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 7 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapter 13 (“Jon”), 14 (“Arya”), and 15 (“Tyrion”).
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 13: Jon
Jon and the other rangers examine the abandoned wildling village of Whitetree. There is no sign of struggle, but the place is utterly deserted. Jon brings Mormont the skull among the ashes in the mouth of the giant weirwood that overshadows the village, and Mormont comments that he wishes he’d known before why the wildlings burn their dead. Jon remembers the wight, and agrees. They search the village, just in case, but find nothing, just like in the other three deserted villages they’ve passed. Mormont decides to press on to the lake north of them, and gives Jon a status report to give to Sam to send back.
Jon rides back to where Sam and his ravens wait with the bulk of their force, some two hundred men, thinking that the abandoned villages and eerie quiet of the forest have dampened the spirits of the men considerably. Sam tells him he’s been teaching the ravens to say “snow”; Jon tells him no black brother wants to hear that particular word. Sam sends a raven with Mormont’s message. He tells Jon that strangely, he has grown less and less frightened as their journey has continued, which amuses Jon to think that the opposite has happened to everyone else. He jokes that Sam will be a ranger yet, and leaves.
Ghost rejoins him on the way back, and Jon reflects that the wolf had been having just as bad luck finding game as the men. He reports back to Mormont, who observes that if Jon’s uncle Ben had found these villages empty as well, he would have definitely pushed on to find out why they had been abandoned.
“Well, we’ll be three hundred when Qhorin joins us. Whatever enemy waits out here will not find us so easy to deal with. We will find them, Jon, I promise you.”
Or they will find us, thought Jon.
Even if he didn’t do much as of yet, I’m always happy to metaphorically see him. And Sam, too.
I didn’t mention him in the summary, but Jon’s search partner Dolorous Edd cracked me up:
“The dead are likely dull fellows, full of tedious complaintsthe ground’s too cold, my gravestone should be larger, why does he get more worms than I do…”
Hah. The Night’s Watch’s very own Eeyore, by gum.
So, the wildlings are all gone, and I am not shocked. The only question is whether they escaped alive or if they’re all reanimated corpses by now. Probably, of course, the answer is some of both.
Or, I’m totally wrong and they’re all on vacation on a (very cold) beach somewhere. Sure, why not.
And, er. There’s not much more to say about this chapter, is there? Nope!
Chapter 14: Arya
Arya and the others find that the bridge across the river to the west is destroyed, and the river itself is unfordable. Yoren says they cannot go back east to the Kingsroad, so decides to follow the river north to where it empties into Gods Eye, to try and hire boats at the town at the mouth of the river. Yoren plans to sail across the lake to Harrentown and appeal for help from Lady Whent at Harrenhal. Arya thinks to herself that perhaps she can reveal herself to Lady Whent and have knights to escort her home safely.
When they reach the town, however, they find it deserted. They search for boats, but find none of those either; Gendry suggests they build rafts, and Yoren decides he’ll think about it, but they’ll stay the night in the small holdfast first. Arya tries to suggest that maybe the place was abandoned for a reason and they shouldn’t stay, but backs down when Lommy calls her a coward.
They settle in to the hold, and discover a secret passageway from the barn to the lakeshore. After dinner, Hot Pie watches Arya sharpen her sword, and asks where she got it. Arya says her brother gave it to her, even though she thinks she shouldn’t have said anything about it. She has trouble sleeping because of the crying of the refugee girl, but eventually drops off, only to be woken by a dream of a wolf’s howl. She jumps up and rouses the rest, insisting something is wrong. The others make fun of her until they hear a horn from the towerhouse, where Yoren had put Kurz on watch. As she runs past the barn to the gate wall, Jaqen shouts at her to free him and Biter and Rorge, but she ignores him.
Up on the parapet, Arya sees men riding through the town, torching all the buildings. She looks down to see the refugee girl clinging to her and shoves her away, telling her to go hide. A column of the invaders approaches the hold, and the knight in the lead, Ser Amory Lorch, demands they open the gate in the name of King Joffrey. Yoren replies they are men of the Watch, with no part in this war. He shows them his cloak as proof, but Lorch replies that everything looks black at night. Arya wonders why they can’t tell that Yoren’s party are no lords or knights, and Gendry replies that he doesn’t think they care.
Yoren refuses to open the gate. Lorch proclaims that they are rebels, then, and orders his men to storm the walls and kill everyone inside. Yoren orders the recruits to defend the wall; Hot Pie says he doesn’t know how to fight, and Arya lies to him that it is easy. The attackers begin scaling the wall, and Yoren’s men hack at them to drive them back. Arya fights, screaming “Winterfell!” as she does so. Yoren’s men hold for a short while, but the attackers soon break through the gate, and Yoren yells at her to gather as many as she can and get them out through the passage in the barn.
Gendry and Hot Pie are with her, but Gerren and Lommy are too wounded to follow. Arya sees the refugee girl in the courtyard, and though Hot Pie screams to leave her, she grabs the girl and drags her along until Gendry picks the girl up and carries her. The barn is on fire, and Jaqen and Rorge scream at them to free them before they burn to death. Gendry says there’s no time, but Arya sends him on ahead and dashes back outside to find the axe. She kills a man with it when he tries to grab her, and runs back in, tossing the axe into the wagon before dashing for the tunnel. She hears them hacking the wagon apart behind her as she crawls away.
Whew. Good scene.
I feel like I should have something deep and/or sanctimonious to say about the stupidity of war and those who take advantage of it to pillage anything and everything they can, but I think we all get it. For some reason this whole chapter reminded me very strongly of some of the things I’ve read about that happened in the 1990s in what was Yugoslavia. I don’t pretend to even partially understand all the whys and wherefores of that conflict, but I got the very strong impression that at some point the whys and wherefores stopped having anything to do with the conflict at the ground level anyway. Violence, for many, became an end in and of itself. And that’s totally what this was, too.
Anyway. Does this mean Yoren is dead? I’m gonna be sad if that’s the case, although I tend to think he’s harder to kill than most. I wouldn’t be surprised if he died, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to find out he lived, either.
So, now there are only two questions: (1) whether Arya and Co. are going to decide to continue with Yoren’s unwittingly disastrous plan to go to Harrenhal (i.e. straight into the arms of Tywin Lannister), and (2) how long it’s going to take Hot Pie and Gendry to remember that Arya was screaming Winterfell the whole time she was fighting. And what they are going to do about it when her cover is blown. And how far her cover is actually going to be blown, since I suppose she could try to pretend to be a squire from there or something, as opposed to full-on telling them she’s Ned Stark’s daughter.
So that’s, um, more like four questions. Never mind!
Or five, because I wanna know whether Arya really got early warning from a wolf howl or if she imagined it, because if she didn’t, imagine it I mean, that was SO Nymeria, and that would be cause for much yay.
Or six, because now that The Psychos Three are loose and (presumably) going to escape the burning barn the same way Arya et al did, in my opinion it’s just a question of how long before Rorge tries to kill well, everyone, but Arya especially. So that will be fun. I am also very very wary of Jaqen being free, because anyone who’s that nice-seeming and yet also apparently needs to be chained up like a wild animal is giving me a very strong Hannibal Lecter vibe, which equals Yikes.
Also, yay for Arya and Gendry being brave and heroic re: the little refugee girl. And even yay for Arya saving The Psychos Three, despite my conviction that she’ll have cause to regret it later. That’s my girl.
Chapter 15: Tyrion
Cersei is enraged at the letter Stannis has circulated around the land, and declares she wants all the copies found and burned before Joffrey or Tywin hear about them. Tyrion is dryly sure that it’s a bit late for that, and admires Cersei’s acting ability, to be able to seem so indignant over completely true accusations. He is more interested in the phrase “Done in the Light of the Lord” in the letter, and Pycelle and Littlefinger remark on how it’s rumored that Lady Selyse has taken up with a red priest. Tyrion replies that they can use that against Stannis.
Cersei wants to issue a edict that anyone heard discussing the accusations in the letter should lose his tongue, but Tyrion tells her that will only convince everyone that the slander is true. Littlefinger agrees, and proposes that instead they fight fire with fire, and start a rumor of their own: that Stannis’s daughter is not his, but a byblow of his court fool, Patchface. Cersei likes this idea a great deal, and Tyrion notes to himself that Littlefinger is more dangerous than he had initially supposed.
Cersei wonders where Varys is, and Tyrion, who knows, moves to adjourn the meeting. Suspiciously, Cersei wants to know where he is going, and Tyrion tells her he is having a gift made for Joffrey: a “little chain.”
Tyrion returns to his chambers, where Bronn has gathered a group of smiths, armorers and ironmongers. Tyrion shows them the three giant steel chain links he had had made, and tells them he wants a thousand more just like them; all other ironwork is to be put aside until they are done. The smiths protest that Cersei has commanded they devote themselves to making armor and swords, but Tyrion replies that can wait, and guarantees they will not be punished for obeying him.
He leaves the keep by litter, reflecting that Cersei had missed the true significance of the letter, and wondering what Renly will think of Stannis’s declaration that he was king. He goes to an expensive brothel once often frequented by Robert, and sends Bronn and his guards off to enjoy themselves. Inside he is greeted by the proprietress Chataya, and is surprised when she offers him her own daughter, but Chataya tells him that her people find no shame in doing this sort of work.
He accepts, and the daughter (Alayaya) takes him upstairs, where Tyrion tells her, she is beautiful, but he is only interested in her tongue. She shows him where the secret exit is located in the wardrobe of the room, and Tyrion climbs down and through the tunnel to where Varys is waiting for him outside, disguised as a mercenary, which Tyrion thinks suits him better than his usual demeanor. Tyrion says he saw no sign that Cersei’s spies followed him to the brothel, but Varys assures him they did.
They go to a stable, where Varys gives Tyrion a rough cloak that he says will make Tyrion look a boy instead of a dwarf, though he suggests Tyrion come most often by night. Tyrion replies he will from now on, but for now Shae awaits him. They discuss the letter, which Varys knows all about, and Tyrion asks whether Varys was the one who told Stannis about the incest. Varys denies it, and says that anyone with eyes could figure it out, the same way Ned Stark and Jon Arryn did, via the bastards (of which there are eight that Varys knows about). Tyrion asks whether it was Littlefinger who told, then, but Varys refuses to say.
“Lord Varys,” [Tyrion] said from the saddle, “sometimes I feel as though you are the best friend I have in King’s Landing, and sometimes I feel you are my worst enemy.”
“How odd. I think quite the same of you.”
Aw, it’s the beginning of a beautifully fucked-up friendship!
So, I enjoy secret passages and general cloak and dagger stuff as much as the next person, but I’m a little confused about what the purpose is of it here. It seemed like from Tyrion’s thoughts that this was all a way to throw off Cersei’s spies so that he could safely visit Shae, but hadn’t he already done that earlier in the book? I kind of thought Shae was in the nature of an open secret, but maybe I’m just remembering it wrong.
Or maybe getting to see Shae is an incidental bonus and there’s another purpose to all this. Which makes more sense now that I think about it, since it hardly seems like Varys would be tagging along if all this was was an assignation between Tyrion and Shae.
Although I just re-read that whole bit and it seems that this is a regular thing they’re setting up, so I guess it is for Shae visitation purposes. Hrm. My comprehension skills, they are fired sometimes.
Randomly, there is a description of Tyrion’s chain of office here:
the chain a loop of solid gold hands, the fingers of each clasping the wrist of the next.
That’s kind of creepy. Cool, but creepy. Look, Ma, severed hands!
Speaking of chains, maybe I’m just incredibly stupid, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what Tyrion is about with his giant chain gift to Joffrey. The only thing I could think of, honestly, was inspired by something from The Wheel of Time series, in which a besieged city is protecting itself by stretching giant chains across its harbors to prevent enemy ships from entering. From the map, Blackwater Bay (which leads to Kings Landing) has a chokepoint that seems like it might be narrow enough to make such a thing feasible, so maybe that’s it? *shrug*
Although, there’s enough ancillary construction involved with doing such a thing that I have no idea how Tyrion plans to keep the thing on the downlow until it’s done if that’s what he’s actually planning, of course. At the very least, you’d have to build winchhouses on either side of the bottleneck to raise and lower the chain. And that’s not to mention the manpower and transportation you’d need to get the thing in position in the first place and I’m overthinking this again, aren’t I. Okay, shutting up now.
(Parenthetically, speaking of harbors and enemy ships, upon finally actually looking at the map, I saw where the Iron Islands are in relation to King’s Landing, which makes my assumption of who Balon is planning to attack in Theon’s chapter unrealistic, shall we say. Ahem. So, the most logical place for him to attack, proximity-wise, is actually Casterly Rock and/or Lannisport. Which is very interesting. Well, Riverrun is closest, which is where Robb is, but it’s not on the coast, so I tend to think Lannisport is more logical for a ship-based assault. Though there is always, naturally, the possibility that I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about, but WHATEVER.)
So there are at least eight Robert bastards running around, eh? Well, fewer than that now, of course, since Cersei’s had at least one of them murdered, but still, that’s an awful lot of potential clusterfuckery which could be added to all the clusterfuckery already in play. Ye gods and little fishes. It’s really kind of hilarious how ridiculously convoluted politics can get when power depends on lines of succession, I swear. I’m kind of wanting to go back and read about European monarchies now just for the lulz.
Speaking of which, I guess people will believe anything as long as it’s salacious enough, but Patchface as Selyse’s amour? Really? Erm.
Either way, I pity the fictional historian who will eventually have to make sense of all this insanity, because wow.
Fortunately, he ain’t me, at least not yet. Have a merry weekend, kids, especially if you happen to be in the vicinity of overweight Tuesdays, like moi. And if you aren’t, neener! Whoo!