Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 4

game_of_thrones_s3I admit, the delay in getting to this episode was long. But this week has been one of those, the kind that drags out and taxes one’s constitution. You know the kind I mean! In any case, I wanted to get caught up before the midseason show arrives and there’s too much to cover! Plus, things are beginning to get dicey with all the threads the show is laying down this season and I feel the need to comment…

And Now His Watch Is Ended:
got3_watchThings open with Brienne and Jaime being brought back to Harrenhal by Vargo Hoat and the Bloody Mummers. Jaime’s severed hand is now dangling around his neck, and after falling from his horse, Jaime steals a sword and tries to fight his way free, but is defeated. Later, by a night fire, Brienne chastises him for wanting to give up and die, saying he’s finally understands what it means to lose something, but also thanks him for lying to save her life.

In King’s Landing, Tyrion meets with Varys to discuss how he intends to get his revenge. Varys lets him know that the key is to build influence, as he has for years, which he can then use to get revenge on those who wronged him. To illustrate his point, he opens a large box which contains the man who removed turned him into a eunuch as a boy, which he had shipped to King’s Landing from Myr through his myriad of connections.

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In King’s Landing, Margaery is taken on a tour of the Sept of Baelor, with Queen Cersei and Lady Olenna Redwyne in tow. After Margaery convinces Joffrey to stand out in front of a gathering crowd, Cersei begins to fear that Margaery has her hooks in her son. She appeals to her father for help, who tells her she’s allowed Joffrey to “run roughsod” over the city and her. She challenges him to intervene, and he accepts.

After speaking to his sources, Varys learns of Littlefinger’s plans to take Sansa with him to the Vale and approaches Lady Olenna for help. Between the two of them, he thinks they can come up with a better arrangement. Margaery continues to endear herself to Sansa and tells her that once she’s queen, she will be able to marry Loras and relocate to Highgarden, where she would be safe.

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In the north, the Black Brothers continue to toil in Craster’s Keep and plot taking matters into their own hands. Samwell tries to arrange a way to take Gilly and her newborn son with them, as they both know that Craster will sacrifice him to the Others as soon as he learns of the boy’s existence. Afterwards, after a funeral for one of their brothers, tempers break and the men turn on Craster, killing him and Mormont. Sam escapes with Gilly into the night…

Theon, who is now free and being protected by the boy who claims Osha (Theon’s sister) sent him, is delivered to what he believes to be Deepwood Motte. However, he soon learns that his rescue was all a ruse and that he is actually being delivered back into the Dreadfort, where he is now going to resume the torments and the torture he had endured thus far.

got3_watch4In the Riverlands, Thoros and the Brothers Without Banners bring Arya and Gendry to the caves call home. Once there, Sandor Clegane is brought before Beric Dondarion, the leader of their camp, who reveals they are now followers of R’hllor. Sandor is made to answer for his crimes, but as no one witnessed him killing Mica (which Arya accuses him of), Beric sentences him to trial by combat.

In Astapor, Daenerys finalizes her deal with the slave masters and takes possession of an army of Unsullied. After handing over one of dragons, she is given the decorative whip and becomes the Unsullied’s new master. After issuing a few commands to ensure that they will obey, she reveals that she speaks Valyrian and promptly orders her dragon to start burning the slave masters, and her new army to kill every last master in the city!

With the city in ruins, Daenerys declares that her Unsullied are free, and asks if they will fight for her as free men. No one answers right away, but slowly, the army begins to beat their spears against the ground as one and declares for her. Leaving the city with her army in tow, she tosses with the whip in the dirt and begins moving to free the next city.

Summary:
Well, I can tell you that I was pretty pleased with this episode for at least two reasons. One, the ending! Man, I was waiting for that scene. As one of the most badass parts of the book, I was eager to see how they would go about illustrating it. And as usual, they managed to go a good job turning available sets and a small army of extras into a realistic looking rendition of what Martin created, massive cities with ancient structures and hoards of armed soldiers.

The other thing I liked was the fact that they introduced Beric Dondarion at last. Up until now, I thought that the actor portraying Thoros of Myr was supposed to be the knight that had lost half his face but was resurrected by a Red Priest. However, they proved me wrong in this episode and delivered on him, and added the fact that they had all become followers of R’hllor. I was hoping to see the ensuing fight scene between Beric and Sandore, but there’s always next time.

As for the things I didn’t like, well they all had to do with the same basic pattern. Bran’s story received no real advancement in this episode, but they still show a tiny snippet that recalls his big fall and his journey north. What was the point of it, other than to give him screen time? And Theon’s entire thread for this series; since he doesn’t even come up until the fifth book again, where his reappearance is a surprise, I find this whole thread useless. Between items of significance, his torture seems like mere filler, designed to keep his character in the show as they flesh out the real story. Yeah, I know, actors gotta work, but it seems obvious and transparent.

Other than that, I think it’s safe to say this was my favorite episode of the season thus far. I’m looking forward to what happens in the next few episodes, where I trust they will be hitting John’s story with both barrels! I did miss the mention of him in this episode, but am pleased they didn’t give a snippet about him like they did Bran. Better to just leave them out if they’ve got nothing important to do, I always say!

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 3

GOT3Good afternoon folks, and welcome back for another Game of Thrones season 3 review! I regret to be bringing you this episode several days after it premiered, but life has been getting busy again. However, since I found myself with a day off, I naturally decided to get caught up on all my unfinished articles, which included a review for the third episode of the third season.

Well, this most recent installment was a bit of a doozy! Bloody, baleful, full of pain and the prospect of rape, and just enough nudity to put you in mind of season one, it really took viewing audiences by storm. Of course, there were also some juicy tidbits that I was waiting on, but also, sadly, some that were left for the next episode and after. And as usual, some changes were made and liberties taken with the text…

Walk of Punishment:
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The episode opens with Robb Stark and the Tully family attending Catelyn’s father’s funeral. After setting his body down the river, Robb entreats with his uncle, Edmure, who he scolds for violating his plans. Instead of drawing Ser Gregor Clegane (“The Mountain”) towards Riverrun, as he was meant to so Robb could surround him, he instead fought him in the open country. Though victorious, this has deprived Robb of a victory he sorely needed to end the war quickly.

In King’s Landing, Tywin convenes his small council, which consists of Tyrion, Pyter, Cersei, Varys and Pycelle. In addition to discussing the whereabouts of Jaime, Tywin orders Baelish to the Vale to court Catelyn’s sister in the hopes of bringing her into the war on their side. In his absence, Tyrion takes over as Master of Coin, a position he naturally loathes. Luckily, it gives him a chance to repay a debt…

got3_walk5In the North, the Wildlings come up on the Fist of the First Men and find the remains of dozens of horses arranged in the shape of a vortex, but no men. Mance orders Tormund to take a scouting party to the Wall to assess Castle Black’s defenses and order John’s along. He tells them to await his signal for the attack, which will be “the greatest fire the north has ever seen.”

Not far away, Samwell and the surviving brothers have taken up at Craster’s Keep again. Hungry and desperate, Craster is forced to offer them his hospitality, but relations are quite strained due to his usual arrogance. While there, Samwell witnesses Gilly, the young wife he met on the way up, give birth to a son. She and Samwell are both terrified, as they know that this means Craster will offer him to the Others as tribute.

got3_walk3In Astapor, Daenerys witnesses the “Walk of Punishment”, a waterfront display where slaves who have committed acts of defiance are crucified. Ser Mormont and Ser Selmy argue about what course they should take, whether she should take the Unsullied or raise an army the old fashioned way. She opts to buy the Unsullied, and offers them one of her dragons. She gains Missandre as part of the bargain, an Astaporian translator, and confirms from her that the Unsullied are unquestioning.

In between all this, Theon is rescued by the dungeon hand who claimed Asha sent him. After setting him on a horse, he is turned loose and told to head East. However, it’s not long before Theon is captured again by Ramsay Bolton’s men who appear to want to rape him. Theon is then saved by the last minute intervention of a man who kills them all with his bow and then takes him away…

got3_walk1In the Riverlands, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie are taking to their newfound friends in different ways. Arya feels like a prisoner, by Gendry is working as their blacksmith and Hot Pie decides to stay behind at an inn they were camped at as a baker. Arya and Gendry say goodbye to him and head off on campaign, taking Sandor Clegane (“The Hound”) with them as their prisoner.

Not far away, Brienne and Jaime have been taken captive and being brought to Harrenhal by the Brave Companions (aka. Bloody Mummers). When they make camp, Vargo and his men try to rape Brienne, but Jaime tells them that she’s the daughter of a noble lord and worth her weight in sapphires, but only if she’s alive and unspoiled. That puts an end to all attempts to rape her, but Vargo takes Jaime’s hand when he tries to buy his way out.

Summary:
Like I said, I was waiting on the Jaime dismemberment scene, and it was predictably, hard to watch! And yet, I much missed the parts I was really hoping for, like when (spoiler alert! spoiler alert! spoiler alert!) and there’s a terrible mess to clean up afterwards. Now that was good plot development! Alas, I lament that I will have to wait on these tidbits, as they shall prove quite awesome I suspect!

Other points of interest in this episode included Tyrion’s visit to the whorehouse with Pod, whom he repaid in kind for saving his life by purchasing an evening with not one, not two, but three ladies of the evening! And yet, when Podrick is finished, he returns home with Tyrion’s bag of coin still in hand. Completely flabbergasted as to why Pyter’s ladies would not accept payment, he and Bronn sit Pod down, give him wine and demands he recount his visit, in gratuitous detail.

I also liked what they did with Robb’s return to Riverrun, as it was fitting to the story in a lot of respects. The details of how Edmure Tully screwed up, how Catelyn mourned her father, and how broken up she was for the sake of her boys were all well conveyed and true to the text. And Arya’s thread, though brief, was faithful enough while still getting in the main points. But they do need to introduce the Brotherhood’s red priest at some point, otherwise they’ll be glossing over an important point…

And let’s not forget the key lines of dialogue which made it in directly from the book. These included Mormont’s assessment of Rhaegar Targaryen’s end: “Rhaegar fought valiantly. Rhaegar fought nobly. And Rhaegar died.” Or Mance Rayder’s declaration: “I’m going to light the biggest fire the north has ever seen!” As a Thrones nerd, those lines could only resonate with me… and they did!

Otherwise, this episode did seem a bit quick and sparing in a lot of respects. While some threads got a good dose of development, others, like John Snow’s were once again quick and sparse. For example, in the north, when they came upon the Fist of the First Men, there was plenty more happening than was shown here. And if they continue to move along as they have with this thread, a good deal of really decent material will be lost.

For starters, Mance was angry when they found traces of a large Night’s Watch force, mainly because John never told him about it. Mance then accused John of playing him and was ready to have him killed, but his hand was stayed by Ygritte who vouched for his loyalty. I shall not say more, as the details of that are spoiler related. Suffice it to say, this all took place before he was sent off to the Wall, so we shall see how that plays out. But rest assured, this is another point that they cannot expect to gloss over easily…

Last, there’s Theon’s thread, which is going in an odd direction. In the books, this was not mentioned until book five, as I’ve said. But there, he was never rescued while attempting to flee. So if he’s safely away, this represents a major plot twist that is way off script! In fact (spoiler alert! spoiler alert!)… but that can easily be corrected with a few more lines of dialogue and another plot twist.

All in all, a pretty good episode, better paced and more thorough than the previous two. And there’s plenty more to be had. I just hope they remain true and faithful, because what happened next was pretty damn badass!

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Premiere!

GOT_Season3_teaserWow, what a Sunday! The season finale of season three of The Walking Dead and the season premiere of season three of Game of Thrones, all in one night. Lucky for me I didn’t have to choose between watching one or the other, but unlucky for my followers, it has meant a bit of a delay in terms of both reviews. I can only hope people find my thoughts informative or at least agreeable.

Speaking of agreeable, I personally felt the season premiere improved considerably on last seasons. Though this one was also a bit of whirlwind introduction, it didn’t exactly feel rushed like that last one did. But of course, they also strayed from the text in many ways which I couldn’t help but notice. And as newly minted Thrones geek, believe me when I tell you, I will be griping!

So here is what I thought of this season’s opener!

Valar Dohaeris:
The episode opens exactly where the last left off, with Samwell Tarly running from the White Walkers as they attack the Fist of the First Men. After being rescued by John’s direwolf (Snow) and Lord Commander Mormont, Sam is told to join their party as they beat a hasty retreat south. The fate of the entire Realm depends on them making it back to the Wall…

got3_giantOver at the Wildling camp, John Snow gets a firsthand look at their army and sees a giant for the first time. Ygritte then brings him before Mance Rayder who asks him why he intends to join them. John tells them his reasons have to do with what he witnessed at Craster’s Keep. He says he wants to fight on the side of “those who fight for the living”, and Mance orders him a new cloak.

In the north, Robb and his army march on Harenhall, which they find abandoned. Inside the walls, he finds over 200 Northmen and their horses strewn about, and only one survivor, whom Talisa Maegyr (Robb’s new wife) begins to attend to. The sight of all this death angers his men even further that his mother let Jaime Lannister go, and he orders that she be arrested and restricted to quarters.

got3_tyrionAt King’s Landing, Tyrion has recovered from his wounds and is visited by his sister. Cersei naturally denies any complicity in his near shave with death, and demands to know why he has summoned their father to meet with him. He is then attended by Bronn, who naturally demands more money for his continued service. As the only friend Tyrion has left, he is forced to oblige…

Upon meeting with his father, Tyrion laments the fact that he is no longer Hand of the King and that Tywin did not come to visit him while he recovered. He then broaches the subject which is central to their meeting: his inheritance of Casterly Rock. After letting him know that he will receive a position befitting his name and title, he cruelly reminds him that would never allow one such as him to inherit the seat of Lannister power and sends him on his way.

got3_margaeryAt the docks, Sansa is met by Lord Petyr Baelish who begins discussing his plan for removing her from the capitol. He tells her he has a ship that will be leaving and she will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and she is happy to agree. Meanwhile, Shae and  Ros – who appears to be Baelish’s chief madame – speak privately, and she warns Shae to watch Sansa closely, especially when she is in the company of Baelish.

On their way back from the Sept, Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell are being carried in their litters and she decides to stop and take a walk in Flea Bottom. In the back alleys, she speaks to a group of orphans and hears of how their fathers died in the battle. She promises that Joffrey will be a good king and will take care of them. She and Loras meets with Joffrey and Cersei afterwards, and the seeds of tension are sown.

got3_stannisIn the Narrow Sea, Ser Davos Seaworth is found after being washed up on a rock after the Battle of Blackwater. After identifying himself as Stannis’ man, he is taken aboard by his old smuggler friend, Salladhor Saan, and returned to Dragstone. Once there, he meets with Stannis and Melissandre and takes issue with how he’s burning men alive as sacrifices. Melissandre tells him she could have gauranteed them victory at Blackwater, and tries to pulls a knife on her. Stannis orders him arrested and placed in a cell.

Farther east, Daenerys and Ser Jorah Mormont are on a ship bound to Astapor. Her dragons are growing and hunt freely over the waters, and she and Jorah speaks of their plans to recruit an army of Unsullied to follow her. Upon their arrival, she inspects the garrison and is told of their brutal training. Afterward, an attempt on her life is narrowly averted when Ser Barristan Selmy shows up and declares fealty to her.

Summary:
Okay, first up, the things I liked. After waiting almost a whole year for a new season of this show, I found this episode fit the bill quite well. The setting, the actors, the portrayals and attention to details were all done to great effect and spoke of a serious commitment. It was almost like biting into a meal that took an extra long time to prepare, and then realizing where that time went.

The opening scene where a giant is shown, that was the first thing to impress me. While reading the books, I had a hard time visualizing what these characters would look like, not to mention their mammoths and other such beasts. So naturally, I was impressed with this rendition, and I was pleased to see Mance Rayder and other key characters – like Tormund Giantsbane = being brought to life.

And now for the downside. Like I said, they’ve taken to this intro with some serious changes, many of which were necessitated by changes in the previous season. And for the most part, I didn’t approve. This began with John Snow’s professed reasons for joining the Wildling camp. At no point in the book did he witness Mance’s child being fed to the Others, and this played no part in his staged defection.

Forced to come up with a good reason for why he’d betray, John told Mance something dangerously close to the truth. He told him that as a bastard, he had no place at Eddard Stark’s family, and wanted his freedom to make his own way in a world where that would not hold him back. Being so believable, largely because it paralleled Mance’s own reasons for deserting the Night’s Watch, Mance took him in.

What’s more, they never showed how John’s defection was pre-planned by him and Qorin last season, though they hinted that this was Qorin’s intent when he attacked John and let him kill him. So the entire plot arc of John’s time with the Wildlings is being played a bit more mysteriously, but unclearly. It’s like, is he really defecting? Hedging his bets? Just looking to stay alive until he makes it back to the Wall? All of this was central to his dilemma in the first half of the book, so how they play with it will be crucial.

Second, there was Robb’s march on Harrenhal which, again, never happened in the book. After campaigning in the west and picking up Jeyne, they returned to Riverrun to continue plotting the campaign. The Lannisters did not abandon it, it changed hands thanks to Arya and Jaqen Higarr, who opened the cells to free the Northmen who then took the castle. This facilitated her escape in book II, and allowed Robb’s army to take control of the castle.

But since they changed the means of Arya’s escape (Jaqen simply killed the guards at the gate), they had to find some way of explaining how Harenhall fell and Robb’s men took custody of it. But frankly, this seemed lame, much like John’s phoney reasons for going over to the Wildlings. Might sound like nitpicking, but the only reason these changes needed to happen because they changed things last season. Stuff like that can pile up after awhile, and it is certainly is here…

Ah, then there’s how Petyr Baelish is plotting to get Sansa out, which was not revealed in the book til much later. In the original, Sansa’s plans were made with Boros Blount, the drunken knight whose life she saved. It was he that planned her escape at Baelish’ behest, and upon helping her realize it, he was killed. Clearly, they’ve decided to cut out the middle man in order to save on shooting time and writing.

And the same holds true for Ser Selmy’s introduction. In the book, he was posing as old man who wanted to help out Daenerys, and only later was his true identity revealed, much to her chagrin. Not only that, but they seem to be leaving out Strong Belwas, a former pit fighter who was traveling with Selmy and also joiner her service. I do hope they’re just waiting for the next episode, because he’s an important character and I’d like to see who portrays him!

And that’s about all for the changes and weaknesses for this episode. Aside from these salient issues, I rather enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the season, with all that I know to expect! I also look forward to the climactic battle in this season, which I shall say nothing of since there are people out there who are not Thrones geeks and don’t yet know what to expect. But trust me when I tell you, if you had read the books, you’d be excited too!

Welcome back GoT!

Game of Thrones Season 3 Trailer: “We Do Not Choose Our Destiny”

GOT_season3It seems we’re in for a bit of a two-fer today. Its become a habit of mine to post trailers for upcoming movies on Mondays now. However, it just so happens that while I was doing my due diligence for one, I came across a second must-see teaser which I had to pass on. This one is for the third season of Game of Thrones, which premiers in less than one week!

And I think you’ll agree, this one is definitely the biggest and baddest. Whereas the first gave us nothing but some voice over and a simple graphic (like the one featured above), and the second gave us a brief glimpse with a little eye candy, this one has gone the full nine yards and covered all the major bases.

In addition to all the intrigue and plots taking place in Kings Landing, we are given some quick glimpses of the ongoing War of Five Kings, Danearys’ efforts to obtain an army in Slavers Bay, John Snow’s time amongst the Wildlings and their efforts to bring down the Wall, Brienne and Jaime in the Riverlands, Stannis’ ongoing attempts to fulfill an ancient prophecy, and even Bran’s journey to the far North.

And fittingly, they gave the voice over for the whole thing to Stannis, who performs the “We do not choose our destiny speech”. Though he is referring to himself in this speech and the role he thinks he will play, it pretty much sums up what everyone in the series is going through at this point. Beyond all the warring, intrigue and personal ambitions, it is fast becoming clear that there is a greater plot at work. But for those of you who haven’t read the many tomes that make up this series, I guess you’ll just have to wait to see what it is!

Six more days, people! If you’re not going to be at home, be sure to set your TiVos and DVR’s! And then be sure to swing by because yours truly will of course be doing a review 😉

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Trailer!

GOT_Season3_teaserIt’s here at last, a GOT Season 3 trailer that isn’t just a despicable tease with no real footage to offer! But that’s to be expected, studios always love to treat their fans like a bunch of crack addicts. Get them hooked on a season, then tell them it’s going to be a year or more until the next one comes along. Feed them tiny crumbs along the way, and just before the next batch is ready, give them a taste!

Now that March has rolled around, we are just slightly less than a month away from the premiere. And from this trailer, some hints are given as to what’s in store for the characters of Robb, Daenerys, Tyrion, John Snow, Jaime, Cersei, and all those that fall somewhere in between this season. Naturally, fans of Martin would advise you not to get too attached! People have a way of dying off in his universe…

Enjoy!

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!

A Dance with Dragons, bought!

Hey all. I doubt if anyone remembers, but a few months back when I began reviewing A Song of Ice and Fire, I said that I would be ending the series with the fourth book. After completing A Storm of Swords, I figured one more book was enough. After all, with Dragons just released and the buzz claiming that there would be at least two more books to come, I was sure that I would have to cut myself off or risk being totally sucked in to Matrin’s “Wheel of Time”esque vortex.

But, and here where’s things get awkward, that was a lie… apparently! Last night, I finally finished A Feast for Crows and purchased A Dance with Dragons. And believe it or not, it was the not the cliffhanger ending in book four that made me want to do that, though that helped give me a final push. In truth, friends of mine, such as Goran Zidar, and a slew of other people have been saying how book five is really good and covers all the threads that were strangely missing from book four. So really, the decision to buy it was made several weeks ago, but after getting into the last few chapters, a number of sudden twists piqued my interest and I found myself wanting to know what happened right away!

And, interestingly enough, I also discovered that the final chapter of Crows was not a chapter at all, but a note from the author. In it, he explains that book four was the way it was –  namely, bereft of any information about Tyrion, Jon Snow, Daenerys, or Stannis and Melissandre – for a simple reason. Basically, he went this way because to include what he had planned for all of these characters – plus those of Samwell Tarly, Cersei, Sansa, Arya, Brienne, Jaime, et al, – would have turned Crows into a tome the likes of which had not been seen since War and Peace. Okay, he didn’t say it in those words, I’m just adding them for dramatic license 😉

Hence, he decided to break all he had planned for the fourth installment in the series into two volumes. And instead of telling all of the stories half-way, he chose instead to select half the stories and tell them in full, the rest to be followed up later. I can see the wisdom in this, and the marketing angle, because it certainly worked on me. Damn you, Martin! I swear that this is the last of your books that I’m going to read… It probably won’t be. I’m sure I’ll be checking out book six, especially if this one is as good as they say. I hate you, sir! Keep up the good work!

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!