Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya I, ASOS

aryamap

“Do you know where we’re going?” Gendry asked her.

“North,” said Arya.

Hot Pie peered around uncertainly. “Which way is north?”

Synopsis: Arya and Gendry and Hot Pie try to make good on their escape from Harrenhal. It is more difficult than initially expected.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

Arya I is a surprisingly slow start to what is a profoundly transformative story which will see Arya’s connection to her family, her companions, and Westerosi society itself violently severed (in contrast to ACOK, where Arya begins and ends the book as a refugee from the War of the Five Kings). At the same time, however, there are some interesting themes started in this chapter that will be highly influential for her ASOS storyline – most of which revolve around the difficulties of survival in a war zone. Refreshingly, in contrast to much genre fiction, the practical necessities of survival, orientation and navigation, and food and other supplies start as huge barriers and remain so throughout.

On the Lam

The first major theme of this chapter is resolving the loose plot thread from the end of Arya’s ACOK storyline – namely, what Roose Bolton is going to about Arya and company’s escape from Harrenhal:

“They rode north, away from the lake, following a rutted farm road across the torn fields and into the woods and streams. Arya took the lead, kicking her stolen horse to a brisk heedless trot until the trees closed in around her. Hot Pie and Gendry followed as best they could. Wolves howled off in the distance, and she could hear Hot Pie’s heavy breathing. No one spoke. From time to time Arya glanced over her shoulder, to make sure the two boys had not fallen too far behind, and to see if they were being pursued.”

“They would be, she knew. She had stolen three horses from the stables and a map and a dagger from Roose Bolton’s own solar, and killed a guard on the postern gate, slitting his throat when he knelt to pick up the worn iron coin that Jaqen H’ghar had given her. Someone would find him lying dead in his own blood, and then the hue and cry would go up. They would wake Lord Bolton and search Harrenhal from crenel to cellar, and when they did they would find the map and the dagger missing, along with some swords from the armory, bread and cheese from the kitchens, a baker boy, a ‘prentice smith, and a cupbearer called Nan . . . or Weasel, or Arry, depending on who you asked.”

“The Lord of the Dreadford would not come after them himself. Roose Bolton would stay abed, his pasty flesh dotted with leeches, giving commands in his whispery soft voice. His man Walton might lead the hunt…or perhaps it would be Vargo Hoat and his sellswords…”

“If they catch us, he’ll cut off our hands and feet, Arya thought, and then Roose Bolton will peel the skin off us…Every time she looked back, she half expected to see a blaze of torches pouring out the distant gates of Harrenhal or rushing along the tops of its huge high walls, but there was nothing. Harrenhal slept on, until it was lost in darkness and hidden behind the trees.”

While this passage works quite well at building up and maintaining an atmosphere of threat and peril, there’s an underlying irony here that undercuts some of that atmosphere on a re-read. For all that Arya is rightfully justified in her terror of Roose Bolton (more on this in a second), there’s really no evidence at all that Roose gives a damn about petty theft, a single dead guard, and a few escaped peasants – we certainly never see any Dreadfort men out looking for them. And while it’s possible that the Brave Companions we see later in this chapter were out hunting down the runaways, it’s far from certain. In the first place, the Brave Companions raid the countryside as a matter of course as the larger part of their living, so it’s quite likely that it was pure coincidence. In the second place, there are far more valuable targets running around the Riverlands at the moment. That’s not to say that there aren’t threats and dangers out there for a bunch of pre-teens in the Riverlands, but they’re coming from unexpected directions.

At the same time, the above passage also calls into question how reliable Arya is being as a narrator (another rarely acknowledged point of similarity between Arya and Sansa):

“She should be more frightened herself, she knew. She was only ten, a skinny girl on a stolen horse with a dark forest ahead of her and men behind who would gladly cut off her feet. Yet somehow she felt calmer than she ever had in Harrenhal. The rain had washed the guard’s blood off her fingers, she wore a sword across her back, wolves were prowling through the dark like lean grey shadows, and Arya Stark was unafraid. Fear cuts deeper than swords, she whispered under her breath, the words that Syrio Forel had taught her, and Jaqen’s words too, valar morghulis.”

Arya can hardly be afraid and unafraid at the same time, and we can see from the first passage that Arya can’t stop thinking she’s being pursued by the Boltons, or thinking about the Boltons’ traditional punishment for their enemies. So rather than taking this passage at face value, I think we ought to see this as Arya trying to maintain a stiff upper lip by reaching back to her sources of comfort and control in a time of stress – although it’s notable that she’s now hearkening back to the teachings of both Syrio Forel and Jaqen H’ghar. (Note, however, that the two men offer contrasting advice: Syrio’s maxim is about keeping yourself alive in battle by not freezing up, while Jaqen’s is a solemn meditation on the inevitability of death. Because Syrio != Jaqen.)

How to Find Your Way

While Arya’s concern about pursuit shapes the atmosphere of the chapter, she actually spends far more time engaged in the struggle to find her way across the countryside to Riverrun. While GRRM’s penchant for lengthy (some might say meandering) travelogues has come in for a lot of criticism post-AFFC and ADWD, he doesn’t do it without some kind of character or thematic purpose in mind. Here, I think the target is the genre fiction trope of depicting travel and survival in the wilderness as a piece of cake or making the protagonist an effortlessly competent survivalist as in Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, or (and now I’m reaching way  back to my childhood) My Side of the Mountain. In reality, surviving, let alone successfully traveling across, natural environments is incredibly difficult without the proper equipment, supplies, and training (hence why romantics like Timothy Treadwell and Christopher McCandless tend to end badly).

Thus, the first challenge that Arya and Co. have to face is the difficulties of orientation and navigation, even with the fact that Arya knows where she wants to go, has had some limited wilderness training, and has a map:

“Do you know where we’re going?” Gendry asked her.

“North,” said Arya.

Hot Pie peered around uncertainly. “Which way is north?”

She used her cheese to point. “That way.”

“But there’s no sun. How do you know?”

“From the moss. See how it grows mostly on one side of the trees? That’s south.”

“What do we want with the north?” Gendry wanted to know.

“The Trident.” Arya unrolled the stolen mad to show them. “See? Once we reach the Trident, all we need to do is follow it upstream till we come to Riverrun, here.” Her finger traced the path. “It’s a long way, but we can’t get lost as long as we keep to the river.”

Hot Pie blinked at the map. “Which one is Riverrun?”

Riverrun was painted as a castle tower, in the fork between the flowing blue lines of the two rivers, the Tumblestone and the Red Fork. “There.” She touched it. “Riverrun, it reads.”

“You can read writing?” he said to her, wonderingly, as if she’d said she could walk on water.

She nodded. “we’ll be safe once we reach Riverrun.”

“We will? Why?”

Because Riverrun is my grandfather’s castle, and my brother Robb will be there, she wanted to say. She bit her lip and rolled up the map. “We just will.”

In the wilderness, where sight-lines can be compromised and landmarks can be nonexistent, uneven footing makes it difficult to walk in a straight line, and terrain can force you to make frequent detours, it can be extremely difficult just to maintain a consistent direction and heading. Modern studies have shown, for example that people in poor visibility environments tend to loop back on themselves repeatedly, all the while thinking that they’re making consistent progress. These kind of behaviors can lead a lot of hikers to get themselves very badly lost and suffer from exposure, all the while being only a few meters from a well-traveled path, and potentially can get people killed.

Even with a map, even a modern map with proper scale and elevation clearly marked, it can be extraordinarily difficult to keep yourself oriented because of the potential danger of mistaking one landmark for another. Without a compass and a minimum amount of training in orientation, a map is an unsteady guide to your environment. Thus it’s not surprising that despite their best efforts and all of Arya’s careful planning, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Piet (three preteens who primarily grew up in urban environments) get themselves lost almost immediately:

Late that afternoon, they emerged from beneath the trees and found themselves on the banks of a river. Hot Pie gave a whoop of delight. “The Trident! Now all we have to do is go upstream, like you said. We’re almost there!”

Arya chewed her lip. “I don’t think this is the Trident.” The river was swollen by the rain, but even so it couldn’t be much more than thirty feet across. She remembered the Trident as being much wider. “It’s too little to be the Trident,” she told them, “and we didn’t come far enough.”

…Arya dismounted, took out the map, unrolled it. The rain pattered against the sheepskin and ran off in rivulets. “We’re someplace here, I think…there’s miles and miles before we reach the Trident.” She said. “We won’t be there for days. This must be some different river, one of these, see.” She showed him some of the thinner blue lines the mapmaker had painted in, each with a name painted in fine script beneath it. ‘The Darry, the Greenapple, the Maiden…here, this one the Little Willow, it might be that.”

“…the one you’re pointing at runs into that other one, see…the Big Willow, then. See and the Big Willow runs into the Trident, so we could follow the one to the other, but we’d need to go downstream, not up. Only if this river isn’t the Little Willow, if it’s this other one here…it loops around and flows down toward the lake, back to Harrenhal.”

“…Are you sure we’re going north?…that tree’s got moss on three sides, and that next one has no moss at all. We could be lost, just riding around in a circle…”

“You fell alseep,” he told her…”Your horse was wandering in a circle, but it wasn’t till she stopped that I realized you were sleeping.”

When we look at what goes wrong, a lot of it is grounded in these real-world difficulties – not being expert cartographers or navigators, Arya and co. face fundamental uncertainty about how to relate landmarks on the map to those in reality, in a world in which following the wrong river might easily get them all killed. And if Arya wasn’t there, Gendry and Hot Pie would be even more disadvantaged, because neither of them can read, rendering maps useless. At the same time, we also see a basic limit to physiology – however brave and special our protagonists may be, at the end of the day, they’re pre-teens and don’t have the training and discipline needed to deal with fatigue and boredom, so they naturally fall asleep and then loose their bearings.

And I think this is why people find some Arya chapters frustrating, in a way that’s quite similar to why they find certain Sansa chapters frustrating. We’re so used to genre fiction giving us a regular fix of power fantasy that we start to buy into the fallacy of competence. As a result, we’re less understanding when genre fare comes around that shows people with real human limitations (even when I would argue that’s ultimately far more narratively satisfying than hyper-competent protagonists who never have to struggle and who never fail). But without enduring these moments of frustration along with Arya (again, empathy is often the point here), Arya’s bildungsroman at the House of Black and White and her acquisition of competence and control over herself and her environment wouldn’t work.

Women Who Run With Wolves

As proof of Arya’s inner strength and forecasting her future prowess, while Arya and co are wandering in the Riverlands, they come across a pack of wolves – who appear as symbols of threat turning into the familiar symbol of Arya’s house, prompting Arya into an instinctual act of recognition and greeting:

From time to time she sent Hot Pie and Gendry on while she doubled back to try to confuse their trail, listening all the while for the first sign of pursuit. Too slow, she thought to herself, chewing her lip, we’re going too slow, they’ll catch us for certain. Once, from the crest of a ridge, she spied dark shapes crossing a stream in the valley behind them, and for half a heartbeat she feared that Roose Bolton’s riders were on them, but when she looked again she realized they were only a pack of wolves. She cupped her hands around her mouth and howled down at them, “Ahooooooooo, ahooooooooo.” When the largest of the wolves lifted its head and howled back, the sound made Arya shiver.

It’s all but certain that this wolf-pack is Nymeria’s, and that Arya has her own ships-crossing-in-the-night moment that Bran will have with Jon here. That being the case, I want to take a moment to talk about what Nymeria and her wolf pact symbolize – for Arya herself, as we will see in AFFC, ADWD, and TWOW, Nymeria represents her unbreakable connection to her identity as a Stark. However far from home she gets and however much she may submerge herself in other identities, Nymeria is her lodestone pointing back home. For the Riverlands as a whole though, Nymeria is a force of chaos, forever undermining attempts to return to business as usual without vengeance for what was done during the War of Five Kings.

At the same time, in this chapter, Nymeria plays a more complicated role. On the one hand, Nymeria acts as a kind of foil for Arya, making her reflect on her choices and reject a selfish, individualistic, wildness:

She would make much better time on her own, Arya knew, but she could not leave them. They were her pack, her friends, the only living friends that remained to her, and if not for her they would still be safe at Harrenhal, Gendry sweating at his forge and Hot Pie in the kitchens. If the Mummers catch us, I’ll tell them that I’m Ned Stark’s daughter and sister to the King in the North. I’ll command them to take me to my brother, and to do no harm to Hot Pie and Gendry. They might not believe her, though, and even if they did . . . Lord Bolton was her brother’s bannerman, but he frightened her all the same. I won’t let them take us, she vowed silently, reaching back over her shoulder to touch the hilt of the sword that Gendry had stolen for her. I won’t.

At least for the moment, Arya will resist the Social Darwinist logic of so much post-apocalyptic fiction in favor of a stubborn attachment to maintaining the integrity of the group at all lengths. And while this effort will ultimately fail, in the moment there’s a lot of logic behind it: after all, she’s quite right that she bears ultimate responsibility for Gendry and Hot Pie, having lied to them to get them to flee Harrenhal. And while Arya doesn’t know it it yet, she’s absolutely right not to trust Lord Bolton, for all that he’s “her brother’s bannerman.”

But most of all, Nymeria represents for Arya a sheer power fantasy stripped of the bowlderization that Hollywood and AAA videogame developers use to cloak the consequences of combat. Here there’s no discrete crumple of human bodies out of sight, stripped of viscera and human pain, or the dissociation that comes with fighting demons on Mars or grunts on a Covenant ship:

“Her dreams were red and savage. The Mummers were in them, four at least, a pale Lyseni and a dark brutal axeman from Ib, the scarred Dothraki horse lord called Iggo and a Dornishman whose name she never knew. On and on they came, riding through the rain in rusting mail and wet leather, swords and axe clanking against their saddles. They thought they were hunting her, she knew with all the strange sharp certainty of dreams, but they were wrong. She was hunting them.”

“She was no little girl in the dream; she was a wolf, huge and powerful, and when she emerged from beneath the trees in front of them and bared her teeth in a low rumbling growl, she could smell the rank stench of fear from horse and man alike. The Lyseni’s mount reared and screamed in terror, and the others shouted at one another in mantalk, but before they could act the other wolves came hurtling from the darkness and the rain, a great pack of them, gaunt and wet and silent.”

“The fight was short but bloody. The hairy man went down as he unslung his axe, the dark one died stringing an arrow, and the pale man from Lys tried to bolt. Her brothers and sisters ran him down, turning him again and again, coming at him from all sides, snapping at the legs of his horse and tearing the throat from the rider when he came crashing to the earth.”

“Only the belled man stood his ground. His horse kicked in the head of one of her sisters, and he cut another almost in half with his curved silvery claw as his hair tinkled softly.”

“Filled with rage, she leapt onto his back, knocking him head-first from his saddle. Her jaws locked on his arm as they fell, her teeth sinking through the leather and wool and soft flesh. When they landed she gave a savage jerk with her head and ripped the limb from the shoulder. Exulting, she shook it back and forth in her mouth, scattering the red droplets amidst the cold black rain.”

Intellectually, we know that these people are, to a man, murderers, robbers, and worse, and that their deaths probably make the world a better place. But on a literally visceral level, their physical obliteration is rendered into a scene out of a horror movie involving werewolves, and it’s hard to just cheer when you know that all of this is being piped into the head of a ten-year. At the same time, though, it’s hard to begrudge Arya her power-fantasy made real, given the horror she’s had to endure and will have to endure in the future.

And at the same time, given the established psychic links between direwolf and warg, and their tendency to display an uncanny foresight (whether it’s Summer’s nick-of-time rescue of Bran, Ghost’s premonition about the wights, or Grey Wind finding the goat path), we do have to think carefully about Nymeria’s role in the plot. As I said above, Nymeria predominently acts to keep the conflict in the Riverlands going: hence the cowardly Lord Mooton who refuses to defend his own people when the Lannisters attack barely escapes with his life when he tries to hunt her down, hence bringing Catelyn to shore and trying to reawaken her before Beric Dondarrion comes to finish the job, hence the wolves attacking Frey baggage trains and Lannister scouts. Will she play some role in Red Wedding 2.0? The destruction of the Twins? Something else involving Arya’s journey out of the path of vengeance?

Only time will tell.

Historical Analysis:

In terms of subjects for historical analysis, given that most of the chapter revolves around Arya and Co. trying to find their way across the Riverlands with the help of a map, the only one that really works for this chapter is the history of medieval cartography. There is a quite rich, if rather niche literature on the subject, in part because so much mythology has grown up around the topic that needs debunking. Contrary to popular belief, for example, people did not think that the world was flat – all you need to do is watch ships disappearing over the harbor and note that the sun is directly overhead at different times in different places, to work that out.

Rather, medieval maps diverged from modern maps for other reasons. First and foremost, their purpose was not accurate navigation –  since almost all ships were following the coastline rather than plotting straight lines across the sea, and marine astrolabes wouldn’t be in wide use in Europe until the end of the 15th century, maps would not be as useful for those purposes as they would later. Instead, most medieval maps were primarily theological in purpose, meant to “instruct the faithful about the significant events of Christian history” in the worlds of Harley and Woodward (1987).

A mappae mundi.

This is why so many medieval maps centered on Jerusalem, even when they were produced and displayed in countries where the Levant was thousands of miles away, and why maps often depicted the known world as parallel with the body of Christ – with the cardinal directions associated with the Crucifixion, Jerusalem depicted as the “navel” of the world and of Christ, and so on. More importantly, this is why the world is often shown as circular in ways that wildly distorted the shape of landmasses – not because people really thought that the world looked like that, but because the circle was thought to symbolize the unity and perfection of God and that was more important than any petty real-world details.

This began to change very gradually. Beginning in the mid 13th century, we begin to see in Western Europe individual or freestanding maps of kingdoms, which parallel the rise of more powerful monarchies which viewed maps as a display of their hegemony, demarcating their empires, as well as a useful tool of state that could help them govern more efficiently.

matthew paris map

Matthew Paris’ Map of Britain (1250)

These gradual shifts would see a wholesale revolution in the 14th and 15th century: the cartographic school at Majorca (which because it was largely Jewish could design new maps outside of Christian academic traditions) began developing new techniques which introduced compass grids and other innovations; the European “discovery” (and conquest) of the Americas destabilized European academic traditions which had insisted on contuity with classical Greek maps and led to an explosion of new map-making; finally, the vast profits to be made in foreign empires led nation-states from Portugal and Spain to the Netherlands to France to invest in cartography, as developing the best maps could offer a huge advantage in commerce, war, and conquest.

Unfortunately for Arya, I don’t think Westeros has arrived at a cartographic revolution any time soon, if the show’s depiction of the map of the Riverlands is any judge.

What If?

Given the lack of any major decision points in this chapter, there’s not a huge range of hypotheticals in this chapter, especially compared to Arya II. However, there is one that comes to mind:

  • They got to Riverrun? Now, it’s not a hugely likely outcome, given the difficulties of traversing the countryside that we’ve explored above. But if Arya and company had actually managed to get to Riverrun, some interesting things happen. For one thing, if my calculations are correct, Arya would have arrived just a few days ahead of Robb Stark’s return to the castle. I’m not sure how much of an impact on Northern morale her miraculous appearance would have had, but it would have gone something towards salving the sting of the loss of Jaime Lannister.
  • However, the bigger question is whether Arya would have been included in the Red Wedding as per the original deal, which would likely mean either her death or captivity. On the one hand, it was part of the original deal, and Robb might have felt that bringing her along would be a show of good faith. On the other hand, Edmure is a much better catch in dynastic marriage terms, so Arya may have stayed behind at Riverrun – which would definitely have stiffened Brynden’s spine. No way he gives up Catelyn’s daughter to the Lannisters’ clutches.

Book vs. Show:

One of the advantages that the show has over the books is that it can cut right to the point – rather than have Arya wander in the forest for a chapter before she runs into the Brotherhood Without Banners, or have her travel with the Brotherhood for another four chapters before she meets Beric Dondarrion, they can wrap up this chapter with a single scene of Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie rambling around in the forest and getting interrupted by Thoros of Myr and Anguy.

While there is a lot of worldbuilding lost along the way, I do appreciate the narrative economy that the transition between mediums allow. It’s certainly far less surprising that the show managed to make such short work of AFFC and ADWD, given how quickly they could truncate some of the more peripatetic chapters with one shot of someone leaving and another shot of them arriving.

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44 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya I, ASOS

  1. Winnief says:

    YAY! Another chapter rundown.

    ITA on what you said about Martin including the gritty realities of survival under such circumstances…but also that come ASOS Martin started spending a little TOO much time on mood and world building. It wasn’t so bad because ASOS had such forward momentum as a book and in many ways the turning point of the series. But man does it become a problem come AFFC and ADWD.

    • Chacun à son goût, I suppose. Personally, I think those two books hold up much better on a re-read when you’re not feeling impatient to find out what happens.

      • winnief says:

        In terms of mood setting and characterization yes.

        In terms of advancing the narrative and helping Martin ever FINISH this saga…no.

        • poorquentyn says:

          I think this is somewhat overstated, honestly. Two big things got left out of the Feastdance that pretty much everyone expected to be in there, no question: Dany didn’t leave Slaver’s Bay, and the Others didn’t attack. I liked where Dany and Jon’s plots ended so much and thought that ADWD and indeed the series as a whole built up to them so perfectly that I didn’t mind, but I get the objection there.

          But otherwise, a LOT of big stuff happens in the Feastdance, it just tends to come from characters and locations you wouldn’t necessarily expect from the first three books, which is kinda the point. While putting the central players through training montages and second-act low points (which are dramatically necessary, he was never going to hurtle forward at the pace of ASOS forever, and we probably wouldn’t actually like that), GRRM showcased a variety of secondary characters whose stories are ABOUT resenting the domination of the larger players and insisting that their stories and dreams take center stage.

          Everything’s in place for TWOW; I think GRRM’s got a much stronger structural grasp on things then he’s often given credit for. The Feastdance expanded the story’s scope to make it a richer stew when all the elements get smashed together in the final act.

          • olisimpson88 says:

            In this day and age, a good deal of readers and viewers want instant gratification to any media they consume, same with some writers as well. They want to rush through the building phrase of writing to get to the climaxes as soon as possible.

            So when a series like this that starts off the way it does and to these people presents itself in ways that leaves them wanting to see the bits they expect. Then it subverts or detours depending on how you view things.

            It can leave the above agitated and vocalizing their frustration ever more.

            Especially with the gaps between the last three books of this series.

            It happened with a fair few popular shows in recent years like the Sopranos and the Wire, with the former frustrating those who wanted the mob violence and nothing more. Which annoyed Chase to no end and may have contributed tot he ending that he did.

            With the latter, well The Wire requires a good deal of patience and paying attention to really appreciate how well it is. Along with repeat viewing to catch everything that happens.

            Which is exactly what ASOIAF requires and many fans and analysis have been very patient and trusting of GRM and that we know when he provides us the answers and the climax he’s been building to since the first book.

            That it will leave the readers fully satisfied for the most part. along with appreciating how much the last two books built to these moments and climaxes as well.

          • Winnief says:

            I hope you’re right about Martin *eventually* rewarding his fans patience. I truly do.

          • gbajithedeceiver says:

            It’s the publication schedule, of course. Most complainers (including me) would have been perfectly happy with the FeastDance if there had been no more than three years between books.

  2. Tywin of the Hill says:

    And here I was thinking this would be a dull chapter 🙂
    There’s another pretty big “What If?”: “What if the Bloody Mummers had found Arya and Co.?

    • Andrew says:

      Arya mentions this : “If the Mummers catch us, I’ll tel them that I’m Ned Stark’s daughter and sister to King in the North. I’ll command them to take me to my brother, and to do no harm to Pie and Gendry.”

    • Yeah, I kind of wanted to avoid that because I felt it would retreat some of the ones I’d done before in Harrenhal when it gets retaken by the North.

  3. Andrew says:

    Another “What If?”: What if there reason they’re going in circles is they’ve wandered outside of ASOIAF into the Blair Witch Project?

  4. Steven Xue says:

    This has been a long awaited chapter and it was a great read as always.

    Although there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of Roose properly reacting to Arya and her companions’ great escape, don’t you think that out of political necessity he must have (or at least should have) done something?

    First of all one of his own men was killed in cold blood by one of the escapees. A lord who doesn’t bother to avenge those in their employ would surely lose respect from their other men, not to mention the wider political community. Given how Rohanne Webber was willing to go to war with Eustace Osgrey when one of his men assaulted one of her smallfolk to maintain her reputation, I think even if Roose couldn’t be bothered he would have been compelled to send men after them to at least put on a show.

    But what’s even more at stake is the fact that considering how oppressed and terrified the remaining prisoners at Harrenhal are right now. If Roose is willing to let a few kids not only leave his service but also steal some important stuff and murder one of his guards, then surely unless he is able to capture them, bring them back and flay them living to make an example of them. More may decide to try their luck and do the same, especially since sticking around and rendering good service means they may still get their hands and feet chopped off or worse.

    • David Hunt says:

      I expect that there was some response and pursuit, but I doubt that direct pursuit would have continued more than a day if the pursuers didn’t pick up a trail. It’s been several months since I read this chapter but wasn’t it raining during this chapter? If the trail was wiped out by rain, their immediate concern of being tracked down might be less than Arya thinks.

      That’s not to say that Roose would let that go. I’m sure that word would go out with any other dispatches to be on the lookout for Nan and her freinds, last known to be traveling on stolen horses branded with…whatever they were branded with. Mention of a reward for their capture would make sure that it stayed in people’s memories.

      I wonder what happened to the poor stable boy that Arya conned into getting the horses ready for them. IIRC, he was commanded in Roose’s name to do so, but is Roose the type of guy to accept that as a valid excuse. I’d tend to think that would get him off whoever interrogated him believed him. Roose wants people to snap to when they receive his orders and I expect he’s cunning enough to set a policy of making anyone who gives false orders in his name wish they were dead, while leaving the poor dupe intact because he was loyal. OTOH, he might feel that he’s got to visibly punish someone and the guard at the postern gate is dead…

      • Greg says:

        If the stableboy came with the Northern host, I imagine Roose might be merciful and just demote him to digging latrines. If he’s one of the servants basically interned there, I expect Roose would have him punished as an example for the rest. He’s the kind of guy who believes that nobody can be trusted and would certainly know that everybody in Harrenhal hates his guts by this point. Hurting his occupation of Harrenhal is a crime and even damage by omission or resulting from ignorance is a crime if you believe everybody has a motive. Serving at Harrenhal is the best !

    • That’s a good point, but…

      1. Roose isn’t your normal lord, and since he rules by fear anyway, he could simply just blame someone at random, hang them, and have done with it.

      2. Given how chaotic Harrenhal is becoming, I don’t know how many people have noticed.

      • rewenzo says:

        I’d be very surprised if Roose didn’t send people looking for Arya. Roose is all about severely punishing people for even the slightest infraction, especially people who don’t have any protection.

        Arya notes that Roose would have your tongue cut out for asking a question, or have you flayed for spilling his wine. Theon recalls that Roose took Grunt’s tongue for speaking carelessly. Roose took the tongue of the mill owner for disrespecting him by kicking out the woman he raped and impregnated.

        We can trust Arya’s analysis here. Roose had elevated Arya to a position of relative prestige – he made her his cupbearer. For Arya to (1) escape Harrenhall; (2) steal Roose’s personal possessions; (3) steal Bolton horses; and (4) kill a Bolton man would be an insult he could not personally tolerate. Recall that Ramsay threatens to flay Theon for eating one of his father’s rats while locked up in his cellar and that Theon thinks Roose has more cruelty in his little finger than Ramsay has in his whole body.

        Also, for narrative purposes, it makes much more sense for the Bloody Mummers to have been sent out after Arya and taken down by Nymeria. Otherwise, why is it in the chapter?

      • Salvation122 says:

        Frankly, Roose seems like the kind of guy who’d be vastly more irritated that the horses were stolen than anything else. Horses are expensive; guardsmen are cheap.

        • David Hunt says:

          Possession were stolen out of his personal quarters. I think Roose would be supremely ticked by that. Roose is a snob on the same level as Tywin Lannister. Some nobody having the arrogance to still from him? He’d barely show it, but I wouldn’t want to be within his line of sight or have him hear my name for a week.

        • Rufus Leek says:

          Yeah, I’d think Roose would react to three horses being stolen about the way we might react to three cars being stolen. It’s grand theft horse, not petty theft.

  5. Sorry Steve but not even your analysis can make this boring, frustrating chapter more interesting. Arya’s storyline in this book didn’t get interesting until she met the Hound and my eyes start to cross even reading a summary of her actions in the chapter. Deadly dull stuff, but at least it’s one chapter out of the way before you get to the more interesting material, like Dany’s, Catelyn’s and Davos’s chapters.

  6. Sean C. says:

    The discussion around Nymeria is interesting, because there’s been longstanding debate about whether Nymeria is trying to seek out Arya or not once she arrives in the general vicinity. It seems like no, given that she’s fairly close to Arya twice (here and around the time of the Red Wedding) but then heads off on her own and never actually runs across her. A well-traveled wolf, if nothing else, considering how much terrain she covers over the course of the books to date.

  7. Rob Negron says:

    A what if I’d like to ask about, is what if Arya tells Robb about the treachery between the Boltons and Freys ahead of time? She was there when the Freys were trying to cop out and convince Roose to do so as well, maybe you don’t have enough on Roose, but now you know you can’t trust the Freys, and you don’t bother with the Twins. This is some major info, that even if Robb doesn’t outright believe, it’ll be in his head, and once Grey Wind starts growling things may click in his head.

    • Mitch says:

      Eh, from the very first introduction of the Freys, GRRM has Catelyn constantly note how untrustworthy they are. I mean, even proceeding the Red Wedding, Catelyn is freaking out about being served food and salt so that guest right is established—they were already on guard, but literally could not even imagine the treachery the Freys/Boltons were capable of.

      I don’t think the hypothetical of Arya reaching Riverrun and relaying the Frey’s open subordination changes much, really.

  8. JGolden says:

    I’m currently re-reading ACOK, not ASOS, but I wanted to chime in briefly on the travelogue debate. I think Arya’s travelogue chapters in these two books are absolutely necessary to build up the mood and suspense. In ACOK, there is fairly rapid development from the travelogues to the key plot points (the last Arya chapter I read involved the death of Yoren) and without the preceding chapters allowing us to get to know Yoren and his crew travelling to the wall, the chapter would have had no impact at all. If you go directly from big plot point to big plot point it is difficult to care about the characters, and if you don’t care about the characters, the big stuff doesn’t whack you the way it should.

    As a comparison of how to do it the wrong way, I’m thinking of the superman movie the Man of Steel (which I’ve only seen once). The beginning scenes were big action sequences on a foreign planet but we were never given the chance to know the characters. Thus, I found myself indifferent to what happened. I didn’t care that stuff blew up. In contrast, I care very much about what happens to Arya and even “minor” characterless like Yoren, Hot Pie, and even Lommy.

    I think Arya’s ASOS chapters are the same, including this one. Without some grounding, the later stuff doesn’t hit you the way it should.

    The same is true of Jon’s travelogue chapters in ACOK. Without the slow building of suspense found by encountering empty villages and mystery, the payoff at the end would neither feel earned nor have much emotional impact.

    Now, I’m not sure that the travelogue chapters in AFFC and ADWD work as well. In ACOK and ASOS, there is always momentum and the feeling that the author is building to something big. I’m not sure as sure Martin succeeds in the much-criticized Brienne chapters in AFFC and the Tyrion chapters in ADWD, but I will need to reread those books before I can really express an informed opinion.

    So, in short, I think this and the other Arya chapters in ACOK and ASOS are absolutely necessary from a narrative perspective, even if, standing alone, not much “happens” in them.

    • I do think there is a big difference between the travel in the last two books and the first three. You can see here that Arya’s travel has a point in mood, setting, and character. When you didn’t need that you got Cat going from Riverrun to the Reach, to Storm’s End and back between chapters.

      That’s why I think Brienne’s chapters in FFC most work while Tyrion’s needed an editor with a blowtorch. The reader’s frustration is Brienne’s frustration, it works for the story. With Tyrion you get backstory and setting beautifully written that matters not one little bit to the actual story and a constantly backtracked character arc used to kill time.

      • Fabrimuch says:

        Huh, that’s curious. I can’t stand Brienne in AFFC but I really enjoyed Tyrion in ADWD. Imo, Brienne spends too much time faffing about the countryside accomplishing nothing and not even getting an interesting character arc until she meets LSH in her last chapter. It certainly doesn’t help that we get to read Sansa and Arya’s chapters in the book so it’s even more cringy seeing her chase false leads that go nowhere.

        But I really enjoyed reading Tyrion’s descent into darkness and gradual recovery of his humanity throughout the novel with Penny and Jorah. And getting an inside view of the slaver camps was also interesting, the siege of Meereen was my favorite plotline from the series and Dance is my favorite book.

    • Mitch says:

      I largely agree that the travelogue chapters are perfectly fine in ACOK and ASOS, but readers who’ve experienced more wondering characters in AFFC and ADWD look back on these as the start of a bad habit from Martin.

  9. artihcus022 says:

    With regards to medieval cartography, one of the things that is weird about the Faith of the Seven is how much it assimilates, no holy land in Andalos at the center of their maps. Or even a map with the Starry Sept or Great Sept at the center. Do you think this is a funciton of the separation between the Faith and the Order of the Maesters, this division between religious authority and secular scholasticism?

  10. John W says:

    What if Arya and co. run into Nymeria and her pack? Do Arya and Nymeria reconnect? Would Arya be able take control of the pack? Do Gendry and Hot Pie survive such an encounter?

  11. thatrabidpotato says:

    “the dissociation that comes with fighting or grunts on a Covenant ship” – I miss the days when Halo was good.

    That aside I don’t think it’s quite so farfetched that Arya could have made it to Riverrun. This isn’t Beyond the Wall we’re talking about here; the Riverlands are a densely populated area made up mostly of temperate farmland with ample water. If you’ve got to be stranded in a wilderness, that’s the kind you want to be in.

    And if she were to make it to RR, then I will repeat what I stated in one of the Clash chapters: Robb would have immediately named her his heir, or at least done so once he got word of Sansa’s marriage. Having done that, he would then have sent her to Greywater Watch where he sends his will in OTL, leaving the Lannisters, Freys, and Boltons with a clear, independent Northern successor at large immediately after the Red Wedding.

    • Jim B says:

      Hasn’t Arya’s hand been promised to the Freys? Naming her as his heir means that Robb is either handing the Freys potential control of the North, or else breaking another marriage contract with them.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Not at all. Arya’s husband would simply take her name, and if you think Arya and Elmar wouldn’t end up looking like Genna and Emmon, you don’t know Arya. But I think it’s also possible to simply tell the Freys to be satisfied with Edmure- diplomatically, of course.

      • The Freys broke Elmar’s betrothed to Arya as soon as they heard of Robb’s marriage.

  12. Great work
    It never occurred to me that the Brave Companions could be doing anything other than chasing Arya. That close to Harrenhall everyone is understandably cleared out and I do think Roose would have to send someone after them.

    It also never occurred to me that anyone could consider this chapter boring before reading about it online. You get continued build up of Nymeria’s pack, warging hints, and Arya maintaining her concern for others despite tough times.

    I do think you can both be oddly calm in a stressful situation on one level and have part of you feel like a bag full of cats.

  13. Thanks for another great read Steve! These are always fantastic, thought provoking, and much appreciated!!.

  14. Iñigo says:

    Great work!

    Another what if could be if Nymeria got wounded, and died from her wounds. Beric would still rule over the BWB, and the wolf pack wouldn’t be around.

  15. Fabrimuch says:

    Arya’s storyline in ASOS was my least favorite because she spends too much time travelling along the countryside doing nothing to advance the plot with the BWB.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love worldbuilding and philosophical navel-gazing, but too much of it at the expense of proper pacing and advancement of the main plot quickly becomes tedious. That’s one of the reasons why I can’t stand Brienne’s chapters in a AFFC: it feels like only her last 2 chapters contributed anything to the plot and the rest were just filler.

  16. Basil Stag Hare says:

    You said we never see any Dreadfort men out looking for Arya and co., but every time I’ve read this I’ve assumed that the Mummers that Nymeria attacks ARE going after them.

    It’s pretty much based on this line during the wolf dream:

    “They thought they were hunting her, she knew with all the strange sharp certainty of dreams, but they were wrong. She was hunting them.”

    I agree that Roose wouldn’t really care about one guard and some bread, but it’s also a bad look for his control over the other prisoners if he doesn’t make an example of them. I figured he just sends out a couple nobodies to get them back.

  17. […] Arya I was a bit slow to get off the blocks, the pace dramatically lurches up to speed in this chapter, as […]

  18. […] a good bit of uncertainty in Arya’s conclusions: she’s made mistakes about moss before because despite being a quite precocious eleven-year-old, she’s still an eleven-year old. As […]

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