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 25 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 51 (“Jon”) and 52 (“Sansa”).
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 51: Jon
Qhorin Halfhand and the party he’s taken into the Skirling Pass observe the fire high above that has given away the position of Mance Rayder’s scouts, and Halfhand decides to send two to take care of them. Jon and a ranger named Stonesnake volunteer; Halfhand agrees, but tells Jon he must leave Ghost behind. Jon and Stonesnake proceed up the pass, by an extremely precarious route that horses could not have traversed, and Jon thinks to himself that as dangerous as the Frostfangs were, they are beautiful too.
Stonesnake guides them so that they free-climb up above where the scouts are camped, and Jon wishes for the courage Bran used to have when he climbed. They see that there are three wildlings camped below instead of the two they had assumed, but one is asleep, and so the rangers attack. Stonesnake goes for the one with the horn and takes him out before he can blow it and alert the rest of the raiders, and Jon kills the other just as the third wakes up. Jon is about to slit the third scout’s throat when he sees that it is a girl, and freezes. Stonesnake tells him to finish her, but Jon thinks that she reminds him of Arya, and asks if she will yield instead; she agrees.
Stonesnake points out that nothing was said about taking prisoners, and also that she is a “spearwife,” and will gut them the first chance she gets. Jon asks for the girl’s name (Ygritte) and tells her his in return; she shudders, calling “Snow” an evil name, but Jon tells her it is a bastard’s name, and that his father is Lord Eddard Stark. Ygritte tells them they ought to burn the corpses, and Jon agrees, remembering Othor, but Stonesnake rolls them off the cliff to be eaten by shadowcats. Stonesnake and Jon try to interrogate Ygritte about what Rayder’s men are doing in the mountains, but she refuses to answer their questions.
Jon asks if the men were her kin, and she answers “no more than you are.” Jon is confused, and she tells him about “the song of the winter rose,” in which Bael, who was King-beyond-the-Wall a long time ago, decided to prove the Lord Stark of the time (who Ygritte calls “Brandon the Daughterless”) a liar when he said Bael was a coward. Bael posed as a bard and got himself invited into Winterfell, and performed so well Lord Brandon granted him a boon. Bael asked for a winter rose, a rare and beautiful flower; Lord Brandon granted it, but the next day Bael vanished along with Lord Brandon’s only daughter, leaving the rose in her place. Then he returned her a year later with a child, as “payment for the rose he’d plucked unasked,” and that child became the next Lord Stark, so Jon has Bael’s blood in him same as she. Jon declares the whole thing a falsehood, and she shrugs.
“Thirty years later, when Bael was King-beyond-the-Wall and led the free folk south, it was young Lord Stark who met him at the Frozen Ford . . . and killed him, for Bael would not harm his own son when they met sword to sword.”
“So the son slew the father instead,” said Jon.
“Aye,” she said, “but the gods hate kinslayers, even when they kill unknowing. When Lord Stark returned from the battle and his mother saw Bael’s head upon his spear, she threw herself from a tower in her grief. Her son did not long outlive her. One o’ his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.”
“Your Bael was a liar,” he told her, certain now.
“No,” Ygritte said, “but a bard’s truth is different than yours or mine.”
Halfhand and the rest arrive the next morning, and Ygritte watches with shock as Jon greets Ghost affectionately. Qhorin tells Jon they cannot keep Ygritte as a prisoner, and that he must do what needs to be done. He leaves Jon with Ygritte alone, to make it easier. Ygritte briefly tries to recruit Jon to the raiders, but when that fails, accepts her fate quietly. Jon prepares to execute her, and she urges him to make it quick.
Jon lowered his sword. “Go,” he muttered.
“Now,” he said, “before my wits return. Go.”
Ah, jeez. So many conflicting feelings, so little time.
On the one hand, my immediate response to Jon’s decision at the end of this chapter was to think Aw, Jon, I knew I was right to like you best.
Even with how stupid a move that was, strategically, and how likely it is to get him and maybe all the rest of the Brothers killed, I still can’t do anything but nod and say Yeah, pretty much. Because insofar as I have any inkling at all of how my own feelings about people-killing might go if I was ever (heaven forfend) in a position to have to make that decision personally, I’m fairly certain that I would be right on the same page with Jon when it comes to killing someone in cold blood, versus killing them in, er, hot blood.
Which is to say, the latter is – well, not fine, obviously, but acceptable in combat and/or life-or-death situations, and the former is not. It feels kind of wacky sometimes to make the differentiation between the two when the end result is the same – i.e. a corpse – but dammit, there is a difference. Mostly because, I think, the very condition of “in cold blood” means that the situation is, by definition, no longer a life-or-death one. I can think of exceptions to that, of course (and actually it can be argued pretty persuasively that this case is an exception, considering what I just said about it maybe getting all the Brothers killed), but as a general rule it holds, as least as far as I am concerned.
In any case, right or wrong I feel like I would have felt the same way, and made the same decision, that Jon did here. *shrug*
So there’s that. But on the other hand, there’s why Jon spared Ygritte in the first place, which was because she is a woman, and there, as you might have guessed, I have a problem. Although it is not as unqualified a problem as I might have normally had, because at this point I’m still unclear on what Ygritte’s level of consent is here regarding her presence as a soldier in the first place.
If she didn’t want to be there, but had no choice in the matter, then I have much less of an issue with Jon not killing her; but if she did want to be there, and freely chose to be a “spearwife” (and the very existence of that term tends to make me favor this possibility), then Jon should have killed her and had no qualms about it, in my book. If you choose to be a soldier, then you choose what potentially comes with it, and that should apply regardless of gender.
Of course, there is also the point that Jon could have no way of determining beforehand whether she’d chosen to be there or not. In which case the logical assumption would be that she had, and therefore he should have killed her.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, I agree with Jon’s second decision not to kill Ygritte, but not with his first. Which is kind of hilarious when you think about it.
As for her story about Bael and Lord Brandon, it sounds like total self-aggrandizing bullshit on Bael’s part (I mean, c’mon: dude wrote a heroic epic song about himself), which is probably a sign that every word of it is true, because being narratively contrary is just how Mr. Martin rolls, it seems.
I’m really unclear, though, on how long ago this happened, if it’s true, and even if it is true why anyone should care. So there’s some outcrossing in the Stark line with some less than savory lineages a zillion generations ago, whoopee. And this should concern me why, again? This is probably just my commoner roots showing, of course; it’s probably pretty damn important to noble-type folks whose entire system of ownership and government is based on heredity.
(Although, totally random sidebar: if Ancestry.com is to be believed – yeah, I know, shut up, it’s just for fun – if it’s to be believed, I totally have both French and English nobility in my lineage, possibly even (very minor) royalty. I’mma get me some porphyria and a coat of arms, y’all! Whoo!)
Also, dear noble families both fictional and otherwise: please stop naming all your kids the same damn name, it is really pissing me off, kthx. Which the hell Brandon Stark is this, and do I even need to care? I hope not. Well, I think I can be pretty sure it’s not Ned’s brother Brandon Stark (right?), but other than that, blah.
Although that mention of one of the lords wearing Stark’s skin is (a) gross, and (b) maybe a reference to the flayed man that is the sigil of the Boltons, which I only remember the mention of because of (a) gross? So that is also possibly a point in its favor for not being total bullshit.
Anyway, so Ygritte’s run off, and she’s either going to get Jon very killed or she’s going to be the one to save him from being killed. Or she’s going to do something else I haven’t thought of. There, glad I could clear that up!
Chapter 52: Sansa
There is fire everywhere near the city, and Dontos tells Sansa at one of their meetings in the godswood that it is Stannis and the Imp’s savages both, each attempting to smoke or starve the other out. He tells her Stannis burned the godswood at Storm’s End, and intends to do the same to the city’s Great Sept as well. Sansa is glad of it, remembering her father’s execution on the steps of the place. Dontos assures her that he has spoken to a certain “good friend” who will hire a ship to take Sansa to safety “when the time is right”. Sansa says they should go now, but Dontos points out that the Imp has the city locked down since Stannis’s vanguard (which by itself equaled the whole of the Guard) appeared two nights ago. Dontos tries to reassure that Stannis will never get across the river, and that he will come through for her; Sansa tries to believe him. He is drunk, and tries to kiss her, but Sansa manages to avoid it, and leaves.
She goes up to the roof of her tower, plagued with fear and sorrow. Clegane finds her there, scaring her badly, and mocks that she was not so afraid of his face when he was saving her from the mob. Sansa remembers it vividly, and tries to thank him, but Clegane mocks this as well. He tells her killing people is the only joy that matters, and reminisces cruelly about Ned’s execution. He rants that knights are for killing, but he outstrips them all at that.
“So long as I have this,” he said, lifting the sword from her throat, “there’s no man on earth I need fear.”
Except your brother, Sansa thought, but she had better sense than to say it aloud.
She asks him if he is afraid of what the gods will do to him for the evil he’s done, but he laughs and says there are no more gods than there are true knights. Sansa flees from him. That night she dreams of the riot again, except in her dream she gets caught by the mob and feels like they are disemboweling her, and wakes to find her bedclothes sticky with blood.
“No, please,” Sansa whimpered, “please, no.” She didn’t want this happening to her, not now, not here, not now, not now, not now, not now.
Crazily, she tries to burn the evidence, including her mattress, until her maids burst in and stop her. They clean her up and send her to the queen, who has summoned her for breakfast. Cersei asks her why she tried to burn her bed, and Sansa replies that the blood frightened her; Cersei tells her it is only her “first flowering.” Sansa says she’d thought it would be “more magical,” and Cersei laughs and tells her a woman’s life is “nine parts mess to one part magic.” She asks if Sansa knows what becoming a woman means.
“It means that I am now fit to be wedded and bedded,” said Sansa, “and to bear children for the king.”
Cersei notes wryly that Sansa no longer seems enthused at the prospect, and acknowledges that Joffrey can be “difficult.” She confides how Robert would run away to his hunting every time Cersei was in labor, but mentions that Jaime would refuse to leave. She says Sansa can’t hope for that kind of devotion from Joffrey, since her sister Arya shamed him in front of Sansa, but that she will love her children even if she doesn’t love her husband.
“I love His Grace with all my heart,” Sansa said.
The queen sighed. “You had best learn some new lies, and quickly. Lord Stannis will not like that one, I promise you.”
Sansa says that the High Septon says Stannis will never win since Joffrey is the rightful king, and Cersei smirks and reminisces about how Joffrey never liked for Robert to hold him, ever, even though all his bastards loved him. She says Robert had the same “disease” as Tyrion: they want to be loved. Sansa replies that everyone wants to be loved.
“I see flowering hasn’t made you any brighter,” said Cersei. “Sansa, permit me to share a bit of womanly wisdom with you on this very special day. Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it will kill you all the same.”
But, rather uncomfortably supported by the evidence, at least from Cersei’s experience, I guess. And Sansa’s too. Also, I have a dreadful feeling this is Cersei’s version of being nurturing and supportive, which is just terrifying.
Also also, maybe it’s just the benefit of inside knowledge, but wow with how close Cersei is skirting here to spilling the beans about Robert and Jaime and all of that. Is she that convinced Sansa is too stupid to ever get it, or is she deliberately playing with fire, so to speak?
Although, I suppose it probably doesn’t seem like Sansa would have the werewithal to use the information against Cersei even if she did figure it out. But even so, Cersei’s indulging in some seriously risky behavior here, and her comment about Stannis is probably a hint about why. I don’t think Cersei believes they’re going to win, so she’s probably like, why the hell not tell the truth if I’m going to be dead by next week?
Of course, I think Tyrion’s going to prove her wrong, but then I would.
As for Cersei’s assertion that her darling Joffrey is “difficult”: *coughchokecough*
I do not think that word means what you think it means, madam. Unless it seriously doesn’t mean what I think it means. Gah.
Also: aw, man. Starting your first period is usually at least a tiny bit traumatic (not to mention, as Cersei says, a total mess until you get it under control), but this knocks the usual dread of having to deal with bleeding for days on end into a cocked hat, because oh my God there could not POSSIBLY be worse timing. As Sansa is all too heartbreakingly aware. Poor, poor darling.
Sometimes I feel very, very lucky that a physical mess was all I had to worry about on this score, and that the idea that the onset of menses is the harbinger of what amounts to the involuntary assignment of a life sentence is an utterly foreign one to me. Really.
Dontos continues to seriously worry me. That dude’s cheese is rapidly sliding off his cracker, if you ask me, and it is supremely sucky that this is what Sansa has to settle for in terms of allies. I’m starting to wonder if this “good friend” of his is imaginary. And I’m also starting to think it might be better if he is imaginary, because I think Dontos’s ability to accurately judge acceptable risk and trustworthiness and, you know, to think, period, is rapidly going down the toilet. Better that Sansa be let down than that she be betrayed, sez me.
[Dontos:] “…the Spider pays in gold for any little trifle. I think Moon Boy has been his for years.”
“Moon Boy”? Who the hell is that? Did I miss a memo? (Probably.)
Of course, my worry about Dontos pales next to my worry about Clegane, who is (in my opinion) having a seriously negative reaction to the undeniable (in my opinion) fact that he likes Sansa, as a person even, and worse, that he cares about her, and this is just utterly antithetical to his loudly protested-too-much stance of Fuck Alla Y’all, I Only Care About Me, And Also I Am Evil, Do You Hear Me? EVIL! Fear Me! Phear!
Someone that internally conflicted and also that naturally inclined toward violence in the first place is a walking powderkeg with a lit fuse, and I’m really hoping Sansa manages to survive it when, and not if, the man finally blows.
So here’s hoping this siege/battle actually takes place before the end of the book, because I am kind of over this buildup. Here’s also hoping Melisandre doesn’t harsh my Epic Battle anticipation by sending over one of her magical shadow assassin babies to off… er.
Well, actually, if it offs Joffrey I’m pretty okay with that, really, but it BETTER NOT off Tyrion, because that shit is not on. You keep your hands off my Tyrion, magical shadow assassin babies! *shakes finger*
Well, I guess I’ll find out whether I’m going to have to pitch a shitfit re: magical shadow assassin babies Soon Enough, eh? And in the meantime, you have a weekend to enjoy, don’t you? DON’T YOU? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Later, taters!