Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 35

A Dance with Dragons: The Prince of Winterfell to the end of The Blind Girl (p. 604)

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

37. The Prince of Winterfell

It says a great deal about everyone’s fear of Roose Bolton that they are happy to turn a blind eye to the pathetic creature that is Theon Greyjoy. Using Theon to act as Arya’s family during the wedding is cynical, but an effective way of giving her legitimacy without anyone needing to say anything. The description of the Godswood during the ceremony is rather creepy but beautifully drawn and we really feel the presence of the Old Gods. This feeling is strengthened by Theon hearing his name whispered, although I have a sneaking suspicion that this is supposed to be Bran watching through the Heart tree.

It seems that Mance and his spear wives have arrived, masquerading as Abel the bard and his ‘family’. I am not sure how they can engineer a rescue but we shall see. At the very least they might be instrumental in allowing Stannis into the Castle. However, the weather might be the greatest threat facing the King at the moment, while the Boltons sit happily in the warmth provided by the thermal springs.

I am still not convinced that all of the Bolton supporters are as loyal as they seem. Lady Dustin seems to be playing along with him at the moment, but could turn on him very quickly if she sees the situation change. Also, Wyman Manderly is far too happy about the three pies that he serves at the wedding feast: I wonder if his call for a rendition of the Rat Cook gives us a subtle hint of what type of ‘pork’ was used to make them . . . three lost Freys . . . three pies . . .

I did fear that we might get a very graphic description of the wedding night, so I was very relieved that we were spared all the details. However, what we saw was enough to make me realize that poor Jeyne will have a terrible time as his wife. I was really hoping that Theon would knife the Bastard to death, but he is too broken to even consider such a thing. Hopefully watching Jeyne’s mistreatment will give him the courage to rebel before it is too late.

38. The Watcher

We have another single chapter from Areo Hotah’s POV. I almost wish that we had more of his perspective because he seems like an interesting character.

Balon Swann has arrived at the Sunspear with Gregor Clegane’s skull and a request for Myrcella to be returned to King’s Landing. He also invites Prince Doran to send Trystane along with her and to take his own seat in the Small Council. As one might expect, Doran uses his ill health to refuse this offer, announcing that Lady Nymeria will take his place at court.

The Sand Snakes are angry at his lack of hostility towards the court, and criticize his reliance upon delaying tactics rather than open conflict. However, once he reveals what he knows of Cersei’s plans to kill Trystane on the road and then lays out his plans to thwart the Lannisters, they see the wisdom of his actions and throw their weight behind his efforts. As with Arianne, I have to wonder why he has waited so long before trusting these women with his confidences, especially as they have been creating trouble with their calls for military action. However, I look forward to the saintly Tyene using her skills in King’s Landing.

39. Jon VIII

Jon is certainly taking a massive risk in sending Val to find Tormund Giantsbane. This will look bad to the men in his command, many of whom already believe him to be a wildling sympathizer, but Stannis left explicit instructions to keep her at Castle Black. Having said that, I can understand Jon’s decision to try to ally with Tormund. The two got along well in Mance’s camp and Jon is quite right that every member of the free folk that are left beyond the Wall are potential soldiers in the Others’ army. I can understand why the other Brothers struggle to overcome their animosity of the wildlings, because they have been the ‘enemy’ for thousands of years, however, times have changed and they could be vital in holding the Wall.

I fear that the idea to send ships to Hardhome might be even more unpopular, especially if Jon does not lead that expedition himself. I am not sure if Cotter Pyke will see the value in rescuing a large group of non-combatants, but hopefully he will do his duty and follow Jon’s commands.   

40. Tyrion IX

Tyrion has never been an overly lucky person, but in this book he has become the unluckiest man in the world!

We learn that there were predictions that the ship would not reach Qarth, but that Tyrion had hoped that this meant that it would travel to Meereen. He and Penny resort to performing the jousting routine in an effort to keep the sailors happy when the ship is becalmed and rumors start to blame Penny for this piece of bad luck. Although this costs Tyrion a massive loss of dignity, he feels responsible for the young dwarf and does not want to see her hurt or killed to appease the mob.

They are then caught up in a terrible storm that kills several crewmembers and sweeps others overboard. Tyrion and Penny huddle below with the howling dog and loose-bowelled pig, as they hope for a quick death. When they finally return to normal weather the ship is barely afloat and they are adrift with little food or water. Of course, the first ship to find them is a slaver . . .   

41. The Turncloak

The bad weather continues, much to Roose Bolton’s pleasure, as he assumes that it will deplete Stannis’ resources and demoralize his troops. Around Winterfell there are snowball fights and people building snowmen to man the walls. Meanwhile, the sound of ‘Arya’ crying and the fact that she is always locked in her room is causing whispers to spread amongst the Northmen and Lady Dustin asks Theon to try to get the Bastard to treat her more kindly. She is quite right that Roose Bolton risks his allies deserting him if he is seen to condone her abuse.

We find out that Lady Dustin lost her virginity to Brandon Stark and had hoped to marry him, only for Lord Rickard to choose Catelyn Tully for a daughter-in-law. She has nursed her disappointment and resentment towards the Starks ever since, and intends to desecrate Ned’s bones in revenge for the loss of her husband during Robert’s Rebellion. This suggests that she is only using the Boltons as a convenient way to gain what she wants, making her a dangerous ally at best. I am unsure of why she reveals all of this to Theon. Perhaps she hopes that he will relate it to Ramsay, or she could see him as a potential ally of her own. In either case, she is playing her own game and will change sides when it suits her cause.  

42. The King's Prize

It seems that Roose Bolton was correct in his assessment of the effect of the snow upon Stannis’ army. Through Asha Greyjoy’s eyes, we see how poorly the southern men deal with the weather. Whilst the Northmen have the correct gear and suitable horses, the southern lords are losing men and horse every day. More importantly, they are running out of food and it seems like the army will be defeated long before they reach Winterfell.

From a purely personal perspective I found this rather funny. I lived in Scotland for twenty years, where blizzards lasting several days are fairly common and we regularly got snow several feet thick. We would then be subjected to the media circus that covered the chaos caused when an inch of snow fell in the south of England: the horror! I fully understood the disdain that the Northmen were showing for their southern counterparts who had no real idea what snow was or how to cope with it.

However, despite my own smugness at seeing people struggle with snow, I am very concerned that Stannis’ army will simply die in the snow or be so weakened that they cannot effectively assault Winterfell. I really do not want the Boltons to succeed in their plans, and I look forward to Stannis putting the Bastard’s head on a spike.

43. Daenerys VII

Oh, Daenerys, what are you doing? Stop thinking with your girly bits and use your brain!

Having taken Daario into her bed, it seems that Daenerys is obsessed with him. While this might be all right if she were only using him for sex, it seems as if her judgment has been affected and she tolerates insolent and dangerously presumptuous behavior from him. I am surprised that Ser Barristan has managed to hold his tongue about some of the behavior he has had to witness.

Meanwhile, the Yunkai are landing their troops and making preparations for their siege. At this point I cannot see how Meereen is going to survive. Even the marriage to Hizdahr will not make the Yunkai withdraw and the bloody flux is taking its toll inside the city despite all her precautions. At possibly the worst possible time, Quentyn Martell makes himself known to her and presents her with his father’s pact with Ser William Darry. I think the poor lad takes it rather badly when she turns him down, but there is no way that she can turn away from the arranged marriage that she hopes will bring peace to the city.

44. Jon IX

As if life were not difficult enough for Jon, Queen Selyse arrives at Castle Black on her way to the Nightfort. She is a perfect match for Stannis, being as cold and inflexible as him: I feel really sorry for poor little Shireen. Her men also seem to be a bunch of useless fawners. I liked their showdown with the giant Wun Wun, who seems to be fairly friendly and simply curious about the new visitors. I liked the fact that one of the men swore to the Seven Gods, rather than R’hllor, and that another drew his sword. I am not sure how effective he would be against the giant, but I doubt that Wun Wun would notice him as he was squashed underfoot!

We are introduced to Tycho Nestoris, the representative sent by the Iron Bank of Braavos to treat with Stannis. It would seem that Cersei’s belief that she could simply dismiss the Bank is a big a mistake as we had thought. They may support Stannis in his attempt to gain the Iron Throne, just as long as he promises to repay the Crown’s debts. This would be a huge blow to the Lannisters, but not much of a surprise to anyone with an ounce of common sense. The Bank is also willing to loan money to Jon so that he can feed the Night’s watch for the entire winter, no matter how long that should last. This places Jon in a much stronger position, although we shall see if his other decisions prove to be more important when it comes to the opinions of Brothers such as Ser Alliser Thorne.

The girl that Melisandre had foreseen arrives, but it is not Arya as Jon had hoped. Instead, it is Alys Karstark, who does not want to be used to hand the control of her lands over to her uncle. She also tells Jon that the Karstark marching to join forces with Stannis will actually betray him. Hopefully this will throw a spanner into Roose Bolton’s plans.

45. The Blind Girl

Yay! We get to catch up with Arya, who we left blinded at the end of A Feast for Crows.

As Blind Beth, she is learning to use her other senses in order to replace her sight, a process that is important in her training to be a Faceless Man. She continues with all her normal duties, such as dealing with the bodies of those who dies in the temple, learning about poisons and going out to the local taverns and brothels to gather information. She is periodically attacked by a person wielding a stick in order to test her ability to fight blind.

She overhears talk of a Lysene pirate ship that was taken whilst carrying a hold full of wildlings from Hardhome. The wildlings had been so desperate to escape that they handed over women and children to the pirates, who promptly chained them up with the intention of selling them as slaves. As the Braavosi were originally freed slaves they free the wildlings, but there was a second ship, so a large number of them are still captive.

At night Arya continues to warg into Nymeria, who is ravaging the Riverlands, devouring every animal that stands in her path, including any humans that she finds. She has also started warging into a cat and so she is finally able to hit the Kindly Man when he comes to attack her. This seems to mark the end of her training in blindness and her sight is restored to her.


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