Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 14

A Storm of Swords: Prologue to the end of Bran I (p. 132)

Mr Martin notes that the first few chapters run concurrently with some of those at the end of A Clash of Kings, although that becomes blindingly obvious quite quickly.

0. Prologue

We have met Chett before very briefly: he used to be Maester Aemon’s steward before being replaced by Sam. He is now in charge of the dogs. I would say that he takes care of them, but as he spends most of his time kicking and cursing them, that does not seem like the correct phrase to use. Any person who beats on dogs is likely to be unpleasant and we find Chett to be really rather repellent. He has a serious case of self-pity and is fermenting treason by enciting a group of the Brothers to kill the Old Bear and several other officers, plus the trackers so that they can make their escape back to warmer, less hazardous climes. Neither he nor his fellow conspirators find it odd that it is getting colder and that there are no animals in the area.

Chett has some cause to be angry about his reassignment from a cushy job in Castle Black to kicking dogs about in the wilds, and I can even understand his doubts about the three hundred Brothers taking on the thousands in the Wildling army. However, his plan for escape is vicious and callous: he plans to murder the best trackers and set the dogs on the horses to create confusion. He also keeps calling Sam ‘Ser Piggy’, so he loses my sympathy almost immediately. Then we find out why he ended up in the Night’s Watch and my sympathy dies altogether. He murdered a girl for refusing his offer of flowers and laughing in his face. While I agree that she did not display much tact or grace when refusing his attentions, the fact that he expected her to put out for a bunch of flowers only adds to my disgust at his attitude towards women. Then he thinks of his plan to kill Craster and take all his women and I begin to hope that the dogs eat his horrid boil-ridden face off.

Things start to go wrong for Chett as the Old Bear announces that they will attack the Wildlings in the morning. Although the numbers sound suicidal, the Old Bear and his other officers are not stupid enough to be reckless and he explains that the Wildlings are disorganized and travelling with women, children and livestock. As the cold intensifies and the wind screams like a wailing child, snow begins to fall and Chett realizes that their tracks will be easy to follow and he loses the plot, deciding to just kill Sam out of sheer frustration.

Then a horn blows, three times, which means that the Others are coming. I was so pleased that it was Chett, and not Sam, that peed his pants.

1. Jaime I

Jaime is a new point of view character for the series, and someone that we hardly saw for the entirety of A Clash of Kings. Of course, he was locked in a cell and therefore not able to do or see a great deal, which would have led to some very boring chapters. Now we learn that Catelyn used Brienne’s sword to free him and has sent them on their way to King’s Landing in the hope that Cersei will return her daughters once Jaime is safe. Yeah, right: that is totally going to happen! If Tyrion were still the Hand it could have been a possibility, but we know that he is injured and that Tywin has taken his place, so Sansa will be staying in Lannister hands for a long time.

We get a real sense that Jaime has suffered in his cell, losing weight and strength and gaining some unwelcome ‘guests’ in his knotted hair. His joy at feeling fresh air is infectious and I love his constant attempts to provoke Brienne. These two could be the most badass pair of warriors in the world if they decided to work together, but I am not sure that she can cope with his humor without strangling him. Poor Ser Cleos is convinced that Jaime will push her too far and get them all killed, but I am fairly certain that the Kingslayer would prefer to take his chances with death.

Note to self: remember that Jaime has sworn that he will never again take up arms against the Starks or Tullys. Also, Jaime did not send the assassin to kill Bran, which leaves me wondering who on Earth it could have been.

I am hoping that Jaime’s decision to change his appearance may symbolize a change in his character as well, although I was a little disturbed by his thought that Cersei would not like it that he no longer looks like her. This takes the whole idea of twins committing incest and makes it even worse.

Just as Jaime is doubting Brienne’s ability to fight as well as any man, she proves herself to be totally awesome by climbing a cliff and shoving a huge boulder onto the pursuing Tully galley. This shows that she is a lot more than just a warrior. She can think quickly and formulate and execute a plan successfully, whilst remaining amazingly cool. I was very relieved when Jaime did not smash in her head with the oar, but instead helped to pull her into the boat. Could this be the start of a beautiful friendship?

2. Catelyn I

Although I understand Catelyn’s grief, I do think she has wandered into the realm of Stupid by freeing Jaime. Not only has she given away their most valuable hostage, but also she has undermined her brother’s authority. Although she is punished, her treatment is so mild as to be no punishment at all.

She is closeted with her father, who is becoming less and less coherent. He begins calling for “Tansy” and talking about blood and someone having other babies. As Catelyn quickly realizes, he must be talking about Lysa, which suggests that she was pregnant out of wedlock, by Littlefinger perhaps, and forced to have the baby purged under her father’s orders. I note that tansy is a herb that used to be used to provoke abortions, so he might be calling for the herb rather than a person by that name. Although we see Lysa as a crazy person in the books, her backstory makes that somewhat understandable. She is forced to have an abortion as a young woman and then married off to a man older than her own father to secure his support for Robert’s Rebellion. She then fails to carry a baby to term many times and eventually produces the sickly Robin. No wonder she is several sandwiches short of a picnic.

Then, just when things cannot look any bleaker, Edmure tells her that Tyrion is no longer the Hand and is most probably dead and she realizes that her hope of getting the girls released is gone. We can only hope that someone recaptures him, but I have a horrible feeling that he will get to King’s Landing somehow.

3. Arya I

Arya has certainly come a long way since we first met her in Winterfell. As they ride away from Harrenhal she is the leader, not Gendry, even though she is several years younger than him. We are shown how hard she has become when they come across some apple trees full of corpses. While Hot Pie is shocked and terrified, Arya reaches out to pluck an apple and then eats it. She is one seriously cool customer these days! However, she still feels responsible for her friends and is determined to drag them to safety. She feels especially close to Gendry, who has started to become almost a big brother to her.

Although this is a fairly tense chapter, there is some nice humor. We see Arya fall asleep in the saddle and then use the old “I was just resting my eyes” defense. We also have the image of Hot Pie being knocked off his horse by a branch when he too nods off. Fortunately, Gendry is stubborn enough to keep watch as the two youngsters get some much-needed rest.

Wolves are mentioned three times in this chapter. The riders encounter a wolf, which they manage to withdraw from without incident, and Arya howls at a pack that she spots in the distance and the leader howls back. Of course, I immediately think of Nymeria and the rumors of a huge she-wolf in the area. Then Arya wargs into Nymeria as she sleeps and takes out a group of four of the Bloody Mummers that are presumably on their trail. Arya, as Nymeria, is leading a pack of normal wolves and they slay the Mummers fairly easily. I really wish that Arya and Nymeria could reunite, but that does not seem to be happening anytime soon.

4. Tyrion I

It is good to see that Bronn is still around and as snarky as ever: “Cut yourself shaving, did you?” This is such a great line in the circumstances and reestablishes their relationship quite succinctly. However, the fact that Bronn has been Knighted whist Tyrion has been ignored is further proof of Lord Tywin’s inability to actually see Tyrion as an asset. This really stinks, and I fully understand Tyrion’s anger at being ignored and unrecognized: after all, he is responsible for keeping the city safe until Tywin and the Tyrells could break Stannis’ army. Tywin has also got rid of the mountain men, showing scant regard for their service, and Alayaya has been whipped bloody. I can hear Tyrion’s teeth grinding from here!

Even so, Tyrion is in fine form. I particularly liked his comment about attending Joffrey’s wedding: “Ravening weasels could not keep me away.” Even the galling news that Tywin is having the whole of King’s Landing turned upside down in the search for one of Tyrion’s cousin does not upset him too much. However, his confrontation with Tywin shows how much the father despises the son. Tyrion has little hope of getting what he wants: “A little bloody gratitude would make a nice start.” However, what he really wants is to be officially named as the heir to Casterly Rock, which makes sense as Jaime cannot inherit because he is a Kingsguard and Cersei is a woman. Tywin’s response is blunt and offers no hope: “Never.” He then launches into a tirade about Tyrion that makes it clear that he will never forgive his son for killing his wife. This is amazingly sad, and could be quite poignant if I did not like Tyrion so much and feel so aggrieved for him. It seems that Tywin is far more concerned with how Tyrion’s behavior reflects on him and is especially angered by Tyrion’s continued use of whores. It is revealed that it was Tywin who had Alayaya flogged. Tywin is storing up a lot of debts that Tyrion will want to repay at some point.

5. Davos I

I was so pleased to see Davos chapters in this book because I like this simple, honest man and I wanted to read more about him. The last time we saw him he was heading towards the burning wreckage caught against the chain across the Blackwater, which did not bode well for him. However, we learn that he managed to swim underneath the chain before losing consciousness. He has been trapped on a tiny rocky island for several days and is on the point of death from lack of food and water. As he sees a sail coming towards him he reflects upon the loss of his sons and debates whether or not to call for help.

I like Davos as a character because he is so honest, with himself and with everyone else. He has no illusions about himself, his past or his abilities. We can see this in the little bag he uses to carry around his finger bones: they remind him of his past decisions and their consequences. Unfortunately, the Battle of Blackwater has taken a great deal from this simple man. He has lost four of his sons, three ships and has even lost his ‘luck’, which is what he called the bag of bones. He is crazed in his grief and seriously considers giving himself to the sea because to live on is too painful. However, he has a religious revelation: the Mother speaks to him, revealing that Stannis’ loss is due to the burning of the Seven on Dragonstone. Convinced that Melisandre is responsible for all the deaths, Davos decides to live so that he can make her pay.

I am not sure how Davos will deal with his need for vengeance, because he is a very practical man and is unlikely to make rash decisions. However, I do expect him to begin actively working against Melisandre whenever he can, especially when it comes to advising Stannis. I am not sure how successful he will be, but I hope to keep reading him for a long time.

6. Sansa I

Sansa receives an invitation to dine with Margaery Tyrell and I can understand why she is reluctant to accept. She has no way of knowing how she will be treated by the Tyrells, but decides to be brave and polite by attending. She is overjoyed when Loras arrives to escort her, but this soon turns to disappointment when it becomes clear that he does not remember giving her the red rose at the Hand’s Tourney. She also upsets him by talking about Renly, although she does not understand why he is so upset. I was a little disappointed to see a return to the foolish girl of A Game of Thrones, but I can hardly blame Sansa for being overwhelmed by having Loras all to herself and momentarily hoping that this could be the fairy-tale ending that she has always wanted.

We do not get much impression of Margaery in this chapter, although she is polite and kind towards Sansa. This seems to be in direct contrast to the sneering, gloating Margaery we see in the HBO series, so I will not jump to any conclusions about her just yet. She is somewhat sidelined by her wonderful grandmother, Lady Olenna, who is a wonderfully blunt old battle-axe that I hope we see again. She quite rightly deserves her nickname of the Queen of Thorns, deriding her son at every turn. She eventually persuades Sansa to admit that Joffrey has been cruel to her and that ha has had the Kingsguard abuse her as well. Olenna and Margaery do not seem terribly surprised by this admission, suggesting that they had already heard rumors about his sadistic behavior. Olenna sees this as a ‘”pity”, but insists that the wedding will go ahead. However, she offers Sansa a way to leave King’s Landing, by marrying Willas, Margaery’s eldest brother and the heir to Highgarden. Although he was crippled during an accident several years previously, Margaery says that he is kind and she obviously is very fond of him. This seems like a positive result for Sansa, so I can only assume that it will all go horribly wrong.

7. Jon I

We get a good look at the Wildling army, which suggests that the Old Bear was right in thinking that the Brothers could have a chance to make a successful strike against it. The army is not organized, with women, children and livestock travelling with the fighting adults. There are no defenses and so the three hundred brothers could strike at several points, using their horses to best advantage and causing mayhem whilst minimizing their own causalities. Although it is nice to see that Chett was wrong to question his Lord Commander’s judgment, we know that the Others are keeping the Brothers busy at the moment.

We are slowly being introduced to Mance’s officers, who all seem to be somewhat psychotic, but I guess that is to be expected as they have gained their commands out of talent and sheer strength of character, though none of them are as extreme as Timett, Son of Timett, leader of the Burned Men. Of course, Mance Rayder himself is much less impressive and Jon overlooks him at first as he assumes that the big man with no ears, Styr, is the King Beyond The Wall. Everyone finds this mistake hilarious, and Jon is impressed by the freedom of the Wildlings and how they serve their officers by choice rather than out of fear or obligation.

Mance is certainly a cunning character, and he recognizes Jon from his visits to Winterfell. Once he visited as a Brother when Jon was small and then he attended the welcome feast for Robert by pretending to be a travelling bard. Although this surprises Jon, he uses it to his advantage by asking Mance to remember where the bastard was seated, suggesting that this is reason for deserting. This is a clever idea, because he does not actually give Mance a reason or a direct answer to his question, so he has technically not lied, but his comment is enough for Mance to create his own reason. We hear Mance’s own reason for leaving the Night’s Watch: he was badly injured and nursed back to health by a Wildling woman who repaired his cloak using some very rare red silk, but when he returned to the Brothers the cloak was taken from him to be burned. He seems to see this as massively insulting to the woman who saved his life, probably because he does not see the Wildlings as ‘the enemy’. As with many characters in this series, Mance is not the man that we have been led to expect by the things we have heard about him. 

8. Daenerys I

During the journey to Pentos, Arstan tells Daenerys about dragons, her father and Rhaegar. He even manages a quick jab about Ser Jorah’s spendthrift second wife when Jorah is hostile towards him. The more I read of Arstan, the more I am convinced that he is Barristan Selmy. He knows a great deal about the court and royal family for a lowly squire. Unfortunately, this leads Jorah to distrust him, as he knows that Arstan cannot be what he presents himself to be. However, I do agree with Jorah that sailing straight to Pentos would be a bad idea, as I do not trust Illyrio at all.

Jorah related the story of the Three Thousand of Qohor, a tale about a group of three thousand Unsullied who were hired to protect the city and withstood eighteen charges from twenty-five thousand Dothraki warriors. These sound like precisely the people that Daenerys needs in her army. I also liked Jorah’s suggestion that they use Illyrio’s ships and goods to pay for the Unsullied: it is a very sneaky plan and Illyrio can hardly do anything about it when she turns up with her own army. Daenerys agrees that this is a great idea and is about to go and talk to the captain when Jorah grabs and kisses her.

Apart from the obvious ‘ick’ factor that he is about thirty years older than her, this is going to ruin their relationship. He professes his love for her, but she obviously does not feel the same way about him. It would seem that poor Jorah has no luck with women!

9. Bran I

Bran is warging as Summer and runs off a pack of wolves so that he can eat their kill. During this sequence we can really feel Bran’s yearning to be free to run through the forest, which is heart-breaking because we know that it will never happen whilst he is inside his own body. As he comes back to himself, we feel the depression settling back around his shoulders, and it does not help that Jojen is so critical of Bran’s inability to remember instructions when he wargs. I can understand how useful it would be for Summer to mark his kills or where he has been so that they can be sure that Bran is indeed warging, but I cannot really blame the young lad for losing himself in the experience. I loved the idea of Hodor chanting his name many different ways and getting so over-excited that they had to send him out to hit things with a giant sword.

I keep reminding myself that the children in the books are far younger than they are in the HBO series, so it makes sense that a nine year old boy would have quite a lot of difficulty concentrating. However, he is a levelheaded lad and tries to think a great deal before he makes the decision about their next move. Staying in hiding seems like a good idea for a little time, but they cannot stay hidden forever. Bran realizes that he needs training to learn how to be a better warg, so he decides to take Jojen’s advice and head north in search of the three-eyed crow. It is interesting that the Reeds truly treat Bran as their leader, even though he is so much younger than they are. I am not sure whether this is because of their sworn allegiance to him as their lord, or because they perceive something special about him. I guess that time will tell.

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