Thursday, June 9, 2016

[Re-read] Arya I - So Many Gods, So Few Friends - Part I

Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire were never the same thing, and they'll never be, but season six is really tugging at my feels, and has made me excited about Martin's story again (while last year, it didn't); "The Broken Man" is still lingering in my mind, and I find myself speculating a lot about what we're in for with the last three episodes. I find myself checking out speculation online, mostly by reddit, and, seven hells, I even checked Not a Blog. You know. Just in case.
....but with no winds of winter in sight just yet (we must be so close now, right?), speculation remains speculation. "Everybody" expects a showdown in King's Landing between two brothers, both figuratively dead, and I guess I do to, but as long as we're still on this side of Cersei's trial, I've also given thought to - hold on to yer hats - Tommen standing in as the champion of the Faith. It would certainly surprise people, and perhaps even cause an uproar among those who already have their popcorn ready for the so-called 'Cleganebowl'. I could even argue for it, and I did, somewhere, but the books by now are so full of characters, subtext, plot, setting etc. that you could come up with arguments for almost any kind of tinfoil theory. Martin is very, very lucky that Game of Thrones whips up some hype; now that we're partially in "unspoiled" territory (mostly the North; it is kind of surprising how much material, even in the latest episode, is still based on Feast from 2005).....

.....But, until Martin has written it, anything goes and Martin has been known to throw in a surprise, twist or shocker, no?
Anyway, I find it easier these days to separate the show story and the book story, and it has allowed me to enjoy the show more (also, of course, this season is miles better than the previous season); re-watching season four with my better half has been great too and now I want to start on season one; so it certainly is more than good enough...just feel they skipped a few things from the books that, in my mind at least, would have been totally awesome on a show.
I'm aware they are already stretching it in terms of numbers of characters and plotlines and arcs, and non-book readers I know, I feel like they only really get 40-50% of the show, but still I miss the sprawling mess of characters from the books; I mean, they wouldn't have to be named in the show or anything, but why not add a little extra book-correct color?
Oh. Money.
What the hell am I blathering about anyway? What I really wanted to do was start a new chapter in my A Feast with Dragons re-read. Let's roll bowl!

ALLrightee then, today's chapter is Arya's first chapter of A Feast for Crows, and the fifteenth in this combined re-read. Incidentally, Arya's scenes in last night's "The Broken Man" are causing some serious discussion because, what was actually going on? It was a shocking sequence (I was shocked at any rate), and the stabbing reminded me of both Jon Snow's murder in season five and the stabbing of Talisa Whatshername at the wedding of Edmure and Roslin, that sweet couple of happiness and joy. After some thinking (read: looking around on the webbersnet) I've seen that many people subscribe to the idea that Arya actually wasn't in the episode - it was Jaqen H'ghar who was trying to draw out the Waif to see if the Waif obeyed his orders ("Kill Arya, but don't make her suffer"). In the previous season we saw Arya touch the face of the old woman so there is a link there; this stuff is almost as confusing as Bran's. Where Bran is tangling with time and visions and whatnot, Arya is tangling with identities. What I don't quite grasp is how Jaqen could wear Arya's face, because it seems they established that faces are taken from the dead and she's not. But then again Jaqen can change faces on a whim..
...the show still has Arya in Braavos then, looking for a way to get out of there, so in that sense re-reading this chapter doesn't feel too far removed (in time) from where the show is. Her arc has been a little bit stagnant, hasn't it? And then it was like whoa!!1 last night. I liked that. Yeah I think she's still hiding in the dark (big hint: the Arya we saw last night doesn't wear Needle) and will sneak away with that mummer's troupe, but since we got this whole sequence with Jaqen and the Waif (possibly!) it feels like there's something left undone between Arya and the House of Black and White. We'll have to wait six days, six loooong days (but not as long as six loooong years for a boooook though) and then we'll probably figure it out. After all, the next episode is called "No One". Risky title if you wish to attract new viewers ^^

Looking back to the day I got my copy of Feast in the mail from Amazon (and the elation of getting it a week early, and the elation of finally getting on with the amazing story I had come to love so much), I remember being very interested in Arya's story. I don't know if I had read any speculation as to her future story-line, but I knew of course that she booked passage with the coin H'ghar had given her, but the text was somewhat ambiguous as to whether the captain would sail her to Eastwatch (so Arya could join up with Jon), or if the only choice for Arya was to accept a journey across the Narrow Sea to Braavos. At any rate - I was excited to continue her journey, because reading about Arya was great; she always ran into fun characters and situations, and visited interesting locations or ended up in dangerous and exciting situations (seriously, she must be the POV who has seen the most violence, which, of course, is part of her character journey). Leaving Sandor Clegane behind, though, Arya is now alone, and, as it turns out, on a very different journey from the one she went through in the first three books. Perhaps it is unfair to compare "new" Arya to "old" Arya; how could Martin possibly top the story Arya experienced from seeing her own father executed to leaving Sandor behind?
Many years have passed now; back then, Arya in Braavos was a jarring change that I wasn't quite able to accept; it was the first time where I thought of other possible plot-lines that I would have liked more, because I found it rather slow (in the context of a book already full of slow-moving chapters) and I never saw the need for Arya to have to go to foreign lands across the sea, it was just... I had this three-book story so ingrained in my awareness that all the new stuff felt so abrupt and cut off from the first three books - a problem partially born of the long wait, of course.
ANYWAY. RAMBLING OVER. By the Black Goat of Qohor, sometimes I just go on and on. Sorry. Long story short: I hope this story-line bores me less than it did way back when.

Faint and far away the light burned, low on the horizon, shining through the sea mists. I enjoy this opening line; it's not the usual casual mention of something sinister or macabre, but rather more like something out of a classic fantasy tale, devoid of the cynicism and nihilism (wonder how long it will last though). There's an almost dream-like quality to this description, our first very early look at Braavos in the distance. Arya says it looks like a star, and Denyo - the captain's son - agrees, calling it the "star of home". I like this too: Because it is the opposite of home, for Arya. She's not been in a place she can call "home" since her family left Winterfell for the more comfortable climate of King's Landing (;-)). That's two things I'm liking and I'm still on the first paragraph. This is looking good. It actually feels more right now, now that I'm used to the idea of little Arya traveling across the Narrow Sea and stuff. I always thought she was too young for long distance travel, though. But seriously, it feels like I should've re-read these books a lot sooner, and more than once, simply to "break the ice" and allow myself to adjust to the differences. It is no longer about the Riverlands aflame; the story is larger now, the net wider... *hoping hard to find the love*

All right, so Arya is aboard the Titan's Daughter (and I can't help but wonder whether this name is more than just a name - will Littlefinger reveal a daughter? Is it a reference to Sansa? A reference to Arya (daughter) becoming a citizen of Braavos (Titan)??), Braavos is ahead, and while Arya would wish they were sailing for home, she thinks to herself that that's just stupid. That italicized 'stupid' is classic Arya. Makes it easier to join on the transfer to an entirely new plotline and setting. For me, anyway. Mr. Martin gives us a paragraph of updates on Arya's situation, very kind after five years of waiting, and also suggests that "Arya never seemed to find the places she set out to reach." It's interesting, because it's looking like we'll finally witness Arya do reach a place, in the television show. Martin takes care to mention a few of the characters Arya has met so far; I'm taking this as a hint that she may run into some of these eventually (those who still live, anyway); Lem Lemoncloak, Anguy, Tom o' Sevens, and most importantly, I hope we'll get an Arya/Hound reunion. Somehow. It doesn't feel like it's likely, but who knows what threads Martin weaves? On those good days, I mean. When he weaves. Threads. Plot threads. Mmmm juicy surprising plot threads. She knows little of Braavos; only that Syrio Forel had been from this city, and wonders if Jaqen is there as well. This makes me wonder if the TV show has spoiled the Kindly Man's identity to us. In that case it might be the earliest spoiler the show revealed to us; could the Kindly Man be Jaqen H'ghar with a different face? Now I honestly don't remember the Kindly Man of the book, so I'm curious to read about him now with the show's Jaqen-replacement in mind.

What is certain, is that the crew aboard the Titan's Daughter either stay away from her ("shun her"), or give her gifts (love that she's given gifts - coincidence or subtle foreshadowing?); the friendly ones try to communicate with her, but none ask for her name. Gotta admit, Martin is being clever again. This is when it is great - he shows rather than tells. We can draw our own conclusions: Using that coin certainly make people behave strangely; what is this shunning, this gift-giving, all about? Do they fear her? Respect her? It all sets up the Faceless Men so nicely without stating it directly.

Next up is a little information on the Titan of Braavos itself; apparently famous, as Old Nan talked about this gargantuan statue back in Winterfell, and with lots of tales about it to scare children (I love that Martin adds urban legends to his story, adds depth and texture); we don't learn much more at this point, as Arya's thoughts turn to Winterfell, thinking Old Nan and Luwin and Sansa to be dead; but, as Jaqen said, all men must die. Little does Arya know that she's being indoctrinated into a death cult. Little did I grasp what was going on here, the first time I read the book. It's all so much clearer in hindsight. Like how Arya thinks of herself as "practically a woman grown", reminding me of Sansa. She learns that all gods are honored in Braavos; Arya doesn't regard the Seven as her gods, though, but she also thinks of the Old Gods as dead, which might come in handy. She lingers on thoughts of her family, naturally, thinking how her father - The Ned - had it all backwards - the lone wolf, Arya, had survived, while the pack had not. Quite poignant, really; the pack did not survive precisely because it was scattered; a sign that Arya won't survive after all? There are a few hints throughout the text that do suggest Arya won't survive to the end of the story, sadly. I must have mentioned them throughout my rereads of the previous books.

And we have the Many Faced God introduced! Mentioned, at least. Arya thinks of her kill list, now down to six, and all we can do is wonder whether she'll be able to finish ticking off that list; in the show, of course, Raff the Sweetling and Ser Meryn Trant have already been slain. Ser Gregor, Dunsen, and Queen Cersei remain. I can't imagine Arya being the one to kill Cersei, but who knows? The Hound slew Polliver, who was on her list, so there's certainly the possibility that others kill her targets before she can have that chance. How creepy is it to ponder the potential murders by a girl almost eleven years old? Interestingly, Arya thinks that she should have given the Hound "the gift of mercy" - another little foreshadowing of things to come. Things that are still way off, in the book that is proving as elusive as the previous two, The Winds of Winter. Fooled me once, fooled me twice, fooled me thrice. The disappoint is in the feels.

At last the mists depart and Martin gives us a proper view of the Titan of Braavos. I think they nailed it pretty well in the TV show, didn't they, based on the description in this chapter? Except the hair, I guess. Oh, and the Titan gives mighty roars. Announcing an arriving ship - which makes Braavos an infinitely worse place to be, if you ask me. Imagine how many ships arrive every day. Imagine having to listen to the Titan roar all day. Passing between the mighty legs of the Titan, they sail into a lagoon and come to the Arsenal, basically some kind of fortress on an island "like a spiked fist". I have a feeling Martin adds the Arsenal specifically to tell us that "They can build a war galley there in a day", suggesting a fleet can be raised relatively quick. Which Braavos might be doing in some future war. Perhaps.

Once we're past the Arsenal, it's time for our first view of Braavos itself. The closest comparison would be Venice, I guess, because of its canals, though. There's another hint of Braavos' naval prowess which I guess we'll file for later. Getting cold feet, Arya wonders if it wouldn't be better to stay aboard, with Captain Ternesio Terys, and learn to become a sailor. The captain, however, is anxious to get rid of her, and we're again given the suspicion that Arya, by virtue of owning that coin Jaqen gave her, is feared. The captain begs her to remember him as a good man who helped her out, which kind of seals the deal, at least in hindsight; he fears that she could be coming for him, at some point in the future. Once aboard a small boat that will ferry her across to the city proper, she regrets not saying goodbye to Denyo, one of the captain's sons, thinking she should have said farewell. It's a minor detail, but I like it because it shows us that Arya still has some decent human emotions, even after all the killing. Another son, with the name Yorko, rows the boat.

A lengthy but necessary description of the city give us a good first glimpse of Braavos, with Arya realizing that there are no trees; it's all grey stone. The exposition continues as Yorko swings the boat down one of the many canals, and Arya can enjoy the scenery (and we, through her). They pass the statues of Sealords, see the Temple of the Moonsingers and the temple of R'hllor, the Lord of Light. Say one thing about Feast/Dance, say gods and faith and religion take on a much more prominent role. It felt, at least back when I read Feast for the first time, like Martin, in his haste (bear with me) forgot to add religion to this worldbuilding and is now compensating for it. No, no, I am well aware that the Old Gods and the Seven were present in the first three books, and other gods were mentioned here and there (the "stolen gods" of Vaes Dothrak), but from Feast on the gods not common on the Westerosi mainland seem to take on more importance, both in characters' lives and in terms of exposition; except, perhaps the Storm God, who is mentioned only in passing. Unless I'm mistaken and he's supposed to be the same god as the Drowned God. ANYYYYYYWAY. I don't really mind now. It was just hard to take in so much new stuff and pretend this stuff was already there during books I-III, just "hidden"; it feels a bit retroactively applied, if you will. It jars with perception. But then there is the Black Goat of Qohor and he's cool.

As Arya herself says, "I never knew there were so many gods." Amen.
(I have a feeling a lot of people today aren't aware of the abundance of gods to choose from; if you count the dead and forgotten, there's many thousands to choose from. I like the Egyptian god of toilets, myself. Incredibly minor, but, you know, when you've gotta go, it's best to be on his side. Tywin Lannister should've known about him.

When they see the temple of Rh'llor, by the way, Arya thinks back on Thoros and Beric. I wonder if she will have a run-in with the remains of the Brotherhood without Banners, when she returns to Westeros...there are so many characters she should meet, gah! If I could pick one, though...except the too-obvious Jon Snow...the Hound. Yeah, I would love an Arya Hound reunion. All bets are off as to how that meeting would go. Of course, this bit could also just be Martin reminding us of the Lord of Light and his red priests. Keeping it warm, pun intended.

At long last Yorko leaves her on a shadowed dock with steep steps, a windowless temple of dark grey stone on a rocky knoll before her. "You know my name," Yorko says. "Yorko Terys," she replies. And I'm like, wait, this isn't in the show, and then I'm like, gah the show is ruining my perception of the real story... But what does it mean? Why does Yorko feel compelled to make her say his name? Is there some safety clause here that I've forgotten, or is this something Martin will reveal later on? Jaqen of course is all about "A girl must state a name..." but then that would mean that Arya, by knowing Yorko's name... confusion has ensued. Must ponder. And probably read on. And flip back to Harrenhal, if time permits... but there is no permission from time right now, so I'm closing the shop and will be back with Arya's first encounter with the mysterious temple in a few.

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