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 3 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 3 (“Cersei”) and Chapter 4 (“Brienne”).
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 lovely spoiler 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!
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Chapter 3: Cersei
Cersei dreams she is on the Iron Throne, reigning supreme, until her dwarf brother appears and makes everyone laugh at her, and she realizes she is naked, and her writhing to cover herself makes the throne cut her up all over. She wakes to find Ser Osmund Kettleblack standing over her, and barely comprehends what he is telling her about her father being found murdered in a privy. She is relieved to hear that Tommen is safe, though not that Loras Tyrell is the one guarding him, and orders Ser Boros Blount to go make sure the dwarf is still in his cell, though she assures herself Tyrion could not possibly be behind it.
She thinks that if Tywin is truly dead, then Tommen is no longer safe, and she will need to move quickly to prevent herself being shoved aside. She is Lady of Casterly Rock now, she thinks, and “the only true son [her father] ever had.” She goes to the Tower of the Hand to see her father’s body, and wonders if she should weep and tear her hair, or appear strong and unfeeling. She is infuriated to discover that she had been sent for last. Qyburn, the ex-maester that had treated Jaime’s maimed arm, comes in, and she orders him to make her father’s body ready for the silent sisters.
They show her Shae’s corpse too, and Cersei insists that her father would never have touched a whore like her, and must have been questioning her about Sansa Stark, despite the fact that the girl is naked and strangled with Tywin’s own chain of office. She goes to the Kettleblacks, and tells them to make Shae’s corpse disappear, and that no one is to know she was there.
Jaime appears through the secret passage, having gone to see where it went, but tells her it ends where six different tunnels meet, all locked. He hugs her, and she whispers to him that he must take Tywin’s place as Hand. Jaime takes this as a cruel joke, though, and says he cannot rule. Cersei says that she will rule, not him, until Tommen is of age, and he replies that he pities both Tommen and the Seven Kingdoms, then. She slaps him, and Ser Kevan orders them to take their quarrel outside. Cersei reflects on how every Hand since Jon Arryn had brought her nothing but grief, and decides Ser Kevan would be a much better choice than Jaime, whom she judges has lost his courage along with his hand.
She reflects on what she should do to prevent Lord Mace Tyrell from taking even more power than he already had, what with getting Tywin to agree to betroth his daughter Margaery to Tommen, and then realizes Varys has not put in an appearance yet. She instantly decides he must have been part of the scheme to murder Tywin, and orders Ser Meryn Trant to find Varys and bring him to her. Trant leaves, and Blount returns to report that the Imp is gone from his cell. Cersei thinks of the prophecy the old woman had made to her, and is sure Tyrion is coming for her next, and has to sit down.
“Your Grace?” said Blount. “Shall I fetch a cup of water?”
It is blood I need, not water. Tyrion’s blood, the blood of the valonqar. The torches spun around her. Cersei closed her eyes, and saw the dwarf grinning at her. No, she thought, no, I was almost rid of you. But his fingers had closed around her neck, and she could feel them beginning to tighten.
First immediate thought on seeing the title: goddammit, now she’s a POV character. Does this mean I’m going to have to like her too?
Sigh. Because, look, I have my biases, same as anyone else, and ergo Cersei’s probably going to have a lot less work to do to win me over than Jaime did, simply by virtue of my inherent instinct to sympathize with any female character angrily heaving up under the weight of the patriarchy bullshit all around her. And there can be no question that that exact struggle has been the defining cornerstone of Cersei’s entire life.
Still, that said, just because I feel sympathy for her problems doesn’t mean I approve of the ways she went about addressing them. And beyond that, I’m really not sure how someone so devoted to her children’s success can simultaneously come off as so intrinsically selfish in nature, but somehow she manages it. It’s almost bizarre, really.
Maybe it’s something about how she seems to regard her children – and Jaime – as far more extensions of herself and her family than they are people in their own right. Their Lannisterness is of far greater importance than their humanness, and while devotion to the betterment of one’s family is very admirable up to a point, beyond that point I think it just becomes about self-aggrandizement. And that, boys and girls, is not cool.
It is not fitting for Tywin Lannister to die alone. Such a man deserves a retinue to attend his needs in hell.
Wowww. Only a Lannister could put such precisely equal amounts of contempt and respect for a family member into the same sentence.
Ties in rather interestingly with my observations about family as commodity rather than loving support group, though, doesn’t it? I’m right to rag on Cersei for that, but something tells me that it was a learned behavior. Which may not excuse it, but it doesn’t certainly explain it. THANKS, TYWIN.
Have we been privy to this prophecy Cersei heard from the old woman before, or is this the first time it’s mentioned? I can’t remember. I guess it explains at least part of Cersei’s vitriol toward Tyrion, though, if it predicted that he would harm her in some way. And here I always thought it was just plain old snobbish bigotry on Cersei’s part. And, well, it probably is also that, but maybe this prophecy too. I wonder how long ago she heard it?
“Valonqar”: So I Googled this term, thinking it was yet another obscure medieval word I’d never heard of before reading this series, but I closed the tab quick when I saw all the results went to ASOIAF-related pages. So it’s a “valar morghulis” kind of thing, then (i.e. a word Martin made up) and I presume I’ll find out what it means at some later point. (Meaning: don’t tell me what it means.)
At the moment, though, just for funzies I’m going with it meaning “Dude what killed my dad inna toilet.” I can’t possibly be wrong!
Chapter 4: Brienne
On the road to Duskendale, Brienne asks everyone she comes in contact with whether they have seen Sansa Stark, though she only describes her physically rather than by name. She is determined to keep her promise to Jaime and find her, but she is not sure where to look, since Sansa’s family is dead and her ancestral home is in ruins. She wonders for a moment if Jaime had given her the task as a cruel joke, but reminds herself of the sword Oathkeeper he had given her. And besides, she would find Sansa for Lady Catelyn’s sake anyway.
At dusk, she meets two hedgeknights, Ser Creighton Longbough and Ser Illifer the Penniless, who are extremely dubious of her attire but invite her to join them for dinner. Brienne hesitates, but she is both bigger, better mounted and better armed than either of them, so accepts. Longbough is insistent that she should accompany them to Duskendale “for protection,” ignoring her demurs, until Illifer identifies her crest to be a fake, and deduces she is the Maid of Tarth, and Renly’s murderer. Brienne thinks of how she loved Renly, and swears the strongest oath she can that that is not true. The hedgeknights are skeptical, but accept this. She is gratified to wake the next day and find herself unmolested.
They set out the next day, and come across a band of chanting folk calling themselves “sparrows,” transporting the bones of murdered clergy to King’s Landing. They call on Longbough and Illifer to “forsake their wordly master and defend the Holy Faith,” but the hedgeknights decline, and the party moves on. Longbough wonders who would murder a septon, but Brienne knows who would. They go on, and encounter a merchant, Hibald, and his servants, accompanied by another hedge knight, Ser Shadrich. Brienne asks if Hibald has seen a young girl with auburn hair and blue eyes, perhaps accompanied by a stout knight or fool, but he has not. They agree to ride on together.
Shadrich rides next to Brienne as they travel, and mentions that he is looking for Sansa Stark as well. Brienne hides her shock and pretends not to know what he is talking about, but Shadrich isn’t buying it, and tells her the eunuch Varys has offered a substantial reward for the Stark girl, and offers to split it with Brienne if they work together. She maintains her ignorance, but is shaken by the realization that she is far from the only one looking for Sansa.
They arrive at an inn, and Brienne offers to pay for a room for Creighton and Illifer, in return for their hospitality to her on the road, and ignores it when the stableboy mistakes her for a man. There is idle talk of Jaime Lannister’s maiming at dinner, and Brienne remembers dueling with him, and considers it “monstrously cruel” that his sword hand had been lopped off. Suddenly done with the talk, she excuses herself and goes up to her room for the night.
She still regrets the loss of Renly’s sword, but draws out the one Jaime had given her to replace it, the one he’d called Oathkeeper, and admires its superior workmanship. She thinks it “a sword fit for a hero,” and she does not consider herself worthy of it. She prays to the Crone to show her the way to not fail Jaime the way she had failed Catelyn and Renly. Then she lays down and waits till Hibald and the hedgeknights have settled in for the night before rising and sneaking out of the inn.
Her mare’s hooves rang upon the old stone bridge. Then the trees closed in around her, black as pitch and full of ghosts and memories. I am coming for you, Lady Sansa, she thought as she rode into the darkness. Be not afraid. I shall not rest until I’ve found you.
First immediate thought on seeing the title: Well, but hey, this new POV I am totally stoked for.
…Except for how kind of terribly painful this was to read, watching Brienne just stoically endure a thousand stings and slights and microaggressions from literally everyone she encounters, watching her weather nigh-constant dismissal and belittlement and ridicule, all for committing the apparently heinous sin of being an “ugly” woman in “a man’s job.” (Sorry, I tried to type that sentence without the scarequotes, but I just couldn’t do it.)
[Ser Creighton:] “Shall we ride together for a time? I do not doubt Ser Shadrich’s valor, but he seems small, and three blades are better than one.”
Four blades, thought Brienne, but she held her tongue.
Brienne could feel their eyes. Despite chainmail, cloak, and jerkin, she felt naked. When one man said, “Have a look at that,” she knew he was not speaking of Ser Shadrich.
“A man would need to be a fool to rape a silent sister,” Ser Creighton was saying. “Even to lay hands upon one… it’s said they are the Stranger’s wives, and their female parts are cold and wet as ice.” He glanced at Brienne. “Uh… beg pardon.”
Lovely. Even worse, it was so painful to see how it has so deeply negatively impacted her own view of herself. Not merely in terms of physical beauty (which is bad enough), but even more importantly in that she can’t even see how much of a hero she is, just because she’s so often been told there’s no way she could be.
I mean, for Christ’s sake, she is literally on a quest, with a magic sword, to rescue an actual fair maiden. And just because she’s probably not going to try boning and/or marrying said fair maiden once she’s rescued her means she’s disqualified from the title?
Once again, though, I have to give Martin kudos, for so well depicting here the smaller, more easily-overlooked predations of sexism as well as the larger, more obvious ones. Because that’s what is so often so difficult to explain about not just sexism but prejudice and bigotry in general: that it is the tiny unconscious things, the often innocently unexamined assumptions and encroachments, the hundreds of minor thoughtless remarks and behaviors, that wear you down, because they are small and inconsequential taken in isolation, but they are never in isolation; they are constant and relentless and ever-present, like the whine of a mosquito always, always, always in your ear, every day, over and over.
And yet when you point these tiny aggressions out, it is only taken as evidence of oversensitivity, of blowing things out of proportion, of being, dare I say, hysterical about it all: jeez, lady, it’s just a little mosquito, lighten up.
*blows out breath* Okay, on to other things.
I vaguely remember theorizing back in the day that Jaime was totes in love with Brienne but refused to acknowledge it, and I think I also said something at the time about wondering whether Brienne even remotely returned the feeling, but unable to answer one way or the other since we never got into Brienne’s head.
And, well, now we are in Brienne’s head, and I will just point out that the thing that made her go “fuck this I’m going to bed” was not her companions’ endless chauvinistic bullshit, but her thoughts about Jaime and the unfairness of his maiming. I’M JUST SAYING.
I do not know what is up with these sparrow people, but I find myself hoping I don’t have to. Know what is up with them, I mean. Because, really, we have quite enough rando crazy factions out there already, thanks, let’s not introduce any more for a while, mmmkay?
Then there’s this:
As Brienne mounted up again, she glimpsed a skinny boy atop a piebald horse at the far end of the village. I have not talked with that one, she thought, but he vanished behind the sept before she could seek him out.
And later in the chapter:
“I had a few,” Ser Creighton put in. “Some farm boy on a piebald horse went by, and an hour later half a dozen men afoot with staves and scythes.”
*raises confused but suspicious eyebrow*
Well, that is certainly not an accident. Hmm.
Also, I totally defend my mistake in thinking “valonqar” was a real word in the last chapter by pointing out the presence of “gyronny” in this one, which should absolutely be a totally fake made-up word, but apparently isn’t.
Also squared and least consequentially: “Illifer” is kind of an awesome name. The sobriquet “The Penniless,” however, is not. It did make me laugh, though. (And thanks to the commenter who provided me with the term “sobriquet” on the last entry, because that was driving me nuts.)
(I am learning all the words today!)
And that is about what I got for this one, kids! Have a thing with seven days in it, and I’ll see you next Thursday!