A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 48

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 48 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 74 (“Arya”).

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 Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler 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 74: Arya

What Happens
Arya tries to convince Sandor not to go into the inn, but he doesn’t listen. Inside, Arya recognizes Tickler and Polliver, two of Gregor’s soldiers. Their squire asks if this is “the lost puppy” Ser Gregor spoke of, who “ran off whimpering” when the battle got too hot at King’s Landing, until Tickler shuts him up. The locals slip out of the tavern quietly. Polliver tells Sandor that Gregor is gone to King’s Landing, and adds the news that Joffrey is dead. Arya thinks the news ought to please her, but she feels empty inside.

Polliver explains that it was likely the Imp and his new wife did it, but Arya doesn’t believe that Sansa would actually marry Tyrion. She is dismayed, however, when Polliver relates that Gregor had put all but a few to the sword in Harrenhal, and that Riverrun is under siege and Edmure Tully is the Freys’ prisoner. Sandor praises Sansa for “shitting on the Imp’s head” and flying off, but Polliver is sure they’ll catch her. Then Polliver relates that Sansa’s sister has been found and promised to Bolton’s bastard, and Sandor laughs.

Tickler asks if Sandor intends to return to his brother, and Sandor answers “bugger that,” upon which Tickler and Polliver attack. Arya clocks the squire with a wine cup as Sandor faces off with the other two, but then she realizes that Sandor is too drunk to fight well. He is wounded quickly, and Arya thinks he is about to lose the fight. Arya throws a dagger at Tickler, but only lightly wounds him. Then the squire grabs her, but Arya snatches his own knife from his belt and stabs him.

Polliver and Tickler have Sandor cornered, but he refuses to yield, and manages to half-decapitate Polliver. Tickler backs off, and Arya steps up behind him and stabs him in the back repeatedly, screaming his own interrogation questions from the village back at him. Finally Sandor drags her off him, and observes that she gave the squire a gut wound that will kill him slowly. He offers the squire to her. Arya finds Needle on Polliver’s corpse, and kills the squire with it.

Sandor says that they can’t stay here, and will go to Saltpans, and take ship for the Vale. He is badly wounded, and Arya helps him to his horse. She worries that he will fall out of the saddle as they head out, but he stays on. They reach the Trident and make camp, where Sandor has Arya pour boiling wine over his wounds. He passes out from the pain, and Arya binds his wounds. She recites her list, and feels strange to leave Polliver, Tickler and Joffrey off of it. She thinks that if Sansa is truly gone, then she is the only Stark (the only wolf) left. She realizes that she’d left Sandor’s name out of the list as well.

Sandor wakes her the next morning, but they only go half a day before he needs to rest, reeling from his wounds. Arya brings him water, and notes that he is burning up, and the wound on his thigh smells funny. She contemplates riding off and leaving him to die, or just killing him outright. She draws Needle; Sandor sees, and asks if she remembers where the heart is. She stammers, and he growls at her to do it already. He taunts her with Mycah’s death and his thoughts about Sansa and “fucking her bloody.” Arya tells him he doesn’t deserve the gift of mercy. Sandor says a real wolf would finish off a wounded animal. She tells him he should have saved her mother, and rides away.

Six days later, she comes to a town she hopes is Saltpans, where three ships are in port. Arya realizes she left all the money with Sandor, and will have to sell her horse to get enough for passage. The woman who buys it cheats her dreadfully, but Arya can do nothing about it. She goes to the purple galley and tries to book passage to Eastwatch, but she doesn’t have enough money. The captain tells her they wouldn’t go that way anyway, as the north has nothing but “ice and war and pirates.”

She asks where the ship hails from, and the captain tells her they are Titan’s Daughter, from the Free City of Braavos. She shows him the coin Jaqen H’ghar gave her. The captain is astonished.

“This… how… ?”

Jaqen said to say the words too. Arya crossed her arms against her chest. “Valar morghulis,” she said, as loud as if she’d known what it meant.

Valar dohaeris,” he replied, touching his brow with two fingers. “Of course you shall have a cabin.”

Ah hah!

…Said the girl who still has no idea what’s going on, really. I know we learned that “valar morghulis” means “all men must die,” but that doesn’t really help me translate the response phrase. Maybe “Valar dohaeris” means “all men rise again”? “All men kill the other men”? “All men suck so who cares?” “This is a rather misogynistic call and response code anyway so whatever”? WHO KNOWS.

In whatever case, it apparently is getting Arya the hell away from Westeros, so it’s a good thing, at least for now. Normally I would say it would be a bad thing if Arya had accidentally just identified herself as a member of an assassin’s guild (because that’s the sort of organization that would totally have (a) Jaqen as a member and (b) “valar morghulis” as its motto), but then, Arya is well on her way to being a full-fledged assassin in her own right anyway. She’s killed, what, at least four or five people now? Or more, depending on how you view the whole soup thing in Harrenhal.

Good lord. And she’s like, um, twelve or thirteen at this point, I think. Damn.

So many ethical dilemmas, so little time. But staying with the brutally pragmatic viewpoint for a moment, I would venture to speculate that Arya possibly meeting up with a guild of assassins in Braavos who can train her to be even more badass than she already is would not go amiss. Because while I don’t of course want Arya rampaging around and killing whoever looks at her funny, I do very much want her to have the tools to survive whatever further pile of shit (and make no mistake, there will be new piles of shit) fate sees fit to dump upon her. And I can’t think of many better ways to learn those survival skills than to learn how to be an assassin.

The trick, of course, is learning the skills of how to kill at will, without internalizing the sociopathic detachment required to actually do so. I am not a trained assassin, nor do I play one on TV, but I’m betting that doing both of those things would be quite the trick, when you think about it. And it’s a trick that I think Arya is already struggling with, truth be told.

This is always my dilemma with this kind of thing. I think I (we, really, as a culture) are rather conditioned to applaud the ability in a character to be a highly efficient (or even just willing) killer, without very often examining the ethical or psychological repercussions of that training/ability. Those who do not understand what I mean are directed to go watch A History of Violence without delay.

But even so, my point stands. I want Arya to be able to defend herself, dammit. I want for her what I (often fruitlessly) always want for female characters: for her to have the strength, will, and skill to determine her own path.

Which isn’t to say she hasn’t taken a very strong step in that direction in this chapter, because wow. Way to throw off the Stockholm Syndrome, girl! She left Sandor behind, y’all. I was honestly kind of shocked. And yet proud, because yes, Sandor Clegane has kind of established himself as a semi-sympathetic character to us recently, in spite of the shitty things he’s done, but nevertheless I cannot do anything but cheer Arya’s decision to ride away and leave him at this juncture.

Especially since he was planning to bring her to the Vale. Which, granted, may have seemed a perfectly logical thing to do from their point of view, but as a slightly more omniscient reader, I’m just as happy to not have Arya anywhere bloody near Lysa’s crazy, thanks. It’s bad enough that Sansa is stuck in it. I have no guarantee that going to Braavos will be any better for Arya than going to the Vale, but I kind of have to think that it couldn’t possibly be much worse.

*knocks on wood*

And Arya has Needle back! I was honestly not expecting that. What are the freaking odds, right? I would almost be narrowing my eyes in suspicion at Martin for that coincidence, except for how things that weird really do occur in real life. And granted, there’s unquestionably a pretty sharp divide between the random unrandomness of real life and the degree of symmetry generally required of fiction (hence the saying “truth is stranger than fiction,” because it is), but Martin’s general refusal to rely on tropes and clichés allows him quite a lot of leeway in this regard. So the reappearance of Needle in Arya’s life is a fantastic coincidence that I’ll allow, in this case. BUT I’LL BE WATCHING, MR. MARTIN.

*points finger*

Contrarily, speaking of tropes, I totally do not believe that Sandor is done for, by the way, because in defiance of all reality regarding serious wounds, I’m pretty sure the Hound is just too damn much of an contrary asshole to die like that. I look forward, therefore, in a sort of dreading way, to his and Arya’s eventual reunion. I don’t necessarily think that will go well, but it’ll definitely be interesting.

“Interesting” being the ultimate in ambiguous superlatives, of course, as the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” quite effectively demonstrates.

I wonder if he’ll really follow her. If he was smart he wouldn’t. But “smart” is rarely the defining characteristic in what people in this series decide to do, isn’t it.

Oh, Arya. I am probably so very masochistic in continuing to have such high hopes for your future. But that doesn’t mean I won’t still have them.

And that is what that is for the nonce, my chickies. Have a lovely week, and I’ll see you next Thursday!


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