WWelcome 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 19 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 33 (“Samwell”) and Chapter 34 (“Arya”).
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 33: Samwell
Samwell huddles in Craster’s hall, trying to feed broth to Bannen, who is dying of his wounds. Only some forty or so of the brothers who escaped from the Fist have lived to make it here, and Sam is wracked with guilt that he is one of them. Craster complains of all the food he is forced to give them, even though the men have been semi-starving for days, and Sam thinks of how Clubfoot Karl is claiming that Craster has a hidden larder he’s refusing to share. Above, Gilly is giving birth, and Craster threatens to beat her if she doesn’t shut up; Sam knows that Gilly is terrified that it will be a boy, and reminds himself that they are under Craster’s roof, and must abide by his rules.
Sam goes outside, reflecting on how there had been no attacks from either wights or Others since they’d arrived at Craster’s; Craster claims there will be none because he has “got right” with the gods. He comes upon where several brothers are practicing archery, and Sweet Donel sees him and calls for him to join them, saying “Slayer” should show them how he killed the Other. Sam points out that it was dragonglass that killed it, not an arrow. He knows they will mock him if he tries to shoot, so he goes to leave and loses a boot in the mud, making them laugh anyway.
He finds Grenn, who also calls him “Slayer”, and Sam pleads for him not to. Grenn is puzzled, and Sam explains that it is just another way for the others to mock him. Grenn points out that Sam came by the name fairly, and surely “Slayer” is better than “Ser Piggy”. Sam thinks of how not all of the brothers had even believed him about the dragonglass, and how they’d foolishly left behind almost all of the large stash of the material Jon had found at the Fist, and thinks the pieces they did have are not nearly enough to defend them. He also doesn’t know whether the dragonglass will work on wights the same way it did on the Other he killed. He wishes Jon were there, and wonders why the gods would take men like Jon and Bannen away and leave someone like Sam behind.
Mormont returns to the hold, and Sam hears him discussing how they must leave even though there are not enough horses left to carry them all back to the Wall. He calls for Sam, and complains to him that they should have known long ago about the dragonglass, and that the Watch has lost sight of its true enemy. He wants more of it; Sam brings up the stash at the Fist, but Mormont says that is lost to them, and they must find more somewhere else. Sam points out that the children of the forest used dragonglass, but Mormont replies that the children of the forest are all dead. Craster comes out and announces he has a son, and needles Mormont that they must leave his hold. Sam offers for them to take the baby, to his own astonishment, but Mormont shuts him up and hustles him inside.
He finds that Bannen has died while he was gone, and Dirk insists it wasn’t his wounds, but the starvation diet Craster’s had them all on that killed him; he is sure Craster is hoarding all the good food for himself. They burn Bannen’s body, and Sam is horrified that he is so hungry he finds the smell appetizing, and throws up. Dolorous Edd finds him and makes several very off-color jokes about crackling, and opines they will all die when they leave the next day.
Craster serves horsemeat that night, but Clubfoot Karl and Dirk begin complaining at the lack of food, and accusing Craster of keeping a secret larder, and several others join in. Mormont orders them to be quiet; Karl challenges him directly, but seems about to back down until Craster jumps in and insists those who insulted him should leave. One of them calls him a bastard, and in a fury Craster attacks. Dirk grabs him and slits his throat. Mormont shouts for them to stop, but Ollo Lophand stabs him in the belly, and all hell breaks loose.
Sam doesn’t remember most of the ensuing fight, but finds himself after with Mormont, who is dying. Mormont tells him he must go back to the Wall, and tell them about the dragonglass. He says his dying wish is for his son Jorah to take the black, and entreats Sam to tell him that he forgives him. Sam protests that he will never reach the Wall, and wants to die.
Three of Craster’s wives approach him with Gilly and her newborn in tow, and remind him he promised to help Gilly, and that he must take her and leave before the other mutineers return. Sam insists he can’t leave Mormont, but the women point out that Mormont has died while they were talking. They tell him to take Mormont’s sword and cloak and go “someplace warm”, and Gilly promises to be his wife. She begs him to take her and the baby before “they” do.
“They?” said Sam, and the raven cocked its black head and echoed, “They. They. They.”
“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.”
Well, I guess that answers the question of how Craster appeased “the gods”. Ugh. Though I think I actually knew about this lovely practice of his already from before (mainly because I remember making a joke about frozen zombie daycare), I’d kind of forgotten about it, so this was a completely fun reminder of it, not.
Well, the bastard’s dead now, but it’s remarkable (and typical) of how little his death has improved the situation for anyone involved. Least of all for his greatest victims: his obscene harem of wife-daughters. Bleh.
Also, wow. If ASOIAF chapters had titles, you could probably call this one How To Go From Zero To Mayhem in Sixty Seconds Flat. Or, maybe, Worst Table Manners Ever, An Illustrated Guide. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure “mutiny and wholesale slaughter at the dinner table” would be distinctly frowned upon by Emily Post. Just a feeling I have.
And man, what a way for Mormont to go. He escapes wights and Others and wildlings and hypothermia – only to die on the blade of one of his own men. Damn, that sucks. I am sincerely bummed on his behalf, you guys.
And he wants Jorah to join the family business, so to speak, does he? Well. I’m thinking that’s one message that isn’t going to get delivered in a hurry, not that I think it would do a lot of good if it were. Even if he wasn’t half a world away at the moment, I’m fairly sure Jorah will feel that his present seducing-a-would-be-queen gig offers way better potential benefits than coming to the arctic ass end of nowhere, at the summons of the father who disowned him (with reason, sure, but like Jorah would care about that), to join the tattered, rebellious dregs of an order that already was the dregs of society to begin with. Not to mention that whole frozen zombie/impending coldpocalypse thingy, which probably doesn’t exactly count as, how you say, a job incentive.
I mean, I could certainly be wrong, because God knows it wouldn’t be the first time, but on the face of it I think I’m going with “never happen” on this one.
But hey, if the quest to find Jorah gets Samwell the hell out of Dodge, so to speak, I’m certainly in favor of the attempt, for sure. Do it, Sam! Listen to the wives and leave with Gilly! Get the fuck out!
So, Mormont thought the children of the forest, who so conveniently traditionally fought with obsidian daggers, a material of which the Watch are suddenly in dire need, are all dead? Yeeeaaahh, I’m thinking not. Sorry, dead Mormont.
Also, er, apparently Sam’s got an Insta-Family. Wife and kid, no waiting! I… really wonder what’s going to happen with that.
In other news: Samwell’s new nickname is Slayer?
Oh, wow. I should feel bad about laughing at that, but the thing is, I’m laughing for a totally different reason than Samwell’s jerkwad comrades are. Heh.
Inadvertent cross-series dissonance aside, I think Grenn is quite right to say that Samwell earned the name fair and square, and should adopt it in pride. Unfortunately, this is the problem with overcoming the effects of a lifetime of bullying; after a certain point, even honest praise starts to sound like bullshit. It’s far too easy to believe that it’s just yet another way to set you up for yet another fall. It certainly doesn’t help matters, either, that generally there’s about an 80% chance that the victim’s paranoia on that score is completely justified.
Peripherally to this train of thought: how come Sam isn’t losing any weight? He’s been on a starvation diet for days if not weeks, and you sure as hell can’t claim he isn’t getting his exercise, so it’s a tad puzzling that apparently he’s still fat. But then again, I can state with certainty that some people’s crappy metabolisms are stubborn in the face of just about any attempt to circumvent them, so there you are.
[Grenn:] “Sometimes I think everyone is just pretending to be brave, and none of us really are. Maybe pretending is how you get brave, I don’t know.”
Out of the mouths of babes…
Chapter 34: Arya
Harwin and the others have taken Arya and Gendry and the prisoner to an underground cavern which Lem tells them is a safe haven from both wolves and lions. Arya sees Thoros of Myr but barely recognizes him, he is so changed. The Mad Huntsman drags the prisoner before Thoros, and Thoros welcomes “the dog” to their hall. Sandor Clegane recognizes him with surprise, and Thoros tells him “The Lord of Light has woken in [his] heart”, and these are his brothers. Sandor mocks them, and another man joins in, telling the story of how this group had come together from the original company who rode out to bring justice to Sandor’s brother. Arya sees the man’s skull has been partly caved in; he has a hanging scar on his neck and one of his eyes is gone. He tells Sandor they fight for Robert, and Sandor retorts that Robert is dead; the other answers that they fight for his realm. Sandor scoffs at this, calling the man “Dondarrion”, and Arya is astonished to realize that this is the once-handsome Ser Beric.
Sandor opines that Robert didn’t care about “the realm”: “If he couldn’t fuck it, fight it, or drink it, it bored him”. He laughs at their threats, and challenges them to either face him in a fair fight or kill him and get it over with. The Huntsman brings up the brutal rapes and murders committed at Sherrer and the Mummer’s Ford, and Sandor answers that he wasn’t there, nor did he kill Aerys’s children. He asks if they take him for his brother, and whether merely being born a Clegane is a crime. The people all around call out a long list of names of people who have died at the hands of Lannisters, whom he serves, and Sandor points out that thousands of others do the same, and asks whether all are responsible for the crimes of all the others. He accuses knights of being no different than him, and tells them not to dare call him a murderer and pretend their “shit don’t stink”.
Arya jumps in, and screams that Sandor killed Mycah the butcher’s boy. Sandor recognizes her as the Stark girl who threw Joff’s “pretty sword” in the river, and laughs in astonishment. Sandor admits to the kill, saying Mycah attacked a prince of the blood, but Arya insists that that had been a lie. Sandor said it was what both Joffrey and Sansa said, and Arya says Sansa is a liar. Thoros and Beric confer, and Beric declares that since the truth or falsehood of the accusation cannot be determined, Sandor will be sentenced to trial by battle. Arya shouts a protest, knowing how deadly Sandor is with a blade, but is ignored.
Sandor laughs and asks who will face him, and Beric answers that he will. He takes off his breastplate and quilting, and Arya sees where he had been run through with a lance. She comforts herself that Beric cannot be killed and will surely win. They free Sandor and give him his sword and shield. Beric arms himself similarly, and after Thoros leads the cavern in a prayer to R’hllor, Beric’s sword begins flaming. Sandor curses him and Thoros both, and the duel begins. They fight back and forth, more or less evenly matched. Finally Beric’s sword shatters Sandor’s shield and sets it on fire, but Sandor ignores the flames crawling up his arm to press the attack. He shatters Beric’s sword and cleaves him from shoulder to breastbone, and Arya screams in dismay.
Sandor then pleads for someone to help him with the burns, and Arya is astonished to see he is crying. Several of the men carry Beric’s body away, and the Huntsman opines that they should put Sandor back in the cages anyway. Arya agrees, but Harwin sighs that R’hllor has judged him innocent. In a fury, Arya snatches Greenbeard’s dagger from his belt and lunges for Sandor; Sandor tells her to do it if she wants him dead that badly. Arya is momentarily appalled by the extent of his burns, and hesitates long enough that Lem can grab her and take the knife away. She screams at Sandor that he can go to hell.
“He has,” said a voice scarce stronger than a whisper.
When Arya turned, Lord Beric Dondarrion was standing behind her, his bloody hand clutching Thoros by the shoulder.
Dude, what the hell. I call total magical shenanigans on Beric. No way in hell a guy takes a wound like that and (a) lives, or (b) even if he lives, is hale enough to be standing and talking, without supernatural intervention.
Which apparently he has some of that, because whoops, turns out Beric’s merry men are all Holy R’hllors! Greeeeeeaaaat.
(Oh, what, come on, that joke was just waiting to be made.)
I kind of think this should possibly have occurred to me beforehand, since Thoros has been identified as a red priest from the get go, but somehow I completely failed before now to make the connection between his priesthood and Melisandre’s. Which is really pretty stupid of me, but then again even if I had made the connection, I don’t think I would have had any reason to think before now that Thoros had managed to convert the whole kit and caboodle of Beric’s ragtag posse of whatever into fervent believers. He says himself in this chapter that he wasn’t much for religion until recently. It’s a shame he didn’t stay that way, if you ask me.
So this whole group is instantly much more worrying to me than they were previously, because as I may have opined before, zealotry = DO NOT WANT. And in retrospect I see how well the clues were planted prior to this that Harwin et al were all on the express train to Fanatical Street in Upper Loony Bin, because nobody gets that excited about dying for a dead man (i.e. Robert) without that special flavor of crazy that only hyper-religious mania can impart. Yum yum, gag.
And now I instantly have to wonder what the angle is here, if there is one, and whether Thoros and Melisandre share more than just a religion. I’m not sure supposing they are in cahoots makes total sense, since you’d think that, if so, Thoros would have been guiding Beric et al more away from dear dead Robert and more toward his brother Stannis by now, but I guess it’s possible. However, it’s probably just as possible that they are each pitching their own totally separate revival tent, and never the wacky shall meet, at least not politically.
In fact, given the flaming sword Beric’s waving around here, I’m thinking that maybe Thoros thinks he’s found his own Messiah figure to – er, do whatever it is R’hllor’s chosen dude is supposed to do, I’ve kind of forgotten. If so, no wonder Thoros is investing so much power (?) in keeping Beric from bucking the kicket. That must be quite the fun task, keeping alive a guy who seems bound and determined to run himself through every metaphorical meat grinder that strays into his path.
Sandor Clegane being no exception, naturally, and ha, I was right that that he was the prisoner they brought in. It was kind of a no-brainer, true, but hey, I’ll take my triumphs where I can find them.
It’s a weird thing to find yourself suddenly at odds with your POV character’s wishes, or opinions, or whatever, but that’s totally what happened here. Sandor probably doesn’t deserve the fact that I was rooting for him; after all, Arya is perfectly right in that he’s done some seriously shitty things, Mycah’s murder being only one in a long list of them.
And yet… yeah, I totally wanted him to win the duel, and not Creepy Crazypants Dondarrion over there. Well, it’s not like Sandor’s the first extremely morally ambiguous character I’ve found myself rooting for in this series, and I’m dead sure he won’t be the last, either.
It probably helped that Clegane’s zingers in this chapter were hysterical, and his courage in the face of his greatest fear (fire) to finish and win the duel with Beric was… well, kind of inspiring. Sorry, Arya, normally I am totally on your side, but this time I rather am not. If it helps, though, I totally find this fact a smidge disturbing.
And that’s what that is, O My Peeps. Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you next Friday!