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 1 of A Dance with Dragons, in which we cover the Prologue and Chapter 1 (“Tyrion”).
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!
Scheduling note: As always, my timing in starting new segments is terrible, for the dreaded Holidays are upon us, and so things is wonky in Blogland. Ergo, as next Thursday is Thanksgiving for the U.S. of A-ians in the crowd, a portion which includes both me and The Powers That Be at Tor.com, there will be no ROIAF post next week, so that I and TPTB at Tor.com (and alla y’all to whom it applies, of course) may properly get our tryptophan coma and probable alcohol-fueled family snipefest on. The Read will resume December 4, assuming we don’t all die in a Black Friday-related shopping apocalypse.
Because y’all: I’m going to Best Buy. On Black Friday. Pray for me.
And until then, onward!
In the body of the wolf One Eye, Varamyr Sixskins helps the pack hunt down and eat a group of humans, two men and a woman with a baby. He remembers how his teacher Haggon had told him to eat human flesh was an abomination, though not worse a one than seizing the body of another man, and then remembers eating Haggon’s heart after taking away his “second life,” though he had never eaten human flesh as a man.
He thinks of the wildling army’s retreat in total disarray from the Wall, breaking up into factions or succumbing to hunger and cold as they wandered, and thinks they are all doomed anyway, including the crows at the Wall, for “the enemy was coming.” He remembers all the times he’s “died” while riding the body of a beast, most recently as his eagle, dying in fire, but knows his true death is coming soon. He had been stabbed by a young boy when he’d tried to steal the cloak of the boy’s dead mother. Thistle, the last of his companions, had left days ago to try and find food, but has not returned.
The fire is out in his rude hut, and he struggles outside, calling for Thistle. He mourns that the great and feared Lord Sixskins has been brought so low. After the battle he had lost control of all his animals except the wolves, and finds comfort in the fact that they will probably eat him after he dies. He decides to go to One Eye when he dies; Haggon had warned him that he will eventually lose himself in the wolf. Varamyr regrets that he did not steal the crow turncloak’s wolf when he had the chance. He thinks of how he had done terrible things in his life, the worst to his younger brother Bump. He had been inside the dog that killed Bump, which is why his parents gave him to Haggon.
Thistle returns and tries to get Varamyr up, screaming that “there are hundreds of them,” and he tries to take her body. She screams and fights him off, clawing at her own face and biting out her tongue, and as he dies, he seeks out the wolf One Eye instead, and finds him. He sees the village below where he’d died, and that it is crawling with “blue-eyed shadows.”
The things below moved, but did not live. One by one, they raised their heads toward the three wolves on the hill. The last to look was the thing that had been Thistle. She wore wool and fur and leather, and over that she wore a coat of hoarfrost that crackled when she moved and glistened in the moonlight. Pale pink icicles hung from her fingertips, ten long knives of frozen blood. And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life.
She sees me.
Yeah, and I kinda hope she kills you, dude. Again.
It’s sort of amazing, this skill Martin has for making you feel sorry for his characters’ misfortunes even as they’re in the midst of reminiscing about all the truly heinous shit they’ve done—or even are doing at that very moment. This is an observation I’ve made before (see Kingslayer, the), but it bears repeating. I mean, Varamyr mentally confesses here to murder, serial rape, terrorism, infanticide/fratricide, cannibalism by proxy (and wow I love that that is an actual term thanks to this series), and I guess what you would have to call both Grand Theft Warg™ and animal cruelty, and yet I still felt kind of bad for him as he was dying of hypothermia. That is something else, man.
Not to mention the whole fucked-upedness of trying to steal Thistle’s body, which is kind of like some surreal mystical concatenation of theft, rape, coercion, and possibly even murder as well. I’m not sure on the last one, since it’s not made clear here whether a warg taking over a human body (or an animal one, for that matter) can actually destroy the consciousness that rightfully belongs there. Haggon’s assertion that a dead warg who enters an animal’s body will eventually fade away suggests not, but who knows.
So yeah, I kind of felt sorry for Varamyr, but at the same time I also feel like it would be pretty apropos if he got torn apart by undead frozen zombies. Which looks pretty likely to be about to happen, so yay? I guess?
Anyway, besides being a morbidly beautiful piece of writing (something else Martin is consistently very good at), this Prologue obviously provided a lot of interesting information about warging and the ethics thereof—if mainly providing it by showing us a character who blatantly ignored all the ethics of warging, which is hilariously typical but also very effective.
If nothing else, it provides some worrisome context for what Bran did when he accidentally (and then later deliberately) warged Hodor. The actual ethical concerns (which are bad enough) of that aside, Haggon’s attitude definitely suggests that the larger warging community (heh) is probably not going to look very favorably on Bran when and if they find out what he’s done, even if he didn’t mean to do it.
Speaking of which:
A great elk trumpeted, unsettling the children clinging to his back.
I can only assume this is a reference to Coldhands and Bran and co., since they are the only ones I remember recently having cause to be traipsing about the northlands on an elk. (Wow, was that review of ASoS useful.) And also interesting, in that Varamyr referred to all of them as “children,” which could be taken to mean the relative youth of Bran and Jojen and Meera, but then would exclude the definitely adult Coldhands, and therefore alternately suggests that “children” in this context doesn’t mean “non-adults” but instead means that he considers all of them “children of the forest.” Which is interesting, if true. Or I’m overthinking it and Coldhands fell off the elk at some point and thus is not there to be observed, but I kind of doubt that’s the case. We’ll see, I hope.
In any case, bye Varamyr! Here’s hoping you are yet another Prologue POV character who doesn’t survive the experience!
Chapter 1: Tyrion
Tyrion spends his journey across the Narrow Sea extremely drunk, plagued by memories of Tysha and Shae and his father, and contemplating his father’s last words to him: “wherever whores go,” and vaguely trying to decide where he should go next. Once in port, the captain has Tyrion closed up in an empty wine cask, and transported to the home of an extremely fat man named Illyrio Mopatis, who puts him up in luxurious fashion, though his clothes seem made for a boy rather than a dwarf. He divines that he is in Pentos, which Illyrio confirms before leaving him alone.
Tyrion knows that he should not trust any friend of Varys’, but instead of escaping, he finds the wine cellar and wanders the grounds of Illyrio’s estate, drunkenly confessing his dilemma over whether to go to the Wall or to Dorne and crown his niece Myrcella queen to a washerwoman in the garden, who appears to ignore him. He finds some poisonous mushrooms and gathers them to save for later.
He wakes back in his rooms, attended by a blond girl who makes it clear that she is available for his pleasure, but cannot hide her disgust and then, when he goes out of his way to provoke it, her fear of him. He goes to a sumptuous dinner with Illyrio, who tells him the news that Astapor and Meereen have fallen. Illyrio offers him a dish of mushrooms which Tyrion immediately suspects are poison. Illyrio says that when his guest clearly wishes to end his life, he must oblige him, and death by mushroom is easier than by the sword. Tyrion is frightened to realize he is actually considering it, and says he has no wish to die. Illyrio eats the mushrooms, and says he should show more trust.
Illyrio tells him Cersei has offered a lordship to whoever brings her Tyrion’s head, which does not surprise Tyrion, and that Stannis is at the Wall. He reveals his knowledge of Tyrion’s babbling to the washerwoman about going to Dorne and crowning Myrcella, and points out that queening Myrcella is the same as killing her. Tyrion is impressed at his acumen, but says that futile gestures are all that is left to him. Illyrio tells him that there is another path for Tyrion to Casterly Rock, and that what the people of Westeros are looking for is a savior:
“Not Stannis. Nor Myrcella.” The yellow smile widened. “Another. Stronger than Tommen, gentler than Stannis, with a better claim than the girl Myrcella. A savior come from across the sea to bind up the wounds of bleeding Westeros.”
“Fine words.” Tyrion was unimpressed. “Words are wind. Who is this bloody savior?”
“A dragon.” The cheesemonger saw the look on his face at that, and laughed. “A dragon with three heads.”
Okaaayy, so now I’m remembering vaguely, again, when Arya came across Varys and Illyrio in the catacombs of the castle in King’s Landing waaaay back in the day, and don’t ask me why I’m remembering that when I’ve forgotten so much else, but that scene always stuck with me for some reason. So I’m guessing Varys and Illyrio have been in cahoots to restore the Targaryens, i.e. Dany, to the Iron Throne for approximately forever, and Tyrion’s fall from grace—or whatever—is just the latest new wrinkle they’re incorporating into their plan.
Of course, I think originally the plan was to restore Viserys to the throne, until Viserys proved himself entirely too giant an asshole to live by pissing off a barbarian warlord and getting himself gilded to death (yeek), so if nothing else Varys and Illyrio have proven themselves very good at rolling with the punches. Adaptability, they can has it.
Not least by seeing what an asset Tyrion could be to their plan… provided he manages to pull himself out of the drunken shame spiral of semi-suicidal depression he so eloquently displays in this chapter, of course. Not that I blame him, really; if anyone ever deserved an episode of epic wallowing in self-pity, it’s Tyrion. And man, does he take it.
It’s quite the thing, really. I mean, what do you do with the knowledge that you murdered your own father, paired right along with the knowledge that he totally deserved it?
Well, apparently what you do with that is get really fucking drunk for a while, which… seems about right, to me.
(As a side note, I’m pretty sure that Tyrion is actually wearing Viserys’ old clothes, which is just cranking the irony dial up to eleven. Man.)
He had dreamed enough for one small life. And of such follies: love, justice, friendship, glory. As well dream of being tall.
Ouch. Although, Tyrion, it might be fair to point out that just about nobody seems to get all those things in this world. Certainly nobody with political significance. It’s enough to make you wonder why the hell anyone bothers with wanting power, when it seems to come with such a guarantee that sooner or later it’s going to bite you in the ass. Of course, I’m not sure that’s not true in the real world, too, but still.
All that said, I am perversely still totally excited at the idea of Tyrion teaming up with Dany… which I guess means I am coming around to the idea of Dany being actually successful at conquering Westeros and regaining the Iron Throne? I guess?
I don’t know, it’s sort of like I don’t even care anymore in a political sense. It’s more that if Tyrion and Dany, two of my favorite characters in the entire series, are coming together, then I have to root for their success purely for personal reasons, rather than on considerations of whether restoring the Targaryens to the throne is actually a good idea or not. Which makes me a bad politician, probably, but fortunately I don’t have to give a shit about that if I don’t want to.
Which I don’t. So THERE.
Plus there is the total fascination I have with the idea of Tyrion and Dany meeting, and what they might make of each other. I kind of desperately want to see this happen in this book now, and that it will bear out my hope that Dany will be one of the few people to actually see past Tyrion’s appearance to his worth as a human being.
I also recognize that this hope is totally setting myself up for a potential crushing disappointment, but whatever, I’mma hope for it anyway.
“Is this Dornish wine?” Tyrion asked him once, as he pulled a stopper from a skin. “It reminds me of a certain snake I knew. A droll fellow, till a mountain fell on him.”
“You Westerosi are all the same . You sew some beast upon a scrap of silk, and suddenly you are all lions or dragons or eagles.”
Hahahaha. That is some self-reflexive shit right there, Mr. Martin. Why, yes, that is exactly what you do, isn’t it. And we all kind of love it when you do. Gives it all that certain je ne sais quoi, don’t it.
And that’s what I got for this one, folks! Have a de-gorgeous Thanksgiving week if that is your wont, and a de-groovy random November week if it ain’t your wont, and I’ll see you in two weeks!