A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Dance with Dragons, Part 32

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 32 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 53 (“Jon”) and Chapter 54 (“Cersei”).

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 53: Jon

What Happens

After a day of blustering theatrics and insults, Jon and Tormund Giantsbane come to an accord for the terms of the peace between the Night Watch and the wildlings. Jon hopes he is doing the right thing, and Tormund clearly has similar doubts, but the deaths of his sons have changed his outlook. He gives Jon his gold armbands as his part of the price, and promises they will arrive at the Wall three days hence. Jon leaves the tent to find Ghost in company with Val, and thinks she would be a worthy wife for a lord, but that ship has sailed for him, and he declines Tormund’s urging to “steal” her. Val cheerfully says she would geld him if he tried, which Tormund finds hilarious.

Jon tells her he regrets that she must remain a captive, but promises her that she shall not be harmed. He is worried about his own people’s reaction to the bargain he’s made, and Val offers to help him sell it. He agrees to bring her with him when he meets with Queen Selyse. Jon hopes Selyse will be gone soon, hopefully taking Melisandre with her. Back at the castle, Jon gives orders to have Marsh, Yarwyck, Septon Cellador, Clydas, Flint, Norrey and Leathers meet him atop the Wall at sunset.

The queen is with Patchface and Princess Shireen, but she sends them away when Jon and Val arrive. Jon explains the terms of the deal to her, and that the four thousand wildlings will help defend the Wall by manning the abandoned garrisons the Watch cannot fill. The queen accepts this, but then adds that the wildlings must first accept Stannis as their king and R’hllor as their god. Jon tells her that those were not the terms, and Val adds that the free folk will never kneel. Selyse is angry, and warns Jon of Stannis’s retribution for this. They leave, and Val is angry in turn about the existence of Shireen and her “grey death.” She says the child is “not clean,” and insists that the baby must be moved out of the tower, away from “the dead girl.” Jon is dismayed, but agrees to try to arrange it.

Atop the Wall, he meets with Bowen Marsh et al and tells them about the deal with Tormund. They are even less thrilled than Selyse about it. Bowen asks if they mean to let the Weeping Man through too, with his numerous atrocities, and Jon reminds them that when a man takes the black, his crimes are forgiven, and they must do the same for the free folk if they are to fight alongside them. Bowen points out that if Tormund, the Weeper, and the folk at Hardhome all come across, they will vastly outnumber the Watch, but Jon counters that most of them are starving and weak. Bowen asks how they are to feed them, and Jon explains his price of all the free folk’s gold and valuables, which he will send over sea to trade for food. They argue some more, with the men insisting that the wildlings will betray them even though Jon tells them he will have their boys as hostages, until Bowen says flatly that what he proposes is treason, and reminds Jon that he swore an oath.

“I know what I swore.” Jon said the words. “I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. Were those the same words you said when you took your vows?”

“They were. As the lord commander knows.”

“Are you certain that I have not forgotten some? The ones about the king and his laws, and how we must defend every foot of his land and cling to each ruined castle? How does that part go?” Jon waited for an answer. None came. “I am the shield that guards the realms of men. Those are the words. So tell me, my lord— what are these wildlings, if not men?”

Bowen has no answer for that, and Jon tells them the white walkers are coming, and the Wall will only defend against them if the Wall has men to defend it. He declares the discussion over, and gives out orders to prepare for the wildlings’ arrival. They agree, reluctantly, and Jon remembers Melisandre’s words:

“Ice,” she said, “and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel.” His sword hand flexed. The wind was rising.


So, if you look up “fraught” in the dictionary, it probably has icicles on it right now. I’m just saying.

Yeah, no, nothing to worry about here! Not like there’s a million and one ways this whole thing could go straight to hell! Nope, nosirree!

…But, you know, even if it all goes to shit at some point, it’s still damn impressive that Jon’s been able to hold it together this long. And as far as I can tell, this is literally the only solution that has a prayer of actually getting the Wall manned adequately, short of everyone south of the Wall suddenly coming to their senses and putting aside the civil war and uniting to HAHAHA okay nevermind.

And wow, is it frustrating to be so impressed with a leader for putting aside his or her prejudices and pre-conceived notions to actually get shit done, only to watch him be consistently undermined by those who would much rather enshrine and worship those prejudices and pre-conceived notions, and hang whether shit gets done or not. That just sucks. Yep.

Or at least to be threatened with such. No one at Castle Black has quite gotten to the point where they’ve flat-out refused to do what Jon’s told them to do en masse, but I distinctly feel the possibility of it looming darkly on the horizon. Melisandre’s more or less directly predicted it, to boot. So I really hope that Jon’s outside-the-box thinking has also been applied to averting coup d’etats.

Because as examples of bad timing go, “mutiny on the eve of the frozen zombie apocalypse” is a pretty stellar one.

But we can hope that it doesn’t come to that. And in the meantime I can at least enjoy it when Jon lays epic logic smackdowns on his bigoted followers, like he just did here with Bowen, because I love me a good logic smackdown, y’all. Not lying, I got a little heart-eyed there. Oh snap, Jon Snow.

“No. I’ll not have it said that Tormund Thunderfist made the free folk give up their treasures whilst he kept his own.” He grinned. “But I’ll keep the ring I wear about me member. Much bigger than those little things. On you it’d be a torque.”

LOL. Ah, the beauty of a good dick joke.

Not unrelatedly, the name “Tormund Thunderfist” is making me giggle every time I look at it.

On days like this the Wall shimmered bright as a septon’s crystal, every crack and crevasse limned by sunlight, as frozen rainbows danced and died behind translucent ripples. On days like this the Wall was beautiful.

Now there’s a picture. I do look forward to seeing if the HBO series does any kind of justice to the visuals Martin’s given us—even the ridiculously outsized ones, like the Wall. Maybe even especially the ridiculous ones. (And anyway, Google informs me that New Line decided that Minas Tirith was a thousand feet high for the LOTR movies, so in context, a 700-foot wall of ice isn’t even all that outré, really.)

“I’m a princess too,” Shireen announced, “but I never had a sister. I used to have a cousin once, before he sailed away. He was just a bastard, but I liked him.”

Oh, yeah, the one Davos saved. Edwin or Erdwin or whatever. I remember thinking he seemed like a nice kid. I wonder where the hell he is by now?

Val’s rejection of Shireen for her affliction struck me as cruel, but I must acknowledge I am coming from a totally different place than she, both culturally and technologically, when it comes to disease. And if I am right that greyscale is roughly analogous to leprosy (I know it’s not a 1:1 correspondence, but that’s the analogy I keep coming up with, so I go with it), then that means Shireen is also contagious to others, if not very highly, which makes cultural imperatives to shun such afflicted people more understandable, if still upsetting. In the absence of effective treatments for or understanding of contagious diseases, unfortunately isolation is often the only recourse for containment—which is why I was getting so irritated at Dany re: her whole Let’s Go Hug Dysentery! campaign.

Because, don’t hug dysentery, y’all. It will not end well.


Chapter 54: Cersei

What Happens

Cersei has been kept prisoner for an unknown number of days without adequate warmth, sleep, or food. She is allowed no visitors, and the three septas who tend her refuse to answer her questions about Tommen or anyone else. Cersei rails against all those who have betrayed her, but cannot believe Jaime is one of them, and eagerly awaits his rescue, though she worries that Qyburn may have been killed before delivering her letter. She fought her captors at first, but as time passes she finds her strength waning, and finally Cersei decides that she must confess as has been demanded of her.

She begs to be brought before the High Septon, claiming repentance of all her sins, and as a reward they let her sleep through the night before bringing her down. Before the High Septon, remembering that Lancel and the Kettleblacks talked, Cercei carefully admits to sleeping with them, but pleads “a woman’s weakness” and a need to ensure the safety of her son as reasons. She denies having told Osney Kettleblack to murder the previous High Septon or to defame Margaery Tyrell, and also denies having cheated on her husband while he was still alive, or killing him. She claims the accusations of incest and cuckolding were lies invented by Stannis in pursuit of the throne, and is heartened by the High Septon’s condemnation of Stannis as a heretic. He tells her that she must still have a trial and be “cleansed of her wickedness,” but that she will now be allowed visitors, though not Tommen.

She asks for her uncle Ser Kevan, and learns he is Lord Regent now. He comes to her the next day, and accepts her tearful apology re: Lancel coldly. He tells her that Tommen is well, but that Jaime has left his forces in the riverlands to go off with a woman who may have been Lady Brienne of Tarth. Cersei remembers how ugly she was and dismisses her as a threat, and concludes that Jaime must not have gotten her letter. She begs Kevan to get her out, but he says he does not have the manpower to do it. He tells her the High Septon wants her to atone for her sins by “a walk before the city,” but Cersei refuses flatly, saying she would rather die. Kevan replies that she may get her wish, as she is to be put on trial for “regicide, deicide, incest, and high treason”—unless she demands trial by battle with one of the Kingsguard as her champion.

Cersei wants to know why Margaery got to go free and not her, and Kevan says Randyll Tarly and his large army accomplished that, plus the High Septon admits the case against the Tyrell girls is weak. Cersei takes heart, though, when she learns many of Margaery’s “accusers” are still in Qyburn’s custody. Then Kevan tells her what happened to Myrcella. Cersei is horrified, and immediately decides that Tyrion was behind it, ignoring Kevan’s observation that she “sees Tyrion in every shadow.” She confirms that Ser Arys Oakheart has been killed, and says that means there is an opening in the Kingsguard. She says if Kevan tells Tommen to name someone, he will.

“And who would you have him name?”

She did not have a ready answer. My champion will need a new name as well as a new face. “Qyburn will know. Trust him in this. You and I have had our differences, Uncle, but for the blood we share and the love you bore my father, for Tommen’s sake and the sake of his poor maimed sister, do as I ask you. Go to Lord Qyburn on my behalf, bring him a white cloak, and tell him that the time has come.”


Before I even start reading: Whoa, a Cersei POV? That is like so 2014!

After reading: Okaaaaaaay, what is happening here.

…All right, I am now very vaguely remembering Qyburn talking to Cersei about some project he was working on which involved… oversized armor? Right?

Dude. Did they make RoboKnight? You guys, I think they made RoboKnight. ZOMG.

Is Qyburn Dr. Frankensteining it up in his den of horrors down there? I bet he is, y’all. I bet he is spending the Westeros equivalent of six million dollars on some poor schmuck to make them the bigger badder knight. Also, given the origins here, probably also the uglier, eviler, deranged-er knight too. I mean, I don’t even want to know what is involved in giving someone “a new face” in these conditions, y’all, but let’s just say I’m pretty sure it won’t be AMA-approved. Yeesh.

Granted, I have no idea how one achieves this type of thing with just inhumane torture, which seems to be Qyburn’s sole bailiwick, but we do know that reanimating dead tissue is absolutely a doable thing these days. So maybe he found a magician type person to team up with or something for mad science magic Frankensteining purposes. It’s just how you would make an undead dude… er, Hulk out that I’m not clear on. I mean, I’m pretty sure Catelyn didn’t get extra muscles or anything after she came back, so it’s not like coming back from the dead itself makes you big enough to need Hulk-size armor…

You know what, I am way overanalyzing this. I’m sure I will find out in the fullness of time how exactly one pulls off a RoboKnight in a medieval-ish dungeon. Or I will find out that I have been completely barking up the wrong tree this whole time and “RoboKnight” is the dumbest thing that’s ever come out of my keyboard. Not that I care, because the concept of RoboKnight is HILARIOUS and I am enjoying it until such time as he/she/it does something awful that I’ll have to be mad about. But until then, HAHAHAHA RoboKnight.

(dance till you drop)

ANYWAY, Cersei! Is still on form, I see! One crying and lying ex-monarch, up on deck!

But, you know, she’s a lot less tortured than I thought she’d be. I mean, she’s basically in Religious Fanatic Gitmo right now, but a little systematic sleep deprivation and starvation is actually kind of small potatoes compared to what I’d assumed was going to happen.

But maybe they’re saving the good stuff for after the trial! Antiyay!

And of course she is conflicting me, as per the usual, because we all know good and well that Cersei is a horrible person who’s done some seriously shitty things and really does deserve to be punished for them, BUT at the same time I am so outraged on principle by this “witch trial by theocratic fiat” bullshit that I perversely want her to outwit them and beat the whole rap (beat it with ROBOKNIGHT! Hahahaha) just for the moral victory. Yes, I am aware of the irony here.

The galloping misogyny on display, naturally, does not sweeten my attitude toward the ersatz prosecution in the slightest. “The wickedness of widows is well-known,” what the fuck ever. I have never lost a spouse, but on behalf of every woman who has: Up yours, your Holiness.

(You do have to give Cersei sort of half-hearted props, though, for her leet skillz in manipulating a system that is inherently against her, by using that very misogyny to protect herself, or at least try to. There’s a whole debate with myself to be had here about whether that’s hypocrisy or just good survival skills that I don’t have the energy to get into right now, but do not doubt that I am aware of it, at least.)

Blurgh. It’s not worth it to bring justice to someone who deserves it if it condones a method of “justice” that could be used unilaterally against someone who doesn’t deserve it. In other words, I want Cersei to get her comeuppance, but I’d far rather she got it fairly—not for her sake, necessarily, but for everyone else’s, if that makes sense. But of course, we’re talking about a system of justice that even in its secular iteration involves a trial by combat clause, so I might as well ask for that winged unicorn pony I’ve been wanting while I’m asking for “fair,” since they’re both about equally likely to happen, seems like. Sigh.

On to Kevan: all other considerations aside, I can’t deny it’s a relief that he’s in the driver’s seat now. At least there’s a chance now that the Lannisters won’t drive the entire continent off a cliff before….

Well, before the ravening ice monsters show up and kill everyone. So, it’s a uniquely ASOIAF kind of relief, but hey.

Also, I can’t think getting Tommen away from his mother is anything but a good thing, because damn was she messing that kid up. So go Lord Regent Kevan, I guess.

Also also, Cersei’s continuing obsession with Tyrion is officially no longer cute. Not that it ever was, but girl, come on.

Also also also, I think what I would really like to get now would be a Margaery POV, because right now I have her cast as the anti-Cersei in my head and I am kind of dying to know if she actually is or not. I’m not sure why that’s relevant here, but I thought it, so I thought I’d say it.

And, yeah. So up next: magical Frankenstein steroid dueling? Magical Frankenstein Steroid Dueling! Whee! I’d buy THAT for a dollar!

And that’s the haps, y’all! Have a swelteringly lovely weekend, and I’ll see you next Thursday with more!


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