Fire & Blood, Volume I: Jaehaerys and Alysanne

Happy 2019, everyone! Buckle up, this is going to be another long one…

  • The chapter starts with an accomplishment that speaks to why Jaehaerys, more than anyone else than Aegon the Conqueror, is responsible for the Targaryen dynasty lasting as long as it did:
    • “long periods of peace and prosperity that marked his time upon the Iron Throne. It cannot be said Jaehaerys avoided conflict entirely, for that would be beyond the power of any earthly king, but such wars as he fought were short, victorious, and contested largely at sea or on distant soil… Archmaesters can and do quibble about the numbers, but most agree that the population of Westeros north of Dorne doubled during the Conciliator’s reign.”
  • I fully understand the narrative purpose of this figure, and I think GRRM does a good job of explaining the factors behind it – more labor and more land means higher agricultural production and productivity, that means lower prices, which means spare cash for increased investment and spending on non-essential goods, which means expansion of trade and manufacturing, many of the same forces that were responsible for the “Renaissance of the 12th Century,” as medievalists describe it – but this is a bit implausible. This is not to say that there were no periods of population growth in the Middle Ages, but it took three hundred years to double the population of Europe before the Black Death reversed those trends. Jaehaerys was king for 55 years, which is only two (maybe close to three) generations…that’s not enough time for a doubling to happen.
  • I would also add that the doubling creates some long-term narrative problems: if population doubled, army sizes should be bigger, not smaller, during the Dance. Even if we buy the argument that the advent of dragons meant that the Westerosi shifted to smaller armies, then we should be seeing many, many more armies in the Dance than we do see. For example, how can the Westerlands be effectively stripped of its military resources and thus left completely open to the Red Kraken’s raids, if Jason Lannister’s army only numbered eight thousand men? Why is Cregan Stark’s army of 8,000-20,000 made up of “old men, younger sons, the unwed, the childless, the homeless, and the hopeless,” when Roddy the Ruin only brought 2,000 men south and Torrhen Stark had been able to pull together 30,000 men before the North’s population doubled? (And if the doubling did take place, why haven’t we seen any sign of it in Northern army figures in any of the wars since the reign of Jaehaerys?) I can go on and on.
  • So I have to conclude that this is another case of GRRM Can’t Math. I sympathize; I am, after all, a historian whose decision of where to go to college was based on which schools didn’t require math courses. But there’s just too big a contradiction here: either the Dance’s armies and casualties should be much, much bigger (to explain why the war was seen as so destructive by contemporaries), or Westeros’ population cannot have grown that much, that fast.

 

  • It is ironic that Rhaena is far more sympathetic in search of her runaway daughter than she ever was when the two were united. The family dynamics here really remind me of Graves’ portrait of the Julio-Claudians…
  • I do like the way that GRRM gradually builds up the mystery of where Aerea could have gone through process of elimination, ticking off all the possible places in Westeros
  • A rare (and lengthy) Septon Barth quote, which raises an interesting question about the nature of dracocracy: how far away from the blunt force of the dragons can the Targaryens get? To the extent that Barth acts as a mouthpiece for GRRM himself, there seems to be an argument that the first face of power is necessary but not sufficient and that subtlety is necessary for gaining compliance.
  • I also like the signs of Barth’s fascination with dragons that will lead to the Unnatural History, that well before Aerea’s return, Barth is the one who correctly guesses that Balerion, having been one of the dragons brought from Valyria by the Targaryens, would have returned to his birthplace.
  • Aerea’s disappearance has the unlikely outcome of bringing Lucamore the Lusty to the Kingsguard, which is an oddly realistic touch.
  • Unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the chapter is the return of Balerion to King’s Landing. You can see GRRM drawing on a lifelong love of Lovecraftiania, positioning Septon Barth as your classic Lovecraftian protagonist: simultaneously drawn to and repelled by forbidden knowledge (his “own abiding sin”), linking body horror to the cosmic horror of “monstrous evil gods…against whose malice the kings of men and the gods of men are naught but flies.” One definitely gets the sense that Aerea’s autopsy was the moment at which Septon Barth ceased to become a believing (albeit worldly) septon and started becoming an occulist…which led to the Unnatural History,
  • Aerea’s horrific death, “cooking from within,” reminds me very much of Victarion’s arm – in both cases, the skin is described as dark and cracked, described as akin to “pork crackling,” and smoke issues forth from within the body. It does make one wonder about what kind of magic Moqorro used to heal his patsy…
  • While we’ve certainly had suggestions of something demonic associated with Valyria, and by extension with fire magic, the “worms with faces…snakes with hands” are the first tangible proof of such. I wonder whether these are Valyrian bloodmagic experiments that have gone feral, or the result of magical “fallout” from the Doom, or something else entirely? And what’s even more frightening is the thought that these things are minor horrors compared to the kind of demon capable of leaving a nine-foot-long scar on the Black Dread himself.
  • And with the death fo Aerea comes the end of Rhaena’s story, which ends with more of a whimper than a bang, although I like the idea of Rhaena’s unlikely friendship with the child named after her greatest enemy.
  • Sidenote: I wonder if Jaehaerys’ edict against visiting Valyria was still in place when Gerion made his voyage?

 

  • Alysanne gives birth a lot in this chapter. Interesting that Aemon is the only one of their kids mentioned to have a dragon egg in their cradle. This is an oddly inconsistent tradition of the Targaryens.
  • I like how GRRM builds up the relationship between Aemon and Baelon, with Baelon the more martial and Aemon the more studious but neverthless an inseparable pair.
  • We definitely get a taste of the Second Quarrel, with Jaehaerys and Alysanne dividing over whether Daenerys should be a queen regnant or consort.

 

  • It is curious to me that, despite the fate of Elissa’s voyage, the design of the ships she had built at Braavos didn’t proliferate in the same way that the Portuguese caravels became so ubiquitous during the Age of Sail.
  • (Also, “served her herring, beer, and caution” is a great line.)
  • GRRM’s touch of having Rhaena and Elissa almost literally on ships passing in the night between Estermont and Tyorsh is a tad dramatic, but I liked it.
  • As someone who’s read his share of nautical fiction in the past, GRRM’s account of Elissa’s Magellan-like voyage draws on some pretty old-fashioned adventure literature, but it’s still fun. He does manage to avoid the myth that pre-Columbian Europeans thought the world was flat, and instead points to the conflict being over the measurement of the circumference of the globe.
  • I do find it curious that Elissa decided there must be a continent west of Westeros – her dream is too well-detailed to not be an indication by GRRM that El Dorado is out there, but there’s no source of this belief.
  • A small moment of personal vindication: as I had guessed before, Brandon the Shipwright and Brandon the Burner were not recent! (Which suggests that we shouldn’t take the ordering of the statues in the crypts at Winterfell as necessararily authoritative.) Instead, they lived at least two thousand years before the Conquest, and a thousand years before the Farwynds settled the Lonely Light!
  • I’m astonished that Donnel let his grandsons go on a voyage that was not only dangerous but arguably treasonous.

 

  • Let’s talk about Jaehaerys’ recodification of the law. This is clearly inspired by Justinian’s creation of the Codex Justinianus, and it’s far more plausible that such a monumental task is done by a “smaller council” committee (with Barth as the Hamilton of the Federalist Papers), rather than just two men.
  • However, while the broader framework of this story is quite good – the consolidation and rationalization of up to 132 legal traditions into one – I am really frustrated at the lack of specificity of content. What were the main divergences between the different legal traditions of Westeros? How was the Great Code enforced? What does the Master of Laws do? It feels like if we were ever going to get answers to these questions, this would have been the time and place. Such a missed opportunity.
  • Nevertheless, we get Barth replacing Myles Smallwood in 57 AC, and immediately diving into to international trade and diplomatic talks with the Sealords of Braavos over the three eggs. I really like the exchange of “veiled threats” between Barth and the Sealord, with the Faceless Men and dragons as Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • What in the seven hells did the Sealord give the Iron Bank in return for wiping out the entire principal of the Targaryens’ debt?

 

  • Barths’ loan forgiveness gets straight in to the other side of Jaehaerys’ public works: the “drains and sewers” and “drinking water” of King’s Landing. Not content with writing the Kingdom’s legal code, Barth apparently invented public health in Westeros.
  • Nice crib from Erin Brockovich on Alysanne’s part there.
  • What I find peculiar, however, is why King’s Landing is still described as a dirtier and more odiferous city than, say, Oldtown despite having these massive investments in public health infrastructure. I would have advised some inserted material during the Storming of the Dragonpit (and even during the Sack in WOIAF) describing how the water systems were badly damaged during various fires or riots and not repaired after Jaehaerys’ time, similar to how a lot of the public works of Justinian were badly damaged by earthquakes later on.

 

  • We move from there to the bit from this chapter that was excerpted ahead of time; you can read what I talked about there, but I’ll add in some context as it comes up.
  • Alaric’s coldness to the King (and initially, the Queen) makes more sense now, since Jaehaerys’ mercy towards Maegor’s followers and his Reconciliation led to the death of his brother.
  • For the casual brutality of the whole first-offense-ears thing, it’s quite a bit more lenient than the pre-Jon Snow policy of the Night’s Watch. My guess is that it’s because it’s been a while since the last King-Beyond-the-Wall and things got more militant after Raymun Redbeard.
  • More “thin place” feels from the Nightfort; interesting that Alysanne was the one who recommended shuttering the place.
  • The sort-of retcon around how the Starks felt about the New Gift doesn’t bother me that much, although I do feel like if this chapter had given us more of a sense of who Ellard and [Ellard’s unnamed brother] were as people, it would have worked better as a nice parallel to the conflict between Torrhen and his sons.
  • So let’s talk about the First Night and Mole’s Town. I agree with @goodqueenaly that it’s a very well-written section, where we see Alysanne really mounting an argument in the teeth of resistance from King and Small Council both, and how their relationship functions in a moment of conflict. However, there are some things that kind of bug me about it.
    • The visit to the Mole’s Town is already coming close to GRRM’s line about historical shows not working within historical mores; even for Alysanne, visiting sex workers in a brothel is starting to strain disbelief, given the prevailing morality of her time and her religion.
    • I’m not a fan of the idea that the First Night is a mostly Northern/First Man phenomenon – unless challenged somewhere as based on inaccurate information – since we know it happened a lot on Dragonstone with the Targaryens, who would have had the least exposure to First Men culture than even the Andals.
    • Why didn’t this come up during any of Alysanne’s previous women’s courts? The text says that Alysanne already knew about the practice, so why wasn’t this an issue when she toured the Riverlands et al? It reminded me oddly of a West Wing episode where the First Ladys interview makes it look like she hadn’t heard of child slavery before a kid told her about it.
  • It as at least consistent with Jaehaerys’ views on gender that he initially takes the conventionally patriarchal view.
  • Also, “lost the use of their hands” was funny.

 

  • Minor notes:
    • Good to see that Alysanne uses marriage alliances to reward her friends as well as for good policy. It’s a bit more of a human touch to a character who can often come as goodness personified.
    • The Dragonpit Tourney seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to give Ryam Redwyne more of a presence in this manuscript. Nevertheless, I did like “Harry the Ham” and the introduction of Ser Lucamore Strong.
    • The Tenth Anniversary Tourney is an improvement, however.
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26 thoughts on “Fire & Blood, Volume I: Jaehaerys and Alysanne

  1. Another good article. I agree this population doubling is really pushing it. Was there a massive plague that nobody mentioned? Yet the sicknesses happened Jaehaerys’ reign. And from what we see Viserys’ reign was still prosperous. I would imagine the population decline would happen during and after the Dance. You could say unreliable chroniclers exaggerating the growth but even so. Saying it increased by over a third, mayhaps even half, would make more sense I presume. Or if there was some sickness in Viserys’ reign which killed a quarter of the population or whatever. But this does not tie to the Dance being a bit of a narrative and military mess.

    There is more to Alaric not liking Targs which I do like, and makes him more of a Stannis Stark figure, upset at his brother’s death, thrust into this role despite being a second son. It would have been nice if we got more on how he convinced his bannermen to accept this. Surely many lords would have lost their lands. If that region had been depleted by the Shivers it would have made a bit more sense. Did his eldest son marry an Umber to placate them? A detail like that would have been nice. Though as Good Queen Aly says the Starks succession over this period is a bit odd.

    As for Donnel letting his grandsons go did he have plausible deniability, which plays in with his delaying tactics? He has other grandsons (cough Lord Stanley) and could say he was unaware two of his relatives had left, or that he was unaware it was Elissa.

    The voyage is interesting. I’m surprised we don’t hear more of these islands. Were there attempts to make colonies on them? Hearing that say a younger son of a Lord went there would be interesting to hear.

    The statues in Winterfell’s Crypts are indeed odd. Well, at least we get something about the Farwynds. I still find it a bit unrealistic the North had no strength at sea. You’d think with the Ironborn around they’d need it. I suppose there were private naval defences for Lords like Ryswell and the Flint’s of Flint’s Finger, and the Manderlys would naturally have some to defend them against the Sisters and general pirates who would prey on ships trading with their city.

    Glad that we don’t have that people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat myth, because it’s one of those things about ‘Historical’ stories that really annoys me, people knew it was round before Christ was born, it’s a plot point in the Divine Comedy the world is round. (Terry does a take on this in Small Gods but this is deliberately fantastic so I’m willing to be forgiving there.) Apparently Irving came up with the story in his Columbus account, even though Columbus was actually wrong, the world wasn’t as small as he thought, and he was very lucky there was a continent there. This believed world flat is one of those myths to make the Middle Ages look worse, a bit like First Night. Speaking of which…

    This first night kind of annoys me. This myth of the Middle Ages was perpetrated by Braveheart and has now become one of those stereotypes of the past. I’m not denying nobles engaged in this sort of behaviour but I doubt they used some ancient custom, they just behaved like the likes of Weinstein and Trump and so on.

    I’m surprised the Faith would really allow this. I would have thought by now it would have got to the state it is in the main series, it is illegal but some Lords, like the Boltons, still practise it in secret. Or just generally people in power exploiting people sexually, which always happens and still happens today. Alysanne cracking down on Lords generally exploiting their power to rape women would make more sense. Or we could hear it basically only happens in the North. Gargon could be explained away as an Aegon the Unworthy-type figure who wasn’t using an ancient law and was generally just exploiting people, taking advantage of his authority over the area. As for the dragonseeds it could just be explained away as general affairs, First Night really isn’t needed as an explanation for this. It’s just powerful people behaving badly, like Corlys even though First Night was abolished long before he met Marilda.

    Well, still some amusing wit. Do like Alysanne, even if there is some stretching of credulity. I am willing to forgive some of this.

    And Aerea’s death… gosh that is horrifying. The image really does justice to this. I agree, it is Lovecraftian, and likely what made Barth interested in the occult. But I think in some ways it’s better to leave it unclear what exactly happened in Valyria and what those… things were. Fear of the unknown and all that. All we need to know is that it is horrible and scary. Does make you wonder what Valyria is like now. Are poor Gerion’s bones lying there, after a death more hideous then Quentyn’s? Huh, now Aerea reminds me a bit of Quentyn. And I know her death would interest Poor Quentyn. I heard a theory Euron warged his men to get the dragonhorn. If any of his men were inflicted by these fireworms I imagine him laughing and seeing the sight of such suffering from magic as a bonus.

    Agree with your assessment on the ears. Watch needed to be harsher. I suppose there’s also the reason that their strength was depleted, so it made more sense to kill them now rather then risk them coming back later.

    I also find the dragon being unable to pass the Wall fascinating and agree with the idea of a magical barrier. It’s not just a Wall of ice, it’s a magical barrier.

    And some more of the Tourney Champions, similar to sporting stars I presume (I don’t know much of sport culture).

    Look forward to next time!

    • Brett says:

      The later numbers don’t add up, but I don’t find it implausible that population growth rates in Westeros would be higher than in real life Medieval Europe. The long seasons make a huge difference – effectively years of agriculture either free of or nearly free of frost, followed by colder periods that nonetheless aren’t that bad in the South most of the time (Word of God from So Spake Martin is that the Reach rarely gets snow, and there are “spirit summers” within the longer winters).

      I also find the dragon being unable to pass the Wall fascinating and agree with the idea of a magical barrier. It’s not just a Wall of ice, it’s a magical barrier.

      I like the idea of the Heart of Winter casting its gaze upon the Wall Sauron-style, and the dragon perceiving that and getting frightened of what lies beyond it.

      • The problem for me is not so much agricultural productivity as human biology; the time it takes children to grow up and have children of their own doesn’t change very much (despite GRRM’s penchant for early births), so the less time a doubling takes place, the more burden is placed on each generation.

        In the “renaissance of the 12th century,” you had the population doubling over 300 years, which spread out that growth over roughly 15 generations (or 6.6% growth per generation). GRRM’s scenario cuts that down to 2.75 generations, which means each generation has to be growing the population by 36.36%. That’s wildly improbable.

    • 1. Epidemic diseases definitely happen, but you’d need something on the scale of the Black Death to reverse a doubling.

      2. Agreed about the second son thing.

      3. Yeah, we’ll get more into the voyage next time.

      4. Honestly, I think Voltaire is probably the biggest offender here.

  2. jedimaesteryoda says:

    1. Agreed on the doubling of the population. While a population increase does make sense, due to lack of war and more focus on agricultural output, doubling the population does strain credulity. GRRM could solve by simply saying the population increase was overstated/exaggerated by the maesters, or that the lack of war allowed them to perform an effective continent-wide census for the first time.

    2. Aemon and Baelon have a kind of Robb/Jon dynamic going, best friends and friendly rivals. I think had both lived with Aemon being crowned king, he would have named Baelon his Hand.

    3a. Going by Septon Barth’s ideas for providing fresh water: sunken wells, clay pipes, cisterns and fountains, I wouldn’t surprised if he learned at the Starry Sept at Oldtown, and thus, had plenty of contact with the Citadel.

    3b. Or he studied at Miskatonic University.

    4. As for Aerea, she is likely the first and only person to have ever visited ruined Valyria and come back alive, even if only briefly. That’s one for the record books. I think it is only due to Balerion being a very large dragon that she and him managed to come back alive.

    • Steven Xue says:

      1. Another way GRRM could have justified this huge jump in the population would be by immigration. In my opinion the incredible peace and prosperity of Jaehaerys’s reign could have lured swarms of migrants from Essos. If Westeros really did become such a desirable place to live and if there was hardships and instability in the Free Cities at the same time, then those looking for opportunity or a better life would consider migrating into the Seven Kingdoms and Dorne.

    • 1. I would do something like that; suggest that some maesters think that doubling was something of a panegyric exagerration of a smaller but still significant amount, or that the population doubled, but over a much longer period or something like that.

      2. Yeah, I could see that.

      3a. Well, he was at Highgarden, so he was fairly close.
      3b. For a certainty.

      4. Indeed. BTW, one more data point on Euron being full of shit.

  3. Keelah Rose Calloway says:

    Small continuity quibble: didn’t Septon Barth’s musings on where Balerion might have gone take place AFTER “Aerea” got back, and not before?

  4. Murc says:

    But there’s just too big a contradiction here: either the Dance’s armies and casualties should be much, much bigger (to explain why the war was seen as so destructive by contemporaries), or Westeros’ population cannot have grown that much, that fast.

    I have to confess, as we’ve learned more about it, the Dance of the Dragons has seemed more and more to me like Robert Jordan’s final ten pages of Wheel of Time or JK Rowlings twenty years later epilogue at the end of Harry Potter: that is, it’s something GRRM conceived of and probably wrote down well before most of the rest of the series was written, he’s been in love with it forever, and dammit, he’s not gonna change it come hell or high water; the rest of the work breaks on its wheel, not the other way around.

    And what’s even more frightening is the thought that these things are minor horrors compared to the kind of demon capable of leaving a nine-foot-long scar on the Black Dread himself.

    And to put some icing on this demonic cake: Valyria put a wound the size of a small car in Balerion the Black Dread and thoroughly devoured and spat out a Targaryen princess, the blood of dragonlords and darker things, like it was nothing.

    But it’s more than likely that Euron Crow’s Eye has been there and returned. Looking, to all appearances, perfectly hale and hearty on the outside.

    That motherfucker only gets more and more terrifying.

    It is curious to me that, despite the fate of Elissa’s voyage, the design of the ships she had built at Braavos didn’t proliferate in the same way that the Portuguese caravels became so ubiquitous during the Age of Sail.

    For that matter, later on Corlys Velaryon will be designing and building ships, and there’s scant information as to what advances in shipbuilding and sailing he pioneered and whether they caught on widely. And of course the Summer Islanders field ships and crews that think nothing of sailing all the way to Yi Ti and then back to Braavos and Oldtown in the course of normal trading voyages, not even implied to be all that exceptional.

    That whole section basically says outright something that WOIAF only implies; that the Summer Islanders are probably a whole lot more knowledgeable than they let on about the far reaches of Planetos and the secrets there. I bet their history trees have some real juicy stories carved in them.

    I do find it curious that Elissa decided there must be a continent west of Westeros – her dream is too well-detailed to not be an indication by GRRM that El Dorado is out there, but there’s no source of this belief.

    If GRRM has decided this rather than simply dangling juicy meat in front of us, it’s something he decided rather late in the game; when Bran has his visions early in AGOT and looks west across the Sunset Sea to Asshai, his gaze doesn’t pass over Americos first.

    As someone who’s read his share of nautical fiction in the past, GRRM’s account of Elissa’s Magellan-like voyage draws on some pretty old-fashioned adventure literature, but it’s still fun.

    The best part of it is the horror stinger at the end; Corlys Velaryon spying the Sun Chaser in port at Asshai a quarter of a century later.

    Much like Barth, Corlys is someone else who gets some short shrift in this volume. I really wanted to know more about his nine voyages. He lost half his crew and “his love” in Asshai? Don’t fucking leave us hanging like that! What did the first Westerosi to make it Asshai do there?

    What in the seven hells did the Sealord give the Iron Bank in return for wiping out the entire principal of the Targaryens’ debt?

    Dragon eggs changing hands here was almost certainly involved.

    It as at least consistent with Jaehaerys’ views on gender that he initially takes the conventionally patriarchal view.

    More than that; Jaehaerys is written extraordinarily well here, just not extraordinarily flatteringly.

    Because it is very clear from the outset that Alyssane is right. Jaehaerys knows she’s right. Everyone in the room knows she’s right. None of them like the First Night. They all are uncomfortable, verging on appalled, that people still do that.

    But they just as clearly don’t want to do a damn thing about it. Because that would take time, effort, political capital, involve tricky politics, and would make everyone in that room even more uncomfortable as they have to deal with some real assholes petitioning them for their right to keep raping peasant girls.

    Only Jaehaerys can’t SAY that right to Alysanne’s face. He cannot say “Yeah, you’re right, but this would be troublesome to me, so I’m not gonna do anything about it.” He knows she’d regard that position as contemptible. So he sort of flounders around looking for any other reason for him to not do what he doesn’t want to do, until finally he realized he can’t find one and gives in.

    Wonderful section. One of the best in the book.

    • Brett says:

      Valyria put a wound the size of a small car in Balerion the Black Dread and thoroughly devoured and spat out a Targaryen princess, the blood of dragonlords and darker things, like it was nothing.

      Reminds me of Arya’s tutor in the House of Black and White talking about firewyrms, and how the smallest of them were the size of a child’s arm (which would fit with what came out of Aerea), while they could grow to truly immense sizes (and thus potentially take giant bites out of full grown dragons like Balerion). Then add in the creepy face stuff . . . not hard to see why Barth’s theory on the dragons was that they were wyvern chimeras created with magic (and that’s not even getting into the weirdness of the Targaryen stillbirths being delivered with small wings and tails sometimes).

      For that matter, later on Corlys Velaryon will be designing and building ships, and there’s scant information as to what advances in shipbuilding and sailing he pioneered and whether they caught on widely.

      Nobody seems to copy each other’s advances in ship-building technology, not even when it would really come with an advantage in trade capabilities. It’s not like the Summer Islanders could seriously threaten them over it, either, since Braavos is probably the greatest sea power in the western half of the Known World.

    • 1. I think there’s some decent ideas in the Dance, but if I were his editor I would tell him to take another pass on it. But you’re probably right that he’s not going to fix it.

      2. Or Euron just jacked the armor from the warlocks too.

      3. I can understand GRRM not having a fully worked out history of naval technology, but these things can really have a big impact on worldbuilding.

      3. Heh.

      4. I completely missed that. Whoah.

      5. Possibly, but then what’s the Sealord getting out of it?

      6. Agreed, with the caveats above.

  5. Connor Stapleton says:

    Regarding the population increase, would it be plausible that rather than an actual increase, his measures just resulted in better census-taking and tax collection, thereby artificially inflating the recorded population?

  6. I do find it curious that Elissa decided there must be a continent west of Westeros – her dream is too well-detailed to not be an indication by GRRM that El Dorado is out there, but there’s no source of this belief.

    GRRM says that the equivalent of the Americas probably exists, and others have proved mathematically that with the size of the world compared to the known world maps, a “new world” continent *should* exist. (Tor, Werthead’s Atlas of Ice and Fire, Atlas part 2.) Elissa probably did similar calculations, leading to her dream to find said lands. Mind you she apparently found a passage through them to Asshai as well.

    Re Murc’s question above, it’s a magic vision, it’s only traveling to cover the relevant areas of the ice and fire magic plot, it can skip over lands that don’t matter. 🙂

  7. Gareth Wilson says:

    I liked the Aerea story, except for the ellipses. I understand they’re “Lovecraftian”, but Lovecraft used them to represent speech from traumatised, mentally ill witnesses. Since we’re reading what Barth wrote down himself, it doesn’t make senses to have ellipses after each phrase. You can’t help but be reminded of Donald Trump putting “…” at the end of each tweet.

  8. Will Rigby says:

    What a well done twist, and piece of horror Aerea’s fate was.
    In hindsight it makes complete sense, its established she’s never ridden a dragon before, but I never guessed that Balerion was responsible for her disappearance.

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    Before I dive into some suggestions, one wanted to thank you for continuing this series of articles and compliment you on it’s continuing quality, Maester Steven – Keep up the Good Work!

    1 – Maester Steven, it’s not impossible that Targaryens adopted the First Night as a logical extension of their “We have dragons = We are GODS” philosophy, rather than through any influence from the First Men; call it a case of convergent evolution rather than a debt of inspiration (although with the Line of Durran as near-neighbours, one suspects they wouldn’t have to look far for a possible case study).

    One has to admit that I may be a little more amused by the straightforward logical of having the First NIGHT be originally a tradition of the First MEN than I should be, though.

    2 – In addition to the Storming of the Dragonpit, one might also suggest the Sack of King’s Landing as a plausible cause for the increasing failure of King Jaehaerys & Septon Barth’s waterworks (it would be horribly poetic if King Aerys agents did more than their share of damage while secreting those nasty little “fire-fruits” around the city); one might also suggest that the civic population could just have grown to a point where the drains et al were increasingly oversaturated since the time of the Conciliator and his Humble Hand (especially if those Public works were neglected over several generations).

    After all, few Kings appear to have showed The Wise King’s attention to Public Works on such a scale – failure to maintain these “waterworks” might well have done more damage than any sack (and I’d bet MONEY that Aegon the Unworthy wasn’t even the first monarch to prefer spending on the Royal Court to spending on the common weal).

    3 – Is it possible that Aerea Targaryens unkind fate persuaded the Conciliator & Good Queen Alysanne to limit their children’s access to dragons until they had suitably won their parents confidence? (it being easier to keep children away from dragons they were not bonded to from the cradle up).

    The fact that there were quite a few dragons already hatched and awaiting a rider on Dragonstone & in the Dragonpit might have played some part in all this; while Balerion (and possibly Vhagar) might have been most definitely off-limits, it would not surprise me if the Wise King wanted to get some of the older hatchlings under orders from the Blood of Dragons, rather than allow them to grow wilder & wilder in their un-bonded state.

    4 – It’s far from impossible that Lord Hightower let his grandsons follow along on that voyage of Exploration because he had rather more than just the two descendants (the young Hightowers we see might not even be the scions of an elder son) and was therefore willing to let them hazard themselves (through their own choice) on the understanding that new lands & fresh profits might be uncovered, at little real hazard to Oldtown and its overlords.

    The fact that their participation could also be artfully construed as “Proof” poor old Lord Hightower simply couldn’t get these youngsters to Listen and Obey might be an extra bonus – after all, if he couldn’t keep his own grandchildren close to Home, what hope had he with a notorious recidivist like the former Farman? (whether King Jaehaerys would even grace this rather spurious argument with a snort of derision is another question entirely).

    5 – Maester Steven, you may want to brace yourself for I have a truly appalling proposition for you to consider; what if GRR Martin not only “can’t math” but can’t lawyer either? (In all seriousness, being a die-hard Romantic, he might well not give very much thought to the legal niceties distinguishing Law & Custom between the old Seven Kingdoms or how they might be synthesised into one Legal Code & then enforced because he takes far more interest in the Great Deeds of History than in any form of LEGAL paperwork).

    If your interest in the subject continues to be so keen, I fear you may yet be condemned to work out all these little details yourself!

    • Thanks!

      1. If so, wouldn’t J-man be a bit more emphatic about it, what with his whole Exclusionism thing?

      2. Damage during the Sack is quite plausible; population growth is harder b/c KL did most of its growing by 25 AC.

      3. That’s a decent No Prize.

      4. Maybe.

      5. I mean, I’d be happy to sit down and lay out some options for him if I ever got the opportunity.

  10. Brett says:

    1. The rapid population growth would be because of the long summers and relatively mild winters in the South. Word of God from Martin is that the Reach only rarely gets snow, and most of the rest of the South doesn’t get a ton aside from the Mountains of the Moon. Couple that with long summers where they can grow multiple crops a “year” because of the mild temperatures, and populations could really boom upwards.

    But you are right about the army numbers not making sense.

    2. I find it plausible that the First Night is rarely practiced and heavily frowned upon by the Faith in the South. We already had hints of that with Gargon the Guest, who became infamous precisely because he actually tried to exercise that “right”. The Targaryens might have practiced it on Dragonstone, but they were Targaryens and clearly quite strange and different (plus dragons and the mentioned custom of gifts to families who had their bastard offspring – a fiery stick and generous carrot – would have helped too).

    Then again, I’ve never liked it or found its inclusion plausible as played straight anyways. It would make a lot more sense if the “First Night” was just the rationale the aristocracy used to collect a marriage tax, which would explain a lot better why they might take umbrage at its abolition.

    3. I suppose we might as well ask why the Braavosi and others haven’t copied the Summer Islanders’ swan ships for long distance trade travel, but who knows. With the Sun Chaser, it’s because it’s exceptionally large and built for long-distance travel, which isn’t really necessary for trade in the Known World at this point.

    Incidentally, Adam Whitehead pointed out over at Atlas of Ice and Fire that if the Sun Chaser somehow did simply cross a vast area of ocean with nothing but sporadic island chains where they could re-supply and fix the ship, it would only have taken them about 200 days given best estimates of the size of Planetos. Definitely not decades until reaching Asshai, which I read as another indication that they came across Americos.

    I didn’t catch it on the first time through, but apparently they also discovered the Planetos’ equivalent of the westward winds in the vicinity of the southern Summer Islands and northern Sothoryos, meaning that some ambitious future sailors could try out the Volta Do Mar and accidentally discover Brazilos.

    • 1. See answer above.

      2. That might work, but I would have liked to see it integrated into the text before.

      3. That’s also true, but there are reasons why the galley and galleas lasted longer in the Mediterranean than in the Atlantic or the North Sea which don’t bother me.

  11. Cj says:

    Am very happy for this chapter sense it proved the population increased in the time frame from agons conquest to modern day. But it defiantly didn’t trak whith the dance but it has always had wonky numbers and it traks whith the numbers in the main novels, the West and tech have twice the incresed numbers and the North only really increased by 50%, my gess is that the North don’t get hit by wars as much as the south so it was much closer to its pop cap then the south whith it’s much loser borders.

  12. One issue with GRRM, leaving aside the math and law lacunae, is the fact that even though he writes retail horror as well as anyone, he doesn’t have much, if any experience with cosmic horror, a format in which it is particularly difficult to sustain attention to the conflicts within the human heart issues that often are at the heart of his storytelling. Could be a significant contributing factor as to why he has had such a hard time getting through TWOW.

  13. JG says:

    -The Valyria stuff is great. Really scary that something could damage Balerion like that.
    -The Iron Bank must have been furious at the sealord.
    -The law code stuff also reminds me of the creation of the Napoleonic Code, with Barth taking on Cambaceres’ role.

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