Game of Thrones (Season 2 Ep.8)

Quite exciting! It’s no fun being sick as a dog, but one benefit is that it gives you plenty of time to catch up on your TV shows and post about them. And that’s precisely what I did today. After some writing, intermixed with coughing and hacking, I managed to catch up on my GOT!

And I was pretty enthused. Last episode, I had a few gripes about the changes they had made from the original text. Yeah, most were just fine, better really since they avoided some convoluted plot twists or needless events.

But there was one, the capture of John Snow by the Wildlings, that I couldn’t quite see the wisdom of. That represented a big changeover from the text, and I wondered how they planned on resolving it with this episode. And wouldn’t you know it, they did it again! I guess the writers really do know what they’re doing with this one.

Alas, they still managed to change some other things, much to my chagrin. Now I got to wait another week to what happens with that. They sure know how to keep audiences in suspense, damn them! Anyhoo, the recap!

The Prince of Winterfell:
The episode begins with Theon at Winterfell, where his sister arrives with her kinsmen from Moat Cailin to tell him no help is coming. His father has taken exception to his seizure of Winterfell, and his execution (staged, of course) of the Stark children. Rather than withdraw as ordered, Theon opts to stay and fight, even though it will mean certain death.

At Harrenhal, Arya loses her chance to kill Tywin Lannister when he decides to take advantage of the lull in the war and ride south to assist King’s Landing. She meets with Jaqen and arranges a new plan. In exchange for her not naming him as her third victim, he will help them escape. Jaqen honors his promise and kills the guards holding the gate at night. Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie escape!

Meanwhile, Robb returns to his camp to learn that his mother has set Jaime free. He is outraged and orders his mother put under guard. Shortly thereafter, he and Talis finally give into their feelings for each other and get it on! This will naturally cause problems, since Robb is compelled to follow his heart and dishonor his betrothement to the Freys. And of course, Brienne continues south with Jaime, who is driving her nuts and actively planning his escape.

At King’s Landing, Tyrion and Cersei continue to play their little game of cloak and dagger. She plans to blackmail him by seizing the woman she thinks is his whore, but Tyrion sees that she has the wrong woman. He goes to Shae and tells her they must be more careful from now on. However, more pressing is the coming siege of King’s Landing, which is only two days away!

And of course, John Snow faces capture in the North. Interestingly enough, so has Qorin Halfhand, the only remaining ranger in their group. He tells John that he must make up for his failure, and plans to do it by setting John up as a defector. On person who seems interested in this is Ygritte, who has saved his life already by claiming Rayder wants to interrogate him.

Good Points and Bad:
Okay, good stuff first since that is where I left off. Last time, I was wondering how they would resolve the little issue of how John and Qorin were supposed to be captured together, but only after John swore to him that if they were taken prisoner, he’d do what he had to to infiltrate the Wildling’s camp.

Well it seems they came up with a solution for that, probably had it in mind from the beginning. After being captured, John discovers that they took Qorin as well, thanks to the trail he left chasing Ygritte. Feeling guilty for this failure, Qorin decides to tell John that he must defect in order to make up for it. He begins denouncing John in front of the other Wildlings to make his eventual defection seem realistic.

Now the bad stuff, though it really doesn’t amount to much. Again, they made a change, but in this case it was more of an omission and possibly a delay. In the story, like the miniseries, Cersei overplayed her hand with Tyrion when she brought whom she thought was “his whore” forward. Tyrion repayed this by letting her know that she had the wrong woman and the men who she thought were working for her are in his employ. She is pissed, but can do scarcely anything about it.

However, here we see Tyrion play along and leave to find Shae, who he then tells to be careful. Seems wise, didn’t want to let her know she’s missed with her ploy, but unless they show this later, it constitutes a big omission, and this stuff is kind of important. No spoilers, but it does set up something that happens during and after the big siege.

Speaking of which, the stage is now set for that to happen! Stannis and his forces are two days away, the preparations continue, and Tywin Lannister is riding south to drum up what support he can for the defense. What’s more, the Lord of Bones was introduced – very nice by the way! – and John’s “defection” and his relationship with Ygritte stand to be developed further. I’m intrigued and looking forward to the climax. Not to keen on the long wait for season three though!

 

Game of Thrones (Season 2 Ep. 7)

Back with the lastest in Game of Thrones Season 2! As I finished with saying last time, it is by this latest episode in the series that the differences between book and series become most apparent. These were not a bad thing, mind you. But they did hint at a sort of pattern this time around.

Episode 7: A Man Without Honor:
Theon begins looking for the escaped children, but to no avail. He decides to stage their deaths and sends news to Robb in the south. Daenerys begins looking for her dragons, only to find that she’s in the middle of a plot launched by Xaro and the Undying to seize control of Qarth. Robb travels from his encampment with Talisa to deliver his terms to the enemy, leaving Jaime behind to attempt his escape.

Meanwhile, war is on its way to King’s Landing. Tyrion and Cersei worry about Joffrey’s ability to lead. Sansa meanwhile reaches womanhood and is terrified that she must now bear Joffrey’s children. While trying to make his way back to their encampment, John Snow is taken captive by the Wildlings.

Good Points and Bad:
In short, the big threads from episodes 5 and 6 come together and the divergences really become clear. To break them down succinctly: Robb never left his encampment to deliver terms, thus giving Jaime a chance to escape. Nor did he kill his cousin in order to make this happen. To top it off, Catelyn did not let him go to keep the peace in the camp while Robb was away. All this happens quite differently in the text.

Robb is off on campaign, his romance happens off-camera, and he returns to learn that Catelyn has set Jaime and his cousin go with Brienne because the (fake) news of her son’s deaths has shaken her terribly. She wants her daughters back and is even willing to trust Jaime at his word, and Brienne to deliver him and bring her daughters back. And, as said before, this all took place at Riverrun, not in some encampment along the way.

Second, John did not get lost in the wilderness with Ygritte only to get captured by the Wildlings. He let her go, returned to his camp, and was only taken prisoner after they caught a glimpse of Mance Rayder’s forces and were overtaken. Before that, Qorin made John promise to allow himself to be taken and learn what he could about their plans. By being taken prisoner against his will, the subplot about John’s supposed defection is now gone.

Last, but not least, there was no plot by Xaro to take over Qarth. Nor was there any attempt to steal her dragons to lure into the House of the Undying. She accepted the invite and went in, and Xaro’s plot never went beyond offering her marriage. Clearly, they were trying to sex this plot line up since there really wasn’t much going in the book compared to the other threads. But this constitutes a major addition, not just a change.

Out of all this, I can see where things are going: John will now be a captive in the Wildlings camp and have to convince them he’s willing to betray his brothers. This was already present in the text, but part of what made it convincing was the fact that John had made a promise to Qorin. What’s more, Qorin died in a staged fight between them, which means they’ll have to find another way to kill him off in the show.

Daenerys plot thread will pretty much resolve itself given what happens next (no spoilers!), but this still feels like a major divergence. And the changes involving Jaime, Robb, and Catelyn will also re-converge with the set storyline easily enough, just the particulars have changed. For example, now it will just be Brienne and Jaime travelling south, which is fine considering that his cousin dies in transit anyway.

So aside from some necessary rescripting, the makers are still being faithful to spirit of the books, if not the word. What’s more, I find myself approving of some of the changes they’ve made. It honestly seems like the writers were looking for more plausible resolutions and explanations in a number of cases, not to mention opportunities to flesh out things which only get mentioned in the text.

And of course, the big battle at King’s Landing is still yet to come. Ohhhh, so exciting!

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 😉

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!

Game of Thrones is back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!