Tower of the Hand

A Flight of Sorrows: Collector's Edition Excerpted

9/24/2013 12:14:06 PM ET

Want an advance sneak peak of Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows - Collector's Edition? We can't do a full sample, unfortunately - since we promised the five bonus essays would be exclusive to this release of the book, and all - but we can slip a few pages from the printer directly to you, the TOTHraki.

Please to enjoy:

The Princes Kept the View

Marc N. Kleinhenz

What the hell were we thinking? (I can tell you right off the bat what we weren't thinking: that we'd ever be doing a physical copy follow-up, let alone anything with "collector's" or "edition" in the [sub] title.)

Throughout the course of 2012, we were thinking that, after seven years of doing the site and discussing largely the same chapters and debating exactly the same conspiracy theories in precisely identical ways, it would be exciting and just a little novel (no pun intended) to stretch out to new media and, quite possibly, in the process, push ourselves to new levels of analysis or discovery. We wanted to do something challenging, where we might just end up falling flat on our faces, and we wanted to do something where we would end up reaching out beyond the confines of our little corner of the internet to other individuals at other institutions that we collectively respected.

(Let's be honest: we were also thinking that, as a byproduct of our new endeavors, making just the tiniest bit of money - and please allow me to emphasize tiny - wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. We essayists at TOTH feel really, really bad that the two co-founders, John Jasmin and Alexander Smith, pay for all the server fees and whatever other costs are associated with running a major website by themselves, out of their own pockets. And, for their parts, Johnny and Alex have repeatedly gone on the record that they feel really, strangely bad that they can't pay the rest of us for our efforts month in and month out. So I suppose this type of mutual guilt society was a formidable undercurrent of our interest at pushing the envelope.)

It turns out that the idea of doing a Tower of the Hand-related ebook was around a lot longer than I was, though it was never mentioned to me until nearly a year into my tenure at the site, after I had just released my own (literally last-minute and equally experimental) ebook, It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I. The occasion of my being brought into the machinations of the editorial cabal was a seemingly-benign email between me and Johnny, discussing various bits of business about the site and the burgeoning marketing efforts for It Is Known. The date was Monday, April 2, 2012, a day which shall now live in infamy.

After going over a few different points, Johnny slipped this in at the very end of the email:

One other question I've been meaning to ask you. How difficult was it to get your book on Amazon? Alex, Kohl [Liang-Weissgerber, the copy editor], and I have been working for months on finishing an ebook version of our chapter guides (one of the more popular requests among our readers). I never considered distributing it on Amazon or such, but I am curious if that would be a possibility for us. Any insights here would be great.

I'm not sure about insights, but I did have lots of points of pontification. I called him up, and we spoke about the various ins and outs of self-publishing on the Kindle platform. I also asked about the legalities of selling summaries of someone else's original work, which I wasn't quite sure of (nor am I now, to be perfectly honest), and Johnny admitted he had to look further into it.

And that was that for the next two or three months.

The conversation, however, left a trace desire nagging at the back of my mind to move into the Song of Ice and Fire sphere, since, at the time, it was still a pretty unexplored playing field (I wasn't yet aware of Game of Thrones and Philosophy, which had just released that March, and the wonderful A Feast of Ice and Fire didn't ship until May), and, furthermore, it was something I knew we could nail in terms of content, if not necessarily in terms of technique. I brought the topic back up to Johnny on Friday, June 29, but with a little twist.

I was thinking... if you still wanted to go ahead and publish all your summaries, you should definitely include the solar discussions, too - even if it's a separate ebook.

(Just for reference: the Solars of the Tower of the Hand were intra-site roundtable discussions that we had initiated just that year. They were a great deal of fun, especially when our readers got to join in with us, but work on A Flight of Sorrows put them to a screeching halt, and we have yet to get back on the roundtable bandwagon. It's something to consider for the Grand Redesign of 2014, I suppose.)

Immediately after firing off that email, however, a different idea had taken hold, exploding into something far bigger and much greater. Not even an hour-and-a-half later, I messaged Mr. Jasmin again, suggesting that we speak on the phone, since my exuberance precluded my sitting down long enough to compose another, elaborately long email.

Johnny being Johnny (read: incredibly busy), he didn't respond to my enthusiastic missive, and so I had a long night of fitful sleep that night, my mind working the entire time, turning it over and refining it and coming out with an entire game plan.

Savoring the Taste?
On the role of revenge in songs of ice and fire

Stefan Sasse

The nobles of Westeros are committed to several principles, honor chiefly among them. But what do you do when your honor is stained? Do you appeal to the court, as any law-abiding citizen would, hoping to get justice in the bargain? Perhaps a hefty fine for the perpetrator, to make sure he doesn't do it again?

Yeah, I can't see it happening, either.

There are two reasons for this. First, there are no courts you could appeal to in Westeros - only liege lords and kings whose justice is arbitrary, at best. Second, the other lords expect you to wipe out the smear on your honor yourself. Perhaps because of this, many of the characters we meet in A Song of Ice and Fire are motivated, at least partially, by the desire for revenge. The Starks want to avenge the murder of Eddard. The Targaryens want to take revenge for the rebellion and the throne stolen from them. The Martells want to take revenge for the death of Elia and her children. Robert Baratheon started his rebellion out of a desire for revenge against Rhaegar Targaryen, and Brandon Stark dies for it, strangled in the Red Keep. Balon Greyjoy wants to take revenge on the Starks for being responsible for his downfall in his prior uprising. Brienne of Tarth wants to take revenge on Stannis Baratheon for the murder of Renly Baratheon. Walder Frey wants to take revenge on the Starks for betraying their oath. Catelyn Stark wants to take revenge on the Freys for the Red Wedding. The brotherhood without banners takes revenge on soldiers for committing war crimes. Chett wants to take revenge on Sam Tarly and Jon Snow for taking his comfy post away. Orell wants to take revenge on Jon for killing him. Wyman Manderly takes revenge for the murder of his son; Rickard Karstark takes revenge for the murder of his. Robb Stark avenges the murdered Lannister squires by killing Karstark. Littlefinger wants to take revenge on the whole aristocratic class that always looked down on him. And Arya Stark is citing the names of those she wants to take revenge on in her sleep, lest she forget.

These are just the examples that immediately jump to mind. I could continue the list, but I think you get the point: there are a lot of people set on revenge in the series. And only in rare cases does the revenge succeed in a way that gives the person taking it any joy in the long term. In the following, I will examine some examples in more depth because I will draw some conclusions on how revenge is placed within Westerosi society and what implications this has, as well as to the narrative function of revenge - and revenge failing to bring any success.

Let us start with the region most notorious for a vengeful desire: Dorne. The Dornish cultivated blood feuds even before Nymeria landed her ships, and the merging with the Rhoynar did nothing to quell their taste for revenge; feuds are remembered, almost revered, along generational lines. Just to give some scope: the Daynes of Starfall and the Oakhearts of Old Oak still remember battles and skirmishes from centuries past, and between Yronwood and Martell, enmities from the time of the war of Nymeria are still prevalent.

But all these past rivalries pale in comparison to the new blood feud with the Lannisters. Ultimately, of course, Robert was responsible, but the Martells have a pretty personal view on the people they want to see bleed: Tywin Lannister, for ordering the attack, and Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch, for the murders. It is clear they are committed to revenge - after all, they want to continue the war after the sack of King's Landing and are only talked out of it by Jon Arryn - and never leave Dorne for the following 15 years. While the Dornish in general, being more of an ethnic people than the rest of the Westerosi, take this pretty personally, Prince Doran is the master schemer behind arguably the most complicated revenge plot that anybody in A Song of Ice and Fire ever envisioned (if you discount the Others, who have probably schemed their return since the Long Night). For Doran, revenge must be taken on the perpetrators themselves and everyone else responsible, in that order. The Prince of Dorne is nothing if not patient and methodical, so he divides his scheme into stages.

The Prince Is Riding
Rebutting the identity of - and the aim of the conspiracy around - Aegon Targaryen

Miles Schneiderman

"The Prince That Illyrio Promised" is my favorite essay from the original A Flight of Sorrows because it postulated and analyzed a theory that I had never previously considered. Granted, the revelation that Aegon Targaryen, presumed dead after the sack of King's Landing, is actually alive and prepared to take back the Iron Throne is a relatively new one. There's been speculation for years that Aegon was swapped for a double as an infant in an attempt to preserve the royal line, largely because George R.R. Martin refused to confirm his death, but it wasn't until 2011's A Dance with Dragons that Aegon appeared in the flesh. As a result, serious analysis of this development took some time to get started, and Alexander Smith's essay represents the most thorough examination of Aegon's return to date.

After years upon years of the so-called "baby Aegon" theory refusing to die, some might think that his sudden appearance and equally sudden invasion of Westeros would have put all speculation to rest. Instead, the lost Targaryen was immediately met with skepticism from fans, many of whom are utterly resolved in their belief that the boy is a fake. Smith is one such skeptic, and his proposal for Aegon's true identity is compelling and, initially, convincing. When I first read it, I was swayed by his arguments. However, after going over the evidence on both sides, I'm convinced there is no conclusive evidence to indicate that Aegon is Illyrio's son, nor even that the young prince is anything other than what he claims to be.

In order to accept that Aegon is actually Illyrio's son, we must accept that Aegon is not actually Aegon; in other words, we have to disbelieve the official story about his identity as relayed to us in Dance with Dragons.

Before continuing, it should be noted that Jon Connington, likely one of the only living characters who has seen both Rhaegar Targaryen and Aegon, believes they were father and son. Furthermore, Varys seems to believe in Aegon's identity himself, as evidenced by his revelation to Kevan Lannister in the epilogue of Dance. With Kevan dying and Pycelle dead, Varys has no obvious reason to lie. Despite this, a large portion of the fanbase still believes that he is, indeed, lying, and Connington is being fooled.

There are three primary arguments in favor of Aegon being a pretender. The first involves the writing tendencies of Martin, who, as Smith points out, is fond of giving his characters false or secret identities and has based several aspects of his story on a real historic event, the War of the Roses. These are real trends, and there's no going against them; Martin does love to cloak people under assumed names and guises, and there really was a pretender to the English throne named Perkin Warbeck. If Aegon is a fake, it would fit with Martin's style and coincide with British history.

That's all well and good, but it's hardly conclusive. Just because something has happened multiple times, it doesn't necessarily follow that it will happen again. While the correlations between real and Westerosi history are interesting and provide realism to the series, it remains a work of fantasy, and Martin is under no obligation to include his version of Perkin Warbeck. One might even argue that the "pretender to the throne" story has already been included, albeit indirectly, in the form of the Blackfyre Pretenders. While a fake Aegon would fit previous trends, this alone is not enough to cast serious doubt on his claim. Logic dictates that we look deeper.

The second argument against Aegon invokes that dreaded specter of speculation, prophecy. In the House of the Undying, Daenerys Targaryen has a brief vision: "A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd" (A Clash of Kings, Daenerys IV). Later, during one of her enigmatic warnings, Quaithe tells Dany about a host of individuals making their way to her, among them "the mummer's dragon" (A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys II). Taken together, these two clues point to a false Targaryen, a pretender who will be cheered by the people and taken for a dragon, the kind of trickery most often associated with the mummer's profession. A fake Aegon would certainly fit in this role.

Like the first argument, however, this one has the cart before the horse. Yes, Aegon might fit this particular interpretation of these prophetic visions, but he's under no obligation to do so. Indeed, there's absolutely no guarantee that the popular interpretation is the correct one. Martin has spent a lot of time in these books demonstrating the fickle nature of prophecy, and we cannot come to a conclusion about Aegon's identity simply because we think we know what "the mummer's dragon" means. There are a whole bunch of characters out there who may or may not be secret Targaryens - Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, even Varys. The vision could refer to any of these, or none. It need not even mean a false Targaryen pretending to be a real one - Smith points out the connection between Varys and mummery to support Aegon's falsehood, but doesn't this just mean the prophecy is that much more likely to refer to Varys himself? Moreover, why would Quaithe warn Dany of the coming of the mummer's dragon if the dragon in question isn't anywhere near her, and won't be any time soon? If that's prophecy, Quaithe is bad at it, and Tyrion has the power to thwart the hand of fate with his big mouth.

A Feast of Vipers
Ethnic diversity, personal identification, and fandom theories in Dorne

Amin Javadi

It is Dorne's unique nature in the Seven Kingdoms that is a major reason why it is a fan favorite in the series, and part of this unique nature lies in its ethnic diversity. Tyrion describes the three major groups of people in Dorne:

There were the salty Dornishmen who lived along the coasts, the sandy Dornishmen of the deserts and long river valleys, and the stony Dornishmen who made their fastnesses in the passes and heights of the Red Mountains. The salty Dornishmen had the most Rhoynish blood, the stony Dornishmen the least. All three sorts seemed well represented in Doran's retinue. The salty Dornishmen were lithe and dark, with smooth olive skin and long black hair streaming in the wind. The sandy Dornishmen were even darker, their faces burned brown by the hot Dornish sun. They wound long bright scarves around their helms to ward off sunstroke. The stony Dornishmen were biggest and fairest, sons of the Andals and the First Men, brown-haired or blond, with faces that freckled or burned in the sun instead of browning.

A Storm of Swords, Tyrion V

There is a lot to take away from this description and our later knowledge of Dorne. One fact is the general ethnic diversity of the kingdom, which we can suspect is also echoed by a variety of cultural traditions present there. We know that there are still followers of the Rhoynish religion present along with the Faith of the Seven, without any apparent conflict (so far), despite the hardening of religious lines in other, more war-torn areas of Westeros.

We know that the Yronwoods have had a lot of strife with the Martells in the past, taking different sides in various rebellions and conflicts. Perhaps a difference in ethnicity played a role, as the Yronwoods may be more of Andal stock or have less Rhoynish blood due to their location near the Boneway. However, it seems that the most recent conflict had more to do with personal disagreements and duels than anything with the color of Yronwood and Martell skin. It is refreshing that their differences in ethnic background hasn't been stressed, and it is more the Yronwoods' past strength as one of the historic kings in Dorne and the relative geographical distances between the two houses that are probably the main source of the enduring rivalry. It is a testament to Doran's diplomacy that he was able to heal the current generation's blood feud with the fostering of his son, Quentyn. Depending on the strength of that upbringing and the connections forged between the two families, it may be the united outrage over Quentyn's death that helps keep Yronwood and Martell on the same side in the hardships soon to come.

To use a term quite anachronistic to A Song of Ice and Fire, Dorne is in some ways a multicultural state, and a surprisingly successful one, at that. This is indicated by the fair representation and diversity present in the retinue sent with Oberyn to King's Landing. It is also reflected in the Water Gardens, where children of all ranks and backgrounds are able to play together, from commoner to prince and princess. It may be that external conflicts with the rest of Westeros - first the Reach and the Stormlands, then, later, the Targaryens - helped keep this disparate amalgamation of peoples together and form the unique Dornish identity. "Blood, custom, geography, and history all helped to set the Dornishmen apart from the other kingdoms," and it is this Dornish identity that may have fuelled their intense resistance to Targaryen attacks.

Dorne, in fact, was the sole kingdom of Westeros to continually and successfully resist Aegon's conquest. "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" are the Martell house words, but they can apply equally to the whole of Dorne, which learned from the mistakes of the other, kneeling kings and avoided fighting the Targaryen war machine head-on. Instead, they resorted to (and perhaps invented) guerrilla warfare tactics, making the most of their lower numbers and taking full advantage of their country's natural terrain and landscape. The complete details of Dorne's successful resistance against Targaryen dragons have not been revealed yet, but hopefully we will learn more about it in the future, as it may be relevant to present conflicts involving Dany. (It is interesting to note that the Rhoynar who settled in Dorne initially fled Essos due to Valyrian aggression and expansion; the struggle between Dorne and the Iron Throne was, in a way, a variation on that theme. The past history may have particularly inspired Dornish resistance and a "this far, and no further" attitude.)

The King's Justice Is Mute, Not Blind
Why trials in Westeros are not what they seem

John Jasmin

Cersei Lannister once said, "If the wicked do not fear the King's Justice, you have put the wrong man in the office." The King's Justice is, of course, best known for one responsibility: the execution of those who have been condemned by the king. Unlike the master of coin, who oversees a band of tax collectors, or the master of whispers, who manages a network of spies, the King's Justice is a one-man office. He does not have deputies dispatching heads throughout the kingdom. He makes no laws, issues no warrants, and sets no bounties. And, most significantly, the King's Justice does not need to be convinced of crime or guilt. The actual trials and sentencings are left to others, so it's understandable that most people cower when the single-minded Justice nears.

The king's justice, on the other hand, is something that most people see as necessary and good. At its core, the king's justice is about upholding the king's laws and punishing those who violate them. But is that any different from regular justice? Surely the king's justice cannot be subject to what the current king decides is fair. Jaehaerys the Conciliator's notion of justice was undoubtedly benevolent, but woe be to the man who had to defend himself to Maegor the Cruel. And before he devolved into the Mad King, Aerys II was said to be charming and generous; a crime perpetrated late in his reign likely faced a different brand of justice than the same crime committed earlier.

It is no small irony that the man who would eventually become the King's Justice received a firsthand account of how arbitrarily punitive the king's justice can be. Ser Ilyn Payne once boasted that it was Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King, who ruled the Seven Kingdoms, not the king. For this offense, the Mad King had Ilyn's tongue ripped out with hot pincers. He never had a chance to defend himself. Then again, what Ilyn claimed was not true, and the punishment confirmed it as a lie; a man who held all of the realm's power would not have stood by powerlessly, as Tywin did, while the king mutilated the commander of his guard for a perceived slight. Here we have another instance of how the system of laws in Westeros is lacking, as the concepts of punishment and trial are sometimes interchangeable, and they seldom lead to actual justice.

The penalties for committing crimes in Westeros are well known: thieves lose a hand, rapists are gelded, and murderers dangle from a noose. The severity of these punishments makes for a strong deterrent. What makes an even stronger deterrent is their absolutism. For all its problems investigating crimes and identifying culprits, Westeros is clear on this. Once a man has been accused of a crime, punishment is a foregone conclusion. Guilt isn't irrelevant - it's presumed.

Aside from fleeing into exile, one alternative allows the accused to avoid the more common penalties of his crime: he can join the Night's Watch. That is a punishment of its own. A man of the Night's Watch is guaranteed a lifetime of servitude in a harsh climate. He cannot hold lands or raise a family, and he forfeits his life should he ever desert. But his past crimes are forgiven when he takes the black, and the only risk of losing limbs there is from frostbite. The Night's Watch can be remedial, too, though not by reforming a conscripted man so that he can contribute later to society. Rather, the trades and skills he develops as a black brother are for the good of the Night's Watch itself. They may even help him advance to positions of genuine authority within the brotherhood. Despite all its challenges, the Night's Watch is one of the few meritocracy-based societies that Westeros has. As far as second chances go, life on the Wall isn't half bad.

Still, submitting to corporal punishment or taking the black can be seen as an admission of guilt. The system may not particularly care about this, but the accused might. He will always carry with him the stigma of the crime, guilty or innocent. Even on the Wall, where a man can remake himself, an alleged murderer or rapist is often regarded as inferior to those who joined the Night's Watch with honor.

So if the accused maintains his innocence, it seems obvious that he should demand a trial. But it's not so evident that everyone in Westeros has that option. Whereas any man, regardless of station, may submit to punishment or take the black, we've witnessed few instances of a trial where the alleged perpetrator wasn't of noble birth. When a commoner is brought before the king's justice, he is dealt with summarily. Perhaps no one will listen to his protestations of innocence. Perhaps he has no witnesses who will speak to his defense. It's more likely that because everyone in Westeros is presumed guilty, the lord adjudicating the case sees no value in a lengthy trial on behalf of a guilty commoner.

Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows - Collector's Edition goes on sale on October 1, 2013, for one month only. Find it on for $15.99.

Come November 1, the Collector's Edition will never, ever go on sale again.

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