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 43 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 71 (“Daenerys”) and the Epilogue.
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 71: Daenerys
Deep in the Dothraki Sea, Dany climbs down from the den Drogon has made for himself, which she calls Dragonstone after the place of her birth, and sets out across the plain. She would rather have returned to Meereen on dragonback, but Drogon had shown no interest in going back to the city, and while Dany could partially control him she could not make him do anything he really didn’t want to. So despite her love of riding the dragon, she was walking away from him, much as it pained her, back toward her obligations in Slaver’s Bay, and Hizdahr and his “tepid kisses.”
She thinks back on her time with Khal Drogo and the happiness she had almost found there, until it was destroyed by Mirri Maz Duur’s vengeance. As when her dragons had hatched, Drogon’s fire had only burned her hair, but she remembers how many other people had burned in the fighting pit in Meereen that day. She hopes that Barristan or even Daario will come after her; she knows Daario is a hostage of the Yunkai’i, but assures herself that they are surely heading home by now. She catches glimpses of Drogon flying as she walks that day, but only from a distance.
She shelters for the night in the ruins of a village, and wonders if Hizdahr had truly poisoned the locusts she’d seen Strong Belwas getting sick from. She doesn’t understand why he would want to kill her, and wonders if perhaps Reznak or the Yunkai’i or the Sons of the Harpy could have done it instead. She dreams of the prophecy Quaithe made her (“To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward, you must go back. To touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow”), and hears a whisper admonishing her to remember who she is, as the dragons do. She continues on the next, but soon becomes sick by drinking contaminated water and eating unknown berries; it gets bad enough that she fears she is dying.
She dreams of her brother Viserys, who blames her for all his misfortunes despite her protests, and wakes to find she is having her moon blood, though it is not yet time for it. She argues with the grass, which tells her her dragon blood is meaningless when she locked her dragons up and turned against her children. She worsens as she travels on, growing fevered and bleeding heavily. She thinks that Meereen will never be her home, and argues with an imaginary Jorah Mormont, who chastises her for not listening when he told her to abandon Meereen and go home to Westeros.
She sees the grass swaying, and hears soft bells, and knows someone is coming. She hides, and sees a Dothraki scout come through the grass. She thinks that if he sees her, he will either rape her, kill her, or send her to live with the crones of the dosh khaleen. Then the shadow of the dragon appears, and the scout runs off. Dany calls for Drogon until he comes to her, and mounts the dragon to follow the scout. They pass him and come upon a herd of horses, and Drogon brings one down and eats it. Dany eats alongside him. She thinks Hizdahr would be horrified to see her now, but Daario would laugh and eat alongside her.
As the western sky turned the color of a blood bruise, she heard the sound of approaching horses. Dany rose, wiped her hands on her ragged undertunic, and went to stand beside her dragon.
That was how Khal Jhaqo found her, when half a hundred mounted warriors emerged from the drifting smoke.
First, before I start reading: OMG SHE’S ALIVE. I totally knew it.
Okay, I didn’t know it. But I REALLY FIERCELY hoped it.
And now that I have read it: Huh.
Well, as cliffhangers go, this isn’t the most cliffhanger-y, although it’s true that God only knows how now-Khal Jhaqo is going to react to see his former Khaleesi reduced (elevated?) to such a state. I’m not sure on the verb there, because on the one hand she’s all filthy and raggedy and starving and probably looking pretty damn rough by this point. But on the other hand, she’s standing next to a fucking dragon, sharing his meal like it ain’t no thang. Which, you know, might just trump any personal hygiene considerations re: mad respect. You never know.
And wow, Dany actually sort of did have the option to go live on a deserted island with her dragon and do nothing, in a manner of speaking! Except of course this is ASOIAF, so it was a supremely shitty “island” that she probably would have died of scurvy on if she hadn’t left. Typical.
Well, but at least Quaithe’s prophecy makes a tiny bit more sense to me now. Apparently to “go north”, i.e. to Westeros, she really needed to go “south”—e.g., well, pretty much everything she’s been doing since AGOT—first. I’m not sure this entirely reconciles me to the extremely violent lollygagging Dany’s been doing in Places-That-Are-Not-The-Seven-Kingdoms, Goddammit this entire series, but it’s at least a little mollifying to know there’s possibly a little predestination thrown in there that dictated it.
That said, if Dany doesn’t end up in Westeros before the end of this thing I will methodically throw every book in the series against the wall. Or possibly out of the window.
Not sure what all the unusual menstrual bleeding is about, unless it’s to indicate that she’s having a miscarriage. Or possibly that she is just super stressed-out, because periods, like digestive systems, can get seriously messed up in response to stress factors. But, whichever the case, it seems a little backwards in conjunction with the supposedly impossible prophecy that she’ll never see Drogo again until she gets pregnant. Not that I can see how that would work in any case. I guess I’ll have to see.
“I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl.”
No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass.
Cheery! But, so far, pretty accurate, too. Damn.
“They will have heard the talk,” [Ser Barristan] had replied. “Naharis may even have boasted of Your Grace’s… of your great… regard… for him. If you will forgive my saying so, modesty is not one of the captain’s virtues. He takes great pride in his… his swordsmanship.”
OMG, I can picture how awkward Barristan would have been, trying to say this in a diplomatic way, and ending up blurting a dick joke. Haha, awesome.
So, bye, Dany! Hope you don’t die! See you in, uh, some indeterminate period of time between now and whenever the next book is published!
Before the small council in King’s Landing, Ronnet Connington asks for support to fight against his uncle, and promises to bring them his head, along with that of “the false dragon.” Mace Tyrell tells Ronnet they will consider his request, and now-Lord Regent Ser Kevan sends him away. Lord Randyll Tarly notes that Ronnet’s men are mostly Gregor Clegane’s old cronies (i.e. rapists and murderers), foisted off on Ronnet by Jaime, and opines that the whole lot should go to the Wall. Kevan notes in conciliatory tones that the Mountain’s men are good fighters, and points out they might need them if Jon Connington’s forces are truly the Golden Company. Pycelle points out their steady encroachments along the coast, all the way to Storm’s End.
Tyrell doesn’t care about this, and wants to know why Margaery can’t be declared innocent already without bothering with a trial. Kevan reminds him that they are beset by enemies, and adding the High Septon to them will not help. Tyrell is not impressed by this, nor by Jon Connington, whom he remembers as a fool. Kevan thinks to himself that Connington had indeed been too bold and eager as a young man, but thinks age and experience has likely tempered him. Tarly and Tyrell also don’t think Connington’s claim of having a Targaryen is real either, but Kevan remembers that Aegon’s tiny corpse had been too mangled to identify for sure. Kevan also wants them to be wary of Daenerys Stormborn, who is said to have three dragons, and urges them to destroy Connington and his Targaryen pretender before she has a chance to ally with them.
They argue about money, or rather the lack of it, and also where the “silent giant” Ser Robert Strong had come from, who is to champion Queen Cersei in her trial. Kevan is not even sure if the knight is truly alive, judging by reports, and has a “strong suspicion” of who he really is; he thinks Tarly and Tyrell suspect the same thing he does, but it must be left alone until after the trial. He reminds Tyrell that if Cersei is found guilty of the various charges leveled against her, then Tommen will no longer be legitimately King, and ergo, his daughter Margaery will no longer be queen. He promises that Cersei, once pardoned, will have no further say in court affairs and will be sent back to Casterly Rock. He also thinks that Tyrell is awfully insistent about having his army present for his daughter’s trial for someone so apparently convinced of her innocence. After Tarly and Tyrell leave, both Pycelle and Ser Harys Swyft ask Kevan for armed guards, and Kevan reflects that he cannot allow any more Highgarden allies to be on the council, even with the Dornish Lady Nym coming to take her place on it. He wishes for Littlefinger, who had a gift for “conjuring dragons from thin air.”
He has dinner with Cersei and Tommen that evening, which he is not looking forward to, even though Cersei has been “subdued and submissive” since her walk of atonement. He tells himself he has nothing to feel guilty about, but misses her former spirit. He remembers how Tywin had brought down their father’s mistress in almost the same way, and thinks he would never have dreamed the same fate would befall his daughter. He’s surprised at his warm reception from Cersei, and thinks her request to have Taena Merryweather come back to court a modest and easily granted one. They talk of Jaime, and Cersei dismisses Kevan concerns, saying that she would know if Jaime died. She is surprised and then embarrassed to learn Kevan has had the Kettleblacks arrested for fornicating with the queen. They are interrupted by a message from Pycelle requesting Kevan’s presence at once.
Kevan enters Pycelle’s chambers to find the window open and a huge white raven on the sill. Kevan knows that those are only sent from the Citadel to herald the official change of seasons: it is winter. Then something slams into his chest, and he realizes it is a crossbow quarrel. Then he sees that Pycelle is dead, his skull bashed in. Varys emerges from the shadows and assures him that this wasn’t personal. He thinks Kevan is a “good man in service to a bad cause,” and was threatening to undo Cersei’s “good work” by reconciling Highgarden and Casterly Rock, and uniting the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen’s rule. He imagines Cersei will assume that the Tyrells murdered Kevan, or possibly Tyrion, while the Tyrells will suspect Cersei, and Tommen’s support will be undermined while “Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.” Kevan protests that Aegon is dead, but Varys tells him he is not, and far better prepared and suited to rule than Tommen would ever be.
“I am sorry.” Varys wrung his hands. “You are suffering, I know, yet here I stand going on like some silly old woman. Time to make an end to it.” The eunuch pursed his lips and gave a little whistle.
Ser Kevan was cold as ice, and every labored breath sent a fresh stab of pain through him. He glimpsed movement, heard the soft scuffling sound of slippered feet on stone. A child emerged from a pool of darkness, a pale boy in a ragged robe, no more than nine or ten. Another rose up behind the Grand Maester’s chair. The girl who had opened the door for him was there as well. They were all around him, half a dozen of them, white-faced children with dark eyes, boys and girls together.
And in their hands, the daggers.
Really? You gotta kill off the only halfway decent Lannister we’ve met in the whole series? Really?
(I mean, because. I like Tyrion, usually, and root for him even when I don’t like him, and unfortunately the same goes (to a lesser degree) for Jaime as well. But “decent” is not a word that describes either of them. Or Cersei, for sure. And certainly fucking not Tywin.)
Oh yeah, fine, let’s kill off ALL the people actually trying that whole crazy “responsible governing” thing, SURE. Good call!
All right, so, Pycelle and Kevan are dead, and Varys is… leading an army of children to put Aegon back on the throne? Apparently? Okay then.
Are these some of Arya’s Death Ninja Temple crew, or just random child murderers? I dunno. Probably the latter, because everything is horrifiying.
What happened to supporting Daenerys, I wonder? Wasn’t that Varys’s original thing? Maybe he’s heard that she’s supposedly dead by dragon. Or maybe it’s just a matter of “a Targaryen on the actual continent is worth one in Slaver’s Bay,” which… is pretty legit, honestly, from Varys’s point of view.
So does that mean Big Griff aka Jon Connington is working with Varys, or is it all a happy coincidence? I swear this thing is so convoluted by now I hardly know which end is up.
I guess it does put paid to my earlier question about whether I have to give a shit about Connington and his doings, though, because obviously I do. Good to know.
As for Roboknight: oh, sure, have a “strong suspicion” about who he is without saying who you think he is, thanks a bunch, Kevan.
I don’t think Roboknight is really Robert Baratheon, by the way. For what it’s worth, after some consideration, I think that if I had to make a guess, I would say that he’s probably Gregor Clegane if he’s anybody.
Partially because of the size thing (“Mountain,” yeah, we get it), and partially because of the timing thing (if I remember correctly, which I may not, Gregor died, or maybe “died”—conveniently off-screen, mind you—sometime near when Qyburn’s extremely skeevy “projects” started getting mentioned), but mostly because it makes way too much sense that OF FUCKING COURSE we couldn’t be rid of that stanktastic penis casserole so easily.
I really hope my guess is not right, by the way, because if I am I foresee a lot more table-flipping in my future, but, yeah. Sigh.
Cersei was soiled goods now, her power at an end. Every baker’s boy and beggar in the city had seen her in her shame and every tart and tanner from Flea Bottom to Pisswater Bend had gazed upon her nakedness, their eager eyes crawling over her breasts and belly and woman’s parts. No queen could expect to rule again after that. In gold and silk and emeralds Cersei had been a queen, the next thing to a goddess; naked, she was only human, an aging woman with stretch marks on her belly and teats that had begun to sag…
I suppose it’s hardly necessary at this point for me to observe, with tired, dull fury, how much I think this is such a pile of steaming misogynist bullshit, that a woman’s worth as a ruler, or a person, must be so irrevocably tied to her physical appearance above all other considerations. And yet, there is no way I could let it pass without comment, either. So here I am, noting once again how much people suck. Whatever.
All that said, while I’m positive a lot of Cersei’s trauma re: her walk of shame is absolutely real, I do have to wonder if she’s maybe laying low for now and regrouping for later. Even though I still think she was an utter disaster as a ruler, like Kevan I still sort of hope on principle that she hasn’t actually been broken by her ritual humiliation. That’s probably contrary to things I’ve said about her before, but I don’t really care.
In other news, apparently the Sand Snake Lady Nym is coming to King’s Landing, which means things are probably going to get a lot more spicy-and-murderous for everyone involved. Not that more spice—or murder—is actually needed at this point, but hey.
Also, Jaime is apparently AWOL now? Did I know that before? I probably did. Oh, right, he was lured off with Brienne, who is hopefully not actually going to kill him just because Catelyn “Bitter, Party of (Undead) One” Stark tortured her into it. I’m sure that’ll all end terribly, terribly well. Fo sho.
Well, in any case, bye, Kevan! See what you get for being an even remotely nice person in ASOIAF, huh? You shoulda oughta known bettah. Oh well.
And! So! That was the end of A Dance With Dragons! The last currently published book in the series!
I’m… not quite sure how I feel about that. I’ll get back to you.
Meanwhile, a lot of people have been asking what’s going to happen next with the Read, so here are my thoughts on that for now.
For one, we are not quite done with the written portion yet. First because, assuming TPTB are cool with it, I’m contemplating a sort of sum-up of my thoughts on ADWD, and possibly of the whole series thus far, in a separate post next week—or the week after that, depending on how crazy I decide to get, so watch this space for updates.
And secondly because unless I’m mistaken, there is at least one more ASOIAF novella out there for me to review, something about a Princess, I think. That and the holidays will probably do us through the end of the year, I trow, but we’ll see how it goes.
Beyond that… well. We shall have to see. But I have Thoughts, my pretties, no fear!
So enjoy your fall weather if you have it, because I sure don’t, and I’ll see you Real Soon Now! Cheers!