know what the deal with the Others is and therefore mouse.
(And I might be wrong and the rest of the chapter is all kinds of Other-awesometyness, and I've forgotten - so let's get the heck on with it)

But oh oh Martin knows how to add fluff. And of course fluff in turn adds to the overall feeling of a complete setting. But for some reason, throughout books 1-3 the fluff was mostly blink-and-you-miss it mentions while here we have to stall the promise of Other-knowledge with an entire paragraph about a former Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Orbert Caswell, whose greatest deed was to not go to the privy one morning (because he had died). It really feels like useless fluff because it doesn't sound like foreshadowing of anything; Caswell's story doesn't add any nuance to anything else. It just...goes nowhere, if you know what I mean. A Martin in top shape would've had Septon Jorquen's Annals of the Black Centaur provide some insight, or lore related to a character or event, yadyayadya anyway Sam picks up said volume (makes me wonder why Caswell was called the Black Centaur, though, there's that) to slay the mouse, but it escapes (to Sam's relief).

All right with the mouse gone, let's get back to the story! But not before stating once more that the candle has burned low, that Sam is tired and that Jon probably wonders where he is - but not Maester Aemon, because Aemon understands what it means to love books - and we get one of Martin's sweet little quotes about the value of reading: "He (Aemon) understood the way that you could sometimes fall right into them, as if each page was a hole into another world." 

Awwww no information about the Others for us?? Sam decides to get out of his chair; he thinks he should've had a bed down here but dismisses the thought; Maester Aemon needs his help with the birds and stuff and things. Somehow, (re)reading this reminds me of Bloodraven, only Sam is stuck to these books while Bloodraven is a bit more modern and is stuck in cyberspace. So Sam grabs a few books and scrolls and makes his way through the so-called "wormways" (not sure if this is the first mention), then up the steep steps to daylight. Outside the sky promises snow. A new switchback stair is being built along the Wall's surface, we're told Sam is afraid of heights (might be foreshadowing), then it's time for a history lesson (a paragraph of Queen Alysanne's visit to Castle Black two hundred years ago, with Sam wondering briefly if she may have left a dragon egg behind; it feels a bit clumsily inserted here), Dolorous Edd tells Sam he is wanted by the Lord Commander.

To be honest I thought Dolorous Edd was a fun character in the previous book, but by now he feels like a one-trick pony/gimmick rather than a true character (in this sense, Show!Edd is a more realistic character). When Sam asks if Jon wants to see him, Edd responds with a long-winded and not half as funny (as before) "As to that, I could not say. I never wanted to see half the things I've seen, and I've never seen half the things I wanted to. I don't think wanting comes into it..." And on it goes, completely draining any funny/droll/dolorous point made. There are still a few nuggets from Edd in books four and five, but overall I feel the character has lost its edge, so to speak, perhaps because so many characters feel like they are complex and have depth; he stands out as a bit cartoonish in contrast.

Nice! Pyp and Grenn, of course, are alive! And it's Pyp who comes with the fun, on-point dialogue when he suggests Edd was weaned by a goat. Goats in general are quite funny in my opinion. There's some banter and I enjoy (re)reading the cameraderie here. A short, light moment. We learn that Jon has instituted daily archery drill, something Sam doesn't really enjoy. Huh, Val the wildling princess. So pretty she makes Sam stammer and blush. But probably not very important to the endgame, this lady, as evidenced by her complete absence from the TV show. Or...? Maybe D&D just picked a handful of the many endgames Martin is planning and dropped the others? Pyp and Grenn seem to think differently of Jon now, calling him Lord Snow and believing he's become too good for the likes of them. Sam still calls him Jon, like a friend, though. Is this perhaps the first hint toward Jon's final chapter in A Dance with Dragons? Martin states quite clearly that Pyp and Grenn think the "new" Jon Snow is driving the men of Castle Black too hard ("harder than Mormont"), and they seem displeased that he suddenly doesn't have the time for his friends (them not realizing how much work he has to do now).

Sam moves on, to the armory. We are given a quick update on the situation at the castle; the Lord Commander's Tower is gutted by fire, Stannis Baratheon has settled the King's Tower, and Jon Snow has installed himself in Donal Noye's modest quarters behind the armory. On his way, he encounters Gilly, there's something wrong but Sam isn't able to figure it out. Though his thoughts, we learn that Sam is having feelings for Gilly. Speaking for myself, the whole Craster-thing is kind of a turnoff. But for Sam, Gilly's presence "gave rise to...well, risings."

Finally inside with Jon (and Ghost), Jon gives him a parchment to look at. It's a letter written by Aemon and adressed to the new king in King's Landing, Tommen. Also, Tommen has curls. Jon is bitter that Tommen is the king while Bran ended up dead; this is the author reminding us that Sam knows Bran is alive, and that he has promised not to tell Jon. Jon Snow's words come off as harsher than what we've been used to before, including vengeful proclamations like "It's death and destruction I want to bring down upon House Lannister, not scorn". It's another letter where the Watch begs the king of Westeros for assistance in the wars to come. We learn more about how Stannis' presence is a dilemma for Jon Snow, because Stannis is basically an enemy of the state. How can relations be kept civil with the Crown? Sam realizes Jon is trying to convince himself that an alliance with Stannis could unite the North; Sam has been sending birds to all northern lords begging them to join their strength to Stannis - but only one bird has returned, from Karhold.
Now we're getting somewhere, this is interesting stuff obviously, it relates to the plot at hand, at possible future plots, and gives us a look at the political climate in the North in the aftermath of the Red Wedding (and the Purple Wedding). Jon signs the letter and begs Sam to take it to Aemon.

Sam asks why Gilly was upset (when he wasn't sure what signals she was sending, by the door); she had been here to plead for Mance Rayder. Jon explains he has decided to send Gilly away with the baby...and then finally Jon Snow asks the question for all of us: "Tell me something useful. Tell me of our enemy." 

Not unsurprisingly, Sam uses a lot of words about nothing (Martin reminding us that in this world, even if it is said that people lived for threehundred years in the past, doesn't mean it's true) before getting to the point, the stuff we want to learn more about. And it's still vague at best, of course. In fact, Jon replies, "We knew all this" so it feels more like the author repeating the most important basics for us (granted, we had waited five years since the previous books so people's recollections could be rusty indeed). So basically, this whole exchange of information/information dump from Sam amounts to: * Others are dismayed by fire, * They are, in fact, vulnerable to obsidian. Still, I can totally understand that Martin wishes to disclose as little as possible to preserve the mystery. It's a two-edged blade, that. Oh, * Also vulnerable to Valyrian steel. Sam promises Jon to read more and find out more, but Jon says there is no time: Sam is going with Gilly. And Sam is like WTF BUDDY?!?!?! 

Stunned, Sam learns that he's going to Oldtown, with Gilly and Aemon. He needs to get Aemon out of Castle Black before Stannis decides to sacrifice him (king's blood). Sam is going because Jon / the Night's Watch will need a new maester. Seems his father - Randyll Tarly - once tried to choke Sam with a chain for wanting to study at the Citadel. Oh and he was manacled in the Tarly dungeon, as well. Lots of bad memories flooding through here, Randyll Tarly was/is of course an insane man and the way he treated Sam ... ugh. I do have a suspicion Randyll Tarly secretly dresses in women's clothes or something like that. Kind of like how Tywin was this badass military commander but had certain vices he tried desperately to hide. I like how Martin portrays Sam's reactions to this news, you really get the vibe he is scared witless of going even remotely close to Horn Hill (home). But no matter how Sam tries to plea in order to escape this command, it doesn't matter - it's not Jon Snow talking to him, it's the Lord Commander. Still, there's something of their old friendship retained in the way Jon orders Sam to stop referring to himself as a coward.

I'm not really sure I caught just how terrified Sam becomes at Jon's order the first time - probably because I was rushing through, eager to devour all developments - but I can't remember catching this reaction on later readings, either. But now I did! And it's interesting, it's really a deep-dive into Sam's psyche, quickly showing us that the reason he's such a coward is, of course, because of the way he was treated by his father. You have to wonder how GRRM's father treated him... because only 0.01% of Westerosi fathers are actually doing a good job parenting. And only 0.1% of Westerosi men are actually decent. Anyway. As Martin states, Sam is feeling desperate, cornered even, in this situation, and in this way you could argue that the chapter gains some needed tension.

When Sam finds Aemon, he pours out his heart's fears but Aemon of course gives another lecture in how his (Targaryen) family did things and eventually says that Jon is right about this. But come on George you're kind of ruining the flow and immersion into Sam's plight when you stop it all for Aemon to deliver lines like "King Daeron had sired four sons, and three had sons of their own". Also it makes Aemon unsympathetic but that might have been the point, I don't know. Old blind Aemon comes off as arrogant and/or aloof here, in my opinion. At the same time, you could argue that there's no way to make it any easier for Sam, anyway. ANYWAY!

Sam still thinks there are flaws in the plan, one of them being Aemon being so old and frail he most likely won't survive the journey - a journey from Eastwatch by the Sea to Braavos, and from Braavos back across the Narrow Sea to Oldtown. I love that just hearing the route describes has me nodding, knowing exactly where they will be going across the map. Westeros in particular really has come to life, hasn't it, more so than any other similar fantasy world since Middle-earth. I love the detail and attention. And all the fun locales. Still don't know which is my favorite cool place in Martinworld, it could be awesome Pyke, the Eyrie, the Wall, Storm's End.... I know which is my unfavorite place though; George's blog. ANYWAYER!

The next morning, in a fit of nostalgia, Sam saddles the very mare he'd ridden from Horn Hill (this is one sad mare who needs a little more attention. Has it basically been stabled since A Game of Thrones?) It must have tired legs. Also, I can't imagine how long it would take to ride a mare all the way from the Reach to the Wall, that's an impressive distance. Game of Thrones DA SERIES kind of makes me forget about distances. Oh, look there's Littlefinger he says hi. ANYWAYEST

There's a bunch of wayns ready for Aemon and I wonder if they were always called wayns in the series or if this is one of Martin's sudden changes. I kinda swear there were wagons before. Wayns. Whatever. I like some archaic words spicing up the text, but I feel its intrusive when they suddenly show up after thousands of words. MINOR nitpick. If I'm even right about it.

Aemon mentions an "inn on an island in the Honeywine" where he used to go as a young novice, which obviously is the same place we start Feast with in the prologue. Aemon tells Jon he has marked a passage in The Jade Compendium for him, so it will be interesting to see what passage that is. Gilly is red-eyed from crying, and a light snow falls. There's a disconnect toward the end here where it reads as if Jon Snow is standing alone having a soliloquy when in reality he's giving Sam a last pep talk. There's a sweetness to the farewell scene that echoes Tolkien, with Edd telling Sam the boat won't sink, don't be afraid, and Jon reminding Sam how brave Gilly is and that Sam has to be brave too (for her).

Jon gives Sam a last, strange smile (strange to Sam, that is), a kind of definitive statement that there's something going on here that Sam hasn't caught yet; Martin diverts attention by making it sound like he's smiling strangely because Sam hasn't pulled his hood up, but it's something else that Sam will find out later.

And that was Sam's first chapter in the combined re-read of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, and I have to say, it's a mostly fine chapter. There's little action and excitement; it's mostly build-up and some repitition of information, but by adding some humanity to Sam's character and moving it up to the farewell in one chapter works fine - no need to dwell endlessly on the preparations for the journey, Sam learns he's going away and goes away in the same chapter. Take THAT Quentyn.

AND NOW A MAN MUST NEEDS SEE GAME OF THRONES SEASON SIX EPISODE FIVE WHAT'S IT CALLED ANYWAY

Dada DUN DUN (Wun Tun?)

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