Thursday, April 22, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 9

Welcome, dear readers, to the Thursday edition of the Re-read. 

Today we move on from Part 8. This post covers Chapters 23 and 24, in which a girl continues maturing, and a boy finds out that winter is really long.
The intro post is here, and the ASOIAF tag is being used to track all entries. (#ASOIAF on Twitter.) 
There are spoilers after the jump for the first four books in A Song of Ice and Fire. Read at your own discretion.
Pause. Take a deep breath. Are you ready? Ok, let's go.
Chapter 23: Daenerys

What Happens
Dany and Ser Jorah ride ahead of the khalasar on the plain known as the Dothraki sea. She sees Viserys riding towards her, so she tells Ser Jorah to keep the others away from her while she rides alone. Dany is enjoying the ride and thinking to herself, remembering the days when she did not fit in with the khalasar. She was close to despair, but slowly she grew used to the people, the customs, and the riding as the weeks passed.

Suddenly, Viserys is with her. He is enraged that she would dare command him to leave her alone. He hurts her and she pushes him away. Before he can retaliate, a Dothraki lashes a whip around her brother's throat. Dany gets the rider to release the hold, but she has her brother's horse taken away, leaving him to follow the khalasar on foot. Viserys command Ser Jorah to hit her and kill the others, but the exiled knight obeys Dany instead.

Riding away, Dany asks Ser Jorah whether her brother will be able to follow the trail, and she worries about how mad she made him.

"I woke the dragon, didn't I?"
Ser Jorah snorted. "Can you wake the dead, girl? Your brother Rhaegar was the last dragon, and he died on the Trident. Viserys is less that the shadow of a snake."

He goes on to say that Viserys wouldn't make a good king. "There have been worse... but not many."
"Still," [Daenerys] said, "the common people are waiting for him. Magister Illyrio says they are sewing dragon banners and praying for Viserys to return from across the narrow sea to free them."
"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends," Ser Jorah told her. "It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace." He gave a shrug. "They never are."

Dany comes to the conclusion that Viserys will never lead an army back to win his throne. That evening, she asks her handmaids if they've seen dragons, or if there are any alive. The maids agree that all the dragons are dead, hunted by men because they are evil beasts. 

"A trader from Qarth once told me that dragons came from the moon," blond Doreah said as she warmed a towel over the fire. [...] "He told me the moon was an egg, Khaleesi," the Lysene girl said. "Once there were two moons in the sky, but one wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat. A thousand dragons poured forth, and drank the fire of the sun. That is why dragons breathe flame. One day the other moon will kiss the sun too, and then it will crack and the dragons will return."

That night, Dany is waiting for Khal Drogo. He usually arrives in the tent before dawn and they have passionless sex. This time she takes him out of the tent and they make love where they can be seen by others in the khalasar, as is normal for the Dothraki. Some weeks later, Dany confirms that she is pregnant.

We knew Viserys was bad news from the beginning. Ser Jorah neatly sums it up, and Dany finally accepts the truth about her brother. Of course, Mormont says that her other brother was the last dragon. Rhaegar: the big What If. 

Another thing Ser Jorah clears up is the lie Illyrio told them about the commoners of Westeros praying for the return of the Targaryens. As if. Mind you, King Robert is not exactly doing a great job of ruling, but Jorah is right when he says the commoners don't care about royalty so long as they're left in peace. It's curious how the noble societies got the larger population (the peasants) to support their lavish lifestyles. Curious, or exactly like European history in the Middle Ages. You have feudal lords, fiefdoms and kingdoms, and a working class that is either ignorant or apathetic, or both. I suppose these peasants must not be too downtrodden since they're still paying their taxes instead of rebelling. But maybe that's where the apathy kicks in.

Back on topic, Doreah tells a story about the moons, the sun, and dragons. I only mention it because the story feels like more than a story. Can there be truth to the story? Is it prophecy? It wouldn't be unheard of for fantasy books.

Dany is becoming a Dothraki, which is good for her, I suppose. It certainly improves her nocturnal relations with Drogo. And now she is barefoot and pregnant on her fourteenth birthday. Can't wait to deal with that story-line.

Chapter 24: Bran

What Happens
Bran watches as Rickon plays with Grey Wind, Summer, and Shaggydog. He is bitter over the loss of his legs. He thinks the crow from his dream lied to him, and he'll never be able to fly. Old Nan says crows are liars, and she offers to tell Bran some stories. He is too irritated to listen right now. He claims to hate the stories, but she tries again, this time suggesting a story about his ancestor, Bran the Builder.

"That's not my favorite," he said. "My favorites were the scary ones." [...]
"Oh, my sweet summer child," Old Nan said quietly, "what do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods."
The white walkers are the Others, and Old Nan's story tells of the first time they walked, in the darkness and cold that lasted a generation. The children of the forest still existed at the time, living in the woods and the hills.

"So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders as big as hounds--"

They are interrupted by Maester Luwin, who says Tyrion Lannister has arrived and wishes to see him. Hodor carries Bran down to an tense scene; Robb has his sword out, and Tyrion is not getting a welcome reception. He says that Jon Snow must have got all of Ned's graces. Tyrion says he can barely believe what he sees when Bran arrives. "You Starks are hard to kill." Robb tells him to get to his business with Bran.

Before he begins, Tyrion asks Bran how come he fell if he used to be such a good climber. The question upsets Bran, who insists he never fell, but he does not remember anything about the fall, so there's an end to that. Tyrion claims to have a gift, and asks if Bran likes to ride. Maester Luwin says that without use of his legs, Bran cannot ride

"Nonsense," said Lannister. "With the right horse and the right saddle, even a cripple can ride."
The word was a knife through Bran's heart. He felt tears come unbidden to his eyes. "I'm not a cripple!"
"Then I am not a dwarf," the dwarf said with a twist of his mouth. "My father will rejoice to hear it."

Tyrion gives Maester Luwin a paper with the design for a special saddle. Luwin approves of the design and says he should have thought of it. Tyrion says he just modelled it after his own saddle.

"Will I truly be able to ride?" Bran asked. He wanted to believe them, but he was afraid. Perhaps it was just another lie. The crow had promised him that he could fly.
"You will," the dwarf told him. "And I swear to you, boy, on horseback you will be as tall as any of them."

Robb is puzzled by Tyrion's kindness, but then the door flies open, and the direwolves attack Tyrion. The boys call off their wolves, while a shaken but unhurt Tyrion decides the time has come to leave Winterfell. Robb put away his sword and offers proper hospitality, but Tyrion doesn't care for the false courtesies. He leaves Winterfell for a nearby inn on the road.

Bran takes a nap before supper, but his sleep is troubled by a nightmare where he climbs higher and higher, afraid to fall because he can't fly. He wakes and Hodor takes him to the Great Hall where Robb is dining with the four men of the Night's Watch who arrived with Tyrion. They mention Jon Snow ("Ser Alliser's bane," according to Yoren), but then Robb asks about his uncle Benjen and the men go quiet. Then Yoren explains how Benjen is gone, sent after Ser Waymar Royce, and likely dead.

"My uncle is not dead," Robb Stark said loudly, anger in his tones. He rose from the bench and laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. "Do you hear me? My uncle is not dead!" His voice rang against the stone walls, and Bran was suddenly afraid.
Old sour-smelling Yoren looked up at Robb, unimpressed. "Whatever you say, m'lord," he said.

One of the men says that Ben knows the forest better than anyone, and he might find a way back. Thinking of Nan's story, Bran blurts out that the children will help him. Maester Luwin says the children have been dead for ages, but Yoren is not so sure. North of the Wall, no one can say for sure.

That night, Robb carries Bran to bed, and Bran asks if the others are ever coming back.
"Yes," Robb said with such hope in his voice that Bran knew he was hearing his brother and not just Robb the Lord. "Mother will be home soon. Maybe we can ride out to meet her when she comes. Wouldn't that surprise her, to see you ahorse?" Even in the dark room, Bran could feel his brother's smile. And afterward, we'll ride north to see the Wall. We won't even tell Jon we're coming, we'll just be there one day, you and me. It will be an adventure."
"An adventure," Bran repeated wistfully. He heard his brother sob. The room was so dark he could not see the tears on Robb's face, so he reached out and found his hand. Their fingers twined together.

There are two ways that I can see Bran's flying dream working out for him. The first would involve the return of dragons, although he has no connection to the Targaryen line, so there is no precedent for Starks riding dragons. The second involves help from someone or something in the north, whether it's the children of the forest, or Coldhands, or I-don't-know-what. I think the shape-changing scenario is more likely, but I'd say the Starks share an affinity with their direwolfs, and wolves can't fly. This is one plot line that hasn't advanced much after four books.

In the last post I wondered what the Long Night was. It turns out Old Nan had the explanation all along. Long, cold winters, and no sunlight. It sounds terrifying.

I don't quite know what to make of the seasonal logistics. For one thing, incredibly long winters would deplete food sources. Every issue would take a back seat to famine as humans and their animals died of starvation. For another thing, what would the wild animals do? How long could they hibernate for? What about plants? Are there special greenhouses to keep certain plant and food species alive? And what about the total lack of sunlight? Even without the lack of vitamin D, that much darkness can drive people crazy. This is one harsh fantasy land.

Possible point of interest: Who was the last hero who went to find the children? Do we ever find out? Does it matter? Was it Coldhands? (By the way, I've brought up Coldhands a couple of times now. It's possible that some or all of Martin's readers know who or what Coldhands is and I've missed the boat on that one. I think he's either the hero or Benjen Stark. Someone set me straight.) He had to survive, or else how did the story get around? Sure, it could be made up, but just like Doreah's dragon story, tales in fantasy stories have a way of being more real than anyone else thinks they are.

Old Nan's description of the Others brought vampires to my mind. I'd thought they were more like zombies, but let us review: pale skin, freezing cold, extremely strong, cannot be killed by normal weapons, and now Nan has connected them to darkness, and claiming they fed on the blood of the living. The little we've seen of the Others shows that they do not have all the classical attributes of vampires (or even the, um, yet-to-be-classic attributes). But if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... you get the picture.

Tyrion: is not on good terms with direwolves. What is it with those wolves attacking him? First Ghost, now these three. Normally, I'd say that's a sign of trouble, but I am so firmly in the "Tyrion Rules!" camp that I think the wolves must have a genetic defect when it comes to sniffing out rotten Lannisters. I don't know if Martin had decided if Tyrion was a good guy or a wolf in sheep's clothing. The suspicion of the direwolfs points to the latter, but nothing ever comes of that, so... meh. Loose plot-line, red herring, or
Ret Con? You decide.

I think what Tyrion does for Bran is great. He claims he has a soft spot for cripples and bastards, but I'd like to think that soft spot is also known as courtesy and decency. Bye-bye Tyrion. See you on the road in a bit.

I can never decide how I feel about Martin's decision to not give Robb a chapter of his own. He is the one character whose POV I feel we miss out on. On the other hand, it's probably just as well. Anyway. Here we have Robb in his transition from boy to man, and from brother to lord. He is still a youth, and he is overwhelmed by events at the end of the chapter.

It's interesting that Robb blew up at Yoren the same way that Bran got angry at Tyrion a few pages earlier, and the same way that Jon got mad at Tyrion a couple of chapters earlier. Rickon's an unruly kid, and Arya's temper isn't all milk and honey. As much as I dislike Sansa (in the beginning), I think she is the one Stark offspring who is always capable of not losing her temper with someone outside her family. Make of that what you will.

Benjen Stark: is still missing. And that's about it. Do the children help him? Does he become Coldhands? This ties in with the earlier point about the last hero. I'm waiting for answers on this matter as well.


And we'll have to wait until Monday for more chapters. Part 10 features honour, scheming, and co
wardice. That's about par for the course. See you soon!


Anonymous said...

I'm usually sympathetic to Bran but here I find myself wishing he would take a cue from Jon and accept Tyrion's tough love in the spirit it was intended. Then I recall that the kid is a seven-year-old cripple. Ouch.

"Do you hear me? My uncle is not dead!"
Rob needs to chill. You bring up some really good points about Robb missing out on a POV. When I initially got sucked into ASOIAF I read the first three books in one breathless weekend, and there were not many brain cells left over at the time to engage in critical commentary, but when I got to the Red Wedding my first reaction was: Oh! So that's why Robb never got his own POV! But now that you bring it up again I cannot stop thinking about it.

There are a couple of possibilities. One is that Robb never demanded to be written the way that, say, Sansa or Bran did. Given the amount of time Martin spent working on AGOT, plugging plot holes, etc., I am highly doubtful this is the case. Another possibility is that nothing interesting ever happened in Robb's POV that couldn't be more fruitfully told from Catelyn's. This, I can almost buy. I mean, I don't think we really needed to see Robb's campaign in the West. As a character, I personally find Robb much more interesting (and far less grating) than Catelyn, and I suspect you (and a good segment of the fandom) would agree. However, I admit that in terms of writing good literature and original fantasy, Catelyn might be the better choice. First of all, seeing Robb through her eyes will always make us question the reliability of the narrator. If we were inside Robb's head, even briefly, it would almost be less interesting. Moreover, I feel like we've seen this before. Honorable young man avenges death of wrongfully murdered parent? Defends his people from a tyrant king? Okay but how many times do we get to watch the whole thing unfold from his mother's perspective?

So yes, as a Robb fan I am genuinely disappointed by the lack of a Robb POV. From a storytelling perspective I have to grudgingly agree that GRRM made the right choice. And can I also remark on what fertile ground for fanfiction the lack of Robb POV offers? That is, if GRRM wasn't rabidly opposed to fanfic. *sigh*


Errant Knave said...

There are several events that I wish would change for the better when I read these books. The Red Wedding tops them all. Ugh...

I think the best explanation for the lack of Robb chapters is that he doesn't need one. I may like him more than Catelyn at this point, but she has the more interesting perspective. The same goes for Bran whenever he and Robb are together.

I can't blame GRRM for being opposed to fan fiction. I don't know that I'd bar my work from being used for fan fic, but what do you think? Are there some chapters you'd like to read, or even write?

Stacy said...

From reading various websites, I believe most people think Coldhands is Benjen Stark, but that something has happened to him. That's why Bran never sees his face.

Errant Knave said...

Gotcha. It had been a while since I read the series and I only had a vague recollection of Coldhands. I am now a firm Coldhands = Benjen believer.

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