Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thoughts on "A Dance With Dragons" part 2


Part 2 of my Thoughts on “A Dance With Dragons” by George R. R. Martin.


This novel really began to illuminate the rest of the Ice and Fire world. Up until this novel I was convinced that the other places in the world were just kind of there, but not really important as far as the story Martin wanted to tell. They also never seemed real to me. Westeros, its people, and its culture has been examined at such length that it seems real to me. The rest of the world was just a couple of passages here and there and someplace for Daenarys to wreak some havoc. However, so much of “Dance” takes place outside of Westeros that you really start to get a feeling about the bigger picture. There is a whole world out there most of which could care less about Westeros

At the beginning of the novel, Tyrion meets Illyrio Mopatis, the Pentosi merchant who hid Daenarys and her brother. We’ve known since “Game of Thrones” that he’s been working with Varys, but we didn’t know why. Illyrio gives Tyrion several explanations such as gold and power, but I don’t buy those answers. I think Tyrion almost hits on the true answer when he looks at a map of the free cities and says something about how close they are to Westeros yet the Targaryens never moved across the Narrow Seas to conqueror them. Illyrio doesn’t want Daenarys to rule in Westeros for wealth or power, he wants her to rule in Westeros so she stays the hell out of Pentos.

Little People

In “Dance” Martin seems to write the “little people” better than his main characters. I don’t mean dwarfs. I mean the characters that only appear briefly. These throwaway characters had interesting stories that were often times only hinted at, but it was always enough that my imagination took over and filled in the gaps. The characters also had motivations that I readily understood like hatred, revenge, and lust. Characters like:

Lord Manderly- Since White Harbor is the only useful eastern port in the North, the Lannisters and the Freys are interested in currying his favor and yet Lord Manderly’s son Wendel was killed in the Red Wedding. Manderly hates the Freys and Lannisters but is unable to oppose them openly for political reasons. It is fun to see this bit of intrigue play out. And to see how when when he is trapped in Winterfell with the other nobles how hard it is for him to maintain his façade as the days begin to pile on.

Lady Dustin- Who as I mentioned previously, blames Ned Stark for everything that has gone wrong in her life. Events that in her delusion are Ned’s fault include King Aerys II's burning Brandon Stark and others to death, The War of the Usurper and more specifically the death of her husband Lord William Dustin at the Tower of Joy.

House Blackwood and House Bracken- The two neighboring Houses have apparently had an ongoing feud reminiscent of the Hatfields and McCoys since before the recorded history of Westeros. In fact, both Houses believe that they were the “Kings” in the region during the time of the First Men and both House believe the other House betrayed them and usurped their rule. Everything possible has been done to end the feud including intermarriage, but somehow the feud continues. I also love the imagery that at the center of the Blackwood’s castle (Raventree Hill) is this tremendously large and completely dead weirwood tree. It’s been dead for a thousand years (The Blackwoods claim the Brackens poisoned the tree) and yet since weirwood doesn’t rot, the tree remains. Each night it is home to hundreds of ravens, that “cover the tree like black leaves.” Can you imagine what a depressing castle that must be? I think the Blackwoods would feel better about their lives if they moved out of that castle.

Main Characters

These kinds of “little characters” contrasted with some of Martin’s main characters whose motivations and reasonings were so murky that I often felt as if I didn’t understand the character at all despite the fact that the chapters were written from their perspective.

Daenarys Targaryen- I didn’t understand what was going through her head for the entire novel. The image I have of her from the previous novels is decisiveness. She struck me as the only character truly worthy to rule Westeros. In terms of arc, her story always goes from bad to worse and then she wows you at the end of the novel, but I felt like this was the first novel where she was just acting foolish the whole time. Couldn’t she see that she was fighting a losing battle in Meereen? She never had the hearts of the people. The Harpys would never stop and no ruler could ever change a culture in which slavery was so ingrained. She took away their livelihood their self-image and offered them nothing in return. Of course you could argue that Daenarys ends the story in a better position then before since she has mastered a dragon, but I would argue that I’m not sure if she ever learned a lesson about how to rule. I’ll be happy if she at least learned how not to rule.

John Snow- Martin got me again. I was positive that Jon was Martin’s fair-haired boy. Sure he had a bit of a rough time of it at the Wall, but he rose all the way up to Lord Commander in a few short years. I was also convinced like many fans that he was Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark’s child and that Eddard knew Jon would be killed by Robert if that was revealed…but none of that matters now does it?

Snow’s end shouldn’t have surprised me he spent the entire novel pissing off every living creature at the wall. Was he really oblivious to the fact that his men were just waiting for him to slip up so they could mutiny justifiably?

A lot of people are convinced that this is just a cliffhanger ending and that Jon Snow will end up being alive. I don’t know, I think it’s clear Jon is dead. Maybe Melisandre’s magic will revive him, but the Jon that returns will not be a brother of the Night’s Watch. Maybe he’ll become a nameless wildling, and he’ll romance Val… Or maybe he’s just dead!

Stannis Baratheon - continues to not impress me. He is a rigid man who does not believe in compromise. He lives in the shadow of a brother whom despite his faults was still a better man than Stannis will ever be. But, Stannis continues to barrel forward despite the fact that he is in over his head at every point. I do not believe he is dead as Ramsey’s letter stated. It was clear from the letter that Ramsey was looking for Theon and the false Arya. They were last seen with Stannis. Therefore it would seem that Ramsey hasn’t found him yet. Notice how there is no mention of Asha. Is it possible that Ramsey merely killed the Umbers that were standing outside Winterfell and banging their drums?

Theon Greyjoy- Reading his chapters was quite disturbing, in a series full of scum and villainy, Ramsey Snow/Bolton really takes the cake. He took Theon to a point through torture where Theon’s will snapped. Theon was no longer human instead he was a sort of sniveling animal thing. I mentioned this to a friend that hasn’t read “Dance” yet and he said that Theon sort of deserves what he got because of how he betrayed Winterfell. And he further commented that it is kind of ironic that I feel sorry for Theon despite his evil actions. And yet, I guess it’s just good writing because I can’t help but feel sorry for Theon. I wouldn’t wish what he went through on my worst enemy.

Tyrion Lannister- His chapters were always a highlight of the novel. They are full of humor and yet were by no means comic relief. Martin does not treat Tyrion with kid gloves, if anything Tyrion is put in extra-tough spots and yet always manages to somehow talk his way out of them. My favorite Tyrion moment is when he goes into a laughing fit because he realizes that Aegon took his bait and is going directly to Westeros and also realizes that despite the fact that he is technically Jorah Mormont’s prisoner, Mormont is taking him exactly where he wanted to go in the first place: to Daenarys. I fully expected Tyrion to meet Daenarys by the end of the novel and/or figured he might use his book-knowledge of Dragons to try and wrangle one of them. Instead his story kind of ends with a whimper and I just kind of went “is that it?”

Here is Part 1 of my review of "A Dance With Dragons"
Ramsey Bolton artwork is from an Italian Game of Thrones site Terra-di-Mezzo


  1. One thing I don't understand is why everybody calls Theon "Turncloak." AFAIK he never swore allegiance of any sort to the Starks...he was a hostage there. Yes, they treated him well. However, medieval nobility understood that this sort of thing was "business...nothing personal."

  2. It's no fun being a hostage, but in the end you are a guest and aren't expected to betray your hosts, especially since the Starks were always kind to him and Theon and Rob seemed to be as close as brothers. And, I'm pretty sure he swore allegiance to Rob when all the other banner men from the North did. But, it is funny that even the Ironmen call him a "Turncloak" though that might have more to do with the fact that he was unable to hold Winterfell after capturing it.