A Storm of Swords: Part 2 Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)

by George R.R. Martin | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 0007548265 Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 9/25/2016
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Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Sunday, September 25, 2016
Damn, this was even better than the previous book. As expected, "Snow and Steel" was just a setup for the second part. Embarassingly enough, a lot of my speculation revolved around a misremembered title, though I'm still not entirely sure what the title might refer to. This was abundantly clear back with "A Game of Thrones" and especially "A Clash of Kings". "A Storm of Swords" is most likely a reference to Mance Raider, but it's nowhere near clear. I'm particularly confused about the subtitle "Blood and Gold". I mean there's plenty of blood, no question about that, but what about the gold? There were a few mentions of gold (mostly in form of bribes or ransom, not that that's anything special for this book) but none that stood out enough to be worthy of being mentioned in the caption.

I was wrong about a lot of things. Some twists I expected, others completely blindsided me. Lots of rollercoaster emotions going on.

Damn you, Martin! I spent two days mourning Arya before I found out she was still alive... The day I finally found a reason for the Hound killing her (hiding his plans to bend his knee to the Starks) was also the day I reached her next chapter. In general, I had trouble believing her dead because there were too many loose threads for her arc to be over (Nymeria, Needle, her litany of enemies, Jaqen's coin). I also had trouble accepting that the Hound would just kill her at that point when she was about to be killed by the Freys anyway. On the other hand, I wondered if he had a split personality and putting on his dog helmet turned him more sadistic or something, and an axe hitting her "in the back of the head" was a pretty strong clue countering all this evidence. (I still don't understand how he managed to hit her from behind with the flat side of the axe. How does that work?)
Arya's arc has sent me through an emotional rollercaster. There were so many times it looked like she was about to be free and so many other times it looked like she was about to be killed, and then something unexpected happened to turn the wheel around. Until they got there, I had no idea whether she would reach The Twins before, after or during the Wedding. Way to ratchet up the anxiety despite my spoilered pre-knowledge!
I'm a bit annoyed that she spent so much time travelling in circles, trying to reach Riverrun and never getting there, and am rather glad that she's out of this mess.

Now that all of the above open plot points have been resolved (Nymeria found Catelyn's body, which both convinced Arya that there was no point in trying to rescue her and led to Dondarrion's followship reanimating her for their own purposes), I've no idea what'll become of her now. I'm not even sure whether the ship's making its way to Braavos (as per the planned route) or Eastwatch (as Arya asked for).

I wonder whether the Hound will really die (if so, hopefully someone will discover him rather than leaving the reader in the dark) or whether he'll recover on his own, and if the latter, whether Arya sparing him (or not performing the mercy of death) will turn out to be a good or a bad decision. In the end, she had to remind herself to put him on her enemy list. They spent so much time travelling together, fighting together and protecting each other, the lines have become muddled. Maybe it's Stockholm's, or maybe dog and wolf aren't so different, after all.

I think we only got a single Bran chapter in this book, and that one was mostly focused on the history of the Nightfort and the surprising encounter with Sam.

As suspected, it was Bran who saved Jon at the end of the last book (though Jon appears to believe that it was merely a remainder of Bran's soul in his direwolf) though that confirmation happened quite late into the book rather than early on.

I'm waiting to find out who (and what!) Coldhands is.

I already knew about the Red Wedding, so Robb and Catelyn's deaths didn't shock me the way practically any other named character's death did. However, it appears that due to my spoilerific knowledge I traded the sudden shock with a kind of bone-deep anxiety that started as a low undercurrent when Catelyn first negotiated Robb and Arya's marriage terms way back in "A Clash of Kings" and was raised to ongoing worry when Robb first presented his bride.

There's no way for me to ever know but I wonder at what point I would have become suspicious. After all, Martin wasn't at all stingy with foreshadowing, which ranged from dodgy visions to offhand remarks. Something that really stood out was the way the chapters kept alternating between Catelyn and Arya. Martin has used the same technique in other dramatic circumstances, but if I hadn't known, I wouldn't have expected a simple wedding to need this much screen time. In fact, even knowing about the massacre, I found that Martin spent way too much time with Catelyn/Robb planning Edmure's betrothal, being delayed while travelling to the Twins and finally their arrival.
A detail I really liked is that the awful music is eventually explained when the musicians turn out to be bowmen in disguise.

Obviously, Robb's rejection didn't warrant murdering the entire wedding party, but I couldn't help drawing a parallel to the occasional news about drone strikes wiping out civilians celebrating weddings etc. At least, Robb and his army were participants in the war instead of innocent outsiders, and the only reason the Red Wedding is morally abhorrent is because they felt safe just having strengthened the bonds to the ally that ended up attacking them.
In-story, I wonder whether Daenerys turning on the trade agreement with Astapor and attacking them is any better than the Freys betraying their supposed allies at a wedding. I sort of feel like Daenerys was morally justified in doing so, but I might be biased because in one case I liked the victims (Catelyn, Robb) and another the perpetrator (Daenerys).

Robb naming Jon as his heir was a surprising twist (and yet another plot point foreshadowing his death) because obviously the other Stark siblings are still alive and even Sansa's marriage is invalid, but Jon doesn't know that either, so there'll be some kind of conflict first when the news reach Jon and then when he finds out he's not the last of the line after all.

Catelyn's reappearance in the epilogue surprised me. I recognized the Outlaws by Lem's yellow cloak and I guess that seeing a direwolf drag Cat's body from the water must have seemed like a sign to them, but why did they decide to reanimate her body? Is it really her, or just a hull? If the former, does she realize that Arya might still be alive?

I was surprisingly happy to see Ser Barristan again. I had wondered where he might have gone and I even entertained the notion that he might have decided to join Daenerys (though only after he failed to show up with Stannis), but it never occured to me that he might be in disguise. Even the name sounds somewhat similar. I'm also glad that it looks like Daenerys will learn some uncomfortable truths about her family.

I'm not sure what to feel about Dany sending Ser Jorah away. On the one hand, I understand that she feels betrayed and he'd been quite overbearing in his attempts to keep any other man away from her, but on the other hand she's probably made an enemy of him. Not only did she (rightly) reject his advances, but she also was his ticket home. The two things he misses both are Westeros and his wife (who looked a lot like Daenerys). Dany just robbed him of both. This could be dangerous...

Dany mentioned this before but apparently Mirri Maz Duur implied that she would never bear living children. This makes me wonder why Daenerys would go to such lengths to regain her country if not to pass the throne on to her children? Is it the principle of the thing, the stories Viserys told her of the beauty of Westeros?

I was ridiculously happy to see Davos learn to read. I'm not sure why, it just seemed like such an important step. Despite the earlier mention of the letter I was still surprised when Stannis showed up at the Wall to run off the wildling army.
I expect that Melisandre will burn Mance Raider to raise the stone dragon. He's hardly innocent but he is a king, and it's not like Robert came from a royal lineage either.

I'm glad that Davos sent away young Edric (though I've no idea where they might bring him) but, Hand or no, I doubt that Stannis or Melisandre will put up with his rebellion much longer.

I don't have much to say about Jaime specifically (though I liked his gift to Brienne as well as the White Book descriptions of various members of the King's Guard), but I do have some comments about the Lannister siblings. It's hardly a secret that I like stories dealing with the relationships between siblings. Though I would not have thought to include incest in that list, I found the scenes showing Cersei and Jaime together surprisingly sweet (if they don't end with attempts to murder innocent children, that is). Add Tyrion into that mix, and the dynamics become delightfully complex. Tyrion has always admired Jaime and (possibly unconsciously) wishes to be a knight. Cersei resents Tyrion for, despite his stunted growth and younger than her, having more power by virtue of his sex. I wonder whether she really believes that he killed Joffrey (she is remarkably paranoid when it comes to her children and she even believed his threats against Tommen) or whether she saw this as the perfect opportunity to get rid of the only other heir to Casterly Rock. Possibly both.

I hope that Jaime's tentative arc of redemption will continue because it makes for a very interesting one, especially because he's not so much motivated by showing everyone else but by trying to redefine his own identity to himself.

Jon's chapters were full of reveals I didn't expect and yet another example of a figurative rollercoaster ride. At the start of the book, I expected Jon to be labeled as a turncoat and traitor and, having lost everything, having to flee for his life. Instead, his brothers fully believed his story and entrusted him with even more responsibility. When I finally accepted that this particular danger apparently had passed (though it seemed weird from a storytelling perspective), people arrived who disbelieved his every word (and with good reason, I might add, considering he has no witnesses confirming his side of the story) and Jon was about to be hanged. But! In the nick of time the story somersaults again and suddenly Jon is raised higher than ever. This much luck makes me suspicious: That can't go on much longer.
I expect that Robb's letter/message will trigger yet another conflict of interests, especially as that one wouldn't require Jon to change his beliefs and would mean doing something for the sake of the family rather than himself.

I am delighted to see Sam showing some degree of not only courage, but agency to solve a difficult problem. I actually don't think that Jon is a good choice (he doesn't have enough experience to really lead, though he's a year older now than when Robb was crowned king; Maester Aemon is too old to rely on his being Jon's faithful advisor), but with the way Sam worships him, his choice does feel believable. The feud between Mallister and Pyke seems a tad exaggerated, on the other hand, possibly because we never see the two actually go at each other's throats; their hatred of each other is only ever mentioned in dialogue. I liked that both genuinely seemed like good candidates for Lord Commander and I would have preferred seeing either in that position to Jon. But obviously Slynt was the worst option ever and absolutely needed to be prevented. That said, I'm sure that without Jon's heightened status due to Ghost's reappearance and Mormont's raven apparently advocating for "Snow" as well, it would not have been the landslide victory it turned out to be.

I loved the scene with Sansa building her snowcastle. We've never seen her this happy. I also liked seeing Littlefinger in a lighthearted role, though of course he immediately ruins the moment. I immediately worried that Lysa saw the kiss and how she would react. However, I never imagined that she would threaten to kill Sansa let alone actually planning to go through with it (not sure whether she actually intended that, though). Petyr cajoling her out of that mood was impressive. Her death was truly shocking!

I already knew that Jon Arrys had actually been poisoned by his wife, so this reveal held no shock value for me. I didn't know about Littlefinger's involvement, though. In hindsight, that explains why he laid the blame for the attempt at Bran's life at Tyrion's door: because it supported Lysa's accusations and Tyrion was an easier target than the Queen or her lover.

I'm worried that Littlefinger now no longer has a reason to leave Sansa alone. In theory, she's disguised at his daughter but it probably wouldn't surprise anyone if he revealed he'd smuggled a "mistress" into the Eyrie. Poor Sansa, a prisoner yet again. I hope she can get away!

I knew that Tyrion would face a 2nd trial by combat but I had no idea what the occasion was this time nor that he would lose. Joffrey's death came out of nowhere, and Tyrion being accused of poisoning shouldn't have surprised me (in hindsight, he seems like an obvious suspect) but did.
I liked the trial, tense and onesided as it was. Like Tyrion, I'd had no idea how many enemies he had, most of whom actually stayed pretty close to the truth and just refrained from mentioning any mitigating circumstances. I felt awful during Shae's testimony. I feel like Tyrion might have been able to forgive her accusations of plotting Joffrey's murder (under the assumption that she was being threatened by his sister and father) but styling herself as a monster's victim and mocking him like that was absolutely uncalled for. His revenge was completely understandable and if she had not repeated her mistake (okay, and if he hadn't found her in Lord Tywin's bed, clearly of her own volition) she might have gotten away with her life.

Jaime's reveal about Tysha's true identity wasn't entirely unexpected (I was pretty sure his aforementioned "lie" referred to Tysha in some way) and I can see that it would tear open an old wound for Tyrion. I understand why he said what he did to Jaime (he wanted to cause him the same kind of pain) but I wonder what will come of it. Jaime didn't particularly care for Joffrey, so he might be more upset about having trusted in his judgement of his brother's innocence than about his brother (supposedly) having been the killer.

I feel a bit dissatisfied with the belated reveal that Joffrey was behind the knife attack on Bran. It sort of makes sense, but no matter how much I wrack my memory I can't remember a single (book) scene that (even just in hindsight) would point at his involvement. I would have expected him to taunt Sansa with some kind of hint, or to mention something to Tyrion, or Varys or the Hound knowing about it and revealing something in an offhand comment.
There was a scene early on in season one that I think might have been included to rectify this omission. I don't remember any details but it showed the royal family at breakfast (?) and Robert discussing some kind of unpalatable topic that made Cersei reprimand him for talking that way in front of the children and take them and leave. I also remember that I was annoyed with the scene but not why. Now that I think of it, it might have been Robert voicing the opinion that Bran might be better off dead, in which case I would have been upset because he never voiced that view in the book.

Tyrion making his father pay his debts was a fitting end to the arc. I sort of likened that he died about as undignified as possible: on the loo.

I felt that this time the chapters weren't as nicely balanced as previously. In my opinion, there were too many cases where we basically kept switching between two characters for several chapters in a row. There were very good reasons for that, but one of the charms of the earlier books was the questions of "I wonder what X is doing right now" being answered frequently enough to keep the cycle of specific questions raised in the last character-specific chapter fresh.

As usually, I need to know what happens next. The thing is I'm running out of spoilery knowledge, and my level of anxiety is cranked up along with my ignorance. I only know three more plot points:
1. I know that Jon will (attempt to?) rescue Jeyne Poole (?) from Ramsay Bolton, thinking she's Arya. I don't know how he gets there, who's with him, whether he's successful, or what the aftermath might be.
2. I have vague memories of Bran being chained (or becoming one with?) a tree (?) because of some connection to the three-eyed crow. It made little enough sense when I read it on Wikipedia (before I started the series), so I've no idea how this will play out. It was enough to keep my hopes up when it looked like Bran had died, but I couldn't base a proper prediction on that.
3. I also know that Tyrion will flee to the free cities, which is already heavily implied by the end of the book, though, so I'm not sure that even counts as a spoiler.

I liked that the last chapter began with snowfall, as this is the first true sign of winter, which is a fitting end to the book.

Again I wonder how it comes that no news about Daenerys' dragons has reached Westeros yet. I now suspect that Varys does know but for whatever reasons is withholding that knowledge until a more opportune moment. For one, Varys is shrewd enough to pay heed to sailors' talk and listen harder at the mention of three-headed dragons (the banner of the Targaryens). Now that I think of it, the mere mention of that story at a council meeting seems strange if he didn't think it was important. More importantly, in this book we learned that Ser Jorah continued to send messages (presumably to Varys, or otherwise easy to intercept by him) long after Daenerys woke the dragons, and while he might have played both sides for a while, leaving out this crucial bit of information about her army seems unlikely if he wanted to win a chance of being pardoned. And finally, we also know that Varys already used to be master of whisperers for King Aerys and advised him against opening the gates to the Lannisters. He might still be loyal to the Targaryens (lying to Aerys about other things could be an attempt to manage Aerys' dangerous inclinations) or at least be hoping to ingratiate himself to Queen Daenerys, should that particular future come to pass.

Unfortunately they didn't have A Feast for Crows at the bookstore today, so I'll have exercise myself in patience for a while.

Journal Entry 2 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Thursday, December 01, 2016
I'm moving through the tv series quickly now and I must say the third season was amazing. While the first season (although otherwise okay) suffered from confusing plot gaps and the occasional unintentionally comical scene (combat and some dialogs), and the second one went a bit overboard with grand changes to the plot, the third one was pretty close to perfect. Given the information provided in the prequels, I felt this one could stand firmly on its own, but even when viewed as a movie adaptation of an already great book, it was awesome!

I still have some minor quibbles but I wholeheartedly approve of all additional scenes as well as all plot changes (which overall were fairly small).

Some of the changes involve elements from future books, so: Spoiler warning for later books!

My favourite changes (in no particular order):

* Gendry replacing Edric as Melisandre's would-be sacrifice
* Shireen teaching Davos how to read
* Asha sailing to rescue her little brother (that's something that didn't happen in the books, so I'm curious to see how the attempt will play out)
* Robb having to witness his wife's death (not having her there because they were afraid she'd be insulted felt like a cop-out; also she's the obvious target Walder Frey would go after to punish Robb)
* Theon's torture scenes as they happen rather than told in hindsight (though the scenes themselves were awful and I found myself constantly fiddling the volume to be able to both catch Ramsey's whispers and not be deafened by Theon's screams)
* Jon and Ygritte being directly affected by the block of ice dropping off the Wall
* Sam attacking the Other to protect Gilly and her baby
* Tywin Lannister (otherwise appearing infallible) underestimating Daenerys' dragons
* Osha and Rickon only splitting from the others after Bran saves Jon
* Bran's possession of Hodor not going unnoticed (as implied in the book), not only because that makes much more sense, but also because of the sense of awe and worry this achieves; it also works well as a confidence booster for his first possession of his wolf

Thoughts about the new characters' casting choices:

Very minor criticism, I know, but I feel that Daario doesn't look outlandish enough. At the same time, I can't say I'm really unhappy about the change because I never saw what was supposed to be so attractive about blue hair and a gold tooth. He's certainly got the swagger and cocksure attitude. I also liked his assurance that he refuses to fuck bed slaves because that's something that would appeal to Daenerys.

Exceptionally well-chosen. It never occured to me that Ramsey might have a friendly, even handsome face, but this makes it even better. Superb acting, too. I was really confused when it looked like he (unidentified, at the time) was really going to rescue Theon.

I adore her. Despite the greyscale marring her cheek, she's surprisingly cute. Also really sweet despite being cooped up in a small room all the time. I am now worried whether Melisandre's vision of the price Stannis would have to pay might involve his own daughter's death (king's blood, after all).

Some general comments:
On my initial wiki spree, I learned that in the movie some (male) character would be burned who was still alive in the book series (as of this time). I don't remember the name (seeing how it didn't mean anything to me at the time), but Davos and Mance seem like good candidates. For the third season, this meant that I was really worried about Gendry. Just because Davos had rescued Edric, there was no reason he'd do the same for Gendry: Edric was much younger (12, I think), he was semi-legitimate and raised in a castle, he had some education and was Shireen's friend. Obviously, I am glad Davos did rescue Gendry; I just couldn't be certain he would (or that the attempt would succeed) until Gendry was well and truly gone.

I am a bit disappointed with "Arya"'s acting skills (I presume she'd played by either Sophie Turner or Maisie Williams, but I don't know which), though I suppose I'm more critical of her because she's my favourite of the movie characters. She's a brilliant choice for Arya and her acting was beyond reproach as long as she simply had to be defiant and clever, but the events in this season require her to be more emotional and that's not nearly as convincing. I also feel that she's too comfortable with the Hound. The actors clearly trust one another, but Arya has no reason to be so friendly with him. I always wondered why people would buy that Arya's supposedly Clegane's daughter, but in the series they actually act that way except I don't feel that "Arya" is acting that part.

Admittedly, some of the changes might have an impact on the plot in Winds of Winter or beyond, but if that's a problem, the previous seasons took bigger liberties and I know that at some point (season 5 or 6?), the series derails from the novels anyway due to the book in question not having been published yet.

Journal Entry 3 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Monday, December 05, 2016
Damn, I had such high hopes after the stunning third season, but the fourth one was a real let-down. Somehow, and I still have trouble believing it, they managed to be more confusing than the first season and introduce more plot (and worse) changes than the second one. I think I've worked out what's the difference between good and bad changes in a movie adaptation: Good changes simplify the plot (thereby allowing to cut characters or sub-plots) and/or add a new insight to the characters without twisting their characterization. Bad changes increase confusion, add unnecessary clichés and/or cheapen existing characters.

It also doesn't help that the chronology is weirdly out of sync with some characters already well into their arc in the fourth/fifth book (Bran, Brienne) whereas others haven't even finished their arc for the third one yet (Jon, Sam).

Here are some of the changes I liked least:

* Having the leader of the defectors be someone I don't remember ever seeing before, even though (judging by his attitude and actions) I have every reason to believe he would, if introduced earlier, have had nasty confrontations with Jon, Sam and even Lord Mormont. I was extremely confused about this guy and spent half the time he was on screen wondering who he might be, if we've ever seen him before and whether I was supposed to remember him.
* In general, Bran and his group being captured at Craster's (completely over-dramatic)
* Brienne catching up with Arya and fighting the Hound (WTH?)
* Portraying the Martells and Lannisters as ancient enemies without ever bringing up the question of how the betrothal of Prince Trystan to Princess Myrcella fits into all this.
* Podric acting as comic relief (this type in the role of bungling squire)
* Sam hiding Gilly in Mole's Town, only to have her flee back to Castle Black. I would have understood if the audience had believed Gilly dead along with Sam, but as it was: What was the point?
* I'm somewhat displeased with the way Drogon was suddenly huge at the start of the season (even though hardly any time had passed) but the other dragons were so much more smaller. In the books, Drogon always was the largest and fiercest of the three but he really grew into a beast compared to his brothers when he was free while they were chained up.
* Janos Slynt's behaviour during the fight. I despise the man and agree that he's probably not particularly brave, but this sort of ineptitude and cowardice is ridiculously over the top. I mean who would claim that giants don't exist while looking at them? (Might have just been bad acting, though.)

Some changes I am undecided above:

* Jaime and Tyrion bonding is really sweet but it's such a wild detour from how they part in the books that I'm not all that pleased with it
* What's up with Missandei and Grey Worm's (platonic) romance? While I think it's sort of touching, I don't see the point of having it take up any sizable amount of screen time.
* Jon deciding to approach Mance on his own. I sort of get why he did (Slynt and Aliser would be highly suspicious of his suggestion to meet with Mance) but making the decision on his own seems even worse. Also, why did no one attempt to stop him?
* Davos and Stannis' detour to Braavos. On the one hand, it sort of makes sense (where did Stannis get a big enough army from to defeat Mance's warriors?), on the other hand it detracts from the thrill of discovering a new place along with Arya.
* Bolton sending Locke to the North to murder Bran and Rickon. On the one hand, it fills a plot hole I hadn't even noticed (that the Boltons know the boys aren't dead and aren't worried about this); on the other hand, nothing at all came of it, so it seemed a rather useless addition.

Some changes I liked:

* Passing off Lysa's death as a suicide works so much better, especially as it doesn't involve Sansa having to lie, knowing that she condemns an innocent to death
* Daenerys deciding to deal with Yunkai'i from the start, and agreeing to Ser Jorah's advice not kill all of them
* The order of events during Tyrion's imprisonment. I understood much better what motivated Jaime to try to help Tyrion, why Tywin offered the choice of "taking the black", and what made Tyrion go against it. I also liked that Prince Oberyn only offered himself as a champion when Tyrion seemed well and truly lost.
* Jojen's death. I always thought it was strange that all four of them made it to their goal and are now cooped up there together. I also got the impression that sometimes Jojen was implying that he knew he was going to die soon, so this fit well with my expectations.
* The wildlings' attack on Castle Black. Much better strategy by the wildlings, and consequently more heroics for the Watch. I also liked that Jon saw Ygritte getting shot, and that her killer was a young boy he really can't blame for rescuing him (Jon) when threatened by Ygritte.
* Asha attempting to free Theon and giving up on him after he refuses to come with her. It was clear that Theon was terrified this was all a trick of Ramsay's (and quite reasonably so), and his confusion when Ramsay was nice to him for a change was wholly believable. I also liked that it was Theon's display of loyalty that prompted Ramsay to give him the task of taking Moat Caitlin.

In general, I've noticed that the big plot changes usually have more of a short-term impact, but there are a few changes that may affect the future plot, which I know is going to happen anyway, but still...

* It's not "common knowledge" that the Stark boys are dead. In fact, Jon knows (not suspects or hopes) that at least Bran is still alive.
* Robb did not name Jon as his heir
* A few nobles in the Vale know Sansa's true identity
* Tyrion and Jaime have parted on very good terms
* Cersei has a reason to be relieved at her father's death (she really didn't want to marry Loras)
* Dorne and the Lannisters are bitter enemies, more so now than ever before

I'm somewhat less enthousiastic about the fifth season now, but I'm going to see it through anyway. :)

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