(Index of previous ADwD chapter reviews here.)
I know, three chapters in one post instead of the usual two – it’s a world gone mad.
Chapter 10: Jon
In this chapter, Stannis and Lady Melisandre have Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, killed, whilst his followers look on. He’s burnt alive above a pit, into which they also throw the Horn of Joramun, which reputedly could have brought the Wall down if blown. After this, Stannis puts on a show with his very, very shiny sword, which Jon speculates may have been made shinier by the execution of Mance Rayder – blood magic, and the blood of a king. (If so, I can’t help but think they could have used his blood for more than a light display, but whatevs.)
The wildlings are then invited to either join with Stannis or return north of the Wall. If they choose to stay, they must each throw a stick of weirwood – wood from their god-trees – into the flames.
After this, Jon wanders unhappily about for a bit, concludes that as a commander he can’t talk to his men as friends anymore, and writes letters sending his two best mates away.
It’s a pretty unpleasant thing to do, asking people to burn their gods after burning their king. Lady Melisandre? Not a nice lady. In fact, I don’t like her at all. I don’t think we’re meant to like her, o’course, but she also feels like a bit too much of a caricuture. I keep waiting to see some kind of depth to her, but she just seems to keep wandering around like a devil on Stannis’ shoulder.
What I find most interesting about this chapter, though, is that ‘Mance’ starts denying he’s the king before they kill him. As a writer, I don’t think that’s the sort of dying words you randomly select, and Mr Martin goes to the trouble of highlighting it for us later in the chapter as well. Sounds to me as though that wasn’t Mance Rayder after all. I hope so, anyway – I’ll be disappointed if something like that is left hanging and doesn’t come again. Besides, Mance Rayder was such an enigmatic character, it would be a shame for Martin to have thrown him away before doing anything interesting with him as a person.
Chapter 11: Daenerys
Unrest continues in Meereen, Daenerys’s conquered city of pyramids. Nine freedmen are killed, including the brother of Daenerys’s girl-servant. Daenerys is fairly brutal in response, then she goes to bed, taking her girl-servant with her so that she can comfort the girl. Whilst in bed she fantasises about Daario Naharis for a bit and generally feels horny. When she gets up, she has a vision of a woman in a red mask called Quaithe who tells her to ‘beware the perfumed seneschal’ and then disappears. After that, she goes into the ‘purple hall’ to do a bit of governance. She’s again asked to re-open the fighting pits, this time by the slaves who used to fight in them. She says she’ll think about it, then goes off to see her dragons. Two of the dragons are now chained, the third has run away. Over all, things don’t seem to be going that well.
This chapter annoyed me. After all my praise for the previous Daenerys chapter, this one felt like it went back to the bad old defining-Daenerys-by-her-sexual-and-reproductive-faculties ways. The Daario Naharis fantasy was deeply problematic. She gets all hot and bothered thinking about him caressing the hilts of his swords, which happen to be in the shape of naked gold women. First off: how is this a sensible shape for a sword hilt? But even disregarding that, you don’t get much more classically symbolic of the objectification of women than naked gold women, and these are literally objects. The idea of this sleazeball caressing his idiotic hilts of naked gold women is just about the least sexy thing I can think of, but apparently Daenerys enjoys this sort of objectification. Talk about male-gazey.
And on top of this it’s really getting a bit heavy-handed with the whole ‘mother of dragons’ thing. I don’t mind it as a tool of power, but she seems to be being defined by it again, not only by other characters, but by Daenerys herself. There’s nothing wrong with powerful mothers (see my comments on Gwen’s portrayal in the latest series of Torchwood) but women who are only described as powerful with reference to their reproductive capacities… that’s less cool.
Maybe I wouldn’t mind so much, but we haven’t had any other female view-point characters yet, or even many female characters in general. I’m in need of a little relief! Bring on Arya – even Sansa – someone!
Other than that, this chapter felt a bit like punctuation. Yes, we get the prophecy, but it doesn’t really tell us much. We also learn that her biggest dragon has flown away, but for the most part it’s still just touching base on the fact that Meereen has civil unrest and they’d really like her to open the fighting pits, but she doesn’t want to.
Chapter 12: Reek
Talk about gruesome. We’re greeted with a view-point-character who is being held in a dungeon and who has been starved and tortured to the extent that he can’t remember his real name and now behaves with crawling subservience to his masters. It turns out that this is Theon Greyjoy, former ward of Ned Stark, now prisoner of Lord Ramsay. They’ve cut off some of his fingers and toes, but not before flaying them until he begged for them to be cut off.
They bring Reek (née Theon) in front of Ramsay, and after toying with him a bit he announces that Reek is to be cleaned up in preparation for Ramsay’s wedding. Ramsey, it seems, is planning to marry Arya Stark.
Martin definitely knows how to break a character. That’s a pretty bad way to get into – I don’t think we’re going to be seeing the old Theon coming out the other side of this. It certainly sets us up well for dreading the thought of Arya having to marry this guy. If she doesn’t come in and start using Needle to clean up this place I shall be very disappointed. In fact, in general: bring on Arya! I know it’s not likely to happen for a while yet, but I miss her so.
And that’s about it – it’s quite a short chapter. Tune in next time for more Read Along with Rhube, and A Dance with Dragons.