It's a very different experience when you know what's coming. There is nothing quite like being unspoiled for the moment when Eddard Stark -- the man you have been assuming is the hero of the series, and even though he has experienced setback after setback, loss after grievous loss, narrative expectations would suggest that he has just got to catch a break sooner or later -- loses his head and dies. It is huge, and terrifying, and totally changes the nature of the story's reality. This is not a by-the-numbers epic fantasy, where you know that the good guys will come out on top eventually. If Ned Stark can die, anything can happen. ANYTHING.
Of course, it's also even more clear on a reread that there are no good guys here. Everyone has darkness in them; everyone makes mistakes; there are certainly characters that are easier to root for than others, but no one has completely clean hands, not even here (and everyone's hands just get dirtier). There is something beautiful and terrible about the knowledge that I'm watching Ned and Catelyn and Robb and Renly and so many others taking the first steps on their long, slow march to doom. The first time I read this book, I remember getting chills at the moment of declared rebellion, when Robb's bannermen come together and proclaim him their King in the North. I got chills this time, too, but for an entirely different reason. So many things are fraught with newer, darker meanings now: Catelyn's meeting with Walder Frey; Littlefinger's betrayals; Sansa's misguided romantic notions; every single decision made by poor, stupid, noble Ned Stark. It seems much more obvious to me now that fandom's pet theory about Jon Snow -- that he is not Ned's son but rather his nephew, the secret child of Rhaeger Targaryen and Lyanna Stark -- is almost certainly true; it explains Ned's behavior towards Jon, not to mention the promise that he obsesses over.
I also noted the shoddy treatment of women much more than I remembered from the first time through -- there are some really awesome individual women in this book, but as a group, they fare pretty poorly. To be fair, a lot of the misogynistic stuff is clearly the characters' voices, not "voice of the author". The talk of rape and whores and the uselessness of women comes, in most cases, from the more unsavory characters and societies; it is not set up as anything to be emulated. But it does bother me more than it used to. I can't remember if it gets any better. Probably not, though; once a world is established this way, it's hard to back away from it. Still, I find his female characters to be as interesting, varied, well-rounded, and flawed as his male characters, and that makes a big difference.
And so, on to the next. I am enjoying the reread. And I want the details clear in my head on July 12th. You know, just in case.
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