August 08, 2011

The Watcher

Areo Hotah
Areo Hotah is guarding the Martells and Sand Snakes in the throne room of Sunspear, while court is in session. All eyes are on a chest in the hands of an envoy, and Hotah thinks that if the contents of the chest don't meet the expectations of the court, blood will flow. He makes himself ready. The chest is in the hands of Ser Balon Swann, and maester Caelotte moves toward him to take it over. Hotah thinks that Balon may be uglier than Arys Oakheart, but certainly more of a man and warrior and much more difficult to defeat than Oakheart. The chest is opened, and a large skull presented to everyone and put upon a marble column.

Some Sand Snakes engage Swann over the matter of death of Gregor Clegane, whose skull it is, and the matter of his death. The answers are not quite what satisfies them, but Doran Martell breaks the ice by proposing a toast to king Tommen. Hotah doesn't drink himself, carefully registrating who doesn't drink either: many of the most aggressive and unruly Dornish lords, mostly. Areo wonders why Doran ever set the Sand Snakes free again. He then observes that Aryanne has changed considerably since her release. He puts it largely on being chastened by captivity, but also acknowledges the effect of some unknown secret that her father has let her in.

When all guests seat themselves to the table, Aryanne is seated next to Balon Swann, whom she tries to seduce the instant she sits down. Hotah observes that the man Swann is not so easily seduced like the boy Oakheart was, however, and Swann doesn't eat nor drink much. The shadow of the knowledge that neither Myrcella nor Oakheart are present and that no explanation has been given to the fact looms over all. When asked about it by Ser Balon, Doran tells him they are at the water gardens, and that he will go there tomorrow. He then tells Swann the history of the gardens, stressing the fact that a Targaryen queen named Daenerys founded them.

When the feast is dissolved, the Sand Snakes and Aryanne accompany Doran to his chambers. Here, they start to talk about the next steps. Ellara is the voice of peace, trying to soothe the revenge thirst of her half-daughters, but she fails. Crying, she leaves the hall. Doran lets all Sand Snakes swear a holy vow that they are to serve him and not betray him, on their father. He then tells the remaining Sand Snakes that the official story about Myrcella will be that Darkstar did the deed, a story Myrcella will support, and that he has knowledge of the secret plan of Cercei's. Myrcella and Trystane are to go back to King's Landing and attacked on the way, Trystane being killed. They would claim that Tyrion did it. To check that move, Doran intends to send Myrcella to King's Landing, alongside Nym, who should take Oberyn's place at court, and Tyene, whose task it is to come close to the Faith Militant. He then tells Aryanne that ships from Volantis have left Lys, an army and elephants aboard, to an unknown destination. They don't know if it's Dany or not, and whether Quentyn is with them, but he means to be ready. After all have left, Doran asks Areo Hotah if keeping Dorne out of the War of the Five Kings was his glory or shame, but Hotah can't answer it.

With this chapter, the storylines of "A Dance with Dragons" and "A Feast for Crows" merge again, this time for the south. Since the last Aryanne chapter came really late in "A Feast for Crows", the corresponding story line is by now all but finished. Almost everything up from here is new, even compared to the previous book. It is astonishing how seamlessness the chapter continues the Dorne storyline after over six years. It seems like Doran muttered "Fire and blood" only pages before. We now see what became of his plans, which he confided Aryanne in in her last chapter.

Balon Swann really was delayed, as planned, giving them time to prepare a stupid story for Myrcella, brainwashing her into blaming Gerold Dayne. He intends to check Cercei's trap - it remains unclear who the voice at court which told him might be - by sending Swann on the hunt for Dayne. He carefully positions the Sand Snakes, last of his dwindling resources, at King's Landing. Then he prepares for his eastern plans to come to fruition.

Of course, we know they won't. The ships sailing across the Narrow Sea - we learn that they are underway by now - are the ones of the Golden Company, their war elephants and Aegon Targaryen. They know nothing of any plan with Doran Martell, and it seems like Doran was kept in the dark about the existence of Aegon. They consequently won't land in Dorne or in King's Landing, but in the Stormlands - but that is the matter for the next Connington chapter. Again we see that plans aren't worth much anymore. The illusion of complex, complicated and perfect plans by experienced players is shattered beyond repair, and it's a good thing. After we seemed to know everything after "A Feast for Crows", we see it now crumble.

The chapter again reestablishes the Dornish as a quarrelsome, aggressive and disunited people, difficult to rule and hard to keep at bay. Many powers in Dorne still want the war, and Doran needs all his strength to prevent it. At least he has hacked off the head of the snake now by integrating Aryanne and the Sand Snakes into his schemes and claiming the legacy of Oberyn. It will remain to be seen if the can be succesful, and where Dorne will drift to.

As to a side note, the low quality of Robert's Kingsguard is again reinstated. Areo Hotah sees Balon Swann as a formidable opponent, but is certain that he can defeat him nonetheless, and dismisses Arys Oakheart as a stupid boy. When such are the best that the kingsguard can offer, their decline really can be grasped with bare hands. 


  1. There is an interesting subtext in this chapter about how quick a leader should be to go to war. I think Doran's story about the other Daenerys and the Water Gardens is very important, especially because Quentyn repeats the story to Dany later on. Doran's takeaway from the story is that "It is an easy thing for a prince to call the spears, but in the end the children pay the price. For their sake, the wise prince will wage no war without good cause, nor any war he cannot hope to win." This is of course exactly the dilemma our Dany is dealing with in Meereen.

    The central conflict in Dorne is between the cautious-to-a-fault Doran and the bellicose Sand Snakes. Personally I think Martin is maneuvering Dorne toward backing "the wrong horse" -- Aegon. Whether or not Quentyn's fate becomes known anytime soon and discredits Doran, Doran will not be able to suppress the population's desire for war once the arrival of Elia's alleged son is known. But the Sand Snakes' preferences will prove to be even more disastrous once Dany shows up and decides not to trust the Mummer's Dragon.

  2. @ahorwitt, well said! Things are so precariously balanced right now that a slip in the wrong direction will bring all of Doran's hopes and plans crashing to the ground. The Sand Snakes' preoccupation with their father's death and their initial unwillingness to listen speak of future trouble, especially once Nym deduces who Ser Robert Strong is!

    Things will get interesting...

    1. I concur too. However, I don't believe myrcella is brainwashed. Remember, she's an excellent cyvasse player and very good at judging how people operate. Another Tywin/Tyrion in the making...