Literature: A Feast for Crows

Crows will fight over a dead man's flesh and kill each other for his eyes. We had one king, then five. Now all I see are crows, squabbling over the corpse of Westeros.
Rodrik Harlaw

The fourth book in George RR Martin's doorstopper A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, released in 2005.

With Tywin Lannister dead, the reign of the Seven Kingdoms falls to Cersei, who becomes the regent for her son Tommen. While the War of the Five Kings seems to be ending, there are still plenty of problems to face, and Cersei may not be as well suited to the task as she previously thought she was. In the Riverlands, Brienne of Tarth still searches desperately to find Sansa Stark, who has taken on the identity of Petyr Baelish' bastard daughter Alayne Stone and is safely residing in the Vale of Arryn.

On the Iron Islands, a succession crisis arises after Balon Greyjoy's death, and much animosity between his assumed heirs is the result, while in Dorne, a rebellious princess prepares to use Myrcella Baratheon (sent to Dorne to be betrothed) to enable her plans of revenge. All at the same time, Samwell Tarly journeys to Oldtown to become a maester of the Citadel at Jon Snow's orders, while Arya Stark reaches Braavos and starts her training to become a Faceless Man.

The novel has a total of 12 POV characters. Some prominent ones from previous books (Tyrion, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Bran) are notably missing, since A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons happen in the same timespan and thus this book covers only half of the events. The prologue is provided by minor character Pate.

  • King's Landing is seen through the eyes of Cersei Lannister primarily.
  • The destroyed Riverlands are seen from the perspectives of Brienne and Jaime, who are now travelling separately with separate goals.
  • The Eyrie and the rest of the Vale of Arryn are seen from Sansa's - or rather, Alayne Stone's - perspective.
  • In the Iron Islands, we see through the eyes of Balon's younger brothers Victarion and Aeron, as well as his daughter Asha.
  • Dorne is seen through the perspective of Areoh Hotah, captain of Doran Martell's guard; Arys Oakheart, a knight of the Kingsguard pledged to protect Myrcella; and Arianne Martell, Doran's daughter and heir to Dorne.
  • The sea route to Oldtown and Oldtown itself are seen through Samwell Tarly's perspective. He also stops in Braavos, which is primarily seen through Arya Stark's eyes.

Feast is divided from A Dance with Dragons geographically, rather than chronologically — the contemporaneous adventures of characters in the North and Essos are covered in that book.

This book provides examples of:

  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Eight-year old Tommen is crowned King of Westeros after Joffrey's death. Subverted in that Cersei holds the real power and all Tommen does is stamp decrees and letters, without much understanding of what he's actually doing. This bites Cersei in the ass rather horribly when Cersei's enemies make Tommen send out decrees against Cersei.
  • Analogy Backfire: Nimble Dick assures Brienne that's he's honest as the day is long. Brienne points out that as winter is coming, the days are getting shorter.
  • Animal Motifs: Crows are a recurring one.
    Euron Greyjoy: "After every battle the crows come in their hundreds and thousands to feast upon the fallen. A crow can espy death from afar. And I say that all of Westeros is dying."
    Jaime Lannister: "Every crow in the Seven Kingdoms should pay homage to you, Father. From Castamere to the Blackwater, you fed them well"
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: The word "nuncle", previously unused in the series, appears abundantly and conspicuously here.
  • Back from the Dead: Catelyn Stark is resurrected into Lady Stoneheart.
  • Batman Gambit: Arianne kidnaps Myrcella Baratheon, meaning to crown her Queen of Westeros and raise Dorne's banners to support a war against King's Landing behind her father's back. Doesn't work out.
    • Doran Martell also had one: He only betrothed Arianne to men he knew she would refuse, because he had actually secretly promised her to wed Viserys Targaryen.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Cersei obsesses over a prophecy she once received as a child from a maegi, saying that she would be killed by her "valonqar"; that she would be queen until another "younger and more beautiful" came to "cast [you] down and take all that [you] hold dear"; and that her children would predecease her.
  • Becoming the Mask: Sansa undergoes this to a certain degree as Alayne Stone, referring to herself as Littlefinger's daughter even in her own mind, and on several occasions makes active attempts to surpress the desires that 'Sansa' has in order to continue to grow as 'Alayne'.
  • Call Back:
    • In a near-reproduction of a scene from "The Hedge Knight", Brienne realizes the sigil on her shield will not do, and commissions a woman to repaint it with an elm tree and shooting star on a field of sunset colors.
    • In another reference to "The Hedge Knight", a half-crazed member of the royal family (Aerion in "The Hedge Knight", Cersei here) construes a puppet show as a veiled insult to the crown (though in this case, it arguably was) and has the performers punished.
  • Coming and Going: Sansa meets the widowed Lady Myranda Royce, whose middle-aged husband expired the first time they had sex.
    Myranda: He died on top of me. In me, if truth be told. You do know what goes on in a marriage bed, I hope?
    Sansa: That must have been dreadful, my lady. Him dying. There, I mean, whilst...whilst he was...
    Myranda: Fucking me? It was disconcerting, certainly. Not to mention discourteous.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Lord Hewett's bastard daughter Falia, after years of being made to work in the kitchens for her trueborn half-siblings and wait on them at table, delights in joining the Greyjoy invaders to humiliate them - such as suggesting that they be forced to serve their captors naked, which inevitably leads to the women and young girls being gang raped.
    • Cersei rejects Jaime's efforts to help her, replaces his affections with those of Osmund Kettleback, and makes constant snarky comments about his stump. When she sends a raven appealing for his help after her arrest, Jaime orders the message burnt.
  • Came Back Wrong: Catelyn. Probably a result of having been a corpse for three days, two of which spent in the river, she can hardly speak any comprehensible words and seems to have become increasingly psychopathic.
  • Deadly Deferred Conversation: Jaime Lannister recalls the last conversation he had with Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, about how the prince had realized how badly his mad father King Aerys was ruling the realm and he had planned to summon a council and make changes. He promised to speak more on the subject when he returned from what turned out to be the battle where he was killed.
  • Demoted to Extra: House Stark. Prior to this book the Starks were the most prominent family in the series with almost every member being a POV character, making up anywhere from half to three-quarters of the first three books. In Crows only two members of the family are POV characters and between them they only contribute six chapters out of 46, while House Lannister drives the book with seventeen chapters. Arya is especially demoted, as with thirteen chapters she was the most prominent character in Swords while in Crows she just has just three chapters that have nothing to do with the rest of the story.
  • Development Gag: invoked Littlefinger says that he "had hoped to have four or five quiet years" to allow his plans to mature, but things are moving too fast. This is a reference to GRRM's original plan for "a five-year gap" between books 3 and 4, which he had to abandon.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: The people of the Summer Islands, with whom Sam shares a ship to Oldtown.
  • Evil Gloating: Cersei to Margaery after Loras barely survives his assault on Dragonstone.
  • Exact Words: Alleras says, "I am no Lord's son." "Alleras" is almost certainly Sarella, a lord's daughter, and her father was a Prince.
  • Eye Scream: Marillion had his eyes plucked out while he was being tortured into lying about Lysa's death.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: Cersei's scheming against Margaery by claiming she committed adultery with knights and then having her imprisoned is inspired by the Tour de Nesle affair, this formed the plot of the first book of The Accursed Kings, an acknowledged influence on the series.
  • Fawlty Towers Plot: Cersei's scheming against Margaery relies on Osney Kettleblack falsely confessing to the High Septon that he has slept with the young queen. She also has Qyburn torture the Blue Bard, a young musician who plays for Margaery and her company, so he will testify that he also took the queen to bed, while Pycelle admits to having supplied Margaery with Moon Tea. This all backfires on Cersei when the Faith (newly armed by Cersei herself) tortures Osney because the High Septon found his lack of guilt during the confession suspect. Osney admits he "fucked the queen", said queen being Cersei.
  • Fingore: Mord took off a few of Marillion's fingers while torturing him.
  • Foreign Money Is Proof of Guilt: Qyburn finds a gold coin from the Kingdom of the Reach from before Aegon's Conquest in the bedchamber of Rugen, the undergaoler who released Tyrion. (Note that Rugen was actually Varys in disguise.) The obvious implicationnote  is that the Tyrells used Reach gold to bribe Rugen into releasing Tyrion, which further fuels Cersei's paranoia. Of course, using a rare, ancient and region-specific currency for your criminal operations, as opposed to the more common and completely untraceable unified currency of the modern day, is nothing short of idiotic, which will cause the reader to suspect the veracity of this evidence. This thought never occurs to Cersei, however.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Once upon a time, there was a girl growing up in her father's house with a Wicked Stepmother and her evil stepsisters, who forced her to live amongst the servants and do all the chores. Then one day, their household was set upon by Ironborn reavers, who took the place over and raped everyone, except pretty Falia Flowers who became the willing courtesan of the evil-but-very-pretty Pirate King Euron. She persuaded Euron to make her enslaved erstwhile family serve in the nude while her poor father watched, and she laughed and laughed and laughed while they were gang raped. The End.
    • Cersei is revealed to have received a prophecy once that she would be queen until a younger and beautiful girl wrested that position from her. A likely candidate would seem to be her daughter-in-law.
  • Gaining the Will to Kill: Brienne goes through this before killing her first man (in self-defence), questioning whether she has the strength to take a life. Ultimately it gets easier for her, but she still doesn't enjoy it.
  • Gambit Pileup: About halfway through Cersei's extensive gambits to destroy Margaery Tyrell, Margaery also starts working to destroy Cersei (mainly after Cersei can't resist Evil Gloating over Loras Tyrell's horrific injuries after the battle of Dragonstone). This all while the Faith Militant is scheming to become more authoritative. In the final Cersei chapter, both Cersei and Margaery are arrested by the Faith on legitimate charges of adultery. Well, legitimate in Cersei's case at least; Margaery's is still up in the air.
  • Heir Club for Men: The notion of women gaining authority and support to rule over the realm is a major theme in the book.
    • Among the traditional seafaring Ironborn, the idea of a woman as anything other than a wife, salt-wife or a whore is unthinkable. Despite this, the highly conservative Balon Greyjoy sought to break with tradition and name his Action Girl daughter Asha as his heir and mentioned as much to others. Upon his mysterious death, his exiled brother Euron seizes the throne by force, and despite hating him, the conservative priest Aeron is equally opposed to Asha being Queen as well and decides to call a Kingsmoot instead.
    • Cersei Lannister's chapters explore the pressures of being Queen Regent, in that the authority of rule comes solely from her children's claim rather than hers, so she faces several challenges from within and without, along with her own flaws. In the end, she finds out how powerless she actually is when the High Septon manages to imprison her on charges of adultery, which is a far greater crime for a woman than her cheating husband Robert as it casts doubt on the paternity of her children.
    • Arianne Martell also faces angst regarding this. Even if she comes from a more progressive part of the realm where first child primogeniture is held over sons and daughters equally, she becomes paranoid that her father Doran seeks to deprive her of her claim and hand it to her younger brother Quentyn instead. She starts a plot to install Myrcella on the Iron Throne in reaction to this. It turns out she needn't have worried, because her father wasn't trying to rob her of her birthright as Princess of Dorne but make her queen of the Seven Kingdoms by marrying Viserys; when that didn't pan out, he sent Quentyn to attempt to become king by courting and marrying Daenerys, so Arianne would still be Princess, but from her limited information she had every reason to fear.
    • In her more humble position, Brienne's chapters explore her angst about the consequences of defying custom and becoming an Action Girl and her feelings of guilt about being her father's only surviving child and so a poor heir to Tarth:
    "I am the only child the gods let him keep. The freakish one, the one not fit to be son or daughter".
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Cersei has Margaery Tyrell arrested by the Faith for adultery, but the knight she sends to confess of this is tortured till he admits he slept with Cersei, resulting in Cersei's own arrest as well. In addition, her own insistence that Margery, as a queen, must have her Trial by Combat be championed by a member of the Kingsguard (limiting Margery's choices to the point where her loss is assured) similarly dooms Cersei, who is also a queen.
  • Honor Before Reason: Arys Oakheart. Results in his untimely death.
  • Implausible Deniability: An unlucky and none-too-bright Tyrosh merchant attempts to cash in on Cersei's offer of wealth and titles if she's brought Tyrion's head, coming up with various excuses for why "Tyrion"'s head is bald, with two matching eyes instead of the Boat Lights he actually has, his obviously cut-off nose, and is twice Tyrion's age. The guy ends up being given to Qyburn for wasting Cersei's time (she officially condemns him for murdering the dwarf whose head he tried to pass off, which is about as close to dispensing true justice as Cersei gets).
  • Individuality Is Illegal: To become a Faceless Man, Arya is forced to give up everything about her identity.
  • Killed Offscreen: There are several references to the death of Davos Seaworth, however the character makes no actual appearance in this volume.
  • Klingon Scientists Get No Respect: Rodrik "The Reader" Harlaw is an Ironborn scholar, which gets about as much respect as you might imagine. This might be part of why Asha, who is his niece and also looked at askance for not conforming to Ironborn gender roles, considers him her favorite uncle.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Jaime ends up refusing Cersei's plea for him to return to King's Landing to help her after she's been arrested by the Faith Militant after an entire book and a half of Cersei constantly belittling and insulting him, along with various revelations about what she got up to while he was imprisoned at Riverrun, namely having sex with Osmund Kettleblack and Lancel Lannister as replacement sex toys. Victarion Greyjoy quickly decides to double-cross his brother Euron when the latter tells him to take the Iron Fleet to Slaver's Bay and bring Daenerys Targaryen back to Euron to marry. Victarion makes up his mind then and there to marry Dany himself in exchange for the wife that Euron forced him to kill.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Aeron Damphair will not accept Euron "Crow's Eye" as the King of the Iron Islands and thus organizes a Kingsmoot so that the people of the islands can choose their own King. He himself heavily supports the claim of his brother Victarion. However, at the Kingsmoot Euron "Crow's Eye" is so convincing that his position of King is affirmed.
  • Obviously Evil: Euron "Crow's Eye" is this trope in full effect. Even considering the Deliberate Values Dissonance of the Ironborn culture, he's evil by their standards as well as anyone else's, and he has the Eyepatch of Power and nightshade-blue lips to show it.
  • Odd Friendship: Brienne and Ser Hyle develop one.
  • Pet the Dog: Brienne feels genuinely sorry for her mistrust of Nimble Dick after he is horribly slaughtered by two former Bloody Mummers. She resorts to giving him a proper burial.
  • Rape as Backstory: Euron raped Victarion's wife, which Victarion responded to by killing her. For what it's worth (which, admittedly, isn't much), Euron denies that he raped her, claiming "she came to [him] wet and willing". It is also implied he sexually abused Aeron.
  • Reality Ensues: Tywin Lannister is left on display for seven days before he is to be carried home to Casterly Rock. This results in him decomposing as he lies in state, and the smell eventually becomes appalling.
  • Rebellious Princess: Arianne Martell is one mainly because she believes her father means to overturn her as the heir to Dorne in favor of her brother Quentyn.
  • The Reveal: Doran Martell wants revenge for Elia Martell's death and has been planning, more or less since the day Elia died, an alliance with the remaining Targaryens.
  • Rousing Speech: Euron delivers one of these at the Kingsmoot to propel himself to the Seastone Chair.
  • Sanity Slippage: Cersei Lannister.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The term "broken men", ex-soldiers who become roving outlaws and brigands is used as a medieval substitute for what is obviously the modern condition. Septon Meribald describes it accurately in his speech at Quiet Isle:
    "Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by an axe...They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that’s still half-healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting, and half of them are shitting in their breeches from drinking bad water. If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the smallfolk whose lands they’re fighting in, men very like the men they used to be...They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground...And the man breaks...The broken man lives from day to day, from meal to meal, more beast than man."
  • Stepford Smiler: Cersei becomes a POV character and it's revealed that beneath her calm queenly facade she is a barely stable trainwreck of paranoia, megalomania and insecurity.
  • Switched at Birth: Jon Snow secretly switched Dalla's baby with Gilly's, sending Dalla's child south with Gilly so that the child wouldn't be burned alive by Melisandre.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Ser Arys Oakheart gets a grand total of one POV chapter before he is killed.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: The Blackfish makes his contempt for the Kingslayer clear.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cersei's second POV chapter has Kevan give her a good dressing-down, outright calling her a poor ruler and a fool for making Mace Tyrell angry for breaking a promise Tywin Lannister made to him, and a poor mother judging from what he saw of Joffrey. He also refuses her offer to make him Hand of the King without making him regent and returning to Casterly Rock. And he not only tells her he believes the accusations of incest between her and Jaime, he also tells her (having learned a thing or two from Ned Stark, perhaps) that he commands hundreds of knights, and can command more along with freeriders, and tells her it would be foolish to make him an enemy. Cersei, of course, simply spends the entire speech inwardly calling him a traitor.
  • Taking You with Me: Attempted by Cersei. Arrested by the Faith and facing certain death when her chosen champion inevitably loses her Trial by Combat (due to her own schemes against Margery Tyrell, no less), she attempts to summon Jaime as her champion, intending him to die as well. However, he refuses her request.
  • Villain Protagonist: The straightest example yet. With almost a quarter of the book dedicated to her Cersei has more chapters than any other character and unlike Theon and Jaime Cersei never feels guilty or remorseful.
  • War Is Hell: The major theme of this book, more than others, is depicting the horrific consequences of medieval warfare on civilian life, the scattered numbers of "broken men" running around the countryside, the increasing religious sentiment and breakdown of government. The book's title is a reference to carrion birds feasting on the corpses on a battlefield. Septon Meribald's speech on the Quiet Isle illustrates this most famously, as does Thoros of Myr's pithy lament:
    "War makes monsters of us all."
  • Wham Episode:
    • Cersei is arrested by the Faith.
    • Brienne meets Lady Stoneheart, the woman she used to serve, who decrees that she be hanged for treason.
    • Jaime refuses to be Cersei's champion.
    • Doran and Oberyn Martell have always planned revenge for their dead sister. The reason Arianne isn't already married at 23 is that she was secretly betrothed to Viserys Targaryen - and Quentyn has been sent to seal an alliance with Daenerys.
    • Sansa finds out Petyr's plot to have her become the Lady of both the Vale and Winterfell.
  • Wham Line:
    • When Arianne asks Doran what killed her secret fiancée he says a pot of molten gold. He then reveals his "heart's desire".
      Justice. Vengeance. Fire and blood.
    • Jaime's response to Cersei's need for a champion.
      Jaime: No. Put this in the fire.
    • The High Septon's beautifully simple and extremely satisfying response to some of Cersei's orders.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Some of the major P.O.V. like Jon, Tyrion or Daenerys disappeared to get back in A Dance with Dragons.
    • Where is Blackfish?
    • Jaime wonders if his cousin Tyrek Lannister, who disappeared in A Clash of Kings has been kidnapped by Varys.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Cersei sees sending Loras Tyrell to take Dragonstone as this. She knows Loras is too impatient to wait for the keep to starve out, so she hopes he will die storming it. If he doesn't die, she would have still struck a blow against Stannis, making it a win-win situation. What she doesn't predict is the prestige his victory will give House Tyrell, her primary rivals for power at court.