The Honest Re-Read
It can either be considered unfortunate or it could be considered quirky, but I re-read a lot of the same books.
I’ve professed my love for Dan Abnett here before, but I urge you to read and then re-read the Inquisitor Eisenhorn series. Then the Ravenor books. And then Pariah. There’s a richness to these characters and an ever-rotating motion to the plot that brings me back for another read every year.
The same for his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, some of the Horus Heresy series, the Silmarillion, and some Kurt Vonnegut. Other books get in there, too, but nothing gets repeated the same way as the others.
Then I read George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, AKA the Game of Thrones books. Yes, they’re HBO-show worthy. Yes, they’re far superior to the tv version, as any good book is of its visual self should be. I read and finished the entire series this past summer. The first book and the first season of the show fit perfectly together, it’s an impressive feat as an adaptation. The second season and second book begin to wade away from one another, but carry the main themes and events. This current third season has begun a full-fledged drift away from the source material, but that’s the price paid for quality story-telling when the novels are as deep and lengthy as these.
There are certain things the show cannot hope to achieve that the book carries within it – things like the full version of Dany’s visions within the House of the Undying in book/season 2 or Ned’s visions of the events at the Tower of Joy in the first book. Bran’s dreams and visions, particularly from within his direwolf Summer, aren’t getting the treatment they deserve yet in the show, but this could change as book 3, A Storm of Swords, is going to broken up between seasons 3 and 4 of the show.
It was while discussing all of this with my better half that I decided to do a re-read of the entire series.
George R.R. Martin is a good story-teller, but his writing isn’t as dense as it could be. Where Abnett stretches my vocabulary and writes action worthy (and honestly, better) of the best Hollywood summer film, Martin focuses on the long-view and foreshadowing. His mythos goes deep with prophesies to fulfill, secrets to uncover, and plots that stretch over many volumes. One in particular is the favorite of like-minds to examine – one that I will only refer to as “R+L=J.” If you do not know what that means, I encourage you to first ask if this is knowledge you wish to spoil for yourself, then if so, turn to r/asoiaf for your answers.
It was within this lens that I started my re-read. I searched into hidden meanings, I delved into the possibilities of each person who might know, the unsaid words, the tone and timbre of those who reveal things later in the books, and even searched for alternate meanings of “Hodor?”
As far as I can tell, no one knows anything in A Game of Thrones. The only person that does know for certain reveals very little before his demise – poor, poor Ned. The mysteries of R+L=J are wrapped in conjecture and foreshadow in this first book, nothing more.
However, I developed my own hypothesis for the entire series, something that seems to ring true in Martin’s world and within his ever-struggling power plays. My theory on the entire ASOIAF series is this: every action has an opposite and greater reaction. There are no equal reactions in the world of Westeros (or Essos), things get incrementally greater or worse. Karma is very real and it comes back three-fold.
For examples, I’ll only use situations that have arisen in the show so far (NO SPOILERS IF YOU ARE UP TO DATE WITH THE SHOW).
- Jaime Lannister pushes the 7-year old Brandon Stark out of a window, arguably starting the entire reason for the story. He loses the hand he pushed Bran with later on.
- Catelyn Tully ignores the advances of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and watches on as Brandon Stark, Eddard’s older brother, duels Petyr for Cat’s hand in marriage. Brandon Stark humiliates Littlefinger, gifting him with a long scar. Cat convinces Eddard to trust Littlefinger years later while staying in King’s Landing and investigating the Lannisters. Should anyone have been surprised that Littlefinger, a man that had been brooding over that duel for 15 years, betrays the brother of the man that denied him Catelyn Tully?
- Sansa lies about the circumstances of Joffrey’s fight with her little sister, Arya, and the butcher’s boy, Mycah. Sansa’s lie covers up Joffrey’s cruelty and both Mycah and her dire wolf, Lady, end up dead to “resolve” the incident.
- Daenerys Targaryen is brought up in the shadow of her older brother, Viserys, and treated as dirt – as an object to be bought, sold, or traded. After achieving independence, Daenerys strives to stamp out slavery in all of its forms wherever she goes. (This is good and natural character development, I know, but it is key to understanding Daenerys and her actions.)
- This one is complex, but the reactions are incremental. Daenerys puts her faith and trust in a stranger to heal her wounded husband, Khal Drogo. This woman, Mirri Maz Duur, gives Drogo a poultice to heal the wound, but Drogo tears it off. Drogo’s wound festers, nearly killing him. Daenerys begs MMD to save him with blood magic. MMD warns Daenerys that life can only be bought with life. Drogo comes out of the ceremony in a catatonic state and Daenerys’ soon-to-be-born child dies. MMD knew the consequences of the spell, but betrayed Daenerys’ faith because of the attack his tribe had visited upon her home. Daenerys has Mirri Maz Duur burnt alive on Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, which serves as a catalyst to the hatching of the petrified dragon eggs.
- Cersei has the captain of her sons protectors, Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard, dismissed as she perceives him as being too old (more like, too honorable and stiff to go along with her every move). Ser Barristan, still vital, seeks and joins Daenerys Targaryen. He lends her sage advice, his battle acumen, and his knowledge of her deceased family that will become more important as the series progresses. Nice move, Cersei. That’s like giving up Shaq to the Miami Heat in 2004.
- Robb Stark (oh man…) breaks his oath to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. Show watchers are all caught up on the events of this, the Red Wedding, and know the evils of the Freys, Boltons, and Lannisters.
A word, real quick, about the Red Wedding’s portrayal on the show – it was too sudden. The book lays out several key warnings about what is about to happen and that the trip to the Twins was going to be a huge and colossal mistake. Book Robb doesn’t even bring his new wife to the wedding, just in case something like that happened. Show Robb gets to watch the most brutal of gut stabbings in the history of visual entertainment. I’m concerned that the show writers stuck to being brutal and didn’t lay enough hints down – like how Robb’s direwolf, Grey Wind, didn’t want to enter the Twins, or how a bunch of Freys disappear during the feast, or how Edmure’s new wife is crying and afraid during the evening, or the weapons that are affixed to the walls of the wedding hall, or how the musicians (crossbowmen) are numerous and couldn’t play their instruments very well… There were hints there and the show avoided most of them. It escalated quickly, really jumped up a notch, one might say.
George RR Martin does his homework. He plots and plots and lays down a concise and twisted plan for each character. Each action of these characters ripples out like a boulder dropped at great height into a heaving bowl of lava. I won’t mention certain events, as the show is not yet there, but the actions of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Tywin, and Jorah Mormont definitely have opposite and rising consequences. I’ve only just finished my re-read of the first book. A Clash of Kings should have some more insights into R+L=J, or if it doesn’t I’ll still comment on that. The evidence is thin, but I remain convinced of its veracity. We’ll see as the story unfolds. Again and again.