Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 25 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 50 (“Arya”), 51 (“Sansa”) and 52 (“Jon”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 50: Arya
Arya is fencing with Syrio, and he “kills” her with a blow that was opposite from the one he called. Arya accuses him of cheating, and he explains to her that the key to water dancing is to see what is really there, not what people tell you to see. He tells her the story of how he became first sword to the Sealord of Braavos, by naming the lord’s common cat for what it was, and tells her that he thinks she will be ready to take up Needle once they return to Winterfell.
They are interrupted when Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard enters with five Lannister armsmen. Trant orders Arya to come with him to see her father, but Syrio asks why Lord Stark would send Lannister men for that. Trant orders the men to take her, and Syrio breaks the fingers of the first man to try. Trant orders them to kill Syrio, and Syrio tells Arya to run. Arya cannot make herself leave, though, and watches as Syrio almost effortlessly cuts down the Lannister armsmen. But now he faces Trant, and he seems to be losing when Arya finally obeys and runs, sobbing.
Arya makes her way to where she has a view of the Tower of the Hand, and is horrified to see a corpse in Stark livery on the steps, with the sound of fighting within. She remembers what the yellow bearded man had said about one Hand dying as easy as another, and forces herself to choke down her fear, remembering Syrio’s lessons. She heads for the stables instead, and finds more Stark armsmen and staff dead; Hullen, the master of horse, tries to tell her to warn her father about something, but dies of his wounds before he can say what. She finds her own chest among the half-completed packing they had done for their departure, and retrieves her sword Needle just as a stableboy finds her.
“Help me saddle a horse,” Arya pleaded, reaching back into the chest, groping for Needle. “My father’s the Hand of the King, he’ll reward you.”
“Father’s dead,” the boy said. He shuffled toward her. “It’s the queen who’ll be rewarding me. Come here, girl.”
Panicked, Arya runs him through with Needle, killing him, to her horror. She shakes it off, and realizes that there is no way she will escape through the gates of the keep. She decides she will have to try to get out the other way she had found. After a nerve-wracking walk across the yard in full sight of the guards, she eventually finds her way to the hall with the dragon skulls and the corridor beyond. She is terrified of the darkness until she remembers the time she and her siblings had gone down into the crypts at Winterfell, and Jon had tried to scare them by dressing as a ghost; the memory cheers her, and she finds the courage to keep going.
Go, Arya, go!
She is so awesome and brave, I love her. And Syrio is also awesome, not to mention badass. I hope he survived.
But I am distracted at the moment by the stableboy’s claim that Ned is dead. Because, uh. He was speaking metaphorically, right? Or was wrong, or lying, or something. Right?
I mean, okay. The one thing I did manage to hear about ASOIAF (despite all my efforts not to) is that Martin has a habit of killing off characters at will. And I can already tell that this is not the kind of story where protagonists are immune from biting it just because they are protagonists.
But, dude. It’s one thing for Robert to die off-screen, but Ned? Really, if I find out Ned’s already dead and this is how we’re hearing about it, I might just have to freak the hell out.
Chapter 51: Sansa
Sansa thinks back on the past three days that she has been held in Maegor’s Holdfast with Jeyne Poole, who has been weeping continuously since she was thrown in with Sansa. On the first day, Sansa had heard the sounds of fighting within the keep, and begged her guards to tell her what was happening, but no one would talk to her. Jeyne told her “they’re killing everyone,” and doesn’t know what has happened to her father, Ned’s steward. On the second day, the sounds of fighting stop, but no one comes; at sunset great bells begin to peal, and Sansa knows it means that the king is dead, though she doesn’t know how or why.
On the third day, Ser Boros Blount of the Kingsguard comes to take her to Queen Cersei, who had sent Sansa to the Holdfast to “keep her safe” in the first place. Cersei is in the council chambers with Baelish, Pycelle, and Varys, and Sansa sees that they are all in mourning colors. Cersei greets her sympathetically, but is upset to learn that Jeyne was put in with Sansa, and orders that Baelish take her away; she avoids Sansa’s query of where Jeyne’s father is. Cersei tells Sansa that she and Joffrey love Sansa, but her father is a traitor, and shows her the letter Ned wrote inviting Stannis to take the crown. Sansa protests weakly that her father would never do such a thing. Cersei asks how she can trust Sansa when the blood of a traitor runs in her veins.
Sansa protests that she came to Cersei when she learned her father intended to send her away without seeing Joffrey again, but Cersei and the rest of the council show doubt. Sansa asserts passionately that she would never betray Joffrey. To show her good faith, Cersei and the others want her to write letters to Catelyn, Robb, Lysa Arryn, and Hoster Tully, assuring them of Sansa’s good treatment at Cersei’s hands, and urging them to keep the peace and come to King’s Landing to swear fealty to Joffrey. Cersei will not let Sansa see her father, but assures her that Ned is unharmed. Sansa convinces herself that Joffrey would not hurt his future bride’s father and that she can eventually persuade him to grant Ned a pardon, and agrees to write the letters. Later, she realizes she’d forgot to ask anyone what had become of Arya.
Oh, those bastards.
Oh, Sansa, you poor deluded foolish child.
It would be so easy to hate her for agreeing to write those letters, but I can’t do it. I just can’t find it in me to be angry at her for buying this horseshit hook line and sinker, any more than I could be angry at a four-year-old for losing a chess game to Bobby Fischer. Because that’s the comparison: she is up against fucking master manipulators here, and they just played her like a violin. Sansa never stood a chance.
That said, I can be angry at her about the fact that, intentionally or not, by running to Cersei she betrayed her father. Jesus, Sansa. That’s going to come back to haunt you, girl. Or at least, it should.
Not to mention, if I’m reading this right her act was the catalyst that set this whole well, I don’t really know if you could call it a coup, exactly. An anti-coup? A lateral coup? An un-coup? Yeah, this is all so messed up I don’t even know if there’s a term that applies. But whatever it is, it seems like this chapter is suggesting that Sansa basically started it. Which yeah.
Also, I have no idea whether to believe Cersei’s assurances to Sansa that Ned is still alive, but Jeyne’s father is definitely dead, and right now it’s looking like poor Jeyne has a delightful future as a prostitute in one of fucking Littlefinger’s brothels ahead of her, if I’m interpreting the subtext here correctly. Goddamn bastards.
I dunno, right now it’s looking like Cersei has this thing bloody well sewn up, by all appearances. I’m hoping for a dramatic reversal of fortunes, but right now? It appears that it’s Lannisters: 1, Starks: zilch.
I say again: Shit.
Chapter 52: Jon
Jon, Sam, Mormont, Rykker, and several others have found the corpse that the hand Ghost brought them came from, Jafer Flowers, along with another body, Othor. Both had been in Benjen’s party. The dogs and horses both are extremely skittish around the bodies, and Jon has to coax Sam firmly before he will look at the bodies. Mormont asks where the rest of the six men Benjen had had with him were, but Rykker doesn’t know; he supposes this could have been done by the wildlings, even this close to the Wall, but Jon thinks that everyone is avoiding saying what they really think, that it was the Others.
Rykker believes that the two men cannot have been dead for more than a day, judging from the freshness of the corpses, but Sam pipes up and disagrees, to everyone’s surprise. He points out that the hand Ghost tore off would have bled at least sluggishly if the corpses were that fresh, but the blood is thoroughly dried. He further observes that the corpses are not rotting, and no animals or vermin have touched them.
“Untouched,” Jon said softly. “And Ghost is different. The dogs and the horses won’t go near them.”
Sam also points out that there should be blood everywhere, going by the grievousness of the men’s wounds, but there is none, indicating they were killed elsewhere. One of the men mentions that he didn’t think Othor had blue eyes before either, and Rykker says the same of Flowers. The men urge Mormont to burn the corpses, but Mormont decides to bring them back to the castle for Aemon to examine. Jon thinks uneasily of the stories old Nan used to tell about the Others all the way back, but is gratified when Mormont gruffly compliments Sam on his observations.
When they arrive back, Marsh comes to tell Mormont a bird has arrived, and Jon notes that many of the brothers are watching him, including Thorne, who seems pleased. He finds Pyp, who tells him that the king is dead; Jon is stunned, but wonders if this means his father might return to Winterfell, and resolves to ask him about his mother the next time he sees him. Jon is soon summoned to Mormont, who tells him that Eddard Stark has been imprisoned and accused of treason. Jon declares it must be a lie, but is secretly uncertain.
Mormont tells him he intends to send a letter to ask that Eddard be allowed to take the black and join them on the Wall. Jon isn’t sure how he feels about that, but supposes it is better than his father being executed. He remembers Joffrey, though, and wonders if the new king will allow it. Jon asks about Arya and Sansa, but Mormont tells him the message did not mention them, and warns Jon not to do anything stupid.
Most of the brothers seem supportive of Jon, but at dinner Jon overhears Thorne laughing and calling him “a traitor’s bastard,” and Jon snaps and attacks Thorne with his dagger. Mormont is disappointed that Jon did not listen to him, and confines him to his cell until a hearing can be convened.
Jon wakes that night to find Ghost scrabbling at the door, and opens it to find the posted guard dead, his neck twisted completely around. Ghost heads for Mormont’s chambers, and Jon hears someone sneaking inside. He takes the dead guard’s sword and follows. He finds a cloaked figure with glowing blue eyes heading for Mormont’s bedchamber, and both he and Ghost attack. Jon hacks off an arm, and sees that the figure is Othor. The severed arm attacks Jon; Ghost pulls it off him, and then Othor slams into him, making Jon drop the sword, and tries to choke him to death. Ghost attacks again, pulling the dead man off Jon. Mormont appears with an oil lamp in his hand, and Jon seizes the lamp, sets the drapes on fire, and hurls the burning cloth at the walking dead man.
Let it burn, he prayed as the cloth smothered the corpse, gods, please, please, let it burn.
OMG FROZEN ZOMBIES ARE BACK HOLY CRAP.
Finally, some actual supernatural action! That was some tense shit right there, y’all. Great scene.
And jeez, why does no one ever listen to the animals? Seriously, guys, if your dogs and horses and whatnot freak the fuck out about a thing, that is the thing you DO NOT BRING HOME WITH YOU, THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, PEOPLE. Sheesh.
So, yeah, things are definitely ramping up on the Winter Is Coming front, eh? Enemy doing some impressment for the Evil Undead Corps, I see. Benjen is so, so undead, you guys. Shame, that sucks.
So, I guess all it takes is to be killed by Others to end up one yourself? Very zombie-canon-like, nice job. The detail about how the corpses’ eyes have turned blue was an especially nice (read: creepy) touch. What I wanna know is, were Othor and Jafer really dead at the time, and then “woke up” later, or were they just playing possum until they were brought back to the castle?
‘Cause, you know, if the latter, that suggests a very un-zombielike and frightening amount of tactical forethought and planning and stuff. Yeek.
Oh, and also, if Othor was busy trying to kill Mormont, what is Jafer doing? YEEK.
And go ahead with your bad self, Mr. Samwell Medical Examiner Tarly, noticing the stuff about how there’s no blood! Maybe it caters a tiny bit to stereotyping that the fat kid is also the smart one, but I’m too pleased with the notion that Sam will eventually come to be valued for that to care too much. Go, Sam, go!
In non-frozen-zombie news, Mormont’s proposed solution to The Ned Situation is very intriguing. Jon thinks it would be unfair, but I dunno, I think Ned would positively shine being on the Wall. No insane politics (well, at least much more straightforward politics) and a clear honorable objective, well, I’m thinking that could be a lifestyle Ned could get behind, you know? Not to mention, Mormont is absolutely right that the Night Watch desperately needs men of his caliber. They desperately need men, period.
And crap, Jon didn’t actually kill Thorne. NOT FAIR. I’m going to sulk about that for a bit.
And hopefully “saving the Lord Commander from grisly zombiefication” counts as a Get Out Of Disciplinary Hearing Free card for Jon, because really. God knows I’d give him a pass. Anyone who’s had to deal with disembodied undead fingers in his mouth (YIPE YIPE YIPE) should get ALL the concessions, in my book. Eurgh.
And with that delightful image, we out! Have a weekend, kids, and see you next week!