Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 1

A Game of Thrones: Prologue to the end of Catelyn III (p. 138)

I decided to break this up into chapters, so that if you were interested enough you would have a better chance of finding the bits I am referring to. Although it does highlight something I don't like about the series: the Chapter titles! I really wish that Mr Martin had numbered them! I have used the system that is common to many of the wikis out there.

0. Prologue
We begin with a creepy and unsettling scene that plunges us head long into the world of Westeros. Rather than starting with exposition, Mr Martin shows us the dangers beyond the Wall in the most graphic way possible. He also uses the scene to give us some idea of the society of Westeros, allowing us to see that it is very similar to that of Medieval Europe, with Lords and commoners. Re-reading this section, I was struck by something that Neil Genzlinger said in his patronizing review of the HBO show in the New York Times. Amongst the usual drivel about the series being too complicated for anyone but us sad nerds, he did make one valid point: why are the Black Brothers of the Night’s Watch the only people taking any notice of what happens beyond the Wall? Everyone should be afraid, very afraid of what is coming, but it is so long since anything threatened from the north that they have grown dangerously complacent.

1. Bran I
Again, my prior knowledge of the rest of the book gave added weight to the chapter. Ned’s comments about a Lord carrying out his own executions, plus Bran’s reminder that King Robert has an executioner seems so much more pointed now. It hints that Robert is not really being King, but instead allows others to do his dirty work. The grimness of Ned and the other adults about the dead dire wolf were also so much telling: did they interpret the antler that killed the dire wolf in the way that I do now? Did they predict that the Baratheons will be responsible for Ned’s Death, and that the head / throat injury foreshadows his beheading. If so, it makes Ned’s decision to become the King’s Hand even more selfless and tragic. It was interesting to note that Ghost was the only one of the pups with its eyes open. Does this suggest that Jon Snow is more aware of the real world than the Stark children?

At this point I have to note that I am totally blown away by these echoes, hints and foreshadowing of future events. Mr Martin’s writing caught me up and impressed me with its complexity in my first reading, but this time I am even more astounded at his skill at weaving these details into the text. Wow, just wow!

3. Daenerys I
One major difference between the books and the HBO show are the ages of the characters. I love Sean Bean, and he is wonderfully cast as Ned, but it is a long time since he was thirty-five! This age difference is much more important when we consider the ‘children’. I fully understand why they didn’t cast a thirteen year old to play Daenerys, and the length of the years in their world might be longer than ours. Also, modern children are viewed as non-adult for much longer than those born in the medieval era. However, it does make Daenerys’ plight seem much worse, with her vile brother, who is so much older than her, bargaining with her body to retake ‘his’ throne. Even so, she is the one wondering why they are being showered with such largess by Magister Illyrio: Viserys is so blinded by his own self-importance that he never sees that this is highly suspicious. I find Viserys absolutely appalling. His total disregard for her feelings is truly horrible, as is the fact that he always hurts her breasts to punish her: I have to wonder if he has only restrained himself from full incest because her virginity is so valuable. His comment that he would let the whole khalasar of forty thousand men, plus their horses, rape her made my blood run cold. He and Joffrey are excellent examples of what happens when families inbreed.

I did also note that Daenerys was born nine moons after her mother and Viserys escaped from King’s Landing. Does this mean that the mad king wasn’t her father? She certainly seems to be a Targaryen, but it made me wonder.

4. Eddard I
Here we see one of the hints that Jon might not actually be Eddard’s son: the fact that Lyanna died in a room full of blood and roses is seen as an indication that she had just given birth and died of a fever shortly after delivering Jon. I don’t intend to point out every step of this argument as I go through, but this article is very interesting and well worth a read.

5. Jon I
I have read reviews that complain about the constant reminders that Jon is a bastard. Such reviewers have obviously forgotten that it is not so many generations ago that being a bastard, or having a child out of wedlock, were considered to be socially unacceptable. I do find it irritating when people expect fantasy novels to display modern sensibilities. Yes, it is highly impolite to address Jon as ‘Bastard’, but people in that setting would have done so: indeed, his surname says it for all to know. As I mentioned earlier, we see Ghost reflecting Jon’s differences from his half-siblings. Ghost is quiet and watchful, more reserved and wary than the others, but possibly more dangerous.

Of course, one of the major features of this chapter is that we get our first true picture of the mighty Tyrion Lannister: possibly my favorite character of all time. He is so at peace with himself that it is almost frightening. Again, as with Jon’s parentage, I have read some criticism of the portrayal of Tyrion as a disabled person, because we only ever see him having sex with prostitutes and because he is referred to by a number of offensive nicknames. I do have to ask: with whom else is he going to have sex? No house of any note would marry their daughter to him because he is seen as an unnatural abomination. Yes, this is very politically incorrect to our modern sensibilities, but he is living in a world where such babies were seen as bad omens and usually killed at birth: it is a great testament to Lord Tywin’s sense of family that he did not do this. The nicknames are also derived from the fear and unease he inspires in most people: it is a common way to gain power over what frightens us. Plus, Tyrion takes those nicknames and owns them, which makes people even more uncomfortable around him. The final sentence of the chapter gave me goose bumps:
 When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and just for a moment, Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.
 I hope that this is foreshadowing: he would make an awesome king!

6. Catelyn II
Again we have reference to the dire wolf killed by the stag, only this time it is Catelyn who sees the impossibility of Ned’s position. If he accepts Robert’s offer he will have to leave his home for the viper’s nest that is King’s Landing, but, if not, his refusal will give Robert reason to doubt his loyalty. The note from Lysa only adds to their despair as they realize that he will be in great peril in the capital. Again we get some more of Jon’s back story, and we realize that Jon has grown up knowing that Catelyn hates him.

7. Arya I
Just like Tyrion, I fell in love with Arya pretty swiftly, mainly because I have never been a girly girl, so I could identify with her frustration at being forced to do girly things. She is also witty and funny, which helps. It is notable that she and Jon are the only ones of the children who look like true Starks, rather than favoring Catelyn’s Tully genes. We are also introduced to the delightful Joffrey who is just begging for a red-hot poker where the sun doesn’t shine.

8. Bran II
Jaime Lannister throws Bran from a tower: the bastard! :(

9. Tyrion I
Yay! Tyrion slaps the vile Joffrey and forces him to behave with some form of decorum. Somehow, Tyrion knows that Jaime and / or Cersei are responsible for Bran’s accident. The twins’ ideas about the boy’s injuries reinforce what I was saying earlier about the prevailing attitude in their society towards those who are not ‘normal’. Of course, Tyrion does not share their opinion at all.

10. Jon II
Lady Stark is cruel to Jon when he goes to say goodbye to Bran, though this is the first time she ever calls him by his name. However, his half-siblings Robb and Arya are sorry to see him leave, especially Arya. His gift of Needle seems like a very significant event, as it shows that he knows her extremely well and fully accepts her ‘boyish’ nature: it demonstrates his great love for her. I wonder if this reflects Eddard’s love for Lyanna?

11. Daenerys II
Poor Daenerys, terrified of everything and everybody at her wedding, but the first night sounds quite *ahem* interesting! :)

12. Eddard II
In a perfect reflection of Viserys’ attitude, we see the same kind of unreasonable madness in Robert’s demands that Daenerys be murdered before she has a chance to produce any more Targaryens. These two will never be happy until the other’s family is totally destroyed. Although, I have to ask why Robert has not bothered hunting them down already: Daenerys hints that Viserys’ paranoia about assassins is totally unfounded.

13. Tyrion II
Tyrion is obsessed with dragons: now that is interesting! We also learn that the last dragons were tiny, misshapen animals that died a mere one hundred and fifty years after Aegon Targaryen and his sisters flew their giant dragons to seize the seven kingdoms. Does the size / strength of the dragons have something to do with the strength of the Targaryen king at the time? It seems strange that the dragons should dwindle and die out in such a short period of time: although I suppose it could have been a result of inbreeding.

14. Catelyn III
At last, Catelyn gets the necessary shock to knock her out of her mad depression: ignoring poor little Rickon like that! From this point on she shows more of the grit and determination needed from a mother wolf.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw this and had to repost! :D!


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