Chapters 49 - 53
Chapter 49: Tyrion
Tyrion sends his wildlings into the wood south of King's Landing to harass Stannis' army. Shagga seems to respect his tactics, saying they're similar those those that the northmen themselves use.
A shanty town has sprouted along the outer edge of the wall. Tyrion sends Bronn to burn it down.
One thing I object to here is that Tyrion tells Bronn to try and keep his men from rape, and also see if he can keep them sober. Bronn sardonically says he's dreaming, and Tyrion seems to agree. It's intended to show the unfairness of medieval society that rape is seen as a common annoyance to those in power, but the fact that Tyrion himself has raped for fun makes his words ring hollow.
Tyrion has recently received word that Harrenhal has been taken by Stark men, and Winterfell has fallen. This is a poor trade, he thinks. Theon wants to formally establish borders and form an alliance against Robb and Stannis. Tyrion disregards this, thinking that Theon is as Stark as Robb and Jon Snow, and then ponders on how the Winterfell godswood is dark and scary, and is a microcosm of the north.
Two new members of the Kingsguard are sworn in. One Balon Swann, whose older brother was with Renly and now follows Stannis. Tyrion surmises that if Lord Swann had a third brother, he would be riding with Robb, ensuring that no matter who wins, the Swanns come out ahead. The other is Osmynd Kettleblack, one of Cersei's mercenaries who Tyrion acquires as a spy. The new high septon was nominated by Tyrion.
Tyrion receives a visit from Hallyne, the alchemist he talked to a number of chapters back. It seems the alchemists are significantly ahead of schedule in their production of napalm, partly because someone fell through the floorboards to find a forgotten cache, and partly because the magic spells they use have been rather more effective as of late. Hallyne says that magic started to decay when the last dragon died, and wonders if more have hatched recently.
This brings up an interesting point of comparison with book 1. In the first book, there was almost no magic at all, unless you count whatever is making the seasons weird. The only spell we saw cast in the entire book was the one to resurrect Drogo, and that was botched. Them, on the last page, three dragons hatch.
Book 2 has had substantially more magic. As well as the increase in the alchemists' efficiency, Melisandre has made two evil shadow babies for Stannis, Daenerys has spoken with terrors from beyond reality, Bran has become psychically linked to Summer, Jaqen has changed his face and performed stealthy murders, and there has been more mention and discussion of magic in general, including Luwin's explanation that it has faded, Varys' backstory, and Mance Rayder's plan to break open the Wall.
It's clear that dragons are linked to magic somehow. This ties in with what we learned about the dragons in Qarth, as the mere presence of them suddenly cause that firemage to grow super special awesome new powers, and Jorah's warning that a single dragon would allow Xaro to rule the city.
There is also an interesting parallel between plot and metatext. As soon as dragons reappear in the world, magic becomes stronger and more frequently used, and it has also been discussed more, even in the context of it happening before Drogo's corpse was burned. Hence, not only has magic returned to the world, it has also wormed its way into text, narrative, and the experience of the reader, and the starting point of both these changes is the rebirth of the dragons.
Now to remove my fanhand from my fandick and continue describing events. Bronn's plans for Tommen are secret, even from Tyrion, so that the boy will not be in danger if King's Landing falls. There is a conspiracy among the non-noble wealthy called the Antler Men to support Stannis and open the gate form within when he arrives. If that happens, I'm guessing he will maim everyone involved for being traitors, and then reward them for supporting the rightful king all along.
Chapter 50: Theon
Theon is awoken by a cat and tries to get back to sleep, then notices that Summer and Shaggydog aren't howling. Panicking, he goes to check the gate out, and finds two dead guards and a set of tracks.
He orders everyone in Winterfell to assemble in the courtyard and discovers that, as well as the direwolves, Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and Osha have disappeared.
Ah, so Osha didn't like Theon, she was a double agent all along. Cool!
Theon fears what Balon and Asha will do when they find out he managed to lose a toddler and a crippled boy, and sets off with a search party. Reek volunteers to come, as do the Walders.
While searching, Luwin urges him to show mercy. Theon reassures him that the boys will be kept alive because they're useful, and Hodor will be spared if he doesn't fight back, but Osha, as an oathbreaker, has forfeited her life.
The trail comes up cold, but then Reek suggests that Bran and Rickon set a false trail, and they are actually holed up in a mill on the Umbers' land. He then opens up the sack he's been carrying and has Theon take out a wolfshead broach, which somehow confirms his story.
OK, how does that work? Ah, I guess we'll find out in Theon's next chapter.
There's a lot of good character development for Theon here, as he tries to come to grips with holding on to power. By his thoughts and descriptions of recent events, Martion shows that while he wants to be a ruler, and even a good and wise one, he is still a petulant boy at heart, and that is standing in the way of his ambitions. He has two of his men whipped for raping a local girl, yet wonders why the people don't praise him for his great justice. He personally tells the local septon that he doesn't bear him any ill will and is only drowning him to appease his own god, but can't figure out why the people hate him so.
He's trying, ultimately, to be like Eddard, but he also wants to hold on to the vicious habits of the Ironmen. While Eddard was a hard man, he was always fair. Theon, however, mixes that harshness with the aggression and arrogance that comes from being a poorly-thought-out Viking counterpart, and come sup short as he simply acts as a despotic conquerer with a bit of token justice thrown in, rather than the harsh but decent lord he imagines himself to be.
It's all very blatant, and not as subtle as the last book tended to be, and we're clearly supposed to think of Theon as the villain here, but still, it's a pretty deep character study for just 11 pages.
Chapter 51: Jon
Jon and Stonesnake climb up a mountain to take out two sentries. It turns out there is a third, a woman named Ygritte, who they spare over Stonesnake's objections in order to take as a captive. She refuses to answer Jon's questions, but does tell him a story about how in the past, the wildling king Bael the Bard infiltrated the court of Brandon the Daughterless disguised as a bard and took his daughter from him; thus, all the Starks have some wildling blood. Jon isn't inclined to believe her, and she agree the tale isn't literally true in its entirety, but it's true to a bard
The other Watchmen climb up to meet them, and Qhorin tells Jon to execute her. The rest of the Watchment go on ahead, leaving just Ygritte, Jon, and Ghost. Jon raises his sword, but decides to spare Ygritte, who runs off.
Well, Jon look a bite more merciful that Eddard, at the very least. There is an interesting comparison here; Eddard and Jon are (or in Eddard's case, were) obsessed with always doing the right thing. But what is the right thing? I have no doubt that Eddard would have killed her to prevent her from warning Mance's army, yet Jon holds to notions of honour and chivalry, and refuses to kill an unarmed woman not even as old as himself.
I guess Jon did the wrong thing, dooming his comrades, and yet... we are always told that murder is wrong, and even today violence against women is considered worse than that against men. Jon was about to kill an unarmed woman, yet he let her live. That, too, is the right thing, and it all depends on your perspective.
This philosophising ties in with a conversation Jon and Ygritte have over whether Robb's lands are in the north or the south. Jon is shocked to hear Ygritte refer to them as being south, and points out - correctly - that they're north. Ygritte, however, explains that to the wildlings, everything south of the wall is in the south. Jon comes to realise that everything is a matter of perspective.
Chapter 52: Sansa
The forests to the south are on fire, set ablaze Stannis' army, as well as Tyrion's mercenaries. The shanty town also burns. Dontos is acting as Sansa's personal informant, as people don't notice the fools and servants when they discuss matters, and so he hears a lot more as a jester than he ever did as a knight.
He confirms Sansa's suspicion that Stannis burned down the godswood in Storm's End as an offering to R'hllor. Sansa wonders why the gods haven't answered her prayers, and Dontos points out that they sent him. Sansa demands to know why he hasn't helped her escape yet, and Dontos repeats that these things take time, though he implies that he's gotten a bit further along.
They chat a bit more, then Sansa goes for a walk on the battlements, where she almost falls off but is saved by Sandor. Sandor goes off into one of his angry rants, and Sansa tries to thank him for saving her in the riots, but that just makes him angrier.
The conversation turns to theology, and Sandor reveals he's an atheist, because no loving god would make Tyrion or Lollys.
OK, stop. First Stannis and now Sandor? Martin, you need to research atheism.
Nowadays, with all our science, atheism is entirely sensible, as God has little place in such an orderly and sensible universe, and the gaps where we might find Him are shrinking all the time. In a medieval society, however, atheism is simply irrational. If you've been told all your life about the existence of gods and how they made the universe and everything in it, and you have no better explanation as to why there is something rather than nothing, why animals are alive when rocks aren't, and why the sun rises every morning, you're damn well going to believe in some sort of god.
And this whole idea about gods being loving and merciful has no basis in history; in fact, polytheistic religions have all sorts of angry, vengeful, and petty gods who torment mortals for fun. The Sumerian religion taught that humans were created by the gods to serve them, so you have to work hard because that's simply the way the universe is. The Egyptian religion featured a snake who ate the sun every evening, and a pantheon who were more interested in their own cosmic soap opera than whatever mortals might be getting up to. Hinduism has Kali. The Buddha is said to have kicked the arses of a bunch of gods, and thus certain schools teach that humans must rise above the petty and obstructive deities to attain enlightenment. Mayans believed they had to rip the hearts out of victims regularly in order to keep the sun happy. Celtic druids weren't as bad, but human sacrifice still went on. The chief Greek god was a cuckolding serial rapist. Viking gods tended more towards boisterous bruisers
and great warriors than loving shepherds, and the Viking religion was spectacularly bleak, teaching that ultimately, all humans, gods, frost giants, wolves, worlds, and the tree of life would decay into oblivion in Ragnarok. In the Old Testament, Yahweh is described as both rewarding the righeous and punishing the evil, and in fact metes out punishments far more often then rewards. Also, He shows outright cruelty to Job. Islam also often emphasised Allah's vengeful nature in addition to his mercy; read the Qu'ran some time. Heck, even Christianity, whose primary schtick is that God is loving and merciful, ascribes a whole lot of punishment to the man upstairs; as well as the Book of Revelation, people in the Middle Ages commonly believed that God directly punished the Arabs, Mongols, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics for their heathen lifestyles and devil worship. It's only in the last three centuries or so that the focus has shifted from God's wrath to His mercy.
Now let's look at the Seven Kingdoms. They have two polytheistic religions*
. The religion which Stannis presumably followed before discovering R'hllor, and which Sandor probably knew growing up, includes a warrior god. You know, a deity devoted to fighting and winning, and killing one's enemies. And yet people still think the gods are all loving and nice? Please.
Now, for Stannis and Sandor to think that the gods are evil
would make sense. In fact, I think this would fit their personalities better. Stannis would think that the gods are evil, so men must make their own justice. Sandor has some interesting things to say in this chapter, about how there are no true knights
and hard steel rules the world, which again would fit better with misotheism than atheism; since the gods are harsh and cruel, men must be harsher and crueller to make any sense of the world.
But no, Martin avoids the sensible and instead goes with atheism, in spite of how much more sense misotheism would make. Granted, this is still a lot better than most other books out there, but it's by no means perfect.
Right, rant over. Back to the story.
Sansa goes to sleep and has a nightmare about the riot. When she wakes up, she discovers he's just had her first period, which means she's old enough to wed and Joffrey can legally put his in hers. She is terrified and panics, and tries to burn her sheet and mattress, but fails when some servants come in and catch her in the act. The smoke from her fire ruins her dresses, so one of the servants finds her a shift to wear.
Sansa has breakfast with Cersei, who surprisingly isn't a cold-hearted bitch to her. Cersei dispenses some womanly wisdom, about how the life of a woman is 90% mess and 10% magic, and the magic is generally the messiest part of all. She also talks about how Joffrey was a difficult birth, how Robert was never around, how childbirth will make the pain Sansa has suffered so far seem like a gentle massage, and how in spite of it all, she will still love her children.
Wow. That's actually quite touching. Cersei has the wisdom of years, and passes a little of it on to Sansa in a rather nice bonding moment.
Cersei brings the chapter to a close by asking Sansa how she feels about Joffrey. Sansa says she still loves him with all her heart. Cersei advises her to come up with a better lie when Stannis leads his army in.
Chapter 53: Jon
The Night's Watch comes to the mountain where Mance Rayder's army is camped. Jon comes clean to Qhorin about not killing the woman behind them, and Qhorin isn't terribly surprised or upset. Unarmed, the woman is of little threat, and Qhorin really only set Jon that task to see what sort of man he was.
There follows a philosophical discussion on the nature of a man, and we also learn that Mance Rayder was once a wildling recruited into the Watch who made a name for himself as an unparalleled ranger, but who returned to the place beyond the wall for his own reasons.
Ghost wanders off, and Jon goes to sleep. Jon has a wolf dream; apparently he's now psychically linked to Ghost as Bran is to Summer, which in a few pages is suggested to be the influence of the frostfangs.
Ghost also seems to have some sort of psychic connection to the other direwolves, as he is aware that Lady is dead and the rest are scattered. He comes across a weirwood, the tree that is commonly grown in godswoods, which has Bran's face carved in it. Some weirdness follows which neither Jon nor Ghost understands, but to the reader, it's clear that this is a representation of Bran's burgeoning psychic powers.
Ghost goes to have a look at where the wildlings are massing, and among the army are giants riding mammoths. Ghost is attacked by an eagle, waking Jon.
Jon tells his fellow Watchmen about his dream, and they listen with apprehension. They go to see if Jon's dream was true, and on the way, they encounter an eagle looking at them intently. They also find Ghost, injured but alive, and do what they can to disinfect his wounds. They then retreat, Qhorin saying that because the eagle saw them, the wildlings know they're there. The chapter ends with Dalbridge promising to hold them off in the pass as long as he can while the rest return to warn Mormont, and in the distance, there is the faint sound of hunting horns.
You know, for a group that supposedly consists of the dregs of society with the occasional hero like Jon Snow, the Night's Watch seems to have an awful lot of brave, heroic, self-sacrificing members. I get that the training would beat people into shape, but even so...