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 2 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 2 (“Daenerys”) and Chapter 3 (“Jon”).
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 new 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 2: Daenerys
Dany examines the body of one of her Unsullied, who has been brutally murdered by the Sons of the Harpy, a guerilla resistance group within the city who has been killing citizens and have now moved up to killing her soldiers. Dany realizes she is still at war, just with shadows now, and orders Grey Worm to bury the man with honor, and to seek his killers. After they leave, Ser Barristan points out that the Unsullied are ill-equipped to be police, but Dany says she has no one else for the task. The Dothraki are out subduing the countryside, Plumm’s Second Sons are guarding against the Yunkai’i, and Daario Naharis has been sent to Lhazar to attempt to establish new trade.
She prepares for the day, stopping to greet Viserion, and laments that her dragons were growing wild of late, but she has no time to spend with them. They will soon be big enough for her to ride. She dons her impractical garments and heavy crown, thinking of her troubles with the Meereenese, who she thinks are “a sly and stubborn people who resisted her at every turn.” She meets with Reznak mo Reznak, her seneschal, whom she does not trust, and Skahaz mo Kandaq, “the Shavepate,” a former Son of the Harpy. Skahaz urges her to take one person from each of the great families who still resist her and kill them in retribution for her Unsullied’s murder, but Reznak objects strenuously to this idea. Dany only orders them to increase the reward for information on the group, and goes to hear petitions.
The Astapori envoy, Lord Ghael, brings her a gift from “Cleon the Great,” and though he does not mention marriage this time, repeats that Cleon is ready to stand with her to wipe out the Yunkai’i. Dany has no love for Yunkai, but none for Cleon either, who reinstated slavery in Astapor the moment she left it. She advises Ghael to tell Cleon to feed his own people before leading them to war, and dismisses him. The noble Hizdahr zo Loraq comes to repeat his petition to reopen Meereen’s fighting pits for a sixth time, and Dany refuses again, though she appreciates his looks and idly wonders whether she should marry him.
Many others come before her, most asking for redress for atrocities committed during the sack of the city or for compensation for loss of property, especially former slaves. Dany must deny most of these, for she had declared a blanket pardon for crimes committed during the sacking, and one boy tries to attack her for it. She forgives him and sends him away, but knows he will be a member of the Sons of the Harpy soon. Lastly are the petitioners who bring her the burned bones of the livestock they claim her dragons took and ate, asking for compensation. Dany is sure that at least some of these are fraudulent, but orders that they all be repaid for their loss anyway. They leave, but one lingers, and Dany asks him if he wants to speak to her. He approaches and spills burnt bones on the floor.
“It were the black one,” the man said, in a Ghiscari growl, “the winged shadow. He come down from the sky and… and…”
No. Dany shivered. No, no, oh no.
“Are you deaf, fool?” Reznak mo Reznak demanded of the man. “Did you not hear my pronouncement? See my factors on the morrow, and you shall be paid for your sheep.”
“Reznak,” Ser Barristan said quietly, “hold your tongue and open your eyes. Those are no sheep bones.”
No, Dany thought, those are the bones of a child.
Well, that… sucks.
I’m not actually trying to be flippant, because damn, but I’m not sure what else to say. The implications of it are… not good.
Though I don’t know why I’m surprised that the dragons have no apparent compunctions about eating people as well as animals. Meat is meat, to apex predators, which dragons most certainly qualify as. Not to mention that as far as I can tell, Dany seems to have never made any real attempt to train them to not attack humans. Or to do anything, really. Maybe training is taking place off-screen, but given Dany’s regrets earlier in the chapter about having no time to spend with them, I tend to doubt it.
So, awesome. Three untrained dragons wandering around willy-nilly, eating people’s livestock, and sometimes people too. Yeah, and Dany wonders why the Meereenese aren’t warming up to her.
Okay, obviously that isn’t the only reason, most of which were outlined in this chapter. Which, by the way, is yet another Martin tutorial in Why Ruling Things Is Totally Not Worth It, #49635 In A Series. I mean, I get the basic urge, which is that if Dany doesn’t rule things, someone much suckier than her will do it, but man I am not convinced it’s worth the aggro. I like the occasional ethical conundrum as much as the next person who likes to argue about things, but having to deal with nothing but ethical dilemmas, most of which have no decent solution, all day every day… yeah, no.
The thing with the fighting pits, for example. Dany is (in my opinion, of course, but I don’t think too many people would actually disagree with me in this case) completely right to deny Whatshisname his petition to reopen them, but that’s because I (and Dany, to an extent) still believe that principle outweighs practicality. All of the reasons Dany parrots back to Whatshisname in favor of the pits are eminently practical ones, and probably completely valid reasons in that sense: the pits would bring in money, and they would placate the populace (bread and circuses, man). Reopening the pits would probably be greatly beneficial to Dany’s rule in general, in fact.
But none of that changes the fact that all those practical benefits would rest upon the fruits of human enslavement, debasement, and suffering, and therefore it is a No.
However much Dany has been forced to compromise herself in pursuit of her goals, I do at least admire her for that much. Assuming her resolve on that front persists, of course. I guess we’ll see.
It’s sort of scary, though, how well Martin demonstrates why the temptation to be a brutal and ruthless dictator is so, well, tempting, and how infrequently resisting that temptation is rewarded instead of punished. Sigh.
Dany rose. “You must excuse me, ser. The petitioners will soon be at my gates. I must don my floppy ears and become their queen again.”
*blink* Floppy… ears?
Brown Ben Plumm, the captain of the Second Sons, had put it more succinctly. “Man wants to be the king o’ the rabbits, he best wear a pair o’ floppy ears.”
Ohhh. Also, LOL.
the Green Grace, Galazza Galare
I don’t think we’ve actually met this person yet, but I just have to say that’s possibly the most awesome name ever. The Green Grace, Galazza Galare! The Green Grace, Galazza Galare! How it rolls off the tongue! Mm, c’est magnifique, mwah.
Chapter 3: Jon
Jon dreams with Ghost as he runs through the woods by the Wall, sensing his pack brothers and sister, until Mormont’s raven wakes him by screaming “Snow!” in his face. He and Dolorous Edd discuss the problem of their wildling prisoners-slash-refugees, but Jon is far more concerned about his discovery of Melisandre’s campaign to be allowed to sacrifice both Mance Rayder and his infant son to “wake the dragon,” and Aemon’s worry that Stannis will give in to her request.
He goes to the King’s Tower to see Stannis, stopping in the practice yards on the way to encourage the students. He is challenged to spar by one of Stannis’s knights, Ser Godry Farring, who had slain a giant in the battle. Jon refuses politely, and ignores Godry’s implication that he is a coward. He runs into Samwell, who is returning from delivering a letter to Stannis, and who tells Jon that the news in it was evidently not good.
Stannis and Melisandre are in his chambers, and Jon learns from a very annoyed Stannis that Maege Mormont’s daughter has refused to pledge allegiance to him. Jon can’t help but wonder if her answer would have been different if the request had come from him instead, but keeps quiet. Stannis is wroth that none of the northern lords aside from the Karstarks have pledged to him. Jon avoids pointing out that the Karstarks had no choice but to do so after their treachery, and merely advises Stannis to give them some time. He points out that given recent events, it is understandable that they might only see Stannis as yet another doomed pretender.
He tries to explain to Stannis and Melisandre that they cannot marry off Val to a lord to control; not only do the wildlings not consider her nobility just because she is related to Mance, but Val would likely slit the throat of whoever they forced her to marry. He says the only one who can command the wildlings is Mance himself, but Stannis says Mance is a traitor and so must die. Jon also tries to explain that Mance’s son does not automatically become king if Mance dies either, but Stannis doesn’t seem to listen.
Stannis then asks about his proposal to make Jon Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, and Jon replies that Stannis demands too much in return. Stannis wants him to cede all the unoccupied forts along the Wall to him, but Jon tells him if he gifts them to his own lords, no northerners will ever follow him. Stannis points out that they don’t follow him now, including Jon, for refusing Winterfell. Jon says Winterfell belongs to Sansa, but Stannis will not countenance giving anything to her husband the Imp. Jon casually mentions he is sending Gilly away, supposedly for spreading rumors, and Stannis dismisses the matter. Jon urges Stannis to give him the men to garrison the forts himself, instead of giving them to his own lords. Stannis implies that a new Lord Commander would not stymie him this way, and brings up Slynt’s accusation that Jon is a turncloak, but Jon counters that he was rightfully chosen by his men, and that a turncloak would not speak to Stannis so bluntly. He tells Stannis “the Wall is mine.” Stannis replies that he has a year to garrison them adequately, or Stannis will take them, and if any of them fall, “your head will follow,” and kicks Jon out.
Melisandre walks out with him, comments that Stannis is growing fond of Jon. Jon agrees, saying that he only threatened to kill Jon twice this time. She says she will pray for guidance re: Mance. Jon asks if her flame visions are ever wrong; she says no, but that priests may misinterpret them. She says she has seen Jon in her flames as well, and Jon asks if she is threatening to burn him too. She says he mistakes her meaning, and observes that she makes him uneasy. Jon tells her there is no place for a woman on the Wall, but she disagrees. She says the Wall is a place of great magic, and that he will soon have “grave need” of her. She offers to tell him who his enemies are. Jon says he knows who his enemies are, but she tells him not to be so sure of that.
“You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.”
“It is always cold on the Wall.”
“You think so?”
“I know so, my lady.”
“Then you know nothing, Jon Snow,” she whispered.
Oh my God she is SO CREEPY.
She totally watched Jon and Ygritte having sex, didn’t she. Protip: it’s not any less icky if you’re using magic flames instead of binoculars, lady.
Ugh. Also, ugh for veiled threats to assassinate Jon, and for completely unveiled threats to sacrifice babies. Shut up, Melisandre.
“I have dreamed of your Wall, Jon Snow. Great was the lore that raised it, and great the spells locked beneath its ice. We walk beneath one of the hinges of the world.”
That said, this is (a) very cool phrasing, and (b) intriguing as hell. I guess it makes total sense that the Wall wasn’t just built with mundane labor, but now I am all agog to know what these spells entail and what they do. Hopefully there’s an anti-frozen zombie charm in there somewhere. I feel like that might come in handy Real Soon Now.
I do find it rather annoying, though, that Melly is probably right that they need her to get to those spells. Why, I would love to know, can’t we find a competent magical person to go spell-spelunking who doesn’t also want to murder babies? How is that too much to ask for? Sheesh.
I was super confused in this chapter for a second when Jon ran into Sam, until I realized that obviously we’ve backed up in the timeline here—something we clearly also did with Tyrion and Dany, but since they were absent for the entirety of AFFC I sort of forgot that, until this bit. So, okay, Gilly and Sam haven’t left with Aemon yet, and the Great Baby Switcheroo has yet to occur, though clearly Jon has already decided to do it. Got it.
Once they had been six, five whimpering blind in the snow beside their dead mother, sucking cool milk from her hard dead nipples whilst he crawled off alone. Four remained… and one the white wolf could no longer sense.
This passage was also super confusing, because at first I assumed it was one of the original six wolves that Ghost can “no longer sense,” but then I reread the passage, and according to the dream Ghost and Jon shared, Ghost can clearly sense Shaggydog, Nymeria (and her giant pack), and Summer just fine. So with Grey Wind and Lady dead, that’s all the original Stark wolves accounted for. So who is the “one” Ghost can’t sense? Is he talking about another, seventh wolf? And if so, what the hell, over?
I dunno, maybe I’m reading this wrong, but I don’t know what else it could mean. In which case I am even more confused.
And speaking of Shaggydog, where in the frickin’ world is Rickon Stark, already? Somewhere with rain and giant goats, apparently, but that’s not exactly helpful. Seriously, are we ever going to see the kid again or what?
Bran and Rickon had been murdered too, beheaded at the behest of Theon Greyjoy, who had once been their lord father’s ward… but if dreams did not lie, their direwolves had escaped. At Queenscrown, one had come out of the darkness to save Jon’s life. Summer, it had to be. His fur was grey, and Shaggydog is black. He wondered if some part of his dead brothers lived on inside their wolves.
…Or, you know, you could go for the other obvious interpretation, which is that the survival of their wolves suggests that the news of their deaths may have been greatly exaggerated. COME ON.
Jeez, I am so ready for someone (someone friendly, anyway) to learn that Bran and Rickon are alive, this paragraph made me want to flip a table. I feel like this entire plot arc has been hanging fire for approximately seven billion years at this point, and I am over it.
“Her own father got this child on her?” Stannis sounded shocked. “We are well rid of her, then. I will not suffer such abominations here. This is not King’s Landing.”
OOOH, BURN. Hahaha.
Sick burn aside, Stannis is pissing me off with his… everything in this chapter. I suspect this is mainly because I really don’t like it when people threaten Jon, but also because of this nonsense with the Wall garrisons, which just seems like a disaster in the making no matter how you slice it. I’d really love to know how Stannis thinks Jon is going to miraculously conjure up enough warm bodies to outfit the entire Wall, in one year, without Stannis’s help to do it. Nothing like setting an impossible bar to clear there or anything, Stanny-boy. Dickwad.
“Three corns and one roast raven,” said Dolorous Edd. “Very good, m’lord, only Hobb’s made boiled eggs, black sausage, and apples stewed with prunes. The apples stewed with prunes are excellent, except for the prunes. I won’t eat prunes myself. Well, there was one time when Hobb chopped them up with chestnuts and carrots and hid them in a hen. Never trust a cook, my lord. They’ll prune you when you least expect it.”
*fond* Oh, Dolorous Edd. Still my favorite, now and always.
And that’s our show for now, kids! Have a week, and I’ll see you next Thursday!