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 6 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 8 (“Jaime”) and Chapter 9 (“Brienne”).
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 8: Jaime
Jaime stands vigil over his father’s corpse and thinks of how it is his fault Tywin is dead, for arranging to set Tyrion free. He tells his father’s corpse that he meant for Varys to take Tyrion to a ship, not to kill him, but knows it does not change his guilt. He remembers how he had threatened Varys with his life unless he helped free Tyrion, and how Tyrion had snarled at him that he had in fact killed Joffrey. Jaime has not slept since.
He wonders whether Tyrion killed Varys too or if Varys escaped with his brother. Jaime thinks with humiliation of his difficulties leading the search parties that searched the tunnels below the castle, because of his missing hand. On seeing the dragon bones deep below, he remembered the day Prince Rhaegar rode out, and how he had refused Jaime’s plea to leave someone else guarding the king, saying the king is too fearful of Tywin to be willing to give up the leverage Jaime represented. Rhaegar had said he planned to call a council and make some long-overdue changes when he returned, but then he never came back. Jaime comments to the corpse that changes were indeed made, though.
He wonders why he feels no grief or anger, but comments to the corpse that after having told Jaime that tears were a sign of weakness, he could hardly expect that Jaime would cry now. He suspects most of the mourners to be secretly delighting in Tywin’s downfall, though Pycelle seems genuinely distraught, saying Tywin was a greater man than any of the six kings Pycelle has served. Jaime realizes Pycelle is dying, and that may be why Cersei called him useless, though he thinks that Cersei seems to think everyone in court was “either useless or treasonous.” Rennifer Longwaters, the chief undergaoler, told Jaime that the missing gaoler, Rugen, was often absent from his post, as his level was seldom used except for Lord Stark, Pycelle briefly, and Tyrion. Jaime was stunned to learn that the two turnkeys who were asleep during the jailbreak had already been executed, and immediately divined his sister’s hand in that, a fact the Kettleblacks confirmed to him later. Jaime told them the next time Cersei orders them to kill someone, they are to come to Jaime first.
The stench of death grows worse in the sept as the service drones on, and the rictus smile on Tywin’s face seems to be growing wider. The grotesqueness of the sight, and the irony of standing vigil at the side of his father, who he’d helped his brother kill, makes Jaime laugh aloud. He thinks of Brienne, and prays “Father, give her strength,” though he is unsure which Father he is talking to. He remembers his last vigil at fifteen, before being knighted, and thinks that boy is dead now. He wonders what he will write in the White Book after this.
Cersei comes to him after, when the sept is empty, disguised in a rough cloak, to tell him Kevan knows about them and has refused to be Hand. She is frightened at how many people Tyrion could have told, and pleads with Jaime to be Hand, for she does not trust Mace Tyrell. Jaime reminds her that he wants them to rule together as king and queen, but Cersei says she doesn’t dare. She begs on behalf of their son, but Jaime replies that she made Tommen Robert’s son. She says she needs him, “her other half,” and that he promised to always love her. Jaime says he was “made for a battlefield, not a council chamber.” Angrily, Cersei tells him it’s battlefields he’ll get, then, and leaves.
By dawn, Tywin is visibly rotting on the bier. The septons try to cover the stench with incense, but without success. Cersei and Tommen enter last after the other noble mourners; Jaime thinks of Tyrion’s accusation that Cersei had been sleeping with Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack “and Moon Boy for all I know,” and tells himself it was a lie, but cannot stop picturing it. Tommen tries to pray before his grandfather’s hideously rotting corpse, but begins crying, then retching, and then the boy runs for the doors. Jaime chases after him and takes him outside. Tommen insists he wasn’t scared, but the smell made him sick. Jaime tells him the world is full of horrors, and he must face them; he advises Tommen to “go away inside,” to look without seeing.
Cersei appears and berates Tommen and Jaime both, but quiets when Mace Tyrell approaches. She tells him the king was “overwhelmed by grief.” Jaime suggests he dine with Cersei that evening; Tyrell is startled, but agrees. He leaves, and Cersei is furious, but Jaime tells her she should ask Tyrell to capture Storm’s End for Tommen, which will get him out of her hair and also keep Tyrell happy. Cersei looks thoughtful, but points out that Tyrell has vowed not to leave until Margaery marries Tommen. Jaime says to marry them, then; the union can always be set aside later before it is consummated. Cersei smiles and muses that Tyrell could even be killed on such a venture.
“There is that risk,” conceded Jaime. “Especially if his patience runs thin this time, and he elects to storm the gate.”
Cersei gave him a lingering look. “You know,” she said, “for a moment you sounded quite like Father.”
And the best part is, she means it as a compliment.
Jaime’s plan to get rid of Tyrell does seem to hold water, though – as long as you’re okay with the basic dishonesty of committing to a marriage contract you don’t intend to honor, of course. But hey, as dick moves go, by this series’ standards that barely rates a tsk tsk, so whatever, right?
His plan doesn’t, however, address the issue of who is going to be Hand. I note, though, that by coming up with this idea Jaime also kind of gave the lie to his claim that he sucks at politics. I’m willing to bet that he may have painted himself into a corner on that score.
And… okay. So I get why Jaime would consider becoming a politician, even in such a lofty position as Hand, to be a downgrade from being a warrior, because Jaime has swallowed wholesale his society’s bullshit about fighting prowess being the only truly acceptable Manly Attribute, and has built his whole life and identity around that supposed truth, and you can’t just do a one-eighty on your entire worldview overnight no matter how delusional and harmful it may be, objectively. I get that. But it’s starting to seem really clear that Jaime’s warrior days are over (since apparently there doesn’t seem to be even rudimentary prosthetics technology up in here – I mean, y’all can’t even give the man a hook or something?), and I can’t help but think that as fallback positions go, being the Hand of the King ain’t all that shabby, you know? Just food for thought, Jaime.
(Even with all the inevitable “hand” jokes that will follow, because people are assholes. Ugh.)
Jaime’s memory of Rhaegar was interesting, in the “depressing might-have-been” vein most of ASOIAF’s flashbacks tend to be. The implication seems to be that even before it happened, Jaime had intuited (even if only nebulously) that his father was going to get him to do something awful (i.e. regicide) in the name of family loyalty, and was trying to circumvent that by simply not being available to do the deed. And wow, how differently things would have gone if Rhaegar had granted Jaime’s request, eh? Not necessarily better, because the safe bet with this story is to always assume things will go pear-shaped one way or another, but definitely differently.
Also on display in this chapter is Jaime’s rather astounding naïveté when it comes to Cersei and her extracurricular bedroom activities. And this whole thing is just so messed up, because on the one hand it’s sort of insane that Jaime would automatically expect her fidelity to their incestuous adulterous love affair, but on the other hand, Jaime clearly views their relationship as not at all an “incestuous adulterous love affair,” but rather as a pure and predestined ultimate romance that transcends paltry notions of societal taboos. So in a weird way it does make sense that he would expect it. Even more so than from a “normal” relationship, in fact.
Sigh. Oh, Jaime.
And the thing is, I find myself shying away in some respects from automatically condemning Cersei for being the more practical of the two, because it’s obviously really easy to call her a slut and a sexual predator or whatever, while blithely ignoring the paucity of other weapons she has at her disposal. I don’t like her goals and I can’t condone many or most of her methods, but I hesitate to call her on this one in particular, simply because it is so very tangled up in the lack of advantages she has to start out with.
That said, she’s playing a very dangerous game, in that she has to know what Jaime’s reaction will be if he finds proof that Tyrion was telling him the truth about Cersei’s paramours. Because rejecting the mores of the society you live in, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending), does not exempt you from suffering the consequences of flaunting said mores. Even if the “mores” in question only apply to your lover-slash-twin-brother’s somewhat twisted conception of true love.
Jeez, what a mess.
As for Jaime’s guilt over Tywin’s death, well. Logically, of course, Jaime really can’t be held responsible for whatever Tyrion did after he was freed, as long as he didn’t actually conspire with Tyrion to do it, but viscerally it’s really not that surprising that Jaime would feel guilty anyway. I guess I should try to get over being surprised that both the twins feel (in their own peculiar ways, natch) genuine grief over Tywin’s death, because of course in contrast to Tyrion, they were the favored children (the literal “golden children,” in fact), and were as close to receiving Tywin’s version of “love” anyone was ever going to get. That Tywin’s version of paternal love is objectively horrifying doesn’t really change how much his children vied to get it, or that they would feel bereft at losing it. Which makes me just want to go back and kick Tywin in his rotting head all over again, but, you know.
In other news, so either the embalming process in Westeros is truly for shit, or Cersei’s belief that they messed it up deliberately has merit, because otherwise I don’t understand why else Tywin’s body would be decomposing so rapidly. Granted, I am hardly an expert at post-mortem… thingies, but the description of the corpse’s rate of decay seems unnaturally quick to me. Maybe it has something to do with Tywin dying of a perforated bowel, which cannot make things fun in the odor department regardless, but still, this seems kind of hinky.
I can’t get all that upset about it, though, because screw you, Tywin, except for how I really wish that Tommen wasn’t getting subjected to this. But given who he is and who his family is, Jaime does have a (horrible) point in that he’d better learn to suck it up, because it’s probably only going to get worse from here. And people wonder why royal families were historically always so fucked up. It’s not shocking at all once you consider the details.
I find it significant, by the way, that Jaime’s advice to Tommen on how to deal with things is to “go away inside,” which sounds remarkably to me like descriptions of how people, especially children, deal with long-term systematic abuse. Or torture.
Chapter 9: Brienne
Brienne waits with farmfolk and such for the gates of Duskendale to open. She tries asking about Sansa, but without success. The guards stop her on seeing her shield’s arms (the black bat of Lothston), saying they are of ill repute, but Brienne says they are not hers and she intends to have them repainted, whereupon the captain advises her to seek out his sister, who does such work, and they let her in. Inside, she sees battlefield looters hawking arms and armor, many with sigils she recognizes.
She finds the captain’s sister at The Seven Swords, the largest inn in town. Brienne doesn’t dare reproduce the arms of Tarth, and instead commissions a different sigil she’d seen in her father’s armory. The painter promises to have it for her by the next day, and Brienne goes to book a room and bath at the inn. She remembers Jaime bathing with her in Harrenhal and blushes. She dresses and goes to the Dun Fort and asks for the lord of the castle, but the guards tell her Lord Rykker rode to Maidenpool with Lord Tarly, and escort her to Ser Rufus Leek, the castellan, instead.
Leek’s maester is impatient with her request, and tells her she is hardly the first to come seeking Dontos. Brienne shows him her letter with Tommen’s signature, whereupon he tells her the story of how Lord Denys Darklyn had captured King Aerys and held the Hand (Tywin) at bay for six months, supposedly at the instigation of his Myrish wife Lady Serala, “the Lace Serpent,” and how the Darklyns were executed en masse once the king was rescued and Denys surrendered. The Hollards (Dontos’s house) were “attainted and destroyed,” save for Dontos himself, whose life was spared at Ser Barristan’s request. The maester says Dontos never returned to Duskendale after that, though, and suggests she try Oldtown, or outside the Seven Kingdoms.
Brienne can’t imagine that Sansa would have gone where she has no friends, and remembers what one of Sansa’s former maids had told her about Sansa’s dedication to the old gods, and her conviction that she would have gone back north to them. Brienne considers Sansa’s uncle and half-brother on the Wall, and her great uncle Ser Brynden at Riverrun, and Catelyn’s younger sister ruling the Vale. She thinks that the Wall and war-torn Riverrun might be too difficult to reach, but that Sansa could have gone to Lady Lysa at the Eyrie.
On the way back from the castle, Brienne finds herself in a dead-end alley, and in turning back collides with a scrawny boy with a sty beneath one eye who seems vaguely familiar to Brienne. He nervously denies when she asks, though, and scurries off. Brienne is suspicious, and then remembers seeing him on a piebald horse at the gates, and possibly somewhere else, but cannot recall it. Back at the crowded inn, a dwarf dressed as a holy brother offers her his seat; she talks with him of his troubles with the war.
He claims to have seen no maid such as she describes, though he mentions seeing a fool dressed in motley at Maidenpool, though it was all in rags and dirt, at an unsavory place called the Stinking Goose, seeking passage for three across the narrow sea. He says that there was another man named Nimble Dick a few days later, buying rounds for everyone and claiming he’d “fooled a fool” and gotten gold for it. Brienne wonders if possibly the Imp had joined Sansa and Dontos to flee across the sea. Maidenpool is a bad place, she knows, and if Randyll Tarly is there it is the more reason for her to avoid it, but she thinks she could check out the story and then take ship north from there.
She hears the talk in the common room of Tywin Lannister’s death, and the contempt at the idea that the Kingslayer might rule them until Tommen comes of age, and decides to go to bed. She dreams of the night of Renly’s murder, but sees that the shadow had slain Jaime instead of Renly, because she failed him.
The next day the captain’s sister brings her her freshly painted shield, and Brienne is so pleased with it she pays half again the asking price for the work. She leaves town, stopping to pray for the Starks at the mass grave for the northern dead nearby. She remembers how Lady Catelyn had looked on learning of the death of her younger sons, and how she had spoken of her daughters, and vows anew to find Sansa no matter the cost to herself.
She rides on, and shelters that night in the ruins of a small castle which she realizes had once been a Hollard property. Another horse approaches, and she thinks it is Ser Shadrich following her, but it is the boy on the piebald horse. He goes on without seeing her, and Brienne realizes she’d seen him before Duskendale, in Rosby, and that he’s been following her. She goes after him, and sneaks close enough to whack his mount and send him flying. She demands to know who he is, and he eventually stammers that his name is Podrick Payne, and he is the Imp’s former squire. She asks what he wants.
“To find her.” The boy got to his feet. “His lady. You’re looking for her. Brella told me. She’s his wife. Not Brella, Lady Sansa. So I thought, if you found her…” His face twisted in sudden anguish. “I’m his squire,” he repeated, as the rain ran down his face, “but he left me.”
Oh, wow, so that was a total bolt of sympathy from nowhere.
Who would have thought Podrick to be so loyal to Tyrion that he would go to such lengths? Because the thing is, I don’t remember Tyrion treating Podrick all that well when they were together. I don’t remember him treating Podrick badly, so much, but not particularly well, either. Mostly just because Tyrion was too caught up in his own shit to pay the kid much attention in general, but still.
But then, Podrick did save Tyrion’s life during the battle at King’s Landing. I can’t really recall whether (or how much) Tyrion acknowledged his debt to Podrick as a result, but either way Podrick is totally justified to feeling like he was owed more than just abandonment from Tyrion. I bet Tyrion would be quite startled to hear Podrick views it that way, though.
The whole thing gets a bittersweet “Aw” from me. See, Tyrion, someone did have your back. If only you’d not been too embroiled in your own self-esteem issues to see it.
Also, newsflash: Martin is evil. In some ways more extreme than others, but this chapter provides one of the more subdued examples. Brienne was so close to correctly divining where Sansa had gone, y’all, and then this dwarf brother guy throws her completely off track. And on a route likely to land her in a world of trouble, too. ARGH.
“Lord Denys lost his head, as did his brothers and his sister, uncles, cousins, all the lordly Darklyns. The Lace Serpent was burned alive, poor woman, though her tongue was torn out first, and her female parts, with which it was said that she had enslaved her lord. Half of Duskendale will still tell you that Aerys was too kind to her.”
Wow. Denys gets a simple beheading, but Serala gets hyper-sexualized mutilations and torture and burned at the stake. But I’m sure there’s no double standard at work there, or anything.
And dude, what is all this hoopla about Aerys getting captured and held hostage and stuff? When did this happen? Man, just when you think Westeros history couldn’t get any more confusing. And why did Barristan specifically request for Dontos’s life to be spared, out of all the Hollards? Maybe it was just sympathy for a poor kid who had nothing to do with his family’s crimes, but now I’m all paranoid and seeing significance everywhere so I will assume IT WAS A PLOT until proven otherwise. Or until I forget about it, which, er, admittedly has a somewhat higher chance of happening. Oh well!
I will find her, my lady, Brienne swore to Lady Catelyn’s restless shade. I will never stop looking. I will give up my life if need be, give up my honor, give up all my dreams, but I will find her.
Well, um, yay for dedication, I guess, Brienne, but let’s aim for it not coming to that, yes?
Sheesh. Big damn heroes, always so ready to be martyrs.
I am annoyed that we did not get to learn in this chapter what exactly Brienne had painted on her shield. However, I assume that that is because her new coat of arms will become significant in some way later on, so I am disgruntled but content to leave it for now. Hopefully it will not turn out that her new stolen sigil is even more bad luck juju than her old one…
[ETA: Oooorrr, I am a big dumbass, and totally missed a sentence in the chapter about the shield:
She remembered how she’d run her fingertips across the cracked and fading paint, over the green leaves of the tree, and along the path of the falling star.
Because Omigosh, that’s Dunk’s shield! So cool!
Awesome shoutout, and I almost missed it. So thanks to the commenters who pointed it out.]
Fighting with sword and shield was a wearisome business, and victory oft went to the man with most endurance. Ser Goodwin had taught her to fight cautiously, to conserve her strength while letting her foes spend theirs in furious attacks. “Men will always underestimate you,” he said, “and their pride will make them want to vanquish you quickly, lest it be said that a woman tried them sorely.”
Heh. So I guess sexism can have a good side!
(Ba dum dum)
Brienne’s thoughts on never being able to tell how old children are made me laugh, because one thing I have managed to hear about the HBO series is how they deliberately aged up the child characters because Martin straight-up admitted that he had no concept of children’s ages, and thus made the book characters at least a couple of years younger than he should have. So hey, at least he’s aware of his shortcomings, right?
And last and most definitely least: “Nimble Dick.” HAHAHAHA I am metaphorically twelve. But then, evidently so is Martin, sometimes. (actual mental ages may vary!)
And on that very mature note, we out! Have a lovely first Lenten week, if you be so inclined to that, and I’ll see you next Thursday!