Monday, April 5, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 4

Welcome to the Monday version of this re-read. The Easter long weekend just passed and I hope you were able to enjoy it as much as I did. I didn’t get much leisure stuff done, but I got through plenty of spring cleaning. The weather here is finally warming up.

(What’s that? We have a re-read to get to? I’ll get right on that.)

There’s a lot of text in this one (and I need to check that I'm not breaking copyright law by quoting so much), so I’ll be brief. The intro post is here, and the previous post (Part 3) is here. Beware spoilers. Enjoy!

Chapter 10: Jon

What Happens

It's the day of Jon's departure, and he goes to say farewell to Bran. His brother is still comatose, and the lack of nourishment has left him scrawny and barely recognizable. Lady Stark has not left Bran's side in the two weeks since the accident. She has become haggard in that time, and she is not pleased to see Jon. She tells him to leave, but that only angers Jon enough to stay and defy her. He gives a tearful goodbye to Bran, and Lady Stark is moved enough to let her guard down in front of Jon Jon. When he answers with a few awkward words of comfort, she lashes out, saying "I need none of your absolution, bastard." Jon says goodbye and starts to leave, but Lady Stark is not finished yet.

"Jon," she said. He should have kept going, but she had never called him by his name before. He turned to find her looking at his face, as if she were seeing it for the first time.
"Yes?" he said.
"It should have been you," she told him. Then she turned back to Bran and began to weep, her whole body shaking with sobs. Jon had never seen her cry before.
It was a long walk down to the yard.

Jon finds Robb in the yard, and their farewell goes much smoother. Jon has one more goodbye to make, and he picks up a package from the armory before going to Arya's room. His sister is busy repacking her clothes after Septa Mordane told her the clothes weren't properly folded the first time. She is excited to have Jon's present, and even happier when she sees it's a small sword. Jon tells her it's like the ones the bravos of the Free Cities use, useful for poking men full of holes. They hug and say farewell, but just before he goes, Jon reminds Arya that all the best swords have names, and he named this one after her favourite thing. Arya gets the joke; the sword is called Needle.

And so Jon takes his leave of Winterfell, saying goodbye to four Starks, and each goodbye elicits different emotions from him. The farewell to Bran is sad because of the accident. (Also, I'm no doctor, but is it possible to survive for two weeks on honey and water, while mending from bone breaks and other trauma?) The farewell to Lady Stark (not "Catelyn") is sad in a different way. "It should have been you"??? That is harsh. (The unwanted child angle has been written about before, but as a fan of Romantic/Gothic/Victorian lit, I saw shades of Jane Eyre vs. Mrs. Reed, and Heathcliff vs. Everybody.) It took a long time for me to warm up to Catelyn after this episode.

Robb's farewell is so brief that you almost miss it. I think it's a pity we never ever get Robb's POV, but his few words to Jon give the impression that he has the makings of a strong, mature, and honourable individual. These excellent qualities are liabilities in Westeros.

Last but not least is little Arya, the feisty one. I think Jon loves her the most. He's probably closest to Robb, but he and Arya are the black sheep of the family. I wonder if George R.R. Martin knew what lay in store for Arya when he gave her a bravosi sword. I don't know how far in advance he plots the little details. Moving on.

Chapter 11: Daenerys

What Happens

Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo are wed in the fields beyond Pentos. Drogo's khalasar have come for the wedding, forty thousand warriors, as wells as their women and slaves. Before the wedding, Daenerys is frightened of angering or disappointing Viserys. All of that pales in comparison to her fear on the day of the wedding, and there are times when she has to fight back tears because she feels so alone. The ceremony takes place over an entire day of feasting. The Dothraki ways are alien to Daenerys, and a little shocking, but she was told to expect uninhibited mating customs, punctuated by a few brawls and killings.

"A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is deemed a dull affair," [Illyrio] had said. Her wedding must have been especially blessed; before the day was over, a dozen men had died.

The khalasar and other guests present Dany with a horde of gifts, ranging from books to handmaids, and everything in-between. Two gifts stand out. The first is from Illyrio, who gives her three large, exquisite stones.

"Dragon's eggs, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai," said Magister Illyrio. "The eons have turned them to stone, yet still they burn bright with beauty."

The second gift is from Drogo. He gives her a filly, the pride of the khalasar, fit for the khal's wife. Dany takes it for a ride, and is delighted at the horse's speed and the feeling of freedom. She cannot speak Dothraki, but Drogo smiles for the first time when her words of gratitude are translated for him.

When the sun goes down, Drogo takes her far away on the plains where they can be alone. He undresses her, and he is not rough with her. The only word he knows in the Common Tongue is "No", but it is enough to take away some of Dany's fears. He soothes her slowly, until after a while she is ready to say "Yes" to him.

Enter the Dragons. Sorry, I couldn't resist. This is also the first mention of Asshai, the creepy home of dark magic that we will get to later. But it's interesting that there would be dragon stones there, although it makes sense since dragons = fire = Rh'llor = Asshai. Yet I never associate dragons with evil. Was this a throwaway by Martin, or am I over-thinking things? Otherwise, this chapter is pretty straight-forward, and I recapped a fair bit, so I'll keep the commentary short. It's interesting to see how the Dothraki treat women. At first blush, the women look like they're human property and sexual slaves. As always, there's more to it than that, and maybe it's the women of Westeros who are the unlucky ones. We'll see.

It's nice to see the tenderness in Drogo. He's a man of few words, and almost none of them are understandable, yet his actions speak well for him. Dany has married a powerful man who might make a decent husband once she gets to know him.

One more thing: Now that Dany's married, she won't have to hear Viserys threaten to "wake the dragon" anymore, right? Right? Because it's that kind of behaviour that helped the Targaryens lose their throne in the first place. We'll have to wait and find out because the action is about to switch over to Westeros for quite a few chapters.

Chapter 12: Eddard

What Happens

Ned is woken by the king an hour before dawn. They ride away from the camp and the kingsroad until they are miles away from anyone. Robert wants to talk in private about affairs of state. He has a letter from Varys, his spymaster at King's Landing. Varys claims that Ser Jorah Mormont, a knight who fled from Ned's justice five years earlier, has news of a wedding between Daenerys Targaryen and a Dothraki lord. Ned remembers that Robert's hatred for the Targaryens almost drove the friends apart when Lord Tywin Lannister presented the murdered bodies of Rhaegar's wife and children, and Robert did not consider their deaths a crime. Still, Ned tries to change the king's mind about murdering Daenerys. The attempt is useless, but the point is moot since Robert cannot get to the girl. She was too well guarded when she was with Illyrio, and even more difficult to kill now that she is with the Dothraki. Robert worries that Viserys or the Dothraki will invade Westeros. Ned argues that the horse lords hate the sea and will not cross it, no matter how numerous they are. Even if they do, the western armies can repel them, as long as there is unity and a Warden of the East.

That brings up another sore point, since Robert will not name Jon Arryn's sickly child as Warden. Ned surmises that the title has been promised to another, and it only takes him one guess to figure that it would go to Jamie Lannister. With Tywin Lannister as Warden of the West, Ned worries that the move would give the Lannisters control over half the armies. Robert is married to a Lannister, but Ned does not trust Jamie or his family, and he tries to reason with Robert, telling him the whole truth about how King's Landing was won, since Robert was injured from his fight with Rhaegar. The Lannisters had been neutral in the war, until their army showed up at the capital. Aerys allowed them in, only to see them turn traitors. Jamie was only seventeen, and already a member of the Kingsguard, yet he killed the king he had sworn to defend. There was no honour in the victory. Robert doesn't care about honour or the gods, since the gods answered his prayers for Lyanna with a crown he didn't want instead, but Ned continues anyway.

"I cannot answer for the gods, Your Grace... only for what I found when I rode into the throne room that day," Ned said. "Aerys was dead on the floor, drowned in his own blood. His dragon skulls stared down from the walls. Lannister's men were everywhere. Jamie wore the white cloak of the Kingsguard over his golden armor. I can see him still. Even his sword was gilded. He was seated on the Iron Throne, high above his knights, wearing a helm fashioned in the shape of a lion's head. How he glittered!"
"This is well known," the king complained.
"I was still mounted. I rode the length of the hall in silence, between the long rows of dragon skulls. It felt as though they were watching me, somehow. I stopped in front of the throne, looking up at him. His golden sword was across his legs, its edge red with a king's blood. My men were filling the room behind me. Lannister's men drew back. I never said a word. I looked at him seated there on the throne, and I waited. At last Jamie laughed and got up. He took off his helm, and he said to me, 'Have no fear, Stark. I was only keeping it warm for our friend Robert. It's not a very comfortable seat, I'm afraid.' "

Robert finds the story amusing, and agrees that the Iron Throne is not comfortable at all. Tired of his kingly duties, he rides back to camp. Ned hangs back for a bit, feeling overwhelmed, out of place, and useless. Not for the last time, he wishes he'd stayed in Winterfell, but he has to stick with the choice he made to follow the king.

Whew! That one was a whopper! Sorry for the extensive quoting, but, oh, the intrigue! Where to begin? First of all, there's the bit I didn't include about Jon's mother. It actually sounds like Jon's mother was called Wylla. This is either bending the truth, or it is the truth, or it is an outright lie. Ned is very tight-lipped about the situation, and seemingly upset about the dishonour he placed in himself and Catelyn. So, still not much to go on for Jon's true parentage.

Shift to Daenerys and the familiar name of Ser Jorah Mormont. So he's a spy, is he? That should be fun. Robert's hatred of the Targaryens borders on rabid. The king basically condones murder, as long as it exterminates the progeny of his enemies. (Obviously, he didn't hear about the ill-advised steps taken by King Herod and King Arthur. Both kings succeeded in killing innocent children, but failed to get their enemies.)

Speaking of murderers, we finally get a decent account of how Jamie got his nickname. The image of Ned staring him down from horseback is very powerful, showing us the honourable Stark versus the traitorous Lannister. Here is a well-known and really good painting of our not-so-shining knight from that scene. Aside from the missing lion's helm, I only have one quibble: Jamie's face. He and Cersei are supposed to be nearly identical. If she's a smoking hot woman, I'm guessing that Jamie's 17-year-old features were a little more refined than this handsome but rugged depiction would lead us to believe. Whatever the case, it is not Jamie at his finest hour. Ned will hold that incident against him forever, as will a lot of people, and as will a lot of readers... at least for the first couple of books.


And that's all for today. Come back on Thursday for Part 5, where we meet up with a Lannister of a different kind, a murder plot goes awry, and bad blood spills over, leading to serious consequences.

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