Done at last! It seems like its taken me forever to finish this novel. And yet, now that it’s done, I find myself missing it already. After weeks on end of being immersed in Martin’s epic fantasy universe, it’s hard going without! What’s more, given how long – loooooong! – it took him to produce this last novel, who knows how long it could be before the next one comes out?
But I digress… I bought this book looking for some closure to the previous four, especially in the last one. With events in A Feast of Crows seeming to drag a bit, and the sudden twist and promise of resolution that came at the end, I was eager to see how things turned out. And, true to form, Martin managed to provide some degree of resolution while still managing to drag things out further.
And of course, there were even more cliffhanger endings this time around. Damn you Martin, five books in and you still have me baited like a worm on a hook. You better produce the next book in a year’s time like you promised to do last time but didn’t or KAPOW! Oh, and there really better be only two more books. After all you’ve put us through, you owe us a final resolution, dammit!
Okay, that’s enough threats for now. Onto the story…
As promised in the epilogue for Crows, A Dance With Dragons completes the narrative that took place in the previous book, covering all the stories that didn’t make it in there and offering a balance to the other perspectives. This includes stories involving Tyrion, Daenerys, Davos, Brandon Stark and John Snow, while also offering more on the threads involving the Martells, Cersei and the Ironborn.
Initially, the story parallels events in the previous book, the first few chapters taking place before Crows ends. But by the end, things once again pick up and continue, bringing the entire story to an end where everything is poised for several more major developments. Essentially, it all comes down to four perspectives, with events taking place in the North and South of Westeros as well as the Free Cities and Slavers Bay in Essos.
In the north, where Jon Snow has taken up his role as the Lord Commander and is seeing to preparations for the Others and dealing with the aftermath of Mance Rayder’s assault. After saying goodbye to Samwell Tarly, Gilly, and Maester Aemon, who are being dispatched to Oldtown, he continues in his negotiations with Stannis Baratheon. After burning the captive Wildlings, which include Mance Rayder, who will not swear feality and embrace the Red God R’hllor, he prepares to march South.
As usual, Jon Snow tells him the Watch will not take part in his war. Stannis’ appeal to the Northmen is also complicated by the fact that the Lannisters have installed Roose Bolton as ruler of the North and the Freys are allied with them. However, the Karstarks are willing to fight alongside him and John tells him that he will find an army in the Northman hill clans who owe loyalty to no lord.
Marching south, Stannis leaves Melisandre and his queen, Sylese, in John’s care. Against the queen’s advice, and that of his Brothers, Jon arranges for a peace treaty with Wildlings, promising them food and safety south of the Wall in exchange for their service in manning it against the Others. Thousands of Wildlings are admitted, with the promise of many more thousands to come.
Melisandre also begins sharing her visions with Jon Snow. In addition to telling him that there is a murder plot against him, she also reveals that Mance Rayder is alive and the man burned was Rattleshirt, who’s identities were switched using sorcery. He dispatches Mance south to rescue Arya from Ramsay Bolton, unaware that the girl he is set to marry is actually Jeyne Poole. Eventually, her warnings come true as his brothers turn on him and stab him in the yard.
North of the Wall, Bran search for the Three-eyed Crow leads him, Hodor and the Reeds to a secret cave where the last surviving Children of the Forest dwell. As they take shelter in the cave, they meet the “Three-eyed Crow”, whom they call the “Last Greenseer”. He is a former human member of the Night’s Watch, who has been sitting on an underground weirwood throne for so long that its roots have fused into his body. He explains to Bran that he has been appearing to him as the Three-eyed Crow in his dreams so that he could lead him here, and train him in greensight.
Bran learns that there is truth to the belief that the sacred weirwoods are the eyes and ears of the Old Gods: the trees are capable of seeing and hearing all around them, and recording it in their memory for centuries. They also allow a greenseer at one weirwood to see and hear events going on at another in the present, and communicate through them. Using his increasing powers of greensight Bran sees memories of his father Ned Stark at Winterfell’s godswood in the past, and communicates with Theon Greyjoy at the godswood in the present.
Having fled King’s Landing with the help of Varys, Tyrion arrives in Pentos where is taken in by Magister Illyrio. Tyrion is then sent south, and learns along the way that Varys’ plot involves the son of the late Prince Rhaegar, Aegon Targaryen, who was thought to be dead. He was raised by John Connington, the former Hand of the King under King Aerys, who now commands the Golden Company – the largest and most skilled mercenary army in the Free Cities.
After traveling with Aegon halfway across Essos, Tyrion is kidnapped by Jorah Mormont in Volantis. After being banished by Daenerys, he hopes to deliver Tyrion to her in the hopes that she will take him back. However, Tyrion and Jorah are shipwrecked and sold by slavers to a Yunkish merchant, who then travels to Meereen to take part in the siege. After reaching the city, a plague begins ravaging the Yunkai’i army, and Tyrion and the others escape in the midst of the confusion. They then signs on with the Second Sons mercenary group and plan to switch their support to Daenerys.
Meanwhile, in Braavos, the girl once known as Arya Stark continues in her training as one of the “Faceless Men”. This includes taking away her sight and forcing her to find her away about the House of Black and White using only her other senses. She is then tasked with killing her first target, a corrupt merchant, using poison. After succeeding, she is admitted to the guild to complete her training.
Daenerys continues to rule Mereen as queen, but is beset by murders carried out by the Sons of the Harpy, a resistance group committed to restoring the old ways. In addition, she learns that Astapor was sieged by the Yunkai’i and the people she freed there massacred. Refugees come to the walls of her city seeking help, as a plague known as the “Pale Mare” or “Bloody Flux” is decimating their people. Temporary shelter is placed outside for them, but it is clear little can be done.
In order to end the resistance and cement peace with the Yunkai’i, Daenerys agrees to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq, a Mereenese nobleman. Her mercenary captain, Daario Naharis, whom she has taken as a lover, is not pleased, but goes along with it out of loyalty to her. In addition, to prevent her dragons from killing people and livestock, she has them chained inside the pyramid, except for Drogon, who escapes capture and flies away.
Shortly thereafter, the Yunkai’i and Volantene armies arrives at her doorstep and a tentative peace is arranged, with hostages exchanged. Daenerys also agrees to open up the fighting pits, as a compromise with her new husband, and attends the first spectacle with him. During the fights, Tyrion and Penny joust, Strong Belwas is poisoned (but survives) and Drogon arrives and begins attacking the fighters and guards. After reaching him, Daenerys climbs on his back and is ferried away.
Barristan Selmy takes over with a provisional council and is made to believe Hizdahr attempted to poison Daenerys and is leading the Sons of the Harpy. He then arrests Hizdahr and begins planning with those loyal to Daenerys to attack the Yunkai’i camp before they can launch their own attack. However, these plans are stalled when Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, and his Dornishmen try to steal one of her dragons and fails.
Having failed in his attempt to court Daenerys, he and his men hoped to return to Dorne with a dragon in tow. Instead, the dragons break free, Quentyn is killed, and his men are arrested and taken into custody. Meanwhile, Drogon flies Daenerys to the Dothraki Sea where Dany, starved and ill from being stranded in the wilderness, eventually encounters the khalasar of Khal Jhaqo, a former Bloodrider to Khal Drogo who betrayed her after Drogo’s death.
Having secured his army, Stannis and his forces march on Deepwood Motte and take it from the Ironborn, capturing Asha Greyjoy in the process. This swells Stannis’ ranks further as House Glover and House Mormont join Stannis’ army and decide to march with him on Winterfell. To cement his control over the north, Ramsay Bolton orders his bastard son and their supports to march to Winterfell to hold the mock wedding with Arya (Jeyne Poole), and Stannis plans to attack him there. However, Stannis’ host becomes bogged down in the terrible snows that begin falling, forcing them to stop and slowly starve.
Davos Seaworth is taken prisoner in White Harbor after going ashore and trying to enlist House Manderly’s support. However, Lord Manderly secretly frees Davos and tells him that he is only feigning allegiance to the Boltons since the Lannisters are holding his son Wylis as captive. He is also planning revenge against the Freys since they murdered Ser Wendel Manderly at the Red Wedding. He enlists Davos help to find Rickon, who is apparently at Skagos with Osha, so the northmen will rally around a living Stark heir and rebel against the Boltons.
Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy is revealed not to be dead, but is languishing in the Dreadfort prison and brutally tortured by Ramsay Bolton. He is freed to serve him as “Reek”, and travels with him to Winterfell where he waits upon Jeyne Poole. With the wedding complete and the snows hemming them in, Roose Bolton and his bannermen wait for Stannis to attack and slowly begin to turn on each other.
Eventually, and with the help of some serving maids, Theon arranges to free her and escapes the city just as the Manderlys and Freys begin open fighting. They travel together into the wilderness, where they are intercepted by Mance Rayder, and ride to Stannis’ camp. Theon is then reunited with his sister Asha.
Cersei Lannister, imprisoned by the Faith of the Seven, confesses to several of the less grave charges against her to alleviate her suffering. These include adultery and sleeping with her cousin Lancel Lannister, but stops short of admitting that she murdered King Robert, or that her children are actually the product of incest. The Faith is willing to release her, but she must still stand trial and make the penance walk naked back to the Red Keep.
Humiliated, Cersei places her hope in a trial by combat, hoping that a new knight named Ser Robert Strong will champion her. Some mystery surrounds Ser Robert, as he is as huge as Gregor Clegane, and is never seen sleeping, eating, or using the privy. Ser Kevan, who now serves as the Hand, suspects that it is Ser Gregor and that some kind of sorcery has been used by ex-maester Qyburn to resurrect him.
In the Riverlands, Jaime Lannister arrives with his army at the siege of Raventree Hall where he manages to negotiate the surrender quite painlessly. The last stronghold of Robb Stark’s kindgom in the Riverlands bends the knee, and Jaime relocates his camp when he gets word that Brienne of Tarth was seen in a nearby village. After arriving, Brienne of Tarth comes to his camp tent and tells him that she has found Sansa Stark and she is in danger from Sandor Clegane.
In the Stormlands, Aegon Targaryen and Jon Connington arrive with the Golden Company in order to recover the Iron Throne. Taking Tyrion’s advice that their arrival would be met with jubilation, Connington prepares to march forward and take Storms End, believing that Dorne will raise their banners and march to their aid. When word reaches King’s Landing, Ser Kevan advises marching, but Lord Tyrells wants to hold off until after Maergerys trial.
In his solar, Varys sneaks in and murders Kevan Lannister and Grand Maester Pycelle with a crossbow. Before Kevin dies, Varys reveals to him that he supports Aegon, and that he is trying to prevent him from fixing the damage Cersei had caused in her attempts to build Tommen’s power base. Varys declares that with Tommen back in Cersei’s control, the kingdoms of Westeros will spend their strength fighting each other while Aegon prepares to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.
And there we have it. After five books, the story stands poised, once again, on the edge of knife. After first learning in Crows that all roads were leading to the East, that virtually every faction was placing their hopes in Daenerys and conspiring to bring her home, it also became clear that there was another Targaryen heir that had plans of his own to restore the Dragonborn to the Iron Throne.
What’s more, many threads are proceeding towards culmination. Though Cersei seems to have freed herself from captivity in the Great Sept, her plans to get back in charge seem all but thwarted. At this point, its obvious that the Tyrells are in control, that Tommen’s power is temporary, and with Varys’ assassination of Ser Kevan, that the way is paved for Connington and Aegon Targaryen to assume the throne.
But of course, there were plenty of uncomfortable cliffhangers too! For one, Jon Snow’s betrayal by his brothers puts him in a bit of a bind. I am wondering how he will come out of all this, whether he will be saved by Val, Melisandre, some of his brothers, or some of his Wildling allies. On the other hand, its entirely possible that Martin is finished with him and plans to kill him off, a la Ned, Robb, or the many other main characters he’s killed so far.
Then there’s Daenerys’ thread, where she has gone from being the frying pan into the flame, having been whisked away from the siege of Meereen to captivity with Khal Jhaqo. Once more, I am hoping this doesn’t drag out because lord knows Martin has a real knack for putting his characters through endless trials and diversions before they finally get to where they are going. Or he kills them! In any case, the war of Five Kings will not officially be over until she resolves all her problems in Slaver’s Bay and makes it back to Westeros.
And again, after many books and all the hints he’s dropped about “skin-changing” and “Greenseers”, Bran finally seems to have found his way home and realized his true purpose. And personally, I found this to be quite interesting, in that it delved deeper into the mysteries surrounding the Children of the Forest and the history of Westeros before the First Men came. It will be interesting to see how this is woven into the larger story, which I assume will have to do with the legend of Azor Ahai reborn (in Daenerys) being fulfilled.
Overall, I really enjoyed the way this installment in the series took us deeper into the culture of the Free Cities, especially Volantis with its Tetrarchs, elephants, cuisine and drink, and its abundant use of tattoos. I also enjoyed the chapters that moved between Meereen, the Yunkishmen, and the culture portrayed throughout. And of course, the way the plot against the Lannisters is coming along was very pleasing to see. I hate that house and any kind of misfortune which could result in their destruction appeals to me! Now if he can just see his way to restoring House Stark, or just letting some of them know that the others still live, I would be even happier!
Only two books to go, presumably! No telling when the next installment, The Winds of Winter, will be released. But if I could be so bold, might I implore Mr. Martin to please get it done! After waiting five years for book five, we fans are kind of hungry for a finale. What’s more, HBO is going to needs those book if they are going to keep turning out new seasons! You don’t want to get on their bad side, sir. They’re ruthless!
Speaking of which, only thirty-nine more days to go til season three kicks off! Woohoo!