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 3 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapter 4 (“Bran”), Chapter 5 (“Arya”), and Chapter 6 (“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 4: Bran
Bran sits at his window and listens to the direwolves howling, and thinks of how he dreams of wolves often, and feels that he can almost understand their singing. He wonders if Summer and Shaggydog miss the rest of their pack; no one Bran has asked can agree on why the wolves howl all the time. He asked the septon, Chayle, about the comet, who told him “It is the sword that slays the season”, though Old Nan thinks it is dragons.
He thinks of his accident, which he still does not remember, and that Summer had howled in mourning for him then, and again when word came of his father’s death; he wonders who they are mourning now, and hopes it is not another of his family. He tries howling like the wolves. Luwin enters and tries to get him to stop; Bran tells him that he dreams of being a wolf, and asks if wolves dream, or the dead, or trees.
“Trees? No . . . “
“They do,” Bran said with sudden certainty. “They dream tree dreams. I dream of a tree sometimes. A weirwood, like the one in the godswood. It calls to me. The wolf dreams are better. I smell things, and sometimes I can taste the blood.”
Luwin exhorts him to play with the Walders more the two Frey cousins fostered at Winterfell but Bran hates them and refuses. He wants to go riding again, and when Luwin reminds him of what happened last time, Bran declares he wants to be a wolf and begins howling again until Luwin leaves.
He thinks of the ridiculous game the Walders (they are both named Walder) play called “Lord of the Crossing”, which is basically an excuse to knock each other into the water. Bran had watched resentfully, unable to participate, until Rickon had insisted on joining in. When Little Walder smacked Rickon with a stick, Shaggydog attacked Little Walder, and mayhem ensued. Bran thinks it is odd that Rickon decided he liked the Walders after that, even showing them the catacombs, which had infuriated Bran.
Luwin comes back with Osha and a sleeping draught, which he tells Bran will give him dreamless sleep. Bran drinks it and Luwin leaves.
Osha lingered behind. “Is it the wolf dreams again?”
“You should not fight so hard, boy. I see you talking to the heart tree. Might be the gods are trying to talk back.”
When Bran sleeps, though, he dreams anyway. He dreams that he is Summer, prowling with his brother Shaggydog as they search for a way out of the keep and never find it.
The world had tightened around them, but beyond the walled wood still stood the great grey caves of man-rock. Winterfell, he remembered, the sound coming to him suddenly. Beyond its sky-tall man-cliffs the true world was calling, and he knew he must answer or die.
Neat. Foreboding, but neat.
I hesitate, as usual, to make assumptions about whether Martin means this wolf-dreaming thing literally or metaphorically, since he likes to straddle that line a lot. The “is the magic real or not” thing Martin does is, as usual, simultaneously engaging and a tad frustrating, but I bet it plays really well on the TV adaptation. Which, no, I still haven’t watched and probably won’t, even though it kind of kills me because I hear it is excellent.
(Tangentially, though, I watched the Golden Globes, and thus saw that Peter Dinklage won for his role as Tyrion, which makes me that much more frustrated that I’m not letting myself watch the show, because y’all know how much I like Tyrion, and apparently Dinklage is kicking ass playing him. I’m pretty sure that the book version of Tyrion, by the way, is meant to be much uglier than Dinklage, who is quite good-looking, actually, but Hollywood by nature pretties up everyone at least an order of magnitude from normality (so “ugly” characters are ordinary-to-good-looking, “ordinary” characters are beautiful, and “beautiful” characters are alien beings from the planet Gorgeous), so it doesn’t bother me that much. Or it wouldn’t if I watched the show. Which I can’t. Grr.)
All that said, this bit really does seem straightforward enough that I lean much more toward assuming Bran really is dreamwalking with his wolf Summer. Which is pretty awesome.
Even if I’m wrong, though, it’s still pretty darn cool.
Wolves and trees, yup. And Summer wants to get to the “true world”, which I’m betting includes forest, children of. Yup yup yup.
Which isn’t to say Bran’s dreamwalking adventures aren’t a tad worrying, too, of course. If Bran gets too into running around in his head with Summer, what’s going to be his incentive to come back to his crippled body? Could turn into a problem, is what I’m saying.
Although, if it ends up that a magical godtree uses organic TCP/IP to transfer Bran’s brain to Summer’s body, I quit.
Okay, not really. But I will be VERY PUT OUT. Not that I genuinely think this is going to be a concern.
Rickon seems a little worthy of worry himself these days, if the temperament of his wolf is anything to go by. That’s a lot of rage issues for a four-year old, not that I blame him, really.
I didn’t put it in the chapter summary, but the Walder Freys attempting to explain their completely incomprehensible family tree was kind of hilarious. Hilarious to read, anyway. I left it out of the summary, though, because the idea of trying to actually summarize it made me want to poke myself in the eye. Yeesh.
“Dragons,” [Old Nan] said, lifting her head and sniffing. She was near blind and could not see the comet, yet she claimed she could smell it. “It be dragons, boy,” she insisted.
Old Nan has the right of it, I’ll bet. She and Osha between them are filling out the Common Folk Always Know Better trope very well, but they’re both pretty awesome so I don’t really mind.
Also, Robb is clearly not at Winterfell. Whoops, nevermind. Where is he, then?
Chapter 5: Arya
As Yoren’s caravan travels north, Arya observes the flood of refugees heading in the opposite direction, fleeing the pillaging behind them. One of their sellswords dies, and Yoren gives his sword to the Bull. They stop in a village to bathe and eat, but Arya doesn’t risk the bath and goes to the inn’s common room instead. The townsfolk think Yoren is mad for continuing north, but Yoren insists that the Watch takes no sides.
The innkeeper says it’s not just Lannisters and Tullys, but wild mountain men and the Starks. A man says he heard the Stark boy rides to battle on a wolf, and another relates that there’s a huge pack of hundreds wolves near Gods Eye, led by “a she-wolf, a bitch from the seventh hell” who supposedly snatched a baby from its mother in broad daylight. Arya tries to remember where she had been forced to drive off Nymeria, and thinks Nymeria would hate her now if she saw Arya. She angrily declares that wolves don’t eat babies, and Yoren kicks her out of the inn before she draws too much attention to herself.
Outside, one of the three men in irons (the good-looking one) tries to bribe her to get him beer and a bath, and introduces himself as “Jaqen H’ghar, once of the Free City of Lorath”; the way he talks reminds Arya of Syrio. He names the other two prisoners too: the noseless hairy one as Rorge, and the bald tongueless one as Biter (who hisses at Arya). Rorge flings a cup at Arya and yells for her to get them beer, and when she refuses, he threatens her crudely. She tells herself that Syrio would not be afraid and walks closer, and when Biter lunges for her she hits him between the eyes, enraging him. Jaqen observes that she has “more courage than sense”.
The Bull intercepts Arya and reminds her that Yoren said to leave those three alone; Arya protests she is not afraid, but lets the Bull lead her off. She asks if he wants to spar; the Bull is startled, but agrees. Before they begin, though, they see City Watchmen approaching the village, and Arya pulls the Bull down to hide, shushing him when he protests. The officer announces they have a warrant for “a certain boy”, given by the queen herself, and Arya tells the Bull it’s her they want. The Bull is skeptical.
Yoren refuses to yield anyone sworn to the Watch, and Arya is surprised at how many of the recruits move to support Yoren when the officer threatens him with steel, and leaps to join them, declaring she is the one they want. But the officer points at the Bull, saying he’s the one they are after. Yoren gets the drop on the officer and forces him to drop his sword, and the gold cloaks are forced to withdraw, though the officer threatens to someday have Yoren’s head “to go with the bastard boy’s”.
Yoren orders everyone to get ready to leave immediately. Arya is mystified at why the Queen wants the Bull and not her, and demands his real name. He tells her it is Gendry. Yoren tells them to take the coursers, and ride like hell for the Wall if they see any more gold cloaks. Arya reminds him the officer is after Yoren now too.
“Well, as to that,” Yoren said, “if he can get it off my shoulders, he’s welcome to it.”
Yoren’s kind of a little bit awesome. Grotty, but awesome.
But more importantly: Oh ho! Gendry, eh? Dun!
Look at that, an actual son of Robert Baratheon wandering about. At least if I’m right about remembering that Gendry was the blacksmith’s kid apprentice Ned went to see in AGOT who busted Cersei by demonstrating how blond hair is a recessive gene, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.
Veddy interestink. Robert’s son! Gendry’s a bastard, yeah, but still. I bet Cersei does want to get her hands on him, at that. Tying up loose ends, yessir. So that’s something to keep an eye on, for sure.
I can’t remember now if we were told how Gendry got recruited (or “recruited”, I should say) to the Watch in the first place (probably because I didn’t realize to pay attention at the time), but I’m wondering if Ned had something to do with it before he died, to protect the kid. That was nice of him, sort of, if so. And also, do the other recruits know about him, or were they just happy for a chance to fight? Hmm.
Arya did not dare [take a bath], even though she smelled as bad as Yoren by now, all sour and stinky. Some of the creatures living in her clothes had come all the way from Flea Bottom with her; it didn’t seem right to drown them.
Also, Arya, please stop being stupid. Do not taunt the chained-up psychopaths, pretty please? I would like you to not die, help me out here.
Jaqen may be a crazy person (and there’s definitely more story to that one), but he nailed Arya’s basic character flaw: more courage than sense. Which trait has helped her in the past, but I am deeply certain it’s going to bite her in the ass at some point, so, chill, girl. I love you and your badassedness, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.
And Nymeria! Possibly leading a wolf army! That’s well, more worrying than awesome, I think, even though I don’t believe the baby thing is true at all if it is Nymeria. I’m ashamed to admit I forgot all about Arya’s wolf being out there.
Oh, I hope Arya and Nymeria get back together and Nymeria forgives Arya for throwing rocks and they are an awesome team. Is that too optimistic? Probably. Sigh.
Chapter 6: Jon
Jon finds Sam in the library, where Sam is inordinately (in Jon’s opinion) excited about the vast amount of ancient books and archives Castle Black possesses, including an account of a ranger named Redwyn, who traded with the children of the forest in the time before the Conquest. Sam would much rather stay there than go with the expedition beyond the Wall the next day, but Jon reassures him that they will be three hundred men strong, and Sam is needed to handle the messenger ravens. Sam is unconvinced.
They leave the library and head for Mormont’s rooms, pausing on the way to watch the newest recruits at training with the new armsmaster, Ser Endrew Tarth. The armorer, Donal Noye, asks Jon if he’s heard the news about Robb, and Jon says he has. Jon is not certain how he feels about Robb being crowned, but loyally tells Noye that Robb will be a good king. Noye remarks he thought the same of Robert once, but that he was never the same once he was crowned.
“Some men are like swords, made for fighting. Hang them up and they go to rust.”
“And his brothers?” Jon asked.
The armorer considered that a moment. “Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. And Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.”
And what metal is Robb? Jon did not ask.
They go on to Mormont, who is talking with Thoren Smallwood, a former ally of Alliser Thorne and therefore no friend of Jon’s. Smallwood is arguing that as he is now First Ranger, he should be leading the expedition, not Mormont. Mormont disagrees, and kicks him out. Jon and Sam have brought maps of the country beyond the Wall; Mormont complains that they are old, but Jon rescues a stammering Sam and points out that rivers and hills don’t change. Mormont is unimpressed with Sam’s tongue-tied behavior, and kicks him out too.
Mormont remarks to Jon that he had considered sending Sam as an envoy to Renly, as Sam’s father is high in Renly’s council, but he’ll send Ser Arnell instead. He thinks Thorne should reach King’s Landing soon, but doesn’t know whether Joffrey will listen to him, as the Lannisters have never been a friend to the Watch. Jon points out that Thorne has the wight’s hand to show, but Mormont is unconvinced. He asks after Jon’s injuries, and Jon shows him his healing right hand and assures him he can wield Longclaw well enough.
Mormont asks Jon if he knew that Maester Aemon might have been king. Surprised, Jon answers that he knew Aemon’s father was the king, but thought him a younger son. Mormont replies that he was, ninth or tenth in the line of succession, but events transpired so that all the heirs before him died or were unsuitable for the throne, and Aemon was offered the crown. He refused it, saying the gods meant for him to serve and not rule, and instead it went to Aegon, Aemon’s younger brother. Aemon left court and came to the Wall soon after to prevent conflict.
Jon asks why Mormont is telling him this story, and Mormont says that now Jon and Aemon have something in common: a king for a brother. Jon replies that they also have a vow to the Watch in common as well, and that he’d always known Robb would be Lord of Winterfell. Mormont points out that a lord is not the same thing as a king. He speaks of all the glory and luxury Robb will have as king, and dares Jon to say none of it bothers him.
Jon drew himself up, taut as a bowstring. “And if it did trouble me, what might I do, bastard as I am?”
“What will you do?” Mormont asked. “Bastard as you are?”
“Be troubled,” said Jon, “and keep my vows.”
There’s an awful lot of suddenly significant bastards about these days, aren’t there?
I’m not sure what to make of the conversation with Mormont and Jon. Not on the surface of it Mormont wanting to test the waters re: Jon’s jealousy of his newly-kinged half-brother is perfectly understandable but in what the scene seems to be implying for the story at large. I never pegged Jon as being ambitious for power for its own sake, but then I like him a lot, and am therefore perhaps inclined to attribute more selfless qualities to him than may be warranted. I wouldn’t have thought so, but the way this scene was written makes me wonder if I missed something.
I always figured Jon was going to end up Commander of the Night’s Watch, and that concurrently that role was going to take on much greater significance on the world stage when/if the Winterpocalypse gets under way, but gee, should I be thinking bigger?
I hope not. I don’t think having three to four kings wrangling over one kingdom was ever a good idea, but it’s fine as long as it doesn’t end up pitting Robb and Jon against each other. That would suck. Jon, don’t do that.
Even though I suspect if you did, you might win. But it would still suck!
Also, I hope there’s not going to be a quiz later on the Targaryen royal line, because I confess I barely followed Mormont’s little history lesson. I mean, damn; the Targaryens’ family tree is even more jacked-up than the Freys’, who at least aren’t in the habit of marrying their own siblings as far as I can tell. It doesn’t help that practically everyone in that story has a name that starts with “Ae”. Sheesh.
Sam! Hi, Sam! I wish you could stay with your books too. You and Bran need to get together and read books about the children of the forest, so Bran can go find them and uh, do whatever is going to happen with that storyline, because I honestly have no clue. Okay then!
Some men want whores on the eve of battle, and some want gods. Jon wondered who felt better afterward.
Heh. Good question.
I have Very Bad Feelings about this foray beyond the Wall they’re gearing up for. There will be frozen zombies. And these wilding raider people. And MONSTER BEARS, just because Mormont said he didn’t believe in them.
It’s going to suck, mark my words. If Mormont actually survives it I will be shocked.
And Uncle Ben: frozen zombified or not? I vote yes. I don’t see why he wouldn’t have come back already if he wasn’t, and his disappearance has been built up too much for him just to be randomly dead in a ditch somewhere. Or So I Think. So finding him ought to be TONS of fun for everyone, not.
I really liked the comparison Donal made in talking about the Baratheons: Robert as rusted steel, Stannis as brittle iron, and Renly as shiny flimsy copper. That really does sum the Baratheon brothers up succinctly and well, doesn’t it?
(Though at least Renly is an excellent conductor!)
And what metal is Robb? I guess I’ll soon find out. I hope it’s a better alloy than I kind of think it might be.
But not until next time, Gadget, next time! Have a weekend, why dontcha, and I’ll see you on the flip side!