The Tower of Joy

zap-game-of-thrones-season-4-cast-photos-021Now that the dust has settled on Game of Thrones season 4 and the long wait for the next book/season begins, I wanted to take a minute to provide newer fans with a little conjecture and a little back story on their favorite medieval fantasy. If you’re a fan of the show and sometimes wonder what the heck everyone is talking about when it comes to the Mad King? Or who this Aegon Targaryen guy is and why his statues are everywhere? Have you ever wondered what the big deal is with Jon Snow’s bastard status? And what was Prince Oberyn yelling about during his fateful battle with Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane? Then this post is for you…

I know fans of the books have rehashed this material over and over, but I thought I’d shine a light on the history behind HBO’s breakaway hit for those that haven’t had a chance to dive into the novels or the thousands of forum posts devoted to the subject. While this skirts the line of spoiler, anything that would be is theory at this point so no one really knows until the next book comes out.

No major spoilers for anyone caught up with the current season of Game of Thrones, but might be a bunch of names and places to anyone not.

Map_of_westerosGeorge R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a cultural phenomenon. From HBO’s series Game of Thrones to video games, books, spin-offs, graphic novels, and more, the series’ popularity has never been higher. You can always tell the popularity of a show by the number of knock-offs there are on other stations, and right now Game of Thrones has inspired everything from Vikings to Black Sails, from Camelot to Reign, White Queen to Once Upon a Time.

You know you’ve made it when South Park makes fun of you, and Game of Thrones got a trilogy…

The thing that sets Martin’s books aside from others in the genre, is the sheer scale of it all. The creative minds behind the television adaptation have done a painstaking job of bringing the books to life on the screen. Naturally, some things are going to be lost in translation, especially with a story that spans three continents, thousands of named characters, and dozens of locales. One of them is the history of the realm. Even hardcore fans of the show may miss a lot of the subtext when so many names and faces are flashed in front of them, barely to return… And it makes retelling the history of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros through memory and flashback a hard thing to do… So the showrunners have decided to leave most of it out. With its focus on the major families of his kingdoms of Westeros, the Starks, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, Boltons, and the southern Martells, A Song of Ice and Fire is a series that stretches across thousands of miles, as well as years.

Martin traces the history of Westeros back dozens of millennia to the original, more magical inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms, and ties the events that happened then with the drama and action that plays out across the pages. While the kings and queens play their games of thrones, readers are treated to flashbacks, memories, and the oral tradition of storytelling. Remember when Bran told the story of the cook that killed his guest in the wake of the Red Wedding? The books are littered with stories like these, and none of them are more compelling than the rich history of House Targaryen, the dynasty that ruled the Seven kingdoms for three hundred years before Brandon Stark was ever born… And the Mother of Dragons, Queen Danerys Targaryen, is the last of their line…

Or is she?

House_Targaryen_Family_treeThey were silver-haired, fair-skinned people from Valyria, across the Narrow Sea. The Targaryen family conquered the known world from the backs of their great, fire-breathing dragons. They themselves were refugees from a homeland that was destroyed in a cataclysmic volcanic event called the Doom of Valaria, that echoes the fable of Atlantis. House Targaryen brought order to the continent in a wave of bloody conquest and all of the great lords of Westeros, from the Starks in the north to the Lannisters in the west, bent their knee to King Aegon I, the first of his name.

As with most great things, time took its toll on the dragonriders. After hundreds of years of in-breeding and arranged marriages, the “blood of the dragon” began to weaken, as did their mighty fire-breathing beasts. The last dragon born in the world was a small, feeble thing… As was the mad King Aerys II. He was the last Targaryen to rule as king, and his reign ended twenty years before the events of Game of Thrones. After his imprisonment during a rebel uprising by a rival lord, Aerys II grew increasingly paranoid and delusional. The Mad King began ordering his Pyromancers to produce large amounts of a deadly flammable liquid known as wildfire. He believed that because he could not command the might of a dragon, he would ensure he at least had the power of a dragon’s breath to threaten his enemies. However crazy the Mad King was, he was still loved by his people… And in the books, many common folk declare their fealty to House Targaryen still. Thus the origin of King Robert’s nickname, The Usurper.

MiguelRegodónHarkness_Rhaegar_TargaryenBefore Robert’s Rebellion shook the political landscape of Westeros forever, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was set to take the throne as the Mad King’s first-born son. He was the most popular prince to ever live in King’s Landing, and all of the girls dreamt of being his queen. He was a tall and elegant young man with flowing silver hair. He often lost himself in the libraries of the older castles, pouring over histories of the Seven Kingdoms and seducing women with his talent for song.

Until one day he read something in the old scrolls that changed him forever.

He marched up to the courtyard the next morning and began training with a sword, eventually wielding deadly skill with a blade. Prince Rhaegar was a beloved hero across the realm who garnered more applause at tournaments than the lords who hosted them. When it came time for Rhaegar to marry, he was one of the first Targaryens to marry outside of the family bloodline. He was wed to Elia Martell, sister of the Red Viper Prince Oberyn, of House Martell, the most powerful family in the South. The royal couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but Elia became bed-ridden after nearly dying in childbirth.

What did Prince Rhaegar read that fateful day that made him put down his harp and pick up a sword? What could he have read in scrolls that had been collecting dust for thousands of years? We dont’ really know at this point, but it has to do with a prophecy from millennia before, and the Prince That Was Promised.

In Clash of Kings (season 2), Danerys Targaryen, who is Rhaegar’s youngest sister, enters the House of the Undying. There she has many visions, including that of Prince Rhaegar, who died years before. She opens a door and sees Rhaegar and Elia in a flashback, naming their son Aegon, and declaring the boy is the Prince That Was Promised… The prophecized hero that would lead mankind out of darkness (a prophecy that has absolutely everything to do with Game of Thrones). However, in her vision, Danerys also hears Prince Rhaegar say, “the dragon has three heads, there must be one more” without any further explanation… 800px-Roberts_RebellionBut it is implied in the books that Rhaegar sought a third child after his wife became ill giving birth to their second. All because of something he read.

Indeed everything changed one fateful day when Jamie Lannister (not yet the Kingslayer) was just a boy of 15… And Prince Rhaegar Targaryen changed the fate of his family, and the entire world, with a crown of blue roses.

When the great Tourney at Harrenhal took place at the sprawling castle, Prince Rhaegar emerged as the champion, defeating even Ser Arthur Dayne, who was the greatest swordsman in the land. However, when Rhaegar went to name the next Queen of Love and Beauty (as was tradition at such an event), he placed the crown on the lap of a beautiful young woman named Lyanna Stark… Striking a spark that would ignite the country in flame.

Ned Stark later remembers it as the day “when all the smiles died.”

751px-Rhaeg_lyanna-winterfelllA year later, for reasons unknown, Prince Rhaegar “kidnapped” Lyanna Stark, who was betrothed to Ned’s good friend, Robert Baratheon. When Ned’s brother Brandon rode to Kings Landing against his father’s wishes to demand his sister’s release, he also challenged Prince Rhaegar to come out and die. In return, the Mad King arrested Brandon and his friends for conspiring to kill the prince, and demanded their fathers come to the capital to answer for their crimes. When Ned’s father and his companions arrived, Aerys murdered them all then and there. Lord Stark demanded his right to trial by combat, and was roasted alive in his armor while his son Brandon watched, himself strangling to death in a horrible device that tightened as he tried to escape.

War swept across the countryside. Robert’s Rebellion hastened the end of the Mad King’s rule, and of House Targaryen.

350px-Regis_Moulun_A_United_CauseJamie Lannister, sworn to protect Aerys, learned of the king’s plans to ignite the vast quantities of Wildfire under the castle keep in Kings Landing. When the Mad King ordered him to ride out and kill his father, Jamie saved the city and his father’s life by opening the King’s throat on the steps of the Iron Throne… But because no one knew about the King’s plan to ignite the wildfire, he was scorned as the Kingslayer from that day on.

Lord Tywin brought his army to the capital under a flag of truce, and instead, turned loose in the Red Keep and slaughtered the last of the Targaryen bloodline. Aerys’ throat was opened by the sword sworn to protect him, while Prince Rhaegar’s wife and two children were murdered by the Mountain. Prince Rheagar met Robert Baratheon on the field of battle, and in an epic fight that saw both men gravely wounded, Rhaegar met his death after a blow from Robert’s mighty warhammer. Meanwhile his mother, younger brother, and unborn sister were smuggled out of Westeros before Lannister swords found them.

Battle_of_the_Trident_Robert_Rhaegar_by_Mike_S_MillerDays before, Ned Stark took six of his best men and rode after his sister Lyanna… Who was “held captive” in the Tower of Joy, near the Red Mountains of Dorne. When he arrived, he found three knights that eluded the rebels the entire war guarding the tower. They were the King’s most trusted and skilled warriors, including Ser Arthur Dayne, the greatest swordsman to ever live.

In Game of Thrones, when Ned breaks his leg and is sick with fever, he recalls the day he saw his sister die in a “bed of blood.” As he and his men approach the tower, Ned calls out to the men of the Kings Guard, telling of the end of the war.

“I came down to Storm’s End to lift the siege.” Ned shouts, “The Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge us fealty… I was certain you would be among them.”

“Our knees do not bend so easily,” said Ser Arthur Dayne

Ned’s wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three.

“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.

“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”

300px-Elia_martell_by_daenerys_modIt is this memory of Neds that stitches so many of the series’ elements together, long after his death in the first book. Because after the battle, only two men survived, Ned Stark and Howlan Reed (father of Jojen and Meera, Bran’s fur-clad companions in the North). However it is what Ned found in the Tower of Joy that drives one of the series’ most guarded secrets. According to the Targaryen side of the story, Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna. Instead, they say the two were in love, and he helped her escape her arranged marriage willingly. With the knowledge that Rhaegar wanted a third child to fulfill some long-lost prophecy he read as a child, we can only assume a few things from here.

In his dream, Ned recalls his sister’s cries for him as he ascends the tower, smelling roses and blood, and he wakes remembering a promise he made, so many years before. Ned Stark makes a secret promise to his dying sister, who has been shacked up with Prince Rhaegar, and who lays in a bed of blood. There’s also the matter of the three Kings Guard outside, three of the most accomplished swords in the realm, and they’re guarding a woman alone in the mountains? This all right before Ned makes the long trip back to Winterfell… With Jon Snow, his supposed bastard, in hand…

Asiulus_Promise_Me_NedNed never speaks of Jon’s true mother, not even to his wife. Could the promise he made to his dying sister be for him to keep the secret of her son’s father? Is Ned so melancholy and tight-lipped about Jon Snow’s mother because he knows that the boy is truly his nephew, and heir to House Targaryen? If so, it would make perfect sense with the clues scattered throughout the entire series. From Darnerys’ vision to the Red Woman seeing a blue flower in a wall of ice during her own prayer (remember, blue flowers). From Ned’s dream, to Danerys’ vision of Rhaegar declaring “there must be one more” dragon, there is enough evidence to make a good argument that Jon Snow is really the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.

If so, if Jon is really Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son, and the only living male heir to the Targaryen throne…Then is he the “Prince That Was Promised?”

350px-Azor_AhaiLegend tells that when the Others (White Walkers) came during the Long Night and defeated the world of men the first time thousands of years before, that the Prince That Was Promised arose. The legend of Azor Ahai tells that the hero of man created his flaming sword Lightbringer, after two unsuccessful tries. The third and final sword he made he hammered for 100 days and nights before cooling the blade by piercing his beloved wife’s heart, thus sealing in her soul and the power of Lightbringer.

If you read between the lines, you can see how Rhaegar had three children, and the final killed his love, Lyanna… Three children, three swords, the last ending in death.

Is Jon Snow the reincarnation of the Prince That Was Promised? Is he Lightbringer himself? Am I completely wrong, and full of shit?

jon_snow_and_ghost_by_guillemhp-d4dbevlI guess we’ll have to wait and see…

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How I Prepared for Game of Thrones Season 4

I find myself in a strange position on the eve of HBO’s mega-hit fantasy series Game of Thrones’ fourth season. I tried as long as humanly possible to not jump feet first into the world of Westeros… Sure I liked the show and watched it every week without fail, and yeah I might’ve picked up a t-shirt or two along the way, but all-in-all I’ve fought the urge to pick up the books or play any games or spend hours looking into the early history of the First Men and how they lived in harmony with the Children of the Forest until the Andals came and conquered the seven kingdoms… Oops…Game-of-Thrones-Mondo-poster-1

Shit, there I go. I lay all blame on the broad shoulders of George R R Martin.

So yes, in the dark hours of this last winter, I picked up Game of Thrones, the first book in the series. It was just sitting there waiting for me to pick it up… And then I couldn’t put it down. Of course. I don’t know what I was expecting, I don’t think I had any expectations, but now I see why the show is what it is to so many people. You see, I didn’t WANT to read the books. I have a complicated relationship with adaptations thanks to my undying love for Stephen King. I realize that some things are just better left on the page.

Well, I couldn’t wait any longer… And now I’m paying the price… Story of my life. Now I’m well into A Clash of Kings, and ready to start watching the second half of Storm of Swords… The part of the books that season 4 is based. I don’t mind. I’ve resigned myself to my fate as quickly as I could.

What can I say? I’m hooked…

882475_497649860299011_407630296_oThe books are amazing, his writing is brilliant, and I don’t care if I’m on a runaway train headed for a head-on collision at the end of the line. You see, I’m not a fan of waiting. Patience is a virtue, that sometimes just eludes me… Plus like I said, I’ve been through this once before, and I used to feel a little burned by the way The Dark Tower wrapped up. I remember waiting, wondering, lamenting every story that came out instead of… It was horrible. I stopped reading King for years because he just wouldn’t sit down and write the damn ending. Then when it came I was overjoyed at the prospect of an ending, until it was over. I love the ending of The Dark Tower. It wasn’t at all what I imagined, and that’s the point.

I’m a writer, while not necessarily a big-shot published so-and-so, I still understand the pain of writer’s block. Just ask the novels I’ve been letting collect dust for well over a year now… Inspiration is a tricky thing, and nothing feels more wrong than forcing writing… But in the end, if it’s a person’s job, and there are millions of people out there waiting with bated breath, hanging on every Google News alert for misinterpreted signs of your next book, I might be a little more motivated to lock myself away in my mansion and force myself to wrap shit up.

Martin has been writing The Winds of Winter for awhile now, and still has one more book to go before the series is over- A Dream of Spring. The internet is flooded with reports of the show ending before the books do, what will happen if the show catches up to the books, if Martin doesn’t publish fast enough… All the speculation, all the pressure… It’s got to be rough.

At the same time, it’s the best part of the series. The End. How much fun is it to write all the stuff you’ve been building up to? THE BEST! Maybe that’s just wishful thinking though.kings_landing

**SPOILERISH**

As HBO’s visual version of Westeros prepares to return in a few weeks, many are wondering how last season’s Red Wedding can possibly be topped? I myself, have never had my heart and stomach wrenched by a television show more than when Walder Frey’s men viciously stabbed Robb Stark’s pregnant bride in the stomach over and over again as arrows rained down from above, washing away any hope of a Stark family reunion with a tidal wave of blood. When Michelle Fairley screamed at the end of that episode… That sound will echo in my memory forever…stark-household-game-of-thrones-19599011-1280-720

Anyone who has read the books or has succumb to the pull of the internet knows that there are some MAJOR deaths coming up this season as well… I don’t want to say anything, mainly because I don’t know details, but I do know that the North will never forget, and the Lannister family is about to get a little smaller…

Now that the oldest, most noble house in Westeros has been brought to its knees by the usurping Lannister clan, the political climate in the capital is about to get even muddier. John Snow is back at Castle Black, destined for leadership, and Stannis Baratheon is headed North to help defend against the coming tide of Wildlings. Arya Stark is on the run with The Hound, headed for the Eastern shore and a trip across the Narrow Sea, while her sister Sansa has been married off to Tyrion Lannister- possibly the only man in Westeros who can still save the “kingdom” if his freaky family would just step aside and let him. The psychoboy King Joffery is set to go toe-to-toe with grandpappy Lannister as the powerful Tyrell family cements itself to a doomed house.

With Bran Stark and his gang of merry Wargsters headed into the white beyond the wall in search of the Children of the Forest, can the parapalegic boy find the three-eyed raven and save the world? Meanwhile the recently eunuch’ed Theon Greyjoy, aka Reek, is held captive by the traitor Roose Bolton’s bastard son Ramsey… And let’s not forget our favorite Mother of Dragons across the sea. Daenerys builds her armies as her ancestors did before her, all the while her three dragons grow bigger and bigger, and far less easy to control…

GOT1Never turn your back on a Targaryen with a dragon.

This season is the build-up to Martin’s Dance with Dragons/Feast of Crows experiment, in which he originally set out to skip the story ahead five years, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen and instead basically cut one giant book in two. Dance and Crows take place at the same time, and each one covers the events on different sides of the narrow sea. It will be interesting to see how the writers on HBO’s show choose to blend the books together over the coming seasons.

That on top of Martin’s hints that the series might wrap up with a big-screen finale due to the effects-heavy needs of the climax- and fans are champing at the bit for both new episodes and the new book that “should” be out late this year or early next. Either way, as long as HBO takes its time, there’s still a lot of story left to cover before the show catches up… And if he can get Winds of Winter out soon, or even better, write them both at the same time, then fans of Game of Thrones should have nothing to fear.

Winter is no longer coming, Winter is here…