Monday, April 7, 2014

[Re-read] Arya IX: How Deep is That River

Will she get her ass to Westeros in this season then?

[Spoilers for all books and even teaser chapters possibly ahoy]
So, it's April the 7th here and we northerners can finally watch Game of Thrones 4.1: Two Swords some six or so hours after the US had its premiere. An exciting day for Ice & Fire-fans to be sure (but not nearly as exciting as a new book release day, of course - we're talking different leagues). My binge-re-watch of the series stopped at Game of Thrones 2.5: The Ghost of Harrenhal but this morning I watched 2.6 The Old Gods and the New but can I keep myself from watching 4.1 until I've re-watched the rest of season two and three? No way! But I can read a chapter in A Storm of Swords first, to get into the proper mood for today's joyous return of the show.

Arya and the Hound, then! Who would've thought those two would share an adventure together? The books always seemed to focus on Sansa's relationship to Prince Joffrey's dog; but the story twisted and turned, and here we are, in the Riverlands, with Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark instead. Gotta love how the story always surprises. This chapter, for instance, which is almost forgettable because there are no big dramatic scenes, but still is so atmospheric and well written. I loves this chapter.

The chapter starts right off with Sandor reining up his horse, looking down at a river, and cursing. The rain is falling and Arya thinks the river must be a mile across. At first I thought that sounded like a very wide river but then I remembered that a mile doesn't equal our mil and the Amazon is almost seven miles across during dry season, so there. Again, Martin uses the weather to remind us that autumn has arrived, with the river having flooded, thick mats of sodden leaves choking the shoreline. She squirms in her saddle, but Sandor keeps a tight grip on her. She wonders if they have reached the Blackwater Rush, which goes to show how disoriented the girl is (not that I expect her to have studied many maps before Harrenhal). Clegane won't tell her though, he just tells her it's a river they need to cross. We're told she woke one night to smash his head in with a rock (a scene already depicted in the show), but Sandor was waiting for it and tells her that if she tries something like that again, he'll hurt her. She screams at him that he should just kill her as he killed Mycah the butcher's boy, and we're reminded that she bears a grudge. She's not much afraid anymore. Sandor reacts violently to the mention of Mycah, and reading between the lines one could suppose that he regrets having been Joffrey's loyal dog instead of thinking for himself; maybe he wouldn't have killed Mycah had he not been so slavishly loyal.

Arya thinks that Lord Beric will catch them now that the rivers are too swollen to cross - but there is no indication that she hopes Beric will catch up with them. It feels more as if she doesn't really care anymore. This could be interpreted as part of her character development, groundwork for what she will become in the later books. She does scratch her name on trunks of trees when she can, but Sandor caught her on the fourth time. Arya tells herself that Thoros will see her in his flames, so you could also argue that she is hoping for a rescue, I suppose. But she's thinking of it so...clinically. No desperation in her thoughts.
There is also a nice passage where she thinks of the rain washing down her face making it look as if she scries, but wolves never cry she reminds herself - the implication here being that she does cry. This passage too can be read as to mean she is being hard and not crying, but I'm getting the feeling we're supposed to be wondering. Yet another foreshadowing of her blindness in A Feast for Crows as well, with Arya thinking that the rain is stinging her eyes half-blind.

The sky is dark, the sun's been gone for days, and Arya is soaked, saddle-sore and has a fever. Sandor fortunately has the cure: "Wipe your nose and shut your mouth." Thanks, Sandor. He's actually sleeping half the time while they ride, which I find an impressive feat. But I'm worried about Arya because let's face it Westeros is pretty medieval in most ways and that means that a feverish cold can be fatal. We learn the name of Sandor's big black courser (I thought it was a destrier, but the text specifies that it is a courser, almost as big as a destrier but much faster). Arya has tried to steal him once, but Stranger, as the horse is named, almost bit her face off. I like to think that Martin chose the name 'Stranger' for deeper reasons than just having a cool, dark name (dark, because, you know, the Stranger - who was also mentioned in the previous chapter in the novel, thus forming a link between the chapters were there is no real plot relation); after all, hasn't the Stranger been an increasingly important presence in Arya's chapters when you think about it? And now we have, metaphorically speaking, Arya riding the Stranger toward her destiny.

They finally reach Lord Harroway's Town, but as we can expect things aren't going to get better for that reason. In fact, the town is "drowned and desolate", with only the upper story of an inn, the dome of a sept and a few other tall buildings rising from the churning waters. There's smoke coming from a tower, though, Arya notices. There's a strange boat anchored at one of the tower's windows and when Sandor shouts,two fellows appear (with a third appearing in one of the tower's windows). Sandor asks that they come over to their side of the river to bring them across and promises payment.
Arya reminds us that Sandor has no gold. The ferrymen agree to this, and six more men appear to row the boat toward the hill where Sandor and Arya descend to meet them.

Sandor being his usual grumpy self doesn't want to listen to the ferrymen's wit, forcing his horse onto the boat while one of the ferrymen tells him it will cost three gold to be ferried across. Sandor barks a laugh at that (love how Sandor barks because, you know, he's the Hound) and tells them he should own the ferry for that price. The ferrymen, of course, are exploiting the bad weather and admit it too. He's got a point, though; with the river so treacherous he needs more hands to man the boat. Sandor decides he likes an honest brigand and promises to pay when they get across. When the ferryman says he wants them right away, Clegane threatens with steel, and no one else aboard seem to wish to pick a fight with him, and so they finally get across while bantering. When the ferrymen mistake Arya for Sandor's son she gets furious, but Sandor quickly tells her to shut her mouth. It's a lovely scene, with the boat picking its way between chimneys and rooftops (damn I thought the town was on the other side as well - now I must recalibrate imagery in brain); There's not much going on between the lines here, it's just a nice description of the trip across the swollen river.

The current grows stronger when they leave the drowned town behind, and Arya briefly considers jumping over the side and be washed away before the Hound can act. The Hound is busy trying to calm Stranger, and so Arya sees her best chance is right now; and she gets real close to actually doing it, the chance of drowning be damned. But then there's a sudden shout, and the ferrymen rush forward with their poles, having to try to stave off an uprooted tree before it crashes into the boat. A moment of tension before the men aboard manage to catch the tree, one pole snapping - they shove it away and they can move on safely. However, there is a final lash hitting the boat and Arya slips and falls, and a ferryman stumbles over the side and disappears in the raging brown water immediately. This of course makes her reevaluate her decision to go swimming, and so she stays aboard.

They come ashore two miles further south, and Sandor lifts her like a doll back into Stranger's saddle. The boatmen, exhausted and having lost a colleague, demand six dragons now - three additional gold coins for the loss of one of his men. Fair enough, I'd say, but we already know the Hound is moneyless so I guess we can/should expect violence to ensue at this moment.  But instead, Sandor procudes a crumpled parchment and says, "There. Take ten." With the effect that I hear Homer Simpson's lovely voice in my head..."Wow, I'll never drink beer again." "Here's some beer." "I'll take ten!" One of my favorite quotes, that. From The Simpsons. Bloody great show it used to be.
It's a "dead man's note", Sandor explains, good for nine thousand dragons. Ten of them are for the ferrymen, and he promises to come back for the remaining eight thousand nine hundred and ninety. That's kind of hilarious, isn't it. The ferryman reading the parchment (I'm surprised he can read, to be honest, is he a maester in disguise or something?) complains that he doesn't want writing - where's Sandor's knightly honor?
"Knights have no bloody honor. Time you learned that, old man," Sandor replies, and it's a poignant line delving straight into one of the series' themes. He gives his horse the spur and off they ride, leaving the ferrymen cursing at their backs. Sandor tells Arya that Lord Beric will certainly not find them anytime soon, because that ferry's not going anywhere the rest of the day.

Arya says nothing, but thinks for herself, Valar morghulis. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei, Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling, Ser Gregor and the Tickler. And the Hound, the Hound, the Hound. That is to say, she really hasn't grown more fond of Sandor lately.

The rain actually stops, but Arya is sneezing and shivering badly, so Sandor calls a halt for the night and tries to make a fire, unsuccessfully. He reminds us that he hates fires also when they are not, well, burning; he can't get the wet wood to burn. When he catches Arya looking at a knife he warns her. He tells her to stop trying to find a way to kill him, because it won't help her. He's so hilariously cold. Or hard as stone, as Arya thinks. She tells him she doesn't like his face (she's pretty honest) because it's all burned and ugly, and Sandor calls her a fool for trying to run away. He is surprised when Arya tells him she knows who his brother, Ser Gregor the Mountain, is, and Dunsen and Polliver and the rest. When he asks how she's come to know these fellows, she tells him that they were caught at a village by the lake, when Lommy Greenhands was killed by Raff the Sweetling. I love this little seed Martin plants here! He's basically telling us that Arya is not forgetting what Raff did to Lommy, and the payoff we had in Martin's teaser chapter a few weeks ago, "Mercy". Isn't this stuff great?

Sandor realizes Gregor never realized he had caught a "big fish" so to speak - or a little wolf, as Arya is better described - and he tells her he's going to tell him that before killing him. We might just file this one away too, then, in case there's a payoff. Will we see the two brothers slug it out and Sandor telling Gregor he had Arya? Not sure he will tell Gregor that, but I feel that the text is preparing us for a showdown between the brothers Clegane. Most likely, we'll see Gregor - as Ser Robert Strong of the Kingsguard, see A Dance with Dragons - champion Cersei, and Sandor as a champion of the faith. If this doesn't happen, I'll be rather surprised as the two brothers' arcs seem to be headed in that direction.

Sandor tells Arya that he saved Sansa from the mob back in King's Landing during the riot against Prince Joffrey, and Arya doesn't believe it. The Hound mentions this to show Arya that there's more to him than just butchering butchers' boys. Arya admits she believes he is taking her back to King's Landing (of course, she does not know how Sandor abandoned his post), and another foreshadowing of Arya's blindness-to-come when Sandor replies, "Stupid blind little wolf bitch." It's really all over the place, isn't it? And Martin keeps telling us he's not an architect but a gardener. He's one hell of a gardener, then. The Tyrells are envious. He explains to her that he's done with the Lannisters, and that they aren't at the Blackwater Rush, but the Trident. He tells her they are going to the Twins - he expects a good reward for delivering one of Catelyn Stark's daughters (I can only imagine a scene where Arya is reunited with Robb and Catelyn...sigh...though she was closer with Bran, Jon, and Ned, to be honest...still, wouldn't it be sweet?) Sandor even goes so far as to say he could enter Robb's service (and that would be sweet as well, with the Hound suddenly fighting the good fight for the North), but Arya says Robb will never accept Sandor (and I suppose she's right); then, Sandor explains, he'll just take as much gold as he can carry and ride off. The last line of the chapter is great: "Keep your mouth shut and do as I tell you, and maybe we'll even be in time for your uncle's bloody wedding." 

Of course, the use of bloody is nothing new from Sandor Clegane, so on a first read you don't read more into it. But then, in hindsight, the line gets its double meaning - you just have to know that Uncle Edmure's wedding is going to be a bit on  the bloody side. Can't you just imagine Martin at his desk chuckling as he wrote that line? Gonna get 'em good! The obvious foreshadowing (it's not really foreshadowing either, it's more a little trick) here, and which we find all through the work, is one of the reasons why these books are so eminently re-readable. All the small details that make up this somewhat complex fantasy tragedy (at least this book I think we can safely call a fantasy tragedy) are so rewarding (I say somewhat complex because I have, after all, discovered Steven Erikson during the Long Waits).

And that's how this chapter ends. It's short, to the point, well written and lays the groundwork for the upcoming Arya chapters. Now she knows where she's headed, the readers are biting their fingernails wondering if she'll ever reach her mother, we are clear on Sandor's motivations, and rain still falls. Not too much to theorize about here, but it's an enjoyable chapter (but then, I've always liked Arya's travels through the riverlands).


  1. you miss-read something; the Hound says the boat-men aren't going to accept IOUs instead of real gold anymore (which is what beric pays with) not that the ferrymen aren't going anywhere tonight.