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 39 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 64 (“Jon”) and Chapter 65 (“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 Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler 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 64: Jon
Jon dreams he is in Winterfell, searching for his brothers and father, but the stone kings tell him he is no Stark, and not welcome there. He calls for Ygritte to forgive him, but only sees a grey wolf, bloody and sad. He wakes in his old steward’s cell, alone. He wonders if the wolf he saw in his dreams was Bran’s, and that therefore that Bran is dead. He hears a horn, and forces himself to rise and dress despite the pain in his leg.
Outside, Jon waits with several others (including one of the former whores of Moletown, Zei) to be lifted up the Wall. Satin asks if it is Mance Rayder, and thinking of the Others, Jon replies that he hopes so. Up on top of the Wall, Jon sees the approaching torches and hears a mammoth, and knows it is Mance coming. Donal Noye orders the trebuchets launched with flaming pitch into the forest, and Jon sees that there are over a hundred mammoths below, and Pyp cries that the wildlings are at the gate. The brothers dump pitch and flaming oil down on the invaders, but they keep coming.
Noye calls for backup to guard the tunnel below, and tells Jon he is in charge atop the Wall until he returns. Jon is stunned, but acknowledges the order. The siege goes on for hours, dreamlike to Jon, and Noye does not return. Morning arrives to show the killing field below the Wall, but also the vast host of the wildlings beyond it; Satin wails that there must be a hundred thousand of them, but Jon avers that the Wall will stop them. He shouts to the brothers, reminding them that no mammoth or giant or cavalry can climb the Wall, and they cannot pass so long as the gate holds. His words inspire the others, who roar back at him.
Giants approach with a huge ram, and Jon calls to the archers to aim for them on his order, laughing madly, and the men laughing with him. He waits until the giants are in range, and orders the volley. He calls for caltrops to be spread and the scorpions to fire at will, and the volley to continue. He calls for fire arrows on the ram. A mammoth reaches the gate, and Jon orders flaming oil dumped on it.
The other mammoths break and flee, then, and the rest of the wildlings’ host quickly follow suit. The brothers cheer wildly. Near to collapse from pain, Jon puts Grenn in charge while he goes down (to Grenn’s horror), anxious to see what has become of Noye. Maester Aemon meets him at the tunnel entrance. They find all of Noye’s men and Noye himself dead inside, holding off the advance of the single giant that had gotten through. Jon recognizes him as Mag the Mighty, king of the giants.
Jon says they must block up the tunnel and repair the gate, and calls for someone to find Ser Wynton Stout, the last knight in the castle, but Aemon reminds him that Wynton is too senile to take command. Jon tells Aemon to give the order then, but Aemon replies that a maester serves, not commands.
“You. You must lead.”
“Yes, Jon. It need not be for long. Only until such time as the garrison returns. Donal chose you, and Qhorin Halfhand before him. Lord Commander Mormont made you his steward. You are a son of Winterfell, a nephew of Benjen Stark. It must be you or no one. The Wall is yours, Jon Snow.”
CALLED IT, BIZZNATCHES.
I have been wrong about—or blindsided by—an awful lot of things that have happened thus far in this series (something which, actually, I am grateful for, despite all evidence to the contrary, since nothing will kill interest in a story faster than rote predictability), but this one I totally called from the beginning of Jon’s tenure in the Night Watch, and it makes me happy that this one, at least, I got right.
Er, so far. (She hedges, advisedly.)
It’s worth pointing out, of course, that Jon rising to command of the Brotherhood is one of the few story arcs in which Martin has actually conformed to fantasy tropes, rather than subverting or averting them, so possibly my pride in predicting it is misplaced, but whatever. I liked it, so I’m gonna put a ring on it. Haters to the left, etc.
This is also me blithely ignoring that command of the ragtag remnants of the Night’s Watch in the face of a possibly overwhelming foe is probably the last thing any sane person would want, naturally. I mean, from Jon’s point of view this is hardly a thing to celebrate, I’m sure. But from the reader’s, well. It’s pretty awesome.
Assuming he survives it, of course. Bluh.
It’s a shame Donal Noye is dead, though. He was one of the cooler Brothers they had. But, you know, if you have to go, dying while delivering the death blow to the king of the giants is probably one of the more badass ways to do it.
Anyway. Obviously I elided a lot of the minutiae of the actual siege in the summary, but it was tremendously well-written and exciting to read. And Jon’s speech/exhortation to his troops was genuinely inspiring, not least for how it was so believable in being kind of half-hysterical craziness on Jon’s part. Because seriously, how else would a real person be feeling in such circumstances?
This is the kind of thing, I think, that sells this story so well to the reader. I may rail against the greyness of so many of these characters’ choices, but never (that I recall) have I felt that they were unrealistic, in context. Martin’s characters have often done things I disagree with (sometimes violently), but I don’t think that any of them has ever done something that made me think whoa, wait, that character would never do that.
And that, I feel, is probably a bigger deal than most people realize it is.
I’ve come across so many stories in various mediums (especially those that are stretched across time, like book series or television shows) where I’ve felt at least once or twice that the story has ended up veering off the rails when it comes to character consistency, but I have yet to experience that with ASOIAF, and that is a treat. I am hardly to the end of this story as of yet, I know, but I feel it needs noting that thus far, I don’t think character inconsistency is something Martin can remotely be accused of, and that is worthy of note. And praise.
Lastly: where the hell is Ghost? He’d better turn up, y’all. No more dead wolves, dammit!
Chapter 65: Arya
Arya wishes she could sleep all the time to ignore the hole inside where her family used to be. She dreams that she is at the head of a huge pack of wolves, powerful and free. Sandor forces her to get up every day, though. Arya keeps telling herself she will kill him in his sleep, or escape, but she never does, mostly because she doesn’t know where she would go if she did. Winterfell is gone, and she thinks she was stupid to believe that Hot Pie or Gendry were ever her pack.
She asks Sandor where they are going, but he refuses to answer. He tells her she should be grateful he knocked her out rather than let her go into the Freys’ keep to be killed. She is silent, mostly, and Sandor angry. They avoid scouting parties from the Freys hunting for northmen. They come across a survivor from the massacre, loyal to the Tullys, but he is dying from his wounds, and Sandor mercy-kills him at the man’s request. He gives Arya the man’s dagger.
Finally Sandor reveals that he is taking Arya to her Aunt Lysa in the Vale of Arryn. Arya doesn’t know Lysa at all, and thinks they should have gone into the castle to confirm that her brother and mother were really dead. She tells Sandor this, who laughs at the notion and threatens to cut her tongue out if she doesn’t shut up.
She dreams that night that she smells her mother, padding up to the riverside with her pack. She jumps into the river and swims to the source of the smell, but it is dead and cold. She pulls the body to shore, but then men on horseback approach, and she and her pack flee. The next morning, Sandor brings up her mother, but Arya tells him that she knows her mother is dead, that she saw it in a dream. Sandor says nothing, and they ride on.
They come to a village, and Sandor decides to risk going in for provisions. The villagers welcome his labor, and discourage them from braving the passes into the Vale, which they say are full of shadowcats and Burned Men. The villagers assume Arya is Sandor’s daughter, and Arya is too depressed to contradict them. She rebuffs any attempt to be friends. After a while, Sandor tells her that maybe they’ll stay in the village, but once he is done helping them build a palisade, the villagers kick them out, revealing that they know who Sandor really is. Sandor is angry, but leaves, taking a shoddy sword and ale in trade.
He decides to head south for Riverrun instead, even though Arya doesn’t know whether her uncle will even know her. She remembers Jon, and suggests they head to the Wall instead. Sandor points out that the Wall is a thousand leagues away, with innumerable obstacles in between, and she asks if he has lost his belly for fighting.
“There’s nothing wrong with my belly,” he said […], “but I don’t give a rat’s arse for you or your brother. I have a brother too.”
Aw, fuck. He’s not going to take Arya to GREGOR, is he?
Because, Jesus Christ, that is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. Let’s not do that, really, seriously, NO.
…Although, on rereading that last bit, he probably just means that Gregor has demonstrated to him, with crystal clarity, just how much familial ties can be worth precisely shit, depending on who you’re related to. Which, fair point. Just because I know (and Arya knows) that Jon is in fact an awesome brother (or half-brother, technically) doesn’t mean Sandor does, or has any reason to assume so. Not to mention that everything indicates that Sandor would be pleased as punch to never ever see Gregor again, so I guess that was actually a pretty stupid conclusion to leap to. Nyargh.
But at least the Vale idea fell through. I’m kind of curious to see what Lysa’s been doing all this time, but not that curious. And I certainly don’t want Arya (or any character I care about) anywhere near her buckets o’ crazy.
I think Arya is selling Gendry short, though. At least I hope she is, because I still want them to get together at some point.
But this is all peripheral to the most important thing in this chapter, which is ARYA WARGING WITH NYMERIA, ZOMG. I have big giant heart-eyes about this, not gonna lie.
And it was like full-on warging, too, which I don’t think she had really done before. AND it was confirmation (or re-confirmation) that Nymeria is totally in charge of the giant wolf pack we heard about whenever ago, so ha, I was so right.
And Nymeria found Catelyn’s body in the river! Aahhhh, that is so painful. CATELYNNNNN. Shit, that is just so disrespectful and terrible, on every level. Not Nymeria, of course, but Walder
Deserves-Curbstomping Frey. I knew that her body had been tossed in the river before this, of course, but this just brought it back home all afresh. So THANKS FOR THAT, MARTIN. Gah.
Anyway, besides that, the most interesting part of this chapter wasn’t actually Arya at all, successful warging aside, but Sandor Clegane. Once again Martin displays his talent for getting his audience to have sympathy for a character who should absolutely not be sympathizable-with, on paper. Arya only kind of perceives it, because she’s understandably distracted by, you know, the crushing grief of losing pretty much her entire family, but even viewed indirectly, I couldn’t help but feel a pang for Sandor at how the villagers treated him here.
I mean, dude: they used him for cheap labor, and then just chucked him out the second they didn’t need him anymore. And this just as Sandor was making noises to Arya about maybe staying there. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I kind of got the impression that he thought maybe he’d actually found a place to stay and forget about his past, and be maybe content or something. But, of course, his past just catches right back up to him and fucks him over again.
And I’m not even saying that it shouldn’t, because God knows he’s done some seriously shady shit in service to My Little Psychopath™, probably even more than we’ve been shown “on-screen,” so to speak, but still. I can’t help but feel a little bad for him.
(Though I do kind of wonder how exactly the villagers knew who he was. I mean, was he actually stupid enough to tell them his real name, which I doubt, or did Joffrey circulate pictures of him or something?)
And that’s it for now, y’all. Share and Enjoy, and I’ll see you next Thursday!