Tuesday, January 21, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn IV: All the North has Left (Part I)

Coincidence or divine providence? Last night I had a friend visiting and he asked if we could watch an episode of Game of Thrones (they are showing season three on Norwegian national TV these days) and I was like "Of course", not even knowing it was on, and it turned out to be episode three I believe, the episode which finally introduces Riverrun and the Tullys to the TV show; with the opening scene showing Edmure trying to light his father's boat as he drifts down the river, and Brynden taking the bow and helping him out (fun scene, by the way, with some great acting). The coincidence then, is that today's chapter, Catelyn IV, features this very scene! Surely the old gods are watching... or it was just a minor coincidence. Speaking of coincidences, one thing I really like about the three first novels is how Martin manages to avoid too many coincidences - the story seems to flow naturally from cause to effect and back. In one way it can be frustrating I suppose, as in the scene where Jon Snow and Bran Stark almost meet in A Storm of Swords, or when Sam and Arya actually do meet but do not know each other in A Feast for Crows - as a reader I want Bran and Jon to meet, but it would feel too coincidental, right? As the story goes on, however, it feels like coincidence is creeping more and more into the story. One example is Ser Jorah Mormont meeting Tyrion Lannister. That one feels really coincidental to me, imagining the sheer size of Essos and they just happen to meet up like that. All right, it can happen, of course, but somehow a meeting like this throws me out of it for a while, because that's not how the story and the setting has worked so far. Maybe I should write an essay about coincidence in A Song of Ice and Fire...for now, though, it is time to revisit that wondrous third book, and Catelyn Stark's fourth chapter.

If there's one character in the saga who relies heavily on italicized internal monologue, it's Catelyn, and to prove this once and for all, this chapter opens with Catelyn's italicized internal monologue: "Let the kings of winter have their cold crypt under the earth." It's an interesting line, the prose beautiful (read it aloud, it's a great sentence once you put a certain rhythm to it) and its meaning clear - Catelyn still prefers the Tully way of doing things, even after all these years as Lord Eddard's wife up in the frigid North. That's how I read this line, anyway - it's an admission, perhaps not even consciously stated, and at the same time it links so beautifully to the scene at hand, with her father Lord Hoster Tully laid in a wooden boat, a funeral the Tully way. Personally I'm with Catelyn on this one - better to sail down a river in "shining silver armor" than being interred in some dark crypt below the castle. I like how Martin links the faith of the Seven into the funeral ceremony as well (seven are chosen to push the boat to the water), showing us a tiny but distinct bit of culture from the Riverlands, different from the other kingdoms of Westeros. Robb Stark, Lord Bracken, Lord Tytos Blackwood, Lord Vance, Lord Jason Mallister, Ser Marq Piper, Lame Lothar Frey: these are the seven men who push Lord Hoster's boat to the water. Take note of that last one - the Frey has come to Riverrun to treaty with Lord Edmure, along with an escort of forty soldiers commanded by one Walder Rivers, a bastard of Lord Frey himself. Apparently Edmure wasn't very happy with this visit because, by sending a bastard and a cripple to parlay, Lord Walder Frey shows disdain. It is but the first of many signs, that Walder Frey is, perhaps, not the best of allies.

Robb however, "had shown better sense" by being courteous, among other things asked Desmond Grell to step aside and give Lame Lothar the honor of being among the seven chosen to push the funereal boat. In hindsight, it is ominous reading. As we know, that better sense of courtesy won't help Robb much in the end; what if he had been as prickly as Edmure? It could have changed the entire story. I have a feeling it would have been better to end up in an open war against House Frey.

Catelyn watches from the battlements as her father's boat glides onto the river, and sadly thinks that Bran and Rickon will be waiting for him. It is smart of Martin to remind us that Catelyn still believes the two boys are dead, there's enough stuff to juggle here and a small detail like this is easily forgotten without reminders. And of course, in a way, it is essential to her developing fatalism.

Now, a scene such as this could be rich with symbolism and foreshadowing. If the dead lord on the boat represents his House, we see "the boat emerged from beneath the high sheltering walls of the castle, its square sail filled with wind (...)" and "Tully's rudder held true and he sailed serenely down the center of the channel, into the rising sun". This could be interpreted, then, as House Tully coming relatively unscathed out of the whole War of the Five Kings, even though it is centrally located - and if you really feel like overanalyzing this bit, they end up as allies of a risen Dorne ("the rising sun"). Or Japan. Shrug.
My point is that there are so many nice descriptions that could be read in different ways that you can never really know what is truly symbolic, or what is truly foreshadowing. But if Riverrun and House Tully come out on top, you read it here first :p

Catelyn has to remind herself that her somewhat weak younger brother Edmure now is in fact the new Lord of Riverrun. Lifting the bow and firing off a flame arrow, he manages to miss his father's boat. Edmure blames it on the wind, and tries again, but again the arrow drops into the river instead of hitting the boat. Edmure becomes embarrassed, taking a third string. I suppose the scene shows us how tense and nervous Edmure is, and I kind of feel sad for the guy. In the TV episode I feel the scene became more humorous than sad, partially due to the way the Blackfish so nonchalantly picks up Edmure's bow, shoots and leaves, all Man. In the book, Brynden is a little bit more courteous; "Let me, my lord," he offers, wanting to help Edmure out of his awkward situation. Edmure refuses though, fires a fourth arrow, which also misses. Only then does Brynden the Blackfish shoot his arrow and hit the boat. In other words, Brynden Tully is painted with rather different strokes, don't you agree? And I think I prefer the book Blackfish. Anyway, as the boat goes up in flame, Catelyn imagines hearing her father whisper (actually the book states that she does hear him whisper) Watch for me, little cat. If I were the editor I would have made that an upper-case C, so fans would not have to spend their time and energy wondering if Hoster was thinking of a particular cat and if said cat was a cat he once owned named Tansy. More interesting, this is a very subtle (so subtle in fact that I may be over-reading this) foreshadowing of Catelyn's fate later in the book. Actually I don't think I'm overreading this, I am convinced this is meant to add an ominous layer to the texture that is Catelyn Stark's story.

Whereas television Blackfish is non-chalant like Bronn, book Blackfish tells Catelyn that Edmure should not be ashamed, telling her that Hoster himself missed when his father was sent down to hold court with the fish. Even so, the point I suppose is to show us that Edmure Tully is a weak lord, or at least seen by others as weak, and that Edmure is struggling with his father's death. He's almost like a real person, that Edmure, more so than many other secondary characters defined by exaggerated traits.

Hoster's last word was "Tansy". Man, this has to come up again. Rosebud?

Robb tells Catelyn he wished he had known him better, but the distance to Winterfell was always too great for the two families to have any meaningful relationship. Now, this the TV series illustrated perfectly by not introducing Riverrun and the Tullys until the third season. 

Catelyn wonders how things are going for Brienne and Ser Cleos - she believes they should have reached King's Landing by now, but there's no word - foolishly, she imagines Brienne already on her way back with Arya and Sansa. Foolishly, I say, because the whole plan is foolish - sending two people through war-torn lands to make a deal with the most notorious family in the kingdoms and thinking that will work out just fine.

People are offering up their consolations to Robb (which is kind of funny as Robb never met his grandfather - or so I have come to understand it), before we get an even closer look at Lothar Frey. It's kind of funny how he just grabs the spotlight in this chapter, it's so much easier to see Martin's gardening here when you know that Lothar is kind of vital to Catelyn's story. He asks Robb for an audience, which he is granted. Lothar has been instructed to tell Robb that, "He was young once, and well remembers what it is like to lose one's heart to beauty", and we can all be happy that Walder Frey is a nice guy who understands Robb and his Queen Jeyne, because, you know, young love and all that.

Catelyn however doubts that Walder has said such a thing; after all, the Lord of the Crossing speaks of his wives as bedwarmers and brood mares. She does convince herself though that it was a nice gesture of him to bring forth the sentiment. She realizes it as courteous talk, not truth. Now, Catelyn, take that thought one step further - I mean, can you trust this guy? After his talk with Lame Lothar, Robb asks his mother to walk with him and have a private chat.

Walking off, several italicized internal monologues appear, making it clear that Robb Stark is burdened by the weight of his responsibilities as King in the North, and that he only feels good when he is around his wife's family, the Westerlings. To be honest, I wish we could have seen more of Robb's story in this book; I believe it was a good decision by the writers of Game of Thrones to expand his role. Now, reading the book, I can't really feel his love for Jeyne, or his affection for her family - we're just told that this is the way it is, deal with it. It lessens the impact, I suppose. Of course, there's only so much space.

We delve back into warfare and politics as we learn of several defeats - Robb regrets some of his decisions, ponders trading their captive Martyn Lannister for Robett Glover who was captured after the battle of Duskendale - but Catelyn, perhaps being careful because she already disappointed her son so much when she released Jaime Lannister - only tries to comfort him, telling him that Ned would have been proud of him, that he must expect to make some mistakes as well.

If Catelyn hasn't experienced enough shock over the last couple of books, Robb tells her that Sansa has been married to Tyrion Lannister, the man Catelyn possibly hates the most on the continent (looking at it from her point of view, it's not surprising she loathes him - hell, I love how Martin keeps twisting perceptions). Some soap operatic misunderstandings and Tyrion is, in the eyes of Robb and Catelyn, a terrible oathbreaker who only deserves to be beheaded. They ponder why Sansa has been married off, quickly realize that she's next in line for Winterfell after Robb. She tells him that nothing is going to take Robb away from her; she would go mad if something happened to him (da-da-dum!) - "You are all I have left. You are all the north has left."
Catelyn urges him to bend the knee but it doesn't sound sincere, more a hopeless try, but of course he refuses. He's kind of like his father in that regard. 

I'm really sorry to split this chapter in two posts but there's this thing called time which I always struggle to manage and right now there's so much stuff on my plate. Hopefully I'll whip up the second half of this chapter re-read within the week. Meanwhile, it is snowing for the seventh day in a row and it really is piling up and man I wish I had a copy of The Winds of Winter to accompany it.

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