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 22 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 37 (“The Prince of Winterfell”) and Chapter 38 (“The Watcher”).
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 37: The Prince of Winterfell
Theon has been assigned to escort the bride to Ramsay’s side for the wedding; as the Starks’ former ward, he is the nearest thing to kin “Arya Stark” has available. Jeyne is terrified, but tries to assure Theon she will be a better wife to Ramsay than Arya. Theon reminds her that she is Arya, and then lies that Ramsay is a “sweet and kindly” man who will treat her well. She implores him to run away with her, but he doesn’t dare, and refuses. Theon knows he is being used to bolster the false Arya’s identity, but doesn’t believe for a moment that Roose will follow through with his promise to restore Theon to his father’s throne in return. He supposes Roose will give him back to Ramsay instead, and prays that Stannis Baratheon arrives and kills them all first.
They proceed through the ruined castle to the godswood, which Theon finds incredibly eerie, filled with mist and ravens. At the heart tree, he presents Jeyne to Ramsay, and for one moment hopes she will announce her true name and wreck the wedding, but she does not. The ceremony is short, and after Ramsay carries Jeyne off, Theon thinks he hears the wood whisper his name, and leaves in a guilty panic. He looks at the ruins of Winterfell and thinks of how its destruction is all due to him, and that this is all he will ever be remembered for.
At the feast in the hastily-patched great hall (Roose had press-ganged the squatters in the keep into doing repairs and then hanged them), some of the attendees scorn or laugh at him, but after Ramsay’s attentions Theon is immune to such small injuries. He sits next to Lady Dustin, and Lord Manderly serves out the rich food he’s brought for the wedding, eating the largest portion of it himself with great glee. Lady Dustin opines that Manderly is “craven to the bone,” serving pie to the Freys who killed his son even though he’d love to kill them all. Theon suggests she tell Roose of that suspicion, but she assures him Roose knows, and points out how Roose never eats or drinks anything until after he’s seen Manderly eat or drink it first. She says Roose thinks of everyone as “playthings,” and theorizes that Roose aspires to be King of the North after he has rid himself of Manderly and Stannis. Theon points out she herself could be an obstacle to that goal, and she answers that that is why Roose “keeps her sweet.”
Three maesters enter with a message for Roose, and Lady Dustin expounds on her extremely negative opinion of maesters, which seems to be connected to her belief that it was Lord Rickard Stark’s maester that convinced him about “the Tully marriage.” Roose announces to the hall that Stannis’s forces have left Deepwood Motte to head for Winterfell, to be joined by Crowfood Umber and the Karstarks, and adjourns with the other lords to discuss strategy. Theon realizes he is very drunk. Sour Alyn tells him that Ramsay wants Theon to bring his bride to his bed. Theon is frightened, but obeys.
In Ramsay’s chambers, he orders Theon to stay, and makes him cut off Jeyne’s wedding gown with his knife. Theon contemplates stabbing Ramsay instead, but does not. Ramsay mockingly asks Theon if he wants “Arya” first as Prince of Winterfell, and then begins to rape her, and forces Theon to participate.
Less than two paragraphs in: WHAT? What is happening? Why is Jeyne here getting married to Psycho Dickweasel the Younger? She’s supposed to have escaped! She’s supposed to be running! Why is she not running!? I DO NOT APPROVE OF THIS EVEN A LITTLE BIT.
And by the end: Oh well, of course, that’s just fucking perfect. No doubt Jeyne is going to escape – but not until AFTER she’s been raped and tortured and degraded and God only knows what by that festering shit stain Ramsay. Of course. FUCKING PEACHY, THANKS EVER SO.
Excuse me, I have to storm off for a minute.
*comes back and throws book at wall*
*storms off again*
Fuck. Okay, I’m back, with vodka, and if I’m only typing with my middle fingers sometimes I’m sure it’s just a nervous tic and not because I am deeply, madly, royally pissed. Even if I’m mostly being angry because if I wasn’t being angry I would be… Well. Very upset, let’s just say.
And it’s not like I didn’t know better than to build up hope that Jeyne was going to dodge this particular psychotic bullet unscathed. But, I did it anyway, and here’s my payback.
Ugh, I can’t talk about this anymore, so I’m moving on.
…or sort of, anyway, because I’m moving on to a hearty “fuck you” to Theon Greyjoy, who I am also deeply, madly, and mostly completely unfairly pissed off at as well.
Or maybe not at him, so much as the way his internal monologue kept giving me hope (see? I oughta know better!) that he was going to magically break through his literal all-you-can-eat buffet of trauma-related psychoses, and either rescue Jeyne or stab the living fuck out of Ramsay. Which, of course, he did not. And I shouldn’t blame him for that, and yet I kind of do.
Possibly because I don’t know that the unbroken version of Theon would have done either thing either. Eh, well, he probably would have been happy enough to kill Ramsay, or to try to anyway, but I’m wholly unconvinced that the compassion required for wanting to rescue damsels was a skill in Pre-Reek Theon’s emotional repertoire. So I probably would have been saying “fuck you” to Unbroken Theon as well.
And while I’m at it, fuck you too, Lord Manderly. Why were none of those pies poisoned? Why wasn’t something else poisoned, or rigged, or something? Where’s your great promised betrayal-and-payback, huh? Let’s just say, I WOULD NOT HAVE OBJECTED to certain psychotic dinner party members keeling over dead BEFORE the rest of the chapter happened! You are letting down the side, dude! For shame!
In other news, Bran keeps trying to talk to people via tree, apparently. I assume at some point he’s going to give up. I wonder if Bran has the context to be as horrified by this wedding as I was.
As for Lady Dustin: Bitter, party of one, your table is waiting!
I mean, for real. If I’m interpreting her diatribe correctly, apparently she’s decided that all of maesterdom is to blame for the fact that Catelyn got to marry Eddard Stark instead of her, which is an ire that seems… misdirected at best. Although admittedly if I were illiterate and had to have someone else read my mail, I would probably be at least slightly paranoid that they were lying about it too.
She does seem to have a pretty accurate handle on the wonder that is Roose Bolton, though:
“Roose has no feelings, you see. Those leeches that he loves so well sucked all the passions out of him years ago. He does not love, he does not hate, he does not grieve. This is a game to him, mildly diverting. Some men hunt, some hawk, some tumble dice. Roose plays with men. You and me, these Freys, Lord Manderly, his plump new wife, even his bastard, we are but his playthings.”
Other than the bit about leeches being able to eat feelings, this sounds like a nearly textbook definition of a psychopath to me. Although admittedly, from what I understand there actually isn’t a “textbook definition” of psychopathy in psychiatric circles – or not one that everyone can agree on, anyway. But from my nonscientific and unavoidably pop-culture-influenced point of view, Lady Dustin’s description is more than close enough for government work. Not that this is telling me anything about Roose I didn’t already know, of course, but it’s probably a good thing that someone actually in the story recognizes it as well.
The musicians began to play again, and the bard Abel began to sing “Two Hearts That Beat as One.”
Oh my God, I don’t even know what it says about me that I saw this and instantly thought “well, that asshole Ramsay would have the most cheesy awful love song possible at his wedding.” It’s not quite funny enough to offset the overall horribleness of this chapter (in fact the idea is probably more creepy than anything else), but at this point I’ll take even the dimmest bright side.
Up near the dais, Abel was plucking at his lute and singing “Fair Maids of Summer.” He calls himself a bard. In truth he’s more a pander.
Today I Learned that the archaic definition of “pander” is “pimp.” WHO KNEW.
Well, besides Martin, obviously.
As they climbed, Damon Dance-for-Me whistled, whilst Skinner boasted that Lord Ramsay had promised him a piece of the bloody sheet as a mark of special favor.
Seriously, WHY. Why would you want this. It is A BLOODY SHEET. In what POSSIBLE way is that sexy, or titillating, or awesome – or anything but a BLOODY GODDAMN SHEET. That A GIRL GOT RAPED ON.
I just. Why.
You know what, fuck this chapter.
*stomps off to get another drink*
Chapter 38: The Watcher
Areo Hotah watches as Ser Balon Swann presents a huge brutish-looking skull to Prince Doran, Princess Arianne, Oberyn’s widow Ellaria Sand, and three of the Sand Snakes: Nym, Obara, and Tyene. Hotah does not know why they have been released from their tower imprisonment. Tyene wants to know if Gregor Clegane suffered, and Ser Balon reluctantly confirms that he did. Doran declares this the justice Dorne had asked for, and proposes a toast to King Tommen. Hotah takes note of who does not drink, which includes all three of the Snakes.
The feast goes on for hours, and Hotah watches Arianne flirt with Ser Balon, though he thinks the older knight will not be as susceptible to her wiles as Ser Arys Oakheart was. Hotah knows Ser Balon finds it suspicious that Myrcella is not here to greet him, but thinks there is more to the knight’s unease than that. Balon and Doran discuss Cersei’s letter imploring a visit from Myrcella and Trystane as well as inviting Doran to come fill the seat for Dorne on Tommen’s council; Doran agrees to the trip but suggests they go by sea instead. Balon is alarmed by this and protests that going by sea would be too dangerous, and Doran says they’ll discuss it further once they reach the Water Gardens, where Myrcella is waiting. He tells Balon the story of his ancestor Princess Daenerys, for whom the Gardens had been built and who started the tradition that all children regardless of rank could play there, before excusing himself and his entourage.
Once away, Obara says Doran cannot be serious about sending Trystane to King’s Landing, but Doran orders them to shut up until they are private. Once in his chambers, they discuss whether the skull is truly Clegane’s and whether “the bitch queen” would risk lying about it, but Tyene assures them that Oberyn’s poison would never have failed to kill its target. The Snakes are not satisfied with Clegane, though, and now want justice for Oberyn’s death; Ellaria is disgusted and demands to know when the cycle of vengeance will end. She points out that everyone involved in Elia’s death is gone, and pleads with them to let it end there. Obara points out that war will come even if Dorne does nothing, and that it is the perfect time to strike; Ellaria declares she will listen no more, and leaves.
Doran thinks Ellaria has a point, but that she does not know everything: the war has already begun. Obara laughs and agrees, considering what will happen once Ser Balon sees Myrcella is short an ear and learns Hotah killed Ser Arys. Arianne replies that Myrcella will tell Ser Balon that it was Gerold Dayne who mutilated her, which is true, and that Dayne also killed Arys, which is not. Dayne has conveniently fled beyond their reach. Obara says sooner or later Myrcella will let the truth slip, and Tyene sweetly suggests murdering Ser Balon and his entire party instead.
Annoyed, Doran tells them the rest of the story of Princess Daenerys: that once she saw all the children playing together and no way to tell highborn from lowborn, she realized that all were equally deserving of life and love and protection, and told her son so, as Doran’s mother told him. He says the wise prince therefore never wages a war without good cause, or one he cannot hope to win.
“I am not blind, nor deaf. I know that you all believe me weak, frightened, feeble. Your father knew me better. Oberyn was ever the viper. Deadly, dangerous, unpredictable. No man dared tread on him. I was the grass. Pleasant, complaisant, sweet-smelling, swaying with every breeze. Who fears to walk upon the grass? But it is the grass that hides the viper from his enemies and shelters him until he strikes. Your father and I worked more closely than you know… but now he is gone. The question is, can I trust his daughters to serve me in his place?”
Tyene answers that if he gives them a task, they will do it. Doran makes them swear an oath on their father’s grave to serve and obey him; they are angry about it, but do it. Then Doran tells him that the invitation to Cersei’s court is a ruse; the party will be attacked by brigands en route shouting “Halfman,” and Trystane will be murdered. Even the Snakes are shocked, but Doran refuses to let them kill Balon. Instead he tells them that Myrcella will ask Balon to find Dayne for her, and Obara will go with him to search, and meanwhile Nym will go with Myrcella, but not Trystane, back to King’s Landing and take the council seat. Tyene he wants to infiltrate the newly re-formed Swords and Stars and try to get close to the new High Septon. The Snakes agree, and leave.
Arianne says she thinks she should go to King’s Landing instead of Nym, but Doran says it is too dangerous for his heir to go, and she will soon have another task. He tells her he has word of a great fleet carrying an army that has put in at Lys for resupply, and that they are rumored to be carrying elephants, which Doran thinks might be a cover for dragons, as Daenerys would be vulnerable at sea and likely would attempt to lay low. Arianne asks if he thinks Quentyn will be with her, but Doran doesn’t know.
Later, when Arianne had gone, [Hotah] put down his longaxe and lifted Prince Doran into his bed. “Until the Mountain crushed my brother’s skull, no Dornishmen had died in this War of the Five Kings,” the prince murmured softly, as Hotah pulled a blanket over
him. “Tell me, Captain, is that my shame or my glory?”
“That is not for me to say, my prince.” Serve. Protect. Obey. Simple vows for simple men. That was all he knew.
Well, at least this chapter didn’t make me want to murder something. Although it was annoying as all hell to summarize, considering it was basically nothing but exposition and talk talk talk. Nothing like a POV from a character who is literally a fly on the wall to unload some serious infodumpery.
Some of it was pretty awesome talk, though, like Doran’s speech I quoted up there. I mean, how often do you get to believably claim you are badass grass?
…aside from in the context of “really good marijuana,” I mean. Shut up.
But okay, good, we are moving things along here, setting shit up, laying down some plot lines, I can dig it. As usual, I am totally unclear as to where this falls in the overall timeline, so I guess I’ll just have to see whether the Snakes arrive in King’s Landing to find Cersei already up a shit creek of her own making, or… although I guess logically it would have to be after the end of Cersei’s storyline in AFFC, because I’m fairly certain I would remember if the Snakes had shown up before Cersei imploded like a… er, like a thing that implodes. Never mind, this entire paragraph is stupid.
Prince Doran is still terribly clever… except where he isn’t. Although, it’s probably a perfectly reasonable assumption on his part to think that the fleet at Lys is Dany’s, since apparently no one sane ever expected her to stay in Meereen. But she did, sigh, and I’m not a hundred percent sure but I think the fleet in question is actually Young Griff’s aka Prince Aegon the Most Recent. So that’s probably going to throw a wrench in Doran’s schemination at some point.
Or not; maybe it won’t matter to Doran which long-lost Targaryen heir actually shows up, as long as they’re keen to topple them some Lannisters and/or Baratheons and/or whoever the hell else is still fighting over that stupid pointy throne at this point. Dany better watch out, or her little nephew is going to snake (heh) the whole of Westeros out from under her nose. Or not even under her nose, actually, since her nose is way the fuck over in Dysentery Bay, getting boinked by Doucheface McToolbag. Ugh.
I am somewhat astounded that Doran never bothered to maneuver the Snakes into swearing an oath of fealty to him before this. Like, shouldn’t that have been a priority forever ago? Then maybe he wouldn’t have had to lock them up in the first place? Duh?
But, maybe oaths of fealty aren’t the done thing in Dorne, even to its crown prince. Seems like a rather dumb policy in a feudal-type society, but then Dorne is way more enthused about personal freedom and equal treatment and relying on personal friendship over contractually obligated loyalty than just about any other society we’ve seen in ASOIAF, so maybe that’s why. If so, it would also explain why giving that oath chapped the Snakes’ asses so much.
Then again, Hotah thinks right at the end of the chapter about his “simple vows,” so, uh. Maybe that whole paragraph is also stupid.
Bluh. Okay, clearly I am out of useful things to say, so let’s just stop here before I make a complete ass of myself. (too late) Have a lovely weekend, my pretties, and your little dogs too! See you next Thursday!