A Song of Ice and Fire: A Dance with Dragons

Spoilers for all published books in A Song of Ice and Fire follow. For my thoughts on Book 3, which are free of spoilers for Books 4 and 5, see here.

I have finally finished reading all so-far published books in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, the basis for HBO's Game of Thrones. Having lent them to me and pestered me to read them, Brother found himself regretting this decision when subjected to four hours of me analysing them and trying to predict what will happen in the last two books, while I myself am torn between a desperate desire for George RR Martin to write faster and yet, at the same time, a slight hope that maybe he won't bother at all and I can stick with the endings in my head, which I suspect are much happier (and much soppier) than whatever he's got planned. Look out for a predictions thread in which I'll share some of my theories over at Doux Reviews, after season three of Game of Thrones finishes airing.

Having finished the books, I have now allowed myself to look at some of the many websites devoted to the series, particularly the TV Tropes pages and The Citadel. This has brought up a few bits and pieces of Classical hints and allusions that I'd missed because, I have to confess, the only way I was able to get through these books was to skim large sections of them and in some cases, entire chapters. (In books 4 and 5, I skimmed almost every chapter relating to any Greyjoy who wasn't Theon or Asha and didn't pay 100% attention to most of what was going on in Dorne, or relating to people from Dorne, unless they happened to be with Tyrion at the time. Anything involving Jaime and/or Brienne, on the other hand, got read in minute detail, sometimes twice. I am still a twelve-year-old girl at heart).

I got quite interested when I read about a prophecy involving a 'wooden wall' because to a Classicist that means only one thing - ships. (From the famous incident in the Persian War, recorded by Herodotus, when the Athenians were told to use wooden walls, and some argued they should hide behind the walls of the city, but Themistocles convinced them in fact it meant they should rely on their navy and lure the Persians into a naval battle at Salamis). In fact, this particular prophecy does sound like it might refer to an actual wall made out of wood, given that flaming arrows are arching over it, but you never know. I'd love it if it turned out to involve ships (and I'd love it even more if the flaming arrows hit all the ships carrying Euron Greyjoy, Victarion Greyjoy and all the other Greyjoys who aren't Asha and wiped them all out...)

It was also only when the backstory was all laid out for me by the lovely people of the internet that I noticed how close some aspects of the origin story for the war are to the Trojan War. I read A Game of Thrones way back in 2002, so I had completely forgotten the details of how Robert's Rebellion started and what happened to Lyanna Stark, and the small, slow drip-feed of additions to the story had therefore passed me by a bit as well. Looking over the thing as a whole, it's suddenly blindingly obvious that there's more than a hint of the Trojan War in the story of the man who absconds with a woman promised to someone else (with the level of her willingness to go with him varying depending on whose version you're listening to) and the sets of brothers and semi-brothers (Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon having been raised together) who go after her. I'm not sure whether this will have any relevance to the story, other than providing a fun allusion, but it may lend credence to the idea that Lyanna was in love with Rhaegar - versions in which Helen is seduced or chooses to run off with Paris tend to outnumber versions in which she is raped or abducted, though you get both.

One line that jumped out at me from the TV Tropes pages was a very interesting description of the late Joanna Lannister - according to the page on Tywin, it's said that 'Tywin ruled the Seven Kingdoms, but his wife ruled Tywin' (I have no idea which book that's from, I missed it entirely!). That seems to me to be a clear paraphrase of Robert Graves' description of Augustus and Livia in I, Claudius - 'Augustus ruled the world, but Livia ruled Augustus.' Whether this will mean anything or not remains to be seen. So far Joanna Lannister doesn't really have a character - we know Tywin loved her, she died in childbirth, and that's about it. If she was like Graves' interpretation of Livia, you have to wonder if there's all sorts of scheming going on in the backstory that we don't know about yet. Even if not, the allusion gives us a lot more sense of her character than anything else I can remember about her (and is an interesting example of reception of a novel that is itself reception of the ancient world).

Of course, A Dance with Dragons includes one of my favourite ancient motifs, the gladiatorial arena. I loved the way this scene was written so that we, reading it, know that Dany is watching Tyrion and Penny joust, while they are completely anonymous to her. The scene affirms Dany's character and dislike of the Games, and putting one of our favourite characters in peril and seeing him saved somewhat at a distance is a great way of increasing the tension and drama of the moment (and is maybe the fifth time in the entire incredibly long series when someone has done something nice for someone else for no other reason than to be nice - the others being Arya taking Gendry and Hot Pie with her when she escapes, Jaime in the bear pit, Jaime letting Tyrion escape and Tyrion making sure Ser Jorah doesn't end up in the Pits. Dany trying to protect women from the Dothraki and freeing slaves may also count. There's a reason Jaime, Tyrion, Arya and Dany are my favourite characters!).

A Dance with Dragons, like Star Trek's 'The Gamesters of Triskelion,' uses gladiatorial-style Games to demonstrate the evils of slavery - though it hardly needed to, after the horror that is the very concept of the Unsullied. But the dramatic sequence in the Pits also allows for an extra element historical stories can't include - a bloody great dragon landing in the middle of the fight and the queen flying off on it. It is awesome (probably the third most awesome scene in the whole thing, after the Tolkien-echoing arrival of Stannis to join the battle at the Wall towards the end of A Storm of Swords - the only moment of the series in which I actually like Stannis - and the aforementioned bear-pit scene). The wild, dangerous, untamed dragon being attracted by the blood and violence emphasises the horror of gladiatorial combat, as well as giving Dany her moment of glory and, hopefully, indicating that the next book might involve some actual flying around on dragons, which would be a quicker mode of transport, if nothing else.

As a footnote to the gladiators thing, I loved the sequence towards the end in which Ser Barristan is  able to defeat a pit fighter because the pit fighter refuses to wear armour and keeps trying to shame Ser Barristan into taking off his. I suspect gladiators were pretty fearsome killing machines, but they were also highly specialised, mostly using particular sets of weapons against particular opponents, so might have struggled against an unfamiliar enemy - and of course, armour, as long as it's not too heavy, is a distinct advantage.

The dragon in question. It gets bigger...

We should get to see more of Meereen and its pyramids and its fighting pits in Season 3 of Game of Thrones, so I'm looking forward to that - though unfortunately we'll have to wait until Season 6 to get the awesome dragon scene! Hopefully it will be worth waiting for...


  1. We might have to wait for season 7 for that awesome dragon scene... if they continue doing 2 seasons per book!

    I need to re-read the lot of them... read them so quickly I missed out on a lot of the details! But too busy at the moment...

    How did you like Tywin's fate? ;o)

    lol! I LOVE the video you linked to! Saw it when it first came out, the tune gets regularly stuck in my head... My favourite line: "If you keep writing so slow you'll hold up the HBO show!" :p

    1. I'm quite fond of 'Lucas spent nearly 3 decades on Star Wars and we all know how that one turned out in the end' ;)

      The plan atm is apparently to do Books 4 and 5 together, spread over season 5 and 6, which makes sense - I don't think there's as much plot in those two as there is in Book 3. So the dragon should turn up around the end of season 6! I don't know what they'll do with characters who disappear for ages and then reappear, like Gendry, Theon and Rickon, but I guess it worked out OK with Barristan Selmy.

      Tywin's fate was pretty awesome! But spoiled with Shae's death coming right before it, which was unpleasant. The TV series are hopefully changing that.

      I'm really not sure I want any more books, I like the endings I have planned out for my favourites in my head!

    2. Also a very good line! :D

      They've already dealt with Theon by NOT making him disappear! Pretty much everything that's happening to him on the show we get an inkling of in later books when Reek and the Bastard converse... This way they show it which makes for less exposition in the book and keeps around a character quite a few people seem to like for some reason...

      I'm still wondering what will happen with Osha and Rickon! No news about them in the last two (or three?) books! And I don't remember any more mention of Gendry after Arya leaves the Brotherhood! If he does reappear then I definitely need to re-read the books!!! :p

      I'm liking Shae a lot more in the series than in the books, so I hope they change her story as well! But not Tywin's. That was too perfect! ;o)

    3. Gendry does turn up again, late on in Book 4 - I really liked him and was pleased he hadn't been completely forgotten! Davos has been sent off to find Rickon and Osha, who according to TV Tropes are on an island of cannibals and unicorns or something....!

  2. You should probably pay more attention to Dorne, even though those sections are so very different from all the rest. Dorne is basically Wales dressed up like Muslim Spain at its peak and as such will probably play a very big role in the political machinations of the next two books.

    1. Yes I know, but it's very boring! :) though I di like the idea of a much hotter version of Wales...

  3. I'm completely lost with references to Game of Thrones... but I find it interesting that he'd use that Trojan War interlude as inspiration.

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