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 8 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 16 (“Bran”) and 17 (“Tyrion”).
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 16: Bran
Bran knows there are many guests coming to Winterfell, and that it is his duty as prince to listen to them, but he thinks that it was knighthood he wanted, not this. He tells Hodor that he bets Hodor would have made a great knight if the gods hadn’t taken his wits. Lord Wyman Manderly has arrived this day, and Bran is obliged to go eat with him, but he makes Hodor detour on the way to the practice yard. Big and Little Walder take the opportunity to taunt both Bran and Hodor. Bran threatens to set Summer on them, and Little Walder is contemptuous of this. Maester Luwin breaks it up and chastises the Walders sharply for tormenting those weaker than themselves. He then drags Bran off and chastises him more gently for keeping Manderly waiting, and warns him to listen only and not speak.
Manderly wants White Harbor to be the seat for King Robb’s new mint for coinage, and also funds to build a new northern fleet. Luwin promises to bring the idea to Robb for consideration. Manderly also asks after Lady Donella Hornwood, who had lost both husband and son to the fighting, and offers either himself or his son Wendel to marry her. He also tells them of a letter he’d had from Tywin Lannister, who promises the return of Manderly’s other son Wylis if he withdraws support from Robb; he reassures them that he has no intention of complying, but hopes that a more suitable prisoner exchange will be effected soon.
That evening Lady Hornwood arrives, face etched with grief, and the next day she tells them that Roose Bolton’s bastard son, who has a vile reputation, is massing men at the Dreadfort, and she worries that he covets her lands. Rodrik promises dire retribution should he try anything, but recommends she wed again. She replies that she will if Robb commands it, but is unenthused by the available candidates. After she leaves, Luwin teases Rodrik that the lady fancies him. Rodrik explains to Bran that the Hornwood lands are a source of contention now that there is no direct heir. Bran suggests they name Lord Hornwood’s bastard, Larence Snow, the heir; Rodrik doesn’t think Lady Hornwood would like that much, but Luwin thinks there is merit in the idea.
Bran goes with Hodor down to the godswood to see Summer, and finds Osha there, swimming naked in the pool by the heart tree. Osha tells him she’d heard about the altercation between him and the Walders, and says it’s foolish to mock a giant, though Bran tells her Hodor never fights even to defend himself.
“Septon Chayle says he has a gentle spirit.”
“Aye,” she said, “and hands strong enough to twist a man’s head off his shoulders, if he takes a mind to. All the same, he better watch his back around that Walder. Him and you both.”
Bran tells her Walder is too wary of Summer to try anything, but Osha is not convinced. She asks about his “wolf dreams,” and he lies to her that he hasn’t had anymore. That night, he dreams that the weirwood and the three-eyed crow are calling to him.
The next day two Umber men come to Winterfell, Mors and Hother. Mors (crudely) wants to marry Lady Hornwood, and Hother wants ships to defend against the wildlings coming down from the north in increasing numbers. Rodrik orders him to work with Lord Manderly for the latter, despite Hother’s contempt for Manderly. The Glovers are represented by their steward, who tells them Larence Snow has wits and courage. Luwin praises Bran for the notion later; Bran doesn’t think it matters, as he is sure he will never inherit Winterfell, but Rodrik tells him nothing is ever certain.
Leobald Tallhart is concerned about his nephew running wild, and Rodrik tells him to tell his nephew that Robb commands him to stay put. Tallhart also proposes to send his son to foster with Lady Hornwood and take the name so the house would continue. Luwin likes this idea, but he and Rodrik agree to consider the matter carefully before advising Robb.
The rest of the vassals of House Stark check in either in person or by message over the following days. The last to arrive is Cley Cerwyn, son of Lord Cerwyn, who is a captive of the Lannisters. Bran greets him warmly, as they had been friends, and Cley asks if Stannis has written Winterfell as well. Bran doesn’t know what he means, and Cley tells him that Stannis declares that Joffrey is a child of incest, fathered by Cersei’s brother Jaime.
For a moment Bran felt as though he could not breathe. A giant hand was crushing his chest. He felt as though he was falling, and clutched desperately at Dancer’s reins.
He goes back to his rooms, and prays for no dreams, but that night he has a terrible nightmare in which the three-eyed crow pecks out his eyes and then stabs at his forehead.
The pain was an axe splitting his head apart, but when the crow wrenched out its beak all slimy with bits of bone and brain, Bran could see again. What he saw made him gasp in fear. He was clinging to a tower miles high, and his fingers were slipping, nails scrabbling at the stone, his legs dragging him down, stupid useless dead legs. “Help me!” he cried. A golden man appeared in the sky above him and pulled him up. “The things I do for love,” he murmured softly as he tossed him out kicking into empty air.
Wow, I never even considered what it might mean to Bran that Stannis spread the news about the Lannisters’ incest far and wide. Ow, that must have been like getting hit in the face with a hammer, mentally. Oh, poor darling.
I almost kind of wish he’d never remembered, just to spare him that pain, even though I hope in the long run knowing the truth will be for the better. At least this way he knows exactly who to blame. And to hate, I suppose.
I’m trying to remember now who knows for sure that it was Jaime who pushed Bran out of that window. Jaime and Cersei, obviously, and Tyrion is I think about 95% sure of it, but I’m having trouble remembering whether Catelyn (and, by extension, Robb) ever conclusively suspected Jaime, or if Catelyn still thinks Tyrion was behind it because of Littlefinger’s stupid dagger. I know I should know at this point, but at the moment I’m having a total brain fart over it.
In any case, it’s good that this chapter had such a momentous ending, because otherwise it was incredibly boring. I think this was partially on purpose, to show how bloody boring being a high noble and having to deal with vassals and such really is and if I find it boring I can’t imagine how an eight-year-old is finding the fortitude to sit through it but that’s not much help, really.
Also, there’s no way I’m going to remember these people for long. Fortunately, Martin seems to realize that no one but the most eidetic of readers is going to keep all these ancillary characters straight, and usually manages to drop enough reminding hints in the text that you can pick up where you’ve seen them before (if you have). And if he doesn’t drop any hints, I tend to take it as a sign that I don’t particularly need to remember that character anyway. So it’s fine, mostly.
I do feel sorry for Lady Hornwood, though. For losing her husband and son, of course, but also for the consequences of that. It must be horrible, being discussed and eyed by everyone around you like you’re a valuable horse for sale, and worse, knowing that you yourself have virtually no say in the transaction. Ugh.
[Nan] would never tell Bran why [Mors’s] gaunt brother Hother was called Whoresbane.
*blink* Yeah, I would imagine not. I laughed when I first read that, but on reflection I think I’m kind of appalled, if the nickname means what I think it means. Hopefully I will never find out.
Oh, and the Walders are total snots and need to go away. They are going to cause a shitstorm sooner or later, and I do not like them, Sam I Am. I do not like them At All.
I think it’s interesting that it’s mentioned at least three times in this chapter, in one way or another, how physically powerful Hodor is, and how he would be an awesome knight if he weren’t so simpleminded (and if he were actually willing to, you know, fight people). I don’t know yet whether to attach any significance to that, but it pinged my attention in a mildly Chekhov’s Gun kind of way, so I tend to think it might not be a coincidence. Hmm. (Warning: do not click that link if you want to get anything else done in the next few hours. I’m not kidding.)
Chapter 17: Tyrion
Tyrion goes to Maester Pycelle early and bids him to send two copies of a letter to Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne immediately. While Pycelle is out of the room, Tyrion looks at his medicine collection, noting the great number of poisons among them, and palms a small bottle of something. Pycelle returns, clearly dying of curiosity about the contents of the letter, but Tyrion dodges all his hints, and asks that any reply be brought to Tyrion alone, implying that Cersei and Joffrey know nothing of the letter. Tyrion thinks, One, and leaves.
He meets with Bronn, who tells him Lady Tanda is stalking him again, hoping to get Tyrion to marry her fat, dim-witted daughter. He also foists off a moneylender from Braavos and a gaggle of bakers, butchers and grocers asking for protection from mobs incensed at the skyrocketing prices on food. Bronn tells him a black brother named Thorne is here with some kind of rotted hand in a jar; Tyrion remembers Thorne well and not at all fondly, and tells Bronn to stash him somewhere unpleasant and “let his hand rot a little more.”
He runs into Cersei at the gate, who is very displeased by Tyrion’s disposal of Janos Slynt. She tells him Renly has marched from Highgarden, and is very concerned over it. Tyrion opines that Renly should not concern her no matter how many men he has, for if Renly is smart, he will wait and see what the outcome is of the battle between themselves and the Starks before making a move. Cersei thinks Tyrion a fool, and wants him to make Tywin bring his army to Kings Landing, and free Jaime too. Tyrion doesn’t think either of those things is in his power, and Cersei calls him “worse than useless”, and flounces off. Tyrion thinks to himself that he is far more concerned about Stannis, on whom they have almost no intelligence at all, than he is about Renly, though he acknowledges that if the two brothers attack together it will be a disaster.
He goes back to his rooms to find Littlefinger there. Tyrion compliments his knife, and Littlefinger slyly offers to give it to him, by which Tyrion can tell Littlefinger is aware that Tyrion knows about the attempt to frame him for the assassination attempt on Bran, and doesn’t care. Tyrion considers what he has discovered about Littlefinger’s rise to power, and his cleverness both in matters of business and in securing positions for people firmly in his pocket, and wonders if he dares try anything against him.
Tyrion comments that he’s heard Littlefinger knows the Tullys, to which Littlefinger claims he had both Lysa and Catelyn’s maidenhoods. Tyrion thinks this is a lie, but is not completely certain. He tells Littlefinger he wants to take Lysa a proposal on his behalf. Littlefinger points out that Lysa loathes Tyrion, and Tyrion replies that that is because Lysa believes him to have killed her husband, but he plans to offer her the true identity of Jon Arryn’s killer in return for her martial support against the Baratheons. He will also name “that appalling child of hers” Warden of the East.
“And to seal the bargain, I will give her my niece.”
He had the pleasure of seeing a look of genuine surprise in Petyr Baelish’s grey-green eyes. “Myrcella?”
“When she comes of age, she can wed little Lord Robert. Until such time, she’ll be Lady Lysa’s ward at the Eyrie.”
Littlefinger asks what Cersei thinks of this, and laughs when Tyrion shrugs. He asks what’s in it for him, and Tyrion tells him “Harrenhal”, to the other man’s shock. Tyrion sees the greed in Littlefinger’s eyes and knows he has him. Littlefinger asks why he should trust this offer when the last man to be granted Harrenhal came off so badly, but Tyrion shrugs and says he needs Petyr, where he didn’t need Slynt. Littlefinger accepts and leaves, and Tyrion thinks, Two.
Varys appears an hour later, and mockingly scolds Tyrion for taunting Pycelle so cruelly with secrets. Varys has already deduced that Tyrion’s letter to Doran Martell offers him not only a seat on the council in return for fealty, but also to deliver to him Gregor Clegane, the man who had raped and murdered his sister Princess Elia and her son. Varys points out that Clegane is Tywin Lannister’s sworn man, and wonders what would happen if Martell demanded “the blood of the lord who gave the command as well as the knight who did the deed.” Tyrion counters that technically, Robert Baratheon led the rebellion.
Varys thinks there is more to sweeten the pot, though, and since Myrcella is already being offered to Lysa, it must be Tommen. Varys thinks it a good plan except for the small problem of Cersei, who he thinks might send away one of her precious children, but not both. Tyrion says what Cersei doesn’t know won’t hurt Tyrion.
“And if Her Grace were to discover your intentions before your plans are ripe?”
“Why,” he said, “then I would know the man who told her to be my certain enemy.” And when Varys giggled, he thought, Three.
Clever, clever Tyrion.
So clever, in fact, that I was having a certain amount of difficulty following some of what happened in this chapter. Some of that, I’m sure, is just because Tyrion has not yet deigned to fully explicate his manipulations in his own mind, i.e. to the reader (I have no idea what vial he took from Pycelle, for instance, or what he’s going to use it for), but some of it is because of my own faulty memory. I have the broad shapes of events and most of the larger filling strokes, but the smaller, more intricate details sometimes slip my mind.
And sometimes, honestly, some of the bigger ones do, too. For instance, and this is really embarrassing, I can’t remember if we’ve ever decisively found out who killed Jon Arryn. I mean, I know why he died because he found out about the incest and I’m therefore 99% positive it was Cersei, with Pycelle as the triggerman, so to speak, but I honestly can’t remember if we’ve been told that by this point in so many words, or if that’s just a reasonable deduction.
And if Cersei is the murderer, who exactly is Tyrion planning to give to Lysa? The mother of the son she’s being asked to swear fealty to? How is that going to work? Or is the point I’m missing here that Tyrion doesn’t expect either of these peace treaties to ever get off the ground? In which case, why offer them?
Argh. I’m clearly missing something here, and it’s pissing me off.
Well, it’s annoying, but only to be expected, I guess, when you combine the complexity of the material with the rate at which I’m reading it. I was trying to avoid going back and reading my own old entries on the Read, but I may not have a choice if I get much more confused. And regardless of whether I felt a little bit lost amid all the political machinations, that didn’t change the fact that they were fun to read. I do love me some sharp, layered, cunning dialogue, and that’s pretty much all this chapter was. For example:
“You are a cruel man, to make the Grand Maester squirm so,” the eunuch scolded. “The man cannot abide a secret.”
“Is that a crow I hear, calling the raven black?”
“Unless Lord Petyr would care for some refreshment?”
“Thank you, but no.” Littlefinger flashed his mocking smile. “Drink with the dwarf, it’s said, and you wake up walking the Wall. Black brings out my unhealthy pallor.”
Heh. I don’t like Littlefinger, but he and Varys between them could give the characters from Dangerous Liaisons lessons in deliciously poisonous bon mots.
But whether I fully understand what Tyrion is doing or not, beyond the obvious broad goal of corral the Council, I do hope it all works out for him. Even though I really don’t get how he thinks he’s going to get away with shipping Myrcella and Tommen off to two of the Lannisters’ biggest enemies. To say Cersei will pitch an epic shitfit over the idea would be the understatement of the geological age, and I’m really not getting at the moment how that is to Tyrion’s advantage, as he seems to think it is.
Well, hopefully it will be explained to me later. And again, maybe the point is that he never expects either of these negotiations to even get that far. I kind of trust at this point that Tyrion’s smart enough not to make such a huge mistake without doing it on purpose, making it not a mistake at all, of course. Let’s hope I’m right in that trust.
Though he did definitely make one mistake in this chapter, and that was ignoring Alliser Thorne. Believe me, Tyrion, I think Thorne is just as big a tool as you do, but dammit, go look at his hand inna jar, because there is very important supernatural shit going down, and you need to know about it! Argh.
And on reflection, I’m not sure I agree with his assessment of Renly either. Sure, a smart man would totally sit out the Stark-Lannister fracas, and either make peace with the winner or attack them while they’re weakened. The flaw in this is that I’m not sure Renly actually is a smart man. I don’t think he’s a moron or anything, but vanity is a terrible, potentially fatal weakness for a military commander to have. We’ll see, I guess.
But not today! Have a delightful weekend, peoples, and I will see you next week!