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 26 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 53 (“Bran”) and 54 (“Daenerys”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 53: Bran
From his improvised seat astride Hodor’s back in a turret high above, Bran watches the last of the lords sworn to the Starks enter Winterfell with his army. Bran is ashamed that Robb will not let him ride out among them in the winter town, knowing it is because of what happened in the wolfswood; he is very conscious of the stares the lords bannermen give him at supper, in the place of honor. Maester Luwin tells Bran that the assembled host now totals around twelve thousand men, and more will join them on the road when Robb leaves, which will probably be the next day. Troubled, Bran decides to visit the godswood, and has Hodor take him there, ignoring the looks and sometimes laughter he gets on the way. His wolf Summer joins them.
Once in the grove, he sends Hodor off to bathe in the hot pools, and thinks of how he is more and more drawn to the godswood lately. He prays to the old gods to keep Robb and his parents safe. Luwin and Bran and Rickon all did not want Robb to lead the army south, but Robb insists that it is his duty to go. Bran thinks of how much Robb has grown up, and how he has faced down the much older lords, even Lord Umber “the Greatjon,” who almost attacked Robb with steel until his wolf Grey Wind tore off two of his fingers.
“My lord father taught me that it was death to bare steel against your liege lord,” Robb said, “but doubtless you only meant to cut my meat.” Bran’s bowels went to water as the Greatjon struggled to rise, sucking at the red stumps of fingers . . . but then, astonishingly, the huge man laughed. “Your meat,” he roared, “is bloody tough.”
Now the Greatjon is Robb’s biggest ally, but Robb confessed to Bran afterward how terrified he had been. They both wish they knew the truth about their father’s situation; Robb had been infuriated by Sansa’s letter, and how it didn’t even mention Arya, and wonders what is wrong with her. Bran points out that she has lost her wolf. Bran thinks of how many of their family, past and present, had gone south and never returned, and now Robb is doing the same, and prays again for his safety.
The wildling Osha appears, and asks if Bran hears the gods. She works in the kitchens now, with her ankles shackled so she cannot run. She tells him that the gods speak in the wind, and say they are sad Robb is going south, where they have no power to protect him, all the weirwoods having been cut down there long ago. Hodor approaches (naked), and Osha opines that he has giant’s blood in him; Bran says there are no giants, but Osha counters that her brother killed one beyond the Wall, and that there are worse things out there as well. She says she tried to tell Lord Robb but he would not listen to her.
“You tell him this, m’lord. You tell him he’s bound on marching the wrong way. It’s north he should be taking his swords. North, not south. You hear me?”
Bran nodded. “I’ll tell him.”
But Robb dines privately with the lords bannermen that night, and Bran overhears some of the lords’ sons saying that they would rather die than live crippled like Bran. Bran tells Luwin that he doesn’t want to be broken; he wants to learn magic. Luwin tells him no man can teach him that, and Bran answers that the children of the forest could, but Luwin advises him not to concern himself with “folly,” about the children of the forest as well as what Osha said.
Robb leaves two days later; before he goes, he tells Bran that he is lord of Winterfell now, and to tell Rickon he’ll be back as soon as the fighting is over. Bran says Rickon said no one ever comes back, but Robb is sure Mother will be back soon, and promises to bring Father with him when he returns. The townsfolk cheer Robb and the host as they leave, and Bran thinks they will never cheer that way for Bran the Broken, and sees that besides Hodor, there are only women, children, and old men left in Winterfell.
So Robb goes off south, taking all their liegemen with him, leaving Winterfell defenseless. Well, I’m sure nothing bad will come of that AT ALL.
Also, these people are crazy. Anyone who’s all “oh, your wolf just bit my FINGERS OFF, I think you’re awesome now!” is, with all due respect to members of the Planters’ family, completely frickin’ nuts. Seriously. You just lost two fingers! Hello? What?
And then there’s Osha, who will evidently be playing the role of Cassandra in today’s performance, and also handily provides us a name for what Jafer and Othor from Jon’s last chapter were, or are, or whatever. Wights, there’s one I haven’t come across in a while. I remember the barrow-wights from Tolkien scared the crap out of me when I first read LOTR as a kid, so good show there. You guys probably shouldn’t have told me that there’s a difference between wights and Others in the comments, but, well, I know that now. Not that it makes much qualitative difference for me at this point, so there’s that. Right now as far as I’m concerned they’re all frozen zombies, so there, nyah.
Bran’s having a totally understandable amount of angst about his condition still, but I’m actually really proud of him for holding up as well as he is. Who knows whether that will last or not, but I’m hoping that being in charge will help him grow in confidence, rather than crush him. Could go either way, though.
Also, nice reminder here of Bran’s connection to the children of the forest and magic, which I had almost forgotten about. I say, who better to learn magic than a child who can’t fight any other way? Because who are we kidding here, this is about learning to fight; everything in this world is about that, one way or another, it seems.
In general, I also have to remark, I’m kind of torn about the way Martin has been handling the supernatural elements of his world thus far. Aside from the wights and dragons and things which are blatantly fantastical, he’s tending very much toward a sort of—well, I don’t think magical realism is the correct term to use here, but it’s something similar. By which I mean that the “magical” elements could be really magical, but (so far, anyway), they don’t have to be, and it’s more or less up to the reader to decide which she wants it to be.
So, the direwolves might have some mystical connection to/be a mystical reflection of the Stark children, or they might just be really big wolves who are loyal to their masters. The children of the forest might be sort-of-elves with magic to teach, or they might just be creepy isolationists living in the woods. The old gods might really be whispering in the wind, but it might also be just religious superstition that they do. The reason for the Starks’ historically spectacular bad luck in the south might be because the old gods have no power there, or it might just be the whim of chance. Or, you know, that the Starks suck at southern politics.
I both like and don’t like this. On the one hand, subtlety is a rare and precious thing in epic fantasy when it comes to magical elements, and it’s great that Martin is concentrating on building the mundane infrastructure of his world without feeling the need to trowel elves and trolls and wizards and glowy sparkly things into every crack and crevice of it.
On the other hand, there is such a thing as taking it too far. I don’t have any objection to reading a straight-up non-magical alternate history version of the Wars of the Roses, but if this is a fantasy, let it be one, you know? Sometimes I feel like Martin’s trying to tread a line between the two genres, and while it’s an interesting choice, as someone who came here as a fantasy reader and not an alternate history reader, sometimes I’m finding that inability to commit to the magic bits to be a little frustrating.
Chapter 54: Daenerys
After they make love, Dany tries to convince Drogo that the prophecy about their son includes the Seven Kingdoms, but Drogo, who shares his people’s superstitious dread of the “poison water” (the ocean), tells her that “the stallion who mounts the world has no need of iron chairs.” He leaves to hunt, and Dany summons Ser Jorah. She wants him to help her convince Drogo to cross the sea and invade her former land, but Jorah advises her not to make Viserys’s mistake and push too hard.
Jorah suggests going to the Western Market, as a letter from Illyrio may have come with the latest caravan, and Dany agrees. On the way, she thinks of how she could be happy in her new life with the Dothraki if it were not for the blood of the dragon.
With Viserys gone, Daenerys was the last, the very last. She was the seed of kings and conquerors, and so too the child inside her. She must not forget.
Dany enjoys herself at the market, though she is puzzled by Jorah’s abrupt excuse to go off alone. Eventually she comes across a wine merchant, who when he learns who she is, insists on giving her a cask of his finest wine. She is about to take it when Jorah reappears and stops them. He demands that the merchant take a drink from it first; the merchant tries to flee, knocking Dany down, but Jhogo stops him. Dany asks how Jorah knew, and once they are away from the bazaar, Jorah shows her the letter from Illyrio, which says that Robert Baratheon is offering lands and ennoblement to anyone who kills Viserys or Dany and her child.
On impulse, Dany sends Jorah away and tries submerging the dragon eggs in the brazier fire, but nothing happens. When Drogo returns, she tells him what happened at the market, and Jorah adds that this will not be the last attempt on Dany’s life. Drogo is silent a while, and then orders rewards to both Jorah and Jhogo for saving Dany’s life. Then he says that he will also pledge a gift to his unborn son: the iron chair of the Seven Kingdoms.
“I will take my khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride the wooden horses across the black salt water as no khal has done before. I will kill the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak to bow down beneath the Mother of Mountains. This I vow, I, Drogo son of Bharbo. This I swear before the Mother of Mountains, as the stars look down in witness.”
And your little dog, too!
Ah, Robert. Even beyond the grave you manage to screw everything up, don’t you. Bloody damn fool.
So this should be quite the impressive clusterfuck, considering that the Lannisters and Starks will likely be right in the middle of slicing each other up when Drogo and Dany arrive to kick the shit out of everyone. Awesome.
I wouldn’t want to be a peasant in the Seven Kingdoms right now for all the whiskey in Ireland, because they are screwed. Of course, I wouldn’t want to be a peasant there in peacetime either. Actually I wouldn’t want to live there, period. But you know what I mean!
I wonder whether Drogo will even become aware of the inadvertent advantage he has by happening to choose to attack when the Seven Kingdoms is already in internal strife, or if it’ll all just fly right over his head and he’ll think they fell so easy (assuming they do) because the Dothraki are just that badass. Subtlety, I’m guessing, is not one of their strong suits when it comes to warfare. It’s probably a low-priority trait when you’re a howling horde of screaming berserker barbarians, I’m thinking. Not that I’m judging!
Okay, I’m judging, bite me. I don’t think anyone should be too shocked that any proposal that explicitly includes rape and pillage as part of the game plan is not going to be one I’m in a hurry to endorse. Gah.
Jorah: is definitely Up To Something, though for the moment he seems likeably loyal enough to Dany. I wonder, though, if this whole “conquer the Seven Kingdoms” scheme is something he’s really as gung ho about as he makes it seem. Dany may looking at another betrayal down the line.
I admit, I was totally on the edge of my seat when Dany was heating up the dragon eggs, and then all “Aww!” when it didn’t work. But it’s a fakeout, I’m sure! Maybe she just needs to do it more?
I skipped over a loooot of worldbuilding stuff in this chapter, by the way, mostly because though it was all interesting, right now it’s all kind of random names to me. I do want to state for the record, though: locust pie? EW. I know lots of cultures in the real world eat locusts as a delicacy, but you know, I’m going to be all provincial and go with NO.
I can’t figure out what “tree eggs” are supposed to be, though, so I can’t tell whether I would hate them.
Tis a puzzlement, no? Or maybe not to YOU, but me, I’m done. Have a delightful weekend, y’all, and I’ll see you next week!