We back and Elena focuses on info dumping while I give props to days of ‘yore. Forgot about us? She’s new, I’m the re-reader. We are continuing our reread of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. We return covering everyone’s favorite Romeo, Tyrion Lannister!
A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
I am happy that Tyrion decided to go North to see the Wall, while he was already up yonderways. (Side note: being a Texas girl originally, I sort of laughed at the whole “the North went on forever thing”…driving across Texas is like that. On family road trips to, like, Colorado, once we were through the state line into New Mexico we were practically there even though it was still something like 4 more hours; conversely, coming home, it meant nothing when we were back in our home state because we still had 12 hours to go.) I’m glad about this for several reasons. First, I am delighted to keep tabs on Jon more often than his point of view would cycle around in the list of pov characters. Second, I am happy to see the Wall through the eyes of someone who understands the world a little better than a 14-year-old boy who’s away from home for the first time. And third, just from a narrative standpoint, I like that there will be a more even splitting of places to have two at the Wall to balance out two at Winterfell and three on the road south.
Speaking of good narrative techniques represented here, I particularly liked the way the history lesson was integrated into the fabric of Tyrion’s thoughts. Too often in fantasy the narrator explains a social custom or historical event, and while it can be done in such a way that it’s not intrusive (if the narrative voice is meant to be omniscient not limited), when a character in a third-person-limited pov randomly starts thinking through the history of social protocol while we conveniently listen in, it rings false. So Tyrion having borrowed a book on dragons from Winterfell because he loves dragons, and that spurring him to reflect on his memories of dragons and some of the more sensational parts of his country’s history that involve dragons, felt very natural.
My marginal comment in the section where he’s thinking of the story of the three Targaryen dragons, that reduced an army five times the size of theirs to the Field of Fire, was “technology…always an equalizer.” Obviously dragons are the medieval equivalent of our AC130 Spectre gunships. But why did all the dragons die? Were they inbred to death or something? 3000 years is too fast for a rapid de-evolution like that without some external pressure assisting the degeneration.
A minor stray thought on the past…I wondered if there was a parallel between the Lannisters being the last house to fall to the Targaryens and the last house to sort of throw their weight behind Robert. Not sure what might be implied even if it matters. Maybe “hedge your bets” is just their house motto?
An integral part of Tyrion’s character exposition came out of this chapter for me, is how insecure he is about his size. His basic MO for life seems to be to assume that anyone looking at him sees a freak, and preempt that by bringing it up first. I’m not trying to say that whoever he’s meeting for the first time isn’t looking at him and seeing only his dwarfism on first glance, I mean let’s be real here, but he’s like the chubby kid who makes fat kid jokes so that you can’t.
There were a couple moments that I really prized for Martin’s ambiguity of expression. It’s subtle, because he leaves no doubt what someone does, but what he leaves out is an implication of why. Two examples. The first is when Ghost knocks Tyrion down, and he asks Jon to help him up, and Jon smiles as he pets Ghost and says “Ask me nicely.” There’s no adjective there to tell us why Jon is smiling. Is he feeling triumphant that the man who was kind of verbally bullying him is now belittled? Is he just amused at the fallen dwarf, as he might have laughed at a dwarf in a circus routine? Is he just glad that he has Ghost to stand up for him now instead of being left entirely to fend for himself, and the smile has nothing much to do with Tyrion? It’s just “Jon stroked Ghost’s thick white fur, smiling now.” The second moment like this for me was the end of the chapter, when Tyrion sees Jon staring into the flames and smiles sadly. What prompted the sadness—the fact that Tyrion himself no longer dreams of dragons, or that even though Jon is in some ways still a boy he has just been consigned to a life that does not allow for any more dreaming? Is his sympathy or pity in that moment directed at himself, or at Jon? To me what makes that kind of characterization both wonderful and frustrating is that it leaves so much to your own projection of the characters. And if you assume one thing, you may later find out you were wrong and be disappointed in that character…or just realize you have a lot of re-reading to do to catch nuances that were missed when you read with the incorrect assumption about who someone is.
We also got to see the side of Tyrion that is his Lannister pride. Up front, I sort of loved the summary of the Lannister philosophy: “The Lannisters never declined, graciously or otherwise. The Lannisters took what was offered.” This simplicity appeals to me. I am exactly the sort of bitch who takes you at your word, so if you tell me “no I don’t mind” when you really do…that’s your problem to deal with, not mine. You should have given me an honest answer when I asked. So I am right on board with this lifestyle choice. I am not sure how out of the box it really is for this society, whether most people allow themselves to be ruled by the façade of politeness, making offers that will be refused and refusing what is offered. It seems like it must be, for the Lannisters to continually surprise everyone with their actions, since it seems to me they don’t really try to hide what they’re all about. Also I am suddenly reminded of my old military history professor’s description of two armies in the 18th century line style squaring off, and one politely offered to let the other shoot first, “no no no, after you,” and so the first general fired first and that was pretty much the battle…that’s the Lannisters, by Tyrion’s description—they’ll take you at your word and shoot first. Didn’t mean it? Shouldn’t have said it. I can appreciate that kind of honesty. The underhandedness of his other two siblings is more disturbing. Is this simply the sort of perversion of power plays that Cersei, being female, has felt herself forced into using? Or was there at some point a Lannister tradition of honest belligerence that got subverted to manipulation? I’m curious to meet Papa Lannister now.
I also noticed that Tyrion used to fantasize about his father burning, and his sister. That is a specific wording that omits Jaime from those fantasies—if Tyrion had meant them both, he’d have said “siblings.”
The final piece of this chapter that got me thinking was the part about who is in the guard on the Wall, that it’s not a bunch of men like Jon and Uncle Benji (speaking of whom…what made him decide to answer the noble calling?) but rather a bunch of men like the others—twisted and soured in some way or another, and thus essentially cast from society. Tyrion was perhaps harsh in the way that he pushed the point on Jon, but he wasn’t wrong for forcing him to look at the truth. And I am glad that Jon is not the sort of person who flinches away from the truth. He just looked at it, and thought, “fuck. Okay, how do I deal with this,” and started doing so. Is that quality in him something Tyrion had guessed at in their first meeting, and perhaps why he’s taking an interest in the boy? Because Tyrion is also that sort of person—his stature has given him no choice—and people like that are few and far between. It’s uncomfortable to live without rationalizations. But that propensity in Jon means he’s likely to survive in a place like the Wall, because I doubt it allows for much comfort.
– Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her. Please do not direct spoilers at her. Thanks!
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Bit of a delay between these installments because I was in the process of and completed moving halfway across the world (with 3 dogs). With that, I have other online assets that I have responsibilities to as well, so my time to directly contribute here has been scarce (I do edit/post all of the other material though), but ww should back to semi-normal now, though the holidays and a first quarter of 2011 facelift at BSC may delay me slightly. I will mention that we have something extra prepared for aSoIaF fans that both Elena and I will be participating in coming up as well. So, back to my native country but perhaps much like Jon going to the Wall, I’m experiencing a bit of culture shock. I don’t understand why everyone cares how I’m doing and feels the need to greet me every time I enter within a 15 foot proximity field around them, but hell, at least there is no vow of celibacy. Elena has had this chapter and the next chapter done for awhile now so we should be back on track. Problem is, even before this transition I really didn’t have a whole lot to say about this chapter, it being a bit of scenic interlude that is and exudes this feeling of traveling, of movement, almost as if his Georgeness was trying to tell me, ‘Jay go and move, I’m carrying you on this leg”. How do they begin? Not much unlike my own travels.
They had left Winterfell on the same day as the king, amidst all the commotion of the royal departure, riding out to the sound of men shouting and horses snorting, to the rattle of wagons and the groaning of the queen’s huge wheelhouse.
Love it because in the chapter before this, Robert and Ned joke about burning the damn wagon. Again, these are little things Martin does (or I pretend that he does) to connect chapters. I do want to go back for a moment because the wheelhouse itself just blows my mind, from the first Eddard chapter:
The wheelhouse in which they had ridden, a huge double-decked carriage of oiled oak and gilded metal pulled by forty heavy draft horses, was too wide to pass through the castle gate.
Now, I fully admit my knowledge of horses and wagon combos started at Santa and Rudolph and proudly ends at Back to the Future III, but that seems a like a lot of horses. I also picture the size of Wintefell’s gate, and while I would wager it’s not one of the largest in the 7 kingdoms, I have to think it’s still pretty damn large. The idea the king and queen can’t fit their car into one of the most powerful men on the continent’s garage has always stood out to me, even if not meant to be an intentional evaluation comparing the Stark/North and Royal line, which I think in this case – even with Robert’s characteristic of excess – is pointing more at the queen and indirectly, House Lannister.
We then get into a couple of passages of the landscape, which while a staple of epic fantasy, is something both lifetime detractors and/or the current cool rail against because they heard Tolkien did it. The idea that going back to same basic joys of imagination — perhaps once aided by and given physical form via Lego, Lincoln Logs, and now various software – is a step back…because you know…engineers, city planners, architects, and people who use to make fucking maps and embellish locational icons so people wouldn’t get lost leaving their neighborhood or site of their coast….those people are all immature assholes who are too shallow to find fascination in our own world, right? So are several other skilled professionals I know who moonlight with dice bags, pens sharpened, and stacks of paper in an increasingly paperless world. I tend to find people who have the time to articulate distaste for something called world-building, or rather, someone’s enjoyment of it, as people who are most shallow and most in need of a world built around them that includes a Hodor hug. Martin, however, would perhaps pass the test of the obscure cynic-authority because while he had a moment when Bran was describing his ascent earlier, this opening establishes land as a character. You hear that a lot, right? So much so we aren’t impressed when other say or repeat it, but reading this chapter we are in an environment that man is merely still the visitor, a character that never leaves but is also one that is allowed to drift back into the background as we, as he, gets acclimated. There are no inns, the names of locales belonged to animals, this is the wild, perhaps only Ghost fits in, and even he not entirely. Due to the nature of the POV it’s only natural that we’d see a highly observant POV, if it was a Benjen chapter it would be a bit different. To observe, learn and experience is WHY Tyrion went. He quantifies it himself in another discussion in this chapter, he is sharpening his mind.
Tyrion sighed. “You are remarkably polite for a bastard, Snow. What you see is a dwarf. You are what, twelve?”
“Fourteen,” the boy said.
Because of the R+L=J and numerous other theories, the age of Jon as he knows it is an interesting tidbit. He says he’s 14, though it’s semi-interesting to note that Tyrion says twelve first. It’s only semi-interesting because I’m betting most of us can’t tell what age most people are and getting it by 2 years is generally a win. Regardless it’s a nice bit of dialogue to put in just to have it hanging because it – Tyrion’s guess – is otherwise rather useless to have noted for any other reason. This easy discussion is a bit different from a certain perspective when we move to the info dump identified by Elena. It ultimately succeeds because it’s personal, but as a re-reader it does have this odd quality of being almost too obvious or abrupt in implication and was really bothering me until I considered some more. The use of stereotypes by Martin is often discussed but this is one of the most simple and powerful (which also makes it one of the most easily targeted). Tyrion, who can easily be described as character that pulls on strings that fantasy reader may be able to relate to is in fact a fan of fantasy. Sure, dragons existed and did so relatively recently but if you use even Jon’s- a child’s- reaction is one reader of fantasy expect to get from “normal” people. Tyrion opens up like one of us would when we feel like we have safely identify a kindred spirit, and in general, as a reader there is this odd and perhaps even unique satisfaction of running into another fan of fantasy. One would think Tyrion found few friends and as I’ve noted before, he seems to like taking on a “guiding” role (Podrick later, scolds Joff etc), perhaps in some measure to be the father that his wasn’t?
“What good is that? There are no more dragons,”
I really hate the Tyrion Targaryen theory. I like talking about it, love the idea, but would hate it to be reality. I’m also not saying the way Martin would spin it wouldn’t be great or that it doesn’t have some circumstantial (purposely) merit, or that’s it’s not even fun, but everything I love about Tyrion is based on the fact that he is a Lannister. It’s connected to why I like Jaime and why I find Cersei deplorable (though I like her as a character), and the beauty is that all 3 are the same brood. The kinslaying, however, is this aspect that fandom has taken to be an inevitable, deathblow and the theory provides a way out. It would also make the initial meeting between Jon and Tyrion a bit corny in my mind (re-read it), though I know some would just gobble it up. Of course the obvious mention of dreaming of dragons (not necessarily a dragon dream) is also dropped here. I, for one, think fascination with dragons is plausible just as it is and I think the vast majority of people who pick up this series can at least in someway recall a person that would share in such musings. Even more, Tyrion never struck me as a character that had to survive the next book, much less the series, and I’m speaking of perhaps my favorite character in the entire genre. I could easily see Tyrion becoming a footnote in Jaime’s life after reading the latter’s development in A Feast for Crows, a book that, for all the shit it gets, for me firmly elevates Jaime into one of the great characters in fantasy himself. Do you think Tyrion is destined to survive?
“Dragonbone is black because of its high iron content, the book told him. It is strong as steel, yet lighter and far more flexible, and of course utterly impervious to fire. Dragonbone bows are greatly prized by the Dothraki, and small wonder. An archer so armed can outrange any wooden bow.”
My readers are at it again! It is shocking how many rather important elements – ignored or heeded- directly come from books in this series. Think about it, it’s rather startling! It’s not altogether a coincidence that the one noble known for perhaps reading too much died too early to keep the whole damn realm from falling apart. Yes, big bully/jock Baratheon had to pick on and kill the future king of nerds, because the jock couldn’t take that the geek took his girl. Yes, Martin even foresaw the bullying epidemic of 2010. His spin on it was that Rhaegar was actually a pimp though, a guy – almost like a movie star – that has prime women decades later still randomly thinking about him.
Fantasy fans may be condition to brush over some historical info dumps. Let’s be honest, rarely do they come into play beyond an author trying to vaguely establish age and tradition of their setting. Martin is somewhat unique in that you ignore his history lessons at the risk of your reading enjoyment’s peril. Or is it? It’s easy to miss stuff, little stuff that doesn’t matter that could if unchecked completely lead you to avoid somewhat important questions. I talked to Elena yesterday and she had a perfectly reasonable question which really had to do with her not remembering whose children were butchered during the sack of King’s Landing. She didn’t know how the queen could be killed, while also escaping to Dragonstone—asking if perhaps the King had two wives. Let’s be honest, it is more than possible that a reader could read this book, enjoy it, and not give on extra thought to Rhaegar or his kids. Many had, have, and will, yet to us, this is a tragedy as the backstory has for many of us become as or more interesting than the generation we are currently chronicling. You can’t not enjoy a mystery if you’re not aware of it, but even as someone who experienced the very same initial reading experience, it’s hard for me to believe, or rather hard for me to suffer someone not getting the whole story. It gnaws at me in ways like keeping a secret you don’t want to keep does. I am, however, resolute. It does speak to this idea that Martin even minus all of the herrings and layers that make this series a great piece of fiction, wrote an initial layer, the gift wrap, that is simply a top shelf fantasy novel on its own. It’s kind of an opposite of experiment we normally see with fantasy, where if something misses we generally end up with something that’s completely nonsensical and unreadable and loses that core for the sake of an attempt at something greater. It’s a leap, but Martin took it like a sure-footed step, so adroit, he doesn’t get enough credit for it. He made it look easy.
Elena mentions it above, but having read beyond I do love the early power check of dragons, establishing how a small number could offset a disparity in size of opposing armies. Three healthy dragons has shown to be enough to topple continents, and in relatively recent time, which is a key for me. Why? I often find it hard to believe situations where others would place it 10,000 years ago yet we’d still live in a world that had not developed anti-dragon, laser guided, smart bullet. No, Aegon’s conquering happened recently enough, but far enough that you may have to pick up a book to read a full half-truth or so about, thus the birth of a generation’s fantasy, or at least historical fiction. It also serves as this Lord of the Rings removal pill. The Nazgul, while looking kind of badass — especially the Witch King of Agmar – kind of gave the modern beastrider a bad name — silly arrows by puny humans driving them off. I always hate those books that have this awesome element, but WAIT humans can persevere. No, brother, medieval man would have nothing for a Cobra Rattler.
The big question, however, is why they aren’t around now? I’m glad Elena asks it as it’s way too obvious not too, so obviously, many wouldn’t.
I am exactly the sort of bitch who takes you at your word, so if you tell me “no I don’t mind” when you really do…that’s your problem to deal with, not mine.
She’s not just saying that! I overpaid her last month by an article and to test her (I had read this piece some weeks before) I told her not to sweat it after she informed me of the payment. Most people would have at least given one more chance to offer it back or as credit for the next piece, but nah, she just took it! It’s refreshing and I appreciate it because I told her to keep it because it was the least time consuming reply I could give and she didn’t betray my sentiment with an extracurricular fake volley. I dare say it was like a Tywin and Kevan moment. In this, crown and faith are one.
I’m curious to meet Papa Lannister now
Is this the time to get into Tywin? I want to get this one up so I’m just going to say (and we’ve touched on this in comments of previous installments) is that I’m a big fan. As a ruler of a great house, I’m not so sure it got better than Tywin. He’s got some jacked up kids, but I tend to view Tywin as the alpha in this setting as we enter it, and that has to mean something.
The final piece of this chapter that got me thinking was the part about who is in the guard on the Wall, that it’s not a bunch of men like Jon and Uncle Benji (speaking of whom…what made him decide to answer the noble calling?)
This perplexes me too. It seems likely that Benjen was still in play during Robert’s Rebellion so we are talking only two Starks siblings of that generation alive, not a huge surplus if one considers the size of other families. Only Ned could have ordered Benjen to the wall (barring the King himself, which is highly doubtful without Ned’s consent) so one assumes he went by choice. But let’s not talk about Benjen of House Stark, and First Ranger of the Night’s Watch. Let’s instead talk about another, one I think we appreciate a bit more later. In the meantime, however, please do share some Benjen thoughts.
Yoren was stooped and sinister, his features hidden behind a beard as black as his clothing, but he seemed as tough as an old root and as hard as stone
Yoren had a twisted shoulder and a sour smell, his hair and beard were matted and greasy and full of lice, his clothing old, patched, and seldom washed.
There will be no songs about Yoren, he will not be remarked on in the annals, and we aren’t painted a pretty picture upon meeting him. He is in many ways the optimal brother in black. In truth, the picture never changes, but our thoughts on its quality has to. We don’t know a lot about Yoren, but he seems to embody what we’d think of as a perfect knight if he had the name and title to associate with it. Dutiful, observant, and from what we can tell a more than passing man with a blade—his end is pretty epic. I always try to consider Yoren, a man we know who has been collecting for the Night’s Watch for decades and how he must have felt regarding its decline. I don’t feel him here, but it is when Ned falls that I do. Consider that Ned Stark was supposed to be able to take the Black and it was Yoren who was to deliver him. What a coup that is for the Wall – Ned being almost as optimal a choice you could find in the 7 Kingdoms for that station. Do we think he was a shoe-in to rise to Lord Commander? Yoren was about to come back with the former Warden of the North and Hand of the King, potentially a grandfather to the next King. Hell, earlier he even told Catelyn:
The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good and all.”
Sure, he’s completely wrong (no, not Ned!) but this is not a man who was not anywhere near done. Ned would never say those words in bravado to his wife, you could bet that he was going to do it and lead himself (probably when Rob was of the age to govern Winterell). Yoren suffers the loss, save Ned’s whelp, and keeps on truckling for the cause. He saves or attempts to save children of my favorite duo, Robert and Ned.
Let’s give Yoren some love. Also, new drinking game: take a sip at every “Benji”, we’re back!
– originally published 12/20/2010
Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the Boomtron empire. She likes genre books, weird movies, and obscure references. She lives in New Orleans, where almost every day is good enough for good times. You can follow her reviews and commentaries at Boomtron.
Jay is a silent partner in Extensive Enterprises, a bastard child of Amber, an Eleint Soletaken, a probable Targaryen, and was the second-to-last Starfighter.