Tuesday, January 28, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn IV: All the North Has Left (Part II)

Where was I? Oh, right. Catelyn's fourth chapter in A Storm of Swords. I thought I could wrap it up in one session last week, but it took a while to chew through and write about, so here's the second half of my thoughts as I re-read the third novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Spoilers that you really don't want to know all over the post! 

The Horn of Winter? The Horn of Dragons?
A random horn?
But first, some thoughts on the recent news that's spread like wildfire over the last days. I believe it first appeared on the Wertzone blog, and was quickly discussed elsewhere (like at the Tower of the Hand). The "news" - perhaps rumor would be a better choice - is that The Winds of Winter is expected in 2015. Terrific news, of course, and at least one full year earlier than I predicted. It would be our shortest wait since the wait for A Storm of Swords, in fact. Heck, 2015 feels almost rushed. That's like next year. If I get both a new Martin novel and a new Star Wars movie in the same year I can safely call 2015 an interesting year for my inner geek. The most interesting part about this news-rumor, though, is the fact that it seems to confirm what I've moaned about on this very blog many a time, especially in the early years of the blog: Yes, George R.R. Martin's many projects do in fact hinder his progress on A Song of Ice and Fire. There it is, so a big "What did I say?" to all those who've been saying that I was wrong. And with that out of the way (sadly I lack sun glasses 'cause I feel like wearing sun glasses now to ground my "What did I say?" smugness) - let's finish up this Catelyn Tully Stark chapter. 

So I whip up my Kindle for PC software 'cause I read the book on the computer when I'm not at home in my precious Basement Library of Dead Wood (sounds like a MMORPG dungeon instance but I assure you, I've got less rats) - and, the program starts up where I left off, and what do my eyes see first?

"I am not dead yet, Mother."
Suddenly Catelyn was full of dread.

Man, how much more could Martin signal that infamous wedding? It's like being repeatedly slapped in the "Did Aegon kill King Torrhen's father?" I think it is a great choice not to give us a Robb POV in this series. We are left judging the character based on other characters' understanding (Catelyn, mostly - but she's his mother, so I'd say you can have some confidence in her ability to read Robb), and he becomes that much more enigmatic when we don't know what's really going on his head, especially when it comes to his sudden and surprising marriage to Jeyne Westerling, but, at least until now, also his decision-making related to the war. Ironically, in a sad way, Catelyn and Robb seem focused on the threat of the Iron Islands, never seeing the threat that has arisen in their midst; they correctly think that Balon Greyjoy must kill each and every Stark heir to have a chance at holding the North, but they do not know that Balon holds no such ambitions, not really (I suppose one could argue this); instead, someone much closer is being rather ambitious about replacing the Starks in Winterfell...and there's a rather interesting post about it right here, though it is full of spoilers all the way through A Dance with Dragons (thou hast been warned). I'm taking some of the ideas presented here with a generous pinch of salt, but still...it's interesting how one can see/read plotlines into the story that aren't really there (except between the lines) - yes, A Song of Ice and Fire remains a rewarding reading experience because there are so many layers. 
face and never noticing until you black out. Or some such. Well well. Catelyn is busy trying to convince Robb to give up this whole war-thing, but the boy is as stubborn as his father was. Yes, boy, not man; it's made clear that Robb's motivation, when push comes to shove, is all about vengeance for his executed father: when Catelyn tells him Balon bent the knee, and that Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon, Robb replies,

Interestingly, Robb blames Catelyn for freeing the Kingslayer when he himself is acting out of emotion; he fights a war to avenge his father, while Catelyn freed Jaime Lannister in order to save her daughters. He can't see how their actions can be compared, because he is blinded with hate for the Lannisters, for they murdered his father - even though Jaime had no part in it (all right, he did give Ned some trouble before he fled the capital). It is both easy to understand how Robb can be angry with his mother for her perhaps rash decision, and to understand why Catelyn chose to free Jaime. I can also understand how Robb sees her actions as both an offense to him as her superior (king), but what they don't seem to realize is that their disputes affect the others around them, helping to lead to downfall. This was perhaps more evident in the TV series, where Robb's role was greatly expanded, but I kind of feel dissent growing around them as I read, even though there's nothing stated directly (at least not so far). Maybe the TV series is affecting my perception. Catelyn wants to strike him, for the first time in her life at that, but holds her hand. She finally tells him to think on what she's suggested and leaves him. A beautifully and realistic dialogue between them makes these characters come alive, with all their fears and hopes and worries. Though I personally feel the story took a wrong turn and that this is partially because of the fates of these two, at this point I think Martin is particularly strong. Also, it is weird how I've begun to imagine Michelle Fairley as I read these chapters - and I used to be upset she didn't look like Catelyn (she still doesn't, but what an actress!).

We jump a few hours ahead in the narrative. Catelyn is sewing in her bedchamber when young Rollam Westerling comes running to tell her it's supper. She tells him he's a dutiful squire. Now why would Martin bother to add this tiny event? Why point out that Rollam Westerling - Robb's squire - is the one coming to pick her up? I guess the obvious answer is that Martin wants to show us how much Robb trusts the Westerlings. She thinks of Bran when seeing Rollam, which I suggest is Martin's way of trying to make us trust Rollam (and by extension, the Westerlings) just to rub it all in our faces later when, you know, stinky stuff goes down.

So we skip straight to the table in the Great Hall (the book never states where exactly they are but I suppose that's where they take their meals). Again, one could get the feeling something's...off. Robb is cool and Edmure surly; all right, that's to be expected. But then you have Lame Lothar, let's not forget he's a Frey, who is "the model of courtesy", speaking warmly of Lord Hoster Tully, offering his condolences "gently", praising Edmure for his victory at Stone Mill - it is all too clear this guy is either a total suck-up or someone trying his best to be accepted. Probably for nefarious reasons. Walder Rivers, however, is harsh and sour with "Lord Walder's suspicious face". Quite interesting how Martin, again, places emphasis on one of these "outsider" characters to lull us into a false sense of security. I know it worked for me the first time! 
I like how Catelyn still thinks of all the courtesies as "empty words" (which also happens to be an amazing song if you're into some busy metal music). As if she's half-aware, semi-conscious of the platitudes and that these people really shouldn't be trusted...is she being lulled into complacency as well? 

The Westerlings excuse themselves and leave before Lame Lothar Frey clears his throat. Another small and subtle thing going on here - all the Westerlings leave seemingly as fast as they can; it shows us they're not really that interested. Which one could transfer to Robb and Jeyne's marriage. Perhaps a hint that she doesn't care about Robb, not really; she is being moved, a pawn in the greater political game. Anyway, Lothar tells them his father (Walder Frey) has had a letter from "his grandsons" - Walder and Walder, that is, the two young boys that were sent to Winterfell to be fostered there as wards, that time-honored tradition of yore. Lothar then, is the one to bring Robb and Catelyn the disastrous news. "(...) Winterfell is burned." 
Catelyn isn't the luckiest of characters, is she. Husband dead. Two sons presumed dead. Two daughters held hostage by the enemy. One son trying to fight a war. And now, her house has burned. Granted, the North was never really her place, but still. Easily lost in the shocking news is the fact that Walder and Walder "are presently at the Dreadfort" (was there ever a more giving-away fortress name?) - we'll keep that one filed. Seems these two Frey boys still have a role to play. So, according to Frey, Theon put Winterfell to the torch, and Ser Rodrik Cassel, who joined Catelyn up and down the Kingsroad in A Game of Thrones, has been slain as well. People she likes are just dropping like flies around her. After A Dance with Dragons, one has to take letters from the Dreadfort with copious amounts of salt - but I'll argue that the Walders have been told to write this letter (one would perhaps suppose that the castellan of the Dreadfort would send such a letter, and not two Frey boys - it's kind of weird, isn't it? Or am I forgetting something important? It's hard to keep it all straight when you know what's really going on up there but the characters at Riverrun have no idea). 

Robb is so enraged he can't speak, instead slamming a fist down on the table, turning away to hide his tears. Lothar can reveal that the women and children of Winterfell hid and were brought to the Dreadfort by Roose Bolton's bastard son, Ramsay Snow. Robb cannot believe it, for Ramsay was a "monster and a murderer and he died a coward", so here's some complexity for us to unravel with regards to Roose's offspring. Maybe we'll see more of this Ramsay /trollface. Robb wonders what happened to Theon (I suppose he's got kind of a beef with his former almost-brother). Nobody seems to know, oh-oh. 

We move on to the next topic, and it feels kind of rushed, with little time to properly evolve Robb and Cat's agony over the loss of Winterfell. "My ancestral home gone? Well, that's a shame. Where's Theon?" However, Martin wisely kind of moves out of Catelyn's emotional zone here, as if she's fighting to maintain control and dignity and not think about the tragedy (maybe a state of shock?). Anyway, Walder Frey wishes to forgive Robb upon the condition that he apologizes for insulting him face to face. Catelyn mislikes this notion at once, but Robb says he's pleased and tells Lothar he never wished to cause "this rift between us", as if it helps saying it to this unimportant fellow. 

Walder promises Lothar's sister to Edmure - Roslin Frey - of "gentle nature" and with a "gift for music". Edmure doesn't like the sound of that, evidently, as he shifts in his seat and tries to suggest seeing her first. Walder Rivers tells him that he'll meet her at the wedding, curtly (though it sounds more like an interruption, which is not curtly). Anyway, Ed reveals what shallow guy he is because he is only interested in her looks, but it seems that Walder Frey will withdraw the offer unless Ed agrees to not see Roslin until the wedding day. Perhaps strangely! Because, doesn't Roslin turn out to be quite the doe-eyed beauty? I guess that would make Robb and/or Catelyn too suspicious, you know, I'm just saying in case Walder is planning something they're not aware of...Man, it's kind of hard to blog about this and not talk about all that will happen - but I want to focus on the here and now, so forgive me if I am obtuse at times, or make little sense. So Lothar also tells them his lord and master wishes the marriage to take place at once and if you ask me, that's a bit suspicious. Perhaps as suspicious as it would have been if Lothar presented fair Roslin. However, Walder has a pretty good excuse made: there's a big war going on, and wars kill people, and one better gets married quick and make some offspring you know just in case. There's more, all lies of course, and it should perhaps create some cognitive dissonance with Catelyn just hearing Lothar speak of Walder as someone who wishes to die peacefully knowing Roslin has produced an heir (especially considering the size of the Frey family!)

The discussion around the table continues, Edmure wanting to refuse, Robb forcing the agreement through. Edmure is really not stepping up to the challenge. He is, to use a word Martin uses himself, rather peevish. The chapter ends with Edmure finally agreeing, to make amends for his folly at the Battle of the Fords. For a first time reader, perhaps not the most exciting end to an chapter. For a re-reader, so ominous...Weddings in Westeros: I sure wouldn't mind missing them.

And with that, I bid you a fond afternoon/evening/morning/whatever, and I am off through snowy weather. Seriously, it's been snowing every single day for two weeks. 

1 comment:

  1. And now series passed the books and surely will finish earlier than the books =D