Margaery Tyrell on Trial: Thoughts Concerning an Underappreciated Storyline

We’re rather surprised that so little has been written about Margaery’s upcoming trial before the Faith in The Winds of Winter. A careful search of the University archives reveals but a single post discussing this subject in detail. Steven Atwell, usually very attentive to spectacle and institutions, treats the whole thing as an afterthought that will soon be overshadowed by larger events (namely Aegon’s invasion). Sean Collins has only given it passing consideration and thinks the whole affair will devolve into yet another trial by combat (somehow). The Butterfly has written some interesting speculation about how Grand Maester Pycelle’s death might impact the trial and the politics surrounding it, but not much more than that. This is perhaps the single most overlooked storyline in the coming book. Continue reading

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A Song of Ice and FIRE: Some Thoughts on Cosmology

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From their first appearance the Others are a clear supernatural threat, one whose destructive potential vastly dwarfs the ongoing War of Five Kings. Their menacing white shadow steadily advances with each new book of the series and the gradual advent of Winter. Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly’s respective story arches have revolved around discovering and fighting them. Everything Rhaegar Targaryen did was to prepare for their coming. Rhaegar’s sister Daenerys Targaryen has fought them in her dragon dreams. Bloodraven has Brandon Stark brought Beyond-the-Wall to the Children of the Forest so that he might play a major role in the coming war. King Stannis comes North because these “demons of ice and snow” are the real enemy. The story as a whole appears to be building up to a second War for the Dawn, a climatic fight between life and death. But it bears asking, are the Others the only supernatural threat to humanity? Continue reading

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A Black Eye Shining with Malice — Thoughts Concerning Euron’s Black Magic and Potential Dark Powers

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Who is Euron Greyjoy and what does he want? This is actually a difficult question as the character, despite his larger than life persona, is both secretive and seldom seen. This in-character and authorial secrecy have combined to keep Euron on the margins of the story even as his actions have an ever increasing importance in it. The result is that the only crystal clear thing about him is his glaringly evident sociopathy and lust for dragons. Yet there is more to this villainous character than that. Here and there in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons there are scattered discreet little glimpses of magical foreshadowing. These glimpses, which indicate the use of blood magic, warlock arts, and greenseer abilities, can be added up and compared to other parts of the story to create a pretty coherent picture of Euron’s identity and goals. Continue reading

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A Room Where the Light Won’t Find You: What It Means To Be Ironborn

What went wrong with Ironborn society that led to its current arrested state? Why the unceasing belligerence and inability to forge real, lasting compromises with the present? To simply accept the purely religious explanation is to ultimately accept the viewpoint of the Ironborn’s own fundamentalist party. Regardless of how many caveats one adds, this is how their culture is and has always been and always will be. This is a viewpoint that utterly ignores social and religious change. The Northmen no longer sacrifice people to weirwoods after all, while the Dornish openly disregard many elements of the Faith of the Seven that they disapprove of. Geographic determinism, the argument that the Iron Islands are so poor that it’s no wonder reaving is important to their culture, is equally simplistic. The Sistermen, the Wildlings, the Vale Clans, and the Skagosi are also peoples with a warrior and robber culture, but they don’t fight and steal in ways that are quite so counterproductive to their own self interests. The Bear Islanders and the Northern Clans are also poor and they simply do not reave. There’s also the fact that very wealthy places like the Free Cities and Qarth regularly steal through their trade wars and fleets of pirates. Poverty doesn’t lead to robbery and wealth virtue. Both explanations are unsatisfactory in their own right, but have an additional problem in that they both reduce the Ironborn to a people who cannot change and are stuck as they are. This results in either a kind of misguided sympathy or the wholesale writing off of all sympathy, as well as a one note narrative presence for the reader. It is our intent to sympathetically delve into their mythology and history so that we might understand how they might have come about as a people, how they came to their current tormented condition, and where they seem to be headed. Continue reading

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The Courtesan’s Aura

Whilst Arya Stark in the guise of Cat of the Canals is selling clams and oysters on the Ragman Docks she is asked by the crew of the Brazen Monkey, out of Gulltown, where they might find some “sport” to while away their four day stay. After Arya recommends the mummery on the Ship, eel fights in the Spotted Cellar, duels at the moon pool, and the whores of Happy Port brothel, the youngest sailor asks: “What about them fancy whores the singers sing about?” This prompts howls of laughter from his crewmates, who mock him for thinking he can afford one: “That sort o’ cunt’s for lords and such, not for the likes o’ us.” (FfC Cat of the Canals). Much later in the story, Raff the Sweetling describes the Black Pearl as a “fancy whore” and japes about wanting to share her with his boss (WoW Mercy). Neither Raff nor the Gulltown sailors are very sophisticated, but they undoubtedly voice the general Westerosi view. As they see things, the courtesans are simply extremely expensive prostitutes, not fundamentally different from those that exist in every other port along the Narrow Sea, just fancier. The reader might easily share this perspective and not give the courtesans any further thought. Yet this snap judgment could not be more wrong. The whores of the Narrow Sea and the courtesans of Braavos occupy different social spheres and perform very different roles. The ever ambitious Dareon the Deserter recognizes this distinction when he boasts: “Yesterday I ate herring with the whores, but within the year I’ll be having emperor crab with courtesans” (FfC Cat of the Canals). To get a proper sense of the vast difference between these two occupations we will compare the “whores” of Andal Westeros and the sex slaves of Old Volantis, as they are encountered by members of the Lannister family, with the Braavosi courtesans as glimpsed by Sam Tarly and Arya Stark. We shall examine and contrast the social structures they exist within, their basic characteristics, their respective social positions, and the impact of said positions on the larger society. By this road we shall answer the question of what these two social constructs actually mean: what does it mean to be defined as a whore and what is the significance of being a courtesan. Continue reading

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A Sketch of the System: Where do Sugar and Rum come from?

While researching the raw materials used to manufacture the Strangler we found ourselves most interested in the question of how the sugar water was made. This curiosity quickly got the better of us and our sugar notes soon took up as much space as our Strangler article. For such a little question it was quite a puzzle, but we eventually came to a satisfactory solution. We then figured it would be fun to share and this mini-essay is the result.

In A Song of Ice and Fire white cane sugar is notably absent as a sweetener. Even if sugercane production were limited to just a few islands in the Jade Sea, wealthy POV characters like Tyrion, Daenerys, or Cersei would surely encounter a packet or a bowl’s worth of pure white sugar at some point, but they do not even chance upon so much as a pinch. Not a single east-west trade ship is ever encountered that is carrying it. Euron does not present any cane sugar to the Kingsmoot, although he presents “chests of nutmeg, cloves, and saffron” (FfC Aeron II). This makes little sense if sugarcane cultivation were underway in the East, as plantations would be exporting this white gold as they are exporting pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and saffron. Rather than sugar, the go to sweetener in East and West is honey. Honey is served straight on the cone, added to porridge, spread on bread, made into sauces, basted on roasting meats, soaked into sweet cakes, distilled into mead, and mixed with wine and milk and lemon water. It is only in Old Volantis that queen honey has been checked by a popular taste for purple sweet beets. They are “served with almost every meal” and used to make a desert soup “as thick and rich as purple honey” (DoD Quentyn I).

And yet a certain amount of sugar refining clearly exists and makes its presence known in the kitchens of the Red Keep, Highgarden, and Sunspear. Sugar frosts some of the lemon cakes Sansa enjoys at King Robert’s court (GoT Sansa II). At the feast following the tourney of Bitterbridge Renly’s court is served spun sugar unicorns (CoK Catelyn II). At Joffrey and Lady Margaery’s wedding feast one of the dishes Tyrion samples is a leche of brawn “spiced with cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and almond milk” (SoS Tyrion VIII). When Ser Gregor’s skull is delivered to Sunspear the cook joins in on the celebration by serving the court spun sugar skulls filled with sweet custard and bits of plum and cherry (DoD Hotah). But, again, it is never served or consumed as crystal. Outside the kitchens and tables of the great, sugar crystal totally unknown. And then, along the waterfronts of the world, there is rum. Continue reading

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A Sketch of the System: The Making of the Strangler

We consider the making of the poison commonly called the Strangler to be a microcosm of a key feature of the world system, the manufacturing power of the Free Cities and the impact they have on societies to their East, South, and West. Revealed in the list of raw materials and an analysis of the final product are the mercantilist policies by which Free Cities siphon off resources and foreign exchange. An examination of the buyers in turn demonstrates the parity in social power that exists between various Essosi merchant aristocracies while also highlighting the disparity of power that exists between said merchant aristocracies and the less sophisticated nobility of Westeros. Westeros consequently is shown to benefit the least from the world system and suffers a great deal owing to its inferior position.

A description of the Strangler, its material components, manufacturing process, and use comes to us curtsey of Maester Cressen of Dragonstone:

 It was made from a certain plant that grew only on the islands of the Jade Sea, half a world away. The leaves had to be aged, and soaked in a wash of limes and sugar water and certain rare spices from the Summer Isles. Afterward they could be discarded, but the potion must be thickened with ash and allowed to crystallize. The process was slow and difficult, the necessaries costly and hard to acquire. The alchemists of Lys knew the way of it, though, and the Faceless Men of Braavos… and the maesters of his order as well, though it was not something talked about beyond the walls of the Citadel. All the world knew that a maester forged his silver link when he learned the art of healing-but the world preferred to forget that men who knew how to heal also knew how to kill. Cressen no longer recalled the name the Asshaii gave the leaf, or the Lysene poisoners the crystal. In the Citadel, it was simply called the strangler. Dissolved in wine, it would make the muscles of a man’s throat clench tighter than any fist, shutting off his windpipe. They said a victim’s face turned as purple as the little crystal seed from which his death was grown, but so too did a man choking on a morsel of food. (CoK Prologue)

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