Monday, April 19, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 8

Bonjour, fair people of the internet! Monday has arrived with a brand new Re-read!

Today we move on from Part 7, covering Chapters 21 and 22, in which people ask a lot from a little man, and a little girl takes a level in badass. Good times.
For earlier posts, the intro is here, and the ASOIAF tag is being used to track the entries. (#ASOIAF on Twitter.) 
This post contains spoilers for the four published novels in the series known as A Song of Ice and Fire. That's all the warning you get.
The post, it awaits!

Chapter 21: Tyrion


What Happens
It is Tyrion's last night at Castle Black, and he is dining with Lord Mormont and others. The Lord Commander thinks highly of Tyrion, but Ser Alliser is one who thinks the dwarf mocks the Watch, and he grows angrier as Tyrion makes witty retorts.
"Come and make your japes with steel in your hand."
Tyrion looked pointedly at his right hand. "Why, I have steel in my hand, Ser Alliser, although it appears to be a crab fork. Shall we duel?" He hopped up on his chair and began poking at Thorne's chest with the tiny fork. Roars of laughter filled the tower room.
Ser Alliser stalks out of the dining hall. Lord Mormont and others discuss the merits of Ser Alliser, namely, that he is a knight. He is one of the few in the Brotherhood, having come to the Watch by virtue of being on the losing side of the battle at the Trident. There are a few more cracks from Tyrion, until the Lord Steward, Bowen Marsh, refers to him as a small man. That is when the old Maester Aemon speaks up and says that Tyrion is a giant among them. Tyrion is at a loss for words.

"You are too kind, Maester Aemon."
The blind man smiled. He was a tiny thing, wrinkled and hairless, shrunken beneath the weight of a hundred years so his maester's collar with its links of many metals hung loose about his throat. "I have been called many things, my lord," he said, "but kind is seldom one of them."

After dinner, Tyrion is drinking with Lord Mormont. The Lord Commander starts talking about the need for more men on the Wall. The Watch is a shell of what it used to be, and Mormont worries that there is trouble on the way. There have been deserters, Ser Royce went missing, and Ben Stark is now missing as well. Mormont asks Tyrion to plead for more men when he goes south. Tyrion says he'll do what he can, but he doesn't mention that it's a fools hope; no one at court will take the plea seriously. Mormont goes on.

"Winter is coming, and when the Long Night falls, only the Night's Watch will stand between the realm and the darkness that sweeps from the north. The gods help us all if we are not ready."

Tyrion finally leaves Mormont's tower. He is cold and tired, but he is seized by a yearning to take one more look at the view from the top of the Wall. He limps over to a contraption that allows him to be hauled up the side of the Wall. At the top, he takes a walk until he is stopped by a guard who happens to be Jon Snow. Ghost is with Jon, as usual.
The two talk about the  positive effect Jon is having while teaching some of the boys how to fight. Then Tyrion tells him he's leaving the next day. Jon has a few messages for his brothers, and he begs Tyrion to help Bran with advice or confidence. Tyrion thinks that people are asking a lot of him that night. 

"You're asking a lame man to teach a cripple how to dance," Tyrion said. "However sincere the lesson, the result is likely to be grotesque. Still, I know what it is to love a brother, Lord Snow. I will give Bran whatever small help is in my power."
"Thank you, my lord of Lannister." He pulled off his glove and offered his bare hand. "Friend."

Afterwards, Jon, Tyrion, and Ghost look out at the darkness beyond the Wall. Jon mentions his missing uncle.

"If he doesn't come back," Jon Snow promised, "Ghost and I will go find him." He put his hand on the direwolf's head.
"I believe you," Tyrion said, but what the thought was, And who will go find you? He shivered.

Commentary
A few things stand out in this chapter for me. The first thing is Maester Aemon's pronouncement. He is not a blind seer, but his words have a sense of
important foretelling. Four books later, there is still room for Tyrion to grow into a giant.
The second thing also feels like foreshadowing: Mormont's quote about the Long Night. I always wondered if the Long Night was a long stretch of time without sunlight, as is normal in polar regions. If Westeros is in a world where there are years of summer followed by years of winter, why can't there be a long stretch of darkness? And what would happen in the darkness? Would the Others gain power? I expect there's going to be a lot of trouble when winter finally arrives.

Then you have the people who don't believe in the use for the Wall. Tyrion's disbelief bugs me a little bit, but that's because I know the Others exist. Aside from that, Tyrion continues to be awesome. It's almost like he's not related to the other Lannisters (something Lord Tywin probably believes). Too bad his name is getting dragged into the conniving mess at King's Landing.

Jon teaching the boys how to fight better than their lousy teacher can is a little like Harry Potter teaching Dumbledore's Army. (I know this story came first, and I know there are more stories that use this device. Don't throw anything at me! I'm just pointing out a similarity.) It's all but spelled out that he is getting set up for Great Things. Also, that was a touching moment with Tyrion. 

And the mystery of Benjen Stark's disappearance continues. Was Ben taken by the Others? Ok, that makes me think he wound up on a tropical island (Lost reference). but where in the seven hells did he go? The odds favour his death, especially if he followed the trail of the unlamented Ser Royce, but I'm waiting for unshakable proof. As a character who got a bit of page time and who is related to one of the major families in this tale, I think there should be some closure for Ben. Will Jon be the one to go look for him? Will he get lost as well? We'll see.

Chapter 22: Arya

What Happens
It is dinner time in the Small Hall. Arya watches her father enter. He is late, tired, and upset. Sansa has heard about the Hand's tourney. At first, Ned doesn't want his daughters to attend, but Septa Mordane gets him to change his mind. Not that Arya wants to go. 

"I don't care about their stupid tourney," Arya said. She knew Prince Joffrey would be there, and she hated Prince Joffrey.
Sansa lifted her head. It will be a splendid event. You shan't be wanted."

Their bickering angers Ned, and he leaves the table after claiming he's lost his appetite. The rest of the people at the table, including Ned's retainers and guards, chatter about the tourney. No one talks to Arya. She doesn't mind that, but she feels sad and lonely away from Winterfell and her brothers. She hates that the others can talk and laugh as if Lady and Mycah hadn't been killed. Too upset to eat, she runs away from the table, ignoring the yells coming from Septa Mordane.
Arya locks herself in her room, brandishing Needle as first Fat Tom (one of Ned's men) and Septa Mordane try to get her to open the door. She only lifts the bolt when her father arrives. He sees her holding Needle and takes it from her. He see that the bravo's blade was made by his smith, but Arya doesn't tell him that Jon had it made for her. He tells her that the blade is not a toy for children, and she's supposed to learn how to be a lady.

"You have a wildness in you, child. 'The wolf blood,' my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave." Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. "Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her."
"Lyanna was beautiful," Arya said, startled. Everybody said so. It was not a thing that was ever said of Arya.
"She was," Eddard Stark agreed, "beautiful, and willful, and dead before her time."

When Ned asks her if she knows how to use the blade, she says that Mycah was practicing with her. Arya starts crying, but Ned is there to comfort his daughter. He also tells her that he knows Nymeria didn't run away, and Arya explains how she and Jory had to throw rocks at the wolf to make it leave the camp by the Trident. Ned assures her that it was the right thing to do. Then he has a few things to explain to her, as a Stark of Winterfell.
"You know our words."
"Winter is coming," Arya whispered.
"The hard, cruel times," her father said. "We tasted them on the Trident, child, and when Bran fell. You were born in the long summer, sweet one, you've never known anything else, but now the winter is truly coming. [...] When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate,. Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm."

He gives Needle back to Arya. The next day, she apologizes to Septa Mordane. Three days later, Arya is sent to the Small Hall. A man is waiting for her. He is slight, bald, and his accent places him from Braavos or Myr. He is her "dancing master", there to teach her how to use the blades of the bravos. He refers to himself in the third person and calls Arya "boy".

"I'm a girl," Arya objected.
"Boy, girl," Syrio Forel said. "You are a sword, that is all. [...] Now we will begin the dance. Remember, child, this is not the iron dance of Westeros we are learning, the knight's dance, hacking and hammering, no. This is the bravo's dance, the water dance, swift and sudden. All men are made of water, do you know this? When you pierce them, the water leaks out, and they die." He took a step backward, raised his own wooden blade. "Now you will try to strike me."

Arya tries for four hours without succeeding. The chapter ends with the implication that the dance instruction will continue daily.

Commentary
I could have quoted the whole section with Obi-wan Kenobi Syrio Forel, but you've already read it, so I will just have to content myself with saying how fantastic I thought that part was. Good one, Ned. Way to take your daughter seriously and find a cool teacher. (Oh, and he is the Obi Wan. Just younger, balder, and with less baggy clothes.)

Arya is often referred to as boyish. Only she and Jon got the Stark looks, and sometimes she gets called "Arya Horseface". Then along comes Ned to say that she looks like Lyanna. We hear about Sansa's looks so often because she usually carries herself as a lady, and she puts effort into her looks. But Arya? Apparently she looks like the woman who was a) promised to the current king, b) kidnapped by the former prince (who happened to be married), and c) was one of the reasons for the rebellion against the Targaryens. If Arya lives long enough to be older than a child, she's going to turn some heads when people realize she was beautiful all along.

Random fact that may interest only me: Arya is left-handed. That probably has zero significance the rest of the way, but Syrio compliments her on it, since it will make her enemies awkward. It makes sense; southpaws usually have an advantage in sports like boxing and baseball. Swordplay should be no different. (One of my co-workers used to do fencing. I'll have to ask him what it's like to face lefties.)

***

That's all for Monday, dames and gents. Come back for more on Thursday. Part 9 will feature another young woman, the son of the Wall's Lord Commander, a familiar dwarf, and more scintillating commentary. Unless it's a long week, in which case there will just be regular commentary.
Au revoir!

6 comments:

ibeeeg said...

I like Ned a whole lot...sigh...
Anyway, one of the reasons is the scenes between him and Arya. The one you quoted is touching. Arya, I still say she does not hold a grudge towards Sansa. You have read beyond where I am so you may know more than I but she takes what her father says to heart. She displays an incredible spirit and courage, and one way she does this is by listening to Ned. "In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm." For a young girl, she is strong and not foolish (holding a grudge towards her sister would be foolish).

Your random fact did not only interest you.

Anonymous said...

Well, regarding Tyrion not being a Lannister, I think it says something about the fandom that Aerys + Joanna = Tyrion is actually not considered a crack!ship.

More links to tropes I've never heard of! Whee. This makes me happy.

Being lefthanded definitely adds to the badassery. I only realized she was left-handed when she was in Flea Bottom later and carried Needle on her right hip and I went doh! That's what I got for skimming the first time through.

I bought The Gathering Storm today, not having touched anything WoT related for years, and when it's mentioned casually that Rand is missing his left hand my first thought was: Why the hell hasn't he rescued Han yet, he's probably rotting in carbonite? My second thought was: Sapphireth!!

~Anonymouse

Errant Knave said...

Anonymouse: Aerys + Joanna... I'm not sure if I'm in that ship, but I like the theory. It would certainly clear up the third head of the dragon, as well as explaining other things. But there's that quote from Jamie's aunt in AFfC about Tyrion being Tywin's son more than Jamie. I take that quote to mean Tyrion is better at political intrigue than Jamie, but would a son of Aerys possess such skills?

Left-handed badassery just makes me think of the chatty duel in The Princess Bride. One day, I want Arya to say "I am not left-handed either", and switch hands.

I've only read TGS once so far, and I was rushing to devour the new book, but I remember thinking that aside from the bits with Mat, I'd put it in the Top 3 of the series.

Carbonite and sapphireth. HA! :D

Stacy said...

I know this comment is 3 months after the conversation, but I just found your blog, and, well, I am just going to go ahead and make all the comments I want. I have always thought that, when it comes to intelligence, Tyrion is the child who is most clearly a reflection of Tywin. Were it not for his appearance, I suspect Tyrion is the child that would most please Tywin. The fact that Tyrion is a dwarf is a little bit of karmic payback for Tywin being an ass.

And, as a left-handed person who has done a bit of fencing, I will add that it is a distinct advantage. Righties get confused when fencing lefties because everything is backwards.

Errant Knave said...

That was three months ago? Good God! I need to pick up the pace on this blog.

Re: Tywin and Tyrion... we get into that later. I don't think Tyrion needs to be the bastard son of Aerys, but I like the chances.

Re: Lefties... If I ever have kids, I'm going to see if I can teach them to be lefties. It's great in baseball, any kind of boxing, and apparently in fencing (cool sport, by the way). Why not give them an advantage?

IceNeedle said...

Aerys+Lyanna=Tyrion??? First I've heard of that, but isn't that disproved by The Viper in ASOS? (He talks of visiting Tyrion immediately after his birth at Casterly Rock).

Love the blog! I'm rereading the series again, just starting AFFC for the second time, but I like being able to sweep back through this stuff a 3rd time with new insights and perspectives.

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