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 27 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 46 (“A Ghost in Winterfell”) and Chapter 47 (“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 46: A Ghost in Winterfell
One of the Ryswell men-at-arms is found dead at the foot of the inner wall. Roger Ryswell claims he fell off the wall taking a piss, but Theon wonders why the man would have gone all the way up there just to pee. He hears a serjeant mutter that Stannis has friends inside the castle, but others laugh it off. The snow and cold has hit the castle hard, and Roose Bolton has one man beaten and banished for suggesting that Stannis might be riding out the blizzard with help from his sorceress’s red god.
One of the singer Abel’s women, Holly, approaches Theon again, asking him to show her the crypts. Theon has become convinced that Abel and his women are after him for his knowledge of the keep because they want to escape Winterfell, but he still refuses to help them. Theon wants to kill himself, but is scared he would survive an attempt and be left to Ramsay’s punishment. Two more men are found dead, seemingly by misfortune, and the lords are increasingly on edge, fighting over whether they should wait for Stannis or bring the fight to him. The Freys are openly suspicious of Lord Manderley over the deaths of their kin, and Theon thinks he detects a hint of uneasiness in Roose Bolton’s eyes.
That night the new stable collapses, killing over two dozen horses and two grooms, and a third corpse is quickly found after, this one definitely murdered: Yellow Dick, one of Ramsay’s hangers-on, is found with his own (now blue) dick stuffed in his mouth. They are forced to house the surviving horses in the Great Hall, where the stench quickly becomes unbelievable. Theon retreats from the hall after Ramsay’s lackeys inform him that Ramsay intends to slice his lips off, and encounters a man in a hooded cloak, who recognizes him as “Theon Kinslayer” and seems about to kill him until Theon shows him his mutilated hand, whereupon the man laughs and says he will leave Theon to Lord Ramsay. Theon thinks he is trapped here with his angry ghosts.
He is summoned before the lords, who question him about the murders, but Lady Dustin makes him take off his gloves and show his maiming, and declares there is no way Theon could have had either the strength or the courage to commit the crimes. The Freys argue that it must be Lord Manderley, but Lady Dustin reminds them that none of the northmen are particularly thrilled with them at the moment, including herself. Roose dismisses Theon.
Later he and the whole castle hears an eerie horn call from beyond the wall, followed by invisible drums. Everyone assumes it is Stannis, and Theon thinks Roose would be wise to take the fight out to Stannis before the pressure cooker situation within the walls explodes. He wonders if he could beg Roose to let him go with them, so that he might die with a sword in his hand. He goes to the godswood, and begs them to let him die as Theon, not Reek.
He seems to hear the trees whisper his own name and Bran’s as well, and is confused, since he had not killed Bran or Rickon, but two miller’s sons. He tells the trees that “he had to have two heads,” and is interrupted by Holly, Rowan, and another of Abel’s washerwomen, who mock him. Holly pulls a blade, and Theon entreats her to kill him like they did the others.
Holly laughed. “How could it be us? We’re women. Teats and cunnies. Here to be fucked, not feared.”
“Did the Bastard hurt you?” Rowan asked. “Chopped off your fingers, did he? Skinned your widdle toes? Knocked your teeth out? Poor lad.” She patted his cheek. “There will be no more o’ that, I promise. You prayed, and the gods sent us. You want to die as Theon? We’ll give you that. A nice quick death, ’twill hardly hurt at all.” She smiled. “But not till you’ve sung for Abel. He’s waiting for you.”
So, I’m kind of irritated about this. Not at what’s happened in this chapter, but that I was sort of spoiled for what’s really going on in this chapter.
Basically, I don’t know if I would have figured out by this point that Abel and his “whores” are Mance Rayder and Co. if I hadn’t seen a comment heavily hinting at such on a previous post. I mean, the comment didn’t flat out say that’s who Abel was, so I guess it was not technically a spoiler, and there’s still a chance I’m not even correct, but I still find it upsetting that it was only after seeing the hint that my mind jumped to that conclusion. I would have much preferred to come to that realization organically, as it were.
But, done bun can’t be undone, and here we are, so.
And the good thing is, while my Jeyne-escaping hopes were dashed re: Alys Karstark’s appearance, my Jeyne-rescuing hopes are abruptly revitalized with the remembrance that Mance Rayder was specifically sent by Jon to rescue “Arya” from Ramsay. And so, presumably, that is what he is working on re: his ladies’ wooing of Theon and his knowledge of how to get out of the castle. Yay!
And also, maybe, gaslighting the hell out of Roose’s forces while they’re at it, which is something I also vastly approve of. Though I was admittedly sort of upset that they killed all those horses. I have a long and illustrious history of being much more upset at the deaths of fictional animals than I am at the deaths of their fictional human masters, and that tendency shows no sign of abating anytime soon.
However, it seems clear that the hooded man Theon encounters outside the great hall is not actually Abel/Mance, since Abel was still singing in the hall when Theon runs into him. So if Hooded Dude is the murderer and not Mance and Co., then… I have no idea what’s going on, or who this guy is. He seems to take Theon’s existence personally, so presumably he is pro-Stark, but that doesn’t really narrow it down all that much, not with the number of increasingly bitter northmen inhabiting the place.
So, I don’t know. But I also don’t want any hints about it, mmkay?
Meanwhile, Theon continues his descent into Utter Pathetic Wretch Chasm. You’d think he would have reached the rock bottom of that hole by now, but apparently you’d be wrong. I have sympathy for him while at the same time an increasing (or re-increasing, I suppose) annoyance at his fundamental cowardice. If your life doesn’t matter and all you want to do is die, man, then why not spend it in some way that even remotely serves a good cause while you’re at it? You’re all like, oh, I wanna die with a sword in my hand, but how about dying with a dagger through Ramsay’s eye instead? Do you even know how much karma it would probably earn you in the theoretical afterlife to be the one who removed that diseased stain of a man from the world?
Ugh. But, it looks like Theon’s going to be gang-pressed into being a sort of hero anyway, by being forced to help Mance rescue Jeyne, so that’s accidentally good, but really, Theon. How much of an indictment is that on a person’s life? “The only good he ever did was by accident.” Congrats, dude, you are the lamest lamer who ever limped across a page.
And maybe (once again) I am not being fair to a man who was so grotesquely tortured and Stockholm Syndromed. I’m probably not being fair at all. But you know, I seem to recall that he was pretty much the exact same way re: doing the right thing before Ramsay broke him, too, so I feel like it is not actually that unfair to judge him for something that is apparently a core trait of his character, independent of his treatment at Ramsay’s hands.
“Night work is not knight’s work,” Lady Dustin said.
Chapter 47: Tyrion
Tyrion and Penny are being auctioned off as a joint act just outside the walls of Meereen; the widow had written the ships’ mates a binder of ransom, and the priests would be bought by a temple, but Tyrion and Penny have no such protection. One of the prime bidders is a hugely obese Yunkishman in yellow silk, but he is challenged by a sellsword with leathery brown skin, and Tyrion is sure the man knows who he really is, but thinks his chances will be better with the mercenary than the fat man. However, the fat man outbids the sellsword. In desperation, Tyrion bids on himself, shouting out clues to his own true identity, but the sale goes to the fat Yunkishman.
Tyrion and Penny are given to the fat man’s overseer, who tells them they are now the property of the honorable Yezzan zo Qaggaz, and that they are to call him, the overseer, “Nurse.” He is extolling his master’s many virtues to them when Tyrion notes Jorah Mormont being put on the block. Mormont is much worse for wear from the beating and branding he got when he resisted being taken by the slavers, and Tyrion finds that even with the way the knight treated him, he cannot take joy in Mormont’s misfortunes. Without quite knowing why, he convinces Nurse that Mormont is part of his and Penny’s act (the “bear” to Penny’s “maiden”), and Nurse gets Yezzan to buy Mormont as well. Mormont does not struggle, and Tyrion realizes the knight had been broken by the news that Daenerys had wed a Meereenese noble.
They go to the Yunkish encampment, where six giant trebuchets were constructed to assault the walls. Tyrion sees that there is flux among the inhabitants and resolves to escape, but his resolve is dampened when they are forced to watch slaves who had attempted escape being stoned to death. They are brought to Yezzan’s huge pavilion and fitted with collars, but Tyrion thinks that better than being branded like Mormont. Mormont is left chained outside, and Tyrion and Penny are brought to what Tyrion realizes is Yezzan’s grotesquerie, with a “goat-legged” boy, a girl with two heads, a bearded woman, and a hermaphrodite named Sweets, who warns them that Nurse is “the only true monster here,” and that Yezzan is dying and will be most generous to them if they help him forget that fact.
Tyrion and Penny entertain Yezzan and his company that evening, and one of the mercenary captains, Brown Ben Plumm, proves to be the one who tried to buy Tyrion at the auction. Yurkhaz no Yunzak, the supreme commander of the Yunkish forces, is the guest of honor, though Tyrion thinks he looks about as formidable as “a loose stool.” The dwarves’ show goes well, to Tyrion’s humiliation, and afterwards they make Tyrion play cyvasse. Tyrion beats the first Yunkish lord, and Plumm offers to play for stakes: if he wins, he gets Tyrion aka Yollo. Yezzan refuses, but promises to pay Plumm Tyrion’s sale price if he wins. Tyrion studies Plumm as they play, and concludes that his avuncular demeanor is a sham, hiding the man’s cautious greed. Plumm wins only one out of five games, but seems unfazed by his loss of money. After the guests leave, Nurse tells Tyrion that he and Penny have done well.
“Nurse said you would be rewarded if you pleased your father, did he not? Though the noble Yezzan is loath to lose his little treasures, as you have seen, Yurkhaz zo Yunzak persuaded him that it would be selfish to keep such droll antics to himself. Rejoice! To celebrate the signing of the peace, you shall have the honor of jousting in the Great Pit of Daznak. Thousands will come see you! Tens of thousands! And, oh, how we shall laugh!”
OH LOOK, IT’S MY FAVORITE THING EVER.
It’s okay, I’m sort of to the point where I’m laughing about it. Bitterly, mind you. But sure, slavery, full bore, let’s go. HOORAY.
And the sad thing is, so far being a slave doesn’t seem demonstrably that much worse for Tyrion than most of the situations he has been in since leaving King’s Landing. Which, wow with that.
…So, this joust in the pits. Tyrion and Penny aren’t going to be obliged to actually try to kill one another, are they? They’re just putting their act on in a larger venue. Right?
That had better be right.
I wonder if Dany and entourage will be obliged to attend the reopening of the fighting pits (since it’s her new hubby’s business, barf), and if so, whether Barristan or anyone else will recognize Tyrion’s true identity. That could definitely be an interesting development.
That also sort of answers my earlier skepticism about New Hubby’s ability to produce the peace he’d promised Dany upon their marriage. Apparently it really was as simple as being all “hey look, we’re totes married, y’all!” for the Yunkai’i to be on board with talking terms. I am… kind of irrationally annoyed at this. Too easy! I rage, shaking my fist at a passing cloud.
Well, okay, I guess. Peace, yaaaay.
Mormont: If some future chapter does not have at least one instance of Jorah actually playing the bear to Penny’s maiden fair I am rising up in protest. Running gags FTW!
Also, poor Jorah, I guess, re: his heartbreak over Dany. Though I really don’t know what the hell else he expected to happen. Maybe not that Dany would marry a Meereenese dude specifically, because I certainly didn’t expect that, but surely he had to know his own suit never stood a snowflake’s chance in hell even if she hadn’t banished him, right?
But even that aside, Tyrion is of course quite right in infinitely preferring a collar over a cheek brand, because yeah, that sucks. My sympathy, though, is pretty strongly tempered by the irony of the fact that the whole reason Jorah got into trouble in the first place is because he engaged in slave trafficking. I don’t think the mythology of ASOIAF trucks much in the concept of karma (as evidenced by the fact that Ramsay Bolton has yet to die in any one of a variety of deeply excruciating ways, I’m looking at YOU, Theon Greyjoy!), but even in this most unfair of worlds, sometimes it seems that what goes around, comes around.
Tyrion’s assessment of Brown Ben Plumm is interesting, because I believe I had been toying with the idea that Plumm was playing the double agent for Dany by going over to the Yunkai’i. But Tyrion is usually pretty good at judging character (when his own issues don’t get in the way), and his assessment of Plumm as “cautious but greedy” points much more to the conclusion that Plumm’s defection was exactly what it looked like, and no more.
So either Brown Ben Plumm is just one more greedy unscrupulous mercenary on the take for as much as he can get, or he is a liar good enough to fool even Tyrion Lannister. I sort of hope it’s the second option, just because the first one is so very boring and typical.
“What is the master like?” Penny asked, anxiously.
“His eyes are yellow, and he stinks,” said Sweets. “Ten years ago he went to Sothoryos, and he has been rotting from the inside out ever since. Make him forget that he is dying, even for a little while, and he can be most generous. Deny him nothing.”
So, I have no idea where Sothoryos is, but I assume it’s where you go to get either cirrhosis or liver cancer. Or both. Fun!
“Count yourselves fortunate, for Yezzan is a kindly and benevolent master. Think of him as you would your father.”
Gladly, thought Tyrion, but this time he held his tongue.
The sight of little people running about drunkenly and whacking at one another with wooden weapons appeared to be just as hilarious in a siege camp by Slaver’s Bay as at Joffrey’s wedding feast in King’s Landing. Contempt, thought Tyrion, the universal tongue.
You know, it’s really hard to encourage fictional characters to try to overcome their cynicism when events seem to continually prove that cynicism is not only a perfectly rational response to life, but actually the only acceptably intelligent reaction it is possible to have. Don’t forget: in ASOIAF, “hope” is a four letter word!
And coming up next week: puppies! Rainbows! Free healthcare! The last “everything” bagel at the deli! …Or, you could come here and have more ROIAF instead. Whoo!