A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Dance With Dragons, Part 34

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 34 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 57 (“Tyrion”) and Chapter 58 (“Jon”).

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!

Before we begin, Scheduling Note: I will be taking a wee vacay during the week surrounding Labor Day weekend, and thus there will be no ROIAF post on Thursday September 3rd. I know, you’re devastated, but I promise your hearts will go on!

Onward!

 

Chapter 57: Tyrion

What Happens

The healer declares there is nothing he can do for Yezzan zo Qaggaz, who is afflicted with the pale mare, and leaves Tyrion and Penny and Yezzan’s other “treasures” to clean and care for him as best they can. Tyrion feels somewhat sorry for Yezzan, who he’s learned has conducted himself with more honor than most of his Yunkish compatriots, but Tyrion is more concerned with what will happen to them when Yezzan dies. Sweets confirms that the “freak” slaves are unlikely to survive Yezzan’s death, but Penny talks hopefully of going to find the silver queen, or sailing to Qarth. Tyrion volunteers her and himself to get water, and reflects on the nice mushroom soup he’d brought Nurse right before the overseer had sadly succumbed to the disease himself.

Tyrion tries to order one of the soldier slaves to get Yezzan water and gets backhanded for his trouble. They tell him to get the water himself, and to take “the bear” to help them. Tyrion agrees meekly, and they let Jorah out of the cage he’s been put in for insubordination. Tyrion thinks that Jorah is a battered shell of himself who would rather die than live a slave, but fortunately Jorah doesn’t do anything but follow Tyrion and Penny to the well. Tyrion thinks the fact that there are unpoisoned wells within reach of the camp proves that Daenerys was “still an innocent” when it came to siegecraft.

The slaves in line are discussing the queen’s flight and whether she survived it, and Tyrion remembers how he had seen Ser Barristan next to her at the pit and almost revealed himself, but then considered that Barristan was unlikely to have any affection for Tyrion Lannister and did not. He regrets that they had been below being chained up when the queen flew away, so he did not see it. They get the water and head back, but Tyrion leads them a different way, telling them it’s quicker. Penny obeys without question, and Tyrion can’t decide if he envies her ability to trust despite all her suffering. She reminds him of Sansa, and even though he sometimes wants to scream at her, he has not, and has even sheltered her from some things, like the fact that he’d realized they were supposed to have been mauled by lions during their joust in the pit.

Jorah is amused when he realizes Tyrion is leading them to the tents of the Second Sons. Penny gets upset when she realizes Tyrion is trying to escape, but Tyrion goes on anyway, and she follows, as does Jorah. Once there, a serjeant recognizes them as the dwarves Ben Plumm had tried to buy, and takes them to the captain, who is with two other officers, Inkpots and “Kasporio the Cunning.” Plumm wants to know why “Yollo” is here, and Tyrion says that Plumm knows “Yollo’s” true name, and worth. He mentions his familiarity with Plumm’s family in Westeros, and (correctly) surmises that his Targaryen blood meant Daenerys’s dragons were probably fond of him.

Tyrion argues that Plumm will need to take him back to Westeros alive to ensure he gets his just reward, or better yet, Plumm could throw in with him. Tyrion tells him that he is very generous to his friends, and he can ask Tyrion’s former associates if he doesn’t believe him.

“Might be,” said Brown Ben. “Or might be you just made up some names. Shagga, did you say? Is that a woman’s name?”

“His teats are big enough. Next time we meet I’ll peek beneath his breeches to be sure. Is that a cyvasse set over there? Bring it out and we’ll have that game. But first, I think, a cup of wine. My throat is dry as an old bone, and I can see that I have a deal of talking to do.”

Commentary

Hahaha, Tyrion’s going to straight-up talk himself out of slavery. Because of course he is. Bless.

I mean, if it were anyone else I would be pretty darn concerned that this move constitutes jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but I have a lot more faith in Tyrion’s ability to bareface his way out of this than I would most other characters’.

And anyway, even going as a prisoner back to King’s Landing is an improvement over their previous situation. Because EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Seriously, this one rated about a 9.5 on my Gross Shit-O-Meter. As in, the amount of literal gross shit it contained. Ugh, ew, blech.

I guess I feel… sort of sorry for Yezzan? I mean, at least he was marginally less horrible than 99% of the slavers, and that is truly a, well, shitty way to die. *rimshot*

Although, I might have to rescind the “marginally less horrible” judgment if he actually consented to having Penny and Tyrion mauled by lions in the pit. But I’m sort of under the impression that he didn’t, and it was Nurse who arranged it? But then again it doesn’t make sense that Nurse would just kill off two of Yezzan’s favorite slaves without his permission, so I guess he did know? And if so, that is seriously not cool.

Well, whatever. Dude’s going to be extremely dead very soon, probably even if someone bothers to go get him some more water. So whether he was a nice slave owner is no longer at issue—not for Tyrion et al, anyway. I hope.

The most insidious thing about bondage was how easy it was to grow accustomed to it. The life of most slaves was not all that different from the life of a serving man at Casterly Rock, it seemed to him. True, some slaveowners and their overseers were brutal and cruel, but the same was true of some Westerosi lords and their stewards and bailiffs. Most of the Yunkai’i treated their chattels decently enough, so long as they did their jobs and caused no trouble…

I remember reading Gone With the Wind when I was probably a little too young to be really reading such things, and being quite confused by the defensive tone in which the novel lauded the excellent relationship most Atlanta slaveowners apparently had with their slaves, no really, they loved one another! Because even growing up in Louisiana, I had not previously gotten the impression that slavery was anything but a very very bad thing, and this seemed to be saying the exact opposite.

Which, of course, it was, but it wasn’t until years and years later that I got to the point where I could understand the insidiousness, as Tyrion points out, of that viewpoint, from either side of the equation. Because I have no doubt that there were slaves in the antebellum South who were happy with their situations, who were lucky enough to be owned by people who treated them kindly and didn’t work them too hard and so forth and so on. But asserting the truth of that, I eventually realized, doesn’t change the fact that an institution doesn’t have to be all blood and pain and suffering all the time to be an abomination.

Of course, the irony here is that Tyrion doesn’t seem to recognize how thoroughly he has condemned his own more feudal caste system, by noting how closely it resembles slavery. Or maybe he does and just figures it’s the Way Things Are, but I was nevertheless reminded of that saying about whether a fish knows it’s wet.

The goat boy spoke up. “The silver queen—”

“—is dead,” insisted Sweets. “Forget her! The dragon took her across the river. She’s drowned in that Dothraki sea.”

Okay, so Dany and Drogon evidently headed for the Dothraki lands? I’m still sort of unclear on where that is exactly in relation to everything else; unless I missed something, it’s not portrayed on any of the maps in this book. But okay, I’ll go with the idea that they are generally northeast-ish of Meereen, sure.

Maybe she’s going to get her another passel of Dothraki to come take back the city with. Or maybe that’s just the direction she happened to be pointed in. Or maybe she wanted to reenact the end of The Neverending Story and needed some wide-open scenery to enjoy before going to scare her enemies into a dumpster. Look, I don’t know.

Tyrion’s comparison of Penny to Sansa was legit, at least at the point that Tyrion last knew Sansa. Post-Littlefinger, I think Sansa’s trustingness has been pretty well whittled down. But as to Penny, it really is kind of amazing that she’s able to maintain any kind of optimism whatsoever considering the life she’s led. But then, some people are just like that; I’ve met a few, and they are generally either awe-inspiring or incredibly annoying. Or both. But as a coping mechanism, admittedly, it beats the hell out of binge drinking and spreading STDs around, Tyrion.

And lastly:

The knight had not adapted well to bondage. When called upon to play the bear and carry off the maiden fair, he had been sullen and uncooperative, shuffling lifelessly through his paces when he deigned to take part in their mummery at all.

Ahhhhhhh CALLED IT.

Though I can’t decide whether to giggle madly that Jorah actually did play the bear, or to be annoyed that I didn’t get to actually see it happen.

 

Chapter 58: Jon

What Happens

On the day the wildlings are to cross the Wall, Jon wakes from a dream where he is defending the Wall by himself and cutting down the reanimated corpses of friends and loved ones, and wishes the Old Bear or Qhorin Halfhand or his uncle were there to deal with this. At breakfast, Jon warns the brothers that the first one who breaks the peace will lose his head for it. His honor guard includes Leathers, the new master-at-arms, to show the wildlings solidarity, and they go through the tunnel under the Wall to meet Tormund and his sons Toregg and Dryn. Tormund mocks Jon and Jon frightens his horse with Ghost in retaliation, and then the free folk begin their journey through the gate.

The hostages, one hundred young boys, go through first, and Tormund points out the sons of men of repute, including a son of Varamyr Sixskins. Two of the boys are girls in disguise, and Jon arranges to send them to Long Barrow with the spearwives, but demands two more boys to replace them. The last hostage is Tormund’s younger son Dryn, whom Jon promises to make his own page. Next come the warriors and spearwives, and some stare at him coldly, but others pledge themselves to Jon. They all surrender their valuables before passing through.

It goes on and on, and Tormund complains that the gate is too small, and makes a joke about using the Horn of Joramund to get the Wall out of the way. Jon points out that Melisandre burned the Horn, and Tormund laughs and says that they never found the real Horn. Jon is unsure whether to believe Toramund is lying or that Mance was. The wildlings toward the end of the line get antsy when snow threatens, and one man gets stabbed, but Toregg breaks it up. Jon asks Tormund to tell him about the Others. Tormund is reluctant to talk about it, but describes how they’d followed the refugees the whole way “nibbling at our edges.” They avoided fire, but if the fires went out or refused to light, they would always get a few. He talks of the killing cold mists they bring, and asks if Jon’s sword can “cut cold.” Jon thinks of what Sam had told him about his sword Longclaw, made of bespelled Valyrian dragonsteel, and wonders.

The line keeps going into nightfall, and at last Toregg and the rear guard approach, with Tormund’s best men “or his worst.” Among them is a man with a giant boar at his side Tormund calls Borroq, and Jon somehow instantly knows he is a skinchanger. He is the last to go through. Ghost snarls and the boar looks about to charge, but then Borroq calls Jon “brother.” Jon tells him to go through, and he smiles an ugly smile and goes. They close the gate, and Bowen Marsh tells Jon the tally: three thousand one hundred nineteen wildlings. Sixty hostages and many spearwives have already been sent off to Eastwatch, Shadow Tower, and Long Barrow, respectively, and the rest are here. Jon is bemused by the sight of Castle Black actually filled with people and light. He goes to his rooms, where Clydas brings him a message.

At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune.

Cotter Pyke had made his angry mark below.

“Is it grievous, my lord?” asked Clydas.

“Grievous enough.” Dead things in the wood. Dead things in the water. Six ships left, of the eleven that set sail. Jon Snow rolled up the parchment, frowning. Night falls, he thought, and now my war begins.

Commentary

A mixed bag of a day for Jon, that’s for sure.

On the one hand, all the wildlings are across the Wall! And there was no coup or assassination attempt or riot or anything! No one died even a little bit! That amounts to a damn miracle in my book, so yay there.

On the other hand, Cotter Pyke’s message is beyond ominous. Not to mention confusing. By “dead things in the woods/water,” does he mean formerly-human wights for both, or are there like undead sea monsters too? Not that either is especially thrilling news, but I’m thinking an undead kraken would be even worse than a live one. (Assuming krakens are real here; I think they are, but you’d think we’d have heard of more ships being eaten/smashed by them if they were, and I don’t remember anything like that thus far.)

And beyond that, I’m bemused by Pyke’s plea to send help overland, because seriously, dude? To get to Hardhome by land you have to go through a place literally called The Haunted Forest. And I think we all know what it’s haunted by. Does he really think Jon has a force big enough to spare to… well, okay, I guess he does, now. But even so, trying to evacuate refugees—hostile refugees, at that!—through The Haunted Goddamn Forest strikes me as being cuckoo bananas.

Also, why are the Hardhome refugees so hostile, anyway? Didn’t that one witch woman predict to them that they would be saved by sea? Of course, I’m sure Pyke and Co. have been making an absolute hash of the concept of “diplomacy,” so that probably hasn’t helped, but jeez, people. Maybe don’t bite the hand that’s offering to feed you things that, you know, aren’t your own dead. Your own reanimating dead, at that. Yikes.

Plus, I am certain that this Borroq/boar wargperson is not going to be any trouble, at all. Nope. No way. NOT AT ALL. And if you believe that, I also have this awesome bridge I’d like to sell you.

He rose and dressed in darkness, as Mormont’s raven muttered across the room. “Corn,” the bird said, and, “King,” and, “Snow, Jon Snow, Jon Snow.” That was queer. The bird had never said his full name before, as best Jon could recall.

Hmm.

I don’t remember Melisandre burning the Horn of Joramun. Or, I suppose, the alleged Horn of Joramun. Maybe that happened off-screen? Or, I just forgot. Probably I just forgot.

Seems a little foolish, either way. I mean, presumably something that powerful could be made to work for the Night Watch/Wall defenders, not just against them, and if so you’ve destroyed a possibly invaluable weapon against the Others. But then again, if you don’t know how to make it work for you, maybe better safe than sorry. Assuming you burned the right horn, of course. I guess we’ll find out!

Also, if Tormund isn’t lying, it occurs to me that they’d better hope to hell the Others don’t have the real horn. Yeek.

…Although I’m still unclear on whether the Others have enough native intelligence to set up a battle strategy like that. Tormund’s description of how they hounded the wildling refugees on the way to the Wall (picking off stragglers and outliers, only attacking in bits and pieces instead of a full-on assault) sounds as if they behave more like a pack of hyenas following a herd of prey than an organized, sapient fighting force. So it’s possible that even if they found the real horn, they wouldn’t be able to figure out what to do with it.

One can hope I’m right—not just about the horn but about the “pack of hyenas” thing in general. I wouldn’t want to go up against a horde of supernatural ice monsters with the intelligence of hyenas, true, but I would pick that in a hot second over going up against a horde of supernatural ice monsters with the intelligence of humans.

But whatever with supernatural ice monsters, because look who got a cameo!

It was strangely comforting to see Edd’s dour face again. “How goes the restoration work?” he asked his old steward.

“Ten more years should do it,” Tollett replied in his usual gloomy tone. “Place was overrun with rats when we moved in. The spearwives killed the nasty buggers. Now the place is overrun with spearwives. There’s days I want the rats back.”

“How do you find serving under Iron Emmett?” Jon asked.

“Mostly it’s Black Maris serving under him, m’lord. Me, I have the mules. Nettles claims we’re kin. It’s true we have the same long face, but I’m not near as stubborn. Anyway I never knew their mothers, on my honor.”

Two, TWO Dolorous Edd quotes for the price of one! Yay! *is pleased*

And last:

And there were queerer things: a toy mammoth made of actual mammoth hair, an ivory phallus, a helm made from a unicorn’s head, complete with horn.

Okay, two things:

(A) MEDIEVAL DILDOS FTW. Excuse me, I have to go laugh about this forever. Talk about a “fuck you,” eh? Literally. Hahahahaha, awesome.

(B) Frickin’ unicorns again, y’all. I demand pictures of this unicorn head! No, c’mon, I really want to know if we’re talking “virgin-collecting ethereal white horse” unicorn or “rhinoceros mistaken for a unicorn” unicorn here. I’m serious, I need this information. I AM CONTINUALLY THROWN BY THE EXISTENCE OF UNICORNS IN THIS STORY.


But I shall have to endure it for now, because here’s where we stop! Have a lovely week, my darlings, and I’ll see you next Thursday!

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