A Dance With Dragons (Part Two): After the Feast: Book 5 of a Song of Ice and Fire

by George R.R Martin | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 000754829X Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 11/16/2016
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Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Wednesday, November 16, 2016
This was by far my favourite of the books so far. It felt like every single chapter was made of awesome. If there wasn't at least one surprising revelation, then we got character development or epic cinematic actions. More often than not, it was several of the above. Even the characters I don't generally like had interesting chapters.

The only fly in the ointment was that I had hoped for some news on Davos and Samwell, but on the other hand the book included a couple of characters I hadn't expected to turn up in this book. (Especially the epilogue, which had a greater wow factor than usually!)

I was ridiculously happy when we first switched back to Arya. She's one of my favourite characters, after all. And yet I found myself being disappointed when her blindness got cured at the end of her first chapter. Don't get me wrong, I was relieved when I learnt her disability was only temporary and supposed to be a learning opportunity, but I spent a whole book wondering how Arya might deal with her sudden blindness, which made the deus-ex-machina solution seem cheap. At the very least, I would have expected Arya to spend some time at least trying to learn how to fight while blinded. Yes, she managed to overcome the challenge, but there won't always be a convenient cat (or other quietly watching animal) around. I did appreciate the confirmation that the Stark children's skinchanger abilities extend to more than just their direwolves.

So she's actually training to be an assassin now? That's exciting! I was really puzzled how switching the coins would result in the banker being killed until I eventually worked out that his habit of biting each coin would ensure he'll digest the poison before (presumably) it can wear off.

Ser Barristan
A new protagonist and a much appreciated one to fill the gap left by Daenerys' sudden absence. He fills a niche that Ned Stark used to occupy: honor means a lot to him, he doesn't like plotting and isn't good at it. Luckily, he finds it easier to follow Daenerys' moral guidelines than Ned did with Robert's, though the Shavepate is about as trustworthy as Littlefinger.

It's unclear whether the corpses thrown into the city in the end are the hostages or victims of the bloody flux. The latter seems like the more likely choice as it's basically biological warfare, plus keeping the hostages around serves as a kind of insurance in case something goes wrong.

I've never made a secret of my dislike for Cersei but I found her surprisingly sympathetic in this book. While her desperate semi-confession (while trying to give away as little as possible) and especially her walk of shame did make me pity her a bit, it also provoked a grudging sense of admiration.
I noticed one timing error in her confession: Cersei claims that she slept with Lancel because she was beside herself with grief over Joffrey and her father, but in fact their relationship started shortly after Robert's death and Lancel became sick well before Joffrey was killed. I'm not sure if this is Cersei's goof or an error on Martin's side...

Is Cersei really as cowed as it appears or has she decided to keep a low profile until she's cleared of all charges? It was obvious she'd use Aryn Oakheart's death as a chance to shoehorn Qyburn's monster into the Kingsguard. Like everyone else, I am wondering who or what might hide under Ser Robert Strong's armour. Ser Kevan sort of implied that it might be the reanimated body of the Mountain (possibly with a different head?), though a Frankensteinian construct or even a golem also seem like valid possibilities. The religious overtones of the "knight" (seven star sigil, "vow of silence") are extremely brazen, and I wonder whether this will help Cersei's case with the Faith or not. I strongly suspect that with Ser Robert's help Cersei will win her trial, so that she'll live to see her other children get murdered (the poor kids, they haven't done anything wrong) and Daenerys to ascend the throne. Now that Ser Kevan is gone, will Cersei still be banished to Lannister Rock? (We've never actually visited that place, I'd like to get a closer look at it.)

Incidentally, I also appreciated the brief insight into their Ser Kevan's viewpoint. I admired the way he convinced the Tyrells that a "not guilty" verdict in Cersei's trial would be in their own best interests. He would have made a terrific Hand and Regent, though ironically it was his competence that made him an assassination target.

Daenerys gets the most epic scene in a book packed full with awesome: taming a huge dragon with nothing but her words and her whip. I don't actually think that she intended to fly away (though it might have been something she secretly wished for). Her first instinct was to protect Drogon as well as any people he might be going to attack. When he rounded on her, she had to calm him down to safe herself. Only when he actually settled down... no, I still don't think she consciously considered her options even at that point. If anything, it was a rash impulse that prompted her to climb onto his back, and her initial goal may as well have been to pull out the spear lodged in his neck.

I loved that this scene of power was followed by Daenerys' disappearance, leading to rumours of her death and a general uncertainty about Meereen's future. Dany's return to her roots (Dothraki sea, Jhaqo's khalesar) is a great end to the book. Interestingly, when Dany came across the Dothraki outrider while walking on her own, she was extremely vulnerable; yet mere minutes later, reunited with her monstrous dragon, she's more than ready to face her old enemy.

I wonder, if Hizdahr did attempt to poison his wife (which I believe is true), does that count as a betrayal of love? They don't love one another but Daenerys had every right to expect him to be loyal to her and she'd hoped that love would develop over time.

Jon Connington really is a too minor character to be listed here, but there's no other protagonist where it might make sense to include him. The major piece of new information is that he managed to regain control over his ancestral castle and that the Company's planning to capture the unassailable Storm's End, thereby hoping to prove their superiority. Unfortunately, the chapter provided no further clues as to whether Young Griff might be the real deal or the "mummer's dragon" Daenerys was warned of.

Jaime's chapter didn't reveal any news about the state of the Riverlands, though it does appear he's happily continuing on his path to "elder statesman". I had hoped that Brienne was still alive but I was still shocked by her reapparance at the end of his chapter and her success at spiriting him away.

The "one word" that left her mouth at the end of her previous chapter must have been an agreement to swear an oath to kill Jaime because that's the only thing that would have convinced Lady Stoneheart to spare her life. Why though? Honour means a lot to Brienne and she owes Jaime a lot (he rescued her from being raped and mauled by a bear, and sent her on a quest that allowed her to keep her original vows), so I don't think she'd actually kill him. But neither does she seem the type to swear a false oath to avoid being killed. There are a few possibilities out of this dilemma: a) she might have sworn the oath, then later decided that the threat of death invalidated said oath (Jaime used to argue the same in reference to his oath to Lady Catelyn); b) she might have agreed to not having to kill Jaime herself but simply lure him somewhere; c) she could decide that Lady Stoneheart's actions are so abhorrent that she can't possibly follow her orders, oath or no oath. Either way, the fact that Jaime has simply disappeared doesn't have to mean he's dead.

The attack on Jon's life would have worried me a couple of books back, but by now I've learnt an important rule in A Song of Ice and Fire: no matter how bleak a situation looks, never count out any character until you've seen his death through another protagonist's eyes, and even then he might still come back from the dead. (Incidentally, the same holds doubly true for Stannis, whose death Ramsay only claimed in a letter which clearly aimed to provoke, and the Boltons have been repeatedly portrayed as particularly untrustworthy.)

Melisandre did warn him, though I wonder a bit why it happened now. For several members of his council to attack him at the same time, this must have been planned. Ghost was agitated, too, as was Mormont's raven -- did they smell the intent even before Jon announced his plans with respect to the wildlings and Ramsay Bolton?

I greatly admired Jon's bargains both with the Braavosi enboy and Tormund Giantsbane as well as his clever use of a Alys' wedding to solve several problems at the same time (save a maiden, tie a bond between wildlings and northmen, win the loyalty of both the Magnar and part of the Karstarks). He's much too young to be Lord Commander but I'll admit that, bastard or no, he was born to lead.

Quentyn was a bland but likable character and he was being foolhardy and desparate, but what a way to go! He felt this was his last chance to win her over and not return home with empty hands. He wasn't entirely wrong in that Daenerys did show him the dragons because she took pity on him and wanted to remind him that he might still have a chance later on, but I don't think she'd appreciate his plan to basically steal one of her dragons.

I wonder what Dorne's reaction will be to learning that their eldest prince (though not the heir to the throne) was fried by a dragon. On the one hand, he brought this on himself by breaking into a locked and guarded enclosure and then took his eyes off one of the dragons while attacking the second one. On the other hand, they might still take offense at his death, in a potential parallel to their outrage at the Viper's death that would not have occured if he hadn't decided to battle Ser Gregor in single combat.

Theon (and Asha)
Considering how much I hated Theon back in A Clash of Kings, it was remarkable how much I was looking forward to each new chapter for "Reek".
Mance's plan was risky but believable and I really liked that Theon, when backed into a corner, decided to jump off the wall, after all, which was foreshadowed by someone else being pushed off the battlement and surviving due to all the snow cushioning his fall. Even if both Theon and Jeyne had died, it would still have been the preferable outcome to being caught and punished for attempting to flee. (According to Ramsay's letter to Jon, Mance and his spearwives were caught, tortured for information and/or killed.)

The series of gruelling murders understandably reminded Theon of killing his own unwanted witnesses back when he was master of Winterfell but it also hearkens back to the "curse" of Harrenhal. Seems to bit of a common theme.

I also liked the reminder that Bran was watching through the eyes of the Weirwood, though I'm not sure why Theon (of all people) would sense his presence.

I am highly skeptical of Ramsay's allegations of having killed Stannis and his entire army. While not entirely impossible given the weakened and half-starved state of Stannis' troops, I'm sure that in that case Ramsay would also have recaptured "Arya" and "Reek". That said, I'm not entirely sure what he hopes to gain by luring Jon (and possibly another army) to Winterfell. Revenge? Obviously Ramsay tortured the information about Jon's involvement out of Mance but Jon has no idea of "Reek's" (let alone Theon's) involvement. That might be simple paranoia on Ramsay's part.

The arrival of Asha's friends sounds like good news for the stranded troops and if Asha ever was a candidate for being burned as a sacrifice to R'hllor, Theon's arrival might have saved her. Theon does seem like someone Stannis would see as beyond saviation, being a known childkiller, traitor and (not insignificantly for Stannis' morals) male heir to a king.

I was pretty annoyed when the blurb spoilered the fact that Tyrion was a slave now. For some reason, despite his last chapter ending with a slaver ship appearing on the horizon while their own ship was unmaneuverable, I didn't seriously believe that Tyrion might actually be sold into slavery. I'm sure his joining the Second Sons will be important later (are they going to join Daenerys again?) but as it stands, Tyrion had much less impact in this book than any of the previous ones, which obviously fits his stint at being a lowly slave.

I'm not sure what to make of this guy. I don't like him (though he's loads better than his brother) and he's not an interesting character by himself. And yet I find myself on tenterhooks to find out whether he'll really manage to abduct Daenerys and/or take control of her dragons. What did Moqorro means when he said that Victarion had to claim the horn with blood? Does he have to defeat its current owner (Euron?), or take control of a dragon the old-fashioned way?
With the Iron Fleet approaching, once again I found myself wondering how the timing will play out. If Victarion arrives while Daenerys is still MIA (on the Dothraki plains), does that mean he'll attempt to claim the dragons instead, or will he go looking after her? Will Daenerys find a way to use the fleet for her own purposes? She does need ships to transport her army (Unsullied etc.) to Westeros.

Other than with any of its predecessors, I was unable to discern any outstanding theme for this book. However, the title is exceptionally well chosen. Of course Daenerys plays an important role but there are also a few other characters who (attempt to) engage dragons, either actual ones or metaphorical ones (the Targaryens). The "Feast" presumably refers to the fourth book and signifies that the second part of book five takes place after the events in the former one, whereas the first part ran in parallel to the Feast for Crows. (I still think that that title doesn't make sense for a book with a comparatively low body count.)

And that's it for now, I guess. Not sure what to do next. I'd love to watch the series but that's somewhat easier said than done. I guess I'll have to figure out to go about streaming movies.

Journal Entry 2 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Saturday, November 19, 2016
All in all, the series (so far) was not at all what I expected. For one, I thought it would be much more violent. Don't get me wrong, there are some horrifying scenes featuring death and torture, but I expected the writing to revel in these scenes, to glorify war and killing, and that's not at all what happened. I was positively surprised by the realistically bleak depiction of how war affects the country and the common people. Despite various (non-POV) characters spouting platitudes about honor and glory, Martin never fails to contrast these with the actual outcomes. Though we never get the perspective of an innocent bystander, the heartrending stories some protagonists are told, the burned fields, piles of corpses and razed villages speak for themselves.

I also appreciate that he never pretends that doing the right thing is easy and obvious. Half the time, there's a multitude of options, all of which are horrible. Also, doing the "right thing" does not usually get rewarded (as Jon and Tyrion will agree) because there are always downsides to each decision. While I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with various characters' choices, it was actually quite rare that I considered something an "obviously" bad decision from the start (that kind of contempt was reserved for Cersei and Theon).

Another thing that surprised me was the number of deaths among the protagonists. Major spoilers, highlight to make them visible Based on what I'd heard (vague comments, mostly) I had expected all of the Starks to be wiped out by the Red Wedding, at the latest. Instead, all but one of the Stark children are still alive and for the most part actually quite well. In general, I had expected a lot more of the protagonists to be forcefully removed from the playing board. As of the end of this book, a mere three POV characters (excluding prologue/epilogue characters) are confirmed to be dead for good: Ned Stark, Arys Oakheart, Quentyn Martell. Contrast this with the number of characters who were at one point implied (to the reader) to be dead and/or believed to be dead (by other characters without the reader knowing better) or even that came back from the dead. By now, I actually feel that any character depicted to be in mortal danger is likely to actually be safe unless another character happens to witness their death. Unfortunately, I can't rely on this continuing to be the case. For all I know, Martin might use the remaining two books (each split into several sub books in all likelihood) to kill off all but a few of the remaining protagonists.

I also was under the (mistaken) impression that Jon's heritage would be cleared up by now. Instead, Martin is still hiding that particular secret in the depths of his sleeves. Now, due to my initial poking around on Wikipedia I have a pretty good idea what's going on. Actually, I'm not entirely sure whether this particular theory was outright mentioned there or merely implied by the way certain facts were phrased. Anyway, I believe that Jon is actually Lyanna's son and was fathered by Rhaegar, though I'm still undecided on whether she was raped (as implied by Ned and Robert) or the two were secretly in love. Given Robert's hatred of all Targaryens but Rhaegar in particular, Eddard had very good reasons to hide Jon's true parentage, and he's also exactly the kind of man who would try to protect his sister's reputation even after her death. This would make Jon the third dragon (and possibly Daenerys' true love -- they share a sense of morality and duty to protect the weak, after all), though other than Daenerys he's clearly not immune to fire. However, that doesn't have to mean anything considering that Viserys (whose parentage is beyond doubt) was killed in a way that Daenerys considered proof of his not being the dragon he claimed to be. Ser Barristan worried about seeing Daenerys' hair on fire, so though he spent a lot of time serving King Aerys, he doesn't know that Daenerys cannot be harmed by dragon fire. For all we know, Daenerys might be a special case in a way connected to the ancient prophecy.

It took me some time to realize that none of the (many) protagonists are common people. They're all knights or lords or otherwise in a position of power. This makes sense considering the power/skills/wealth/knowledge needed for the characters to prevail in the challenges Martin sets them. While including, say, a peasant fleeing from the troops of one king or another only to be trapped in King's Landing while another battle takes place there would have been interesting, it's entirely possible that it wouldn't have added much beyond what we've already seen through the existing characters' eyes (complete with disapproving comments). Moreover, it would defeat the point I feel Martin is making (intentionally or not) that when the mighty play the Game of Thrones, the common people are at most game pieces to be moved around and sacrificed at will. I also greatly prefer my characters to have a lot of agency, which is why I consider the more passive/reactive characters like Sansa or Quentyn to be somewhat dull. Any common man (or woman) harried by the power players would have had the same effect. Unless they rebelled and became players (as opposed to pawns) themselves. Dondarion's troupe might have been interesting, or one of Daenerys' Freedmen/Brazen Beasts, but either way it would have been unlikely to add much to the story.

Journal Entry 3 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Saturday, December 10, 2016
Almost done, I promise. I just finished watching the fifth season of the tv series, and this was a very strange experience. At first I hated it because they deviated so much from the book, but about one third in, something strange happened: When the plot started to catch up, I realized that they weren't changing so much after all, merely taking a different route to the same result. Mostly.

Naturally, I especially liked the parts that went like I expected them to go in the book (but they didn't), which just goes to prove that a) the idea wasn't all that original to begin with, and b) we're always partial to our own ideas.

Changes I liked
* Stannis burning his own daughter. Obviously, I didn't like this action (I adored the girl) but plotwise, it seemed an obvious escalation of the "King's blood" litany.
* Jon Snow leading the expedition to Hardhome. In my opinion, that's what he should have done in the book, too. I was less pleased about the utter bloodbath that became because if I wanted to see a zombie splatter movie, I'd pick a different series, but I did like the ringing silence while Jon is fighting the White Walker and the way he realizes that Valyrian steel can also kill them.
* Cersei's being a lot more subtle about getting rid of Margery. While reading the books, I spent a lot of time cursing Cersei's stupidity and I'm glad that the movies chose a different angle. Recognizing Ser Loras as Margery's weak point and using his known homosexuality to get them both arrested, that's positively devilish.
* Ser Jorah and Tyrion successfully reaching Daenerys by way of the Fighting Pits, mostly because that's exactly what I expected to happen when they were first captured by the slavers. I hope that having Tyrion act as the Queen's Hand will work out.
Again, I greatly disliked the bloodbaths committed by the Sons of the Harpy. On the other hand, I feel that their attack during the "Games" might play out in favour of Daenerys' agenda: a) now she was upholding the city's traditions while they used said traditions as an opportunity for slaughter, and b) it looked like they attacked freedmen and noble citizens alike.
* Skipping young Aegon entirely. This might come back to bite them (though they could always introduce him at a later point) but at the current time it's simply not at all clear how Martin is planning to play out that particular revelation, so it makes sense to skip the entire plot point. Same for Lady Stoneheart and Quentyn, though it's possible they're merely delaying that until later.
* I already knew that Sansa Stark was taking Jeyne's place as Ramsey's wife in the tv series. To my surprise, I found myself appreciating the change. I think this is because we never got a chapter from Jeyne's perspective, whereas Sansa is already an established character and we got to see her fight back in small ways. She's a lot stronger than probably she would have thought herself.

Changes I disliked:

* The handling of Janos Slynt's execution. Nowhere before or after (as far as I noticed) was there mention of manning the old Watch castles, which makes it look like Jon was setting Slynt up to do an unfair and impossible task. An easy fix would have been assigning other men the same task (as happened in the book) and Slynt the only one to refuse the command.
* I don't see the point of the Sandsnake (Obara?) flirting with Bronn like that, though I guess the bit about the poison and cure was meant to foreshadow Myrcella's death. (It was always obvious she was going to die at some point and we didn't get enough time to know her, so I'm meh about that.)
* The timing really confuses me. Stannis especially kept talking about "years" of war, and both Tommen and Myrcella are clearly of a marriageable age, but it simply doesn't feel like a lot of time has passed. Sure, you see the men grow beards, shave, and grow a beard again, but that doesn't account for years. More damningly, Gilly's son is still a baby, a few months old at most the last time we see them, so maybe about a year has passed since Jon and Sam left the Wall for the North at the beginning of the second movie.
* For some reason, I disliked that Jaqen H'Ghar actually was where Arya expected to find him. Maybe because I never expected it to be that easy.

I know that the sixth season is almost entirely made up by the tv series' producers aside from some details they didn't get around to in the fifth one, but I'll still watch it, if only so I can finally access the tv tropes page without fear of being spoilered.

Journal Entry 4 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Friday, December 16, 2016
Finally finished the tv series (for now). I've got stuff to say but I'll restrict myself to the few elements that were inspired by this book, the characters whose book 5 wasn't over by season 5.

I'm exceedingly pleased that at least in the movies Arya actually learns to fight while blind and even more so that this comes in handy at some point. I also liked that she earned her eyesight back by overcoming her (seeing) adversary, which I greatly prefer to the trickery that takes place in the book.

An important difference is that whereas in the book Arya apparently succeeds in her assassination task, in the movie Arya gets two chances and fails both.

I appreciated that in the movie, Sam asks Jon to be sent to the Citadel rather than Jon having to order him. It just works a bit better, I feel. Then again, movie!Sam is a lot more confident than book!Sam. Though Sam's father was horrible, I still liked the opportunity to meet his mother and sister. I understand while Sam asked Gilly to accompany him to the Citadel but wasn't the whole point of travelling to Horn Hill to get her and the baby somewhere safe because women and children aren't allowed in the Citadel? I'm undecided about Sam's decision to steal the sword. On the one hand, Valyrian steel kills the Others, so Sam has more need for it than his father. On the other hand, he has no right to take it, even if he had not been disinherited (or as close to that as possible).

I can't wait until April (new season), and isn't the next book supposed to come out next year too?

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