A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 52

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 52 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 80 (“Sansa”) and the Epilogue.

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 80: Sansa

What Happens
Sansa awakes in the Eyrie, and reminds herself that she is Alayne Stone now, not Sansa Stark. She finds the keep dreary and frightening; her only companions are her maid and Lord Robert, who is “eight going on three.” Marillion the singer is there too, who always seems to be singing directly at Sansa. Sansa thinks Lysa is just as lonely as she is, as Petyr is often gone. Jon Arryn’s bannerman resent his marriage to Lysa, and several Houses are near to spurning her for her refusal to aid Robb.

Sansa sees it is snowing, which reminds her painfully of Winterfell. She dresses and goes down to the garden below. She makes snowballs, but remembers she has no one to throw them at, so she begins making a large snow castle instead, which she soon realizes is a replica of Winterfell. She works on it obsessively, ignoring those who come to the windows to watch her, even Lady Lysa, until Petyr appears and gives her advice on how to keep her bridges from collapsing.

He remarks that he’d always thought Winterfell was a cold, dark place, but Sansa tells him it was always warm inside. He helps her construct the greenhouses from twigs, commenting that it is good to see her smile again. When they finish the Broken Tower, she hits Petyr in the face with a snowball, for bringing her here instead of home as he’d promised. He admits he played her false in that, and then pulls her close and kisses her.

Shocked, Sansa wrenches away and asks, what about Lady Lysa, but he answers she “has no cause for complaint.” Sansa points out that she could have been his own daughter, but Petyr replies that she isn’t. She realizes there is no one to save her from him, but then Lord Robert appears to exclaim over the castle. Sansa tells him it is Winterfell, and Lord Robert promptly begins to knock it down. Sansa cries for him to stop, but he ignores her. She grabs at his doll, and accidentally rips off its head. Robert wails, and then falls down in an apparent seizure.

Maester Colemon soon arrives to give the boy dreamwine, and has him sent to his chambers for a leeching. Sansa tries to apologize, but Robert says she killed his doll and he hates her. After they leave, Sansa angrily puts the dollhead on a stake and plants it among the ruins of her snow castle, which amuses Petyr. She goes back to her chambers and wonders whether Lysa will have her sent away. She thinks she would welcome banishment, and decides to tell Lysa she doesn’t want to marry Robert.

Lysa later sends Marillion to summon her, and Sansa reflects that the singer is loathed by everyone in the Eyrie except Lysa and Lord Robert. She ignores his smarminess and goes with him to the High Hall; she is uneasy when Marillion shuts and bars the doors after them. Lysa is alone on the dais, and tells Sansa she saw what she did. Sansa again tries to apologize for the doll, but:

“Will you play the coy deceiver with me?” her aunt said. “I was not speaking of Robert’s doll. I saw you kissing him.”

Sansa protests that Petyr kissed her, but Lysa dismisses this. She says she will find “some common girl” to take Sansa’s whipping for her, but demands that she own up first. Sansa sticks to her story, and Lysa tells her “big eyes and strumpet’s smiles” will not win Petyr away from Lysa. She rants that everyone tried to take him from her, including Catelyn, who (she says) led him on and mocked him. Sansa protests, and Lysa tells her about the night Catelyn danced six times with Petyr, but laughed at him when he tried to kiss her.

Sansa again insists that Petyr kissed her, but Lysa says she enticed him, just as her mother did. She tells of how she gave up her virginity to comfort Petyr that night, even though he called her “Cat” in bed. Frightened by Lysa’s mad mien, Sansa assures her that Petyr is hers, but Lysa continues to rave, confessing that she got pregnant from her night with Petyr, and the marriage to Jon Arryn was to prevent her dishonor becoming public. Sansa swears she will never kiss or “entice” him again, which Lysa takes as admission of guilt.

Lysa then grabs Sansa and drags her to the Moon Door and orders her to open it. Sansa does so, hoping Lysa will let her go if she obeys. Lysa forces her to the threshold and makes her look down at the six hundred foot drop beyond. Sansa struggles and pleads with Lysa, but Lysa presses her closer to the edge. Sansa screams, and grabs Lysa’s hair, and now they are both sliding to the edge.

Littlefinger bursts in and demands to know what is happening, and Lysa shouts that Sansa kissed him. Petyr protests that she is a child, and surely has learned her lesson. Sansa sobs that she has. Lysa cries that she doesn’t want Sansa there, and Petyr assures her that they’ll send her away. Lysa screams a negative, and says he “can’t want her,” and begs his forgiveness for not knowing they were aborting their baby. Petyr says it is all in the past, and Lysa should not talk so much. Lysa ignores this and reminds him it was she who got him his first post, who loved him best. She says Sansa is just like her mother. Petyr talks soothingly to her, trying to talk her down.

“Tears, tears, tears,” she sobbed hysterically. “No need for tears… but that’s not what you said in King’s Landing. You told me to put the tears in Jon’s wine, and I did. For Robert, and for us! And I wrote Catelyn and told her the Lannisters had killed my lord husband, just as you said. That was so clever… you were always clever, I told Father that, I said Petyr’s so clever, he’ll rise high, he will, he will, and he’s sweet and gentle and I have his little baby in my belly… Why did you kiss her? Why? We’re together now, we’re together after so long, so very long, why would you want to kiss herrrrrr?”

Petyr promises her that they will be together as long as they both shall live, and she flings herself at him, sobbing. Sansa crawls away from the Moon Door, shaking. Petyr kisses Lysa and assures her he has only ever loved one woman.

Lysa Arryn smiled tremulously. “Only one? Oh, Petyr, do you swear it? Only one?”

“Only Cat.” He gave her a short, sharp shove.

Lysa stumbled backward, her feet slipping on the wet marble. And then she was gone. She never screamed. For the longest time there was no sound but the wind.

Marillion gapes in shock. Petyr tells Sansa to let the guards in, and tell them the singer has killed his lady wife.

Commentary
Well, then.

Uh. Damn.

So, this chapter wasn’t nerve-racking or anything. Holy crap, I might need to go lie down for a while.

One thing’s for sure: I knew someone was going to go through that door before this scene was over, and I spent most of it genuinely terrified that it was going to be Sansa. Catelyn proved, after all, that having the chapter be from your own POV is no guarantee at all of safety, so I honestly did not have any assurance at all here that Sansa wasn’t going to die.

Which is masterful from a writing point of view, and incredibly stressful from a reading point of view, dammit. I have grown far too used (as I think most of us in the modern Western world have) to being assured that the story is not going to off your protagonist characters. And granted, I’ve been having that particular stool kicked out from under me for pretty much the entirety of ASOIAF, but somehow it still never stops being a shock.

But it didn’t happen this time, and once again I am in the position of being both relieved at a character’s death and guilty for feeling that relief. There is absolutely no doubt that Lysa’s murder solves any number of problems, and there is even less doubt that girl was batshit crazy and at least partially deserved such an end, but I am left squirming with the knowledge of the extent to which Lysa is revealed here to also have been a cruelly manipulated victim, for most of her life.

And her very batshit craziness is part and parcel of that victimhood. Not to get my modern-day psychological theory all over this medievalish setting, but there is a genuine question here, in retrospect, of how much Lysa can be said to have been responsible for her own actions. It can definitely be argued that she is a textbook case of non compos mentis when it comes to the crimes she committed.

Speaking of which, whoa. Did I know before this that she was the one who poisoned Jon Arryn, and lied to Catelyn and Ned about it? I feel like I did know that part of it before, but I don’t think I knew that it was Petyr who Svengalied her into doing it.

One thing’s for sure, whatever else you want to say about Littlefinger (and I can say many things, most of them highly uncomplimentary), your boy has a tenth dan black belt in Machiavellian subterfuge. Not that we didn’t already know this, but damn. Just how much of everything that’s happened since freakin’ AGOT can be traced back to this asshole? Does he even care that he was possibly largely responsible for plunging the entire continent into civil war? Or was that the whole point in the first place?

Jeez.

And I certainly was too quick to absolve him of ulterior motives re: Sansa, that’s for sure. When he kissed Sansa in the garden in this chapter I all but shouted at the book WELL OF COURSE YOU WENT THERE, DICKFACE. It just took him a couple of extra chapters! UGH. I shoulda oughta known bettah.

And one definite disadvantage of Lysa’s death is that now he basically has no reason at all not to continue trying to coerce Sansa into his bed. I repeat: UGH.

As for Marillion, I have no sympathy for him at all. The only reason his getting framed for Lysa’s death sucks is that it means Petyr won’t get blamed for it. Which, by the way, is also proof that Petyr is a master of manipulation not only in the long term, but also when it comes to thinking on his feet. I could almost admire him if he didn’t make me want to take a shower every time he talks.

So there’s that. But going back to Lysa for a moment, I would be remiss if I failed to examine my concerns about how her character is a veritable laundry list of practically every negative female stereotype in fiction ever. From her physical description of ugliness (subtly encouraging the reader to have more contempt for her than if she were beautiful) to her hyper-protective and smothering behavior toward Lord Robert (making her son a weak and emasculated Momma’s boy, the ultimate maternal sin), to the fact that her every motivation as a character, as her frantic babble to Petyr here confirms, is defined by a frenzied and (we perceive) pathetic desperation to be (a) loved and (b) pregnant, there is nothing about Lysa that we are not culturally primed to loathe. Her insanity is literally hysteria, in the original (and very misogynistic) sense of the term, and it is practically tailor-made to inspire not pity or compassion, but disgust, in its terrible, terrible femininity.

I find this problematic, needless to say. Not least because I’m pretty sure some of the things I myself have said about Lysa in the past indicate that I fell prey to this contempt myself, without examining it further. Which just goes to show you how insidious such cultural conditioning really is, that even a person like myself, who writes about the feminist perspective on a regular basis, can miss it if I’m not paying attention.

But Lysa’s performance in this scene brings the issue so strongly to the fore that it was impossible to ignore—even, I think, if you don’t have a background in examining gender issues (though I could be wrong about that). Which is what makes me wonder whether or not Lysa’s avalanche of negative feminine stereotypes was a deliberate choice on Martin’s part.

This is an iffy question, because unfortunately it’s been my experience that negative gender stereotypes are far more likely to show up because either the author is still laboring under the impression that they are a legit common characterization of female (or male) characters, or that he or she simply didn’t notice them creeping in there. However, Martin has a rather excellent track record so far of showing that he thinks of his female characters as characters first (i.e. people) and as female second, especially compared to many of his (male) peers, so I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

If Lysa had been the only female character I had seen in ASOIAF I would have been very critical indeed, but set against a larger cast which includes people like Catelyn, Brienne, Ygritte, Arya, and even Cersei, it is much easier to conclude that Lysa was meant to represent an unfortunate extreme of buying into, internalizing, and eventually succumbing to her own society’s sexist demeaning of her. When you consider her hysteria is paired with Lysa’s own misogyny toward Sansa and Catelyn both, assigning them a whole passel of other negative female stereotypes (e.g., Beautiful = Slutty, being nice to a man means you obviously want to/should/must sleep with him otherwise you’re leading him on, the inherent implication that other women exist only as competition for a man’s interest… and that’s just to name a few)… well, it’s possibly just a little too pointed to be all an accident. At least I hope so.

(It’s delightful that there are just so many ways to demean a woman to choose from, innit?)

There’s probably more here to be discussed, but I think I will leave it for now.

As a final note on this chapter, the scene where Sansa builds her snow-Winterfell is probably one of the more poignant and sad-making scenes in the whole novel, in my opinion.

 

Epilogue

What Happens
On the road up to Oldstones, a hungover Merrett Frey thinks that snow so early in the riverlands is a bad sign. He had once hoped to be a great knight, but owing to a head injury, now was only the Twins’ greatest drinker. He assures himself, though, that if he ransoms Petyr Pimple safely from the “lightning lord’s sorry lot of brigands,” his luck will change. He reflects on his unfortunate lot in life, including his wife and children, and the final humiliation of his role in Roslin’s wedding, when Lame Lothar had told him his job was to make sure the Greatjon Umber was blind drunk and unable to fight by the end of the night. Worse, he had failed at that, since the Greatjon had done an immense amount of damage before he was brought down.

He reaches the ruins on time, and finds a single outlaw there, sitting on a sepulcher and playing a harp, and who seems to think Merrett ought to recognize him for playing at his daughter’s wedding. Then the other outlaws, at least a dozen, surround him, demanding the ransom. They take the bag from him without showing him Petyr first. Merrett demands to see Beric Dondarrion, and several men laughingly claim to be him. Fearful, Merrett demands Petyr, and they make him dismount and walk with them to the godswood.

There, he finds that they have already hanged Petyr, and the outlaws seize Merrett and bind him, and throw a noose over his head as well. Merrett splutters that they would never dare hang a Frey, but the others laugh at him. Merrett says Lord Walder will ransom him for twice as much as Petyr, but the singer scoffs that Lord Walder isn’t that stupid. He offers to let Merrett go if he answers a question, about “a dog” named Sandor Clegane, if he was at the Red Wedding, along with a skinny girl or boy of about ten. Merrett answers that he might have been in the outer camps, but not at the feast.

The singer shrugs and goes to hang him anyway, and Merrett pleads with them, saying he has children. The one-eyed outlaw replies that the Young Wolf never will have children. Merrett protests that Robb shamed them, and they had to restore their honor. The outlaw answers that they don’t know much about honor, but plenty about murder. Merrett insists it was vengeance, and then says he didn’t do any of it, his father did, and they can’t prove he did. The singer tells him he’s wrong, and then a woman approaches.

Her cloak and collar hid the gash his brother’s blade had made, but her face was even worse than he remembered. The flesh had gone pudding soft in the water and turned the color of curdled milk. Half her hair was gone and the rest had turned as white and brittle as a crone’s. Beneath her ravaged scalp, her face was shredded skin and black blood where she had raked herself with her nails. But her eyes were the most terrible thing. Her eyes saw him, and they hated.

“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.” He turned to the dead woman and said, “What do you say, m’lady? Was he part of it?”

Lady Catelyn’s eyes never left him. She nodded.

Merrett Frey opened his mouth to plead, but the noose choked off his words. His feet left the ground, the rope cutting deep into the soft flesh beneath his chin. Up into the air he jerked, kicking and twisting, up and up and up.

Commentary

OKAY, WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK.

No, seriously. What the fuck?

I REPEAT: WHISKEY, TANGO, FOXTROT, OVER.

Catelyn is alive? How… what…

But, I don’t. What is this I can’t even. I feel like I’m insane right now.

Didn’t she have her throat slit? And then wasn’t she then thrown in a river? How the hell could she have survived that? What, is she Jean Grey or something? Are we in a Marvel comic right now? How…

…Dude. Is Catelyn a fucking WIGHT?

Pardon me, I must gibber a moment.

*gibber*

…Okay, on further reflection, she’s probably not a wight. Because if so, I imagine there would have been a whole lot more random homicide going on in this scene (as opposed to (presumably) rational-minded collaboration on very non-random hangings, natch). Plus, we are kind of really far from typical wight territory right now.

So, not a wight. Probably. But then, what the hell… oh. Right.

Riiight, Beric and his eclectic collection of My Shoulda-Been Death Wounds, Let Me Gross You Out With Them. Ahhhh. Okay, things are making a little more sense.

Not a lot more sense, mind you, because I am entirely unclear on how Thoros et al could have gotten to her body quick enough to—well, I am hesitant to define what they did as healing it, by the description, but let’s call it “slapping on a shit-ton of mystical duct tape” and think about it later—unless through a stroke of amazing luck. Which, I suppose, could be the case, but, uh.

I can’t even say I am glad she’s back, really, because as angry as I was at Catelyn’s supposed demise, I don’t think anyone in the world would want to come back like this.

Well. Unless you were hell-bent on revenge above all else, of course. Which I’m gonna go out on a limb here and bet that’s the case for Catelyn. So, I suppose my opinion’s not the relevant one, here.

(Also, once again I prove here that commenting on one chapter before going on to the next can have unintentionally hilarious results, re: my comment about Catelyn’s POV in Sansa’s chapter commentary. If there’s any afterlife to be had in Westeros culture (I’m sure I’ve been told if there was but I’m hazy on it) I bet Lysa is pissed that she ended up beating Catelyn there.)

So! I guess that’s what you call ending it with a bang. As long as the “bang” is the sound of my head exploding.

 

And thus ends, quite dramatically, Book Three of ASOIAF!

So let’s rack up the former murder mysteries we now have culprits for (that I can remember, of course):

  • Jon Arryn = Lysa (at Petyr’s instigation)
  • Robert = Cersei
  • Bran (attempted) = Joffrey
  • Joffrey = the Queen of Thorns, Lady Tyrell

I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting (even discounting the many murders for whom we’ve always known the culprit), but those are the ones that leap to mind.

As for an overall sum-up of the book, I’m finding that… difficult, which is less surprising once I remember that I started recapping this thing over a year ago. Holy crap.

I can say, however, that it has been overall, an absolutely stunning book. And I mean that in every possible sense of the word. I don’t know that I can say I loved it—it was just a little too mean to me for that—but its brilliance in delivering character and plot punches (to the face, more often than not) cannot be denied. I can totally see why HBO was itching to turn this series into a TV show, because drama is not even in it.

 

I will perhaps have more cohesive things to say about where the story stands later. But I am exhaustified at the moment, so for now, administrative stuff!

Next Thursday, as the Americans in the audience know, is Thanksgiving. And since I typically take a break after finishing a novel in these things anyway, that turns out to be very serendipitous. Therefore, there will be no ROIAF post next Thursday, November 28th.

The Read will resume on December 5th, but we will not be starting A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series proper. Instead, as suggested by many and affirmed by the Powers That Be, I will be reading the first of the satellite novellas, The Hedge Knight: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms, which originally appeared in the first of the Legends anthologies, edited by Robert Silverberg. Hooray!

After some discussion, we’ve decided that after THK I will be reading the second novella, The Sworn Sword, which originally appeared in the second Legends anthology, Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King (also edited by Silverberg). I will most likely not get through TSS before the blog goes on hiatus for the holidays, but we’ll probably get started on it.

After that (in case you’re curious), I’ll be reading AFFC, then the third novella, The Mystery Knight, then A Dance With Dragons, and then I believe there is a fourth short story after that? I’m not sure but I think this means I am reading everything in publication order, which pleases my neat-freak side.


But for now, a brief rest! I hope y’all have enjoyed the Read so far, and it’s sure to only get wackier from here, I bet, so stick with me! Cheers, and see you Thursday after next!

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