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Chapters 61 - 68, Appendix, and final thoughts
Chapter 61: SansaLancel enters the ballroom and tells Cersei that they've lost the battle. Cersei coldly tells him to raise the drawbridge, and not worry about the ladies who went to pray; they've decided to rely on gods, so perhaps the gods will protect them. Joffrey has apparently returned to the castle, and Cersei goes to see him. The remaining ladies get scared, and Sansa stands up and tries to calm them down with news that the king is safe. She actually does a pretty good job of it, showing that she's absorbed quite a bit of political and social acumen from her captivity; this one scene illustrates how far she's come since the first book, where she was every centimetre a proper lady. Lancel is wounded, so Sansa has him brought to Maester Frenken, and is disappointed that she's so soft and weak that she spares a Lannister instead of having him die. When Cersei doesn't return for a while, Dontos advises her that she'll be safer in her own bedchamber, so she takes his advice and goes there. She finds Sandor, drunk, in her bed, and he demands that song she promised him. Sansa, panicked at finding a fierce, monstrous giant of a man drunk in her bed, forgets all the songs she knows except a hymn of praise to the Mother, so she sings that. Sandor grumbles and leaves, apparently running away; Sansa sleeps on the floor, using his white cloak for a blanket. The next morning, Dontos brings her word that, to everyone's surprise, the loyalists have won. It seems that, just when the battle was at its lowest point, Renly arrived with all his infantry, as well as the forces of Highgarden, which is the seat of House Tyrell. OK, so we the readers know what really happened; Littlefinger succeeded in getting Margaery betrothed to Joffrey, and so Loras led Renly's infantry to join in the fight against Stannis. Also, in a quite horribly upsetting diabolus ex machina, Tywin arrived at the same time with the other two Lannister armies. Oh, crap. So now Joffrey has a great big army on his side, which includes two of the greatest knights on the continent, and Stannis has been smashed. It's all up to Robb and Edmure now to bring justice to the land. Or maybe Daenerys can pull that off.
Chapter 62: DaenerysDaenerys is at the Qarth harbour, trying to hire a ship with which to flee, but is having little luck. Ever since she burned the Undying Ones, everyone in the general area wants to control her, and since she refused all of Xaro's offers of marriage, he has been demanding she refund him for all the gifts he donated. To make matters worse, none of the captains they meet are willing to carry her entire retinue; some don't like Dothraki, some are afraid of dragons accidentally setting fire to the ship, and some simply demand too high a price. Also, she is being followed by two suspicious-looking men. A sorrowful man tries to assassinate her with a manticore, which apparently fits inside a box that can be carried in the palm of one's hand. One of Dany's stalkers kills it, proving that they mean her no harm. They introduce themselves as Arstan, AKA Whitebeard, a former squire from the Seven Kingdoms and now servant of Magister Illyrio; and Strong Belwas, a gladiator from Meereen who was bought by Illyrio as a slave and to whom Belwas has been assigned as a bodyguard. Whitebeard reports that Robert is dead and the Seven Kingdoms now have four kings vying for dominance. The empire needs Daenerys to restore order, and Illyrio intends to help. By the power of deus ex machina, he has sent three ships to carry Dany and her retinue to Pentos. Dany thinks this is what the Undying Ones said when they told her that the dragon has three heads. Dany agrees to set sail with Belwas and Whitebeard, but orders that their ships be renamed the Vhagar, Meraxes, and Balerion to let everyone know that the dragon has returned. One thing was clarified for me in this chapter: Back when I described Dany's visions in the sorcerers' building, I said that Aegon the dragonknight was assigned the song of ice and fire, WHICH IS IMPORTANT! Actually, that was Daenerys' elder brother, Rhaegar. Woopsie. The existence of basilisks is mentioned here, as one of them is apparently fighting a dog. Manticores apparently also exist, and are incredibly venomous, but they can fit in the palm of one's hand somehow. And now Daenerys is set to return to the Seven Kingdoms, but based on discussion I've seen on the Internet, I doubt she'll arrive before the last chapter of The Winds of Winter.
Chapter 63: AryaArya has proven unpopular due to her releasing the captives, and thus playing a key part in wresting Harrenhal from the Lannisters. The sluttier girls, who gave the pleasure of their vaginas to the Lannister soldiers, have been stripped naked and put in stocks, to be raped by any Stark supporter who happens to be a bit horny. That's pretty horrible, and I guess is intended to show that even the good guys have some right assholes on their side. Gendry is also annoyed. One thing I forgot to mention a big chunk of the book back was that he enjoyed living in Harrenhal. His master was a decent enough man, and he didn't particularly care who he was making swords for as long as he got to put in an honest day's work. Now, his master has been beheaded, and he blames Arya. Ouch. Rorge and Biter have joined the Bloody Mummers, who are roaming the countryside looking for anyone who supported the Lannisters. Since they had recently been looking for opponents of the Lannisters, Vargo Hoat has hit upon the ingenious tactic of simply going to all the villages he had previous visited and arresting anyone who helped him the last time, and also confiscating the money they had been paid. Oh, and Biter is a cannibal. Rorge becomes friends with Septon Urswyck, a paedophile, and seems to be a paedophile himself. Arya brings up a bucket of water to Lord Roose Bolton, who is receiving one of the regular leechings which he believes grants him good health. She overhears a bit of discussion of tactics, and when Roose's advisors leave, she pulls the leeches off. Roose wants to go on defying Joffrey, but his war council advises that they're better off persuading Robb that their war is unwinnable, and he should bend the knee and acknowledge Joffrey as the true king. No agreement is reached. After that, Arya goes to bring Roose his supper, and asks him if he intends to being her with him when he returns to the Dreadfort. Roose is annoyed at such impertinence, but decides to tell her that no, he is going to make Vargo Hoat a lord and give him Harrenhal as his seat; Arya will remain there to serve him. Arya is disgusted by this, and takes her leave. That night, she goes to wake Gendry and beg him to break out some weapons so they can flee. Gendry doesn't want to, but starts to seriously consider it when she says Vargo will cut off all his servants' feet to keep them from running away. Arya goes to get three horses, claiming they are for Roose, and that he does not like to be questioned by servants. She leads them close to the gate, where Gendry and Hot Pie are waiting with some weapons and food. Arya goes and slits the throat of the watchman, and the three ride off. Arya has become a killer. She's changed somewhat from the beginning of the series, where she wanted to fight gloriously and use a sword like the best of them, but I don't think she had really considered the implications of this. Here, however, she has tasted blood, and liked it. It started when Jaqen gave her three free murders. Sure, she didn't pierce anyone's skin, but she basically used Jaqen as her personal weapon, and so was directly responsibly for the deaths of Chiswyck, Weese, and the guards in the dungeon. Jaqen himself pointed that out when he wiped the guards' blood on her shift. Now, she personally kills a guard, using a weapon she herself holds. This has the potential to get quite disturbing. She has also been developing some quite clever assassination skills. As well as how to kill a person, she has learned how to be sneaky, how to avoid attracting attention, and even how to hide and plain sight and use attention focused upon her to mask her true intentions. I doubt she'll ever be a knight, but, well, a career in assassination does look quite plausible at this point.
Chapter 64: SansaSansa watches a ceremony as Joffrey rewards those who served well and punishes his traitors and enemies. First up, Tywin is appointed Hand of the King. Next come the Tyrells:
- Loras is granted a spot on the Kingsguard.
- Mace is appointed to the small council.
- Garlan asks that he marry Margaery. It is mentioned that since Renly died before he and Margaery could consummate their marriage, she is still a virgin.
Chapter 65: TheonSer Rodrik surrounds Winterfell with forces loyal to Robb. Theon assembles his men and says he won't force anyone to remain, and those who do want to stay and fight need only step forwards. Seventeen do so. Theon realises that, even though Winterfell is a great castle, he'll never be able to hold it with just 17, so he goes out to meet Rodrik and threatens to hang his infant daughter if he doesn't disperse his army by sunset. Theon tries to draw a parallel between this and being taken from his own home, though Rodrik points out quite correctly that that was completely different. Back in the castle, Theon realises that if he kills Beth, Rodrik will have nothing to lose, and attack; if he doesn't, Rodrik will see his threat was empty, and attack. Luwin suggests Theon join the Night's Watch. Theon thinks on it, and thinks he will lose all his land, glory, and sex; but, on the other hand, he will live, will be able to gain some honour, and might even get to captain a ship if he's stationed at Eastwatch. Also, since Eddard was always a friend of the Watch, Rodrik would allow him to do so. Theon is just about to surrender when the Reek rides up to Rodrik's army with a force of Bolton men. They initially appear as friends, but then suddenly turn on Rodrik's forces and kill the lot of them. Reek rides in and dumps the heads of a bunch of Robb's most loyal supporters on the floor, and then announces that he's taking Winterfell, thank you very much. He also reveals that he isn't actually the Reek - he's Ramsay Bolton, Roose's bastard, and he swapped places with Reek when Rodrik's men came upon them as Reek was necrophiliating the corpse of a woman Ramsay had just shagged. Wow. That's pretty shocking. Theon denies him Winterfell, so Ramsay and his men go and kill everybody. Hoo boy. That was surprising. I absolutely did not expect that to happen. What with this and the way Roose has acted, the Boltons get up to some pretty pooped up squawk. Also, Theon gets hit with a heel face door slam. Poor guy.
Chapter 66: TyrionTyrion endures a series of fever dreams and delirious hallucinations as Cersei tries to keep him drugged and asleep permanently. Eventually, he awakens to find a new maester, by the name of Ballabar, about to give him some more opium. Tyrion refuses it, then discovers his face is covered in tight bandages, and demands that Ballabar remove it. When he does, Tyrion sees that he has a massive gash across his face, and has lost 75% of his nose, but at least it's no longer infected. Ballabar fills him in on recent events, and tells him that since Tywin is now Hand of the King, Tyrion has been moved into a room over the Queen's Ballroom. Tyrion summons Podrik Payne, the only person truly loyal to him, and ponders what to do. Oh, man. Tyrion's in a bloody mess, in every sense of the word. He did his best to help both family and the peasants, and he gets repaid with being beaten, smashed, gashed, and neglected, his titles and authority stripped from him, and all the glory goes to those who arrived at the eleventh hour to mop up a weakened army while he, who led the assault from the start, is deliberately forgotten about and shoved into a corner somewhere by his family, who are ashamed of his presence. That. Fucking. Sucks.
Chapter 67: JonIn chronological order, Ebben stays back to hold off the northmen. Stonesnake's horse is injured, so he goes over the mountain on foot, hoping to reach Jeor Mormont ahead of time. Now, it's just Qhorin, Jon, and Ghost. They light a fire to warm themselves, and Qhorin gives Jon a new order. If Qhorin should die, Jon is to yield to the northmen, forsake his oaths before them, and join them in order to find out what it is they're planning. When he has a good idea, he can report back to the Watch. Sure, it may not be honourable, but it's a damn sight more useful and effective than going down fighting. The two then retreat, Qhorin saying the fire will lead the wildlings away. They go through a tunnel behind a waterfall, but when they emerge, they find that eagle looking straight at them, and a group of wildlings coming up behind. They are led by a guy named Rattleshirt, so called because he wears armour composed entirely of bones he has salvaged, and who has just killed Ebben. Ygritte is also among them. Rattleshirt orders them killed, and Jon blurts out that they yield. Qhorin remains defiant. Ygritte says that their eagle is the man that Jon killed earlier. Jon insists he wants to join the wild men, so they force him to prove his desire and prowess by killing Qhorin. Jon manages to do so with Ghost's help, and the wildlings welcome him in, though Rattleshirt is annoyed that he didn't get to kill Halfhand. Still, the group takes Jon in, and Jon realises that Qhorin was well aware it would come to this, and died willingly to let Jon infiltrate the enemy. Ygritte informs him, with a bit if melancholy, that Mance Rayder is already marching south, and is by now at the Milkwater. Dun dun DUUUUUN! Qhorin is officially the most heroic character of all time. Knowing he would die, he gave his life so that his comrades would have a chance to improve their own odds of defeating their enemies. That is truly noble and epically awesome.
Chapter 68: BranOnce again, we start in the wolf dream. Summer and Shaggydog prowl the woods, and see Winterfell burning. A dragon, flying in the sky, breathes fire down upon it. The Bran wakes up. Apparently, he's figured out how to use his psychic powers, and can go into Summer whenever he wants. He's been doing that for days at a time, because living as an awesome direwolf absolutely owns being a wee cripple, and Jojen worries about him. He has also apparently also managed to touch Ghost, which is why Jon had that freaky-ass dream up north. Bran and his companions have been hiding out in the Stark family tomb and being very quiet. Bran says that Winterfell has been completely burned, so they decide to go have a look; if nothing else, they're running low on food. They find the castle a smoking ruin, completely abandoned except for ravens and a stray dog. Osha, Meera, and Jojen lift some food, and then they all find Luwin in the godswood. Luwin has been severely injured and is alive, but just barely. He says he knew the boys Theon brought back weren't really Bran and Rickon as the elder's legs were too heavily muscled, and he tells them that everybody's dead. Then he dies. Osha thinks they should flee, and based on Luwin's advice, split up Bran and Rickon so as to present less of a target. Bran goes north with Meera, Jojen, and Hodor, while Osha takes Rickon who knows where. And so the book ends with every member of the Stark family alone and in a different place. Rickon has just Osha and Shaggydog for company, and he's going far away from Bran. Bran gets Jojen, Meera, Hodor, and Summer, and they're going north, but for what reason nobody knows. Arya has only Gendry and Hot Pie with her, and we all know how good they are in a fight. The three have a map that Arya swiped from Roose, but they really have no idea where to go next, only a vague notion that they should leave Harrenhal. Sansa is in a court that is at best ambivalent towards her, at worst hostile. Sure, she can technically talk to people, but the only person she can trust is Dontos, and he's a drunk. Catelyn is among friends and family at Riverrun, but her depression and increasing cynicism are driving people away and sending her down into a black pit of despair, from which she can only reach out to Brienne. As for Robb, he's off fighting the war, but we don't know who with, and a whole lot of his supporters were recently killed by Ramsay Bolton. Still, at least things can't get much worse for them right? Wait, who am I kidding. This is George RR Martin. Of course things can get a lot worse.
AppendixBasically a list of all the characters, plus some of their families. One thing to note here is Elmar Frey. Arya speaks to him in his last chapter. He boasts that since he's so awesome, he's going to marry a princess. Arya mocks him as a loser, and hopes his princess dies. The appendix notes that Arya is the princess he is to marry. I think that was stated in the first book, but it was so long ago, and there are so many characters with an awfully complicated web of relationships that I quite forgot about it. Heh, dramatic irony.
MagicSomething I noticed, which I mentioned in one of my previous posts, is that magic has been much more frequent in this book than in the last one. In book 1, there is precisely one magic spell, and it goes awry. Then the dragons hatch at the end. Book 2 follows on from this. Since dragons are linked to magic, what magic does exist in the world becomes stronger, as we see when the alchemists are able to produce their napalm far faster than they initially estimated. As well as that, the overall frequency of magic use has increased significantly, and characters even talk about magic a lot more, all of which is linked in with the dragons. I feel like there is a theme here of recapturing what has been lost. Maester Luwin tells Bran that perhaps magic was a great force in the distant past, but now the dragons are gone, magic has faded to oblivion, and, in the words of Stephen King, the world has moved on. But now magic is back, and it's used for terrible things; Melisandre in particular went from hot and sexy to creepy and disturbing in the space of a few paragraphs halfway through the book. However, there are good things to come out of the magic as well; the evil spirits that haunted Qarth have been destroyed, and that firemage was able to put on a very impressive show, plus Bran and Jon have been having prophetic dreams and communing with wolves. The world actually seems to be healing, and returning to a previous state of wonder and marvels.
LanguageFor whatever reason, Martin used a lot of British slang in this book that was completely absent from the previous one. Specifically, characters use bugger a lot, and refer to the gluteus maximus as an arse. I think this was part of an effort to represent the way English speakers talked in the Middle Ages, but it's a bit odd to see such words alongside colour and honour spelt the American way. And before you say anything, I am well aware that there was no standardised spelling in the Middle Ages, and English people really did spell words like that in what is today the American way, and in other ways besides. I don't care. This book was written in a time when standardised spelling does exist, though the standards in America are different to everywhere else; as such, a sentence like "I'd be honored to bugger your colorful arse" just looks strange to me.
What is the sing of ice and fire?This book gave us several instances of the phrase "ice and fire", which seems to have something to do with the way the overall plot is going to go, based on the title of the series as a whole. I'm going to take a stab at working out what it might mean. Melisandre's religion, which resembles Zoroastrianism, posits the existence of two gods of equal power and opposite alignment. R'hllor is the god of light, fire, heat, and goodness, while the Great Other is the god of darkness, cold, ice, and evil. However, the actions of Melisandre and Jaqen H'gar do not paint R'hllor in a very positive light, so it's unlikely that he is a truly good entity, if he exists. The Targaryen family is heavily associated with fire. They conquered five of the seven kingdoms with dragons, using their fire breath to destroy their enemies, and now Daenerys has the last three dragons in the world. One of them, Drogon, used his fire breath to destroy the Undying Ones of Qarth, and the mere existence of Daenerys' dragons was sufficient to increase the power of the firemages and the efficiency of napalm production. Furthermore, even after the dragons temporarily went extinct, the Targaryens still used fire extensively, being very find of napalm as a weapon of war, and Aerys II considered fire to be the true champion of his House, such that he challenged Brandon's father to defeat it if he wanted to live. The Starks, by contrast, are strongly associated with ice. They govern the northernmost part of the Seven Kingdoms, which is the coldest region, full of ice, and where it sometimes snows even in summer. Their banner is a direwolf, an animal that thrives in a cold climate, and all of Eddard's children were given a direwolf puppy when the series began. Each has (or had) a strong personal connection to their direwolf, perhaps even of a similar nature to that which Daenerys has to her dragons. There are other connections between the Stark family and ice. Most of the Starks worship the old gods, which are also worshipped by the northmen, who live in an even colder region of the island. Eddard's greatsword is named Ice. Bastards in the Starks' domain are given the surname Snow, snow being just a particular form of ice, and it's interesting to note that Jon Snow's direwolf is as white as snow. It's also worth noting that Jon and Daenerys have their own subplots which are mostly seperate from the bulk of the action, Daenerys due to geography, Jon due to vows. According to a review I happened to read of A Dance with Dragons, the two of them face similar problems of some sort in the fifth book, further hammering home how they are juxtaposed. So here's what I think is going on. Fire refers to the Targaryens, to dragons, and to Lightbringer, which Daenerys will wield as Azor Ahai. Ice refers to the Starks, to direwolves, and to the sword named Ice, which Robb will regain before the end of the series. Robb will rebuild Winterfell and keep control of the northern part of the island and its people. Book 6 will end with Daenerys' fleet making landfall on the southern part and beginning a campaign of conquest. Robb will offer to support her in exchange for her recognition of the north as an independent kingdom, but for various reasons, Daenerys will refuse. The two will meet on a field of battle, but when Jon will arrive and tell them about an imminent zombie attack. He will urge them to put their differences aside for now and, if they truly protect their realms as they claim, they can prove it by sending men north to aid the Night's Watch against the Others. Somehow, he will persuade them to do so; perhaps they will decide to avoid the war by marrying, thus uniting the northern and southern thrones, and also symbolically uniting the power of ice to that of fire. Then there will be a great battle against the Others and their zombie hordes, after which the new king and queen realise they will have to lend much better support to the Night's Watch in order to keep the realm safe. The final book will end with an epilogue, several decades later. A bard will be singing at some sort of feast, and someone will ask him to sing the song of how the wolf king united with the dragon queen to save the realm. He will start singing The Song of Ice and Fire.
My predictionsIn my introduction post, I made a number of predictions about what would happen in this book. Let's see which ones came true. ''' 1: When we first see Arya, she will be walking around quite independently. We will find out what happened to her at the end of book 1 in a flashback. ''' Failed. She wasn't really free, though had been taken by someone friendly, so she wasn't imprisoned either. Also, we saw what happened right at the start of the chapter before skipping forward a few days. 2: Someone will eat ribs with a garlic and herb crust. Failed. Nobody ate that particular dish; Martin seems to have been hankering after roast swan and lamprey pie this book around. 3: A woman will get fingerbanged. There was quite a bit less sex in this book than in the last one, and what was present was for the most part more understated. Theon is the only character whose sexual escapades were described in detail, and no fingerbanging on his part was ever mentioned. It's possible he could have done it, but Theon isn't the sort to worry about whether the woman is enjoying herself. So, failed. 4: I will find something to criticise about the Dothraki. I'm happy to say that this prediction also failed. I found nothing to complain about regarding the Dothraki. 5: Several named characters will die. Well, I was right on that score.
VerdictOverall, I did enjoy this book. It's well-written, and Martin writes a very convincing yarn. That said, I felt it wasn't as good as the first one. A Game of Thrones had a good balance of exposition, court intrigue, and action. A Clash of Kings, however, seemed to be about 80% setup and 20% payoff. While the setup was decent in its own right, after a while it dragged on, and on, and on... The first book had a goo deal of setup as well, but spread the action and payoff over the entire book, rather than cramming it all in at the end. Where stuff was always happening in the first book, the second, however, skimped on a fair amount of action in favour of building things up. One could point to Robb and the impressive battle he wins as an example of this, but that's not really a valid example. Martin seems to have deliberately chosen to keep the reader at a distance from Robb, to let us view him from afar, and I thought that his distant battles actually worked well in that way. A better example is Jaime Lannister's attempted escape. There was a good amount of buildup to that, but absolutely no payoff; we only hear about what happened second-hand from Edmure, which is quite annoying. In fact, the time is occurred would have been the perfect time to put in some action; I was at that point starting to get impatient with all the setup, and would have welcomed a decent battle scene right there. This would also have broken the setup into smaller chunks, and thus allowed the rest of the book to pass at a more palatable rate. The book is also less subtle than A Game of Thrones. I remember in my first liveblog, I constantly mentioned how Martin was showing us things by the characters' actions, rather than just telling us. Here, while he aims to show, he keeps resorting to inner monologues and describing characters' thoughts in order to make sure we don't miss the points he is trying to make. Case in point, I immediately copped that Qhorin meant for Jon to kill him as part of the infiltration scheme. Jon telling the reader this was unnecessary, and this and other moments add up to an overall less satisfying book. However, there is also a lot to like, mostly from the character side. The standout characters in the book are Sansa and Cersei. Sansa comes a long way here. She began the series thinking she was a princess in a fairy tale, and this book opens with her well disabused of that notion. As time goes on, while she continues to believe in the ideal knight, she comes to terms with the fact that the real world is not a fairly tale, and if she is rescued by a handsome prince, he'll probably just rape her a couple of times. Still, she picks up quite a bit from Cersei, and towards the end is even able to use her new knowledge to keep a group of panicking ladies calm. Cersei is greatly fleshed out out here. She has gone from a selfish bitch to a woman who is a selfish bitch because that's the only way to survive in a fundamentally unfair man's world where she herself is a second-class citizen merely due to having been born with a vagina instead of a penis. Very impressive. Bran is also coming into his own, both as a capable lord and as a psychic, though his is a story tinged by melancholy, as he will never get to be a knight. This is contrasted with new character Brienne, who does get to be a knight but isn't happy either, as she seems to want to be a graceful, feminine lady, but is denied this chance by her appearance. She and Cersei should compare notes some time. As for the ending, like I wrote about in my blog of the first book, it suffers. All the plot threads end on cliffhangers, which is fair enough, but it is customary to give a book-ending cliffhanger more of a "dun dun DUUUNNN" feeling than happens here, where Martin just brings each subplot to its temporary conclusion with a cliffhanger little different to those that end the regular chapters. Catelyn's plot is the worst of these, as her final act is to ask for a sword that she might kill Jaime. That's really the sort of this that should be revisited within the same book. Still, there is enough good stuff to keep this book worth reading, and I am going to continue with the series. Steel and Snow will be liveblogged at some point in the new year. Hope to see you then, loyal readers!
Just a note, these last chapters have a LOT of little thing that will cm into play in A So S.
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