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Chapter-by-chapter analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire. Essays about my favorites, Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, and others as the mood strikes me!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Was that all I was? A sword hand?

Well, now I've given in to the dark side, and this is going to be a Jaime-Brienne blog for the next little while until I get back to writing chapter summaries, I'm bringing over some little things I wrote elsewhere so they're all in one place.

WARNING: A STORM OF SWORDS SPOILERS (you're fine if you've watched through Season 4 of "Game of Thrones")

Before he sends Brienne off on her mission to find Sansa, Jaime gives Brienne a princely gift: a Valyrian steel sword remade from Ned’s great sword Ice. Through the magic that clings to Valyrian swords, the new sword, half the size of the old one, is also completely changed in appearance: Ned’s Ice is described as a smoky grey, while the sword Jaime ripples with the colors of “blood and black” (which are the Targaryen colors, by the way!) and the light on its edge is tinged red. (My personal theory is that somehow this sword is going to end up in Jon Snow's hands, because he - like the sword is a Stark/Targaryen mixture - and because he keeps thinking that Longclaw is the "wrong" Valyrian steel sword for him. But that's by the by ...)

It occurs to me that Jaime, like the sword he gives Brienne, is broken and then reforged (by suffering and by proximity to Brienne) into something different. Jaime goes into a captivity as Cersei’s double with his full complement of limbs and of Lannister arrogance; he comes out of it crippled, bearded, with silver in his hair, and with a resuscitated belief in the ideals he once held.

Oathkeeper is Jaime’s father’s gift to him, a bribe for Jaime to abandon his Kingsguard oaths and to do what Tywin wants. I find it fascinating that Jaime chooses a name for this sword that’s so unlike the other named Valyrian steel swords we encounter. 

They are usually named for some attribute of the House to which they belong, e.g. the Targaryens have a connection with dragons and their sword is Blackfyre; the Starks’ house motto is “Winter is coming” and they have Ice; the Mormonts who live on Bear Island have Longclaw, and the "golden lions" of Lannisters had Brightroar, now lost. Failing these house-connected names, the Valyrian swords we know about have sort of generic “strike fear into people’s hearts” kind of name like Heartsbane, Widow’s Wail, Red Rain or Lady Forlorn. 

But Jaime chooses a name that is quite different from either of these conventions: Oathkeeper (like Arthur Dayne's Dawn and Azor Ahai's Lightbringer) is a promise of better things to come, rather than a threat or a reflection of familial glory. When Jaime calls the sword he gives Brienne "Oathkeeper", he is indicating his changed intentions (to keep the vow he made to Lady Catelyn, when once he thought resentfully that vows made under duress weren't "real") and he is also rebuking his father, who wants him to break his oaths for the greater glory of the Lannisters. When Brienne, who witnessed Jaime broken and reforged, accepts that reforged sword named Oathkeeper from a man who intends to keep his vows, in a sense, she becomes his sword-hand, wielding Jaime’s sword to do what he physically cannot.

Brienne promises Jaime that she’ll find Sansa Stark “for her lady mother’s sake. And for yours” but she makes no solemn vows or oaths to Jaime and he asks for none, partly because Jaime, of all people, knows that vows are traps, but partly because how do you ask for a vow from a part of yourself?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I dreamed of you ... (Some thoughts on Jaime, Brienne, the bearpit, the weirwood dream and other assorted miscellany)

And so I return to this oft-abandoned blog ... I haven't given up on the detailed reread project, but I think I need the fire (and ice) of a publication date for The Winds of Winter to get back to that. In the meantime, I've been thinking so much about Jaime and Brienne (my two favorite characters in the series) so let me leap forward, throw in a bunch of spoilers and talk about them for a bit. (WARNING: There are huge spoilers for A Storm of Swords under the break!)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Game of Thrones - Catelyn II (Chapter 6)

Sorry, this has taken me FOREVER because I have so much to say about this chapter, including a brand new Crack!Theory about stuff. (At this rate, though, I should be finishing up A Game of Thrones just about when The Winds of Winter comes out. Yay?)

Without further ado, my crack!theory. So at the beginning of this chapter, Catelyn spends quite a lot of time describing Winterfell. And while I initially (and on subsequent rereads) always sped up to the whole “Lannister conspiracy to murder Jon Arryn” section of this chapter, something struck me this time around:

“The castle had been built over natural hot springs, and scading waters rushed through its walls and chambers like blood through a man’s body, driving the chill from the stone halls, filling the glass gardens with a moist warmth, keeping the earth from freezing.”

Ned doesn’t like the heat. “The Starks were made for the cold, he would tell her, and she would laugh and tell him in that case they had certainly built their castle in the wrong place.”
BUT ... they have totally NOT built their castle in the wrong place and here is why:

  • Most obviously, that natural source of warmth is probably why Winterfell has survived all those winters and may secure its survival for the coming one. 
  • Hot springs are often associated with volcanic activity, as are dragons (Valyria from which dragons came seems to have some kind of analogy to the regions of intense volcanic activity in our own world) and dragonglass (obsidian, which is cooled lava.) In other words, volcanoes and their byproducts seem to be inimical to the Others and the various creepy things associated with the reign of winter. 
So what if the “Stone Dragon” that Melisandre hopes to wake is in fact not at Dragonstone (despite its name) but at Winterfell and the “king’s blood” needed to wake it isn’t that of Stannis Baratheon or Robert Baratheon’s bastards but instead the blood of the Starks, who were once Kings in the North AND have the blood of the First Men in their veins, etc. 

I can’t help but shake the feeling that Winterfell is critically important to the storyline in more ways than simply being our jumping off point/home of the Starks, that somehow the place itself will play a role in the final confrontations between “ice” and “fire” because Winterfell itself unites those two elements in its buildings. Winterfell was supposedly built by Bran the Builder, who is also credited with constructing the Wall to keep the Others out - while the Wall has obvious magical properties, thus far, Winterfell hasn’t demonstrated any, but ... wouldn’t it be strange if Brandon Stark didn’t put ANY of the safeguards he put on the Wall onto the home of his own family? Hmmmm!

OK, moving on from my crack theory to an actual discussion of the chapter. Mercifully (given the other sex scenes Martin’s written in this series) we come in on the aftermath of Ned’s “urgent” lovemaking to Catelyn. Catelyn thinks that she could still give Ned another son (so ... just to emphasize, these people are all in the mid- to late-30s at this point and were VERY young during Robert’s Rebellion - Ned was Brienne’s age; Jaime, Cersei, Catelyn were a little younger. They were all just a little bit older than the kids of the main story, and I think we always have to remember that when we think about what they did/didn't do during the Rebellion.) 

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Game of Thrones - Jon I (Chapter 5)

“There were times - not many, but a few - when Jon Snow was glad he was a bastard. As he filled his wine cup once more from a passing flagon, it struck him that this might be one of them.”

Aww, poor Emo!Teenaged!Jon Snow!! But more importantly, this is the chapter that introduces us to the Imp and the Kingslayer.

We’ve seen Jon through the eyes of his younger brother Bran, and now we get to meet him ourselves (and note his observations on the King’s party.) Jon thinks Cersei is as beautiful as reputed, though he notices that he can “see through her smile.” I’m not thinking this shows Jon as some flawless judge of character, given that we already know Cersei is not exactly thrilled to be at Winterfell with Robert’s BFF and the Stark family, exacerbated by Robert’s rather publicly leaving her in the courtyard of Winterfell to go visit Lyanna Stark’s grave the moment he arrived. However, there’s a theme of “these things are not what they seem to be” running through this chapter, particularly in regards to the royal party.

“The king was a great disappointment to Jon.” Ned’s apparently talked up “the peerless Robert Baratheon” as this legendary warrior but Jon only sees a “fat man, red-faced under his beard, sweating through his silks.” If only Jon knew that he’s echoing Ned’s disappointment as voiced in the previous chapter. Robert’s putative children come in after Robert and Cersei, accompanied by Stark kids; Jon is dismissive of Tommen and Myrcella (“insipid”) and then Joffrey who has a tangle of blond curls and his mother’s (and father’s!!) deep green eyes. The most Jon can find to criticize in Joffrey (who’s gallingly taller than Jon OR Robb, though he’s younger than both) is his “pouty” lips and disdainful glances at Winterfell.

And then come the Queen’s brothers. Jaime’s charisma is self-evident, and I think it’s no accident that our fullest description (including the fact that he has two nicknames: “Lion of Lannister” to his face and “Kingslayer” behind his back) of Jaime to date comes from Jon, whose path will in so many ways mirror Jaime’s. Like Jaime, Jon will join a corrupt/degraded institution at a very young age, be rather disillusioned (though Jaime’s disillusionment was certainly harsher than Jon’s finding out that there were criminals in the Night’s Watch!) and be forced to choose between conflicting vows (or perhaps more accurately between what is morally the right thing to do versus what is the outward appearance of honor, in Jon's case with his sojourn with the Wildlings.)

“Ser Jaime Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a knife... Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed.”

Again, we get this idea of things not being what they seem: the Kingslayer looks like a king, the King looks like a sweaty drunk ...

Jon is also fascinated by Tyrion, perhaps because he’s never seen a dwarf before. “All that the gods had given to Cersei and Jaime, they had denied Tyrion.” And yet, at this point, and as we’ll see later in the chapter, Tyrion is by far the best of the Lannisters, despite his ugliness.

Benjen and Theon round out the group at the high table, with Benjen giving Jon a smile and Theon ignoring him, which Jon thinks is pretty par for the course.

Jon keeps trying to convince himself that he’s happy not to be at the main table with the royals, but clearly he’s not happy about the distinction made between him and his legitimate half-brothers and sisters. He tells Benjen that it was Lady Stark’s decision that it might be insulting to the royal family to be seated with a bastard. OK, so now I need to digress because this particular moment is often introduced as evidence that Catelyn Stark is a horrible, evil stepmother person - and first of all, clearly this is completely different from Jon’s usual experiences, which are that he eats with his brothers/sisters “most times.” So Jon is clearly almost never treated like Cinderella forced to skulk in the ashes or whatever people like to throw in as how horrible Catelyn is to him. And on top of that, she is right that the royal family - or Cersei in particular - would take it amiss to have Ned’s bastard placed near her children. Queen Cersei already been humiliated by Robert on this visit, and Catelyn is quite right to see that avoiding any additional grounds for hostility from Cersei is probably a good idea.

Furthermore, we only have Jon’s word for it that it was Catelyn’s decision anyway - either Ned concurred (because if he hadn’t, Jon would have been eating with the King and his family) OR Jon’s banishment to the depths of the hall was actually at Ned’s instigation. If Jon is who I very firmly think he is (i.e. Lyanna’s son by Rhaegar Targaryen), then the last thing Ned wants to do is arouse any suspicions, or have this kid who looks soooo much like his dead sister (Arya and Jon supposedly look very much alike and Arya is said to resemble Lyanna so I’m extrapolating) or cause Robert to ask him uncomfortable questions about Jon’s mother that would force Ned into outright falsehoods and have the additional negative effects of being deeply insulting to Catelyn. To sum up, while Jon believes it’s Catelyn’s doing that he’s not sitting with the rest of the family, I’m not so sure he’s reading things right, even though he says that “a bastard has to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.”

Anyway, family banquet aside, Jon begs Benjen to take him to the Wall, and Benjen quite rightly suggests that Jon is maybe not old enough to make such a life-changing decision.

“If you knew what the oath would cost you, you might be less eager to pay the price, son.”

I’m pretty curious about Benjen, like I really want to know what he makes of Ned’s having a bastard, or if he knows the truth about Jon’s parentage - I don’t think he really does, because I think Ned told NO ONE! - and when he joined the Night’s Watch and what moved him to do so. Was it before or after Robert’s Rebellion? It must have been after, since there’s “always a Stark at Winterfell,” and Brandon was dead and Ned was off chasing Lyanna and fighting Robert’s war. And Benjen would have been Ned’s heir at that point too, right? So ... what made him decide to join the NW AFTER Ned came home? All questions I will never know the answer to, but also a tribute to how sympathetic this relatively minor character is! I don’t believe Benjen is Coldhands, by the way, for a variety of reasons.

But then Benjen loses me a bit by telling Jon that after he’s fathered a few bastards, he may feel differently about joining the Night’s Watch. First of all, because it’s clear that he really doesn’t understand Jon if he thinks Jon would father bastards, and secondly because, although it’s all of a piece with Wetseros thinking, I kind of abhor the idea that sexual experience is what differentiates adulthood from childhood which is what Benjen seems to be saying here.

Anyway, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS poor Jon, so he heads out into the yard to have a good cry in private except instead of privacy, he gets Tyrion Lannister, who is instantly sympathetic (though I’m glad Martin rethought the tumbling skills!) and recognizes in Jon a fellow outsider in a way that Jon’s own uncle, who loves him dearly, has just proven completely incapable of doing.

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” (Tyrion, of course, signally forgets his own advice during his relationship with Shae, but that’s for another chapter.)

And then he gets off a couple more of his great lines. First: “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes,” which is something Jon needs to hear, i.e. that he is not the only person in this position and in fact in some ways his life is better than others’ because his father (or “father”) clearly loves him and we’ve seen throughout this chapter that he has loving relationships with his siblings and uncle and that his father’s men truly care for him. Cheer up, emo Jon, things are only going to get worse for you from here.

Tyrion leaves Jon with a bit of parting wisdom: “All dwarfs may be bastards, yet not all bastards need be dwarfs.”

One final Very Interesting Thing: as Tyrion leaves, the shadow he casts is elongated “and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood as tall as a king.”  So Jon, disappointed in the actual King his father loves so much, has now seen BOTH Lannister brothers as kings - Jaime earlier, and Tyrion here - which I find interesting. It’s also interesting that one of the despised Lannisters ends up being the person who shows Jon the most empathy in this chapter. It’s the first inkling we’re getting that all is not always what it seems, since thus far, the Starks are positioned as the Heroes and the Lannisters as their antagonists.

A Game of Thrones - Eddard I (Chapter 4)

The royal party arrives at Winterfell, and Ned is forced to confront the fact that his beloved friend Robert has become grossly self-indulgent since he became King. We also get some backstory on the civil war that put Robert on the throne and a fateful offer from Robert to Ned.

Of great interest to me as a member of the Kingslayer fan club: we see Jaime first through Ned’s eyes, though his initial thought about Jaime isn’t particularly pejorative (“Ser Jaime Lannister with hair as bright as beaten gold”) and Jaime is interestingly introduced in the same sentence as Sandor Clegane, which leads me to believe these two men are also linked in the narrative (I’ll talk more about that when I get to Bran’s dream.)

Robert seems “almost a stranger to Ned” - we learn that Ned last saw him during the Greyjoy rebellion which was “only” nine years ago, but Robert has changed a lot physically since then. Cersei’s wheelhouse doesn’t fit through the gates of Winterfell so she enters on foot - which has to be humiliating for someone as proud as she is; then she is further humiliated by Robert’s immediate request to go and see Lyanna’s grave in the crypts.

Robert complains about how huge, empty and cold the North is and talks about how ripe and luscious everything is in the South at the tail end of a long summer. There’s a real emphasis on the size and separateness of the North - foreshadowing/remembrance of the Starks as Kings in the North.

As Ned walks past the graves of the earliest Starks, he remembers that “By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts.” I find this SUPER interesting, because what are those spirits vengeful about? Is this just a sort of bone-deep memory of the Others and the Starks as one of the outposts of humanity against them, or are we subtly being told that, for all the current generation of Starks seeming to be pretty decent fellas, their ancient ancestors were far more of a mixed bag? There’s a mention of the Starks as Kings in the North before the Targaryens came.

(OK, so this is one fantasy trope that I think Martin also falls guilty to - I’m annoyed by how fantasy dynasties are always totally static, the same families rule for thousands of years until the Targaryens arrived, which is really not the case in any kind of real-world setting.  If you look at any real-world history, it’s enormously unlikely that the same political structures will be in place for thousands of years, let alone the same dynastic rule: families don’t have children or everyone dies of the Black Plague or there are only daughters so they end up changing the family name, or they’re overthrown by their disgruntled vassals or whatever. It seems highly unlikely to me that the Starks have been the overlords of the North forever and that the Umbers/Boltons/Manderlys/etc. have been their underlings forever without jockeying for position - same thing with the other dynasties in the series. The only change seems to have come with the Targaryens as overlords, and the end of the River Kings dying out at Harrenhal and being replaced by families that were never royal, like the Tullys and in the Reach, the Tyrells.)

We get backstory on Brandon and Rickard’s deaths (and of course, having read Jaime’s account of them, we know that Ned never knew the full horror of how they died. Maybe he would have felt differently about Jaime if he had, who knows?) Ned still thinks of Brandon as “the true heir, the eldest, born to rule” even after fifteen years of ruling the North rather well. On the show, I missed this sense of diffidence from Ned, of almost being an impostor in his brother’s shoes (as Lord of Winterfell and as Catelyn’s husband); Show!Ned is considerably more self-righteous than Book!Ned and much more insulting of everyone who isn’t a northerner. More on this later too! He also thinks that Robert loved Lyanna more than he (Ned) did, but I’m not buying it. Robert seems to have loved an image of sixteen-year-old Lyanna, of course, but it’s not his love for Lyanna that Robert dreams of, but punishing Rhaegar - he says he kills Rhaegar every night in his dreams and a thousand deaths wouldn’t be enough punishment for what he did to Lyanna.

The first inklings of Lyanna’s fate and the secret Ned is guarding: Martin cleverly makes us think that Ned’s remembrance of the promise he made to Lyanna is about her being buried at Winterfell, but there is the mention of a room that smelled of blood and roses (we don’t know about the roses from the Harrenhal tournament yet and how the blue rose will symbolize Jon Snow, but we’ve already got little subtle hints that there may be more going on with this story.

Robert tells Ned that Jon Arryn sickened quickly, they discuss Lysa and how she’s seemed a little unhinged after Jon’s death and we learn that Jon had agreed to foster Lysa’s son with Tywin Lannister (Ned sourly thinks that he would “sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to Lord Tywin” with a cryptic remembrance that some old wounds never heal -  he’s clearly thinking of Tywin’s sack of King’s Landing and the murder of Rhaegar’s children and the real source of his dislike of the Lannisters.)

And then Robert drops the bomb he came all the way to Winterfell to deliver - he wants Ned to be Hand of the King in Jon Arryn’s place, and as a bonus, he wants Sansa to marry Joffrey when they are both old enough. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Ned for agreeing to the betrothal, but a) it doesn’t seem like he has much choice (Robert is pretty wilful and Ned himself thinks that he doesn’t know the guy that well any more, even at this early stage of Robert’s visit); b) he doesn’t know Joffrey at all; c) Robert has just offered up that Ned’s daughter will be Queen of Westeros (as his sister Lyanna would have been had she married Robert, although I suppose there would have been no rebellion so Robert wouldn’t have been King anyway. In fact, I’ve kind of wondered about Lord Stark, Warden of the North, betrothing his only daughter to the Baratheon heir, because until the rebellion they seemed like a fairly minor house at least compared to Hoster Tully’s house in the Riverlands. Was it just Ned’s friendship/Jon Arryn’s fostering the kid that made Robert a suitable bridegroom for Lyanna?)
Anyway, Ned doesn’t want to be Hand at all, and asks for more time to consider Robert’s offer - although I dislike Robert, I do find the fact that he openly admits that he doesn’t want to do the work of being King and his honest appraisal of himself rather hilarious. At least he is conscientious enough about being King that he’s tried to find the best guy for the job. “If I wanted to honor you, I’d let you retire. I am planning to make you run the kingdom and fight wars while I eat and drink and wench myself into an early grave.”

Memorable lines: “The King eats… and the Hand takes the shit.”

A Game of Thrones - Daenerys I (Chapter 3)

  • Our introduction to Dany - she’s very much the meek, oppressed little girl in this chapter (and Viserys is quite horrible) but she’s still sensible enough to realize that Magister Illyrio of Pentos isn’t doing all this stuff for them for free. She asks Viserys “what does he want from us?” and doesn’t believe that it’s all because he thinks Viserys will reward him when he’s someday King of Westeros.
  • For Dany Westeros is a fairy tale about stone towers and blue-grey mountains and knights; she’s rather similar to another girl who’s just a bit younger than she is: Sansa Stark. Viserys has also told her the dramatic tale of their flight to Dragonstone and the sack of King’s Landing. (I would also like to point out that even Viserys has apparently told Dany that “the Kingslayer opened Father’s throat with a golden sword” - so the TV show’s insistence that Jaime stabbed Aerys in the back irks me as a Jaime fan. Plus, come on, slitting his throat like a sacrificial lamb isn’t good enought?
  • Like many other mothers in the series, Dany’s mother (who was also her aunt!) died birthing her, and “Viserys had never forgiven her” (echoes of Cersei and Tyrion, with no Jaime to balance that out). 
  • Dany doesn’t remember her father (since she was born after his death) and Viserys has clearly not told her about his viciousness and cruelty. (We’ll learn later from one of Jaime’s POVs that Dany is the product of Aerys’s brutal rape of Rhaella, which lends an extra poignancy to her intervention with Drogo to try and stop the rape of the Lhazareen women later in this book.)
  • For Dany home is the house with the red door in Braavos to which the loyal Ser Willem Darry took her. And she longs to be able to go back to that more innocent place. 
  • As the years went on, the Targaryen Prince and Princess lost all their money (and Viserys is known as “the Beggar King” in Pentos.) 
  • Pentos is a “free” city (officially no slavery) but there are slaves; Illyrio’s help Dany prepare for her meeting with Khal Drogo and give her the skinny on the Dothraki, although as we find out later, a lot of what they tell her is completely untrue (there’s no palace with 200 rooms in Vaes Dothrak!) 
  • Dany assumed she’d marry Viserys because that’s what the Targaryens did. “The line must be kept pure…” (But Dany’s brother Rhaegar married Elia Martell so that wasn’t strictly true.) Doomed Valyria was a high-status place (full of people with fantasy-novel coloring of silver hair and purple eyes, apparently!) because everyone keeps placing an emphasis on how Dany reflects “the blood of Old Valyria”.
  • The golden torc Dany wears reminds her of one of the slave girls telling her that Khal Drogo is so rich even his slaves wear golden collars. 
  • Viserys keeps droning on about how he’s going to go back to Westeros with the army Khal Drogo promised him and find all these Targaryen supporters. He promises to personally kill both Robert and Jaime because they killed Rhaegar and Aerys. The idea is hilarious, to be honest. Poor deluded Viserys!
  • Significantly for later, the Pentoshi apparently worship the Lord of Light (whom the Red Priests promise will defend Pentos from a million Dothraki) but they prefer to just co-opt the Dothraki with luxury. Khal Drogo has his own palace in Pentos; apparently the Pentoshi buy off the horselords rather than fighting them. It seems like a win-win for everyone except the slaves the Dothraki bring to sell in Pentos.
  • At Drogo’s palace, Dany is uncomfortable when she realizes she’s the only woman there. There are numerous Dothraki and others from all over Essos, but this is also where she first meets Jorah Mormont, who is wanted for selling poachers to a slaver. Illyrio doesn’t understand these absurd laws, but this is the root of my issues with Jorah.
  • More importantly for the immediate future, Dany meets Khal Drogo whose long braid indicates he’s never lost a fight. She finds him terrifying, but Viserys has absolutely no compassion or understanding for her fears, and she does what he tells her to - stand up straight and “let him see that you have breasts…”
Memorable Quotes/Moments
"When they write the history of my reign, sweet sister, they will say that it began tonight." Aah, poor deluded Viserys!
"We go home with an army, sweet sister. With Khal Drogo’s army … I’d let his whole khalasar fuck you if need be, sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too if that was what it took to get my army." Oh, man, I don’t even know what to say about this. It makes a golden crown seem quite fitting for Viserys. Ugh!

A Game of Thrones - Catelyn I (Chapter 2)

  • Ned is doing some post-execution cleanup of Ice when Catelyn brings him the news of Jon Arryn’s death and Robert’s imminent arrival at Winterfell, complete with Lannister queen and her brothers. The godswood makes Catelyn uncomfortable - even after all these years, she feels like a stranger at Winterfell, at least in the godswood. This is our first inkling about different religions - the North worships the ancient gods of the forest symbolized by the weirwood trees; the South worships the Seven in what sounds like a version of church (with holy oils and priests.) We also get our first mention of the “Children of the Forest” and the faces carved into the weir woods, which will, of course, be hugely significant later on. 
  • Ned acknowledges that Gared was so terrified of whatever it was he saw (and that he was the fourth Night’s Watch deserter this year.) I guess it’s too much to expect that he’d start actually asking questions before he executes these guys because it is a bit like someone telling me they’d seen a woolly mammoth. I wouldn’t believe it. But STILL!
  • Also, Ned apparently believes three years is old enough for Rickon to put his fears aside and recognize that “winter is coming.” But the words are somehow kind of rote, since a guy just told Ned that Winter REALLY is coming apparently and yet Ned isn’t hearing the underlying message. Which again, I don’t blame him for *too* much since obviously the readers know much more than he does.
  • Ned and Catelyn talk about Lysa and her son, who have fled to the Eyrie. Ned first suggests Catelyn take the children to visit their aunt and cousin and cheer them up, but of course, since Robert is coming to Winterfell that won’t work. I do wonder what would have happened if Catelyn had taken Bran off to the Eyrie. Would he have climbed/fallen there or did the specific chain of events at Winterfell have to happen in exactly the way that they did?
  • Ned clearly dislikes the Lannisters - he calls them an “infestation” and Cersei is “the Lannister woman” - and at this point, since he has no idea about the incest, it’s purely based on his having found Jaime on the throne and perhaps because Cersei took his sister Lyanna’s “rightful” place as Robert’s queen? Because he really seems to dislike her simply for being a Lannister, more than anything else: I get that he hates Tywin for the Sack of King’s Landing (and the murder of Rhaegar’s wife and children) and Jaime for being an oathbreaker, but Cersei hasn’t done anything to Ned besides “replace” Lyanna and not be too charming. 

A Game of Thrones - Bran I (Chapter 1)

"The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. They set forth at daybreak to see a man beheaded."

A Game of Thrones - Prologue

Three men walk into a dark, scary forest …

Ser Waymar Royce is in command of two other members of the Night’s Watch; the three have been tracking a group of wildlings for nine days.  This section is told from the point of view of Will, the younger of the two men under Waymar’s command.  Apparently, Will has been to a village where everyone looked like they’d frozen to death, even though it hasn’t been extra-extra cold yet.  Gared, the older dude, suggests that, as night is falling, they might want to head back home.

Waymar Royce is eighteen and a nobleman and has all the arrogance of a privileged teenager so he ignores Will’s and Gared’s sensible observations and wants to make sure that the wildlings are really, truly dead.  As they draw closer to the village, Will notes that he forest seems to be getting colder and creepier by the minute. (OK, I’m a totally urban person and even the “wilderness” of Central Park used to freak me the hell out, so by this point, I was completely sure that something horrible was going to happen, and I was in fact correct.)  

The growing cold and scariness cause Gared to come close to mutiny (and if he had, he probably would have saved at least two lives!)  but he finally obeys his commander. When they get to the village, there are no bodies on the ground at all, and Waymar decides that Will was mistaken in his earlier assumption that the wildings were dead.  He orders Will up a tree so just in time for Will to have a ringside seat for the upcoming carnage.

Sure enough, the creepy factor goes up by about one million when a shadow emerges from the woods.  ”Tall it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk.”  In short, not someone you’d want to meet on a dark cold night nine days from civilization.  Actually, not someone you’d ever want to meet anywhere under any circumstances at all.

Waymar shows lots of courage in his sword duel with the Other, but is clearly doomed, since he is not a supernatural being with an aura of liquid nitrogen about him.  Waymar’s sword is shattered then more of the Others come along to join in the butchering.  Finally, the merry pranksters move along and after a long break to collect his shattered nerves Will comes down from the tree to collect the broken sword as proof that he didn’t kill the young lord, who’s lying face down with about a million wounds.  (And his lovely sable cloak is probably ruined as well! Woe!)

When Will turns around, the remains of the sword in his hand, Waymar Royce is standing over him.  ”His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin.  A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye.  The right eye was open.  The pupil burned blue.  It saw.”

Uh oh!  Aaaand just like that, poor Will is dead too, because cold scary walking zombie types rarely just want to sit down and have a cup of tea.  But cheer up, Will, no other POV character from a prologue makes it out alive either.

In terms of my own reaction, I was hooked right from the prologue; I had to know more about what was going on, and who these weird supernatural beings were and whether anyone could face them. In a few short pages, I got to like the Night’s Watch men (making their deaths all that much more horrible) and the sense of cold and fear are still palpable after multiple reads.  Fantastic stuff!!  (Warning:  I may sound a lot like Austin Stevens while discussing this series and use the words “fantastic” and “incredible” a lot.  Don’t watch that video if you’re afraid of snakes by the way!)

In the game of thrones, there is no middle ground ...

Re-re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire and hoping The Winds of Winter will be out before I get to the end of A Dance with Dragons. (With one or two chapters a week, maybe that's a reasonable goal!)

There are spoilers for future books here in every post - I'm really interested in how certain things are foreshadowed early on, what the endgames might be, and in interpreting prophecies, so that's going to be a thing. And without further ado ... here we go!