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 28 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 39 (“Cersei”).
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 39: Cersei
Cersei is most displeased at Pycelle’s report that Lord Gyles has died, and reminds Pycelle that she expressly ordered him not to let that happen. Pycelle protests that he did all he could, and Cersei accuses him of conspiring with Margaery Tyrell to kill Gyles. Horrified, Pycelle denies it, and she demands to know why he spends so much time with her, then. Eventually she coerces him into admitting that he has been giving her moon tea. Then she orders him to arrange that all Gyles’s lands and wealth go to Tommen rather than his ward, and kicks him out.
Cersei thinks that women only drink moon tea for one reason, and declares to Taena that this proves Margaery has a lover, a crime punishable by death. Taena points out that Mace Tyrell is unlikely to take it well if Cersei executes his daughter, though, and Cersei decides they need to have proof so substantial that even Mace will not be able to refute it. Taena also points out that Margaery is also constantly attended by her young cousins, and Cersei decides that they are in on it, too. She invites Taena and her husband for dinner, and insists they have music from Margaery’s favorite bard to accompany it.
At dinner, she tells Orton and Taena that she is thinking of Ser Harys to take Gyles’s place as lord treasurer, and tells Orton that he will replace Harys as the King’s Hand, with the implicit condition that it will only happen if he supports her in this matter of Margaery. Then she turns to the singer, who calls himself the Blue Bard, and asks when he started sleeping with Margaery. Stunned, he denies it, and she smashes his lute on his face and calls him a liar, and has him brought to Qyburn for “questioning.” At first the singer sticks to his story, but after extended torture is broken to agreeing with whatever Cersei says, and “confesses” to seeing Margaery have relations with a number of men, including Jalabhar Xho and Osney Kettleblack. Cersei feels ill afterwards, but tells herself she must be strong for Tommen.
She bathes with Taena, and they decide that one of Margaery’s cousins should be “persuaded” to bear witness against the others’ complicity in Margaery’s schemes, as must be the men the singer named as her lovers. She dreams that night that it is she being tortured by the Imp, and wakes shaking. Taena asks why Tyrion frightens her so, and Cersei ends up telling her about Maggy’s prophecy. Taena is sure Maggy was just a bitter old woman telling lies, but Cersei thinks that all her other prophecies came true.
She has breakfast with Tommen, who mentions that Margaery has to fast and purify herself for Maiden’s Day, which gives Cersei an idea. She meets later with Osney Kettleblack, and tells him she wants him to go to the High Septon and “confess” that he slept with Margaery Tyrell and her cousins Megga and Elinor. She promises him that he will only go to the Wall for a short time after. Osney is apprehensive about the idea of lying to a High Septon, and Cersei asks if he is refusing to obey her. Osney insinuates that he would feel better about it if he could honestly say he had fucked a queen. Cersei almost slaps him, but reminds herself of Tommen.
Cersei wrapped her arms about his neck. “I would not want it said I made a liar of you,” she whispered in a husky voice. “Give me an hour, and meet me in my bedchamber.”
“We waited long enough.” He thrust his fingers inside the bodice of her gown and yanked, and the silk parted with a ripping sound so loud that Cersei was afraid that half of the Red Keep must have heard it. “Take off the rest before I tear that too,” he said. “You can keep the crown on. I like you in the crown.”
Well, that was all just delightful.
This is one of those times that I wish someone would invent a sarcasm font, because there is currently just no way to adequately express in text form how very, very, very sarcastic that statement was. I’m not sure what a sarcasm font would look like, but ideally it would be able to make nearby program icons wither under the sheer weight of its depthless mockery. Yeah. I like that. I could get so much use out of that…
But oh yeah, we were talking about Cersei. Yaaaaaaaaaaay…
(SO much use, I tell you. Also, “depthless” apparently has two meanings: (a) unfathomably deep and (b) shallow and superficial. ENGLISH, amirite?)
Yeah, so it’s probably pretty clear that I really don’t want to talk about this chapter, but then, I don’t think anyone can really blame me, because this chapter was just straight-up awful. Like, I thought the Brienne thing was bad, but at least that was a more or less honest brawl or duel or whatever, and at least Brienne was getting to continue to be her heroic self. Turns out that watching Cersei essentially sell her soul and destroy whatever vestiges of being a decent human being she ever had within her, in the pursuit of using torture, lies, and trickery to achieve the death of an innocent with an utter lack of regard for the collateral damage along the way is… worse.
Plus that torture scene was just horrific. And Cersei’s dream afterward went beyond “horrific” and ventured into the territory of “just fucking unnecessary.” (And I’m not explicating on why; it’s bad enough that I had to read it in the first place. It’s a shame that my summary as a result doesn’t really convey why it was so awful, but there are some things I just don’t need to reproduce, ever.)
That said, honestly I think it was the actual result of the torture that bothered me more. Coercing people, by whatever means, to ruin their own lives and the lives of others, to force them to help pervert justice to further selfish ends and punish something that isn’t even real… I find that deeply offensive and upsetting in a way that’s probably proof of how I’ll never be a true cynic no matter how hard I try. Not, honestly, that I think I try that hard, but you know what I mean.
“It’s not fair” is derided as something only children say. And as far as I am concerned, this is why the world frequently sucks.
My use of the word “innocent” to refer to Margaery, by the way, is a deliberately relative term. Margaery may not be “innocent” in a broader sense, but certainly it seems that she is innocent of the actual crime she’s being set up for. (Which, it turns out to my total lack of surprise, is indeed a capital crime. If you’re a woman, anyway. *gives patriarchy the finger*)
Well, she’s innocent according to me, anyway. I could be wrong, obviously, but I think she actually isn’t sleeping with anyone, and in fact I tend to believe her claim that she never has slept with anyone. Cersei calls it ridiculous that Margaery’s been married three times and still claims to be a virgin, but I just call it highly ironic. She was married to, in order, a gay man, a psychopath who (thankfully) choked to death on their wedding night, and a child. It would be more surprising (and gross, in the case of Tommen) if she had managed to have sex with any of them.
I do wonder if Margaery was in on her grandmother’s scheme to assassinate Joffrey, because I don’t think it’s ever been said for sure, or if it was I don’t remember it. I assume she was, though. And I don’t consider it a crime if she was, either, because as far as I am concerned that was pure self-defense and I would never in a million years blame her for it. This is perhaps odd in light of what I said about perverting justice above, but to me it makes perfect sense, because “justice” and “the law” are not always the same thing—in the world of ASOIAF even less so than other places, fictional or otherwise. “Justice,” to me, at least when I’m reading a story, is nearly always about what will hurt good people the least and hinder bad people the most, and whether that thing happens to be legal or not is, sadly, often just a detail. And by that scale, assassinating Joffrey was a downright humanitarian act, so.
Anyway, my point is, Margaery could totally be a virgin. And frankly I just don’t think she is stupid enough to make herself that vulnerable to attack, just for the dubious benefit of getting to screw random dudes.
The moon tea detail is the only hitch in that theory, but since we’re using Fantasy Contraception™ here, I don’t know whether Cersei’s assertion that moon tea’s only use is preventing pregnancy is actually true, or whether it is more like the modern-day contraceptive pill, which has multiple uses beyond birth control (among other things, it is also used to regulate irregular, excessively painful or dangerously heavy menstrual cycles). So it’s possible that the moon tea has an innocuous explanation as well. Hell, maybe she just likes the taste.
(It’s odd that Margaery would go through Pycelle to get it, though. I mean, maybe only maesters have access to it so she had no choice in the matter, but she had to know that chances were good that Pycelle wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut about it to Cersei, right? The only thing I can think is maybe she wants Cersei to accuse her of infidelity, but I am totally unable to see how this would work to Margaery’s advantage in any way. Maybe I’m missing something. *shrug*)
I don’t suppose there’s any point, by the way, in pointing out how screamingly hypocritical it is of Cersei to accuse ANYONE of infidelity? No? Yeah, didn’t think so. Ugh.
I’m really going to have to hope, at this point, that all Cersei’s downward-spiraling increasingly-tottery-house-of-cards awfulness is inexorably approaching a spectacular fall, because at this point nothing else will satisfy me, emotionally. The only thing that’s really terrible about it is how she’s probably going to take Tommen down with her. She keeps telling herself that she’s doing all these horrible things for her son, and the irony is that she’s digging his grave for him. Hopefully not literally, but given both Maggy’s predictions and the way things tend to go in this story in general, I’m not holding out a lot of hope on that score.
[Cersei:] “Tyrion is the valonqar,” she said. “Do you use that word in Myr? It’s High Valyrian, it means little brother.”
Ah. Well, I was close.
And this explains why she never worried about Jaime… although actually it doesn’t, because didn’t she tell Ned that she was born first? (I swear, it’s so weird how I remember some things and have no memory whatsoever of others, because I distinctly remember Cersei’s line about how Jaime was born clutching her foot in AGOT, and yet have forgotten so much else.)
Well, maybe she thinks a difference of literally seconds doesn’t count. But you know, technically it does, so there’s that. But in any case I’m still not convinced Maggy’s prophecy refers to either Jaime or Tyrion. I still think valonqar has more layers of meaning than just the obvious.
There was sort of a big deal made at the beginning of this chapter about Cersei stealing Gyles’s inheritance from his ward, enough that I wondered whether I was supposed to know who this ward was and if this is significant in any way. If I’ve been told who the ward was, though, I completely can’t remember it. Oh well. If it’s really important for reasons other than “just one more way Cersei is being totally shitty to everyone,” I’m sure it’ll come up again.
And last and definitely least, I’m not sure what happened, but it seems that as of this chapter Martin suddenly fell in violent amounts of love with the word “leal.” I mean, it’s a perfectly cromulent word to use in this context, but I can’t really recall him ever using it in lieu of “loyal” before this, and then all of a sudden it appears in this chapter like six times in a row. Weird.
And on that random note, here’s where we stop! Have a lovely Labor Day weekend if that be on your national agenda, and I’ll see you next Thursday!