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 30 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 66 (“Bran”) 67 (“Sansa”) and 68 (“Daenerys”).
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, The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. 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 66: Bran
Bran watches the boys Rodrik is training in the yard below and tells Luwin they aren’t very good; Luwin agrees, but says they need men to replace the ones Ned and then Robb took away. Bran suggests that perhaps he could fight from atop Hodor’s shoulders, and points out that there was once a blind knight (Symeon Star-Eyes), but Luwin counters that that is only a legend. Bran tells Luwin he dreamed the night before that the three-eyed crow came to him and took him down to the crypts, where he spoke with his father (something to do with Jon, he thinks), but Hodor refuses to go down into the crypts with him to see if his father is there. Luwin tries to assure him that his father won’t be down there for many years, but Bran is stubborn.
Luwin consents to take Bran (and Summer) down, using Osha to carry Bran instead of Hodor. Osha finds the crypts grim, and Luwin gets Bran to tell her some of the history of the Kings of the North. Bran ends his recital with the story of his father’s siblings, Brandon and Lyanna.
“The maid’s a fair one,” Osha said.
“Robert was betrothed to marry her, but Prince Rhaegar carried her off and raped her,” Bran explained. “Robert fought a war to win her back. He killed Rhaegar on the Trident with his hammer, but Lyanna died and he never got her back at all.”
They reach the hole where Ned’s tomb is to go, and find Rickon there, along with his wolf Shaggydog, who attacks Luwin. Bran must order Summer to fight Shaggydog off until Rickon calls his wolf back. Rickon tells Luwin to leave his father alone, and reveals that he also had a dream of Ned in the crypts.
“You leave him. You leave him be. He’s coming home now, like he promised. He’s coming home.”
Luwin tries to convince Bran that Shaggydog should be chained up or even put down before he kills someone, but Bran only invites Rickon to come up to Luwin’s tower to wait with him. In the tower, Osha tends Luwin’s wounds while Luwin tries to insist that the boys’ dreams were just coincidence. Osha comments that the children of the forest could “tell you a thing or two about dreaming”, but Luwin insists they are dead and gone, and their magic with them, and that “The man who trusts in spells is dueling with a glass sword”.
He shows Bran the obsidian arrowheads that the children of the forest used to hunt with, and tells them the history of their race, and how they fought with the First Men when they came from the east, and how after years of war the First Men and the children forged the Pact and the two peoples lived in peace for a thousand years, until the Andals came and eventually conquered all but the Kings of the North. Luwin says the children died out, but Osha avers that they merely moved north beyond the Wall.
The story is interrupted when both wolves begin to howl, and Bran has a dread certainty of what is coming. The wolves stop just as a raven bearing a message lands on the windowsill. Rickon begins to cry, and Luwin retrieves the message.
Maester Luwin looked up at them numbly, a small grey man with blood on the sleeve of his grey wool robe and tears in his bright grey eyes. “My lords,” he said to the sons, in a voice gone hoarse and shrunken, “we . . . we shall need to find a stonecarver who knew his likeness well . . . ”
Oh, poor boys.
I guess this rather puts aside my uncertainty about whether Bran’s visions or dreams or whatever are genuinely psychic, though the fact that Rickon got in on it as well actually makes me still doubt a little. As with many (though not all) of the fantastical elements of his story, Martin seems to be still walking a line between whether these premonitions should be regarded as genuinely supernatural occurrences, or whether they are the kind of “maybe, maybe not” metaphorical literary devices you tend to see in mainstream literature.
As an example, I’m thinking specifically of Jane’s “vision” of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, which could just as easily be considered a coincidentally fortuitous flight of fancy on Jane’s part, as it could be a genuine instance of clairvoyance. Charlotte Brontë obviously (in my opinion) intended it to be ambiguous deliberately, and I kind of get the feeling Martin intends the same, except leaning just a tad more to the “supernatural” possibility than Brontë did, for obvious reasons.
Or maybe he’s not fronting at all and I’m just overthinking it. But that’s the feeling I get, so. I also have to say, I kind of like that and don’t like it at the same time.
Then there’s Bran’s casual assertion that Rhaegar carried Lyanna off and raped her, and Robert started a war to get her back. So, okay, Lyanna basically really was Helen of Troy, sort of, except that now I’m not a hundred percent sure that Rhaegar actually raped her, judging from what Jorah implied about him to Dany a few chapters ago. Then again, I don’t know that I actually trust Jorah’s word. But then again redux, it was hardly the kind of situation in which he would have any reason to lie. So I dunno.
And of course, Bran didn’t explain how she actually died any more than Ned did. Grumble.
The history of the children of the forest was interesting – reminded me a lot of the theories that Neanderthals and Cro Magnons coexisted for a while back in the day and didn’t get along either – that in fact the Cro Magnons basically wiped the Neanderthals out. I don’t know if that’s true or not – and my impression is anthropologists don’t know for sure either – but the nice thing about literary allusions is that it rarely matters if the legend or story you’re referring to is actually true. Regardless, I always thought that the idea was fascinating, because it would be more or less the only time ever that two sapient races inhabited the earth at the same time – something posited constantly in fantasy and science fiction but (unless we really missed something) never the case in the history of homo sapiens.
Also interesting was the sketch of the history of the Starks that Bran gave us, as well as the rest of Luwin’s info about The Seven Kingdoms: The Early Years. The Andals, I’m guessing, are the ancestors of the modern-day Lannisters? I might be stereotyping on that, just because Luwin described the Andals as “fair” and the Lannisters are all blond, and also like to horn in on everyone else’s shit, but hey, works for me until I learn otherwise.
Chapter 67: Sansa
Grief-stricken, Sansa lies in her room for days without eating or bathing, dreaming over and over of the moment when she saw her father beheaded. She considers suicide, but cannot go through with it. Finally Joffrey comes to see her, accompanied by Sandor Clegane and two more of the Kingsguard. He orders that she will attend court that afternoon, and when Sansa begs him to leave her be, has Clegane haul her out of bed. Clegane is gentler than Sansa expects in doing so.
Sansa pleads with Joffrey to let her go home, but Joffrey says his mother says they are to marry, so she stays.
“I don’t want to marry you,” Sansa wailed. “You chopped off my father’s head!”
“He was a traitor. I never promised to spare him, only that I’d be merciful, and I was. If he hadn’t been your father, I would have had him torn or flayed, but I gave him a clean death.”
Sansa tells him she hates him, and Joffrey has Ser Meryn beat her for him until she acquiesces, then leaves. Clegane lingers behind, and advises her to save herself the pain and do what Joffrey wants. She asks what that is.
“He wants you to smile and smell sweet and be his lady love,” the Hound rasped. “He wants to hear you recite all your pretty little words the way the septa taught you. He wants you to love him . . . and fear him.”
Sansa bathes and dresses and puts on makeup to hide the bruises. When Ser Meryn comes for her, she tells him he is no knight, but Meryn doesn’t care. At the audience, Joffrey’s judgments are capricious and cruel, and Sansa thinks to herself that “in life, the monsters win.” After it is over, Joffrey makes her walk with him, and asks what she is going to give him for his name day. At her confusion, he tells her she is stupid, and that Cersei worries their children will be as stupid as she. Joffrey goes on that if their first child is stupid, he’ll chop off her head and find a new wife.
Sansa realizes then that they are heading for the battlements, and she begs him not to make her go, but he threatens to have her dragged, and so she goes. On the battlements, the heads of those executed as traitors are mounted on spikes along the top of the wall. Joffrey shows her the head of her father, but Sansa decides she can’t see it, and only asks calmly how long she needs to look. Disappointed, Joffrey shows her Septa Mordane’s head as well, and when she fails to react properly to that as well, tells her he will give her a present on his name day instead: in retribution for defeating his uncle Jaime, Joffrey will raise a host and bring back her brother Robb’s head.
A kind of madness took over her then, and she heard herself say, “Maybe my brother will give me your head.”
Joffrey scowled. “You must never mock me like that. A true wife does not mock her lord. Ser Meryn, teach her.”
Meryn beats her again, and Joffrey tells her not to cry, as she’s more pretty when she smiles. Sansa makes herself smile, and contemplates shoving him off the parapet, but then Clegane kneels between her and Joffrey to dab at the blood on her face.
The moment was gone. Sansa lowered her eyes. “Thank you,” she said when he was done. She was a good girl, and always remembered her courtesies.
“I don’t want to marry you,” Sansa wailed. “You chopped off my father’s head!”
Even the mere notion of being in a position where that sentence actually has to come out of your mouth… I just have no words.
Except to say that I think I have to take back every mean thing I ever said about Sansa.
In a nightmare of a situation that is simply beyond horrific in every way, she shows a courage here that is frankly staggering. The simple, unbelievable, heartbreaking courage that every victim of abuse who gets up and continues forward possesses, even if they see no way to escape the trap they are in. To know you are helpless and yet refuse to give in to despair; to bend or be bent, and yet not break; that is a kind of strength that I find far more impressive than the kind that wins glory on the battlefield.
A kind of madness took over her then, and she heard herself say, “Maybe my brother will give me your head.”
Oh, snap. Sansa has so many kudos from me just for having the brass to even say that.
But nevertheless: agh, so terrible. I just hope she can stay strong, and find a way out of this horror show of a “courtship.” Hopefully before Joffrey gets to do anything more than beat her by proxy, because God, the disgust, I cannot even express it. She may have an ally in Clegane, of all people; I certainly hope she thinks to try and develop that. Surely the guy must be a little tired of being called “dog” by this psycho little pipsqueak by now?
Speaking of, I think it’s clear by this point that the only thing that differentiates dear King Joffrey from Hannibal Lecter is his culinary preferences. Well, and also that Lecter has Culchah. And, a brain. (Sometimes more than one, heh heh)
Which is a relief, because the sole factor that makes Joffrey fall short of the ultimate nightmare of a reigning monarch (not to mention a human being) is that I seriously doubt he’s smart enough to hold on to the job for very long. If he’d stayed content to let Cersei pull all the strings re: the actual ruling bits, and saved the exercises out of his copy of 101 Things A Growing Young Psychopath Can Do For Fun for his off time, he would last a lot longer, I bet. But this bullshit is only going to fly for so long before someone gets fed up with it enough to do something about it. I hope.
(he showed her Ned’s head Jesus Christ)
Also, Septa Mordane, really? That was just ridiculously unnecessary. And also, if I’m getting this right, somewhat akin to executing a nun, which, yeah.
Chapter 68: Daenerys
Dany dreams she is walking toward a red door. She sees Drogo making love to her, and Ser Jorah telling her Rhaegar was the last dragon, and the eggs in a brazier, and Viserys screaming that he is the dragon while the molten crown drips down his face, but they all disappear, and she begins to run for the door. Then she sees her son as a grown man, but he burns up from the inside and is gone. Ghosts of kings urge her on, and she runs faster until wings burst from her back and she flies. She reaches the door and finds her brother Rhaegar in armor on the other side.
“The last dragon,” Ser Jorah’s voice whispered faintly. “The last, the last.” Dany lifted his polished black visor. The face within was her own.
She wakes in her tent, in pain, and tries to crawl to her dragon eggs until Jorah enters and brings her back to her bed, and Mirri Maz Duur gives her a potion that makes her sleep. When she wakes again she asks Mirri to bring her one of the dragon’s eggs; she can feel heat coming from it, and feels something move inside.
She regains enough strength to ask about Drogo and her son, and Jhiqui tells her Drogo is alive, but the boy did not live. Dany thinks she had known even before she woke, from her dream, and cannot seem to weep; the thinks that “All the grief has been burned out of me.” When Jorah enters, she bids him touch the egg and asks if he feels heat from it, but he only feels cold stone.
At her insistence, Jorah reluctantly explains that the child “never lived”, and Mirri Maz Duur interjects that he was born a monster, with scales and a tail and wings, and his flesh was rotting and filled with maggots. She states that he had been “dead for years”; Dany counters that she felt him kicking before Jorah carried her into that tent, but Mirri replies that death was there. Dany sees that Jorah looks “half a corpse” himself, and tells him the shadows in there touched him too. Dany says to Mirri that she thought Mirri had meant the horse for the price, but Mirri says Dany knew that was a lie.
Dany insists on seeing Drogo. Outside her tent, only a hundred or so people remain, only women and old men other than Jorah and her riders. Jorah tells her that the khalasar split into a dozen smaller ones and took all the horses and most of the slaves. Dany asks about Eroeh, and Jhogo tells her one of the new khals, Jhaqo, had her gang-raped repeatedly and then slit her throat. Dany says that it was a cruel fate, but not as cruel as Mago’s will be. Uncertainly, Irri points out that Jhaqo has twenty thousand riders at his back.
She lifted her head. “And I am Daenerys Stormborn, Daenerys of House Targaryen, of the blood of Aegon the Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel and old Valyria before them. I am the dragon’s daughter, and I swear to you, these men will die screaming. Now bring me to Khal Drogo.”
Drogo is blind, seemingly deaf, and little more than catatonic. Mirri points out that Dany asked for a life, not what condition that life was in. Dany demands to know when he will be like he was before, and Mirri replies “When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child.” Dany says Mirri knew what would happen, and that she murdered her child. Mirri answers that the stallion who mounts the world will burn no cities and destroy no nations now. Dany says she saved Mirri, and Mirri spits that she was gangraped while her temple burned and her people murdered, and asks what life is worth when everything else is gone. Dany has Mirri bound, and considers killing her, but is unsure if it is worth it.
Dany bathes Drogo and takes him out under the stars that night, and tries everything she can to rouse him from his unresponsive state, but nothing works. Finally at dawn Dany admits to herself that he is lost, and finds a cushion and kisses him goodbye before pressing the cushion over his face.
It was the baby, then. Talk about subverting your fantasy tropes. What happens if the prophesied Ruler of (A Lot of) The World dies in childbirth?
I guess, again, that depends a lot on how “real” that prophecy is, and how much of it was really just barbarian mumbo-jumbo. As with Bran’s visions, could go either way in this story. If it was mumbo-jumbo, then nothing much will happen, I guess. If real… mm, dunno. I don’t get the feeling Martin subscribes much to the notion of Destiny trying to correct a skewed path or anything like that. It seems to me that, just like real life, whatever happens, happens. So… I guess also nothing?
Er. I think there’s something wrong with my logic there.
Anyway. Also like in real life, it really sucks that Mirri Maz Duur’s actions are both reprehensible and yet understandable at the same time. I can’t help but be furious on Dany’s behalf, but at the same time Mirri’s opinions of the Dothraki are totally justified in my view, and I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have done things any differently were I in her shoes.
That said, Dany shows an almost puzzling amount of restraint in not having her killed. I mean, I know I just said I sympathize with Mirri, but then again Mirri didn’t just kill my baby and render my husband into a catatonic husk that I would later be forced to smother, is my point here. Then again, Dany seems to acknowledge here that she walked right into Mirri’s trap – no, more like she flung herself headlong into it – so perhaps she is very maturely taking on a proportionate amount of the blame for what transpired. And she is right that killing Mirri would accomplish nothing… but still, it puzzles me.
Then again, Dany seems more than a little out of it right now, and who could blame her? Perhaps expecting normal emotional reactions to anything from her is a little much at the moment.
Which isn’t to say her speech promising retribution to Jhaqo et al wasn’t pretty awesome. I have no idea how she expects to fulfill that promise, but it sure sounded good.
As to Drogo’s death… I dunno how I feel. He was cool in his way, and certainly what they had in mind when they coined the phrase “larger than life,” and I definitely am sorry that he is not around anymore to protect Dany from his batshit insane culture, but I can’t say that I felt more than a fleeting moment of “aw, that’s a shame” for him. I mostly only feel bad because Dany does. *shrug*
In other news, can I just pause for a moment to note that Dany apparently gave birth to a half-rotted lizard, and then shudder really hard? I can? Thank you. (YIPE YIPE YIPE)
Although… that was because she walked in the tent full of death? The lizard part? Cause that seems… odd. She’s descended from dragons, right, I get that, but I’d think it would have come up before now if Targaryen children tended to be born with scales and wings and so on, so what the hell, over? Maybe Dothraki genes and Targaryen genes are really really incompatible, or something. Or the death shadows in the tent had a particularly perverse sense of humor, which I suppose is entirely possible.
But on the upside, Dany can feel heat and movement from the dragon’s eggs, eh? I WONDER WHAT THAT COULD MEAN.
I guess I’ll have to wait to find out! In the meantime, have a weekend, eh? Geaux Saints!