Thursday, December 22, 2016

[Re-read] A Feast with Dragons, Chapter 21: Tyrion III (ADWD)

...and just one day after that massive rant I have to admit that simply writing about the film made me really eager to see it again. Sometimes I find my brain hard to understand, but hey, whatever. I probably sounded very negative toward Rogue One yesterday, but I'm really not *that* bothered, it just comes off like that because there were so many nits to pick. The good thing about not being completely wowed: I'm not lost in a Star Wars-spiral of watching and rewatching movies, spending money on merchandise etc. and can freely go on with my re-read of A Song of Ice and Fire, the saga that, after all, at its best, is the best.
Trade in your lightsaber for a Lightbringer and off we go, this time to Chapter 21 of the combined re-read, which happens to be Tyrion III from A Dance with Dragons (it's an old novel, from 2011 or thereabouts, so I'm not surprised if you haven't heard about it; but you've probably heard of that Game of Thrones series where they kill off everyone and there's a lot of bewbs? Yeah.)

BREAKING NEWS George R.R. Martin's blog is almost exactly the same as it was seven years ago when he complained about fans demanding updates on his writing progress!! Then, as now, you'll find a nice ecclectic mix of football posts (the most useless of them all), his saleman's posts (buy The Mystery Knight comic book now!), his random thoughts that may or may not interest several persons, his phallic posts (by which I mean posts about awards and cons, the stuff that seems to get him off). The one difference is the addition of a new type of post, the Cocktoe Cinema posts, a flurry of them since Martin bought his own private cinema. They did not exist in 2009, how could we live without them?
So, if you were curious about checking the blog again after a decade's break to see how things stand I spared you the effort. Lots of fans though are keeping their eyes peeled for an end-of-the-year update (as if it's a given Martin will bother) which will set things straight for us - how much longer we still have to wait until we can start waiting for A Dream of Spring. 

Without further ado, time for a re-read of TYRION III (ADWD). That sounds like a diagnose.

Let's see, just a hyper-quick update on where we are in Tyrion's story:
* Tyrion drinks his way across the Narrow Sea. On the other side, he encounters fat merchant dude.
* There was a lot of talking in Ilyrio's manse and more drinking
* Ilyrio reveals that the answer to Westeros' problems is "the dragon with three heads" (I assume Jon, Dany, Bran but that they won't win the day without Tyrion as a "fourth head")
* They begin to travel toward Volantis
* We didn't learn any of Ilyrio's motives
* Lots and lots of talking, pounding you in the face with heavy, heavy exposition and world building that doesn't feel revelant to the plot

As you might surmise from the above summary I am not particularly enamored by the two first Tyrion chapters of ADWD because they are plodding. Ish. With this third chapter, I am hoping for an improvement, and as we're getting a bunch of new characters introduced here I am sure this will be a more entertaining continued look at the life and lies of Tyrion Lannister, son of Tywin, Tywin, mudafukio Tywin!

As always, beware of spoilers for anything that has ever been released up to and including the future.

The chapter opens with Tyrion waking up in Ilyrio's litter; not the most interesting hook from an author who excels at hooking his readers, but Tyrion is a draw all by himself anyway. He hears voices outside ("in a tongue he did not know") so he jumps out of the litter to find Ilyrion Mopatis with two riders in worn leather shirts and cloaks of dark brown wool. Tyrion understands the fellows aren't hostile so he goes to take a piss. Good ol' George putting the mundane in the fantasy. He wonders - sarcastically and loud - whether the two riders are outlaws, and the riders do seem to assess Tyrion from their saddles ("He pisses well, at least" suggesting that they aren't impressed quite yet). We learn that the older and clean-shaved of the two is a man named Haldon. This saga is full of characters with the most awesome names; Haldon, alas, is not one of them, and neither is his companion, whose nickname is Duck (which I like as a contrast to all the more epic nicknames like Kingslayer and The Mountain that Rides) and whose full name is Ser Rolly Duckfield. "Haldon" is a fairly bland name, but I feel "Ser Rolly Duckfield" sticks out in a series of great character names. However, five books in Martin does need to shake things up here and there, and as such another cool nickname/name wouldn't stand out as much; we notice Duck almost because his name is jarring. ANYWAYDELIDAY.

Turns out Ilyrio brought supplies to these two fellows, and we note that Rolly is a knight while Haldon is not. Six oaken chests for Haldon and Duck, and we see Duck display raw strength as he easily moves these chests from Ilyrio's baggage mules to their horses. Ilyrio asks Haldon how "the lad" is doing - I like it when Martin doesn't stop to explain who the lad is or why Ilyrio cares; the characters know and we're only witnessing, the less exposition the better; we must wonder about things, to keep our interest up when the story slows down. Ilyrio sounds "oddly sad", and has a gift for the boy; this is followed by Ilyrio immediately explaining that he thought he would join Haldon and Duck some of the way toward Ghoyan I assume the odd sadness simply suggests that Ilyrio actually misses "the boy" - which of course begs the question, why does Ilyrio have feelings for this boy; did he raise him (let's call the boy/lad Young Griff) as his own, perhaps? Curious...ANYNOODLES Haldon says they don't have time because this "Griff" guy (again, Martin throws us into the middle of the convo without giving us context, and that's great - more of that please, less inventory lists and heavy-handed exposition), this Griff guy means "to strike downriver" very soon, the text suggesting that the haste is due to the area becoming infested with dangers, mostly in the form of various khalassars. Which is a neat reminder from George, of course, to be on the lookout for the Dothraki, whom you may have forgotten after slogging through the Dothraki-devoid A Feast for Crows. The mention of the Dothraki is to set up one of the khals, Khal Pono (I always read it as "Porno" /embarrassed), who has an army of thirty thousand and is near "the headwaters of the Selhoru" (wherever that is); while A Dance with Dragons *barely* reaches the point where Daenerys meets Pono's khalasar, the TV show has already told us the result of the setup of the Khal in this very chapter: Daenerys will destroy Khal Pono and his bloodriders and take his Dothraki army for herself. To be honest...I really don't like this plot development, mostly because it feels unnecessary (why couldn't she just keep Drogo's host? If there's a good point in taking over an unknown, unseen Dothraki horde, I'm waiting to find it).

Haldon is revealed to have a nickname as well, Halfmaester. I like it. And Ilyrio calls Tyrion for "Yollo", and who didn't think "Yeah, you only live once" upon reading that name? Our favorite imp knows what's up though, so he quickly reroutes this potential disruption by calling himself Hugor Hill instead. It's only marginally better, as he now sounds like a freaking hobbit. What's with this chapter and weird names? There are a few classic lines of dialogue here - "Any knight can make a knight", which I had known for years because a collectible card game card was named for it, "Every dwarf is a bastard in his father's eyes", made prominent by the TV series...

Tyrion is quick to show us his dragon lore mastery, revealing to Haldon his knowledge of the story of a Serwyn of the Mirror Shield who slew the dragon Urrax. Why is 'x' such a common letter in dragon names across settings? Wonder what's the deal with that mirror shield, though. Valyrian steel perhaps? Or a shield meant to revert the petrifying gaze of basilisks? I am not entirely sure why George wants to cram this seemingly random legend into the text at this point; what is it Haldon is trying to test by asking Tyrion of his knowledge of this tale? Before you can really try to ponder this, Martin launches into a longer backstory exploration of the time known as the Dance of the Dragons (later more fully fleshed out in almost-narratives like The Rogue Prince) and here he stumbles, eager to present his backstory material and disrupting the flow of the narrative; it feels so tangentially related to Tyrion's story that it is hard to stay interested, but of course, I have no way of knowing Mr. Martin's mind and maybe this will all come back to bite me. The possibility I am seeing is that, possibly, Tyrion will have a role similar to one of these mentioned dragonslayers, or perhaps this is setting up a dragon-riding adventure in the future. What is clear, is that Tyrion is linked to the dragons, and we have already seen a little of this in the TV show. I am curious as to how believable a dragon-riding dwarf will be, if that's where Tyrion's story ends up. Or will he become simply a dragon-tamer? He pondered, weak and weary.

Through their interaction, we are told about a "Lemore", a female character that we have yet to meet (Martin's preparing us as it were); there's also a strong hint that this upcoming "Griff" character is a merciless and brutal man ("...and Griff might cut his cock off and stuff it down his throat") but once we meet him I definitely do not get that violent vibe at all (on the contrary, Griff is a romantic). Maybe Duck's just talking out of his ass?

Tyrion takes farewell with Ilyrio (actually, no goodbye is mentioned) and the two riders take Ilyro's chests and Tyrion with them out on the 'dragon's road' (not an official name since it has no capital letters?); Ilyrio says he's sorry he won't be there for "the boy's wedding". We'll keep this in mind. The way Martin describes Ilyrio in this chapter really has me curious. He seems genuinely affected by the absence of the boy, Young Griff; as if he's the actual father or something. "Odd sad face", "slumped shoulders", says he's sorry, "the lord of cheese looked almost small"...

This art is so cool it makes me like Duck more
And so Tyrion finds himself in the company of two new characters. There's more banter, but it's not the insanely fun banter we often encountered in previous books; here, much of the banter seems to exist simply as a means for Martin to conjure up even more fluff: a mention of a Urho the Unwashed, a mention of the pirates of Dagger Lake, a mention of Lady Korra and her Hag's Teeth. Feels irrelevant but for adding a sense of depth to the world. Problem is: I am invested, so very invested, in the Westeros-part of the setting, the place where almost everything has taken place and where arguably the most interesting things happen. I never asked for an in-depth exploration of Essos beyond the Daenerys chapters. And I just can't warm up to Essos in any way compared to how well realized Westeros is. I mean, that mixture of classic medieval history elements and the fantastic (Storm's End, Casterly Rock) is just so tantalizing forever and ever. <3 Neither Urho nor Korra the Cruel can hit my feels at this point. Martin's technique might be the same - he's got a gift for creating curiosity around the mere name of a character we know nothing else about - just feels so unrelated to everything. It doesn't change the plot in any way, either. Tyrion would go on just fine without the knowledge of Korra's crew gelding all males they capture (most likely).

Seemingly more important to the story are the mentions of the Shrouded Lord and His Grey Grace; the first, I believe, is the Stranger, the Many-Faced God, Death, while the second is a metaphorical (?) name for that creepy disease that Shireen is afflicted with. I honestly can't recall it's exact name. Greyscale something? The reason this is more obviously foreshadowing is of course because I know the grey plague will be important later on, while I can't recall anything more about Korra the Cruel. The Grey Grace is also called "The Prince of Sorrows", that's a cool nickname. Finally a good nickname in this chapter! Why does Martin linger on these nicknames, though? Is he, as he is wont to do in these later books, trying to tell me two things at the same time? Should I look for a pattern here? Is Martin actually describing the character of Griff here, and by Griff I mean Lord Jon Connington, by proxy? Or the relationship between said lord and Rhaegar Targaryen ("The Prince of Sorrows does not bestow his grey kiss lightly") or am I just trying to find things where the most obvious answer is: Martin is telling us about greyscale because people get greyscale in this book. In particular, Tyrion.

Next up! Duck's life story, possibly not important to the plot, but rather another chance for Martin to indulge in his world building. Father was an armorer at Bitterbridge, blablabla, violent, had to leave the Reach (so this guy is actually a Westerosi), joined the Golden Company ('portant!)m bla bla squired for Ser Harry Strickland (very British medieval history-ish name), Griff knighted Duck, it's all good though 'cause this is the kind of backstory you expect people to talk about; I mean, people do often talk about their past, no? It feels more organic than many of the infodumps we are served in this book. Easier when it's character backstory, of course. More natural. Yes, yes, to Obi-Wan you listen.

By evening they rest in an overgrown yard beside an old stone well; I like Martin's quick description of the manse almost lost to weeds. Here, it is revealed that Ilyrio's chests were not laden with gold but rather nice clothes; the text implies heavily that these clothes are meant for the aforementioned wedding; Duck and Haldon speak of meeting a queen, so I guess I can bravely conclude that the plan is to marry Young Griff and Daenerys Targaryen. OR AM I MISSING SOMETHING?!?! It is getting a tad complex, this tapestry of characters, characters everywhere.

They do not stay the night and travel on by moonlight; more exposition on legendary figures (Lomas Longstrider - a name that feels like it came straight out of Tolkien's Middle-earth; this is not a complaint but it feels a bit 'off' with regards to the current setting, Essos, though I admit the western side closest to Westeros feels more 'western' than the Slaver's Bay or what have you). Apparently this Lomas was the setting's equivalent of Marco Polo; and Tyrion, as a child, read Lomas' travel tales with glee (seriously, I don't care how tiny a detail this is, but it is hard to accept new background info on a character you've spent so many thousand pages with, even though it is fairly realistic that we don't know all the details of Tyrion's youth at this just...perhaps it is because Dance came so late; that the real-life progress makes it more difficult to accept "new" backstory). Whatever. I like how Haldon calls Lomas "impious" which may or may not be a tiny hint that the halfmaester realizes who this Yolo/Hugor Hill actually is, the Imp. He is perhaps one of the most recognizable characters in the world at this time, and I suppose Cersei's bounty on his head doesn't make him harder to notice. We're reminded that there was an uncle Gerion at one point, who read the tales of the wonders of the world to Tyrion; seeing how Martin weaves everything together in his own peculiar ways I can say I do not doubt that we will meet this Gerion in some alternative future where the rest of the series is actually published. It kind of feels like there's a whole Lannister clan on Essos waiting for their time to shine; Uncle Gerion, and then there was Tyrek who disappeared, perhaps foreshadowing Tyrion's own disappearance eastward, and then there's someone called Lanna wasn't it, who may or may not be Tysha. Tyrion thinks back to on how Tywin forebade him to do a tour of the Free Cities which, apparently, is a common thing to do among Lannisters (another newsflash that feels too retro-applied). There's some more memories here of his youth at Casterly Rock and while nice additions to the lore, it doesn't really stand out to me for some reason. So he was good at taking charge of Casterly Rock's drainage system. Foreshadowing him taking control of the sewers of Meereen? I kinda don't care one way or the other. I miss the...impish Tyrion from the previous books, surrounded by characters that make him shine in his own way; the characters he is surrounded by now...don't do much for me, emotionally, or much for Tyrion's development. Not yet, anyway. Having read the first three books multiple times a decade before this fifth volume was published really skewed my perception of the plot development. I just couldn't get used to Tyrion being on this road with these brand new characters who feel like cheap knock-offs of the "real" characters from before. Now, it reads a little better; there was a whole lot of speculation and headcanon that had to be revised when Dance finally, finally, and oh so painfully, arrived.

They ride all night, into the dawn, until they reach the place called Ghoyan Drohe by the Little Rhoyne. It's a city (I don't think that was revealed until at this point); now it's more like an overgrown ruin, well enough described to evoke a certain atmosphere, though I miss some cultural cues to envision the buildings proper. What kind of architecture am I looking at here? Know what I mean? Am I supposed to imagine the "temples and palaces" as looking like the medieval English/French fortresses of Westeros? Or is Ghoyan Drohe more Dorne-like?
More interesting I suppose is the people who still dwell in this dreary place, gardeners who... oh wait, they have already moved on, riding beyond tangled willows until, farther north, they reach a half-submerged stone quay. I have to say I like this land of mysterious ruins, it makes me curious to know what befell these lands, despite not being in Westeros.

A single-masted poleboat lies in the water, and on its roof Tyrion spies a young boy of fifteen or sixteen, "with a lanky build and a shock of dark blue hair". Also, he is apparently "well-made", which I find weird. How can you know the production quality unless you're part of it or are witnessing the act, taking copious notes and counting the amount of oohs and aahs to assist in determining the quality? The boat, at any rate, is the Shy Maid, and the boy, of course, we'll find out more about soon enough. Tyrion has the wonderfully wise notion that "sometimes the ugliest (maids) are the hungriest abed", I wonder where Martin plucked that bit of "knowledge". In addition, we see an 'older couple with a Rhoynish cast to their features' (again, is that supposed to be ... Dornish? Are there differences in the physical features of Rhoynish and Dornish? Did I miss something?). I actually don't remember these two right now; when I think of this boat and its characters I remember...let's see, Griff and Young Griff of course, the two riders we already met, Duck and Haldon, and the Septa. Lenore. Lemore. Lemora some such. No doubt she'll pop up in a minute or two. But the two Rhoynish? Huh? This to illustrate how I am able to read and re-read A Game of Thrones and still find surprises. Oh there she is, "a handsome septa in a soft white robe" (with a lock of dark brown hair). Not being a native speaker of English, I thought that 'handsome' was a word used to describe male good-lookingness. Valar Dishaeris (all men must learn).

Tyrion's first thought upon seeing Griff is, "This one will be trouble." Such a simple but effective and foreboding sentence. Although I do not remember Griff (aka Jon Connington) as a particularly menacing character, he's of course in the middle of a plot that will cause all kinds of trouble in the future. So for now I'm thinking he's more like a trouble catalyst than actual trouble himself. We're given a solid physical description, with the color of his eyebrows (red) reveal he may just be a proper Englishman Westerosi. He is displeased with the appearance of Tyrion but Haldon has a letter from Ilyrio explaining the dwarf's presence. At a guess, Griff knows instantly who this dwarf is, though the text at this point does not imply this. When he reads it, he asks Tyrion, "Tywin Lannister dead? At your hand?" - the italicized word emphasizing Griff's disbelief. The old Tyrion shines through when he specifies which finger pulled the crossbow trigger; to repeat the "did Tywin really shit gold" joke is weak, though. As Tyrion expands upon just how many Lannisters have died at his hand (true or not) the "new" Tyrion comes back, the despondent, tired and depressed one. It is also revealed, more importantly, that Ilyrio thinks Daenerys will 'welcome the service of a self-confessed kingslayer and betrayer'. It's the most solid confirmation so far, that Ilyrio wants Tyrion to serve the Mother of Dragons. Honestly, I don't feel it. I don't understand Ilyrio's motivation for this. It feels like Martin couldn't come up with a better excuse to put Tyrion in Dany's entourage. And maybe, just maybe, and hopefully, there's a good solid plan underlying it all. Does Ilyrio, for example, know - somehow - that Tyrion is needed for a certain prophecy? My gut says "nah", but it would be nice if Ilyrio and Varys' plots were a little more complex and sinister than the impression I'm left with at this point. When Tyrion wants to read the letter, Griff/Connington burns it before he can see it. This might indicate that the letter says something about Tyrion's importance. Perhaps. I mean, mayhaps.

More small reveals that might impact the unpublished remainder of the saga: Connington is full of hatred; he lies about his rank (Tyrion knows he's a knight or lord, since he knighted Duck); Tyrion quite early on seems to understand who Connington is; and the text seems to suggest Tyrion is actually wanting to serve Daenerys, if only for the chance of having his revenge against sweet sister Cersei. Hard to tell, though; Martin and Tyrion may be playing with our perception here - it could just as well be that Tyrion is just doing his best to talk his way out of an execution or whatever. "And how do you propose to serve her?" Griff asks, and Tyrion replies, "With my tongue," licking his fingers one by one - that's the old Tyrion, but of course what he really means is that he can talk, tell Daenerys all she needs to know about her enemies in the west and how to deal with them (like his brother Jaime - not sure I like where this seems to be going; what I sense here is that the brothers will meet again: Will Tyrion betray his brother for the Targaryen cause? Will they reunite in happiness and understanding? Right. Dammit. This chapter spells it out quite clearly: The biggest destroyer of Lannisters is...Tyrion Lannister. I feel the foreshadowing in me bones, oh yes I do.)

Cool line (Tyrion mentally describing Connington): No knight, no lord, no friend. Griff Connington eventually tells Tyrion he can join the cast of the Shy Maid as long as he behaves. Geez I don't know, usually Martin has all these super-cool character introductions. Either they kick ass right from the get go, or they take some time to adjust to, but the story has been brimming with all these minor characters who need only a sentence or two to come alive. And here we are in Dance and I'm totally not caring about this new ensemble. Does Martin drop the ball here, or am I? Is it the continually expanding setting and dramatis personae that makes it increasingly harder to enjoy abrupt, new elements that are hard to integrate with the already deeply ingrained story and characters of the first three novels? Too many characters, perhaps too many unnecessary characters at this point because by now I'm invested in the endgame and the bloat kind of gets in the way? I have no fricking clue. All I know is that the characters of the Shy Maid are a bit meh; they're not the most interesting foil for Tyrion, although Connington himself gets a more proper development and treatment in the novel than the others. I am writing this as I climb aboard the Shy Maid and I will try to look for positive elements about these new (they still feel brand-new to me, five years later) characters and see if there's more here than meets the eye (after all, Martin is really layering it now).

Oh, there's a name I had forgotten: Isylla (Connington tells Tyrion she'll find him a bed; is Ysilla a servant perhaps? Probably the female half of the Rhoynish old couple). I like the callback to A Game of Thrones with Tyrion mentioning grumkins and snarks, now also adding ghosts and ghouls, mermaids, rock goblins (What? Goblins?!), winged horses, winged pigs, winged lions. Yayaya; Connington interrupts his quip, saying they are not playing a game. Of course it is, Tyrion thinks, The game of thrones. This settles the suspicion that Tyrion has a suspicion: Griff is playing at the highest level, is somehow involved with the race for the Iron Throne (the focal point of the game of thrones of Westeros). Martin denies Tyrion to complete his thoughts so that we understand that he's figured out Griff's identity, probably to keep us interested. Sorry to say I don't find this chapter particularly engaging, it's not bad but something about it still feels as 'off' today as it did in 2011. It's feels like someone else is trying to write a Tyrion adventure. Someone very good, but not Martin. Could this chapter have been ghost-written by Martin's erstwhile minion what's his name? Corey? The guy who wrote that science fiction stuffamagigs. No, no, I am not actually suspecting ghost-writing (it would suggest an earlier publishing date for The Winds of Winter) but that's the actual feeling I get from reading this. It feels...kind of...I don't know, it's not like fan-fiction either, but it's like,.. no never mind. The simple answer is most likely that I simply don't like Tyrion's adventure and would have preferred him to stay in Westeros and cause mischief (and political victories). Suddenly riding in a countryside littered with ancient ruins discussing goblins and dragons with these new, not very fleshed out or interesting characters...I don't know what I anticipated from Tyrion's continued storyline...but this is just nowhere near as engrossing or disturbing or exciting or plain fun as the old Tyrion chapters. "But you can't have fun all the time," defenders of the faith will argue, and I'll say, "True. But that still doesn't make Tyrion's early ADWD chapters fun."

So there's that.

Oh well, in conclusion: Plot is moved forward, definitely. Some major things are either revealed or partially revealed. We also see a most likely course for Tyrion's story: He's ending up with Daenerys Targaryen (I'll kiss a mule's ass if they don't. That would be a twist), and there's something important about this Griff fellow, and it has to do with the control of the Iron Throne itself (so in that sense, despite being across the Narrow Sea, this chapter does relate back to the overarching plot, so that's good). It is also hard to believe in Jon Connington and Young Griff's story, they still feel like they come out of the blue, unlike most other foreshadowed characters I don't think their arrival on the stage was well telegraphed. UNLESS Martin is writing this so ambiguous on purpose, because he sure as hell made us all wonder whether Young Griff is the real deal or not. So I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Still. Mmm. A little late into the plot methinks for Young Griff to become anything more than a hindrance. I don't know. He confuses me with his presence. Martin confuses me with his introduction. There's something awkward about it all, and I hope in hindsight it was worth the inclusion of this cast of characters (the crew of the Shy Maid, that is).

All right! Christmas is coming (for many of us, whether we want to or not), expect the next re-read post next year...for now the days shall be filled with revel and gluttony, and all the other sins that somehow become so much more prevalent during this most holy of holidays. The irony is entertaining.

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