So, this time last year I was preparing to go to Nine Worlds and cosplaying Daenerys in her Qarth Dress. I bought a wig, a blue dress, a bronzy horn necklace I got from New Look in the sale, and painted a belt gold. The result was this:
Me being a sunburnt Daenerys, shortly after reaching Qarth.
Which was OK, but not awesome. Besides which, the belt I got from eBay was cheapass plastic and is basically stretched out around the buckle and unwearable now. Not to mention that I also wore the wig for Halloween and got caught in a rainstorm, which kind of tangled it up.
Now, a mate of mine actually bought me a proper kickass Daenerys-filigree-gold-belt from Etsy for my birthday, so that is going together with a new dress in the same style as this, but closer to the right colour, and (if it arrives on time) a better wig (bought with birthday money). But before I knew that was going to happen, I had started on my new costume, based on some of Daenerys’s more practical garb.
What I’m aiming for, this time, is Daenerys’s Stomping Around in the Desert over-trousers crossover dress.
You can actually buy really plain versions of this dress for upwards of £70 on eBay, but a) I don’t have that kind of money; b) they don’t look that great, or that accurate for the money; and c) it’s kind of more fun to make/put to gether your own, rather than just buy the whole thing. So, I wanted to give it a go.
And, let me tell you, I scowered eBay for a dress either a bit like this, or that I could make look like this. No luck. None at all. In the end, in the very last charity shop a friend and I visited costume hunting, I found an A-line white linnen skirt and a white stretch cotton v-neck top that I felt I could work with (about £7 for both).
Sorry for the cruddy quality of the photos. Most of the light in my house comes from above, making good photos super hard.
I dyed them blue (£5 Dylon Ocean Blue from Amazon). Colour worked out more sky blue than ‘ocean blue’, but it was remarkably consistent. I took the skirt and cut one side to match Daenerys’s skirt-chap thing, flipped the cut cloth, trimmed it to shape, and sewed it back on, with what had been the bottom at the top. I also used remaining fabric to cover up the white thread that hadn’t dyed properly.
I then cut the sleeves off the v-neck top and sewed in shoulder pads (mine came from another top I had that didn’t really need them, but you can get them cheap from most sewing/haberdashery stores/eBay). With the left over fabric from the sleeves, I used the same American arrow smockingused on Daenery’s dress to add scale-like texture. With more time and better materials (say, a non-stretch fabric) I could have done a lot more, and with a better finish, but it could be worse.
I then added some beading to mirror the beading on Daenerys’s dress. The beads and sequins were left-over from a Christmas card-making kit I got from PoundLand.
Had I but world enough and time I would have done loads more beading and embroidery (I bought some gold-coloured thread for about £2), but I really don’t. So I used gold glitter fabric paint I got from Hobby Craft for £3.50 to echo some of the gold embroidery in Daenerys’s dress. I know, gold glitter isn’t really as subtle as her embroidery, but pfft!
Then, of course, there’s the wig. Now, I’m using the same wig as last year, which cost about £17.50 (I wish I could remember the brand!) but I wasn’t going to be able to do any of half-ponytail braiding Daenerys usually favours as the really long synthetic hair had become hopelessly tangled and lost its crisp curls in brushing. So, instead, I went for one of the few styles she uses where her whole head of hair gets braided back. This also had the advantage of making the bulkiness of the wig look more natural. She wears this in Qarth, but only when she’s ‘dressed down’. This is clearly a practical do for her. So I think it goes with the Stompy Dress.
There are five intrgrated brais, here. Two simple braids drawn back from the top of the head and then woven together at the back. Then two chunkier French braids taking up the rest of her hair at the side of her head, and then woven together to become one big braid at the back.
Now, you’ll note that I went for French braiding rather than the reverse French braiding the original style uses. This is simply because of how tough the hair was to work with. I spent hours brushing this thing, even adding leave-in conditioner to loosen up the synthetic fibers, it was just very difficult to work with, and I think this looks good enough.
There are also a few other changes.
Firstly, the top braids are much higher up. Again, this is because of the limitations of the wig, which has a kind of layered thing going on. Basically, the hair at the top is just too short to be brought any lower and still be integrated at the back.
Secondly, I had to let a few strands hang down the side of the face to disguide the edge of the wig. Similarly, the wig came with a fringe (it hadn’t looked like it did in the picture, but that’s what happens when you buy online).
I also managed to recurl those strands by putting them in rollers, dipping them in hot water, and leaving them overnight to dry – quite impressed with the result!
Oh yeah, and grey leggings, which I already had. Basically any plain/dust-coloured trousers would do. It’s not the best Daenerys costume ever, but (including the wig, which I spent b’day money on), it cost me about £35; £37 if you include the necklace I had from last year. Which is half the price of those boring-ass ones you can buy on eBay, and the ‘dress’ part only cost me £17 itself 🙂
I know, I know, it’s been an age, but I haven’t forgotten you, you mad cap fools who for some reason are interested in what I have to say about every single chapter of A Dance with Dragons. Alas, I’ve had a number of bouts of illness and when I’ve had the critical energy for analysing heavy tomes I’ve been devoting myself to my PhD rather than this. But today I’ve decided I’m well enough to do something, but not well enough to read Crispin Wright on hinge propositions (or whatever the hell this paper I’m looking at is heading towards) so you get my thoughts on the inhabitent’s of George R R Martin’s mind, instead.
Chapter 55: The Queensguard
In this chapter we follow Barristen Selmy as he deals with Daenerys’s court in the absence of Daenerys. Last time we saw her she was flying off on a dragon – a great personal move, no doubt, but she has kind of left things in disarray. Hizdahr, naturally, assumes control, and he wants his people around him in court. He chooses pit fighters, whom Selmy can see are not really appropriate for the role. Factions are splintering in Daenerys’s absence. The Unsullied are loyal only to Daenerys and refuse to fight under a man of Hizdahr’s choosing. Selmy can see the issues, but his own inability to adapt to local customs makes it impossible that he should be able to provide a similar role to Hizdahr as he did for Daenerys. Hizdahr insists on being treated like a Meereenese King, Selmy insists on treating him as a king of Westeros, and without Daenerys’s deft hand and cultural flexibility the court is falling apart.
Added to this, no one is quite sure what has become of Daenerys. Some think her killed by the dragon, others that she was taken away against her will. Selmy saw her riding Drogon and knows she is not dead, but that does not tell him where she has gone, why she has not returned.
And then there is the question of who tried to poison Daenerys with the tainted locusts…
Shakaz of the Brazen Beasts seeks to involve Selmy in schemes, attributing trechery to Hizdahr, but it is anathema to all Selmy believes in. He only wants to do his duty, he has no interest in the game of thrones. Yet it is also his duty to protect Daenerys. She never commanded him to protect Hizdahr, and with the possibility that Hizdahr himself might be behind a plot to kill Daenerys, Selmy finds himself embroilled in intrigue nonetheless. Shakas reports that Volantis is moving against them and he believes that Hizdahr will open the gates to them. Steps must be taken to protect Daenerys’s reign if Hizdahr is a traitor. Reluctantly, Selmy agrees to talk to Grey Worm, to gain the aid of the Unsullied, on condition that he be allowed to question the poisoner, who has been caught.
This is an interesting chapter, showing us just how fragile Daenerys’s peace was, and how much it depended on her for its continuance. But it also underlines her mistakes – that she was too flexible, too benevolent, too eager for peace. Meereen bent to her because she commanded dragons and great armies. But she kept her dragons chained, and when Astapor fell she did not move to save it or calm it for fear of losing the peace she had established in Meereen. It is as though Dany regarded Astapor as a mistake, and cast it aside, determined not to make the same mistakes with Meereen, and therefore stood fast at her new base rather than returning to sort out the old one. The trouble is that the fates of the two cities were not disconnected. Trouble in Astapor and her failure to act upon it made her seem weak, and when Astapor fell to plague, her people followed her to Meereen and brought the plague with them. Similarly, she chained her dragons because it seemed that they might have killed children. She chained them to prevent further deaths, but this robbed her of their power and made it seem that she did not have the strength to wield such power and also control it.
What should we make of this? I’m still not at ease with this mother role Daenerys has been cast in – a role that is again re-emphasised in this chapter. We are told that the Unsullied will only follow their ‘mother’, and that the freedmen call her ‘Mhysa’ which means mother. I mean, yeah, yeah, ‘mother of dragons’ and all that, but the trope of motherhood is one of caring and enabling, not of commanding and dominating – she is not the rider of dragons or the ruler of dragons, she is the one who has nurtured dragons. The thing about mothers is, however loyal their children, they all go off and live their own lives eventually. Which is not to say that mothers cannot be more than this – they absolutely can – but it troubles me that a young girl like Daenerys is being cast in this role which seems to connote something at odds to her role as conqueror.
She also seems to be vulnerable to the stereotypical ‘weaknesses’ of mothers. It is hearing that a child has been killed by her dragons that leads her to restrain them rather than train and utilize their power. She has a soft spot for children. Which is entirely understandable. She lost her own child – I’m not saying this mothering role is out of character – it’s just that having her weaknesses be so stereotypically feminine is… uncomfortable, for me.
That said, it is also clear that the instability in Meereen is the result of a myriad of factors, many of which have had unforeseeable consequences. The book is called ‘A Dance with Dragons‘ and that should be the clue that all of the action is really circling around Daenerys and her ‘children’. She’s a power centre and almost everyone is drawn to her – Tyrion, Quentyn, Selmy, ‘Young Griff’, the Astapori, the Volantenes, the Yunkai’i… she stinks of power and agency. When she was on the move she went to the people and places she wished to encounter and act upon. By sitting still, the possibilities she represents swirl about her, and the more people catch up to her the more possibilities are added to the mix – events start rolling in ways impossible to predict. Her absence shows the instability of her reign, but it also shows the strength of her influence in that she managed to keep it in check.
Chapter 56: The Iron Suitor (Victarion)
I keep reading this guy’s name as ‘Victorian’, it’s a problem. But I confess that it is my problem. What’s more problematic is just where this character has come from. The name rings a bell and tickles distant memories of some kind of plot, but it’s the first time we’ve seen him in this book and it’s a big book that we’re three-quarters of the way through. Adjusting my mind to what he’s doing and why I should care requires a little bit of effort, but hey, I do so.
Victarion has been leading a massive fleet from the Iron Islands to (guess what?) try to get to Daenerys before everyone else, and especially the Volantenes. He’s been caught in the same storm as Tyrion’s boat and lost a hefty chuck of his ships. He’s also got a hand that’s festering from some cut he got in some battle I don’t know if I’m supposed to remember. There’s a Maester on board who’s tending to the hand, but Victarion doesn’t like him, and he really doesn’t like that the man keeps saying he wants to cut the hand off (which pretty much sounds like the sensible thing to do). He’s also got a ‘dusky woman’ with him. Because of reasons. Probably ‘sexy’ ‘exotic’ reasons.
Anyway, the priest, Moqorro, who was washed off of Tyrion’s ship, seems to have wound up on Victarion’s. He offers to help Victarion with his hand to prove his worth and save his life. Victarion has some qualms about this, ’cause, you know, he’s a good Iron Born, and he serves the Drowned God. But the Drowned God doesn’t seem to be being too helpful and/or pleased, if he sent a storm like that, and Victarion figures that if the red priest was washed up near him he might have been washed up by the Drowned God to help him.
Victarion accepts Moqorro’s offer and Moqorro heals his hand. Victarion is pleased and spares his life, taking the Maester’s instead as a sacrifice to the Drowned God.
So, there are a few interesting things about this chapter. It certainly is a striking coincidence that Moqorro should be washed up right by Victarion and be able to heal his hand. (I honestly can’t remember if we were aware of this wound before, or if it’s basically been parachuted in to allow Moqorro to have an in with Victarion.) What’s clear, as has been indicated elsewhere before, is that the gods in this world definitely have physical domains, their strength and ability to act in the world determined by the strength of their worshipers as well as other factors. The Old Gods seems to be tied to the frigid north. The Red God seems to be based in the warm south, although he clearly has eyes on the north. Thus, here, the Drowned God seems to have little to no power (you’d have thought the whole ocean is his domain, but I guess it’s still a long way from most of his worshippers), and R’hllor seems strong. We also get a few more tidbits of history about the destruction of Valyria, but we don’t really learn very much more.
I’m not awesomely happy with the whole ‘dusky woman’ thing, though. She has no voice and no name and she is quite literally a sex slave. That’s a… that’s a hell of a character for a woman of colour to have in your novel. I mean, I get it, the Iron Islanders are down with slavery and salt-wife taking and all that jazz. It’s a culture thing. GRRM depicts a lot of cultural stuff that he doesn’t seem to endorse. But this woman is so anonymous. She is given no character at all. In as much as we have any indication of her feelings, she doesn’t seem to mind being Victarion’s sex slave – he’s not the guy who cut her tongue out, so he’s kind of OK, right? Right?
There’s nothing wrong with having people of colour being slaves in fiction per se, it’s how it’s treated, and sensitively should be the key word. Similarly for women in sexually subservient positions. There are many ways to handle this that are fine. But just thrown in in a way that seems to add nothing to the plot, with no voice and no name, described in exoticised terms like ‘dusky’, with no real examination of how the woman herself feels about her condition… this is pretty clearly playing to the male gaze, and the white male gaze at that. Not classy, not classy at all.
Use the negative aspects of history to colour your fantasy novel by all means, but don’t just throw them in unreflectively because you think they’re ‘cool’. That’s a pretty easy way to be pretty damned offensive.
I really meant to review this ages ago, but it had the misfortune of airing at pretty much exactly the start of the shittiest part of my year, and I didn’t really review much of anything (or do much of anything) for a good while after that. But we’re coming up to the second year anniversary of this blog, and I find I just can’t let the year pass without paying tribute.
You guys know I like A Song of Ice and Fire, and you know I enjoyed HBO’s landmark first season of it last year (had, indeed, been waiting with anticipation for it since the end of Rome). It’s expected that I was going to enjoy the second season, I guess, but it’s no exaggeration to say that I was completely blown away. In almost every facet it was even better than last year. Part of that is because the source material is better – A Game of Thrones, the novel, is a slow burn that I probably would have given up on if not for the insistence of a friend that I had to keep reading. By A Clash of Kings many of the characters are established and we already understand a bit about the history and politics of this vast and complex world. In addition, we meet a number of new characters, including Brienne of Tarth, the fearsome and fearless women who has forced recognition of her fighting ability, gaining the status not only of knight, but of Kingsguard to Renly Baratheon. She’s one of my very favourite characters, and her relationship with Jaime Lannister becomes an increasingly compelling read.
But the success of Game of Thrones, season 2, is not solely down to the progression of the books and the development of the characters in the source material. Many actors who gave memorable performances in the first season out do themselves to become truly sparkling in season 2. Peter Dinklage won a well-deserved Emmy for his role as Tyrion Lannister last year, but his performance this year was even better. It isn’t simply that we get to see him perform in award winning episodes like ‘The Battle of Blackwater’ but that his performance is so masterful. ‘Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!’ he declares, and you understand how the Half-man could win the support and loyalty of a bunch of disillusioned and dispirited commoners who have just seen their king run to hide in his mother’s skirts. For there is not merely bravery, but regret and fear in his tone. Dinklage portrays not only the intelligence, but the honour and the sadness of Tyrion. I loved this character in the book, but Dinklage has made the role his own – it’s a different Tyrion, in some ways, but I like it:
Lena Headey surprised me with the strength of her performance as Cersei in this season. Not quite at the heights that she would reach in her role as Ma-Ma in Dredd 3D, but strong, and in my opinion notably superior to her performance last year. I felt that she had relaxed into the role and really begun to understand Cersei. Again, I feel the need to draw attention to scenes from ‘The Battle of Blackwater’ – that episode was undoubtedly designed as a special effects extravaganza, but the quieter scenes away from the battle itself are not to be dismissed. The scenes between Cersei and Sansa (Sophie Turner) as they hide with the other noble women, waiting to find out if they will be raped and slaughtered, are claustrophobic with their sense of helpless imprisonment. And Cersei’s bitterness at the way she has been robbed of power, as a woman, seems to slowly permeate the room like a toxic fog – increasing with every glass of wine she drinks:
It’s masterfully done. I wrote quite a bit on Cersei and Sansa and the different representations of women in season 2 over on my Tumblr back in June. This was in response to Laurie Penny’s article that basically accused Game of Thrones of being sexist for all the wrong reasons. Because, all the praise aside, it is problematic, and if you’ve read any of my Read Along with Rhube posts on A Dance with Dragons you’ll know just how much I’ve warred, personally, with its issues. Baseless accusations like saying that Game of Thrones is just a ‘racist rape-culture Disneyland with Dragons’ do nothing but embarrass the author of the article. And it’s important to know the difference precisely so that the accurate criticisms don’t get silenced in the knocking down of the straw man. You couldn’t get much less Disneyland than Game of Thrones, and whilst it does tackle the issues of rape-culture head on, you can hardly pretend it endorses the world that supports them. However, the books of the Song of Ice and Fire series are considerably more problematic. The treatment of Daenerys, in particular, is often presented for titillation rather than critique. And let’s not forget that at the start of the series she’s meant to be thirteen. It’s all kinds of skeevy, and that’s why I’ve forced myself to write so extensively in critique of these moments in reviewing A Dance with Dragons.
Even so, it’s important to discuss such treatment in the context both of Daenerys’s growth into a formidable woman (and one clearly damaged by her experiences) and the other female characters. A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones are both notable for a range of female characters rarely seen in books or television. Women are not simply ‘strong’ or ‘weak’, they are multifaceted, fully rounded characters, many of whom express strength in very different ways: Brienne, the formidable knight; Arya, the determinedly ungirly-girl who is also becoming a skilled fighter; Cersei the queen, politician, manipulator; Catelyn, the honourable lady and ferocious matriarch; Daenerys, the wise and powerful girl-ruler, leading an army of disparate peoples to conquer a world, take back her birth-right, and challenge the slavery she herself was sold into; Margaery Tyrell, great beauty and canny political mover, who declares that she doesn’t want to be a queen, she wants to be the queen; Asha/Yara Greyjoy, capable of leading fleets of ironborn in a way her brother, Theon, could never hope to; even Sansa Stark – feminine and meek, but enduring with quiet dignity what she cannot change and showing a different kind of strength in sticking to her values in a hostile world. And there are many, many more.
As Cersei holds forth on a woman’s power residing in her sexuality, there is in no danger of this defining a view of women for the books or for the show – it is undercut both by Cersei’s obvious dissatisfaction with her lot in life and by the many and varied ways that other women have been shown to have power. We see the precariousness of power based on beauty in this season as Margaery Tyrell emerges as a rival to Cersei’s beauty – a younger rival – and Cersei is faced with men, such as Stannis, who cannot be seduced.
As to the accusation of racism… there might be some more truth, there. There’s certainly a presentation of savagery in the dothraki people that might seem indicative of a supposition of barbarism in non-white races. And I’m not entirely comfortable with the parroted phrase ‘It is known’ which seems to be almost the only thing the women of the dothraki are capable of saying – it rings of a lack of knowledge and a culture that discourages questioning and learning. One could read Daenerys as an unusual female example of the white man come to teach the ‘natives’ how to do their culture better than they do it themselves. I think there may have been an element of that at first, but I feel like there are also some significant differences from that archetype. Daenerys does not enter the culture possessed of power and confidence in some alternate ‘white’ norms. She is a lost and broken child who never really knew the culture that birthed her. She has a romantic memory of the ‘house with the red door’, but it’s a childish memory, barely connected with anything concrete. She does not force a home in this other culture, she learns it and adapts to it as a mechanism of survival. As the books go on we see her act as chameleon in several different cultures, and she makes many, sometimes grievous, mistakes as she tries to force her values – her dream of an abolition of slavery – on others. Slavery is wrong, but marching in with an army and demanding that a culture abandon central elements of its identity and economic structures can have catastrophic consequences.
Moreover, if one is inclined to cast the dothraki in the stereotype of savages, one can hardly say that all the races and nations outside of Westeros are presented as ‘uncivilized’. We haven’t seen much of them yet, but by modern standards the ‘Free Cities’ in many ways show more aspects of what we might call ‘civilisation’ from a ‘western’ point of view. Volantis is a democracy, Braavos is religiously tolerant and has outlawed slavery, as has Pentos – not much is known of the other city states, yet, but there’s some interesting discussion on the Wiki of Ice and Fire about them.
There is, perhaps, a case to be made for exoticism of other cultures. Here I feel like I’m not on a stable ground to make a judgement. My instinct is to say that there is always an element of exoticism in fantasy worlds. Part of the appeal is presenting cultures that differ from our own with a sense of wonder. Westeros itself is a somewhat exoticised view of medieval feudalism. Yet, there is no question that we are encouraged to identify with the white, European-like, faux-Britannia as the central locus for point of view action. To an extent the Daenerys plotline is unusual in fantasy novels in basing one of the major plots in completely different, non-European-like cultures, and it does allow for more non-white characters that are not ‘evil’ than you see in the average Hollywood show or Anglo-American novel. But equally, her plotline is the most exploitative in terms of titillation and presentation of other cultures for spectacle. I don’t know. I don’t feel confident making a call in this area as I’m aware of my own privilege as a white European, but my instinct is to make the same call as for the sexism issue: A Song of Ice and Fire is problematic, but does good things as well as bad, and, on the whole, Game of Thrones, the TV show, does its best to tone down some of the more problematic elements (see my discussion of the ‘Qartheen dress’ below).
Returning to the topic of the presentation of female characters, I can’t not stop off to tip a hat to the glorious Arya Stark. Arya’s story develops along new and interesting lines in season 2. Her plot takes a darker turn as she is forced to try and survive in war torn Westeros, concealing her gender for fear of what would be done to her if it were known that she is a girl. She travels with young boys and hardened criminals, heading for the Wall and learning to hold her own. Witnessing death and torture she begins to build a list of people she will kill one day as a coping mechanism, and having saved the life of the assassin, Jaqen H’ghar, she uses his debt to her to begin wreaking vengeance. We also see her treading a careful line in Tywin Lannister‘s shadow. This is sheer invention – a contraction of events from the books to enable a more digestible format for our screens – Tywin and Arya never meet like this. Yet it works; Maisie Williams and Charles Dance make captivating verbal sparring partners, creating for Tywin a charm he didn’t really have in the books, but which works very well for the TV series.
Another change from the books that I very much appreciated was concerning the notorious Qartheen dress. In the books this marks an uncomfortable and inexcusable exoticism mixed with misogyny. This is a style of dress that indicates the exotic nature of Qarth by having it just so happen that the women of Qarth traditionally walk around with one breast exposed. A breast that is described in loving detail. There is no obvious reason why the people of Qarth would favour such a style, and whilst some cultures do favour bare breasts, this usually comes with a more relaxed attitude towards nakedness that makes breasts a much less fetishised body-part than they are in much of the so called ‘developed’ world. Such an attitude does not seem to be present in Qarth, and it’s pretty clear that the reason why this outlandish fashion is the way it is does not lie in some flavour of world-building colour, but in seeking to titillate the (presumed male, heterosexual) audience. In case you can’t tell, I found these passages pretty sickening, in the book. It is to Game of Thrones‘ credit, then, that they chose to redefine the Qartheen gown to look like this (above). She still looks stunning, as is only right for a character described in the books as the most beautiful woman in the world, but she’s not in the least bit over-exposed. Rather, this is a dress that exudes strength – complete with metal power-shoulders – at the same time as enhancing her beauty. This dress says that being beautiful does not render a woman weak.
But lest we start thinking that the message is that ‘only bad witches are ugly’, let’s recall that this series also features Brienne of Tarth, or ‘Brienne the Beauty’ as she is mockingly called. At 6ft 3in, Gwendoline Christie was inspired casting for Brienne, and you can see that they made full use of the camera’s bag-o-tricks to enhance the height difference between her and other characters. Moreover, Christie reportedly put on 6.5 kilos of muscle for the role, enabling her to cut a truly impressive figure as a fighter. Granted, the Brienne from the books is described as considerably more ugly than Christie could hope to be, but her awkward gait and clear lack of typical female mannerisms marks her out in a way that one could see might well be judged unattractive to the men of her world.
It’s wonderful, then, to see the shift in perspective on Jaime’s face when he sees her fight and kill for the first time. He realises that she’s no joke – she might even be his equal, and few men could say that. I’ve always felt that the most interesting thing about Jaime is that, whatever else he may be, he’s a good fighter. He always seems more comfortable talking to people about battles and fighting, and on screen we can see him visibly relax when the conversation turns to such things, as he finds himself on firmer ground. In this way, Jaime is able to respect Brienne as he has no other woman, in the area that matters most to him.
Season 2 shows us just the beginning of what I’m hoping will become the Brienne and Jamie Very Bloody Buddy Movie, which is basically what I’ve been calling season 3 in anticipation. I can’t wait!
It’s not all squee. I can’t say that I’m a fan of how Melisandre has been presented. Not that I’ve ever really been overly fond of the character, but I didn’t think her relationship with Stannis needed sexing up the way it was. Apart from anything else, it’s completely out of character for Stannis. Whether you agree with his principles or not, Stannis is all about doing what’s right, and even if he doesn’t show much affection for his wife, having an affair with his priestess doesn’t seem like his style. It felt like the producers just saw another pretty woman they could get naked, and I couldn’t help but feel that this is a show with enough of those already. I like a bit of sex in my fantasy, but I prefer it in character and less exploitative.
The other big changes that I haven’t mentioned concern the ‘Battle of Blackwater’. In the books, Tyrion’s stroke of genius is not simply making use of Cersei’s stock-piled wildfire, but in trapping Stannis’s ships with a massive chain across the harbour, preventing escape. It’s a shame, as it’s a striking element in the books and a mark of Tyrion’s strategy, but you can see why it was cut. Blackwater was always going to be difficult to stage, and they went with the most dramatic looking elements to portray. It worked. The other significant change is that [spoiler] Tyrion’s nose doesn’t get chopped off. He does get a slice across the face that leaves him with a (supposedly) disfiguring scar, but losing half his nose becomes such a big issue for Tyrion in the books that it does seem like a slightly more problematic departure. Some people have said they thought the make-up would have been difficult to achieve, but I’m not convinced. I’ve seen noseless people/monsters on screen before. I suspect that it had more to do with keeping the face of one of their most celebrated stars intact than anything else. I don’t mind too much. I imagine it would have been difficult to look at a gaping wound like that, and I enjoy Peter Dinklage’s face the way it is, but I had half-hoped for a more gutsy move, there.
Aside from that, however, it really was an impressive production. I finished every episode bereft, like I could have continued watching forever. For quite a while after it had finished I really wasn’t sure how I was going to make it until next year. Of course, I have managed to fill my time with other things since then, but it’s undeniable that Game of Thrones has become a televisual experience not quite like any other.
(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts here.)
Back on the waggon again! Sorry for the gap, chaps. Absence of Internet for three weeks in January plus Life equals a bit of a RAWR backlog, and once I got off this horse it was a little daunting to try and get back on again. But I’m not leaving this baby unfinished. I’m still flattered by the number of hits this gets, and I kind of feel I owe it to people not to get 48 chapters through and just stop. So: onwards and upwards!
Chapter 49: Jon
Jon sees Alys Karstark married to the Magnar of Thenn to save her from an unwelcome marriage claim and help cement peace. Jon keeps Cregan Karstark (Alys’s uncle, who would have taken her by force) prisoner in an ice cell under the wall. Jon offers t let him take the black if he yields his claim upon Alys’s holding, but he refuses. Tensions continue to run high between the Queen’s men and the men of the Night’s Watch, and between the old guard of the Night’s Watch and their new wildling brothers and sisters. Lady Melisandre says that she has seen the Queen’s fool in her fires, surrounded by skulls, but when she searches for Stannis all she sees is snow. The same as when she searches for Mance. When she searches for Jon, she sees daggers ever closer. Happy omens all. The chapter closes with the sound of a horn, heralding Val’s return, with what Jon hopes will be a host of friendly wildlings to swell their ranks.
The plot inches onward in this chapter. The wedding saves Alys and will presumably mean something somewhere down the line. Val’s return will be important, but we don’t actually see her safe and sound and backed by a host of friendly wildlings, yet. Mostly, we’re treading water, although there’s a lot going on in Lady M’s visions. Menacing skulls and daggers and an awful lot of snow. And, of course, Snow may have a double meaning – the snow Stannis and Mance are buried by in the weather-stalled conflict to the south, or ‘Snow’ – the last name of a certain significant viewpoint bastard. Is Melisandra seeing snow when she searches for R’hllor’s champion because it is Snow who should be her champion, not Stannis? Everything is much too vague to say much of anything, for now, but it’s interesting that the fool is being highlighted as sinister. Fools have a literary history of unusual significance.
Chapter 50: Daenerys
Daenerys is married, and uncomfortable with the concessions she has made to gain peace. Peace with slavers – slavers who trade directly outside her walls. There’s a recurrent and poignant refrain in Daenerys’s thought ‘If I look back, I am lost‘. It is both her strength and her weakness. She has come as far as she has by pushing ever onward and not showing uncertainty, but there is a weakness, too, in sticking to one’s decisions and never retreating. Staying in Meereen seems to have been an increasingly bad idea. Daenerys is as unyielding as Tyrion is as changeable as the wind. Both are survival tactics, and I become ever more and more curious of what will happen when they meet. Oh God I hope they meet!
Daario had reportedly become wild since the wedding, and likely to kill Quentyn for his betrayal. Daenerys sends him and several others to the Yunkai’i as hostages against the peace. She must also make peace with Brown Ben Plumm of the Second Sons and in talking to him she learns that he betrayed her because he saw her as defeated – because she had chained her dragons, instead of releasing them. She comes to understand, and learns a valuable lesson, but it would be wrong to say that she forgives. Uneasy in her peace, Daenerys plots to reach out to the other mercenary companies, so that she will be ready if betrayed.
She also takes Quentyn to see her dragons, and warns him – she is his only friend in these lands, and she is married. The sellswords would kill him for his betrayal, her husband is not likely to be at ease with another suitor so close at hand, and Quentyn, bless him, is just a boy with two knights and a bit of paper. He says he will stand his ground, of course.
OK, so maybe Quentyn is not made of the same hard iron as Daenerys. Bah. It’s an interesting chapter, but like the one before it, one senses that it is mostly setting things up for the future. The various tensions and potential alliances are outlined for us, and Quentyn meets some dragons, but it’s still a waiting game. No one has come out into the open, yet; it is all preparations and secrecy. It’s well described, but I was hoping for a bit more bang in the 50th chapter. I guess one shouldn’t expect writing by nice round numbers, though.
Tune in next time to see if something actually happens!
I’m playing catch-up, so you get twice in one weekend! 😀
Chapter 43: Daenerys
So, Dany and Daario are now doing a whole Romeo and Juliet thing – wishing the dawn away so that they can have rampant bunny-sex and forget about the fact that Danerys has promised to marry Hizdahr. You can imagine how much I enjoyed these scenes. To give him his credit, though, Daario genuinely seems to be attracted to Daenerys as a strong woman. He doesn’t like this marriage, not only because it takes her away from him, but because he knows the Meereenese are chipping away at her power base, and Hizdahr is likely to steal it out from under her the moment they are married.
Not that I’m now sold on him. I still have no clue what was supposed to be attractive about him in the first place, and up until this point he really didn’t seem to have that many admirable qualities. All in all, it doesn’t seem to me that Dany is presented as loving him because he respects her power. To be honest, that came as a bit of a surprise. Dany’s interest has so far been expressed as a wish to be dominated by him. But whatevs.
The fun part of this chapter is that Quentyn has finally got himself an audience with Dany, and reveals his plan. Bless his little Dornish socks. But his offer comes too late. She is to be married to Hizdahr for the sake of peace within her city and without. Dany rejects his offer, she has to, but she has the decency to respect the distance he has traveled to reach her, and commands that others treat him with the honour he deserves. Must make for a nice change after the road.
And so Dany marries Hizdahr. The chapter ends with them both bound ‘wrist and ankle with chains of gold’. The metaphor for bondage is a little obvious, but if you squint a little there’s a nice echo back to Tyrion strangling Tysha with the Hand’s chain of gold. There’s also a nice moment where Dany declares she will ride to her wedding on a horse, but her maids regretfully point out that she cannot ride in a tokar. A nice demonstration of the ways that fashions have so often been used to stunt women’s ability to act freely, as well as a symbol of how this marriage is likely to restrict Dany, and prevent her from doing the things she wants to do. The inability to ride a horse is a nice symbol, considering her first power was as khaleesi of the Dothraki, a horse people.
Of course, I’m frustrated that Dany can’t marry Quentyn, but he’s not ready for her yet – he’s still a bit soft around the edges, and Dany wasn’t in a position to change her mind about marrying Hizdahr at that stage. Not without unleashing anarchy. Guess I just have to wait for Hizdahr to get killed off!
Chapter 44: Jon
Queen Selyse arrives at Castle Black, and is a right pain to everyone. This is Stannis’s queen, and she’s rather aware of her position, sadly without the savvy to do much sensible with it. She also has various irritating hangers-on, such as the delightful Ser Axell Florent, who fancies himself as a husband for Val. Plus one daughter, Princess Shireen… who has greyscale. Surely not a good thing for a potential monarch to have, what with the early death and madness we were hearing about being associated with this disease earlier in the book.
More interestingly, Selyse brings with her a banker from Bravos – Tycho. Tycho is come to chase after the debts of the iron throne, as Cersei has refused to pay them, and as far as the banker is concerned the debts are owed by the thrown, and whoever sits on it. If Stannis is prepared to pay those debts, he could have a powerful ally/source of coin. But it would be taking on an awful lot. But for Jon, what’s more important is what Tycho could mean for the wall. He wants money for food, and for ships to rescue the foolish wildlings who have headed up to Hardholme to die. They haggle under the watchful eye of Mormont’s raven, finally settling on an agreement that pleases neither, but probably means they both got something.
Incidentally, I’ve been developing a theory about Mormont’s bird. After all the wargs in this book, and with the story earlier about how people used to use ravens because they could possess them to send messages by having the ravens speak it… well. All I’m saying is that it’s not beyond the realms of plausibility that Mormont’s raven carries something of Mormont’s spirit, and may be guiding Jon, somewhat, from the grave. Not that I expect this theory to be confirmed in any way, but it fits, for me.
The big surprise comes at the end of the chapter – a grey girl on a dying horse. Jon was expecting Arya, I was expecting Jeyne (although it puzzled me that she would arrive so soon), we’re both wrong. It’s some girl we’ve never heard of, before. Woman, really. Alys Karstark – rightful heir to Karhold, if her brother dies, on the run from a forced marriage. She reveals that Arnold Karstark declared for Stannis in the hopes of provoking the Lannisters to kill her brother, though he plans to betray Stannis in the end. Before that happens, they hope to force her into a marriage to a man who will almost certainly kil her off once she’s produced a child, just so that they can lay claim to her birthright.
It’s all a bit of a mess, really, but the point is that she has come to John for protection, and she is neither Arya, nor Jeyne. Which leave me wondering… Jeyne’s escape is somewhat less assured than it previously seemed.
(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)
An aside about the physical object: I still have no regrets about buying the hulking mass of maybe-I-won’t-read-this-one-whilst-I-walk-to-work; I still think the cover art is chic and stylish; the matt finish, though? Umm. Let’s just say that I have never managed to crap up the cover of a book quite so badly before, and this baby has almost never left the house since I brought it home. I’d show you a picture, but it’s late and my main light crapped out a couple of days ago – I’m typing by lamp-light – so if I took a photo you wouldn’t see much. (And yes, I said a couple of days ago. I haven’t replaced it yet. I am simultaneously afraid of potential spiders in the lampshade and in the box where I keep my spare bulbs. That, and I’m lazy. Do you want me to write a review, or do you want me to change a light-bulb? Only one practical thing per evening, folks!)
Chapter 27: Tyrion
Did I mention that I liked this chapter? I liked this chapter. I really liked this chapter. Tyrion and Ser Jorah brought together at last! And then…! With the…!
Whatever could they mean?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s have a recap. Last we saw him, Tyrion was being abducted by an anonymous ‘knight’ who was taking him to see the ‘queen’. We were obviously supposed to assume that this was Cersei; I dunno about you, but I was rooting for Ser Jorah taking him to see Daenerys anyway. You all know I want to get Tyrion and Daenerys together, and apparently I now have a crush on Ser Jorah, so I was enjoying that, too. It has been alleged on Twitter that my current infatuation has more to do with the fact that Iain Glenn plays him in the TV series than the character himself. I can’t imagine what would give anyone that idea. I mean, what’s sexy about this (above-right)? And, no, I didn’t publically melt into a puddle on seeing that he was in Downton Abbey. Anyone who says differently has obviously been hypnotised by his deliciously reverberating voice… Ummm.
Honestly, I can’t remember whether I gave two hoots about Ser Jorah before I saw the TV series. It’s astonishing the things I have forgotten, and I usually have an annoyingly good memory for books. (Annoying, because it makes them difficult to reread.) But I must confess that it rather suggests he wasn’t really on my radar before. I don’t especially care. Some of the actors on Game of Thrones have differed sufficiently from my mental picture such that stepping back into the book version caused a bit of a jar. Despite my adoration of Peter Dinklage, and the fact that Tyrion was always one of my favourite characters, I simply can’t deny that I don’t find the Tyrion of the books sexy at all, whereas, Dinklage? Yes, I would. They’re similar, but subtly different characters. Tyrion of the books is funny and engaging and clever, but his charisma lacks the youthful freshness of Dinklage’s portrayal – it’s just a shade more bitter, more mature. But Ser Jorah… however he was written before, the writing now melds seamlessly with the picture in my head created by Game of Thrones and Iain Glenn’s delectable portrayal. Gosh. What a shame.
Anyway, Jorah is taking Tyrion south, apparently not having told him his name or anything like that. Tyrion remains sure he’s being taken to Cersei for a surprisingly long period of time, even after he figures out who Jorah is. I mean, come on – Westeros is in the north, what way are you going, Tyrion? You know there’s more than one queen. Why wouldn’t the man admit it if he were taking you to Cersei?
Ah well, it makes for a nice bit of tension. You know I love a bit of concealed identity, and we get two for one in this chapter – after all, Tyrion cuts a recognisable sort of figure as well. They nicely dance around the issue through most of the chapter, then Jorah takes Tyrion to see the widow of the waterfront, aka Vogarro’s whore. The widow is a lady who used to be a whore, but was then married by a very influential man. After his death she inherited his fortune and carried on his works and made his power her own. If she weren’t a former slave, she would almost certainly have been elected as a Triarch, despite the disadvantages of her gender – there is precedence, we are told. If anyone can get them passage to Meereen on the sly, it is she.
Of course, once Jorah reveals that it’s Meereen he’s headed to, Tyrion practically wets himself with laughter. It’s a nice moment, but I would have felt it more if it didn’t require Tyrion to hold the idiot ball for a bit. Nevermind. It’s a small part of a stonking chapter.
Of course, the widow knows exactly who they are and that they have nothing she wants. Or rather, they might do, but Jorah isn’t as quick as Tyrion at working out what that is, and he foolishly offers her money – as though she needed that. In the meantime, Tyrion has been clocked by someone. A fellow dwarf, and a young one. This was a tense and interesting part, well-played. Lots of things were racing through my mind. If this person is a dwarf, what if this is actually the child of Tyrion and Tysha, grown up to hate him? That’s stupid, of course, dwarfism isn’t usually hereditary and how would the child recognise him anyway? But hey, it’s fantasy, who knows? O’course, it could also just be a short person, like, say, Arya? Come to kill Tyrion for trying to murder her brother? (She doesn’t know the truth of that, after all.) It’s also nicely played, there, as the person, when they come charging at Tyrion, does so saying it’s because he got her brother killed…
But, of course, it’s neither of those things. It turns out to be one of the dwarves that were jousting as entertainment for Joffrey’s wedding feast. After Tyrion killed Joffrey, some idiots killed her brother, mistaking him for Tyrion, or at least thinking they could say it was him. It’s also a nice moment because it gives both Tyrion and Jorah the chance to show that they’re not bad sorts, and gallant in their own ways. Jorah protects Tyrion, Tyion tells Jorah to let the girl go, once he realises what’s up, and Jorah does, apologising to her.
In response, the widow says: ‘Knights defend the weak an protect the innocent, they say. And I am the fairest maid in all Volantis’. Her words are scornful in tone, but not entirely, methinks, in substance. She dismissed Jorah’s reasons for taking Tyrion to Daenerys because they sounded like the sort of romantic twaddle that could only be lies. Yet she’s seen that he does have a sort of honour, and she clearly likes Tyrion. Choosing to believe that he really intends to serve Daenerys, the widow tells Jorah: ‘Should you reach your queen, give her a message from the slaves of Old Volantis… Tell her we are waiting. Tell her to come soon’ – and, man, I felt a tingle just copying that out. It’s a fabulous line with a finely crafted lead-up.
Tyrion’s idiot-ball induced stupidity is more than made up for in other ways. Firstly is his insight into the widow. He quickly sees that what she wants is respect. She’s a tough, smart lady who has earned power and wealth against all the odds, building a place in the community that, despite the fact that she is called by two names that define her in terms of her relationship to a man, is her place and her power. Yet she is barred from having her status recognised and achieving the election she clearly deserves because she was once a slave. She wants recognition, and she feels an affinity for a woman who was sold to a man and carved a nation and an army for herself by freeing slaves. She doesn’t want fairytales of princesses being rescued, she wants emissaries that will take her message to Daenerys and call her to Volantis – call her to take her war to them.
Tyrion also shows his smarts in other ways. You may recall my concerns about his plan for Young Griff to go north instead of south – that although it had some feasibility it under-estimated Daenerys and the distance between Meereen and Westeros. Turns out Tyrion didn’t think it was that great a plan either. He’s a disappointed to hear that Young Griff et al are headed north, rather than south. He recognises, as I suggested, that blood and a call to rally to someone else’s claim to the thrown aren’t going to greatly impress a queen like Daenerys. A call from another former slave and strong woman to come rescue slaves, however? She just might come to that.
I also enjoyed the relationship between Jorah and Tyrion. Methinks Jorah is starting to like Tyrion in spite of himself. A cliche? perhaps, but it’s well done.
Soon, my Dream Team will be coming together: Tyrion, Daenerys, Jorah, and Quentyn. Yes. This is what is going to happen. Nothing could possibly go wrong. It’s not like it’s a George R R Martin book, after all.
Oh wait. They’re all screwed, aren’t they?
Chapter 28: Jon
Less happens in this chapter. Some information gets exchanged, and some bits and bobs get set up.
Jon gets in on some training and shows he’s better than all the new recruits – quelle suprise – but then the Lord of Bones shows up and tests Jon’s metal. Jon finds him surprisingly spry for a man of his size. Hmm, isn’t that odd? Jon then gets a letter notifying him of Arya’s impending marriage to Lord Ramsay. And Jon is all ‘Noooo – I mean… oh dear. That poor girl. But she’s not my sister anymore. I am a good man of the Night’s Watch. I don’t have any sisters anymore. Nope’. But then Lady Melodrama Melisandre shows up and is all ‘I have seen your sister in my visions, Jon Snow… She’s running away. I can help you save her, if you give me your soul…‘.
It’s a nice little chapter that’s as long as it needs to be, and no longer. Lady M is still boring me to tears, and I’m all ‘But that’s not Arya‘, but it is Jeyne Poole, and that poor girl doesn’t deserve such a fate anymore than Arya does. Jon will be so sad when they rescue her (as they clearly will) and it turns out not to be his sister. But at least it looks like Ramsay won’t succeed in his aim of legitimising his rule of the North with this fake marriage to Arya. Not that you can ever bank on anything with these books.
Not much more to say about this chapter. If you’ve read any further (as I now have) you’ll know there are things about it that make you look back and go ‘Ohhhhhh’, but I aim to stay spoiler-free for all points up to the chapter currently being discussed, so I’ll leave it there. It’s past my bedtime, anyway.
(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)
Chapter 25: The Windblown
OK, I’m officially bored with the names that aren’t actually the names of the people whose point of view the chapter is from. Yes, it reflects the shifting identities they’re adopting, and there’s something kind of interesting about that. Also, ‘The Windblown’ is sort of appropriate, from that perspective, but ‘The Windblown’ isn’t even the new name of the person whose point of view the chapter is from, it’s the name of the company he’s joined. His new name is ‘Frog’, so, if we’re following the more interesting name-shift adopted for Theon Greyjoy, ‘Frog’ should be the new chapter title, as ‘Reek’ is for Theon.
It’s just messy, is all I’m saying. I’m used to looking at a chapter title and going ‘Oh, hurrah! A Tyrion chapter!’ or ‘Oh, A Daenerys chapter – is this going to be good or bad?’. Maybe that’s something Martin wants to undermine, but I rather like how my expectations for a chapter are sometimes formed by the name and then upset if the chapter goes in a different direction to what I expected.
Anyway, in case you were wondering (because it is a bit frustrating, isn’t it, when you’re trying to work out who exactly is being talked about whilst you’re trying to get into a piece of writing) this chapter is actually from Quentyn Martell’s perspective. Now he’s travelling with a company of mercenaries called ‘The Windblown’. They solved their dilemma about how to reach Daenerys without getting greyscale or dying on the Demon Road by signing up to fight in an army… that’s going to fight Daenerys. And that’s most of the dramatic tension for this chapter. Quentyn’s all worried because he’s off to fight the woman he’s meant to marry, but if they have to break their oaths and run away from the Windblown they’ll not only be oath-breakers, they’ll have a bunch of deadly mercenaries who know the land on their tails.
There’s something rather sweet and naive in the way they’re worried about breaking their oaths. Just about everyone else in these books has broken at least a dozen oaths or turned their cloak or something similar along the way. Usually they’ve decided to square it by adopting a new, slightly grimmer code of honour. These guys are all new and shiny.
Well, not quite so shiny anymore. The other purpose of this chapter is to let us know that sweet Quentyn has been exposed to the horrors of war at Astapor, which is a city that’s really, really gone to Hell. He’s levelled a bit in fighting, and also bit in War-Is-Hell. Bless.
Here be my new pet theory: whilst Young Griff is swanning off in the wrong direction making initially plausible but ultimately stupid tactical decisions in the game to win Daenerys’s hand, Quentyn is going to have seen the rougher side of the world, fought bloody and dirty and been thoroughly disabused of the idea that Daenerys is some pretty little princess waiting to be claimed. We see a little bit of that in this chapter, as he starts to hear the rumours that have been spread about her. He’ll arrive at Meereen having served time as the lowest of the low, changing himself to suit the needs of his situation, just like Daenerys. He’ll still be a little bit green, because he couldn’t possibly go through all the things she has, and I suspect he doesn’t have quite the inner command that she does, but that’s OK. She’s attracted to powerful, domineering men (I may not like it, but I can’t deny it), but we’ve already seen that she’s more prepared to make deals on marriage with men who are less imposing. She sends Daario away from her because she knows he’s a distraction and not good for her rule. She accepts Hizdahr’s offer as a business deal that has nothing to do with lust and all to do with striking the right deal. I’m also sure that part of what she responds to is his thoughtful and unpresumptuous manner. Whatever her desires are, she’s agreed to marry a man without half as forceful a personality as herself, and conscious or not I suspect that is a part of her choice.
Quentyn also isn’t so unfortunate as to have a better claim to the throne. Instead he offers money. Daenerys makes the deals that take her to her goals. She needs money. She has armies, but cannot feed them. She has cities, but she cannot keep the peace. She’s made one deal in favour of peace, I think she’d make another in favour of money. I don’t think Quentyn will win her with physical prowess or charisma, but if he’s shown himself competent and flexible – adaptable – and learnt a thing or two about fighting along the way without becoming arrogant… yeah, he might be in with a chance.
I’m Team Quentyn again. Yes, I changed my mind – these books do that to you, that’s why I like them.
Anyway, Quentyn also has good luck, which, as Machiavelli said, is an important part of being a good leader. The company he’s in has chosen to take both sides in the upcoming battle and sends all its Westerosi members out as defectors to greet Daenerys. Which actually means that Quentyn et al don’t have to defect at all! Hussar! Honour intact.
I enjoyed this chapter, but it’s not without flaws. The many and varied mercenary companies are interesting and colourful, but not always convincing. One is led by a girl, younger than Daenerys, who apparently bred and raised her slave-warriors. Something doesn’t scan, there. Might it be plausible that some enterprising young maid would set up her own company in mirror of Daenerys’s triumph? I don’t know. Maybe. She might try, I’d be surprised if she succeeded. But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t breed up men older than herself to fight for her.
Similarly, the stilt-walking Herons are completely implausible. That someone might breed up a company of abnormally tall slaves, even display them sometimes on stilts? Yeah, I buy that. I also understand the idea that these other companies are supposed to be representing the follies of people playing at war. But I can’t see them lasting a day being asked to march on stilts, let alone fight. Maybe someone will pitch up with links to examples of something like this from history, but right now it’s stretching my credulity.
Oh well, can’t have everything.
Chapter 26: The Wayward Bride
See, at least Quentyn has a reason to not go by his name if he’s being presented as a chamelion, but can’t we just call her ‘Asha’? No? Bah.
Asha Greyjoy is holed up in Deepwood and has just heard word of the fall of Moat Cailin. This leaves her very vulnerable. She can’t go back to the Iron Islands because her uncle has usurped her claim to the throne and married her in absentia to some old guy she has no interest in wedding. She’ll be disowned by everyone if she kneels to Stannis, and now she’s wide open to both Stannis and the Boltons. As she waits for attack and fails to decide what to do she has sex with some guy called Qarl after she repeatedly refuses him because she’s too tired and is not in the mood. But apparently she likes being taken by force after she’s clearly and firmly said ‘no’. I’ve already talked about the problems I had with this scene, so I won’t go into it again – I’m as bored with discussing this sort of thing as I’m sure you are.
After the sex, Stannis attacks, with the clansmen one assumes he won over, following Jon’s plan. They’ve dressed themselves in trees to hide their approach. Part of me likes the Shakespearean call-back to Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane – it’s a good idea, why not re-use it? But, on the other hand, I knew exactly what was going to happen the moment she noticed that the trees were making a lot more noise than they should have been. It felt a little obvious.
Asha makes the decision to flee into the woods rather than surrender or get slaughtered in the castle. She plans to make for her boats, but is attacked by the clansmen in the night. We’re left on a cliffhanger, with things looking very bad for Asha.
I hope she survives. Asha is a good character, and I enjoy her arse-kicking adventures. I suspect she will. Shortly before the attack Tris Botley tells her a tale of someone who challenged a kingsmoot because he could not be there to make a claim. This apparently tips off something in Asha’s brain that can better her situation, but we aren’t told what – only that it doesn’t apply to her claim to rule the Iron Islands. I’m kind of hoping it’s that she’s realised that you can’t be married to someone in absentia, which seems blindingly obvious, to me, but maybe they do things differently in the Iron Islands. In any case, the very fact that we don’t get to see what it was she realised suggests to me that she’s not dead yet. She better not be. That would be very annoying.
All in all, a solid couple of chapters, and I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the chapter that followed them very much indeed! But, alas, I have not the time to review it now – you’ll just have to tune in for the next Read Along with Rhube to find out why!
(Index to previoues A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)
Gosh, I’ve done twelve of these things and we’re not even half-way through the book! In many ways this is a rather peculiar way to read a novel. I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I almost always have half a mind on what I’m going to say in my post afterwards. Or sometimes I will get really caught up in it, and I’ll think, better stop soon or I’ll have forgotten what I thought about the first few chapters of this read when I come to write the review. In general, though, A Dance with Dragons has been such a mixed bag that it’s usually OK. Part of the deal with the many characters POV thing is that you’re constantly changing about between characters that you really like and ones that you care less about, meaning that there are natural stopping point from time to time.
Anyway, enough of my blather about me. On to the main show!
Chapter 23: Daenerys
Oh Daenerys, Daenerys, whatever shall I do with you? You make me love you, and then you frustrate me so.
For the most part I liked this chapter. Further interesting politics. I like that Martin does interesting politics without making everyone flawlessly good like they were born knowing what they were doing. This is not The West Wing, with everyone spouting off snappy one-liners and miraculously untangling politics that the audience is running to keep up with (I say this with love), these are intelligent people in difficult situations. They do make brilliant moves, but they also get confused, overwhelmed, make mistakes, make decisions that are good from one point of view and bad from another, decisions that seemed wise at the time – even insightful – but that another perspective, or time, casts a different light on.
People are often pretty harsh about Catelyn for kidnapping Tyrion when she did, but what was she supposed to do? Sure, the evidence was circumstantial, but she had good reason to think that the Lannisters are devious buggers, there was an evident threat to her family, with good reason to think that Lannisters had killed the last Hand. She’d had warnings from her sister, who had walled herself away to keep her own son safe. And now this man pitches up at the same Inn as her, she tries to hide, but he recognises her. She can’t sit and pretend to be at ease with him, and he’ll probably never be in such a vulnerable position again, isolated from his family and its wealth. She has an opportunity to turn the tables on the man she believes tried to kill her son, and she seizes it. With hindsight it’s an incredibly stupid and fateful move, but it really wasn’t that dumb at that time in that place under those pressures.
I discussed in the last post that I think we’ve seen Jon make some understandable but ill-advised decisions recently, and I have a feeling we’re seeing Daenerys do the same. She’s in a difficult position. A position of both strength and weakness. She has risen from a place of begging and abandonment to being a queen in charge of an army, freeing slaves and terrorising regimes. She’s made a mistake in abandoning Astapor in terms of protecting the people she frees. She’s realised her mistake and wants to avoid doing the same in Meereen. But Meereen is not the same city, and she seems to have forgotten that she left Astapor not because she sought expansion and further conquest, but because she is building an army with an ultimate aim of going north to Westeros. She cannot hope to be queen of both Slaver’s Bay and Westeros. Empires are built on complex stable infrastructures, and she doesn’t have that. She’s not queen of a long-established, well-organised nation setting out for expansion. She’s one woman who with her dragons, her sharp mind, her birth-right, and her force of personality has called some people to her because they smell power, some because she offers freedom, and some because she threatens destruction. This is a power for either seizing one territory and making it her own, or marching through a bunch of territories, gathering people into her army, and taking with her to her eventual goal: Westeros.
She has to decide which is her true goal, and she hasn’t yet. And that’s the problem. In this chapter the Green Grace, an old woman of great power, goes to Dany to try and persuade her to marry a man of good standing from Meereen, to try and bring peace, Hizdahr zo Loraq. If she means to stay in Meereen and forge a new nation, it is the right choice. If she means to go on to Westeros, it is disastrous. In speaking to the man himself, she agrees to marry him if he can bring peace for ninety days and nights. In this time and place it is a good deal. She’s under immense pressure, and her power base is sorely threatened by her inability to maintain stability in the city. If he can do the task it will be exactly what she wants, but, equally, it seems a near impossible task, so she should have a great deal of time to think about a way out of her deal even if he does succeed. Taking the long view, though, whether she stays wants to stay in Meereen or go on to Westeros, marriage to this man is utterly the wrong choice. She will lose her independence and the power of the promise of her hand. Much of the book so far has been concerned with men who are desperately trying to reach her and win her because marrying her would mean so much. What’s more, marriage to her is simply worth so much more to a Westerosi man. What is her Targaryen blood to a man from Slaver’s Bay? Even her dragons are merely part novelty, part terror in these Southern lands. But in Westeros they mark her out as true royalty, and they have a specific significance with the threat of winter approaching.
Speaking of the dragons, this has been very badly handled. It’s understandable that she was shocked at the thought that one might have killed a child, especially as a mother whose own child was stillborn. But the dragons are a substantial portion of her power. She has lost one and her neglect of the others will be turning them against her and loosening her control of them. She needs to embrace their destructive power and use them as a threat. I’m not saying I want her to be a tyrant, but she is only weakening her own position by chaining up the source of a significant proportion of her power like this. It’s a powerful symbolic message that I doubt is lost on the people of Meereen. I’m surprised we havent already seen people commenting on the fact that she’s lost one. Frankly, I think we need to see her on the road with those dragons again, but that’s not going to happen if she’s waiting around for 90+ days seeing if Hizdahr zo Loraq can bring peace.
So, anyway, I think this is going to end badly, even though it seems surface wise of her to be taking responsibility for the carnage in Meereen. But I actually like that Martin is adding this complexity and depth to her character. I enjoyed this. What I did not enjoy were the scenes with Daario. In particular, the nature of her fantasies about him: ‘His kisses would be hard and cruel, she told herself, and he would not care if I cried out or commanded him to stop‘. I want to be very clear what my objection is, here. I completely understand that this is a fantasy, many men and women fantasise about sexual acts they do not wish to perform. Many men and women engage in consensual BDSM. There is nothing wrong with any of that, and given the unusual life Danerys has led it’s not implausible that she might like her sex a little rough. The problem is with the context. The context of fiction presenting a woman’s ‘No’ as meaning ‘Yes’. I find things like this deeply uncomfortable as they are presented as the norm when they are not the norm. We fight so hard to make it clear that ‘No means no’, and I know that BDSM people also fight hard to make it clear that they support safe play with clear boundaries and safe-words. Daenerys is fantasising directly about having her lover ignore her when she commands him to stop. By itself, it’s just a fantasy, but it fits in with the other problematic elements of Daenerys’s presentation, with the fact that she falls in love with her first rapist, with a history of fiction and real life that takes a woman’s words about whether she wants to engage in sex or not as not really serious, or probably part of a game. What’s more disturbing is that in a few chapters time another strong woman is taken by her lover after repeated and firm refusals, but ultimately gives in and decides she likes it. So close together it made for really disturbing and uncomfortable reading, for me. Just a little indication to clarify that this was part of a pre-established consensual pattern, or something in the narrative tone to at least acknowledge the problematic nature of the issue, could have made this OK. But there’s nothing, and that makes me deeply uncomfortable.
OK, let’s move on. It’s not all bad. Dany finally comes to see that Daario is an amoral sleazeball when he proposes slaughtering the great families of Meereen at her proposed wedding. That’s a step too far and too great a stain against her honour, and she sends him from her presence, ordering that he be taken to see someone else in future when he calls so that she isn’t tempted by her desires. Yet she still ends the chapter by thinking ‘What have I done?!’ Oh, Dany, you frustrate me so.
Chapter 24: The Lost Lord
The ‘Lost Lord’ is apparently Griff. I have to admit, I’m not a fan of all these titles as opposed to names in the chapter headings, especially as they don’t necessarily reflect anything the character is actually known by, but whatever. I enjoyed this chapter, and that is a good thing.
Following the loss of Tyrion, Griff decides to take Young Griff straight to his army and reveal him as the lost Prince Aegon. His army being the Golden Company. So named because their fallen apparently have their skulls gold-plated and displayed outside their HQ. Nice. It turns out that the current leader, who’s a bit of a money-grabbing cowardly twat, has already revealed the big secret to his Trusted Lieutenants. Because he’s awesome that way. Anyway, there’s then some debate about whether they should really go south to join Daenerys. It was all well and good when she seemed to be coming north, but she’s not anymore, and these guys are, at the end of the day, sellswords. Their roots in Westeros may be a point of pride, but what really binds them together is gold. The leader, Harry Strickland, seems keen to abandon the plan all together.
Fortunately, at this point, the prince steps up and proposes a new plan – Tyrion’s plan. They go back to Westeros and try to do the job without Daenerys. There’s some wisdom here, in that he definitely sells it to them the right way. They like a fight, they want to take the fight to Westeros, and doing it without Dany makes them all feel more manly. But I can’t help but feel some concern that no one worries about the point Tyrion mentioned: namely that they do not have the numbers to succeed without Dany’s help. Aegon/Young Griff carefully leaves that part out.
Here’s another thought on that. Tyrion reasoned that Dany is a rescuer, and will come to Aegon’s aid when she hears that the last of her line is gallantly losing a battle in Westeros. I’m not so sure. Dany identifies with slaves – she was effectively sold herself. I’m not sure that she identifies that hard with other Targaryens. Her brother was a twat, and I’m not sure she’s shed that many tears about his loss. We also saw in the previous chapter that she says ‘His forebears are as dead as mine’ when Hizdhar’s lineage is raised. She thinks she has a right to the Westerosi throne, and she has a vague general feeling that she wants to go ‘home’, but she’s not the lost little girl who wanted to go home, anymore. She’s a queen, and I’m not sure how well she’ll take to some upstart saying he has a better claim to her throne who decides to attack a country that already has too many kings when he clearly doesn’t have the forces to succeed. She’s spent her whole life working to raise a proper army, and she’s supposed to give over to him now? It’s a long way between Slaver’s Bay and Westeros – I’m not that sure that she’ll speed to his rescue. Especially if she already has a husband…
But hey, it’s still a smarter move than trying to persuade sellswords to go against their gold.
The chapter ends with another little twist. It turns out Griff senior has been hiding something. Despite the dire warning to Tyrion to cut off anything that’s going black, it seems that Griff himself is developing greyscale. But he’s decided to ignore this in favour of keeping going as long as the prince needs him. This could mean bad business down the line, though, after all, this is an illness that ends in madness…
Jon has sent all his friends away, and he’s feeling it. Or rather: he sent away everyone useful because they were his friends and he either wanted to protect them or worried that he wouldn’t be Lord Commanderish enough if he hung out with people who were his mates. In many ways I like Jon and consider him smart, sensible, and canny, but I think this was a big, big mistake that he’s only going to feel more as time goes on. If we suppose that Sam, Aemon, and Mance Rayder’s child didn’t die on the high seas then it’s probably a good move for them, but not for Jon and the wall. He’s sent away two of the most knowledgeable, trustworthy, wise people in his meagre army. He’s also sent his mates away, and I really don’t understand his reasoning, there. Sure, he can trust them to man other parts of the wall, but he needs trusted lieutenants – it’s OK to have good men you can trust, Jon!
Anyway, he’s not a complete numpty. He makes his move to recruit the wildlings to his cause. He goes to deliver what little they can afford to share (and, really, they can’t afford to share it). He says nothing as one woman pleads for an extra apple for her sick son who cannot make it out to claim his own fruit, and is refused. Cruel and heartless, but necessary. He then makes his call: you can eat as well as any member of the Night’s Watch if you agree to defend the Wall. They don’t have to sign up and speak the vows, they just have to obey orders and fight for him. It’s a good offer. The wildlings have come because they want the protection of the Wall and the Night’s Watch from the white walkers and wights, and who would turn down the extra food and decent lodgings? Sixty-three join, including spearwives and at least one feisty girl. I imagine we’ll be seeing more of that girl, and I don’t imagine she’s going to be having an easy time of it, but I’m pleased to see her.
I liked this chapter. I liked Jon’s deal, I liked that not everything is going cushy with him after sending his mates away, I liked the details of the wildling culture that they have brought with them. They’ve carved faces into the trees on the road to Mole-Town, which they now inhabit. Just like the faces on their god-trees. Which raises an interesting question: are god-trees grown or made? I always assumed they were a specific type of tree that people found and carved faces in, but what if they were once ordinary trees that had faces carved in them and became god-trees? Maybe this is a wild speculation, but then, why are there no god-trees growing wild? Or are there, somewhere? Are there wild gods? I’m probably reading too much into this, but I was surprised that the wildlings would carve faces into ordinary trees, and now I’m curious.
All in all, a good chapter.
Chapter 22: Tyrion
He’s not dead – phew! But he’s not necessarily safe from greyscale, either. They’ve bathed him in vinegar, but he’s now got to prick his extremities every day to check he still has feeling, and cut them off if he does not. Nice. Things never go well for Tyrion, do they? Bet Tysha will be extra glad to see her nose-less, possibly greyscale-infected, rapist and former husband now.
Tyrion and Young Griff have an interesting conversation. Tyrion gives the usual ‘trust no one’ speach, but he also gives some advice. If Young Griff goes to Dany begging she’ll laugh in his face. Young Griff can’t see how that could possibly be, but Tyrion is very insightful in imagining the sort of woman that would be forged out of the life Daenerys has had, and the sort of woman it would take to command Dothraki and march across the land freeing slaves. He suggests that the prince go north to invade Westeros – when Daenerys hears that a lost Targaryen prince is fighting to reclaim his land (but inevitably losing), she’ll rush to his aid and see him as an equal. It’s a good plan, but I don’t know if I want it to succeed or not. I know I said I was Team Young Griff and I wanted to see Tyrion and Dany together, but I’m not a fan of the idea of her being tricked like this, and I like to think that she’d still be arrogant enough to command superiority rather than equality from anyone she weds. I like my image of her as an Elizabeth I, playing men off each other not as a game but to retain her strength in a world that doesn’t like strong women.
Anyway, Tyrion suggests this, and we have no idea yet whether it will be accepted, my guess is: probably not. Or at least, not yet. This is still Griff Senior’s show, and he has other plans. Tyrion and Haldon go into town to get a feel for the mood of the people. It seems… mixed. An awful lot of slaves are hanging around to listen to a Red Priest preach in Daenerys’s favour, but other people seem much against her – that she doesn’t understand how the economy of the whole world rests on slavery, and will soon be crushed. Tyrion plays a game of Sheldon’s Three Person Chesscyvasse with a man called Qavo for information, and then decides to visit a brothel on the way back.
At the brothel he tries to get a woman who speaks the ‘Common Tongue’ (can’t we just say he speaks Westerosi? There clearly isn’t a common tongue in this world, so calling it this perplexes me) but fails. He gets drunk and talks way too much about who he is. When he emerges, there’s a knight waiting for him, saying he’s going to take Tyrion to the queen… but which one?
Not a lot really happened in this chapter. Davos wanders around, picks up some rumours about how the people in White Harbor feel about the political situation, and works himself up to entering the castle. That’s it.
I didn’t want to find myself agreeing with the rumours – that A Dance with Dragons adds a whole bunch of new characters that don’t really add anything and just clutter up the book – but I have to admit I can see where some fat could be trimmed. On the other hand, I still like Davos well enough, and nothing about this chapter pissed me off, which meant that it was a nice little bit of peace before being hit by the next chapter.
I could see that it was Daenerys, and after the last Daenerys chapter I put off reading this one for a few days. Then I thought: ‘Come on, Daenerys chapters aren’t all bad – you quite liked the first one, it might be OK.’ Well.
Chapter 16: Daenerys
The opening paragraph hit me like a punch to the gut. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or hit something:
“The dancers shimmered, their sleek shaved bodies covered with a fine sheen of oil. Blazing torches whirled from hand to hand to the beat of drums and the trilling of a flute. Whenever two torches crossed the air a naked girl leapt between them, spinning. The torchlight shone off oiled limbs and breasts and buttocks.”
No, there’s nothing in Daenerys chapters aimed towards the male gaze at all. After this paragraph, we learn that there are some male dancers – barely sketched in with anonymous faces – responding to their female companions with erections that Daenerys finds arousing as well as comical. Because, as we saw in the previous chapter, nothing turns Daenerys on more than men getting turned on by naked women. ‘Are they meant to inflame me?‘ Daenerys briefly wonders. No, honey, they’re meant to inflame the (assumed heterosexual male) reader, as indicated as the paragraph that’s introduced by this ponderance goes on to consider the reactions of the men watching the scene, rather than examining Daenerys’ own reaction, as you might have thought.
And just to make things extra fun, the reason for this spectacle is that Xaro Xhoan Daxos of Qarth is in town, which means that Daenerys has switched from her formal Meereen attire into that wonderful bit of exotic clothing that’s designed to reveal her left breast. Described in exquisite detail: ‘In his honor Daenerys had donned a Qartheen gown, a sheer confection of violet samite cut so as to leave her left breast bare. Her silver-gold hair brushed lightly over her shoulder, falling almost to her nipple.’ And despite the fact that both her and Xaro are supposedly more interested in the male dancers, Daenerys’ breast, the oiled female dancers, and the reactions of the other males in the room are what dominate the first page of this chapter.
What I’m describing here is what I felt in responding to this. I don’t want to cast aspersions on George R R Martin’s character – I’ve mentioned before how much I admire him and how much I appreciate the strong female characters he’s put in this violent, bloody, and sexually charged world. Nor am I against a little voyeurism. My problem is that chapter openings like this just utterly alienate me and make me feel really uncomfortable – not least because the things we’re being told about don’t seem to flow naturally from the viewpoint we’re supposed to be taking in the scene from. We see a snippet of Daenerys’ thought, but what we then go on to discuss is how the men in the room are feeling. Xaro observes later that she was more interested in the men, and we’re not told that she’s aroused by the women, but she sure seems to spend more time looking at the latter. It jars. It makes me feel that the scene was not written from Daenerys’ point of view, or mine, but for a heterosexual male perspective. I accept that Daenerys’ wearing the Qartheen dress is in keeping with her general habits and adaptability, but I struggle to see how this fashion arose. Yes, there are cultures that have clothing that exposes breasts, but these are often ones where nakedness in general is not so much a thing of note or eroticism, or the revealing garments are strictly for private moments with one’s husband, not for public functions for all to see. None of this seems to fit with Xaro’s culture, and to me it feels as though the reason for that is that the custom has not arisen naturally from within that culture, it has been imposed upon it by an impulse to titilate the reader.
And again, all of this is a shame because, when I could finally force myself to pick up the book again and read past this, some really interesting things actually happened. Significant things actually happened, and I’ve been crying out for a bit of those. Xaro gifts Daenerys with 13 boats from each of the ‘Thirteen’ – powerful factions within his people – on the condition that she leave and take her war to Westeros. Daenerys is sorely tempted, but she decides not to accept, showing a maturity and wisdom in finally recognising that she has a responsibility to these cities she has invaded that goes beyond waltzing in and trying to impose an ideal. This is a really, really interesting angle. It’s very pertinent today, when you consider so many of our modern wars, supposedly fought on idealistic grounds, but apparently not thinking through the consequences of trying to impose our values on another culture.
For what it’s worth, I think Daenerys’ values are right, and I think that’s what we’re meant to think. I think the way her war started even had some merit. She forged her position in the dothraki society by refusing to back down from her values, and when the dothraki abandoned her, her people were formed of the freed slaves whose loyalty she had won by her actions. But then she starts marching across a land and telling it to give up its customs or face the wrath of her dragons… and that becomes much more problematic. The balance of power has shifted, and it changes her moral responsibilities, as well as the different political systems she must work with and the threats she must face.
All of this is deeply interesting, and the conclusion – a declaration of war – marks probably the most significant event of the book so far (at around the 200 page mark). I just wish I hadn’t been distracted by that jarring confrontation with all those ‘oiled limbs and breasts and buttocks’ in the opening scene.