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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 Note on Sources and Methodology

In A Song of Ice and Fire each POV character has a very incomplete view of events and they often find themselves surprised, overtaken, or impacted by actions, intrigues and battles they have no knowledge of. Distance and secrecy are the two major limiting factors. Often events are far away and communicated only by hints and rumors. Just as often actions are close by but intentionally hidden by other actors. Then there are inequities in power, intelligence, and reliable sources information as well as dissimilarities in needs, desires, and ideology which can create mental distance in place of physical distance. The reader has greater knowledge of the political and magical events, but only up to a point, as this knowledge is based on a haphazard synthesis of incomplete (sometimes delusional) perspectives.

Similarly, every one of the POV characters of A Song of Ice and Fire has a very limited perception of the world system in which they live, what Illyrio Mopatis’s refers to as the “one great web.” All the factors that impede their knowledge of political and magical events also prevent them from seeing the disparities that exist between the different sections of the world in their economic relationships, political and technological development, and acquisition of knowledge. The Jade Sea, Southros, and Summer Isles are extremely far away. The Free Cities are only a short trip across the Narrow Sea, but the high lords, ladies, and learned of Westeros are largely ignorant of their inner workings and social complexity, which they generally perceive as far away and unimportant to their own society and its power struggles. Whenever they think of Near Essos they see only a ready source of mercenaries, ships, and capital, or a land of disgraced exiles and petty wars. The position these same lords and ladies occupy in world trade is principally limited to that of supplier, customer, and tax authority, with actual commerce left to lesser men. Most of the POVs are highborn Westerosi and hence on the periphery of the world system, physically and/or mentally. Consequently, the plans of those who reside at the center of the system or between the center and periphery, the merchant-bankers, corsair-kings, religious leaders, and spymasters of the Narrow Sea and East, are never discovered by the POVs, only revealed to them. And these revelations are fairly miserly ones at that, for it would not serve their purposes to fully confide the extent of their power or their ambitions to those they consider their instruments and victims (nor are they ones to normally confide in each other).

Readers are therefore largely informed about the East through Westerosi who have little understanding of Illyrio’s great web and consequently we see only the briefest of glimpses of the world system at work. Naturally these observations and interactions are very cursory in nature and often come off as relatively unimportant within the larger story: traders arguing in a marketplace, ships in a harbor, a list of goods, the citizenship of a lone sailor in a brothel, the ingredients of a dish, the outfits worn at court, the title of an office, the words chosen by an envoy, the offhand comment of a mercenary. But just as the reader gets a better sense of political and magical events as the story progresses, so the structures and movement of Illyrio’s occasionally glimpsed web come more and more into view as these fragmentary pieces of information accumulate. Picked out of the text and assembled together they form a mosaic of an underlying order upon which the events of the War of Five Kings and Daenerys’s Emancipation War play out. Continue reading

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