Sunday, May 18, 2014

[Re-read] Davos V: Stoned Dragons

[Spoilers for all five books in the series]
Sunday is GoT-day for you maybe, but for me it's Just-one-more-day-day today. Still, waiting for the next episode in line gives a man a thirst for the world of ice and fire, and so one must needs grab a olde tome of lore to scratch that itch.
Yesterday I wrote a lengthy Star Wars post but decided to cut it as this blog is mainly about A Song of Ice and Fire with some assorted fantasy served by the side. While Star Wars too is fantasy (space fantasy as it were), I remembered I had set up a sideblog for this stuff, so now I'm back to writing about it at Star Wars: The Dark Legacy. Because, you know, with the official confirmation that they have started shooted, a dream I didn't know I had is kind of coming true. I never ever believed we'd see a seventh episode, but there you go. It will probably consume most of the geek parts of my brains in the coming year and a half, whether I want to or not. It's just a given.

Before we get back to Davos, I am aware there have been several new samples from The World of Ice and Fire released but I haven't had the time (or urge) to read it yet. I liked The Princess and the Queen well enough but that one was semi-narrated, while this World stuff is even more dry I assume, hence a lack of interest. As I said back in this discussion at the Tower of the Hand, I feel that the important stuff should be in the novels. Very well! On to Davos V, as he joins Stannis in Braavos to take up a loan with the Iron Bank and meet up with Salladhor in a steamy (literally) broth-house (that's bath and brothel combined).....or is he!

This is how I picture Davos, even after four seasons of GoT.

Mr. Martin launches straight into the narrative, effectively dragging me along from the first sentence as we see, through Davos' eyes, how Stannis doesn't seem to be affected at all by the news of the deaths of the King in the North and his mother. It is Salladhor Saan who brings Stannis the news, telling him that in King's Landing, "the lions prance and dance". It is through Saan we hear how they hacked off Robb's head, and sewed the head of Grey Wind in its place, and nailed a crown about his ears (I had forgotten that bit! Say one thing about the Freys, say they see a thing through - except showing up for battles, I guess); and it is Saan who tells us Catelyn was thrown naked in the river (which begs the question and I don't even really want to ask it, but why was she naked - why go through the bother of undressing her before throwing her corpse in the river? Do we have a necrophiliac among the Freys? Now there's a nasty thought). Davos thinks that the Freys are cursed, which I take as another not-all-that-subtle hint that they will have their comeuppance. Now that I've read A Dance with Dragons, I wonder if that comeuppance will come from a certain Bran Stark, who, when fully trained as a Seer of things, might just be a tad disappointed with Frey hospitality (but this suggestion would give Lady Stoneheart nothing to do).

There are leeches burning on a brazier again, and Ser Axell Florent declares that it was R'hllor who slew Robb, indicating that Melisandre's leech burning indeed inspired the murders (I can only assume he doesn't mean R'hllor physically came up from hell to do the deed himself; I chose the phrase "came up from hell" purely because the god is associated with fire, as is the semi-mythological fabrication "hell"). Queen Selyse, always drawn in the best light by Martin (hard woman with large ears and a hairy upper lip) pitches in, too, clearly a devotee. Stannis, being a bit more grounded, understands that Walder Frey did the job, but Melisandre says that Walder was but R'hlorr's tool for the job. At which point, if I were Stannis, I would ask her to have R'hlorr go and slay the rest of the Lannister clan while he is at it, significantly easing Stannis' plans for the future.

They are in the chamber of the painted table (coolest table in Westeros), and Stannis decides he wants to send letters of pardon to the Iron Islands and White Harbor, offering pardons if they repent and swear their fealty to him. Melisandre interrupts him, telling him it will do no good. She tells him that more false kings will rise to take up the crowns of those who've died, which is kind of interesting because so far we've not yet seen a new king of the Iron Islands, nor a new king of the North - though we can assume she's talking about Euron Crow's Eye and Roose Bolton. Stannis' wife is firmly on Melisandre's side by now, and I am curious what role she will play in The Winds of Winter since the character was deemed important enough to be featured in the TV series (as opposed to, say, characters with more "screen time" in the books like Strong Belwas.

Stannis admits that while Melisandre has been helpful, he doesn't trust her magic completely - to which she responds that "an ant who hears the words of a king may not comprehend what he is saying" to which Stannis should retort, "Yeah but ants don't have human intelligence so the comparison isn't valid." No, he doesn't go into a philosophical/religious argument with her, but he is mighty angry at the moment, and rather despondent and disillusioned by all the failures he's faced (notably, the Blackwater of course). He feels he's done what he could, and now the game is over: "The rest of Westeros is in the hand of my foes. I have no fleet but Salladhor Saan's. No coin to hire sellswords (...)" (why not go to the Iron Bank?)

Selyse's response to this comes a little out of the blue - "You have more men than Aegon did three hundred years go. All you lack are dragons." What I feel is strange about this reply is that, I don't know, why would she say this? She might as well have said "All you need is a nuclear missile, Stannyboy." It doesn't really help Stannis that much, you know, because it doesn't exist (anymore, in the case of dragons). I feel the line is there only for Martin to allow himself some exposition, which follows duly.  Stannis says that "nine mages crossed the sea to hatch Aegon the Third's eggs," and I can only suppose that this will be a minor point to remember for later in the story. He also mentions other Targaryens trying to resurrect dragons in different ways, all of them failing (but those nine mages could still be around, right?) Selyse turns this into them not being the "chosen of R'hllor". Interestingly, Selyse mentions that 'only death can pay for life' (blood magic), and everyone around Stannis seems to agree "the boy" must be sacrificed, in order to, if I'm not mistaken because this is a tad ambiguous, get Stannis a live dragon. This makes me assume that there are dragon bones at Dragonstone ,which I suppose rhymes well with what we got served in The Princess and the Queen. At least there's a dragon of stone there, which would explain the name of the island. A petrified dragon? Anyway, Melisandre promises that if she is given the boy, she will fulfill an ancient prophecy through that sacrifice, and a dragon "shall awaken and spread his stony wings." She adds, however, "The kingdom shall be yours," which can be read as: the stone dragon waking is metaphorical, to illustrate increased power. I don't know, this part confuses me. I often forget these details exist at all. Ser Axell begs for the same, as does Selyse. She also happens to believe that by sacrificing the boy, she will become fertile again. Uh what? Why? How? Where? When? How crazy is Selyse?

Stannis thinks of the boy as his own blood however (Robert's bastard son with some cousin of Selyse named Delena) - he shows some compassion as he doesn't feel the boy is at fault (which he of course isn't). Stannis is actually a bit human here, which is kind of hard to forget when you follow the TV series. I think they've made him more into a villain, to be honest. People shall be surprised when he saves the day come the last episodes of this season. We are reminded of Melisandre's physical attractiveness (through Davos' eyes) and how she in that regard contrasts Selyse. I do love this little backstory from Stannis where he, as a young boy, had been at King's Landing and was so impressed with the Targaryen king only to realize later it was the Hand - Tywin Lannister - he had seen on the Iron Throne.

Finally, Davos can't stand all this talk of prophecies and flames and waking stone dragons and speaks up. He tells Stannis that no man is as cursed as the kinslayer, which Stannis would become if he allows the boy to be sacrificed (incidentally it also tells us that if this is a truth in the setting, Jaime Lannister and Tyrion Lannister are doomed big time; and I wonder how much worse it is to be a kinslayer than a breaker of guest rights?). Melisandre gets annoyed, reminds him there are just two gods - R'hlorr and the Other, "whose name must not be spoken". I wonder if, Martin could have added, "because that would reveal a major spoiler because if you pay attention you can figure out that the Other is the Night's King..." oooh! Still, I applaud Davos for being both respectful yet inquisitive here as he asks just why she needs this particular boy - Edric Storm - to wake this stone dragon. Why don't they at least speak of where this stone dragon is? Is the entire castle a dragon skeleton?! It feels like Martin forgot some detail here. It's of course deliberately vague, I don't doubt it, but it's frustrating. Because, you know, it takes decades to get some answers in this series.
If THIS tired meme had any semblance of truth in it, there wouldn't be any Starks anymore. Not even Karstarks.
Melisandre's reply is the same mumbojumbo Selyse delivered - only death can pay for life, and a great gift requires a great sacrifice. She expands on this by mentioning Edric having a king's blood in his veins, and reminds him of how even a little blood could set in motion the deaths of Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy. Davos snaps back that Robb was murdered by Walder and Balon fell from a bridge - "Who did your leeches kill?" Now this I like - someone standing up for reason and common sense, and when you read Catelyn's chapters in this novel there is indeed a plausible, logical path from Robb being hailed as King in the North to his death at the Twins with no nudging from R'hllor. Still, Melisandre seems quite confident in that she, through the blood and the leech burning, is responsible for the outcomes. And, indeed, Davos does have some faith in her powers, as he remembers the living shadow she had birthed beneath Storm's End. That's indeed a pretty powerful demonstration, though in a world where magic is waking up, it's hard to say for a reader if the power comes from a god named R'hllor, or if its magic Melisandre simply attributes to R'hllor (I choose the latter). Davos replies that the two kings are dead but the third king for which she sacrificed is still alive. That would be Joffrey Baratheon. Stannis snorts and agrees with Davos, seemingly pleased to see logic prevail. Still, why sacrifice Edric Storm if one leech is enough for one king? Throw thirty leeches on the brazier and you get rid of an entire dynasty. Just start shipping in leeches from all over the world (maybe Roose has some for sale) and get on with it. Melisandre then asks if Joffrey should die in the "midst of all his power", would that not show the power of the Lord at work?
And Stannis grudgingly says that it might. Still not convinced, then. Davos says, "Or not," which is pretty daring by itself. Axell gives Davos a nasty look before he leaves with the rest of the crowd, leaving only Davos and Stannis in the chamber. Open a window!

They launch straight into a back-and-forth with Davos reminding Stannis about the boy's name, how good a friend Edric is to Stannis' daughter Shireen, basically goes full throttle on trying to save Edric from the red woman. Stannis, however much he seemed to be on Davos' side earlier in the scene, now tells him that his duty is to the realm, and if it costs him the boy's life to save the realm from Melisandre's "night that never ends" (aka the Long Night), then that's the price Stannis must pay. He partially recites some of Melisandre's prophecies and it's interesting because I think this shows clearly how Melisandre is misinterpreting stuff: "A hero reborn in the sea" sounds rather like some Iron Islander getting his baptism (maybe Theon goes on to do something heroic?), the "living dragons hatched from stone" surely must refer to Daenerys' three dragon babies. Yet Melisandre swears that the signs point to Stannis. Maybe in a roundabout way, they will. We just don't know enough about the endgame to assume what Martin is trying to imply here. Stannis rants about his sword not being that special at all, which goes to show that Melisandre is more about tricks and, as we'll learn later in the story, glamours. He needs a dragon to get something proper done, and that is the one thing he doesn't have. But at the same time he doesn't dare to disregard her. Now this is a thematic point which I think Martin does well, as he points out the difference between blind faith (Melisandre) and faith as a safety net (Stannis), and grudging faith (Davos). Not going off on a diatribe about religion now, but it seems to me that Martin does have some thoughts on issues of faith, presenting them in different manners throughout his text.

Now, here comes a little interesting bit I had forgotten. Stannis tells Davos that he has gazed in the flames as well, and has seen stuff. This is basically a confirmation for us readers that the "flame reading trick" (for lack of a more epic spell title - but it beats Tenser's Floating Disc) actually works. We don't know how (the magic of dragons returned to the world?) but it works. Stannis has seen a king with a crown of fire on his brows, burning. The crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. He implies that it means Joffrey will die, but I have a feeling we haven't seen this burning king yet. It's just the way Martin does prophecy. Characters tend to misread them all the time (perhaps with the exception of Maester Aemon). We will most likely see some king in a future installment who is burned, and ... wait a minute. Did we see a king burning, in A Dance with Dragons? It's been so long since I read it. Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but it occurs to me just now that they burned Mance Rayder (well, he looked like Mance Rayder so that's what Stannis could have seen) at Castle Black, didn't they? Oh my, it really is time to read those two last books again. Anyway, if I'm right, I am convinced we can settle this one. Stannis saw a burning king - the assumed King-beyond-the-Wall. It's precisely how Martin does prophecy.

My favorite depiction of Dragonstone, made by Jordi Gonzalez. Check out his website!
He's done art for the upcoming The World of Ice and Fire (Up to Volume V at any rate) too.

Stannis threatens to send Davos back to the dungeons, so Davos backs off ("furls his sails", to be more naval-poetic about it). So he leaves the Stone Drum (can't they wake a drum from stone too, to beat the march?) and he smells the sea, which is a smell he loves. It makes him long for home, and it makes him want to be aboard a ship again. Good, this grounds the character a bit, which is needed, because it is easy to forget Davos is a "simple" (as in, common) man. He's utterly loyal, too, though, so he has to stay with Stan.
We are given a long description of Dragonstone, which is also necessary because it's been a while since we had a look at the place - and boy do they have a lot of stone dragons. Which one will Melisandre pick? The one that is essentially a kitchen? That way they could bring along pots and frying pans.

He meets Salladhor out in the courtyard who apparently can read Davos' mind. Davos wonders if he has been forgiven and he has (but Salladhor lost a lot of gold in his gamle to join at the Blackwater and so it is not forgotten). In the seemingly idle chatter Martin tucks a quick mention of Lord Celtigar owning a "magic horn to summon krakens from the deep," so we'll have to note that one. We learn that the common folk on the island are drifting back to the Seven, and that they believe Stannis has been ensorcelled by Melisandre (reminds me of Tolkien's Theoden/Wormtongue relation) - through this we also learn that you can now basically divide Stannis' forces in two factions - those who have truly converted to Melisandre's god, and those who didn't. King's men and queen's men. It's gonna come up, I tells you.

Davos tells Salladhor that Stannis won't sacrifice Edric; he doesn't believe the king has the stomach for kinslaying. Salladhor tells Davos he's off, and so they depart.

Oh man, this chapter goes on doesn't it.  I think I will have to take a break now; there's a nice lull with Davos and Salldhor parting ways (for now) and to be honest with y'all, this chapter is a bit...not boring, that's not the right word, because much of it is interesting for sure, but it's a bit slow, now I've never had Davos as a favorite POV (he ranks just above Jon Snow though) so that could be it...I do like the gloomy aspect of the setting of Dragonstone, and at this point in the story Melisandre is still nicely mysterious...but I feel like I want back to King's Landing, you know? Like Daenerys, Davos' story - so far - feels a little too peripheral, though I know it is moving forward and will eventually segue into the story of the North.
Edric Storm, though.  Great name.

I'll finish reading this chapter tomorrow morning when I've recharged my batteries. And oooh it's Game of Thrones time again tomorrow. It will be a jolly day of ice and fire. With luck, there's an update about The Winds of Winter at Not a Blog too. That would be just...good.

1 comment:

  1. But Jamie didn't kill any kin, did he? Thiugh it's rumoured he'll be the one to off Cersei. You may be confusing with TV series when in S2 he killed a distant relative.