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 installment, we take on chapters 24–32, pages 293–407.
"What good is peace if it must be purchased with the blood of little children?"
What good are little children as hostages if there's no chance they'll be harmed? That's weak sauce. I'm starting to think that the Queen is not fit for the Meereenese War on Terror. Why does she hate freedom?
"Dany knew how it went with prophecies. They were made of words, and words were wind."
That's how I'm starting to feel about of all of her chapters. "Words are wind" is used thirteen times in the book; maybe George was feeling a bit peeved at the written word by the time he untied the Meereenese Knot?
Her assigned "quest" for Hizdahr seems incredibly dumb. "Put an end to this shadow war, my lord. That is your quest. Give me ninety days and ninety nights without a murder, and I will know that you are worthy of a throne.”
What about: Give me 90 days and nights without a murder, or I'll torture you to death?
Barristan has a different option: Get the hell out of Meereen and go reclaim your thrown in Westeros. (He digresses: Rhaegar married Elia because "a woods witch had told him that the prince was promised would be born of their line.” Aegon? )
Daario has yet another suggestion: Red Wedding those Harpy-loving bastards: "Better the butcher than the meat. All kings are butchers. Are queens so different?”
(Redditor HannShotFirst: Red Wedding 2: "Electric Boogaloo"?)
But, shocker, Dany doesn't go for it. Maybe she can give hugs to the Sons of the Harpy until they love her.
THE LOST LORD
Jon Connington is en route to see his former comrades in the Golden Company, reveal the existence of (real? fake?) Aegon Targaryen, and figure out a way to Meereen, but the Knot seems to be troubling everyone at the moment.
The awesomel- named Homeless Harry Strickland: "We came to raise up a king and queen who would lead us home to Westeros, but this Targaryen girl seems more intent on planting olive trees than in reclaiming her father’s throne." I know, right?
Aegon, primed by Tyrion during the boat trip, proposes a simpler plan: get to Westeros and start with the conquering already. His aunt (!) Daenerys can follow along if and when she figures out that Meereen is a dead end.
Oh, and Connington secretly has greyscale (maybe like leprosy plus scleroderma?), but doesn't seem to want to do anything about it. Maybe there's a Westeros version of the Christian Scientists?
As we accompany the Boys from Dorne, now part of the Windblown company of sellswords, George is comfortably back in the "war is hell" territory that he mapped out to such gruesome effect in AFFC:
A river choked with corpses. The priestess in her torn robes, impaled upon a stake and attended by a cloud of glistening green flies. Dying men staggering through the streets, bloody and befouled. Children fighting over half-cooked puppies. The last free king of Astapor, screaming naked in the pit as he was set on by a score of starving dogs. And fires, fires everywhere.
The Yunkish forces (soldiers on stilts? Lord Wobblecheeks?) sound less than formidible. Even the faux Unsullied — check the Monty Python reference: "Hacking off a boy's stones with a butcher's cleaver and handing him a pointy hat don't make him Unsullied. That dragon queen's got the real item, the kind that don't break and run when you fart in their general direction." And your father smelled of elderberries!
Dead King Cleon on a horse was a blackly humorous affair, as is the "gods are mad" twist of having the Dorne turncoats-in-waiting ordered to be actual turncoats, but this story line is doing nothing for me. Quentyn Martell: total zero.
THE WAYWARD BRIDE
I've always liked Asha Greyjoy since her incest prank with Theon a couple of books ago. Now she's getting sucked into the insane world of Ramsay Bolton, who makes Hannibal Lector look like a septon. A ransom note arrives, accompanied by some tanned piece of Theon and inked in the blood of the ironborn. Say what you will about the Bastard of Bolton, but he gets the maximum impact out of an epistolary communiqué.
Asha also likes her loving nice and rough, and we get some violent rape-play with Qarl that is rendered thoroughly unerotic by the mental image of George R.R. Martin, wearing only his underwear, typing away, his face lit by the ghostly glow of his laptop in an otherwise darkened room.
Like so many people in these books, Asha is stuck: She can't go home, where she
would be forced to marry has been married in absentia to some kraken-douche, but she can't stay in the thinly defended Deepwood Motte castle. And then, whaddya know, Stannis attacks. The ironborn fight, flee, and fight some more, in a great battle scene:
No singer would ever make a song about that battle. No maester would ever write down an account for one of the Reader’s beloved books. No banners flew, no warhorns moaned, no great lord called his men about him to hear his final ringing words. They fought in the predawn gloom, shadow against shadow, stumbling over roots and rocks, with mud and rotting leaves beneath their feet. The ironborn were clad in mail and salt-stained leather, the northmen in furs and hides and piney branches. The moon and stars looked down upon their struggle, their pale light filtered through the tangle of bare limbs that twisted overhead.
Asha, overwhelmed, finally succumbs. I don't think she's dead, despite an ax to the dome.
Captive Tyrion is still bringing the funny, with his humorless captor, Ser Jorah Mormont.
"To kill your own sire? How could any man do that?"
“Give me a crossbow and pull down your breeches, and I’ll show you.”
The duo walk through Volantis and Martin gives us some rather heavy-handed scene setting: Elephants! Pervasive smells! Most of these Essos chapters owe a large debt to the wide-eyed wonder that narrators always have in Rudyard Kipling novels.
We get our first glimpse of Benerro, high priest of the red temple. Tyrion channels Han Solo: "I have a bad feeling about this."
Tyrion, in manacles, gets the same trick of the gods as Quentyn: Mormont is taking him to Meereen, exactly where he wants to go.
“What do you plan to offer the dragon queen, little man?” My hate, Tyrion wanted to say. Instead he spread his hands as far as the fetters would allow. “Whatever she would have of me. Sage counsel, savage wit, a bit of tumbling. My cock, if she desires it. My tongue, if she does not. I will lead her armies or rub her feet, as she desires. And the only reward I ask is I might be allowed to rape and kill my sister.”
And then: DWARF FIGHT. Penny, one of the dwarfs from Joffrey's wedding tries to knife Tyrion. (The dwarf's penny was also Kings Landing slang for Tyrion's tax on brothels.) After the dust settles, it seems that Jorah, Tyrion, and Penny have a date with Meereen:
“Two days from now, the cog Selaesori Qhoran will set sail for Qarth by way of New Ghis, carrying tin and iron, bales of wool and lace, fifty Myrish carpets, a corpse pickled in brine, twenty jars of dragon peppers, and a red priest."
Who's the corpse?
Jon is deploying rangers north of the Wall, deploying Wildlings on top of it, and working out some aggression in the training yard. Then Rattleshirt turns up.
“Stannis burned the wrong man,” says Jon. “No.” The wildling grinned at him through a mouth of brown and broken teeth. “He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings.”
Then the Lord of Bones unleashes some unholy whoop-ass on Lord Snow.
Word arrives from Ramsay: It's a fake-Arya wedding invite, though Jon doesn't know that.
Still getting some strong warg-flashes from Ghost, he runs into Melisandre, who displays some worryingly good direwolf whispering abilities.
“Ghost,” he called. “To me.” The direwolf looked at him as if he were a stranger.
Melisandre offers to help save Arya, but something tells me the "girl in grey on a dying horse" could be just about anyone.
The Onion Knight is in jail, awaiting the day when his death sentence will be carried out, when he gets an invite to visit fat Lord Manderly — who turns out to be SECRETLY AWESOME! The death of Davos was faked in order to fool the Freys: "When treating with liars, even an honest man must lie ... The north remembers, Lord Davos. The north remembers, and the mummer’s farce is almost done."
Did anyone else think that Manderly was about to produce Rickon? Turns out it's Theon's former squire, Wex, who shares the news that Bran and Rickon are still alive.
Payback is afoot:
"The Freys came here by sea. They have no horses with them, so I shall present each of them with a palfrey as a guest gift. Do hosts still give guest gifts in the south?”
“Some do, my lord. On the day their guest departs.”
“Perhaps you understand, then.”
It's sounding like a nice day for another Red Wedding. Again.
Rickon isn't in White Harbor, but Manderly knows where he is: We don't get the location, but it's some place where "men were known to break their fast on human flesh." Sounds like Skagos. Davos is going in, commando-style.
As the Redditor clarbri summed up so well: "MANDERLY, YOU MAGNIFICENT FAT BASTARD!"
Still in Meereen. “I am tired of hearing what you will not do. Go." Khaleesi, follow your own advice and get the eff out of town.
Enemy ships threaten Slaver's Bay. Barristan is giving some crap advice for Dany to avoid the dragons. Because if your entire citizenry is threatened with slavery and death, you should avoid deploying your ONLY MILITARY ADVANTAGE because a little kid got killed? Man up, sister.
Hizdahr seems to have stopped the Harpy's Sons attacks for now, which is suspicious, right? Dany is still, for some reason, pining for Daario. But she opts to marry Hizdahr. Why?
"I have to hope for peace.” Dany, are you sure you're really a Targaryen?
We didn't have to wait long to decode the meaning of the pale mare: It's a plague, "the bloody flux," which sounds like cholera. The Yunkai'i have conquered Astapor, and it looks like there's a bad moon rising. Not a particularly intersting moon, but a bad one nevertheless.
Now here's an interesting choice for a POV character! What's going on inside the head of a priestess who burns men alive and gives birth to murderous spectres? Turns out she is just as willfully blind as any other character: "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only Snow."
That giant thunderclap you hear is R'hllor smacking himself in the forehead.
Among her other visions: Enemies all around Jon, daggers in the dark.
We also get what might be our first preview of the war with the Others:
Snowflakes swirled from a dark sky and ashes rose to meet them, the grey and the white whirling around each other as flaming arrows arced above a wooden wall and dead things shambled silent through the cold, beneath a great grey cliff where fires burned inside a hundred caves. Then the wind rose and the white mist came sweeping in, impossibly cold, and one by one the fires went out. Afterward only the skulls remained.
Something is going on with Melisandre and Rattleshirt: Talk of a "glamour" and Mel questioning whether she was right to spare this one ... Hmmm. Because it's Mance Rayder, disguised by Melisandre's sorcery, and the real Rattlshirt burned in his place! Well, that was a shocker, although in retrospect there were clues: "Mance" insisting that they had the wrong man as he burned; "Rattleshirt" trouncing Jon in the yard.
Now Mance is going off to Winterfell to save "Arya," along with six spearwives. He's been that way once before: In ASoS he told Jon how he infiltrated Winterfell during the first moments of AGoT, when King Robert made his pivotal visit to Winterfell, and how that exploit was in turn inspired by a similar exploit of Bael the Bard. Will history repeat itself a third time?