[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Arya IX


Summary:

a-clash-of-kings

Arya is talking to Hot Pie in the kitchens when she hears two horn blasts and the front gate opening. It is the first time the gate has opened since Tywin left. Arya goes to see what is happening. Vargo Hoat and the Brave Companions have returned with plunder and prisoners. Ser Amory comes out and demands to know what is going on. Vargo says that Lord Roose had tried to cross the river, but the Brave Companions routed his van. The captives include the commander of the van, Robett and Ser Aenys Frey. Ser Amory tells Ser Cadwyn to take them to the dungeon. Arya notices Pinkeye, her new boss with Weese’s death, and decides to slip off before she is seen. She passes the armory and sees Gendry, who asks what is going on. Arya asks him to help her aid the northmen in escaping, but he refuses. He says that one of the smiths, Ben Blackthumb, has smithed at Harrenhal for three generations of Whents and has said who is master of the castle is not important. He means to stay on. She runs to the godswood, where she has hidden a broken broom handle she uses to do the exercises Syrio taught her. After a while, she prays before the heart tree. Afterwards, Jaqen makes his presence known. He is weary of waiting and wants a third name. He also reveals that he knows she is Arya Stark. She asks him to help her free the northmen, but he says he will only kill the one person. She finally names Jaqen. Shocked and distraught, Jaqen tries to get her to take it back, but she will not unless he helps free the northmen. He reluctantly agrees, calling her an evil child, and says they will do so immediately.

 

Jaqen sends Arya to the kitchen to get broth and says he will come shortly. She goes and orders the cook to make the broth. He sends her to fetch Pia to serve the Brave Companions, which she does and then returns. After a while, Jaqen comes with Rorge and Biter. They take several cauldrons of broth to the dungeons, where they hurl them at the guards before killing them. After they open the gates, Robett introduces himself and asks if they are with the Brave Companions; apparently Vargo was going to betray Harrenhal to Roose. Rorge laughs and says they are now. The northmen quickly fan out to take control of the castle, and Arya and Jaqen are left alone. Arya takes back his name, and Jaqen passes a hand before his face. When he is done, he has fuller cheeks, eyes that are closer together, a hooked nose, a scar on his right cheek, and a tight cap of dark curls. An astonished Arya asks how he did it and whether he can teach her. Jaqen says she must come with him across the narrow sea to learn. She is still intent on getting to Winterfell, so he gives her an iron coin instead. He tells her that if she ever wants to find him again she should show the coin to any Braavosi and say the words valar morghulis. After Jaqen leaves, she returns to bed.

 

The next morning, Pinkeye tells the servants that Harrenhal has fallen and the new lord will be there before evening. When Roose arrives, he confers with Robett and Ser Aenys, and then speaks to Rorge and Biter. At that moment, one of the Brave Companions, Shagwell the Fool, grabs Arya and brings her forward, saying that she is the one responsible for the soup. Lord Roose regards her and asks a few questions, including her name. She says it is Nymeria, though Nan for short. He decides to make her his cupbearer for as long as he is at Harrenhal. That evening, she attends him and Vargo as Ser Amory is fed to a bear.

Source

Commentary:

It is absolutely unreal just how big an impact Arya had on the war in just this one chapter. It’s impossible to say just what would have happened had Harrenhal remained in Lannister hands but Jaime for one, would have had a much happier time. This is a long chapter, but an extremely eventful one. We’ll spend some time discussing Arya’s identity at the Ghost in Harrenhal and her frame of mind as her stay in the gigantic castle nears its end. We will also talk about Jacqen H’ghar and his methods, though that is a topic with a lot of questions and precious few answers.

But now there were only a hundred men left to guard a thousand doors, and no one seemed to know who should be where, or care much.

In considering how Arya was able to get away with so very much in Harrenhal, it is absolutely essential to remember the above. Harrenhal, by any measure, is gigantic. A hundred men might be able to monitor a respectably sized castle like the Eyrie or the Dreadfort, but there is absolutely no way that they could be expect to effectively control something the size of Harrenhal. This means that should Arya decide to avoid human contact for a while, there would be no shortage of places for her to pick from. I suspect that it is fear and superstition that keep the other former prisoners of Harrenhal at their posts and away from mischief. There is fear of Lorch, certainly, but there is also fear of the ghosts of Harrenhal, which, to most of the castle’s current inhabitants, are very real things. Arya is cautious of Lorch but being the ‘ghost in Harrenhal’, she is not afraid of the quieter spots in the castle. This will become important shortly as it allows Jacqen ample opportunity to find her.

“Why should I wager my feet for the chance to sweat in Winterfell in place of Harrenhal?”

Gendry raises a good point here: life for a peasant is no different in one castle than it is in any other. Sure, Gendry came to Harrenhal under less than ideal circumstances, but as he states here, he has food and shelter and a good master, it’s not at all a terrible deal. I can’t quite remember what argument Arya makes to convince him to leave with her, but I assume that life under Bolton rule is somewhat less enjoyable.

Whenever she had a free hour she stole away to work at the drills Syrio had taught her, moving barefoot over the fallen leaves, slashing at branches and whacking down leaves.

I’ve always wondered what the exact purpose of Arya doing her drills is. In a full on sword fight, it’s highly unlikely that she will be able to hold her own and given her current path, it’s unlikely that she will even need to fight anyone directly. The only possible reason I can imagine for Martin having her go through these drills is to make it a little more realistic for her to able to make clean stab wounds in her victims. It might seem like common sense, but I’m sure that good technique can make an enormous difference in situations like that, especially with armour and actual human flesh involved.

It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate.

Any time a character appears near a weirwood tree, I am reminded of Bloodraven and Bran and how they might be able to use this knowledge. Bran, for example, might see this scene and be able to eventually track Arya down by piecing together her various appearances in front of a weirwood. I’m sure there are better ways of doing that but as a tree, your options are somewhat limited. The other question though, is why the weirwood trees have hateful faces. In most pagan religions, gods are seen as mercurial beings as best – a brief look at Greek mythology will show that the gods are essentially super-powered teenagers with poor impulse control. However, in ASOIAF, the Seven are seen as the Judeo-Christian type of omnipotent, benevolent gods while the old gods are seen as cruel and vengeful. It will be interesting to see where that interpretation came from and if it is justified.

Help me, you old gods, she prayed silently. Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell. Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever.

It would seem that a good many of these have happened. Jacqen H’ghar appears to help her get the prisoners out of the dungeon. Amory Lorch does die, within this chapter itself. Arya doesn’t return to Winterfell but that’s not out of the question right now as things stand. She becomes a water dancer after a fashion – she does learn how to use her blade and she does kill people with it, which I’ll argue is in the spirit of the request, if not it’s words. Lastly, she does warg into Nymeria and she never does seem afraid ever again. Compared to the wishes that the Seven grant, it seems the Old Gods offer a much better deal.

“Some men have many names. Weasel. Arry. Arya.”

It’s expected that he knows the first two names – she calls herself Weasel now and she was known as Arry when she first met him but it’s really curious that he knows that she is Arya Stark. The only people in Arya’s story who know who she is so far are Yoren, who certainly wouldn’t have been careless enough to go around telling people, and Gendry, who likewise, wouldn’t tell anyone. It’s entirely possible that Jacqen deduced her identity based on a bunch of clues – that she is a girl pretending to be a boy, her speech mannerisms, the fact that she shouted Winterfell when Lorch’s men attacked, but even then, that’s a pretty impressive set of observation skills.

“By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it.”

I’m going to get pedantic and focus on the wording here. ‘Even him of fire’, Jacqen says and I can’t help but question why, a person of the Many-Faced God, would give special emphasis to R’hllor. It’s natural for readers to give the Lord of Light special attention because his is the only readily reliable form of magic but is this widely known in Braavos? Is there some special significance to swearing by the Lord of Light? That faith is native to Essos and so it might not be unreasonable for someone ostensibly from Lorath to know more about their powers than we do.

“The gods did hear,” There was a knife in his hand suddenly, its blade thin as her little finger.

What strikes as noteworthy about this is that it seems to imply that Jacqen feels a compulsion to make good on the oath that he just gave. There are a few ways of interpreting that actually. The most obvious is that Jacqen takes his job extremely seriously and it has become second nature for him to immediately think about carrying out his contract as soon as possible. Another possibility is that there is some sort of magical spell at play that is compelling him. However, since we’ve never seen anything like that thus far in the series, we’ll just have to assume it is the former instead of the latter. It is strange though, that Jacqen, despite everything that the Faceless Men teach about death being a ‘gift’, still fears death or would consider breaking his oath if it meant avoiding it. I’m not trying to suggesting that all Faceless Men have to meekly accept death, but if you’re going to be by the book enough to give Arya three deaths in order to make up for the three lives she saved, then perhaps you should follow through and live with the consequences of your actions. I’ve always believed, or wanted to believe at least, that Jacqen gives Arya these three wishes because he thinks she’s a spunky kid and because she saved him from the fire and not because there is any kind of coda in his religion that states he must do so. That wouldn’t quite explain why he would go so very far though and I doubt we’ll ever get a thorough explanation of his actions.

Biter sat on top of one of the dead men, holding a limp hand as he gnawed at the fingers. Bones cracked between his teeth.

I like how this guy is openly cannibalizing a corpse and no one is batting an eyelid. I’m pretty sure that cannibalism is not a regular occurrence in Westeros, so there’s no reason that people shouldn’t at least be questioning this sort of behaviour in some form. It also brings up the question of when exactly Rorge and Biter became Jacqen’s men. They were imprisoned in the black cells but I was under the impression that they were imprisoned independently of each other. Why exactly was a Faceless Man even in the black cells in the first place? Either he intended to be there or he isn’t as good an assassin as we would like to think. In any case, it isn’t clear whether or not Jacqen knew Rorge and Biter from before their imprisonment, but it’s clear that they free the Northern prisoners on his command, which begs the question of just what Jacqen did to command such obedience from animals in human skin like these two. You’ll note that throughout all these chapters, as far as we could see, they never insult him, they never disobey him and they never get pushy with him. This is another minor detail that we’ll probably never get an explanation for.

The bear is all in black, Arya thought. Like Yoren. She filled Roose Bolton’s cup, and did not spill a drop.

We end the chapter with Arya getting colder and colder on the inside. I think it’s fair to say that no nine or ten year old girl should be able to see a bear eating a man without at least flinching a little. The fact that her hands didn’t even quiver is both impressive and very disturbing. This would also be a good time to consider why exactly Arya never bothered to tell anyone in a Northern controlled castle that she was Arya Stark. Once again, the chain effect could have been immensely beneficial to Robb’s cause. If Arya is found, and assuming that at this point Roose Bolton hasn’t already decided to betray Robb, then Catelyn might never have considered releasing Jaime. Without Jaime gone, Karstark might not have had his little murderous episode and without that murderous episode, Robb’s kingdom might have held together a little longer. Of course, there’s no point really thinking it through too far, but it does just go to show how close things were to working out alright for the Starks.

 

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