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 39 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 66 (“Tyrion”) and Chapter 67 (“The Kingbreaker”).
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 66: Tyrion
In Brown Ben Plumm’s tent, Tyrion signs paper after paper promising largish sums of money to various members of the Second Sons, and vast sums of money to Plumm himself and his senior officers, as well as a promise of a title and lands to Plumm. Tyrion pretends to be disgruntled about this, but privately is gleeful, reflecting that he’ll either regain Casterly Rock and be able to make good on his debts, or die trying, so it works out either way. Plumm tells Tyrion he’ll be working with Inkpots (the paymaster), and warns him to stay out of the public eye as much as possible. They have him sign the roster (Tyrion adds a drop of blood to the ink for verisimilitude) to join the company.
He goes to collect Penny, who has not been speaking to him for leaving her dog and pig behind when they escaped. She looks pale, and Tyrion worries that she might be coming down with flux. He lies to her that the dog and pig are surely fine, and takes her with him to find armor. He reminisces with Kem, the man who leads them there, about living in King’s Landing. The smith (Hammer) and his apprentice (Nail) give them free run of the “armory,” such as it is. Jorah joins them, and Tyrion reflects that he doesn’t look like a slave anymore, but he doesn’t look like who he used to be either, with the demon brand on his cheek.
Penny doesn’t understand why she needs armor, and most of the stuff there is either in too bad condition or is too heavy for either of them. Tyrion finds a dirk for himself and a sword for her, but she doesn’t want it, and begins talking of how she dreamed her brother was still alive and they were jousting together, and Tyrion slaps her and tells her the mummer show is over. Penny says they should never have left Yezzan, that they were treated well there. Tyrion privately concedes that she has a point, and reflects that all Penny wants is someone to be her master and tell her what to do, but lies to her that all Yezzan’s slaves have succumbed to the pale mare by now. He promises that he will sell her to a nice Yunkishman after this is over if that’s what she wants, but they have to survive the siege first. Jorah opines that the Meereenese will win, especially if Daenerys returns with her dragon.
“Oh, I know,” said Tyrion. “The Second Sons are on the losing side. They need to turn their cloaks again and do it now.” He grinned. “Leave that to me.”
Oh ho. Well, this should be interesting.
It’ll be even more interesting if Tyrion succeeds in convincing Plumm to change sides again AND Dany returns, because I’m betting she’s going to have some feelings about welcoming Mr. Two-Face there back into the fold. Although really, everyone should have feelings about Plumm being on their side, because he’s apparently about as reliable as your average tornado for which way he’s going to jump.
Well. I suppose that’s not entirely fair. I guess you can predict that he’s going to jump wherever there’s the most money, but for obvious reasons, that’s the least reliable reliability in the world, so I don’t see why it should count.
“We can dress you up in squire’s steel, pretend you’re Jorah’s butt boy, but there’s some will see right through that. Once Meereen is taken and we’re away to Westeros, you can prance about all you like in gold and crimson. Till then, though…”
“Butt boy”? That seems a rather disconcertingly modern slur.
But then, a lot of Martin’s profanity is a little anachronistic that way, and I get why: it’s the impact Martin’s going for, and nothing lowers impact more than using obscenities that strike the reader’s ear as old-fashioned or quaint. For the tone of this particular series, “gosh darn it all to heck!” is just not going to make the cut.
That said, “butt boy” in my brain is something you only hear from college dudebros yelling at each other in dive bars while playing beer pong, so yeah, still a little disconcerting.
Proud men might shout that they would sooner die free than live as slaves, but pride was cheap. When the steel struck the flint, such men were rare as dragon’s teeth; elsewise the world would not have been so full of slaves. There has never been a slave who did not choose to be a slave, the dwarf reflected. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there.
Well, that’s depressing as all hell.
The problem with profound cynicism is that it nearly always sounds like the most realistic (and therefore true) take on a situation, because people are always more ready to accept that things are terrible than they are that things are not so terrible. Or, at least, that things don’t have to be 100% terrible all the time.
I mean, an equally legit way to look at this would be to say that people fail to choose death over slavery not through a lack of pride, but through a refusal to abandon hope, and through having the adaptability to survive in even the harshest of conditions. That may qualify as (very) cold comfort, but it at least has the advantage of not denigrating the people to whom this terrible thing has been done.
In other words, quit blaming the victim, Tyrion, God. Implying that slaves are slaves because they lack character is… gross.
Also, let’s just say, it’s maybe a little rich of Tyrion to assert the fundamental hopelessness of slavery five seconds after he’s walked away from it.
As far as his treatment of Penny goes, obviously I do not like it even a little bit. I get how her relentless optimism would be incredibly grating to Tyrion’s equally relentless cynicism, but that’s not an excuse. If I did violence to everyone who annoyed me, the world would be a John Woo movie by now, so cry me a river.
But beyond that, it’s petty and selfish of him, taking his frustrations out on the one person who is definitively weaker than him. That is the behavior of a bully, and I can’t fucking stand bullies, y’all. I get that Tyrion is under some immense pressure and has been through some crazy trauma, but none of that is sufficient justification for abuse.
So I’m still interested to see what happens with Tyrion’s storyline, but this, compounded with his previous less-than-stellar track record re: women, has ebbed my opinion of him to be fairly low, at the moment.
Chapter 67: The Kingbreaker
Barristan meets with Skahaz clandestinely, who is sure that the business with Groleo’s head was a farce, intended to give Hizdahr an excuse to kill the dragons. Barristan reflects that it makes sense, but is unsure whether it is the truth. Skahaz still wants to attack the Yunkai’i immediately, but Barristan refuses to break the queen’s peace without provocation. Barristan wants to talk to Hizdahr first and try to convince him to stand down; he is not concerned about the king’s guards, all former pit fighters and no match for a knight.
Skahaz is not interested in rescuing Jhogo, Hero (Grey Worm’s second in command), or Daario from the Yunkai’i, but Barristan says Daenerys will not countenance it if they die. He knows she is in love with Daario, and it reminds him of the disastrous tournament where Rhaegar named Lady Lyanna Stark the queen of love and beauty. He agrees with Skahaz that her affair with Daario is “poison,” but insists that they be rescued, and refuses to consider threatening the lives of the children they hold hostage in return, remembering what had happened to Rhaegar’s children. Skahaz grumbles, but agrees, and they separate to wait for the wolf hour.
To pass the time, Barristan trains his protégés and reflects on the readiness of a few of them to be knighted, but decides to wait until the night’s events fall out, in case he ends up branded a traitor. He remembers the tournament again, and his unspoken love for Ashara Dayne, and how differently things would have gone if he had won the tournament instead of Rhaegar and been able to name Ashara the queen of love and beauty. He wonders whether that would have stopped her dalliance with Stark, and her stillborn child, and her suicide afterward.
At the right hour, Barristan girds himself in his armor and goes to Hizdahr’s chambers, noting that he has a woman in his bed. Hizdahr asks why he is there, and Barristan asks him flatly if he is the Harpy, and if he poisoned the locusts. Hizdahr is shocked, and protests that he is sure that was the Dornish prince. He insists he would never harm Daenerys, and Barristan counters that he encouraged her to eat the locusts, and also ordered the pit fighters to kill Drogon. Hizdahr protests that the dragon was killing people, but Barristan says, only Harpy’s Sons. Hizdahr suggests that maybe her sellsword paramour poisoned the dish for putting him aside, but Barristan says poison is not Daario’s style.
Barristan demands that Hizdahr either admit he is the Harpy or tell him who it is, and Hizdahr calls for his guard Khrazz. Barristan advises Khrazz to surrender, but Khrazz only laughs, and they duel. Khrazz is a deadly fighter, but he has no experience fighting against someone in armor, and Barristan soon guts him. Hizdahr whimpers that he doesn’t want to die, and Barristan assures him that he will be held unharmed until the queen returns. One of the cupbearers comes in to tell Hizdahr that Reznak summons him at once, and Barristan worries, as Skahaz was supposed to hold Reznak until they could be assured of his loyalty. He asks the boy where Reznak wants Hizdahr to go.
“Outside.” Miklaz seemed to see him for the first time. “Outside, ser. To the t-terrace. To see.”
“To see what?”
“D-d-dragons. The dragons have been loosed, ser.”
Seven save us all, the old knight thought.
Wow, this whole thing is so hinky. Maybe it’s just because Barristan himself is so conflicted over it, but it just feels like this entire coup is going to turn out to be a colossal mistake. I was actually shocked that confronting Hizdahr went even as well as it did.
Of course, with dragons afoot (or, er, a-wing, I suppose), I suspect that all bets will soon be off anyway. I wonder who freed them? The only person I can think of is Quentyn, but I can’t quite see why he would do so. Maybe he was trying to control them and they escaped, or something. *shrug*
But anyway, I didn’t miss that it was left massively unclear as to whether Hizdahr really was the culprit in the attempted poisoning of his wife—and whether he is actually in cahoots with the Yunkai’i as well. I was sure he was dirty initially, but now I am made uneasy by Martin’s continued coyness on the subject.
Also because I feel like he would enjoy just a little too much the irony of someone like Barristan, a defender of kings and a man deeply invested in his honor, ending up toppling a (relatively) innocent man from his throne for no cause. Because sometimes I suspect Mr. Martin is a giant troll who enjoys our pain.
I mean that in the nicest way, of course.
“Without honor, a knight is no more than a common killer. It is better to die with honor than to live without it.”
Sort of goes back to what Tyrion was saying about slavery, in some ways, though of course Tyrion couched it in terms of “pride” rather than “honor”, because in a lot of ways Tyrion is a Lannister to the core. Barristan’s phrasing is definitely a lot harder to argue with than Tyrion’s, especially as it is presented as a positive rather than a negative for the person involved, but I still say the same thing: call it pride or honor or whatever, but generally what “death before dishonor” gets you is, well, death. And I am generally against death.
But then again, I’m against being a traitor too, and there are probably things that are worth dying for…
Ugh, this is a lot easier when you’re reading the kind of story where sticking to your honor is almost always a guarantee that you won’t get killed and/or screwed over for it. Bluh.
Reznak cannot be trusted. He smells too sweet and feels too foul.
I feel like this is a reference to something. Lord of the Rings, maybe?
ETA: The lovely and talented Kate Nepveu confirms this in the comments: “It’s from Fellowship, Book 1, Chapter 10, “Strider”: Frodo tells Aragorn that ‘You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would — well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.’”
Thanks, darlin, I knew it sounded familiar!
No good came from silence either. If I had unhorsed Rhaegar and crowned Ashara queen of love and beauty, might she have looked to me instead of Stark?
He would never know.
That freakin’ tournament again. That thing was a damned historical singularity event, I swear.
And crap, it’s been long enough since it’s been brought up that the details are even fuzzier to me than they already were before. But, I do remember debating at some point over whether Ashara Dayne could possibly have been Jon Snow’s mother, or if she was just a red herring—though I can’t now remember what flashback prompted the question.
However, while Barristan’s thoughts here make it clear that Ned Stark did indeed sleep with her, he also says that the result was a stillborn daughter, not a living bastard son. So unless we are doing some cray-cray Days of Our Lives shit where Ashara secretly had TWINS and the surviving twin was SENT AWAY because of REASONS, or something, then it seems like the conclusion to draw is that Ashara was not in fact Jon’s mother.
(Also, someone would have AMNESIA and date their OWN SISTER, and at some point someone would be POSSESSED BY SATAN and turn into a JAGUAR, because OMG that show.)
This also, incidentally, does not paint Ned in a very flattering light at all, since it means he cheated on Catelyn not once but multiple times. Not that this is particularly shocking or anything, but, sigh. For someone who was all about honor, dude sure did omit it in a couple of key areas.
ETA: Multiple commenters have pointed out that at the time of the tournament Ned was not actually married to Catelyn, so sleeping with Ashara would not be cheating. I am very fuzzy on the chronology of the whole mess, so I will take their word for it. Still, he did cheat on Catelyn, if not with Ashara specifically, so my comment still stands in a general sense.
And, there’s probably more in this chapter that’s worth talking about, but my brain is fried, so Imma stop here for now.
But I shall return, my chicklets, never fear! Next Thursday to be exact! Be there!