Jan 25 2013 2:00pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 15

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 15Welcome 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 15 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 25 (“Davos”) and Chapter 26 (“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, please note that the Read of Ice and Fire spoiler thread has been moved to a new thread here on 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 25: Davos

What Happens
Davos’s cell is warm from the volcano below Dragonstone, but it had not helped his sickness, which had grown worse until Maester Pylos started coming and nursed him back to health. After, he is fed unexpectedly good food for a number of days. Davos asks his jailers questions about the outside world, but they never speak to him. He recognizes he is being kept alive, but assumes it is merely so that he may die on the pyre.

Then Melisandre comes to visit him. He asks if she means to burn him. She tells him she was made to keep the darkness at bay, but Davos counters that she is “the mother of darkness,” referring to what he had seen at Storm’s End. Melisandre points out that shadows only exist where there is light. She comments that she cannot make another “son,” as it might kill the king, and invites him to come to her bedchamber, offering pleasure in exchange for his “life-fire.”

Davos tells her he wants no part of her or her god, and she tries to convince him that his faith in his “false gods” is misplaced. She tells him that there are only two sides in this war: her god of light R’hllor, and “the Great Other whose name may not be spoken, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror.” She asks which side he is on, and Davos tells her he is full of doubt. She asks why he tried to kill her; he asks instead who betrayed him, and she tells him, no one; she saw it in her flames.

He asks why, if she can see the future, she allowed the disastrous campaign against King’s Landing, and she replies that if she had been allowed to come it would have ended very differently, and Stannis was thus punished for his lack of faith. She says Stannis is “the Lord’s chosen,” Azor Ahai reborn, to lead the fight against the dark. She tells Davos that he has served R’hllor even as he doubts him, and leaves. Davos is deeply disturbed by her words, and even tries to see something in the flame of his torch himself.

Three days later Ser Axell Florent appears to throw another prisoner in with Davos, saying the traitors should enjoy each other’s company. The new prisoner pleads that he is no traitor, but Florent leaves without answering, and Davos realizes the new prisoner is Alester Florent, formerly the King’s Hand. Alester commiserates awkwardly with Davos on his losses at the battle, and Davos remembers it is Alester’s nephew Imry who led them to their doom in the river.

Alester opines that they have lost this war all together, and that Stannis will never gain the Iron Throne, and asks if it is treason to say the truth. He says he only meant to salvage something with a peace. He confesses that he sent a letter to Tywin Lannister, offering terms: Stannis to give up his claim to the throne and retract his statement of Joffrey’s bastardy, in exchange for being confirmed as lord of Dragonstone and Storm’s End. He adds that he offered to seal the bargain by wedding Shireen to Tommen. He says that Stannis is always with “the red woman,” though, and talks madness of “stone dragons.”

Davos tells Alester that it is not in Stannis’s nature to yield, and he will never retract his statement about Joffrey while he believes it to be true; nor would he ever allow Shireen to marry the result of incest. Alester protests that Stannis has no choice, and Davos replies that he does: he can die a king. Alester asks if Davos really wants them to die with him.

“No. But I am the king’s man, and I will make no peace without his leave.”

Lord Alester stared at him helplessly for a long moment, and then began to weep.

Okay, so first of all:

“Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.”

SCORE. I was right, it was some freaky life-siphoning thing! Go me!

I probably should feel sorrier for Stannis, shouldn’t I? Yeah, well. I’ll get right on that when I have a minute.

“The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope. One is black, the other white. There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love. Bitter and sweet. Male and female. Pain and pleasure. Winter and summer. Evil and good.” She took a step toward him. “Death and life.”

Interesting collection of “opposites.” I wonder whether she thinks “male” goes with all the “good” halves on that list, and “female” with the “bad,” or vice versa? Either way, I call bullshit.

Also, veeery interesting, her little recruiting speech, as it is the first time I recall any of the religions we’ve been introduced to thus far having such an obvious parallel to the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God and Satan set-up. Which, er, honestly is not a point in its favor, in my opinion. Too many horrible things have been done in the name of supposedly wiping out Satan for that to do anything but get my hackles up.

Of course, her Satan figure is obviously also an analogue for Winter, which I hear is coming. Somehow, though, I’m a little skeptical of her claim that Stannis is the Messiah figure who’s gonna stop it. I tend to strongly doubt that there is an actual Messiah figure in this series, not a real one anyway, but even if there were, it wouldn’t be him. At least I really really hope not.

(Also, what does she think Stannis is going to do against a season? Call me crazy, but I’m thinking a sword, even one made of fire, is going to be rather less than effective as a weapon for fighting catastrophic climate change. Though at least the image of Stannis—or anyone—trying to challenge a blizzard to single combat is fairly hilarious.)

I find myself wondering, not for the first time, if Melisandre believes her own spiel. I mean, obviously her magic is for real, but I wonder if she truly believes it is granted by a divine power or if that’s just the prop she uses to justify it. I also wonder which possibility is more frightening: that she does, or that she doesn’t.

…And on re-reading this chapter, I think I’m pretty much leaning toward the opinion that she really is a true believer. And yep, that’s much more scary.

Well, at least her need for a new Magical Shadow Assassin Baby gas tank meant that Davos got nursed back to health. Although, granted, his blatant rejection of her advances might render his health a fairly moot point soon, but I have a feeling Davos has got more to do than just be a sacrificial lamb for The Cause, so yay anyway.

Why does she need Davos specifically, though, I wonder? I mean, surely Dragonstone is stuffed with guys who’d be willing—eager, even—to volunteer some life essence in exchange for Freaky Untold Pleasure™? Guys who don’t want to assassinate her, even! So why is she going for the hard sell, i.e. Davos?

*shrug* Well, who knows. Maybe girl just likes herself a challenge.

Lord Alester Florent is interesting in that I fell like he is both completely (or almost completely) right in his assessment of Stannis’s chances, and yet at the same time a complete idiot for thinking Stannis would listen to him about it. Davos nailed it: even without Melisandre’s helping of zealot crazy, Stannis would never back down on a point of order, nor retract a statement which he knew to be true, no matter how destructive the truth may be.

More astounding on Alester’s part, of course, was believing that any monarch would be all hunky-dory with their right-hand man (no pun intended) going behind their back and negotiating treaties without their say-so. Seriously, dude. Even if Stannis would have agreed with your basic premise (which he really didn’t, obviously), he would have rejected the deal just on the basis of the fact that you didn’t clear it with him first!

I mean, come on. That shit is not cool even on a friend-to-friend level; how Alester thought it would fly with a king is downright mystifying. But then, Alester somehow doesn’t strike me as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Shame that’s probably going to get him burned to death, though.


Chapter 26: Jon

What Happens
Jon goes to find Ghost well away from his camp with Styr the Magnar and his Thenns. He tells Ghost that they are going over the Wall the next day, and there will be no way for Ghost to come with him. He instructs Ghost instead to go find Castle Black, and hopes that his direwolf’s appearance there will serve as a warning, though Jon doesn’t dare send a note with him. Ghost bounds off, and Jon hopes that the wolf understood him.

He heads back to camp, reflecting that he should have tried to kill Mance Rayder on the Fist, but he’d missed his chance, and had not had a chance to run for Castle Back either, mainly because of Ygritte. He had told himself, the first time he slept with her, that he would only do it the once, to prove himself to the wildlings, but was quickly proved very wrong on that score, to his guilt, and Jon wonders if his father felt this weak when he dishonored himself in Jon’s mother’s bed.

He is summoned to see the Magnar, who is with Jarl, Dalla’s sister’s “pet.” Jon reflects that Styr is none too pleased that Mance gave Jarl joint command of their company, and notes that he often ignores the younger man. The Magnar demands that Jon tell him how the crows’ patrols work, and Jon reluctantly explains that they ride on mules in groups of four, some on top of the Wall and some at its base, and that they are sent out irregularly rather than on a set schedule. He answers honestly that only Eastwatch, Castle Black, and the Shadow Tower were manned when he left, and only dares to lie to exaggerate the Watch’s numbers. The Magnar is suspicious, but dismisses him.

He goes looking for Ygritte, and finds her in an ice cavern, which she has been exploring. She tells him the tunnels go for miles, and even lead under the Wall if you know Gorne’s Way; Jon recognizes the name as a King-beyond-the-Wall from three thousand years earlier, and they tell each other the story of his battle with Winterfell and the Watch. Ygritte claims that Gorne’s brother Gendel escaped back to the Wall with the remainder of their forces, but got lost in the tunnels and never came out, and now no one knows the way through.

She entices him to lie with her in the cave, and Jon finds himself singing her praises. Ygritte is startled (and then very appreciative) when he discovers a new way to pleasure her with his mouth. She asks if that’s something lords in the south do, but Jon says no one taught him that, he just thought she’d like it. She teases him for being a virgin before her, and tells him about her first lover, explaining that her people are only allowed to “steal” women from villages other than their own, so that they won’t be cursed with children who are weak and sickly, or even monsters. Jon protests her claim that he “stole” her, but she is adamant that he did.

She shyly asks if he can do that “lord’s kiss” thing again, and offers to try putting her mouth on him in return. Jon wonders why something that feels so good is so wrong. They make love again, and Ygritte declares that they should just stay in the cave forever and “join up with Gendel’s children.”

Aw, that’s kind of sweet, in a really demented way. “Sexing you is so awesome, let’s desert and go starve to death in an ice cavern!” *snort*

Well, and so Jon went along with Ygritte—and how. There was a lot of sex in this chapter. I’m still not sure why I get so amused every time there’s a sex scene in this series, but there it is. And come on, there’s no way Jon spontaneously “inventing” the art of cunnilingus isn’t at least a little funny. (I also giggled at how long it took me to come up with how to summarize that bit without sounding ridiculous—especially since I’m pretty sure it sounds ridiculous anyway.)

I feel bad that being with Ygritte makes Jon feel so bad, but at the same time I kind of wish he could just enjoy it without also beating himself up about it. It’s not like he’s going to get so many other creature comforts out in the barren wasteland he’s trekking through, playing the double agent. And naturally, like any other character I like, I just want him to be happy, or at least as happy as he can reasonably be. Which in this series means clearing an alarmingly low bar, but anyway.

Plus, you know. Sex is good. Sex is fun, or at least it should be. There’s no way to deny, though, that this is a particularly biased opinion based on life experiences and circumstances which Jon Snow does not share at all—or at least he didn’t use to. (Used to? Eh, there’s no way to make that grammatically correct, leave it.) It’s probably more important to see the situation from his point of view, in which it represents the corruption of everything he stands for by oath, than it is to see it from my own, but, well. That’s just depressing.

He had never truly been a Stark, only Lord Eddard’s motherless bastard, with no more place at Winterfell than Theon Greyjoy. And even that he’d lost. When a man of the Night’s Watch said his words, he put aside his old family and joined a new one, but Jon Snow had lost those brothers too.

Speaking of depressing. Ouch.

And aw, bye, Ghost. I really hope you’re planning to have fun storming the Castle! It’s too bad Jon hasn’t worked out warging yet, because that would be super handy right about now, wouldn’t it? Oh well.

And while I have my issues with Ygritte’s people, at least they have hit on why incest is bad—the actual physical reason, I mean. Of course, with such a small population/gene pool, her folk would have had a great deal more opportunity to witness the results of the practice than most, so there’s that.

(It really is almost kind of unrealistic, on reflection, that Daenerys doesn’t have any signs of defects from inbreeding (that I’m aware of, anyway). Viserys either, unless having a wretched personality counts. Cersei and Jaime’s kids are one thing, since that’s only one iteration of inbreeding, but the Targaryens have been doing it for generations—surely there should be some physiological evidence of it now. Of course, Dany’s father was apparently completely bugnuts, so maybe Martin just decided to restrict it to congenital madness?)

But anyway. So Jon’s about to go over the Wall, huh. I mean, assuming he doesn’t take Ygritte up on eternal ice-cave sex, of course, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that she was kidding about that. Too bad, because I’m betting that option would have been a lot more fun.

(And by the way, if that story about Gorne and Gendel and the tunnel under the Wall doesn’t turn out to be a GIANT Chekhov’s Gun I will be astounded.)

And that’s all there is, there ain’t no more, kids! FOR NOW. Have a weekend, and I’ll see you next Friday!

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
Chapter 25: Davos -- In a cell in the dungeon lived Davos. It was a nasty damp cell full of rats and the dark but at least it was warm. Poppies, leaches and lamprey pie--Oh my!
Melisandre is trying to convert him to R'hllor. Her description bears a superficial similarity to Zoroastrianism--light and dark, good and evil. Very duality oriented. That makes a bit of sense with the Magi mentioned earlier as magi is a term sometimes used to denote followers of Zoroaster.
Azor Ahai--interesting. So here is another prophecy about bringing dragons from stone. Dany already has done that as the eggs seemed like stone before they and her were in the pyre.
2. Tenesmus
I too, forgot how loaded this chapter was with sex. You know nothing Jon Snow, well, you know cunnilingus Jon Snow, but besides that, you know nothing Jon Snow
Don Barkauskas
3. bad_platypus
Interesting collection of “opposites.” I wonder whether she thinks “male” goes with all the “good” halves on that list, and “female” with the “bad,” or vice versa? Either way, I call bullshit.
Well, in every case where one of the two choices is obviously bad and the other good, the bad one is first and the good one second. Assuming parallelism, that means "male" = "bad," which would also fit with my idea of Melisandre's world view, so...
4. eekim1988
About the Targaryen incest thing, I don't know if you've read this yet but one of the sayings about the Targaryens basically says that whenever a Targaryen is born they're either going to be brilliantly awesome or crazy-mad. Daenarys' own siblings are an example of that.
Marty Beck
6. martytargaryen
"Though at least the image of Stannis—or anyone—trying to challenge a blizzard to single combat is fairly hilarious."
Leigh, you rock.

"I also giggled at how long it took me to come up with how to summarizethat bit without sounding ridiculous—especially since I’m pretty sure it sounds ridiculous anyway."
Very little rediculousness. Hey, I and others thought you'd be all giddy about the (finally) unsolicited consentual sex in this chapter.

" maybe Martin just decided to restrict it to congenital madness?"
I think you nailed it. I think you got Dany's brother's name wrong, plus I think you missed the point that he was lacking more than just charm, but also sanity.

edit because it is bad enough to spell wrong, but to have it be bold, well...
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
So, based on what I've read, I assume that Melisandre is a shadowbinder, who are supposed to be magic users from Asshai(Miiri Miraz Duur mentioned them when she talked about her learning), because of that shadow assasins she uses. But I think that is seperate from her belief in R'hllor.
8. berthok
"(It really is almost kind of unrealistic, on reflection, that Daenerys doesn’t have any signs of defects from inbreeding (that I’m aware of, anyway). Varys either, unless having a wretched personality counts."
I think you were talking about her brother Viserys here! Varys is the spider on the King's council. There's SO many names! :)

Love reading your thoughts on these books! Look forward to each new chapter every week!
Marie Veek
9. SlackerSpice
@6 - I know I am.

Though I suspect Martin has a long way to go before I'll stop feeling like him preaching the joys of sex in literature is akin to hearing Viserys talking about the virtues of humility and selflessness.
10. Delafina
The Hawaiian royal families married the closest available relatives and, in many cases, were in good physical health, so I don't know that the Targaryens' good physical health is necessarily without real-world precedent. (Mental health is harder to judge.)

Incest results in deformities, mental impairment and other detriments mostly because it ups the chances of the expression of detrimental recessive alleles. When someone carries one, but marries outside the family/tribe/etc., the chance that their partner will have the same allele are lowered (and assuming that the parent has only one copy of the gene, there's no guarantee that they'll pass it on themselves). And as long as the child only receives one copy of the recessive gene, the trait won't be expressed. One's siblings, however, have a similar genetic makeup to oneself, and the chances that they have the same gene are usually much higher. Therefore, reproducing with a sibling or close relative ups the chances of the offspring receiving two copies of the recessive gene, resulting in the expression of the trait. The more generations the incest goes on, the more people you get with two copies of the allele who are therefore guaranteed to pass it on.

In theory, however, if you had two siblings with genetic makeups that didn't include any recessive traits, or at least any recessive traits whose expression would result in negative outcomes, they (and all their offspring) could interbreed without problems, and, in fact, the introduction of outside genes would raise, rather than lower, the likelihood of detrimental traits being introduced into the bloodline.

Assuming that the Targaryens, who are special snowflakes and may have some inhuman ancestry, what with their dragon connections and all that, carry only dominant genes or harmless recessive ones (with the exception of some resulting in mental illness), it's possible that their inbreeding actually preserved their physical health.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
Chapter 26: Jon -- I don't really like sending Ghost off, but don't see a way around it either.
Ah--cannibal cave children under the wall. Always a handy thing. And the tunnel--that will almost certainly prove useful.
And, lots of sex here. Good for Jon and Ygritte.
Vincent Lane
12. Aegnor

"Too many horrible things have been done in the name of supposedly wiping out Satan for that to do anything but get my hackles up."

More people have been killed over political ideals than have ever been killed over all religions combined. Does that mean political ideals are a bad thing in general?
Beth Meacham
13. bam
And, um, the way you keep physical deformity out of an inbred line is through infanticide. I don't see the Targaryens having a problem with that.
Eli Bishop
14. EliBishop
"Didn't use to" is grammatically correct.

As for why Melisandre didn't make her offer to anyone other than Davos: I figured it's because she knows Davos is absolutely loyal to Stannis, and therefore less likely to either a) brag about it to the other guys or b) refuse because she's kind of scary.
Chris Nelly
15. Aeryl
That just leaves the ones with the mental issues to be found out after their crowned!
Rob Munnelly
16. RobMRobM
Re Davos - Leigh, I love the imagery of Stannis battling a storm (almost like Caligula battling the ocean) but it might be more realistic to imagine Stannis versus the scary dudes in AGOT Prologue or the ASOS Sam chapter - or versus some dark boss of the scary dudes, even.

And, of course, we have heard about Azor Ahai reborn before in connection with Stannis - way back in ACOK Part 5 - and Leigh's reaction was similar except for her doubt, at that point, that Mel really believed her own prophecy:

Either way, I do not buy for a moment that Melisandre actually believes Stannis is Azor Ahai – any more than Stannis does, in fact, which is also hilarious and painful. And ironic. I sure would like a look inside her head, to see how much (if any) of her religious devotion is real and how much is smoke and mirrors. Her power is real, obviously, at least to some extent, but that means nothing in terms of her true convictions.

And of course, now I have to wonder where the real Azor Ahai and his actual magical burning sword are going to pop up, because they totally are. Let me go out on a limb and say, they ain’t going to show up where Melisandre would prefer. I also really hope the new Azor doesn’t feel the need to forge his sword by murdering his wife, because what the fuck.
David Goldfarb
17. David_Goldfarb
...prophecy about bringing dragons from stone. Dany already has done that as the eggs seemed like stone before they and her were in the pyre.
And she used the blood of a king to do it, too.
Maiane Bakroeva
18. Isilel
To be fair, though, there are plenty of non-inbred crazies in the series either... Practice of incest was common in Valyria and as they were kinda... different, what with sorcery and dragons and whatnot, maybe their genetic base allowed for it without particularly dire reprecussions.
Personally, I always thought that it was necessary/desirable for bonding to family dragons and that Targaryens continued with it in the hopes that dragons would return one day.

Also, too bad that this read isn't covering the novellas, as material from them would certainly add to the topic.

Considering Melisandre... yea, I am not sure why she doesn't attempt to use other guys, sneak into KL and off somebody who matters. Tywin Lannister, say. That would have been a huge blow to the new Lannister/Tyrell alliance.

Also, some fateful irony - Melisandre counceled killing Renly, because she saw in her flames that he would attack and defeat Stannis under the walls of King's Landing. She killed him and somebody wearing Renly's armor attacked and helped to defeat Stannis ditto. So, was it really Renly that she saw in the first place?
Or was that future robust enough that it would have been Renly, had he lived, but as he didn't, his role was taken over by somebody else?

Re: Jon, I still can't wrap my head around the notion that somebody could think it a good idea to send a new turncloak of dubious loyalty on a sensitive covert mission behind enemy lines... I love GRRM, but this seems really contrived, IMHO.
Rob Munnelly
19. RobMRobM
Not much to say about Jon's chapter, other than that Tyrion no doubt invented oral sex way before Jon did.
20. Black Dread
Mental deformity is also a possible result of incest. It sure seemed like Viserys inherited the madness from his father "the Mad King". If I have the timeline correct, Viserys was about 20 when Drogo "crowned" him. That is the age when serval types of mental illness really kick in.
21. Black Dread
RobM - Yes! I believe he expressed a desire to die in the act.
Stefan Mitev
23. Bergmaniac
Someone really should tell Jon Snow and make him listen carefully that there's a big difference between having sex and becoming a father. He's not breaking any oaths simply by having sex, and his whining about it is really annoying.

Mance sending Jon on the mission with the Magnar after he lied about the NW being at the Fist and having done nothing to prove his loyalty to the wildlings is simply ridiculous - as usual plausibility goes out of the window when Jon Snow is involved.
Chris Nelly
24. Aeryl
Well, in this world of no birth control, there isn't too much space between them. I cut Jon slack, because it's not the sex that's bothering him, it's the Westerosi culture towards parentage. He doesn't want to bring any bastards into the world, and knowing that at some point his relationship with Ygritte will end, if she gets pregnant and he leaves, that means he did bring a bastard into the world, in his eyes. Now, the wildling culture doesn't view it that way(it's one of the things they get RIGHT, IMO), but years of it being ingrainned is hard to overcome.

As far as Mance, I think he saw a lot of himself in Jon, and goes beyond what's rational in an attempt to convert him. At the same time, I think Mance is confident enough in his plans, to feel that Jon notifying the NW wouldn't hamper him much, so he's willing to give him enough rope to hang himself.
Leigh Butler
25. leighdb
Berthok @ 8:

Whoops! Thanks for the correction, the post has been accordingly edited.
26. craster's son
I love how Jon's 16/17 year old hormones betray his vows! brilliant. so, unlike Trey Songs, Jon really invented sex! wow!
Is the Other God who's name can not be said Lord Voldermort reincarnated?? j/k
Peter Stone
27. Peter1742
@18: Isilel says
Re: Jon, I still can't wrap my head around the notion that somebody could think it a good idea to send a new turncloak of dubious loyalty on a sensitive covert mission behind enemy lines... I love GRRM, but this seems really contrived, IMHO.
On the other hand, Jon's knowledge of the Night Watch is really invaluable on this mission, and there are enough wildlings on the mission that it's hard to see how Jon could escape to warn the Night Watch. Ghost, now ... Ghost is a different matter.
28. jeanthesquare
@24: Westeros has convenient-fantasy-novel-herbal birth control.
Asa Zernik
29. AsaZernik
Islam may be different (don't know enough about it to be sure), but Judaism is rather different from Christianity in that it actually isn't really into the whole Satan thing. The closest equivalent (and the origin of that word) is an angel in Job and a few books of the prophets who's more or less God's prosecuting attorney, not any kind of rebel or rival. (I'm pretty sure in Christianity most of the mythology of the Devil is extra-scriptural tradition, but even that doesn't exist in Judaism.)

As I think someone else mentioned, her religion is actually a lot more reminiscent of Zoroastrianism, which also had a dual god (though the good one was usually considered superior).
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
@28, I know that, but it seems like its confined to the upper classes, or there wouldn't be so many bastards.
31. Meraxes
10. Delafina

That was very nicely explained.
Though its not popular to think like that, as you know, no doubt.
Richard Boye
32. sarcastro

nuthin' much to add except for the fact that the lost tribes of Gendel's children living forever in darkness lost in the caverns never either fruit but only flesh is one of the creepiest little bits in this series, which is REPLETE with creepy little tidbits.
33. Sad Doctor
Yeah, the red god is actually more similar to Zoroastrianism than any of the Abrahamic traditions. To copy from wikipedia:

"In Zoroastrianism, the creator Ahura Mazda (Persian: ????? ?????) is all good, and no evil originates from him. Thus, in Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil (druj) trying to destroy the creation of Mazda (asha), and good trying to sustain it."

That sense of evil's externality to our normal world obviously leads into some very different theological philosophy than the Abrahamic tradition.
George Jong
34. IndependentGeorge
@18 -I'm actually not at all convinced that incest was common in Valyria. It doesn't make sense that 'keeping the bloodlines pure' would matter in old Valyria, where there were multiple noble ruling families who likely needed to cement alliances between them from time to time.

It makes much more sense that the Targaryens would have adopted the practice once they relocated to the provincial backwater that was Dragonstone, surrounded by 'lesser' peoples. It also makes sense that the Targaryens would tell everyone in Westeros that this was the Valyrian way, and not just some practice invented by the inbred hillbillies of the Old Empire.

I can't answer your other point without spoiling, so:

//It makes sense if he never actually trusted the turncoat, and intended to kill him anyway once he stopped being useful. In order to maintain his cover, Jon has to give up intelligence on the Night's Watch. If he doesn't, he gets killed. If he does, then he's useful. Remember - he's outnumbered 120 to 1, and under constant surveilance. Which is more or less exactly what Mance says at the end of SOS.//
35. AllHailTheDragonQueen
@ 34 - I'm pretty sure at some point in the previous books they brought up the Targaryen incest and mentioned the practic was fairly common in Vayria, as a way to explain Targaryen behavior.
36. Dingo
Hello there!

Question for Leigh: Is there any chance you might increase the rate at which you post these once you're done with Wheel of Time, similar to the rate at which you're posting Wheel of Time chapter reads? :D
Rob Munnelly
37. RobMRobM
Leigh is about to start the re-read for AMOL (as of 2/5).
George Jong
38. IndependentGeorge
@35 - Catelyn remarks to herself that incest was common in Valyria, as she reflects on Stannis' allegations. The question is, where did she learn of it from? We don't know where she herself learned this from. Given that the doom was centuries ago, it seems very likely to me that most of the knolwedge of Valyrian cultural practices comes from... the Targaryens.

Background info that has not been revealed yet:

//Volantis was the largest and most powerful of the Valyrian colonies in Essos, yet there is no indication in DWD that incest was ever a common practice amongst the nobility. In fact, from what we see of the Free Cities, the noble houses intermarry much as they do in Westeros. As far as we know, the only Valyrian family that practices incest is the Targaryens - which makes sense, given their isolation.//
Chris Nelly
39. Aeryl
Well, several prominent people possess Valyrian Steel blades, enough that trade had to happen. These people have histories that stretch back 10,000 years. I would assume that knowledge of Valyria was pretty common amongst educated nobles.

Now I'll allow that the magic that permeated Valyria was probably enhanced by the incest, at the same time running a risk of creating powerful yet unstables wielders who were far more dangerous(I wouldn't be surprised if the Doom was related to it somehow). And a resistance to how bad it could be may come from being bonded to dragons. So once the Targaryeans dragons died, they lost their magical immunity to the genetic anamolies created from incest.
George Jong
41. IndependentGeorge
@39 - rather than whiting out my entire reply, I'm taking this to the spoiler thread. I really can't answer without referencing later books.
42. Delafina
@31 -- Well, don't get me wrong, I *ethically* oppose incest. I think it blurs the lines between relationships in a way that's emotionally/mentally unhealthy. And in reality, almost every human has enough recessive genes that it's likely physically unhealthy for their offspring as well.

But from the standpoint of likely deformity/health issues/etc. it's *theoretically* possible for it to produce healthy children, and it's possible to understand the science of why it happens.
43. Amy1
Ghost is going to need a miracle
44. phuzz
The royal families fo Euroupe have been intermarrying for years, and there's been a few recessive traits cropping up, eg "Habsburg lip".
Also, off the top of my head, I think this is the first sex scene in the books that's not ikky (ie, involving incest or prostitution or something equally unplesent).
So yay for Jon and Ygritte :)
Chris Nelly
45. Aeryl
Well, there was the aftermath of sex scene in Catelyn's second chapter in GoT.
Mike DMonte
46. MickeyDee
@Aeryl 33: In SoS Lady Smallwood, I think, (the Lady of Acorn Hall at least) takes Tom Sevenstreams to task for getting so many lasses (milk maids and others) pregnant that they are queueing to drink Tansy. I dont recall that his seductions were reserved for the upper crust. If I am remembering correctly and I am reading this right this means that Tansy is available to all. Also in the Jon chapter where Tormund is having a dig at Jon for not "taking" Ygritte, and says something like : "if she gets with child she can always go a woods-witch and drink tansy tea"

Then again maybe I am misremebering.
Robert Crawley
47. Alphaleonis
For several months, the background on my computer has been a closeup of Rand's face from the EBook cover depicting the cleansing of Saidin. Now I need a picture of Moridin. Anyone know where to find one?
Mike DMonte
48. MickeyDee
@44 - Well *that's* your opinion. But if you can't pay your dwarf half-sister for a bit of stress-relieving afternoon delight then wouldn't you say that this world is finally a bit too politically correct?
49. mdunnbass
Long-time lurker who has forgotten more of ASOIAF and he remembers, chiming in on the incest topic (why????)

I think Delafina @10 really did a great job describing the genetic pros and cons, but I did want to add slightly to it. I'm a molecular biologist with a lot of experience working with lab animals. Lab mice and other organisms are actually different inbred strains over 100 years old. Postly, this is why little white lab mice are SO susceptible to cancer, it's a trick of which genes were selected for during the inbreeding.

I had a genetis teacher who was fond of saying that all humans are walking around carrying over a dozen or so lethal recessive mutations, and it's just a crapshoot on who they breed with whether any of them will show up.

But the point I want to make about the lab animals is - to get the lab mice people need to make scientific results meaningful and reproducible across different independent scientists the world over, the mice used need to be genetically identical. There's a bunch of math involved, but it works out to once you've inbred sibling to sibling for 20 generations, all male offspring will be identical twins - EVEN ACROSS GENERATIONS, and so will female offspring. And the males and females will only be genetically different in their sex (X&Y) chromomes. Now, there's other factors in personality determination, so they will be different independent entities, but genetically will be twins.

An interesting point on this that relates to the story though, is that to get to 20 generations, there is a bottleneck around 4 or 5 generations in. Like Delafina said (@10), sibling mating greatly increases the chances of recessive mutations being expressed. And doing it several generations in a row incredibly multiplies those chances. But, in the (not tiny) percentage of offspring that win the genetic lottery and don't express the recessive traits after a few generations, they are golden from that point forward, as the potentially lethal genes didn't get sorted into their gene pool, and will never be introduced into it thereafter.

So, when the high society ladies in New England that were mouse fanciers in the early 1900s started inbreeding their mice (long story, but think of purse dogs now, but mice being bred for coat color and smoothness the way some people breed horses), they had to have huge setups of sibling breedings that resulted in many genetic dead-ends, and a handful of 'winners'.

If the Targaryens and other royal lines that inbred had a few different sibling pairings in early generations, the chances that a healthy, long-term stable genetic pool could be established is significant. That said, if a propensity toward madness and megalomania was sorted into that pool, it's there to stay.

Now back to lurking....
Chris Nelly
50. Aeryl
Thanks for the info! Very illuminating! Makes me wonder if Martin did this research before writing?
51. apokalypsis
Re: Zoroastrianism

It also incorporates fire in many of its rituals.
52. Son of An Other
Mel's religion is actually in no way at all like Christianity. It is definately based more on a dualistic theology much more representative in Zoroastrianism than anything Christian. In Mel's religion R'hllor (light) and the darkness are coequal - that is that they are basically the same, two sides of the same coin, with similar/equal powers. In Christianity, God alone is all powerful, and Satan (btw there happens to be MANY references to Satan/the devil throughout the Bible fyi) is a fallen angel, far below God in terms of power and abilities, yet far enough above we humans that it SEEMS like he is coequal with God.

As for Islam, I cannot speak to their beliefs as I am not a Muslim, but their main difference (I believe) from Christianity is that they deny Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and believe in a single god, Allah, while also denying the Trinity of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit.) It is actually much more similar to Judaism than Christianity for the two reasons stated above.

I also take exception (being male) that you automatically assume that by 'good and evil' GRRM is meaning male = good, female = bad. If you look at the context of the paragraph he writes: "... male and female... evil and good..."
The one thing you absolutely do not want to do in GRRM's world is to automatically assume anything, it will burn you (figuratively of course, this is a fictional fantasy world we are dealing with here.)

However, I love reading your reactions/commentaries, and I can't wait to see what you have to say/feel about some of the choicer bits of the narrative that are coming up.
53. MoreJorahPlz
I don't consider male and female to be opposites, they are complements.

Humans - Redwoods
55. she-wolf
So something that induces abortions? Is THAT what Cat's dad was rambling on about? Has he been secretly aborting Lysa's babies? Cuz didn't she have miscarriages before LilRobert came along?
Maybe that's why LilRob is such a little weirdo - he was almost aborted.
But why? Why would he want her to marry Jon Arryn, but not have any of his babies? That just doesnt make any sense, so I've gotta be looking at it wrong, but I just can't get it out of my head that Hoster Tully wasn't talking about a person named Tansy.

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