5 chapters away from finishing A Dance with Dragons. That could still take months, but at least we know that the wait could be down to just months. I'll take it.
Back in the here and now, we have a new Re-read post to get to. This section contains devilry and mayhem. Heads explode, and heads roll. If that sounds like your cup of tea, great! However, if you're a first-timer, note that there are spoilers here, and you might want to start at an earlier post (such as the Intro or Part 1). Read, comment, and have fun. If that's not your thing, this blog has other posts that might suit your interests.
So step right up because the end of A Game of Thrones is drawing near, and for two significant characters, it draws very near.
Chapter 64: Daenerys
Drogo is riding at the head of his khalasar one day when suddenly he sways in his saddle and falls to the ground in a heap. Dany rushes to his aid and tells the others to make camp. Drogo's bloodriders (Qotho, Cohollo, Haggo) are stunned; a khal must be able to ride. Dany urges them to find Mirri Maz Duur so she can heal him. They protest at first, having only hatred and mistrust for the woman, but Dany forces them to obey her.
With only Dany as the witness, Mirri examines Drogo and says he will die. Dany pleads that Mirri must know a spell to save him. Mirri says she does, but there is a price. "Only death may pay for life." It will not be Dany's death, so Dany accepts the deal.
There is anguish among Dany's khas (Rakharo, Jhogo, and Aggo) when Drogo's horse is sacrificed so he can bathe in its blood; this is blood magic, and it is forbidden. Nevertheless, Mirri is allowed t carry on. The maegi gets everyone to leave the tent, including Dany, and she begins chanting. The Dothraki are frightened by her wailing, and they run away from around the tent.
Drogo's bloodriders are furious. They vow to kill Dany and Miri, but Ser Jorah is there to protect Dany. Dressed in full armour (except for his helm), Jorah manages to defeat Qotho. Cohollo and Haggo are killed by Aggo and Rakharo. The remaining Dothraki disperse. Some threw stones at Dany earlier, but now many of them ride away.
Dany is suddenly wracked by birth pains. Birthing women will not attend her, considering her a cursed woman, so Dany's attendants suggest taking her to Mirri. Dany tries to tell them no, to tell them that they mustn't but no one seems capable of understanding her. Dany descends into either a nightmare or a hallucination as Jorah carries her into the tent.
I think it's the near absence of magic in the Seven Kingdoms and the other lands that makes anything magical seem so dangerous. The world seems chaotic and relatively normal, but as soon as magic starts creeping in, things get... well, creepy. The Others are one example, and anything related to Asshai is even worse. (Not going to get into a digression this time about whether the "Fire" in A Song of Ice and Fire relates to either the dragons, or Azor Ahai, or Rh'llor.)
So when Dany doesn't want to go in that tent, I agree with her 100%. That is a very bad idea. Don't do it, people.
Let's go back a bit. Drogo's fall from his horse was a monumental shift in fortunes. Things went from a Dothraki invasion of Westeros in one moment to the brink of chaos in the next. What a difference staying in your saddle can make. Needless to say, Dany is afraid, but she's afraid of losing Drogo more than his power. She genuinely cares for the man, and will do anything to save him. I'm trying to think of another wife in the series right now who cares for her husband as much as Dany, and... the closest I get is Catelyn, although her children come first. Cersei is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Anyone else? The bonds of marriage in this world don't seem to include love.
Dany goes all out to save Drogo, even though that means sacrificing a life to pay for Drogo's. It's remarkably short-sighted of her not to ask whose life is getting sacrificed, but with Mirri asking for the stallion's blood a few moment's later, it's understandable to think the maegi was satisfied with the life of an animal.
Of course, with the blood and the magic, cue the bloodrider hissy fits. Qotho & Co. have given Drogo up for dead, so it's time to finally kill the wicked maegi and Dany. Ser Jorah gets to be a hero when he puts on his armour and save Dany's life. It's a shining moment, really, almost getting outmatched by Qotho before trapping the boodrider's arakh--in his hipbone!--and then delivering a killing blow that literally makes Qotho's head explode. Powerful stuff.
Then he carries his damsel in distress to the tent. Little does he know... OK, so this ultimately a good thing for Dany, but there is short-term grief coming her way because of going into that tent. As we will see.
Chapter 65: Arya
Arya is sneaking around Flea Bottom, the lowest, dirtiest area of King's Landing. With all the city gates barred, Flea Bottom is likely the safest place for her to be--to avoid the City Watch and the Lannisters. It is not a safe place for a lost girl to be. She has been robbed and chased by strangers and people who make her flesh crawl. She is also half-starved, living off hand-caught pigeons (raw or cooked), and the occasional "bowl o' brown."
Arya visits the riverfront, and sees three guards in Winterfell garments by one of the ships. She runs towards them thinking she's safe, until she realizes that she doesn't recognize any of them, and she knows all of her father's men. However, the guards think Arya is a boy, and she leaves them without arousing suspicion.
Soon afterwards, a great bell begins tolling. It is a summoning to the Great Sept of Baelor, and Arya hears that the Hand is being brought forth for some reason. She runs along with the crowd, eager to see her father, and terrified that something bad will happen to him. There is speculation that Ned will be executed.
She reaches the sept, pushes through the crowd, and finally sees her father. Ned is looking thin and frail. His cast is rotting, and he is being held up by two of the gold cloaks. Joffrey, Cersei, the Hound, the kingsguard, and Varys are all present. So is Sansa, and Arya doesn't understand why her sister looks happy.
The bell stops tolling and Ned begins speaking. He confesses to plotting to depose Robert's children and take the throne for himself. Then he proclaims Joffrey the one true heir and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. The High Septon then asks for Joff's judgement. The new king says that his mother and Sansa asked for Ned to be spared, but he has decided against that. He tells Ser Ilyn Payne to bring him the traitor's head. Arya is furious, and she fights to get to the front of the screaming crowd. Her father is thrown to the ground, and Ser Ilyn step forward, holding Ice in his hands.
Then a hand grabs Arya and she can't get free. A man pulls her close and tells her not to look, calling her "boy." She hears a noise and the sound of a great sigh as the crowd exhales all at once. She recognizes the man: Yoren, from the Night's Watch. He tells her he's taking her with him. The crowd is dispersing, but Yoren shoves Arya into a doorway, grabs her hair, and pulls out a blade.
Ned is dead.
Well, that kind of just snuck up on us, didn't it? I mean, first Arya is back after disappearing for ages, and then we don't even get a last, close look at Ned. And now he's dead. This chapter shocked me beyond anything else in the book when I first read it. Ned... dead? Executed with his own sword by the order of an illegitimate king born of an incestuous union? I think this was the point where I realized all bets were off. No character was safe. Some characters will survive to see the story's eventual ending, but can any of us name one with any certainty? I don't think so.
Compared to Ned's unseen beheading, I was less convinced about Arya's unseen final moment. I didn't buy that Yoren was going to do any physical harm, not after he handed Needle back to her. I figured after calling her "boy" a couple of times, he was going to cut her hair and make her look like a boy, helping to save her life, and... that's what happened, or so we'll discover in ACoK.
While hardly the worst fix Arya will ever be in, her foray into Flea Bottom isn't exactly filled with memories to treasure. Flea Bottom is looking a lot better than it will during Joffrey's reign/war (actually, it looks better than most of King's Landing will), but it's populated by creeps who see a lonely little girl wandering around and think... well, we can only guess what they think. The bowl o' brown sounds enticing, too.
The fake Winterfell guards seem a little underdone and unnecessary, considering everything else going on this chapter. Like I said, the main event is a bit of a shocker. Just about everyone was surprised too, including Varys and Cersei. So the unpredictable monster king begins his reign by spilling blood on the steps of Baelor Sept, setting the tone for his new I'm-king-and-you-can't-stop-me attitude.
If Arya and Sansa meet again, I hope Arya remembers that Sansa was freaking out and sobbing when Joff decided to change the original sentence. Can you blame Sansa for buying Joff's promises and being a silly ditz when everyone else also thought Ned was getting sent to a life sentence on the Wall?
Two chapters, two major lords downed. The higher they are...
Tune in next time for Part 31, with updates on more of the Stark children, their whereabouts, and their well-being.