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 27 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 55 (“Catelyn”) and 56 (“Theon”).
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 55: Catelyn
Catelyn eats alone with Brienne, while the rest of Riverrun celebrates Edmure and Robb’s victories. She thinks that she has become “a creature of grief and dust and bitter longings,” and tries to encourage Brienne to leave her alone. When Brienne demurs, Catelyn finds herself telling Brienne about the message from Ser Rodrik, which only she and Maester Vyman know about as yet, that says Bran and Rickon tried to escape from Winterfell only to be caught, and that Theon Greyjoy has mounted their heads on the wall.
Brienne is horrified, and tries to comfort Catelyn that her sons are with the gods now. Catelyn retorts that no gods would let such a thing happen. She talks of Sansa and Arya, and how she despairs of their lives as well, if they are not already dead. She says Robb will avenge his brothers, and wishes she could be the one to execute Theon instead. Then she tells Brienne she has sent Jaime Lannister a flagon of wine, and asks her to come with Catelyn to see him at midnight.
She goes to sit with her father in the interim, and though he is in a drugged sleep she tells him that winter has come “for me. For me,” and now Robb must fight the Greyjoys as well as the Lannisters, and she just wants it all to end and to have her children back. At length, Brienne interrupts her grief to tell her midnight has arrived.
Catelyn goes to the dungeon where Jaime is being kept, overruling the gaoler when he tries to stop her and sending him away. Jaime’s cell is foul and dank, and he is not much better, but she notes that even so his “power and beauty” are still apparent. She assures him the wine, which he has not touched, is not tainted, but Jaime is skeptical. He remarks that she looks “terrible,” and asks if she’s come to add more chains. She reminds him that he repaid the better accommodations they originally gave him with an escape attempt. He propositions her crudely, and Catelyn tells him his crimes have earned him “torment in the deepest of the seven hells” from the gods. Jaime laughs and asks what gods.
“If there are gods, why is the world so full of pain and injustice?”
“Because of men like you.”
“There are no men like me. There’s only me.”
Catelyn thinks him arrogant and mad, and goes to leave, but Jaime calls her back, saying he will answer her questions if she answers his. He begins drinking the wine. Catelyn asks if he is Joffrey’s father, and Jaime shrugs and says he is likely the father of all Cersei’s children. He asks whether his father, Tyrion and Cersei are alive, and Catelyn confirms they are. She asks him how Bran fell, and Jaime answers that he flung him from a window. Catelyn wants to kill him, but reminds herself of her daughters.
Instead she accuses him of trying to assassinate Bran after, when his first attempt didn’t work, but Jaime swears that he had nothing to do with it. He also declares that he would know if Cersei had been behind it, and denies that Tyrion could be culpable either. Catelyn tells him about the dagger, and how Tyrion won it from Petyr Baelish, but Jaime remembers the tournament and counters that Robert showed the dagger to Jaime later that evening. Catelyn is disturbed that Jaime’s story matches what Tyrion had told her, and Petyr’s story does not.
Jaime asks about Robert’s brothers, and Catelyn reluctantly confirms that Stannis marches against King’s Landing, while Renly was murdered by his brother at Bitterbridge, through “some black art.” He asks what side the Tyrells have taken, but now that Renly is dead Catelyn is not sure. She also tells him Robb has taken the Crag from the Westerlings, and that he will defeat Jaime’s father as well as he did Jaime. Jaime denounces Robb’s victory as “a craven’s trick,” which Catelyn finds rich, considering the trick Tyrion pulled to try to spring Jaime. Jaime points out that Tyrion knows Robb will never ransom Jaime.
Catelyn asks how he could have forsworn every oath he took, and Jaime, drunk by now, tells her the story of how Ned’s father Rickard and brother Brandon really died at King Aerys’s hands. Catelyn had known that he had had Brandon strangled in front of Lord Rickard before killing him too, but Jaime’s version of events is far more gruesome and cruel. Catelyn is appalled by the story, but scoffs at the idea that Jaime killed Aerys to avenge Brandon Stark. Jaime counters he makes no such claim, but comments that he finds it odd that he is so reviled for his “finest act,” which was killing Aerys.
Thoroughly drunk now, he muses that he won’t fuck her after all, since Littlefinger had her first, and comments that he’s never lain with any woman other than Cersei, which makes him truer than her Ned ever was. He asks the name of the bastard Ned fathered, and Catelyn calls for Brienne.
“Snow, that was the one. Such a white name like the pretty cloaks they give us in the Kingsguard when we swear our pretty oaths.”
Brienne pushed open the door and stepped inside the cell. “You called, my lady?”
“Give me your sword.” Catelyn held out her hand.
Okay, so I had a serious fight with myself to keep from going on to the next chapter before writing the commentary to this one, because whoa.
Not that the next chapter is actually going to pick up there, of course, because that is not how Mr. Martin rolls re: narrative structure. And also, not that I think Catelyn’s actually going to kill him, because the reintroduction of Jaime to the main narrative has been hanging fire way too long to have it be reduced to one chapter of drunken taunting before he gets a sword through him, but right now I wouldn’t be too terribly upset if that were the case, because my God, what a horrible human being he is.
The supposedly mitigating implication here for the Kingslayer thing that Aerys was a monster is all well and good, but I don’t believe for a moment that that was Jaime’s sole or even his main motivation in assassinating the man. Though honestly, if that had been the worst thing he’d done, I’d probably not have much more problem with Jaime as a character than I do with 95% of all the other characters in this series, almost none of whom can claim to be shining paragons of well, anything. I’m not in favor of political assassinations as a general rule, but it’s pretty hard to be sorry that a guy who slow-cooks people in their armor while strangling their sons in front of them for kicks is no longer ruling the country. It is perhaps ironic that this particular regicide strikes me as being fairly far down the scale of “acts of dubious morality” we’ve got going in this story,
No, what I still can’t get past is what Jaime did to Bran. Every time I think about it I get horrified all over again. If that makes me biased so be it; it’s my Read and if I want to hate characters who throw innocent children out of windows I’m allowed, dammit. It’s a dealbreaker as far as I am concerned, and I continue to be apprehensive about my suspicion that the story is going to try to make me like Jaime anyway. Bah.
Also, still don’t believe Bran and Rickon are dead. The distinct lack of mention of the fate of the boys’ wolves in the letter makes me highly skeptical of its accuracy and/or truthfulness. That said, Catelyn’s grief in the first half of this chapter was heart-wrenching to read, because even if Bran and Rickon are still alive, how long will it be before poor Catelyn learns that’s the case?
Speaking of mysterious Stark deaths, we get another piece of the puzzle here to the whole Lyanna/Rhaegar/Brandon/Ned thing, which I would perhaps be more excited by if these hints weren’t coming so far apart in the narrative that I am having real trouble remembering all of what I’ve already learned about it. I could go back and review what I’ve already covered of it, but as a general rule I’m trying not to do that, in the spirit of keeping this as much of an initial straight readthrough of the whole series as possible.
I know, or at least I’m pretty sure, that Ned and Brandon believed that Rhaegar had raped Lyanna, and that we have received hints that Rhaegar had actually been in love with her instead (or at least that the relationship was mutual and not forced), but I am still really hazy on how all this went down. How did Rhaegar get his hands on Lyanna in the first place? And why did Brandon go to King’s Landing to avenge her when I thought it was Ned Robert who was in love with her? And I am also pretty sure that we still haven’t been told how exactly Lyanna died.
More than anything else I’d like to figure out why such a big deal is being made out of this bit of history. There’s no reason to be this coy about it over such a long period of time unless the revelation of the whole truth of it has some serious present-day implications, and at the moment I am completely clueless about what they could be. It’s probably something I’ll kick myself over for not realizing ahead of time, no doubt.
“ loved by one for a kindness I never did” : Is this referring to Tyrion? If so, wow, Jaime sucks even more than I thought.
In other news:
“Snow, that was the one. Such a white name . . . like the pretty cloaks they give us in the Kingsguard when we swear our pretty oaths.”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we in the biz like to call A Clue.
A Clue which, I am vastly irritated to report, is currently of no help to me whatsoever. ARGH.
What does that mean? Because, unless Jaime’s suggesting that Ned fathered a bastard on one of the Kingsguard, which strikes me as having some, shall we say, logistical difficulties, I have no idea what I’m supposed to get out of this. And besides, aren’t all bastards in the North given the surname “Snow”? So how can that be significant for Jon in particular?
Gah. Well, maybe the next chapter has ALL the answers! Riiiight.
Chapter 56: Theon
Theon dreams of being chased by giant wolves with the heads of children, and wakes, sobbing for mercy, to find Reek there, reporting that his sister Asha has arrived and is in the Great Hall. Theon rises and dresses, remembering his previous dreams of dressing children’s corpses, and having his manhood chewed off while raping the miller’s wife. He dresses richly until he remembers Asha will only mock him for it, but still puts on his crown, crudely made because he had killed the only competent blacksmith in the keep.
On his way to the hall, Theon thinks of how the men who had accompanied him to Acorn Water had all died mysteriously, and how he’d had Farlen the kennelmaster executed for the deaths, though he’d felt sick afterwards. The other men were uneasy now, though, but Theon declared that no man or woman will drive him from Winterfell. He reaches the hall, and is outraged to discover Asha had brought no more than twenty men with her.
Asha greets him mockingly, and Theon retorts that he took Winterfell with thirty men in one night, while she needed a thousand and a month to take Deepwood Motte. She asks which gave him the fiercer fight “the cripple or the babe”? Theon remembers putting the heads on the wall, and refusing Maester Luwin’s plea to let them be buried in the Stark crypt. Asha reveals she is only leaving him ten men, and they go off to speak privately.
In the solar, Theon is further enraged to find that Asha knows more of Dagmer’s defeat at Torrhen’s Square than Theon does, and complains that the victory has enbolded lords all over the countryside to mobilize against him. He asks how he is supposed to hold Winterfell with only ten more men. Asha replies he should have thought of that before he seized it, and that he should have razed the place in the first night and taken Bran and Rickon back to Pyke as hostages, but now he is marooned in enemy territory far from the sea, and has ensured his opponents’ hatred with what he did to the children. Theon yells that they defied him and had to pay for it.
Asha entreats him to return to Deepwood Motte with her, but Theon refuses to leave his prize, and Asha sighs and tells him he shall hold it “for the rest of [his] life,” then. She mocks his ugly crown, and leaves Winterfell that same day. Reek comes to him, and Theon wonders if he should have had him killed too. Reek offers to find Theon more men to bolster his garrison, and Theon agrees to give him Palla if he comes back with two hundred. Reek leaves the castle soon after.
Theon dreams that night of the feast Ned Stark had thrown when King Robert came to Winterfell, but here everyone is a corpse, including some he had never met, like Lyanna and Brandon and Rickard Stark. He wakes screaming when Robb comes in with his wolf, bleeding and furious. He tries to assure himself it was just a dream, and rapes Kyra savagely to try and distract himself. When dawn arrives, he goes to the wall, and thinks to himself that there is no place for him here, and he should have gone with Asha. He looks at the heads on the spikes on the wall.
The miller’s boys had been of an age with Bran and Rickon, alike in size and coloring, and once Reek had flayed the skin from their faces and dipped their heads in tar, it was easy to see familiar features in those misshapen lumps of rotting flesh. People were such fools. If we’d said they were rams’ heads, they would have seen horns.
I FUCKING KNEW IT.
Ha ha ha ha, hahahaha! Ding dong, the boys ain’t dead! Sing it high! Sing it low!
Seriously, I know you might be like “oh, yeah, Leigh, you know now that you’ve read the end of this chapter,” but I solemnly aver that the whole time up to the reveal I was going uh-uh, this is bullshit. I never bought for a second that Bran and Rickon were really dead.
And mind you, this isn’t because I don’t believe Martin would be willing to kill off such young and innocent characters, because wow do I totally believe he is capable of that mostly because he’s already done it. It’s just that I refused to believe he would have killed such central characters off-screen, not to mention so pointlessly and offhandedly. Ned’s death was a shock, no doubt, but it was front and center and received the attention it deserved. This wasn’t anything like that.
(Eh, I suppose you could poke holes in my reasoning here if you want feel free! but it is what it is. The whole thing felt wrong, the end, and I’m glad I was right. So there.)
Of course, while I am pleased as punch to be proven right that Theon hadn’t killed the boys, I am also confused as hell about Theon’s motives in pretending that he had. I mean, I suppose he thought he had to show No One Could Defy Him or whatever, but even Asha thinks murdering children is beyond the pale, and quite rightly points out that all it did was inflame the countryside against him. I mean, is he really that unbelievably stupid?
Yeah, don’t bother answering that. The sheer level of havoc Theon has managed to wreak just through incompetence, arrogance and insecure panic is staggering. It would almost be funny if it weren’t for the appalling collateral damage that has resulted. Seriously, it’s like reading a comedy of errors written by Charles Manson.
Someone just kill him already, please. Pretty please?
And well, really, what else is there to say? I’ma wrap up here, kids. Begone, and enjoy your weekend, before somebody drops a house on you too!