A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 10

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 10 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 17 (“Arya”) and 18 (“Samwell”).

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!

Chapter 17: Arya

What Happens
Arya argues with Gendry that they are going the wrong way (south), based on the moss on the trees, but Gendry argues that they are just taking “some secret outlaw way.” Hot Pie had stayed behind at the inn, and Arya is surprised to realize she misses him. She’s told Harwin of his father Hullen’s death and her escape from King’s Landing, and what’s happened since, though she left out the men she’s killed, and Jaqen H’ghar as well. 

In return, Harwin has told Arya about his travels with Lord Beric Dondarrion, and how they were ambushed at Mummer’s Ford by Gregor Clegane, reducing their numbers to less than two dozen and wounding Lord Beric. By the time he recovered, the fighting had passed them by, and when they heard that Robert and Eddard were dead and Joffrey on the throne, Lord Beric insisted they keep fighting for those who the Lannister’s forces were pillaging, though they were now outlaws themselves.

That night a villager tells their party that men had come through recently looking for the Kingslayer, who has apparently escaped from Riverrun. Greenbeard opines that “the wolves will drown in blood” if the Kingslayer’s loose again, and Thoros must be told about it. Lem comments that Lord Beric would love to capture Jaime Lannister and hang him. Arya goes to sleep and dreams that she is at Winterfell, but cannot get inside.

The next morning she sees they are still going the wrong way to get to Riverrun, and Lem tells her they are not going there. Arya begs Greenbeard to take her there and promises him a reward, but Greenbeard says he must take her to Beric, who will know what to do with her. Tom Sevenstrings promises Beric will treat her well, and likely send her back to her mother after all; but then Anguy adds that they bring him all their highborn captives, and Arya immediately bolts, surprising the party so much that she and her horse burst into the clear.

The outlaws give chase, and Arya dashes madly through fields and woods and across a stream, but Harwin eventually catches up to her. Harwin tells her she rides “like a northman,” and she says she thought he was her father’s man. Harwin replies that Lord Eddard is dead, and he belongs to the lightning lord now (Beric). He tells her they mean Robb no harm, but he’s not who they fight for; he has a great army, but “the smallfolk only have us.” Arya reflects bitterly that for a while she had been a wolf, but now she was “just some stupid little lady” again. Harwin asks if she will come peacefully, or if he has to tie her up.

“I’ll ride peaceful,” she said sullenly. For now.

Oh, Arya. I do wish you had gotten away. I’m not sure it would have actually improved your situation, granted, but at least there would have been the pride of having succeeded.

Jeez, she is so like me it’s kind of scary. I think I would have had the precise same reaction to hearing the word “captive” as she did – which is to say “fuck THAT noise” and run like hell. Which makes her lack of success just that much more galling. Dammit.

I’m really feeling the disadvantage here of how slow I’m reading this, because while “Lord Beric of Dondarrion” is definitely ringing some bells in my head, I can only sort of place him, and therefore I have no idea whether to dread that Arya is being brought to him or not. That said, I think I’m going to go ahead and dread it on general principle, because it’s not like expecting the worst out of any given situation in this story has really steered me wrong before. Ergh.

I’m also on principle slightly suspicious of the purported raison d’être for Robin Hood Lord Beric and his merry men. Defending the commonfolk sounds very noble and all, and if that’s truly the mission here then go them, but given the circumstances I can probably hardly be taken to task for raising a skeptical eyebrow at it.

Not to mention, from a feudal point of view I think what Beric is supposedly doing would actually be considered relatively heinous, when by rights he should have gone to either Robb or Stannis (depending on which one he thought Ned would have been more likely to support for the throne) and lent his strength to them, instead of haring about the countryside protecting rinky-dink peasants.

(In case it’s not obvious, that is not a point of view I actually support, of course. But I’m pretty sure that’s what the prevailing viewpoint would be under the circumstances.)

Also, bye, Hot Pie! I can’t say I’m all that upset about his staying behind, although I can spare a moment to be pleased that he is apparently going to be okay where he is – or as okay as anyone can reasonably be expected to be in these crazy times. He’s probably making the smartest choice possible, honestly, since historically hanging around the Starks has not made for fabulous survival statistics thus far. Sigh.

Could a direwolf kill a lion?

Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it.


Chapter 18: Samwell

What Happens
Sam stumbles through the snow, sobbing, exhausted beyond endurance, but he knows if he stops he will die. He has lost his sword, though he still has the dragonglass dagger Jon gave him. He thinks that they are still behind the fifty or so men who had survived to flee the Fist. He curses his weakness, and fatness. The remaining brothers are traveling in a ring a torches to fend off the Others and wights. He trips and falls, and cannot find the strength to rise again. He thinks it would not be so bad to die here, compared to how so many had died screaming at the Fist.

He remembers how the Old Bear had charged him to send ravens to Castle Black and the Shadow Tower if they were attacked, and feels pride that he had managed to do that much at least. He remembers the night of the attack, and how he had not known what to do after sending off the birds. He remembers following some of the Shadow Tower men to the wall of the fort, and watching as their arrows had failed to hold off the encroaching monsters. He wonders if his brother Dickon will mourn his death, and thinks that a coward is not worth weeping over.

He remembers that Mormont had sent him back to the ravens that night, and how he had tried to write up a report of what was happening, how the wights had breached the wall and they had lost the Fist, and then forgotten to send any of those messages off before setting the rest of the birds free. Grenn finds him in the snow and orders him to get up; Sam tries to get him to leave Sam behind, but Grenn won’t leave him alone, and then Small Paul joins Grenn and forces him up. Sam implores them to let him die, but Grenn tells him to sing a song in his head.

He remembers seeing a wight twist a man’s head off, and seeing a rotted bear with no hair on it, and somehow finding a horse and then Dolorous Edd. Mormont had told Thoren Smallwood to call in the remaining men to cut their way out and retreat down the south slope, but the undead bear had torn off Smallwood’s head. The rest rode and jumped the low wall, running from the wights behind and trampling those in front of them. They reached the trees, and then a brother had shoved Sam off his horse and stolen it for himself. He doesn’t remember what happened after that, but they had ended up miles from the Fist. Mormont had organized the survivors and they had set out.

Now, Small Paul continues to carry Sam, but they and Grenn are falling behind, and finally Paul puts Sam down, saying he can carry him no further. Then an Other appears, riding a disemboweled horse. It dismounts, and Paul and Grenn attack, but the Other moves lightning-quick, impaling Paul, who falls dead, knocking the Other’s sword from its grip. Sam pulls his dagger and exhorts himself to be brave, and attacks, stabbing blindly with the dragonglass dagger. The Other gives an ear-splitting screech, and Sam watches as it dissolves into steam, leaving the dagger behind.

Grenn goes to pick up the dagger and hisses at the coldness. Sam giggles about dragonglass, and then vomits. Grenn pulls him up and picks up the dagger again, and is able to hold it this time. Sam tells him to keep it.

“You’re not craven like me.”

“So craven you killed an Other.”

Grenn says they should catch up with Mormont and the others if they head east, and Sam agrees to try.

Before I even start reading the chapter: Oh! A Samwell POV! Meaning he is not dead! Awesome! Whoo!

And now that I’ve actually read the chapter: Yeesh. Wow, Sam’s life at the moment is pretty much the exact opposite of awesome, isn’t it? Er. But, I am defiantly glad he is alive to be that miserable anyway!

My summary, by the way, in no manner does justice to how well Martin manages to convey in this chapter the slow seductive horror of freezing to death. Because, I have never personally frozen to death (and nor, I strongly suspect, has Mr. Martin), but based on what I know of the phenomenon he did a marvelous job of capturing how it feels to do so.

I think it’s rather universally agreed that of all possible deaths by traumatic exposure, freezing to death is the least painful (it certainly beats drowning or starving or burning to death, by all accounts), but that in itself has its own kind of awfulness–that it makes you want to just lie down and give in. As someone who is firmly in the rage, rage against the dying of the light camp, that’s not something I would want to find myself succumbing to–for purely physiological reasons, no less. Eugh. No.

So, all that was sucky. But! He killed a frozen zombie! Which I’m kind of thinking no one else thus far has managed to do! Whoo!

And, dragonglass (i.e. obsidian) melts the frozen zombies, eh? I am sure that this information will in no way become relevant in the future. Nope.

Also, Sam, Sam, Sam. You, a coward? No. You did what you were told to do, you didn’t run when everything was going to shit all around you, and you attacked your enemy when you saw you had an opening. How is any of that the actions of a coward?

Feh. Anyone who doesn’t think that self-esteem issues aren’t potentially crippling needs to be beaten about the head and shoulders. That shit ruins lives. I sincerely hope Sam survives long enough to figure out that it is his character and not his physical appearance that defines him. Sigh.

And Dolorous Edd is alive too! Yay!

And Mormont, as well, which frankly I find kind of shocking. But Mormont is possibly the Keith Richards of this universe. Which is to say, there are some people who seem to die when you breathe on them wrong, and then there are other people who seemingly won’t die no matter what you do to them. Or they do to themselves. People are weird that way.

Of course, if Mormont then dies in the next chapter or whatever I’m gonna be real red-faced. Oh well.

The white walkers of the wood, the cold shadows, the monsters of the tales that made him squeak and tremble as a boy, riding their giant ice-spiders, hungry for blood…

Ice-spiders? Rideable ice-spiders? Really? Oookay.

On Sam insisting he doesn’t know any songs:

“Yes you do,” said Grenn. “How about ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ everybody knows that one. A bear there was, a bear, a bear! All black and brown and covered with hair!”

“No, not that one,” Sam pleaded.

Okay, the bear song is officially a running gag now. I am Amused.

And that is about what the size of that is, O my peeps, so have a degorgeous weekend, and I’ll see you next Friday!


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