Game of Thrones, Season Four – What Went Wrong?

got4

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Just the other day, I saw the finale for season four of Game of Thrones, and it got me thinking. While the episode was hailed by some critics as the show’s best finale so far, others raised the obvious point that Thrones geeks did not fail to miss. That being the absence of Lady Stoneheart from the proceedings. In the novel, A Storm of Swords, which provided the material for seasons three and four, things ended with the appearance of a resurrected Lady Catelyn Stark, who now went by the name Lady Stoneheart.

Like most GOT geeks, I felt surprised and disappointed, a sentiment that has been echoing throughout this season. In fact, though I felt that the finale was the best episode of the season, I also had to conclude that season four was the worst season to date. And the reasons for this seemed to be pretty clear after ten episodes with some pretty consistent mistakes. So I thought I might go over them…

1. Pointless Changes that don’t go Anywhere:
One of the biggest annoyance for me this season was the fact they made some rather drastic changes to the storyline, ones which would have altered the plot significantly if they had been allowed to truly unfold. However, not wanting to get terribly off-script, the writers were then forced to tie these divergences up by making sure they didn’t have any lasting effect. As a result, we were left with sequences that were truly pointless.

Ramsay-406The worst of the lot had to do with Theon. In the novels, Theon was presumed dead after A Clash of Kings after he was betrayed and defeated at Winterfell. He didn’t appear again until book V (A Dance with Dragons) where it was revealed that he had been Ramsay Snow’s prisoner the entire time. At this point, he is compelled by his father to use Theon to persuade the Ironborn to leave Deepwood Motte and other captured territories.

But in the show, Ramsay decides to openly advertise that he has taken Theon prisoners and is torturing him in order to persuade the Iron Islanders to leave the North. This prompts Asha Greyjoy (renamed Yara) to sail up the river and mount a rescue. This made little sense, since the Dreadfort is not reachable by river, but the real fault was in how things turned out. After finding Theon, Asha and her men are quickly dispatched when Ramsay decides to unleash his hounds.

Asha retreats, claiming her brother is dead. Not long before, she claimed that rescuing her brother was a matter of honor and an injury to him was an injury to all Ironborn. But after seeing him terrified and brainwashed, and frightened by Ramsay’s dogs, she decides to leave him to his fate. Not surprising, since there really was no other way this thread could have been resolved without seriously altering the plot down the road. But this only made the whole attempted rescue seem pointless.

la_ca_0327_game_of_thronesAnother pointless change that was clumsily resolved was Jon Snow’s mission to Craster’s Keep to kill the mutineers. In the novel, Jon only real concern at this point was the Wildling army riding to the Wall, not to mention the Wildling raiding party that was making its way towards Castle Black. The mutineers were all suspected of being dead, which made sense since Mance’s army was practically upon the Wall at this point.

Another thing, Jon did not know that Bran and Rickon were alive. And so, he didn’t venture out to Craster’s Keep in part because he figured they would be stopping here on their way further north. As a result, there was no close shave where Bran very nearly met up with Jon but then didn’t. What’s more, the fact that Jon was willing to ride out and risk running into Mance’s invading army, but would not ride south to engage Tormund and Ygritte’s raiding party made even less sense as a result.

got4_aryahoundAnd last, Brienne’s encounter with Arya was something that never happened in the books, and therefore necessitated that it end in a way that didn’t violate the plot. This one they actually did pretty well, in my opinion. Not only was the fight between Brienne and the Hound well executed, but it even made a bit of a sense that Arya would choose not to go with her and slip off, for fear that Brienne was working for the Lannisters. Still, it was a made up addition, and one which has to be included since it necessitated a contrived resolution.

2. Padding/Mining:
At the same time, there were additions to the story that never happened in the books and were pure filler. And in just about all cases, it involved the same threads – Theon and Jon Snow in the North, Daenerys in Slaver’s Bay, and Stannis and co. at Dragonstone. In just about all instances, the writer’s were scrambling for stuff for these characters to do because their storylines were exhausted at this point in the book and did not come upon again until book V, which required that material from that book be brought forward and used.

For instance, Roose Bolton did not concern himself with the whereabouts Bran, Rickon, or Jon Snow upon returning from the Red Wedding. His only concern was cementing his rule by having his son marry a Stark and be declared legitimate, which meant that he never sent Locke to the Wall to find them and kill anybody. And so, Locke’s attempted murder of Bran, his death at the hands of Hodor, and the plot to kill the last of the Starks was entirely made up.

GOT4_mereenMuch the same holds true for Daenerys entire storyline after the sack of Mereen. Having proceeded to cover her sack of Slaver’s Bay in a very speedy and topical way, the writer’s of the show were now left with a very important thread where the characters essentially had nothing to do. As a result, they mined material from book V to keep her busy, or just threw in some added material that never happened in the novels and really accomplished nothing.

In the former case, this included Daenerys’ affair with Daario Naharis and her learning that Drogo has killed a herders child, thus prompting her to lock her dragons up beneath one of the city’s pyramids. In the latter, it involved the relationship between Grey Worm and Missandei, which makes little sense seeing as how he is an Unsullied and completely castrated. But to confound this, the writer’s decided that Missandei was suddenly unclear as to whether or not the Unsullied’s castration involved both the “pillar and the stones”.

Much the same held true for Stannis’ thread this season. After being defeated at the Battle of Blackwater, very little was heard from Stannis until his forces appeared in the North and overran Mance Rayder’s Wildling army. However, to ensure he had something to do, the writer’s added many superfluous scenes where we simply see him and his people droning on about very little. And, similar to what they did with Daenerys, they even mined material from book V where Stannis meets with representatives from the Iron Bank.

GOT4_6_2In the novels, the representatives came to Stannis only after he had come to the Wall and routed Mance’s army. The reason being, Lord Tywin was dead, Cersei was in charge of King’s Landing, and she had made it clear that they would not be making payments to the bank just yet. Ergo, the Iron Bank was backing her enemies to ensure that whoever won would make good on the Thrones massive debts. So basically, they took material that happened later, changed it, and moved it forward to keep Stannis’ story going.

The same held true for Stannis’ decision to sacrifice a child of royal blood so Missandre’s could divine the future. This wasn’t to happen until he reached the Wall, and involved entirely different people than Gendry (who was gone from the story at this point). Here too, the material was moved forward and altered just so the character remained in the show.

3. Boring and Superfluous:
Something else that kept popping up for me this season was the endless array of short scenes with pointless talk, the prolonged scenes with pointless talk, and the scenes that tried to be dramatic but were just filled with superfluous stuff. This I generally filed under the heading of “filler”, and there was some crossover with stuff in item two. Still, I felt that it deserved its own category since there was quite a lot of it.

For example, the episode The Mountain and the Viper was one of the most anticipated of the season, and the fight scene that provided the climax was quiet awesome. However, everything leading up to it was some of the most boring material I’ve seen in years. This included Missandei and Grey Worm carrying on like teenagers, Tyrion talking endlessly before the fight about his simple cousin for no apparent reason, and a slew of other scenes in the North or Slaver’s Bay.

OberynMuch the same was true of Daenerys’ siege of Mereen in episodes five and six. What was essentially a major undertaking in the books was covered in three short scenes in the show. It begins with the fight between Daario (it was actually Strong Belwas in the books) and Mereen’s champion, which ended far too quickly. Then the siege itself which involved them throwing barrels filled with broken chains in, and then a quick sneak attack that opened the next episode.

Speaking of which, episode five, Breaker of Chains – what can you say about an episode where just about the only scene of consequence is a rape scene? Seriously, what were the writers thinking with that? It was completely different from what happened in the books, was ugly and unnecessary, and was the only point of interest in an episode that had nothing but after-the-fact dialogue and a slow, plodding pace to it.

4. No Stoneheart!:
But by far, the biggest inexplicable change this season was the absense of Lady Stoneheart (aka. Catelyn Stark) at the end of the season. Not only was she introduced at the end of the third book to preview what was coming in the next two volumes, it also provided a surprise ending that shocked readers and gave them hope. After getting away with bloody murder, it now seemed that the Freys were going to pay for their crimes! But first, a little explanation as to how Catelyn was up and walking again…

Basically, Catelyn became Stoneheart after she was murdered at the Red Wedding and her body cast into the river to float downstream, where it washed up and was found by the Brotherhood Without Banners. There, Beric Dondarion begged Thoros of Myr to use his Red Priest magic to bring her back to life, as he had done with Ser Beric so many times now. However, Thoros was tired of playing God and refused, which led Beric to kiss Lady Catelyn on the lips and pass his life force to her.

Stoneheart_2Tired of being brought back from the dead, he decided he would let the magic which had resurrected him many times bring her back. Ser Beric died on that riverbank, and Lady Catelyn came back – albeit in a scarred, muted form. Not only did she have a hideous scar on her throat and a bloated face, she was also functionally mute. And she was some pissed, and sought revenge against the Freys for their betrayal. As such, she now led the Brothers through the Riverlands to find all those who had betrayed her family and execute them.

So the question is, why was she left out? Well, Alex Graves, who has directed several pivotal episodes of show, commented on this and other issues after the final episode of the season aired:

They [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have such a challenge adapting the books into a really focused television experience. It’s very hard, it’s very complicated, it’s much harder then they’ve been given credit for, I think — and they do a brilliant job. But to bring back Michelle Fairley, one of the greatest actresses around, to be a zombie for a little while — and just kill people? It is really sort of, what are we doing with that? How does it play into the whole story in a way that we’re really going to like? It just didn’t end up being a part of what was going to happen this season. And finally one [more] reason: In case you didn’t notice, a lot happens this season … To add that in is something they opted out of. But what’s funny is that it was never going to be in the season, yet it took off on the Internet like it was going to happen.

Wait, so they didn’t want to show Catelyn as a zombie and because they were too busy with other things? Well okay, except that she’s NOT a walking corpse, she’s a reanimated, living being, who just happens to look a bit the worse for wear. As for the latter explanation, that they were busy, this sort of makes sense since they chose to change things in the final episode where Brienne and the Hound fight it out. But as I said, that never happened in the books and it also served little purpose.

GOT4_briennehoundSo if Graves is saying they chose to forgo a major plot point to focus on something that, while fun to watch, really didn’t effect the story, I would have to check my BS meter. As for whether or not Lady Stoneheart will be appearing in the next season, the director basically said that this was up to the writers and they were not being forthcoming on that point:

As somebody who’s worked deep inside the show, begged to have an answer and wants more than anybody, I have no idea. They won’t tell me. They’re very good at being secretive.

Hmm, so Lady Stoneheart may or may not be making an appearance in the next season, huh? There’s just one problem with that. SHE HAS TO! She’s an integral part of the plot as far as the next chapter in the story – A Feast for Crows – goes. To leave her out would be to leave a big, gaping plot hole where Brienne and Jaime’s story threads are concerned. I mean, its one thing to not bring her back just so she won’t be appearing for a few minutes at the tail end of a season. But to leave her out entirely when her character is central? That’s just plain weak.

But that wasn’t the last thing Graves commented on as far as this season’s finale and future shows were concerned. Fans also wanted to know if that semi-tragic scene involving the Hound was in fact his stand. Graves was strongly suggested that it was:

As far as The Hound, as I told the story … he’s gone. How is he going to survive that? The real point of it was that she walks away, it wasn’t that it’s left open ended.

Yet another problem. In the original novels, when Brienne came to the Riverlands and began tracking down leads, she was told that the Hound had been spotted and was carrying a Stark with him. Initially, Brienne thought it might be Sansa, but later learned it was Arya that was with him, and that she left the Hound to die underneath a tree on the Trident. But later on, reports began to circulate that the Hound was in fact not dead, and had been spotted on the move once again in the Riverlands.

GOT4_hounddeadHonestly, Graves’ guesswork on these topics makes it sound like he really isn’t familiar with the source material. But to be fair, only Martin knows for sure if the Hound is coming back, so announcing things either way at this point would be premature.

Summary:
Of course, its easy to pass judgement of television writers for making changes from original material. And Graves was right when he said that the writing team have their work cut out for them and are working hard to bring George RR Martin’s novels to life. But the problems this season seemed to stem from one central thing: they split the book in half. While this seemed logical since it was clear they couldn’t possibly make all of A Storm of Swords fit into one season, the decision to split it into two meant they didn’t have enough materiel for this season.

After all, ASOS is one of the most eventful and shocking installments in the series, and ten episodes simply wasn’t enough to cover the Red Wedding, Joffrey’s Wedding, Tyrion’s trial and escape, the battle at Castle Black, Mance’s assault on the Wall, Stannis’ assault on the North, and Daenerys’ sacking of the cities of Slaver’s Bay. But twenty episodes was too much, which meant the writers had to make stuff up, take stuff from the next books, or just expand what they had to make it fit.

And the result was a season with some bad parts to it. Still, there were plenty of highlights too. Joffrey’s wedding and his death scene was some pretty good viewing, Tyrion’s trial did not disappoint, the fight between Prince Oberyn and the Mountain was badass, the battle at the Wall was hectic, and the Hound’s (supposed) death scene was quite well done. And the finale was one of the better episodes in the series, and perhaps one of the better finales as well.

And the additions, though they went nowhere, weren’t all bad. In fact, the only thing I would say was done poorly this season was the entire Daenerys thread, which gravitated between boring and superficial. I mean, the woman’s leading an army through the entire Slaver’s Bay and conquering cities! Why did they skim these things so quickly and then give her nothing but boring administrative duties for the rest of the season? Budgets? …ah, maybe.

In any case, I will be watching next season, and look forward to what they will be doing with it. Thanks to how George RR Martin wrote books IV and V (A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons), we will be seeing aspects of both books presented simultaneously, but there will be enough material for two seasons this time. Which is good, seeing as how Martin needs time to produce book VI – The Winds of Winter – which will inevitably provide the basis for season seven.

Yeah, the man’s wheels grind slow, and exceedingly bloody! Until next season folks…

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

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!

Timeline of Game of Thrones

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperNot too long ago, I realized just how immersed I was in the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a funny experience, getting into a series, realizing you’ve finally got some understanding of the universe contained within, and you find that you really like it! As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I really haven’t experienced this since reading Lord of the Rings or possibly Dune.

And in the course of my latest bit of research into the ASOIAF universe, I came across a helpful timeline. This, much like the geography of J R.R. Martin’s world, was something I had been pondering by the time I got to the fifth book. As anyone’s who read the series knows, there’s plenty of references to historical events which can be a bit confusing, at least if you’re the kind of person who likes to know how everything fits together.

And much like Tolkien, Martin’s timeline is very inspired, dense, detailed, and draws on a great deal of real history. And knowing it is quite helpful in establishing the deep background of the series and understanding the interplay of characters and events. So here is what I found, condensed and abridged for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

The Dawn Age:
south_GOT
This is the prehistoric age of A Song of Ice and Fire, where the important factions know as the “Children of the Forest” and the “First Men” are introduced. The former are a race of magical creatures who feature quite prominently in the later volumes of the story, where Greenseers and prescient dreams start to come up more and more. They inhabited Westeros in the prehistoric period along with giants and other magical creatures that only live in the North anymore. The Children of the Forest are also credited with forging the religion of the “Old Gods” which the Northmen still worship in the story.

ca. 12,000: The First Men invade Westeros across a land-bridge from the east, using bronze weapons to conquer and colonize Westeros. The Children of the Forest fight back and cast a spell to break the land-bridge, giving rise to the island formation known as the Stepstones (Echoes of the Bering Land Bridge here!) However, the First Men rely on ships and complete their conquest after generations.

ca. 10,000: The First Men and Children sign the pact of Isle of Faces, agreeing to coexistence after generations of warfare. This pact gives the First Men dominion over the open lands and lets the Children keep control over the forested areas. In time, the First Men adopt the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest.

Children_of_the_Forest_greenseers
The Age of Heroes
Much like the age of same name in Greek mythology, this age is so named because it encompasses a number of great figures who accomplished noteworthy deeds. These include the founding of many of the Great Houses, who trace their lineage in the story to this period. The include Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark; Lann the Clever who formed House Lannister; and Garth Greenhand who founded House Gardener of the Reach. Also, this was the time of the Storm Kings who arise in the Stormlands, and the Grey King of the Iron Islands.

ca. 10,000-8,000: The peace between the Children of the Forest and the First Men endures for thousands of years. The houses of Stark, Lannister, Gardener and the Storm Kings are established in the North, Casterly Rock, the Reach and the Stormlands respectively.

Azor-Ahai-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-3437825-905-521ca. 8,000-6,000: Period known as the Long Night in Westeros, a time of the coldest, darkest winter where a single night seems to last a generation. Ice spreads from the North, leading to the advance of the Others. It comes to an end following the Battle of the Dawn, where the First Men united under Azor Ahai (referenced in the text by Melissandre and the Red Priests) to repel the Others back to the north dragonglass weapons. Ahai also wields of a sword of fire known as Lightbringer.

After the defeat of the Others, Bran the Builder leads the raising of the Wall, a massive fortification of ice and ancient magic to shelter realms of Men. The Night’s Watch is formed to man and guard it against Others, Wights and Wildlings who live to the north. Bran then goes on to build Winterfell and becomes first King In The North. Not long after, a Black Brother betrays his oath and tries to install himself as king. The Starks of Winterfell and King Beyond the Wall Joramun join forces to destroy him. Joramun uses the Horn of Winter to summon giants from the earth to help him fight (the horn is buried, not to be found again until Mance Rayder uncovers it in A Storm of Swords)

The Andal Invasion:
The second of three major invasions of Westeros happens in this time period, leading to the Faith of the Seven and the tradition of chivalry being adopted. The divide between North and South is also rooted thanks to the failure of the Andals to conquer north of Moat Cailin.The Children of the Forest also begin their slow withdraw further from the lands of men in this period, retreating deeper into their forests and North of the Wall.

Andal_Invasionca.6,000-5,000: In the Hills of Andalos on the eastern continent of Essos, a new religion called the Faith of the Seven emerges. Supposedly, the supreme deity of the Andals appears to them and instructs them to cross the Narrow Sea and invade Westeros. They come under the banner of the Faith of the Seven, with seven-pointed stars carved into their chests, wielding weapons of steel.

The war endures for centuries and leads to the fall of the six southron kingdoms fall and the destruction of their weirwoods. The kingdoms of the North remain under First Men rule, thanks to the strategically placed fortification of Moat Cailin which resists multiple attacks, thereafter serving as the door between North and South.

Age of Valyria:
GOT_DanyThis period is characterized by the rise of the Valyrians as the dominant power in Essos and the many wars of expansion in Essos. These wars lead to the fall of the Ghiscari Empire, the Rhoynish cities, and the conquest of the Free Cities and the cities of Slaver’s Bay. Other Noble Houses are created during this time, most notably, House Martell of Dorne. It ends with the third and final invasion of Westeros, this time by House Targaryan, and the establishment of the Iron Throne.

ca. 5,000 – 700: On the eastern continent, the sheep-herding folk of the Valyrian peninsula find dragons lairing in the volcanoes that extend across the neck of the peninsula. The Valyrians tame the dragons with magic and gain influence over the area. The Valyrian Freehold is established and Valyrian steel, a magical metal renowned for its sharpness, light-weight and flaming properties, is forged. The Freehold goes to war with the Ghiscari Empire, the greatest power on the eastern peninsula. Valyria wins with the help of its dragons, destroys Old Ghis, and exerts influence over the cities of Slaver’s Bay.

north_GOTca. 3000: The Wildlings Invasion takes place as the northern men unite under the brother Kings-beyond-the-Wall Gendel and Gorne, manage to evade the Night’s Watch and bypass the Wall in great numbers using a network of tunnels that extend under the Wall. However, they are met by the Stark King on the other side and are eventually thrown back.

ca. 700: In the North, House Stark finally subdues House Bolton, their primary antagonists for dominance in the North. Karlon Stark defeats sea raiders from the east and founds the cadet branch of House Karstark. In the West, the Ironborn of the Iron Islands rise to power. At their peak, they control most of the western coast from Oldtown and the Arbor in the south to Bear Island in the North.

ca. 700-500: Valyria’s expansion beyond Old Ghis brings it into conflict with the great cities along the Rhoyne and manages to subdue them, again because of their dragons. Nymeria, a Rhoynish queen, evacuates the survivors and takes them to Dorne where she forms an alliance with Lord Mars Martell and form the ruling house of Dorne.

House-Targaryen-game-of-thrones-20596041-1600-1200ca. 500-200: Valyria expands once again and conquers much of the southern Free Cities. A religous sect known as the Moonsingers leads refugees to a remote lagoon concealed by mountains and mist to found the secret city of Braavos. They build the Titan of Braavos to serve as a defensive fortification. The Valyrian Freehold, under the Targaryens, annex a small island at the mouth of Blackwater Bay, and build a castle whose tower is shaped to look like Dragons, giving its name: Dragonstone.

ca. 350: The Storm Kings expand their control of the Westerlands north to include the territory of the Riverlands up to the Neck. Over time the Ironborn lose many of their possessions but, some three generations before Aegon’s Landing, conquer the territory of the Riverlands from the Stormlands. The Ironborn king, Harren Hoare builds Harrenhal.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-harrenhalca. 100: The Doom of Valryria begins. The volcanoes known as the Fourteen Fires erupt and shatter the Valyrian Peninsula and laying waste to the city of Valyria. The dragons of Valyria are virtually wiped out and the Valyrian Freehold crumbled apart, its various cities becoming independent city states. Braavos reveals itself to the other Free Cities and eventually becomes the most powerful due to its vast fleet and economic power.

The cities of Slaver’s Bay become independent again and Ghiscari power begins building again in the south. The warrior-nomads of the vast eastern plains arise thanks to the fall of Valyria and their dominant tribe, the Dothraki, begins raiding the surrounding lands. The Targaryens remain safe on Dragonstone, the guardians of possibly the last three dragons in the western world.

Targaryen Dynasty and Roberts Rebellion:
Events of this period direclty precede events in A Song of Ice and Fire. These include the Targaryan conquest of the Seven Kindgoms by Aeon the Conqueror and his three dragons, the death of the last of the worlds dragons, the unification of the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne, and the fall of the Targaryen dynasty during Robert’s Rebellion.

The_iron_throne

 ca. 1 AL*: Aegon the Conqueror invades Westeros, conquers and unites six of the seven kingdoms of Westeros under his banner and constructs a new capital city at King’s Landing. He is unable to conquer Dorne and allows it to remain sovereign. Control of Highgarden passes to House Tyrell, House Tully of Riverrun takes control of the Riverlands and House Greyjoy become the rulers of the Iron Islands. Later Targaryans add Dorne and the Seven Kingdoms are united under the Iron Throne.

282-283 AL: Rhaegar Targaryen abducts Lyanna Stark. Lyanna’s brother and father (Ned Starks uncle and father) demand that Aerys discipline his son, but instead the Mad King kills them both. Aerys demands the heads of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark from their ward, Jon Arryn. Instead, Houses Arryn, Stark, and Baratheon raise the standard of rebellion. Robert’s Rebellion, also called the War of the Usurper, begins.

The Hand of the King, Jon Connington, is defeated in the Battle of the Bells and is sent into exile in the Free Cities. The rebel army defeats the royalists at the Battle of the Trident where Prince Rhaegar is killed. The Lannisters apparently march to the aid of King Aerys, but instead turn against him and sack the city. King Aerys is killed by Jaime Lannister.

A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-RobertPrincess Elia Martell and her children, Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen, are brutally murdered by Lannister bannermen, causing a rift between Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon. Robert becomes King of the Seven Kingdoms and marries Cersei Lannister. Ned returns home to Winterfell with his bastard son, Jon Snow. Loyal Targaryen retainers carry Aerys’ two youngest children, Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys, to safety in the Free Cities.

*After Landing: The year that follows after Aegon lands in Westeros, establishing the “common era” of the Iron Throne.

Yes, its long, detailed and dense, and that’s just the stuff I chose to include. But you gotta admit, it does fill in the blanks and answer a whole lot of nagging questions! And of course, there are all those allegories I mentioned earlier. First there’s the invasion of the First Men across the land bridge calling to mind the migration of human beings across the Bering Land Bridge, giving rise to the First Nations and the establishment of American civilizations.

You also have the successive invasions of Westeros calling to mind the invasion of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Normans. The Children of the Forest also call to mind the systematic destruction of native populations the world over, and the division between the Old Gods and New is very similar to the conquest of Roman pantheism over the “pagan” religions of the Old World.

And of course, the Red Priests and their dualistic vision of a world divided between the forces of Light and Darkness is not at all dissimilar to Judea-Christian theology, or more likely Zoroastrianism. The fact that the faith comes from the East and is so focused on a war between good and evil that is expected to achieve culmination soon is more in keeping with the Zoroastrian tradition, though the monotheistic aspects of it, forced conversions and burning of “idols” do call to mind Christianity’s conquest of European and the New World.

And on top of that, there’s a very rich history taking place in the East, where Valyria resembles ancient Rome, who’s power base (in this case Dragons) allows them to conquer the Free Cities (similar to the Greek city-states), the Empire of Old Ghis (Persia and other Empires of the East), and whose fall creates a power vacuum that leads to the rise of “Barbarian Hordes” – aka. the Dothraki.

I tell ya, the historical metaphors are thick. THICK!

Source: awoiaf.westeros.org

A Feast For Crows!

a_song_of_ice_and_fire_version_2_by_scrollsofaryavart-d4rabm1We come to it at last, the fourth and final book in the Song of Ice and Fire Box Set! Wait, what? There’s a fifth book, and two more on the way? And I just bought the fifth book and promised to review it too??? Son of a bitch! Sigh… Alright, let’s get things moving and review this bastard. Lord knows George RR Martin isn’t done writing books, nor I in reading them, apparently.

Ha! I joke because it’s fun, and true. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had originally planned to quit after book four, but then decided some months back to buy the latest installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series thanks in part to the rave reviews it was getting from friends and critics. But the choice was cinched just the other night when I finally finished Crows and enjoyed how it ended.

To put it simply, A Feast For Crows felt like an afterthought to the series, a depository for the story lines that weren’t particularly important and didn’t make it into the previous volumes in the series. Hence why it took me so long to complete it – coupled with the many other books I started while in the middle of it – it really was a slow read! But upon completing it, I found that there were some rather interesting twists that made the story interesting gain, not to mention worth following!

What’s more, Martin ended the story with the misleading chapter entitled “Meanwhile, Back At the Wall”, which was really a letter to the audience stating that what they had just read was really only half of what he had planned as a fourth installment. At this point in the story, he had so much to say that he felt the only way he could say it all was to either write a massive single-volume or split it in two. And he could either write all the stories half-way, or write half the stories all the way, and leave the others for the next.

And of course, that’s what he did. Whereas the story lines of Cersei, Jaime, Samwell Tarly, Brienne, Arya, Sansa, and a host of other secondary characters get their due in this installment, the equally (if not more important) narratives of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran, and others would be reserved for book five. And like I said before, I could see the wisdom and crass commercial value in this! Damn you Martin, making me buy more of your books! Here’s what happens in this book:

Plot Synopsis:
The book opens with the War of Five Kings coming to an end. With most of the major player dead – Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Renly Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy – and Stannis defeated at King’s Landing, the war has reached a lull and it seems that House Lannister seems poised to inherit the entire realm. All that remains is for them to seize the last of the Stark’s strongholds (like Riverrun, which is still holding out) and to push the Ironmen back from all the ports they’ve seized.

However, the realm is still beset by intrigue as old scores are being settled and new plots put into action. At the same time, Cersei finds that despite the removal of all her enemies, as well as the death of her eledest son and father, she is unable to wield absolute power, and gradually begins to turn inward and succumb to paranoia and self-destruction. And of course, Sansa is still hiding in the Vale, doing her best to remain hidden and attending to Lord Baelish’s ongoing schemes…

King’s Landing: As is quickly becoming apparent, Cersei is incapable of running the realm on a day to day basis, which is made worse by the fact that her Council, which is staffed by loyalists, is ineffectual. At the same time, there is her growing distrust of the Tyrells and their apparent attempts to position Margaery to inherit the throne. As such. Cersei begins scheming to bring the House down.

At the same time, she has to come to terms with the crowns creditors, which include the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Faith of the Seven. In the former case, she fails and the crowns assets are entirely frozen. In the latter, she agrees to the restoration of the Faith Militant, a military order that is answerable only to the High Septon. However, in so doing, she allows for the accumulation of armed zealots in the capitol, most of whom believe her to be an adulterer. It also means the Faith now has its own army in place and is less compelled to accept her authority.

In her bid to lessen the Tyrell’s influence over the masses, the court and her son, she sends Ser Loras Tyrell to help with the siege of Storm’s End. He is mortally wounded in the assault and may not survive. Cersei then interrogates Grand Maester Pycelle and learns that he has been giving Margaery moon tea, and that she and her cousins have been having elicit sex with multiple suitors.

She turns Margaery and her maids over to the faith and has Ser Osney Kettleback, whom she has been bedding, testify to her falseness. This backfires however when Osney is interrogated by the Septon and reveals how he has been sleeping with Cersei and murdered the previous Septon on her orders. Cersei is jailed in the temple and hopes Jaime will return to fight for her…

The Riverlands: Jaime is sent north to assist in the siege of Riverrun and assist in bringing order to the war torn region. He succeeds in the former endeavor, ending the siege bloodlessly by convincing House Tully to surrender peacefully. The next step in his task is to locate the Brotherhood Without Banners, Lord Beric Dondarion, who is dead at this point, and Stoneheart (Catelyn Stark, who are still active in the Riverlands and hanging Lannisters, Freys everyone who had a hand in betraying House Stark. Afterwards, he gets word that Cersei needs his help, but tosses her letter into the fire.

Brienne is also in the Riverlands now after following the trail of Sansa Stark. Her companions include Ser Podrick Payne (former squire to Jaime) and Ser Hyle, one of Renly’s old knights. In time, they are set upon and captured by the Brotherhood and brought before Stoneheart, where she learns her true identity. Since she is carrying a Lannister sword, Catelyn believes she is in the service of the Lannister’s now, and demands she kill Jaime as a test of faith. Brienne refuses, and is sentenced to hang along with her companions.

Dorne: Picking up where A Storm of Swords left off, there is the growing plot by House Martell to avenge the death of the Elia and make Myrcella the queen of Westeros. They have not been appeased by the death of Ser Gregore Clegane, as they know it was Prince Oberyn who killed him, and that Tywin Lannister was behind the murder. Doran Martell, the ruler of Dorne, must now deal with the plotting of his bastard nieces – known as the Sand Snakes – who want war and to avenge their fathers death. He has them all locked in the tower, but soon finds that the plot is extending to his own daughter, Arianne.

For some time, she has been bedding Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsgaurd, and uses him to abduct Myrcella and try and install her as queen. When this fails, she too is placed in the tower and Ser Arys is killed. But before long, her father hauls her before him and tells her of his true plans. He too wants revenge, but has more subtle plans. This involves sending her brother Quentyn to the east to bring back “Fire and Blood” – Daenerys Targaryen – who he believes was prophesied to restore Westeros to its former glory.

Iron Islands: With the death of Balon Greyjoy and the ongoing war against the other Houses of Westeros, there is a question of who will lead the Ironmen. Aeron Damphair, the high priest of the Iron Islands, calls a Kingsmoot, a gathering to determine a successor, which becomes hotly contested by Asha and Victarion, Balon’s daughter and brother. However, Euron Greyjoy – Balon’s oldest brother, known as the exiled “Crow’s Eye”- is chosen as king due to his promise that he can control dragons with a recently acquired horn. He too sends out a party to travel to the east and find Daenerys with the intent of taking her dragons and conquering all of Westeros.

The East: Arya Stark arrives in Braavos and finds her way to the House of Black and White, a temple associated with the assassins known as the Faceless Men (of whom Jaqen H’gar was a member). She begins her training as an initiate and takes on a new identity, a girl who goes by the name of “Cat of the Canals”. However, her former identity continues to assert itself in the form of wolf dreams, and also when she comes across members of the Night’s Watch who are in town. This includes Samwell Tarly, whom she meets without knowing, and when she murders his companion Dareon for abandoning his brothers. The morning after Dareon’s murder, she admits to the Kindly Man that it was “Arya” who committed it, and is given a glass of warm milk as punishment. After drinking, she wakes up blind the following morning.

Meanwhile, Sam, Gilly and Maester Aemon stop on the way to Oldtown, where they hope to uncover the mystery of the one who has been prophesied. Aemon now believes this to be Daenerys as well, and seeks information about the “Lady with Dragons” to the east so he can help restore his niece to the throne. Sam finds a ships of Summer Islanders who claim to have seen the dragons firsthand and agree to take them to Oldtown. Aemon dies in transit, and Gilly and Sam become intimate over their shared sense of grief. When they arrive in Oldtown, Sam sends her to his family’s holdings for her own safety – as the Iron Men have been reeving in the region. He then proceeds to the Citadel, where he is told that Daenerys is the one prophesied to save the realm, and he begins training to go and find her.

Summary:
As I may have said already, this book largely felt like a depository for threads that were not part of the main story. After events in the previous three novels, one would think that the fourth book would have something on the Wall and the growing threat of “The Others.” However, the ongoing story about Arya’s new life in Braavos, the conspiracy in Dorne, Cersei’s own machinations at King’s Landing, and the leadership struggle amongst the Ironmen – all these felt like diversions from the climactic storyline. And after three books, I was beginning to get quite impatient for it. It’s like, C’mon, when are The Others going to attack? When is all this prophecy going to be revealed?

However, by the end, it became abundantly clear where Martin was going with this. At last, we find out that Daenerys is not just a contender for the Iron Throne, but the subject of the very prophecy that was being foretold since the second book, when the Red Comet first appeared. What’s more, by the end, it was abundantly clear that all the threads appearing in this book were closely related. The Iron Islanders, the Nights Watch, and the people of Dorne are all seeking Daenerys, and it’s clear at this point that she will be coming back to Westeros in force, and might even be seen as a force of liberation after all the infighting.

In addition, Cersei’s fate at King’s Landing was a welcome twist. While there are those who see her as a sympathetic character who’s only doing what any man in her position would do, I see that and all the talk of double standards as crap! Crap, crap, crap! She’s a cruel, selfish, and narcissistic woman who only cares about herself and condemns anyone who doesn’t do her bidding. So to see her get hers after all this time made me quite happy. It was also fitting that Jaime, whom she shunned when it became clear he wasn’t sympathizing with her, would spurn her appeals for help.

All of this was just enough to pique my interest in the series again, which was beginning to wane after Robb Stark was killed and it became clear the war was going to drag out and end in the Lannister’s favor. Not only that, but the War in the North, the prophecy involving the coming darkness (i.e. the Others) and Daenery’s own campaign to return in force; all of these seemed to be dragging inexorably on. As I said before, it seemed like the original story, with its three dominant threads, could have been wrapped up nicely in three books. And with book four beginning with all these secondary threads that seemed unrelated to the main plot, I was really beginning to tire.

However, Martin managed to wrap things up nicely. And coupled with all the nice reviews I’ve been hearing about book five, I will continue to read and report on what comes of things. I really, really hope for the sake of the series and his readers that things proceed towards a climax now. Because of this ends up being a “Wheel of Time” scenario after all, where the story just keeps going and going, I will be sorely disappointed and forced to give up. Here I go with A Dance of Dragons, wish me luck!

Game of Thrones, Season 2 Finale!

Well it’s come at last. The big second season finale, the wrap up after the siege of King’s Landing, and the cliffhanger ending north of the Wall. And to be honest, I think this was the first episode I truly enjoyed. Not saying the other’s weren’t enjoyable as all hell. It’s just that with this episode, I found that I was finally putting aside the critical, comparative eye and just watching the show. Too bad too. But I guess I’ll have all summer to enjoy the re-runs. In the meantime, here’s what I thought about the season finale!

Valar Morghulis:
The mood is festive in King’s Landing, at least for most. Having secured the city from Stannis’ attack, Tywin Lannister and Ser Loras Tyrell are hailed as heroes. To cement the victory and the newfound alliance between House Lannister and House Tyrell, Joffrey agrees to marry Margaery Tyrell, rendering his marriage to Sansa null and void. Sansa is overjoyed, but must keep that herself. She is approached by Lord Pyter Baelish, who says he can smuggle her out of the capitol and bring her home.

Meanwhile, Tyrion wakes up in his new room to find that he’s been stripped of his duties as Hand of the King. His father has taken that role, and his Tyrion’s loyal followers have all been paid off and sent away. He is alone and virtually friendless, but luckily, he still has Shae and the allegiance of Varys, who appears to be hatching his own schemes with Ros, the lady of the night who works in Baelish’s brother. Robb announces his nuptials with Talisa, much to the chagrin of his mother. She warns him that Walder Frey is not a man to be crossed, but he is insistent that he proceed with his marriage as planned.

At Qarth, Daenerys enters the House of the Undying where she is confronted by the mages. Her dragons have been put in chains and so is she. However, her little scaled offspring begin belching fire at the mages and shattering their chains once they are reunited with her, and she quickly escapes with them in tow. Returning to Xaro’s house, Dany and her kin throw him into his chamber, which appears to be empty after all, and loot his house of anything of value. They proceed to the docks to buy what ships they can.

To the north, Theon is betrayed by his bannermen who kill him and set Winterfell ablaze. Brann, Rickson, Hodor and Osha leave the safety of the catacombs and begin heading north to the Wall where they believe they will be safe. Arya meanwhile meets up with Jaqen who is on his way back to Bravos. He invites her to come, but she says she must head north to her home. He gives her a coin and the words “Valar Morghulis” and tells her that they will buy her way to Bravos should she change her mind. He changes his face and bids her farewell.

And beyond the Wall, John and Qorin finally have at it and John manages to kill him. This moves earns him the Wildlings trust, and it appears that was what Qorin had in mind all along. He is taken to the Wildlings encampment in a frozen valley where he sees tents as far as the eye can see. And lastly, the Night’s Watch at the First of the First Men are best by White Walkers. Emerging from the snow and ice, they come in droves and shriek out a terrible, bone chilling war cry!

Final Thoughts on the Finale:
Well, once again I have to say that the did a very good job of adapting the novel to the screen. The ending was bone chilling and a real cliff-hanger,and they managed to do a good job of wrapping up all the seasons threads. When season 3 comes around, they will be in perfect firing position to pick the story up and take it even further towards resolution. Of course, changes were made again, but I have to say that with one exception, I was unanimously in favor of them this time around.

But before I get into that, I need to mention one change from the previous episodes that I totally forgot to mention. In episode 8, Arya and her pals make their escape thanks to Jaqen’s help. However, how they went about doing this was quite different than from in the book. There, Arya told Jaqen that she would un-utter his name if he freed the dungeons of all the Stark captives so they could take Harrenhal from the Lannisters. Since this would be done when Lord Tywin and the bulk of his army was away, there would not be enough men to defend against all the freed prisoners.

The plan worked, and Lord Bolton took command of the castle in the name of the Starks. However, that didn’t change Arya’s fortunes much, as she no one believed she was the Stark girl and she remained cupbearer, only this time to Lord Bolton. Jaqen had left at this point, giving her the coin and instructions on how to get to Bravos, so she had to free herself. She did this by killing a guard in the night and escaping with Gendry and Hot Pie, sans any help.

Of course, I could see why they simplified all this by having Jaqen simply kill the guards and letting her go free. It was a convoluted plot thread that took way longer in the book to resolve itself. And the same is true in this episode where we see both Theon’s betrayal and Sansa’s planned escape from King’s Landing being truncated. In the book, Theon was betrayed by one of his own, yes, but it was far more complicated. Essentially, Lord Bolton’s bastard was one of the men Theon freed from Winterfell’s dungeons, unbeknownst to him.

When he found that no help was coming from his father, he sent several men out to look for helpers. The bastard Bolton rode home, where he raised an army of his father’s men and returned just as Robb’s bannermen were outside the city. His forces set upon them and defeated them, and then were welcomed into Winterfell by Theon as liberators. However, the bastard of Bolton then killed Theon and ordered Winterfell razed, out of spite for how they put him in prison.

Complicated huh? Far better to just have Theon betrayed by his own men who then chose to raze the city and make a run for it, since it was obvious to them that no help was coming. And of course, Sansa’s planned escape from King’s Landing was more – you guessed it – complicated in the book. Here, it was Ser Dontos, the disgraced drunkard who’s life she saves at Joffrey’s tournament, offers to help free her during Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell. In time (spoiler alert) she learns that he is being helped by Lord Pyter Baelish who is once again motivated to help her because of the love he has for her mother.

But once again, to simplify this and cut down on the necessary screen time, they leave out all of her secret meetings with Ser Dontas and speed ahead to Baelish simply telling her, “I can get you out”. Personally, I would have liked a secret deal being struck early on much better. The conspiratorial nature of it, as she was forced to endure Joffrey’s beatings and the queen’s abusive nature, was much more intriguing. Finding out that Pyter was involved was a good revelation too, which was effective since it was saved for the last minute.

Last, but not least, there was the changed nature of John’s “defection” and his fight with Qorin. Already they changed things, as I said in my previous posts, John and Qorin were taken prisoner together after he set Ygritte go. There was no prolonged scene between John and Ygritte in the wilderness with her trying to temp him with her Wildling wiles (ha!). But alas, they seemed to tie that up when it was revealed that both he and Qorin were taken and Qorin wanted him to make up for his failure.

And it was clear that Qorin was executing that plan when he attacked John Snow, baited him to anger, and then let him win their fight. But he did all that without explaining what he wanted John to do. This is something that they will be forced to answer for in season 3. Either John will decide to play the role of defector merely to stay alive, or he will be genuinely torn between his genuine affections for Ygritte and his duty to the Night’s Watch.

Oh yeah, and that added plot thread involving Ros and now Varys. Not sure what they’ve got planned there, all I can tell you is it never happened in the book. In fact, as I’ve pointed out numerous times now, nothing involving Ros happened in book II. Much like Dany’s attendant, Doreah, they seem to be inflating her role and keeping her alive a lot longer than in the book. But I assume there is a reason for it. After all, Doreah’s character very quickly dies in book II, and the way they kept her around was ultimately better in the series. I can only assume her plot with Varys will connect back to actual material from the book and wrap up nicely in the end.

But that’s another season and another series of posts! Right now, all I want to think about was that ending. White Walker everywhere, blue-eyed zombies taking to the frozen field, ready to lay down a hurting. And of course, that war cry at the end and the way the camera pans out to show just how many of them there are… Spine-tingly-dingly!

Thoughts on the Season:
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with what they did with this book and can see the logic in all the changes they made. I also liked how they brought back Jason Momoa to reprise his role as Khal Drogo, even if it was short lived. Seeing him portray the burley, tough, and yet gentle leader of the Dothraki was one of the highlights of season one. Even though I couldn’t stand the re-imagined Conan movie, or perhaps because of that, it was good to see him back in this role again.

And let’s not forget, the seige of King’s Landing, the climax of book II, was a real highlight for this season. Beautifully rendered, well-executed and choreographed, and ultimately very faithful to the book. In all adaptations, the writers and designers have their work cut out for them, but these guys have managed to pull it all off with limited resources. But then again, dedication and a great cast can do that! I can honestly say that despite all the wonderful costumes, settings and storyline, the biggest selling point of this show is the acting. George RR Martin is quite the writer, but the cast has always managed to deliver.

Well, that’s it for season two. Now begins the winter of our viewing discontent, otherwise known as summer reruns! See you next season with G-O-T… Season 3 (rhymes!), otherwise known as A Storm of Swords. It’s sure to be a blockbuster!

A Storm of Swords (Song of Fire and Ice, book III)

Back with the third installment in the Song of Fire and Ice series! By the end of book II, A Clash of Kings, a number of interesting developments took place. Stannis Baratheon’s attack on King’s Landing ended in failure, Robb Stark’s campaign south began to suffer some setbacks, and John Snow had taken up with the Wildlings. In addition, Theon Greyjoy was killed, Winterfell was burned to the ground, Arya escaped and began heading north once again, and young Bran began to head for the Wall with his companions, pursuing a prescient dream.

A Storm of Swords:
The third novel picks up where all these strands left off, with the War of the Five Kings, the war beyond the Wall, and with Daenerys Targaryen’s ongoing efforts to secure an army and return to Westeros. Much like book II, Storm contained a sort of climax where a major battle takes place, this time at the Wall. John’s time spent amongst the Wildlings also gives the reader insight into the lives of the Wildlings and what is driving them south.

At the same time, there is a great deal of detail given to the world of the East, where Daenerys is travelling to the ancient slaver cities of Astapor, Yunkai and Mereen. Much like Qarth in book II, these eastern cities are clearly inspired by the ancient cities of Asia Minor and the Middle East (aka. Babylon, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc). However, there were also some rather dire developments as well. Like I said in my previous post, George RR Martin is never one to shy away from killing off main characters or devastating his readers. Whereas he kind of shied away from that in Clash, this book got right into it! But more on that in a bit. First, I’d like to get into the overall plot of the novel…

Plot Synopsis:
Starting at the Riverlands, where Robb Stark and his armies are gathered, we learn that the Wolf has suffered from some serious errors in judgement. For starters, his uncle, contrary to Robb’s orders, threw off his long-term strategy by engaging Tywin Lannister’s armies at the river crossings. Though they were victorious in thwarting them, this move upset Robb’s plans to lure Tywin closer to his home town of Casterly Rock, where Robb hoped to outflank him and end the Lannister’s involvement in the war.

However, Tywin instead deployed the bulk of his forces to attack Riverrun once Bolton began beating him. Tywin failed to take Riverrun, but deploying his forces here instead of further east meant that he was in a better position to redeploy south once he learned that King’s Landing was threatened. Their victory over Stannis also led to an alliance between House Tyrell and the Lannisters, which meant they would be doubly hard to beat.

In addition, while he was campaigning in Lannister country, Robb fell in love with a young woman from a smaller House and married her. This decision was an insult to the honor of House Frey, the Lord that controls the Twins (the river crossing to the north) and one of Robb’s most powerful allies. Now it was necessary for him to travel to the Twins and make amends, promising his uncle’s hand to one of Frey’s oldest daughters in order to salvage their relationship.

And last, but not least, he also has the defiance of his mother to deal with. It seems that while he was away campaigning, she set Jaime Lannister free and told Brienne to escort him to King’s Landing. On his honor, she made Jaime swear that he would return her daughters to her as soon as he arrived at the capitol. A desperate hope, but given what happened to her boys (she believes them both to have perished at Winterfell at his point) she was both desperate and distraught.

Naturally, Jaime has plans of his own and attempts to escape at the first opportunity. Unfortunately for him and Brienne, his escape attempt alerts some marauders to their presence. As soon as he obtains a sword, he attacks Brienne, the two fight for some time and the noise alerts a band of Bloody Mummers. These men are now in the employ of Lord Roose Bolton of Harrenhal, and they are taken captive. To ensure Jaime’s cooperation, Vargo Hoat, the leader of the pack, slices off Jaime’s hand. Without his sword hand, Jaime becomes a depressed shell of his former self, and begins to contemplate his choices and allegiances.

When Robb and his host arrive at the Twins, they are pleasantly surprised. Despite Lord Walder Frey’s reputation for being a bitter and vengeful man, he seems committed to making this new marriage happen. And his uncle is even pleasantly surprised when he sets eyes on the Frey girl, who doesn’t appear to be as hideous as his other offspring! Everything goes well on the wedding night as well. Though the food is not so good, the wine is plentiful and people begin to get soused. However, once the bride and groom are hauled off, Frey has another surprise in store. Crossbowmen emerge from the gallery and begin firing on them! Robb and his banner men are quickly surrounded, and Robb and his mother are killed!

Back at King’s Landing, celebrations are being held! With their victory over Stannis’ forces, the people are jubilant and welcoming House Tyrell as liberators. In addition, Lord Tywin has taken the role as Hand of the King since Tyrion has been bed-ridden with injuries and is suspected of trying to harm Joffrey. Also, it seems that the new hand has made some changes to Joffrey’s wedding arrangements. Instead of marrying Sansa, as was arranged under King Robert, he now wishes to cement the Lannister’s new alliance with the Tyrell’s by marrying Joffrey to Lady Margaery Tyrell. Sansa is relieved, until she is informed that she will be wedding Tyrion instead, who isn’t particularly happy about it either.

Now two weddings must be held. The first, of Sansa and Tyrion, is a sham affair that is rushed through with minimal pomp and ceremony. For the second wedding though, much time and effort are spent and no expense is being spared. In addition, Sansa finds herself being taken into the confidences of the matriarch of House Tyrell. As Joffrey’s previous betrothal, she would like to know just what kind of man her granddaughter is marrying. After learning that the old lady is an honest and gentle person, Sansa tells her the truth: Joffrey is a monster, she says, and her granddaughter should be afraid. The old lady thanks her for her honesty, and begins plotting…

The wedding festivities are lavish and Joffrey appears to be taking well to his new wife, which leaves Sansa fearing for her life. Tyrion is similarly worried, knowing that Joffrey hates him and Cersei and their father both suspect him of treachery. He worries that the boy will try to kill him and his new wife, but they are both saved when something unexpected occurs. In the midst of eating from a massive pigeon pie that was prepared for the event, Joffrey chokes and dies horribly. More to the point, the girl Sansa disappears in the midst of his death. All eyes go to Tyrion, who is promptly arrested for the boy’s death.

After suffering in the dungeons of King’s Landing for a time, Tyrion is brought forth and put on trial. He is forsaken by everyone, including his mistress Shae, who appears to have been threatened into giving him up. All hope appears to be lost for Tyrion, but he then receives an offer from an unlikely source: Lord Oberyn Martell, the Prince of Dorne. It seems that the people of Sunspear still hold the Lannister’s accountable for the deaths of two Martell children who were murdered during Robert’s revolt. The one responsible was Sir Gregor Clegane (“The Mountain”), but they suspect Lord Tywin was the one who gave the order. He agrees to fight for Tyrion if he requests a trial by combat as part of a plot to kill Gregor and eventually put a Martell on the throne.

Without options, Tywin agrees, and as expected, Cersei chooses Gregor as her champion. The fight goes well for Oberyn, who employs cunning and speed to defeat Gregor with a poisoned spear. However, before he can deliver the final blow, Gregor takes Oberyn by the throat and kills him with his bare hands. Tyrion is once again doomed, and Gregor is destined to die a slow and terrible death. However, Tyrion finds help from an unlikely source once again, this time from his brother who has returned.

After hearing of Robb Stark’s death, Harrenhal once again changed hands and Jaime was set free. Having undergone a change of heart, he decided to bring Brienne back with her. Upon his arrival, he and Cersei have a falling out over his brother’s supposed guilt, and he decides to set Tyrion free. This consists of showing him a secret stairway that will take him to the coast, but Tyrion decides to head up instead. Having served as the Hand, he knows the secret stairs lead to the Tower of the Hand, where his father currently resides…

When he enters, he finds Shae warming his bed. She pleads and offers him the usual denials, telling him she was threatened and had no choice. Tyrion, sick of betrayal, decides to strangle her with her own jewelry and then sets out to find his father. After grabbing a crossbow from the bedroom wall, he finds his father in the privy and corners him there. After some harsh words are exchanged, he fires a bolt into Tywin’s stomach and leaves him there for dead.

With both Joffrey and Tywin dead, Cersei takes up the role of Hand and crowns her youngest son, Tommen, as king. In addition, she charges her newly-estranged brother with finding and killing Tyrion. As the new Lord Commander of the Kingsgaurd, it is his duty to track down the assassin, but he is obviously conflicted given the fact that he played a rolein his father’s death. Once the funeral is over, he decides to sets Brienne free and gives her a new sword named Oathkeeper. This was apparently Joffrey’s wedding gift from Tywin, which was reforged from the Valyrian steel of Ned Stark’s old sword. He then tells her to go forth and keep her oath to Catelyn to find Arya and Sansa.

Also, it should be noted, Cersei begins to go nuts as a result of recent events. In addition to losing her son and her father, it is also clear that her incest has become common knowledge. The Tyrells also appear to be positioning themselves to take the throne down the line. It is even intimated that the Tyrell matriarch was the one who poisoned Joffrey because of what Stansa told her about him. Now that Tommen is king, it is he who must marry Lady Margaery Tyrell, but since he’s so young, she believes she must be the power behind the throne.

Sansa is meanwhile ferried away with the help of Lord Donton, a disgraced ex-knight who Joffrey was in the habit of abusing, but whom Sansa was kind to. For some time, they were planning her escape, and when she learned that she would be wed to Tyrion instead of a Tyrell, she agreed to his plans. After helping her escape on the night of the big wedding, she is transferred to a ship waiting for them down by the water. Her rescuer, it seems, is Lord Petyr Baelish, who plans to take her to The Eyrie where he is about to wed her aunt (Catelyn’s sister). After delivering her aboard, Donton is killed to cover their tracks.

She is then brought to the coast of the Vale of Arryn where she meets Petyr and her aunt. While it is clear that Lady Lysa loves Petyr, it is also clear that he doesn’t love her, but instead is carrying a torch for Sansa. After arriving at the Eyrie, he kisses Sansa in the courtyard, sending Lysa into a jealous rage. Later on, she invites Sansa up to the throne room and threatens to throw her out the Moon Door, but Petyr intervenes. After talking Lysa down, he confesses to her that he only ever loved her sister, and then tosses her out the door! He then moves quickly to blame the minstrel and bribes Lysa’s bannermen to ensure their loyalty to his rule.

Meanwhile, Arya’s trip north brings her and her companions into some strange company. Having escaped Harrenhal, she now comes into contact with a group of men known as the Brotherhood without Banners. These were the men whom Ned Stark had sent out to deal with the raids in the Riverlands, but who now are protecting the countryfolk from raiders and Lannisters. Leading them is Lord Beric Dondarrion who has picked up an usual companion, the red priest Thoros of Myr. Here too is another worshiper of R’hllor, who has apparently used his magic to resurrect Beric, a couple of times!

Having been taken in by the company, they soon find Sandore Clegane, who fled King’s Landing during the siege, and put him on trial for his many crimes. Sandore request a trial by combat and narrowly wins when Beric’s sword breaks and he dies. However, Thoros is able to resurrect him yet again, and Sandore is free to go. But before he leaves, he is sure to take a hostage – Arya Stark! The two then travel north together since Sandore is hoping to ransom her to her brother. This journey takes them to the Twins, just in time for Lord Bolton’s supposed wedding. When the pandemonium strikes, Arya is forced to flee and is only saved by the intervention of Sandor himself.

In time, Sandor is critically wounded and Arya leaves him behind. She makes for the Vale of Arryn where she decides to board a ship and head for Braavos. She does this because Jaqen H’ghar, the killer she helped free, gave her a coin before departing which he claimed was from Braavos. The coin contained the inscription “Valar Morghulis”. When she arrives at the port, she speaks these words to a Braavosi Captain, who replies “Valar Dohaeris” and agrees to take her aboard. They set sail for the free city of Braavos and Arya bids farewell to her past life.

To the East, Daenerys and her companions are still busy trying to recruit an army. On the recommendations of Lord Mormont, they set course for Slaver’s Bay believing that they will be able to recruit an army from the Unsullied. These are apparently warrior-slaves who have been raised from birth to fight, feel no pain, and obey any and all orders from their commander. With her new-found friends, Arstan and Strong Belwas, they arrive at Astapor where she agrees to surrender one of her dragons in exchange for a large host. However, she then tricks the slavers by ordering the Unsullied, once they are transferred to her ownership, to kill all the city’s slave masters.

With her new army and a host of freed slaves, Daenerys sets course for the city of Yunkai next. Here, she finds another slave stronghold that is protected by a host of mercenaries. After meeting the enemy’s mercenary brigades, she is aided by the defection of one of their Captains. With his help, they attack the mercenary encampents at night and this city falls shortly thereafter. Finally, she and her host move on to Mereen, the last of the slave cities, but find it walled and heavily defended. They set camp and begin the long process of besieging it.

But first, some revelations are made. On the one hand, she discovers that Arstan is in fact Ser Barristan Selmy, the former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard who Joffrey dismissed. His true purpose, it seems, was to find the heir of the Targaryen line and bring her home. At the same time, she learns that Jorah Mormont was originally sent to spy on her for Robert. However, when the order came that she was to be assassinated, he changed his mind and enlisted with her. Daenerys is outraged. It seems that the prophecy told to her by the Undying of Qarth is coming true. She has been betrayed twice now, which means she will betrayed once more before the end.

To have them make amends, she orders Barristan and Mormont to sneak into the city  through its sewers with a host of Unsullied at night and open the gates. They succeed, and the city is taken shortly thereafter. She forgives Selmy and makes him the Lord Commander of her Queensguard, but decides to banish Lord Mormont. In the meantime, she decides to set up camp at Mereen and contemplate how she will become the ruler that Westeros needs.

Finally, things to the north are also proceeding apace. Having been captured by the Wildlings, John Snow is brought before Mance Rayder. He is asked to explain why he would defect, and wanting to be convincing, John tells him something approximating the truth. He says he defected because he is sick and tired of being “the bastard son” and wants to be free. Rayder believes him, and John is soon reunited with the young Wildling woman he met earlier and spared.

Her name is Ygritte, and she is clearly taken with John. As time goes on, they become close and claim each other, Wildling-style! As a result of all this, John’s feelings of betrayal deepen, but he made an oath to Qorin to learn all he could, so he continues. In time, this bears fruit when he learns that the Others are what is driving the Wildlings south. Hence why they are determined to take the Wall and claim the northern lands of Westeros for themselves.

He also learns that Rayder had been desperately searching for the Horn of Winter which the Wildlings believe is magic. By sounding this horn, he believes he can melt the Wall and take out the Night’s Watch easily. However, in the meantime, he must commit his forces to attacking the Wall conventionally and sends John and Ygritte with an advance party to scale it and do reconnaissance on the other side. Once over, John escapes from the Wildlings once more and rejoins his brothers at Castle Black.

His loyalties are heavily suspect and few believe his story about Qorin orders, but his loyalty is proven when Ygritte and the advance party attack Castle Black. They manage to defeat the Wildling party, and Ygritte is killed by a stray arrow. John is torn by the loss, but there is little time to mourn. On the other side of the Wall, Rayder has over forty-thousand Wildlings, giants, mammoths and seige engines prepared, and begins his assault. John is given leave to command the defense of the Wall against this first assault, and things go relatively well.

Outnumbered but not outclassed, John and his brothers manage to thwart the first wave. John is then invited to parlay with Rayder, who reveals that he has found the horn after all. He tells John that he cold destroy the Wall with a single blast of the instrument, but he would rather capture it intact since it is the only thing that will keep the Others at bay. John considers his offer of a negotiated truce, but their parlay is cut short when Stannis’ surviving armies take to the field and destroy the Wildling encampment.

For months, the Night’s Watch had been pleading for aid and soldiers to be sent north to the Wall, and now it seems that only Stannis has chosen to answer. He tells John what the priestess Melissandre believes, how the return of the Others is just a prelude to the return of her god’s sworn enemy – the dark one. Stannis asks for John’s support and promises him Winterfell in exchange, but John is chosen by the Night’s Watch as their new commander and must refuse.

In the epilogue, we see how the Brothers Without Banners have taken one of the Frey men prisoner. After interrogating him about the massacre that happened at the wedding, the reanimated body of Catelyn Stark arrives and orders his death. It seems that the priest Thoros has used his magic to resurrect her as well, and now she is intent on revenge!

Strengths/Weaknesses:
Book III was, in my opinion, a step down from books I and II. On the one hand, there was plenty of action and plot developments to keep the reader interested, and plenty of surprises besides. However, not all of them were welcome to this humble reader. For starters, when Robb Stark is murdered at the court of Walder Frey, I was incensed! I very nearly put the book and the series down for good! Was it not enough that Martin had to kill off Ned Stark? No, he had to kill his son and Catelyn too? The Starks are supposed to be the heroes of this series, dammit! You can’t just keep killing them off! Yes, I was mad…

But it was not just the fact that sympathetic characters kept getting murdered. It was the confusion it caused. Basically, every story has a set of main characters, people that help drive the story forward. When a character dies off, it naturally falls to another to keep the story going. Now we all know that Martin uses many characters and perspectives in his novels, but most of these are secondary and rarely heard from. It’s the main perspectives that tell things of the greatest importance, and usually there are only a few of them. When these people die, it has the effect of making the reader think that they weren’t so important after all. And if it keeps happening, the reader can become cynical and will not form the usual emotional attachments to characters. When that happens, a story dies, at least from the point of view of the person reading it. It’s all about emotional attachments Martin, you can’t keep traumatizing us!

More than that, I was beginning to feel tedious and depressed by the way Arya and Sansa’s sad stories kept going on and on. For two books now, Arya has been trying to get home, only to be waylayed, taken prisoner, get free, taken prisoner again, get free once again, then only to find out that her family is dead. Thus she decides to go to Braavos because she thinks she’s the only Stark left. And she’s just a kid! How depressing! Sansa, on the other hand, has to endure Joffrey’s constant abuse, the prospect of sex with Tyrion, and then is set free only to find herself a prisoner again, just under different circumstances. As if the rapacious and cruel Lannisters weren’t enough, now she has to deal with the murderous and creepy Lord Baelish!

And even before Robb was murdered, the setbacks he was been forced to endure were beginning to get tedious. In spite of all his early successes, its becoming abundantly clear that he’s going to lose the war. First his strategic plans get interrupted, the Lannisters succeed in the south and make a new alliance, Theon stabs him in the back by seizing Winterfell, his attempts to liberate it fail, Winterfell is then burned to the ground and his brothers killed (presumably). Then, on top of all that, he learns that his alliance is likely to fall apart because he chose to follow his heart. And just when it seems like things are going to be okay on that front, he’s and his mother are betrayed and murdered! It’s like, we get it! War is hell, especially this war, and the bad guys are winning! But can’t you give us some happy news for a change?

But like I said, the book had plenty of things to keep the prospective reader interested. After picking it back up (after about a week or so of stewing), I found plenty of good things to keep me interested in the series. For starters, Joffrey finally got what was coming to him, Lord Tywin also bought it while sitting on the privy, and Catelyn was revealed to be alive (albeit in a somewhat hideous form). This was all nice to read, mainly because I was getting so sick of Joffrey that I was just waiting for someone to give him a “golden crown” as well! His and Tywin’s death also brightened Tyrion’s storyline a lot, seeing as how his constant struggle with his cruel family was also beginning to get Kafka-esque. Given that he is one of the few sympathetic characters from that thread, it was nice to see him get a little payback! Now if someone would just whack Cersei we’d be in business!

And of course there were all the plot developments that kept satisfying my curiosity. Much like in book II, there were plenty of things that I was just waiting to hear about that finally got revealed. For instance, I was dying to know what would become of the Others invasion, of the civil war, of Daenerys’ plans to return to Westeros, and of Bran’s visions. After so much build-up, set-backs and plot twists, I was dying for some resolutions! And as usual, George RR Martin gives it out sparingly, providing clues, some answers, and a few interesting tidbits, all the while ensuring that things keeps rolling into the next book.

All in all, I liked this book. It was a very decent follow-up to A Clash of Kings and maintained the commitment to realism, detail and world-building that the series is famous for. My problems really only stem from the fact that at times, the books are too realistic, too detailed, and contain far too many plot twists. However, it would be unfair to say that any one book fails in this regard when its really a cumulative effect. Anything bad that I can say about this particular novel always begins with “at this point in the series…” Mainly, I was just hoping that things would be close to some kind of resolution. That’s another thing that’s important when writing. When audiences wait too long for a resolution, they’ll also lose interest. I hope Mr. Martin is writing this down 😉

Speaking of which, I am currently nose-deep in A Feast For Crows. See you soon with the review for that one!