Quick Reads: A Game of Thrones ch. 3 – 4

a-game-of-thrones

Chapter 3: Catelyn

Catelyn was my favourite character in the show. I have an awesome head-canon where her and Brienne ride around Westeros solving mysteries instead of… what actually happened.

Catelyn had never liked this godswood.

Godswoods are places of worship belonging to the religion of the First Men, which has been supplanted by the imported religion of the Andals in most of Westeros, but in the north people still practice the old ways to an extent. I assume all of this is meant to be a parallel to the spread of Christianity to Britain or something.

The point of going into all of this is that Catelyn, who’s the wife of our boy Ned Stark, was raised in the newer Andal religion and there’s a bit of a cultural divide between her and the family she’s married into. As world building goes this is all handled about a thousand times better than it was in The Way of Shadows, mostly because it actually feels as if the smaller details of the setting have shaped the characters and have an ongoing impact on their lives.

Worship was a septon with a censer, the smell of incense, a seven-sided crystal alive with light, voices raised in song. The Tullys kept a godswood, as all the great houses did, but it was only a place to walk or read or lie in the sun. Worship was for the sept.

It’s also pretty well written, which helps.

Anyway Catelyn finds Ned sitting in the Godswood cleaning his big fancy sword after the execution, and he’s all kingly and solemn and kingly and did I mention how kingly he is?

Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.”

Here’s my main problem with A Game of Thrones the book as compared to HBO Presents Game of Thrones Season 1: Ned Stark is the most boring man in the world. Sean Bean gave the role this charming, slightly awkward dad-charisma that I remember the character completely lacking the first time I tried to read this, and I’m finding my impression is the same this time. He’s just… well, solemn and and noble and kingly, and that’s about it.

I get why this is the case. Ned is supposed to represent the big central irony of this part of the story by being obviously the most qualified person to rule Westeros but a) isn’t interested in doing it and b) isn’t ruthless enough to take the throne even if he wanted it– in other words, the very same qualities that make him suitable to be king also disqualify him from the role (another way to see it is that Ned could only successfully be king in a setting that operates like the fantasy novels that this series is deliberately subverting). That role necessitates that he be regal and solemn and interested in Duty and all that shite, but also kind of a boring dude who’d rather just stay up north and tend to the affairs of his own lands. But the fact that his character and his symbolic role in the plot work in harmony doesn’t make him any less interesting to read about.

Ned and Catelyn talk about the deserter he killed and the fact that the Night’s Watch are losing more and more men. They think it’s because of Wildlings, but we know it’s actually due to ice zombies.

Ned lifted Ice [his big fancy king sword], looked down the cool steel length of it. “And it will only grow worse. 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.”
“Beyond the Wall?” The thought made Catelyn shudder.
Ned saw the dread on her face. “Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear.”

You’re right about that, dude’s kind of a weenie.

Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead.”

Complicated back story here, but basically Jon Arryn was a surrogate father figure to Ned and Robert Baratheon (the king, remember) and actually kick-started the rebellion that put Robert on the throne when the previous king ordered him to kill the two for insubordination. For the last umpteen years he’s been serving as Robert’s Hand, a kind of feudal prime minister who handles the more mundane running of the kingdom while the King issues bold proclamations and/or gets drunk off his ass all day.

Cateyln also reveals that king Robert is coming north to visit the Stark family, and Ned is all “hell yeah brah I haven’t seen Ned since that sick kegger we had after we pulled that awesome prank on that Targaryan douchebag” but Catelyn feels various ill tidings and Portentous Forebodings. Relax Catelyn, I’m sure nothing bad will happen to your family as a direct result of this visit.

Chapter 4: Daenerys

Oh Jesus here we go

For this part of the plot we’re moving outside Westeros completely, to another continent nearby. Daenerys (aka Dany) and her brother have been staying at the house of some rich dude and something important is going to happen that involves Dany wearing fancy clothes.

For nigh on half a year, they had lived in the magister’s house, eating his food, pampered by his servants. Dany was thirteen, old enough to know that such gifts seldom come without their price, here in the free city of Pentos.

Dany was thirteen

Dany was thirteen

Dany was thirteen

Dany was thirteen

Keep that highlighted part in mind for later. I have to imagine quietly changing this was the very first creative decision the TV series showrunners took.

 

“Illyrio is no fool,” Viserys said. He was a gaunt young man with nervous hands and a feverish look in his pale lilac eyes. “The magister knows that I will not forget my friends when I come into my throne.”

Let’s just get the explanation out of the way: Daenerys and Viserys are the last surviving Targaryans, spirited away shortly after birth while their entire family was killed. Viserys therefore has a claim to the throne that he’s been obsessing over for basically his entire life, and he’s now making plans to secure himself an army so he can put those obsessions into action.

“Illyrio will send the slaves to bathe you. Be sure you wash off the stink of the stables. Khal Drogo has a thousand horses, tonight he looks for a different sort of mount.”

Sigh

“You still slouch. Straighten yourself” He pushed back her shoulders with his hands. “Let them see that you have a woman’s shape now.” His fingers brushed lightly over her budding breasts and tightened on a nipple. “You will not fail me tonight. If you do, it will go hard for you. You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?” His fingers twisted her, the pinch cruelly hard through the rough fabric of her tunic. “Do you?” he repeated.

Sigh

Man I want to skip straight to the part where Dany is taking over cities and having people gruesomely executed for defying her. Certain problems with her storyline that will become evident soon only intensify as it goes on, but at least we don’t have to put up with this shit any more.

(I distinctly remember the nipple-pinching scene quoted above being extremely off-putting the first time I tried to read this. Oh, how innocent I was then)

Yet sometimes Dany would picture the way it had been, so often had her brother told her the stories. 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. The polished skulls of the last dragons staring down sightlessly from the walls of the throne room while the Kingslayer opened Father’s throat with a golden sword.

Yeah, Dany, this version of events is not entirely accurate (although it’s true that a whole bunch of innocent Targaryans were ruthlessly slaughtered, mostly by Lannisters).

I actually can’t remember from watching the TV series whether Dany is aware of, or has ever really dealt with, the fact that her dad was a colossal piece of shit who everyone called the Mad King due to his habit of… acting pretty much the same as her brother, come to think of it.

There came a soft knock on her door. “Come,” Dany said, turning away from the window. Illyrio’s servants entered, bowed, and set about their business. They were slaves, a gift from one of the magister’s many Dothraki friends.

This series does that thing where slavery is an institution of strange exotic foreign places inhabited by brown people, and something utterly alien to white societies.

You know, just like in real life.

They filled her bath with hot water brought up from the kitchen and scented it with fragrant oils. The girl pulled the rough cotton tunic over Dany’s head and helped her into the tub. The water was scalding hot, but Daenerys did not flinch or cry out. She liked the heat.

This is actually a very early hint that Dany has magic dragon powers that she proceeds to do basically nothing of interest with for the next four books.

I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I cannot adequately express what a monumental waste of time the vast majority of Dany’s storyline is.

“Drogo is so rich that even his slaves wear golden collars. A hundred thousand men ride in his khalasar, and his palace in Vaes Dothrak has two hundred rooms and doors of solid silver.”

Khal Drogo is the leader of a band of Horse Barbarians (think in the Conan sense, but more racist) and the dude that Viserys is marrying his sister off to in exchange for an army.

Daenerys said nothing. She had always assumed that she would wed Viserys when she came of age.

Wait what

For centuries the Targaryens had married brother to sister, since Aegon the Conqueror had taken his sisters to bride. The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men.

Gonna say that didn’t work out well in the long term.

(I just realised that if a commonly-held set of theories about the origins of a certain character and the way the series ends are accurate, this will turn out to be broadly true going forward)

Ten thousand, that would be enough, I could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousand Dothraki screamers. The realm will rise for its rightful king. Tyrell, Redwyne, Darry, Greyjoy, they have no more love for the Usurper than I do. The Dornishmen burn to avenge Elia and her children. And the smallfolk will be with us. They cry out for their king.” He looked at Illyrio anxiously. “They do, don’t they?”

“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.”

Lol Viserys ur getting played

Dany realises fully that this is all BS but says nothing.

Anyway Dany meets Khal Drogo and he’s all scary and imposing and Exotic and shit. Don’t worry Dany, soon you’ll be a queen and another thirteen year old girl will be constantly humiliated and disempowered! For three whole books! It’s a fun time for everyone in George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire!

 

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11 thoughts on “Quick Reads: A Game of Thrones ch. 3 – 4

  1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

    There are two “Game of Thrones” happening in parallel. One is the grimdark deconstruction of modern fantasy idealization of the middle ages set in a thinly veiled rip off of the War of the Roses. The other is a grittier and sexier version of exactly the type of fantasy that Martin is deconstructing in the first story. He really should have picked one, or just had one happen, then the other.

    Reply
  2. Archibald van Winkle

    I have to agree about the superfluous nature of this part of Dany’s plot. Most of her storyline, as you said, is pointless. It is just filler-fluff allowing Westeros simmering time to reach the point it needs to be in order for Dany to come howling over the waters with her dragons. It feels as if Martin didn’t fully realize the sheer amount of time the events in Westeros would take, so he misjudged when to start her storyline.

    Alternatively, as I said in a comment above, it could be a lean toward realistic. He wants the reader to experience EVERYTHING Dany has to go through, almost to the point of including menstrual cycles; trying to forge that human connection between the reader and the character. If this is the case, then displaying all the mundanity of being in that character’s shoes borders on the reason I read fiction in the first place: to escape the mundanity of reality.

    It is just an early sign this series will verge into slog-land as Martin strives for details without realizing the sheer amount of unnecessary density and word-count this creates.

    Reply
  3. reveen

    Man, I fucking hate how Martin wrote the Dothraki. I find steppe horseman cultures like the really cool and interesting, which sucks since fantasy by and large uses them as slightly more human orcs. But the Dothraki are like a weapon to surpass Metal Gear in terms of racism.

    Like, fuck man. It’s not like you can blame it on the times. It was the 90s. Arnold Schwarzenegger were doing better than this ten years beforehand.

    Reply
    1. Archibald van Winkle

      Now I realize that being fiction, this could just be a manifestation of some deep fetish of the author’s (holy fuck I hope not), but I think it’s something else.

      I believe the motivation was to plant the reader into Dany’s shoes. LITERALLY. It was an endeavor for the realistic. He is trying to invoke emotions; trying to let the reader live another life, dark times and all. We get to experience what it is like being a thirteen year old girl being forced to sexually submit. It is a visceral view into one of the lives lived by girls in olden times. Actually, a life still lived by some girls today. A very depraved life, but hey, you think women have been complaining for nothing all these centuries?

      Reply
    2. Signatus

      I presume he was simply going for realism. We might think it is disgusting because we see 13 year old girls as that, simply girls who should be playing with toys. In reality once you reach puberty you start experimenting sexually, you mature sexually so in medieval ages a girl into her 13-15 years was a perfectly good candidate for marriage. I always viewed these books as Martin going for realism, so I’m not really bothered by this.

      As for Daenerys’ storyline, I used to like this character. Everything surrounding her, even the brutish horselord barbarians was more interesting than what was going on in Westeros. However when she got into the whole war against slavers at Slaver Bay I just couldn’t stand it any more. SPOILER ALERT; I’ll never forgive her for whipping Drogon into submission. Ok, these are dragons and all, they are supposed to be ferocious and uncontrolable, and Martin does a good job at that by showing the animals having their own agenda (instinct wise), but I felt really uncomfortable with that.

      I did read Martin stating that the Mereen plotline had been a chore to go through. In my opinion, as a writer (as unpublished as I might be), when you struggle through some plot point it is a good indication it isn’t working. It shows. Considering the last two books and how tedious and filler full they were, I would have completely eliminated that plot point and moved Daenerys to Westeros to get the action rolling. The guy has been writing this bricks for nearly 20 years, it’s about time Winter comes.

      Reply
      1. Elisabeth

        The Slaver’s Bay plotline is what really messed up the pacing of the series, IMO. I’m pretty sure that what GRRM calls the “Mereeneese knot” is the problem of how to move Dany’s storyline forward when she’s supposed to stay in Mereen and rule – this then creates pacing problems for all the other storylines. GRRM should have had Dany go to Asshai in A Storm of Swords instead of conquering Slaver’s Bay, and get what she needs there to go to Westeros and fight for the throne.

        The storyline in Dorne is utterly useless too, as are the new POVs in A Dance with Dragons. The Iron Islanders aren’t doing anything to advance the plot either.

        Reply
  4. Nerem

    I think because I watched it first, Game of Thrones always reminded me of Aura Battler Dunbine, a story of an ambitious warlord who starts a coup against his king who he saw as ineffectual and useless (both true) who overturns the Traditional Fantasy World when he attempts to summon Holy Knights to aid him in battle, and gets an aerospace engineer from Earth, who uses his knowledge to craft magical powered armor and jets and overturns everything traditional.

    (The warlord is the main villian, despite his good intentions.)

    Reply
  5. zephyrean

    > (another way to see it is that Ned could only successfully be king in a setting that operates like the fantasy novels that this series is deliberately subverting)

    This, but it’s still dumb, insulting and straight-up offensive. A setting such as Westeros could have never given birth to a dumbass idyllically patriarchal ruler such as Ned. Furthermore, we later find out this most honorable and noble of men kept cannibal rapist underlings. And then the book asks the reader to mourn him.

    This thing worked in Watchmen, when the main subversion was effective because the *characters*’ thinking was largely informed by genre tropes. It’s not the case in (a)GoT. A pampered child such as Sansa (except she has to watch executions, so there) can be a wrong-genre immigrant. Not a ruler of like half the continent.

    (I didn’t watch the show. Sean Bean’s likability would presumably have taken all the fun out of seeing Ned executed.)

    Reply

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