A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Dance with Dragons, Part 23

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 23 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 39 (“Jon”) and Chapter 40 (“Tyrion”).

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 39: Jon

What Happens

Jon sees Val off at the Wall; she is leaving to bring an offer of truce and shelter to Tormund Giantsbane. She promises she will return by the full moon, and he hopes so, otherwise Stannis will have Jon’s head for breaking his word to watch her. He tells himself that his task to protect the Wall is more important that his honor. He worries about her safety; six of his rangers have not come back. But she is unconcerned. Before she goes, she asks if Jon killed Jarl, and Jon tells her truthfully that he did not. She warns him to keep Craster’s son away from Melisandre, that the red woman knows who he is. Jon counters that she would have told Stannis if she knew about the switch with Dalla’s boy, but Val replies that fire is fickle, and leaves.

Jon goes back to his rooms to eat, and is soon intruded upon by Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, and Septon Cellador, none of whom look happy. Bowen tells him the men have “concerns,” and Jon wonders who appointed Bowen to speak for them, but instead asks Othell how the Nightfort work is going. Othell says it could go better if he had more builders, and Jon offers him the use of their resident giant, Wun Wun. Jon has spoken with him often, and discovered that while he can be savage, he is nothing like Old Nan’s tales. Othell is horrified, protesting that giants eat human flesh, and Jon lets it go.

Bowen is upset that Jon is sending Tollett and Iron Emmett to “Whore’s Hole,” aka Long Barrow, and also that Jon intends the former wildling Leathers to take Emmett’s place as master-at-arms. Cellador is upset that Jon intends the former prostitute Satin to take Edd’s place as his squire. Both complaints amount to that the positions are supposed to be reserved for brothers of “good birth,” with the implication that their backgrounds leave them less than worthy for the positions. Jon becomes angry and points out that both men have the skills for their respective positions, and rattles off a list of brothers with a so-called “proper” background who are guilty of far more heinous crimes than being a wildling or a whore.

Bowen changes the subject to the corpses under guard in the dungeon, and all three men are horrified to learn that Jon is hoping they turn into wights so that he may study them. Jon points out that they know almost nothing about the wights or the Others, and they must learn more if they can hope to defeat them in battle. They are not pleased, and Jon sighs and moves on to Val. He tells them he sent her to make the same offer to Tormund as he did to the wildlings at Mole Town. Bowen points out that that means thousands of “savages, raiders, rapers, more beast than man” will be passing through the Wall, and Jon counters that they are still living men, and that soon enough all living men will need to stand against the dead.

He tells them about the woods witch called Mother Mole who sent Tormund’s followers to Hardhome, with a vision of a fleet of ships arriving there to carry them across the sea. Othell says Hardhome is an “unholy place”; Jon knows the stories of its hellish destruction centuries ago and that the place has been shunned since, but says this Mother Mole convinced them that they would find “salvation where once they found damnation.” He says they will starve to death waiting for ships that will never come, and Bowen is all for letting them.

Anger rose inside him, but when he spoke his voice was quiet and cold. “Are you so blind, or is it that you do not wish to see? What do you think will happen when all these enemies are dead?”

Above the door the raven muttered, “Dead, dead, dead.”

“Let me tell you what will happen,” Jon said. “The dead will rise again, in their hundreds and their thousands. They will rise as wights, with black hands and pale blue eyes, and they will come for us.” He pushed himself to his feet, the fingers of his sword hand opening and closing. “You have my leave to go.”

Septon Cellador rose grey-faced and sweating, Othell Yarwyck stiffly, Bowen Marsh tight-lipped and pale. “Thank you for your time, Lord Snow.” They left without another word.


Oh SNAP, Jon Snow.

Also: Yikes.

Well, as compelling arguments for saving people go, “they’ll all turn into deadly zombies if we don’t” is much more likely to get results than “but they’re people who deserve saving.” Sad as that truth may be.

Speaking of zombies, well duh, Leigh. I was all confused last time about why Jon was bringing corpses back to the castle with him, and now that it’s been explained in small words to me, I’m kicking myself for not getting it earlier. That none of Jon’s minions got it either is cold (heh) comfort, seeing as they mostly appear to be morons who can’t see past their own prejudices. Sigh.

But anyway, our Jon-boy is quite the clever one for attempting to arrange to examine a wight in at least something approaching a laboratory environment. Because he’s right; in warfare, information is everything. Sun Tzu would be proud. This is not to say that the whole thing couldn’t go horribly wrong, of course, because hi, welcome to ASOIAF, but the principle is sound.

He might make some interesting discoveries, considering Bran’s pal Coldhands and his intriguing lack of homicidal tendencies. I have no idea how one produces helpful wights as opposed to murderous ones, but for all I know it could be as simple as someone having the opportunity to talk them down. (I doubt it’s that simple, but hey, it could be.)

So that’ll be interesting to see—assuming Jon’s corpses actually do become wights. Because, I thought those guys died of starvation and/or exposure, and I was sort of under the impression you had to be killed by an Other to become a wight. So maybe not? But I could be wrong about that.

But in general, Jon continues to prove his awesomeness at innovation and outside-the-box thinking and an almost astounding freedom from the blinders that prejudice necessarily imposes. I just hope he gets a chance to prove that his unorthodox methods are good ones, because otherwise it seems pretty clear that he’s going to have a mutiny on his hands sooner or later.

In that vein, really good call on realizing what will happen if the remainder of the wildlings are allowed to die. I have no idea why Jon trusts Val to help instead of taking off, but I do admit she’s probably the only viable possibility of bringing in Tormund’s people without bloodshed. So he probably trusts her because he has to.

I was also surprised to learn that Val is apparently completely aware of the Great Baby Switcheroo of… okay, I have no idea what year it’s supposed to be in ASOIAF, so there’s that joke killed, but anyway. I am rather startled, because that knowledge is also a lot to trust her with, but I guess as she was the foster mother to the kid after Dalla died it would have been fairly difficult to switch the babies without her knowing anyway.

And besides, her assertion that Melisandre totally knows about the switch too is way more startling than Val knowing. Since, after all, Val had a vested interest in going along with the switch, while Melly had the exact opposite interest!

So I don’t know what to make of that (assuming Val isn’t just plain wrong, of course). Maybe Melisandre saw that it would be more to her advantage to let Dalla’s son go, somehow, though I don’t see how. Or maybe even she balked at the idea of sacrificing an infant. Though I’m not sure I buy that, considering that way back in the day she seemed perfectly on board with deep-frying Robert’s illegitimate son (Edric Storm, I think? Erdric Storm? Something like that), and he was barely more than a child at the time. Granted, he certainly wasn’t a baby, but he wasn’t an adult either. Not that I think burning an adult to death for magical political gain isn’t equally as heinous, but I’m trying to theorize her possible reasoning here, and frankly it’s giving me an ethical migraine. So, in conclusion, WTF.

Hardhome: I have no idea what happened there, or whether any ships are actually coming for the wildlings (coming from where, and why?), but all I know is, it is the victim of bad marketing as much as anything else. Because that is just a really weird name to give a place that you are presumably wanting people to settle down in. “Come to Hardhome: it’ll bruise you!” Yeah, no.

Septon Cellador appeared confused and groggy and in dire need of some scales from the dragon that had flamed him

I stared at this for a good thirty seconds before I realized it was a play on “hair of the dog that bit.” Clever, she drawled.

“I don’t care what she says,” muttered Dolorous Edd, as Val vanished behind a stand of soldier pines. “The air is so cold it hurts to breathe. I would stop, but that would hurt worse.”

Eh. C’mon, Edd, you’re slipping!


Chapter 40: Tyrion

What Happens

Tyrion jousts with Penny on Pretty Pig, thinking that somewhere in hell both Tywin and Joffrey were watching him. He had agreed to do it despite his revulsion at the idea because the ship had been becalmed for almost two weeks, and Tyrion would rather they laugh at him than try to kill him or Penny for ruining their luck. Jorah has to help him up when he “loses,” and Penny assures him that he will be better by the time they joust for Queen Daenerys.

After she leaves, Jorah sneers that Daenerys won’t be diverted by his capering from his crimes. In answer, Tyrion wonders how Jorah himself will be received, and surmises that the queen sent him away. Tyrion laughs that Jorah thinks she will be satisfied with the Imp, when it was Jaime that killed her father, and opines that Jorah will likely be the one executed, not Tyrion. Jorah deals him a blow that knocks him down and breaks a tooth, and tells him to find somewhere else to sleep. Tyrion thinks he hurt Jorah more than Jorah hurt him. Later, Penny asks why Jorah hurt him, and Tyrion tells her, “for love.” He asks if she is still a maiden, and when she says yes, advises her to stay that way. He says love is “madness” and lust is “poison.”

The calm ends, but Tyrion sees an oncoming storm that looks deadly. Moqorro is on deck, and Tyrion comments that the widow said the ship would never reach her destination, but he’d thought she meant they would change course for Meereen. Moqorro confirms that that’s not what the red priests saw at all, but this. The storm is terrible when it reaches them, and midway through it Penny kisses Tyrion. Tyrion doesn’t want to hurt her though he has no desire for her, so he allows it even though he knows she doesn’t want him either. He saves her dignity by claiming that he must be faithful to his wife.

He comes up on deck during the eye of the storm, and is almost killed when the storm comes back and bursts the mast, sending splinters flying everywhere. By the time the storm abates the ship is barely still afloat, and more than ten men are dead, including the captain and Moqorro. They drift for nineteen days, and as the food runs out the atmosphere gets more tense. Finally a sail is sighted, and Tyrion is so excited he kisses Penny again.

The other ship was closing. A big galley, he saw. Her oars left a long white wake behind her. “What ship is that?” he asked Ser Jorah Mormont. “Can you read her name?”

“I don’t need to read her name. We’re downwind. I can smell her.” Mormont drew his sword. “That’s a slaver.”



A SLAVE SHIP. Really? Really.

Well, that’s just fuckin’ fabulous, isn’t it.

Soooo, I’m guessing things are about to get even more fun for Tyrion in short order. But hey, I guess we couldn’t have a series infamous for its bleakness go by without consigning at least one main character to the bleakest fucking possible fate ever, right?


And just when Tyrion seemed to be getting a little of his humanity back, too. True, I was horrified in principle at the beginning of the chapter when I found out he was actually jousting with Penny, but honestly his reasoning was pretty damn sound, and in a weird way I think it says something positive about Tyrion that he is willing to sacrifice his pride for… well, I was going to say “the greater good” but I don’t think raw survival should fall in that category, exactly. So, instead, let’s say I’m glad that his practicality trumped his pride. Because I dislike seeing Tyrion humiliated, but I would like seeing him dead even less.

And he actually was treating Penny with respect and compassion, which is I think the first time since Sansa he’s done that for a woman—or for people in general, really. Well, excepting the Widow, I guess, but I’m not sure if that counts. And Aegon the Most Recent, too—although there was that whole “duping him into jumping the gun on the Westeros invasion” thing, but I’m still unclear on whether Tyrion actually meant that to be a bad thing or not.

Whatever, my point is, he was nice to Penny and that was, er, nice. Gratifying, or something. Shows he’s still got at least a bit of soul lurking underneath there.

But it’s also sort of gratifying to know he can still be a total asshole when the occasion calls for it. See Mormont, Jorah.

Because yes, Jorah was an asshole for punching Tyrion, but Tyrion totally goaded him. Tyrion goaded the shit out of him, actually, and it was kind of glorious. And no one is going to contest at this point the fact that Tyrion is a master goader. Like, Olympic level, y’all. Comes with an uncanny ability to divine precisely where to stick the verbal skewers in to hurt the most, you see. I don’t even know how Tyrion figured all that out about Jorah (unless he was guessing, but even if so, holy crap that’s some stellar guessing), but damn if he didn’t make a veritable shish kebab out of the man’s sore spots.

And I can’t fault Tyrion for that, seeing as Jorah’s the one who kidnapped him and put him on this boat where there was a really high probability that they were all going to die. Sometimes even petty revenge is better than no revenge at all.

And besides, it might not be petty. It might be leverage, at some point.



A thick band of clouds ran along the horizon. “A bar sinister,” he said to Penny, pointing.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means some big bastard is creeping up behind us.”

Today I Learned that “bar sinister” is not a pretentious name for a Goth club. Pity.

Also, the whole sequence of them surviving what was unquestionably a full-on hurricane was very fraught and tense. Perhaps more so for me, who has actually been through a few hurricanes in her life, and let me tell you, it’s terrifying even when you’re not on a ship in the middle of the ocean. I’ve been in the eye of a hurricane once, too, like the one Tyrion describes in this chapter, and I can confirm that it is fucking uncanny. It is, by far, the most eerie fifteen minutes I have ever experienced in my life.

“Prophecy is like a half-trained mule,” he complained to Jorah Mormont. “It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head.”

PREACH, BROTHER TYRION. This is only what I’ve been saying all along.

Plus I don’t get at all why Moqorro would come along for the express purpose of getting killed by a hurricane. I mean, I guess the Holy R’hollors’ philosophy on their prophecy is that fate is fixed and yadda yadda, but if so, why bother predicting the future at all? What’s the point, unless knowing the future allows you the chance to change it? Otherwise it’s just pure sadism on old R’holly’s part. Like, hey look, you get to go on this ship and die, pointlessly! HAHA neener, sucks to be you!

That’s just mean, yo.

It’s all very mean, yo! And thus I grump away, to return with more non-rainbows and anti-puppies next Thursday! HOORAY. Cheers!


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