WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE WINDS OF WINTER AHEAD. While this blog assumes its readers have read all five currently published volumes in A Song of Ice and Fire, in the case of ancillary material like the Tales of Dunk and Egg or sample chapters from forthcoming books, it is my pledge to you to assume not everyone’s read them and act accordingly. So I say again: WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE WINDS OF WINTER AHEAD.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s at long last talk about the sample chapter George R.R. Martin released a few weeks ago from The Winds of Winter.
* For starters, let’s talk about what the existence and publication of this chapter says about the progress GRRM’s making on The Winds of Winter: It says not very much at all. Elio Garcia reports that GRRM’s current guesstimate on TWoW’s completion is three, three and a half years (scroll down to the comments). I’ll admit I’d gotten my hopes up prior to reading that, since his most recent plan of attack for the next Dunk and Egg story and TWoW saw a lot of action in the very near term. And, let’s be honest, since I’ve never been waiting around for years for another ASoIaF book like many fans have, having only joined the fandom a year or so prior to the announcement of A Dance with Dragons’ release date, and thus really have no idea what kind of time frame to expect except in the bloodless sense of looking up the time between releases on wikipedia or whatever. So there are no tea leaves to be read here.
* Let’s also stipulate that I lack Elio & Linda’s powers of deduction and inference. I watched their video podcast on the chapter in awe, because they make connections that are only obvious to me when pointed out by others, and make them seemingly instantly. For example: Of course the Iron Bank of Braavos, the central financial institution of a great seafaring state, would hate the idea of a Westeros ruled even in part by Euron Crow’s Eye, the world’s most notorious pirate, and of course they would therefore seek to support rival claimants not only to the Iron Throne but to the Seastone Chair. But how E&L skip from stone to stone on the way to that conclusion simply from the mention that Tycho Nestoris, the Iron Bank’s envoy, ransomed some of Asha’s men for her is beyond me. But yeah, surely that’s what Tycho was up to there: Allying the Iron Bank with Euron’s rebel niece.
* Nor did I pick up and run with some of the clues that they did. I’m pretty fond of their notion that the thin ice on the nearby lake will play a role in Stannis’s plans for defeating the incoming Frey/Bolton forces, a notion supported by Martin’s real-life references to the coming battle as “The Battle of Ice” (vs. “The Battle of Fire” at Meereen). It has that sense of the unexpected, and the sense of scale, that the winning masterstrokes of Martin’s big battle setpieces tend to have. Tell me you don’t want to see, in effect, the North itself defeat the architects of the Red Wedding.
* Similarly, though I wasn’t quite sure why they seized on the idea that Stannis may fake his own death for strategic purposes — an idea stemming in part from his insistence to Ser Justin Massey that he must continue to recruit sellswords and fight for the Iron Throne even if he hears that Stannis has died — I’m pretty taken with it in retrospect. It’s certainly a decent way to draw your enemies out: “Oh, Stannis Baratheon is dead, so let’s send some [unsuspecting] forces up North to consolidate our rule there in his absence” or something like that.
* My pet theory based on this? Stannis wrote the Pink Letter in order to trick Jon into bringing the Watch and the Wildlings into battle on his side, something he’d been unable to do in a more straightforward fashion. As best I can tell, the mix of accurate and bogus information in the Letter closely matches the picture Stannis currently has of what happened at Winterfell, coupled with a plausible extrapolation of what Ramsay might know, think, and say, all drawn from information Theon could provide. Note the similarities in language: “He wants his bride back. He wants his Reek,” Theon tells Stannis; “I want my bride back….And I want my Reek,” the Letter tells Jon. Now, I’ve argued (persuasively, to my mind, but of course it would be) that the Letter’s implicit threat to the Watch is what motivates Jon to announce his intention to march south to war, as opposed to Northern/Stark partisanship, which obviously plays a part but isn’t the whole story. Remember that Jon thinks to himself “If this is oathbreaking, the crime is mine and mine alone,” emphasis on “if,” whereas back in A Game of Thrones, when he fled the Wall to join Robb, there were no ifs ands or buts about it: “He was who he was; Jon Snow, bastard and oathbreaker, motherless, friendless, and damned.” By ginning up a threat to the Watch where such a threat no longer existed, Stannis could have a much better chance of motivating Jon to join the fight. Of course, he wouldn’t be thrilled with Stannis if and when he were to uncover the ruse, but by then the battle would likely have been fought (it’s not like he could go to Ramsay and ask about the letter and hear “Huh? No idea what you’re talking about, man”), and Stannis Baratheon is not here to make friends.
* For me, the chapter’s big hip-hip-hooray moment was the realization that Bran was influencing the ravens to root for Asha’s weirwood-tree plan. At least I assume it’s Bran, and that therefore Bran has learned a lot about skinchanging and greenseeing in a short period of time, though it’s certainly possible that it’s the Three-Eyed Crow at work instead. But this raises the question: Who put the idea in Asha’s head? After all, it wasn’t the ravens who suggested taking Theon to the tree and executing him by hand, it was his very human sister. Does she have something in mind unrelated to the words of the birds? Or is she under the influence just as much as they are? Sheesh, could Brynden have skinchanged into her? (I don’t think Bran would be able to convincingly fake Asha’s demeanor and knowledge.) Or did he just do whatever the Dreamer equivalent of inception is and plant the idea in her noggin? And what the hell’s gonna happen when they get to the tree anyway? Is it going to suddenly start talking and convert Stannis to the worship of the old gods? Very quickly you go from “Hahaha, awesome, I know what’s going on!” to “Hang on, wait a second, I have no idea what’s going on.”
* I’ve always loved how Martin can at this point conjure up half a dozen storylines within a single paragraph. By sending Justin Massey to Braavos to raise cash to purchase the services of the Golden Company in the Disputed Lands, he reminds us of Arya and the Faceless Men, Tyrion and Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons, the Golden Company’s newfound allegiance to Young Griff/Aegon Targaryen and Griff/Jon Connington, and the über-plots of Varys and Illyrio, all in one fell swoop.
* One quick note about ravens: I caught two typos in the chapter, meaning it’s not quite ready for prime time. So I’m hoping we can similarly dismiss its contention that most ravens can only fly to one destination as some kind of garbling of the much more feasible idea that most ravens can only fly one route, i.e. back and forth between two castles, that will get fixed in the editing stages. Because if a raven can only fly to one place, at which point it’s stuck there, what the heck, man? Does each castle maintain a fleet of Raven Retrieval Wagons whose job it is to run around the seven kingdoms reclaiming sent ravens and bringing them either back to their point of origin or simply to some random castle other than the single one to which they can fly? Or do most ravens get to fly a grand total of once and then retire? Because those are your options based on the set-up presented here, as far as I can see.
* I think that’s everything I wanted to discuss. I haven’t had the chance to dive into the Westeros message board threads on the topic, so my take on the chapter is mostly virginal. Did I miss anything major? Do you have anything you want to share about the chapter? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!