Dany's was—fine, but made me feel weirdly, at times, like I had hopped into one of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books; most highly specific not-even-a-complaint ever? but dissonant all the same. Quite literally: not the fantasy you were looking for. I don't know how to talk about it! I like those books, but—what do I even do with that feeling, I'm just going to take it in stride and move on.
Tyrion, meanwhile, was great in the sheer fact of his POV—by which I mean he was out of his fucking mind, vicious, paranoid, and wildly, substantially linked to his siblings, Cersei especially, in that. Straight-up Cersei shit, these chapters, and I loved that. One, because Tyrion has never been the Good Lannister (there's no such thing) and Cersei has never been the Bad Lannister (ditto). It's been a matter of sympathy and side-winning, and we got to see on a really upfront and personal level that while we might generally have wanted Tyrion to win his games and Cersei to lose hers, they are so much the same at core. I love this family so much I could choke on it—I've been banging on on Tumblr on a loop about Tywin's three children functioning as a single split creature that makes up Tywin's Heir, and it's entirely true: Tyrion has perspective that the twins lack by virtue of being an outsider even in-family, but he has his father's canniness; Cersei has his ruthlessness and overcompensates with it because she doesn't have the body to wield an iron will effortlessly; Jaime has that body, the privilege of being male and being heir to Casterly Rock and being trained into it—the three of them together would be unstoppable if they could ever function as a unit, but the second legacy of being Tywin Lannister's heir is being left emotionally starved by Tywin's fathership, and they don't know how to make space for each other because he didn't raise them as a family; they compete for the title because they each see part of him in themselves without seeing the missing spaces left in the shape of the other two. And, in great part because of that, because of those missing spaces, they're all sort of awful at playing the game on their own. As islands, they're the worst. Even Tyrion in this book—his long-range planning isn't good, not like it was when he was working in Westeros, in/around/against Cersei.
And back to Tyrion in this book—on a plot level, his just did nothing for me. Like as not this is something stylistic: I don't enjoy picaresque. He can take his river jaunts and pig-riding and keep them; I'll start caring when he's back in the Westerosi court.
So, as people get more interesting (to me) in proximity to politics, SUDDENLY JON SNOW IS MY FAVORITE BOY. In part because his chapters were such a fantastic shock of ruthless competency—kid has grown into this position, is actively good at what he does, and has more control over his sector of chaos than just about anyone else anywhere in the book, at this point. In part, too, because, weirdly, of Stannis and (less weirdly) Melisandre. I mean, I just thought the Stannis text was consistently hilarious, because anything that lampshades Stannis's awfulness is hilarious and, really, any POV that isn't Davos Seaworth's is going to lampshade Stannis's awfulness. Even ten-year-old girls want nothing to do with his grumpy lobster Jesus noise. No thank you, Stannis. And meanwhile, Melisandre was riveting and Melisandre was a person, not just a scary black-magic Cthulhu vagina with red eyes. Oh, she was still spooky and magical, but she was also overtly fallible, and HER POV WAS SUPER GREAT. Melony, Lot Seven. Perfect. I didn't know how that was going to be—because she was so inaccessible before—but it worked without fully demystifying her weirdness, which was great. Oh and, uh, as of You Know Nothing, Jon Snow Pt. 2: Pyromaniac Boogaloo, I developed a weird Jon/Melisandre thing which I have not yet shaken off and think I will nourish. There's my ~fire and ice~ pairing of choice, hey hey. She touches him a lot! He has anxiety and also confused Ygritte feelings! Iiiii want them to hatebang!
Also, the supporting characters on the Wall were better than usual—I have a bad habit of not caring about the rangers enough to differentiate them, and that's a bit true of the wildlings at large, but Val, how great is Val. And I enjoy Mance Rayder when he's around (and want him to be played by James Purefoy—who might actually be getting a role on the show for real, cross fingers!). Plus, tangentially related in the lines of 'snowy things that lampshade Stannis's general worstliness', ASHA. ASHA GREYJOY IS MY FAVORITE GIRL. I thought she was, I wanted to see more, and after two books with POV, I can safely count her among mine. (Similarly: I mean, I still want more, but I just need to say that the Sand Snakes delight my soul. So excited for more Arianne next book; she was my other new-favorite-fierce-gal out of AFFC, an experience definitely bolstered by the reread (in which people other than Lannisters were allowed to exist).) Fabulous and brazen, just how I like 'em.
(OH, SPEAKING OF BRAZEN: JON SNOW GOT STABBED! Shiiiiit. I am half astonishment and half deep visceral delight—just, part of the pleasure in this series is that no one is safe. I feel uncommonly smug in that my favorites are getting predictable deaths! I mean, I think he'll be fine, he's clearly not dead, he's clearly an endgame player, but he's not safe, and I, in my sadistic reader's chair, enjoy that deeply.)
Whilst Theon Greyjoy was once upon a time one of my favorite dudes, even and especially whilst being a hilarious dickbag, and now—now um. My soul (and gag reflex), it is broken. I require a really brutal death for Ramsay Bolton, all right—even moreso than for Walder Frey. (On which note, PAGE 499: THE WORST PAGE. Look, GRRM, the general fandom air of 'no wedding could be worse than the Red Wedding' WAS NOT A CHALLENGE. Chriiiiiiiist.) Just, so viscerally upsetting and so fascinating at the same time; I was probably hanging on closer line-by-line there than anywhere else. My god. The amount of devastation there, the constant, unwearing devastation of him, it was astonishing and claustrophobic and not something that ever got old or "used to" no matter how many chapters you spent in his head. Scary shit.
Pulling out of the AFFC-tangent timelines, Arya's sort of resolved—blindness temporary, sociopathy continued—and there are Lannisters. Oh, there are Lannisters.
(I need to tell you this, my friends, before I go on: I read this book sedate and still and intense, for the most part. Just sat down and didn't get up for long stretches, as in the best and most immersive experiences, and all was well. Until I got to the second Cersei chapter. At which point I screamed out loud and fell off the couch. Do I play favorites. I can't tell. But oh, oh, it is so far out of my control.)
Oh, my kids. Oh, my idiots. Oh, Jaime Lannister, you fucktwit, it is no kind of okay to jaunt about being useless in the Riverlands whilst your sister deals with Actual Shit back home. Not even with your grumpy she-bro! I...I love Brienne, really have grown to do, you guys, and I love him, and I dig them as grumpy comrades, but. Can I just say that her reentry into his life raised my heart briefly solely because it was so purely unromantic? Oh man. I think there was a brief period in ASOS when I thought they'd make out. I still waffle as to whether or not I think they'll ever muster a kiss. At this point I can imagine her kissing him and him gently pushing her away and it being violently embarrassing for the both of them. I just. That was so understated! He didn't have a feeling! He reacted to her with comfortable surprise! Why is this in romantic vocabulary all the time! Grumpy bros! Grumpy bros! When the entire rest of his life is spent in a ridiculous haze of sexy rage thoughts, the vocabulary contrast is...apparent. But oh lord, the sex, the rage, the repressed Cersei feelings, oh, did I say 'repressed', I should clarify, VERY BADLY REPRESSED. Do you have a little wife? I HAVE A SISTER. JAIME LANNISTER, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. JAIME LANNISTER, I LOVE YOU, BUT I ALSO WANT TO STEP INTO THE PAGES AND BEAT YOU INTO SENSE WITH MY SHOE. JAIME LANNISTER, IF YOU WOULD JUST GO HOME AND FUCK YOUR SISTER, YOU WOULD PREVENT APPROXIMATELY INFINITY CATASTROPHES. JAIME LANNISTER, SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINES, I HAVE LOST MY CAPACITY TO TALK ABOUT YOU WITHOUT YELLING AT YOU. DAMMIT, JAIME.
'His heart whispered, to Cersei.' You. Are such. An idiottclksah;dgjlhfdjsdhjghffjkdhgjksdhg
But what's great is how deep the textual prophecy of their joint deaths is running—No one must ever come between my brother and my sister, Tyrion says, imagining their heads on spikes, and Cersei is completely confident that he isn't dead because he'd wait for me. I am so excited for the final culmination of them, I don't even care how the middle is spent—I mean, lie, I care very deeply and will yell at Jaime (and Cersei, when need be! But this book, it's on Jaime) as long as he chooses to fuck around the liminal space, but also I get that it's a textual inevitability that he spend a good chunk of time bro-ing the fields fallow with Brienne (AND HOPEFULLY HER TROOPS, by which I mean I am gunning for Jaime-and-Hyle bickerbusiness. God help me, somewhere in my rambles on Tumblr, I found myself actually shipping Brienne/Hyle in perfect earnest; I hope like no other that he's not dead), it's an arc thing. But the end of the arc, the end of their joint arc, is the valonqar, and I think it has to be the end for the both of them—she dies by definition, his arc will never achieve more complete apotheosis (from Kingslaying to Queenslaying, one act that vilified him in the eyes of the people even though he knew it to be good and one that will absolve him to them even though he knows it to be evil), and they are going out as they came in. Together. And every time the text calls out to this—and it does, it's ingrained, it's gorgeous—I clap my hands and feel validated. I am really, really not one for predicting readerly outcomes, but I have thought about this a lot.
And so, speaking of apotheosis, we come to Cersei.
Cersei, Cersei. This wasn't her book, not like A Feast for Crows was her book, but my god, she was unbelievable in this book. In the cell, unbroken and half-mad but aware of the delirium and dreaming of Jaime and still proud but, more than proud, canny. Cersei Lannister is not good at ruling, no, but Cersei Lannister is good at fighting, at self-preservation, at winning her way out of tight corners. That's her battleground; she's not made for peace but she's great at clawing her way on both sides of it. That confession was smart, in a way that much of her ruling choices wasn't, because her confession was a weapon and a battle plan. Not a compromise. Never an acquiescence.
And my god, what comes next.
(Apparently, that's what the Red Wedding felt like to people with normal emotional centers in these books? I am just extrapolating. I was shaking and nauseous and I couldn't keep reading for at least an hour. I had bitten my hand, one half out of feelings and one half perhaps just out of how gorgeous the prose was. GRRM's prose rarely hits noticeable heights, but moments like that, like the Red Wedding, like the birth of the dragons at the end of the first book, stand out far and fierce because of it. It was wonderful. Also, it was terrible. But it was wonderful.)
Cersei Lannister, my fierce, vicious, gilded queen, stripped of everything and still unbent. Lady Godiva without hair, clad in gooseprickles and pride. Beautiful and human and proud and unwilling to look down, every breath a promise of revenge and a vow to herself, believing in herself completely even when she has nothing to cling to or hide behind, not a hair. Not a good person, never a good person, but never, ever apologizing, never needing to lighten her soul, not when her soul is a kind of weapon, its intrinsic ruthlessness a kind of armor. Cersei Lannister, ladies and gentlemen. This is the book that will be used to break the faces of everyone in fandom who has ever suggested that Cersei Lannister get raped to death, who has ever offered up masturbatory-gory endgame fates for her because "she deserves it." (Back to Watsonian perspective, do you want to talk to me about how much I hate Kevan Lannister, because I could actually write odes.) This is the book that gets flung at anyone who calls her flat, or stereotypically evil, or uniquely or completely evil, or any kind of limited character. Cersei Lannister is the greatest character, and I can't think about this chapter very long without my stomach twisting completely in on itself. It was horrible and it was apotheosis and I love this character so much it's actually not healthy.
She makes it through. She doesn't see defeat, not for a second. She believes that she is invincible even with bloody feet on filthy cobblestones, even when she's completely vulnerable; even when she breaks, when she runs, she's not broken on the other side. And there, waiting for her, is Ser Robert Strong. (How much do I love that he is named Ser Robert. So much.) Cersei Lannister is not down for the count. In a perverse way, this—adversity, the world trained against her—is always going to be where she is at her best.
(Also she made me cry over cunnilingus, what the fuck is that. This ship made me cry over cunnilingus, that is not how either crying nor cunnilingus are supposed to work.)
The second-best thing about the epilogue (THE BEST EPILOGUE) (well no, Lady Stoneheart is forever the best epilogue, but MY FAVORITE EPILOGUE) was all the text about her having been "declawed", because: fuck no. We know better. We've been in her head. And fuck no.
The best thing about the epilogue? KEVAN LANNISTER IS DEAD. :D! BYE KEVAN LANNISTER. YOU WERE THE WORST DUDE.
(I feel a bit the ridiculous sadist over the fact that I got so ridiculous over the epilogue—there was definite leaping-up-and-hugging-self, I am going to admit openly—but also, no, really, the worst dude; until Ramsay Bolton gets his slow, horrific turn, no death in the series could make me happier. BYE, KEVAN LANNISTER. :D :D :D)
So that was great. That was super great.
Now, into the fic-to-work-out-my-feelings portion of my life, as every book gets its Lannister-emotions exorcism, apparently. I may or may not have already started wedding-morning indulgence...? (I FUCKED JAIME ON THE MORNING OF MY WEDDING. Guys, sometimes I think about the fact that this ship and these characters exist and I can't breathe.)