Game of Thrones – Season Four Finale!

got4We come to it at last, GOT’s Season Four finale! And I’m sorry it took me this long to post about it, but this week has been mighty hectic (what with school coming to a close for the year) and my computer suffering a broken screen. But thankfully, I was able to watch the episode earlier today, and have finally been able to see the episode and notice all the issues I heard about by other reviewers. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but hear the hype.

In any case, a lot happened that I was very much looking forward to. This included Tyrion’s escape and execution of his father, Stannis’ march on the North, and Bran finding the “three-eyed raven”. All of this made for a pretty good climax to the season. That being said, there were also some letdowns. For starters, there was the much publicized absence of Lady Stoneheart, the confrontation between Brienne and the Hound, and the usual changes and filler added to various story lines.

All of this added up to what I think was the best episode of Season Four, which itself was the worst season of GOT thus far. Kind of dubious spot to be in, but there it is. Anyhoo, here’s what happened…

The Children:
https://i0.wp.com/www.flickeringmyth.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Screenshot-87.pngThe episode opens with Jon Snow meeting Mance Rayder in his camp beyond the Wall. Inside Mance’s tent, they drink to fallen comrades and discuss a possible negotiated settlement. However, their talks are interrupted when riders begin pouring in, bearing the standard of House Baratheon. Stannis and Davos ride up to Mance, who surrenders, and Jon Snow introduces himself. He advises that Stannis take Mance prisoner and burn the dead before long.

Afterward, Maester Aemon gives the last rights to the Black Brothers who fell in battle and the bodies are burned. Stannis, his family, Davos, and the Lady Melissandre in attendance, and she looks to Jon across the flames. Jon meets with Tormund after and talks of Ygritte, and he tells Jon she loved him and that she must be interred in the North. True to his word, Jon takes her body beyond the Wall and constructs a pyre in the forest, where he burns her body.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.winteriscoming.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/cotf.jpgIn Mereen, Daenerys is troubled by two developments. First, she learns that former slaves are returning to their old professions because they have no means to support themselves otherwise. She is then made aware of the fact that Drogon, who escaped her care, has escalated and murdered a small child. She has Aggo and Jhogo chained up in the catacombs for the time being to prevent any further incidents, though it tears her apart to do so.

In the North, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds finally come upon the Weir Tree he has seen in his visions at last. As they approach the cave under the tree, they find it defended by animated skeletons. Reed is mortally wounded, and they are saved at the last minute by a Child of the Forest who guides them inside. Inside, Bran comes face to face with the “three-eyed raven”, who turns out to be an old man who is rooted to the tree. He tells Bran he will regain what he once lost, and learn to fly.

https://i1.wp.com/d1mxyp5ceukbya.cloudfront.net/images/game-of-thrones-season-4-finale-children-arya-hound-illegal-download-hbo.jpgIn the Vale, Brienne and Pod come upon Arya practicing her sword dance. When they approach, the Hound presents himself, and some difficult introductions are made. The Hound believes she is there to collect the bounty on him, but she insists she is there to bring Arya home. A fight brutal fight ensues, and Sandor is pushed from a cliff and falls below. Arya slips away to come to his side, and denies him when he begs her for a merciful death.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is told that The Mountain is dying thanks to the poisoned spear that Prince Oberyn used to stab him. Grand Maester Pycelle claims there is nothing to be done, but Qyburn assures Cersei he can be saved, though he claims the procedure will leave him “changed… somewhat”. Cersei meet with her father and denounces his plans to marry her to Ser Loras, going so far as to tell him that she and Jaime are lovers.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.crooksandliars.com/files/imagecache/node_primary/primary_image/14/06/tyrion_got.jpgOn the night before his execution, Jaime sneaks into Tyrion’s cell and frees him, telling him to meet with Varys. However, Tyrion instead goes to the Hand of the King’s room and finds Shae sleeping in his father’s bed. They fight and he strangles her with her necklace, then fetches a crossbow from the wall and finds his father in the privy. After speaking briefly, Tyrion shoots him in the chest with two bolts, and escapes to find Varys. He takes him to the docks, where a ship is waiting to take him to Essos.

In the Vale, Arya comes upon a port and finds the captain of a ship that is about to depart. She asks for passage north to the Wall, but he denies her and says they are going to Braavos. She hands him the iron coin Jaqen gave her and repeats the words, “Valar Morghulis”. The captain responds with “Valar Dohaeris” and welcomes her aboard. They set sail, and Arya says goodbye to Westeros.

Summary:
First, I would like to cover the things they changed or did wrong (in my opinion) since that requires some explanation. First of all, the meeting between Jon and Mance was done very well, but was missing one key element. In the novel, Mance revealed to Jon during their parlay that he still had a major card to play, in the form of the Horn of Winter. Already, Jon had heard that Mance had sent out parties to find this artifact of Bran the Builder’s, and it was here that Mance revealed its purpose.

https://i0.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/thumb/1/11/Nights_watch_wall_by_reneaigner.jpg/800px-Nights_watch_wall_by_reneaigner.jpgIn the backstory to ASOIAF, it is said that Bran the Builder, the Northern King who built the Wall and Winterhold, used the Horn of Winter (aka. the Horn of Joramun) to erect the Wall of ice that separated the Wildlings from the “knee-benders”. By using it again, Mance believed he could melt the Wall in one swift move, thus rendering the Black Brother’s only real defense against him moot. It was then that Stannis’ men attacked, and Mance was taken prisoner.

Second, the scene with Bran finding his way to the “three-eyed Raven” was altered a little. In the story, they found their way to the cave with the help of a strange (and helpful) Wight whom they called Coldhands. When they found the cave, other Wights, (not reanimated skeletons) attacked them. And Jojen Reed did not die here, but made it inside to safety. However, there were hints that he thought he was going to die down the road, so his death here wasn’t a total divergence.

https://i0.wp.com/thecelebritycafe.com/sites/default/files/images/GOT760006_got_410_cut_K_1_pub_12_0%5B1%5D.jpgThird, Brienne and Pod never caught up to Arya and the Hound in the books. Rather, the Hound supposedly died from wounds he sustained in the fight at the Inn with the Lannister men. It was in the Riverlands that Arya left him to die, and then rode to the nearest port to go to Braavos. The closest Brienne ever came to her was learning from various sources that he was seen with a Stark girl, who she initially thought was Sansa. She later learned that it was Arya, and that the Hound had apparently died.

Fourth, Tyrion’s escape involved a great deal more last-minute goodbyes and confessions between him and Jaime, and were central to why he chose to kill his father. After freeing him, Jaime told Tyrion that his first wife (Tysha), whom his father had claimed was a whore, was in fact just a lowborn girl. Tywin had her raped by his men and then proceeded to send her away, and lied to Tyrion by telling him she was a prostitute who tried to trick him into marriage.

Enraged by this, Tyrion chose not to descend the steps to get of the cells (which would have led him to the shore where Varys was waiting for him) and instead went up to the Hand of the King’s chamber to confront his father. There, he found Shae, and killed her. He then confronted his father on the Privy and demanded to know why he had become of Tysha. When his father replied that she went “wherever whores go”, and Tyrion shot him through the chest.

https://i0.wp.com/i.huffpost.com/gen/933737/thumbs/r-READ-WINDS-OF-WINTER-large570.jpgThis, like many other elements left out, was a very important part of the story’s rich background. Tyrion’s attraction to ladies of the evening, coupled with a deep-seated mistrust of them, all grows from this romance that ended in heartbreak for him. The story of the Horn of Winter is also one of the more mythical and fantasy-based elements of the ASOIAF universe, so I was sad to see it left out.

As for the confrontation between Brienne and the Hound, this was just another case of tying together threads in the story that never crossed in the original novel. And much like the other aforementioned cases – Jon nearly meeting up with Bran at Craster’s, but then not; Yara going to save Theon, but then leaving him behind – it went nowhere and seemed like an excuse to add a fight scene. A really good fight scene, but still one that never happened in the original text.

(SPOILER AHEAD! DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED NEXT SEASON!)

But by far the biggest issue was the fact that Lady Stoneheart – aka. Catelyn Stark – was nowhere to be seen! Not only was this a major plot point in the story, it was the big finish for the third book (A Storm of Swords). But of course, this requires some explanation, so bear with me. You see, after being murdered at the Red Wedding, Walder Frey had his men throw Lady Catelyn’s body into the river.

https://i1.wp.com/wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/screencrush.com/files/2014/06/lady_stoneheart___asoiaf___game_of_thrones_by_azad_injejikian-d5vuvtd.jpgIt washed up downstream where the Brothers Without Banners found it. And it was there that Ser Beric Dondarion, asked Thoros of Myr to resurrect her as he had done for him so many times. However, tired of playing God, Thoros refused, and Dondarion, himself sick of life, passed his life force to Catelyn with a kiss. You may recall these characters from Season Two, where Arya spent time amongst them before being kidnapped by the Hound.

In any case, the resurrected Catelyn was now a rather unsightly thing, her vocal cords cut and her face a swollen, grey mess. And she was some pissed over the fact that her family had been betrayed and murdered. As such, she and the Brothers rode round the Riverlands picking off the Freys one by one. She would sit in judgement on them and sentenced them to death, which is how she earned the name Lady Stoneheart. Why they chose not to preview this is beyond me…

(END OF SPOILER)

And now for the stuff that was done right. Stannis’ attack on the Wildlings was a pretty cool scene. The way they presented a Child of the Forest and the three-eyed raven was also quite neat, and I was wondering how they were going to go about it. And while they were once again mining information form book V to provide Daenerys with something to do, this was one time that I didn’t feel that her scenes were totally superfluous or rushed.

https://i1.wp.com/media1.onsugar.com/files/2014/06/15/168/n/1922283/348b15ef4e9cb95a_760006_GOT410_072313_HS_DSC9740_1_.xxxlarge/i/Brienne-vs-Hound.jpgAnd the fight scene between the Hound and Brienne, while it didn’t happen in the novel and was much like other unpleasant changes, it made for some good watching. While it didn’t effect any changes in the plot, it wasn’t useless like Yara’s attempted rescue of Theon or Jon’s and Bran’s near-reunion at Craster’s Keep. And the way they handled the Hound’s death scene was not only faithful to the books, but really well done!

Shows like Game of Thrones are famous for setting high standards, be it terms of production value, casting, writing, or sets. So when I say that this was their worst season ever, I do hope it will taken with a grain of salt. Still, worst season ever! But, conversely, I would have to say that I enjoyed this episode more than any other in this season thus far, even more so than The Sand Viper and the Mountain.

Whereas that episode had a killer climax, it was horribly boring and superfluous up until that point. In contrast, this episode had fun and interesting things happening throughout, and only a few disappointing points. I’m glad too, since the pace they were setting in this season (which was more like Season 3.5 rather than Season 4) almost made me want to stop watching and reviewing it altogether.

So I guess I’ll be tuning in to Season Five, mainly because I want to see what they will do with it and hope this past season was an aberration. Honestly, I think the reasons for its faults deserve a separate post entirely. So see you all next season, which is another freaking year away, and remember…

https://i1.wp.com/i1281.photobucket.com/albums/a519/psychotic47914791/StarkTheNorthRemembers_zpsb8bdc0f7.jpg

Game of Thrones – Season Four Premiere!

got4Once again, and to the excitement of nerds and geeks everywhere, Game of Thrones has come back after an extended hiatus!  And after the events of last season, fans were no doubt hoping some bloody vengeance, some more answers, and plenty of resolution. Sad to say, they won’t be getting much of any! And for fans of the original novels, this is yet another opportunity to come together and nitpicks the ways in which the series isn’t living up to the original series… I am one of them!

In any case, the season premier picked up where things left off last season, roughly midway through the events told in A Storm of Swords. These include the royal wedding between Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, Brienne and Jaime’s return to King’s Landing, Daenerys’s march on Meereen, and Arya’s ongoing misadventures in the Riverlands. And of course, there’s plenty of machinations, plots, and developments happening in between.

And now, onto the premier episode, aptly named…

Two Swords:
got4_1_1The episode opens with Tywin Lannister overseeing the destruction of Ned’s sword Ice, who melts it down and uses the Valyrian steel to forge two new swords. Afterwards, he meets with Jaime and gives him the longer of the two. He then offers his son Lordship over Casterly Rock, which Jaime refuses so he can remain a White Cloak, which displeases his father. Outside the city, Tyrion is waiting with Pod and Bronn to Prince Doran Martell of Dorne, who has been invited for Joffrey’s wedding.

However, Tyrion is informed that Doran could not come due to his ailing health, and that Prince Oberyn came in his stead many days prior. They then find him and his paramour, Ellaria Sand, at a brothel, where Oberyn is making trouble with some Lannister men. After pulling him outside to talk, Oberyn claims he’s come to the capitol to seek justice for the death of his sister and her children, and tells Tyrion to tell his father “the Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts.”

got4_1_3Afterward, Tyrion returns to Sansa, who is naturally distraught over the death of Robb and her mother. He tries to console her, but is unsuccessful. He then finds Shae in his bedroom, who demands to know if they will ever be together again. She leaves when Tyrion will not answer, and we that a spy was listening in on their conversation. Meanwhile, Jaime is fitted for a golden hand by Maester Qyburn and Cersei, who afterwards spurns him for “taking too long” to return. The spy then arrives to report to Cersei.

To the north, Ygritte and her party meet with the Thenns, another clan of Wildlings, who bring the body of a Nights Watchman to eat. At Castle Black, Jon is recovering from his injuries, and talks to Sam of his half-brother’s death. He then goes to the Lord Commander to answer for Qhorin Halfhand’s death and his actions with the Wildlings. He tells them it was Qhorin’s plan to learn their plans, and shares all he learned about Mance’s plans and the raiding party to the south. They stay his execution and let him go for the time being.

got4_1_2Over in Essos, we see Daenerys and her forces as they march towards Mereen. As they go, Daario continues in his efforts to woo Daenerys, which he does under the pretext of teaching her about the various flowers of the land. They come to a stop when they find a dead child tied to a post. Daenerys is told that there is a dead slave for every mile along their way, serving as a warning to her approaching army. She orders them to press on and refuses to be shielded from the sight.

Brienne meets with Margaery while in the capitol and tells her what happened to Renly, and vows to avenge him. Jaime discusses preparations for the wedding and how the war is not yet finished. He is then met by Brienne, who reminds him of the pledge he made to return the Stark daughters to safety. After praying near the shore, Sansa is surprised by Dontos Hollard, the former knight who’s life she saved, who gives her a family heirloom in thanks.

got4_1_5In the Riverlands, Arya and Sandor Clegane continue on their way, with the latter claiming he intends to ransom Arya to her aunt. They come to a tavern and Arya spots Poliver, the man who killed Lommy, stole Needle, and brought the rest of them to Harrenhal. Arya and Sandor go inside find Poliver and his men trying to rape the innkeepers daughters. Poliver sees Sandor and Arya and recognizes the Hound, and offers him the chance to come with them and raid and pillage their way towards King’s Landing.

The Hound declines and says “fuck the King”, and things go downhill fast. Poliver draws on him and Sandor knocks him down and kills all of his men. A few remain and Arya finishes them off, stabs Poliver in the back, and then retrieves her sword. Standing over him, she reminds him of how he took her captive and killed her friend, then stabs him in the throat. Stealing one of their ponies, Arya and Sandor ride off through the burning Riverlands.

Summary:
Overall, this was not a bad premier! Much like season two’s premier, things felt a little sparse in places and rushed. However, I saw the value in putting these small scenes in, in that they preview things that will be coming later on. These include Dontos reaching out to Sansa, Brienne pressuring Jaime to keep his word, the preparations for Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding, and Daenerys dragon troubles. And between and around all this, they managed to cover the major plot points.

At the same time, there were noticeable differences from the original text. For instance, Oberyn did arrive with the train from Dorne and met with Tyrion right off. There was no detour into a brothel where Oberyn picked a fight, or expressed some serious bicurious desires. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single hint was given that Oberyn as bisexual, nor his paramour Ellaria. However, they still did a very good job of capturing Oberyn’s character and his hopes to get revenge for his kin.

The_WallOn another front, the whole cannibalism thing with the Thenns – this was not in the original story, and felt like a forced attempt to make them evil. Personally, I felt they were menacing enough with their hard stares and decorative scars. Also, Jon Snow told the Lord Commander, Aemon and Trant that he killed Qhorin as part of a plan to earn the Wildling’s trust. But no such plan was ever hatched by Qhorin in the show (unlike the novels), thereby making Jon’s entire defense for killing him speculation.

And last, but not least, there was the way that Cersei spurned Jaime in this episode, which seemed to come from nowhere. In the book, Cersei and Jaime made love the moment he returned, even before he donned his White Cloak again. She continued to be amorous with him for some time, and only gradually did they become estranged. But there’s still plenty of time for them to factor that in, I’m just not sure why the writers had her acting this way. Did they think we needed another reason to hate her?

meereenHowever, these things seemed entirely topical to me and really didn’t distract or deter from the flow of things. Mainly, I found the episode enjoyable, especially the part where Arya gets some revenge for herself by stabbing Poliver in the throat. They also did a good job with Daenery’s march on Meereen, where she was forced to witness countless slaves being crucified to warm them away. And I really liked the fact that they cast a new actor in the role of Daario. The last one did not fit the bill AT ALL!

Oh yeah, and that sword forging scene was totally awesome! Other than that, I’m happy to see the show return and am looking forward to what they do with things this season. In particular, I am looking forward to the battle for Meereen, and the big wedding. No spoilers, but lets just say a whole lot of crap is still set to hit the fan, and on occasion – even in George RR Martins universe – bad things happen to bad people! Stay tuned…

British Columbia Map Recreates Game of Thrones

british-columbia-as-game-of-thrones-westerosWhat would your town be if it happened to fall within the A Song of Ice and Fire universe? That’s the question British Columbia resident Andrew Cuthbert asked himself when he created a map trying parallel the geography from Game of Thrones to his (and my) home province. Specifically, the map has been repitched using locations from Westeros, the setting of much the story, with townships that bear the greatest geographical and cultural resemblances becoming their Westerosi equivalent.

For example:

  • Vancouver (BC’s largest city, though not the capitol) stands in for King’s Landing, the seat of power in Westeros
  • Victoria, the true provincial capitol and second largest city, is Highgarden, the regional capitol of the lush and fertile land known as “The Reach”
  • Fort Nelson, the last stop on the long road to the Tundra, becomes Castle Black – the last stop before The Wall and the frozen wastelands of the north in the series
  • Kelowna, a town of well-to-do people, becomes Lannisport, home of the “rich as a Lannister” Lannisters
  • Kamloops, a town in the “Riverlands” of BC (where it sits at the mouth of two arms of the Thompson River) becomes Riverrun
  • Osoyoos, a town surrounded by desert and some damn good vineyards, becomes Sunpsear, the capitol of Dorne (the desert region of Westeros)
  • Prince Rupert, the gateway to the northern Pacific and a salty city, becomes Pyke, the seat of the Ironborn
  • and Whistler, a place famous for rich people, leisure, and riding things, becomes Dragonstone

As Cuthbert was sure to admit during an interview with CBC Radio’s Rick Cluff on The Early Edition, his comparisons are entirely tongue-in-cheek. As he put it, “The whole map is supposed to be a joke, so it’s meant to be taken in good faith.” Hard to imagine anyone would be offended by something like this, but I certainly understand his point. When it comes to matters of city comparisons and civic pride, one must tread carefully.

And his timing couldn’t have been better, since season four is set to premier in just under two weeks time! After last seasons blood bath, fans are hoping for something a bit more cheerful no doubt. Too bad they won’t get their wish 😉 And I do hope to see more maps like this in the near future. In fact, here’s hoping it becomes a full-fledged meme, with people drawing up maps that compare their home province, state, or territory to the geography from Game of Thrones!

Source: cbc.ca

New GOT Trailer – Season Four, Part II

GOT_4posterAt long last, after many months of waiting, fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones have finally been treated to the first teaser trailer for the second half of season four! And as you can see, the series producers decided to give the fans just enough to whet their appetites, while not giving too much away. But of course, us A Song of Ice and Fire geeks could tell what’s in store, not that it helps much!

As the preview opens, we see King’s Landing with a dragon’s shadow passing over it (purely symbolic, don’t worry!). We also get Joffrey speaking to the newly returned Jaime about the progress of the war, which – after the events of last season’s Red Wedding – he is claiming victory in. And of course, we hear from Daenerys, who continues in her campaign to overthrow the slave cities of Essos and build an army to retake the Iron Throne.

And between all that, we get hints and previews of other threads and plots, all punctuated with plenty of voiceovers. These include the trial of Tyrion (won’t say for what); the arrival of Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) and his duel with Ser Gregor Clegane (now played by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson); and of course, Jon Snow rallying the Night’s Watch for the Wildlings’ much anticipated attack on the Wall.

The show premiers on April 6th, and if their previous records are any indication, this one is sure to be one of the highest rated premiers of all time! Enjoy the trailer…

GOT Infographic: The History of Robert’s Rebellion

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080

Things have been getting weird around here lately. For some reason, people over at other sites have been reaching out to me and offering cool and funny infographics. It’s like they think that I’ve got some kind of following or something. Well, if it keeps me getting stuff like this, I plan to let them entertain this notion. And my followers, whoever you are, can consider yourself the lucky recipient of what they pass on.

Consider this new infographic, courtesy of connectyourhome.com. For fans of Game of Thrones, be it the books or the miniseries, this helpful illustrated and annotated table provides a breakdown of the history of Robert’s Rebellion. For those who are not familiar, this rebellion is what made King Robert ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, and were seminal to the plot of the story that followed.

Rhaegar-Targaryen-Lyanna-StarkThings begin in this timeline with the tournament at Harrenhal, during which Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped Lyanna Stark, the betrothed of Robert Baratheon. They then escalated when Rickard and Brandon Stark – Ned Stark’s father and uncle and the men his youngest boys are named after – travelled to King’s Landing to demand Lyanna’s return. However, “the mad” King Aerys accused both men of treason, burns Rickard and has Brandon strangled.

Aerys further demands that John Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie and Robert Baratheon’s gaurdian, to deliver the heads of Eddard (Ned) and Robert to him, since their fathers were apparent traitors. Instead, Arryn allies himself with Robert and Eddard and a rebellion is declared. House Tully, with is joined to house Stark through the marriage of their eldest daughter (Catelyn) to Ned, joins them as well.

Battle_of_the_TridentAnd of course, a series of battles follow, culminating in the Battle of the Trident where Rhaegar is killed and the royal army is routed. The rebel army marches on King’s Landing with the intent of laying seige. Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, rides there and tricks King Aerys into allowing his forces into the city, and then sacks it. Jaime Lannister, who is then ordered to murder his own father, slays King Aerys and the rebellion is at an end.

Robert Baratheon is crowned king and marries Tywin’s daughter, Cersei Lannister, to seal his control over the realm. The last of the Targaryens are murdered or forced into exile, the two that are publicly known of are Viserys and Daenerys. Ned rides to Dorne where his sister was being held in the Tower of Joy, where he finds her dying and agrees to honor her last wishes.

And that’s what brings us to the first book and/or season with the laying of all the major threads, with the exception of all that stuff involving the White Walkers and the Wall. That stuff goes back… further! But don’t trust my executive summary, go to their website or check out the infographic below:

got-infographicNot only is it a very interesting breakdown of the plot that predates events in the main story, I think it also confirms something that’s been batted around various GOT forums. For some time, people have been wondering about the true identity of John Snow’s mother. Some people have theorized that he was in fact Lyanna and Rhaegar’s love child, and that she asked Ned to keep him safe by keeping his identity a secret.

Targaryen children were being murdered at this time, after all. And saying it was his own love child somehow seemed more humane to the boy and his mother’s memory. Sure, it was a blow to Catheryn to believe her husband was coming home with a bastard born of an indiscretion. But Ned was a man of honor, a boy’s life may have been at stake, and a sister’s dying wish is a sister’s dying wish!

So thanks connectyourhome! And if you got any more, don’t hesitate to send them along. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I enjoy them 😉

A Dance With Dragons: A Review

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080Done at last! It seems like its taken me forever to finish this novel. And yet, now that it’s done, I find myself missing it already. After weeks on end of being immersed in Martin’s epic fantasy universe, it’s hard going without! What’s more, given how long – loooooong! – it took him to produce this last novel, who knows how long it could be before the next one comes out?

But I digress… I bought this book looking for some closure to the previous four, especially in the last one. With events in A Feast of Crows seeming to drag a bit, and the sudden twist and promise of resolution that came at the end, I was eager to see how things turned out. And, true to form, Martin managed to  provide some degree of resolution while still managing to drag things out further.

And of course, there were even more cliffhanger endings this time around. Damn you Martin, five books in and you still have me baited like a worm on a hook. You better produce the next book in a year’s time like you promised to do last time but didn’t or KAPOW! Oh, and there really better be only two more books. After all you’ve put us through, you owe us a final resolution, dammit!

Okay, that’s enough threats for now. Onto the story…

Plot Synopsis:
a-dance-with-dragons-coverAs promised in the epilogue for Crows, A Dance With Dragons completes the narrative that took place in the previous book, covering all the stories that didn’t make it in there and offering a balance to the other perspectives. This includes stories involving Tyrion, Daenerys, Davos, Brandon Stark and John Snow, while also offering more on the threads involving the Martells, Cersei and the Ironborn.

Initially, the story parallels events in the previous book, the first few chapters taking place before Crows ends. But by the end, things once again pick up and continue, bringing the entire story to an end where everything is poised for several more major developments. Essentially, it all comes down to four perspectives, with events taking place in the North and South of Westeros as well as the Free Cities and Slavers Bay in Essos.

The Wall:
a-song-of-ice-and-fire-the-wallIn the north, where Jon Snow has taken up his role as the Lord Commander and is seeing to preparations for the Others and dealing with the aftermath of Mance Rayder’s assault. After saying goodbye to Samwell Tarly, Gilly, and Maester Aemon, who are being dispatched to Oldtown, he continues in his negotiations with Stannis Baratheon. After burning the captive Wildlings, which include Mance Rayder, who will not swear feality and embrace the Red God R’hllor, he prepares to march South.

As usual, Jon Snow tells him the Watch will not take part in his war. Stannis’ appeal to the Northmen is also complicated by the fact that the Lannisters have installed Roose Bolton as ruler of the North and the Freys are allied with them. However, the Karstarks are willing to fight alongside him and John tells him that he will find an army in the Northman hill clans who owe loyalty to no lord.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-melisandreMarching south, Stannis leaves Melisandre and his queen, Sylese, in John’s care. Against the queen’s advice, and that of his Brothers, Jon arranges for a peace treaty with Wildlings, promising them food and safety south of the Wall in exchange for their service in manning it against the Others. Thousands of Wildlings are admitted, with the promise of many more thousands to come.

Melisandre also begins sharing her visions with Jon Snow. In addition to telling him that there is a murder plot against him, she also reveals that Mance Rayder is alive and the man burned was Rattleshirt, who’s identities were switched using sorcery. He dispatches Mance south to rescue Arya from Ramsay Bolton, unaware that the girl he is set to marry is actually Jeyne Poole. Eventually, her warnings come true as his brothers turn on him and stab him in the yard.

a-dance-with-dragons-bran-starkNorth of the Wall, Bran search for the Three-eyed Crow leads him, Hodor and the Reeds to a secret cave where the last surviving Children of the Forest dwell. As they take shelter in the cave, they meet the “Three-eyed Crow”, whom they call the “Last Greenseer”. He is a former human member of the Night’s Watch, who has been sitting on an underground weirwood throne for so long that its roots have fused into his body. He explains to Bran that he has been appearing to him as the Three-eyed Crow in his dreams so that he could lead him here, and train him in greensight.

Bran learns that there is truth to the belief that the sacred weirwoods are the eyes and ears of the Old Gods: the trees are capable of seeing and hearing all around them, and recording it in their memory for centuries. They also allow a greenseer at one weirwood to see and hear events going on at another in the present, and communicate through them. Using his increasing powers of greensight Bran sees memories of his father Ned Stark at Winterfell’s godswood in the past, and communicates with Theon Greyjoy at the godswood in the present.

Free Cities:
a-song-of-ice-and-fire-tyrionHaving fled King’s Landing with the help of Varys, Tyrion arrives in Pentos where is taken in by Magister Illyrio. Tyrion is then sent south, and learns along the way that Varys’ plot involves the son of the late Prince Rhaegar, Aegon Targaryen, who was thought to be dead. He was raised by John Connington, the former Hand of the King under King Aerys, who now commands the Golden Company – the largest and most skilled mercenary army in the Free Cities.

After traveling with Aegon halfway across Essos, Tyrion is kidnapped by Jorah Mormont in Volantis. After being banished by Daenerys, he hopes to deliver Tyrion to her in the hopes that she will take him back. However, Tyrion and Jorah are shipwrecked and sold by slavers to a Yunkish merchant, who then travels to Meereen to take part in the siege. After reaching the city, a plague begins ravaging the Yunkai’i army, and Tyrion and the others escape in the midst of the confusion. They then signs on with the Second Sons mercenary group and plan to switch their support to Daenerys.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-arya-starkMeanwhile, in Braavos, the girl once known as Arya Stark continues in her training as one of the “Faceless Men”. This includes taking away her sight and forcing her to find her away about the House of Black and White using only her other senses. She is then tasked with killing her first target, a corrupt merchant, using poison. After succeeding, she is admitted to the guild to complete her training.

Slaver’s Bay:
Daenerys continues to rule Mereen as queen, but is beset by murders carried out by the Sons of the Harpy, a resistance group committed to restoring the old ways. In addition, she learns that Astapor was sieged by the Yunkai’i and the people she freed there massacred. Refugees come to the walls of her city seeking help, as a plague known as the “Pale Mare” or “Bloody Flux” is decimating their people. Temporary shelter is placed outside for them, but it is clear little can be done.

a-dance-with-dragons-Meereen_cityIn order to end the resistance and cement peace with the Yunkai’i, Daenerys agrees to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq, a Mereenese nobleman. Her mercenary captain, Daario Naharis, whom she has taken as a lover, is not pleased, but goes along with it out of loyalty to her. In addition, to prevent her dragons from killing people and livestock, she has them chained inside the pyramid, except for Drogon, who escapes capture and flies away.

Shortly thereafter, the Yunkai’i and Volantene armies arrives at her doorstep and a tentative peace is arranged, with hostages exchanged. Daenerys also agrees to open up the fighting pits, as a compromise with her new husband, and attends the first spectacle with him. During the fights, Tyrion and Penny joust, Strong Belwas is poisoned (but survives) and Drogon arrives and begins attacking the fighters and guards. After reaching him, Daenerys climbs on his back and is ferried away.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-dany_drogonBarristan Selmy takes over with a provisional council and is made to believe Hizdahr attempted to poison Daenerys and is leading the Sons of the Harpy. He then arrests Hizdahr and begins planning with those loyal to Daenerys to attack the Yunkai’i camp before they can launch their own attack. However, these plans are stalled when Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, and his Dornishmen try to steal one of her dragons and fails.

Having failed in his attempt to court Daenerys, he and his men hoped to return to Dorne with a dragon in tow. Instead, the dragons break free, Quentyn is killed, and his men are arrested and taken into custody. Meanwhile, Drogon flies Daenerys to the Dothraki Sea where Dany, starved and ill from being stranded in the wilderness, eventually encounters the khalasar of Khal Jhaqo, a former Bloodrider to Khal Drogo who betrayed her after Drogo’s death.

The North:
Having secured his army, Stannis and his forces march on Deepwood Motte and take it from the Ironborn, capturing Asha Greyjoy in the process. This swells Stannis’ ranks further as House Glover and House Mormont join Stannis’ army and decide to march with him on Winterfell. To cement his control over the north, Ramsay Bolton orders his bastard son and their supports to march to Winterfell to hold the mock wedding with Arya (Jeyne Poole), and Stannis plans to attack him there. However, Stannis’ host becomes bogged down in the terrible snows that begin falling, forcing them to stop and slowly starve.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-stannisDavos Seaworth is taken prisoner in White Harbor after going ashore and trying to enlist House Manderly’s support. However, Lord Manderly secretly frees Davos and tells him that he is only feigning allegiance to the Boltons since the Lannisters are holding his son Wylis as captive. He is also planning revenge against the Freys since they murdered Ser Wendel Manderly at the Red Wedding. He enlists Davos help to find Rickon, who is apparently at Skagos with Osha, so the northmen will rally around a living Stark heir and rebel against the Boltons.

Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy is revealed not to be dead, but is languishing in the Dreadfort prison and brutally tortured by Ramsay Bolton. He is freed to serve him as “Reek”, and travels with him to Winterfell where he waits upon Jeyne Poole. With the wedding complete and the snows hemming them in, Roose Bolton and his bannermen wait for Stannis to attack and slowly begin to turn on each other.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-ashaEventually, and with the help of some serving maids, Theon arranges to free her and escapes the city just as the Manderlys and Freys begin open fighting. They travel together into the wilderness, where they are intercepted by Mance Rayder, and ride to Stannis’ camp. Theon is then reunited with his sister Asha.

The South:
Cersei Lannister, imprisoned by the Faith of the Seven, confesses to several of the less grave charges against her to alleviate her suffering. These include adultery and sleeping with her cousin Lancel Lannister, but stops short of admitting that she murdered King Robert, or that her children are actually the product of incest. The Faith is willing to release her, but she must still stand trial and make the penance walk naked back to the Red Keep.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-great-septHumiliated, Cersei places her hope in a trial by combat, hoping that a new knight named Ser Robert Strong will champion her. Some mystery surrounds Ser Robert, as he is as huge as Gregor Clegane, and is never seen sleeping, eating, or using the privy. Ser Kevan, who now serves as the Hand, suspects that it is Ser Gregor and that some kind of sorcery has been used by ex-maester Qyburn to resurrect him.

In the Riverlands, Jaime Lannister arrives with his army at the siege of Raventree Hall where he manages to negotiate the surrender quite painlessly. The last stronghold of Robb Stark’s kindgom in the Riverlands bends the knee, and Jaime relocates his camp when he gets word that Brienne of Tarth was seen in a nearby village. After arriving, Brienne of Tarth comes to his camp tent and tells him that she has found Sansa Stark and she is in danger from Sandor Clegane.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire_storms-endIn the Stormlands, Aegon Targaryen and Jon Connington arrive with the Golden Company in order to recover the Iron Throne. Taking Tyrion’s advice that their arrival would be met with jubilation, Connington prepares to march forward and take Storms End, believing that Dorne will raise their banners and march to their aid. When word reaches King’s Landing, Ser Kevan advises marching, but Lord Tyrells wants to hold off until after Maergerys trial.

In his solar, Varys sneaks in and murders Kevan Lannister and Grand Maester Pycelle with a crossbow. Before Kevin dies, Varys reveals to him that he supports Aegon, and that he is trying to prevent him from fixing the damage Cersei had caused in her attempts to build Tommen’s power base. Varys declares that with Tommen back in Cersei’s control, the kingdoms of Westeros will spend their strength fighting each other while Aegon prepares to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.

Summary:
And there we have it. After five books, the story stands poised, once again, on the edge of knife. After first learning in Crows that all roads were leading to the East, that virtually every faction was placing their hopes in Daenerys and conspiring to bring her home, it also became clear that there was another Targaryen heir that had plans of his own to restore the Dragonborn to the Iron Throne.

What’s more, many threads are proceeding towards culmination. Though Cersei seems to have freed herself from captivity in the Great Sept, her plans to get back in charge seem all but thwarted. At this point, its obvious that the Tyrells are in control, that Tommen’s power is temporary, and with Varys’ assassination of Ser Kevan, that the way is paved for Connington and Aegon Targaryen to assume the throne.

But of course, there were plenty of uncomfortable cliffhangers too! For one, Jon Snow’s betrayal by his brothers puts him in a bit of a bind. I am wondering how he will come out of all this, whether he will be saved by Val, Melisandre, some of his brothers, or some of his Wildling allies. On the other hand, its entirely possible that Martin is finished with him and plans to kill him off, a la Ned, Robb, or the many other main characters he’s killed so far.

Then there’s Daenerys’ thread, where she has gone from being the frying pan into the flame, having been whisked away from the siege of Meereen to captivity with Khal Jhaqo. Once more, I am hoping this doesn’t drag out because lord knows Martin has a real knack for putting his characters through endless trials and diversions before they finally get to where they are going. Or he kills them! In any case, the war of Five Kings will not officially be over until she resolves all her problems in Slaver’s Bay and makes it back to Westeros.

And again, after many books and all the hints he’s dropped about “skin-changing” and “Greenseers”, Bran finally seems to have found his way home and realized his true purpose. And personally, I found this to be quite interesting, in that it delved deeper into the mysteries surrounding the Children of the Forest and the history of Westeros before the First Men came. It will be interesting to see how this is woven into the larger story, which I assume will have to do with the legend of Azor Ahai reborn (in Daenerys) being fulfilled.

Overall, I really enjoyed the way this installment in the series took us deeper into the culture of the Free Cities, especially Volantis with its Tetrarchs, elephants, cuisine and drink, and its abundant use of tattoos. I also enjoyed the chapters that moved between Meereen, the Yunkishmen, and the culture portrayed throughout. And of course, the way the plot against the Lannisters is coming along was very pleasing to see. I hate that house and any kind of misfortune which could result in their destruction appeals to me! Now if he can just see his way to restoring House Stark, or just letting some of them know that the others still live, I would be even happier!

Only two books to go, presumably! No telling when the next installment, The Winds of Winter, will be released. But if I could be so bold, might I implore Mr. Martin to please get it done! After waiting five years for book five, we fans are kind of hungry for a finale. What’s more, HBO is going to needs those book if they are going to keep turning out new seasons! You don’t want to get on their bad side, sir. They’re ruthless!

Speaking of which, only thirty-nine more days to go til season three kicks off! Woohoo!

The World of “A Song of Ice and Fire”

a_song_of_ice_and_fire_version_2_by_scrollsofaryavart-d4rabm1After reading four of the five of the books in the ongoing Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve come to realize something. I really like the world George RR Martin has created! In fact, you might say I haven’t found myself becoming so engrossed with a fictional universe since Dune or Lord of the Rings. In those fictional universes, as with this one, one gets an incredible sense of depth, detail and characterization.

And in honor of this realization, or perhaps because I couldn’t keep track of the names, places and events alluded to in the texts, I began doing some serious research. For one, I found several lovely maps (like the one above) that speculate as to the complete geography of Martin’s world – the continents of Westeros, Essos, and Sothoryos.

And when I say complete geography, I mean just that, not the snippets that are given in the book that leave out the all important sections of Qarth, Slaver’s Bay, and the Free Cities. While these places are described in relation to the rest of the world, keeping track of them can be tricky, especially if you’re a visual learner like myself! And seeing as how much of the story involves a great deal of travel, it helps to know where characters were going, how far, and which direction they were headed.

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080Even before I began reading the books, I could tell that Westeros was very much inspired by the British Isles, with its tough and grizzled Northerners resembling the Scots, Picts, and Celts of old while the Southerners were more akin to the aristocratic Normans. “The Wall” was also a clear allegory for Hadrian’s Wall, with the people on the other side being portrayed much as the Roman’s would have viewed the “Northern Tribes” that threatened their domain.

King’s Landing also seemed very much inspired by London, with its pomp, opulence, and extensive moral decay. Yes, just like London of the Middle Ages, it was a fine patchwork of royal finery, castles, fortifications, religious ceremony, brothels and public executions! And it even lies upon a large river, the Blackwater, which seems every bit like the Thames.

Essos also seemed very much inspired by Asia of ancient lore. Here we had the Dothraki Sea where the Dothraki horsemen roamed free and pillaged in all directions, exacting tribute and taking slaves. Can you say Mongols and/or Huns? In addition, their capital – Vaes Dothrak – seemed in every respect to be an adaptation of Karakorum, Ghengis Khan’s one time capitol that was little more than a collection of temporary houses and tents. And Master Ilyrio, as if his name wasn’t enough, seemed to be every bit a Mediterranean at heart, living in a lavish sea-side estate and growing fat of off trade in cheese, olives and wine.

Upon cracking the books, I found that the metaphors only went deeper. In fact, they were so thick, you could cut them with a knife! In terms of Westerosi geography and character, the different regions of the continent called to mind all kind’s of archetypes and real-world examples. The Reach sounds very much like Cornwall, fertile, populous, and in the south-east relative to the capitol. Casterly Rock and the domain of the Lannister’s, though it resides in the west away from the capitol, seems every bit like Kent, the wealthiest region of old where the most lucrative trade and shipping comes in. And their colors, gold and red, are nothing if not symbolic of the House of Lancaster – of which Henry V and the VIII were descended.

And last, but certainly not least, there were the all-important cities of Qarth, Mereen, Astapor, and Yunkai. All eastern cities that inspire images of ancient Babylon, Cairo, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Antioch. With their stepped pyramids, ancient history, flamboyant sense of fashion, and lucrative slave trade, they all sounded like perfect examples of the ancient and “decadent” eastern civilizations that were described by Plato, Aristotle, and medieval scholars. The conquest of Westeros by the First Men, the Children of the Forest, the Andal and Valyrian Conquest; these too call to mind real history and how waves of conquerors and settlers from the east came to populate the Old World and the New, with genocide and assimilation following in their wake and giving rise to the world that we know today.

Middle-earthFans of Tolkien will no doubt be reminded of the map of Middle Earth, and for good reason. Martin’s knack for writing about space and place and how it plays a central role in the character of its inhabitants was comparable to that of Tolkien’s. And what’s more, the places have a very strong allegorical relationship to real places in real history.

In Tokien’s world, the Shire of the Hobbits seemed very much the metaphor for pre-industrial rural England. The inhabitants are these small, quirky people who are proud of their ways, lavish in their customs, and don’t care much for the affairs of the outside world. However, when challenged, they are capable of great things and can move heaven and earth.

In that respect, Gondor to the south could be seen as London in the early 20th century – the seat of a once proud empire that is now in decline. Given it’s aesthetics and location relative to the dark, hostile forces coming from the East and South, it’s also comparable to Athens and Rome of Antiquity.

And it was no mistake that the battle to decide the fate of Middle Earth happened here. In many ways it resembles the Barbarian Invasions of the late Roman Empire, the Persian Wars of Classical Greece, the Mongol Invasions or the Byzatine Empire’s war with the Turks in the High Middle Ages. In all cases, classical powers and the home of Western civilization are being threatened from Eastern Empires that are strange and exotic to them.

Dune_MapAnd let’s not forget Arrakis (aka. Dune) by Frank Herbert. Here too, we have a case where space and place are determining factors on their residents. And whereas several planets are described and even mapped out in the series, none were as detailed or as central as Arrakis itself. From its Deep Desert to its Shield Walls, from Arrakeen and Seitch Tabr; the planet was a highly detailed place, and the divide between Imperials and Fremen were played out in the ways both sides lived.

Whereas the Fremen were hardy folk who lived in the deep desert, took nothing for granted, and were a harsh folk sustained by prophecies and long-term goals, the Imperials were lavish people, pompous and arrogant, and used to doing things in accordance with the Great Convention. But far from being preachy or one-sided, Herbert showed the balance in this equation when it became clear that whereas the Imperials were governed by convention and thereby complacent, the Fremen were extremely dangerous and capable of terrible brutality when unleashed.

But as I said, other planets are also detailed and the influence their environments have on their people are made clear. Caladan was the ancestral home of the Atreides, covered in oceans, fertile continents, and a mild climate that many consider to be a paradise. As a result, according to Paul,  the Atreides grew soft, and it was for this reason that they fell prey to the Emperor’s betrayal and the machinations of their Harkonnen enemies.

And speaking of the Harkonnens, the world of Geidi Prime is described on a few occasions in the series as being an industrial wasteland, a world plundered for its resources and its people reduced to a status of punitive serfdom. What better metaphor is there for a people guided by sick pleasures, exploitation, and exceptional greed? Whereas the Atreides grew soft from their pleasures, the Harkonnens grew fat, and were therefore easily slaughtered by Paul and his Fremen once their rebellion was underway.

And of course, there is Selusa Secundus, a radioactive wasteland where the Emperor’s elite Sardukar armies are trained. On this prison planet, life is hard, bleak, and those who survive do so by being ruthless, cunning and without remorse. As a result, they are perfect recruits for the Emperor’s dreaded army, which keeps the peace through shear force of terror.

*                       *                        *

There’s something to be said for imaginative people creating dense, richly detailed worlds isn’t there? Not only can it be engrossing and entertaining; but sooner or later, you find yourself looking back at all that you’ve surveyed, you do a little added research to get a greater sense of all that’s there, and you realize just how freaking expansive the world really is. And of course, you begin to see the inspiration at the heart of it all.

Yes, this is the definitely the third time I’ve experienced this feeling in relation to a series. I count myself as lucky, and really hope to do the same someday. I thought I had with the whole Legacies concept, but I’m still tinkering with that one and I consider my research into what makes for a great sci-fi universe to be incomplete. Soon enough though, I shall make my greatest and final attempt, and there will be no prisoners on that day! A universe shall be borne of my pen, or not… Either way, I plan to blab endlessly about it 😉