Seems like I’m always apologising for not getting back to this sooner. What can I say? It’s a 959 page story and I’ve reviewed 672 pages. That’s 50 chapters down with an estimated 22 more to go (based on an average chapter length of 13 pages). It’s a bit daunting. But I’m 70% done now, so I don’t want to quit, and I don’t want to let down those of you who have come this far. I guess it’s just going to have to become a long-term project that I dip in and out of, rather than something I post religiously every week (which I pretty much did do until Christmas). Anyway, these reviews aren’t going to write themselves!
Chapter 51: Theon
Theon gets his name back! Three cheers for Theon! And it is apt, this chapter is the culmination of all that has gone before it. With the help of Abel’s women, Theon rescues Jeyne Pool (although, of course, Abel and his women think they are rescuing Arya). As Theon has become something of a lady’s maid to Jeyne, he is able to arrange to dress Jeyne in a servant girl’s clothes and sneak her out whilst in the pretext of bathing her. Squirrel takes Jeyne’s clothes and will pretend to be her to give them more time. Theon uses his position as the despised and ignored Reek – allowed free reign of the castle because he is harmless, and Lord Ramsay’s pet – to get past the guards at the wall (or at least close enough to them for the women to do their bloody work). But, alas, the violence is more than poor Jeyne can take. She screams and gives them away. Frenya stops to hold the guards off whilst Theon, Jeyne, and Holly escape. Too late, they realise that Frenya was the one who had the rope they were to use to get down from the wall. Holly falls to a crossbow. There is nothing for it, Theon and Jeyne jump from the wall into the snow…
The sub-plot of this chapter also sees the culmination of the tensions between the factions in Bolton’s army. The latest murder in the night is not some random soldier, but Little Walder – a mere boy – and the Freys are out for blood. Much is spilt. Lord Wyman Manderly has ‘three of his four chins’ cut, which seems to not kill him, although several others die. Finally, Roose Bolton calls them to order and dictate that the chief antagonists, Wyman and Hosteen Frey, be the first to gather their knights and direct their agression towards Stannis, who waits outside the walls.
This is a great chapter. Tensions running high on all sides and every moment taught. Nice to see Theon take something back of himself, although he is still a broken man. Still not entirely sure of who he is and what he should be, torn, as he ever was, between the Starks and the sea. He does not expect to survive this rescue attempt, and if he dies he does not know if he will go to the sea god or remain at Winterfell, but who ever he is, and wherever he will go when he dies, he knows it is better to die as Theon than to live as Reek, and that is some kind of a triumph.
It remains perplexing, however, that he still hasn’t told Abel or his women that he didn’t kill the Stark boys. He did kill two boys, and that’s pretty bad, but he’s getting a lot of enmity for being a kinslayer, and insisting that he’s not without explaining why just makes people dislike him more, for they take him to be rejecting kinship with the Starks. If he explained that he had actually saved the Stark boys by killing two different boys he might get at least some more sympathy. One supposes that it must be part of the psychology of self-punishment stemming from his torture, but it remains frustrating for the reader, and still feels like a bit of a fudge to keep the pressure on. The pressure is already on quite enough.
Chapter 52: Deanerys
Another chapter of culminations. The fighting pit has been re-opened, and in honour of Daenerys and Hizdahr’s wedding they are to be put to enthusiastic use. Daenerys dresses up in the constricting native dress and submits to attending the fighting she worked so hard to keep closed. Tyrion gets his moment in her presence, play fighting on pig-back with Penny, but if he thought he might get her attention then, he is sadly mistaken. In fact, he is lucky to leave with his life. Daenerys learns that the dwarf entertainers are to be surprised by lions at the end of their act, and angrily countermands the order. She has consented to free men and women fighting if they consent to do so, but not to people who have agreed to no such thing.
Meanwhile, someone’s plot has been afoot, and all fingers point to Hizdahr. He invited her to eat spiced and honeyed locusts, which he does not touch himself. Daenerys decides it to too hot for spicy food, and so does not eat them, but Strong Belwas helps himself to plenty… and soon starts to feel considerably worse for wear. Before this can fully come to the attention of those around him, however, an event happens that put all others in shadow: Drogon returns.
Attracted by the blood and fresh meat, Daenerys’s lost dragon swoops down on the arena and begins eating the combatants. Much screaming and panicking ensues. Fortunately, Daenerys was already in the process of removing some of her encumbering garments, disgusted by the blood-sports and finally rebelling against the oppressive customs of her conquered home. She leaps into the arena and runs to Drogon. For a moment it seems that he will eat her too, not recognising her for his ‘mother’. In the background, Ser Barristen Selmy has followed her and is vainly trying to pull Drogon’s attention to himself. But Daenerys is not some princess in need of a knight to save her from the dragon. She stands her ground and pulls a whip from the dead hand of a corpse. With it, she demonstrates her fearlessness and command. She imposes her will upon Drogon, and proves herself as blood of the dragon. Taming the beast, she mounts him, and flies away…
I gotta say, everything about this is a class-act. It’s a long, long time in coming, and I have to admit I feel like we could have done without some of the treading-water chapters that brought us here, but it was worth the wait. I have my problems with Daenerys as a character, or at least, with her depiction, but I can’t deny that this is glorious. When she’s good, she’s very very good. And I didn’t realise until I was writing about it how completely Martin is inverting the fairytale trope of what knights and princesses and dragons are supposed to do in each others presence. Daenerys doesn’t need rescuing from the dragon, she is a dragon, and Drogon is not her assailant or her captor, but her route to freedom. It is Meereen that has ensnared her these 52 chapters, and she has finally broken free.