A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 20

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 20 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 35 (“Catelyn”) and Chapter 36 (“Davos”).

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 35: Catelyn

What Happens
Lord Hoster is laid out in state for his river funeral. Edmure had been enraged that Walder Frey had sent “a cripple and a bastard” (Lothar Frey and Walder Rivers) to the funeral, but Robb had greeted them with courtesy, and given Lothar a spot as pallbearer. As the boat floats out on the river, Edmure attempts to shoot the flaming arrow to set it alight, but misses three times in a row; Ser Brynden takes the bow and makes it in one shot. Catelyn wants to comfort her brother, but he has already walked off and she knows this is not the time. She thinks of how he had broken down in tears the night before and asked if Hoster had spoken of him before he died; Hoster had only said “Tansy,” but Catelyn had lied to Edmure that he had whispered his name.

She and Brynden go to Robb and Jeyne, who both offer their condolences. Catelyn thinks of Lysa, who had failed to answer her letter, and also worries about the lack of word from Brienne and Cleos, who ought to have reached King’s Landing by now. Lothar Frey approaches, and politely asks for an audience that evening, which Robb grants. He leaves, and Robb asks for a word alone with Catelyn. He has not sought her company often since her return, which does not surprise her, and only seems happy with Jeyne and her family.

She thinks that the weight of the responsibilities of being a king are crushing Robb, as evidenced by his numb reaction to the news of Lord Tarly’s victory at Duskendale, killing a third of Robb’s foot and taking Robett Glover prisoner. Robb told Gelbart that he will offer Martyn Lannister in exchange for Robett, and now confesses to Catelyn that he should have traded Jaime Lannister for Sansa and offered her to the Tyrells in exchange for alliance. Catelyn answers that he was concerned with his battles, rightly so, but Robb mutters that he’s somehow losing the war despite winning every battle. She says that every king makes mistakes, but that Ned would have been proud of him.

Then he tells her that he’s received word that Sansa has been wed to Tyrion Lannister. Shocked, Catelyn says that Tyrion swore to return her if they sent him Jaime, and asks how he could marry her in light of that, but Robb answers that oathbreaking runs in their blood. He wants to free Sansa by killing Tyrion, and Catelyn reflects that she should have let Lysa kill him. Robb says it was to gain access to Winterfell should anything happen to Robb, and Catelyn says that she will go mad if she loses Robb too.

Catelyn then suggests to Robb that perhaps he should consider bending knee to the Lannisters. Robb refuses flatly, but she argues that the Lannisters will leave them the north in exchange for “homage and hostages,” and says the ironmen are their more deadly enemies; she brings up the possibility of Jeyne’s death as incentive. Robb asks coldly if peace with the Lannisters was her motivation for freeing Jaime, and Catelyn replies that her goal was Sansa and Arya, but she had some hope of buying peace as well. Robb answers that the Lannisters killed his father, and Catelyn almost hits him when he suggests that perhaps she does not care about that as much as he. She asks him to consider it, and leaves.

At dinner, Lothar is a model of courtesy, and after most of the table leaves tells Robb et al that his father has received a letter from Walder and Walder, the Freys fostering at Winterfell, which reports that Winterfell has been burned, and they and the other survivors were brought to Dreadfort by Roose Bolton’s bastard son, Ramsay Snow. Catelyn is grief-stricken to hear of Ser Rodrik’s death, and Robb protests that Ramsay Snow is dead; Lothar shrugs and says there are many false reports in war. Robb asks what happened to Theon Greyjoy, but Lothar doesn’t know.

Edmure asks if Lothar has an answer from his father to their offer, and Lothar tells him that Walder will renew his fealty to the King in the North on two conditions: that Robb apologize to him face to face, and that Edmure take Walder’s granddaughter Roslin as his wife. Edmure tries to protest that he would at least want to meet Roslin first, but Lothar says that they must accept immediately, and be married immediately, or the deal is off. Robb asks him to leave so they may consider, and he does. Edmure is seething at the implied insult, as well as that he may not be allowed to choose from Walder’s many offspring, but Robb points out that if they refuse all chance of repairing the alliance is lost, and Catelyn tells her brother they must accept. Brynden adds that this might serve as amends for Edmure’s performance at the Battle of the Fords.

“I had in mind a different sort of amends. Single combat with the Kingslayer. Seven years of penace as a begging brother. Swimming the Sunset Sea with my legs tied.” When he saw that no one was smiling, Edmure threw up his hands. “The Others take you all! Very well, I’ll wed the wench. As amends.”

Ah, politics. Such fun, as usual.

So basically I’m just waiting to see what the big catch is going to be re: Roslin Frey, because there must be one. There’s got to be a reason Walder wants Edmure to marry her specifically out of the bazillions of daughters and granddaughters he apparently has at his disposal, and I’m sure whatever the reason is, it’s not going to be anything Edmure, or Robb, are going to like at all.

I guess the only question is whether it’s going to be something that only humiliates Edmure, like she’s disfigured, or maybe just horrifically ugly, or it’s going to be something that actually materially hurts him in some way. The only thing I can think of that would do that is if the girl is barren, but I have no idea how they would be able to tell that for sure without going to a place that’s a little too David Cronenburg for me to want to think about right now.

Also, I’m probably being paranoid, but I really got my hackles up at Walder’s condition that Robb apologize to him face to face. Not because of the apology itself, which I think is actually quite apropos, but because all that says to me is prime assassination attempt opportunity. I’m just saying, Robb, if you go there, watch your back.

I gotta say, I really feel for Robb. He has been handed an absolute shit sandwich of a situation, in which, as he himself points out, his successes mean nothing and his failures are amplified out of any remotely reasonable proportion to reality. Welcome to politics, kid, I guess. The difference is, unlike a modern elected politician, Robb didn’t actually ask for any of this.

Also in this chapter, Catelyn again pulls her thing which I suspect is why she is so hated among certain circles of fans, urging Robb toward surrender rather than continuing to fight. Or, in other words, the “womanly” way, which is code for “cowardly” and/or “dishonorable.” And I get the hatred, in some ways, because my visceral reaction to her suggestion was the same as Robb’s, i.e. hells to the no—fight to the end! and all of that—but on reflection, I think there is a certain amount of merit to the idea that in certain circumstances there is more honor—and more bravery—in recognizing that sticking it out to the bitter end may not be worth what it will cost you—and everyone around you—and taking it on the chin for the greater good. (Taking it like a man, even, hmm?) As Catelyn thinks to herself in this chapter, there are some fights swords simply cannot win.

The problem, of course, is determining which circumstances are which. Right now it looks like the arguments for either in this particular case are about dead even, at least as far as I can tell. Which is not exactly helpful, but it does at least indicate that the kneejerk instinct to hold Catelyn’s stance in contempt is not warranted—by me as much as anyone.

Aside from that, there was a veritable avalanche of information dumped in this chapter, both on the reader and on the characters. On my end, I’d in fact forgotten (if I ever knew) that Tyrion personally swore to return Sansa if Jaime was sent home, and I’m wondering if maybe Tyrion forgot that himself, because otherwise I don’t get why he wouldn’t have at least brought that up to Tywin as a valid objection to the wedding when it was first proposed. Or maybe he did and I just forgot, which is eminently possible.

Either way, that makes the whole affair just that much crappier a thing to do all around. And I’m actually rather puzzled as to why that aspect of it never came up in Tyrion’s thoughts. God knows he was already chewing over every other regret he has regarding the wedding to Sansa, but the fact that it also made him an oathbreaker apparently never gave him pause? I dunno, that’s kind of weird. Or, he totally did think about it and I’ve forgotten, but I don’t think so in this case.

Also, in light of everything that went down re: Sansa’s hand in marriage, Robb’s words in this chapter about trading her for Jaime and marrying her to the Tyrells strikes me as highly ironic. Coulda woulda shoulda, Robb. Though I don’t know that I thought so at the time. At some point I’ll go look that up and see what I said then about it.

I’m also having trouble remembering whether this news about Roose Bolton’s bastard taking in the women and children from Winterfell is complete bullshit or not. It certainly doesn’t sound like something Ramsay Snow would do, that’s for sure—except for totally horrific reasons I’m also not going to think about right now. Ugh.


Chapter 36: Davos

What Happens
When Ser Axell Florent comes to Davos and Lord Alester’s cell, Alester assumes they are coming to bring him to the king or queen, but Axell tells him, to his loud dismay, that they are here for Davos. Davos thinks they are bringing him to his execution and/or to Melisandre, but Axell tells him they are bringing him to the king. On the way, Axell stops and tells him if it were up to him they would be burning Davos for treason; Davos tells him that he would never betray Stannis, but Axell tells him he will, and that he has seen it in R’hllor’s flames. He says that he has also seen that Stannis must make him, Ser Axell, his Hand if he is to gain the throne, and threatens to have Davos meet with an “accident” unless he supports Axell’s suit for the position to Stannis.

In the map chamber, Stannis appears shockingly gaunt and aged to Davos’s eyes, but he seems pleased to see Davos. He asks Davos what the penalty is for treason, and Davos answers reluctantly that it is death, but then realizes Stannis is not talking about him. He tells Stannis that Lord Florent did not mean treason, but Stannis replies that he did it anyway, and complains that where his brother Robert inspired loyalty even in his enemies, Stannis only seems to inspire betrayal.

He tells Davos that Ser Axell would have him resume the war even though nearly all his sworn lords have deserted him. At Stannis’s behest Axell explains his plan to attack Claw Isle, the seat of House Celtigar, as retribution for Lord Ardrian Celtigar’s defection to the Lannisters after the battle, and “put his castle to the torch and his people to the sword.” Stannis asks Davos what he thinks; Davos thinks of Axell’s threat, but answers that he thinks the plan both folly and cowardice, to rape and pillage folk who had no choice but to support their lord. Stannis points out that it is every man’s duty to be loyal to his rightful king even if his lord proves otherwise, and Davos asks if that’s what Stannis did when he chose to support his brother over King Aerys. Axell shouts treason and begs to execute Davos on the spot, but Stannis instead kicks him out, leaving he and Davos alone.

Stannis observes then that the truth is “a bitter draught,” and tells Davos that the choice he’d had to make then, between his brother and his king, was an impossibly hard one. Davos asks why Stannis even wants to be king, and Stannis answers that his wants are not at issue; he is king by law, and he means to take the throne and “scour that court clean.” He asks why Davos intended to murder Melisandre, and Davos answers that she gave his sons to the flames on the Blackwater. Stannis replies that those fires were the Imp’s doing, not hers, and if Davos should blame anyone it is Stannis, who sent her away when he needed her most. Davos says she killed Maester Cressen, as well as Ser Cortnay Penrose and Renly, but Stannis insists that she had no part in Renly’s death. He says it was also Melisandre who insisted Davos be brought to Stannis rather than executed, which surprises Davos.

They discuss Edric Storm, Robert’s bastard, who Stannis says is sick. He insists he means no harm to the boy, but Davos notes that he refuses to call him by name, and is bitter that Edric is just as charming as his father Robert was. Stannis agrees that Axell’s plan was folly, and orders Davos to his knees, to make him a lord. Stunned, Davos protests that he is not worthy, but Stannis insists, and to Davos’s shock, not only names him “Lord of the Rainwood, Admiral of the Narrow Sea,” but as Hand of the King. Davos protests that he is a commoner, and Stannis’s lords will not listen to him, but Stannis replies that they will make new lords then.

Davos accepts reluctantly, and then advises Stannis that they lack the strength for another battle against the Lannisters. Melisandre enters with a covered dish, and tells Davos that it is a greater battle Stannis prepares for, against the coming winter and “the one whose name may not be spoken.” Stannis claims he has seen the truth of this in the flames, where he saw men on a high hill in a snowy forest. Davos is uncertain, but Melisandre insists it means that the battle is begun, and they must move quickly to unite Westeros beneath her one true king. Stannis wants to know why him, and Melisandre answers that it is because he is a righteous man.

She tells him, though, that “this is not the way,” referring to the dish she holds, and Stannis says she said it would work. She answers that it will and will not, and beseeches him to give her “the boy” so that she may “wake the stone dragon.” Stannis refuses, saying the boy is innocent, and Melisandre replies that only a king’s blood can wake the dragon. Stannis says he is tired of hearing about dragons and tells her to go forward with the leeches. Melisandre flings powder on the hearth fire and lifts the lid of the dish to reveal three large leeches, swollen with what Davos assumes to be Edric’s blood. Stannis picks the first one up, says “the usurper, Joffrey Baratheon,” and hurls it into the fire. He names the second “the usurper, Balon Greyjoy,” and does the same.

The last was in the king’s hand. This one he studied a moment as it writhed between his fingers. “The usurper,” he said at last. “Robb Stark.” And he threw it on the flames.

Well, that’s not unnerving at all.

I’m not a hundred percent sure what naming royally-fattened leeches after your enemies and then burning them is meant to do, but I’m betting it’s not to improve their golf game. Maybe Melisandre’s alias is Marie Laveau, eh?

So that is a wee bit worrying. For Robb, not the other two. Balon and Joffrey can totally die like leeches on fire as far as I am concerned.

So, I am amused, because as I was going along and taking notes I wrote this bit:

[Stannis, regarding Edric Storm:] “There is power in a king’s blood, she says.”

Uh, yeah, Stannis, AND she’s probably thinking of the kind of power that comes when you drain that blood and use it for magical spell sauce, HELLO.

I wrote the above before I read the part where Melisandre entered and started straight up asking for Edric’s blood (and then actually using it for leech-based voodoo rituals) so I am feeling rather vindicated right now. Along with skeeved out, but you know. Can’t have everything.

(Although it is interesting that Melisandre argued against the leeches thing, I have to assume that this is only because she thinks Edric’s blood should go toward more useful, i.e. stone-dragon-waking causes. And since I am also assuming that that would take rather more blood than leeches could consume—i.e. an entire body’s worth—I am not placated. No bleeding out young boys, woman!)

Of course, my short-term vindication re: blood and the magical dispensation thereof is rather blotted out with how massively wrong I was about Davos’s probable fate. But then, I had no idea at the time that (a) only a royal vintage of the old hemoglobin (and life essence?) apparently suits Melly’s magical palate, the snob, and (b) that Stannis would be so shockingly cognizant of the value of Davos’s penchant for speaking truth to power. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, given that that has always been what Stannis liked about Davos, but I’d assumed Davos trying to murder his pet Svengali priestess would have rather trumped that. Guess not!

In fact Stannis’s general reasonableness and sense-making in this chapter was downright startling, in my opinion. Making Davos his Hand is just about the smartest damn thing he could possibly have done re: staffing choices. So, uh, go Stannis?

That kind of hurt my head to type.

It just goes to show that Martin delights in nothing better than to let the reader think they’ve got a handle on X Character, and then has that character do something which pulls the rug right out from under your comfortable assumptions and forces you to reevaluate—and yet manages to do it in a way which is still completely true to that character.

That’s… that’s a nice trick, there. I am impressed. Disgruntled and irritated, but impressed.

So does this mean Davos is going to stop trying to kill Melisandre? Am I terrible if I say I hope not?

I don’t think it does, really. I think Davos still agrees with me that Melisandre is Baaaad News, and maybe he might stay his hand (hah) for a while, but sooner or later that confrontation’s going to come to a head, if you ask me.

So Ser Axell, who I am desperately trying not to envision whining a song about his, his serpentine, and Stannis both can see visions in the flames, too? How does that work? I’d have thought you’d have to be an ordained priest/priestess to get the special drugs, but maybe Melisandre is bending the rules for those particularly politically relevant. Or maybe they’re just delusional. Or Ser Axell was lying; Stannis isn’t (though seeing a bunch of people in the snow doesn’t seem like much of a vision to me, honestly), but Axell could totally have made that whole thing up in a (futile) attempt to get a leg up on the competition.

I’m not necessarily doubting that these visions are real, by the way, or that they are really showing the viewee the future, because it’s been pretty well demonstrated that Melisandre’s visions, at least, have been way too on the money to be total bullshit. I’m just guessing that there’s something else involved in bringing those visions on, besides just wanting it really badly. Unless Martin is suggesting that R’hllor is actually real and the visions are actually divine visitations. Which I guess is possible, but feels wrong to me for a number of reasons. Not least because I think that doesn’t jibe with his maybe so/maybe not peekaboo attitude toward mystical/spiritual elements in the series (as opposed to strictly magical elements, which have pretty much come out of the closet at this point), but mainly because the notion that anyone in this series is actually getting their prayers answered seems like way too optimistic a possibility.

Other, more random notes:

Still love that map table. I wants one, I does.

From the list of supposed treasures of Claw Isle:

a horn that could summon monsters from the deep

*eyebrow* Really. Are we going to be having krakens soon, then? Well, we apparently have giant-summoning horns, why not kraken-summoning ones? And why are there so many magical horns lying around random places in Westeros anyway?

[Stannis:] “Ser Barristan once told me that the rot in King Aerys’s reign began with Varys.”

*another eyebrow* Reeeeeeally. It didn’t begin with the fact that Aerys was bugnuts? ‘Cause, you know, ain’t nothing like a good dollop of stone cold crazy to mess up a monarchy, I hear.

Still, this is an interesting assumption, from a more than usually reliable source. Sure, it’s secondhand, but Stannis is way too… Stannis to lie about it, plus he would have no reason to that I can see even if he was the lying kind. So that’s… interesting. I shall attempt to keep it in the back of my mind. Not that that always works, but I’ll try.

And until then, chickies, it is weekend time! Have fun, and I’ll see you next Friday!


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