Welcome 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 4 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 6 (“Sansa”) and Chapter 7 (“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, please note that the Read of Ice and Fire spoiler thread has been moved to a new thread here on Tor.com. 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!
Once more, scheduling note: As I mentioned last week, I have been accepted to participate in the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop, and so I will of necessity be taking a hiatus from both the WOT Re-read and the ASOIAF Read for the week of October 7th and possibly the week after as well.
So, there will be no post next Friday. Watch this space for updates on what will happen the week after that.
Chapter 6: Sansa
Sansa has received an invitation to dine with Margaery Tyrell, and is agonizing over whether to accept it. She had watched Joffrey’s new betrothed and her family enter the keep amid cheering, adoring crowds, the same smallfolk that had tried to kill Sansa in the riot, and cannot understand why someone so beautiful and beloved would want to keep company with a traitor’s daughter. She is frightened that it might be a ploy on Joffrey’s part to humiliate her further, and now the Imp will no longer be able to protect her from it. She wishes the Hound were here; she knows that his supposed cravenness during the battle had only been fear of fire, not of the battle, and wonders whether she did right to refuse to leave with him. But she thinks that she has no right to refuse the queen-to-be in any case, and so sends a note of acceptance.
Ser Loras Tyrell comes to escort her to the dinner, and Sansa is tongue-tied by his handsomeness. She tells him he looks “lovely,” which seems to puzzle him. He is gracious to her at first, telling her she is to dine with his and Margaery’s grandmother Lady Olenna as well. Sansa asks if that is the one called “The Queen of Thorns,” and Loras laughs and cautions her not to call her that to her face. They pass knights training in the yard, and Sansa notes one knight fighting three others simultaneously. Loras confirms that that is his brother Garlan, who he says is a better warrior than he, though he is better at the lance.
Sansa eagerly speaks of seeing Loras at the tourney and how he’d given her a red rose, and though Loras is polite Sansa realizes he doesn’t even remember it. She tries to jog his memory by reminding him it was when he fought Ser Robar Royce, and Loras lets go of her and tells her he killed Robar at Storm’s End. She asks if that was when Lord Renly was killed, and Loras shuts her down sharply. She apologizes, but he does not warm up to her again, and Sansa curses herself for bringing it up.
Margaery greets Sansa personally and warmly when she arrives. Loras leaves, and Margaery takes Sansa to meet the other ladies, including her mother Lady Alerie, several cousins and in-laws, and her grandmother Lady Olenna, who greets Sansa kindly and extends her condolences for Sansa’s losses. Sansa thinks there is nothing thorny about her. She returns condolences for Renly, and Olenna snorts that Renly thought knowing how to groom himself made him a good candidate for king. Margaery remonstrates that Father and Loras liked him.
“Loras is young,” Lady Olenna said crisply, “and very good at knocking men off horses with a stick. That does not make him wise. As to your father, would that I’d been born a peasant woman with a big wooden spoon, I might have been able to beat some sense into his fat head.”
“Mother,” Lady Alerie scolded.
“Hush, Alerie, don’t take that tone with me. And don’t call me Mother. If I’d given birth to you, I’m sure I’d remember. I’m only to blame for your husband, the lord oaf of Highgarden.”
Olenna opines that Renly’s claim to the throne was ridiculous, with Robert’s two sons and an older brother ahead of him, and comments that the Tyrells themselves have only a rather dodgy claim to Highgarden, and Mace is puffed up like a puff fish over the idea of seeing his grandson on the Iron Throne. Sansa is astounded by her frankness. Olenna has Sansa sit next to her and calls for their fool, Butterbumps, to entertain them at dinner.
As Butterbumps entertains, Olenna pronounces both her late husband and her son “great oafs,” her son more so for trying to “ride a lion,” and then suddenly says she wants Sansa to tell her the truth about this Joffrey. Sansa is terrified, but Olenna is insistent. Sansa tries lying at first, saying Joffrey is handsome and brave, but Olenna snaps that she wants to know if he is kind, and will cherish Margaery and treat her well. Sansa lies that he will. But Olenna doesn’t buy it, and assures her that no harm will come to her for telling. Sansa blurts that Joffrey promised her mercy for her father, and then cut his head off and made her view it up close on the walls. Margaery urges her to go on, and notes that she is terrified, whereupon Olenna commands Butterbumps to sing a long obnoxious song at the top of his lungs as camouflage for the ears in the walls. She urges Sansa again to tell the truth, and Sansa whispers that Joffrey is a cruel, abusive monster, and so is the queen.
Lady Olenna Tyrell and her granddaughter exchanged a look. “Ah,” said the old woman, “that’s a pity.”
Sansa begs them not to call off the wedding, but Olenna assures her that Lord Mace will not call it off. Margaery asks if Sansa would like to visit Highgarden, and Sansa says she would, but the queen will not let her. Olenna counters that she will if the Tyrells ask it of her, and that way they can see Sansa safely wed to her grandson. Sansa is elated at first, thinking she means Loras, but when she blurts this out Olenna reminds her sharply that Kingsguard never wed; she meant Willas, who was crippled in his first tourney as a squire. Margaery assures her he has a good heart, though. Sansa is hesitant, but does not reject the offer, and they assure her she and Olenna will leave for Highgarden after Margaery’s wedding.
Okay, so Lady Olenna is AWESOME. I might be a tiny bit in love with her. I don’t know yet whether she’s to be trusted, but that doesn’t change the fact that thus far she completely cracks my shit up. I want to quote everything she said, but obviously that’s kind of ridiculous, so here are a couple of my favorites:
“Garth [Greenhand] liked to plant his seed in fertile ground, they say. I shouldn’t wonder that more than his hands were green.”
“I’ve never been quite sure what the point of a eunuch is, if truth be told. It seems to me they’re only men with the useful bits cut off.”
“All these kings would do a deal better if they would put down their swords and listen to their mothers.”
Oh, salty grandmothers who are too old to give a shit about what people think of them, how do I love ye, let me count the ways. Olenna is like the love child of Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey and Shirley Maclaine in Steel Magnolias. (And yes, I know. Incidentally, spoil me for Series 3 and I will cut you.)
It might be just a supper. But this was the Red Keep, this was King’s Landing, this was the court of King Joffrey Baratheon, the First of His Name, and if there was one thing that Sansa Stark had learned here, it was mistrust.
…And yet, then you went and blurted everything to the Tyrells the first time you meet them, Sansa. I’m not going to lie, I felt almost as relieved as Sansa must have been to finally tell someone what a giant pulsating douchewaffle Joffrey is, but that doesn’t mean it was a smart move.
Also, I have to say, Margaery Tyrell’s reaction to being told her fiancé is a monster was remarkably calm. This is probably my cue to consider whether there are Hidden Depths there. Either that or she’s stoned out of her gourd, but I’m guessing it’s probably the first option.
I am intrigued, though, by this tacit admission or implication in this chapter that there is a quiet, unofficial, behind-the-scenes network of the female members of the court, doing what they can to counteract or at least mitigate the dictates thrust upon them by their male counterparts. Which of course must always be the case where such obvious power imbalance exists; if the women were not to work together on their own behalf, who would?
Of course, all that being said, the possibility of betrayal exists everywhere, in systems both covert and overt. Which, again, Sansa would do well to remember.
My God, I think I got a tension headache from how loud Butterbumps’s song was, and I couldn’t even actually hear it!
[…] the long slate-roofed keep that had been called the Maidenvault since King Baelor the Blessed had confined his sisters therein, so the sight of them might not tempt him into carnal thoughts.
I just – I don’t –
Ugh. Everyone is fired, go home. Go!
Chapter 7: Jon
Jon descends the ridge to the wildlings’ camp with Rattleshirt and the others, who have distributed Qhorin’s belongings—and bones—among themselves. Rattleshirt has told Jon flatly that he does not trust Jon’s change of loyalties and expects Mance to kill him, but Ygritte tells him that Mance will take Jon quick enough when he hears Jon killed Halfhand. She tells him he’s not the first crow to fly down off the Wall to be free. Jon asks if he’ll be free to go.
“Sure you will.” She had a warm smile, despite her crooked teeth. “And we’ll be free to kill you. It’s dangerous being free, but most come to like the taste o’ it.” She put her gloved hand on his leg, just above the knee. “You’ll see.”
I will, thought Jon. I will see, and hear, and learn, and when I have I will carry the word back to the Wall.
At the bottom they are met by another infamous raider, The Weeper, who wields a great scythe. They introduce Jon to him, naming him a warg, and the Weeper comments that he has “a wolfish cast,” and tells them to bring him to Mance. Jon is impressed by the sheer size of the camp, but also notes that there are no fortifications or organization to the camp at all, and thinks of his father’s lesson that discipline beats numbers nine times out of ten.
They arrive at Mance’s tent and Rattleshirt and Ygritte take Jon inside, where he sees two young lovers, a pregnant woman, a grey-haired man playing a lute, and two obvious warriors, one of whom has lost both his ears. The earless man demands to know who the crow is, and Jon introduces himself, calling the man “your Grace,” whereupon the other warrior laughs uproariously and tells him to turn around. The singer rises and introduces himself as Mance Rayder, and says that Jon is Ned Stark’s bastard.
Jon is stunned, and asks how Mance knew, but Mance does not answer, instead asking if Jon truly slew his old friend the Halfhand. Jon confirms it, and Mance remarks sadly that Qhorin was his enemy but also his friend. He asks if he should thank Jon for killing him, or curse him; Jon replies that Mance should thank him for killing his enemy and curse him for killing his friend. One of the warriors (Tormund) approves of this, and Mance introduces him and the others in the tent to Jon.
Mance asks about the crows with Jon, and questions how a young boy from Castle Black came to be with rangers from the Shadow Tower. Jon lies that Mormont sent him to Qhorin for seasoning. Styr (the earless warrior) asks how they came to be up Skirling Pass, but they reason out for themselves that Craster must have told the rangers where to go. Mance asks the others to leave, all except his lady, Dalla.
Mance offers Jon food and mead, and tells him he knew who Jon was because he’d seen him before, twice. Jon abruptly recalls when he was a boy, and one of the brothers come to Winterfell had caught him and Robb building a giant snow mountain above one of the gates to dump on someone passing under, and had promised not to rat them out. Mance tells him the second time was when King Robert came to Winterfell to make Ned Stark his Hand. Jon is disbelieving, and Mance replies that he’d wanted to see Robert with his own eyes and get the measure of him, and was sure Jon’s father would not remember him from before, so he snuck across the Wall and posed as a minstrel to join the royal procession.
Mance then asks why Jon turned his cloak, and Jon knows the wrong answer will get him killed. He says he will tell his reason if Mance tells his. Mance says it was not for a crown or a woman or the wildling music, as the stories say; he shows Jon his cloak, black and rent with tears mended with red silk, and tells the story of how he was wounded while ranging, and nursed back to health by a woman in a wildling village. She also sewed up the rents in his cloak with scarlet silk that was her most valuable possession, but when he returned to the Wall, he was told he must burn it, for the men of the Night’s Watch only wear black.
“I left the next morning . . . for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose.” He closed the clasp and sat back down again. “And you, Jon Snow?”
Jon says that if Mance was at Winterfell the night his father feasted King Robert, then he saw how his brothers and sisters were paraded up the center aisle and seated just below the royal dais. Mance allows that he remembers this.
“And did you see where I was seated, Mance?” He leaned forward. “Did you see where they put the bastard?”
Mance Rayder looked at Jon’s face for a long moment. “I think we had best find you a new cloak,” the king said, holding out his hand.
Clever Jon. People will always believe in jealousy, sadly enough.
So what Mance is saying here, is that he turned traitor for freedom. Freedom, I have clearly gotten the message, is a big thing for the wildlings. And as usual, Martin has managed to take what should be a positive or at least benign concept and given it a distinctly more ambiguous flavor, since these freedom-loving wildlings are currently planning to lay waste to….
Well, actually I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking to lay waste to, because as Jon observes here, they appear to have pretty much zero discipline as a fighting force. I don’t doubt that they’d be able to overwhelm the Night Watch, as pathetically undermanned as they are, but even with everybody busy fighting each other further south, I’m having trouble picturing these seeming haphazard raiders being more than a temporary extra wrinkle in the general fray.
Of course, maybe I’m just not getting an accurate enough picture here. And there’s also the possibly-not-a-Macguffin thing that Mance is looking for or has possibly already found, which I’m guessing Mance at least thinks is enough to offset his disadvantages, since he doesn’t strike me as being particularly stupid. Which of course now makes me deeply curious to find out what this thingamabob is already.
(As a completely irrelevant side note, Word does not have a spelling issue with “thingamabob.” I may be way too easily amused sometimes.)
But back to freedom, the ironic taking of: well, as an American I’m contractually obligated to sit up and take notice when the concept is brought into play, especially when its use seems so… hm.
I don’t think “naïve” is the correct word I’m looking for here, but maybe something like “immature” works. Freedom as either a philosophy or a governing principle is advanced shit, you guys, and it is super easy to fuck up (as my own country’s history can readily attest), and basically I am just not sure that Westeros is ready for that jelly.
And so far, Mance and Co. are not really doing much to dissuade me on this point. There may be a very fine line between “being free” and “being a hot mess,” but that line does exist, and so far it seems like the wildlings are pretty firmly on the wrong side of it.
Nice little fakeout in the tent scene with Mance being the singer, by the way. I was agreeing with Jon that Mance was probably the earless dude up till then.
“I’ll make a cloak o’ your wolf there, and open your soft boy’s belly and sew a weasel up inside.”
Well, if Rattleshirt ever decides to get out of the barbarian warrior racket, he’d have a great future as a horror flick screenwriter. Also, ew.
And that’s our show, mon peeps! Have a lovely two weeks, and wish me luck! Mwah!