(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)
Just as an FYI, we’re now up to p. 754, and this post will take us up to p. 792. It would have been well-useful if I had started out by recording such helpful locatory information seeing as GRRM doesn’t seem to think we need chapter numbers in a book that has more than 60 of the fuckers, but I didn’t think of it at the time.
Chapter 57: Tyrion
Yezzan zo Qaggaz, the dude who bought Tyrion et al, has caught the plague. This is bad because belonging to Yezzan, and being in his favour, is about as cushy as it gets for a slave. Oh, and because they might also catch the plague. And, being slaves, they might very well be killed if their master dies. If they’re not claimed by someone less savoury. Unless, that is, they can escape.
Tyrion, ever cunning, makes the excuse of fetching water for Yezzan to get himself and Penny out of the tent. He also persuades the guards to let him take Ser Jorah to carry the water (they’re not very bright guards). Jorah is a broken man. Slavery does not suit him, and he seems to have adopted a state of near catatonia in response, refusing to move, absorbing his beatings for disobeying without complaint. But once he sees that they are heading for different tents to Yezzan’s he perks up a bit.
Tyrion’s plan is to throw in with Brown Ben Plumm, who tried to buy them from Yezzan before, recognising Tyrion. And it works, he even persuades (apparently) Plumm to take them on as Second Sons, not merely a gift for Cersei, pointing out that he, Tyrion, can be a very good friend to those who do him a turn.
I like this chapter, for the most part. Tyrion gets to be cunning and they get free of the yoke of slavery, which was a slightly tedious side-bar. Things move one step closer to Tyrion meeting Daenerys and forming an unstoppable alliance (or so I like to dream). But it’s not without its flaws. The ‘freak show’ preference of Yezzan for unusual slaves provides Martin with a reason for Our Heroes to stay together when they are bought, but one can’t help but feel that the audience is expected to enjoy the exoticism of the ‘freaks’ as well. Sweets, the intersex slave, is sympathetically portrayed, but Martin doesn’t miss the excuse to have a character make a quip about him being able to ‘fuck himself’. It’s from a guard with whom we’re not intended to sympathise, but it isn’t exactly challenged. Yezzan’s own morbid obesity is often riffed off by Tyrion, both verbally and in point-of-view description. It isn’t out of character – we’re used to off-colour jokes from Tyrion, and we know his philosophy of speaking plainly about things that others will mock you for – but then one has to ask oneself why the author made the character morbidly obese anyway. After all, an author does have control over these things. I assume it is as a representation and manifestation both of Yezzan’s wealth and self-indulgence. On one level that’s fair enough – obesity would be a sign of unusual wealth – but it also perpetuates a stereotype of fat people as selfishly indulgent and in some way deviant. The combination of the fat man presented as unreasonably self-indulgent and ridiculed for supposedly comedic effect, and the ‘collection of freaks’ he has made of his unusual slaves, together suggests that this is more for our entertainment – presenting the ‘exotic’ and the extreme for our entertainment. For ‘colour’. It’s a bit uncomfortable.
We also see another two uses of the word ‘teats’ to describe breasts. It’s just a really uncomfortable and objectifying term. It says ‘these are not the woman’s breasts, these are things for you to tug on and get something out of’. It equates the woman with a cow – with a not especially intelligent animal bread for complacency and usefulness to others. In other words, it’s pretty gross. I get that it shows the coarse language of those who use the term – I don’t mind coarse language – I just think an unusual number of men seem to be using the same term in this book, and from a wide variety of backgrounds. It doesn’t really represent coarseness of the characters, to me, it represents a rather unpleasant enjoyment of objectifying and dehumanising women via their breasts.
Oh, and did I mention that one of the Second Sons takes the opportunity to have a quick grope of Penny whilst commenting on her ‘teats’ and how exotic it is for a ‘dwarf’ to have ‘teats’? Why? Just because. Just for ‘colour’. Yeah.
Speaking of Penny, she is starting to annoy me, largely because I think she is drifting out of believability. I mean, yeah, I guess she was super naive and had been shat on all her life, but… this was a woman who took a knife to Tyrion to try and avenge her brother. Suddenly all that fight just… isn’t a part of her character anymore? Even Tyrion comments that it’s weird that she’s so passive – even more passive than Sansa! I know we’re just seeing it through Tyrion’s eyes, but it’s not like we’re given a challenging perspective. It’s not like we even get Penny’s perspective. Not that I’m advocating yet more POV characters, and not that you can’t have passive or gentle female characters. I do not, for instance, have the same complaints about Sansa. The problem is more that with Penny… there’s no there, there, anymore. She’s been reduced to this pliant girl who’s happy to moon around after Tyrion. And I know I said I thought it would be off for Tyrion to have a romance with her if it suggested that little people should ‘stick to their own kind’, and I’m glad there is a character motivation for Tyrion not to be interested in her, but his constant, unchallenged dismissiveness of her is making her feel like she’s just a vehicle that allowed Tyrion to move from A to B that Martin doesn’t really feel moved to do anything with for the sake of her character.
So, I guess there were quite a few things wrong with this chapter after all. Huh.
Chapter 58: Jon
This chapter starts with Jon dreaming that he’s fighting wildlings, killing all the people who are now his allies, yelling that he’s the Lord of Winterfell, and even killing Robb, before he is woken up by Mormont’s crow. He notes that for the first time the crow calls him by his full name ‘Jon Snow’. And, more curiously, it also mutters ‘King’ and then ‘Snow’, although Jon does not put these two together.
Jon gets up and rides out to meet Tormund Giantsbane at the head of the wildling horde waiting to pass from one side of the Wall to the other. But first they must let pass their sons – a blood price to ensure the behaviour of the wildlings. Some idiot also sends three daughters he says have king’s blood to present to the queen, although she’s no doubt idiot enough to take that as meaning something to the other wildlings (it doesn’t). They also donate a significant amount of treasure, vital for buying provisions for the dramatically increased population.
Tormund tells Jon that the horn Melisandre burnt was not really the horn of Joramun, but merely a huge horn they found in a giant’s grave. And Jon wonders if Mance Rayder lied to him. He thinks to himself ‘And Joramun blew the Horn of Winter and woke the giants from the earth‘. One assumes this is a line from a historical text, poem, or legend of some sort. One might wonder if such a line would suggest not a giant horn, merely a horn to wake the giants… which one might assume to be human sized, given that all the giants would be asleep.
Tormund also has information about the Others – that they are far more terrible than their armies of dead men alone. That they can raise a white mist of sheer cold – the sort of weapon that cannot be countered with a sword. Perhaps the natural opposite to dragon fire? Jon keeps to himself that he has found Dragonsteel, which might be able to fight the Others where ordinary steel cannot.
The chapter closes with a message from Cotter Pyke concerning the ships Jon sent to rescue the wildlings at Hardhome, and it’s a doozy. Their ships are damaged and some lost. The wildlings have been eating their dead. There are dead things in the woods and dead things in the water. The Braavosi captains are only taking the women (suggesting that they want to take them as slaves, not to rescue them) and a wildling witch has told her people that they are all slavers, so the wildlings are fighting the Crows, not going to them. It is a plea for help (via land) but with what possible resources can help be sent? How can help avoid the Others if not by travelling by sea?
This is a chapter that contains a lot of interesting information, but no interesting action. Whatever’s happening at Hardhome sounds pretty interesting, but some wildlings going through a wall is… pretty dull, really. In terms of dramatic structure, it’s pretty poor. There is no central enigma that is resolved – just some people moving without problem from point A to point B. It’s all set up. Really interesting set-up, but set-up nonetheless, and thus a bit of an odd chapter to have eight hundred pages into a thousand page book.
Oh well, let’s talk about what was interesting. Firstly, Jon’s dream. Clearly a dream belonging to a man with confused identity and warring desires, suggesting that catastrophe lies ahead if he can’t resolve these. He doesn’t know if he wants to side with the wildlings, with the Nightswatch, or claim his birthright (or what should be his birthright if he were not illegitimate). Meanwhile, Mormont’s crow seems to suggest another role for him: king. Whether that’s king of Westeros (going with the fan theories that suggest he’s not Ned’s bastard, but Robert’s), or king of the wildlings, it’s not really the sort of thought that is appropriate for a man who’s taken the black.
And there’s the fact that the bird is calling him Jon Snow, now, which fits with my theory that Mormont was actually a skinwalker, too, and is living on through his bird. My thought is that Mormont is slowly gaining greater control over the animal and desperately trying to communicate advice to Jon, who is walking a tight-rope he’s possibly not experienced enough to be secure on, yet. And there’s the fact that crows are heavily linked with prescience in ASoIaF.
We’re also treated to a few more tantalising hints about the Others, although Martin is still wise enough to know that the less we know about them the scarier they are. Just a drop or two of information to whet our appetites with.
And the thing about the horn, of course, and the question of whether Mance is still playing his own game, keeping information from Jon.
All of that is pretty damn cool.
This is an odd pair of chapters – one is all excitement! Escape! Plot development! But marred but aspects that are ostensibly set down to add colour, but are more uncomfortable than they are engrossing. The other is dull and uneventful, but brimming with really cool information that actually does colour in the world a bit more for us.
Ah, and so it goes. ASoIaF remains as flawed as it is brilliant.