Valar morghulis! A Dance With Dragons, the long-awaited fifth book in George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga, has finally arrived. Vulture's resident expert and superfan will be recapping the new novel, approximately 100 pages at a time. 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 recap covers chapters 40 to 47, pages 514 to 617.
The Lord Commander is setting Val free north of the Wall to go find Tormund Giantsbane. Dolorous Edd continues to drop one-liners like it's the Catskills:
“This is going to end badly.” “You say that of everything.” “Aye, m’lord. Usually I’m right.”
Jon is getting up to all kinds of experiments with giants (Wun Wun!) and wights. The two bodies he has under guard in cold storage seem like they will be important — call them Chekov's wights. Are wights actual creatures with wants and needs? Or just zombies in search of more braaaaaaaaaains? Either way, every move he makes seems to be increasing the discontent of the O.G. Night's Watchmen.
So what the hell did happen at Hardhome? Like Valyria, the reports are sketchy:
Hardhome had been halfway toward becoming a town, the only true town north of the Wall, until the night six hundred years ago when hell had swallowed it. Its people had been carried off into slavery or slaughtered for meat, depending on which version of the tale you believed, their homes and halls consumed in a conflagration that burned so hot that watchers on the Wall far to the south had thought the sun was rising in the north. Afterward ashes rained down on haunted forest and Shivering Sea alike for almost half a year. Traders reported finding only nightmarish devastation where Hardhome had stood, a landscape of charred trees and burned bones, waters choked with swollen corpses, blood-chilling shrieks echoing from the cave mouths that pocked the great cliff that loomed above the settlement.
Mother Mole and her brood of refugee wildlings are in trouble at Hardhome, and Jon wants to go save them. It's simple math: Dead bodies north of the Wall equals more wights.
"Winter is coming, my lords, and when it does, we living men will need to stand together against the dead.”
So it has come to this. Tyrion refused to ride a pig at Joffrey's wedding, which eventually led to the King's death and a bunch of other drama. But now he's back in the saddle on the decks of the becalmed Seaesori Qhoran, desperately trying to keep the sailors happy.
The ship gets swept up in a bad storm ("The ship groaned and growled beneath him like a constipated fat man straining to shit"). Tyrion and Penny hunker down and share a kiss, and Moqorro, who seems like he may have orchestrated the storm, is swept overboard. The Seaesori is de-masted, only to be rescued ... by a slaver ship. Looks like the road to Meereen is about to get a little more windy.
When you're reading one of the "ASOIAF" books, you invariably start rooting for certain POV characters, looking forward to their chapters and grumbling with annoyance when the chapter ends and you're deposited into someone else's head. Who would have thought that Theon Greyjoy (a.k.a. the Turncloak) would turn out to be a favorite? The loathsome boy has been dramatically reset into someone who richly deserves revenge against Ramsay Bolton.
It is snowing at Winterfell, and the Boltons, Freys, and Manderslys are well stocked with creature comforts, but it's clear they all can't stand each other.
"Lord Wyman Manderly sat between a pair of his White Harbor knights, spooning porridge into his fat face. He did not seem to be enjoying it near as much as he had the pork pies at the wedding." Rimshot!
Theon takes a trip to the crypts with Lady Dustin. There are swords missing. Hmmm. I know Bran & Co. took some with them, but I think the math doesn't quite add up. We've heard repeatedly through the books about people hiding in the crypt. Who could be down there now?
It seems Lady Dustin got down with Brandon Stark (Bran's uncle) back in the day, and she's not shy about it: "I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me." It seems she has two reasons to hate the Starks: Brandon Stark ditched her for Catelyn (though he died before they could be married) and then her husband Lord Dustin was killed after Ned Stark called his banners during the war.
THE KING'S PRIZE
From one Greyjoy to another: Asha is still alive after yielding to Stannis, who is making a semi-suicidal march to Winterfell in the middle of a blizzard. The southrons do not fare well. The northman Big Bucket Wull: “This is no winter. Up in the hills we say that autumn kisses you, but winter fucks you hard. This is only autumn’s kiss.”
It's a bleak chapter as the men and horses die off one by one. It's starting to feel like the Donner Party. What is with all the cannibalism in ADWD?
Shacked up with Daario. It sure sounds like puppy love. His "skin is silk and satin." Blech. It's amazing that Dany's chapters are so painful. GRRM has turned her into a Twilight character.
Quentyn reveals himself, and the pledge that his sister Arianne was to wed Viserys. Dany's response: laughter. Oops. There's a couple hundred pages that could have been trimmed.
On her way to Dany's wedding to Hizdahr, we get some interesting Westeros backstory from Barristan:
“Prince Aerys as a youth, he was taken with a certain lady of Casterly Rock, a cousin of Tywin Lannister. When she and Tywin wed, your father drank too much wine at the wedding feast and was heard to say that it was a great pity that the lord’s right to the first night had been abolished. A drunken jape, no more, but Tywin Lannister was not a man to forget such words, or the the liberties your father took during the bedding.” His face reddened. “I have said too much, Your Grace."
So Aerys had a little something for Tywin Lannister's wife Joanna. What was it Twyin said to Tyrion with his last words? "You are no son of mine."
And ... she's married. Sigh.
Back to our other chapter with a noticeable lack of narrative drive. Queen Selyse visits Jon at Castle Black, and gets the bejesus scared out of her by Wun Wun. Patchface, who might be an oracle of the Drowned God: "In the dark the dead are dancing. I know, I know, oh oh oh.” (P.S. @patchface is on Twitter. P.P.S. "I know, I know, oh oh oh" is part of a Bee Gees lyric.)
Well, this is interesting: Tycho Nestoris, an emissary of the Iron Bank of Braavos, is at the Wall to visit with Stannis. If you can cast your memory back to AFFC, Cersei decided not to raise the Westerosi debt ceiling and defaulted on the crown's debts to the Iron Bank. I'm thinking Tychos is planning on using Stannis as a sort of collection agency, even if it requires overthrowing the Seven Kingdoms. Imagine Warren Buffett backing a faction of guerrillas planning to invade Washington, D.C.
Jon strikes a deal to borrow money from the Iron Bank as well. I wonder if he got a good twenty-year adjustable mortgage rate on the Wall? Watch out for those balloon payments, Jon.
As prophesied, a grey girl turns up on a dying horse. It's not Arya, of course, or even fake Arya: It's Alys Karstark, and she confirms what has been hinted at already: Arnolf Karstark means to betray Stannis on behalf of that sonovabitch Roose Bolton. "You are my only hope,
Obi-Wan Kenobe Lord Snow.
Hi, Arya! Her chapter means we're now officially caught up chronologically with the events of AFFC.
In case you've forgotten, our ninja assassin-in-training has been deprived of the power of sight as a punishment (or possibly a reward) for killing Dareon, the singer who traveled to Braavos with Sam and Gilly. Blind Arya gets to hone her other senses on the way to becoming become a pint-size badass killing machine. She gets to see every night when she dream-wargs into Nymeria, so it's really not that bad.
Begging in Bravos, she gets an update about those poor wildlings in Hardhome: They got "rescued" by a couple of slavers. Speaking of slavery, the mission of the Faceless Men seems to be intertwined with the aftereffects of slavery, which is obviously one of GRRM's Big Themes this time around. The kindly man explains:
I have told you of the founding of our order, of how the first of us answered the prayers of slaves who wished for death. The gift was given only to those who yearned for it, in the beginning but one day, the first of us heard a slave praying not forhis own death but for his master’s. So fervently did he desire this that he offered all he had, that his prayer might be answered. And it seemed to our first brother that this sacrifice would be pleasing to Him of Many Faces, so that night he granted the prayer. Then he went to the slave and said, ‘You offered all you had for this man’s death, but slaves have nothing but their lives. That is what the god desires of you. For the rest of your days on earth, you will serve him.’ And from that moment, we were two.
So the Faceless Men started off as a kind of anti-slave-owner terrorist force. Awesome! I would love to turn them loose in Slavers Bay.
Arya returns to the kindly man with her three pieces of newfound knowledge. Most important: He has been the one beating her with a stick. Wha-bam, she gives him a sharp rap across the knuckles. How does she know? How could she see? SHE WARGED INTO A CAT THAT WAS WATCHING FROM THE RAFTERS! (Warg experts: Have any of the other Stark kids or skinchangers been able to process sensory data from a warged animal while staying present in their own bodies?)
Wow, I forgot how much I love Arya. As a reward, she gets her sight back. What's next?
A GHOST IN WINTERFELL
Woo-hoo, another Theon chapter! Still can't believe how much I'm liking these.
Dead bodies are showing up in Winterfell. It's like an Agatha Christie novel, only with a castle full of psychopaths. One of the washerwomen — this is as good a time as any to make sure you guys know that Abel = Mance and his washerwomen are the spearwives, right? — wants Theon to show her the crypts. It seems he is quite the in-demand tour guide.
Theon himself is thinking of escape. “I have to remember my name,” he tells himself. GRRM is playing a few tricks with his identity — the third-person narration has begun referring to him as "Theon" again.
The Freys are beginning to openly challenge Lord Manderly about their three missing kin. Manderly plays it perfectly: He knows the Freys know that he had them killed (and the Freys know it!), but he holds back the delicious morsel that we, the readers, are privy to. PIE!
One of Ramsay's henchmen, Yellow Dick, turns up dead, and what a description:
Whether his dick had actually been yellow was hard to determine, as someone had sliced it off and stuffed it into his mouth so forcefully they had broken three of his teeth. When the cooks found him outside the kitchens, buried up to his neck in a snowdrift, both dick and man were blue from cold.
Then, as Theon walks in the snow, this mysterious passage:
Farther on, he came upon a man striding in the opposite direction, a hooded cloak flapping behind him. When they found themselves face-to-face their eyes met briefly. The man put a hand on his dagger. “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.”
“I’m not. I never ... I was ironborn.”
“False is all you were. How is it you still breathe?”
“The gods are not done with me,” Theon answered, wondering if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick’s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell’s groom off the battlements. Oddly, he was not afraid. He pulled the glove from his left hand. “Lord Ramsay is not done with me.”
The man looked, and laughed. “I leave you to him, then.”
So who is the killer? Mance and his team of spearwives? One of Manderly's men? A Tyler Durden shard of Theon's traumatize psyche? The conspiracy theorists on the message boards think it might be MAESTER LUWIN, to which, holy shit. But it's anyone's guess. And Abel/Mance wants to see Theon ...