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 21 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 35 (“Jon”) and Chapter 36 (“Daenerys”).
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 35: Jon
Jon decides it is time to take six new recruits to the godswood beyond the Wall to be inducted, and that he will lead the party himself, ignoring the protests from Edd and Bowen Marsh. He reminds them that unlike the others, he has Ghost. He contemplates the recruits as they ride out, in particular Leathers and Jax, the only two of the wildlings from Mole Town so far to decide to take the black.
He and Iron Emmett discuss the female wildlings as they ride; Jon strongly disapproves of the brothers’ renaming of the women’s lodgings to “Harlot’s Tower,” but knows that they will be a problem; already three brothers are in prison for attempting to molest them. He tells Emmett that he intends to open three more castles, and staff one of them entirely with women, except for the commander and chief steward, who he intends to be Dolorous Edd and Emmett himself. Emmett looks both delighted and horrified at the news. Jon wants to get the Thenns off to one of the new forts as well before they escalate beyond minor violence, but he only has so many builders to go around.
Tom Barleycorn reports that there are nine wildlings, including a giant, taking shelter in the weirwood. Jon and his men approach cautiously, ready to fight, but two of the wildlings are already dead, and the rest sick or dying and offer no resistance. The exception is the giant, who threatens them, but then Leathers speaks to him in the Old Tongue, telling him the old gods were their gods too and they were there to pray, and the giant stands down. Jon tells them the rumors that the crows were burning all the wildling refugees were false, and offers them shelter at Castle Black.
The ritual vows go without incident, and the wildlings come with them back to Castle Black. Jon insists on bringing the corpses of the two who died as well, and instructs they be put in the ice cells. He tells Leathers to see to the giant’s welfare and keep the others from harassing him. He finds a letter for Stannis waiting for him, which tells him that Stannis has gained the alliance of all the mountain clans, and taken Deepwood Motte with the help of Alysane Mormont. He reports that his host has grown to five thousand strong, and that he is marching to Winterfell to stop Roose Bolton from taking the keep. He promises to rescue Arya Stark if he can, and find her a “better match” than Ramsay Snow.
Jon is not sure how he feels about a battle for Winterfell where no Starks are involved, and worries that Stannis’s conservative methods as a commander will hinder him against the Boltons. He wonders if Roose ever really had Arya, or if it was a trap to lure Stannis in. He is even less sure about his decision to send Mance Rayder off with some spearwives to rescue Arya on the strength of Melisandre’s vision.
When Jon had been a boy at Winterfell, his hero had been the Young Dragon, the boy king who had conquered Dorne at the age of fourteen. Despite his bastard birth, or perhaps because of it, Jon Snow had dreamed of leading men to glory just as King Daeron had, of growing up to be a conqueror. Now he was a man grown and the Wall was his, yet all he had were doubts. He could not even seem to conquer those.
Hmm. Yet another oddly uneventful Jon chapter. I don’t know why it’s solely Jon’s storyline that appears to be stalling in this book, but I suspect it’s to let Jon be an inadvertent infodump site for Sirs Otherwise Not Appearing In This Book.
Like Stannis, for instance. Okay, sure, technically he’s appeared in this book, but if I recall correctly it was only for like a hot second, and he’s been strictly background since then.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t seem to be doing surprisingly well while off-screen, but I am taking no bets until he’s met up with Psychopaths Senior and Junior and I’ve seen the outcome. I would, obviously, be completely delighted if it turns out that Stannis kicks their asses into next Spring, but I am not convinced that he can, and Jon’s musings on Stannis’s drawbacks as a commander don’t help much.
So, well, good luck, Stanny boy. You’ll need it.
And we had other help, unexpected but most welcome, from a daughter of Bear Island. Alysane Mormont, whose men name her the She-Bear, hid fighters inside a gaggle of fishing sloops and took the ironmen unawares where they lay off the strand. Greyjoy’s longships are burned or taken, her crews slain or surrendered.
Haha, awesome. If only Jorah were more like the rest of his clan, eh? I’m not sure we’ve ever even met any of the Mormont women outside of hearsay and background, but I heart them all regardless, for being the “exception” that proves the rule is stupid.
Speaking of warrior women, I was also surprised, and greatly pleased, by Jon’s idea to give them an entire castle to themselves to defend. Jon’s biggest problem at the moment, after all, is his lack of warm bodies (pun definitely intended, ba-dum-dum), so as an example of both startlingly progressive thinking (especially in this society) and out-of-the-box problem-solving, it’s positively stellar. You go, Jon Snow!
Granted, “stellar” maybe is not what I’m used to saying about segregational practices, but in this context it probably really is for the best, especially at first. In a hypothetical future in which the spearwives hopefully get a chance to prove that they can be warriors when the occasion demands it, the inherent prejudice against the idea could fade to the point that integrated forces are possible. Small steps.
What does Jon want dead wildlings for? I racked my brains over this one, but I got nothing.
Glass, Jon mused, might be of use here. Castle Black needs its own glass gardens, like the ones at Winterfell. We could grow vegetables even in the deep of winter.
Jon’s thoughts on greenhouses was weirdly startling to me, because it’s such an obvious solution to the problem of having a decades-long winter season, and yet I never once thought of it. But then, to say I am not agriculturally inclined is the understatement of the decade (I once managed to kill a jade plant, which my mother swore shouldn’t even be possible without using actual poison), so maybe that’s not all that surprising.
More surprising is that no one in the story besides the folks at Winterfell seems to have thought of it either, at least not that I can recall. Although I guess that’s partially explained by Jon’s thoughts on the expense of good glass, but still, the expense there is all in the initial outlay; once you’ve got the equipment and the trained personnel to make it, glass is just sand, right? Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about there either. (I probably don’t.)
Random thought: I wonder if Bran greensaw what went down in the grove? I dunno, I think he can only see what’s happening in Winterfell’s weirwood so far, but I’m not entirely sure whether Jon and Bran’s storylines are matched up chronologically or not. So, dunno, maybe he’s expanded his repertoire since then.
[Edd:] “He’s going with you?”
[Jon:] “He is.”
“A clever wolf, him. And me?”
“A clever lord, you.”
Ha! Oh, Dolorous Edd. Keep on keepin’ on, dude.
Chapter 36: Daenerys
Dany insists on personally escorting the latest shipment of food to the flux-riddled refugee camp outside the city walls, reminding a distraught Barristan that she is of the blood of the dragon and therefore immune to sickness. The camp is horrific, filled with the stench of disease and death, and with sick and starving refugees crying out piteously to her. Dany despairs of how to help them, and her people are growing more and more reluctant to even bring them food; Barristan reminds her that their stores dwindle, and may be needed to withstand a siege soon. Against his advice, she sends for Grey Worm and fifty Unsullied to gather and burn the corpses, and herself helps, shaming her entourage into doing the same.
She returns to her chambers and bathes. Missandei tells her she heard the Astapori refugees “scratching at the walls” in the night, and Dany assures her they will not get in. She meets with Reznak and Galazza to discuss the wedding preparations, and is incensed to learn that she is expected to wash Hizdahr’s feet as well as submit to a naked examination of her private parts by his mother and sisters, and declares she will not do it. Galazza claims that the union will not be recognized as legitimate otherwise. Reznak tries to convince her to reopen the fighting pits as well, and Dany snaps that Hizdahr can open them after he’s king, but she will take no part in it.
Hizdahr arrives later, though, and assures her he does not care about fulfilling “foolish old traditions.” He tells her that for peace, the Yunkai’i demand an indemnity in gold as well as resumption of the slave trade there and in Astapor, and also that she must wed Hizdahr with him crowned as king beside her. They are interrupted by Barristan, who tells Dany the Stormcrows have returned with news that the Yunkish are on the march, but that Lord Daario is refusing to make his report to anyone but Dany. She immediately begs off dinner with Hizdahr and goes to see Daario (after changing clothes).
She is dismayed to see Daario is wounded, though he claims the blood is from a traitorous serjeant whose heart he ripped out. (Ser Barristan is unimpressed.) Daario tells of the forces arraying against Meereen he had to fight his way through, though he says he gained more recruits than he lost, and then shocks everyone by telling them that Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons have gone over to the Yunkai’i. Dany is devastated, and wonders if this makes Ben her second betrayal or her third (depending on whether Jorah counts). She wonders if she will ever have a friend she can truly trust.
She orders silence, and then tells them to gather all the food they can and close the gates; no one is to enter or leave the city henceforth. Reznak asks, what about the Astapori, and Dany wants to scream, but repeats her order. She kicks everyone out but Daario, and takes him to her bedroom to tend his wounds. After, she sends her handmaids away, and Daario kisses her. She tells him she thought he would be the one to betray her, but it was Ben, and begs him to promise never to turn against her.
“Never, my love.”
She believed him. “I swore that I should wed Hizdahr zo Loraq if he gave me ninety days of peace, but now… I wanted you from the first time that I saw you, but you were a sellsword, fickle, treacherous. You boasted that you’d had a hundred women.”
“A hundred?” Daario chuckled through his purple beard. “I lied, sweet queen. It was a thousand. But never once a dragon.”
She raised her lips to his. “What are you waiting for?”
Aw, man, really?
You’re really gonna get it on with Daario, Dany? Really? Him? With King Douche of Douchetania? Really? REALLY?
I am so unbelievably annoyed by this, I can’t even tell you.
FAIL, Dany. So much fail. You are Queen Fail of Failistan! I hope you and King Douche are very happy together in your combined lands of Faildouchetanstania!
Except you’re not gonna be happy, because this is terrible and is going to end so badly, and why does NO ONE LISTEN TO ME, ARGH.
Of course, if Dany and her entire court dies of dysentery before anyone finds out she’s boning Toolface McDouchespray over there, I guess it’ll be a moot point. THIS IS WHAT’S QUALIFYING AS A BRIGHT SIDE, YOU GUYS.
But really, so much fail in this chapter. I admire Dany’s nurturing instincts in the abstract, but not to the extent of more or less literally getting down and rolling around in deadly disease vectors, because that is fucking stupid, Dany, what is wrong with you. You can feel sorry for the hell that these people are going through and even work to alleviate it without consigning yourself to go there with them! God!
Because, you know, even if Viserys was right that Targaryens are immune to dysentery (a piece of wisdom of highly dubious provenance, let’s just say), that’s not going to do you a lot of good if every one of your most trusted people, whom you may recall are not dragon-blooded, gets struck down with the disease instead.
COMMON SENSE, GIRL. It’s a thing, you should try it. Ideally before your entire city shits itself to death.
[Daario:] “One of my serjeants said we should go over to the Yunkai’i, so I reached down his throat and pulled his heart out. I meant to bring it to you as a gift for my silver queen, but four of the Cats cut me off and came snarling and spitting after me. One almost caught me, so I threw the heart into his face.”
“Very gallant,” said Ser Barristan, in a tone that suggested it was anything but.
HAHAHA awesome. Me and Ser Barristan were such soul twins in this chapter, you guys, because he is about 1000% done with Dany and Daario’s bullshit and I am so with him on that. I just hope it doesn’t cause him to break with her. I doubt it, because this is Ser Barristan we’re talking about, but every man has his breaking point. Dany’s lamentations that she has no one to trust were heartbreaking, but she seems to be missing that there’s one extremely trustworthy person right in front of her that she’s routinely ignoring.
Although, I’m casting a suspicious side-eye at Ben Plumm’s “betrayal” anyway. Even though I myself questioned the wisdom of Dany giving him a pile of gold to go running off with (at least I think that was Plumm), it occurs to me that there’s no better way to foil your enemy’s plans than to install an inside man for the job. I’m just saying.
Speaking of inside jobs, ha ha:
“More brave men drawn to your noble cause. My queen will like them. One is an axeman from the Basilisk Isles, a brute, bigger than Belwas. You should see him. Some Westerosi too, a score or more. Deserters from the Windblown, unhappy with the Yunkai’i. They’ll make good Stormcrows.”
Well, look who’s here. Just in time for the shitshow! HA. HA. HA.
I confess to feeling a certain amount of evil glee that it was Daaaaaario who got hoodwinked into Trojan Horse-ing Quentyn and Co. into Meereen. Sucker! Tool! GIANT DOUCHE!
Please, pleeeease let Quentyn come and retrieve Dany from the terrible land of Faildouchetanstania. Or let Tyrion do it via dragon-snarling, whatever. Or even frickin’ Hizdahr with his oh-so-convenient kinging-contingent peace terms, look, I’m desperate here. Just IX-NAY ON THE OUCHE-DAY, PEOPLE. However it has to happen, just get it done. Pretty please with sprinkles.
Her cooks had promised her to serve the noble Hizdahr’s favorite meal, dog in honey, stuffed with prunes and peppers.
Ew. What is it with these people and dogs, I swear.
And on that delightful culinary note, we out! Have a lovely Memorial Day weekend if you are Americanly dispositioned, and a lovely late May weekend if you aren’t! Cheers!