A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones, Part 33

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 33 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 69 (“Tyrion”) and 70 (“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, 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 69: Tyrion

What Happens
A messenger from the remains of Jaime’s army has reported to Tywin and his captains that Jaime was taken, and that Tywin’s brutal drive south has been for nothing: Robb Stark reclaimed Riverrun days ago. Ser Harys Swyft asks how Jaime could split his forces the way he did, but Ser Kevan tells him that owing to the geography of Riverrun there is no other way to effectively besiege it. The messenger agrees, and tells how the night ambush caught them unawares; Lord Brax was killed, Ser Edmure Tully was rescued, and two of the three camps of Jaime’s forces were overrun, while the rest were forced to withdraw. Swyft wails that this means they are cut off from Casterly Rock, and that they should sue for peace.

“Peace?” Tyrion swirled his wine thoughtfully, took a deep draft, and hurled his empty cup to the floor, where it shattered into a thousand pieces. “There’s your peace, Ser Harys. My sweet nephew broke it for good and all when he decided to ornament the Red Keep with Lord Eddard’s head. You’ll have an easier time drinking wine from that cup than you will convincing Robb Stark to make peace now. He’s winning . . . or hadn’t you noticed?”

Lord Lefford suggests that the Starks might agree to a prisoner exchange, and Tyrion asks what they will offer, Eddard Stark’s rotting head? Lefford suggests Robb’s sisters for Jaime instead, but Ser Addam scoffs that only “an utter ass” would exchange Jaime for two girls. The lords continue to argue until Tywin abruptly throws them all out, except for Kevan and, to his surprise, Tyrion. Tywin calls Joffrey’s actions “rank madness,” though he supposes they should be glad he hasn’t married a whore yet, and Tyrion keeps himself from throwing his wine at him.

Tywin tells Tyrion and Kevan that Renly Baratheon has allied with the Tyrells by marrying Margaery Tyrell, and has claimed the throne for himself. He adds that Cersei has commanded them to ride for King’s Landing at once to defend it from Renly, though she has not even told Joffrey of the matter, for fear Joffrey would ride out against Renly with the City Watch, leaving the city undefended.

“I had thought you were the one made for motley, Tyrion, but it would appear that I was wrong.”

“Why, Father,” said Tyrion, “that almost sounds like praise.”

Tyrion asks about Stannis, and Tywin says that he’d thought Stannis to be their biggest threat, but so far he has done nothing. He points out on the map how they are basically hemmed in, with Bolton to the north, Stark to the west, the Arryns and Stannis to the east and Renly and the Tyrells to the south. Tywin says they must engage Robb Stark before Renly has a chance to march from Highgarden, and so they will head for Harrenhal; he instructs Kevan to have their forces burn and pillage every step of the way. Kevan bows and leaves.

Tywin proposes sending Tyrion’s savages along to help with the pillaging, but Tyrion replies that he would prefer to keep them with him. Tywin tells him that he’d best learn to control them, then, for Tyrion is going to King’s Landing. Tyrion is taken aback, and asks what he is to do there. Tywin tells him he is to rule, which Tyrion finds hilarious. Tywin grouses about the idiotic moves Joffrey has made so far, and says if Cersei cannot curb the boy and his council, Tyrion must. Tyrion asks why him, instead of “a bigger man”?

Lord Tywin rose abruptly. “You are my son.”

That was when he knew. You have given him up for lost, he thought. You bloody bastard, you think Jaime’s good as dead, so I’m all you have left. Tyrion wanted to slap him, to spit in his face, to draw his dagger and cut the heart out of him and see if it was made of old hard gold, the way the smallfolks said. Yet he sat there, silent and still.

As a last shot, Tywin tells him he may not take his whore to court, and leaves. At length, Tyrion goes up to the tiny room he shares with Shae, and wakes her to tell her he has a mind to take her to King’s Landing.

So THERE, Daddy Dearest!

Well, this chapter certainly paints a pleasingly dire picture of the situation for the Lannisters. Pleasing for me, anyway, because Tyrion aside, I do not like them, Sam I am. As you probably have noticed.

I knew that Jaime’s capture was a big blow for them, but I hadn’t quite grasped how Jaime’s defeat had so thoroughly hamstrung the rest of the Lannister forces until Tywin et al spelled it out here. Of course, the most delightful (and ironic) aspect of it all is that, as Tywin himself points out, the worst blow is from their own side. If Joffrey had an ounce of sense he would be thanking his lucky stars he isn’t within arm’s reach of his (double) grandfather right now.

Which is really almost disappointing; though Tywin being in King’s Landing would be very bad for the Starks, which would suck, it would almost be worth it to be able to watch Tywin tear that little shit a new asshole. I would bake myself a Schadenfreude Pie and sit back and grin in glee, I would.

Although, as I recall Tyrion did a pretty fair job of smacking Joffrey around his own self the last time they were in the same place, so it’s actually a pretty good plan to send him to rein the little monster in, I guess. Although I have a distinct feeling Joffrey’s going to be a lot less inclined to take a smacking from Tyrion now that he’s feeling all invincibly kingly and stuff.

(I know, my “Captain Obvious” insignia is in the mail. Hush, you.)

But getting back to Tywin, it’s sort of a shame he’s such a horrible person, because if I were evaluating the man solely by his competence I would quite like him. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I can’t decide which, he’s also a complete and utter dickwad, and thus never the twain shall meet.

Although, I won’t lie: “cockless wonder” (in reference to Varys) made me laugh out loud, however inappropriately. Whatever else he may be, Tywin is a past master of the art of the cutting insult. I would probably enjoy that aspect of him much more, of course, if his acid wit weren’t so frequently aimed at Tyrion. Which is part and parcel of that whole “horrible person” stumbling block, there.

Also, Renly has put a claim in for the crown? Well, okay, then. I guess if Stannis really is just sitting around on his ass, as Tywin seems to think, it makes sense for Renly to throw his hat in the ring. I do wonder what Stannis is actually doing, though. It occurs to me that if Stannis really is pulling a Lysa and just hiding out in his stronghold, the Lannisters aren’t nearly as hemmed in as they assume they are. Interesting.

Well, here’s hoping Tyrion doesn’t get killed on the way to King’s Landing, though I am in the weird position of being unable to root for his mission there. I want Tyrion to succeed at stuff and show up his asshole father for his own sake, because I like Tyrion, but at the same time I really don’t want anything to keep Joffrey from continuing to fashion himself a nice, big, fancy-schmancy noose to hang himself with.

Because I hate him and want him to die. You know, in case you had any CONFUSION on that score. Yeah.

So, uh, good… non-luck, Tyrion? I guess? Er.

Chapter 70: Jon

What Happens
Samwell finds Jon in the stables and pleads with him not to go, but Jon charges his horse at him and forces Sam to fling himself aside. He hopes he didn’t hurt Sam, and that Sam has enough loyalty to refrain from rousing Castle Black immediately. Jon regrets abandoning the sword Mormont had given him, but thinks he was not “so lost to honor” as to take it with him, though he is still not sure whether going south is the honorable thing or not regardless of what Aemon Targaryen said. He wants to go to Winterfell, but is sure he will not be welcome there, and hopes merely that Robb will let him help avenge his father, and die as a Stark.

Ghost falls behind as Jon reaches Mole Town, and Jon notes that even the whorehouse is mostly underground there to protect against the cold.

On the Wall, he’d heard men call the whores “buried treasures.” He wondered whether any of his brothers in black were down there tonight, mining. That was oathbreaking too, yet no one seemed to care.

Beyond the village, Jon hears hoofbeats in pursuit of him and hides in the trees. He soon recognizes the voices of the horsemen as his fellow classmates, including Pyp, Grenn, Toad, and Haider, and realizes Sam must have gone to them instead of Mormont. Ghost’s reappearance betrays Jon’s location to the other boys, to Jon’s disgust. Jon warns them to back off, but they insist that they will not allow him to betray his brothers, and hem him in while quoting the words of the oath, and eventually Jon admits he will not cut any of them down and agrees to return to the castle, promising himself he will escape again later.

Jon goes to attend Mormont as usual the next morning, to discover that Mormont knows all about his attempt to desert, and would have had others retrieve him if his friends had not done so. Jon gathers his strength and tells Mormont he is prepared to face the penalty for desertion, which is death, but Mormont replies that if they beheaded every boy who rode to Mole Town in the night, “only ghosts” would man the Wall.

Mormont tells Jon he cannot bring his father back by deserting, and his addition of a lone sword to Robb’s forces will achieve nothing. He also points out that his own sister Maege and her daughters will likely be fighting as well, and yet if she were killed he would not leave, for his place is here, as is Jon’s. He tells Jon of all the signs of something big brewing beyond the Wall, and asks if Jon really thinks his brother’s war is more important than theirs.

“It’s not,” Mormont told him. “Gods save us, boy, you’re not blind and you’re not stupid. When dead men come hunting in the night, do you think it matters who sits the Iron Throne?”

Mormont says he believes Jon and his direwolf are meant to be here, and wants them to go with him when the Watch goes beyond the Wall, in force, to search for Benjen Stark and find him, dead or alive. He asks again if Jon is a brother of the Night’s Watch, or “only a bastard boy who wants to play at war.”

Jon Snow straightened himself and took a long deep breath. Forgive me, Father. Robb, Arya, Bran . . . forgive me, I cannot help you. He has the truth of it. This is my place. “I am . . . yours, my lord. Your man. I swear it. I will not run again.”

The Old Bear snorted. “Good. Now go put on your sword.”

Mm, so that’s the way of it, huh.

I’d honestly felt prior to this that there was a fifty-fifty chance between Jon staying on the Wall, and Jon running back south to help Robb. As Jon himself noted, there’s an argument for both honor and dishonor to be made either way. So it’s kind of delicious that this chapter manages to make it so he does both, in a manner of speaking.

I have to admit, for a moment when Pyp and the rest of the boys showed up I totally thought they were going to throw in their lot with Jon and go with him, and I was actually a little disappointed when it became clear that they weren’t. Because apparently I am secretly a cliché-laden romantic at heart.

That said, I’m glad Jon ended up back on the Wall. Mormont was completely right, in my opinion, that Jon’s contribution to Robb’s efforts as an outlaw would amount to little or nothing, while his contribution as a more-or-less law-abiding Brother re: the apparently-impending Winter Apocalypse could potentially be huge. In hindsight, the choice seems pretty obvious.

I was also amused that Ghost apparently made his own decision about which avenue he favored for Jon, and thus continued the direwolves’ subtextual roles as moral compasses of a sort for the Stark children. I say “of a sort” because “moral” is not really the right word to use there. It’s not so much about the “moral” thing to do, it seems, as it is about the… hm, fitting thing to do. Or maybe even the expedient thing to do. Because it has been pretty firmly established, I think, that in Martin’s world those two things are not always or even usually the same thing.

And using a wolf as such a compass, well, even independent of the genre-based inclination to assign anthropomorphic tendencies to them, a wolf’s sense of what is and is not appropriate would by nature be a lot more basic than a human’s. It reflects what Mormont said: clan-based blood feuds come and go, but survival of the species is forever. Even I try not to use the appellation “apocalypse” too flippantly, after all.

It’s also… well, not nice, exactly, but I guess reassuring in a way, or something, to have demonstrated here that the Black brotherhood’s soi disant ultra-strict code of conduct has the same subtly ignored loopholes and leeway for human behavior as does any military body in the history of humanity. So the oh-so-celibate brothers have access to prostitutes, do they? Hah.

It’s not even a question of approval or disapproval, so much as it is a question of sheer realism. Any system that’s totally free of corruption for the purpose of catering to its members’ so-called baser needs is a system I can’t sustain a suspension of disbelief for, sadly. Not that I would suspect Martin of missing an opportunity to demonstrate a seedy underbelly wherever he can, of course, but, you know. The consistency is appreciated.

And I am almost 95% sure that the preceding paragraph made actual sense, but there’s a margin for error there, because I am kind of sleep-deprived at the moment. Which is a pretty good sign that I should shut up while I am still at least theoretically ahead of… um, whatever it is I’m supposed to be ahead of.

…Yeah, shutting up now commencing. See you next time, when we polish off this puppy, eh? Good times!


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