Mar 15 2013 1:00pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 22

A readthrough of A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin on Tor.comWelcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Today’s entry is Part 22 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 39 (“Arya”).

Apologies for the one chapter post, but a little bird tipped me off (without spoilers, thank you) that Chapters 40 and 41 apparently really need to go together, so rather than try and cram all that in, I figured it would be better to wait till next week to tackle whatever’s about to go down. I’m either agog or very apprehensive. Or both.

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 Powers That Be have provided you a NEW lovely spoiler thread here on (The first one is now closed but can be found here.) 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 39: Arya

What Happens
Arya watches from atop the ridge as Beric’s outlaws attack the Mummers holed up in the septry below, angry at being left out of the fight but at least glad that Gendry had been held back as well. She is savagely glad to see the Mummers go down. The battle is fierce but short, and Beric lets a couple of the fleeing Mummers go, commenting that their news will give “the Leech Lord and his goat” cause for concern. Thoros is pleased to find that one of the captives is “Septon” Utt, who wails and weeps for forgiveness for what he does to the boys he finds. The outlaws give him and the other captives swift drumhead trials and hang them; Arya thinks only that it was a shame they hadn’t done the same for Sandor Clegane, instead of treating his wounds and letting him go.

The leader of the eight surviving brown brothers tells how the Mummers were only the latest in a string of “visitors,” taking everything they had. They camp that night in the brewhouse adjacent to the now-ruined sept, eating food the brothers provide; Lem takes offense when one of them asks them not to pray to their false god while under their roof, but Beric reprimands Lem, saying they will respect the brothers’ rules. Arya examines Beric uneasily, and he asks if he frightens her; she says she thought the Hound had killed him, and Lem interjects that Thoros healed it. Beric gives Lem an odd look, but agrees before sending Lem off. Then Beric asks Thoros how many times he has brought Beric back; Thoros answers that it’s been six times, and pleads with Beric to stop courting death so, as “a seventh death might mean the end of both of us.”

Beric shows Arya each of his grievous wounds and explains how he got them, and complains that his memories of his earlier life have begun to fade. Arya asks Thoros if he could bring back a man without a head, but Thoros explains that he has no magic, only prayers, and he does not know why the last rites he gives Beric bring him back from the dead, when they have never done so before. He says it was R’hllor’s doing, not his. Beric tells Arya that he would forego her ransom for her father’s sake, but they need the gold too badly. Arya asks, what if Robb doesn’t want to ransom her because she’s not like a real lady, but Beric and Thoros assure her that he will. She asks if Beric swears he will get her back to her mother, and he swears it on his honor as a knight.

Later that evening, Gendry suddenly goes to one knee and offers his services as a blacksmith to Beric. Beric tries to demur, but Gendry insists, and Beric asks why; Lem adds that he’d be a fool to throw in his lot with their like. Gendry answers that he liked what Beric had said about being Robert’s men, and that he had given the Hound a trial; he would rather smith for Beric than for anyone else. Beric takes his sword and knights Gendry.

They hear a laugh, and all turn to see Sandor Clegane there. He trades insults with Lem et al for a moment, until Beric asks why he is there. Clegane answers that he wants his gold back. Beric says he gave him an IOU for that, which Clegane greets with contempt, and then says that the gold is gone, sent to buy grain and seed. Clegane asks mockingly if Beric is going to make Arya a knight too, and she declares hotly that she could be a knight if she wanted, and says she’ll kill him and his brother next time. Clegane calls them common thieves, and leaves.

Thoros muses that Clegane has lost not only his gold but “his master and kennel” as well, since neither the Lannisters nor the Starks would have him now. Beric orders the men to keep watch for Clegane, but not to harm him. They all sleep uneasy that night, and Arya reflects on how everyone had left her, even her father, and now Gendry was too. She takes out Jaqen’s coin and recites her list, though she is beginning to forget some of the faces on that list. She hears wolves howling before she finally falls asleep. The next morning as they head out, Gendry comes up and tries to apologize to her, but she tells him if Gendry wants to be a “stupid outlaw knight” and get himself hanged, she doesn’t care.

Aw. Well, I guess I can’t really blame Gendry for picking what seemed to him the least awful of the veritable array of awful groups out there for him to choose from, but I’m very disappointed that it seems to signal an end to his companionship with Arya. Not just because I’m hoping a little bit that they’ll get together, eventually, but also because as Arya herself points out, everyone in her life has failed and/or abandoned her at some point, so it would have been really cool if there could finally be an exception to that rule.

Of course, who knows what will happen. They might not yet be done with each other by a long shot for all I know.

I’m still hunting for the fly in Beric’s ointment, so to speak, but so far their Robin Hood routine seems to be holding up to scrutiny, more or less. And while I’m still rather contemptuous of their idea of justice (though Gendry has a point that their version of justice is better than just about anyone else’s at the moment), Beric and Thoros’s tolerance toward other religious traditions demonstrated here inclines me to ease off the “fanatic” button, for the moment, as regards their particular sect of Holy R’hllorism. (I’m betting Melisandre wouldn’t have taken the brown brother’s admonition nearly as in stride, is all I’m saying.) Being a devout follower of a religion is one thing, but it’s when a person can’t deal with anyone who isn’t also a devout follower of that particular religion that my zealotry alarms start to seriously go off.

So, points there to Beric et al. He’d better watch to make sure his other devotees don’t start getting extracurricular forcible conversion ideas, though. That’s one slippery slope that can prove to be particularly ugly if you don’t keep a close eye on it.

Kill them all, [Arya] thought fiercely. She bit her lip so hard she tasted blood. Kill every single one.

I’m a little conflicted over my instinctive glee at Arya’s bloodthirstiness. On the one hand, violence is bad, duh, and I feel like I really shouldn’t be glad that anyone is all Yay, violence! on general principle. However, I think my approval re: Arya’s inclination toward violence is borne more out of a protective instinct than anything else: I’m not glad that she is into it for the sake of violence itself, but because I feel that her willingness to fight is the thing that is most likely to help her stay alive, considering the situations she continually manages to land herself in.

Which is sad-making. But unfortunately, just because a thing is upsetting doesn’t mean it’s not true.

That said, her budding assassin ways are still disturbing. It’s one thing to be willing and able to defend yourself from those who would harm you, but it’s quite another to numb yourself into straight-up sociopathy. But learning to kill so young… I’m not sure how well anyone in Arya’s situation would be able to avoid it, really. Sigh.

So they let Sandor go, huh. Well… I’m mostly okay with that, even if Arya really isn’t. I don’t necessarily blame her for it, but on the scale of evil we’ve got to play with here (and it is Laaaarge), Sandor’s really very far down the line. And he did win their stupid trial by combat thing, so I guess it’s nice that Beric’s people keep their word?

I have no idea what he was on about coming back, though. There’s no way he honestly thought they were going to return his gold, so that was about something else. Thoros’s point that he has nothing to go back to leads me to believe that maybe Sandor is (subconsciously or otherwise) in the market for someone else to hold his leash. Hmm.

So, Thoros breathed fire into Beric, and that resurrected him? Six times? When it never has other people? Erm. Yeah, that’s definitely weird. I’m still not sure I buy any of the R’hllor shtick from either Thoros or Melisandre, but at this point I’m thinking that if there is a Chosen One, Beric looks to have a hell of a lot better claim to the title than Stannis does. I mean, the guy’s walking around with his skull caved in, WTF, not to mention all the other things that totally should have done him in. That shit ain’t normal.

Also, trust Martin to come up with the worst kind of immortality ever: nothing can kill you, but you have to walk around with all the deathwounds that didn’t work? Yuck. That is some Death Becomes Her shit right there. (I love that movie, but I found the end of it to be genuinely horrifying. Perfect comeuppance, though.)

And Arya asking about whether Thoros could bring back a man without a head… damn. I didn’t quite get it at first, but when I did realize what she was asking I just wanted to give her a giant hug. Even more so when she revealed that she thinks Robb and her mother might not want her because she’s not like a “real girl.” Jeez, just punch me right in the feelings, why don’t you.

Arya baby, you are amazing and awesome just as you are, and I really hope you learn to believe that. You totally can be a knight if you want. I hope that you will.

And then Beric promises to return Arya to her mother, and… I believe him. Hrm. Let’s see if I’m impossibly naïve or not!

But not until Later! Have a delightful and advantageous weekend, O my peeps, and I’ll see you next Friday!

1. MRCHalifax
I'm sure Brienne and Arya would make an awesome knight/squire combination. It'd be good for both of them.
Sky Thibedeau
2. SkylarkThibedeau
Never thought about the 'man without a Head' comment before. Good catch. It seems Rhllor works in mysterious ways.
George Jong
3. IndependentGeorge
As disturbing as it is to see Arya so gleeful at the death of the Bloody Mummers, I still think the eerily calm and calculating manner in which she dispatched the guard in Harrenhall was far more chilling. Which, of course, is yet another indicator that GRRM has completely screwed with my moral compass.

Regarding the BWB, I think it would be more surprising if they didn't convert after seeing Beric brought back. If I saw that - not just once, but six times - I'd be on my knees begging for Rh'llor to forgive my past doubts in half of a second. To paraphrase a favorite philospoher, "This is divine intervention... What we have here is a miracle, and I want you to acknowledge that."
Pat .
4. dolphineus
I don't think it is "nothing can kill" you immortality. He dies, and Thoros is bringing him back from the dead.
5. DougL
Arrrggghhh, I can't wait lol

I have no idea why I care so much about how you will react to situation in these books, other than I very much enjoy your writing, but I am looking forward to the next few weeks.
6. Rancho Unicorno
From what I recall, aren't Arya's self-doubts born out of the very thing you are concerned about? She isn't worried about not acting lady-like, but that the violence she has perpetrated has lessened her humanity.

I mean, it's still sad, but I think is more valid than you suggest.
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
A very good observation on Sandor looking for a new leash holder, he really does come across as a lost little puppy(angry, bitter, drunken, sarcastic puppy).

I'm glad you've revised your opinions on the overall zealotry of the BWoB, though I'm sure there are some members who'd be down with Melisandre's version of prosletyzing.

This hand wringing over Arya confuses me. I mean, I don't necessarily LIKE what she has to do, and how she feels, but at the same time, the first chapter of this book was Ned beheading a man in front of his six year old son. Now, he likely never took Arya to such a thing, but I don't recall everyone getting upset over how it was corrupting him. I just wonder, if Arya really was Arry, a 10 year old boy, would we be as worried about what his adventures are doing to him?

I love Death Becomes Her too!
Marty Beck
8. martytargaryen
I had similar mixed feelings re. Arya's quick-to-violence ways. It is sad that a child must be that way to survive. I think the really cool thing is how believable Martin has made her character arc.
9. davidl
I dont think Thoros being able to resurrect Beric is down to Beric being chosen but more to do with the dragons being back in the world so magic is working again.
Bob Smith
10. chiech
I never did finish Elantris, but didn't some people live forever with their wounds never healing....
Rob Munnelly
11. RobMRobM
You are so funny, Leigh - next two chapters go together in cool rather than horrifying way, at least from some perspectives. Other mileage may vary, of course.

I really like your point re Arya and the headless resurrection. I hadn't focused on that before either. Well done.

I can very much understand the Hound's aggravation about the gold. He won it in Kings Landing, and views it as his security blanket/retirement fund ....and now it's gone. He's still dealing with the shock. Very interesting question what he should do now. No Joff and allies, no Starks and allies. Perhaps head over to Essos and be a sellsword? But lacks the gold to pay for a ship. Ouchie. so what's a dog to do....

Beric does seem to be the real thing - no flies in ointment (as of yet anyway). Nice that Arya's viewpoint gets to see him, as one gets a better sense of how the common folk are doing while their "betters" are playing the Game of Thones - i.e., pretty lousy.
12. boredme
I think it's kind of funny and neat that Leigh's pace of reading has made her progress in the series almost perfectly aligned with that of GoT--it'll be fun next month to watch the episodes and then come back to these recent readings. Also, how do I get to the spoiler thread?
13. Gesar
@7, it's not so much that she had to witness the deaths, it's that she was so pumped by them. Bran wasn't all like "Fkin deserter, bring me his head" at the execution, we could see that no one there enjoyed it (except Theon to some degree). Now imagine Joffrey's reaction to an execution in KL when he was 7 to 10 years old... I'm pretty sure he would have been totally excited over it, and that's what's wrong (not saying Arya is Joffrey ofc, this is kind of a Westeros-Godwyn).
Chris Mattox
14. SerBastard
Arya is the ASOIAF equivalent to The Walking Dead's Carl. She doesn't have a choice other then slowly becoming a child psychopath just to survive in an impossible world.
Chris Nelly
15. Aeryl
@13, Yeah, but at the same time Arya's seen firsthand what the Mummers are doing to people, so it doesn't seem so bloodthirsty to me as more of "Put These F'ing Rabid Dogs Down" which is positively enlightened, IMO. If it was just some random squabble, OK, but these are The MUMMERS!!!! Jojen's close to the same age as Arya, and pretty much inured to the ways of this world, we aren't concerned for him, are we? Like I said, I've read plenty of stories where it's all about the little boy who has to become like this to survive, and I've never noticed it be subject to the same concerns(I don't watch Walking Dead, so I don't know if this is common among those fans).
Genevieve Williams
16. welltemperedwriter
davidl, something I've been wondering for awhile is whether the death rite Thoros performs was always supposed to be a resurrection spell, or prayer, that became a death rite when it stopped working. Except, now it works again...for certain people at least...

I like the contrast between Thoros and Melisandre. There's no one way to have faith, and these two demonstrate that. For me this gets even more interesting later on because (without going into detail so as not to spoil) I concluded that Melisandre is in fact correct about certain things, even as I simultaneously can't buy into her zealotry. I can't explain that further without giving away certain plot details so I'll just leave it at that for now.

I think Thoros is right about the Hound, too. I've known people like that--they need someone to lead them and spend a lot of time looking for that person (or cause, sometimes). I hope Sandor's story isn't done yet.
Vincent Lane
17. Aegnor

Yes, that is correct. Their wounds wouldn't heal, but it was even worse than that. They still felt the pain from their injuries. So if you stub your toe it hurts really bad, but then the pain fades. For them it never fades. And they live with it forever.

You should finish Elantris. The ending was really very good.
Chris Nelly
18. Aeryl
@16, Come over to the brand spanking new Spoiler Thread and tell us all about it! Melisandre and her beliefs are a popular topic!
George Jong
19. IndependentGeorge
Arya baby, you are amazing and awesome just as you are, and I really hope you learn to believe that. You totally can be a knight if you want. I hope that you will.
A Knight's a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady's favors, they're silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword's prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead.
-Sandor Clegane

And here lies the inherent contradiction to rooting for our plucky action girl Arya. As readers, we're predisposed to being every bit as naive as Sansa was about the knights from the stories. At this point in the story, Arya's killed more people than Brienne has, and her first kill came at a younger age than The Hound.

And so even as we cheer her increasing badssedness (Leigh's not the only one who can make up words!), there's a certain cognitive dissonance to it as we realize where this seems to be taking her.
Stefan Mitev
20. Bergmaniac
Letting the Hound go was clearly wrong, since he admitted to the murder of Mycah. There was really need for the mockery of justice known as trial by battle.
Chris Nelly
21. Aeryl
But it was murder at the order of his sovreign, which I think gives you a pass, or else the BWoB could be put on trial too.
22. DougL
On a procedural note, once you are finished with a memory of light, will you increase the reading of Fire and Ice to two posts per week or is there some other project on the horizon? (I recognize that there is a lot of AMoL left to do, and also that by increasing the pace of the Fire and Ice you will far outpace the author).
Stefan Mitev
23. Bergmaniac
All those Lannister soldiers the BWB keeps hanging are also murdering at the order of the sovereign.

Besides, IIRC either Cercei or Joff ordered the Hound to kill Mycah, and neither of them was the reigning monarch at this point.
Chris Nelly
24. Aeryl
Yes, but at the same time the Hound clearly believed Mycah to have injured Joff, which is a crime, so I think they classified it as justifiable homicide. And when I used sovreign, I didn't mean king, I mean person who directly commands the Hound, in this case Joffrey.

The soldiers, Lannister and Stark, are going beyond the calls of warfare and involving innocent civilians, which is why the BWoB feels they are fair game.
David Goodhart
25. Davyd
angry, bitter, drunken, sarcastic puppy
Those are my favorite kind.
Steven Halter
26. stevenhalter
Chapter 39: Arya--"She could see how arrows were good too." Good for Arya--don't limit yourself to one weapon.
"You just been good and foraged."
The Hound does seem to be nosing for a new master or purpose.

This was all good, but it seems all too easy for Arya to get back to Riverrun. I have doubts on that.
George Jong
27. IndependentGeorge
@20 - he admitted to the killing from the start. The legal issue was whether it constituted a legal execution for the crime of assaulting the crown prince, or if it was knowing murder because he knew Joffrey was a liar. Hence the trial by combat.
28. GarrettC
The thing with Arya that really interests me, and I'm at roughly the same progress as Leigh now, is actually neith her budding vengeful streak nor her developing delight in even "just" slaughter. Rather, it's her struggle with independence.

I think it's easy to perceive Arya as being on an adventure, independent, an agent of her own desires, etc., because she's openly rebellious and exceedingly passionate about pursuing her own personal cultural, psychological, and physical agency. It's what Syrio was training her for. it's how she presents herself when she repeas Syrio's mantras. If we were to name any Stark child who most reminds us of the wild freedom of the wolf, I can imagine that a great many people would name Arya without hesitation.

But I'm constantly shocked by how helpless and at the mercy of others she always is. She's always a prisoner. When she runs, she's always caught. When there's fighting, she's left out of it. When her friends make decisions that affect her life, she's given no opportunity to affect those decisions.

Narratively, it's a great insistence on the power of dramatic conflict living in the obstacles to desire. But it's also a great bit of realism, because, no, Syrio never finished training her. No, she's not a great swordsperson. No, she's not much more than a child. Yes, the rest of the world is bigger, faster, stronger, and more experienced than her. And, no, there's not much that she can do about it right now. Except wait. And try to stay out of trouble.

And maybe find, join, and learn to ride Nymeria.
29. Dingo
@28: Well, I don't want to give anything away, but... a certain two words might just be the thing Arya needs ;)

Also, count me in with the question @22: Could we expect more frequent updates once you're done with WoT? :D Or is that going to be too taxing for you? :(
30. GarrettC
@29: That's the thing, though. Is it really asserting her strength and independence, particularly as a young woman, if she's dependent on Jaqhen Hagar to get it for her?

I suppose once she has the kind of individual agency she seeks so badly, the question of how she got it becomes secondary, but still....
Rob Munnelly
31. RobMRobM
Of course Leigh is not impossibly naive. All will no doubt be well. Piece o cake.
33. salvation122
It's important to remember, when discussing Arya's mental state, that she's about nine years old.

This is about the point where I realized that she's basically had a psychotic break. Which, I mean, can't fault her, but she really does love violence in a truly disturbing, Clegane-like way.
Joel Salomon
34. JCSalomon
Regarding Beric’s religous tolerance vs. Melisandre’s fanaticism:

Beric is now (more-or-less) a monotheist: R’hllor keeps bringing him back, so He must be worshipful. You don’t worship Him? That’s your business.

The dangerous religions are the dualistic ones. Melisandre’s version of R’hllorism is particularly concerned with the Devil Angra Mainyu the nameless Other: if you don’t worship R’hllor, chances are good you’ve thrown in with the Dark Side.
George Jong
35. IndependentGeorge
Here's where my nerdosity gets me.

Between Thoros of Myr, Anguy, and The Hound, you have the champions of the meelee, archery, and jousing competitions at the Hand's Tournament in GOT. The total prize money between them was 80,000 gold dragons. Given the fact that gold is one of the heaviest metals (atomic weight of 197), there's no way that any of them was walking around with all that coin on hand. So what did they do with the rest of the money? What were they supposed to do with several thousand pounds worth of gold? It's like winning the US Open, and getting paid in dollar coins.

@33 - not that this invalidates your point, but I think Arya's around ten or eleven in this chapter. She's nine at the start of GOT, and as near as I can figure, about a year and a half has elapsed since the start.
Rob Munnelly
36. RobMRobM
@35 - Anguy found his solution - spending it on girls, drink and food in Chataya's and some knicknacks before leaving KL. Thoros may well have done the same.
37. Meraxes
Those are some nice posts indenpendentgeorge, especially those considerations about Arya being a knight and then juxtaposing that with Dogs wisdom.

As for the gold, - it all got redistrubuted to the populace at large, ofcourse. Which is, i suspect, the same way Robin Hood redistributed his loot too - in reality. Giving it to the poor... through whores, parties and heavy drinking binges.

Several people figured out Aryas request just now? For realz?
and i thought i heard it all...

The Dog is in the right, too. He didnt win that duel under the Seven for nothing.

As for murders and killing... you all still remember this is war we are talking about? Thats what happens in it.
Heroic, nice deeds are singular, lonesome occurances in it. And Martin knew all of that once well enough to make one of the best presentations of it, through Aryas oddisey through it.
38. Emily D
The end of Death Becomes Her terrified me!! I remember having nightmares for months afterwards, mainly about how they were going to get the car LOL. Nice to know I'm not the only one!
Brandon Lammers
39. wickedkinetic
just wanted to say - we must remember that Houndor C is basically an outlaw for life.

he was essentially a sworn-sword and 'commoner' essentially owned by the Lannisters - he never took knight-vows but his lifelong loyalty and servitude to the Lannisters was probably presumed and expected - and the Lannisters always pay their debts.

in addition to the Lannisters considering him a traitor to their house and the throne - he was a (maybe not) sworn member of the Kings Guard - white cloak and everything - and they serve for life - and I'm pretty sure he didn't get an 'honorable discharge'.

so the Lannisters, and the Kings Guard, have probably both given Houndor 'kill-on-site' status - and all the enemies he's created over the years serving the Lannisters (Arya among them) also want him dead.

so for any kind of security long-term in Westeros he either needs his big pile of money (which has been converted to an IOU not collectible anytime soon) or some sovereign protector - otherwise his best bet is to go far far away and hope nobody bothers trying to find him......

Excellent post this week Leigh - particularly entertaining and insightful. thank you.
40. phuzz
I'm not terribly surprised at Arya's attitudes towards death, the only unusual thing about it is that she's not already like that. Most of the other girls of her age in Westeros weren't brought up in castles being waited on, she's spoilt by having some control over the direction of her life. Not much admitedly, but more than any of the non-high born 9 year old girls out there.

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