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 8 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 12 (“Reek”) and Chapter 13 (“Bran”).
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 12: Reek
In the dungeon of the Dreadfort, the prisoner tries to eat a rat, but Little Walder and Big Walder come for him before he can finish. They are amused by his wretched and starved appearance, and ask if he remembers his name. The prisoner panics, knowing he will be punished if he gives the wrong name, and they remind him that it is Reek. He remembers that that was not his original name, but agrees frantically. He contemplates trying to overpower the boys and run, but remembers when he had tried to run before with Kyra from Winterfell, only to learn that they had been allowed to escape so that Lord Ramsay could have the fun of hunting them down.
The Frey boys take Reek out of the dungeon to the dining hall, where Lord Ramsay is eating with two lords of unsavory appearance. Ramsay smiles to see Reek, and introduces him to the lords as his companion since he was a boy. The lords are confused, saying they’d heard Ramsay’s serving man was dead, slain by the Starks, and Ramsay entreats them to look closer.
“His hair’s gone white and he is three stone thinner, aye, but this is no serving man. Have you forgotten?”
The crookback lord looked again and gave a sudden snort. “Him? Can it be? Stark’s ward. Smiling, always smiling.”
“He smiles less often now,” Lord Ramsay confessed. “I may have broken some of his pretty white teeth.”
Reek remembers the torture Ramsay had inflicted upon him, flaying and cutting off toes and fingers, and tries to apologize. The lords think Ramsay should kill him and be done with it, but Ramsay tells Reek he has “glad tidings”: his father is bringing him Arya Stark to marry so he will be lord of Winterfell. He asks if Reek remembers Arya, and he does, and congratulates Ramsay. Ramsay says he wants Reek to attend the wedding, and promises to get him out of the dungeon and clean him up for it.
“I have a little task for you, and you’ll need your strength back if you are to serve me. You do want to serve me, I know.”
“Yes, my lord. More than anything.” A shiver went through him. “I’m your Reek. Please let me serve you. Please.”
“Since you ask so nicely, how can I deny you?” Ramsay Bolton smiled. “I ride to war, Reek. And you will be coming with me, to help me fetch home my virgin bride.”
Well, ho-lee shit. Theon Greyjoy, not dead after all!
…Not technically, anyway. I’m… not actually sure this version of “being alive” counts. It’s certainly not a state of existence I would wish on just about anyone. Possibly not even Theon Greyjoy. Because, Jesus H.
I was incredibly confused at the beginning of this chapter. Which I was meant to be, of course, but I’m still a little confused. I think I’ve worked it out, though. While I didn’t remember specifically at first that Reek had died, I knew that there was a character named Reek, and I spent the first half of the chapter desperately trying to remember what he’d done and who he was affiliated with, and drawing a blank. But fortunately for me, Martin is generally pretty darn good at dropping enough hints to jog the reader’s memory without making it sound overly contrived. Even readers reading as slow as me, it seems.
So, apparently the original Reek was the servant-slash-whipping boy of Lord Ramsay now-Bolton, and then got killed, probably during the sacking of Winterfell, the details of which are really vague to me at this point. And then, apparently, Lord Ramsay, whose Humanitarian of the Year Award is no doubt in the mail as we speak, captured (or maybe found?) Theon and spent the rest of the intervening time indulging in some charming bouts of torture, brainwashing, and general strenuous effort to climb to the top of my ASOIAF Do Not Want List.
He hasn’t succeeded, yet, but he shouldn’t feel bad about that. I mean, between Joffrey, Qyburn, Gregor Clegane, Walder Frey, and probably a bunch of others I’m forgetting at the moment, that is an extremely competitive list. It’s like the world’s most depressing and repulsive Olympics up in here. We’re talking world-class levels of Assholery, y’all. Yaaaaaaay.
Whenever he closed his eyes, he found himself remembering Lady Hornwood. After their wedding, Lord Ramsay had locked her away in a tower and starved her to death. In the end she had eaten her own fingers.
That said, these Boltons are some seriously sick customers, you guys. If I thought for one second that Ramsay was actually going to get his hands on Arya I would be freaking the hell out right now. As it is, I’m only freaking the heck out over whoever the poor girl is who’s impersonating Arya—whether or not Ramsay even discovers the deception, really.
Though I assume he will, since even Stockholm Syndrome Poster Boy Reekified Theon will probably be able to tell a fake Arya from the real one. Basically I can’t see this going well for the girl under any circumstances, though I suppose we can always hope that she trips and breaks her neck before Ramsay ever gets to her.
(I’m pretty sure I remember that there was a fake Arya thing, right? I can’t remember whether Roose was in on the ruse (heh), but I remember that it was a thing. I think.)
If I’m supposed to recognize the two lords Ramsay is eating with from their descriptions, I don’t, but I do have to wonder what Martin has against non-hideous people sometimes. Or maybe he subscribes to the theory that you resemble the company you keep, in which case, well-played. When I finally get to watch the HBO version of the series I expect I’m going to spend quite a lot of time amused at how frequently the Hollywood version of “ugly” fails to live up to the choice images Martin regularly evokes of his characters. Sheesh.
But anyway, so Theon is only mostly dead, and all the way broken, and about to blow the whistle on Fake Arya, most likely. Good times, can’t wait to hear more, we’re having soooo muuuuch fuuuuun.
Chapter 13: Bran
Coldhands warns Bran, Meera, and Jojen that the white walkers are near. He points them to a cave entrance up on a hill, and says they will be safe if they can reach it. Meera asks, what about him, but Coldhands answers that the cave is warded. Jojen is too weak to walk, but Meera has been carrying him. They set out to reach the cave, but are attacked by wights halfway there. Hodor is pulled down and Bran falls out of his basket. Summer and Coldhands fight them, but there are too many. Without meaning to, Bran takes over Hodor’s body and causes him to fight the wights as well. Suddenly the wights catch on fire, and Bran sees a little girl darting about with a torch, and for a moment thinks she is Arya. He is thrown back into his own body just as a pile of snow is dumped on him.
He wakes to find they are all in the cave except Coldhands, and the girl is not a girl at all, but one of the children of the forest. She tells them they are not children, but call themselves “those who sing the song of earth” in the True Tongue. Meera points out that she speaks Common Tongue now, and she answers that she walked the world of men for two hundred years, and learned it “for him. The Bran boy.” She says she will take them to the greenseer.
She leads them deep underground through a vast network of tunnels threaded with the white roots of weirwoods, covered in bones in some places, until they come to a vast cavern with an underground river in it. Then they see “a pale lord in ebon finery” on a throne of weirwood. He looks dead and half-rotted, and the roots grow through him in places, but he is alive. Bran asks if he is the three-eyed crow, and the man answers that he was a crow once, “garbed in black”, as well as many other things. He tells Bran that he has been watching Bran “with a thousand eyes” since before he was born, and seen all the events of his life, but could only come to him in dreams.
“And now you are come to me at last, Brandon Stark, though the hour is late.”
“I’m here,” Bran said, “only I’m broken. Will you… will you fix me… my legs, I mean?”
“No,” said the pale lord. “That is beyond my powers.”
Bran’s eyes filled with tears. We came such a long way. The chamber echoed to the sound of the black river.
“You will never walk again, Bran,” the pale lips promised, “but you will fly.”
OMG! An actual child! Of the actual forest! ABOUT DAMN TIME.
Not that we got to learn all that much about them just yet, other than that they have cat eyes, but still. FINALLY.
So this chapter was extremely fraught, and I’m sort of surprised that everyone in the party survived it. Well, except maybe Coldhands, I’m unclear on that, but he is technically already dead, so.
And Bran warged Hodor to good purpose, sort of! It’s hard to argue with what Bran did here, since it seems to have been about the only reason they all survived the wights, but I still am extremely uneasy about the whole deal. Even more so that it did good, in a way, because that makes it that much easier for Bran to justify future involuntary wargings, and that just can’t lead anywhere good.
As for three-eyed crow dude, the description of him is probably one of the more creepily cool ones I’ve come across in a long while. You should go back and read it for yourself if you haven’t already, because wow.
And he used to be Night’s Watch! I wonder who he was and how he ended up, erm, planted in this cave. Presumably we’re going to find out at some point. Though I have to think he can’t be anyone from recent times, not when he’s that… thoroughly landscaped.
(Yes, I know. Yes, I’m sorry.)
That shit did not happen overnight, methinks. Seriously, how does that even work. Magic, I suppose.
Also, I know the way I phrased it in the summary implies that not-Arya spent two hundred years learning the Common Tongue specifically for Bran’s sake, but it’s actually not clear from what she said whether she meant she learned it for Bran, or is just currently speaking it for Bran. But wow, if she actually meant the former, that is super intriguing. Certainly what the greenseer guy said implied that they’ve been waiting for Bran for a good long while.
(But for what? And why? And what the hell does it mean that Bran’s going to fly but not walk? TELLLLLLL MEEEEEEEEEEE ARGH)
“Hodor,” Hodor said with every step. “Hodor, hodor.” He wondered what Meera would think if he should suddenly tell her that he loved her.
Uh. This is… a little unclear to me, though perhaps I am just complicating things, but is “he” in that latter sentence supposed to be Bran, or Hodor? I mean, it’s probably Bran, but seeing as he’s in Hodor’s body at the time and the fact that there wasn’t a paragraph break there, it’s sort of ambiguous.
Anyway, assuming it’s Bran, um, whoa there, cowboy. Aren’t you, like, nine or something right now? That’s maybe a little young for a love declaration?
Then again, I think it’s been established that generally speaking, kids in ASOIAF are mentally and physically about three years ahead of where real kids typically are, so in that light Bran’s probably right on schedule for his first crush. Plus, given the extraordinarily life-and-death circumstances, Bran can likely be forgiven for jumping the gun anyway. Carpe diem and all that.
And… yes. Lots of set-up and very little payoff in these chapters, so that’s about all I’ve got for now. Have a lovely week, in which I understand there might be some dinky little sportsball thing happening for the Americans, so you know, enjoy that, and I’ll see you next Thursday!