[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Davos II


Summary:

a-clash-of-kings

Davos rides with Stannis and a large group of lords to treat with Ser Cortnay, who awaits them beneath the walls of Storm’s End. Davos arrived just eight days ago, after the siege was already well underway. He tried to see Stannis, but has not been allowed until now. Devan told him that the king has had horrible nightmares since Renly’s death. Davos thinks Stannis looks years older than he did on Dragonstone.1 Only Melisandre has been able to soothe him to sleep, and she now shares his tent. Ser Cortnay addresses the crowd, which includes Lord Alester Florent, Lord Eldon Estermont, Lady Shyra Errol, Lord Steffon Varner, Lord Bryce Caron, Ser Jon Fossoway, Ser Bryan Fossoway, Ser Guyard Morrigen, and Melisandre. Stannis has given Ser Cortnay a fortnight to consider his terms, which are that the garrison will be pardoned if the castle is surrendered and Edric Storm handed over. Ser Cortnay once again refuses because he does not want to hand over the boy. He offers an alternative to decide the fate of the castle: single combat between him and Stannis or between appointed champions. Stannis refuses, and Ser Cortnay departs.

On the way back to his camp, Stannis consults with Davos. He asks for the former smuggler’s frank opinions, and Davos says that all the lords that were with Renly are inconstant and not to be trusted. Stannis agrees and says that he has forgiven but not forgotten. He asks Davos about his mission, and Davos says that he is not sure the tale of incest was believed, particularly since the rumor about Selyse and Patchface had reached many areas before Davos had. Stannis states that he will see justice for Robert, Eddard and Jon. Davos, forgetting himself, asks if he will see justice for Renly as well. Stannis says he dreams of Renly’s death sometimes. He says he was abed when it happened and that Devan could not wake him. He says it was only a dream and that he awoke with clean hands. He mentions Renly’s peach2 and says he realizes that he loved his brother and will go to his grave thinking of that peach.

They arrive at the camp, and Stannis disperses his lords, telling them to reconvene for a council of war in one hour. Devan holds aside the flap as Stannis and Davos enter the king’s tent. Stannis asks Davos’s opinion on what to do next. Davos thinks they should sail at once for King’s Landing and strike while Tywin is occupied in the west. Stannis disagrees; men only follow him because they fear him, and he cannot be said to be defeated. Furthermore, the castle must fall quickly, as he has other enemies in the south. Prince Doran has fortified the border and there is still the matter of Renly’s foot at Bitterbridge. Stannis has sent Ser Erren Florent3 and Ser Parmen Crane to take them in hand, but he has not heard a word and fears that Loras has already taken them for his own.4 Ser Cortnay’s second is Lord Elwood Meadows, a boy of twenty who is cousin to the Fossoways. Stannis believes that he would accept his terms and yield the castle if he were in command. Davos is confused, since Ser Cortnay seems healthy. Stannis responds that Ser Cortnay will be dead within the day; Melisandre has seen it in the flames. She saw Renly’s death as well and said that if Stannis sailed to Storm’s End, he would win the better part of Renly’s host, and she was right. Moreover, she saw another possible future where Renly rides out of the south in his green armor and crushes Stannis’s army before the walls of King’s Landing, so Stannis needed to deal with Renly to forestall his own defeat.5 Stannis orders Davos to navigate a boat to Storm’s End. Davos realizes he is to take part in an assassination, and asks why he does not just let Ser Cortnay keep the boy. Stannis replies that Melisandre has also seen in the flames that he needs Edric.

That night, Davos rows Melisandre across Shipbreaker Bay. He asks Melisandre about Renly and realizes she killed him. She says she needs Davos’s help now because Storm’s End is warded with ancient spells that no shadow can pass. Davos takes them into a cave under the walls and halts. Melisandre throws back the cloak she is wearing to reveal that she is pregnant. She squats and births a shadow that quickly disappears. Davos realizes with horror that the shadow looks like Stannis.

Source

Commentary:

Ser Cortnay Penrose might have the most brilliant cameo in the entire ASOIAF series. We are introduced to him at the start if the chapter and he is dead by its end, but his incredibly sassy one-liner will go down in the annals of the fandom for being one of the gutsiest pieces of braggadocio in any of the books so far. Penrose’s popularity doesn’t just stem from his defiance but also from his principles – his defence of Edric Storm is touching, reminiscent as it is of Jon Arryn’s protection of Ned and Robert. This chapter isn’t just about Penrose though; it also really crystallizes the reader’s impression of Stannis, Davos and their relationship. Still, however high and unassailable Davos’ opinion of Stannis is, Stannis himself is undeniably not an unambiguously ‘good’ character and we will explore his personality and decisions carefully today.

You have had a fortnight to consider my offer.

Has it already been so very long? Two weeks is a very long time for Stannis to spend delaying his march on King’s Landing. Of course, the momentum is very much in his favour here – Robb is in no position to take King’s Landing but while he is undefeated, Tywin can’t leave the Westerlands undefended either. Still, we’ve talked before how close Tyrion and King’s Landing came to ruin before and this is just proof. Had Stannis been the slightest bit faster or had Tyrion’s blacksmiths taken one break too many, things might have ended very differently. A worthy question at this juncture is why exactly Stannis is giving Penrose so much time. Is it out of respect for Penrose or is it to give his own body time to recover from Mel’s last ritual?

“My brother’s bastard must be surrendered to me.”

This is one of those instances in which Stannis is utterly baffling to me. A lesser man, like say Littlefinger, would have absolutely no compunctions about agreeing to keep Storm safe, placating Penrose and then offing the kid a few days later. Stannis, being made of somewhat sterner moral stuff than Littlefinger (yes, that’s the lowest bar I could set and yes, Stannis deserves better), is upfront enough to not lie to Penrose’s face. However, at this stage we need to address the whole rationale behind Stannis’ need for Edric Storm. We’ll revisit this issue when Davos frees the boy in ASoS but for now, from what little I recall, Stannis seems to be arguing that it is better to sacrifice one child and ‘save a kingdom’ than to lose thousands of men. Assuming that Storm’s sacrifice could actually affect anything, it still isn’t justified – the thousands of soldiers are making an active choice in fighting whereas Storm is being killed without any say in it. If you choose to fight in a war, you’re implicitly accepting that you can suffer injuries and die in the process. Furthermore, the lives lost have nothing to do with Edric – it’s ridiculous to think that someone could turn around that blame Stannis for not sacrificing Edric  while simultaneously letting the Lords on both sides off scot free.

Bryce Caron walked his horse forward a few paces, his long rainbowstriped cloak twisting in the wind off the bay. “No man here is a turncloak, ser. My fealty belongs to Storm’s End, and King Stannis is its rightful lord . . . and our true king. He is the last of House Baratheon, Robert’s heir and Renly’s.”

Caron walking into a treaty on Stannis’ side wearing a cloak that symbolized his lifelong commitment to Renly’s safety, is a little like a soldier wearing USSR colours at an American flag raising on the 4th of July. Of course, the irony is lost on Caron who doesn’t think of himself a traitor. While clearly self-serving the logic does have some merit – these Lords were pledged to Storm’s End, so of course they would come when Renly called them. In fact, despite their ages, Stannis is technically heir to Storm’s End – and we have to thank good old King Robert for that. Of course, his statement that no man there is a turncloak is laughably untrue though technically accurate.

“As the gods will it. Bring on your storm, my lord—and recall, if you do, the name of this castle.”

Penrose with the motherfucking mic drop here. You have to wonder though, whether behind all that bravado, Penrose is wondering how the fuck he’s going to weather the storm in question. There’s no help in coming. They have limited supplies. When, and it’s certainly a when instead of an if, Stannis takes the castle they will have to suffer his justice. The situation is bleak, to say the least, and as much as I admire Penrose’s moral conviction, I question whether he has thought enough of his men and those who serve under him. I’m not advocating giving Storm to Stannis but at the same time, doesn’t Penrose have a duty as commander to think of his men as well?

“You chatter like magpies, and with less sense. I will have quiet.”

The youngest of the Baratheons had been born with a gift for easy courtesy that his brother sadly lacked.

Well, fuck easy courtesy. If I wanted that shit, I’d read a Sansa chapter. Still, you’d think after all this time, Stannis would have learned a thing or two about manners. I guess this is what happens when you spend your whole life not answering to anyone. That said, I really, really enjoy Stannis’ snark and I suspect a lot of that is because of how much I dislike the Lords he has in his command. I might rear up if I saw Stannis hate on Davos, for example, but he can abuse Florent till the Wall falls for all I care.

“Davos, I have missed you sorely,” the king said.

This one line. That’s all it would have taken to redeem the HBO version of Stannis. This one little exchange establishes that despite his gruff exterior, Stannis actually likes and values Davos. It also shows a relatively human side to Stannis – something that character sorely needs given how brutally unemotional he is most of the time. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating – the only reason that Team Stannis is even a thing is because of the bromance between him and Davos. Davos humanizes him and helps us understand the method behind what often seems like madness.

“A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward. You were a hero and a smuggler.”

“If half of an onion is black with rot, it is a rotten onion. A man is good, or he is evil.”

The two quotes above really interest me. They represent the difference between Mel and Stannis. Stannis understands grey areas – he isn’t sympathetic to them – but he acknowledges their existence – while Mel’s world view is much more binary. The dangers of such a perspective are pretty apparent but it does beg the question – is Mel’s moral perspective utterly goal-oriented? Is any act, however heinous, committed with a good end in mind, a good act? It would explain how she is so comfortable with so many of the questionable things she does though it ensures that there is a catastrophic meltdown awaiting us if (when?)she realizes that she has been serving an ‘evil’ god all this while. We need to discuss ASOIAF theology at some point but that point is not now.

“If someone said I had magicked myself into a boar to kill Robert, likely they would believe that as well.”

Well if you magicked yourself into a shadow (or close enough, anyway) and killed one brother, is it so unthinkable that you might have done for another? And no, I’m not suggesting that Mel/Stannis killed Robert though anyone with spare tinfoil can try to make the case for someone warging the boar.

“He brought his doom on himself with his treason, but I did love him, Davos. I know that now.”

This is a surprisingly emotional line. I’m not sure if I’m more angry or sad. You loved your brother but clearly not enough to keep from killing him or swallowing your pride/honour/justice and serving under him. It’s infuriating that someone can try to make you pity them for something they brought upon themselves – “Oh you feel bad you killed your kid brother? Well you reap what you sow, asshole.” Yet, just like with Theon, it somehow works. I can feel myself feeling bad for Stannis, though now that I think about it, maybe I’m actually feeling bad about the general tragedy of a man rueing his actions and trying to cherish what he lost. Rationally speaking, Stannis’ belated admission shouldn’t do a lot to make him more sympathetic but somehow, it does. I find myself remembering Cressen, and I guess like Cressen, my sorrow is for what could have been had things gone differently.

“They follow me because they fear me . . . and defeat is death to fear.”

There is a depressing amount of truth to this statement. It can’t be easy for Stannis either – imagine being surrounded by people you know don’t particularly care for you but are afraid of you. We can see how a person like Stannis might be shaped by an environment like that but at the same time, he makes zero efforts are remedying the situation. I’m also not convinced that any reasonable person would consider Stannis leaving Storm’s End unbeaten as a ‘defeat’ per se. Most would see it for what it was – a tactical move and if abandoning Storm’s End resulted in Stannis getting the Iron Throne…well, victors write the histories, after all so who’s to say that it wasn’t his preferred strategic choice in the first place?

“So did my brother, the day before his death. The night is dark and full of terrors, Davos.”

I forgot that Stannis ever actually uses Mel’s infamous adage. It’s clear indication of how far her influence has sunk in, though from his perspective, it makes total sense –  he’s seen what terrors the night holds. I wonder if anyone else finds it funny that people like Mel are the very reason that the night is full of terrors? The night would be a lot less terrifying if I knew there wouldn’t be any shadow babies coming for me.

A morrow where Renly rode out of the south in his green armor to smash my host beneath the walls of King’s Landing.

Yet they require me to make them true, he thought. It had been a long time since Davos Seaworth felt so sad.

This is an interesting parallel to our discussion on the immutability of predictions in ASOIAF in that one Bran chapter. The future in this universe, as seen in these visions, is pretty much set in stone and it is only the interpretations of these visions that vary. It’s sad that Mel doesn’t recognize this despite being in the foresight industry for so long. It shows a lack of personal development and initiative – someone should tell her manager that she shouldn’t be up for a promotion.

“He is the enemy of all that lives.”

“But here . . . this Storm’s End is an old place. There are spells woven into the stones.”

I’ve put these two quotes together because they are both loosely connected to R’hllor and his followers. The Great Other being the enemy of all that lives would naturally connect him with the Others, although at this point, that’s hardly a novel idea. More interestingly however, it implies that the Fire God is a friend to the living and I’m not really buying that. The way this all is being tied into the whole Ice-and-Fire thing isn’t lost on me, certainly, but I can’t help but think that it might be cool if both sides are equally messed up. I feel like we’ve seen enough of the zombies good, dragons bad type of stories and it might be interesting to see that premise played around with a little.

He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who’d cast it.

No one ever stops to think of the conversation that follows after this. Picture this scene:

Creep shadow baby leaves to murder Penrose.

Awkward silence

Davos: So…

Mel: Yeah.

Awkward silence

Davos: We should go.

Mel: Yeah.

Awkward silence

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