Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

a song of ice and fire Archive

Wednesday

4

March 2015

10

COMMENTS

Coldhands, Quaithe, and the Nature of Identity

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

While much of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire status as a worldwide phenomenon is attributed to the popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s important to remember that these books were hugely successful years before the show was even conceived. A Feast For Crows debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Seller List, joining a club of fantasy novels with more exclusive membership than those who have pitched a perfect game or played James Bond. It’s not hard to see why.

The depth of this series is deeper than the crypts of Winterfell. Martin has woven an intricate puzzle that’s been the subject of countless articles, videos, and cocktail party conversation (I can attest to that final one). Re-reading the series is almost like reading a whole new series when you realize how much you’ve missed the first time around.

Identity has always been at the core of ASOIAF. Jon Snow’s parentage is the series’ most popular mystery. Even fans of the show who haven’t opened the books know about R + L = J. Martin’s use of the POV device allows him to shroud plot progression as much as he likes, which provides mystery at nearly every corner if you dig deep enough.

This also allows characters to mask their identities to the reader. On some occasions, Martin provides enough evidence to piece the puzzle together. The Gravedigger is probably Sandor Clegane and the Oldtown novice Alleras is probably Sarella Sand. On the flipside, Aegon Targaryen is probably not Aegon Targaryen (my guess is he’s a Blackfyre, though that’s a subject for another article).

A probably completely intended consequence of this is that it leads one to question the identity of many characters that Martin may not necessarily shove in the reader’s face quite like the Gravedigger. The overall depth of the series coupled with the long wait for The Winds of Winter has lead to countless theories that will likely be proven untrue. Once someone is somebody else, than anyone could be anyone else. The best example of this is Howland Reed as the High Septon, which is sort of explainable as Reed is a complete enigma, but lacks common sense from a story standpoint.

My two favorite mystery characters are Coldhands and Quaithe. I doubt not a coincidence that these two are linked to the stories of ice and fire respectively. Though they both make multiple appearances in the books, we know next to nothing about who these two might actually be and more importantly, what their agendas are.

It’s pretty clear that Coldhands used to be a man of the Night’s Watch. What’s also pretty clear is that he isn’t anyone from the books. Leaf eliminated Benjen Stark, Will, and Waymar Royce, when she said “they killed him long ago.”

This leaves The Night’s King as the only possibly person of note, but I wouldn’t use process of elimination to name him Coldhands. If Coldhands had bore some affection toward Houses Flint, Umber, Magnar Bolton, Norrey, Woodfoot, or Stark (putting aside what he did for Bran) then the notion would have some credibility. He doesn’t and further more, it seems unlikely that The Night’s King would act as a henchman to the three eyed crow, who’s significantly younger.

My personal theory is that if Coldhands is someone from the books, it’ll be revealed through a future Dunk & Egg novella. Bloodraven is mentioned almost excessively (like Tyrion’s waddling) in the first three and GRRM has said there will be at least eight D&Es. Bloodraven had a pretty loyal following, along with many of his Raven’s Teeth, accompany him to The Wall and his disappearance was clouded in mystery. If a future D&E novella features an elk riding follower of Lord Rivers, then I think we can pretty sure who it was.

Quaithe is a whole different story. We know she’s a shadowbinder from Asshai and that’s about it. She somehow has enough pull in Quarth to be part of Dany’s welcoming committee, but she urges her to get out of there as soon as possible. Quaithe’s agenda doesn’t appear linked to any of the other factions in the city. She gives Dany cryptic advice and appears to her via some weird sorcery.

The two leading theories are that she’s either Ashara Dayne or Shiera Seastar. Unlike Coldhands, neither of these candidates can really be eliminated. Like Bloodraven, Shiera is also mentioned prominently in the D&E novellas as a lover of Lord Rivers. She’s also mentioned as having an eye defect, which could be an explanation for why Quaithe wears a mask. Applying the same logic that Coldhands could be from a future D&E, it stands to reason that Quaithe could be as well. This would further tie the two character together as Coldhands, a henchman of Bloodraven, would be helping on the ice front while Quaithe aids Dany with the fire portion of the story.

There is some logic to suggest that Quaithe is neither of them. Ser Barristan frequently mentions Ashara Dayne, reaffirming her importance, but he doesn’t have anything to do with Quaithe even though he’s in close proximity to Dany for much of her story. Shiera Seastar makes sense from the angle that if Aegon is a Blackfyre, she’d naturally hate him as Bloodraven’s lover, who was a major player in the Blackfyre Rebellion. Quaithe warns against “the mummer’s dragon,” but not anymore than she warns against anyone else.

An important question to consider is what exactly changes if Coldhands’ or Quaithe’s identities are revealed? While Quaithe’s identity is likely more important than Coldhands’ is, it doesn’t mean she still isn’t a cryptic crazy woman. Further more, identifying her as Shiera Seastar does next to nothing for the majority of ASOIAF’s fanbase who haven’t read Dunk & Egg. This isn’t necessarily a compelling reason, but it’s something to consider.

ASOIAF is messy. That’s why it’s so fun to write about and why it has a rabid fan base who still engage with the series despite the long gaps between books. Our appetites are tamed a little bit by the novellas, sample chapters, and The World of Ice and Fire, but this is a feast for crows compared to The Winds of Winter.

We shouldn’t forget that there are errors. Tyrion has acrobatic skills early on in A Game of Thrones that disappear and there are a few inconsistencies in the appendixes. This shouldn’t be held against Martin, but it also goes to show that not every single word in this massive epic series serves to play into the bigger picture.

Some mysteries don’t get solved. I’ve done this with my own writing. The narrator of A Trip Down Reality Lane lacks a name. That’s just a secret that isn’t getting revealed. When it comes to ASOIAF, we can be sure that there’s plenty that won’t get answered, which will ensure the series’ popularity long after all of us have passed (and hopefully not come back as Lady Stoneheart). We aren’t going to get all the answers.

Coldhands can just be Coldhands and Quaithe can just be Quaithe. I’ve provided a few possible reasons why they are in fact secret identities, but there isn’t really any compelling motives for why this needs to be the case. ASOIAF is in many ways, a massive jigsaw puzzle. We can put together many of the pieces, but we’re probably not going to get all the answers. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

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Sunday

8

June 2014

1

COMMENTS

The Case for Strong Belwas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

As Ser Jorah took his leave from the service of Daenerys Targaryen, I found myself weeping for a reason unrelated to the fate of the exiled knight. With Grey Worm’s expanded storyline to include a peculiar and implausible romance with Missandei, it’s clear that the show has deviated from the books in an effort to expand the appeal of Daenerys’ supporting characters. Which makes the exclusion of one of her most interesting companions all the more puzzling.

In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Strong Belwas is clearly one of Daenerys’ better retainers. The massive eunuch former gladiator provides comic relief in a storyline that’s often desperate for it. And yet the show excludes him even though its elevated the humor in characters such as The Hound and Bronn.

The problem is that the show didn’t have a natural point for Strong Belwas to enter the fray. In the books, Strong Belwas arrives in Quarth in season two along with Ser Barristan, who is disguised as his squire. It’s hard to fault the show for doing away with Ser Barristan’s disguise given that it’s rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and would be hard to pull off on television. Introducing Strong Belwas alongside Ser Grandfather wouldn’t have been impossible, but it wasn’t entirely necessary either. Remember, the books have much more downtime with the Targaryen plotline than the show does.

That doesn’t mean that Strong Belwas couldn’t join the show at any given point. His association with Illyrio Mopantis gives him a fair bit of leeway to join the show far later than he did in the books. The show could simply have him come at the bequest of Mopantis. This of course could easily be worked into the show next season when Tyrion Lannister makes his escape from King’s Landing.

The big reason I think that the show doesn’t want Strong Belwas around is that he’s a eunuch. The show has two eunuchs already and has explored the horrors of that practice with Varys and Grey Worm. Strong Belwas is largely a comedic relief character who mostly wants to eat and kill things. He doesn’t care about being a eunuch. The show would care though.

The show has cut back on the importance of Daenerys’ party as a whole. Her Dothraki bloodriders and Brown Ben Plumm are absent from her storylines, choosing instead to focus on Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, Grey Worm, and Daario Naharis. Given the fact that the show has limited time to devote to Daenerys, this isn’t surprising and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

Strong Belwas isn’t a character who needs a lot of time devoted to his development. In the books, he doesn’t do much that isn’t involved with the aforementioned gluttony and lust to commit homicide. He doesn’t have a lot of depth. And yet, he’s a fan favorite.

It’s unclear as to how much of a void Ser Jorah’s departure really creates. But his absence is one less character involved with Daenerys that we care about. Given the slow pace of her story for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t have improved her storyline.

Deviations from the source material are to be expected, but those deviations should serve to improve the experience as it’s translated to screen. Excluding a beloved fan favorite doesn’t serve anyone. There’s simply no reason not to utilize the talents of Strong Belwas on Game of Thrones. The mother of dragons knows it and so do we the people.

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Thursday

22

May 2014

1

COMMENTS

The Troubles of Book to Screen in Game Of Thrones

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

As a bibliophile and a TV/film fanatic, I’ve always tried to curtail my expectations for adaptation of books I enjoy. It’s always been my belief that a good adaptation tries to capture the essence of a book rather than mimic it. Blade Runner is a good example of this. The film bears little resemblance to Philip K. Dick’s novella, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but is excellent in its own right.

When it comes to George R. R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire, ten hours is simply not enough time to cover everything. More importantly, it would be foolish to even try even if more time was allotted. The show does cover most of the main points with min
or deviations, but that will likely change and the show progresses, even without taking into consideration that the final two books haven’t even been written yet.

There are many differences between TV and books, but the most important with regards to Game of Thrones is pacing. For a series that has hundreds of characters that covers thousands of pages, there’s a lot of downtime in A Song of Ice and Fire. We see this particularly with Daenerys Targaryen, who is given relatively little to do compared to the rest of the series’ major characters. The TV cannot have a character who sits around all season and thus deviation is required. We saw this in season two with the captured dragon plot in Quarth. People can criticize it for not being in the books, but without it we’d be left with a character who mostly roamed around with nothing to do all season.

The pacing also becomes increasingly more confusing with the fourth and fifth books, which take place over roughly the same amount of time and introduce several new POV characters. While the books can get away with this, keeping in mind that neither book received the kind of critical acclaim that the first three received, a TV show can’t. Television doesn’t just one day decide that the lead isn’t the lead anymore.

This requires the show to move certain plotlines along faster than the books do. Theon Grejoy is elevated to POV character in A Clash of Kings, only to disappear for the next two books before becoming important again inA Dance With Dragons. Game of Thrones can’t get away with this. If the producers tried to tell Alfie Allen that his character would be gone for two years, he would go find other work. Further more, people would naturally lose interest.

That’s part of what makes Game of Thrones such a groundbreaking show. Both the books and the show clearly have the Starks as the main protagonists when the story begins. The Starks are responsible for six of the eight POV characters (not counting the prologue) of A Game of Thrones, yet only three of the fourteen in A Dance With Dragons. The books show an increased effort to explore their depth and from the looks of season four, the show does as well.

As the depth expands, so will the deviation. For characters like Theon, Brienne, and Daenerys, we’re starting to get close to where they are in the series as a whole rather than just where they left off in A Storm of Swords.That’s going to anger some fan purists, who want a strict adaptation of the series. But it shouldn’t, especially since the show is going to catch up with the books sooner rather than later.

Game of Thrones should make plot decisions that work for the show and not strictly because that’s the way things happened in the book. Performances from actors like Charles Dance, Diana Rigg, and Richard Madden elevated their character’s significance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Robb Stark may not have been a POV character, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t a more interesting character to watch than his brother Bran.

The big advantage of having POV characters is that the reader is given access to the inner thoughts of a wide spread of characters. We get to see what the Starks and the Lannisters are thinking. In TV, we only get to see what they do. That’s not to say that the POV system isn’t without flaws either. Characters like Sansa are often passive characters in specific scenes between non-POV characters. We have to view these scenes through a biased source. The show doesn’t have those limitations.

The biggest problems with deviations occur when they don’t work. Talisa Stark wasn’t a figure of controversy, but Jamie’s rape of Cersei was a whole different story. While, “it didn’t happen in the book,” is far from the only point of objection to the latter scene, things like that are when the differences between book and show are fully exposed.

While personally, I’ll almost always prefer the book to the screen adaptation, I don’t make a comparison between the two a deciding factor. Book purists should avoid the show entirely, because anger at something for not limiting itself strictly to the confines of what came before it isn’t really fair. Books, movies, and television are all very different mediums that don’t flawlessly translate into one another and that’s okay.

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