Monday, June 28, 2010

#ASOIAF Re-read: A Game of Thrones, Part 18

What a difference a few days can make. Last time I posted, I was praying for the Azzurri to win. Well, that didn't happen. But I survived, making it through the five stages of grief. There was more shame and anger than outright depression. In other words, it wasn't 1994.

A few things helped pull me out of my funk, including this little re-read, and you, the readers. (Awww...)

Here is the last post (part 17), the intro post, and the first for-real post. You can keep on top of the shenanigans at this blog in several ways, including the #ASOIAF hashtag on Twitter, and the RSS button near the upper right of the screen.

Let's do this.

Chapter 40: Catelyn

What Happens

Dawn breaks over the Vale of Arryn and the Eyrie, and Catelyn Stark is listening to news from Ser Rodrik Cassel. The Kingslayer is massing an army in Casterly Rock, and Edmure Tully is acting like he controls Riverrun. This worries Catelyn because it means her father, Hoster Tully, is very sick.

Catelyn is also disturbed because her sister means to go through with Tyrion's trial by combat. She sees that Lysa is being played by the dwarf. Whatever the outcome, Catelyn wants to be out of the Eyrie and on her way to Winterfell. She and Ser Rodrik go looking for Lysa to try and change her mind.

Brynden Tully comes storming out of Lysa's apartments just as Catelyn arrives. Lysa refused him a thousand men to aid Riverrun, so he resigned as Knight of the Gate. He intends to leave for Riverrun alone, but Catelyn tells him to wait for her; the mountain path out of the Vale is too dangerous for one man, and if he goes with her to Winterfell, she will give him his thousand men. Brynden agrees and decides to wait in the Vale.

Lysa's apartments lead out to a garden where several nobles are gathered to watch the champions fight. Catelyn and her sister argue about the appropriateness of the battle; if Tyrion dies it will enrage the Lannisters, and if his champion wins then he gets to go free. Arguing is useless; the fight will go on.

Ser Vardis and Bronn arrive. The knight is wearing full, heavy armour, using a massive shield, and using Jon Arryn's beautiful sword. Catelyn notes that Ser Vardis is a good fifteen years older than Bronn, and could have benefited from using a less ceremonial sword. The sellsword, meanwhile, is wearing next to no protection, and using his ugly yet razor-sharp blade.

The little Lord Robert signals the beginning of the fight and Bronn promptly begins avoiding almost every swipe that comes his way. The spectators do not like what they see, and they urge Ser Vardis to make quick work of Bronn, but Ser Rodrik muses that even the strongest man will tire wearing heavy armor.

Meanwhile, Catelyn is remembering a duel from her youth. Petyr Baelish had challenged Brandon Stark, but Petyr was still a youth and Catelyn asked Brandon not to kill him. Petyr did not yield, so Brandon ended the fight by wounding him deeply. That was the last time Catelyn and Petyr had seen each other until King's Landing.

Returning her attention to the fight at hand, Catelyn sees that matters are still deadlocked, but Bronn has scored a hit while remaining untouched. Soon after, Bronn wounds Ser Vardis in the sword arm. Ser Vardis begins to move slower, but Lysa does not realize he is weakening. She orders him to finish the duel, as Robert is getting tired.

Ser Vardis actually manages to charge, catching Bronn off guard. The sellsword's lip is crushed by the knight's shield, and Ser Vardis swings he sword down with all his might. Bronn evades the blow, knocks Ser Vardis over, and plunges his sword into the knight's heart.

"Is it over, Mother?" the Lord of the Eyrie asked.
No, Catelyn wanted to tell him, it's only now beginning.
"Yes," Lysa said glumly, her voice as cold and dead as the captain of her guard.
"Can I make the little man fly now?"
Across the garden, Tyrion Lannister got to his feet. "Not this little man, he said. "This little man is going down in the turnip hoist, thank you very much."
"You presume--" Lysa began.
"I presume that House Arryn remembers its own words, the Imp said. "As High as Honor."
"You promised I could make him fly," the Lord of the Eyrie screamed at his mother. He began to shake.
Lady Lysa's face was flushed with fury. "The gods have seen fit to proclaim him innocent, child. We have no choice but to free him."

Lysa orders her guards to provide Tyrion and Bronn with supplies and weapons for the high road. Tyrion balks a bit at that, and Catelyn thinks that's just a different kind of death sentence, but Tyrion takes his freedom anyway and leaves.

Commentary
I love a well-written duel, and this one definitely qualifies. I also like that this chapter was told from Catelyn's perspective after the last one (Chapter 38, the last one to deal with these characters) was from Tyrion's POV.

Bronn vs. Ser Vardis. The sellsword vs. the knight. The quicker Muhammad Ali vs. the harder-hitting Joe Frazier, but with armor. It's funny that most of Lysa's court thinks the outcome (Bronn's defeat) is a foregone conclusion because I felt the same way, except I thought Bronn would win. But this being George R.R. Martin, you can never quite tell. It would have been like him to have Bronn lose, and then have Tyrion condemned to die for crimes he didn't commit. (Actually, it IS like him, come to think of it, except we're a couple of books away from that, so...)

Ser Vardis may have been on his last leg, but when he charged and caught Bronn with his shield, I thought that was the end. Instead, Bronn wins, Tyrion lives, and justice is served. Poor Ser Vardis had to die, but I guess surrendering wasn't an option.

And Tyrion is free... sort of. He has to take the high road out of the Vale, a road strewn with raiding clansmen and shadowcats. Sounds like fun. But it sure beats exiting through the Moon Door. I'm glad he survived. Who else would be cheeky enough to say, "Not this little man," after coming this close to execution? He's still surrounded by enemies. Crazy. This series is short on humor, so it needs Tyrion.

Also getting the hell out of the Eyrie are Catelyn, Ser Rodrick, and the Blackfish. They're off to Winterfell, presumably to prepare for war and maybe take care of the abandoned Stark boys.

It has no real bearing on the matter at hand here, but Catelyn's flashback at least gives us a little glimpse of Brandon Stark (seemingly cut from the same cloth as Ned), and a little glimpse of Petyr Baelish. The current Littlefinger is all about using his wits, but the younger one was bold (or rash) enough to actually fight Brandon, a man grown. He had several opportunities to yield, and didn't take any of them. What does that say about him, or his love for Catelyn?

Speaking of Catelyn, she uses the line "No, it's only now beginning," which I find is a nice counterpoint to Ned's Tower of Joy dream in the last chapter. There, Ser Arthur Dayne says, "Now it begins," and Ned replies, "No. Now it ends." I don't know if Martin intended to have these similar lines almost side by side, or if this is just the kind of stuff people say when big important stuff happens. You can almost hear the doom behind those words. Spooky.

Chapter 41: Jon

What Happens

Against Ser Alliser Thorne's will, some of the boys have to be promoted to full men of the Night's Watch. The group is largely made of Jon and his friends. The boys are happy, of course, but Sam (who still has more training to do) is looking glum and disappears before Jon can talk to him.

That night, the boys are enjoying their meal and discussing whether they'd rather be rangers, stewards, or builders. Jon notices that Sam's missing, and realizes that Sam will will be left unprotected once Jon and the others move on. He mentions his fear to Pyp, who answers that Jon did all he could.

Jon goes walking with Ghost that night, thinking about what it will mean to take the vow. There is still time to go live a life with his family in Winterfell or King's Landing. Once he takes the vow he can never go back.

He knows what he has to do, and he goes to Maester Aemon's apartments below the rookery. Chett, the maester's aide, is not pleased that Jon is calling so late in the night. However, Maester Aemon is awake, and he listens to Jon's concerns.

Jon asks that Sam be included with the group of youths who are becoming brothers of the Watch, arguing that Ser Alliser will torment Sam every day without Jon's protection. Chet says that Sam could use toughening up, but Jon thinks that Sam will never be a fighter. Rather than waste a good man, he could become a steward, and since Sam is literate and knowledgeable, he can help Maester Aemon.

Chett is none too pleased by the suggestion, but Maester Aemon says he will think on it, and he bids Jon good night.

Commentary
Only one chapter, yet we get glimpses of Jon the Righteous, Conflicted Jon, and Jon the Leader-in-Training. Instead of being happy about his promotion, he's worried for Sam. Not only that, but he's worried about what ...

I wonder about Ser Alliser. From what he said, it sounds like the decision to pass certain boys fell to him. He could have picked someone other than Jon. Do you think he did it because he didn't want to deal with Jon's insubordination anymore, or because he couldn't get away with passing Jon over? I don't doubt that it was a hard decision for him, sort of like picking the lesser of two evils, but I think either choice means he had to admit that Jon was one of the better students. He was either too good at usurping control, or too good to fail. That can't have been easy to accept.

The thing about Jon's vow to take the Black is that it locks Jon into the frozen north forever... barring special circumstances. At the time of first reading I wasn't sure he would go though with the vow because he'd seemed like a major player in the beginning. And not that defending the world from the Others is anything to look down on, but... he's essentially sealed off from every other character in the series, kind of like Dany. But at least Dany is kinda sorta working her way to Westeros. Jon would be tied to the Wall unless the Others drove him back or unless he broke his oath. Or both. As we find out, one of those things happens, and the other one looks like it's about to happen.

Enough speculating. Back to the chapter, and Sam. Jon may be graduating, but he can't shed the guardian angel habits just yet. Good thing, too, since his acts of kindness towards Sam help him out later in life. And it gives him points for sheer decency. Some fans consider Jon a Gary Sue, but so far in AGoT, I don't agree.

Also, in a land where people in their mid-thirties are considered old, Maester Aemon is doing pretty well for his hundred or so years. I'd argue he's a bit sharper than Grand Maester Pycelle, down in King's Landing. Good on him for listening to Jon.

Chett: is ugly and angry. Seriously, the boils themselves are angry, according to the text. The boils on his face add +5 deflection when used against the Jon-is-Amazing charm.

***

Up next, the continuing adventures of a certain Imp, and one of my favourite chapters in the series. Will you be surprised? Tune in Thursday for Part 19, and find out.

Francesco has no rooting interest in the World Cup anymore, due to his chosen team's spectacularly bad performance. However, he still intends to watch the remaining games and see how many more terrible officiating calls there can be in one tournament. And to see how many times Cristiano Ronaldo can cry.

4 comments:

Lya said...

Kudos for catching the parallels to (a) Petyr vs. Brynden and (b) Oberyn vs. the Mountain, because lord knows I wasn't paying enough attention. Tyrion obviously rates very highly in your personal canon, and I'd be lying if i said I was alone in the fandom in thinking Tyrion is slightly overrated, but I do. There, I said it. I think it has something to do with how young I was when I first read the books (thirteen). I basically worshiped the ground that Jon and Arya walked on, because they were the epitome of cool. And as for people who were old or ugly or deformed or not badass enough? Tough luck. (My other cringeworthy opinions also included OMG there are gay people in these books ahhhhh my eyes!!) Tyrion, at 26, seemed ancient to me. And even though my opinion of Jon has changed a lot over the years, my opinion of Tyrion hasn't. I really wish I was able to enjoy his awesomazing chapters because there are just SO MANY, since he's clearly a favorite of GRRM's. Like, if there is one character I really want to like, it's Tyrion. (I think Bronn suffers in my estimation just for his proximity to Tyrion. Lol I am so judgmental.)

Catelyn says lots of profound shit when you least expect it. This exchange with Lord Rowan is buried amidst the revelry at Highgarden, but it's chilling.

Catelyn: War will make them old. I pity them.
Lord Rowan: Why? Look at them. They're young and strong, full of life and laughter. Why pity?
Catelyn: Because it will not last. Because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.

At the time of first reading I wasn't sure he would go though with the vow because he'd seemed like a major player in the beginning.
My thoughts exactly.

Jon would be tied to the Wall unless the Others drove him back or unless he broke his oath.
Or, you know, the Wall fell or something. \o/

I think GRRM covered the politics of bullying quite well in this chapter. And Chett! Oh, Chett.

As far as Jon Snow = Gary Stu goes, as far as I can tell, the argument is that he fares ridiculously well in comparison to other characters ie. Ned, who tend to suffer a lot for their willful idealism and/or otherwise admirable, borderline heroic qualities. As you've noted yourself, Jon has the makings of a great leader, but as you've also noted, GRRM likes to put his (sympathetic) characters through a lot of crap. It's almost like, if you're a good person then you have to suffer for it. And Jon seems to suffer noticeably less for being a good person (case in point: Ygritte). There need to be consequences, I guess, and so far Jon has not had to face really horrendous ones yet, and that's where the charge of Gary Stuism comes in. I dunno if I buy it myself, but I'm just summarizing the arguments to put them out there.

ibeeeg said...

You say that you liked Catelyn's perspective because the last time we saw Catelyn and Tyrion it was from his perspective.
I too liked that fact. But what your comment reminded me of was GRRM's latest blog post. Do you read his blog? Anyway, it was about A Dance With Dragons, the structuring of the story, and that he may be almost done with writing...oh please lord,let that be true and for the record...I am a-okay with DANCE not being as long as Storm of Swords. Anyhow, it was intersting to read that he writes his chapters and then moves them around and so forth.
http://grrm.livejournal.com/159060.html As a non-writer, I always thought authors would write their story from start to end, but I am realizing that this is not the case for many. It seems that GRRM moves his chapters around, writes others to fit a new story structure and also deletes other chapters based on how he structured...re-structured the story. Interesting.

The whole dueling aspect always boggles my mind especially when the one dueling is doing so on the behalf of another. Exciting to read about though.

"I don't know if Martin intended to have these similar lines almost side by side, or if this is just the kind of stuff people say when big important stuff happens."
Oh, I think GRRM intended for this to happen, especially after reading the post of GRRM's that I already mentioned.


"The thing about Jon's vow to take the Black is that it locks Jon into the frozen north forever... barring special circumstances. At the time of first reading I wasn't sure he would go though with the vow because he'd seemed like a major player in the beginning. And not that defending the world from the Others is anything to look down on, but... he's essentially sealed off from every other character in the series, kind of like Dany."

I like Jon a whole lot...a whole lot. I think he does have the makings to be a great leader.
I, at first, did not think Jon would go through with the vows as well. I mean, how could GRRM take a fabulous character and isolate him?? how? Well, after reading more in this series, I have come to realize that anything is possible in GRRM's world. Anything. So that means, Jon is not necessarily doomed to isolation on the wall. He is not doomed to being sealed off from the other characters.
I still think he is a major character to not swipe under the rug. After all, he does have his own chapters...that means something, right? Yeah, I do feel there is a future for Jon that does require him to stand up and take the lead.

Okay, I am completely clueless and will admit to that...what the heck are you talking about when you mention Gary Sue?


Lya - I get why at the age of 13 you would not see the appeal of Tyrion. Believe me, his appeal is most certainly not in his looks or whatnot but geesh the man's brain is a wonder...I love how it works, and he does provide some much needed humor within this story.
I gather that you like you Jaime from earlier comments, so I am wondering...if you can see something to like in Jaime then why not Tyrion who,in my book, is a more decent human being. Curious.

Another question for you Lya - why does Jon need to suffer consequences and for what? Not understanding that one.

Errant Knave said...

Lya, yes, I like Tyrion, but he wasn't one of my faves on my first read-through. I liked him well enough, but I think I've started to like him more on this re-read. I always liked Bronn just because he has no respect for authority :)

I like Jon a lot, and I'm not really one of those who believes that every good character has to suffer through calamities (ie, every other Stark). To those who think Jon has it a bit easy (and we'll see just how easy some of his trials are), is it possible that perhaps the other characters have it a bit too hard, that there are too many calamities to suffer through? Maybe it makes them stronger and cooler (ie, Arya), but I'm fine with having some of the good guys suffer less.

ibeeeg, Gary Stu is a male version of a Mary Sue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue or http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu), and is an idealized, wish-fulfilling version of the author or reader. Heroes and heroines sometimes tend to fall into this trap. Readers tend to dislike them because they feel forced.

ibeeeg said...

Bronn is neither here nor there for me. (shrug)

Thanks for the Gary Stu information. It was interesting reading the links. I also find it interesting that people even think that stuff up. I certainly do not pick apart my reads as such...I either like or I do not (for the most part).

I tend to agree with you, all good characters do not have to suffer horrid things, nor do they have to suffer to the same degree as the other characters within a story. I think Jon suffers, and I like him, he is not a Gary Stu, and that is that for me. :)

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