Monday, March 31, 2014

A Reflection on "Mercy", George R.R. Martin's Latest Preview Chapter

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS. Okay? SPOILERS, people! So go finish all 5 books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and then get back to me. (That means you, Mom.)

With fans everywhere holding their breath for Martin’s big announcement on April 6, his new preview chapter didn't hold up to the hype. Before you read my reaction, read the preview chapter here.

We learned a lot about an unknown character named Mercy, who of course turned out to be Arya, but I don’t think the character of Mercy gave us any deeper insight into Arya, unless to tell us that underneath all the training and face changing, Arya is still Arya. However, a number of plot ploys could have told us that. Did we really need a whole chapter mainly devoted to a character we've never heard of to reveal Arya’s secret rebellion?

As a character, Mercy is the opposite of Arya: not very smart, and totally willing to serve the wishes of others, which shows us that Arya is growing adept at slipping into different skins, so adept that Mercy does not even understand the wolf dreams. Arya has allowed herself to vanish deep within. I’m beginning to understand my real issue with the chapter: who Arya is becoming scares me. Plucky and brave, Arya is impossible to dislike, but she’s heading down a very dark road, and even though we've all seen it coming, I don’t want to watch her go down that road further. We see in the preview chapter that Arya is growing up. She uses Mercy to seduce her victim, and has learned to live with harsh realities of the world. For example, she wishes she’d done the killing by the canal instead of up in her room so she won’t have to clean up the mess. She’s drawn to Mercy’s good heart, but it seems that her own is disappearing. Bent on killing, Arya’s whole life has become dedicated to vengeance, and ticking of the names in her nightly prayer.

We have to assume that Mercy is part of Arya’s continuing education with the House of Black and White, but the kill that came in the chapter clearly came from Arya, and not Mercy. Mercy was not intended to kill Raff the Sweetling; the chapter makes clear that it was Arya’s own doing, because her personality reemerged at that point. So who was Mercy intended to kill? And if Arya becomes Arya without performing Mercy’s kill, what does that mean for her life with the House of Black and White?

As further evidence that Arya is not totally devoted to the House of Black and White, Mercy carries a “real blade” that didn't belong to her, and uses it later as Arya. I’m sure many readers have guessed that this “long, thin blade” is Needle.

Surely many will argue that the chapter told us much. The visit of the Westerosi envoy reminds us that things are awry in King’s Landing, and Harys Swift has been sent to fix matters. However, the chapter does not tell us the state of King’s Landing, nor reveal anything of Swift’s progress, or lack of progress. Mercy/Arya can’t be expected to know those things, but the appearance of a Westerosi envoy is nothing more than a cute nod to the fans if it doesn't reveal something.

When Arya met Sam, we didn't learn much other than that Sam was desperately looking for Daeron. However, their moment of meeting was tinged with so much potential that it remains one of my favorite moments in the series: the chance meeting of two characters that ends with so much wasted potential and lingering questions of “What if?”. Instead of using a cheesy plot device to let Arya learn of Jon’s position, Martin lets the potential waste away, which is probably closer to what would happen in real life if two characters were to meet, and adds depth to his narrative.

However, the spotting of Harys Swift doesn’t contribute anything to the narrative. But there is one bright side to the play scene.

It reveals how far the myth of Tyrion has traveled. The Free Cities have enough knowledge to portray the Imp as a horrid, raping monster, and although we don’t know the ending of Phario Forel’s play, the fact that he wrote a play about the Imp is enough. Tryion is a source of dark comedy throughout the world. Cersei’s schemes have far-reaching effects.

Will this really affect Tyrion, however? Far away, outside the Meereenese walls, Tyrion is surrounded by an army of new friends. His plot line is advancing to the point where an assassination doesn't seem at all likely. The threat of assassination can’t be discounted, but I don’t think death is what Martin has in mind for Tyrion - at least not yet. He and Dany need to meet. We need to see the consequences of their meeting for Westeros. And deep down, I still want Tyrion to find Tysha.

Overall, the chapter was too much Mercy and too little Arya.

Sound out, readers: Do you think the chapter showed a good progression for Arya’s character? Were you, as I was, a little disappointed in how Martin portrayed her in this chapter? How do you think Arya’s storyline will end? As someone who will jump up and down and cheer if Martin announces the Winds of Winter on April 6, I really wanted to like the preview chapter, so tell me why I should change my mind.

Image via HD Wallpaper

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