Discussion with spoilers: A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

This post is a discussion with spoilers for A Dance with Dragons.  It seems a bit irrelevant to review the fifth book in a beloved epic series — if you haven’t read any of the A Song of Ice and Fire books yet you won’t start with Dance, and if you’re already into the series you probably finished this book way before I did — so instead I’d love to discuss it in the comments!

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10 comments on “Discussion with spoilers: A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

  1. That … was frustrating.

    It has never taken me more than a week to finish a Martin book. This one took me months — months! And not just because the hardback didn’t fit into my carry-on. I kept stalling out and losing interest in the narrative. Here are some reasons why.

    * I was frustrated by Dany’s infatuation with Daario. It seemed to undo a lot of her character development to have her mooning over this creep. Being attracted to him physically is one thing. But honestly falling in love with him, thinking that she would give up her throne for him, all the while knowing that he’s bragging about sleeping with her and that he’d lose interest in a second if she didn’t have a crown — that’s another thing entirely. Plus, did I mention he’s a creep? I hope Drogon eats him in the next book.

    * Do we really need another claimant to the throne? Prince Aegon doesn’t feel entirely necessary (despite what we learn in this book about each dragon needing its own rider). I was very intrigued by the idea that Varys and Illyrio have been playing a long game to get the Targaryens back on the throne, but the way they’ve handled it doesn’t make sense to me. If the plan was for Viserys to marry a Dornish princess to bring Dorne over to the support of King Aegon, why did Illyrio raise Dany and Viserys to believe that he was working to put Viserys on the throne? Pulling a bait-and-switch of that magnitude on someone as unbalanced as Viserys seems incredibly dangerous. Unless the plan was always for Khal Drogo to give Viserys a really unique crown, but I’m not sure even Varys is that prescient.

    * I spent the entire book waiting for Tyrion and Dany to cross paths and it never happened. I like Dany, but the major weakness of her storyline has been its isolation from every other POV character. I was dying for her to meet a major Westeros player at last, especially my very favorite character. Instead Tyrion kept getting kidnapped. Tyrion’s conversations with fellow dwarf Penny were interesting character moments, but it kind of killed me to watch him get further and further away from the true Game of Thrones.

    * Similarly, we spent a lot of the book watching Stannis’s army almost freeze to death on the way to fight the Boltons, and then we didn’t see the battle! All we see is the note from Ramsay Bolton to Jon Snow declaring that the battle is over, Stannis is dead, and he has Lightbringer and Mance Rayder. Talk about an anti-climax.

    Then again, is Ramsay lying? His note demands the return of Reek and his bride, but we know Reek and Jeyne met up with Stannis’s army — if Stannis were defeated wouldn’t Ramsay already have them back? Perhaps there’s more to the situation than Ramsay Bolton claims. Or maybe Reek and Jeyne just escaped during the battle and that storyline really was as anti-climactic as it seemed.

    * Speaking of Ramsay, I could have done with a lot less of his creepy relationship with Reek. We get it — Ramsay is a monster and Reek is basically his to command because of the psychological damage.

    * Is Jon dead? The book ends with him being stabbed after declaring that he will leave the Night’s Watch to mount a rescue for his sister. I’m not sure having a major cliffhanger in such an action-light book was the right call. I prefer Martin’s usual technique of showing a major event (e.g. the Red Wedding or Ned’s execution), showing some of its fallout, and then ending the book. Not knowing Jon’s fate after the attack just added to my overall frustration with Dance.

    Am I going to read the next Ice and Fire book? Yes, absolutely. But for the first time I’m worried about the series. Too much of A Dance with Dragons felt like stalling. Aside from the introduction of Aegon, a few dragon-related developments, the death of the Dornish prince, and the possible-maybe-death of Stannis, it didn’t seem like any of the events in Dance would have a major effect on future events in Westeros. None of this felt like a story that needed to be told. Admittedly, the previous volume, A Feast for Crows, didn’t do much to advance the series’ plot either, but introducing Cersei’s point of view gave us an incredibly compelling look inside the mind of a major player. A Dance with Dragons didn’t have a POV with a similar impact.

    So I don’t end this on a complain-y note, here were some things I did like about the book.

    * Dany’s problems stopping the slave trade were realistic and interesting. That kind of thing is very, very hard to eliminate by royal decree — especially if you’re only in charge of one of the major slave-trading cities. I also liked seeing Dany struggle with how ruthless she wants or needs to be as a queen. I will be interested to see how her newfound ability to ride Drogon changes the battle with Yunkai.

    * I love how Tyrion’s wit both gets him into trouble and keeps him alive in very dire circumstances. Why do you think he worked so hard to persuade Aegon to go to Westeros? Was he hoping he’d be taken along and be able to get revenge on Cersei sooner, or is there more to it than that?

    * Dude, Brienne’s alive! … or, you know, probably a zombie. Either way she has Jaime. I can’t wait to see how that turns out. (But, complaining again: another cliffhanger?)

    * Ser Barristan got more and more awesome every time he appeared in Dance. I was worried he would die in Dany’s absence and very happy when he didn’t. Best Hand we’ve seen so far? I think so. Tyrion was pretty good at it, but I say his utter hatred of the King he served gives loyal Barristan the edge.

    What did you think?

  2. Kaitlyn says:

    “But for the first time I’m worried about the series. Too much of A Dance with Dragons felt like stalling.” I personally was worried about the series when I was reading A Feast for Crows, ESPECIALLY when I got to that asinine author’s note (I read all of the books in the past year, so at least I wasn’t waiting for ELEVEN FREAKING YEARS to find out what’s going on at the Wall or with Dany or Tyrion). (Also I own Books 1-3, but decided to just take the last 2 out of the library, which shows that my commitment to the series was waning).

    But anyway, I obviously did not love this book, in the same way that you didn’t. Too much meandering, too many things happening all at once in the climax, no real forward motion. One thing that I’m finding increasingly difficult is how absolutely without hope the series is going towards. All decent characters are left without options or powerless. I know that’s sort of how the story goes, but it is REALLY hard to watch the show with my husband (a non-book reader) and not feel ultimately truly depressed about where it’s all heading for these characters.

    Re: Jon, I have read around the internet that he “warged” into Ghost, given the emphasis in the book about wargs, that it started with a prologue from a skinchanger and Bran’s pov’s as well. I admit that I didn’t figure this out on my own. Another thing that bothered me about this book (and maybe the previous one as well) is that prior to this, if someone died, they were DEAD. Now they can become a zombie (like Catelyn or Brienne) or warg into an animal, which changes the stakes a bit.

    • I feel the same way when I talk to people watching the series! “Oh, Catelyn is your favorite character? And you think Rob will become King? Uh … give me a sec while I put a grief counselor on your speed-dial for a completely unrelated reason.”

      It hadn’t occurred to me that Jon warged into Ghost. I can see the grounds for that interpretation but I have to say I’m not wild about the idea. If Jon’s human body is dead but he’ll be alive as a warg in Ghost’s body, what on earth does that contribute to the story? Where do you go with a human character trapped in a wolf’s body? Maybe Jon will go up north and find Bran, but then what was the point of all of the stuff at the Wall?

      Up until this point I’d enjoyed and admired a lot of the grim realism of the series — not everything happens for a reason, sometimes good people die pointless deaths. But I think the grimness has reached the point where it’s preventing the series from telling a compelling story. I’m not saying I want a deus ex machina where all of the surviving Starks are rescued and dropped in Dany’s lap and the dragons eat Cersei and everyone lives happily ever after, but I completely agree that almost all of the major characters — except Dany and Tyrion — seem to be utterly without hope at the end of this fifth book.

  3. Amber says:

    I read the book right after it came out and I forgot a lot of the details already (I’m going to have to reread them ALL before the next one comes out, damn it), but the stuff at the Wall makes perfect sense to me. Melisandre isn’t there yet. Jon was just stabbed, possibly to death, under a bleeding Patrik (whose symbol is a STAR) and with smoking wounds… I think it’s just getting interesting. 😉 Then again, I get a kick out of the prophecy-related story lines in ASOIAF, enough that I can forgive this book for failing to advance the plot very much. At least it gives the next book the potential to really go somewhere.

    • Amber, which prophecy could that be referencing? I’m bad at keeping track of the prophecy stuff! The only ones I remember consistently are Dany’s “three treasons/three marriages” prophecy and Cersei’s prophecy about a younger and more beautiful Queen destroying everything she holds dear.

      • Amber says:

        Azor Ahai/“When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.”

  4. Kaitlyn says:

    I agree, that’s how I felt too and like… I don’t really want to read a book without hope! Why should I invest any more time into this if it’s all going to end up being hopelessly depressing? We didn’t even get into the Arya storyline, which I REALLY don’t get. Why is she spending all this time in the House of Black and White? I don’t like seeing her lose all sense of herself, it just isn’t compelling to me.

    About Jon again – my favorite theory is that R+L=J, and if Jon being dead or needing to find a new body really messes with all of that. Jon has always seemed so important to the plot and if he’s a warg or dead, it will be really upsetting.

    • I was just talking to my husband about this! I was convinced that Jon was Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son at the end of the first book, but nothing has been done with that idea since then. People keep hinting that Ashara Dayne might have been Jon’s mom, but L/R makes so much more sense. It will be a bit of a letdown if Jon’s parentage never ends up coming into play.

      • Amber says:

        I’m still convinced of that! I think that + the AA stuff HAS to come into play soon.

        • I’m liking the Azor Ahai idea! Having Jon reborn as a legendary hero is much better than trapping Jon in Ghost’s body. A quick Google search reveals that AA was supposed to be born to the line of Mad Aerys — so if Jon is Rhaegar’s son this makes total sense.

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