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 34 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover Chapters 71 (“Catelyn”) and 72 (“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.
Before we start, a quick note on scheduling: I am going to be taking a bit of a sabbatical from my blogs during the Christmas/New Year’s season this one a tad more so than my Wheel of Time Re-read owing to timing, since we so fortuitously happened to reach the end of this book just now.
Next Friday, therefore, I will be posting my wrap-up review of/ruminations on A Game of Thrones as a whole, and after that the ASOIAF Read will be on hiatus until January 6, 2012, at which time I will begin my Read of the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings.
So that’s what that is. And now, the post!
Chapter 71: Catelyn
Catelyn is overcome with memories of her childhood as she and Robb et al enter Riverrun to great cheering. Her brother Edmure Tully meets them at the dock and commiserates with Catelyn about Ned’s death, but Catelyn puts that aside in her haste to see her father, who Edmure says is not expected to last much longer. Edmure takes her to the solar, where her father Hoster is clearly dying. He whispers to her of his gladness that Robb has freed Riverrun, but lingers on the fact that his brother Brynden still has not married Bethany Redwyne, even though Catelyn reminds him she has been married to Lord Rowan for years. She leaves when he falls asleep and goes to find Robb.
Robb is in the godswood along with the rest of the Northern lords who follow the old gods, which reminds Catelyn with a pang of Ned. She waits for him, remembering how she and Lysa used to play kissing games with Petyr Baelish there, and wondering if Robb has yet had a chance to kiss a girl. Robb tells her that Renly Baratheon has claimed the crown, to her shock, and says they must convene a council at once.
The arguing at the council goes on for hours. Many of the lords want to march on Harrenhal at once, to meet Tywin there and finish the Lannisters off; Marq Piper wants to strike at Casterly Rock itself. Others want to wait and use their position athwart the Lannisters’ supply lines to starve them out. Jonos Bracken contends they ought to pledge their allegiance to Renly, but Robb counters that even if he were to agree that neither Joffrey nor Tommen are the rightful king, Stannis would still have the legal right over Renly. Stevron Frey suggests they let Renly and Joffrey fight it out and side with the victor, which the Greatjon and most of the northern lords decry as cowardice.
“Why not a peace?” Catelyn asked.
The lords looked at her, but it was Robb’s eyes she felt, his and his alone. “My lady, they murdered my lord father, your husband,” he said grimly. He unsheathed his longsword and laid it on the table before him, the bright steel on the rough wood. “This is the only peace I have for Lannisters.”
The lords roar approval, but Catelyn argues that no amount of bloodshed can bring Ned back. The Greatjon and Lord Karstark reply that as a woman, she does not understand the need for vengeance.
“Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied. “Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy . . . but I understand futility.”
She points out that they went to war because of the siege of Riverrun and Ned’s imprisonment, both of which are done with now one way or the other, and urges them to tend to the living instead of the dead, and negotiate for the return of her daughters. The lords consider her words for a moment, but then begin listing their wrongs at the hands of the Lannisters, and Piper declares he will never call a Lannister his king. Catelyn despairs, and sees that her son is wedded now to the blade before him.
Then the Greatjon jumps up and bellows that neither Renly nor Stannis nor Joffrey are worth anything to him, and asks why the North should not rule itself again. He points at Robb, and says that is the only king he means to bow to: The King in the North, the King of Winter. Karstark and Lady Mormont follow suit, and soon do all the others, and Catelyn watches as they resurrect a pledge not heard in three hundred years:
“The King in the North!”
“The King in the North!”
“THE KING IN THE NORTH!“
Oh, for the love of Mike.
Okay, yes, very stirring and all, but jeez.
It’s like they took a skein of yarn that the cat had already got into, and then decided to fix the tangle by chucking it into a hurricane. Brilliant. No really, rah rah sis boom goddamn bah, guys. I am totally waving the world’s smallest pom-pom for you, here.
The sharp dichotomy drawn here between Catelyn’s appeal for peace and the lords’ direct rejection of her reasoning, based on their perception that it is the plea of a “weak” woman—in spite of all Catelyn has done in the past few months to prove that she is nothing of the sort—is no accident, by the way. You can debate whether Catelyn’s recent actions were wise, but I certainly hope no one would be stupid enough to claim that she acted weakly, and Martin is very much playing on that basic disconnect here, to extremely frustrating—if sadly believable—effect.
Amazing, really. Not to mention infuriating. But that is the power of prejudice: Catelyn could speak with all the persuasive eloquence of the greatest philosophers that ever lived, and still it would be overshadowed to these people by her irredeemable possession of a vagina. Fuck, but that makes me tired.
And you know, if we’re going with the lords’ notion that continuing to fight is the “masculine” way to go, instead of the apparently pussified route of seeking peace, then if you ask me that’s just proof that men (and Maege Mormont, evidently) shouldn’t be allowed to make these kinds of decisions. I mean, as long as we’re going to go down this road, it’s not like thinking with your big phallic penis replacement sword instead of your brain has so much more to recommend it, you testosterone-crazed idiots. Yes, let’s make this clusterfuck a three-way war instead of two! That can’t possibly go wrong!
(Or hell, a four- or five-way war at this point, depending on how you look at it. Either way, STUPID, The End.)
Catelyn’s a “weak” woman with “no understanding of vengeance”? Are you shitting me? First of all, WHATEVER: anyone who thinks women have no concept of revenge has clearly never actually met a woman, because lemme tell you, pal, revenge is most emphatically NOT a skill reserved for the XY chromosome set, noooooo sirreebob.
And second of all, “weak” my ass: if anything, Catelyn’s willingness to put her need for vengeance aside in pursuit of the greater good makes her the stronger person, not the other way around. Anyone who thinks that pursuing peace is actually the easier route is in dire need of emergency cephalanalectomy, stat. Anyone can go and beat the shit out of each other; figuring out how not to do that, now that takes strength—strength of mind and will, rather than muscles. Good to know that’s what we’re deriding as “weak,” “feminine” attributes, guys. Morons.
Wow, I’m kind of really pissed off right now. You know, in case you couldn’t tell.
Right, time to finish this thing. Onward!
Chapter 72: Daenerys
The Dothraki still with Dany are building a great pyre, while Rakharo sacrifices a stallion. Mirri Maz Duur tells Dany that she does not have either the wisdom or the talent to perform bloodmagic, and Dany has her whipped until she shuts up. Jorah draws her aside and begs her to go with him to far off lands rather than ask him to watch her burn herself on Drogo’s pyre, but Dany assures him that is not her intention. She speaks to the remaining Dothraki, and tells them they are her khalasar now, and free to go or stay as they will. She offers gifts to Jhogo, Aggo and Rakharo, and entreats them to swear to her as her bloodriders, but all three men refuse her regretfully, telling her that only a man may lead a khalasar and have bloodriders. She ignores their protests, and asks for Jorah’s oath, promising him a “dragon-forged” sword in return; Jorah swears his loyalty to her immediately and without reservation, and she tells him he is the first of her Queensguard. She realizes that the others must all think her mad, but is determined to go forward.
She goes into her tent, and bathes and grooms first herself and then Drogo’s body with great care. She asks his forgiveness silently, and has the body carried to the pyre at sunset. The pyre is doused in oil; Dany commands her eggs be brought, ignoring Jorah’s protest of their value, and places them about Drogo’s body. Then she has Mirri Maz Duur bound to the pyre as well.
“You will not hear me scream,” Mirri responded as the oil dripped from her hair and soaked her clothing.
“I will,” Dany said, “but it is not your screams I want, only your life. I remember what you told me. Only death can pay for life.”
The first star is a comet, which Dany takes as a great sign, and the pyre is lit. All the others soon step away from the blistering heat, but as Mirri dies screaming, Dany is drawn closer, entranced by the flames. She ignores Jorah’s cries and walks into the fire, seeing many visions, including what she thinks is Drogo on a rearing stallion. There are three sharp cracks from within the fire before the entire pyre collapses around her.
No, she wanted to shout to [Jorah], no, my good knight, do not fear for me. The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don’t you see? Don’t you SEE?
When the fire dies down, Jorah and the others see Dany, naked and with her hair burnt away but otherwise unscathed by the fire, with three small dragons draped over her, two suckling at her breasts. Jorah falls to his knees, and Jhogo, Aggo, and Rakharo all swear to her as her bloodriders on the spot in awe. Dany looks over the Dothraki and knows they are hers now, forever.
As Daenerys Targaryen rose to her feet, her black hissed, pale smoke venting from its mouth and nostrils. The other two pulled away from her breasts and added their voices to the call, translucent wings unfolding and stirring the air, and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.
Oh ho ho! Look at that, I was right.
Daaaamn, y’all. So apparently magic is not so much nonexistent in Martin’s world after all!
Well, okay, I already knew it wasn’t, but it’s been so long since we saw the Others in the prologue, and everything else has been so ambiguous thus far, that it was kind of easy to forget them, or put them aside or whatever.
Er, though there was the zombie things Jon killed to protect Mormont, wasn’t there. And Bran and Rickon’s premonitions of their father’s death, and the direwolves, and the crow thing, and okay, fine, the assertion makes no actual sense when you take the story as a whole. But it felt that way, okay? At least compared to your average epic fantasy.
Anyway, back to Daenerys, I repeat: daaaaamn. Also: DRAGONS, YAY.
I mean, I don’t know that I totally support the idea of Daenerys trying to get the throne of the Seven Kingdoms back mostly because I kind of wish she would just go off somewhere and live a quiet happy life, because she’s been through enough in my opinion for like sixteen lifetimes but that does not change the fact that dragons? Are super cool. Um, metaphorically speaking, of course. Literally speaking they are obviously the exact opposite. Ba dum dum.
(Knowing Martin, of course, my initial fantasy-fan knee-jerk reaction of DRAGONS YAY is probably setting me up to have the rug yanked from under my feet later on re: the yayness of dragons, but whatever. Until then, DRAGONS YAY.)
Of course, now the geek in me is irrepressibly asking all sorts of obnoxious procedural questions. Like, if Dany’s skin and everything else could ignore the flames, why couldn’t her hair? Could Dany have always walked into a fire and been unscathed, or could it only have been a fire in which dragons’ eggs are baking/hatching? Could any sufficiently hot fire have hatched the eggs, or did it have to be an Important Fire? Like one in which a loved one is burned? Or one that is burning a live sacrifice? Or was it a combination of both? The repetition of the phrase “only death can pay for life” suggests the latter, certainly.
I don’t suspect the answer to any of these questions actually matter in the grand scheme of things, but hey. Geek, can’t be helped.
(I was also going to ask semi-snidely about why exactly dragons drink breastmilk when they are clearly not mammals, but that’s too geek-ridden even for me. Because yes, I get the symbolism there, really, I swear. Which is good, considering that it is pretty much the complete opposite of subtle. Also, on a probably also-obnoxious practical note: breastfeeding dragons? OW. Hopefully Dany’s heritage gives her nipples of steel as well as fire-retardant skin, because holy crap.)
Speaking of burning the “witch” hm. Obviously in real life I am not a fan of lighting people on fire no matter how much cause one may have for it, but in context, within the culture of the Dothraki, it was quite a fitting punishment by their standards. I also obviously have to take back my initial impression that Dany was being remarkably forgiving of Mirri Maz Duur’s actions, because clearly Dany was just biding her time until she could pay her husband’s killer back properly. Revenge being a dish best served cold, and all. Or So I Hear. Sorry, Mirri. At least you had an awesome name.
Also, if you ask me Jorah is so heads-over-heels in love with Dany it’s not even funny. Not that I blame him, really. (I blame him for lots of other things, but not that.) I mean, I’m pretty sure he was completely infatuated with her even before this, so throw in all the magic/destiny/dragons/symbolism/hoshit spectacle Dany just spontaneously generated and the man never stood a chance.
I also think that this will probably not turn out to be a good thing for him in the long run. I mean, even aside from the very high likelihood of his dying in the (now) unquestionably upcoming invasion, Dany is probably about the last person anyone should be falling in love with right now. I love her and root for her and all, but girl has gone more than a little Outer Limits, you guys. She may not actually be crazy at this point, but if you ask me she’s clearly within shouting distance of it, and the fact that she was right about her eggs doesn’t actually even help, really. In fact it might make it worse. And staging a full-scale invasion of another continent, dragons or no, is not going to help on that score if you ask me. Possible megalomania, here we come?
Well, we’ll see, I suppose.
But not until next year! Have a scrumdiddlyumptious weekend, me boggins, and join me next Friday for my wrap-up post of this thang. Cheers!