Read Along with Rhube #30: Chapters 59 and 60

Hey gang, it’s baaaaaack! With season four of Game of Thrones just a few short weeks away, I’ve dusted off my reading hat and picked up my now-somewhat-battered volume of A Dance with Dragons (it’s heavier than I remembered). We’re at p. 783 – only another 176 to go!

I’ve also created an index page, which you can find in the drop-down ‘Index’ menu above. This is mostly an aesthetic change (I didn’t realise I could make drop-down menus this way before!). At the moment I’m still intending to keep the original index post up to date (apart from anything else, I don’t relish the thought of changing the links across 29 posts), but the new, ever so slightly swankier version is there if you want to just grab if from a drop-down menu.

That little bit of admin over with, let’s see if we can remember where we are, shall we?

Chapter 59: The Discarded Knight (Ser Barristan Selmy)

So, Daenerys has flown off with her dragon and nobody’s really clear on what happened – people are worried that she’s dead. Ser Barristan is now serving Dany’s husband, Hizdahr zo Loraq; although, what with the poisoned locusts that Dany nearly ate, suspicions are ripe. Was this a plot by Hizdahr to assassinate his queen? Could the Prince of Dorne have been trying to assassinate Hizdahr, in his role as a rival suitor for Dany’s (already claimed) hand? The answer to that one is no, btw, Ser Barristan – that boy just isn’t cut out for this level of intrigue. Unfortunately, the King doesn’t know that, and Ser Barristan is now rather worried for the boy’s life.

Whilst Selmy is considering plots within plots, the Yunkish arrive along with their sellsword, Bloodbeard, who chucks the head of Admiral Groleo across the throne room. Groleo had been taken as a hostage to ensure the safety of the Yunkish men who had entered the city to sign a peace accord with Dany. One of these guys died whilst trying to flee the dragon, and this is their vengeance.

Worse than the insult of killing Groleo, though, the Yunkish (who return three Meereenese hostages along with the head) now demand the destruction of the dragons in exchange for the remaining hostages. It’s an outrageous demand, made the more so as the Yunkish flatly declare that Dany is dead, killed by her dragon (‘Weeds grow through her broken skull’) but where the situation demands a decisive response, Hizdahr simply calls the audience to an end and says he must consult with his council.

As the people disperse, Selmy catches up to Quentyn – the Dornish prince – and warns him to stay away from court in Dany’s absence and to seriously consider leaving altogether. Hizdahr is not going to take too kindly to another suitor to his wife’s hand hanging around even without the whole poisoned-locusts business. Quentyn recalls to Selmy that he is known as ‘Barristan the Bold’ and asks him what name he, Quentyn, can expect to be called if he returns to Dorne without Daenerys. To stay is hopeless, but to leave means a dishonour that this prince, in his youthful determination, cannot accept.

This is an interesting chapter – lots of politics afoot. Hizdahr’s rather pathetic lack of decisive response to the Yunkish insult raises some interesting questions. The poisoned locusts having been Hizdahr’s makes him a prime suspect, but one cannot help but ask whether this is really the sort of man who could so calmly offer his queen poisoned food in a plot to claim the throne for himself. I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t a dupe who genuinely wanted peace, whilst the other political powers in Meereen plotted murder. What’s clear is that, whatever mess Daenerys was making of ruling, she was all that was holding this place together, and there is no one her equal to step into the power vacuum she’s left behind.

As for Quentyn… Oh Quentyn. I like you, I like you a lot, but you’re no more cut out for this place than Hizdahr is, and, as Selmy notes, you do not have the kind of fire in you that would attract a woman like Daenerys. This will not end well.

Chapter 60: The Spurned Suitor (Quentyn)

Speaking of the Prince, this chapter is his. His advisers think he should listen to Selmy, but Quentyn thinks he owes it to the men who have already lost their lives getting him here to see it through, so they stay. Quentyn, Quentyn – too nice for this world. As his advisers slur the names of the Meereenese (“‘I call them all Harzoo'”) Quentyn will have none of it, and demonstrates that he remembers every single one (that’s how we know he’s a nice boy).

And he’s smart, too. ‘They do not see. His friends had lost sight of his true purpose. The road leads through her, not to her. Daenerys is the means to the prize, not the prize itself.‘ He knows that Daenerys is not simply an empty symbol of power or a prize to be won and that, in many ways, her hand in marriage is not nearly as important as her command of her dragons. That is smart… but is he smart enough?

Quentyn’s new plan is to ask the Tattered Prince – the man whose contract he and his companions ran out on – to help him steal a dragon. It’s certainly audacious. If Quentyn’s right, it might even be a stroke of genius. If you want help from a mercenary you’ve betrayed, you have to intrigue him as well as pay him, and stealing a dragon certainly has that. Such a gutsy prize also allows the Tattered Prince to ask for something more than money. He asks for Pentos. And given that this is where the chapter rather dramatically ends, I think we can assume that this is the deal that is made.

As for the dragon? Quentyn’s reasoning is that he has the blood of the dragon within him, therefore he will also go unburned, as Daenerys does. He’s certainly shown himself to have grown in bravery and wits, but blood of the dragon… we saw how that line of thinking worked out for Viserys.

Quentyn, I so want things to workout for you. I can’t help but think that you would make a good and kind king. But I’m not sure that this is a world for good and kind kings.

 

Read Along with Rhube #29: Chapters 57 and 58

(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)

Just as an FYI, we’re now up to p. 754, and this post will take us up to p. 792. It would have been well-useful if I had started out by recording such helpful locatory information seeing as GRRM doesn’t seem to think we need chapter numbers in a book that has more than 60 of the fuckers, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

Chapter 57: Tyrion

Yezzan zo Qaggaz, the dude who bought Tyrion et al, has caught the plague. This is bad because belonging to Yezzan, and being in his favour, is about as cushy as it gets for a slave. Oh, and because they might also catch the plague. And, being slaves, they might very well be killed if their master dies. If they’re not claimed by someone less savoury. Unless, that is, they can escape.

Tyrion, ever cunning, makes the excuse of fetching water for Yezzan to get himself and Penny out of the tent. He also persuades the guards to let him take Ser Jorah to carry the water (they’re not very bright guards). Jorah is a broken man. Slavery does not suit him, and he seems to have adopted a state of near catatonia in response, refusing to move, absorbing his beatings for disobeying without complaint. But once he sees that they are heading for different tents to Yezzan’s he perks up a bit.

Tyrion’s plan is to throw in with Brown Ben Plumm, who tried to buy them from Yezzan before, recognising Tyrion. And it works, he even persuades (apparently) Plumm to take them on as Second Sons, not merely a gift for Cersei, pointing out that he, Tyrion, can be a very good friend to those who do him a turn.

I like this chapter, for the most part. Tyrion gets to be cunning and they get free of the yoke of slavery, which was a slightly tedious side-bar. Things move one step closer to Tyrion meeting Daenerys and forming an unstoppable alliance (or so I like to dream). But it’s not without its flaws. The ‘freak show’ preference of Yezzan for unusual slaves provides Martin with a reason for Our Heroes to stay together when they are bought, but one can’t help but feel that the audience is expected to enjoy the exoticism of the ‘freaks’ as well. Sweets, the intersex slave, is sympathetically portrayed, but Martin doesn’t miss the excuse to have a character make a quip about him being able to ‘fuck himself’. It’s from a guard with whom we’re not intended to sympathise, but it isn’t exactly challenged. Yezzan’s own morbid obesity is often riffed off by Tyrion, both verbally and in point-of-view description. It isn’t out of character – we’re used to off-colour jokes from Tyrion, and we know his philosophy of speaking plainly about things that others will mock you for – but then one has to ask oneself why the author made the character morbidly obese anyway. After all, an author does have control over these things. I assume it is as a representation and manifestation both of Yezzan’s wealth and self-indulgence. On one level that’s fair enough – obesity would be a sign of unusual wealth – but it also perpetuates a stereotype of fat people as selfishly indulgent and in some way deviant. The combination of the fat man presented as unreasonably self-indulgent and ridiculed for supposedly comedic effect, and the ‘collection of freaks’ he has made of his unusual slaves, together suggests that this is more for our entertainment – presenting the ‘exotic’ and the extreme for our entertainment. For ‘colour’. It’s a bit uncomfortable.

We also see another two uses of the word ‘teats’ to describe breasts. It’s just a really uncomfortable and objectifying term. It says ‘these are not the woman’s breasts, these are things for you to tug on and get something out of’. It equates the woman with a cow – with a not especially intelligent animal bread for complacency and usefulness to others. In other words, it’s pretty gross. I get that it shows the coarse language of those who use the term – I don’t mind coarse language – I just think an unusual number of men seem to be using the same term in this book, and from a wide variety of backgrounds. It doesn’t really represent coarseness of the characters, to me, it represents a rather unpleasant enjoyment of objectifying and dehumanising women via their breasts.

Oh, and did I mention that one of the Second Sons takes the opportunity to have a quick grope of Penny whilst commenting on her ‘teats’ and how exotic it is for a ‘dwarf’ to have ‘teats’? Why? Just because. Just for ‘colour’. Yeah.

Speaking of Penny, she is starting to annoy me, largely because I think she is drifting out of believability. I mean, yeah, I guess she was super naive and had been shat on all her life, but… this was a woman who took a knife to Tyrion to try and avenge her brother. Suddenly all that fight just… isn’t a part of her character anymore? Even Tyrion comments that it’s weird that she’s so passive – even more passive than Sansa! I know we’re just seeing it through Tyrion’s eyes, but it’s not like we’re given a challenging perspective. It’s not like we even get Penny’s perspective. Not that I’m advocating yet more POV characters, and not that you can’t have passive or gentle female characters. I do not, for instance, have the same complaints about Sansa. The problem is more that with Penny… there’s no there, there, anymore. She’s been reduced to this pliant girl who’s happy to moon around after Tyrion. And I know I said I thought it would be off for Tyrion to have a romance with her if it suggested that little people should ‘stick to their own kind’, and I’m glad there is a character motivation for Tyrion not to be interested in her, but his constant, unchallenged dismissiveness of her is making her feel like she’s just a vehicle that allowed Tyrion to move from A to B that Martin doesn’t really feel moved to do anything with for the sake of her character.

So, I guess there were quite a few things wrong with this chapter after all. Huh.

Chapter 58: Jon

This chapter starts with Jon dreaming that he’s fighting wildlings, killing all the people who are now his allies, yelling that he’s the Lord of Winterfell, and even killing Robb, before he is woken up by Mormont’s crow. He notes that for the first time the crow calls him by his full name ‘Jon Snow’. And, more curiously, it also mutters ‘King’ and then ‘Snow’, although Jon does not put these two together.

Jon gets up and rides out to meet Tormund Giantsbane at the head of the wildling horde waiting to pass from one side of the Wall to the other. But first they must let pass their sons – a blood price to ensure the behaviour of the wildlings. Some idiot also sends three daughters he says have king’s blood to present to the queen, although she’s no doubt idiot enough to take that as meaning something to the other wildlings (it doesn’t). They also donate a significant amount of treasure, vital for buying provisions for the dramatically increased population.

Tormund tells Jon that the horn Melisandre burnt was not really the horn of Joramun, but merely a huge horn they found in a giant’s grave. And Jon wonders if Mance Rayder lied to him. He thinks to himself ‘And Joramun blew the Horn of Winter and woke the giants from the earth‘. One assumes this is a line from a historical text, poem, or legend of some sort. One might wonder if such a line would suggest not a giant horn, merely a horn to wake the giants… which one might assume to be human sized, given that all the giants would be asleep.

Tormund also has information about the Others – that they are far more terrible than their armies of dead men alone. That they can raise a white mist of sheer cold – the sort of weapon that cannot be countered with a sword. Perhaps the natural opposite to dragon fire? Jon keeps to himself that he has found Dragonsteel, which might be able to fight the Others where ordinary steel cannot.

The chapter closes with a message from Cotter Pyke concerning the ships Jon sent to rescue the wildlings at Hardhome, and it’s a doozy. Their ships are damaged and some lost. The wildlings have been eating their dead. There are dead things in the woods and dead things in the water. The Braavosi captains are only taking the women (suggesting that they want to take them as slaves, not to rescue them) and a wildling witch has told her people that they are all slavers, so the wildlings are fighting the Crows, not going to them. It is a plea for help (via land) but with what possible resources can help be sent? How can help avoid the Others if not by travelling by sea?

This is a chapter that contains a lot of interesting information, but no interesting action. Whatever’s happening at Hardhome sounds pretty interesting, but some wildlings going through a wall is… pretty dull, really. In terms of dramatic structure, it’s pretty poor. There is no central enigma that is resolved – just some people moving without problem from point A to point B. It’s all set up. Really interesting set-up, but set-up nonetheless, and thus a bit of an odd chapter to have eight hundred pages into a thousand page book.

Oh well, let’s talk about what was interesting. Firstly, Jon’s dream. Clearly a dream belonging to a man with confused identity and warring desires, suggesting that catastrophe lies ahead if he can’t resolve these. He doesn’t know if he wants to side with the wildlings, with the Nightswatch, or claim his birthright (or what should be his birthright if he were not illegitimate). Meanwhile, Mormont’s crow seems to suggest another role for him: king. Whether that’s king of Westeros (going with the fan theories that suggest he’s not Ned’s bastard, but Robert’s), or king of the wildlings, it’s not really the sort of thought that is appropriate for a man who’s taken the black.

And there’s the fact that the bird is calling him Jon Snow, now, which fits with my theory that Mormont was actually a skinwalker, too, and is living on through his bird. My thought is that Mormont is slowly gaining greater control over the animal and desperately trying to communicate advice to Jon, who is walking a tight-rope he’s possibly not experienced enough to be secure on, yet. And there’s the fact that crows are heavily linked with prescience in ASoIaF.

We’re also treated to a few more tantalising hints about the Others, although Martin is still wise enough to know that the less we know about them the scarier they are. Just a drop or two of information to whet our appetites with.

And the thing about the horn, of course, and the question of whether Mance is still playing his own game, keeping information from Jon.

All of that is pretty damn cool.

This is an odd pair of chapters – one is all excitement! Escape! Plot development! But marred but aspects that are ostensibly set down to add colour, but are more uncomfortable than they are engrossing. The other is dull and uneventful, but brimming with really cool information that actually does colour in the world a bit more for us.

Ah, and so it goes. ASoIaF remains as flawed as it is brilliant.

Read Along with Rhube #28: Chapters 55 and 56

(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)

I know, I know, it’s been an age, but I haven’t forgotten you, you mad cap fools who for some reason are interested in what I have to say about every single chapter of A Dance with Dragons. Alas, I’ve had a number of bouts of illness and when I’ve had the critical energy for analysing heavy tomes I’ve been devoting myself to my PhD rather than this. But today I’ve decided I’m well enough to do something, but not well enough to read Crispin Wright on hinge propositions (or whatever the hell this paper I’m looking at is heading towards) so you get my thoughts on the inhabitent’s of George R R Martin’s mind, instead.

Chapter 55: The Queensguard

In this chapter we follow Barristen Selmy as he deals with Daenerys’s court in the absence of Daenerys. Last time we saw her she was flying off on a dragon – a great personal move, no doubt, but she has kind of left things in disarray. Hizdahr, naturally, assumes control, and he wants his people around him in court. He chooses pit fighters, whom Selmy can see are not really appropriate for the role. Factions are splintering in Daenerys’s absence. The Unsullied are loyal only to Daenerys and refuse to fight under a man of Hizdahr’s choosing. Selmy can see the issues, but his own inability to adapt to local customs makes it impossible that he should be able to provide a similar role to Hizdahr as he did for Daenerys. Hizdahr insists on being treated like a Meereenese King, Selmy insists on treating him as a king of Westeros, and without Daenerys’s deft hand and cultural flexibility the court is falling apart.

Added to this, no one is quite sure what has become of Daenerys. Some think her killed by the dragon, others that she was taken away against her will. Selmy saw her riding Drogon and knows she is not dead, but that does not tell him where she has gone, why she has not returned.

And then there is the question of who tried to poison Daenerys with the tainted locusts…

Shakaz of the Brazen Beasts seeks to involve Selmy in schemes, attributing trechery to Hizdahr, but it is anathema to all Selmy believes in. He only wants to do his duty, he has no interest in the game of thrones. Yet it is also his duty to protect Daenerys. She never commanded him to protect Hizdahr, and with the possibility that Hizdahr himself might be behind a plot to kill Daenerys, Selmy finds himself embroilled in intrigue nonetheless. Shakas reports that Volantis is moving against them and he believes that Hizdahr will open the gates to them. Steps must be taken to protect Daenerys’s reign if Hizdahr is a traitor. Reluctantly, Selmy agrees to talk to Grey Worm, to gain the aid of the Unsullied, on condition that he be allowed to question the poisoner, who has been caught.

This is an interesting chapter, showing us just how fragile Daenerys’s peace was, and how much it depended on her for its continuance. But it also underlines her mistakes – that she was too flexible, too benevolent, too eager for peace. Meereen bent to her because she commanded dragons and great armies. But she kept her dragons chained, and when Astapor fell she did not move to save it or calm it for fear of losing the peace she had established in Meereen. It is as though Dany regarded Astapor as a mistake, and cast it aside, determined not to make the same mistakes with Meereen, and therefore stood fast at her new base rather than returning to sort out the old one. The trouble is that the fates of the two cities were not disconnected. Trouble in Astapor and her failure to act upon it made her seem weak, and when Astapor fell to plague, her people followed her to Meereen and brought the plague with them. Similarly, she chained her dragons because it seemed that they might have killed children. She chained them to prevent further deaths, but this robbed her of their power and made it seem that she did not have the strength to wield such power and also control it.

What should we make of this? I’m still not at ease with this mother role Daenerys has been cast in – a role that is again re-emphasised in this chapter. We are told that the Unsullied will only follow their ‘mother’, and that the freedmen call her ‘Mhysa’ which means mother. I mean, yeah, yeah, ‘mother of dragons’ and all that, but the trope of motherhood is one of caring and enabling, not of commanding and dominating – she is not the rider of dragons or the ruler of dragons, she is the one who has nurtured dragons. The thing about mothers is, however loyal their children, they all go off and live their own lives eventually. Which is not to say that mothers cannot be more than this – they absolutely can – but it troubles me that a young girl like Daenerys is being cast in this role which seems to connote something at odds to her role as conqueror.

She also seems to be vulnerable to the stereotypical ‘weaknesses’ of mothers. It is hearing that a child has been killed by her dragons that leads her to restrain them rather than train and utilize their power. She has a soft spot for children. Which is entirely understandable. She lost her own child – I’m not saying this mothering role is out of character – it’s just that having her weaknesses be so stereotypically feminine is… uncomfortable, for me.

That said, it is also clear that the instability in Meereen is the result of a myriad of factors, many of which have had unforeseeable consequences. The book is called ‘A Dance with Dragons‘ and that should be the clue that all of the action is really circling around Daenerys and her ‘children’. She’s a power centre and almost everyone is drawn to her – Tyrion, Quentyn, Selmy, ‘Young Griff’, the Astapori, the Volantenes, the Yunkai’i… she stinks of power and agency. When she was on the move she went to the people and places she wished to encounter and act upon. By sitting still, the possibilities she represents swirl about her, and the more people catch up to her the more possibilities are added to the mix – events start rolling in ways impossible to predict. Her absence shows the instability of her reign, but it also shows the strength of her influence in that she managed to keep it in check.

Chapter 56: The Iron Suitor (Victarion)

I keep reading this guy’s name as ‘Victorian’, it’s a problem. But I confess that it is my problem. What’s more problematic is just where this character has come from. The name rings a bell and tickles distant memories of some kind of plot, but it’s the first time we’ve seen him in this book and it’s a big book that we’re three-quarters of the way through. Adjusting my mind to what he’s doing and why I should care requires a little bit of effort, but hey, I do so.

Victarion has been leading a massive fleet from the Iron Islands to (guess what?) try to get to Daenerys before everyone else, and especially the Volantenes. He’s been caught in the same storm as Tyrion’s boat and lost a hefty chuck of his ships. He’s also got a hand that’s festering from some cut he got in some battle I don’t know if I’m supposed to remember. There’s a Maester on board who’s tending to the hand, but Victarion doesn’t like him, and he really doesn’t like that the man keeps saying he wants to cut the hand off (which pretty much sounds like the sensible thing to do). He’s also got a ‘dusky woman’ with him. Because of reasons. Probably ‘sexy’ ‘exotic’ reasons.

Anyway, the priest, Moqorro, who was washed off of Tyrion’s ship, seems to have wound up on Victarion’s. He offers to help Victarion with his hand to prove his worth and save his life. Victarion has some qualms about this, ’cause, you know, he’s a good Iron Born, and he serves the Drowned God. But the Drowned God doesn’t seem to be being too helpful and/or pleased, if he sent a storm like that, and Victarion figures that if the red priest was washed up near him he might have been washed up by the Drowned God to help him.

Victarion accepts Moqorro’s offer and Moqorro heals his hand. Victarion is pleased and spares his life, taking the Maester’s instead as a sacrifice to the Drowned God.

So, there are a few interesting things about this chapter. It certainly is a striking coincidence that Moqorro should be washed up right by Victarion and be able to heal his hand. (I honestly can’t remember if we were aware of this wound before, or if it’s basically been parachuted in to allow Moqorro to have an in with Victarion.) What’s clear, as has been indicated elsewhere before, is that the gods in this world definitely have physical domains, their strength and ability to act in the world determined by the strength of their worshipers as well as other factors. The Old Gods seems to be tied to the frigid north. The Red God seems to be based in the warm south, although he clearly has eyes on the north. Thus, here, the Drowned God seems to have little to no power (you’d have thought the whole ocean is his domain, but I guess it’s still a long way from most of his worshippers), and R’hllor seems strong. We also get a few more tidbits of history about the destruction of Valyria, but we don’t really learn very much more.

I’m not awesomely happy with the whole ‘dusky woman’ thing, though. She has no voice and no name and she is quite literally a sex slave. That’s a… that’s a hell of a character for a woman of colour to have in your novel. I mean, I get it, the Iron Islanders are down with slavery and salt-wife taking and all that jazz. It’s a culture thing. GRRM depicts a lot of cultural stuff that he doesn’t seem to endorse. But this woman is so anonymous. She is given no character at all. In as much as we have any indication of her feelings, she doesn’t seem to mind being Victarion’s sex slave – he’s not the guy who cut her tongue out, so he’s kind of OK, right? Right?

There’s nothing wrong with having people of colour being slaves in fiction per se, it’s how it’s treated, and sensitively should be the key word. Similarly for women in sexually subservient positions. There are many ways to handle this that are fine. But just thrown in in a way that seems to add nothing to the plot, with no voice and no name, described in exoticised terms like ‘dusky’, with no real examination of how the woman herself feels about her condition… this is pretty clearly playing to the male gaze, and the white male gaze at that. Not classy, not classy at all.

Use the negative aspects of history to colour your fantasy novel by all means, but don’t just throw them in unreflectively because you think they’re ‘cool’. That’s a pretty easy way to be pretty damned offensive.

Womble out.

Read Along With Rhube #27: Chapters 53 and 54

(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)

I probably won’t manage to get a review done for The Hollow Crown, Part II until tomorrow, as I’m going to a party tonight. But fear not! I have returned to Read Along with Rhube and the quest to finish reviewing every single chapter of A Dance with Dragons continues.

Chapter 53: Jon

Val has returned to the Wall with Tormund Giantsbane, and Tormond and Jon hammer out an agreement: peace in exchange fr a goodly amount of gold and maybe some men to swell the ranks of those defending the Wall, and they can all stand together against the more fearsome force that is coming. Interestingly, Mormont’s old crow follows Jon when he goes to make the agreement. Have I mentioned yet my theory that Mormont was a skinwalker, too, and that maybe his spirit lives on in that bird? Well, I have now. Just a thought…

Val is properly introduced to the queen and the southern nobles make more foolish comments about Val being a princess because she is sister to Mance Rayder’s wife. Val is respected amongst the free folk, but that’s not how it works. The queen is also unpleased by the fact that the wildlings have been permitted to enter without kneeling to Stannis. And understandable concern, actually, but it was never going to happen.

If Queen Selyse is displeased that the wildlings won’t kneel, it is nothing to Val’s reaction to Princess Shireen having greyscale. She wastes no time, once they are alone, in not only telling Jon that she would have killed a child with the ‘grey death’ if she had given birth to one, but in demanding that her sister’s daughter (or the babe impersonating her) be removed from Castle Black ASAP, so as to be away from the princess. She calls Shireen ‘unclean’ and a ‘dead girl’. It’s kind of shocking, but I’m left wondering if this is the knee-jerk reaction of a hard people to illness in an harsh climate, or if Val really does know something we don’t. Greyscale has become more and more prominent as an issue throughout A Dance with Dragons, and I can’t help but feel that we’re building up to something. Recall that Greyscale is a disease associated with old Valyria. Dragons have come back, white walkers have come back – old powers and old things. I can’t help but wonder whether greyscale mightn’t be a part of that.

Beyond these matters, though, is the tensions rising from Jon’s plan to bring more wildlings south of the Wall. There are questions about where to house them and how to feed them and whether they can be trusted. Jon wisely points out that any man who takes the black has his crimes forgiven, and we are uneasily reminded that many of Jon’s men are rapists and murderers themselves. The Night’s Watch is run on a principal of trust and forgiveness, but it is being tested to its edge as Jon asks his men to fight side by side with the wildings they have spent their lives striving to keep on the other side of the Wall. One can’t help but feel, even though this has to be the right move – they cannot man the Wall by themselves – that things are being set up to go badly wrong, somewhere down the line.

Chapter 54: Cersei

Cersei, Cersei, Cersei. What an interesting character you are. I never know quite what to make of you. Are you strong or weak? Powerful or blown by the winds of your desires? Cunning and intelligent, or not nearly half as smart as you think you are? All of the above, I suspect. But you’ve been brought low now. Imprisoned by the priesthood, accused of killing the High Septon, killing Robert, sleeping with half a dozen man, including your cousin and your brother, or incest, of treason – of deicide, even. And where are all your protectors, now? All those men whose loyalty you bought with your body. You don’t know it, but Jaime has been won from you by a woman you think ugly (sexually? perhaps not, but Brienne has won him over nonetheless). The Kettleblacks and Lancel – all have confessed your crimes to save themselves.

Cersei is a woman who always felt cursed by being female. She felt she was strong, mentally, in terms of will and in terms of brains – stronger than Jaime. But she was born female and was barred from hereditory power or physical strength. And she’s bitter about that – oh is she bitter – but not defeated. She felt her sex as a weakness and sought to turn it into a strength. She saw that she was beautiful and could manipulate men with her beauty. And so she threw herself into that. She came to believe that it was the only way a woman could be strong. She cannot fathom a woman like Brienne. ‘Her,’ she thinks, ‘Jaime would never abandon me for such a creature. My raven never reached him, elsewise he would have come.‘ She cannot fathom Sansa’s quiet strength in retaining her morality – tried to school her in the ways of using her body to control men, in an oddly, almost motherly way.

Somehow, in her bitterness, in her attempt to use the sex that had been used against her as a weapon, Cersei missed that she was – for quite a long time, actually – a powerful woman independently of her beauty. She was Robert’s wife even though he never desired her. While he drank himself to an early grave she ruled the kingdom. It took all his wits for Tyrion to wrest power from her. But ultimately, it has been her attempts to preserve her power through sex that have brought her down. Because power won through sex is as fickle as attraction, as volatile as emotion, as fragile as beauty. There is a new beauty in town and Margery is younger. And she has only tried to use her beauty to gain power via marriage. She understands that to rely on sexuality to get your power you must follow the rules of those who see a woman’s power in their sex. Cersei has transgressed and is being punished for using her sexuality outside the bounds of patriarchal control. She has sacrificed her right to continue to wield that power.

Now, to save her life, she must humiliate herself and play to those stereotypes again: become the weeping woman, sinful by nature ‘a woman needs to be loved, she needs a man beside her’ says Cersei, and ‘The wickedness of widows is well-known’ agrees the new High Septon. In this way Cersei is offered forgiveness for her wanton ways as a widow on the condition that she submits to the further humiliation of walking through the streets naked. But as she does not confess to killing Robert, or the High Septon, as she denies incest with Jaime and attests that she never slept with anyone but Robert whilst she was alive, there must still be a trial for these things. Cersei knows she cannot prove her fidelity, for she was not true to Robert. She must request trial by combat, but to do that she must arrange to have a man on the King’s guard whom she can not only trust, but know will win. As the chapter closes she reveals that she has someone in mind – someone who will need a new face – and we are left wondering who this could be…

I feel like I should have something nuanced and clever to say about Cersei’s presentation. Should I approve of Martin’s critique of women who use sexuality for power instead of their brains? Should I be angry that a woman who took command of her sexuality and rebelled against the confines of the patriarchy is presented as morally and intellectually inferior. I’m not sure I can get behind either of those sentiments. I don’t think Martin is that simplistic on either side. The conversation between Cersei and the High Septon is knowing. We are supposed to be repulsed by the High Septon’s casual sexism and assertion of female moral and sexual weakness. We are equally supposed to recognise that the foundations upon which Cersei built her power were fundamentally unstable – were always going to crumble away from her like this, sooner or later. I think, perhaps, I like it because the writing of Cersei – such an archetype of women who seek to manipulate men through sex – does not cast her as a representative of all women. Not even all women who seek to control men through attraction. She is Cersei – both weak and strong in different ways – and it is her precise decisions, good and bad, that have led her to this place. She resists shallow analysis and labelling. And that can only be to the good.

Read Along with Rhube 26: Chapters 51 & 52

Seems like I’m always apologising for not getting back to this sooner. What can I say? It’s a 959 page story and I’ve reviewed 672 pages. That’s 50 chapters down with an estimated 22 more to go (based on an average chapter length of 13 pages). It’s a bit daunting. But I’m 70% done now, so I don’t want to quit, and I don’t want to let down those of you who have come this far. I guess it’s just going to have to become a long-term project that I dip in and out of, rather than something I post religiously every week (which I pretty much did do until Christmas). Anyway, these reviews aren’t going to write themselves!

Chapter 51: Theon

Theon gets his name back! Three cheers for Theon! And it is apt, this chapter is the culmination of all that has gone before it. With the help of Abel’s women, Theon rescues Jeyne Pool (although, of course, Abel and his women think they are rescuing Arya). As Theon has become something of a lady’s maid to Jeyne, he is able to arrange to dress Jeyne in a servant girl’s clothes and sneak her out whilst in the pretext of bathing her. Squirrel takes Jeyne’s clothes and will pretend to be her to give them more time. Theon uses his position as the despised and ignored Reek – allowed free reign of the castle because he is harmless, and Lord Ramsay’s pet – to get past the guards at the wall (or at least close enough to them for the women to do their bloody work). But, alas, the violence is more than poor Jeyne can take. She screams and gives them away. Frenya stops to hold the guards off whilst Theon, Jeyne, and Holly escape. Too late, they realise that Frenya was the one who had the rope they were to use to get down from the wall. Holly falls to a crossbow. There is nothing for it, Theon and Jeyne jump from the wall into the snow…

The sub-plot of this chapter also sees the culmination of the tensions between the factions in Bolton’s army. The latest murder in the night is not some random soldier, but Little Walder – a mere boy – and the Freys are out for blood. Much is spilt. Lord Wyman Manderly has ‘three of his four chins’ cut, which seems to not kill him, although several others die. Finally, Roose Bolton calls them to order and dictate that the chief antagonists, Wyman and Hosteen Frey, be the first to gather their knights and direct their agression towards Stannis, who waits outside the walls.

This is a great chapter. Tensions running high on all sides and every moment taught. Nice to see Theon take something back of himself, although he is still a broken man. Still not entirely sure of who he is and what he should be, torn, as he ever was, between the Starks and the sea. He does not expect to survive this rescue attempt, and if he dies he does not know if he will go to the sea god or remain at Winterfell, but who ever he is, and wherever he will go when he dies, he knows it is better to die as Theon than to live as Reek, and that is some kind of a triumph.

It remains perplexing, however, that he still hasn’t told Abel or his women that he didn’t kill the Stark boys. He did kill two boys, and that’s pretty bad, but he’s getting a lot of enmity for being a kinslayer, and insisting that he’s not without explaining why just makes people dislike him more, for they take him to be rejecting kinship with the Starks. If he explained that he had actually saved the Stark boys by killing two different boys he might get at least some more sympathy. One supposes that it must be part of the psychology of self-punishment stemming from his torture, but it remains frustrating for the reader, and still feels like a bit of a fudge to keep the pressure on. The pressure is already on quite enough.

Chapter 52: Deanerys

Another chapter of culminations. The fighting pit has been re-opened, and in honour of Daenerys and Hizdahr’s wedding they are to be put to enthusiastic use. Daenerys dresses up in the constricting native dress and submits to attending the fighting she worked so hard to keep closed. Tyrion gets his moment in her presence, play fighting on pig-back with Penny, but if he thought he might get her attention then, he is sadly mistaken. In fact, he is lucky to leave with his life. Daenerys learns that the dwarf entertainers are to be surprised by lions at the end of their act, and angrily countermands the order. She has consented to free men and women fighting if they consent to do so, but not to people who have agreed to no such thing.

Meanwhile, someone’s plot has been afoot, and all fingers point to Hizdahr. He invited her to eat spiced and honeyed locusts, which he does not touch himself. Daenerys decides it to too hot for spicy food, and so does not eat them, but Strong Belwas helps himself to plenty… and soon starts to feel considerably worse for wear. Before this can fully come to the attention of those around him, however, an event happens that put all others in shadow: Drogon returns.

Attracted by the blood and fresh meat, Daenerys’s lost dragon swoops down on the arena and begins eating the combatants. Much screaming and panicking ensues. Fortunately, Daenerys was already in the process of removing some of her encumbering garments, disgusted by the blood-sports and finally rebelling against the oppressive customs of her conquered home. She leaps into the arena and runs to Drogon. For a moment it seems that he will eat her too, not recognising her for his ‘mother’. In the background, Ser Barristen Selmy has followed her and is vainly trying to pull Drogon’s attention to himself. But Daenerys is not some princess in need of a knight to save her from the dragon. She stands her ground and pulls a whip from the dead hand of a corpse. With it, she demonstrates her fearlessness and command. She imposes her will upon Drogon, and proves herself as blood of the dragon. Taming the beast, she mounts him, and flies away…

I gotta say, everything about this is a class-act. It’s a long, long time in coming, and I have to admit I feel like we could have done without some of the treading-water chapters that brought us here, but it was worth the wait. I have my problems with Daenerys as a character, or at least, with her depiction, but I can’t deny that this is glorious. When she’s good, she’s very very good. And I didn’t realise until I was writing about it how completely Martin is inverting the fairytale trope of what knights and princesses and dragons are supposed to do in each others presence. Daenerys doesn’t need rescuing from the dragon, she is a dragon, and Drogon is not her assailant or her captor, but her route to freedom. It is Meereen that has ensnared her these 52 chapters, and she has finally broken free.

Read Along with Rhube 24: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 47 & 48

(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts here.)

Making up for lost time! Lordio, I sort of wish I’d started out giving page numbers for these chapters – it’s surprisingly difficult to find where I was last at. Ne’ermind, too late now. Onwards!

Chapter 47: Tyrion

When we last saw Tyrion he was about to be taken by slavers, now he’s on the auction block. Him and Penny seem likely to go for a pretty… uh, penny. Being performing dwarfs and all. Ser Jorah? Not so much. He gave a good fight before they took him, earning himself a bad reputation, and hearing that Daenerys is married took it all out of him. He’s been beaten physically and mentally – there’s not much left.

There’s a bidding war over Tyrion and Penny, spurred on by Tyrion, who sees that one of the sellswords has recognised him for who he really is. Tyrion knows his chances are better with someone who recognises him as a Lannister – whether to take him to Cersei (who is, after all a long way away) or as a man who would pay his debts to anyone who freed him. Alas, the sellsword is outbid by a large wealthy man who likes to keep a menagerie of ‘freaks’, Yezzan zo Qaggaz. Tyrion persuades Nurse, who supervises Yezzan’s menagerie, to take Jorah, too, claiming that he plays the role of the Bear in a sketch of ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ that they perform.

Their first job as slaves is to perform at a feast, and then serve at table. They perform admirably, and as Tyrion boasted of his skill at Sheldon’s three person chess cyvasse on the auction block, he is commanded to perform in a wager between Yezzan and the sellsword who tried to buy them, who turns out to be Brown Ben Plumm – the man who betrayed Daenerys for money. The wager is that Plumm will win the dwarves if he can beat ‘Yollo’ (Tyrion). Of course, he does not. But in performing so well, Tyrion and Penny please their master, and it is decided that they will perform for Daenerys as entertainment in the great pit. Our players draw ever closer together…

This was a fun chapter. Tyrion on fine form ‘selling’ himself on the auction block. And poor Ser Jorah, learning that he has come too late, and Daenerys is already wed. Not that he had much of a chance – she was always going to need to marry for advantage, and marrying him has little to offer. It’s a nice note, though, his utter dejection after having just displayed his power and prowess trying to fight off a bunch of slavers by himself.

The game of cyvasse is also well employed, in this instance. However much as Tyrion is humiliated and physically beaten, Martin has yet to show him at mental disadvantage, and the encounters with Brown Ben Plumm and the future performance before Daenerys have him well set to turn the situation to his advantage.

Chapter 48: Jaime

Jaimeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Finally, we see Jaime again 😀 He is come to resolve a seige that has been going on needlessly long, and been handled very ineffectually by a Lord Jonos. There’s yet another episode of needless focus on breasts and nipples that I could have done without, but it’s mercifully brief. Unfortunately, Martin also decides that it’s necessary to have a feature of the landscape known as the ‘Teats’. O_O Not that it’s 100% implausible in and of itself – lord knows there are some funny named places about (Cockermouth springs to mind – although I’m pretty sure it didn’t mean the same thing when they first named it, just as ‘Effin‘ is not really a rude word; I once went on holiday to a place called Sandy Balls, and visited a nature reserve called ‘Windy Gap’ on the way back, but they weren’t really named for body parts). These hills, however, really were named as an act of objectifying a woman (although it’s disputed as to which one), on top of employing the most over-used and unpleasant word for a woman’s breasts in this book: ‘teats’. I have never read any book that used the word ‘teats’ so much. And that’s not because the book is so long – I’m talking percentagewise. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it used at most one or two times in pretty much any other book I’ve ever read, but Martin has got stuck on it. Once or twice is shock value, this is just unpleasant; not skillfully unpleasant as in a horror novel to intentionally discomfort, though – I’m pretty sure this is meant to be funny and titillating. Way to alienate your female readers. Yes, you still write some truly awesome lady characters, and I give you full credit for that. It does not make this kind of casual objectification OK.

But enough about that. Jamie sorts out the siege, showing some intelligence and skill that has nothing to do with his sword. Not screwing Cersei appears to be good for him. Speaking of Cersei, he receives a fairly moving plea from her to come to her aid, and ignores it. It’s kind of awesome. He’s growing up. And I think maybe he really is sort of falling in love with Brienne (and I ship Brienne/Jaime so hard).

Speaking of Brienne: !!! Last time we saw her she was apparently being killed, and I was all ‘Nooooooooooooooooo!’. Actually, considering all the things I’ve forgotten about the last book, it’s impressive how much Brienne’s fate was seared into my mind. I’ve been on tender-hooks waiting to find out if she’s really dead, or, you know, undead. After all, death doesn’t have to be final in a GRRM book. And she shows up, saying that she has found Sansa. And with a bandage on her face…

So, is Brienne alive or undead? What has happened to her since we last saw her? I guess if she were undead she’d have black hands, and nothing was said about that, but maybe she’s wearing gloves? I kind of hope she’s not undead, but I kind of don’t dare hope it. OH MY GOD but I want to know more about what’s been going on with her RIGHT NOW. But it’s the end of the chapter and we’re left waiting. You tease!

Suffice it to say that this chapter had a couple of really, super annoying moments, and moments of glorious squee. Could be a metaphor for the whole book.

Read Along with Rhube 23: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 45 & 46

(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts here.)

Apologies for the radio silence over the last couple of weeks. It’s been crazy in Womblevonia. Plus, you know, supposing an average of 1,500 words per RAWR post, I had totted up around 33,000 words on this here behemoth, so I hope you’ll excuse the break. Anyway, onwards and upwards! The end is in sight – I want to see if we can reach it by the new year!

Chapter 45: The Blind Girl

It’s Aryaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I’m excited, I am. I have to admit, early on I had completely forgotten that Arya had gone to Braavos and been taken in by the House of Black and White (after killing someone?), but a friend reminded me, and it came back. As well as the fact that she’s blind now. Not that I really expected her to stay blind. Martin does like to kill off people we like, but he clearly had much left to do with Arya, and whilst I could believe that a blind assassin could still kill people, it seemed a bit of an odd step for the House of Black and White to take with her. And thus we see in this chapter that it is a part of her initiation, and she is repeatedly asked if she would like her eyes back. To which question she must say ‘no’, of course. She must become so used to being blind that ‘darkness is as sweet to [her] as light’.

I suppose that must be a useful skill for an assassin to have – to be able to move just as well in darkness as in light. But this is not all that Arya must do. She must obliterate her own sense of identity until she thinks of herself as ‘no one’. She went to Braavos to learn to kill. She has a specific list of people that she wants to kill, which she has been repeating as a mantra, and adding to as people commit unforgivable actions towards her and those she loves. Now, perversely, she must let go of her own selfish motivations for killing. The people at the House of Black and White only give out death that is asked for by others, not for their own wishes. They give good deaths to people who come to them suffering sickness or depression. They give deaths to bad people that others have asked them to kill. They never do it on their own behalves. Arya must therefore make herself a tool, not a person, and certainly not Arya Stark.

Which is all well and good, but Arya has a part of herself that she can never entirely let go of – a part that runs with the wolves at night. A part that can also see out of the eyes of a cat, if she wishes to. She uses this skill to correctly identify the person who has been delivering beatings to her in the darkness as the priest she thinks of as ‘the kindly man’. These beatings are meant to train and toughen her, of course. She reveals that she has worked out that it is him when she reports to him one day – as she does every day – three things she knows that day that she did not know before. That he is her tormentor is one of those things. And in return for this, she is rewarded by the restoration of her sight.

I liked this chapter. The harsh training of a young person is a stock fantasy coming-of-age thing. Jon had it, up at the Wall. I must have read it countless times in other stories – Alanna, in The Song of the Lionness, by Tamora Pierce, as she trains to be a knight; Fitz, as he trains to become an assassin, and as he learns to control the Skill in Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb; Leland, in Steven Gould’s Helm as he is toughened physically and mentally for the unexpected responsibilities his stealing of the ‘helm’ have thrust upon him – the whole ‘forging’ thing is important in explaining both where your hero’s skills have come from, and why they’re extra-humanly tough, as well as skilled. So this aspect was familiar and therefore not especially interesting, but it was fairly well done. What’s more interesting is the tension maintained between Arya’s (and our own) desire that she should succeed and become all that she can be, and equally her desire (and our own) that she avenge what has been done to her and her family, thus fulfilling the motivation that took her to Braavos in the first place.

It is precisely this motivation that she really ought to give up if she is to succeed. But we don’t want her to. I’m not in favour of violence. I’m not in favour of a child being raised to be a killer, or a person taking revenge by killing others, but there is a dramatic satisfaction that is required. Arya’s mantra – the listing of those she wants to kill – has reinforced this as a poetic justice that is demanded by the text. I’m caught in the rhythm of her anger and hatred and the injustices that have been done to her: ‘Ser Gregor… Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei‘. I can’t even remember what all of these people did, but I am caught up in the rhythm of her feelings. I want to see this through.

Which is a quandary, because I’m made of the same stubborn stuff that makes me not want her to quit, that makes me want her to prove that she has what it takes… even though what it takes in letting go of her anger. So the way that Martin has found around this is interesting – that she can keep a part of herself hidden away with her dire wolf – but it also feels a bit like cheating. And I can’t help but feel that this is going to come back to bite her somewhere down the line…

Chapter 46: A Ghost in Winterfell

The title of this chapter puzzles me. It doesn’t seem to refer to the point-of-view character, which is, as ever, Theon. Unless he’s really gone mad and this is a split personality disorder. Anyway, temperatures have been running high in Winterfell, and someone has started killing people – the ‘ghost’ of the title. Theon is briefly under suspicion, but it’s clear to anyone with half a brain that he doesn’t have it in him. Fights very nearly break out between the Manderleys and the Freys, but that gets smoothed over for the time being. And then… the sound of drums. Stannis has apparently come at last (although that seems mighty quick to me, given that we last saw him snowed in a considerable distance away). As the castle prepares for battle, Theon is drawn to the godswood – they are not his gods, but he grew up with them, and he fancies, as he stands beneath the weirwood, that he can hear Bran. In grief and guilt he speaks aloud of how he killed two other boys to take the place of Bran and Rickon: ‘I had to have two heads’… and Abel’s women come upon him. The time has come to throw off pretense and demand Theon’s help where it could not be wheedled out of him.

A nice chapter of things coming to head and alliances fraying as the idea of war is put to test under the reality of waiting for attack in a ruined castle in the sort of winter most of us will never experience. Sometimes it feels like the message of these books is simply ‘War is hell and war is stupid; anyone who would wage it is a dick, and a bloody idiot besides’. Not that we’re not bloodthirsty enough to want to read and write about it nonetheless.

I enjoyed the reveal where Abel’s women disclose themselves to him, but the fact that they don’t seem to cotton on to the fact that he is admitting to having not killed Bran and Rickon is a bit annoying. I know it’s a way of drawing it out for dramatic tension, but it feels a bit like Gaeta not bothering to mention the one crucial bit of evidence that proves his innocence in Battlestar Galactica until they practically have him out an airlock. That’s just not how it would go down. You’d shout the crucial part of your defence from the beginning! Not that Theon’s in the habit of protesting his innocence, but he pretty much confessed to not having killed Bran and Rickon right in front of those who despise him as a kin-killer, and somehow they don’t understand the implication and he fails to adequately protest. It just feels a little… contrived.

But never mind. An otherwise good and entertaining chapter of things coming to a head. Rock on!

Read Along with Rhube 21: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 41 & 42

(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)

Chapter 41: The Turncloak

Because one alternate name for Theon was never enough (or three, or four…).

Snow begins to fall. I’m forever fascinated to wonder how exactly the planetary system in the world of Ice and Fire works. If anyone could tell me, I’d enjoy being enlightened. How can they have such erratic and lengthy seasons? Anyway, by this point, if you didn’t know that the coming of winter was ominous,you really can’t have been paying a lot of attention.

One of Abel’s women goes to Theon and asks him to tell her of how he conquered Winterfell. She says Abel wants to write a song, but that sounds as dubious to Theon as it does to me. No one wants to celebrate the ‘Turncloack’s’ exploits, but potential invaders would be mighty curious about knowing how such a feat could be achieved. Sadly for them both, Theon’s advantage was simple and impossible to duplicate: surprise. Stannis will have no such luck. Where Theon took Winterfell with a small and silent group, Stannis will be approaching with an army of thousands, and they know he is coming.

Theon has stopped thinking of himself purely as Reek, though. Amazingly, he appears to be on a journey back towards something akin to sanity. I almost pity him, that. It is a ruined body he know inhabits, and a ruined reputation. He doesn’t have much of a future to look forward to, and the full position of his senses can only make him more conscious of that.

After leaving Abel’s woman, Theon wanders about the walls. No one bothers to stop him. He’s not an escape risk, and he’s harmless. That’ll be a useful trait, if Abel’s people can persuade him to co-operate. Somehow, he ends up at the godswood. Theoretically, these are not his gods. His is the Drowned God. Yet he has spent many, many years away from the sea. Haltingly, he begins to pray.

But Jeyne’s (the false Arya’s) sobs disturb his hesitant prayer, and he retreats. Lady Dustin approaches him. persuades him to show her the crypts. We learn her story – we she would betray the North in a heartbeat. He father had hoped to offer her to wed first Brandon (Ned’s brother), and later Ned himself. In cruel irony, Catelyn is promised to Brandon, and as Lady Dustin pinned her hopes on Ned, she found Catelyn promised to him as well. She blames it on a maester, whispering into Ned’s father’s ear. Then, when she did marry, her husband followed Ned off into his war for Robert, and her husband died. Cruel fate. She reveals that she hopes, one day, to intercept his bones on their journey north, back to Winterfell. She will feed them to her dogs.

Another curious thing is revealed as they walk through the crypts. The lords of Winterfell are entombed with statues to guard them, and each statue is given a sword. Some of these swords are missing.

So, this chapter confirmed my suspicions as regards Abel and his women. Granted, no one has been named as a spearwife or as Mance Raider, the King Beyond the Wall, but it’s pretty clear what Abel’s woman is fishing for, and not hard to speculate why. I guess it’s also interesting to hear about Lady Dustin’s motivation in taking up Roose Bolton’s cause. I’m not entirely convinced there’s justification for her to spill it to the Turncloak, but it is a good story. I’m more interested about the swords missing from the crypts. I’d say it’s Abel and his people, again, but no one seemed to have had any idea where the crypts were until Theon shows Lady Dustin’s men where to dig in the snow. Curious.

Chapter 42: The King’s Prize

The ‘King’s Prize’ is the new name for Asha. I’m relieved to hear she’s not dead – you know I like her.

The point of this chapter seems to largely be ‘It’s cold up north’. This is definitely the chapter in which winter gets serious. We also learn that a knight called Ser Justin fancies his luck with Asha, but she’s not terribly interested in him – she knows he’s chiefly after her lands, and he’s a bit of a soft Southron lad, anyway. We also meet Alysane Mormont, the ‘She-Bear’. Intriguing to meet a Mormont in the north, but very little to say about it beyond that. Other than that there’s largely the amusement of the northern clansmen scoffing as those of Stannis’s knights who think the snow storm they hit is ‘winter’. Tensions are clearly outlined between Stannis’s men from the south who think they either should have done a forced march (as Robert would have done) or stayed at Deepwood Motte until the storm cleared, and the clansmen, who are innured to the idea of losing men to the cold in winter (or even ‘autumn’).

Then, the chilling moment, at the end of the chapter, when Asha, Stannis, the clansmen, and everyone else, find themselves snowbound and unmoving, having merely stopped for the night.

Yup. It’s cold up north.

Not much more to say about this chapter than that. It is designed to lead up to that tableau at the end, to impress on us that Winter means Business in the north, and it does that pretty well.

Read Along with Rhube 20: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 39 & 40

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…

Read Along with Rhube 19: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 37 & 38

(Index to previous ADwD posts here.)

Chapter 37: The Prince of Winterfell

AKA Reek, AKA Theon. Again with the names! I guess it sort of does have some impact here, though. In spite of himself, Reek is starting to think again as Theon, but will it be enough?

In this chapter, Ramsay marries Jeyne Poole, who is pretending to be Arya. It’s not clear who knows that she is not Arya, apart from Reek The Prince of Winterfell Theon. What is clear is that it if Jeyne doesn’t play her role, she won’t be doing much of anything for very long. Poor Jeyne, at the start of the chapter she just thinks she is going into a forced marriage under a false name; she has no idea of the sort of man she is marrying. Hanging over this whole chapter is the question of whether Theon will come sufficiently to himself to launch some kind of rescue.

He takes her to the godswood and gives her away, as the closest thing she has to a family member. Despite Theon’s brief fantasy that she will announce to everyone who she really is – getting them both killed, but also getting the truth out – she meekly submits, and he confirms for all those gathered that she is Arya. They then return to the repaired hall to feast. Lord Wyman Manderley is there, suspiciously cheery, having brought with him a great deal of food, including three giant ‘pork’ pies. Funny that he somehow lost three Freys along the way. It’s pretty clear that Wyman has had his revenge by baking those men into the pies, and now he’s taking great pleasure in feeding them to his oppressors.

Also present are a bunch of musicians – ‘Abel’ and his six women. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking this is Mance and his six spearwives. Hanging over the feast is the question of whether there will be some great uprising before the marriage is consummated. ‘Abel’ is there to save ‘Arya’, ‘Reek’ flutters around the verge of becoming Theon again and coming to her rescue, and there are some very bitter northman in the room who might be persuaded to rise up, or at least sit back and do nothing. But no one is clearly who they seem, no one is sufficiently committed to their roles. Abel does nothing. Wyman is content to have his secret cannibalistic joke. Theon seems to come close, especially when Ramsay insists that Theon accompany him as the ‘Prince of Winterfell’ when he goes to bed her. Finding that ‘Arya’ is dry, he commands Theon to go down on her first – I presume in some mockery of the tradition of a lord’s right to have his way with a newly wedded bride of his subjects (Theon having once proclaimed himself Prince of Winterfell, Ramsay his subject, before their positions were so dramatically reversed). For a moment it seems he might refuse, but he does not.

This is a well-constructed chapter. It is tense and horrible on several levels. We want the last minute rescue, and Martin dangles it artfully before us again and again, but the time is not yet ripe. Any rescue at this point would wind up with a lot of people dead, including, probably, the lady herself. All the fake names and duplicity hover around, looking as though they should be symbolic of something deep, but I can’t find it. They seem to be symbolic of… the fact that everyone’s hiding something, which isn’t so much a symbol as a fact. Still, tensions and understated horror reign.

Chapter 38: The Watcher

Odd point of view, this. Instead of returning to one of the players in the scene, we follow Areo Hotah, man-with-axe, and servant of Prince Doran Martell. The scene unfolds as the prince is presented with a massive skull that is thought to have belonged to Ser Gregor Clegane – aka The Mountain. The Prince and his family are pleased by this, especially the Sand Snakes – Obera, Nymeria, and Tyene, bastard daughter’s of the prince’s dead brother Oberyn. Gregor killed Doran’s sister and her children, so they’re pretty pleased to hear that he had a painful death.

The head is presented to them by Ser Balon Swann, as a gift from the Lannisters. He’s also there to ask that Princess Myrcella (daughter of Cersei, betrothed to Trystene Martell) return to King’s Landing, and that Doran accompany them to become the boy king’s Hand. Doran suspects that this is a trick, which is confirmed by Balon’s obvious discomfort when Doran proposes travel by sea, as opposed to by road, where it is suspected there would have been an ambush. Balon is also concerned to find Myrcella and her protector, Ser Aerys Oakenhart are away at the Water Gardens, and not there to greet him. The reason for this is that Aerys has been killed following a rebellion plotted by Princess Arianna and the Sand Snakes, for which the Sand Snakes had been detained in the Spear Tower until recently. I honestly can’t remember the details of this – I had forgotten this plotline completely until this chapter, and only now have vague recollections of what happened.

Anyway, after the presentation of the skull, the prince, the Sand Snakes, the Princess Arianna, and (for some reason) Areo Hotah retreat to discuss what to do in private. Doran would be a fool to go to King’s Landing. Balon will need to see Myrcella, but they need to work out how to handle the fact that his brother in arms is dead. The Sand Snakes are generally reactionary, but Doran advises caution, because he knows a few things they don’t. A plan emerges. Princess Myrcella has been led to believe that Gerold Dayne (aka Darkstar) tried to kill her and that Ser Aerys died protecting her. Doran mainly wishes to maintain a holding-pattern, and will send Lady Nym in his stead to King’s Landing. He has heard of a fleet departing from Lys. He hopes this is Quentyn with dragons and Daenerys. Of course, we know that it’s the lost prince, aka Young Griff. Either way, it could go well, for them.

This chapter was interesting. I didn’t remember any of the players well, but they do have an interesting plot. One of the Sand Snakes is apparently wearing a see-through dress, which I found a bit odd and rather unlikely, but ho hum. I like Prince Doran’s cunning. I like that we’re hearing of some interaction between what’s going on in the south and Westeros, finally. I like that everyone’s going to be very surprised when they find out whose fleet it is. I do feel sorry for poor Quentyn, though, off on his fool’s quest with his family thinking he might somehow have succeeded already. Smart though they may be, they clearly have no idea of the scale of the task they have set him.