August 06, 2011

The prince of Winterfell

Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy in HBOs Game of Thrones
Theon stands before the horrified Jeyne Poole, sent to take her to Ramsay. It's his task since he is the closest thing to a relative Arya Stark would have, and so he was clothed like a lord. While soothing Jeyne with empty lies about Ramsay's gentleness, he muses about the Boltons and Roose's promise to him to restore him to the lordship of the Iron Islands, which Theon thinks unlikely at best. Hearing the music outside growing more adamant, he takes Jeyne out to the godswood, where Ramsay and the wedding guests are placed in the trailing mists. He remembers his youth around the trees of the godswood and how he first kissed a girl and later lost his virginity here, before he finally gives the bride over to Ramsay in a ritualized exchange of words.

The wedding is short, with a brief silent prayer below the hearttree, and then the guests go inside the Great Hall. Theon remembers how they quickly restored it as well as the breaches in the walls when they got here, using the squatters by promising them mercy and later hanging them after the work was done. Now the castle is protected by great gates and the hall has a new roof. Theon is full of regret for his initial attack on Winterfell, feeling hat it started all. Trailing behind, he now makes double haste to the hall, which is crammed full, and squeezes himself on a bench on the dais next to Lady Dustin. When he listens to a singer named Abel, he remembers his arrival in Winterfell with six "washerwomen", remarking that he doesn't sing very good but better than no singer. Looking at the hall, he notices the burn marks on the walls and the fresh wood of the rafters, again becoming melancholic.

Roose Bolton gets up and holds a speech about Stannis being too craven to come, and that they will feast instead of fighting then, and that the enmities between Stark and Bolton are forever over with this marriage. Then the food is brought, and after the main courses, Manderly presents three abnormous wedding pies, all of them with meat in them and stuffed gorgeously. When Lady Dustin asks Theon why he doesn't eat much, he thinks of his broken teeth and what agony biting with them is. Lady Dustin's talk soon shifts to Manderly, whom she thinks craven for giving in to the guys killing his son so eagerly. She expects him to perish in the battle since Bolton knows that Manderly doesn't like him, and she states that the weakness runs in Manderly's blood due to their first exodus from the shores of the Mander. When three maester come up on the dais to talk to Roose, she expresses her disdain for them, declaring that maesters are false, rule from behind the scene and serve unknown masters. She makes clear that she especially harbors hatred for a maester Walys, who was Winterfell's maester for Rickard Stark, and holds him accountable for the Tully marriage which obviously she thinks a bad idea.

The maesters are by then finished talking to Roose, who stands up and anounces that Stannis marches on Winterfell. He calls the lords into his solar for a strategy session, and declares that Ramsay will now consumate his marriage. The latter orders Theon with six of his "bastards" to bring Jeyne to his quarters, where the bastards are ordered to leave. Ramsay commands Theon to slice Jeyne's cloths open and to make her wet with his mouth so he doesn't have so much trouble, a task that Theon, for the first time thinking of himself as Reek again, complies to.

It is clear to see that Martin builds up a curve of redemption for Theon in his chapters of "A Dance with Dragons". He began as a low creature, utterly broken by Ramsay, and was shaped into a tool for Bolton, without a will of his own. Now he is "the prince of Winterfell", posing as the broken and captured Theon Greyjoy, but as Theon nonetheless. It is a journey to himself, or to a new self, that Theon is undertaking here, carefully treading on the rotten ice that his surroundings are. Theon may get a backlash in the end, when Ramsay forces him into humiliation again, but the spark of "Theon" even he cannot make undone.

As to the war in the North, Roose Bolton now receives the news of Stannis having left Deepwood Motte, which is old news by now since we already witnessed Jon Snow getting it. Bolton seems confident and in no particular haste when he calls his war council. Manderly is a liability for him, Dustin is right in that, and the plan to see him getting killed in the battle sounds exactly like something Roose would do, especially given the Frey marriage which then has only Wylis left in the way of White Harbor. Dustin is utterly wrong, however, in her assessment of the situation about Manderly being craven. That an at least halfway cunning player as Lady Dustin buys the story shows how good Manderly manages to hide it. It is a gruesome detail, on top of it, that he serves the lost Freys baked in the wedding cake. I have to confess, I totally missed that detail on my first read, but Manderly lays it out as clearly as he can possibly manage. It gives him and the complete theme that the North has only a civilized surface but barbaric roots beneath that is so dominating in the whole book an even new level, since Manderly is established as one of the "good guys" and now makes up his own version of a medieval "Sweeney Todd".

We have several side notes in the chapter. The first concerns Lady Dustin. I can't remember her from the previous books at all, but I can't shake the feeling that I should know her somehow. She seems like a cunning and vile schemer, a bit like a northern version of the Queen of Thorns, and her role in all that remains somewhat unclear in "A Dance with Dragons". The second thing concerns Mance Rayder, who got into Winterfell posing as Abel the bard, an acrynonym of "Bael", whose story he once before used as a model for his own exploits. It is not entirely clear if the name coincides with the christian Abel only by chance or if Martin chose to it deliberately, but I would think it's the former. Third, I find the detail about Theon's broken teeth the most gruesome of all the atrocities he suffered. I can't help it, but the imagination of the broken teeth and the resulting agony and constraint grinds my bowels. Fourth, as to the matter of "was Theon gelded?", the chapter still escapes a definitve answer. There can two tidbits be found, one for either side, and both on the last page: Ramsay taunts Theon with "does your cock get hard?" when Jeyne stands naked in the room, and considering Ramsay's nature, he would certainly refer to a gelded Theon directly if he actually had taken his cock. The style in which Ramsay asks just suggests to me that Theon still has a cock. When Theon is horrified after being ordered to prepare Jeyne, however, he mutters of "I don't have…", without getting anymore specific. This could very well refer to his missing parts, but we can't be certain.


  1. Aaah, this was indeed a disturbing chapter. Every time I read about Ramsey Snow, I'm revolted by his very description! The thing that makes me feel guilty, though, is my irritation with Jeyne.

    The girl has never been shown to have a particularly strong constitution, but to have been shoved in a whore house after the Stark Household being killed should have given her SOME kind of backbone. Yet she cringes and hangs her head, and I find myself wanting to kick her. And then I remember that she's scared and still rather young, and I feel guilty.

    Arya would have ripped off Ramsey's weenie!

    Be back with more, gotta reread the chapter.

  2. Frey Pie: best thing in the whole book. :D

    1. Titus Andronicus esque revenge. Arya served Weasel soup, and at the wedding of the fake Arya is Weasel Pie.