Apr 30 2012 10:00am

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Part 16

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 16 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 33 (“Catelyn”) and 34 (“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 33: Catelyn

What Happens
Ser Royce takes Catelyn to a sept, where she prays to the Seven, particularly to the Mother, to spare her sons and watch over them. She wonders if Ned’s old gods ever answered him. She remembers her own mother, and wonders if she would have thought Catelyn a failure as a mother and wife. She thinks that Cersei is a mother too, and realizes that Cersei would certainly have killed both Jon Arryn and Ned to protect her son Joffrey, and further realizes that that must have been why Bran had been a target as well.

At length Ser Royce comes for her, and she returns with him to the command tent, where Brienne is fitting Renly with his armor. She asks to speak with him, but Renly makes her wait while he confers with Lords Tarly and Rowan. Rowan is pushing to attack immediately, without waiting for the dawn, but Renly rejects this as “unchivalrous”. He laughs at even discussing the possibility that Stannis will yield, and orders them to make sure his brother’s corpse is not desecrated. He also orders that Barristan Selmy is to be spared if he is with Stannis.

After the lords leave, Catelyn explains to Renly her revelation about the attempt on Bran’s life, and proposes that she go to Stannis with this, and that Robb, Stannis, and Renly should lay aside their crowns and convene a Great Council to depose the Lannisters and elect a new king. Renly laughs and tells her the time for talking is done. Suddenly there is a breeze in the tent, and Catelyn sees Renly’s shadow move independently of him. The shadow of his sword slits his throat, and Renly bleeds out almost instantly, falling into a shrieking Brienne’s arms.

Royce and Emmon Cuy come running, and seeing Brienne covered in Renly’s blood Emmon assumes she is the culprit and attacks her, ignoring Catelyn’s scream for him to stop. Brienne snatches Renly’s sword and fights for her life against Ser Emmon. Catelyn grabs Royce and begs him to believe it was Stannis using dark sorcery that killed Renly, not Brienne. Royce is uncertain, but promises to hold the others off, and leaves. Catelyn stuns Emmon with a blow to his head from behind, and commands Brienne to come with her.

They escape from the tent and the camp back to Catelyn’s men. Catelyn tells her what she thinks happened, and a grief-stricken Brienne vows she will kill Stannis with Renly’s own sword. Catelyn convinces Brienne that she cannot go back for her horse or armor, and that they must leave at once before they are noticed. They ride away as dawn breaks, and Catelyn realizes that Stannis has won himself Renly’s entire vast army with “a single evil stroke”.

I am the rightful king, he had declared, his jaw clenched hard as iron, and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well.

A chill went through her.

Well, shit.

So much for that.

Uh, so, exit Renly! That is… really not where I expected his storyline to go. Or stop, rather. I was at least expecting he would have a chance to realize his hubris before biting it. But hey, maybe it’s nicer for him this way, ignorance being bliss and alla that.

Well, you know, except for the part where he’s dead, and all. That kind of puts a damper on the bliss of ignorance, methinks.

So! One would-be king down, three-to-four-ish to go! Yay?

Sort of yay, yeah. I liked Renly and all, but I had severe doubts about his long-term chances at not being a shit king. Not that I think anyone currently in the running except Robb (and possibly Daenerys) stands a chance of not sucking at the job, but, well, yeah.

As for how he died… erm. Well, I guess I can definitely shut up now about the paucity of magical happenings in Westeros, though in my defense I think I did opine a while ago that it was gradually ramping up, so neener, somewhat.

As for whoithinkdunnit… well. I’m not a hundred percent sure who did do it, but I would be shocked to find out that it was Stannis, because this doesn’t seem like him in the slightest. The guy’s a dick, sure, but he’s a dick precisely because his rigid adherence to his moral code makes your average radical demagogue look like a real laid-back guy. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinking sneaky underhanded magical assassinations to avoid straightforward battles are seriously not Stannis’s bag.

Melisandre, on the other hand, is a whole other ball of wax. I can totally believe she would do it, without Stannis’s knowledge, just to hedge her side’s bets, because that’s just the kind of sneaky underhanded gal she seems to be. Or seems to be to me, at any rate. Yep, I think this is the theory I’m going with until I find out otherwise: Melisandre, in the command tent, with the magical shadow sword… thingy.

Which, assuming I’m right, makes the next question, what will Stannis do if/when he finds out about it? I’m thinking his reaction will not be pretty, to say the least.

Also, go Brienne! I mean, it sucks that she’s going to be labeled a traitor and a regicide and all now, and I see some major angst over her lost unrequited love in her future (however much Renly didn’t deserve that level of feeling from her), but if you ask me she’s better off with Catelyn anyway. Or at least I hope so.

Also, this is kind of morbid or mean, maybe, but in a way I think it’s kind of better that now Brienne will never have to deal with Renly breaking her heart in a more mundane way – as you know perfectly well he would have, sooner or later. Or wait, nevermind – if I recall correctly Brienne was probably going to get extremely killed this day anyway, because Renly was putting her in the van of the charge like the prince he was. So actually Renly’s death probably saved her life, not her heart.

Which makes me wonder why I keep thinking that I like Renly, because actually he was kind of a douche, wasn’t he? At least on that score. I dunno, with this series, so many characters are completely horrible that I think I have a tendency to give excessive leeway to anyone who shows even a hint of decency by comparison. That’s a slippery slope that bears watching…

And again, I have to heart Catelyn for, as ever, keeping her head in a crisis and knowing how to act fast and intelligently. And for clocking a knight with a brazier, hah. She really needs to stop beating herself up, though. I understand the impulse but girl, even you can’t do everything.

The Warrior was Renly and Stannis, Robb and Robert, Jaime Lannister and Jon Snow. She even glimpsed Arya in those lines, just for an instant.


“There’s been no word of Ser Barristan since Joffrey cast him out,” Lord Rowan objected.

[Renly:] “I know that old man. He needs a king to guard, or who is he? Yet he never came to me, and Lady Catelyn says he is not with Robb Stark at Riverrun. Where else but with Stannis?”


Bastards were common enough, but incest was a monstrous sin to both old gods and new, and the children of such wickedness were named abominations in sept and godswood alike. The dragon kings had wed brother to sister, but they were the blood of old Valyria where such practices had been common, and like their dragons the Targaryens answered to neither gods nor men.

Interesting. So incest is regarded as an abomination… unless you happen to be a Targaryen? Must be nice to have such a specific grandfather clause.

(“Grandfather clause.” Hahahaha. Okay, possibly that joke is only funny to me.)

But seriously, so the Targaryens just got an automatic Get Out of Abomination Free card? That seems hinky. But then again, perhaps it was more a matter of “maybe we shouldn’t hurl accusations of depravity at folks who have giant fire-breathing lizards to annihilate us with.”

…I can see the logic there, really.


Chapter 34: Jon

What Happens
Jon and the rest of Mormont’s company ride to the top of a hill called the Fist of the First Men, which is visible for miles around and is topped with the remains of an ancient ringfort. Mormont declares they will wait here for Halfhand to join them. Jon points out there is water only at the bottom of the hill, but Mormont says they will carry it up. As they set up camp, Jon goes to find Ghost, but the wolf refuses to go within the ringwall, and finally Jon gives up and lets him go off. He tries to ignore his own foreboding about the place.

He meets Sam, and they chat briefly before returning to camp. Mormont has Jon make spiced wine while he confers with his officers. The others are arguing about the best way to approach the Frostfangs and Rayder’s men, but Mormont decides they will stay here in this defensible position to compensate for their much smaller numbers, and makes plans to fortify the hill for a fairly long-term stay. He also limits the rangers’ scouting, which makes Thoren Smallwood unhappy. After the others leave, Mormont encourages Jon to question his decision not to send the rangers out, and leads Jon to reason out that their conspicuous position means it will be much easier for Ben to find them than the other way around, if Ben is still alive.

Mormont goes to sleep, and Jon goes to get food, but loses his appetite when Dywen talks of how the night smells cold; Jon remembers that’s what he’d thought the night the wights attacked. He goes off alone, and is surprised when Ghost comes to find him and urges Jon to follow him down the hill and into the forest. Jon stumbles after the wolf, cursing his foolishness, until Ghost leads him to a spot where the earth has been recently disturbed. Jon digs it up to find a bundle of weapons buried under the soil, including a dragonglass (obsidian) dagger. He realizes then that the cloth wrapping the weapons is the cloak of a Brother of the Night Watch.


Is it Benjen’s stuff, huh? Huh? And if it is, is that a point against him being a frozen zombie, or for it?

If it is the former, that would be a frankly startling turn of non-suckage. Well, presumably. He could always be just plain dead, too. Whee!

Also, jeez. Why does no one know The Rules™, maaaan? If your animal familiar/companion/BFF is all “I’m not going in there!”, then you know what? YOU DON’T GO IN THERE EITHER. This is, like, Spooky Supernatural Environment Survival 101 here, people!

Of course, given that Martin seems to take particular glee in demolishing The Rules™, it’s perfectly possible that the ringfort is the only safe place to be in all the North, but looking at what I’ve divined of Martin’s own sort-of rules, or anti-Rules, or whatever, I’m led to believe that in general, carnage will trump irony, so probably not.

Speaking of carnage, let me go over this again: Mormont’s party, which will be three hundred strong only after Halfhand guy finds them, is deliberately camping out in full view of everyone, in which “everyone” is understood to include not only possibly-frozen-zombied-and-therefore-extremely-homicidal Uncle Ben and Co., but also six trillion or so (trillion, thousand, whatever) almost-as-homicidal raiders who could be, like, inches from their position. Did I get all that? Right?

…Right. I’m just gonna… tilt my head at that for a while.

(Oh, yeah, Craster said where the raiders were. Somebody bring me an eighteen-wheeler so I can throw it the length of how much I trust that testimony. Pfeh.)

Dolorous Edd said, “All I smell is the shit of two hundred horses. And this stew. Which has a similar aroma, now that I come to sniff it.”

Heh. Oh, Dolorous Edd, you’re such a card.

The Old Bear was particular about his hot spiced wine. So much cinnamon and so much nutmeg and so much honey, not a drop more. Raisins and nuts and dried berries, but no lemon…

I need to find a recipe similar to this, and make it. I’ve never really had hot spiced wine, but this sounds yummy, and I’mma have me some.

I could probably make a whole project out of trying Ye Olde Liquoring Options, actually, though I’m going to make an executive decision that anything which involves mare’s blood (or any other kind of blood) is Right Out. (I only finally tried mead less than a year ago. It was surprisingly delicious, though I don’t really know why I thought alcohol made from honey might not be. I mean, duh.)

And that is the end of my usefulness for this post, clearly, so here we stop! I will see you next Friday!

Mari Ness
1. MariCats
The wonderful Inn at the Crossroads blog put up the recipe for the spiced wine:

I haven't tried it myself, but it does sound pretty awesome.
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
Yeah, I didn't see Renly getting offed quite that abruptly. And, yes, it's good to see some more magic but it will be interesting how this fits in. If someone really has unstoppable shadow killers then the whole "clash" of kings thing will be over pretty shortly. Ergo. there must be some difficulties in using this shadow assasin "magic" that we don't know about yet.
Gary Singer
3. AhoyMatey
@leighdb: "(“Grandfather clause.” Hahahaha. Okay, possibly that joke is only funny to me.)". No, that was pretty fun to me too :) Very clever!
4. Dirtycelt
It's a delight experiencing these books through your eyes. Below's a link to a blog that attempts to create the food and drink mentioned with such loving detail through out the books.
5. a1ay
Jon digs it up to find a bundle of weapons buried under the soil, including a dragonglass (obsidian) dagger.

Hmm. A mysterious buried cache of exotic weapons? In the words of Wayne Campbell, "I can't help feeling that this is going to pay off at some point later in the movie."

Presumably it's called dragonglass because it's the result of sand plus extreme heat. It's Westeros trinitite...
6. carolyn H
In the Cat chapter when I first realized we'd be getting a station-by-station description of her praying in the sept, my first thought was "gack!" and I vowed to skip ahead at the first moment of boredom, which I expected would happen quickly. Instead, to my surprise, I reached the end of the chapter without skipping ahead. Fortunately, the entire chapter didn't take place in the sept.

I didn't expect Renly to get killed off so quickly. I really thought the brothers would come to blows on the battlefield, with Cat trying to talk them out of battle and only escaping at the last second when she realized that wouldn't happen. I thought the knights of summer would soon realize battle wasn't a game about half a second before they were most all killed. So that didn't happen. Renly dies and the knights of summer trip over to Stannis's side, where they are now a much larger, if still untried, host of soldiers.

And I'm sorry, I still haven't warmed up to Brienne. I keep wanting to slap her. Renly?! Girl, that was so not ever going to happen. Wise up!

And then the Jon chapter: oh, yes, if Ghost won't go up on that hill, Jonboy, you should listen to your direwolf. He's smarter than you are.
7. Black Dread
For this one week, you are in synch with the HBO series.
8. lburns05
Leigh, I know of an excellent spiced wine. I don't know if you can get it where you are, I know they sell it at Meijer. It is called Lelanau Cellars Witches Brew. They sell it in September, October, and November. I've only seen it in Illinois and Michigan though. Grandfather clause hee hee.
9. Blend
Hey Leigh,

I didn't take the time to look through it, but is a website dedicated to recreating recipes from Game of Thrones, so if there's a recipe for GoT spiced wine, it will be there! Enjoy!
Sorcha O
10. sushisushi
Heh, there's nothing like spiced wine in the cold, whether it be gluggi, glögg, or whatever you're having yourself. I should think it's a major commodity with the Night's Watch, given their location.

Right now, I'm trying to remember if the guys from the prologue bit it anywhere near the Fist of the First Men, or if that dragonglass-bearing bundle more likely have come from AN Other Ranger (chief suspect Benjen Stark).

Also, Brienne, Brienne, Brienne, you would fall for the MOST unobtainable man you've ever met, wouldn't you? As if you don't have enough horrendous sexism to contend with. But then again, maybe Renly is (or was) the safest one for her to fall for, as he wasn't likely to screw her over, so. Not that The Shadow cares, regardless, it's just out to off Renly asap.

And lastly, I suspect that the owners of bloody ginormous trained fire-breathing dragons are a get out of jail free card for an awful lot of things...
11. TEDurden
These are in German, but they know how to make a really great spiced wine! I can translate if need be, and can personally attest to the deliciousness of Glühwein. Enjoy!
Asa Zernik
12. AsaZernik
Yes, Stannis is uptight and rigid about his moral code, but that's mostly about people getting the inheritance they deserve and the punishments they've earned; he doesn't really speak out anywhere against killing people (Remember - "'I am not without mercy,' thundered he who was notoriously without mercy.')

Also, side note on the Targaryens, incest, and the assorted religions of Westeros (from GRRM-provided backstory, but no spoilers), this was apparently the cause of the first civil war after the Targaryens conquered the Kingdoms. Basically, the first heir to the throne after Aegon the Conqueror was (of course) born of incest, so the Church - at the time controller of one of the biggest military forces around, the Swords and Stars - went into full rebellion, which consumed most of the reigns of the next two or three kings, until Jaehaerys the Conciliator reached a peace deal that basically said "if you stop rebelling and give up your weapons, we won't execute you all for treason." Since then, the Church hasn't had any soldiers of its own.
Matthew Hunter
13. matthew1215
Hot Spiced Wine: Had it, it's great in the cold. Works well with cider, too.

Fist of the First Men and Ghost: For those people who are yelling at Jon to not go in there if your pet wolf won't, ask yourselves what someone in the North might want to be kept safe from.

Tactics: The Watch has enough men that they can't hide their forces from an army with scouts, so they might as well pick a position they think they can defend if they plan to stay in one place for any length of time. It's better than wondering around randomly.

carolyn@6: Re Brienne and Renly, I think she knows full well her crush/hero-worship isn't ever going to happen. The kingsguard are traditionally celibate, remember? Even if Renly did rename them... GRRM is referencing some of the odder chivalric traditions here, I think, regarding the whole thing where a knight would put a particular lady up on a virtual pedestal and worship her from afar, without any real expectation of consummation. Brienne is simply a gender-switched version of that.
Rob Munnelly
15. RobMRobM
Leigh - nice to see you weren't put out of Commission by all that oosquai.

Fun fact - Ser Royce is the brother of the Nights Watch guy who died way back in the AGOT prologue. And, of course, Lord Tarly in Sam's Dad.

I thought the Seven temple scene was awesome. Really nice set piece for the whole series.

Regarding the 300 on top of the Fist - "We are Sparta!!" Except that Lena Headey is on the other team in this story.
14. Black Dread
There is obviously something unique about the Targaryen bloodline that gives some of them superhuman abilities to withstand heat among other things. I can understand the reluctance to dilute that blood.
16. sofrina
i'm having trouble understanding how you could not know who killed renly at this point. is the sequence of events told out of order?
it was one of the many moments where something martin has seeded throughout the narrative is actually displayed without being labeled. he shows you and then the light bulb goes off a little later. the subtlety of it is marvelous.

whited comment, in case it's a spoiler:
anyway, what i thought when renly's throat was punctured (i believe he was pierced back to front, not slit) was 'so that's what "shadowbinder of asshai" means!'
Rob Munnelly
17. RobMRobM
Help Sofrina white out the spoiler, thanks.
18. sofrina
i already asked them directly to fix it. thanks.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
19. tnh
And that's one of the reasons why it's a good idea to take the black. Not that I mind doing it; but surely you'd rather be able to do your edits yourself?

RobM, thank you for helping out.
Anthony Pero
20. anthonypero
Hmmm... a "spoiler" button would be nice too, that collapses the spoilers and you have to click to open. Or, just avoid posting on this thread. That's what I do :)
Peter Stone
21. Peter1742
It looks like Renly really should have listened to Lord Rowan and attacked before dawn. I don't know exactly how these magic shadow assassins work, but if you suppose that shadows need light, then it couldn't have reached Renly before dawn.
22. ryamano
Or wait, nevermind – if I recall correctly Brienne was probably going to get extremely killed this day anyway, because Renly was putting her in the van of the charge like the prince he was. So actually Renly’s death probably saved her life, not her heart.

Leigh, you're forgetting again that these are the knights of summer. Renly is a little bit smarter in terms of conspiracy and games of thrones, but he's still one of them. To all of them, being in the van is seen as some kind of honor. They'll strike the first blow. Stories will be told about them. It's every knight's duty to his lord to try to do that. Etc and etc.

Brienne saw it this way. And here comes another important point for Brienne. As another reader pointed out, Brienne knows she'll never get anything out of Renly, but she likes to idolize the relationship. That's what (cultured) people did in the Medieval Times, especially around Provence. This courtly love can be seen in the Lancelot-Guinevere relationship and also in works of later date, like Dante with his Beatrice. She knows she's not really getting anywhere, but she likes to fantasize about it. Brienne is still full of chivalric notions and tales in her head, much like Sansa. Notice that her first instinct, after realizing that Stannis was somehow responsible for the murder of Renly, is to vow to kill Stannis with Renly's own sword. This is straight out of a knight's tale.
Rob Munnelly
23. RobMRobM
I thought Loras was supposed to be in the van, not Brienne, no?
Anthony Pero
24. anthonypero
This is correct. At least it was on the show last week ;)
Bill Stusser
25. billiam
Brienne was supossed to ride next to Loras in the van and carry Renly's bannor.
Julian Augustus
26. Alisonwonderland
About the Renly murder. I urge you to re-read the scene more closely. If, after that, you still have the same opinion as above, then I think you have seriously misjudged the characters of both Stannis and Melisandre.
27. altarego
Shame on you folks. Inn at the crossroads is *chock* full of spoilers since it covers recipes from all of the texts. And, it often includes the characters that eat them, or don't eat them or are otherwise affected by them.
Scott Silver
28. hihosilver28
@19: tnh, I have "taken the black" yet even when I choose white for my text color when covering spoilers, it doesn't work. Is there something that I'm doing wrong or missing?
Stefan Mitev
29. Bergmaniac
This Catelyn chapter is one of the very best in the whole series IMO. The scene in the sept at the start is so deeply moving and beautifully written. It's a also a good way to give some new info about the dominant religion in the South without looking too much like an infodump.

The rest of the chapter is pretty awesome too. The shocking abruptness of Renly's death really caught me by surprise the first time I read it. I love Brienne showing her badass side and Catelyn risking her life to save an innocent. Save what you want about Catelyn, but you can't deny her bravery. For a woman who never trained with weapons she's quite a badass too. Grasping a Valyrian blade with bare hands, killing a clansmen in the Vale, stepping up unarmed and without armor to get involved in a fight between top knights is impressive.

Renly's van would've crushed Stannis if not for the assassination, they had huge numerical superiority and just as big an advantage in the quality of the troops. The elite knights of the Reach and their men-at-arms against a ragtag group almost without cavalry - it would've been a slaughter. The chances of Loras or Brienne dying during it were very low, since both are top class badasses.

Jon's chapter - *yawn*. His plotline in the first half of the book is really slow and mostly boring. Than God Doloruos Edd is there to make it bearable.
30. Mndrew
My own view of Caitlin's overview of Religion v. incest was that it was very interesting, and VERY unusual, that the Targ.'s were excluded not because they were special, but because they weren't members of either of the sect's in question. I saw this as Martin Poking a sharp stick at western religion and its "Ye must follow Our rules even if ye be a filthy Unbeliever!" implementation through the ages.
Steven Halter
31. stevenhalter
hihosilver28@28:You usually have to fix the white out by editing it. Most of the time, it seems, the first white out gets removed when you post.
32. ConfusedByGRRM
Since Renley is dead, would it be a spoiler to say:

“Poor Rainbow Guard” with a lisps?

These books makes history look simple.
33. phuzz
Hmm, I thought GRRM told you some of the backstory behind the 'shadow thingy' before it killed Renly, but I guess that would have given away some of the suprise.

I have drunk mead once, I remember the first pint being quite nice (and more sour than I was expecting) and not much else.
Aparently I managed 6 pints, but in the morning it felt like a lot more :(
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
34. tnh
Somebody here want to explain why Phuzz got flagged? I'm stumped.

The only thing about that comment that raises my eyebrows is the idea of drinking six pints of mead in one evening. The last person I saw do that was in dire shape the morning after.

Hihosilver, whiting-out is like applying the "indented blockquote" format: it's best done after you cycle through "preview comment", just before you hit "post". If it still doesn't work, then do as Shalter suggests: go back and edit.

ConfusedByGRRM: No, you can't say that with a lisp. None of those words contain the letter "s".
Anthony Pero
35. anthonypero
Lisp has got to be the most evil, insidious, diabolical word in the English language.
Birgit F
36. birgit
LISP is a programming language with too many brackets. There once was an article in a German computer magazine "How to catch an elephant" with different programming languages. In LISP the elephant got lost in a maze of brackets.
Anthony Pero
37. anthonypero
So, you're saying its evil and diabolic in German as well? :)

I've yet to see a programming language that didn't have more brackets than the March Madness NCAA Tournement.
Birgit F
38. birgit
Wikipedia says LISP was invented in America. Python is a programming language that uses obligatory indenting instead of brackets.
Tabby Alleman
39. Tabbyfl55
Sushisushi @10: "AN Other Ranger"
I see what you did there.

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