Hi! Love your blog and your amazing analysis of things. You said one of your favourite top five chapters was a Sansa one, and I was wondering if you'd ever spoken about the others and why you love them?
oh my god the excuse you have given me YOU HAVE NO IDEA
Sansa II, AGOT
The Hand’s Tourney: the entire series in miniature? Sansa is practically tripping at the beginning of this chapter: “it is better than the songs,” and the writing reflects that. It’s an ecstatic, imagery-driven, consciously stylized form, a dream brought to life. Then GRRM exquisitely slips the knife in. Ser Hugh dies before her eyes, exposing the misery and mess beneath the gild and glitter. Littlefinger creeps on her, lost in memory, a walking cautionary tale about how dangerous it can be to conceive of mythical tropes as rewards the world owes you. The king is a drunk, the knight who gave her a red rose won’t remember doing so when next they meet, and finally Sandor condemns the whole charade as a blood-soaked lie. And yet…there’s still something to those shimmering banners, to the courage and skill, to the songs. We fall in love with these things for a reason, after all, and both Sansa and Sandor’s stories make clear that GRRM is after more than detached, bloodless deconstruction. ASOIAF is in part about reconstruction, about people seeing that the world they believed in isn’t real, and believing in it anyway, in hopes that in doing so, they can make it real. (They don’t always succeed, but the point, the existential triumph, is that they try.)
“The Princess in the Tower,” AFFC
Then again, this chapter has an equally strong thesis-making feel to it, a nigh-flawless weaving together of all the story’s major themes. “Someone always tells.” The words haunt Arianne: they speak not only to betrayal, but entropy, disillusionment, chaos. There is no plan. There is no narrative. There is no arc. You tried something and it failed, because of course it did. Yet GRRM isn’t nihilistic; he keeps his true focus on the relationship between Arianne and Doran, a remarkably rich and affecting dynamic given that this chapter is really the only significant interaction they’ve had to date. Doran assumed Arianne would happily, unknowingly play her part in his grand plan, but Arianne thought he had a different grand plan (replace her with Quentyn), and so she hijacked his narrative. Indeed, agency is the crucial question here; Arianne refuses to be the trope invoked by the title. She will not be rescued, nor will she be a flawless martyr. Arianne spends the first half of the chapter trying to escape (she doesn’t, but again, the point is that she tries) and working through her guilt about what happened (she can’t bring back Arys or heal Myrcella, but the point is her self-recognition, her acknowledgment of her mistakes). In the second half, father and daughter realize there was far more to each other than they thought. Hard-won empathy is at the core of ASOIAF; it would be a far worse story without it.
“The Dragontamer,” ADWD
No no you poor sweet beautiful idiot I love you don’t do it STOP PLEASE no oh no…
This, then, is the fulcrum of the series, the center, the heart; for my money, the most sheerly, searingly affecting moment in the story to date. It’s about a man who knows, deep deep down, that he is going to his death, and not only that, but that he’s doing it for nothing. And yet he’s so locked into his narrative, so desperately determined to make the real world match the one in his head, that he does it anyway. Again, ASOIAF is about disenchantment, and Quent’s storyline pitilessly strips him of all illusions: most of his companions die before his first chapter, he’s forced to slaughter screaming teenagers to get to Dany only for her to reject him, and despite the hopeful title of “The Dragontamer,” it’s in truth a vividly horrifying descent into the abyss. His adventure never stood a chance, and GRRM’s true critique rests with Doran for sending Quent in the first place. Not all Secret Long-Simmering Revenge Plans are brilliant, and not all adventures are full of dashing derring-do. The book itself wants Quentyn Martell dead; I loved him immediately, but I couldn’t save him.
Bran III, ADWD
OK, I’ve devoted enough time (see here and here) to talking about the staggering ramifications this chapter has for both Bran’s story and our understanding of the metaphysics of the ASOIAF-verse. Let’s focus on what matters. Namely, that this chapter is pure Leary/Huxley/Pynchon drug writing of the highest caliber. The text is about Bran becoming a god, but the subtext is that GRRM had an acid flashback and thankfully happened to be near that Bronze Age monstrosity he calls a computer. I’ve compared this chapter to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and not without cause; both are about the glory and terror of finding at the end of your mysterious journey a force so sublime it remakes you in its image, about discovering a collective consciousness at the core of everything, and joining it, and leaving all else behind. (Come to think of it, this chapter also has much in common with the half-hour symphonic ending of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was itself definitely influenced by Kubrick’s masterpiece.) To sell that, GRRM went all in on the prose, reaching not for Tolkien, but for Proust: every sentence is a snowy jewel, a burst of cinematic imagery. I can see it, all of it, behind my eyelids, in my dreams. My second favorite chapter…
Daenerys X, ADWD
…but this one’s the best. There’s really no contest. Dany’s return to the Dothraki Sea is the most intimate, immersive sequence in the series. It’s practically hallucinogenic, but also starkly physical; it makes me feel as if I’m both taking every bloody footprint with Dany and simultaneously soaring above with Drogon. It is perhaps the most personal moment in the story: our protagonist, always driven to either assimilate fully into or drastically reform the societies she encounters by her desperate need to find a home, finally left alone with herself. Amidst the dreams and dysentery, she reaches a vital conclusion: she is destined to burn down the old world, not build a new one. Dragons plant no trees, and she will never have children. It’s devastating and exhilarating in equal measure. Dany was always my least favorite of the central cast because I never felt present in her moving and thinking and being the way I did with Sansa and Jon, but this chapter broke down that barrier for me. After watching Daenerys Targaryen reborn on the Dothraki Sea for a second time, I feel I know her now.
Also Jon’s second chapter from Dance, Sam’s first from Storm, Davos’ second from Clash and fourth from Storm, pretty much every Catelyn, Brienne, and Theon chapter…