Chapters 20 - 23
Chapter 20: Tyrion
Tyrion visits the Alchemists' Guildhall to inspect their rate of production of napalm, which they call wildfire. Like real alchemists, these guys try ti imply that they have vast secret knowledge; however, with the rise of the maesters, the alchemists have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves.
Tyrion also buys several empty grenade shells with which to train the soldiers and watchmen on the walls.
After that, he meets with the just-arrived Cleos Frey, who passes on Robb's demands. After that, he goes to see Jacelyn, and gives him the empty grenade shells.
Tyrion goes to the keep, pondering his predicament, and sees an apocalyptic preachers standing outside the walls railing against the corruption at court and foretelling the end of days. He meets Cersei in his chambers, and his sister is furious at being kept waiting. She demands to know what he was thinking, planning on sending Myrcella to Dorne.
Stop. No. That's wrong. Tyrion was intending to send Tommen
to Dorne, not Myrcella. Hello, proofreader? When this was published, Martin wasn't yet a big enough name to warrant protection from editors
Anyway, from Cersei's impassioned rage, Tyrion surmises that Varys has betrayed him. He reassures Cersei that Dorne will support them - while the Dornish aren't fond of the Lannisters, their quarrel only goes back a generation, whereas Dorne has been in conflict with Highgarden and Storm's End, supporters of Renly, for centuries.
Cersei insists that all Tyrion has offered Doran is far too much; Tyrion rejoins that any less, and Doran would have simply laughed in their faces. He also warns that Myrcella (Tommen, dammit, TOMMEN!) will be a lot safer in Dorne than at King's Landing, because if Renly or Stannis attack, they will mount Cersei and Myrcella's heads alongside each other on the wall.
At this, Cersei breaks down in tears, and Tyrion actually tries to comfort her. Blood is thicker than water, it seems.
When Cersei regains a little of her composure, she demands to know why Tyrion hasn't retrieved Jaime yet. Tyrion explains that these things take time, and privately thinks that if the situation were reversed, Jaime would simply break his forces at Winterfell, achieving nothing.
Cersei then wonders why Tywin hasn't come to help her like she asked. Tyrion says that he's playing a waiting game with Robb, acting like a lion waiting out a fawn. Tywin can afford to take him time, as no matter what Robb tries, Tywin will then be able to crush him.
We also learn that Tyrion and Cersei fear what will happen if Roose Bolton allies with the Starks. So, it appears he is an independent agent, not attached to anybody.
At the end of the chapter, Tyrion passes on Robb's message to Cersei, and it turns out that he really
wants Myrcella to marry Doran.
OK, once again, TOMMEN is the boy he was going to send to Dorne. Myrcella was to be sent to the Eyrie. Come on, this is the sort of thing Martin himself should have noticed; he shouldn't need an editor to pick up on this, and it seems the editor was also asleep at the wheel. Is a little quality control in acclaimed literature really too much to ask?
Well, apart from that blip, the rest of this chapter had a number of tasty nuggets. Cersei's sobbing fit at the thought of Myrcella dying portrays her as a mother who genuinely loves her incestuous bastard spawn, and not, as I had previously viewed her, one who merely wants to use them for her own vicarious self-aggrandisement. So, she's still a colossal bitch, but does have a little genuine humanity in her.
We also see that, though Tyrion may not like Cersei very much, he is still her brother, and when the chips are down he comes in on the side of family. Most excellent.
The best part, however, is the preacher's speech. Here it is in full:
- Corruption! There [the comet] is a warning! Behold the Father's scourge! We have become swollen, bloated, foul! Brother couples with sister in the bed of kings, and the fruit of their incest capers in his palace to the piping of a twisted little monkey demon. Highborn ladies fornicate with fools and give birth to monsters! Even the high septon has forgotten the gods! He bathes in scented waters and grows fat on lark and lamprey while the people starve! Pride comes before prayer, maggots rule our castles, and gold is all... but no more! The Rotten Summer is at an end, and the Whoremonger King is brought low! When the boar did open him, a great stench rose to heaven and a thousand snakes slid forth from his belly, hissing and biting! There comes the Harbinger! Cleanse yourselves, the gods cry out, lest ye be cleansed! Bathe in the light of righteousness, or you shall be bathed in fire! Fire!
Chapter 21: Bran
In the absence of Robb, Bran holds the harvest banquet, and Martin indulges in a generous amount of food porn. Still no ribs with a garlic-and-herb crust, though; I'm beginning to think that none of my predictions will come true. The chapter is mostly feasting, singing, dancing, and general fun, but Bran is still upset that he can never be a knight.
The most important part is the arrival of Meera and Jojen Reed, a pair of inhabitants from the Neck, a swamp in the southern part of Robb's domain where people live in crannogai. The two swear the same oath that their ancient ancestors originally swore to the Starks, since Robb is a king now and the oath must be renewed. It ends with "We swear it by ice and fire", so clearly, THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!!ONE!!
After some dancing, Bran goes to bed, and in his dreams, he becomes Summer again. The chapter ends with Meera and Jojen coming to see the direwolves, clutching knives. Jojen touches Summer, and then the dream collapses.
No. No you didn't. You did not just kill Summer. YOU FUCKING BASTARD MARTIN BRAN HAS SUFFERED ENOUGH SUMMER CAN'T DIE NOW THAT'S ALL HE HAS!!!
Seriously, keep Summer alive. Please? It's bad enough Lady had to die and Nymeria get driven away, but don't let Bran lose his wolf as well.
We also learn that Bran really is psychically linked to Summer somehow. Interesting.
Chapter 22: Catelyn
At Robb's insistence, Catelyn rides south with an escort to meet Renly. She finds him with a massive army behind him, and he is hosting a tournament. Catelyn arrives in the final stages of the melee, just in time to see the combatants get whittled down to Loras Tyrell and a mysterious knight in blue armour. The blue-clad knight wins, and is revealed to be Brienne of Tarth, a woman who looks and dresses exactly like a man. Catelyn thinks that ugly women are truly cursed. Renly offers Brienne any boon she wishes as a prize, and Brienne asks to be made a member of the Rainbow Guard, to which Renly happily obliges.
Renly and his new wife, 15-year-old Margaery Tyrell (Loras' sister), then formally meet Catelyn. Renly is described as Robert without the asshole qualities; he likes food and wine but isn't a glutton, is charismatic but not demanding, and wouldn't dream of taking advantage of a woman. He also happens to be very good friends with Loras, and during a feast in a few pages, seems to prefer his company to that of his young and beautiful bride.
Anyway, Catelyn engages in some politeness judo
with some of Renly's courtiers, Renly promises to send her the head of Cersei Lannister, then invites her to his feast.
After a bit more food porn, Catelyn ponders how all of Renly's followers are young and have yet to see real battle, and they're in for quite a shock when they discover war isn't glamarous and fun like in the songs. Renly takes Catelyn aside for a private chat, where Renly shows he does have a better grasp of the situation than he lets on, and states that he has a vast army, with more in reserve. However, he does seem to be counting the armies of Dorne in that number, in spite of their cool opinion of the Baratheons.
Renly wants Robb to acknowledge him as king of all seven kingdoms. He is repared to let Robb keep calling himself King in the North provided he gives Renly his fealty and support, which is what really matters. He starts to threaten an attack on the Barrowlands if Robb does not comply, but before he can finish, a messenger arrives to tell him that Stannis has just attacked Renly's stronghold at Storm's End.
Dun dun DUUUNNNN!
An impressive chapter, this. OK, there's some naval-gazing from Catelyn, but it's fairly mild, and fits well into the overall theme of the chapter. We also learn a fair bit about Renly, Loras is shown not to be so invincible after all, and Brienne is simply a wonderfulyl bubbly and fun character, albeit with a melancholic streak due to having to basically live as a man, that I can't wait to see more of her.
Chapter 23: Jon
The men of the Night's Watch press on north through perpetual, heavy rain, and eventually arrive at the keep of a man named Craster. Now, when I say keep
, I mean a largish shed with a hole in the roof to let out smoke. Craster comes across as the medieval equivalent of a redneck with lots of guns; hates the government, goes to great lengths to hold on to his freedom, but treats the women as little more than slaves, and has married 19 of his numerous daughters. There are no men around other than Craster himself.
Craster lets on that Mance Rayder, self-proclaimed king beyond the Wall, is gathering an army with which to attack the Barrowlands while the Seven Kingdoms are in a period of civil war. This is why the villages are abandoned. In exchange for a new axe and some wine, Craster agrees to make the Watchmen a map to find Rayder, and Jon goes to find Sam.
On the way, he finds that Ghost has killed two rabbits that one of Craster's daughters/wives, who is named Gilly and is pregnant, was tending to. Jon tries to reassure her that Ghost won't hurt her, but she runs off when a couple of other Watchmen appear and herald him as brother of the king.
Jon finds Sam and they cook and eat the other rabbit, then Sam goes to help Craster with his map and Jon goes to sleep. He awakes to find a winter wonderland, and Gilly appears to beg him to take her back south. It seems that she is going to have a son, and Craster sacrifices his sons to the Others, who are the evil spirits that create the zombies. Jon sends her away, saying it's against the rules to speak to her, let alone take her in, and anyway they're going further north, to find Mance Rayder and battle the Others and their zombies. Also, he won't be able to collect her when they come back. Gilly is absolutely crestfallen, as she had heard that a king sheltered and protected the weak and endangered, and can't believe Jon can't plead with his half-brother for her safety.
Jon, upset as well, rides off with the Watchmen. He speaks with Jeor Mormont and floats the idea of killing Craster. Mormont says no; not only has Craster's keep made the difference in several battles before, but by sacrificing his sons to the Others, he keeps them at bay for now. Jon has a good heart, and wants to help everyone he meets, but sometimes you just have to let things be.
I loved this chapter, and not just because Jon is my favourite character. We get a really good look at how people live beyond the Wall, and for all Craster's talk of freedom, his life isn't pretty. We also learn that the Night's Watch was originally founded to keep at bay in invasions that periodically came from the north under the various warrior-kings of the freemen, but as we know, they are now just a shadow of what they were.
Jon gets some more character development. He is clearly Eddard's son; strong, heroic, upright, and with a hard time accepting injustice, even in the name of the greater good. He is immensely troubled by the fact that Craster must apparently live, and the fact that he can't help poor Gilly, even a little bit. He may not be as snarky as he used to, but he shows a deep compassion and honour that is all too rare in these books, which makes him the most admirable character we've met so far.