Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Five

game_of_thrones_s3We have reached the midpoint of the season at last. Just five more episodes to go before we are finished with A Storm of Swords and no doubt have to look forward to another year’s worth of waiting! But I’m sure the fans will all find something else to watch while they wait. Cable television is good like that! In the meantime, this week’s episode was largely a pacing one, providing some updates on the course of the season four story arc, and a little resolution of its own.

In the former category, this included Tommen’s coronation as king  the preparations for Tyrion’s trial, Sansa arriving at the Eyrie with Lord Petyr Baelish, Daenerys settling in as Queen of Mereen, Arya and Sandor’s journey through the Riverlands, and Pod and Brienne’ search for Sansa. In the latter case, the resolution came in the form of Jon Snow arriving in the north to deal with the threat of the mutineer’s at Craster’s Keep…

First of his Name:
GOT4_5_1The episode opens in the Throne Room at King’s Landing, where Tommen is being crowned King of the Andals, First Men, and all of Westeros. Cersei and Margaery use the occasion to discuss what comes next, which is the marriage of her to Tommen. Shortly after, she meets with her father to discuss the possible preparations, and it is agreed they will marry within a fortnight, and she will marry Ser Loras a fortnight thereafter. The subject of Tyrion’s trial also comes up, with Cersei trying to sway his judgement.

In Mereen, Daenerys is busy taking stock of her conquest now that Mereen has fallen and is told that Joffrey is now dead. She also learns that her army has taken Mereen’s fleet intact, and that she can now sail to Westeros. However, news has reached her that in her absence, the slave masters have once again seized power in Yunkai and Astapor. She decides that the time is not right to leave and that she must stay behind to rule as Queen, and see to it that Slaver’s Bay is and remains liberated.

GOT4_5_2In the Riverlands, Arya and Sandor continue on their way to the Eyrie, and Sandor learns that Arya intends to kill him along with all the other people on her list. He sees her doing a “water dance” as Syrio taught her, and mocks her efforts. Elsewhere, Brienne and Pod are making their way through the wilderness, and Brienne is frustrated by Pod’s apparent lack of competence as a squire. She chooses to ease up on him when she learns of how he saved Tyrion’s life by killing Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard.

In the Vale itself, Sansa and Petyr arrive and are admitted to the Eyrie and are greeted by her aunt Lysa and Lord Robin. After sending Sansa and Robin away, Lysa demands that Petyr agree to marry her that same night. She speaks of how she was the one who killed Jon Arryn, and how she did at his behest. To quiet her, Petyr then agrees to her request, and discovers that she has the Septon waiting outside to perform the rights. They are married on the spot and begin their wedding night.

GOT4_5_4Later, she meets with Sansa. Over lemoncakes, she talks of her mother and Petyr’s obvious sense of duty towards her. In the course of this, she becomes very jealous and demands to know why he feels obligated to protect her, going so far as to accuse Sansa of being pregnant with his child. Sansa breaks down and cries, professing her innocence, and Lysa relents. She then says that they will all be safe, and that she intends to see Sansa marry Lord Robin.

In the north, Jon and his brothers come upon Craster’s Keep, and Locke spots Bran and the Reeds inside one of the shacks. He tells the others to avoid it, and when they attack, he sneaks in and tries to ferry Bran away. Bran takes possession of Hodor, and uses him to snap Locke’s neck and escape. Hodor frees the Reeds, and together, they watch as Jon and his brothers liberate the camp. Bran wants to call out to him, but Jojen warns him he will try to take him to Castle Black and not let him find the “Three-Eyed Crow”.

GOT4_5_5Jon meanwhile engages Karl Tanner in single combat. Karl nearly kills Jon after fighting dirty, but a Wildling woman manages to stab him in the back, giving Jon the time he needs to sink his sword into the back of Karl’s head. Jon is then reunited with Ghost, who freed himself and killed the last of the mutineers as they tried to escape into the forest. He tells the women they are free to come with him, which they are reluctant to do.

However, when faced with the prospect of staying at the Keep, they tell him to burn it to the ground as well as all the bodies of the mutineers. They watch Craster’s Keep catch fire and leave the place to burn…

Summary:
Yeah, again, this episode was little more than pacing and filler, even if it was relatively enjoyable to watch. Aside from Jon’s assault on Craster’s Keep and his execution of the muntineers, not much happened. Mainly, the characters simply talked about that which we already know, and nothing of consequence was really said. Cersei doesn’t trust Margaery and wants Tyrion to die, Arya hates Sandor, Pod isn’t that good a squire, and due to additional complications, Daenerys still can’t return to Westeros.

The only exception to this was Sansa’s arrival at the Eyrie, where we saw just how painfully irrational her aunt is and how jealous she can be. This is something that will come up in later episodes, with scary consequences (no spoilers)! We were also treated to the revelation that it was Petyr and Lysa who were behind Jon Arryn’s death. Up until now, it was attributed to the Lannister’s as part of their scheme to keep their incest a secret. However, we now see that it was part of Petyr’s ongoing scheme to play one house off against another.

As for Jon’s arrival at Craster’s Keep, we did get some action and some much needed justice. But in an entirely predictable twist, Bran and Jon do not meet up, mainly because the plot demands it. Never happened in the book, and of course Jon would try to take his brother back. So the only point of this added thread was to shoehorn some more action into the season, huh? I was also a bit annoyed that they changed Lord Robert’s name to Robin. Was it really necessary to make this change to avoid confusing audiences?

In any case, that plot thread is now closed, and Jon and the Nights Watch can get back to the matter of protecting Castle Black and the Wall from Mance and the Wildlings. And before the season is out, we will be treated to Tyrion’s trial, the consequences therefor, and the inevitable twists that will arise out of Arya, Brienne and Sansa’s misadventures in the Riverlands/Vale. These, I’m looking forward to, if not the additional pacing that is sure to accompany them!

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 7

game_of_thrones_s3

Welcome back to more of the third season of Game of Thrones! As we have now passed the seventh episode in this season, we are fast coming up on the finale of season three and another long wait as they prep for season four. Yes, the show has been renewed for another season, but is anyone surprised at all? The ratings for this season have broken several records, and HBO can be expected to ride this high for as long as they can.

In addition, I should note that recently it was revealed that this season was in fact just the first half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series. Initially, I was curious how they intended to cram all the material from that book in ten episodes, especially at the pace they were setting. However, breaking it into an even twenty episodes would seem like the perfect solution, given all the material that remains and the climaxes that still need to happen.

Anyway, onto this weeks show! Last week, John and Wildlings managed to scale the Wall and were on the way to Castle Black. Robb and his kinsmen, wife and mother were on their way to the Twins for a wedding, the Tyrells and Lannisters where scheing, Sana was betrothed to Tyrion, Petyr and Arys were plotting, Arya was wandering, and Jaime and Brienne were about to be forcibly separated.

Which brings us to the latest episode, also known as…

The Bear and the Maiden Fair:
got3_bear

The episode opens with John and the Wildings making their way towards Castle Black. As they go, both John and Ygritte are made aware that Orell, one of the skinchangers in Mance’s service, doesn’t approve of their little tryst. He tells John he won’t be able to hang onto her, and warns Ygritte that John is not one of them. That does not stop Ygritte from admitting she loves him though.

As they continue, John tries to tell Ygritte that the Wildlings don’t have a hope of winning and that he fears she and her kin will die. But of course, she does not listen, and they come together and promise to live before they die, together. Not far away, Bran and the Reeds keep moving north, and the going is tough as Osha continues to suspect them of black magic. Jojen reveals at last that they are moving beyond Castle Black to seek the “three-eyed Raven” beyond the Wall. Osha is afraid, since she has seen what happens where the Others strike, and does not want to go back.

got3_bear4

In King’s Landing, Sansa and Maergery talk of their upcoming nuptials and Maergery continues to console her. During their talk, Maergery intimates that he is not a virgin, and much more worldly than she let’s on (as if we didn’t know already!) Joffrey meanwhile confronts his uncle Tywin about the fact that he is holding Council meetings without him and demands details. Unfortunately, he finds his uncle much harder to bully than the others and even appears afraid of him.

On their way to The Twins, Robb and his company are stalled by bad weather, and he learns from his wife, Talisa, that she is pregnant. At the Dreadfort, Theon is freed from his shackles by two pretty girls who begin to ply him with their natural wiles. But of course, it proves to be just another cruel trick of Ramsay’s, who interrupts and threatens to castrate him.

got3_bear2

Daenerys and her army comes at last to Yunkai and assess its defenses. Ser Mormont tells her the odds of sacking it are not good, and they do not need it to reach Westeros. But Daenerys is determined to free it of its slaves and add them to her forces, as she did the Unsullied and slaves from Astapor. They set camp and Daenerys recieves the slave masters of the city to demand their surrender. She is rebuffed, and plans for battle begin…

Melissandre and Gendry return to King’s Landing where he learns for the first time that his father was King Robert. It is for this reason, she claims, that the Brothers wanted him, and why they need him now. Back at their camp, the Brothers learn of a Lannister war party in the area and they decide to ride to south to set a trap for them. This will delay their trip to Riverrun and Arya decides she’s had enough of their lies. She flees the cave, but is captured by Ser Clegane who has returned for her.

got3_bear3

Over at Harrenhal, Jaime prepares to leave for King’s Landing while Brienne is left to her fate. She asks Jaime keep his promise to send the Stark girls back to Lady Catelyn, and he swears he will. On his way out, Locke boasts to him that they will “take care” of Brienne. He learns that Brienne’s father has offered a ransom, one which Roose Bolton rejected, and that Brienne is likely to be sacrificed for his mens’ entertainment.

He immediately decides to turn around and ride back to save her. There, they find Brienne fighting a bear in a pit for the amusement of Hoat and his men while they sing “The Maiden and the Bear”. Jaime leaps into the pit while Bolton’s man shoot the bear with a crossbow. Brienne makes it out and in turn pulls Jaime out behind her, just in time to avoid an hornery and wounded grizzly! Locke is forced to let them go, fearing what will happen to him if he defies both Lord Tywin and Bolton.

Summary:
As episodes go, I liked this one. It had a good deal of faithful material this time around instead of the changes that are likely to annoy a Thrones geek like me! Sure, some of those found themselves being continued in this episode, but they were pretty scant compared to the material that really needs to be included at this point in the series.

Of that, the part with John and Ygritte was probably my favorite. Up until now, his relationship with her and the Wildlings has been the subject of a lot of alterations, including why he’s fighting for them. But they did a good job of capturing the dynamic that is taking place between them, how they love each other but still finds themselves on opposite sides in the fight. The jealousy angle is something that never occurred in the book, but that is clearly just thrown in to accentuate how they come from different worlds and really didn’t detract from things at all.

Naturally, I was kind of bothered that they dedicated more time to Theon again. Throughout this season, they’ve been giving us glimpses into the pain and misery he is enduring at the Dreadfort. It’s all true to what we learn in book 5, but I wonder if they plan to display every single cruelty Ramsay inflicted on him just so they can keep him in the show. Trust me when I say there’s a lot, and a few minutes every episode of Theon getting tortured is getting depressing!

And sure, they’re still going with the whole bit about Gendry being taken away by Melissandre because she needs “kings blood”, but it seems like they are preparing to write that one to a close. What’s more, I did find it interesting how they did the scene with them sailing up the Blackwater, where all the wrecked ships now lay. Her explanation as to why the Brotherhood wanted him was also kind of apt, and the way she revealed the truth of his past was also kind of fitting. In the book, Gendry is sort of written off. This way, he is at least likely to have an ending that is poignant and meaningful.

One thing I didn’t like was the revelation that the man I’ve been calling Vargo Hoat this whole time – leader of the Bloody Mummers – is in fact named Locke. I had to look it up since I didn’t recognize it, and it turns out Locke was actually a highborn member of the Night’s Watch, not one of Bolton’s mercenaries. But the fact that they’ve named him this means Vargo isn’t in the story, and he and the Mummers have been written out of the story altogether!

All I can ask is… WHY?! Is this another simplification for brevity’s sake? Vargo was an awesome character, a man you loved to hate and laughed at because he had a lisp that made him sound somewhat less than threatening. Naturally, he overcompensated for it by being a brutal jagoff who cut off people’s hands. Seeing him do his thing and get his just desserts in the books was something I enjoyed. I’m going to miss him…

Getting back to the purely good stuff, I was also very happy they finally got to the part involving the Yunkai. For three episodes now, they’ve shown it in the opening credits but stopped short of actually showing it. Now that they’ve brought out the tall walls, the pyramids and the Harpy, things are getting pretty cool. All that remains now is for her to assess their strength, and unleash her own on them! Looking forward to seeing it happen!

And of course, they managed to capture Jaime’s rescue of Brienne – although who saved who was open to interpretation – very well. Last time, they skewed why she was being held while Jaime was being set free, but this episode pushed past that and got to good stuff. For some time, people have been wondering if Jaime and Brienne would ever join forces and bond over a shared sense of honor. And this is exactly how it happened.

Now the two are set to go to King’s Landing to see their promises through to the end. But of course, since Arya is unaccounted for and Sansa has a number of people vying for her hand, that’s likely to get a bit complicated. And trust me, it does! Several battles to come and intrigues to take place before the season ends. And this point these include Daenery’s seige of Yunkai, the Wildling’s assault on Castle Black, and two weddings, neither of which are likely to be happy occasions!

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!

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 is back!

This past April 1st, fans of the Game of Thrones miniseries were treated to a real delight! For months, we had been told that season two was coming. And, praying that this was no April Fool’s joke, fans everywhere kept their fingers crossed and their feet tapping while they anxiously waited for it to come true. Seriously, I don’t think there was a fan among us who wasn’t sitting on one butt cheek the whole month of March!

Finally, the rumors were confirmed and it was no prank. After witnessing the big set-up, the death of Ned Stark, the build-up to war, and the cliffhanger ending (complimented by dragons and a nude lady!), we were finally going to see A Clash of Kings on our screens!

So, now that we’re two episodes in, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on season two. I would have offered up a review of the first episode the second it broke, but I wanted to wait until at least two episodes aired so I could see where they would be going. Now that I think I have a feel for it, here it is…

Ep.1. The North Remembers:
Well, episode one was a bit of a letdown. After months and months of waiting, and knowing what to expect, I found it both topical and rushed. Naturally, any season opener needs to introduce everything and this can weight it down a little. And knowing what to expect can also lead to the inevitable sense of “they changed this, they changed that”. But I’m quite certain my impressions were not informed by either.

For starters, the book opens with a chapter from the point of view of Stannis’ priest. His perspective informs us of the comet that has appeared in the heavens (something that got barely any dialogue in the episode) and how Stannis has taken up with Melisandre. It also introduces Sir Davos Seaworth, the “Onion Knight” who will become a central character as the story progresses. Sure, these things get some coverage in the first episode, but the real development is left to episode two.

And then there was the scene between Cersei and Lord Petyr Baelish. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall this ever happening in the novel. Granted, in the wake of Ned Stark’s execution and Joffre’s ascension, there was plenty of plotting and suspicion in the royal court. But none of it that took place between Baelish and Cersei. So really, this scene was just superfluous. The same is true of the scene where Robb confronts Jaime in his cage. Again, not in the book! Aside from recapping how they have him prisoner, I didn’t see the point in it.

But they did get two things right. First, we got to see and hear plenty from Tyrion and Cersei upon his return to court. And the scene between Sansa and Joffrey during his name-day tournament, that was quite faithful! And then there was the scene where the Night’s Watch reach Craster’s Keep and get an eyefull of his twisted little commune. All bang on, from what I recall. But as for the rest, it felt rushed and topical. Sure, they picked up where the last season let off and managed to tackle the salient points. But other that, didn’t seem like there was much development.

Ep.2. The Night Lands:
And then episode two aired, and things began to pick up. For one, they finally got into Arya’s story and provided some details on her situation. This included her companion Gendry and the fact that the Kinsgaurd were looking for him; not to mention Hot Pie, Lommy, Joaquin H’ghar and the other two criminals. There was also the faithful scene where Tyrion begins exercising his powers as the new Hand, removing Janos Slynt as Lord of the City Watch and replacing him with Bronn. The subsequent scene where he has it out with Cersei was also pretty awesome! And last, there was the highly accurate scenes depicting Theon’s return to Pyke, and the little misunderstanding between him and his sister.

As for things that didn’t quite fit or misfired… Well, there was the scene in the brothel where Baelish threatens one of his ladies, a woman who never appeared in the book but is a recurring character in the show. She is apparently mourning the loss of one of their fellow ladies, who was cut down with her child when the Kingsguard went around slaughtering Robert’s bastards. Didn’t happen in the book, so I really got the feeling that it was just jammed in for some added nudity and evil character development. You know, just in case we didn’t already know Baelish was an asshole!

And then there was the final scene where Jon witnesses what Craster does with his sons. In short, he sees him bring one out to the forest where the Others take him away. Granted, it was established in the novel that this is what Craster does with all the boys his daughters/wives bear him, but it was never shown. Neither was the part where Craster knocks Jon out after he realizes he’s seen the whole thing. This I can’t imagine will be easy to explain in episode three. Craster is a man who threatens to kill anyone who so much as touches one of his daughters/wives. How is he going to let Jon go now that he’s seen how he’s offering up sacrifices to the White Walkers?

What’s more, there’s the added issue of White Walkers now being spotted near their camp. In the novels, they themselves aren’t spotted even in Book III, preferring to let their Wights do their fighting for them. This totally throws things off, especially where the Night’s Watch and Craster’s working relationship is concerned. What is Lord Mormont going to do when he finds out, say “shame on you” to Craster, pick up and then leave? Having read well into book IV, I know for a fact that they come back his way later and stay with him again. They can’t do that if they know he’s welcoming Others into his property! This just doesn’t jive!

Good episode, inexplicable ending. Ah well, I’m sure episode three will have something in the way of explanations…

Overall, so far, so good. I can’t wait until they get into the big burly battle at King’s Landing! That is sure to be awesome, as are the various other action scenes involving (edited for spoilers). See you next time!

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!