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.
The War of the Five Kings is seemingly over, but White Harbor looks to be preparing for battle. The city's defenses are being strengthened, and Lord Wyman — known to be enormously fat, and to hate the Boltons — seems to be building war galleys and signing up men for his army. And yet word in the taverns is that Manderly says that White Harbor is "weary of war." What is he up to? "Lord Wyman was a fat man, but not an idle one, it seemed." Knock, knock, who's there?: The Onion Knight. And, scene.
More courtroom intrigue, and a sex show. Xaro Xhoan Daxos (noting that Dany's dragons are nowhere to be seen, locked away since she was presented with the dead little kid's bones) offers her thirteen galleys in exchange for getting the eff out of Meereen. TAKE THE DEAL, DANY! That would sever Martin's Meereenese knot once and for all, but of course she doesn't.
The Yunkai'i are attacking Astapor, and Dany will not abandon Meereen to the same fate. "It grieves me to say so, but Westeros must wait." It grieves me too. Why not just kill Xaro after he threatens to do the same to her? She is just too kind-hearted, and even worse, this is getting boring.
Winter is coming, and the Night's Watch is ill-equipped. But the stored food is still enough to fill a Fantastic Mr. Fox reverie:
In the granaries were oats and wheat and barley, and barrels of coarse ground flour. In the root cellars strings of onions and garlic dangled from the rafters, and bags of carrots, parsnips, radishes, and white and yellow turnips filled the shelves. One storeroom held wheels of cheese so large it took two men to move them. In the next, casks of salt beef, salt pork, salt mutton, and salt cod were stacked ten feet high. Three hundred hams and three thousand long black sausages hung from ceiling beams below the smokehouse. In the spice locker they found peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon, mustard seeds, coriander, sage and clary sage and parsley, blocks of salt. Elsewhere were casks of apples and pears, dried peas, dried figs, bags of walnuts, bags of chestnuts, bags of almonds, planks of dry smoked salmon, clay jars packed with olives in oil and sealed with wax. One storeroom offered potted hare, haunch of deer in honey, pickled cabbage, pickled beets, pickled onions, pickled eggs, and pickled herring.
But Bowen says that's not enough.
We’ll be down to turnips and pease porridge before the year is out. After that we’ll be drinking the blood of our own horses.” “Yum,” declared Dolorous Edd. “Nothing beats a hot cup of horse blood on a cold night. I like mine with a pinch of cinnamon sprinkled on top.”
The comedic styling of Dolorous Edd, everybody! He just flew in from Eastwatch and boy are his arms tired! Don't forget to tip your chambermaid.
Jon, telling himself that "words are not swords," tries to give Stannis some strategic advice for winning the north. Mors "Crowfood" Umber is an ally worth winning; trying to take Dreadfort by surprise is folly. It's becoming clear that Stannis's massive gamble to relocate to the Wall has left him in foreign territory, entangled among enemies and potential enemies he knows nothing about. Jon, realizing that Stannis is the least awful among those who would rule, advises him to recruit the mountain lords and attack Asha Greyjoy's forces at Deepwood.
As Stannis bargains with Jon, the king notes: "You haggle like a crone with a codfish, Lord Snow. Did Ned Stark father you on some fishwife?" Hmm...
Strangely, Melisandre opts to remain at the Wall. Every time Stannis has fought without her, he has lost.
Smoke, or fog, is on the water. The Shy Maid is moving down the Rhoyne, and the mood is ominous. This is a really good chapter.
We get a long exposition about greyscale, which sounds like leprosy on steroids:
The curse was oft seen in children, especially in damp, cold climes. The afflicted flesh stiffened, calcified, and cracked, though the dwarf had read that greyscale’s progress could be stayed by limes, mustard poultices, and scalding-hot baths (the maesters said) or by prayer, sacrifice, and fasting (the septons insisted). Then the disease passed, leaving its young victims disfigured but alive. Maesters and septons alike agreed that children marked by greyscale could never be touched by the rarer mortal form of the affliction, nor by its terrible swift cousin, the grey plague.
And then a strange glitch in the text — like deja vu in the Matrix:
Septa Lemore sucked in her breath. “What was that?” “Where?” Tyrion saw nothing but the fog. “Something moved. I saw the water rippling.” “A turtle,” the prince announced cheerfully.
The drowned city was all around them. A half-seen shape flapped by overhead, pale leathery wings beating at the fog. The dwarf craned his head around to get a better look, but the thing was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.
Drogon, is that you?
On the first encounter with the stone men, who have been turned into virtual zombies by greyscale, Young Griff resists being taken to a cabin for protection.
"We are sworn to protect you,” Lemore said softly.
On the second encounter — after the river has seemingly sent them by the same spot twice (!) — Tyrion blurts out the secret he learned playing cyvasse: He and the rest of the crew are nothing. "You, though you are everything.”
“A curious man might wonder why some sellsword’s whelp would need a soiled septa to instruct him in the Faith, or a chainless maester to tutor him in history and tongues. And a clever man might question why your father would engage a hedge knight to train you in arms instead of simply sending you off to apprentice with one of the free companies. It is almost as if someone wanted to keep you hidden whilst still preparing you for what? Now, there’s a puzzlement, but I’m sure that in time it will come to me. I must admit, you have noble features for a dead boy.”
So, we have our first big plot twist: Young Griff is none other than Aegon Targaryen, son of Prince Rhaegar, presumed dead after the Mountain smashed in his baby skull during the sack of King's Landing. Griff is — there were a lot of clues here — ex-King's Hand Jon Connington, formerly Lord of Griffin's Roost and Rhaegar's BFF. No sooner is all of this out in the open than a stone man lands on the boat and Tyrion tackles him into the river. Eep.
What do you think about the introduction of Aegon? It feels like a bit of a narrative cheat: Unless I'm mistaken there was nary a hint that he might be alive in the first four books, and now it throws everything into doubt. (This could also be a total scam perpetrated by Illyrio and Varys: Have we met our Mummer's Dragon?). And it raises an obvious question: Who was the baby that got its brains bashed in by Gregor Clegane?
Man, do I hate the Freys.
They are all crawling all over White Castle, and blaming the Red Wedding on Robb Stark. Clearly Manderly, who actually knew Robb Stark, isn't idiot enough to believe this. Yet he and his people — with the exception of the girl Wylla, who has the misfortune to be marrying Little Walder — seem to be kissing some major Frey butt.
So what's going on here?
The facade slips for only a moment, when Rhaegar Frey calls Robb Stark "a vile dog."
The Merman’s Court had grown still. Davos could feel the chill in the air. Lord Wyman was looking down at Rhaegar as if he were a roach in need of a hard heel yet then, abruptly, he gave a ponderous nod that set his chins to wobbling. “A dog, aye. He brought us only grief and death. A vile dog indeed. Say on.”
And he then orders the removal of Davos's head and hands. Do we think this is the end for the Onion Knight? We do not.
Oh, and how badass is Wylla Manderly?
“I know about the promise,” insisted the girl. “Maester Theomore, tell them! A thousand years before the Conquest, a promise was made, and oaths were sworn in the Wolf’s Den before the old gods and the new. When we were sore beset and friendless, hounded from our homes and in peril of our lives, the wolves took us in and nourished us and protected us against our enemies. The city is built upon the land they gave us. In return we swore that we should always be their men. Stark men!”
The Monster Ramsay cleans up Reek / Theon and sends him to secure the surrender of the remaining ironmen who hold Moat Calin.
"Lord Ramsay treats his captives honorably so long as they keep faith with him. He has only taken toes and fingers and that other thing, when he might have had my tongue, or peeled the skin off my legs from heel to thigh."
THAT OTHER THING! I never thought I'd say this, but: Poor Theon.
As a reward for bringing the 63 prisoners to Ramsay, Reek gets to sleep with the dogs, fight over a half chicken, and drink a skin of wine.
Squatting amongst the hounds, Reek drank until his head swam, retched, wiped his mouth, and drank some more. Afterward he lay back and closed his eyes. When he woke a dog was licking vomit from his beard, and dark clouds were scuttling across the face of a sickle moon. Somewhere in the night, men were screaming.
With Moat Calin in hand, the way is cleared for Roose Bolton — who may be worse than his bastard son by several orders of magnitude — to arrive at the Dreadfort with the fake Arya Stark, who as we suspected is none other than Sansa's former playmate Jeyne Poole, last seen in King's Landing.
The Lord Commander visits Moletown to recruit the Free Folk. And, scene.
All men must die, but not Tyrion, at least not today. But he might have greyscale, so the Halfmaester has him prick his fingers and toes with a knife.
“Shall I prick my prick as well?”
“It would not hurt.”
“It would not hurt you is what you mean. Though I had as well slice it off for all the use I make of it.”
“Feel free. We will have it tanned and stuffed and sell it for a fortune. A dwarf’s cock has magical powers.”
“I have been telling all the women that for years.”
Tyrion is wondering about Lemore the saucy septa. Who is she really? The message boards have two main theories: Ashara Dayne or the mother of Tyene Sand. She has stretch marks, so there is clearly a child or at least a miscarriage in her past.
Over yet another game of cyvass, Aegon tells Tyrion that he was swapped as a baby for "some tanner’s son from Pisswater Bend." But he's only going on what Varys told him. On a voyage into the town of Selhorys, we get some more classic Tyrion penis banter, after he's manhandled by a stranger.
“He says that it is good luck to rub the head of a dwarf,” Haldon said after an exchange with the guard in his own tongue. Tyrion forced himself to smile at the man. “Tell him that it is even better luck to suck on a dwarf’s cock.”
The dwarf's cock gets some extra attention a bit later, when a self-loathing Tyrion sleeps with a whore and gets stinking drunk on red wine. Dumb move, as it turns out: A knight is downstairs (bear insignia, silver-haired prostitute — hello Jorah Mormont!) and he seizes Tyrion and announces plans to take him to the queen. But which one?