Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 35 of A Game of Thrones, in which I look back on the novel as a whole, and give you my thoughts on my experiences with the Read thus far.
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for A Game of Thrones. As for the comments, The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. Any spoileriffic discussion of the later books in the series should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
Again, a note on scheduling: After this post, the ASOIAF Read will be on hiatus until January 6, 2012, at which time I will begin my Read of the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings.
And now, the post!
When the lovely folks at Tor.com first suggested this blog series to me, I was really not entirely sure whether it was going to work. I mean, I know verbosity and I have never exactly been strangers, but even so, I worried, what if I just didn’t have anything to say when I don’t know what’s coming next?
Well, obviously, my fears on that score have turned out to be groundless, but I am pretty sure it is only because I was trying it with this particular series of books that it worked as well as it did. Based on my experiences with A Game of Thrones, I feel safe in saying that one thing Martin will never have any trouble provoking in me is a reaction.
So I think as blogging experiments go, this one was pretty much a success. Which is a great relief.
That said, it’s been a pretty odd experience to read a book this way. As a lifelong habitual speed-reader, I can guarantee you that it has never taken me nine months to read a single novel (hell, it’s rare for it to take me longer than two or three days unless the book is a true monster or I’m especially short on time). Therefore, I found that inevitably my memory of the earlier parts of the book grew ever more hazy the further along I went, to the point where I had to go back and read some of my own early blog posts to refresh my memory, even though I kind of didn’t want to do that.
It’s not really cheating to do so, I guess, but most people reading a book don’t have a record of their own mental commentary to refer back to. Then again, most people don’t read only a couple of chapters a week of a book for nine months, so there’s that.
Now that I’m finished the book, though, it was interesting (and, occasionally, hilarious) to go back and see how my first reactions to various characters squared with what I think of them now, and where I think their stories might be going in the future. Let me share these thoughts with you!
Ned: I love that my first reaction to him was to call him “Inscrutable Lord Guy.” Oddly enough, though, even now I think this is still a surprisingly accurate way to describe him, at least in how he must have appeared to the other characters. His decisions must have seemed positively bizarre, in fact, especially to those characters who are much more of the “they’re more like guidelines” mentality re: honor codes (which is most of them).
To the readers, though, he must stand as a living (well, formerly living) metaphor for what is clearly one of the central themes of this series: the conundrum of possessing honor in an often (or usually, even) honorless world, and the betrayal inherent in the realization that sometimes there is no right decision to be made.
Prediction for his future: None. Sigh. Poor Ned. As tragic characters go, he was one of the best I’ve come across.
Catelyn: It took me a while to actually gain an opinion on her character, but the first real reaction she provoked in me (re: her attitude toward Ned’s adultery in general versus Jon in particular) was highly ambivalent, leaning toward the negative. As of the end of AGOT, I still have my issues with her, but they have largely been subsumed by how impressed I was with her during Robb’s campaign in the latter third of the book. I’m glad that at the moment I am ending with her on a relatively high note, though of course who knows what will happen later.
Regardless of whether my good opinion of her will continue or not, Catelyn is definitely, in my opinion, one of Martin’s most complex and interesting characters, in a book that had no shortage of them to begin with. In a world where it’s still a pleasant surprise when female supporting characters don’t turn out to be one-dimensional, I really, sincerely appreciate that.
Prediction for her future: I… have no idea, really. Part of why Catelyn is awesome as a character is that she could decide to do just about anything. I kind of hope she’ll go smack some sense into her sister, though.
Arya: I pronounced her “a girl after my own heart” the moment I met her, and that only became more true as the book went on. I am very pleased (and a little surprised) that my three favorite characters — Jon, Tyrion, and Arya, natch — have remained so the entire book, and have all only increased their awesome as far as I am concerned.
Prediction for her future: Lady pirate! Okay, fine, she’ll probably go join up with her brother Robb and make him let her fight in the army. At least I hope so.
Sansa: I was going to say that I was really mean and unfair to Sansa in the beginning, considering how heartbreakingly awesome she becomes by the last time we see her in AGOT, but on reflection I don’t really think I was. Unfair, I mean. Sansa really was a stuck-up little prig when we first meet her; it’s just that tragic circumstance forced her to either break, or grow up in an unconscionable hurry. Fortunately she chose the latter, though that’s probably the bleakest use of the word “fortunately” I’ve come across recently.
Prediction for her future: Ugh, I shudder to think. I suppose hoping she can escape from her giant weeping pustule of a fiancé is too much to ask for?
Robb: Ahaha, I originally thought he was going to be a crappy leader! Whoops?
Prediction for his future: Lots and lots and lots of battles. Of course, that’s a gimme, since Catelyn predicted that one for me at the end of the book.
Bran: I said something about him being too young to have much of a character yet when I first met him, and oddly enough I kind of feel like that’s still true, despite what happened to him. His crippled state is obviously going to be the major factor informing how his character develops, and it already has been; I’m just not sure yet where that factor is going to lead him, ultimately.
Prediction for his future: He’s off to see the wizards! Or children of the forest, whatever!
Jon: I liked him immediately, and nothing’s changed about that at all. Although, I find it pretty amusing that I originally opined that him going to join the Night Watch was a terrible idea.
…Although, there’s nothing to say it might not still turn out to be a terrible idea, of course. But it seems to be going Jon’s way so far.
Prediction for his future: Command of the Night Watch, of course. I mean, come on. But first he has a date with a zombie-fied Uncle Ben, I bet — more’s the pity.
Theon: I thought he was a jerk when I first met him, and I think he’s still one now — although now I think his jerkishness level is positively benign compared with some of his competitors.
Prediction for his future: Dicking over Robb in some way, I’ll bet.
Lysa: I “looked forward” to meeting her. I shoulda oughta known bettah. Ugh.
Prediction for her future: Well, she’ll have to be Dealt With in some fashion, that’s for sure. I’m hoping Catelyn can get her to pull her head out and get her to join forces with Robb, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
Daenerys: Huh. On first meeting her, I talked about — well, here’s the quote:
Dany is practically the archetype of a victimized woman here, but generally speaking I’m only going to have a problem with that if that’s all she ever turns out to be. So time will tell, I suppose.
And what time has told, I think, is that with regard to Dany, at least, I have nothing to have a problem with; her last appearance in AGOT is the definition of a character seizing agency for herself and asserting power over those who have previously victimized her. Er, literally, actually. So yay Martin on that score.
Prediction for her future: Some hasty lessons in dragon husbandry, for one thing. And also, lots and lots and lots of battles.
Viserys: Possibly the most static character in the book — a pissant little monster from start to finish.
Prediction for his future: None, thank God. Good riddance.
Robert Baratheon: Wow. I called him “dangerously oblivious” on first meeting him, and damn if that wasn’t spot on. Although in his defense (sort of), I don’t know that even a guy ten times as perceptive as Robert would have twigged to what was really going on with Cersei, because it’s so completely outrageous that even now I still can’t believe it.
(Speaking of which, from that same post:
The Lannisters are going to be trouble. This statement has been brought to you by Noshit Sherlock and the letter Duh.
Honey, you had NO IDEA. Whoo boy.)
Anyway, Robert turned out to be just as much a tragic character as Ned, albeit in a rather different way. His theme might be best described as a cautionary tale, of how easy it is to throw away your life and potential and dignity through waste and excess — and how that can ruin so many more lives than just your own. Something to consider.
Prediction for his future: None for him, of course, but his legacy will resonate most unpleasantly for years to come for everyone else.
Jaime Lannister: My first comment on him was:
Ugh, Jaime hasn’t even had a line yet and I’m already predisposed to despise him.
…Yeah, no change on THAT one.
Prediction for his future: Unfortunately, despite the fact that Jaime hardly appeared at all on screen in AGOT (at least compared to most of the other major players), his set-up as a character in this book leads me to believe that my hopes for his summary execution in the next installment are in vain. Besides, someone has to be the main antagonist to the Starks, and Joffrey’s too much of a psycho douchebag to last long at the job, in my opinion. And anyway, it’s not like Martin can let all that “regal/kingly/gilded” foreshadowing on Jaime in AGOT just be left lying around, now can he?
I also reluctantly suspect that pretty soon I am going to be forced to Get To Know Him Better as a character, and that Martin’s going to pull out all this stuff about how despite all the pushing kids off window ledges and so forth, he’s really Not That Bad! Just like he did with Sandor Clegane, dammit. He’s SNEAKY that way.
I plan to sulk about this, just so you know. Grar.
Tyrion: Like Jon, like Arya, I liked him immediately, and everything since then has only strengthened my sympathy for him as a character. And of course, it certainly didn’t hurt that he was the source of about 99% of the occasions that I laughed while reading this book. Never underestimate the power of being good comic relief, especially in this case, where it was often really badly needed.
Prediction for his future: Dude, I really have no clue. He is so perfectly poised between love and hatred for his family, and also between his own curiously strong brand of honor on the one hand, and his talent for unscrupulous, devious scheming on the other, that he could easily tip in any direction at all.
(Yes, I know Joffrey is technically a Baratheon, but whatever. If we’re going strictly by personality, he’s a goddamn Lannister through and through, and you know that’s what he considers himself anyway. Bah.)
…er. Wow. Heh.
Prediction for his future: KILL IT WITH FIRE.
Cersei: I am morally obligated to hate her, and I do, and I am certainly not rooting for her in any way, but at the same time I ended the book with a certain reluctant respect for her ruthless cleverness. Kind of the way you feel about a deadly poisonous snake: you don’t want it anywhere near you and yours, but from a distance it is scarily admirable in its badassedness.
Prediction for her future: The question is, is she ruthless enough to kill her own kid before Joffrey brings them all down?
I… kind of think yes. I don’t know if that’s what she’s going to do, but I do think she is capable of it.
Aaaand there are many more characters I could get into here, obviously, but this covers most of the majors, I think, so we’ll stop here.
For more generalized plot predictions… well. I feel safe in saying there will be some type of Clash. Between Kings. Don’t know where I got that idea!
But, yeah. War is a given (or more war, technically), between the Lannisters and the Starks and the Baratheons and, er, Dany, but the real wild card in the mix is where all this “winter is coming” portent really gets rolling, with the frozen zombies and the wooly mammoths and who knows what all. Which I imagine may be a tad distracting for all parties — you know, as apocalpyti tend to be. They’re funny that way.
And then everyone will pull together and mend their differences and sing Kumbaya and beat the frozen zombies all as one big happy family, right? Right? Hello? Bueller?
…Right, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. But I am very interested to see what does.
So I guess the only real big question left is: yes, all this, but what did I think of the book as a whole?
Well. The comparison that leaps to my mind, immediately, is my experience watching the television series The Wire. Which is a stunningly complex, poignant, compelling, and incisive show that features, hands down, the best writing I’ve ever come across in the medium. It also happens to be one of the grimmest, most cynical, most depressing television series I’ve ever seen as well. Especially if you give any amount of thought to what the show implies about our chances of throwing off our metaphorical demons and defeating cultural entropy.
I’m not sure I grant the writing of ASOIAF versus the rest of its genre quite the grade I gave The Wire versus the rest of television, but that’s not so much a slur on ASOIAF as it is a compliment to the speculative fiction genre in general (and, by inference, a pointed insult to most television). Otherwise, though, the comparison stands pretty well. AGOT was awesome, no question. But it was also very hard to stomach.
Not just in that it was gritty and dark and cynical, though it is all of those things, of course, but in that it was a very deliberate deconstruction of fantasy and fantasy tropes. That’s actually an understatement; the seeming main “hero” character is executed two-thirds of the way through the book, for crying out loud. Joseph Campbell would be appalled.
I find deconstructivism fascinating intellectually, but viscerally… it grates. As it’s meant to, of course. Tropes are tropes for a reason, after all; there’s a comfort in them, an ease that deconstructivism purposely sets out to undermine — not just to be mean (heh), but for the purposes of making you think about why those tropes are comforting. Or, even, just to make you aware that those elements are tropes in the first place.
Which is great. But there’s no getting around the fact that it makes for a rough reading experience, sometimes. While the series as a whole may not turn out to be one (though who knows, it may), AGOT was, unquestionably in my opinion, a tragedy. Which is kind of an awesomely daring a way to begin an epic fantasy series, but it does also have the effect of making me wary of investing too much in the rest of the characters and the story. While I want very much to know what happens to the characters introduced in AGOT, I can’t deny that I am also kind of dreading finding out as well.
However, it is worth saying that I appreciate tragedies a hell of a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and being able to experience quality storytelling makes up for an awful lot of sad sighs. After all, The Wire may have depressed me, but that didn’t stop me from chewing through all five seasons on DVD in less than two months.
And it’s worth hoping, I hope, that at least some of the characters of A Song of Ice and Fire will eventually find something approaching a happy ending. We’ll see how that hope holds up as I continue along.
And thus ends my Read of A Game of Thrones! I hope you have enjoyed it. I wish you all a very lovely holiday season in whatever form you choose to celebrate it, and don’t forget to come back on January 6th when I start the next book, A Clash of Kings. See you next year!