Valar morghulis! For the next few weeks, Vulture's resident expert and superfan will be recapping A Dance With Dragons, the long-awaited fifth book in George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga. As with TV recaps, these book recaps will provide chapter summaries and commentary: Meaning, they will contain spoilers. If you haven't gotten to the part of the book being recapped — what, you couldn't stay up all night reading? — come back to the recap when you're caught up. If you have stayed up all night and are way ahead of us, be patient, we'll get there. As always, please share your corrections, thoughts, theories, reactions, and love of Daenerys in the comments — though, for anyone who has read further along, please don't spoil what's to come.
This second recap will cover chapters 8 through 15 — pages 95 to 191. For chapters 1 through 7, go here
Kill the boy! And behead Janos Slynt while you're at it!
Jon, like Dany, and just about every other ruler in these books — good intentioned and bad — is finding that it sucks to be in charge. He has to force a horrible Sophie's choice on poor Gilly — even threatening to burn her son if she doesn't go along with his plan.
Jon wants to know more of the Others from Sam. He's not the only one! Here are the supposed enemies of Man, present from the very first prologue of the very first book, and we know almost nothing about them. Who are they, what do they want, who's in charge, what are they waiting for? Much has been made of the way that Martin created a nuanced cast of characters who are neither purely good nor evil. But the Others are the closest that he's come to creating a Tolkien-like legion of pure malevolence. Nearly five sevenths of the way home, and all we learn is that Valyrian blades kill them? C'mon ...
As Sam, Gilly, not-Gilly's-kid, and Master Aemon make their good-byes, Master Aemon assigns homework: "“I left a book for you in my chambers. The Jade Compendium. It was written by the Volantene adventurer Colloquo Votar, who traveled to the east and visited all the lands of the Jade Sea. There is a passage you may find of interest. I’ve told Clydas to mark it for you.”
In A Feast for Crows, Sam mentions that he brought The Jade Compendium with him on the trip. Maybe Master Aemon had doubles?
Black Jack Bulwer, who is taking them to Eastwatch, utters: "Let's do this." Is it my imagination or is there a lot of modern-day vernacular creeping into Westeros and Essos?
Ah, Janos. When in these books has someone's beheading ever been so enjoyable, or richly deserved?
Our favorite mini-Lannister is handed off to Haldon Halfmaester and Rolly Dcukfield. We are told that a sellsword named Griff is running the show. Illryio says: “Tell the boy I am sorry that I will not be with him for his wedding. I will rejoin you in Westeros." Hmmm ... He swears this by "Serra's hands," which is no longer "aw," just "ew."
Tyrion hasn't lost his talent for zingers: "Pissing is the least of my talents. You ought to see me shit."
It sounds like Griff is a lord, a knight, and a bad liar. Tyrion makes a veiled reference to a "winged lion," a.k.a. a Griffin. Those truly well versed in the Wiki of Ice and Fire may wish to make some educated guesses about his real identity at this point.
The pirate captain Sallador Saan has finally given up on Stannis the deadbeat king and puts Davos ashore. The Onion Knight is on the island of Sweetsister after running into a spot of bother en route to White Harbor, where he hopes to enlist the enormously fat Ser Wyman Manderly.
Lord Godric gives us a few more tantalizing details about Jon Snow's parentage:
“Ned Stark was here?”
“At the dawn of Robert’s Rebellion. The Mad King had sent to the Eyrie for Stark’s head, but Jon Arryn sent him back defiance. Gulltown stayed loyal to the throne, though. To get home and call his banners, Stark had to cross the mountains to the Fingers and find a fisherman to carry him across the Bite. A storm caught them on the way. The fisherman drowned, but his daughter got Stark to the Sisters before the boat went down. They say he left her with a bag of silver and a bastard in her belly. Jon Snow, she named him, after Arryn.”
But that could just be Ned Stark's cover story, right? In any case, Godric decides to hedge his bets and send Davos on his way. So what was the point of that chapter?
"Inside his cage, Mance Rayder clawed at the noose about his neck with bound hands and screamed incoherently of treachery and witchery, denying his kingship, denying his people, denying his name, denying all that he had ever been."
The death of a fan favorite, who was condemned to die, but you hoped it wouldn't happen anyway. Anyone else reminded of the beheading of Ned Stark?
Combined with the barbarity of burning a man alive, I thought that allowing the wildlings through only if they took a knee and fed a weirwood branch to R'hllor was incredibly depressing. There is plenty of religious fundamentalism in Westeros/Essos, and I don't think any more good will come of it than in our own realm of Man.
I guess Master Aemon did indeed have doubles of the Jade Compendium. Sounds like Stannis is, no surprise, a fraudulent Azor Ahai, as Master Aemon suggested previously: "A pity that the sword that Stannis wields is cold," Jon notes.
And after the glorious moment when he detached Janos Slynt from his shoulders, it looks like Jon is back in the gloomy business of governing.
... And so is Daenerys, with the Sons of the Harpy counterinsurgency in full swing. Do you get the sense that George R. R. Martin was reading the news while he was writing these books? "Grey Worm, pull your men back to their barracks. Henceforth let them guard my walls and gates and person. From this day, it shall be for Meereenese to keep the peace in Meereen." — Sunni Awakening versus Al Qaeda, anyone?
I'm finding her mooning over Daario particularly annoying, for some reason ... And then, a prophetic dream. Quaith of the Shadow tells her:
"Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.”
Let's see, some of those don't seem so difficult:
Kraken: Victarion Greyjoy, on his way to marry Daenerys
Griffin: Griff, duh
The Sun's Son: Quentyn Martell (the Martell sigil is a gold spear piercing a red sun)
The pale mare will soon become clear (no spoilers in comments, please). Dark flame and mummer's dragon are still ambiguous, though I think the mummer is probably Varys.
We are treated to another lengthy scene at court, as Dany verbally jousts with a noble named Hizdah zo Loraq, who wants the fighting pits reopened. Barristan shares his "Escape from King's Landing" story. And it seems that Khaleesi has decided to pen up two of her dragons rather than risk any more flambeéd kids, which doesn't seem like a very good solution, and Drogon is still at large.
Well, isn't payback a bitch?
It takes a little bit of mental work to figure out that this pathetic rat-eating creature is none other than Theon Greyjoy, who betrayed the Starks, faked the deaths of Bran and Rickon, and caused immeasurable suffering for just about everyone in the Seven Kingdoms. In an instant karma bitchslap, he has been reduced to a quivering blob of subservient goo by the Bastard of Bolton, Lord Ramsay, who has inflicted horrible tortures upon him.
I had to do some Googling to remember the details, but the original Reek was Ramsay's servant; Ramsay then posed as Reek until he could conquer Winterfell. Apparently he's fond of the name, and he has really screwed up Theon: flaying fingers, breaking teeth.
Ramsay, who may be the worst monster we've yet encountered in these books — which is really saying something — plans to somehow use Theon/Reek in his marriage to the fake Arya Stark. I've got a bad feeling about this ...
Who are the two lords in the hall? Best guess is Arnof Karstark, who Stannis thinks is on his side, and Whorebane Umber.
“Hodor,” whispered Hodor.
It's getting dark, and that means it's almost wight'o'clock. Our merry band of four humans, a friendly zombie, and a direwolf are nearly at the cave when the wights come OUT OF THE SNOW OH MY GOD THEY ARE IN TROUBLE NOW. Bran, hilariously, tries throwing a snowball before realizing that — abomination be damned — he can slide into Hodor and get medieval on those sumbitches.
Safely inside the cave, they meet a child of the forest — one of the creatures who existed before the First Men arrived. Coldhands has to stay behind; the child informs them that he was a ranger who "they killed long ago." So maybe not Benjen after all?
Deep underground, they meet the three-eyed crow, who is actually more of a half-man, half-tree, and only a figurative "crow" because he used to be in the Night's Watch.
“You will never walk again, Bran,” the pale lips promised, “but you will fly.”
He's on a boat!
The Shy Maid is on a Heart of Darkness–like trip up the river. Tyrion is getting some major father-figure vibes from Griff — much as Tywin said "you are done with whores," Griff decreed that he is also done with booze, triggering a nasty case of the DTs. Also on the boat is what sounds like an extremely hot nun, Septa Lemore, who likes to swim naked every morning. Tyrion decides that "being randy is the next best thing to being drunk."
Tyrion notes that Young Griff is getting quite the education for a sellsword's son and challenges Haldon to a game of chess. For stakes they agree to a game of secrets.
“The day you defeat me at cyvasse will be the day turtles crawl out my arse.” The Halfmaester moved his spears. “You have your wager, little man.”
Three hours later, Tyrion emerges, light-headed, and informs the crew that Haldon has "taken to his bed, in some discomfort. There are turtles crawling out his arse.” So what did Tyrion learn?
"Gods and wonders always appear, to attend the birth of kings."
Previous Recap: Chapters 1-7