Thursday, March 25, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 1

Hi there! Bienvenue! Welcome to the first re-read post for the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as A Game of Thrones. This post will cover the Prologue and Chapters 1-3. Est cet assez bon? (And I think I've exhausted the limits of my French. It's probably for the best.)

WARNING: There will be spoilers. If you haven't read the series yet, or if you are reading the books but you haven't finished them yet, please keep this in mind as you follow along. I will mention things that happen in all four books, and it will ruin the surprises for you. (As an aside, a few hours after putting up the intro post yesterday, an article in The Toronto Star caught my eye. The headline? Do yourself a favour: Don’t read this book. The book? A Game of Thrones, and its sequels. It's a cheeky article, and here's how I sum it up: Read these books, and sooner or later you'll do something crazy, like blogging about them in detail.)

For a complete list of recaps and posts related to this series, look no further than the A Song of Ice and Fire master index.

One more thing: I'm assuming that whoever reads this will have read the books as well, so I will spend as little time on back-story as possible.

Now the warnings are all out of the way. If you've made it this far, thanks for tagging along. This is a bold, bloody, and sexy story. I would throw in more adjectives, but why not just get on with the re-read? Let us proceed!

Prologue

What Happens

In Westeros, three men pick their way through a forest in the frozen north. They are Sworn Brothers of the Night's Watch, tracking wildlings in the middle of the night, deep in enemy territory, very far from the Wall. Will has been with the Watch for four years, and Gared for forty, but they are lead by Ser Waymar Royce, an 18-year-old. Ser Waymar ignores the warnings from Gared and Will, pressing them further into the forest. He does not believe in the Others--ghosts, or walking undead. Will shows Ser Waymar the wildling camp, and the wildlings are either dead or gone. Before Ser Waymar can go anywhere else, he is attacked by one of the Others. He fights bravely, but ultimately dies due to his inability to kill what is already dead. The prologue closes with Will being killed by the ghostly body of Ser Waymar. There is no mention of Gared's fate.


Commentary
The prologue introduces several bits of information that will be important during the series. There's the Night's Watch, a band of men made up mostly of thieves, murderers, and criminals of every sort. There's mention of wildlings, the only people mad enough to live north of the Wall. There's the Wall itself, although it'll be a while until we see the 700 foot tall barrier of ice. There's Ser Waymar Royce, giving us the first case of a nobleman too arrogant for his own good. And there are the Others. Those creepy things.

We'll skim this part except to note that the Others are stirring. Perhaps they always kill people in the lonely uplands, but I don't think so. Ser Waymar clearly doesn't believe in them (until he is killed by one and then becomes one), and if they were a problem to the Watch before this, you'd think someone would have convinced him of their reality by now, six months into his tenure with the Watch. But that's an arrogant nobleman for you.

It's worth noting that this series begins with talk of the dead. Four books later, the biggest threat to the world in A Song of Ice and Fire (hereafter referred to as ASOIAF) is the dead. Yet they've had precious little page time so far. Almost everyone is preoccupied with the chaos of the mainlands and the various thrones, but it's the dead that could prove to be the biggest threat to everyone. Anyway, let's move on to the next chapter, and begin the begin.

Chapter 1: Bran

What Happens

Seven-year-old Bran rides with a group of retainers to see an execution. Also in attendance is his brother, Robb, and their half-brother, Jon Snow. Both boys are about fourteen, and almost men. Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark exchanges a few quiet words with the prisoner, then pulls out his sword of Valyrian steel, "Ice", and beheads the condemned man.

On the ride back, Robb finds a dead direwolf with a litter of five puppies. Larger than regular wolves, direwolves are extremely dangerous beasts, and one hasn't been seen south of the Wall in 200 years. This one was killed by a stag, which seems to unnerve everyone except Bran, who does not understand the implication. Theon Greyjoy and others think the pups should be killed, but the boys argue to keep them. Jon provides a solution by telling Ned that there are three male puppies and two females. Since the direwolf is the sigil of House Stark, there can be one for each of the Stark children, excluding himself since he is a bastard. Ned agrees, so long as Robb, Bran, and the other children agree to take care of their direwolves. As the party rides away, Jon pulls up short, claiming to hear something. He rides over to the dead direwolf, and returns with one more puppy, white-furred, red-eyed, and the outcast of the lot.

"An albino," Theon Greyjoy said with wry amusement. "This one will die even faster than the others."
Jon Snow gave his father's ward a long, chilling look. "I think not, Greyjoy," he said. "This one belongs to me."

Commentary
So begins the main story, introducing us to several major players, including the Starks, a.k.a. everyone's favourite cursed family. Bran gets the first chapter and lo, portents abound. Most notable: the direwolf killed by the antlers of a stag. DUN! Bran doesn't understand, but he'll learn soon enough. To me, this chapter is more about getting a good look at the cast and less about Bran, although he will become important. The one who comes out looking best initially is Jon, one of my favourite characters in ASOIAF.

I might as well get this out of the way right now: I do not believe that Jon is Ned's bastard. We'll get to see more of Ned in this book, and everything suggests that there isn't a dishonourable bone in his body. That is actually a handicap in this world, but I don't think there is any way that Ned ever cheated on his wife. This issue will come up several times, so I won't go into it yet, but now you know where I stand. I'm pretty sure most readers feel the same way, although the big reveal hasn't happened yet. So, Jon may be half Stark, and he may be a bastard, but he is not Ned Stark's bastard.

Also, hello Gared of the prologue! Your page time was short, and you had no words in this chapter, so I guess we'll never know if you warned Ned about the Others before he had to execute you for desertion. You get the honour of being the first person beheaded by Ice.

Chapter 2: Catelyn

What Happens

Catelyn Stark muses about she does not feel comfortable in the godswood at Winterfell. She was raised a Tully of Riverrun, worshipping different gods in a sept. The blood of the First Men runs in the Starks; Ned and the men of the North follow the old gods.

She finds Ned in front of the heart tree, cleaning his sword, Ice. Ned tells Catelyn that she would have been proud of how Brand faced the prisoner's execution. He also mentions that he is worried about the recent number of desertions and deaths affecting the strength of the Night's Watch. He blames the recent misfortune on the wildlings and Mance Rayder, the self-proclaimed King-beyond-the-Wall.

Catelyn, meanwhile, has news to tell. First, if that Jon Arryn, the King's Hand, is dead.

"His eyes found hers, and she could see how hard it took him, as she had known it would. In his youth, Ned had fostered at the Eyrie, and the childless Lord Arryn had become a second father to him and his fellow ward, Robert Baratheon. When the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen had demanded their heads, the Lord of the Eyrie had raised his moon-and-falcon banners in revolt rather than give up those he had pledged to protect."

Catelyn received word by a letter from King Robert himself, and the letter mentions that Jon's wife (Lysa, Catelyn's sister) and their young son have moved back to the Eyrie after living with Jon at King's Landing. Ned tells Catelyn to go to the Eyrie with the children, but she tells him that the second bit of information involves Robert and a large portion of his court coming to visit Winterfell, although it will take a long time for a royal procession to travel so far north. Ned is happy about the news, even though Queen Cersei's brothers are also in attendance.

"Well, if the price for Robert's company is an infestation of Lannisters, so be it."

The Lord and Lady of Winterfell then go to make their keep ready for royal feasting.

Commentary
I don't remember if I liked Catelyn right from the get-go, but she's clearly not comfortable living in the North. This is after having five children and after living at Winterfell for 14 or 15 years. She is an interesting character, with a few of her own kickass moments, but her POV chapters make me nervous because she's never sure about who or what to trust. I didn't quote the part, but she's filled with dread after hearing about the dead direwolf with an antler in it's throat. Still no mention about what that means, but it tells us that Catelyn reads into signs and superstition. This makes her a bit of a downer... or in this case, right on the money. (You read the preamble in the intro warning about spoilers, right?)

Lysa Arryn: Ugh. Not touching that until we absolutely must.

One thing I never noticed before was the explanation that Jon Arryn rose up against Aerys Targaryen in defence of his wards, Robert and Ned. I knew that the power players in the current regime (or at least Robert and Jon) were instrumental in overthrowing the crazy Aerys, but I missed the part about Aerys wanting a couple of their heads as trophies. This might have something to do with Ned's sister Lyanna, formerly betrothed to Robert, and at some point carried off by Rhaegar Targaryen, but that speculation doesn't belong in this chapter.

We also get our first hint that something might be rotten in the state of Lannister, but we'll save that for later, because up next is...

Chapter 3: Daenerys

What Happens

Over the sea and east of Westeros, in the free city state of Pentos, Daenerys Targaryen prepares for a feast. Her older brother Viserys is hoping that Khal Drogo, a powerful Dothraki horselord, will wed her, and give Viserys the resources he needs to begin winning back the throne of Westeros. Daenerys is 13, born after the war that made a king out of the Usurper, Robert Baratheon. She and her brother are guests of Magister Illyrio, a powerful and wealthy merchant whom she does not altogether trust.

While Viserys dreams about restoring his crown and glory, Daenerys worries that she will not please her brother or her husband. Illyrio arrives to take them away to a palace, there to meet Khal Drogo. The horselord is tall, handsome, and fierce-looking. The look of him frightens Daenerys, who doesn't really care about power or thrones. She wants to leave, but Viserys is determined that the marriage take place, and he forces her to stay.

Commentary
This is basically an expostion chapter where not much happens, but it sets up stuff that is going to happen and have big, big ramifications. The Daenerys POVs are always a bit odd because they don't take place in Westeros. With few exceptions, almost all the action takes place in the land of the seven kingdoms, a land that echoes medieval Europe. Then we get transported to Dany's sections and see the lands of the east, and those can resemble anything from Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. I found it jarring at first, but Dany becomes such a great character that her chapters are a treat.

Then there's Viserys, an unsavory character from the get-go. He's arrogant, petty, very much a fool, and he molests his sister. When he gets angry at Dany he warns her that she will "wake the dragon", which is a ridiculous euphemism any way you look at it. Mind you, I'm saying Viserys is ridiculous one, not GRRM for writing him that way. This is the man who would be king, although he seems much younger and more naive than other men his age, which is somewhere around 21 or 22. He's at least a little insane, making him a chip off the old king's block, but I wonder how much of his character is a result of being on the run for 14 years, always a step ahead of King Robert's hired knives, with few allies and fewer means. He went from being a prince to being the beggar king. That can't be good for anyone's mental health.

Illyrio is a shady character playing his own game, and for now that game goes along with what the Targaryens need. We only get a glimpse of Drogo in this chapter, so there's not much there. There's also a glimpse of Ser Jorah Mormont, a disgraced knight of Westeros. We will see more of everyone is future chapters.

***

That's a good place to stop, considering the next chapters takes us back to Westeros. Come back on Monday as we continue with Part 2. Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

One correction: you need to distinguish "Others", a race of living but non-human beings, and "Wights", reanimated corpses created by the Others which are under their control.

The Other cannot be killed because his armor is impervious to Royce's sword and his skill at swordfighting is greater. Eventually the Other's sword shatters Royce's. After Royce dies he rises as a Wight and kills Will.

Errant Knave said...

You're absolutely correct. Will fix the offending passages before posting the next section. Thanks!

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