Mar 16 2012 2:00pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Part 11

A Read of Ice and Fire on Tor.comWelcome 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 11 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 22 (“Catelyn”) and 23 (“Jon”).

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 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 22: Catelyn

What Happens
On her journey to meet with Renly as Robb’s envoy, Catelyn wakes from a dream in which her family is all alive and together, and wishes for a moment that she could have the luxury of not having to be strong. She had argued with Robb about going, not wanting to leave her dying father, but Robb had told her he had no one else to send. He also revealed that he intended to march from Riverrun soon, but was cagy about where he intends to go, except that it is probably not Harrenhal. Catelyn is not happy about it, and resolves to get it over with as quickly as she can.

Her party is found by outriders a half-day’s ride from Renly’s current position. The scout leader treats them with courtesy once Catelyn identifies herself, and escorts them to the camp at Bitterbridge. Catelyn is shocked by the sheer size of Renly’s host, which seems to Catelyn to have all the lords of the south attached to it. They come to where a tourney is being held; a melee is in progress, and Catelyn thinks it “madness,” that Renly sits and plays at war when a real one is in progress all around him.

She sees Renly, handsome and richly dressed, and thinks that he is the spitting image of Robert in his younger years, and does not wonder why so many have flocked to him. Renly is sitting with his new queen, Margaery Tyrell, Ser Loras Tyrell’s sister, who seems shy and sweet. The melee is ending, with only Ser Loras and three other knights left, one a knight in blue armor. The other two knights attack the blue knight at once, who defeats them in one move and then engages Ser Loras. Loras knocks the blue knight’s weapon away, but the blue knight charges him anyway, and grapples him from his horse and defeats him.

Renly calls the champion over and remarks that he is “all your lord father claimed you were,” but there is very little cheering and some complaining. Catelyn asks her escort why no one seems to like the blue knight, and he tells her because he is a woman, Brienne of Tarth. Catelyn is horrified, and the escort adds that she’s called “Brienne the Beauty,” and when she takes off her helm Catelyn sees that the name is a cruel joke, as Brienne is very homely. Renly grants her a boon for winning the tourney, and she asks to be made one of his Rainbow Guard; Renly agrees, and Brienne beams in happiness.

Catelyn is presented to Renly; Renly greets her cordially, and vows to send her Cersei’s head in redress for Ned’s murder when he takes back King’s Landing. Brienne tries to insist that Catelyn kneel and call Renly “Your Grace,” but Catelyn tacitly refuses. Renly only laughs and tries to get her to tell him whether Robb is marching on Harrenhal. She dodges the question, but tells him that Jaime Lannister is still held prisoner at Riverrun, which seems to surprise Renly. Lord Randyll Tarly pronounces it “weak.”

“No disrespect to you, Lady Stark, but it would have been more seemly had Lord Robb come to pay homage to the king himself, rather than hiding behind his mother’s skirts.”

King Robb is warring, my lord,” Catelyn replied with icy courtesy, “not playing at tourney.”

Renly grinned. “Go softly, Lord Randyll, I fear you’re overmatched.”

Renly gives her his own pavilion to rest and refresh herself in, and promises they will speak further at dinner. Catelyn takes in the overblown opulence of the pavilion and thinks it is no wonder Renly’s host moves so slowly. The food at dinner is similarly rich, but Catelyn observes that unlike Robert, Renly does not seem to overindulge in either the meal or the wine, and appears to dote upon Margaery exclusively. The same cannot be said of many of the others, and Catelyn’s seatmate Lord Rowan observes that they are all very young; Catelyn realizes it is true, and that Renly and his unblooded cronies still think this is all a game. Catelyn comments that war will make them old soon enough, and that she pities them. Lord Rowan asks why.

“Because it will not last,” Catelyn answered, sadly. “Because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.”

Renly invites Catelyn to walk with him; Brienne seems devastated when he refuses to allow her to go with him to guard him. Outside, Renly tells Catelyn how Ser Barristan Selmy had been dismissed, and left King’s Landing vowing to take service with “the real king,” and asks if he is with Robb. She says he is not, and Renly comments that he’d hoped Barristan would come to him in Highgarden, but he hadn’t done that either. Renly tells Catelyn of his offer of support to Ned when Robert died, and that Ned had refused it, so he’d been forced to flee. He comments that he’d liked Ned, but that Ned “would not listen and would not bend.”

Renly guesses that Robb has something like forty thousand swords; Catelyn knows it is actually much less, but keeps silent. Renly tells her he has twice that here, plus another ten thousand at Highgarden and “a strong garrison” at Storm’s End. He also believes the Dornishmen will be coming to him soon, and seems to think Stannis will support him. Catelyn reminds him that Stannis actually has the better claim to the throne, but Renly insists that Stannis would make an “appalling” king, and that’s it’s not as if Robert’s claim to the throne was terribly legitimate either.

Renly makes his offer: in return for Robb’s support Renly will let him keep all his lands and titles, even “King in the North” as long as Robb acknowledges he is still subordinate to Renly. Before Catelyn is able to answer, they are interrupted by the arrival of a messenger with an urgent message for Renly: Storm’s End is besieged. Renly protests that they would know if Lord Tywin had left Harrenhal.

“These are no Lannisters, my liege. It’s Lord Stannis at your gates. King Stannis, he calls himself now.”


See, Renly, that’s what siblings do. You let your guard down for one second, and next thing you know: a wet willy and a Nelson laugh.

Well. Though admittedly, Stannis doesn’t seem much like the Nelson laugh type. Or the laughing type, period. I think you have to have a sense of humor before the whole laughing thing happens. Even if you’re only going for the crude schadenfreude style of laughter.

But hey, at least the word “laugh” makes no sense to me anymore!

So I wonder which way Renly’s going to jump now. Bitterbridge is close enough to Storm’s End (she says, all proud of her new map-looking ways) that it seems feasible that he could break off a chunk of his forces and send them to deal with Stannis. That’s what I would do, but of course what do I know?

Speaking of which, I really don’t get how Renly could seriously have thought that Stannis was going to just roll over and let him have the throne. I mean, has he met his brother? Well, that happy illusion has been right shattered now, hasn’t it?

And this is why, incidentally, that despite his superior numbers I persist in seeing Renly as not nearly as much of a threat as any of the other contenders in this conflict, especially after Catelyn’s observations in this chapter. Sometimes it really isn’t as much about size, and really is more about how you use it. Bluntly, I don’t think Renly actually knows how to use what he’s got.

In other news, the Martells must be having an absolute field day, figuring out who’s holding out the plummiest offer for their support. I wonder what Renly’s offering, and whether it’s a better deal than Tyrion’s. We’ll see, I guess.

Anyway. Catelyn’s awesome is continuing to hold, even as she’s making me feel very sad for her. Though of course she did have to throw out this gem re: Brienne:

Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?

Wow. I can’t decide whether that sentence depresses me more than it pisses me off, or vice versa.

And understand, I’m not sad and/or pissed at Catelyn for thinking it. I’m just disappointed in a world where that sentiment is true – or accurate enough to be true by default. And that’s our world as much as it is Martin’s.

Although, it would seem that the women of Martin’s world have at least a few more options available to them than their real-life period counterparts. At least, if there were any women (ugly or otherwise) allowed to be knights in medieval Europe I haven’t heard about them. (Knights in actuality, not just as a title, I mean.) For Martin that practically counts as a maniacal fit of optimism: making something slightly more equitable and fair than it was in real life? Golly!

But then again, Martin obviously has a much higher opinion of the capabilities of women than most of his characters do. Which is something I have definitely had cause to appreciate on this Read.

And, yeah. I don’t think I like Brienne very much, based on the short amount of time I’ve seen her for thus far, but I’m glad she got an opportunity to do something meaningful to her which she obviously enjoys, or at least is good at.

Very good at, at that, considering how she trounced Loras and a whole fieldful of other knights. Hmm.

Oh, and by the way, it is completely obvious that girl is absolutely head over heels, stupid in love with Renly. Which could be either a very good thing for Renly, or a very bad one.

As for Barristan, I guess if he’s not with Renly and he’s not with Robb, then he’s with Stannis. Which makes sense, since regardless of his personality flaws Stannis really does have the most legitimate claim to the throne.

That said, Renly does make a good (if cynical) point in this chapter, which is that history is written by the victors. Or rewritten, if necessary. Barristan and Ned may have been all about following the rules no matter what, but a large percentage of people are more than happy to switch to the “they’re more like guidelines, anyway” point of view when those rules become inconvenient to what they want. And sometimes that’s not even a bad thing, if the circumstances are dire enough (or if the rules are egregiously stupid enough), but it’s definitely not an attitude that promotes stability. As the current state of the Seven Kingdoms (which might be best summed up by the acronym FUBAR) attests.


Chapter 23: Jon

What Happens
The rangers ride through a miserable icy rain toward the keep of a wildling named Craster. Jon has heard many things about him; Thoren Smallwood swears he is a friend to the Watch, but Dywen and others say he is a liar and a rapist who traffics with slavers and demons. Mormont tells Jon to pass the word down the column where they’re going, and to warn the officers that everyone is to leave Craster’s wives alone.

Jon sees Sam on his way, who tells him that Dolorous Edd says Craster marries his own daughters and is a bas- he stops, embarrassed, but Jon laughs and reassures Sam that he’s heard the word “bastard” before. He goes on and encounters Dywen and Grenn. Dwyen makes a crude joke about Craster’s wives, saying it’s not hard to have that many “when you breed your own.” Ghost returns from the woods and he and Jon return to Mormont as they arrive at Craster’s “castle,” which is basically an oversized and extremely filthy hovel.

Craster, who matches his surroundings, tells Mormont that he hasn’t seen Benjen Stark for three years; he does remember when Ser Royce, Gared and Will came through, but doesn’t know or care where they went. Mormont tells him the times are bad to be alone in the wilderness, and offers him the hospitality of the Wall, but Craster rudely rejects the offer. Mormont tells him of the abandoned villages and the incident with the rangers who turned into wights, but Craster insists that the gods keep him safe, and he knows how to send wights back to their graves. He allows as how he might know where Mance Rayder is hiding.

Craster agrees to shelter them for the night in return for a share of their food and Mormont’s axe, but warns that any man who lays a hand on his wives loses the hand. Mormont tells Jon to bring Sam to draw maps. Craster comments that Jon “has the look of a Stark” before he goes. Outside, he hears a shout and finds Ghost with two dead rabbits and a young pregnant woman who pleads with him to get it away. Jon reassures her that Ghost won’t hurt her, and offers to make reparations for the rabbits. She calls him “m’lord”; he tries to tell her is no lord, but Chett and Lark overhear and taunt him that he is Lord Snow, “bastard of Winterfell and brother to kings.” The girl runs, and Jon ignores the men’s continued japes and goes to find Sam.

Jon and Sam share the second rabbit for dinner while Jon tells him about what Craster had said, and wonders how Craster holds the place with just him and his “wives.” Sam goes to the keep to draw maps, and Jon and Ghost go to sleep. The next morning, the rabbit girl (named Gilly) seeks him out, wearing Sam’s cloak, and asks if he is truly brother to a king. Jon owns that he is half-brother to one. She almost falls and Jon helps her up. She says she heard the king “gives justice and protects the weak,” and begs Jon to take her with him.

“For the baby, not for me. If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy, and she’s had six and knows these things. He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often.”

[…] “What gods?” Jon was remembering that they’d seen no boys in Craster’s Keep, nor men either, save Craster himself.

“The cold gods,” she said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”

Jon tells her they are riding toward these Others and their wights, and her baby would not be any safer with them. Gilly asks what about when they return, but Jon hedges that he cannot be sure they will come this way. Despairing, she flees. Jon goes to check in with  Mormont after breakfast, and then finds Sam with Gilly, getting his cloak back. She slinks off, and Jon berates Sam for sending her to him. He demands to know how they’re supposed to help her; wounded, Sam says that he thought Jon would help, and that they would come up with something. Jon walks off, feeling angry but also ashamed.

When the party departs, Jon tells Mormont that one of the wives told him Craster “gives his sons to the wood.” Mormont tells him he knows, and while he doesn’t like it, says that the wildling serve “crueler gods than you or I,” and that Craster’s hospitality has saved a lot of ranger lives. Jon comments that his father said some men are not worth having, but Mormont points out that they do not “have” Craster, and that the Night’s Watch’s purpose is not to set the world to rights.

Mormont goes on that Craster told them that Mance Rayder is gathering his people together in the Frostfangs and that’s why the villages are empty. Mormont is sure this is a precursor to Rayder leading a strike into the south. Jon points out that wildlings have tried to invade before and failed, but Mormont answers that now the Watch is a shadow of what it once was, and the lord of Winterfell is busy fighting Lannisters, and Rayder knows it. Jon asks what they will do.

“Find him,” said Mormont. “Fight him. Stop him.”

Three hundred, thought Jon, against the fury of the wild. His fingers opened and closed.

Oh, yeah, that sounds like a fabulous idea.

Mormont’s seriously planning on engaging Rayder? In hostile territory, with no clue (as far as I can tell) of his numbers or tactical advantages?

Well, all righty then. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


Craster: Now there’s a prince among men, whoo yeah. Serial incest and infanticide, that’s just super awesome. Though I guess it depends on your definition of “infanticide,” of course: if you send your sons off to become undead zombies (yeah, yeah, wights, I know, whatever, “zombies” is cooler) does that count as murder per se?

And now I’m getting all distracted with deeply silly questions on how this whole thing (probably doesn’t) work. Because, like, if the baby sons are going to the Others as fresh wight material, do the wights and/or Others raise the babies, and then make them wights? Because as improbable as that sounds, if they don’t, then I would think there would be an awful lot of eternally miniature baby zombies wandering around, and that doesn’t strike me as being very practical. Or maybe I’m being misled by my insistence on thinking of them as zombies, and they make the babies into baby wights and then the baby wights grow up to be adult wights. And now I’m picturing the Daycare Center From Frozen Hell with tiny blue and white homicidal toddlers crawling everywhere with rattles made of finger bones aaaaand maybe I should quit while I’m ahead here.

Or is it that the wights/Others are just eating the babies, and it is murder slash ritual sacrifice? It’s a little unclear from the text. And do wights eat people, or do they just murder them for fun? Because actually I’m not sure why I assumed they eat people in the first place. I guess it’s kind of like, why not have them eat people as well as everything else? Brutal atrocities, collect the whole set!

(…It’s possible that I’m a little punchy right now.)

ANYWAY. Craster’s a nutball either way. I’m contractually obligated to be pro-freedom and all, but I feel that Craster’s version of “freedom” lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that would keep it from being, I don’t know, a completely monstrous LIVING HELL. I mean, really.

I felt terrible for Gilly, of course, and all the other “wives.” And I felt almost as bad for Jon, who of course wants to save her and almost certainly can’t, but who I bet is going to try anyway. Related to that, I have a bad feeling about the fact that Jon definitely “laid a hand” on her. Sure, it was to help her up, but somehow I highly doubt Craster’s into semantics.

“Why not give [Craster] all our axes, and our swords as well? I mislike the way they clank and rattle as we ride. We’d travel faster without them, straight to hell’s door. Does it rain in hell, I wonder? Perhaps Craster would like a nice hat instead.”

Heh. I left Dolorous Edd’s commentary out of the recap for obvious reasons, but he is so hilariously Eeyore-like (an R-rated Eeyore, to be sure, but still) that I kind of love him.

And I think that is what I got for now, kids. Have a green beer or nine this St. Patty’s Day if that be your inclination, and I’ll see you next week! 

Ryan Lohner
1. Ryan Lohner
Hi, first time poster who just got all caught up on this thread. I'm a huge fan of the series, and it's awesome to see a person's first views on it. Because boy, does this series bring out some strong reactions. There are still some fans in denial that Ned is dead, believe it or not.

So, what's your pronounciation of Brienne's name? Everyone seems to have their own, and I greatly look forward to season 2 of the show giving an "official" one (though Martin has said everyone is free to pronounce any name in the series however they want).
Ryan Lohner
2. Lsana
As far as what Renly offered the Martells, my guess is that it was nothing. I suspect that Renly had about as much reason for believing the Martells would join him as he did for believing that Stannis would join him: because that's the way he wanted it to work. I'm not a Renly fan, and I'm pretty sure that Maester Cressen had the right of him: he sees this entire thing as a kid's game and is incapable of understanding how his actions might affect others or what the long-term consequences might be.

The worst thing about this is that Renly seems to be setting Westeros up for long-term civil war. If the throne should go to "the best fit" as determined by the guy who can raise the biggest army and kill the most people, why should Renly and Margaery's son have any special claim on the throne? Why, for that matter, shouldn't any of the lords go after Renly even while he's alive, assuming they think they can win a war?

This, incidentally, goes double for the Tyrells and the other lords supporting Renly. Renly at least is 21 and has some of the stupid arrogance that goes with that age. His supporters don't have that excuse.
Sorcha O
3. sushisushi
Craster and his wives give me the shivers, so they do. I'm assuming that Mormont is working on the lines that at least Craster is consistent and a known (if screwed up) entity, because he seems to think his intel is reliable. I'm sure there's more than white shadows to be afraid of in the night out beyond the wall, but how he fends *those* off, it's not clear.

They form a particularly apt contrast to Renly and the knights of summer, jousting and laughing. Instead of Craster among women, we have Brienne among men, who definitely don't love her. She does very obviously have a big thing for Renly, though, possibly because he's not actively being rude to her.

Also, from your resident Irishwoman, it's *PADDY'*, not PATTY! Sheesh, not unless you want to give the venerable saint an involuntary sex change!
Juliet Kestrel
4. Juliet_Kestrel
Correct me if I am mistaken, but I believe Renly showed Ned a picture of the Tyrell girl, asking if she had any resemblance to Ned’s sister. It almost looks like Renly is trying to creepily recreate his brother’s youth, to get a do over for the kingdom, sans Lanisters.

In the other chapter, there is a whole gaggle of ex-rapists and stuff at a keep full of women that want to be anywhere but where they are. Yeah that isn’t a recipe for disaster or anything.
Rob Munnelly
5. RobMRobM
Catelyn has lots of good zingers in this chapter, knights of summer being a truly great one.

Surprised you didn't comment on the back and forth between Catelyn and your favorite human being - Randyll Tarley, Samwell's beloved and oh-so-caring Dad.

"Speaking of which, I really don’t get how Renly could seriously have thought that Stannis was going to just roll over and let him have the throne. I mean, has he met his brother? Well, that happy illusion has been right shattered now, hasn’t it?" Well put. Renly assumes his overwhelming advantage in men - at least 10 to 1, if not more, would lead Stannis to stand down, but that's not Stannis' way.

Enter Brienne, dun-dun-dun. Keep in mind that this isn't jousting, where horsemanship and lance placement can win out over brute strength - this is a melee, with clubs and stuff. The fact that she wins, over knights with every incentive to beat her and avoid endless embarassment from their friends at losing to a girl, is beyond amazing. A Beauty indeed. FYI - it may be worth it to use your newfound mapreading skills and find Tarth - small island off the coast.

Re Where's Waldo - I mean Barristan - no comment.

Craster - ick. Another lesson to Jon about leadership. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles - but ick.

And good old, impossible Sam - trying to help out one of Craster's wives after Mormont told all to stay away.

Kudos - The Day Care Center from Frozen Hell bit is the single funniest concept you've come up with since this re-read began, and you've come up with some great ones before that. Brilliant!!

Emmet O'Brien
6. EmmetAOBrien
Lsana@2:The worst thing about this is that Renly seems to be setting Westeros up for long-term civil war.

I'm inclined to read that paradigm shift as having happened when the Targaryens were thrown out; I don't think I can see Renly growing up to be a person to whom treating all this as a game in the way he does is thinkable unless the notion of judging kings' fitness to rule is already floating about.
Ryan Lohner
7. Joffrey Lannister
Barristan is not with Stannis =)
Vincent Lane
8. Aegnor

One thing you kind of got wrong in your summary of the Catelyn chapter.
Renly does not seem to overindulge in either the meal or the wine, and appears to dote upon Margaery exclusively.
Note that that is not exactly what the text says at all. What it says is...
From time to time, King Renly would feed Margaery some choice morsel off the point of his dagger, or lean over to plant the lightest of kisses on her cheek, but it was Ser Loras who shared most of his jests and confidences.
Ryan Lohner
9. carolynh
My first impression of Brienne was that she is a bit "off." It's not because she's a woman trying to create a spot for herself among the men and their games. Her social skills just don't seem to be very advanced or mature to me.

I do feel sorry for Brienne. She's apparently as large as a man and not attractive in a world where beauty and delicacy (a la Sansa) are the ideal for women. She's brave and strong, which is admirable, and yet I find her hard to like. Perhaps if she could be easier in her own skin (though how hard must that be in this world for a woman like her), I could relate to her better.

The Jon chapter is a creepy one. We have the very creepy Craster and the even creepier things he does. The weather is creepy on their journey, and the spectre of the zombies and war looms over everyone. There's a huge creepiness factor in this chapter, though nothing major actually happens. It reminds me of the Arya chapter that describes the devastation of the war in the countryside while her little group is traveling north before Yoren (alas, poor Yoren!) is killed.
Ryan Lohner
10. ChrisG
"Stannis really does have the most legitimate claim to the throne."

Hmm - you might be forgetting about a character or two...

OK, maybe one.
Vincent Lane
11. Aegnor

That wasn't exactly what he was trying to do, regarding Margery's picture incident. Note that this isn't a spoiler for any future events, this is just an interpretation of the first book.

Renly hated Cersei and the Lanisters and thought them too powerful. He wanted to get rid of Cercei, something which Robert wasn't inclined to do. However, what if some girl showed up, that maybe looked like Lyanna. Maybe Robert might fall for her, and get rid of Cercei so that he could marry Lyanna...I mean Margery. And Cercei's children? Well...accidents happen.
Sanctume Spiritstone
12. Sanctume
Is Ser Loras brother to Maraery, so is he a prince of the Tyrells?

My first impression of about Craster's son given to old gods got me thinking "Children of the Forest."

I also started thinking Brienne = Xena!
Rob Munnelly
13. RobMRobM
@8 - correct.

@9 - I feel very sorry for Brienne, as I do for others in ASOIF who don't quite fit in (Arya, Sam, Tyrion, etc).

@11 - typical Renly in both cases. Interesting plans that are not fully thought through.
Rob Munnelly
14. RobMRobM
@12 - yes, Loras is Margaery's older brother. He is a younger son to the powerful Tyrell family (Wardens of the South).
Ryan Lohner
15. Brian Mac
@12, 14 -- But note that the Tyrell family aren't royalty. They're the lords of Highgarden, a powerful region in the south. You may be confusing them with the Martell family, the ruling family of Dorne, which actually does have princes, and is south of Highgarden. (I confuse the two names all the time.)
Sky Thibedeau
16. SkylarkThibedeau
Brienne is my favorite character. As you can tell from this chapter she is very committed to the Ideals of Westeros Chivalry and is somewhat sweet on Renly. Aside from Ser Barristan Selmy who also takes his oaths to heart (as we shall see) The Maid of Tarth is the most chivalrous knight in the Land.
Ryan Lohner
17. sofrina
i see brienne as an extension of aria. okay, you get your wish to be a warrior, but that life is as difficult to bear as trying to be a proper lady. you're still a lonely outcast, no matter how highborn your father is.

craster's keep was a nightmare of degradation. i would love to hear craster explain how he hit upon this particular idea for surviving in the wild. i'm not entirely sure what the others do with craster's sons, but the image of an army of dead babies with glowing blue pretty terrifying actually.
Vincent Lane
18. Aegnor
Brian Mac@15,

Whether the term prince indicates royalty, depends on the culture. For instance, I remember when reading War and Peace that all the nobility were called princes and princesses, not just those of the Czar's family. It is similar in Dorne. But yeah, the Tyrells follow the typical model where prince indicates those of royal blood and not just nobility.
Ryan Lohner
19. Rancho Unicorno
I expected to find my comment in the position of defending Mormont's decision not to act, especially with the fact that the women don't want to be there and with a few strokes they could dispose of Craster and send a small contingent (of the non-rapists-in-a-past-life) back to the Wall with the women.

But, I don't. And I haven't been this impressed in a while. Well done.

As for Brienne - what don't you like about her? Granted, she's never going to be able to compete with Margery (both looks and personality) and thus is setting herself of up for emotional pain, but she is also a woman who has found her talent and is developing it as best she can. When I think about my daughter, I hope she will have the strength of self to pursue a path that she loves, even if it is not one that is a traditional female role.
Ryan Lohner
20. Gentleman Farmer
Was this the chapter where Mormont proposed the name for the axe? It's one of my favourite lines in the series and I thought it might have been quoted... but I don't know if this is the chapter where it arose.
Matthew Hunter
21. matthew1215
Joffrey@7: White out spoilers please. Or, erm, your whole post, since it's all a spoiler.

Aegnor@8: Good catch. Glad that you pointed that out for Leigh.

Where's Barristan: Well, Leigh has done the math. Barristan did not go to Robb or Renly. Stannis does have a better claim to the throne than Renly, yes. We shall have to wait and see where he turns up. Stannis is certainly the last King in play for the throne at the moment...

In an overabundance of caution I am whiting out the whole next paragraph, because I can't resist saying it:

I feel obliged to note the common saying: "There are old soldiers, and bold soldiers, but no old AND bold soldiers." Barristan the Bold, now quite old. Where does an old, bold soldier go to find a King worthy of his sword? Perhaps he will take Joffrey's advice and make his way to the local tavern, in search of a great big flagon. Though he didn't seem quite ready to retire just yet.

@6: Between Robert and Cersei and Jaime, civil war was pretty much inevitable, yes. Renly is just icing, and Robb is the bonus round.

Concerning Mormont's plan to strike the wildlings as they gather, well, it makes more sense than you realize. Mormont's men are well armed and armored by the standards of the wild, trained, and (IIRC) mounted. They can do a lot of damage against poorly armed, poorly trained, unmounted militia at this tech level, and that's clearly how Mormont thinks of the wildlings. Whether he's right will have to wait for future chapters.

The Matter of Brienne: Without spoilers, I'll say that I rather like Brienne as a character. She's ugly, yes -- and that's fairly rare for a woman in a fantasy novel. What we see of her character here speaks to a combination of sincerity and naivety that is likely to get her into trouble, but is nonetheless endearing.
Ryan Lohner
22. ChrisG
Joan of Arc might be considered a historical precedent for a female knight. Perhaps not the person you want to be the model of your character given that she was burned to death at 19, and notable as a unique case, but she seems to fit.

She was more of a military leader than a combatant, but a very successful martial female who repeatedly exhibited personal bravery in battle nevertheless.

Also, Brienne is known as the Maid of Tarth, and Joan was known as the Maid of Orleans...
Ryan Lohner
23. ryamano
Regarding what happens to male babies in Craster's keep:

Remember that Old Nan told the story to Bran about the long winter, and how the Others hated babies a lot, and fed them to the spiders they rode. This could happen. What happens to the souls of the babies, who knows?
Ryan Lohner
24. Dolphineus
"Craster, who matches his surroundings, tells Mormont that he hasn’t seen Benjen Stark for three years; he does remember when Ser Royce, Gared and Will"

You didn't comment on this at all Leigh, and I'm wondering if you placed the names? It was a long, long time ago, but I'm pretty sure Will was beheaded by the late Eddard Stark and his greatsword Ice, shortly before the Stark boys encountered a dead dire wolf and a handful of pups.

Brienne ... love her. Then again, I like noble characters. I like characters with honor and decency. I liked Ned Stark. I liked the fact that he was the only decent person in Kings Landing. Sure, it got him and everyone with him killed, but its fantasy. I can root for the honest guy or gal. In real life, I know the slimy bastards are going to win. Let me have my delusions, lol.

As for her size ... from the author's mouth:
"Brienne is well over six feet tall. Just off the top of my head, I would say Brienne is taller than Renly and Jaime and significantly heavier than either, but nowhere near the size of Gregor Clegane, who is the true giant in the series. Shorter than Hodor and the Greatjon, maybe a bit shorter than the Hound, maybe roughly the same height as Robert."

From this I figure she is roughly 6'4" - 6'6", probably somewhere around 220lbs. And yes, she is totally besotted with Renly, who really has not interest.

Possible spoilerish, so whiting out ...
Martin was way too subtle with Renly in the books. When reading for the first time, I really didn't pick up on it. The HBO series has been much more obvious about it from the start.
The Martell's ... they are the only great house we really don't know much about. We've met the Baratheons, the Starks, the Lannisters, the Tyrellls, even the Tullys, Aryns and Freys. Have we met a Martell yet? How long before we find out much at all about them?

Great job as always Leigh! Thanks, can't wait for next weeks!
Joe Vondracek
25. joev
Which makes sense, since regardless of his personality flaws Stannis really does have the most legitimate claim to the throne.
More legitimate than Daenerys' claim?
And now I’m picturing the Daycare Center From Frozen Hell with tiny blue and white homicidal toddlers crawling everywhere with rattles made of finger bones...
Isn't that why they're called "ankle biters"?
Juliet Kestrel
26. Juliet_Kestrel
@11 Aegnor
Yes I know that was what Renly was trying to do back in book one, but now he has gone and taken the Lyanna look alike for himself. He also looks like a younger version of Robert, and is intent on gaining glory in a battle for the throne like Robert, etc.
Renly is calling the grand daddy of all do-overs..
Katie Pi
27. Darth_Katie
I'm sorry, but everytime I read "Gilly" I think of Kirsten Wiig from SNL.

Gillllllly did you launch a drinkable yogurt at me?

... sorry.
Tricia Irish
28. Tektonica
And now I’m picturing the Daycare Center From Frozen Hell with tiny blue and white homicidal toddlers crawling everywhere with rattles made of finger bones......

ROFLOL!!! Great image, Leigh! You do have a way with words.

I'm amazed you didn't like Brienne. I find her very liberated. She obviously doesn't fit the the typical "lady" mold, but has found her calling, and has pursued it, successfully. She seems pretty upstanding to me. Naive, yes, but I admire her. (Caveat: I haven't reread this chapter, so I could be way off base about how she is presented. )

And....Craster....ick indeed. And poor Jon. He is an upstanding guy, and I'm sure would love to kick Craster's ass,and save the women, but he's not in a position to do that.
Birgit F
29. birgit
I'm pretty sure Will was beheaded by the late Eddard Stark and his greatsword Ice, shortly before the Stark boys encountered a dead dire wolf and a handful of pups.

That was Gared, not Will. Jon remembers the execution in this chapter when Craster talks about meeting them.
Ryan Lohner
30. Mike Tempest
Regarding Brienne (pun really not intended):
1. Catelyn shouldn't cast aspersions, seeing as though she has a daughter of her own who isn't considered a great beauty - namely Arya.
2. As far as I know, the only female heroic figure in medieval Europe was Joan of Arc, and none of Martin's characters seems to me even remotely related to her. But maybe I'm forgetting something.
3. I doubht that if Brienne - and Arya too for that matter - were prettier than they are, they'd be so interested in fighting with swords and being knights and all. Or at least that they'd have a chance to indulge in such activities.
Ryan Lohner
31. D-Mac
I'm suprised you did not comment on your impression of our first introduction to Samwell's father Lord Tarley, aside from his talk of "weakness"...or did u miss that this is Sam's daddy-o?
Ryan Lohner
32. ghostforms
I don't think it counts as murder as they are called the LIVING dead for a reason, and some of those zombies can live long productive and meaningful lives; haven't you ever seen Ugly Americans? Sheesh!
Also, Crastor may lack a certain jen au cest quoi but I think his outlook on the whole might be C'est la Vie, so what can you do?
Ryan Lohner
33. sofrina
@20 - yes, he named the axe "luck" and makes the striking point that craster's women can take their fates into their own hands at any time. i don't know that any of them want to leave the keep, though. what else have they ever known? they just want to be rid of craster.
Dawn Boyall
34. deebee
It`s interesting that Lady Mormont and her daughter (or is it daughters?) don`t meet with the same disapproval as Brienne. Maybe they`re made from sterner stuff in the north.
Ryan Lohner
35. MikeFlynn
For an appraisal of women in the actual Middle Ages, see Regine Pernoud's Women in the Days of the Cathedrals.
Ryan Lohner
36. Zizoz
On legitimacy of claims: If you accept Robert's claim, then Stannis is certainly the true heir. If not, though... I'm going to white this out since I don't know if it's been mentioned in the books yet, though it's just a bit of Westeros history that is in no way secret: After the civil war called Dance of the Dragons, all female heirs to the throne are placed behind all male heirs in the line of succession. So in fact, Stannis could legitimately claim to be the rightful king even ahead of Dany.
And now an actual spoiler: Of course, Aegon still has a better claim... assuming he's the real thing.
Rob Munnelly
37. RobMRobM
30. The text makes clear that Arya is pretty, just young and lacking self-awareness and self-confidence. Ned makes clear she closely resembles Lyanna, a recognized beauty.
Eli Bishop
38. EliBishop
Zizoz @36: I don't think your first whited-out remark makes sense. If you don't accept Robert's claim in the first place, then Stannis isn't in the line of succession at all, neither ahead of nor behind anyone.

deebee @34: I think you're right that the North is just different. The South in general has this Andal-derived culture that includes certain ideas about gender roles, and chivalry, and the Faith of the Seven. The lords of the Reach, including most of Renly's new allies, are particularly crazy about that stuff-- as we see in this chapter with the heavy emphasis on pageantry and sort of the Disneyworld view of medieval life.
Brandy Thomas
39. Roese
#34. Catelyn actually makes a comment/observation comparing Brienne and the Mormet women. Which, if I remember correctly to me seemed pretty spot on, on why they are seen differently. I am pretty sure it is in another couple of chapters.
Jennifer McBride
40. vegetathalas
Geat post, Leigh. I'd never thought about the wight day care angle.

@1: The audio books pronounce it "Bry-Eeen" (to rhyme with "fly screen"), and since the audiobooks like the series also pronounce Tyrion TEAR-ion instead of TIE-rion, I suspect that's the official version.

Although I don't understand how you can have TEAR-ion but Mace TIE-rell and TIE-win Lannister. The linguistics in this world are weird.
Dawn Boyall
41. deebee
I`d always assumed that the babies given to the Others weren`t actually taken away, more that they were like any other form of sacrifice to propitiate the gods. In other words, it`s the death that is a gift to the gods, the body itself is buried or burnt or whatever.

Or have I missed something in the text?

I can safely say that a horde of icy blue-eyed babies crawling around somewhere never occurred to me...
Thomas Ljungberg
42. MatFarshaw
"Craster, who matches his surroundings, tells Mormont that he hasn’t seen Benjen Stark for three years; he does remember when Ser Royce, Gared and Will came through"
A reminder/confirmation that this party traveled north of the wall - so how did Gared end up being caught and executed to the south of the wall? A mystery I think.
Eli Bishop
43. EliBishop
@42 - If you mean "how did Gared get past the Wall", I don't think it's all that mysterious; there are some references to wildlings going over or around it now and then, it's not impossible for one guy or a small party. If you mean *why* did he go south, I'd think the events of the prologue in book 1 would be motivation enough.
Julian Augustus
44. Alisonwonderland
@40: right you are. I had a problem with the pronunciation of Tyrion in the series quite inconsistent with the spelling and with the pronunciation of other character names. I call him Tie-rion in my head, and nothing is going to change that.
Ryan Lohner
45. D-Mac
I LUV ME SOME DOLOROUS ED!!...everything he utters is pure dolorous gold!
Ryan Lohner
46. JohnnyMac
Dolorous Ed is easily my favorite among the minor characters. He reminds me of Puddleglum the Marshwiggle in C. S. Lewis's "The Silver Chair".
Ryan Lohner
47. cjhard
Holy crap your writing style is annoying. Yes, we get it, you've spent time on tvtropes, you don't need to capitilise the first letter of everything that's a trope, god damn.
Ryan Lohner
48. userj
There's a more charitable (towards Renly) explanation put forward in an earlier chapter (by Varys was it?) about why he is apparently wasting time with all this chivalry. Renly wants Stannis to attack King's Landing first. After Stannis has done the difficult work, Renly can swoop in and clean up any remnants. Considering the time Stannis has been taking in making his move, Renly's had to move extreeemely slowly. I don't think he seriously ever thought Stannis would join him willingly. Of course the fun of it is that he looks like an utter fool to Catelyn, which is fun to observe. :)
Rob Munnelly
49. RobMRobM
@48. Good point. He also wants Robb to weaken Tywin's forces as well. not a bad plan, except he looses the initiative to all the other Kings.

@41. I don't recall what I thought was up with the babies left out for the Others. I may have assumed they'd serve as baby-sized snacks. Leigh's day care suggestion floored me.
Ryan Lohner
50. The SmilingKnight
Every time i come here and think, ill just read this time, wont comment...

*Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?*

There is my lady, there is. A man who doesnt look like whatever men are supposed to look. As strong winner and supreme provider.

Also, hah...

*And, yeah. I don’t think I like Brienne very much, based on the short amount of time I’ve seen her for thus far, - Very good at, at that, -Hmm.*

Huhf! Ufffhh! Mrrgnnmmmmmfffff!

And i have yet to read the second part...
Ryan Lohner
51. The SmilingKnight
As to Night Watch chapter. I guess now it is a bit more clear what meaning "beyond the Wall" has. As in beyond civilization in every aspect.

As for Mormonts plans... and future chapters : good times just keep rolling in.
Ryan Lohner
52. MikeDeepo
Lsana @2: I agree, Renly probably didn't offer the Martells anything, but it's not quite as bad as him just hoping that they'll join him. He's in conflict with the Lannisters, and so he's assuming the Martells are going to support him because of the deaths of Aegon's Martell wife and half-Martell kids when Tywin sacked King's Landing during Robert's Rebellion.
Ryan Lohner
53. Zizoz
@38: Stannis would be in the line of succession since his grandmother was a Targaryen.

Re: pronunciation: I say TEAR-ion and TEAR-ell, but also TIE-win, just because that's what seems natural to me. I would pronounce Ty like «tie» but Tyr like «tear».
Ryan Lohner
54. AuttieB
Although Brienne is kinda vague personality-wise here, I've always loved this chapter cause she kicked Loras's ass. Which (while it definitely needed doing) makes it doubly awesome cause he won the Hand's tournament and was basically the reigning Knight-Champion of Westeros. Score for Feminism (you take what approximates in this series)...Mwah ha ha ha.
Vincent Lane
55. Aegnor

Yes, Stanis is in the line of succession, but WAY down on the list. Certainly way behind Daenerys, regardless of her gender.

Oh, and AuttieB@54,

Loras wasn't the champion of the Hand's tourney. The Hound was.
Ryan Lohner
56. NotInventedHere
@53: Ooh, fun Fantasy name pronounciation time. I agree with you about Tyrion. Tyrion was always, without a doubt, TEAR-ian. If you look up Tyr in the dictionary/encyclopedia/wikipedia, it is a Norse word meaning (generic) "God" and is pronounced like tear (incidentally, Tiw is apparently the Old English version, where the i is pronounced like eye - so I guess Tyrion was named to follow his father after all! ).

Brienne I always pronounced as BREE-enn; seems similar to the name
Brianne but with an e instead of an a so I pronounce it that way. None of this ridiculous Bry-EEN nonsense -
sounds even uglier than the character.

(Not really serious about all the "clearly" and "without a doubt" - it is always interesting to see how people pronounce things in a vacuum. Of course, if you disagree with me you are wrong, but that's just the way it is ;)
Dawn Boyall
57. deebee
At least GRRM is okay about letting people pronounce his characters' names any way they want, The Wheel of Time pronunciations are seriously weird and RJ was apparently determined people would pronounce them the right way. (Taim=Tah-Eem??!! That`s a syllable too many in my eyes)
Ryan Lohner
58. jcfocarino
Can we just all appreciate the fact that Renly's 'kingsguard' is called the "Rainbow Guard"? And Ser Loras is the Lord Commander of this Rainbow Guard? That's a metaphor if I ever did see one!
Julian Augustus
59. Alisonwonderland
@57: ah, but RJ was at least consistent. He wanted Taim, Faile, Aiel (a in front of i) etc, always pronounced the same way: Ta-eem, Fa-eel, A-eel, etc. But here we have GRRM wanting people to say Tie-win for Tywin, but Tih-rion for Tyrion. What rubbish is that? (all in jest, please).
Dawn Boyall
60. deebee

I thought GRRM was on record saying people could pronounce his names however they wanted?
I don`t have any quote, can anyone else help me here?
I noticed on the TV they weren`t consistent-some people called her Arr-yah and others Arr-ee-a.

I know RJ was consistent-his names are consistently pronounced in the most unlikely way possible and with waaay more syllables than anyone needs!
(And equally just joking-I think!)
Dawn Boyall
61. deebee

Your comment about Brienne made me compare her to Sam-both are physical misfits in a world that wants both sexes to fit into their allotted boxes.Women will be slender and beautiful and men will be handsome, muscular and virile. This isn`t a world that tolerates anyone who deviates from the norm.

And that set me thinking about Tyrion...I find myself a bit surprised he survived infancy, it`s easy to imagine Tywin making alternative arrangements.
Eli Bishop
62. EliBishop
@59: Just speaking as a language pedant, I don't understand the objection. There are plenty of examples in English, and in most Romance languages too, of vowels that are pronounced differently depending on the letters before or after them. And pronunciation is usually even more irregular for names than for other words, because they're often derived from words in earlier versions of the language (or borrowed from other languages).
Brett Dunbar
63. Brett
Renly was being fairly intelligent stategically by delaying. He had his army stationed on the supply lines to King's Landing so he was able to keep a large army supplied by using the food from the Reach that would normally feed the city while simultaneously starving the city. He was also recruiting and training more troops while hunger and fighing was weakening the Lannisters. The longer this went on the stronger he would be. His main weakness was his troops were relatively inxperienced, the tournaments he was holding should help with that, as they are pretty decent training for knights.
Ryan Lohner
64. wickedkinetic
I have to strongly disagree with this thought that seems to permeate these threads - "This isn`t a world that tolerates anyone who deviates from the norm."

I feel Grr makes it very clear that this world is harsh for everybody. If you're 'little people' your life and death is at the royals whims, and the comforts and stability of your world is entirely dependent on the decency and strength of your local lords and their regional superiors. It seems that with the exception of the Starks, every lord has their executioners and their torturers and their abuses of power.

And if your a royal, you get nicer clothing and food, maybe some education, maybe some martial combat training, but you don't get to court and choose a partner, but get to have arranged marriages to build or consolidate family power, which is really the primary driver of all actions of most of the royals it looks like..... pick the right horses and you gain lands, wealth, and favor, gamble poorly and they kill everyone remotely related to you and give your lands to some other brown-nosing upstarter......

So yeah, Grr does a great job showing how limited their options are, and how hard it is for any to 'choose your own adventure', but to say that Arya or Brienne have it any worse than any other characters in this book is slightly insane. Look at how much fun Sansa and Robb and Brandon and Jon and Daeny and Drogo and etc etc etc get to have fulfilling 'normal' gender and cultural roles....

Arya is not ugly - she is 12 and a tomboy and nowhere near enough to puberty to judge what womanly beauty she may grow into. Ned did compare her to Lyanna, but I do not think she was a 'great beauty' but more the earthy girl-next-door type, and I think Robert did a lot of building up his memory/idolization of her when I'm not sure he ever got to know her.... I think the comparison is that Lyanna shared her wolfish/tomboyish/adventurish nature, and her lack of interest in 'social graces', and perhaps a refusal to follow in good-little-arranged-marriage-royalty life plans.....

I really enjoy the Brienne character, she is very strong and good with weapons, but it seems her training lacked strategy, warfare, tactics, and definitely lacked politics, or any sort of gaming. She is also incredibly young and naive, almost a mirror-image of Sansa in many ways - she believes in the songs but doesn't get to be the pretty bride-to-be... she is almost melo-dramatically tragic, but alas can't really discuss more in depth until we get further along in the story to avoid spoilerage.....

anyway - tired of hearing 'weirdos have it rough' - I think this is true in any time and culture, and its not like they're going Craester and giving these people to the Others or something - Arya and Brienne (and Tyrion) because of their royal birth, are tolerated in their unusual choices, but naturally they are different and are made fun of - just like 'different' people in real life.... just another hyper-realism of Grr's - one of the primary reasons I find his work so powerful....
Dawn Boyall
65. deebee

I think your point is mostly a fair one, this is a world in which is pretty grim for anyone not in a position of power. My comments were about Brienne and Sam (not Arya, who in my opinion has been pretty well accommodated in terms of her tomboy preferences)
And Sam was disinherited and threatened with murder if you recall, because he embarrassed his father by being fat and failing to fit the knightly stereotype. Not only disinherited but sent to the Wall, to a life sentence of celibacy at the edge of civilisation.
As for Brienne-like you, I have to wait till we can get there in the read.
Dawn Boyall
66. deebee
And ...on the ages of the Stark children- Arya is nine, not twelve. Even Sansa is only eleven. Rickon is four and Bran is seven I think. And Robb 15?
Ryan Lohner
67. phuzz
On the lines of sucession, I'm with Renly on this, the true king (or queen) is the one who conqueres the kingdom.

Putting it like that Tywin Lannister is probably odds on favourite (as he's a smart commander and has a lot of resources), provided he can overcome the drag factor of his daughter and grandson doing their best to mess everything up.

Renly has the men, but seems to lack in effective leadership, and Stannis and Robb are lacking in men and resources.

Otherwise there's always the outside choice of Mance Ryder, assuming all the rumours we've heard are true... (and he doesn't turn out to be a slightly more popular version of Craster)
Ryan Lohner
68. Carolyn H
Not that it matters one teeny tiny little bit of toast, but no one's preferred pronounciation of Brienne has yet matched my own, so I will offer my own: Bree-EN
Rob Munnelly
69. RobMRobM
@68. Seconded.

@66. Correct. Arya and other Stark kids are aged up three years or so in the HBO show.


Looking forward to Leigh's take on the upcoming chapters.
Ryan Lohner
70. Black Dread
Gentleman Farmer - Mormont told Jon that if Castor was sleeping off a drunk in his loft. If his daughters were praying for help and deliverance, there is a sharp new axe laying on his table. They could name it "answered prayer" and help themselves.
Tabby Alleman
79. Tabbyfl55
Humorous take aside, Leigh raises an excellent question that I never considered before. What DO the Others want with human babies???

Ritual sacrifice to dark powers is my guess, and it is a guess because if it's a RAFO, I haven't gotten that far.

And yes, "Rainbow Guard"? reeeeal subtle, GRRM...

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