She’s new, she’s the re-re-reader. She’s the newbie, she’s the spoilery vet. Together they’re rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting their POV on. Today they move on to Chapter 21, a Tyrion chapter continuing a journey that began last year.
My macro thought upon finishing this chapter is that Tyrion Lannister, thus far in the book, has existed as a character to exposit information about the world more than as a character central to any action. Obviously he will get pulled into it soon enough with the whole Tyrion’s-dagger-was-aimed-at-Bran thing, but for now he hasn’t had his own story so much as he’s been there to aid other people’s stories. His first chapter was to show us who his siblings are, his second chapter was basically an excuse to dump historical information about the world (and dragons), and this, his third chapter, was a way to deliver information about the state of affairs at The Wall that could not have come to, or perhaps been as reliably delivered to the reader by the other point-of-view character there–Jon Snow.
Two specific parts of this perception of the chapter. First is simply the adult, experienced, objective observer view of the men in the upper echelon of command at Castle Black. Jon might consider Ser Alliser incompetent and abusive, but given their adversarial relationship, Jon’s opinion could not be considered reliable by the reader. Tyrion’s can be. I think it was very important for us to get a “clear” perspective on the men around Jon, so that if he has the same thoughts about them as his story progresses up there at the end of the world, then we can believe them to be valid instead of always wondering if they are the resentful thoughts of a boy who doesn’t yet understand the world he’s in.
The second function to Tyrion’s information-sharing is that he is privy to details Jon Snow would never get, or at least not for years…basically until he becomes a full-blown member of the watch. That’s what the entire section with Lord Mormont is about–telling the reader how dire the situation is, and in contrast to what it used to be, as the commander lays out the situation for an outsider who might have some influence at court. Jon would never have been told this information directly like this, and especially not early enough in his stay there to set up the scene properly for the future narrative.
And let’s be real: the state of affairs at Castle Black is pretty fucking bleak. There are almost no trained knights in the guard anymore, and half of those who are there were loyalists to the old king, who took the black in lieu of execution. Mormont specifies that he has three men for every mile of Wall (even if it is really three and a half, as Tyrion corrects, that’s still as good as no defense at all against a concerted attack). The most haunting line in all of that was “once the Watch spent its summers building, and each Lord Commander raised the Wall higher than he found it. Now it is all we can do to stay alive.”
That’s a chilling statement.
All of this paves the way quite nicely for Jon to come in and do exactly what he tells Tyrion to tell Robb he will–become the Watch commander. He has ambition and a need to prove himself, he’s been trained in the basic skills required alongside his brother, and now he’s been put in a situation where his life is over before it’s begun and where there is a serious power void…open opportunity. Small wonder he’s seen that inside of 2 months there. And while he might have said that as a joke to Tyrion or aimed at Robb, I think he also meant it.
I really loved the scene up there on the Wall between Tyrion and Jon. It seems like that’s where both of them realize they have become friends, and it’s just in time to part ways. I don’t know whether it’s a testament to their lives, as outcasts, or the loneliness for an intellectual and cultural peer up there in the North that they became bonded so quickly. Maybe some of both.
I also loved Jon making a point to ask Tyrion to talk to Bran. When he says “you gave me help when I needed it” what he means, I think, is that Tyrion gave him truth. More than anything Bran would need truth in order to understand what he must now overcome.
Tyrion described his deciding to go back up on the Wall one last time as “a strange madness,” but I found it a very natural human impulse. When you are confronted with something you’ll never be able to do again you therefore want to do it one last time. I wrote “such a human thing,” in the margin. Also, I love how the men who run the cage were like “look all you want, WEIRDO.” Obviously they did not join the Watch out of some grand vision of saving the world. The Wall is not a source of wonder to them, merely lifelong misery and/or the thing that they owe their lives to.
Also, just while I’m on the subject of the Wall, how telling is it that it’s described as “wider than the kings road often was”? That’s a very clear visual of how wide this structure is, and yet at the same time an indictment on the conditions of the kingdom overall, that the kings road at times does narrow un-majestically in places.
There are several small moments I want to call out.
The discussion of Gared deserting…why did no one take his forswearing himself seriously? Are conditions in the Watch really that bad that even the old lord commander has considered it? Because it sounded to me like it was unexpected that Gared deserted, so why would he randomly do that?
Also, the knowledge that we have of what he saw in the prologue and then the “wait, no one knows why he ran off?” moment here, create a second moment of Ned Stark making a decision according to his code, acting on it, and later realizing (or we realize) what a dumb thing it was. Did he even listen to old Gared before executing him? Did he bother to send someone to Castle Black to verify either his sanity or his story? Nope…just killed him dead for deserting his post, paid no heed to his “ramblings,” and now no one will have no warning when the Urskexis-looking motherfuckers come sweeping down from the North. (Obviously the first such moment for ole Neddy boy is his “oh, shit, maybe I shouldn’t have let Sansa’s wolf get killed” soliloquy after he hears Cat’s account of Summer saving Bran.)
Lord Mormont’s tell the king entreaty…Tyrion knows no one will listen, that even if he brings back a reliable first-hand report of those affairs that no one will care. Maybe Ned Stark would, so maybe it will be a good thing that he is the Hand, if he gets Tyrion’s report. Assuming he would trust a Lannister—although given how close that is to Winterfell, he’d probably take it seriously even coming from a Lannister. But what can Ned actually do to help the Watch if no one else is listening to the warning?
Is Lord Mormont another dreamer like Bran and the spider?–he does have that relationship with the ravens, and he talks about seeing darker things in his dreams…. Or is he simply afraid of the long winter?
Do they not have reliable astronomy yet to predict these summer/winter cycles? Where’s the Westeros Mayans when you need them, damn.
Tyrion plays to expectations of people he doesn’t like–he acts the circus clown with Ser Alliser, but not with people who take him seriously and/or whom he seems to like. It was odd to find the whole table laughing, because I didn’t find it funny—and then I wondered, were they laughing at the buffoonery of a dwarf or at Ser Alliser?
No bigger picture thoughts other than what I mentioned about Jon and Ned. So to sign out on this one, I’m going to start a new feature with chapters that have Tyrion in them, because he is so damn quotable–Tyrion’s Axiom of the Week. This time around: “If a man paints a target on his chest, he should expect that sooner or later someone will loose an arrow at him.”
Well. I mean, duh.
– 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–
Tyrion’s Axiom of the Week. Yes! I love this idea. Perhaps we should temper that with a Ravenism of the Week, “Corn?”
Elena has said this before, that Tyrion is the ultimate observer and resident infodumper of Westeros. I’ve long held that Tyrion is Martin’s avatar within the story. We’ve got a guy who is a very astute and objective observer despite an upbringing and family that should make him anything but objective. He should be a hateful, scheming, evil asshole. But he’s not. He’s probably the most moral and thoughtful character in the entire story. I guess that’s because Tyrion benefits from an author’s experience. Plus, don’t we the reader just NEED someone we can trust in? Someone we can just “get”? We’re talking about a guy who falls in love with his whores and marries them! He never even throws Sansa off a cliff and I totally would have! NERDS RULE! But I agree with Elena, Tyrion is the font of knowledge for us. If he thinks it we know it’s good and right and accurate. But I think that has a root in the fact that Tyrion is US. Jon is who we wish we were and Tyrion is who we are.
I also agree with Elena that Tyrion’s higher status gives us a baseline to judge Jon’s evolving opinions. In fantasy we often get a Ben Kenobie-type. An old wizard or a warrior teacher that guides and teaches the young hero. Who teaches him that the world is not black and white and that hard choices must be made. Jon doesn’t really have anyone like that. In fact he often acts that way for Samwell early on, which at points is like the blind leading the naked. But the simple fact is that Jon is a new recruit, noble blood or not, and he isn’t going to get the juicy information that we need to keep our interest. Tyrion gets the good shit. He always will.
I absolutely love the scene where Jon and Tyrion clasp hands in friendship. I’ve been known to go on and on about the Dragon having three heads and Dany being in need of two other heads. I doubt she’ll consent to remarrying or entering into any kind of sexually based relationship but I can see her making a marriage of the mind. Smarty siblings! What better allies could Dany get than Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister? I mean I know neither of them bring her any significant martial support but Tyrion is well versed in Westerosi politics (the ups… the downs…and he’s got Varys on his side now) and Jon has all the lovely honor! I dunno.. we’ll see what happens but they say Tyrion is very blond (and there’s that manifestation of all that Targaryen inbreeding in the deformations and madness etc but I highly doubt old Lady of Lannister was an adulteress) and we all know what I think about Jon Snow.
Is there any real evidence that Varys is a dreamer? I don’t think so and the idea that he is a warg of some kind and that his “little birds” are actual little birds is a red herring. I just don’t believe that. There are hidden passages and every servant in the Keep belongs to him. Way simpler explanation for his uncanny ability to know everyone’s business. Mostly. And I’m sorta sick of all the really good mysteries being solved with magic. What’s more likely (and let’s just go way left field and try this out) is that Varys is one of the Unsullied. STAY WITH ME ON THIS. They’re incredibly capable and dedicated and tough, willing to endure almost anything to reach a goal. I’m still working on the exact means of his recruitment but it would be a lovely little continental connection for the Targaryen story line, no? If Dany’s power lies in the loyalty of her Unsullied armies and Varys seems to have proven himself as an always loyal Targaryen servant and we don’t believe a frakkin’ word he’s ever uttered about his own past PLUS the fact that when he disguised himself as a soldier while talking to Illyrio he wore the conical cap of the Unsullied… then Varys could be just one eunuch in a never ending line of them! The best one! (Disclaimer: I may have irrational love for Varys due to his great similarity to my very favorite eunuch, Count Hasimir Fenring. Google it.) I CAN SEE THIS. Can you see it?
These books may bring out my crazed inner theory maker.
Let’s talk about the decline of the Night’s Watch. We know that the Starks have a tradition of upholding the honor of the position and blahbitty blah, but why wasn’t Ned getting regular reports from his brother? Did Ned know that the wall was in such dire need of decent men? I’m sure he did. I’m sure, like everyone else South of the wall, that he figured there wasn’t much to worry about anymore and that at best it was an empty honor. Tyrion doesn’t even get around to telling anybody that the wall needs men until the third book and Tywin definitely does NOT care. It’s actually a big plot hole. If the Starks care so much about the North and tradition and honor than why wasn’t Ned pulling some old favors with Robert and demanding more young third and fourth sons from the rest of the great houses for the Wall? WHY NOT? Oh Ned.. you are not a planner. You are.. what are you Ned?
Before I close out, since we’re up at Castle Black let’s have a discussion. Differences between Wights and Others? Anyone? Zombies and Ghosts? Zombies and Mummies? Zombies and faster smarter bigger Zombies with special swords? I don’t get it. I think I’m not having a strong reaction to the live action versions (was there a difference at all?) because I’m still not sure what the crap I should be nitpicking over. Mostly I just hope they show us zombified horses with 20 feet of intestines being ridden around. THEY HAD BETTER! (and I’m not even going to start ranting about Dondarrion and Zombie-Cat and what is UP with that and is it related to the Others.. no I’m just going to stop.)
Varys serves the realm. Whatever that means.
1. Glad to see you joining this series! I’ve been really enjoying your Dune reread.
2. Can’t imagine Varys being an Unsullied. He clearly has mummer skills, and I don’t think there’s much performing arts training going on in Slaver Bay. And he’s not described as looking like he was ever particularly buff. And Unsullied aren’t just raised to be “dedicated”, they’re raised to blindly follow orders, pretty much the opposite of Varys.
3. Wights vs. Others: basically zombies vs. witchy demony zombie-makers.
Others are the dudes Waymar Royce tried to have a swordfight with in the prologue. From that brief description and Sam’s encounter with them later, they seem to look sort of like goth elves, not really anything you’d mistake for a human being, with armor and weapons made out of unearthly materials. If you kill them, they dissolve into nothing. They’re intelligent, they talk, they have a Plan.
Wights are dead people/animals that the Others have brought back to life. They just look like corpses with black hands. You can only kill them by chopping them or burning them. They don’t talk, they don’t do anything except try to kill you with their bare hands.
Also, people who are killed by Others get brought back as wights– but people who are killed by wights stay dead, so it’s not the contagious kind of zombie.
Ya know I just re-read the passage where Dany first sees the Unsullied in the third novel, and yea Varys doesn’t fit that description at all but there is a passage where the slaver mentions that unsullied have been known to “forget what they are” blah bitty blah. i know its really out there and probably untrue but i have a need to connect events in Westeros with events in Essos.
And.. I’d always just imagined the Others as the same as the wights, they just have blue eyes and dissolve when you stab ’em with dragon glass.
Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but isn’t Yoren sent to King’s Landing to get recruits and is helped by Ned? I’m pretty sure that’s how Yoren was able to recognize Arya and save her towards the end of the novel…
Oh yes, but he’s in King’s Landing begging for men from the dungeons and other criminals.
I’m just saying that Ned doesn’t seem to be really pushing to send honorable, trained knights to the wall.
I thought Varys’s “little birds” were pretty much accepted as children. The first hint is the conversation that Arya overhears in a couple chapters, and I believe its pretty much stated later on in the books.
Yeah, when Arya spies on Varys and Illyrio plotting down in the basement, Varys complains that he needs more little birds, and they mention how hard it is to train them to write at that age.
There’s also Varys’s short speech about his backstory, and his absolute hatred of magic, which Tyrion thought seemed honest, and certainly seemed sincere.
I think the interesting thing about Tyrion is that as objective an observer as he is about most things, when he DOES have bias, he gets it BAD. Especially in his relations with his dad and his little girlfriend later on.
Crap.. I’m going to have to go read that part again.
a Thief is probably just about as good, a trained tracker of men. The wall takes outcasts, plain and simple. The fact that Starks see the wall as an honorable place for Benjen is a big abberation.
The southron kingdoms view the Wall as a place exclusively for outcasts and criminals. The North and the few southron houses closely associated with the North seems to have that view along with the view that it can be a noble and honorable calling. We have Benjen Stark, Jeor Mormont, and Waymar Royce as examples of that. Granted Mormont and Royce (perhaps Stark too, though we don’t know enough about that) had reasons in addition to it being an honorable path but I’m willing to bet that a Florent faced with similar circumstances wouldn’t choose that path.
You shouldn’t be too hard on Ned Re: The Wall.
The thing is, the North is poor. When the Starks go to war, they’re hard pressed to field twenty thousand soldiers, and that’s after taking men away from farming their fields.
Ned does recognise the usefulness of the Wall, he doesn’t believe that it protects against The Others, but he does believe that it stops the Wildlings from razing the North. That’s why he’s willing to call the banners and fight Mance Rayder. But, so long as the Wildlings don’t come in force against the Wall, there’s no real impetus for him to send men to the Wall, and, there’s a real incentive for him not to, since it would take away useful farmhands.
Not sure if anyone will pick this up, but the Starks-failing-to-protect-the-North issue troubles me and I think it’s a genuine plot hole. If the Starks truly have “the blood of the First Men in their veins” and still worship the old gods AND inspire loyalty amongst other Northern Houses (Red Wedding traitor Bolton excepted) then why on earth do they fail their primary role as Wardens of the North?
Why during the Starks rein is the Wall so poorly manned and poorly maintained? Why are the Starks content with a recruitment policy that uses “dregs from the cells” and a few traitorous or semi-retired knights?
I’ll take this further. As well as the Starks failing to man the Wall, or supporting it, bar lending a Benjen and a Bastard, they were equally culpable on every other border. We don’t see much of White Harbour (I’ve only read until Book III, pt 2 – perhaps FFC goes there?) but nowhere is it suggested that the Northern coastal towns were well defended, and the lack of a navy to defend the northern coastline was made explicit around the time of Theon’s Landing.
So that’s three of four sides poorly defended. Well at least they would have control of the Neck, at least, or have their most loyal lords there? That would be sensible, you would think. Nope – the Freys don’t seem very trustworthy ever, and we know how that goes later on. The marshmen are pals, but seem to be easily by-passable. For sure the Tullys at Riverrun are allies, but Riverrun seems to be a very defensible fort in itself but not positioned well to block the Neck and difficult to send forces out from it.
So, of course, the Starks would man and support Moat Cailin, correct? Just out of a sense of tradition of the Starks “protecting the North”. Nope, deserted, and easily occupied and defended by dudes in ships who rebelled recently, and had reason to hate the Starks. Bizarre. We never get the impression that the North wants for fighting men or martial spirit in the early books, so why these ridiculous oversights? It undermines Martin’s assertion of tough, hard northerners.
As with any other reader, I read the books hoping for good things to happen to the Starks – they never do. But perhaps they deserve all they get. On my first ever read through, I stopped reading and threw the book across the room in disgust when Robb gets Frey-ed. But this time around I’m less Stark-tolerant.
Ned absolutely did talk to Gared in the first chapter. For all his faults, that wasn’t one of them. The book doesn’t give details (just says ‘words were exchanged’ or something like that, if I remember correctly.) My take of it was that Gared was too frightened to answer, or Ned didn’t believe him (It’s the essential equivalent of saying ‘I deserted from the U.S. Army because… Bigfoot attacked me!’)