September 20, 2011

The Queen's Hand

Ian McElhinney as Barristan Selmy in HBOs GOT
Quentyn Martell is dead, after three days of fighting death. The dragons he loosened have burned parts of Meereen and made their home in two of the pyramids. Only the rains gave quelched the flames in the city. Looking at Quentyn's burned body, Barristan muses about the death by fire and how ugly it is. He admires Missandei for being with the prince day and night and wonders if Dany is dead at all, fiercely denying it without putting his doubts to rest.

When the Shavepate enters, his mind shifts to questions of politics. The Green Grace whom Barristan send to the Yunkai'i to negotiate for release of the hostages has not yet returned. The Yunkish demands to restore Hizdahr to his throne and to slay the dragons still stand. Since the imprisonment of Hizdahr, the Sons of the Harpy have taken up their killings again, and the toll of the current night and day alone has reached 23, as the Shavepate reports, who demands hostages to be killed instead of Barristan's way to collect blood money from the pyramids. Barristan declines and calls the council into session.

In absence of Daenerys, all the commanders meet as equals under his supervision at a table in the throne room, from which Hizdahr's dragon thrones have been removed. Belwas returns to the council as well, visibly weakened by the poison, but alive. The first discussion point concerns the Dornish, who have been imprisoned. Most demand their death for treason, but Barristan just states that he needs them for something and moves to the next matter, the dragons. Hundreds of sheep were brought to the fighting pits, and as for now, the dragons go there when they are hungry and don't attack humans. They are not controlled either, however. The representative of the Stormcrows has no faith in the negotiations with the Yunkai'i, claiming that they are liars and that they need to free Daario somehow. The discussion moves to the object of the peace, and to everyone's surprise Barristan tells them that if the Green Grace should return without success, he would attack the Yunkai'i, shattering Hizdahr's peace.

That takes the discussion to strategy. For hours they ponder the question how best to deploy their troops, and in the end, the question of the dragons arises. Barristan says he is sure that they will join the fight once it commences, being drawn by blood and violence, but he doesn't say that he isn't sure at all whether the dragons will make any difference between the parties. After the discussion, he goes to the Dornishmen, who tell him how and what they did. Archibald Yronwood proves to be the more prudent of the two, grasping what Barristan wants, who sends them to the Yunkai'i with the rest of the Windblown deserters. Their task is to persuade the Tattered Prince to change sides and to free the hostages.

Barristan stands atop the pyramid again, watching the city and musing about the dragons. Rhaegal is the more dangerous of the two, he is certain. After that, Barristan gets the message that the Green Grace returned. He thinks she is a loyal, faithful friend to Daenerys. Obviously, the negotiations weren't succesful, so Barristan is determined to command the attack. The Green Grace advises him to restore Hizdahr, since the peace is too precious to risk it, but Barristan doesn't concur. Before the conversation can go any futher, the Shavepate enters the room and tells him that the Yunkai'i have flown bodies over the walls with all six trebuchets.

And there goes the peace. Barristan is determined to attack the Yunkai'i, and the negotiations are only a fig leaf with which he conceals it to preserve his honor. His plan seems sound enough: preparing the troops inside the walls, giving everybody an assigned task, and arrange a signal that can be seen in the whole city (the beacon fire) to be able to start every second. The chances are good, since the Yunkai'i are still weakened and they have reason to believe that two of the companies could go over. Barristan makes good use of all the advice he gets, not dismissing anything just because he hasn't thought of it or because he doesn't fully comprehend it. He even accepts clever advice from Missandei, which all speaks for him. He definitely is a good hand.

It remains unclear what bodies are thrown into the city. It doesn't seem too likely that they are the hostages, although I wouldn't object Daario dying (another thing with Joqho, though). I think it more likely to be plague corpses, as to bring the disease into Meereen too. The nobles of the city could barricade in their pyramids, while Dany's power base would suffer, so it seems a valid strategy for the Yunkai'i at that point. I would guess that Barristan isn't the kind of guy to be shocked by such strategies, so after the cliffhanger of this chapter's end he is likely to command the attack to commence immediately. We'll don't know until "The Winds of Winter", of course.

The last big questions centers around the Green Grace. Barristan thinks she's one of Daenerys' truest friends, but somehow I don't believe it. She seems false to me, like the Shavepate does, although the aggressive manner of the latter somehow make it more unlikely that he plays a double role than with the Green Grace, who seems more sinister. Barristan of course isn't the guy to dwell too deep into politics and insight into human nature, but one shouldn't discount the Green Grace too early as the poisoner: she would know that Hizdahr doesn't like locusts, and no one would suspect her. And from the beginning, she manufactured the peace and tried to defend it, and most importantly she is the chief arranger of the marriage with Hizdahr, so she may well be the harpy. Possible that she manufactured the body hauling herself when she "negotiated" with the Yunkai'i.

As to side notes, it's interesting that Barristan fears death in bed and wants to die on the battlefield. Perhaps this sentiment is, subconsciously, responsible for his determination to attack. Second, the knights of the round table he founds in the council are somewhat a blatant parallel, but then again, the theme of a table where everyone is equal is older than the Camelot tales and can be found in various cultures. Third, Barristan obviously knighted two of his squires now, having succesfully disposed Hizdahr. His fear of death certainly plays a role in this. It remains to be seen how knightly they will truly be. Fourth and last, we get some additional knowledge of the dragons: they are drawn to blood and violence, which leaves all sort of indications, especially regarding the use of them by the Targaryen kings as I discussed prior in my essay at the Tower of the Hand. If the dragons get all violent upon seeing it and can't differentiate friend from foe, you really don't want to have three of them on the battlefield at once. 


  1. I think the catapulted corpses are a desperation move by the Yunkai. Their host is in chaos due to the bloody flux, and I think we're going to have a huge slaughter by Barristan's men when they finally attack. That's assuming that Victarion and his men don't show up first to slaughter them.

    Daenerys really mis-managed the dragon situation. It's not like "stick a bunch of sheep in an arena and let the dragons hunt them there" is rocket science, and it appears to work at keeping them from attacking humans. So why didn't she try that, instead of initially letting them run wild, then over-reacting by chaining them up?

    After re-reading this chapter, I definitely thought the Green Grace was close to the Sons of the Harpy. Throughout the entire book, she's been one of the "voices of tradition", constantly urging Daenerys towards acting more and more Ghiscari, and also favoring the union with Hizdahr. She's also constantly pushing a deal with the Yunkai and other Ghiscari attackers.

    I never got the "false" vibe off the Shavepate. He's ruthless, but he's not the only one urging Daenerys to end the Harpy rebellion by massacring the families known to be less than fully supportive - Daario told her the same thing.

  2. Probably the main theme of ADWD is that peace is incredibly difficult to achieve. I believe that peace in Meereen was in fact achieved in the fighting pits chapter, Dany IX, and it was subsequently broken by a combination of all parties, but largely Dany/Drogon, the Shavepate, and Barristan.

    Many readers blur the Harpy and the Yunkai'i together because they're both Dany's enemies, but I'm convinced they are different groups with different interests. I think this is evident from the final chapter, when the Green Grace is tearful and frightened at the impending destruction of Meereen at their hands.

    The peace with the Harpy and the peace with the Yunkai'i are broken separately. First, the Harpy: the re-read has made me quite convinced that the Green Grace is the Harpy and that the Shavepate is the poisoner. Green Grace repeatedly pushes the Hizdahr marriage and eventually gets it. The Harpy got a peace with Dany and the Yunkai'i and had what they wanted, there was no reason for them to poison Dany when 8000 Unsullied remained as an occupying army. Shavepate did it to frame Hizdahr as a Littlefinger-esque power play. He then manipulated Barristan into deposing the innocent Hizdahr, thus breaking the peace with the Harpy at the exact moment Meereen needs to be united against the Yunkai'i.

    Second, the Yunkai: Drogon appeared right when Dany was most frustrated and furious at what her peace has cost -- right after she throws off her Meereenese garments, in fact. Is this merely symbolic, or is Drogon channeling Dany's mental state and anger? Drogon causes chaos that ends up killing the "old lion" commanding the Yunkai, putting the peace in danger. Tyrion's chapters show that even after this the Yunkai are still divided, but Yezzan's death and the approaching arrival of the Volantene fleet start to make war extremely likely. Still, no war actually occurs until Barristan deposes Hizdahr -- the Yunkai'i had made a peace with Hizdahr, not Barristan.

    Barristan is, I think, a terrible Hand. Unlike Jon and Dany, he shows no desire to understand the complexities and difficult compromises that peace entails. He seeks a black and white world where locking up the bad guy will solve the problem. Shavepate perceives this and plays him like a violin. The Green Grace says in this chapter, "The peace that we worked so hard to forge flutters like a leaf in an autumn wind," and I believe she is speaking honestly. Perhaps Barristan has made the right choice for his and Dany's own power, but it will prove to be disastrous for the people of Meereen.

  3. @Brett: Yeah, think much the same.

    @Ahorwitt: I totally concur, and about the peace-theme you will be able to read essays from me soon over at the Tower of the Hand :) I didn't want to say that Barristan is a great hand, but that he has more understanding of politics than, say, Eddard did. He just refuses to really go into it and lets his plain world views get in the way.

  4. Barristan's done an admirable job so far given the circumstances, and there really was no helping it at this point, you cannot in the end save what was a dieing cause to begin with as was the case with Meeren since Dany decided to stay, as both Dany and Barristan have learned, and sometimes there really is no other recourse then to take up steel.

    Also, something I wanted to mention before regarding your towerofthehand essay on the Targs that I think you missed Stefan, we can in fact account for the whereabouts of at least one of the other dragons prior to the Field of Fire, as Visenya was dispatched to secure the surrounding area of what would be the Crownlands for the Iron Throne, no doubt having Vhagar in town.

  5. Does meeren have catapults within the city? If so the should tasty burnt animal carcass into the center of the yunkai. Or lots of blood. Or just sneak a big meat cart out. There is little food around so the dragons will speed to food and as the yunkai see them they open fire with weapons that only serve to piss the dragons of. The boys start roasting soldiers. Id think the battle ends there. Meeren should stay silent and still so the dragons focus remains on the enemy. And yunkai and the rest will run so the dragons will have won it without casualities. And hopefully the dragonbinding horn works to keep them from acring the city when they are hungry again.