Game of Thrones – Season Three Episode 2

game_of_thrones_s3Welcome back to another episode of Game of Thrones. I think I speak for everyone when I say that last week’s episode was the whirlwind intro, a big high after waiting almost an entire year for the new season to air. And as expected, things were visually appealing, exciting, and eye-popping from time to time. At the same time, in what is fast becoming the trend for this show, differences from the source material are becoming all the more apparent and obvious.

This is largely due to the fact that changes in the last season have required the writers to make further changes this season. These include rewrites, additions, things left out, and late introductions. And with this second episode now aired, I feel like I’m beginning to sense how these will play out. At least I think so, but I’ll keep them to myself to avoid any potential spoilers, especially for those who haven’t read the books yet.

Needless to say, the central theme of this episode was the bad news that becomes so manifest in book three. Between the shifting fortunes for Robb and the Stark family, the chaos that grips the Seven Kingdoms, the ongoing battles of Daenerys, and the fate of lesser players (Theon and Jaime being foremost amongst them), everyone seems to be suffering from setbacks, debacles and ill omens. Here’s how it all went down this week:

Dark Wings, Dark Words:
got3_jojenreedThe episode opens with Bran having more dreams about the three eyed crow. This time, a young boy appears telling him that the raven is him. He wakes up to the company of Hodor, Osha, and the direwolf Summer, his companions as they continue to make their way north. On the way, they encounter Jojen and Meera Reed, who claims that they have come a long way to find him. They inform him that he is a Warg, and can control animals and experience “greendreams”.

North of the Wall, John and his Wildling companions move towards the Wall and learn from one of Mance’s wargs that the Fist of the First Men has fallen and is littered with bodies of the Night’s Watch. Sam and the others are still retreating south, battling cold and starvation, and Sam seems ready to die. However, Lord Commander Mormont refuses to let him yield and orders his brothers to help him along.

GOT3_brienne_jaimeRobb meanwhile is summoned back to Riverrun when word of his grandfather’s death reaches them. His mother is perturbed by the news, but not nearly as much as by word that Winterfell was burned to the ground and that Brandon and Rickard are missing. They begin the march back to Riverrun to attend the funeral, during which time Catelyn and Talisa (John’s new wife) get a chance to bond.

In the Riverlands, Brienne and Jaime continue south, and it is hard going as the two find each other’s company quite difficult to endure. While attempting to cross a river, Jaime grabs a sword from her and they fight. Unfortunately, this gives their position away and the two of them are fallen upon by the Brave Companions (aka. Bloody Mummers), another free company that currently owes service to House Bolton.

got3_joffrey_margaeryIn King’s Landing, everything is being dedicated towards the preparations for Joffrey’s wedding to Lady Margaery Tyrell. Cersei is naturally suspicious of his newly betrothed, but Joffrey refused to listen to his mother’s counsel. Sansa, meanwhile is introduced to Margaery and her grandmother, Lady Olenna Redwyne – the Queen of Thorns. She asks Sansa for the truth about Joffrey, and after some convincing that she is safe, she confides that is he is an absolute bloody monster.

She gets a taste of this when Joffrey summons her to him and interrogates her about her marriage to Renly and why it didn’t produce an heir. However, Lady Margaery manages to skillfully manipulate him, hinting at Renly’s interest in men and lying about their night together. In the end, Margaery plays to his weaknesses, tapping into his endless appetite for cruelty, and clearly has him wrapped around her finger.

got3_aryaElsewhere in the Riverlands, Arya and her companions, Hot Pie and Gendry, wander freely now that they have escaped Harrenhal. While seeking out the way to Riverrun, they come upon Thoros of Myr and the Brotherhood without Banners who take them into their company. Over food and ale, they see the Hound brought in shackled, and Arya tries to sneak out unseen. However, the Clegane recognizes her and identifies her as Stark’s daughter.

In between all of this, we see Theon being tortured in an unidentified dungeon, which includes his finger being flayed and his foot being mangled by a screw. His tormenters are unknown to him, and he is asked only one question. “Why did you take Winterfell?” He finally answers truthfully, and is left alone for the night. A young man comes to him and claims he was sent by his sister and will free him in the night.

Summary:
Overall, this episode was not bad. In fact, they did a few things here which I thought were pretty interesting, which included using material taken from the latest book (A Dance with Dragons) to fill in some areas that were not mentioned in the third book, but which happened during the course of it and were not covered. This includes what became of Theon after he was betrayed at Winterfell, though it was by the Bastard of Bolton, and not his own men.

However, that small technicality they seem to have glossed over quite well by simply saying the Northmen torched the city before the Bolton’s army arrived. The rest is true to the text, Theon being taken captive and tortured mercilessly as part of Ramsay Bolton’s predilection for cruelty and villainous schemes. And, having read the fifth book, I know what lies in store for Theon, and I pity the poor bastard! I approve of the way they are parceling it out though, not revealing just yet who his tormenter is or what he has planned…

Other changes which I didn’t like much included Robb’s return to Riverrun. Here, the show is once again working with changes that were forced on it by previous changes. Robb did not take his mother or Jaime Lannister with him as he fought his way to Casterly Rock. They were left behind in Riverrun, hence he did not see him until he returned for his grandfather’s funeral and to confront his mother about her treason (letting Jaime go). And it was for this reason that she didn’t meet his new bride until he came back.

Which reminds me, Robb’s return to Riverrun had little to do with his grandfather’s death. It had more to do with his mother letting Jaime go and his uncle, Lord Emdure Tully, deviating from the orders he had left him with. While Robb was campaigning in the west, Edmure chose to engage the Lannister forces in the Riverlands, forcing them to attempt to ford the rivers and causing them many losses, which included wounding Ser Sandor Clegane (“The Mountain”).

While this seemed like a good idea to Edmure, it had the effect of making Tywin refocus his troops to defend the south and not pursue Robb’s forces as they neared Casterly Rock. This deprived Robb of a chance to commit an outflanking maneuver and deal Tywin and his forces another stinging defeat. Because of this, Robb was not only facing troubles for breaking his betrothal to the Frey daughter and the loss of his hostage, but also because he was no longer in a dominant tactical position.

In addition, Bran’s introduction to the Reeds was quite different than it was in the book. There, the Reeds had come to Winterfell to pay homage to the King and meet Bran. They did not come to him in the wilderness. But since they were not introduced last season, it was necessitated that they be dropped in at this point in season three.

All of these represent changes that are now being forced on the show because they chose to omit or alter things last season, most likely due to budgets. I get it, but it still can be annoying, since they do seem to have a cumulative effect. However, in just about everything else, they managed to get things right. Aside from the fact the Ser Thoros was supposed to be missing part of his face, due to his earlier death and resurrection, the storylines appear to be faithful.

All I can say is that I wish the episode got into things a little bit more. Much like the first episode, this one felt kind of whirlwind-esque, with plenty of nuggets being left for later. But of course, that seems necessary since the story is branching out, with three main threads turning into half a dozen or so. Since they feel obliged to show how all characters are faring at this point, it only seems logical and natural that they parcel things out and try to cover all their bases.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to the reveals and I believe others should be too. If you haven’t read the books yet, you’re in the perfect position to witness some rather big surprises, and I envy you that. As for the Thrones geeks out there, you know what’s coming and I’m pretty sure you’re anticipating it as much as I am. So stay tuned. Things get pretty interesting from here on in, and pretty bloody!

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 Romantic Comedy Mash-up!

Think Game of Thrones meets a bad romantic comedy! That’s what some rather enterprising fans managed to pull off with this mock trailer for GOT Season 2. Following the logic that all the relationships in the story could be broken down and pitched as a series of cliched love triangles, these fans took a series of clips from the show, added some cheesy pop music, and voila! Delicious satire was born.

Yes, it seems to work too, doesn’t it? It’s all funny and patronizingly heart-warming, until you remember that most characters in this story wind up losing their heads, being gelded or getting a golden crown πŸ˜‰ Ah who cares, its fun stuff!

Game of Thrones (Season 2 Ep.5&6)

Back with more from season two. Last time, things in the show left off with Theon Greyjoy heading for Winterfell, John and his brothers making camp in the Fist of the First Men, Arya being brought to Harrenhal to wait on Tywin Lannister, and the rivalry between Renly and Stannis Baratheon coming to a head. In episodes 5 and 6, we see these threads developed further and got some more twists along the way. As always, I felt that it was all a faithful if not a 100% accurate adaptation of the story.

Episode 5: The Ghost of Harrenhal
This episode was named in honor of the thread involving Arya and her incarceration in Harrenhal. While serving as Lord Tywin’s cupbearer, she meets up with Jaqen H’gar who tells her that he owes her three lives. She selects the first, the torture expert they call “The Tickler” and sees take him a terrible fall which breaks his neck. In the south, Renly Baratheon is killed by Melissandre’s dark shadow. Brienne is believed to be the culprit, forcing her to flee north with Catelyn Stark.

Tyrion learns of Cersei’s plan to use wildfire to defend King’s Landing and assumes control of the defense planning. To the North, John Snow meets Qorin Halfhand, the legendary man of the Night’s Watch, and joins him on patrol. On Pyke, Theon continues to have problems garnering respect from his Iron kin. He comes up with the bright idea to attack Winterfell once he’s drawn its host away.

In Qarth, Daenerys receives a proposal from the wealthy trader who took her in (Xaro Daxos). In exchange for her hand in marriage, she can have half his wealth, more than enough to buy all the ships she needs to travel back to Westeros. He is not the only one taking an interest however, as it is clear that the “Undying”, the mystics of Qarth, are also interested in the “Mother of Dragons”.

Episode 6: The Old Gods and New
While on partol with Qorin, John Snow and the brothers kill a Wildling party. A woman named Ygritte is taken captive, but escapes before John can execute her.After chasing her down, they are forced to spend the night in the wild together.

Theon manages to take Winterfell and demands its submission, which Bran is forced to give. He escapes later when Osha – the Wildling captive – seduces Theon and sneaks them to safety.

In King’s Landing, Myrcella is sent off to Dorne and an angry crowd tries to mob Joffrey and his family. Sansa is briefly captured, but the timely arrival of the Hound saves her. Arya is discovered stealing one of Tywin’s letters and must select her second victim for Jaqen. He dies on Tywin’s doorstep, making Tywin think they have an assassin in their midst.

Robb and Talisa continue to fall for each other, a growing source of concern for his mother. In Qarth, Daenerys continues to struggle to find financial backers of men who will give her the ships she needs. She returns to Xaro’s compound to find most of her host murdered and her dragons stolen…

Good Points and Bad:
Okay, this time around I thought I’d coalesce the good and bad points into one, mainly because they are similar. For starters, there is what they did faithfully. Renly’s death, Arya’s communion with Jaqen, the riot in the city, and Theon’s sack of Winterfell were all well within the parameters of the text. However, when it came to differences, they are bigger and more frequent.

For starters, the show continues to show Robb on campaign with his mother and Jaime in tow. In the novel, Jaime remained as a prisoner in Riverrun while Catelyn was in the south. Upon her return, she did not see Robb until he returned from campaigning, nor did anyone know about his relationship with Talisa until he returned. So putting them all together in one place was clearly a way to cut costs and simplify the shoots.

Second, at no point during Daenerys stay in Qarth were her dragons stolen. This seemed like an obvious attempt to add some drama and set up what happened in the next episode, another change which they thought to introduce. Third, there was the storyline with Ygritte. Suffice it to say, things deviated from the text. John did not chase Ygritte into the wilderness and spend a night full of temptations with her, he let her go. Later, they would be reunited, but as a result of something entirely different. Here too, I am restricted in what I can say because I don’t want to spoil things who haven’t seen episode 7 yet.But rest assured, I’ll explain all this in the next post.

Overall, I didn’t see too much wrong with any of these changes. As usual, they seemed like a way to compress certain elements of the plot and explain stuff that constituted background but was not actually dealt with in the text. However, the fact that they are starting to multiply is noticeable at this point, and has a way of giving geeks like myself pause πŸ˜‰

Up next, episode 7!

Game of Thrones Season 2 (Episodes 3&4)

Games of Thrones is now well-passed the midway mark, and some things are becoming clear. Much like with season one, their are some changes, some additions and some subtractions, but the end product is still quite faithful. And with things coming to a head vis a vis the war in the south and things beyond the Wall, I thought it was time to delve back in and examine the various episodes so far.

Episode 3: What is Dead May Never Die
In King’s Landing, Tyrion begins to plot a series of alliances, and uses them to flush out Cersei’s informant, which turns out to be Grand Maester Pycelle. In the end, he chooses to send Myrbella, Cersei’s only daughter, to Dorne to marry the Prince of Sunspear. In the Stormlands, Catelyn arrives to entreat with Renly, who is moving towards King’s Landing with a huge force, but still must meet with his brother to decide who shall be king.

North of the Wall, Snow and the Brothers are forced to head north after Craster discovers John spying on him. Lastly, Arya’s group is attacked in the night by the Kingsgaurd and taken to Harrenhal. And on the Iron Isles, Theon Greyjoy arrives to find that his father plans to conquer the North, and decides to join him.

Right off the top of my head, I noticed several things which were consistent with the text. Tyrion’s ruse to flush out Pycelle for one, that was right out of the story and performed quite faithfully. The way he sought to find a position for Shae, his courtesan was trimmed down, but still quite accurate. And Theon’s perspective, the way he returned to Pyke to find that his family now considered him an outsider and the way he was torn, very true and bang on! Beyond that though, I noticed several big differences, but which worked out quite well in the end.

For starters, Arya was not taken prisoner so quickly after her party was discovered by the Kingsgaurd. After freeing Jaqen H’gar and the other prisoners, she, Gendry, Hot Pie and Lommy ended up making their own way north for some time before they were captured by the Mountain (Gregor Clegane), the Tickler, and his party. Only then were they brought to Harrenhal.

Also, the extended parts where we see Renly, Sir Loras and Margaery Tyrell talking about their plans and carrying on with their triangle, I’ll have to check, but I don’t recall any of that happening in the book. After Catelyn arrived in Renly’s camp, the majority of that thread was spent talking about Brienne, and the adversarial relationship between Renly and Stannis, and their negotiations for some kind of alliance. Some hints were given that Renly preferred the company of Sir Loras, but nothing of this sort was ever shown or talked about.

But this really didn’t matter. In the end, these changes were quite effective, either cutting down on things which really didn’t need to be shown or expanding on things which could use them. I even wondered when I read book II why the affair between Renly and Sir Loras wasn’t being detailed more now that he was getting married to Margaery. He marries the woman who’s brother he’s bedding, one would think this would raise certain complications, especially if she knew!

Episode 4: Garden of Bones
After wandering in the Red Waste for so long, Daenerys is invited to the great city of Qarth where her reputation as the “Mother of Dragons” is already gaining her notoriety. At King’s Landing, Tyrion and Bronn try to find a way to temper Joffrey’s cruelty for Sansa, whom he blames for Robb Stark’s latest victories.

In the Stormlands, Renly and Stannis meet for the first time and years and entreat with each other. However, talks break down when neither man is willing to give ground and Melissandre begins to unleash a dark power to kill him.

In Harrenhal, Arya and Gendry are placed in the docks to await torture. They are narrowly saved when Lord Tywin arrives and decides to put their talents to work. Theon still gets the short end of the stick from his father, who hands control of the bulk of their fleet over to his sister. He vows to outshine her however he can. And in the North, John and the Night’s Watch arrive at the ancient fortress known as The Fist of the First Men.

This episode was especially good in two respects. For one, it finally delved into the the thread involving Daenerys’ and her host after three episodes in which she was practically absent. Second, it was in this episode that audiences got to see Harrenhal for the first time, which I anticipated would be a challenge given the description of the massive but ruined fortress. Beyond that, the episode was the usual mix of changes and faithful adaptation that characterize this series.

Of those changes: In this episode Robb gets to meet his future wife, Talisa Maegyr, while campaigning in the Lannister lands. This never happened in the book. In fact, we never even got to meet her until he returned to Riverrun and announced that he had taken a wife, thus endangering his alliance with House Frey.

There is also the scene where Joffrey decides to torture the two prostitutes which Tyrion sent him as a “gift”. This is actually an ongoing difference with the series, where the character of Ros continues to make appearances that never happened in the novel. I’m guessing this was an executive decision on behalf of the creators, who probably guessed that her perspective from season one was something worth continuing.

Finally, there was the scene where Davos Seaworth, Lord Stannis’ loyal Captain, travels with Melissandre to an underground passageway in order to unleash the dark shadow she carries within her. This scene actually took place later in the book when Stannis had unready assassinated his brother and was now using a similar shadow to kill the Lord of Stormwatch, the border fort which was holding out against him. This is why the shadow is being unleashed in an underground passageway, because it was the only way to get into the fort.

Instead, this is all amended in the show to make Renly the intended target while he is in his encampment in the Stormlands. Much like the way they trimmed the plot in episode 3 where Arya and Gendry are captured, they cut out a middle portion in order to make things conclude more quickly. This is not a bad thing, mind you. These and other scenes did a good job of adapting material from the text to the screen. And as usual, there is plenty which was accurate and praiseworthy. The depiction of Harrenhal, a massive burned fortress which Tywin Lannister commander his armies from, was beautifully shot in this episode.

And though Qarth only got the barest introduction, it was a good start as far as depicting a near-Eastern inspired metropolis was concerned. The artists who detailed the cityscape were clearly inspired by Renaissance depictions of what ancient Alexandria, Babylon and other Oriental paradises were thought to look like. And of course, they way they depicted Joffrey’s sociopathic nature, which always seemed to involve a crossbow in the story… quite apt!

So far… so good. Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will cover episodes 5 and 6, where Ygritte and Qorin are introduced, Theon sacks Winterfell, and Arya gets a visit from an old friend who owes her one… or three. Stay tuned!

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Fire and Ice, book II)

As I’m sure I said in my last post, George R.R. Martin is known to his contemporaries as the “American Tolkien”. This is a fitting comparison for me seeing as how Game of Thrones was something I had no real interest in until after I saw it adapted to screen. It was only after I saw the whole first season, which is book I in the series, that I decided to start reading it and get informed! I’m now on book four in the series and like all GOT geeks, am eagerly awaiting season two which premiers April 1st (This better not be some kind of prank!) But anyway, here is book II in the Song of Fire and Ice series, which is appropriately named:

A Clash of Kings:
As with Lord of the Rings series, I decided to read the second book first, mainly so I could get a head start on all the material that was to come. However, since the series is ongoing, I did not dare wait til I read to the end before going back to cover the original. And I can honestly say that book II improves upon the first, bringing more action, more intrigue, and more fantasy-fiction to the fore. I tell ya, its a rare thing when a sequel actually surpasses the first in a series, but that was to be expected here. Whereas Game Of Thrones set the scene, introducing the major plot threads and building up the action, Clash of Kings incites it all and brings it all to an explosive semi-climax. The most important element of which is the battle at Kings Landing, which I cannot wait to see adapted to the screen!

Plot Synopsis:
The book opens with a celestial event. A red comet, which goes by various names, has entered the heavens and seems to mean different things to different people. To some, its a portent of evil, but to others, its a sign of impending victory. Picking up where the first book left off, the realm of Westeros finds itself divided between five powers who are now in a state of civil war. In the south, power is divided between Kings Landing, where the Lannisters rule through Joffrey, and Robert Baratheons two brothers – Renly and Stannis. The former now controls the southern area of Highgarden while the latter controls the island Dragonstone. While a Baratheon alliance would surely defeat the Lannisters, the brothers are divided because both are determined to sit the Iron Throne.

While Stannis, the elder, has the better claim to the throne, Renly is the more charismatic of the two. He is just as determined and has a much larger army, but Stannis has a secret weapon which he has yet to unveil: a sorceress named Melisandre, a priestess of Asshai who worships the fire god R’hllor. The cult of R’hllor, which is monotheistic in focus, is quite popular in the East but relatively unheard of in Westeros. To many, her backing of Stannis, whom she sees as the Azor Ahai (prophet of R’hllor) reborn, is merely a power play, a means to introduce her religion to the Seven Kingdom should be triumph in the war. But according to Melisandre, the civil war is merely a prelude to a much greater war against a dark force that has been coming for some time…

Meanwhile, to the north Robb Stark has been crowned King of the North by his bannermen and continues in his long campaign south. Though they are outnumbered by the Lannisters, they win victory after victory, and soon even Tywin Lannister is forced to move the bulk of his forces south when they hear that King’s Landing is threatened. For the wolf, victory seems possible, but a there are a few complications to his plans. For one, King Joffrey and the Lannisters are still holding Sansa Stark hostage and Arya Stark is still missing (in truth, she and the Night’s Watch recruiter who saved her are moving north with a band of convicts and recruits). The only thing keeping Sansa safe is the fact that Jaime Lannister is in their custody, but he’s proving to be a tricky hostage…

What’s more, the Iron Isles, where Theon Greyjoy hails from, are up in arms. With the wolf marching south and civil war dividing the realm, his father seems intent on carving out his own kingdom in north as well. His daughter is chief amongst his Captains, a fact which annoys Theon to no end. Determined to upstage her, he leads an attack on Winterfell and takes it. In time, Bran Stark and his newfound friends from the Riverlands, who’ve convinced him he’s having prescient dreams, decide to escape to The Wall. Something is up there, it seems, that is calling to Bran. When he flees, Theon decides to stage their murder to avoid the inevitable embarrassment of having lost them.

To the far north, Jon Snow has taken up with the Nights Watch and is with them as they begin a large-scale reconnaissance north of The Wall. Apparently, the Wildlings have been abandoning their villages in droves, moving to a large encampment where a man named Mance Rayder. Apparently, he has declared himself “King-beyond-the-Wall” and plans to lead a united army of Wildlings south to take the lands they have been historically cut off from. In time, it becomes clear that he himself is fleeing something, they very thing that Jon Snow and the Watch have been worrying about. It seems the White Walkers have been getting around, and just about everyone in their path is looking to flee…

To the east, Dany and her host travel across the desert to the great city of Qarth. Once there, Dany becomes the focus of much attention and fascination, given that she travels with three dragons. Despite this, she is unable to raise an army because the only coin she has to barter with is her dragons, which she refuses to give up. When she goes into the House of the Undying, where the warlocks of Qarth reside, she is told that her life is threatened and that she will be betrayed three times. When the warlocks try to attack her, her dragon burns the House down, sparking emnity between her and the Qartheen. An attempt is made on her life at the city harbor, but she is saved by two men – an old warrior named Arstan Whitebeard and a mercenary named Strong Belwas. They were sent by Illyrio, the man who sheltered her and her brother, and join her host. Together, they begin to plot where to travel to next to find her an army.

After a failed meeting between Renly and Stannis, which Catelyn Stark travelled south to host, Renly was killed by a “shadow”. It becomes clear that Stannis’ priestess was involved, because all those who oppose Stannis have a way of winding up dead. As a result, Renly’s former bannermen declare fealty to Stannis and add to his power, and Catelyn is forced to flee north with one of Renly’s staunchest supporters. A woman named Brienne of Tarth, a formidable fighter whom Renly made a knight. They return to Riverrun, the domain of her brother, where Robb is rallying his forces and her father lies dying. Upon her return, she learns of what happened to Winterfell and her two youngest sons and is heartbroken. Between Ned, her ailing father, and now her two boys, it seems everyone she loves is dying.

Back to King’s Landing, Tyrion has taken up the role as Hand of the King. Before him is the challenge of defending the capitol from Stannish Baratheon, who is quickly approaching by land and sea with his combined armies and navy. At the same time, he must cover his ass seeing as how his sister will stop at nothing to do him in. A game of chess ensues, with both sides employing bribes and whatever blackmail and threats they can to gain leverage over the other. For a time, Tyrion seems to have the upper hand, but soon, battle comes to their doorstep, and he must forgo all that to lead the defense of the city.

Meanwhile, Arya is captured while traveling north by men loyal to the Lannisters. The survivors are taken to Harrenhal, a major castle that is currently in Lannister hands, where she is forced to serve as a peasant girl. Her identity remains a secret, but she is forced to endure all kinds of abuse as a serving girl. However, one of the captives who was part of their caravan comes to her and tells her that he owes her three lives for saving him and the lives of his companions. Instead, she uses him to help free a bunch of Stark men who then seize the castle. However, her fortunes do not change much, as she is then forced to act as cup bearer to Roose Bolton who comes to occupy the castle. She escapes shortly thereafter with her old companions and continues north.

Tyrion’s preparations pay off in the end. At sea, the large chain link he had constructed is used to close off the river once Stannis’ fleet enters it. In addition, their forces use a their vast stores of Wildfire he had prepared to set them ablaze once they are trapped. On land, things go a little more poorly, but Tyrion manages to lead a successful defense of the gates and is eventually saved by his father, Tywin. It seems that he travelled to Highgarden before the conflict and enlisted the help of many of Renly’s former bannermen. At just the right time, they perform a flanking maneuver which routs Stannis’ forces and saves King’s Landing. Sensing that he will not die in battle, one of Cersei’s assassins attacks and nearly kills Tyrion. When he wakes up in bed, he finds that Cersei has gained the upper hand on him by preying on their father’s good graces.

North of the Wall, the Black Brothers find a base amongst a ruined tower and begin sending recon forces further north. Jon is part of a force dispatched to the Skirling Pass, where they find the bulk of Rayner’s army massing. In addition to thousands of Wildlings, they see giants, mammoths, and wargs complimenting their force. In time, the Wildlings fall upon them and they are forced to flee. Before they are captured, Qorin asks Jon to betray him when the time comes so that he may infiltrate the Wildling camp and learn their secrets. Jon reluctantly agrees, and when they are cornered, Qorin fights him and lets him win. Jon is now a prisoner of the Wildlings and is reunited with a young Wildling woman that he met and set free earlier. She convinces Rayner to take Jon in, as he himself was once a Black Brother who defected.

Back in Winterfell, Theon finds himself with his back to the wall when Robb dispatches one of his bannermen and an army to remove the Iron Men from Winterfell. All hope seems lost to him, when a new force enters the field and saves his butt. It seems that one of the sellswords who joined him earlier was in fact the Bastard of Bolton, a usurper who fell into disfavor with Robb’s men and was imprisoned in Winterfell. When Theon set him free, he returned to his home, took up the cities army, and returned to save him. However, he quickly betrays Theon, kills him, and orders Winterfell razed…

Strengths/Weaknesses:
As I said before, this book packs some serious action into its binding! After much build-up in the first, the climactic battle of King’s Landing takes place, and it was quite unclear how things were going to go… In fact, much of the book is unpredictable. One gets the impression that the Lannisters are bound to lose well up until the battle finally takes place. In addition, the fate of House Stark is something which is tenuous at best. As always, one can’t get too emotionally attached where the characters of George R.R. Martin is concerned. They tend to die suddenly and haphazardly. However, unlike in book I, none of the major characters die off, just the supporting cast. This I would consider a strength considering that I tend to get sour when people I like get killed!

That being said, there were a number of inexplicable plot twists in this book, so many that it began to feel a little contrived after awhile. For starters, the battle of King’s Landing suddenly turns when all hope seems lost. In itself, that was a pretty good twist, but there were many like it. When it came to the rivalry between Renly and Stannis, it seemed apparent that Renly was destined to win, but then he’s suddenly killed by Melisandre’s shadow, thus completely turning the tide. And then there’s the part where Theon Greyjoy is defending Winterfell. Everything seems said and done when at the last moment, he is saved by the intervention of the Bastard of Bolton, only to then be killed! That’s three major plot twists in one book, and the last one was like a… a compound twist! Kind of grows thin after awhile.

In addition, like all the books in the series, the story can become drawn out and emotionally taxing. It seems that despite whatever hopes the reader might have for a satisfactory resolution, the plot threads just seem destined to go on and on. Whether its Tyrion, Arya, Sansa, Robb, Catelyn, or John, it seems that they are just destined to suffer and endure more and more in the way of bad news. Unless of course the character dies suddenly, but that too is emotionally taxing for the reader! Just once, I would have liked for a character who I sympathize with to be able to put their feet up and say, “Whew! That was tough, but we got through it! Time to relax…”

However, this makes for a more respectable and realistic read all around. More than anything, the book conveys a genuine sense of desperation and discomfort, which is fitting since its about a civil war. These things are not comfortable, especially in a medieval setting! They are dirty, painful, bloody and festering, and the innocent constantly suffer. In all fairness, my feelings on this last note could be the result of the fact that I’m still reading the series, and after four books, all the war and death can get exhausting. However, this does not take away from this particular novel. It’s still awesome, and a very good follow-up to the first. My advice, check it out and then catch the miniseries. That way, you’ll have a frame of reference!

Check out the trailer:
GOT Season 2 Teaser Trailer (Youtube)

Game of Thrones

Or as its known by its literary name, A Song of Fire and Ice. This is the series which inspired the recent HBO series, named after the first novel in the series, and which is apparently destined to keep that name for the duration of the show. After watching the first season, I was inspired to pick up the second book, then I was inspired to buy the Kindle set of all four books. And then the author George RR Martin released the fifth book in the series and two more are planned… Wow. I tell ya, this series could go on forever! But apparently, that’s the thing about these books. As many fans have told me, his work is expected to take the same route as Wheel of Time. Aptly named, because it just keeps rolling on and on and on…

But I digress. A while back I decided I would tackle this series and give it a full review. Having loved the miniseries, I sought to delve into the source material and get a sense of what it was all about. And of course, I wanted to see where the story was going and what would come of all the characters, and I was quite pleased. While Martin’s notorious characteristics as a writer – his level of detail, his willingness to kill of main characters, his ability to really flesh out a storyline – were all abundantly apparent in later installments, I also found examples of his strengths in abundance. These included, but were not limited to, his ability to create rich, engrossing worlds, his drawing on historical sources, his ability to make readers emphasize and identify with characters, and his ability to keep people guessing. I tell ya, nothing about these stories seems predictable! The downside of that last aspect is, people keep dying, and not always the ones you hope will! But in the plus column, it keeps the reader on their toes!

Down to specifics: George RR Martin was already famous before writing A Song of Fire and Ice. During the 1980’s, he worked in Hollywood as a writer for such shows as The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. His early fantasy novel, The Ice Dragon, became a best-selling children’s novel. However, it was with A Game of Thrones and subsequent novels that his fame as a fantasy author was cemented, earning him the nickname, “The American Tolkien”. This is an appropriate description, given the fact that the depth and breadth of his fantasy novels are rivaled by only The Lord of the Rings. Several differences have been noted, however. For starters, his stories are much more gritty and realistic. Fantasy elements – that is to say, supernatural things like magic, dragons and mythical creatures – appear sparingly and only as the story progresses. And, as I’ve already mentioned twice, he kills his main characters! In short, Martin’s books revolve around realistic human characters and their goings on, with all the sex, violence, betrayal and intrigue that that entails!

The world of George RR Martin is a fictitious world set in a medieval period, hence why it falls into the genre of medieval fantasy. In this world, something transpired long ago known as “The Doom”, which has had the effect of making the seasons longer. Summer and Winter, for reasons no one can explain, last years instead of months. The coming of winter is a time of fear since it means that the White Walkers, a supernatural force from the frozen north, will be returning to threaten the Seven Kingdoms. As the story opens, a particularly long summer is coming to an end, and in the north, dark forces appear to be on the move. Further south, throughout the land known as Westeros, King Robert “the Usurper” is facing a conspiracy within his own Kingdom which could lead to another civil war (the last one is what made him king). Meanwhile, on the nearby continent of Essos, the exiled Targaryens are plotting their return to Westeros. The deposed heir, Viserys Targaryen, is planning on marrying his sister, Daenerys, to a Dothraki warlord named Khal Drogo. This marriage, he hopes, will provide him with the army he needs to return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne.

The first novel thusly opens with these three story lines and ends with all three being poised on a cliffhanger note. At the Wall in the north, the giant ice-barrier that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the north, the Wildlings are apparently fleeing their villages, prompting the Night’s Watch to go and investigate. When only one man returns, he claims to have witness White Walkers, but is executed for desertion. Meanwhile, Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and head of House Stark, is visited by King Robert, the man he helped become king. Robert needs a new Hand of the King, seeing as how his old one, Lord John Arryn, has died suddenly. Ned agrees and travels to King’s Landing to take up the role, and quickly become privy to the conspiracy that took his predecessor. Meanwhile, on the continent, Viserys succeeds in wedding his sister to Khal Drogo, an arrangement which begins to backfire on him when he realizes that Drogo and Daenerys are actually falling in love with each other, and are perhaps planning on cutting him out of the deal.

(Spoiler alert!): Things come together as John Snow, Lord Eddard’s bastard son, joins the Night’s Watch and begins to witness for himself what is happening the North. An attack by wights, the resurrected bodies of people killed by White Walkers, begin attacking the Wall itself. After his own uncle fails to return from a patrol beyond the Wall, Lord Mormont prepares a campaign to go north in force and meet the threat head on. For John, this means turning his back on the troubles of his family to the south. When news reaches him that his father might be in danger and his half-brothers riding to war, he is tempted to desert and ride to their aide. But as a sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch, he is bound by honor to serve until death, even at the expense of his true family.

At King’s Landing, Eddard soon uncovers the conspiracy that claimed the life of John Arryn and even involves an assassination attempted on his own son. It seems that the Queen, Cersei Lannister, is engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, who is one of Robert’s Kingsgaurd. Before he can inform King Robert, Robert is crippled during a hunting expedition and dies shortly thereafter. Eddard is forced to move quickly to ensure that Joffrey, Cersei’s eldest son, does not take the throne. However, his attempts are thwarted when Lord Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin, betrays him to the Queen. Eddard is executed by the brutal and stupid Joffrey, and his daughter – Sansa, who was betrothed to him – is now his hostage. Ned’s youngest daughter, Arya, escapes with the help of a Night’s Watch brother who disguises her as a boy recruit, and they travel north together. In response to his father’s death Ned’s oldest son, Robb Stark, declares war on the king and mobilizes every house in the north to march on King’s Landing. They are joined from forces to the far south, led by Robert’s brothers, Renly and Stannis who were next in line to the throne. However, rather than declare their fealty to either of Robert’s brothers, Robb’s bannerman declare him “King in the North”, using this war as a pretext to declare independence from the south.

On the continent, Drogo and Daenerys fall in love and she learns that she is pregnant with his heir. This, plus the fact that his sister is able to stand up to him now, leads Viserys to force the issue with Drogo. During a feast, a drunken Viserys threatens Drogo by declaring that he’s taking his sister back and will cut his son to be right out of her belly. Unless of course he gets what he wants, which is the golden crown he covets. Drogo responds by having his men break Viserys’ arm and then hold him down while he prepares a pot of molten gold which he proceeds to pour on Viserys’ head. His promise of “a golden crown” is thus fulfilled! Free of her abusive brother, Daenerys tries to convince Drogo to take the Iron Throne for their son, but Drogo is reluctant, until a would-be assassin sent by Robert’s court tries to poison Daenerys. Enraged, Drogo declares that he will conquer and ravage Westeros, but unfortunately succumbs to a festering wound during combat with one of his own men. Daenerys tries to save him using a slave’s witchcraft, but is betrayed and loses her son as well. Most of the Dothraki move on, and she is left with just a small host, her advisor Jorah Mormont, and the dragon’s eggs he gave her as a wedding gift. When she burns Drogo on a funeral pyre, she walks into the flames with the eggs, and miraculously survives! The Dragonborn, which all Targaryens are said to descend from, are immune to fire, and the eggs hatch to become the first dragons the world has seen in generations. Mormont and her host declare their loyalty to her, the true Dragonborn, and plot to reclaim Westeros with her!

Thus ends book I. And as I said, one can see the influence of real at work almost right away. On the one hand, Westeros is clearly styled on the British Isles, its northern/southern divide clearly an allegory for the divide between the English south, and the Scottish North. The Wall is clearly analogous to Hadrian’s Wall, the barrier that kept the “northern barbarians” at bay during the Roman occupation of Britain, and which serves a similar function in the book. The continent of Essos is also a clear reference to the European mainland, the Dothraki styled on the Huns or Mongols (invading horsemen from the East), whereas the free cities and slave cities are inspired by Asia Minor and its vast, ancient metropolises (more on that in book II). And of course, the royal intrigue, the very concept of the “Game of Thrones” – a reference to the never ending fight to claim the crown – is a fitting rendition of the actual royal intrigues taken from medieval history. Much like real wars of succession, it is loaded with secret alliances, plots, backstabbing, and of course, bloody civil war.

And the miniseries did a very good job of adapting all this to television. Naturally, any adaptation of Martin’s work would be hard pressed to adapt all the interwoven storylines, detail and events that characterize his writing. Still, the HBO miniseries did a pretty good job of getting all the relevant info in, making time for secondary perspectives without moving too far away from the main characters. And of course, there was the shocking scene where Eddard Stark is killed, much to the chagrin of television audiences who don’t expect main characters to die. Yes, that was masterfully done too. I myself was appalled and even angry at first, but respected them all the more for doing it. It’s what’s in the book and you can’t go changing major elements just because the audience might object. I hope they keep this in mind come season two. Rumor has it Jason Momoa is hoping they’ll bring Drogo back from the dead. Clearly he hasn’t read the books!

Furthermore, the casting was SUPERB! Sean Bean, a man who brings a touch of awesomeness to just about everything he does, was perfect as Eddard Stark. Mark Addy was also superb as King Robert, capturing his pudgy, teddy bear exterior and his bitter, angry personality! Lena Headey, of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles and 300 fame, achieved a sort of perfection in the role of Cersei. I’m telling you, you seriously think she’s an evil bitch after seeing her in this, a tribute to her acting talent! Jason Momoa, who went on to play Conan in the remake of the Schwarzenegger classic, fit the bill perfectly as Khal Drogo. He was brutish, strong, manly and scary, but also endearing and loving at times. A good thing too, since the Conan remake kind of sucked! Emilia Clarke, a relative newcomer to the acting scene, was nevertheless very convincing as Daenarys, capturing both her frailty and quiet strength quite well. And last, but certainly not least, was Peter Dinklage, who played the role of the dwarf Tyrion Lannister to absolute perfection! Seriously, this guy has the best lines of the entire series as the rude, crude, but brilliant and bawdy black sheep of the Lannister clan. You love him, love to hate him, and sympathize with him, even when you’re shaking his head at his antics!

The rest of the cast, which is just too extensive to mention, was similarly awesome. Understandable given the fact that most of them are classically trained actors, people who cut their teeth doing Shakespeare and are therefore accustomed to performing epic roles. I wish I could do them all justice, but like I said, too many to count! I hope its enough just to say they were awesome!

And like most fans of the book and miniseries, I can’t wait for season two. The book was quite spectacular, picking up where book I one left off with war on the horizon and major battle in the works. And word is, cast and crew had a real hard time adapting the damn thing, it was just so epic in scope! But that only ensures that the outcome is likely to be that much more awesome to behold! A Game of Thrones, everybody. Read it, watch it, and then read book II because the series will be back soon! Not soon enough…

Stay tuned for my review of book II, A Clash of Kings, coming up next!