Email From John in Amsterdam for PW226 (BOOK READERS ONLY)

We received an e-mail that in order to get my panelists out the door in a timely manner could not be completely read. Therefore, after the break, the full content of the e-mail is disclosed. This is a book reader (BR) e-mail so TV only people (NBRs) will want to avoid it!

First I’d like to congratulate you on your great podcast Matt! I came across Podcast Winterfell by way of the amazing, and much missed, Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things (come back.. again, Ken!). I haven’t been reading along with you on this tandem, but I’ve been with you every step of the way, and enjoying every word of it. Except for one: ‘boring!’.

I’ve been reading A Song of Ice and Fire since A Game of Thrones came out in paperback and I have some points from the perspective of a long time reader which I hope will raise some contemplation and discussion among the panel. This turns out to require a pretty long email, so my apologies in advance for that.

So, I’ll just get right into it with number one: George’s original plan for the storylines in AFoC and ADwD was precisely to skip ahead! Considering how many times I’ve heard Bubba say that phrase, I would have expected this to have come up before, or more often (in case there was an off-hand mention of it before). George’s original plan after ASoS was to start in again roughly five years into the future. The intervening period was to be described in some sort of prelude at the beginning of the next book, to be called A Dance With Dragons.

Seven hells, you should have witnessed that uproar! Readers were not into it. There were definitely those who felt indifferent, like I did — I deferred to George’s judgment even then — but some people seemed to be really losing their minds over it. I tried to find the old threads on a Forum of Ice and Fire, but didn’t manage. They seem to have moved or lost the old threads from the turn of the century (by the way, is it still too soon to use that phrase?).

The point is: these books comprise aspects of the story line which George originally considered ‘condensable’, perhaps even borderline uninteresting. He tried to compose his story without those parts and it did not turn out how he wanted it. I can’t speak for George’s process but I suspect that he came to realized that he could not get the emotional impact, one way or another, that he needed if he were to just cut straight ahead five years to the next round of ASoS level craziness in the series.

Consider the upcoming encounter between Brienne, Jaime, and Lady Stoneheart. I don’t know about you, but my sense is that there is a strong chance that at least one of those characters is not going to make it out of that particular moment alive (and one of them already isn’t!). According to George’s original plan, this would have unfolded in either a blurb in a prelude or would have occurred in the context of an emotionally ungrounded chapter in a book full of emotionally ungrounded chapters.

Whether or not you like Brienne, are you going to feel something when she either lives or dies in the next book? From some of the panel’s treatment of her chapters, I can imagine some rejoicing if she dies. This is a joy which would have been denied to you if AFoC had never been written, and I argue that this level of investment required AFoC. The levels of investment George weaves into his characters always seem to polarize someone or other, no matter which character that is. See Bubba’s inexplicable hatred of the otherwise universally loved Tyrion for an example.

I’ve come to think that my perspective is part of why I believe that fans are too harsh when they dwell on the plot points of these two books. Given how much effort George has put in to fill these chapters with clues, symbols, questions and backstory, there’s plenty for us to think about in the interims between books, and you just cannot do that in the sort of context-less fast-forward style that some people claim they want this series to be written. I’m especially curious as to whether Bubba has ever noticed the irony in that many, if not all, of his most interesting “math problems” come from chapters he wishes had been “skip-ahead-ed”.

To summarize the point: AFoC was going to be a prelude, and, in my opinion, ADwD was likely going to start at the moment of Daenerys ‘untying’ the Meerenese Knot and her brother (or perhaps Blackfyre cousin) Aegon invading Westeros. I base this opinion on the title in the context of now knowing about Aegon, but the contents of that aborted sequel don’t matter so much as the fact that we are still waiting to read most of the plot that would have gone into it. I hope we get to discuss this further after the next book is released and we find out what we’ve been waiting for, but I’m curious to hear your opinions already: do you think George made the right decision by filling in all the details that lead us to where we are, or would you prefer the original sequel? Do you think you would care, even if it’s just to be done with it, about Meeren or Dorne or Sam’s days at the citadel, let alone the interrelations of the Greyjoys, if you had never read anything about them?

Which leads me to point number two: I don’t believe that George intends or desires you to like every chapter, or even every PoV character. I really loved Ken’s perspective of Catlin’s PoV being a kind of finger in the eye to the traditional fantasy fanboys. I think it’s important to keep in mind that George absolutely, positively loves fucking with us. (I know it’s a PG podcast, but I have to type it like that.) Consider your original feelings about Jaime, or Tyrion. Or even Illyn Payne, who I agree somehow endears me with his clucking. Even Cersei becomes more sympathetic once we get in her head and see how deep that particular well is drilled.

This connects to my point about Brienne earlier. Even the hardcore misogynist fantasy bros are going to feel something when Brienne lives or dies in the next book. Considering the ‘George loves messing with us axiom’, I expect I will be the one rejoicing at the butthurt fanboys when she survives, but hey, you never know. Butthurt is a feeling too, though. So George wins again! And he’ll win too if he does the opposite, and leaves me weeping with a knife in my gut. It’s happened before, after all.

Seriously though, if Brienne ends up kicking butt left and right in the future, that also wouldn’t be satisfying to me without having gotten lost with her in the woods in AFoC. So I think there’s just no way to get to a fulfilling conclusion without having some chapters which drive you crazy, some characters who never seem to make the right decision, and some plot lines that haven’t shown their true worth yet.

By the way, my heart basically exploded when Mike brought this up in the context of Daenerys’ chapter last week. Yes! You are supposed to feel frustrated, you are supposed to feel sad, you are supposed to be wanting it to be anything but what it is. Generating that kind of effect essentially requires creating something difficult to read. If and when Daenerys gets herself together and breaks this stalemate, we are supposed to be overcome with relief. It takes time to set up those kinds of stakes. Consider how stoked Bubba was when Bran finally met the Three Eyed Crow. You can’t just base that kind of reward on nothing. Rather, it costs you quite a few chapters which end with you wishing, even frustrated, that you knew where a given character is actually headed. Otherwise it may as well be a summary on Wikipedia when you finally get there, as far as emotional impact is concerned. Bubba, tell me how glad you will be to be done with Mereen!

Now to my third point: the pace of George’s writing is often lamented by those who, from my perspective, have not only no right to complain: in fact, their very complaints are groundless. The first three books were released between 1996 and 2000. ASos was release the very next year after ACoK (1999 and 2000), but no one that complains about George’s pace of writing seems to mention, let alone, appreciate this fact.

Sam’s ending of AFoC which Mike found so questionable was originally intended to be picked up immediately the next year with the publication of ADwD. George promised this on a preface to the book. At the time the five year span of AFoC s was a only a blip in the context of the quickly paced releases of the previous installments. Now, of course it is clear that George was not able to keep that promise, but I want to stress that at the time this did not seem like much of a stretch. At all. He had already done exactly the same thing between ACoK and ASoS.

I’d like to ask the panel to please consider this when discussing the two books within the context of the tandem, because the distance between AFoC and ADwD was not part of the original plan, either. Yet it seems to color the feelings and interpretations of AFoC, not only on this podcast but throughout the Ice and Fire discourse.

And, for the love of Stannis, please stop telling George to hurry up! I can’t help but feel frustrated by hearing fans who have never even had to wait a month for a new installment in this series feeling so entitled to a more immediate resolution. It does a disservice to the lived experience of this series, which involves a lot of discussion and careful reading of the texts as we contemplate our theories and crack pots together in forums during the interim between books.

Just leave the author alone. He doesn’t want to disappoint you or anybody else, but he also doesn’t owe anything to any of us. Just take it in stride, people. Welcome to the World of Ice and Fire. I mean, is Podcast Winterfell just going to disappear when the HBO series is over and the seventh (or even sixth) book is still on the horizon? Consider how much discussion we will be able to have about upcoming books once we see the themes fully unfolded in the show. Are you going to be able to resist the temptation to talk about it? I, for one, hope not!

Which leads me to my fourth and final point: I don’t think that anyone should worry too much about show spoilers vis a vis the books. This position starts with the trusty “George will always take the road which messes with us the most” axiom. From that starting point, I believe he will make the most of his chance to defy at least some, if not many, of the expectations set up by the ending, or even upcoming season, of the show. Consider how much has already changed from the books at the end of Season 4. Arya is seen both at the Vale and by Brienne? Jaime and Tyrion part on good terms? Varys will be in Essos? Jaime and Bronn will have a sub-plot? I haven’t been following castings, but I seem to remember that they are opening up Dorne but dropping the Iron Isles? Balon Greyjoy isn’t even dead? Asha isn’t even Asha? Robb Stark’s in utero offspring murdered brutally while inside Telissa, while the chance of pregnancy is left open in the books? We may not even get Manderly in the show, for Stranger’s sake!

My hope is that Dave and Dan and George understand the opportunities and responsibilities they have to either of the mediums that they are working with, and will conclude their stories appropriately. Maybe the final moment will be shared between the two, but I’m even hoping for something more like the Akira film adaptation. Akira is a famous anime which was based on an epic scale manga. Without spoiling, it’s safe to say that the ending of the film occurs roughly half-way through the course of the manga, with plenty of differences along the way. But thematically the film reflects the manga very well and also, by it’s very existence and the differences it does, throws an interesting contrast into the discussion of those themes.

“Only time will tell,” of course, but that’s a phrase whose wisdom I’ve gotten used after being a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire all these years. It’s been a great ride so far!

Thanks for considering my points, and once again for Podcast Winterfell! I also have some read-through specific questions, but I think I’ll save those for another email 😉

Also, my apologies for the slightly awkward fantasy-nerd style swearing, but I went and put something Game of Thrones-y wherever I would normally have gotten less-than-PG.

John in Amsterdam