Chapter 3 brings us Targaryens! She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are going through George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. Check out our thoughts on the second chapter, our intro to Catelyn Stark, from last week, and now we move on to my girl, Daenerys Targaryen!
A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
It’s…let us say, interesting for me to be reading a book in this manner. (This manner being stopping every chapter to think about and react to what I just read.) For a couple reasons, actually.
First, reading it with a friend like Jay who is on his fifteenth re-read (or something like that) and really enthusiastic about the fact that I’m reading it. He can’t wait for me to get to certain characters and pieces in the narrative, and he seems to be having a lot of fun aiming obscure and veiled comments at me regarding my analysis and/or impressions of characters and situations. Case in point, this email exchange about this chapter:
JAY: Also, do you love or hate Dany! IMHO will be interesting chapter for you!
ME: It’s hard to say whether I love or hate Dany. Certainly her situation made me deeply uncomfortable…but I don’t know enough about her and how she’s ultimate going to react to say. Right now, I lean toward liking her. But that may be just because I hope at some point she uses a knife or poison on some arsehole like her brother or Illyrio, and right now she seems like she might…if she’s a doormat the whole time I’ll probably start to despise her.
JAY: Machinations, Elena, machinations!
ME: So you’re saying her brother’s doing it because he knows she’ll kill a motherfucker and he’ll still get the army? Lol. [This was just my making a reach for the sake of conversation; it’s not necessarily a theory I subscribe to…yet.]
JAY: That would be Brooksish, you gotta go 50 times deeper.
It went off-topic from there (to the realm of Harry Potter and how predicting the last book in that series was entirely different from trying to predict a series like ASOIAF with so many more than 2 ballers involved), but that gives you an idea. So I read that last remark and just sort of thought, “Does it GO 50 times deeper?” Jay assures me it does, but right now I’m still on my first introduction to most of the major characters so I have no idea how many layers of manipulation and Westley vs. Sicilian “If I think this then you think that because you know I think this but I know you know I think this so I really think THAT but you know I know you know I know…,” etc., are, strictly speaking, even possible. So right now, alas, I can’t conceive 50 times deeper because I don’t even have the measuring stick for what the multiplier is to begin with.
But the fact that I’m trying to look even 2 times deeper brings me to my second point about reading this way: I’m finding myself incapable of taking anything at face value. It’s…interesting. I am in truth a fairly lazy reader, by which I mean I tend to read great swaths of narrative in one sitting and just read them—as opposed to stopping often to think about them—because I prefer to let the writer exposit for me via telling or showing what is going on, vs. me actually scouring the text for clues to what happens next. Since, you know, when I’m reading on my normal schedule I can just fucking keep reading to find out.
On the flip side, I am a reflexive re-reader; basically I count a book as a fail if I finish it and know that I will never want to re-read it again (barring things like American Psycho, which I never want to read again for reasons of nightmares of battery-exploded titties and hands stapled to the floor, and not because I was unengaged by the book itself). So normally I don’t stop and think through context clues unless they’re really glaringly obvious, because I read quickly and, as I said, in big chunks, thus chances are good that I’m going to read to the point of revelation before I stop reading for that session and thereby start to think.
I look at clues/foreshadowings on the second read, when I’m not so concerned about finding out what happens in a narrative sense but looking at the grace (or lack thereof) with which the author built up the actual Happenings in a craft-of-writing sense. So this is a different reading mode for me, to be sitting here wondering if Viserys’s hands shake because he’s mad (insane) or just mad (pissed off), as opposed to just noting it subconsciously and having a moment of “ah, THAT’s what it meant” 10 or 200 pages from now in Daenerys 2 or Daenerys 12.
Anyway, enough macro thoughts from me. What did I think about this chapter? Did I love Dany, or hate her?
Well, like I said…I’m not sure. The chapter did remind me that Martin’s name always seems to come up when the biannual “misogyny in fantasy” discussions pop up around forums and the SFF blogosphere (one more thing I had heard about him going in, I guess), but it’s not an accusation I throw around lightly, so I’m not sold on it yet. Simply portraying a misogynistic society does not a misogynist make. As a female reader, it did make me uncomfortable to see a woman—girl, even—treated as chattel.
Made me glad that I grew up when and where I did, so that any nipple-tweak from my brother got met with a titty-twist of my own on him, or just a swift kick aimed at the nuts. Regardless of whether I could land a blow, feeling able to fight back was all I needed; I hate the fact that Dany feels unable to do so. Hopefully she’s just biding her time till it hits a breaking point…that’s an acceptable strategy. But if her entire narrative purpose is to be victimized, well, that’s going to get old fast.
I will say this, after having seen the big M-G label leveled at these books, I did find myself being hyper-critical of moments that seemed more like prurient titillation than narrative purpose. The one that really stood out was the scented oil “on the tips of the breasts.” Yeah…the purpose of scents is to be placed in highly blooded areas. Behind the ears and at the wrists, check. Between the boobies, check, but on the tips? That’s just a waste of scent AND a promotion of needless chafing. Apparently Illyrio isn’t rich enough to hire competent servants; that’s what I got out of that.
The main thing I got took from the chapter is that the brother, Viserys, is being manipulated. Dany can see it, or at least suspects it; I have no idea whether he himself realizes it or not. His willingness to be fed patronizing platitudes suggests not, but I suppose that could be a strategy on his part to appear to be that naïve and be trying to manipulate his manipulators with that act. But…
“Do you take me for a fool?”
“No, I take you for a king.”
Yeah, no, he meant fool. Just a fool who won’t tolerate being called a fool…thus an even bigger fool.
Details I wondered about in my not being able to take things at face value:
Is the brother’s hand shake madness? Or some kind of genetic deformity?
Is she really his full sister? If she was born “9 moons later” that could imply that the mother had to buy their passage or protection with something besides gold. Or got raped along the way when her son didn’t know it.
Is he really the “true” king, or was his family a usurper of an older order? Or so corrupted and incompetent that any notion of divine right would be overturned by their divine ineffectualness? I didn’t immediately sympathize with him as some lost, true heir to the throne.
Is the “barbarian” her brother wants to marry Dany to really as nasty as her first impression of him, in which a look in his eye frightened her more than her brother ever has? I may be betraying myself as a reader of romance novels when I say this, but in almost all the medieval romances I’ve read (as well as a good many later historical periods), that is exactly the first impression the heroine has of the hero.
So this could go one of several ways…he’s as disgusting and frightening as he first appears, and either Dany is a perpetual victim or that fact about him pushes her out of it, or her brother is scheming to have him murdered after the marriage and it’s only temporary anyway; or he’s not, and he perhaps becomes a shield against her brother, if Viserys is the real villain; or perhaps something else entirely that my wee brain can’t come up with just yet.
Final point, it will be interesting to have this new perspective on the king as the “usurper” before actually seeing him on page, especially given the impression of him from the Starks wasn’t exactly positive, either. Is the king about to become my favorite character, just because everything has to be turned on its head in this book? Ha! I will say this, right now I like the Starks a helluva lot better than the Targaryens, but it’s still very early on, and I’m trying to keep an open mind….
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Sounds like we got a live one right? To some degree Elena sounds like the majority I’ve put on to A Song of Ice and Fire (an experience that I’m sure is shared by many), and thus far I’m (with a little help from some guy named George R.R Martin) flexing a 100% conversion rate. Indeed I do have my birdies keeping an eye on Elena, not to directly influence, never that, but instead just getting my Baelish on, giving her a knife, half-truth and misdirection. If I knew I was going to be quoted I’d have made sure I came off more magisterial but we keep it real, and my emails are usually sparse and probably resemble Umbers on a deadline. This is a tough chapter that really makes me choose between coasting a bit, hitting the obvious points, and talk about surrounding elements as they come up later and are more applicable.
I think here I run the risk of getting bogged down in minutia and history because now we are talking Targaryens and get introduced to a player in Illyrio Mopatis, a character who is (we think) as “in the know” as any character can be in this series regarding the big picture. I’m not so sure what I ended up doing this time – and I’m depending on the readers to call me out this week (they’ve already pointed out some gems for me in previous chapters) – but let’s get to it. I do want to apologize for my portion being haphazard this week, but some personal (pet) issues have come up and I want to get this up so we can move on and maintain some semblance of a schedule.
“King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” – Barristan the Bold
Viserys has lost everything. None of it through any fault of his own (though worry not, he’s diligently dedicated the rest of his life to complicity) and he’s probably crazy as the above quote indicates is sometimes the case with Targaryens, likely due to the family tradition of incest that’s touched on by Dany in this chapter. I like characters that tend rub others the wrong way (Sansa, Theon, Waymar Royce, even Darkstar), but Viserys is indefensible. Rather, he’s perfectly defensible, which speaks volumes about his qualities as shown to look right past them and hate him.
The murder of almost his entire family, being exiled from his home, the probable mental health issues is the very definition of McFly’s heavy, and probably would make your neighbor or TV set scold you for thinking ill of him, but his crime is worse than being stupid, scandalous, and cruel. I’ve disliked characters in other books because they annoyed me, but in those cases it was because they were poorly wrought.
This not the case here, where I think Martin was able to imbue the actual trait of being annoying in ways I’m not sure I have seen duplicated in my reading. Even in something like Steven Erikson’s novels where you have characters like an Iskaral Pust or Kruppe, their annoyance factor is wrapped in comedy. With them, it feel likes they will always have the last laugh, and are punchlines waiting to happen. Viserys is real deal annoying.
He’s a herb, his warning of “waking the dragon” accompanied by twisting his younger sister’s nipple. There’s nothing amusing about him, and while we may understand and even empathize with why he is broken, Martin already makes us feel like he deserves it. He does, however, serve a purpose in that his stories of Westeros to Dany is where we start getting some history to go along with the news we got in the last chapter. In some respect it is here that the world starts opening up. For those who know and love the series, we know that the concept of “history” is completely relative and unique to the teller.
The midnight flight to Dragonstone, moonlight shimmering on the ship’s black sails. Her brother Rhaegar battling the Usurper in the bloody waters of the Trident and dying for the woman he loved. The sack of King’s Landing by the ones Viserys called the Usurper’s dogs, the lords Lannister and Stark. Princess Elia of Dorne pleading for mercy as Rhaegar’s heir was ripped from her breast and murdered before her eyes.
Everything about this paragraph would make the reader believe that the two bolded portions are related. They may very well be in the context of this telling (in fact, they probably are), but for the re-reader it’s an odd separation or (less likely) tells us that Viserys was aware of another relationship. It could have just been the way the paragraph fell, but re-reading it, the breakdown choice is something that I caught and could serve as both Viserys meaning one woman, and a nugget for the re-reader simultaneously. It also explicitly notes the death of Rhaegar’s heir (Aegon), yet does not mention Rhaenys who was killed via a “half a hundred thrusts” at the same time of Aegon’s death. That Martin famously won’t commit to Aegon’s death just makes my head hurt, but as most have already guessed it allows for the possible future chicanery involving the the Mummer’s Dragon prophecy.
I’ve become fascinated with names, and specifically by which ones characters are introduced to us as. This chapter introduces us to names we have not yet been introduced to, though we know of one: The Usurper and Kingslayer.
Anytime I hear the latter I now always think of Jaime’s words later in the series, in how a single act labeled him forever. It’s also impossible to not want to know more about somebody called “the Kingslayer”. I don’t know about anyone else, but I remain completely interested in all things Rhaegar. Ser Willem Darry led the group of men who saved Viserys and Dany, the same man who Rhaegar went to for training when the Prince learned that he must become a warrior.
Though the kingdom he was the heir to fell due to treachery, Rhaegar himself seems one that inspires loyalty throughout the series (especially so if the scene at the Tower of Joy directly relates to him). I could be reaching, but history is full of what ifs? and Rhaegar himself seem to be the ultimate one in this series. In the comments of a previous installment I mentioned how much I appreciated the flashback of Jaime talking to Rhaegar before going off to the Trident in A Feast for Crows, because it showed us that no matter where, what or who else he had his head on, he was aware of and felt confident in rectifying issues with the current reign.
It’s doubly significant because it was one of our last moments of a Jaime who was still on the track of who he wanted to be (I just feel like the transition of this character is powerful). While he doesn’t live in the time line of his books, he’s as real a character as I’ve ever read, and often times I find myself considering this character of the past among my favorite to read, or at least read about in fantasy.
At first the magisters and archons and merchant princes were pleased to welcome the last Targaryens to their homes and tables, but as the years passed and the Usurper continued to sit upon the Iron Throne, doors closed and their lives grew meaner. Years past they had been forced to sell their last few treasures, and now even the coin they had gotten from Mother’s crown had gone. In the alleys and wine sinks of Pentos, they called her brother “the beggar king.” Dany did not want to know what they called her.
More on Illyrio in later Dany chapters, but the point here is that the guy is loaded, and per Dany he’s interested in the Targaryens even when all other patrons have had their fill. Even more loaded? Perhaps Dany’s groom, Drogo, who counts 100 thousand mounted warriors under his command. That’s an incredible number, even more so when later in the books you will get the numbers fielded by the various kingdoms in Westeros.
If nothing else, this point makes Viserys even more ridiculous, due to fact that the very deal he thinks he’s brokering makes him even more obsolete. Elena already pointed out the line where Illyrio can’t hold back a smile, but I like this line that occurred before: He rested his hand on the hilt of the sword that Illyrio had lent him. A “king” who has to borrow a sword for his own sister’s wedding is pretty damn pathetic. We also get that from the very beginning that Illyrio was lying to Viserys, unless we (I’d say wrongly) assume he is misinformed:
They are your people, and they love you well,” Magister Illyrio said amiably. “In holdfasts all across the realm, men lift secret toasts to your health while women sew dragon banners and hide them against the day of your return from across the water.” He gave a massive shrug. “Or so my agents tell me.”
We get introduced to several people in attendance when Dany is presented to Drogo, including Jorah Mormont, but most interesting to the re-reader is the brother of the Archon of Tyrosh’s presence. Why? In A Feast for Crows we find out that Arianne Martell of Dorne was set to become the ward of the Archon in order to meet her future husband, one Viserys Targaryen. We also later learn that the Archon’s own daughter was once a ward of House Martell. Upon seeing Drogo, we get another example of Visery’s complete incompetence. He tells Dany:
“When Dothraki are defeated in combat, they cut off their braids in disgrace, so the world will know their shame. Khal Drogo has never lost a fight. He is Aegon the Dragonlord come again, and you will be his queen.”
If Drogo is Aegon the Dragonlord, then what room does that leave Viserys himself? Viserys has firm goals, but never is the one that can actually realize them. He’s a like a webmaster with a sweet domain name but can’t post.
If you are going to flip the setting on us after three consecutive looks at the North, you might as well skip gradual transition and get right to it. I think that more than anything the shift in class, to opulence enabled me to picture and settle somewhere else easily. I’ve always viewed Dany’s story as an independent thread, and I think it has a lot to do with Martin being able to so successfully enrich his settings outside of Westeros (I think he does it again win and out of Westeros in A Feast for Crows – and that aspect as a whole is under appreciated in that book).
I feel like her story is a world apart from the rest, and that dichotomy of high drama that enraptures us in Westeros coupled with the idea that in some regards the 7 Kingdoms are this mundane, somewhat conservative backwater is something that always appealed to me. This may sound corny, but with the promise of conflict given in the early chapters, it almost feels like an early “worlds colliding” element to start the series of with. Ice meet Fire.
Martin also introduces another religious/spiritual element:
Dany could hear the singing of the red priests as they lit their night fires and the shouts of ragged children playing games beyond the walls of the estate.
The Lord of Light would hold our city walls against a million Dothraki, or so the red priests promise . . .
That two fairly important future elements/concepts nicely tucked into such an early chapter.
While I enjoy her chapters, Dany for me is probably the one POV that I don’t feel like I have down. In previous reads I do recall feeling conflicted on whether her story drags or if indeed too much happens in a rather short period of time –something I hope to answer definitively this time. I know that at least part of the reason for this is that she is our exclusive POV to that side of the world in this book with no crossover.
Either way, with all the talk of characterization, red herrings, and some of (positive and negative, right or wrong) elements that Elena points to as qualities she heard about the series, world-building is perhaps something Martin is not given enough credit for. This chapter feels foreign and exotic, and the choice to have it right after beginning in Winterfell accentuates that.
Elena gets more Starks next. I love the build-up (from her part you can tell it’s working–the traitor!) because the WTF Stark moments are my favorites when breaking in a new wing man.