George R.R. Martin has said that a primary reason that he abandoned the “Five Year Gap” in between A Storm of Swords and Feast Dance is that some plotlines reacted poorly to the time skip. Basically, he was going to skip 5 five years of action inbetween A Storm of Swords and the next book, A Dance with Dragons.
Other characters, it didn’t work at all. I’m writing the Cersei chapters in King’s Landing, and saying, “Well yeah, in five years, six different guys have served as Hand and there was this conspiracy four years ago, and this thing happened three years ago.” And I’m presenting all of this in flashbacks, and that wasn’t working. The other alternative was [that] nothing happened in those five years, which seemed anticlimactic. SSM 2013
As he says, does anyone believe Cersei could hold together King’s Landing for five years? Or that Jon would be Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch without major incident in that time? It’d be incredibly heavy on exposition and missing out on seeing important character development. One of the plots that really goes off the rails is Brienne “the Beauty” Tarth. At the end of A Storm of Swords, Jaime Lannister entrusts Brienne with the valyrian steel sword Oathkeeper, a letter bearing Tommen’s seal giving her royal protection, and one mission. Find Sansa Stark at any costs and return her to her family.
“You say Sansa killed him. Why protect her?”
Because Joff was no more to me than a squirt of seed in Cersei’s cunt. And because he deserved to die.
“I have made kings and unmade them. Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor.” Jaime smiled thinly. “Besides, kingslayers should band together. Are you ever going to go?”
Her big hand wrapped tight around Oathkeeper. “I will. And I will find the girl and keep her safe. For her lady mother’s sake. And for yours.” She bowed stiffly, whirled, and went. – ASOS Jaime IX
With this mission in mind and a five year gap planned, you lose almost all of Brienne’s story and it’s amazing humanizing elements. Her travels through the Riverlands, bonding with Podrick, Nimble Dick Crabb (some say losing that character is a positive), Septon Maribald and his famous broken man speech, Brienne’s fight at the Inn at the Crossroads, the parallels with her ancestor Duncan the Tall, etc. Her plotline in Feast Dance is critical to showing readers just how devastated and savage Westeros has become from the warfare. Instead, with the five year gap, you pick up on a Brienne who has failed at finding Sansa and likely broken mentally by failing her oaths to Jaime and Catelyn Stark.
And you have the problem of where do you pick up her story? Has she been just wandering for five years aimlessly in Westeros? How can she not have found Sansa or Arya in five years? None of it works well. As we can see from her plot in AFFC, George was not planning on being kind to her.
Brienne’s chest was burning, and the storm was behind her eyes, blinding her. Bones ground against each other inside of her. Biter’s mouth gaped open, impossibly wide. She saw his teeth, yellow and crooked, filed into points. When they closed on the soft meat of her cheek, she hardly felt it. She could feel herself spiraling down into the dark. I cannot die yet, she told herself, there is something I still need to do.
Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. She felt as if she were floating above herself, watching the horror as if it were happening to some other woman, to some stupid girl who thought she was a knight. It will be finished soon, she told herself. Then it will not matter if he eats me. –AFFC Brienne VII
Brienne likely would’ve had to give up her quest from lack of money and shame over that time, perhaps join an army or sellsword company scarred and feeling like a failure. Maybe head to Essos, try and follow Arya’s trail from Saltpans like Brienne actually tries to do in AFFC.
If she were highborn, command would come naturally to her, and deference to them. Brienne wondered whether Willow might be more than she appeared. The girl was too young and too plain to be Sansa Stark, but she was of the right age to be the younger sister, and even Lady Catelyn had said that Arya lacked her sister’s beauty. Brown hair, brown eyes, skinny . . . could it be? Arya Stark’s hair was brown, she recalled, but Brienne was not sure of the color of her eyes. Brown and brown, was that it? Could it be that she did not die at Saltpans after all? – AFFC Brienne VII
She could hope to make enough coin as a mercenary to make another attempt at finding Arya and Sansa. Brienne would end up disillusioned, scarred, hardened inside, and morals stripped, similar to the treatment George gives Tyrion in his adventures in Essos. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a character that fits that exact description. Meris of the sellsword company the Windblown from AFFC.
That last gave Quentyn pause. Pretty Meris frightened him. A Westerosi woman, but taller than he was, just a thumb under six feet. After twenty years amongst the free companies, there was nothing pretty about her, inside or out. –ADWD The Windblown
Quentyn glanced back to Pretty Meris. When her cold dead eyes met his, he felt a shiver. I do not like this. – ADWD The Windblown
When Daario brought them forward, she saw that one of them was a woman, big and blond and all in mail.*
“Pretty Meris,” her captain named her, though pretty was the last thing Dany would have called her. She was six feet tall and earless, with a slit nose, deep scars in both cheeks, and the coldest eyes the queen had ever seen. – ADWD Daenerys VII
“Meris is no man. Meris, sweet, undo your shirt, show him.”
“That will not be necessary,” said Quentyn. If the talk he had heard was true, beneath that shirt Pretty Meris had only the scars left by the men who’d cut her breasts off. ” –ADWD The Spurned Suitor
Six feet tall, imposing size, blonde, scarred across her face (particularly her cheeks), Westerosi, has cold dead eyes, almost all morals gone, and either cut off or very small breasts. Those descriptions are a dead ringer for Brienne of Tarth after five years of failure, cruelty, and misery.
Brienne is well over six feet tall, but not close to seven, no. Just off the top of my head, I would say Brienne is taller than Renly and Jaime and significantly heavier than either, but nowhere near the size of Gregor Clegane, who is the true giant in the series. Shorter than Hodor and the Greatjon, maybe a bit shorter than the Hound, maybe roughly the same height as Robert. SSM 2001
The horsemen had surrounded them while their captain questioned Brienne, but in the end he’d let them continue on their way. “Be wary, woman. The next men you meet may not be as honest as my lads. The Hound has crossed the Trident with a hundred outlaws, and it’s said they’re raping every wench they come upon and cutting off their teats for trophies.” – AFFC Brienne III
Brienne broke off rowing. Sweat had stuck strands of her flax-colored hair to her forehead, and her grimace made her look homelier than ever. “You are under my protection,” she said, her voice so thick with anger that it was almost a growl.
He had to laugh at such fierceness. She’s the Hound with teats, he thought. Or would be, if she had any teats to speak of. “Then protect me, wench. Or free me to protect myself.” – ASOS Jaime I
Even down to the warning Brienne received about the outlaws cutting off breasts and Meris supposedly having that happen to her. Is Meris a time traveler like a certain fetus? A lost twin? A magical doppleganger ?! No, I propose that Meris is the abandoned future of Brienne’s arc, a casualty of the five year gap that George couldn’t bring himself to discard entirely. Meris even has the same mocking style of a nickname.
“Daughter?” Catelyn was horrified.
“Brienne the Beauty, they name her . . . though not to her face, lest they be called upon to defend those words with their bodies.” -ACOK Catelyn IV
Pretty Meris frightened him. A Westerosi woman, but taller than he was, just a thumb under six feet. After twenty years amongst the free companies, there was nothing pretty about her, inside or out. –ADWD The Windblown
George couldn’t make her plot work smoothly in transition from Brienne to Meris. He never lets good stories go, constantly thinks of and adds new ideas outside his outline, borrows heavily from many different writers and media. His nature as a narrative collector got the better of him and made a compromise. Makes perfect sense with his style in mind that after thinking of this tragic and horrifying future for Brienne that he would find a way of keeping it somewhere. A couple of minor changes, like eyes going from blue to grey and the implausibility of the two characters being the same based on age and location is enough to mask their clear connection from readers.
The decision to have this broken version of Brienne, given up on being a hero and her dreams of being an honorable knight, come face to face with Quentyn Martell is a masterstroke. She’s a walking symbol of how Quentyn should turn back before it’s too late. Planetos is no place for the knights of summer and heroes from stories. Nobody knows better than world-worn Pretty Meris.
Makes you wonder, what other futures from the five year gap did he repurpose into new characters or re-assign to characters that could better accommodate his scrapped ideas. The Windblown or any other new groups/characters in Feast Dance could all possibly be orphaned plotlines that George made room for after cuts. Make for a fun re-read and exhaustive wiki search I’d think.
George originally planned to have Brienne the Beauty become the physically and mentally scarred Pretty Meris but was forced to abandon that future when he gave up on the five year gap. Instead he took that version of Brienne, renamed her Meris, and stuck her in the Windblown rather than give up his idea. No character escapes George’s creative and cruel mind for long.