A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Part 18

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 18 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 37 (“Theon”), 38 (“Arya”), and 39 (“Catelyn”).

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 37: Theon

What Happens
Benfred Tallheart screams insults and spits at Theon, who has captured him after a bloody raid on a fishing village on the coast. Tallheart promises him that Robb will feed Theon’s turncoat heart to his wolf. Theon wants to question him, and find out why his banner had rabbitskins hung on it (among other things), but his uncle Aeron insists that Tallheart must be sacrificed to the wet god for daring to spit on a Greyjoy. Theon is annoyed, but gives in, though he refuses to participate in drowning Tallheart himself. He remembers spending time with Benford as his guest at Torrhen’s Square, and tells himself it is a kindness, and curses Benford for being so careless in his attack.

His men are busying pillaging the corpses, having already either raped, enslaved, and/or murdered all the women in the village, and Theon shoots one of them for being drunk and fighting with another raider over loot. Theon thinks of finding the two men he had killed and taking their jewelry, but imagines what Ned Stark would have said, and has no stomach for it, though this makes him angry, too. He thinks of how his sister is sailing for Deepwood Motte even now, and how she will get all the glory and Theon none.

He goes to find Dagmer Cleftjaw, who used to be Theon’s swordsmaster and whom Theon likes despite his grotesquely scarred appearance, because Cleftjaw was one of the few who ever showed Theon any affection as a boy. With much flattery, Theon carefully proposes to Cleftjaw that instead of following Balon’s order to raid the coast (which Cleftjaw considers scutwork), that he and Theon could split off from Aeron and the rest of the raiders. He tells Cleftjaw “if my sister can take a castle, so can I.”

Cleftjaw points out that Asha has five times as many men, but Theon insists they are five times as clever. He wants Cleftjaw to help him stage a false siege on Torrhen’s Square. He says that Leobald Tallheart, in charge of the garrison there, will surely panic and send for help from Winterfell, who will surely send it. Cleftjaw further points out that a force from Winterfell will also outnumber them.

“You set us a battle we cannot hope to win, Theon. This Torrhen’s Square will never fall.”

Theon smiled. “It’s not Torrhen’s Square I mean to take.”

Raiding and looting and rapine and massacre, OH THE FUN. How do these people sleep at night?

He did not like the taste of any of this, but what choice did he have?

You’re a moron, Theon. You don’t even like behaving like a monster, and yet you do it anyway, all because you want your horrible Daddy’s approval? Which I will be astounded if you ever actually receive? Ugh.

Also, whoa. Is Theon seriously planning to try to take Winterfell here?

‘Cause, you know, wow. That’s… audacious. Also, insane, but hey.

I can think of about five ways this could go hideously wrong just off the top of my head, and I am hardly a military strategist. Starting with the assumption that Rodrik would denude Winterfell of fighters just to come to the aid of Torrhen’s Square. I mean, yes, I guess he would have to send someone, but….

Of course, I might be making erroneous assumptions here, especially concerning the numbers involved. I’m under the impression that even in their current reduced state, Winterfell’s numbers far exceed what Theon and Cleftjaw would be able to muster even if they had to be split, but it’s entirely possible I’m wrong about that.

But even so, if Theon’s people think sieges are beneath them (and pardon me while I pause to roll my eyes), how on earth does he think he’s going to be able to take a giant hunk of rock like Winterfell? He’d better know some secret passages or something…


Okay, possibly it’s not as insane as I thought. Maybe Asha’s campaign is not the fulfillment of Jojen’s dream after all…

And if he did manage to pull it off, it would be the perfect fuck-you to his sister, there’s no doubt about that. And his father. And the Starks, duh. Basically, everyone Theon imagines (not totally without cause) to have screwed him over, paid back in one swell foop.


Why couldn’t Theon have just told his nasty family and culture to fuck off and gone back to Robb, man? Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Chapter 38: Arya

What Happens
The castle is swarming as Tywin Lannister prepares to march to fight Robb, who Arya had heard had won some great victory in the west. Ser Addam Marbrand leaves first, and Arya hopes they all die. Weese has her running messages, and she considers running away, but Weese threatened to have her feet cut off if she tried to run, and Arya can’t bring herself to risk it. She tries reading the messages she’s given, but none of them seem to be of any importance. She successfully collects a gambling debt from a knight for Weese, who is pleased and tells her he’ll share a capon with her as a reward.

Arya has been looking for Jaqen H’ghar everywhere, but cannot find him; one of the gate guards tells her, though, that Ser Amory Lorch’s men will be staying behind, as Lorch is named castellan of Harrenhal. He adds that the Bloody Mummers are staying too, even though Lorch and Vargo Hoat hate each other. Arya is desperate to find Jaqen and use her final two deaths before the Mountain and his men leave.

Weese sends her to the armory for a new sword for Ser Lyonel, and she sees Gendry there. Gendry tells her that Hot Pie overheard her yelling “Winterfell!” at the holdfast, but that Gendry had told him that she’d been yelling “Go to hell!” instead, so if he asks, to say the same. Arya briefly considers saying Hot Pie’s name to Jaqen. Having retrieved the sword, Arya again considers running away with it, but she is still terrified of Weese. She listens to the guards’ uneasy talk about Robb, and feels strong and proud as a Stark for a moment, but she is late getting back and Weese backhands her for it, destroying the feeling.

Weese sends her on another errand, and she runs into Rorge, who recognizes her and makes crude threats to her. She points out that she saved his life, but Rorge only opines that he “owes her another fucking” for that. She tells him she’s looking for Jaqen, and Rorge shuts up almost as if he is afraid, and tells her where to go. She tries to approach Jaqen quietly, but he hears her anyway. She whispers “Weese” to him, and leaves.

At supper, Weese does not share his capon with Arya as promised, but instead chokes her and slaps her around for staring at him, and threatens to “spoon [your eye] out and feed it to my bitch”. She hopes Jaqen will kill him that night, but Weese kicks her awake the next morning. Tywin Lannister and all the rest of his forces going with him (including Gregor Clegane) take their leave that morning with great pomp, and as Arya watches them go she realizes she has made a terrible mistake; these are the men she should have had Jaqen kill, not Weese. Arya hurries to find Jaqen and change her order, but it is too late: a shriek comes from the courtyard, and Arya arrives to find Weese dead on the ground from a neck wound, with his own dog chewing on his face. Someone shoots the dog, and people mutter again about Harrenhal being cursed.

Arya lifted her gaze from the dead man and his dead dog. Jaqen H’ghar was leaning up against the side of the Wailing Tower. When he saw her looking, he lifted a hand to his face and laid two fingers casually against his cheek.


Dude. How did Jaqen get Weese’s own dog to kill him? I mean, that is Crazytown right there. Dogs are supposed to be all loyal and shit! Also, ewwww.

Oh, Arya. Well, at least she realized how stupid it was to waste one of her death wishes on Weese, even if it was too late to fix it. Not that I am sad to see Weese go or anything, (although I have no idea why Arya thinks his replacement is going to be any better), but damn, the missed opportunity there!

Imagine if she had asked Jaqen to kill Tywin Lannister. Or the Mountain. Incidentally, I would totally settle for the Mountain, even though obviously the political impact of Tywin’s death would be far more significant. But damn the probable shortsightedness of it: Clegane, D-E-D dead = Win.

Or better yet, King Joffrey. Now there’s visceral AND political impact for you! Win all around, she says, bloodthirstily.

What would Jaqen have said if she’d asked for Joffrey, I wonder? Is there a cap on how high his assassinations go (or how far away he has to go to do them), or would Jaqen be all, “Sure”, and go do it? I have small evil stars in my eyes just imagining it.

Well, she’s still got one wish left. I live in hope!

Have not missed, by the way, the rather unsubtle hints that Jaqen is a very, very, very, very bad man. Anyone who scares Rorge is definitely a person you do not want to see down at your local A&P. Or anywhere. One hopes Arya will keep that in mind. Maybe it would be a better idea if she never uses that last wish. Martin is all about subverting The Rules™, I know, but I still can’t help but think that maybe there’s some bad karma coming Arya’s way for using a psychopath to murder people – however much I might agree that those people need murdering.

Also, “Go to hell”? Does that phrase even make sense in this cosmology?

Chapter 39: Catelyn

What Happens
Catelyn’s party is met by an escort two days out from Riverrun; she had not dared go to Bitterbridge, for fear of what reception Renly’s widow might give her. As the company returns to Riverrun, Catelyn learns that Robb has won a great victory over Stafford Lannister at Oxcross, and has since been pillaging Lannister lands, and also that Tywin Lannister has left Harrenhal and marched west in force; he will be arriving at Riverrun in three or four days. Martyn Rivers tells how Grey Wind had led Robb’s army past the Golden Tooth without the fort ever being aware of their presence, and repeats the rumor that Robb had fed Stafford Lannister’s heart to the wolf. Catelyn rebukes him sharply, saying that her son is no savage.

That night at camp, Brienne comes to Catelyn and asks permission to leave. Catelyn surmises she intends to return to Storm’s End and attempt to kill Stannis, and tries to persuade her of the hopelessness of the task. She is also wary of killing a man who may be their rightful king. Appalled, Brienne says that surely Catelyn does not think to bend knee to Stannis, and Catelyn replies that she does not know, but points out that Renly’s enemies are Robb’s enemies as well. Brienne replies that she does not know Robb, but that she would serve Catelyn, because Catelyn stood up for her when she had no reason to.

“Brienne, I have taken many wellborn ladies into my service over the years, but never one like you. I am no battle commander.”

“No, but you have courage. Not battle courage perhaps but . . . I don’t know . . . a kind of woman’s courage. And I think, when the time comes, you will not try and hold me back. Promise me that. That you will not hold me back from Stannis.”

Catelyn could still hear Stannis saying that Robb’s turn too would come in time. It was like a cold breath on the back of her neck. “When the time comes, I will not hold you back.”

She accepts Brienne’s oath of service. As they approach Riverrun the next day, Catelyn sees that Edmure has recalled the Tully bannermen, and realizes with dismay that Edmure plans to fight Tywin Lannister at Riverrun. She sees corpses hanging from the walls of the hold, and hurries to find Edmure. Edmure tells her there is no word from Bitterbridge, but they have messages from Cortnay Penrose at Storm’s End, offering allegiance to any king who rescues him and Robert Baratheon’s bastard son Edric Storm from Stannis. Edmure does not plan to answer, though, as there is nothing they can do for Penrose with Tywin on the way.

Some of the other lords ask about Renly’s death, but other than to assert that neither she nor Brienne had any role in it, Catelyn avoids talking about it. She introduces Brienne, who is startled by the courtesy she is shown in return. Edmure tells her the corpses on the walls belong to the envoys from Joffrey that came with Cleos Frey, who attempted to free Jaime Lannister and nearly succeeded. Catelyn thinks it sounds like the Imp’s work, and wonders if she should reconsider which Lannister is the most dangerous. Edmure says Cleos Frey and Jaime Lannister are both in the darkest dungeons now, chained hand and foot. The lords tell Catelyn that Robb orders her to the Freys’ to help pick out his future wife, but Catelyn knows this to be an excuse to get her away from the fighting and refuses to go, determined to stay with her dying father this time.

She gets Edmure alone and tries to convince him that meeting Tywin Lannister in battle is a very bad idea, and is further dismayed when he tells her he plans to pin Tywin’s forces by having Roose Bolton strip the garrison Robb left with the Freys and use it to retake Harrenhal, trapping Tywin between it and Riverrun. Catelyn points out that the garrison at the Twins is there to ensure the Freys’ loyalty, but Edmure is sure that is secure by now. Catelyn is not, but lets it go, hoping her brother is right.

She visits her father and finds his mind is going; he confuses her with her sister Lysa, and is trying to persuade her to marry Jon Arryn, telling her not to speak the name of “That stripling… wretched boy” to him. She wonders who that could be referring to, and speculates perhaps it was a singer, as Lysa had always had a fondness for them. Maester Vyman tells Catelyn that the end is near, and that they should send for Brynden and Lysa. Catelyn agrees, but tells him that Lysa will not come.

She leaves her father’s chambers and finds two grey sisters waiting outside her rooms, and knows they have brought her Ned’s remains. Utherydes Wayn tells her Cleos Frey brought them from King’s Landing, and that he thinks it was the Imp’s doing. She goes to see it, but only bones remain, and she can see nothing of the man she loved in them. She notes that the sword he clasps is not Ice. Catelyn tells the grey sisters that they must take Ned’s bones to Winterfell for proper burial, and asks to be left alone with the body in vigil.

The women in grey bowed their heads. The silent sisters do not speak to the living, Catelyn remembered dully, but some say they can talk to the dead. And how she envied that…

Poor Catelyn. How crazy it must be, to look at a skeleton and try to see the person you knew and loved within it. I can’t even imagine. On the other hand, I think I would prefer that over looking at the body with rotting flesh still on it. Ye gods.

Also; God, military strategy is frustrating to summarize. I, like Catelyn, really hope Edmure knows what he’s doing, but I, like Catelyn, really kind of doubt it.

And while I’m glad Robb is apparently doing well and kicking Lannister ass, does everyone have to jump on the pillaging bandwagon? Really?

Right, naïve question. But still, sigh.

But, Brienne pledged her service to Catelyn! YAAAAAAAY. That is super-plus awesome, in my book. Sisters are doing it for themselves, aw yeah. I hope they become as kickass a duo as I am currently fondly imagining them to be.

I feel like I should have something to say about Brienne’s comment about Catelyn having “woman’s courage,” but the only thing that really comes to mind is (a) I totally agree, and (b) I am very pleased that the two women having this conversation demonstrate between them a startling range of the different kinds of strength a woman can have. There is no bad here as far as that goes.

Soooo, who was Lysa’s lovaaaar? I hope we haven’t been told this already, because if so I have completely forgotten, and I’m also completely positive it Means Something, which adds Item #437 to the list of Things Leigh Is So Totally Missing, Like What Is Your Damage, God, Heather. Oh well!

And wow, Jon Arryn was twenty years older than Lysa’s father? That’s just gross, dude. That’s not May-December, that’s like May-the calendar from 2005 that you still haven’t thrown away for some reason. Sheesh.

(Did that joke work? I don’t think that joke worked. Well, whatever, I’m leaving it in anyway. YOU come up with a better punchline, I dare ya.)

And, Jaime Lannister’s jailbreak failed. Well… okay, then. So that was a whole lot of set-up for… um, nothing. Yeah, I’m really rather annoyed that that we only learned about that secondhand, frankly. It was set up on Tyrion’s end with such foreboding/ominousness, and then we don’t even get to see it happening? Suppadat?

The backhandedness of the whole thing also brings into sharp relief the fact that, unless I’m sorely mistaken, we have not seen Jaime on-screen, so to speak, since he threw Bran out of a window waaaay back in the beginning of AGOT. And even that was sort of at a remove, since it was from Bran’s very child-like POV and he didn’t even know who Jaime was at the time. We may have seen him for a hot second when he was captured at The Battle of Mumble*cough*, but I’m pretty sure not.

It’s like Martin is absolutely determined to keep us from seeing Jaime firsthand, which I just find bizarre at this point… unless it’s some kind of meta thing about how he’s been doing essentially nothing for all this time, and yet is still a pivotal focal point for pretty much all the major players in this war.

Hmm. Okay, I’d buy that. If so, then right now Jaime Lannister is basically the fighter pilot from Lord of the Flies, and if you get that reference you totally took AP English in high school, you nerd.

Still, I do wonder when the hell we’re going to actually see this guy up close and personal. Or if we ever even are.

Well, it ain’t gonna happen in this post, so we out! Have a suitably satisfactory end-of-seven-day-cycle period of non-labor, and I’ll catch you on ze flip side!


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