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 5 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 6 (“Arya”) and Chapter 7 (“Cersei”).
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 6: Arya
Arya watches from the deck of the ship as they approach the Titan of Braavos, a giant statue said to guard the city and (according to Old Nan) consume young highborn girls as sacrifices. Arya thinks of how both Syrio and Jaqen are from Braavos, and hopes perhaps she will like it there, even though it is not where she intended to go. The captain’s son, Denyo, tells her about the religion of Braavos, where he says they worship all gods; Arya has never heard of the Many-Faced God he mentions. Arya thinks of how there are only six names left on her list, now that she’d left the Hound for dead at the Trident: Ser Gregor, Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, and Queen Cersei.
They come in view of the Titan, and Arya is astounded at how huge it is, straddling the channel, and then pretends not to be scared when it “roars” to announce their approach. They sail beneath the statue and into an immense harbor fronting the city, which Arya is surprised to see has no walls. Denyo laughs and tells her their war galleys are their walls. The captain approaches and bids her make ready to go ashore; Arya considers asking to stay, but she can sees the captain wants her gone, so agrees.
Another captain’s son, Yorko, rows Arya into the city in a longboat, where Arya is amazed to see the number of different shrines and temples to various gods. He brings her to a windowless temple of grey stone and drops her off there. The doors are half white and half black with carved moons on them. They don’t open at first, but Arya holds up Jaqen’s coin and says “Valar morghulis”, and they open.
Inside there are dozens of statues of strange gods, and there is a heavy incense in the air that makes her yawn. She comes to a pool with a young man weeping beside it, dipping his fingers in and sucking on them. Arya thinks he must be thirsty, so she fills a cup from the pool and offers it to him.
“Valar morghulis,” he said.
“Valar dohaeris,” she replied.
He stands, and she sees he has been stabbed, but he only goes and lays down in an alcove. She sees other people in other alcoves, and something tells her they are all dead or dying. She is surprised by a young girl and a man, wearing half-white, half-black robes. The man tells her she is safe in the House of Black and White, and comments she is young to seek the favor of the Many-Faced God. Arya says she came looking for Jaqen H’ghar, but the man says he does not know him. She shows him the coin, and the man asks her name. He rejects all her various pseudonyms and insists on the truth. Scared but resolute, Arya tells him her true name defiantly. He says the House of Black and White is no place for Arya Stark, but she says she has no place to go. He asks if she fears death; she answers no. The priest lowers his cowl revealing only a yellowed skull with a worm crawling out of the eye socket, and asks for a kiss.
Does he think to scare me? Arya kissed him where his nose should be and plucked the grave worm from his eye to eat it, but it melted like a shadow in her hand.
The yellow skull was melting too, and the kindliest old man that she had ever seen was smiling down at her. “No one has ever tried to eat my worm before,” he said. “Are you hungry, child?”
Yes, she thought, but not for food.
Well. That, let’s just say, would not be my response to being asked to kiss a talking wormy skull.
I’m really not sure if that makes Arya seriously hardcore, or just out of her ever-loving mind.
Granted, it’s possible that she’d twigged by that point to the fact that she was hallucinating, and so knew the skull (and the worm) were fake, but I’m not sure that actually lessens the hardcore factor here. Or the crazy factor, really.
Because, of course, I’m assuming all this was drug-induced visions until proven otherwise. Because heady incense ALWAYS equals “conveniently plot-specific acid trip”, doncha know. That’s just how things work!
Also, I know what “Valar morghulis” means now, but do I know what “valar doheris” means? If I had to guess, I would say it meant “All men rise again” or something, since it seems like a call-and-response to the “all men die” phrase, but I could be talking out of my ass. I do that sometimes.
I skipped a loooooot of world-building description in this chapter, which I sense is going to continue to be a thing in this book, as we cross off more spots on our world map that we have only had mentioned in passing before. Braavos, apparently, is ASOIAF’s homage to Venice. I note with some amusement, by the way, that pretty much every epic fantasy I have ever read has at least one place that is suspiciously Venice-like. Which only makes sense, really, because Venice has no business existing outside a fantasy story in the first place.
The old gods are dead, she told herself, with Mother and Father and Robb and Bran and Rickon, all dead. A long time ago, she remembered her father saying that when the cold winds blow the lone wolf dies and the pack survives. He had it all backwards. Arya, the lone wolf, still lived, but the wolves of the pack had been taken and slain and skinned.
First of all, ouch. And second of all, this reminded me that Arya is no longer on the same continent as Nymeria, and what the hell is with that? I WANT MY ARYA-NYMERIA REUNION, DAMMIT.
“He has faces beyond count, little one, as many faces as there are stars in the sky. In Braavos, men worship as they will… but at the end of every road stands Him of Many Faces, waiting. He will be there for you one day, do not fear. You need not rush to his embrace.”
Sooo… death cult? Death cult! YAY!
…Okay, it’s probably more complex than that. But yeah, talking skulls and people hanging around being all vaguely moody about being stabbed, even if only hallucinatory, really seems to indicate a pretty strong death fetish vibe going on here.
What I’m saying is, I’m really not sure this is a proactive and healthily embiggening environment for an eleven-year-old. Even an eleven-year-old like Arya. No, especially an eleven-year-old like Arya.
Still, now I have gotten to read the phrase “No one has ever tried to eat my worm before”, which is not a thing I ever expected to happen, soooo… death cult! YAY!
(Sigh. One of these days Arya is going to get to go to, like, a wellness spa where the most traumatic thing that will happen to her is a rigorous massage, and then the world will end because we don’t get to have nice things.)
Chapter 7: Cersei
Cersei rides in the litter with Tommen to Tywin’s funeral. She is worried that Tommen doesn’t stand up to her the way Joffrey did. Tommen comments that not many people have turned out for the procession; Cersei tells him the rain keeps them away, but knows that Tywin was not loved in King’s Landing, not that Tywin would have cared. The High Septon meets them at the Great Sept of Baelor, and Cersei recalls uneasily that he was one of Tyrion’s appointments. She thinks with satisfaction of her proclamation of her promise to raise to lordship any man who brought her Tyrion’s head.
Inside, Tywin’s body lays in state, with Jaime standing vigil; Cersei is irritated to see he is in white instead Lannister colors. She cautions Tommen to weep quietly. She remembers how Tywin’s gaze could unnerve anyone he turned it on, and resolves that now it is she who must do the same. She observes the gathered nobles as the service goes on, and resolves to find herself a spy among Margaery’s servants. The smell of death is oppressive, and Cersei thinks she hears a titter about a privy as they leave.
After the service, Cersei endures the fatuous condolences of the various nobles, including Lady Tanda’s daughter Falyse’s appallingly tasteless offer to name her sister’s Lollys’ child after Tywin. Cersei rejects the offer harshly, and moves on to Ser Kevan and her cousin Lancel, the latter looking very sickly. Lancel is very depressed about his impending marriage to a Frey girl, and Cersei quickly derails him from declaring his love for her. She thinks that knighting him was a mistake, and bedding him a bigger one, and she worries that he will talk about Robert and the brandywine.
She is not pleased by Margaery embracing her like a sister, but very pleased by Lady Merryweather’s promise that her friends in the Free Cities will watch for any sign of the Imp. Then Mace Tyrell descends upon her, and hints broadly about the now-vacant position of King’s Hand. He announces that his uncle Garth is coming to the city to take the position of master of coin. Cersei is infuriated at the arrogance and ambition of his move, and tells him that she has already promised the position to Lord Gyles Rosby.
Mace is incensed and begins sputtering, until his mother Lady Olenna appears and insults Cersei and Tywin while appearing to agree with her, managing to mention the smell in the sept to boot. Cersei says perhaps she should return to her roses in Highgarden, then, but Olenna protests she cannot leave until she sees Margaery safely wed to Tommen. She drags her son off, and Cersei, knowing her to be twice as clever as her son, mentally promises to see her dead.
Cersei collects Tommen and leaves, asking Ser Meryn Trant to bring Tommen a horse to ride back so she can ride with Lord Gyles in the litter. Gyles accepts her offer to be master of coin, though he coughs blood during it, as well as her condition to claim that he accepted the offer the day before. Cersei contemplates calling Petyr Baelish back to fill the role once Gyles dies, since she can’t imagine that Baelish will hold the Vale long now that Lysa Arryn is dead. Gyles asks who will be King’s Hand now, and Cersei tells him “my uncle”.
Back at the castle, Qyburn comes to see her, and reports that on the night Lord Varys and Tyrion disappeared, so did an undergaoler named Rugen, and shows her a gold coin he found in a hidey-hole in Rugen’s chambers. It is a Highgarden coin. Cersei decides to think about this later, and orders Qyburn to speak to no one of it. Qyburn then reports that the manticore venom on the Viper’s spear that is killing Ser Gregor (slowly and in great agony) was “thickened” somehow to be more slow-acting, by what Qyburn thinks is a spell. Cersei thinks they should put him out of his misery, but Qyburn suggests it would be useful to study this poison for future reference. He confesses that his maester’s chain was taken from him for his use of vivisection to further his studies. Cersei tells him to do as he wishes with Gregor, and bring her his head when he is done, as they have promised it to Dorne.
She dines with Ser Kevan, and brings up making him Hand. Kevan admits that making Mace Tyrell Hand would be foolish, but it would be worse to make him an enemy, and reproaches her for humiliating him in public. Kevan agrees to be Hand, but only if Cersei also makes him regent, and returns to Casterly Rock. Cersei is stunned. Kevan brings up Tywin’s plans to marry her again, and Cersei says she does not wish it, but he says her place is as Lady of Casterly Rock now. She insists she will continue her father’s work to restore the kingdom, but Kevan points out that Tywin wanted Jaime to be his heir. Cersei counters that Jaime has taken vows, and is “a handsome fool” to boot, but Kevan is unmoved.
Cersei says that Tommen is her son. Kevan replies that from what he saw of Joffrey, Cersei is “as unfit a mother as [she is] a ruler.” Cersei throws her wine in his face, and asks what right he has to question her. Kevan replies she would be unwise to make an enemy of him as well. He says if she will not cede the regency to him, then to make him castellan of Casterly Rock and give the Hand to either Mathis Rowan or Randyll Tarly. Both are bannermen of the Tyrells, and Cersei wonders if Kevan was bribed by Highgarden gold as well, but Kevan points out that either will be loyal to her if she names him Hand, and Tyrell will be appeased by naming one of his bannermen to the role. Cersei thinks him a traitor, and accuses him of abandoning his king.
“Tommen has his mother.” Ser Kevan’s green eyes met her own, unblinking. A last drop of wine trembled wet and red beneath his chin, and finally fell. “Aye,” he added softly, after a pause, “and his father too, I think.”
Oh ho, so Ser Kevan has a spine after all! Damn if Cersei didn’t get served by him in this chapter. Who’da thunk it.
Even though I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to blame Cersei for Joffrey, because that boy was broken from the get-go, and I don’t think the most exemplary parenting in the world could have changed that. That said, Joffrey most certainly didn’t get the most exemplary parenting in the world, so maybe it’s a moot point.
The thing is, really, that I’m not convinced Kevan’s burn on Cersei was entirely deserved—or more accurately, I think it was only half deserved. Because I certainly agree that she is an unfit ruler, but I really don’t know that she was actually the worst mother, given the circumstances.
…Granted, part of those circumstances are that she conceived those children with her own twin brother, so, um. Maybe not?
Ugh, Cersei. You conflict me. On the one hand, she’s awful, and her paranoia and suspicion of everyone around her make her a more or less literal ticking time bomb of FUBAR. On the other hand, is it really paranoia when they really are all out to get you? But on the gripping hand, it’s hard to blame everyone who’s out to get her when she really kind of deserves to be gotten. But on the fourth hand, would she really be so shitty if she hadn’t been automatically devalued and belittled her entire life, and made to be that paranoid and devious?
Bleh, it just turns into a chicken or the egg question from there. If Cersei had been born a man, or (more ideally) born into a world without enough patriarchy to choke a horse, so much shit that happened would never have happened. In fact practically none of it would have happened. And I remain kind of logistically conflicted over whether to rail against her for that, or be reluctantly impressed that she managed to exert that much influence over world events from such a disadvantaged position.
I shall be greater, though. A thousand years from now, when the maesters write about this time, you shall be remembered only as Queen Cersei’s sire.
I… doubt that, Cersei. Although hey, who knows. Anything could happen. Anything could happen, and that’s why I have dread issues.
(Er, meaning “issues with the emotion of dread”, not hairstyle dilemmas. You know, in case you were confused. What?)
Although historically, making pronouncements like this one, even if just in your own head, does tend to lessen your chances of actually making it happen. Because I think that even Martin is susceptible to the Western proclivity toward the notion that pride goeth before a fall.
Lady Olenna is hilarrrrrious here. Such barbs. So hatred. Wow. And Cersei doesn’t even KNOW how much she should hate Olenna, is the best part.
Also, Tywin having a stinky stanky funeral is WONDERFUL. I definitely may have snickered a time or two over that while reading.
So… did I know before this that Tyrion’s escape was possibly funded by the Tyrells, or is that a new development? I can’t remember. I feel like the left-behind coin thing was a tad convenient, though. If Rugen’s living situation was really as shitty as described, I can’t imagine that he would leave behind a single scrap of gold voluntarily. So I am side-eyeing this entire thing pretty hard right now, because damn if it wasn’t the conveniently perfect way to drive even more of a wedge between Cersei and the Tyrells than was already there. And we only have Qyburn’s word for where he actually found the coin, I must point out.
Speaking of Qyburn, um, EW? Vivisection, really, that’s delightful. And by “delightful” I mean OMG YOU’RE CUTTING A LIVE PERSON OPEN FOR FUNZIES, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU. Seriously, I loathe Gregor Clegane with the fire of at least four or five suns, and even I don’t think he deserves that. Can’t you just let him be slowly poisoned to death in peace?
And the best is how Cersei is all, oh, okay, whatevs. UGH, why can’t we have someone awesome be queen regent? Why do we have to have her?
Well, at least she’s doing a good job of keeping my knee-jerk reflex to automatically sympathize with the POV character at bay. Way at bay, at the moment.
Anyway, to go back to Kevan, it actually sounds like a great idea for Kevan to be regent/Hand and for Cersei to go back to Casterly Rock, which leads me to expect that it will never, ever happen, and Kevan will be very, very lucky to survive this book now. Because seriously, Kevan may have been right to say Cersei shouldn’t make enemies of either him or Mace Tyrell, but he forgot that it is also a really bad idea to make an enemy of Cersei. I don’t know when exactly she is going to crash and burn, but I have no doubt of her ability to take down a whole shitload of people with her when it happens, and Kevan is in prime position to be one of them.
So, uh, yay? Yeah, probably not yay. So have a weekend, chirren, and if you are in a Carnival-inclined locale, as I am, laissez le bon temps rouler!