Hi there. Welcome to the ASOIAF Re-Read, the late night edition. Your host spent the last few days driving hundreds and hundreds of kilometers (1 kilometer = 0.621371192 miles, for those of you who like your measurements in imperial), and had no time to type things out at the usual time.
But better late than never, right? I'm going to pretend that you answered yes. It makes things easier that way.
So let's get down to business. This post covers Chapters 31-32. The very first post is here, the most recent post (Part 12) is here, and all the entries can be tracked with the ASOIAF tag (#ASOIAF on Twitter). All posts contain occasional spoilers for the first four books in A Song of Ice and Fire. The same goes for the comments section.
As always, I appreciate your comments, theories, corrections, and what-have-you.
And now I think it's late enough. Let us begin.
Chapter 31: Tyrion
Tyrion watches some of his captors butcher his horse. They are on a treacherous mountain path, where food is scarce and risk of injury is high.
Tyrion has a flashback to when he was captured. He'd been looking forward to supper before he found himself surrounded by swords. Thinking to save himself from an untimely death, he voluntarily submitted to Catelyn. He and his men, Morrec and Jyck, were stripped of their weapons by the sellsword Bronn, while the innkeeper pleaded with Catelyn.
"Don't kill him here!"
"Don't kill him anywhere," Tyrion urged.
"Take him somewhere else, no blood here, m'lady, I want no lordlin's quarrels."
"We are taking him back to Winterfell, she said, and Tyrion thought, Well, perhaps...
Another look at the room showed that, while a dozen or so men had responded to Catelyn's cry for help, there were about fifty men in the room, all told. It would be a long ride to Winterfell. He mentioned to everyone in the room that Tywin Lannister would wonder what had happened to his son, and pay a handsome reward for news of what happened at the inn. He knew that the lure of gold would send several men on the way to Casterlly Rock, and more would bring news of the even to King's Landing and beyond.
Catelyn countered that by offering a reward to any who would go with them and safeguard their way back to Winterfell. Several men came forward at that, thwarting Tyrion's plan. Even then, he was not truly dismayed. Enough men would spread the word, and there was bound to be rescue at some point on the road. The thought gave him comfort all through the next day's ride, even though he was blindfolded and bound over a horse.
It was not until they stopped at nightfall that he realized how well Catelyn had played him. When the blindfold was removed, he saw that they were not on the kingsroad or on the way to Winterfell.
"This is the high road," he gasped, looking at Lady Stark with accusation. "The eastern road. You said we were riding to Winterfell!"
Catelyn Stark favored him with the faintest of smiles. "Often and loudly," she agreed. "No doubt your friends will ride that way when they come after us. I wish them good speed."
Days later, he is still bitter about being out-smarted. As he is forced along the eastern road to the Vale of Arryn, Tyrion mulls the fates that will await his captors when he gets free.
As travel conditions worsen, Tyrion tries to reason with Catelyn. He argues that she risks his death at the pace they are going. When Catelyn suggests that could have been the point of capturing him, Tyrion counters that she could have had him killed long ago. He tells Catelyn that he did not try to have Bran murdered, and the assassin's blade was not his. For a moment, he thinks she is doubtful. Catelyn asks why Petyr would lie.
"Why does a bear shit in the woods?" he demanded. "Because it is his nature. Lying comes as easily as breathing to a man like Littlefinger. You ought to know that, you of all people."
She took a step toward him, her face tight. "And what does that mean, Lannister?"
Tyrion cocked his head. "Why, every man at court has heard him tell how he took your maidenhead, my lady."
"That is a lie!" Catelyn Stark said.
A sellsword apprehends Tyrion, and Catelyn declares that while Petyr used to love her, there was never anything between them, and Tyrion is a liar. The dwarf does not agree.
"And you are truly a fool, Lady Stark. Littlefinger has never loved anyone but Littlefinger, and i promise you that it is not your hand that he boasts of, it's those ripe breasts of yours, and your sweet mouth, and the heat between your legs."
He goes on to ask how Littlefinger claimed to lose his dagger. When Catelyn tells him part of the story, Tyrion guesses the rest, but the camp is attacked before he can go any further. Catelyn allows Tyrion and his men to be armed, so long as they promise to re-submit to capture once the battle is over. They do, and suddenly the camp is overrun. Tyrion hides at first, until a horse and rider find his spot. Forced to fight, Tyrion acquits himself well. He kills a couple of men, and even rescues Catelyn as she is surrounded by three brigands.
Catelyn's side is victorious, but there are less of her men standing after the fight. Catelyn lets Tyrion keep his weapons in case they are attacked again, but says she trusts him no more than before. Yet he rides up beside her after they leave the battle scene behind.
"As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted," Tyrion began, "there is a serious flaw in Littlefinger's fable. Whatever you may believe of me, Lady Stark, I promise you this--I never bet against my family."
For all that it features a little battle scene in the middle, this feels like one of the quieter chapters in A Game of Thrones. We start with Tyrion and his captors on a mountainside, and then Tyrion and a few less captors continue on their way.
Nontheless, this chapter give us a closer look at the plotting and allegiances between some of the characters we've met so far.
I have to say I was pretty impressed with the way Catelyn outwits Tyrion at the inn. Tyrion prides himself on being able to outsmart just about anyone. Then along comes Catelyn, and she beats him at every turn. That takes quick thinking and presence of mind. Just in case there was anyone who thought Catelyn was more emotional than intellectual, there is a dwarf on his way to the Eyrie who could argue otherwise. Then again, her men and resources are dwindling, so she may be fighting a losing battle anyway.
Speaking of Tyrion, I believe this is the first time we hear the phrase, "A Lannister always pays his debts." It is rarely an empty promise. In a land where people hold grudges against family honour for years, the Lannisters tend to pay their debts more often than the rest.
I wonder if it was humour on George R.R. Martin's part that made him give Tyrion an axe in the fight scene. There is an unwritten rule that all fantasy dwarfs must fight with axes, and Tyrion is no exception. Except, he is stunted man and not a true fantasy dwarf, and he's far from a fierce warrior. Still, he survives, and he cracks some skulls doing so.
Also, wanting to shout "Casterly Rock" was hilarious. That part makes me laugh every time.
Lastly, we have Tyrion's claim never bets against his family. This was something I pointed out a few chapters ago when Littlefinger claimed to lose his dagger in a joust when Tyrion bet against Jaime. I said Littlefinger's claim was ludicrous, yet Catelyn had no way of knowing the truth. Well, here is Tyrion letting her know the same thing. It can also be taken to mean that Tyrion wouldn't bet against himself either, so Catelyn should be on her guard, if she wasn't already.
The chapter ends with his revelation, so we don't know how seriously Catelyn takes the claim, but I don't think she is as sure of herself as she was when she had Tyrion trussed and blindfolded. We've seen that she's intelligent. Unfortunately, she's committed to this boneheaded mess. The way back is now lined with shadowcats, crazy hill folk, and anyone looking to curry Lannister favour. Catelyn can't exactly afford to doubt herself, but you have to wonder what she's thinking in her heart of hearts.
Littlefinger and his pack of lies will be addressed at another time.
One more thing: I have a soft spot for scallywags and sellswords. I feel like Bronn is underutilized in this series, but I don't know if ASOIAF would have benefited from a more lighthearted character. What do you think? Would you have preferred if Bronn became more of a comedic rogue and opportunist a la Jarlaxle or Jack Sparrow?
Chapter 32: Arya
Arya is hunting a cat in the Red Keep. After many cuts, scrapes, and misses, she has managed to catch almost every cat in the castle. One black tom eludes her until she manages to leap on it and catch the cat unawares.
The tom is not pleased, and it scratches and howls, attracting some unwanted attention. Princess Myrcella and Prince Tommen are out and about with a septa and Lannister guards, but they do not recognize Arya in her plain clothing and messy state. She tries to stay quiet and bowed down. When she does not respond to the septa's questions, the septa tells the guards to grab the child.
Arya twists away from the guards, leaping past them and running away. She runs up, down, and around several halls, losing her pursuers, and only stopping when she crawls through a small space into a dark cellar.
Her eyes grow accustomed to darkness, and she sees the room is filled with the skulls of monsters with huge heads and large, sharp teeth. She gets over her fear of them, and leaves the cellar, wandering down dark paths until she starts to hear noises. There are voices coming from below, and the smallest, faintest light. The light and the voices are getting stronger as they approach.
There are two men. One is a fat man with a yellow-forked beard from the Free Cities, and the other is a stout man with a steel cap, chain-mail, and a stubbled yet familiar face. They are talking about someone who found a bastard, the troubles with the current Hand, and news that a princess is with child. Loras and Renly plan to wed Robert to Margaery Tyrell, and there are other schemes at court, but the most troubling player is Eddard Stark. He is near to finding the truth about a certain secret. Combined with other schemes, the situation in King's Landing is troubling.
The men keep walking until Arya can't hear them any more. She tries to follow them, but loses them in the dark. She creeps through tunnels for a long time, eventually ending up in a sewer that empties into the river. She bathes in the river, and walks the few miles back to the Red Keep. The guards at the gate do not believe she is Ned's daughter, thinking she is a scrawny, dirty beggar and a boy, but she sets them straight.
"I'm not a boy," she spat at them. I am Arya Stark of Winterfell, and if you lay a hand on me my lord father will have both your heads on spikes. If you don't believe me, fetch Jory Cassel or Vayon Poole from the tower of the Hand." She put her hands on her hips. "Now are you going to open the gate, or do you need a clout on the ear to help your hearing?"
She is brought to Ned, who is reading a very fat book, but has been worried about his daughter's disappearance. Arya breaks down and tries to tell Ned about what she overheard, but she understood little and forgot plenty. The only thing she knows for sure is that they were talking about Ned, and they were talking about killing him. Ned thinks she is tired and was probably spying on mummers getting ready for a play. She tries to argue, but they are interrupted when a man named Desmond announces that a man of the Night's Watch has arrived with urgent news. Ned agrees to see him, and Yoren enters the room.
"Yoren, as it please m'lord. My pardons for the hour." He bowed to Arya. "And this must be your son. He has your look."
Yoren tells Ned that he is in King's Landing to ask for more men for the Night's Watch, but he rode hard the last few days to deliver different news. He is the first in King's Landing, but riders will already have reached Tywin Lannister with the news. He suggests that they talk in private, and Ned Desmond to escort Arya to her room.
Arya asks Desmond if he'd let anyone kill her father. He tells her that Ned is safe from killers and wizards because he is surrounded by northerners, and they are better swordsmen than Lannisters or any others.
Little Arya Stark's training is coming along quite well, wouldn't you say? I don't think Ned intended her to learn stealth and acrobatic skills that might come in handy for a top-notch assassin, but there's no question that Arya is a very dedicated student of Syrio Forel. Catching the cat was kind of ho-hum, but the sequence when Arya has to run away and avoid capture is pure fun. And she finds the room where Robert had the Targaryen dragon skulls mothballed.
Of course, swimming in sewer-water can't be that healthy for you, but just add that to the long list of things little Arya goes through as she builds up her toughness. I can't decide who my favourite female character in ASOIAF is, but Arya would be a good contender for the title. I also think she might be the most stoic and stubborn Stark (or Snow) in Westeros. Take that statement for what it's worth.
Oh, and I included the quote of Arya telling the guards what's what not for any special significance, but because it strikes me as behaving very much like a short-tempered, braid-tugging Wisdom would in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. (Hey, if I can reference Jarlaxle, then Nynaeve al'Meara is fair game.)
How much do you think Arya appreciates being mistaken for a boy all the time? It exasperates her, but I don't think she's hurt by it. But Yoren's line is priceless. Chalk one up for the old greasy watchman.
This chapter: Intrigue galore. How fortunate that Arya just happened to get lost in the secret passages under King's Landing, overhearing the plotting of a couple of schemers. It's too bad she didn't understand a lot of it, and it's even worse that she couldn't convey the parts she did understand to Ned.
Back to the schemers. The fat man with the Free Cities accent and yellow-forked beard is Magister Illyrio, in town to give some pretty important news to someone he clearly trusts. The other would be Lord Varys.
Whose side is Varys on? Is he working for the good of the realm? Does he have Targaryen loyalties? Is he looking out for number one, sort of like Littlefinger? Is he a fighting eunuch, sort of like Strong Belwas? That would go against his public persona, but it accounts for the mail he's wearing for Illyrio, and the steel cap reminiscent of the Unsullied. But presumably that's a disguise, so even Illyrio isn't getting the real Varys. Is he even a eunuch? We've yet to see a lot of Varys's disguises, but I can only come up with three explanations for them:
a) He's a fantastic mummer. The easiest explanation for dressing up and costume changes, but Varys is presumably too good at the political game for your average mummer and eunuch.
b) He can use magic, like Illyrio suggests. Possible, but real magic is hard to come by in this series, and I don't remember any similarities between Varys and the followers of R'hllor.
c) He's one of the Faceless Men. Good explanation for his uncanny transformations and intelligence, but how likely is it that the Faceless Men would place someone in a non-assassinating role for years? We know they are a costly organization, so presumably this would not be a contracted job.
That's all I can think of. I like C the best, but there is still too little information about the Faceless Men. If anyone has other theories, please share.
As for what Varys and Illyrio are discussing, it looks like their plans are being rushed. But what are their plans? Do they want Robert on the throne, or Daenerys, or someone else? I have to say that the plot between Loras and Renly is pretty low. I mean, it's completely benign compared to the other plots at court, but it's not exactly honorable. We'll have to remember that in future considerations of the Knight of Flowers and his handsome lord.
It's a shame Arya doesn't have a better understanding of what's going on. If she did, and if she could keep herself together, it's possible Ned would have taken her words seriously. Instead, Arya's well-meant warning comes out garbled, and incorrect in some areas (i.e., the bastard in question is Gendry, not Jon). But it's almost time for Ned to wake up anyway. Mostly. So...
...Come back on Thursday to see what happens when you stand up for your beliefs and defy your king. All this, and more, in Part 14.