Bloody hell – I’ve done 20 of these things? O_O (index of previous posts here).
Chapter 39: Jon
Not a lot of action in this chapter, mostly set up. Jon allows Val to go north of the Wall to parle with Tormund Giantsbane, inviting him to join them in the safety of the Wall and share their food in exchange for help defending against the White Walkers and so forth. It’s not a popular decision. Stannis regards Val as his prisoner and a wildling princess, even though the wildlings don’t really work like that. Jon is relying on Val’s word and her returning before Stannis does.
Several of Jon’s men come to complain at him about this and other things. Many other things. They want more men, but not more wildling men, and certainly not the giant, Wun Wun. Stannis’s queen, Selyse is unhappy about her accommodations at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and her ‘Hand’ writes to say that she wishes to move to the Nightfort, which Jon has ceded to Stannis. They also don’t like the wildling women, and have taken to calling Long Barrow, where they are based, Whore’s Hole. Nor do they like that Jon has made a wildling man master-at-arms, nor that a former catamite has joined their ranks (Satin). All of this despite the fact that the foundation of the Night’s Watch is men who have committed crimes ranging from petty to murder and rape – crimes which are forgotten and never spoken off once a man takes the black and devotes himself to the Wall. It’s a nice moment of irony.
Perhaps the most disturbing news, though, comes from north of the Wall. A witch called ‘Mother Mole’ (an unfortunate name, I have a damnable time remembering that she has nothing to do with Mole Town) has persuaded thousands of wildlings that she has had a vision that they will be rescued by a fleet of ships taking them to safety if they head to an inhospitable ruin called ‘Hardholme’. Jon wants to send ships to pick up these wildlings, which his men think is madness, until he points out the somewhat chilling fact that if thousands of wildlings die of exposure following Mother Mole to Hardholme, there will be thousands more dead people to rise and join the fight.
Not much to say about this chapter, it gets the job done. Tensions are building between the different factions Jon has introduced into the Night’s Watch by forcing them to accept wildlings and women amongst their numbers. It’s obviously the wise choice – the necessary choice – but it’s won him few friends amongst his own men. The Night’s Watch desperately needs men. I hope Val can persuade Giantsbane to join with them too. They’re going to need to join together to fight the forces of winter. I don’t doubt Val’s word (perhaps that is foolish of me in a George R R Martin novel, but it’s how I feel) but I’m not at all sure Tormund will go for it.
The really nice moment is at the end when we see Jon has realised what is suddenly obvious and clearly hasn’t occurred to anyone else at all – that dead wildlings doesn’t mean less foes, but more. That’s what you want for showing the wits of a character – to have them think of something the other characters didn’t and that the reader didn’t think of either. Nicely done. A simple, but chilling, moment.
Chapter 40: Tyrion
The Selaesori Qhoran has been becalmed for days. Tempers are running short, and the supposed good luck of having a dwarf on board is wearing thin in contrast to the supposed bad luck of having a woman on board. Tyrion is persuaded to come down off his high horse and onto a pig. He tilts with Penny in the mock jousting she used to perform with her brother in an effort to raise the crews spirits. It doesn’t really work. What really surprised me, though, is that Tyrion seems to have come complete about-face and decided that he wants to joust with Penny, not just as a last resort to cheer up the sailors, but as an opportunity to ingratiate himself with Daenerys.
Tyrion also goads Ser Jorah once too often and earns both a fat lip and expulsion from the cabin they have been sharing. He goes to stay in Penny’s cabin instead. Penny decides to make her move on him and he gently rebuffs her, using his mockery of a marriage to Sansa as an excuse, which Penny is innocent enough to accept.
A massive storm brews up – from the sound of it, possibly a hurricane? This, then, is the squalling grey monster with one eye of the priest Moqorro’s prophecy. It nigh-on destroys the ship, killing many, including the priest. Then dubious rescue comes, in the form of what Ser Jorah identifies as a slaver.
I like the resolution of this aspect of the prophecy. I was genuinely puzzled as to what malevolent, tentacled thing might be approaching Daenerys with one eye. A hurricane works. Or a tropical storm – I know the distinction between the two is essentially just one of strength, and I’m not sure how well they really would have survived a hurricane.
I also liked that Tyrion did not sleep with Penny when the opportunity arose. It’s a tricky line to walk. On the one hand, why shouldn’t he find another little person attractive? If he only fancies big women is this saying something bad about taller ladies being objectively more beautiful? I have a friend who is endlessly incensed by the fact that Gimli is smitten by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. He’s a dwarf, after all, why should tall, willowy elves be considered objectively more beautiful by all peoples? On the other end of the scale, though, I feel the film Freaks looming uncomfortably large in the background. It’s a film from 1932 set in a freak show. On the one hand it makes for challenging viewing, as the true monsters as presented as being the ‘normal’ performers. On the other, the catalyst of all the terrible events of the film seems to be one man’s (Hans) daring to think that he could love a big woman (Cleopatra), even though he himself is a little person. the unpleasant message: stick to your own kind and everything will be OK.
I have to wonder if there is a bit of deliberate reference to Freaks on Mr Martin’s behalf. apart from the ‘humour in difference from the norm’ aspects of Penny’s way of earning a living, Penny herself recalls palpably the meekness of Frieda, the little person who is in love with Hans and who wants him to see how they could have a much happier life if only he would stick to his own kind and marry her, not Cleopatra.
I think, on balance, it is handled well. Tyrion does not dismiss Penny for anything to do with her size. She is simply too innocent and simple in her outlook to be attractive to him. I also liked that he was not cruel in turning her down, turning to the very naivety that is the reason they are unsuited as a way of letting her down gently.
All in all, a good chapter, and one that brings Tyrion and Jorah that much closer to Meereen, even though it looks like they will arrive in the hands of slavers…