Wednesday, September 14, 2016

[Re-read] A Feast with Dragons, Chapter 16: Cersei II

Re-reading both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons has so far been a nice experience, and I find myself (slowly) drifting to a more appreciative stance on the narrative (though there have been a few chapters where I've been bored out of my mind, as mentioned in those re-read posts) but I kind of struggle keeping the chapters apart so from now on I'm going to add the actual chronological numbering in the post title (makes it easier for me to find back to where I was). So Cersei II from Feast is the 16th chapter in the reading order proposed by Boiled Leather. This also means I'm ditching the silly made-up chapter titles, and good riddance I say. It's time to get serious. After all, while my posting is infrequent at best, I still aim to finish this re-read before The Winds of Winter come howling down from the North. Maybe.

As long as Mr. Martin keeps writing chapter-length blog posts on the Hugo Awards, football and all the other stuff that he enjoys, I should be good. All right, Cersei Lannister! My favorite love-to-hate character throughout the 'original trilogy', I still find myself not quite enjoying seeing the world of Westeros through her eyes. Giving Cersei her own POV kind of ruined the mystery for me, as I found the character so intriguing, ruthless and seductive in the first three books; and not being in her head (and seeing her through the eyes of surrounding POVs) made her a far better villain, in my opinion, than seeing what is actually going on in her head: it takes away a lot of the charm of the character. Oh well, I'll probably go into many a detail on this aspect throughout the re-read of her chapters, so I might as well just forge ahead. Ladies and gentleman, open your copy of Feast to Cersei II, here we go (alternatively, here's a short summary of the chapter). Oh, and Tower of the Hand are also featuring Cersei Lannister as the fourth-most loathed character of Westeros! That's pretty loathed.

There will be spoilers! For everything.
As I've mentioned probably a brazilion times before, I love it when George R.R. decides to open a chapter with an ominous opening sentence. Sometimes he makes you wonder, sometimes it's something macabre or jolting, sometimes it's just beautiful (The day dawned crisp and clear...), sometimes it's a miss, and sometimes it just paints a mood - like the one in this chapter. Well, it both aptly sets up an atmosphere but also, possibly, foreshadows the fate of Cersei Lannister's continued career:

A cold rain was falling, turning the walls and ramparts of the Red Keep dark as blood.

In my humble opinion, that's a classic Ice & Fire chapter opening. It evokes a certain mood, both in the falling cold rain and the way the Red Keep turns dark as blood, but also contrast (cold rain versus dark blood), it effectively gives us the stage (the Red Keep), and it might just foretell more spilling of blood. Might. Not wasting time, Martin immediately describes Cersei leading the king by the hand, firmly, across a muddy yard. This short description, too, tells us so much about the characters without going into detail; the king in question is of course Tommen, and here we see how it is his mother leading him firmly by the hand, showing us that Cersei is the dominant force here, and also reminding us that Tommen is just a little boy. The TV show actually hasn't changed my mental perception of Tommen as a far younger and more plump, innocent, perhaps timid, curly-haired boy. Anyway, my point here is that so far, the prose is pitch-perfect A Song of Ice and Fire, the kind of lean writing that fits perfectly next to, say, A Storm of Swords. It doesn't feel feels as if it was written before the onset of said bloat. So that's a good thing. So within these first scenes the scene has been set, and the characters have walked onto the stage and we are reminded right away how their relationship works, and it's on to the plot! That's crazy cool. To go straight to the plot. And not just that, we get some dialogue worked in there quite quickly too, and it's the entertaining kind of dialogue, with Tommen objecting to being dragged to a waiting litter, saying that his uncle Jaime had promised him to ride a horse and "throw pennies to the smallfolk" (also showing us Tommen as a kinder soul, kind of like how we see Margaery in the TV show, caring about the smallfolk, that's interesting). Cersei doesn't want Tommen catching a chill though, and again, some neat characterization right there, as we see Cersei's motherly instincts on display as well. Her response to Tommen's objections also reveals their purpose - they are going to grandfather Tywin's wake. Again, efficient writing right there. I love it when Martin is at the top of his game. The rain and the mud are putting a damper on Cersei's plans, she wants to look good for the funeral, which is but one of so very many hurdles Cersei will face in her arc. She thinks that the color of mourning doesn't become her, that black makes her look like "half a corpse", which may or may not be taken as light foreshadowing of her eventual fate (maybe only half of her dies? Will Cersei too end up in a stoneheart-ish way? Taking this line as foreshadowing, it certainly sounds possible). By the way, when I envision this scene I do see Lena Headey walking across the muddy courtyard. Weird. My favorite for the role, Diane Kruger, has been replaced it seems.

So the two - mother and son - get into the litter, and Tommen is being cute parroting Lady Jocelyn Swift's words, that the rain is the tears of the gods weeping for grandpa Tywin. It's the kind of drivel children are being fed and Cersei wants none of it; Jocelyn is a fool for saying things like that, because, if the gods wept, it should have been raining when Joffrey, Tommen's older brother, died. This, too, shows us some interesting facets of these two characters - Tommen willing to cling to Swift's words of consolation, Cersei coldly (perhaps) telling Tommen he shouldn't listen to such things, not because she doesn't believe in the gods per se, but because the gods are being unfair to her (in her opinion). It's like she's being built up to, you know, defy the gods themselves - which she kind of has done all the time, anyway. Cersei Lannister doesn't need any gods, yet as things crumble around her (Joffrey RIP, Tywin RIP, Tyrion's escape, distant Jaime), she may yet begin to wonder... that's what I'm taking from this anyway, at this point. 

Cersei is troubled by Tommen's meekness, comparing him to Joffrey who was "never easy to cow". It becomes clear that Cersei loved Joffrey very much to the point of overlooking his severe flaws. She tells Tommen not to slump, corrects his posture, a very motherly thing, but here laced with some kind of twisted dread as we, readers, see what Cersei doesn't see - that King's Landing does definitely not need a new Joffrey. Love it when Martin really "lives" through his characters' eyes, like he does here. Just Cersei's view of the world around her, and us to extrapolate and deduce whatever we want from it. So far, so good. Another nice lil' detail is that Cersei reminds herself to ask the steward if Tommen is eating well (she thinks he may have lost weight) - a detail that lends credence to this medieval world (in medieval times, noble parents had others look to their children's upbringing and needs). We are reminded that Myrcella - Tommen's sister - is in the hands of the Dornishmen (wow I do wonder where the books will go with her as compared to the show which let her...bleed out, I guess...actually one of the more disturbing character deaths in the show for me, she was so sweet and innocent and I hoped there would be a more interesting story for her than being, basically, put down). 

Down Aegon's High Hill they go, with some short but lovely description of the rain-soaked Kingsguard flanking their litter, and Tommen peering out, wondering why so few people are watching their procession. Cersei tells him it's the rain that keeps people inside, but she knows the people of the city have little love for her lord father (which strikes me as slightly odd, come to think of it; didn't Tywin save the city twice?). It's kind of sad, the whole ordeal, really; the cold rain, the procession not being greeted by the people of King's Landing...when you think of how formidable Tywin was, and how broken Cersei must already be at this point... I don't know, I just feel like I can empathize a bit with her...perhaps more now than before she had her own POV... wow! That's kind of a revelation right there for me. At the expense of her mystery I do get to feel more for her.

At the Great Sept of Baelor, there's but a "little knot" of mourners, reinforcing the idea that people aren't exactly turning up in droves for the event. The queen tells herself more will turn up later, but the way Martin writes it you can practically feel how Cersei knows this is just something she tells herself for comfort. Neat. Yes, this part is for nobility only, and there will be another ceremony for the commoners later, but still. Cersei realizes she'd better join the evening prayers, where everyone is invited, to show the people that she is in mourning, but she'd rather get on with real business: "She had offices to fill, a war to win, a realm to rule." Clearly, Cersei thinks of herself as the ultimate ruler of Westeros now, a nice little detail I don't think I caught before. The interesting thing, of course, is that she may not share this view with other nobles. That she's the de facto queen of Westeros, that is.

They meet up with the High Septon, a bent old man with a wispy grey beard, stooped by the weight of his robes, his eyes on a level with Cersei's breasts. Not sure why Martin felt the need to point that out, but it has been a while since the last time the word "breasts" appeared. Breasts. There's a quick reminder of the fate of the previous High Septon and Cersei remembers this particular clergyman was made High Septon by Tyrion. She suddenly becomes a bit paranoid about the man, wondering what Tyrion has told him about her. I love that. She goes from somewhat confident on the way to the Great Sept to becoming uncertain: What does he know of me? How much did the dwarf tell him? Is his smile a threat? Knowing that Cersei's relationship with the Faith will become a major plotline, I'm trying to keep an extra eye on everything Cersei/High Septon, to dig for potential clues, foreshadowing etc. This first encounter seems to lay the groundwork for Cersei needing to remove the man, because she thinks he's in league with her sworn enemy, little brother Tyrion (who really should be the least of her worries, ironically). 

Jaime and Cersei before the Great Sept, not related to this reread but nice angle.

The High Septon leads them through the Hall of Lamps, flanked by Ser Meryn Trant and one of the Kettleblacks. I note that the High Septon leans on a weirwood staff. We learn that Cersei has promised a lordship to the man who brings her Tyrion's head, and that her promise is being spread across the world by raven. Eventually they reach the heart of the temple. Highborn mourners sink to their knees as "the king and queen went by" (love that Cersei thinks of herself and her son as king and queen, when it should be king and queen mother/regent). Seeing these highborns she relaxes, thinking that she is not without friends. Love that bit, too. 

Lord Tywin rests under a lofty dome, upon a stepped marble bier. Jaime stands vigil, wearing a hooded cloak "as white as freshly fallen snow". Just nice imagery, or symbolizing a man becoming more pure? A foreshadowing of Jaime going north? Or just a Kingsguard cloak, reminding Cersei that her father would have wanted Jaime to be clad in Lannister crimson and gold? She is annoyed that Jaime is growing a beard again, that he could have waited until after the ceremony at least. In other words, no feelings of tenderness or love for her lover and twin brother, just annoyance - what we see here is that Cersei feels she's the only "proper" Lannister left, an important aspect to her character. She leads Tommen up to her father's body, and they kneel. Tommen begins to weep. Harsh as she can be, Cersei tells him to weep quietly, because he's got to show he's strong. She knows Tommen will need her if he's to become a good and fierce ruler. She also reminds herself that some of the highborn mourners around her are indeed enemies. A little flash of paranoia again. 

We get a solid description of how the Silent Sisters have armored Lord Tywin for "some final battle", and Cersei at first thinks Tywin remains noble in death, but then she notices how the corners of his mouth curve upward, giving him a "look of vague bemusement". That's not the look Tywin is famed for. Bleak as this chapter is, I had to laugh at that. Speaking of all the hurdles coming Cersei's way. She doesn't like how Tywin now has lost his fearsome presence; with his eyes closed, and that silly smile, he no longer is Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock...kind of. You could read into this that Cersei desperately wants nothing to have changed, yet everywhere she faces all the small changes - Tommen is not Joffrey; Joffrey is gone; Tywin is gone, and the respect people had for him will vanish with the wind, with that silly smile and those closed eyes. All this forces an old memory upon Cersei, and who are we to look away when Martin decides to give us a slice of the past? 

It's not a biggie; nothing prophetic or illuminating - rather, it gives us context for the old saying about Lord Tywin shitting gold, and reminds us of how unyielding Tywin was in life. Most importantly, the memory serves to strengthen Cersei's resolve to become the new Tywin Lannister. What a role model, folks. In fact, Cersei is going to be better than her father; it is her the history books will be written about, not him. A touch of megalomania creeping in along with the paranoia. Deftly done, mr. Martin. 

Tommen shakes her out of her memories, wondering what smells so bad. It is the smell of grandpa Tywin, of course; "Death." A reminder that in Westeros, only death is real. Perhaps. In other news, Cersei notices that Jaime doesn't want to meet her eyes. I like how these two kind of interact without interacting here. Subtle in a way. But when she thinks Jaime stands there as if carved from stone, do I have to worry he'll be a victim of greyscale? You just never know with these books. What's foreshadowing, what's coincidence dammit. Gimme gimme gimme Winds.

Time to learn who else is present; Cersei looks around, sees her uncle Kevan with his son Lancel; Lancel is looking haggard to the point Cersei wonders why he's even alive. Lord Gyles is coughing as always (but more than usual). Pycelle has his eyes closed (she wonders if he's sleeping). The Tyrells, of course, are present, Lord Mace, the Queen of Thorns herself, Garlan, and Margaery. She looks much like her brother Loras (a detail I haven't noticed before to be honest); we are reminded that she was wed to Joffrey and next on her to-marry list is Tommen. Cersei studies Marge's handmaids, wondering about them (clear set-up right here). Reading this, a reader should get the sense that Cersei is weighing her opponents, and looking at Margaery with enmity (although the text doesn't explicitly state this). After much singing, the ceremony is finally over. Cersei catches a joke being made about the smell in the chamber, but not who made it. The text hints that it could have been one of Marge's handmaids (again, setting up conflict). Again, I feel somewhat sad for Cersei in a weird way. She wants dignity but doesn't get it. Not saying she deserves it, per se, but Martin does manage to make me sympathize with Cersei. I can understand how she feels the world is being unfair to her and to the legacy of her father, if you know what I mean. I'm not sure I know what I mean.

There's like a funeral after-party in the Hall of Lamps, where mourners offer their condolences. Among the things uttered, Lord Gyles mentions he's hired a master stonecarver to make a statue of Lord Tywin. I can honestly not remember if we ever see this project bear fruit, so I'll be interested to see what comes of this. The nobody Ser Lambert Turnberry (where did he come from all of a sudden?) promises to wear a patch over his right eye until he has found Tyrion. Look away if you're unspoiled by The Winds of Winter preview chapters and GoT season 7 spoilers! Hold on a second, everything is pointing to a union between Cersei Lannister and Euron Crow's Eye. And here Martin just happens to slip in a notion of a patched eye, through an otherwise unknown character, Ser Lambert. Admittedly Martin is a genius and every sentence can be broken into a hundred different future possibilities, but this is just too nifty. And now I'm curious about the Turnberrys as well. Anyway, there it is; Cersei and "patch" in the same sentence. You can look again now. 

The madly menacing arms of House Turnberry

Escaping "the clutches of that fool" (Ser Lambert Turnberry), Cersei comes face to face with Lady Falyse of Stokeworth and her husband, Ser Balman Byrch. As always, I love it when Martin gives us glimpses of all these background characters that help make Westeros feel so alive and lived-in. Falyse is obviously trying to be respectful when she offers her condolences but Cersei perceives Falyse as "burbling at her"; she also tells Cersei that her sister, Tanda, is heavy with child and unable to attend this funeral, but will name the child after Tywin. That's a token of respect and loyalty to House Lannister, definitely, but Cersei's answer is devoid of compassion...or anything really. The kind of response that immediately makes me regret sympathizing with Cersei. Martin loves to play with my feelings: 
"Your lackwit sister gets herself raped by half of King's Landing, and Tanda thinks to honor the bastard with my lord father's name? I think not." 
That is just hilariously rude and while I can understand where Cersei is coming from (she is insulted by Lady Falyse's suggestion), it just goes to show how little Cersei cares about anyone's feelings. The absolutely horrifiying experience sister Tanda survived is really too gruesome to contemplate, yet Cersei just bluntly verbally slaps Falyse around, and I guess just made herself a new enemy - House Stokeworth. Cause who's gonna love Cersei when she acts like this? 
Ser Balman promises the bastard child will have another name. It's not foreshadowing, but nicely reminds us there will be a Stokeworth bastard and so when we do learn its eventual name there's a punchline in it. Chuckle. 

Trying to wrest Tommen away from the Tyrells (nice detail: the Tyrells are instantly on the boy king when Cersei turns away), she ends up in front of Uncle Kevan Lannister (or is that nuncle). She tells him they'll meet later and he leaves her; the real reason for his sequence is for Cersei to have an encounter with Lancel, Kevan's son. She thinks he looks like he's got one foot in the grave. She wonders why Lancel hasn't left for Darry; Lord Tywin had granted Lancel lordship over the Darry lands ("as a sop to Kevan"). Lancel says his castle is held by outlaws. Martin again describes how weak Lancel seems, bordering on Reek territory. We are reminded that Lancel has been Cersei's lover ("pumping dutifully away"), now she seems to realize just how young he is (and was, when she sexytimed with him). We are also told Lancel is going to marry a Frey girl (a widow, of Darry blood). This of course reminds us of the larger political story (sometimes easy to forget, as intensely character-centric as this tale can be) - and, in the wake of the Red Wedding, some deals were of course made between the conspiring Houses of Frey and Lannister, including the marriage of Lancel. And here's our first hint at Lancel having changed - drastically - as a person: When he thought he was going to die, the High Septon had prayed for him, and Lancel thinks of him as a good man (the High Septon) - Lancel is going to convert full time. Aaand he feels he has a "holy purpose". All right, we note it down for the future. Love how Martin can take a minor character and just totally change him around. 

Again, Cersei's paranoia increases when she considers what dirty secrets Lancel may have spilled to the High Septon. Love how Cersei's increased suspicion is grounded in the fact that she does have reason to be paranoid. It adds a certain complexity to the character; it's not just delusions (of grandieur), she has really been doing a lot of stupid shit that's going to come back and bite her in the ass. Perhaps my favorite line of the chapter occurs here when Cersei gives Lancel a veiled threat: "Atonement is best achieved through prayer, silent prayer." With that said, she goes to rescue Tommen from the Tyrells. 

A swamp. Possibly Myrish.

Margaery embraces her "like a sister", and in this case Martin opts to tell us Cersei finds it presumptous (instead of showing us through dialogue or action). Works fine enough though, of course. Lady Graceford (who?!) wants to call her upcoming baby Tywin as well. Cersei "almost" groans at that, thinking that the "realm will drown in Tywins". Love this cultural detail Martin adds, though; maybe in a sequel series all the main characters are Tywins. And then it is time for the introduction of a new character with a larger role - a secondary character as opposed to the tertiary characters like Ser Lambert - and that character is none other than the lady with the Myrish swamp, Lady Taena Merryweather. Because this story needed more characters at this point. (It really doesn't, but Taena I think adds something crucial to Cersei's story, a counterpoint in a way if you will). Lady Taena is defined by how she's hard to define, and as such I could argue that while I lost the mystery of Cersei, I was given Taena as a mystery woman instead. And she certainly will prove to be a mystery to Cersei as well.

The contrast is striking: After witnessing Cersei being, well, Cersei, so far through the chapter (Cersei the mother, Cersei the would-be-ruler, Cersei the paranoid, Cersei the hostile, Cersei the inconsiderate), we are suddenly greeted with this: It was Lady Merryweather who truly pleased her. That surname, though. Turnberry is worse, I suppose, but Merryweather...sounds like she's from a hobbit family. Now, Taena, in a sultry tone, tells Cersei she's word to her friends across the Narrow Sea, asking them to seize the Imp Tyrion. Cersei's already had promises from other characters regarding Tyrion's head, but for some reason when Taena says it, Cersei is pleased. I don't think the text makes it clear why Cersei is more pleased with Taena's fawning than the others' fawning, but Martin goes on to describe Taena as "too beautiful by half, long-legged and full-breasted, with smooth olive skin, ripe lips, huge dark eyes, and thick black hair" (of the tousled kind), a description that doesn't surprise me coming from Mr. Martin (gods are all the noblewomen hot) but the way it is worded doesn't really feel like Cersei's perspective; she's usually either suspicious or hostile to characters. So why this sudden appreciation of Lady Taena's fine body? Is it merely Martin trying to lay the groundwork for a later intimate scene between the two women? If so, it feels like it comes a bit out of left field, in the sense that we've at no point been given any hint whatsoever that Cersei could lean toward bisexuality. 

The woman is purring and smelling like sin, both warning signs I'd say, but Cersei thinks of her as ambitious, while her lord is "proud but poor" (though Lord Merryweather for all intents and purposes is an invisible entity here). She tells Taena that they will become good friends. Yeah... I'm not really feeling it here, George. There's a certain suddenness to this encounter, it is brief and Cersei suddenly doesn't feel or sound like the Cersei we've been reading about so far into the chapter. It feels, for the lack of a better set of words, a bit "tagged on". It doesn't flow convincingly enough for me...unless we get a few thoughts from Cersei on this encounter...*flips page*

Whoa, Then the Lord of Highgarden descended on her. It's like Martin doesn't want me to know what's going on inside Cersei's head right now re: Taena. The description of Mace "descending on her" is kinda funny, it sounds like this mighty furious winged warrior come down from the sky with vengeance; the way it is worded makes is sound so dramatic. Of course Mace Tyrell is neither mighty, furious, winged, or a warrior. Rich, yes, but not in control. He tells her how great Lord Tywin was, and just like that we're back with the Cersei we had before meeting Taena, as Cersei thinks of Mace as a fool. She's polite to him, though, because, you know, she needs the power of Highgarden at her side (also, maybe, because she feels he's not worthy of her vitriol?). Love how Tyrell puts a hand on her shoulder, it's such a typical gesture from a character not knowing what relationship he really has with, in this case, the Queen. He tells her he's there to help, and Cersei immediately assumes he is asking for the office of Hand of the King. And he might be asking that for all I know. Thing here is, Cersei immediately jumps to a conclusion (which is something of a theme throughout Feast, eh). Mace's response when she asks if he shouldn't be at home ruling the Reach allows Martin to give us a reminder on the political situation with House Tyrell: There's Willas with the twisted leg, currently ruling from Highgarden in Mace's stead, and his brother Garlan who will soon take Brightwater - these two kind of run Tyrell business while the rest of the family resides in King's Landing. More importantly, Mace tells Cersei that his uncle Garth is on his way from Oldtown to become master of coin (as requested by Lord Storm, I guess). Garth is bringing two sons as well. Yay more characters! There's a contrast here between the continually shrinking Lannister family and the many members of House Tyrell coming to town. You know honestly I had completely forgotten about the existence of a Garth Tyrell and his sons. More Tyrells, of course, isn't exactly what Cersei would consider a good idea. It's like the roses of Highgarden are putting all their pieces on the board now, a kind of soft taking over of rulership instead of war. Love this aspect, too; even though I've always felt the Tyrells as a major noble house are a little undeveloped compared to the others). 

Margaery Tyrell's dad somehow.

Lord Mace's arrogance takes Cersei's breath away, but Mace himself doesn't seem to register. When Mace begins to extol Garth the Gross' virtues, Cersei cuts him off, telling him she's already chosen a master of coin - Lord Gyles Rosby, the "cougher" (as Mace puts it). Mace protests, the matter was agreed upon, Garth is on his way. Cersei just doesn't care, giving him a smile and telling him that Garth better turn back home. The Queen of Thorns appears to aid a sputtering Mace, essentially stopping the discussion from escalating; though not without making snide remarks (always enjoyable). All right, no wonder I had forgotten about Garth the Gross. He never even got the chance to arrive. Lady Olenna gives Cersei a toothless smile (yeah I'm totally not seeing Diane Riggs as the Queen of Thorns when reading the book) and tells her that Garth's farting would make the small council chambers less pleasant, so maybe Rosby is better after all; of course, Olenna is both being sarcastic and finding an opportunity to rub some salt in Cersei's wounds - moving the conversation from Garth's flatulence to the "whiff of something unpleasant" in the holy sept (Tywin). This bit is priceless in it's simplicity:

"Mayhaps you smelled it too?"
"No," Cersei said coldly. "A scent, you say?"
"More like a stink."

Gotta love Olenna's no-nonsense dialogue. She really doesn't fear Queen Cersei. But Mr. George RR, good writers don't use adverbs like coldly! Or so I've heard. Still, can't you just imagine Cersei having to take Olenna's barbs in the face? \m/ Cersei suggests Olenna better go home to Highgarden, which would result in fewer Tyrells in King's Landing. Olenna tells her she won't leave until she's seen her granddaughter Margaery married to Tommen, of course. Mace says he wasn't able to finalize a wedding date with Tywin, and that he and Cersei will need to have a talk about that. 

Cersei promises herself she'll see Olenna dead when the old woman leaves with her son and flanked by her two guards, Left and Right. Cersei thinks that Olenna is "twice as clever as her lord son", which I'd say is grossly underestimating the Queen of Thorns, but I guess this shows us that Cersei is underestimating Olenna. 

Eventually Cersei picks up Tommen (interestingly, with no further ado - not a single line of dialogue reserved for Margaery and her cousins) and they get out of the temple. The rain has stopped, the autumn air smelling sweet and fresh (this is funny, because by now we know the air inside the temple is ... not as sweet and fresh). Tommen tells her Margaery says they'll go to Highgarden once they are wed, but Cersei tells him he won't - but he can ride back to the castle. This way, she can invite Lord Rosby into her litter and have a chat with him out of Tommen's hearing. She realizes that things are going fast around her, and she needs to take the reins as it were. I love how it just now that we understand that Cersei never asked Rosby to become the master of coin; it was just something she came up with on the spot while talking to Mace. She reacted instinctively, not wanting more Tyrells in town; now, in the litter, she does actually ask Rosby to take the office. His first response is to cough so violently Cersei thinks he's dying. Kinda funny stuff. In a way. He eventually accepts, and immediately coughs out the names of men he wants to replace. Love how Rosby, too, has his own political agenda. We are again reminded of Rosby's red silk by the way, a square of cloth he coughs his spittle onto. There's some symbolism going on here, for sure. The red could represent Rosby's loyalty to House Lannister, it could foreshadow his death (the color of blood and all that), or it could just be a nice detail, a bit of red color leaking into the bleak world around Cersei, much like the walls of the Red Keep were painted darkly red in the morning. The text itself suggests he uses a red silk to hide the fact he's spitting blood; fair enough, but it can be a symbol in addition to having a direct use. Anyway, love how Rosby's cough and red silk is enough to give us an impression of this character who rose from obscurity to a seat on the small council. Cersei doesn't have much hope that Rosby will last that long; in the litter, she already considers calling back Littlefinger (perhaps foreshadowing their later alliance already shown in the TV show); we're also reminded that Lysa Arryn is dead, and Cersei believes Littlefinger won't be able to control the Vale lords now.

Rosby asks who will be the next Hand of the King, and she says it will be her uncle, Kevan. The way she says it ("absently") suggests it's something she hasn't really bothered with, or rather that she can't imagine anyone else taking up that job. 

Relieved to be back at the Red Keep, she hands Tommen off to his squires and retires to her chambers to rest (is she so tired?). The day ain't over yet, though; Jocelyn enters - yeah the same Jocelyn whom we discussed in the beginning of the chapter, the one filling Tommen's head with fairy tales - at least I guess this is the same Jocelyn, it makes all kind of sense for the structure of the narrative, though all she does is tell Cersei that Qyburn wants to have a chat with her. A ruler gets no rest, Cersei thinks, perhaps with some pride? I like Qyburn's description here, it fits with the actor portraying him in the show as well - a rather shabby grandfather. Thematically it is nice to see "grandfather" used here as well, considering the chapter's been kind of revolving around grandfather Tywin. 

Qyburn's been investigamitating stuff and shit, mostly about the mysterious gaoler Rugen, the third man who disappeared during the night of Lord Tywin's murder (Rugen, of course, was Varys in disguise, unless I'm totally off track). Cersei knows all about the mysterious Rugen (what little there is to know anyway) but Qyburn has some new information: They found a loose stone under Rugen's stinking (there's stink again - love, with my wrinkling nose, how it runs through the chapter like a theme) chamber pot, and, Qyburn showing he's not afraid to get shit under his nails, dug up a gold coin from said secret hole. The interesting thing about the coin is that it's an old coin, from before the Conquest: a coin showing King Garth (Garth again) the Twelfth of House Gardener - the implication being this is a coin brought to King's Landing by House Tyrell. Cersei's mind immediately begins to spin, but I'm really not buying this, Qyburn. Cause you're a disgraced maester from Oldtown and this is a cheap way to get some revenge, eh. Cersei is like, "wow, could Mace Tyrell have paid Rugen..." The upside to this train of thought is that she may let go of her suspicion of poor Tyrion (though he ironically is Lord Tywin's murderer - but not Joffrey's as she also suspects) but I think it sounds too easy; a gold coin specifically linked to House Tyrell is too good to be true. And so I don't believe it. Either Qyburn - or Varys, leaving the coin there - is playing us a trick here. Be wary! At any rate Cersei tells Qyburn to keep quiet about his find (and should probably ask him to wash his hands twice before going to bed).

Next up is an update on the Mountain that Rides, Ser Gregor Clegane, last seen squishing Oberyn Martell's head to pulp, now poisoned by Oberyn's spear and at the hands of Qyburn, who in true Frankenstyle is experimenting on the giant's body. Qyburn suggests Oberyn's spear wasn't just coated with manticore venom, but that the venom was also ensorcelled ("black sorcery") which Cersei dismisses (but it tells us Qyburn is kind of a sorcerer in his own peculiar way - I like this subtle (?) hint). Anyway, Gregor refuses to die and his screams are becoming a nuisance to the castle at large, so Qy asks Cersei if he can move the man to the dungeons and he "will be able to tend to him more freely" (love that casual remark). His smile suggests he wants to investigate Gregor's wounds more closely, to learn more of the black arts. Qyburn is basically a black metal guy, y'all. Some blunt exposition follows to lend credence to Qyburn's pecular interests in the forbidden, but it's pretty cool though. Perhaps a bit too on-the-nose Frankenstein-like (much like the Brotherhood is a bit too on-the-nose Robin Hoodish) - point is, Qyburn is given leave to conduct his research on the Mountain (with results to follow). Of course, Gregor's head has been promised to Dorne but Cersei doesn't care about that (laying the groundwork for more conflict with House Martell). Cersei wonders how far she dares trust this ex-maester, and so do we all. Intriguing character, and one I like the more I read about him. Also loved the portrayal of the character in the TV show. He kind of became more prominent in a way, there. 

One jolly good fellow.

Gods, what a long chapter! It kind of lost a little of its immediate appeal along the way, becoming a bit more meandering with so many talky encounters, and we're still not done, wow. The opening is classic Martin, now we're slowly veering into the more plodding nature I usually associate with books four and five. Not giving up, though.
It's crazy hard to wrap my head around the fact that the story that began with these northerner kids finding those direwolf pups in the snow is now at a point where some weird guy is requesting to study a half-dead knight to gain dark sorcery points. And build Westeros its very own Darth Vader in the process. It's so...different...yet it belongs...gods my mind is wandering now... must...finish...chapter.

When Qyburn leaves, Cersei' wonders if there really is a link between the coin and her father's death, but she can't stop blaming Tyrion anyway; the text makes it pretty clear that everything is unclear to poor Cersei: "All the strings were tangled up together in ways she did not like." You may swap 'like' for 'comprehend', of course. I wonder if Martin is thinking of this very line as he struggles to wrap up The Winds of Winter (yeah I'm pretending he's already in the wrap-up phase). In conclusion, Cersei is unable to let go of her suspicions of her brother Tyrion. And I still think an old House Gardener coin is a silly ploy by whoever put it there. It's so...unconvincing.

Time for another meeting! Her uncle arrives at sunset, precise as ever, we get a renewed description of him (and he's not looking much like TV!Kevan that's for sure) and they eat supper and speak little during the meal. Cersei thinks he broods too much. Generally speaking this chapter is basically setting up what Cersei thinks of a variety of characters that will be important to her plotline, at the same time giving us more glimpses into her own psyche. It's rather nice, if by now somewhat plodding (but not as much as the plodding we'll face in many of Dance's chapters). 

We already know what Cersei wants out of this supper - making her uncle Hand of the King - so will he accept? That is the question that must needs keep us glued to the page. Love Kevan's snappy dialogue (or as Cersei considers his words, he is blunt); from the get-go we understand from reading between the lines that Kevan too, knows why he's here. He tells her that she would be smart to pick Mace Tyrell ("keep your friends close and your enemies closer") but of course she refuses to consider it; she operates on her feelings more than political savvy (this is one of the things I dislike about Cersei-as-POV; before Feast, she seemed to be much more politically savvy than she actually is). Kevan also tells her that it was dumb to shame Mace before half the court (back in the Hall of Lamps, when she denied Garth the Gross the office of master of coin), but by now Cersei is mostly annoyed by Kevan and won't hear any criticism, constructive as it may be. Eventually, Kevan tells Cersei that he is tired (of King's Landing and all that entails) - he misses his wife, has a dead son to mourn, and another (Lancel) who is getting married and becoming a lord in his own right, at Castle Darry; Lancel will need Kevan's help. Cersei is surprised that Kevan isn't jumping at the chance to become Hand; apparently, this man who always lived in Tywin's shadow, prefers to stay out of the limelight. 

So far, so good, but Martin nonetheless manages to give this convo a little bit more bite when Kevan does agree to become Hand of the King...on the condition that she packs her suitcase and travels back to Casterly Rock. Haha, that's some funny stuff, knowing how Cersei is already seeing herself as the great ruler of all of Westeros. She can only stare at him, before reminding him, "I am the regent," but Kevan says his brother had already planned for her to go home. Her anger rising, Kevan reamins unmoved - cool, aloof even. Kevan is basically telling her that he has no faith in her running things, especially with the "kingdom in ruins", and that he, like Tywin, considers Jaime the rightful heir (though this has little bearing on the conversation); the real stab comes when Kevan tells her that not only is she unfit to be queen, she is also unfit as a mother (considering how Joffrey turned out). At which point, of course, Cersei flings her wine cup in his face. You can kind of see this reaction coming from a thousand miles away because Kevan is right on the money and she knows it, somewhere deep inside she knows it. A predictable reaction, yes, but also very satisfying because it shows consistency in character. So far then Cersei is a great read, despite my misgivings of making her a POV. Kevan keeps his cool though and asks to be excused. Before that, we get a status update on the fellow for future reference (he's still got a few chests of coin set aside, he feeds two hundred knights, he's got freeriders) and to dissuade Cersei from seeing him as an enemy. Eventually Kevan suggests Mathis Rowan or Randyll Tarly for Hand of the King (wow I wonder how Randyll as Hand would go down), but Cersei immediately dismisses them for being Tyrell bannermen, she is just blind to seeing that it would be a smart move to keep the Tyrells close at hand. All the wise words spoken by Kevan are for naught, of course, and when he leaves Cersei is left thinking of her uncle as a traitor ... not able to see the wisdom he offered her. Dammit Cersei.

This artwork comes pretty close to how Kevan's described.

At long last we come to the end of the chapter, and in true Martin fashion it has a punchline of sorts; Kevan revealing that he understands Jaime is Tommen's father. I don't know, this far into the story I'm not feeling the shock of this revelation, but for Cersei's story it's of course important - there's no hiding the ugly truth anymore, the ugly truth she's been protecting since A Game of Thrones. 

And there you have it, a chapter with solid characterization (Cersei is, most of the time, excellently portrayed isn't she), some pieces moved on the political side of things (Gyles Rosby is master of coin; the Tyrells have been shamed; Kevan refuses Handship), and while the chapter deals with the after effect of Lord Tywin's death it also points the way to the next part of the story. A few small surprises are thrown in as well, and there's a lot of setup, from the not-terribly-important naming of the Stokeworth bastard to Cersei's descent into paranoia and delusion; yeah, re-reading this chapter was a nice experience. I loved not knowing Cersei, but I also love reading her POV, especially because she's so unreliable, it gives us so much to speculate about, like, what is really going on. 

With that, I bid thee a fond farewell (that's a seriously beautiful piece of autumn music) and see you next re-read post, which should be Jaime I from A Feast for Crows. [Honest Trailers voice] Ooooh, Jaime. And maybe more bewbs.[/Honest Trailers voice]


  1. Lollys Stokeworth is Falyse's pregnant sister. Tanda is their mother.

  2. Thanks for the correction! It's hard keeping the Stokeworths apart :)

  3. I'm pretty sure Lady Merryweather was in ASOS flattering Cersei, which gives more of a reason for Cersei's behavior towards her. I think Cersei feels like Lady Merryweather is the only person who knows what a great ruler she will be. Of course, Lady Merryweather is playing Cersei, but Cersei is falling for it thanks to her unearned opinion of herself.