Monday, December 3, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 34

A Dance with Dragons: Jon VI to the end of Daenerys IV (p. 483)

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

28. Jon VI

Jon decides to send out some rangers beyond the Wall and wisely includes Ser Alliser Thorne in one of the groups: perhaps he will meet a suitably horrible end out in the wilds. The longer that Thorne stays in Castle Black, the more he can spread his discontent, so this could solve at least one of Jon’s problems. However, any loss of manpower will be bad news because they are receiving very few new recruits: a Lord Commander’s worries never cease.

Whilst sparring with the new recruits, Jon is challenged by Rattleshirt and the two men fight. Strangely, Rattleshirt seems to be much more of an expert with his two-handed sword than Jon had anticipated. I am not sure what to make of this, but it does make suspect that something is going on behind Jon’s back.

Just to add to his woes, Jon learns that Ramsay Bolton intends to marry ‘Arya’. Melisandre reassures him that she has ‘seen’ Arya fleeing from the Boltons and riding north. She offers him help in saving his sister, even though Jon is adamant that he cannot act because he is now a sworn Brother. She also predicts that three of the rangers will die and return to the Wall without their eyes: I do hope one of them is Ser Alliser!

29. Davos IV

I knew that Lord Wyman would not kill Davos: hurray!

Wyman’s last command was that Davos be beheaded immediately, so Davos’ continued imprisonment in the Wolf’s Den should have told him that he was part of a deception. This is precisely what Lord Wyman tells him when the two men finally speak again. Now that Wylis has been returned to him, the Lord of White Harbor can begin to act. He will never forgive the Freys for killing his second son, Wendel, but knows that he must be careful in whom he seems to support. He intends to continue his ruse of supporting the Boltons, and will travel to the wedding between Ramsay and Arya. However, he asks Davos to find Rickon Stark for him, using Theon Greyjoy’s mute squire, Wex, as evidence for what really happened at Winterfell and proof that the Stark boys are still alive. It seems that Lord Wyman has some evil plan in mind for the Freys, who will travel with him to the wedding. I wonder if they will have an accident along the way?

This is our last chapter from Davos and there is no mention, as yet, of him as a POV character in The Winds of Winter. I hope we will catch up with him soon.

30. Daenerys V

Just like Jon Snow, Daenerys is hemmed in by bad choices in all directions. The blockade of the harbor continues and there is nothing she can do about it. If only her dragons were trained so that she could simply ride out and set fire to them.

Hizdahr has been suspiciously successful in preventing any more deaths at the hands of the Sons of the Harpy. Skahaz is convinced that Hizdahr is one of the Sons and wants to torture him for information, but Daenerys refuses to do this, which is probably a wise decision. Even if he is one of the Sons, he is keeping the peace at the moment, suggesting that civil war is not inevitable.

With one problem possibly solved, an even worse one staggers over the horizon in the form of refugees from Astapor. Not only does they mean a further drain upon Meereen’s dwindling resources, but one of them is seen to be carrying the bloody flux. He arrives on a pale mare, which the shadow of Quaithe warned her about. Added to these problems is the guilt that these refugees produce in Daenerys, who feels responsible for all of her ‘children’. Although she knows that she could not have saved them, she still feels that she should have answered their calls for help.

I have grave doubts about the idea of open battle against the force approaching from Astapor, even with the Unsullied, but there seems to be no real alternative. However, I do agree that marrying Hizdahr will help Daenerys to consolidate her hold on the city, perhaps allowing her to concentrate on defeating her enemies.

31. Melisandre I

We have another new POV, although Melisandre has only one chapter in this book and I have no idea if we will hear from her again in the later ones.

I am intrigued by Melisandre, because I have never been able to work out if she truly believes that Stannis is Azor Ahai reborn. Although we see the powders that she uses to produce some of her magic, there is no indication that she is deceiving Stannis in anyway or manipulating him for any other reason than the one that she has already given: to defeat the Great Other. We also see that her predication about the three rangers returning eyeless was accurate, adding weight to her other visions, although I am not happy about the idea of Jon being surrounded by knives.

I was surprised by her decision to keep Devan on the Wall so that she can keep him safe, believing that Davos deserves to have his remaining sons preserved if at all possible. This makes me think that she is much less cynical and ruthless than I had previously assumed. We learn that Melisandre was originally called, or known as, Melony and that she was sold as a slave, presumably arriving in R’Hllor’s service in this way, so I can understand why she would place a high value on preserving life. The descriptions of the pain and suffering that she suffers whilst searching for answers in the flames also make her much more believable as a person who genuinely has great faith and mental strength. I am still not sure if she is correct about Stannis, but I now think that she really does believe that she is right.

Of course, we need to know this if we are going to accept the revelation that Rattleshirt is not who he seems to be. I have no idea why she thought it important to save Mance Rayder, especially as there were all those conversations about burning him to use his royal blood to raise a dragon, but I cannot say that I am sad that Rattleshirt died in his place. We also learn that holding the glamor whilst Rattleshirt was burning almost overcame Melisandre, showing that she is willing to make personal sacrifices to further her cause. All in all, I think Mr Martin is very successful in redeeming her in this chapter, even providing us with a reason for her to be grateful to Jon.

Although I get the impression that she wants to have sex with Jon to produce one or more shadow assassins, this not made specific so I might be wrong about her interest in him. She is certainly sure that she can save Arya and intends to use Mance to do this, which seems like a very wise use of his talents. It also explains why they have cast Ciaran Hinds to play him: I thought the part was too small for such a high-profile actor, but it seems that I was wrong. I just wish I knew why she is so interested in making Jon beholden to her.

32. Reek III

So, the good news is that Big Walder is not following his cousin in the Bastard’s footsteps . . . otherwise, Reek’s life continues to be totally horrific. However, the arrival of Roose Bolton signals a rapid change of fortune for the poor man, mainly because Roose wants Theon to accompany him to the wedding, which will now be held at Winterfell. It seems that Theon is still the Boltons’ best chance of convincing everyone that it is the real Arya that is marrying the Bastard, although I do not understand why anyone would trust his word, especially the Northmen.

Roose believes that moving the wedding to Winterfell will provoke Stannis into attacking because his northern supporters will not tolerate the Bastard holding the Stark seat. I sincerely hope that Stannis’ forces are strong enough to crush the Boltons, although the treachery of the Karstarks is very worrying. However, we do learnt that the Freys travelling with Wyman Manderly rode ahead of his slow-moving train and vanished into thin air. What a surprise! I do hope that Wyman can convince Roose of his loyalty so that his men can turn their coats at a suitable moment and help to defeat the Bolton and Frey forces. I am really looking forward to seeing the Bastard’s head on a spike!

33. Tyrion VIII

The Mighty Tyrion is bored to death on the ship carrying them to Meereen, so much so that a huge storm provides him with much-needed distraction.

He tries to befriend the dwarf, Penny, whom he insisted should travel with them. I am not sure why he thought this would be a good idea, as he is not attracted to the girl although he does feel sorry for her and responsible for the death of her brother. Their relationship progresses slowly, and I thought it was quite funny that when she offered to ‘tilt’ with him he did not think it might mean anything other than jousting until much later. This just goes to show that he does not see all women as sexual objects, and that he is capable of a simple, platonic friendship with a woman. I am not sure if these two will become an item at some point, but this would be a good starting point for them.

We learnt that the name of the ship can be translated as the ‘Stinky Steward’, which suggests that it is the ‘perfumed seneschal’ that Quaithe warned Daenerys about. This would certainly fit, although I doubt that Tyrion intends to harm her in any way, as she could offer him a terrific way to get back at Cersei. Of course, he might not be the danger that the ship carries. It could be Jorah, although that does not make much sense either. It is much more likely that it is the red priest, Moqorro, who is travelling to convert her, or some member of the crew that Tyrion has not really noticed yet. Moqorro does say that he sees Tyrion playing an important role in the future, which could be a lie, but he also mentions a tall shadow with one black eye and ten arms, which is surely Euron Greyjoy.

34. Bran III

This is our last Bran chapter for the foreseeable future, as he is not confirmed as a POV character in The Winds of Winter yet. Mr Martin really does need to write faster!

This is quite a fragmented chapter as we follow Bran’s stream of consciousness through a variety of experiences. Sometimes he is in his own body, but increasingly he sees through the eyes of the many ravens that flock around the three-eyed crow. This man, who calls himself Brynden, is very likely to be Brynden Rivers a Targaryen bastard who was once Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. You can read more evidence for this theory here. We learn that he is not the only person joined to the weirwoods in the cavern, as the Reeds, and Bran warged into Hodor, find a cavern where several of the Children of the Forest are also enthroned. By eating a bowl of paste made from weirwood paste, Bran finally learns how to see through the eyes of a heart tree. His first vision is of his father and then flashes of the view from the Winterfell heart tree going back through Stark history.

Although it is very cool to see Bran’s abilities increasing I also found this a very sad chapter because it marks the end of Bran as a child. It is very obvious that he will soon join with his weirwood throne and move beyond his previous existence into the timeless dreaming of the other greenseers. Jojen realizes this and Meera may also, although it seems that she is trying to ignore the final outcome of their journey north. I do wonder what will happen to poor Hodor, who will be distraught if he has to leave Bran behind, and the idea of Summer remaining at Bran’s side until he dies of old age is also unutterably sad. Thanks, Mr Martin, you have made me cry again! :(

35. Jon VII

The life of the Night’s Watch continues as normal, and Jon leads a group to the grove of weirwoods beyond the Wall so that some of the new recruits can speak their vows. This gives him plenty of time to think about the problems caused by the Wildlings south of the Wall. There has already been a problem with some of his men trying to get at the females that he recruited and Jon has plans to send all the women to one of the castles that are unmanned at present. This seems like the most obvious way of preventing trouble, but we shall see.

As they get to the grove they find a group of wildlings trying to keep warm and Jon realizes that his vow to protect the ‘realms of men’ extends to them. He brings them back through the Wall, even though one of them is a giant, and even brings back a pair of corpses for some reason.

It is strange that Jon can see that the Boltons are trying to lure Stannis into a trap at Winterfell. Of course, it is entirely possible that Stannis also suspects this and is determined to proceed anyway, which would be perfectly in keeping with the relentless determination that is a core component of his character. It will certainly be interesting to see how Mance Rayder and his group of spearwives influence the events as they unfold.

36. Daenerys VI

Normally I find Daenerys’ care for her subjects to be very admirable, but getting close to a large group of people with the bloody flux seems like the height of stupidity. She claims to have never had a day of illness in her life, which is fine for her, but what about all her attendants? Does she really want them to contract the flux and bring it back into the city? I know I am looking at this with an understanding of how the flux is transmitted, but I wish she would sometimes take advice from those people who say things like “It is unwise to touch dead and dying people when the bloody flux is about. It is known.” The reason ‘it is known’ is because human history has taught us that touching people with severe infections is a really great way of catching the same disease. So, for once, Daenerys stay away and make sure you wash your hands! Twice!

I was appalled and also intrigued that she was supposed to have her womb inspected by the women of Hizdahr’s family. I would love to know how exactly one accomplishes that . . . or perhaps it would be too horrible to read. Anyhow, how does that help them determine her fertility? Strangely, Daenerys is totally unprepared to undergo that ordeal and, fortunately, Hizdahr agrees that it is unnecessary. Perhaps he will not be such a bad choice for husband after all.

Daario returns with mixed news. Although many of the Yunkai mercenaries have defected, it seems that Brown Ben Plumm has taken the Second Sons over to the enemy. Daenerys is stunned at his betrayal as she had thought him to be loyal and trustworthy, which seems remarkably naïve of her. For some reason, she feels that she can fully trust Daario and finally has sex with him. As she is about to marry Hizdahr this seems like a remarkably foolish thing to do, but perhaps he will not care about it.

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