A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 17

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 17 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 29 (“Arya”) and Chapter 30 (“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!

Chapter 29: Arya

What Happens
As they arrive in Stoney Sept, Harwin tells Arya how her father and King Robert fought a great battle there, but Arya thinks that the town has seen much more recent combat than that. The gatesman who lets them in to the walled town tells them wolves and Mummers alike have been pillaging and raping in the countryside, and also that the Kingslayer is on the loose; he opines that the Huntsman should let his dogs tear the fugitive apart, but Lem returns that “a chewed-up corpse [of Jaime Lannister]’s no good to anyone.”

In the town, Arya sees a number of men in crow cages, either dead or swiftly getting there. A woman tells them they are Stark allies, to Arya’s shock, and that they were being punished for the atrocities they committed at Tumbler’s Falls when they failed to find the Kingslayer there. Arya is horrified that men loyal to her brother could do such things, but gives the ones still alive water, with Gendry and Harwin’s help, and after that Anguy puts the survivors out of their misery with a few well-placed arrows. Arya thinks “Valar morghulis” to herself.

They go to an inn called The Peach, where the proprietor greets them with familiar and very bawdy cheer, and insists on bathing all of them, including Arya, and puts her in female clothing which Arya despises. After observing for a while, Arya opines to Gendry that this inn is actually a brothel; Gendry storms off after one of the girls offers herself to him, but comes back when an old man begins hitting on Arya, driving him off by claiming to be her brother. After, they get into a rather petty fight, and Arya storms off, thinking him a “stupid bullheaded bastard boy.” She recites her list to herself before going to sleep.

She dreams of wolves, and stalking through a forest with her pack. She feels fierce and fearless and free as she and her brothers and sisters bring down a horse. She is woken the next morning by barking dogs, and goes to the window to see that a prisoner has been brought in by the Mad Huntsman. One of his riders laughs and calls the prisoner a “bloody Lannister bastard,” and tells him he will rot in his “new castle” (meaning the crow cage), “and when them crows are done, we’ll send what’s left o’ you to your bloody brother.” Gendry wonders if they have caught the Kingslayer.

Down in the square, a thrown stone caught the captive on the cheek, turning his head. Not the Kingslayer, Arya thought, when she saw his face. The gods had heard her prayers after all.

Commentary
AGH CLIFFHANGERS.

Well, not so much this time, because I actually have a solid guess on this one: Arya’s comment about her prayers being answered means that the prisoner almost certainly has to be someone on her list. Most of whom she conveniently enumerated for us just a few pages earlier, so yeah.

So, who is it from that list? Well, for obvious reasons, I think we can discount Cersei, Joffrey, Ser Ilyn, or Ser Meryn. I don’t even remember who Dunsen, Raff, Polliver, and The Tickler are, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because the guy heckling the prisoner mentions sending “what’s left o’ you to your bloody brother,” so that means he almost certainly is either Gregor or Sandor Clegane.

For maximum angst and drama, therefore, I’m going to bet that it’s Sandor, because God knows most readers would not give even two small craps about Gregor being condemned to having crows pluck his eyes out. Hell, I might throw a parade over it.

Not that the Hound is so very pristine and pure or anything, but as far as I can remember, compared to his brother he’s practically St. Francis of Assisi. With, granted, less of the “peaceful communing with animals” thing and more with the “ruthless slaughter of my liege’s enemies” thing (at least until he ran off, anyway), but whatever. Potay-to, potah-to!

So now we’ll just have to wait and see whether Sandor invokes his protection of Sansa to Arya to prevent her from murdering him—and whether that will actually work. I dunno: Sansa is not exactly Arya’s favorite person, sister or no, and Arya probably won’t believe Clegane anyway. We Shall See.

Valar morghulis: Interesting that Arya still doesn’t know what the words mean, but uses them in the completely correct context here. Of course, given that she learned them as words you say when you’re killing someone, it’s probably not rocket science to make the subconscious connection even without knowing the literal translation of the phrase.

Another important (and depressing) lesson Arya learns here is the truth that people on your side can be just as despicable as those on your enemies’ side. Arya’s youth rather excuses her on this ignorance, of course, but it remains funny to me (though certainly not in the sense of “funny ha-ha”) how fiercely some people who really ought to know better resist that truth, or ignore it, or justify it.

Human nature, I suppose. Arya makes reference to “her pack” (meaning wolf pack) in her disbelief that Stark allies could behave so horribly, but the thing is, that’s not a wolf thing, that’s a people thing: that instinct to defend your own even in the face of overwhelming evidence that that defense is not deserved.

Usually the assertion that beneath cultural divides we are all the same is meant to be a good thing, but it definitely has its flip side as well. I don’t know about you, but the fact that the human tendency toward sheer assholery respects no cultural, racial, religious or gender-based boundaries is not exactly a cause for celebration in my view. Sigh.

Still, nice of Arya and Co. to help the prisoners, though you gotta love when “help” is (legitimately) defined as “shooting you dead.” Damn, but this world is fucked up.

“They say King Robert fucked my mother when he hid here, back before the battle. Not that he didn’t have all the other girls too, but Leslyn says he liked my ma the best.”

The girl did have hair like the old king’s, Arya thought; a great thick mop of it, as black as coal. That doesn’t mean anything, though. Gendry has the same kind of hair too. Lots of people have black hair.

Holy crap. Robert Baratheon left more bastards floating around in his wake than most men do farts. Sheesh. Also, I completely can’t decide whether the fact Gendry could have ended up screwing his own half-sister without even knowing it is horrible or hilarious, but as is all too often the case in this series, I’m pretty sure it’s both.

Also, I cannot help but find Gendry and Arya’s little mutual pigtail-pulling proto-romance absolutely adorable. Most likely because I watched far too many sitcoms as a child, and now this particular trope is burned into my brain. (Don’t click that.)

Random confusion: is the “Huntsman” they keep referring to in this chapter Ser Beric? I think it is, but I’m not 100% sure on that.

Arya’s wolf dream: TOTALLY ACCIDENTAL WARGING WITH NYMERIA. It was! Because I said so, that’s why! Yay!

 

Chapter 30: Jon

What Happens
Ghost is gone when Jon’s party heads to the Wall, and Jon hopes that he understood what Jon wanted him to do. The Magnar spreads his men out to keep watch for patrols while Jarl and three teams of raiders set out to scale the Wall with makeshift pitons and ice-climbing equipment. As he watches, Jon wonders where he stands now. He thinks the Magnar would kill Ygritte if he left, but even if he could convince her to come with him, he could hardly take her back to Castle Black with him.

Jon, Ygritte, the Magnar and the rest watch as the three teams laboriously scale the giant Wall, and Jon admits to himself that whatever else the raiders are, they are brave. John reflects that raiders have often scaled the Wall, but managed to return much less frequently. However, no patrols appear, and the teams seem to be succeeding until a fifty foot-wide slab of ice detaches from the Wall, sending Jarl and the rest of his team plummeting to their deaths.

They burn the bodies as the other two teams reach the top of the Wall and rig a ladder to bring the rest of the raiders up. Ygritte is shaken by the perilous ascent, and comments that she hates the Wall, and that it is “made o’ blood.” Jon tries to comfort her, but she angrily insists that he knows nothing.

“I’m crying because we never found the Horn of Winter. We opened half a hundred graves and let all those shades loose in the world, and never found the Horn of Joramun to bring this cold thing down!”

Commentary
Hm. Was that what Mance Rayder was looking for in the mountains, the Horn of Winter? Because if so, and if Ygritte is right that they never found it, then… well, that’s a bit anticlimactic, as far as solving that particular mystery goes. Of course, Ygritte could be wrong, and Mance did find this Horn and just didn’t tell the rank and file about it. Which, okay, but if so, why not use it? Why do all this stupid, highly dangerous free-climbing nonsense instead?

Not that I see how a horn, even a magical one, can bring down a wall that apparently  makes the Great Wall of China look like a weekend DIY construction project, but what the hell do I know. Not to mention, I would think that something called a Horn of Winter would tend to bulk up something constructed of ice, rather than the opposite, but again, what do I know.

If Mance does have this Horn and is simply choosing not to use it for whatever reason, than this whole expedition takes on a distinctly more pointless—and malevolent—air than it did before. Maybe this is Mance’s version of culling the herd? I dunno, that doesn’t seem right, but really I’m basing this entire thing on one declaration from Ygritte, who is hardly in Mance’s inner circle, so maybe I should quit before I conspiracy-theory myself into oblivion.

I have no idea what’s up with her statement that they opened “half a hundred” graves and let “shades” loose in the world to look for this horn thing. It sounds like standard bullshit ghost story superstition to me, but in a world with wargs and dragons and frozen zombies, assuming bullshit on the notion of ghosts is probably a tad shortsighted, to say the least. So, that may be a thing that no doubt someone (probably Jon) will have to deal with at some point. Yay?

Speaking of Jon, Ygritte has certainly done her job well, whether she intended it that way or not. Jon’s loyalty to her may be purely awesome-sex-based, but it’s not like most kids his age can even tell the difference between that and True Love™, and regardless of whether this is puppy love or the real thing, she has thus poised him on the horns of his dilemma far more precisely than he ever had been before.

Before, I think, Jon would have betrayed the wildlings without compunction, given the opportunity, but now that he has feelings for Ygritte, the knowledge of the repercussions she would bear for his betrayal have trapped him. I’m not really judging Jon for this, quite the contrary in fact, but that doesn’t change how much more difficult his situation is now—and it was hardly a fun-filled picnic before this. Oy.

Jarl: what a way to go. I hesitate to call it a shitty way to go, considering how many much more horrific methods of dying we’ve seen in this series—at least getting impaled on a tree was quick—but it still seems, I dunno, kind of just awful and dumb. I imagine Mance’s lady-love (whose name is escaping me at the moment) will be less than pleased—assuming it wasn’t all a plot to get Jarl and the Magnar both out of Mance’s hair in the first place, of course. Either way, blah.


And that’s what I got for this one, kids! Have a delightful weekend, even if your weekend does not happen to contain a parade or two, and I’ll see you next Friday!

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