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 36 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 61 (“The Griffin Reborn”) and Chapter 62 (“The Sacrifice”).
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 61: The Griffin Reborn
Jon Connington aka Griff carries out the siege against his own former hold, Griffin’s Roost. He expects heavy losses, but lack of preparedness on the defenders’ part ensures that the castle is captured with minimal casualties. He assures Homeless Harry Strickland, though, that subduing the rest of Cape Wrath will not be so easy. He climbs up to the top of the highest tower, and reflects on how he had lost this birthright after the Battle of the Bells, where he had failed to find and execute Robert Baratheon at Stoney Sept, and King Aerys had stripped him of his titles and lands in punishment. He remembers how he had insisted to Myles Toyne, in the first year of his exile, that
Tyrion Tywin Lannister could not have done it either, and Toyne had replied that Lannister would have. He would have burned Stoney Sept to the ground and killed everyone in it, Toyne said. Connington knows he was right, and vows again not to fail the son as he had the father.
The inhabitants of the keep look at him as a stranger, but kneel to him without demur, though Ronald Storm, the bastard son of Red Ronnet, Connington’s cousin and former ruler of the keep, is still defiant. Connington discusses their situation with Haldon Halfmaester; half of their forces are still missing, either delayed or lost at sea or landed elsewhere, but they ought to have also captured Rain House and Crow’s Nest by this time. Haldon reports that the Lannisters and their allies are in disarray, while Stannis Baratheon remains in open rebellion and the Arryns remain silent. Dorne is nominally still allied with the Iron Throne, but has armies lying in wait in the passes, Haldon doesn’t know for what. Connington orders him to write Prince Doran immediately to inform him that his sister’s son is alive and home to claim the throne. Connington muses that without dragons they have little incentive to offer for alliance to the local lords. Haldon suggests Aegon’s hand in marriage, but Connington says they must reserve him for Daenerys Targaryen in case she returns. Then Haldon suggests Connington’s own hand instead, as the future hand to King Aegon, but Connington remembers the creeping rot on his hand, and rejects that too.
The next morning Connington bathes his afflicted hand in bad wine, and reflects that his condition must be kept a secret lest his allies desert him. Haldon reports to him that Marq Mandrake has taken Greenstone, on Estermont. Connington decides it is time to send for Prince Aegon, who has been hidden at their initial base camp, but does not want to raise his banner yet, until they secure more allies, in particular Dorne. Strickland urges him to wait and consolidate his power on the Cape, but Connington says he means to take Storm’s End, Stannis’s last stronghold in the south, within ten days, which will prove their strength. Malo asks how he intends to take the nigh-impregnable keep, and Connington replies, “by guile”.
Prince Aegon arrives four days later, with Ser Rolly Duckfield, whom Aegon had named his first Kingsguard over Connington’s objections. He takes his time coming to see Connington, and demurs when Connington would have sent Duck away. The prince informs Connington that Strickland and Flowers have told him about the impending attack on Storm’s end.
Jon Connington did not let his fury show. “And did Homeless Harry try to persuade you to delay it?”
“He did, actually,” the prince said, “but I won’t. Harry’s an old maid, isn’t he? You have the right of it, my lord. I want the attack to go ahead… with one change. I mean to lead it.”
Mm. So baby dragon wants to show his claws, do he.
*shrug* Well, probably not the worst idea, on the face of it. In Westeros, you ain’t worth shit if you ain’t a Manly Man Who Fights Real Good, so it’s probably a sound idea for a presumptive king of Testosterone Central to show that he can, in fact, Fight Real Good. And what better way to show that than to go at a supposedly impregnable castle and successfully… er, impregnate it?
(Yeah. No “warrior strength = virility = My Penis Is Totally Large subtext THERE, NO SIRREE.)
Of course, Aegon’s Me Big Warrior Me Show You plan is probably going to throw a wrench in whatever “guile”-and-therefore-presumably-non-Big-Warrior-Fight-Good-oriented plan Connington was talking about earlier, so this should be interesting. At least insofar as any of this is interesting, which I’m not entirely sure it is.
I mean, it’s not un-interesting, exactly, but… well, I think my problem is that I can’t really pinpoint yet to what extent I even have to care about this entire very-recently-appeared new storyline. Like, maybe Connington and Aegon are destined to become major players in the ongoing hot mess that is Westeros at the moment, but maybe they are all going to be dead by the end of this book instead and it’ll all turn out to have been a mostly pointless flash in the pan.
And the thing is, I think I’ll be mildly irritated no matter which of those two things this turns out to be. Because if they are new major players, then my reaction will kind of be: great, that’s exactly what this story needed, more major players. And if they aren’t, then my reaction will kind of be: well why did I have to waste brainpower on this, then? I use the phrase “kind of” advisedly in this case (though probably way too much as a general thing), because (a) I recognize I’m setting up a pretty unfair Catch 22 there, and (b) I don’t actually have very strong feelings about this storyline at all, either negatively or positively.
Well, not yet, anyway. I’ve learned not to underestimate Martin’s ability to get me het up about things by this point. So, we’ll see, I guess.
And… yeah. Exposition exposition set-up set-up.
The only other two things that jumped out at me about this were, first, Jon Connington’s disdain of Ser Rolly as “blindingly adequate”, which I found hilarious, and secondly (and much less hilariously) Connington’s beratement of himself for not being as much of a giant pulsating asshole as Tywin Lannister was.
Because, okay, I get what’s being said here, which is that Connington’s (relative) show of mercy to the inhabitants of Stoney Sept is what made Robert’s whole coup and the ensuing civil war and blah blah blah possible, but for fuck’s sake, man. If the only way to achieve an objective is to slaughter an entire town in cold blood, then I submit to you that that objective is not worth achieving.
“But,” you begin, and point out the probably vastly higher number of innocents who have died as a result of all the hoopla since then, and I will merely shrug at you and counter that it doesn’t matter, because playing the Might Have Been game is a fool’s racket, and definitely should not be worth a person’s soul, which in my opinion is what razing that town ought to cost. And then I will probably add something about how even if Robert had been killed before he could effect his coup that something generally as heinous and innocent-killing would probably have happened anyway, thereby proving that idealistic cynicism is totally a thing and I have it, a lot.
Chapter 62: The Sacrifice
Aly Mormont urges Asha not to watch the sacrifice being prepared before them, but Asha refuses to leave, knowing that the queens’ men want to burn her just as much. Artos Flint argues that it is the old gods they should be appeasing, not R’hllor, but Corliss Penny says it was their “demon trees” that brought on the snow. Asha wishes a pox on all their gods. She watches Ser Clayton Suggs prepare the pyre, and knows he takes part in the burning for pleasure, not piety. Asha thinks on how they’ve been mired in the crofters’ village for nineteen days now, with food becoming more and more scarce, and is not surprised that some of the men have resorted to eating their own dead.
The four Peasebury men who had been caught doing it, though, were condemned to die, and the queens’ men declared that burning them as a sacrifice to R’hllor would save them from the storm. One of the four men, the serjeant, goads Suggs into killing him first, which Asha thinks very clever and notes it should her turn come. Stannis has confined himself to his tower for days—some said that he spent his time calling to Lady Melisandre for help—but he emerges to watch the burning, accompanied by Arnolf Karstark, who had found them eight days earlier but had not shared with them any of his company’s rations. Ser Godry Farring conducts the ritual, exhorting R’hllor to accept their offering and show them the way to Winterfell. Asha is sickened by the burnings, but does not turn away. After, Suggs manhandles her and says the crowd will be twice as big at her burning. Aly Mormont intervenes, but Suggs says a sacrifice of royal blood would be more powerful. Aly asks if they will burn her next, and Asha suggests that maybe burning a true believer like Suggs would be more effective. Ser Justin Massey arrives and laughs, and Suggs flounces off.
Asha thanks Massey for the rescue, and Aly points out it will seem that he has lost faith in R’hllor. Massey mutters that he has lost faith in more than that, and offers to take Asha to dinner at the longhall. Asha notes that the southron men look considerably more sickly than the northmen, and there is a bitter fight among the factions as to what they should do; Asha thinks that all their options—press on, stay, or retreat—mean death, but Karstark assures the men that they will take Winterfell and “bathe in the blood of Freys and Boltons”. The northmen cheer this, but Asha notes that the southron lords are silent. Massey initially engages the Karstarks, arguing against their plan, but when they challenge his piety he becomes nervous and soon quits the hall. Asha reflects that her champion is “made of suet”.
She tries to follow him anyway, but loses him in the storm, and encounters Suggs instead, who hurls epithets and threats at her. Asha reminds him that Stannis gelds rapists, but Suggs chuckles that he’d rather burn her anyway. They are interrupted by approaching horses, which they both first think is an invading force, but Asha sees that two of them are Night’s Watch and calls out, asking who they are. “Friends”, one replies, and Asha sees to her shock that it is Tristifer Botley, along with five more of her former company, and a Braavosi man who introduces himself as Tycho Nestoris, a servant of the Iron Bank. He explains that he paid the Glovers a ransom to liberate the ironmen to serve him as escorts to find King Stannis. He identifies her as Lady Asha Greyjoy, and tells her he has a present for her, found beneath the walls of Winterfell with Mors Umber’s men. Two figures come forward, and Asha identifies them as a young girl and an old man.
The old man… no one would ever think him comely. She had seen scarecrows with more flesh. His face was a skull with skin, his hair bone-white and filthy. And he stank. Just the sight of him filled Asha with revulsion.
He raised his eyes. “Sister. See. This time I knew you.”
Asha’s heart skipped a beat. “Theon?”
His lips skinned back in what might have been a grin. Half his teeth were gone, and half of those still left him were broken and splintered. “Theon,” he repeated. “My name is Theon. You have to know your name.”
Omigosh, a family reunion! Those are the BEST. They make everyone so happy!
*mops up small lake of sarcasm*
Yeah, pretty sure this particular sibling meet-up is not going to make anyone’s Most Awesome Reuniting Moment list anytime soon. Or at least I will be vastly surprised if it does. But even so, I am also fairly vastly interested in seeing what will happen as a result of it.
Assuming everyone involved doesn’t all die, of course, which is even less a guarantee than the last time we saw this sorry pack of folks. Starvation and hypothermia: not getting any more fun over time! Shocking, I know. But, as Asha points out to herself, it’s not like they appear to have any options which don’t involve a whole lot of very grisly death, so there’s that.
Although perhaps now Theon might be able to point them to that secret passage through the catacombs into Winterfell that I’m 85% sure I’m not hallucinating Theon knows about? That might be a thing. I hope it (a) is true and (b) happens, because even though R’hllor and his followers and their human sacrifice bullshit can take a long walk off a short pier, I would still on balance far rather see Stannis and Asha and etc. survive and get to Winterfell than let the Revoltin’ Boltons continue to have it, because duh.
So, um, go, Theon, go! I guess! Sort of!
(Though of course I am aware that if Theon does have a way into Winterfell, it can certainly be interpreted that his arrival was a direct result of the sacrifice to R’hllor, and that is certainly how Godry et al will take it. For my part, I will just roll my eyes and point out that Theon was rescued and on his way to Stannis’s camp long before they burnt up those guys, so whatever with your mystical/religious ambiguity thing, Martin! Nyah!)
Re: the cannibalism thing, well. Gross and wrong and utterly unacceptable under 99% of circumstances? Yes, obviously. In this circumstance? Prooooobably, maybe not? I mean, if it’s a choice between “eat this dead dude” or starve… I dunno, I just feel that as a general rule I am very pro-me surviving things, sooooo, yeah. I don’t know if I could actually eat another human being, but I don’t know that I would condemn someone else for doing it in this situation, either.
And I certainly wouldn’t burn them at the stake for it. Though I guess there’s an argument to be made that there must be a strong deterring punishment, lest people get it into their heads to move on from just eating people who have already died to actually killing live people for food, but that’s a slippery slope argument that… I hope is over-exaggerating things?
Look, my vote is, let’s not starve and/or freeze and have to deal with this problem in the first place, because ugh. Lush tropical island living for all! There, look, I fixed it.
In other news, well hey, the Braavosi banking dude actually found Stannis! Well done, man, I am impressed. I totally thought his quest was doomed to failure, but apparently “banker” is way more badass a profession in Braavos than it tends to be round these parts. I mean, my bank is prepared to be a total shit about charging me a whole passel of bullshit fees just for the heady honor of letting them dry-hump my money while I’m not using it, but I’m pretty sure even they wouldn’t be down for hunting me down through a pre-apocalyptic blizzard from hell to collect said fees. At least, I sincerely hope not.
And, last and really, really least:
“That prancing fool? What do you want with him, cunt? If it’s a fuck you need, I’m more a man than Massey.”
Cunt again? It was odd how men like Suggs used that word to demean women when it was the only part of a woman they valued.
“Odd” is not how I would put it, but otherwise, word.
And that’s our show, kids! Have a lovely week, and I will see you next Thursday!