Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Four

GOT4_3At last, I am finally caught up with GOT and the many episodes which took place while I was either overseas or in transit. And while I’m pleased with that fact, I have to say this past week’s episode was kind of a disappointment. And there are a few reasons for that. For starters, it was loaded up with stuff that didn’t even appear in the original books. And I don’t mean they changed some things for the sake of adapting to a TV format, as they’ve done countless times in the past. No, this week, they had whole segments that were entirely made up.

Second, there was the way they explained every single aspect of the conspiracy surrounding Joffrey’s death. They’ve done this a lot in the shows, being explicit about things that were implicit in the novels. But this time around, they really spelt it out for us! And last, but not least, there was the whole mutineers at Craster’s Keep thread and the way they turned up the ugliness factor. Forget Oathkeeper, the episode should have been called “C*nt” – as in, how many times can we say it in one scene!

However, there were some parts of it that were interesting and even intriguing, mainly the ending…

Oathkeeper:
GOT4_4_1The episode opens with Daenerys’ attempt to take Mereen, which consists of Grey Worm and other Unsullied sneaking into the city through its sewers. Disguised as slaves, they made their way inside to where the city’s slaves are holding congress and discussing open revolt. Upon their arrival, Grey Worm and the others distribute weapons and tell them that Daenerys is there to free them, and that they outnumber the masters three to one.

The next day, the masters see Daenerys’ banner flying from the tallest of the city’s pyramid and find graffiti denouncing the masters. One such master is caught in an alleyway between dozens of armed slaves and is killed. The slave uprising neutralizes the defenses, and Daenerys enters into the city and is hailed as a liberator. She then orders that the slave masters be publicly crucified in the same fashion as the children that they saw along the road.

GOT4_4_2Back in King’s Landing, Jaime meets with Tyrion for the first time and asks him if he is guilty of Joffrey’s death. He denies it, and Jaime believes him, which puts him at odds with Cersei who continues to hold him responsible. After asking him if he would find and kill Sansa for her, Jaime calls Brienne to him. Giving her a new suit of armor and his sword, he tasks her with fulfilling her duty to Lady Caitlyn and finding her daughter. She names the sword Oathkeeper, and sets out with Pod to find Sansa.

Lady Olenna Redwyne meets with Margaery and tells her in no subtle fashion to begin ingratiating herself to Tommen so she can defuse any attempts Cersei has at poisoning him against her. In the course of their talk, she admits that she is the one who poisoned Joffrey. Out to sea, while traveling to the Eyrie to marry her aunt, Lord Pyter Baelish admits the same to Sansa, and intimates that he did it to please the Tyrells – his new ally.

got4_4_3At the Wall, Locke has arrived and begins to befriend Jon Snow, who is there to kill – on Lord Bolton’s orders. Amidst training the new recruits, Jon comes to learn from Sam that Bran and the Reeds are travelling north of the Wall and suspects they may find their way to Craster’s Keep. He then is told by the acting Lord Commander that he has leave to go there and kill the mutineers before they can fall into Mance’s hands.

Locke and a handful of other Brothers agree to go with him, and they set out. Meanwhile, at Crasters Keep, where Karl Tanner (one of the mutineers) is running things as his own private fiefdom. When a newborn baby boy is presented to him, he is told that Craster sacrificed them to “the gods” (aka. the White Walkers). He orders one of his men to take the baby out, who then leaves it in the snow and goes to a cage where (surprise!) Ghost is being kept.

GOT4_4_4Just then, a cold wind blows in, signalling the approach of the Walkers, and he runs away. Not far off, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds are camped and sense the approach as well. They hear the baby crying, and Bran changes skin with Summer, who then wanders off in search of the baby. His wolf hears howling as well, sees Ghost in his cage, and then falls into a trap. The next day, they approach the Keep and see what’s become of it.

They begin planning on freeing Summer, but are captured by the mutineers. Hodor is chained up so the mutineers taunt and abuse him, and one stabs him in the leg with his spear. Bran and the Reeds are taken inside the keep where Karl comes to them and demands to know who they are. He threatens to kill them and Jojen begins to have a seizure, at which point Bran tells them his true identity. At this point, Karl means to ransom them or hold them hostage.

GOT4_4_5The episode ends out in the frozen wastes, where the White Walker who was seen assaulting the Fist of the First Men is riding his dead horse and carrying the baby with him. After arriving at the foot of a mountain, the Walker comes to a sort of shrine made of ice and places the baby down on an altar. Another Walker comes forward from a large circle of them and touches the baby’s face. It’s eyes turn blue, indicating that it has become an Other.

Summary:
So… where to start? I’m guessing with the stuff I didn’t like since the ending was the big exception to all that. Let’s see if I can’t break it down in sequential order. First off, the sack of Mereen, which was very quick and involved some changes from the original story. As I mentioned last time, the way the show chose to write Strong Belwas and the fact that Ser Barristan Selmy was originally hiding his identity from Daenerys out of the show. As I might have also said, this would come up this week as Daenerys’ forced sacked the city.

Basically, Daenerys learned the truth as she sat outside Mereen’s walls and tried to think of a way to breach its defenses. Not only did she learn that Whitebeard was actually Selmy and in the employ of Robert – the man who usurped the throne from her father and tried to have her killed. His confession also raised the fact that Ser Jorah Mormont was working for Robert as well. At least he was, until he chose to switch sides and prevent her from being poisoned.

Incensed, Daenerys chose to send them on a dangerous mission, which involved sneaking into the city’s sewers at night and opening it’s gates. This was the only weakness they could discern of Mereen’s defenses, and Mormont and Selmy happened to be successful. By contrast, the way they did this in this week’s episode happened so fast and quickly, it kind of made it seem like taking the city was a piece of cake. But it still worked, so no real complaints there. And the way they rendered the city was very beautiful and accurate to the text.

However, the whole storyline in the North is something that I found rather annoying. For starters, Jon Snow never asked to go off and kill the mutineers at Crasters Keep, mainly because they had their hands full with the Wildling party that coming up from the south, and Mance coming down from the north. As Jon knew, Ygritte and Tormund’s whole purpose was to take Castle Black so that they could open the gates and let Mance and his army through without a fight.

Jon knew that the only advantage the Night’s Watch had was the fact that the Wall would be very difficult for Mance’s army to overcome. But that advantage would be lost if the Wildlings managed to seize Castle Black, which seemed likely given how outnumbered the Night’s Watch was at this point. Faced with attack coming from two directions, both of which were practically upon them, Jon’s only thought was preparing their defenses. He gave no thought to the mutineers whatsoever, since they were all believed to be dead anyway.

And speaking of giving something no though, Bolton never ordered Locke to go Castle Black to find and assassinate Jon. While it is true that he was concerned with cementing his family’s rule over the North, this involved him sending his bastard son (after he was made a full Bolton) to Winterfell where he was to marry Jeyne Poole (Sansa’s friend in King’s Landing who was now being forced to pretend to be Arya Stark). This show-wedding would have made the Bolton’s rule over the North legitimate by law.

At no point in the story did Bolton learn that Bran and Rickon were still alive, not for certain anyway. And as for Jon Snow, Bolton never concerned himself with him since, as a bastard, he had no claim to Winterfell. And to top that off, the mutineers never captured Ghost, and Bran, Hodor and the Reeds never traveled to Craster’s Keep to be captured and interrogated. All of this stuff was made-up and filler, and the way they turned Karl Tanner from a background character into Evil the Cat seemed especially overdone.

And while I get that they need to come up with things to keep certain characters and threads engaged, I would think they could do what they have been doing with Theon, who also didn’t appear again in the story until A Dance with Dragons (book five). Here, they simply used what Martin wrote about his intervening time to keep him in the story. With Bran and Jon now, they are making stuff up and diverging wildly from the text.

But at least this week, Cersei and Jaime’s strained relationship seems to have some merit. In fact, it was their disagreement over Tyrion that caused their split in the first place, not to mention Cersei’s growing paranoia and vindictiveness. That whole “you took too long” thing was pure nonsense, and the rape scene of last week was as wrong as it was unnecessary. Not in the books, didn’t fit with their characters, so I liked that this week, they ironed that out.

And of course, the ending! What can I say about that? No, really, what can I say? I ask because it wasn’t in the books either, not in A Storm of Swords (which provides the material for this season) or the two others that have come since. This means that this final scene, which was very cool and cryptic, was also providing hints as to the larger plot, stuff that George RR Martin hasn’t even revealed yet to his loyal readers. What can you say about that? Other than COOOOOOL!

Anyhoo, midseason is coming up, and we’ve got some rather major events in the works before the season ends. These would include Tyrion’s trial – which is going to have its own share of big surprises and consequences! – and of course, Mance’s assault on the Wall, which I am looking forward to with some high zest. No matter what else they’ve done this season, fight scenes and major battles are two thing they’ve consistently managed to do well!

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Two

GOT4_2_1Hello again all! In my effort to catch up on things that have happened while I was overseas, I now turn to the the any episodes of GOT that have aired in the past few weeks. Needless to say, their were some rather important ones, and ones which I was eagerly awaiting after last season’s bloody and brutal ending. And since I am several weeks behind, I think we can dispense with the usual spoiler warnings and I can say that I was really looking forward to seeing Joffrey die!

And now he has, thus showing the world that in George RR Martin’s universe, bad things occasionally happen to bad people as well. But enough of all that, I got episodes to review and this is just the first of three. So without further ado, here’s what happened in the second episode of the season, aptly titled…

The Lion and the Rose:
GOT4_2_2The episode opens with Ramsay Snow and Miranda hunting a young woman in the forest with Theon Greyjoy (who now answers to the name of Reek) following in tow. After chasing her down and putting an arrow through her leg, Ramsay’s dogs eat her. Shortly thereafter, Lord Roose Bolton returns and chides Ramsay for his behavior. He learns that Bran and Rickon are alive and that they be found, and orders Ramsay to ride to Moat Cailin to take it from Asha.

Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion meets with Jaime for the first time since his capture and comes up with a solution to his left-handed problem. Since he needs to train again in the use of a sword, and desires a trainer who will be discreet, Tyrion pairs him up with Bronn. Tyrion meets with Varys and once more discusses getting Shae out of the capitol and to Pentos, which has become necessary now that Cersei’s spies have identified her and both she and Tywin know of her existence.

GOT4_2_3The preparations for the wedding continue, and gifts are being conferred on Joffrey from all the houses. Tyrion gives him a copy of the rare book The Lives of Four Kings, which Joffrey reluctantly accepts.  Tywin’s gift of the Valyrian sword is next, which he uses to chop the book to pieces. Shae comes to meet him afterwards and Tyrion tells her that arrangements have been made to send her away. She resists, and Tyrion is forced to be brutal with her and tells her she’s a whore and can never bear his children.

Next day, Joffrey and Margaery are married in the Grand Sept of Baelor and the wedding feast follows. The usual machinations and posturing take place – between Jaime and Ser Loras, Brienne and Cersei, and especially between Prince Oberyn, Cersei and Tywin. Joffrey begins acting very abusive towards everyone, and then summons a group of dwarfs perform a terribly offensive rendition of the War of the Five Kings.

GOT4_2_4He then directs his abuse at Tyrion by pouring wine on his head and forcing him to become his cup bearer. To distract from the display, the pigeon pie is brought out and both Joffrey and Margaery take the first bites together. Joffrey orders Tyrion to fetch him wine, drinks, and is then begins choking violently. He dies pointing at Tyrion, who is then arrested. In the confusion, Ser Dontos hurries to Sansa and tells her to come with him if she wants to live.

To the north, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds continue their trek to the Wall. Bran has a greendream where he is inhabiting Summer’s body and the Reeds wake him and warn him that he could lose himself if he does it for too long. They come across a weirwood, Bran touches it, receives visions, and hears a voices saying “look for me beneath the tree” and “north”. Bran awakens from the vision and tells them he knows where they need to go.

Summary:
Obviously, this episode was quite satisfying for all concerned! For those who have not read the books, it was a real shocker and nice way to balance out the trauma of last season’s Red Wedding. For those who have, it was a chance to see the poetic justice of Joffrey’s death beautifully rendered. I for one loved what they did with it, both in terms of Joffrey’s terrible behavior leading up to his death, and then the way he died horribly. In addition to being true to the text, it was artfully one and very well acted!

GOT4_2_5As for everything else in the episode, what we got was mainly pacing and filler, and some changes which stuck out for me. For one, Jaime’s attempts to learn to fight with his left hand did not involve Bronn as his teacher. In fact, he sought out Ser Ilyn Payne for that job, mainly because the man has no tongue. Bronn at this point was far away, having been bought off by Tywin with a title and sent off so he couldn’t help Tyrion anymore.

Second, Shae was not sent away at this point. Though it was clear that Cersei had learned of her identity, Tyrion thought she was safe since Cersei had nabbed the wrong “whore” before. This, as we shall see soon enough, came back to bite him in the rear. And again, the material from Dragonstone and the Dreadfort felt like pure filler. But since we haven’t heard from these characters, I guess they felt the need to give them some screen time.

Other than that, the episode was a long time coming and I enjoyed it thoroughly! Onto episode Three – Breaker of Chains – and another long-awaited part, which is the seige of Mereen!

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 6

game_of_thrones_s3It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Time to recap on the latest Game of Thrones episode! And as usual, I was eager to see what would be happening this week. Not only was the name of this episode a clear reference to a major event in the story, they also seemed poised to  show us Yunkai, Daenerys’ next conquest. And there’s still plenty set to happen with Robb and the Freys, Arya and the Brotherhood, Bran and the Reeds, Cersei and the Tyrells, Brienne and Jaime, Sam and Gilly…

Well, you get the idea. By the third book, the story really began to multiply in terms of plot threads. It seemed like there wasn’t the tidy three points of interest of the Wall, Kings Landing and Essos as there was in the first book. Now, its a wartime saga and there’s plenty of people in plenty of places, all with their own story to tell and independent take on it all. So the show makers have their work cut out for them.

So here’s what happened this week and what I thought of it…

The Climb:
got3_climb
Things open in the north, where three of our main characters now find themselves. The first is Sam and Gilly, who are traveling south together after fleeing Craster’s Keep. The second is Bran, Osha, Hodor and the Reeds, who are heading the opposite way. And last, their is John and the Wildlings, who find their way to the Wall at last, and intend to scale it.

As they prepare to follow Tormund, who is reputed for having climbed it dozens of times, Ygritte tells John that she knows he is still “a crow” at heart. While not truly loyal to Mance, she does expect him to be loyal to her. With Tormund in the lead, they begin to scale the Wall. The climb proves treacherous as a section gives way, killing an entire war party in the process. John and Ygritte are almost killed too, but a last minute move by John saves the both of them.

got3_climb2In the Riverlands, the Brotherhood are met by an unlikely visitor, Lady Melissandre herself, who entreats with Thoros. After raising the issue of his previous mission – which was to convert King Robert – she is taken to see Beric. She is astounded to see what Thoros has done with Beric, and tells them they have someone the Lord of Light needs – referring to Gendry. Since he has the “King’s Blood” – i.e. King Robert’s – he is fit to be sacrificed.

At Riverrun, Robb meets with the Freys emissaries to discuss the terms of their continued alliance. He is told that in exchange for an apology, the right to Harrenhal, and Lord Edmure Tully’s marriage to his eldest daughter, they will continue to be friends. Edmure is extremely reluctant, but is compelled since they need the Freys to win the war and because of his failure in engaging the Lannisters. They agree to the terms and plan to travel to The Twins for the wedding.

got3_climb1In King’s Landing, Tywin and Lady Redwyne discuss the possibility of Cersei marrying Ser Loras. Redwyne initially refuses, claiming Cersei is too old to bear him children. But Tywin, refusing to be denied, threatens to appoint Ser Loras to the Kingsguard, a move which will ensure that the Tyrells bear no heirs and the Lannisters will take over Highgarden down the road.

Tyrion and Cersei also discuss their impending nuptials, and Tyrion confronts her about the plot to kill him. He tells her that Joffrey is an idiot for ordering such a murder, but is told that nothing will happen as long as Tywin is around. Tyrion then meets with Sansa to reveal his father’s plan to have them wed, and she is naturally heartbroken. So is Shae, who is on hand to hear about it directly.

got3_climb3Varys and Littlefinger also exchange words in the Kings Hall, where he reveals that he found out about Varys plot to marry Sansa to the Tyrells. He further reveals that Varys’ source in the matter, his assistant Ros, has been removed from his service and has been handed off to “a grateful friend”. This turns this friend is Joffrey, who had her bound and then killed her with his crossbow.

At Harrenhal, Lord Roose Bolton meets with Jaime and Brienne, both of whom have recovered from their time with the Bloody Mummers. He agrees to let Jaime continue on to King’s Landing as recompense for the loss of his hand, but demands that Brienne stay behind since she abetted treason. Jaime is not happy about the decision, but is not in a position to make demands.

The episode closes with John and his party making it to the top of the Wall. Once there, Ygritte fulfills a lifelong dream of looking out at the world from the top. They stand together and share a long kiss…

Summary:
Well, as it turned out, this episode had a double meaning to it. On the one hand, there was the physical climb which John and the others accomplished as they scaled the Wall. On the other, there was Littlefinger’s diabolical speech about how chaos is “a ladder”, which some climb while others fall. And in this clever little double-entendre, the episode finds its true meaning. And overall, we got a fair dose of pl0t advancement, and a good heaping of machinations as all the interested parties continued to scheme.

But of course, there were some changes which once again, I feel obliged to note. Some were the result of previous changes which then forced these new ones upon the writers, but others struck me as being entirely out of the blue. In the case of the former, you’ve got Roose Bolton deciding to send Jaime Lannister on to King’s Landing. In the book, this didn’t happen, since by the time Jaime and Brienne made it to Harrenhal, it had passed back into the hands of the Lannisters.

On top of that, this decision really makes no sense here. Roose claims to be letting Jaime go as recompense, but also because he recognizes that Tywin will pay more or him. At the same time, he’s holding onto Brienne because she’s guilty of treason. Yet, by letting Jaime go, he’s committing an even worse one and putting himself in jeopardy with Robb. Vargo Hoat wasn’t willing to give Jaime back to his father for fear of losing his head, but Roose seems to have no such fears.

But of course, this is all necessitated by the way they cut out how Harrenhal came to be in the hands of Robb in the first place, plus that they rushed this plot thread to get Jaime and Brienne out of the wilderness sooner. And of course, there’s the plot thread involving Cersei’s impending nuptials to Ser Loras, which never happened in the book. True, Cersei was pissed that her father intended to marry her off again to cement alliances, but Ser Loras was never a candidate.

This might seem like a very minor point, but I realized this mainly because in this episode, Tywin makes a big deal about threatening to make Ser Loras a Kingsguard. In the book, that’s exactly what Ser Loras did, and it was because he wanted to so he could avoid being married off to a woman he knew he would not love. And since the Tyrells are gaining the throne through Margaery’s marriage to Joffrey, shouldn’t his threat of depriving them of an inheritance be baseless?

Which brings me to out-of-the-blue stuff, which here includes Gendry being hauled off by Lady Melissandre. Again, never happened in the book and I don’t see why they are doing it here. True again, Stannis needed Kingsblood to make a proper sacrifice to R’hllor, but that didn’t take place til much later and didn’t involve Gendry at all. After deciding to stay on with the Brotherhood, Arya and he parted ways (won’t say how, it’s coming up), and that was that. What they are doing with him here, can’t imagine where they’re headed with it, but I know it will necessitate changes down the road.

Which brings me to my final gripe, which has to do with Theon again. Once more, we have him on screen being tortured, and they don’t even reveal who has him or why. They pull a little misdirection by pretending his tormenter is the Karstark heir, but that of course proves to be false. In reality, he’s the bastard Bolton, aka. Ramsay Snow, and all this again just seems like a whole bunch of filler! But then again, so was Ros’ part, which came to an abrupt end this week since they decided to kill her off.

Looking back on my comments here, I can tell that I’ve become a bonafide Thrones geek, the kind who gripes about changes and nitpicks the inconsistencies between the books and the adaptations. But in all honesty, the longer this show goes, the easier it becomes to notice these things. Though it is still a kick ass series, the way they are diverging from the script can only get worse at this rate.

But of course, I still want to see what they do with it. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch!

P.S. Oh yeah, and they didn’t show Daenerys making it to Yunkai… again. When oh when is that going to happen? They keep showing it on the map at the beginning, when is she going to get there?! Like a few other gems that are yet to be revealed, this one promises to be pretty cool!

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!