Monday, December 17, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 36

A Dance with Dragons: A Ghost In Winterfell to the end of Cersei I (p. 729)

My previous posts on A Dance with Dragons:   week 31   week 32   week 33   week 34   week 35

46. A Ghost in Winterfell

A series of suspicious deaths have set the various factions within Winterfell against each other. I have to assume that they are the work of Mance and his spearwives, who are trying to create a disturbance so that they can spirit ‘Arya’ away, although they could be the work of Wyman Manderly or someone else who secretly supports Stannis. The sounds of a war horn and drums certainly suggest that this might be a coordinated attempt to disrupt the Bolton forces: oh dear, what a shame!

Although he is seen at all the places where people have died, Theon is judged to be too weak, both physically and mentally, to have been responsible, which shows how much Roose Bolton underestimates the lad. His time in the godswood is intensifying his guilt about betraying the Starks, so much so that he even sees Bran’s face in the heart-tree’s carving and thinks that he hears it whispering his name. Of course, we know that it could very well be Bran watching Theon, but it has the effect of suppressing the Reek personality somewhat and allowing Theon’s normal persona to get nearer to the surface. I can imagine that the freedom to wander through the castle and to do what he wants could also be a large part of his rehabilitation, that and the lack of torture. It will be interesting to see if he will betray Mance and his plans or go along with them.

47. Tyrion X

Only the Mighty Tyrion could bid for himself at a save auction! :D

As I said last week, Tyrion’s luck could not possibly get any worse, but I have been proven wrong again. I wonder if this is because Mr Martin knows that he is a firm favorite with the fans?

At least he and Penny are sold as a single lot, along with Pretty Pig and Crunch, so he has some hope of keeping them all alive without having to reveal who he is . . . although he does sort of admit that when he offers all the gold of Casterly Rock as a bid for them. I can only assume that he thinks that nobody would believe that he could be who he says he is, and so he is hiding in plain sight. However, it seems that Brown Ben Plumm has identified him and the sell swords tries to win the auction, presumably to use Tyrion for ransom or to sell him to Daenerys. Finally, they are bought by an enormously fat Yunkish man and given over into the care of the rather creepy Nurse. I was not at all surprised that Tyrion recommended to Nurse that his master buy Ser Jorah as well. The two men have no love for one another, but that does not mean that Tyrion would want to see the knight mistreated or sold to the fighting pits.

It appears that their new master has a collection of grotesques, including a pair of conjoined twins and a hermaphrodite. It is made very clear that they must behave well and be entertaining if they want to stay alive. Tyrion struggles with the physical strain of serving at table, mainly because he is not used to doing so much exercise: there is no hint that Penny finds the work so difficult. However, he uses his wits to entertain the guests by playing Ben Plumm at cyvasse, which earns him a welcome rest from all the standing and walking about.

Then, as is to be expected of the unluckiest man in Westeros and Essos, their master decides that he and Penny will entertain the crowds in one of the fighting pits. This does not sound like a good thing. :(

48. Jaime I

Our one and only chapter with Jaime in this book finds him breaking the siege at Raventree Hill, where Tytos Blackwood is besieged by Jonos Bracken’s forces. There is a centuries-old feud between the two families, which leads Bracken to demand part of the Blackwood lands as part of the surrender treaty. Jaime seems unimpressed by either man’s accounts of who did what and why, but he does include some of the Bracken demands in the agreement. He also takes one of Blackwood’s sons as a hostage, but also demands a daughter from Bracken, as he does not trust the man. It is good to see Jaime acting in a sensible and politically astute way: his father would be rather impressed, I think.

I was beginning to wonder why this chapter had been included, because nothing of any great importance seemed to occur, but then we have a very surprising end to the chapter as Brienne arrives with news of Sansa. As we last saw her about to be hanged, I did not expect Brienne to pop up like this, although I seriously doubt that she has any idea where Sansa is, and her insistence that The Hound is threatening to kill the girl is a total lie: I am fairly certain that he is a brother on the Quiet Isle. I suspect that she is leading Jaime to Lady Stoneheart, which will be an interesting encounter.

49. Jon X

Alys Karstark marries the Magnar of Thenn . . . where did that idea come from???

Considering that little Alys only just arrived at Castle Black, I did not expect anything much to happen to her so soon, and a wedding would have been the last option on my list of possibilities. However, I guess it is a great answer to so many of both her and Jon’s problems that it makes perfect sense. Now she can hold on too her inheritance and Jon has somewhere to settle the Thenns that will begin to integrate them into the northern community.

I feel that Mr Martin is trying to give us a sense of foreboding with the news that Cotter Pyke has left a friend of Ser Alliser Thorne in charge at Eastwatch. Although the miserable knight is still out on his ranging, this seems like a warning that he will be a serious threat to Jon when he returns: and we must not forget Melisandre’s warnings about knives in the dark. How I wish Ghost had simply ripped the evil man’s throat out.

We saw Ser Axell Florent as a total idiot during A Storm of Swords when he arrested Davos Seaworth and then proposed the most foolish attacks on neighboring lord’s holdings after the defeat at Blackwater. He continues in the same vein here, with his inability to grasp that Val is not a princess, and that she would not be a good choice for his wife. Of course, Jon should just let Axell try to propose the match to Val and see how long it takes her to rip off his manly bits and force him to eat them! :D

50. Daenerys VIII

Now that she has married Hizdahr, Daenerys has to sit through a feast with the Yunkish leaders. Seeing Brown Ben Plumm is difficult for her, although he explains that his defection was nothing personal, just seemed like the best way for his lads to survive. Finally grasping that sellswords are not to be trusted, she asks Ser Selmy to try to buy the other leaders that the Yunkai have bought. I am not sure if this is really necessary, or if it will work, but I hope that it means that she is finally beginning to accept that Daario is not trustworthy. Fortunately, he is one of the hostages that she gave to the Yunkai to assure them of her compliance with their terms.

For some reason that I cannot fathom, she decides to take Quentyn Martell to see Viserion and Rhaegal in their pit-prison. Neither dragon seems to be particularly impressed by the visitors, although they do seem to cry for Daenerys to approach them. I am having great difficulty with Daenerys in this book. She seems to have ‘lost the plot’ and is no longer the decisive and active leader that she was earlier in the series. Her obsession with Daario, her blind trust in the sellswords and her abandonment of her ‘babies’ are so far removed from how she behaved previously that I really worry for her. I simply cannot believe that she has done nothing to try to tame the two dragons that she does have contained. Even if she had tried and failed, it would have shown some effort on her part rather than just ignoring them.

51. Theon I

The last of the Theon chapters ends with a real cliffhanger, but Mr Martin takes great pains to ratchet up the tension as we follow poor Theon in the plan to escape with Jeyne. I love the fact that he knows what will happen to him if they fail, but he is willing to try anyway: this is a moment of true redemption for the poor lad.

The tension in Winterfell has been growing with the deaths and the sound of Stannis’ army approaching, so when Little Walder is found butchered chaos erupts. The Freys attack Wyman Manderly and then everyone is fighting until Roose Bolton manages to split them up. He orders them to both take forces beyond the walls and attack Stannis. It seems that he has decided that neither of the factions really supports him and he wants them out of his way as soon as possible.

Seizing the opportunity to slip through an open gate, Mance’s spearwives set their plan to rescue ‘Arya’ into motion and they successfully smuggle her out of her room and they almost make it out before Jeyne gives them away by screaming. Rather than face Ramsay’s wrath Theon throws himself and Jeyne over the wall in the hopes of a quick death or possibly finding sanctuary with Stannis. This is not a good place to leave them , so I hope we find out what happened in one of the later chapters because I do not want to have to wait until the Winds of Winter!

52. Daenerys IX

Holy nasty fighting pits, Batman!

The first fight is grisly enough, but my heart was in my mouth when Tyrion and Penny had to fight in the pit and then there was talk of lions being set on them: thank goodness that Daenerys refused to allow that!

Then we have the disgusting vision of Barsena Blackhair against the boar, and it is bad enough when the animal starts to pull out her intestines, but when Drogon char broils them both and starts munching . . . yikes! I loved the way that Daenerys instinctively ran to protect her ‘baby’, but also to stop him behaving badly. This is going to look so amazingly awesome on television! I was very touched by Ser Selmy trying to distract Drogon away from her, even though he has not a hope of killing the dragon: he is a true knight and a true Queensguard!

I wonder where Drogon will take her . . .

I also wonder why Strong Belwas is puking up spiced locusts all over the place. I have to assume that they were poisoned, and I seem to remember Hizdahr offering them to Daenerys before Belwas started eating them by the fistful . . . not very subtle if he was behind the poisoning. The good news is that even though he has probably eaten enough poison to kill and elephant I have no doubt that Strong Belwas will survive to fight another day.

53. Jon XI

There is something very likeable about Tormund Giantsbane. He has always been very straight with Jon and is not deceitful or unable to trust the new Lord Commander to keep his word. This makes him a very good leader for his people, who obviously need shelter from the Others. He does not like Jon’s demands, but he understands why they are made and puts his peoples’ safety before his own pride. He is precisely the kind of man that Jon needs with the wildlings south of the Wall, because he can show them how to coexist with the Brothers and the other northmen without having to become true ‘kneelers’.

Val’s assertion that Princess Shireen is a monster and ‘already dead’ is a real surprise. I am not certain if this is simply wildling superstition, or if she truly has some understanding of the disease that the maesters do not know. I would imagine that such an obvious disease would cause the sufferers to be exiled from wildling communities to prevent the further spread of the infection. I know that this may seem harsh to us, but they live in a society without the understanding or treatment of the disease that we would have. It seems to me that greyscale is this world’s version of our leprosy, which was also treated by exile from the community, as we see throughout history until modern treatments could cure it and sanitation led to its eradication in many countries.

I was not surprised that Bowen Marsh is angry about the agreement with Tormund. As with the hints about Ser Alliser Thorne in the earlier chapter, I feel that Mr Martin is leading us to expect Bowen to betray Jon. I can understand why he and many of the other brothers would be unhappy about the wildlings, but Jon has sensible arguments for all of the objections that they can make. However, I fear that some men are incapable of changing their world-view when it changes so dramatically, and I believe that Bowen is one of those men.

54. Cersei I

Back to King’s Landing to find out what has happened to the ever-lovely Queen Regent.

She eventually confesses to some of her sins, although I am fairly certain that the High Septon must realize that she is not being totally honest. He does not seem to be the most trusting of men, and it has taken her an awful long time to finally show any remorse, but we shall see. She does seem very smug and pleased with herself after the confession, because she assumes that she has fooled them. I think, and hope, that he is using her change of circumstances as a further step towards breaking her will, though he does seem to be somewhat against Stannis because of his conversion to worshipping R’hllor.

It is good to see that Ser Kevan Lannister is now the Regent, as he has a good chance of actually running the country like a sensible person. He is very concerned about the reports of sellswords landing all over the south. Cersei, as usual, ignores a blazingly obvious threat to the throne and sees the news of the attack on Myrcella as Tyrion’s handiwork. As we saw Tyrion trying to get his niece away from her mother and into a position of relative safety, this seems like a long stretch, even for Cersei, but she cannot see any other danger than her youngest brother.

I dread to think what Qyburn has to fill the empty space in the Kingsguard . . .

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