Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 19

A Storm of Swords: Catelyn V to the end of Davos V (p. 737)

My previous posts on A Storm of Swords:   week 14   week 15   week 16   week 17   week 18

45. Catelyn V

I cannot help feeling that the terrible weather is a warning of some type. It seems as if the landscape itself is trying to prevent Robb and his party from reaching the Twins. I fear that something horrible will happen at the wedding and it was probably very wise for Robb to leave Jeyne behind at Riverrun. I can also understand his plans to send Catelyn off to stay with the Mallisters in Seaguard after the wedding. Her release of Jaime Lannister has made her a liability that he can do without.

Robb certainly seems to have an eye on the future, as he is concerned that Jeyne does not appear to be pregnant with an heir. He tells Catelyn that he intends to name Jon as his heir, although she is very unhappy to hear this. Catelyn’s total refusal to come to terms with Jon has always been one of the things I dislike about her, and she now shows how her personal feelings cloud her judgment. Although she does not want Tyrion to inherit via Sansa, she is blind to Jon as the logical choice, preferring to name Arya instead, even though she is the younger daughter and no one knows where she is. It seems to me that Robb is making the soundest choice because Jon is male and older than Sansa, so he almost has a better ‘claim’ to Winterfell than she does. Also, Robb realizes that Jon will make a good Lord for their people, and would most likely step aside for Sansa or Arya if they were able to rule independently or with reasonable consorts. Of course, I also think that Tyrion would make an excellent Lord of Winterfell, but not while Tywin and Cersei are still in control.

Robb also has a plan to retake the north, which involves exploiting his father’s links to Howland Reed. I like the way Robb thinks very strategically and does not discount the value of some of his resources that others would see as weak or ineffective. Certainly, he cannot count on Reed to provide a thousand mounted knights, but a thousand crannogman archers who can slip through the misty wetlands and repeatedly harass an enemy before slipping away again might be much more valuable in certain situations. In many ways the Starks seem much more open-minded and egalitarian than the other lords, seeing all men as having value in the right place. This places Robb in a strong position because he does not conduct his battles in the way that is expected and so outwits his opponents.

46. Samwell III

I am beginning to think that Sam has the worst luck of anybody in this whole series of books. He tries to avoid fighting as much as he can, but battles seem to follow him wherever he goes. However, he demonstrates so much courage in the face of adversity that he always makes me proud of him.

This time he draws the attention of his foe, the wight version of Small Paul, away from Gilly and the baby and then leaps on Paul, stabbing him mercilessly with the dragonglass blade. Unfortunately, Paul is not affected by the blade, which shatters on his armor, but Sam the Slayer plunges an ember into the wight’s face and destroys him. All seems to be lost as a group of wights, including many brothers from the Fist, surround Sam and Gilly, but they are rescued by a mysterious man riding a giant elk and aided by a huge flock of ravens. He addresses Sam as ‘brother’ but his hands are as cold as ice.

Well, I was not expecting a mysterious stranger to appear out of nowhere, certainly not one riding a giant elk. But anyone who helps Sam is welcome, no matter how cold his hands are. Of course, I would like to know who he is. If it were not for the cold hands and unnatural affinity for ravens, I might be tempted to think that he is Benjen Stark . . .

47. Arya IX

Arya and The Hound actually seem like a really good match. I like the stories of her trying to kill him while he is asleep, or run away while he is having a pee. He is remarkably tolerant of her behavior, possibly because he can appreciate someone else who is brave and willing to act. He may threaten her with a good beating, but actually treats her quite well. He takes pains to tell her that, although he has done some terrible things, he had never hurt Sansa and actually saved her life when a mob threatened to rape and murder her.

As always, he remains a very morally grey character. He laughs when he learns that Gregor had captured Arya, unaware of her identity, however, he admits that he would happily kill his brother. He ‘cheats’ the ferrymen at Lord Harroway’s Town by giving them Dondarrion’s note for reimbursement, but he is taking Arya to the Twins in order to collect the ransom from Robb. He will even serve Robb if the King will have him, which surprises Arya who had expected him to remain loyal to the Lannisters. His comment that “even a dog gets tired of being kicked” is very telling and suggests that he can be very loyal if treated with a little kindness, as we saw with Sansa.

Extra bonus points for having a horse called Stranger that will eat the face off anyone other than Sandor if they approach it.

48. Jon VI

Jon, ever conscious of his duty, arrives safely in Mole’s Town and warns the people of the approaching Wildlings. He then presses on to Castle Black on a fresh horse. Fortunately, the men that have been left behind include the ‘crippled’ Donal Noye, the one-armed smith, who listens to Jon without dismissing him as simply a traitor. He accepts Jon’s assertion that Qhorin had ordered him to infiltrate Mance’s army and the news that there are Wildlings approaching from the south to open the gate in the Wall. It seems that Mance has been sending raiders all along the Wall to draw the Brothers away from Castle Black, and that acting Lord Commander Bowen Marsh has fallen for this ploy and has the men spread far and wide.

Maester Aemon treats Jon’s wound and also relates what he knows of the mutiny against The Old Bear. Only twelve of the men who were loyal to Lord Mormont have returned to Castle Black, although Dolorous Edd and Grenn were amongst them. Grenn tells Jon that they had to leave Sam behind because he simply would not move. They are hopeful that he will survive somehow and relate how he killed an Other and become known as Sam the Slayer. As a final blow, Aemon explains that Winterfell has been destroyed and that Bran and Rickon are dead. However, Jon finds this hard to believe because he is sure that he saw Summer at Queenscrown when the direwolf attacked to protect him. He thinks that perhaps it was what remained of Bran warged into Summer’s body.

Hopefully, Jon will recover quickly and Castle Black will withstand the Wildling attack from the South.

49. Catelyn VI

My sense of foreboding increases as we approach the Twins. Grey Wind begins to attack the Freys sent to greet them and is very reluctant to enter the castle. Run away, Robb! Do you not see that the Frey men are camped with Roose Bolton’s men on the other side of the river? I do not trust Bolton, and placing your men on the North bank of the river means that they cannot retreat to Riverrun. It seems too convenient that the lords killed at Duskendale and on the Trident all those who we would expect to be most loyal to Robb. Plus, we know that Bolton is lying about what really happened at Winterfell, though finding out that Theon is being systematically flayed makes me a little happier.

Lord Frey is as rude as usual: but Robb takes it all in his stride and offers his apologies to the women he could have taken as a bride. Fortunately, Edmure is very happy with his bride because she is pretty and not the old, wart-covered half-wit that he had expected. I must admit that I had assumed that Lord Frey would have some trick up his sleeve when it came to the bride, but apparently not. Catelyn is concerned about her narrow hips and seeming fragility, but the maester assures her that Roslin comes from good breeding stock.

50. Arya X

Is Arya going to arrive in time to attend the wedding? It seems not, as all the soldiers are getting hammered drinking toasts to Edmure and Roslin. I like how The Hound ‘persuaded’ the farmer to part with his wagon, goods and clothing. He is quite right though: nobody gives them a second glance because they are assumed to be small folk.

51. Catelyn VII

Oh my goodness! How? Why? What? Who?

That miserable old fart, Walder Frey! I hope something very, very unpleasant happens to him in the very near future, but I suspect that he will outlive almost everyone we have met so far. I knew that Roose Bolton could not be trusted either: I assume it was him who finally killed Robb with the line “Jaime Lannister sends his regards.” As with the Late Lord Frey, no death can be horrible enough for the leech lord. I would hope that Grey Wind deals with them both, but I am guessing that he will have to fight through a great many men to reach Robb’s side.

I am so cross and upset about Robb’s death. He did not deserve to be treated like this. It is like Ned all over again! :(

Of course, it is not only Robb that did not deserve to die. Several of his loyal followers are defintiely dead by the end of the chapter, including Smalljon Umber, Wendel Manderly and Dacey Mormont. Catelyn grabs the half-wit, Aegon, and tries to exchange his life for Robb’s, but Walder Frey has more than enough descendants to not miss one, especially a half-wit, and she is unsuccessful. She goes mad and has her throat cut.

What a horrible chapter! I need to go and eat chocolate in vast quantities . . . :(

52. Arya XI

At least The Hound has enough experience to realize what is happening as the Frey men flood out of the Twins to massacre Robb’s men. I suppose I should be happy that Arya has survived the slaughter, but I am further disgusted by the treachery and needless loss of life. Yet again, Sandor Clegane prevents the death of a Stark girl: I just hope that he does not intend to claim a ransom from Roose Bolton or Lord Frey for her.

53. Tyrion VI

What a surprise: Tywin had a hand in planning the treachery at the Twins. But at least he is not a bloodthirsty idiot like Joffrey. I am not sure how Mr Martin can make me hate the wretched boy any more than I already do, but he keeps making me grind my teeth at his continued survival. I really hope that Melisandre’s leeches are correct and he dies soon. The thought of presenting Robb’s head to Sansa at his wedding left me speechless. Tyrion is quite right: Joffrey is the real monster. He is also unbelievably stupid. I was very impressed by Tywin’s self-control when the jumped up little brat started calling him a coward. Even Cersei realizes that he has gone too far, but Joffrey the Oblivious is so wrapped up in his own sense of self-importance that he cannot read the death lurking in his grandfather’s eyes.

Tywin is very good at not taking responsibility for the deeds of his men or the results of his treachery. He places the blame for the deaths of Elia and her children at the feet of Armory Lorch because The Mountain is too valuable and Lorch is already dead. He also says that the blood from the murders stains Lord Frey’s hands and not his own. I doubt that old Walder will see it that way. Tyrion is doubtful that the Martell’s will accept Lorch’s death as justice for Elia, and I have to say that I agree with him. They will not be placated until Gregor Clegane is dead.

I am very concerned over Tywin’s plan to marry the Bastard of Bolton to Arya: does this mean that The Hound has sold her to Bolton? But the message from Walder Frey did not mention her, so it seems as if this was something planned well before the wedding when Arya was still wandering in the wilds. I can only assume that some poor girl is going to be presented as Arya because there are so few people left who could identify her safely.

Although we saw very little of Sansa in this chapter, it is clear that she and Tyrion are getting to know one another quite well. I feel sorry for him because he will be the one to tell her of the murders. He will no doubt try to be gentle and compassionate, but I fear that Sansa will not respond to any sympathy from a Lannister.

54. Davos V

Unlike Joffrey, Stannis shows no pleasure at hearing about the treachery that is no being called the ‘Red Wedding’. However, he does see it as an opportunity to gain the support of the Northmen. Melisandre claims to have seen many new usurpers in the flames, which seems right if we assume that Roose Bolton and Walder Frey have now joined in the game of dividing up the kingdom. She demands Edric Storm so that she can use his royal blood to wake one of the stone dragons, giving Stannis the one weapon that would guarantee him victory.

Good old Davos is appalled by this idea and points out that Joffrey is still not dead, so Melisandre’s leeches cannot be conclusively proven to have worked. He is also adamantly against killing Edric and says as much quite forcefully. Davos constantly treads a fine line with Stannis, pushing him to be a good man and risking his anger at every turn. However, he is Stannis’ most loyal and honest advisor, which I imagine is why he is still alive. I am not sure what Stannis would make of Davos cultivating those of his men who do not support Melisandre, but it is good to know that someone is watching is back.

I loved the idea that Davos sees reading as such a noble and important skill. His pride in his son’s reading prowess is very touching, as is his own efforts to better himself. Unlike so many of the nobles that we meet in this world, Davos is genuinely humble and self-critical, very aware of his own deficiencies. As Socrates famously said “I only know that I know nothing.” This acceptance of one’s own lack of knowledge is something that is not seen in many people.

I am disturbed by the discovery of a letter from Bowen Marsh asking for assistance on the Wall. Davos is quick to realize how desperate the Night’s Watch must be if they are asking Stannis for help. He is also disturbed by the news of the defeat at the Fist as this seems to correlate with visions that Stannis has had and also Melisandre’s talk of the threat to the Great Other in the far north. He may be a semi-literate ex-smuggler, but Davos has more sense of what is really happening in the world that all of Stannis’ other advisors added together.

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