Literature / A Dance with Dragons

Not all men were meant to dance with dragons.
Ser Barristan Selmy

The fifth book in George R.R. Martin's doorstopper A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, released in 2011.

The north deals with various perils; Jon Snow, the newest Lord Commander of the Wall, makes truces with the wildlings, while House Bolton struggles to maintain their position as the new Wardens of the North, replacing House Stark. Meanwhile, Stannis Baratheon makes desperate attempts to win the North to his cause, with varied results. And finally, Bran and company's travels beyond the Wall bring them to unusual places.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen endures numerous difficulties in ruling the slaver city Meereen, with treachery and opposition surrounding her at all sides. Multiple others travel towards her for other purposes - among them Tyrion Lannister, a mysterious figure named Griff travelling with his son Young Griff, a vicious pirate captain from the Iron Islands, and finally a group of House Martell representatives looking to contact Daenerys. In the Free City of Braavos, Arya Stark continues her training to become a Faceless Man. We are also offered short glimpses into King's Landing, continuing the story threads from AFFC, at the end of the book.

The novel has a staggering total of 18 POV characters. All characters that were missing in A Feast For Crows return, along with some of the characters that did have POVs in the preceding book, and a few entirely new ones. The prologue is provided by a skinchanger named Varamyr Sixskins. In the epilogue, we follow Kevan Lannister.

  • The Wall is seen from the perspectives of Lord Commander Jon Snow and Lady Melisandre, priestess of the Red God and unofficial consort to Stannis Baratheon. Beyond the wall, we follow Bran Stark still seeking the Three-Eyed Crow.
  • In the North, Asha Greyjoy provides glimpses into Stannis Baratheon's travelling army, while the actions of House Bolton are documented by Theon Greyjoy, who is their captive. Davos Seaworth's perspective shows the rest of the North as he travels through it making his way to White Harbor.
  • In Meereen, we follow Daenerys Targaryen and her Queensguard, Barristan Selmy. Various cities and areas in Essos are documented through the respective perspectives of fugitive Tyrion Lannister, Frog the Sellsword, as well as Griff and his son Young Griff, as they travel through the continent making their way to Meereen. Arya Stark's perspective stays in Braavos, while we also follow Victarion Greyjoy as he pirates his way across the Narrow Sea.
  • In southern Westeros, Areo Hotah provides a look at Doran Martell's court, Jaime Lannister once again documents the Riverlands, and Cersei Lannister shows how things have been in King's Landing.

The book is divided from A Feast For Crows geographically rather than chronologically, covering the same time period in different regions; focusing on the Wall and Essos, the story gradually re-introduces arcs in Westeros as it overtakes Feast. Like A Storm Of Swords, some releases were divided into two parts: Part 1: Dreams and Dust and Part 2: After the Feast.

This book provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Asha proves her worth in a fight against Stannis' men, despite being severely outnumbered.
  • Aerith and Bob: While "Penny" would be a perfectly normal name in the real world, Tyrion can't help but feel that it's a completely ridiculous name (who names their kid after a worthless piece of currency?) and can hardly manage to make himself say it.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Daario's appeal to Daenerys.
  • Arc Words:
    • For Tyrion: "Wherever whores go."
    • For Jon: "Kill the boy. Let the man be born." Not to mention "You know nothing, Jon Snow."
    • Daenerys: "If I look back I am lost."
    • For Theon: "Reek, Reek, it rhymes with X" and "You have to know your name."
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Ramsay Bolton and "Arya Stark".
    • Alys Karstark and the Magnar of Thenn.
  • Bait and Switch: A line of dialogue in the previous novel stated that Davos Seaworth has been executed. This novel actually covers Davos' journey, culminating in him being condemned to death. It turns out that the execution was faked as part of Wyman Manderlay's plan to take revenge on the Boltons and the Freys.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Tyrion keeps a bunch of poisonous mushrooms in his boot to serve this cause, should the need come for it.
  • Body Double: The "Arya Stark" who marries Ramsay Bolton is actually Sansa's best friend Jeyne Poole (who disappeared soon after Eddard Stark was arrested and his guards slaughtered way back in book 1) being passed off as Arya. Since almost everyone who knew Arya in person is either dead or missing, they get away with it.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Daenerys and Daario Naharis.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: For Jon and Daenerys, whose fate at the end of the book is left ambiguous. Also possibly Jaime Lannister, if Brienne is really leading him into a trap.
  • Child Soldiers: Varys' "Little Birds". The last sentences of the book describes them approaching the wounded Ser Kevan. "And in their hands, the daggers."
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Everyone is urging Daenerys to let Meereen rot, but she feels obligated to protect every single one of her "children".
    • Similarly, Jon Snow can't bring himself to let a single potentially-friendly wildling band die north of the Wall, though in his case, there are darker reasons: he can't risk them rising as wights.
  • Cliffhanger: The final scenes have Drogon and Dany lost in the Dothraki Sea, and the Night's Watch staging a mutiny against Jon.
  • Continuity Nod: Tyrion's introduction in the first book (in which he somersaults off the top of a door and lands on his feet) is addressed here, where he performs a cartwheel and reflects on a childhood fondness for doing the same until Tywin ordered him to stop. Until this book, he never performed any other acrobatic feats after the first, which made the first look a little weird.
  • Creepy Child: Varys' "little birds", children who finish the dying Ser Kevan off in the last chapter.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Daenerys and Quaithe.
    Quaithe: Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.
    • Fans have extrapolated some of these hints.
      • We saw the glass candle burning in the Citadel in Oldtown in AFFC, signaling that magic is growing strong once again.
      • The Meereenese call catching dysentery "mounting the pale mare," and the disease arrives in ADWD as an epidemic.
      • The kraken heading to Essos is most likely Victarion Greyjoy, who plans to marry Daenerys, whom his brother Euron covets.
      • The red priest who converts Victarion to the faith of R'hllor is named Moqorro; the Iron Islanders cannot pronounce his name and nickname him "the Black Flame."
      • The one person in Essos whose family sigil is a lion is Tyrion Lannister; the one with a griffin for a sigil is Jon Connington. Both were headed toward Daenerys until they changed their minds.
      • The "sun's son" is probably Quentyn Martell; his house bears the sigil of a sun impaled by a spear, and he is the son of the head of that house—Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne. His attempt to attract Daenerys' attention was disastrous.
      • The mummer's dragon is most likely Aegon Targaryen VI. The jury is still out on whether "mummer" means he is a fake Targaryen or simply a reference to how his life, upbringing, and bid for the throne is being orchestrated by Varys, a former mummer who still uses many of the tricks of the trade.
      • The perfumed seneschal could refer to a number of things. It could be Daenerys' seneschal Reznak, who possibly betrays her during the book. It could be Varys, who was involved in her marriage to Khal Drogo and is raising another Targaryen to take the throne. And it could be the ship that Tyrion and Jorah were taking to Meereen, whose name roughly translates to "the Fragrant Steward."
  • Death Faked for You:
    • For Davos Seaworth.
    • Also for Mance Rayder: the Lord O' Bones was burned in his place.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Jorah is hit with this when he was sold to slavery, and has become a broken shell of the man he was. Fortunately in the end he snaps out of it, and joins the Seconds Sons along with Tyrion.
    • More to the point, it was hearing of Dany's marriage that broke him, not slavery.
    Tyrion: One whispered word had done what fists and clubs could not; it had broken him.
    • Jorah and Tyrion after escaping slavery and joining the Second Sons.
  • The Dreaded: Ramsay is certainly this, especially to Theon.
  • Doorstopper: Including The Wind of Winter sample chapter and all the extra pages for the copyright disclosure, etc., the US edition of the book clocks in at a whopping 1056 pages. The book ends at an odd point in the plot simply because Martin's editor had to stop him from exceeding the physical limits of a typical book binding.
  • Dragon Rider: After wanting to do this since she had dragons, Daenerys finally manages to ride Drogon.
  • Enemy Mine: The Night's Watch teams up with various Wildling groupings and offers their leaders terms, because they have a common enemy now.
    • Stannis is advised to use this by Jon, defeating the Ironborn at Deepwood Motte to win Northern support. It works.
  • Evil Uncle: Arnolf Karstark and his son Cregan. He declares for Stannis, hoping his great-nephew Harrion Karstark, rightful lord of Karhold, will get executed and plans for Harrion's sister Alys to marry Cregan, making him Lord of Karhold.
  • Fake Defector: As it turns out, Wyman Manderly.
  • Faking the Dead: Mance Rayder. Melisandre uses her magic to disguise him as the Lord of Bones and vice versa, meaning the Lord of Bones is burnt.
  • Gambit Pileup: The famous "Meereenese Knot" involves Dany's crusade to end Slavery becoming a geopolitical quagmire that alters the political landscape of Essos. Volantenes, Pentoshi, Yunkishmen, New Ghis, Qarth, what seems like every sellsword company in the continent all arrive to make some move for or against her. Then just when things weren't confusing enough, Victarion Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet head there to bring her and her dragons to Westeros.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: Dany's rule in Meereen is a prime example of how good intentions lead to this, as she tries to reconcile her desire to provide freedom for slaves and at the same time bring peace to a city where the elite is former slaveowners with a vested interest against her:
    • The Shavepate cites Dany's taking of child hostages from the noble families as a good example of this. On one hand, Dany is telling the Good Masters that actions committed by the Sons of the Harpy, will invite consequences, but when the Harpy continues killing and Dany doesn't Make an Example of Them because of her Wouldn't Hurt a Child sentiments, she has essentially proven that her threats were empty, and this leads the Wise Masters to regard her as a pushover and allows terrorism to go unpunished.
    • Likewise Dany lends an ear to the Culture Justifies Anything ethos spouted by the Green Grace and Hizdahr, and starts assimilating into practises and beliefs that she considers distasteful for the desire of peace. But in exchange, the Good and Wise Masters of Meereen and Yunkai keep extracting compromises from her and brazenly display their Loophole Abuse by selling slaves outside her city within view of her city guards. In the end, Dany chides herself for these well intentioned blunders and accepts that her way is "Fire and Blood".
  • Hidden Backup Prince: Aegon VI, Rhaegar Targaryen's son, was in hiding in the Free Cities all this time. Though played with, in that it's unclear if this really is Aegon. Fan theories range from them being a Blackfyre, who Illyrio mentions are extinct "in the male line", Illyrio Mopatis' son, a descendant of Aerion "Brightflame" Targaryen, who Martin says may have had bastards in Lys, or just a Lyseni child as there are many people in Lys with Valyrian features.
    • Also, Wyman Manderly and Robett Glover find out, via Wex Pyke, that Rickon Stark and his direwolf, is at Skagos, and Davos' mission is to return the North its Liege Lord from an island of cannibals and unicorns.
  • Hope Spot: Inverted trope, as a hero does this to a villain. Jon Snow is fed up with Janos Slynt after he refuses a direct order, and Jon orders Janos hanged. Watching his men prepare this while Janos is pleading, Jon thinks that this is wrong and tells his men to stop. Janos, shaking, thanks Jon Snow for his mercy. To which Jon famously responds:
    Jon Snow: Edd, fetch me a block.
  • Human Sacrifice:
  • I'm a Humanitarian: It's strongly implied Wyman Manderly cooked the three Freys formerly staying at his court into pies, which he fed to the Boltons and a few Freys at Winterfell. He even eats some himself and enjoys it.
    • Skagos is apparently filled with cannibals, and that's where Rickon is at.
    • While warging into their wolves, Bran and Arya eat human meat, and its implied that the meat given by Coldhands which they think is Pigmeat is actually flesh from the Night's Watch deserters at Craster's Keep that Coldhands had killed.
    • Some of the soldiers in Stannis' army resort to eating the Dead during the March to Winterfell during the Winter. Stannis has them burnt in punishment though there are some who note that it was probably a lot more common and it is likely that these soldiers only had the misfortune to be caught.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Jon Snow's thoughts on confronting yet more problems. "A cup of hot spiced wine would serve me well just now. Two cups would serve me even better."
  • Ironic Name: Qarl the Maid is a man who has lots of sex with Asha.
  • Just Between You and Me: Varys shoots Ser Kevan with a quarrel and starts giving exposition on his major plans like a Bond villain but then he seems to catch himself:
    "I am sorry. You are suffering, I know, yet here I stand going on like some silly old woman. Time to make an end to it."
  • Lighter and Softer: The sole Riverlands chapter we get in this book is much lighter than the ones in the previous book and elsewhere in this one.
  • Made a Slave: Tyrion, Penny and Jorah Mormont.
  • Malicious Slander: The former rulers of Slaver's Bay spread horrible rumors about Daenerys Tagaryen to justify going to war with her. They accuse her of being a lustful, bloodthirsty, hedonistic sorceress who feeds babies to her dragons. Some of this is deliberate distortion of the facts or outright lies, but some is merely a nod to how such a character must appear to her enemies.
    Qavo: If even half the stories coming back from Slaverís Bay are true, this "child" is a monster.
  • Man on Fire: Quentyn Martell. He doesn't live to tell the tale.
  • Marital Rape License: Ramsay performs this on "Arya" (Jeyne Poole), though tells Theon to get her wet with his mouth before he consummates the marriage.
  • Modest Royalty: Quentyn projects this attitude and it screws him over. Daenerys is running into similar problems with her desire to avoid making summary decisions against those who displease her. Prince Aegon is implied by Varys to supposed to be this, but it doesn't seem like anyone's clued him in on it. Melisandre mocks this trope after seeing it in Jon Snow who spurns staying in Mormont's Old Tower in favor of staying in Donal Noye's armory. She reflects:
    "That was his mistake, the false humility of youth that is is itself a sort of pride. It was never wise for a ruler to eschew the trappings of power, for power itself flows in no small measure from such trappings."
  • No, Except Yes: Jon Snow decides not to hang Janos Slynt. He'll chop off his head himself, like Ned Stark taught him.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: The "Children of the Forest".
  • Oh Crap!: Daenerys has a major Oh Crap! moment when a farmer presents her with the charred bones of a child her escaped dragon Drogon ate.
    • Davos Seaworth once he realizes exactly where Wyman Manderly is asking him to go. note 
    • Jorah: "It's a slaver."
    • Roose Bolton has a minor one once the violence get's uncontrollable. Especially memorable considering he's a sociopath who barely shows any emotion and this is the first time he's shown fear.
    • Ser Barristan when he learns that Quentyn Martell and the Windblown unleashed the remaining dragons into the city.
  • Off with His Head!: Janos Slynt.
  • Pacifism Backfire: Dany and Jon's arc has to deal with them trying to build peace with various competing factions while at the same putting forth their own agenda. In the end it doesn't work out:
    • Dany's attempt to build peace in Meereen has good intentions, curtailing the violence inflicted by the Sons of the Harpy, staving off war with neighbours, and consolidating some of her reforms but in the process she has to deal with a lot of painful compromises and a series of reversals and even face up to slaves being sold right outside her gates as Evil Gloating by Yunkishmen. In the end, she realizes that, her way, is Fire and Blood.
    • Jon Snow likewise tries to build peace between the Wildlings and the Night's Watch while at the same time trying to help Stannis and his contingent in a way that doesn't compromise the neutrality of the Night's Watch, and also saving "Arya" from Ramsay. In the end, the peace ends with the Pink Letter that puts an end to Night's Watch neutrality with Jon Snow stabbed and chaos breaking out in the wall between King's Men, Night's Watchmen and Wildlings.
  • Pet Monstrosity: Subverted — Daenerys turns her back on her dragons, as they are becoming too unruly and dangerous. Played straight when she starts controlling Drogon after he turns up in the fighting pit.
  • Plant Person: The Three-Eyed Crow, who is melded with the Weirwood. And he wants Bran to take his place.
  • The Plague: The bloody flux, carried into Meereen and the Yunkish camps by a pale mare.
  • Put On The Back Of A Dragon: Daenerys is carried into the Dothraki Sea, far away from Meereen, by Drogon. Many believe she is dead back in Meereen.
  • Rape as Backstory: Roose Bolton tells "Reek" of how he raped Ramsay's mother.
  • Rape by Proxy: "Reek" is forced into this at the wedding night of Ramsay Bolton and "Arya Stark".
  • Reality Ensues: Turns out that forcing a highly traditionalist organization to go through a ton of reforms, many of which completely go against the principles and ideals of the organization, is a bad idea. Especially if said organization is already resentful of you being their new leader due to you being a bastard and being younger than most of your officers.
    • A similar problem occurs with Daenerys in Meereen. Her attempts to peacefully bring about immediate social reform to the ancient city is not at all smooth due to many problems. Neither slaves nor slavers can make peace with one another; the latter will always treat slaves like dirt, while the slaves will always hate slavers for enslaving them; neither will take to discarding millenia-old tradition; and attempting to play nice with the ruling families will never go smooth when your introduction to them involved painful execution of their leaders (however just). In the end, the attempt is not only naive, but success at all looks impossible.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Freys put out an alternative version of the Red Wedding: Robb and his northmen warged into massive wolves and attacked their Frey hosts, and the Freys merely acted in self-defense. It's an absolutely preposterous story that they don't expect anyone to actually believe, but which northmen are expected to pretend to believe. Wyman Manderly does just that in a Davos chapter, leaving Davos stunned that the lord could possibly buy into such nonsense. Manderly eventually makes it clear that he's not fooled at all, he knows very well who's responsible for the Red Wedding and the death of his son and he is still very pissed off about it.
  • Redemption Equals Affliction: Theon heads in this direction after his prolonged Cold-Blooded Torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.
  • Salt the Earth: Knowing the Daenerys was likely going to conquer the city, the people of Meereen burn crops surrounding the city and dump salt in all the wells. This works, increasing Daenerys' problems by making it difficult to feed and water her new people.
  • Save the Princess: Unfortunately it's not the real princess.
  • Sherlock Scan: The Varys-Illyrio conspiracy, decades in the making, a total secret from the world...unearthed by Tyrion Lannister in its entirety in a succession of few chapters.
  • Skewed Priorities: Played with. When Cersei sees her uncle Kevan is upset with her, she thinks he is still angry over her throwing wine at him. He says he is upset about her seducing his son Lancel. He doesn't go into the other reasons he could be angry at her, her refusing to give him titles he had a right too, such as Warden of the West or Castellan of Casterly Rock. Also her political incompetence and affairs have brought disgrace to House Lannister.
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: See I'm a Humanitarian above.
  • Secretly Dying: After saving Tyrion from the Stone Men, Jon Connington contracts severe greyscale and knows he's dying, but hides this from everyone.
  • Slut-Shaming: Cersei must perform a naked walk of shame through King's Landing. Also has a Shameful Strip, complete with full body shaving.
  • Spanner in the Works: All kinds of schemes and long term plans get upended by unexpected factors:
    • Roose Bolton in collusion with Arnolf Karstark hoped to goad Stannis to march on the Dreadfort. Jon Snow told Stannis to Take a Third Option, court some loyal Mountain Clans, gain a troop of 3000 soldiers all of them capable of marching in the cold winter and many of them are loyal to Ned Stark's memory.
    • Arianne Martell's scheming in A Feast for Crows leads to the death of Arys Oakheart. This ends up becoming Cersei Lannister's get-out-of-jail-for-free card since she had wanted a vacant spot on the Kingsguard with which to place loyalist Ser Robert Strong so as to win her upcoming Trial by the Faith.
    • The long-term plans of the Golden Company and Illyrio Mopatis get upended thanks to Daenerys Targaryen simply surviving, and then hatching dragons and then conquering three cities. Tristan Rivers, of the Golden Company gets fed up and asks his fellow soldiers to Take a Third Option:
    "First Viserys Targaryen was to join us with fifty thousand Dothraki screamers at his back. Then the Beggar King was dead, and it was to be his sister, a pliable young child queen who was on her way to Pentos with three new-hatched dragons. Instead the girl turns up on Slaver's Bay and leaves a string of burning cities in her wake, and the fat man decides we should meet her by Volantis. Now that plan is in ruins as well. I have had enough of Illyrioís plans. Robert Baratheon won the Iron Throne without the benefit of dragons. We can do the same."
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Roose Bolton and his allies, who are camped out in Winterfell, waiting for Stannis to march to them, start suffering a string of murders in their ranks. Considering many in their own number hate each other's guts, there's at least one enemy agent undercover in the castle, and some of them have very good reasons to hate their liege lord, there's suspects galore. Fan theories range from fairly likely (Wyman Manderly, who is known to already be conspiring against Bolton; Mance Rayder and his spearwives, who admit to one of the murders, but deny another), to creative (some of the other Northern Lords, who might have found out that Bolton is behind the Red Wedding, and already have reason to hate the Freys), to Wild Mass Guessing (Theon has multiple personality disorder and is murdering people without being aware of it; the septon of Winterfell survived being thrown in a well by the Ironmen three books ago and is hiding in the ruins, killing occupants).
  • The Unpronounceable: Half of Daenerys' court in Meereen qualifies but only to the ears of Dornishmen and the Windblown. Daenerys and her Court, including Ser Barristan, have fewer difficulties.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Jon Snow wants as many Wildlings as possible on the Westeros side of the Wall, realizing that every one that dies on the other side is one more Wight to fight. Most of them get this, most of the Night's Watch does not.
    • The Northmen with Lord Bolton and the Freys hate each other, as many Northern Houses lost people at the Red Wedding.
  • Wham Line: The letter Jon Snow receives from Ramsay Bolton near the end.note :
    Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.
    Your false king's friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.
    I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
    I want my bride back. I want the false king's queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want this wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard's heart and eat it.

    Ramsay Bolton, Trueborn Lord of Winterfell.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Jaime Lannister has not been heard from since walking off with Brienne.
  • Worth It: Daenerys on her first flight:
    "If I fall and die, it will still have been worth it."
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Quentyn Martell thinks he's The Hero of the story, and therefore destined to victory.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The Boltons and Freys seriously underestimated Wyman Manderly.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Young Griff dyes his hair blue to hide his natural silver, which would identify him as a Targaryen. This is also makes his Targaryen purple eyes look more blue as a bonus.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Ramsay Bolton promises a fort of Ironmen that if they surrender, nothing will happen to them, counting on them believing him on his word. They do, and he flays them alive before killing them. All of them.
    • His father Roose promised squatters at Winterfell's ruins that he would grant them mercy if they helped him in rebuilding the castle. Roose then hanged them, pointing out that he was merciful for not flaying them. Like Father, Like Son.