Let’s Read: A Song of Ice and Fire:
A Dance with Dragons
part six! ~500-~600 

So it’s about here that I’ve lost track of where the timeline runs compared to Feast. Are there a number of near-misses that I’d be more aware of if I were reading them concurrently? I’m not sure. What I am finding most interesting is that we recently had two deaths revealed as fakeouts. It puts me in a suspicious mood, I suppose.

Jon: It looks like he might be leading a ranging. At least they’re arming themselves with dragonglass. It’s the smart thing to do. Oh, not a ranging. Just new recruits to say their vows in the grove. Still, wise to be wary. The Weeping Man and others are still out there. 

There are six recruits taking their vows respective of the old gods, including two wildlings. Not bad work, Jon Snow. And good on Jon not letting this Harlot’s Tower business have even the pretense of his silent approval. He lays out some plans, including reopening an entire castle for the women, with Iron Emmett and Dolorous Edd as the men in charge.

The Thenns remain an issue. Ghost returns, and Tom Barleycorn reports nine wildlings in the grove, including a giant. Well, a complication was bound to spring up. As they reach the grove, I wonder if Bran is watching.

Leathers speaks the Old Tongue, and that’s pretty handy, as he talks down the giant. No need for a fight after all – they all share the same gods, and that’s a kind of brotherhood as much as the black cloaks. After the vows are said, Jon leads them all, including the giant and the corpses, back to the Wall. Having a giant friendly can’t be a bad thing. And Jon has a use in mind for the corpses.

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Leathers is made the giant’s keeper. He seems not to be thrilled. There’s also a letter with Stannis’ seal. Ah. Alysane Mormont led some troops and helped clinch the victory at Deepwood Motte. Stannis plans to move on Winterfell. Jon thinks he’ll be too slow for it to be a good idea. In general, doubt seems to reign in Jon Snow’s heart. I guess if you know nothing, you’d be suspicious of thinking you know something.

Daenerys: Visiting the sick. A great show she puts on, at least. It hides her weaknesses as a leader to do this, and even if it’s entirely genuine she has to know the actual value of the action. Keeping the sick fed and alive has thus far proven practically impossible.

Moved by the starvation around her, Dany wants to give the sick half of her food and have the Unsullied deliver it. Meereen will fall, I expect, because Dany thinks too much of compassion. She wades in personally to bathe the sick and burn the dead.

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Missandei says she heard the Astapori scratching at the walls of the city. I’m inclined to trust her that something was happening, even though Dany assures her the city walls are too far away for that to be true. Dany proves completely uninterested in several of the Meereenese wedding traditions.

Well, Hizdahr will get his fighting pits re-opened after the ceremony. Compromise! He declares to her that the rituals are empty. Interesting. He also says Yunkai will not invade if she marries him and that they will raise Astapor again as a slave city without her interference.

Daario brings some news – a plan to cut Dany off from the Dothraki sea, more sellswords (possibly Quentyn among them) defecting to her cause. The Second Sons have gone over to the Yunkai’i. Brown Benn Plum is in Dany’s thoughts for a moment as a candidate for her golden betrayal.

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Oh Boy. Dany gets Daario alone for some fun. Guess she’s not so over him.

The Prince of Winterfell: Well, I guess Theon gets a reprieve from his chapters being labelled “Reek.” And he’s talking to Jeyne. She’s frightened. Rightly so. Theon reassures her with lies. It’s almost wedding time. Wonder how this will all go down.

Theon has caught on well to why he’s there and announced by name – he’s the key to maintaining the lie. So none will doubt Jeyne is Arya. Roose has said he will put Theon on his father’s throne if he does well here. Theon doesn’t believe him. We shouldn’t either, with any Bolton. He figures his best chance is if Stannis shows up and kills him.

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The wedding is going, and everything feels off to Theon. The ruin of Winterfell feels so different from his memories. I wonder if some part of him that he can’t confront regrets betraying Robb.

Scared completely out of her mind, Jeyne plays aong with the fiction, and I fear the worst is yet to come for her. Theon hears his name after everyone has left the grove. I do half wonder if Bran is going to figure out how to speak through trees – we’ve been told it’s impossible, but Bran being some kind of prodigy greenseer is entirely possible.

Theon spends more time noting the destruction, especially that the only colors left seem to be the Stark colors. He’s unsure of what that portends, but I’m pretty sure it means this is still Stark ground and it will return to the Starks with a bloody vengeance.

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He continues pondering Winterfell and how his actions led to this. It’s about as close to guilt as we’re seeing, I think. How Ned knew he couldn’t be warm to Theon because he might have to kill him. How Ramsay’s betrayal had been so brutal – even Theon’s horse was burned alive.

The new construction and false presentation of the Stark arms do quite a number on Theon. He can’t help but be continually reminded of his actions, that this is his fault, that Jeyne suffers because of what he did. We get a toast from Roose, and I wonder what precise form Manderly’s plan will take and when we will see it come to fruition. Presenting Rickon here is unlikely, as he’s still probably on Skagos. Not poison – we’ve already had a wedding with poison, and his appetite seems to preclude the option, unless he’s willing to die in the pursuit of his revenge too. Theon and Jeyne aren’t eating at all, and Roose only eats what he sees Manderly eat. It’s almost hinting too hard at a fakeout poisoning, but it’s just not happening.

Lady Barbrey has a special distaste for maesters. She finds them parasitic. Interesting. She’s got some fascinating notions about how they operate as spies to bring down great houses, especially those who were enemies of their houses at birth. I’m intrigued, but she doesn’t finish the line of thought, and I’m left disappointed.

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Ramsay wants Reek to bring his wife to bed. He then orders Theon to cut the dress off Jeyne, and Theon knows it’s a trap if he tries anything else. Theon is given the job of readying Jeyne for the consummation, and I can’t believe I typed that sentence. All I want in this series is an appropriately awful death for Ramsay Bolton.

The Watcher: Areo Hotah. I must say he’s a surprise here. Balon Swann has brought a chest with a skull in it. Gregor Clegane’s, most like. Probably is, though I’m still suspicious – Qyburn’s special project might not need a skull, though, I guess. The Sand Snakes are all there to see, and it seems we can definitely fit this timeline wise after the Arianne chapter from near the end of Feast, too, which would suggest she already knows about Quentyn’s mission here. It also means that we’re rapidly catching up with Feast. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Doran will be so surprised when he finds out Aegon is alive. There are drinks to celebrate the debt paid, and Hotah takes notice of those who don’t partake. And Balon Swann seems particularly wary.

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Prince Doran seems to be prodding Swann with these questions. He’s been asked to bring Myrcella to King’s Landing for a “short visit” and he seems to be sweating for no good reason. Very suspicious.

Doran tells Swann a bit of the history of the water gardens, and it seems no coincidence to me that a Daenerys brought Dorne into the Seven Kingdoms and made the gardens in the first place. It’s pretty much a declaration of allegiance.

There’s some private discussion of the skull in Doran’s solar with his daughter and nieces. He’s not yet revealing plans to the Sand Snakes. They’re too rash, and though they seem to understand his methods they don’t have the full picture and lack patience for it. Also Myrcella is missing an ear.

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Prince Doran tries to impress upon them some lessons, including that it takes the work of people both like him and like Oberyn to really move the world. The Sand Snakes swear, grudgingly, to follow him. I think he’s getting ready to clue them in a bit to the bigger picture. First up, Swann’s errand is a trap designed to kill Trystane and get Myrcella back to King’s Landing while blaming Tyrion so Dorne has to stay quiet and compliant.

Obara is to take Swann to avenge Myrcella against the man who took her ear, Darkstar (good lie there, Doran). Nymeria is to take Myrcella back to King’s Landing personally and sit on the Small Council in Doran’s stead. Tyene is to infiltrate the Swords and Stars. He’s still holding back his biggest card, though. Only he, Quentyn, and Arianne know that.

He’s definitely going to be surprised when Aegon disembarks. He’s expecting Dany. What fun this will be.

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Jon: Val is going into the forest. She should be safe from wildling attack, at least. Off in search of Tormund. It’d be nice to see him again. Val briefly talks about Gilly’s son, and there’s some affection there. She also remarks that Melisandre knows who he is – she sees things. Of course, given what we know of her seeing Arya in her fires, it seems what Jon has done can easily fool her.

Sending Val out is remarked upon as something sure to cast suspicion on Jon. He seems minimally concerned. I’d be more concerned. Don’t want a knife in the back, and that happens often enough that it should be anticipated rather than ignored. Septon Cellador and a couple others visit Jon’s quarters with regard to this and other matters.

Construction is continuing at the Nightfort, though more workers are desired. Jon offers Wun Wun the giant. That offer is turned down, and Jon’s glad. He’s been talking to Wun Wun and learning about giant history and society. That’s smart. The wise lord listens more than he speaks.

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And Jon is hoping that Wun Wun might be able to speak to the giants he suspects are with Tormund. Maybe come to terms. Jon’s getting a feel for this job, at least.

Leathers will be the new master of arms. Some of the men don’t trust that, but Jon isn’t asking who. That could bite him. There’s also unrest about Jon choosing Satin as his squire. Usually the squires are from noble families who were raised for command. Seems not entirely in keeping with the whole “your only family is the Watch” thing to get upset over, but that’s just me.

The corpses. Jon is hoping they rise. He’s keeping them under guard, and this is something very troublesome. Yeah, it’s the kind of thing that might get Jon ganked. He plans to study the wights, to better understand and fight them. Knowledge is power, but it’s also feared. And the visitors don’t like hearing that reason.

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Jon’s offer to Tormund is the same as he made at Mole’s Town, and it’s an offer that has left him very unpopular with certain men of the Watch. Mostly because they prefer to see the wildlings as subhuman, to cast them all as murderers and rapists. Easier to pretend none of the other men of the Watch aren’t murderers and rapists themselves, I guess.

We learn about Hardhome, and that’s another reason to reach out to Tormund. If the wildlings go there and do not get on a ship from there, they will die. Hundreds of them. Thousands. And the dead don’t stay dead so easily anymore.

Tyrion: He’s riding the pig. You should see the grin on my face. Google Finn Bálor grin and you can get a rough approximation from the first several image results. He doesn’t know how he got talked into it, but he’s doing it. There’s a moment where he feels like Jaime, and another where he feels the jeering of his father and nephew in hell. The moment of feeling like Jaime, a proper knight all gallant and such, is ruined by reality. He’s a dwarf on a pig. And knighthood is not intrinsically admirable, for that matter. It’s as much a performance as what Tyrion is doing now.

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Ah, well, it seems he does know why he’s doing it. It’s for Penny’s sake as much as anything. Tyrion should talk to professional wrestlers – they could help train him to bump properly. In any case, there’s some laughter, but no money, though Penny remains confident they’ll get better and make money in Dany’s court. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this is an important humbling of Tyrion. It probably is, but it’ll take extra time for the lessons to become truly apparent.

Yeah, any humbling is not immediate, as Tyrion calls out Jorah on his plan and catches a hard hit to the head because he keeps pushing past the point of wisdom. Penny finds him, and it’s endearing how she tries to caution him about how to behave around big people. It’s her survival strategy, and it brings me back to a theme I noticed early on in this series: how our characters navigate difference. Many, many of our viewpoints are other in some respect to their society. Tyrion is a dwarf, Arya doesn’t conform to expected gender roles, Bran’s legs, Jon’s parentage, Jaime’s hand and his known status as kinslayer and his incestuous affair, Dany being a foreigner in foreign lands and an exile queen – to name a few. How these characters navigate their difference is a huge part of how this story works. When I eventually do character assessments and analyses, this will be a key element of that work.

The ship finally gets back in motion, and not long after there’s another storm. It’s different from the last, and Tyrion remarks that this must be what was meant when it was said the ship would never reach its destination.

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Tyrion and Penny retreat belowdecks, where the animals are frightened. They tend to that, and Tyrion suggests a game to pass the time, though he has trouble finding an appropriate game. Penny kisses him by way of introducing one. She’s scared of dying. Tyrion lets her down fairly easy, pointing out his marriage. She believes him when he says he must stay true to Sansa. It’s probably for the best.

The storm rages, and during as much of a lull as it provides, Tyrion takes a look up on deck. The sail flies off, taking two men with it, the mast bursts, and things are not looking great. In the end, nine men were lost, including Moqorro. In the following days, the captain dies, then the cook, and several men abandon the wreckage. Nineteen days adrift. And then there’s a sail. Joy at first, turned sour when Jorah notes that it’s a slaver. Well, that’s one way to get in range of Meereen.

The Turncloak: Back to Theon. Snow is falling, and Roose Bolton declares it the old gods turning wroth on Stannis. He’s a bit too secure in his position. He’d do well to remember. That’s what the North does. And we just had a wedding, with many Freys present, which should jog some memories. 

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I’ll note that Theon seems to be thinking of himself as Theon again. He’s also thinking of escape, but lacking suitable destinations and wary of traps, he sees the site of his crimes as perhaps the proper place for him. He may have passed through the reeking glass here.

It’s a sad thing, Jeyne’s life as Arya. Theon’s words about Ramsay are textbook abuse victim. And he knows, and seems resigned to, what will happen when Ramsay tires of Jeyne. He’ll turn back to Reek, and that hell will return. At least for now, Theon gets to be clean.

One of the singer’s washerwomen comes up to Theon and asks him for a dance, a smile. Things Theon once could enjoy but now can’t after Ramsay’s ministrations. She asks him how he took Winterfell, so it can be immortalized in song. Theon fears what that could lead to. He leaves to avoid more, fearing a trap.

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He wanders the tower, and it’s a sorry sight when we have seen what it looked like before. Theon pauses at his old room, presently snowed in. He continues, reflecting on tactics and Stannis. A siege won’t work, and trying to storm the castle will fail. Theon is named Turncloak in the title of this chapter. I doubt it’s purely for his previous actions at Winterfell either. I expect he’ll turn his cloak once more before he leaves the castle.

He finds himself in the godswood, not knowing what to pray. He hears sobbing. Jeyne’s, the figures. I imagine Bran watching and sobbing as well, outside of time. Lady Dustin summons him after he returns to the hall, and her first comment is about wardrobe. Theon is wearing what he was given. She wants Theon to take her down to the crypts. I wonder still about her grudge against the Starks and if she may be sharpening a knife for Roose anyway.

In the crypts she remarks that the bride weeps, and Theon had best tell Ramsay that Roose is not pleased. It threatens his power that she weeps, as the other northmen (the present lady excluded, of course) are still Stark loyal and only Bolton-fearing. She asks him where Ned’s crypt is, and he begins leading her there. One king’s sword is missing – if I’m recalling right, that’s the one Hodor took. It makes Theon uneasy nevertheless.

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Theon asks why she hates the Starks. She rejoins by asking why he loves the Starks. She alludes to it, coming very close to saying it exactly, that their answers are the same – because they wanted to be Starks, but were never allowed to. When they reach the last crypts, she opens up. Brandon Stark was her first, but the arrangement to marry Catelyn took him off the table. She could have had Ned, but Catelyn got him when Brandon was killed. And then, when she had married, Ned got her husband killed in the rebellion. These are honest and human reasons to hate.

It seems the purpose of her visit was to check that Ned’s bones have not made it into the crypt with her unaware. Ned left her husband’s bones in Dorne, and so she has no plans to let him rest with Lyanna – if his bones ever make it north of Moat Cailin, she will get them and feed them to her dogs. Grim lady.

Things of importance:
* Jon brought back some wildlings, including a giant, and two wildlings have joined the Night’s Watch.
* Hizdahr is making a number of big promises.
* Dany and Daario are officially doing stuff.
* Ramsay has married “Arya Stark.”
* The Sand Snakes are being put into position.
* Tyrion, Penny, and Jorah are about to be rescued into slavery.

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Predictions pulled out of my ass:
* Meereen will fall and Dany will be put in a very difficult position – I see either the slave cities all rising against her with Hizdahr’s help, or Dothraki, or something else happening.
* When Ramsay dies, it will probably be something extremely underwhelming like a stabbing. I’m pretty sure what I would like to see happen instead would put me on a watchlist if I were to actually type it out.
* Aegon’s probably going down before he really has a chance, before the end of the book if we see him again during this book.
* Lady Barbrey will get her revenge on Ned’s bones eventually. It will bring her no joy, but it may bring some measure of closure to her.
* Her comments to Theon about wanting to be a Stark, but never being able, however, are going to awaken something within Theon. I believe he’s slightly ascendant again.

Dany’s Threes:
Three heads: Three identities, perhaps Mother of dragons and child of storms are obvious – the third, though… I’ll have to go look things over again, but perhaps Azor Ahai is a possibility. Open to multiple possibilities. Other possibility: her, Jon Snow, and Aegon as the new Targaryen rulers of Westeros.
She thinks: Herself and two others to ride her dragons.
Three fires: life, death, love. There’s the obvious fire of Drogo’s funeral – the fire of life. The other two will come. No predictions as yet.
Three mounts: To bed, to dread, to love. Drogo was to love. Irri seems a good enough bedmate.
Three treasons: For blood, for gold, for love. All three seem to have been in motion or completed before the prophecy. Jorah seems to have betrayed her for love, love of home. For blood, I’m on board with Mirri Maz Duur now. I’m calling Illyrio Mopatis the treason for gold.
She thinks: Mirri Maz Duur for blood. Jorah for love.

Azor Ahai: “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone. 

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I’m going to have to go with Dany now, based on Aemon’s dreams. But with Benerro explicitly calling her Azor Ahai, I’m keeping my eye on other possibilities.

Quaithe’s Warning: “Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.” 

Well, the pale mare came. Kraken is Euron, Lion is Tyrion, Sun’s son must be Quentyn, as others have noted the symbol. Dark flame might be Benerro and them. Griffin must be Connington, but mummer’s dragon is uncertain. Unless that’s Aegon. But he’s heading the wrong way.