A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Dance with Dragons, Part 12

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 12 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 19 (“Davos”) and Chapter 20 (“Reek”).

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 19: Davos

What Happens
After having been a prisoner for two weeks, Davos is finally brought before (the enormously fat) Lord Wyman Manderly, in a crowded court that includes the Frey delegation. They try to make Davos kneel before Manderly, but Davos refuses, based on his status as Hand to the true King. Wyman’s daughter greets this with contempt, and Wyman calls him a smuggler. Davos points out that the Freys killed Wyman’s son, whereupon Ser Jared Frey claims that the Red Wedding was Robb Stark’s doing, that he turned into a wolf and killed Jinglebell, and that Ser Wendel had gotten in the way of Robb’s attempt on Walder Frey. Davos is astonished at the enormity of the lie, but Wyman Manderly seems to accept it wholeheartedly.

Wyman’s daughter, Leona, who is betrothed to Wylis (still held captive by the Lannisters) pushes to call Davos a traitor for speaking against the Iron Throne, but Davos insists that Tommen is a usurper, and not a true son of Robert Baratheon, and that therefore Robert’s brother Stannis has the truer claim to the throne. They demand proof of this from Davos, but he cannot give it. Leona further accuses Stannis and Davos of bringing an apostate sorceress to their shores. Davos does not want to defend Melisandre, and instead insists that many of Stannis’s followers still worship the Seven, himself included.

Wyman asks what Stannis can offer him in return for his allegiance, and Davos answers “the chance to do your duty,” because that’s what Stannis would have said. Ser Marlon, Wyman’s cousin, queries Davos about Stannis’s strength and allies, and when Davos falters, declares that allying with Stannis will only bring them “defeat and death.” Desperately, Davos counters that Stannis offers Wyman the chance for vengeance, for his son and for Robb Stark and Ned Stark and so many others. Wylla, Wyman’s granddaughter, pipes up in support of this, and reminds them that the Manderlys swore an oath to always be loyal to the Starks. The maester points out that the Starks are gone, and Wylla retorts “that’s because they killed them all!”

Rhaegar Frey interjects that Arya Stark is still alive, and on her way to wed Ramsay Bolton, and therefore Wylla should give her allegiance to Ramsay, as he will soon be Lord of Winterfell. Wylla counters that Ramsay made his last wife eat her own fingers, but Rhaegar claims that Robb Stark was the real monster, faithless and greedy, that he died like the “vile dog” he was, and that Tommen is the only hope for peace in Westeros. Wyman agrees with Rhaegar, and Wylla protests, but her mother hauls her out of the room. Wyman tells Davos he will never consider an alliance with Stannis, and calls for the guards to seize Davos. Davos protests that he is an envoy.

“Are you? You came sneaking into my city like a smuggler. I say you are no lord, no knight, no envoy, only a thief and a spy, a peddler of lies and treasons. I should tear your tongue out with hot pincers and deliver you to the Dreadfort to be flayed. But the Mother is merciful, and so am I.” He beckoned to Ser Marlon. “Cousin, take this creature to the Wolf’s Den and cut off his head and hands. I want them brought to me before I sup. I shall not be able to eat a bite until I see this smuggler’s head upon a spike, with an onion shoved between his lying teeth.”

Well, that went well. Sheesh.

And now this makes the second chapter in a row where a character I like is on the brink of death and his fate is left hanging. Because Martin is a sadist, authorially speaking. THANKS, DUDE.


Well, I’m not thinking about it. Tyrion and Davos are alive until further notice. Because I Said So. Thhbbt.

But back to this, what the hell just happened? This entire chapter was like a demented farce on acid. It was like watching a trainwreck happen in slow motion, and I can’t even figure out how the train got derailed in the first place.

Seriously, WTF, over. The Freys are now claiming that Robb caused the Red Wedding? By turning into a wolf? And eating people? What is this I can’t even.

Holy shit. The sheer gall of the claim is nothing short of breathtaking. If you look up “World’s Most Outrageous Lie” in the dictionary and don’t find this, then that dictionary needs to be fired.

One thing’s for sure, Lord Wyman Manderly is absolutely not firing on all cylinders if he is actually buying this horseshit. Or (more likely) he isn’t buying it, and is just pretending to, in preference to risking allying with Stannis Of The Very Few Friends These Days.

It’s… sort of understandable, I guess, because it can’t be denied that Stannis (as Davos left him, anyway) had a distinct aroma of Sucker Bet about him, but that doesn’t make Manderly any less of a giant shit for abandoning his oaths to crawl into bed with the frickin’ Freys. And he knows it, too, hence his near-hysterical overreaction to Davos calling him out on it. Or least that’s how I’m reading it.

Too bad Davos didn’t know about Jon’s suggestion to Stannis about recruiting the mountain clans. That would have at least given him a leg to stand on. Not that I think it would have mattered, ultimately.

To the shock of precisely no one, I really liked Wylla in this chapter, and I hope we get to see more of her. And also that she figures out a way to get out of marrying a frickin’ Frey, because she deserves better.

“When Stark changed into a wolf, his northmen did the same. The mark of the beast was on them all. Wargs birth other wargs with a bite, it is well-known. It was all my brothers and I could do to put them down before they slew us all.”

HAHAHA okay, wow. So wargs are actual werewolves now. I am of course calling complete bullshit on this entire claim, because Freys (*spits*), but I still have to appreciate Martin tying his wargs into traditional werewolf lore nevertheless. Next we’ll hear that weapons made of silver can kill them, no doubt. Heh.

On a random note, it was sort of oddly sweet that the captain of the Merry Midwife waited an extra day before leaving. I mean, it might not have actually been because of Davos, but it probably was, and all things considered, that was… nice.

Lastly, I skipped over the description of the Merman’s Court in the summary, but it was, as usual, a vivid and evocative image. The further I go in reading this series, the more I get the impression that Martin is just doing whatever the hell he wants in designing whacko gonzo castles and temples and things that he thinks would be just effin’ cool to look at, and he is not wrong to think so. I look forward to eventually seeing if the HBO series does his set pieces any kind of justice, because wow there are some cool things to see if done right.


Chapter 20: Reek

What Happens
Bathed and dressed in good clothes and bearing a banner of peace, Reek rides from Lord Ramsay’s camp to Moat Cailin, and tries not to remember riding the same way with Robb Stark’s army as a different man. Lord Ramsay had promised him a place among his dogs and meat every day if he succeeded in his task. He approaches by the only passable road, which is littered with corpses. At the gate, he is first challenged, but then hustled inside when the bog men begin shooting at him from the swamp.

Inside, he “lies” to the guard that he is Lord Balon’s son, and says he was sent to treat with them. It becomes clear that the few remaining ironmen in the fort are rotting away, gradually succumbing to disease and snakebites and despair. The guard takes him to their nominal commander, who is nearly dead from an infected wound. Reek orders the guard to kill him, and then does it himself, and has the guard take him to the hall, where two dozen of the ironmen are drinking. Reek notes that they are mostly Codds, who are not well regarded in the islands.

He tells them he brings them an offer of safe passage home if they surrender Moat Cailin to Lord Ramsay. One of the men, Dagon Codd, takes umbrage and declares that ironmen do not surrender, and that Victarion had told them to hold until his return. Reek tells them that Euron is king, not Victarion, and he is never coming back for them. Dagon calls him a liar and a turncoat, and is about to attack him when one of the other men, Adrack Humble, kills Dagon with a throwing axe. Reek realizes he has won, and returns to Lord Ramsay with the remaining fifty-eight ironmen who are still able to travel.

Ramsay sends the ironmen off to be fed, and kisses Reek and tells him he has earned a reward. He offers to send Reek back to the islands with the others, but Reek senses the trap in the offer, and answers that he is Ramsay’s Reek, and wants only to serve him, and perhaps some wine. Ramsay laughs and says he will make Reek one of his dogs. He orders a collar made for Reek, and sends him to sleep with his hounds, but also gives him chicken and sour wine. Reek drinks himself into a stupor, only briefly woken by the sounds of screams in the camp. He wakes the next morning to see that Ramsay had had all the ironmen impaled on pikes along the road.

Three days later the vanguard of Roose Bolton’s forces arrive, with two of Lord Walder’s sons and Roose himself. Collared and chained, Reek rides with Ramsay to greet his father. Reek sees how his eyes are like his son’s; he remembers how Theon Greyjoy had taunted Roose and thinks the boy must have been mad. Roose greets Ramsay, and then produces the two women traveling with him: Lady Walda, Roose’s new wife, and Ramsay’s betrothed, Arya Stark. Reek sees her and knows that the girl is not Arya Stark at all, but Sansa’s old companion, Jeyne Poole.

“Lord Ramsay.” The girl dipped down before him. That was wrong as well. The real Arya Stark would have spat into his face. “I pray that I will make you a good wife and give you strong sons to follow after you.”

“That you will,” promised Ramsay, “and soon.”


Well, so now I know who the fake Arya is, and of COURSE it couldn’t be someone random, but a character I know for sure never in a million years deserved to be within a hundred yards of Ramsay Bolton. Not that any woman—or any human being regardless of gender for that matter—deserves that, but ugh, jeez. Poor, poor Jeyne Poole!

I don’t know which possibility is worse: that she doesn’t know yet what kind of man she’s (maybe) about to marry, or that she does. Oh, ew, the whole thing is making me feel like I have spiders crawling on me and also like I might cry just on principle.

Of course, given that Reek/Theon also instantly knew that Fake Arya is indeed a fake, this marriage may or may not be happening anyway. Not that I think her fate is likely to be much better if the ruse is exposed—except in the sense that being executed might be—no, scratch that, is definitely—a better fate than getting married to Ramsay Bolton. As long as Ramsay himself isn’t allowed to do the executing, that is.

I don’t really know what’s likely to happen here should Reek decide to spill the beans, because I’m having trouble remembering who exactly set this con up in the first place. I’m assuming Roose is in on it, in which case he might prevent Ramsay from killing/torturing Jeyne in a fit of rage at learning she’s a fake, but if I’m wrong about that then who knows.

I’m also not totally convinced that Reek is actually going to spill the beans. I would have thought it was a done deal before, but this chapter shows that whatever Reek consciously believes, his inner Theon may not be quite as thoroughly stamped out as he and Ramsay think it is, and this knowledge represents possible leverage. There’s also the point that if Roose is in on the scheme, he is likely to be extremely put out with anyone who mucks it up, and Reek may be still be savvy enough to realize this.

Then again, it’s probably all a moot point if Ramsay straight up asks Reek to confirm “Arya’s” identity, because while I can speculate that Reek might have the sense not to volunteer the information, I have a lot more trouble imagining that he would be able to lie to Ramsay’s face about it. Reek might not be all the way broken, but he is still plenty broken.

In conclusion, I don’t know what’s going to happen, except that whatever it is, I am unlikely to enjoy it. Since I’m pretty sure my fantasy of Roose and Ramsay getting into a fight over it and mutually impaling each other and dying slow painful deaths while Jeyne runs off and somehow magically finds someplace to live happily ever after (not that those actually exist in Westeros, but anyway) and Theon… well, maybe he can go find peace mucking stables in a monastery with Sandor, or something. I never liked Theon, but I think that whatever sins he committed, he has by now more than paid for them, so I can’t bring myself to wish him a bad end anymore.

Not that it matters, because none of that is going to happen anyway. Blarg.

Fuckin’ Boltons, man.

As a side note, even with everything else, I still had to grin at Theon’s certainty that Arya would have spit in Ramsay’s face, because YES SHE WOULD HAVE. Damn straight. *is proud*

In other news, Reek’s little day trip to Moat Cailin had some of the grossest imagery I can remember offhand in this series, even though I’m sure that’s just because I’ve successfully blocked out some of Martin’s more colorful renderings of just how disgusting medieval-ish life can get. Still, the description of the commander guy’s end-stage gangrene has got to be up there in the top five or so, because eeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

I have to wonder if at least some of the ironmen weren’t perfectly well aware that Ramsay Bolton was absolutely going to be a horrendous pustule of a backstabbing asshole and kill them all, and decided it was still a better deal than staying their post. I’m… not sure I would disagree, if so. Not that it would excuse Ramsay being a horrendous pustule of a backstabbing asshole, because ugh.

Seriously, that dude needs to die, and soon.

And on that cheerful note, we out! Have a week, and I’ll see you next Thursday!


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