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 5 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 7 (“Jon”) and Chapter 8 (“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!
Chapter 7: Jon
Jon tries to convince himself to sign the letter before him, reminding himself that the Watch takes no part. Gilly enters, and Jon tells her his plan to keep Dalla’s son from being burned at Melisandre’s hands. Gilly pleads against it, begging to be allowed to take both boys, but Jon says they will both die that way. He tells himself he cannot show her that her tears affect him, and tells her that if she refuses and Dalla’s boy dies, hers will as well. Gilly falls silent, in despair, and Jon dismisses her.
He calls for Sam, and shows him the letter to King Tommen, which declares the Watch’s neutrality and emphasizes that Stannis only helped them defend the Wall. Jon doesn’t want to send it, to concede to Tywin in any way, but Sam points out that should the Lannisters prevail, Tywin may decide they were traitors anyway, and a paper shield is better than none. Jon reluctantly agrees, and signs the letter. He asks Sam for information on the Others, but Sam has not been able to find much more on how to defeat them than they already knew, though he found one account which said they were vulnerable to dragonsteel. Jon takes this to mean rare and precious Valyrian steel, and laughs bitterly at their chances of acquiring more.
He then informs Sam of his plan to send Sam, Aemon, and Gilly to Oldtown, to protect Aemon from Melisandre and to have Sam train as a maester. He is puzzled by Sam’s resistance to the idea, and becomes frustrated at Sam’s protestations of cowardice. He snaps that Sam has faced more things than most men ever would, and commands him to cease calling himself a coward. Sam brings up his father’s opposition to the idea, and Jon tells him Sam belongs to the Watch, not his father, and he will obey. Sam folds, and Jon dismisses him. Jon reflects tiredly on Aemon’s advice to him, which was the same he gave his brother Egg when he ascended the throne:
Egg had an innocence to him, a sweetness we all loved. Kill the boy within you, I told him the day I took ship for the Wall. It takes a man to rule. An Aegon, not an Egg. Kill the boy and let the man be born. The old man felt Jon’s face. “You are half the age that Egg was, and your own burden is a crueler one, I fear. You will have little joy of your command, but I think you have the strength in you to do the things that must be done. Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born.”
Jon goes out to make his rounds, and learns that Stannis has sent out two knights—ostensibly to patrol, but knowing that Stannis has already sent the Onion Knight to Lord Manderly, Jon surmises they are actually envoys. He decides it is not his problem, and goes to a restless sleep. The next day he goes to see Gilly, Sam, and Aemon’s convoy off. Aemon tells him he has left a book for him, the Jade Compendium, with a passage marked that he thinks will be “of interest” to Jon. Gilly exhorts Jon to make sure “Dalla’s boy” grows up strong, and not to name him before two years. Jon wishes Sam well, and the convoy leaves.
Jon goes to see Bedwyck, a.k.a “Giant” (the shortest man in the Watch), and gives him command of the garrison of thirty men he wants stationed at Icemark, to watch for climbers. Bedwyck points out that thirty men won’t be much good against a large force, and Jon answers than thirty are better than none. He tells Bedwyck that he means to see all the forts manned eventually, but it will be Icemark and Greyguard, to be commanded by Janos Slynt. He is not happy about it, but reasons that Slynt must have some ability, and the command will get him away from Alliser Thorne.
When he sees Slynt, however, Slynt rejects the command outright, and says no “traitor’s bastard” will give him orders, before storming out. Jon gives him the night to reconsider, but in the morning finds him eating breakfast with no sign of preparing to leave. Before all the others in the common room, Jon gives Slynt one last chance to obey, and Slynt tells him to stick his order up his arse. Jon considers his possible responses, and then orders Slynt taken to the Wall and hanged. There is a tense moment where Thorne and Slynt’s other supporters consider defending him, but then Thorne backs down, and Slynt is taken into custody. Slynt screams insults and threats, and is ignored. They take him out, followed by all of Castle Black; Stannis watches from his tower. Slynt spits that Jon would not dare to hang him; Jon changes his mind, and decides to behead him instead.
Janos Slynt twisted his neck around to stare up at him. “Please, my lord. Mercy. I’ll… I’ll go, I will, I…”
No, thought Jon. You closed that door. Longclaw descended.
“Can I have his boots?” asked Owen the Oaf, as Janos Slynt’s head went rolling across the muddy ground. “They’re almost new, those boots. Lined with fur.”
Jon glanced back at Stannis . For an instant their eyes met. Then the king nodded and went back inside his tower.
Fuckin’ A, man.
I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be against beheadings as a general thing, and I am, NO REALLY, but in context (i.e., ASOIAF context, a.k.a. “often distressingly amoral but how the fuck else am I going to get through this” context) that was absolutely the right move for Jon on all levels, as far as I am concerned.
From a ruthlessly pragmatic perspective, then, Jon’s execution of Slynt was (in my opinion, of course) a brilliant tactical move. It not only rid him of a potentially very dangerous thorn in his side (if not the actual Thorne in his side, hahaha okay sorry), but sent a very clear message to his other potential thorns: Namely, that you fuck with Lord Commander Jon Snow at your peril, so maybe it’s better if you don’t.
It is a sad, sad thing how much better fear works to keep people in line than respect, more often than not. Or how often those two things are equated. Sigh. People, man.
I am also not blind to the parallels there re: Ned. Not only in terms of Jon falling in line with his father’s philosophy re: leadership (i.e., do your own dirty work), but the karma of Ned’s son beheading one of the ones who was instrumental in beheading him. “What goes around comes around” isn’t a truism that often applies in ASOIAF (or in the real world either, because who are we kidding), but maybe that means it’s all the nicer on those rare occasions when it does apply.
So, that was a pretty awesome ending to the chapter, which is good because it makes up for how boring the first half was, rehashing as it did stuff we already knew from Sam’s POV in the previous book. I am certainly not against seeing the same events from different perspectives if it adds something to the reader’s perspective of those events, but I’m not really sure that happened here. Possibly because we know Jon Snow well enough as a character to have already inferred both his reasoning about and his angst over what he did. Which speaks well to his character development, but makes a fairly large chunk of this chapter unnecessary and, well, boring.
The possible exception to that being Jon’s reflection on Aemon’s advice to him (as evidenced by the fact that I felt the need to quote it), which struck me as being both completely correct and utterly depressing. (It also made me really want to read the Dunk and Egg story where Egg actually gains the throne, but I’m not sure whether that’s ever going to happen.)
Depressing or not, Jon appears to have taken that advice to heart most assiduously, which is a good thing in the abstract re: Slynt and general I Am The Boss of Y’all considerations, but sad in the way that all loss-of-innocence stories are sad. Not that Jon had all that much innocence to lose at this point, true, but it seems that he did still have a little. But, if it means at least a few fewer people fucking with him, I’ll take it.
As for the stuff on the Others, I think we already knew all of that information, including the bit about dragonsteel? So, not especially helpful, except that it reminded me of my impression that Valryian steel is so rare because no one knows how to make it anymore, and therefore contributed to the overall sense that the Watch is so, so screwed, which is… also not helpful. So, yay?
“He’ll be down with the books. My old septon used to say that books are dead men talking. Dead men should keep quiet, is what I say. No one wants to hear a dead man’s yabber.” Dolorous Edd went off muttering of worms and spiders.
Ha, Dolorous Edd. You guys should probably just expect that I’m going to quote the Depthless and Hilarious Wisdom of Dolorous Edd anytime it appears on general principle, because it makes me happy in that perverse, Eeyore way. DEAL WITH IT.
Chapter 8: Tyrion
Tyrion and Illyrio meet with two of Griff’s company, Haldon Halfmaester and Ser Rolly Duckfield, a.k.a. Duck. Illyrio introduces Tyrion as “Yollo,” but Tyrion corrects him that he is only called that in Pentos, and goes by Hugor Hill. Duck and Haldon are not much impressed by Tyrion, but Tyrion quickly proves to Haldon that his knowledge of dragons is adept. They discuss the incursions of the Dothraki nearby, which means Griff must make haste downriver. Illyrio tells them to apologize on his behalf that he will not be there for “the boy’s” wedding, but he will rejoin them in Westeros. Tyrion leaves with the mercenaries.
Haldon and Duck try to scare Tyrion with tales of the pirates in the area, and Tyrion amuses them with his droll replies. Duck becomes nervous, though, when Haldon brings up “the Shrouded Lord,” and Tyrion is unnerved as well. Duck tells his life story as they travel, and Tyrion thinks of his childhood wish to travel the world, soon squashed cruelly by his father.
They reach Goyan Drohe, once a great city but now little more than a ruin after the dragon wars, and go to the Shy Maid, a deliberately homely riverboat, where Tyrion meets Griff and his son Young Griff. Tyrion immediately identifies Griff as trouble. Both Griffs are equally unimpressed with Tyrion, and Haldon tells Griff that Illyrio sent a letter to explain.
In Griff’s cabin, Griff reads the letter, and demands to know why Illyrio would think Daenerys would want the help of a kingslayer and betrayer. Tyrion points out that the king he slew (taking credit for Joffrey’s assassination) was sitting on her throne. Griff asks why a Lannister would support a Targaryen, and Tyrion answers “for gold and glory—oh, and hate.” Griff says he understands the latter. He claims to be neither knight nor lord, but Tyrion thinks he is lying. Tyrion tells him that besides his knowledge of dragons, he can tell Daenerys how his sister Cersei thinks, how to defeat his brother Jaime in battle, which of the lords are loyal and brave, and which are craven or can be bought. Griff considers, and tells Tyrion that he will take him as far as Volantis on a provisional basis. Tyrion asks what happens if they arrive and find the tales of dragons are false:
Griff stared at him, frowning. “I have given you fair warning, Lannister. Guard your tongue or lose it. Kingdoms are at hazard here. Our lives, our names, our honor. This is no game we’re playing for your amusement.”
Of course it is, thought Tyrion. The game of thrones. “As you say, Captain,” he murmured, bowing once again.
…So, Griff is not only really the dude’s name, but his son is named Griff, too?
Okay, fine, I’m over it. MOSTLY.
…Although maybe “Griff” still isn’t really his name, what with Tyrion’s thoughts about him totally lying about being a lord. I’m not sure where Tyrion got that conclusion, unless it was just because of the man’s general demeanor (I mean, surely any random schmoe can claim he’s knighting people without needing a shred of legitimacy to it), but sure. In any case, he still named his son “Griff,” so the name is apparently destined to live on regardless of what I think of it being a terrible, terrible name.
*sulks a little more*
Ugh, moving on.
So, it wasn’t said in so many words, but I am now thinking that given Illyrio’s references to “the boy’s wedding,” which I can only assume refers to Griff Junior (ugh), the plan here is to have Little Griff marry Dany, which… what? Did I know that before? I feel like I did not know that before. That doesn’t mean I didn’t, since I think we have firmly established that my memory for things is shit these days. But that’s what I feel right now, so I’m going with it being new information.
It also means that we have yet another suitor in the scrum for Dany, who should probably just change her name to Penelope at this point and be done with it, because sheesh. Except that she doesn’t have an Odysseus to show up and out-manly all the other suitors, of course, because I know Martin loves his plot twists. But I don’t think even he could sell Drogo returning from the dead at this point.
In any case, it provides backhanded support to Tyrion’s assertion that Griff the Elder (sigh) is a lord, anyway, since it doesn’t make much sense to think that a queen would be down with marrying some random mercenary captain’s son otherwise. So Griff Sr. may not be Quentyn, as per my original theory, but he’s still most likely More Than What He Seems.
Other than that, though, I don’t have a very clear picture of him so far. He was a jerk to Tyrion, yes, but pretty much everyone is a jerk to Tyrion on first meeting him, overtly or otherwise, because yay bigotry, so that doesn’t count for much. Hopefully he and his crew will realize the truth of Tyrion’s claim of how useful he can be to Dany and not kill him.
Or let him get killed, which seems like a distinct possibility on this trip, which is full of possible pirate encounters, apparently? Fun. And this:
“They say that the Shrouded Lord will grant a boon to any man who can make him laugh. Perhaps His Grey Grace will choose you to ornament his stony court.”
Duck glanced at his companion uneasily. “It’s not good to jape of that one, not when we’re so near the Rhoyne. He hears.”
“Wisdom from a duck,” said Haldon. “I beg your pardon, Yollo. You need not look so pale, I was only playing with you. The Prince of Sorrows does not bestow his grey kiss lightly.”
His grey kiss. The thought made his flesh crawl. Death had lost its
terror for Tyrion Lannister, but greyscale was another matter.
I’ve pretty much slotted in “greyscale” as the ASOIAF equivalent of leprosy, so yeah, apparently there is a pirate king about who has it, and likes to go around licking people to give it to them, too? Which is all kinds of fucked-up, but not particularly surprising. In fact, I feel like that has some kind of real-world historical equivalent it’s referencing, but I can’t put my finger on what.
Still waiting kind of half-hopefully to see if Tyrion and Quentyn meet up in Volantis, though considering that I now know that Tyrion’s posse also has a Dany suitor in tow, my original thought that they should team up has somewhat less validity now. But either way, it should be… interesting. We will see.
And that’s what I got for this one, kids! I hope everyone’s New Year was as fun as mine, and here’s to a fruitful and interesting 2015, yeah? Cheers, and see you next Thursday!