Picked Up Pieces from Two Books of Ice and Fire (MORE SPOILERS!!)

Continuing the discussion on the first two books of the George RR Martin saga – the previous ones are here and here – and incorporating some of the commentary I got from both the referred entries and re-working some other thoughts.

  1. Obviously I forgot about Bran as one of the leads in the second book.  What is interesting about him is that while what has happened to him – especially in the first book – was a sad fate, what lies ahead is pretty interesting.  Yes he is learning the ways of being a lord and whatnot – and like many of the Starks, he is really more comfortable being a fighter, or at least more comfortable in activity than in simply being a noble twit.  His crippling has him down – but he is still young and has the spirit that comes with it.  He still wants to be active certainly.  His escape following Theon’s attempt to take over Winterfell is one of the better scenes in the book certainly.  The future is uncertain, especially as they try to stay away from the myriads looking for them.
  2. Wait, how could I be finished with Bran?  What’s with the dreams?  Indeed – dreams seem to be a common thread in the Starks’ world, whether it be Eddard’s inner conflicts and complexities in the first book – and what Bran has now.  The wolf dreams hint at much more than meets the eye.  Sure Bran can’t move – or can he?  We know that he can get inside the wolf’s vision – but is he driving?  There are hints either way.  Personally I would be surprised if this did not lead to a more amazing power.  Either way, it lends flavor to the saga, that bubbling of other worldly stuff underneath the intrigue of the day.
  3. The wolf dreams themselves seem to tie together one of the interesting narrative devices Martin employs throughout the first two books, especially as the number of characters and capillaries of plot threads start to pile up.  I know that I can’t keep track of every storyline, but one tends to think that Martin is not expecting you to either.  But what he has done is paint the characters – subtly and with detail yes – with broad brushstrokes of characteristics.  The winter and wolves are evoked so well in the Stark clan, for instance, that you almost feel the clouds and winter whenever a chapter comes up.  Winterfell feels like a place, sure – but moreover a clear contrast with the Greyjoys who clearly evoke a seafaring people.  Indeed knowing Balon and the Starks, it makes Theon’s quest all the sillier.  The Dothraki are sharply drawn as nomadic marauders.  I guess what this is a haphazard way of saying is that the various factions seem uniquely a product of their environment and the gods they believe in and the land they are from – and it helps keep certain things straight.  I guess knowing Winterfell and what it and the Starks connote in the mind’s eye – it leads to some impressions over the virtues that might succeed over the wall.  But I don’t know.
  4. One of the themes the book has carried through so far – and continues to ruminate on if not actually deliver profound insights – is our societial proclivity to not separate the art of war and the job of governance.  So many countries have made a fetish out of military virtue as a prerequisite for leaders – let alone the number of military let coups and dictatorships and whatnot – but can a country be ruled well with the skillsets that it takes to win in battle?  Obviously notions that our military instills, and talk about things like “leadership training” imply that it IS transferable, but really?  One can counter that war requires advocacy for your side against an adversary, while governance requires advocacy for the people as a general whole, over your own interests.  It is a different worldview.  I gave Eddard short shrift in the first book – as he made wrong move after wrong move in his time as Hand of the King (very much a Spinal Tap drummer position considering what has happened to the three hands we know about prior to Tywin Lannister) – but he DID take governing seriously.  We know that he went way back with Robert and cared for him very much – though he saw Robert’s foibles clearly.  Robert was certainly an example of the sort of guy who knew and craved war and being in battle, but not governing and being in boardrooms.  Eddard offered more than that – he just let personal loyalty and a bit too dogmatic view of honour foil his ability to embrace realpolitik.  It’s too bad.
  5. Considering he has the Lady in Red (and Chris Deburgh undoubtedly in the back of the battalion providing soundtrack), it is not too big a leap to think that the setback suffered by Stannis is only temporary.  As I noted earlier, I have no idea who is driving that train – can Stannis really harness the crazy sick power that this lady is offering him – but it should be good for one battle.  What is interesting is how his court’s fool Patchface in his seemingly inane ramblings spoke of the danger of the sea.  With the fallout of this battle, did a supposed halfwit really offer prescience?  It is interesting and worth tracking.
  6. Of course, I went throughout my 1500 word rambling on the second book without actually mentioning the genuine surprise in the middle.  Let’s put it this way – Eddard’s death was a surprise in the early book, only because it felt inevitable given his moves, but as readers we are conditioned (in this sort of genre at least) to think that something good will happen, deus ex machina or otherwise.  Here, the true gameboard changing surprise DOES come out of nowhere – if you thought you could pick Renly’s fate before, you are a smarter person than I.

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