A Dance With Dragons 2: The East

Part 1
[Warning: Spoilers Ahead! Stay away, H]

Last time I examined the North. Even though things didn’t move at a particularly breakneck speed in the North, there a definitely a feeling of going somewhere, rather than aimless meandering. This time I talk about the East, where this is somewhat less the case.

Dany
Her chapters were also something of a disappointment, but I don’t think they were as abominable as the collective voice of the Internet seems to believe. She has gone from success to success for three books, and little of that success has been earned. Granted, here, she makes mistake after mistake and doesn’t really have to face the consequences. Her big mistake that gets under-emphasized in the text, simply because it’s an error of omission, rather than an active choice we see Dany make, is neglecting her dragons. They become less and less controllable, and her solution is to lock them up and ignore them. And yet as a reward she gets whisked away on her dragon while everyone else is left to pick up the pieces.

Dany’s and Jon’s arcs provide nice contrasting portraits of leadership in troubled times, after the war is won, but the peace is uncertain. This obviously parallels Cersei’s arc in Feast. This is one of the ways that the two books are stronger as a whole than as two separate works.

I don’t mind Darrio at all. People are attracted to whoever they’re attracted to, and there’s no reason at all to expect that Dany would be in to paragons of virtue in shining armour.

This is all well and good, but the real problem is that she’s no closer to Westoros than she was at the start of the book. psychologically, maybe she’s closer to invading (it’s hard to get a read based on that last chapter of hers), but physically she’s still an ocean away, without a fleet, and now, with barely an army. Is it doable in a book or two? Sure. But in the larger context of the series, does it feel like her journey to Westoros is paced properly? Not at all.

Tyrion
I enjoyed the first half of his travels, with Illyrio and Griff, but things went downhill fast after he was separated from them. In his travels with Griff we get Tyrion’s incisive, critical eyes on the most important new players in the saga. Aegon’s existence got spoiled for me ages ago, and what little we see of the boy who would be king leads me to believe that he’s going to take a stupid, cocky risk and get himself killed in the coming books, but for the time being he seems like a nice kid with a competent support staff.

But then things go wrong for Tyrion. We get the joy of spending time with Jorah Mormont, a man who I’ve always found creepy and annoying. And then there’s Penny, who seems to exist solely for the purpose of interacting with Tyrion. She might as well be an abused puppy for all the internal complexity she shows. The coincidence of Tyrion meeting one of these characters is a stretch, both in as many days is absurd. From a world-building perspective, our little trip through Eastern slave-culture seems utterly unnecessary. From a character perspective, I frankly would have preferred Tyrion meeting Dany while he was drunk and bitter, instead of him having this time to recover himself.

That’s actually maybe the biggest problem with the Tyrion chapters. I forget the extent to which it’s teased in Storm of Swords, but certainly from the start of Dance, we have the prospect of a Tyrion-Dany meeting dangled before our noses, and I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to be disappointed when Martin doesn’t pay that off. Between Tyrion’s well-noted love of dragons, and his quick wits, and Dany’s stubbornness and suspicions of anyone involved in Robert’s War, it’s a conversation that could have been the highlight of the book. Instead, we have to keep waiting.

That said, I am glad that Dance tends to emphasize Tyrion’s less admirable traits. He too often comes off as a lovable rogue simply because that’s how he sees himself, when, in fact, he’s done some really loathsome things.

Jon Connington
Another stern, older man with a dream. He’s obviously reminiscent of Victarion and Aeron. For now, he just exists as our eyes on Aegon. The greyscale adds an interesting element, especially if he’s able to keep it secret for a while, and if he allows himself to get pressured into a political marriage. I guess it’s an open question as to whether he’s contagious or not.

Incidentally, the two top options for Aegon seem to be, in order: 1) he really is who he says he is, and 2) he’s Illyrio’s son. Not enough information to say either way. I’m not really sure it matters. I don’t think there’s any good proof that can be offered, and unless he marries Dany he’s always going to have this slight smell of pretender to him. But I don’t see why that should hold him back significantly, especially if he establishes himself as a preferable ruler to Stannis and Tommen and Dany and anyone else who comes along. Without the dragons, if the lords of Westeros are forced to choose between the foreign invaders, they’d pick him over Dany. Dany will come as the leader of this horde of strange, foreign barbarians, and she’s acquired strange ideological beliefs, and she’s a woman to boot. On the other hand, I can imagine a deep-seated ancestral fear of dragons pushing the Westerosi towards Dany, these quirks be damned.

Barristan
It’s nice to see the old guy get some action. He seems pretty obviously doomed in the long run (but then, who isn’t?) but in the meantime he’s growing a spine and kicking some ass.

Quentyn
Fine in and of itself. Quentyn turns out not to be a very exciting character, but his journey is not overly filled with aimless wandering, and his arc provides a pleasant subversion of the dashing-knight-on-a quest-to-win-the-princess trope. But it feels weird to so thoroughly undercut the climax (and, some would say, on worthwhile part) of the Dorne section of Feast.

Victarion
The unexpected standout point of view character from Dance. The only chapters duller in Feast than his were his brother Aeron’s. But what a difference a book makes. Out on the high-seas, away from his brothers and the politics of the Seven Kingdoms, Victarion becomes this hilarious, deranged, scary bad-ass. It seems clear that in the long run, his narrative function will be to provide ships for the Dany’s invasion force. (Why else keep so meticulous a count of how much ships he has in his fleet?) There’s also the wildcard question about that horn he’s got. I’ve been taking it essentially as an object of faith that Dany isn’t going to have the dragons stolen from her, but it would be quite the shock if the Ironborn pulled it off.

It feels like the story in the East has taken an unexpected turn and has got caught up in a strange place. Given Feast and the opening of Dance, almost none of the characters one would expect to meet Dany actually make it. And once they get there, she’s hardly in any condition to receive them. Meanwhile, Aegon has risen up out of nowhere. I suppose, structurally, he’s there to get Dany’s invasion started in her absence. It seems impossible that he’s going to win the throne in his own right, even if she’s still an ocean away and he’s the one with boots on the ground. Next time: The South, and some conclusions.

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