Sunday, April 7, 2013

Read-Along: It's a twofer, it's a twofer!

(You have to imagine that in the voice of the panicked farmhand at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz.) We had 6 chapters ready for posting yesterday, but decided to nip it down to 3 so it wouldn't be (as much of) a beast of a post. So here are the next 3, and it's not even Saturday yet! Check out Daenerys 1, Eddard 1, and Jon 1 after the jump.

Daenerys 1

And another new POV character! We are introduced to Daenerys and Viserys, the last two Targaryens. Besides being a family overrun by vowels, they were the house ruling Westeros when Ned and his friend the now-king Robert overthrew them. So after years of moving from place to place across the Narrow Sea in Essos trying to stay one step ahead of King Robert’s assassins (who may or may not be a figment of Viserys’ imagination), they have found themselves in the free city of Pentos, staying in the home of the wealthy and powerful Magister Illyrio. Daenerys is getting ready to meet a barbarian horse lord named Khal Drogo, who Illyrio and her brother hope will want to marry her. After a little creepy sister-fondling and verbal abuse from Viserys, Daenerys goes into back-story mode to provide the reader with a little more info about Robert’s Rebellion and the fall of the Targaryens.

Viserys was 8 when the rebellion was going on, so he still remembers both it and the land he was driven from. Daenerys, however, was barely conceived when her mother and Viserys fled the capital to their family seat on an island called Dragonstone in the Narrow Sea. Her mother died giving birth to her there, so that’s one strike against her in Viserys’ book. At that point they would’ve been sold to Robert if some loyal retainers hadn’t spirited the two of them across the Narrow Sea to Braavos, which is the only home Dany has any recollection of. All their wealth and treasures have long since been used up, and most of the rich and powerful of Essos have been refusing to host the last remaining Targaryens for some time, until Illyrio came along. Dany is smart enough to know that his generosity does not come for free, although she does not yet know what his price may be.

So Daenerys is bathed and prettified and dressed in fine clothes, and GRRM makes sure we know all about the classic Targaryen features, such as silvery blonde hair, purple eyes, and, of course, DRAGONS. Oh, and incest, too. Viserys really, really wants this Khal Drogo to accept Dany as his bride, because then Viserys thinks he will be able to take the barbarian horde (nomads called Dothraki) back to Westeros and win his throne back. Daenerys is understandably nervous because, really, who wants to marry a vicious barbarian AT THE AGE OF THIRTEEN?!?

At any rate, Viserys and Dany and Illyrio head over to a big party at Khal Drogo’s Pentos mansion. Illyrio is just bringing Drogo over to meet them when Dany finally speaks up and makes her wishes known—she doesn’t want to marry the Khal, and she wants to go home. This is where we really see Viserys’ true crazy colors that had been hinted at throughout the chapter. He tells his sister that he would gladly let the Khal and his whole horde of 40,000 men (and their horses!) rape her if that is what it took to get him an army and his throne back. Yeesh! Properly chastened, Dany puts on a happy face and gets ready to meet the Khal.

Susan's Take!
I feel almost shell-shocked from this chapter. Ugh gross awful gah. Viserys is so dreadful that words fail me. The contrast between Jon Snow’s behavior towards Bran and Viserys’ towards his sister is perfectly clear, and I will support the Starks over Viserys’ attempt to reclaim his crown. Families are the backbone of the Westeros world, and the Starks have shown that families are meant to be unified in their concerns. Lady Stark’s sister is grieving for her husband, so Lord Stark wants to help; Bran and Rickon need toughening up before winter falls so the heir, Robb, will have their support when he is Lord. That is how families work. Viserys has no sense of a living family to protect, and comes across as sickeningly selfish. Strangely enough, Viserys’ goal is arguably the most family-oriented one we’ve seen so far, but it’s all about the dead glory of his family line instead of the safety and happiness of the current members. All the Dothraki horses and all the Dothraki men could put his kingdom together again, but if they all raped his sister she’d be dead.

Alyssa's Take!
Ew. Viserys, gross. Not cool dude, not cool. He seems like a pretty horrible brother, and it’s a fair certainty that he has a little of the Targaryen crazy resulting from incest going on. Still, I do feel some slight sympathy for him—it must really suck to have everything you love taken from you at such a young age and be reduced to a sort of impoverished laughingstock with no real friends, and responsible for your baby sister, AND be the last male heir to a whole illustrious dynasty. That in no way justifies his treatment of his sister, of course. But it still sucks for him.

And for Dany! Being told she is an heir to a great ruling family of a great land when she was never able to meet any of this family or even set foot on said land must be very strange. Knowing Essos better than her so-called birthright of Westeros must make it very hard to share in Viserys’ vision of retaking the Iron Throne. And being subject to the whims of a cruel sibling is probably no walk in the park either. This stuff is not easy to read, but it is so cool to see Dany go from her abused, timid mouse beginnings to the person she becomes in later books.

I also am amused by how rude Illyrio is to Viserys without Viserys picking up on it. Dany is clearly the smarter of the siblings.

Eddard 1

At last, we get inside Ned’s head! The king and his retinue have arrived in Winterfell. Ned is shocked at how much Robert has changed since last he saw him—before he was clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscular-huge, and now he is instead fat-huge with a shaggy beard to hide his multiple chins. The royal family meets the Stark family, and then Robert decides he would like to visit his once-betrothed in the crypt. Cersei doesn’t like this, but of course the king gets his way, and he and Ned head down to visit Lyanna.

On the way to her tomb, Robert spends a lot of time complaining about the north (snow, no people around, etc.) and singing the praises of the south (hot weather = naked girls, bountiful food, plenty of booze). Ned smiles and nods (well…he nods), but thinks to himself that the north is where he belongs. They arrive at Lyanna’s tomb, and it is revealed that Robert was to marry Ned’s sister. His grief is clearly still present, as it is for Ned. Ned privately remembers being with Lyanna when she died—the smell of blood and roses, a fever, and her final words of “Promise me, Ned,” being the main points. Also, a crannogman by name of Howland Reed was also present. It is also revealed that Robert killed Rhaegar (the Targaryen crown prince) “for what he did to her.” What did he do to her? Hm… A little more background on Robert’s Rebellion, an admission from Robert that he doesn’t like his wife very much, and then they get down to the business at hand.

Ned asks about Jon Arryn, and Robert tells him how strangely quick and mysterious his illness and death were. He also states that he thinks it drove Lysa Tully mad, and that’s why she disappeared in the night with her sickly son (named after the king) back to the Arryn’s ancestral stronghold of the Eyrie. Apparently there’s been some kerfuffle because the boy was supposed to be fostered with the queen’s father Tywin Lannister over in their house seat of Casterly Rock, so that the boy wouldn’t be raised solely by women (egads!). Lysa has evidently insulted them greatly by retreating to the Eyrie. Ned and Robert argue a bit about this, and then Robert finally says he wants Ned to become the new Hand of the King, a.k.a. the one who takes care of the real business of running a kingdom while the king himself gets to carouse and drink and stuff his face. Ned is not surprised by this, but he is surprised when Robert suggests that they marry his son Joff with Ned’s daughter Sansa to join the houses of Baratheon and Stark, as they were originally meant to be joined when through a union between Lyanna and Robert. Ned is not very keen on of either of these things, but knows he cannot refuse. He asks to think on it for a night before officially agreeing, as a dark sense of foreboding fills him.

Susan's Take!
Meh. After meeting the king, I am only willing to watch him stay king because Viserys is so distasteful.

“In those days, the smell of leather and blood had clung to him like perfume.” Apparently that’s a good thing? See, I’d think that it’s good that a king is keeping the peace well enough that he doesn’t smell like he just came from battle every day. I’d survive half a minute in this world.

Alyssa's Take!
Here I go again, with some TV show/book comparisons! In this chapter I really like that you get a sense of who Robert was 15 years ago, through the eyes of Ned. In the show you only see Robert as he is at the present time (fat and ineffectual), and the only time you get an impression of how he used to be is through his own reminiscences. Somehow it is more powerful to see old Robert through Ned’s eyes rather than Robert’s own—maybe because it seems more objective? Whatever the reason, it makes Robert’s descent into gluttony and the loss of his youth all the more tragic. I was also genuinely touched by his continuing feelings for the long-dead Lyanna.

But conversely, in the one line where Queen Cersei is mentioned I really felt kind of bad for her! She seems almost rational when Robert states he’s going to the crypts and she points out that they’ve been traveling all day and could stand to clean up and eat before visiting the dead. She doesn’t make a fuss or anything and just lets him go, although it clearly stings for her. Was not expecting to feel any sort of sympathy for her here, but I expect that this will be the first and last time I mention Cersei’s rationality in the re-read.

Back to Lyanna. Not much has been revealed yet, and it continues to emerge in bits and pieces throughout the series, but I love reading about Robert’s Rebellion and all that led up to it. They way it unfolds for the reader over time through the eyes of different characters is really quite masterful. I could read a whole book about that stuff. It’s just SO GOOD, and really amazingly written to show how events in the past continue to have strong effects on the present, even for people not directly involved or even born at the time.

Jon 1

Jon Snow is in the Great Hall of Winterfell at the feast celebrating the arrival of the king and his family. Eddard, Catelyn, and the children sit at the front of the hall with the royal family, but Cat was afraid the presence of bastard among them might offend the royals, so Jon has been banished to the squires’ table. Jon tries to tell himself this doesn’t bother him, since here he can listen to all the bawdy stories the squires tell...and drink as much wine as he wants! Yeah, being a bastard totally has its benefits…

We see the nobles as they enter, and Jon measures them up. Queen Cersei = fake smiling, King Robert = too fat to be kingly, Princess Myrcella = insipid, Robb = stupid for not realizing she’s insipid, little Prince Tommen = plump, Crown Prince Joffrey = taller than Jon, very blonde, very disdainful, Jaime Lannister = Queen’s brother, looks the way a king should look, Tyrion Lannister = Queen’s other brother, misshapen dwarf. (Sansa, Arya, and Rickon were there, too, but did not receive much in the way of Jon Snow judgment.) (Also, where is Bran??)

Jon proceeds to get drunk and feed his albino direwolf Ghost under the table until his Uncle Benjen, a ranger in the Night’s Watch, pays him a visit. Jon shows off that being a bastard has made him very observant (something is bothering Papa Stark! Cersei is pissed that Robert visited the crypt!) and tells Benjen he wants to join the Night’s Watch like him. As a bastard he doesn’t stand to inherit any land or titles, and the Night’s Watch seems like a reputable livelihood of glory and honor. Benjen points out that men of the Night’s Watch never marry or father children, and maybe Jon should try out the whole girl thing before he sacrifices something he might eventually regret sacrificing. Jon gets angry and vehemently states that he will never ever (ever) father a bastard. Looks like Uncle Benjen touched a nerve!

Jon runs outside to escape the feast, and runs in to Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion gets off a few witty one-liners, and actually gives Jon some good advice: “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not…armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Alyssa's Take!
Poor Jon. Sucks being a highborn bastard. I don’t have much to say about this chapter, actually. Ghost is awesome (although the idea of a mute wolf is kind of odd), and Uncle Benjen seems pretty cool. Mostly all the amusement of this chapter comes with the introduction of Tyrion. As Tyrion and Jon debate the relative disadvantages of being a bastard or a dwarf, we come upon a great example of Tyrion’s wit: Jon says, “I don’t even know who my mother was,” to which Tyrion responds, “Some woman, no doubt.” XD Love it.

Susan's Take!
The TV show did a good job casting every character three years older than the book says. I am giggling at the thought that Jon should only be 14. Evidently when I said three years I meant 11.

I am so relieved Peter Dinklage took the Tyrion role and they didn't ugly him up for it. Peter Dinklage is way hotter than this crushed faced, mismatched eyed, white blonde book Tyrion. Ugh. Enough with snow blonde hair, GRR Martin!

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