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 10 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 14 (“Brienne”).
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!
A note before we begin: As I done TOLD you already, JordanCon 6 is almost here! And as usual, I will be there to fulfill my Other Blog duties. Therefore, there will be no ROIAF post next Thursday, April 10th. The ROIAF will resume the following Thursday, April 17th, unless noted otherwise in the comments to this post.
Chapter 14: Brienne
Brienne and Podrick travel through the same lands she had traveled with Jaime before he’d lost his hand, and she thinks of how she’d loathed him then. Brienne has gotten the story of Podrick’s hapless and mostly-neglected formative years, and thinks he hasn’t received nearly the sword training a squire ought to have. She warns him that her training will be harsh, but Podrick takes to it eagerly, wearing each callous and bruise as a badge of pride; he wavers between calling her “my lady” and “Ser,” though she reflects she is no more a proper knight than Podrick is a proper squire. She hopes that he will remember something from his time with Tyrion that will give her a clue to Sansa’s whereabouts.
They encounter a husband and wife towing a cart on the road and exchange news. She warns them of the rumor she’d heard that the Hound is crossing the Trident with a hundred outlaws, raping and pillaging everywhere they go. The man opines that they won’t dare come too close to Maidenpool as long as Lord Tarly rules there. Brienne doesn’t like Randyll Tarly, but knows she owes him a debt, and hopes to pass through the town without him ever learning she is there. She recalls that Lord Tarly’s son Dickon is soon to be wed, which makes her think of her own aborted betrothal, and how different her life would be now if Lord Caron’s son hadn’t died. It makes her sad, but relieved as well.
They reach Maidenpool, and the guards at the gates decide to take the farmers’ eggs and the wife as well. Brienne prepares to defend them despite the odds against her, but then a man steps out whom Brienne is stunned to realize is Ser Hyle Hunt, one of Tarly’s captains. Hyle tells the guards who she is, and warns that she is “as mean as she is ugly, and there’s no one uglier.” The guards back off, and Hyle waves the farmers through, and the husband thanks him for being “a true knight.”
Hyle asks if Brienne’s going to thank him, and she replies that she’ll thank him in a melee someday. She tells him it was sorcery that killed Renly, not her, but Hyle only mocks her, and says she must come with him to see Tarly. She asks if she is to be arrested, but Hyle says no one cares about Renly anymore. He takes her to the fishmarket, where Tarly has set up a drumhead court and is doling out swift and harsh sentences for those brought before him. After, he bluntly asks Brienne if she killed Renly. Brienne says no, and Tarly considers, and declared that she let him die. He says she ought to never have donned mail, and threatens to ship her back to Tarth.
She shows him her parchment, and says her business concerns Sansa Stark. Tarly is sure Sansa is back in the north. Brienne suggests that she could have gone to her aunt in the Vale, but Tarly tells her Lady Lysa is dead (“some singer pushed her off a mountain”). He tells her to go do what she wants, but not to come to him when she ends up raped. He leaves. Ser Hyle offers to show her to the Stinking Goose, but she tells him to leave her. He says “it was only a game to pass the time,” but she ignores him and leaves. Podrick asks what Hyle meant, but she only says it was “a cruel game, hurtful and unchivalrous,” and sends him to find an inn for them.
She finds the Stinking Goose and waits for Nimble Dick to come in. In the meantime she thinks back to Ser Hyle and his cronies in Highgarden, and how they had pretended to court her with gifts and flattery and kindness, until Tarly had told her that it was all in pursuit of a wager to see which knight claimed her maidenhead first.
“They were knights,” she said, stunned, “anointed knights.”
“And honorable men. The blame is yours.”
The accusation made her flinch. “I would never… my lord, I did nought to encourage them.”
“Your being here encouraged them. If a woman will behave like a camp follower, she cannot object to being treated like one.”
Nimble Dick enters the tavern, and Brienne offers to buy him a drink in exchange for “a word.” She says she heard he “fooled a fool.” After she bribes him, Dick allows that he might have seen a fool, with two girls Dick didn’t see, asking for passage for three to the other side of the sea. Dick says the fool looked frightened anytime he saw men with Tarly’s sigil on them, and that he sent them to a smugglers’ cove that hadn’t seen smugglers in years. She produces a gold dragon for the destination, and Dick says they went to the Whispers in Crackclaw Point. He offers to take her there for ten more dragons, and she bargains him down to six, but only if they find the girls.
“My sister is a girl of three-and-ten. I need to find her before—”
“—before some knight gets in her slit. Aye, I hear you. She’s good as saved. Nimble Dick is with you now. Meet me by east gate at first light. I need t’ see this man about a horse.”
You know, the further I get in this novel, the more boggled I am at the complaints that I am talking “too much” about feminism in the commentary on it. Because, seriously, I’m baffled: what else am I supposed to be talking about, here? We get a Brienne POV where she does almost nothing but reflect upon the ways in which she is/has been discriminated against for being a woman daring to take on a “man’s role,” and I’m not supposed to talk about gender dynamics in ASOIAF? I’m not supposed to talk about this, even though the author himself has obviously chosen to concentrate almost exclusively upon it thus far?
What, am I in Random Subject Substitution Land or something? Up is grass, black is beer pong, and blatant themes of misogyny and sexism are… I don’t know, global warming? Brick-laying techniques? The total incomprehensibility of IRS tax form “instructions”? Something else that has absolutely nothing to do with anything that’s going on in this chapter?
Well, call me crazy, but I’mma choose to talk about what is actually happening in the book I’m reading, and save my thrilling
and extensive rant on the utter fuckery that is U.S. tax law for where it’s relevant. Which, protip: is NOT HERE.
You know what is relevant here? A discussion about gender roles in ASOIAF. So guess what you’re getting. Go on, guess, you’ll never figure it out!
So, rather than find a way to express my rage over the way Brienne is constantly treated that doesn’t involve lots of capslocked profanity and random keysmashing, I kind of want to take a more meta look at the way sexism and misogyny has been portrayed as a whole thus far in ASOIAF, and how I’m beginning to think that it is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Because, on the one hand, Martin has thus far shown a nearly uncanny accuracy in nailing a portrayal of a society positively rife with endemic misogyny, not only in the more obvious and blatant behavior that almost anyone can see, but also in the more subtle and insidious iterations that are frequently more difficult for your average person to see and/or articulate as sexist, embedded as we are in our own still highly gender-biased society. So obviously Martin gets many kudos for that from me, because making sure that people know that a bad thing exists in the first place is a crucial and unskippable step in one’s campaign to make sure that it hopefully someday stops happening. It’s a lot harder to deny that something is a an actual thing when people (or authors) are able to be all NO, LOOK HERE IS THE THING IT IS REALLY HERE NO YOU DON’T GET TO SAY IT ISN’T HERE BECAUSE LOOK, IT’S HERE. This is why representation matters.
Tarly’s speech to Brienne in her flashback in this chapter is a perfect example, in that it is an absolutely
infuriating classic portrayal of gendered victim-blaming: through the magic of misogyny, every knight who has decided to act like an giant pulsating asshole to Brienne, to taunt, mock, dismiss, and dehumanize her is automatically absolved of culpability for his actions. Because of course it is taken as a given that the knights’ behavior is not only Brienne’s problem, but it is also her fault, for her horrific and inexcusable crime of not neatly slotting into the role she was assigned without her consent, regardless of how well or ill-suited she was for it, because she happened to be born with a vagina instead of a penis and no other consideration factors into it. And no one even notices how completely bananas it is, to assign blame for an action on the one person involved who didn’t actually do that action.
So on that hand, I like that ASOIAF is so very cognizant of the Catch-22 nature of sexism and is not at all shy about shoving that in the reader’s face.
On the other hand, however, I am beginning to find that ASOIAF’s relentless commitment to showing the darker side of humanity (in all aspects, obviously, not just gender roles) sometimes seems to be less about hanging a lampshade on issues that need to be fixed, and more about just wallowing in the mud those issues create, so to speak. In other words, a lot of times there seems to be a strong thread of what I can only describe as hopelessness running through this series, that seems to say “people suck, and they will always suck, and there’s nothing to do about it but lie down in the gutter and be eloquently despairing of it all.”
And, you know, I get the basic emo appeal of that attitude, because there definitely is a certain terrible beauty to the idea of social entropy, or at least social stasis (i.e. nothing about human nature can ever really change, or ever will), but I find I have a strong problem with it as well, particularly as it applies to gender dynamics but really just in general.
Believe it or not, at the end of the day I am an optimist at heart. And it’s really not all that surprising when you think about it, because I don’t think any true feminist (or, indeed, any advocate of any kind of positive social change) can be anything else. I wouldn’t bother spending so much time and effort in pointing out what I feel is flawed in our society, after all, if I didn’t think that doing so might help to change it. Otherwise what’s the point? All the super-fun aggro and random hate you get for doing it? Yeah, no. It’s because you believe (or at least hope) that speaking up about these things, that pointing them out over and over again, will help to change them, and thus make things better than they were before.
Believing that humanity can better itself is an inherently optimistic outlook, of course. And I sometimes wonder, in reading ASOIAF, whether its often flawless portrayal of its world’s often stupendous flaws is worth anything if it isn’t also accompanied by the hope that some of those flaws could improve.
There’s probably more here to be said about what actually happened in the chapter, but this is too good a place to stop, so we are. Stopping, I mean. Talk amongst yourselves, and let’s see if we can’t better the tone of this one small corner of the Internet while we’re at it, right? Be excellent to each other, and I’ll see you in two weeks!