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The Coconut God

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  1. This post has been a long time coming. I'm finally going to buckle down and write it. Seven months ago I made a post on r/asoiaf in which I proposed a different way of calculating the population of Westeros, based on the number of existing settlements and their average population in medieval times. I arrived at a high estimate of 14 million inhabitants, a number I was very happy with, since the 40 million based on the 1% army size rule always felt too large to me (I have a background in geopolitics and I feel ruling over 40 million would require a more complex political system than the one depicted in the series), and also unreliable, since basing your estimate on such a small percentage can cause wild variation in your result. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to convince @Ran at that time, even though the nameless market towns he pointed out I had ommitted (based on oane of Arya's chapters in AcoK) wouldn't have made much of a difference (an extra 4 million people overall, and this is ignoring the fact that I was very generous with my estimates everywhere else). Now, I am able to provide you with solid textual proof that Westerosi armies represent more than 1% of the population, and hopefully I will be able to explain why a lower population density makes perfect sense for the World of Ice and Fire. 1. Army size and population - a look at the Chequy Lion While the main series never gives us much insight into the recruitment process the lords of Westeros employ, we do get to see this in the second Dunk & Egg novella, The Sword Sword. Ser Eustace Osgrey, a disgraced knight, requires Dunk to levy no less than "every able-bodied man of fighting age". This would normally mean roghly 33% of all men, or 16.5% of the population... This is a tall order, of course, and I doesn't quite get filled, but it is important to note that this was the initial goal, and nobody found it unusual. This woman in particular takes it very naturaly: Now, how many people does Ser Eustace have? Let's take a look: "No more than a handful of hovels" I take to mean 5 or less (my own grandfather on my mother's side was born in a "village" with 3 houses in northern Romania, so I wouldn't find such a number unusual), so less than 15 families in total. According to Google, the average medieval family had 6 members, though if we want to pump it up a little we can go to 10. That's somewhere between 90 and 150 people under Ser Eustace's care. This lines up with the real world estimates; a knight was usually supported by an average of 300 villagers. Since Eustace's family had lost some lands both before and after the rebellion, and men during the fighting no doubt, it makes sense that he would be way below average. Of these 90 to 150, 12 recruits show up, of which Dunk keeps 8. Note how we have extra recruits to balance out the draft dodgers (if there were any at all – the numbers could be small simply because Eustace had previously lost another round of fighting men in the rebellion). With Dunk himself, the count goes up to 9 (I'm not counting Bennis because he did run away in the end). So, what is the army size relative to the population for Ser Eustace Osgrey, disgraced knight who has little to offer and little to threaten his subjects with? 6-10%! 3% at the lowest, if we ignore the hovel count and go straight with the real world average, but even so it is a far cry from the 1% used to reach the 40 million. With the 3%, we get to a number very close to my own initial estimate, 13,400,000, both methods allowing for that number to go even lower. But wait! Westeros is supposed to be roughly the size of Europe, which used to have between 50 and 70 million inhabitants in the Middle Ages. Its population can't possibly be this low! I used to think the same, and I was actually advocating for retconning its size in that old reddit post, which is... silly, I have to admit. But there is actually a perfectly viable explanation that works with the world... and it has to do with agriculture. 2. The quirks of growing your crops when the seasons are out of whack Yes, agriculture is the true solution to our problem. Because the actual size of the territory has little to do with the size of its population. It's how much food that territory can provide that truly matters. Medieval Europe, from Charlemagne to the Renaissance, used two systems of agriculture: the two-field system and the three-field system. Under the two-field system, a field is planted in one year and left to fallow in the next. Under the three-field system, the field is planted for two consecutive years, once with one type of crop during the autumn and once with a different one, which consumes different nutrients and replenishes the others, during the spring, then is left to fallow in the third year. The yearly harvest from each of this style of crops will feed a certain population for one year (smaller for the two-field, larger for the three-field). Now, in Westeros, you don't get the standard temperate European year; you get several consecutive years of fertile summer, followed by a similar number of years of winter, in which you can't plant anything at all. This means that you effectively have to plant duble the number of crops in the years of summer in order to store enough for the years of winter. It sounds easy. Plants tend to grow in summer, after all. However, you still have to respect the fallow cycle, otherwise the soil will become degraded and quickly lose its fertility. Best case scenario, this means you need to have set aside double the surface of arable land so you can plant enough crops per year to cover the quota. And it only goes downhill from here. The more efficient three-field system largely relies on high yield winter cereals for one of the crops. These are planted in autumn and benefit from the snow's moisture to gather nutrients and grow, so they can't really be used throughout a prolonged summer. The heat of the summer also means that the fallow land will become dry and cracked unless it is allowed to be covered by grass an weeds.. which is a Catch 22. In our world, ploughing an overgrown field in autumn would allow winter to kill most of the weeds and provide fresh, moist soil for planting in spring. In Westeros, during mid and late summer they might have to rely solely on grazing to clear the land for a new crop, which may increase the fallow cycle and also increase the chance that some weeds would survive to affect the crop, decreasing later yields throughout the years. Worst case scenario, people would be unable to replant a summer-fallowed field until the next spring, meaning they could use even five or six times more land than us for the same number of crops over the length of their average seasonal cycle (starting with a perennial fodder that can be easily cleared as they move over to that field). A low yield per hectare averaged for all seasons would also explain why villages and towns are situated far away from each other: each village needs that much more arable land compared to an European village in order to provide it with the same ammount of food. A larger ratio of fallow land compared to planted crops – due to a need to prevent soil degradation – also explains why we see our characters more often on wild roads than in fields. It also explains why the cities are so few, and always on the shores of a sea or river: the area required to provide food for the inhabitants is much larger, to the point that it hinders transportation on land, and they need fresh goods to be shipped to them. Last but not least, it explains why the Iron Island are so populous compared to much larger kingdoms on the continent: they rely on the sea to provide food for them, and the sea manages to replenish itself more efficiently. It also adds a new dimension to the words of House Greyjoy, "We do not sow".
  2. The Coconut God

    Do you like Feast and Dance?

    This is your answer. Feast & Dance are transitional books. They move the plot from the largely resolved War of the Five Kings which dominated the first three volumes to whatever the endgame is going to be. People who already made up their minds about the endgame before Feast & Dance were even published tend not to like them. To them, many of the newly introduced plot points are "filler" because they don't move the story along in the direction they "know" it "must" follow. People who like to read between the lines and theorize, such as myself, tend to enjoy Feast & Dance more than the other books because they are still open ended and therefore allow us to play with the puzzle pieces and construct a multitude of potential scenarios from them. If Winds makes good use of the plot points set up in Feast & Dance (even subverting long standing expectations about the endgame if it has to), naysayers will have to concede that everything was necessary for the story after all. They may get a new enjoyment out of a re-read, since obviously they would have missed the point of the books the first time. If the plot points are dropped or hastily resolved in a manner that makes them seem superfluous, then it will be hard for people to take those books seriously even if they originally enjoyed them, much like the show is now hard to watch because of the poor ending.
  3. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    I'm not sure if Jon's ending will be the same in the books, as in him rejoining the Watch or living north of the Wall with the wildlings. That seems a little disconnected and trite to me. He goes through this gigantic arc only to end up more or less back where he began? What about the LotR ending George said he was aiming for? Some characters did "go back home". but neither Frodo nor Aragorn ended up where they began. The events of the books changed them to much. Now, when it comes to his assassination, I don't think that's actually about Jon... Well, it is to some extent, but that's not the main reason why George made it happen. I think it's more about how Jon's absence will affect the rest of the story in the North, especially Stannis's. Unlike D&D, George doesn't make his character stupid just for the sake of advancing the plot. Stannis is stubborn and flawed, but he's not stupid. If Jon was around when the Others invaded, he would listen to his advice, just like he did in the Bolton campaign. I can see Stannis failing to take advance from Davos in the future, and that would be one of those big tragic mistakes for the character, but Davos would only be in a position to give ethical advice. Jon knows a lot about the North, the wildlings, the wights and the Others, he is in a position to give informed tactical and political advice. If the end of Stannis's arc is that he burns Shireen and leads a doomed attack against the Others after half his men abandon him, I can't imagine that happening with Jon at his side. And simply saying "Jon was caught up somewhere else" would be a cop out if we assume the clash with the Others is imminent. Another important part of this is that Jon, not Stannis, was the glue holding all the factions at the Wall together. The wildlings wouldn't turn on the Watch while Jon was in charge. The northern lords presumably wouldn't turn on Stannis if Jon was at his side. Especially if they know about Robb's will. Taking Jon out of the picture is an opportunity for these conflicts to play out. I will be very surprised if they don't. Of course, this also serves Jon indirectly, because you want to think of him as the character who would have known what to do. Had he been around and incapable of doing anything while all the shit the fan, then you would ask yourself "Who is this guy to pick all the pieces at the end? He's just as responsible as everyone else". So I don't think it will matter all that much if he's dead or in a coma or if people will make a big deal of his resurrection or not. The real plot point is that he won't be around for a while, and the way in which this will affect his character is that he won't be directly involved in whatever goes down (while still being able to internalize some of the blame, since the assassination itself was a result of his own political and leadership mistakes). Personally, I still suspect he will die and be resurrected, first of all for the "cool factor" and the impact it will have on some of the people who choose to follow Jon afterwards, and second of all because it would allow George to tighten up the narrative a little bit. Think about it, Cat stopped getting PoV chapters after she became LSH, so George can stop giving us Jon chapters for most if not all of TWoW, to keep us in suspense on whether or not it's still our Jon in there. Then all the other PoV characters in the North, like Davos, Asha, Mel and Theon, instead of being superfluous after Stannis dies, can serve as a window into whatever Jon is doing.
  4. I don't think George is the kind of guy who viciously bashes stuff, especially stuff made by people he knows. I've often seen him praising pulpy, average quality stuff on his blog. He's like one of those kindly teachers who gives everyone a passing grade, and if he criticizes something, he's going to do it in a veiled, inoffensive way (unless it's people selling false stories about him on the internet). I think part of that is because he's very self-conscious as a creator (he has to be to struggle so much with ASoIaF), and part because he used to be a screen writer himself in the 80s and early 90s, so his expectations were always, at least in part, based on experiences from a time when even the best TV shows were mostly cheap schlock. As bad as it is right now, Game of Thrones still exceeds those standards in many many ways. We have a different perspective, because we've been watching good serialized dramas for most of our adult lives, and we are also shell shocked and jaded because of bad endings from popular series like Lost, Dexter, BSG, etc. Personally, I really really hope George is not as depressed about the series as we are. He needs to keep himself healthy and sound of mind to keep writing. We're just going to have to be assholes for him and bash D&D ourselves!
  5. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    You assume Jon will be resurrected at Castle Black while Marsh is in charge. I certainly don't. And yes, fire wights are "not who they were", but that doesn't mean they are enslaved husks either. IIRC, Martin said each time they die something is lost, and they become more single minded, but I assume what remains still comes from who they were. I imagine they are like people coming back after a massive stroke, minus the paralysis. But in any case, I don't really understand what the point of this argument is. I'm not married to the idea of Jon dying and coming back to life, I'm perfectly fine with him not dying at all. The points that are important to me are: He's not dead right now. I think the story would be served better if he's out of commission for a longer time, allowing Stannis to ruin his relationship with the North and possibly lose to the Others all without Jon's intervention. So, to me, he's in a coma at the moment. Whether he recovers or not remains to be seen. Robb's will is what frees him of his vows and makes him KitN. The resurrection, even if it happens, is just a red herring with regards to the vows, and he doesn't need to fight the Boltons to prove himself as king. He is king by Robb's decree. That's it. If he doesn't die at all, that works just fine for me. Who says the North needs to be united? The Others are coming, this is when the ball drops. The North needs to be at its lowest. Ditto for the Wall, things are already at the point where they are about to fall apart when we last see the place in Dance. Why fix it when we know it has to break again for the story to move forward? This is a show to books thread, what part of the show gave you the impression that the Others will be held back at the Wall? But Roose vs Stannis is already in the final phase! If Roose loses, the story can progress to the Others, to the mother fucking stepping stone to the endgame. If Stannis loses, the story goes into another side quest loop. Roose vs Jon, interesting or not, is not necessary for progressing anything. Why not have Jon vs Lady Dustin afterwards? She's interesting too...
  6. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    But why must we have this convoluted mess... Stannis losing, surviving, running away to the wall, somehow growing mad enough to burn Shireen instead of running off to Braavos to get more sellswords... all for the sake of the boring ass Ramsay vs Jon side story? I don't get it. It's just bad. The story flows smoother, is more satisfying, and serves the characters better thematically if Stannis retakes Winterfell, finally loses his skepticism about his higher destiny and makes the supreme sacrifice for the sake of the realm, only to be crushed by reality in the most tragic way. It doesn't matter what you and Martin call him, what matters is how he is seen by his potential followers. Fire wight or not, Beric's resurrections were enough to convert a lot of people down in the south. The crucial difference between them and the ice zombies (at least the ones the Others use) is that they can pass off as real people.
  7. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    Being resurrected by fire means that you can't possibly be a wight. Wights are killed by fire. This is why I believe that, if he dies at all, he will come back to life from his own funeral pyre.
  8. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    Sure, but we don't have to rely on resurrection to free him of his vows, therefore there is no contradiction. If she hasn't done it already, how will she now? Stannis is prepared to die at Winterfell, and in that situation he wants Shireen to succeed him, we already know this. The only thing that could make him change his mind is if this existential threat of the Great Other actually manifests itself, because then he will have to believe that he is Azor Ahai and it is his duty to save the realm.
  9. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    You are free to disagree, but that is the enemy Melissandre set him out to face. If he's ever going to burn Shireen, and the show basically confirmed it, he will do it to protect the realm from an existential threat, He won't do it just to win a castle for himself, we've already seen that in the Theon preview chapters. If he dies in battle, Massey's orders are to win the throne for Shireen. I don't think he's dead either, not yet at least. I agree that getting out of the Night's Watch on a technicality would be highly questionable, but a king has the power to free him from his vows. We know this from both Stannis, who offered it to Jon, and from Cersei, who promised it to Osney. Since Robb legitimized him and named him his heir in his will, it stands to reason that he freed him of his vows as well, otherwise he'd just be in Maester Aemon's position. So technically speaking he's been free of his vows by northern law since the Red Wedding, he just didn't know it yet.
  10. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    They're not nulled by his death, they're nulled by the will.
  11. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    It's very simple, though. Stannis is the false Azor Ahai, the king with an iron will who will break before he bends. The Others break through the Wall, and he is convinced it is his destiny and duty to stop them. The northern lords abandon him in fear, he is hopelessly outnumbered, so he burns Shireen for a blessing from Rh'llor. Nothing happens, but he goes forth anyway, and all that happens is that his paltry forces get added to the armies of the dead. He is destroyed by the corpses of the very Freys he drowned and northmen he slaughtered to take Winterfell. Perfect ending for him, now Jon finally succumbs to his wounds and is placed on a pyre, but he comes back to life again, and on top of it all he was Robb's chosen heir as well. Boom, everyone pins their hopes on him!
  12. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    Good point about the ungrateful northerners. This wasn't convincing at all with Dany given the circumstances in the show, but it works perfectly for Stannis. I don't think she will march to Winterfell either, I think there's a high chance the North will be abandoned at least temporarily before the Others are dealt with. I keep saying this, but I think the show had very strong reasons to avoid winter as much as possible. Filming on location in Iceland is one thing, but having snow on demand on large sets like Wintefell or locations like King's Landing would have been a huge production challenge and likely insanely expensive. Of course they would opt for a season of Ramsay over the Others invading early. Even in season 8, the snow is blatantly fake and never more than ankle deep. What were they going to do for a meter high snows, rebuild their sets in Alaska and keep their crew there to shoot in the winter? I bet we'll see a much harsher and longer winter in the books. Luckily, George's imagination doesn't have budgetary constraints. I'm actually going with Brienne as the Last Hero 2.0. She has a "magic sword" after all, and this would vindicate her eight chapters of character development that a lot of people are complaining about. D&D probably thought Brienne wasn't important enough, or didn't know how to make this work for the character. Remember that fight she had with Arya? You can call me a tinfoil hatter, but I think eventually we'll see that scene as a nod to this change. Kind of like "In the show, Arya is better than Brienne, so we are giving her the job of ending the Long Night". She even used the same knife move she used when she killed the Night King in that scene, so they're clearly connected. This also means that book Jaime will get show Theon's ending. He will go full circle and die protecting Bran, which I find a lot more satisfying for his character than being squashed by a bunch of bricks.
  13. The Coconut God

    GRRM's (Brief) Thoughts on the Final Episode

    The characters he mentions by name are the ones who never made it into the show. He's being vague about everything else.
  14. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    I subscribe to the theory that Stannis will use the frozen lake to defeat the Freys, then dress his own men in their armor and enter Winterfell by guile. The Pink Letter is supposed to be a direct result of this trick and a hint for the reader that it is taking place. I also believe that Stannis's men and the loyal northern lords will tragically butcher each other because neither knows about the others' deception. Manderly's knights will fall in the same trap as the Freys, and Stannis won't be inclined to spare any survivors. The northern lords will defend themselves fiercely against a perceived Frey betrayal. So in the end Stannis will win, but there will be very few soldiers left in the North. Then Ramsay's raven reaches Castle Black first, everyone believes Stannis lost, Jon is assassinated and everything turns to shit over there. Cue the Others breaching the Wall. Good luck everyone! That's what I understand by progressing the story. I accept that I may be biased, but half a book of Jon Snow fighting the Boltons after Stannis dies in an anticlimactic way sounds like a turd sandwich to me and I don't want it!
  15. The Coconut God

    Master thread on what the Show means for the book plot

    You make a good point about fArya, but on the other hand the clansmen don't really plan to return home. Part of their reason for joining Stannis was that old men usually go out in the cold to die anyway during hard winters, to leave more food for the young, and they'd rather die in battle. As for Roose, even if he has some special powers, unless they connect to the main plot line, he's still going to be a side quest. I suppose he could be this ancient creature who can reveal something about the Others, but that would feel a bit too tacked on for me (and not really necessary, considering Bran is linked to the weirnet).
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