A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Dance with Dragons, Part 20

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 20 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 33 (“Tyrion”) and Chapter 34 (“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 33: Tyrion

What Happens

Aboard the Selaesori Qhoran outbound from Volantis, Tyrion is careful to keep his mocking thoughts about R’hllor, the devoutness of the crew, and the ugliness of the ship to himself. He sees the dwarf girl Penny abovedecks for the first time since they’d sailed and tries to speak with her, but she retreats quickly. Tyrion doesn’t blame her for hating him. He sits with the red priest Moqorro that evening and asks what he sees in the flames. Moqorro tells him:

“Dragons old and young, true and false, bright and dark. And you. A small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of all.”

Tyrion suspects him of false flattery, and asks how long before they arrive in Meereen. Moqorro asks if he is so eager to meet “the world’s deliverer”, and Tyrion deflects the question with a jest. He goes to his cabin with Jorah, and opines that Penny needs a friend, but can’t stand him. Jorah replies that Tyrion was the one who insisted she come along, and that she is therefore Tyrion’s problem, and leaves; Tyrion reflects sourly that he would have exiled Jorah too if he could.

After days of being bored out of his mind, Tyrion runs into Penny again in the galley. He tries to make nice at first, but then she asks him why he wouldn’t just joust with them like the king wanted. Tyrion answers that they would have laughed at him, but she answers that her brother said making people laugh was an honorable thing. He tells her he is sorry for what happened to his brother, but this makes her angry. She tells him about a dwarf juggler they’d known who also got beheaded for the price on Tyrion’s head, and says both their blood is on his hands. Tyrion snaps back that he has blood on his hands, including that of kin and kings, but that he is not to blame for what happened to her brother. She throws a cup of wine in his face and leaves.

After a bad storm that left Tyrion strangely exhilarated, he runs into Penny again, and she apologizes to him for her accusation. They talk about her life before, and she laments what she will do now that she has no performing partner. Tyrion suspects with horror that she is hinting that he should join her, and instead tells her that Daenerys is a kind and generous queen who will surely give Penny a place in her court. They spend a lot of time together after that; one night she asks if he will “tilt” with her; he refuses brusquely, and only later wonders if she meant something different.

He sits with Moqorro again, and is dismayed to learn that they are very close to the coast of Valyria. He tells himself he does not believe the stories that anyone who lays eyes on its shores is doomed, though he remembers how his uncle Gerion had set out to land on Valyria years ago and hasn’t been seen since. Moqorro says the captain doesn’t like it either, but this is the shortest way to Daenerys, and he commanded it, for others are seeking her. Tyrion thinks about mentioning Young Griff but decides against it.

“Have you seen these others in your fires?” he asked, warily.

“Only their shadows,” Moqorro said. “One most of all. A tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood.”


Aw, man, I’d hoped we were gonna get to Meereen in this chapter. Oh well.

And, eek. That vision is symbolically Euron-via-Victarion or I’ll eat my unlaundered socks. I had actually forgotten about him for a while, but yeah, he’s heading for Daenerys too.

And. Well. That’s going to be a super-special meeting, isn’t it. I can’t decide if I should rub my hands in glee or cringe in anticipation. Probably both. Let’s just say, I do not anticipate Victarion “Husband Of The Year” Greyjoy making the most stellar of first impressions on Dany. I shudder to imagine what his version of wooing might be; Emily Post would have an apoplectic fit at the very notion.

Of course, it’s not like I think Dany’s going to be all that thrilled to see Jorah again either, seeing as how when a ruler-type person tells a minion-type person “get out mah face and stay out,” they generally expect the command to stick. I’m very curious at this point to see how Jorah intends to get himself an audience with her.

Speaking of receptions, not sure what to make of Moqorro’s vision of Tyrion snarling at dragons. Hopefully it’s just symbolic of him in general, because God knows Tyrion’s life can certainly be summed up as “giving the finger to every big mean thing that tries to take a chunk out of him”, but it might be less symbolic and more literal, which is… worrying. Perhaps he’s going to try to be Dany’s dragon-whisperer? He might; he’s obsessed with the things, after all, and is also, you know, batshit crazy on some level. So, well, um. Yikes?

Not to mention how he might have just a weensy bit of a death wish:

Tyrion found himself musing on how easy it would be to slip over the gunwale and drop down into that darkness. One very small splash, and the pathetic little tale that was his life would soon be done. But what if there is a hell and my father’s waiting for me?

Okay, (a) that is hella sad-making, and (b) also makes me want to slap him a little, because, dude. Your life has not exactly been an episode of The Joy of Painting, no, but one thing it definitely is NOT is “little”. No one who’s been right hand to a king and killed their own father gets to claim their lives are insignificant. “Shitty”, sure. But “little”? No.

Re: Valyria: damn. That makes what happened to Pompeii sound like a minor oopsie with fire. Let’s not go there, ever, mmkay?

“Is that where my sister found you? In Braavos?”

“Your sister?” The girl looked lost.

“Queen Cersei.”

Penny shook her head. “She never… it was a man who came to us, in Pentos. Osmund. No, Oswald. Something like that. Oppo met with him, not me.”

I have the weirdest feeling that this might be significant in some way, but I can’t put my finger on how. Am I supposed to know who Osmund/Oswald is?

…Oh wait, Osmund Kettleblack, okay. Who I think was Cersei’s minion back in the day. Assuming this actually was the same Osmund, of course, which it might not be—for all I know “Osmund” is the Westeros equivalent of “John,” though I sort of doubt it.

But assuming it is, I… don’t really know what I’m supposed to conclude, other than that Cersei sure went to an awful lot of trouble to hire dwarf performers for the feast, if she sent her lackey all the way to Pentos to find some. Which means she… really didn’t like Tyrion, I guess. Which… yeah, I think we all knew that. So I’m probably missing something here.

As to Penny in general, I suppose it’s a matter of opinion whether she is truly as pathetic as Tyrion considers her. On the one hand, I’m kind of with Tyrion in cringing at the way she (and others of her ilk) plays along with the tall folks’ ridicule and mockery of little folk, confirming (in Tyrion’s eyes) every last indignity and stereotype he’s been fighting his whole life. On the other hand, at least Penny and the other dwarf mummers have found a way to profit from what this world (and, honestly, the real world as well) views as their disadvantages. And certainly she seems to be a lot more at peace with her life and herself than Tyrion is, or ever has been.

But on the gripping hand, the rebel in me, well, rebels against the notion of playing by the rules of the privileged group—of accepting the inferior role to which others have assigned you without your say-so—just because that’s easier than not doing so.

Because, you know, fuck those people.

…I’m beginning to have a little more insight into why I identify with Tyrion Lannister as a character so strongly.

And, lastly:

[Moqorro’s] iron staff was as tall as he was and crowned with a dragon’s head; when he stamped its butt upon the deck, the dragon’s maw spat crackling green flame.

Oooh, shiny. Well, now I know what I want for Christmas.

Also, I want you to know that it hurts my heart every time Martin forces me to type a word that has a “q” not followed by “u” in it. That’s just wrong, man.


Chapter 34: Bran

What Happens

Months go by under the hill, and Bran learns from the three-eyed crow, who the children of the forest (aka those who sing the song of earth) call the last greenseer, and who tells Bran himself that he was called Brynden when he was alive. One of the singers, Leaf, explains that “most of him has gone into the tree,” and he has lived beyond a mortal lifespan that way. Jojen, who has recovered but seems sad now, tells him that the trees remember “the secrets of the old gods” and will do so long after he and Meera are gone, but Bran will do the same. Bran says maybe they could be greenseers too, but Jojen tells him the ability is vanishingly rare, and that his part in the tale is done.

The singers make Bran a throne of his own, and Brynden teaches him to walk in the skin of ravens as well as Summer. He senses other presences in the birds, and Brynden tells him that they are remnants of the souls of singers who rode them long ago. Jojen tells him that the singers believe that they are the old gods, that they join the godhood and become part of the trees once they die. Alarmed, Bran asks if they are going to kill him, and Meera chides Jojen not to scare him. Jojen replies that Bran is not the one who needs to be afraid. Leaf tells Bran about her people, and how they are dwindling, their day done, just like the giants and the unicorns and the mammoths, and Bran thinks that men would not take their racial demise nearly so calmly.

When Meera and Jojen go exploring, Bran goes with them as Hodor. Hodor no longer fights Bran when he takes over, but instead hides in what Bran thinks of as a “pit” deep inside himself where even Bran cannot reach. Bran silently promises Hodor that he will always give it back. No one knows that he is being Hodor, and he uses the stableboy to explore the caves, finding at one point a cavern full of nearly-dead singers enthroned like Brynden. Bran thinks that one day he will be like them, and it fills him with dread. He tries to convince himself that being a greenseer will be just as good as being a knight. Jojen grows more withdrawn, and Meera is angry that he will not even try to sidestep the fate he saw in his greendreams. She cries, and Bran thinks of using Hodor to hug her, but she runs away before he can decide.

After two months, Brynden tells him it is time, and the singers give him a paste of weirwood seeds to eat, which taste bitter at first but better and better as he goes. Brynden tells him to slip his skin, but this time to go into the trees instead of Summer or the ravens. Bran does, and suddenly finds himself in the godswood of Winterfell, looking at his father. He whispers, and his father looks up, and Bran flees back to the cave. Leaf tells him his father is dead, and Brynden explains that time is different for trees, and they see the past and the present all at once. Bran protests that his father heard him, but Brynden assures him he will never be able to truly speak to those in the past that way. He also promises that in time, Bran will be able to see far beyond the trees themselves. Bran goes to bed, but finds himself back in the godswood again, looking at a younger Eddard Stark. He tries to talk to him again, but realizes his father only hears the rustling of leaves. Then he sees glimpses of other people in the grove: a girl and a boy play fighting, a pregnant woman praying for a son to avenge her, and many others, further and further into the past.

Then, as he watched, a bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand.

“No,” said Bran, “no, don’t,” but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth… but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.


Well, that was all both very beautiful and very disturbing.

But at least now I know, finally, what the hell “greenseeing” really is. The term is nearly laughably literal, in retrospect, but that’s why it’s kind of awesome too.

However, while being able to actually see history through the eyes of trees is super cool and all, I am profoundly uneasy about the situation that seems to be required of Bran to do it. I mean, yes, he can’t walk and all, but that doesn’t mean I’m on board with sticking him in a chair in a cave and letting the local flora poke holes in him forever. In fact the whole thing reminded me rather sharply of the landfill scene in Labyrinth, to the point where I wanted to yell at Bran, “They just want you to be trapped down there with them! Get out! It’s all junk!

I mean, obviously greenseeing is a better perk than just having teddy bears stuck to your head, but still. This chapter had a vibe, and that vibe is Creepy. At least to me.

And almost every day they ate blood stew, thickened with barley and onions and chunks of meat. Jojen thought it might be squirrel meat, and Meera said that it was rat. Bran did not care. It was meat and it was good. The stewing made it tender.

Oh, Good, Mystery Meat. That is NOT HELPING with the Creepy vibe, people!

Although Bran himself provided some of that Creepy, because ohhhh, Bran, that is so not cool, what you’re doing with Hodor. I warned you about this! Didn’t I say? I DID totally say, and you didn’t listen, and now look what you’ve done! I mean, what would we have thought of Sarah, huh, if she’d found some way to use her friend Ludo as just some giant puppet?


Anyway, the whole thing bodes very ill for poor Hodor’s future bodily autonomy, is what I’m saying. Because, look, I see where this is going: sooner or later it’s going to occur to Bran that he could totally walk again, and do knight things and basically whatever he wants (including maybe “things” with Meera EEEEEEEK), using Hodor’s body on a permanent basis. And that is, in a word, Bad.

Poor Hodor. And poor Bran, for the slippery ethical slope he is sliding on. Stay good, Bran! Don’t go there!

“It was the singers who taught the First Men to send messages by raven… but in those days, the birds would speak the words. The trees remember, but men forget, and so now they write the messages on parchment and tie them round the feet of birds who have never shared their skin.”

Heh. I like that.

As to the children-slash-singers-slash-inexplicably-lacking-snappy-nicknames-until-now people, I’ve been having fun comparing them to vaguely Tolkien-y elves, but really, in this chapter they come across more like analogies to pre-homo sapiens humans, like Neanderthals and such—an impression no doubt reinforced by the reference to mammoths. Which also has strong associations (at least in my mind) to the end of the last Ice Age, which I believe is considered to be one of the major factors in the extinction of mammoths in the real world. Which, you know, given that I hear Winter Is Coming in this world, is an interesting juxtaposition.

I’m not completely sure what the significance of that last bit was, with presumably-Bran’s-earliest-ancestors slitting the throat of that guy, but again, anything involving people drinking blood, even if via tree (you know, like you do), is automatically also located in Creepytown. So, kudos for sticking with a theme, I guess.

And last:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

I feel like this is from somewhere else, like I’ve seen it before, but whether it is or it is original to Mr. Martin, it’s a pretty awesome quote. I therefore shall solemnly steal it for my own use. Yay!

And that’s all for now, peoples! Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you next week!


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