Welcome 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 9 of A Storm of Swords, in we we cover Chapter 15 (“Jon”) and 16 (“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, please note that the Read of Ice and Fire spoiler thread has been moved to a new thread here on Tor.com. 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!
Quick scheduling note: Thanksgiving doth approacheth, O my peeps, and I plan to be far too busy recovering from an epic food coma to post the day after. Therefore, there will be no post next Friday, November 23rd. Whoo!
Chapter 15: Jon
Even Ghost is unnerved by the size of the woolly mammoths and the giants who ride them, and Jon remembers the words of an old song (“And Joramun blew the Horn of Winter, and woke giants from the earth”). Tormund Giantsbane (into whose unit Jon has been switched to get him away from Rattleshirt) exchanges lewd insults with one of them (Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg) in the Old Tongue, and Jon asks him if it’s true he killed a giant once. Tormund responds with an impossible tale of cutting open a giant’s belly and climbing inside to keep warm. Jon asks him about his other names (Horn-Blower, Mead-king of Ruddy Hall, Husband to Bears, Father to Hosts), wondering if perhaps there was a connection between the “Horn-Blower” appellation and the song about Joramun, but Tormund responds with an even more absurd story about how he once raped a bear.
Tormund then asks Jon if it’s true that men of the Night’s Watch are castrated when they join, and Jon indignantly denies it. Tormund asks why Jon’s been ducking Ygritte’s increasingly unsubtle advances on him, then. Jon thinks of how he is determined to hold to his oath, but that Ygritte has becomes more and more attractive to him as time goes on. He makes excuses about not wanting to dishonor her, and not wanting to father bastards, but Tormund finds these objections bizarre.
Jon reflects on the barbarism of the wildlings, even as he admits admiration for some of them, and thinks of how it is only Mance Rayder who is holding this motley host together. He thinks that his spying has yielded no information on whatever mysterious thing Mance might have been looking for in the mountains. The idea of assassinating Mance is distasteful to Jon, but he knows that the wildlings’ army will fall apart without Mance, and knows he will kill him if he must. He also believes Mormont will strike, despite being hugely outnumbered, in an attempt to do the same thing.
At their camp, Ygritte and the others sing a song about the last of the giants. Then Jon is attacked without warning by Rattleshirt’s eagle, taking wounds to the face before Ygritte drives it off. Tormund is incensed, but Rattleshirt calls Jon a “faithless dog” and says that Mance has summoned him. Ygritte insists on coming along, and Rattleshirt takes them to the Fist of the First Men, where Mormont et al had been camped, but the fort is empty now save for dead and mangled horses and dogs.
He wondered where poor Sam was now. And what he was.
Mance Rayder waits for him along with several of his lieutenants. Mance coldly calls Jon on his lies and demands to know how many of his brothers there were. Jon forces himself to admit there were three hundred of them. Mance asks who commanded, and Jon almost goes for his sword, but Mance warns him against it, and at Ygritte’s urging admits it was Mormont, leaving Bowen Marsh in command at Castle Black. This delights Mance, who doesn’t think much of Marsh. He tells Jon that there is no defense when “the dead walk,” and opines that the crows might have done them a favor. He orders Varamyr to find the wights and Rattleshirt to double the patrols.
Rattleshirt demands Jon’s life, but Ygritte defends him, insisting that Jon is no longer faithful to the Watch, and as proof tells them that she and Jon “dance many a night” under his new cloak. Mance asks if it is true, and shamed, Jon lies that it is. Mance then tells Jon he is to go with Styr and Jarl over the Wall, to prove his faith “with more than words.” Styr and Jarl are not pleased, but Mance tells them to kill Jon if he fails to be true. Mance orders Rattleshirt to keep the column moving at all costs, for “If we reach the Wall before Mormont, we’ve won.” Mance leaves, and Rattleshirt almost goes for Jon anyway, but Ygritte cheerfully points out Ghost behind him, waiting to attack, and Rattleshirt curses and leaves. Jon and Ygritte head down alone, and Jon tells her he never asked her to lie for him. She answers that she didn’t lie.
“—that we fuck beneath your cloak many a night. I never said when we started, though.” The smile she gave him was almost shy. “Find another place for Ghost to sleep tonight, Jon Snow. It’s like Mance said. Deeds is truer than words.”
Wow, girl just totally blackmailed Jon into sleeping with her. That’s… a lot. I’m kind of impressed and appalled at the same time. But then, that describes a disproportionately large number of my reactions to the stuff that happens in this series, doesn’t it?
Well, at least she’s on Jon’s side? I guess?
Also, OH NOES. Sam! Sam can’t be a frozen zombie! That’s terrible! I protest!
Maybe he got away? Please? I promise I will eat all my broccoli if he’s not undead! Or dead! I require him to be alive, people!
And I have a little bit of hope on this score, actually, because maybe I’m looking too hard but the entire scene struck me as… hinky. Like, I’m not prepared to completely seriously suggest that Mormont would kill off all his company’s horses just to stage their fake zombification, but it would be a great way to spring a surprise ambush later, wouldn’t it? No one expects non-undead dead people! Or something like that!
And isn’t it a tad strange that there’s not one human corpse at the scene? So the Others got every last one of the brothers (heh, that rhymes!) and no one didn’t… well, okay, I’m still not sure how it works, admittedly, so maybe if you get killed with Others’ weapons (or hell, maybe even if you just get wounded by one) then you’re
a junior varsity frozen zombie a wight and that’s it, no takebacks. So maybe it does make sense that there are no human bodies.
And there was that whole thing where everyone said camping on that spot was real bad ju-ju, so okay. But still. Something off. I will maintain my skepticism until proven paranoid.
In either case, there’s still nothing to say that at least some of the brothers didn’t escape. In which case, Sam will be among the escapees. BECAUSE I SAID SO.
(Also, Dolorous Edd needs to be alive. You can’t kill Eeyore, can you? That would just be living down to his expectations!)
(And it would be nice if Mormont was alive too, but I’m not gonna get crazy here.)
Poor Jon, you guys. Aside from having his face half-clawed off by a vengeful eagle, which is pretty much the complete opposite of fun, he’s having to compromise himself more and more. He is so right in being wary of the very slippery slope he’s currently standing on.
I do wonder what he’s going to do re: Ygritte. While I think vows of chastity are problematic for any number of reasons, I still respect that Jon wants to honor his oath. However, Ygritte was quite right in (tacitly) pointing out that maintaining his chasteness is pretty much a dead giveaway that he has not abandoned those oaths, and after having already been caught in a lie… well. Maybe it makes me a terrible person, but I’d think punching his V-card with a girl he honestly likes (as a person, even! CRAZY) is probably the lesser of the assorted evils Jon has to choose from.
Eh, it’s ugly. I kind of want to root for Jon just doing it (literally), as it is completely to his advantage re: survival, but as people might have noticed I have Issues with people being coerced into sex regardless of the reason. Because that shit is not cool.
Having said that, dying is even less cool, so… argh.
In other news, mammoths and giants and bears, oh my!
And wow, those are some ugly-ass giants, going by the description. Yeesh.
Also, does it not occur to Jon that maybe the horn in the song might be not only the one that gave Tormund his name, but the Magical Thingamajig they were looking for in the first place? I’m not convinced, but I think it’s a workable theory!
[…] Varamyr Sixskins, a small mouse of a man whose steed was a savage white snow bear that stood thirteen feet tall on its hind legs.
Erm. Oddly, the giants and wooly mammoths don’t give me pause, really, but the information that one of the raiders rides a polar bear was cause for serious eyebrow action. Because, really? Is everyone going to have a daemon next?
(No, I’m not actually accusing Martin of ripping off The Golden Compass, because that’s silly. But seriously, polar bears? The entire population of Canada is all rolling their eyes right now and they don’t even know why.)
Chapter 16: Sansa
Sansa is astonished and wary to learn that Cersei has commissioned her a new and elegant gown; though she has seriously outgrown her old clothes, in multiple ways, she cannot imagine why Cersei would show her such kindness, and thinks perhaps it is Margaery’s doing somehow. She thinks of how pleasant it has been to be in the company of women again, with the Tyrells, but as she listens to Margaery’s cousins chatter and swoon over knights she realizes how like children they are, like she used to be, and cannot decide whether to pity or envy them.
She goes hawking with Margaery, who calls her “sister.” Overwhelmed with emotion, Sansa earnestly begs Margaery not to marry Joffrey, that he will hurt her. Unfazed, Margaery confides that that is why her father forced him to add Loras to the Kingsguard, so that he can protect her, so “our little lion had best behave, hadn’t he?” Sansa thinks it over, and has grave doubts that Loras will be able to protect Margaery nearly as effectively as Margaery believes, or alternately may end up a second Kingslayer when Joffrey inevitably shows his true colors. She is surprised that Margaery doesn’t see that, when Sansa thinks her older and wiser than she.
She tells Dontos about the plan to marry her to Willas Tyrell, and is surprised to find that Dontos is violently against the idea. He says that the Tyrells are “only Lannisters with flowers,” and begs her to go through with the escape plan during the king’s wedding. Sansa insists she will be safe in Highgarden, and Dontos tells her the Tyrells care nothing for her, only her claim: she is heir to Winterfell. Sansa pulls away from him and leaves.
Sansa thinks about it that night, and concludes it is nonsense; even with Bran and Rickon gone, Robb is still there, and will soon have sons to supersede her in the succession. She tries to imagine her life with Willas, and hopes that in time he will come to love her if she gives him sons, though she keeps finding her thoughts turning back to Loras instead. She decides to pray for Margaery’s safety, having done what she could to warn her about Joffrey. She thinks of the new gown being made for her, and cannot wait to wear it.
This whole chapter made me very uneasy.
Cersei, first of all, is totally up to something. Which, yes, is kind of like saying the Pope is totally Catholic, because duh, but she’s up to something specific re: Sansa. And that is very worry-making.
*shrug* Poison dress, like that thing from the movie Elizabeth?
And I’m not sure if I’m more worried for the Tyrells or about the Tyrells. But right now I think I’m leaning more toward the former.
Because, okay. Maybe Dontos is right and they are after Sansa for Winterfell. But unless they are also planning some seriously nefarious things to get it, I don’t see how that’s much different from the vast majority of arranged nobleborn marriages. It’s always about getting the most political advantage you can out of it. And if it gets Sansa away from His Supreme Douchenozzleness King Joffrey, I’m kind of thinking it might be worth it.
And maybe they have some dastardly plan to assassinate Robb and thus (they think) leaving Sansa the sole heir, but frankly I don’t even think that would be necessary. The odds of Robb surviving this war in the long term are not all that high, especially at the moment, and while of course I’m rooting for him, I can see how the Tyrells would be content to hedge their bets and just see if they get Winterfell handed to them on a silver platter without having to do anything. (Er, besides fight in the war itself, of course.) Plus, this way they have an in with both the Starks and the Lannisters, so no matter who wins, the Tyrells have some protection. Rather clever, that.
Plus I have the insider knowledge here about the Stark heir situation, which is that Sansa is not, in fact, next in line for Winterfell. Hopefully even if Robb does die, Bran will get done with his vision quest business and turn up alive and this will all be a moot point. Or Rickon with… er, whatever he’s off doing now. (Arya turning up alive doesn’t matter from a succession standpoint, of course, since Sansa is the elder sister.)
So, yeah, maybe the Tyrells aren’t as pure as the driven snow in their motivations, but until there’s more evidence to the contrary, they’re practically unicorns compared to the non-pureness of the motivations of just about everyone else.
Far more worrying, I think, is Margaery’s blithe assumption that Loras will be able to protect her from Joffrey, because eeesh. Sansa’s worries hit the nail on the head on that one. I mean, really, does Margaery think Loras is going to be able to stand guard over her every minute of every day? Over the marriage bed itself? And does she think that Loras being her brother would stop Joffrey from ordering him executed at the drop of a hat? Because I’m going with a large NO on those questions.
Ugh. I mean, we can hope that Margaery’s awesome grandmother has some sneaky contingency planned, but honestly given the power imbalance here I’m very apprehensive about the whole shebang.
This chapter was also a bittersweet commentary on how much Sansa has matured since we met her, both physically and mentally. And it’s both pleasing and saddening, because on the one hand it’s great to see her learning to accurately judge the currents of the quagmire she’s swimming in, but on the other, no one should have to have Real Life knocked into them like that.
She’s hardly alone in that experience, of course—from a certain point of view you could retitle this series from “A Song of Ice and Fire” to “Shitty Medieval Childhoods: A Primer”—but Sansa was in a lot of ways much less prepared to deal with harsh reality than any of her siblings (with the exception of Rickon, who probably has full-on PTSD by this point).
So, yay result, boo methods, I guess. And of course, judging by the ominousness of this chapter, the “hard knocks” portion of Sansa’s maturing process is far, far, far from over. Sigh.
This wedding is going to be A Lot. This I foretell. Not that it takes a genius to make that prophecy, but still. Eek.
And that’s our show, kids! Have a tryptophan-laden holiday for the U.S. of Aians, and I’ll see you in two weeks!