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 26 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 53 (“Jon”) and 54 (“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 53: Jon
Jon and the other rangers travel through the Skirling Pass as stealthily as possible. When they stop to rest, Jon goes to Qhorin to confess what he did re: Ygritte. Qhorin is unsurprised by the news, and asks why he spared her. Jon replies that he could see no evil in her; Qhorin points out that the other two weren’t evil either, but Jon counters that it was their lives or the rangers’, but Ygritte is behind them, unlikely to be a threat. Qhorin agrees, and tells Jon he told Jon to do “what needed to be done” to see what Jon thought that was.
“To lead men you must know them, Jon Snow. I know more of you now than I did this morning.”
“And if I had slain her?” asked Jon.
“She would be dead, and I would know you better than I had before.”
They also discuss Ygritte’s story of Bael the Bard. Qhorin comments that Mance used to sing it when he was a ranger, and Jon realizes Qhorin had considered him a friend. He asks why Mance deserted, and Qhorin says the wildling in his blood was too strong to resist. That night Jon dreams of direwolves: five instead of six, scattered and lonely where they should be together. He howls, and hears someone calling his name. He turns and finds a weirwood with his brother’s face, with three eyes. He smells death and darkness on the tree, which makes him bare his fangs, but his brother tells him he likes it in the dark.
But first you have to open your eyes. See? Like this. And the tree reached down and touched him.
Jon is suddenly back in the mountains, traveling with Ghost as he creeps near enough to the wildlings’ camp to see it is at the foot of a giant frozen waterfall, and that there are thousands of them. He also sees giants astride mammoths, and then Ghost is attacked by an eagle. Jon lurches awake, calling for the wolf and rousing the other men. Jon tells them about what he saw in his dream, and to his surprise Qhorin takes it seriously. Ebben asks “skinchanger?”, and Jon doesn’t know if he means the eagle or himself.
They set out again, and see an eagle watching them out of bowshot. They travel on uneasily until they find Ghost, wounded but not fatally from the eagle’s talons. The others help Jon doctor the wounds, and Qhorin declares they are turning back; the eagle knows they are here. They travel through the night until they reach the place where Jon and Stonesnake had ambushed the wildling scouts, and Qhorin comments one man could hold a hundred from here. Squire Dalbridge bows his head and tells the others to leave him as many arrows as they can, and Jon realizes he is volunteering to stay behind and die to buy them time. As they travel on, Jon hears the call of a hunting horn, and Qhorin says they are coming.
Right, Jon and everybody are in shitloads of danger right now, so that should probably not be my primary reaction to this chapter, but sorry, I am still just bouncing all over to know that Jon can do the dreamwalking thing with Ghost just like Bran can do with Summer. Because Bran gave him the power to do it. Because that is so cool. I am totally geeking out over this right now.
Ooh, ooh, does this mean ALL the Stark kids could potentially dreamwalk with their wolves? I may have to seriously squee, if so.
Well, except for Sansa. Man, this makes Lady’s death about a million times more tragic, now.
Although, I might (probably) be proven wrong on this, but I’m currently tending toward the theory that Jon and Bran might be the special snowflakes when it comes to magical wolf-communing abilities. Robb strikes me as far too I dunno, practical? Down to earth? Something like that to be up for this kind of thing. Rickon’s just too young yet (either that, or he’s been doing it all along and no one’s noticed because he’s so young, and wouldn’t that be hilarious), and Arya hmm. I don’t know about Arya, but you’d think if she were going to hook up clairvoyantly with Nymeria she would have done it by now. Well, we’ll see.
Either way, super-plus double coolness, people. I am agog. *glee*
I was kind of surprised that Qhorin both instantly figured out that Jon hadn’t killed Ygritte, and that he wasn’t particularly upset about it. But I suppose on reflection his reasoning makes sense. And I liked what he said about observing Jon’s response to the order letting him know what kind of man Jon is. My only complaint is, now I want to know what conclusions he actually drew.
I think he thinks Jon’s act of mercy is a good thing, but I’m honestly not sure. And there’s just as strong a case to suppose that the important thing to Qhorin isn’t the mercy, but the fact that Jon deliberately disobeyed an order, i.e. a bad thing.
I’m inclined toward the former interpretation merely on the strength of the fact that Qhorin also totally took the revelation that Jon could dreamwalk with Ghost in stride, and instead of freaking out just used it for tactical purposes. I’m always much more inclined to believe the best of people who are practical and common sense-like about things.
(I suppose I should be saying “skinchange” instead of “dreamwalking,” as it is the canon terminology, but that term is annoyingly inaccurate to me. As I currently understand what’s going on here, Bran and Jon aren’t changing into direwolves, which is what “skinchange” certainly seems to imply; they’re just hitching a ride in their wolves’ consciousness, as far as I can tell, which is a totally different thing. Words mean things, fictional people, get it right!)
I don’t think I knew before this that Mance was a former ranger. So that’s interesting, I guess? Does add a little to the drama of it all, that they’re going to be fighting against one of their own. Also makes me wonder what Mance’s ultimate goal is in all this.
Here’s a random question: if a waterfall is so high up in the mountains that it is permanently frozen, how did it get to be a waterfall in the first place?
Chapter 54: Tyrion
Tyrion is on his way to have supper with Cersei when Varys intercepts him with a report from the north, [in which it is implied] that Rickon and Bran Stark are dead. Tyrion then takes the note to Cersei. He comments that she must be pleased, as she’d wanted the Stark boy dead. Cersei retorts that Jaime threw him out of that window, not her; she would have been content to frighten the boy into silence. Tyrion comments that she’d better hope Lady Catelyn believes it was Theon Greyjoy’s work and not Cersei’s, otherwise she might kill Jaime. Alarmed, Cersei counters that she still has Sansa.
They eat, and Tyrion says there is still no news from Bitterbridge. Cersei opines that Littlefinger may have defected to Stannis, but Tyrion counters that Stannis is “too bloody righteous” for Littlefinger to be comfortable with. They discuss other matters, and Cersei tells Tyrion he puts too much trust in Varys, who tells other people secrets too for example, he’s told her that Tyrion plans to take the Hound from Joffrey. Dismayed, Tyrion says he needs Clegane to lead sorties, and that Joffrey will be safe enough with Ser Osmund Kettleblack and Meryn Trant. Cersei protests that Joffrey is too young to be in the fighting, but Tyrion counters that he needs to be seen, and that Jaime would have done no less at his age. Cersei asks if the city will fall; Tyrion says no, but privately he is not so sure. Tyrion promises to release Ser Gyles and Boros Blount, but Cersei only cares about Tommen. Tyrion says Tommen is safer with Lord Jacelyn than he ever would have been with Gyles.
Over dessert, Cersei comments that the reason Varys is so dangerous is that he “doesn’t have a cock,” unlike Tyrion and every other man who lets “that worm between your legs” do half his thinking. Tyrion makes as if to leave, uncomfortable, and Cersei tells him she has her own ways of finding out things: she has his “little whore.” Tyrion is filled with dread, but tries to play it off. Cersei says that Tyrion has “sold” Myrcella and stole Tommen, and now plans to kill Joffrey so he can rule through Tommen. Tyrion says this is madness, and that she needs him for the upcoming battle, but Cersei disagrees. She promises not to kill him, though, or the whore either, unless something happens to Joffrey, in which case the whore will die “more painfully than you can possibly imagine.” Tyrion is incredulous that she actually believes he would kill his own nephew, and tries to think what his father would do in this situation.
He demands proof that Cersei’s captive is alive, and she smirks and calls for her to be brought in, bloody and bruised. When Tyrion sees her, he asks if Cersei promises to release her after the battle, and Cersei says she will if he releases Tommen. Tyrion imitates his father’s voice, and tells her coldly that she’d better be kept safe, because whatever happens to her will also happen to Tommen including beatings and rapes, and Tyrion will see to it personally. Cersei goes to hit him, but he catches her wrist and bends it back painfully before shoving her to the floor and ordering the girl unbound. Alayaya thanks him and gives him a chaste kiss, and Tyrion turns back to Cersei.
“I have never liked you, Cersei, but you were my own sister, so I never did you harm. You’ve ended that. I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”
Cersei yells at him to get out, and he bows and leaves. He returns to his rooms to find Shae there. He asks where the hidden door is that allowed her to get there, but Shae says that Varys covered her head with a hood so she couldn’t see, although there was one place with a red and black tile mosaic floor. Tyrion pokes around, trying to find the secret passage, but is unsuccessful. Eventually he joins Shae in the bed, but finds he cannot perform, thinking of Cersei’s words about thinking with his cock, and finally just goes to sleep.
Although I totally enjoy fakeouts/psych-outs/what have you as literary devices (when they’re done well, anyway), it is incredibly annoying to have to try and summarize them in a way that makes sense. Especially when you’re not reading ahead first, and the chapter ends without letting you know whether the intended assumption is actually the wrong one or not.
Thus the brackets in the first paragraph, because we’re obviously meant to infer that the note Varys gives Tyrion says flat out that Rickon and Bran are dead, but Martin very carefully doesn’t give us the text of the letter verbatim, which is a red flag to me that it’s probably a lot more ambiguous than that. But I don’t know yet what the deal actually is, so what am I supposed to put there except what I think is going on? Rrggh.
This has nothing to do, of course, with my staunch refusal to believe that Bran and Rickon actually are dead until I metaphorically see the bodies. Given Martin’s track record, this is a much more foolish hope for me to cling to than it would be for practically any other story, but in my defense, it seems especially narratively insane to kill off Bran in particular at this juncture. There’s so much foreshadowing to fulfill! Magical forest folk to find! Dreamwalking with wolves to, er, dream! Bran’s got shit to do, y’all!
Man, I am going to be PISSED if he’s dead. No, like, I might actually have to throw something. Probably the book.
But hopefully Greyjoy’s just putting it about that the boys are dead to save face over the fact that they escaped, or something similar, and I won’t have to dent my walls with large chunky epic fantasy novels. *crosses fingers*
As for the other fakeout in this chapter, nicely done. I totally thought it was Shae until Tyrion thought Alayaya’s name.
But poor Alayaya. Though hopefully Tyrion’s threat will keep her from any more harm.
Although, damn, Tyrion. I know you didn’t mean it, but threatening to personally rape your own nephew is well. Yikes doesn’t even begin to cover it. And the fact that he got to that mental space by invoking his father Lordy.
Seriously, could this family BE any more fucked up?
Don’t answer that.
“Why must I suffer accusations every time some Stark stubs his toe?”
Hah. For some reason this cracked me up, even though it really shouldn’t.
I have a very strong impulse here to simply call Cersei a heartless bitch and be done with it, but the good and yet also frustrating thing about Martin’s “villains” (and the quotes are applied advisedly) is that he truly manages to accomplish with them what so many other writers do not, which is to realistically convey that they are not villains in their own minds.
It’s a standard warning to writers, to remember that really, no one actually considers themselves the bad guys; each of us believe we are the protagonist, the hero of our story, no matter what we might actually be doing. Not to Godwinize this post at the outset, but I’m willing to bet that Hitler was absolutely convinced that he was the beleaguered tragic hero of World War II, instead of, you know, the mass-murdering fuckhead he actually was. Our ability to rationalize our own behavior even in the face of overwhelming evidence that that behavior is, in fact, batshit insane, is really kind of scary.
So Cersei is evil, yeah, but at the same time it is impossible to avoid realizing that from her point of view, she’s doing what she has to do protect the ones she loves. And that therefore, as far as she is concerned what she is doing is right.
It comes down to a question of priorities, I guess. If you believe that your loved ones are of paramount importance, above and beyond all other considerations, then Cersei’s actions are in fact completely rational. And the disturbing part is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea that the welfare of your family should be your top priority; it’s only when you take that notion to extremes, as Cersei has clearly done, that the more unpleasant implications of that stance become clear. If you’re willing to burn an entire nation to the ground to protect your children . Well.
And of course, there is also the point that most of us would not have to make that kind of choice in order to protect our children. Why does anyone daydream about being royalty, again? Because really.
In other news: Jeez, I forgot all about Littlefinger. Where the hell is that weasel?
Anyway, good speech from Tyrion. If I were in his place I would totally be done with Cersei too, sister or not. It does make me worry for Tyrion, though. I’m remembering the movie Dangerous Liaisons, and how once Glenn Close and John Malkovich declared war on each other, it promptly went straight to hell for both of them. It’s understandable on both sides why Cersei and Tyrion have felt pushed to this extreme, but nevertheless I’m sure absolutely nothing good can possibly come of it. It may end up costing them the city and the throne. And while I’m not exactly unhappy about the idea of Joffrey’s stupid ass getting booted off the throne, I worry about the collateral damage. Tyrion, Sansa, Shae, and even Clegane are in the line of fire here, and I do not want them there.
(It’s pretty significant that this is not the first time this series has reminded me of that movie, either. Horrible yet awesome people doing horrible yet awesome things to each other: how can I have seen a connection? Yeeeah.)
Tchah. I guess what will happen will happen, eh? And I will find out soon enough! Have a weekend, alla y’all, and I will see you next Friday with more!