The new hotness and old and busted. She’s new, I’m the re-reader. Together we are reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. You can check out our thoughts on the prologue that went up yesterday, and now we move on to the first chapter, which is a Bran Stark chapter.
An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
The opening chapter of the narrative proper felt like it might have been more like a second prologue, as it recounted a day of potentially defining experience for Bran when he was seven years old. (Somehow, I don’t expect he’ll still be seven the next time we see him.)
We watched him attend an execution—the king’s justice—for the first time with his older brothers, and on the way home they found a strange and wondrous thing: a dead direwolf, but a bitch that had managed to whelp her litter before she died (or, more gruesomely, afterward). The boys wanted to take the pups, and when their reluctant father tried to say no, the bastard brother Jon Snow reminded his father that the direwolf was on the family’s standard and pointed out how the litter matched up with his children. His legitimate children.
That self-sacrificing choice to exclude himself made Jon a hero to Bran, and to me. It was a moment of both kindness and pragmatism—he saw his brothers’ hope to keep the puppies, and he recognized the necessity of drawing a line between himself and them to create an argument for keeping the dogs. That forced parallel seemed like the sort of imposition on reality people sometimes use when they are looking for A Sign, that maybe isn’t really a sign, but they want to see it that way, so they do. Until the turn at the end of the chapter, when Jon Snow hears something and goes back to find one last pup. A white one with red eyes—albino—that had been shunned by the others, separated from the pack. That made it a motherfucking Sign. That sign put chills up my back and made my stony heart ache at how beautiful it was. What can I say, I love dogs—especially big dogs, I mean, mine is a mastiff, what the hell does that tell you?—and I already love Jon Snow just for being so damn practical (not nearly enough people are), and the little albino dog matching his name and his own outcast situation….Yeah. Sign.
Which tells us that in this world Fate exists, and Portents of Doom and Forebodings of Greatness, and all that shit. Good to know going in—lends a gravity to signs people see later, which creates either foreshadowing or red herrings, depending on whether it was an MFS (motherfucking Sign) or just something they wanted to read into but really wasn’t a sign at all.
One cultural underpinning I especially liked was Bran’s father administering the execution himself, because of the idea that if a man can order death without doling it out himself, he soon forgets what it means. I like it. A lot. Certainly disallows for any namby-pamby rulers. It also speaks to my impoverished intellectual idealism of not letting money or elitist philosophy disconnect you from the real world. It’s a notion that I find myself considering more and more the older I get and the more I learn about what passes for the normal lifestyle in my school/work/intellectual peers and how far divorced from that was my own childhood…and as I wonder more and more, the closer I get to having kids of my own, how I can divorce their experience from modernity’s soul-sucking disconnection with Real Life.
Favorite quote has to be the last line of the chapter, which isn’t powerful without the context but in the context makes you burn with the conviction and fierceness of the bastard Jon Snow who might just love that little rejected pup more than his brothers and sisters love theirs, because it is so unequivocally analogous to himself: “I think not, Greyjoy. This one belongs to me.” Damn straight.
—Do not read on if you have not read the series and want to avoid spoilers–
Don’t recall this chapter being quite so glorious, sausage party and all. Intended or not (because the idea of purposeful writing for the re-read sill boggles my mind, no matter how practiced I am in participating) there is a lot here that just had me in recollecting and discovery mode. The first sentence, “The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer”, is essentially another way of saying the Stark words: Winter is Coming. Ominous words coming off of the prologue. Speaking of which, you have to love the connection to the prologue and even though I mentioned it yesterday, it still read well and led to one of my favorite quotes in the books:
“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave”
Gared didn’t fear death, but he feared what he saw. Again, winter is coming and we should be scared shitless, which is why the prologue being a horror story is (Iron Bank backed) money. Jon comes out and calls it “Dead of fear”.
Setting is revealed in an organic enough way. The execution — even down to Ned’s decree to the doomed man — allows Martin to reveal to us some information about where we are without forsaking the idea of believable and natural dialogue. In this matter, Ned is just an all-star, coming off as a by-the-book personality who who would honor and respect formality that allows for it.
We wouldn’t roll our eyes because of him, we’d role our eyes at him — a hell of a distinction that Martin tends to land on the right side of an overwhelmingly amount of the time.We learn both about Ned’s principles and through him the traditions of the North (as he sees them), and that he’s pretty damn hardcore. Not only for doing the deed himself (with sweet sword), but also because the quote above is directed at his 7-year old son who just got to see his first beheading. So basically you get the idea that the Starks — thus the North – – are hard. Ned is principled, and by this chapter’s indication — through his son’s eyes — a good father and leader, or at the very least tries to be.
You don’t get a whole hell of a lot of that in an entertainment media anymore, though it does kind of go down the tubes as he reverts to sitcom status bungling dad (though thankfully without the overly sensible and extravagantly competent and out of his league wife to fix everything and humor him afterwards). The execution scene itself seemed surreal, Theon being the one handing Ned Ice. Our relationship with Ned is bookended by the choppin’ block.
Lots of symbolism/signs here and Elena touched on the wolves and matching children, but what she can’t know yet is the significance of the cause of death of the mother wolf — a “shattered antler” to the throat — as she has not yet been introduced to House Baratheon, whose house sigil is a stag. Just made me think back forward to how much I love the bond that existed between Ned and Robert (the King, –and Martin has Ned name him to Bran, offering us the idea that he named his eldest son after the King). I will get into it a bit more in later installments, but I always viewed that relationship as the kind of shared space between Ned and Bran, one looking back on it, the others viewing it as an ideal (perhaps because both were not eldest sons).
I could be influenced by having read the series itself, but I found myself appreciating the instances of the non-Starks speaking up when do. They are identified, not just their roles, and I think in the end this makes Starks seem more familial to those not bearing their name. Many people die in these novels, but those of the North seem to sting more than most and I think the early recognition enables that.
I share Elena’s appreciation for how the chapter ends, something that Martin is incredibly and repeatedly adept at. I’d add that I forgot how competent and just how generally badass Jon is from the very beginning. I enjoyed a lot of the simple moments here, even the briefest of scenes — a single line – – displaying the camaraderie between Rob and Jon, laughing together and racing each other. It informs a decision or at least a thought that Robb had later in the novels regarding succession. Martin also clearly distinguishes the two physically:
He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.
Their differences are not a surprise at all, even if accepting wholly the explanation offered in the chapter (Jon being a bastard son of Edward and Robb being his eldest true born son, with dominant features of his mother–a Tully of Riverun). It is, however, the fact that they are compared directly that may be where our Jon Snow file starts. The opposite of what a Steven Erikson does in his Malazan Book of the Fallen (not knocking it at all, I think that series is brilliant and it works marvelously there and it’s probably my favorite fantasy series) Martin is extremely detailed with character and family physical traits, going back to distant ancestors. An author who embeds reasons for overly descriptive passages regarding introductions and appearances is something fans of Fantasy have to appreciate.
It’s a huge part of the series. Earlier I said glorious, and what I meant was that when you step back from the chapter a bit, you kind of walk into this magnificent realization that you forgot that this chapter had a POV name attached to it. Bran is a sponge, and that’s what the reader becomes, soaking up the first chapter. We are a part of the world, but it isn’t ours yet, and Martin baby steps us back into the horror story we just ran away from in the prologue by instantly offering us more that we fear losing: a little boy and his puppy.
This time around the final line put the thought in my head that perhaps the young bastard’s words to Theon in reference to the albino direwolf also could imply a message about the book and series itself. Is this Jon’s story?