Tuesday, September 27, 2016

[Re-read] A Feast with Dragons, Chapter 17: Jaime I

This post contains spoilers all the way up to the epilogue of A Dance with Dragons.

Yay, time for another re-read post. The journey through A Feast with Dragons continues unabated if excruciatingly slow. Today we reach the 17th chapter of the combined re-read of George R.R. Martin's two doorstoppers, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, using the chronological order suggested by Boiled Leather. So far, I have to say the combining of chapters hasn't made much of a difference, partially because I tend to forget where we are in the timeline anyway, and partially because we've mostly been treading through Feast so far. To my pleasant surprise, however, I'm also finding new appreciation for much of what I read, being better able to "marry" the 'new' with the 'old. Yeah, Feast is dirt-old already, but it still feels relatively new to me. I guess one of its problems was that it had so much expectation and wild anticipation, and that it may have failed (in my eyes) a bit because it wasn't the story I expected or imagined, much like how the Star Wars prequel trilogy suffered from high expectations and anticipation; it was so different from the original trilogy in a lot of ways that I guess it became even harder to accept it. And I never have and never will; GRRM, on the other hand, I am willing to work with; there's enough goodness here to possibly ignore the flaws that are creeping into his saga. I can't ignore the inanity of Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side, but it's easier to ignore, say, Maggy the Frog's prophecy although I've never liked it coming into play. It's just a small thing, not detrimental enough to frustrate. Anyway. It's JAIME's turn, his first chapter in the combined re-read, and in case you didn't know Jaime is possibly my favoritest character in a gallery of great characters so I'm kind of excited to return to him now, at sunrise on the fourth day. Join me as we go a-explorin'.

Oh, by the way, after reading about Ser Lambert Turnberry in the previous chapter I posted about it on Reddit. I usually only read the A Song of Ice & Fire-sub for entertaintment but I really felt like I had hit upon a small, hidden nugget. Alas! The response was about as responsive as an upside-down turtle that died of dehydration three weeks ago. But I'm not forgetting you, mr. Turnberry. You are not so much a character as a foreshadowing-quickie.

Right. Jaime-time! I like it when Cersei and Jaime have chapters following each other, it gives a sense of continuity as they are physically close to each other, a more cohesive feeling that the books generally lack when they jump from Meereen to Dorne to White Harbor to the Iron Islands to Winterfell to Wherevertown (but for some reason, we never get to experience Casterly Rock, grumble). And so the chapter opens with a look at Jaime that we already saw through Cersei's eyes in the previous chapter. It's not your typical "hook line and sinker" opening, with Martin carefully building a more serene atmosphere. Jaime is standing, all in white, by his father's bier, the last light of day slanting down through high windows, "washing the towering likenesses of the Seven in a red gloom". Interestingly this atmosphere is similar to how Martin opened the Cersei-chapter (previous re-read post), including the use of the color red in an ominous way. While the Cersei-chapter suggests there will be blood spilled in the Red Keep, Martin is now suggesting the same will happen at the Great Sept of Baelor. And what do you know, the TV show has already spoiled us on bloodshed in the city's most holy place.

When the mourners depart, Jaime is left with Balon Swann and Loras Tyrell (I note that Jaime doesn't use their "Ser" titles, though I'm not sure what to make of it - Martin simply forgetting to add their titles?). Oh, in the very next sentence Swann is referred to as Ser Balon. The man is clearly concerned about Jaime. Sounds like there's a tradition of "standing vigil for seven days and seven nights" (which is impossible, so not sure why Balon expresses his concern in this manner - probably just Martin bringing a little setting color); anyway, Jaime looks exhausted. Ser Loras, really like a gentleman, offers to stand a night for Jaime so he can get some rest. Jaime, however, refuses. And his thoughts reveal that he feels guilty for his father's death: You did not kill him. I did. Having loosed Tyrion from his cell, Jaime effectively feels that it is his fault Tyrion killed their father with a crossbow bolt. I'm kind of surprised to read this, I had forgotten about this subtle character development.  I can't begin to imagine how Jaime's mind works after all he's been through; but it strikes me as slightly unbelievable that he would blame himself for Tywin's death; to my mind, it doesn't feel entirely in character, though I am unable to explain why I feel that way. Anyway, the two knights realize there's no way Jaime's going to leave his post, so they leave him there.

Next we're reminded Jaime lost one hand (in the previous novel), that he feels the need to use his sword (read: he wishes he had his hand back), preferably on Varys, whom Jaime also blames for Tywin's murder. Again, Jaime thinks that it all comess back to him; he asked Varys to take Tyrion to a ship, so again - his fault. The more I ponder this, the more I can see that these are logical thought processes; I'm beginning to buy it. I was never under the impression Jaime cared that much about his father, though. Not enough to become so full of guilt over his execution-by-crossbow anyway.

Next we get a flashback. Jaime thinks back on the night of Tywin's death, when Jaime had been waiting in the eunuch's chambers; when Varys appeared, Jaime put a knife to the man's chin, meaning to frighten him. Jaime's plan is to force Varys to unlock Tyrion's cell: We're basically getting to 'see' the rescue from Jaime's point of view. Perhaps a bit redundant, then, after Tyrion's chapters in A Storm of Swords, but at the same time, you know, cool. Gotta love Varys' line (when Jaime pricks him with the dagger), "I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood" which I'm feeling might foreshadow Varys' eventual death (I'm imagining that he'll live to see himself bleed out, slowly); of course, it might also say something about Varys' bloodline, whatever that may be, or just a fitting piece of dialogue for the scene. Knowing Martin, there's probably more than one meaning to it. I just have a feeling there will be some major comeuppances for may characters, and here we can infer in what way Varys might get his comeuppance. If they get comeuppances. Martin is hard to figure out, to be honest. There are some ironic deaths, but it's not a given.

And here we go, Jaime remembers Tyrion's words after rescuing him from the cell: "Cersei is a lying whore, she's been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know." We'll hear this one in Jaime's mind many more times, but it does say a lot about how Jaime has to deal with a truth he really doesn't want to be true. Even though Tyrion also "admits" to killing Joffrey, it is Cersei's adultery that is breaking Jaime.

As long as Jaime is just standing vigil, it's hard to get a very action-packed chapter. We remain in his thoughts. He wonders where Varys went after Tywin's death, even wondering if he and Tyrion went off together across the Narrow Sea, which, funnily, is exactly what happened in the TV show. Very meta; Jaime is confusing the books with the TV show. Jaime remembers crawling through the tunnels searching for the eunuch (and Tyrion), which made him feel even more of a cripple (it's hard crawling with only one hand); he remembers encountering an old floor mosaic of the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen (this most certainly isn't a detail added just for the heck of it; it might imply the future bond between Lannister and Targaryen, or maybe something entirely different, like Varys' allegiance to that House).

More interesting is the fact that Jaime's thoughts now stray into memories of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (ah! The most obvious reason Martin added the mosaic - to lead Jaime to think of the legendary prince). Like most other fans (I assume), I'm fascinated by this character who seems so central to the story, yet was dead long before A Game of Thrones. I admire Martin's ability to weave such characters into his narrative. Every glimpse of Rhaegar is like a small piece of a puzzle, another element that makes A Song of Ice and Fire feel so rich and complex and haunting. In this case, we get a closer look at the event leading up to Jaime's murder of the Mad King Aerys, at the same time giving us a solid - perhaps the most solid, so far - glimpse of Rhaegar. The man's got entire lines of dialogue here. Not that you can trust twenty year old (or whatever) memories, but still. It's like a nice little gift right there. It had been a windy day when Jaime took farewell with Rhaegar (forever), the prince in his 'night-black armor' (is Rhaegar Targaryen...Darkstar?). Jaime actually wanted to come with Rhaegar, which would of course have changed history (what if Jaime was at the Trident, protecting the prince from Robert's warhammer?); Rhaegar, however, needed Jaime to stay in King's Landing and protect Rhaegar's father, the king, mostly to keep Tywin in check. Jaime had been angry with the command, actually, but Ser Jon Darry tells him he's got to obey. I love this little scene! Also nice to see how Rhaegar had some plans for the future of the kingdom, which we know would never come to fruition because, you know, Rhaegar never returned.

Kind of jarring, but suddenly we're taken out of Jaime's memories and Jaime is actually talking to the corpse on the bier. Jarring because...I don't know, you'd think Jaime knew it doesn't make sense to talk to a corpse? But it doesn't make sense to talk to cats either, and I do that all the time, so all right then. Jaime is not crying for his father though, so it feels as if this whole vigil-thing of his is actually an egoistical approach rather than sympathy or whathaveyou. It's a way for Jaime to clean up his own act, so to speak. Repentance, if you will.

Jaime suspects that many people are "secretly delighted" to see Tywin brought low, which goes to show that he at least has a more realistic understanding of who his father was than Cersei. Another little detail of interest is that Pycelle was the most distraught of the mourners, kind of solidifying the fact that the old doddering maester was always on the side of House Lannister. Pycelle calls Tywin "the greatest man I ever knew", and while it's not a wow-reveal, it does bring some closure to the character as, at least I know I did, we've been wondering about Pycelle's true allegiance since A Game of Thrones. Martin takes his time reminding the reader of Pycelle's story so far, which I guess is partially because readers may have forgotten him in the five years that went by since A Storm of Swords, but maybe also to help reinforce the idea that for all intents and purposes he was a near ally of the Lannisters. It helps underscore the epilogue in Dance as well, where he fittingly meets his fate together with a Lannister.

Speaking of reinforcing ideas, Martin has Pycelle mention the "grey plague" that took half of Oldtown when he was a boy. I am not sure whether there is a connection to the greyscale we have seen/will see several characters infected by, or whether Martin was thinking "Oh man, I'm writing this medieval story and I forgot the importance of religion [cue Sparrows etc.] and disease [cue plague]"; at any rate, by slipping it in here in Pycelle's dialogue the reader is at least aware that a contagious disease just might come in the wake of war and famine (and winter?); it's not foreshadowing per se, but there's groundwork being laid here in case the story goes in that direction (it would be an easy way for Martin to get rid of many characters at once, perhaps). Pycelle goes on to compare Tywin to a Hightower lord of Oldtown who also knew what needed to be done (going against popular opinion). When Pycelle totters off, Jaime thinks that Pycelle is dying too; Jaime is seeing how his House crumbles around him, and it actually foreshadows Pycelle's demise in a way (although I expected him to leave by natural causes, you know, just to go against the standard mode of demise in the books, which is violent).

With the old maester gone, Jaime's thoughts turn to his sister, and Martin continues his reinforcement; this time, reinforcing the idea that Cersei is paranoid: "To be sure, his sweet sister seemed to think half the court was either useless or treasonous (...)" Among those mentioned as useless or treasonous is Ser Ilyn Payne, the King's Justice. It's a neat way to remind us of this minor character's existence considering he'll have a role to play in Jaime's chapters. It's kinda superobvious when you re-read it, that Martin plants a seed here, but it's also one of the elements of Martin's writing I greatly admire, his ability to plant those seeds to make it all the more cohesive (in spite of the extremely sprawling narrative). A small touch like this helps keep it together just a little better.

Thoughts turn to the strangely-named Rennifer Longwaters, the chief undergaoler, whom Jaime has questioned re: Tyrion's escape. You have to wonder what kind of seed Martin is planting here when Rennifer explains the origin of his name (why add these details if there's not some seed somewhere in it?). Rennifer claimed to have royal blood in his veins - a descendant of a Targaryen princess. Whether Rennifer has a larger role to play or not, I believe Martin's decision to include this short backstory to this unimportant character is to (here we go again) reinforce an idea or concept: That while House Targaryen is basically extinct, they left behind a number of bloodlines, 'half-descendants' if you will. My guess: When Daenerys arrives, a lot of people will flock to her banner, surprising the Lannisters (and other noble Houses). Jaime isn't really interested in Rennifer's lineage of course, he was down in the dungeon to interrogate the undergaoler about Tyrion. We're told a little more about the black cells and who got which report from this gruelling level of the Red Keep, Rennifer gives us a little information on the mysterious Rugen, which supports the suspicion that he is Varys in disguise. A nice detail is that Rennifer mentions three other prisoners - Rorge, Biter, and Jaqen - a neat nod. Also love the mundane in having six prisoners yet wages are paid to twenty turnkeys, six undergaolers, a chief undergaoler (Rennifer), a gaoler, and a King's Justice. It's funny 'cos it's bureacracy teehee. When Jaime wants to question two of the turnkeys, it turns out they are dead, killed by Ser Boros Blount and Osmund Kettleblack, at the command of Cersei. An act of vengeance, and, as Jaime realizes, stupidity. We also get to see how ruthless Osmund can be, not caring at all for the lives of these two innocent turnkeys.  Jaime gets suspicious - is Osmund, by killing these fellows - hiding something? He tells them to go to him before killing any more people on Cersei's orders. Love how his phantom fingers twitch when Osmund swears to him as a Sworn Brother he only did what was ordered; you can practically feel Jaime seething, wanting to strike down this Osmund clown right there and then. But...he doesn't; Jaime has changed quite a bit during the course of his story.

And still Jaime is standing vigil by his father's corpse, in case you've forgotten. It's an achievement of itself, to have a chapter in an action-packed fantasy novel where we basically have a character standing still as a statue. So we drift back into more memories; this time a battle in a pass below the Golden Tooth. He remembers the crows dining on the corpses of "victors and vanquished alike" - Jaime is seeing the futility of war. He thinks that Tywin was largely responsible for keeping those crows fed, and it seems that the corpse's smile widens further at the thought. And, of course, this links straight to book four's title, A Feast for Crows - the aftermath of the War of the Five Kings, the crows descend to feast upon the fallen, the waste of it all... imagine the long silence in the hall and then Jaime suddenly bursts into laughter (he thinks his father is "grinning like a bridegroom at his bedding"), his voice echoing through the crypts and chapels, "as if the dead were laughing too". A macabre but interesting description, and mayhaps a foreshadowing of Jaime facing the undead in the distant future?

We're told how Ser Addam Marbrand led a search for Tyrion in the city (at Jaime's command), before Jaime's thoughts go "unbidden" to Brienne of Tarth. Before really thinking all that much about her (just wondering where she is) his thoughts turn to the gods, followed by wondering whether he should tell Cersei it was he who let Tyrion free. What I'm getting out of this is that a) Jaime is not very religious, which I wasn't really suspecting in the first place, and b) Jaime is growing to feel that he want to leave it all behind, that he feels trapped by his position as Kingsguard and brother of Cersei; he wants to get it all over with, it seems, as expressed by his sudden thoughts of telling Cersei the truth.

At midnight, hundreds of septons arrive, followed by what I assume to be the Silent Sisters (here, referred to as "death's handmaidens"), followed by "a host of brothers", none of them paying Jaime mind. Hymns are sung, sacrifices are made (though the text doesn't make it clear what kind of sacrifices), Jaime is really tired, and he remembers the last time he stood vigil, at the young age of fifteen. I am probably too dim but I'm not sure who he was standing vigil over? Rhaegar? At first the text made me wonder if it was Ser Arthur Dayne, but from the way it's written it sounds more like Ser Arthur stood next to him in vigil himself. I also suspect the editor missed "dawn" being the name of Dayne's sword, making the text here even more confusing. But yeah, I guess it's Rhaegar's corpse Jaime and Arthur, erm, vigilized. I feel this section is a bit clumsy; "when dawn came" followed so closely by "with dawn he tapped him..", it's unclear whether Dayne tapping him on the shoulder (knighting Jaime) happened at Rhaegar's bier or if Martin is describing two different incidents...it's a part where I feel the editor should've done a better job, I suppose. A weak little piece in an otherwise fine chapter.

The devout eventually leave and once more Jaime is alone. By now I'm ready for a new POV/chapter/more action, becoming a bit restless as a reader - it has happened before with these Feastdance-chapters; not so much in the first three books. More thoughts as Jaime decides he'd rather want to hack the White Book to pieces than "fill it with lies"; a bit of a character moment, that, showing us he's on the path of honor now. Suddenly, a wet bedraggled woman stands before him, and he didn't even notice her appearing, showing how tired he is. It is, of course, Cersei, and hey, now I'm interested again because sparks might fly. They usually do when Cersei's in the picture, eh.

All of a sudden, Westeros has a new way of reckoning time ("It's the hour of the wolf") and I feel that, since they didn't name the hours before Feast, Martin should've left it out. It feels jarring. Cersei asks if he remembers another time they met like this. It's neat how Jaime corrects her memory ("It was Eel Alley", not Weasel Alley), which shows us much about how Jaime relates to Cersei now (a few books back he wouldn't have corrected her; the detail is a great little glimpse into his changing perception of his twin sister). And right away he suspects her of having some ulterior motive for coming down to the Great Sept. He almost dares hope she's there for his comfort, but she's on business (of course). She tells him uncle Kevan refused to become Hand of the King, surprising Jaime. She also tells him Kevan knows about their incestuous relationship. She tells Jaime that he must become the new Hand of the King. You can see it coming from a mile away, but it's still kind of fun that the man who got his hand cut off is asked to become Hand. Cersei begs and pleads, weakening Jaime's resolve, though he thinks that he can't be naughty here in the sight of gods and his father's corpse (showing some kind of devotion to the gods after all? Maybe he's on the way to become a more saintly character as well?) "You are me, I am you," Cersei tells Jaime, but as we can see, Jaime is no longer in the incest zone as much as he used to be. She stomps off, angry and disappointed he doesn't want to give in to her wishes. This scene, I feel, could have been longer with sharper banter, it's a meeting between two of the more interesting characters in the series, but it doesn't feel as powerful as it should have been, for some reason.

After she leaves, it becomes dawn and light fills the sept; Tywin is decaying fast now, perhaps too fast for it to be normal, with cheeks opening up, foul white fluids seeping through the armor, and the smell is just getting worse. The Tyrells appear and Jaime notes she is "as clever as she is pretty", Cersei appears with Tommen at her side and escorted by Ser Osmund, reminding Jaime again of Tyrion's words about Cersei having sexytime with that man, and there's a strong sense of jealousy on display though the author doesn't explicitly state this. Tommen is unable to look at rotting grandpa, Cersei tries to school him and fails of course, and the boy retches right there, his crown falling off to roll across the floor (neat foreshadowing of Tommen losing his kingship; I suspect the character's fate as shown in the TV show is what we'll get in the books as well). Tommen runs off, and Jaime tells Ser Osmund to relieve him so he can chase after the boy...his son, actually. So here we see Jaime, perhaps for the first time, show a fatherly side of himself. He catches up with Tommen in the Hall of Lamps, where Tommen tells him he's sorry. Jaime leads him out (so as to avoid any eavesdroppers). Must be fantastic for Jaime to get out in the clean air and morning sun after a whole night by a corpse.

Before Cersei arrives, Jaime manages to impart a "lesson" on his son: Go away inside. Not sure how good advice that is, though. There's a hint Joffrey wasn't nice to Tommen, not surprising but still, there it is...when Cersei arrives she tells Tommen that Joffrey would never have shamed her so. Yeah, neither Jaime nor Cersei are very good at parenting. And boy do I feel sorry for poor Tommen. How can he be their child? He is so radically different it verges on the unbelievable, to be honest. Jaime and Cersei begin to quarrel, and now the barbs are indeed sharper, Jaime tries to calm her down because other people are streaming out of the Great Sept now, perhaps curious about this little family matter....exchange...thing. Suffice it to say, the Lannisters are starting to make a mess of things, and all the assumed control and power we saw in the first books is vanishing...like, eh, nipples on a breastplate?

Lord Mace Tyrell approaches, showing concern for Tommen's well-being (replace "showing" with "faking" at your own leisure). Love the little insert of a crow perched atop the statue of King Baelor, shitting on his head. Martin really likes to strip away pretense. Show how shitty the world really is, beneath all the human-imposed grandieur. Almost nihilistic, but mostly realistic. Before Cersei can screw things up further, Jaime suggests to Mace that he invite Cersei for supper. Fortunately she doesn't object before Mace has walked off, but then she turns on Jaime, not understanding why he asked for that supper (again showing us how dim Cersei is, to my disappointment). He tells her it is a chance to send Mace out of town, perhaps to go take Storm's End in the name of the king; seems that at least on the Tyrells, the twins agree; the Tyrells need to be spread out, they have too much presence and power in King's Landing. She says Mace won't leave until Tommen and Margaery are wed, Jaime says, well, let them get married, then. Besides, Tommen is so young, there will be plenty of time to find a way to annul the marriage. So Jaime does have some politicial savvy as well as being a warrior, it seems. Before this, I'd assume it was Cersei who would think like this, not him. Indeed, she tells Jaime that "for a moment you sounded quite like Father." And that's all kinds of cool, no? One thing's for sure, I feel that everything is leading up to Jaime having a big role to play in the remainder of the series. Great character. From Extreme!Han Solo to a much more complex creation, Ser Jaime Lannister remains one of my favorite - perhaps the favorite - characters despite spending an entire chapter just standing there.

I do appreciate this chapter; the King's Landing chapters in Feast are perhaps the closest in tone to the "original trilogy", and, I've always loved the political intrigue and backstabbing going on in the capital of Westeros. With the great amount of NPCs (non-POVs) there's so much potential double-crossing and mystery, it remains a pleasure to read.

Next up, however, is Brienne II, a very different story but I've got a good feeling, folks. I am feeling a certain warming up to it all.

2 comments:

  1. AFFC is my favorite ASOIAF book, and I'm glad you're also enjoying it more this time around.

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  2. i got the impression that the previous vigil Jamie describes is the vigil knights have to take before they are knighted, which i think was mentioned before (it was mentioned in dunk and egg at least)

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