[Re-Read] A Storm of Swords – Davos II


This post has spoilers for George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, including fan theories and speculation. If you do not wish for certain information regarding future plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.

The last time we saw Davos Seaworth, he was demonstrating just how Seaworthy (look, let me just have this one) he was by surviving the sinking of his ship, the burning of his fleet, the loss of his sons, starvation, dehydration and a crisis of faith. This week he makes it to Dragonstone, a man with a mission. This is a fairly long chapter though not a particularly eventful one. We learn just how poorly Stannis’ war fares, though we learned enough from the other characters to hazard a guess before this; indeed, most of this chapter is devoted to getting the characters on Dragonstone moving along on their storyline for this book. The chapter ends with Davos out of the frying pan and into the fire – or is it the other way around? Either way, it’s hard to envy Davos his cold dungeon cell when he’s only just recovering from his nasty ordeal.

Dragonmont is restless this morning, Davos thought, or else Melisandre is burning someone else.

It’s easy to dismiss this as first as Davos’ negativity colouring his judgement but by the chapter’s end, we learn that Melisandre really has been burning people, ostensibly for Stannis’ failure on the Blackwater. I’m going to jump ahead into the chapter a little and discuss this burning here itself but beware – this is going to devolve very quickly into a discussion of the morality of the Five Kings involved in this civil war, Stannis in particular. Stannis’ character isn’t as evil as the TV series makes him out to be but neither is he the Saint that fans make him out to be. Stannis’ appeal has always been based on his righteousness and determination to what is lawful regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. Why the latter is a quality that is appealing to some is beyond me, but the point is, Stannis is supposed to be above burning people. Perhaps you can argue that burning confirmed traitors is relatively acceptable given that they were going to be executed anyway but what argument does Stannis have for burning children. Now it’s clear that the burning isn’t Stannis’ idea and asking why Melisandre would want to give people to her hellish god is as good a rhetorical question as any but the burnings cannot happen without Stannis’ approval and Stannis is a lesser man for letting them happen. That line of reasoning got me thinking about the other Kings involved in this war and what they would have done differently. I don’t think Joffrey would have acted differently except to encourage the burnings instead of reluctantly allowing them but what about Renly and Robb and Balon? Again, Balon would probably have had the children drowned before even keeping them hostage but I do want to believe that Renly and Robb would have been above that. In Robb’s case, his Lannister hostages are murdered anyway but he doesn’t condone and even sabotages his own war effort to bring justice to the murderous Rickard Karstark. Perhaps Stannis isn’t the worst of the lot but he’s far from the best.

I will cut the living heart from her breast and see how it burns.

I worried for a while that Davos would let his rage at Melisandre drive him from this point out. It seemed, to me at least, that George was trying to shape Davos’ ordeal into a transformative experience, one in which the loyal but passive onion knight was replaced by a vengeance driven Davos Seaworth. I’m glad that George didn’t take that route – Davos’ character is much better as a voice of reason and moderation, an Earl of Kent to Stannis’ Lear. However, it does mean that all of Davos rage and religious fervour in this chapter and the last, bear no fruit – one moment Davos swears he will kill Melisandre and the next, he’s working right alongside her. That said though, with Melisandre and Davos still in play in both the series and the books, there is still time for Davos to slice his pretty little throat open.

“Is it pepper stinging my eyes, or tears? Is this the knight of the onions who stands before me?

This is unrelated to the quote above, but I keep forgetting that Salladhor Saan is a white guy. In my mind, I just think of him as Lucian Msamati. Regardless, he is as true a friend to Davos as Davos himself is to Stannis. In fact, I would argue that Salladhor Saan has the perfect attitude for life in the world of the Seven Kingdoms. He isn’t an idealistic pushover in the same way that Davos is, he knows that it’s a ruthless world he’s living in and will happily rob, kill and lie in order to get ahead in the world, but despite all that, he does value friendship and trusts people he deems worthy.

“I am made Lord of Blackwater Bay, and no vessel may be crossing my lordly waters without my lordly leave, no. And when these outlaws are trying to steal past me in the night to avoid my lawful duties and customs, why, they are no better than smugglers, so I am well within my rights to seize them.”

Frankly speaking, this is an excellent deal for someone like Saan. I don’t think any of us believe that he really thinks he has a legal and moral right to seize the ships he does, but to him Florent has given him a pass to pirate legally. It’s a deft move on Florent’s part too – sure he gave Saan an IOU, but Saan is far too savvy and operator to be placated that easily. The legalised piracy lets Saan recoup his losses in the short term while still keeping the possibility of actual repayment open for the future. The loss of Saan’s ships would have ended Stannis’ hopes on the spot and more importantly, would have kept him from bailing the Night’s Watch out when they needed him. Also, shortly before this quote, Saan mentions Illyrio – this isn’t particularly surprising, of course, but it got me wondering how well acquainted they are and how so.

There are shafts, they say, and secret stairs down into the mountain’s heart, into hot places where only she may walk unburned.

There are a few topics of interest here. Now, before I begin my wild speculation, we should remember that everything that Saan says here, comes through second sources and gossip. Having said that though, it’s hard to think that there isn’t at least some semblance of truth to it. So, the first point of note is the fact that Stannis isn’t eating. That could be because he’s stressed about the state of his affairs or perhaps, because Melisandre is sustaining him on her fire (that sounds weirdly sexual, but it’s unintentional, I swear). That alone isn’t too suspicious because Stannis’ eating habits are scarcely the most of anyone’s troubles (except the royal cook’s). Next, however, we hear about Stannis visiting the fires at the heart of Dragonstone and that starts me thinking. Why is Dragonstone called Dragonstone, again? Is it because Aegon’s ancestors settled the island as the west most outpost of the old Valyrian Empire? Or was it because there was something special and magical about the island that made it perfect for hatching dragons? If it’s the latter, and the fires of Dragonstone have some special properties, then it makes sense for Melisandre (whose magic has been getting stronger since the comet and the dragons) to be strengthened by the magical flames. We get a second hint from the quote above when we learn that according to rumors, she too is ‘unburned’ and that in turn makes me wonder whether Dany’s own little miracle at the end of  A Game of Thrones wasn’t just a manifestation of the fire-based magic system.

“You are no true friend, I am thinking. When you are dead, who will be bringing your ashes and bones back to your lady wife and telling her that she has lost a husband and four sons? Only sad old Salladhor Saan.”

He has a point. Davos really hasn’t thought this through. He agrees with Davos that Melisandre’s got to go but he, correctly, identifies that Davos for all his familiarity with illicit activity, is no murderer. Davos’ plan is going to fail, no matter how you slice it but does that mean Davos is wrong for even trying? Not to get too philosophical, but while Davos does have a duty to the ‘realm’ (as loosely defined by Varys previously in Clash) does he not also have a duty to his family, whose fortunes are tied inextricably to those of House Baratheon? What does that mean for that same family with Stannis’ fate seemingly decided and Davos nowhere in sight?

“Fool’s blood, king’s blood, blood on the maiden’s thigh, but chains for the guests and chains for the bridegroom, aye aye aye.”

This is the clearest indication of the Red Wedding we’ve gotten yet. I’ve always found it a little strange that the other major deaths aren’t foreshadowed to quite the same extent. For example, Renly, Joffrey, Ned, ‘Jon’ – none of them got the same kind of foreshadowing. I guess that’s more a result of just how painful Martin expected the Red Wedding to be on the readers compared to those others. For anyone wondering what I’m talking about:

  • Fool’s blood: Jinglebells’ blood. He was killed by Catelyn just before she was killed herself.
  • King’s blood: Robb’s blood
  • Blood on the maiden’s thigh: Edmure’s wife Roslin loses her virginity to her new husband
  • Chains for the guest/bridegroom: the hostages, including Edmure, from the Red Wedding

“My father would not have chopped your fingers.”

This is absolutely true isn’t it? This line, simple and inconsequential though it may be, got me thinking about the two Baratheon brothers. Robert would have reacted in what I’ll just call a more ‘normal’ way – he would expressed deep gratitude to Davos, given him lands and a title just as Stannis did but would not have ever considered chopping Davos’ fingers off. Would Davos have given Robert the same kind of loyalty that he now gives Stannis, if those events had transpired? If Davos was any other rogue, like Bronn for example, then we could be sure that that would be the case. However, I get the sense that the real reason Davos is so dedicated to his King is because of his odd sense of justice, not despite it. Davos was taken by the fact that Stannis was fair – he rewarded Davos’ service and punished his crimes. In Davos’ eyes, that made Stannis a truly just man; the kind that Varys warns others to wary of. Unfortunately, Davos is a little too steadfast in his loyalty. Even now, he blames Melisandre for the death of his sons even though all evidence indicates that it was Stannis’ mistakes that led to their deaths.

“Seize him, and take his dirk. He means to use it on our lady.”

So, this is basically the crux of the whole chapter. It’s clear that Melisandre has some magical power but it’s not stated explicitly (as far as I can remember) whether or not she say Davos assassination attempt in the flames. You might be asking why that matters since the attempt clearly didn’t go through. It matters because regardless of whether or not R’hllor exists, the fires do not lie. So, if Melisandre truly saw Davos murder her, that means that even if it didn’t happen just yet, it will in the future and I can’t say I’d be unhappy to see it happen.

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