I guess this is the Chapter of the Rapes, although they are not depicted approvingly, and are hard to call “gratuitous” as the occasion for Dany’s development as a humanitarian and leader. Whether using rape as a tool of character development is that good of an idea is another discussion. But I appreciate that the rapes are not glamorized or fetishized, as seems to happen in much ostensibly feminist fiction I read lately: Martin never lets his readers have their disapproval cake while eating lasciviously-lingered-over play-by-play rape details.
And just when we thought there wasn’t enough male-on-male rape in the books: “the brothels are paying double for healthy young girls, and triple for boys under ten.”
Elsewhere in this chapter:
- What is known? “The Lamb Men lay with sheep.”
- How many times can this chapter mention Mirri Maz Duur’s plumpness, flat-nosed-ness, and middle-aged-ness? At least four. It appears to be impossible to mention her at all without hitting on the above characteristics. This tic seems too obvious not to be deliberate, but what could its purpose be?
- Does Mirri intend, from the start, to harm Drogo, Dany and/or The Fetus That Mounts The World? I find it impossible to tell (and I like that ambiguity).
- “Dany felt she could trust [Mirri Maz Duur]; she had saved her from … her rapers, after all.” A bit heavy-handed there, but once again an effective reminder that “saving” the downtrodden doesn’t always have the effect the privileged intend.
After that very heavy Ned chapter, it’s almost a relief to get back to Jon’s after-school special.
Septon Celladar: assigned to the Wall because he was an alcoholic, or an alcoholic because he was assigned to the Wall? Discuss.
“A man of the Night’s Watch lives his life … for the realm … [and] takes no wife and fathers no sons.” Know who else fits that description, or at least claims to?
How could this one-last-chance-to-not-take-the-oath thing work? The boys who were sent to the wall as felons surely can’t get off that easily. Is their choice “take the oath, or leave and be subject to execution/castration/amputation/whatever the alternative punishment was for your crime?” And while the boys in this chapter are told to forget their families, noble-born Benjen has apparently been allowed to maintain his ties. Bit of a double standard going on here!
“On the wall, you grew up or you died.” Interesting flip-side parallel to Cersei’s “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Boros Blount, Preston Greenfield, and Barristan Selmy are explicitly compared to the three knights at the Tower of Joy. Presumably only Selmy resembles the stylized, archetypal knights of Ned’s fever dream. (I say presumably because I’m not sure about Greenfield: if the books ever tell us anything of note about him, I don’t remember it.)
That fever dream left me with the feeling that Ned believes, sometimes and on some levels, that he should not have survived the encounter at the tower. Are the present “three men in white cloaks” ghosts come to take the life that he got to keep only by mistake, as Jaqen H’gar will later take three lives in recompense for the three Arya prolongs?
Then Robert becomes Lyanna: “Promise me, Ned.” Will we eventually find out that Lyanna’s demand was as mundane as “eat the pig that killed me?” I somehow doubt it. Now the three knights look more like a debased mirror of the past: noble knights and noble promises replaced by base and shallow ones. But if that were the idea being communicated, it would have been more effective to use a third lesser knight in Selmy’s place.
On reread, the irony in this chapter is nearly unbearable: “His regency would be a short one.” “[S]harp as the difference between right and wrong, between true and false, between life and death” — even the last being, in this world, not a very sharp distinction at all.
Miscellanea from this chapter:
- Third occurrence of the phrase game of thrones, in Ned’s head as a memory of Cersei saying it.
- Ned continues to perceive Tomard, the overweight commoner, as a real and valuable human being.
I could do without this purple-prose peasant drama, particularly the spelling out of dialect and the breathless not-quite-mentioning of the rape. (“Black and white and grey, all the shades of truth” is a bit on the nose, too.) But an uncomfortable real-world sociological point is being made here: that privileged people are not necessarily heroes for dragging the downtrodden (who are downtrodden precisely because the privileged have unto now failed to protect or notice them) into situations as likely to worsen their lot as better it in the name of “justice.”
Note that these particular peasants have Catelyn to thank for their plight: they were pillaged after their usual defenders were summoned to Riverrun, presumably in preparation for the consequences of her kidnapping of Tyrion.
“Thank you, Grand Maester Pycelle…I fear we might have forgotten that if you had not pointed it out.” I didn’t remember Ned being this snarky!
Meet Sam Tarly: “the fattest boy [Jon] had ever seen,” weighing “twenty stone” — that would be 160 to 320 pounds, 280 by the most common definition of “stone.” Here fat is associated with cowardice and (once again) with effeminacy, but there’s no hint of schemey-ness (fat as disguise) or fallen-ness (fat as outward sign of a decline in morality or dignity).
I find it hard to believe that even Thorne would disallow Sam’s armor because it wasn’t black (leather and wool can be dyed and wood painted, after all), and even harder to believe that he would encourage the boys to break a helmet just to humiliate Sam. Possessions were not cheap or disposable in such times; that broken helmet would take a lot of Noye’s time to fix or recycle.
In Jon’s dream: “I scream that I’m not a Stark, that this isn’t my place.” And later: “he had never truly been one of them [the Starks].”
First mention of blue-lipped Qartheen warlocks — being hired by Randyll Tarly(!). Who is a tool, but a very evocatively described one. In Sam’s story, he expresses his disapproval to his son while skinning a deer: the ultimate source of the Tywin-introducing scene in the TV show?
Overall, this chapter is a bit too after-school special: in a very brief span of pages, we move from Sam as “accidental” hazing death waiting to happen, to his “fitting in” and becoming one of the guys due to Jon’s heroic principles. Jon’s use of force to achieve his goal does lend a little moral complexity, though (and perhaps foreshadows his later attempt at autocratic leadership).
…but only after feeling betrayed by his father, fantasizing his uncle’s death, and mooning after his “true brothers” (or are they cousins?). His life has already taught him, though, that it’s “better not to speak of the things [he] want[s].”
Other stuff I noticed in this chapter: