Valar morghulis! Welcome to the final installment of our recap of A Dance With Dragons, the long-awaited fifth book in George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga. You might as well savor it, because it could be a long time until The Winds of Winter arrives. As always, please share your corrections, thoughts, theories, reactions, and love of Theon Greyjoy in the comments — though, for anyone who has read further along, please don't spoil what's to come.
This recap covers chapters 63 to 73, pages 814 to 959.
Asha and the King's forces have been stuck in the snow for nineteen days, and the soldiers are developing a taste for delicious manflesh. Four men caught cannibalizing one of their own are set to be burned alive to appease the Lord of Light — that will teach them to behave in an uncivilized manner!
“The cock’s the choicest part, all crisped up on the spit," one of the condemned men boasts. "A fat little sausage.” Nobody tell Lord Manderling!
The men begin to burn, and GRRM spars us no details.
In moments both the stakes were engulfed in fire. “He was dead,” the weeping boy screamed, as the flames licked up his legs. “We found him dead please we was hungry ” The fires reached his balls. As the hair around his cock began to burn, his pleading dissolved into one long wordless shriek.
Asha is getting harassed by a loathsome individual by the name of Clayton Suggs.
“Have you seen Ser Justin?”
“That prancing fool? What do you want with him, cunt? If it’s a fuck you need, I’m more a man than Massey.”
Cunt again? It was odd how men like Suggs used that word to demean women when it was the only part of a woman they valued. And Suggs was worse than Middle Liddle. When he says the word, he means it. “Your king gelds men for rape,” she reminded him.
And then: The surprise arrival of some mysterious riders. It's a few of Asha's men, Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank of Braavos, and "a girl and an old man."
The girl was shivering violently, even in her furs. If she had not been so frightened, she might even have been pretty, though the tip of her nose was black with frostbite. The old man no one would ever think him comely. She had seen scarecrows with more flesh. His face was a skull with skin, his hair bone-white and filthy. And he stank. Just the sight of him filled Asha with revulsion.
It's Jeyne Poole and Theon!
His lips skinned back in what might have been a grin. Half his teeth were gone, and half of those still left him were broken and splintered. “Theon,” he repeated. “My name is Theon. You have to know your name.”
Theon FTW! Who would have guessed that he would have by far the best arc of the book?
The savage sea captain is getting ecumenical: The Drowned God gets a few sacrifices, and the Red God gets a few too. Hedge your celestial bets! “Two gods are with me now,” he told the dusky woman. “No foe can stand before two gods.”
He is adding to his fleet, including the capture of a fleet bound for Lys's pleasure houses. His newfound religious tolerance doesn't extend to the LGBT community: "The perfumed boys he wrapped in chains and threw into the sea. They were unnatural creatures, and the ship smelled better once cleansed of their presence."
He holds back the seven prettiest girls for himself.
He kissed them each upon the cheeks and told them of the honor that awaited them, though they did not understand his words. Then he had them put aboard the fishing ketch that they had captured, cut her loose, and had her set afire.
Despite (or because of) his atrocious behavior, it's hard not to like Victarion a little. Between him, Asha and Theon, the Greyjoys are kind of owning ADWD. We learn a little bit more about the taming-horn — apparently it comes inscribed with a Valyrian instruction manual that explains that you only have to own the horn to command the dragons' obedience, which is a good thing because it also states: "No mortal man may blow me and live."
Wait, is that the Horn of Winter?
UGLY LITTLE GIRL
It's a servants of the Many-Faced God convention, and Arya is serving water. She's still getting the business from the kindly man:
“You know the words, but you are too proud to serve. A servant must be humble and obedient.” “I obey. I can be humbler than anyone.”
She gets her first assassination assignment.
“Give a certain man a certain gift. Can you do that?”
“No one that you know.”
“I don’t know a lot of people.” [Ed: bwahaha]
“He is one of them. A stranger. No one you love, no one you hate, no one you have ever known. Will you kill him?”
Turns out La Femme Anya's first target is: an insurance agent. After scoping him out for a few days, she gets fitted with a new face, literally. She is taken down to a room with skinned faces (so that's what happens to the people who commit suicide) and one of them is attached to her own. She does the deed, sneaking in a poisoned coin that he will test by biting it, and it's on to the next stage of ninja school. Pretty badass.
Now this is a virtuoso chapter. It's time for Cersei's walk of shame, and it's a doozy.
First she gets shorn. All over.
When the deed was done she was as naked and vulnerable as a woman could be. Not even a hair to hide behind. A little laugh burst from her lips, bleak and bitter. “Does Your Grace find this amusing?” said Septa Scolera. “No, septa,” said Cersei. But one day I will have your tongue ripped out with hot pincers, and that will be hilarious.
Oh, Cersei, you and your wacky sense of humor.
She is resolute to begin. She sheds her robe and begins to walk through King's Landing, "clad in only goosepimples and pride." But before long, the crowd becomes unruly and Cersei starts to lose her shit.
She makes it to the Red Keep, and then:
Her savior was real. Eight feet tall or maybe taller, with legs as thick around as trees, he had a chest worthy of a plow horse and shoulders that would not disgrace an ox. His armor was plate steel, enameled white and bright as a maiden’s hopes, and worn over gilded mail. A greathelm hid his face. From its crest streamed seven silken plumes in the rainbow colors of the Faith. A pair of golden seven-pointed stars clasped his billowing cloak at the shoulders. A white cloak.
Kevan has kept his end of the bargain and named Ser Robert Strong Qyburn's certainly-not-the-Mountain-turned-into-a-zombie, to the Kingsguard."
“If it please Your Grace, Ser Robert has taken a holy vow of silence,” Qyburn said. “He has sworn that he will not speak until all of His Grace’s enemies are dead and evil has been driven from the realm.” Yes, thought Cersei Lannister. Oh, yes.
Tyrion joins the Second Sons. He spends quite a long time finding himself and Penny a helmet.
Jorah's there, and in what has become a running joke, "the nipples on his muscled breastplate had a pair of iron rings through them."
Speaking of useless, Tyrion has done pretty much nothing this entire book. Now he's promising to get the Second Sons to switch over to Meereen. So this is the last Tyrion chapter and Dany never even meets him? I'm calling bullshit.
Barristan is still holding it down in Meereen in Dany's absence and is planning a palace coup against her feckless husband Hizdahr. Once again, we have the classic GRRM dilemma of honor versus expediency — after the coup is couped, the Shavepate wants to attack the Yunkai'i immediately, Selmy wants to "inform them the peace is broken and then go to battle."
Before the action gets started, a flashback to the tourney at Harranhal, where Rhaegar chose Lyanna Stark as Queen of Love and Beauty, kicking off the civil war that eventually brought Robert to the throne. If Barristan had won he would have chosen ... Ashara Dayne, potential mother of Jon Snow and maybe even Lemore, Aegon's traveling septa.
Even after all these years, Ser Barristan could still recall Ashara’s smile, the sound of her laughter. He had only to close his eyes to see her, with her long dark hair tumbling about her shoulders and those haunting purple eyes. Daenerys has the same eyes. Sometimes when the queen looked at him, he felt as if he were looking at Ashara’s daughter But Ashara’s daughter had been stillborn, and his fair lady had thrown herself from a tower soon after, mad with grief for the child she had lost, and perhaps for the man who had dishonored her at Harrenhal as well. I had unhorsed Rhaegar and crowned Ashara queen of love and beauty, might she have looked to me instead of Stark?
So which Stark banged Lemore? My money is on Brandon. Did she really die? And was her daughter really stillborn?
Back to the matter at hand, it's time for Barristan to unleash some Über-honorable whup-ass on Hizdahr's minions.
“It is not too late to throw down your steel. Yield.”
“Die,” spat Khrazz but as he lifted his arakh, its tip grazed one of the wall hangings and hung. That was all the chance Ser Barristan required. He slashed open the pit fighter’s belly, parried the arakh as it wrenched free, then finished Khrazz with a quick thrust to the heart as the pit fighter’s entrails came sliding out like a nest of greasy eels.
Mmmmm ... Eels.
As the onetime Kingsguard takes the King captive, there is news: The dragons are loose.
... Probably because of something stupid that Quentyn Martell did. The fool boy has it in his mind to become a dragon rider. Guess what: The Ocean's 11 dragon-stealing plot doesn't work.
The crossbowman was fumbling for another quarrel as the dragon’s teeth closed around his neck. The man wore the mask of a Brazen Beast, the fearsome likeness of a tiger. As he dropped his weapon to try and pry apart Viserion’s jaws, flame gouted from the tiger’s mouth. The man’s eyes burst with soft popping sounds, and the brass around them began to run. The dragon tore off a hunk of flesh, most of the sellsword’s neck, then gulped it down as the burning corpse collapsed to the floor.
When he raised his whip, he saw that the lash was burning. His hand as well. All of him, all of him was burning. Oh, he thought. Then he began to scream.
Shit is about to get real. Jon is planning to ride to Hardomme to rescue the wildlings, which sounds like a truly terrible idea — like something Daenerys would do. He is keeping Ghost penned up while Borroq the wildling is around — even worse idea. Melisandre: "Borroq is the least of your concerns." No shit, lady.
Ghost is acting up. So is Mormoent's raven. Open your eyes, Jon Snow!
Then. The letter arrives. Holy shite. It's from the Ramsey Bolton, and reading it is like getting punched repeatedly in the kidneys.
Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.
Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.
I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
Ramsay Bolton, Trueborn Lord of Winterfell.
As Tormund says: “Har. That’s buggered, and no mistake."
Jon seems to lose his senses after receiving the letter, even though much of it is clearly bullshit. He tells his men that he will journey south to meet Bolton. Why exactly? You had a much better offer from Stannis to become Lord of Winterfell.
Jon leaves the hall to find Wun Wun tearing one of the queen's men limb from limb ... And. Then.
He gets murdered by Bowen Marsh and a group of co- conspirators.
File this under the execution of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding as the biggest shockers in ASOIAF. And when will the Starks learn to KEEP THEIR WOLVES CLOSE BY? You know nothing, Jon Snow.
But is he really, really dead? Several theories point to no.
1. Melisandre, like Thoros, can bring people back from the dead. Maybe using the wight bodies that have been stored in the ice caves, whose purpose was never really explained.
2. As Valymir did in the prologue, Jon may have warged into Ghost's body at his death. The final sentence: "He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold" may mean that he's already in Ghost's body. And maybe he can eventually jump out again? (In Melisandre's POV chapter, she sees "first a man then a wolf then a man again.")
3. Is this an Azor Ahai moment? We have the prophesied bleeding star in Ser Patrek's heraldry as it goes flying by. * The prophecy also states the Prince shall be born again amidst smoke ("in the cold night air the wound was smoking") and salt ("Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks"), and will occur after a long summer when an evil, cold darkness descends upon the world (check). Also, Mel: "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R'hllor shows me only Snow."
4. When and if Jon is reincarnated, he may be free to leave the Night's Watch. The vows clearly state: "Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death." However! It also states: "I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."
Whew! Quite a cliff-hanger. And we're not even done yet.
*This is an elaborate inside joke by GRRM. Pat of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist won a bet with the author when the Cowboys beat the Giants last season, and so GRRM made him a character in the novel. How did Ser Patrek die? He was ripped apart by a giant. Oh, and his five-pointed silver star heraldry happens to match that of the Dallas Cowboys.
THE QUEEN'S HAND
Hello Barristan Selmy, Hand of the Queen. And Belwas is back. Hi, Strong Belwas! The dragons are finally on the loose, and Barristan is finally ready for war. Nothing else much happens and I'm rushing through this because I'm thoroughly sick of the go-nowhere Meereen plotline and I want to get to...
It feels like hundreds of pages since our feckless queen mounted Drogon and flew off into the sunset. She's having a rough time of it, living off Drogon's scraps on a hilltop in the middle of the Dothraki sea. Robinson Crusoe–style, she tries to make a hat.
Her hats all fell to pieces in her hands. Try again, she told herself. You will do better the next time. You are the blood of the dragon, you can make a hat.
Dammit, Dany, you're the blood of the dragon, not a bloody milliner!
Drogon has her on the pay-no-mind list and doesn't seem amenable to giving her a ride anywhere. So she decides to walk. And walk. And have prophetic dreams. And eat poison berries. And drink nasty water. When she wakes up, "her thighs were slick with blood."
Did she miscarry? Was she even capable of getting pregnant? Let's go to the tape. Mirri Maz Duur: "When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east [Quentyn Martell?]. When the seas go dry [Dothraki grass?] and mountains blow in the wind like leaves [Something something Robert Strong?]. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before."
And boom, there's Drogon. Dany sees a Dothraki scout, mounts Drogon, and they fly to meet the khalasar of Khal Jhaqo — the former Drogo blood rider whom Dany once vowed to kill because he raped the girl Eroeh way back it the first book. (In the TV version of Game of Thrones, he got disemboweled by Drogo.)
And so we come to the end:
As the western sky turned the color of a blood bruise, she heard the sound of approaching horses. Dany rose, wiped her hands on her ragged undertunic, and went to stand beside her dragon. That was how Khal Jhaqo found her, when half a hundred mounted warriors emerged from the drifting smoke.
Ser Kevan Lannister is ruling the realm rather well as Lord Regent ... which is why Varys has to kill him. After dinner with Cersei and Tommen (who keeps talking about a "bad cat" that sounds suspicously like warg-bait), Kevan is called to Pycelle's chambers. When he arrives he sees a white raven sent from the Citadel. Winter has finally arrived. And so has a crossbow bolt in his ribs.
Varys gives him a "what I'm really up to" speech worthy of a Bond villain. He is working to put Aegon on the throne: "Aegon knows that kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them.”
And, we're done! What did everyone think? A triumph? A letdown? (I think a little of both.) How are you going to pass the time until The Winds of Winter arrive?