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 27 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 37 (“Brienne”) and Chapter 38 (“Jaime”).
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 37: Brienne
Brienne, Podrick, Meribald, and Hyle Hunt encounter dozens of hanged corpses, their mouths stuffed with salt, and Hyle realizes that these are the men who raided Saltpans. Brienne is more concerned that they may mean that Beric Dondarrion’s men are near. She tells herself that the hanged corpses were evil men who deserved their fate, but it still makes her sad. They had tried to stop at the ruins of Saltpans itself, but the castle there had refused them admittance. Meribald tells them of the history and many names of the inn at the crossroads they now hope to shelter at, and as they approach Brienne hears the noise of a forge at work.
They find the inn entirely populated by a horde of orphaned children, led by a ten-year-old girl named Willow, who agrees to put them up for the night in exchange for food. Brienne is deeply shocked to see the young blacksmith, Gendry, who looks so similar to Renly that she mistakes him for Renly for a moment. He doesn’t want to allow them to stay, but Willow overrides him. Once they are alone, Brienne tells Podrick that they will leave early the next day, leaving Meribald to continue on his pilgrimage, and leaving Hyle Hunt as well, whom Brienne still does not trust. Podrick asks where they will go; Brienne thinks of her options (the Vale, Riverrun, Winterfell, or even back to King’s Landing), but doesn’t answer the question.
They eat in the common room, and Brienne wonders whether Willow could possibly be Arya Stark. Hyle Hunt crudely proposes marriage to Brienne, and offers to deflower her; she tells him if he comes into her room that night he’ll leave it a eunuch, and walks away. She takes some food to Gendry, who had left without eating, and again observing his uncanny resemblance to both Renly and Robert, asks who his mother and father were. Gendry says he doesn’t know who his father is, and Brienne is on the verge of telling him her theory about his parentage when there is a disturbance in the courtyard.
They emerge to see seven riders enter, and Brienne recognizes the last as Rorge, who is wearing the Hound’s helm. Rorge threatens Willow, and Brienne draws her sword and tells him to try her instead. Rorge recognizes her and laughs, and says he’ll cut her legs off and make her watch him rape Willow. Brienne taunts him that he has nothing to rape her with, and Rorge attacks. The duel is fierce, but Brienne allows him to underestimate her and tire himself, until she has an opening. She impales him, and whispers “Sapphires” at him as he falls. But then Biter attacks her unprepared, and she loses her sword. She fights him furiously, but he seems undeterred by the injuries she inflicts upon him. He breaks her cheekbone and then her arm, and then he bites her face.
Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. She felt as if she were floating above herself, watching the horror as if it were happening to some other woman, to some stupid girl who thought she was a knight. It will be finished soon, she told herself. Then it will not matter if he eats me. Biter threw back his head and opened his mouth again, howling, and stuck his tongue out at her. It was sharply pointed, dripping blood, longer than any tongue should be. Sliding from his mouth, out and out and out, red and wet and glistening, it made a hideous sight, obscene. His tongue is a foot long, Brienne thought, just before the darkness took her. Why, it looks almost like a sword.
Well, it better look like a sword because someone just stabbed him through the fucking skull and saved Brienne, because otherwise I am going to LOSE MY SHIT.
Jesus H. Christ on a rusty pogostick.
So, I’m going to assume Brienne survives, because… because I’m going to assume Brienne survives. Yes.
With that assumption firmly in place, I guess I am forced to then wonder how well a person’s face can heal from having chunks bitten out of it. Judging from that picture of Hannibal Lecter’s nurse they carefully didn’t show us in Silence of the Lambs, I’m guessing… not so well.
So I suppose Brienne and Tyrion can sit down and form a club now, of Characters Who Apparently Need Horrific Disfiguring Facial Injuries On Top Of Their Already Existing Culturally Stigmatized Body Issues, because why not. They’ll probably want to come up with a snappier name for the club than that, though. Maybe it should be the Help, George R.R. Martin Is In Control Of My Fate Club, but then that gets a little broad in eligible membership terms. So perhaps specificity is called for! Or something!
I just hope it’s Gendry who saved her and not Hyle Hunt, who (a) I apparently cannot refer to without using both his names, because it just doesn’t sound right otherwise, and (b) has also apparently decided to thoroughly obliterate any Non-Douchetard points he may have built up since the bet thing by making to Brienne what was possibly the grossest marriage proposal in the history of ever. Seriously, what the fuck was that? As far as I am concerned, he’s lucky Brienne only threatened to castrate him for that horseshit.
But hey, Gendry! Is still alive! And apparently hot! And still oblivious to his parentage! And of course Brienne didn’t get a chance to enlighten him before having to go and get her fucking face torn off, after which I imagine Gendry’s possible genealogy will probably be rather low on her list of Shit She’s Worried About. Sigh.
In any case, I imagine Beric and Co. are going to ride up in here at any moment (I left it out of the summary, but that’s obviously who Gendry expected the riders to be), so I suppose I can hope that they will look kindly on Brienne for killing the real main perpetrators of the Saltpans Massacre and, like, give her a bandage or something. Yay?
Honestly, in retrospect I don’t know why I didn’t suspect that the remnants of Hoat’s Mummers were behind the Saltpans thing from the beginning. Because I knew the atrocity of it wasn’t Sandor Clegane’s style, but I should have also realized it was SO these assholes’ style. But, I suppose hindsight is twenty-twenty and all that.
…Oh, shit, is Undead!Catelyn going to be with Beric et al? Because that’s… not a reunion I see going well. Catelyn Part Deux doesn’t seem like she’s the forgiving type, and Brienne has basically failed the task Catelyn set her, even if that’s not really her fault. So yeah, that could get ugly. Especially considering that Brienne may not be in any condition to defend herself, verbally or otherwise.
And… yeah, this chapter sucked. Moving on!
Chapter 38: Jaime
Jaime has a disastrous parley with the Blackfish, who clearly considers Jaime to be devoid of honor and untrustworthy in the extreme. He reminds Jaime of his failed oath to Catelyn, and Jaime considers pointing out that her daughters were gone from King’s Landing before he ever got there, or the quest he’d given Brienne, but then doesn’t bother. He does point out that that oath was gotten from him at swordpoint, but then Ser Brynden asks, what of his oath to Aerys?
Jaime offers to exchange Edmure for Sybelle Westerling and her children, and promises no harm will come to them, but Ser Brynden doesn’t believe him, and refuses. Jaime promises the castle’s inhabitants will be let free if he surrenders, and Brynden himself allowed to take the black, but Brynden doesn’t believe that either. Jaime points out that Robb Stark is dead and his kingdom with him, and that Riverrun is the last holdout, but Brynden doesn’t care. He offers to meet Brynden in single combat to resolve the fight, but Brynden laughs and calls him a cripple, and says all that would achieve is Jaime’s death, which isn’t worth it. Jaime asks why Brynden agreed to parley if there are no terms he will accept, and Brynden tells him it amused him to listen to whatever feeble excuses Jaime had for his “latest enormities.” Brynden goes back to the castle, and Jaime knows he will have to storm it. He tells himself that one more broken vow means nothing to the Kingslayer.
He calls a war council. Ser Ryman Frey sends his son Edwyn in his place, by which Jaime infers that Ryman is too drunk to attend. Everyone argues over how best to deal with the Blackfish, until Lord Piper takes the opportunity to call the Freys “treacherous lying weasels” and demands the return of his son, who was a guest at the Red Wedding and remains there still. Edwyn Frey calls him a traitor in return, and it nearly comes to blows before Jaime shuts them up. Piper leaves the tent, and Edwyn calls for his head, but Jaime reminds him that the Freys were allies of Robb Stark as well before they betrayed him, and kicks everyone out, saying they will attack at first light.
Jaime takes Ser Lyle and Ser Ilyn Payne with him to the Freys’ camp, where he notes in passing that Ryman is evidently not too drunk to have entertainment in his tent. He goes to the gallows where Edmure Tully is on display. Edmure is shocked to see him, and then Ser Ilyn, but declares a sword is better than a rope, and urges Ser Ilyn to get it over with. Jaime has Ilyn cut Edmure’s rope instead. Ryman Frey and his son Edwyn dash up, protesting, Ryman in company with a half-naked prostitute who laughs at Jaime. Jaime tells Ryman that only a fool makes threats he is not prepared to carry out, and backhands him in the mouth. He tells Ryman he has done nothing by drink and whore since he got here, and kicks him out of camp. He gives Edwyn his father’s command, and bids him send word to Lord Walder that the crown requires all his prisoners.
They leave the Frey camp, and Edmure asks why Jaime spared him. Jaime says it’s a wedding gift. Edmure protests that he didn’t know what was happening that night, and that Lady Roslin was coerced into distracting him. He says Roslin is carrying his child, but Jaime thinks to himself that she is carrying Edmure’s death. At his own tent, Jaime has Edmure bathed and brought fresh clothes, food and wine. He tells Edmure that he is returning him to Riverrun unharmed, and that the fate of the castle is in his hands. Jaime says that Ser Brynden has nothing to live for, but Edmure does, and as Lord Tully he can overrule Bryden and surrender the castle. Jaime promises amnesty for his smallfolk if he does, and Edmure himself can either take the black or go to Casterly Rock as a hostage, where he will be well-treated and allowed to reunite with his wife if he wishes, and his children provided for. If he doesn’t yield the castle, Jaime promises him he will raze it to the ground and send Edmure’s child to him when it is born—via trebuchet. Edmure is silent a while, and then threatens to kill him. Jaime says he can try.
“I’ll leave you to enjoy your food. Singer, play for our guest whilst he eats. You know the song, I trust.”
“The one about the rain? Aye, my lord. I know it.”
Edmure seemed to see the man for the first time. “No. Not him. Get him away from me.”
“Why, it’s just a song,” said Jaime. “He cannot have that bad a voice.”
Damn, Jaime. That was cold.
The tragedy of Jaime Lannister is that I think he’s always wanted to be the good guy, and has never been allowed to be by circumstance. The question was how long could he stand being treated like a villain before deciding to say “fuck it” and go ahead and become one?
Well, you could say that it happened right about now, but I suspect Bran would disagree.
Although, I suppose it’s also a question of scale. Torturing Edmure with That Song is a supreme dick move (like, ultra supreme with extra cheese and guacamole), true, but a True Villain would probably not be offering options other than razing and baby-hurling, and Jaime is. Offering other options, I mean.
Though he’s got prior experience at the baby-hurling thing, doesn’t he. Ugh.
So what this chapter primarily did, it seems, is make me forget some of Jaime’s own Non-Douchetard points he built up in this book, and remind me of how much I hated him after his spectacular incest-avec-child-defenestration debut, approximately seven million years ago. Even though I still sympathize with him for the impossible position he’s been put in. So well done, narrative, moral dissonance achieved, as per the usual.
“I will permit you to take the black. Ned Stark’s bastard is the Lord Commander on the Wall.”
The Blackfish narrowed his eyes. “Did your father arrange for that as well? Catelyn never trusted the boy, as I recall, no more than she ever trusted Theon Greyjoy. It would seem she was right about them both.”
Hey! No ragging on Jon!
So Brynden didn’t win many Non-Douche points from me in this chapter either. Though I suppose it’s a bit much of me to expect him to trust Jaime’s word and not trust Catelyn’s. But it’s hard to remember that when you happen to know that on this particular occasion, it’s Jaime who’s sincere re: terms and Catelyn who was full of crap re: Jon.
But Brynden has no way to know that, of course. From his point of view, his actions are perfectly reasonable, and Jaime aside, asking a Tully to voluntarily surrender to a force mainly composed of Freys post-Red Wedding is probably the definition of Not Happening.
Unless Edmure does it, of course. I honestly don’t know which way he’s going to jump on this. I honestly don’t know which way I would jump on it, if it were me. Because the problem with “death before dishonor” is all the death—and not just your own death, which is one thing, but Jaime’s promising a wholesale massacre of his people if he doesn’t give in. Technically, one’s duty as a liege lord is to protect your people, after all. From a certain point of view, honor demands that he must surrender, as the lesser of two evils.
From another point of view, of course, honor demands that Edmure let every last one of his people die before besmirching them with the shame of a surrender to a horde of traitors led by an oathbreaker.
Tis a puzzlement, is what I’m saying. Quite the querulous quandary, she quoth, quizzically.
Also, apparently Edmure is still in love-ish with his wife? Even though their marriage was—was THAT? I cannot even wrap my brain around this. Even if Roslin was coerced—and I’m sure she was—I don’t think that would ultimately matter to me. How can he even stand to think about her, much less make excuses for her? Much less want to be with her?
Well, but blah blah something something love is blind cliché blah, I guess. Still isn’t going to keep me from side-eyeing it to hell and back. Man.
The one unmitigatedly fun thing that happened in this chapter was Jaime getting to oust that moron Ryman, which was lovely to behold. But as things go on the “fun” scale, that’s still… pretty lame.
So I guess this chapter is fired too. I will say, though, that both of them made me want to know what happens next. So while I am not exactly having a rollicking good time with this story at the moment, I have yet to utter the Eight Deadly Words about it. (Don’t click that.) So, I am keeping on keepin’ on.
But not until next time, Gadget, next time! So stroke your evil cat evilly until next Thursday!