ice and fire

The Vulture Book Recap: Let’s Read A Dance With Dragons Together, Part Five

Photo: HBO
Photo: HBO

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 33 to 39, pages 420 to 513.


Aw, Ramsay Bolton’s hounds, named for the girls whom he hunts down, rapes, and flays, are fond of Reek. (“The ones who give him good sport, anywise. The ones who weep and beg and won’t run don’t get to come back as bitches.”) Aren’t dogs just the best? A tender moment of dog-Reek bonding is ruined when Ramsay tosses him a rotted head, raining maggots.

We get a little more info about Big and Little Walder: “Little Walder had become Lord Ramsay’s best boy and grew more like him every day, but the smaller Frey was made of different stuff and seldom took part in his cousin’s games and cruelties.”

Ramsay and Freys have been hunting for the Frey cousins who were in White Harbor. Big Walder says he assumes that Lord “Fat, Magnificant Bastard” Manderly had them killed. Enter Roose Bolton, who is a cold-eyed killing machine, much in contrast to his hot-blooded psycho of a bastard.

“Barrow Hall and its kitchens are not mine to dispose of,” his father said mildly. “I am only a guest there. The castle and the town belong to Lady Dustin, and she cannot abide you.”

Ramsay’s face darkened. “If I cut off her teats and feed them to my girls, will she abide me then? Will she abide me if I strip off her skin to make myself a pair of boots?”

“Human skin is not as tough as cowhide and will not wear as well.”

The man just gives me the chills, and Ramsay, too, from the sound of it: “Get the keys and remove those chains from him, before you make me rue the day I raped your mother.” Thus follows a harrowing tale of (1) seeing a comely miller’s wife (2) hanging the miller (3) “claiming his rights beneath the tree where he was swaying.” Bolton Sr. Is. A. Monster. And he’s got a plan for Theon. Uh-oh.


“Hugor Hill” is en route to Meereen with Moqorro, who is supposed to be Daenerys’s Rhllor tutor, onboard the Selaesori Qhoran, which translates to “The Stinky Steward” or — dare I say — the PERFUMED SENESCHAL? Dun dun dun.

Tyrion passes the time by pricking his fingers, looking for signs of grayscale, which is what people used to do for fun before the advent of reality TV and HBO. However, he does have some reading material: “a tome about the erotic adventures of a young slave girl in a Lysene pillow house,” which some intrepid fan-fiction writer is probably finishing right about … now. There is also some uninspired back-and-forth with Penny the grieving dwarf.

Off the shore of Valyria, we get a nice passage about the Doom:

It was written that on the day of Doom every hill for five hundred miles had split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire, blazes so hot and hungry that even the dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents had opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples, entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned to acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, red clouds rained down dragonglass and the black blood of demons, and to the north the ground splintered and collapsed and fell in on itself and an angry sea came rushing in. The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, its fabled empire vanished in a day, the Lands of the Long Summer scorched and drowned and blighted.

And others are heading toward Meereen, too, especially a “tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood” that sounds a lot like Euron Greyjoy.


Wow: a lot to unpack here. Quite an amazing chapter.

Bran is getting the underground Jedi greenseer training from the three-eyed crow, who we now know is Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers, a Targaryen bastard who figured prominently in some of the “Dunk and Egg” stories.

Being a greenseer involves warging into the weirwood trees that still cover much of Westeros. The passage of time is no object. Through the weirwood at Winterfell Bran first sees his father, who has just killed someone and is cleaning his sword — perhaps at the very beginning of AGoT. And then, going progressively further back in time:

A young Eddard Stark says, “let them grow up close as brothers”: As being the key word, and strengthening the “Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon’s parents” camp immeasurably.

Two children play fighting: Lyanna and Benjen StarK?

A woman heavy with child emerged naked and dripping from the black pool, knelt before the tree, and begged the old gods for a son who would avenge her: identity unknown.

“A brown-haired girl slender as a spear who stood on the tips of her toes to kiss the lips of a young knight as tall as Hodor”: Ser Duncan the Tall, from the Dunk and Egg stories, who we know is heading to Winterefell for the next novella?

A dark-eyed youth, pale and fierce, sliced three branches off the weirwood and shaped them into arrows: identity unknown.

A bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand: probably one of the First Men from Westeros’s bronze age.


The men of the Knight’s Watch are riding out so some rookies can take their vows among the weirwood trees. This is apparently a much longer journey than I remember, and I was waiting the whole time for something awful to happen.

In the grove, they find a group of wildlings, including a giant, whom they bring back to the Wall — along with two corpses, presumably because that’s two fewer wights they’ll have to fight once the Others attack?

And … that’s about it. Is it my imagination, or does Jon have even less to do in this book than …


Khaleesi is playing Mother Teresa with the plague-stricken Astapori outside the walls of Meereen. It’s kind-hearted, but it’s not like all of her closest advisers, who accompany her, have biohazard suits to protect them from a disease that has “Gaunt men with sunken eyes squatted amidst sand and stones, shitting out their lives in stinking streams of brown and red.”

Speaking of shit, we get some entertaining shit-talk between Irri and Jhiqui, who both have the hots for Dany’s bloodrider, Rakharo.

“You are too skinny for him,” Jhiqui was saying. “You are almost a boy. Rakharo does not bed with boys. This is known.” Irri bristled back. “It is known that you are almost a cow. Rakharo does not bed with cows.”

Dany is in deep with wedding preparations, and thank goodness, because if there’s anything more interesting that viral epidemiology or the challenges of municipal government, it’s wedding planning. (I did get a chuckle when she shut down a request to have her “womb and female parts” examined to make sure they are “well formed.” Just trust her on this, people.)

And then she bangs Daario. Yawn.


(a.k.a. Theon a.k.a. Reek)

I’m going to take a wild guess and propose that George R.R. Martin has some really conflicted feelings about the institution of marriage. His fictional weddings are consistently scenes of carnage and horror, and the nuptials of Ramsay Bolton and Jeyne “Arya Stark” Pool is no exception, and includes the most traumatic deflowering ever.

Say what you will about Ramsay Bolton, but the combo of him and Reek is producing the most vivid and riveting chapters of this book.

The wedding takes place in the weirwood of Winterfell. Theon: “It had been a lifetime since any god had heard him. He did not know who he was, or what he was, why he was still alive, why he had ever been born.” Is Bran watching? The ceremony is devoid of filler: Will you take this man? Put this cloak on, and Bob’s yer uncle. The weirwood whispers: “Theon.” Guess that’s a yes on Bran.

Roose Bolton, always the pragmatic monster, has hired the Winterfell squatters to fix up the joint, then hangs them. “True to his word, he showed them mercy and did not flay a one.”

Abel the bard and his six washerwomen (Hmmm … ) play a merry tune.

And then comes the moment that is probably the best in the whole book, so I’ll quote it in full, emphasis added:

The Lord of White Harbor had furnished the food and drink, black stout and yellow beer and wines red and gold and purple, brought up from the warm south on fat-bottomed ships and aged in his deep cellars. The wedding guests gorged on cod cakes and winter squash, hills of neeps and great round wheels of cheese, on smoking slabs of mutton and beef ribs charred almost black, and lastly on three great wedding pies, as wide across as wagon wheels, their flaky crusts stuffed to bursting with carrots,onions, turnips, parsnips, mushrooms, and chunks of seasoned pork swimming in a savory brown gravy. Ramsay hacked off slices with his falchion and Wyman Manderly himself served, presenting the first steaming portions to Roose Bolton and his fat Frey wife, the next to Ser Hosteen and Ser Aenys, the sons of Walder Frey. “The best pie you have ever tasted, my lords,” the fat lord declared. “Wash it down with Arbor gold and savor every bite. I know I shall.”

I wonder what happened to those three missing Flays? MANDERLY FOR THE WIN.

As an additional tip-off, he asks the bard to play the song “The Rat Cook.”

On the board, commenter Bastard of Varys gives us the House Manderly motto that has so cruelly been denied to us thus far: “Do you want Freys with that?”

But then, eek, the bedding. Ramsay wants Reek (whom he already gelded!) to stay and … assist.

Ramsay rose, the firelight shining on his face. “Reek, get over here. Get her ready for me.”

For a moment he did not understand. “I … do you mean … m’lord, I have no … I … ”

“With your mouth,” Lord Ramsay said. “And be quick about it. If she’s not wet by the time I’m
done disrobing, I will cut off that tongue of yours and nail it to the wall.”

Somewhere in the godswood, a raven screamed. The dagger was still in his hand.

George, you brilliant, perverse, sonofabitch!


Back in Dorne, which wasn’t my favorite AFFC subplot, but we’ll see how it goes.

Ser Balon of the Kingsguard has come to deliver the head of Gregor Clegane and take over as Princess Myrcella’s chaperone, after Ser Arys failed so miserably. Prince Doran shows some signs of being a Lord Manderly–like cipher, seemingly weak but in fact just prudent. He dispatches one of Oberyn’s daughters, Nymeria, back to King’s Landing.

Yep, still pretty boring. Some potential though.

The Vulture Book Recap: Let’s Read A Dance With Dragons Together, Part Five