Welcome 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 5 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 8 (“Daenerys”) and Chapter 9 (“Bran”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Read of Ice and Fire spoiler thread has been moved to a new thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 8: Daenerys
Dany’s tiny khalasar are very uneasy on board the ship, but Dany loves it, and even though they are becalmed she is happier than she has been in a long time. She is pleased that the sailors have all grown accustomed to her dragons, and like to watch them fly about the ship and mock-attack each other. She thinks Drogon may be large enough to ride in a year or so, but at the moment they are about the size of dogs.
Jorah joins her, and she asks how big they will grow; Jorah tells her there are stories of dragons large enough to hunt giant krakens. The squire Whitebeard chimes in to add that a dragon never stops growing “so long as he has food and freedom.” He says that it was noted that the dragons kept confined in the Dragonpit in King’s Landing never grew as large as their ancestors. Dany asks if Whitebeard met her father, who died before she was born, and Whitebeard confirms it, though he stumbles over lying to Dany when she asks if Aerys II was “good and gentle.”
He says he saw her brother Rhaegar as well, at tourneys and playing his harp, and reminisces how he was close friends with Ser Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning. Dany talks of how they were warriors without peer, but Whitebeard opines that the phrase is meaningless when a slick patch of grass or a bad meal can be the difference between winning and losing for anyone. He makes an oblique reference to Jorah’s own experience in winning a tourney, which angers Jorah until Dany bids him calm down. Whitebeard tells a tale about Rhaegar’s bookish ways as a young boy, until he found something in them that changed him so that he dropped the books and began training to be a warrior instead. Whitebeard goes to attend Strong Belwas, and Jorah opines that the squire is playing them false, and that he is too well-spoken to be the squire to “that oaf of a eunuch.” She is considering how to answer when the wind suddenly picks up at last.
That night, Jorah comes to her cabin, where she had been feeding the dragons (and teaching them to breathe fire on command), and asks to speak to her alone. She sends Jhiqui and Irri out, though she is wearing only the bedclothes. Jorah reiterates his concerns about the reliability of Whitebeard, Belwas, and their employer Illyrio. They discuss the prediction that Dany was to be betrayed three times, for blood and gold and love; Dany says Mirri Maz Duur was the first. She points out that Whitebeard has already saved her life, and that Illyrio has protected her before, but Jorah counters that the second betrayal will be for gold, which Illyrio loves dearly.
Jorah has an alternate plan: instead of going back to Illyrio in Pentos, he suggests they compel the captain to detour to Astapor, in Slaver’s Bay, to buy eunuch slave warriors known as the Unsullied. He tells her the tale of the Three Thousand of Qohor, in which three thousand Unsullied held off twenty thousand Dothraki barbarians, killing over half of them, and argues that having an army already behind her in Pentos will make her safer. Dany asks where she is to get the money to buy these Unsullied, and Jorah proposes they commandeer the goods being transported on these very ships; he opines that if Illyrio is devoted to her cause he will not begrudge it.
Excited, Dany declares they will do it, and jumps up to put clothes on, but Jorah intercepts her and pulls her into a passionate kiss. Dany is too shocked to fight it, but when he breaks off she tells him he should not have done that to his queen. He replies that he should have kissed her long ago, and tries to call her by name, but she insists on her title. Jorah reminds her of another prophecy, that the dragon has three heads, and says it refers to The three-headed dragon of House Targaryen: Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar, ridden by Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya. Three dragons and three riders. Dany acknowledges this, but points out that her brothers are dead.
“Rhaenys and Visenya were Aegon’s wives as well as his sisters. You have no brothers, but you can take husbands. And I tell you truly, Daenerys, there is no man in all the world who will ever be half so true to you as me.”
Uh-huh. Is it sad that I made bow-chicka-bow-bow noises here?
…okay, yes, that was very tacky and I’m sorry. Sort of.
But anyway: Well, well, well. And so Mr. Jorah makes his move, eh? Politically and, ahem, otherwise. Or was that politically, too?
Hard to tell, at this point. Dany thinks he is genuinely in love with her, but she herself admits that she is not exactly the most experienced person in the world when it comes to love or romance. Especially if you’re like sane people, and don’t count “being a child-bride auctioned off like a prize brood mare to a barbarian warlord by your own brother” in that list of love/romance experiences, because how about NO.
All that said, I do tend to actually agree with her assessment that Jorah is head over heels for her. Although, in practical terms I suppose it doesn’t even matter if Jorah’s feelings for her are more opportunism+lust than they are love. It still doesn’t change the fact that, from Jorah’s point of view, being the consort/husband/whatever of the would-be Queen of Westeros is a pretty darn cushy place to be, and ergo, it’s probably more logical to assume that he really is wholeheartedly committed to Dany’s success, for the very good (i.e. selfish) reason that if she goes down, so does he. Nothing like good old-fashioned self-interest to keep people in line (she says, capitalistically).
Well. Assuming she wins, of course. If she doesn’t win, it’s probably one of the least cushy places to be, so there is that.
And to my slight surprise, I’m even having a hard time condemning him for pursuing her sexually, even though I sort of feel like I should be very suspicious of the whole deal. And I am, but… well, if you’re going to go with the theory that he really does love her and (ergo) really is committed to seeing her goals achieved, then why shouldn’t they get together? To be perhaps terribly cynical and practical about it, tying Jorah to her romantically as well as in other ways is just as much to Dany’s advantage as it is to his – although I do rather appreciate that she herself is evidently not so jaded as to have made that decision herself.
However, if Jorah’s got the courage to go for it… well, as long as he really is on the up and up I’m not seeing a whole lot of downside here for either of them, really. This is perhaps partially motivated by the fact that I think Dany’s self-declared deathless devotion to Drogo (who, aside from being, you know, dead, also represented a veritable cornucopia of squicky dubious consent issues) is kind of stupid. And while I might not care that much about Jorah’s well-being, I do care a lot about Dany’s, and increasing Jorah’s already considerable devotion to her will only benefit that.
Of course, this all hinges on the perhaps very audacious assumption that Jorah is not brimful of shit and that he has not been lying to her from the get-go. Which I don’t really think is the case, but I have learned over the course of this Read to never underestimate the capability of Martin’s characters for deviousness and/or shit brimming-ness, so I am definitely keeping the possibility that Jorah is a big fat honkin’ traitor firmly in the back of my mind, just in case. Sigh.
And also of course, there’s the possibility that he could be in love with her and be a traitor anyway. Jorah made a big deal about how Illyrio could be the one who betrays Dany for gold, but you’ll note he never said a thing about who might betray her for love.
Given all that, his suggestion to detour to Astapor is… interesting. As a confirmed hairy-eye-giver to Illyrio myself, I find Jorah’s scheme on the surface to be both pleasing and wise, but I am well aware that I am operating from a serious dearth of reliable information here, just as Dany is. In other words, thus far both she and I have only Jorah’s word that these Unsullied dudes are worth the cost, i.e. probably seriously pissing off Illyrio, and possibly losing his support altogether.
On the other hand, I’ve said from the beginning that I trust Illyrio about as far as I can drop-kick a drunken elephant, and so I cannot deny that the idea of Dany commandeering his goods and buying soldiers with them, and then being all innocent and “What? It’s All For The Cause!” fills me with a perhaps unholy glee.
Assuming, as ever, that Jorah is not a lying liar who lies, I think this sounds like a plan I can get behind. We Shall See.
(I wonder who Jorah thinks the third rider would be, or cares?)
As for the rest of this chapter… well. Look, I’m sure there are just buckets of tantalizing and invigorating hints being dropped here about… er, people who are all already dead and whom I cannot really keep straight in my head and thus have a rather large amount of trouble caring about, so… yay?
Yes, I suck. Sowwy. The only thing, honestly, that really caught my attention in all the reminiscing going on was the anecdote about Rhaegar being all bookish and stuff, and then reading something that evidently (if you imagine Westeros as a high school) made him turn in his nerd card and go full bore jock on everybody, out of the blue. Which I think is also like the plot of Teen Wolf, except substitute “reading” for “getting bitten by a werewolf,” and – okay, it’s nothing like the plot of Teen Wolf, fine.
But my point is, imagining Westeros as a high school is hilarious. And also terrifying, like watching social Darwinism get soaked in radioactive waste, and then flooded with gamma rays, and also other things comic books and cheap B movies tell me make everyone
turn huge and green go apeshit gonzo on each other. Much like what’s happening in this series!
Okay, fine, that wasn’t my point. My actual point is, I can’t imagine what Rhaegar could have read that would make him be all “holy shit must acquire badass warrior skillz STAT,” but I am sure that it was—drum roll, please—Something.
There, glad I could clear that up. Game on!
Chapter 9: Bran
Bran/Summer climbs up a ridge to survey the terrain, and thinks that he is “the prince of the green,” feeling strong and fierce. He spies his “little cousins,” a wolf pack hunting below, and thinks of his lost packmates, “five, and a sixth who stood aside,” now scattered, with one sister lost forever. He smells that the wolf pack has made a kill, and runs down to challenge them for the meat. The alpha wolf fights him well, but in the end lays down and bares his throat and belly in submission. Bran/Summer is just beginning to eat his prize when Hodor insistently shakes Bran from his trance.
Bran wakes angrily in the vault of the ruined tower Meera had found to hide them, and Jojen tells him he’d been gone too long. He asks if Bran remembered to mark the trees as Summer, and Bran flushes, admitting he forgot. He thinks that he always means to do the things Jojen asks him to do when he’s with Summer, but as soon as he is the wolf they seem stupid. Jojen asks his a lot of what Bran considers stupid questions, insisting that Bran say aloud his name and rank. Jojen warns him that he must remember himself, or the wolf will consume him. Bran thinks sullenly that Jojen doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Meera returns with food, and they eat. Jojen announces that they need to move on, though he admits he has not had a green dream about it. Meera protests that they are safe here, but Jojen replies that this is not the place they are meant to be. Bran thinks Robb will come with his armies, but Jojen reminds him that his maester didn’t seem to think Robb was anywhere nearby. Meera says she knows Jojen wants to go for the Wall and find Bran’s three-eyed crow, but she points out that it is an incredibly long way away, especially on foot. Bran suggests that they could go to the Umbers or Lord Manderly, but no one seems to like this idea.
Jojen insists that Bran needs a teacher wiser than he, and Bran asks why, saying his third eye is open now. Jojen counters that his third eye is so wide open Bran “may fall through it,” and he bends to Summer’s will now more than the reverse. Bran points out that he is only nine. Jojen says the chains he dreamed of on Bran are gone now, but he still does not fly. Bran insists that Jojen is a greenseer and so can teach him himself, but Jojen says true greenseers are wargs as well, which he is not; they could walk in the skin of any animal they wanted, and “look through the eyes of the weirwood” as well. He says he cannot teach Bran about a gift he does not understand.
Meera tells Bran he must make a choice: stay in the ruined tower, relatively safe, until the war ends, or leave and either try to go to Robb’s allies, or to the Wall. Bran considers. He thinks they would be safe with the Karstarks or the Umbers or Manderlys, but realizes he has no way to know if any of them are still alive, and they are dead if caught by anyone else. He thinks about staying here, and staying crippled.
Bran realized he was crying. Stupid baby, he thought at himself. No matter where he went, to Karhold or White Harbor or Greywater Watch, he’d be a cripple when he got there. He balled his hands into fists. “I want to fly,” he told them. “Please. Take me to the crow.”
Good choice, Bran!
I mean, I think so, but then I would. But I think empirically it’s the better choice all around, because not only are Bran’s thoughts about the unreliability of the Starks’ allies’ survival quite legit, I think Jojen’s concerns about Bran losing himself in warging are just as valid, based on this chapter.
(“Warging”: doing my part to weird language since 19 *mumblecough*!)
That’s such a common trope in science fiction/fantasy, by the way, that whole “danger of losing oneself” in whatever magical/technological transformative experience there is to be had in that world. In fact I think it’s so pervasive as to be almost universal. Which is completely understandable when you consider how addictive all the analogous experiences available in the real world can be. The most obvious example being drugs, of course (crack, as you may have heard, is totes whack), but anyone who has, say, had a friend disappear for six months (or a year, or more) at a stretch to play World of Warcraft can attest to the phenomenon as well.
And warging has to be infinitely more tempting for someone like Bran, who not only gets to have the unutterably cool experience of running around in a wolf’s body, he gets to have the experience of running around, period. Which just adds a whole other layer to the temptation to go in and never come out.
I am not even going to pretend like I have a grasp of what anyone who is rendered permanently unable to walk must go through, but in college I managed to fall down and break one ankle while simultaneously spraining the hell out of the other ankle, with the result that (a) I had the delightful experience of finding out what it’s like to pass out from pain, and (b) I ended up in a wheelchair for a little over a week until my sprained ankle healed up enough for me to use crutches.
And let me tell you, that was an eye-opening experience, having to get around town and campus and manage even the most basic tasks while unable to stand or walk. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, because I really really didn’t, but I think it was probably one of the most useful life lessons I got out of my entire college career. The unexpected ones usually are.
(Oh, and by the way, if you are ever on a bus and feel the need to get all huffy and sigh-at-your-watch-y while a wheelchaired person is being laboriously loaded onto the bus, please consider the notion that the person being so loaded really is not doing it to inconvenience the other passengers, but because they have no choice in the matter, and they almost certainly don’t enjoy delaying everyone else any more than you are enjoying being delayed. You may also want to consider the notion that you are a douchetastic dickbag who needs to shut their privileged ass the fuck up.)
Aaaand that was a tangent. My point is, I totally get why Bran is so tempted to lose himself in the wolf, even as I devoutly hope he finds someone to keep him from doing it. And it’s not a criticism on my part to call it a common trope, either, because it is one of those ideas which seems so intuitively obvious to us that to screw with it risks throwing your reader right out of her suspension of disbelief otherwise.
And lastly and randomly, Summer refers to Ghost as “the white who has no voice,” which made me go “huh.” Because, I know Ghost is always silent, but is he actually mute, as in literally unable to vocalize? For some reason I never thought of it like that, if so. Interesting.
And that’s what’s the haps, chaps! Have a weekend, whydontcha, and I will see you next Friday!