A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Part 15

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 15 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 31 (“Catelyn”) and 32 (“Sansa”).

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!

Scheduling note: As those of you who follow the WOT Re-read blog already know, I will be attending JordanCon 2012 in Atlanta the weekend of April 20th. Therefore, there will be no ASOIAF Read post next Friday. However, although the WOT Re-read is going on hiatus after that, the ASOIAF posts will resume as usual the following Friday (April 27th).


Chapter 31: Catelyn

What Happens
Catelyn is the first to arrive at the place near Storm’s End where Renly and Stannis are to parley. She hopes to convince the brothers to stop fighting each other and ally with Robb against the Lannisters. She reflects on the legend of how the massive fortress of Storm’s End had been built to withstand the wrath of the sea god and the goddess of the wind, as its builder (Durran Godsgrief) had taken the sea god’s daughter Elenei to wife, condemning her to the lifespan of a mortal.

Stannis arrives first, and Catelyn notes that the Baratheon stag on his banner has been shrunken to fit inside a heart wreathed in flames, and his standard bearer is a red priestess, a rarity in the Seven Kingdoms. Stannis greets her and offers stiff condolences on Ned’s death, though he still resents that Eddard was made Hand over Stannis, and promises her justice for his murder. Catelyn replies that she would rather have her daughters back, and “leave justice to the gods.” She asks him why he is here instead of King’s Landing, and Stannis replies that he needs the allegiance of the southron lords, and intends to take them from Renly. Catelyn thinks that Stannis will never bend, but resolves to try anyway.

Renly joins them, looking splendid as usual. He is amused by Stannis’s new banner, and jokes that it will be less confusing on the battlefield. Catelyn interjects that there should be no battle, as they all share a common enemy. Stannis counters that anyone who denies him the Iron Throne is his enemy, and Renly remarks that everyone is his enemy, then, since no one wants him to have it. This angers Stannis, and Catelyn reminds them sharply of the power and position of the Lannisters, but neither of them seem overly concerned with that.

Stannis calls Renly a usurper, and Renly points out that the Targaryens called Robert the same. Exasperated, Catelyn says she wishes she could bang their heads together until they remembered they are brothers. In return, Stannis tells her that Robb is also a traitor, and will be dealt with in due time. Incensed, Catelyn retorts that Stannis is no better, considering Joffrey is heir to Robert before Stannis is.

“Joffrey is not my brother’s seed,” Stannis said bluntly. “Nor is Tommen. They are bastards. The girl as well. All three of them abominations born of incest.”

Would even Cersei be so mad? Catelyn was speechless.

Renly admires the letters Stannis sent out declaring this, but does not believe that the claim is actually true, and Catelyn asks why he did not come forward before. Stannis replies that he brought his suspicions to Jon Arryn, since they would seem self-serving if he went directly to Robert, but Cersei had Arryn poisoned before he could denounce her. Catelyn comments that Lysa believes Cersei killed Jon Arryn, but later accused Tyrion of the crime.

Stannis snorted. “If you step in a nest of snakes, does it matter which one bites you first?”

Renly announces this is all a moot point: even if Stannis has the better claim, Renly has the bigger army. He offers Stannis Storm’s End instead, but Stannis replies that it is his by right already. The brothers continue to trade taunts until Renly implies that Stannis’s daughter was fathered by Patchface, whereupon Stannis flies into a rage and draws his sword Lightbringer, which glows like flame in the sunlight. Catelyn thinks wearily that Cersei must be “laughing herself breathless” over this. Stannis tells Renly furiously that he will give him the night to think it over, but expects his surrender before dawn. Renly laughs and enumerates again his superior numbers, and Stannis resheathes his sword and leaves disdainfully.

As they return to Renly’s camp, Catelyn thinks tiredly that the Baratheons will “drown each other in blood” and leave Robb to face the Lannisters alone. She also thinks that Renly was a fool for hurrying to meet Stannis here with only half his forces, leaving the foot and his supply lines behind. In council with his bannermen, Lord Mathis Rowan urges Renly to let Stannis siege Storm’s End uselessly and move on to King’s Landing, but Lord Randyll Tarly argues that they may be weakened enough by fighting Lannisters to give Stannis the advantage, and Renly happily agrees with Tarly that they should fight Stannis first.

Catelyn says if Renly is set on battle, her purpose here is done, and asks to return to Riverrun. Renly, however, refuses; he wants her to witness “what befalls rebels.” He names which lords shall lead what sections of the army, giving the honor of the van to Ser Loras Tyrell, and orders Brienne to carry the banner with him. Brienne is clearly distressed that she will not be allowed to stay with Renly, and begs to be allowed to arm him for battle at least.

Catelyn heard someone snigger behind her. She loves him, poor thing, she thought sadly. She’d play his squire just to touch him, and never care how great a fool they think her.

Catelyn leaves, accompanied by Ser Robar Royce, who is here even though his older brother and father are pledged to House Arryn, and goes back to her small company. Lucas Blackwood asks if it is true there is to be battle at dawn, and Catelyn confirms it.

“Do we fight or flee?”

“We pray, Lucas,” she answered him. “We pray.”

Oh, boys.

I so feel Catelyn on her frustration here. She so obviously wanted to yell YOU ARE BOTH MORONS at them (and in fact she more or less did), and I can’t find any reason at all to disagree with her.

Nothing like a sibling to know exactly how to press your buttons, eh? The Baratheons as a whole are a real piece of work, but it’s completely scary to realize that of the three brothers, it seems like Robert was the most fit to rule anything. Ye gods, but that’s frightening.

Still, that said, there’s got to be more going on here on Stannis’s side. From the description of Storm’s End, pursuing a siege of such a ridiculously fortressy fortress seems like the height of idiocy even if your little brother’s much larger army wasn’t about to smush you up against it like Playdoh. And while I think Stannis is an idiot, I think he is a very specific kind of idiot: his idiocy is born not of actual stupidity, but of the massive blinders imposed by his rigidity, his intolerance, and his complete inability to compromise in any way. Which is not the kind of idiocy that necessarily applies to straight battle tactics, if you ask me.

Ergo, I think Stannis has something up his sleeve, something that probably rhymes with “Schmelischmandre,” and Renly is in for a nasty surprise come morning.

Not that Renly doesn’t kind of deserve it. Pride goeth, and all that. I like him better than Stannis, but that isn’t saying much; preferring an arrogant, prideful naïf over a ruthless, bigoted zealot is about the textbook example of damning with faint praise.

(I still don’t know, by the way, whether Stannis has genuinely bought into Melisandre’s hocus pocus cultishness by this point, or is still just using it for political/tactical advantage, but if you ask me there’s only a minimal functional difference between an actual zealot and a pretend one. And besides, zealotry certainly doesn’t have to apply only to religion.)

Am I crazy, or does the legend of Elenei sound vaguely like a mashup of The Little Mermaid and Arwen/Aragorn? Just me? Okay then.

Catelyn’s thoughts on Brienne are interesting in light of the recent dust-up over Ashley Judd’s op-ed slapping down the media for speculation on her “puffy face.” The article is really good, and well worth a read in its entirety, but the relevant part for my purposes is this:

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

The applicability of this to Brienne is obvious: the most important part about her is not her formidable accomplishments or her skill or her integrity or her courage or anything else about her as a person, because all of that pales in comparison to the first and primary thing anyone notices, which is that she is ugly, and therefore worthy of ridicule and contempt.

Or pity, if you’re Catelyn, which isn’t much better. As Judd points out in her article, one of the most insidious (and depressing) aspects of misogyny and sexism is how its pervasiveness encourages and rewards not just men but other women to perpetuate it.

Other things:

Again with the Jon Arryn Murder Mystery Of Doom, oy. So, I don’t know if we knew before this that Stannis was the one who brought Arryn’s attention to the incest, but I’m really pretty much over this whole thing, so I don’t really care that much. Though I have to say, for being such a stickler for righteousness and all that, it looks pretty hinky to me that Stannis never said a word about any of it to anyone else, even after Arryn died. You suspected your brother’s wife of incest and murder, and yet never brought it up until after Robert was dead? Uh-huh.

Also, I’m wondering if Renly is not being a little of a devious bastard, putting Loras in the van—i.e. the place he is by far the most likely to get extremely killed. However, I can’t think of any reason why Renly would particularly want Loras killed, so maybe he’s really being serious about it being an honor and all that and I’ve just been trained too well to see an ulterior motive behind everything. Because gee, where could I have gotten that tendency from?

Chapter 32: Sansa

What Happens
Sandor Clegane warns Sansa to dress fast and not keep Joffrey waiting, and then takes her to the archery grounds, where Joffrey has just shot a cat. Ser Dontos (riding a broomstick horse) whispers to her to be brave. Joffrey tells Sansa she is here to answer for her brother’s latest treasons, and ignores her pleas that she had nothing to do with it. Ser Lancel tells her that Robb used “vile sorcery” to wipe out thousands of men under Stafford Lannister’s command in one night using “an army of wargs,” and that his northmen ate the corpses after. Joffrey accuses the Starks of being “unnatural,” and wishes he could shoot her, but that his mother says they will kill Jaime if he does, so he orders Clegane to hit her instead.

Dontos leaps forward, begging to be allowed to beat her instead, and begins to whack her over the head with his “morningstar”, which is a melon on a stick. Sansa blesses Dontos and desperately hopes Joffrey will laugh and let it go, but he does not, and calls for Sers Boros and Meryn to pull Dontos off and beat her for real instead. Boros punches Sansa in the gut and then beats her with the flat of his sword. She screams and cries, and the Hound says “enough,” but Joffrey orders her stripped naked; Boros rips off her bodice, but before it can go any further, Tyrion appears and stops them.

He demands to know what sort of knights beat “helpless maids,” and has Clegane cover her up. He asks Joffrey why he has no regard for the honor of the girl who is to be his queen.

“She has the blood of a wolf.”

“And you have the wits of a goose.”

“You can’t talk to me that way. The king can do as he likes.”

“Aerys Targaryen did as he liked. Has your mother ever told you what happened to him?”

Tyrion tells Joffrey that wanton brutality is no way to earn his people’s love, but Joffrey counters that Mother says “fear is better than love.” Tyrion sighs and orders Bronn and Timett to bring Sansa to the Tower of the Hand. Sansa is dazed and disoriented as she is bathed and tended, and sleeps for a while. When she wakes, she attempts to leave to go to the godswood and beg Ser Dontos to help her escape now, but a woman with a necklace of ears will not allow it. Some time later, Tyrion enters, and Sansa asks if she is his prisoner. Tyrion says she is his guest. Sansa thanks him for his kindness, and Tyrion explains to her that Joffrey was very angry because her brother won a great victory at Oxcross. Sansa is exultant, but only says that her brother is a vile traitor. She asks about the “wargs,” and Tyrion laughs derisively and says he suspects Robb’s direwolf was the only “warg” present, and the rest is wild tales. The only mystery, he says, is how Robb reached Stafford’s forces in the first place, as the Lannister forces at Golden Tooth swear he did not pass them.

He asks what Sansa feels for Joffrey, and though she immediately replies that she loves him deeply, he only says she’s learned to lie well. He tells her that he does not intend for her to marry Joffrey, as no marriage will reconcile Stark and Lannister at this point anyway. He asks her if that is what she wants, and Sansa is torn, wondering if the question is a trap.

“I only want to be loyal.”

“Loyal,” the dwarf mused, “and far from any Lannisters. I can scarce blame you for that. When I was your age, I wanted the same thing.”

Tyrion tells her there will be another battle soon between Robb and Tyrion’s father Tywin which will settle the issue, and reads her well enough to tell her kindly that she shouldn’t hold out much hope, for facing Tywin is not at all like facing Stafford. He suggests she pray that Robb surrenders, for once there is peace Tyrion intends to send Sansa home to Winterfell. He offers her some of the wildlings to guard her, but Sansa is terrified they will interfere with her meetings with Dondos, and refuses. Tyrion accepts this, and offers to guide her back to her rooms.

Oh my GOD how has no one killed Joffrey yet. Seriously, how? I ask you. At this point, to call him a little shit is an insult to good clean excrement.

At least Tyrion has some integrity. (Well, integrity in this particular arena, anyway, heh.) Actually I don’t think it’s so much “integrity” as it is that he possesses more than the bare minimum of fucking humanity, but tomato, tomahto.

I do love that Cersei not only quotes Niccolo Machiavelli pretty much verbatim, she more or less is this world’s Machiavelli. Very apropos, that.

Sansa makes a very astute observation here about the ideal of knightly chivalry:

Knights are sworn to defend the weak, protect women, and fight for the right, but none of them did a thing. Only Ser Dontos had tried to help, and he was no longer a knight, no more than the Imp was, nor the Hound . . . the Hound hated knights . . . I hate them too, Sansa thought. They are no true knights, not one of them.

Yeah, funny how easily that imperative falls by the wayside when power importunes otherwise, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like this is the core problem with the world. Power (in whatever form) should be used on behalf of those who have none, and it is frankly depressing how frequently the exact opposite is the case.

This, I think, is part of why I so strongly like Tyrion, however questionable his methods, and continue to root for him despite loathing pretty much everyone else on his side in this conflict, because he so clearly gets this irony about power, and in his own way is doing what he can to counteract it. And of course he does, gets it, I mean, because he has been one of those abused by that power. He’s been there, if not in exactly the same way as Sansa, or those people starving in the streets, and he has the basic humanity to not want others to endure what he has.

Perhaps it is impossible to understand unless you have been there in some way, but I would really prefer not to believe that is true across the board. The reason people have the quality of compassion is so that you can walk around in someone else’s shoes and understand their pain without having to do so literally, and people who are incapable of doing this are fundamentally broken, in my opinion.

Pity there seem to be so many of them around, then. And it’s also a pity that as much as I want Sansa to trust Tyrion, I know she shouldn’t, not fully. Which sucks, because if ever a girl could use some more allies, it’s Sansa. Poor darling. At least Dondos tried, for which he gets many kudos from me even if it didn’t work.

“Sorcery is the sauce fools spoon over failure to hide the flavor of their own incompetence.”

Ha ha, I love it. Though Tyrion may find that this sentiment is not as true as he might wish it, eventually…

I’m not sure what to make of the whole “warg” thing, actually. I’m inclined to agree with Tyrion that it’s all exaggeration, despite what I just said above, but then again it does seem odd that Robb managed to get that deep into Lannister territory without anyone noticing. Not impossible, though, so I guess they were just extra-sneaky?

Though honestly, my first thought when Joffrey initially told us about the “wargs” was that it might not have been Robb at all, but that wolf super-pack that’s apparently been wandering around, and who I still secretly hope is being led by Nymeria. Of course, that totally is not what happened, since Tyrion explicitly mentioned names of Robb’s followers who were there, but it was what I thought of at first. Would have been kinda awesome if so, huh?

Well, I might not get my “wargs” this time around, but maybe we’ll get lucky later. Also, “wargs” is a completely hilarious word that makes me giggle. Wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs wargs

…Aaaaaand it’s clearly time to stop. Have a groovy fun weekend, kids. Remember, no post next Friday, but we will return you to your regularly scheduled Read on the 27th, so be excellent to each other until then, and peace out!


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