Let’s Read: A Song of Ice and Fire:
A Dance with Dragons
part five! ~400-~500

It’s becoming more apparent to me that where Feast was about Westeros as a festering corpse, Dance is in many ways about movement without immediate or material consequence. There was certainly movement in Feast, but where it occurred was at the periphery and when it occurred it was thoroughly dangerous and undertaken with extreme caution. In Dance we’re seeing more movement, and it is also dangerous, but the dangers seem different. Where in Feast it was dangerous to move about too openly because you risked drawing the attention of another crow picking at the ruins of the war, here the danger seems to be both bigger and less obvious. We’re looking at the movements set in motion by dragons, poised to strike, but slow to do so.

Jon: So Jon is sending Thorne ranging. A good and prudent move, I think. Jon wonders about his uncle. I’m still convinced Benjen Stark became Coldhands.

Being short on men is no good for Jon. He’s still stretched dangerously thin and having to send wildlings to keep numbers up. Restless, he goes to test the best trainees three on one. He succeeds handily. Then Rattleshirt shows up to mock him and challenge him. Jon accepts, and he’s beaten pretty handily. That’s embarrassing. Before he can think on it much, a letter arrives.

The letter is from Ramsay Bolton, and it’s a wedding invitation. If Jon were to go, he’d certainly spot the fake Arya easily enough. But he’s not going to go and gives no answer. On the one hand, it means Jeyne won’t be exposed and killed in a fit of rage if Jon’s face gives anything away. On the other, it means Jeyne is truly in Theon’s hands to save right now. Not a good predicament either way. Even so, now Jon can’t help but think of Arya.

He takes a walk, and when he touches Ghost he senses through the wolf. No big surprise there. What is a surprise is he finds Melisandre, though he first thinks he sees Ygritte. Melisandre says Arya is not yet lost to him.

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She’s seen Arya in the fires, apparently. Fleeing the wedding. Well, if that doesn’t prove the visions are to some degree faulty, I’m not sure what does. Because Arya won’t be at that wedding. That’s Jeyne Poole, which means the real Arya is operating outside the scope of Melisandre’s visions. Presumably Bran and Rickon as well. Starting to think they might be the key to taking her and Stannis down.

As she says this, she calls Ghost to her and Ghost obeys. And does not return to Jon when called. Danger, Jon Snow. Danger. Do not trust. I do not like this. Neither does Jon. She suggests that she can help him maintain power if he sleeps with her. Again, danger. I expect Jon will eventually give in. His worry for Arya will get the better of him.

Davos: Hey! He’s not dead yet. Good news for onions. He’s also back in a cell. Seems like he spends a lot of time in those. He’s awaiting the order for his execution. But he’s being kept fairly comfortable, and the dungeon is almost cozy. I wonder if he’ll actually be executed after all. This does not seem like Westerosi habit at all.

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We get some history about the Wolf’s Den and its people. Ser Bartimus keeps the old gods and seems a good man. He also seems to resent southrons and their gods a bit.

Surprise arrives in the form of Robert Glover. Unexpected. Seems Stannis took Deepwood Motte back from Asha, and we get more on the Bolton-not-Stark wedding. I guess everyone’s going to go to this wedding. And we all know how big weddings go down in this series.

Ah. So Davos is supposed to be dead. They even killed a criminal and did up the head and hands to cover it up. Best this business remains secret, then. All a show for the Freys and others loyal to Tommen. Wyman Manderly has his own agenda here, specifically mentioning his loyalty to the Starks. Oh, when the real Arya, Sansa, Rickon, and Bran reveal themselves things are about to get very interesting indeed.

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There’s a boy. Does he have Rickon? Manderly seems to be planning his own wedding vengeance in repayment for the Red Wedding. Good. The north remembers, he says. Boy does it. The boy shows up. He doesn’t look like a Stark. Ah, a mute ironborn boy named Wex. But he knows Theon didn’t kill Bran and Rickon – he saw them. He also knows all about what really happened at Winterfell and Ramsay’s cruelties. I’m looking forward to seeing who kills Ramsay and how. He should probably reek a bit first, though.

Anyway, Manderly needs Davos to go find one of the Stark boys. Based on Wex’s story, Rickon, Shaggydog, and Osha. This could go well or poorly. Just ask Brienne. If he finds Rickon, White Harbor will declare for Stannis. We’ll see what comes after that. It seems they have a lead on Rickon’s location. It requires a boat. And seems terrifying. And there’s a hint of cannibalism there. Looking at a map, I’m betting they’re on Skagos.

Daenerys: So all activity in Slaver’s Bay has pretty much stopped due to a blockade. Dany’s admiral seems to make some fair points, although he doesn’t know that the dragons just aren’t an option right now. She really screwed up the naval game. Anyway, she shows a small degree of the kind of paranoia her father suffered from: a sudden worry that the admiral might be one of her betrayals. Could be. Or it could be that Dany is prone to paranoia.

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We are twenty-six days without a death in Meereen. Seems Hizdahr is doing what he promised, at least. Skahaz thinks the success is because he’s pulling the strings of the Sons of the Harpy, perhaps is the Harpy himself. I mean, the circumstantial evidence does suggest that as a possibility. Dany, though, doesn’t believe there is a Harpy, and thinks he must just be an uncommonly skilled negotiator or something. I don’t know. She’s really bad at this rulership thing.

Skahaz has a list of Meereenese ships participating in the blockade, and all are owned by the powerful masters in Meereen, including one from the Loraq family. At the very least, his success probably is related to his family connections to the masters. I doubt it’s simple persuasiveness, anyway.

We get news of a rider, dead now, come from Astapor. According to Grey Worm, the rider cried out that Astapor is burning. The rider had an arrow in the thigh, but seems also to have been ill, and rode a horse that wasn’t in the best shape either. Now Dany’s worried about Quaithe’s warning – if this is the pale mare, then more are coming (and indeed are – Tyrion’s not too far from getting there, and Quentyn won’t be far either).

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Dany gives the order to call the mercenary companies back to the city. We also meet three Astapori refugees, the first of many who are still walking. They give some details about the city’s fall. Basically everything was horrible and they kept hoping Dany would come to their aid. Spoiler for the past: she didn’t lift a finger.

Among the three, the weaver seems to be the sole one not to trust Dany. For the weaver, Dany seems to be just a platitude. She’s all talk, no substance. It’s Dany’s apparently unlimited compassion (but utter inability to figure out what to do for freedmen) for the enslaved which seems to be making a mess of all this. She feels terribly for the slaves, so she frees them. But then she doesn’t see the job through once they’re free. The freedom Dany brings winds up being nominal, short-lived, and perilous. At best.

Ah. So Dany seems to be learning a lesson from what happened to Eroeh, at least. Sometimes (as in almost all the time), Dany acts without enough understanding of the situation before her to make her actions lead to a better outcome than the situation started in. When she stopped the rape, it was a temporary relief that became many times worse in due time. Because Dany didn’t know enough to offer anything other than a metaphorical bandaid, because she misjudged the nature and extent of the issue.

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So it looks like Dany’s plan is to stand firm on holding Meereen. The dragons are not an option at the moment and that really isn’t a good thing for her. So the plan seems to be camping the Astapori outside the walls until the flux runs its course (or until they die in the early part of the fighting, I wager), try to buy off some of the opposing mercenary captains, and defend the city. What could possibly go wrong?

With enemies within and without, Dany seems to see only one way to try and ensure peace within the city long enough to force it through battle outside. She’s summoning Hizdahr. I hear wedding bells.

Melisandre: Well. I cannot say I expected this point of view at all. We’re in for a lot of new information, I suspect.

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Right away we learn that she is afraid of the dark and that many priests and priestesses have had false visions or read into the visions what they wanted to, rather than what they showed. Someone’s having false visions between Melisandre and Benerro, and given the fact that Melisandre has seen “Arya” fleeing the wedding with Ramsay Bolton, I suspect it’s her. Of note, what she sees in the flames looks like dragons to me, but what she wants is more information on “Arya.”

Then she sees Bran. Definitely Bran. At first she thinks it’s Stannis, then she wonders if it’s the face of the enemy. You know, The Enemy. Maybe your enemy, Melisandre. She prays to see Azor Ahai and what she gets is Jon Snow’s face and no sign of Stannis. Well, he goes on the candidate list now. Talk about reading into the vision what you want and ignoring the signs, Melisandre.

So she does have a heart after all. That’s good of her to protect one of Davos’s sons like that.

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Melisandre does not really sleep. She fears dreams. She’s probably severely sleep deprived, which probably significantly affects her judgment. We keep coming back, on the topic of dreams, to the name Melony and Lot Seven. I’m guessing that’s her birth name and the lot she was part of when sold to the church.

Ah, ah, Melisandre. Remember what you said about priests and priestesses who see in the vision what they want to see. That’s you right now, projecting your fears upon Bran.

She doesn’t eat or sleep, apparently. I’m starting to think she has far more in common with the Others than she does with people. She sends Devan to fetch Rattleshirt. While he’s gone, she refreshes her pockets with the powders that let her do most of her flashy tricks. She’s got some magic, but a lot of tricks for making her think she can do more than she really can, it seems.

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Some sort of glamor spell is on Rattleshirt. Okay, that’s news. I’m curious about it. If it fails, she warns that they’ll kill him. And he doesn’t like wearing the bones. I have a feeling this Rattleshirt is a fake. Mance Rayder and Rattleshirt swapped by Melisandre?

The next paragraph seems to push toward that suggestion. And so do more. Nothing is said outright, but that’s Mance in the guise of Rattleshirt. Melisandre asks him about what she saw about “Arya” and seems to want him to go get her, as a way of getting Jon to join her. She has no idea that upon seeing Jeyne he’ll almost certainly denounce her as a fraud.

The horn blows for the return of rangers. Let’s see if they’re dead and eyeless (they probably will be).

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The trappings of power. I’ll make a larger point about it some other time, but Melisandre is definitely trying to shed light on something that’s probably been a significant theme for a while, really.

Three dead raiders. Jon takes Melisandre for a stroll to consult her about her visions. Judging by the interior monologue before she speaks, she’s uncertain about the meaning but chooses to sound certain when speaking. Sounding confident is also one of the trappings of power.

She asks Jon to come to the King’s Tower with her. When they arrive “Rattleshirt” is still there, eating. I doubt she’ll reveal him. It’d be an interesting ploy to win Jon’s trust, not necessarily successful, though.

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Jon does not like the idea of “Rattleshirt” going to get Arya. Well, that only leaves one solution. She’s got to reveal him, because otherwise Jon won’t consent to it. It’s the threat Jon makes at the end that forces Melisandre’s hand. She sends Devan away and breaks the spell.

I’m less interested in the reaction Jon has about Mance being revealed alive than I am in what Melisandre’s internal monologue says about the cost of the magic. She makes it sound easy, but it’s incredibly difficult. What we saw with Davos, that was costly too. I’m still curious about the nature of that cost.

Reek: Bolton’s bastard has returned from hunting (hunting whom?), having failed to find his quarry. Did Jeyne flee already? Probably not.

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More humiliation from Theon. The severed head could well belong to anybody. There does to be a slight rift between the Walders now. Little Walder is another Bolton in the making, while Big Walder seems to be losing his stomach for torture. Another possible escape route? Keep an eye on Big Walder.

He and Theon talk a bit. Seems Big Walder believes Manderly had his cousins killed. Perhaps not yet. And we learn that Ramsay names his dogs after the girls who put up the most fight when he hunts them. Of course he does. And we learn this after the dogs tear apart the host’s dog. Clarifying an earlier point: Jeyne has definitely not tried to escape. I honestly doubt she would take the initiative to try on her own, even if we were talking the Jeyne Sansa knew rather than the Jeyne who has endured who-knows-what since Joffrey took the throne.

Oh good. Roose Bolton is here. Just what everybody needed. He kicks the feasters out. Just the Boltons and Reek remain. Ah, so Manderly reported missing Freys (which is why Big Walder thinks they’re dead), and that’s what the hunt was about. So maybe they are dead. Maybe not. It’s all the same at the moment. In any case, Manderly seems to be dragging out his journey. Smart.

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Roose seems much smarter than Ramsay (not a high bar, of course). For one thing, he asks what will become of their hold on the north should a Stark son show up. Ramsay’s just wrath in the moment, with no consideration for consequences or bigger pictures. He counters that Bran and Rickon are dead, and if they show up he’ll kill them again.

Roose seems to know that Ramsay is a complete liability. He tries a good bit to smarten him up, and to keep to the story. Theon killed them. Theon burned Winterfell. If Ramsay takes credit, all support disappears. Roose urges discretion, and doesn’t seem to much care about what Ramsay does. I wonder if what Roose does, the stuff he keeps under wraps, is even worse.

What Roose is here for is because Stannis left the Wall and the Dreadfort plan was a bust. He decrees that the wedding will be moved to Winterfell. Which Theon wrecked and definitely not Ramsay. No siree.

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He’s also taking Theon. That could be any number of things, but probably bad. Ramsay wants Reek to spy. Yeah, subtlety is not his strong suit. When Theon comes back, he’ll get to choose the finger he loses.

Roose sees right through this, of course. He tells us a bit about the first Reek. There’s an interesting question posed – did Reek make Ramsay the way he was, or did Ramsay make Reek the way he was? In any case, Ramsay has no secrets from his father. All his men belong to Roose.

He also tells us about Ramsay’s mother. He’s very blasé about his cruelties, but that’s not unexpected. That he seems to have felt some degree of compassion because Ramsay had his eyes is unexpected. There is a human in Roose Bolton, deep down. He blames Ramsay’s mother for filling his head with ideas, and Ramsay for his son Domeric’s death. He’s certain Ramsay poisoned him, and Ramsay would dispose of any other sons he might have as well.

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Roose tries offering some bribes to Theon. A bath, clean clothes. But Theon is broken. He refuses it all, and Roose is smart enough not to press. When they arrive, Roose brings Theon right to Lady Barbrey and announces his name to her, at which point he cries that he’s only Reek. I don’t know what her plan is, but I’m curious. All we really know about her is she holds a major grudge against the Starks.

Tyrion: They’re on a boat. Tyrion is wise toiss her, kill her, or avoid her, he says. That could be an amusing game, actually, if we turned it on other characters. I ask you: Kiss, kill, avoid: Cersei, Littlefinger, Dany.

I admit, I would probably buy that book of nautical poetry if Martin were to publish it.

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Penny shows up, and it’s an interesting little conversation. Tyrion’s pride kept him from making a spectacle of himself at the wedding, and it’s part of why he resents Penny and her brother. Penny, for her part, is confronting Tyrion with what his running has done. So many dead, and none who had a part in Joffrey’s death. She also speaks passionately to the value of making other people smile and laugh. I can’t help but like her. She winds up throwing crappy wine in Tyrion’s face because he can’t keep it shut.

There’s a storm. Seems to perk Tyrion up a bit. It also seems to have sparked something in Penny. She apologizes for the wine, and they talk a bit. He tries to be more reassuring, telling her Dany will have a place for her at court. Later she introduces him to Pretty, her pig. I think she likes him a bit. At least enough to try to get him to join her as an entertainer. It’s a natural fit. Tyrion is consistently entertaining.

We catch a little of the Doom of Valyria, and I’d like to read more on that. Moqorro says he’s seen something coming for Dany. Ten-armed and with a single black eye. Wonder what that’s about.

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Bran: So Bran has been naming the singers of earthsong. Only Leaf can speak his language, so he doesn’t know what they think of the names.

The last greenseer was originaly named Brynden, which seems rather boring all things considered. Bran has an uncle by that name. Apparently, Bran will persist after Meera and Jojen are gone (if he starts merging with a tree, it’ll be the sandtrout all over again and Bran will be Brandon, God Emperor of Westeros).

So Bran might actually be the Enemy Melisandre warns about. Darkness will be his cloak and all. A lovely little philosophy on the positives of darkness here.

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So that’s the story behind raven mail. And Jojen phrases this that in a way I quite like and might borrow some of for my students: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who does not read lives only one.”

Leaf explains the dwindling numbers of the singers, and the mammoths, unicorns, giants, etc. Almost Tolkienian there.

Yeah, Bran’s going to be taught how to be a greenseer, and that means merging with a tree at some point. Unless he leaves. He probably won’t leave. Or maybe he’ll leave, but plant roots elsewhere. They give him a paste of seeds. I guess that’s how you start the tree’s growth.

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Bran’s first experience of seeing through the tree takes him to Winterfell, and we see Ned. Well, I’m guessing the ability to see through time. I’m seeing a good bit of Leto II in this. The greenseer talks about time, and yeah, this is all very Dune-ish to me. I like it.

Bran slips back into the trees and finds himself back at Winterfell, tumbling backwards in time to the beginning.

Things of importance:
* Moqorro’s ten-armed one-eyed thing coming for Dany
* Bran has begun the process of becoming the next greenseer. It seems he might be the Enemy Melisandre is worried about. Interesting.
* Theon is away from Ramsay, but he’s with Roose.
* Mance Rayder is secretly alive, and he’s going to rescue “Arya”
* Davos is alive, and he’s heading to find Rickon (looks like on Skagos). On Manderly’s orders.
* Dany is preparing for a battle and looks like she’s about to get married. 

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Predictions pulled out of my ass:
* Dany’s going to go through with the wedding.
* Davos is going to find Rickon, and he’s going to have to produce the boy for the wedding or as soon after as possible. I see problems arising if he does, but not Rickon dying there. Not sure I see us seeing Rickon again until the end of the book at best.
* I doubt Rickon will be any less feral than when we last saw him – he was always kind of teetering on the edge.
* This battle is not going to go well for Dany. Too many enemies around. I don’t see her hold of Meereen lasting the book.

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.